30 June 2008

1 Trillion Barrels Pelosi and Boxer Would Rather You Not Know Anything About

If the current US Congress has anything to say about it, the US will be starving for energy and fuel within the next few years. Trillions of barrels of oil equivalent are buried within North America in the form of shale oil, oil sands, coal, and gas. Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer intend for as much of that black gold as possible to stay in the ground, far away from American consumers.
Geologists estimate the rocks hold over a trillion barrels of oil.

“That is more than all the reserves of the Middle East,” Vawter said.

But this mother-load is locked deep inside deposits across three states.

"Oh gosh, if you took just an acre, you are probably looking at 100,000 barrels of recoverable oil,” Vawter said....

Cobiella met Terry O’Connor of Shell Oil. She asked him: “how much oil did you pull from here?”

“We pulled 1,800 barrels of oil plus a substantial amount of natural gas, also,” he said.

All from a tiny 30-by-40 foot patch tucked inside a Shell Oil compound that was top secret.

When he saw the results, what did he think?

“We were really happy!” he laughed.

Shell's revolutionary approach involves dropping electric heaters deep underground to heat the shale to 650 degrees. At that magic temperature, oil and natural gas separate from the rock and can be pumped to the surface - all with minimal impact to the surrounding area.

“And with a modest amount of processing this is the final product we go, which can be used for jet fuel, diesel fuel and naphtha for gasoline,” O’Connor said.
Raytheon's microwave technique should provide even higher yields--with less use of power and precious water resources.

As long as the US government maintains its anti-energy attitudes, the American people will suffer. And if the American people suffer, the US economy suffers. And if the US economy suffers, the world economy suffers. It is a dangerous game that is being played by the Pelosi's and the Boxer's of Congress. They may not like how it all turns out.

Previously published at Al Fin Energy

Sponsored by Oynklent Green [OTC:OYNK]


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Never Send a Man to do a Robot's Job

Robots are more suitable for many jobs than are humans--once robots achieve the same degree of decision-making competence that expert humans acquire through experience. But since it will probably be a few decades before machines acquire human-level or better intelligence and mental adaptability, another approach called "telepresence" will be quite useful. Telepresence allows a human operator to become immersed in a virtual or real-remote environment, using robotic manipulators and sensors as his eyes, ears, arms and hands.
Telexistence is fundamentally a concept named for the general technology that enables a human being to have a real-time sensation of being at a place other than where he or she actually exists, and being able to interact with the remote environment, which may be real, virtual, or a combination of both. It also refers to an advanced type of teleoperation system that enables an operator at the control to perform remote tasks dexterously with the feeling of existing in a surrogate robot working in a remote environment. We have developed "TELESAR" for realization of the telexistence. Telexistence in the real environment through a virtual environment is also possible. __Tachilab_via_Gizmowatch
The robot pictured above is the TELESAR2 robot for use with the telexistence system at Tachilab. It does not look or act like a real person, but allow for improvement in future robot design and someday it might. Having a real person in control of a remote robot that looks and acts exactly like him/her should provide an imaginative person with some fascinating opportunities. But I digress.

Remote manipulation is already becoming common in the surgical suite, in research labs, on space stations, and on the battlefield. UAVs and UGVs are increasingly being used to patrol battle zones, border areas, and potential crime scenes. It is only a matter of time before human passengers are ferried about by remotely piloted and operated vehicles. Or maybe the human "passengers" will send their robots instead in their place?

With ubiquitous wireless internet coverage over the globe, it will become possible for ordinary persons to go to the highest peaks and the deepest undersea trenches remotely, with the reality of the experience limited only by the bandwidth and reliability of the data link, along with the quality of the hardware at both ends.

David Brin's SF thriller Kiln People describes a world where we can send intelligent copies of ourselves out into the world to perform tasks we may not have time for, or may not wish to do personally. Telepresence is not the same thing, because it would be difficult to control more than one robot at a time. Still, a clever person might find a way to take advantage of "down time" at one location to put in an appearance at another location.

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29 June 2008

Why Is Europe Disappearing?

In 50 years, half the population of many European countries will simply disappear--puff! gone. Why have Europeans stopped having babies, and why does everyone in Europe seem to be avoiding the issue?
For the first time on record, birthrates in southern and Eastern Europe had dropped below 1.3. For the demographers, this number had a special mathematical portent. At that rate, a country’s population would be cut in half in 45 years, creating a falling-off-a-cliff effect from which it would be nearly impossible to recover.

...In Germany, where the births-to-deaths ratio now results in an annual population loss of roughly 100,000, Ursula von der Leyen, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s family minister (and a mother of seven), declared two years ago that if her country didn’t reverse its plummeting birthrate, “We will have to turn out the light.”

...“But you can’t go on forever with a total fertility rate of 1.2. If you compare the size of the 0-to-4 and 29-to-34 age groups in Spain and Italy right now, you see the younger is almost half the size of the older. You can’t keep going with a completely upside-down age distribution, with the pyramid standing on its point. You can’t have a country where everybody lives in a nursing home.” Read the rest at the __NYT
A Europe without children? Europe dispensed with its military infrastructure decades ago, in favour of allowing the US to carry the weight. Other once-vital parts of its infrastructure are going by the wayside one by one.

Welfare states need workers to pay into the system, to provide for all the trusting retirees who assume the system will always be there for them. The challenge for Europe--in the face of both low fertility rates and rising emigration of its brightest and most talented--is to keep the top-heavy bureaucracies running, the infrastructure maintained, and the productive sector producing. Unfortunately, it is the productive sector that seems to be shrinking the most quickly.

Recommended reading:

The Global Baby Bust
Europe's Baby Bust
America Alone (Google Books excerpt)
America Alone (Amazon page)
A Return to Pastoral Europe?
Birth of an Empire
Fiscal Policy and Fertility in the US

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Finally Getting Respect: Understanding Aging Conference Wrapping Up in Los Angeles

After working in obscurity and semi-respectability for almost a decade, Aubrey de Grey is finally getting the recognition he deserves. The Understanding Aging conference at UCLA is wrapping up after a full weekend of presentations.

Probably the most famous presentation of the weekend to hit the news so far, is the potential "cancer cure" being studied by Wake Forest researcher Zheng Cui, who gave a presentation yesterday at the meetings. Zheng's study involves screening 500 healthy young (under 50) adult volunteers for cancer resistance, then selecting the 100 volunteers with the strongest measured cancer resistance and taking white blood cell (WBC) donations from the 100. These WBC's would then be transfused into cancer patients to determine safety and efficacy of the treatment. The approach has proved very successful in mice. More information here and here.

Another interesting presentation was given by Trevor Marshall reporting on studies linking stem cells, cancer, and bacterial infection.

This comprehensive overview from Brian Wang allows a busy non-attendee to briefly sample the research fare of the busy weekend conference. By doing an internet search using a science search engine, you can often find full text articles by participating authors, which should give considerable background on their current research.

Aubrey de Grey's excellent introduction to SENS anti-aging research, Ending Aging, was published in 2007, but the information in parts of the book is already becoming obsolete by the rapid progress in research labs. Thanks to the energy, ideas, and fund-raising by de Grey and his colleagues, anti-aging research is finally coming out of the closet into the daylight.

Previously published at Al Fin Longevity

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Rapid Head Injury Treatment : Polyethylene Glycol

Polyethylene glycol (PEG; 2000 MW, 30% by volume) has been shown to mechanically repair damaged cellular membranes and reduce secondary axotomy after traumatic brain and spinal cord injury (TBI and SCI respectively). This repair is achieved following spontaneous reassembly of cell membranes made possible by the action of targeted hydrophilic polymers which first seal the compromised portion of the plasmalemma, and secondarily, allow the lipidic core of the compromised membranes to resolve into each other. _Source
Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) is a group of multi-use polymers of ethylene glycol, classified by molecular weight. Recently, PEG has achieved increasing use in pharmacology via the "PEGylation" process of attaching PEG to a pharmacologic agent to modify its retention time and binding properties to membranes and receptors. PEG also recently made the news as an experimental nano-cage (via Speculist via Will Brown) to hold hemoglobin as a form of artificial blood.

Now it has been discovered that injection of PEG 2000 MW, 30% by volume, if injected early after brain and spinal cord injury, can reduce long term neurologic deficits.
Treated animals received a single subcutaneous injection of PEG. When treated within 2 hours of the injury, injured PEG-treated rats showed statistically significant improvement in their exploratory behavior recorded in the activity box when compared to untreated but brain-injured controls.

A delay of 4 hours reduced this level of achievement, but a statistically significant improvement due to PEG injection was still clearly evident in most outcome measures compared at the various evaluation times. A further delay of 2 more hours, however, eradicated the beneficial effects of PEG injection as revealed using this behavioral assessment.

Thus, there appears to be a critical window of time in which PEG administration after TBI can provide neuroprotection resulting in an enhanced functional recovery. As is often seen in clinically applied acute treatments for trauma, the earlier the intervention can be applied, the better the outcome. __7thSpace
Closed head injury and spinal injury are common occurrences in developed societies, most commonly from motor vehicle accidents and sports injuries. Given the apparent safety and ease of a single subcutaneous injection of PEG, this treatment should considered for approval for use by first responders/EMS, emergency ward physicians, and sports event physicians and paramedics.

Author: Andrew O Koob, Julia M Colby and Richard B Borgens
Credits/Source: Journal of Biological Engineering 2008, 2:9

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28 June 2008

Don't Look Now, Dear, But I Think that Spider is Looking Up Your Skirt

Spy robots are getting smaller and harder to spot. Militaries and spy agencies around the globe are focusing on small, difficult to detect mobile spy-eyes that can flit, crawl, and sneak their way into the most private settings.
Officials believe these insect- and bird-sized robots will help close the gap on surveillance needs not being met by the larger drones flying in the skies over Iraq and Afghanistan.

...Imagine a Marine or soldier patrolling a city block when he suspects there might be insurgents in one of the buildings ahead. He stops, pulls several small robots out of his backpack and deploys them into the air and on the ground. They fly and scramble ahead, sending back images and audio to a handheld device monitored from the safety of his vehicle or under protection of his comrades. _Source
Or imagine internet-linked tiny spybots in the dressing room of your favourite boutique. Or in the gym locker room of your school? Or just about anywhere you do not want them to be? These are not nanobots, but nanobots are coming and will be much harder to detect than bug-bots.

Our horror films focus generally on human-sized monsters or larger. Our national fears center around huge mushroom clouds, collapsing buildings, exploding trains, planes, cars, and buses . . . If we fear a bit more deeply, we worry about bacteria, viruses, toxins, loosed radiation . . . But what about monsters as small as viruses, but smarter in aggregate than an attack dog? What about nano-monsters that can be combressed in a small wafer sized package, mailed to a city, then when it detects via local radio and television signals that it has arrived, it eats its way out of its packaging, disburses into tiny sub-gnat-sized fliers and proceeds to alter the genetic composition of every person in that city?

The idea is not to be afraid. The idea is to think ahead, and consider your options. You may believe that western militaries and spy agencies would develop no such thing as civilisation attacking nano-neuter-bugs or nano-zombie-bugs. Perhaps. But what about China, Russia, or cooperating narco-terror criminal conglomerates with fingers inside scientific labs?

This is your world. Spiders looking up skirts are one thing. There are worse things out there, in your future.


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27 June 2008

"Mad" Energy Schemes

You are looking at me strangely, but what I tell you is true. You think that solar cells and wind turbines are the measure of natural energy. Bah! I tell you that you are much too timid. Look more deeply into the Earth, for example--into the volcano!
Alaskan officials announced the exploration of the state's volcanoes, saying they could be exploited to provide energy for thousands of homes.

Companies are being invited to lease the rights to explore geothermal resources beneath Mount Spurr, a snowcapped 11,070-foot volcano that most recently erupted in 1992 showering much of Anchorage with volcanic ash. _Source
Yes, are you starting to understand? Or look to the madness of the atmosphere, and seize the power of the tornado!
Michaud got the notion of a man-made tornado — what he calls the Atmospheric Vortex Engine (AVE) — while working as an engineer on gas turbines.

The AVE structure is a 200-meter-wide arena with 100-meter-high walls. Warm humid air enters at the sides, directed to flow in a circular fashion. As the air whirls around at speeds up to 200 mph, a vacuum forms in the center, which holds the vortex together as it extends several miles into the sky. _Source
Or, better yet, call down lightning bolts from the sky! You scoff, but I have seen it.
The mobile laser system is capable of creating long plasma channels inside clouds by firing ultra short laser pulses. Measurements before and after the experiment revealed that the laser system was able to increase the electrical activity inside the cloud, in the general direction where the beam was pointed, thus determining local electrical discharges...by increasing the laser pulses by a factor of 10, they would be able to create longer plasma channels, in order to trigger air-to-ground electrical discharges.

Lightning triggering rockets are only 50 percent efficient and require a lot of time and money to operate. By using a laser system, the process could become much faster, cheaper and could be used for a series of applications which cannot be carried out with the current technology. _Source
But perhaps you are not impressed? Perhaps you have looked at these things before and think them beyond the grasp of men. Then you will surely scoff at this--energy from hydrogen to hydrino conversion! A hoax, you say? If a hoax, it is the most elaborate hoax I have seen!
BlackLight Power has invented a novel chemical process of causing the latent energy stored in the hydrogen atom to be released as a new primary energy source. This allows the negatively charged electron that is otherwise in a stable orbit to move closer to the naturally attracting, positively charged nucleus to generate power as heat. BlackLight Power has recently achieved a breakthrough in power generation by the invention of a solid fuel that uses conventional chemical reactions to generate the catalyst and atomic hydrogen at high reactant densities that in turn achieves very high power densities. Plant designs utilize continuous regeneration of the solid fuel mixture using known industrial processes, and the only consumable, the hydrogen fuel, is obtained ultimately from water due to the enormous net energy release relative to combustion. _Source
I dare you to visit the site and study the papers that describe the science and technology involved! We will then see who it is that is insane! (more here and here)

The things I could tell you ... tapping the energy of the stars for example, or creating an artificial black hole. Or a matter-antimatter power generator! What about powering a reactor with nectar distilled from moonbeam residue?

I tell you, since my last lightning experiment, I cannot remember anything from the past, but these energy ideas fly through my mind at the speed of light! Yes, I see you looking at each other and shaking your heads. I do not have time to care for your doubts. I hear a thunderstorm approaching. I must gather my apparatus and climb the tower steps....


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Iran Growing Desperate, and Dangerous

Even oil at $140 a barrel cannot save the unfortunate country of Iran, sinking under the stone aged mindset of its leadership.
Events in Iran since the Revolution are an eery echo of what has happened in Venezuela since the advent of Chavez. Skilled workers and foreign capital and technology have fled. Corruption has become rampant along with incompetence. Production of over 6 mb/d fell to below 3 mb/d after the Revolution and is currently about 3.8 mb/d. The pre-revolutionary head count of 32,000 employees has grown to 112,000.

Since the Revolution Iran has exported $801.2 billion of oil but nobody knows where that money has gone. “Certainly none of it was invested in Iranian oil infrastructure which badly needs renovation and repair, upstream and downstream.” The author claims the Iranian petro-industry is “on the brink of bankruptcy” although such a claim is not documented.

It is clear that Iran, Venezuela, Mexico, Nigeria, and Iraq together represent an enormous percentage of the world’s oil deposits and production that is being mismanaged. The political and management dysfunctions in all of these countries simultaneously is a major reason for the world’s current energy crisis. If these countries all operated in a standard capitalist mode, I suspect oil would be below $50 a barrel __Source
Inflation in Iran is approaching 30%, and no one has confidence in the national leadership. Ahmedinejad is careful to pay off his supporters in the legislature and the revolutionary guard, but his personal mismanagement of national oil revenues will soon come back to haunt him.
What happened to the US$35 billion of oil revenues that Iran's Shabab News, in a now notorious account, claims disappeared from official accounting during the year through March 2008? Half the country's oil revenues disappeared from the books. A great deal of it left the country for banks in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere; capital flight already was running at a $15 billion annual rate last year, by my estimate.

...Ahmadinejad's patronage system generates payoffs to the political class that have set in motion uncontrolled inflation - officially 25% per year but certainly much higher - and a rush into real assets. A side effect is that the average Iranian urban household, which spends $316 a month, is gradually being priced out of the rental market.

Not only rents but foodstuffs, fuel and other essentials have registered double- or triple-digit price increases during recent months, according to fragmentary reports trickling out of the country. _Source
Iran was once the most advanced muslim nation in terms of literacy and modernity. Similar to what happened to Cuba under the disastrous rule of Castro, Iran under the mullahs has been an unmitigated disaster to the country and to the middle eastern region as a whole. Cosmetic change of leadership--substituting Larijani for Ahmedinejad for example--will not solve the problem. The mullahs have to go.

Iran has become a typical, corrupt third world "payoff nation." The leadership must divert funds from the sale of nationalised resources to pay off its lackey supporters, to maintain power. Iran's average population IQ is just 84, three points lower than neighboring Iraq's population average. The birthrate of Iran is quite low for a muslim country, particularly among the educated classes--a severely depleted national resource, since the mullahs came to power. Iran's human capital at the upper end offers little hope for the future.

Unemployment over 30%, inflation soon over 30% (if not already), violent unrest among its own population... Under Ahmedinejad war--possibly nuclear war--would become an inevitability within just a few years. Under Larijani the future would not be as clear, although Larijani claims to hold the same worldview as Ahmedinejad--he just maintains a more sober outward style. Meanwhile, Russia and China do what they can to suck Iran dry like vampires, pushing it farther into an extremist posture.

A happy ending for this story is not in the cards. More likely is that millions in the region will die in the next regime transition.


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26 June 2008

Oil Is Choking Africa, Biofuels a Better Fit

Africa is suffering from a lack of energy. Even South Africa--the jewel of sub-Saharan Africa--is forced to shut down vital industries due to lack of power.
From South Africa, the continent’s biggest economy, to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is said to have the potential to generate power for the entire continent, the shortage of energy to power growth in Africa has reached crisis proportions. _Source
Factional violence, government corruption, and abject poverty combine to impoverish Africa--even where oil and mineral wealth are abundant. Chinese workers and merchants are moving rapidly into Africa, but western industries are forced to hesitate for concerns over safety and the lack of infrastructure.

The answer for Africa's poverty, energy shortages, corruption, and lack of infrastructure lies in matching the resource to the population. Bioenergy--biofuels from tropical energy crops (both food and non-food)--offer a sustainable way of life for local and regional industry controlled by the local population--not by East Asians or Europeans.
The so-called second generation biofuels have recently gained praise as the solution to Africa's problem of eliminating the competition between biofuels and food production.

Jatropha which can be cultivated in semi-arid, arid, or sub-humid soils, appears to be the viable alternative although it then raises its own conundrum. Growth of such a crop would like a large scale movement of land from food crops or reclamation of forests into growing of fuel crops.

In Mali, Some 700 communities have installed biodiesel generators powered by oil from the hardy Jatropha curcas plant to meet their energy needs, according to Reuters.

Generation of biofuels could help provide solutions to transport costs and reduce expenditure on energy in rural areas by between 30 and 40 percent, argued Paul Ginies, managing director of the Ouagadougou-based International Institute for Water and Environment Engineering.

No matter what we say, today biofuels represent a pragmatic solution in light of the energy problems in relation to soaring oil prices,"

Meanwhile, some experts believe that the impact of biofuels in Africa, if well handled could have a dramatic effect on the millions of people who are adversely affected by the two major crises of our time, of oil and food scarcity.

Growing of biofuel crops like Jatropha could provide the necessary income that would enable farmers to afford the price of food.
The code word for adapting technology for the third world has always been "appropriate." The technology has to be appropriate for the third world region it is being adapted to. That is most important for Africa.

Africa cannot handle nuclear energy, the technology is not appropriate. Even large oil production and oil pipelines are not appropriate for Africa--given the propensity of local populations to illegally tap into the pipelines for fuel, often with catastrophic results. Pipelines are also destroyed in factional fighting, or held for ransom by militia groups in Africa. This technology is not appropriate for these parts of Africa.

Biomass and biofuels, on the other hand, are technologically straightforward, and can be adopted with simple machinery and basic skills. Local farmers can grow the energy crop, use the fuel to provide lighting and cooking fuel for the village, and sell the surplus fuel for cash to buy other amenities. Jatropha Curcus will grow well inter-cropped with food crops, improving the soil and keeping pests away from the food. Other oil seed crops--both edible and non-edible--grow very well in the tropics of Africa, and can be adapted cleanly to the local and regional small-scale economies of Africa.

Wherever there is large scale oil or mineral wealth in the third world, there is rampant corruption, violence, and poverty. For the "do-gooders" in the western world who truly wish to help Africans, it is important to see the problem clearly and act appropriately. Africa cannot handle the large-scale centralised technologies the western world depends upon. The underlying problems are too great. Its rulers are too corrupt. You cannot help Africa from the top down. You must empower Africa from the bottom and the middle up.

China is not in Africa to help Africans. China is in Africa to help China. Unless westerners wish to see the entire continent of Africa becoming "enslaved" to China and Chinese technologies, they had better help Africans to help themselves--and quickly.

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25 June 2008

Quantum Bullets for Rapid Fire Gene Silencing

Scientists at the University of Washington Seattle, and Emory University have developed a rapid method of silencing gene expression by using quantum dots attached to small interfering RNA (si-RNA). The quantum dots carried the si-RNA into the cytoplasm, where it interacted with messenger RNA (mRNA) to prevent translation of genetic messages into proteins.
Quantum dots were dramatically better than existing techniques at stopping gene activity. In experiments, a cell's production of a test protein dropped to 2 percent when siRNA was delivered with quantum dots. By contrast, the test protein was produced at 13 percent to 51 percent of normal levels when the siRNA was delivered with one of three commercial reagents, or reaction-causing substances, now commonly used in laboratories.

Central to the finding is that fluorescent quantum dots allow scientists to watch the siRNA's movements. Previous siRNA trackers gave off light for less than a minute, while quantum dots, developed for imaging, emit light for hours at a time. In the experiments the authors were able to watch the process for many hours to track the gene-silencer's path.

The new approach is also five to 10 times less toxic to the cell than existing chemicals, meaning the quantum dot chaperones are less likely to harm cells. The ideal delivery vehicle would have no effect; the only biological change would be siRNA blocking cells' production of an unwanted protein. __Source_via_NextBigFuture
One key to the quantum dots ability to penetrate the cell wall so effectively, was the use of a "proton sponge" that coated the dots, giving them a positive charge which neutralised the negative charge of the siRNA.

This approach to influencing gene expression is temporary, but is typically easier than trying to change the genome--either genetically or epigenetically. This reversibility is a positive feature for short term gene silencing for specific purposes such as pre and post operative situations, serious acute trauma, shock, sepsis, or rehabilitation from severe illness or injury. Many more uses for this tool will crop up if its safety and efficacy remain high as reported.

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Nature and Nurture Linked by Epigenetics

You cannot separate a person's genes from his environment. The two are irrevocably linked by several mechanisms. One of the most important ways in which the environment affects gene expression is via an epigenetic mechanism called "methylation." DNA methylation is always at work in the animal, initially helping guide differentiation and development of tissues and organs, and responding to the environment and shaping gene expression by putting parts of the DNA "off limits" to the gene expression system, or in de-methylation putting parts of the DNA back "on-line".
Johns Hopkins researchers who studied the genomes of people in Iceland and Utah say they may have found a clue to why people are increasingly prone to disease as they age...a person could become more prone to heart disease, cancer and other diseases of aging because certain genes that used to function no longer do so - or vice versa. Animal studies have shown that such changes can be triggered by environmental forces such as diet...Collaborating with scientists at the University of Iceland, the Hopkins researchers studied two populations over time to see if they could observe changes in the amount of "methylation" present in a person's genome.

...The degree of methylation is part of a person's epigenetics - aspects of an individual's makeup that exist apart from the genes themselves...The researchers tapped into continuing studies in Utah and Iceland, both havens for genetic research because of homogeneous populations. The researchers obtained DNA samples given over a decade apart by 111 people in Iceland and 126 in Utah.

For each person, they measured the amount of methylation present at each point in time - about a third of the subjects in Iceland and 30 percent in Utah had substantial changes over the period.

...Environmental factors can increase the amount and the location of methylation along the genome, influencing whether genes are functioning or not. The changes can also occur randomly, as cells divide and information gets lost or jumbled. __Source_via_Kurzweilai.net
Being able to investigate the state of methylation and other epigenetic states and processes, takes understanding of gene expression light-years beyond the mere genome. Methylation is one means by which a once-pristine genome is "marked by life." As scientists better learn to read the language of epigenetic markers, they will be able to better understand the history and current state of particular organisms (and people).

Of course, being able to modify epigenetic states will be a therapeutic tool even more potent--initially--than gene insertion. The reason for this is that the existing genes already know how to work together. When you pop a new gene into the sequence, you are never quite sure ahead of time how it will work.

More here.

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24 June 2008

Madrasas for Leftists: PC Universities at the Brink

There once was a time when the university environments of North America were not ones of indoctrination and brainwashing, as they often are now. Professor Alan Kors remembers those days:
I was taught at Princeton, in the early 1960s—in history and literature, above all—before the congeries that we term "the '60s" began. Most of my professors were probably men of the left—that's what the surveys tell me—but that fact was never apparent to me, because, except in rare cases, their politics or even their ideological leanings were not inferable from their teaching or syllabi. Reasoned and informed dissent from professorial devil's advocacy or interpretation was encouraged and rewarded, including challenges to the very terms of an examination question.

...In grad school at Harvard, while a few dates left in the midst of dinner on discovering my free-market and hawkish politics, and while I did get thrown out of a party for opposing, when asked, Eugene McCarthy's view of Vietnam (this should have been a warning), the classroom remained open and, by design, intellectually pluralistic....When I went off on job interviews, I was not once asked a question, ever, about my worldview, but only about my historical research and notions of teaching. Politics were simply not in the category of appropriate inquiry.

...What has changed? In terms of the university in loco parentis, which has been restored and expanded with a vengeance, the revolution has been breathtaking....From diverse motives of ideological sympathies and acute awareness of who can blackball their next career moves, they have given over the humanities, the soft social sciences and the entire university in loco parentis to the zealots of oppression studies and coercive identity politics. In the latter case, it truly has been a conspiracy, with networking and common plans. In the former case—the professoriate and the curriculum—it is generally, with striking politicized exceptions, a soft tyranny of groupthink, unconscious bias and self-inflated sense of a mission of demystification. Most of the professors I meet are kind, indeed sweet, and certainly mean no harm. It is profoundly sad to see what they have become.

There also has been, compounding academic problems, a dumbing down of the professoriate that quite numbs the mind—best seen not in the monographs that earn people their degrees, but in the egregious nonsense, crude meta-theorizing, self-indulgence and tendentious special pleading that are not merely tolerated without criticism, but rewarded at the highest levels.

...Academia also has become a place where professors can achieve the highest rewards, except in the protected fields, for acting out their pathologies. In higher education, to paraphrase the Woody Allen stand-up line, we increasingly send our students to schools for learning-disabled and emotionally disturbed teachers....

Academics, in their own minds, face an almost insoluble problem of time. How, in only four years, can they disabuse students of the notion that the capital, risk, productivity and military sacrifice of others have contributed to human dignity and to the prospects of a decent society? How can they make them understand, with only four years to do so, that capitalism and individual- ism have created cultures that are cruel, inefficient, racist, sexist and homophobic, with oppressive caste systems, mental and behavioral? How, in such a brief period, can they enlighten "minorities," including women (the majority of students), about the "internalization" of their oppression (today's equivalent of false consciousness)? How, in only eight semesters, might they use the classroom, curriculum and university in loco parentis to create a radical leadership among what they see as the victim groups of our society, and to make the heirs of successful families uneasy in the moral right of their possessions and opportunities? Given those constraints, why in the world should they complicate their awesome task by hiring anyone who disagrees with them? __WSJ__via_BelmontClub
In fact, Kors is understating the case--pulling his punches. The reality of the modern university is worse than he describes.

Richard Fernandez thinks that the age of academic indoctrination may be nearing its end. He draws that reassurance from J. Richard Gott's "doomsday argument. It is an interesting argument, related to the "anthropic principle" argument in nature. Thought-provoking, but not conclusive.

I sincerely hope that Fernandez (aka "Wretchard") is right. Universities of indoctrination are spewing out minds that are increasingly incapable of standard reasoning and logic. Too often a graduate of a liberal arts or social science program has never been exposed to divergent points of view--never learned to confront intelligent and reasonable people whose deeply held and closely reasoned ideas differ substantially from their own. Naturally he goes out into the world believing that all right-minded persons will believe as he does, and that all others are either dishonest, corrupt, or stupid.

All of that, before his pre-frontal lobes have even completely myelinated--before his powers of judgment have even come close to maturing. How could he possibly know better, unless someone at some point was willing to force him to delve deeply into diverse disciplines of thought and reason?

As Kors explains in his piece above, those halcyon days of intellectual diversity in the university are as good as gone. But is Fernandez right in supposing that this monolithic thought structure, this incompetence, this intolerance, is soon to meet its doom?

Society--in the form of the news and entertainment media, popular culture--has bonded itself to the PC worldview monoculture of the universities. Government bureaucracy increasingly adopts the same forms, and the bureaucracies of corporations and non-profit foundations have been increasingly moulding themselves according to PC intolerance.

There is no doubt that civilisation is attempting to transition from a religion-dominant culture to a secular-dominant culture. But it is not that easy. Society abhors the moral vacuum of the "middle ground." Secular morality has not truly stepped into the gap to provide a firm foundation for sound child-raising or a decent society. Leftist ideology has attempted to fill the void via many universities and much of the media, but for some reason, it has only done half the job. It has torn down most of the traditional moral icons of the civilisation, but its own moral forms have not been widely taken up by the society at large.

So instead of a culture confidently stepping out into the wide-open future, you see a fearful and insecure society full of self-doubt, questioning its own right to exist in the face of widespread poverty and misery elsewhere in the world. Entire nations are shrinking into the moral void, choosing anti-natalist ideas or going after comfort and security instead of taking risks on a wider future.

The human extinction movements are merely the extreme end point toward which a large part of the university educated are shuffling. Choosing to avoid children, or avoiding marriage altogether are other points along the same scale.

The quasi-suicidal carbon hysteria movement is a mere symptom of the basic intellectual nihilism that has followed university graduates into the culture at large. The true problem underlying the symptom is an inability to test hypotheses and theorems. If the hypothesis meets the long-term requirements of your ideology, put your emotions behind the idea, avoid the rational testing stage altogether, and use all the tools of human persuasion in your bag to put the idea over.

There are many other symptoms of the underlying problem, and it would be nice if we could deal with them all, one by one. Unfortunately, the madrasas for leftists are a fait accompli. But fortunately, there are others who are working on the problem.

The dumbing down of society is a serious problem. Solving that problem may require more than just a bit of indirection and lateral thinking. More on that later.

[slight editing for style may occur after original posting AF]

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Cyborgs Unite: Brain Implants/Interfaces Advance

Two recent improvements in the technology of brain implants and interfaces suggest that the age of the cyborg is not far off. First, researchers at the University of Michigan have devised a neurochip that can simultaneously record from the brain AND stimulate the brain to subdue abnormal Parkinson's Disease motor activity. This new chip is able to modify its stimulation appropriately for the brain activity it senses.
Kipke and his colleagues have designed a system that integrates neural recordings from eight electrodes and uses them to program the amplitude, repetition rate, and duration of pulse generation in a 64-channel stimulator. Their goal is to get every component of the design onto a single chip, including the amplifier that connects to the probe, the data circuits, the digital filters, and the microprocessor that decides if, how, and when to stimulate. For now, however, the microprocessor is separate from the rest of the system, which resides on its own chip. “A microprocessor gives information to the chip about where and how, and the chip takes care of the rest,” says Michael Flynn, a leader of the project.

In theory, a device like this could automatically detect side effects or poor performance and change the pattern of stimulation. But the obvious question is, what recordings will give you this information? Where are you going to put these eight electrodes, and what are they going to tell you?...It’s a question that no one in the field is ready to answer because, as Vitek points out, we don’t even really know how deep-brain stimulation works when everything goes right. __IEEESpectrum_via_BrainStimulant
Devices that can "read" the ongoing neural activity of the brain, can also tell the operator precisely where to place the electrodes, theoretically.

Meanwhile, University of Florida researchers have developed a "system" that learns along with the brain by allowing two-way communication via brain implant between the motor cortex and the computer integrator. Brains can learn to control remote hardware devices, and also theoretically re-learn control of muscles.
Fitted with tiny electrodes in their brains to capture signals for the computer to unravel, three rats were taught to move a robotic arm toward a target with just their thoughts. Each time they succeeded, the rats were rewarded with a drop of water.

The computer's goal, on the other hand, was to earn as many points as possible, Sanchez said. The closer a rat moved the arm to the target, the more points the computer received, giving it incentive to determine which brain signals lead to the most rewards, making the process more efficient for the rat. The researchers conducted several tests with the rats, requiring them to hit targets that were farther and farther away. Despite this increasing difficulty, the rats completed the tasks more efficiently over time and did so at a significantly higher rate than if they had just aimed correctly by chance, Sanchez said. __Source_via_NextBigFuture
In other words, the rats are learning to use the interface, and the computer is learning at the same time how to react better to the neural input. Feedback response to both rat and computer will facilitate training of both. Fascinating.

In new, advanced brain implants, the implant guides placement of its own electrodes and is able to compensate for minor misplacement. Advanced implants listen to the brain, and learn to respond appropriately to the signals they sense from neural tissue. In the case of implants for Parkinson's or Alzheimer's, the hardware device can modify neural activity--subduing some impulses, amplifying others, nullifying others entirely, or creating stimuli de novo as needed.

Sophisticated stimulus, response, reward feedback systems can train the brain and the implant simultaneously. The next generations of these tools will allow brains to control remote devices via thought, and will allow damaged brains to regain control of their bodies and minds.

Of course, where there's a cyborg, you may also find a grobyc. Hold on tight to your brains.

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23 June 2008

Biomass Gasification On The Move

Biomass gasification to syngas is becoming the most efficient means of turning waste biomass and garbage into electrical energy. In Iraq, portable gasifier/generators will be undergoing field tests by the US military throughout the summer until August. The use of portable on-site gasifier/generators in Iraq should cut down on the military fuel convoys that have been subject to ambush and deadly IED attacks.

In Washington DC, Auburn University students have been demonstrating their own portable gasifier-on-a-trailer system to the public and hopefully to clueless US legislators.
Auburn University is showing off its mobile bioenergy unit in the nation’s capitol this week, converting wood chips into electricity on the back of a truck near the National Mall.

The mobile unit, used to promote awareness of biomass energy technologies, converts wood chips, switchgrass and other agricultural byproducts into gas, which can be used to generate electricity or converted into liquid fuel. __Source
Gasification of waste biomass and garbage creates H2 and CO, or syngas. Syngas, once cleaned, can either be:
  1. burned in gas turbines to generate electricity
  2. fired to create steam--which can then be used to drive steam turbines to generate electricity.
  3. fermented to make alcohols
  4. run through a F-T process with catalysis to make a wide range of hydrocarbons.

The most economical and high yield methods of performing all of the above tasks--and likely others--are being intensively worked out by scientists, engineers, and inventors around the world.

Vinod Khosla is only one of the shrewd financial backers of this particular form of renewable energy. Some of the world's largest oil companies and automobile manufacturers are also jumping on the gasification wagon.

Previously published at Al Fin Energy
H/T Checkbiotech.com

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22 June 2008

Gloucester Girls Seem to Find Out Early . . .

Teenage girls in Gloucester have apparently decided to do their part to reverse the widespread population implosion occurring across the developed world.
Seventeen girls stayed pregnant, but the interesting thing is that they agreed to become mothers together.

Many girls started going to hospitals to take pregnancy tests, and most of them were disappointed when they found out they were not pregnant.

When the doctors suspected something was wrong, they found out that they had agreed to stay pregnant... _Source
Throughout most of human history, teen pregnancy has been the norm. In earlier, more primitive times, pregnancy and childbirth was a rite of passage for young women, just as the first hunt or the first battle was a rite of passage for young men. In more modern, humane times, children are protected from all meaningful responsibility and real contact with hard realities throughout childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. Fewer are marrying, and fewer are having children.

The "Global Baby Bust" is a very real phenomenon, and a genuine threat to the developed world--even to western civilisation. Japan, Russia, Italy, Spain, and other developed nations are literally shrinking before our eyes. Social welfare states that are based upon a pyramid-scheme of cradle to grave benefits from wealth redistribution, are finding it more and more difficult to fund their massive social bureaucracies. Even the US is seeing its national debt in an irrevocable upward spiral due to massive entitlements--primarily to senior citizens--without a corresponding rapid growth in young taxpayers to support the system.

The young female body is custom-made by nature to have babies. Its eggs are pristine and viable, and the strength and flexibility of the young body is better able to rebound from the serious physical demands of pregnancy and childbirth.

Ever since Madonna recorded her hit "Papa Don't Preach, I'm Keeping My Baby", the idea that it is okay for teen girls to go ahead and have their babies has been percolating in teen culture--not just among celebrities like Britney Spears' younger sister. It gives the appearance of a primal mini-rebellion of sorts against the anti-natalist pop culture that has descended from our feminist overlords to smother the natural instinct to procreate.

The problem in Worcester is not teen childbirth. The problem is not having a good plan of how to care for the infants once they are born. In the early days of Israel, the kibbutz was a common means of child-raising, and there was no stigma attached to being a kibbutznik. In the face of a popular culture that cannot be bothered with taking care of babies and children, one wonders if the revival of the kibbutz may become necessary.

Many singularitarians assure me that the singularity will occur well before western civilisation is overrun by faster breeding and more barbarian civilisations. Forgive me if I am not reassured. History teaches us that more procreative cultures tend to conquer and either obliterate or absorb less prolific cultures. There are no guarantees of survival to cultures that place more value on human rights and diversity. When it comes to survival, you had best look out for your own.

Teenage girls have not had the time and do not generally have the depth to consider the historical or demographic aspects to their decisions or impulses. They possess minds that can achieve incredible things, if put to the task. They also have bodies that were made to bear children.

Perhaps teenage girls should bear the children, and older, wiser people should raise them--their grandparents perhaps? If girls have children young, then go on to achieve success in academics and professions, by the time they start thinking about raising children, either their own children or grandchildren should be having kids for them to raise. And they will still be quite young, compared to grandparents and great-grandparents, historically.

Things change.


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21 June 2008

90% Biomass to Electricity Efficiencies in the Pipe

UK researchers have combined two types of fuel cells, and made some important discoveries about the use of solid carbon--including biomass carbon--in efficient fuel cell power production.
Direct carbon fuel cells run on solid carbon fuel and typically use solid oxide or molten carbonate electrolytes to transport ions between the electrodes. John Irvine at the University of St Andrews and colleagues made a hybrid direct carbon fuel cell containing both types of electrolyte. They found that the binary electrolyte system enhanced carbon oxidation because carbon was oxidised not only on the electrode surface but also in the carbon-electrolyte slurry...

Solid carbon, which comes from various sources such as coal or plants, packs a lot of energy into a small volume, making it an attractive fuel. Irvine states that coal will be a major energy source in the future but, unless it can be converted into electricity more efficiently, will lead to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions. Fuel cells could be the answer, he says. 'Carbon fuel cells offer very high efficiency of conversion and, if implemented in the correct way, can yield two to three times the amount of energy for a given amount of coal compared to conventional thermal generation,' he explains. __Source_via_fuelcellworks
The carbon fuel cell appears to be an even more efficient means to produce cellulosic electricity than using the gasification to turbine (steam or gas) routes. Thermal generation from coal or torrefied biomass may achieve 30% to 40% electric generation efficiency (above 50% in combined cycle operation). Fuel cell generation efficiencies might reach above 80% combined cycle, eventually higher.

The promise of 90% or higher efficiencies from biomass electricity production is a potent goal. Keep in mind that combined heat and power (CHP) is the way of the future. Whether capturing waste heat from heat engine generators such as steam or gas turbines, or capturing waste heat from fuel cells, that added power generated from waste heat of power production can make the difference between an energy-rich "power to spare" society, and a brown-out society like Caw-lee-forn-ya.

Excerpted and modified from a previously published article at Al Fin Energy.

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20 June 2008

No Legs to Run: How "Runaway" Global Warming Lost Its Legs and Was Stopped Cold

Scientists are puzzled as to why the oceans and atmosphere of Earth have stopped warming. Theories run from the cosmic (cosmic rays) to the solar (sunspot cycles) to the subterranean (volcanic aerosols). One of the most interesting theories in the running, in my opinion, is the Miskolczi theory of The Saturated Greenhouse Effect.
A very interesting theory of global warming proposed by the Hungarian mathematician Ferenc Miskolczi contains a simple proof that the greenhouse effect is bound to a fixed value and cannot ‘runaway’, or even increase. __Follow the argument at the Source
Water is the most important greenhouse gas in Earth's atmosphere by far. Science has been very slow to understand the various roles of liquid water, water vapour, and various types of clouds in the regulation of Earth's climate.
There is a near infinite supply of greenhouse gases available to the atmosphere in the form of water vapor from the ocean to provide the greenhouse effect, but the relative humidity in the atmosphere is much less than one. Therefore, there must be some greenhouse equilibrium mechanism to control, the strength of the greenhouse effect and the relative humidity. Otherwise, climate would be very unstable. The global average relative humidity at the surface is about 78%. It generally decreases with altitude and is about 37% at an altitude where the atmospheric pressure is 300 millibars (mb). Relative humidity is the fraction of water vapour in a small parcel of air relative to the total amount of water vapour the air could contain at the given temperature and pressure. So why isn’t the relative humidity 90%, or vary randomly? Relative humidity is at its current value because it is controlled by the laws of physics. __Source
In order to understand the Miskolczi theory, and how important it may prove to be in the ultimate outcome of the climate debate, you must spend some time with the various links I have provided. Anthony Watts recently took a look at this issue, and it is likely that the topic will spread like wildfire once more people start to catch on to the implications.

Be sure to check out this series of articles by David Stockwell, and this technical proof of Miskolczi's theory.


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19 June 2008

US Congressional Asylum: Criminally Insane?

Fuel prices are high enough in the US to squeeze budgets of families and corporations. The mood is grim in many parts of the country, and people are looking for someone to blame. What we are seeing now resembles nothing so much as a lynching mob. And the US Congress has witlessly placed itself firmly front and center--following an invalid and obsolete ideology. An ideology that threatens to sink the US economy. More and more people are seeing what the Congress is doing, and they do not like it even a little bit.
...they are against business, against investments in domestic energy supply and for aggressive carbon controls... __Source
High oil prices are beginning to cook up a dangerous inflationary brew. By the time the next president is settled into office, the inflationary trend could be irrevocable--if Congress continues down its current slippery slope.
No profits. No exploration. No drilling. And no domestic oil with which to correct our dependence on foreign oil and thus provide a measure of security to a nation that runs on oil. __Source
Obama, McCain, and the Democratic Party dominated US Congress are all pointing the finger at big oil companies. They have put huge deposits of shale oil off-limits, have hamstrung coal-to-liquids processes that could provide oil at $30 a barrel, have paralysed the nuclear energy industry, and a number of Democratic Congressmen are even calling for nationalising the oil refinery industry.

But a rapidly growing proportion of US voters can clearly see that it is Congress itself that is limiting the options of the American economy. Even a national media that is sycophantic toward both Obama and the Democratic Party cannot stop the groundswell of awareness by the public, of how the Congress is shutting off US energy options.

If Congress continues along this road, there will be a price to pay. Oynklent Green [OTC:OYNK] is monitoring the situation closely.

Excerpted and modified from a previously published Abu Al-Fin piece

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DOE Pushing Progress in Enhanced Geothermal

EGS are systems of engineered reservoirs created by drilling deep wells into hot rock, fracturing the rock, and circulating a fluid through the wells to extract heat. __GCC
The US Department of Energy is offering up to $90 million to advance the state of the art in enhanced geothermal energy production. By the year 2050, enhanced geothermal may generate 20% of the electricity produced by US utilities.
The DOE report found that there are three critical assumptions about EGS technology that require thorough evaluation and testing before the economic viability of EGS can be confirmed:

1. Demonstration of commercial-scale reservoir. This requires stimulation and maintenance of a large volume of rock (equivalent to several cubic kilometers) in order to minimize temperature decline in the reservoir. Actual stimulated volumes have not been reliably quantified in previous work.

2. Sustained reservoir production. The MIT study concludes that 200°C fluid flowing at 80 kg/sec (equivalent to about 5 MWe) is needed for economic viability. No EGS project to date has attained flow rates in excess of ~25 kg/sec.

3. Replication of EGS reservoir performance. EGS technology has not been proven to work at commercial scales over a range of sites with different geologic characteristics. __GCC
The actual available energy in the hot dry rock layers far exceeds all energy used by humans on Earth. It will require new technology to retrieve that energy, however. Geothermal is baseload energy--available 24 hours a day, every day. Until we have space-based solar, or until utility scale electrical storage is cheaper than dirt, that advantage puts geothermal far ahead of other renewables.

Let's see, 20% of US electricity from enhanced geothermal, another 20% of US electricity from waste heat recovery--before you know it, you're talking about real power.

Previously published at Al Fin Energy

Update: An assessment of China's geothermal potential


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18 June 2008

Bimbo Money and Economic Volatility

The US Dollar, the basis for much of the economy of the world, has become a bimbo. A skank, a tramp, a slut. Easily manipulated, swayed, and counterfeited. Would you want to marry a slut? Then why would you put a slut in your wallet or bank account? High oil prices and food prices that are pushing the global economy toward dangerous inflation, are just a part of the mounting misery that a bimbo dollar can cause.

Aschwin de Wolf of Depressed Metabolism blog looks at the huge problem of "fiat currency" and suggests possible solutions.
During the 20th century, government has acquired almost unlimited power over money. This coincided with a move from a commodity based currency to a fiat currency with no underlying intrinsic value. As humans evolve, it is questionable if such a currency will be sustainable...The most obvious alternative for a government-controlled fiat currency is a commodity based currency. For such a commodity to be used as money it should be homogeneous, easy to subdivide, and have a high value to weight ratio...

A major advantage of using such a commodity bundle instead of a single commodity is that changes in monetary and non-monetary demand for a single commodity in the bundle (for example, gold) will only have a small effect on the bundle as a whole. In the context of advanced nanotechnology, commodities that can be produced by physical arrangement of common atoms may need to be excluded from such a commodity bundle to increase stability. Therefore, the most plausible candidate to be used as the standard for money would be a bundle of commodities that cannot be created by advanced molecular technology...The most important feature of a future money is that it should “not rely upon legalistic governmental imprimatur” and be immune to advanced molecular technologies. __DepressedMetabolism
This is a very important issue. The well-being of a society depends upon the stability of its economic system. Take a look at Zimbabwe or North Korea to understand the problem in extreme form.

The global economy is staring the possiblity of hyper-inflation in the face--largely due to the lack of any firm currency base. The US dollar has slipped badly due to irresponsible US government policies, contributing to the global commodities price runup.

Here is a short excerpt from Robert Freitas' "Tangible Nanomoney" (via Aschwin de Wolf):
What Is Money?
Assuming some form of physical specie will still be useful in a nanotechnology-rich society, what form should it take? We recognize that money generally serves two well-known primary functions: A store of value, and a medium of transaction. As a result, we can postulate that in the ideal form:

1. Money should be an efficient store of value, having high value per unit volume or per unit mass.
2. Money should be available in small enough physical sizes to be readily portable, even in the largest denominations, by human users, thus facilitating exchange transactions and specie warehousing.
3. Money should be physically stable for a duration of time spanning at least the maximum intended period of transactions and/or the maximum value storage horizon.
4. Money should not be inherently physically dangerous to its owner (e.g. radioactive, poisonous, explosive, etc.).

But money must also be trustworthy, which has several additional implications:

5. Money should be difficult to counterfeit.
6. Money should be difficult or impossible to replicate at a cost less than its cost of manufacture even by the most efficient means possible. That is, production costs (aka "intrinsic value") should approximate face value; seigniorage should be minimal to nil.
7. Money should be immediately recognizable as the intended denomination of the intended specie. Once revealed, the intrinsic value of the specie should be difficult to disguise. If unrevealed, the specie should still be compact enough to hide (from thieves or tax authorities) on one's person or elsewhere; see (2) above.
8. Money should be self-validating by its own physical form, and not rely upon any legalistic governmental imprimatur, easily-altered surface stamping, or monopoly minting authority to partake of value (e.g., no "fiat" specie).
It is easy to see that modern currencies including the US Dollar, all fail to satisfy the minimal criteria for "good money." Freitas then goes on to explore the topic of "nano-money" more fully.

As global markets become more critically volatile--due to several factors including fiat currencies, and the extreme complexity of the markets and their derivatives--the need for a tangible form of currency becomes rapidly more important.

Update: Aschwin de Wolf also wants to know what the impact of singularity induced widespread abundance will have on current economic systems--based as they are on fiat currencies, and the economics of scarcity.

Commenter Will Brown published a piece two years ago on that very topic, titled "Strategy of the Singularity Model of Economics". Discussion of this post can be found in the main postings and comments at Event Horizon and The Speculist. Robin Hanson's piece "Singularity Economics" also deals with the issue and contains useful links. Fiat currencies are already under significant stress now. As the extreme economic turbulence of singularity technologies begin to hit the global economic system, all bets are off, economically. I do not expect to see rampant catastrophe and doom when the technologies of abundance collide with the economics of scarcity, except in the parts of the third world that are typically prone to such--and in top-heavy anti-democracies such as China and Russia.

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17 June 2008

Limits to Growth: China and India

A long list of concerns about China is feeding the trend: inflation, shortages of workers and energy, a strengthening currency, changing government policies, even the possibility of civil unrest someday. But most important, wages in China are rising close to 25 percent a year in many industries, in dollar terms, and China is no longer such a bargain. NYT
Both China and India are facing problems with shortages of workers, rising wages, corruption, and inflation, which are causing large western industrial companies to begin building new factories in other countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines.
Inflation in China — more than 8 percent in February, March and April and 7.7 percent in May — raises the prospect that labor costs will soar even faster soon. That could push up prices for a wide range of goods exported to the United States.

China is also phasing out its practice of charging lower corporate tax rates for foreign-owned companies. By contrast, Vietnam still offers foreign investors a corporate tax rate of zero for the first four years, and half the usual rate of 10 percent for the next four years.

...A popular saying among Western investors these days is that Vietnam is the next China. Cambodia, with even lower wages attracting garment manufacturers, is called the next Vietnam.

But how long those analogies will hold — in a world where economies evolve from agriculture to manufacturing to services in a couple of decades — is unclear.

As foreign investors leap into each new country, they drive up the cost of workers and goods, a dynamic that makes it less likely that a shift in investment patterns will hold down inflation in American imports.

...even in India, workers with industrial skills or the ability to speak English are increasingly scarce — and their wages have been rising by 10 to 20 percent a year.

That has led to worries about India’s long-term competitiveness, even at companies investing heavily there, like Ford, which is planning to spend $500 million on factory expansion. __NYT
High fuel costs will soon enter the picture as well, perhaps inducing some western corporations to think closer to home when planning new factories. As automation takes over more of the manufacturing process, labour costs are less of a concern, and shipping costs take on greater relative importance.

China's remarkable growth rate has been part real and part bubble. Many analysts have been predicting an unlimited steep trajectory of growth in China for at least the next decade and a half. But the bloom may have partially gone off the rose. Chinese government duplicity has papered over much of the underlying instability in Chinese financial institutions and in Chinese society itself. Ham handed censorship of the internet and all public discourse, along with liberal arrest and harassment policies against perceived political dissidents, have projected a mirage of political stability to western analysts.

We will have to see how things look after high fuel costs, inflation, slower growth rates, less foreign investment, newer ways to circumvent government censorship, and less favourable international attention hit the CCP fan.

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Overpopulation Doomsday vs. Cornucopian Singularity? Has Malthus Been Oversold by Doomers?

Doomseekers--many of them journalists, authors, and celebrities--wallow in "peak oil", "global warming catastrophe", and other harrowing visions of worldwide doom. Ray Kurzweil and singularitarians, on the other hand, say the world is on the verge of widespread prosperity and abundance such as never before seen.

NYT blogger John Tierney weighs the question and decides that doomsday has been wildly oversold. Tierney points to this recent NYT article about Malthus vs. reality and decides that Kurzweil's cornucopian singularity--while not guaranteed--is more likely than the Malthusian vision of widespread famine and poverty.

Who is right--doomers or Kurzweil? It depends upon where you live. If you live in a nation or region with a very low average population IQ, you are apt to see many examples of the activity pictured in the photo above--subsisting on castoff and detritus. Generations of philanthropists, NGOs, religious charities, government aid and assistance, etc. have been lavished upon countries such as Haiti only to see them sink into violence and deprivation time and again. Below a certain point, average IQ determines what a society's destiny will be.

Nations of high IQ, such as Japan, South Korea, China, and European countries, have the potential of creating cornucopian worlds in the near future, if the political classes are sufficiently constrained. North Korea, Mao's China, the late USSR, etc. are examples of high IQ societies that allowed despotic governments to lead them into widespread misery and shortages of food and comforts.

When one looks at the margins--where reasonably high IQ societies are being swamped by lower IQ immigration--one finds that a good future is not assured. In a high IQ democracy, the deluge of low IQ voters can distort government policies away from the enlightenment Anglospheric traditions, toward more tribalistic policies that lead to societal fragmentation. When that happens, the more mobile and educated among the young will think about emigrating to greener pastures. Such emigration has the effect of speeding the transition from first world to third world, from high IQ society to low IQ society.

Tierney is right that for high IQ societies with moderate governments and controlled immigration, the cornucopia of Kurzweil is more likely than the mass starvation and overpopulation of Malthus and his modern-day disciples. But where in the world today can one find moderate governments of high IQ societies with strictly controlled immigration? The leading candidates for US President in the November elections are both seen as soft on illegal immigration from the third world.

A cornucopian first world would provide benefits to a Malthusian third world. Yet the lower the average IQ in the third world nation or region, the more difficult it will be to prevent widespread poverty, hunger, and disease within that region or country. Of course, if IQ remains the "one whose name you must not say aloud," not even think it!, then Malthus will have plenty of opportunity to laugh from his grave.

The world can support 30 billion persons of high IQ, who will behave responsibly and intelligently within the complex ecology. But just a few million low IQ persons can create a veritable hell on earth in the many urban jungles of mindless violence that the planet currently sports.

Intelligent and educated people breed significantly less than unintelligent and uneducated people. (see graphics world IQ map here and world fertility map here) But IQ is up to 80% heritable. Executive function--even more important to future success than IQ--may be even more heritable than IQ. The Flynn effect cannot change that. Advanced childhood education programs to enhance executive function and short-term memory cannot change that.

It is one thing to point out that Earth has abundant resources if humans will only act responsibly and use their innate ingenuity to do so. It is quite another thing to go on and face the problem fully, in all its dysphoric complexity. In the context of working toward a cornucopian future, widespread stupidity is a dysfunctional trait that not only individuals can possess, but also populations. That sad but critical fact must be addressed.

Fortunately, dysgenic trends can be addressed without taking unthinkably nightmarish and draconian measures. But without taking the first step of facing the issue, Malthus' chances for being right remain in play --for large parts of the world. That is what the term "a fractured singularity" means. Mere islands of post-humanity growing unevenly out of the developed world.

Anyone able to prevent large scale warfare during that sensitive transitional stage will deserve a Nobel Peace Prize, for once.

Update: This NYT article about a revolution in rice-growing appears to point at least in the general direction of cornucopia. Add to that all the other agricultural, biomedical, energy, and manufacturing revolutions, and the doomer point of view is definitely coming under siege.

[edited and updated since first published]

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16 June 2008

Dry-Clean at Home Clothes Washer Uses Just 1 Cup of Water per Load

That's right. To clean a washer load of dirty, sweaty, grimy clothes will use only one cup of water.
Billions of gallons of clean water could be conserved every year simply by adopting this dry cleaning technology. Less water also means less drying, which can add energy savings to those with energy-hungry clothes dryers.

The process uses plastic granules, which tumble with your laundry and a little water and detergent. The plastic absorbs the dirt or grit and can be reused for up to six months. __CleanTechnica
More information and links at the source above.

With environmental emphasis moving from "global warming" to the need for clean water and water-saving technologies, you can imagine the demand for this type of machine--particularly in water-parched third world countries such as California. (pronounced: Caw-lee-forn-ya.)


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High Oil Prices Affect Economies and Stocks

China's Shanghai Composite is still by far the worst performing index at -45%. China is followed by India, Hong Kong, Italy, France and Germany. The US has held up relatively well, ranking 6th out of 21 countries analyzed in terms of market performance. Mexico, Brazil, Canada and South Africa are the only countries with positive stock market returns. __Source
China is the tail that is wagged by North America and Europe. If the developed world catches cold, China gets pneumonia. China's huge demand for oil has helped drive world prices higher, which has rebounded back to hurt China's stock markets and bottom line. China subsidises fuel costs for consumers and industry, and has been stockpiling oil supplies in the lead up to the Olympics. Both policies spur demand and lead to higher fuel costs.

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