31 July 2006

In Search of Dr. McCoy's Scanner Wand

Medical imaging in the Star Trek world was far advanced over anything available today. Even so, there are some amazing developments in medical imaging that promise even better technologies in the near future.

This Newswise newsrelease reports on advanced software developed at BYU in Utah, to allow physicians to "call up" 3-dimensional images of any part of a patient's anatomy, from a CT scan, MRI scan, or similar data:

The tool, dubbed “Live Surface” by its creators BYU professor William Barrett and graduate student Chris Armstrong, also has special-effects applications – in similar fashion it can be used to extract a single actor’s performance or inanimate objects from video clips.

“The main goal in developing Live Surface was to give the physician a powerful, practical tool that can be used interactively,” said Barrett, explaining that existing software and techniques that are used to give doctors a look at a patient’s anatomy are either too simplistic or take too long to be of immediate use. “A program like this has to be incredibly fast and very interactive, or else it’s very frustrating for the user, who currently has to go get a sandwich and come back before he has what he wants.”

Live Surface has the additional benefit of allowing users to easily isolate “tricky” anatomy such as soft tissue – blood vessels, hearts and muscles – that a lot of other techniques can’t readily extract, said Barrett.

“The hard stuff (meaning bones) is easy to see using traditional methods, but even there, the simpler techniques sometimes overestimate, underestimate, or fuse joints, whereas Live Surface neatly and accurately separates them,” said Barrett. “Our program also provides more robust isolation of soft tissue, which is quite a breakthrough.”

The BYU software works by extracting information from data collected in 3-D volumes – CT scans, MRIs or 3-D ultrasounds. With a click and drag of the mouse, a user identifies the object he wishes to extract. Next, he identifies those portions of the data that surround the object. Immediately, the desired object is extracted from the data.

“This is the object I want, and this is not the object I want. And in less than half a second, it pulls the object you want out of the data,” said Armstrong, who will present the computer science research behind Live Surface at the International Workshop on Volume Graphics 31 in Boston. “It’s really that simple.”

....After a surgeon had extracted a 3-D image of a person’s heart or brain, for example, the image could then be projected onto the patient’s body, fitted to create a road map for the surgeon as he operated. Additionally, doctors could use the tool to make better diagnoses after visualizing a patient’s organs from multiple angles or do a better job of locating cancerous tumors.

Research for the software was partially funded by Adobe, makers of the popular image-editing program Photoshop. Barrett’s lab has had a long-running relationship with Adobe – Live Surface builds on Barrett’s development of Intelligent Scissors, a program that allows users to quickly pull 2-D objects out of images. The program, renamed “magnetic lasso,” was incorporated into 5.0 and subsequent versions of Photoshop and is used by millions of designers, artists and photographers.

It is easy to see how this technology would allow a surgeon to "practice" a procedure on a specific individual, using virtual surgery techniques combined with a CT scan or MRI scan of the involved part of the body. Difficult procedures could be stored in software libraries for training surgical residents.

Similar technology is being used to perform virtual colonoscopies, to substitute for the lengthy and uncomfortable screening procedure of colonoscopy using an endoscope. Eventually, a whole body scan might become quick enough, easy enough, and inexpensive enough to provide regular and reliable medical screening for individuals whose genetic tests indicate they are at increased risk.

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30 July 2006

Seventeen Habits of Highly Effective Rogues

Hat tip to Perfidy blog. Apologies to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates , Schlock mercenary handbook.

  1. Pillage, then burn.
  2. If violence wasn’t your last resort, you failed to resort to enough of it.
  3. Mockery and derision have their place. Usually, it’s on the far side of the airlock.
  4. Never turn your back on an enemy.
  5. A soft answer turneth away wrath. Once wrath is looking the other way, shoot it in the head.
  6. Do unto others. Repeat as often as necessary.
  7. Your name is in the mouth of others: be sure it has teeth.
  8. Don’t be afraid to be the first to resort to violence.
  9. The enemy of my enemy is my enemy’s enemy. No more. No less.
  10. A little trust goes a long way. The less you use, the further you’ll go.
  11. Only cheaters prosper.
  12. If you’re leaving scorch-marks, you need a bigger gun.
  13. That which does not kill you has made a tactical error.
  14. When the going gets tough, withdraw and call in the daisy-cutters.
  15. There is no “overkill”. There is only “open fire” and “I need to reload.”
  16. Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Take his fish away and tell him he’s lucky just to be alive, and he’ll figure out how to catch another one for you to take tomorrow.
  17. Just because it’s easy for you doesn’t mean it can’t be hard on your clients.

There is at least a little rogue in all of us. The smart ones keep their rogue happy and confined, until it is time to set it loose on some deserving miscreant.
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29 July 2006

Farm Waste to Bio-Oil: Energy from the Darndest Sources

Agricultural researchers are determined to help solve the energy shortages the industrial world is experiencing. Previously I posted on University of Illinois Urb/Champ researchers who developed a process to produce crude oil from pig manure. Now researchers from Iowa State University are mixing corn stalks and cow manure to produce oil and charcoal.

The researchers are working to take wastes from Iowa farms -- manure and corn stalks -- and turn them into a bio-oil that could be used for boiler fuel and perhaps transportation fuel.

"The way I see manure, it's not waste anymore," Sadaka said. "It is bio-oil."

But it takes a few steps to make that transformation.

First, the manure needs to be dried so it can be burned. Sadaka's idea for low-cost and low-odor drying is to mix the manure with corn stalks, put the mix in a big drum, use a small blower to keep the air circulating and use an auger to turn the mixture once a day. Within about five days, bacteria and fungi working to decompose the mix have naturally raised the temperature to about 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Within another 20 days or so the moisture content is down from 60 percent to about 20 percent. Sadaka calls the process bio-drying.

That makes it possible to move to the next step: rapidly heating the mixture in a bubbling, fluidized bed reactor that has no oxygen. It's a process called fast pyrolysis. The process thermochemically breaks the molecular bonds in the mixture. It produces charcoal that can be used to enrich soil. And it produces vapors that are condensed to a thick, dark bio-oil.

Preliminary tests indicate every kilogram of dried mixture produces .2 to .5 kilograms of bio-oil depending on the operating conditions.

Sadaka said the energy content of dry manure is 12 to 18 gigajoules per ton. Canada's Office of Energy Efficiency says one gigajoule of electricity will keep a 60-watt bulb continuously burning for six months. Sadaka figures if half the animal manure in the country were processed into bio-oil, that would produce the equivalent of 45 million tons of oil.

Sadaka is experimenting with the process in 900-liter drums at the Iowa Energy Center's Biomass Energy Conversion Center in Nevada. So far, he has dried a mixture of cow manure and corn stalks. Next he'll test the process with poultry manure. And then he'll try pig manure.

This process is similar to other processes used to make oil from poultry process waste. Here is more information on the process from the US Government renewable energy program.

These processes are attempts to utilise more of the byproducts of agriculture in producing renewable energy. Growing animals for food is inherently wasteful when viewed in perspective, but there are ways of making it more efficient than it is. Here is a fine overview from Mechanical Engineering Magazine, discussing this family of technologies and their application to farm waste.

Besides thermolyis and thermal depolymerisation to produce oil, manure can produce methane to substitute for natural gas. Corn stubble and rice, wheat, barley etc. straw can be broken down to sugars and fermented to make ethanol or butanol, and the methane from manure used as fuel to distill the resulting "beer" to pure ethanol.

Researchers in agricultural sciences simply do not want to be left out of the action, when it comes to solving the renewable energy problem. There seems to be enough glory to go around, even for manure research.

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Chastity Belts Make Comeback in Sweden--Dark Side of Multiculturalism

Sweden's demography is changing very rapidly, with some unfortunate consequences. Rape rates are skyrocketing, particularly in cities and suburbs with high immigrant populations. To combat these rapes, Swedish teenage girls are showing some innovation and enterprise:

A group of Swedish teenage girls has designed a belt that requires two hands to remove and which they hope will deter would-be rapists. "It's like a reverse chastity belt," one of the creators, 19-year-old Nadja Björk, told AFP, meaning that the wearer is in control, instead of being controlled. Björk and one of her partners now plan to start a business to mass produce the belts and are currently in negotiations with potential partners. "But I'm not doing this for the money," she said. "I'm really passionate about stopping rape. I think it's terrible."

The epidemic rates of rape in Sweden follow the out-of-control influx of muslim immigrants into the country.

In an online readers' poll from the newspaper Aftonbladet, 82% of the women expressed fear to go outside after dark. There are reports of rapes happening in broad daylight. 30 guests in a Swedish public bath watched as a 17-year-old girl was raped recently, and nobody did anything. The girl was first approached by 16-year-old boy. He and his friends followed her as she walked away to the grotto, and inside the grotto he got her blocked in the corner, ripped off her bikini and raped her, while his friend held her firm.

It is politically incorrect to blame multiculturalism, or muslim immigration for this hellish environment being created for women in Sweden. If you ask muslims, these Swedish girls are bringing it all on themselves.

The number of rape charges per capita in Malmö is 5 – 6 times that of Copenhagen, Denmark. Copenhagen is a larger city, but the percentage of immigrants is much lower. And it’s not just the rape statistics that reveal a scary increase in Malmö or Sweden. Virtually every kind of violent crime is on the rise. Robberies have increased with 50 % in Malmö only during the fall of 2004. Threats against witnesses in Swedish court cases have quadrupled between 2000 and 2003. During the past few decades, massive immigration has changed the face of Sweden’s major cities, as well as challenged the viability of the welfare state. In 1970 Sweden had the fourth highest GDP per capita among developed countries with income about 6% above the OECD average. By 1997 it was at fifteenth place with an average GDP per capita 14% below average. Malmö has a heavy concentration of Muslim immigrants in particular. According to some estimates, it will be a Muslim majority city in no more then 10 years. Crime is rampant in the growing ghettos:

Becirov runs the Islamic Center of Malmö, on the outskirts of Sweden's third-largest city. Some immigrant neighborhoods in the city have (official) unemployment rates exceeding 50 percent. Swedish authorities have failed to lift up the area, and seem to be giving the Islamic Center of Malmö a great deal of leeway in attempting to do so. An article that appeared in 2003 noted that "a few" of the 6-to 10-year-old girls were wearing headscarves. On a visit in January 2005, fully 80 percent were covered in class--only a handful were not. In a fit of absent-mindedness, Sweden has suddenly become as heavily populated by minorities as any country in Europe. The percentage of foreign-born is roughly equivalent to the highest percentage of immigrants the United States ever had in its history (on the eve of World War I). Rosengård appears to be all-immigrant. The public schools have virtually no ethnically Swedish children. There are stories--familiar in other parts of Europe where immigrants from the Muslim world have recently settled--of students harassing Jewish teachers and defacing textbooks that treat Jewish themes. Crime is high.

Is it too much to call these rape sprees occurring in Sweden, Norway, France, and other European countries a "war?"

Almost 90% of all robberies reported to the police were committed by gangs, not individuals. “When we are in the city and robbing we are waging a war, waging a war against the Swedes.” This argument was repeated several times. “Power for me means that the Swedes shall look at me, lie down on the ground and kiss my feet.” The boys explain, laughingly, that “there is a thrilling sensation in your body when you’re robbing, you feel satisfied and happy, it feels as if you’ve succeeded, it simply feels good.” “It’s so easy to rob Swedes, so easy.” “We rob every single day, as often as we want to, whenever we want to.” The immigrant youth regard the Swedes as stupid and cowardly: “The Swedes don’t do anything, they just give us the stuff. They’re so wimpy.” The young robbers do not plan their crimes: “No, we just see some Swedes that look rich or have nice mobile phones and then we rob them.”


It is interesting to note that these Muslim immigrants state quite openly that they are involved in a “war,” and see participation in crime and harassment of the native population as such. This is completely in line with what I have posited before. The number of rape charges in Sweden has quadrupled in just above twenty years. Rape cases involving children under the age of 15 are six times as common today as they were a generation ago.

Malmö in Sweden, set to become the first Scandinavian city with a Muslim majority within a decade or two, has nine times as many reported robberies per capita as Copenhagen, Denmark. Yet the number one priority for the political class in Sweden during this year’s national election campaign seems to be demonizing neighboring Denmark for “xenophobia” and a “brutal” debate about Muslim immigration.

Crime is clearly related to culture, but it is also related to ethnicity. When blonde Swedes are forced to dye their hair dark in order to keep from being raped on the street, there is no doubt that ethnic cues are involved.

For a look at how bad things are getting in Norway, consult this post.

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28 July 2006

Military Robots--Reducing Human Casualties

The natural weapon for an advanced combatant to use against a less technologically advanced enemy--especially in a guerilla war--is robots. Muslim guerilla fighters hide behind noncombatants, and attempt to draw in as many enemy as possible for either an ambush or a suicide attack. By sending in robots equipped with telepresence, the enemy aim is foiled, and it becomes easier to separate the guerilla fighters from civilian noncombatants.

A recent VOA newstory discusses the use of robots on the modern battlefield:

"We're trying to keep the American troops out of harm's way. They do reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition, so what we're trying to do is develop the technology to replace the soldier in those particular tasks".

And it is hoped the technology could reduce the carnage. One robot has taken years to develop. It is able to make its way through complicated terrains -- without being accompanied by a human -- using cameras, lasers and acoustic sensors.

"So we're replacing a soldier driving a vehicle with a robotic vehicle," says Collins. "They're performing very similar tasks but now, of course, the soldier is no longer directly in the line-of-fire for the enemy."

Robot Warriors
With the toll on U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the pressure is on to develop this technology quickly. But scientists say it could be 10 years before unmanned ground robots are used in actual war situations, because complex technology takes time to perfect.

The military is spending half a million dollars a year at this university developing an unmanned ground vehicle that uses similar technology to aircraft drones already in use. In 2004, the U.S. government spent more than $60 billion on this kind of research and development.

The Future Combat System (FCS) is being planned to integrate several types of robots together in the overall battlefield:

In the battlefield, FCS will link soldiers with manned and unmanned ground and air platforms and sensors. Ultimately, FCS will allow U.S. troops to be fast and versatile, as part of the Pentagon’s vision of the Future Force Warrior. For more information, see www.boeing.com/fcs.

The troops love UGVs in Iraq and Afghanistan for severe environments and want more combat-capable ones as soon as possible, says Brad Curran, senior analyst at Frost & Sullivan’s San Antonio office. Plans are being discussed to add weapons capability to UGVs-such as 0.50-caliber machine guns and grenade launchers, he adds.

Down the road there will be even bigger UGVs that can form a supply route to reduce the risk of casualties from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that are causing so many deaths in Iraq, Curran says.

“The National Defense Authorization Act of 2001 set the goal that by 2015, one-third of the operational ground combat vehicles of the Armed Forces be unmanned,” Dyer says. Among the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)-funded projects iRobot is working on to help achieve this goal is iRobot Swarm.

The iRobot Swarm project was sponsored by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va. “It represents the state of the art in algorithms, hardware, and user interfaces for large swarms of autonomous robots,” Dyer continues. “The goal of the Swarm project was to develop distributed algorithms for robotic swarms composed of hundreds of individual robots. Our algorithms are designed to be completely scalable, and to function with groups of 10 to 10,000 robots, and the development platform is the world’s largest swarm, with more than 100 individual robots.”

A big advantage of UGVs is the amount of payloads-weapons and sensors-that can be placed on them because they are digital platforms, Dyer says. In this manner they are much like the “F-18 EF, which has about 30 different weapons and sensor payloads on a digital platform.”

Under FCS three types of revolutionary UGVs are envisioned: the iRobot Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SUGV), the BAE Systems Armed Robotic Vehicle (ARV), and the Lockheed Martin Multifunction Utility/Logistics Equipment (MULE).
Much more at Source.

This NewStatesman article looks even deeper into future military robot plans:

War will progressively cease to be the foggy, confusing, equalising business it has been for centuries, in which the risks are always high, everyone faces danger and suffers loss, and the few can humble the mighty. Instead, it will become remote, semi-automatic and all-knowing, entailing less and less risk to American lives and taking place largely out of the sight of news cameras. And the danger is close to home: the coming wars will be the "war on terror" by other names, conflicts that know no frontiers. The remote-controlled war coming tomorrow to Khartoum or Mogadishu, in other words, can happen soon afterwards, albeit in moderated form, in London or Lyons.

This is no geeky fantasy. Much of the hardware and software already exists and the race to produce the rest is on such a scale that US officials are calling it the "new Manhattan Project". Hundreds of research projects are under way at American universities and defence companies, backed by billions of dollars, and Donald Rumsfeld's department of defence is determined to deliver as soon as possible. The momentum is coming not only from the relentless humiliation of US forces at the hands of some determined insurgents on the streets of Baghdad, but also from a realisation in Washington that this is the shape of things to come. Future wars, they believe, will be fought in the dirty, mazy streets of big cities in the "global south", and if the US is to prevail it needs radically new strategies and equipment.

Only fragments of this story have so far appeared in the mainstream media, but enough information is available on the internet, from the comments of those in charge and in the specialist press to leave no room for doubt about how sweeping it is, how dangerous and how imminent.

Military omniscience is the starting point. Three months ago Tony Tether, director of the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), the Pentagon's research arm, described to a US Senate committee the frustration felt by officers in Iraq after a mortar-bomb attack. A camera in a drone, or unmanned aircraft, spotted the attackers fleeing and helped direct US helicopters to the scene to destroy their car - but not before some of those inside had got out. "We had to decide whether to follow those individuals or the car," he said, "because we simply didn't have enough coverage available." So some of the insurgents escaped. Tether drew this moral: "We need a network, or web, of sensors to better map a city and the activities in it, including inside buildings, to sort adversaries and their equipment from civilians and their equipment, including in crowds, and to spot snipers, suicide bombers or IEDs [improvised explosive devices] . . . This is not just a matter of more and better sensors, but, just as important, the systems needed to make actionable intelligence out of all the data."

....Eight square miles of Jakarta have been digitised and simulated in three dimensions. That will not surprise computer gamers, but Urban Resolve goes much further: the detail extends to the interiors of 1.6 million buildings and even the cellars and sewers beneath, and it also includes no fewer than 109,000 moving vehicles and people. Even the daily rhythms of the city have been simulated. The roads, says one commentator, "are quiet at night, but during weekday rush hours they become clogged with traffic. People go to work, take lunch breaks and visit restaurants, banks and churches."

Digitise any target city and integrate this with the flow of data from many thousands of sensors and cameras, stationary and mobile, and you have something far more powerful than the regular snapshots today's satellites can deliver. You have continuous coverage, around corners and through walls. You would never, for example, lose those mortar bombers who got out of their car and ran away.

All this brings omniscience within reach. The US web-based magazine DefenseWatch, which monitors developments in strategy and hardware, recently imagined the near-future scenario of an operation in the developing world in which a cloud of minute, networked sensors is scattered like dust over a target city using powerful fans. Directed by the sensors, unmanned drones patrol the city, building up a visual and audio picture of every street and building. "Every hostile person has been identified and located," continues the scenario. "From this point on, nobody in the city moves without the full and complete knowledge of the mobile tactical centre."
Much more atSource.

Eventually, all the robots, sensors, controllers--even weapons--will be manufactured by robots--robot factories. When you factor in artificial intelligence, there will be no need to have a human finger on the trigger. Are you scared yet?

Guerilla fighters who hide behind women and children in order to perpetrate suicidal ambushes to kill as many soldiers as possible, are the main driving impetus for a lot of this frightening weaponry. If there were another way to impart civilised behaviour to these violent fanatics, this advanced robotic killing technology would not be necessary. Unfortunately there will be unforeseen consequences of this technology, as always.

The better alternative is to go to the next level.

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27 July 2006

Is Climate Science Finally Growing Up?

Too often, climate modeling approximates the scientific accuracy of a voodoo priestess throwing "dem bones." When mathematical models are based upon poor proxy data, and sloppy, incomplete models, the famous rule of "GIGO" takes center stage.

Fortunately, two things are occurring to improve the validity of the infant science of climatology. First, better satellite observations are able to take account of the aerosol and water vapour effect, and the heat island effect of urban centers. Second, more climate scientists are slowly coming out of the woodwork to contest the erroneous image of consensus in approaches and axioms in climate science.

The more exhaust we spew, the more temperatures will go up. But when you get into the details, as Chylek is quick to tell you, you find that climate science is not a monolith:

Could changes in the sun be responsible for some of the warming?

While scientists obsess over greenhouse gases, are they missing other things that could be having equally large effects on the climate?

Are the thermometer records that show warming as good as scientists think they are?

Contrary to the common perception of textbooks filled with fixedknowledge, real science is a tangled process fraught with uncertainties, and such debates are common in any field.

“Science,” said Texas A&M climate scientist Andrew Dessler, “is this turbulent interface between what we know and what we don’t know.”

But if all science is turbulent, then climate science, because of its political dimensions, is all the more so.

Chylek placed that turbulence center stage last week, inviting more than a hundred scientists from around the world to Santa Fe for the 2nd International Conference on Global Warming, to discuss what scientists know and don’t know about our changing climate.

.... The range of views held by working climate scientists does not show up in the political version of the debate, according to Roger Pielke Jr., a University of Colorado political scientist who studies the politics of climate science.

The science becomes caricatured, according to Pielke, dichotomized into “skeptics versus alarmists … even though it does not do justice
to the complexities of the science debate.”

....Pielke Sr. thinks greenhouse gases are not the whole story. Massive human land-use changes? wholesale shifts from forest to agriculture, for example? are also important but are being given short shrift because of the emphasis on greenhouse gases.

Pielke Sr. also thinks global temperature data, the backbone of global warming claims, are fraught with uncertainties. And he is skeptical of the computer climate simulations used to forecast future climate change.

All of those legitimate scientific questions are lost in the simplified black-and-white version of climate science that shows up in
public discourse, Pielke Sr. believes.
More at source.

Up until now, climate science has lacked the data to adequately take into account aerosols, water vapour in the atmosphere, and the urban heat island effect--not to mention land use changes and solar variation. Better earth monitoring satellite and solar astronomic data over the next ten years should improve that facility.

The IPCC also misrepresents what a "doubling" of CO2 would mean in climate terms, given the logarithmic nature of the thermal response involved. Showing a layperson curves for exponential and logarithmic curves and explaining the difference would be more honest than the approach the IPCC has taken up until now.

Global warming is far more complex than the media and the political hucksters portray it. It is in the interest of the media to portray climate change as a human caused catastrophe. The story sells better if you can portray a story as devastating, and have someone real to blame. Concocting a faux consensus only helps in convincing the reader that he knows more about the topic than he actually does.

It is a good thing for climatology to grow out of its infancy and adopt better tools.

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26 July 2006

Sex Dolls Return

The sex doll business in Japan is doing very well--some enterprising collectors are renting their dolls by the hour. Some dolls, like Cantomoko, get to travel with their owners, and accumulate large travel photo-collections.

The US market for sex dolls is showing signs of expanding as well. Since the original Abyss Creations Real Dolls, newer competitors have entered the market. Recently at the Erotica-LA Convention, a new sex doll manufacturer, "My Party Doll of Southern California", displayed two prototypes of their new doll "Leeloo."

Though the sale of sex toys is banned in the southern US states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas, business is booming in most of the country. My Party Doll believes its new dolls are going to be a new success. "I've personally tested every doll on the market," professional sex doll consultant Alex Goldman told AFP. "These girls are a world of difference. She's the bounciest doll I've ever been with."

The dolls are named "Leeloo" for Milla Jovovich's character in the film "Fifth Element". The prototypes are hand sculpted from medical grade silicone, the same material used in breast implants, and built on top of a metal skeleton.

"Leeloo isn't like those old blow up dolls, she's so durable you can jack up your car with her," said Goldman.

Leeloo's designer, Yves Becker, spent two years sculpting a companion of which he could be proud. "The feet were really difficult," Becker told. "But I spent most of the time on the breasts because it's so difficult to calculate gravity."

Visitors to the display were pleased with Becker's accomplishment. "Wow, I wish I had one of these 25 years ago," said Jim Arthur, a sex toy merchandiser. "I would have just kept her in the spare bedroom."

The designers are banking on their product's durability to nudge it past competitors. "Leeloo could last 30 years," said Goldman. "But of course it depends how carried away you get with her." Becker cautioned that Leeloo is designed with the same flexibility limitations as a human.

The marketing demographic for Leeloo will be broad, according to Becker and Goldman. Artificial sex companions, they believe, appeal to a wide swath of consumers.

"It's not just that lonely guy that can't get a pretty girl," said Goldman. "We've had requests from professionals, blue collar workers, married couples looking for more excitement in their bedroom, even female clients who want to have Leeloo as a sort of super Barbie."

Though Becker, a French citizen, expects most of his trade to be within the United States, he sees growth potential in Japan and Australia, but not in Europe. "You see, in Europe, sex is just easier, and taxes, well, they're more difficult," said Becker.

If Becker is correct that the market for sex dolls is expanding from lonely losers to professionals, skilled workers, and married couples, you can expect the market for sex dolls to rise into the billions of dollars US annually.

For an earlier Al Fin article on sex dolls complete with several links to more historical background and interesting anecdotes, go here.

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25 July 2006

Sweden, Fragile Economic Canary of Economic Policy

In thoughtful comments here, mping (proprietor of the excellent blog FatKnowledge), took exception to my claim that the standard of living of the average Swede is lower than the average standard of living for african americans in the US. He makes some valid points, but of course I was only referring to per capita GDP, not to the many and difficult to define variables that go into the calculation of quality of life.

I took the opportunity to look up the WEF Global Competitiveness Report, and several other indices of economic competetiveness and productivity, and place several more on my sidebar. The map above is the Heritage/WSJ map of economic freedom in the world, which is another way of looking at world economies. Below is another map of world freedom by nation from Freedom House.

Comparing a small, until recently homogeneous country like Sweden, with a very large and unhomogeneous country like the US, is an exercise in forced imagination. With small countries, like with small companies, an observor (investor) must take into account how easily trends can start and reverse themselves in the smaller entity. Sweden is a lovely country that is undergoing a devastating transition brought on by extremely poor government policies. It can feed off its past investments only for so long, but when the crash happens it can happen quickly.

It would be interesting to look at the economic indicators of Zimbabwe shortly before Mugabe seized the white farmers' land. Zimbabwe was once an economic powerhouse in Africa. In a small country, bad government policies can bring disaster quickly. Sweden is about to discover that.

When all of the top 50 companies in a country were started over 35 years ago, you are looking at a static country. That is a dangerous warning sign which investor's ignore at their own peril.

There is no way a person could make strong claims about the impending demise of Sweden, based merely upon existing indices of economic/business competitiveness or even economic freedom and employment. It is a blatant hunch on my part, based upon something about Sweden that is staring me in the face, but which most people and institutions choose to downplay or ignore, for reasons of conformist political correctness.

But I look at a country from the perspective of a potential investor, and in that sense, Sweden is a definite "sell" in my portfolio, due to reckless government policies in demographics (follow links in paragraph above) compounded by its economic stagnation and small size.

Update: Here is an excerpt from an Instapundit posting quoting from a Swedish think tank HUI study, clarifying the "standard of living" question: "Black people, who have the lowest income in the United States, now have a higher standard of living than an ordinary Swedish household," the HUI economists said.

If Sweden were a U.S. state, it would be the poorest measured by household gross income before taxes, Bergstrom and Gidehag said. . . .

The median income of African American households was about 70 percent of the median for all U.S. households while Swedish households earned 68 percent of the overall U.S. median level.

This meant that Swedes stood "below groups which in the Swedish debate are usually regarded as poor and losers in the American economy," Bergstrom and Gidehag said.

Between 1980 and 1999, the gross income of Sweden's poorest households increased by just over six percent while the poorest in the United States enjoyed a three times higher increase, HUI said.
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Bubbles to Kill Cancer ( with a few cruel asides)

University of Michigan Medical School Radiology researchers, are looking into using gas bubbles to embolize small arteries leading to cancerous tumours.

The process of blocking blood flow to a tumor is called embolization, and using gas bubbles is a new technique in embolotherapy. What makes it so promising is that the technique allows doctors to control exactly where the bubbles are formed, so blockage of blood flow to surrounding tissue is minimal, said Joseph Bull, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at U-M.

The research of Bull and collaborator Brian Fowlkes, an associate professor in the Department of Radiology in the U-M Medical School, is currently focused on the fundamental vaporization and transport topics that must first be understood in order to translate this developmental technique to the clinic.

In traditional embolotherapy techniques, the so-called cork that doctors use to block the blood flow—called an emboli—is solid. For instance, it could be a blood clot or a gel of some kind. A major difficulty with these approaches is restricting the emboli to the tumor to minimize destruction of surrounding tissue, without extremely invasive procedures, Bull said. The emboli must be delivered by a catheter placed into the body at the tumor site.

Gas bubbles, on the other hand, allow very precise delivery because their formation can be controlled and directed from the outside, by a focused high intensity ultrasound.

This envisioned technique is actually a two-step process, Bull said. First, a stream of encapsulated superheated perfluorocarbon liquid droplets goes into the body by way of an intravenous injection. The droplets are small enough that they don’t lodge in vessels. Doctors image the droplets with standard ultrasound, and once the droplets reach their destination, scientists hit them with high intensity ultrasound. The ultrasound acts like a pin popping a water balloon. After the shell pops, the perfluorocarbon expands into a gas bubble that is approximately 125 times larger in volume than the droplet
More at the Source. Hat tip Medgadget.

This is a potentially good approach to embolizing arteries. We all know the damage that air emboli do to unwary SCUBA divers who hold their breaths on ascent, or what nitrogen bubbles in the blood do to sufferers of the Bends, when they fail to de-compress adequately. Whether to treat cancer, or to stop aneurysms from bleeding, safe methods of arterial occlusion/embolization have to be developed.

Now for the cruel asides. While looking over the U Mich. news service webpage, I noticed some headlines on the sidebar. The first headline was "Why Money Doesn't Bring Happiness." The second headline read, "Study Reveals a Disproportionately High Number of Minorities and Poor Live near Toxic Waste Facilities".

Now, anyone with an IQ over 90 can read those two headlines and see an inconsistency. So why did the media people at UMich fail to see something that so clearly made them look silly? You can reach your own conclusions.

As for the second headline: " a disproportionately high number of minorities and poor live near toxic waste facilities". Likewise, anyone with an intelligence high enough to get a job begging on the streetcorner can see that using the phrase "minorities and poor" in that sentence is bad technique (although quite PC).

It is obvious to almost everyone able to ambulate to the corner store, that if a minority is wealthy enough, he will choose to live away from a toxic waste facility. Being a minority has nothing to do with it--it is being poor that forces someone to live where he does not want to live, at least in Canada, the US, and the rest of the Anglosphere. So that although money may not bring happiness, it can certainly help you to do away with several obvious causes of unhappiness.

You cannot expect a journalist to understand the concept of epidemiological confounding, or even simple contradiction, but an IQ above 80 and common sense, should lead journalists to think about what they write, far more often than they seem to.

If it was "all about the story", you would think that journalists would try harder to get the story right. But it is really about being a member of the club, and hoping if you say the right things, the club will give you a Pulitzer, or a lucrative job with a high paying publisher. Think about the fact that it is the low achieving students who become journalists (and schoolteachers), and contemplate what that means for the quality of information that filters down to the public and the schools.


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24 July 2006

Rapid Prototyping--Next Step Nano-assemblers

The Omnitir Blog is one of the better future/tech blogs around. Omnitir has posted an interesting article about rapid prototyping, a way of "printing" 3-dimensional objects to produce almost instant prototypes of a part or machine. It seems the skunk works at Lockheed has "printed" most of an unmanned spy plane, for testing.

With rapid prototyping, an engineer/designer can take parts of a machine from the computer to the real world very quickly. Just like an ordinary printer prints a binary file to produce a document, a rapid prototyper "prints" a binary file representing a 3-D object to produce a prototype of that object. The skunk works engineers supposedly printed all of the airframe of the spy-drone using rapid prototyping.

Here is more from the New Scientist article linked by Omnitir:

"The entire Polecat airframe was constructed using low-cost rapid prototyping materials and methods," says Frank Mauro, director of UAV systems at the Skunk Works.

"The big advantage over conventional, large-scale aircraft production programmes is the cost saving in tooling as well as the order-of-magnitude reductions in fabrication and assembly time."

By mixing composite polymers with radar-absorbing metals, it is thought that the aircraft can be built with a certain amount of stealth characteristics already built in.

The flexibility lent by 3D printing allowed Mauro's team to design and build the Polecat in only 18 months. "Today's sophisticated UAVs are approaching the cost of equivalent manned aircraft. Polecat's approach is a way to break this trend and demonstrate affordable UAV systems that can be rapidly developed," says Mauro.

It is easier to see how Drexler's nano-assemblers might affect industrial and military projects, by seeing the effect of rapid prototyping. As nanotechnology is built into rapid proto-typing, molecular assembly could easily sneak up on society unawares.

The dangers are not necessarily from the technology, as from the dysfunctional ideologies circulating within society, that might use the technology for the wrong purpose. The laws of economics will not disappear overnight, the moment nanotechnology achieves molecular level assembly. The lack of understanding of economics by the leaders and bureaucrats of most countries is a greater threat to the world than any technology.


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23 July 2006

Passport to Space: West Texas? Ask Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com

Microsoft's Paul Allen financed Burt Rutan's group that won the Ansari-X Prize. Robert Bigelow, real estate billionaire, recently sent an inflatable space station prototype into space. Now Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com wants to make his mark on the nascent private space development industry.

Bezos is behind the new space launch company, Blue Origin. Bezos has purchased a large ranch in West Texas, with the goal of building it into a successful spaceport for space launch and landing. Here is a news story discussing some of Blue Origin's recent maneuvering:

An environmental study facing scrutiny this week offers a tantalizing glimpse into the secretive West Texas private spaceport project being bankrolled and developed by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.

Under the banner of a Seattle-area company called Blue Origin, a spacecraft dubbed the New Shepard Reusable Launch Vehicle would take off vertically, like NASA's space shuttle. But unlike the shuttle, which glides to earth and lands like an airplane, the spaceship would land vertically.

The craft would hit an altitude of about 325,000 feet before descending and restarting its engine for a "precision vertical powered landing on the landing pad" located in sparsely populated Culberson County about 125 miles east of El Paso.

Those were among the plans detailed in a 229-page draft of an environmental review filed with the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA has responsibility to issue permits and licenses for Blue Origin to go ahead with its launch plans.

A public hearing on the environmental review was scheduled Tuesday in Van Horn, a town of 3,000 and the closest center of population to the space base. Bezos, the 42-year-old billionaire who built Amazon into an Internet sales giant, won't be attending the hearing, Blue Origin spokesman Bruce Hicks said.

The report was assembled by Blue Origin and Tetra Tech Inc., a Pasadena, Calif.-based engineering and technical consulting firm.

The environmental assessment process is "only one of the steps prior to obtaining an experimental permit for a launch operator's license," FAA spokesman Hank Price said. "We have received permit applications from Blue Origin and are evaluating them for safety and other considerations as well."

As many as 10 flight tests lasting as long as a minute and reaching an altitude of about 2,000 feet could be launched this year from the site north of Van Horn on the 165,000-acre Corn Ranch purchased by Bezos. Over the following three years, as many as 25 launches would be made annually, growing in altitude to 325,000 feet and in duration to more than 10 minutes.

Commercial flights, a goal of the project, could begin in 2010, according to the timetable in the document, with as many as 52 a year.

"The flight rate would depend on market demand," said the document filed to the FAA.

The launch site is about 25 miles north of Van Horn and 35 miles south of Guadalupe Mountains National Park on the Texas-New Mexico border. The park contains many of the highest mountains in Texas, including the signature 8,085-foot El Capitan. It can be seen from a distance on Bezos' property amid desert and cattle-grazing terrain and salt lake beds.

Construction would cover 223 acres with buildings, launch and landing pads, storage tanks and parking lots, but that's just over 1 percent of the land. New fencing would be needed to enclose the actual launch site area, defined as some 18,600 acres of desert scrubland and grassland now in use as a private wildlife management area.

Within that fenced area is the likely landing area if something goes wrong with a flight.

....Bezos, who spent summers on his grandfather's ranch in South Texas as a child, has talked in the past of building spaceships that can orbit Earth and possibly lead to colonies in space.

According to its Web site, which offers few details, Blue Origin "is developing vehicles and technologies that, over time, will help enable an enduring human presence in space."

"We are currently working to develop a crewed, suborbital launch system that emphasizes safety and low cost of operations," the Web site says.

Blue Origin has been renovating a suburban site in Kent, Wash., south of Seattle, to design and build spacecraft and engines.

According to the environmental statement, the craft to be launched from West Texas includes one module for propulsion and one "capable of carrying three or more space flight participants to space." The two would be stacked atop one another to form a conical-shaped vehicle about 50 feet tall and 22 feet in diameter at the base.

The reusable propulsion module would have its own avionics and operate autonomously with onboard computers. The crew module would have similar computers and avionics and be equipped with small rocket motors for use in emergencies.
Much more at the source story.

Allen, Bigelow, and Bezos appear to be investing their hard-earned money in a long-shot business sector still in its infancy. The potential payoff is huge, but the investors will have to demonstrate a lot of staying power. Opening a new area of enterprise can be more beneficial to humankind than a million philanthropists like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

If these successful businessmen can open the door to a permanent human presence in space, free of the interference from western government agencies and totalitarian entities like China, the future of the human experiment will appear much brighter and more likely to succeed. The combination of vision and resources can be potent, if the people who are assigned to get things done are sufficiently inventive and persistent.

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Ocean Thermal Energy--Energy from the Sea

Solar energy is the most abundant form of energy available on Earth. But since the sun only shines for part of the day, it is difficult to store that energy for use when it is needed. One way around that is to use solar energy that has already been stored. The oceans soak up the sun's energy and store it as heat in the surface layers. Deeper layers of ocean are much cooler. By using the heat differential between deep and surface layers, OTEC, huge quantities of usable power could be extracted from tropical parts of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.

This story from Technology Review
replays some of the history of the thinking about OTEC:

In the October 1978 issue of TR, William F. Whitmore invoked an idea from the 19th century: ocean thermal energy conversion, or OTEC. Exploiting the temperature difference between the sun-heated surface of tropical waters and the chilled depths thousands of feet below, Whitmore argued, could provide clean, renewable energy in the lower latitudes.

In the tropics, the oceans store an immense amount of energy from the sun. The band of surface water within 10º of the equator basks around at 80º F., while cold regions 3,000 ft. below are around 40º F. [OTEC] uses this thermal gradient, like the hot and cold terminals of a gas turbine, to generate electricity. The essence of the system is the circulation of a fluid such as ammonia or propane. Where it comes near the warm water it is brought to a boil and so expands; where it comes near the cold, it liquefies once again. In the course of its circulation from one place to another, it drives a power-generating turbine. A typical closed-loop system would include two exchangers (evaporator and condenser), a turbine, and a generator.

... The engineering challenges to be bridged demand solutions of scale rather than of technical innovation. Ship designs and structures used for offshore oil platforms have blazed the trail for the physical platform on which OTEC will be mounted. A general design goal is to isolate the platform as much as possible from the influence of the ocean surface, where the interaction of wind and wave can induce violent platform motions. A leading candidate is a large spar buoy configuration, with most of the platform mass several hundred feet underwater and a relatively small surfacepiercing mast for access; this would also give warning to marine traffic. The OTEC system, with power cabled to shore, is necessarily fixed in place. Both steel and concrete are considered as possible platform construction materials.

In the 1990s, 250-kilowatt test facilities in Hawaii's tropical waters demonstrated OTEC's feasibility. For a plant to be commercially viable in the United States, however, it would have to produce between 50 and 100 megawatts. Developing such plants would require "patient financing," according to Luis Vega, test director of the largest test plant operated by the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research, which ran the Hawaiian facilities. The first step would be a prototype plant of a few megawatts. Ultimately, Vega believes, not only would a commercial-scale OTEC plant be viable, but it could operate at six to eight cents per kilowatt-hour, making it competitive with other renewable energy sources and even with fossil-fuel plants.
More at Technology Review.

The oceans are a giant solar pond, storing the sun's energy for anyone willing and able to tap it. The OTEC news blog is one website that tries to keep up with developments in this area.

In international waters, an enterprising group able to install a permanent infrastructure incorporating a seastead community and resort, OTEC, international financial services, aquafarming, and perhaps ocean based space launch and recovery services, could go from a billion dollar conglomerate to a trillion dollar superpower in a very short time.

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22 July 2006

Permanent Space Colonies: Humanity's Rite of Passage

Princeton physicist Gerard O'Neill helped to kick-start the space colonies movement during the 1970's. Stewart Brand of the Coevolution Quarterly, was another driving force for the space colonies movement, and edited a book on space settlements that is available online. NASA also did several studies on space settlements, including the original 1975 design study that is available online in ebook form.

Several private grassroots organisations were founded during that magical time of citizen space enthusiasm. Some of the best known included the L5 Society, Permanent, Artemis, and TMP/LUF, discussed in a previous posting here at Al Fin.

NASA maintains an excellent site dealing with space settlements resources, organisations, and links, here. Wikipedia's Space Colonization site is a good complement to the NASA site, with fine links to resources.

Humans will still be in their childhood, until they learn to live off-planet. Sea-steads and under-sea communities will be important rites of passage for humans, but only permanent space colonies will truly mark the passage to adulthood of the species.

The natural human trait is to concentrate on the disaster du jour, or the local cause, fad, or fashion--and forget that dinosaurs were once the top pedestal species, like humans are now. But somewhere out there in the Oort Cloud, the Kuiper Belt, the Asteroid Belt, the Earth Crossing Asteroids, or even interstellar space--there is a large fast moving object with the Earth's name on it. When that hunk of matter hits this planet, that will be all she wrote, folks. Being natural is not going to help humans survive. Growing up is dangerous. Never growing up is a dead end.

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Model Socialist Economy--Sweden--A Basket Case

Many people who are ignorant of the unpleasant modern reality in Sweden, continue to tout Sweden as an example of successful socialist economic reform. From the Swedish think tank Captus, comes this incisive glimpse into the modern Swedish tragedy from Nima and Tino Samadaji. Hat tip to the New Libertarian.

.....Between the 1960s and the 1980s the government’s share of the Swedish economy increased from about 30 percent (approximately the same as the US) to about 55 percent.

From this period and onward, the Swedish model has been on the decline. Entrepreneurship has declined to an international low, none of the 50 largest Swedish corporations have been started after 1970, the working morale has declined drastically and unemployment is staggering high. But the government does it’s best to hide the figures that show the bad performance of the Swedish economy. In this paper we discuss the drop in entrepreneurship and working ethics in Sweden and examine the countries high hidden unemployment.

The image of the Swedish welfare state abroad is still that of the beginning of the 1970s, when we did not have higher taxes than other European countries, respected private property and had a strong free trade policy. By highlighting the problems that have arisen in Sweden since then, we hope to give a more balanced view of the Swedish model.

A system unfit for entrepreneurship
As the Swedish welfare state has expanded and economic incentives reduced, entrepreneurship has dropped. In a study of 37 developed countries that was conducted in 2002, Sweden was ranked in the 31:st place when it came to entrepreneurial activity and was one of the countries where entrepreneurship had fallen the most between 2000 and 2002. An important contributing factor is that the marginal tax on entrepreneurs is approximately 70 percent and that they are required to pay additional fees to the state, such as when their employees go on sick leave.

In a recent survey 56 percent of corporate leaders in Sweden responded that they regarded the corporate climate in the country as unfavorable or very unfavorable, while only 10 percent regarded it as favorable and less than one percent as very favorable. It should be emphasized that this figure looks at those who have actually managed to run a company in Sweden; the most relevant group has been excluded from this survey, those that have chosen not to do so. The percentage of entrepreneurs amongst the Swedish population in working age is below 7 percent, only a third of that in the U.S.

The expanding Swedish welfare state has monopolized many sectors of the economy and thus reduced the opportunities for private enterprise. The high taxes and the high regulatory burden are other obstacles for entrepreneurship. The disadvantageous climate for business in Sweden is demonstrated by the fact that the number of employees in the private sector is today some 100 000 less than for 30 years ago, although our population has grown by more than one million during this period. The opportunities for people who are eager to start a career in the private sector are limited in Sweden. This is demonstrated by the fact that about 30 percent of the students that graduate from the Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden’s top business school, choose to migrate to London soon after graduation.

It is perhaps not surprising that Sweden has gone from being the fourth richest country in the beginning of the 1970s to being the fourteenth richest country today.

A drop in working ethics
The many years with a large welfare system seems to have reduced the Swedish populations working ethics and made it more acceptable to live on government handouts, which have increasingly become an alternative to work. In a survey conducted in 2002, 62 percent of Swedish employees answered that they viewed it as acceptable to claim the right to sick leave even if one is not restrained by disease to work. This attitude seems to correlate closely with the large increase in Sick Leave which we have experienced in Sweden.

In any given day, more than 5 percent of the working population is on sick leave. In addition some 540 000 Swedes were early retired in December 2004, officially for health reasons. The latter figure amounts for about 10 percent of the adult population! During the past years even many young and healthy adults who have been unemployed for a long time have been given early retirement. This is fundamentally a strategy for the Swedish state to hide the true unemployment figures.

High hidden unemployment
The official Swedish unemployment stood on 5.2 percent in May 2005. But Sweden has massive government programs that contain most of the unemployed, chiefly Early Retirement, Sick Leave, Labor Market Programs and Welfare. In addition, since students get a monthly stipend and loan, many unemployed continue to study when they can’t find work.

The political right in Sweden has for some time complained about the government hiding the unemployment in the above mentioned “programs”. But the question only came to the public knowledge when LO, the immensely powerful blue-collar union, had one of its own turn against them. Hans Karlsson, a leading leftwing economist, concluded that true unemployment was more in the ballpark of 20-25 percent.

This article by my cousin Abu deals with the same topic, based on an article from The National Interest journal, is a fine supplement to the article by the Sanandajis above.

The standard of living for the average Swede is below that for the average african american living in the US. That is not a statistic that is frequently touted by modern Swedish government bureaucrats. When a government chooses to re-distribute wealth without thinking through the need to create the wealth in the first place, it creates a sinking ship of a country such as Sweden. When you add the demographic tragedy of out of control immigration of welfare dependent and violence-prone immigrants from the muslim third world, and you begin to understand why the entrepreneurial class of Sweden has been emigrating away from the country for the past 40 years.

It is an economic tragedy that was barely avoided by Great Britain, thanks to Margaret Thatcher's firmly placed stitch in time. The current French and German regimes are attempting to prevent their own countries from following in the path of Sweden's inevitable demise, but their ultimate success is in doubt, due to their inability to make the difficult decisions.


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21 July 2006

Human Habitat: Unblocking Evolution

Humans evolved near the tropics, then spread across the earth to occupy virtually every continent and large island except for Antarctica. Even in Antarctica and in the far north, humans maintain a permanent presence for scientific and military purposes. Humans learned to live in extreme heat, extreme cold, and at quite high altitudes. Humans even learned to spend long periods of time at sea, but always with a home port in mind.

Humans seem to have gotten stuck for some reason, unable to take the next logical steps. Marshall Savage wrote a visionary book in 1992, The Millenial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps. The idea was to learn to live in more environments, including building cities on the sea, constructing earth orbiting habitats, moon habitats and cities, mars settlements, with eventual dispersion to the outer solar system and beyond. Here is a good place to catch up on the Millenial Project's ideas.

Anyway, the whole idea was to learn to adapt to increasingly harsh and difficult environments--to become more competent in dealing with hazards and threats in order to enhance our freedom of movement. With that enhancement of capability in mind, I want to look into the concept of undersea habitats.

Two of the websites incorporating the more expansive concept of undersea habitats that I had in mind, are this, and this. The habitat needs to be large enough to be considered a "community". It must be permanent and must contain a full set of industries, including medical, educational, financial, manufacturing, and service industries.

Such a habitat would have to be prepared to "hunker down" for weeks at a time, should surface conditions require it. That almost certainly means nuclear power, unless it were situated near the edge of a continental shelf, making OTEC available. Of course, with access to the surface you could have solar, wind, wave, and other sources of power.

NASA uses the Aquarius undersea habitat off Key Largo for astronaut training. Obviously any resident of an undersea habitat would learn safety training that would be the equivalent of what is required to survive in a space environment.

There is obviously no room for the neotenous in a potentially hazardous environment such as an undersea city, orbiting space colony, or asteroid habitat. Government schools are training citizens of North America to be victimised inhabitants of the impoverished neo-third world, not for an exciting future undersea or off-planet. Too bad.

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Creating Obsolete Children: Education With Incompetence in Mind

Q and O blog points to a NY Daily News article by Sol Stern about new "social justice" curriculum in middle schools.

The root of the problem is "social justice" education. It starts in teacher preparation programs, where rigorous training in math, science and literacy takes a backseat to theories about victimization and inequality. Teachers-to-be are told that conventional instruction is an outgrowth of capitalist oppression; "true" education helps students see the unfairness all around them and challenge society to change.

But it doesn't stop there. Far too many New York City public schools - including some of the new small schools created by Chancellor Joel Klein and funded with money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - distort education by imbuing social justice into everything they do.

Q and O then goes on to comment on the phenomenon of political indoctrination of children into dysfunctional ideologies:

There's a propensity among educators to reinvent education every decade or so. I'm not sure why except each decade a new generation of educators are in the position to make changes and feel compelled to do so. There has also been a movement away from what previously worked - in terms of providing a student with the basic tools needed to be literate as well as assimilate into our civic culture - and more toward exactly what Stern notes. I don't know a thing about these three schools except what Stern writes, but in each, I don't see much of a focus on education, or at least not what I consider education. It's almost like the cart is before the horse. What good is an understanding of activism and "social justice" if you can't read the poster announcing the next peace rally?

Again this seems a logical outgrowth of the multiculturalism movement who's basic premise is the need for "social justice". But probably a larger and more important need than hearing one side of the social justice story is that of getting a good basic education. The school day is a finite amount of hours. The more "social justice" finds its way into the curriculum, the less time there is for math, science, reading, literature, writing and other core subjects necessary to enable someone to maneuver successfully in this society.

Of course this type of indoctrination into dysfunctionality began in the universities, but it has wasted little time working its way down the ladder to high schools and middle schools. It is clear that people who are indoctrinated in the "social justice" ideologies are less able to reason effectively in the real world. This method of inculcating incompetence into children has a delayed effect on society, but the effect is real--generations can be lost, and social stratification becomes ever worse.

Of course if dysfunctional education creates a large enough underclass, it will be possible to elect leaders such as Hugo Chavez as president of the US, or prime minister of Canada. Imagine when the wealthiest and most powerful nations on earth become third world dictatorships like Venezuela. To quote the wicked witch, "what a world, what a world!"

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20 July 2006

Delayed Maturation: The Neotenous Society III

The human life cycle has been divided into stages by many theorists, including Freud, Erikson, Horney, Piaget, Lidz, etc. It is expected that a child must successfully meet the challenges of one stage, before it is properly prepared to meet the next stage's challenges. In other words, a child must grow up successively, in stages, to become a mature adult. This suggests the presence of many "rites of passage", often subconscious to both child and observer, throughout the maturational process. If a child misses a successful transition at a certain stage,it will have problems characteristic of that deficit.

One of the most difficult transitions is during the period of adolescence. In some cultures, girls are often married by fourteen or fifteen years old to cousins or wealthy strangers, sometimes much earlier. In other cultures, girls may be sold to a brothel at age thirteen or fourteen, to help support the family. Boys may be expected to join a religious militia or terror organisation by that time, or have been expected to blow themselves up in an act of religious martyrdom/homicide.

All of those adolescence scenarios could be considered "rites of passage." For North American youth, such situations would be rare unless the families in question belonged to particular religious sects, or unassimilated subcultures, and the arrangements were hidden from the authorities.

The typical North American adolescence involves mandatory government school education, with the atypical social pressures of adolescence magnified a hundred fold by the confinement of several hours a day with hundreds or thousands of other barely-in-control transitioning adolescents. What can one learn from the socialisation process in such a school?

Most adolescents in North America have not developed any meaningful skills or talents to set them apart. A few will be athletic standouts, some will be musically gifted, some will be good at math or science, some will be remarkably attractive and have slightly advanced social skills. But most will be scrambling for an identity and looking for a subculture to melt into. Often the most inclusive subculture is the "slacker" subculture--the subculture whose members avoid work and responsibility, taking such avoidance to the level of an art form. Petty crimes and academic ethical violations are not uncommon.

Most government high schools do not teach useful skills. They generally portray themselves as preparation for higher education, even though most students fall into the combined categories of "did not graduate" or "did not continue education past high school." This drops the students into a "no man's land" of dubious employers, often competing with illegal aliens who actually do have useful skills, and a stronger work ethic.

For a large percentage of inner city african american , hispanic students, and other minorities, the subculture with the strongest appeal is the identity culture--multicultural separatism--which is encouraged by official curriculum of government schooling, and by many universities. Separate styes of talking, walking, dressing, separate music and entertainment--sometimes completely separate languages--it is easy to avoid the mainstream, and the cultural intelligence that many mainstream employers demand.

Many colleges and universities offer special orientation weeks or weekends for minority students, and other separate events--to emphasize separateness, and to encourage the preservation of the separation from mainstream culture. Further curriculum continues to emphasize separation into tribes and cultures, celebrating the differentness rather than the things that bind people together and allow cooperation.

When it encourages tribalism, the modern multicultural curriculum frequently works against the maturation of the individual, and toward a resentful sense of victimisation. Combining hundreds of thousands and millions of resentful individuals with a sense of victimisation, leads to a society with a tendency to disintegrate. Resentful students are less likely to find meaningful careers, and less likely to put all of their effort into work for employers who they distrust and dislike. If the person never grows beyond this school/society-instilled resentment, they will never mature or reach their potential.

This type of designed obsolescence--or designed failure of maturation--leads inevitably to increased social and economic stratification. Eventually, North American societies may approach the unhealthy stratification that is seen in most latin american and third world societies, if the current regime of "education" is allowed to continue very much longer.

Ben Franklin suggested that there may be long term difficulties in keeping a representative constitutional republic functioning. He, along with Jefferson and other founders of the radical US form of government, might be surprised to learn that the general structure of the revolutionary republic has been maintained for so long--with many of its features copied by successful countries as far away as Europe and Asia.

But none of the early americans or canadians were faced with the neotenous effects of prolonged mandatory, dysfunctional government education. It is unlikely that any form of government that requires its citizens to take responsibility for their own actions, can survive this type of neotenous social engineering for very long. Children are not responsible for their actions, and it is children--adult children--that are being unleashed upon society. Illegitimacy rates up to 70% illustrate plainly the neoteny of many graduates of subcultural educational designs.

Here is an interesting history of multicultural theory and practise, for the truly interested. Multiculturalist tribalism is only one of the many neotenous forces acting upon modern North American society. More will be addressed in time.

Addendum: Here is a commentary by my cousin Abu, on Fjordman's piece above.

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17 July 2006

Bandwidth of Consciousness

Anyone who has read the book "The User Illusion" by Tor Norretranders must have been struck by the low estimate of human consciousness bandwidth--approximately 10 to 20 bits per second. A few moments of observing drivers trying to drive and talk on the cellphone at the same time will probably lead you to reluctantly agree with Norretranders.

Now, thanks to Chris Chatham at Develintel, we have better scientific explanations for the low bandwidth of consciousness--the attentional bottleneck, and the visual working memory bottleneck.

To investigate whether attention does cause this limitation, the authors used a dual-task design in which subjects must remember the location & color of three circles (the VWM task) during the time they are performing a multiple-object tracking (MOT) task. According to their logic, if the capacity limitation is purely due to attentional constraints, then the MOT task should interfere with the VWM task just as much as a second, concurrent VWM task would, assuming that the MOT and VWM tasks were equated for their attentional demands. On the other hand, if the capacity limitation results even in part from content-specific processes, as opposed to solely resulting from an amodal and content-general pool of attentional resources, then the MOT task should interfere with the VWM task less than a second concurrent VWM task would.

The details of the methodology and analysis of results are all in italics, as follows:

40 subjects participated in this task, in which their VWM capacity was calculated via Cowan's K (N*[hit rate + correct rejection rate - 1], based on their performance in remembering the color & location of displays containing three circles each. During the retention interval between display and test, subjects had to track either 1 (low load) or 3 (high load) white circles as they moved randomly throughout a display containing many identical white circles. To prevent participants from using their phonological system to store information, participants performed articulatory suppression, in which they repeated the word "the" 2 times per second throughout each trial.

MOT and VWM tasks showed mutual interference, in that performance on both tasks was lower than on either task independently. Furthermore, the amount of interference increased between the low- and high-load MOT tasks, indicating that there's not simply a constant level of "performance cost" incurred by the dual tasking - instead, that the additional storage demands resulting from the high memory load causes additional interference between the tasks.

Subsequent experiments showed two VWM tasks interfere with each other even more than VWM and MOT mutually interfere. The authors found a level of interference between a simple verbal task and the VWM that was equivalent to that found between VWM and MOT, but less than between two VWM tasks. This shows that the VWM-MOT interference is likely due to a central attentional bottleneck, and not due to a more specific shared process.

The final three experiments indicated that this "central source" of interference was not related to the similarities of the features used between the two tasks (such as color or location), nor was it related to the degree to which each task was spatial in nature, nor was it affected by the use of a rapid serial visual presentation task instead of multiple object tracking. In other words, no dual task paradigm was found that could create the same level of interference as a VWM-VWM dual task, whereas a variety of other tasks showed the same level of interference as the original VWM-MOT dual task.

These experiments strongly support the idea that attention and visual working memory have distinct capacity limits, and contribute jointly to observed capacity limitations. Although it's possible that equivalent levels of interference can occur for different reasons in different dual-task paradigms, it seems unlikely that the precise amount of interference would be so similar among so many different dual-tasks, unless that interference originates from a single, central source.

More at Develintel.

This does not mean that humans are forever stuck with these limitations. But like Clint Eastwood always says, "a man's got to know his limitations." We have to start from where we are now, if we are going to get to the next level.


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A $500 (US) All-Season House You can Build Yourself in 15 Minutes

For more information, go here.

This shelter reminds me of the grancrete house, that can be built fairly quickly from inexpensive materials, and is potentially stronger and more substantial. You can find a video for constructing the grancrete househere.

Click on the image below for visual instructions to build the $500 Global Village Shelter.


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Individualism vs. Collectivism--Maximising Creativity

When considering the problem of a sustainable future, the problem of overpopulation often comes up. My view is that earth suffers not so much from overpopulation, as it does from under-creativity. It is quite possible for the earth to support many times the number of humans presently alive, in a sustainable manner, if the humans were creative enough to adopt sustainable methods.

Recent UC Berkeley research suggests that a culture of individualism may be a powerful force for creativity, in the research environment.

“The message of this article is that diversity of ideas and perspectives is crucial for innovation,” says Staw, who has been studying creativity for 15 years.

Staw and Goncalo’s findings are the latest rally in a fierce academic debate over how culture relates to innovation. Other professors have argued that a strong and collectivistic culture – one that is more team-oriented and emphasizes organization-wide goals – may improve creativity when the firm has set widely accepted goals for innovation. They cite Hewlett-Packard and 3M as examples.

Staw, chairman of the Haas Organizational Behavior and Industrial Relations Group, disagrees. “A strong corporate culture can be detrimental to innovation because everyone has to get on board and be relatively alike,” says Staw, also the Lorraine Tyson Mitchell Professor in Leadership and Communication.

On the other hand, the advantages of an individualistic culture may be especially salient when innovation is an explicit goal, Staw and Goncalo hypothesize in their article. They define an individualistic culture as one that values uniqueness, encourages people to be independent from the group, and provides clear recognition for individual achievement.

To test this hypothesis, Staw and Goncalo conducted a one-hour experiment with teams of undergraduate students. First, participants completed a survey designed to prime a collectivistic or individualistic mindset. Then each group was instructed to be either creative or practical as they spent 15 minutes generating as many ideas as possible about how to solve a problem.

The problem was figuring out a new business for a space vacated by a mismanaged and low-quality restaurant at a major West Coast University. In the final phase, each group was asked to select the idea that they believed was either the most creative or practical.

“On every measure, individualistic groups were more creative than collectivistic groups when instructed to be so – generating more ideas, presenting a greater number of ideas that depart from the pre-existing solution (i.e. restaurants), and posing ideas that were judged to be more novel,” the authors found. “The results simply show that, when creativity is explicitly desired, individualism will serve to facilitate such performance.”

Individualistic groups instructed to be more creative generated significantly more ideas (37.4 ideas on average) than collectivistic groups told to be creative (26.1 ideas on average). Collectivistic groups instructed to be creative generated significantly more restaurant ideas as a percentage of total ideas generated (14%) than individualistic groups (7%) given the same instructions to be creative.

And on a creativity scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most creative, ideas from individualistic groups instructed to be creative were more creative (with an average rating of 3.03) than those generated by collectivistic groups (with an average rating of 2.83).

The upshot of this research is that companies should protect individual perspectives, Staw says.

“Organizations try to hire people who fit with the culture, but organizations should instead look for people who are different,” he says. “Nurturing individualistic perspectives is better than having a corporate-wide direction,” Staw adds.

However, Staw notes that U.S. businesses have increasingly emphasized team projects and have long been interested in Asian business practices, which are known for their cooperative atmosphere. “This study raises a red flag because the U.S. has had a very individualistic culture, but as we’re moving more toward team-based organizations, we risk losing some creativity,” he cautions.

Many academics have wondered why the European culture spawned so much scientific and technological innovation from the middle ages on, when other previously fertile cultures such as the Hindu, the Chinese, the Islamic, etc. had grown stagnant, intellectually. (see Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment)

The current university culture in the social and political sciences has downgraded the importance of creativity, and certainly individualism. And many sustainable living theorists abandon creativity in favour of simple-minded population reduction approaches. To these simple thinking theorists, individualism and creativity are enemies--threats to their ability to fully control the down-sizing of population they feel is necessary.

But to more intelligent theorists of greater vision, it is obvious that only human creativity will discover the paths forward to greater sustainability, even in the face of 8 to 10 billion humans living on the earth's surface.

The Berkeley research was oriented toward corporate research institutes, which exist in order to create new products and services to enrich the parent corporation. The same principle applies to creative efforts oriented toward finding sustainable futures that are currently obscured by the uncertainty of the branching future.


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