Archive for March, 2011
Volcanoes next

I’ve long been concerned about the possible impacts of the reduced solar activity on the earth. Not least because of this paper:

Possible Correlations Between Solar and Volcanic Activity in a Long-Term Scale

Volcanic activity on earth is described by special annual indices available since 1500. These indices have been compared with annual sunspot numbers. Volcanic activity displays no 11-yr periodicity. Using 21-YR running averages a striking similarity between these two time series is clearly seen. Volcanic activity is generally lower in periods of prolonged maxima of solar activity and higher in periods of prolonged minima.

The Chiefio has also spotted a depressing correlation:

Sometimes in reading history, you see patterns. This-then-that. Some connect, some do not.

But what if they look very familiar?…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1707_Hōei_earthquake

The 1707 Hōei earthquake, which occurred at 14:00 local time on October 28, 1707, was the largest in Japanese history until the 2011 Sendai earthquake surpassed it. It caused moderate to severe damage throughout southwestern Honshu, Shikoku and southeastern Kyūshū. The earthquake and the resulting destructive tsunami, caused more than 5,000 casualties. This event ruptured all of the segments of the Nankai megathrust simultaneously, the only earthquake known to have done this, with an estimated magnitude of 8.6 ML. It may also have triggered the last eruption of Mount Fuji some 49 days later.

Hmmm, I’m thinking… Quakes and Fuji?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Fuji

Mount Fuji (富士山 Fuji-san?, IPA: [ɸɯꜜdʑisaɴ] ) is the highest mountain in Japan at 3,776.24 m (12,389 ft). An active stratovolcano that last erupted in 1707–08,

And

Could there be anything ELSE linked in this kind of chain?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cascadia_Earthquake

The 1700 Cascadia earthquake was a magnitude 8.7 to 9.2 megathrust earthquake that occurred in the Cascadia subduction zone in 1700. The earthquake involved the Juan de Fuca Plate underlying the Pacific Ocean, from mid-Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, south along the Pacific Northwest coast as far as northern California, USA. The length of the fault rupture was about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) with an average slip of 20 meters (22 yards).

The earthquake caused a tsunami that struck the coast of Japan, and may also be linked to the Bonneville slide.

Well, now THAT is an interesting teleconnection…

TWO places having “megaquakes” on the SAME “ring of fire” subduction margin, within 7 years of each other. Then BOTH quiet until now. One, just having given a 9.0 quake.

Next?

The geological record reveals that “great earthquakes” (those with moment magnitude 8 or higher) occur in the Cascadia subduction zone about every 500 years on average, often accompanied by tsunamis. There is evidence of at least 13 events at intervals from about 300 to 900 years with an average of 590 years. Previous earthquakes are estimated to have occurred in 1310 AD, 810 AD, 400 AD, 170 BC and 600 BC.

They have a chart next to the text with the same numbers in it.

So, back at my “solar cycle” spreadsheet, are there any dates close to a “179 year” Solar Cycle (S.C.) count?

600 BC – 665 BC S.C.
170 BC – 128 BC S.C.
400 AD – 409 AD S.C.
810 AD – 767 AD S.C.
1310 AD – 1304 AD S.C.
2011 AD – 2020 AD imputed peak S.C. and B.E. Zero.

These Solar Cycle dates are created by the expedient of just adding 179 repeatedly. Better dates would come from actual cycle data.

BUT, even with these crude methods, it is “odd” that we’re inside 50 years on a lot of those dates, and within single digits on ‘a few’… (And those that are off are off by a very ‘resonant’ quantity…)

Let’s hope these are simply spurious correlations. There is a downside to having a brain that evolved to spot patters. That’s spotting patterns that don’t exist or do not have any meaning. That said, do pop over to The Chiefio and read the comments.  The post on fascism is also well worth reading. Actually most of his site is worth reading. He’s very numerate and sharp, as are his commentators.

 
Our Civilization

If you have any doubt how much we owe to our economic system, check out this modern reworking of the old story of a pencil:

http://www.ted.com/talks/thomas_thwaites_how_i_built_a_toaster_from_scratch.html

It is even more amazing when you consider the amount of technology used to gather and work the raw materials and the caliber of the final product.

Unleashing man’s creativity through a market system has clearly enriched all our lives. We owe so much to so many thanks to the almost indefinable thing called “capitalism” or even “capitalisms”. Let’s hope our failure to enforce the laws essential to the correct functioning of our Western system does not result in our turning our backs on it. I like toast. Not to mention adequate food, clothing, shelter and assorted technological life enhancers.

If you want to know more about the original story of the pencil then check out Alex Barnett:

Friedman originally introduced the pencil story to popular public consciousness in his 1980’s television series ‘Free to Choose’ (You can watch the clip here):

“Nobody knows how to make a pencil. There’s not a single person in the world who actually knows how to make a pencil.

“In order to make a pencil, you have to get wood for the barrel. In order to get wood, you have to have logging. You have to have somebody who can manufacture saws. No single person knows how to do all that.

“What’s called lead isn’t lead. It’s graphite. It comes from some mines in South America. In order to make pencils, you’d have to be able to get the lead.

“The rubber at the tip isn’t really rubber, but it used to be. It comes from Malaysia, although the rubber tree is not native to Malaysia. It was imported into Malaysia by some English botanists.

“So, in order to make a pencil, you would have to be able to do all of these things. There are probably thousands of people who have cooperated together to make this pencil. Somehow or other, the people in South America who dug out the graphite cooperated with the people in Malaysia who tapped the rubber trees, cooperated with, maybe, people in Oregon who cut down the trees.

“These thousands of people don’t know one another. They speak different languages. They come from different religions. They might hate one another if they met. What is it that enabled them to cooperate together?

“The answer is the existence of a market.

“The simple answer is the people in South America were led to dig out the graphite because somebody was willing to pay them. They didn’t have to know who was paying them; they didn’t have to know what it was going to be used for. All they had to know was somebody was going to pay them.

“What brought all these people together was an enormously complex structure of prices – the price of graphite, the price of lumber, the price of rubber, the wages paid to the laborer, and so on. It’s a marvelous example of how you can get a complex structure of cooperation and coordination which no individual planned.

“There was nobody who sat in a central office and sent an order out to Malaysia: ‘Produce more rubber.’ It was the market that coordinated all of this without anybody having to know all of the people involved.”.

Friedman’s story of the pencil is inspired by the 1958 essay, I, Pencil, by Leonard E. Read.

 
Technological transformation

It’s no secret to anyone who has read much of this site that the author has been profoundly pessimistic about the ability of the West to avoid a depression, possibly the Greatest Depression. But finally we have reason to hope. It’s a long shot, but worth outlining.

Before charging ahead, let’s remind ourselves of a central aspect of the problems faced by the West. In a nut shell, too  much has been promised to too many. Society will not be able to deliver. You know the sort of stuff:

  • Retire thirty years before you will probably die
  • Don’t enter the workforce for the first twenty something years of your life.
  • Free health care
  • Generous public service pensions
  • Small numbers of students in classrooms
  • Repay government debt and take on debt of the politically connected vested interests
  • Government housing, income support, child allowances…etc.

Absent something miraculous on the productivity front there are not going to be enough workers per dependent person. Top and tailing peoples working life, while not having as many new workers entering the workforce as those retiring is not a sensible societal option. Having large numbers of unemployed people will exasperate the problem.  Sorry to disappoint those getting all worked up in the US, but sacking a few public servants and selling some assets to the politically connected at below market rates will not fix things. Neither will pandering to government employees and union heavies. You have been consuming more than you produced, hence the growth in debt without associated growth in production. Repaying the debt or even stopping the growth of debt will require a reduction in consumption. In real terms your GDP will fall. It will shrink down to a level from which healthy growth can occur. In fact it will probably overshoot this level. Prepare for a significant fall in your living standards as it is almost inevitable.

Sure people have made decisions and lived their life in part based on the false promises of politicians of all political persuasions. They will be unhappy when they discover the reality of their situation.  They will look for someone to blame. People will try and focus this anger on targets that suit them. There could be social strife across the West such as has not been seen since 1848. But I digress. This is a post of hope. What could change this pessimistic prognosis?

The most obvious answer is something miraculous on the productivity front. Well we have seen signs of that with Additive Layer Manufacturing and 3D printing type technology reaching the tipping point where it may start being rolled out en mass. If you are not aware of the potential for 3D printing have a look at:

More links on 3D printing here.

The technology has the potential to transform much of the manufacturing, retail and distribution sectors of the economy. The technology is developing rapidly and will no doubt be another example of technology experiencing exponential rates of improvement.  Moore’s law does seem broadly applicable as Ray Kurzweil has demonstrated. I recommend watching the Transcendent man which can be downloaded here for US$14.99.

The Transcendent man raises the specter of artificial intelligence. It too will no doubt come into being. But perhaps not as soon as Mr Kurzweil predicts. Until then 3D printing and other power related technological improvements may provide the productivity increases necessary for denizens of the West to live in the style to which they have become accustomed. There are grounds for hope.

These types of advances are some of the reasons why life will get better manifesting themselves.

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