Ukraine, space planes and cycling in Paris
Hi, I’m Gavin. This is my experimental newsletter that explores thinking - how we might think better and learn together as we do so.
I explore several key topics through the lens of several core themes: systems thinking, scenario planning, trends, and cross-disciplinary innovation. These often relate to key issues: climate change, pandemics, astronomy, physics, health, history, philosophy, culture, rocketry, conflict, the impact of technology on society and more (lol!). With a larger question behind it all: how do we progress and how do we progress better?
I hope you like where we go. (934 - nope - 938 of us now! - welcome all new arrivals)
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News list 🇺🇦 Ukraine - Russia
(An occasional section that focuses on a particular issue.)
Russia is busy.
As much as governments need to foster new innovation and accelerate the clean energy transition to curb climate change, they also must take conscious steps to mitigate the geopolitical risks this change will create. New technologies can solve technical and logistical problems but cannot eliminate competition, power differentials, or the incentive that all countries have to protect their interests and maximize their influence. If governments do not recognize this, the world will confront some jarring discontinuities in the years ahead, including new economic and security threats that will reconfigure global politics. But perhaps the greatest risk of failing to identify and plan for these pitfalls is that if national security concerns come into conflict with climate change ambitions, a successful transition might not take place at all. And the world can ill afford more bumps on the already rough road to net zero.
(See podcast recommendations below!)
Covert Cabal examined the forces on either side (10 mins)
Binkov had a look at the situation in a hypothetical scenario back in 2019. (11 mins)
Reading list - the best stuff to read
(The best reads I’ve come across, with excerpts, links, authors and how long it will take to read. Climate change, COVID and China are consistently the stories at the top so are semi-permanent)
🌏 Climate change & biodiversity loss
“There’s evidence that things are pointing in the wrong direction every step of the way,” said Prof Bethanie Carney Almroth at the University of Gothenburg who was part of the team. “For example, the total mass of plastics now exceeds the total mass of all living mammals. That to me is a pretty clear indication that we’ve crossed a boundary. We’re in trouble, but there are things we can do to reverse some of this.”
Villarrubia-Gómez said: “Shifting to a circular economy is really important. That means changing materials and products so they can be reused, not wasted.”
The researchers said stronger regulation was needed and in the future a fixed cap on chemical production and release, in the same way carbon targets aim to end greenhouse gas emissions. Their study was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology
The question everyone seems to be asking - is the pandemic coming to an end?
Adam Kucharski, an associate professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, agreed. In a recent Twitter thread, Kucharski cautioned that the unusual way SARS-2 variants have evolved makes the future path of the virus hard to anticipate. The most beneficial feature of Omicron — its penchant for replicating in the upper airways, not deep in the lungs where it could trigger pneumonia — may not be a facet of whatever version of SARS-2 comes next, he warned.
“I think people have this idea that Omicron’s the endgame. Anything that emerges [next] is going to emerge from Omicron, and then we’re into this low level, perhaps slightly seasonal endemic state,” Kucharski said. “But, given what we’ve seen previously, I think we have to be aware that there’s some uncertainty around that.”
John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medical College, said a post-Omicron decrease in transmission “is certainly a plausible scenario,” suggesting it might take until late February or early March for most of the country to get there. But equally possible, he suggested, is that another variant will emerge, with the transmissibility of Omicron but without its reticence to replicate in the deep lungs.
“This is where it’s all so freaking difficult. There are scenarios. You don’t know what the future’s going to hold. All these people who say ‘This is what’s going to happen.’ Well, this is what they think might happen, if they’re being honest,” he said.
The world got lucky with Omicron. It’s unimaginable what would have happened if that highly contagious variant had caused disease as severe as Delta has. We may not be so lucky the next time. The world cannot afford to be so unprepared ever again.
🇨🇳 China / Taiwan
Oxford hosted a discussion about China (51 mins)
China is preparing its first methane-fueled rocket.
Timelapse and high resolution satellite imagery show the development near the national Jiuquan center in the Gobi Desert and suggest the presence of a Zhuque-2 test article. A recent, now-deleted article indicates a new flame trench has been completed at Jiuquan.
More concretely, Landspace CEO Zhang Changwu said in an interview last November that Zhuque-2 could lift off in the first quarter of 2022.
In other words, the CCP operates in a system of echoes in which the data points of individual behavior, crude as they may be, add up in large numbers and offer the regime a remarkably detailed picture from which to exert control — or what it calls “stability.”
🔮 The future - through the past
So there you have it: Ten things that were basic, regular, near-universal experiences for most people in the world’s most technologically advanced societies just four decades ago, all of which are either rare or almost unimaginable today. And go back decades further, and you’ll find even more experiences like this — things that were mainstays of the human experiences, that were then just gone. At a fundamental level, technology changes what it means to live a human life.
Bonus link: Charlie Warzel has an alternate look.
🚀 Space - space plane
A Washington-state based aerospace company has exited stealth mode by announcing plans to develop one of the holy grails of spaceflight—a single-stage-to-orbit space plane. Radian Aerospace said it is deep into the design of an airplane-like vehicle that could take off from a runway, ignite its rocket engines, spend time in orbit, and then return to Earth and land on a runway.
"We all understand how difficult this is," said Livingston Holder, Radian’s co-founder, chief technology officer, and former head of the Future Space Transportation and X-33 program at Boeing.
SpaceX has won a $102m DoD contract to demo technology for transporting military cargo (and humanitarian aid) globally. China will be looking at the Starship with enormous interest - as a geo-strategic threat.
SpaceX and the Air Force will explore the use of intermodal containers that are compatible with other transportation delivery modes.
Spanjers said there is no specified timeline for a demonstration at this point. “AFRL will be leveraging several commercial demonstration launches over the next few years to collect the data,” he said. The Air Force “does not drive this schedule but rather will collect data whenever SpaceX flies relevant missions.”
A full-up demonstration of heavy cargo transport capability to another location on Earth could be attempted in a few years, but that has yet to be decided.
Why don’t rocket engines melt? (26 mins)
🧠 Society - cycling
I enjoyed this video describing the infrastructure changes in Paris. Worth your time thinking about how it could be done in your city. (13 mins)
🏛 Society - conspiracy
By October 2020 Justin had severed nearly every link to reality. He started posting to Facebook again after a two-year hiatus.
“I’m on some type of journey of awakening,” he posted in one of a series of long, rabid essays to friends and family explaining his commitment to Q. “If Q is a baseless conspiracy with absolutely no merit then I am a complete fool and will judge myself accordingly.”
🇺🇸 United States - navy
Binkov takes a look at the newest US destroyer (due the replace the Arleigh Burke class over time), the first of which should be launched by the end of the decade. Navies can act as good leading indicators of potential futures - as they are expensive and take a long time to plan and build. Some lessons in here that the Americans are learning from China, rather than the other way around. (11 mins)
🪳Biology - flying beetle
A really interesting short video on how a particular beetle flies - a new way of flying we’ve not really seen before which looks like clapping. (4 mins)
🏛 Society - human rights
I’ve been an occasional listener to this podcast - mainly because I want to keep an eye on them if they say anything interesting (or better understand SV culture). But overall the premise is that they’re all very wealthy white males chatting over a game of poker (and are blowhards).
This episode blew up this week because investor Chamath Palihapitiya decided to engage in a bizarre, juvenile (and frankly disgusting and ridiculous) argument about human rights in China. It’s worth watching the segment just to understand the moral vacuum some people appear to live in. I’m embarrassed for all of them - it reminded me of drunken circular discussions in the pub as a 17 year-old philosophy student.
More people need to read/understand philosophical concepts - and don’t assume that because someone is wealthy that they’re necessarily smart. It can be luck.
🔭 Space - JWST
A really good detailed look at the JWST mirrors and upcoming configuration steps. (16 mins)
Philosophy Corner (a journey through thinking about thinking every week)
(A serialised section that started with Greek Tragedy and moved to philosophy. Something to spark ideas. Feel free to go backwards!).
Next in the series: Fukuyama on history. (47 mins)
(A good thing to watch - also serialised - so feel free to go back through past editions!)
We’re on episode two of Ways of Seeing: (28 mins) Sonal Chokshi from the a16z podcast is also now a fan of this series (particularly wrt to thinking about NFTs)
Gavin Sheridan @gavinsblog@smc90 @antoniogm Do check out the Ways of Seeing series from 1972 on related issues! https://t.co/PPiUZ04dZK
(The best stuff I’ve listened to, or been recommended by subscribers)
So two favourites of this newsletter spent a long time talking about COVID. Zeynep talks to Ezra about the pandemic lessons we haven’t learned. Listen to it all - it covers some of the things we continue to get wrong (mask quality, filtration, ventilation, airborne transmission generally). There’s also a good analysis of bad thinking - particularly around not recommending better masks. (75 mins)
How would sanctions work against Russia? (33 mins)
Still in my tabs
(Or stuff I haven’t read yet, but looks promising)