## 30 November 2010

### Trees That Grow on Rocks? Foresting the Drylands

Peter Hoff is a retired tulip and lily magnate who has invented a means of growing robust trees that can survive in even the driest of climates. His invention is the clever Groasis Waterboxx, a portable microclimate in a bucket. If you are interested, you will want to watch the Groasis slideshow -- or the YouTube video below -- to get more details behind the actual workings of the Waterboxx.
The plant grows within the hole inside the Waterboxx. The Waterboxx itself is full of water -- which acts as both a thermal flywheel to regulate the plant's temperature within favourable limits, and as an ultraslow wicked water source.

These Waterboxxes should be quite inexpensive when produced and sold in quantity. Test plantings in the drylands of Spain and in the Sahara, seem to support the claims being made for the device. Certainly a worldwide drive to plant more forests in marginal and dry climates would be more productive for the Earth, than current doomer wailings over a phantom carbon catastrophe. In other words: "So you have nothing to do? Well, just go plant a tree, then!"
The device has evolved from its conceptual beginnings, and is likely to evolve further yet -- perhaps specialising into various forms more ideal for planting specific trees, shrubs, or crops. Or Waterboxxes with a more linear shape and multiple holes, for planting rows of crops at a time. The limit lies within human ingenuity.

It is possible to reverse desertification to a large degree, with an intelligent enough approach. The ascendancy of life on this planet is no fluke.

Labels: ,

## 29 November 2010

### The Lunatic Who Believes He Is Barack H Obama

Somewhere in a Washington DC asylum, a lunatic who believes he is Barack H Obama is busy writing yet another autobiographical account of his short life.  The US elections of November 2010, and a recent media release of internal US State Department diplomatic correspondence, should provide some excellent -- though unsolicited -- grist for the book mill. What do others think about what the cables reveal?
The cables, in sum, reveal an American administration that refuses to look at the facts on the ground, even when friendly governments rub the noses of American diplomats into them. Obama is beyond reality; he has become the lunatic who thinks that he is Barack Obama. _Spengler_via_ReverseSpins
Image via ScottySarnes
It is Obama's turn to be riding on the "down" escalator, although nobody in the White House dares to be the one to tell "The One" what is going on. Unfolding events will simply need to "drip, drip, drip . . ." through the lunatic's near-impervious skull like a Chinese water torture, until he finally gets it. It may, finally, require the moving van's arrival at the asylum to remove his personal belongings, before this one begins to comprehend the turning of the screw.
Napoleon was a lunatic who thought he was Napoleon, and the joke applies to the 44th United States president with a vengeance. What doesn't the president know, and when didn't he know it? American foreign policy turned delusional when Barack Obama took office, and the latest batch of leaks suggest that the main source of the delusion is sitting in the Oval Office.

...The initial reports suggest that the US State Department has massive evidence that Obama's approach - "engaging" Iran and coddling Pakistan - has failed catastrophically. The crisis in diplomatic relations heralded by the press headlines is not so much a diplomatic problem - America's friends and allies in Western and Central Asia have been shouting themselves hoarse for two years - but a crisis of American credibility.

Not one Muslim government official so much as mentioned the issues that have occupied the bulk of Washington's attention during the past year, for example, Israeli settlements. The Saudis, to be sure, would prefer the elimination of all Israeli settlements; for that matter, they would prefer the eventual elimination of the state of Israel. In one conversation with a senior White House official, Saudi King Abdullah stated categorically that Iran, not Palestine, was his main concern; while a solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict would be a great achievement, Iran would find other ways to cause trouble.

...How do we explain the gaping chasm between Obama's public stance and the facts reported by the diplomatic corps? The cables do not betray American secrets so much as American obliviousness. The simplest and most probable explanation is that the president is a man obsessed by his own vision of a multipolar world, in which America will shrink its standing to that of one power among many, and thus remove the provocation on which Obama blames the misbehavior of the Iranians, Pakistanis, the pro-terrorist wing of the Saudi royal family, and other enemies of the United States.

Never underestimate the power of nostalgia. With a Muslim father and stepfather, and an anthropologist mother whose life's work defended Muslim traditional society against globalization, Obama harbors an overpowering sympathy for the Muslim world. He is not a Muslim, although as a young child he was educated as a Muslim in Indonesian schools. His vision of outreach to the Muslim world, the most visible and impassioned feature of his foreign policy, draws on deep wells of emotion. _Spengler
The lunatic who believes he is Obama contains many deep wells of emotion, and little else. Besides his deep well of emotion connecting him to the Muslim world, is his deep well of emotion connecting him to third world liberation movements, and the deep wells of emotion containing unbridled hatred toward capitalism and anything European. Any deep wells of emotion he may have regarding his wife Michelle, or anyone else who has managed to get reasonably close to him, might best remain unexplored. Like the Wikileaked documents, many people may not like what is revealed by such explorations.

This lunatic's delusions might have been better left undisturbed altogether, if not for the unbounded stupidity of voters within a growing Idiocracy.

Labels: ,

## 28 November 2010

### "Stuxnet Can't Hurt Us," Says Iranian Government

According to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has been forced to suspend activity on enriching uranium because of “technical problems” that are bedeviling thousands of centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear reactor. _TNA

Fueling of the reactor was delayed in recent months by what Iran called a small leak in a storage pool and not by the Stuxnet computer worm, allegedly designed to sabatoge Iran's nuclear power program, as is widely believed. _jta
Iran has adamantly stated that its nuclear program has not been hit by the bug. But in doing so it has backhandedly confirmed that its nuclear facilities were compromised. _FoxNews

Map: Ebequity
The sophisticated Stuxnet computer worm has the uncanny ability to "worm" its way into sensitive computer systems, then interferes with commands to motor controllers for centrifuges involved in uranium enrichment. Iran denies that its nuclear enrichment operations were negatively impacted by Stuxnet, but:
Experts dissecting the computer worm suspected of being aimed at Iran’s nuclear program have determined that it was precisely calibrated in a way that could send nuclear centrifuges wildly out of control.

Their conclusion, while not definitive, begins to clear some of the fog around the Stuxnet worm, a malicious program detected earlier this year on computers, primarily in Iran but also India, Indonesia and other countries. _NYT

Experts have examined the worm's code and come to some interesting conclusions about how the intruder works:
Here's how it worked, according to experts who have examined the worm:

--The nuclear facility in Iran runs an “air gap” security system, meaning it has no connections to the Web, making it secure from outside penetration. Stuxnet was designed and sent into the area around Iran's Natanz nuclear power plant -- just how may never be known -- to infect a number of computers on the assumption that someone working in the plant would take work home on a flash drive, acquire the worm and then bring it back to the plant.

--Once the worm was inside the plant, the next step was to get the computer system there to trust it and allow it into the system. That was accomplished because the worm contained a “digital certificate” stolen from JMicron, a large company in an industrial park in Taiwan. (When the worm was later discovered it quickly replaced the original digital certificate with another certificate, also stolen from another company, Realtek, a few doors down in the same industrial park in Taiwan.)

--Once allowed entry, the worm contained four “Zero Day” elements in its first target, the Windows 7 operating system that controlled the overall operation of the plant. Zero Day elements are rare and extremely valuable vulnerabilities in a computer system that can be exploited only once. Two of the vulnerabilities were known, but the other two had never been discovered. Experts say no hacker would waste Zero Days in that manner.

--After penetrating the Windows 7 operating system, the code then targeted the “frequency converters” that ran the centrifuges. To do that it used specifications from the manufacturers of the converters. One was Vacon, a Finnish Company, and the other Fararo Paya, an Iranian company. What surprises experts at this step is that the Iranian company was so secret that not even the IAEA knew about it.

--The worm also knew that the complex control system that ran the centrifuges was built by Siemens, the German manufacturer, and -- remarkably -- how that system worked as well and how to mask its activities from it.

--Masking itself from the plant's security and other systems, the worm then ordered the centrifuges to rotate extremely fast, and then to slow down precipitously. This damaged the converter, the centrifuges and the bearings, and it corrupted the uranium in the tubes. It also left Iranian nuclear engineers wondering what was wrong, as computer checks showed no malfunctions in the operating system.

Estimates are that this went on for more than a year, leaving the Iranian program in chaos. And as it did, the worm grew and adapted throughout the system. As new worms entered the system, they would meet and adapt and become increasingly sophisticated.

During this time the worms reported back to two servers that had to be run by intelligence agencies, one in Denmark and one in Malaysia. The servers monitored the worms and were shut down once the worm had infiltrated Natanz. Efforts to find those servers since then have yielded no results.

This went on until June of last year, when a Belarusan company working on the Iranian power plant in Beshehr discovered it in one of its machines. It quickly put out a notice on a Web network monitored by computer security experts around the world. _FoxNews
It is apparent to Al Fin security analysts, that Stuxnet is the work of agencies within the Israeli government. It is extremely likely that the Iranians are lying through their teeth in regard to the damage that the worm did to their nuclear enrichment programs.

Imagine that instead of computer worms, the Stuxnet ensemble had been a set of nanotechnological infiltrators, capable of imitating desert dust, bunker concrete, or pipeline insulation. Propelled by blowing winds, flowing water, on the soles of shoes, or inside the lungs of workers -- essentially unstoppable by most modern security systems. Such a suite of nanotech infiltrators could not only install computer worms into virtually any system, they could insert targeted explosive devices to disrupt communications, convey poisonous substances into ventilation or water systems, or travel in a target's circulatory system to cerebral arterioles, where they do whatever damage they are programmed to do.

We see that deep underground bunkers are essentially naked to the newer and more clever tools of saboutage. How much more exposed are government and industrial centers on the surface.

The world is entering a new age of advanced espionage and covert destruction. Stuxnet can be seen as an early warning of the type of destructive tools which are coming soon, out of the djinn's bottle. Once released from their container, they cannot be returned safely.

Update 29 Nov 2010: Someone was unwilling to wait for advances in nanotechnological espionage and saboutage. Bombers-on-motorcycles used magnetic-attachable bombs on automobiles to attack two Iranian nuclear scientists (killing one and injuring the other) in Tehran. One of the scientists, at least may have been involved in trying to counter the effects of the Stuxnet worm on Iran's nuclear facilities (see comments).

Labels: , ,

## 27 November 2010

### Thinking Through the Greenhouse Effect

An imaginary planet surrounded by a thin transparent shell a few kilometres above the surface (vertical scale exaggerated). The top of the transparent shell has been temporarily removed to clarify the physical layout. For our thought experiment, the transparent shell completely encloses the planet, with no holes. There is a vacuum both inside and outside the transparent shell_WUWT_Eschenbach

Willis Eschenbach imagines a thin transparent shell "greenhouse" completely surrounding the Earth. Then he thinks through the implications of this shell -- with regard to radiative balance and global temperature. As a simplified model of the Earth's actual "greenhouse effect," it serves well enough as a useful starting point. And we know that the starting point is merely a place where one begins, not where one ends.

This is not Willis' first thought experiment about the greenhouse effect. He presented an earlier thought model called "The Steel Greenhouse," but the transparent shell greenhouse is a bit closer to the actual situation. But Willis warns readers that this thinking analogy will simply not serve. Then he asks his readers, "Why not?" Comments are entertaining and occasionally enlightening.

One commenter linked to the "Bad Greenhouse" website, which provides a sort of FAQ for the greenhouse effect.

Another comment points to "Greenhouse Confusion Resolved" by Stephen Wilde, Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society. Worth a read.

The CO2 web is a useful look at atmospheric, ocean, and terrestrial effects of CO2, with a number of downloadable papers.

Once you think you have a handle on the greenhouse effect, you may want to read a bit about climate feedbacks in Warren Meyer's Layman's Guide to AGW

Finally, you may wish to observe expert opinions from both pro-AGW and a more skeptical (and better reasoned) anti-climate doom viewpoints. Richard Lindzen provides a great counterpoint to Andrew Dessler in the video below, filmed at the U. Virginia Law School. Dessler goes first, followed by an absolutely incisive Lindzen. The last half of the video is lawyers debating some policy points of AGW, so you can watch that as you wish..  Video H/T Nuclear Green

No one said these things were going to be easy to understand. After all, Al Fin started out as a believer in AGW (possible doom) and Peak Oil (doom), as well as having been a deeply religious soul. It was not easy to change any of those beliefs. But given a significant amount of applied logic and data, the changes came. We were born into a sea of delusion, and not one of us escapes it entirely. But we really should try, all the same.

Labels:

## 26 November 2010

### Allison Sends and Receives 27,000 Texts a Month . . .

NYT
Well before high school, children's brains adopt a will-of-the-wisp tendency to flit about from one train of thought to another -- anything to avoid concentration and focus! So, of course, by the time these children get to college -- if they get that far -- they are in no frame of mind to settle down and learn. Much less are they able by then to learn how to learn, think, and develop laser-like focus -- the main reason for higher education in the first place.
“I realized there were choices,” Vishal recalls. “Homework wasn’t the only option.”

Several recent studies show that young people tend to use home computers for entertainment, not learning, and that this can hurt school performance, particularly in low-income families. Jacob L. Vigdor, an economics professor at Duke University who led some of the research, said that when adults were not supervising computer use, children “are left to their own devices, and the impetus isn’t to do homework but play around.”

...Allison Miller, 14, sends and receives 27,000 texts in a month, her fingers clicking at a blistering pace as she carries on as many as seven text conversations at a time. She texts between classes, at the moment soccer practice ends, while being driven to and from school and, often, while studying.

Most of the exchanges are little more than quick greetings, but they can get more in-depth, like “if someone tells you about a drama going on with someone,” Allison said. “I can text one person while talking on the phone to someone else.”

...With powerful new cellphones, the interactive experience can go everywhere. Between classes at Woodside or at lunch, when use of personal devices is permitted, students gather in clusters, sometimes chatting face to face, sometimes half-involved in a conversation while texting someone across the teeming quad. Others sit alone, watching a video, listening to music or updating Facebook.

Students say that their parents, worried about the distractions, try to police computer time, but that monitoring the use of cellphones is difficult. Parents may also want to be able to call their children at any time, so taking the phone away is not always an option.

...In an experiment at the German Sport University in Cologne in 2007, boys from 12 to 14 spent an hour each night playing video games after they finished homework.

On alternate nights, the boys spent an hour watching an exciting movie, like “Harry Potter” or “Star Trek,” rather than playing video games. That allowed the researchers to compare the effect of video games and TV.

The researchers looked at how the use of these media affected the boys’ brainwave patterns while sleeping and their ability to remember their homework in the subsequent days. They found that playing video games led to markedly lower sleep quality than watching TV, and also led to a “significant decline” in the boys’ ability to remember vocabulary words. The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics. _NYT
It is likely that the brains of someone who experiences such a childhood and adolescence will be different from the brains of those who are raised to be engaged in real world, hands-on, face-to-face skills, competencies, and responsibilities. Anyone who has watched an assortment of modern music videos should understand what it takes to grab and hold the attention of the modern child -- even if only for a few moments.

Vishal -- the boy portrayed in the NYT piece linked above -- may well grow up to become a famous music video creator. He may even take the medium to an entire new level of teen-brain-entrancement. Will such skills lead to a higher capacity to make video viewers want to do something important with their lives? Or will music video creator Vishal become as much a slave to the distractability of modern young brains as the young and distracted brains are a slave to the hijacking of their own evolved tendencies?

What is happening in the lives of these children which will make them immune to the smirking groupthink gib gab talking heads such as Jon Stewart or Bill Maher, telling them how to vote and how to think? They are, after all, your future. They will choose which nursing home to send you to when you are no longer willing to let them live in your basement.

It's almost enough to drive a person to homeschool, country living, and an off-the-grid existence.

Labels: ,

## 25 November 2010

### College: The Five Year Party

If college is a rite of passage, what is a five-year party of binge drinking, fornication, and indoctrination into dysfunctional philosophy and lifestyle a rite of passage into? If modern employers are forced to give remedial training and education to college graduates, what was that five-year party all about?

In high-priced private colleges, students may become indebted by as much as $200,000 or more. If they graduate with a bachelor's degree in queer ethnic women's studies, literature, or social sciences, they may never pay back their college debt. In government-subsidised colleges, low tuition fees allow students more latitude in their leisure activities, without worrying so much about later debt to themselves. They can begin cultivating better tastes in liquor at an earlier age, in other words. ...artificially low fees attract some students to higher education who simply aren't suited to the academic rigors of a university. Ultimately, the presence of these lower-achieving students hurts those who are more academically inclined, as they end up in watered-down courses in which professors have to focus on bringing the low achievers along. _LATimes Only students with IQs of 115 or higher should be studying for a rigorous 4 year degree. In the US, that might include 30% of Asian students, 25% of Europeans, 15% of Hispanics, and 5% of African Americans, to be generous. Even many of the brighter students can be uninterested in learning, when presented with all the other opportunities available at a party college -- and these days, what college is not a party college? ...only 10 percent of students are really interested in academics. The rest are there for mostly social purposes. The slackers take dumbed down courses in which grade inflation results in 90 percent of students getting As and Bs. Learning is optional, neither required nor expected. Even mental midgets who do no work are too big to fail. Nobody fails. That would make the professor look bad, and the school would risk losing a paying customer. _UnionLeader Why not just relax, party, accumulate debt (either personal debt or societal debt), and simply go for broke with the devil taking the hindmost? Take advantage of your 5 year party to learn about life (?!?) at parental or societal expense, in preparation for a lifetime of unemployment? I suppose someone will have to pay for it all eventually, but there will be plenty of time to worry about that. Five Year Party Blog H/T Instapundit ### How Government Regulation and Bureaucracy Invigorates the Private Sector and Creates New Jobs and Prosperity After watching the video carefully, one can no longer deny the benefits of the massive new bureaucracy and regulation being installed under the 2 year Obama Pelosi reign of error. Mr. Obama's love for government control over the economy, and his antipathy to constitutional freedoms, have arrived in time to save the day. Be thankful, Americans, for the wisdom of your ruling class. H/T Instapundit Labels: ## 24 November 2010 ### China's Dangerous Bubble: CCP Had No Choice Update 6December2010: More on the China bubble via TNE. China is an insular society and culture, so that by the time outsiders comprehend what is going on, it may be too late to save themselves from the fallout. Stories about China's economy are typically upbeat, presenting the country as the most prominent success story of the recent prolonged global downturn. But you can also hear discordant notes such as this: “It is the greatest bubble in history with the most massive misallocation of wealth,” said James Rickards, formerly of hedge fund Long Term Capital Management. He told a business summit in Hong Kong that stock market speculation on credit and wasteful spending by officials were disasters waiting to happen. _Times We expect to hear China bears talking about a "China Bubble" in real estate, commodities hoarding, infrastructure (to nowhere), and so on. Despite the global downturn, China's economic growth rate remains above 10 percent. But there is mounting evidence that Beijing has misallocated vast amounts of capital, touching off a real-estate crisis that could yet drag the world's second-largest economy down to earth. _Reason But when even the China bulls begin sounding cautionary notes, it is time to look more closely at the middle kingdom's state of affairs. There is undoubtedly a bubble emerging in some of the stock prices of Chinese companies, so be really cautious about where you place your bets in the coming months. _ShaunRein_China_Bull Can the Chinese government deal with this inflationary phenomenon before it brings the entire house of China tumbling down? Opinions are mixed. I believe China’s ability to alter its own course is grossly exaggerated. As a net exporter with relatively minimal internal consumption as a source of economic activity, it is basically at the mercy of importing nation’s ability to buy their goods. Any attempt to stoke the ability of these nations importing will be ancillary at best. The “reported” success of their bubble blowing is showing only one side of the equation – the bubble blowing. Signs of a traditional bubble (such as the one whose bursting the US and Europe are struggling to escape from) are everywhere, yet the mainstream media has not focused nearly as much attention on such. Unless the laws of basic human nature has changed, expect to see China suffering from the effects of profligate excesses just as the others that tried to inflate their economies the quick and easy way did. _ZeroHedge One of the problems is that Chinese communist officials themselves are heavily invested in state owned banks and industries, and stand to lose a great deal if they face the economic bubble and misallocation honestly. Corruption in high places is almost as bad in China as in Russia, Cameroon, or other developing nations. As a result, it is likely that the bubble of lies will grow to devour much of what the decades of partial economic reform have accomplished. As empty apartment buildings, shopping malls, highway overpasses, and other shoddily built structures continue to collapse decades before their time -- their dust and rubble lost in the polluted and poisonous air, land, and water of China and the China Seas -- more observers are likely to flash to what is happening. When that happens, more investors will begin to exhibit a healthier caution when looking at opportunities in China. Labels: , , ### Memristor Brains? No, But Likely a Step in the Right Direction IEEE Brian Wang presents a fascinating glimpse at the next stage of attempted machine intelligence -- driven by DARPA grants. The approach will likely involve the use of the Chua memristor -- or similar nano-scaled electronic devices. DARPA has specified its requirements for its new family of scalable and adaptive electronic thinking systems, and it appears that the memristor family of devices may be the best approach for government contractors wishing to collect their fees. Researchers have suspected for decades that real artificial intelligence can't be done on traditional hardware, with its rigid adherence to Boolean logic and vast separation between memory and processing. But that knowledge was of little use until about two years ago, when HP built a new class of electronic device called a memristor. Before the memristor, it would have been impossible to create something with the form factor of a brain, the low power requirements, and the instantaneous internal communications. Turns out that those three things are key to making anything that resembles the brain and thus can be trained and coaxed to behave like a brain. In this case, form is function, or more accurately, function is hopeless without form. Basically, memristors are small enough, cheap enough, and efficient enough to fill the bill. Perhaps most important, they have key characteristics that resemble those of synapses. That's why they will be a crucial enabler of an artificial intelligence worthy of the term. The entity bankrolling the research that will yield this new artificial intelligence is the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). When work on the brain-inspired microprocessor is complete, MoNETA's first starring role will likely be in the U.S. military, standing in for irreplaceable humans in scout vehicles searching for roadside bombs or navigating hostile terrain. But we don't expect it to spend much time confined to a niche. Within five years, powerful, brainlike systems will run on cheap and widely available hardware. _IEEE A step in the right direction? Yes. The memristor family of devices will allow for a nanoscale fabrication of devices which function very much like a inter-neuronal synapse. Creating massively parallel circuits with such devices will allow designers to produce some fascinating -- and possibly quite functional -- computing devices. But will these devices work anything like the human (or animal) brain? Not anytime soon. Because the designers seem focused on one small, rudimentary aspect of the human brain -- the neuronal synapse -- it is unlikely that they will achieve the "bigger picture" view of how human brains actually work for a long, long time, and after many failures. But the development of electronic devices which imitate the synapse more accurately will place the pursuit of the machine brain on an entirely different level, above and away from the diminutive local optima which previous AI researchers have been struggling to achieve. What will it take for memristor family devices to approach human brain level of function? First, it will require the knowledge that the brain has many distinct types of neurons, which form many distinct types of synapses. Next, it will require the awareness that synapses are just the meager beginning of the spark of intelligence. It is actually a vast ensemble of synaptic actions occurring in precise ways at precise times, and affecting precise modular systems of processors, which makes animal-style consciousness and intelligence possible. Then, it will require the insight that intelligence is "embodied," to start the research down a long, difficult, but final road toward the creation of a rudimentary working machine intelligence. If you are thinking that there are other approaches to intelligence than the animal or human approach, Al Fin cognitive scientists respond, "of course." But where are these alternative approaches? Where are their proofs of concept, their working prototypes? No closer today, than in the late 1940s and 1950s when absolutely brilliant computer scientists first believed they were within easy reach. Human level machine intelligence would create a radical revolution of human existence at many levels, in many ways. But such a development does not appear to be very close. Certainly, humans are not ready for it. But a lot of things happen which humans are not prepared to experience. Better start getting ready now. More: Brain Inspired Computing by Versace (via Brian Wang) Moneta Neuromorphics Laboratory (via Brian Wang) ## 23 November 2010 ### The German "Bell Curve" Becomes European Best-Seller Thilo Sarrazin, a minor German politician on the technocratic wing of the country’s Social Democratic party, has just written what is probably the bestselling political book in postwar Europe (1m copies in hardback and counting). Everyone in Germany knows at least a simplified version of what Germany Abolishes Itself says, and the reaction to the book is helping to drive government policy on minority integration. _Prospect Thilo Sarrazin A German politician -- a Social Democrat -- has gained fame in Europe by authoring the German equivalent of Charles Murray's controversial book, The Bell Curve. If The Bell Curve was too much for the 1990s US politically correct pseudo-intellectual community, imagine how a German equivalent must be faring amid the suicidally PC intellectual communities of Europe! The message of the book, in headline form, is that Germany is becoming smaller (thanks to the familiar story of a falling birthrate among native Germans) and stupider (thanks to the fact that educated Germans are having fewer children and the fastest growing part of the population are poorly-integrated Muslim immigrants). That “stupider” is, of course, contested and has led to accusations of a flirtation with eugenics—of which more later. But Sarrazin is no right-wing populist in the image of Jörg Haider, the late Austrian politician, or even Geert Wilders, the anti-Islamic leader of the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands. Much of the book is a dry compendium of economic and social data. [editor: like The Bell Curve] ...The political and media class’s initial instinct was to denounce the book, and Sarrazin was forced out of his job at the Bundesbank. But as sales started to take off and as the new social media—the bloggers and emailers—lined up overwhelmingly behind Sarrazin, the reaction of political Germany shifted, albeit grudgingly. Chancellor Angela Merkel opportunistically declared the happy-clappy multikulti of the German left to have “failed utterly.” There was even a respectful and self-critical essay in Der Spiegel magazine by a leading liberal, Peter Schneider. ...Sarrazin’s policy solutions are relatively mainstream, echoing some of the new Labour reforms in Britain: tighter control of immigration and language tests for newcomers; steps towards compulsory citizenship for long-term residents; a sharp focus on teaching German at immigrant-dominated schools. Sarrazin is also concerned at how the welfare system creates alienation, saps initiative and prevents the workplace integration that countries like America are famous for, and so he recommends probationary periods before immigrants are entitled to benefit. The government is already acting on some of these points. Ultimately, Sarrazin’s hard-headedness is a welcome counterpoint to the wishful thinking of the 1968 generation. The former finance minister of Berlin, who looks like a soldier in the Kaiser’s army, is a member of the awkward squad. You can imagine him causing minor riots at liberal Berlin dinner parties. Most of his argument is clear-eyed and well-informed, but he could not resist the provocations both on intelligence and on the nature of the underclass... _Prospect The author of the profile piece above, David Goodhart, is oblivious to much of the scientific evidence supporting statistical group differences in IQ and behavioural tendencies such as crime and poverty. But he performs a useful service by pointing the reader toward a sea change in German public discourse -- which is slowly becoming a new European discourse. While Goodhart's piece is full of misinformation based upon outdated societal prejudices, the information that slips through is quite important. The politically correct policies of the left have led to a developing demographic catastrophe in Europe, which can no longer be denied. More of the same political correctness will not stop the slow motion train wreck from reaching its bloody conclusion. But a rude awakening -- even a belated one such as seems to be occurring -- can help to mitigate some of the inevitable destruction. Sarrazin has started the boulder rolling down the mountainside. Now, neither he nor anyone else has control of where it will go. Once a popular discontent grows into a popular movement, all bets are off. Will it turn into a nightmare of terror like the French or Russian revolutions? Or will it turn into a multi-century success story, like the better planned aftermath of the American revolution? Only time will tell. The future of Europe hangs in the balance, and the recent PC history of European thought leaders in general, offers no reassurance. Review of Sarrazin's book from an Aussie perspective Labels: , , , , ### fMRI Neurofeedback Opening Windows into the Brain TechnologyReview When most psychologists think of neurofeedback, they think of EEG feedback. Certainly EEG feedback has accomplished some amazing clinical and scientific results, and is even beginning to show up in mainstream gaming applications. But the state of the art in neurofeedback and brain-machine interfacing is shifting to fMRI, due to a superior spatial resolution over the entire brain. (the actual state of the art may be combined EEG plus fMRI, but let's just look at fMRI for now) U Penn researchers recently used fMRI neurofeedback in an attempt to discover if they could teach cocaine addicts to control certain brain functions. Childress asked 11 healthy controls and three cocaine addicts to watch a feedback screen while alternately envisioning two 30-second scenarios: Repeatedly swatting a tennis ball to someone, and navigating from room to room in a familiar place. By analyzing whole-brain activity, researchers found that a part of the brain called the supplementary motor area was most active during an imagined game of tennis. They then linked this pattern to an upward movement of a computer cursor. They did the same with the navigation task, linking it to downward movement of the cursor. After four cycles or fewer—less than five minutes of training—the subjects had learned to alternate between the two states of mind, as well as associate each one with its corresponding cursor position. From there onward, they could move the cursor up or down with their thoughts. ...The researchers found that both addicts and healthy people could control their state of mind equally well, something Childress says is encouraging for future studies. "The patients who have trouble controlling their craving could still demonstrate control over this sort of non-emotional test," she says. That confirms what earlier studies had suggested: Addicts' cognitive control issues are not linked to more general thinking, but instead limited to more emotionally charged thoughts, like cravings. However, Childress's team will need to develop specialized tasks to figure out how to apply this to addiction and other disorders. For therapy, "You really need feedback from localized regions that have to do with their disease, and have people learn to control them," says Rainer Goebel, a professor of psychology at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands who has done similar work with depression patients. _TechnologyReview As mentioned parenthetically above, the combination of EEG plus fMRI neurofeedback offers a superior tool, in that both spatial and time resolutions are optimised. When using neurofeedback to facilitate a brain-machine interface, one wants to optimise time resolution. When using neurofeedback to train in controlling brain responses, one would want optimal spatial resolution. As training programs become more specialised, each small improvement in spatial and temporal resolution will be treasured by researchers. Powerful EEG neurofeedback tools have been used for assisting in brain rehabilitation after brain trauma or infarct, in treating severe autism, for treating depression, and in other neuro-psychiatric conditions. Clinicians are typically more daring than researchers when using such relatively safe tools, given the difference between the clinical environment and the research culture. Researchers are quite cautious, and appear almost plodding in their careful step by step approach to scientific knowledge. Clinicians, on the other hand, are often desperate to help in cases which seem hopeless. They are willing to take intuitive leaps, and work with what they find. The difference between attempting to build a structure of knowledge from the bottom up, brick by brick, vs. the sudden achievement of disconnected but profound findings when taking a leap of faith, contributes to the wall of incomprehension which often grows between the research and the applied branches of a given science. As fMRI neurofeedback tools (and combined fMRI-EEG tools) eventually move from the hospital and lab into the outpatient clinical setting, the possibilities of sophisticated feedback tools combined with VR techniques in normal brains, should be astounding. Non-invasive, non-toxic tools such as neurofeedback, offer little risk in comparison with surgical, pharmaceutical, invasive electrical, and radiologic tools that might be used in a clinical setting. Clinicians typically feel free to try new and unconventional approaches when there is little to lose and much to gain. Al Fin Futurists place the transformative potential of advanced neurofeedback technologies at the highest setting. ## 22 November 2010 ### Natural Gas -- The Eternal Flame The world is swimming in hydrocarbons. One modest sign of the richness of shale gas deposits is this waterfall in western New York state, where a natural methane seep provides an eternal flame for hikers. US shale gas has become an amazing economic and geopolitical phenomenon, with money to be made across large swathes of the lower 48 states. Homeowners who heat their homes with gas have also had a lot of reasons to be happier about their energy bills over the past two years or so. Waterfall photo credit: Jessica Ball, as lovely as she is tough. Just one of the amazing "gold rush" shale gas deposits in the US will be highlighted in a television documentary on CNBC November 23 2010. Oil vs Gas MMBTU Natural gas is significantly cheaper than oil, per unit of heat energy, as seen in the graph above. Someone who could economically convert gas to liquids (GTL) might be able to take advantage of that price difference and make a lot of money. Robert Rapier recently highlighted the Shell Oil GTL plant in Malaysia, and made reference to the larger Shell GTL plant to be completed in 2011 in Qatar. If the price of oil continues to be much higher than the price of gas -- in energy units -- such GTL conversion plants could well pay off. Given the large amount of natural gas which is flared into the atmosphere every year, some intriguing new approaches to on-site conversion of GTL at gas wells -- including offshore wells, may offer a profitable income stream for smaller producers and individual wells. It has been proven that natural gas is constantly being generated deep beneath the Earth's crust -- inside the hot mantle. We do not yet know how much of that gas penetrates into the crust to the point of economic extraction by humans, but it is likely to prove significant, in the opinion of Al Fin energy analysts. Labels: , ### An Early Seastead Design WHEN the continents of the world have become overcrowded and trans-oceanic airplane travel is as common as travel by steamers at present, we may see the establishment of huge mid-ocean cities such as is shown in the above drawing, which illustrates the plans recently made by Leon Feoquinos, a French engineer of Marseilles. The foundation is to be a network of steel sections, held together with cables, to act as a gigantic breakwater against the heavy seas. In the center there will be a large enclosed harbor that will serve as a landing place for hydroplanes and a port for ocean liners. Later other features will be added, such as a spacious hotel, gaming casino, and four huge towers. _ModernMechanix A robust design for the breakwater and flotation structures will be the determining physical factor for whether a seastead will survive in an open ocean environment. Economic, political, and military factors may prove more important than issues of physical design and robust resilience to the elements, in the long run, however. The 1931 French designer envisioned a steel girder and cable design, but it is unlikely that the materials technology of the age would have been capable of standing up to the rigours of the open seas. If nothing else, such a structure would have likely been sunk by the allies during WWII, to prevent German-occupied France from using it as a launch pad for attacks against North America. It appears to me that the Chinese have missed a gigantic opportunity for building a fleet of seasteads, for purposes of trade and power projection. Sophisticated seasteads would require even more sophisticated shipyards for construction. During the 1990s and 2000s, only the Chinese were growing quickly enough to justify the construction of such a super-shipyard. But once built, such a yard could spin out seasteads like ocean-going frisbees. With the coming economic and governmental problems soon to descend upon China, it is likely the country has missed its chance. Labels: ### How Quickly Could Humans Re-Populate After a Die-Off? Although the European population of the world has been shrinking steadily for a number of decades, the global population continues to expand -- almost exclusively among third world populations, and populations of low average IQ. As higher IQ populations shrink, and lower IQ populations grow, one might detect the beginnings of a self-correcting mechanism for the planet's supposed human population problem. After all, it is the innovations of the high IQ populations which have allowed the lower IQ populations to grow out of their normal bounds. The politically correct intelligentsia of the western world has been obsessed with the "population bomb" and the dangers of overpopulation, for several decades now, but they cannot bring themselves to point to the distinct populations which are growing. That would not be politically correct. According to the chattering class, all humans are now doomed to a planetary blowback, or die off. Whether the die-off will come via climate doom, resource depletion doom, starvation doom, emerging infection doom ... it doesn't really matter. However it falls, the coming doom and dieoff will be the fault of human hubris, human greed. It is absolutely necessary that humans -- particular humans -- are to be blamed for whatever massive doom and dieoff is to come. The goal of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, the Dieoff.orgiasts, and the entire leftist-linked faux environmental movement, is the reduction of global human population to approximately 100 million persons or fewer. Even well respected academics at large universities have publicly advocated for an "ecological re-balancing" of the planet by the forced reduction of the human population. Suppose the dieoff.orgiasts succeed, using the mechanisms of national and international governmental bodies to enact policies of energy starvation, and other draconian measures and mischief which largely lead to the extinction of economic activity and its accompanying intellectual innovation in high IQ populations. With an accelerated dieoff of high IQ groups will come an accompanying rapid genocide of lower IQ groups. Natural losses due to starvation, disease, warfare, and dysfunctional culture -- which have been held off by the paternalistic interference of outside groups -- will resume with a vengeance. Assume the population of the planet shrinks to roughly 100 million persons, as the left-Luddites of the dieoff.orgy wish. How will that population be distributed? The answer to the question is complicated by the presence of large, growing third world populations residing within the boundaries of the first world. A large global dieoff would certainly trigger massive ethnic bloodshed within ethnically mixed populations which had failed to assimilate. Such localised but widespread civic disorder would disrupt food supplies and normal services, leading to yet more death and loss of human capital. Here is a rough guestimate of population distribution post-dieoff, if the lefty-Luddites succeed: Europe: 15 million survivours East and South Asia: 50 million survivours MENA: 5 million survivours North America: 20 million survivours South America: 5 million survivours SubSaharan Africa: 1 million survivours Oceania and islands: 4 million survivours Clearly advanced technology will take a huge hit from such a dieoff.orgy, as most scientists, technicians, engineers, and technologists will have died along with the masses of other victims. Industrial infrastructure would be virtually non-existent. Any militaries which have planned ahead to provide alternative fuels and power generation schemes will naturally be in a better position to establish local and regional order of sorts. Give the vestigial governments 50 to 100 years after the dieoff, to establish basic civil order and infrastructure in parts of Asia, Europe, North America, and Oceania. Once it is safe again to live, learn, trade, and innovate, how long would it take for human neo-civilisation to re-populate, re-build, and establish a pathway to the solar system and beyond? In the absence of a functional artificial uterus, women of neo-civilisation will need to have many more children than civilised women would consider having today. It is likely that much of advanced technology -- including biotechnology -- will be saved and revived during the recovery from the lefty-Luddite dieoff. Among the saved biotech knowledge will probably be the genetic knowledge for controlling the age of menarche -- the onset of ovulation -- in girls. The girl in the photo -- Lina Medina -- is over 7 months pregnant, at the age of 5 1/2 years old. She gave birth to a healthy boy by Caesarean Section in 1933, well before the age of modern genetic therapies and IVF fertilisation. In 1669 Elizabeth Greenhill gave birth to her last (39th) child at the age of 54. The boy grew up to be a London surgeon and author, Thomas Greenhill. Clearly this was before the age of IVF treatments. So girls and women are historically capable of childbirth from the ages of 5 to 55, without advanced technology. But with the use of advanced biotechnology, women have given birth as late as age 70. And with an advanced knowledge of how early menarche can be triggered, girls as young as 6 could certainly carry and deliver children -- as demonstrated by Lina Medina and other cases. So assume an age window for pregnancy between the ages of 10 and 60, to be conservative. That is a 50 year window, but women are not cattle, so although they will probably be treated somewhat like brood mares under such extraordinary circumstances, their health and mental / emotional well-being would certainly be watched over, at least inside the nations of neo-civilisation. Assume one child born every other year, with 5 one-year periods for intensive rehabilitation of lean body mass -- including body calcium. That allows time for each healthy woman to produce 20 children over her reproductive lifetime, by conservative estimate. Given what we know about pregnancy's potentially rejuvenating affect on the bodies of middle-aged women, one would expect the healthy lifespans of such prolific mothers to extend into the late 80s and 90s. In other words, they would live to see even their youngest children reach adulthood. So, over a period of 100 years of intensive re-population, a population of 10 million breeding pairs could easily bring the human population back into the billions. The same reasoning would apply to the settlement of new planets or solar systems. It is unlikely that such a policy would survive for long, however, since among these prolific mothers would undoubtedly be some very intelligent and inventive technologists, capable of inventing, testing, and perfecting a functional artificial womb. Necessity is the mother of invention. So we see that the popular chimera of the dieoff.orgiasts -- which they cling to under the name of "sustainability" -- is itself unsustainable in the face of a determined nucleus of intelligent, forward minded humans. No one wants to exercise this extreme re-population option -- unless a faster-than-light drive is invented -- for many reasons. But the option is there, and it will grow easier to achieve with every passing year -- if it ever becomes necessary. The left-Luddite world is a world totally without balance or rationality. It cannot stand for contradictory viewpoints to be voiced, or for skeptical researches to be carried out. Its predictions of doom have been failing in abysmal fashion for several decades now -- without any sign that the delusional doomists have learned anything from their faulty assumptions and reasoning. In a sense, the predicted dooms were never expected to come about. They were only memetic bludgeons to sway public opinion. Once the right people achieved political power, doom-from-incompetence was certain to follow. We are seeing the beginnings of this destructive incompetence in much of the western world. Human ingenuity is certainly in short supply -- and the supply grows shorter the longer the Luddites are in control of most of the media, academia, politics, and general intelligentsia. But ingenuity and invention can flare up in places least expected, and they certainly will do if necessary. Think about it. Unless you want your daughters and grand-daughters to be doomed to a life of perpetual procreation. Labels: ## 21 November 2010 ### Can't Fool Me! Happen to Know 'tis Turtles All the Way Down io9 People typically want every story to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Even the story of the universe. We have invented a "big bang beginning", a mundane middle, and a deeply depressing deflationary vs. inflationary end. But famed physicist Roger Penrose is not content to leave it at that. Sir Roger says "it's turtles all the way down . . . ." The Big Bang model holds that everything that now comprises the universe was once concentrated in a single point of near-infinite density. Before this singularity exploded and the universe began, there was absolutely nothing - indeed, it's not clear whether one can even use the term "before" in reference to a pre-Big-Bang cosmos, as time itself may not have existed yet. In the current model, the universe began with the Big Bang, underwent cosmic inflation for a fraction of a second, then settled into the much more gradual expansion that is still going on, and likely will end with the universe as an infinitely expanded, featureless cosmos. Sir Roger Penrose, one of the most renowned physicists of the last fifty years, takes issue with this view. He points out that the universe was apparently born in a very low state of entropy, meaning a very high degree of order initially existed, and this is what made the complex matter we see all around us (and are composed of) possible in the first place. His objection is that the Big Bang model can't explain why such a low entropy state existed, and he believes he has a solution - that the universe is just one of many in a cyclical chain, with each Big Bang starting up a new universe in place of the one before. _io9_via_ImpactLab Here is the abstract of the Gurzadyan / Penrose paper: Conformal cyclic cosmology (CCC) posits the existence of an aeon preceding our Big Bang 'B', whose conformal infinity 'I' is identified, conformally, with 'B', now regarded as a spacelike 3-surface. Black-hole encounters, within bound galactic clusters in that previous aeon, would have the observable effect, in our CMB sky, of families of concentric circles over which the temperature variance is anomalously low, the centre of each such family representing the point of 'I' at which the cluster converges. These centres appear as fairly randomly distributed fixed points in our CMB sky. The analysis of Wilkinson Microwave Background Probe's (WMAP) cosmic microwave background 7-year maps does indeed reveal such concentric circles, of up to 6{\sigma} significance. This is confirmed when the same analysis is applied to BOOMERanG98 data, eliminating the possibility of an instrumental cause for the effects. These observational predictions of CCC would not be easily explained within standard inflationary cosmology _arxive Well, there you have it. An eternal cyclic braid of universes all the way up and all the way back down. It is rather difficult to let go of this old universe -- the only one we know, after all. But if we have learned anything in the past century or so, it should have been that things are seldom as they seem. Beneath the surface, something is always lurking, ready to upset our best laid plans and theories. Virtually everything you think you know, is wrong. Labels: ## 19 November 2010 ### Turbulent Oil Prices Ride Storms of Stupidity “Very little of the recent price rise has really been down to the improving supply-demand balance,” said Matt Parry, senior oil consultant at KBC Process Technology Ltd. Instead, most of the recent rise is due “to a combination of the anticipated renewal in quantitative easing and the general increase in investor appetite for risk.” In fact, investors could discover that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew when it comes to increasing their risk. Any market that shows a strong divergence from its fundamentals … is vulnerable to a sharp sell-off,” said Darin Newsom, senior analyst at Telvent DTN. _Marketwatch Puts: Oil vs Gold T. Boone Pickens is predicting$95 a barrel oil prices in one year. Other investors and investment houses are predicting that oil will shoot well above $100 a barrel in 2011, perhaps much higher. Given the turbulence in commodity pricing, predicting prices a year in advance is not much easier than predictions for 10 or 20 years in advance. But present circumstances can give us a few ideas what to expect. Uncertainty is rampant in modern markets. The world's reserve currency is being treated like toilet paper by its own government and central bank. The Eurozone is being shaken to its foundations by demographic change and debt. The ability of China and India to pull the world out of its economic doldrums without help from North America or Europe is being belatedly recognised as having been overstated. What I am saying is that large investors are hard put to find a safe haven. Just as in late 2007 and early 2008, these investors are running to commodities for a false sense of security. Gold has a fairly good record historically as a storage of value of last resort, but oil is something of a johnny-come-lately in that regard. Investors were killed in 2008, and they will be killed again, betting on oil. “Commodities seem to spend more time moving with little regard to underlying fundamentals,” said Newsom. “Money flows from market to market, often driven by action in the dollar.” Weakness in the dollar against its foreign currency rivals, money flow in financial markets, and worries over further quantitative easing have all been strong influences in gold’s climb to record levels, but they’ve been key factors for oil as well... ...“The extreme liquidity in financial markets recently has caused some commodities (like gold and oil) to inflate far more than fundamentals would support,” said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research. “Expectations of the [second round of quantitative easing] and then the reality were the major factor behind oil’s rise since September, with secondary support from slight strength in fundamentals,” he said. ...“It is clear that the dollar is being deflated by the Federal Reserve printing more money,” said Perry Management’s Perry. So “currency is being invested more in commodities, such as gold and oil.” Crude oil has had a strong negative correlation with the U.S. dollar index, Newsom points out, and at times, “acts as an investment hedge against inflation.” That sounds very similar to gold, though oil has “not completely supplanted gold as a safe-haven market yet,” he said. ...Whatever the case, oil trading similar to a currency is worth watching, as the global currency wars “look to be a key issue moving forward, and the cash-rich economies (such as China) need somewhere to put their faith, and likely commodities (particularly gold, but also oil), seem like sensible options,” said KBC’s Parry. _Marketwatch It is easier to find new oil than it is to find new gold. Recent oil price increases are helping to spur large new oil finds on the North American mainland. And although the ill conceived Obama moratorium continues to stymie new oil development in the Gulf of Mexico, massive new oil deposits are waiting to be found there -- and become ever more affordable as the price of oil tends to rise. New oil supplies tend to help hold oil prices down -- as does demand destruction caused by higher oil prices. Demand destruction can be due to depressed economic activity, or due to energy consumers finding substitute sources of energy and practising energy conservation. The underestimation of potential demand destruction by energy forecasters is one of the more ludicrous aspects of the current investment atmosphere. Here at Al Fin, we are less concerned about short-term fluctuations in price than we are concerned with current US government policies of energy starvation, which create political peak oil conditions -- with accompanying higher energy costs, depressed markets, and demand destruction. Such concerns are also rising to the top of the list of concerns of the American voter. Labels: , , ## 18 November 2010 ### Who to Let In? Who to Keep Out? Mean IQ Test Score by Race If you were starting a new country or space colony, and wanted to populate it with people likely to be hard workers, capable of living together in harmony, and able to innovate to meet and overcome whatever challenges may come your way -- who would you choose? What if you already had a country, but its underlying population makeup is changing quickly -- perhaps not for the better, in terms of national achievement, crime rates, and national optimism. What should you do in that situation? A professor of demography at Oxford University in the UK, says that the UK population is changing quickly due to immigration -- and differential birthrates of immigrants vs. natives. Not all UK natives are happy with the changes. What should they do? David Coleman, professor of demography at Oxford University, said they will make up less than HALF the population in just over 50 years. And soaring immigrant birthrates mean white British kids will be in a minority of youngsters in the UK even sooner. The dramatic decline will be fuelled by record-breaking levels of immigration, coupled with the departure of thousands of Brits for a better life abroad, the population analyst said. Prof Coleman's controversial claim will raise fresh questions about whether Britain can sustain the influx of hundreds of thousands of immigrants every year. It comes as Home Secretary Theresa May today gets a report from the Migration Advisory Committee on what cap she should impose on migrant workers next year. Writing in Prospect magazine, Prof Coleman warned the huge numbers of foreigners landing on our shores will "transform" the UK. He said official projections estimate the UK's population will rocket to 77 million by 2051 - and 85 million by 2083. The expert went on: "On those assumptions the 'white British' population would decline to 45 million (59 per cent of the total) by 2051. "Were the assumptions to hold, the 'white British' population of Britain would become the minority after about 2066. It's a milestone that would be passed much earlier in younger age-groups." He added: "The US, by comparison, is now about 65 per cent white (non-Hispanic) and that group is projected to fall to 50 per cent by 2045." _Source Mean Indigenous IQ Test Score by Continent As far as the US is concerned, strategists from one political party are hoping to achieve a non-white US voting majority as quickly as possible. “When you get into a presidential electorate, it decidedly favors Democrats, and every year it’s going to decidedly favor them more and more,” Carville said. “Demographics don’t do anything but get better for Democrats. Every election becomes less white.” _Politico This attitude helps to explain why the Obama administration together with the Pelosi Congress has been so eager to condemn Arizona's decision to enforce official US immigration policy. It is possible that a sane immigration policy might delay the ultimate objectives of the Obama Pelosi (soon to lose the "Pelosi" part) regime. There is no question that Europeans (along with Ashkenazi Jews) and East Asians score highest on IQ tests compared to other ethnic groups. Going by that metric alone, anyone forming his own space colony or new terrestrial / oceanic country, would want to populate it with a high proportion of Europeans and / or East Asians. Any colony which is dependent upon an understanding of sophisticated technology for its very survival must be made up of a population with mean IQ scores well above 100. Of course, the leftist intellectuals who dominate most university faculty / staff and most media corporations, tend to discount the importance of IQ test scores. Yet, those scientists who study the issue most intensely understand that the left is about 50 years behind times on this issue -- at least. Some critics of intelligence research maintain that the notion of general intelligence is illusory: that no such global mental capacity exists and that apparent "intelligence" is really just a by-product of one's opportunities to learn skills and information valued in a particular cultural context. True, the concept of intelligence and the way in which individuals are ranked according to this criterion could be social artifacts. But the fact that g is not specific to any particular domain of knowledge or mental skill suggests that g is independent of cultural content, including beliefs about what intelligence is. And tests of different social groups reveal the same continuum of general intelligence. This observation suggests either that cultures do not construct g or that they construct the same g. Both conclusions undercut the social artifact theory of intelligence. Moreover, research on the physiology and genetics of g has uncovered biological correlates of this psychological phenomenon. In the past decade, studies by teams of researchers in North America and Europe have linked several attributes of the brain to general intelligence. After taking into account gender and physical stature, brain size as determined by magnetic resonance imaging is moderately correlated with IQ (about 0.4 on a scale of 0 to 1). So is the speed of nerve conduction. The brains of bright people also use less energy during problem solving than do those of their less able peers. And various qualities of brain waves correlate strongly (about 0.5 to 0.7) with IQ: the brain waves of individuals with higher IQs, for example, respond more promptly and consistently to simple sensory stimuli such as audible clicks. These observations have led some investigators to posit that differences in g result from differences in the speed and efficiency of neural processing. If this theory is true, environmental conditions could influence g by modifying brain physiology in some manner. _SciAm Other scientists are discovering more objective neural correlates of intelligence on brain scanning. Eventually, it will be possible to measure potential IQ of a person without the possibility of any cultural or language bias -- or "stereotype threat." Citizens of the UK -- and of European nations in general -- should be very concerned about recent demographic trends. As Germany's Angela Merkel recently commented, multiculturalism is a failure. At least in Germany and most other European countries. Crime rates are rising, and most of the new prisoners are immigrants or second / third generation children of immigrants. Current European immigration policies are not working out well. Parts of Sweden are becoming rape and crime capitals, as immigrants gleefully collect their toll from the natives. Canada, the US, and Australia have little to boast about in regards to wise immigration (on the basis of what the immigrant can contribute), either. Political correctness has burrowed so deeply into the bureaucracy of Europe and most of the Anglosphere that any rational sense of self preservation will be immediately cast as bigotry or racism. But perhaps it is time to stop worrying about what names one is called, and to begin being concerned about one's future and that of his descendants -- assuming there will be any. Labels: , , ## 17 November 2010 ### Corn Cob Gasoline @$1 / Gallon? GE Energy Wants In

GCC

GE Energy, a GE subsidiary, has jumped into the advanced biofuels race by throwing in $8 million with the startup CoolPlanetBiofuels. The startup claims to be able to produce a bio-gasoline from rough biomass for about$1 a gallon. Here is more from GreenCarCongress:
$8-million funding round for CoolPlanetBioFuels, a start-up company developing a technology that converts low-grade biomass into high-grade fuels, including gasoline, and carbon that can be sequestered. This venture capital investment was led by North Bridge Venture Partners, which had also led CoolPlanet’s financing round last year. Additional financial details were not disclosed. CoolPlanet’s research and development facilities are located in Camarillo, CA. CoolPlanetBioFuels is developing modular thermal/mechanical processors which directly input raw biomass such as woodchips, crop residue, and algae and produces multiple distinct gas streams for catalytic upgrading to conventional fuel components. In support of the biomass fractionator, the company is also developing a range of one-step catalytic conversion processes which mate with the fractionator’s output gas streams to produce products such as eBTX (high octane gasoline), synthetic diesel and proprietary ultra-high crop yield “super” fuels. At the GoingGreen Silicon Valley 2010 conference in October, Mike Rocke, CoolPlanetBiofuels VP Business Development, said that the startup could produce carbon-neutral gasoline from biomass for less than$1.00/gallon US.

Biomass throughput time in the biomass fractionator is minutes, Rocke said earlier at a conference at Stanford. Two fractionators in a module can produce one million gallons of gasoline per year, with capex of $0.50/gallon to install—i.e.,$0.10/gallon over a five year life. _GCC

The image above shows a comparison of product between conventional Shell 87 octane gasoline and the Cool Planet BioFuels drop-in product from biomass, by gas chromatograph.

Whether the information provided to investors is accurate or not, if the company is able to produce high quality drop-in bio-gasoline from biomass technology already developed, increasing efficiencies and yields, and decreasing costs, may make the product competitive within a matter of 5 or 10 years.

The problem with biomass is its low energy density, and its diffuse nature. It takes a lot of energy to gather biomass together, densify it for transport, and to transport large amounts to a central processing facility such as CoolPlanetBioFuels'. It is clear that those energy costs were not figured into the amounts quoted to investors.

Thermochemical production of biofuels via pyrolysis and gasification have a natural head start on microbial fuels -- due to prior work done on other feedstocks. But if the thermochemical approach is to achieve a foothold -- and critical scale-up -- it cannot dally about while people such as Craig Venter are working feverishly to genetically engineer microbes to achieve the same thing at far lower energy cost.

Cross-posted at Al Fin Energy

Labels: , ,

## 16 November 2010

### Who Will Save the Drowning Man?

Inkity
And just who is the drowning man? Is it the US, sinking rapidly into a deepening debt quagmire? Or is it Europe, with its naughty little PIIGS flirting on the edge of permanent insolvency, threatening to pull the rest of the EU down with them?

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard calls Europe's economic situation a "horrible truth."

This NYTimes article suggests that a European debt crisis might spread like a contagion, with dire consequences.

Here is a comparison of the US government's financial situation with that of some European countries:
The French government's revenue stood at an unbelievable 48% of GDP and Greece consumed a little less, but still a high percentage at 37%. By comparison, the U.S. Revenue/GDP ratio was a miniscule 15%, although we still feel that government taxes are too high and wasteful practices don't seem to end. What does that mean? Despite the negative economic impact, the U.S. government can raise taxes and increase revenue, while the European Union has virtually no room to maneuver.

Add austerity plans and public sector jobs cuts like we've seen in the U.K. (a reduction of 500,000 government jobs), and one will wonder how the bills will be paid on the Eastern side of the Atlantic. As 2011 approaches, the spending cuts will start to affect — and infect — the European economic engine. The bloated public sector that was created over the last 50 years cannot be undone in 2 or 3 years without major restructuring and disruption — and that task will take a generation to "correct." _SeekingAlpha
The NYTimes recently provided a nifty interactive puzzle, which allows each reader to attempt to balance the US Federal budget for both 2015 and 2030, using a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. The puzzle lacked the most important ingredient for achieving fiscal health -- the ability to eliminate harmful regulations which are preventing the private sector from growing and thriving. The NYTimes editors likewise neglected to offer the reader the ability to eliminate public sector unions. In addition, the NYTimes feature did not provide the power to institute strong tort reforms -- except in a very modest way for medical malpractise.

I balanced the budget with a combination of 88% spending cuts and 12% tax increases. But what I really wanted to do was to cut the size of government by 50%, as an appetizer. After that preliminary cut, I would begin looking at the tough choices for downsizing government.

A sane existence will involve a certain amount of pain and risk. It is the heedless avoidance of all pain and risk that leads to total extinction.

So, who is the drowning man?

Labels: , ,

## 15 November 2010

### How the E-Book Saved Civilisation

Many of you may be familiar with the story of how the Irish monks and scribes saved civilisation from the dark ages, by way of their scrupulous record-keeping and manuscript copying. Others may remember how an astrophysicist saved civilisation in the book "Lucifer's Hammer," by carefully storing hundreds of important books in an underground cache in the hillside above his house.

The world of books and manuscripts has changed since the Dark Ages -- even since the science fiction world of Pournelle and Niven's Lucifer's Hammer. Now we have e-books, which may have an important role to play in saving civilisation all over again.

US ebook sales are headed for \$1 billion in 2011. The NYTimes is to begin publishing e-book bestseller lists next year. Librarians are beginning to help clients download library ebooks onto their personal devices. E-books are beginning to go multi-media, for a more varied and potentially intense reading experience. And just in time for the 2010 holiday sales season. A number of blogs and websites have sprung up to assist readers in keeping up with ebook and ebook reader trends, including teleread and good ereader.

The dream of ebook visionaries is to be able to carry the Library of Congress inside an ebook reader the size of a Kindle. As memory and storage continue to shrink, that dream is becoming much less wacky than it once would have been. With the assistance of solar re-charging, long-lasting batteries (with ample spares) and advanced power management tools, a sophisticated survivalist may well be able to store most of the relevant knowledge and history of civilisation through even an extended coming anarchy or dark age.

Consumer Reports recently ranked the Kindle 3G as the best of the readers, although the new Sony reader is supposed to offer some features that surpass the Kindle. More on the Kindle 3G:
All-New, High-Contrast E Ink Screen – 50% better contrast
Read in Bright Sunlight – No glare
New and Improved Fonts – New crisper, darker fonts
New Sleek Design – 21% smaller body while keeping the same 6" size reading area
15% Lighter – Only 8.7 ounces, weighs less than a paperback
Battery Life of One Month – A single charge lasts up to one month with wireless off
Double the Storage – Up to 3,500 books
Free 3G Wireless – No monthly payments, no annual contracts
Built-In Wi-Fi – In addition to the 3G wireless, you can connect to Wi-Fi hotspots
20% Faster Page Turns – Seamless reading
Enhanced PDF Reader – With dictionary lookup, notes, and highlights
New WebKit-Based Browser – Free 3G web browsing (experimental) _Amazon
3500 books is not quite the US Library of Congress, of course, but if you are selective you should be able to store a fairly solid start to a new technological civilisation. And as memory and storage sizes are reduced, you will be able to store that many more thousands of additional books. Be sure to store your ebook cache in a protected environment from fire, shock, EMP, water, heat, chemicals, theft, and other environmental and human-caused damage. Store your springboards to new civilisations where the brown-shirted book burners and dieoff.org Luddites of the far left and far right will never find them.

Labels:

### Coming Anarchy, Mexico and the Resurrection of the Vigilante

The recent explosion of violent lawlessness in Mexico has raised alarms on both sides of the Mexican:US border. As far away as Ireland, people are amazed that as many Mexicans were killed in a single Mexican city [Ciudad Juarez] in one year, as were killed in all of Northern Ireland during the 30 years of the Troubles.

No wonder vigilante groups are springing up in Mexico -- and in the US along the Mexican border -- to try to deal with the rampant violence. It is clear that the Mexican government is unable to handle the epidemic of violence, and the Obama administration is unwilling to enforce border security or ramp up interdiction of illegals -- even violent gang members.

Obama's border policies amount to a de facto importation of Mexican violence into US border states. This vast Obama folly makes the creation of vigilantes on the US side a virtual certainty -- which may be what Obama is hoping for. Unfortunately for Obama, he has lost half of his cheering section in the US Congress, and will probably not be able to leverage any contrived provocation to force the passage of amnesty legislation for illegal migrants.

Vigilance committees were an important part of the taming of the American West -- and in fact are necessary wherever human populations move out beyond the reach of official law enforcement. In the case of Mexico, the lure of easy money from smuggling drugs, smuggling humans, kidnapping, robbery, extortion, etc has become the dominant meme among many Mexicans looking to improve their prospects in a land where prospects are typically few and far between. When violence explodes in this way so that official agencies are unable to cope, the people will often take justice into their own hands.

Many outside analysts feel that Mexico should be a rich country. But crime, chaos, corruption, culture, and large numbers of low IQ citizens, makes it difficult for the nation to maintain enough order to allow a normal market culture to emerge and integrate with the nether parts of the country. As long as the drug cartels are capable of assassinating even the best guarded of Mexico's anti-drug enforcers, chaos has a seat at the table.

As the US plays host to a growing Mexican population -- both criminal and conventional -- individual citizens of all ethnicities and subcultures will have to decide whether they wish for Mexican anarchy to establish a permanent foothold inside the US.

The Obama administration apparently wishes it to happen. But the US is not yet a dictatorship, the citizens still have a voice of sorts. And state governments still have some power under the US Constitution, although in the case of California, the state stands with Obama.

Mexico's coming anarchy could easily spread northward. What is your choice, America?

Labels: ,