Posts Tagged ‘Tech’

Those Flying Boats Fight The CO2 Catastrophe

November 16, 2018

California, while burning, in a never seen before way, builds (some) electric cars and installs a significant solar electric production capability. However, there are other ways to advance the struggle for more ecological tech. Competing sailboats is one way.

A competition of sailboats is organized from Saint Malo, France, to Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, every four years. It’s open to all transoceanic sailboat categories, “ultimes”, multi-hulls, monohulls IMOCA, etc… as long as there is only one person on board. Prizes are attributed in each classification category.

Up to four years ago, the fastest boats were giant trimarans. Now, no more. A new, even faster category, has blossomed: enormous flying maxi-trimarans, known as “Ultimes”. Other boats also fly onto of foils, including monohulls…

Banque Populaire Flying Giant Trimaran flying at the start of Route du Rhum… Against the wind… Notice it leaves little wake, relative to the motor boats escorting it. The same boat left floater, high up in the air in this picture, would tear apart in a storm at 70 km/h, a few thousand kilometers later…

An object in a liquid is slowed down by friction, all along the hull. If one can reduce the surface of the object rubbing against the liquid, one can go faster. Thus the Ultimes rise above water on wings (which fly inside the water). 16 tons of boat rest on just a total of 4 square meters of foils. (Wings can be much smaller in water, and enable to fly at much lower speeds, as water is 1,000 times denser than air…)

So what? What’s the wisdom to be extracted from all this tech avalanche?

Well, we, humanity, are a tech avalanche. No tech, no wisdom. Or then just that of an orangutan.

Ah, yes, we are killing the planet.

It’s going to get way worse, in the next decades, as the man-made CO2 climate catastrophe enfolds. Predictable and predicted! Picture by author, last January, Tahoe:

Maritime transport is one of the main sources of CO2 pollution.

The technology developed by these (mostly) French boats could be applied to cargo boats 10,000 times heavier.

Same flying boat in action, foils in evidence.

Nothing to smirk at: the sailboats can fly at 80 kilometers an hour (50 mph), using just the wind. Not just pushed by the wind, but even zigzagging into the wind.

It’s not without risks: the “ultime” Banque Populaire IX (pictured) lost its left floater, while in a storm, in the middle of the Atlantic, and immediately capsized. Shortly before that, it was flying with minimal sails at 70 kilometer and hour, in five meters seas. (A fisher boat recovered the captain, an expert capsizer, and brought him to Portugal, two days of motorboat away.)

At least two other flying boats capsized because of storms in the same race, one, skippered by a British sailor hit rocks off Guadeloupe shortly before the end. Alex Thomson, who placed second and third prior in the Vendee-Globe, solo around the world race, had forgotten to charge his shockwatch. So he overslept in his 20 minutes sleep, and got woken up when his boat hits the rocks. Thomson was leading in the monohull category, and was in fourth place overall behind two ultimes and one multihull. The international jury gave him a 24 hour penalty for using his motor to extract himself from the reefs…) Another boat captained by the Normande Claire Pruvot was hit by a cargo ship which recovered her 45 minutes later…

Overall, the death rate of these sailing adventures is now very low. Capsizing has become a well mastered art, with insubmersible boats, and immediate alerts. It was not always this way: the famed solo sailor Alain Colas disappeared on the same Route du Rhum, 40 years ago, while leading it. His boat, then the world’s most advanced multihull, could sink, it was made of metaL, and sink it did. Colas’ last message, in a terrible storm, was that he was surrounded by mountains of water.

The reason sailboat tech has not been applied much in large transport has been mostly political, as usual. Maritime transport was long excluded from pollution rules, thus used the very worst oil residue refineries produced… this is the highly polluting “bunker” fuel. Rotating sails can be used (they exploit the fact that if wind slips faster on one side of an object, a low pressure occurs, just as where the wind slows down, so molecules pack up, and higher pressure happens. This is why rotating balls have curving trajectories.) Rotating sails enable at least 10% savings.

Investing massively in wind tech for major boats has an element of risk, so government should help. Northern Europe has mandated stricter pollution rules.

Recently a giant cruise ship, the largest in the world, made in France, berthed in Marseilles, France. It was computed that it polluted as much as two million cars, that is of the order of the entire Provence region of France.

Air transport will also have to be improved, with electricity (hybrid planes, recharging while descending, etc.) Yes, that depends upon batteries. But, as with antibiotics, much more public research investment have to be done. One can’t just let private companies do it all. The rumor has it that Samsung has improved battery tech considerably with graphene (charging in minutes, and with 40% more energy storage). Right, graphene was discovered thanks to government research funding. But more public funding is needed.

A 62 year old Frenchman, Francis Joyon, won the Route du Rhum this year. A few miles from the end, his boat was just a few boat lengths away from Gabart, a young sailing and engineering genius who had been 200 nautical miles ahead earlier on. But Gabart’s most modern boat was “broken”, with a missing foil on the right, and a missing safran on the left. The competition was nearly delayed, because the storms piling up in the Atlantic were so numerous and so nasty (still another consequence of the climate catastrophe).

Francis Joyon of France set a new record time for the 3,542-nautical mile Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe solo transatlantic race from Saint Malo in Brittany to Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe. At the helm of the maxi-trimaran IDEC Sport, Joyon completed the solo race in seven days, 14 hours and 21 minutes, beating the existing course record by just 46 minutes and 45 seconds (Gabart and Joyon mostly slowed down by storms; the other four ultimes were damaged, or capsized, although two restarted after repairs over a few days in Spain).

That Frenchman Joyon holds the around-the-world world record in a sailboat; less than 41 days (with a team)… It was his seventh participation in that competition, and his first win… Gabart, and many others, wants foils to be controlled automatically in real time: it will allow the boats to fly more safely and better. Right now regulations forbid automatic wing adjustments (although they are central to modern aviation… The reason is that it will cost money to have adaptive foils, and that will advantage the wealthiest, and that’s seen as unfair by the competition authorities at this point. Joyon won with an older “Ultime“; the three most recent “ultimes” broke, although Gabart was able to cross the Atlantic with his “broken boat”…)   

Gabart’s MACIF boat flying. Gabart placed second with MACIF, seven minutes behind Joyon. MACIF had lost its left wing… Those boats can sustain 70 km/h in 5 meters seas…

High tech moguls from Silicon Valley informed me years ago (before Elon Musk), that only software was really high-tech (Musk is changing that perfectly dumb perspective). The rest of tech was obsolete, they reckoned. Material high-tech was not high-tech, according to those mentally deficient characters obsessed by software. But software without hardware can’t exist, and they progress together. Flying sailboats use ever more electronics, and will probably soon use active flying surface, quite a bit similar to those the BFR, the Big Falcon Rocket of Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to use when re-entering the atmosphere at 11 kilometers per second…

Patrice Ayme



Very Ancient Relationships

June 4, 2015


Does it matter for tomorrow’s philosophy what Neanderthals aspired to do and succeeded to do, 100,000 years ago? Yes. Why? Because it helps us figuring out the human condition, our condition.
We are, in particular, trying to make intelligent, cooperative machines to serve us, just as Neanderthals artificially selected wolves into kind beings to serve us.

Paleontology, is a field where knowledge is progressing by leaps, bonds, and revolutions. To wit, the recent discovery in Ethiopia, of a different species of hominid contemporary of the famous “Lucy” (Australopithecus Afarensis). That new hominid is (more) in the direct line of Homo… And is associated to the oldest tools ever found (3.3 million years old).

To come back to the wolf domestication story: it seems, to me, to say much more, very clearly. First, wolf domestication is part of technologization (a neologism). Dogs were the science fiction robots of new tech, 100,000 years ago.
Second, it is striking that dogs were evolved, by artificial selection, from EUROPEAN wolves. This has momentous philosophical consequences on the human condition.

The chronology is clear. The Goyet dog (at least 31,000 years old, maybe 36,000 years) was clearly very evolved, artificially, away from the original EUROPEAN wolves (it was very physiologically different from a wolf).

Striking conclusion? The Goyet dog had to have come from a very old linage. Wolves were domesticated by European Neanderthals (there were Neanderthals, and African wolves, in Africa… little known facts).

So we are left pondering the Neanderthals, symbolic of humanity’s fate. Neanderthals were the first to burn coal (73,000 years ago, in present-day France). this is when we started to reach for the stars…

The oldest art found now seems to go way back to Homo Erectus.

Homo Sapiens Neanderthalis was, apparently, mentally superior: why did other human subspecies not domesticate their local wolves? How could that be? From the fact Neanderthals lived in the hardest, subarctic environment. Technology enabled them to do so. Technology was not just pants and coal, it was also dogs. Thus need forced excellence. More hardships led to more humanity!

When the going gets tough, the tough gets techie. By opting for dogs and coal, 100,000 years ago, Neanderthals showed us the way.

If Neanderthals were so superior, how come that they disappeared? Well, first they did not really disappear: Neanderthal genes are found all the way to the southern tip of Africa (!).

Secondly, I have engineered a sophisticate Neanderthal sort-of-disappearance theory, which is purely mathematical, considering how the smaller body masses of Homo SS from Africa would advantage their reproduction during climate change (when it’s known Neanderthals got swamped by Homo SS).

Details are found in:

So what of the myth of Sisyphus?

Maybe it applied to Camus. Some people are their private hells. However, Sisyphus does not apply to the human condition in general, something stronger than ever, four million years after setting itself on its journey of hope.

And now for Paul Handover’s essay!


Learning from Dogs

My relationship with Pharaoh has echoes of much earlier times.

This is a post that was originally published by Learning from Dogs back in July 2012!

It seemed so fitting to repost it this week. Not only in recognition of my dear Pharaoh’s birthday yesterday, but also in recognition of all the dogs and their loving human companions since time immemorial. What magnificent creatures they are.


The woof at the Door.

The grandeur of the ancient relationship between dog and man.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a fascinating article that had been published in American Scientist magazine (online version) written by Professor Pat Shipman.  The article provided the background and evidence to support the proposition that dogs may have been man’s best friend for thousands of years longer than we realized.

Very quickly I came across Pat Shipman’s website and learnt that this is one clever lady…

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Tech, Science, Thinking, Stalled By Plutocracy

May 26, 2015


Technology, Energy, Science, Economy all entangled, & Stalled:

Some have observed tech is bringing up more hype than progress: we did not get flying cars, but 140 characters. Productivity is stagnating. The Internet hype led a devolution of thinking, for all to see. Some sites seem popular, mostly because they induce a parody of thinking (even on “academic” sites).

Against the will to stupidity, genius roars in vain.

So much of the “high Tech” is not truly high tech, or at least new tech. It’s no big deal, indeed. The “high tech” monopolies, with their “big data” will allow to make with robots what our ancestors used to have with domesticated animals (an ass, horse, or an ox are clever, and respond to voice commands, like the day after tomorrow’s robots).

There is not enough financing of the possible avenues of futuristic research. Here is one:

Real high tech would mean progress in energy production: this is the core of what defines our species. An obvious possibility, indeed, is thermonuclear fusion. H-Bombs work splendidly, and are very small. Making a thermonuclear engine has been difficult, but propulsion in space could turn around a lot of the difficulty we presently have.

Krugman noticed some of this in “The Big Meh” [I sent wise comments, therefore all censored by the New York Times; the Times later sent me kindly an unsolicited letter to justify its censorship; there is no excuse: the New York Times should not censor serious and cogent comments, this is a misuse of technology].

Krugman: “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”… began with some technology snark, dismissing Earth as a planet whose life-forms “are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”… Since then we’ve moved on to much more significant things, so much so that the big technology idea of 2015, so far, is a digital watch…

O.K., I’m snarking, too. But there is a real question here. Everyone knows that we live in an era of incredibly rapid technological change, which is changing everything. But what if what everyone knows is wrong? And I’m not being wildly contrarian here. A growing number of economists, looking at the data on productivity and incomes, are wondering if the technological revolution has been greatly overhyped — and some technologists share their concern.”

We evolved as a technological species: weapon and tool usage precedes the apparition of Homo:

Technology preceded the apparition of Homo Erectus, two million years ago. So we can only conclude that technology, and its attached science, and scientific method, created the ecological niche in which Homo, even homo Erectus, evolved.

The fundamental evolutionary niche our very distant ancestors, pre-Homo Erectus, chose was to improve the quantity and quality of energy at our disposal. They went to explore, far from trees and cliffs, armed with stone tools and weapons, with a bias towards a much more carnivorous diet.

Technology and science are us. This is as human as we get. That does not mean anything goes. Just, that’s how humanity gets going.

Thus, our very evolution is entangled with our mastery of energy. Neanderthals used coal (lignite!) already 80,000 years ago. When our ancestors learned to domesticate animals and then invented agriculture, we improved our mastery of energy considerably. In the last 2,000 years, wood was progressively replaced by fossil fuels.

However, fossil fuels have become unsustainable. It is not just that they have put so much CO2 in the lower atmosphere, warming it, melting the ice, rising the seas, and into the ocean, making it acid.

The Return On Investment (ROI) of fossil fuels is now terrible. Major oil companies do not make much profits on new fields: they cost too much to find and exploit. Fracking makes money, but only because the states, and others, pay the price. Remember: 5.3 trillion dollars of fossil fuel subsidies out there.

However progress in economic matters is all about ROI in energy. Without energy we have no food, no shelter, we die.

We don’t have flying cars because we did not improve our mastery of energy as much as that would require (the very first plane, part of a French military program, did not fly very far: it used a heavy steam plant; shortly after, the internal combustion engine allowed to take-off more clearly; right now Airbus sells an electric plane, and intents to develop that technology much further).

Fundamental progress in energy technology has been stalled by lack of advances in fission, fusion, and batteries. Only solar photovoltaics is making really spectacular progress.

This stalling of major technological progress where it counts, in energy management is why society, and the planet, are threatened. This stalling is directly related to a dearth of fundamental research funding, itself related to the rise of a non-tax paying plutocracy. We are in whirlpool of disaster, and the greed of an oligarchy is its nature.

Patrice Ayme’

P/S: Latest News: Amazon Inc. just announced it would stop hiding its European profits in Luxembourg, and would set-up tax paying subsidiaries in various countries: it was threatened by incoming British and French laws. However, skepticism is widespread about the fine print in Amazon’s proposal…

The future was not stalled in the past: Contrarily to what happened around the era from, say, 1900 to 1970, when many futuristic technologies were researched; the USA operated nuclear rocket engines, France flew a “statoreacteur” (“ramjet”) plane, etc.; the inception of motorized flight, from the French steam plane, all the way to jet engines, took around 50 years!