Monthly Archives: December 2015

Do we have a climate deal?

On the face of it, yes we do have a global climate deal. But, as always, the devil is in the details, and some of them are missing. Sure, countries have agreed to the following; to limit to 2 degrees or less the rise of global temperatures, to help poor nations cope by giving money, to publish greenhouse gas reduction targets and to be carbon neutral after 2050 but before 2100.

So, it does appear that the document signed by countries has some legal basis as well as good will. But it still must be ratified by 55% of the countries that emit 55% of the greenhouse gasses. That certainly means that countries like the United States, China, Russia and India must ratify the deal if it is to be implemented. A big if in the case of the United States.

I suppose that one can be an optimist and say that countries will realize sooner than later that it makes economic sense to limit theses greenhouses gases to below 2 degrees, but the ways to achieve this will bite economically, especially at first. For Canada, this certainly means a carbon tax for all provinces. And certainly the end of subsidies to the oil and gas sector in Canada.

Everything I have read indicates that we will not achieve that target. It is simply too difficult. We will probably end up with a rise of 3 to 4%. And that means flooding of coastal cities. At least the rich nations can throw money at the problem but what will the poor countries do? Perhaps that will be the incentive for them to stop investing in military expenditures and to start investing in coping strategies aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change.

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The space gold rush.

At the end of November President Obama signed and important called the Space Act, authorizing Americans of exploiting space resources for their own profit. Simply put, any material taken from the moon or asteroids can be exploited commercially by Americans and they will be legally protected. This spells the end of the idea that space belong to all and that it should profit to all as well. We are entering a new chapter of space exploration, a modern gold rush to exploit the resources of space.

Obviously for the ordinary American citizen nothing will change. Money is needed to exploit the resources found in space and this will not change anytime soon. The real change is for companies who now have some firm legal foundation to explore and exploit space for its resources. Already some companies have on their drawing boards the exploration of some asteroids to extract their nickel, gold and other minerals. One such company was formed by one of the founders of Google, Larry Page. The Space Act passed by the President will simply accelerate this exploration with a now firm legal foundation. Of the 1500 readily accessible asteroids surveyed by NASA a full 10% would have mineral resources.

The first resource to be exploited might not be a mineral at all but water, an essential element to life. Sending two tons of water in space costs about 100 million dollars. Finding asteroids with water or ice on the surface would make economic sense to exploit and already small probes will be sent to nearby asteroids who might harbour water.

I suppose the real question is this; is it desirable to have space
become the private domain of some private companies? Should we replicate the same capitalistic model that we have on earth in some countries? Or should we stick to the idea of space resources as belonging to all of humanity, not only to companies who have a vested interest?

One can possibly foresee a day when space itself will be polluted just as earth is. We have made a mess of earth, should we do the same thing in space?

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Nostalgia!

Oh yes, nostalgia for the old days is strong among baby boomers. I, being of the later baby boomers am sorely afflicted by this mental disease. It is very strange when one starts to remember the past.

First of all, we are quite selective. Only the good memories resurface. I would argue that this is a good thing. For example, I remember from my childhood that Pez dispensers were popular. These dispensers would give candy. Most of all I remember my matchbox cars. I had a whole bag of them which unfortunately my Mom probably gave away “to the poor” as she would say. I guess more needy is the p.c term nowadays.

What really reminds me of my childhood is the batmobile from Batman and Robin. I was fond of the 60’s series and had the car along with the figurines as well as the bat boat.

I remember taking them to a place called Trois-Pistoles near Rimouski as my Dad would often hunt there and would bring the family along. On that fateful day I had brought the batmobile along with everything else…and promptly lost them.

Fast forward 47 years later and lo and behold I want one again, just to remember those innocent days. And here starts the problem. The batmobile has been re-edited as a die-cast model for adult collectors, and the prices are artificially high. No doubt that the passing of George Barris, the man who created the batmobile has helped to inflate the prices. Of course one must make a choice; the high cost model at about 300 dollars? Or the very modest one at about 11 dollars? The 1/18 version or the 1/64 version? Is nostalgia priceless? Maybe, but not my bank account. I will stick with the 11 dollar version thank-you very much. For now.

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The world’s sexiest robot!

When I read this article in the news I was surprised and amazed. This was the stuff of science fiction only a few years ago and now it is reality; a female robot that looks and appears like a real woman. Hurrah for all the single guys!

Her name is Geminoid F, and she was the star attraction at last weeks World Robot Conference in Beijing, China. I did not even know that such conferences existed. This rubber skin android can even speak, sing and act. She already has a small part in a Japanese movie.

The article also mentions that she was modeled on a twenty year old woman and that even her silica-gel skin can age and will have to be replaced after two years. I must admit that when I saw her I was awed at how much she looks human.

The article mentions that the people at the conference were very interested in her communication abilities, but some also mentioned that she was “hot”, and felt that she would be suitable as a mate in the future.

I have to say that the pictures of this robot gives me the creeps. She looks very human and yet appears odd. She appears very synthetic and cold and her lack of emotions are quite apparent to the human eye. I suspect that she would not pass the Turing test. The Turing test for those who do not know implies that a robot can fool a human in thinking that he or she is talking to another human being, without looking at the appearance of the robot. In other words, a blind test, just looking at words coming from a computer screen. This has been done only perhaps once, and that depends on who you choose to believe. There seems to be a hard test and an easy one.

I suspect that in the future these robots will even be more human, and this makes me wonder, how will we be able to differentiate them from us humans? Would they become our overlords in a distant future? Visions of the Terminator movies swirl in my head…

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