Friday, October 26, 2012

The Ascender's Creed

I am not a Prepper.

I am not a Survivalist.



I will not worry about every possible hazard we could face.

I will focus on the future I want to create.

I will steadfastly work towards achieving that future.

I will only worry about the things I can control and leave the rest up to higher powers.

I will follow the principle of ensuring that every function is covered by multiple elements and every element has multiple functions and trust in the resiliency of the system.


I believe that entering such a future is purely a matter of choice, collectively and individually.

I believe that we can choose those futures at any time up to the point of extinction.

I believe that the sooner we choose such a future, the easier the transition will be, the more people will be able to make the transition, and the more comfortable and prosperous that future will be.

I call it The Long Ascent because in the end we will only choose one, but at this point there are many paths open.  Where do you want to go?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Tools vs. Machines

I'd like to expand one idea I alluded to in the Death of Tyranny, that the Industrial Age was brought about by making mechanical slaves.  In my language of patterns, the difference between a tool and a machine is that a tool helps you do something while a machine does it for you.  The distinction isn't always clear cut; in between scythes and lawn-mowing robots, you have the options of reel mowers, push mowers, self-propelled mowers, riding lawn mowers, and lawn tractors (not to mention cows, sheep, rabbits, ducks, etc.) for getting your grass trimmed.  While there are important philosophical reasons not to even have machines as slaves (especially Cylons), today I am more concerned with the practical side.

One rumor I have heard from the very early days of industrial automation (circa the 1950s), they had to make a choice between analog and digital robots.  Analog robots were cheaper to produce, easier to maintain, worked faster, required less power, were far easier to modify, and did much more precise work.  Digital robots only had a single advantage: they didn't require an full-time operator.  In other words, analog robots were tools, digital robots were machines.  I think we all know which choice they made.

Nor is this question just a matter of history.  I love what Marcin Jakubowski is trying to do over at Factor-E Farm.  I truly wish him the best of luck in completing his Global Village Construction Set.  Honestly I think what he is doing there is the best chance of maintaining a high level of technology as we move off Hubbert's Mesa.  I just hope he has the time to complete it.  If you look at his Compressed Earth Block Press, you will clearly see it is a machine.  Just give it power and dirt and it will spit out blocks for you.  Contrast that with the Auram CSEB Press.  It is completely human powered.  There are no fancy hydraulics or gears or belts to break down.  It is basically just a box with a giant lever.  The GVCS Press will clearly win on a per person or per machine basis over the Auram one.  But there is much less that can go wrong with the Auram.

On the Long Ascent, machines can be useful, but good tools are essential.

Friday, October 5, 2012

An End to Literacy

You may be surprised to see this topic in this blog.  If you are a long time reader, you have rightly come to expect basically uplifting posts about possible positive futures.  On the face of it, this topic can seem quite discouraging.

Let me first state, I am talking about an end to literacy, or more exactly, one possible end.  This is not like the death of tyranny, where the outcome is like that for cancer that has metastasized; the question is not whether the cancer will live, the question is whether it will kill the patient in its process of dying.  Nor am I talking about the complete extinction of literacy; like calligraphy after the invention of the printing press, writing may go from a major industry to a rare hobby.

Nor do I view literacy as a bad thing, or even as a needless luxury.  Tripp Tibbetts wrote a good post on the role of books in the preservation of knowledge; the Leibowitz Society is an excellent if infrequent blog on that general topic.  What made literacy so special was it allowed the transmission of knowledge from one person to another without being in the same place and time.  As energy availability declines, the second part may grow greatly in value.  It is quite conceivable certain knowledge will be forgotten only to be learned again from books.  Not having to travel to meet in the same place is also an important consideration; after all, everyone reading this blog probably is literate.  If this was a podcast, I couldn't be quite as certain.

Therein lies the key.  Knowledge no longer needs to be printed to be transmitted.  Videos are more complex than books and are more likely to decline with the availability of energy.  Once books are made and distributed, using them takes little energy, at least during daylight hours, but the costs of production and distribution are not trivial, and they are subject to mildew.  However, while audiobooks require much more storage space than ebooks, they are much smaller than regular books, and earpieces are much smaller, simpler, and more resilient and energy efficient than screens.  As long as we retain the technology to crystallize the abundant earth of silicon and print circuits on it, we should be able to continue make audiobooks.

On the Long Ascent, your MP3 player might just be your library, too.
Enhanced by Zemanta