Sunday, October 14, 2018

Seneca almost hits the mark on technological change

I saw a reference to Seneca while reading Let It Shine, a history of solar energy (more on the book later). The reference was intriguing, and here's the full quote:

24. Reason did indeed devise all these things, but it was not right reason. It was man, but not the wise man, that discovered them; just as they invented ships, in which we cross rivers and seas – ships fitted with sails for the purpose of catching the force of the winds, ships with rudders added at the stern in order to turn the vessel's course in one direction or another. The model followed was the fish, which steers itself by its tail, and by its slightest motion on this side or on that bends its swift course. 25. "But," says Posidonius, "the wise man did indeed discover all these things; they were, however, too petty for him to deal with himself and so he entrusted them to his meaner assistants." Not so; these early inventions were thought out by no other class of men than those who have them in charge to-day. We know that certain devices have come to light only within our own memory – such as the use of windows which admit the clear light through transparent tiles,[16] and such as the vaulted baths, with pipes let into their walls for the purpose of diffusing the heat which maintains an even temperature in their lowest as well as in their highest spaces. Why need I mention the marble with which our temples and our private houses are resplendent? Or the rounded and polished masses of stone by means of which we erect colonnades and buildings roomy enough for nations? Or our signs[17] for whole words, which enable us to take down a speech, however rapidly uttered, matching speed of tongue by speed of hand? All this sort of thing has been devised by the lowest grade of slaves. 26. Wisdom's seat is higher; she trains not the hands, but is mistress of our minds.
(Emphasis added - this is a reference to the invention and first use of glass windows.)

Any learned person of the time would have understood that different cultures have different levels of technology, and even that their own culture had simpler technologies in the distant past. Here, Seneca takes that understanding to the next level, that technological change has happened recently. He's so close but doesn't quite get there to realizing that technological change will keep happening. It would have been interesting to see what he or others might have anticipated, two thousand years ago.

He doesn't get there AFAICT because he's not interested in technology but rather in the nature of true wisdom, and in concluding that wisdom does not concern itself with practicalities.

Too bad - if Seneca and others like him had been more concerned with practicalities, maybe Roman technological improvements could've moved faster than they did.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Eli's Thermo Class Is In Session

Lately Eli has been playing Clarissa, explaining all the thermochaff thrown up against the wall by his friends the confused.  First it was the Green Plate Effect showing how the presence of a colder third body decreases the cooling rate of an externally hotter one.  Then Eli pointed out that all of the heat flows between the sun, the surface, the atmosphere and space balance.  These are, Eli hopes useful cites to others.

Now comes the bunny to deal with a related everygreen, but let Ned Nikolov who is well rated as both confused and certain, state the issue


Somehow, Ned missed the latent heat and convection in his diagram, but let us be generous.  Eli can simplify that diagram


showing the flows into and out of the Surface and the Atmosphere.  Solar irradiation is shown in yellow, IR emission to space in green and the flow between the surface and the atmosphere are shown in brown and red.

Since William Nordhaus has won the Economics Nobel today, let's think of an economic model. Eli has a Savings and a Checking account, and each month he deposits $160 into the Savings account and $80 into the Checking.  He also takes out some percentage (40%) of what is in the checking account to pay Ms. Rabett's yarn bill, and puts another 45% of the Checking balance into the Savings account.  To settle things up at the end of the month the Rabett transfers 6% of the Savings account into the Checking account.  The flows of $ are


If we plot the outflow to expenses, and the interchange between the Savings and Checking accounts as a function of time, what happens?



The flows between the Savings and Checking account reach equilibrium in about 12 years as does the monthly outflow.  The numbers are pretty close to those in the energy balance diagram, but not exact because Eli has simplified stuff.  The percentages were adjusted so the equilibrium outflow is $240 but that was just for giggles. Also interesting is that the Savings and Checking accounts both reach equilibrium.  

Just like the Green Plate Effect, this is not a mystery, simply the result of counting.  The inflow cannot be compared to the flow between the two accounts (reservoir) which is what the Ned's of the world try to do

Conservation of dollars only requires that the flow into the two accounts (reservoirs) be the same as the flow out when a steady state is established.  Until then the flow out is lower, but in the case of the earth that happened millions of years ago.

Just when I thought I was out, I pull myself back in




Longtime readers may remember that I (Brian speaking here), realizing what great reputations politicians had, decided to become one myself, and was elected to the board running the water agency for Silicon Valley for four years. I wasn't re-elected, moved to Belmont in the neighboring San Mateo County and went on to other things.

Until recently. My councilmember said there was an open seat on Mid-Peninsula Water District, the public water agency providing retail-level water supply in Belmont and some adjoining areas. It's a much smaller agency serving 30,000 people instead of 2 million, so I think I can do it while continuing my main work at Greenbelt Alliance.

So, unfortunately in lieu of more blogging that's what I'm spending some of my time on for the campaign this fall and hopefully afterwards - we'll see how it goes! I hope to emphasize some of the same water conservation issues I worked on at Santa Clara Valley Water District, issues that overlap directly with responding to climate change.

And if you happen to live in Belmont or know someone that does, check out my Facebook page for the campaign, or more objectively the League of Women Voters website comparing the candidates.