Five Links #036
Lots of science stuff
Love a good Venn diagram joke..
1Password to iCloud..
A few years ago when anyone would ask me about some quick tips they could adopt to better utilise tech in their legal practice, my standard response was to tell them about 1Password. It seemed to me one of the lowest hanging fruits available was to adopt a system to generate strong passwords and to remember them and to present them when needed - so that the user never really even needed to know them personally.
Forget the paperless office and the document automation and the AI and the robots and the holograms, Figure out your passwords first.
Lately though I’ve been noticing how improved the default password-keeper functionality is in Apple‘s iCloud. It’s not quite as good as 1Password, but for most people using the one true phone ecosystem, it’s free. Which is a substantially better price.
So in that vein I enjoyed this article on using Apple‘s iCloud as your default password keeper.
Back in 5L Issue #027, I linked to an article which suggested the collapse was a mere 20 years away. This somewhat long video does a good job of explaining the arguments in that article.
My own short thoughts on the article and the video are as follows:
I’m less convinced at the idea of some supermodel that can account for all variables that go into the effectiveness of a modern society. And so although it’s curious that their models all seem to suggest a converging decline somewhere around the year 2040, I just don’t buy that level of accuracy.
I’m much more convinced however at the way the model highlights how poorly our capitalist society addresses the tragedy of the commons. In my experience, in our society if a problem does not belong to an individual it may as well not exist. I’m not surprised then at the high-level rationale underpinning their models. At some point, we run out of exploitable natural resources (whether that’s farmable land or clean water or who knows what), birth-rates decline, and less workers are available to maintain productive output. Conflict ensues.
It is interesting to hear the video note that the way our society has progressed since the original study in the 1970s closely follows the downfall predictions in many of their models.
I can’t help but think of the current buzz around town for a ‘clean green hydrogen energy future’. The video talks of the models’ prediction of an increase in innovation due to a ‘back against the wall’ style burst of motivation to bring about change. I guess time will tell whether we humans figure it all out before it’s too late.
Save us, Mr Musk..
Speaking of innovation to save the world, I loved this long read on sustainable nuclear fusion and the scientists trying to achieve it.
Let’s say that you’ve devoted your entire adult life to developing a carbon-free way to power a household for a year on the fuel of a single glass of water, and that you’ve had moments, even years, when you were pretty sure you would succeed. Let’s say also that you’re not crazy. This is a reasonable description of many of the physicists working in the field of nuclear fusion. In order to reach this goal, they had to find a way to heat matter to temperatures hotter than the center of the sun, so hot that atoms essentially melt into a cloud of charged particles known as plasma; they did that. They had to conceive of and build containers that could hold those plasmas; they did that, too, by making “bottles” out of strong magnetic fields. When those magnetic bottles leaked—because, as one scientist explained, trying to contain plasma in a magnetic bottle is like trying to wrap a jelly in twine—they had to devise further ingenious solutions, and, again and again, they did. Over decades, in the pursuit of nuclear fusion, scientists and engineers built giant metal doughnuts and Gehryesque twisted coils, they “pinched” plasmas with lasers, and they constructed fusion devices in garages. For thirty-six years, they have been planning and building an experimental fusion device in Provence. And yet commercially viable nuclear-fusion energy has always remained just a bit farther on. As the White Queen, in “Through the Looking Glass,” said to Alice, it is never jam today, it is always jam tomorrow.
Estimates of the cost of the Manhattan Project, which produced atomic weapons in four years, vary, but it is commonly said that the scientists were given a “blank check.” This year, the U.S. government will spend some six hundred and seventy million dollars on nuclear fusion. That’s a lot of money, but six hundred and fifty billion—the amount the I.M.F. estimates that U.S. taxpayers spent on fossil-fuel subsidies last year—is quite a bit more.
The M.I.T. team continued to dedicate its time to ARC/SPARC, quilting together fellowships and grants. At one point, to make payroll, technicians went into the basement and loaded trucks with scrap copper to sell. SPARC Underground was set up—a group of interested scientists who met regularly, to discuss plans and work through difficulties. They needed to buy as much H.T.S. as they could, in order to learn more about the material’s characteristics—hammer it, heat it, freeze it, send current through it. “I remember so well the first shipment of H.T.S.,” Mumgaard said. “We waited for months to get this reel of material. It was only five hundred metres. Now, if we’re not talking ten kilometres, we’re not talking anything. These days, you can order this stuff on Alibaba.com. But then—it was such a moment.”
I’m really surprised Mr Musk hasn’t attacked this yet. It seems very on brand for him.
(via Daring Fireball)