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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Centre for Challenge Prizes

      I ran across this yesterday. The Centre for Challenge Prizes is a subgroup of NESTA a lottery funded quango.

Offering cash prizes to incentivise breakthrough innovations is a time-honoured practice. Today, the practice of using prizes to stimulate innovation is back. As collaborative and open innovation grows in importance, and as web platforms enable crowdsourcing and collaboration on a massive scale, we are witnessing a revolution in the importance of challenge prizes for innovation. Experiments in spurring innovation with prizes are now taking place around the world, by governments, corporations and charities - tackling both technical and social challenges.

The Centre for Challenge Prizes brings together the growing expertise and interest in challenge prizes. This will help build an understanding of how challenge prizes can play an effective and strategic role in the stimulation and support of innovation.

     All the better to see some official support for the X-Prizes, under any name.

     Admittedly so far the only prizes they are actually sponsoring are 2 rather pointless ones for bicycling, but that is understandable considering the need to build support in our political class before doing anything serious.

    Their listing of 10 major prizes was worth while containing several I have not commented on here before - #4 a French hydraulic turbine prize /  #5 Locomotive prize (Rainhill Trials) won by George and Robert Stevenson which is basically the origin of modern transport and I really should have described before / #8 Napoleon 3rd's prize for inventing margarine / and #6 a fertiliser development prize from the Royal Agricultural Society : I have previously mentioned the Royal Ag prizes as as class but not the individual ones.

   That is an impressive range of examples and shows those involved know their subject.

   Nesta also have a Scottish division though there doesn't seem to be any prize related activity. 

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Dalgety Bay - Brown Wades In

   Gordon Brown recently promoted the Dalgety Bay radiation fraud once again in Parliament. Here at 9.52  Andrew Murrison, speaking for the MoD put up a fairly stout defence.

BROWN  "the Ministry of Defence will have to make a decision, as the Scottish Environment Protection Agency will be bound to designate this area as the only radiation-contaminated area in the United Kingdom if action is not taken by the MOD as soon as possible. It is an amazing fact that we have nuclear waste sites, we have nuclear submarines and we have weapons in different parts of the United Kingdom, but this small beach in the heart of my constituency, which is on a walkway, the coastal path of Fife, is liable to be named the first ever radiation-contaminated area in the UK."
" it is only in the past few days that I have discovered the scale of the problem in the greatest detail, thanks to the risk assessment report and to the appropriate person report, of which the Minister will no doubt be aware. That makes it clear that the contamination of the beach area in Dalgety Bay arises from the fact that starting in 1946 and for 13 years, wartime fighter planes and other planes in the possession of the Royal Air Force were scrapped and incinerated before the ash, including radiated parts, was dumped in the area of Dalgety Bay. In 1946 alone, 800 planes were scrapped and their parts dumped in this area of my constituency. From 1946 to 1959, not a few planes—not tens, or twenties, or scores—but hundreds were broken up before their parts were incinerated and the ash, including radiated parts, was dumped in the area."

"because of coastal erosion the particles are being brought up to the surface"
note that coastal erosion is a geological process which would reveal particles laid down 10s of millions not merely tens of years ago.

He denounces an MOD paper suggesting an alleged radioactive object mentioned in 1990 was more than a ‘theoretical’ object—it is not clear whether an object with the properties required has been found or whether there is simply the possibility that such an object might exist.”
However, these objects were admitted in 1990"  - so clearly this object, theoretical or not, cannot be produced by SEPA, or perhaps they choose not to produce it because it could be seen to be a fraud - that makes "theoretical object" look like a fairly kindly term for the MoD to use of something that, at best, doesn't exist.

"Contamination has been proven. Risks do remain" repeating a lie, well 2 lies, doesn't make them true

"expended £825,000 to date undertaking a site investigation, as well as a monitoring and recovery programme along the foreshore. The right hon. Gentleman will recall the work we have undertaken in a number of gardens belonging to his constituents where radium was discovered, at a cost of some £500,000."  Asssuming SEPA, the protagonist here, has spent about 5 times as much we can estimate the total bill to the taxpayer, for doing absolutely nothing worth doing is about £5 million

   He then goes on to say that there is no factual basis to the claim of 800 aircraft being scrapped there. In this regard I note that I asked that precise question last year and SEPA could not or did not answer. If, as they claim, they knew in 1990 that there were 800 planes there then, by definition, they knew it last year and thus were deliberately lying when they claimed not to know it. However 800 planes disassembled in 1946 alone is an awful lot - 4 per working day - and such disassembly production line would hardly have gone unnoticed. While not wishing to suggest the claim represents anything other than the pinnacle of honesty to which SEPA and Brown ever aspire I think it obvious it is a total lie.

   He then reverses Brown's scare about this potentially being the only "radiation contaminated area" in the country when there are so many places where real radiation work is being done.

   He also mentions radiation there being "less than 2/3rds that in an Aberdeen street" though unfortunately omits the words "less than"

  All in all the MoD may actually be standing more steady under fire. Of course battles were not won by only that tactic. You have to shoot back. For example the MoD could release their own Geiger counter readings of adjoining beaches, something SEPA, in a manner incompatible with ANY respect for scientific principles, have always refused to do - and for good measure do a reading of the car park in SEPA's Aberdeenshire office, which would certainly be much higher.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Trident Replacement - Costs Examined

Cost of possible UK nuclear weapon plans. Credit: Cabinet Office
  I found this article on the Register about the cost of a direct Trident replacement and alternatives informative.

   There are arguments against us having nukes - mainly either that us giving them up is about the only thing that might persuade others to do so (or at least discourage new countries from joining the nuclear club. Alternatively that our own government already has such a record of war crimes, genocide, and dissecting living human beings (in Yugoslavia) that under no circumstances should any of the approved parties have a finger on the trigger.

    There is also an argument for a more flexible capacity - these nuclear submarine system was originally designed for an era when our only retaliation could be the wiping out of enemy cities as they wiped out ours. Those missiles were sufficiently inaccurate that you couldn't guarantee to hit a smaller target. Nowadays with preprogrammed or unmanned strike drones it is possible to fly a bomb onto the desk of a President so the capacity for warheads of very low capacity, often but not always sub-nuclear, enhances our options.

   However what the article proves is that neither argument should be pursued on a cost basis. Maintaining the current 4 submarines is cost effective, if only because the infrastructure exists.

    The Lib-Dem option of 3 would save very little money. Also, because it would mean there would be bound to be times when there was no submarine on station, it would not deter a surprise attack by an aggressor. In fact the only case where 3 submarines are as good as 4 is if we can guarantee that a nuclear war would only take place at a time of our choosing, which means where we are the aggressor. Typical of the openly pro-Nazi, genocide enthusiast pseudo-Liberals that they embrace the one alternative to current Trident that is of use primarily to those promoting atrocities.  


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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Scottish Space Policy Options 2

   Following up the previous blog on a Scottish space policy here are a couple of ideas to enhance #6 the Scottish X-Prize foundation:

1 - I previously said that with £150 million a year put into the fund (half of Scotland' share of taxes paid by the industry) and assuming it would take a  minimum of 5 years for all the prizes be won, we could immediately offer £750 million.

     However this assumes the prizes are simply for the first Scots company to do something. Suppose, instead it becomes for an achievement, if and only if first achieved by a Scottish company. Scotland makes up about 0.2% of world gdp so the assumption should be that only 0.2% of all prizes offered would then be won. Even assuming we are particularly smart (which our record of scientific citations says we are) it is still not likely we would, on current conditions, get more than 0.5%. In which case the optimum would be to put up prizes totalling (£750m X 200) i.e. £150 billion. Which would basically be enough to fund the exploration and settlement of the entire system with solar power satellites, orbital industry and asteroid mining thrown in.

     OK not that simple. Those are the odds but we are gambling on getting results close which are not particularly unusual. That is only a safe gamble if the £150bn is made up of a lot of small prizes. If our funs is £750 million in the 1st 5 years we can't afford to have somebody win £6 bn (Pournelle's proposed prize for a Lunar settlement). But there are a lot of smaller achievement prizes, like the $20 million Google Lunar Rover prize which we can do and each one of these may be smaller steps to space development but they are a lot more of them.

    With that much money on offer we also have to be much more careful about making sure a foreign company can't just set up a shell company here and claim - but that is a matter for lawyers.

    One thing which is not a problem is that it is likely offering prizes would encourage inventors here or indeed get companies to  genuinely relocate here. I expect and hope that would happen. If it does the size of space industry here would automatically rise, as would its tax payments, and as we are only taking half for prizes, if the number of prizewinners rose fairly closely in line with the development of the industry here that would pay for the extra prizewinners - indeed, because only half the tax paid goes to the prizes the Exchequer comes out well ahead, and the country far moreso.

   I suspect what would happen is that the prize liability would be split 3 ways between prizes for building something here (eg launch  sites) and for prizes simply for the first Scot (eg first Scottish company to have a 5 ton satellite launched); prizes for the first achievement (1st landing on a specified asteroid as long as it is a scots company; and prizes for 2nd, 3rd and so on (£300 million for 1st commercial shuttle if Scots, £150 m for 2nd, £80 for 3rd etc. in which what is actually won is 7th up there for £20 m. As long as the odds are properly calculated and the single item risk kept fairly low that would still allow about £50 bn on 1st place prizes,  and £500 m on the lower prizes. Still world changing.

2 - Following on from that we could offer a commercia international agreement (i.e. not a treaty so both soverign states and provinces can join) whereby any other country, or province willing to put up the same proportion of gdp that we do can join our fund. Keep the fund run from here - the advantage of coming up with the idea and while everybody else would want the HQ nobody would agree on moving it to a 3rd country.

     Suppose Scotland, Ireland, Singapore, Texas, California, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Finland, Israel and the UAE sign up, all contributing proportionately to their gdp.  I wouldn't say all of those would be interested but equally I wouldn't say interest would be limited to these. That looks like about 70 times our current gdp with a prize fund of  £54 billion over 5 years.

   Which is certainly world changing.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Scottish Space Policy Options 1

   With the UK Space Agency "the worst space agency in the world" in town I am posting

Scottish space policy options

1 - Zero business rate for any firms over 75% of whose business is space. (Virtually zero cost since there are relatively few.)

2 - 50% refund on corporation tax for space industries (using the Professor MacDonald  "Scotland's hidden tax cutting power" option).  (ref #4 on link)

3 - Set up a Czar (either civil servant or junior minister)  to help any company get through regulations, both in Holyrood and Westminster and to annually draft a bill to cut regulations that discourage investment - Virgin initially wanted to set off their suborbital Aurora Borealis viewing trips from Kinross airport but nobody in Holyrood or the bureaucracy was willing to make the effort to ease the regulatory path so they went to Sweden.

4 - Set up a zone of our airspace where orbital and suborbital launches have priority. Probably north of Glasgow airport and west of the east coast cities i.e. the Highlands and islands.

5 - My previous Space Prize motion at £10 million for the first Scottish space probe to soft land on an asteroid (probably an "Earth grazing", i.e. within the orbit of Mars, one).

6 - Scottish government to put the equivalent 1/2 of ALL taxes (ie inc VAT & income tax and national insurance from employees too) from space industry from companies located in Scotland (ie 8% of 35% of £10 bn = £140 million a year) into a Space X-Prize Fund, licenced to offer prizes worth up to the money expected in the next 5 years (£750 mn) available to Scottish companies.

    Defining when a company is Scottish and not merely a name plate on a door fronting a foreign company is a problem but one which legislators have routinely faced in other situations. I suggest those registered and paying taxes here and spending at least 65% of their money and having 65% of employees here would be Scottish.

    The calculation of money available is the total space industry here, £10 bn  this year X our share of population, 8% times the 38% of gdp the state takes in tax, times 1/2 comes to £150 million. Extending that over 5 years since there is no way, no matter how successful that all prizes will be won in less, indeed no way they all will be within that period, comes to £750 million.

7 - Space science prizes - awarded by Scotland. 2 prizes, one for anybody and the other for Scots only, for the rest of the world's scientists - exactly matching the cost of Nobel prizes (app £100K each), for the greatest individual scientific breakthrough enhancing space development.

8 - Invite and donate to the Danish loonies who want to send up a manned suborbital rocket to launch from the east coast of Scotland

9 - Space Law Institute - established in Glasgow, centre of Scottish engineering and cheaper office space than Edinburgh with the purpose, in conjunction with academic organisations around the world, to establish a framework of property rights in space designed to maximise entrepreneurial opportunities.

10 - Space Law Institute to run annual conferences in Glasgow

11 - Road from the isles hovercraft race 12 - Space burial storage facility. Government run site where ashes of those dead who pay £200 fee,  may be stored until it is possible to disperse them in deep (ie non Earth orbital, space). Other fees for other ways, up to full body disposal beyond the solar system at £1 million to be offered. This is to be a fully commercial venture taking advantage of the fact that launching prices will come down drastically making such burial possible at cheap rates in the future. The fee will be to maintain storage and dispose of the ashes only when such deep space disposal is as cheap as to be covered by the £200.

   This will probably be when we have space elevators which, can let objects "fall" down the outer end of their tethers into deep space with no energy costs. That is likely to take some time and anybody wishing to make arrangements for earlier space burial should be encouraged.

    My assumption is that a state owned and guaranteed facility may be more trusted than a purely commercial one. Nonetheless it should be run on commercial lines and the takings invested in blue chips

13 - £100 each to every kid who gets a band A physics higher

14 - Issue contract specification for an orbital based navigation grid covering Scotland's sea waters and allowing instant phone contact to boats anywhere in these waters, thereby enhancing our tourist industry.
15 - Relocate River City to a future L5 colony (this will require a digital programme to fill in the sky with the other side of the L5 colony, but it will give the programme more atmosphere).

16 - Scottish science fiction book prize (£10,000 awarded only to hard science books/films/TV in Scotland

17 - Half of Scottish lottery fund (ie 4% of UK total) to be donated to Scottish Space prize fund (est £40 million)

18 - Make donation to the space prize fund, or separate technology prizes 50% deductable against, if allowed, income tax or, if not, against council tax. 50% rate to be varied by up to 4% annually until recepts from this match those from tax in option 5. Fund organisers to be required to consider prize suggestions from donors and if rejected, to give reason.

19 - Every newborn in Scotland is given star named after them and a letter sent to them giving locarion and picture. Also available to adults for payment.

20 - Ascension Island to be put under direct Scottish control and Scotland to build port and power infrastructure and implement spaceport plan.
Total cost
 #1 currently probably a few hundred thousand. If we attract more business this would nominally increase but such increase doesn't cost us extra since the business wouldn't be here anyway.
 #2 I estimate at about £8.4million
 #3 Czar's pay and office expenses - est £200K;
#4 nil  ; #5 £10 million one off when/if won;
 #6 £150M a year initially - if this attracts new industry the cost will go up but obviously only by 50% of the extra tax take from attracting new business. Equally obviously if this is not wildly succesful in developing space industries that win the prizes the money will not be spent and the fund will be wound up (I suggest give it 10 years to work) and no money, apart from minimal admin costs, will have been spent;
 #7 £200K;
 #8 £50K;
 #9 est £1M annually;
 #10 £1M annually;
 #11 £100K annually est;
 #12 Profit-making, use some underground bunker;
 #13 £100K est;
 #14 est one-off £10 million, all recoverable by expansion of tourist industry;
 #15 humour but the BBC could hardly lose more than they are doing at present on River city;
 #16 £10K;
 #17 £40 million but none from direct government account;
 #18 £75M or half of #6;
 #19 £3 per ie £400k annually;
 #20 £200M one off, which should be funded by bonds payable from port and electricity charges thus actually zero.

= £150M going into the X-Prize Fund which is returned if it doesn't work so no cost if it fails, This is 1/15th of what the Forth crossing costs, 3/4 of the subsidy to Scottish water or 1/3 the Scottish Enterprize budget. Some of the proposals overlap and where they overlap with the X-prize fund (#17,18) would probably reduce the cost of the original. The rest is small change by government spending standards/

Or government hedge their bets by putting a smaller amount into the Fund, at least, to get massive, rather than spectacular results. For example on #6 make the donation merely 10% of all the money paid in tax by space industry (i.e. £30 million) while making it  60% of all increased tax paid by the industry in subsequent years. Obviously that increased money is something we would otherwise not expect to get and thus, even after investing 60% of the excess we are still ahead by 40% and a lot of jobs and exports.

  I have another couple of options for the Scottish X-Prize that could make it a world changer but I'll
discuss that tomorrow.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Another Historic X-Prize - How The South Did Better Than It Should Have

   I ran across this claim of an X-Prize 

    "The Confederate Prize for Inventions that Sink or Destroy Union Ships (1861)
During the Civil War, the confederacy couldn't compete with the Union navy. So the the Confederate Congress authorized a prize for a "new kind of armed vessel, or floating battery, or defense invention" capable of sinking or destroying enemy vessels. The legislation led to the development of the H.L. Hunley — the first submarine ever to sink an enemy vessel (though the Hunley sank on its way back to port, killing its entire crew.)"

     There is remarkably little information, well almost none, on these prizes. This is what Wikipedia says

The C. S. Navy could never achieve equality with the Union Navy, so it used technological innovation, such as ironclads, submarines, torpedo boats, and naval mines
(then known as torpedoes) to gain advantage. In February 1861 the Confederate Navy had thirty ships, only fourteen of which were seaworthy, while the Union Navy had ninety vessels; the C. S. Navy eventually grew to 101 ships to meet the rise in naval threats and conflicts.

On 17 April, 1861, Confederate President Jefferson Davis invited applications for letters of marque and reprisal to be granted under the seal of the Confederate States, against ships and property of the United States and their citizens:
Now, therefore, I, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, do issue this, my proclamation, inviting all those who may desire, by service in private armed vessels on the high seas, to aid this government in resisting so wanton and wicked an aggression, to make application for commissions or letters of marque and reprisal, to be issued under the seal of these Confederate States....
which is not quite an X-prize but is compatible with it and certainly an outsourcing to the private sector.

   As a submarine the Hunley was of only limited success - it sank killing the entrepreneur responsible, Mr Hunley, then while it succeeded in sinking the Housatonic it was so close to the explosion that it sank itself, killing its 2nd crew.

        But this is in line with test pilot experience - test pilots die testing the limits of new vehicles - as the original X aircraft programme showed. Possibly the fact that they were at war meant that the testing was "on the job" as it were.

         What is certainly the case is that the CSA, generally an agricultural society, where the North had the industrial capacity, produced a remarkable range of naval high tech (for the time) and with ironclads came very close to defeating the Northern Navy, with its far greater resources. I am assuming that the Confederacy prizes stimulated the whole range of naval warfighting not just the submarine.

        Also that this war came close to rendering all previous navies obsolete (only close because none of these ironclads were capable of crossing oceans. I believe that war stimulates technology partly because governments are normally not keen on technological progress and it is only during wars which threaten the existence of specific governments that they are willing to go for high technology and X-Prizes.

        An example of this is that, despite the 1861 experience the US government insisted that submarines were "impractical" right up until they were virtually forced to start building one 32 years later in 1893.

"Ten years after the end of the Civil War, Irish-born John Holland began designing and building submarines in the United States. Holland submitted his first submarine design to the U.S. Navy in 1875, which at the time was dismissed as impractical. Seeing this rejection as a challenge, Holland quickly went back to the drawing board to redesign and improve on the construction of these underwater boats.
By 1888, the U.S. Navy recognized the potential for submarines in its fleet and held a design competition for a new underwater vessel. Holland won the competition and began building the submarine Pluger five years later."

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Importance Of Having An Alternative To One's Own Government

    Dan Hannan did a post on English nationalism and how it need not be a problem for the union. Also pointing out that , depending on date and poll chosen, there can be a larger proportion of English than Scots who would like separation.
    I put up this comment which I would like to keep available:
I think that true federation (now usually called confederation) between equal states who have the right to leave and thus stay together voluntarily is the most stable and happy system. It also means that different areas can try different policies & see what works (this is known elsewhere as the scientific method).

Britain currently falls short of this because we don't have legislative equality between the parties - Scots/Welsh/Irish MPs can legislate over England but not vice versa and on the other hand because England is so overwhelming. By acknowledging Scotland's right to secede the UK is recognising confederal rights, as Spain for example does not, which is a very good thing.
The ideal would be a fully confederal constitution in which England was the original 7 kingdoms or something similar but it is clear the English don't want that much devolution and as a Scot I have no right to demand it even though I think it would be a better union. However I do think I have the right to ask that any devolved England would include a constitutional right for any region to become a devolved state in its own right if the people ever wanted it. With that included I think we would have one of the most perfect unions the world has ever seen.
      Incidentally this means that the UK would already count as a confederation, since the right of secession has been conceded. Canada too.  The US is not because, since the civil war, that right has been denied. It also classifies the Commonwealth as, possibly, a very loose confederation though it also classifies as no sort of union at all.
       I have previously written, favourably, of the US splitting into its constituent states. Certainly the fact that the central government has the power to enforce rules across the country has accelerated the growth of government power.
       I believe that the most progressive eras of humanity have been when political power had a more limited jurisdiction than the common culture - thus in Ancient Greece, Renaissance Italy and Europe from about 1500 to 1945, people dissatisfied with their liberty (or sometimes the reverse as in the Puritans who went to America because the religious laws were not sufficiently restrictive for them) could move elsewhere. If, even a few states split off from the US and succeeded in attracting both industry and "politically incorrect" intellectual discussion, it would be a useful lesson for the rest, which is why the right of secession is important even when, perhaps particularly when, it is not used.
       And not off the topic I would like to mention the difficulties Mr Snowden is having getting some country to piss off the USA by giving him asylum, simply because he revealed the now scarcely denied amount of Big Brother control the USA has over its citizens (and those of other countries).
       Compare and contrast with the freedom even America's allies acted with over Paul Robeson a few decades ago, in an analogous situation, the main difference being in the level of state power demonstrated. That this power is to being exercisable all over the world, in the interest of protecting hidden state power, shows how very close the entire world is to a unitary government from which, unlike even the Roman, Chinese and Nazi empires, there would be no "elsewhere" to escape to.  

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