Saturday, December 17, 2011

More Seaborne Stupidity From Blueseed

I posted a while back on the Seasteading Institute's hair-brained idea for a floating city.  My criticism of the concept was focused on the impossibility of economics, defense, and sovereignty for such an enterprise.  Well, the software and venture capital geniuses behind the Seasteading concept haven't given up on their bold vision to defy physical reality.  The entrepreneurs who've never built physical infrastructure are back with a brand new application of their knowledge gaps. 

Blueseed is the latest Silicon Valley effort at making an end run around national sovereignty.  Their concept of mooring a barge in international waters would theoretically allow high tech workers with H-1B visas to commute to jobs in Silicon Valley without revisions to U.S. immigration laws that otherwise limit foreign residency.  It's a less ambitious concept than Seasteading but it still has practical problems. 

Let's say they moor this thing "twelve miles southwest of San Francisco Bay" as the Huffington Post article says they will.  What ferry terminals are in that area that will enable the offshore residents to get from the barge to land transportation links into Silicon Valley?  A quick look at a Google map shows us that the closest feasible landing point for any ferry from such an area would be Half Moon Bay, because it's the only town of any size with a road link into Silicon Valley (Highway 92 to Highway 35 to CA-280 or US 101) and potential for berthing ferry ships.  Ferrying people twelve miles from a barge to the relatively shallow waters of Half Moon Bay is logistically feasible.  I have taken several ferry rides across Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong, including a long ferry all the way to Lantau Island.  Ferrys and hydrofoils were quite active along a distance comparable to the one Blueseed proposes to transit.  The feasibility of this concept will depend very much on the construction of an adequate ferry terminal in Half Moon Bay.  I've been to Half Moon Bay many times; the waterfront there can probably accommodate a ferry berth approximately half a kilometer south of the existing marinas.  Blueseed will have to build a brand new pier, roads, bus terminals, and parking lots to enable ground transportation links for disembarking ferry passengers.  The article's admission that "it hasn't been determined exactly which port Blueseed would use" is an understatement.

The page for concept vessels once again shows a glaring ignorance of logistics.  The residential barge has containers stacked up on one end, but there is no sufficient room for material handling equipment on deck to maneuver said containers into a storage area for offloading.  That's just as well, because the warehousing area appears to be nonexistent.  There's one photo of a passing containership offloading containers onto the barge with its own onboard crane.  That's pretty funny.  How much do they plan to pay for regular replenishment from a fully-loaded container ship that's on its way to Hong Kong?  I am not aware of any attempt ever in human history to offload a TEU container on the high seas from ship to ship.  Underway replenishment between ships is done by many navies but this involves a conveyor system hanging between ships for bundles and palletized loads.  Blueseed needs to ask the U.S. Navy how it resupplies ships at sea so they can see how challenging it will be. 

The article mentions that a "live-work space" on the barge will cost $1200 per month.  That's hilarious.  A one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco costs $1500 per month, in a city with a fully mature civil infrastructure that delivers energy, water, and goods in and waste out.  Doing those things at sea will cost a premium.  The MBA geniuses running the cost estimates need to at least triple that $1200 estimate for a conservative number, then ask themselves how many H-1B visa computer engineers can afford to pay that rent on Silicon Valley startup compensation levels. 

The existing leadership of Blueseed makes me wonder about execution.  They are all ex-Seasteaders with plenty of entrepreneurial zeal and zero experience in maritime engineering, civil engineering, mass transit, or other relevant disciplines.  I do respect their selection of Max Hardberger as a technical advisor.  If anyone could pull off a radically new seagoing concept, this guy can.  I heard him speak about his adventures at the Golden Gate Breakfast Club.  There needs to be an adult in the room among all of these wide-eyed kids with MBAs and law degrees.  I suspect Max is going to end up laughing all the way to the bank as he tells these kids week after week what the sea won't allow them to do. 

I think it's okay that rich Silicon Valley Internet entrepreneurs want to keep trying to secede from reality.  They're welcome to do so with their own money.  They should not approach the taxpayers of Northern California towns to subsidize this tomfoolery.  I truly believe that business leaders should spend time and money promoting pro-business immigration policy instead of residential sea barge folly.