A Low-Energy-Cost Way to Destroy the Earth

To be clear, this is a way to destroy the planet Earth, approximately following the rules here. This is much more difficult than killing all humans or wrecking the biosphere. The main problem is that the planet is just so damn big, and most practical methods require a huge energy investment.

My method requires the expenditure of minimal energy, and in fact, we can generate power using it. However, we will need a few advancements in material science (and a bit of patience).

We start with a Space Elevator

We just need the cable, so no need to worry about creating (or powering) a climber. The methodology is well-established, and we’re close in material-science technology to achieving this. A comparatively small energy-expenditure will have to be spent to get the cable in orbit, but we can make that back later.

Once built, the elevator cable will be exerting a considerable upward force on the base station of the elevator. This is because the center of mass of the cable is above geosynchronous orbit, so the centrifugal force is greater than the force of gravity.

Start Playing out the Cable

Now, we start building more cable at the base, and letting it out as we do so. Because the overall force is in the upward direction, the cable will easily lift more of itself. In fact, as we do this, the center of mass shifts further out, and the force increases, so we can keep increasing the thickness of the cable as we go.

(Note: At this point, we can add a power station at the base with turbines driven by the upward-moving cable. This can make up the energy we spent to get the cable into orbit to begin with.)

We keep increasing the thickness of the cable, and essentially start converting Earth’s mass into the cable. The ultimate goal is to unravel the whole planet into this increasingly-thick strand of elevator.

As the cable lengthens, its end will achieve escape velocity, and we can plan ahead and plant charges such that predetermined lengths get cut off and escape the planet’s gravity well. This will help reduce the forces on the cable.

So, we’re unraveling the Earth and throwing chunks of it away, but where is the energy for this coming from?

The Earth Supplies the Energy

The best thing about this plan is that we’re not using up our energy to do so. As the cable plays out, the Earth’s rotation is what’s supplying the power. The Earth is exerting an eastward force on the elevator at its base, accelerating the whole thing.

This means the cable exerts an equivalent westward force on the Earth, slowing down the planet’s rotation. As that happens, the distance of geosynchronous orbit gets greater, so we’ll need to let the cable get longer and longer before we blow off end pieces. For the purposes of this plan, we assume our material science advances to keep up with this demand.

But is there Enough Energy?

The natural next question is whether there’s enough energy in the rotation of the Earth to achieve our ultimate goal.

The rotation of the planet stores ~2.138×1029J of energy (source).

It takes 6.24×107J to accelerate one kilogram to escape velocity (source).

Dividing the first by the second gives us the energy to lift 3.42×1021 kg.

Unfortunately, Earth’s mass is ~5.97×1024 kg., so we can only lift ~0.06% of the Earth’s mass using this method, before our planet stops rotating.

Now, this is not a total loss. With the Earth not rotating, we’ll have year-long day and night cycles, which will surely wreck the biosphere and kill off the majority of living things. But this wasn’t our goal, so it’s still a bad outcome.

The Moon to the Rescue

Not all is lost. Before we stop rotating altogether, when the Earth rotates once a month, we will tidally-lock to the Moon. We should plan ahead such that the cable is on the opposite side of the Earth from the moon (at the L3 point) at the moment this occurs.

(Note: We will have to figure out a way to keep the cable from intersecting with the Moon in the time leading up to this, but let’s assume we can add some steering to accomplish that. If we do lose the first cable to the Moon, we can build a new one at the Earth-Moon L3 point. Alternatively, we can use the methods described below to get rid of the Moon as a preliminary step.)

At this point, we can start extending the cable without slowing the rotation of the Earth, because the Moon will be exerting a force on the Earth to maintain that tidal lock.

The Moon Supplies the Energy

Now we’re stealing energy from the Moon to power our destruction of the planet. This energy comes from the rotation of the Moon around the Earth, which means the Moon’s orbit will degrade, and it will get closer toward the Earth, reversing a billions-year-old trend.

Paradoxically, this will actually cause the Moon-Earth tidally-locked system to rotate faster. This increase in rotation speed will help us reduce the length of the elevator and get rid of the Earth’s mass more quickly.

Is THAT enough energy?

There’s no need to do math here. The most energy we could possibly get out of this process is the energy it would take to put the Moon in its orbit, which means we could raise a Moon-size chunk of the Earth to an orbit the distance of the Moon. We’re talking 1.25% of the Earth’s mass — better than the first approach, but not by much. Plus, we want to achieve escape velocity, not just Moon-distance orbit.

Worse, we’re bringing a huge mass (the Moon) toward the Earth, so really, we’re not gaining anything.

But let’s keep this up, until the Earth and Moon are spinning rapidly about one another, and then the Moon crashes into the Earth. Apocalyptic times for everyone.

It’s doubtful much will survive on the planet at this point, but once the dust settles, the Earth will still exist as a planet, albeit much-reshaped, and rapidly-rotating.

Don’t Give Up

We hunker down and ride this process out. Then we restart with our matter-ejection method until the planet slows its rotation again.

There’s one more object we can use to acquire tidal lock – the Sun. We should make sure that we end up with our elevator cable passing through the Sun-Earth L2 point. The Earth will be rotating at a leisurely once-a-year pace, and the cable will have to be about two million miles long at this point. (Center of mass at L2, which is a million miles away.)

And, we start again, playing out the cable longer and longer.

This time, we’re stealing energy from the Earth’s rotation around the Sun, so we can’t lose. Either we get rid of all the Earth’s mass, or we crash the planet into the Sun (or get ripped apart inside the Sun’s Roche Limit). Either way, the Earth ends up destroyed by all the definitions we care about. I’ll leave calculating which happens first as an exercise for the reader.


The Lesson

The main lesson of this story is – don’t give up. We could’ve despaired after the first method didn’t suffice, or the second. But by persevering, we were able to achieve our ultimate goal.

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Time-delayed hello.

I was walking my dog Dante and passed by a yard where another dog was tied up. The second dog barked at us. I couldn’t approach to say hello, since I knew neither the owners nor the dog.

This agitated Dante. He rushed to and fro for a few moments, then went straight for the nearest tree and marked it.

I wonder what was going through his tiny furry brain.

Perhaps he was asserting dominance by marking territory in reaction to being barked at.

But I’d like to think he was saying hello in the best way he could. “When you’re no longer tied up, you can get to know me over here.”

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Another canine Amaterasu

There was apparently a canine Amaterasu cosplayer at Connichi 2011 in Germany. An Akita, by the looks of her, and a very cute one. Wish I could track down the owner.

Photo 1Photo 2Photo 3Photo 4

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The Rich are a Problem for the Economy

I don’t mean this in an ethical or classist way. I mean, the existence of wealth is a practical economic problem.

Our economy is based on people trading their work for the work of others. Money serves as a buffer for this act of trade — you have money so you can ask for someone’s efforts later, rather than now. But buffering money for too long results in the trade of efforts getting deferred. That’s why economist worry about money circulation.

Buffering money hurts us

Rich people have accumulated money, which is to say, they performed work, but have not yet asked others to do equivalent work in return. They’re buffering that value, keeping it around for future use. While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, it breaks the social contract of trading your work for the work of others. The longer the average dollar is buffered this way, the fewer people work, the more the economy suffers.

Investing isn’t good enough

You might argue that wealth is typically invested. But while investing is better than nothing, it’s not the same as purchasing.

If you buy a million dollars’ worth of Starbucks stock, the company may use that money to open up a new location, or they might not. Even if they do, someone has to purchase the coffee sold in that location, or the investment won’t recoup itself. Investment doesn’t create jobs, it serves as a stepping stone where jobs are already needed.

Compare that to spending the same million at Starbucks locations. This directly creates work for baristas, manufacturers, the transportation infrastructure, etc. Spending has a much different quality of impact than investing.

Really, investment boils down to rich people1 giving money to one another.


Of course, this whole line of thought reeks of socialism. I don’t recommend that we get rid of rich people, or the ability to become rich. The possibility for advancement is the driving force behind capitalism and our society in general.

But the implications of wealth need to be considered as well, and there’s clearly a problem with the accumulation of most money in a qualitatively stagnant state.

Encouraging economic growth

If the goal is to encourage economic growth, we need to balance the freedom of advancement with the cost of stagnation. And that might mean forcing more money into circulation by raising taxes on those who have the most.

This will, of course, take some toll on the private sector. But so long as we don’t go overboard, it won’t destroy it.

1 Operating under the corporations-are-people aegis.

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Ethics vs. Haggling

“Class warfare”, “fair share”, “job-stopping”, “skin in the game”. The talking points of the tax debate make it sound like there are fundamental, ethical decisions being made.

But really, the situation is analogous to this joke:

“Madam, would you go to bed with me?”
“Not a chance.”
“Well, what if I offered you ten million dollars?”
She paused. “Maybe.”
“Okay, how about fifty dollars?”
“What do you take me for?!”
“We already established that. Now we’re haggling.”

Haggling is exactly what we’re doing. The minimum / maximum tax rates have varied from 1% / 7% to 22% / 94% over the past century (currently ~10% / 35%). And less than a hundred years ago, there was neither social security nor medicare (and not many social programs you’d recognize).

And yet throughout that period, the US was a capitalist nation, a democracy and a viable economy.

So let’s be clear on this. We’ve established what we are. Now we’re just haggling over the price. Yes, this haggling will have a real impact on real people. But it’s not going to make the rich people leave or stop trying to make money, nor will it kill all the jobs, nor will it turn the country evil.

Balancing Revenue, Spending and Debt.

The details of this haggling aren’t that complicated, either. It boils down to balancing three money buckets: Revenue (taxes), Spending (social programs, military, etc), and Debt. We are currently at a balance that is unsatisfactory to many, so the debate is: what do we change in order to correct that balance?

The two problems: Not Enough Jobs, and Too Much Debt.

Those two are the particular concerns that most preoccupy us. The first is an immediate problem, the second is a long term problem, but any plan should try to address both.

To reduce debt, we can cut spending or increase revenue. How to create jobs is less obvious, but we can consider the impacts of spending cuts / revenue increases on them.

Increasing taxes reduces jobs because it takes away money from the private sector. It also has a long-term chilling effect on the economy, in that it makes productivity less attractive (this is largely only true at the extreme ranges of taxation, however).

Cutting spending also reduces jobs, since the money involved employs the workers who implement the programs (e.g. military, contractors), and any money given to the poor gets spent almost immediately on job-producing goods and services.

So really, which reduces jobs more? It’s tough to say.

It so happens that I believe that increasing taxes (within reason — not so much as to truly discourage capitalism) is preferable. Additional money in the private sector may go toward creating new jobs, but most of it goes into investment, which is not an effective way to grow the economy.

Conversely, additional money in the public sector largely gets spent outright, which means products get bought, services get rendered, and workers are employed. For the same amount of money, in the context of the current balance, social programs are better job creators than the private sector.

However, you can make the opposite argument. Just remember that you’re haggling over the price, not over the nature of the beast.

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Let the Government do your Thinking

Government Dog

Government is basically a mental abstraction. Consider:

When living in a society, you have to make communal decisions. The number of such decisions grows exponentially with the number of people, since every subgroup potentially has to cooperate1.

For a society of any scale (e.g. larger than 20), it’s impossible for everyone to make all the decisions related to living together. That’s why governments get created.

The purpose of government is to amortize mental energy. Everything your government does follows from that purpose.

The implications are vital to understanding your government’s role in your life. You are letting someone else do the thinking for you, and this is a good thing. You have only so much mental bandwidth, and it is insufficient to the task of making every decision the government makes, even if you were to devote your life to it.

1 While (2n – n) is an overestimate, the order is certainly exponential. If it had no tools to simplify the task, a society of 266 people would have about as many groups making decisions as the number of atoms in the universe.

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Luxury Economy

I’ve only now figured out that ‘consumer economy’ is not an absurd concept.

I happened across a semi-random web comic that made me ponder how the economy works. In particular, this statement troubled me: “jobs will disappear as technology and globalization rises”.


The fundamental question that confused me is this: how can the economy change independently of the number of people and work they are willing/capable of producing?

I ended up in an interesting line of thought — possibly obvious to someone who’s taken economics courses, but new and interesting to me.

Consider a society of ten people, one of whom (Bob) owns and operates a machine that handles the basic needs (food, clothing, shelter) for all ten. And let’s say anyone could get such a machine, but operating it is a full-time job regardless of output, so this would be a waste of effort.

How would an economy work in this situation? Bob has what everyone needs, but no one else has anything Bob needs.

The intuitive answer is to work on things that Bob wants. This could be creating products (art, a nicer house, a sports car) or rendering services (cleaning, bringing food, having sex). In other words, when lacking needs, society creates luxury. And when luxuries exist, everyone will desire and trade for them, not just Bob.

So, a few things I didn’t understand until now:

  • The economy is based on trading your work for the work of others. You do not have to produce anything, you just have to do something others want. Likewise, you need to want things other people do.
  • We (the residents of the first world) live in an economy dominated by luxury goods – services we want rather than need. This means that the work most people do is creating luxury goods. Cutting down on such goods reduces the work available to others. This is true even if nothing about the capacity for producing work changes.
  • When trust diminishes, we reduce shopping for luxury goods and try to focus on our needs. In the ten-person society, the equivalent would be everyone only trading with Bob. Though none of the constraints change, everyone’s lifestyle worsens.
  • The economy is suffering because you’re not getting enough useless shit luxury goods. It’s crazy, but it’s true.

Suddenly, economics seems kind of interesting.

None of this addresses the credit/loan/bubble questions, of course.

Following on the above, thoughts on the ongoing tax debate:

  • The more you abstain from spending, the more people you’re robbing of work.
  • The rich are able to abstain more than the poor, since a larger fraction of their spending is luxury goods.
  • If we steal money from rich people and give it to poor people, this will benefit the economy because the poor are less able to restrain their spending.
  • Therefore, as a practical solution, increasing taxes on the rich makes sense.

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Magnetic Pegboard Build

The garage had a pegboard when I moved in, but I wanted something more awesome/convenient to go with the new workbench.

It so happens that I love magnets. So, here’s the result of becoming about $80 poorer at kjmagnetics.com. This is 10 x 5/8″, 10 x 3/4″ and 8 x 1″ mounting magnets, plus two magnets extracted from old hard drives (some of this I had left from earlier projects.)

I just mounted all the magnets with screws to the pegboard and that was it. I did have trouble with the 5/8″ magnets, which couldn’t fit my 1″ drywall screws, so I had to dig through my random-screws bin to find suitable substitutions. Overall, real easy.

It’s not clear as yet whether this is useful, but it’s awesome, and very satisfying to use. It holds about 2/3 of the tools I could plausibly hang.

Build time: 1 hour
Beers consumed: 0

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Amaterasu cosplay build

This post has moved to my cosplay blog: http://volkodavcosplay.com/okami-dog-cosplay/.

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Rose Whip Build

Build of Kurama’s Rose Whip. (For Yoko Kurama cosplay, in my case, but equally applicable to the tame version.)

(photos by OtakuCop)

I have a Yoko Kurama costume, 85% made by my wife and sister-in-law, with a bit of sewing help from me. It’s been popular, so after Fanime 2011, decided to update it, including building a rose whip.

It turned out difficult to plan. I wanted the whip to feel ‘live’ like a vine, not limp like a rope. I also needed thorns that wouldn’t be forbiddingly onerous to make, but completely harmless (for cons). Target length was 15′, 1/3″ – 3/4″ thick. Ideally, I also wanted something I wouldn’t have to paint, since painting a constantly-flexing item is tough.

Rejected materials:

  • Rope, whip, plastic-coated cable: Too limp. A whip is authentic in theory, but the rose whip just doesn’t behave like one. (Irksome.) The cable was something I got at Home Depot once, and it looks cool, but it’s way too thin.
  • Wire: Would’ve been possible to get very thick wire, wrap it in something, and pose it. I wanted something I could pose with naturally, though, and wire wouldn’t look right unless I spent an eternity setting up every pose to make it curve right.
  • Gymnast ribbon: My wife’s idea. Gymnast ribbon flows beautifully. But it doesn’t look enough like a whip, and I couldn’t figure out a way to make it look like a vine with thorns without making it too heavy to flow.
  • Utility hose: At Home Depot, I found utility hose that was thinner-walled than garden hoses. This had the right look to it – correct width and length and even color. However, even though it had more liveness than rope, it was still too limp, and tended to fold at the first bend. It’s also pretty heavy.
  • Flexible metal conduit: This stuff is pretty interesting. It bends, but not too much, especially when stuffed with wire. I felt I could use this if I wrapped it correctly.

First attempt

I decided to take the utility hose, put flexible electrical conduit inside, and then put metal rods of decreasing lengths inside that. All Home Depot materials, and I think it would’ve worked. Too thick, and would’ve weighted a ton, but decent.

Second Attempt

Fish tape. It’s a thin, flat piece of metal that comes on a roll. It’s used by electricians to pull wire through finished walls. It’s springy, but flexible, like the dipstick in a car. However, it’s comparatively flimsy — you can’t put much weight on it. Stronger when doubled up, but still flimsy. I considered this a fallback if the first method didn’t work, but it’s cheap ($10 for a 25′ roll), so I grabbed one for experimentation while I worked on the first approach.

I liked how it moved, a lot. But I needed something light to wrap it. On a whim, I tried ‘flexible tubing’ on Amazon. Apparently, Amazon is quite the distributor of industrial materials. I got two 25′ chunks of green flexible tubing: .25″ diameter and .375″ diameter. (One was ~$10, one was ~$2. Prices seem to change randomly from one week to the next.)

When these arrived, I dropped the work on the first approach — this was clearly going to be way better.

They’re a bright shade of green (the thicker one had some printing, but it came off with sandpaper, at the expense of some of the brightness. Light and flexible (less so on the thicker one).

The thinner tube fit two thicknesses of the fish tape, the thicker fit three, and a fourth could be jammed in for the first few feet of the whip.

The thinner tubing was lighter, but because it could fit less fish tape, it ended up being less lively when moved. It was also so thin I was worried it wouldn’t show up on camera (a concern with the thicker one, too, but less so). The thicker one had printing (which I could sand off), and was a bit stiffer, but not so much as to be impossible to pose with, so I went with that.

The above planning and experimentation took 2-3 months. Compared to that, the build was ridiculously quick.

15′ of tubing, and the fish tape:

I cut the fish tape into pieces of about 15′, 6′, 2.5′, 1.5′, and attached them together with small pieces of electrical tape, alternating the curvatures that come from it living on a roll. Since the metal gets thicker toward the handle, the whip is most rigid there, and looser toward the end. It’s pretty tough to get the pieces to stay together for the taping, but clamping helps:

Shoving the pig through the python:

Getting the last bit was the hardest part. It helps a lot to straighten out the vinyl tubing (I trapped one end under the wheel of my car and pulled it more or less taut). Even then, the last foot was a struggle, and I basically just muscled it in. I tried WD-40 but it just made a mess (your mileage may vary). On the bright side, I don’t think it needs any help staying in there. I left 1/2″ of the metal protruding and wrapped it in a bit of green duct tape I had lying around.

Here’s a clip of how it moves (this is my sister-in law):


I needed soft, easily-made, easily-attachable thorns in large quantities (about 80, for a 15′ length). I also badly wanted them to be green, having dodged the painting bullet once with the nylon tubing. Foamie comes in green, but it’s too flat to look good. I searched Amazon for ‘foam’ hoping for inspiration, and…

At that point, I realized I had some lying around the house, and quickly experimented with some leftover tubing. As I had hoped, they were green all the way through, easy to snip into a ‘thorn’, totally harmless, and attached fairly well with superglue. Awesome.

A week later, I was the proud owner of 320 ear plugs. (Two boxes of 80 pairs each). The 50/50 orange/green packs were the best deal I could find, so if someone wants some orange earplugs, stop by – I have an excess. One box would probably have been enough, but I wanted to be safe (that turned out to be wise, as they sometimes get scraped off / lost). The rest is just menial labor:

Bowl of earplugs with notches cut at the anchor point, and then with thorn shapes cut out, and then with all the remnant pieces sieved out. (Two snips for the first, 3-4 for the second.) I deliberately did not try to make the thorns look alike.

After this, it was just a matter of attaching, which took about an hour. The clamp is holding the ‘vine’ from going all over the place. I used superglue. (Yes, I know superglue is terrible for all sorts of reasons. It’s wonderful for one reason: it’s easy. Ease beats quality, especially when attaching 80 individual items.)

Final product:

It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn cool. It definitely has a life of its own (I’ll try to post some clips later). The thorns can get ripped off, but I have plenty of extra. It’s a bit too thin in photos, but not intolerably so. Overall, I’m quite happy with it. The only thing I may change is to double the number of thorns.

Wall-clock time: 2 months.
Planning time (shopping, research, experimentation): ~10 hours
Build-time: ~5 hours.
Cost: ~$50
Beers consumed: ~3.

About two hours to make the body of the whip, two hours to cut out the thorns, an hour to glue them on. $10 for fish tape, $10 for tubing, $20 for earplugs, $10 for misc supplies (glue, tape). Beers consumed during planning and thorn cutting.

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