31 May 2009

How To Escape a Burning Skyscraper

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For $1500 you can soon buy this device, which will allow you to zoom down the side of a 100 story building in perfect safety. High rise safety is anything but guaranteed, and anything that may add to your survival safety margin is worth considering.
Based on the concept of a fishing reel, the device is a simple harness to lower people to the ground, letting the individual plan his own escape, unless he is buckled in the pressure. The user is expected to open a small container, which is to be hooked to some steady anchor, on support of which the user can slip into a one size fits all harness, automatically controlled centrifugal braking to manage the descent.

The device along with the automatic braking system that takes less than four minutes to climb down a 100 story building also has a manual backup brake lever, in case the automatic system fails. California’s Vallejo Fire Department has conducted successful tests of the device, and now Stone is planning to market the Rescue Reel, which will be ready to buy at about $1,500. _Gizmowatch_via_ImpactLab

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Will You Be Punked by Political Peak Oil?

Update2: This UPI piece discusses the likely demand destruction on the overall economy caused by the current premature raising of oil and gasoline prices. This is not a good time for the strong-arm price manipulators of politicians, big international speculators, and oil dictators to be pushing oil prices beyond market factors.
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Update: Commenter James objects that the chart above should not be taken as too ominous a sign of future economic woes. This analysis from Global Economic Trend Analysis appears to support James' rather relaxed attitude toward the ARM reset schedule. I recommend a reading of the links under both images of this post, top and bottom. Unfortunately, ARM resets may turn out to be the least of our problems.

It is the prematurity of all the recovery talk that makes recent oil price jumps appear so clearly manipulated -- at least in large part. It is true that recent low oil prices have led to production slowdowns in existing fields and delayed exploration and development of new fields. In addition, political peak oil -- the suppression of fossil fuel exploration, discovery, recovery, and refining instituted by the Brocko Bomba administration in conjunction with the Nancy Pelosi congress in the name of carbon hysteria -- is another part of the problem. Political discord in Nigeria and the middle east is another. And of course, OPEC countries plus Russia are collaborating to prop up the world market price of oil via production caps. Lastly, big international commodity speculators are pouring their assets into oil as a hedge against a predicted US fiscal catastrophe under this inexperienced administration and incompetent congress.
Storage tankers across the globe may be brimming with oil that no one is buying because of the global economic downturn, but the traditional laws of supply and demand don't always apply to oil prices. Drivers have faced rising prices at the gas pump in recent months, as investors and oil-producing countries hoard supplies in anticipation of a global economic recovery later this year.

The 12 member countries of the OPEC cartel voted in Vienna on Thursday to maintain output at current levels rather than increase supplies in order to bring some relief to consumers, particularly in the gas-guzzling West. The OPEC oil ministers, whose countries account for about 40% of the world's entire crude-oil supply, also renewed their commitment to stick to their agreed quotas, rather than ship extra oil, as they began doing last April when several members ignored their agreed output limits. OPEC leaders, many of whose economies are heavily dependent on oil exports, have struggled to stabilize prices at a level that suits their own economic needs amid falling demand and rising supplies. Prices had rocketed to a record level of $147 a barrel last July before plummeting to $30 just five months later and beginning a new climb. (See pictures of South Africa's oil-from-coal refinery.)

Oil analysts believe OPEC's decisions on Thursday could help push oil prices even higher; oil futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange have risen 36% in just two months, to about $63.46 a barrel on Thursday. And that appears to be on track to achieve targets set by OPEC leaders. Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi - OPEC's key power player - said Wednesday that oil prices ought to rise to between $75 and $80 a barrel by the end of the year. "Demand is picking up, especially in Asia," he told reporters puffing alongside him as he jogged through the streets of Vienna. "The price rise is a function of optimism that better things are coming in the future." _Time
It all depends upon an economic recovery that is running on fumes, and due to hit some very large obstacles in the near future. Some very smart analysts and speculators are betting on oil going up near $100 a barrel toward the end of 2009. But we are still in the earliest, rosiest, most honey-moonish stages of the Bomba presidency. All of Brocko's moves up to now have been clownish and inept -- to informed observers (not to the media of course).

Considering all the conflicting forces in play, higher oil and gasoline prices through the summer appear likely. But as the demand destruction from price manipulation plus political peak oil begins to choke off economic activity and demand for fuels and commodities -- once again -- the nascent "recovery" is apt to die soon after childbirth. Choked by not-so-loving step parents and state guardians. Shortly afterward, the next round of financial collapses should hit.

The global economy is in ICU, and global speculators + OPEC and friends, with the friendly cooperation of western governments, are trying to squeeze the near-corpse for everything it can give. Not very smart.
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H/T Survival Blog

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ABC: Addiction Behaviour Complex -- Solved?

The term "addiction" is used in many contexts to describe an obsession, compulsion, or excessive psychological dependence, such as: drug addiction (e.g. alcoholism), video game addiction, crime, money, work addiction, compulsive overeating, problem gambling, computer addiction,nicotine addiction, pornography addiction, plastic surgery addiction, etc. _Wikipedia
The addiction behaviour complex (ABC) manifested by addicts does not depend upon the object of addiction. In fact, scientists at the University of Toronto and Brigham Young University have discovered that addiction behaviour needs no "object of addiction" to take place! Addictions of all types turn humans into zombies and destroy the economies of homes and communities. What if mind science and medicine could bypass the specific addiction, and eliminate the underlying ABC itself? First we have to understand the ABC.
The Toronto team noted that a single injection of BDNF made rats behave as though they were dependent on opiates (which they had never received). Though rats instinctively prefer certain smells, lighting and texture, these rats left their comfort zone in search of a fix.

"This work may reveal a mechanism that underlies drug addiction," said lead author Hector Vargas-Perez, a neurobiologist at the University of Toronto.

The BYU team confirmed that the protein is a critical regulator of drug dependency. After the BDNF injection, specific chemicals that normally inhibit neurons in this part of the brain instead excited them, a "switch" known to occur when people become dependent on drugs.

Steffensen, who teaches in BYU's psychology department, says this work suggests that BDNF is crucial for inducing a drug dependent state, one important aspect of drug addiction. _SD
Now that neuroscientists possess the tools to better understand the mechanisms of addiction, the possibility of mitigating or even eliminating ABC -- all destructive addiction behaviours -- seems very real. In fact, the obsessions and compulsions of common addictions have clear parallels in a large number of dysfunctional behaviours. What we are talking about is getting at the core of counter-productive obsessions and compulsions -- removing the bad drivers of addictive behaviours of all types.

The cost of addiction is high, and is paid by all members of society at every age:
People of all ages suffer the harmful consequences of drug abuse and addiction.

* Babies exposed to legal and illegal drugs in the womb may be born premature and underweight. This drug exposure can slow the child's intellectual development and affect behavior later in life.6
* Adolescents who abuse drugs often act out, do poorly academically, and drop out of school. They are at risk of unplanned pregnancies, violence, and infectious diseases.
* Adults who abuse drugs often have problems thinking clearly, remembering, and paying attention. They often develop poor social behaviors as a result of their drug abuse, and their work performance and personal relationships suffer.
* Parents' drug abuse often means chaotic, stress-filled homes and child abuse and neglect. Such conditions harm the well-being and development of children in the home and may set the stage for drug abuse in the next generation. _DrugAbuse.gov
The other side of the coin is that many people benefit from the myriad self-destructive compulsive behaviours that people exhibit. Drug lords, politicians, the prison industry, drug enforcement agencies, the mental health industry, government lotteries, casinos, the entertainment and news medias, and many other common fixtures of daily life and quasi-criminality too numerous to delineate.

Of course if you understand the heart of addiction, you can not only "cure" addictive behaviours, you can also reinforce them and condition them around particular environmental stimuli. In other words, not only can you turn zombies back into normal people -- you will also be able to turn normal people into zombies with great skill. It is the dilemma of knowledge, played out on yet another stage.

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Life Under Obamacabre: Take What You Can Get

Whether termed "Obamacare" or "Obamacabre", no-choice medical care is apt to turn into something quite monstrous in the US under this president and this congress. When Americans are told they have no choice about something, they tend to rebel. How will they react when the macabre reality of Obama's grand plan for America really sets in? Obamacabre is just the middle of the beginning.
...any even remotely aware consumer of health care services has got to realize that the Democrats are on the verge of a massive destruction of the American medicine delivery system. There are problems in health insurance cost and coverage, but not in the quality of care and the innovation instinct, and the Democrats are going to kill the latter in the fruitless quest for improvements to the former. The "government option" is the biggest threat of all, a thinly digusied lurch to Canada-style single payor with the hidden (and increasingly not-so-hidden) rationing and lousy care that canada provides its people with complex diseases and conditions. _HughHewitt
The US is far more diverse than any of the European and quasi-European countries where universal single-payor medical care has been instituted. Americans are already deeply in debt to Medicare -- "the other single payor medical care." Now Obama promises to "fix Medicare" by expanding the failure to include every American? Good luck with that.

Wouldn't it be ironic if the only way to opt out of Obamacabre were to become a government worker? Government worker pensions allow government workers to bypass the social security system. Government worker health care plans can allow gov workers to bypass Obamacabre.

Of course if you are one of the hundreds of millions of Americans in thrall to the government-media-academia-union-trial lawyer-faux environmentalist complex, you will be saying "there is no problem here."

But if you are one of the dwindling numbers of thinking, well-educated Americans who sees Obamacabre as only one of the monsters being spawned by the nest of the incompetencies currently ensconced along the Potomac River, you may begin to consider the John Galt approach to reforming an untamed government. Or you may consider this.

Apparently the "Tea Party" movement forgot to surrender to government and media scorn, and grassroots individuals continue to protest a regime that is growing into a monstrous reich. July 4, 2009 is apt to be an interesting date in that regard.

Government workers, union bosses, faux environmentalists, community activists, and media flacks are quite happy with what the Obamanation is becoming. But small business owners and other members of the productive class who depend upon a wise and impartial government to take a mostly "hands-off" to the daily workings of a real life economy, are beginning to see storm clouds gathering.

Divisions are deep and growing deeper. When a nation's productive classes are the losers in such a quasi-"civil war", the entire nation loses. The parasites win. If anyone truly believes that Obamacabre, or Obamacare, or any other type of no-choice medical care is going to solve that problem, they deserve their fate.


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30 May 2009

Growing New Brain Cells Using Deep Brain Stim

Deep brain electrode stimulation can lead to a doubling of production of new brain neurons in mice. Such therapies will likely be used in humans for persons suffering from brain injury and degenerative disease. Later, it will be used in order to boost performance for persons with particularly demanding jobs.
During the study, the researcher placed electrodes inside the rodent's limbic system, a formation inside the brain, and stimulated it with low-intensity current for about an hour. Knowing that the average mouse brain produces a few thousands of new neurons each day, Stone waited for the results of the stimulation. Three to five days after the procedure was completed, he noticed that the animals' brains were producing twice or more the number of neurons they usually generate, Nature News reports.

The finds were presented on May 25, at the annual meeting of the Canadian Association for Neuroscience, in Vancouver by Paul Frankland, one of Stone's supervisors, based at the Hospital for Sick Children, in Toronto.

After the electro-stimulation therapy, they injected the mice with iododeoxyuridine, a substance that allows experts to analyze which neurons are active, and which are not. After training the animals to a simple task, Stone looked at their brains, searching for a protein called Fos. This protein is associated with learning, and takes only 90 minutes to form. He learned that the Fos levels in both natural and artificially-produced neurons were the same. “These new neurons aren't just sitting around doing nothing,” he concluded. _Softpedia
Images of "wireheads" walking around in an electric haze will colour many persons' opinion of this phenomenon a certain shade of bilirubin. But electrical stimulation apparently works through normal pathways of gene expression, like other environmental cues such as drugs, hormones, and calorie restriction.

More brain cells do not automatically make a brain smarter. But more brain cells in the right place, organised properly, certainly will. If it is too late to program a person's genes to make him smarter, who will deny him the opportunity to utilise other means to that end? We will have to find many ways of boot-strapping ourselves to the next level.

The next level is not just about living 500 vital years with an IQ of 200 or more. It is about having the wisdom and competence to make the most of that time and mental capacity. Just a small number of next levels working in small labs and workshops scattered around the globe, would be enough to cancel most of the harmful effects of the Obamas, the Putins, the Kims, and the Ahmedinejads of the world. Without such an injection of wise competence over time, humans are apt to bury themselves.

The smart-wise machine fantasy of singularitarians is no substitute for extending human potential.

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29 May 2009

100 mpg Spira With a Body Made of Foam

The three-wheeled 2 seater pictured here has a body made of foam. It only weights 300 pounds, and goes 100 miles on a gallon of gasoline. Its engine is only 110 ccs, but for city commutes it should get a person or two to a destination safely for little expense.
The Spira has been developed by its inventor Lon Ballard, largely around the properties of reinforced foam. Apart from the engine, wheels and lightweight aluminium frame, about 90 percent of the Spira's body is made from 6-inch thick foam, which can itself be made from renewable sources, like soybeans. The layers of foam are reinforced with fiberglass strips for extra strength.

The foam is so light that the entire weight of the Spira has been kept down to 302lb ( 137kg). For that you get a fully enclosed two-seater, with a 110cc scooter engine and three wheels, that will do 70mph comfortably on the freeway. The millions of air cells in the foam act as tiny airbags in a collision, giving both the occupants, and whatever they've crashed into, a good degree of protection.

The pointed front-end of the Spira is chosen for its aerodynamics and safety, although we're not sure how much we agree with the philosophy that "in a crash it is best to deflect and roll as in Judo", particularly when you're rolling on a crowded, chaotic Thai freeway. Still, crash testing is high on the priority list for the manufacturer.

If the thought of getting around in Thailand's humid heat in a fully enclosed vessel worries you, and the small slit of window you can open doesn't convince you, the entire roof of the Spira can be taken off to make it a sort of convertible. But then, you've got to leave the top at home - and you'd better have a strong noggin, because there's no roll bar on the prototype to support the "Judo roll" front-impact philosophy. Best to get something in place for that, I reckon.

A further unexpected benefit of a lightweight foam body is buoyancy. The Spira will happily float - which is great for all those occasions when your car ploughs into the water. It's not truly amphibious because there's no water drive system and the road-going componentry wouldn't be too fond of the drink in the long run - but still, I guess you could pack some oars, and there's no reason why a fully amphibious version can't be built sometime down the track. _Gizmag
Spira's makers should consider building a water-propulsion system, given that the vehicle should float so well.

As nanotechnology and materials science provide more advanced materials, engineers should feel more free to take their designs to the limit of what the new materials can do.

In an Obama depression, the temptation is to lie low and hope you have a job when the destruction finally ends. Perhaps a bit of daring is called for instead.


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Too Late for Oil to Save Russia -- at Any Price

Putin’s Kremlin made a fateful bet that natural resources—oil, gas, and other extractive saleable commodities—would be the springboard for the restoration of Moscow’s influence as a great power on the world stage. In this gamble, Russian authorities have mainly ignored the nation’s human resource crisis. During the boom years—Russia’s per capita income roughly doubled between 1998 and 2007—the country’s death rate barely budged. Very much worse may lie ahead. How Russia’s still-unfolding demographic disaster will affect the country’s domestic political situation—and its international security posture—are questions that remain to be answered. _WAJ
Expert opinions are split on the near and medium term future of oil prices. Jim Rogers predicts high oil prices soon and for the indefinite future. Many analysts see steady drops in oil production due to low prices erasing the widespread oversupply in oil stockpiles. Since it can take years for many oil producers to gear back up to higher production, such a trend suggests a period of extended oil under-supply -- and higher prices -- in the not so distant future.

Russia is hoping that oil prices do indeed jump above $100 a barrel, and stay there! But is it too late for Russia, regardless of oil and commodities prices? Certainly Russia has no hope if the world economy remains stuck in the doldrums.
Russia has lost more than 12m people since depopulation started in 1992. This trend currently shows no signs of slowing down, and Russia will continue to lose people – the only question is: how quickly? An expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences Anatoly Vishnevsky painted an even gloomier picture, predicting a population of 98m for Russia in 2050....

....Even more troubling is that the number of able-bodied adults is declining faster than any other demographic category. This group is expected to absorb the bulk of the losses, declining by 14m by 2025. According to the RBC daily, in 16 years every 1,000 employed Russians are going to be providing for some 800 dependents...

...Education and careers are the priorities now, and starting a family is often on the backburner, for women as much as for men. Various proposals have been championed to combat people’s unwillingness to have more children. _Telegraph
But Russia has been burning the candle on both ends -- fewer births, more deaths. HIV, Tuberculosis, alcoholism (an often fatal disease), suicide, homicide -- these are modern Russia's epidemics.

Corruption in Russia's government is so bad that unless a person has connections to state power, their future prospects are not favourable. During the oil boom of 2007 and 2008, there was enough wealth flowing through Russia's economy to paint a patina of glitz over the drunken rot beneath. With the crash in commodities and the global economic downturn, Russia has suffered inordinately due to government corruption and its overreliance on a nationalised energy industry.

So Russia's only hope is to be able to stick it to the rest of the world via high energy prices. But is it too late for Russia, no matter how high the price of fossil fuels go?

Yes, it is too late. Prosperity from another boom in oil prices will accrue to the top of the government power pyramid first of all. From there, it will slowly flow downward in a very uneven course. Foreign investment will be slower in coming than in past years, due to the Russian government's kleptocratic tendency to nationalise anything it wishes.

Most Russians -- particularly those in the endangered zones far away from Moscow and St. Petersburg -- will see little improvement in personal circumstances, due to corrupt concentrations of power, profits, and resources. They will continue to die early, and neglect to reproduce. Fertile Russian women will continue to flock overseas as mail and internet brides. They will have their babies in what used to be termed "the free world", to non-Russian fathers.

The western world is helping Russia's corrupt kleptocracy continue to rape and exterminate its own people via its carbon hysteria quasi-religion -- which leads to political peak oil and artificially inflated oil prices. For that, you can thank Brock O'Bomba and his merry gang of green apocalyptics.

Russia has never had the benefit of an enlightened government. Its people have always been "slavs" to their leaders. America does not have such an excuse of a dozen generations of slavic mind programming. Russians were dragged downward over the many centuries until fatalism and passive nihilism became a part of the innate psychology. Americans made a conscious choice to go down the irrational path.


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28 May 2009

Better Zombies Through Sound Science

Scientists at the University of Illinois have taken science one step closer to the ability to control human minds remotely -- in this case using highly focused ultrasound.
Theorists have been working on materials that bend sound waves backward for several years. Such a metamaterial has now been built by Nicholas Fang, an assistant professor of mechanical science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His group's sound-focusing device is an aluminum array of narrow-necked resonant cavities whose dimensions are tuned to interact with ultrasound waves. The cavities are filled with water. Fang likens them to an array of wind instruments, such as the pipes in an organ. When ultrasound waves move through the array, the cavities resonate so that the sound is focused. The cavities "work together to refract the sound," says Fang. _TechnologyReview
Arizona State University scientists had previously demonstrated the ability to penetrate the skull using pulses of ultrasound capable of affecting brain activity.
One prior stumbling block to using ultrasound noninvasively in the brain has been the skull. However, the acoustic frequencies utilized by Tyler and his colleagues to construct their pulsed ultrasound waveforms, overlap with a frequency range where optimal energy gains are achieved between transcranial transmission and brain absorption of ultrasound – which allows the ultrasound to penetrate bone and yet prevent damage to the soft tissues. Their findings are supported by other studies examining the potential of high-intensity focused ultrasound for ablating brain tissues, where it was shown that low-frequency ultrasound could be focused through human skulls. _ASU
Combining the earlier findings with more powerful ultrasound lenses will allow scientists to achieve more focused penetration of the skull from greater distances -- to more precise effect.

Brain stimulation can both increase and decrease the neural activity of the targeted brain areas. A complex target pattern simultaneously utilising excitatory and inhibitory stimuli could theoretically lead a previously mapped brain into a somnambulatory or "waking dream" state. From that point, it should be but a short distance to the creation of a programmed mind, or zombie.

The holy grail of kings, priests, and con-men throughout history has been the ability to control the minds of the masses. Modern media tools have helped demagogues and grifters to project their charisma into susceptible souls, but that is not genuine mind-control. Only willing fish are enmeshed in the feeble nets of mainstream electronic media. With a tool capable of influencing minds unaware, the demagogue can now move into full-fledged mental entrapment of the unwilling.

Sheer speculation? Certainly. But then, speculation is how the mind stays ahead of other minds that may not have our best interests at heart.
When asked about the potential of using his groups’ methods to remotely control brain activity, Tyler says: “One might be able to envision potential applications ranging from medical interventions to use in video gaming or the creation of artificial memories along the lines of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in ‘Total Recall.’ Imagine taking a vacation without actually going anywhere? ASU
If the mind can imagine something, and conceive of a feasible pathway to achieve it, it will be done as long as the will and the means are provided -- given time.


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27 May 2009

Morality Goes Far Deeper than Religion

Prof Marc Bekoff, an ecologist at University of Colorado, Boulder, believes that morals are "hard-wired" into the brains of all mammals and provide the "social glue" that allow often aggressive and competitive animals to live together in groups.

He has compiled evidence from around the world that shows how different species of animals appear to have an innate sense of fairness, display empathy and help other animals that are in distress.
Before humans invented religion, they experimented with a wide range of ethical systems. Based upon a dizzying mix of inner instincts and perceived influences from the outer world, each generation taught the next one how they should live and treat other people (the members of the extended family who alone were considered to be human) and live in the natural world.

Religions evolved for many reasons, one of which was to assist in the development of an inner morality and system of ethics within each group member. Another purpose of religion has been to provide a sense of "awe and transcendence", the idea of something greater than oneself which can assist one in overcoming personal obstacles. Religions have become so instrumental in these roles, that even in the modern age of science it has proven difficult to dispense with them.

Religion is often a considerable obstacle to over-ambitious governments. The CCP in China persecutes its Falun Gong and Tibetan religionists because these believers hold to a transcendant view of life that goes beyond secular authority. Religious believers are also likely to have a good recall of the many misdeeds of the secular government -- which is something Chinese leaders wish to stamp out.

The totalitarian state seeks to integrate the uses of religion within the state itself. Hitler's Nazi totalitarianism rested upon the cult of personality. Kim's North Korean totalitarianism does the same, as did Fidel Castro's total state. Hugo Chavez and the other baby dictators of South and Central America would like to achieve the same ends. Such personality cults are actually "pocket religions" in their own "rite." Something similar might occur again in the west -- perhaps even in the US? Imagine an Ameircan "Big Brother" and Ministry of Truth kept constantly busy obscuring reality and modifying history. The only morality is the morality of the state. Can you picture it?

In the Muslim world, Islamists want to integrate the secular and the religious into a totalitarian unity. Such a unity could not tolerate competitors in the intellectual, spiritual, political, or economic / military worlds. Religion becomes the death of morality under such a regime. Any threats to the totality would be eliminated.

The majority of the world, in terms of population, is set to devolve into a broadly anarchic "warlordism" and gangsterism such as one sees across Africa and parts of Central Asia (and the inner cities of the western world). The dominant ethics under such gangster systems derives from the power to deprive members of health, sustenance, and life. Insiders prosper, outsiders are punished or are eliminated, and the masses simply endure.

A system of life that would allow Matthew Crawford to get a PhD in political science, work in a think tank for a few months, then quit the intellectual life in order to work as an amateur philosopher and full-time motorcycle mechanic -- is a system of many luxuries.
It's satisfying to complete a task from start to finish. Start a small business, or learn a trade—really! Do you know how much plumbers make? It also helps to imbue what you do with a sense of craftsmanship. Strive not for flimsy new economy "flexibility" but for real, handy expertise in a chosen field. The point is to achieve mastery, which in turn gives you a skill not subject to the whims of office politics.
How many societies can afford to educate persons at the PhD level, only to see them leap into the blue collar world voluntarily? Of course, Crawford's journey has not ended. In fact, from the blue collar world, he has leapt into the intellectual world of authors, with the publication of Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work.

Systems of ethics depend entirely upon the degree of luxury a society extends to its members. Richer, more liberal societies can afford a much more intricate -- even counter-productive -- system of ethics, than can the brute force gangster existences of a growing portion of the world's populations in both the third world and the developed world (ethnic ghettoes of the central city and banlieus).

Morality preceded religion, and goes far deeper than religion. If humans in the developed world cannot develop a workable system of morality and ethics that persons of all religions can adhere to, they are in for violent clashes in the not so distant future.

In the United States, leftists have gained power in a quasi-stealthy manner reminiscent of how Hitler's Nazis gained power in Germany. With the early actions of the leftist reich, including the first Supreme Court nominee -- a left-radical extremist --, it is clear that the regime in power intends to enforce a leftist ethics upon the population at the point of a gun, via the force of law. It is an ambitious and revolutionary attempt to overhaul a system that has worked exceptionally well over a period of centuries.

Forced revolutions are either based on violence or lead to violence. Ethics and morality run too deeply within the human soul to be wrenched about by social engineers and crusaders. This interlude will end badly for everyone who has jumped upon the crusader bandwagon. And there will be a great deal of collateral damage.

A much wiser approach would be to work in the manner of the US Constitutional Congress to achieve a broadly applicable secular morality upon which a wise and acceptable system of law could be structured and extended.

The brute force, stealth revolutionary approach taken by Brock O'Bomba and his crew will run into objections of morality. Not only from established religions and churches. But from the deeper morality of the inner self.

Brock's only chance is for the economic situation to become so dire, and to bring so many people into dependency upon government benefits, salaries, and subsidies, that the US will fall essentially into the quasi-welfare state category -- with elements of dictatorship "insider chic", kowtowing to the gangsta leada.

In dire circumstances, most people will sell their ethical reservations for a pittance. Obama zombies have already sold their pittances to Brock O'Bomba. So have many public sector workers, academics, and journalists. But for Brock to succeed in the long run, the economic devastation would have to grow far more severe than it is likely to become before the next few elections.

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26 May 2009

Plenty of Room for Brains 3 or 4 Times the Size

How large can human brains grow, and still be workable thermodynamically? CIT scientist Jan Karbowski claims the human brain can grow to 3 or 4 times its current size of 1.5 kg, and still function without overheating.
The question on Karbowski's mind is whether there is any thermodynamic limit on brain size. And if so, does 5 kg, which Karbowski says is the mass of the largest mammalian brain, approach that limit?

Karbowski points out that brain cooling is not a classic problem of surface-area to volume. Instead, brain cooling is more closely comparable to that in a combustion heat engine where a liquid coolant removes heat.

"In the brain, the role of the coolant is played by the cerebral blood, but only in the deep region because there blood has a slightly lower temperature than the brain tissue," says Karbowski.

But in the regions closer to the surface, it is the oter way round: brain tissue is colder than the cerebral blood which warms the brain.

This implies that the thermodynamics of heat balance does not restrict the brain size. And this in turn suggests that brains could be heavier than 5 kg, says Karbowski. _TechnologyReview_via_Kurzweilai.net
Brain size in humans correlates with intelligence. As we learn more about how the brain achieves its portion of intelligence, we will learn ways to augment brain intelligence. Some of these augmentative approaches will utilise hardware external to the brain. But no doubt we will also learn to engineer living tissue to serve as brain repair and brain augment.

This would mean increasing the size of the living brain, introducing all sorts of problems relating to skull re-shaping, blood supply, and others we haven't thought of yet. Thanks to Karbowski, at least we won't have to worry about the thermodynamics of brain enlargement -- for now.

An excellent edition of Encephalon (#71) is available for your perusal at Neuroanthropology blog.

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Smarter Brain Monitoring

In recent years, better sensor technologies and data-processing techniques, as well as more detailed knowledge of the brain, have dramatically improved the information that can be extracted from EEG. For example, scientists now use computationally intense signal processing and pattern-recognition techniques to predict where in the brain a particular signal measured on the surface of the scalp originated or how different parts of the brain are connected. _TechnologyReview_via_ImpactLab
The before and after images on the right demonstrate the effects of two weeks of therapy on the brain of a stroke patient. Evidence of improved brain activity suggests that the therapy is working. Using information from EEG, advanced methods of data analysis can provide clinicians with up to the minute information about functional brain status.
EEG currently has a number of clinical applications--diagnosing sleep disorders or pinpointing the origin of a seizure, for example--but ElMindA and others aim to broaden its clinical use. The company has developed a novel system that calculates a number of different parameters from EEG data, such as the frequency and amplitude of electrical activity in particular brain areas, the origin of specific signals, and the synchronicity in activity in two different brain areas as patients perform specific tests on a computer. "We usually find patterns of activity which are very unique for the specific state of the patient," says Amir Geva, founder of the company and head of the biomedical laboratory at Ben-Gurion University.

The researchers are currently characterizing those patterns in the context of stroke therapy. Intensive rehabilitation after stroke can improve speech and motor problems by helping the brain to rewire, compensating for damaged circuits. At present, choosing the best therapy option for a patient is in part a trial-and-error process that can take weeks. But because healing capacity declines over time, it's imperative to find the most successful treatment as soon as possible after the stroke.
Therapy for stroke, depression, ADHD, etc. can be guided by this new type of "imaging". The equipment is far more portable than MRI scanners and PET scanners and reagents. In fact, using EEG neurofeedback in real time, therapists could actually watch the impact of therapy on brain learning and rehab while it is occurring during therapy.

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Peak Oil: Meet Clear Coal

Update 11 June 09: A reader emailed to request contact information for Coal Sack Energy. It seems he has some investors who want to back the company but cannot find a way to invest. Is it possible that Barak Obama -- who promised to bankrupt the coal companies -- has decided to block all access to investing in new coal technology? Just kidding. More likely, the company listed below is playing hard to get, for reasons of its own. So be careful when you invest. Some things sound too good to be true because they aren't.Brian Westenhaus gives us a look at a promising new treatment for coal and other carbon sources, Clear Coal. This process claims to remove all mercury and almost all sulfur from the coal in the process of increasing the available energy.
The technology is claimed to make it possible to convert any type or grade of coal, including scrap coal, oil shale, tar sands, etc., into three basic by-products char, synthetic oil and gas - through one integrated process.

Greg Boyd, 47, is the more youthful leader of CoalSack Energy. Asked by Bob McCarty for a 60-second spiel to a prospect Boyd answers with some interesting numbers. “I’d say we have a patent on low-temperature carbonization which takes out 99.2 percent of the sulfur from a ton of coal,” Boyd explained. “The mercury is not even measurable. We’re raising the BTUs by upwards of 40 percent, averaging between 28 and 40 percent. With the same ton of coal, we’re producing the highest grade of light sweet crude oil which can be turned into Jet A fuel and that we’re getting about 7,000 cubic feet of gas.”

...Using a low temperature carbonization process, we are able to carefully control internal temperature ranges inside a roasting unit called a Coal Carbonization Module or CCM™ to vaporize the contaminate elements contained within coal. These vaporized elements are then transported to tanks using steam, whereupon they are condensed into their natural, uncontaminated forms. We are able to produce the nearly contaminate-free char, synthetic oil, and synthetic gasses that are sold to industrial markets, such as refined into Coke for steel production, used for electricity production, or refined into liquid fuels like gasoline, diesel, and Jet A. The carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide production is also converted into liquid fuel, and injected into the product stream where it is sold as a value-added product.

Those four products are interesting. The char is a clean burning smokeless boiler fuel, which can be used for electricity and heat production. The char may also be used in the production of steel and activated charcoal products including filters and carbon fiber. Char has a higher BTU range than coal, 12MBTU/lb – 14MBTU/lb, making it more valuable per ton. Utilities using char as a fuel source become carbon creditors, and could eliminate expensive flue gas scrubbing units. _NewEnergyandFuel
This is an intriguing promise. The process purportedly removes pollutants, incorporates all carbon -- including CO and CO2 -- into useful fuel, and turns low grade "junk coal" into high grade fuels and fuels precursors.

I would like to see how it works on bitumens and kerogens, as well as dried compacted biomass.

Despite what you may have heard from your peak oil friends, the energy game is just getting started. Only an incompetent political reich can thrust civilisation into abject energy scarcity -- "political peak oil".

Cross-posted in Al Fin Energy

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Obama Stimulates Survival Economy

Across the United States, Americans are stocking up for the coming hard times. In cities and suburbs from coast to coast, stock brokers, physicians, accountants and small business owners are preparing for empty supermarket shelves and food riots in the coming age of scarcity.
Six months ago, Jim Wiseman didn't even have a spare nutrition bar in his kitchen cabinet.

Now, the 54-year-old businessman and father of five has a backup generator, a water filter, a grain mill and a 4-foot-tall pile of emergency food tucked in his home in the expensive San Diego suburb of La Jolla.

Wiseman isn't alone. Emergency supply retailers and military surplus stores nationwide have seen business boom in the past few months as an increasing number of Americans spooked by the economy rush to stock up on gear that was once the domain of hardcore survivalists.

These people snapping up everything from water purification tablets to thermal blankets shatter the survivalist stereotype: they are mostly urban professionals with mortgages, SUVs, solid jobs and a twinge of embarrassment about their newfound hobby.

From teachers to real estate agents, these budding emergency gurus say the dismal economy has made them prepare for financial collapse as if it were an oncoming Category 5 hurricane. They worry about rampant inflation, runs on banks, bare grocery shelves and widespread power failures that could make taps run dry.

... Joe Branin, owner of the online emergency supply store Living Fresh, said he's seen a 700 percent increase in orders for water purification tablets in the past month and a similar increase in orders for sterile water pouches.

He is shipping meals ready to eat and food bars by the case to residential addresses nationwide.

"You're hearing from the people you will always hear from, who will build their own bunkers and stuff," he said. "But then you're hearing from people who usually wouldn't think about this, but now it's in their heads: 'What if something comes to the worst?'"

Online interest in survivalism has increased too. The niche Web site SurvivalBlog.com has seen its page views triple in the past 14 months to nearly 137,000 unique visitors a week. Jim Rawles, a self-described survivalist who runs the site, calls the newcomers "11th hour believers." He charges $100 an hour for phone consulting on emergency preparedness and says that business also has tripled.

"There's so many people who are concerned about the economy that there's a huge interest in preparedness, and it pretty much crosses all lines, social, economic, political and religious," he said. "There's a steep learning curve going on right now." _Breitbart
Americans do not know quite what to expect from their inexperienced, seemingly inept new government, so they are wisely stocking up on guns, ammunition, food, water purification, medicines, power generation equipment, hard currencies and barter supplies. The smarter ones are sharpening skills apt to be much in demand during an extended Obama depression.

Not since President Carter has the survival hum been so loud across all parts of the US. Americans are increasingly sensing incompetence in their leadership, as they did in the late 1970s. In times of hunger and scarcity, all people lose their emotional equilibrium. But highly divided societies -- such as the current US -- are apt to lose their equilibrium quite quickly in a crisis. That is why people are stocking up.

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24 May 2009

Re-Inventing The Wheel? As Often as Possible

The military is trying to develop a better tire for HumVees and other vehicles -- a tire that cannot be punctured or shot out from under the vehicle. The "airless tire" is a project being worked on by the US DOD with the help of Resilient Technologies and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
“You see reports all the time of troops who were injured by an IED or their convoys got stranded because their tires were shot out,” says Mike Veihl, general manager of Resilient. “There’s all sorts of armor on the vehicle, but if you’re running in the theater and get your tire shot out, what have you got? You’ve got a bunch of armor in the middle of a field.”

...The Wisconsin design breakthrough, first developed by Resilient’s in-house design and development team, takes a page from nature. “The goal was to reduce the variation in the stiffness of the tire, to make it transmit loads uniformly and become more homogenous,” Osswald says. “And the best design, as nature gives it to us, is really the honeycomb.”

...The patent pending Resilient design relies on a precise pattern of six-sided cells that are arranged, like a honeycomb, in a way that best mimics the “ride feel” of pneumatic tires. The honeycomb geometry also does a great job of reducing noise levels and reducing heat generated during usage - two common problems with past applications. “We definitely brainstormed,” says Foltz. “We wanted to create more of a matrix of cells within the tire, and it seemed kind of natural to go with the honeycomb’s hexagon shape. We tried some other shapes, such as diamond shapes, and they didn’t perform as well.” _Source
Honeycomb designs make sense for load distribution, but I suspect there is a better design waiting to be tried. A pneumatic tire distributes the load almost uniformly in continuously alternating tension-compression in the tire, distributed by the compressed air inside the tire.

This is the type of relatively simple engineering problem that computer models should be capable of handling. In terms of vehicle maneuverability, we may find that the pneumatic tire is not the best type of tire.

Interestingly, some of the same problems that need to be solved to design the best airless tire also need to be solved in the design of the modular seastead. The outer "rim" of the seasted needs to absorb the energy of the surrounding seas, protecting the sensitive living and working areas within.

Interesting work.

Previously published at Al Fin Potpourri


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22 May 2009

Obama's Policies Based on Pseudo-Science -- Real Scientists Hard At Work Doing Experiments

Obama's religion of manmade climate catastrophe is based upon pseudo-science. But since the debate is not over, and since the science is not yet in, real scientists are looking at some huge gaps in atmospheric knowledge. These gaps in the science of climate are huge and demand to be studied and filled in. Once the ignorance is dispelled, it should soon be clear that Obama and his bubble-headed cronies of green fantasy are simply destroying the economy of the US based upon a false premise.

One of the largest gaps in scientific knowledge pertaining to the Earth's climate, is how clouds affect the heat balance of the planet. Scientists from Brookhaven, Argonne, and UC Boulder aim to reduce that knowledge deficit, using high-tech microwave scanning of clouds.
“Clouds play a critical role in Earth’s weather and climate,” said Brookhaven atmospheric scientist Dong Huang, lead researcher for this study. “But poor understanding of clouds has long limited scientists’ ability to make accurate predictions about weather and climate change.”

One major challenge is the sheer scale of the problem: Cloud processes occur on spatial scales ranging from sub-micrometers (millionths of a meter) to thousands of kilometers. The typical probes used by scientists sample a tiny volume. “Using these methods, it would take hundreds of years to take readings from an entire cloud, while the typical lifetime of a cloud is just tens of minutes,” said ARM chief scientist Warren Wiscombe, a co-investigator on this study.

...The scientists will use a network of five microwave sensors to probe clouds’ thermal emission, or release of heat energy, along with two cloud radars, a variety of optical and infrared sensors, and weather balloons to measure other characteristics.

“Using this combination of instrumentation, we will be able to obtain three-dimensional ‘maps’ of the distribution of clouds, atmospheric moisture, and other characteristics over a domain of about 10 kilometers,” said Huang. _Physorg
Better data from actual experiments -- instead of an infinite regress of navel-gazing computer models based upon faulty data.

Another area of ignorance in computer climate models, is how clouds are actually formed. Cosmic rays affect cloud formation, and are strongest during times of weak solar activity. A giant balloon-based cosmic ray experiment by U Delaware researchers will add further knowledge to our understanding of the interaction of cosmic rays with our atmosphere.
AESOP's chambers contain five parallel aluminum plates connected, in alternate order, to ground and a high-voltage pulser. The medium between the plates is a slow-moving mixture of neon and helium. As a charged particle passes through a chamber, it leaves behind an ion trail in the gas. In the presence of a high electric field, the ions in the gas are accelerated toward the plate surface, resulting in a bright red vertical spark, which is digitized and recorded by a linear charge-coupled device (CCD) camera.

According to Clem, the level of solar activity rises and falls over a period of approximately 11 years and influences cosmic ray intensity. As solar activity rises, cosmic ray activity decreases. Currently, solar activity is low, and we are in a period of high cosmic ray intensity, Clem said.

“We're working to better understand how the sun's changing magnetic field affects cosmic ray propagation through the solar system,” Clem noted. _ScienceDaily
Yet another huge gap in knowledge for computer climate models, is the effect of the oceans on Earth's climate. The oceans appear to be losing heat at the very time that climate catastrophists such as Obama and Gore claim the Earth is warming. Climate alarmists cannot explain the discrepancy, so they ignore it, in the grand traditions of pseudo-science.

And then, of course, there is the 200 ton elephant in the climate room -- the sun. NASA's solar scientists are at a loss to explain their total failure in predicting the activity of the sun over the past two years, and its likely behaviour in the coming years. The sun is the source of heat input to Earth's climate. We are learning that the sun is a variable star. Its activity and energy output changes cyclically over time. The Earth necessarily responds to the sun's variation by varying its climate.

The climate orthodoxy (NASA GISS etc) neglects many of the most important drivers of climate in order to focus on anthropogenic CO2. This tunnel vision plays well on the media, and on the political stage. But it is a piss-poor way of doing science. In fact, it is pseudo-science at its worst. The fact that Obama is basing his destruction of the US economy on delusional pseudo-science tells us a great deal about the lack of substance of the narcissist-in-chief.

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21 May 2009

Consilience: How to Understand Everything

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Understanding everything can be difficult, since so much knowledge and expertise is "domain specific." Eric Drexler maintains that it is possible to learn "a broad and integrative kind of knowledge," which would lead to a more productive creativity and fewer mistakes and blunders.
Looking back over the last few decades, I can see that I’ve invested far more than 10,000 hours in learning about the structures, relationships, contents, controversies, open problems, limitations, capabilities, developing an understanding of how the fields covered in the major journals fit together to constitute the current state of science and technology. In some areas, of course, I’ve dug deeper into the contents and tools of a field, driven by the needs of problem solving; in others, I know only the shape of the box and where it sits.

This sort of knowledge is a kind of specialty, really — a limited slice of learning, but oriented crosswise. Because of this orientation, though, it provides leverage in integrating knowledge from diverse sources. I am surprised by the range of fields in which I can converse with scientists and engineers at about the level of a colleague in an adjacent field. I often know what to ask about their research, and sometimes what to suggest. _Metamodern
EO Wilson discussed this type of integration of knowledge in his book Consilience. Inventor and visionary Buckminster Fuller was one of the leading examples of such integration in action.

Our society would be much better off, if it focused more on the development of this type of integration of knowledge, and less on the current dysfunctional hyper-specialised, disconnected hodge-podge of politicised education (cum indoctrination). Our educational and knowledge institutions are becoming fortresses of inbred dogma, competing for power and influence with other similarly walled fortresses.

Consecutive generations grow more specialised, with shorter attention spans and ever narrower ranges of expertise, as the broad body of human knowledge grows willy-nilly in all directions. With modern information technology we can store, categorise, and retrieve information as never before, but if knowledge remains untested, disconnected, and largely theoretical, it serves more as fodder in institutional games of power than in improving the human condition.

Competence for the present and the coming world does not require a single college degree. Competence requires something far more difficult to obtain in our modern environment of fanatical superficiality. It requires the making and testing of large numbers of mental connections, across many boundaries of knowledge and experience.

There are no apprenticeships or professional schools for learning competence as such. Competence attaches itself to doctors, lawyers, electricians, engineers, scientists -- all within their narrow fields of expertise. That type of competence has helped to lift the modern western world out of starvation, most of the killing infectious diseases, and extreme poverty and lawlessness.

But the type of competence that humans need to take the next step, is a much broader and more encompassing form of competence than modern human societies understand. It is the broad competence of a frontiersman combined with the technical and scientific savvy of a first-rate engineer or scientist.

Modern human civilisation is unstable. Top heavy, with minimal vision or competence to deal with the unexpected. The great mass of long neglected human ballast is apt to teach the arrogant self-annointed "legends" who are in control, a very nasty lesson. That is, if modern societies do not "wise up" and teach their children to be competent and knowledgeable in a broadly integrative way.


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Seasteading Institute Project: Engineering

I have been informed by Patri Friedman of The Seasteading Institute, that detailed engineering information about TSI's "Clubstead" project is available at the TSI website. The Clubstead project is a scaled-down seastead for 270 people (200 guests and 70 staff) meant to serve as a hotel and casino. It would also serve as a "proof of concept" of the underlying design platform.Looking over the engineering designs and specs for Clubstead at TSI, I see that there is a great deal to admire about the design -- details which you could not, of course, detect from the design contest winners pictured here previously. As you can see in the drawing above, the cantilevered portion of the seastead platform is supported by support cables. You can also see the outline of strong horizontal steel trusses that connect the four steel columns that support the structure.

You can download the engineering reports in PDF format as a single file or individually from links at this location. The graphics showing the assembly of the platform and columns, along with the ballasting and de-ballasting of the columns in final assembly, are worth checking out, once you download the PDF file.

Although this design is for a much smaller seastead than would actually serve as a micro-nation, it would serve as a test platform for some of its unique ideas. In short, Patri Friedman and his group have made a good beginning in exploring some of the potential approaches to seastead engineering. With the financial backing of Peter Thiel and other contributors, they should be able to proceed to more testing. The PR promotional aspects of TSI are also important for the overall movement.

Now, without having seen the engineering specs, my first impression of the TSI platform was not favourable. After looking over the specs, I can see that many vital details that I thought neglected, were considered after all. Not all, but quite a few. Even so, the Clubstead design would likely not survive a full year in the Pacific Northwestern open waters. And you would not expect it to be able to do so, as an untested design.

Modifications that are made to the design with further testing should make Clubstead more seaworthy, and resistant to the unexpected problems that inevitably occur, courtesy of Mr. Murphy. As larger and larger scale models are tested against harsher and harsher conditions, the computer model will be proved or falsified. The full scale Clubstead itself will necessarily be tested in milder waters over a period of time, before the ocean ocean is dared.

Then, if the Clubstead -- which is itself a scaled down seastead -- is able to withstand the rigours of the open sea, the lessons learned from Clubstead can be applied to the design and construction of newer versions of the same and larger scale.

The Seasteading Institute has always had the support of the Al Fin blogs. Thanks again to Patri Friedman for spearheading this important movement.

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20 May 2009

Biodegradable Plastics 3 Different Ways

We are moving from a petroleum world to a biological world. Fuels, plastics, chemicals, and materials that typically are made from petroleum are now being made from biomass and garbage. Combining expertise from microbiology, genetics, chemistry, thermodynamics, nanotechnology, materials science, and other scientific and technical fields, researchers are bringing about a significant transformation of the advanced economies.

1. Mark van Loosdrecht of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands:
van Loosdrecht has been working on using bacteria to transform this waste into bioplastics known as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs).

PHAs are linear polyesters produced by bacterial fermentation of sugar or lipids (fats). They are produced by the bacteria to store carbon and energy. More than 150 different monomers can be combined within this family to give materials with extremely different properties.

These plastics are biodegradable and are used in the production of bioplastics. However, the high cost of PHA production compared to conventional plastics has limited their use in a wide range of applications.

Using technology derived from wastewater treatment systems, van Loosdrecht and his lab have developed a process using open microbial cultures to convert organic wastes to PHAs.

This new process is able to produce just as much PHA as existing processes at specific rates that are up to three times faster. _TOI_via_ImpactLab

2. Richard Gross from the Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, New York
Richard Gross from the Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, New York, is using bacteria that produce a building block from vegetable oils that can be used to make a plastic that is very much like polyethylene.

However, unlike polyethylene, when it becomes waste, it can be converted by mild enzymatic methods to biodiesel fuel. _TOI_via_ImpactLab

3. Kevin O'Connor at the University College in Dublin, Ireland
O'Connor has found a way to transform traditional plastics into biodegradable plastics.

Using a process called pyrolysis, the waste plastics are heated in the absence of air, causing a breakdown of the molecular bonds.

What's left is an oil that is then fed to natural soil bacteria that use it to produce PHA. _TOI_via_ImpactLab


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Seastead Design Contest Winners: Could Any of Them Survive On the Open Sea?

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These are the winners of the $2000 1st Seasteading Institute Design Contest, which closed for entries on May 1. The overall winner above -- "Swimming City" -- won a $1000 prize, and the category winners below each won $250. It is important to give The Seasteading Institute (TSI) full credit for creatively pushing the seasteading concept of "freedom on the high seas." All of the winners are certainly aesthetically pleasing. But can a person survive in the middle of the ocean on aesthetics?If a beautiful seastead capsizes in a storm, it becomes a beautiful wreck on the bottom of the ocean. Like the Titanic, such a seastead would be a magnet for filmmakers, adventurers, and treasure hunters. Those lost at sea in such a catastrophe would be properly mourned, no doubt. But why put one's faith in aesthetics, when basic nautical design precautions could produce a seastead that would actually be viable?These are the early stages of the seastead vision, and young, inexperienced visionaries are often drawn toward eye candy conceptualisations. As public relations devices, beautiful images can attract the attention of investors and potential participants. For that purpose -- attention grabbing -- the contest winners serve well. But most investors who invest their own money will be looking more deeply, toward viability and sustainability. Can it survive the worst the sea can throw at it? How will it pay for itself? How does it work at the nuts and bolts level?The design contest winners this year -- the 1st year of contests -- all seem to be built on the same basic support structure: multiple support columns holding up a rectangular or circular platform. The columns are presumably floating spars, but could conceivably be large piles penetrating the seafloor: the difference between a free-floating island seastead and a fixed-in-place platform seastead.All of the designs appear more suitable for sheltered bays, harbours, or inlets, rather than the open ocean. It is the type of design one might locate close to Sydney, Vancouver, San Francisco, or Venice. But would a floating multi-spar platform with these dimensions and superstructures survive long in the open ocean?

This goes to the heart of the purpose of a seastead. If its purpose is to create valuable real estate in the vicinity of a large city, designs such as those above might serve quite nicely. If the purpose is to create an independent micro-nation, free from the interference of oppressive statist societies, marine designers will need to dig more deeply in the well of the informed imagination.

I salute TSI for initiating the broad discussion of the seasteading and micronation concepts on the web and beyond. My only suggestion is an additional category for the design contest: the "open ocean, hell and high water" category. Winners in that category would need to possess the extra-aesthetic qualities that will allow a seastead and its inhabitants to survive and thrive in the unpredictable environment of the sea.

More: Here is an interesting "chat" on the TSI site regarding existing designs and structures that might be modified for seasteading (including oil rigs and used cruise ships)


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19 May 2009

Virtual School Gaining Ground

Around the US, virtual online schools are allowing students much broader choices of curricula, providing the possiblity of "personalised" education for self-starting, ambitious students.
Self-paced courses allow students who learn quickly to complete courses at a pace that remains engaging and avoids boredom before they move on to the next course. Flexible courses give students who need more time and practice to accomplish course objectives the built-in opportunity to take the time without the stigma of asking for an exception to a rigid calendar. Millions of K-12 students have taken control of their learning time in distance courses. Distance education, as a learner-centered approach to education, is an efficient learning environment that focuses the teacher’s attention on the specific performance of individual students, guiding them as needed to achieve success. The student-teacher relationship is immediate and personal. _AmericanProgress
Although teachers' unions and other top-heavy bureaucracies are trying to limit student choice, the virtual school movement is spreading to every state, at all levels from K-12 through university. The cost advantage for schools is one of many aspects of online education that is attracting attention.
Based on a 2008 survey of 20 virtual schools in 14 states, UF researchers found that the average yearly cost of online learning per full-time pupil was about $4,300. This compared with a national average cost per pupil of more than $9,100 for a traditional public school in 2006 (the most recent year in which such data was available). Their cost estimates covered course development and teaching, and administrative and technical expenses.

“Online programs have little or no cost for instructional facilities, transportation and related staff,” Cavanaugh said. “The value of distance education also increases when considering the broad range of available online courses.”

She said investing in virtual education could allow schools to provide instruction before, during and after school — in essence, lengthening the school day and school year — without sinking millions of dollars into new buildings, additional personnel, professional development and other operating costs. Such school reform measures may not be popular with the kids, but America’s education system is falling behind our competitors abroad. Simply put, students in other developed nations are spending more time in school and learning more than our kids do. _UFlorida_via_SwampWoman
Wisconsin is one of the states where virtual schools have fought the unions and bureaucracies to come out victorious on the other side.
There are more than 2,300 virtual students in Wisconsin studying at 14 schools. It's becoming more popular. Virtual schools is kind of like home-schooling for the internet generation, but it lets students work with certified teachers instead of relying on parents to develop instruction.

"To me, it's the best of both worlds," says Marcy's mom, Julie. "You can work at your own pace but also have teacher support." _Source
One interesting development in online education at college level, is the free access offering of selected Kaplan Higher Education courses as part of the Open Courseware Consortium. As the open courseware movement expands, options for free online learning will grow. And that should open the door for more independent certification organisations that can test and certify students for the benefit of potential employers and learning institutions.

College students can also use free online courses as preparation for challenging courses via test, or for taking knowledge assessment exams for college credit. Students could easily test out of a year or more of college using these free online courses.

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Dean Kamen's Magic Stirling Engine

...the Stirling, was invented in 1816 by Scottish clergyman Robert Stirling. He found that alternately heating and cooling gases in a closed system could create power to do work, such as drive a piston. But...the Stirling was mostly forgotten, even though its simple concept is “elegant, it’s brilliant,” Kamen says. But its time to shine might be now. All-electric cars still suffer from wimpy batteries that limit driving range and refuel slowly. “The energy you can carry around in a liter of gasoline is 100 times higher than you can carry in the same size and weight of a battery,” Kamen says. “And that’s going to be true for a long time.” _CSMonitor_via_Keelynet
The Stirling engine has long been a solution looking for a problem. But inventor Dean Kamen seems to have found more than one good use for the venerable heat engine.

Mr. Kamen, an inventor and entrepreneur perhaps best known for the two-wheel Segway Human Transporter, doesn’t want to get into the car business himself. He just wants to see the Stirling engine that helps power the REVOLT be mass produced for vehicles. That would drive down the price, he says, and allow it to be cost-effective in another role: as a miniature electric plant for villages in the developing world.

A Stirling can run on just about anything that creates heat, from gasoline, kerosene, and ethanol, to natural gas, propane, hydrogen, and, yes, the methane given off by animal manure.

In a recent test, two villages in Bangladesh ran Stirling engines to create electricity for 24 weeks – using only cow dung for fuel. “We’re pretty excited about that,” Kamen says. _CSMonitor
The best power plant for a hybrid automobile will be a fuel cell running on a simple liquid fuel like methanol. The next best power plant may very well be a Stirling engine -- which can be available in quantity now, unlike the fuel cell which will take a few more years of development to perfect. Hybrid cars need a constant power source for charging the batteries. Stirling engines can plug away at constant speed, day after day, year after year, without complaint.

Using a sophisticated internal combustion engine in a serial hybrid automobile is expensive and unnecessary. A turbine engine would be ideal except for the expense, the noise, and its sensitivity to teenage driving habits. The Stirling makes sense, until low cost methanol powered fuel cells are perfected for autos. Even then, cost factors may well favour the Stirling.

These issues will not be settled in the US auto market, due to the massive amount of regulation crushing the US auto industry. But the rest of the world may begin to gain confidence, as the Obama depression wears on, killing the US economy and US credibility in world markets.

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The Way of the World, Coming Anarchy

The image above illustrates the region of "Pushtunistan", a land of great violence and fanaticism. It is easy to see from the map why the violence is impossible for any one country to control. The green Pashtun regions stretch from Pakistan, through Afghanistan, to just inside Iran.
... with the Pashtun in their own homeland free from outside overlords their reason for supporting the Taliban politically would disappear and the incompatibility between the Taliban’s extreme form of Islam and the Pashtun’s own traditional religious forms would put the two at odds more often than not.

Rather than insisting on fighting the Pashtun, the amswer in Af/Pak may lie in giving them back the independence they once had. _Zenpundit
Similar situations exist around the world, with the map of Kurdistan above another example. Tribal peoples are arbitrarily crammed together with ancient enemies inside the same geographical borders, and expected to behave as loyal countrymen to their enemies.

Only the application of extreme force has allowed such arbitrary national constructs to survive for this long, post-colonially. As the power of the US to enforce arbitrary boundaries subsides with the rise of Obama, the lack of a credible world hegemon will allow such tribal conflicts to erupt into full ferocity across multiple parts of the world. In many cases, it will be in the interest of China to encourage such "wars of independence," just as the USSR promoted such violence across much of the world in the 20th century.

World travel is going to become even more interesting than it already has done.

More here


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18 May 2009

Europe Down-Sizing Its Automobiles

This new automobile runs on a lawnmower engine, and is felt to be the appropriate size for helping lower the EU's carbon footprint. With this breakthrough, EU countries can build much smaller highways, with the consequent savings in building materials and needed right of ways. How did they do it?
The chassis started out as a children’s toy car, and after Watkins bolted on working headlights and tail lights, windshield wipers, turn signals and a horn, he was allowed to tack on a license plate and make it fully street legal. Now, you might see him scooting around the streets of Staffordshire in this little crazy car at speeds of up to 40mph.

Never mind what would happen to you if this puny vehicle got into an accident - it gets 70 miles per gallon! Want to see how he built it? Take a look at this video:


Car makers around the world will have to hurry to catch up, or they will lose out to European manufacturers of the new size-appropriate automobile class. Next, the EU plans to have its genetic scientists devise a way to genengineer size-appropriate people.


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You Can Train a Monkey to Do Surgery

You can train a monkey to do surgery! That's what one of my anatomy professors used to say -- and he is a surgeon himself, so he should know. And now, with improved surgical simulator trainers, you can teach monkeys to operate even more quickly, and with better surgical technique!
The researchers put the obstetrics and gynaecology medics in two groups - one which had the traditional training of working alongside doctors and tutoring and another which supplemented this with seven hours simulator training.

They found that those that used the computer simulators were twice as quick, taking just 12 minutes to complete the operation on a patient. They also carried out better procedures, according to a points system used to judge the quality of the work.

Lead researcher Christian Rifbjerg Larsen said: "Simulator training should be incorporated into the curriculum for all surgical trainees before they embark on patient procedures..."This can potentially improve patient safety and improve operation room efficiency." _BBC_via_FierceHealthcare
Just like flight simulators, surgical and OB simulators can provide a wider range of surgical complications than most surgeons-in-training might typically see. This will make them better surgeons -- monkeys or human. ;-)

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Basic Facts About the Energy Challenge

Here are a few basic energy numbers from David MacKay. As the importance of moving away from dictator-controlled energy grows more apparent, we will need to pay more attention to the underlying numerical comparisons between various energy loads and energy supplies. We will need to become more literate in the mathematics of energy.
One kilowatt-hour (kWh) is the energy used by leaving a 40-watt bulb on for 24 hours. The chemical energy in the food we eat to stay alive amounts to about 3 kWh per day. Taking one hot bath uses about 5 kWh of heat. Driving an average European car 100 kilometers (roughly 62 miles) uses 80 kWh of fuel....

To supply 42 kWh per day per person from solar power requires roughly 80 square meters per person of solar panels.

To deliver 42 kWh per day per person from wind for everyone in the United States would require wind farms with a total area roughly equal to the area of California, a 200-fold increase in United States wind power.

To get 42 kWh per day per person from nuclear power would require 525 one-gigawatt nuclear power stations, a roughly five-fold increase over today's levels....

Most prototype hydrogen-powered vehicles use more energy than the fossil-fuel vehicles they replace. The BMW Hydrogen 7, for example, uses 254 kWh per 100 km, but the average fossil car in Europe uses 80 kWh per 100 km.

.....The problem with hydrogen is that both the creation and the use of hydrogen are energy-inefficient steps. Adopting hydrogen as a transport fuel would increase our energy demand. And, as I hope the numbers above have shown, supplying energy to match our demand is not going to be easy. _CNN
H/T Ron Rupper

For a genuine education in the numbers of energy, go to David MacKay's website and download a free PDF version of Without Hot Air.

Cross posted at Al Fin Energy

Renewable energy such as solar and wind are useful on a local scale -- particularly for off-grid applications. But they are not practical for large scale utility use, given their enormous problems with intermittency, unreliability, huge instabilities inflicted on the power grid, and a lack of affordable utility-scale energy storage means.

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