31 December 2008

Abandoned Outposts Disappearing into Time

From the glacial Greenland interior to the Antarctic wastes, once active and thriving human outposts lie abandoned.

Growing ice in Greenland is reclaiming the old Dye-2 and Dye-3 early warning radar sites, abandoned in 1990/91.
In looking back at the time the sites were abandoned, one console operator lamented “We were very busy during this time and I was sad to see it end. I remember thinking of all the waste,” he said. The site is slowly disappearing into the snow. Its outbuildings are no longer visible and drifting snow will consume it completely one day, but that day appears to be decades away.” _Source
Across Antarctica and on circa-Antarctic islands, multiple exploratory outposts and settlements have been abandoned over the decades, for reclamation by the growing ice fields.
The most famous and disturbingly well-preserved of these [abandoned] places is the camp built by Robert Scott and his party on Ross Island in 1911. The seaweed-insulated wooden cabin and its outbuildings were supposed to be the team’s shelter when they returned from their attempt to be the first people to visit the South Pole. _DarkRoastedBlend_via_GrimReviews_via_DepressedMetabolism
Be sure to view this array of photos of abandoned Antarctic sites.

Depressed Metabolism has posted several articles dealing with abandoned sites at this posting, including abandoned mines in Sardinia and abandoned underground stations in London.

Here is an amazing guide to abandoned places from WebUrbanist.

Abandoned buildings and installations are treasures for exploration, particularly for young boys. Older boys such as myself can find their hearts beating a little faster contemplating an expedition to such abandoned sites -- ghost towns and outposts waiting for living souls to haunt.

New Year's Eve may be the best of times for the contemplation such places, a sober devotional to auld lang syne, as anodyne to the hedonistic excesses of the evening.

Happy New Year and beyond. Be sure to do your best this year to grasp the big picture view, in dynamic supersensivision. Look for all the poetry and treasure that washes up on your shore.

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29 December 2008

2010 - - Good-Bye: USA Hello: Split America

This is the way the US is supposed to split around the year 2010. As you can see, every part of the former USA will soon be under the control of other nations -- including Mexico, Canada, the EU, Russia, China, and perhaps Japan. Oddly, Cuba did not end up with southern Florida, which by all rights it should possess after such a split.

This remarkable prediction is being made by a former KGB analyst, and current professor and dean of Russian Foreign Ministry's academy for foreign diplomats. It is not the first prediction of a violent split-up of various parts of the US, nor will it be the last. It is only remarkable due to the seriousness with which it is being taken inside Russia.
Mr. Panarin posits, in brief, that mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces -- with Alaska reverting to Russian control.

In addition to increasing coverage in state media, which are tightly controlled by the Kremlin, Mr. Panarin's ideas are now being widely discussed among local experts. He presented his theory at a recent roundtable discussion at the Foreign Ministry. The country's top international relations school has hosted him as a keynote speaker. During an appearance on the state TV channel Rossiya, the station cut between his comments and TV footage of lines at soup kitchens and crowds of homeless people in the U.S. The professor has also been featured on the Kremlin's English-language propaganda channel, Russia Today.

Mr. Panarin's apocalyptic vision "reflects a very pronounced degree of anti-Americanism in Russia today," says Vladimir Pozner, a prominent TV journalist in Russia. "It's much stronger than it was in the Soviet Union."

...The professor says he's convinced that people are taking his theory more seriously. People like him have forecast similar cataclysms before, he says, and been right. He cites French political scientist Emmanuel Todd. Mr. Todd is famous for having rightly forecast the demise of the Soviet Union -- 15 years beforehand. "When he forecast the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1976, people laughed at him," says Prof. Panarin. _WSJ
A lot of the details of the coming split remain to be worked out. For example, what happens to US military bases, ships, planes, submarines, and other hardware? What would make a sane and intelligent person believe that such a catastrophic dissolution of the world's largest economy would leave the rest of the world in any position to step in and "pick up the pieces?"

I would certainly not deny the possiblity of such a breakup. It would occur over a much longer time span than one and a half years, and would involve a great deal more collateral damage among the other great and small powers of the world than Panarin appears to comprehend.

The divisions suggested by Panarin appear unlikely in the extreme. A more likely graphic of a post-breakup USA can be found at this PDF document, Civil War II. In other words, a breakup along ethnic lines appears more realistic than Panarin's scenario, probably occurring in connection with a worldwide violent conflagration that results in the breakup of most other large nations and unions of nations, including China, Russia, the EU, and probably Mexico and other Latin American nations.

As long as the world-scale violence leaves significant areas of reasonably intact areas of production and education in advanced nations, the resulting regional states, or even city-states would likely re-establish trade routes and maintain as large a "zone of order" as they could manage under the circumstances. Piracy and lawlessness would be severe across most of the world, of course. Any recent graduates of North American university social science departments would likely find themselves enslaved or killed, unless they were lucky enough to find themselves inside a surviving enclave of much maligned western civilisation. Feminists would probably be fed to gasification plants to provide biofuels, a la Oynklent Green [OTC:OYNK].

The world has never been so broadly civilised as it is today. And, of course, it cannot last. The internal schisms within civilisation are simply too great. But there are some regions that are more likely to survive relatively intact than others. I am happy to report that there is still time for most of you to locate some of these regions, and to learn how to make yourself useful and competent enough to survive. It's your time. Don't waste it.

H/T Dennis Mangan and Half Sigma


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Putin Tightens Noose on Russia, Pleased With Election of Obama

Vladimir Putin's Russia bears the imprint of the former KGB functionary more clearly every day.
...as suicides among the economically depressed increase, Russia responds not with counselors but by reportedly [7] moving Internal Forces troops to cities hit hardest by layoffs, and thus more likely to demonstrate. Though Gennady Gudkov, the deputy chair of the State Duma Security Committee, told newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “It could happen that no amount of Internal Forces will be enough.” _PJM
Evidence about Putin's complicity in the ongoing murders of Russian journalists continues to accumulate.
As the murders of Russian journalists go unsolved, there are increasing signs that the impunity of Russia's contract killers is not accidental. One reason for the lack of progress may be that the law enforcement organs that are responsible for investigating the murders of Russian journalists are actually involved in carrying them out. _Forbes
Putin appears to have reason to believe that Obama will be easier to "do business with" than his predecessor has been. Putin can see in Obama exactly what any other person of experience can see: lack of experience, lack of qualifications, lack of competence.

While Putin's Russia displays all of the advanced characteristics of "Animal Farm", Obama's US is just passing through the earlier stages. First the animals must be trained properly. To do that, one must have a firm control over the media and educational establishment (animal trainers).

Obama has achieved that critical goalpost. The media and academia are largely in his pocket. Without control of the media, a budding president-for-life is always in danger of having his propaganda contradicted in a much-too-public manner. Without control of academia, the would-be dictator cannot be sure of the future allegiances of his subjects.

Putin makes fascism seem so easy. Obama will learn that it takes a lot of work. So be a good little animal, stop reading this cognitive dissonance, and go back and listen to your trainers.

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28 December 2008

World Without Women?

The natural human sex ratio at birth is roughly 1.05 males to each 1 female. In societies where males are valued over females, fetal ultrasound is often used to detect the sex of the fetus. Female fetuses are selectively aborted in such societies, so that the sex ratio at birth in countries such as India and China is above 1.10.

From the new and intriguing blog Congenial Times, we learn that Albania now has a gender sex ratio at birth of about 1.13. This shift occurs at the same time as Albania's birth rates have taken a steep dive.
Until very recently, Albania had an extremely high birth rate for a European country, most likely because Albania is extremely poor and backward for a European country. In recent years, though, the first half of that equation has changed. The number of yearly births in Albania has fallen sharply from 82,000 in 1990 to a mere 33,000 in 2007, according to a report by an Italian news service. The English language version of the Albanian Institute of Statistics webpage confirms a drop from 82,000 in 1990 to 43,000 in 2004.

In addition to choosing to have fewer children generally, Albanians are choosing to have fewer female children specifically. A natural sex ratio at birth is around 105 male infants for every 100 female infants. According to Albania's Institute of Statistics, the country's sex ratio at birth stood at 113 male infants for every 100 female infants in 2004. _CongenialTimes
Albania's Dynamic Population Pyramid

Such selective gynocide would not likely occur in western populations such as in most of Europe, North America, or Oceania. But keep in mind that such populations are no longer breeding. Immigration into those regions comes from populations that are overwhelmingly in favour of male dominance.

Even in democratic nations, fewer women would mean less political power for women. In nations that only give lip service to democracy, if that, the political power of women would seem to have no future, given the shrinking populations and influence of western peoples.

Fewer women should be accompanied by lower birthrates, even in the third world. A return to polygynous patterns of marriage is likely, with older and more successful males acquiring larger numbers of wives, and younger and less successful males being forced to live without female mates. Widowed and divorced former wives often find their way into prostitution, in such societies. Any womens' suffragette movement would be unlikely to find many adherents among women, nor supporters among men, in these countries.

Nations would be more likely to break down into regions headed by warlords, and city states. Warfare over resources would be more common. Young male cannon fodder would be sent into battle by the old and powerful, and the young would be eager to fight for the spoils of war -- one of the few opportunities for acquiring wealth, women, and slaves.

Did I say slaves? Indeed, a return to slavery is almost inevitable, as the western enlightenment world fades into distant memory. Western civilisation has been at most a temporary aberration. Warfare and slavery are certainly the natural state of human societies. Or am I just having you on?

The psychologically neotenised, academically lobotomised pampered Peter Pans and Cinderellas of the modern west have no conception of the vastness and complexity of human history. That is why they are doomed. But you do not have to join them.

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27 December 2008

Eric Drexler Renounces Diamond, Takes Vow of Poverty, Praises Fool's Gold

Okay, the bit about Drexler taking a vow of poverty isn't exactly correct. But interestingly, the father of diamondoid nanosynthesis has publicly come out in opposition of the pursuit of diamond.
Contrary to popular opinion, diamond synthesis seems almost irrelevant to progress toward advanced nanosystems. At the current stage or research, it is both difficult and unnecessary. In a following post I’ll present some criteria and metrics for judging materials, praise cerium dioxide, and explain why humble fool’s gold is better than diamond.

...Considering the difficulties of diamond synthesis, why treat diamond mechanosynthesis as if it were a necessary first step toward molecular manufacturing? Building a tiny bit of diamond this way would of course be an impressive lab demo, but the plausible technologies for achieving this seem difficult to extend, and I doubt that they would be very useful in any general sense.

Indeed, a leading nanotechnology company, Zyvex, used computational modeling (density-functional based molecular dynamics) to study diamond mechanosynthesis and concluded that, although the physics would work, but the present-day laboratory practicalities would not. They’ve chosen instead to pursue mechanosynthesis of silicon-surface structures, using a clever approach termed “patterned atomic-layer epitaxy”, a method in which the only mechanically directed operation is the removal of hydrogen atoms from a hydrogen-passivated surface. _Metamodern
Drexler proceeds to explain that he has always seen diamond nanosynthesis as an extreme test case of his theories -- if they will work with diamond, they should work with almost anything. His public statement today simply clarifies the importance of going with what works now, for pragmatics' sake.

The author of Engines of Creation and Nanosystems no doubt stays in close contact with nanosynthesis researchers around the world. If anyone should know what works now and what doesn't, he would be the one. Eventually, diamond nanosynthesis may become the state of the art. But by that time, many other processes that are "just good enough" will probably be in widest use due to economics and ease of production.

Most humans are not yet accustomed to a "total cornucopia" of met desires and whims. Nanosynthesis promises the ultimate in a society of comforts and worldly pleasures. Good health should also come along in the bargain. What else would you need to create the Next Level? Quite a lot actually.

More later.


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26 December 2008

Grow Your Own Zombie Monkeys at Home!

The Apple computer was invented in a garage. Same with the Google search engine. Now, tinkerers are working at home with the basic building blocks of life itself...Using homemade lab equipment and the wealth of scientific knowledge available online, these hobbyists are trying to create new life forms through genetic engineering... _LAT
A lot of things are becoming possible for home hobbyists. You can build your own computers, brew your own beer, make your own lathes and mills, set up home sound and video recording studios, build your own rapid prototypers... But have you considered building your own genetic engineering lab at home -- and the things you might be able to grow in it?
In her San Francisco dining room lab, for example, 31-year-old computer programmer Meredith L. Patterson is trying to develop genetically altered yogurt bacteria that will glow green to signal the presence of melamine, the chemical that turned Chinese-made baby formula and pet food deadly.

...In Cambridge, Mass., a group called DIYbio is setting up a community lab where the public could use chemicals and lab equipment, including a used freezer, scored for free off Craigslist, that drops to 80 degrees below zero, the temperature needed to keep many kinds of bacteria alive.

Co-founder Mackenzie Cowell, a 24-year-old who majored in biology in college, said amateurs will probably pursue serious work such as new vaccines and super-efficient biofuels, but they might also try, for example, to use squid genes to create tattoos that glow.

Cowell said such unfettered creativity could produce important discoveries.

"We should try to make science more sexy and more fun and more like a game," he said. _LAT
One thing that home hobbyists may possess, is an unfettered imagination, without the need to publish peer-reviewed papers or to submit grant applications to brain-dead foundations and funding agencies. Humans enjoy playing games, from the earliest age. Making science and learning more like a game may bring astounding results.

Of course, growing your own army of zombie-monkeys to take over the world, is a bit beyond current technology. We cannot all be like the narcissist elect -- at least not yet. But soon. Study your biology, join your local "home brew" club, play life as a game. Imagine what you might achieve.

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A Duel To The Pain

To the pain means the first thing you will lose will be your feet below the ankles. Then your hands at the wrists. Next your nose....The next thing you will lose will be your left eye followed by your right....Your ears you keep and I'll tell you why. So that every shriek of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish. Every babe that weeps at your approach, every woman who cries out, "Dear God! What is that thing," will echo in your perfect ears. That is what to the pain means. It means I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever. _PrincessBride
The US Justice Department has its own ideas of what "to the pain" might mean. In order to use pain as a non-lethal weapon against crime, the US DOJ research labs are developing a "pain beam" weapon for use by its agents of the law.
The research arm of the US Department of Justice is working on two portable non-lethal weapons that inflict pain from a distance using beams of laser light or microwaves, with the intention of putting them into the hands of police to subdue suspects.

The two devices under development by the civilian National Institute of Justice both build on knowledge gained from the Pentagon's controversial Active Denial System (ADS) - first demonstrated in public last year, which uses a 2-metre beam of short microwaves to heat up the outer layer of a person's skin and cause pain.
'Reduced injuries'

Like the ADS, the new portable devices will also heat the skin, but will have beams only a few centimetres across. They are designed to elicit what the Pentagon calls a "repel response" - a strong urge to escape from the beam.

A spokesperson for the National Institute for Justice likens the effect of the new devices to that of "blunt trauma" weapons such as rubber bullets, "But unlike blunt trauma devices, the injury should not be present. This research is looking to reduce the injuries to suspects," they say. _NewScientist
Only two cases of second-degree burns have been recorded from thousands of experimental uses of the pain beam. I have had worse from an afternoon in the sun, as have many of my readers, no doubt.

We all know, however, that such weapons always find their way outside of official channels, in the hands of well to do criminals who have a flair for organisation and bribery. Thieves and rapists are already using Tasers to bring their victims to submission. What sort of uses will criminals find for pain beam devices?

Sure, you may see this new P-beamer as a torture weapon, in line for use at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, or perhaps for the secret dungeons under the White House. But what about using it as a proper dueling weapon, for the satisfaction of matters of honour? Is it possible that the fear of pain might encourage better manners among the teeming and worthless generations of psychological neotenates and the academically lobotomised? Could such P-beam devices find a use in today's high schools and universities, as a way of encouraging learning and discouraging delinquency and boorishness? Perhaps, perhaps, and thanks for suggesting it.

Because here at the top secret government labs, we are just the same as all branches of government. We're here to help you. And the bigger and more powerful we grow, the better equipped we will be to provide assistance. Don't worry. Just be good, and we will make sure you are happy. Or, we will at least not beam you.

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25 December 2008

Perpetual Adolescents Run Out of Fairy Dust

America's aging Peter Pans have discovered that happy thoughts and fairy dust no longer entitle them to fly. The young people of America led the world economy during the 1980s and 1990s, but now they are older, struggling to pay down mortgages that might be worth more than their homes, and to put something aside for a retirement that they never may be able to afford. _AT
Ah, but not all of America's Peter Pans understand the gravity of the situation. The narcissist-elect, for example, is one Peter Pan who still believes in fairy dust and pixy spells. The soon to be narcissist-in-chief is urgently collecting about him a coterie of fellow Peter Pans and Cinderellas, in order to strengthen the magic he intends to cast upon the world. Reality has more lessons to teach Peter Pan.
The United States lived in Lever-Lever Land too long. Like Peter Pan, the country has refused to grow up. The object of the stimulus plans offered by the present and the next US administrations is to return to Lever-Lever Land, that is, to debt-financed consumption. It won't work. Leverage is for the young, who borrow to build homes and start businesses. The financial crisis forces Americans to act their age, that is, to save rather than borrow and spend. _AT
No, my dear Spengler, the financial crisis should force Americans to act their age, but having recently elected a messiah to be their leader, it seems Americans have chosen to put personal and national maturity off until tomorrow, yet again.
America's leaders haven't yet had the required moment of clarity. Its financial leaders still think the problem is a mere matter of confidence. These were the same people who swallowed their own sales pitch.

...The world needs more young people to restore "animal spirits" to the market place, and America no longer has enough of them. That is why emerging markets must become more than an outsourcing shop for cheap manufactures, or an oilwell-cum-ethanol plantation. Harnessing the potential productivity of the world's young people is the challenge for next year and the next decade. Without them, America will endure a lost decade more depressing than Japan's during the 1990s. _AT
America was the cornerstone of the world's economy, once, before Americans chose the path of perpetual adolescence. Now living in a state of perpetual denial, the psychological neotenates and academically lobotomised never-never lads and lasses pretend that affluence is their entitlement, and behave (and vote) accordingly.

The rest of the world doesn't understand yet. It thinks that America will wake out of its adolescent trance and start to behave as a mature nation, as a place that can be trusted to drive the world's economy again. But there is nothing certain about America waking up, as a nation. The soothing, somnolent tones of the narcissist-elect urge the sleepers go more deeply into dazed slumber. The echo chambers of academia, the media, and popular culture amplify the hypnotic message around the world -- except perhaps in China and Russia, who would like to replace the US at the top, but have too many problems of their own.

At this point, waking up would not be politically correct. To do so would demand working against the most powerful forces of American and world society. More likely that the Keynes will be resurrected by Dear Leader to inflate another bubble of salvation. Stand clear.
At least one more generation of perpetual adolescents has been bred -- albeit smaller in numbers due to successful anti-natalist attitudes that have grown more common thanks to feminised academic curricula and popular media messages that portray family life as a drag. Even so, there is no end in sight.
Perhaps the worse outcome in all of this is that kids have been taught to consume, consume, and consume more, but they never learn that they have to be a producer in order to become a consumer.

Young children are strangers to hard work or chores, and teenagers are no longer expected to get a job outside of the home and produce in order to consume. Thus they don’t learn the importance of working, saving, developing practical options, and arranging priorities. Instead, kids learn to make meaningless brand distinctions, they discover what things merit bragging rights, and they become proficient in keeping up with the Joneses.

Producing and saving just isn’t going to cut it with these kids. They have been trained to splurge beyond their means and have not been taught to plan for their futures. And this generation, unless they modify their behavior and slash their consumer compulsions, may very well have some bleak prospects ahead of them. _Taki's

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24 December 2008

How to Destroy Any City On Earth With Mirror Balloons: Did This Idea Come From Pottersville or Bedford Falls?

The city-destroying idea is a variation of a weather-modification idea from J. Storrs Hall. Hall's idea was to use a large array of small floating mirror-balloons positioned in the stratosphere and oriented by GPS to reduce solar energy influx to Earth. Josh's intentions are completely honourable, in that he is hoping only to save the planet from global warming catastrophe. No one can blame him for wanting to save an entire planet occupied by many billions of sentient beings. Here is how his idea would work:
Here’s the basic idea for the machine: construct a small aerostat—a hydrogen balloon—at a guess an optimal size is somewhere between a millimeter and a centimeter in diameter. It has a very thin shell of diamond, maybe just a nanometer thick. It’s round, and it has inside it (and possibly extending outside, giving it the shape of the planet Saturn) an equatorial plane that is a mirror. If you squashed it flat, you would have a disc only a few nanometers thick. Although you could build such a balloon out of materials that we build balloons of now, it would not be economical for our purposes. Given that we can build these aerostats so that the total amount of material in one is actually very, very small, we can inflate them with hydrogen in such a way that they will float at an altitude of twenty miles or so—well into the stratosphere and above the weather and the jet streams.

Each aerostat contains a mirror, and also a control unit consisting of a radio receiver, computer, and GPS receiver. It has just barely enough power and fans or other actuators to tilt itself to a preferred orientation. That’s all it does—listens for commands on the radio, and tilts to an angle that is a function of its latitude and longitude. It’s not really a complicated machine.

Now make enough of them to cover the entire globe. For the centimeter size, you’d need about five quintillion of them. This is why nanotechnology makes a big difference. If you tried to cover the earth with something the total thickness of even a current-day party balloon, let’s say about 100 microns, you need on the order of 100 billion tonnes of material, but with the nano-engineered design, just a few nanometers thick, you only need about ten million tonnes. To compare that with the scope of current-day construction, ten million tonnes is roughly the amount of material that is used to make a hundred miles of freeway. This is an amount of material that current-day technology, much less nanotech, can handle straightforwardly.

...the radiative forcing associated with CO2 as a greenhouse gas, as generally mentioned in the theory of global warming, is on the order of one watt per square meter. The weather machine would allow direct control of a substantial fraction of the total insolation, on the order of a kilowatt per square meter—1000 times as much. _Nanodot _ via _ Instapundit
That much control over the total insolation of any region on Earth would put any location at the mercy of the controllers of the stratospheric mirror array. One could easily destroy the agricultural output of any country by blocking most of the sunlight to the food crops in the fields. The crops would die long before harvest time. Rivers and irrigation channels would freeze.

But imagine turning the mirrors to reflect far greater amounts of sunlight on a small area -- such as a city. We know that relatively small mirror arrays can easily heat water to steam in a solar thermal tower. Imagine focusing the sunlight meant for an entire continent onto just a few dozen or hundred square miles of metropolis. How long would it take to boil rivers, harbours, lakes and reservoirs? How long could a human survive exposed to such focused light? How long could any human structure survive before bursting into flames, exploding from its own heated vapour? Few human structures above ground could survive.It sounds like a plot from James Bond. Evil genius blackmails entire cities, countries, an entire planet, using climate weapon!

Josh is extremely creative and intelligent, but perhaps he did not get the memo that explains how the Earth has not warmed significantly for the past decade? It is likely that no one told him that the effects of the PDO and AMO far outweigh the effects of CO2 on Earth's climate. Probably no one cued him in on the shenanigans of James Hansen and Michael Mann in exaggerating human effects on the climate. Of course no one told him. There is no money in waiting to get better data. All the money is in Al Gore's carbon trading scheme, and in NASA GISS' budget and billion dollar research grants to "official climatology institutes" who are willing to toe the IPCC line of alarmism and carbon hysteria. Why would anyone bother to correct the misinformation, when doing so might cut off some of those billions in carbon trades, climate institute budgets, and research grants? No reason. Except perhaps a desire to save science from one of the biggest hoaxes in history.

Observing all the global hysteria over climate nothings would be enough to turn even the gentlest humanitarian into a brooding misanthrope. I certainly hope that never happens to J. Storrs Hall. Because Josh would make a very formidable misanthrope indeed. If he chose the dark side. Or the super-bright side, whichever suited the occasion.

H/T Brian Wang

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Math Gender Gap Persists Everywhere

Two recent publications (Science 320, 1164 (2008), and Science 321, 494 (2008)) have celebrated the purported "absence of a gender gap" in math ability. These 'findings' were celebrated by feminist academics, politicians, and journalists. But most informed observers immediately found the papers suspect, in that they contradicted a huge body of scientific evidence. Now perennial fact-checker and ne-er do well, La Griffe du Lion, takes a look at the two studies and declares them wanting in logic, reason, and hard facts.
In brief, we have seen tonight that the gender gap in mathematics has been stable for at least half a century; that sex differences in ability-distribution means and variance ratio are independent of race, culture and geography; that female math performance is closest to that of males in high-IQ countries; that culture plays a role in math performance, albeit small; and that the theory of Everyone accounts for all of the above. If these results are unsettling, take comfort knowing that no presentation of fact, regardless how compelling, will keep the gap buster from her noble calling. _LaGriffeduLion via Dennis Mangan
To follow the reasoning that leads to LGdL's conclusions, you will need to read his article at the link above. It is accompanied by a large array of graphs which aid an intuitive grasp of the statistics involved.

The gender gap is ubiquitous geographically and culturally, and is persistent over time. The gap is somewhat narrower in societies with higher average IQs, such as Europe, North America, East Asia, and Oceania, but still quite undeniably present and persistent.

The continuing effort of feminists in academia and journalism to deny what is obvious to anyone who looks at the issue scientifically, undermines the credibility of feminists on a wide range of issues which straddle both the scientific and political spheres.

See Dennis Mangan and Half Sigma for other observations on du Lion's recent article.

The simple and obvious mistake that feminists make when trying to deny the math gender gap, is to make comparisons between boys and girls up to puberty, and ignoring any differences that develop after that point. Since the brain development and maturation of youth continues throughout puberty and into young adulthood to the age of 25 or 30, such premature halting of data collection and comparison appears suspiciously political in motivation. Particularly since the "math behaviour" differences that are pertinent in the discussion, are those differences that occur in career preparation and performance in adulthood.

The same absurd faux comparisons were made by Liz Spelke in her famous debate with Steven Pinker. Boys and girls are not yet men and women. The dynamic process that converts the brain of the young child to the quite different brain of the mature adult should not be neglected in any serious analysis of adult differences in math aptitude.

Parenthetically, James Flynn makes very much the same mistake in his own analyses of IQ score gaps between population groups. Such infestation of science by politics is unlikely to be rooted out for generations. The most we can hope for is that the underlying research continues and the results preserved for a more rational era.

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23 December 2008

Russians Not Taking Financial Crisis Well

...the economies of about 700 Russian cities are dependent on a single major local industry or factory. If those factories shut down, the majority of the people in those cities will have no way to make a living. Kremlin leaders do not have a clear strategy for coping with this looming disaster. _MoscowTimes
The corrupt, inept, and oligarchic nature of Russian leadership has never been so plain as in the current world financial deflation and deleveraging. With oil prices low and foreign investment currently shut down, the Russian government's ability to placate its citizens is being strained.
As the crisis is spilling over into the real economy, the people's tolerance level for government policies is reaching its breaking point. Even before the crisis, the people's anger over runaway inflation and their eroding purchasing power had been building up over the past few years. In addition, corruption has gotten markedly worse as the level of monopolization in the economy and bureaucratization of government has increased. All of this is pushing people's discontent to the surface.

...hundreds of banks across the country might go bankrupt in January and February. That could lead to protests by depositors who are unable to retrieve their money, despite the limited government guarantees on bank deposits. In addition, people are upset with the government's decision to increase utility prices for all homeowners in 2009. This might have been tolerable during a time of steady economic growth and rising standards of living, but it is unacceptable in the midst of a crisis. _MoscowTimes
Coming so quickly after the past summer's general euphoria at rising Russian incomes due to high energy prices and Russia's military triumph over tiny Georgia, this economic downturn and a general governmental ineptness to deal with it, has led to widespread discontent, protests, and an upsurge in anti-government feeling.

China is also having significant economic problems due to severely reduced demand for exports, and a shutting down of a large portion of foreign investment. With hundreds of millions of citizens below the poverty level, China's CCP led government is in almost as precarious a position as Tsar Putin's government.

Neither China nor Russia has achieved the type of economy that would largely sustain itself in the face of rising protectionist sentiment and action around the world. Everyone is waiting to see if the US narcissist-elect will set the final protectionist chain reaction in motion. The BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China) in particular are hoping for a miraculous change of heart from Obama.

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Call It "Green Freud City", South Korea

There is something suggestive, almost Freudian, about the shape of South Korea's new green city, designed by MVRDV, to be erected just south of Seoul. There is a subtle sense of fecundity and nurturing about the design which is difficult to pin down. It is planned as a "self-sustaining city of the future," and could be considered as almost an arcology.
MVRDV’s masterplan provides space for housing, offices, shops, and educational facilities. Designed as a cluster of structures rising up in concentric rings, each floor in the city is lined with lush box hedges that improve ventilation while reducing energy and water usage. An internal irrigation system stores extra water from the buildings and uses it to sustain these green facades. MVRDV states: “This diverse program has different needs for phasing, positioning and size. To facilitate this all elements are designed as rings. By pushing these rings outwards, every part of the program receives a terrace for outdoor life.”

The concept is currently being reviewed for development and feasibility at Gyeonggi provincial authority’s Urban Innovation Corporation. Development is to be completed in 2011 and construction will start shortly after. _Inhabitat
Or perhaps I am the only one who sees green terraced breasts and phalli where one might normally expect to see only rice fields. No matter. The Dutch designers and South Korean builders are to be commended for their willingness to push the concept of designed communities closer to the scale of arcology.

There is an obvious absence of industry in Green Freud, SK, but then green design is not always practical or realistic. When thinking of arcology as prototype for lunar colonies, orbital cities, undersea habitats or polar settlements, one imagines a greater degree of self-sufficiency than perhaps most green ideologues are capable of imagining, much less the green functionaries and bureaucrats who will be leading the "great march downward" of the US' new Dear Leader.


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22 December 2008

Something Tells Me It's All Happening in the Brain

The brain is the most important sex organ we have. Billions of dollars are spent every year on phone sex, internet video sex, internet porn, and other relatively crude ways of stimulating the sexual parts of the brain. Why not skip the middle men and shoot directly for the pleasure centers of the brain?
Scientists are developing an electronic 'sex chip' that works by stimulating the pleasure centres in the brain.

The technology, which creates tiny shocks deep in the brain, has already been used in America to treat Parkinson's disease.

Now researchers are focusing on the orbitofrontal cortex, which is associated with feelings of pleasure caused by eating and sex. _DailyMail
Tiny shocks deep in the brain? Tiny, nipping little teasing shocks, so deep, deep in the brain? Hmmmm, it might work.

Carbon nanotubes may be just the electrodes to make it all possible. Metal electrodes tend to slip and move around, and collect subcellular debris that causes the interface to degrade over time. Carbon nanotubes may well provide the flexibility and bio-compatibility for a more permanently intimate connection.
The new carbon nanotube-based interface technology discovered together with state of the art simulations of brain-machine interfaces is the key to developing all types of neuroprosthetics — sight, sound, smell, motion, vetoing epileptic attacks, spinal bypasses, as well as repairing and even enhancing cognitive functions. _i09
The potential dangers of "wireheading" should be obvious -- dissociation from reality, total focus on self-pleasuring to the neglect of responsibilities and personal health. But the combination of neuro-stimulation with a face to face interaction, might present certain advantages in terms of "jump-starting" a relationship. And make no mistake, these brain chips would be a killer app for the teledildonics industry. It will not be long before they are connected to a wireless interface.

Just be careful who you lend the remote control to.

Cross-posted at Al Fin, You Sexy Thing!

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Long Memories and Obsessive Behaviours FKBP

Reducing the activity of a gene called FKBP12 in the brains of mice affected neuron-to-neuron communication (synapse) and increased both fearful memory and obsessive behavior, indicating the gene could provide a target for drugs to treat diseases such as autism spectrum disorder, obsessive-compulsive disease and others, said researchers from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston _SD
We are what our brains make us, but our brains are what our genes + environment makes us. People with lower expression of FKBP 12 protein may have longer memories, but at the expense of more fear, anxiety, and compulsion. At least, Baylor University studies in mice suggest such an effect of genetic biodiversity in rodents.
The protein FKBP12 regulates several important cell signaling pathways, and decreasing its activity enhances long-term potentiation in the hippocampus, said Dr. Susan Hamilton, chair of molecular physiology and biophysics at BCM and a senior author of the report. (Long-term potentiation means the enhancement of the synapse or communication between neurons.)

It accomplishes this by fine-tuning a particular pathway called mTOR signaling (mammalian target of rapamycin). The mice in whose brains the activity of the gene was reduced had longer memories and were more likely to exhibit repetitive behaviors than normal mice. _SD
The effect of FKBP12 protein may be mediated at least in part via mitochondrial efficiency.

Gene expression exerts a powerful affect on humans and other animals from the very earliest stages of development. Scientists at Hebrew University-Hadassah have elaborated the effect of gene G9a on specialisation of early pluripotent cells into differentiated cell types. More on basic action of G9a in gene expression.

It is futile to attempt to completely separate the impact of an organisms environment from gene expression. But it is just as futile to attempt to separate gene expression from an organism's (and human's) behaviour. Ideological adherents of the "Blank Slate" hypothesis are being forced into a very tight logical corner. And because such Blank Slatists control large areas of government, universities, and the media across North America and Europe, expect some extremely erratic and dysfunctional behaviour from them as their cause falls into greater disrepute.

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21 December 2008

We Knew Obama Was A Fascist. But Why Did He Have to Go and Be a Luddite Fascist?

Obama has appointed another total moron -- this time as science advisor. John P. Holdren -- climate alarmist, carbon hysteric, and global warming orthodoxer -- is to be appointed science advisor for the incoming administration of the narcissist-elect. When taken together with other Obama appointments, Holdren's selection spells total disaster for US industrial competitiveness. How stupid is Holdren?
In 1980 Dr. Holdren helped select five metals — chrome, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten — and joined Dr. Ehrlich and Dr. Harte in betting $1,000 that those metals would be more expensive ten years later. They turned out to be wrong on all five metals, and had to pay up when the bet came due in 1990. _NYT
Yep, that's right. Holdren was part of the "everyone is doomed to die of starvation, peak oil, and resource depletion before the year 2000" crowd, along with the Club of Rome, Paul Ehrlich, and the other predecessors of carbon hysteric Al Gore. Selecting this merry band of Luddites, dieoff.orgiasts, and all around faux environmentalists casts a dim light on Obama's judgment and capacity to reason. But then, we all knew that Obama didn't write his books. And we all knew he wasn't really the messiah, right? And none of us actually was influenced by Oprah's endorsement of the narcissist-elect, nicht wahr? Of course not.

Prepare for the reign of boobs, fools, crooks, and pompous nitwits. Beneath all the media fawning and foaming at the mouth, underneath the death-dealing regulations and choking taxation, and despite the pro-union and pro-trial lawyer stabbing in the back of business enterprise, pockets of competence will survive. Look for those pockets and find ways to expand them. We will need foci of recovery, when US voters eventually come to their senses and force the spiked boots off of the neck of the private sector.

Update: Here's another look at the Holdren appointment. H/T Tom Nelson

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A Paranoid, Desultory Phillippic

Except during the nation-consuming wars, the US government has been the tail to the private sector's dog. As long as the legislature and executive stayed mostly out of the way, and the courts worked to enforce contracts and prevent fraud, the economic heart of the private sector continued to pump nourishing taxes and graft into the government tail.

But over the decades since the early 20th century, the government tail has grown like a malignant tumour to consume more and more of the blood nutrients meant for the rest of the dog. With the excesses of the New Deal, the Great Society, Compassionate Conservatism, and the coming neo-fascist regime of the Narcissist-Elect, the tail is not only wagging the dog, the tail is killing the dog.

The corruption of Obama's home state of Illinois may be startling to innocents, but it is echoed in state capitals from Sacramento to Albany, and multiplied out of all ability to calculate in Washington DC. The scum rises to the top, and with the congealing of the corrupt layers around the centers of government -- choking private initiative and enterprise -- the US has grown to resemble the old world centers of stifling elitism the founders of the country had meant to prevent.

The massive complexity of the national and world financial systems allows infinite avenues of government intervention, so that it becomes impossible to determine which effects result from which intervention, or what would have happened without the uncounted connecting threads between governments and financial and market institutions.

The end result is for wealth and power to concentrate more thoroughly, into fewer hands. A neo-royalty of graft, growing out of the pretense of popular election. It was all made so much easier through widespread academic lobotomy and psychological neoteny.

Under such a regime -- or reich -- arbitrariness rules over rationality. The reigning top layers grow more insular and inbred. Information finds it more difficult to pass between thickening boundaries between layers. The cure grows worse than the disease, and the general suffering flows like blood across the landscape.

These are the times when the isolated vital centers take inventory, and do what they can despite the shackles placed on them by the neo-fascist reichs that have grown accustomed to feeding on the bodily fluids of the thinkers and doers. The outlook seems particularly grim due to the growing uniformity of such fascist reichs from China to Germany to Russia, and now the US.

The positive news of liberation through technology lies farther in the future than we might wish. The transformation of life via genetics, nanotech, robotics, machine intelligence, new energy technologies, life extension, augmented and expanded human intelligence, and many other disruptive technologies, is in danger of being placed in a long-term tentative holding pattern by the incoming Luddite, neo-fascist reich. After waiting so long to achieve such widespread control, it simply will not do for the new reich to allow upstart technologies to overturn the glorious new world order.

In Russia and China they simply declare any vocal opposition to the regime treason, and shoot the malefactors. In the US, the reich will simply silence the protesters by any means necessary, and call it fairness and unity. It helps to get the media in on the joke first.

So why am I smiling? Because I am not left handed. And in the sense that I mean, I hope that neither are you.

More later.

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20 December 2008

The Age of Cheating: To What End?

Donald McCabe has conducted massive surveys of college and high school students to determine the scope of cheating for almost two decades. A former businessman who now teaches business at Rutgers University, McCabe has surveyed 165,000 students at 160 colleges and universities, 18,000 faculty at 110 institutions, and 35,000 students at high schools.

The results are staggering. Almost all students admit some form of cheating. Even worse, most of them find easy rationalizations for cheating. _Cheating2.0
Where do children and youth learn to behave ethically in today's society? They don't. By the time a youth attends high school or college, they are assumed to have been taught basic rules of honesty and self-responsibility. But that assumption is wrong. Whatever ethical codes today's youth may learn, they learned from their peers and from a ghoulish popular culture and media.

The old ways of learning ethics -- classic fables, allegories, myths and archetypes -- have largely gone the way of the dinosaur. Modern ethical rules are learned from song lyrics, teen flicks, and social networking. No wonder everyone cheats. No wonder shoplifting has become so popular. No wonder dishonesty is becoming the basis for most political, academic, and journalistic careers.
Perhaps the growth of cheating suggests an even more intractable problem, mirroring a larger breakdown in social order. When the community does not make an active effort to maintain order, more people are emboldened to violate rules. (ibid)
The mirror reflects both ways. A positive feedback system of behaviour. No rules leads to disorder which leads to even less teaching of rules, etc. In a multi-traditional society, where the old order has collapsed and a new order has not taken its place, the lack of an "organising principal" opens the door to chaos and accelerating centripetal force.

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19 December 2008

A Secular Morality

Each of us has grown up in a world in which moral judgments already exist. These judgments are passed every day by everyone on the conduct of everyone else. Each of us not only finds himself approving or disapproving how other people act, but approving or disapproving certain actions, and even certain rules or principles of action, wholly apart from his feelings about those who perform or follow them. So deep does this go that most of us even apply these judgments to our own conduct, and approve or disapprove of our own conduct in so far as we judge it to have conformed to the principles or standards by which we judge others. When we have failed, in our own judgment, to live up to the moral code which we habitually apply to others, we feel "guilty"; our "conscience" bothers us.
Henry Hazlitt, The Foundations of Morality
Across the western nations, religion has lost its hold over the people. Tragically, there is no other system of ethical guidance that has achieved any level of authority even closely approaching the prior authority of religion. In terms of ethics, most westerners appear to be "running blind." Many Al Fin readers have watched this developing ethical vacuum growing, with its concomitant rise in crime and societal and sub-societal dysfunction. In a multi-traditional, multi-religious, multi-ethnic society such as most western nations are becoming, a common moral and ethical system is absolutely vital to prevent the type of violence and societal schisms which are a constant threat to any society's present and future well-being.

Muslim societies solve this problem by declaring the supremacy of Islam, and forcing all other religions and belief systems into an uncomfortably subservient position. Communist societies solve the problem by establishing the communist state as a de facto religion and arbiter of morality, with all other belief systems considered irrelevant and obsolete -- if not treasonous.

Societies which pride themselves on their tolerance can not easily utilise either of those strategies. As a result, when the original basis of law and morality of a society begins to lose authority at the same time as the society grows much more strongly multi-traditional, the scene is set for violent clashes and schisms within the society.

The need for a widely accepted cross-traditional basis for ethical and moral behaviour is self-evident, but the devising of such a cross-traditional ethical system is hampered by all of the factions which are firmly attached to their own system of ethics. Most of these "strongly attached" factions are not willing to accept the need for any other system of ethics than their own. Hence, religious and ideological wars throughout history.

Where would one start, when attempting to devise a secular, or cross-traditional, system of ethics? Well, to begin with, one would not publicly begin such an effort in Iran or Saudi Arabia -- not if one valued his head. Even in Holland, Theo van Gogh discovered that publishing ideas that point out shortcomings in other ethical systems comes with a cost. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Salman Rushdie, various Muhammed cartoonists, and others across Europe have learned the same lesson and lived to tell the story.

For those who are interested in this project, I would like to make one suggestion: The Foundations of Morality by Henry Hazlitt (long PDF). Before you click on the link, you should know that the PDF is a 24 MB book-length treatment, so you may want to right click and use the "Save Link As" option. That will download the document to your computer or removable drive, leaving your browser to function normally without bogging down.

I have found Hazlitt's approach to be quite valuable. As a disclaimer I will say that I am also comfortable with Hazlitt's viewpoints of market economics and libertarian politics as well. That comfort allows me greater play in the mental wrestling that goes on reading the book, than a person antagonistic to Hazlitt's strong individualist stance would have. Such a person would likely not survive the first few chapters. Which only highlights the problem of devising a cross-traditional, cross-ideological system of ethics.

In the end, such a system can only be agreed upon out of a pragmatic desire for a society that intermeshes cleanly, despite the many different traditions, religions, ethnic groupings, and nationalities of origin. Without the will to create such a cleanly meshing society of inevitable sub-societies, all is lost.

If the disparate components of a multi-traditional society are unwilling to admit a common secular morality into the areas where the different traditions interact, clearly the word "society" no longer means what most people think it means. If such is the case, an increase in crime, violence, and ill will between sub-societies of multi-traditional nations is inevitable -- perhaps leading to the type of dissolution that occurred in the former Yugoslavia, for large sections of several western nations. Or perhaps leading to something very much worse.

We are caught in the lurch, and many of us fail to recognise the problem. What are the odds that a common and workable system of ethics will find its way back into the lives of most people living in western countries? Slim to none. But the concept is worth working on, for the sake of emerging groups of more far thinking individuals. Next Level Humans.

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Everything Old is New Again

Old brains can start acting like young brains again, thanks to University of British Columbia researchers:
The research reveals that the loss of plasticity is due to the protein calpain actively blocking the protein cortactin, which is responsible for the sprouting of new connections. The researchers reduced calpain activity in animal models to unlock the sprouting potential of neurons and found that when calpain activity is reduced neural plasticity is enhanced.

“The maintenance of neuronal connections is an active process that requires constant repression of the formation of nerve sprouts by the protein calpain to avoid uncontrolled growth,” says Mingorance-Le Meur, who is also a member of the Brain Research Centre at UBC and VCH Research Institute. “But a consequence of this role is that calpain limits neural plasticity and the brain’s ability to repair itself. The next step is to find a way to enhance neural plasticity without interfering with the good connections that are already in place. The next step is to find a way to enhance neural plasticity without interfering with the good connections that are already in place.” _PO
Younger brains capable of learning rapidly could change a lot of things in the developed world, where populations are aging. Between 1% and 2% of populations in the developed world may be walking around with Alzheimer's, and the proportion will only grow unless we learn how to stop the inexorable senescence.

What about the rest of the body? How do we regenerate aging livers, kidneys, hearts, lungs, pancreases, lymphatics and blood vessels? We would probably start with stem cells. But we want our own stem cells -- stem cells that are compatible with our immune systems. Fortunately, science is unraveling the tangled knot of inducing pluripotent stem cells from adult cells:
A team led by Scripps Research Institute scientists has for the first time developed a technique for generating novel types of....human stem cells with characteristics similar to mouse embryonic stem cells, currently the predominant type of stem cells used for creating animal models of human diseases in research. The technique potentially provides scientists with new sources of stem cells to develop drugs and treatments for human diseases.

The study, which appears in the December 18 online version of Cell Stem Cell and the January 2009 print edition of the journal, provides proof of principle that alternative sources of stem cells can be created. _SD
The new technique apparently creates human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) that are very close to hESCs in behaviour. This research suggests that before long, all of us will be able to bank our own hiPSCs as a type of "old age insurance" against the loss of function of virtually any tissue type.

The ability to grow entire new organs from hiPSCs has not been demonstrated, but it is only a matter of time and engineering. If hiPSCs behave like hESCs, all of the cell types to make any tissue or organ are there, potentially.

A lot more work is necessary before we can expect routine rejuvenation procedures from these breakthroughs. A lot of other breakthroughs will be necessary before the entire repertoire of rejuvenation techniques are available to significantly prolong the period of fulfilled and productive human lifespan.

Good news? Yes, but superficial good news. Underneath it all, humans are still generally stupid, unwise, ignorant, bigoted, easily led, fanatically violent creatures. The path to the next level does not involve superimposing all of the marvelous high tech accomplishments of western science and engineering onto the masses of humans. The transplant simply will not take, despite the best wishes of Kurzweil and friends.

More later.

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18 December 2008

Brain Training: What Makes You So Special?

The brain fitness software market has been growing at a dizzying pace. Worldwide revenue surged to $850 million last year, up from $250 million in 2005, according to SharpBrains, a company that tracks the mental fitness industry. _CNN
Your brain makes you special. Taking care of your brain should be one of your top priorities. A large number of brain training programs have been developed to train brains of all ages. Some studies suggest that specific types of brain training may improve a person's mental performance: short-term memory, ability to perceive subtle connections between seemingly unconnected events and phenomena, capacity to "multi-task", fluid intelligence as measured by IQ tests, and more.
New work by Minear & Shah shows that as little as 2 hours of practice can promote improvements in multitasking that generalize beyond the particular tasks trained. Specifically, they show that performance on individual tasks can be made more efficient while multitasking, but the efficiency of actually switching between them cannot. The data supporting this conclusion is fairly complex, but significantly adds to theoretical accounts to a number of previous studies showing that even the highest levels of cognitive processing (the so-called "executive functions") can be improved with practice. _DevelopingIntelligence
Look over the posts at Developing Intelligence. Chris Chatham has posted a number of times on different research looking at brain training for children and adults. The real possibility that some types of brain training might help to improve a child's IQ and/or EF makes the research worth following.
Web sites like BrainBuilder.com and MyBrainTrainer.com offer members access to a variety of training exercises.

Other software programs like MindFit from Israel-based CogniFit are customized to each user.

Growth in mental training has been particularly explosive in the U.S., where aging Baby Boomers have begun to fret about their mental sharpness. According to SharpBrains, the U.S. brain fitness industry is forecast to exceed $2 billion by 2015.

"There is more awareness that the brain evolves depending on what we do in our lives. People who are getting older now are much healthier than they've ever been and want to keep doing things to keep their brains alive," Alvaro Fernandez, CEO of SharpBrains, told CNN.

The growing prevalence of Alzheimer's has also heightened anxiety about mental acuteness. According to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland, one in 85 people worldwide will have Alzheimer's by 2050. _CNN
A person's choice of leisure activities may help determine his ongoing brain fitness. Choosing a crossword puzzle or a game of chess provides the brain with a lot more stimulation than passive distractions such as television, movies, or pulp fiction.
Using functioning Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), Bishop and her team conducted the study of 17 men and women, ranging in age from 19 to 48, at Cambridge University. They scored in standardized tests as having varying levels of anxiety, but were not on medication. Their brains were scanned as they performed letter-searching tasks on a screen.

Each time they saw an "N" or "X" in a string of letters, they had to press a corresponding button. At times, the Ns and Xs were easy to spot, and at other times they were buried among long strings of letters. To present a distraction, a similar but irrelevant letter was placed above or below the letter sequence.

When the letter search was demanding, brain scans showed all the study participants' dorsolateral prefrontal cortexes, which control planning, organization and memory, to be fully engaged. But when the letter search was easy, the prefrontal brain activity in high-anxiety participants plummeted as their attention wandered. In contrast, low-anxiety participants easily activated the prefrontal brain to focus on the task at hand when presented with distractions. _RedOrbit
The brain craves a challenge, even in leisure. Persons susceptible to anxiety may have to force themselves to include mental challenges in their daily routines.


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Why Do Males Have Superior Spatial Ability? Parietal Lobe Structure Clues

A University of Iowa study offers tantalizing clues as to why males show consistent statistical superiority to females in spatial skills. At least part of the explanation may lie in how the brain's parietal lobes are organised.
UI researchers found that a thicker cortex in the parietal lobe in women is associated with poorer mental rotation ability, and in a new structural discovery, that the surface area of the parietal lobe is increased in men, compared to women. Moreover, in men, the greater parietal lobe surface area is directly related to better performance on mental rotation tasks. The study results were published online Nov. 5 by the journal Brain and Cognition.

...The findings underscore the fact that not only is the brain structure different between men and women but also the way the brain performs a task is different, said Peg Nopoulos, M.D., a study co-author and professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.

"One possible explanation is that the different brain structures allow for different strategies used by men and women. While men appear able to globally rotate an object in space, women seem to do it piecemeal. The strategy is inefficient but it may be the approach they need to take," said Nopoulos, who also is a psychiatrist with University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. _MachinesLikeUs
The statistical superiority of males in spatial skills and advanced mathematical reasoning leads to a higher proportion of males at the rarefied levels of mathematics and math-intensive fields of science, engineering, economics, etc. Such male superiority also leads to the preponderance of males as pilots, race car drivers, and other occupations requiring rapid spatial processing. Politically motivated polemicists often mis-attribute such occupational distributions as due to bias and discrimination.

Reasons for these statistical cerebral distinctions between male and female appear to center around sex hormone exposure in the womb and at other critical developmental periods. Women who are successful in the hard sciences, engineering fields, and other math-intensive vocations often have other male behavioural characteristics -- suggesting male hormonal effect at some point in development.

Race and gender associated brain differences are very politically incorrect. Researchers who study such things tempt the Academic Thought Police. The amazing new tools of study in the neurosciences and psychological sciences are simply too powerful, however, not to use them to explore our rich and diversified human landscape.

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17 December 2008

China Outsmarts Obama / Pelosi Carbon Reich

In a brilliant feat of legerdemain, China has demonstrated its own adroitness on the world energy scene. Anticipating the carbon-phobic stance of the incoming Obama / Pelosi reich, China has laid the foundation for supremacy in clean-coal IGCC (integrated gasification combined cycle) technology. Coal gasification is a critical component of any intelligent "bridge energy policy" meant to span the gap in time between the "cheap oil age", and the "abundant clean sustainable energy age".

Coal is an abundant energy resource worldwide, and using IGCC technology coal can be cleaner than most other current large-scale forms of energy production. But US carbon-hysteric politicians in the Obama / Pelosi reich are afraid of coal, and are unlikely to allow most large scale coal gasification projects to proceed. That carbon-phobic stance leaves the door wide open for any nation willing to develop this vital bridge energy technology.
The oil and gas giant BP reinforced China's position as a clean-coal technology leader last month, by establishing a $73 million research center in Shanghai with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to help commercialize technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and gasification. In another sign of the country's suddenly bold role in green technology, China's battery giant BYD launched the world's first mass-produced plug-in hybrid vehicle yesterday.

Underpinning China's potential leadership in carbon-neutral coal power is broad expertise with gasification. By 2010, China will have installed 29 gasification projects since 2004, compared with zero in the United States, according to the Gasification Technologies Council, a trade group based in Arlington, VA. Most of these Chinese projects turn coal into synthesis gas (or syngas)--a blend of carbon monoxide and hydrogen--to feed catalysts that synthesize chemicals and fuels. IGCC technology uses the same syngas to drive turbines and generate electricity with far less pollution than conventional coal plants. For example, mercury and soot levels are close to those seen at natural gas-fired plants, while carbon dioxide comes out in a pure stream that should be easier to capture and sequester.

...The project plans to start up a 250-megawatt IGCC plant in Tianjin in 2010 using a novel gasifier designed by the Thermal Power Research Institute in Xi'an; the plant will also supply some syngas and heat to local chemical plants. GreenGen plans to catapult the output of the gasifier design, from a 36-tons-per-day pilot plant, directly to commercial scale of 2,000 tons per day.

And GreenGen is already preparing to scale up further: in April, GreenGen and Tianjin officials signed an agreement for two 400-megawatt IGCC units. Meanwhile, Chinese utility firm Huaneng, GreenGen's majority stakeholder, started up a CCS pilot project at its Beijing coal power plant this summer. _TechReview
With the experience and expertise of building and operating large scale IGCC projects under their belts, Chinese enterprises will be in the driver's seat, energy-wise. As Europe and the Anglosphere grow more carbon-phobic and energy-starved, China will be the only one experienced enough with IGCC and "clean coal" to bail out the foolish carbon hysterics.

Of course if the west pursues advanced generation nuclear fission, or gets lucky with scalable nuclear fusion, coal can be used for making chemicals and polymers instead of energy and fuel -- sometime in the next 30 or 40 years. In the meantime, several decades will need to be spanned with some form of plentiful energy source.

China is betting on a sure thing, the same "sure thing" at which the Obama / Pelosi reich turns its nose up. In fact, the O / P reich turns its nose up at a lot of things, including oil sands, oil shale, coal, nuclear, offshore oil, arctic oil, and almost any other form of energy you can think of.

Solar thermal and geothermal are two likely sources of energy with big futures, which are also sustainable. In 20 or 30 years, they could both be a hugely important part of the energy portfolio. Wind is too unreliable for anyone but airheads to rely on it. Photovoltaics are still waiting for large scale energy storage that is affordable. Even biomass -- the best renewable -- will take decades to scale up to its potential.

Any way you slice it, coal gasification (IGCC is the best form), is a very good bet. You can judge the good players and the poor players by how they react to that technology.

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One Step Closer to Scalable Fusion Power

Both Brian Wang and Brian Westenhaus are reporting that the Emc2 polywell fusion project (Bussard) has passed a crucial test on its way to proving itself as a workable path to fusion power. Just one more step on the way to clean, abundant, sustainable power. And in the case of polywell fusion, it is a modular approach that could be easily carried on ships, large planes, and spacecraft.
A little background for newcomers. Dr. Bussard, whose name you may recognize from as wide of a base as the Bussard Collector concept to harvest fuel in space that was incorporated into Star Trek scripts to Assistant Director of the Thermonuclear Reactor Division of the old U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. At some point Dr. Bussard got the idea to take the Farnsworth principles from vacuum tube technology and seek a method and design to form his own theory using velocity of atoms instead of heat and pressure to compel a nuclear fusion. With decades of experience at the very top of the U.S. atomic energy industry Dr. Bussard sensed that ideas such as the tokamak, a “gift” from the former Soviet Union and other ideas that sought to create center of a star like conditions to be impractical if ever possible.

Bussard’s idea evolved into a cube formed by electromagnets that when charged up make a ball of electromagnetism or a sphere shaped magnetic field. At the center of the cube is a point of intensity, which is negatively charged. When a fuel that has a positive charge is injected it descends to the center and may collide with another fuel atom. If the fuel misses, the negative charge slows and sends the positive charged fuel back again to the center. All this happens at incredible speeds. The descending is actually acceleration and will repeat until the fuel fuses. _NewEnergyandFuel
The latest experiment demonstrated the ability of the polywell design to contain the fuel against leaks long enough to sustain useful fusion to provide usable power.
If Polywell pans out, nuclear fusion could be done more cheaply and more safely than it could ever be done in a tokamak or a laser blaster. The process might be able to produce power without throwing off loads of radioactive byproducts. It might even use helium-3 mined from the moon. "We don't want to oversell this," Nebel said, "but this is pretty interesting stuff, and if it works, it's huge."

...Nebel and his colleagues have already drawn up a plan for the next step: an 18-month program to build and test a larger fusor prototype. "We're shopping that around inside the DOD [Department of Defense], and we'll see what happens," he said. _CosmicLog _ via BW and BW
Be sure to check out the videos on Polywell-Bussard Fusion from Brian Wang. Don't miss the cornucopia of links and information on Bussard Fusion available at Power and Control blog.

Despite economic pessimism over the global credit collapse and the depressive effect of the new US administration on private sector recovery prospects, science and technology R&D are progressing on many important fronts.

The key obstacle to human progress is the general stupidity of the human species. But even as ways are discovered to "tweak up" the cognitive power of humans, the threat of economic collapse and ideology-driven suppression of private enterprise and initiative threaten a new "dark ages". Several things must happen simultaneously for self-selected humans to step up to the next level. Clean, abundant, scalable power production is only one of those things.


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16 December 2008

Cognitive Enhancement: Smart Drugs Fast Track

We all know university students who are taking Ritalin, Provigil, or other cognitive enhancers in order to compete better on the academic battleground. Professionals from many backgrounds also try to give themselves a career advantage with such smart drugs. Using fMRI on healthy volunteers taking Provigil (modafinil), neuroscientists are beginning to zero in on one likely mechanism of action for cognitive enhancers, which will allow for the faster and more targeted development of nootropics.
The drug modafinil is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating narcolepsy, shift-work related sleep disorders and obstructive sleep apnea, and indicated for conditions including ADHD, Parkinson's disease and depression. But how it works has not been well understood until now.

"We have shown that the way modafinil works is by quieting activity in the LC and increasing its connections with the frontal cortex," said Cameron Carter, a UC Davis professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and senior author of the study.

"Now that we know how it works, we can develop better cognitive enhancers that can treat more people suffering from a wider variety of neurodevelopmental disorders, like ADHD, autism and schizophrenia," he said. _ScienceDaily
The demand for cognitive enhancers goes far beyond the competition for better grades and job performance for healthy young adults. A significant proportion of middle aged and older persons suffer from cognitive disorders which lead to confusion, forgetfulness, and a loss of ability to perform everyday normal activities of work and home life. The treatment of such acquired and debilitating cognitive disorders will drive the financing and research goals of neuro-cognitive science labs. But the competition for better grades and better career performance will provide a secondary motivation researchers and bystanders alike.

The use of smart drugs amounts to a type of "bootstrapping" of human consciousness, when used by neurocognitive researchers themselves to develop better means of achieving heightened cognition for impaired and healthy humans. For the long term, smart drugs will not be enough. Augmentation and modification of genetic and epigenetic mechanisms will be necessary in order for between-levels humans to step up to the next level.

Underlying the applied research into smart drugs and cognitive enhancement, is a massive ongoing research into systems biology, synthetic biology, bioinformatics, development of new research tools of all types, and a slow but steady transformation of popular expectation of what science can and should provide in the way of life enhancement.

Update: Here is a short but intriguing GNXP.com piece suggesting that part of the blame for the ongoing financials crash is due to the competitive use of amphetamines by financial analysts and traders. "A man's got to know his limitations." The abuse of amphetamines has certainly become a blight across many parts of the western world. A significant part of the abuse may begin as performance enhancement, which progresses to abject dependency and personal ruin in many cases.

It makes you wonder: how many ultra-aggressive politicians and celebrities owe some of their success to pharmaceuticals? A dependency upon caffeine is expected in high achievers. Addiction to nicotine is common as well. No reason to believe it stops there.

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A Curious Deconstruction of the Human Embryo

Deep in the bowels of Stanford University's embryonic research labs, human embryos are being deconstructed to create: human sperm and eggs! Researchers believe that by working backwards -- from the embryo to the germ cells, they can provide solutions to the problem of infertility for a growing number of women who wait until their 30s or later to have children.

A. We’re about halfway there, though I’m not sure if we’ve completed the easy or hard half. In a dish, we’ve gotten stem cells to make meiotic germ cells, the cells that give rise to eggs and sperm. What we haven’t been able to do yet is to figure out which supplements should be fed to the cells to get them to become germ cells capable of making embryos. Optimistically, we are three to five years from being able to do that.


A. Because in my lab, we’re using stem cell research to look for ways to make fertility treatments safer and more rational.

Considering all the heartbreak and expense of infertility treatments, this sort of research is something I believe women have a big stake in defending. _NYT _ via _ Instapundit
There are many reasons to study embryonic stem cells (ESCs). Other scientists are attempting to use ESCs to cure Parkinson's Disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. Some are using ESCs to try to cure heart failure, paralysis, stroke damage, and other fatal and disabling medical problems of all ages.

Infertility is a growing problem among populations of modern nations, where women have many alternative choices besides marrying young and raising large broods of children. Large numbers of women get sidetracked by careers and other non-familial concerns, so that by the time their minds begin to focus on a family, their bodies have gotten tired of cycling their eggs and uterus for nothing. This can lead to extended, expensive and often futile attempts to conceive artificially. The heartbreak of middle age female infertility. Not the greatest tear-jerker, as far as global problems go, but serious enough for the individuals involved.

In terms of longer-term demographic change leading to huge global social changes, western infertility is quite serious indeed. Whether the Stanford research into reverse creation of germ cells will contribute meaningfully toward supporting the underlying western ideas of enlightenment which made Stanford and other great universities of higher learning possible in the first place, remains to be seen.

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Peak Oil: Meet Cellulosic Biofuels 2030!

German researchers have published a study revealing that by 2030 cellulosic biofuels using pyrolysis and gasification can provide transportation fuels to meet global needs using land not suitable for growing food.
According to Prof. Jürgen O. Metzger from Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, and Prof. Aloys Hüttermann from the Universität Göttingen, a global energy supply based on biomass grown to generate electricity and produce fuel is both a sustainable and economical scenario, contrary to some other current research. Their findings are published online this week in the journal Naturwissenschaften.

The solution, according to Metzger and Hüttermann, is to plant fast-growing trees on degraded areas, and harvest the biomass for energy usage. This afforestation would not compete with the need for arable land for food production. The authors argue that the investment required for afforestation and transformation of the biomass to electrical energy, heat, fuels and chemical feedstock is actually sustainable and not more, probably even less, than what would need to be invested in infrastructure for non-sustainable fossil energy.

For their global overall estimations for transportation fuels, the two used the conversion of the lignocellulosic biomass to biooil (“bioslurry”) via pyrolysis and its subsequent gasification to a syngas followed by Fischer–Tropsch synthesis (biomass-to-liquids, BTL). _GCC
These conclusions suggest that there is no "food vs fuels" issue, and that current technology can solve the global transportation fuels demand in the intermediate future.

Al Fin feels that this study did not go far enough, since huge areas Earth's surface can be used to grow ocean biomass and haplophytic organisms on salty soil. In addition, the potential for growing abundant algae in desert areas using saltwater will multiply potential biofuels much more.

Further development of plant genetics, chemical catalysts, other synthetic and separation technologies, etc. will be helpful--but not necessary for biofuels to play a huge role in the future energy menu.

Previously published at Al Fin Energy

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15 December 2008

Brain Drains in an Obama Depression

...“There is a regular movement of immigration to countries like the US, Australia, Canada, and also to Western Europe. The income in these countries is higher, and people come there from all over the world..._Source
The financial problems of the western world have slowed some of the influx from the third world. Need for unskilled and low skilled labour is much less, for example. Shortage of capital has made new startups more difficult. Some universities are freezing or cutting back on faculty and staff.

Bad decisions by governments such as in the UK are making their economic problems worse, and spurring immigration outward to other nations of the Anglosphere and Europe:
The introduction of the new 45% income tax band which will come into force in 2011 has put many of the higher earners in the UK on red alert. A number of reports of late have highlighted the fact that when you take into account VAT, income tax, national insurance and other unavoidable taxes in the UK the top earners in the UK are paying tax in the region of 60% on their earnings.

There are serious concerns that we will see a substantial brain drain from the UK over the next two or three years with more than enough overseas countries willing to accommodate the high earners on better rates. Not only will we see income tax receipts reduce for the Treasury but the potential for UK business as a whole will also be dented as the more entrepreneurial business minds move elsewhere. _FinancialAdvice
Some third world nations, such as Iran, stand out as particularly prone to losing their talent to nations with more freedom and opportunity.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Iran has the world’s highest rate of brain drain. Every year, more than 150,000 highly educated Iranians leave their country. The majority emigrate to the U.S., Europe, Canada, and Australia. The damage caused by this phenomenon is estimated to be $40 billion a year. _PJM
But the problem is also an internal one for western nations. The state government of California, for example, is so bad that it is driving a "brain drain" of producers from the golden state outward to more business friendly and less tax-and-regulation driven areas of the US.
The high cost of housing is driving job-seekers away from California, causing the gap to widen between educated workers and employers, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. _Dailynews
That is a really a copout on the part of the Public Policy Institute of California. It is the high cost of living and doing business that is driving educated workers, startups, and employers away from California.

The global economic retrenchment will have an uneven effect on emigration and immigration. While economic conditions have slowed almost everywhere, things are much worse in some places than others. Further, economic turbulence is likely to trigger political changes -- such as the recent US elections -- which will more than likely make matters even worse.

As a promoter of huge central government quasi-fascism, the Obama / Pelosi government will raise taxes on the entrepreneurial classes, open the door to labour union abuses, and make it even easier for trial lawyers to shut down enterprise using frivolous lawsuits. Obama is likely to slow the US economy so that it will act as less of an attractant to top overseas business, engineering, and science talent.

The resulting Obama recession / depression will trickle down to the BRIC and third world nations, slowing some areas of immigration and accelerating others. Some regions of the US that are furthest from the worst affected areas of the Obama depression will continue to attract 3rd world and BRIC immigrants. For Europe and the Anglosphere: it depends upon how far they pursue carbon hysteria and Obama style fascism, as to how well they ride out the economic turbulence.

The recent financial miscues of big banks and institutions from the US to China have created enough problems on their own. Unfortunately, governments of the world appear to be intent on multiplying and amplifying the problems to far greater magnitude. What we will see is the economic rise of particular sectors and regions. It is those sectors and regions which are able to maintain their productivity and support for education and R&D that will reap the largest crop of immigrants -- from both within and without.

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