30 November 2007

It Has Legs! Amazing Walking Timberjack

This video comes via Ephemeral Isle

This may be another example of "reinventing the wheel." We often forget the advantages of legs over wheels, in our deep dependency on wheeled vehicles to get where we need to go.

My ideal vehicle can drive on road and offroad, fly long distances, swim like a boat, dive like a submarine, and function as living quarters. I can see now where a set of legs might come in handy as well.


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Reading to Maximise IQ and EF: Million Book Project

The Million Book Project, an international venture led by Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, Zhejiang University in China, the Indian Institute of Science in India and the Library at Alexandria in Egypt, has completed the digitization of more than 1.5 million books, which are now available online.
A recent US National Endowment for the Arts report claims that American teens are not reading--which might explain why US children score 15 internationally in reading.
Some of the findings include that, on average, Americans ages 15 to 24 spend two hours a day watching television and seven minutes reading. Also, less than one-third of 13-year-olds read something every day, which is a 14 percent drop from 20 years ago. And, looking at 17-year-olds, the percentage of non-readers jumped from 9 percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004.

...Compared to the rest of the world, American 15-year-olds rank 15th in average reading scores, behind such countries as Poland, Korea, France and Canada. The entire report can be found online.

If you stop hitting yourself on the head, the pain from the hitting will eventually go away. Likewise if children learn to read habitually, the knowledge deficit from not reading will be removed.

Librarians of the US have stated that they stand ready to assist the children of America. But for those who are too lazy to go to the library, the "Million Book Project" has now made over 1.5 million books available online--to children of the world, wherever they live.
“Anyone who can get on the Internet now has access to a collection of books the size of a large university library,” said Raj Reddy, professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon. “This project brings us closer to the ideal of the Universal Library: making all published works available to anyone, anytime, in any language. The economic barriers to the distribution of knowledge are falling,” said Reddy, who has spearheaded the Million Book Project.

...The collection includes a large number of rare and orphan books. More than 20 languages are represented among the 1.5 million books, a little more than 1 percent of all of the world’s books.

Many of the books, particularly those in Chinese and English, have been digitized — their text converted by optical character recognition methods into computer readable text. That allows these books to be searched and, eventually, reformatted for access by PDAs and other devices.

As digital book readers get better, accessing and reading these free online books wirelessly will be effortless. The combination of "One Laptop per Child" with such mega-book digital archives may likewise prove a boon for childhood reading.

Try one of these: Here is a search engine to find free ebooks online. Try the Universal Digital Library link for instant access to 1.5 million books. Consult the alfin2100 sidebar under e-books. Checkout this list of free online books. Go to your local community or academic library and consult a librarian.

There is really no excuse for not reading. I recently listened to an NPR "Talk of the Nation" discussing the NEA report. One retired woman claimed she did not have time to read, because of "global warming!" Nope. No excuse.

If executive function and IQ are not being developed to the fullest, we can correctly blame government schools and the PC multicult approach to education--which automatically trims 1 SD from a person's IQ. But with all the free online courses, books, and information available online, the only person to blame is the parent who sends the child to government school--AND DOES NOT take the responsibility to supplement the child's education with readily available materials.

Hattip: Kurzweilai.net

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A Competent Future? Teaching Executive Function in Preschool

In neuropsychology and cognitive psychology, executive functioning is the mental capacity to control and purposefully apply one's own mental skills. Different executive functions may include: the ability to sustain or flexibly redirect attention, the inhibition of inappropriate behavioral or emotional responses, the planning of strategies for future behavior, the initiation and execution of these strategies, and the ability to flexibly switch among problem-solving strategies. Current research evidence suggests that executive functioning in the human brain is mediated by the prefrontal lobes of the cerebral cortex. Wikipedia

To succeed in life, a human needs control of "executive function."
The term executive function describes a set of cognitive abilities that control and regulate other abilities and behaviors. Executive functions are necessary for goal-directed behavior. They include the ability to initiate and stop actions, to monitor and change behavior as needed, and to plan future behavior when faced with novel tasks and situations. Executive functions allow us to anticipate outcomes and adapt to changing situations. The ability to form concepts and think abstractly are often considered components of executive function.

Tools of the Mind is a curriculum for early childhood that resulted from a collaboration between Russian and American researchers. Recent research published in Science evaluated Tools of the Mind for efficacy:
University of British Columbia Psychiatry Prof. Adele Diamond, who is Canada Research Chair in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, led the first evaluation of a curriculum called Tools of the Mind (Tools), that focuses on executive functions (EFs) that depend on the prefrontal cortex area of the brain. Functions include resisting distraction, considering responses before speaking, mentally holding and using information, and mental flexibility to “think outside the box.”

...The study is published in this week’s issue of Science.

“EFs are critical for success in school and life. The skills are rarely taught, but can be, even to preschoolers. It could make a huge difference, especially for disadvantaged children,” says Diamond, who is a member of the Brain Research Centre at UBC Hospital; Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute (VCHRI); the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Dept. at BC Children’s Hospital; the Child & Family Research Institute (CFRI); and the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) in Vancouver.

“The recent explosion in diagnoses of ADHD may be partly due to some children never learning to exercise attentional control and self-discipline,” says Diamond. “Although some children are strongly biologically predisposed to hyperactivity and wouldn’t benefit from training, others may be misdiagnosed because what they actually need are skills in self-regulation.”

Previous research has shown that EFs are stronger predictors of academic performance than IQ, she adds.

Let me repeat that: "EFs are stronger predictors of academic performance than IQ."

Deborah Leong and Elena Bodrova believe that they have found a way to develop EF in pre-schoolers, that could benefit the children for their entire lives. It will be fascinating to see followup studies for children who undergo this curriculum, to see if the benefits are sustained. Early childhood IQ often diminishes by one half SD by the time the child is in the late teens. Will the same thing happen to EF, a learned skill?

Other studies claim that EF is 90+% heritable. How will those findings be reconciled with this study? Naturally, that will depend upon followup studies for both hypotheses--and replication of results.

My personal opinion is that while EF and IQ are probably both largely heritable, we are not doing enough for children until we optimise environment. If the existing EF and IQ of the child is not being developed, who is to blame? Until environments are optimised, the heritability of these traits cannot be fully expressed.

If EF can be taught with the skills retained into adulthood, one of the foundations of psychological neoteny may just be undermined. And without psychological neoteny, academic lobotomy will be much harder to perform.

In the social sciences (like climate science), talk is cheap. Good science is more rare.

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Peak Oil: Meet Geothermal

With the urgent need to find energy sources that are renewable and don't emit greenhouse gases, geothermal energy is ideal — "the best renewable energy source besides the sun," Kennedy says. Accessible geothermal energy in the United States, excluding Alaska and Hawaii, has been estimated at 9 x 1016 (90 quadrillion) kilowatt-hours, 3,000 times more than the country's total annual energy consumption. Determining helium ratios from surface measurements is a practical way to locate some of the most promising new resources.

There are two Terran sustainable energy sources huge enough to completely displace fossil fuels and nuclear fission: solar (with advanced storage) and geothermal. Geothermal has a big advantage over solar, in that it is "always on."

Science is learning more about plentiful geothermal all the time:
Currently, most developed geothermal energy comes from regions of volcanic activity, such as The Geysers in Northern California. The potential resources identified by Kennedy and van Soest arise not from volcanism but from the flow of surface fluids through deep fractures that penetrate the earth's lower crust, in regions far from current or recent volcanic activity. The researchers report their findings in the November 30, 2007 issue of Science.

"A good geothermal energy source has three basic requirements: a high thermal gradient — which means accessible hot rock — plus a rechargeable reservoir fluid, usually water, and finally, deep permeable pathways for the fluid to circulate through the hot rock," says Kennedy, a staff scientist in Berkeley Lab's Earth Sciences Division. "We believe we have found a way to map and quantify zones of permeability deep in the lower crust that result not from volcanic activity but from tectonic activity, the movement of pieces of the Earth's crust."

Kennedy and van Soest made their discovery by comparing the ratios of helium isotopes in samples gathered from wells, surface springs, and vents across the northern Basin and Range. Helium-three, whose nucleus has just one neutron, is made only in stars, and Earth's mantle retains a high proportion of primordial helium-three (compared to the minuscule amount found in air) left over from the formation of the solar system. Earth's crust, on the other hand, is rich in radioactive elements like uranium and thorium that decay by emitting alpha particles, which are helium-four nuclei. Thus a high ratio of helium-three to helium-four in a fluid sample indicates that much of the fluid came from the mantle.

High helium ratios are common in active volcanic regions, where mantle fluids intrude through the ductile boundary of the lower crust. But when Kennedy and van Soest found high ratios in places far from volcanism, they knew that mantle fluids must be penetrating the ductile boundary by other means.
Berkeley Lab via Physorg and Eurekalert

If accessible geothermal energy comprises many thousands of years worth of energy--not counting solar--does anyone doubt that humans could develop clean fusion energy in that time? With the wealth of geothermal, solar, and fusion energies, I believe humans could learn how to travel between stars in large numbers. At that point, even the dimming of the sun would be only a footnote in the history of humanity.

Of course we need to get from here to there. It will take decades to develop geothermal "hot rocks", and almost as long to develop solar to the point it is not hampered by diurnal cycles of light and dark. Fusion may take 50 years or longer.

That means we will have to use cleaner and safer nuclear fission, vigilant conservation, cleaner fossil fuel technology, and wise use of biofuels--without displacing crops and cropland.

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29 November 2007

Canadian Oilmen Learning to Like THAI Takeout?

Recent posts at Advanced Nanotechnology and Energy Blog shine a spotlight on Toe to Heel Air Injection (THAI) technology for extracting oil from tar sands deposits.
THAI™ uses a system where air is injected into the oil deposit down a vertical well and is ignited. The heat generated in the reservoir reduces the viscosity of the heavy oil, allowing it to drain into a second, horizontal well from where it rises to the surface.

THAI™ is very efficient, recovering about 70 to 80 per cent of the oil, compared to only 10 to 40 per cent using other technologies.

Duvernay Petroleum’s heavy oil field in Peace River contains 100 million barrels and this will be a first test of THAI™ on heavy oil, for which THAI™ was originally developed. Duvernay Petroleum has signed a contract with the Canadian firm Petrobank, which owns THAI™, to use the process.

The THAI™ process was first used by Petrobank at its Christina Lake site in the Athabasca Oil Sands, Canada, in June 2006 in a pilot operation which is currently producing 3,000 barrels of oil a day. This was on deposits of bitumen - similar to the surface coating of roads - rather than heavy oil.

Petrobank is applying for permission to expand this to 10,000 barrels a day though there is a potential for this to rise to 100,000.

The 50,000 acre site owned by Petrobank contains an estimated 2.6 billion barrels of bitumen. The Athabasca Oil Sands region is the single largest petroleum deposit on earth, bigger than that of Saudi Arabia.

THAI promises much better efficiencies for tar sands recovery which converts to better profitability for investors. The huge deposits of tar sands in Canada and Venezuela dwarf the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia. For tar sands, the future is now.

Toe to Heel Air Injection recovery is not suitable for shale oils, but other in situ processes for shale oil recovery are being perfected which should make those resources available for substantial recovery within 15 years.

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28 November 2007

Dental Fembot

The robotic dental simulator featured early in this video from the International Robot Exhibition has a healthy gag reflex, and will moan in pain if the dental student accidentally touches a nerve.
Simroid, a robotic dental patient with an eerily realistic appearance, has been spotted at the 2007 International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo. Designed primarily as a training tool for dentists, the fembot patient can follow spoken instructions, closely monitor a dentist’s performance during mock treatments, and react in a human-like way to mouth pain. Because Simroid’s realistic appearance and behavior motivate people to treat her like a human being, as opposed to an object, she helps dental trainees learn how to better communicate with patients.
Pink TentacleMade by Kokoro Company, also the makers of the DER2 receptionist and guide robot, she is not to be confused with Honey Doll, who also moans--but for different reasons. ;-)

Tools such as this should provide medical, dental, and nursing students with helpful feedback, before performing painful and delicate procedures on actual patients. We are not far from the day when pre-clinical training--including online VR with haptics feedback and realistic simulators--will better prepare the next generation of health care students for a more technologically advanced future.

Update: This Eurekalert newsrelease describes the work of a UCLA mathematician who devises algorithms for state of the art VR surgical simulations for training surgeons:
Making virtual surgery a reality will require solving mathematical equations, as well as making progress in computational geometry and computer science. An applied mathematician, Teran works in these fields; he develops algorithms to solve equations. Advances by Teran and other scientists in computational geometry, partial differential equations and large-scale computing are accelerating virtual surgery.

How human tissue responds to a surgeon, Teran said, is based on partial differential equations. Teran solves on a computer the mathematical equations that govern physical phenomena relevant to everyday life.

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Rat Cortical Column Simulation Update: From Here to an Artificial Brain?

One of the holy grails of neuroscience is the creation of an accurate simulation of mammalian brain cortex. Swiss researchers have been working on the "Blue Brain" project since 2005, and are collaborating with IBM researchers to simulate the neocortex.
By mimicking the behavior of the brain down to the individual neuron, the researchers aim to create a modeling tool that can be used by neuroscientists to run experiments, test hypotheses, and analyze the effects of drugs more efficiently than they could using real brain tissue.

The model of part of the brain was completed last year, says Markram. But now, after extensive testing comparing its behavior with results from biological experiments, he is satisfied that the simulation is accurate enough that the researchers can proceed with the rest of the brain.

"It's amazing work," says Thomas Serre, a computational-neuroscience researcher at MIT. "This is likely to have a tremendous impact on neuroscience."

The neocortical column is considered the functional building block of the mammalian cortex--a logical unit of brain organisation to begin a useful brain simulation project.
The project began with the initial goal of modeling the 10,000 neurons and 30 million synaptic connections that make up a rat's neocortical column, the main building block of a mammal's cortex. The neocortical column was chosen as a starting point because it is widely recognized as being particularly complex, with a heterogeneous structure consisting of many different types of synapse and ion channels. "There's no point in dreaming about modeling the brain if you can't model a small part of it," says Markram.

The model itself is based on 15 years' worth of experimental data on neuronal morphology, gene expression, ion channels, synaptic connectivity, and electrophysiological recordings of the neocortical columns of rats. Software tools were then developed to process this information and automatically reconstruct physiologically accurate 3-D models of neurons and their interconnections.

The researchers now think they have their neocortical column model well enough perfected to begin working on an entire mammalian "brain." They think they can model a mammalian brain realistically within 3 years, but respected neuro-researcher Christof Koch says "not so fast!"
However, none of these results have so far been published in the peer-reviewed literature, says Christof Koch, a professor of biology and engineering at Caltech. And this is by no means the first computer model of the brain, he points out. "This is an evolutionary process rather than a revolutionary one," he says. As long ago as 1989, Koch created a 10,000-neuron simulation, albeit in a far simpler model.

Furthermore, Koch is skeptical about how quickly the brain model can progress. Any claims that the human brain can be modeled within 10 years are so "ridiculous" that they are not worth discussing, he says.

Rat brains have about 200 million neurons, while human brains have in the region of 50 to 100 billion neurons. "That is a big scale-up," admits Markram.

The simulation is at a cellular level, and the researchers want to go deeper to the molecular level. This will put a tremendous strain on the computational infrastructure of the system. And it is not clear what is to be gained at this early stage by going to molecular resolution. Particularly when the cortical function appears to be at least partially based upon oscillatory phase-locking of assembles of neurons, such as columns and columnar groups.

Perhaps the Swiss researchers' "bottom-up" approach, combined with "top-down" approaches by people such as Jeff Hawkins, will begin to simulate some of the function of the human neocortex within the next 15 years. Perhaps.

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Volitan Yacht: Solid Sails + Photoelectric Power

Here is an intriguing yacht concept: solid sails, double outriggers (each with electric motor propeller drive and adjustable underwater stabiliser), and plenty of photovoltaic cells. Check out the video.
Designed by Turkish design firm Designnobis Studio, the Volitan is a new lightweight, futuristic, and green concept boat that runs using solid sails, wind power and solar energy. The name comes froma word that means ‘flying fish.’ Actually, it looks like a fish with her sails down. The functions of the Volitan are controlled and optimized by a networked computer. The solid sails, which are equipped with double layer solar cell panels, are used to harness both wind and solar energy. If the sea goes rough, the boat’s wings fold up against the boat, but there is nothing to worry as because the Volitan is engineered to operate in up to 60 knot winds.

Moreover, the futuristic boat is able to turn on a dime with the help of the two smaller stabilizer wings. Going green is the current trend and owning a green boat would be among the wish-list of the uber-rich. Let’s see if the ingenious concept meets realism.
Hat tip technovelgy


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27 November 2007

Update: The Sun Still Heats the Earth

Not that this will help anyone win a Nobel Peace Prize, but a recent research paper claims that the best evidence shows that the sun is responsible for at least 50% of any recent warming on Earth (since 1900).
A phenomenological thermodynamic model is adopted to estimate the relative contribution of the solar-induced versus anthropogenic-added climate forcing during the industrial era. We compare different preindustrial temperature and solar data reconstruction scenarios since 1610. We argue that a realistic climate scenario is the one described by a large preindustrial secular variability (as the one shown by the paleoclimate temperature reconstruction by Moberg et al. (2005)) with the total solar irradiance experiencing low secular variability (as the one shown by Wang et al. (2005)). Under this scenario the Sun might have contributed up to approximately 50% (or more if ACRIM total solar irradiance satellite composite (Willson and Mordvinov, 2003) is implemented) of the observed global warming since 1900.
Jnl Geophysical Research (full pdf)

Here is commentary from Lubos Motl:
That means that small changes of the Sun can lead to significant changes of the climate. With the preferred magnitude of variability as given by Moberg et al. 2005, one of their conclusions is that that Sun is responsible for roughly 50% of the observed 20th century warming. Not too surprisingly, if they choose Mann 2003 instead of Moberg 2005, the calculated effect of the Sun becomes negligible.

The problem with the CAGW climate orthodoxy is that it does not tolerate debate. By prematurely and arbitrarily declaring that "the debate is over" and "the science is settled," the archbishops of orthodoxy invite their "true believers" to go on witch hunts against the diabolical "deniers"--climate infidels and heretics. Current climate alarmism is like nothing so much as Lysenkoism--the pseudo-evolutionary biological "orthodoxy" of the late Soviet Union.

The closed-minded dogmatism of the climate orthodoxy would surprise no one who ever lived under a Nazi or Communist regime. Nor does it surprise anyone who has managed to recover from an academic lobotomy or psychological neotenic incompence.

More background on the paper by Nicola Scafetta

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Just Born that Way?

I would laugh at you, except I understand that you were born to believe silly things like that. Like what? Like Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming, for example. Or Peak Oil. What about divine creation of the earth and all life? Have I stung you yet? Intelligent Design. Democracy. Monogamy. God or the gods. The true path. Do you believe?

Do you want to know the funny part? No matter how much I may laugh at your silly beliefs, chances are that some of my beliefs seem just as silly to you or someone else just as intelligent as you or I. Whether or not we "believe" does not depend upon our IQ or our level of emotional maturity. It has to do with how our brains are put together--how we think right out of the box. We are born to believe.

At least, that is what neuroscientist/physician Andrew Newberg says in his book and lectures, Born to Believe.
As the field studying the biology of religious experience advances into the next millenium, continued improvements in our abilities to study the brain coupled with better methods of measuring the subjective state of religious experiences will refine our understanding of the mystical mind. However, the ideas presented in this book represent the most up-to-date knowledge and the most complete synthesis of information currently available. The first installment will thus consider several basic principles of brain function as it relates to human experience, and in particular, religious experience.

...The causal operator permits reality to be viewed in terms of causal sequences. This operator seems to have played a significant role in the development of human science, philosophy, and particularly religion. In its basic function, the causal operator tends to impart a sense of causality on all of the events that we observe. Thus, this operator forces us to question why we are here, why does something work the way it does, and what created the universe. In all of these, and in every other instance, we want to know what is the cause that lies behind every event that we experience. Thus, we would suggest that it is the mind or brain itself that is designed to seek out causality. Our brain functions in such a way that it tries to find the cause of all of the things it experiences. If this is the case, then it is a biological necessity for us to seek out causality. Furthermore, there is evidence that our drive to determine causality may be present even as early as infancy. The causal operator has often led to the development of myth formation and in particular, religious beliefs. Religions, in general, offer an answer as to what ultimately causes things to happen in this universe -- power sources, gods, and in the high religions -- God.

The quest to understand religion and mysticism through the lens of science goes back decades.
Scientists and scholars have long speculated that religious feeling can be tied to a specific place in the brain. In 1892 textbooks on mental illness noted a link between “religious emotionalism” and epilepsy. Nearly a century later, in 1975, neurologist Norman Geschwind of the Boston Veterans Administration Hospital first clinically described a form of epilepsy in which seizures originate as electrical misfirings within the temporal lobes, large sections of the brain that sit over the ears. Epileptics who have this form of the disorder often report intense religious experiences, leading Geschwind and others, such as neuropsychiatrist David Bear of Vanderbilt University, to speculate that localized electrical storms in the brain’s temporal lobe might sometimes underlie an obsession with religious or moral issues.

Exploring this hypothesis, neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran of the University of California, San Diego, asked several of his patients who have temporal lobe epilepsy to listen to a mixture of religious, sexual and neutral words while he tested the intensity of their emotional reactions using a measure of arousal called the galvanic skin response, a fluctuation in the electrical resistance of the skin. In 1998 he reported in his book Phantoms in the Brain (William Morrow), co-authored with journalist Sandra Blakeslee, that the religious words, such as “God,” elicited an unusually large emotional response in these patients, indicating that people with temporal lobe epilepsy may indeed have a greater propensity toward religious feeling.

The key, Ramachandran speculates, may be the limbic system, which comprises interior regions of the brain that govern emotion and emotional memory, such as the amygdala and hypothalamus. By strengthening the connection between the temporal lobe and these emotional centers, epileptic electrical activity may spark religious feeling.

To seal the case for the temporal lobe’s involvement, Michael Persinger of Laurentian University in Ontario sought to artificially re-create religious feelings by electrically stimulating that large subdivision of the brain. So Persinger created the “God helmet,” which generates weak electromagnetic fields and focuses them on particular regions of the brain’s surface.

In a series of studies conducted over the past several decades, Persinger and his team have trained their device on the temporal lobes of hundreds of people. In doing so, the researchers induced in most of them the experience of a sensed presence—a feeling that someone (or a spirit) is in the room when no one, in fact, is—or of a profound state of cosmic bliss that reveals a universal truth. During the three-minute bursts of stimulation, the affected subjects translated this perception of the divine into their own cultural and religious language—terming it God, Buddha, a benevolent presence or the wonder of the universe.

... University of Pennsylvania neuroscientist Andrew Newberg and his late colleague, Eugene d’Aquili, have pointed to the involvement of other brain regions in some people under certain circumstances. Instead of artificially inducing religious experience, Newberg and d’Aquili used brain imaging to peek at the neural machinery at work during traditional religious practices. In this case, the scientists studied Buddhist meditation, a set of formalized rituals aimed at achieving defined spiritual states, such as oneness with the universe.

When the Buddhist subjects reached their self-reported meditation peak, a state in which they lose their sense of existence as separate individuals, the researchers injected them with a radioactive isotope that is carried by the blood to active brain areas. The investigators then photographed the isotope’s distribution with a special camera—a technique called single-photon-emission computed tomography (SPECT).

The height of this meditative trance, as they described in a 2001 paper, was associated with both a large drop in activity in a portion of the parietal lobe, which encompasses the upper back of the brain, and an increase in activity in the right prefrontal cortex, which resides behind the forehead. Because the affected part of the parietal lobe normally aids with navigation and spatial orientation, the neuroscientists surmise that its abnormal silence during meditation underlies the perceived dissolution of physical boundaries and the feeling of being at one with the universe. The prefrontal cortex, on the other hand, is charged with attention and planning, among other cognitive duties, and its recruitment at the meditation peak may reflect the fact that such contemplation often requires that a person focus intensely on a thought or object.

Neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and his colleagues documented something similar in 2002, when they used fMRI to scan the brains of several hundred meditating Buddhists from around the world. Functional MRI tracks the flow of oxygenated blood by virtue of its magnetic properties, which differ from those of oxygen-depleted blood. Because oxygenated blood preferentially flows to where it is in high demand, fMRI highlights the brain areas that are most active during—and thus presumably most engaged in—a particular task.

Davidson’s team also found that the Buddhists’ meditations coincided with activation in the left prefrontal cortex, again perhaps reflecting the ability of expert practitioners to focus despite distraction. The most experienced volunteers showed lower levels of activation than did those with less training, conceivably because practice makes the task easier. This theory jibes with reports from veterans of Buddhist meditation who claim to have reached a state of “effortless concentration,” Davidson says.

...Brain scans alone cannot fully describe a mystical state, however. Because fMRI depends on blood flow, which takes place on the order of seconds, fMRI images do not capture real-time changes in the firing of neurons, which occur within milliseconds. That is why Beauregard turned to a faster technique called quantitative electroencephalography (EEG), which measures the voltage from the summed responses of millions of neurons and can track its fluctuation in real time. His team outfitted the nuns with red bathing caps studded with electrodes that pick up electric currents from neurons. These currents merge and appear as brain waves of various frequencies that change as the nuns again recall an intense experience with another person and a deep connection with God.

Beauregard and his colleagues found that the most prevalent brain waves are long, slow alpha waves such as those produced by sleep, consistent with the nuns’ relaxed state. In work that has not yet been published, the scientists also spotted even lower-frequency waves in the prefrontal and parietal cortices and the temporal lobe that are associated with meditation and trance. “We see delta waves and theta waves in the same brain regions as the fMRI,” Beauregard says.

...Inducing truly mystical experiences could have a variety of positive effects. Recent findings suggest, for example, that meditation can improve people’s ability to pay attention. Davidson and his colleagues asked 17 people who had received three months of intensive training in meditation and 23 meditation novices to perform an attention task in which they had to successively pick out two numbers embedded in a series of letters. The novices did what most people do, the investigators announced in June: they missed the second number because they were still focusing on the first—a phenomenon called attentional blink. In contrast, all the trained meditators consistently picked out both numbers, indicating that practicing meditation can improve focus.

Meditation may even delay certain signs of aging in the brain, according to preliminary work by neuroscientist Sara Lazar of Harvard University and her colleagues. A 2005 paper in NeuroReport noted that 20 experienced meditators showed increased thickness in certain brain regions relative to 15 subjects who did not meditate. In particular, the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula were between four and eight thousandths of an inch thicker in the meditators; the oldest of these subjects boasted the greatest increase in thickness, the reverse of the usual process of aging. Newberg is now investigating whether meditation can alleviate stress and sadness in cancer patients or expand the cognitive capacities of people with early memory loss.

Artificially replicating meditative trances or other spiritual states might be similarly beneficial to the mind, brain and body. Beauregard and others argue, for example, that such mystical mimicry might improve immune system function, stamp out depression or just provide a more positive outlook on life. The changes could be lasting and even transformative.

Certainly, if we are born to seek the transcendent, it is plausible that doing so constructively could be beneficial to our immune, neurological, and endocrine systems. Rational spirituality is almost certainly good for us. Even "irrational spirituality", like the "irrational" optimism of Seligman, may be good for us is some cases. The pessimist and the depressive may be more rational, in many situations, but are they more constructive and helpful--more functional?

Our brains cannot know and understand everything about those things we think about and care about. So we are forced to "bluff"--to believe. The fact that we often take our beliefs a bit too far may be regrettable. But it is certainly very much human. We are born that way.

More on Newberg's research and ideas here,here, and here.

Update: Lubos Motl comments on the fact that we take science on faith too.

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26 November 2007

New Sources of Domestic Hydrocarbon Fuels

The technology featured in the video above is but one technology of several that are coaxing large amounts of new oil out of old North American oil wells once thought depleted. The graphic below illustrates how oil wells that have "peaked" may be re-energised to "peak" again.There are a lot of reasons to suspect that "peak oil" has been hyped far beyond any contact with reality.
The U.S. DOE calculates that amount of oil in already discovered U.S oilfields at less than 5000 feet to be more than 218 billion barrels. Keep in mind that just 10% of that equals 10 years of OPEC imports at today’s rates, all of it is enough to run the U.S. economy for 25 years. All of which is just sitting there, in known places, thousands of them that at the 5000-foot and shallower level which exceed the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia. It also leaves out all the oil left behind when wells ran dry – which comes to 300 billion barrels. It’s a resource that the 7000 or so non “Big Oil” U.S. oil companies can bring to market.
New Energy and Fuel

Better drilling and discovery technology is likely to bring in a lot of new conventional oil. What other new petroleum resources are in the pipeline?
In a massive new multivolume report on energy strategy in the United States, a high-powered federal task force puts "peak oil" into perspective. On the one hand, it says, the country has already consumed, in 150 years, 446 billion barrels of its own fossil-fuel endowment. On the other hand, it says, the country has 8.59 trillion barrels left - or more "oil equivalent" than the rest of the world combined. More than 95 per cent of America's oil reserves, in other words, are still in the ground.

Key phrase? "Oil equivalent". Wrap your head around that - "more "oil equivalent" than the rest of the world combined."

For instance - oil shale:

"North American oil shale and [oil] sands alone far exceed all the remaining proven and undiscovered oil resources of the entire world," the task force reports. "They represent 3.5 trillion barrels of oil resources. America's commercial-quality oil shale resources alone exceed two trillion barrels. This shale can be processed to generate ultraclean, high-quality diesel and jet fuels, along with high-value chemicals - with existing technologies under normal economic conditions."
Q and O

Several other interesting technologies for producing new hydrocarbons include energy from garbage (landfills), oil from discarded automobiles (tires, foams, plastics etc.), oil from biowaste (with catalysts, T, P) and oil from synthetic micro-organisms. Many more ingenious energy technologies are in the pipeline. $100 a barrel oil is a powerful incentive for innovation.

As I have stated before, I am a firm believer in photovoltaics, wind energy, micro hydro, OTEC, tidal energy, geothermal, and other clean forms of energy. I am also a proponent of using safe nuclear energy as a way of easing the transition from dirty oil and coal to cleaner, sustainable power.

It is time for the pop media and other influential but unserious voices to stop promoting false images of doom such as CAGW and Peak Oil. We need to outgrow these childish tendencies to promote dishonest scare tactics just to get attention. We need all the brainpower we have to effect a fairly smooth transition to long term clean energy, while also working to bring about the next level.
Hat tip Philosophical Detective

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Community-Scale Nuclear Power--Appropriate Technology for the Nuclear Age?

Bury this hot-tub sized nuclear-decay battery in an underground vault, connect it via heat-exchanger with a high-efficiency steam turbine, and use the 27 Megawatts of heat to provide power for 25,000 homes.
The company Hyperion Power Generation was formed last month to develop the nuclear fission reactor at Los Alamos National Laboratory and take it into the private sector. If all goes according to plan, Hyperion could have a factory in New Mexico by late 2012, and begin producing 4,000 of these reactors.

Though it would produce 27 megawatts worth of thermal energy, Hyperion doesn’t like to think of its product as a “reactor.” It’s self-contained, involves no moving parts and, therefore, doesn’t require a human operator.

...“The lab [ed: LANL] is doing a lot of work on oil shales and oil sands, but there’s no way to get power to those facilities,” Blackwell says. “So, this nuclear battery would be brought in and that would provide the power to run a small city of industrial use.”

Blackwell also envisions that the battery could be used at military bases, as well as in the developing world, where poverty is a product of a lack of electricity and clean drinking water. This week, Hyperion meets with its first potential clients, but Blackwell hopes to approach the United Nations and international humanitarian groups.
Santa Fe Reporter

Antinuclear activists and other naysayers say that it could never work, and even if it could, it would be "wrong." But atomic batteries have a long history of reliable service in space probes and other critical uses. Using such a battery (or small-scale reactors) for in situ recovery of oil shale and tar sands also makes sense.

If you are planning your large scale TEOTWAKI retreat, geared to provide a haven for individuals with the ability to "jump-start" civilisation after a large-scale disaster--this nuclear battery may be the reliable power supply you have been looking for.

With reliable power, a population could thrive underground, undersea, on/beneath polar ice, or in the starkest desert (even in nuclear winter conditions). Using aeroponic food-growing technology, artificial lighting, drilled or melted water supply, sophisticated filters etc. etc. small to medium communities of many types could find a way to develop in relative isolation.

Better, safer, more reliable ways to use nuclear decay to power civilisation (or civilisation's "restart") are coming. Anti-nuclear luddites of limited cognition and competence are a dime a dozen--being mass-produced by modern "educational" systems and pop culture. But just as many "gray" and "black" market economies inevitably exist alongside the mainstream economy, the same is true for intellectual and philosophical streams of thought. It is highly questionable whether our "dumbed down" society could restart civilisation after a global catastrophic event.

Brian Wang expands on the "nuclear battery" concept, and discusses ways it could be used to speed up the trip to Mars.

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25 November 2007

Will This 80 Year Old Woman Soon be Pregnant?

If she is anything like Richard Hanson's PEPCK-C mice, perhaps.
The mice over-express a gene responsible for the enzyme phosphoenolypyruvate carboxykinases (PEPCK-C). Normal expression is in the liver, in the production of glucose.

The scientists found their new mice would eat twice as much as normal mice - but weigh half as much. They could also give birth at three years old - which in human terms is akin to an 80-year-old woman giving birth.

These special PEPCK-C gene-overexpressing Case Western mice can run ordinary mice right off the treadmill.
The mouse can run up to six kilometres at a speed of 20 metres per minute for five hours or more without stopping, British newspaper The Independent reports.

Scientists say that's the equivalent of a man cycling at speed up an Alpine mountain without a break.

...Scientists say the super abilities came about from a standard genetic modification to a single metabolism gene shared with humans.

The genetic alteration to a gene involved in glucose metabolism appears to stimulate the efficient use of body fat for energy production, The Independent reported, citing a study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

These mice are reported to be "very aggressive," for reasons unclear to the researchers. But if you were trying to create a new breed of mice to take over the mouse "niche", aggression would be useful. (For a look at what happens when the PEPCK-C gene is blocked, see this report.)

Skip forward from mice to humans. How difficult would it be to do the same thing with humans? It depends on how ethical you want to be. If you do not care about destroyed embryos and the like, it might not be so hard.
Professor Richard Hanson commented:

"We humans have exactly the same gene. But this is not something that you'd do to a human. It's completely wrong. We do not think that this mouse model is an appropriate model for human gene therapy. It is currently not possible to introduce genes into the skeletal muscles of humans and it would not be ethical to even try."

Hanson says it would be "completely wrong" and "would not be ethical to even try." Which is to say that when someone does indeed perform this experiment on humans, they will want to do so far from the authority of any bioethics committees.

Radical life extension in humans, incorporating genetic modifications such as the one described above, is inevitable.
The technology to enable youthful life spans of centuries is inevitable in the fullness of time - as the cost of developing an application of medical technology falls, the level of support required to complete the task falls with it. Sooner or later, a determined group will gather to get the job done.

So, to the point: the technology base required for the repair of aging is inevitable in the next few decades. Its application to this end, however, is not. That means that radical life extension is not inevitable for you and I; we're going to have to work on making it happen.

How do we make sure that such beneficial technologies are not limited to the rich and powerful? First of all, we have to confront the arguments of those who claim that "youthful life extension" is morally wrong, or that it would lead to overpopulation.

Anyone who thinks healthy life extension is morally wrong is welcome to forgo its benefits. And modern western societies are in far greater danger of population depletion than overpopulation. If technologies of rejuvenation and extending youthful lifespan were limited to societies with birthrates below or near replacement, the overpopulation problem would be limited to the third world where it is currently. Such technologies might motivate residents of the third world to voluntarily limit their procreation.

Aubrey de Grey's recent book Ending Aging is a useful progress report on the SENS 7-step method of fighting senescence. It is worth reading, since de Grey's approach is the best overall approach at this time. But other, more piecemeal research can make astounding inroads into the problems of senescent societies. We need to do what we can, and pay attention.

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24 November 2007

Amazon's Kindle E-Book Reader Sells Out

"Due to heavy customer demand, Kindle is temporarily sold out. Because we ship Kindles on a first-come, first-served basis, please ORDER NOW to reserve your place in line. See availability messaging above for estimated in-stock date."Availability:In stock on December 5, 2007.
Market Watch

Boing Boing has a fact-filled post about the Kindle that is worth reading if you are thinking about buying one of the e-book readers.

James D. Miller has an interesting suggestion for how authors--particularly professor-authors--might utilise the Kindle: Give away your books!

Video above is from Technology Evangelist

More on Kindle from BBC and a rather critical review from Forbes.

Finally, here is a fascinating look at E-Ink, the technology behind Kindle and the Sony reader.


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Record Antarctic Sea Ice Sinks Cruise Ship

The southern hemisphere winter of 2007 was particularly cold and harsh. Antarctic sea ice was the highest ever recorded--and MS Explorer out of Toronto has paid the ultimate price for underestimating the ice.
A Canadian cruise ship struck submerged ice off Antarctica and began sinking Friday, but all 154 people on board, including Americans and Britons, took to lifeboats and were plucked to safety by another cruise liner. The Explorer struck submerged ice and began taking on water through its cracked hull. Photos released by the Chilean navy showed the ship later lying nearly on its side, surrounded by floating blocks of ice. Passenger and crew were picked up by a passing Norwegian cruise ship, the Nordnorge, after several hours in eight semi-rigid lifeboats and four life rafts.


G.A.P. Adventures of Toronto owns the stricken MS Explorer. Company representative Susan Hayes revealed the reasoning behind the ship's dauntless charge into the ice hazard: "...it's highly unusual . . ." When the world is supposedly in the grip of "global warming" a ship's captain might be excused for not believing his own eyes, and supposing his small ship might get away with a little game of "dodge the ice." The captain of the Titanic felt the same way, though the northern hemisphere was barely out of the "Little Ice Age" at the time.

Earth's southern hemisphere has failed to show the same small bit of warming that has been seen in the northern hemisphere. Natural climate cycles depend upon solar effects and other cyclic weather phenomenon caused by the interaction of Earth's atmosphere, oceans, and land masses with naturally varying incoming solar radiation. CO2's heat trapping effect should extend over the entire planet almost uniformly, although other non-anthropogenic climate forcings are distributed unequally over the globe.

Interestingly, while much was made of the 2007 northern summer sea ice, the media is largely silent about the record 2007 southern winter sea ice. Any ideas?

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23 November 2007

Swimming Faster than You Ever Thought Possible

The problem with human swimming is that it is so inefficient! Only 3% of our efforts actually go into forward swimming force, and even with a good pair of fins we are only 10% efficient moving through the water. What if we could swim more like dolphins?
.... the Pentagon’s research wing, DARPA, is developing a contraption that lets Navy SEALs and other combat divers swim faster, and with less effort.

Instead of kicking, PowerSwim calls for a kind of undulation as its hinged foils pivot up and down. Similar to the way a dolphin or tortoise pumps its fins, this motion generates both lift and thrust. And while artificial fins operate within the swimmer’s own wake (they form a kind of expanding cone, starting at a swimmer’s shoulders), the PowerSwim’s lead foil—or propulsor foil—sweeps through the water just outside that wake.

When used properly, the device allows swimmers to cover a given distance up to 150 percent faster than with fins, while using the same amount of energy. Much of that boost in metabolic efficiency is due to the muscle groups used. As DARPA program manager Barbara McQuiston explained, the swimmer is essentially relaxing into a slightly bent position, instead of forcing or pushing the foils through the water. This takes the emphasis off the small muscle groups used to kick, and allows larger muscle groups, such as the glutes and quads, to take over. During tests, it typically took around 2 hours for Navy SEALs to fight the urge (and years of training) to move forcefully and learn the PowerSwim’s unique motion.

While this swimming technology was developed for military divers and swimmers, there is no reason why the rest of us cannot take advantage of a good idea. It appears likely that the swimmer's head would have to remain under water, so the need to breath underwater has to be addressed with compressed air, snorkels, gills, or other devices.

Adventurous swimmers who want to swim great distances might tow a raft containing food and gear. If the sea level of Earth rises as precipitously as many of the doomseekers of CAGW appear to wish, this sea level rise combined with "peak oil" might require a lot more swimming for coastal residents. Many people currently living on the mainland may soon find themselves living on an island. When that happens, if we no longer have fuel for engines, swimming or rowing might be the last resort for a daily commute.

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Peak Oil: Meet Maugeri's TAO

Only around 2,000 new field wildcats (wells made for exploring the presence of hydrocarbons in the subsoil) have been drilled in the entire Persian Gulf region since the inception of its oil activity, as against more than 1 million in the United States. TAO

Leonardo Maugeri's 2006 book, "The Age of Oil (TAO)," is an indispensable look at the past, present, and future of the role of petroleum. Written in two parts, TAO first looks at the human history of oil along with current events of oil. The second and final section of TAO looks at the question of whether the world is at or near "peak oil."
In April 1977, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) delivered a highly influential report stating that the growth of world oil demand would soon outpace production because of constraints on OPEC potential and the impending peak of Soviet Production. By the 1980s, the report argued, oil would be scarce and very expensive....
Maugeri points to three categories of reserves used when referring to future oil reserves.

  • Proven Reserves---defined as the amount of oil and gas in place in known reservoirs that can be estimated with "reasonable certainty" to be commercially recoverable under current economic conditions....profitable recovery of at least 90 percent.
  • Probable Reserves---the probability of profitable recovery falls to 50 percent
  • Possible Reserves---profitable probability of recovery no less than 10 percent.
Maugeri points out that:
During the last 25 years more than 70% of exploration has taken place in the United States and Canada, mature areas that probably hold only 3% of the world's reserves of crude. The Middle East, on the other hand, has been the scene of only 3% of global exploration, even though it harbors 70% of the earth's reserves. In the Persian Gulf, holding 65% of the region's reserves, fewer than 100 exploration wells were drilled between 1995 and 2004. During the same period, 15,700 such wells were drilled in the U.S. Forbes

Future advances in the technologies of production, and refinement--as well as improved efficiencies of utilisation--have the potential to move reserves from the "possible" and "probable" categories up to the "proven reserves" classification. Future advances in discovery technology have the potential to expand all reserves significantly.

A recent declaration by the Energy Watch Group that world petroleum production had peaked in 2006--had passed "peak oil"--was based on an analysis of world petroleum production, without considering either world petroleum reserves or seriously considering the many reasons why world petroleum production might peak from time to time without signaling any type of "peak oil."

Maugeri concludes his book with a look at "resource nationalism," the gloomy reality that most of the world's known conventional petroleum resources exist in territories controlled by dictators and autocrats--Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya, etc. For this reason, oil prices are likely to remain quite high--unless market forces arising from new discoveries and production outside the autocratic zone force the dictators of oil to compete once again.

Remember, nationalised resources do not tend to attract the latest technology in discovery, production, and refinement. That means that a lot of resources remain in the ground.
Despite its long history as an oil producing region, the Persian Gulf is still relatively virgin in terms of exploration. Only around 2,000 new field wildcas (wells made for exploring the presence of hydrocarbons in the subsoil) have been drilled in the entire Persian Gulf region since the inception of its oil activity, as against more than 1 million in the United States. p. 221 TAO

More from Maugeri at National Geographic, Forbes, and Foreign Affairs.

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Underpopulation: Are Women "Baby-Making Machines?"

“The number of women aged between 15 and 50 is fixed. Because the number of child-bearing machines and devices is fixed, all we can ask for is for them to do their best per head.”Pink Tentacle
A computer geek can get away with saying such things. Politicians from Japan and other advanced nations must watch their words, because politics and the media can easily combine to create perfectly destructive political storms.

But it is certainly true that humans are biological machines. And biological machines must reproduce to maintain their populations, given their limited lifespans. Since women in Japan, Italy, Russia, Spain, and other nations are not reproducing to replacement level (2.1 children per mating pair), the population of such countries is dropping "quickly." All the reactionary feminist fury in the world cannot stand up to the biological reality.

So what are advanced nations to do, if they do not wish to let their populations dwindle to ineffectual levels? A depopulated country in the first world is an open invitation to one form of outside invasion or another. For while many nations of the first world are "underpopulating " themselves, not all are doing so. And the nations of the third world are producing enough offspring for everyone. The world population is still increasing--due to third world birth rates.

Is this what Spaniards, Italians, Japanese, etc. really want? To be replaced by third-worlders? Is the only difference between first worlders and third worlders their country of residence?

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22 November 2007

Electromagnetic Brain Stimulation: More on TMS as Depression Treatment

Electromagnetic brain stimulation has been used for Parkinson's,... Alzheimer's,... Tourette's,...dystonia,... simply for overall "brain boosting."

Here is a recent look at using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for depression:
"This study provides new support for the efficacy of TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) as a 'stand alone' treatment for depression," said John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry which will publish the study on December 1.

"This finding could be particularly important for patients who do not tolerate antidepressant medications, for whom they are not safe, or who have not benefited from other alternative treatments."

The treatment works by sending very rapid bursts of magnetic energy into the brain through coils attached to the scalp.

These pulses cause the neurons in a small area of the brain to "fire off," said study co-author Philip Janicak, a psychiatry professor at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

.... This is the first large-scale study of the technique and researchers also used much higher doses of the energy pulses.

Remission rates among those who received the treatment were twice as high as those receiving a "sham" treatment where a shield was placed on the coils.

They were also higher than average rates in antidepressant drug trials, Janicak said.

This is particular significant given that most of the patients in the study had failed to respond to antidepressants - a criteria which would have excluded them from most drug trials, he said.

Researchers in at 23 sites in Canada, the United States and Australian randomly assigned 325 patients suffering from major depressive disorder to nine weeks of magnetic stimulation or a sham treatment.

We are a long way from understanding the complex structure and function of the human brain, and how it shapes our behaviour and conscious experience. Better methods of mapping microscopic nerve pathways in the brain should help, as should better real-time brain imaging techniques used in conjunction with targeted neuropsychological testing.

Using TMS, deep brain stimulation (DBS), neural interface chips, and other non-pharmacological methods of targeted modifying of brain pathways and nuclei should give researchers and clinicians more options for study and treatment of normal and pathological brain/mind processes.

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14 November 2007

Building Farms Up--Using the Third Dimension to Solve Two+ Problems at Once

By the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth's population will reside in urban centers. Applying the most conservative estimates to current demographic trends, the human population will increase by about 3 billion people during the interim. An estimated 109 hectares of new land (about 20% more land than is represented by the country of Brazil) will be needed to grow enough food to feed them, if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today. At present, throughout the world, over 80% of the land that is suitable for raising crops is in use (sources: FAO and NASA).
Vertical Farm

By building "high-rise farms" we solve the problem of the shortage of agricultural land--AND--by building these farms inside urban areas and just outside the urban perimeter, transportation costs of bringing crops to market are slashed appreciably. The food will be fresher as well.

If only a portion of a high-rise was dedicated to hydroponic and aeroponic agriculture, the building would be able to process its waste water - as well as waste water from elsewhere on the utility grid - using it to water the plants AND to reuse as drinking water. Here’s how: The grey water extracted from sewage would be subjected to biological and mechanical filtration, then it would be used to water the plants. The plants, in turn, would transpirate heavily in the indoor environment, and dehumidifiers would harvest this water - this transpirated water would be pristine drinking water, able to be pumped back upstairs or into the utility grid for reuse. This concept of using transpiration from plants in a commercial high-rise agricultural operation to provide the last mile of grey water purification in the urban environment is revolutionary. Along with the surprisingly low, and dropping, cost of desalination, and advances being made in primary sewage treatment, this innovation could SOLVE the issues of potential water scarcity in the urban environment.

But there are even more advantages to "vertical farming" than these three.
  • Year-round crop production; 1 indoor acre is equivalent to 4-6 outdoor acres or more, depending upon the crop (e.g., strawberries: 1 indoor acre = 30 outdoor acres)
  • No weather-related crop failures due to droughts, floods, pests
  • All VF food is grown organically: no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers
  • VF virtually eliminates agricultural runoff by recycling black water
  • VF returns farmland to nature, restoring ecosystem functions and services
  • VF greatly reduces the incidence of many infectious diseases that are acquired at the agricultural interface
  • VF converts black and gray water into potable water by collecting the water of transpiration
  • VF adds energy back to the grid via methane generation from composting non-edible parts of plants and animals
  • VF dramatically reduces fossil fuel use (no tractors, plows, shipping.)
  • VF converts abandoned urban properties into food production centers
  • VF creates sustainable environments for urban centers
  • VF creates new employment opportunities
  • We cannot go to the moon, Mars, or beyond without first learning to farm indoors on Earth
Vertical Farm

Aeroponic farming methods may hold the greatest promise for liberating farming from rural countryside. Aeroponic farming can be quite economical as the economies of scale and innovation come into play.

Finally, vertical urban farming frees up more land for recreation, animal reserves, and biofuel cultivation.

Thanks to EcoWorld

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ADD / ADHD Delayed Brain Maturation--Controlled for Medication?

Brain development in puberty is sensitive to many environmental factors. Children with learning disabilities may have delays in cortical development of from 3-5 years or more, for various reasons. More recent brain imaging studies focusing on ADD / ADHD provide further evidence that some learning disabilities involve brain maturation delays beyond the normal pubertal delays in frontal and pre-frontal cortex maturation.
The scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) compared the brain scans of 446 children ranging from pre-schoolers to young adults.

Of the group 223 had been diagnosed with ADHD.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the brain were carried out twice at around three-year intervals.

The researchers found that the delay in ADHD was most prominent in regions at the front of the brain's outer mantle (cortex), which is important for the ability to control thinking, attention and planning.

Other than this both groups showed a similar back-to-front wave of brain maturation with different areas peaking in thickness at different times.

The imaging study revealed that in youngsters with ADHD, the brain matures in a normal pattern but is delayed on average three years in some regions.

Dr. Philip Shaw who led the research says that finding a normal pattern of cortex maturation, even though it is delayed, in children with ADHD should reassure parents and may also explain why many youngsters eventually appear to grow out of the disorder.

Dr. Shaw and colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Child Psychiatry Branch, were able to detect the thickening and thinning of thousands of cortex sites by using a new image analysis technique which picks up the focal and regional changes where the delay is most marked.

The developing brain is sensitive to environmental insults from alcohol, marijuana, other drugs and chemicals, infection, trauma etc. It is too early to tell if sufferers from ADD / ADHD and other childhood learning disabilities suffered such environmental insults early in their lives, or whether genetic factors are involved.

It is also unclear what effect drug treatment for ADD / ADHD may have on the studied pattern of pubertal cortical maturation. It seems likely that other non-pharmaceutical approaches for encouraging cortical development would be even more effective than pharmacological interventions, or would at least have less potential to harm the developing brain. Time will tell.

As child psychiatrists become emboldened by such studies to devise and encourage alternative treatments for ADD / ADHD, perhaps a future imaging study that controls for medication use will reveal what effect high dosage stimulant use has on the cortical development young children. A child psychiatrist of my acquaintance commented that it will take a lot of effort to break the addiction to stimulants that has taken hold of the schoolteachers, parents, and mental health professionals of North America. He suggested, rather cynically, that billions of dollars are at stake for big Pharma.

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The Decline of US Universities

American Universities suffer from a momentous decline in functionality. Academia suffers from a deep rot that has spilled over into the media and popular culture. Stuart Taylor explains:
the cancerous spread of ideologically eccentric, intellectually shoddy, phony-diversity-obsessed fanaticism among university faculties and administrators is far, far worse and more inexorable than most alumni, parents, and trustees suspect.

Another hyperbolic, conservative rant about liberals in academia? Perhaps I should confess my biases. I do dislike extremism of the Left and of the Right. But I have never been conservative enough to vote for a Republican presidential nominee. And the academics whose growing power and abuses of power concern me are far to the left of almost all congressional Democrats.

...The PC sickness goes far beyond intolerance of dissent. It also has a pervasive effect on course offerings. History departments, for example, offer fewer and fewer traditional courses such as political and diplomatic history, to make room for courses portraying history as a tale of unrelieved oppression of minorities, women, the poor, gays, and everyone else by privileged white males.

Academia's "diversity" obsession is founded on hostility to diversity of opinion. To most academics, "diversity" is a code word for systematic preference of minorities and women over white males in all walks of life. The preferred groups include many faculty members who are manifestly unqualified for their positions and whose websites read like a "Saturday Night Live" parody of wacky professors.

...Over the decades, academic extremists have taken over more and more departments, like cancers metastasizing from organ to organ. For example, the 88 Duke professors who signed a disgraceful April 2006 ad in the school paper spearheading the mob rush to judgment against falsely accused lacrosse players included 80 percent of the African-American studies faculty; 72 percent of the women's studies professors; 60 percent of the cultural anthropology department; and lots of professors in romance studies, literature, English, art, and history.

...Only in American academia could still another elite university -- Cornell -- proudly hire away and tenure a character such as Farred after he had proved himself a malicious buffoon. "We are very enthusiastic about Professor Farred, whose work everyone in this department has long admired," remarked Cornell English Department Chairwoman Molly Hite.

In academia today, a professor who falsely smears his university's students as racists is a hot commodity. And hate means never having to say you're sorry.
National Journal

The dysfunctional intolerance of opinion diversity and dissent by professors and administrators on US campuses requires a firm response. FIRE provides an extremely useful "within the system" response to the monkeys of academia. But merely reminding the perverted princes and princesses of intolerance that their actions and policies must conform to the US Constitution seems too mild a reply to the monkeys. Something more memorable seems called for.

Anyway, there is something about the absolute job security of tenure that appears to make the monkeys reckless and intolerant. Ben Franklin stated that those who trade liberty for security deserve neither. Intolerance should not be provided to professors and administrators who prey on young minds--before their brains have fully matured, and before they have been able to incorporate enough life experience to weigh the ideas of their brainwashers.

We are exposing these intolerant academic monkeys to the public eye, but are their enough effectual persons extant in the public to take proper action?

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13 November 2007

Announcing Google Phone Android Phone

The new Google-developed Android open-source operating system for mobile phones is announced here.

Applications for the Android OS appear impressive. But since the OS is open-sourced, developers will have a field day coming up with better apps. In fact, Google is offering a $10 million award to the best innovation for Android OS. That should get developers moving!

The phones based upon Android should be available the second half of 2008. That gives Apple iPhone a one year warning. Check out more Android OS apps at YouTube

To learn about "Magitti", software from PARC for intelligent phones, go here.

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American Universities Running Scared--Academic Monkeys Don't Want You to Watch This Film!

Why are American Universities trying to prevent the public from looking behind the scenes into campus suppression of free speech? Indoctrinate U. is an indy film produced by young filmmaker Evan Coyne Maloney. But Maloney has been sued by a major US university to prevent him from providing "Indoctrinate U." online. What is it about "free speech" that these academic monkeys cannot understand?

For now, Maloney's earlier film on free speech on campus is available online at Google Video. I will keep the film at the above link as long as Google keeps it online. If you have not seen Indoctrinate U., you can request a viewing at this link.

THEFIRE.ORG is a legal organisation dedicated to defending students' free speech rights. Attorneys at FIRE are accustomed to confronting academics and administrators who are seemingly unaware that the US Constitution applies on campuses. The recent U. Delaware attempt to run concentration/indoctrination camps from within its own student recidence halls is just one example of the egregious abuse of students' rights that universities seem to feel is within their power.

American universities have become bastions of intolerance and indoctrination. Parents who lovingly spend their life savings for a child's education should demand much more from a university than an academic lobotomy and brainwashing. Society should do the same.

The one-sidedness of university administrations and faculty in terms of political/philosophical points of view and financing of extra-curricular activities, lectures, films etc. to students, has crippled the modern students' ability to see more than point of view, or to persuasively argue his own perspective to intelligent and informed persons.

This is the opposite approach to that which universities should adopt. The diversity of ideas is the only form of diversity that is meaningful in education. By restricting students to one perspective, the students have been lobotomised. Too, too bad.

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11 November 2007

Women Putting MenHumans In Their Place

  1. Delayed marriage
  2. Expanded higher education and labor-force participation
  3. Urbanization
When you combine the three demographic trends above, what do you get? You get large numbers of young women who marry late or not at all, are unlikely to ever reproduce to replacement, and build lives centered around limited concerns having mostly to do with themselves.

You may say, "So what? Men have been doing that for decades--it's called "The Peter Pan Syndrome". Maybe it's time women start doing the same? If men have retreated from family responsibility and parenting, why can't women?"

Well, they can, of course, and they are doing so.
Today, the average woman in the world bears half as many children as did her counterpart in 1972. No industrialized country still produces enough children to sustain its population over time, or to prevent rapid population aging. Germany could easily lose the equivalent of the current population of what was once East Germany over the next half-century. Russia's population is already contracting by three-quarters of a million a year. Japan's population, meanwhile, is expected to peak as early as 2005, and then to fall by as much as one-third over the next 50 years -- a decline equivalent, the demographer Hideo Ibe has noted, to that experienced in medieval Europe during the plague.
Foreign Affairs

In large numbers, across North America, Western Europe, East Asia, and now Eastern Europe, women are dictating the terms of the human future.
Seek out the trendy shoe stores in Shanghai, Berlin, Singapore, Seoul, and Dublin, and you’ll see crowds of single young females (SYFs) in their twenties and thirties, who spend their hours working their abs and their careers, sipping cocktails, dancing at clubs, and (yawn) talking about relationships. Sex and the City has gone global; the SYF world is now flat.

Is this just the latest example of American cultural imperialism? Or is it the triumph of planetary feminism? Neither. The globalization of the SYF reflects a series of stunning demographic and economic shifts that are pointing much of the world—with important exceptions, including Africa and most of the Middle East—toward a New Girl Order. It’s a man’s world, James Brown always reminded us. But if these trends continue, not so much...

Combine these trends—delayed marriage, expanded higher education and labor-force participation, urbanization—add a global media and some disposable income, and voilà: an international lifestyle is born. One of its defining characteristics is long hours of office work, often in quasi-creative fields like media, fashion, communications, and design—areas in which the number of careers has exploded in the global economy over the past few decades. The lifestyle also means whole new realms of leisure and consumption, often enjoyed with a group of close girlfriends: trendy cafés and bars serving sweetish coffee concoctions and cocktails; fancy boutiques, malls, and emporiums hawking cosmetics, handbags, shoes, and $100-plus buttock-hugging jeans; gyms for toning and male-watching; ski resorts and beach hotels; and, everywhere, the frustrating hunt for a boyfriend and, though it’s an ever more vexing subject, a husband.

The SYF lifestyle first appeared in primitive form in the U.S. during the seventies, after young women started moving into higher education, looking for meaningful work, and delaying marriage. Think of ur-SYF Mary Richards, the pre-Jordache career girl played by Mary Tyler Moore, whose dates dropped her off—that same evening, of course—at her apartment door. By the mid-nineties, such propriety was completely passé. Mary had become the vocationally and sexually assertive Carrie Bradshaw, and cities like New York had magically transformed into the young person’s pleasure palace evoked by the hugely popular TV show Sex and the City. At around the same time, women in Asia and in post-Communist Europe began to join the SYF demographic, too. Not surprisingly, they also loved watching themselves, or at least Hollywood versions of themselves, on television. Friends, Ally McBeal, and Sex and the City became global favorites. In repressive places like Singapore and China, which banned SATC, women passed around pirated DVDs.

By the late 1990s, the SYF lifestyle was fully globalized. Indeed, you might think of SYFs as a sociological Starbucks: no matter how exotic the location, there they are, looking and behaving just like the American prototype. They shop for shoes in Kyoto, purses in Shanghai, jeans in Prague, and lip gloss in Singapore; they sip lattes in Dublin, drink cocktails in Chicago, and read lifestyle magazines in Kraków; they go to wine tastings in Boston, speed-dating events in Amsterdam, yoga classes in Paris, and ski resorts outside Tokyo. “At the fashionable Da Capo Café on bustling Kolonaki Square in downtown Athens, Greek professionals in their 30s and early 40s luxuriate over their iced cappuccinos,” a Newsweek International article began last year. “Their favorite topic of conversation is, of course, relationships: men’s reluctance to commit, women’s independence, and when to have children.”
City Journal

Of course, you have the old "chicken and the egg" question about which came first: The Peter Pan Syndrome, or the SYF "Sex and the City" lifestyle. But does it really matter? The end result is the same:
But as with any momentous social change, the New Girl Order comes with costs—in this case, profound ones. The globalized SYF upends centuries of cultural traditions. However limiting, those traditions shaped how families formed and the next generation grew up. So it makes sense that the SYF is partly to blame for a worldwide drop in fertility rates. To keep a population stable, or at its “replacement level,” women must have an average of at least 2.1 children. Under the New Girl Order, though, women delay marriage and childbearing, which itself tends to reduce the number of kids, and sometimes—because the opportunity costs of children are much higher for educated women—they forgo them altogether. Save Albania, no European country stood at or above replacement levels in 2000. Three-quarters of Europeans now live in countries with fertility rates below 1.5, and even that number is inflated by a disproportionately high fertility rate among Muslim immigrants. Oddly, the most Catholic European countries—Italy, Spain, and Poland—have the lowest fertility rates, under 1.3. Much of Asia looks similar. In Japan, fertility rates are about 1.3. Hong Kong, according to the CIA’s World Factbook, at 0.98 has broken the barrier of one child per woman.

For many, fertility decline seems to be one more reason to celebrate the New Girl Order. Fewer people means fewer carbon footprints, after all, and thus potential environmental relief. But while we’re waiting for the temperature to drop a bit, economies will plunge in ways that will be extremely difficult to manage—and that, ironically, will likely spell the SYF lifestyle’s demise. As Philip Longman explains in his important book The Empty Cradle, dramatic declines in fertility rates equal aging and eventually shriveling populations. Japan now has one of the oldest populations in the world—one-third of its population, demographers predict, will be over 60 within a decade. True, fertility decline often spurs a temporary economic boost, as more women enter the workforce and increase income and spending, as was the case in 1980s Japan. In time, though, those women—and their male peers—will get old and need pensions and more health care.

And who will pay for that?
City Journal

Of course we see large numbers of third world immigrants making their way into Europe and North America, willing to reproduce well beyond replacement rates, and looking for economic opportunity of one sort or another. Will these newcomers be willing to work their way up the economic scheme of things, or will they want to become dependents on the state--just like the decadent westerners? Why should the third-worlders work their glutes off so the flabby old westerners can live it up on state pensions?

As it happens,men and women look at the world a bit differently. Tradition and social/biological expediency have driven men and women together in the past, for companionship and reproduction. Those forces are much weaker, and other influences and incentives are taking over. Where will these take humanity?

If one takes a look at demographic trends, one sees that the high-achieving "North" is being out-reproduced by the low-achieving "South". IQ testing of populations correlates with GDP of nations. Low IQ/Low GDP nations have excess populations that are moving into the population vacuum created by SYFs and their Peter Pan male cohorts.

What will be the end result of this transition? After all, can we not expect the new immigrants to first world countries to be able to pick up the burden of responsibility, and carry on with what needs to be done? If you actually believe that there is no qualitative difference between a population with low IQ and a population with high IQ, I encourage you to read about "The Smart Fraction."

While it helps to understand basic statistics when studying populations (and most other modern issues), the concepts involved are fairly simple and easy to understand even if you are like most western university graduates--innumerate. The problem is accepting obvious facts that contradict your university indoctrination. Some people can, and some can't. If you can't, don't beat yourself up over it. You are in the same boat with most academically lobotomised, psychological neotenates.

The narcissism observed in Peter Pans and SYFs is simply what happens when life centers around oneself for lack of better alternatives and circumstances.

Interestingly enough, there are some western populations that are reproducing above replacement. Religious orthodoxies, evangelicals, and various sectarian religions are contrarians in the reproduction arena. While this trend may resist some of the dysgenic forces at work, it will not be enough.

Am I saying that you should prepare for the Idiocracy?
No, this is not a message of nihilism and futility. It is merely a prod, a grain of sand within the oyster shell. We live in a comfortable age, where hard work can lead to lifestyles of relative luxury and complacency. I am suggesting that while we are enjoying the results of our hard work, that we consider larger trends that need to be addressed.

More on this theme later.

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