31 March 2009

Climate Models Get Blindsided by Halo Effect

It's getting harder every day for climate modelers to explain why their models predict more warming than actually occurs. One of their excuses recently turned to vapour thanks to NASA GSFC scientists' work.
In their current analysis, Marshak and Varnai found that the bright sky effect was stronger on the sunlit sides of clouds or when the clouds were denser.

Because more light reflects off a denser or sunlit cloud, this suggests that the clear sky brightness near clouds is caused by extra light reflecting off the clouds sideways and then scattering again between the particles in the clear sky area before reaching the satellite. "It's essentially extra energy bouncing off the clouds that enhances the glow of the clear sky," he says.

This effect – called 3D radiative interaction – had been previously identified as a factor cranking up the sky's brightness, but the new data elevates it to the most important factor. This, in turn, means that many estimates of aerosol density may be plain wrong, because most clear sky analyses are close enough to clouds to be affected by the effect, says Marshak.

"Overestimating aerosol density means that climate models will be wrong if they assume a certain amount of aerosol is needed, when in fact it is less," says Varnai. "Given how much climate modelling relies on satellite data such as this, it is important that we figure out how to interpret it correctly." _NS
What this really means is that climate modelers do not understand the dynamics of Earth's heat balance well enough to model climate accurately. Richard Lindzen has an idea or two about where they may be going wrong.
The earth’s climate (in contrast to the climate in current climate GCMs) is dominated by a strong net negative feedback. Climate sensitivity is on the order of 0.3°C, and such warming as may arise from increasing greenhouse gases will be indistinguishable from the fluctuations in climate that occur naturally from processes internal to the climate system itself. _WattsUpWithThat
In other words, climate models over-predict heating because they have the feedbacks of Earth's normal heat dynamics completely backward. Modelers try to hide their mistake behind phantom particulates. But climate model predictions are diverging from real temperature observations more wildly every year. The grifters cannot obscure the real science forever -- even with clowns in the White House.

H/T Tom Nelson

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Google Wants to Have Sex With Your Brain

Google wants to hurry up the brave new world. Google is not only involved in X Prize promotion of new technology, including the Google Lunar X Prize, but is also starting its own venture capital company to boost new ideas with direct capital involvement.

One intriguing idea is to take atmospheric CO2 and turn it into methane, like this group at Penn State is doing. There are oodles of similar bioenergy projects that Google Ventures might consider boosting.

I suspect Google is also interested in extending its search function beyond the internet into the human brain itself. To achieve "brain search", Google will need to better understand the human brain's "inference engine."

But one of Google's ultimate aims is almost certainly the development of a reliable brain-machine interface allowing seamless interaction of humans, computers, and robots.

Of course, with humans linked to the virtual and robotic worlds via new Google brain-machine interfaces, several areas of human productivity and creativity will skyrocket -- including machine design, architecture, various new art media, drug design, and a great deal more. Putting the human mind inside powerful machines will make a huge difference to many fields.

But then, the natural tendency is for humans to want to play games with their new toys and new powers. And one of the favourite games that humans play is the game of sex. Humans will no doubt learn to play that game with robots and virtual worlds as soon as possible.

Millions of people are addicted to their computers as it is. Imagine the situation when virtual worlds and robotic interaction and proxy allow persons to travel around the world instantly, or to experience life on the moon via robot proxy? How many humans will fall in love with their real or virtual robots (sexual or otherwise)? It will happen in many ways.

And Google wants to be there when it does. Google wants to have sex with your brain. Because after that, you will have a difficult time refusing it anything at all.

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30 March 2009

Fear the Plant Food! Run For Your Lives!!!

Image Source
H/T Tom Nelson
Would any sane leader be willing to wreck his nation's economy on the basis of an unproven hypothesis that is largely supported by computer models that have already proven themselves wrong? Well, no. But the Obama / Pelosi reich is not only willing, it is eager to kick the US economy when it is already down.

Did Americans really elect these clowns, or was it all a giant ACORN / Diebold / organised crime / media scam? You'll never know, suckers, so just fuggedaboudit.


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Algae Biofuels for $0.20 a Gallon? Peak Oil

Image Source Brian Wang

Update: After re-reading the article at NewEnergyandFuel more carefully, and after reading the materials at the AlgaeVenture site, I need to clarify the nature of the breakthrough. The impressive improvement in processing efficiency achieved by AlgaeVenture Systems is in the intermediate step of "removing, harvesting, and dewatering." This breakthrough will indeed lead to cheaper algal biodiesel, although for production costs of $0.20 a gallon we will have to wait for similar breakthroughs in the steps of oil extraction and fuels processing / synthesis. This is still a big deal. But not quite the "magic bullet" I at first thought. The Al Fin article below is edited to reflect this more careful second reading.

Algae is a monster at growing rapidly and producing huge quantities of oil. But until now, it has cost between $10 and $20 a gallon to produce biodiesel from algae. Now a company in Ohio claims to have cut the price of processing algae for oil production by a factor of over 100! The technology involves a continuous process de-watering and dry flaking of the algae for oil removal. Brian Westenhaus gives more information:
Ross Youngs, CEO of Univenture, the parent corporation of AlgaeVenture Systems said, “For nearly 40 years, it has been widely accepted that if the cost of removing, harvesting and dewatering algae could be reduced to $50 a ton, algae could become a significant source of fuel. Today we have demonstrated a truly disruptive technology that reduces that cost by more than 99 percent – from $875 per ton to $1.92 per ton. We believe that this breakthrough moves algae back into the spotlight as an economically viable, plentiful source of fuel in the future.”

If this works, scales up and is low cost to buy and install, “disruptive” might be a vast understatement. As the following chart form AlgaeVentures shows, and its loaded to their favor but not by far, the cost to gather, separate out the water and dry down algae so the oil can be harvested is a huge capital and ongoing expense. _NewEnergyandFuel
Read the entire article above, which suggests the "algal pre-processing" price per gallon for algae fuels may drop below 5 cents a gallon! Very difficult to believe, certainly, but breakthroughs have a habit of occurring when least expected. [ The total cost of production for a gallon of biodiesel would also include the costs of cultivation, oil extraction, and fuel synthesis costs. Even so, this development puts algal biofuels on the fast track to being the biodiesel of choice.]

The disruptive part of the technology comes not only from cheap and abundant liquid fuel that is coming, but from the potential to engineer the algae to produce a wide range of chemicals and other products such as high protein animal feeds. Algae are becoming quite useful for water purification of both municipal wastewaters and agricultural runoff. And for the climate catastrophe crowd, algae can eat CO2 like every day is Thanksgiving. This is very big news, if it works.

Update: Brian Wang also covered this story a few days ago.

The longer I think about this partial breakthrough, the more important it seems to me. Algae comes in many species, capable of growing in a wide range of environments. Algal oil production might range from 1,000 gallons per acre to 100,000 gallons per acre -- depending upon the growth setting and the species of algae. Even at the lowest levels, algae can out-perform palm and jatropha -- the best oilseed crops. It has always been a matter of finding economical ways of processing the algae, extracting the oil, and creating the fuel from the oil.

It makes sense that the breakthroughs for each significant step in the overall process would take place separately, and be achieved by different groups. The important thing is that significant progress is being made on all fronts. The cost of producing algal biofuels is falling -- and if enough progress is made the price point at which algal fuels can be sold will cross the price point for petrol fuels somewhere under $5 a gallon within the next 5 to 10 years.

If we do run short of fuel, the problem is more likely to be Obamanomics and Obamapolitics rather than any failure of technology. Any jackass can invent a faux crises, claim it must be solved or it will destroy the planet, then institute policies that create even worse problems as side effects. [Of course, there are some things that could destroy the planet, but Obama is not concerned about those] In this case, the jackass is the Obama / Pelosi reich, promoting a "solution" for climate change. Such stupidity adds significant urgency to the need to develop a non-food crop fuels alternative such as algae -- which thrives on CO2, thrives on salt water and wastewater, thrives in the desert where no crops grow, and so on.

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29 March 2009

Free Online University Lecture Video Central

Google has created "YouTube EDU", a You Tube channel that provides thousands of free online university lecture videos from over a hundred universities.
This robust collection gives you access to lectures by professors and world-renowned thought leaders, new research and campus tours. At the moment, you can access over 200 full courses from leading universities, including MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Yale and IIT/IISc. And it’s all searchable within YouTube EDU. SimoleonSense
Be sure to bookmark the link. While you are at it, bookmark "LectureFox" and World Lecture Hall as well. And don't forget Merlot.org, the granddaddy of autodidact online educational resources.

Face it: These days a Harvard education is simply a waste of time and money. More indoctrination than education these days. Smothered in grade inflation, narcissistic, ideology-blinded professors, and a political correctness that kills original thought.

Everyone has the resources available to provide a better education to high school and pre-high school students than is available to virtually any university student. Online education is relatively new, so it will take time to create the means to deliver the wide range of educational experiences that bricks and mortar campuses can provide -- at their rare best.

Homeschool coops are becoming more creative by the week. These coops take parental involvement to its logical conclusion -- and who cares more about the education of a child? Not a teachers' union, not a department of education bureaucrat, and certainly not a burned out embittered teacher barely hanging on for that precious pension. As alternative learning coops grow, expect them to network across regions, states, provinces, and nations.

Bonus update 30March09: This PLOS Biology book review of "Opening Up Education" provides several links to open source learning resources, for anyone with a more than superficial interest in the topic of open education.

Consider checking out Connexions and Scribd, two information sharing sites with rapidly expanding downloadable content.

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Climactic Childbirth and Breasty Stem Cells

Who says childbirth has to hurt?
Orgasm and childbirth are not two words you expect to find in the same sentence. But, as implausible as it may sound, increasing numbers of mothers are signing up to the Orgasmic Birth movement. Childbirth, they claim, far from being a painful ordeal to endure, can be as ecstatic and pleasurable as the moment of conception itself. Now, with the release of two new documentary films in America depicting orgasmic births, and websites awash with first-hand accounts from women claiming similar experiences, are we about to lift the lid on this taboo? _Times
And who says stem cells are not practical? London Breast Institute scientists are developing a stem cell treatment to help women grow larger breasts.
A trial has already started in Britain to use stem cells to repair the breasts of women who have had cancerous lumps removed. A separate project is understood to be the first in Britain to use the new technique on healthy women seeking breast enlargement.

Professor Kefah Mokbel, a consultant breast surgeon at the London Breast Institute at the Princess Grace hospital, who is in charge of the project, will treat 10 patients from May. He predicts private patients will be able to pay for the procedure within six months at a cost of about £6,500.

“This is a very exciting advance in breast surgery,” said Mokbel. “They [breasts treated with stem cells] feel more natural because this tissue has the same softness as the rest of the breast.” _Times
Solving the problem of painful childbirth plus growing larger breasts? I must say that our scientists are providing a good return on our research investment. Just a few more similar breakthroughs, and I suspect that the largest problem of all -- the demographic collapse of the west -- may actually be solved. Westerners have gone soft and wobbly, in many ways. They seem unable to stand up for themselves against the genuine threats facing civilisation. The modern westerner shares many of the traits of the pampered pet toy poodle, in terms of down-bred potential. The only way to "re-wild" the modern westerner, with his many atrophied potentials, is via basic instincts -- such as sex. If we don't think of something, global dumbing may become universal.

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28 March 2009

Escaping the Apocollapse: If Humans Were Intelligent, What Would They Be Doing Now?

Kevin Kelly's Taxonomy of Collapsitarians:
  1. Luddites, anarchists, and anti-civilization activists...
  2. Goldbugs, survivalists, Y2K holdouts, and slightly right wingers...
  3. Conservationists and greenies....
  4. Somewhat leftist anti-globalists...
  5. Critics of American super-power...(...native academics...prominent historians.)
  6. Former financial employees who see...no escape from, this doom.
Collapsitarians are persons who feel -- for many divergent reasons -- that humans are on the brink of a deep and long-lasting collapse of civilisation. Brian Wang recently riffed on Kevin Kelly's Technium posting on Collapsitarians outlined above. Kevin Kelly appears to be amused by the sheer diversity of background displayed by collapsitarians. He does not so much argue with any of the collapsitarian viewpoints, but rather portrays them all as being somewhat ridiculous.

Brian comes along and looks at Kelly's portrait of the "six species of collapsitarians" and decides that a collapse -- a full collapse -- will not happen. Brian freely admits to bona fide existential risks as described by the Lifeboat Foundation, but feels that humans are intelligent and sensible enough to avoid the most discussed mechanisms for collapse: climate change, peak oil, resource depletion, overpopulation, self-implosion of globalism, nuclear war, economic doom etc. Brian discusses these mechanisms, and presents reasons why they would not cause a total collapse, based upon humans meeting the problems wisely and heading off the collapse. For anyone concerned about the possiblity of a deep, total collapse of civilisation, Brian's article is worth reading.

Brian is quite right that intelligent, wise, and functional human societies could deal with any and all of the listed problems above without breaking a sweat. In fact, many of these "earth-shaking crises" are mostly fabricated problems meant to sell newspapers and to transfer wealth from productive sectors of society to non-productive sectors (academics, politicians, bureaucrats, the UN, etc). Despite all the angst, the sleepless nights, the nightmares of children -- the problems simply do not exist at any meaningful level. And the rest could, as Brian maintains, be dealt with relatively easily by smart societies.

But -- have you seen any smart societies around lately? Voters have been electing some particularly clownish leaders recently in nations from the UK to the US to Russia to Australia. Such fools as these can only create new problems and make existing problems virtually insoluble -- they will not be solving any important problems soon. Rather than allocating resources wisely, governments led by such cracked pots will maximise mis-allocation of resources -- from the productive to the non-productive on a grand scale.

All of humanity's problems are soluble. But not if the scarce resources needed to solve the problems are mis-allocated by corrupt and ambitious leaders of limited wisdom and foresight. Within the developed world, governments have grown so huge and bloated as to become a suffocating force upon the creativity of the underlying society. Growing government becomes its own end, rather than a means to empower the creativity and enterprise of its citizens. Ballooning taxes become the largest single expense of any working person, steadily eliminating the life choices the person could have otherwise made. Smooth-talking politicians explain why all of this is necessary and for a very good cause. In the end, government workers become a privileged class, parasites on the few producers who remain.

In the US, the election of Obama does not cause Apocollapse. The problems leading to the collapse of the US economy have been in place for almost a hundred years. They grew alarmingly during the 1930s, the 1960s, the late 1970s and the late 1990s. George W. Bush looked the other way while the programmed growth of these problem entities occurred on his watch -- and seemed not to take them into account in his own foreign policy decisions. And then Obama happened . . . .

Obama is the epitome of the clueless clown president, the smooth talker that puts zombie brains to sleep with words given him by others who happen to be good with words -- and know what the zombies want to hear. Obama is taking phantom, non-existing problems and making them a priority in his administration. He is taking small problems and turning them into huge problems. And he is taking huge problems and turning them into insurmountable problems.

I admire the optimism that Brian Wang displays, as he presents quite sensible responses to the popular collapsitarian concerns of the day. If humans were actually intelligent, capable of electing sensible leaders and of holding these leaders to account, the solutions to problems would occur largely as Brian describes. But that is not the situation we find ourselves in.

There will be a collapse. Whether it will happen soon, before Obama can reinflate all the pre-existent economic bubbles, or whether Obama can defer the collapse until after he leaves office, is only relevant to the timing. Will it be a "total collapse?" Not likely.

Although societies as a whole are growing dumber -- as witnessed by the ability to elect an Obama -- within those societies are persons of strong core competencies who will seek each other out if things get bad enough. Around these competent cores will grow functional islands in the middle of a larger dysfunctional society. If enough functional islands can link up and provide an inspiration to enough persons in the larger society, many of the corrupt and dysfunctional drags on society can be dispensed with, at least temporarily.

Some very amazing technologies are being researched, developed, and trying to find their way to market. There are a few of these technologies that are so powerful that they will make it very difficult for the populist Obamanoids of the world to use the stupidity of the majority as a weapon against humanity as a whole. In the long run, Brian Wang is correct in his optimism. In the short and middle run, however, we are in for some excitement that most of us would rather avoid.

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Financial Armageddon, When Giants Fall

When Giants Fall is Michael Panzner’s follow up to Financial Armageddon, a book that turned out to be eerily prophetic with respect to the current economic crisis. Panzner may not be as well known as people like Peter Schiff, but he was saying the same type of things few years back. He has been one of a select few to have successfully predicted a lot of what has transpired to date. _FundamentalsAnalyst_via_SimoleonSense

Check out Panzner discussing "When Giants Fall" 1 2 3 4 from CSpan Book TV, via vimeo. Panzner should take his place next to Jim Rogers and Peter Schiff as analysts who predicted the current troubles, and who may have some rational advice for how to respond to the wholesale wealth destruction taking place.

SimoleonSense blog is proving to be a fertile source of information on topics of investment, economy, and the psychology of money and wealth. It is truly a blog for the times.


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Seastead Movement Marches On to Cato

Patri Friedman of the Seasteading Institute will speak at the Cato Institute in DC on Tuesday April 7. The event is open to the public free of charge, and will be webcast live -- see link above for details. Doug Bandow and Arnold Kling of the Cato Institute will add comments at the event.

Seasteading is the colonisation of the seas by full-time residents. New technology is making a prosperous life on the sea possible for a wide range of individuals. The Seasteading Institute is dedicated to the development of the seasteading idea, and to the promotion of its practical realisation.

Thanks to Chris Moody at Cato for the update.

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27 March 2009

Space X Falcons To Do NASA's Job

Elon Musk's SpaceX is preparing for at least 12 launches of the Falcon9 heavy payload kerosene / liquid oxygen rockets for NASA.
Since January, SpaceX's heavy-payload Falcon 9 launch vehicle has stood 180 feet above Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, undergoing ground-systems tests in the run-up to its first test flight. The reusable Falcon series, named for the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars, has nine engines that provide more than a million pounds of thrust. Last September, the smaller, 70-foot-tall Falcon 1 became the first privately developed liquid-fueled rocket to orbit the Earth. _PopSci
NASA is too busy chasing the global warming delusion to focus on its former primary mission: space launch. That is why NASA is contracting out the space launch business to private contractors. Now that the rocket scientists have all retired, all who remain are computer climate modelers. Like Jumping James Hansen (NASA GISS), famous inspiration for Al Gore.

The answer is not bigger government space agencies. The answer is for private enterprise to find profitable uses for space. Uses of outer space that not only support themselves, but also fund further exploration into the void.

Obama the clown wants to grow government so large that nothing else will ever become powerful enough to escape the net. The zombies call it a safety net. But any safety net that is too big to fail is also too big to allow you to be free.

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Mind Maps Video

Mind maps are a way of organising our thoughts, plans, projects, etc.
# Start from the center of the page and work out.
# Make the center a clear and strong visual image that depicts the general theme of the map.
# Create sub-centers for sub-themes.
# Put key words on lines. This reinforces structure of notes.
# Print rather than write in script. It makes them more readable and memorable. Lower case is more visually distinctive (and better remembered) than upper case.
# Use color to depict themes, associations and to make things stand out.
# Anything that stands out on the page will stand out in your mind.
# Think three-dimensionally.
# Use arrows, icons or other visual aids to show links between different elements.
# Don't get stuck in one area. If you dry up in one area go to another branch.
# Put ideas down as they occur, wherever they fit. Don't judge or hold back.

H/T SimoleonSense

Move your best ideas from inside your head out into the world where they can rub elbows with other ideas. Use mind maps, journals, blogs, art, audio and video messages to yourself, and whatever passageways you can find.


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"Fantasy Economy" Tries to Drive Oil Rally

Oil watchers, buoyed by the optimism displayed by US President Obama in recent public statements, have begun laying the groundwork for a huge rally in world oil markets.
Once economies start growing again -- Moody's Investors Service expects the turnaround to start in early 2010 -- supply won't be able to come on line fast enough to meet demand. That mismatch suggests energy prices are poised to begin spiking again....

....This is sparking early enthusiasm for oil, natural gas, industrial metals, and in some cases, even food. Lately the business press has been rife with fresh reports of hedge fund managers and other investors still holding money staking new positions in commodities. Such outside investors were a key factor in driving up demand for energy investments during the record bull run of 2007 and early 2008. _NYT
Conventional wisdom among oil traders is that lower oil production will not be able to keep up with a rebounding demand for oil that is bound to occur over the next several months. Economic projections from both US and Chinese governments suggest that late 2009 and early 2010 will see both economies beginning to bounce back. Are such expectations realistic? Or is this an example of yet another attempt to create a demand bubble where no demand truly exists?
U.S. inventories continue to expand, but many analysts are forecasting tight supplies in the future as economies stabilize, and the world works off its surplus of crude.

A plunge in oil exploration will make it even tougher to quench the world's appetite for petroleum in the future, experts said.

"But that's still several years away," said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates. By cutting so much production, OPEC and other oil producers have the ability to meet even a huge jump in demand, he said.

Christoffer Moltke-Leth, head of sales trading at Saxo Capital Markets in Singapore, predicted that oil will be capped around $55 a barrel, and could fall as low as $43 a barrel, over the next two weeks if other countries release more gloomy economic data as expected.

Japan, which said exports plunged by nearly half in February, will release a quarterly business sentiment survey called the "tankan" next Wednesday that experts say is likely to be quite gloomy.

"Japan is the world's third-largest oil consumer, and the tankan is expected to drop to a 30-year low," Moltke-Leth said. "I see more demand destruction down the way." _AP
Demand destruction is what happens when prices are artificially raised above what market fundamentals can support. It is what happened in the summer of 2008, when oil markets were driven insane by traders fleeing a collapsing housing market, looking to preserve wealth that was evaporating before their eyes. Naturally, their efforts led to an even worse collapse.

What can we expect from oil markets (and the economy at large?)
Crude oil futures fell Friday in Asia as traders opted to take profit amid lingering uncertainty if the recent price upswing can be sustained in the face of weak fundamentals.

Oil prices, up nearly 22% so far this year, have climbed steadily in the past week as market participants assumed the key U.S. economy could recover sooner than previously thought, potentially shoring up growth elsewhere and in turn lead to a rebound in global energy demand. _WSJ
Why would "market participants assume" that the US economy could recover sooner than previously thought? Why would they try to drive up prices ahead of any recovery -- when anyone capable of understanding supply and demand could see the inevitable demand destruction such an artificial oil boom would create? For three reasons:
  1. They have no understanding of how healthy economies work
  2. Wishful thinking is a powerful driver of assumptions
  3. Government spokespersons are given far more credibility than warranted
How can I, Al Fin, say that many persons who make a living in capital markets fail to understand how healthy economies work? How indeed! As for wishful thinking, you can't blame a trader for wanting to make money. Certainly the media is largely responsible for the widespread pathological lack of skepticism in US government pronouncements.

Mr. Obama and his gang are running a "fantasy economy" game, much like "fantasy football" except far less believable -- if not for billions of dollars of free media support given to the reich by an adoring circle jerk press.

Obama has always assumed that capitalists would pull the economy out of the recession, regardless of how deeply the clown president's policies rutted the economy. He has no idea how the economy could be revived, but he assumes that someone must know. Obama is, after all, just the commander in chief. It is up to the lower-downs to puzzle out the details. Obama must keep the big picture in mind. The fantasy economy big picture. It has gotten him this far.

This posting is an expansion on an earlier post at abu al-fin


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26 March 2009

Freeman Dyson: Contrarian National Treasure

“According to the global-warming people, I say what I say because I’m paid by the oil industry. Of course I’m not, but that’s part of their rhetoric. If you doubt it, you’re a bad person, a tool of the oil or coal industry.” Global warming, he added, “has become a party line.”_NYT
Freeman Dyson is a physicist at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study. Widely dmired for his brilliance and his modesty, the 85 year old Dyson has lately ruffled feathers among the conformist glitterati by expressing doubts about the dangers of "global warming." And so naturally, the echo chambers of climate catastrophe orthodoxy have rushed to paint the grand old scientist as a closet sell-out to the coal companies, or as a demented old fool well past his prime.
But in the considered opinion of the neurologist Oliver Sacks, Dyson’s friend and fellow English expatriate, this is far from the case. “His mind is still so open and flexible,” Sacks says. Which makes Dyson something far more formidable than just the latest peevish right-wing climate-change denier. Dyson is a scientist whose intelligence is revered by other scientists — William Press, former deputy director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and now a professor of computer science at the University of Texas, calls him “infinitely smart.” Dyson — a mathematics prodigy who came to this country at 23 and right away contributed seminal work to physics by unifying quantum and electrodynamic theory — not only did path-breaking science of his own; he also witnessed the development of modern physics, thinking alongside most of the luminous figures of the age, including Einstein, Richard Feynman, Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Hans Bethe, Edward Teller, J. Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Witten, the “high priest of string theory” whose office at the institute is just across the hall from Dyson’s.

...Among Dyson’s gifts is interpretive clarity, a penetrating ability to grasp the method and significance of what many kinds of scientists do. His thoughts about how science works appear in a series of lucid, elegant books for nonspecialists that have made him a trusted arbiter of ideas ranging far beyond physics. Dyson has written more than a dozen books, including “Origins of Life” (1999), which synthesizes recent discoveries by biologists and geologists into an evaluation of the double-origin hypothesis, the possibility that life began twice; “Disturbing the Universe” (1979) tries among other things to reconcile science and humanity. “Weapons and Hope” (1984) is his meditation on the meaning and danger of nuclear weapons that won a National Book Critics Circle Award. Dyson’s books display such masterly control of complex matters that smart young people read him and want to be scientists; older citizens finish his books and feel smart. _NYT
Dyson loves science, which is why he has no patience with James Hansen and the other computer modelers who make claims for their models far beyond the wildest reality. Smart thinkers such as Dyson understand how easy it is to "tweak" a computer model to get just the sort of result you want. He sees Hansen as a partisan and a hysteric, and sees Al Gore as the crudest of opportunists -- cashing in big, on the fad of the day.

You do not have to be a world class scientist to be skeptical of climate grifters such as Al Gore and James Hansen. And you do not have to be a complete idiot to believe in the faux consensus of the climate catastrophe orthodoxy. But it couldn't hurt. ;-)

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Intelligence Correlates With Cortical Thickness

McGill University scientists have studied data from the NIH "MRI Study of Normal Brain Development" and discovered that the thickness of the cortex correlates with the person's intelligence scores on cognitive tests.
The association between regional cortical thickness and intelligence has been little studied and most previous studies of normal children had a relatively small sample. So with improvements in MRI-based quantification of cortical thickness and a much larger sample, researchers aimed to examine this relationship and to further characterize and identify brain areas where cortical thickness was associated with cognitive performance.

Cortical thickness may in part reflect the amount of complex connections between nerve cells. In other words, thicker cortices are likely to have more complex connections with consequences on cognitive ability. A positive link between cortical thickness and cognitive ability was detected in many areas of the frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital lobes. The regions with the greatest relationship were the 'multi-modal association' areas, where information converges from various regions of the brain for processing.

"A principal finding of this study is that it supports a distributed model of intelligence where multiple areas of the brain are involved with cognitive ability difference instead of the view that there is just one centre or structure important for intelligence differences in the brain," says Dr. Sherif Karama, psychiatrist at the MNI and co-investigator in the study. "Previous studies have shown a link between intelligence differences and individual brain structure or function. This is the first time that a correlation between a general cognitive ability factor and essentially most, if not all, cortical association areas is demonstrated in the same study." _PO
This type of research is a refreshing departure from the PC thought police suppression and persecution of IQ oriented research on many university campuses. Recent brain imaging research comparing mono- and di-zygotic twins reinforces the heritable nature of intelligence and brain processing speed. A better understanding of the origins and nature of human intelligence will allow better treatments for cognitive disorders of all types.

Prevailing dysfunctional leftist oppression of research into human cognition may have set back treatment for cognitive dysfunction by decades. Fortunately, as the tools for studying the structural, physiological, genetic, and biochemical basis of intelligence improve, leftist suppression of research (in many areas of science) will grow more difficult.

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25 March 2009

Russia"s Backward Technology Base Is Crippling The Empire's Ambitious Future

One of the many reasons for the collapse of the USSR was the inability of the creaking Soviet empire to keep up with both the military and the civilian technologies of the western world. So, you would expect Vladimir Putin to do everything in his power to strengthen and diversify domestic investment in a broad range of Russian scientific and technological research, nicht wahr? Particularly if Putin was planning to present a belligerent face to the world, as in the recent invasion and occupation of Georgia.

But instead, Putin has alienated foreign investors -- including the foreign companies he needs to help maintain the rich Russian oil and gas fields -- and neglected domestic educational and research facilities. Russia's universities and large industries have been allowed to decline, and much of Russia's wealth as been dismantled and shipped to financial havens out of the country. And Russia's military? Russia's military is a rusting shell barely covering a core of corruption, disrepair, and demoralised incompetence.
...“the record to date of money being loaned by the state central budget to defense industry is not a happy one. Examples of some of all of this money being diverted into peoples’ pockets are well-known, so it is questionable if even half of this $56 billion will end up where it is supposed to.”

“Additionally, it is impossible to deny that some parts of Russian industry are no longer capable of producing a full-up weapon system and never will be able to again. Sooner or later Russia will end up importing weapons–instead of making them as they have done for decades. It is already easier all the time to import foreign components that are incorporated into Russian weapon platforms for the simple reason that there are no longer any Russian analogues to these components in production. Moving from this situation to importing whole, final-production weapon systems to Russia is not such a small step anymore.

When Chemezov created ROT and acquired control of almost every Russian industrial enterprise worth owning he looked as though his corporate behemoth had also acquired that “too big to fail” label that we are hearing so much about in the United States during the current world financial meltdown. But, just wishing does not make it so. No one can undo the almost 20 years of neglect and zero investment that Russian industry has suffered. No matter how much is done now failure in the defense sector seems about the only option and drinking the night away in Abu Dhabi instead of tending to business is only going to accelerate that decline. _WeeklyStandard_via_LaRussophobe
Russia is losing between 400,000 and 700,000 ethnic Russians a year -- via low birth rates and high death rates. Within a matter of mere decades there will not be enough ethnic Russians to defend most of Russia from being taken over by its neighbors -- including China (or whatever fragments of China are still functioning at that time). China is not allowing Russia to bluff it any longer. Unfortunately, Obama and his clowns are eminently bluffable. Unless the clowns are sent to the old clown's home soon, China would appear to be the winner of this three man Mexican standoff. Until China itself crumbles.

Then things begin to get very interesting, in a rather Idiocratic way of things.


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US National Debt: Ten Trillion and Counting

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This week's Frontline (link via SimoleonSense) dealt with the blooming US National Debt, destined to double within the next ten years. In all likelihood, under Obama the debt will double within 5 years -- but then, who's counting? Certainly no one running the current government of clowns.

The graphic above demonstrates the rapid acceleration of deficit spending under the barely begun Obama administration. Intelligent persons will ignore the Obama administration projections, then take the CBO projections and double them.

View the Frontline episode

Here is an excerpt from the Frontline interview with Paul O'Neill (via Paul Kedrovsky via SimoleonSense):
Can the United States government go bankrupt?

Not in the classical sense, but we could get ourselves into a position where people won't take our paper anymore. And that's a really desperate position to be in when we've killed the idea of good faith and credit of the United States. That could destroy our society as we've known it.

Can't we just turn the printing press on?

Nope, because at some point people will prefer to have broken pieces of glass than federal money. ... Look at the German economy in 1923. People got paid twice a day in Germany in 1923, because if they waited to spend the money that they were paid at lunchtime at dinnertime, the money wouldn't be worth anything.

And so people were actually willing to pay all of their money, a wheelbarrow full of money, for a broken piece of shiny glass, because the broken glass was worth more than a wheelbarrow full of money. We don't want to get there, but semi-modern societies have gotten there. _Frontline


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24 March 2009

The Mother of All EMP Armageddons

First to go - immediately for some people - is drinkable water. Anyone living in a high-rise apartment, where water has to be pumped to reach them, would be cut off straight away. For the rest, drinking water will still come through the taps for maybe half a day. With no electricity to pump water from reservoirs, there is no more after that.

....supermarket shelves would empty very quickly - delivery trucks could only keep running until their tanks ran out of fuel, and there is no electricity to pump any more from the underground tanks at filling stations.

Back-up generators would run at pivotal sites - but only until their fuel ran out. For hospitals, that would mean about 72 hours of running a bare-bones, essential care only, service. After that, no more modern healthcare. _NewScientist
It has happened before, and it will happen again. A severe solar storm strong enough to destroy huge areas of electric power across a continent such as North America. In 1859, the Carrington Event provided eight days of severe solar storms. Should anything like that happen these days, large parts of the Earth might be without power for several months or longer.
According to the NAS report, a severe space weather event in the US could induce ground currents that would knock out 300 key transformers within about 90 seconds, cutting off the power for more than 130 million people (see map). From that moment, the clock is ticking for America.

...The truly shocking finding is that this whole situation would not improve for months, maybe years: melted transformer hubs cannot be repaired, only replaced. "From the surveys I've done, you might have a few spare transformers around, but installing a new one takes a well-trained crew a week or more," says Kappenman. "A major electrical utility might have one suitably trained crew, maybe two."

Within a month, then, the handful of spare transformers would be used up. The rest will have to be built to order, something that can take up to 12 months.

Even when some systems are capable of receiving power again, there is no guarantee there will be any to deliver. Almost all natural gas and fuel pipelines require electricity to operate. Coal-fired power stations usually keep reserves to last 30 days, but with no transport systems running to bring more fuel, there will be no electricity in the second month.
30 days of coal left

Nuclear power stations wouldn't fare much better. They are programmed to shut down in the event of serious grid problems and are not allowed to restart until the power grid is up and running.

With no power for heating, cooling or refrigeration systems, people could begin to die within days. There is immediate danger for those who rely on medication. Lose power to New Jersey, for instance, and you have lost a major centre of production of pharmaceuticals for the entire US. Perishable medications such as insulin will soon be in short supply. "In the US alone there are a million people with diabetes," Kappenman says. "Shut down production, distribution and storage and you put all those lives at risk in very short order."

Help is not coming any time soon, either. If it is dark from the eastern seaboard to Chicago, some affected areas are hundreds, maybe thousands of miles away from anyone who might help. And those willing to help are likely to be ill-equipped to deal with the sheer scale of the disaster. "If a Carrington event happened now, it would be like a hurricane Katrina, but 10 times worse," says Paul Kintner, a plasma physicist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

In reality, it would be much worse than that. Hurricane Katrina's societal and economic impact has been measured at $81 billion to $125 billion. According to the NAS report, the impact of what it terms a "severe geomagnetic storm scenario" could be as high as $2 trillion. And that's just the first year after the storm. The NAS puts the recovery time at four to 10 years. It is questionable whether the US would ever bounce back. _NewScientist
It is partly our dependency on technology that makes us vulnerable to natural disasters such as severe space weather, a supervolcano, or a large space rock crashing half a world away. Anything that would interfere with electrical power, transportation, or electronic communication, has the potential to lead to millions of deaths inside even the most advanced countries.

A mere 15 minutes of warning would be too short a time to do anything to prevent cascading power failures and power infrastructure burnout from a severe geomagnetic storm.

The good thing about an electromagnetic apocalypse -- as opposed to a space rock or supervolcano apocalypse -- is that geomagnetic storms will not significantly change the weather to prevent the growth of food crops. Those who can plant, cultivate, and harvest their crops should survive for the most part. After a supervolcano or space rock collision, the Earth might go several seasons before the climate returns to normal, for purposes of agriculture.

Being able to live "off the grid" would provide a distinct advantage, should Earth suffer an extended string of severe solar storm exposure. After such a run of violent space weather, PV panels would be worth their weight in gold.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.


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Turning Cellulose Into Fuels, Plastics, Chemicals

The bio-gateway to abundant energy and wealth was just opened a crack. Cellulose is one of nature's favourite ways of storing solar energy. But human machines and power systems do not run well on cellulose. Naturally, a conversion from cellulose to high density liquid, solid, and gaseous forms of energy storage is vital. But, how to do it? Using clever and efficient enzymes can be a good way, but single enzymes lack the power and versatility to do everything necessary. Hence, the "gang of 15 enzymes" working together.
Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) led by Frances H. Arnold, the Dick and Barbara Dickinson Professor of Chemical Engineering and Biochemistry at Caltech, and gene-synthesis company DNA2.0 have developed a new group of 15 highly stable fungal enzyme catalysts that efficiently break down cellulose into sugars at high temperatures for conversion into a variety of renewable fuels and chemicals.

Previously, fewer than 10 such fungal cellobiohydrolase II (CBH II) enzymes were known. In addition to their remarkable stabilities, Arnold’s enzymes degrade cellulose over a wide range of conditions. A paper on the work was published 23 March in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This is a really nice demonstration of the power of synthetic biology. You can rapidly generate novel, interesting biological materials in the laboratory, and you don’t have to rely on what you find in nature. We just emailed DNA2.0 sequences based on what we pulled out of a database and our recombination design, and they synthesized the DNA. We never had to go to any organism to get them. We never touched a fungus.
—Dr. Frances Arnold

...Arnold and Caltech postdoctoral scholar Pete Heinzelman created the 15 new enzymes using a process called structure-guided recombination. Using a computer program to design where the genes recombine, the Caltech researchers mated the sequences of three known fungal cellulases to make more than 6,000 progeny sequences that were different from any of the parents, yet encoded proteins with the same structure and cellulose-degradation ability.

By analyzing the enzymes encoded by a small subset of those sequences, the Caltech and DNA2.0 researchers were able to predict which of the more than 6,000 possible new enzymes would be the most stable, especially under higher temperatures (a characteristic called thermostability). _GCC
Very clever. And this is just the beginning.

We are living in a biological world. When we start working with biology to get more of the things we want, we can begin building a veritable cornucopia of riches.

Cross posted to Al Fin Energy

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23 March 2009

Strippers, Porn Stars, and Prostitutes: Women Coping in the Age of Obama

As a bartender and trainer at a national restaurant chain, Rebecca Brown earned a couple thousand dollars in a really good week. Now, as a dancer at Chicago’s Pink Monkey gentleman’s club, she makes almost that much in one good night. _Source
Obama has barely begun destroying the US economy, but already women are rushing to fill positions within the "recession proof fallback professions" of exotic dancing, porn video star, and various degrees of prostitution.
Employers across the adult entertainment industry say they’re seeing an influx of applications from women who, like Brown, are attracted by the promise of flexible schedules and fast cash. Many have college degrees and held white-collar jobs until the economy soured
As we begin to probe the depths of an Obama depression, basic human motivations and drives come to the forefront. As more respectable businesses find themselves unable to survive under the harsh economic conditions being created by the poor policies of today's incompetent governments, less respectable ways of making a living are being sought.
In this economy, “desperate measures are becoming far more acceptable,” said Jonathan Alpert, a New York City-based psychotherapist who’s had clients who worked in adult entertainment.
You will find this phenomenon anywhere the market economy is prevented from working by corrupt and overly meddlesome governments. The Obama reich qualifies on both counts.
Rhode Island’s Foxy Lady held a job fair Saturday, seeking to fill about 35 positions for dancers, masseuses, bartenders and bouncers. The Providence Journal reported that more than 150 job seekers showed up to apply for work at the strip club.
There are a number of risks to these professions. Men and women who get caught up in these and other popular entertainments too often become addicted to potent, expensive, and illicit drugs -- which can tip already complicated lives over the brink into chaos. In some situations, exposure to diseases such as hepatitis and HIV can add further risk to these grey and black market activities.

But these alternative professions are only a few of the ways that displaced and depressed workers are bypassing traditional employment. As in any depression, the global Obama depression is supporting the expansion of the black market economy across many sectors, in many countries -- rich and poor. Unfortunately, crime is yet another black market activity likely to expand under President Obama.

Thanks to Obama, we are seeing a dramatic expansion of all levels of government that will lead to an even greater contraction of the private sector. There will be fewer paths to wealth and financial security outside of government, other than the grey and black markets. This is just one part of making the US into yet another third world nation. Obama has many other parts covered as well.

Source for above quotes

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

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22 March 2009

Why a Woman's Brain is Like an Avalanche, a Landslide, an Earthquake, or a Hurricane

Critical dynamics are recognized as typical of many different physical systems including piles of rice or sand, earthquakes and mountain avalanches. _PLOSCompBio
Anyone who observes a woman quite closely will see that she is never the same person twice. Women are intrinsically changeable, and the reason for that is that a woman's brain is exquisitely changeable. Have you ever wondered about the processes that lie behind a woman's changeable brain?

The answer resides in an obscure field of study known as "self organised criticality." Self-organised criticality deals with systems that are able to balance on the razor's edge between chaos and order. Such systems, like a woman's brain, can tip in either direction -- seemingly without warning.
Self-organized criticality is an intuitively attractive model for functionally relevant brain dynamics [4]–[7]. Many cognitive and behavioral states, including perception, memory and action, have been described as the emergent properties of coherent or phase-locked oscillation in transient neuronal ensembles [8]–[11]. Critical dynamics of such neurophysiological systems would be expected to optimize their capacity for information transfer and storage, and would be compatible with their rapid reconfiguration in response to changing environmental contingencies, conferring an adaptive ability to switch quickly between behavioral states [12]. _PLOSCompBio
No one is claiming that women in particular lack mental and behavioural self-control. A man's brain exhibits the same self-organised criticality as a woman's brain. In fact, in the PLOS study linked above, fMRI and MEG imaging demonstrated this very criticality without regard to gender.

But science has made it clear that the male brain and the female brain -- at the prototype level -- exhibit distinct differences in their unique "strange attractors" and preferences. Such differences are operative at all scales of neurological, cerebral, and mental / behavioural levels.

And so although a woman is indeed like an avalanche, a woman's brain is much more finely ordered and versatile. Not only can her brain flow like a torrent in any given direction, but it can also "reset" itself. Once reset, her brain can flow like a torrent in other directions, or run in a calmer, slower trickle. The brain, perched upon the edge of chaos, can flow in seemingly limitless directions. But although the brain can reset itself, it is never exactly the same from one moment to the next.

The human brain -- both male and female -- works very hard to maintain itself perched upon the cusp of criticality, between order and chaos. The brain uses 20% of the energy taken in by the body, although it constitutes only 2% of the body's weight. It is not easy, being so changeable. And yet it is necessary if the brain is to learn to survive and thrive in a changeable world.

What is the basic unit of brain criticality? A neuron? A cortical column? A lobe, a hemisphere, the entire cortex -- even the entire brain / body? It depends. The concept of criticality extends at least downward to the neuronal level, and upward at least to the hemispheric / holo-cortical levels. Different types of "brainquakes" require different quantities of brain substrate.

Think of a line of dominoes, stood on end in a long serpentine line. Tip the end dominoe into the line and the entire snake topples in sequence. The brain is like an immense array of dominoes that can fall in any of 3 dimensions. These 3-D dominoes can produce an amazing variety of shapes in their toppling, but seem to prefer particular shapes over others. And they can reset themselves!

Think of it as an active landscape that evolves certain preferences over time. If a particular landscape is instantiated repeatedly (a habit), the brain will more naturally fall into that landscape with just the gentlest nudge.

Yes, a woman's brain is like an avalanche, an earthquake, a hurricane. So be gentle and kind -- but be wary. Be ever so wary.

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21 March 2009

Clash of the Super Tower Arcologies

Above is pictured the Ultima Tower, a 500 story, 10,560 foot tower meant to house a million residents. Cost in 1991 dollars: $150 billion. Source
At 13,123 feet high, the massive, mountain-shaped building envisioned by Japan's Taisei Construction Company would overshadow Mount Fuji itself by nearly 700 feet. That's the equivalent of NINE Empire State Buildings stood one upon the other!

The building, known as the X-Seed 4000, is designed to house up to one million residents on as many as 800 floors! Designers have had to consider tricky questions of temperature and pressure differentials between the base and topmost floors, and are looking to utilize solar power to solve these and other critical issues. The cost, you ask? Somewhere between $300 and $900 billion...Source
Either structure is meant to house a million inhabitants, but the X-Seed is a bit taller and perhaps more carefully engineered up to this point.A more modest arcology is the Crystal Island project designed for Moscow by Foster and Partners.

Paolo Soleri envisioned arcologies as solutions to the problem of urban sprawl, and destruction of natural habitat by human development. He designed arcologies for land, sea, and outer space. But until significant advances are made in strength vs. weight vs. cost of building materials, truly huge arcologies will likely have to wait.

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The best way to save the planet for the next generation is not to have a next generation _Mark Steyn

Forty per cent of children in London primary schools now speak a language other than English at home. The Muslim population of the United Kingdom is growing 10 times faster than the rest of the population. No matter how frantically the ecochondriacs tie their tubes, their country grows ever more crowded. This is a story not of “overpopulation,” but of population transformation. MarkSteyn_via_FabiusMaximus
Eco zealots / zombies want women in the west to stop having babies -- to serve as an example to all the tribal people of the world. Save the planet, eradicate yourselves! It is the theme of the Dieoff.org generation. Modern radical feminism meshes perfectly with modern radical environmentalism and modern radical anti-European racism. They are not just anti-European, they are anti-male. But they are not just anti-male and anti-European -- they are also anti-human. You can simply tag the modern left as "anti". Or if you want to be more positive, call them pro-anti.
The basic assumption behind the multi-trillion-dollar deficits in the U.S. is that there will be a permanently growing population to cover it, eventually. Pace Mr. Kotler, Americans still have kids and grandkids to stick it to. Europeans don’t. Yet Big Government presupposes population growth—that there will be a new generation of workers to keep France’s fiftysomething retirees in the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed....Banking is really a kind of demographic shorthand—a means by which old people with capital can lend to young people with energy and ideas. It’s no coincidence that in Japan— the oldest society on earth—the banking sector nosedived just as the demographics headed irreversibly south. Who do you lend to in Germany? Or Scotland? Traditional risk assessment is simply not possible in such circumstances.

...The U.S. and other governments are now trying to re-inflate the global “credit bubble.” I don’t think it can be done. The crisis we face is not “sustainable growth” but sustainable lack of growth. And no society in history has ever pulled that off. _Steyn
Steyn is correct, that Obama is trying to re-inflate the global credit bubble. But he is making the attempt without the wholehearted assistance of China and Europe -- which is going to be very difficult. What he will accomplish is massive hyper-inflation on an unprecedented scale.

All the old folk on guaranteed government pensions, guaranteed government health care, guaranteed price-controlled government housing, and so on -- all guaranteed by the government. But as Russian pensioners have discovered, what good is a pension when inflation eats its value down to less than it takes to keep you alive -- even under all of the "government guarantees".

Do you really trust government guarantees? China is beginning not to trust US Treasuries. More money insiders are beginning not to trust the US Dollar. In fact, only a zombie would trust guarantees made by the current US government. You are getting older. If you are getting older without children or close family, then it is just you and the government -- a government you really should not be trusting.

What do you do?

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20 March 2009

Yellowstone, Ice Age, Obama Dark Ages

Yellowstone National Park is volcanic in nature, yet not one cone or caldera is visible. In the 1960s, this mystery was finally solved: The entire park -- 2.2 million acres -- is the caldera. It's the largest active supervolcano on Earth. Yellowstone started erupting about 17 million years ago, and it has a cycle of erupting roughly every 600,000 years. The last eruption was 630,000 years ago, so it's about 30,000 years past due on the next big one. _TheStreet_via_ValueInvesting_via_SimoleonSense
When Yellowstone supervolcano next erupts, "it's unlikely any humans within 700 miles of the park would survive. An area the size of New York State would have ash 67 feet deep. The aftermath probably would be worse, with no sunlight for years throughout the planet and much farmland rendered useless under mountains of ash." We know it will happen, we simply do not know when.

The same is true for the next ice age. We are currently roughly 12,000 years into the current inter-glacial period. Since inter-glacials typically last from 10,000 years to 25,000 years, we are either overdue for the next ice age (glaciation) or we have a bit of natural warming yet to experience before the next deadly age of ice descends. Science does not know, either way.

A global economy is a complex system, like the climate. Largely unpredictable, generally tolerant up to a point, the global economy will eventually shock even the most complacent economist, politician, or investor. The current global economic backlash should be taken as a warning to those responsible for national economies: "Clean up your act or suffer the consequences!"

China may be listening, Angela Merkel of Germany seems to be listening. But Putin is not, Obama is not, Kevin Rudd is not, Ahmedinejad is not. All of the clowns who are ignoring the impending eruption of this economic Mt. Doom were elected, after a fashion. Each has his own reasons for ignoring the warning signs and proceeding through the caution tape. Each country being led by these bozos will pay a severe penalty for the failure to heed the caution signals.
Look, globalization has created this interlocking fragility. At no time in the history of the universe has the cancellation of a Christmas order in New York meant layoffs in China. So for a while it created the illusion of stability, but it has created this devastating Black Swan.

Complex systems do not like debt. So it will proceed to destroy tens of trillions in debt until society rebuilds itself in an ultraconservative manner. We are in for a worse ride than people think.

People have the problem of denial. This is one of the things I learned in Lebanon. Everybody who left Beirut when the war started, including my parents, said, 'Oh, its temporary.' It lasted 17 years! People tend to underestimate the gravity of these situations. That's how they work.

Is this crisis going to last 17 years?

Unfortunately no, complex systems cascade much faster than that. However, the destruction will be deeper than people anticipate. It will bring down a lot of people.

My rosy scenario is that a better economic environment will develop, a low-debt, robust growth world, in which whatever is fragile will be allowed to break early and not late. _NicholasTalebWaPo_via_SimoleonSense
But Mr. Obama's plan is different from that of Mr. Taleb. Rather than aiming toward a better economic environment and a robust growth world, Mr. Obama is aiming toward a world of "de-development."
...scarcity politics seeks to slow and even reverse material progress through what President Obama's science adviser, John Holdren, calls "de-development."

"De-development"--that is, the retreat from economic growth--includes some sensible notions about conservation but takes them to unreasonable, socially devastating and politically unpalatable extremes. The agenda, for example, includes an opposition to population growth, limits on material consumption and a radical redistribution of wealth both nationally and to the developing world. _Forbes
The Obama club is the same club as the climate catastrophe club: the de-development club. Science is not involved, except to be twisted and exploited toward political ends. Never let a crisis go un-exploited. Mr. Obama's reasons for making a bad situation infinitely worse are his own.

The rest of the international bozo club also have their own individual reasons for ripping the guts out of the human future. Putin is out for the glory of greater Russia. Ahmedinejad is paving the way for the 12th imam. Rudd is another leftist zomboid with delusions of saving the Earth through correct ideology. Every bozo has his reasons.

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19 March 2009

Terrafugia Transition Flies

Image Source
Brian Wang provides a good update of the Terrafugia Transition flying car. Brian's article includes a good assortment of photos of the winged wonder. It does look extremely cute pulled up to the pumps at the gas station.

The versatile vehicle has made its first flight test at Plattsburgh (NY) International Airport, and is taking orders with deposits of $10,000 for the $194,000 multifunctional vehicle.

If Terrafugia can succeed at this venture, expect other versions of the Transition to be developed, including one that lands on either water or land. People want the freedom to go almost everywhere. They are willing to pay for that freedom.

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Russia Unprepared for Radical Downturn

Experts are saying that the current Russian economic crisis is worse even than the 1998 disaster. Russian leaders pranced about upon the stage, declaring that only the under-regulated laissez-faire western countries would suffer -- and good riddance! But Putin's chickens are coming home to roost, and the stink of their homecoming is getting harder to ignore.
Russia's dependency on oil is pushing the country's economy into a tailspin. Oil peaked at $147 a barrel in July but has since plunged as low as $35 a barrel. As a result of the plummeting oil price and the global financial crisis, gross domestic product shrank by 8.8% in the 12 months to January, the rouble has lost one-third of its value since September and unemployment is expected to rise to 10 million by the end of the year. The Kremlin has spent more than $200bn of its reserves to cushion the devaluation of the rouble and avoid public panic.

Neil Shearing, emerging Europe economist at consultants Capital Economics, believes the situation is going to get much worse. "The news from Russia has gone from bad to worse in recent weeks. The economy looks likely to contract by 5% this year, which would be close to the drop in output witnessed during the 1998 rouble crisis," he said, referring to the year when the government defaulted on its debts, sending shockwaves through the global financial system. "In contrast to the 1998 crisis, a weak external environment makes a sharp bounceback in growth unlikely."

"The situation is worse than at the beginning of the 1990s," said Ilya Roytman, president of IBR Consulting in Moscow, which helps companies such as Nestlé set up shop in Russia. "Before it was just in Russia. Around Russia there was a stable economic climate which helped us. But now there is a global economic crisis and because many governments have protectionist values it will not be possible to borrow resources."

Unemployment is widely expected to soar to 12% this year from 6.3% in 2008 as firms struggle to access finance. "This will spell disaster for an economy in which private consumption accounts for over half of GDP," said Shearing. About 500,000 Russians are waiting to be paid wages which are late and since inflation is running at 13%, their purchasing power is slipping rapidly.

Stephen Dalziel, executive director of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce (RBCC), believes that the financial crisis in Russia is much worse than in Britain.

"I think that the problem is that they were unprepared to the point of being arrogant," he said. "When sub-prime happened in 2007 they were arrogant because they thought it was a western thing. They said it wasn't like 1998 and then it suddenly hit them."

He believes that the situation for businesses is far worse than 1998. Guardian
Before the economic downturn, both China and Russia had what they considered "ample cash reserves." Russia's reserves are melting away, and China is having some economic problems as well. But China's economy is not based upon the sales of fossil fuels and other raw materials and weapons. China is more diversified, with a more healthy, stable, intelligent, and productive population base than Russia. In short, Russia is a walking dead man, while China is merely a dyspeptic with symptoms of early PUD.

Both Russia and China are busily engaged in building military and commercial infrastructure in Latin America and the Caribbean. They are taking advantage of the presumed weak presidency of Obama to put advance forces into place, just in case a good opportunity for mischief arises later on. As Russian demographics collapses, and the Russian economy continues being stripped and shipped out of the country by insiders, desperation may force Putin's hand.

A desperate Russia is more likely to use proxies to attack its enemies. Deniable attacks via dirty bombs, biological weapons, or EMP weapons are not out of the question, should Russia's economic and political situation become too dire. Since Russia's client, Iran, is also establishing itself in South and Central America, expect such a surprise attack to come via one of Iran's cats paws such as Hezbollah, Hamas, or other Iranian armed and financed terror groups.

While the Keystone Kops of Washington DC dance on the media stage in outrage at AIG bonuses, the tragedy of the real world is unfolding around them, beyond their focus.

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18 March 2009

Promise of Early Retirement: from J Storrs Hall

When Josh Hall talks about early retirement, he is referring to the retirement of all humans from work. Why should all humans retire? Because cheap human-equivalent machines will do all the work humans once did, for the price of kilowatt hours of electricity -- pennies. Josh is a very bright man, a creative man who is able to dream great dreams, and also crunch the numbers: a rare combination. Here is what he says about the retirement of the race:
If you have a human-level AI based on computer technology, the cost to do what it can do will begin to decline at Moore’s Law rates. Even if an AI costs a million dollars in, say, 2020, it’ll be a thousand in 2030 and one dollar in 2040 (give or take a decade). Why hire a human when you can buy the equivalent for a dollar? To put it as simply as possible, you aren’t going to be able to make a living by working. You’re going to need to have some capital. Everybody’s going to need some capital.

...One way or the other, the human race is going to take an early retirement in the next few decades. I find this a much better way of thinking about what’s coming up than “singularity”. The term “singularity” was specifically created to reflect a notion that there was an event horizon associated with advancing AI. But whether or not this is true of the far future, some distinct profiles of the near future are clearly visible. And from what we can see of it, it is going to make a huge difference what we do now.

So, I think, we need a better term than “singularity” to describe what’s coming up. It should reflect the fact that there are indeed some things we can tell about what will be happening. It should, if possible, reflect the fact that this will be a major liberating event for the human race — no longer need we spend our lives in forced drudgery, since we have built machines to do the necessary work. But it should also reflect the fact that we need to be planning for it. _JSHall
Josh is trying to explain how things will change in the near future. It is an optimistic vision, overall, which fits well with "The Europe Syndrome" described by Charles Murray. Thousands of extropians, transhumanists, and singularitarians have described similar technological "quasi-utopias" for well over 50 years. It is a vision suited for lulling the masses to sleep.

Machines have certainly removed much drudgery from the lives of women and men. Our dozens of energy slaves have given us more leisure, income, and choices than pre-industrial humans possessed. It is only natural to extrapolate this trend into the future, to the expectation of early retirement for the race of men. Natural, but wrong.

Western culture no longer speaks for the entire world -- if it ever did. The economic and demographic problems of the west are show stoppers for the "inevitable march of the singularity." But the greater underlying problem for the western world besides the fact that its people are dying without replacement, and its over-consumptive lifestyle is destroying the wealth of future generations -- is the spiritual vacuity. NOT IN A RELIGIOUS SENSE. Religion does not truly signify, once one probes the depths of the human brain, and understands what human spirituality actually is. The human spirit is what makes humans strive against insurmountable obstacles, and prevail.

While western man may have lost his "soul" in a poker game, or used it as collateral for a loan spent on mere consumption, the rest of the world -- most of the world -- has not done the same. Most of the world is still driven to strive, to reproduce, to survive at all costs. To that end, ancient myths of religion and spirit are called upon to guide and motivate the masses to follow traditional paths.

Affluence has stopped the population growth of western populations. But affluence is not a sure thing. Not for the west, and certainly not for the rest. Differential birth rates of east and west, north and south, favour the ever-burgeoning masses of third world people and the traditional tribal peoples of myth and Islam.

Westerners are certainly dying off -- the victims of their own affluence and lack of depth. At the same time, a few scientists and engineers working within mainly western research institutions and corporate labs are creating incredible new technologies that would certainly change any world into which they were introduced.

Third worlders are not dying off, and are instead procreating at 1.5, 2, 3, 4 times replacement, depending upon the country. Population IQ is inversely proportional to fertility rates, roughly speaking. But even low IQ people can watch satellite TV and covet the powerful toys and energy slaves that the rich westerners possess.

These toys and slaves do not maintain, repair, and manufacture themselves -- not yet. But what happens when the small cadres of scientists and engineers, working within institutions inside the dying lands, create the machines that Josh Hall talks about above? Machines that can create, maintain, repair, and improve upon other machines without the help of moderately intelligent and skilled humans? At that point, even after the west dies off, some parts of the low IQ third world can still have high tech societies. And within the sea of low IQ societies, we find islands of higher IQ sub-populations that can step in to profit from the high tech : low IQ dynamic.

Of course, in the style of a true Idiocracy, such inherited toys, slaves, and intelligent mind surrogates will be largely neglected, frittered, fought over, and intentionally destroyed as "evil." Human nature does not disappear, and history does not end -- regardless of how many Fukuyamas or other well intentioned intellectuals proclaim it. Instead, the Fukuyamas meet the end predicted by JM Keynes, "in the long run ..."

Predicting the future is much harder than most people understand. Everything you think you know . . . . just ain't so.

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17 March 2009

What Is Really Important In Life, And What Does That Have to do With Europe?

The same self-absorption in whiling away life as pleasantly as possible explains why Europe has become a continent that no longer celebrates greatness. When life is a matter of whiling away the time, the concept of greatness is irritating and threatening. What explains Europe’s military impotence? I am surely simplifying, but this has to be part of it: If the purpose of life is to while away the time as pleasantly as possible, what can be worth dying for? Murray
In a recent American.com article, Charles Murray talks about "The Europe Syndrome", and how European public policy (and the current batch of Euro-copycats in American government) affects the things that he sees as truly important for a well-lived life.
To become a source of deep satisfaction, a human activity has to meet some stringent requirements. It has to have been important (we don’t get deep satisfaction from trivial things). You have to have put a lot of effort into it (hence the cliché “nothing worth having comes easily”). And you have to have been responsible for the consequences.

There aren’t many activities in life that can satisfy those three requirements. Having been a good parent? That qualifies. A good marriage? That qualifies. Having been a good neighbor and good friend to those whose lives intersected with yours? That qualifies. And having been really good at something—good at something that drew the most from your abilities? That qualifies.

...The problem is this: Every time the government takes some of the trouble out of performing the functions of family, community, vocation, and faith, it also strips those institutions of some of their vitality—it drains some of the life from them. It’s inevitable....If we knew that leaving these functions in the hands of families and communities led to legions of neglected children and neglected neighbors, and taking them away from families and communities led to happy children and happy neighbors, then it would be possible to say that the cost is worth it. But that’s not what happened when the U.S. welfare state expanded. We have seen growing legions of children raised in unimaginably awful circumstances, not because of material poverty but because of dysfunctional families, and the collapse of functioning neighborhoods into Hobbesian all-against-all free-fire zones.

...Drive through rural Sweden, as I did a few years ago. In every town was a beautiful Lutheran church, freshly painted, on meticulously tended grounds, all subsidized by the Swedish government. And the churches are empty. Including on Sundays. Scandinavia and Western Europe pride themselves on their “child-friendly” policies, providing generous child allowances, free day-care centers, and long maternity leaves. Those same countries have fertility rates far below replacement and plunging marriage rates. Those same countries are ones in which jobs are most carefully protected by government regulation and mandated benefits are most lavish. And they, with only a few exceptions, are countries where work is most often seen as a necessary evil, least often seen as a vocation, and where the proportions of people who say they love their jobs are the lowest.

What’s happening? Call it the Europe syndrome. Last April I had occasion to speak in Zurich, where I made some of these same points. After the speech, a few of the twenty-something members of the audience approached and said plainly that the phrase “a life well-lived” did not have meaning for them. They were having a great time with their current sex partner and new BMW and the vacation home in Majorca, and saw no voids in their lives that needed filling.


If that’s the purpose of life, then work is not a vocation, but something that interferes with the higher good of leisure. If that’s the purpose of life, why have a child, when children are so much trouble—and, after all, what good are they, really? If that’s the purpose of life, why spend it worrying about neighbors? If that’s the purpose of life, what could possibly be the attraction of a religion [AF: or moral theory] that says otherwise?

....We are seeing that infiltration appear most obviously among those who are most openly attached to the European model—namely, America’s social democrats, heavily represented in university faculties and the most fashionable neighborhoods of our great cities. We know from databases such as the General Social Survey that among those who self-identify as liberal or extremely liberal, secularism is close to European levels. Birth rates are close to European levels. Charitable giving is close to European levels. There is every reason to believe that when Americans embrace the European model, they begin to behave like Europeans.


This is all pretty depressing for people who do not embrace the European model, because it looks like the train has left the station. The European model provides the intellectual framework for the social policies of the triumphant Democratic Party, and it faces no credible opposition from Republican politicians.

...Over the last half century, it can be demonstrated empirically that the new generation of elites have increasingly spent their entire lives in the upper-middle-class bubble, never even having seen a factory floor, let alone worked on one, never having gone to a grocery store and bought the cheap ketchup instead of the expensive ketchup to meet a budget, never having had a boring job where their feet hurt at the end of the day, and never having had a close friend who hadn’t gotten at least 600 on her SAT verbal. There’s nobody to blame for any of this. These are the natural consequences of successful people looking for pleasant places to live and trying to do the best thing for their children.

But the fact remains: It is the elites who are increasingly separated from the America over which they have so much influence. That is not the America that Tocqueville saw. It is not an America that can remain America. _American.com

Murray seems to believe that America's elites will somehow wake up to the fact that the foundations of their most deeply held beliefs are without substance. That will never happen. The existence of echo chambers such as the JournoList is a sign that leftist elites will never admit error or misunderstanding publicly.

And America can never be like Europe. Even Europe is finding it harder and harder to be like Europe these days, thanks to a suicidal drop in birth rates and a masochistic immigration policy. Europe's days are numbered by its own "Europe Syndrome" of being about essentially nothing -- like Seinfeld.

America will go broke and experience a painful re-construction along more sustainable lines, before it will approach the lack of relevance of today's Europe. Leftist elites have been wagging the dog for so long they believe it is their right to continue doing so indefinitely. But America cannot afford it much longer. Obama is the dream president for the elitist tail end of America, and he will be the instrument of its demise, as he continues to act out the script (however telepromptered).

Most Americans have not yet discovered how they have been "had" by the pompous idiots who have been telling them how to live, what to think, and who to vote for. When enough Americans finally discover the sad truth, there is no telling what they may do.

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