30 September 2009

US Civil War: Public Employees vs. Private Sector

The US Civil War of the 21st century is shaping up between the new privileged class -- public sector workers -- and the new oppressed and disadvantaged class, the private sector. A lot has changed since the old idea that public employees were overworked and underpaid.
Consider the lucrative lot of the men and women who work for Uncle Sam. In 2008, according to data from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, the 1.9 million civilian employees of the federal government earned an average salary of $79,197. The average private employee, by contrast, earned just $49,935. The difference between them came to more than $29,000 - a differential that has more than doubled since 2000.

Take account of total compensation - wages plus benefits - and the disparity is even more striking. In 2008, total federal civilian compensation averaged $119,982 - more than twice the $59,908 in wages and benefits earned by the average private-sector employee. Chris Edwards, a scholar at the Cato Institute, has documented the steady widening of the gap: In 1960, federal workers averaged $1.24 for every $1 earned by a private employee. By 1980, the federal advantage was up to $1.51; in 2000 it was $1.66. Now it is $2 - and climbing. When ranked alongside 72 industries that span the US economy, federal employees take home the seventh-highest average compensation. Among the workers they outearn, Edwards shows, are those in such fields as computer systems design, chemical products, and legal services.

It isn’t only at the federal level that the political class so handsomely takes care of its own. “State and local government workers get paid an average of $25.30 an hour, which is 33 percent higher that the private sector’s $19,’’ Forbes magazine reports. “Throw in pensions and other benefits and the gap widens to 42 percent.’’ The Tax Foundation calculates that “non-wage compensation’’ for the average state and local government employee worked out to $12,362 in 2007. For the average employee in the private sector, the comparable figure was just $8,784. _Boston
Government tends to grow as large as it can, until the peasants suffer enough to revolt. It may not be long until the private sector peasants of the US are ready to revolt, if the burgeoning Tea Party movement is any indicator.

US media and academia are essentially blind to this developing flash point, particularly the sinecured and tenured portion with guaranteed employment, generous benefits, and pensions. Until members of the media and academia are made to suffer in the way that large swathes of the private sector are suffering, their sympathies will be with their fellow sinecured comrades who happen to belong to public sector unions.

Economic Sentiment Indicator is declining

Economic recovery reality check

How retirement is changing for those not collecting government pensions

Free Enterprise Nation Channel on YouTube

Obama is becoming "The Albatross President." Obama is closely tied to both ACORN and the Chicago political machine -- both are corrupt and quasi-criminal enterprises. Obama promotes divisive racial policies which threaten societal cohesion at the worst possible time. Obama promotes a massive expansion of government into several areas of the previously private sector. Obama promotes a massive expansion of government debt -- he will add roughly $14 trillion to the national debt if he survives 8 years in office. Obama promotes an appeasement policy toward Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and any other bloody dictator he can hobnob with.

There really is no up side with the Clown President. You'd better start thinking up some workarounds, because otherwise the government is going to choke you into oblivion. Of course, having killed the private sector, the government has nowhere to go but Zimbabwe.

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The Self-Organising Brain

...the brain of a newborn itself seems to organise its own development. The electrical activity of the waking brain triggers the series of events... _SD
We are not born knowing how to improvise jazz riffs on the saxophone. A newborn child is not able to prove mathematical theorems or argue political economics. But the infant child is born with the potential to do those things. How does the brain bootstrap upon itself to create the sophisticated organ of thought, action, and communication that adult humans possess?
Chaos brews in the brains of newborns: the nerve cells are still bound only loosely to each other. Under the leadership of Academy Research Fellow Sari Lauri, a team of researchers at the University of Helsinki has been studying for years how a neural network capable of processing information effectively is created out of chaos. The team has now found a new kind of mechanism that adjusts the functional development of nerve cell contacts.

The results were published in early September as the leading article of the Journal of Neuroscience.

The work carried out by Lauri's team and its partners at the Viikki campus sheds light on a development path that results in some of the large number of early synapses becoming stronger. The researchers found out that the BDNF growth factor of nerve cells triggers a functional chain which promotes the release of the neurotransmitter glutamate. BDNF enables the release of glutamate by prohibiting the function of kainate receptors which slow down the development of the preforms of the synapses. The activity of the kainate receptors restricts the release of glutamate and the development of synapses into functional nerve cell contacts. _SD
Until brain cells begin communicating via bioelectric signalling, true organisation of the brain cannot take place. The "waking brain" triggers the bioelectric signalling. What creates the "waking brain?"
During early phases of brain development gene expression and postranslational modifications of gene expression are controlled by biochemical signals which are produced in a cellular microenvironment. Later in brain development there is a difference from the development of other organs because electrical signals are added to biochemical messengers as a further signaling in the self-organizing between genes and their respective environments. It must be considered that these electrical signals are capable in influencing gene expression and postranslational modifications. Electrical signals are transported by neuronal processes over distances and with highly topological selectively. This enlarges the range and complexity of the "environment" available to self-organization process. The "environment" relevant to brain self-organization includes all domains with which the evolving brain is capable to interact and from which it receives messages. The same electrical signals which convey messages are used by the brain as information carriers for computational process .... results in the replacement of sensory stimuli by self-organization activity patterns that are contingent on past experience, present motivational state and expectancy of the future. _Turbes1993
Something has to "wake up" the developing brain to initiate this highly complex process of autopoietic development. While the child remains warm and wet within the womb, it has little reason to wake. But when squeezed and thrust into the cold and open brightness, little eyes instinctively open in reaction to the disturbance. This tiny opening sets up a chain of events leading to the jazz riff or the discovery of a new scientific principle.

Far from being a mere local phenomenon, clusters of nerves organise themselves both locally and over distances within the brain, and between the brain and peripheral organs of the body. How is it done?
A considerable amount of evidence and theory suggests that transient, short-lived phase-coupled oscillations within and between specialized areas of the brain provide a mechanism for neural integration. The idea is that these oscillations are coupled or “bound” together into a coherent network when people attend to a stimulus, perceive, remember, think and act. __ScottKelso
In the brain, traditional biochemical signaling and transduction is combined with neuroelectrical stimulation in a complex brew of cognitive magic. Current understanding of the brain is not yet at a fine enough resolution to trace back to first principles of how mind emerges from brain. But we are getting there.

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Solar System Slammed by Unprecedented Cosmic Rays

Earth and the solar system are experiencing a bombardment of cosmic rays higher than ever recorded. This unprecedented onslaught of high energy cosmic particles is allowed to happen by the weakening sun. Since cosmic rays seed cloud formation in Earth's atmosphere, climatic cooling can be anticipated over this period of weak sun.
"In 2009, cosmic ray intensities have increased 19% beyond anything we've seen in the past 50 years," says Richard Mewaldt of Caltech.

...The cause of the surge is solar minimum, a deep lull in solar activity that began around 2007 and continues today. Researchers have long known that cosmic rays go up when solar activity goes down. Right now solar activity is as weak as it has been in modern times, setting the stage for what Mewaldt calls "a perfect storm of cosmic rays."..."We're experiencing the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century," says Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center...

Galactic cosmic rays come from outside the solar system. They are subatomic particles--mainly protons but also some heavy nuclei--accelerated to almost light speed by distant supernova explosions....The sun's magnetic field is our first line of defense against these highly-charged, energetic particles. The entire solar system from Mercury to Pluto and beyond is surrounded by a bubble of solar magnetism called "the heliosphere." It springs from the sun's inner magnetic dynamo and is inflated to gargantuan proportions by the solar wind. When a cosmic ray tries to enter the solar system, it must fight through the heliosphere's outer layers; and if it makes it inside, there is a thicket of magnetic fields waiting to scatter and deflect the intruder.

"At times of low solar activity, this natural shielding is weakened, and more cosmic rays are able to reach the inner solar system," explains Pesnell. _SD
Henrik Svensmark and colleagues continue to elaborate the connection between cosmic rays and cloud formation in Earth's atmosphere.

Other connections between cyclic solar activity and Earth's climate are likely. As the infant science of climatology matures into a form that will finally deserve the respect of scientists, we will learn more of the myriad factors that play into cyclic climate activity.

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Nuclear Fusion via Muon Catalysis

(1) A beam of negatively charged muons is produced and injected into a mixed fuel of deuterium and tritium, (2) resulting in the creation of many muonic tritium atoms (tµ). As muons are 207 times heavier than electrons, the muon orbits the nucleus at a much closer distance to the nucleus than electrons. Thus, tµ atoms are extremely small. (3) As the tµ atoms have no electric charge, they readily collide with deuterium atoms without being affected by repulsive electrical force. These collisions produce dtµ molecules, which consist of a muon, a deuterium nucleus and a tritium nucleus. (4) Similar to tµ atoms, dtµ molecules are extremely small. When d–t nuclear fusion occurs in these small molecules, large amounts of energy are released, accompanied by the production of α particles (helium nuclei) and neutrons. (5) The muon is freed and recycled in subsequent nuclear fusion reactions. (6) About 1% of the liberated muons, however, become stuck to helium nuclei.
Image from NextBigFuture
Researchers in Japan are developing a form of Deuterium - Tritium fusion that is catalysed by the injection of a stream of muons. Brian Wang has the details:
Muon-based nuclear fusion is conducted using negative muons. A mixed gas of deuterium and tritium is cooled to temperatures below around −250°C, causing the gas to form a liquid or solid. The injection of a beam of muons (µ) into the medium then generates muonic tritium atoms (tµ), which are similar to hydrogen atoms. As muons are 207 times heavier than electrons, the muon orbits the nucleus at a distance much shorter than that for electrons. Thus, tµ atoms are extremely small, and because the tµ atoms have no charge, they collide with deuterium atoms without being affected by repulsive electrical force. This process produces muonic deuterium–tritium molecules (dtµ), which are also similar to hydrogen atoms, and which have a nucleus consisting of a muon, a deuterium nucleus and a tritium nucleus. Similar to the tµ atom, the dtµ molecule is extremely small, which allows the deuterium and tritium nuclei to come into very close proximity, thus inducing d–t nuclear fusion.

After the occurrence of d–t nuclear fusion, the muon in the dt molecule is liberated and becomes available for the creation of a new dtµ molecule. Thus a chain of nuclear fusions occurs. This reaction is called 'muon-catalyzed nuclear fusion' because the muons act like a catalyst that drives nuclear fusion. _NextBigFuture

More links and information at NextBigFuture.

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5 Ways to Create Wealth In Your Back Yard

1. Icelandic Sheep
The triple-purpose Icelandic sheep is a livestock dynamo—capable of providing meat, milk and wool. Joanne Dunlap, who raises Icelandic sheep in Northern Maine and serves as secretary for the Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America, keeps a small flock (8-10 during winter months) says a good sheep will give her 2.5 lbs of wool every year. "I have so much wool I don't know what to do with it," she says. The sheep may provide upwards of 33 gallons of milk a year. _PM
For less than $1,000 you can have the makings of your own small scale sheep ranch. The Scots, Kiwis, and Icelanders can't be all wrong.

2. Laying Hens
A small flock of laying hens can easily meet a family's egg requirements. Cathy Payne, a self-proclaimed "chicken lady" who tends a backyard flock of 14 hens in her backyard in Virginia, says a "primo, optimum hen lays one egg every 23 hours." She also points out that pastured chickens, those allowed to wander outdoors, produce "unbelievably flavorful eggs" that are more nutritious (higher levels of omega-3 and folic acids) than those from conventionally raised birds.

In addition to collecting eggs, Payne also harvests her birds' droppings for use as fertilizer in her garden. And because they'll eat just about anything, she also uses her flock as a sort of living garbage disposal. _PM
Are you keeping count? So far, your milk, eggs, meat, wool, and fertiliser requirements are taken care of. Let's see, what else?

3. Honey Bees
With a beehive at full capacity, the yield for a beekeeper is remarkably bounteous. Working throughout the summer, tens of thousands of honeybees in one backyard hive can produce up to 100 lbs of honey. Andrea Azarm, who keeps an apiary in her backyard in Connecticut, says, "When the bees do well, the products are absolutely wonderful." In addition to the honey crop, Azram also harvests beeswax, which can be used to make moustache wax, lip balm and candles. __PM
Honey is a great sweetener, with a lot of quick energy. Beeswax candles are nice on those long winter nights when the power is out from an EMP.

4. Nigerian Dwarf Goats
Nigerian dwarfs usually weigh about 70 lbs, stand less than 2 feet tall, and are thus easier to handle and require less space than larger goat breeds do. In spite of their diminutive stature, the Nigerian dwarf goat produces between 1-3 quarts of milk each day. Alexandra Burmeister has raised Nigerian dwarfs on a small central Texas farm for three years, and says the breed is ideal for goat-raising newcomers or those with space constraints.

The milk the goats produce is rich, sweet and high in butterfat—6-10 percent. Extra milk can be used to make goat cheese or produce natural soaps. Though small and principally used for its dairy production, the Nigerian dwarfs grow chubby, making them a viable source of meat as well. __PM
Okay, the milk, cheese, and meat sounds fine, but what if my Nigerian goats don't get along with my Icelandic sheep? Having both seems somewhat redundant.

5. River Buffalo
... the river buffalo doesn't require lush, fertile grasses to produce great quantities of rich and creamy milk with a butterfat content of 8-9 percent. __PM
Hmmm. This sounds like more than a backyard project. And since I already have enough milk from the sheep and / or goats, I'll pass on the buffalo.

I'm surprised the PM article didn't mention dwarf cattle, which are much closer to back yard size than river buffalo. Other pint-sized livestock projects might include rabbits, miniature pigs, or midget turkeys.

Remember, the more food you grow on the hoof in your own backyard, the less susceptible you will be should the transportation system break down for one reason or another.

H/T Instapundit

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29 September 2009

For the Past 8 Years, Every Day Is 9 / 11

I don't tend to mark particular events or special days, except when I am forced to do so. Certain events leave a mark so deep and profound, that one never really forgets them, except perhaps in sleep. So that every day after that, becomes something of a commemoration and reliving.

The same is true for certain insights and epiphanies that one experiences and achieves -- often after great struggle. Once experienced, there is no going back. The ideas and emotions that are set in motion by these epiphanies can lie silent and unseen, beneath the surface layers. Until something happens to change that. Hope that nothing happens.

It is difficult to imagine machines capable of being so marked by life. But I am certain that such machines will eventually come about. That won't necessarily be a good thing.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.


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The Case for Buying Gold

As US unemployment worsens, the mortgage industry sets for another round of defaults, US government debt explodes, and the Obama / Pelosi agenda reaches its tentacles ever more deeply into a sick US economy, you may be wondering if there is such a thing as a safe haven for any surplus wealth you may possess.

Is Gold a Reasonable Investment? is an extensive look at the question. The article answers the question from multiple perspectives, and contains a generous variety of links to clarify each point. Also included are multiple helpful graphs and charts.

The value of the US dollar will continue to drop over time, as the US Federal Reserve and the Obama Administration continue to monetize US government debt. When inflation gains more traction, the fiat currency's loss of value will accelerate.

Al Fin believes that everyone who can should have both gold and silver in multiple forms: coin, bullion, and investment in precious metal enterprises.

More: If you believe the worst of the recession is behind us, perhaps a healthy dose of Financial Armageddon will lead you to re-consider.

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Private Launch Company SpaceX Set for Flight

SpaceX, the private launch company founded by Elon Musk, plans its first Falcon 9 test flight sometime after November 1, 2009.
Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), a private company based in Hawthorne, CA, announced last week that its rocket, Falcon 9, is ready for its first test flight.

Aboard the rocket will be the company's Dragon capsule, a spacecraft designed to carry both cargo and crew and is being developed under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Earlier this year, SpaceX won a $1.6 billion contract to provide the agency with a vehicle capable of reaching the International Space Station (ISS).

SpaceX has not set a specific launch date, but the rocket will be sent to the launch pad in Cape Canaveral, FL, in November. It could be anywhere from one to three months before it lifts off.

The initial test flight will gather valuable aerodynamic and performance data on both the rocket and the Dragon spacecraft.

Falcon 9 is part of a family of launch vehicles SpaceX is developing that could help fill a gap in U.S. space transportation. The space shuttles are expected to retire in 2010 and NASA's next launch vehicle called Ares is not scheduled to be ready for flight until 2015. The commercial vehicles could also help reduce spaceflight costs for the U.S. government.

SpaceX initially began developing its rockets for space tourism and for launching scientific and commercial satellites to orbit. While it has successfully flown a previous rocket, called Falcon 1, the maiden flight of Falcon 9 has been hit with delays (though this is not unusual for a rocket being designed from scratch).

The company's contract with NASA is for 12 flights of cargo to the space station starting at the end of 2010. Prior to that, SpaceX has to conduct three demonstration missions. This first flight is not one of the NASA demo missions.

SpaceX will deliver the cargo using its Dragon spacecraft, which the company says could be easily modified to carry crew... __TechnologyReview
Elon Musk built SpaceX using funds he earned from selling PayPal. As the frontrunner among private space launch companies, SpaceX has the potential of turning Musk into Earth's first trillionaire. He will have competition for that distinction from other space entrepreneurs such as Branson, Bigelow, and Bezos -- among others. Once private space ventures reap profit in the void, our current concepts of limitations will have to be drastically revised.

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Canada vs. Europe: A Demographic Future

Image from Seeking Alpha
Canada's population is projected to grow over the next few decades, at a slow and sustainable rate. Europe, on the other hand, is slated to go the way of Japan and Russia: a steady shrinking into oblivion.

The contrast between the two regions is stark on many levels. Canada is rich in natural resources, and is seen as a desirable immigration location worldwide. Canada's economic future looks bright:
As an affluent, high-tech industrial society in the trillion-dollar class, Canada resembles the US in its market-oriented economic system, pattern of production, and affluent living standards. Since World War II, the impressive growth of the manufacturing, mining, and service sectors has transformed the nation from a largely rural economy into one primarily industrial and urban. The 1989 US-Canada Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) (which includes Mexico) touched off a dramatic increase in trade and economic integration with the US, its principle trading partner. Canada enjoys a substantial trade surplus with the US, which absorbs nearly 80% of Canadian exports each year.

Canada is the US's largest foreign supplier of energy, including oil, gas, uranium, and electric power. Given its great natural resources, skilled labor force, and modern capital plant, Canada has enjoyed solid economic growth, and prudent fiscal management has produced consecutive balanced budgets from 1997 to 2007. In 2008, growth slowed sharply as a result of the global economic downturn, US housing slump, plunging US car sales, and drop in world commodity prices. Public finances, too, are set to deteriorate for the first time in a decade. Tight global credit conditions have further restrained business and housing investment, despite the conservative lending practices and strong capitalization that made Canada's major banks among the strongest in the world. _SA [Be sure to look over the first comment at the end of the article __ AF]
Europe does not share most of Canada's strengths, and exhibits a larger demographic weakness.
EUROPE...has the lowest fertility rate and the most elderly population in the world, and this population will soon start to shrink. All this makes it a front runner in a demographic trend that sooner or later will reach most of the world.

.....Economists are already fretting over the problem of how social security systems will cope when the post-war baby boomers start collecting their pensions in 2015. In hyper-ageing countries like Italy and Germany, where 1 in 7 people will be over 80 in 2050, it is unclear how a shrinking group of young people can generate the wealth needed to support the growing cohort of elderly citizens. Europe's competitiveness could fall behind younger and growing populations in other world regions. _NS
Australia is another far-flung member of the Anglosphere with fairly bright prospects -- if it can avoid Keven Rudd's Obamaesque energy starvation policies. Australia is rich in natural resources, and is seen as a very attractive immigration destination.

New Zealand is yet another Anglospheric nation that has enormous potential -- if its government can resist the stagnant influences of hyper-statism that have dogged Europe for so long.

The picture for the US is more mixed, depending upon region and state. The more bloated the governmental bureaucracy, the more difficult it will be to regain prosperity, after the global recession eases. The election of Obama in 2008 was an enormous setback for the US. But some regions of the US will thrive despite Obama reich fascism, corruption, and energy starvation.

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Peak Oil Experts Exchange Tips for Coping with Crisis

The foremost peak oil experts in the world assembled in Podunk for intensive discussions on dealing with the collapse of the modern world from Peak Oil. One ingenious solution was to remove the tires from their automobile. Without tires, the car could not go anywhere, and would thus not require fuel. Et, Voila! An automobile instantly immune from Peak Oil!

In a more serious vein, JD at Peak Oil Debunked points out a problem with the "back to the rural land" approach so popular with Peak Oil Believers: rural living is highly dependent on motor vehicles.
Soaring gas prices are a double-whammy for many rural residents: They often pay more than people who live in cities and suburbs because of the expense of hauling fuel to their communities, and they must drive greater distances for life's necessities: work, groceries, medical care and, of course, gas.

...During the last bout of high oil prices, there was some reporting about gas stations closing in rural regions (Fears for rural filling stations, Rural motorists running on empty as pumps close) forcing people to drive long distances for gas. As you would expect, this can turn into a nasty EROEI situation.

...Perhaps the worst threat of all is a vicious cycle of depopulation. High gas prices cause commuting to work/the doctor/school/shopping to be too expensive, so people leave the rural towns/counties and move to larger cities. Govt. revenues decline (people fleeing) while govt. costs rise (gas for the cops, school buses, ambulances, inspectors, garbage collection etc.) Then merchants pull out and gas stations pull out, because there isn't enough population to support them. Govt. services get erratic. More people get fed up and leave etc. etc. Next thing you know, your rural "community" isn't there anymore.
These are details that Peak Oil Believers caught up in the emotion of their circular logic, may overlook. Not particularly susceptible to deep thinking in the first place, Peak Oil Doomers tend to carry their doom with them, inside their own heads. Simply put, they are doomed, even if no one else is.

Of course, persons who are prepared for EMP or other disaster that results in the collapse of the power system and the transportation system, will have devised workarounds for the absence of fuel trucks and local fuel supplies. Many of those workarounds are discussed at Al Fin Energy.

The utter stupidity of the modern Peak Oil Orthodoxy resides in how they define Peak Oil. Rather than looking specifically at recoverable reserves, the overwhelming tendency is to look at production numbers. Only a fool would depend so heavily on production stats without doing an in depth analysis of all of the factors (besides Peak Oil) that impede production. Yet that is exactly the deficient approach Peak Oil Doomers have taken. Given that prominent deficiency in their analysis, it is impossible for them to arrive at valid conclusions or prognostications.

The claim that the Earth will eventually reach a point of negative returns from the extraction of a presumably non-renewable resource such as oil, is something of a truism. An obvious, rather pedestrian conclusion to a very short chain of logic. The devil is in the details. And detail is what Peak Oil Experts, such as those pictured above, tend to neglect (among other things).

Can readers think of any reasons why oil production happens to be considerably lower than it could be at this point in time? Go ahead. Prove you are better than Peak Oil Orthodox Doom Believers. What relatively trivial alteration in the international oil infrastructure, would almost immediately boost crude production well beyond "peak" levels?

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28 September 2009

A Brain Balanced on the Razor's Edge of Chaos

The human brain is made up of 100 billion neurons — live wires that must be kept in delicate balance to stabilize the world’s most magnificent computing organ. Too much excitement and the network will slip into an apoplectic, uncomprehending chaos. Too much inhibition and it will flatline. RockefellerUniversity
One of the problems with past and present efforts to reverse-engineer the brain, is the lack of a deep understanding of how the brain manages to balance its own activity so well -- like a surfer on a big wave. Researchers at Rockefeller University have discovered that some previous conceptions of how the brain operates, may be in error. If so, then correcting the error may bring cognitive scientists a little closer to reverse-engineering a functioning brain.

Marcelo O. Magnasco, head of the Laboratory of Mathematical Physics at The Rockefeller University, and his colleagues developed the model to address how such a massively complex and responsive network such as the brain can balance the opposing forces of excitation and inhibition. His model’s key assumption: Neurons function together in localized groups to preserve stability. “The defining characteristic of our system is that the unit of behavior is not the individual neuron or a local neural circuit but rather groups of neurons that can oscillate in synchrony,” Magnasco says. “The result is that the system is much more tolerant to faults: Individual neurons may or may not fire, individual connections may or may not transmit information to the next neuron, but the system keeps going.”

Magnasco’s model differs from traditional models of neural networks, which assume that each time a neuron fires and stimulates an adjoining neuron, the strength of the connection between the two increases. This is called the Hebbian theory of synaptic plasticity and is the classical model for learning. “But our system is anti-Hebbian,” Magnasco says. “If the connections among any groups of neurons are strongly oscillating together, they are weakened because they threaten homeostasis. Instead of trying to learn, our neurons are trying to forget.” One advantage of this anti-Hebbian model is that it balances a network with a much larger number of degrees of freedom than classical models can accommodate, a flexibility that is likely required by a computer as complex as the brain.

In work published this summer in Physical Review Letters, Magnasco theorizes that the connections that balance excitation and inhibition are continually flirting with instability. He likens the behavior to an indefinitely large number of public address systems tweaked to that critical point at which a flick of the microphone brings on a screech of feedback that then fades to quiet with time.

This model of a balanced neural network is abstract — it does not try to recreate any specific neural function such as learning. But it requires only half of the network connections to establish the homeostatic balance of exhibition and inhibition crucial to all other brain activity. The other half of the network could be used for other functions that may be compatible with more traditional models of neural networks, including Hebbian learning, Magnasco says. _RU
The next time your brain tells you "it's not easy being me", perhaps you should believe it. We all would like better brains, no doubt. But first we need to understand the things that work well vs. the things that could work better, in the brains we already have.

Clearly the emerging view of the dynamic brain goes far beyond a mere mapping of all synaptic connections. Because as we have been learning for the past few decades, synaptic mappings in the cortex change frequently -- sometimes not so subtly. The complex dynamic neural codes that underpin our knowledge, memories, speculations, loves, hates, and dreams, will not be cracked easily or soon.

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Kicking the Dead End Kids Out of the Cradle

Unemployment for young Americans is now over 52%! Bad government policies such as minimum wage and "living wage" are inflating an already bad employment problem.
...millions of Americans are staring at the likelihood that their lifetime earning potential will be diminished and, combined with the predicted slow economic recovery, their transition into productive members of society could be put on hold for an extended period of time.

And worse, without a clear economic recovery plan aimed at creating entry-level jobs, the odds of many of these young adults -- aged 16 to 24, excluding students -- getting a job and moving out of their parents' houses are long. Young workers have been among the hardest hit during the current recession -- in which a total of 9.5 million jobs have been lost. _Post
Since Social Security relies upon a steady supply of FICA tax payments from young workers to keep the sinking old age pension afloat, it is not just the young unemployed who will be punished by foolish and corrupt government leaders.

What will you do with all the unemployed young people who should be learning good work practices, and building a nest egg for their future lives? How many will turn to gangs, drugs, crime, welfare, and other wastes of youthful potential?

The answer is to kick the dead end kids out of the cradle. Give them a challenge that provides a chance for a real payday at the end. Stop pampering and sheltering the young ones to death, and teach them the meaning of challenge and risk / benefit.

Western culture has drifted into a socialist quagmire of central planning and top-down regulation. Maximise security, minimise risk and individual initiative. In the end, you have a stagnant cesspool of wasted life potential. There is no future under the stifling universal controls of ubiquitous government. There is only the strangulation of hope and dreams.

Everyone needs to hold the image of a vibrant future in their minds -- but the young are in particular need of an expansive and exciting future. Government controls, restrictions, regulations, taxes, mandates, and creeping bureaucracy are drowning the hope for that exciting future under an ocean of debt, red tape, and prohibition.

Perhaps the singularity will save us? The Singularity Summit is being held in NYC on October 3,4, 2009. Or perhaps those who want to be free can join seasteads, and sail away into freedom on the open sea? The Seasteading Institute is holding their annual conference in San Francisco today, tomorrow, and Wednesday.

But to cure the modern malaise of the west, possibilities that are truly exciting and boundless are called for. Nothing is quite as boundless as the universe. That is the proper goal of anyone who wants a free future. For the masses of unemployed youth, consider space enterprise as a form of Outward Bound on steroids, where the participants could easily end up as millionaires or better at a very early age.

Space is risky, so some will die. But then they are already dying of gang violence, drunk driving, drug overdoses, and other forms of pointless risk taking, where the rewards are non-existent. Humans -- particularly young humans -- need some risk. But the risk needs to be accompanied by significant potential benefit.

Even before the current economic depression, we were raising crops of dead-end kids. We just didn't know it. Dead end education, child-raising, popular culture, all have led to dead end kids. Now that unemployment has mushroomed to historic proportions, we are starting to see what we have done. But those on top -- government officials and functionaries most responsible for the decay and rot -- they are not admitting a thing. They are too tied into corrupt lobbies that are getting wealthy from the murder of our children's futures.

We need to bypass these corrupt obstructionists, but it will not be easy. It is time for some creative ideas. But in order to think creatively to solve problems, it helps to understand the ultimate goal. Arriving at that understanding may take some time. Fortunately, new media has arrived to allow a bypass of mainstream (skank) media. Stay tuned.

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27 September 2009

Asteroids vs. the Moon: Taking Your Best Shot

Now that we know that there is water on the moon (via Neil Craig) (also see here), is the moon now the best jumping off point for exploring the rest of the system? No, but it does make the moon one possible springboard to the solar system.

We have recently learned that Mars has more water than previously believed (also see here), which makes Mars more attractive for permanent bases and settlements. But Mars is much more distant than Luna, requiring a more expensive expedition with greater risks.

But besides Luna and Mars, we also need to consider non-planetary locations for exploration, commercialisation, and colonisation. The asteroids located in several orbital configurations -- including the massive asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter -- contain a massive amount of wealth, vital volatiles, and strategic aerospace materials. In fact one near-earth object known as El Dorado may be worth as much as $1 Trillion! El Dorado is not a particularly large asteroid, and not nearly the richest either, in all likelihood.

Here is an interesting comparison between mining asteroids vs. mining the Earth's crust:
Almost any random asteroid has a higher concentration of the platinum-group and precious metals than the richest mineral deposits on Earth, and many are fated to end up on Earth in the long run: thousands of asteroids that cross Earth's orbit or approach it closely are likely to survive less than 10 million years: the main threat to them is collision with Earth. These bodies are energetically much closer to us than the surface of the Moon, they are enormously more diverse in composition than the lunar crust, and many or most of them have not undergone geochemical differentiation. _JohnLewis L5Review
When Lewis says "the rich asteroids are energetically much closer to us than the surface of the moon," he is telling us that it would be cheaper, energy-wise, to boost a mining venture to some asteroids than to the moon, if you choose the proper launch window. The same applies to the return trip for the ore -- assuming you would be shipping the ore Earth-ward rather than processing and utilising it in space. As humans move into space, Earth trade will grow less and less important to space enterprises. And mining a problem asteroid may be the best way to reduce the threat of Earth collision, while making a handsome profit.
The asteroids, though smaller and faster-cooling, seem a match for the Moon as targets for speculative prospecting. Vesta, for example, appears basaltic and differentiated (like the Moon) and has over one-tenth the Moon's diameter. Many meteorites were melted and resolidified; asteroidal materials contained water, which perhaps mobilized incompatible elements. Further, comparing rock to rock, metal to metal, and sulfide to sulfide, concentrations of trace elements have been found to vary from sample to sample by factors of several hundred or more (4). _KEricDrexler L5
The gold rush to space will require infrastructure in Earth orbit for building space vehicles and habitats out of mostly space materials. These materials can be supplemented by Earth materials boosted into orbit via cheap high frequency, high-G electromagnetic boost. Large amounts of crucial volatiles can likewise be boosted electromagnetically.

But the approach to exploring, colonising, and commercialising space must change. Rather than taking the hyper-cautious, bureaucratic, idiocratic approach to exploring space, humanity will need to jump right in to seize the day. Design the nuts and bolts of basic, no-frills space vehicles, habitats, and infrastructure. Explain the risks and potential payoffs of outer space environments to anyone crazy enough to volunteer. And let human nature take its course.

The alternative to the opening of a new frontier, is the complete stagnation of life on this planet, under an all-encompassing nanny-state of uniform poverty that grows to be a constant torment and oppressor to everyone except those few at the top of the inside controlling structure. Think North Korea, Cuba, USSR under Stalin, China under Mao, Zimbabwe, Burma, etc. Death of the spirit, as in Orwell's 1984.

Most people are not cut out for exploration and high-risk employment. Every year, security grows more important to the dumbed down masses than freedom. The majority of idiocrats can easily out-vote the minority of free thinkers and freedom lovers. But it is the free thinkers and freedom lovers who tend to be important producers and creators of new ideas and new employment.

Governments such as the Obama / Pelosi reich that purposely penalise the producers so as to pamper the freeloaders, cultivate disaffection among the ranks of those who like making their own choices for themselves.

Expect change. Lots of change. But to get the kind of change you want, you will need to take power over your lives back into your own hands. Promote the opening of the new frontiers.

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26 September 2009

Sea Launch from Seastead? Perhaps the Only Way

We have found a thin layer of water mixed with lunar surface dust -- enough to make a difference to nascent moon colonies and explorers. The problem is that international space treaties prevent private colonies and explorers from using that water -- or any other lunar resources.

At Samizdata.net blog, they are trying to work out some way around the counter-productive international restrictions on the use of lunar and space resources. One commenter even suggested forming a micro-nation on Earth for purposes of space launch. Such a nation could refuse to sign the space treaties, and carry on unhindered by the idiocratic obstructionist tactics of the UN and the international community.

It is interesting that the Seasteading Institute is holding its annual conference in San Francisco on 28-30 September 2009. Because there is no more logical location for a space launching micro-nation than in the mid-ocean, near the equator. A seastead micro-state engaging in space launch, would be the ideal launching pad for a network of independent lunar and orbiting space colonies.

The UN and other international organisations have become a caricature of human ineptitude. The new US president Obama is receiving the praises of bloody-handed dictators, while being mocked by steadier hands, such as French president Sarkozy. Sarkozy is correct, Obama is making a mockery of responsible leadership. Now that the US president has become the friend of third world dictators, there really is no hope for the UN, the G20, or any other international organisation. It is time for independent persons to begin thinking of genuine independence from the Idiocracy.

Outer space is full of resources -- including water and mineral riches -- but they are spread out over an expansive volume. The asteroid belt orbiting between Mars and Jupiter contains a mass approximately 4% that of Luna. The belt appears rich in both minerals and volatiles, and is conveniently broken up into many pieces, so that aspiring asteroid miners can have easier access to the riches within.

As soon as we break the constrictive and oppressive bands holding adventurous and ambitious humans to the surface of Earth, we will find that we are desperately short of hands -- human and robotic. To explore the vast regions of space out to the asteroid belt and beyond, we will need many millions of astronauts, cosmonauts, robotic explorers, and virtual reality explorers-by-proxy.

Ideally, we would have intelligent machines capable of making the necessary decisions, technical repairs, and legal agreements that a prosperous gold rush to space would entail. Lacking that, we would certainly want large numbers of artificial wombs for in vitro fertilisation, in order to rapidly grow a population of space explorers and adventurers -- untainted by the perverse indoctrination of stagnancy that is so prominent in Earth universities, in Earth (skank) media, and in Earth international politics.

But lacking both intelligent machines and artificial wombs, we need to find a way to grow intelligent, adventurous explorers of sound mind very quickly. When the desperate need presents itself, we will discover that we have not nearly enough Michelle Duggars to meet the need. And the truth is, one child every 9 months to a year will not be nearly enough, if we want to grow the necessary millions of first wave explorers that we will need.

We are left with two viable approaches: Superfetation, and multiple births, eg twins, triplets etc. Superfetation is the process of getting pregnant while already pregnant -- which is really just a more awkward and more confusing method of having multiple births. Much simpler to just fertilise eggs in vitro, then implant multiple embryos into the (well-paid) volunteer woman's womb. Voila! When the time is right the future astronauts can be delivered, and the now wealthy woman can contemplate a prosperous future -- on Earth or in space if she prefers.

Water and other volatiles will be in short supply initially, even with the newly found water resource on the moon. The best way of solving that problem would be via high frequency electromagnetic space launch. Working out such a launch from a floating platform in mid-ocean may require a bit of ingenious improvisation, but already several ideas are pushing their way into the minds of Al Fin engineers.

The point is, it can all be done -- if we can bust the monopoly currently held by dysfunctional national and international organisations. The Idiocracy, in other words. Think on it. It's only your future.

If you want to contemplate a future ruled by resource dictators of the bloody-handed third world, then you don't need space. Not for that. Obama is clearing the path for that future already.

But if you want an expansive future of "no limits," then you will need to start thinking independently.

Images courtesy of Space Today and Wikipedia

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U3-X Personal Mobility Device: Air Bag Optional

Honda's nifty self-balancing electric unicycle takes you where the Segway never could -- sideways. This 22 pound personal mobility device and reinvention of the wheel, will speed you anywhere you can get to in one hour, at top speed of 3.7 mph.You can sit on it in a stationery position, like a stool. Or just lean in the direction you want it to go.

More at Impact Lab


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Works Best as a Rectal Suppository

An ingenious band of rogue scientists who go by the likely name of "Dr. Z" have invented a consumer product they call Pearly Dreams Sleep Enhancing Toothpaste. It contains melatonin, valerian, passion flower, and balm mint in a patented combination almost certain to knock you out before you have time to replace your toothbrush in its slot. After reading the testimonials at the Pearly Dreams website, you may be willing to send in your $19.95 for a 3.4 oz tube.

Al Fin engineers working at their top secret testing lab, have discovered that Pearly Dreams works best as a rectal suppository -- even better than as a toothpaste! This is not as surprising as it first sounds, since as you may know, Preparation H was a toothpaste before the FDA told them where to stick it. Something similar may happen to the Pearly Dreams product, by the time the FDA gets through with them.

H/T Keelynet.com and http://j-walkblog.com/index.php?/weblog/posts/brush_teeth_fall_asleep/


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25 September 2009

$500 Million in Stimulus Going to Finnish Company

A Finnish electric car company that is backed by Al Gore, is receiving a $500 million stimus loan offer from Obama's DOE, while American companies are languishing. This half billion will be added to the billions of stimulus loans Obama is sending to Brasil to help them with their offshore oil drilling. Like Mr. Obama says: "either you pass my stimulus plan, or unemployment in the US will go over 8%!" Memo to Mr. Obama: US unemployment was at 9.7% at latest tally. But then, with all the emphasis shifting to saving Obamacabre, Cap 'n Trade, and ACORN, those early "vital" stimulus plans seem to have dropped under the radar.
The US Government offered $529 million loan to an Al Gore-backed company making $89,000 all-electric sports car in Finland, while US projects for US jobs go unfunded.

...The DOE denied that politics played a role in the decision, saying that a “detailed technical review” took place, and that the bulk of loan proceeds for the Silicon Valley-based Fisker will go towards development of a $40,000 family sedan.

There’s only one catch. According to the Journal, the family sedan has not yet been designed. _BiofuelsDigest
This little stimulus grant to Finland has "political payoff" written all over it -- like almost everything else the Obama / Pelosi reich has done during its short time in power. Chicago payoffs and paybacks at home. Neville Chamberlain and Jimmy Carter appeasement abroad. Sounds like a quick road to utter collapse.

Cross-posted to Al Fin Energy


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24 September 2009

Distance to the Nearest McDonald's

Can it be? A McDonald's at the bottom of the Grand Canyon? And another on top of Pike's Peak? I never knew that.
H/T Carpe Diem


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Digits, Dots, and the Numeric Brain

French scientists at INSERM studied 10 human volunteers to determine how the human brain encodes number. Using fMRI, the scientists scanned the volunteers' brains while showing them either images of certain numbers of dots, or a numeric symbol representing the same number.
This experiment reveals that the brain codes number symbols and fundamental numerical quantities slightly differently, he adds.

Coauthor Evelyn Eger of the French research institute INSERM and her colleagues scanned the brains of 10 volunteers using fMRI while showing them collections of dots. Computer analyses revealed that viewing different quantities of dots led to distinct brain activity patterns. Then the team showed the volunteers either collections of dots or digits of the same value. Analyses revealed slightly different brain activation patterns for digits and dots of the same numerical value, Eger says.

In both cases, activity was primarily in the parietal cortex. And the analyses used to evaluate the patterns revealed there was some overlap. A volunteer’s brain activation signature from viewing numbers could predict how many dots a subject had viewed, but not the other way around.

The researchers also found that the brain patterns shifted gradually with increasing numbers of dots, suggesting that numbers that are close in value activate patches of neurons that are close to each other in the brain. Digits, on the other hand, did not create this pattern of change in brain activity as numbers increased. _ScienceNews
It is interesting that early childhood math training at the Better Baby Institute in Philadelphia utilises large "flash cards" containing various numbers of dots.

Since the parietal lobe handles numbers of dots and equivalent numerical symbols differently, it is likely that other types of mental metaphor for number and quantity would likewise reveal distinctions in the neural correlates via scans. Very interesting research.


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Aye, Chihuahua! No Mortgage for Me, Cucaracha!


Abe and Josie have forsaken a big city mortgage for the Chihuahuan desert, a house made of dirt, and off-grid energy.
Abe and Josie have the smarts to survive well in the big city, but they have chosen a different life, a remote life, off grid, debt free, and on their own terms and timeline. What is refreshing about this couple is that they are not rebelling against modern times. On the contrary, they are embracing it, and are in a sense early adopters of a lifestyle that was not possible until very recently. That is because their off grid, pay as you go lives are dependent on emerging technologies such as affordable DIY energy harvesting, satellite internet, and other modern advances. While off grid systems can be a costly investment, Abe and Josie have found the lo-fi, affordable route, proving that there is no reason to wait for off grid technology to improve or become more affordable. Anyone can do this now. It is a simple choice to opt out of an enslaving, over priced, city life. _Treehugger
Stay up to date with Abe and Josie's adventure in low cost desert living via their blog, Vela Creations. At the rate President Obama is hacking away at the US economy and energy infrastructure, these will soon be essential skills for all of us lucky enough to escape the trap of urban decay.

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US Has Over 2.5 Trillion Barrels of Shale Oil

...the U.S. has the world’s largest reserves of oil shale, and the government earlier this year added 500 billion barrels of shale oil to the official estimates, bringing the total to 2.6 trillion barrels. America currently uses about seven billion barrels of oil per year. _Examiner
If we assume that we can only recover 1 trillion barrels of the almost 3 trillion barrels available, shale oil alone would provide over a hundred years of oil to the US at current consumption -- which is certain to go down over time! And that is ignoring Canada's trillions of barrels of oil sands. Obama's energy plan is to buy oil from Libya, Venezuela, Russia, and other dictatorships who sponsor terrorism.

The economy is in for big trouble under Obama and his zombie crew. While oil companies overseas are making huge new discoveries, US crews are prevented from exploring. Jobs continue to disappear. The mortgage crisis is poised for another big crash. The derivatives disaster is still waiting in the wings. And even normally optimistic entrepreneurs are coming down with the blues:
In the past year, more than one-third of the entrepreneurs surveyed have shed jobs while only five percent of entrepreneurs have added employees. A majority of entrepreneurs believe that the stimulus package has hurt entrepreneurial activity, and entrepreneurs want government to pursue a fundamentally different approach to encourage entrepreneurship.

..."Pessimism and revenue loss among entrepreneurs on the front lines of the economy indicate that the fruits of economic recovery have yet to hit Main Street," Schramm said.

Other key findings include:

* 69 percent of entrepreneurs believe the recession will last one to two years longer
* 75 percent think the United States cannot have a sustained economic recovery without another burst of entrepreneurial activity

Pollster Doug Schoen surveyed more than 250 entrepreneurs and 150 "would-be" entrepreneurs from Sept. 8 to Sept. 12, 2009. An entrepreneur was defined as someone who has started a business and is currently running it. _Financial Armageddon
We are living in a bizarre world where Obama zombies are in charge. When you voted for Obama last year, you didn't know what you were letting yourself and everyone else in for.

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23 September 2009

The Connections Behind Concept Formation

The human brain never rests. It constantly compares patterns and attempts to determine the relevance of sense clusters. We like to think we understand "the difference that makes a difference." Since we think in terms of concepts, metaphors, models, and emotion-tinged intuitions, it is important that they be laid down as soundly as possible -- from top to bottom.
...while there is little doubt that humans form and use concepts all the time, very little is known about how conceptual knowledge is created in the brain or how it allows us to make efficient choices.

Now, Dr Kumaran and colleagues have used behavioural and neuroimaging techniques to reveal how this knowledge emerges in the human brain, and how it is used to guide decision making. The results of the study, which was funded by the Wellcome Trust, are published in the journal 'Neuron'.

In the study, 25 volunteers were asked to predict whether the weather would be sunny or raining based on the appearance of the night sky. The night sky was represented by patterns on a computer screen. If correct, the participants could win money.

Initially, participants tended to memorise the outcome associated with specific patterns. However, it soon became clear to the participants that groups of patterns were conceptually related - by applying this information, participants were able to solve the task in a different setting where the concepts were similar but the patterns themselves new.

By applying fMRI scanning techniques, which measure changes in blood flow in the brain to identify areas of activity, Dr Kumaran and colleagues were able to show that the emergence of conceptual knowledge was underpinned by a coupled circuit involving the hippocampus (an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory) and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (used in decision-making).

Most significantly, however, the researchers found that activity in the hippocampus alone predicted which participants would be able to successfully apply the concepts they had learned in a new setting. This suggests that the hippocampus creates and stores these concepts, and passes this information to the prefrontal cortex where it can be put to use, for example in making choices where financial reward is at stake.

The results highlight the role of the hippocampus in acquiring new concepts, possibly through its unique networking capacities, which allow multiple memories to be related to one another. _WellcomeTrust
Of course, just because concepts are well formed and accessible, doesn't mean the brain will make use of them at the proper time and place, and in the proper way. A great deal depends upon whether the person is paying attention.
The findings of the Salk researchers, published in the September 24, 2009 issue of the journal Neuron, reveal that the uptick in the firing rate is only a small part of the story. "What we found is that attention also reduces background activity," says postdoctoral researcher and first author Jude Mitchell, Ph.D. "We estimate that this noise reduction increases the fidelity of the neural signal by a factor that is as much as four times as large as the improvement caused by attention-dependent increases in firing rate. This reduction in noise may account for as much as 80% of the attention story." _SD
A very interesting finding. As one of the authors (Reynolds) remarks: we need a much better understanding of the brain's attentional mechanisms.

Some brains are much better at all of this than others, of course. And very few brains are actually trained to reach their potential, in this age of dumbed down curricula and politically correct indoctrination. Yet, it is good for researchers to focus on these critically important areas, so that when society decides that it is serious about meeting the challenges of the future, a new generation of more enlightened educators and scientists can find ways to optimise the brain function of its young persons.

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Portable QEEG Helps Manage Depression Tx

When a depressed person goes for treatment, she doesn't want to wait 8 weeks to learn whether her pills will help her. Because the next pill may not help any better, which means another wasted 8 weeks of suffering. Researchers are learning how to eliminate all the wasted time and unnecessary suffering, using a portable brain analyser called QEEG -- quantitative electroencephalography. The new portable QEEG devices will allow physicians to select the right drug treatment in as little as one week.
Scientists measured brain activity before the patient was on any medication and then again one week after starting the popular antidepressant escitalopram, which targets a chemical messenger called serotonin. The patients were then randomly assigned to one of three groups: one group continued on escitalopram alone; one group was switched to another common antidepressant, bupropion, which acts on the chemical messengers norepinephrine and dopamine; and the third group took both medications.

To predict which patients would respond to escitalopram, the researchers looked for particular changes in brainwave patterns between the first and second QEEG. Using an algorithm that considers various QEEG characteristics, called the antidepressant treatment response (ATR) index, the researchers found that they could accurately predict whether the patient would respond to the escitalopram 74 percent of the time. Leuchter says that's much better than any other method currently available.

Earlier research had shown that the ATR index was relatively accurate at predicting a patient's response to escitalopram. But this study went further, by determining that the biomarker could also be used to determine whether a patient would benefit by switching to another drug. "This is the first study that I am aware of that can predict differential response to two different medications," Leuchter says. The research was published this month in the journal Psychiatry Research. _TechnologyReview
Another added benefit may be the ability to identify patients who may not benefit from drug treatment at all. Such persons could then skip the wasted months of time and expense of unnecessary drug treatment, and go directly to other therapies that are more likely to work.

QEEG and other encephalographic methods have proven invaluable in the diagnosis and neurofeedback treatments of various neurologic diseases, including ADHD and traumatic brain injury. Now, it seems that EEG can be used as an integral part of treatment for depression and some types of schizophrenia.

The portability of the new devices -- such as the one used by the researchers above -- allows for their use in smaller clinics. Traveling therapists will eventually be able to take the equipment with them to remote areas and disaster sites.

Seeing into the brain is a necessary step to allow useful therapeutic intervention.

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22 September 2009

150 Years of American Work Trends

Go directly to Job Voyager to play with the visualisation tool -- it's fun!
H/T Impact Lab


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Mental Models and Metaphors: Creative Thinking

The human mind is built upon models and metaphor. This is true from the pre-natal moment that enough nerve cells come together to co-oscillate, and it is true for the most advanced explorations into the cutting edge of science and technology. Cognitive scientist Nancy J. Nersessian has discovered the importance of model building in science:
Designing, building, and experimenting with physical simulation models are central problem-solving practices in the engineering sciences. Model-based simulation is an epistemic activity that includes exploration, generation and testing of hypotheses, explanation, and inference. This paper argues that to interpret and understand how these simulation models function in creating knowledge and technologies requires construing problem solving as accomplished by a researcher–artifact system. It draws on and further develops the framework of "distributed cognition"... _TopicsCognitiveScience
More from Nersessian:
To develop an understanding of the system under investigation, scientists build real-world models and make predictions with them. The models are tentative at first, but over time they are revised and refined, and can lead the community to novel problem solutions. Models, thus, play a big role in the creative thinking processes of scientists. _SD
This is a very basic understanding of the work of invention and creativity at the borders of science and technology. But what Nersessian is doing is to make the process more explicit, in order to bring creativity to a wider range of activities -- including the classroom.

Model-building and metaphor is basic to the thinking process. But as the domain of thinking and creativity grows more complex -- as at the cutting edge of science and engineering -- the models and metaphors used will grow more intricate.

Einstein made wonderful use of mental models in his pursuit of new science, as did Feynman and other great scientists. As better methods of building physical and computing models are developed, the creative process is augmented by a form of "distributed cognition", as Nersessian terms it. Once the model exits the mind of the scientist and exists in the outer world, other minds can grasp it and tweak it -- making the tool of cognition distributed.

Models are only tools to help discover reality, however. They are not the reality. That is the error that climate scientists too often make: they forsake scientific observation and data confirmation and pursue computer models as if the models were the reality.

Models sit at the crux between data and theory. Without data, theory is mere confabulation. But without theory, data is simply noise. The human mind is always attempting to create order out of chaos, model out of data. This process is unconscious, and begins to occur long before the mind acquires language. It leads to optical illusions, common delusions, and mass confusion when conclusions are jumped to without adequately testing the models ("carbon climate catastrophe").

But since it is how we think, we need to know how to make the most of it -- while also keeping things "real."More: The above image is a computer mapping of shipping traffic near Rotterdam. The human mind is capable of creating similar maps mentally, but as a phenomenon grows more complex, computer mappings and visualisations become more helpful

A map (or complex visualisation) is similar to a model, in that the map takes a large mass of data, and connects the data in such a way that the mind can grasp it more easily -- in all its complexity.

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21 September 2009

Room Enough for Multitudes in the Empty Spaces

Flyover country is mostly empty space -- and there is more emptiness every day. Rural America is emptying out, as more people move to cities and suburbs, looking for opportunities.

The map above reveals the distance of any point in the continental US from a developed road. The map below reveals all of the developed roads superimposed upon the continental US -- a "road density" mapping. Using either or both maps, one can easily find the empty spaces.
Persons looking for a bit of solitude -- or persons attempting to predict the flow of desperate refugees after a large EMP event or other broad-scale disaster -- should be able to intuit some answers from the maps.

Newer technology will allow every person to be his own utility company, his own food producer, his own water treatment facility. The building of smart, integrated homes should grow easier with new robotics and nanotechnologies, as will the custom production of fine consumer goods within a person's own home, town, or neighborhood.

As high speed internet finds its way to the most remote of places, accessibility to the world's best educations, culture, and entertainment are suddenly just a mouse click away. As virtual realities create convincing environments of all types, in all places, where a person happens to be physically is not so important.

The professor-authors of this piece describing the death of America's hinterlands, are not only patronising and uninformed, they are not thinking clearly. When most of the benefits and none of the crime or expense of cities can be brought into the remotest part of the continent -- where is the advantage in joining the lemmings' rush to cultural and demographic suicide that increasingly typifies so many modern cities?

Crime, debauchery, and corruption can be found in the rural counties of America, just as they can be easily found in the cities. But it is also easier to find the traditional strengths and courage of America across broad swathes of the rural and semi-rural countryside. Recent civil protest across America attests to a growing impatience with the city-bred arrogance and over-reach of much state and federal governmental leadership.

The flow of the intelligent high achievers has gone largely one way for well over a hundred years on the North American continent. But things change so easily, so profoundly. Subtly at first. Then comes the deluge.

Images from New Scientist

Update 24Sept09: Here is another story on demographic trends across the continental US.
"People are moving away from the major cities to smaller cities — cities of 1 million to 2 million — and away from cities of 4 million-plus," he said. "In a sense, the exurbs are what's happening. What you'll see is that folks are moving out of the city cores into the periphery. They're willing to move away from the big cities into the medium-sized metropolitan areas."

According to Hall, people are motivated to move by a combination of reasons. He said they are influenced in their decisions by factors like climate, jobs and tax rates. Also, he found that younger people are more inclined to move, along with Americans who have reached retirement age.

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20 September 2009

Climate Models Missed Current Cooling Decades

President Obama, Kevin Rudd, and the EU government are willing to sacrifice the economies of the US, Australia, and Europe, on the basis of alarmist climate models that have failed to predict the decades of cooling which we are currently experiencing. Why is the mainstream (skank) media silent about this slow motion suffocation of the energy and industry of the modern world?
Imagine if Pope Benedict gave a speech saying the Catholic Church has had it wrong all these centuries; there is no reason priests shouldn't marry. That might generate the odd headline, no?

...When a leading proponent for one point of view suddenly starts batting for the other side, it's usually newsworthy.

So why was a speech last week by Prof. Mojib Latif of Germany's Leibniz Institute not given more prominence?

Latif is one of the leading climate modellers in the world. He is the recipient of several international climate-study prizes and a lead author for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He has contributed significantly to the IPCC's last two five-year reports that have stated unequivocally that man-made greenhouse emissions are causing the planet to warm dangerously.

Yet last week in Geneva, at the UN's World Climate Conference--an annual gathering of the so-called "scientific consensus" on man-made climate change --Latif conceded the Earth has not warmed for nearly a decade and that we are likely entering "one or even two decades during which temperatures cool."

...most members of the MSM in the United States are interested only in viewpoints that conform with the global warming dogma that they have been strongly promoting for the past few years. No inconenient truths allowed that would saw off the limb they went out on. _NewsBusters_quoting_CalgaryHerald
We are becoming accustomed to being disappointed by the skank media. There are no journalists any long, journalism is dead. What we are left with is a propaganda machine that is loyal to the reigning Idiocracy.

It's a good thing we have alternative information propagation technologies, and alternative methods of education.


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Faraday Cage EMP Protection of Homes and Circuits

Image from Instructables
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is pushing Congress for authority to require power companies to take protective steps, which could include building metal shields around sensitive computer equipment.

An expert panel that Congress created to study such an attack says it would halt banking, transportation, food, water and emergency services and "might result in defeat of our military forces."

"The consequences would be catastrophic," said Joseph McClelland, director of the energy commission's Office of Electric Reliability.

"It would bring down the whole grid and cost between $1 trillion and $2 trillion" to repair, said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md. Full recovery could take up to 10 years, he said.

The scenario involves a phenomenon called an "electromagnetic pulse," or EMP, which is essentially a huge energy wave strong enough to knock out systems that control electricity flow across the country.

A nuclear explosion 25 to 250 miles above the Earth's surface would be high enough that the blast wouldn't damage buildings or spread a lethal radioactive cloud. Even so, at that height, the pulse would fan out hundreds of miles.

The immediate effect would resemble a blackout. Although blackouts can be restored quickly, an EMP could damage or destroy power systems, leaving them inoperable for months or longer. _USAToday

Some types of ferrocement buildings include a dense wire mesh or steel rebar matrix support, that may provide some shielding from EMP, if the steel matrix is grounded to earth. In fact, homes with plastered siding often contain a conductive wire lathe, which if integrated with a wire mesh over the ceiling -- and grounded to earth -- may also provide electromagnetic shielding from a radiative pulse. More

Electronic circuits -- integrated circuits such as will be incorporated into any "smart grid" -- are most vulnerable. Any modern automobiles with electronic ignition that are not shielded, will be vulnerable. Needless to say, any modern airplanes or airliners caught in the sky by an EMP would most likely be doomed.

The political leadership of the US is focused on symbolic reforms of the auto industry, the energy industry, health care, and other things community organisers might focus upon. The real and potentially serious problems of the US quasi-empire and international peacekeeper, are essentially ignored. Unfortunately, most other advanced nations are similarly plagued by blind and incompetent leadership.

Which means that it is up to you.

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New One-Step Reprogramming to Pluripotent Stem Cells

Scientists at UCSD and Salk have discovered a quicker and safer way to turn mature human cells into pluripotent stem cells. The new method only requires a single factor, and avoids the risky and expensive use of viral vectors and complicated gene insertions.
"Working with neural stem cells, we discovered that a single factor can be used to re-program a human cell into a pluripotent state, one with the ability to differentiate into any type of cell in the body" said Muotri. Traditionally, a combination of four factors was used to create iPSCs, in a technology using viral vectors – viruses with the potential to affect the transcriptional profile of cells, sometimes inducing cell death or tumors.

...By creating iPSCs from human neural stem cells without the use of viruses, the scientists learned something new. While the genetic transcriptional profile of the new iPSCs was closer to that of embryonic stem cells than to human neural stem cells, the iPSCs still carried a transcriptional "signature" of the original neural cell.

"While most of the original genetic memory was erased when the cells were reprogrammed, some were retained," said Muotri. He added that, in the past, it wasn't known if this was caused by the use of viral vectors. "By using a footprint-free methodology, we have shown a safe way to generate human iPSCs for clinical purposes and basic research. We've also raised an interesting question about what, if any, effect the 'memory retention' of these cells might have."

...The study, led by UCSD Stem Cell Program researcher Alysson R. Muotri, assistant professor in the Departments of Pediatrics at UCSD and Rady Children's Hospital and UCSD's Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, will be published online in PLoS ONE on September 17. _SD_via_MachinesLikeUs
While it is currently necessary to study both adult and embryonic stem cells, eventually the safe use of induced pluripotent stem cells from the patient's own body will supplant most therapeutic uses of embryonic cells.

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19 September 2009

Will the Economy Recover Before 2030?

These optimistic projections should assume that the Obama / Pelosi reich is dismantled no later than 2012. If the US is stuck with Obama's anti-business, anti-energy agenda beyond 2012, the recovery may be put off much, much longer.

California, Illinois, Michigan, and New York should be coloured black -- indicating at least 2040 before any meaningful recovery can take place, unless all of their politicians are turned over to Oynklent Green [OTC:OYNK] immediately. The way things are going, Oynklent Green may be the only people who can force your politicians to work for you.


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Wake Up Little Mousie -- Time to Dance

“Their relentless drive is not a mood disorder,” Jones said. “There is a strong affective and emotional component to the feeling that you always want to do something. They can’t imagine doing nothing.” _ImpactLab
Some people thrive on 4 - 6 hours of sleep a night, and find the energy to stay on the go -- day after day after day. How do they do it? Chances are, they do it because they like to be going. Why? The answer may be genetic.
...a genetic variation found in people who seem to need only about six hours’ sleep—compared to the often recommended 7½ to eight hours—was put into mice to create a colony of “insomniac” rodents. Like humans with the variation, which is called DEC2, mice who received the variant gene appeared to function normally even though they got less sleep than a control group that didn’t have the DEC2 variation. _ImpactLab
Great. As if the furry little vermin weren't active enough already. Instead of giving the "stay going longer" gene to mice, how about giving it to me?
The discovery arose after a 68-year-old woman contacted Jones’ collaborators to volunteer for sleep research, telling him she had an unusually early morning wake-up time. Both the woman and her daughter go to bed between 10 and 10:30 p.m. and wake up between 4 and 4:30 in the morning. Yet, their 18-hour day does not affect their energy level or ability to function.

“The mom is very energetic and extremely active,” Jones said. “In fact, it makes me feel tired to hear about the activities she does every day.”

The woman just returned from a 50-day cruise, dances several nights a week, and plays bridge every day. Intrigued by the woman’s ability to operate on less sleep, Jones contacted colleagues at UCSF, who examined the woman’s DNA and identified the DEC2 variation.

...The researchers precisely monitored when the mice were slumbering, and then interrupted their sleep cycle to see how it would affect them. Even with less sleep, the insomniac mice were more active than a group of control mice who didn’t have the DEC2 variation. The researchers determined this by monitoring how long both groups of mice spent running in wheels inside their cages, and the insomniac group spent an average 1 ½ more hours turning the wheels than the control group.

This heightened functioning raised the question of whether the insomniac mice slept deeper than the controls. But the Stanford group monitored their sleep and found it was no deeper than that of the control group.

The study begins to shed more light on two related aspects of sleep: the biological clock that lets people sleep in harmony with the cycle of day and night and the body’s sleep homeostat—a mechanism in a different part of the brain that tracks how long people are awake and asleep. Genes such as DEC2 are found in both the homeostat and biological clock. Yet, while some of those genes work in the homeostat, they do not appear to have a function in the biological clock. _IL
This type of gene therapy may be a useful treatment for depression. Depressed people tend to either sleep too much, or sleep too little with corresponding fatigue. Being able to sleep significantly less while feeling energetic and eager to carry out normal activities, sounds like the opposite of typical depression.

Time will tell. And no doubt, there are other similar genes that interact with the body and brain's need for regular sleep.

I am not sure how well such persons could adapt to polyphasic sleep -- a method of breaking up a night's sleep into short, multiple naps throughout the day. There is a lot of research to be done into ways humans can free themselves from the chains of compulsion that rule so much of our lives.

By the way, optimal functioning on less sleep is another method of life extension. I want to work in as many effective methods as possible.

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