26 February 2010

Turning Back the Brain Clock

“It is never too late to have a happy childhood” _TomRobbins

A team of UCSF scientists has turned back the clock of brain development for young mice by transplanting fetal mouse neurons into their brains.
...the researchers took a specific type of neuron from the brains of fetal mice and grafted them into mice that had either just been born or were approximately 10 days old. Known as inhibitory interneurons, these cells release a chemical signal that quiets neighboring cells, making it more difficult for them to fire. The transplanted neurons, labeled with a fluorescent marker, began migrating to their normal place in the brain and making connections with resident neurons.

The mice went through the typical critical period, at about 28 days of age. But the transplanted neurons seemed to induce a second critical period, which was timed to the age of the transplanted cells rather than the age of the animals. The later critical period occurred when the transplanted neurons were about 33 to 35 days old, the same age as resident inhibitory interneurons during the normal critical period. (The neurons arise in the brain before birth.)

Scientists aren't yet sure how the cells induce this second period of malleability. Stryker's team and others had previously shown that the cells' inhibitory signaling plays a key role--the critical period can be delayed or induced earlier by mimicking the inhibitory effects of the cells with drugs, such as valium. But in these previous experiments, it was not possible to induce a second critical period after the normal one. "Once you've had it, can never get another one, at least until these transplant experiments," says Stryker. "That shows there is something other than just the inhibitory [chemical] they release that must be involved in this process." Researchers plan to transplant different types of inhibitory neurons, in an attempt to find the specific cell type responsible.

"I would love to see if the same sort of transplant worked in older animals," says Jianhua Cang, neuroscientist at Northwestern University, in Chicago. "This work is a significant advance, but if one can do it in adult animals, it would be even more remarkable. And it opens the possibility of therapeutic potential." Cang was not involved in the current research, thought he has previously worked with the authors.

The findings could have wide-reaching implications for how we think about the nature of plasticity in the brain. Humans have a similar critical period, though in humans this phase is more extended than in mice. _TechnologyReview
Al Fin neuroscientists say that this research opens the door to the idea that even adult brains may be induced to undergo repeated "critical periods" for vision, math, music, language and foreign language, etc. It is not so much a question of "if" but of "when" the proper combination of precursor cells, growth factors, and other auxiliary factors can be devised and tested, to bring the exceptional brain plasticity of young animals to the adult human brain.

This is the type of foundational research that society's resources should be devoted toward, rather than the corrupt and wasteful scams of pseudo-science so favoured by the governments of Europe, Australia, the US, and the UK.

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Why Only a Gullible Idiot Trusts the Climate Data

 Both raw and adjusted data from the NCDC has been examined for a selected Contiguous U. S. set of rural and urban stations, 48 each or one per State. The raw data provides 0.13 and 0.79 oC/century temperature increase for the rural and urban environments. The adjusted data provides 0.64 and 0.77 oC/century respectively. The rates for the raw data appear to correspond to the historical change of rural and urban U. S. populations and indicate warming is due to urban warming. Comparison of the adjusted data for the rural set to that of the raw data shows a systematic treatment that causes the rural adjusted set’s temperature rate of increase to be 5-fold more than that of the raw data. The adjusted urban data set’s and raw urban data set’s rates of temperature increase are the same. This suggests the consequence of the NCDC’s protocol for adjusting the data is to cause historical data to take on the time-line characteristics of urban data. The consequence intended or not, is to report a false rate of temperature increase for the Contiguous U. S._WUWT
The difference between urban temperatures and rural temperatures is the urban heat island effect.  IPCC affiliated climate record-keeping institutions make adjustments to correct for the urban heat island -- but these adjustments exaggerate the effect rather than eliminating it.  At the same time, large numbers of rural temperature stations have been eliminated from the record -- increasing the effect of "adjusted" temperatures on the overall surface temperature record.

By exaggerating the "official" record of global temperature increase, these institutions have distorted the picture of the global climate in the direction of an unwarranted alarmist carbon hysteria.  The public is getting tired of being jerked around in this manner.  Why are not climate scientists themselves tired of being jerked around?  Why are not world governments tired of being jerked around?  Why is not the media tired of being jerked around?

That is like asking why a tort lawyer doesn't object to shoddy research which supports his case.  When the payout is big enough, corrupt persons will swallow a truckload of crappy data. 


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25 February 2010

Update on Biofuels

 Update 26 Feb 10: A new process developed at UWM promises to convert a higher proportion of biomass into biofuels and useful chemicals.  It is a catalytic shortcut to the production of gasoline and jet fuel from biomass -- skipping the fermentation step to alcohols.  A good illustration of how quickly the bioenergy picture is changing.

Al Fin Energy is devoted exclusively to energy and energy-related issues. But Al Fin's coverage of advanced energy issues began here at Al Fin blog, so it is fitting to provide an update on a topic near and dear to Al Fin's heart -- biofuels.

The schematic above demonstrates Enerkem's waste to liquid fuels process, which recently received a large injection of capital from Waste Management corp.

This informative story from Energy Efficiency looks at important advances in biofuels research and projects in California (impressive improved oil yields from oilseeds), Florida (ethanol from waste), Pennsylvania (cellulosic ethanol), Kansas (cellulosic ethanol), Iowa (fuel from corn cobs), and Tennessee (cellulosic ethanol). And that is just the tip of the iceberg for biofuels research and enterprise across the US. Things are moving quickly beyond maize ethanol.

Clear Fuels and Hughes Hardwood are collaborating on a $200 million biomass-to-jetfuel project in Collinwood, Tennessee.

The University of Maryland is developing a process to produce fuels from fast-growing poplar trees grown on special plantations.

Better varieties of jatropha curcas are being developed to increase non-edible oil yields from its seeds. This is only the beginning for jatropha.

Economists from Yale and the University of North Dakota are busy demonstrating ways for biofuels to be economical and environmentally responsible. This is in stark contrast to economists from Cornell who use old numbers from maize ethanol projects to try to discredit all biofuels. Even maize ethanol is doing much better than the Cornell economists claim.
“The Cornell paper is pretzel logic at its worst. The truth is that when we fuel up with domestic ethanol in the U.S., we need less gasoline refined from carbon-heavy oil. And the science on this is clear: a peer-reviewed study published by Yale University found that grain ethanol is 59 percent cleaner than gasoline – with cellulosic ethanol 86 percent cleaner than gasoline,” continued Buis. _DomesticFuel

Of course the arguments for biofuels really have nothing to do with carbon reduction at all. Instead, they are arguments for local and regional production of energy and fuels, and a re-vitalisation of local and regional economies.

Biofuel feedstocks can be grown virtually anywhere on Earth and on the ocean's surface as well. There is no limit to the space available for growing biomass. Biomass can be turned into electricity, fuels, plastics, chemicals, and animal feed.

It is time to dispense with old prejudices against biofuels that are based upon outdated economic analyses, and begin to plan for where bioenergy will fit into your future.


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24 February 2010

Mouse:Human Chimera One More Step

A Salk Institute research team has successfully engineered a mouse strain with a liver consisting of mostly human liver cells. The scientists then infected the mice with human hepatitis virus, and used the mice to test treatments for Hepatitis infection. Eventually, this strain of mouse will allow scientists to test the reaction of human liver cells to drugs, chemicals, viruses, and toxins without endangering human life.
Bissig says his group's mouse/human chimera improves on a similar model developed several years ago that was genetically engineered to give human liver cells a growth advantage when injected into a mouse liver. Researchers engineered the mouse with a gene that destroyed its own liver cells. This programmed death gave human liver cells an advantage, and when researchers injected human hepatocytes, they were able to take over and repopulate the mouse liver. However, scientists found that the genetically engineered mice tended to die off early, which required injecting human liver cells within the first few weeks after birth--a risky procedure that often resulted in fatal hemorrhaging.

Instead, Bissig and his colleagues, including Inder Verma of the Salk Institute, sought to engineer a mouse chimera in which the introduction of human liver cells could be easily controlled. The group first engineered mice with several genetic mutations, which eliminated production of immune cells so that the mice would not reject human liver cells as foreign. The researchers made another genetic mutation that interfered with the breakdown of the amino acid tyrosine. Normally, tyrosine is involved in building essential proteins. To keep a healthy balance, the liver clears out tyrosine, keeping it from accumulating to toxic levels. Bissig engineered a mutation in mice that prevents tyrosine from breaking down, instead causing tyrosine to build up in liver cells, eventually killing the mouse cells, giving the human cells an advantage.

To avoid killing mouse liver cells too early (or killing the mice entirely), Bissig's team administered a drug that blocks the toxic byproducts of tyrosine buildup from killing liver cells. By putting the mice on the drug, and taking them off the drug a little at a time, researchers found that they could control the rate at which rodent liver cells died off.

The team then injected mice with hepatocytes from various human donors, and found that the cells were able to take over 97 percent of the mouse liver. The "humanized" mice were then infected with hepatitis B and C, and researchers found high levels of the virus in the bloodstream--versus normal mice, which are impervious to the disease and are able to clear the virus out quickly.

Bissig and his colleagues went a step further and treated the infected mice with a drug typically used to treat humans with hepatitis C. They found that, after treatment, the mice exhibited a thousand-fold decrease in viral concentration in the blood, similar to drug reactions in human patients. _TechReview
This team is focused on hepatitis viruses, but clearly the application of this chimeric technology goes light years beyond testing treatments for a virus or two.

Scientific publications must have a narrow focus in order to be taken seriously. But the implications of particular studies may reverberate far beyond the narrow intent of the original study. That is the case here.
Bissig says that in the future, he and his team hope to add a human immune system to their mouse model, so they can see how hepatitis acts, not only in a human liver, but in the presence of a normal, healthy human immune system.

Why stop there? Chimeric technology will allow animal organs to be replaced by human organs, piece by piece, creating perfect animal models for the study of human disease. But why stop there? Scientists are replacing animal brain tissue with human neuronal stem cells that develop into human neurons. Why not give the little critters human brains too? We can do it. We have the technology . . . .

The fact is, the djinn is out of the bottle -- has been out of the bottle since the discoveries of Watson, Crick, and others who preceded them.

The only question is: How far will we take the idea? The answer is that "we" are no longer in control. Biotechnology is a lot easier to teach, transport, and conceal than nuclear weapons technology. And a lot more dangerous, if you want to hear the truth.

Time to wake up to the things we need to be preparing for.

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23 February 2010

Human Intelligence Measured, Located on Brain Scan

Scientists at Cal Tech, the University of Iowa, USC, and the Autonomous University of Madrid, claim to have constructed brain maps that localise the parts of the brain most "important to general intelligence."
The study, to be published the week of February 22 in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, adds new insight to a highly controversial question: What is intelligence, and how can we measure it?
The research team included Jan Gläscher, first author on the paper and a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech, and Ralph Adolphs, the Bren Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and professor of biology. The Caltech scientists teamed up with researchers at the University of Iowa and USC to examine a uniquely large data set of 241 brain-lesion patients who all had taken IQ tests. The researchers mapped the location of each patient's lesion in their brains, and correlated that with each patient's IQ score to produce a map of the brain regions that influence intelligence.
"General intelligence, often referred to as Spearman's g-factor, has been a highly contentious concept," says Adolphs. "But the basic idea underlying it is undisputed: on average, people's scores across many different kinds of tests are correlated. Some people just get generally high scores, whereas others get generally low scores. So it is an obvious next question to ask whether such a general ability might depend on specific brain regions."
The researchers found that, rather than residing in a single structure, general intelligence is determined by a network of regions across both sides of the brain.

"One of the main findings that really struck us was that there was a distributed system here. Several brain regions, and the connections between them, were what was most important to general intelligence," explains Gläscher.

"It might have turned out that general intelligence doesn't depend on specific brain areas at all, and just has to do with how the whole brain functions," adds Adolphs. "But that's not what we found. In fact, the particular regions and connections we found are quite in line with an existing theory about intelligence called the 'parieto-frontal integration theory.' It says that general intelligence depends on the brain's ability to integrate—to pull together—several different kinds of processing, such as working memory."

The researchers say the findings will open the door to further investigations about how the brain, intelligence, and environment all interact. _SD_via_kurzweilai.net
This is the type of information needed to place the study on human intelligence on a more objective basis. Political activists in academia have attempted to obstruct the study of human intelligence for decades, with some success. As the theories and technology for studying intelligence improve, political influences should wane somewhat.

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Plants Thrive on 1000 ppm CO2 or More

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an essential component of photosynthesis (also called carbon assimilation). Photosynthesis is a chemical process that uses light energy to convert CO2 and water into sugars in green plants. These sugars are then used for growth within the plant, through respiration...as CO2 levels are raised by 1,000 ppm photosynthesis increases proportionately resulting in more sugars and carbohydrates available for plant growth. _OptimalCO2

Most plants and corals evolved in an atmosphere with much higher concentrations of CO2 than currently exist around the planet (click on graph at right). In fact, most plants and sea creatures crave more CO2 for optimal growth, and would grow faster and larger if provided with more CO2 food.

Many commercial greenhouses use CO2 generators to supplement their internal air up to 1500 ppm of CO2.

Human burning of fossil fuels leads to incrementally higher levels of CO2 in Earth's atmospheric mix -- but not nearly enough to provide optimal growth for most plants. Consequently, atmospheric levels of CO2 have not risen proportionately to the quantity of CO2 exhausted into the atmosphere by human activity -- the plants and oceans are grabbing it for their own use.

Modern climate science has benefited from exaggerating fears about carbon dioxide, and the doom CO2 is supposed to bring to Earth's environment. But Earth's life evolved in atmospheres many times higher in CO2 than at present -- leaving modern plants and ocean life relatively carbon-starved.

It is time for climate science to step away from contrived and exaggerated claims of doom, and to return to a genuine science of observation and falsifiability. Politics has played far too large a part in this destructive carbon hysteria, and must be tamed before we all fall victim to the political excesses of carbon alarmists and carbon opportunists.

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22 February 2010

Europe Doomed by Debt and Demographics

The threat to the euro bloc ultimately stems from an overcommitted welfare state. Greece's situation is so difficult because a low birth rate and rapidly graying population automatically increase old-age assistance even as the government tries to cut its spending. At issue is the viability of its present welfare state. _RCP
Greece's demographic collapse will not allow Greece to pay for its corrupt welfare statism. Greece is a preview of coming Euro-attractions.
Concerns that Greece and other struggling European nations may not be able to repay their debts are focusing investor attention on another big worry: Economies across the Continent have used complex financial transactions—sometimes in secret—to hide the true size of their debts and deficits. _WSJ
Skyrocketing debt combined with rapidly aging and imploding populations. Not the best combination one might have dreamed up. Europe should have provided for her retirement ahead of time.
Demographics crises may be the ultimate determinant of the fate of nations and the easiest to predict. In most cases, the population shift has already occured that dooms a country to slow or sudden decline. __BI
Nations with the highest average IQ are shrinking, due to low birthrates. Nations with the lowest average IQ are exploding, due to high birthrates. This trend is dysgenic, leading to a worldwide idiocracy.
The Russians realize that they're in a race against the clock before their demographics kill them as a country, and so they want to make sure that they've got as wide of a buffer as possible. As long as Europe is at each others throats, even if its just with bureaucratic paper, the Russians are going to take advantage of that to strengthen their western perimeter and push the frontier into Europe as far as they can. They know in 20 or 30 years they're not going to be able to do much, so they want to buy as much time and space as possible.... _StratforPredictions_BI
Russia will take advantage of European turmoil as long as it can. But eventually Russia's own demographic crisis of high deaths and low births will do Russia in.
"First, China’s current economic model is not sustainable. That model favors employment over all other concerns, and can only be maintained by running on thin margins."
"Second, the Chinese model is only possible so long as Western populations continue to consume Chinese goods in increasing volumes. European demographics alone will make that impossible in the next decade."
"Third, the Chinese model requires cheap labor as well as cheap capital to produce cheap goods. The bottom has fallen out of the Chinese birthrate; by 2020 the average Chinese will be nearly as old as the average American, but will have achieved nowhere near the level of education to add as much value. The result will be a labor shortage in both qualitative and quantitative terms."
"Finally, internal tensions will break the current system. More than 1 billion Chinese live in households whose income is below $2,000 a year (with 600 million below $1,000 a year). The government knows this and is trying to shift resources to the vast interior comprising the bulk of China. But this region is so populous and so poor — and so vulnerable to minor shifts in China’s economic fortunes — that China simply lacks the resources to cope." _Stratfor:China Doom_BI
China has not taken the time to firm up the foundations of its hyperkinetic growth. Outside observors see only the high numbers, not the underlying corruption and crumbling of the foundational sandworks.

The hypothetical decline of China is most important as it impacts the overall instability and unpredictability of world affairs over the next ten years. Such a decline could force the Chinese government to attempt some audacious international expansions, not altogether of a peaceful variety. The reverberations from such international adventuring would be felt far and wide, and make the US' interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan look like pastoral picnics.

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21 February 2010

The Government is Not the Country

My kind of loyalty was to one's country, not to its institutions or its officeholders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease, and death. _Mark Twain_quoted_in_Ain'tNobody'sBusinessIfYouDo
When Al Fin philosophers first discussed this concept, long ago, few persons were able to grasp the idea that a person could be independent of a government or king, a prince or duke, a lord or overseer. The founders of the young American republic discovered the concept, and later popular writers such as Mark Twain helped to propagate the spirit of liberty to later generations. But the idea never truly caught on in Europe, Asia, Africa, or most of South America. Oceanian nations New Zealand and Australia possess a fair share of independence-minded persons, as does Canada. The USA probably contains the most adherents to philosophies of liberty than any other nation -- both in terms of absolute numbers and in proportionate terms.

But the numbers have diminished with the years, and clearly even in the US, there were not enough lovers of liberty to prevent the onslaught of the Obama - Pelosi green reich of dieoff leftist hyper-statism. Personal and economic freedoms are being siphoned off in the name of social justice and environmental justice, and soon Americans may find themselves stripped of their beloved freedoms of speech and association -- just like Europeans, Russians, citizens of Muslim countries, and the Chinese.

The government is not the country. The government derives its powers from the consent of the people. If the government seizes its powers against the consent of the governed, it loses its legitimacy.

Multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-ideological countries are difficult to govern. The US Constitution is the most sophisticated instrument of government for a pluralistic nation that has yet been devised. Unfortunately, the current government of the US is largely antagonistic toward the very aspects of the US Constitution which provide the vital protections to a nation's pluralism.

Modern governments presume too much, attempt too much, seize too much authority and power. This has almost always been true of governments past a certain size, prior to the US Constitution. Now, even in the US, limits on government are being hammered away by power-hungry despots of unlimited ambition.

The US Tea Party movement is largely despised and reviled by the mainstream media and the pseudo-intelligentsia of academia, politics, and culture. And yet the US Tea Party represents perhaps the last best chance to prevent a massive and irrevocable schism between the slaves-of-the-state and the dwindling but still potent students of liberty.

The incredible economic growth of the US throughout the 19th and 20th centuries illustrated the power of a free people to innovate and produce. As that freedom has been gradually shut down by the growth of the state, the innovation and the ability to produce within the limits of extant technologies, has steadily diminished. Government economic statistics are, of course, not trustworthy -- you must read between the lines and make significant corrections in order to understand the underlying reality.

The government is not the country. Most governments have become over-sized parasites upon the country, and must be cut down to size before they suffocate the life out of the country. How will this "cutting down" be accomplished? That is a good question.

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How Can Machine Intelligence Copy the Brain?

Intelligent machines that not only think for themselves but also actively learn are the vision of researchers of the Institute for Theoretical Science (IGI) at Graz University of Technology...They have been co-ordinating the European Union research project "Brain-i-Nets" (Novel Brain Inspired Learning Paradigms for Large-Scale Neuronal Networks) for three years... _SD

The Brain-i-Nets project at Graz University of Technology is quite different from Henry Markram's Blue Brain Project in Lausanne.  While Blue Brain aims to create a silicon substitute for the brain for neuroscience and neuropathology research, the Graz project aims to create actual machine intelligences by learning from a detailed and intense study of intact brains. Brain-i-Nets is attempting to abstract the significant aspects of dynamic cortical network plasticity, by using advanced real-time imaging of intact brain networks as they are working and changing.
The scientists want to design a new generation of neuro-computers based on the principles of calculation and learning mechanisms found in the brain, and at the same time gain new knowledge about the brain's learning mechanisms.

The human brain consists of a network of several billion nerve cells. These are joined together by independent connections called synapses. Synapses are changing all the time -- something scientists name synaptic plasticity. This highly complex system represents a basis for independent thinking and learning. But even today there are still many open questions for researchers.

"In contrast to today's computers, the brain doesn't carry out a set programme but rather is always adapting functions and reprogramming them anew. Many of these effects have not been explained," comments IGI head Wolfgang Maass together with project co-ordinator Robert Legenstein. In co-operation with neuroscientists and physicists, and with the help of new experimental methods, they want to research the mechanisms of synaptic plasticity in the organism.

...The three-year project is financed by the EU funding framework "Future Emerging Technologies" (FET), which supports especially innovative and visionary approaches in information technology. International experts chose only nine out of the 176 applications, among which was "Brain-i-Nets."

Brain-i-Nets Website
The overall long-term vision of this project is

to develop new design principles for adaptive, reconfigurable very-large-scale hardware systems implementing novel learning rules inspired by biological neural networks in vivo.

Learning mechanisms implemented in the brain appear to be much more robust and flexible than those currently used in neurally inspired computing systems. To confer the superior adaptive and computational capabilities of biological neural systems to large-scale recurrent neural hardware systems and other novel massively parallel computing devices, new and more sophisticated learning rules are needed.

Our long-term vision is that the learning rules for global gating of local learning, identified and explored in this project, will become ideal candidates for implementation in hardware. Conceptually the interaction of local factors that can be monitored and stored at the site of each connection with one or a few global factors is very attractive for hardware implementation. Previous collaborations of several partners of the project have shown that networks of spiking neurons can be implemented in a truly large-scale, parallel, mixed analog-digital hardware system. The inclusion of learning rules that go beyond the classical Hebbian or STDP rules for unsupervised learning, by including a third factor representing for example information on saliency or reward, will advance the hardware into a regime where a much broader class of learning tasks can be solved by these ultra-rapid machines. __Brain-i-Nets

Besides the Graz University of Technology, scientists from University College London, the University of Heidelberg, the University of Zurich, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique of France are also partnering in the project.

Al Fin neuroscientists consider this project to be one of the most sophisticated approaches to the biomimetic creation of machine intelligence to this date. For such a project to be truly successful, it is likely to require the expertise of scientists, technologists, and engineers from North America and East Asia, as well as those at the European centres mentioned above.

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20 February 2010

Seastead Basics: Building On a Foundation

Above, you can see the basic "Clubstead" design from Seasteading.org, and one final design using the basic concept as a foundation. Your choice of foundation will pre-determine much of your final design.

The Clubstead is built upon four vertical pontoons, one at each corner. This is similar to many oil drilling platform designs, and seeks to minimise the cross-section to oncoming waves.  Wind exposure can be significant, however.   Failure of the structure can be catastrophic should sustained waves exceed the design parameters.
Above you can see the "Lilypad" design from Vincent Callebaut Architectures of Belgium.  It features a central bowl-shaped hull which is augmented by supporting flotation located about the outer ring -- of an unconventional "multi-hull" variety.  This design presents a significant exposure to wave fronts, and to the wind.  Failure of this design is likely to be less sudden than for Seasteading's Clubstead -- allowing more time for occupants to escape and be rescued.
The Gyre design is an inverted seastead design -- all of the occupied real estate is under the surface. This presents very little exposure to wind and above-surface wave, but may present a greater hazard in the event of a hull breech or abandon ship situation. The deeper the pressure hull, the stronger it must be.

The Gyre offers obvious solutions for floating breakwater protection of an intrinsic harbour. The longer the outrigger arms, the greater the subsequent stresses during sustained storms. Finding the optimal material combining resilience, strength, and probably self-healing of cracks, will require some R&D.

More traditional designs based upon mono-hulls and multi-hulls offer their own advantages and disadvantages. There is a limit to how large a traditional "cruise ship" design can be built, but multiple mono-hulls can be connected in a raft-like design to form a larger structure, as long as proper measures for dealing with large waves are followed.

And then there are the quasi-absurdist designs that are meant to demonstrate an architects ability to think outside the box:

In this case, the tetrahedral New Orleans design clearly wins out over the braced rectangular Boston design, on the basis of stability alone. Imagine the topheavy Boston design dealing with heavy seas and high winds.

Most architects appear to treat the idea of a floating city as a joke, without seriously considering the raw elements of nature that must be dealt with.  It will be fascinating to watch the evolution of designs at the Seasteading Institute, and to watch for any serious competition that may appear on the horizon.

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19 February 2010

Can You Kill the Chicken?

In some cities, organic farmers are cult heroes, photographed for magazines and name-dropped on restaurant menus. Boomers flock to pasture tours while their Ivy League kids vie for farm internships. But the most unusual manifestation is the emergence of the slaughter-your-own-animal workshop. At more than a dozen farms across the nation, a small fee (usually $15 to $40) buys the opportunity to butcher your very own chicken, turkey or rabbit. _SmartMoney

Most people buy their meat, fowl, and fish at the supermarket, already dead and butchered. But what if you had to kill the chicken, and butcher it. Could you do it?

There are workshops available where for a small fee you can go to learn if you have the right stuff for cutting throats, putting a shotgun to an animal's skull, or otherwise shuffling off the critter's mortal coil. Then you butcher the carcass.

On the web you can learn to butcher pigs, or chickens, or rabbits, and probably just about any other animal that requires butchering prior to eating.

Do you think you could do it?
Even the most philosophical students can be surprised by their own hesitation. New York cheesemonger Laura Heifetz felt confident until she had the knife in her hand. Suddenly, she was struck with what she now refers to as a “weird dichotomy”—she didn’t mind killing the chicken, but she didn’t want to hurt it. Bellingham, Wash., food-bank coordinator Max Morange arrived at a pig-processing workshop thinking he’d slit the animal’s throat. It wasn’t until he got a look at the 300-pound porker that he realized the truth: “Pigs don’t really have necks.” He had to shoot the pig with the farmer’s shotgun and before pulling the trigger felt a flash of doubt. “I had to question whether this was a fair arrangement.” _SmartMoney

In a survival situation, you will probably be under a lot of stress. The more necessary things that you are already somewhat prepared to do, the better. For any difficult situation, it is always better to be overtrained. That is the secret of competent survivors like Sully Sullenberger -- get yourself overtrained well in advance of the crisis.

This is also an issue in politics, where voters tend to elect person's on the basis of everything except whether he is actually overtrained and overexperienced for the job. Green rookies in positions of responsibility can make a horrible mess. They are unlikely to be competent to clean up their own messes, either.

Be over-prepared.

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A Perfect Storm of Ignorance

A perfect storm of ignorance? That could describe many things, including the entire human enterprise. But in this case, it refers to the constellation of actions that led up to the ongoing global economic crisis. A deep and interesting analysis from Cato:
...Given the large number of contributory factors — the Fed's low interest rates, the Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie and Freddie's actions, Basel I, the Recourse Rule, and Basel II — it has been said that the financial crisis was a perfect storm of regulatory error. But the factors I have just named do not even begin to complete the list. First, Peter Wallison has noted the prevalence of "no-recourse" laws in many states, which relieved mortgagors of financial liability if they simply walked away from a house on which they defaulted. This reassured people in financial straits that they could take on a possibly unaffordable mortgage with virtually no risk. Second, Richard Rahn has pointed out that the tax code discourages partnerships in banking (and other industries). Partnerships encourage prudence because each partner has a lot at stake if the firm goes under. Rahn's point has wider implications, for scholars such as Amar Bhidé and Jonathan Macey have underscored aspects of tax and securities law that encourage publicly held corporations such as commercial banks — as opposed to partnerships or other privately held companies — to encourage their employees to generate the short-term profits adored by equities investors. One way to generate short-term profits is to buy into an asset bubble. Third, the Basel Accords treat monies set aside against unexpected loan losses as part of banks' "Tier 2" capital, which is capped in relation to "Tier 1" capital — equity capital raised by selling shares of stock. But Bert Ely has shown in the Cato Journal that the tax code makes equity capital unnecessarily expensive. Thus banks are doubly discouraged from maintaining the capital cushion that the Basel Accords are trying to make them maintain. This litany is not exhaustive. It is meant only to convey the welter of regulations that have grown up across different parts of the economy in such immense profusion that nobody can possibly predict how they will interact with each other. We are, all of us, ignorant of the vast bulk of what the government is doing for us, and what those actions might be doing to us. That is the best explanation for how this perfect regulatory storm happened, and for why it might well happen again. _Read the entire article atCATO

The author describes how the legislators and regulators added layer upon layer of legislation and regulation on top of the pre-existing structure, without understand the regulations already in place -- and without understanding the impact of their own actions.

The problem penetrates deeply into the structure of governmental regulation.
The financial crisis was a convulsion in the corpulent body of social democracy. "Social democracy" is the modern mandate that government solve social problems as they arise. Its body is the mass of laws that grow up over time — seemingly in inverse proportion to the ability of its brain to comprehend the causes of the underlying problems.

When voters demand "action," and when legislators and regulators provide it, they are all naturally proceeding according to some theory of the cause of the problem they are trying to solve. If their theories are mistaken, the regulations may produce unintended consequences that, later on, in principle, could be recognized as mistakes and rectified. In practice, however, regulations are rarely repealed. Whatever made a mistaken regulation seem sensible to begin with will probably blind people to its unintended effects later on. Thus future regulators will tend to assume that the problem with which they are grappling is a new "excess of capitalism," not an unintended consequence of an old mistake in the regulation of capitalism.
No one wants to look deeply enough into a complex and dynamic situation. They want quick fixes that they can take to the voters and say, "See here? I fixed a big problem. Vote for me so that you can keep me on your side."

It all goes back to significant flaws in human nature, and to the failure of modern education, child-rearing, and popular society to help in correcting and compensating for these flaws. That will be the subject of a future series of postings: "the secret to the future is the substrate."

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18 February 2010

Blue Brain Tour in Lausanne: What Is Happening?

Henry Markram brings us up to date on the aims of Blue Brain.  H/T MachinesLikeUs

The Swiss Blue Brain Project is meant to provide a "machine model" of the brain, for purposes of neuroscientific study.  It does not mean to build a machine intelligence.  Instead, Blue Brain is a massive simulation of brain function down to the level of ion channels within individual neurons.

Markram expects the project to provide a means for solving the diseases of the brain -- including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's, and others -- at a cellular and molecular level.

Clearly, Blue Brain is a massively ambitious and expensive project.  How soon will it begin to pay for itself by solving the critical problems of brain degeneration and other deficits of brain function?  It is impossible to say.

The video segment above is the "year one" report out of a "ten year project" to document the Blue Brain project on film.

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Is Argentina the Best Place in the World?

Anyway, I asked myself, “Where is the best place to live, in order to enjoy life to the max, be freest, and enjoy the highest standard of living with the least amount of aggravation?” I looked at all the countries around the world, their pluses and minuses, and came to the conclusion that Argentina offers the best risk/reward and cost/benefit ratios of any country on the planet at this time...at this point, Argentina is more European than Europe is. You know what they say: an Argentine is an Italian who speaks Spanish, thinks he’s British, and lives in a French house. _DougCasey
The most recent conversation with Doug Casey -- international investor and advisor -- discusses Casey's favourite place in the world: Argentina. Casey and his interviewer rove the entire world, discussing the pros and cons of various locations from the standpoint of a free marketeer. Casey has finally settled -- for now -- on Argentina as the best place in the world to spend his free time.
Doug: Well, I’ve been to 175 countries, most of them several times. I’ve lived in 12, defined as having spent enough time in the country to have rented a place to live or bought real estate and set up housekeeping. The thing is, technology has now progressed to the point at which any sufficiently motivated person can pretty much live wherever he or she wants. But most people still have a medieval serf mentality in this area, and tend to live in or near the place where they were born and grew up. And they tend to think that the country they were born in is the best country in the world…I guess because they were born there.

...I like its wide-open spaces. It’s like the western U.S. Argentina is the size of the eastern U.S., but it has only 40 million people, and about 40% of those are centered around Buenos Aires. So, once you get out of BA – which is one of the great cities of the world: sophisticated, marvelous, you can get everything and anything you want there, just one of my favorites – you really are in the countryside. In most places, you can drive for hours through incredible scenery, and not see another car. I like that.

Sometimes people, who haven’t been there, look at me in a questioning way when I mention Argentina, because they’ve heard of the government. But it’s not evil, or dangerous, like many. It’s just corrupt, incompetent, and inefficient – which is actually much better than the alternatives, when we’re talking about governments. But there are disadvantages, too. Through one of the most impressive acts of government stupidity I’ve ever seen, Argentina, a country world-renown for its beef, might actually end up having to import beef this year. It’s insane. Like Saudi Arabia importing oil. But, that’s what governments do. _ConversationwithCasey
Okay, he has looked at both the strengths and weaknesses of Argentina. But is he looking at the country through rose coloured glasses, just a bit? Is he overestimating the chances that the government of Argentina will someday become sane?
I think there’s a chance that the place will reform for the better, much the way New Zealand did in the mid-1980s. In other words, you can be so stupid, for so long, that eventually you have to throw in the towel and try being less stupid. There are several candidates running in the next presidential election, which will take place in 2011, who are reasonably market-oriented. If the same thing happens in Argentina as happened in New Zealand in the 1980s, it will boom.
Ah. Comparing Argentina to New Zealand. This betrays an ignorance of history and culture -- something a financial advisor cannot afford. Argentina, as a Catholic culture of Spanish and Italian origin, has very little in common culture-wise with New Zealand, a protestant culture of British and Scottish origins.

Up until that point in the dialogue, Casey was making a great deal of sense. Argentina sounds very attractive on almost all points -- except for its insane government. But Argentina's government has been insane for many decades. What chance is there for a sudden awakening into sanity? Virtually none, all wishful thinking aside.

Revolution in Argentina makes little sense. There is always the aftermath, when a worse government than the one before is invariably formed. Regime change would only lead to further turmoil. No, if you want to create a free environment in the southern part of South America, you will need to populate and secede from the central government -- which is concentrated within a single city -- Buenos Aires. Yes, I agree that Buenos Aires is the only place in Argentina with enough culture to provide an enjoyable lifestyle, but it is the people of Buenos Aires who continue to allow all of those idiotic governments. Something is wrong with them, and it is unrealistic to expect them to wake up -- so long after the closure of their critical developmental windows.

Casey bought a large parcel of land in Cafayate (in the wine country near Salta), moved some friends down, and is building a luxury resort. Casey is also encouraging wealthy Europeans and North Americans to move to Argentina -- perhaps hoping to influence the political culture in a more rational direction. Not exactly the same thing as populating and seceding from a corrupt country, but perhaps a step in the right direction. The government of Argentina is unpredictable, but a smart person might find some locations and loopholes that allow him to live relatively free from interference.

But clearly the answer to the question "Is Argentina the best place in the world?" for most people would have to be no. Not unless you could get enough people together to buy and populate a large section of the country, to create the kind of government that would allow you to live and trade freely. Not a good prospect, unless you have some extremely sophisticated weapons of defense that could neutralise the Argentinian military.

I suppose it is back to the seastead idea. And if you live in the US, you had best start rooting for the Tea Partyers, if you enjoy the ever-dwindling freedoms you have left. The Obama - Pelosi reich does not intend to leave you very much at all.

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17 February 2010

Re-Inventing the Wheel


Imagine you are living in a world after the crash of civilisation.  You have plenty of automobiles and spare parts, but the roads and bridges have all gone to hell.  You need a serious all-terrain vehicle that will not bog down in mud or snow, nor stop at the water's edge.

The Russian wheel track modification in the video above would presumably work for a wide range of vehicles.  You decide whether you prefer the Russian modification or the Subaru WRX STI Trax.

Apparently the brainchild of a resourceful inventor from Chelyabinsk, Russia, Metelica is constructed from the leftover tread assemblies. As the videos show, the car is driven onto the treads, the wheels are removed and (although exactly how the conversion works remains a bit of a mystery to us) the driver is able to control both the speed and steering of the treads using the cars controls._more at Gizmag 
Read more »


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If Algal Oil Costs $1 per gallon, How Can They Charge $2 per gallon for Crude Oil? Price Ceilings

We are approaching the day that all oil sheikhs and tycoons have been dreading -- the day when synthetic biofuels are cheap enough to put a price ceiling on what producers and traders can charge for crude oil. DARPA recently announced that it is only months away from producing algal oils for only $1 $2 a gallon -- "headed towards" $1 a gallon.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an office of the US Department of Defense, will soon be producing jet fuel made from algae at a price comparable to that of petroleum-based fuel, the UK Guardian reported on Saturday. DARPA could be months, not years, from producing an algal biofuel that is price-competitive with fossil fuels. According to Barbara McQuiston, special assistant to energy for DARPA, “Oil from algae is projected at $2 per gallon, headed towards $1 per gallon.”

The oil produced by algae still needs to be refined into jet fuel, which can be done while still keeping the price under $3 per gallon. McQuiston said an additional refinery will come on line in 2011 and be capable of producing 50 million gallons of algae-based jet fuel a year.

Research into algal biofuels has received massive funding from the US government and Exxon, but DARPA’s breakthrough in achieving a cost-effective method of production still came as a surprise. The director of the Algal Biomass Association, Mary Rosenthal, was taken aback by DARPA’s accelerated timeline and said she expected algal fuels to become competitive “in the next two years.”

DARPA’s work is part of the US military’s efforts to reduce costs and improve the flexibility of its supply chain by relying more on renewable sources of energy. The military aims to get half its energy from renewable sources by 2016, and the US Air Force wants to test 50-50 blends of biofuel and petroleum-based fuel by 2011. _HeatingOil
DARPA is not a for-profit corporation, so it is unclear how long it would actually take for their process to be scaled to commercial size, for the benefit of civilian customers. As stated above, algal oil must be refined further if it is to be used as jet fuel or gasoline.

Algal oil can be used with minimal refinement in diesel engines. Blends of algal-diesel and petro-diesel would likely hit the market first, with gasoline-from-diesel taking somewhat longer to hit the market.

According to Al Fin chemical engineers and energy analysts: Realistically, ten years is a reasonable timeline for algal fuels to begin to make an impact on global fuels markets -- despite DARPA's cheery announcement. In twenty years, microbial biofuels and biomass biofuels should account for 30% of the liquid fuels market.

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16 February 2010

Fractal Climate: A Lot Can Change In a Million Years

Science of Doom
A quick look at the last million years of climate will indicate that we are definitely not living in unprecedented times -- climatically speaking. In fact, it has been globally warmer during two of the previous inter-glacial periods of the past -- no anthropogenic greenhouse gases required. Is it possible that the IPCC has been trying too hard to convince everyone to jump onto the climate change bandwagon? No wonder fewer informed people believe in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) as the weeks roll by.

The last million years are incredible. Sea levels – as best as we can tell – have moved up and down by at least 120m, possibly more. _ScienceofDoom
Go to the link above and read the two diverging commentaries on the graph above.  Incredible.

It is beginning to look like this "unprecedented" carbon hysteria is just another ploy to strip producers of their cash, so as to give it to non-producers. Who could have guessed?

But can you believe that the US media is being scooped on ClimateGate time and time again by the British media?   Something is rotten in the mainstream media -- a type of cancerous lesion.  Ask a surgeon what he does to cancerous lesions.  Are you feeling like a surgeon today?

H/T Tom Nelson and Anthony Watts


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Get Ready: Russia to Unleash Energy Avalanche

Russia is a corrupt, exhausted, dying nation.  But Russia is full of valuable energy and mineral assets -- enough to make any oil sheikh envious.  For a number of reasons, Russia's energy assets have remained largely undeveloped up until now.  But with enormous discoveries of unconventional natural gas in North America, and with increasing development of Canada's oil sands, Russia is beginning to understand that if it doesn't develop and sell its energy assets now -- it may never have the chance.

As young ethnic Russians disappear from the planet, the ability of Russia to defend its vast mineral wealth is shrinking daily.  And as unconventional fossil fuel use, plus nuclear energy infrastructure, plus bioenergy  development all expand, the world's need for Russia's product is beginning to shrink.  The lesson to Russia: use it or lose it.
Gazprom started coal-bed methane production in Russia after U.S. success in developing unconventional fuel reserves spurred global interest.

Gazprom plans to produce 1.5 billion cubic meters of the gas a year in 2012 at the Taldinskoye field in Siberia’s coal-rich Kuzbass area, the Kremlin press service said Friday in a statement distributed to reporters during President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to the region.

Successful extraction of shale gas, another unconventional fuel, has led to what International Energy Agency chief economist Fatih Birol called “a silent revolution” in the United States. The world’s biggest energy consumer, the United States may become self-sufficient in gas through its shale-gas developments. Unconventional fuels had been too complex to develop until new technologies made extraction feasible.

Russia, which holds the largest gas reserves, may have as much as 87 trillion cubic meters of coal-bed methane, according to Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller.

“It’s two Gazproms,” Medvedev said in Omsk, where he met with businesses to discuss innovation in the energy industry, which he said accounts for as much as one third of the country’s gross domestic product.

Coal-bed methane, shale gas and tight gas are the most common unconventional sources of the fuel and currently account for about half of U.S. production, said Valery Nesterov, an analyst with Troika Dialog. Unconventional gas won’t make up more than 0.5 percent of output in Russia in the long term, he said.

“It is more about technology, so as not to fall behind" as we did with liquefied natural gas, he said.

Russia last year started liquefying gas, more than a decade after Qatar, the world’s biggest LNG producer.

The world may see an “acute glut” of gas because unconventional fuel output worldwide is set to rise 71 percent between 2007 and 2030, the IEA said in November.

Unconventional gas competes with coal in thermal power generation and will be displacing the commodity from global markets, Vekselberg said.

Russia may produce as much as 21 billion cubic meters a year of coal-bed methane at Kuzbass, Gazprom said Friday.

“We have made an important step on the path toward a new subindustry in Russia’s fuel and energy complex,” Gazprom’s Miller said in an e-mailed statement.

The company plans to drill 30 wells at Taldinskoye this year, and 28 a year starting in 2011, the Kremlin said.

Russian coal-bed methane resources make up one-third of the country’s potential gas resources, Gazprom said in an e-mailed statement. The Kuzbass area of the Kemerovo region may hold 13 trillion cubic meters of the unconventional gas, the Kremlin said.

The United State’s success in extracting gas from shale has spurred global interest, while also displacing some LNG supplies and lowering spot prices in Europe.

Europe and China are playing catch-up, which could increase competition for LNG, Mark Greenwood, a Sydney-based analyst with JPMorgan Chase, said in a Feb. 9 note.

“U.S. shale gas could grow by 2015 to a similar scale as the entire global LNG market currently,” Greenwood said. “A land-grab has occurred in Europe over the last two years” as international companies such as Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron Corp. and Statoil seek resources. _MoscowTimes
The rush for development of Gazprom's unconventional gas follows recent Gazprom claims that "shale gas production may be environmentally hazardous." Hint hint, wink wink to US environmental organisations. In other words, Gazprom wants US shale gas to be shut down, and it wants to use US environmental groups as its cats' paws. Nothing new there. In the past it was the KGB doing similar things. The names of organisations change, but the people stay the same.

If the world's fossil fuel resources were freely developed, the resulting glut of energy would take a thousand years or longer to be exhausted. But thanks to a manufactured crisis of climate hysteria, and myriad faux environmental restrictions, we have Political Peak Oil -- man-made energy starvation. Top-down economic devastation, courtesy of the Obama - Pelosi gang.

Russia and the other oil dictatorships have profited from the artificial constraints that western nations have burdened themselves with. But even with all the constraints, private western companies are finding ways to provide the west with energy -- much to Russia's and Obama's chagrin.

Russia will not be able to defend its vast territories in 50 years. It had best wake up, update its technology, and start turning its minerals into more fungible wealth as fast as it can. Before the world no longer needs fossil fuels. It had better hurry.

An expanded version of this article appears at Al Fin Energy

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Getting In Touch With The Brain

Scientists are inventing new ways of direct contact with brain impulses and metabolic activity.  At the University of Washington, a team of neuroscientists used surface electrodes to allow human patients to move a cursor on a computer screen using only their thoughts.

Neuroscientists at UCLA have developed a chemical sensor electrode for implantation alongside deep brain stimulation (DBS) electrodes.  These sensors will track dopamine and serotonin concentrations as they change in response to the DBS.
During the conventional deep brain stimulation procedure, neurosurgeons insert a small electrode into the brain. The patient is awake during the surgery so that the surgeon can find the optimal location and level of stimulation to reduce the patient's symptoms. In Parkinson's patients, for example, muscle tremors are often immediately and visibly reduced with the appropriate stimulation.

However, the actual mechanisms behind its therapeutic effect are hotly debated. Recording the release of the brain's signaling chemicals, known as neurotransmitters, could help to resolve the question, allowing neurosurgeons to better optimize the procedure.

The device consists of a custom-designed sensor electrode that is implanted along with the stimulating electrode, a microprocessor, a Bluetooth module to send data to a computer, and a battery. "It allows us to record dopamine and serotonin wirelessly in real time," says Kendall Lee, a neurosurgeon at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, who helped develop the device. "That means we have tremendous control over the chemistry of the brain."

To detect neurotransmitters, researchers apply a low voltage across the electrode. That oxidizes dopamine molecules near the electrode, triggering current flow at the electrode. "The amount of current flow gives a relative indication of concentration," says Kevin Bennet, chairman of the division of engineering at the Mayo Clinic and one of Lee's collaborators.

Preliminary research in pigs using the new system has shown that deep brain stimulation of the area targeted in Parkinson's patients triggers release of dopamine. Researchers now aim to repeat these experiments in pigs that have some of the symptoms of the disease. For example, the sensors could detect whether certain patterns of dopamine correspond to improvements or worsening of Parkinson's symptoms. _TechReview
Yes, these are baby steps. Understanding what is happening in the brain in response to artificial DBS will be helpful. But what we really need is to understand what is happening at all levels (electromagnetic, physiological, biochemical, genetic, etc) during everyday brain activity.

Nano-implants that provide real time monitoring of multi-channel brain activity plus providing a wireless means of mentally controlling prostheses plus providing a channel for DBS etc. will be available in the next 10 to 20 years.


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15 February 2010

A Distributed and Most Plastic Brain

TED Talk by Michael Merzenich

The brain is more plastic than most of us believe.  We need to believe in the brain's plasticity, because there are many ways in which we could help our brains to better help us -- by taking the effort to strengthen weak brain functions which may be holding us back.

Our brains help determine who we are, but your brain is not just inside your skull.  It is also below your belt. We are led by our guts more than we know.  Whenever we let our brains fall back into its "default state", when we are not thinking about anything in particular, we are led down many a subconscious path whose origin and destination may lie well outside our skulls.  This is why many approaches to the rehabilitation of malfunctioning brains also involve the rest of the body.

The reason why it is important to consider ways in which we may help our brains help us, is that it is likely that all of us have run into particular obstacles and blockages -- over and over again.  Like "strange attractors", our own particular weaknesses tend to pull us toward them repeatedly.  But what if we could learn to change our default brain circuits so that such weaknesses no longer held us back?

In fact, particular parts of our default brains inform us as to "who we are" and "what we can do."  That is fine when our brain is telling us accurately that we can indeed do what we need and want to do.  But when our default brain states are telling us that we are helpless to achieve our needs and valid wants, we have a problem.

Although many of the parameters of our default brain states are largely determined by genetic factors, that is not to say that we are helpless to alter these states.  Persons who are depressed may find changing dysfunctional defaults to be particularly difficult.   But the brain can change for the better, and along with it the person.  But not without work.

That is where it is particularly important to understand that the rest of the body contains a significant proportion of the human nervous system.  Your digestive system may be especially important, but also the musculoskeletal system, the endocrine system, and the cardiorespiratoryvascular system.  Or maybe it is better to just think of it as the body-brain, working alongside the head-brain.

We need to be better than the zombies, led their entire lives by forces outside of themselves.  In a world that has devolved to suit zombies rather than free individuals, it is hugely important that we make the most of who we are.   First we have to understand what is possible.

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14 February 2010

Climate: A Science of Doom
Climate: A Science of Doom

If not for its catastrophic predictions of doom, climate science would be a backwater -- barely funded and rarely reported in the media. Without climate doom, there would be no 100 trillion euro carbon market and Al Gore would not be approaching billionaire status. Without climate doom the UN and its IPCC would have but a tenuous grasp on the incomes of ordinary North Americans, Australians, and Kiwis. For climate science and the vast global carbon trade industry, everything hinges on doom.

Until now, the world news media and political leaders have been content to leave all of these things to the UN's IPCC, and to the academic and governmental institutions devoted to climate studies. Until now, it seemed that predictions of climate doom were scientific and disinterested, trustworthy. Until now.

Now, maverick scientists who refuse to be cowed by the climate doom orthodoxy are beginning to speak out, to question the reality of climate doom. This process is cautious and gradual, and has none of the bombastic certainty of the climate doom orthodoxy's $multi-trillion steamrolling crusade and bandwagon.

Science fiction writer and frequent warming catastrophe advocate David Brin would like for the heretics and skeptics to shut up and listen to their betters in the climate doom orthodoxy. Brin maintains that skeptics are not "real scientists" and that unless someone is a "real scientist" he should not be taken seriously in the climate debate.

Although trained as a physicist, Brin is clearly acting as an advocate for a cause. In fact, he is appealing to the infallible authority of the "consensus" orthodoxy, as opposed to the inconsequential carping of infidels and heretics -- who should probably be taken out and burned.

Every science worth the name must be willing to defend its hypotheses against serious questions of data, methods, theory, and conclusions. Appealing to authority in an attempt to avoid facing the vital skepticism of the scientific method, is an act of dogmatic cowardice.

There is no exclusive club called "science" where consensus rules, in possession of absolute truths. Any "science" that is afraid to face the scrutiny of the outside world does not deserve the name of science. It is instead a cult, or a scam.

Instead of barring the doors to the heretics, climate science had best open wide the doors and begin cleaning its own house in earnest.   Because up until now, the orthodoxy of climate doom has had it all its own way.  Things are changing.  It will be very painful for true believers in the orthodoxy to stand by and watch cherished beliefs being dismantled in a true scientific manner.  Painful, but necessary.


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13 February 2010

A Point of No Return? Not Enough Fertile Women

Europe, Japan, Russia, and a handful of other advanced nations are seeing their native populations shrinking before their eyes.   Modern women are not reproducing, and suddenly real estate prices are plunging as more and more properties go unoccupied.  Tax receipts are shrinking and governments must rely more and more on deficit spending to meet entitlement obligations to an aging citizenry.  At a point, the process becomes irreversible, when too few fertile women remain to provide enough young men to defend the country from outsiders who covet what earlier generations have produced.

By mid-century they will have barely half as many inhabitants as they do today, and half of those who remain will be elderly. Hardly men of military age and women of child-bearing age will remain. Their economies will implode long before the mid-century mark, as soaring retirement costs crush state budgets, and young people emigrate to escape the burden of supporting the elderly. _Spengler
Spengler is referring here to Georgia, the Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus.  But Russia and several Eastern European nations are close behind in the race to depopulate themselves.  Japan, Italy, Greece, and Spain are well within reach of the leaders.

But history offers no examples of a society that has demonstrated sustained material advance in the face of long-term population decline. It seems highly unlikely that such an ambitious agenda can be achieved in the face of Russia’s current demographic crisis. Sooner or later, Russian leadership will have to acknowledge that these daunting long-term developments are shrinking their country’s social and political potential. _WorldAffairs
 Long-term population decline means long-term economic decline.   And what is true for Russia and Eastern Europe is also true for most of Western Europe, Japan, South Korea, and a few other countries.

We have long argued that Japan has put itself into a horrid place demographically as her birth rate keeps on plunging and as Japan is no longer replicating itself. Things have gotten so bad demographically that the government itself says that Japan’s population shall halve in another 50 years…. At this point, little… indeed it appears nothing… can be done to stop this terrible demographic collapse. We are watching a demographic train wreck happen in very slow, but inexorable motion. _DennisGarman_via_HSDent
The train wreck becomes inexorable when a combination of low numbers of fertile women + psychological inertia + the original forces which caused the low birth rates all combine to prevent a resurgence of population. This "irreversibility" of demographic collapse is far more likely to occur in some countries currently experiencing a decline in fertility, than in others.

It is a matter of "patriarchy", in a sense.  Countries which can more easily revert to patriarchal values and traditions will find it much easier to re-build once declining populations.

Throughout the broad sweep of human history, there are many examples of people, or classes of people, who chose to avoid the costs of parenthood. Indeed, falling fertility is a recurring tendency of human civilization. Why then did humans not become extinct long ago? The short answer is patriarchy.
Patriarchy does not simply mean that men rule. Indeed, it is a particular value system that not only requires men to marry but to marry a woman of proper station. It competes with many other male visions of the good life, and for that reason alone is prone to come in cycles. Yet before it degenerates, it is a cultural regime that serves to keep birthrates high among the affluent, while also maximizing parents' investments in their children. No advanced civilization has yet learned how to endure without it. _TheReturntoPatriarchy
Nations with strong traditions of patriarchal tribes and religions -- such as Islam -- will find it much easier to bounce back from a falling fertility, than nations that have lost touch with their earlier patriarchal traditions.

Many have argued that European nations would never allow themselves to experience demographic collapse or to surrender to an invasion of more fertile Muslims.  The argument of which is the greater threat to Europe: an Islamic invasion or demographic collapse?, is a moot point.  The two calamities are not mutually exclusive, but are synergistic.  Each disaster will accelerate the other.

Some are calling for a Tea Party for Europe.   It is far too late for that.  Europe has none of the traditions of individual freedom that most generations of Americans were weaned on (at least until the current Obama zombie generation).   Some countries of Europe -- the ones that have not thrown over their early traditions for the recent suicidal ideologies of the radical environmental left -- will survive both the demographic implosion and the Muslim invasion.  Survive.  In the same way that Israel currently survives.

It is claimed that Islamic invaders to Europe will soon -- within a few generations -- adopt the same low birthrates that native Europeans exhibit.  That may or may not be true, but either way it is irrelevant.  The deed will have been done within a few generations.   It will require generations more for the aftermath to be swept up, and the smoke of war to clear over a devastated landscape.

Links on European Demographics

Earlier Al Fin article with some links to demographic projections

Fabius Maximus archives of future demographics

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12 February 2010

Outraged Feminists Protest Angrily Outside Brian Wang's Silicon Valley Offices

Angry feminists are staging 24 hour protests outside the Silicon Valley offices of noted blogger Brian Wang. Al Fin -- disguised as an ugly woman in order to fit in, and speaking in a falsetto pitch -- managed to interview a few of the protestors. Approaching a small cluster of particularly angry-looking feminists:

AF (holding up a clenched fist):Equality! What is this all about, sisters?

Bambi: We're protesting that sexist pig Brian Wang! He's promoting the genocide of females on his blog.

AF: Disgusting! Where can I read what that sexist pig says?

Dawn: It's all right there in black and white! Read it for yourself.

AF (reading the webpage on Bambi's IPhone): You mean here where he talks about a laser that can be programmed to kill only female mosquitoes?

Candi: That's right! It leaves the males alone and only kills the females! Sexist pig!

AF: But only female mosquitoes bite and spread diseases like malaria and yellow fever. What harm can the males do if there are no females left to breed with? Besides, they're only mosquitoes.

Dawn: Sure, they start with just mosquitoes. Then they move up the animal chain to human females. It always starts innocently enough.

AF: What do you plan to do to Brian Wang? He is only reporting the story. He's just a blogger, albeit quite widely-read and well respected.

Bambi: We've got to make an example out of anyone who is willing to spread the news of this sexist genocide without condemning it outright. He's just so damned clinical about it, as if it were a good thing! He's got to pay -- Hey! That looks like beard stubble under your makeup! (grabs at AF's crotch)

AF (dancing nimbly out of reach): Thank you so much for expressing your point of view, sisters. Equality! (hurries away to getaway car)

Mr. Myhrvold said he thinks there is particular potential in the Blu-ray laser technology, because blue lasers are more powerful than red ones and there are a lot of them being made cheaply now.

He estimates that the devices could potentially cost as little $50, depending on the volume of demand. However, his company would not manufacture them. Rather, it built the technology mostly as a proof of concept. (Among other things, his company is also working on cooking technology.) Other companies would have to take the laser technologies to market, so the timeline for seeing the lasers in common use is uncertain.

The laser detection is so precise that it can specify the species, and even the gender, of the mosquito being targeted. “The women are bigger. They beat at a lower frequencies,” Mr. Myhrvold said. Since it is only the female mosquitoes who bite humans, for the sake of efficiency, his system would leave the males alone. _BrianWang

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Would You Chew China Bubble Gum?

BEIJING—China reported a surge in bank lending and sharply rising property prices last month, figures that reinforced growing worries that the world's fastest-growing major economy risks inflating a new bubble. _WSJ

Remember, it is one thing to create economic growth, but it is another thing to truly create wealth. If I commit to building a new commercial property in Shanghai I will undoubtedly contribute to GDP growth. However, if I have no tenants and the city already has a vacancy rate of 20pc, then I am probably destroying wealth. _Telegraph
Is China a safe haven for investment, far away from misguided and suicidal nations-of-debt such as the US and Europe? GDP growth figures and currency reserves suggest that China is capable of riding out very rough global economic storms. And yet there is something about the massive state control apparatus behind the Chinese economy that urges caution before making premature long-term economic commitments to the dragon.

With the collapse of the global economy, demand for Chinese exports has declined badly. Chinese banks have stimulated a nation-wide building spree that has consumed huge amounts of the world's commodities.
China has enjoyed the fastest-growing major economy for the past 30 years with an average gross domestic product growth rate of more than 10 percent annually. After a closer analysis, however, the China story starts to look more like that of Japan shortly before its stock and real estate markets collapsed almost two decades ago. With a skeptical eye toward the economic numbers released by the Chinese government and some investigative work, overheating of the Chinese economy becomes apparent. In my opinion, the country is investing heavily in infrastructure for which there is little demand, creating enormous excess capacity and putting the bubble at risk.

... With a government bent on short-term growth and investors eager to buy into China’s growth, credit is feeding inefficient capital investments in manufacturing, infrastructure and real estate. The declining return on these investments eventually will lead to a pullback in capital spending. Further analysis shows that China already has ample manufacturing capacity and does not require the additional capital spending. China is in line with developing countries with regard to its manufacturing base. It produces a lot more than the light industrials like toys, apparel and electronics that foreigners have come to recognize. In 2008, China produced 500 million tons of steel, more than the European Union, Japan, United States and Russia combined. Even at those levels, China has an additional 160 million tons in idle capacity. Cement production tells a similar story. China has an estimated spare capacity of 340 million tons in cement production, which is more than the consumption of India, the United States and Japan combined.

Easy access to credit in China has been a boon to residential construction activity and the real estate market. These construction projects have boosted GDP numbers while increasing the paper wealth of many Chinese government officials. Affordability ratios suggest that these real estate prices are unsustainable, and that we could see a mortgage meltdown in China on even larger proportions to that of the US. Indeed, since 2003, residential construction has far surpassed household formation. International Monetary Fund statistics note that home ownership is at 86 percent in China, compared to 69 percent in the U.S. at the peak of the U.S. housing bubble... _Cavalier
Most investors base their judgment on a combination of superficial appearances and gut feeling. But both superficial images and emotional intuitions can be manipulated by faked or exaggerated data. It has happened in climate science, and it has happened in economics too many times to mention.
during this new real estate boom, several investigations have discovered that real estate developers, desperate to offload nonperforming properties, have dumped mortgages onto state-run banks that are "facing enormous pressure from Beijing to rapidly increase lending to boost the economy."[9]

Thus, while market forces would have reallocated unused property, pushing prices down, the stimulus has catapulted markets such as Beijing and Shanghai into the top 50 most expensive globally, despite that the average resident earns a fraction of their industrialized peers.[10] _ Mises

Beijing is heavily invested in US debt -- federal, state, and municipal -- at various risk levels. Despite the Obama administration's demolition of any excuse of fiscal discipline in budgeting, Beijing remains reluctant to throw away its ever riskier investment in US securities. With exports continuing low into the distant future, and China's domestic economy building an overpriced infrastructure to nowhere, the shrinking value of US debt instruments may be the last China bubble to pop. Better hang on just in case.

16 Feb 2010 Update: Don't miss this look at the China Bubble from new blogger Crisis Maven

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