31 January 2008

Why Not Cellulosic Electricity? Bio-EtOH vs. EVs

The ongoing debate between promoters of cellulosic ethanol (or butanol) and electric vehicles (EVs) is heating up. Can you get more energy from biomass by converting to ethanol (or butanol) and burning it in flex-fuel vehicles, or by burning the biomass with (or in place of) coal in power generators--and run the vehicle (EVs) on the generated electricity?
According to the NREL report referenced above, converting biomass into cellulosic ethanol can be done at about a 45% efficiency (i.e. 45% of the energy of the biomass makes it into the fuel.) In contrast, biomass can be converted at 33-37% efficiency [pdf] when cofired. Combining this with the 5x improvement of drivetrain efficiency that comes with electric propulsion, and the same amount of biomass converted to what I'll call "cellulosic electricity" will take a vehicle 3.8x as far as it would in the form of cellulosic ethanol. In a more recent article on Biomass, Vinod Khosla states "we consider [Energy Return on Investment] a less important variable than carbon emissions per mile driven." If carbon emissions per mile driven are the most important variable, a 3.8x increase in miles driven on the same energy source will lead to a less than 27% of the carbon emissions per mile driven.

While cellulosic electricity is still not sufficient to displace all of our current petroleum use, it comes much closer than cellulosic ethanol. Biomass cofiring with coal also tends to reduce SOx and NOx emissions.

Biomass is a distributed resource, seldom available in large quantities in any one place. This will be a problem for the cellulosic ethanol and cellulosic electricity industries. Only a fraction of the available biomass will be close enough to existing coal plants that it will be practical to transport for cofiring. Cellulosic visionaries see a system of distributed ethanol plants, yet that still leaves the problem of getting the fuel to market, since the current pipeline system for petroleum products has difficulty accommodating ethanol.

On the other hand, while distributed direct- fired biomass generation of electricity is probably twice as expensive as cofiring with coal, distributed generation leads to opportunities for Combined Heat and Power (CHP), or cogeneration. CHP can displace heating fuels such as natural gas, propane, or electricity, and often have combined efficiency from 50% to 80%. In addition to the potential of displacing additional fossil heating fuel, cellulosic electricity is identical to the fossil fuel derived kind. Therefore, unlike cellulosic ethanol, cellulosic electricity is completely compatible with the existing electric grid, leading to far fewer difficulties in transport.

The calculations are still in flux. But it is important to include "cellulosic electricity" in the total planning, when looking at biomass power. More here and here

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Venture Capital Discovers Solar Energy $1 Billion

The very rapid rise in venture capital funding for solar startups suggests a bright future for solar energy. Read more at EcoGeek

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Unconventional Vertical Axis 9 MW Wind Generator

The floating "V" shaped vertical axis wind generator above is called an "Aerogenerator." It sports two counter-balancing arms rising at an angle--each equipped with horizontal "aerofoils" providing lift and causing the entire "V" upper structure to turn at 3 rpm.
The 144-metre high V-shaped structure would be mounted offshore and capable of generating up to 9 megawatts of electricity, roughly three times as much power as a conventional turbine of equivalent size. Switching to such a design could ensure that thousands fewer turbines would be needed in order to meet the government's new wind power target, says Theo Bird, founder of Windpower, the Blyth-based firm behind the new turbine.

...[it] has two arms jutting out from its base to form a V-shape, with rigid "sails" mounted along their length at intervals. As the wind passes over these they act like aerofoils, generating lift which turns the structure as a whole at roughly three revolutions per minute, says Bird....Windpower recently carried out wind tunnel tests on a 6kW scaled version of the Aerogenerator at the New and Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth. These suggested that the predicted power outputs could be achieved.

The beauty of this design is that no matter how high the two main structures are made it is relatively simple to make them bottom heavy. Because of this the technology lends itself to large engineering projects, which is precisely what is needed with wind power, says Bird. ___Guardian

H/T Ecofriend

Vertical axis wind turbines have advantages over horizontal axis turbines--depending upon the design and location. The Aerogenerator above was designed to get around some of the limitations of large vertical axis turbines, such as instability above a certain size.

The low speed of the Aerogenerator (3rpm) limits the stress on the blades, but the huge swept area of the blades yields enormous energies. Lower altitude winds are slower, but offshore winds are unobstructed by trees, buildings, and land features.

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More Biofuels News: Going High-Tech

This is impressive: scientists at Purdue University and Chrysler LLC have genetically engineered poplar trees to function for both phyto-remediation of pollutants, and as a feedstock for cellulosic biofuels.
In a study Meilan co-authored, published last October in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, poplar cuttings removed 90 percent of the TCE (trichloroethylene) within a hydroponic solution in one week. The engineered trees also took up and metabolized the chemical 100 times faster than unaltered hybrid poplars, which have a limited ability to remove and degrade the contaminant on their own, he said....The transgenic poplars contain an inserted gene that encodes an enzyme capable of breaking down TCE and a variety of other environmental pollutants, including chloroform, benzene, vinyl chloride and carbon tetrachloride....TCE, the most common groundwater pollutant on Superfund sites, is a probable human carcinogen and causes various health problems when present in sufficiently high levels in water or air.

....Besides their utility in phytoremediation, or pollution removal, poplars have promise as a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol. To investigate their potential in this area, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded a $1.3 million grant to Meilan and two colleagues, professors Michael Ladisch, agricultural and biological engineering, and lead researcher Clint Chapple, biochemistry....They are currently investigating ways to alter the composition of poplar lignin, which provides rigidity to the plant cell wall by binding to strands of cellulose, a complex sugar that can be converted into ethanol.___NextEnergy

Transgenic poplars that extract, process, and eliminate pollutants--AND--can also be used to make cellulosic biofuels. Impressive.

Meanwhile, Oxford Catalysts is devising better catalysts for converting biomass to liquid fuels.
FT catalysts are ... important in the emerging field of biomass-to-liquids (BTL) which yields ultra-clean synthetic biofuels from lignocellulosic biomass.

Developing new catalysts can be a time consuming process, and each catalyst has to be custom-made for a particular application to suit a customer's requirements. Having this expanded lab facility will allow us to carry out the necessary testing to provide our customers with the essential information they need about a catalyst more quickly. It will also help us to develop further new and innovative catalysts at a rate that will allow us to meet demand for new applications within the clean fuels area as they continue to arise. - Derek Atkinson, Business Development Director, Oxford Catalysts___Source

The government of India's Department of Biotechnology is investing in cellulosic biofuels and other renewable biologically generated liquid fuels.

The University of Washington is financing research to turn forestry and agricultural waste into useful biofuels.

Canadian company Outlook Resources Inc. is getting into the "biomass fuel cube" business. Fuel cubes made of biomass are a sustainable alternative to coal and gas for traditional heating and power generation uses.

It is becoming clearer that those who denied the potential of bio-energy could not have been more wrong. Now that the potential is finally becoming reality--as particularly now that bio-energy is going high-tech--the sky is the limit.

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Algae Biodiesel Gets Closer....Energy Briefs

Algae biodiesel looks better all the time.
Green Star Products, Inc. (OTC:GSPI) today announced that it has successfully completed Phase III for winter environmental testing of its hybrid algae production facility in Montana....The GSPI hybrid algae production system is designed to provide a controlled algae growing environment at an affordable capital and maintenance cost, which has eluded engineers for more than three decades.

The GSPI system endured severe Montana winter conditions, which included many nighttime temperatures below -18º Celsius (0º Fahrenheit) and snowfalls of up to 355 mm (14 inches)....The 40,000 liter demonstration facility is located outdoors and had successfully completed Phase I and II of the project in mid-2007 (see details in press releases dated May 11 and July 9, 2007 at GreenStarUSA.com).____Source

Even more interesting, new algal biodiesel technology allows dual production of biodiesel and bio-ethanol from the same algal crop.
Today, Green Star Products, Inc. (OTC:GSPI), announced that it has acquired a license to utilize a breakthrough processing technology to convert algae biomass to feedstock oil and cellulose sugars for the production of biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol respectively.

The new process uses an efficient low-cost method to extract the oil and cellulose sugars from oil-bearing microalgae that eliminates the need to mechanically dry and press-extract the algae oil using traditional methods. The sugars from carbohydrate-rich cellulose and hemicellulose can be used to make a variety of products including ethanol and other high demand chemical products. The oil can be made into biodiesel and other products.

The removal of oil from the microscopic algae has been a stumbling block for the commercial production of fuel from algae for many years....GSPI has secured the technology license from Biotech Research, Inc. (BTR), one of GSPI’s consortium partners. The process continuously strips the oil from the algae and also reduces its biomass into different carbon chain carbohydrates, proteins and other constituents. BTR’s intellectual property is protected by patent pending status.____Source

Meanwhile, from a new "oilseed report":
The oilseed farming industry includes about 350,000 farms with combined annual oilseed revenue of $21 billion. No major companies dominate. The average annual total revenue per farm is $125,000, which may include some non-oilseed revenue. The industry is highly fragmented: the top 10 percent of farms generate one-third of total industry revenue.

Oilseed farming is the growing and harvesting of soybeans, dry peas, beans, and lentils; and oilseed-producing plants such as sunflower, safflower, flax, rape, and sesame. Farms with less than half of total revenue coming from oilseed aren't included in this industry, nor are farms that grow fresh beans or peas.___Source
Oilseeds are increasingly used for biodiesel production, in competition with food oil production. This competition tends to drive up food prices, which is a good reason for the blooming algal biodiesel industry--which has a neutral effect on food cropland and food prices.

North America appears to be dealing with higher oil prices fairly rationally, with fairly good leadership. Europe, on the other hand, is living in a state of near-constant denial. A few more cold winters such as this one--or even a little ice age around the corner--and Europe will be totally at the mercy of its foreign oil and gas suppliers.

Old Europe is a backward looking continent. Europe is rapidly becoming a retirement home for middle-aged dependents of government. Judging by its actions on energy, defense, immigration, etc., Old Europe lacks the will to do what is necessary to guarantee the future of its culture, its people, its civilisation.

Muslim immigrants without skills are the most rapidly growing demographic across Europe. They will be of no help in meeting the technological challenges facing the continent--and of potentially immense harm. Soon Russia will be controlling Europe's energy lease, and it does not take much imagination to see what Russia's oligarchs have in mind for Europe, once they gain control.

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Radical DNA Future--Genetic Engineering Squared

Now that scientists are learning to insert artifical nucleic acid bases into DNA sequences, we are off for a wild ride in genetic engineering. Combining artificial nucleic acids with artificial amino acids should yield radically new peptides and enzymes, with designable shapes and characteristics.
Two artificial DNA "letters" that are accurately and efficiently replicated by a natural enzyme have been created by US researchers. Adding the two artificial building blocks to the four that naturally comprise DNA could allow wildly different kinds of genetic engineering, they say.

Eventually, the researchers say, they may be able to add them into the genetic code of living organisms....The unnatural but functional new base pair is the fruit of nearly a decade of research by chemical biologist Floyd Romesberg, at the Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California, US.

Romesberg and colleagues painstakingly created a library of nearly 200 potential new genetic bases that are slight variations on the natural ones. Unfortunately, none of them were similar enough in structure and chemistry to the real thing to be copied accurately by the polymerase enzymes that replicate DNA inside cells....The team is now eager to find out just what makes it work. "We still don't have a detailed understanding of how replication happens," says Romesberg. "Now that we have an unnatural base pair, we are continuing experiments to understand it better."

In the near future, Romesberg expects the new base pairs will be used to synthesize DNA with novel and unnatural properties. These might include highly specific primers for DNA amplification; tags for materials, such as explosives, that could be detected without risk of contamination from natural DNA; and building novel DNA-based nanomaterials....Romesberg notes that DNA and RNA are now being used for hundreds of purposes: for example, to build complex shapes, build complex nanostructures, silence disease genes, or even perform calculations. A new, unnatural, base pair could multiply and diversify these applications.

The most challenging goal, says Romesberg, will be to incorporate unnatural base pairs into the genetic code of organisms. "We want to import these into a cell, study RNA trafficking, and in the longest term, expand the genetic code and 'evolvability' of an organism."
New Scientist
Initially, the new DNA's will be used to study replication, then altered transcription and translation. But soon, all bets are off. Other artificial base pairs will be designed and built, and we will be off to the races.

Such discoveries illustrate how limited our understanding of basic life processes have been. If the enemies of genetic engineering thought they understood "the enemy," they could not have been more wrong.

More information at links at Brian Wang's NextBigFuture

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30 January 2008

Antarctic Colony Update: Colonize Antarctica

Antarctic Bases: Map Courtesy of 70South

The new blog, Colonize Antarctica, has some recent postings dealing with housing and building materials for the extreme frigid environment of Antarctica.
Building anything in Antarctica is difficult. The lack of conventional resources such as timber and the remoteness of the continent alone make traditional construction a challenge. This post aims to outline alternative methods of construction that may produce buildings suitable for an Antarctic colony.
Most of the structures built in Antarctica today are not well enough designed to serve a permanent colony. One fundamental flaw is they are built above ground and thus are subject to the forces of the wind and extreme cold. In addition to this most structures leak out heat through windows and doorways further increasing the energy required to heat them.

The easiest way to combat this would be to build structures underground. The permafrost in Antarctica would provide a temperature stable environment year round. I have been unable to locate reliable sub-surface temperate data for Antarctic permafrost at various depths. So, for the following example I will use estimates. If anyone has that temperature data please send it in or post it in the comments section here.___Colonize Antarctica
Using a custom designed mix of fibrous cement with a high insulation value may be a viable option for Antarctic construction. Some of the most well known mixes such as the ill fated Asbestos filled Fibro and the lesser known Papercrete likely wouldn't preform well in Antarctica. However, using a different fibrous material, such as hemp fibers combined with other insulating material may yield stronger and more well insulated structures. Standard rebar reinforced concrete could be used for load bearing walls and support columns.

Hemp fibers could be initially imported and later grown locally in large underground hydroponics bays. If a small cement factory could also be established, that would reduce the reliance on imports and make a partially self-sufficient Antarctic construction industry.

Fibrous cement is an amazingly versatile material and can be used for building everything from insulating shells for underground tunnels, interior walls, water pipes, to furniture and even novelty items. Certain mixes of fibrous cement can even be worked and sculpted like clay. Blocks or bricks can be poured in standardized sizes. Custom sized blocked can also be produced fairly easily. Entire walls can be poured into place if need be.
____Colonize Antarctica
There is more detail in the two articles linked above, on building methods and materials. Obviously, Antarctica is an unforgiving environment. Even with the best of planning, things can still go wrong--sometimes fatally wrong. There is little margin for error.
Other than undersea habitats, there is no other fixed habitat on Earth that offers the type of challenges that polar habitats offer. There is no better preparation for the type of vigilance required to survive in space, than living in an extreme Earth environment habitat or colony.

For humans to provide their own best chance of long-term survival, they must learn to live in extreme environments. It is a rite of passage--a necessary pathway to the future.

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Canadian Oil Boom--A Difference in Values

It is possible to take oil wealth and do something good with it. Take Alberta's ongoing oil boom, which is beginning to rival China's business boom. Alberta is actually accomplishing long-lasting sustainable good from its temporary (probably decades-long) oil boom.

Brian Wang looks at a recent scientific creation from the University of Alberta:
Canadian scientists have succeeded in building the least expensive portable device for rapid genetic testing ever made. The cost of carrying out a single genetic test currently varies from hundreds to thousands of pounds, and the wait for results can take weeks. Now a group led by Christopher Backhouse, University of Alberta, Edmonton, have developed a reusable microchip-based system that costs just 500 (pounds) to build, is small enough to be portable, and can be used for point-of-care medical testing.

To keep costs down, 'instead of using the very expensive confocal optics systems currently used in these types of devices we used a consumer-grade digital camera', Backhouse explained.

The device can be adapted for used in many different genetic tests. 'By making small changes to the system you could test for a person's predisposition to cancer, carry out pharmacogenetic tests for adverse drug reactions or even test for pathogens in a water supply,' said Backhouse.(source)

The device is now much smaller than size of a shoe-box (USB stick size) with the optics and supporting electronics filling the space around the microchip.____NextBigFuture

One must ask oneself the question: which oil-rich countries are putting their newfound wealth into advancing knowledge for the future, and which are spending it on Las Vegas style glitz, and stashing it away in the Swiss bank accounts of royalty and dictators? It is a question of values.

Canada has different values than the oil-rich countries of the Persian Gulf. So far, Alberta has taken a different approach to the use of oil wealth than the royalty-saturated kingdoms and emirates of the middle east. Alberta's approach is even different from that of socialist leaning Norway, whose scientific output is only somewhat above that of the Arab world.

So far, Canada has managed to avoid most of the "oil curse" of windfall wealth. The oil curse is the natural laziness of a culture that does not have to work for a living. The decadence of unearned wealth.

For the Canadian provinces of Alberta--and now Saskatchewan--the oil boom is just beginning. For now, the main limiting factor is the significant manpower shortage, which is being felt in the oil and gas industry worldwide. Peak manpower, not peak oil.

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Is Climatology Pseudoscience?

Not exactly a pseudoscience. Climate statistician William Briggs, specializing in forecast evaluation, explains why climatology deserves our respect, until--until it doesn't.
The short answer, I will disappoint many of you by saying, is no. Like I wrote before, climatologists are generally nice people genuinely struggling with understanding the immense complexities of the oceanic-atmospheric (and space!) system. It might be that many of them are misleading themselves by custom tailoring models to show them what they expect (or desire?) to see, but this has not reached a level where it is done with intent. Most mistakes that are made are honest ones. And it is also true that much has been learned while examining climate models. Still, while scientists are in general noble creatures, there does exists the possibility of them sliding into the abyss.

So suppose, if you are able, that significant man-made climate change is false; further, that it cannot happen, and that all changes to the climate system are due to external forcings, such as those caused by changes in solar output. Just suppose all this is true for the sake of argument.

Now put yourself in the place of a climatologist, one of the many hundreds, in fact, who was involved with the IPCC and so shared in that great validator, the Nobel Peace Prize*. You have spent a career devoted to showing that mankind, through various forms of naughtiness, has significantly influenced the climate, and has caused temperatures to grow out of control. Your team, at a major university, has built and contributed to various global climate models. Graduate students have worked on these models. Team members have traveled the world and lectured on their results. Many, many papers were written about their output, and so forth.

But something has gone wrong. The actual temperature, predicted to go up and up, has not cooperated and has instead stayed the same and even has gone down. What do to? Let’s take a “What would a scientist do” quiz and find out.

Your model has predicted that temperatures will go up because CO2 has, but unfortunately temperatures have gone down. Do you:

  1. Abandon the model and seek a new career
  2. Discover where the model went wrong; publish results admitting why and how you were wrong
  3. Sit and wait: after all, the temperature is bound to increase sooner or later, hence validating your model
  4. Believe that the model cannot be wrong, else so many people wouldn’t believe it, and so posit some new source that is “holding back” warming, and only if that new source weren’t there, your model would be perfect.
____William M. Briggs, Statistician

And that is where the scientist co-authors of the IPCC reports find themselves currently. The scientific approach would be to choose number 2. But statistician Briggs goes on to explain the actual choices being made by different climatologists--mostly 3 and 4.

Of course, the ongoing divergence of temperatures from IPCC and NASA models does not disprove a long-term warming trend. All it does is to call into question the current models being used by the IPCC. So what does a real scientist do, when his models--his hypotheses--fail to prove true?
H/T Green Watch
Image tip Icecap

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29 January 2008

Cellulosic Ethanol Experiment Goes Dangerously Wrong: Environmental and Cultural Catastrophe

Apocalyptic Newswire: Northern Ontario 29 January 2008
As far East as the Maritimes and as far west as Saskatoon, trees are beginning to drip ethanol. A recent bacterial plague has hit the lumber camps and maple syrup stands of Northern Ontario, and is spreading south, east, and west from the apparent source. As far south as Rochester, New York, drunken parties appear to be centered around groves of trees.
"All you gotta do is stick a tap in and hold a glass under it. You can drink it right out of the tree!" stated Jill Steinwick, pictured above.
Apocalyptic Newswire has finally traced the epidemic to its source. A foolhardy band of cellulosic ethanol researchers unleashed the catastrophic plague on the forests of the world.
"It was all an accident," explains GreenMe's chief researcher Gwyneth Malbow. "I recently visited ZeaChem's lab in California, and "borrowed" some of their new microbes. I wanted to see what would happen if I innoculated a few sugar maples with the bug. I never expected things to go so wrong!"
When questioned about the organism, ZeaChem's President was very tight-lipped.
"Our bug is very tough," said Jim Imbler, ZeaChem's president and chief executive officer......source
Imbler refused to comment further on the incident other than to say that Malbow's experiment was done without the knowledge of himself or anyone at his company. Ethanol scientists are speculating that there may be no way to stop the organism from spreading.
"So far, the trees themselves do not appear to be damaged. The problem is that world governments will be unable to collect taxes on alcohol when every tree is a brewery," explained Science Advisor Ronica Leary in Ottawa. "Besides, wherever the trees are dripping grog, no one is reporting to work. Productivity is way down."
The UN Security Council was called to emergency session to deal with the emergency. Already, rumours of the organism reaching Europe in a shipment of elm saplings is causing panic on world stock markets.

Reports that trees are being destroyed en masse within all Muslim countries appear to be false, although some accounts of suicide bombers yelling "allahu akbar!" and blowing themselves up inside groves of palm trees, have been substantiated.

Count on Apocalyptic Newswire to keep you advised on this developing catastrophe.

Original work of satire by Al Fin. Any unauthorised reproduction of this material must be attributed to the source.

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Non-invasive Brain Oximeter--Let There Be Light

Neurosurgical intensive care units and emergency rooms have long needed a quick, non-invasive way of measuring the state of the brain. CT scans and MRI's are expensive, time-consuming, and cannot be kept at the bedside. A new type of brain oximeter takes advantage an interesting pheonmenon--ultrasonic light tagging.
Information on oxygenation in specific regions of the brain would be valuable to neurologists monitoring a brain-injured patient, as it could be used to search for localized hematomas and give immediate notice of hemorrhagic strokes. When a stroke occurs, an area of the brain is deprived of blood and thus oxygen, but there is no immediate way to detect the attack's occurrence.

CT and MRI scans give a snapshot of tissue damage, but they can't be used for continuous monitoring. It can also be very difficult to conduct such scans on unconscious patients hooked up to life-support devices.

....OrNim's new device uses a technique called ultrasonic light tagging to isolate and monitor an area of tissue the size of a sugar cube located between 1 and 2.5 centimeters under the skin. The probe, which rests on the scalp, contains three laser light sources of different wavelengths, a light detector, and an ultrasonic emitter.

The laser light diffuses through the skull and illuminates the tissue underneath it. The ultrasonic emitter sends highly directional pulses into the tissue. The pulses change the optical properties of the tissue in such a way that they modulate the laser light traveling through the tissue. In effect, the ultrasonic pulses "tag" a specific portion of tissue to be observed by the detector. Since the speed of the ultrasonic pulses is known, a specific depth can be selected for monitoring.

The modulated laser light is picked up by the detector and used to calculate the tissue's color. Since color is directly related to blood oxygen saturation (for example, arterial blood is bright red, while venous blood is dark red), it can be used to deduce the tissue's oxygen saturation. The measurement is absolute rather than relative, because color is an indicator of the spectral absorption of hemoglobin and is unaffected by the scalp.

Deeper areas could be illuminated with stronger laser beams, but light intensity has to be kept at levels that will not injure the skin. Given the technology's current practical depth of 2.5 centimeters, it is best suited for monitoring the upper layers of the brain. Smith suggests that the technology could be used to monitor specific clusters of blood vessels.

While the technology is designed to monitor a specific area, it could also be used to monitor an entire hemisphere of the brain. Measuring any area within the brain could yield better information about whole-brain oxygen saturation than a pulse oximeter elsewhere on the body would. Hilton Kaplan, a researcher at the University of Southern California's Medical Device Development Facility, says, "If this technology allows us to actually measure deep inside, then that's a big improvement over the limitations of decades of cutaneous versions."

Michal Balberg, the CEO and cofounder of OrNim, thinks that it may ultimately be feasible to deploy arrays of probes on the head to get a topographic map of brain oxygenation. In time, brain oxygenation may be considered a critical parameter that should be monitored routinely.
Technology Review

One more step to Dr. McCoy's scanner wand.


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Burn the Heretics!

To burn or not to burn. That is the question before the orthodoxy. Take Alex Cockburn. A prominent leftist intellectual, enemy of corporations and right-wing ideologues everywhere. But Cockburn has committed an unpardonable sin--he wants a real climate debate.
While the world’s climate is on a warming trend, there is zero evidence that the rise in CO2 levels has anthropogenic origins. For daring to say this I have been treated as if I have committed intellectual blasphemy.

In magazine articles and essays I have described in fairly considerable detail, with input from the scientist Martin Hertzberg, that you can account for the current warming by a number of well-known factors....There have been similar warming cycles in the past, such as the medieval warming period, when the warming levels were considerably higher than they are now.

Yet from left to right, the warming that is occurring today is taken as being man-made, and many have made it into the central plank of their political campaigns. For reasons I find very hard to fathom, the environmental left movement has bought very heavily into the fantasy about anthropogenic global warming and the fantasy that humans can prevent or turn back the warming cycle...This turn to climate catastrophism is tied into the decline of the left, and the decline of the left’s optimistic vision of altering the economic nature of things through a political programme. The left has bought into environmental catastrophism because it thinks that if it can persuade the world that there is indeed a catastrophe, then somehow the emergency response will lead to positive developments in terms of social and environmental justice. ____Spiked

Of course, Cockburn understands the left better than anyone outside the movement possibly could. He lives, eats, breathes, and drinks leftist thought. Unfortunately, it is not only the left that has fallen for the politically driven cant of catastrophe.

For his sins of revealing the obvious, Cockburn is condemned to the stake by his erstwhile friends and colleagues. Ironic, that one who has devoted his life to a more rational left should be one of the first to be reviled by the irrationalist turnings of the new left.

But that is how the new orthodoxy works. Burn the heretics! Then hang them. Then off with their heads! You know how it goes . . .

H/T Lubos


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28 January 2008

Geothermal--To The Ends of the Earth

Geothermal power has found an unlikely location in Chena Hot Springs, Alaska. Why unlikely? Because Chena's geothermal temperatures only reach 168 degrees F--a temperature generally considered too low for profitable power generation.
When water cooler than 350 F is released from the pressure of a geothermal reservoir, it doesn’t convert to steam efficiently enough to drive a turbine directly. Anything less than 230 F was considered too marginal for the alternative: a binary system that uses water to heat a fluid with a lower boiling point. But that threshold was a product of geography, not technical feasibility, Holdmann realized. A binary system just requires a heat source and sink: 165 F water can produce electricity if the ambient air or surface water temperature is at least 100 degrees lower. While that may be tough to find in the deserts of Nevada, in Alaska cold air and water are abundant resources.

Now all she needed was a plant, built to one important spec: “We need things that work up here,” Holdmann says. “We don’t need a bunch of things that, yeah, you can do in a lab. We need something we can take to a village and use normal people to run it. And run it every day, because we don’t need it only half the time.”...Fortunately, United Technologies Corp. was looking for a partner to collaborate on a pilot project: an air-conditioning unit that had been reverse-engineered to run off geothermal water. Instead of putting in electric power to create areas of high and low temperature, Chena provides the heat differential and the plant puts out electric power.

The technology has the added benefit of solving two remaining hurdles to low-temperature power generation. First, air-conditioning refrigerant operates more efficiently at low temperatures than isopentane and other fluids typically used in power plants. Second, the components are already mass produced, which cuts the cost of a small, modular plant in half....Chena’s two 200-kilowatt modules provide more than enough power for the entire resort and have reduced the cost of electricity from 30 cents a kwh to only 5 cents. With a capital cost of $2.2 million, including exploration and drilling, the project is expected to pay for itself in four to five years.

This fall, Chena and United Technologies received a Department of Energy grant to install a demonstration plant at an oil or gas well in the United States. The nation’s wells produce at least 40 billion barrels of wastewater per year, much of it low to moderate temperature. That’s another 6000 to 11,000 megawatts of potential electricity, according to a study by Southern Methodist University in Texas. “We feel we just need to show that it works,” Holdmann says, “and companies will pick up on it.”___PopularMechanics
The United States is the world leader in geothermal development, with plants producing more than 3,000 megawatts of electricity. California is No. 1, but resources in such other Western states as Nevada, Utah, Idaho and Oregon are being developed. Nevada has been dubbed the "Saudi Arabia of geothermal."

A recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology study found the amount of geothermal power that realistically could be recovered from deep drilling would represent almost 3,000 times the amount of energy consumed in the United States....Petty, who worked on the MIT study, said the intermountain West has emerged as ground zero for geothermal resources. ____Source
New developments in geothermal energy go far beyond geothermal hot springs to "hot dry rock" geothermal power technology. An Australian company, Geodynamics, is helping to blaze the "hot dry rock" energy trail.
Hot dry rock technology was invented to draw energy from deep underground areas where geothermal heat is abundant, but no water exists to carry the heat to the surface. To tap the energy in this hot dry rock, a well is drilled into it and water is injected at high pressure, forming fissures in the rock to create a geothermal "reservoir" consisting of water-impregnated fractured rock. At least one "production" well is then drilled into the reservoir to draw the hot water back to the surface. A completed facility would direct the hot fluid from the production well to a power plant, which would extract the heat from it to produce power, after which the cooled fluid would be injected back into the ground__Technology Newsdaily
Much of the technology for geothermal power development has already been created by the oil and gas industries. Geothermal mining engineers will develop better ways of approaching specific drilling sites as more knowledge and experience with the techniques are accumulated.

The promise of clean, sustainable electric power--which unlike other renewables can be used as baseload power--will be welcomed by most communities that are able to maintain the facilities.

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Neuron Signaling Networks:

Each neuron is a complex biomachine in its own right. Combined with its glial cell complement, a neuron forms a potent building block of more complex neural systems. Researchers at the UCSD School of Medicine and Moores UCSD Cancer Center are developing new technology for studying the signaling networks of neurons--how they grow neuritic extensions that form dendrites and axons.
This technological breakthrough opens the door to understanding how neurites form and differentiate to regenerate neuronal connections and give rise to a functioning network. It also led to the discovery of how two key signaling molecules are regulated by a complex protein network that controls neurite outgrowth. Their study will be published the week of January 28 to February 1 in the on-line, early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The formation of neurites, a process called neuritogenesis, is the first step in the differentiation of neurons, the basic information cells of the central nervous system.... Neurons regenerate by sending out one or several long, thin neurites that will ultimately differentiate into axons, which primarily receive signals, or dendrites, primarily involved in sending out signals. These long, branch-like protrusions have a specialized sensory structure called a growth cone that probes the extracellular environment to find its way and determine which direction the neurite should move in order to hook up with other neurites that will also differentiate into axons and dendrites.

The neural signaling network of dendrites and axons forms a huge information grid, which the UCSD team is studying in order to discover how neurons connect properly and regenerate to maintain proper wiring of the brain. Understanding the role that neuritogenesis plays in the regeneration of nerve connections damaged by diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or other neurogenerative diseases is an important component of mapping the signaling network.____Physorg

Neurons in different parts of the brain are specialised for different function--different parts of the genome are turned on and off according to a complex regulatory program. This genomic regulation controls the sophisticated cell-signaling pathway that controls what the cell machinery does--how the neuron connects to other neurons and glial cells in the larger system.

Our nervous systems are made of ultra-sophisticated building blocks. Each neuron is a processor in itself.

It is safe to say that neuroscientists do not understand how consciousness arises from the network of a hundred billion neurons in the human cortex. It is safe to say that artificial intelligence researchers likewise do not have a clue as to how consciousness can arise from neural networks.

The goals of ambitious machine intelligence researchers are laudable. The hopes of singularity enthusiasts and "friendly AI" advocates, are likewise admirable. Needless to say, the foundations of those hopes are less than solid. At this point, and for the foreseeable future, consciousness is the purview of biological nervous systems.

For over half a century, AI researchers have largely ignored the biological, embodied nature of the only consciousness the known universe has ever seen--biological consciousness. By ignoring the embodied nature of consciousness, AI has gone on several quite unproductive wild goose chases. Of course, like Edison with the electric light bulb, AI is learning thousands of ways that AI will not work.

That is not good enough. Researchers such as Jeff Hawkins may have finally started down a road of research that will lead to artificial modular systems that can display some limited aspects of "consciousness." It will be a multi-disciplinary task that will have to learn from neuroscience.

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Biofuels: Ready to Roar

Biofuels do not need to drive up the price of food or cropland. In fact, bio-ethanol can be made from just about any organic material--including municipal waste.
A biofuel startup in Illinois can make ethanol from just about anything organic for less than $1 per gallon, and it wouldn't interfere with food supplies, company officials said....Coskata, which is backed by General Motors and other investors, uses bacteria to convert almost any organic material, from corn husks (but not the corn itself) to municipal trash, into ethanol.

"It's not five years away, it's not 10 years away. It's affordable, and it's now," said Wes Bolsen, the company's vice president of business development.

The discovery underscores the rapid innovation under way in the race to make cellulosic ethanol cheaply. With the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requiring an almost five-fold increase in ethanol production to 36 billion gallons annually by 2022, scientists are working quickly to reach that breakthrough.___Wired
Cellulosic ethanol can produce 5-10 units of energy for every unit consumed. It is an economical approach to biofuels. And even though ethanol is not as energy-dense as gasoline, there are ways to compensate for that deficit:
Ethanol turbocharging—Ethanol has less energy density than gasoline, lowering vehicle miles-per-gallon. However, MIT researchers are studying small turbocharged engines that run on gasoline but have a separate fuel injection system for ethanol. This approach can boost engine efficiency and enable fuel savings of up to 20–30%.____Source
Another approach to biofuels is algal biodiesel. Algae can grow on wastewater effluent. It also thrives on agricultural runoff.
Imagine if you could scoop algae out of your fish tank and put it in your gas tank. It’s not quite that easy, but it is possible to extract usable fuel from algae. Sommerfeld and Hu are working on a way to produce algae-based biodiesel for cars and trucks.

Biodiesel is a cleaner alternative to regular diesel fuel. Diesel is produced from nonrenewable petroleum. Biodiesel comes from renewable sources such as vegetable oils or animal fats. Biodiesel also burns cleaner than diesel, and it is biodegradable. Pure biodiesel can only be used in modified engines, but a diesel-biodiesel mixture can be used in existing diesel engines.

Scientists around the world are working to produce alternative fuels from a wide variety of plant materials. Ethanol derived from corn is already widely used. Unlike corn, however, algae aren’t food crops. And algae doesn’t have to be grown on arable soil—soil that could be used for growing food.____Physorg
China's ongoing energy crisis is forcing it to look into alternatives to coal. Given China's indifference to environmental quality, we can expect environmental devastation to follow wherever China's biofuel investments go:
Sinopec, China's top oil company, reportedly will cooperate with an Indonesian enterprise to set up biofuel plants and to grow energy crops in Indonesia, with a major investment of US$5 billion. Indonesia's national news agency Antara reported about the project, which would become Sinopec's second large overseas biofuel investment.

The plants and plantations are set to be located in Indonesia's Papua and East Kalimantan regions, and will be used for extracting biodiesel from crude palm oil and jatropha curcas oil.....In January 2007, another oil major, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Indonesian government under which it intends to invest $5.5 billion in the development of the biofuel sector in Indonesia, announcing the establishment of 3 biodiesel processing plants in Kalimantan (earlier post).

Besides Sinopec and CNOOC, several other Chinese state-owned and private enterprises have announced large biofuels investments in, amongst other countries, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mozambique and Congo. Most of these investments have gone unnoticed because China is quite discreet about them.____Source
Given China's emphasis on profits above all else, we can expect to see the decline of the environment in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and various African countries--wherever China invests.

More: Bob Zubrin--advocate of Mars exploration and colonisation--has an interesting editorial in Rocky Mountain News related to this topic.

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CO2 and Climate Primer

Atmospheric CO2 levels are rising, never mind why. What are the likely effects on earth's climate and biosphere? This brief PDF document places CO2 into the broader context of climate forcings. With a large number of self-explanatory graphics, it clearly reveals what we should expect from rising CO2 levels, and why.
via Tom Nelson


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China News: Black Monday in Shanghai, Freezing Winter Catches China in Power Crisis

Continued sharp declines in Hong Kong and Shanghai stock markets are making a cold Chinese winter even colder. It does not help that energy supplies--including coal--are running low.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index ended the day down 1,068.76 points, or 4.25 per cent, at 24,053.61. Turnover was 107.7 billion Hong Kong dollars.....Shares fell even more sharply on the Shanghai stock exchange in what Chinese media called a "black Monday."

For the second time within a week, the Shanghai Composite Index dropped by more than 7 per cent in a single day, closing at 4,419.29, down 7.19 per cent....The Shenzhen Composite Index fell 6.85 per cent to 1,335.96 in the ongoing turmoil reflecting stock market developments around the Asian region. ____BangkokPost

The bad economic news comes at a time when China's energy infrastructure is stressed by cold, snow, and ice.
China's premier Wen Jiabao said the country's energy shortage, including coal and oil, will continue or even become worse due to the recent heavy snow and rain in Southern China....Mr. Wen urged local authorities to secure production and supply and added that the bad weather in southern China will continue for the next 10 days, which will have a serious impact on people's living and energy supply.

He said areas facing a power shortage should cut the supply to power-hungry firms. Mr. Wen's comments were posted on the government's Web site yesterday....China is facing a nationwide power shortfall because a drop in coal inventories is forcing power stations to cut output and heavy snowstorms have damaged the power grid. Southern China's coldest, snowiest winter in decades has left millions of Chinese without heat and running water, causing mounting losses from power shortages and other damage.

The government has issued a wide-reaching order to speed food shipments. The order calls on police, railway bureaus and even gas stations to do all they can to ensure timely delivery of food supplies after snow and ice storms clogged roads, cut electricity and delayed deliveries.____WSJ

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27 January 2008

Extensive Snow and Ice: North, and South

Snow cover for the current Northern Hemisphere winter is 2% above normal, and the highest for the past 5 years.
With a major snowstorm in China and snow covering much of Asia and parts of the middle east and a decent snowpack in North America (recently NASA reported 60% of the lower 48 states and all of Canada was snowcovered), our Northern Hemispheric snowcover is now 2% above normal and the highest level in at least 5 years. A rather amazing 25% of the northern Hemispheric is snow and ice covered....December sea ice extent in the Southern Hemisphere was a remarkable 15% above normal and the highest of the entire record as was the case in the late winter (it is now mid-summer and the sea ice is diminishing but is still well above normal).____IceCap
Also linked by Tom NelsonPredictions for further snow this winter:
A briefly bitter cold start to January gave way to a record second week warm spell. Frigid air returned in week 3 concentrated in the central states. It has moderated this weekend in the central and will by early week with some rains in the east but another shot of cold will be felt this week mainly across the north....We are entering a phase of the MJO that favors a series of storms for the west and central states that will bring very heavy snows to many areas there (focused mainly on the Midwest in areas like Des Moines, IA, Chicago IL and Madison, WI).

You will see stories in the news about these snow events through the next few weeks. These storms will ride up through the northeast but those storm track usually mean rain for the east with the exception maybe in some events for the higher elevations up north and west (northern New York and northern Vermont). With time (in a few weeks) the storm track will shift east and assuming there are bullets left in storm gun, the east would get its shot at more snows, in time for ski areas to recover for the important President’s Day week.-----IceCap
Of course, this is only weather. Weather does not become climate until a trend persists for 25 years or more. Weather is driven by the sun, and ocean oscillations. The solar cycles and the cycles of ocean oscillations combine to create longer term climate.

For over a decade, opportunists in politics, the media, certain industries--even in science--have been trying to frame every short term weather event in terms of "catastrophic anthropogenic global warming" (CAGW). A lot of weather events that did not fit the orthodox dogma were either ignored or minimised. But it is now time for everyone to start the clock ticking on the GCM projections of Hansen etc.

Unfalsifiable theories are not science. Up to this point, all we have from Gore, Hansen, etc. is unfalsifiable assertions. Given the public respect and adoration these men have been given (thanks to an uncritical and largely ignorant-of-science media), they should show the courage to lay out a timetable of climate phenomena that would falsify their CAGW theories.

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Peak Oil: Meet Bakken Formation

The Bakken geologic formation straddling the border of the US with Canada, contains a lot of oil shale, and sweet crude. Brian Wang at NextBigFuture looks at the possibility that there may be another "Saudi Arabia's worth" of oil under the plains of Saskatchewan and North Dakota.
Estimates are anywhere from a conservative 25 billion barrels of oil in place, to a high estimate by the United States Geological Survey of 400 billion barrels of oil in the Bakken formation. Not only is the oil plentiful, but it's high quality too, 41 degree light sweet crude. The Bakken formation is a formation of black shale, siltstone, and sandstone. The formation lies beneath the Mississippian formation, Saskatchewan's current source of light sweet crude. The Bakken formation is situated beneath southeastern Saskatchewan, southwestern Manitoba, and North Dakota.

In 2007, EOG Resources out of Houston, Texas reported that a single well it had drilled into an oil-rich layer of shale below Parshall, North Dakota is anticipated to produce 700,000 barrels of oil.____>Brian Wang (much more with links)
No one expects such regional oil deposits to give North America independence from the "dictator's oil" of Russia, the Persian Gulf, Africa, or Venezuela any time soon. Industrial economies necessarily draw their energy from a wide variety of sources--particularly in the age of a booming India and China, with their huge, growing energy demands.

It is interesting to note that Saskatchewan has huge deposits of tar sands farther north, in addition to the potentially enormous deposits of oil shale and sweet crude within Bakken. Will Regina and Saskatoon begin taking on some of the more affluent aspects of Dubai?

Here is a pdf document looking at the estimate of oil within Bakken

It is important for those who truly wish to understand the current energy situation, to know that there is a tremendous shortage of skilled and trained manpower to develop all of the reserves known to exist--and a much greater shortage of trained and skilled manpower needed to explore and discover the huge oil fields likely to exist, but remaining undiscovered. Peak oil is actually a euphemism for the shortage of trained and skilled workers.

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26 January 2008

Take Cloning, Add Artificial Wombs -- Pretty Soon You've Got Yourself A Brave New World

Considering recent breakthroughs in cloning technology (via JWBats), ongoing research in artificial organs, and ongoing research into ectogenesis--one can easily project a future where embryos are created via cloning or IVF, and implanted into artificial wombs for full gestation until delivery.

Human sperm can be made from mesenchymal tissue, should sperm cell counts continue to drop. Parthenogenic fertilisation of human eggs is another possiblity. The creation of chimeric embryos is an even more potentially radical step toward a new world. With nuclear transfer techniques, what would you get by combining the de-nucleated egg of a chimp with the nucleus of a human skin cell?

There is a lot more in the pipeline than those items. But let's go back to simple IVF combined with a reliable artificial womb. Would there be a demand, and would it be an ethical procedure? My projecto-meter answers yes to both questions. In the western world, particularly, modern women want to have it all. Career, family, children, school-girl figure. One problem is time. Another is biological wear and tear. The artificial womb answers both problems, and others besides.

The ethics have to do more with understanding the things that make us truly human, and the things we only believe make us human. That question is ongoing, but I have my opinions.

What about cloning combined with the artificial womb? That is a very fascinating combination that could lead to a truly startling future. Particularly when you throw hybrids and radical germline engineering into the picture.

But that will have to wait for a future time.

Interesting PopSci article on artificial wombs

A series in Slate by William Saletan

Early stage microfluidic artificial wombs


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An Expansive China: Good Witch or Bad Witch?

Image Credit: Bruce Hall
Blogger Bruce Hall has looked at the China phenomenon for some time, and has arrived at some parallel conclusions to my own. China clearly aims to become the single dominant political power on Earth by the end of the 21st century, if not before.

Which raises an interesting question: Is China a "good witch" or is she a "bad witch?"--to borrow a line from The Wizard of Oz. Is China a good hegemon, or a bad hegemon? It should be easy to tell the difference.

Consider a bipolar world, as it existed under the US and the USSR. Two hegemons, two hegemonies. Communist China formerly lay under the protection of the USSR hegemony, as did North Korea and East Germany. But Taiwan, West Germany, and South Korea lay under the US hegemony. Which nations prospered, and which nations languished?

One could easily conclude that the US was a good witch, and the USSR was a bad witch.

So, what kind of witch is China, under the CCP? Economic output is high among nations, and growing. Scientific and technological discovery and output are growing, with strong cooperation between western companies and nations and China. Military strength is growing extremely rapidly, with strong help from Russia, the EU, and Israel--even the US, at least through the 1990s.

China is growing in strength, economic power, and global reach.

What is China doing with this growing power and reach, to help us determine if she is a good witch or a bad witch? When Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, etc. suffered a catastrophic tsunami, was China's military the first to arrive and the last to leave, providing life-saving and normalizing help? In Sudan, where China operates large oil concessions, is China helping to resolve the massive human rights disaster in Darfur, and the equally massive crisis between north and south Sudan? When working with its partner Iran, does China attempt to influence its partner to reduce the dangers of nuclear proliferation or to influence Iran's state sponsored terror outreaches inside Lebanon, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq?

Imagine an internet, where China controls the routers. How would it differ from the internet you know now? No need to imagine, simply look at the internet inside China. Is this the internet of the future that you desire? Where bloggers who attempt to cover protests are beaten to death by government enforcers?

Imagine a world system of justice, where China controls law enforcement, and the courts and the prisons. No need to imagine, just look at Chinese justice, and prisons--particularly the political prisons, suppliers of much needed human organs for high CCP officials.

Imagine a political system controlled by China. No need to imagine. Just look at the CCP, with power over the entire world. No messy and expensive campaigns or elections. Everything is stable, reliable. The proper connections will get you anywhere you need to go, accompanied by the proper bribe. What? You have no connections, no bribes? No worries. Go get a job--get out.

Imagine a world ecosystem under the command of China. No need to imagine. Just look at the rivers of China, at the air of China. Watch China's soil blow away for lack of proper care, watch unchecked development cover the land and pollute the water and air. Watch the soot and dust of China cover the ice and snow of the world, melting, melting, melting....

Imagine a world economic system under China. No need to imagine. No patents, no copyrights, no music or literature royalties. Everything is cheap--and counterfeit! Want to start a company? Bribe the right official--and don't worry about product or process licenses. Just make what you want how you want it, as long as you grease the official's palm. What's that? You are concerned that innovation and invention would drop? No problem. The party will take care of any intransigence on the part of scientists, engineers, inventors, etc. They will know their duty.

Imagine literature, the arts, music under China. No need to imagine. Only the best for party officials and those on good terms with the party. But original composition, art, literature--particularly that which pushes the limits of what is politically correct--sorry, no. Do you like your human organs? Well, then.

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25 January 2008

China: Scratching its Way to the Top by Industrial Espionage, Counterfeiting, Reverse Engineering, Spying, Cheating, Bluffing . . . .

China poses as a rising star in the world of commerce, industry, technology and science. But China's recent stock market scare reveals how closely China's success hangs upon financial and technological achievements in the west. If China were unable to steal, counterfeit, pirate, and reverse-engineer superior achievements of technology and science in the west, how many decades behind the west would China be?
The government believes that, in the next few years, China will surpass South Korea in technical abilities, and Germany in GDP. While China is still a minor player in the world of military high tech, the government is putting lots of money and effort into changing this. Expensive, and long term, efforts are being made to produce high tech items like jet engines, missiles and military electronics. At the current rate of progress, Chinese military technology will match that of the United States in a decade or so.
Strategy Page

In a mad rush to surpass the west, China is poisoning its air and water, destroying and depleting its topsoil, stealing from its trading partners, sending poisoned toys,food,and other merchandise overseas, misrepresenting the size and health of its banks and state enterprises, and becoming the world's leading destructive state computer hacker and possible currency counterfeiter (via N. Korea).
...there is a long record in China of sending government-directed missions overseas to buy or shamelessly steal the best civil and military technology available, reverse engineer it, and build an industrial complex that supports the growth of China as a commercial and military power....The allegations against Chen Jin, of Jiaotong University in Shanghai, are an example of the entrepreneurial approach people take toward industrial espionage and intellectual property theft in China. Chen returned to China after earning a Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2003, China treated Chen like a national hero for inventing China's first signal processing microchip. Last week, Jiaotong University dismissed him, and Chen stands accused of hiring flocks of migrant workers with good manual dexterity and great eyesight to scratch the name "Motorola" off chips and etch in the name of Chen's company, "Hanxin."

Is the government involved in Chinese counterfeiting? What do you think?
The second point is equally important. The piracy and counterfeiting that exists in China is largely the result of a tacit government policy to allow such practices to flourish. China has a relatively comprehensive set of antipiracy statutes on its books. However, little or no enforcement exists, and what fines and punishments do exist serve as only weak deterrents.

The reason for China's tacit sanctioning of widespread counterfeiting and piracy is that the Chinese government is well aware of two things. Counterfeit and pirated goods sold domestically help keep inflation low, and selling these goods internationally creates jobs and export revenues.___Source

Some of the counterfeit exports being sent overseas from China present a significant hazard to the end users.
Counterfeit high-tech items are a growing business, and a growing danger. In addition to computer gear, auto and aircraft components are also being faked. Some aircraft and auto accidents have been traced to the fakes, which makes it a public safety issue. But with the Department of Defense installing counterfeit computer components, it becomes a national security issue. There's also the fear that the Chinese, or some other hostile nation, might get their hands on real computer components, and replace some of the chips with modified ones that will make government networks easier to hack. Yes, it just gets worse.
Strategy Page

China is destabilizing the world's security.
China’s goal is to dominate in all sectors – from the lowest, most labor-intensive sectors to the highest and most advanced technological sectors – as quickly as possible. To accomplish these goals, China must have access to advanced technology. FDI gives China this access. Once the advanced technology is introduced into China, China gains access to the technology. Some of this access is lawful, but much of it is through unauthorized copying, theft, and counterfeiting, all of which allows China to obtain technology transfer without the payment of fees.___Source
China's recent moves into the third world, including Africa, should raise eybrows--particularly regarding the tendency of Chinese consumer exports to be poisoned.

The upcoming Beijing Olympics are a source of pride for the Chinese CCP, but amid all the other illegitimacies, is China hosting a counterfeit Olympics? There is significant international concern over the safety of food and water to be provided by the host country for Olympic athletes and guests. I wonder if the Chinese people themselves are wondering about the future safety of Chinese food and water? No, they're too busy worrying about the present.

China wants to be taken seriously by everyone, including the world's superpower. To accomplish this, China intends to gouge, steal, lie, cheat, copy, counterfeit, hack, intimidate, subvert, proliferate nukes, reverse engineer, spy, and bluster its way to the top.

In the process of its grand strategy, China's people and environment are being poisoned, while the world's environment is sullied. China's pro-proliferation policies and close friendships with state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran and Venezuela, suggests long term plans to destabilize the islands of prosperity within both the developed and developing worlds.

Nothing about the method of China's rise suggests the intent to become a responsible world co-citizen. Nothing indicates a will to create a better world, with prosperity and security for all. Instead we see a Chinese CCP hell-bent to achieve superiority and hegemony in every area--while destroying its own ecology and the ecologies of East Asia. There is nothing admirable or encouraging about China's gutter tactics, its quasi-criminal methods of achievement.

We will see how long the civilised world can ignore China's criminal underworld nature, and what the consequences will be for having ingnored it from the days of Bush I, Bill Clinton, to the present.

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Sun and Ocean Driving Climate, Not CO2

The numbers tell an interesting tale about climate, CO2, the sun, and ocean oscillations. Look at the strength of correlation between temperature records and the three variables below.Source Icecap via NCMedia

Atmospheric CO2 levels have been rising over the past century, and show no sign of slowing down. The apparent association between rising CO2 levels and rising surface temperatures has fueled an apocalyptic media feeding frenzy over the past decade and a half--carrying many politicians and opportunists along with a gullible public. A more sober analysis appears to indicate that other factors may be much more important than the low level CO2 effect.
Much of the rain and snow we are having right now is the result of a La Nina which may be an early indicator that the Pacific has shifted to a cool phase. This shift will bring us back to the weather we had between the 1940 and 1970s. It was a lot colder and wet in the winter and spring. I remember one year when it seemed to rain from December to May. [arid California foothills]

You can down load the whole analysis here (pdf).
NevadaCounty Media Watch
H/T Tom Nelson

Note: AMO in the graph above stands for Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. PDO stands for Pacific Decadal Oscillation. USHCN stands for United States Historical Climatology Network, i.e. ground station temperature record.

More: Oceans affect the world's climate in many ways. Oceans store enormous amounts of solar heat. The ocean is also a huge carbon sink by multiple means. Scientists are learning more all the time about the ability of ocean micro-organisms to use the sun's energy together with atmospheric CO2 to contain and sequester a monstrous amount of carbon.

As the oceans warm from solar heating, they release dissolved CO2 into the atmosphere. This is responsible for most of the rise in atmospheric CO2 being observed in the atmosphere. As the solar cycles move into longer, weaker cycles, that effect will diminish. There is necessarily a lag time of many decades to centuries between the solar cycles and the changes in ocean-CO2 balance.

The simplistic GCMs that focus on CO2 to the exclusion of the truly important climate forcings, have the effect of dumbing down the public in science, and diverting trillions of dollars to non-productive (anti-productive) enterprises. Humans could never reach the next level that way.

Update: Anthony Watts has an excellent posting explaining all the information above over at Watts Up With That. H/T Tom Nelson

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24 January 2008

New Alzheimer's Treatment Approach

An excess of Beta amyloid protein in Alzheimer's patients leads to amyloid plaques and eventual neuronal death. One new approach to treating Alzheimer's is to block the enzymes that cleave the longer protein "APP" into Amyloid Beta, or A Beta.
The molecule, called a beta-secretase inhibitor, prevents the first step in a chain of events that leads to amyloid plaque formation in the brain. This plaque formation creates fibrous clumps of toxic proteins that are believed to cause the devastating symptoms of Alzheimer's.

The study of 48 healthy volunteers showed dose-related reduction in plasma amyloid beta, a protein believed to be a key biomarker of Alzheimer's. Results showed a single dose of the drug produced a greater than 60 percent reduction of the biomarker. Subjects received one of six different doses or a placebo, and the study measured levels of the therapeutic drug and levels of the biomarker in the bloodstream.

"The phase I clinical results are very exciting," Ghosh said. "We hope that this beta-secretase inhibitor drug will be one of the first disease modifying treatments that stops or reverses the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease."
Science Daily

Several new approaches to Alzheimer's treatment are aimed at the A Beta protein--either in preventing its overproduction, or in speeding its elimination. Here is an interesting approach--a vaccine against Amyloid Beta. These approaches have the potential to prevent the onset or full manifestation of Alzheimer's, once diagnosed or strongly suspected. Better screening tests and genetic tests should allow good selection of candidates for various primary and secondary preventive strategies.

Image credit

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Craig Venter Is Not God! Claims Biologist Helen Wallace -- Venter's Wife Declined Comment

Scientists at the Craig Venter Institute were able to synthetically reproduce the genome of a Mycoplasma bacterium--the simplest of life forms. While not the same thing as actually creating a new life form, the feat did require developing genome assembly techniques that will be very useful later when novel lifeforms are actually created.
A team of 17 researchers at the J Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, describes in the journal Science how it has successfully created the largest man-made DNA structure, indeed the largest synthetic molecule, the circular genetic code of an artificial bacterium that it is now trying to breed in the lab.

The scientists led by the human genome pioneer Dr Craig Venter want to create new kinds of bacterium, living chemical factories if you like, to make new types of bugs which can be used as green fuels to replace oil and coal, digest toxic waste or absorb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere....the team specially designed fragments of lab-synthesised DNA to build 101 "cassettes", each consisting of 5,000 to 7,000 letters (base pairs, in the scientific jargon) of genetic code.

Dr Venter's team, notably Clyde Hutchison and the Nobel laureate Ham Smith, also created "watermarks" in the synthetic genome - which had no purpose other than to show it was man made - and knocked out a gene to render it harmless. Essentially, however, the team was trying to make a copy of a natural genome, not design one from scratch.

From here, the team developed novel methods and techniques to assemble the genome, which are the subject of patent applications. "One reason it took so long is that we were trying to develop techniques that were highly robust," says Dr Venter.

They devised a five stage assembly process where the cassettes were joined together in the correct order in sub-assemblies to make larger and larger overlapping pieces that would eventually be combined to build the whole synthetic M. genitalium genome, a ring of DNA consisting of 582,970 letters. At each stage of assembly, the growing pieces were sequenced to make sure they were accurate.

The techniques of genomic assembly that will be patented by the Venter Institute should be the source of lucrative licensing agreements between Venter's Institute and Universities, other labs, and biotech/ chemical /pharmaceutical companies for decades to come.

Other scientists hastened to state that Venter's group did not create new life:
Eckard Wimmer, professor of molecular biology at New York University, said it was clear from Venter's study that the team had not yet created artificial life.... His fears were echoed by Helen Wallace, a biologist and spokesperson for GeneWatch UK, who said that while Venter's team has managed a technical feat, it is some way from being artificial life. "Venter is not God ... He's a long way from creating life," she told AFP.

Here is Venter's first person account.

More from LA Times and NY Times

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