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Link Nexus for June

Link Nexus for June
By antirobust • Issue #15 • View online

some links… for the first half (third?) of June!
large gas engines that can run with high blends of hydrogen & other low-carbon fuels like ammonia & methanol are making progress. the RICE units also pair well with wind & solar, apparently able to ramp up & down more efficiently than other types of gas generators. it’s becoming increasingly clear that this technology is going to happen, it’s not just a scam or theoretical.
related, this grid storage project in Utah is huge, & represents another big demo of several different aspects of the potential hydrogen industrial ecology (geologic storage & electrolyzers at scale). it will take a long time to figure out all the technical & economic & infrastructure details. there will be setbacks, failed projects etc. but it will play at least some role in many energy systems, & possibly a huge role if costs come down. big L for anti-combustion thermodynamic-efficiencybros
pretty good Economist briefing on AI progress with huge models like DALL-E, GPT etc
biggest US airship in quite while seems to be moving forward. godspeed. i remember reading a random blog post many years ago arguing that airships are a bad transportation tech because they occupy a very uncompetitive point on a tradeoff curve between speed & cargo capacity (mass or volume, i can’t remember. it’s possible i’m making this up). of course many more variables are relevant for business viability. cost is critically important. you have weather robustness, landing flexibility, fuelling needs, turnaround & loading/offloading speed, docking infrastructure requirements, labor, safety, distance, etc. it’s probably not possible to come to any firm conclusions about airships’ potential by looking at spreadsheets. entrepreneurship and the market are discovery processes. if someone thinks they have a good idea for how to build & use large airships, and they can attract funding, let them try it & find out. and that’s what’s happening, which is awesome. at the very least there’s clearly an aesthetic demand for it, so plausibly this can create some small market niche.
Malaman proposes building an alien defense system of megastructure space guns. brother, youve got my vote
more Starlink Ukraine content. this is a bit of a puff-piece, & i suspect in reality Starlink isn’t quite as miraculous. i have some questions about anti-radar weapons detecting & targeting the receiver dishes. but in general it’s amazing, & we’re only at the beginning. you have to imagine that as satellite internet improves, other complementary tech will increasingly augment & extend its benefits. off-grid energy systems will continue to improve & reduce gas generator needs & fuel cost. meshnets will extend the range, decentralization & robustness of access. long-duration & perpetual-flight drones can further supplement access. & i believe there are some companies pursuing satellite internet with direct device connectivity (i.e eliminating ground receivers). seems pretty clear that people in the future will have internet everywhere
Energy Dome continues to apparently make rapid progress towards commercialization, after seemingly coming out of nowhere. recall this is the Italian company doing above-ground compressed co2 grid storage. you have to take everyone’s claims about cost with a massive grain of salt. but it does seem promising
research into future aircraft wing designs. some wacky ideas here, such as flexible warping control surfaces, massive wings that fold up to navigate airports, and (!) flapping wingtips
solar highway noise barriers. lol. i think eventually these kind of ‘building-integrated PV’ surfaces are likely to become dirt-cheap & ubiquitous. but at the moment they still seem pretty gimmicky. one strange thing about this & a few other similar projects is that they have (i assume) the downsides of distributed generation (higher cost, higher degradation, lower yield) without providing the key benefit of resilience to a building. they are grid-serving distributed generation resources, which is kind of a weird category. typically front-of-meter generation is built at utility-scale, which is way cheaper. but i suppose it is quite land-efficient, so idk why not
reminder that NuScale is now public (NYSE: SMR). but they still have a long road to first commercial deployment in 2029. i am pretty confident (in NuScale & SMRs generally), & will keep pushing the meme of making the 2030s the ‘decade of nuclear’. roll out some projects successfully, on time, on budget. start developing a track record of safety, efficiency, reliability. then you start getting more contracts which lets you scale up your production process. find cost efficiencies & start down a learning curve. this growing strength boosts political demand for regulatory reform, helping you further. by the end of the decade you’re cruising, especially as easy solar & wind growth starts tapping out & more attention shifts towards cleaning up the firm component of energy grids. & by 2040s if the anti-renewables nuclearmaxxers are proven right, you can start winning back market share from wind & solar en route to ultimate domination in the 2050s. or if not you can just chill with a respectable market niche, & get to work deploying the next-gen reactor designs
Axon’s ethics board resigned, bizarrely, after the company posted about the idea of installing taser drones in schools to combat active shooters. some of the quotes are just insane, & reveal a pernicious anti-technology mindset. govt surveillance abuse is a concern for something like this, but it’s not an insurmountable problem. drone tech isn’t quite good enough to really make it work well. but it’s a good idea. in 10-15 years it’ll be viable. it would not surprise me if in the future, many public buildings have little security-drone docks on the ceiling, installed alongside smoke detectors and so on. a million sci-fi zero-crime utopias have this premise, surely they can’t all be wrong!
long Foreign Affairs essay on global energy politics, focusing on a resurgence of certain types of govt intervention. seems basically right
Teddy Raccovelt comments on remote work
looks like we might build a huge storm surge barrier in Galveston Bay, TX to protect industrial stuff. Make US Army Corps of Engineers Great Again?
autonomous electric trucks increasingly being deployed at mines. via The Diff newsletter. Hobart says one reason for adoption at industrial sites is that firms can measure the benefits. i’d add an even bigger factor, which is that in industrial areas the physical space is totally controlled by the company. the ability to simplify & reduce safety & legal risk with set routes & well-trained employees allows current imperfect AV tech to be more useful, vs uncontrolled environments out in the world. passenger AVs driving on chaotic city streets are the most technologically cutting-edge & those firms deservedly get the most attention. but from a business perspective it’s clearly easier & better to operate far from the frontier of difficulty.
airports are another obvious area where autonomous baggage tugs could be viable today. although in this case there is typically a thicket of organizational & safety regulation issues which may prevent deployment. the economics of commercial air carriers is more precarious & baggage handler jobs are lower wage vs mining employees, & so labor-saving capital investment is less appealing. but if unemployment remains low & air travel demand growth keeps up, i think you’ll see it
Brian Potter on nuclear costs. nothing new if you’re deep into this stuff, but one of the better intros to the topic
DeepMind is working on wind energy prediction & optimization, kinda neat
update on DoD ‘Project Pele’ transportable microreactors, for bases etc. yes please. but kind of depressing to see this move so quickly vs civilian SMR startups, i assume largely bc they bypass NRC
interesting thread on why Harvard Law School is less insane than Yale Law School (mostly it’s just way bigger)
good Foreign Affairs piece on Russia’s global nuclear industry & the imperative for liberal democracies to build up a robust nuclear industrial ecology to prevent China from taking Russia’s place
good post on zinc chemistries for stationary energy storage. seems likely that as EV demand grows, the highest and best use for lithium will increasingly be to serve that market. i assume lithium production will eventually rise a lot, but it could take time. storage applications that are less constrained on volume & mass will sensibly shift to things like zinc, iron; e.g grid installations & distributed storage in homes & commercial/industrial buildings
incidentally this is an example of one reason why i’m not too concerned by some of the points tundranaut discusses here. it is a worthwhile exercise to project out current trends & understand what’s feasible & what’s not. but at least in the energy storage space, there’s just a huge amount of innovation & optionality when it comes to technologies & resource needs. as somewhat of a side-note, i think Menton is probably right that a 100% wind/solar/hydro grid isn’t realistic at any kind of scale, & the models advocating for that are silly. but it’s critical to understand that this claim does not imply that building more wind & solar is bad on the current margin. imo the thoughtful position on deep grid decarbonization is that you can probably get to something like 70% wind/solar in many places with reasonable cost & reliability (whether it’s politically practical is another question). decarbonizing the last chunk (with reasonable cost & reliability) is more difficult, & there’s a lot more uncertainty over what tech could play what roles (which is fine— we don’t have to have everything figured out yet). i think it’s possible that wind & solar overbuilding, transmission, flexible demand & various kinds of storage can get nearly all the way. but more likely you’ll have a large role for clean firm resources like nuclear, geothermal, hydrogen/clean-fuels, & bioenergy. a final point here is just to be wary of using the 100% renewables meme as a strawman to attack wind & solar in general. a diet consisting of 100% eggs is inadvisable, but this does not imply that eating some nonzero amount of eggs is a bad idea (i am eating eggs rn)
i quite enjoyed this Chris Arnade post on walking around Seoul. very interesting city imo. & also see this good piece on the rising importance of South Korea for US electric vehicle supply chains
behold, a post sincerely arguing (i think) that linear programming solved the central planning information problem & has only failed because of elites & PMC rent-seekers. with a sufficient amount of democracy & advanced modelling tools, we can have a non-monetary eco-socialist utopia. downsides may include tyrannical energy usage constraints and state-enforced veganism
books
Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics (And Everything Else) by Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò. i expected this to be a somewhat rigorous critique of excessive identity politics & wokeness from a black-socialist perspective (the author is a Nigerian-USian philosopher at Georgetown), but it really wasn’t. in the first few pages it becomes clear that this critical review is spot-on in observing that Táíwò doesn’t really say anything at all, beyond the concept easily grasped from the title. the only other notable idea is ‘identitarian deference’, which Matt Bruenig & many other ppl have written about extensively (Bruenig’s posts are much clearer & shorter than Táíwò’s muddle). the book was just a confusing, poorly-written, poorly-structured, poorly-argued mess. many paragraphs don’t really make sense, & there’s lots of jumping around from topic to topic & bizarrely sweeping unsubstantiated claims & generalizations. lots of imprecise rants about the evils of capitalism & corporations & elites & whiteness. i’m possibly being too harsh. as a work of political philosophy, social/political analysis, or systematic argument it’s incoherent & uninteresting. but much of the book is just long historical vignettes of various notable black academics & slavery- & colonialism-related topics, which was somewhat interesting.
Streets of Gold: America’s Untold Story of Immigrant Success by Ran Abramitzky & Leah Boustan. this book summarizes a bunch of academic work by these economists, about current & historical patterns of US immigration (they assembled some huge novel datasets using Ancestry.com & other sources). most of their key findings are framed as undermining a conventional wisdom about past waves of European immigrants being ‘better’ than current flows— more successful, more upwardly mobile, faster at assimilation. they show that #actually, many big trends around income mobility, generational assimilation etc have been pretty steady over time, even as the composition of US immigration has shifted towards Latin America & elsewhere. the findings are interesting, as far as they go. but at times i was a bit confused, bc they occasionally drop in claims that seem to undermine their main points. i think the takeaway is just a bit more nuanced than they convey (the book feels mildly propagandistic at times). immigrants of all kinds do assimilate & mostly converge economically with US-born ppl, over time. & immigration is economically beneficial for basically all US-born groups. so this should make you less pessimistic about immigration, particularly lower-skill lower-education immigrants. i agree. but their final move of arguing against a more selective immigration system that filters more on preexisting income, skills & education is a bit underbaked. the book isn’t really a deep-dive into this particular public policy topic, though, so i give them a pass. as a work of social science it was really interesting. probably too many narrative vignettes for my taste, & not nearly enough graphs. but i enjoyed it.
The City & the City by China Miéville. very good novel. relatively short & gets right into the plot, which i always like. police procedural / mystery is just a good genre, although i’ve not read many of them. the scifi premise is creative, and avoids getting bogged down in endless politics worldbuilding. at times the book has a kind of absurdist or slapstick vibe, which is really fun— some scenes or details feel like sketch comedy bits. recommended.
Authority, and Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer. the other two books after Annihilation in the ‘Southern Reach’ trilogy. Quite good, although the quality declines monotonically. the best parts remain those most tied to Annihilation & the mysterious alien-biology-zone. these two books get more into the secretive govt agency overseeing the zone, which is still fun but less original. coincidentally i played through the computer game Control earlier this year (unusually for me; i clicked a google Stadia free trial and there it was), and discovered after reading these books that it was heavily influenced by this trilogy. the game was fantastic, and the books shared many of the same themes & aesthetic elements (i guess this is somewhat of a genre, ‘new weird’. that SCP online collaborative storytelling community is also heavily related). i also watched the Annihilation movie, which was great. shame it wasn’t a commercial success & the sequels weren’t made.
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