31 December 2009

China Blows its Own Real Estate Bubble

China is currently seen as the main hope and bright spot for the global economy. Chinese leaders and government representatives have clout backed up by cash, and they are not afraid to use it on the world stage. But what if the Chinese economy is largely based upon more "bubble psychology" -- the kind of bubble psychology that struck down many western economies?
How did this bubble get going? Low interest rates, official encouragement of bank lending, and then Beijing’s half-trillion- dollar stimulus plan all made funds readily available. City and provincial governments have been gladly cooperating with developers: Economists estimate that half of all local government revenue comes from selling state-owned land.

Chinese consumers, fearing inflation will return and outstrip the tiny interest they earn on their savings, have pursued property ever more aggressively. Companies in the chemical, steel, textile, and shoe industries have started up property divisions too: The chance of a quick return is much higher than in their primary business.

Built on Sand

“When you sit down with a table of businessmen, the story is usually how they got lucky from a piece of land,” says Andy Xie, an independent economist who once worked in Hong Kong as Morgan Stanley’s top Asia analyst. “No one talks about their factories making money these days.”Newly wealthy towns are playing the game with a vengeance. Ordos is a city of 1.3 million in China’s Inner Mongolia region. It has gotten rich from the discovery of a big coal seam nearby.

An emerging generation of tycoons, developers, and local officials will go to any length to invent a modern Ordos. So 16 miles from the old town, a new civic center is emerging from the desert that could easily pass for the capital of a midsize country. An enormous complex houses City Hall and the local Communist Party headquarters, each 11 stories tall with sweeping circular driveways.

Nearby loom a fortress-like opera house and a slate-gray, modernist public library. Thousands of villas and apartment towers stretch into the distance, all built by local developers in the hope that Ordos’s recently prosperous will buy the places to be near the new center of power.

Serial Drama

Workers get bused daily to the new city hall, but the housing is still largely unoccupied.

“Why would anyone go there,” asks Zhao Hailin, a street artist in the old town. “It’s a city of empty buildings.” Ordos officials declined to comment for this story.

...The government is reluctant to crack down too hard because construction, steel, cement, furniture, and other sectors are directly tied to growth in real estate. In November, for example, retail sales of furniture and construction materials jumped more than 40 percent. At the December Central Economic Work Conference, an annual policy-setting confab, officials said real estate would continue to be a key driver of growth.

The worst scenario is that the central authorities let the party go on too long, then suddenly ramp up interest rates to stop the inflationary spiral. Without cheap credit, developers won’t be able to refinance their loans, consumers will no longer take out mortgages, local banks’ property portfolios will sour, and industrial companies that relied on real estate for a chunk of profits will suffer. _Bloomberg

The same story is repeated across China.  Once the large export market vanished, the Chinese government was forced to concoct something -- anything! -- to take its place.  If what they came up with was a real estate bubble, who are we to criticise?

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Mr. Obama Puts His Bootprint On Higher Education

Mr. Obama's Department of Education is totally refurbishing the formerly defunct National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI). If you thought university staff and faculty had gone overboard on politically correct speech codes, race-gender consciousness-raising, and far-to-the-left indoctrination of students to the point of academic lobotomisation, take a look at the makeup of the new NACIQI committee:
Earl Lewis, currently the provost at Emory University, was previously the dean of graduate studies at the University of Michigan. He was heavily involved in the 2003 landmark legal case Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan's law school's race-based admissions policy. Lewis has since co-authored Defending Diversity: Affirmative Action at the University of Michigan.

Frank H. Wu is the first Asian-American professor to teach at Howard Law School and testified in Grutter v. Bollinger in favor of affirmative action. He is the author of Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White. In it he calls for a new paradigm in American race relations, which unfortunately looks like the same old divisive enfranchisement of racial antagonisms and grievances known as multiculturalism. And he suggests that ethnic minorities should form coalitions to press for political power.

Jamienne S. Studley was once the president of Skidmore College and legal counsel for the Department of Education during the Clinton administration. She is currently the president and CEO of Public Advocates Inc., a California-based "nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization" that, according to its mission statement, "challenges the systemic causes of poverty and racial discrimination." In November of 2009, Public Advocates Inc. released the following "Statement in Support of ACORN":
Public Advocates believes that real change and real justice only happen when disadvantaged and excluded communities organize, speak out together, and build their own power. That's why we are proud to have worked for years with California ACORN as partners, friends, and lawyers.

Federico Zaragoza is the vice chancellor for professional, technical and workforce education for the Alamo Community Colleges system (the San Antonio region). While most information about him suggests a straightforward emphasis on vocational and continuing education, in a report he wrote for the system's website in 2007, he twice mentions activities undertaken in conjunction with LULAC. LULAC was started as a patriotic organization back in 1929, promoting the assimilation of Hispanics through learning English. It became radicalized in the 1960s.

Susan Phillips is a psychology professor and provost and vice president for academic affairs at the State University of New York, Albany (SUNY). According to her school biography, she has been "instrumental in creating cross-disciplinary initiatives, including developing research capacity for university-community partnerships through the University at Albany's NIH-sponsored Center for the Elimination of Minority Health Disparities."

Aron Shimeles is the most questionable appointment. The son of Ethiopian immigrants, he is a senior at Occidental College in Los Angeles, President Obama's first college. He is a member of the school's Black Student Alliance and helped to produce a hip-hop concert for them.
Shimeles is also listed as a member of the editorial board of the Critical Theory and Social Justice Journal of Undergraduate Research. The journal's mission statement says that "CTSJ is dedicated to providing a forum for undergraduate students to develop and share critical research and writing on the intersections of 'race', 'sexuality', and 'nationality' as they relate to problems of social justice."

...Obama and Duncan have not likely appointed this group to be their representatives on NACIQI to maintain the status quo, but rather to push their agenda. Establishing control over the accreditation process could be a great source of bureaucratic power. Since the federal government will provide financial aid only to students of accredited schools, a college's existence is precarious at best without it (except for the handful of schools that forgo federal aid).

It should therefore come as no surprise if the new members attempt to introduce diversity mandates and social engineering into the accreditation process. And it is not likely that this Congress will try to stop them if they do, as they did in 2008. _Source
This committee of far-left political activists will have the power of life or death over any university that wants accreditation. But this is Mr. Obama's legacy to US higher education. He may be an incompetent clown, but at least he puts ideology ahead of a quality education.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

30 December 2009

Obama - Pelosi to Private Economy: "Let Them Eat Cake"

Working for the government has never been better.  Working in the private sector -- not so much.

The US jobs picture for 2010 is discouraging.

Small businesspersons in the US still largely depressed.

Adjusted for inflation, the DJIA stock index is only at 8200

US running out of unemployment money.

Home equity lines drying up across US.

Corrupt and Inept Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac promote bad loans, high delinquency rates, new banking crises in the making.  Pelosi's House has already "set aside" $4 TRILLION for the next bailout to big banks.

Even more ugly abuse by Fannie and Freddie Read it and weep for a government that cannot learn from its mistakes -- and forces its people to pay for them over and over.

Obama - Pelosi's policies suggest they want everyone to be a unionised government employee.   Kill the energy industry with carbon cap 'n  stab, kill biomedical innovation and quality by nationalising it, kill the rest of the private economy with proliferating taxes, rules, regulations. Attention citizens: you are traveling on the Obama River. Now brace yourselves for going over the falls.


Bookmark and Share

Is Nuclear Power Appropriate for the Tribal World?

The population of Earth is diverse, in terms of competence to deal with complex technology. The concept of "appropriate technology" is important to keep in mind when considering the expansion of complex technologies, such as nuclear power, to the third world.  Maintenance of nuclear and other technologies is critically important -- and complex beyond the ability of people with very low IQ.

How intelligent should a nation's population be before it considers relying upon complex and potentially dangerous technologies for essential functions such as electrical power, pumping and purifying water, etc?

The map above displays world nations by IQ.  The darker the lavender, the higher the mean intelligence of the population.  A lighter lavender indicates a lower average intelligence.   For example, the average intelligence of populations in China, North America, Oceania, Europe, Japan, and Korea is close to 100.  The average intelligence of populations in subsaharan Africa is 75 at the most.  The colour differences reflect differences in capacity to develop and maintain high technology infrastructures without significant outside help.  A high IQ market-dominant minority can allow a nation to "perform above its weight class" in technology infrastructure, but such minorities tend to create a high degree of resentment among lower IQ majority populations.


Namibia, one of three countries in Africa besides Niger and South Africa producing uranium, plans to build a nuclear plant to supply the domestic market and the region.

"We are determined to build a nuclear plant both for Namibia and to trade power via the Southern African Power Pool," Namibia's deputy energy minister, Bernhardt Esau, said in February.

The south-west African country faces a shortfall of power and imports electricity from neighbouring South Africa, which has its own electricity supply problems. The Namibian government is setting up a regulatory system with the International Atomic Energy Agency to provide the legal framework to build a nuclear plant.

Esau said the country had general talks with Areva but would launch a tender process to select a company to build the plant. [ID:nLC243082]


Niger, one of the world's top uranium producers, plans to build a nuclear power station to help solve an energy shortage in the region, an advisor to the minister of energy said in February.

The country planned to ask South Africa, the only country on the continent with a nuclear plant so far, to help. [ID:nLB439868]


Initial Qatari interest in nuclear power plants has waned with the fall in international oil and gas prices, a Qatari official said in November 2008.

"It is less economically viable now, and less attractive. The potential costs are changing with the turmoil in financial markets, the economic slowdown and development of alternative fuels," Yousuf Janahi, manager of business development at Qatar's state-owned power company Kahramaa, said.

If Qatar decided to go ahead with building a nuclear plant, feasibility studies showed it would be unlikely to bring a reactor into operation before 2018.

French power giant EDF (EDF.PA) signed a memorandum with Qatar in early 2008 for cooperation on development of a peaceful civilian nuclear power program.


The South African government expects the country's next nuclear power plant to be up and running by 2020 [ID:nLK595679].

State-owned power utility Eskom [ESCJ.UL] operates Africa's sole nuclear powered plant with a total capacity of 1,800 MW.

Nuclear is a major part of South Africa's energy diversification plan to reduce its heavy reliance on coal, which now supplies most of its electricity. 


Several nations of North Africa and the Middle East also have plans to build nuclear plants, as well.  More information about specific national plans at the links above.  The oil rich nations of MENA -- although having population IQs of around 80 to 85 -- have been able to hire outside help to maintain their technological infrastructure, using profits from energy exports.    Several African nations likewise possess enough oil and mineral wealth to attract outside expertise -- but in subsaharan Africa, the average IQ is ten points lower than the already low IQ of MENA countries.

The bloody instability of the tribal nations of Africa and Asia combined with the general low IQ of populations there, suggests that exporting dangerous and complex technologies to those regions is anything but appropriate.   Al Fin nuclear engineers suggest that current nuclear fission designs should be limited to nations whose average IQs exceed 90 -- in the absence of a significant (10%)  high IQ market dominant minority.

The above chart illustrates the correspondence between IQ and the ability to learn different skills, trades, and occupations.  Keep in mind that for some countries in Africa, the above curve would shift two standard deviations to the left -- to a mean of roughly 70 instead of 100.  In other words, for several African countries a capable mechanic will be as difficult to find as a competent chemist or executive in the advanced world.  Competent engineers are virtually non-existent in the tribal nations. 

When the oil resources of a tribal nation are developed by outside enterprises from China, Europe, North America, Japan, Russia, etc. western critics are quick to yell "colonialism!"  The same is true when western religious charities build hospitals and schools in the third world.  But an clear grasp of the content of the above chart makes it obvious that a nation with an average IQ of 75 or 80 will never be able to field a large enough team of competent engineers, surgeons, scientists, technicians, managers, and other skilled professionals to develop or maintain complex enterprises.

The additional danger of nuclear technology -- if not carefully operated and maintained -- reveals the absurdity of plans for building such industrial plants in low IQ countries that are basically unstable, politically.

Nuclear technology will progress in the next 20 or 30 years to the point where it may be safe enough for very low IQ tribal peoples.   It is a terrible idea for 2010.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

29 December 2009

Where Modern (Climate) Science Goes Wrong

As Richard Feynman famously quipped, “Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.” _Source

Scientists in real life do not behave like scientists are supposed to. Instead of pursuing the truth dispassionately with open minds, their minds are too often full of pre-conceived beliefs and firmly fixed expectations of results. If the experimental data do not fit the preconceived theory, scientists may just throw out the data instead of the theory. Honest scientists like Feynman have understood this reality for a long time, but now brain science is beginning to put the pieces together as to why scientists frequently behave in a most unscientific manner.

Science is a deeply frustrating pursuit. Although the researchers were mostly using established techniques, more than 50 percent of their data was unexpected. (In some labs, the figure exceeded 75 percent.) “The scientists had these elaborate theories about what was supposed to happen,” Dunbar says. “But the results kept contradicting their theories. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to spend a month on a project and then just discard all their data because the data didn’t make sense.” Perhaps they hoped to see a specific protein but it wasn’t there. Or maybe their DNA sample showed the presence of an aberrant gene. The details always changed, but the story remained the same: The scientists were looking for X, but they found Y.

...There were models that didn’t work and data that couldn’t be replicated and simple studies riddled with anomalies. “These weren’t sloppy people,” Dunbar says. “They were working in some of the finest labs in the world. But experiments rarely tell us what we think they’re going to tell us. That’s the dirty secret of science.”

Dunbar realized that the vast majority of people in the lab followed the same basic strategy. First, they would blame the method. The surprising finding was classified as a mere mistake; perhaps a machine malfunctioned or an enzyme had gone stale. “The scientists were trying to explain away what they didn’t understand,” Dunbar says. “It’s as if they didn’t want to believe it.”

...The reason we’re so resistant to anomalous information — the real reason researchers automatically assume that every unexpected result is a stupid mistake — is rooted in the way the human brain works. Over the past few decades, psychologists have dismantled the myth of objectivity. The fact is, we carefully edit our reality, searching for evidence that confirms what we already believe. Although we pretend we’re empiricists — our views dictated by nothing but the facts — we’re actually blinkered, especially when it comes to information that contradicts our theories. The problem with science, then, isn’t that most experiments fail — it’s that most failures are ignored.

...when Dunbar monitored the subjects in an fMRI machine, he found that showing non-physics majors the correct video triggered a particular pattern of brain activation: There was a squirt of blood to the anterior cingulate cortex, a collar of tissue located in the center of the brain. The ACC is typically associated with the perception of errors and contradictions — neuroscientists often refer to it as part of the “Oh shit!” circuit — so it makes sense that it would be turned on when we watch a video of something that seems wrong.

...there’s another region of the brain that can be activated as we go about editing reality. It’s called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, or DLPFC. It’s located just behind the forehead and is one of the last brain areas to develop in young adults. It plays a crucial role in suppressing so-called unwanted representations, getting rid of those thoughts that don’t square with our preconceptions. For scientists, it’s a problem....The DLPFC is constantly censoring the world, erasing facts from our experience. If the ACC is the “Oh shit!” circuit, the DLPFC is the Delete key. When the ACC and DLPFC “turn on together, people aren’t just noticing that something doesn’t look right,” Dunbar says. “They’re also inhibiting that information.”

...Dunbar tells the story of two labs that both ran into the same experimental problem: The proteins they were trying to measure were sticking to a filter, making it impossible to analyze the data. “One of the labs was full of people from different backgrounds,” Dunbar says. “They had biochemists and molecular biologists and geneticists and students in medical school.” The other lab, in contrast, was made up of E. coli experts. “They knew more about E. coli than anyone else, but that was what they knew,” he says. Dunbar watched how each of these labs dealt with their protein problem. The E. coli group took a brute-force approach, spending several weeks methodically testing various fixes. “It was extremely inefficient,” Dunbar says. “They eventually solved it, but they wasted a lot of valuable time.”

The diverse lab, in contrast, mulled the problem at a group meeting. None of the scientists were protein experts, so they began a wide-ranging discussion of possible solutions. At first, the conversation seemed rather useless. But then, as the chemists traded ideas with the biologists and the biologists bounced ideas off the med students, potential answers began to emerge. “After another 10 minutes of talking, the protein problem was solved,” Dunbar says. “They made it look easy.”

...This is why other people [inside and outside the field -- ed.] are so helpful: They shock us out of our cognitive box. “I saw this happen all the time,” Dunbar says. “A scientist would be trying to describe their approach, and they’d be getting a little defensive, and then they’d get this quizzical look on their face. It was like they’d finally understood what was important.” _Wired
Scientists are people too. Their brains want them to find confirmation of their preconceived beliefs. If the data tells them something different, who will help them get out of the rut of their strong (and sometimes personally profitable) belief, to see the larger, more inclusive theory that is just waiting to be found?

If scientists surround themselves with others who believe the same theories as themselves -- as in climate science (see ClimateGate emails and codes) -- there will be few, if any, outsiders around to show the insiders where their brains and beliefs are leading them astray.

Climate scientists too often shut out the voices of outsiders, and sequester themselves together. When data from the outside world proves intractable, they focus inwardly on computer models using input that they can control. They use clever "tricks" to adjust or change what their data was saying. They erect strong castles to withstand what is turning into a prolonged siege from the outside.

Since the science funding agencies and big science publishers are firmly within the cloistered castle of climate catastrophe, it is up to the mainstream media to inform the public of the true complexity of the situation. But the mainstream media has largely crossed the drawbridge into the climate keep, and is shooting out orthodoxy-blessed arrows of true belief.

So it comes down to the new media, and the true outsiders -- knowledgeable, intelligent, and creative persons willing to look into the realities that climate scientists do not care to face. Outsiders who will use the new media to communicate with anyone willing to look for larger and "truer" answers to the conflicting data.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

28 December 2009

Clues On Short-Term Memory in Hippocampus

Researchers Ben Strowbridge and Phillip Larimer at Case Western Reserve have studied thin slices of living rodent hippocampus, and discovered some potentially important new clues about short term memory.
Their study will be published in the February 2010 issue of Nature Neuroscience and is currently available online.

Neuroscientists often classify human memory into three types: declarative memory, such as storing facts or remembering specific events; procedural memory, such as learning how to play the piano or shoot basketballs; and working memory, a type of short-term storage like remembering a phone number. With this particular study, Strowbridge and Larimer, were interested in identifying the specific circuits that could be responsible for working memory.

Using isolated pieces of rodent brain tissue, Larimer discovered a way to recreate a type of working memory in vitro. He was studying a particular type of brain neuron, called mossy cells, which are often damaged in people with epilepsy and are part of the hippocampus....

...Mossy cells are unusual because they maintain much of their normal activity even when kept alive in thin brain slices. The spontaneous electrical activity Larimer and Strowbridge found in mossy cells was critical to their discovery of memory traces in this brain region.

When stimulating electrodes were inserted in the hippocampal brain slice the spontaneous activity in the mossy cells remembered which electrode had been activated. The memory in vitro lasted about 10 seconds, about as long as many types of working memories studied in people....

..."Like our own memories, the memories we created in isolated brain slices were stored in many different neurons or cells, that's why we had to watch several different cells to see the stored information," said Strowbridge.

Larimer and Strowbridge also found the brain circuit that enabled the hippocampus to remember which input pathway had been activated. The memory effect occurred because of a rare type of brain cell called semilunar granule cells, described in 1893 by the father of neuroscience, Ramón y Cajal. The semilunar granule cells have an unusual form of persistent activity, allowing them to maintain memory and connect to the mossy cells. That was the foundation for this paper. The semilunar granule cells remained an obscurity for more than a century until Strowbridge's group rediscovered them in a paper they published in 2007....

...Strowbridge's group is now looking into how much information they can store in the hippocampus.

"It took us four years to be able to reproducibly store two bits of information for 10 seconds" says Larimer. "Our findings should progress faster now that we know what to look for and have found the brain circuit that actually holds the memory." _SD
The semilunar granule cells (as a group) appear to be specially adapted via evolution to allow a persistent actively maintained memory for several seconds -- up to 10 seconds in the rodent hippocampal slices. Short term memory in the human brain can last longer.

How short term memories were stored -- and how they are transferred to long-term memory -- are important problems in neuroscience, and the science of consciousness formation.

We have seen in the previous post that the cortex can maintain a type of ultra-short term "echo memory" or "liquid mind", that allows for sophisticated integration and combinations of sensory input (and almost certainly of a wide range of mental images). As discussed previously, this echo memory is likely to be an important mechanism for maintaining moment to moment continuity of thought, and a sense of subjective reality.


Bookmark and Share

27 December 2009

The Brain Treats Time as a Flexible Concept

"The human brain does not work on the principle of the assembly line. In processing information, it is possible that time is treated much more flexibly than previously thought," explained Wolfgang Maass, head of the Institute for Theoretical Computer Science at Graz University of Technology. _SD

Research from Max Planck Institute and Graz University of Technology suggests that the brain may store sensory input in the form of an "interference wave" for up to a second. This allows the "integration" of multiple sensory inputs before the higher brain centers get a glimpse of what is happening. The findings suggest a type of "ultra-short term memory" that functions as a type of "pre-processing" of sensory input.
Researchers usually assume that neuronal responses carry primarily information about the stimulus that evoked these responses. We show here that, when multiple images are shown in a fast sequence, the response to an image contains as much information about the preceding image as about the current one. Importantly, this memory capacity extends only to the most recent stimulus in the sequence. The effect can be explained only partly by adaptation of neuronal responses. These discoveries were made with the help of novel methods for analyzing high-dimensional data obtained by recording the responses of many neurons (e.g., 100) in parallel. The methods enabled us to study the information contents of neural activity as accessible to neurons in the cortex, i.e., by collecting information only over short time intervals. This one-back memory has properties similar to the iconic storage of visual information—which is a detailed image of the visual scene that stays for a short while (<1 s) when we close our eyes. Thus, one-back memory may be the neural foundation of iconic memory. Our results are consistent with recent detailed computer simulations of local cortical networks of neurons (“generic cortical microcircuits”), which suggested that integration of information over time is a fundamental computational operation of these networks. _PLoS
The authors refer to this phenomenon as a "liquid mind" -- alluding to the interference ripples that result from a stone being thrown into a still pond. The concept goes all the way back to Karl Pribram's "holographic memory" ideas of a few decades ago.

The research is described here, and is worth reading for a glimpse at some of the sophisticated methods being used to decipher the neural code, and to reproduce and examine neural phenomenon using machines and algorithms.

Update 28 Dec 09: Here is a report on earlier research that seems to have discovered a similar phenomenon in the human visual cortex using a sophisticated analysis of fMRI data.  The Vanderbilt researchers involved in the study refer to the phenomen as a type of "echo."   They speculate that such an ultra-short "persistence of state" phenomenon may be common throughout the cortex -- not just in the visual cortex.

Which brings us back to the concept of time, and how the human brain deals with it.  Have you ever wondered how your mind is able to maintain a moment-to-moment coherence, maintaining a train of thought or chain of logic over time?  Have you ever wondered at the persistence of certain moods and states of mind, both welcome and unwelcome?

Here is a question:  why is it when you touch your nose and your toe "simultaneously" that the touch feels simultaneous even though it takes much longer for the sensory input to reach the parietal lobe from the toe than from the nose?   The mind is capable of very creative editing of time.  A lot of pre-conscious decisions are made about how sensory (and other) phenomena will be displayed to your consciousness.


Bookmark and Share

Solar System Battling Hot 6000 C Cosmic Cloud

No wonder the solar system is warming! It is being wrapped in a blanket of 6000 degree Celsius interstellar gas cloud. Talk about greenhouse gas!
Astronomers call the cloud we’re running into now the Local Interstellar Cloud or “Local Fluff” for short. It’s about 30 light years wide and contains a wispy mixture of hydrogen and helium atoms at a temperature of 6000 C. The existential mystery of the Fluff has to do with its surroundings. About 10 million years ago, a cluster of supernovas exploded nearby, creating a giant bubble of million-degree gas. The Fluff is completely surrounded by this high-pressure supernova exhaust and should be crushed or dispersed by it.

“The observed temperature and density of the local cloud do not provide enough pressure to resist the ‘crushing action’ of the hot gas around it,” says Opher.

So how does the Fluff survive? The Voyagers have found an answer.

“Voyager data show that the Fluff is much more strongly magnetized than anyone had previously suspected—between 4 and 5 microgauss*,” says Opher. “This magnetic field can provide the extra pressure required to resist destruction.” _WUWT
What does this collision between the solar system and the interstellar cloud mean for Earth's climate? No one really knows, but there has been speculation:
"The tilted field probably is a result from turbulence in the interstellar medium outside our solar system or results from collisions of clouds in the solar system neighborhood," Opher says. In other words, gas clouds far from our solar system are smacking together in unexpected ways, mixing up the galactic magnetic fields that in turn funnels cosmic rays into the heliosphere. _USAToday
With more cosmic rays funneled into the solar system, perhaps Earth will see more of the Svensmark cosmic ray effect -- more clouds, cooler climate. On the other hand, wrapping your solar system with 6000 C gas clouds might eventually create a systemic warming. Remember: at the same time the Earth has been warming from the Little Ice Age (1750 to the present), Mars has warmed simultaneously. That suggests a systemic effect of some sort. Probably solar variability, but who is to say that the planets cannot be affected by forces from interstellar space?

One more thing: the Earth's north magnetic pole is shifting toward Russia at a rate of 37 miles per year. The shift may be a prelude to the "flipping of the Earth's magnetic poles." Should that happen, the transitionary period will be full of hazard for all Earth life -- exposed to high levels of extra-terrestrial radiation. Of course, it may also be a prelude to a long term collapse of the magnetic field. That would be something to really cry about.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

26 December 2009

Another Prediction for Human-Level AI: 2025!

Today's AI prediction (via Josh Hall) comes from Shane Legg, whose PhD thesis is entitled Machine Superintelligence (PDF).   Shane predicts the arrival of human level Artificial Intelligence (HL-AI) around the year 2025 to 2028.  His 90% confidence interval for HL-AI is between 2018 and 2036.

Shane begins his discussion by predicting that computers capable of speeds of 10^18 flops will be commonplace by 2020. Then he says something interesting on the topic of quantum brain and on the relationship between computer power and AGI:
I had a chat to a quantum physicist here at UCL about the recent claims that there is some evidence for this. He’d gone through the papers making these claims with some interest as they touch on topics close to his area of research. His conclusion was that it’s a lot of bull as they make assumptions (not backed up with new evidence) in their analysis that essentially everybody in the field believes to be false, among other problems.

Conclusion: computer power is unlikely to be the issue anymore in terms of AGI being possible. _VettaProject
Just as I was beginning to think that Shane may have the beginnings of a grip on the AGI problem, he says this:
The main question is whether we can find the right algorithms.
The "algorithm mindset" is a curse that computer science oriented AGI researchers are particularly prone to. It is one reason it has taken so long to begin to understand intelligence, and also one of the main reasons that the flock of optimistic predictions for AI (by 2020, 2025, etc) are likely to be wrong. Shane then has some interesting comments on the idea of the brain as an AGI machine:
At a high level what we are seeing in the brain is a fairly sensible looking AGI design. You’ve got hierarchical temporal abstraction formed for perception and action combined with more precise timing motor control, with an underlying system for reinforcement learning. The reinforcement learning system is essentially a type of temporal difference learning though unfortunately at the moment there is evidence in favour of actor-critic, Q-learning and also Sarsa type mechanisms — this picture should clear up in the next year or so. The system contains a long list of features that you might expect to see in a sophisticated reinforcement learner such as pseudo rewards for informative queues, inverse reward computations, uncertainty and environmental change modelling, dual model based and model free modes of operation, things to monitor context, it even seems to have mechanisms that reward the development of conceptual knowledge.
This is an example of trying to view the brain as a type of computer, optimised to run machine learning algorithms. Although wrong, there may well be some fruitful ideas to come from the enterprise of holding the brain up on one side, and an advanced machine learning platform facing it -- like two large mirrors facing each other -- and seeing what sorts of iterative and recursive reflections bounce out into the real world.

Here is the best part of Shane's article:
The really tough nut to crack will be how the cortical system works. There is a lot of effort going into this, but based on what I’ve seen, it’s hard to say just how much real progress is being made. From the experimental neuroscience side of things we will soon have much more detailed wiring information, though this information by itself is not all that enlightening. What would be more useful is to be able to observe the cortex in action and at the moment our ability to do this is limited. Moreover, even if we could, we would still most likely have a major challenge ahead of us to try to come up with a useful conceptual understanding of what is going on. Thus I suspect that for the next 5 years, and probably longer, neuroscientists working on understanding cortex aren’t going to be of much use to AGI efforts. My guess is that sometime in the next 10 years developments in deep belief networks, temporal graphical models, liquid computation models, slow feature analysis etc. will produce sufficiently powerful hierarchical temporal generative models to essentially fill the role of cortex within an AGI.
The cortical brain is difficult for computer scientists to understand, because it is not algorithmic -- it is complex and often chaotic (much worse than merely "fuzzy" or "probabilistic"). Some aspects of cortical function are important for AGI researchers to learn. Other aspects of cortical function are irrelevant to AGI. Which is which? And what about subcortical brain centers and modules? What about the neuroendocrine system, the glial and vascular systems of the brain? What is important enough to be copied, and what can be ignored or vigorously abstracted? Read the whole thing and consider the problem for yourself.

Al Fin AGI researchers are fascinated by the rapid development of ever more powerful computing platforms. Better algorithms -- particularly ones that optimise massively parallel processing platforms -- are desperately needed for all areas of computing. But human intelligence is not algorithmic. So the development of human level AI will not automatically follow from the construction of highly complex and speedy computing platforms. Some new paradigms are clearly called for.

Machine intelligence may find an algorithmic path to human-level and beyond. But since human intelligence is not algorithmic, such a project would have to proceed without a solid conceptual template. Generally, such innovation takes longer than when building from a working proof of concept. It should be fun to watch.

For other essential reading, I suggest a trip to NextBigFuture, where Brian considers fascinating recent developments in technology and science. I discovered the link to the article discussed above by following a link from this NextBigFuture story about climate control machines.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

25 December 2009

What About Race, Brain Size and IQ?

Using the head circumference measures to calculate cranial capacity at birth, 4 months, 1 year, and 7 years, at each of these ages, the Asian American children averaged larger cranial volumes than did the White children, who averaged larger cranial volumes than did the Black children. Within each race, cranial capacity correlated with IQ scores. By age 7, the Asian American children averaged an IQ of 110; the Whitechildren, 102; and the Black children 90. _PDF_30 Years of Research on Race Differences_PDF

It happens that brain size and intelligence are correlated on many scales.
A study on twins (Thompson et al., 2001) showed that frontal gray matter volume was correlated with g and highly heritable. A related study has reported that the correlation between brain size (reported to have a heritability of 0.85) and g is 0.4, and that correlation is mediated entirely by genetic factors (Posthuma et al. 2002).

In a study of the head growth of 633 term-born children from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children cohort, it was shown that prenatal growth and growth during infancy were associated with subsequent IQ. The study’s conclusion was that the brain volume a child achieves by the age of 1 year helps determine later intelligence. Growth in brain volume after infancy may not compensate for poorer earlier growth.[6] _Wikipedia
But the development of particular grey matter loci and white matter pathways are correlated with IQ even better than simple gross brain size.
Previous research had shown that larger brains are weakly related to higher IQ, but this study is the first to demonstrate that gray matter in specific regions in the brain is more related to IQ than is overall size. Multiple brain areas are related to IQ, the UCI and UNM researchers have found, and various combinations of these areas can similarly account for IQ scores. Therefore, it is likely that a person’s mental strengths and weaknesses depend in large part on the individual pattern of gray matter across his or her brain. _UCI
The neural determinants of IQ go far deeper than gross brain size and structural features of grey and white matter, however. The molecular functioning of neurons and synapses, as well as glial cells, depends upon the genetic complement provided. On all of these neural scales, IQ depends upon the genes. (see Heritability of IQ, Wiki)

One particular genetic polymorphism -- COMT Val158Met -- appears to play an interesting role in the speed of some pre-frontal functions. More here. It is easy to see why some particular genetic correlations to IQ might be difficult to replicate, even if the correlation were real. The size of the correlation of particular genes to IQ are individually small, and certain to vary, depending upon the rest of the genome in the population being studied.

In other words, genes work together in concert, so that certain genes tend to magnify (or block) the effect of certain other genes. Even more complicating is the fact that the same proteins may serve multiple functions in many tissues. Discovering "IQ genes" that can be manipulated to increase IQ -- without altering other body functions in an adverse way -- may be impossible in the near to intermediate time frame.

Summary: Brain size does correlate with genes, race, and IQ. But better correlations can be found between the morphology of certain grey matter centers and white matter pathways, and IQ. The speed of white matter neural information transmission is another part of the picture -- and is influenced by the genes.
By comparing brain maps of identical twins, which share the same genes, with fraternal twins, which share about half their genes, the team calculate that myelin integrity is genetically determined in many brain areas important for intelligence. This includes the corpus callosum, which integrates signals from the left and right sides of the body, and the parietal lobes, responsible for visual and spatial reasoning and logic (see above). Myelin quality in these areas was also correlated with scores on tests of abstract reasoning and overall intelligence (The Journal of Neuroscience, vol 29, p 2212).
At the molecular level of ion channels and neurotransmitter receptors (etc), the genes play an even greater role.

Denial of genetic influence on IQ is one of many cancers eating away at scientific integrity in academia. It is driven by ideology and has a devastating impact on young brains that are often too trusting in the integrity and disinterestedness of the professor.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

23 December 2009

China Secures Gas Supply From Turkmenistan

China Secures Gas Supply From Turkmenistan: Who’s the True Winner?

by Philip H. de Leon

On December 14, 2009, an inauguration took place that deserves more attention than it received because it marks an economic power shift to the benefit of three Central Asian countries and China and to the detriment of Russia.  The presidents of China - Hu Jintao, Turkmenistan - Gurlanguly Berdymukhamedov, Kazakhstan – Nursultan Nazarbayev, and Uzbekistan -Islam Karimov, inaugurated the Central Asia–China gas pipeline that links Turkmenistan’s natural gas fields on the Caspian Sea to the Western Chinese border in the Xinjiang province.

This pipeline then connects with the West-East Gas Pipeline that crosses China and supplies cities as far as Shanghai and Hong Kong. 13 billion cubic meters (bcm) are supposed to transit through this pipeline in 2010, 30bcm by the end of 2011 and over 40bcm by 2013. Ultimately that pipeline could supply China with more than half of China’s present day natural gas consumption.

Diversification of gas export routes seen as a regional security factor

Most commentators and officials have stirred clear from saying openly that Russia is losing ground in Central Asia because of political sensitivities. Despite years of recurrent official declarations that there are no spheres of influence – with the word “influence” being astutely replaced by the word “interest” - there is a delicate balance of powers in the region with historic, cultural and economic ties that cannot be ignored. There is also the need to accommodate the growing interest in the region of new players such China, the United States and the European Union. Russia sees the region as its natural backyard but many countries no longer consider Russia as the most rewarding partner or one that should always have the upper hand.

Turkmenistan is the big winner with this new pipeline as this new export route for its gas production frees it from the diktats of Gazprom: about 70% of its natural gas production used to exit the country through the Gazprom network. Turkmen President Berdymukhamedov stated, "The successful implementation of this project could become a prototype for all international energy partnerships,” adding that "this pipeline will have a positive impact across the entire region and beyond, and it will become a major contributing factor to security in Asia." Other winners are Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan that will also be able to supply the pipeline with their own gas production, notably from the Karachaganak, Kashagan and Tengiz fields in Kazakhstan.

The Central Asia-China gas pipeline is a US$7.3bn project, 1,833 km long with 188 km going through Turkmenistan, 530 from Uzbekistan to Kazakhstan, and 1,115 km from Kazakhstan to China. The West-East Gas Pipeline crossing China is over 4,500 km long, making of the joint pipelines the longest in the world.

A new natural gas player: Turkmenistan

In 2008 the independent British auditing company Gaffney, Cline & Associates Ltd was tasked with assessing the volumes of Turkmen gas reserves in the Yoloton-Osman fields. Despite allegations that Turkmen officials - which included the heads of Turkmengas, Turkmenneft and Turkmenneftegazstroy - misled the auditors by providing inaccurate inflated data, it remains reasonable to believe that Turkmenistan holds the 4th or 5th largest natural gas reserves in the world in light of regularly announced gas discoveries in regions with already proven reserves. President Berdymukhamedov himself sacked the Turkmen officials entangled in this scandal in October 2009.

The problem for Turkmenistan until now was that its export routes were limited as over 70% of its gas exports transited through Gazprom’s pipelines. An explosion at a key pipeline in April 2009 resulted in bitter battles: Turkmenistan and Russia blaming each other as to the causes of the accident; Turkmenistan supposedly losing over $1 billion per month in revenues; Gazprom refusing to pay European market prices for Turkmen gas per a deal concluded when prices were higher; Turkmenistan announcing it would provide gas to Nabucco, the nemesis of Russian-sponsored South Stream pipeline; etc.

The recent report by Vedomosti that Gazprom plans to purchase "not more than" 10.5 bcm from Turkmenistan during 2010-2012 compared to the usual 50 billion bcm is the confirmation that Turkmenistan absolutely must diversify its export routes. The bringing online of this new pipeline could not have been timelier.

 A crack in Gazprom’s Hegemony

Gazprom has for many years monopolized gas supplies from Central Asia. With growing interest from China and Europe to diversify their gas supplies, Gazprom engaged in a risky pre-empting game consisting of securing supply agreements, notably with Central Asian countries, to cut the grass under the feet of European countries that have been looking at alternative supply routes bypassing Russia. This has proven to be a costly and risky game, notably with Turkmenistan, as world market prices and demand dropped and the contracted prices were higher than the prices Russia could reasonably resell the gas for. The game played also includes undermining the Nabucco pipeline.

Nabucco, a natural gas pipeline bypassing Russia and endorsed by European countries and the United States, is the perfect example of the power struggle at play: by securing large gas volumes from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, the financial viability of Nabucco comes into doubt as it is not clear that there would be enough gas available to supply both Nabucco and the South Stream pipeline supported by Gazprom. Turkmenistan, bitterly annoyed by Gazprom running away from its contractual obligations, announced in July 2009 its willingness to supply Nabucco. Azerbaijan had also conveyed its willingness to supply both pipelines, though is recently playing harder to get in light of the recent Turkey-Armenia rapprochement.

China’s steady approach to diversifying its suppliers for everything

China is very well aware that its economic growth and even domestic stability is conditioned upon securing supply chains through long-term agreements. One step at a time China is securing its supply of staple commodities, minerals and energy supplies. To further secure its position in the supply country, China offers loans and technical expertise in addition to gaining the management authority to run the local operations. China has become one of Africa’s top three trading partners and several countries, no matter how unsavoury and corrupt they may be, became important trading partners like Sudan, which exports a majority of its oil to China, while others guarantee China’s food supply.  In November 2009, the China Metallurgical Group bought for US$3 billion a 30-year lease to exploit copper deposits in Afghanistan further demonstrating that no country, no matter how troubled it is, is off-limit.

Money helps shift the balance of power

As Cicero’s saying goes “nervi bellorum pecuniae” (money is the sinews of war) and in the commercial wars that are being fought, China has huge financial reserves that it can put in the balance, notably through its state-run financial institutions such as the China Development Bank (CDB). The CDB played a critical role in financing the construction of the US$6.7bn Kazakh section, the largest and most expensive chunk of the pipeline. The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) acquired 50% of MangistauMunaiGas in April 2009 for US$2.6bn and the China Investment Corporation acquired about 11% of KazMunaiGas Exploration & Production in September 2009 for about US$939 million.

China has a financial advantage at a time of liquidity shortages: its ability to instruct it state-owned companies to work on specific projects and to coordinate the involvement of all possible Chinese players (finance providers, construction and management companies, etc.) enables China to strategically position itself at every level of the food chain. For instance in Central Asia, China acquired shares in companies that exploit gas fields (MangistauMunaiGas and KazMunaiGas E & P); China got the rights to exploit fields in Turkmenistan when other countries are still struggling to obtain such rights; China financed and helped in the construction of the pipelines running from the fields (CNPC, China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau and China Petroleum Engineering and Construction Corporation); and China purchases the gas production.

China is at an advantage compared to its American or European competitors as the US has no state companies while Europe’s few state companies are held to the same standards as private sector companies and cannot as easily be told what to do. Also, China’s financial support has no string attached beyond a long-term commitment for guaranteed supply. The United States or members of the European Union often condition the granting of financing to the improvement of democracy and human rights which is seen by Central Asian countries as an intolerable mingling with domestic issues. Furthermore, China has a lot of state companies that the government can “instruct” to work on a project such as a pipeline. CNPC was the leading operator of the Central Asia-China pipeline project, working closely with each country towards its completion.

This conjunction of companies “ready-to-go” with guaranteed financing and full government endorsement and support gives China a competitive edge. However, moving away from Russia’s arms into China’s is not a love story but more a marriage of convenience. Concerns exist over China’s growing influence and its lower environmental standards. Central Asian countries remain interested in American and European commercial involvement to see it have a balancing role. In addition US and European companies implement good business practices such as transparency, accountability, sanctity of contracts, rule of law, etc. that would greatly benefit Central Asia that is plagued by corruption.

One successful example of mutually beneficial regional collaboration

The fact that Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan managed to coordinate their efforts towards the common goal of building a pipeline that will serve them all is an achievement. China played an instrumental role as conductor in making it happen. President Hu Jintao himself underlined the benefits of mutual collaboration through a win-win situation, stating “in line with the principle of mutual complementarity, mutual benefit, equality and win-win cooperation, the four countries have actively carried out energy cooperation and achieved fruitful results.”

This said, regional cooperation is far from being a reality in Central Asia despite the well-recognized benefits of cross-border commercial activities. In the end, though Turkmenistan is definitely an important winner with this new pipeline, China can be seen as the ultimate winner by having not only secured a very valuable route for its gas supply, but also by having reinforced its image as a regional player that managed to get three Central Asian countries work towards a mutual beneficial goal, namely a new export route for their gas.

The additional bargaining power Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan gained from diversifying their energy export routes, thanks to the Chinese assistance, strengthens their political and economic independence and reinforces regional stability and security and that achievement deserves recognition.

This article was written by Philip H. de Leon for OilPrice.com who focus on Fossil Fuels, Alternative Energy, Metals, Oil Prices and Geopolitics. To find out more visit their website at: http://www.oilprice.com
Al Fin comment: Russian corruption as manifested in Gazprom, is a huge obstacle to future Russian accomplishment and prosperity. The Chinese are willing to pay whomever can help them to power their energy-hungry economy. Russian strongmen seem content to allow Russia's infrastructure of gas & oil to fall apart for lack of maintenance and upkeep. Fat and lazy functionaries in Gazprom were spoiled by high fuel prices. Long term prospects are very poor for Russia's current government and economy.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

As Governments Grow and Spend, Economies Die

You might think that as long as you can grab one of those higher paying, higher benefit government jobs, that everything will be okay.  Sadly, no.  Public employee unions have had a dizzy ride to the heights of power in state and federal government -- but it is not sustainable.

Look at Michigan, a big government and big union state: Michigan's population has dropped below 10 million, and the state just keeps hemorrhaging jobs, people, and real wealth.
Michigan has been bleeding people since 2005, and at the heart of the decline has been the growing exodus of people moving out looking for work. The current estimate puts Michigan's population at 9,969,727, down from 10,002,486 in 2008. The state has seen a net loss of more than a half-million people to other states since 2001 -- a number that swamps the natural increase from a greater number of births than deaths.

For a number of years, the relative vibrancy of the nation's economy gave unemployed Michigan workers a chance to seek jobs in the Sun Belt and across the country. But with the rest of the nation fully consumed by the recession in 2008, some experts suspected there would be fewer opportunities for workers to flee Michigan.

But the estimates released Wednesday show that people still found ways to leave -- either for another job, retirement or education. Although the outmigration slowed, from an estimated 103,637 from 2007 to 2008 to 87,339 from 2008 to 2009, it still pulled the state's population into the negative.

At current trends, Georgia's population -- growing at a steady clip for years -- could pass Michigan as early as next year to become the eighth largest state in the country. Florida was the last state to surpass Michigan, back in 1979.

Xuan Liu, manager of SEMCOG's data center, said Michigan's migration trend could actually pick up after the nation recovers. He said the state has lost thousands of manufacturing jobs in the last few years that are unlikely to return. That will force people to find other work, become entrepreneurs or "go other places to find jobs."

"I think it's very likely we're going to see more people leave," he said.

The impact from outmigration is marked: It lowers the state tax base and puts additional strain on state and local resources. And it puts additional pressure on an already soft housing market, he said. _DetroitNews
California is in the same position as Michigan, with a lot more people and jobs at stake. But California's unions -- increasingly public employees' unions -- are holding the state for ransom. Just like Michigan, California's future is forfeit.

This is the face of US Democratic Party machine politics -- the ultimate result. Obama's policies promise to bring this type of politics to every state.

If you do have a good government job with good benefits? Plan to retire before the S hits the F. You may have less time than you thought.


Bookmark and Share

Four Genes Controlling Size of Brain, IQ

Brain size is highly correlated to IQ, and brain size is largely under genetic control. Researchers at the University of Oslo, UCSD, and Scripps Translational Science Institute have published a study in PNAS (21 Dec 2009) showing that common gene variants associated with microcephaly can explain differences in brain size [and IQ _ AF] of healthy individuals.
The microcephaly genes have been hot candidates for a role in the evolutionary expansion of the human brain because mutations in these genes can reduce brain size by about two-thirds, to a size roughly comparable to our early hominid ancestors. There is also evidence that four of the genes -- MCPH1, ASPM, CDK5RAP2 and CENPJ -- have evolved rapidly and have been subject to strong selective pressure in recent human evolution.

"It is obvious that such anatomical changes must have a basis in genetic alterations, said Lars M. Rimol, a research fellow at the University of Oslo. "Until now, little has been known about the molecular processes involved in this evolution and their genetic underpinnings. Now we have a piece of that genetic puzzle." _ScienceDaily

It is becoming clearer that the evolution of humans has continued over the past 10,000 years, and perhaps accelerated over the past 4,000 years with civilisation.

Significant differences in group IQ means between racial categories correlates well with differences in achievement, as measured in a wide range of fields.  (see Human Accomplishment)

Much of the dispute regarding the findings of population IQ differences derives from the blatant political bias of egalitarians of a leftist and / or Marxist variety.   The late Stephen J. Gould, Dick Lewontin, and others -- see references here -- have attempted to dispute, bully, block, intimidate, and otherwise diminish the results of scientific research relating to IQ, with little success in scientific circles.  The mainstream media and mainstream social science and humanities academia hue to leftist political correctness and self-blinding.

But as genetics and genetic anthropology continue to build a solid scientific foundation beneath obvious population macro-differences in aptitude and achievement, room for dispute will shrink accordingly.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Quick Assembly Concrete Cloth Shelters Last 10 Yrs

This concrete canvas shelter is quickly assembled from a compact kit. The final shelter is waterproof, shock and shrapnel resistant, and can be earth bermed for better thermal characteristics.
Concrete Canvas Shelters are rapidly deployable hardened shelters that require only water and air for construction. The 25sqm variant can be deployed by 2 people without any training in under an hour and is ready to use in only 24 hours. The key to CCS is the use of inflation to create a surface that is optimised for compressive loading. This allows thin walled concrete structures to be formed which are both robust and lightweight. _redferret

These shelters can also be buried underground for even greater protection from the elements. The 10 year lifetime is a minimum projection.


Bookmark and Share

Physicist Forecasts 50 Years of Global Cooling

Physicist Quing-bin Lu has published a study in the respected journal Physics Reports, that discovered a link between cosmic rays and climate change.  The same study finds that anthropogenic CO2 is not an important factor in global climate change.
Cosmic rays and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), both already implicated in depleting the Earth’s ozone layer, are also responsible for changes in the global climate, a University of Waterloo scientist reports in a new peer-reviewed paper.

In his paper, Qing-Bin Lu, a professor of physics and astronomy, shows how CFCs - compounds once widely used as refrigerants - and cosmic rays - energy particles originating in outer space - are mostly to blame for climate change, rather than carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. His paper, derived from observations of satellite, ground-based and balloon measurements as well as an innovative use of an established mechanism, was published online in the prestigious journal Physics Reports.

”My findings do not agree with the climate models that conventionally thought that greenhouse gases, mainly CO2, are the major culprits for the global warming seen in the late 20th century,” Lu said. “Instead, the observed data show that CFCs conspiring with cosmic rays most likely caused both the Antarctic ozone hole and global warming....”

In his research, Lu discovers that while there was global warming from 1950 to 2000, there has been global cooling since 2002. The cooling trend will continue for the next 50 years, according to his new research observations. _HeraldSun
Research based upon observations is preferable to climate models that incorporate faulty data, include erroneous assumptions, and whose findings are edited by means similar to the way Hollywood directors edit feature films post-production in order to match a pre-determined finding.

Qing-bin Lu's findings are interesting, and will require confirmation. It will be interesting to see which climate research funding agencies will find the courage to step away from the herd of cattle, and begin funding genuine climate science for a change.


Bookmark and Share

22 December 2009

Everyone Understands Intimidation and Incompetence

Image Source

Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming has dominated the blogs recently. This is partly due to the Copenhagen climate conference and largely due to the still unfolding ClimateGate exposure of unethical and unscientific practises by top IPCC climate "scientists." The greater the exposure, the less seriously the general public -- and the more intelligent of the blogosphere -- is taking the global warming holocaust.

But is the blogosphere and the general public qualified to understand the intricacies of climate science? Ah.  That is, of course, the wrong question to ask, and an obvous red herring. The important question to ask is: do the blogosphere and the public possess enough information to pass judgment on the impartiality and scientific integrity of the top gatekeepers of the IPCC and the peer review climate science publishing establishment? The answer to that is a growing affirmative.

The ClimateGate files revealed that a small, closely knit group of scientists, bureaucrats, editors, and journalists worked together hand-in-glove to control what was published in 1. scientific journals 2. IPCC reports 3. the mainstream media 4. and even Wikipedia!  This small group of gatekeepers used unethical (perhaps illegal) means to control the climate message to government leaders, scientists, funding agencies, journalists, and the general public. Not only that, but the people in question were unquestionably incompetent, as revealed by their unguarded, private chatter.

One does not need to be a climate scientist or computer modeler to understand intimidation, deception, and incompetence of this magnitude.

Who will accept and deal with the problem -- and who will try to cover it up and cover it up with diverting questions such as "Are you a climate scientist?" The question is a non sequitur, a red herring. The better question is "Would you put the IPCC gatekeepers in a critical position, where the quality of their characters could decide the fate of you and your loved ones?" Would you even buy a used car from them?

Anyone who tries to whitewash, coverup, and sweep under the rug the critically important aspect of this issue -- that  the data and the methods underlying climate catastrophe have been jiggered --  can not be trusted themselves.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

21 December 2009

Things Only a Skeptical Brain Can Know

The human brain is expensive to maintain, and over time forced the complete reshaping of a woman's pelvis due to its large size at birth. The adult brain is approximately 3 pounds of fatty tissue that consumes 50% of the carbohydrates you ingest every day. If something happens to your brain -- such as head trauma, degenerative disease, or stroke -- your brain can change in ways that make you a different person.

Biomedical science is devising ways to work around brain damage and to mitigate the effects of brain diseases. It is a short step from correcting brain damage to augmenting the power of normal brains. Do human scientists, psychologists, and philosophers understand the nature of human consciousness well enough to know how best to augment the human brain? There are many ways we might approach the problem.

One problem of human consciousness is how slow it is. It takes anywhere from 0.25 to 0.50 seconds for the conscious mind to acknowledge what the unconscious mind already "knows." Accelerating the mind's conscious awareness would bring many positive rewards in high-risk, real time dynamic situations.

Another problem with the human brain: only a few people are intelligent enough to understand the technology and science that advanced human societies depend upon. Most people are far too stupid to acquire the concepts, and to work their way through the chains of logic to reach the "heights of understanding." Making humans "smarter" and more competently capable of complex thought patterns would be a great help in many ways.

But perhaps the greatest problem with human minds is the laziness and lack of curiosity and skepticism when faced with the ideas and theories that they are taught. Children believe what they are told by their parents and teachers, until some of them reach a rebellious stage where they disbelieve what they are told. But that "rebellion" is just as reflexive as the earlier blind trust. In universities, late adolescents revel in their freedom from their early childhood shackles of mind and body, and become easy marks for their professors. Blind reaction in one direction leads to blind trust in another.

It is easier to believe (or reflexively doubt) than to reason out a problem for oneself. An adult brain is barely matured at age 25 or 30 before it begins to slow down. If it has not acquired healthy habits of skepticism, curiosity, and independent thought by that time, it will be almost impossible to learn them.

Popular delusions that should be doubted by healthy skeptical minds, include the impending shortage of crucial materials, and the impending destruction of the Earth by anthropogenic climate catastrophe.

But those are easy delusions to dispel, for the healthy skeptical mind. There are many other, more difficult popular delusions that may take more thought because they lie closer to the center of one's self-concept and identity. If one learns healthy curiosity and skepticism, all paths lead to the center of one's own ego.

Skeptics do not believe or disbelieve, at least not without enormous mental effort to exclude other possibilities. Only a fool will "believe" what he cannot know. An honest religion will admit as much. Honest believers admit their own foolishness. Dishonest believers go on jihad and attempt to beat non-believers into submission, or otherwise eradicate all disbelief.

What can a skeptical brain know? Knowledge is multi-leveled, and of variable quality and robustness. A true skeptic understands more about knowledge than a believer, since a believer is unwilling to undergo the process of testing, falsifying, proving a hypothesis. But that is only a starting point.

Intelligence and wisdom (the appropriate use of knowledge) are two different things.  When intelligent people devote themselves to the polemical defense of an unsupported hypothesis (a belief from faith), the arguments they frame may be complex and superficially convincing.  But how deeply are they capable of building their support?  That is the question.  How long does it take them to get to the issue of falsifiability?  Or do they avoid falsifiable arguments altogether?

To a true believer, his religion is unfalsifiable.  It is circular, tautological, based upon the simplest of "knowledge", and essentially unshakable.  This is true whether the religion is spiritual, political, economic, or "scientific."   A true believer will run away from questions of data, and data reliability.  A skeptic lives in the land of data and data testing.

Skepticism is based upon the (sometimes compulsive) need to break through from one level of knowledge (or ignorance) to a higher level of knowledge (or level of lesser ignorance).  In the world of the honestly curious, the burden of proof is always on the "believer" in the battle between skepticism and belief.  Anyone who adopts a different assumption for reasons other than playing the devil's advocate, is either ignorant, mindless, or unscrupulous.   The skeptic knows this, which explains a great deal of the skeptical stamina in the face of holy inquisitions and the burning of the heretics.

Addendum:  This alarming (alarmist) analysis of the near future of the US contains a great deal of information in the form of graphs, links, multiple personal analyses, etc.  (via The Survivalist Blog)   If you have some time to test your skeptical powers, look for problems with the author's data, arguments, conclusions, and recommendations.  As it deals with "the coming food crisis" it should be a problem that persons of most political and religious beliefs can grapple with -- without creating cognitive dissonance or a crisis of conscience.


Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

20 December 2009

Monkeys of Duke, Cornell, Vanderbilt, Chicago

It is getting to the point that thoughtful parents can no longer trust a university -- any university -- with the education of their children. Too many university faculty and staff members are ideological jihadists in disguise -- indoctrinators and political activists rather than educators. Here is a followup on the 88 monkeys of Duke:
You might think that a university whose students were victims of the most notorious fraudulent rape claim in recent history, and whose professors -- 88 of them -- signed an ad implicitly presuming guilt, and whose president came close to doing the same would have learned some lessons.

The facts are otherwise. They also suggest that Duke University's ugly abuse in 2006 and 2007 of its now-exonerated lacrosse players -- white males accused by a black stripper and hounded by a mob hewing to political correctness -- reflects a disregard of due process and a bias against white males that infect much of academia.

In September, far from taking pains to protect its students from false rape charges, Duke adopted a revised "sexual misconduct" policy that makes a mockery of due process and may well foster more false rape charges by rigging the disciplinary rules against the accused.

Meanwhile, none of the 88 guilt-presuming professors has publicly apologized. (Duke's president, Richard Brodhead, did -- but too little and too late.) Many of the faculty signers -- a majority of whom are white -- have expressed pride in their rush to judgment. None was dismissed, demoted, or publicly rebuked. Two were glorified this month in Duke's in-house organ as pioneers of "diversity," with no reference to their roles in signing the ad. Three others have won prestigious positions at Cornell, Vanderbilt, and the University of Chicago. _StuartTaylor
KC Johnson's award-winning coverage of the Duke case
Look here for legal comments on the issue at Volokh Conspiracy
Indoctrination into PC intolerance at universities in North America is at a critical level. Parents need to think long and hard about whether they will go into debt for years to finance the indoctrination and mind-warping of their child.

Rand Simberg has some interesting comments about the education bubble

These academic monkeys have been throwing shit at students -- making the students pay for it and forcing them to eat it -- for far too long. It is time for some creative payback.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

18 December 2009

The Brain Is Far More Complex Than Believed

We have been bombarded with predictions that human-level artificial intelligence will be developed "within ten years." These predictions inevitably come from persons with a computer science, engineering, or artificial intelligence background. Such  prognosticators understand algorithms and / or electrical circuits, but do they understand how consciousness is created? Do they comprehend the basis for the only human-level intelligence that exists: the human brain? Clearly not.

This respected Harvard team of neuroscientists has its hands full studying a nematode nerve network of 4 measly neurons! They are hoping to expand their study to include more than 4 neurons soon.

Meanwhile, there is the problem of "The Other Brain", the glial network.
Glia communicate by broadcasting chemical messages. Moreover, glia can sense information flowing through neural circuits and alter the communications between neurons at synapses! Glia, we now know, have receptors for detecting the flow of ions generated by neurons firing electrical impulses and for sensing the neurotransmitters neurons release at synapses. Glia intercept these signals and act upon them to increase or decrease the transmission of information across synapses and speed or slow the transmission of electrical information through axons.

These recent discoveries open an entirely new dimension into brain function. Glia are involved in all aspects of nervous system health and disease. They can control neuronal communication, development of the fetal brain, generation of new neurons in the adult brain, participate in epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia, and they provide a new mechanism of learning that operates beyond synapses. _RDouglasFields

Henry Markram's Blue Brain project is the one supercomputer project that seems to be taking into account much (but not all) of the brain's complexity.   But Markram's project is not trying to create human-level AI.  It is trying to create a simulated brain that can be used to better understand brain function and diseases of the brain.   Markram is a neuroscientist, so his goals are focused more on the realities of the brain than on the goal of "human-level AI."

The best of the "brain simulations" by AI workers is the simulation by Dharmendra Modha's IBM team. It barely simulated one of the most basic functions of the visual cortex, at average speeds less than 1 / 100th that of a mammalian brain. It required over $1 million a year to power its processors, and much more to cool the supercomputer. For something with the same number of neurons as a cat brain, Modha's simulation was a hugely inefficient use of energy -- compared to a cat.

There are some interesting new hardware tools coming along, such as Chua's memristors, meminductors, and memcapacitors. Alice Parker's BioRC project at USC may hold some future promise.

The point is not that a human-level AI would have to emulate the human brain in great detail. That would be a rather pointless extravagance, when crafty abstraction can save space, time, energy, and effort. But new hardware and software tools are needed, obviously. One cannot build a slow-functioning silicon retard occupying a skyscraper-sized building requiring a nuclear reactor to power and mega-tons of refrigeration to cool, and call it a human-level brain.

Anyone wanting to build a human-level machine intelligence will need to understand much of what consciousness entails, and how the human brain achieves it.

It is possible that an insect-level machine brain of appropriate size and energy-consumption might be developed within 5 to 10 years. A rodent-level machine brain of appropriate dimensions might be developed within 10 to 20 years, if we are lucky. A human-level brain may not take more than 5 years to achieve after the rodent-level brain, but shrinking it to the size and energy-efficiency of a human brain may take longer.

Humans are stupid. But they are also the most powerful general-purpose intelligence known to us. Machine intelligence of human-level or better would generate significant changes to human societies. Modern conventional human governments do not want to lose control of this particular revolution. If they do, it might be the last mistake they ever make.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share
Newer Posts Older Posts
Al Fin Main Page
Enter your Email

Powered by FeedBlitz

Powered by