March 19, 2018

Technology Increases Time at Home, Reducing Energy Use

(p. A15) A new study in the journal Joule suggests that the spread of technologies enabling Americans to spend more time working remotely, shopping online -- and, yes, watching Netflix and chilling -- has a side benefit of reducing energy use, and, by extension, greenhouse gas emissions.

. . .

Researchers found that, on average, Americans spent 7.8 more days at home in 2012, compared to 2003. They calculated that this reduced national energy demand by 1,700 trillion BTUs in 2012, or 1.8 percent of the nation's total energy use.

. . .

"Energy intensity when you're traveling is actually 20 times per minute than when spent at home," said Ashok Sekar, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin and lead author on the story.

One of his co-authors, Eric Williams, an associate professor of sustainability at the Rochester Institute of Technology, made the point a different way. "This is a little tongue in cheek, but you know in 'The Matrix' everyone lives in those little pods? For energy, that's great," he said, because living in little pods would be pretty efficient. "In the Jetsons, where everyone is running around in their jet cars, that's terrible for energy."

. . .

. . . , the study suggests that workers are spending less time at work because faster and better online services make it easier for us to work from home. As a result, we're spending less time in office buildings, which use more energy than our homes, and employers are consolidating office space.

For the full story, see:

Kendra Pierre-Louis. "Tech Creates Homebodies, And Energy Use Declines." The New York Times (Tuesday, January 30, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 29, 2018, and has the title "Americans Are Staying Home More. That's Saving Energy.")

The "in press" version of the article mentioned above, is:

Sekar, Ashok, Eric Williams, and Roger Chen. "Changes in Time Use and Their Effect on Energy Consumption in the United States." Joule (2018).

March 18, 2018

"We Have to Entrepreneurialize Society"

Economist Klaus Schwab is the founder and organizer of the annual Davos gatherings of government and corporate insiders.

(p. R15) MR. BAKER: There has been a tremendous growth in industrial concentration, big companies getting bigger. Small companies are essentially being squeezed out. There's a concern that it's not just bureaucracies and supernational institutions, but companies themselves, are just too big and too remote. What can be done to address those concerns?

PROF. SCHWAB: We have to entrepreneurialize society. If we look where jobs will come from, they will come mainly from new enterprises, from medium-size enterprises. So companies and countries have to create an ecosystem which allows young people to create their own companies. We have to create new Facebook s, new Googles, and so on. Then we have the necessary dynamic situation which maintains a certain degree of competition in the economy.

For the full interview, see:

Gerard Baker, interviewer. "Nationalism vs. Globalism: A Question of Balance; Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, on how to deal with a fractured world." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018): R15.

(Note: bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has a date of Jan. 22, 2018.)

March 17, 2018

Taboo Geoengineer Outlaws Could Counter Global Warming

(p. D3) A quarter-century ago, Pinatubo, a volcano in the Philippines, blew its top in a big way: It spewed a cubic mile of rock and ash and 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide gas into the atmosphere. The gas spread around the world and combined with water vapor to make aerosols, tiny droplets that reflected some sunlight away from the Earth. As a result, average global temperatures dropped by about one degree Fahrenheit for several years.

Powerful volcanic eruptions like Pinatubo's in 1991 are one of the biggest natural influences on climate. So NASA researchers and other scientists are planning a rapid-response program to study the next big one.

But the climate impact of a Pinatubo-size eruption is also a natural analog of an idea that has existed on the fringes of science for years: geoengineering, or intervening in the atmosphere to deliberately cool the planet.

One geoengineering approach would use high-flying jets to spray similar chemicals in the stratosphere. So by studying the next big volcanic eruption, scientists would also gain insights into how such a scheme, known as solar radiation management, or S.R.M., might work.

"This is important if we're ever going to do geoengineering," said Alan Robock, a Rutgers University researcher who models the effects of eruptions and who has been involved in discussions about the rapid-response project.

. . .

Geoengineering has long had an outlaw image among much of the scientific community, viewed as risky last-resort measures to solve climate problems that would be better dealt with by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Even discussing geoengineering concepts has long been considered taboo among many scientists.

. . .

But in the past few years, some scientists and policymakers have begun to argue for limited direct research into geoengineering concepts to better understand their potential as well as risks, and be better prepared should global warming reach a point where some kind of emergency action were deemed necessary.

A few scientists have proposed small-scale outdoor experiments to study aspects of solar radiation management, and last month the American Geophysical Union, one of the nation's largest scientific societies, endorsed the idea of some research into what it called "climate intervention."

For the full story, see:

Henry Fountain. "A Volcanic Idea for Cooling the Earth." The New York Times (Tuesday, February 6, 2018): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 1, 2018, and has the title "The Next Big Volcano Could Briefly Cool Earth. NASA Wants to Be Ready.")

March 16, 2018

Serial Breakthrough Innovators Have "Almost Maniacal Focus"

(p. C4) It's 6 a.m., and I'm rushing around my apartment getting ready to fly to California to teach an innovation workshop, when my 10-year-old son looks at me with sad eyes and asks, "Why are you always busy?" My heart pounds, and that familiar knife of guilt and pain twists in my stomach. Then a thought flickers through my head: Does Jeff Bezos go through this?

I recently finished writing a book about innovators who achieved multiple breakthroughs in science and technology over the past two centuries. Of the eight individuals I wrote cases about, only one, Marie Curie, is a woman. I tried to find more, even though I knew in my scientist's heart that deliberately looking for women would bias my selection process. But I didn't find other women who met the criteria I had laid out at the beginning of the project.

. . .

The politically correct thing to say at this point is that expanding the roster of future innovators to include more women will require certain obvious changes in how we handle family life: Men and women should have more equal child-care responsibilities, and businesses (or governments) should make affordable, quality child care more accessible. But I don't think it is as simple as that.

In my own case, I can afford more child care, but I don't want to relinquish more of my caregiving to others. From the moment I first gave birth, I felt a deep, primal need to hold my children, nurture them and meet their needs. Nature is extremely clever, and she has crafted an intoxicating cocktail of oxytocin and other neurochemicals to rivet the attention of parents on their children.

The research on whether this response is stronger for mothers than for fathers is inconclusive. It is tough to compare the two, because there are strong gender differences in how hormones work. Historically, however, women have taken on a larger share of the caregiving responsibilities for children, and many (myself included) would not have it any other way.

Is such a view hopelessly retrograde, a rejection of hard-won feminist achievements? I don't think so.

The need to connect with our children does not prevent women from being successful. There are many extremely successful women with very close relationships with their children. But it might get in the way of having the almost maniacal focus that the most famous serial breakthrough innovators exhibit.

I'm no Marie Curie, but I do have obsessive tendencies. If I did not have a family, I would routinely work until 4 a.m. if I had an interesting problem to chase down. But now I have children, and so at 5 p.m., I need to dial it back and try to refocus my attention on things like homework and making dinner. I cannot single-mindedly focus on my work; part of my mind must belong to the children.

This doesn't mean that mothers cannot be important innovators, but it might mean that their careers play out differently. Their years of intense focus might start later, or they might ebb and surge over time. The more we can do to enable people to have nonlinear career paths, the more we will increase innovation among women--and productivity more generally.

For the full commentary, see:

Melissa Schilling. "Why Women Are Rarely Serial Innovators; A single-minded life of invention is hard to combine with family obligations. One solution: 'nonlinear' careers." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has a date of Feb. 2, 2018.)

Schilling's commentary is related to his book:

Schilling, Melissa A. Quirky: The Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles, and Genius of Breakthrough Innovators Who Changed the World. New York: PublicAffairs, 2018.

March 15, 2018

Regulating A.I. "Is a Recipe for Poor Laws and Even Worse Technology"

(p. A27) "Artificial intelligence" is all too frequently used as a shorthand for software that simply does what humans used to do. But replacing human activity is precisely what new technologies accomplish -- spears replaced clubs, wheels replaced feet, the printing press replaced scribes, and so on. What's new about A.I. is that this technology isn't simply replacing human activities, external to our bodies; it's also replacing human decision-making, inside our minds.

The challenges created by this novelty should not obscure the fact that A.I. itself is not one technology, or even one singular development. Regulating an assemblage of technology we can't clearly define is a recipe for poor laws and even worse technology.

For the full commentary, see:

ANDREW BURT. "Leave Artificial Intelligence Alone" The New York Times (Friday, January 5, 2018): A27.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 4, 2018, and has the title "Leave A.I. Alone.")

March 14, 2018

Musk's Slow Hunch May Be Undone by Smaller Satellites

(p. B3) SpaceX 's long-delayed Falcon Heavy rocket, slated for its maiden flight on Tuesday [February 6, 2018], faces uncertain commercial prospects and lacks a clear role in efforts to send U.S. astronauts back to the moon or deeper into the solar system.

The company conceived the rocket at the beginning of the decade, when SpaceX was an underdog fighting to increase its share of launches and needed a beefed-up alternative to a fleet of underpowered boosters. But after spending some $1 billion and grappling with five years of delays and huge technical challenges related to reliably harnessing power from 27 engines, the company is contending with significantly eroded commercial demand for such a potent heavy-lift booster.

The primary reason for the weakened demand is that both national security and corporate satellites continue to get smaller and lighter. So now, even if it performs as advertised, the Falcon Heavy might be Elon Musk's biggest contrarian bet since he founded SpaceX over 15 years ago.

For the full story, see:

Andy Pasztor. "SpaceX Launch to Test Contrarian Bet." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Feb. 5, 2018): B3.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has a date of Feb. 4, 2018, and has the title "New Falcon Heavy Rocket Represents a Major Bet for SpaceX.")

March 13, 2018

Level of Loneliness About the Same as 70 Years Ago

(p. 8) . . . is loneliness, as many political officials and pundits are warning, a growing "health epidemic"?

. . .

The main evidence for rising isolation comes from a widely reported sociology journal article claiming that in 2004, one in four Americans had no one in their life they felt they could confide in, compared with one in 10 during the 1980s. But that study turned out to be based on faulty data, and other research shows that the portion of Americans without a confidant is about the same as it has long been. Although one of the authors has distanced himself from the paper (saying, "I no longer think it's reliable"), scholars, journalists and policymakers continue to cite it.

The other data on loneliness are complicated and often contradictory, in part because there are so many different ways of measuring the phenomenon. But it's clear that the loneliness statistics cited by those who say we have an epidemic are outliers. For example, one set of statistics comes from a study that counted as lonely people who said they felt "left out" or "isolated," or "lacked companionship" -- even just "some of the time." That's an exceedingly low bar, and surely not one we'd want doctors or policymakers to use in their work.

One reason we need to be careful about how we measure and respond to loneliness is that, as the University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo argues, an occasional and transitory feeling of loneliness can be healthy and productive. It's a biological signal to ourselves that we need to build stronger social bonds.

Professor Cacioppo has spent much of his career documenting the dangers of loneliness. But it's notable that he relies on more measured statistics in his own scientific papers than the statistics described above. One of his articles, from last year, reports that around 19 percent of older Americans said they had felt lonely for much of the week before they were surveyed, and that in Britain about 6 percent of adults said they felt lonely all or most of the time. Those are worrisome numbers, but they are quite similar to the numbers reported in Britain in 1948, when about 8 percent of older adults said they often or always felt lonely, and to those in previous American studies as well.

For the full commentary, see:

ERIC KLINENBERG. "Is Loneliness a Health Epidemic?" The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, February 11, 2018): 8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 9, 2018.)

March 12, 2018

Mars Is Humanity's "Backup Plan"

(p. C3) The stated goal of the U.S. Mars program is to create a permanent base there. That is difficult to imagine in the planet's harsh environment, which was depicted with such stark realism in the 2015 film "The Martian."

But there are possibilities on the planet for making bases more viable. Mars explorers could use natural lava tubes in extinct volcanoes to create an underground base shielded against harmful radiation. Underground deposits of ice discovered in recent years could be used for drinking water and to provide oxygen for breathing, as well as hydrogen for rocket fuel. In theory, astronauts could eventually establish agricultural stations to create a self-sustaining colony, using genetically modified plants that could thrive in a cold environment rich in carbon dioxide.

A new spirit of exploration and discovery is certainly part of the push for this new space age, but concerns about the future of the Earth are also a motive. There is a growing realization that life on the planet is extremely fragile, that killer asteroids, super volcanoes and ice ages have nearly extinguished life in the past, and that climate change may spin out of control. Even if the Earth remains habitable, we know that one day the sun itself will expire.

So the choice ultimately will be simple: Colonize outer space, or perish. We need an insurance policy, a backup plan. The dinosaurs didn't have a space program. We may need ours to evade their fate.

For the full commentary, see:

Michio Kaku. "To the Moon, Mars and Beyond." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018): C3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated Feb. 6, 2018, and has the title "SpaceX Rocket Launch Is Latest Step Toward the Moon, Mars and Beyond.")

Kaku's commentary is related to his book:

Kaku, Michio. The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth. New York: Doubleday, 2018.

March 11, 2018

Extent of Future Global Warming Remains "Stubbornly Uncertain"

(p. A15) . . . , an exemplary French report . . . begins, "But uncertainty about how hot things will get also stems from the inability of scientists to nail down a very simple question: By how much will Earth's average surface temperature go up if the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is doubled?"

"That 'known unknown' is called equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS), and for the last 25 years the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)--the ultimate authority on climate science--has settled on a range of 1.5 C to 4.5 C."

The French report describes a new study by climate physicists Peter Cox and Mark Williamson of the University of Exeter and Chris Huntingford of the U.K.'s Center for Ecology and Hydrology. Not only does it narrow the range of expected warming to between 2.2 and 3.4 degrees Celsius, but it rules out the possibility of worrying outcomes higher than 4 degrees.

. . .

. . . , [the IPCC] backpedaled in 2013 to adopt a wider range of uncertainty, and did so entirely in the direction of less warming.

. . .

The IPCC's new estimate was no more useful or precise than one developed in 1979 by the U.S. National Research Council, when computers and data sets were far more primitive.

This 40-year lack of progress is no less embarrassing for being thoroughly unreported in the mainstream press. The journal Nature, where the new study appears, frankly refers to an "intractable problem." In an accompanying commentary, a climate scientist says the issue remains "stubbornly uncertain."

For the full commentary, see:

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. "BUSINESS WORLD; Good Climate News Isn't Told; Reporting scientific progress would require admitting uncertainties." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 27, 2018.)

The "new study" in Nature, mentioned above, is:

Cox, Peter M., Chris Huntingford, and Mark S. Williamson. "Emergent Constraint on Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity from Global Temperature Variability." Nature 553, no. 7688 (Jan. 18, 2018): 319-322.

March 10, 2018

Blobel Pursued a Slow Hunch for Over 30 Years

(p. B19) Günter Blobel, a molecular biologist who was awarded the 1999 Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering that proteins in any living cell have virtual ZIP codes that guide them to where they can help regulate body tissues, organs and chemistry, died on Sunday [February 18, 2018] in Manhattan. He was 81.

. . .

The cause was cancer.

. . .

He spent nearly all his working life at Rockefeller University, what he regarded as the Valhalla of research.

Like many scientific advances, Dr. Blobel's had no moment of "Eureka!" It unfolded over 30 years of painstaking, often frustrating, but occasionally thrilling investigation: a process of building on others' work, intuitive thinking to form new hypotheses, and testing, using the results to modify his theories, and then testing and modifying again and again.

Driven to find underlying causes of diseases that were being treated for symptoms, and funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, he successively developed five models of his original "beautiful idea." Along the way he won many prestigious awards, some for essentially the same insights recognized later by the Nobel committee.

For the full obituary, see:

ROBERT D. McFADDEN. "Günter Blobel, Nobel Laureate Who Found Cell 'ZIP Codes,' Dies at 81." The New York Times (Saturday, Feb. 20, 2018): B19.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has a date of Feb. 19, 2018.)

Eight Most Recent Comments:

PaulS said:

Wonderful. Let's go for strict temporal gating as well as spatial gating. Exile everyone not made of money to the anti-social hours of the clock as well as the monster commutes of the far reaches of Queens and Staten Island. How about fixing the subways, and abolishing the nonsense that makes it take 90 years to build one small 2nd Ave line? How about dispersing the overconcentration of people a bit? It's a huge country and modern communication exists. How about paying for same by taxing the living daylights out of the billionaire rentier class who create the problem by forcing ever more people to cram into highly dysfunctional megacities as the price of having any income at all? You gotta love the nexus between airheaded liberals who want to pile everyone on Earth with a sob story into a few US-ian megacities (rather than fix their own governments and problems), and economics types who then want to punish the very same folks by blocking off absolutely everything with an extortionate toll gate. Not.

PaulS said:

"when the alternative is to have $10 and go thirsty"

In the real world, the politics will get "interesting" with respect to folks who *don't* have $10 to pay for what normally costs $1 or $0.10, and will therefore go thirsty, or be stranded, or worse. Then, also be aware of simple resentment. Then, aggravate the anger with runaway inequality so extreme that the elites running the show will not be inconvenienced in the slightest by any likely level of 'gouging'. Then brace for a social explosion.

All told, it seems fatuous to expect very many people to be happy about being charged, say, an entire car payment just to get home across town from the holiday party. (It seems even more fatuous to expect happiness when the 'gouging' comes as an ongoing life-upending surprise, as with I-66 in Virginia.)

It helps to instead ground oneself in reality. After doing so, it's ridiculously easy to imagine the relevant government and/or employer simply declaring, for example: "If you wish to be allowed to drive a taxi at all, then you will make yourself available, to some specified extent, even at times that may be inconvenient for you."

Indeed, such rules and regulations are utterly banal and commonplace. Nary a soul would weep for Uber if it and its drivers were regulated - even rather harshly - in such a manner. Of course, some souls would become exercised over the minor economic inefficiency of such regulation, but they would number far too few to matter.

PaulS said:

"Dr. Gray was skeptical about the causes of climate change, prompting vitriolic exchanges with other scientists. Judith A. Curry, who was chairwoman of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, accused him of 'brain fossilization.'"

I had no idea. These days, after all, Curry is very much in the doghouse as a "climate denier". Wow. What, then, can we deduce about the typical (or merely politically-correct?) level of hysteria in the "climate community"? Of course, many in said "community" would force most of us back into the Stone Age while they themselves continue to jet across the world at whim to attend "conventions" in order to signal virtue by delivering half-hour diatribes on saving the "planet" from impending doom.

Maybe, then, The Donald is right (???!) that it is fairly safe to behave just as the doomers do, and ignore the threat - and their own diatribes - as a practical matter? Wouldn't that be weird?

PaulS said:

Another case in point: between them, Google, Tesla, and others have spent countless billions on mapping the USA, enough for at least $1000/mile including every last obscure Forest Service track. That should be more than enough to catalog everything down to the embossing style on every manhole cover. And yet a person can find their way to Grandma's new house with vague turn-by-turn directions or a vague line-sketch that shows no details whatsoever about the road surface or the sidewalks or the crosswalks. And a person will manage the task without needing, in advance, a finely detailed map of the current construction projects, including lane changes etc. But that severe incompleteness won't stop morally-posturing politicians from forcing autonomous cars onto the populace years or even decades before they are actually ready for unsupervised consumer use. That is the essentially only kind of use they will get in the real world. After all, politicians love to posture, they love to toady up to rent-seeking billionaires, and they love photo-ops of themselves gawking at shiny new tech gadgets. Note that when signals were first installed on the Chicago El, the accident rate went up for a time, as trained motormen became careless about watching where they were going. Not-so-trained consumers will be far too busy fiddling with their phones to be ready to take over on a split-second's notice.

PaulS said:

And there will be unicorns. So we'll have some remote working, but we'll be jailing ever more techies in a few obscenely overcrowded, otherworldly-expensive megacities. Just as Microsofties once told us wasting two days on the now-infamously godawful airlines just to physically attend an hour meeting was going away, but both the meetings and the airlines only got worse and worse.

So not really a big deal, just another stylistic business fad. Those come and go like mayflies - while being crammed, confined, and nailed down, remains eternally.

rjs said:

there's a lot GDP doesnt capture, but i'm not sure where Feldstein is coming from about statins...the consumption of drugs is included in the non-durable goods component of PCE, consumption of health care services by themselves account for 12% of GDP, and R & D would be included in investment in intellectual property products.. the problem is that everyone is trying to make GDP into something it's's a measure of goods and services produced by the economy, full stop. it's not intended to measure increases in life expectancy or well being, or any other intangibles..

rjs said:

actually, if every adult spent the $10,000 that was given to them, it would add about 13% to GDP (less any inflation adjustment) furthermore, as the US is the creator of its own currency, there would be no need to "pay for" such a citizen bonus...we certainly managed to conjure up trillions of dollars to bail out the banks a few years back without "paying for it"; we could just as easily do the same for this case..

Aaron said:

An appropriately sweet topic this Valentine's day, though this may make you this holiday's Scrooge.



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