31 May 2007

The Knowledge Problem--An Inconvenient Constraint on Would-Be Social Engineers

Given the predominantly leftist tilt of most university faculties--at least in economics and social sciences--it is not surprising that many students and recent graduates have not become acquainted with "the knowledge problem" in economics.

The problem dates to the economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. The problem has been explicated further by Thomas Sowell, in the book Knowledge and Decisions (Sowell's best book in my opinion).

The knowledge problem is stated various ways, but it boils down to describing the immense difficulty in implementing a centrally planned economy when more than one person is involved--much less when millions or hundreds of millions are involved. Think of it as the "two body problem" from physics transferred to the economic realm, except far less tractable.

A lot of students and recent graduates refer to circumstances where socialism or communism are "proven to have worked". Unfortunately, most of them are unacquainted with the knowledge problem. An economic system comprising more than one participant rapidly gains complexity in determining the value of various economic transactions.

Whether a person wants to found their own socialist country, or build a working artificial intelligence, they must come face to face with the knowledge problem (KP), and they must learn to accomodate the constraints the KP presents.

For those who are serious about writing meaningful articles and books on the topic of hyper-complex entities such as economies or intelligences, acquainting themselves with the KP would be a useful side area of study that would reap huge benefits. Anyone who neglects a deep and meaningful investigation of the knowledge problem will pay dearly for the neglect.

I will try to work in more information on this topic in other postings.

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30 May 2007

Attention Planet Earth: Your Previously Scheduled Global Warming Doomsday Has Been Cancelled--Other Previously Scheduled Doomsdays Remain in Effect

The video above is now available on YouTube. It is the first of a 5 part series. To view the rest, simply click on the screen and go to YouTube for the other 4 segments.

The global warming doomsday message is a lucrative one for dishonest carbon trading schemes and schemers, such as Al Gore.

But the people need a religion, and the Church of CAGW (catastrophic anthropogenic global warming) is as good a religion as any--requiring blind faith in its believers, as it does.

Image hat tip Ice Age Now

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Curing Brain Cancer With Electric Fields

Israeli researchers have published results of a study using electric fields to successfully treat patients with the rapidly growing brain cancer glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).
A device that specifically targets rapidly growing cancer cells with intermediate frequency electrical fields -- called Tumor-Treating Fields (TTFields) -- doubled the survival rates of patients with brain cancer, according to a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal article.

Early results of cell culture, animal and early phase human trials showed that compared to historical data, the device more than doubled the median overall survival rates in patients with recurrent glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most common and aggressive type of malignant brain tumor. These survival rates observed in the data were compared to historical data.

Professor Yoram Palti of the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, the leading Israeli biomedical research institution, invented the device and first described it in a journal article in 2004.

It uses electrical fields to disrupt tumor growth by interfering with cell division of cancerous cells, causing them to stop proliferating and die off instead of dividing and growing. Healthy brain cells rarely divide and have different electrical properties than cancerous brain cells. This allows the device to target cancer cells without affecting the healthy cells.

Here is a link to a journal article describing the technique.

This technique appears to offer promise for other types of tumours that can be as easily accessed with external electrical fields, with much less serious side effects than with chemotherapy, radiation, or neurosurgery.

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In China There is No Capital Gains Tax for Stocks

China's stock market has become a bubble of frenzied investment.
SHANGHAI -- China's latest attempt to slow its runaway stock market might just work.

The Shanghai Composite Index tumbled 6.5% to 4,053.088 points on Wednesday in its second-biggest fall this decade after the Ministry of Finance tripled taxes on share transactions to 0.3% of trading value.

....ver the past few weeks, many institutional investors had largely stopped buying stocks as individual investors, accounting for up to 80 percent of turnover, began to push prices far above fund managers' expectations.

Stocks fever is gripping the country: Internet chat rooms are full of hot stock tips, people are quitting day jobs to trade, and a folksy investment guru known as "China's Warren Buffett" has won prominence.

The number of stock investment accounts hit the 100 million mark on Monday, and people have been opening about 350,000 new accounts each day. Luminaries from Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing to former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warned the market was heading for a crash.

By acting to halt that trend now - rather than waiting for the index to hit 5,000 points, which had become a short-term target for some - authorities may have avoided serious damage to the market, analysts said.

"We expect the policy change may add pressures on share prices in the near term, which could reduce the risk of a market crash," Citigroup said in a report.

Although the stock market may land softly from this bubble, the long term prognosis for China's economy is less than sanguine, according to Gordon Chang.
Sensing American frustration, Beijing is approaching next week’s trade talks with the Bush administration with a hint of desperation. It is making pugnacious pronouncements, purchasing large quantities of American technology and soybeans, and pleading for more patience. It is, in fact, doing everything but complying with its trade obligations. Chinese leaders know that their economy cannot compete according to the rules. And that is one reason why the Chinese one-party state, which is overly dependent on exports to deliver prosperity, might just yet collapse.

Certainly the recent spate of poisoned Chinese food products has not helped to reassure seasoned observers of the Chinese economy. Even in China the people are concerned about their own home-grown food source.
The quality and safety of China's food products has come under scrutiny around the world since tainted pet food caused deaths of cats and dogs in the United States and toxins in toothpaste exported from China led to recalls in Latin America.

At home, China's citizens are treated to a near-daily diet of stories of mass food poisonings or tainted products, and the government is starting to take action.

In the most dramatic of a series of measures, from announcing a system of food recalls to blacklisting producers who break the rules, a court sentenced to death the former head of the national food and drug agency for taking bribes in exchange for drug approvals.

Many analysts are using straight-line extrapolation methods to predict the future of China's economy, but that does not seem wise. It is the underlying corruption, lack of strict accounting practices in the financial sectors, and lack of accountability by the massive state-owned industry sector that urges caution on anyone wishing to predict the future of China's economy. The underlying infrastructure is not nearly as sound as the official external figures suggest.

Consider: what would the US stock market be doing if there were no capital gains tax on stocks in the US?

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29 May 2007

Gamma Ray Bursts And Climate--I Hope You Like Cold Weather

Gamma Ray Bursts(GRBs) occur with frightening regularity across the cosmos. Space scientists consider GRBs important enough to warrant an orbiting satellite observatory, SWIFT, to monitor the sources of GRBs.

SWIFT is responsible for several important discoveries about GRB sources, including this recent news item:
GRBs release in seconds the same amount of energy our Sun will emit over its expected 10 billion-year lifetime. The staggering energy of a long-duration GRB (lasting more than a few seconds) comes from the core of a massive star collapsing to form a black hole or neutron star. In current theory, inrushing gas forms a disk around the central object. Magnetic fields channel some of that material into two jets moving at near-light speed. Collisions between shells of ejected material within the jet trigger the actual GRB.

Early in the mission, Swift’s X-ray Telescope (XRT) discovered that the initial pulse of gamma-rays, known as prompt emission, is often followed minutes to hours later by short-lived but powerful X-ray flares. The flares suggested — but did not prove — that GRB central engines remain active long after the prompt emission.After analyzing GRB 060714, named for its detection date of July 14, 2006, Hans Krimm of Universities Space Research Association, Columbia, Md. and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and eight colleagues, have demonstrated that X-ray flares are indeed a continuation of the prompt emission, showing that GRB central engines are active much longer than previously thought.

Not so long ago, scientists began speculating that GRBs could have had a dramatic effect on Earth's history.
The idea that GRBs could have affected the course of evolution was first suggested two years ago (New Scientist print edition, 15 December 2001, p 10). John Scalo and Craig Wheeler of the University of Texas at Austin estimated that GRBs close enough to affect life in some way might occur once every five million years or so - around a thousand times since life began.

Now Melott believes he has palaeontological evidence that this actually happened at the end of the Ordovician period 443 million years ago, causing one of the five largest extinctions of the past 500 million years. Working with Bruce Lieberman, a specialist in fossil trilobites also at the University of Kansas, and other colleagues, he looked at the pattern of extinctions in the late Ordovician.

Now all of that is no doubt interesting in the context of Earth's biological past, but what might it mean to modern-day humans?
There are two bad things that happen if you get enough gamma rays smacking into you:

"1) They dissociate ozone molecules. Bad. Worse, they also zap nitrogen molecules, which then go out and zap ozone molecules. Either way, a lot of ozone goes away. It depends on how close the supernova or gamma-ray burst is, of course, but some studies have shown that a gamma-ray burst ... could eradicate 30 percent of ozone globally, with some local places dropping by more than 50 percent. In technical terms, that would suck.

"2) Those nitrogen atoms go on and make NO2 molecules, which is a reddish brown toxic substance. Not enough would be made, most likely, to hurt folks, but it's dark and absorbs sunlight, so they can contribute to global cooling. The Ordovician event may have been from a nearby supernova or gamma-ray burst, as there is evidence of increased UVB [ultraviolet light B] hitting phytoplanktons and also cooling at the same time.

"There is a third thing: cosmic rays, atomic nuclei accelerated to relativistic speeds, may also be sent our way by supernovae or gamma-ray bursts. No one is really sure. But there is a lot of evidence (and this shocked me) that the cosmic rays affect our weather by seeding clouds (I am unclear how this works in detail but I'll know better as I read more). More clouds means more cooling, so more cosmic rays could trip an ice age. Seriously.

A worldwide glacial epoch could easily be triggered by one of these events in our galactic neighborhood. There would be no warning to speak of.

We are lucky to have our warm, sunny days--long growing seasons for crops, plenty of time to soak up the gamma rays I mean sun's rays. For those who complain about a marginally warmer earth, may I suggest that you disconnect your air conditioners, and park your automobiles immediately. That would be most kind of you, for all of our sakes, and would partially excuse you for your lack of discrimination in your beliefs about the natural world. Thanks.

More on gamma ray bursts here, here, here and here.
Here are several abstracts of papers dealing with GRBs.

Hat tip Cocktail Party Physics

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Your Assignment: Devise a Plan to Save As Many Humans as Possible In the Event This Should Happen

Yes, the narration is in Japanese. You say you cannot understand Japanese? Just turn down the volume, and play your favourite "end of the world music" in the background, instead.

Then come up with a plan using today's technology, for saving at least 100,000 humans from the apocalypse.

As a bonus, go here to find an interesting NOVA clip about Apophis--the asteroid due to strike Earth in the year 2036.

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More on Great Global Warming Swindle

Interview with veteran filmmaker of BBC Global Warming special describing much of the witch hunt he has been subjected to since airing his film on Channel 4.

Also, here is the National Center for Policy Analysis report on climate change impacts for the next century. This report was written by a Delaware climatologist in an attempt to correct many popular misconceptions of the state of the art of climatology. Most members of the public lack the background for judging various climate predictions and studies. But a basic understanding of sound science is within the grasp of most intelligent persons. This report helps to ground a person of above average intelligence in what is currently possible within modern day climatology.

Most believers of CAGW--catastrophic anthropogenic global warming--are merely floating in the predominant breeze of media coverage. They are completely convinced of the truth of their beliefs. Unable to distinguish accomplished science from political/journalistic putsch, they float in the mainstream of the popular current, oblivious to their own intellectual helplessness.

Hat tip floppingaces, and Green Watch.

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27 May 2007

Build Your Own Cosmic Ray Detector for £40 And Be The First On Your Block to Announce the Coming Global Cooling

If cosmic rays do have the effect on climate that several authors claim, then it might be nice to monitor them more closely.

An 18 year old Scottish schoolgirl has built her own cosmic ray detector for £40, and has been named the world's brightest young physicist for her work.
Holly Batchelor, 18, a pupil at the Mary Erskine School in Edinburgh, made her own cosmic ray detector - out of a plastic fish tank, an aluminium sheet and some felt - to win the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair's (ISEF) First Award for physics and astronomy.

Her cloud chamber device, which makes the particle trails of the rays visible, cost less than £40 to make - far cheaper than commercially available machines - and she hopes this will enable schools to build their own versions, inspiring more young scientists.

Holly also studied the energy and angle of cosmic rays, which come from the Sun and supernovae explosions.

This has recently become a hot topic, because it is thought the rays have an effect on cloud formation and climate change.

Of course, all of this is happening at the same time as the important CLOUD experiment at CERN1 is preparing for its first results.
The collaboration comprises an interdisciplinary team from 18 institutes and 9 countries in Europe, the United States and Russia. It brings together atmospheric physicists, solar physicists, and cosmic ray and particle physicists to address a key question in the understanding of clouds and climate change. "The experiment has attracted the leading aerosol, cloud and solar-terrestrial physicists from Europe; Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are especially strong in this area" says the CLOUD spokesperson, Jasper Kirkby of CERN. "CERN is a unique environment for this experiment. As well as our accelerators, we bring the specialist technologies, experimental techniques and experience in the integration of large, complex detectors that are required for CLOUD." An example in the present CLOUD prototype is the gas system, designed by CERN engineers, which produces ultra-pure air from the evaporation of liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen. "It's probably the cleanest air anywhere in the world", says Kirkby.

The first results from the CLOUD prototype are expected by the summer of 2007.

Al Gore in his docuganda "An Inconvenient Truth", conveniently neglected to mention the cosmic ray hypothesis. But then, that is the whole purpose of docugandas, no?

Anyway, the whole reason for mentioning the inexpensive cosmic ray detector, is that we are inexorably approaching a significant slowdown in the solar conveyor belt. According to the theories explained by these climate books, the slowing of the conveyor belt is a harbinger of drastically reduced solar magnetic activity. This reduction of solar activity leaves the solar system wide open to extra-solar cosmic rays, which could trigger much increased cloud formation in earth's atmosphere. The resulting global cooling could very well make most rational people nostalgic for "global warming."

And of course it is "clouds" that are the glaring weakness in the greenhouse gas theory of CAGW--catastrophic anthropogenic global warming, according to MIT's cloud expert Richard Lindzen. In fact, there are no General Circulation Models (GCMs) that give credible modeling results for the effects of clouds on climate.

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Remember When We All Lived Up In the Trees?

For some of us, it hasn't been that long ago.
Carpenter Joel "Bubba" Smith builds tree houses for a living. But these are not the rickety, slapped-together, sticks-nailed-slipshod-to-the- tree-in-the-backyard tree houses of childhood memory. As a carpenter with Seattle-based TreeHouse Workshop Inc., Smith constructs wholly modern and sophisticated tree houses — some with bathrooms and fireplaces and second stories and suspension bridges.

....Ever since he built his first tree house as a kid, carpentry has been a calling. But it was working as a carpenter in the summers with his uncle that provided the compass that would guide Smith's career. An article in Forbes magazine about TreeHouse Workshop ultimately led Smith to Seattle four years ago, portfolio in hand. He was soon on his way to San Diego for his first job as a tree house builder.

The San Diego tree house remains one of his most ambitious and memorable to date. The 1,000-square-foot structure sits on an 80-acre farm just outside the city and is used as a weekend cabin — one with a kitchen and bathroom, bedroom and living spaces, spacious decks, a brick and stone fireplace and central heating and air. The exterior features rich redwood decks with picket railings made from oak branches and fir rail caps, all done by hand.

....On average, Smith and the other carpenters — TreeHouse Workshop employs seven lead builders — build 10 to 15 tree houses a year, about half locally. The tree houses range from 100 square feet to 1,000, and cost from $6,000 on the low end to $330,000-plus for top-of-the-line models.

Most tree houses take a few weeks to several months to complete and are built mostly with reclaimed wood and recycled materials.
Go to the Source for more photos and story.

Living in trees is not just for Ewoks and monkeys. Something in the primate genetic memory makes trees feel like home, for those who are attuned to those particular genes.

Children need to see the world from different perspectives. They like to climb trees, like to look down on their worlds. They also like to crawl through tunnels and look out on the world from small cubby-hole openings. But that is for another posting.


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Topsoil: It's the Organisms, Stupid!

There is nothing magical about topsoil. For thousands of years, humans have been able to detect when soil was healthy and capable of growing good crops. Although pre-scientific humans knew nothing about the details of decomposition, they could tell a good crop from a bad crop--and quickly learned the external characteristics of good soil.

Now we are being told that the earth is losing its topsoil, and that such a loss can never be recovered. Regular readers of this blog may recognise such claims as "appeals to the pseudo-apocalypse." Which is precisely what they are.

It is certainly true that mining and other industrial processes destroy topsoil. And while conventional methods of remediating soil from mining and from other industry may be effective, they can also be extremely expensive.

Scientists in Russia have developed complex mixtures of micro-organisms that can be placed in situ, to remediate soil from petro-chemical contamination. Canadian scientists have gone farther, creating symbiotic combinations of plants and microbes, to clean contaminants from soil in situ.

Researchers are always looking for new bacteria in the strangest places. Or perhaps, not so strange, if you are looking for assistance for petroleum cleanup.

Here is a short description of the micro-world of soil:
• Bacteria -- Bacteria are the tiniest and most diverse of all soil organisms. A single teaspoon of topsoil typically contains more than 100 million bacteria that belong to over 1,000 different species. Bacteria help to decompose residue in the soil and increase nutrient availability for plants by dissolving phosphorus and fixing atmospheric nitrogen. Some bacteria that live on plant surfaces can also prevent plant diseases, either by antagonizing pathogens or stimulating the plant’s own immune systems.

• Fungi -- Fungi are important in the break down of plant residue, and they can transport nutrients through the soil profile. Because they are tougher than bacteria, they tend to release nutrients more slowly so that plants can have access to them throughout the growing season. Some fungi, called mycorrhizae, develop beneficial relationships with plants that allow for nutrient and water absorption by plant roots. Fungal cells also help to stabilize soil structure by secreting a sticky gel that glues mineral and organic particles together into aggregates. These aggregates allow for natural breaks to occur in soil, allowing for greater aeration and water infiltration.

• Protozoa -- Protozoa are single-celled animals that act as secondary consumers of organic matter. They feed on bacteria, fungi, other protozoa, and organic molecules. Protozoa are believed to be responsible for mineralizing a small fraction of the nitrogen in soils.

• Nematodes -- Nematodes are simple worms that are less than one-tenth of an inch long. They help breakdown organic residues and feed on bacteria, fungi and protozoa. They also convert some nitrogen into usable forms for plants.

• Free-living mites -- Soil mites are arthropods that graze on decomposing organic matter, fungi, algae and nematodes. Mite populations are slow to develop, so their appearance indicates a highly stable soil environment.

• Springtails -- Springtails are arthropods found in decaying material. They are one of several biological agents responsible for the creation of soil, and are considered to be the most abundant of all macroscopic animals living in the topsoil.

• Earthworms -- Earthworms round out the list as important keepers and restorers of soil fertility. While less numerous than nematodes, they account for up to 10 times the biomass of the other secondary consumers. Earthworms feed on bacteria-laden plant residues and organic matter mixed with mineral particles. The resulting material is given off as worm casts, which are generally higher in available nitrogen, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus than the soil itself. Earthworms also constantly bring soil up to the surface, providing anywhere from one to 100 tons per acre of organic-laden soil for plant use each year.

“There are countless other organisms that contribute to the soil community. The variety of soil organisms is so high that even today we don’t have the tools to say what an average community really looks like from a small scale to a large scale,” said Gardener. “But it can be said that a healthy soil is often marked by multiple trophic levels of diverse microflora, microfauna and mesofauna.”

Up until now, most of the microbe-hunting has been done by pharmacology researchers, looking for magic bullets against human infection, cancer, and other disease. More and more, such hunts are being done to find cures for environmental ills.

Plants can certainly be grown without soil, and in certain environments aeroponic crops will be the only source of fresh vegetables and fruits.

But the Earth itself has needs beyond the needs of humans. That is the concern. That is why humans have to learn to care for the health of the planet. Humans can learn to take care of themselves. They can also learn to care for the planet, even when their own welfare is not directly concerned.

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25 May 2007

Inconvenient Truths for Climate Modelers

Common wisdom states that it is easier to predict long-range climate than long-range weather. It isn't true, of course. But after 50 to 100 years, who is going to be around to rub it in your face?
A climate model, in contrast, must model more processes than in a weather model (such as biogeochemistry of vegetation on land and plants in the ocean; sea ice dynamics; aerosol processes; ocean circulation; ground freezing and thawing; snow accumulation and melt and sublimation, etc. - see). For some of these climate processes (which involve physics, biology and chemistry) they are modeled, as with a weather model, by a dynamical core and by parameterizations. These include sea ice dynamics and ocean circulation, which both have advection, pressure gradient and gravitational parts, as well as the parameterization of other effects (such as turbulence, phase changes of water). Some of the climate processes, such as biogeochemistry and biogeography have no dynamical core, and are completely parameterized models.

Thus, a climate model involves more parameterizations with their tunable components than for a weather model, as well as additional new state variables (such as salinity, ice, snow, vegetation type and its root depth etc) for which initial conditions are required for all of these variables.

The climate model also has no real world constraint such as supplied by real-world initial conditions (and for a regional model lateral boundary conditions). This real-world data constrains its predictions. Instead, the state variables required for the dynamic core of each component of the climate model (i.e. the state variables for the atmosphere, land, ocean and continental ice) must be generated from the parameterizations!

The claim by the IPCC that an imposed climate forcing (such as added atmospheric concentrations of CO2) can work through the parameterizations involved in the atmospheric, land, ocean and continental ice sheet components of the climate model to create skillful global and regional forecasts decades from now is a remarkable statement. That the IPCC states that this is a “much more easily solved problem than forecasting weather patterns just weeks from now” is clearly a ridiculous scientific claim. As compared with a weather model, with a multi-decadal climate model prediction there are more state variables, more parameterizations, and a lack of constraint from real-world observed values of the state variables.

Climate science is in its infancy. But having been adopted by politicians in the IPCC and EU, and by journalists in the mainstream media, computer modelers who use woefully inadequate GCM's as tools, are as bold as any Grand Inquisition. When you see yourself as part of a holy crusade--a movement of exquisite purity--there is no need to bother with normal standards of rigour. Momentum trumps science--for now.

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24 May 2007

Saudi Arabia and Iran: Pathetic Loser Nations In the Eye of the Storm

Out of Iran's population of 70m or so, 51 per cent are ethnically Persian, 24 per cent are Turks ("Azeris" is the regime's term), with other minorities comprising the remaining quarter. Many of Iran's 16-17m Turks are in revolt against Persian cultural imperialism; its 5-6m Kurds have started a serious insurgency; the Arab minority detonates bombs in Ahvaz; and Baluch tribesmen attack gendarmes and revolutionary guards. If some 40 per cent of the British population were engaged in separatist struggles of varying intensity, nobody would claim that it was firmly united around the London government. On top of this, many of the Persian majority oppose the theocratic regime, either because they have become post-Islamic in reaction to its many prohibitions, or because they are Sufis, whom the regime now persecutes almost as much as the small Baha'i minority. So let us have no more reports from Tehran stressing the country's national unity. Persian nationalism is a minority position in a country where half the population is not even Persian. In our times, multinational states either decentralise or break up more or less violently; Iran is not decentralising, so its future seems highly predictable, while in the present not much cohesion under attack is to be expected.

....We devote far too much attention to the middle east, a mostly stagnant region where almost nothing is created in science or the arts—excluding Israel, per capita patent production of countries in the middle east is one fifth that of sub-Saharan Africa. The people of the middle east (only about five per cent of the world's population) are remarkably unproductive, with a high proportion not in the labour force at all. Not many of us would care to work if we were citizens of Abu Dhabi, with lots of oil money for very few citizens. But Saudi Arabia's 27m inhabitants also live largely off the oil revenues that trickle down to them, leaving most of the work to foreign technicians and labourers: even with high oil prices, Saudi Arabia's annual per capita income, at $14,000, is only about half that of oil-free Israel.

Saudi Arabia has a good excuse, for it was a land of oasis hand-farmers and Bedouin pastoralists who cannot be expected to become captains of industry in a mere 50 years. Much more striking is the oil parasitism of once much more accomplished Iran. It exports only 2.5m barrels a day as compared to Saudi Arabia's 8m, yet oil still accounts for 80 per cent of Iran's exports because its agriculture and industry have become so unproductive.

The middle east was once the world's most advanced region, but these days its biggest industries are extravagant consumption and the venting of resentment. According to the UN's 2004 Arab human development report, the region boasts the second lowest adult literacy rate in the world (after sub-Saharan Africa) at just 63 per cent. Its dependence on oil means that manufactured goods account for just 17 per cent of exports, compared to a global average of 78 per cent. Moreover, despite its oil wealth, the entire middle east generated under 4 per cent of global GDP in 2006—less than Germany.

Sometimes it seems as if the world revolves around Iran and Saudi Arabia--the two headquarter nations for dysfunctional Shia and Sunni Islam. It is clear that both arabs and persians aim to control the Ummah, the body of world Islamic belief. That is why both Saudi Arabia and Iran strive for nuclear weapons--the ultimate mark of power in an international community of third world failing nations.

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The State vs. the People

In Western Europe, it is difficult to imagine that we would have accepted the massively bureaucratic European Union if we hadn’t already been conditioned to accept state intrusion on all levels of our lives in our nation states. The EU became just another layer of bureaucracy. We now have a situation where a massive, inflated national and transnational bureaucracy runs our lives, and even writes our laws. We have become serfs, just as Hayek warned against.

...if individual liberty diminishes with high taxation and intrusive bureaucracy, and if democracies have a built-in tendency to gradually increase taxes and create more state jobs, does that mean that democracy will, over time, diminish individual liberty? Is democracy bound to go through cycles of bureaucratic inflation and collapse?

....Parallel with an explosion in street crime, the state turns on its law-abiding citizens with a proliferation of regulations and an inflation of laws. The less control the state has over the the most important tasks of society, the stronger its desire to assert its power over the tiniest details becomes. Or is it a subtle show of force, a constant reminder to the average citizen of who’s boss, a sign that resistance to state policies is feared?

...“Parliaments all over the world are churning out laws by the bucketful. Yet, they fail to protect citizens so spectacularly that one is tempted to think that this is not their real purpose. […] Governments are no longer there to protect society and the individuals within it. [...] For that reason a crime committed by one individual against another is of little consequence to them.”

...The state interferes in all aspects of life, and contributes to breaking down the nuclear family. Later, it creates expensive social programs to try and remedy the problems it has itself partly created. Whether this dynamic is part of an intentional policy or the result of a dysfunctional ideology is debatable, but the result is disastrous either way.

....When does the rule of law break down? It breaks down when laws are no longer passed with the consent of free people, when citizens no longer feel that the law is just, when regulations become so numerous that it is virtually impossible even for decent individuals not to break the law on a regular basis and when the authorities are incapable of protecting their country’s borders while criminals rule the streets. It breaks down when the law appears increasingly arbitrary, when it invades the most intimate details of the life of law-abiding citizens while it allows great freedom to criminals. In short, it breaks down when it no longer corresponds to reality and to the sense of justice experienced by ordinary people.

Once the people lose the will and the power to limit the size and control of government, the end of liberty and the beginning of serfdom is not far off.

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23 May 2007

A Warming World: Back to Normal? Heresy from the Grand Old Man of Climatology

The modern Earth is warming--recovering from the Little Ice Age of the mid-2nd millenium, CE.
“All this argument is the temperature going up or not, it’s absurd,” Bryson continues. “Of course it’s going up. It has gone up since the early 1800s, before the Industrial Revolution, because we’re coming out of the Little Ice Age, not because we’re putting more carbon dioxide into the air.”

... Q: Could you rank the things that have the most significant impact and where would you put carbon dioxide on the list?

A: Well let me give you one fact first. In the first 30 feet of the atmosphere, on the average, outward radiation from the Earth, which is what CO2 is supposed to affect, how much [of the reflected energy] is absorbed by water vapor? In the first 30 feet, 80 percent, okay?

Q: Eighty percent of the heat radiated back from the surface is absorbed in the first 30 feet by water vapor…

A: And how much is absorbed by carbon dioxide? Eight hundredths of one percent. One one-thousandth as important as water vapor. You can go outside and spit and have the same effect as doubling carbon dioxide.
Read it all at the Source

Reid Bryson received the 30th degree in meteorology granted in the US. At 86 years old he is not worried about his reputation or career. He can speak the plain and obvious truth without concern for the climate police who roam the media of the world, looking for heretics to stone and burn.

For an interesting look into rampant scientific bias that is likely distorting climatology research, see here.

More interesting information here.

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22 May 2007

The Man Who Sold the Moon, Part II

The title of this post comes from a book by SF author Robert Heinlein. It details the quest of a private businessman to conquer cis-lunar space, for profit and the spirit of mankind.

Something similar is happening with internet tycoon Elon Musk, and his private company SpaceX. Musk is betting the farm that he can build a better launch vehicle--one that can compete with the tax-supported dinosaurs from the US, Europe, Russia, and other large governments.
Five years ago, Musk was just another lucky young Internet lion starting a commercial space company. But he was more audacious than his peers — he wouldn't be satisfied with a quick, touristy trip to the edge of Earth's atmosphere, like the X-Prize-winning SpaceShipOne. That rocket, and the passenger version that will make up Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic fleet, goes just over 60 miles high. And still it took the aeronautical genius of Burt Rutan and $20 million from Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen to get SpaceShipOne up and down. Musk wants to fly resupply missions — with astronauts! — to the International Space Station, at 250 miles up in low Earth orbit.

...But first he's got to get the thing off the ground. At the dawn of the space age, between 1957 and 1966, the US sent 429 rockets into orbit; a quarter of them failed. Musk is 36 years old and has spent a fortune to build the world's first privately funded, orbit-capable vehicle to take passengers into space. And now it's sitting on its launchpad, going nowhere. Worse, it's already failed once.

....Before he founded SpaceX in 2002, Musk created two Internet companies: Zip2, which he sold to Compaq in 1999 for $307 million in cash, and PayPal, which went public shortly before being sold to eBay. Musk, the largest shareholder, was 30 years old, crazy rich, and "tired of the Internet."

Sitting in traffic on the Long Island Expressway in 2001, mulling the problems of the world, Musk started wondering about NASA's plans to send people to Mars. Which, he discovered when he finally reached a computer, didn't exist. Musk was horrified. A native of South Africa, he had earned physics and business degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and dropped out of a graduate program in physics at Stanford. He had always been interested in space, convinced that humans were destined to be a multiplanet species. But where were the Columbuses and da Gamas of the 21st century?

...The list of companies that have tried and failed to go orbital is long enough to have spawned a hackneyed joke: What's the fastest way to become a commercial space millionaire? Start as a commercial space billionaire. "Moore's law does not apply to rockets," says John Pike, a space analyst at GlobalSecurity.org. "Humanity has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on space exploration in the past half century, and the numbers have not changed: about $10,000 per pound to put something in low Earth orbit. Elon Musk is asserting that his future is going to be remarkably different, and that's a tall claim."

So how will Musk charge half that? "I thought it would be hard, and it's harder than I thought," he admits. "But I want to make rockets 100 times, if not 1,000 times, better. The ultimate objective is to make humanity a multiplanet species. Thirty years from now, there'll be a base on the moon and on Mars, and people will be going back and forth on SpaceX rockets."

Musk has the right attitude to make it work. In many ways, he seems like one of the heroes from a Heinlein or Ayn Rand novel. And he is spending his own money to try to reach his goal, unlike most of the space evangelists on the stump.

The internet, telecom, computer hardware/software, and consumer electronics have all launched billionaires and mega-millionaires into the financial stratosphere. Clearly, for many of these free spirits, the next big springboard to even greater things is outer space--and the potential to become the world's first trillionaire, even after adjusting for inflation.

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New York City Plans Underground Superconducting Power Grid

A lot of infrastructure that takes up space above ground could be better placed underground. In this earlier Al Fin posting, Columbus, Ohio's project for placing superconducting electrical cable underground was discussed--and this link that contains an amazing flash video displaying the revolutionary possibilities of superconducting electrical cable was provided.

Now, New York City is planning to install a large electrical backbone of superconducting cable beneath the city, in 2010. They are calling it an "attack-proof power line", but of course that is just hype. What it is, is a revolution in urban planning.
The cable will link two substations in Manhattan. The department said the project could lead to further deployment of the technology, which also suppresses power surges.

"We have asked AMSC and Consolidated Edison to demonstrate superconductor solutions in New York City that will serve to keep our centers of commerce on line under all conditions--including grid events related to severe weather, accidents or terrorist attacks," Jay Cohen, the Department of Homeland Security's undersecretary for technology, said in a statement on Monday.

High-temperature superconducting cables made with ceramic materials can carry 10 times more power than traditional cables, but are costly and face technological challenges.

Superconducting cable must be cooled with liquid nitrogen to -382 degrees Fahrenheit (-230 Celsius). At that point, conductivity resistance falls, allowing the cables to carry the extra power.

The New York project will be carried out in two stages, with deployment of the cable by 2010, a spokesman for American Superconductor said.

Modern superconductors do not have to be cooled to near absolute zero with expensive liquid helium, or potentially dangerous liquid hydrogen. Liquid nitrogen is relatively inexpensive, and safe. Superconducting electrical cables are within reach of most large cities, and are better buried underground. Superconducting levitating trains should not be far off. Superconducting magnetic space launch should significantly lower the launch cost for non-biological payloads.

The payoff from 20 year old advances in advanced superconductors is only just beginning to show. In 20 years from now, expect a lot more of the electrical power transmission and distribution infrastructure to be underground. Also expect several technological spinoffs from superconducting technology that as of now, not many people are talking about.


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21 May 2007

Society for Creative Apocalyptology--Apply Here to Register Your Chapter

The editorial board here at Al Fin has come to a momentous decision: we have decided to organise the founding of the worldwide Society for Creative Apocalytpology (SCA). It will be modeled after another SCA, the Society for Creative Anachronism.

While the Society for Creative Anachronism is organised for recreation and historical re-enactment, the Society for Creative Apocalyptology will be organised for recreation and education. Education with the aim of creating a core of competence within each participating community--competence for meeting the various challenges of the apocalypse.

Apocalyptology is the study of the end of the world, better known as doomsday or the apocalypse. Many people are amateur apocalyptologists without being aware of it. Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction happens to be very popular with the reading and movie-going public. It is a short step from watching The Matrix, Aeon Flux, Jericho, or Terminator, and actually taking a serious interest in developing useful skills that could save your life, or the lives of your loved ones.

The Society for Creative Apocalyptology would not be your typical "community organising" political scam. Besides being fun and entertaining education, the SCA might actually save the lives of large numbers of people living in communities lucky enough to possess an active chapter.

We are currently in the process of collecting ideas for how the SCA will be structured. Soon, we will announce the launching of a new web headquarters of the SCA where future plans will be announced. Stay tuned.

It is the intention of the SCA to remain nonpolitical and nonreligious. By focusing upon the core competencies and skills needed by communities who lose their lifelines to the larger economic and emergency systems of their regions and nations, the SCA attempts to assure that a kernel of competency will exist within all participating communities. In a true major disaster that severs the ties of a community from its regional and national lifelines, several problems have to be addressed simultaneously.

It was clear from observing New Orleans and Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, that the local city and state governments were caught completely unprepared. If not for the US military assets who responded almost immediately, the people of New Orleans and southern Louisiana would have suffered far worse than they did.

There are many conceivable disasters and catastrophes that would not allow free-loading and corrupt local governments to abdicate their responsibilities in that way, without suffering far worse penalties than the government crooks of Louisiana suffered.

Do not completely trust your governments at any level, with the safety and well-being of yourself and your loved ones in a disaster, catastrophe, or worse. Be prepared.

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19 May 2007

Ideology and Politics are Secondary. The Important Question Is: Are You Competent?

Because, personally, I seriously doubt that you are--if you are a typical psychologically neotenised, academically lobotomised, child of the western world.

You might try the "Jericho Test." If you have not seen the episodes of the doomed television show Jericho, go here and watch at least the first few episodes. Imagine yourself in such a circumstance. Would you be useful. How?

I recall sitting in an insurance office in a new town, transferring my policy to my new location. My young, attractive female agent was processing my paperwork and chatting with two co-workers who had gathered around the desk out of boredom. Somehow they were discussing a collapse of civilisation and what they could do to survive. My agent made the offhand comment, "at least I could work as a whore."

But there is only so much need for whores, and some of the male survivors of a holocaust would not treat their whores very kindly. So the rest of you might start thinking about other possibilities, while you have a little time. Particularly the college professors among you, who--if you pardon me for saying so--are almost certainly particularly useless in an emergency (unless your training is in applied engineering, technology, or biomedical sciences).

Your politics, religion, and ideology will probably be irrelevant, as long as you are not a psychopath. It is your useful skills that will count.

People always assume that things will continue as they are, in a straight line extrapolation of current trends. People are always wrong about that. Most people need shock therapy to acknowledge things that might go wrong, and to be motivated to prepare.

No matter how busy you are, you still have time to take steps to make you and your family more survivable.

Everyone needs a stockpile of clean water, food, and basic hygienic and first aid supplies. If you depend on a medicine such as insulin, you should have extra medication on hand, and rotate it to maintain the expiration date. If your vital medicines require refrigeration, you should have a way to power a small refrigerator off the electrical grid. (generator with fuel, solar panels with batteries, etc.)

There are many important things to think about, in connection with surviving a massive natural or man-made disaster. The Al Fin blog sidebar has an entire section of links dealing with these issues, about three fourths of the way down. As an added one-time-only bonus, here is an online book on surviving a nuclear war.

Watch the first few episodes of Jericho. Think about it.


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18 May 2007

Alpha Lipoic Acid--An Old Friend Receives New Attention

Alpha lipoic acid has been shown to be a useful health supplement for over ten years. I have personally followed Lester Packer's research on ALA for a dozen years. Now, scientists at the Linus Pauling Institute are belatedly acknowledging what most of us have known all along--alpha lipoic acid shows a lot of promise.
"The evidence suggests that lipoic acid is actually a low-level stressor that turns on the basic cellular defenses of the body, including some of those that naturally decline with age," said Tory Hagen, an LPI researcher and associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics at OSU. "In particular, it tends to restore levels of glutathione, a protective antioxidant and detoxification compound, to those of a young animal. It also acts as a strong anti-inflammatory agent, which is relevant to many degenerative diseases."

Researchers at LPI are studying vitamins, dietary approaches and micronutrients that may be implicated in the aging or degenerative disease process, and say that lipoic acid appears to be one of those with the most compelling promise. It's normally found at low levels in green leafy vegetables, but can also be taken as a supplement.

...."Our studies have shown that mice supplemented with lipoic acid have a cognitive ability, behavior, and genetic expression of almost 100 detoxification and antioxidant genes that are comparable to that of young animals," Hagen said. "They aren't just living longer, they are living better – and that's the goal we're after."

What the OSU researchers now believe is that the role of lipoic acid is not so much a direct one to benefit cells, but rather an indirect aid that "kick starts" declining function in cells and helps them recover the functions that came more easily and naturally in young animals.

In various effects, lipoic acid appears to help restore a cellular "signaling" process that tends to break down in older blood vessels. It reduces mitochondrial decay in cells, which is closely linked to the symptoms of aging. With age, glutathione levels naturally decline, making older animals more susceptible to both free radicals and other environmental toxins – but lipoic acid can restore glutathione function to near normal. And the expression and function of other genes seems to come back to life.

"We never really expected such a surprising range of benefits from one compound," Hagen said. "This is really unprecedented, and we're pretty excited about it."

They may be slow, but at least they are finally going public on ALA, at Linus Pauling.

The combination of alpha lipoic acid with acetyl L-Carnitine appears to help restore youthful function to aging mitochondria. This may eventually be useful in Alzheimer's Disease and other neurodegenerative conditions.

I was particularly disappointed in the Linus Pauling Institute for some of the statements they issued recently discouraging people from taking OTC flavonoids from plants. Based upon some rather pedestrian research dealing with the detectable anti-oxidant activity of several plant flavonoids, the LPI went fairly overboard in discouraging the public from taking these supplements.

Although the LPI admitted that bioflavonoids appeared to be beneficial in reducing M/M in heart disease and cancer, the overall message appeared to be: "They're not as good antioxidants as they're supposed to be, so don't take them."

One expects journalists and social science professors to exhibit such lack of clear thinking, but not world-class bioscientists.

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Peak Oil: Meet Biofuels

The entire transportation infrastructure is based on combustion engines. Combustion engines feature very high energy density combined with very high power density. Such a combination is difficult to achieve with electric storage and fuel cell technologies. So it is natural that a lot of venture capital is being invested in the development of liquid biofuels, to substitute for fossil fuels currently used in the transportation industry.

Biodiesel, cellulosic butanol, and now pyrolytic liquid biofuels offer a renewable way to ease the transition from a fossil fuel based infrastructure to an eventual combustion-free transportation and energy infrastructure.
A team of University of Georgia researchers has developed a new biofuel derived from wood chips. Unlike previous fuels derived from wood, the new and still unnamed fuel can be blended with biodiesel and petroleum diesel to power conventional engines.

“The exciting thing about our method is that it is very easy to do,” said Tom Adams, director of the UGA Faculty of Engineering outreach service. “We expect to reduce the price of producing fuels from biomass dramatically with this technique.”

Adams, whose findings are detailed in the early online edition of the American Chemical Society journal Energy and Fuels, explained that scientists have long been able to derive oils from wood, but they had been unable to process it effectively or inexpensively so that it can be used in conventional engines. The researchers have developed a new chemical process, which they are working to patent, that inexpensively treats the oil so that it can be used in unmodified diesel engines or blended with biodiesel and petroleum diesel.

Here’s how the process works: Wood chips and pellets – roughly a quarter inch in diameter and six-tenths of an inch long – are heated in the absence of oxygen at a high temperature, a process known as pyrolysis. Up to a third of the dry weight of the wood becomes charcoal, while the rest becomes a gas. Most of this gas is condensed into a liquid bio-oil and chemically treated. When the process is complete, about 34 percent of the bio-oil (or 15 to 17 percent of the dry weight of the wood) can be used to power engines. The researchers are currently working to improve the process to derive even more oil from the wood.

Many scientists have opposed biofuels as being inefficient and potentially harmful to the public health. The facts of transportation and energy/heating suggest that petroleum based fuels will trend progressively higher over time, as long as there is no significant recession or depression in the world economy. Given these rising costs, one would expect the smart money to invest in ways to produce useful fuels less expensive than future fossil fuels will be.

Many science bloggers have suggested that biofuels are a dead-end for the future. They say that the costs of producing the fuel are as great as the value of the fuel itself. They suggest that there is not enough land to grow both biofuels and food crops.

These are interesting claims, but they are unlikely to hold up in the face of the economic importance of viable alternatives to fossil fuels that can be used with existing combustion equipment, and such equipment as is likely to be introduced in the near term.

Food crops can be grown economically using aeroponic techniques, in the driest deserts, in outer space, or on sea-floating arcologies. Human ingenuity in the growing of both food crops and biofuel crops has just barely been tapped. The importance of liquid fuels in the trillion dollar infrastructures suggest that liquid biofuels will be very important quite soon, and for at least several decades.

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An Enchanted Life: The Various Uses of Danger for Raising Boys

Something about a boy that requires danger, and adventure. Boys cannot truly grow to manhood without it. Author Conn Igulden exposes this dangerous gap in western child-raising practices in The Dangerous Book for Boys.
Amazon.com: It's difficult to describe what a phenomenon The Dangerous Book for Boys was in the UK last year. When I would check the bestseller list on our sister site, Amazon.co.uk, there would be, along with your book, which spent much of the year at the top of the list, a half-dozen apparent knockoff books of similar boy knowledge. Clearly, you tapped into something big. What do you think it was?

Iggulden: In a word, fathers. I am one myself and I think we've become aware that the whole "health and safety" overprotective culture isn't doing our sons any favors. Boys need to learn about risk. They need to fall off things occasionally, or--and this is the important bit--they'll take worse risks on their own. If we do away with challenging playgrounds and cancel school trips for fear of being sued, we don't end up with safer boys--we end up with them walking on train tracks. In the long run, it's not safe at all to keep our boys in the house with a Playstation. It's not good for their health or their safety.

You only have to push a boy on a swing to see how much enjoys the thrill of danger. It's hard-wired. Remove any opportunity to test his courage and they'll find ways to test themselves that will be seriously dangerous for everyone around them. I think of it like playing the lottery--someone has to say "Look, you won't win--and your children won't be hurt. Relax. It won't be you."

I think that's the core of the book's success. It isn't just a collection of things to do. The heroic stories alone are something we haven't had for too long. It isn't about climbing Everest, but it is an attitude, a philosophy for fathers and sons. Our institutions are too wrapped up in terror over being sued--so we have to do things with them ourselves. This book isn't a bad place to start.

As for knockoff books--great. They'll give my son something to read that doesn't involve him learning a dull moral lesson of some kind--just enjoying an adventure or learning skills and crafts so that he has a feeling of competence and confidence--just as we have. ....Amazon.com: Do you think The Dangerous Book for Boys is being read by actual boys, or only by nostalgic adults? Have you seen boys getting up from their Xboxes to go outside and perform first aid or tan animal skins or build go-carts?

Iggulden: I've had a lot of emails and letters from boys who loved the book--as well as fathers. I've had responses from kids as young as ten and an old man of 87, who pointed out a problem with the shadow stick that we've since changed. The thing to remember is that we may be older and more cynical every year, but boys simply aren't. If they are given the chance to make a go-cart with their dad, they jump at it. Mine did. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to know the book is being used with fathers and sons together, trying things out. Nothing is more valuable to a boy than time with his dad, learning something fun--or something difficult. That's part of the attitude too. If it's hard, you don't make it easy, you grab it by the throat and hang on for as long as it takes.

The book is often bought by fathers, of course. Their sons don't know Scott of the Antarctic is a great adventure story. How could they if it isn't taught any more? Good, heroic stories don't appear much in modern school curriculums--and then we wonder why boys don't seem interested.

Listen to an interview with Conn Iggulden on the Glenn and Helen podcast show.

You may also want to contemplate Cristina Hoff Sommers' message in War Against Boys, when thinking about the much-neglected topic of "what boys need."

Boys are not exposed to adult male role models for much of their lives. Most schoolteachers are women. The curriculum throughout K-12 and into university is slanted toward a feminist, anti-male outlook. With so many single mother households, many boys may not learn the special enchantment that boys must learn, if they are to grow to be responsible, independent, and courageous men.

Western feminism has grown from a liberation movement to a power grubbing movement of cowardly and insecure third rate minds. Feminism has been hijacked by the perpetual revolutionaries--the inferiors who have the need to oppress all other points of view besides their own.

It is the boys who suffer the most, the boys who remain dangerously psychologically neotenous throught their lives. Why does the prevailing ideology in education and western intelligentsia wish to handicap boys for their entire lives? Clearly independent and courageous persons represent a serious threat to an ideological group that wishes to grab and retain its hold on power. If not shackled and confined in monotonous walls of indoctrination early, there is always the danger that boys may eventually grow into men. Men uncontrollable by the ruling ideology.

Rather like what is done to bulls to make them more tractable as steers.

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17 May 2007

Miscellaneous Curiosities, and the Announcement of the 3rd Carnival of Space

The image above shows an amazing new nano-glue discovered by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic.

Researchers at Purdue have developed and patented an Aluminum alloy containing Gallium, that has the ability to pull the Oxygen from water, leaving the Hydrogen gas for other things--like combustion or making electricity in fuel cells. This would allow the production of hydrogen gas "on demand", when and where it is needed, from water.

Physicists at U Penn have developed a carbon nanotube aerogel that can support 8,000 times its weight.

One can imagine combining the three discoveries to produce an ultra-light automobile made of aerogel sandwiched between thin layers of nano-glued materials, powered by on-demand hydrogen fuel cells.

Or perhaps an ultralight rocket ship? Which brings me to the Third Carnival of Space, hosted by Universe Today. This week's carnival has a strong emphasis on recent astronomical discoveries.

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A "Knoxville Horror" to Go With the "Wichita Massacre?"

I have commented about this story on two of my other blogs, but this video presentation presents most of the facts of the case clearly and calmly, for those who prefer video.

It seems to me that when an entire society closes its eyes to so many serious internal problems, that there is not only a failure of the media and the intelligentsia, there is also a failure of leadership.

Blacks commit more violent crime against whites than against blacks. Forty-five percent of their victims are white, 43 percent are black, and 10 percent are Hispanic. When whites commit violent crime, only three percent of their victims are black.
See full story linked above for sources.

A society needs to face its problems and deal with them, not studiously ignore them out of irrational ideological reasoning (PC).

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16 May 2007

Nerve Cells Escape from Flatland--Bask in 3-D Luxury!

When scientists finally got around to culturing nerve cells in 3-D, like natural neural networks, they discovered that the cells behaved much differently, genetically, than nerve cells grown on flat 2-D cultures.
For more than 100 years, scientists have grown human cells in flat dishes. In these 2-D glass incubators, better known as petri dishes, cells stick to the bottom and spread out as they multiply. But in the body, cells don’t grow that way. They are suspended in fluids and gels and surrounded by other cells. And these cells aren’t stuck; they move.

As a result, some scientists suspect that hothouse cells do not behave like in vivo varieties. This means that the critical functions scientists are trying to understand by studying these cells – from the proliferation of cancer to the bacterial assault by antibiotics – may play out differently. Studies indeed show differences in behavior between cells cultured in 2-D and in 3-D. Cells cultured in 3-D, for example, grow faster.

....Hoffman-Kim and researchers in her lab took a line of cancerous nerve cells and cultured them in different environments. They placed one batch of cells in standard petri dishes coated with collagen. They suspended the other batch in a thicker collagen gel. The bioengineers took great pains to be sure that this one-dimension difference was the only difference in the culture conditions. Team members even counted individuals cells as they went into the dishes to be sure that each dish contained precisely the same amount.

After a day of growth, the researchers extracted RNA from the cells and conducted a microarray analysis to determine differences in gene activity. The results: A whopping 1,766 genes responded differently, either switching on or switching off. To check their work, researchers repeated the experiments but this time produced multiple copies of eight genes specifically linked to cell growth. Those experiments confirmed the differences in gene activity.

Each generation of scientists inherits a legacy of obsolete beliefs and practices, which it will either propagate to the next generation intact, or test and discard as needed. In this case, Hoffman-Kim and her colleagues decided to test the traditional methods--so they discovered something new and exciting.

Knowing that nerve cells naturally grow in 3-D, one has to wonder what took neuroscientists so long to perform such tests on 3-D cultures. One of the many problems in science and medicine is that a talent for book work and traditional lab technique, is no guarantee of the ability to innovate and think outside the box.

Many important scientific discoveries have occurred by accident--lucky discoveries from failed or accidental experiments.

With the huge numbers of scientists currently employed in biomedical research, we expect breakthroughs to occur. But the really important breakthroughs may not come about as frequently as we expect, simply because out of all working scientists, only a relative few may be willing to question traditional theories and techniques.

That is why it is so important that debate in science not be squashed, as it currently is in climate studies.


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Silica Nano-spheres Proving Useful in Plant Genetic Research

Iowa State researchers have developed yet another use for their porous silicon nanospheres. They are using the nanoparticles to introduce both new genes and the chemicals that trigger the gene's expression, at the same time, into plant cells.
A team of Iowa State University plant scientists and materials chemists have successfully used nanotechnology to penetrate plant cell walls and simultaneously deliver a gene and a chemical that triggers its expression with controlled precision. Their breakthrough brings nanotechnology to plant biology and agricultural biotechnology, creating a powerful new tool for targeted delivery into plant cells.

The research, "Mesoporous Silica Nanoparticles Deliver DNA and Chemicals into Plants," is a highlighted article in the May issue of Nature Nanotechnology.

...."With the mesoporous nanoparticles, we can deliver two biogenic species at the same time," Wang said. "We can bring in a gene and induce it in a controlled manner at the same time and at the same location. That's never been done before."

The controlled release will improve the ability to study gene function in plants. And in the future, scientists could use the new technology to deliver imaging agents or chemicals inside cell walls. This would provide plant biologists with a window into intracellular events.

...."The team found a chemical we could use that made the nanoparticle look yummy to the plant cells so they would swallow the particles," Torney said.

It worked. The nanoparticles were swallowed by the plant protoplasts, which are a type of spherical plant cells without cell walls.

Most plant transformation, however, occurs with the use of a gene gun, not through endocytosis. In order to use the gene gun to introduce the nanoparticles to walled plant cells, the chemists made another clever modification on the particle surface. They synthesized even smaller gold particles to cap the nanoparticles. These "golden gates" not only prevented chemical leakage, but also added weight to the nanoparticles, enabling their delivery into the plant cell with the standard gene gun.

The biologists successfully used the technology to introduce DNA and chemicals to Arabidopsis, tobacco and corn plants.

The Iowa State researchers are becoming quite clever in the use of their silicon nano-spheres. This is research worth following.

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Peak Oil: Meet Nuclear Oil Sands

Nuclear Oil Sands, the next big thing? Another provocative posting from advanced nanotechnology blog.

As long as the price of oil stays above $50 per barrel, oil sands will be profitable for investors. One of the problems with the ultra-thick bitumen mined from the oil sands, is that it requires a lot of heat to process. By combining a nuclear reactor--with its copious waste heat--to oil sands processing, the process of refining useable oil from gunk is expedited.

If the Canadians are able to navigate the regulatory minefields to make this plan work--against the protests of all of the pseudo-environmentalist activists--the same thing may be used for oil shales.

Alberta and Saskatchewan are experiencing significant booms from oil sands construction and production projects. A lot of jobs are available for skilled workers.

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15 May 2007

More Signs of Maturing in the Infant Science of Climatology

Global climate models are missing a good chunk of plant information that could significantly alter long-term climate change predictions. A new technique for modeling phytoplankton -- microscopic plants in the upper layers of the Earth's waters -- could reveal a much more accurate picture.

"(Other) modelers have populated their oceans with three or four kinds of plants, said Mick Follows, a researcher in MIT's Program in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate. "We’ve represented a much more diverse community, and allowed it to have interactions that regulate it more naturally."

Phytoplankton populations are constantly changing, which makes them difficult to predict. So the MIT researchers developed an algorithm using evolutionary principles to more accurately represent the microscopic plants. A more precise count is important because phytoplankton process carbon dioxide -- a significant contributor to global warming.

....Phytoplankton perform two-thirds of all the Earth's photosynthesis -- the process by which plants turn light, nutrients and carbon dioxide into food. The amount of CO2 processed by phytoplankton during photosynthesis affects concentrations of CO2 in the water, which determines how much of the greenhouse gas the oceans can absorb.

Follows and his colleagues created a model ocean seeded with dozens of randomly generated types of phytoplankton. Like the real ocean, the model accounted for variations in light, temperature and food.

Having set the parameters, Follows' team turned the model on. Over 10 simulated years, the digital creatures competed to survive. Some died out, others flourished, and they gradually settled into their respective niches.

Current marine-modeling systems don't factor in the phytoplankton's ever-evolving nature.

See also:

Climatology: Finally Becoming a Science?

Is Climate Science Finally Growing Up?

And other postings with the labels "climate" and "CAGW".

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14 May 2007

How the US Can Compete With China

China's economic juggernaut appears unstoppable, to the average eye. The US must work under far more stringent rules and regulations in doing business, than the Chinese. Perhaps the answer for the US is to export some of its ideological idiocracy to China, to even the scale.
There was good news in the April 1 New York Times Magazine, in an article by Ann Hulbert entitled “Re-education.” Hulbert describes the enthusiasm among Chinese for American-style education. She opens with the story of Harvard freshman Tang Meijie, an exceptional young woman from Shanghai who earned her way into Harvard by bucking the usual academic grind in China and focusing instead on extracurrriculars. Meijie is on our side: “There is something in the American educational system that helps America hold its position in the world.” Meijie’s goal is to bring American-style liberal education to China.

....Our master plan for dumbing-down Chinese education, however, is not just about atmospherics or theatrics. Let’s not forget: this is American educationism. And that means theory.

...Assured that the Long March of the Revolution will inexorably reach the Great Frivolity of American-style educationism, I can worry a little less about the coming Chinese hegemony.

Along with US-style government education, the US should export its system of tort law along with a generous supply of trial lawyers to China. That would help even the score. Exporting a huge portion of feminist style affirmative action and political correctness would likewise cut the Chinese down to size. They would not know what had hit them! Sexual harassment lawsuits alone would destroy 90% of China's economic growth.

Clearly, the US has some secret weapons that would be very deadly to virtually any other economy in the world. If only the CIA could learn how to implant some of these "memes" into other economies and cultures, the US would have no competition at all for the next century or two!

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13 May 2007

On Mothers Day: To Mother, or not to Mother--That is the Question

Like most of the western world, Canada is facing a serious decline of motherhood. There are many reasons for this problem
How did it come to this? In Canada, one answer is infertility. This affects one in every 15 Canadian couples (in Britain one in six are affected), who spend some $30 million a year on in-vitro fertilization alone. Defined as failure to conceive after one year of trying, infertility can result from many factors affecting both males and females, but according to the government of Canada's Biobasics website, the two biggest factors are delayed childbearing and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Today, mothers giving birth average 29.5 years of age. Since women are born with a given number of eggs that decline in quality and quantity from the age of 30, it is no surprise that for the growing proportion of 30-plus women attempting pregnancy, it is much more difficult to conceive and carry a child.

Compounding the problem, earlier and increased sexual activity means a greater likelihood for contracting gonorrhea or chlamydia. In women, pelvic inflammatory disease and, in turn, blocked fallopian tubes or ectopic pregnancy may result. In men, sterility is possible. According to healthyontario.com, rates of STD infection are up 60 per cent since 1997, with girls between the ages of 15 and 19 incurring the highest rates. In 2003, 20,000 new cases of chlamydia were reported in Canada.

The decline of motherhood suggests a future decline in working taxpayers to support Canada's massive system of social programs. Because Canada has a reasonably healthy economy, compared to most of the world, immigrants will arrive to try to take advantage of the opportunities Canada offers. Canada will receive both economic opportunity immigrants and welfare-seeking immigrants.

Unfortunately, of the nations with the highest birthrates providing the most potential immigrants, the average population IQ is significantly below the Canadian average.

If the IQ of the immigrants is low, they may start as economic opportunity immigrants, and regrettably transform into welfare-seeking immigrants. Dysgenic immigration is the last thing a welfare state like Canada needs--just as it is the last thing the European welfare states need.

France is in a similar downward spiral. Although France has elected a hard-working and intelligent new President, it is still in doubt whether France has the will to do what must be done to reverse its decline.

Delayed childbirth combined with early sexuality, leads to infertility. The only long-term solution--given the dominant culture of western countries--is the artificial womb.

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