Robot shoulders, more missiles and inflation
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. (1,023 of us now! - welcome all new arrivals)
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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 destruction
Direct air capture has suffered from a bit of a catch-22. Most scenarios for limiting end-of-century warming assume we'll emit enough carbon dioxide in the next few decades to overshoot our climate goals and will therefore need to remove some from the atmosphere. That would necessitate the development of direct air capture technologies. But, at present, there's no way to fund the operation of a facility to do the capturing, so the technology remains immature and its economics poorly understood.
A new battery recycling facility has opened in Norway. (2 mins by Jameson Dow)
The new battery recycling facility has the capacity to process 12,000 tons of battery packs per year, or around 25,000 EV batteries. This is enough for the entire end-of-life battery market in Norway currently.
Hydrovolt claims that it can recover 95% of the materials used in an EV battery including plastics, copper, aluminum, and the “black mass,” a powder containing the various elements inside lithium-ion batteries – nickel, manganese, cobalt, and lithium.
The Antartica paradox. (13 mins by Alejandra Mancilla and Peder Roberts)
This paradox appears as Antarctica turns into one of the most threatened places on Earth. As warming events become longer and more frequent, ice-free surfaces (which cover only 0.4 per cent of the continent) are expected to dramatically increase. Though the disappearance of ice would cause some native plants to bloom, it would also lead to the spread of non-native species and the decline and possible extinction of native animals, such as the emperor and chinstrap penguins. Changes to the Antarctic also pose an existential threat to millions of humans living further north: if the West Antarctica Ice Sheet were to collapse, the global sea-level is estimated to rise between 3.3 and 6 metres – catastrophic for the millions of inhabitants living on low-lying coastal regions or islands.
SARS-CoV-2 may yet become another common-cold coronavirus, no more likely to screw with its hosts the fifth time it infects them than the first. But that’s no guarantee. The outlooks of the experts I spoke with spanned the range from optimism to pessimism, though all agreed that uncertainty loomed. Until we know more, none were keen to gamble with the virus—or with their own health. Any reinfection will likely still pose a threat, “even if it’s not the worst-case scenario,” Abdool Karim told me. “I wouldn’t want to put myself in that position.”
🇨🇳 China / Taiwan
There was some apparent leaked audio of what a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would look like. Grain of salt etc. (3 mins)
First, the mobilization tasks issued to our province by the eastern and southern war zones totalling 20 categories and 239 items, mainly 1,358 detachments of various types with a total of 140,000 personnel, 953 ships of various types, and 1,653 units/sets of various unmanned equipment. Other resources include 20 airports and docks, 6 repair and shipbuilding yards, 14 emergency transfer centres, and resources such as grain depots, hospitals, blood stations, oil depots, gas stations, etc. Second, the national defence mobilization recruitment office will recruit new military service personnel, retired military personnel, and special talents totalling 15,500 people from our province. The National Defence Commission clearly stated that our province shall coordinate the implementation of the seven types of national level warfare resources, including, mainly, 64 10,000-ton roll-on/roll-off ships, 38 aircraft, 588 train cars and 19 civil facilities including airports and docks.
Taiwan is testing firing anti-ship missiles from coastguard vessels. The pattern of “more missiles” continues.
During the test conducted on May 23, officials said that the HF-2 missiles were launched from the cutter off the coast of the Jiupeng Base and successfully hit a target ship that was located 62 miles off the coast of Lanyu, near Orchid Island. According to Taiwan’s Liberty Times Net reporter Zheng Jingyi, “this live ammunition firing specifically verifies the integration of the naval forces and sea cruisers under the ‘peace-to-war conversion.’”
At the same time, it is important to note that Zhu Hai Yun is only one ship. However, the experience gained in its development, construction, and eventual employment, regardless of how it is utilized, is all but certain to feed into other commercial and military work on unmanned surface vessels, autonomy, and other related technologies. This function as an experimental technology demonstrator, akin in some ways to the vessels tested as part of the U.S. military's Ghost Fleet Overlord program, is likely to be just as important as whatever it might end up doing operationally.
🇺🇦 Ukraine / Russia
What lessons is the US military learning from the war in Ukraine? The Marines had previously announced they planned on dispensing with tanks entirely. Platforms vs decentralised technology/missiles. (5 mins by Elliot Ackerman)
Events in Ukraine seem to validate Berger’s anti-platform-centric view of warfare, in much the same way that World War I validated those who had argued that defense had become stronger than offense. Of course, no form of warfare maintains primacy forever. Krulak made this point as we finished our conversation. “We need to be careful we don’t learn the wrong lessons from Ukraine. You have a great measure. The next thing you know they come up with a countermeasure. So you come up with a counter-countermeasure.”
Always read Phillips O’Brien. Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Is the 20th Century’s Last War. (5 mins by Phillips O’Brien)
The effectiveness of defensive firepower will only improve. Anti-tank weapons will achieve longer ranges, and their detection ability and accuracy will get better. Drones will be able to stay in the air for longer and avoid detection better, while increasing their lethality and improving their own computational performance. The ability of both to destroy heavy land vehicles while remaining unseen will improve. The massacre of Russian vehicles we have seen in Ukraine will become the norm, not the exception. Navies that want to risk having their ships near the shores of a well-armed enemy will need to contend with huge salvos of anti-ship missiles and even anti-ship drones, far more than their anti-missile capabilities can now handle. This has consequences around the world: If the Chinese were rash enough to attempt an amphibious assault on Taiwan, or the U.S. were rash enough to send large carrier battle groups to the Chinese coast in a battle over the South China Sea, the result would be the Moskva many times over.
Poland is ordering vast amounts of new weaponry from the US, including 500 M142 MLRS/HIMARS.
The US has placed orders for 1,300 Stinger missiles to replace those sent to Ukraine.
🌌 Science - movement
An interesting short video on the concept of movement. (“There are no things or people, there are only processes and patterns in motion”). Very useful to help with systems thinking. (6 mins)
😷 Health - SIDS
If the study’s findings were ambiguous, and its implications dubious, why did the research get so much attention in the media? Many outlets seemed impressed by its connection to The Lancet, founded in 1823, and one the world’s most prestigious medical journals. The SIDS paper did not actually appear in The Lancet, but rather in a lesser-known periodical called eBioMedicine, which happens to be published under The Lancet’s umbrella brand (along with more than 20 other journals). Media coverage glossed over that distinction, though, or ignored it altogether. (Good Morning America managed to combine the two journals’ names into a fictional publication called “eLancet.”) These errors are understandable; prominent Lancet branding on eBioMedicine’s website and web address make it easy to get confused, and journal editors sometimes take advantage of academic prestige to court media attention.
🖥 Computers - coding & mathematics
Very interesting. (8 mins)
Leslie Lamport revolutionized how computers talk to each other. The Turing Award-winning computer scientist pioneered the field of distributed systems, where multiple components on different networks coordinate to achieve a common objective. (Internet searches, cloud computing and artificial intelligence all involve orchestrating legions of powerful computing machines to work together.) In the early 1980s, Lamport also created LaTeX, a document preparation system that provides sophisticated ways to typeset complex formulas and format scientific documents. In 1989, Lamport invented Paxos, a “consensus algorithm” that allows multiple computers to execute complex tasks; without it, modern computing could not exist.
🏛 Society - archaeology
Another interesting use of LIDAR for archaeology. (6 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!)
Schumpeter on Democracy (48 mins)
Joseph Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942) contains a famous, and minimal, definition of democracy as the competition between political elites to sell themselves to the electorate. Schumpeter wanted to debunk more elevated ideas of the common good and the popular will. Why then has his theory proved so influential for people who want to rescue democracy as much as those who want to diminish it?
(A good thing to watch - also serialised - so feel free to go back through past editions!)
I can’t find the second episode in our series (at least not in English), so we will skip for now to the third episode which is with Herbert Marcuse. (44 mins)
“In this program with world-renowned author and professor Bryan Magee, the late philosopher and radical political theorist Herbert Marcuse explains how the so-called Frankfurt School reevaluated Marxism when world economic crisis failed to destroy capitalism as predicted by Marx. He also analyzes the philosophical roots of the student rebellions of the sixties.”
(The best stuff I’ve listened to, or been recommended by subscribers)
Odd Lots had an excellent exploration of inflation and what is likely coming down the track and the difficult choices faced by central banks globally, in particular the Fed. (58 mins). (If you’re still interested afterwards try to follow up episode with Ed Harrison)
A Deepening Crisis Forces Physicists to Rethink Structure of Nature's Laws (40 mins) (this is an audio version of a piece we looked at in an earlier newsletter)
The Future of Robotics as a Service with Saman Farid of Formic (37 mins)
Still in my tabs
(Or stuff I haven’t read yet, but looks promising)