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“Celebration Day”

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Do we have something to celebrate?

I guess the end of the bullshit vaccine passport or C-19 test checking for Southbound Aucklanders on the Waikato Expressway on Monday this week, counts as something. You have to take your wins where you get them.

I doubt many readers of NM are also on Instagram but for anybody under the age of 30 it’s very much a thing. While working on the agricultural contracting job last year I was astounded at the constant camera-sound from a phone as my Irish workmate “communicated” with friends around the world via an endless stream of selfies while I drove us to our harvesting sites.

Then there are the woman of Instagram, exceeded only in obnoxiousness by those on TikTok. The following captures well what’s really going on with those endless photo streams.

I wonder how many dates and marriages will result from all this, or is it all just hookup culture? I guess we’ll know in a few years via surveys.

Back in the real world, increasingly meaning the old world, there were caches of things more valuable than butt-shots.

Is that stack of $500 notes Confederate money? A DDG search says no, and the same for the Union, so perhaps it’s Mexican? I don’t recognise the dude in the picture. Readers are invited to guess or find out. I suppose whoever planted this stash either died or never found their way back to their hiding place.

Jumping back a century or so is another tale of a hard-living chap.

As Captain Benjamin L. Willard would say: “A Tough Mother Fucker!”

And they’re still around. Looks like Hideaki Akaiwa’s story was real enough for Wikipedia, but I’m surprised I’ve never heard of him despite watching several documentaries on the 2011 Japanese Tsunami, given how often we focus on one person’s story amidst many. The lack of body cam video means it can’t compete with Reality TV!

Then there are these heroes, who managed to be heroes while having fun. MUCH FUN.

I wonder why Ferrari, who I think of as the quintessential Italian sport car, have been beaten out for this role by Lamborghini. Also – given that I doubt even modern developments in automotive technology have changed the Italians that much, in that they still love their manual gear shifts – what must the service costs on these babies be like, given Lamborghini’s history.

More history.

And as a final sop to history there’s the story of the sequel to the semi-famous TV series of the late 1990’s, Sex and The City. I saw glimpses of it from time-to-time because it was truly a chick-flick and I never got what was so great about living the loves and travails of four glamorous mid-30’s White Woman in NYC. Still, a lot of ladies around the world loved the characters and their joys and sorrows, all happening in stunningly fashionable clothes and apartments in the New York City of Rudy Guliani, meaning when it wasn’t a shithole like the 1970’s or today.

As a result these fans, now aged twenty more years, were filled with anticipation for the sequel. Had they known any Star Wars fans they’d have guessed what they were in for.

The show is fucking awful, it’s even getting panned by woke Leftie fans who were wanting more than the original four White-girls world. One writer summed it up pretty well by saying that “the writers clearly hate the characters, hate the show and hate the fans”. They even hated the original name and called this one, And Just Like That, which is hopeless. Who could have done this? Fans investigated and…

Yep. The lead writer is someone who hates the characters, hates the show and hates the fans.

So not a celebration then.

Written by Tom Hunter

January 19, 2022 at 6:00 am

The skills of ordinary men

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I recently read two articles that actually cover some of the same ground, even though their topics could not be more different.

The first is from 2003, Electric Heroes, and it’s written by a lawyer looking back at one of his early cases where a woman sued an American power company over the death of her husband, who was a linemen.

They clambered up narrow steel ladders and then inched across four-inch-wide “angle-iron” girders made slippery with rain or morning dew, and when they reached out, they touched either the open sky or heavy steel cables whose purpose was to carry enough electricity to power the nation’s fourth largest city.

Because they were so well trained, they were able to work safely, routinely, under conditions that would terrify you or me.

The writer points out that these men (in those days they were all men) were also very careful, which made the case a little strange since this particular linemen had fallen 120 feet to his death or possibly had jumped. Not even his workmates could figure out what had gone wrong.

As the young workhorse lawyer gathering two years of information for the trial, he got to know these men very well.

They had a strong sense of duty, and they had a natural dignity that was boundless.  They were modest men, but they had quiet pride by the mile.  Amongst each other, they were very, very funny.  They cussed a lot, and after work they’d go out together for a beer, or to hunt or play poker or catch an Astros game.  And they stuck up for one another.  You’d think twice about crossing any one of them.

They took the case seriously from the beginning because one of their own had died in their midst, for reasons they couldn’t quite explain or grasp, and they were being accused of having caused his death by their indifference. 

In the end the case was settled out of court and the jury dismissed. The young lawyer had become so bonded with these men that he was incandescent with rage at what he felt his senior lawyers had done to them: as much as admitting that they had been indifferent to their workmate, their friend. But the young partner took him to lunch and, as he saw in hindsight, helped him grow up a bit:

“In the greater scheme of life, are you really furious that Mrs X is getting the fairly modest amount of money that will be left to her after her lawyers’ fees and expenses are extracted?  She’s not getting a huge windfall.  Our client can afford it.  It all goes into the rate-base, and ultimately it will be paid in tiny, tiny increments by all the families for whom Mr X helped keep the lights on during his twelve years with the company. Can you not see the justice in that result, even if it wasn’t the harsh and total victory you were gunning for?”

The second article is very recent and is written by a Captain Charlie Anderson of the Minnesota National Guard, describing their recent expedition to Kabul to extract American and Afghan civilians before the Taliban took over: A few good ‘Bastards’.

It’s a fascinating look at those events from a soldier’s view, but it’s also a good look at a component of the US military that’s often overlooked or disparaged, The National Guard. They’re part-time soldiers although equipped with the same stuff as the regular forces including, in this case, Bradley’s and Abrams tanks. Having said that I was surprised a few years ago to find out from a mate in the NZDF that the Hawaiian Air National Guard flies F-22’s!

But what shows here is that the training is also right up with the regular forces:

We’d practiced and trained for the past two years. The task force did a combat training rotation exercise at Fort Hood, Texas in 2019 and executed a successful rotation (the first post-Covid) at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California in 2020. While drilling at Camp Ripley, Minnesota we completed numerous tabletop exercises and worked the Military Decision Making Process repeatedly until it became muscle memory.

We had executed multiple iterations of gunnery tables and were continuing ongoing missions in Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. We were confident that as the CENTCOM Regional Response Force we’d be poised and prepared to project military power wherever it was needed to accomplish tactical and strategic goals.

When the time came to move out they were ready to go and got to Kabul promptly. Even so such units still endure scepticism from the regulars:

One captain I met from their brigade intelligence section told me he was under the impression that a senator had pulled some strings and got us deployed from Minnesota. When I told him about our task force and that we were already in the Middle East, postured for such a crisis event, he was speechless. Initially, there was an air of distrust, but we proved ourselves worthy partners, dispelling the myth about the perceived capability gap between the active duty and guard/reserve components. 

It was this paragraph that caught my attention in relation to the first article, as the commander of the unit, Lt. Col. Jake Helgestad, described:

He underscored the life skills the National Guard brought to the 82nd Airborne. “We provided capabilities to the fight beyond trigger-pullers that 1/82 never would’ve been able to — engineers, plumbers, electricians, welders, mechanics, heavy machinery operators – we enabled advanced operations that directly impacted the military’s ability to get people out.” 

No need to call up the US Army Corp of Engineers to build barricades and reinforce walls when you’ve got a bunch of people who do that in their everyday lives.

The article is lengthy but well written and packed with a lot of coal-face detail about what they dealt with in a horrific and rapidly deteriorating situation. Well worth your reading time.

Written by Tom Hunter

January 17, 2022 at 3:39 pm

A second answer to Why?

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Why? was the title of a post by Nick K, my co-blogger here at NM, as he grappled with the “reasoning” behind the vaccine and mask mandates here in NZ and similar approaches taken in most corners of the globe.

I came across one possible answer to that question covered in the post, One answer to Why?, which looked at the control of popular thinking via language control in the modern context of Tech companies in the Webosphere.

Here’s some background to those companies and their leaders in this article from City-Journal in 2017, The Disrupters, which is all about the new Lords of Silicon Valley:

In just ten years, Facebook built a global empire that surpassed General Electric in market value—and did it with just 4 percent of the Old Economy giant’s workforce: 12,000, compared with 300,000. Whatsapp, a recent Facebook acquisition, managed an even more impressive wealth-to-labor ratio, with a $19 billion value and just 55 employees. Combined, both companies reach roughly one-sixth of humanity. Facebook’s entertainment colleague just to the south, Netflix, crushed Blockbuster’s mammoth national network of 9,000 stores and 60,000 employees with its more nimble workforce of just 3,700 employees.

Capitalism in action. Many firms have been so destroyed in the past by new competitors. The article goes on to explore what might happen next with AI, robotics and so forth, providing examples along the way involving brilliant young people, like Michael Sayman. In doing so the writer interviewed a number of the leading lights of this IT revolution and even got an opinion poll done of them to assess where they thought it was all going.

That’s where it gets sad – and scary. For a start these founders (147 were polled) don’t like talking about inequality, probably because of this:

As far as the future of innovation and its impact on ordinary people, the most common answer I received in Silicon Valley was this: over the (very) long run, an increasingly greater share of economic wealth will be generated by a smaller slice of very talented or original people. Everyone else will increasingly subsist on some combination of part-time entrepreneurial “gig work” and government aid.

Now I’ve done pretty well out of capitalism, but to me that future sounds like it sucks ass, even with a theoretical Universal Beneficiary Income (UBI). Fully Automated Luxury Communism it is not. It’s actually Marx’s “disguised form of alms”. It’s quite clear that these “thought leaders” are very leary of what may happen when they’ve built robots that can do most things better than a human.

And what of the political and philosophical attitudes that go with all this? Well it’s not actually as obvious as you might think. First with the political:

Contrary to popular opinion, most of Silicon Valley is not a libertarian ATM. The tech industry is overwhelmingly Democratic. In 2008, 83 percent of donations from the top Internet firms went to Obama, not John McCain. Many of the Valley’s household names, including Google’s then-chairman Eric Schmidt, personally helped Obama in both presidential campaigns. Republicans rarely get much money or talent from the Valley.

Yet they’re against unions and regulations (of their industry) and big on free trade of course, which is why Bernie Sanders gets no love from these people, nor would any Democrat of the pre-1990’s. Nor Donald Trump. Bill Clinton sniffed the winds well.

Then there’s the philosophical ideas that drive their politics:

What I discovered through my survey was that Silicon Valley represents an entirely new political category: not quite liberal and not quite libertarian. They make a fascinating mix of collectivists and avid capitalists…But Silicon Valley philosophically diverges with libertarians and conservatives in a key way: they aren’t individualists. 

He gives a great example of the latter:

When the libertarian icon Rand Paul began his early run for president in 2015, in San Francisco, he expected to be greeted like a hero. During the rally that I attended, Paul got rousing applause for railing against mass government spying. But when Paul asked, “Who is a part of the leave-me-alone coalition?” expecting to hear cheers, the room went silent. “Not that many, huh?” he nervously asked.

He’s not the only one who is nervous on hearing that, and it leads straight into this:

In my survey, founders displayed a strong orientation toward collectivism. Fifty-nine percent believed in a health-care mandate, compared with just 21 percent of self-identified libertarians. They also believed that the government should coerce people into making wise personal decisions, such as whether to eat healthier foods. Sixty-two percent said that individual decisions had an impact on many other people, justifying government intervention.

That is, tech founders reject the core premise of individualism – that citizens can do whatever they want, so long as they don’t harm others.

And consider that several of these fantastically wealthy men control companies that very much can aid (or oppose) a government via their extraordinary reach into influencing the lives of hundreds of millions, probably billions, of people. This is the world of “Nudge Theory”, and it’s very applicable to the last two years of the C-19 pandemic – a period that has seen their fortunes skyrocket beyond what was even thought possible in 2017, in several cases almost doubling to $150 billion or $200 billion plus.

Hold that thought.

What has all this done to the US state that is home to almost all of this wealth and genius, California?Well, as this National Review article describes, it’s not good, The Crumbling California Model. Again it’s lengthy with a lot of links to prove its points, but basically it comes down to this:

Yet it’s time now to see what California’s “success” is all about. It reflects a new kind of economy — dominated by a few large companies, with an elite workforce, a large service class, and a population increasingly dependent on wealth redistribution. This emerging oligarchic regime, however progressive it likes to label itself, is more feudal than egalitarian, more hierarchical than competitive, financed largely by the same tech giants who help fund Newsom’s successful defeat of the recall.

Exactly what was described by that 2017 poll of those Californian tech leaders. That state was once a remarkably diverse, job-rich economy, with vibrant aerospace, oil, trade, manufacturing, business services, and agriculture sectors, as well as software and media. But aside from the IT industry those sectors have fallen away, taking with them the well-paid jobs for people who can’t program a computer. If living on wealth redistribution sounds great to you, consider this:

For most, the reality on the ground is increasingly challenging. The state is now the second-most unaffordable state for home-buyers, a particular challenge for Millennials, and it suffers the highest rate of “doubling up” — only our friend Hawaii does worse. California has the largest gap between middle and upper wage quartiles in the nation, and it has a level of inequality greater than that of Mexico and closer to that of Central American countries such as Guatemala and Honduras than to such “progressive” developed counties as Canada and Norway.

The paradox is that California Democrats, the voters as well as the politicians, adore those welfare states and wish to be more like them without recognising that there is more to “welfare” than government money.

Back to that article I linked to the other day, looking at the control of language and ideas in our modern world. It finishes with this:

During the last three decades and possibly more, Western governments working hand in glove with large corporate interests have spent enormous energy and resources on perception management techniques designed to effectively undermine citizens’ ability to oppose the policies that these same elites, in their incandescent wisdom, have decided are best for the people. 

The attacks of September 11th gave these corporate and government leaders both the additional funds and the political latitude they needed to greatly accelerate work on these culture-planning processes. The Covid crisis has put the whole game on steroids. 

We have many ways of ignoring these frightening developments, most common and intellectually lazy of these being to dismiss them without examination under the rubric of “conspiracy theories.”

Insane in the membrane

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I was glad to hear that he’s never going to fly that high again.

I was also glad to see how much he enjoyed and appreciated the world laid out before his feet. Even if Antoine de Saint-Exupéry expressed it more beautifully in words long ago I can’t help wondering whether he would have taken even greater flights of fancy after touching the world via such a bare-bones contraption compared to the conventional planes which enclosed him. Certainly I thought of these lines as he passed through the layers of light cloud:

And now a wonder seized him. Dazzled by that brightness, he had to keep his eyes closed for some seconds. He had never dreamt the night-clouds could dazzle thus. But the full moon and all the constellations were changing them to light.

In a flash, the very instant he had risen clear, the pilot found a peace that passed his understanding. Not a ripple tilted the plane, but like a ship that has crossed the bar, it moved within a tranquil anchorage. In an unknown secret corner of the sky it floated, as in a harbour of the Happy Isles. Below him still the storm was fashioning another world, thridded with squalls and cloudbursts and lightnings, but turning to the stars a face of crystal snow.

Now all grew luminous, his hands, his clothes, the wings, and Fabien thought that he was in a limbo of strange magic; for the light did not come down from the stars but welled up from below, from all that snowy whiteness.

I also wonder if, when this young man once again touched Earth, he thought of this line:

“She wrapped herself around me and enlightened me. I should never have fled. I should have guessed at the tenderness behind her poor ruses.”

.

Written by Tom Hunter

January 8, 2022 at 2:59 pm

Posted in Aerospace, Technology, USA

Astronomy’s $10 billion Christmas Present

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Although it’s still in the process of unwrapping itself.

A few hours ago, on America’s Christmas Morning, the James Webb Space Telescope was launched by a European Space Agency (ESA) rocket, an Ariane 5, from the ESA site in French Guiana. About half and hour later it detached from the upper stage, as shown in the video below.

Rocket launches are always fairly tense, but at maximum when you’ve got a one-of-a-kind bird like this. The original plan had the telescope being launched by 2007 and costing a billion dollars, but for once I won’t throw shade at NASA about these factors because this telescope simply cannot be allowed to fail as it will be stationed about one million miles from Earth and therefore unfixable if anything goes wrong.

By contrast the Hubble Space Telescope orbits Earth about 300 miles up and was designed to be serviced by the Space Shuttles. A good thing too as when it was first launched in 1990 its images were blurred and NASA was horrified to find that its giant mirror had been improperly polished. A problem that basic in the very heart of the machine seemed like a show-stopper, but they finally fixed it in 1993 by fitting it with the equivalent of reading glasses.

It has since become one of the greatest science machines of all time, but astronomers were already planning its successor, built to see the first stars and galaxies that emerged from dust and gas of the early universe, only a few millions of years after the Big Bang. The Hubble can see back to within a billion years of that event. As a result the Webb telescope is sometimes fondly referred to by astronomers as the ‘First Light machine’.

Knowing that Hubble might not last more than twenty years and guessing that Webb would take a long time (although they never imagined it would be this long, and Hubble is still working – just) work on Webb began even before Hubble was launched – and given how Webb had to work, a repeat of the Hubble problem was not acceptable; the machine “is not allowed to fail”. As a result much of the last decade has been spent simply testing the hell out of it:

[Tests] involved lowering the telescope’s temperature to the minus 390 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 217 degrees Celsius) in which it will operate, and in a vacuum similar to that of space.

“The cryo-vacuum tests for Webb were long and gruelling,” [Project scientist] Kimble said. “It would take weeks just to cool everything down safely and then warm up again safely at the end of the test. And in the middle, when you are cold and stable, that’s when you do your detailed testing.”

And there’s a lot that can still go wrong. It has a lot of moving parts that must work to enable it to unfold in space like a giant origami sculpture:

Perhaps the most nerve-wracking move will be the unfurling of the sunshield, which is scheduled to occur in the first week after launch. The sunshield system has 140 release mechanisms, 70 hinge assemblies, 400 pulleys, 90 cables and eight deployment motors, all of which need to perform correctly to get the five thin membranes extended

The mirror consists of 18 hexagonal segments, each of which is made of beryllium and coated with a thin layer of gold.

That second link covers the engineering challenges and has a video of how it’s all supposed to unfold. The sun shade has five layers, spaced apart for maximum thermal cooling to allow the telescope instruments to be as cold as possible, which they have to be to detect faint infrared light from the oldest objects in the universe. That’s also the reason it has to be stationed so far from Earth. Hubble has IR detectors now, but was never designed for the job and so is too warm itself and too close to our warm planet, to be able to see the faintest (and oldest) objects in the sky:

[Webb] will orbit the sun, while simultaneously making small circles around the so-called Lagrange point 2 (L2)… At L2, the gravitational pulls of the sun and of Earth keep the spacecraft aligned with the two big bodies. 

It will take Webb about a month to fly to that point, unfolding all the way. Since they’re made of metal the mirror’s segments can actually be warped slightly by small electric motors mounted behind each one; all part of the process of turning those 18 mirrors into one mirror 6m wide.

If all goes according to plan, the telescope will detect cosmic objects 10 billion times fainter than the dimmest star you can see in the night sky without a telescope. That’s 10 to 100 times fainter than anything Hubble can pick up, NASA officials said. And Webb’s vision will be so sharp that it can see details the size of a penny from 24 miles (40 km) away, they added.

Fingers crossed but so far it’s all good. Check out those two links, Engineering Webb and Launching Webb for more details and videos about how it works and what it will do.

Written by Tom Hunter

December 26, 2021 at 2:07 pm

Posted in Aerospace, Europe, Science, Space, Technology, USA

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The GCSB is on the case?

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I would think they would be for the Ministry of Health, following this news:

Websites under Brazil’s Ministry of Health (MoH) have suffered a major ransomware attack that resulted in the unavailability of COVID-19 vaccination data of millions of citizens.

Following that attack that took place at around 1 am today, all of MoH’s websites including ConecteSUS, which tracks the trajectory of citizens in the public healthcare system, became unavailable. This includes the COVID-19 digital vaccination certificate, which is available via the ConecteSUS app.

Especially since the Waikato DHB was hit with a similar cyberattack some months ago which is still causing ongoing problems, according to people I know in that system.

I had to chuckle at the Twitter site, ZeitgeistNZ, carrying this news, because it turns out to be a New Zealander and I first saw it on the huge Instapundit blog, which undoubtedly will have delivered huge numbers of visitors to ZitgeistNZ.

It’s amazing how often the people running these systems find out that their backups are not as good as they thought they were, since such things should mean attacks like this are a mere inconvenience to the owner of the system, although having personal information being published by the hackers is a problem for both parties.

It sure beats a backpack weed sprayer

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Very cool news on the farming weedspraying front.

Farming robot kills 100,000 weeds per hour with lasers

Carbon Robotics has unveiled the third-generation of its Autonomous Weeder, a smart farming robot that identifies weeds and then destroys them with high-power lasers.

As it drives itself down rows of crops, its 12 cameras scan the ground. An onboard computer, powered by AI, identifies weeds, and the robot’s carbon dioxide lasers then zap and kill the plants.

The Autonomous Weeder can eliminate more than 100,000 weeds per hour and weed 15 to 20 acres of crops in one day — for comparison, Myers said a laborer can weed about one acre of his onions per day.

A robot!

With lasers!

Shit, it doesn’t get any better than that and this is the 21st century after all. I’m sure it can be adapted to work the slightly more random world of the average Kiwi sheep, cattle and dairy farm.

Written by Tom Hunter

December 1, 2021 at 12:14 pm

Welcome to the Internet

“Could I interest you in everything all of the time?”

The song was only posted on YouTube in June but already has 56 million views.

Pure genius from this guy Bo Burnham.

Also scary. I can’t help thinking that when the histories of the Chinese Xi Snot pandemic are written, The Internet is going be a big part of the picture of hysteria.

Written by Tom Hunter

November 27, 2021 at 11:47 am

Dodging bullets

You might think it difficult to dodge a bullet that’s traveling at 18,000 mph!

But it’s a lot easier when you’re also traveling at that speed.

The International Space Station (ISS) has had to change its orbit quite a few times over the last twenty years to avoid a collision with some piece of space junk, and it did so again a few days ago:

Earlier this week, the International Space Station (ISS) was forced to maneuver out of the way of a potential collision with space junk. With a crew of astronauts and cosmonauts on board, this required an urgent change of orbit on November 11.

Over the station’s 23-year orbital lifetime, there have been about 30 close encounters with orbital debris requiring evasive action. Three of these near-misses occurred in 2020.

That last is a key point. As the article points out, things are getting more crowded in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), and it’s not helped by what the Chinese did a few years ago:

This week’s incident involved a piece of debris from the defunct Fengyun-1C weather satellite, destroyed in 2007 by a Chinese anti-satellite missile test. The satellite exploded into more than 3,500 pieces of debris, most of which are still orbiting. Many have now fallen into the ISS’s orbital region.

At these speeds even tiny particles can be lethal (Energy = Mass x Velocity2). In May this year the ISS was hit: a tiny piece of space junk punched a 5mm hole in the ISS’s Canadian-built robot arm, the junk was probably less than 1mm in size.

ISS over New Zealand

You would think people would learn. Even Hollywood has. In the 2013 SF thriller movie Gravity, the Space Shuttle, while servicing the Hubble Space Telescope, gets hit by debris created by the Russians testing an anti-satellite weapon against one of their own satellites, leaving Sandra Bullock’s astronaut character as the sole survivor who has to try and get back to Earth. It’s a 90 minute thrill ride of a movie, so long as you ignore things like orbital mechanics which would make it impossible to get from the Hubble orbit to the ISS with just a jetpack device!

Which brings us to the latest news, Russian anti-satellite missile test endangers space station crew:

An anti-satellite missile test Russia conducted on Monday generated a debris field in low-Earth orbit that endangered the International Space Station and will pose a hazard to space activities for years, U.S. officials said.

The seven-member space station crew – four U.S. astronauts, a German astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts – were directed to take shelter in their docked spaceship capsules for two hours after the test as a precaution to allow for a quick getaway had it been necessary, NASA said.

I would think the two Russian cosmonauts may have a few choice words for their military compatriots when they return to Earth at the end of their mission.

It seems like a crazy thing for Russia to do, which has lead people to wonder if it’s connected with dodging bullets on Earth:

Satellite images released Nov. 8 showed an estimated 90,000 Russian troops gathered at the Ukrainian border, prompting House Republicans to petition President Biden to deploy troops to the region.

Belarus has been bringing illegal immigrants to Minsk and then sending them to the borders of Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. Turkey has shut down their airports for travelers from three Middle Eastern countries who want to travel to Belarus. NATO has condemned the situation.

Written by Tom Hunter

November 18, 2021 at 4:00 pm

Big Metal

One of the most basic things you learn in economics is the classic supply-and-demand graph, showing how the two things interact to produce the delicate balance that establishes the price of something, be it strawberries or cell phones.

What they don’t tell you is how useless that graph is in the practice of predicting what the price will be when demand or supply (or both) change. Behind that calculation sit super-computers and richly detailed software models, but the best they produce is a range, sometimes so broad as to be practically useless..

All one can say for certain is that supply exceeds demand the price will drop, and the greater it exceeds demand the greater the price drop will be. The supply does not even have to be in the marketplace to have an impact. For example, below is a graph of US prices for LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) over the last twenty years.

There are price spikes all the time, driven by all sorts of factors. But you’ll notice that there was a steady rise up 2005, followed by a steady drop to the present day. That’s the impact of the practice of fracking and horizontal drilling in gas fields, a technology that had been developing for decades but which only took off in the mid-2000’s. Fracking showed that the USA had vastly greater reserves of gas than had been predicted only a few years earlier. In fact, previous forecasts were that the nation would have to start importing LNG, which resulted in several giant terminals being built around the coast to unload the stuff from ships. Within a few short years that had been turned around, literally. The reserves “discovered” were so vast they amounted to hundreds of years of use and the terminals were re-configured to export the stuff.

Meanwhile the impact on the price was not just to greatly reduce it but to do so as far out into the future as could be seen, and another impact was that electrical generation companies switched large numbers of coal-fired power plants to being gas-fired. That, in turn, resulted in the USA reducing its CO2 emissions on such a scale that by 2020 it was beating the reduction targets of the 1997 Kyoto Treaty, (which its Senate had rejected), and the 2009 Waxham-Markey bill (which never passed).

So if you like reducing GHG’s (Greenhouse Gases), hug a fracker and thank them.

It’s not so easy to pull the same stunt with other commodities. Metals in particular, since it’s hard to see any revolution in mining them – although there will be steady, incremental improvements, and the planet has been well searched over the centuries for sources.

But there is one potential source that could change things in the 21st century:

Astronomers have now identified two metal-rich asteroids in orbit near the Earth, with one having a precious metal content that likely exceeds the Earth’s entire reserves.

Asteroid 1986 DA is estimated to be about 1.7 miles across, based on radar data obtained during a close Earth fly-by in 2019. The second asteroid, 2016 ED85, appears to have a similar content from spectroscopy, but no radar data has as yet been obtained of it, so much less is known.

figure 13 from the paper, illustrates the amount of precious metals available in asteroid 1986 DA, compared to the world’s entire reserves (FE=iron, Ni=nickel, Co=cobalt, Cu=copper, PGM=platinum group metals, Au=gold). From this single metal asteroid a mining operation could literally double the metal that had been previously mined on Earth.

Sure, but the technology to mine those metals and transport them to Earth does not yet exist, although there have been plenty of ideas over the decades, and the basics are understood.

But even when it’s developed there’s going to be a question of cost versus revenue, which brings us right back to that supply-and-demand graph. What would happen to the price of all these metals if such a source could be mined and added to the world’s reserves? The paradox is that the price might fall so low as to make the whole effort uneconomic.

The authors of that paper actually do try to account for this price drop, but the simple fact is that it’s as much of a guess as predicting the price of strawberries when that market is flooded. You know it’ll go down but to precisely what value?

We estimated that the amounts of Fe, Ni, Co, and the PGM present in 1986 DA could exceed the reserves worldwide. Moreover, if 1986 DA is mined and the metals marketed over 50 yr, the annual value of precious metals for this object would be ∼$233 billion.

In any case, it may well be that the metals never get to Earth because heavy industry slowly moves off the planet and there will be human colonies established in space that will need the metals right there. Getting them from asteroids certainly makes more economic sense than digging them out of the Moon or another planet. That seems to be what Jeff Bezos is thinking as he pushes forward with his Blue Origin rocket company (To rouse the spirit of the Earth, and move the rolling stars):

In Bezos’ view, dramatically reducing the cost of access to space is a key step toward those goals.

“Then we get to see Gerard O’Neill’s ideas start to come to life…

“I predict that in the next few hundred years, all heavy industry will move off planet. It will be just way more convenient to do it in space, where you have better access to resources, better access to 24/7 solar power,” 

Written by Tom Hunter

November 1, 2021 at 6:53 am