Monthly Archives: March 2009

What about technical advances

On the same topic I watched the nice lection by Dr. Albert A. Bartlett on Arithmetic Population And Energy.   As usually in such cases I like to check what oponents of the theory have to offer.

So what it takes for science and technology to offer continuing improving life for increasing population ?    There are basically three problems which need to be solved.

Energy This is most critical one as fossil fuels are not only non-renewable but they are also not recycable. Once its  gone its gone.     This is most pressing issue and so solution will have to be found short term.  The good thing the morden technologies already offer a lot – it is just lack of will (supported by cheap oil, coal, gas over last decades).   For  example France gets majority of its electricity needs from Nuclear power.  This is not as clean as many people would like but it is better than Oil or Coal.   There is Wind, Geothermal, Tide, Solar etc energy.   It would be also nice to see Fusion based energy developed getting safer alternative to nuclear power which also can work on much more abundant resources.    Solving Electricity problem is really enough –  the electric powered car or hydrogen based system can be “charged” by this kind of energy.

Resources There is only so much of various chemical elements available, and especially easily extractable.   Even with 100% recycling we get ever decreasing amount per capita.   There are also limited capacity of renewable resources  – forests, food growth etc especially as they get the pressure from the space element.

Space This is most theoretical issue –  with exponential growth we run out of space sooner or later Dr.  Bartlett says  with current rate of population growth we would get 1 person per square meter  for all land surface within 780 years.   This is of course far away but really problems  would happen much earlier considering how much space is really needed per person to produce food air etc, not to mention leisure needs, even with current life standards.

So what is really needed for growth to continue longer ?  Both for Resource and Space constrains we will need to go beyond the earth.   When do you think our technology will be able to get us out there ?   The first space flight was over 50 years ago and if you compare the progress to other parts of life it was not so astonishing. We furthest mandkind got so far is getting human to the moon some 30 years ago.    How likely is it we will be able to harvest resources from planets and asteroids in Solar system within next 50 years?   It does not seems likely to me.

The biggest problem here is energy again – the fossil fuels based space travel makes it too expensive to do any real production in the space so far.    Of course we can learn from science writers and hope there will be some transportation device discovered which would allow to teleport to any space but I do not think there is any foundation for such technology is.

If  Solar system remains rather distance source for  resources (and there is not much comfortable living space it can provide) the other stars which might contain inhabitable planets is even further in the future.  With hundreds of millions of stars in our galaxy and millions of galaxies this would allow to maintain exponential growth for quite a while.

There is however more troubling point – even if population growth stops and resource consumption stops growing we are already quickly running of energy resources and transition is inevitable.  How would it look ? How countries and individuals are prepared for it ?    The government seems to avoid taking a really serious steps toward solving this problem as call to use less and reduce standard of living would not earn many votes.

Because of this I expect rather troublesome rather than smooth transition with technology advances born in pain and suffering.

On Exponential growth

I’ve recently watched couple of videos on youtube –  Chris Martensons “Crash Course” and another one focused on oil production in particular.      These are very good education videos  though you may lose your sleep for couple of nights as these are quite gloomy predictions.      These films both talk about  trouble exponential function starting from legend of chess invention and the modern day.     One very helpful thing was an aproximate formula for doubling knowing percentage growth –  you just take 70 and devide it by percentage growth and you get the dubbling time.   So if something growths 2% per year it will double in approximately 35 years. If it is 7% per year it will double in 10 years (and so grow about 10 times in the same 35 years).

Based on these films I had couple of interesting thoughs:

Population Growth – The population growth is what most of economies depend on. I know Russia or Scandinavian countries having zero population growth or actually population decline see this as a serious issue.   While if you really think about it at the long time scale – the population must stop growing sooner or later,  assuming humanity will be still bound to the earth.    Also the more people we have the less resources we have per person while at the same time everybody on the earth looks to continue improving standards of living (which typically means increasing resource usage).  How do we expect that  to happen ?     Well I believe most people are so tied up with the current issues they have little plan thinking about future… in particular about thinking about future which can be very different from their past.

So why countries are concerned about population growth ?  If you look at the GDP measure of the country two main ways to increase it is number of people in the country, which is relatively easy and then there is a productivity increase which is hard.  Everyone knows GDP should grow for healthy economy and the population growth is important factor for it.    We also need a population growth because if we do not we will have few children supporting a lot of old parents and so standards of living will decrease.   This also means the longer people live after they retire (and stop producing) the lower the average standard of living will be.

How world would look if population would top growing or decline ?

Religion Another thought I had is on religion –  Religions typically encourage population growth via large families.  Is there any religion which would put a limit on amount of children you should have ? I think it ranges from support of having large families to banning contraception all together.   It is clear where this comes from – hundreds and thousands of years ago  families needed to be large because children supported their families, because of high death rates etc.    World also was a savage place and small communities would have hard time protenting themselves from quickly growing neightbours.   The world has changed and the population is no more the ultimate measure of military power and you do not have to have may children for some of them to survive.    How many religious leaders however changed their stand on this matter  ?

Resources With demands growing exponentioally while extraction capacity following the bell curve this is a hard problem to solve for the world in a whole.  What does it mean for individual countries however ?  The price of  natural resources will continute to increase and countries which have a lot of resources will thrive financially and economically.     I see Russia as having better growth prospects than US for example and well it is already dictating half the Europe as it is badly dependent on Russian Natural  Gas for the energy.      Will countries having litte (or having used up all resources) just pay whatever prices resource owners decide to charge or will they try to change the borders by force ?

The countries pass their peak oil/gas/minerals productions like US or UK   will  likely start changes and hopefully resolve problems sooner.

Dual License Open Source challenges

I was thinking about how  MySQL compares to  PostgreSQL/EnterpriseDB in terms of business advantages.     Sun owns  MySQL source code which means they can sell it under commercial license and nobody else can, which is a blessing but it is also a problem –  this means Sun  have to own the copyright for all contributions/extensions which it is willing to take to the main tree.   This was OK in MySQL times when community was stagnant in terms of development –  there were very few significant external contributions to MySQL ever but  for variety of reasons were no external development too.

Now things have changed – we see much more community development done by Google, Percona,  OurDelta, finally now Monty leaves MySQL and starts his development company which will do significant development in MySQL space, not even mentioning Drizzle which is looking to be MySQL of the future.

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Picking a NetBook

For a while I wanted to get a sub-notebook or NetBook as they call them sometimes.  Something easy to carry around to take notes etc.   I tried 9 inch ones and these had too compact keyboard while 10″ looked reasonable.

I believe it is very hard to pick something based just on reviews and description on the net so I decided to try couple of models available at Costco. Costco may not offer the lowest prices on computers but I am ready to pay a fair extra for return convenience.

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