31 October 2011

Programmed to be Zombies? Stealth Genetics of Brain Transformation

Once thought to be rare, these events actually take place surprisingly often. According to one recent estimate, they occur in many or most brain cells, perhaps several hundred times within each cell...Many of the insertion sites were located within genes that play key roles in normal brain function. These include genes encoding receptors for the neurotransmitter dopamine and membrane transporters that mop up neurotransmitter molecules from the spaces between neurons after their signaling is complete... Others were found in genes encoding regulatory proteins that are linked to psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia and the developmental disorder Smith–Magenis syndrome. _SciAm
Slow Progressive Stealth Zombie Transformation

What if the people around us are not who we think they are? What if we continue to see them as someone they once resembled, while they have been subtly changing over time to something else?

Humans are defined by their brains. We know that their brains are shaped by a host of chance events involving genes, experiences, accidents etc. But what if these brains are changing in ways we do not understand, in ways we cannot control, so that over time these persons around us have changed into something else? I am not talking about diseases of the brain, but something much more subtle.

Here is a glimpse into the genetics of stealthy brain transformation which may help explain why that person next to you is not who you think they are:
Mobile DNA molecules that jump from one location in the genome to another may contribute to neurological diseases and could have subtle influences on normal brain function and behavior, according to a study published October 30 in Nature. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)

Retrotransposons are mobile genetic elements that use a copy-and-paste mechanism to insert extra copies of themselves throughout the genome. First discovered in plants about 60 years ago, they are now known to make up more than 40 percent of the entire human genome and may play an important role in genome evolution.

...The researchers also found that there was far more jumping-gene activity in the hippocampus than in the caudate nucleus. This is interesting, because the hippocampus is known to be critical for learning and memory, and is widely thought to be one of the few parts of the brain that continues to produce new cells throughout life. "It is tempting to speculate that genetic differences between individual neurons could impact memory," Faulkner says, "but we have no evidence yet that this is the case."

Retrotransposons are normally silenced to prevent harmful mutations from occurring in egg and sperm cells, but are mobilized during certain stages of brain development, when neurons are being produced from dividing stem cells. Retrotransposons then take the opportunity to jump at random into parts of the chromosome that have been opened up for DNA replication.

As well as generating mutations by inserting themselves into and disrupting genes, retrotransposons can alter gene activity if inserted into adjacent regulatory regions of DNA.

...Once thought to be rare, these events actually take place surprisingly often. According to one recent estimate, they occur in many or most brain cells, perhaps several hundred times within each cell
. Each neuron is likely subjected to a unique combination of insertions, leading to a genetic variability within populations of cells.

The full significance of this "genomic plasticity" is still not clear, but the authors suggest that it could influence brain development and behavior. It may, for example, partly account for the differences in brain structure and behavior between identical twins, and could even affect thought processes by subtly influencing the changes in nerve cell connections that occur with experience. _SciAm

It is becoming more and more difficult to claim that all humans are essentially the same, genetically. In fact, it is becoming more difficult to say that a person is the same today, genetically, as he was yesterday. Conventional methods of genomic sequencing do not detect many of these subtle genetic and epigenetic differences, suggesting the need for more sophisticated tools and screening methods.

One thing is certain: This changing nature of the brain -- the core of a human's self and being -- will require some rethinking of how societies should be organised. Humans with changing brains will need to be raised and taught to live in a dynamic and changing society. They must be given tools of competence, self reliance, and resilience. And they must be given the freedom to adapt to the inevitable changes which always occur.

Just the opposite of the traits one sees in the sheltered, academically lobotomised psychological neotenate -- who demands to be taken care of his entire life.

We can no longer afford this longing for dependency and stasis which defines most modern welfare state mentalities. This headlong rush for security, this raucous cry to be taken care of by an all-powerful state -- we cannot afford this delusional belief any longer. In a world of clashing cultures, this whining chorus of wankers is a suicidal lullaby. Particularly when the core populations of these affluent societies is shrinking so quickly.

Humans must learn to expect massive, dynamic changes over the course of their lives, both outside themselves and inside themselves. They must learn to be prepared to meet these changes on their own terms.

Retrotransposons and Human Genome Evolution

Abstract of Nature study:
Retrotransposons are mobile genetic elements that use a germline ‘copy-and-paste’ mechanism to spread throughout metazoan genomes1. At least 50 per cent of the human genome is derived from retrotransposons, with three active families (L1, Alu and SVA) associated with insertional mutagenesis and disease2, 3. Epigenetic and post-transcriptional suppression block retrotransposition in somatic cells4, 5, excluding early embryo development and some malignancies6, 7. Recent reports of L1 expression8, 9 and copy number variation10, 11 in the human brain suggest that L1 mobilization may also occur during later development. However, the corresponding integration sites have not been mapped. Here we apply a high-throughput method to identify numerous L1, Alu and SVA germline mutations, as well as 7,743 putative somatic L1 insertions, in the hippocampus and caudate nucleus of three individuals. Surprisingly, we also found 13,692 somatic Alu insertions and 1,350 SVA insertions. Our results demonstrate that retrotransposons mobilize to protein-coding genes differentially expressed and active in the brain. Thus, somatic genome mosaicism driven by retrotransposition may reshape the genetic circuitry that underpins normal and abnormal neurobiological processes.
More: Scientists key on changes in brain gene expression over the lifetime
In the studies, published in the Oct. 27 Nature, researchers focused not on DNA — virtually every cell’s raw genetic material is identical — but on when, where and for how long each gene is turned on over the course of a person’s life. To do this, the researchers measured levels of mRNA, a molecule whose appearance marks one of the first steps in executing the orders contained in a gene, in postmortem samples of donated brains that ranged in age from weeks after conception to old age.

...To see what those genes were up to, Šestan’s study examined mRNA levels of different genes in 57 brain samples. The team divided the brain tissue up by region, so they were also able to get an idea of genes’ behavior in different parts of the brain. A parallel study, headed by Joel Kleinman of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, looked at gene behavior in 269 brain samples from a single region called the prefrontal cortex that also spanned the lifetime.

This approach allowed the researchers to get access to the brain that had previously been impossible. _Sciencenews

We also need to remember that drug use triggers changes in brain gene expression -- some of these changes can be long-term or even "permanent." This is particularly tragic in the case of fetal brain exposure to drugs such as alcohol, methamphetamine, crack cocaine, etc. in the womb. But adolescents and young adults are also quite vulnerable to changes in brain gene expression from drug use. Bonus question: What are the most effective cultures and incubators for drug use in societies? Schools, and anywhere young peers are concentrated and on their own.

Long term behavioural change following ingestion of magic mushrooms More

Brain changes from cannabis use

And there are always new party drugs coming down the pipeline which will have unknown short and long-term effects on the brain, and brain gene expression.

Some people are naturally programmed to be zombies. Other people have to work at it.

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30 October 2011

Affordable Education for All: Who Are the Problem - Solvers?

In the real world, we have problem solvers and we have wankers. There are far more wankers than problem - solvers, and that is particularly true in politics, academia, the media, and wherever 3 or more people assemble. Here is one look at the higher education bubble and how the problem might be mitigated.
Affordable Education for All
Via: Online College Resource
While thousands of young and not-so-young wankers around the world camp out in protest of something or other, others have rolled up their sleeves and attempted to devise real world solutions to real world problems. Who is trying to solve the education bubble problem? Not US President Obama. A perennial campaigner and community organiser, Mr. Obama is too busy working out how to raise money for his next election. Let the army of wankers camp out in the snow, protesting their birth out of the womb of college into the real world of responsibility. Mr. Obama is above all of that.


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28 October 2011

Breathless in Bologna: Waiting for News on Big E-Cat Test

Final Update 2100 EDT:This after-test report from Pesn.com is worth looking at for anyone interested in what actually happened today. There are still a lot of unanswered questions, but now that the 1 MW E-Cat device is apparently to be transferred to new ownership, one might assume that such questions will be answered via extensive testing. One of the most important questions will be answered once we discover the identity of Rossi's mystery customer.

Update 1500 EDT: According to Peswiki Twitter, the mysterious US customer is satisfied with the test results, and is shutting down the reactor. Reportedly the sale was made based upon 470 kW maintained throughout several hours of self-sustain mode. H/T Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture

More: Brian Wang points to an Andrea Rossi update on his blog, reporting that the test was proceeding according to expectations as of 10:37 AM. The "full test report" is expected tonight. Updates have been less frequent than expected, and we may have to wait until after markets close in NYC to learn much more. The AP news organisation is the only official media representative present, and an official news blackout is in force for the duration of the test. Rossi's "secret US customer" will not allow photographs of its engineers, who are conducting the test.
The reason for the embargo on taking photos was personnel reasons. They don't want the engineers and testers to be shown, to keep them confidential. The company doing the testing does not wish to be known at this time. A quick comment from the AP writer who is here. The lack of coverage from the mainstream media is not due to lack of interest but from the lack of cooperation from Andrea Rossi. He has turned a lot of media away who have wanted to come in. The AP writer has gained Rossi's trust over time, and hence was invited to be here today.Rossi will be sending us all the data this evening _FreeEnergyTruth Update

1 MW E-Cat In a Shipping Container

At this time, Andrea Rossi's 1 MW LENR E-Cat reactor is being tested by "a large industrial entity" which has contracted with Rossi to buy the device if it meets specifications. After several days of tuning the reactor, Rossi communicated yesterday that he is ready for the test.

Meanwhile, professor Sergio Focardi has affirmed on video that the E-Cat device will revolutionise the entire world of energy over the next 150 years. Here is further information about the work of James Patterson, the inventor of a parallel LENR system with some similarities to Rossi's device.

Here are some speculations from Mark Gibbs on how a working E-Cat -- and similar devices -- might change the world:
1. Where today you use petroleum products for motive energy (for example, to propel cars, trucks, and planes) you will be using steam engines or Stirling engines. In theory you’ll be able to drive across the country for cents. What will that do to the trucking industry? The shipping industry? Aviation?
2. With the demand for gasoline falling overnight and petroleum becoming needed primarily as feedstock for plastics, the US would immediately become self-sufficient in crude oil. What will happen in the Middle East without the huge flow of cash from the Western hemisphere? How will world politics be changed?
3. An E-Cat system could power your house or office making the existing grid obsolete. What would it mean to make your personal and corporate electricity and gas bills nearly zero?
4. The cost of manufacturing would fall very quickly with energy removed from the equation. If you are in manufacturing of any kind, this will affect you enormously. How fast could and how would you rework your corporate strategy to become competitive in a market where prices suddenly plummeted (note that the suddenly reduced cash flows would play havoc with the finance structures of many corporations). _Mark Gibbs

Here is an interesting video discussion by Edmund Storms on the potential of certain biological micro-organisms to catalyse the isotopic transmutation of radioactive isotopes to non-radioactive isotopes. If such LENR transmutation reactions take place within micro-organisms, then such microbes would have to be considered the smallest self-contained nuclear reactors on the planet.

There is a distinct "Alice in Wonderland" flavour to this entire episode, which will grow even stranger and more surreal should Rossi's 1 MW E-Cat actually pass its test. Since the test is being administered by a skeptical customer who is contractually obligated to hand over a large amount of cash if the reactor lives up to its advance billing, a passing grade on this test will mean something.

Al Fin energy analysts have remained skeptical throughout these proceedings, and yet up to this point, Mr. Rossi has basically done everything he said he was going to do. Wait and see what a group of independent testers think, with money on the line.

Updated reports on today's E-Cat test
Here is another link for updated information on the test. Also check at Ecatnews.net, eCat Economics and Governance, or E-Cat World.


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27 October 2011

Escaping the Zombie Apocalypse By Air

Zombie Safe House Contest

The above entry in the "Zombie Safe House Contest" presents a way of being above it all, sustainably. The project even utilises zombies as an energy and fuel source.
In the image above, you can see a mass airborne exodus from the zombie zone, enabled by the massive 3,000 passenger nuclear mother-ship. The advantage of the nuclear mothership is its ability to stay airborne for years at a time, acting as a shuttle between zombie-safe zones. Lesser aircraft are able to land on the deck of the mothership, dropping off and picking up passengers to and from safe landing zones.
Here you see a large airship arriving at a safe zone, far from the zombie infested cities. It is ready to discharge freight and passengers, in preparation for another rescue mission to the danger zone.
Here you see a smaller escape vehicle, meant for both personal and family escape. It can also be used as a short and intermediate range scouting craft, to provide advance warning to the safe zones, in case of possible zombie incursions.
Here you see the Eurocopter flying car, currently only available to upper level EU officials, for rapid zombie escape. The EU hopes to be able to make the escape vehicle available to ordinary Europeans before it is too late.

Originally published on Al Fin Potpourri

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Ancient Oil and Mass Extinctions: Connecting the Dots

Expansion to Extinction Over Last 540 Million Years

Mass extinctions have played an important role in the evolution of Terrestrial life. With each mass extinction, the way is cleared for the spread and adaptation of surviving species, and for the emergence of new species. But that is not what we will talk about today.

Recent findings in geochemistry have called into doubt some of the pet theories of climate scientologists scientists concerning acid oceans and mass ocean extinctions. Here is the abstract from the paper in PNAS:
Periods of oceanic anoxia have had a major influence on the evolutionary history of Earth and are often contemporaneous with mass extinction events. Changes in global (as opposed to local) redox conditions can be potentially evaluated using U system proxies. The intensity and timing of oceanic redox changes associated with the end-Permian extinction horizon (EH) were assessed from variations in 238U/235U (δ238U) and Th/U ratios in a carbonate section at Dawen in southern China. The EH is characterized by shifts toward lower δ238U values (from -0.37‰ to -0.65‰), indicative of an expansion of oceanic anoxia, and higher Th/U ratios (from 0.06 to 0.42), indicative of drawdown of U concentrations in seawater. Using a mass balance model, we estimate that this isotopic shift represents a sixfold increase in the flux of U to anoxic facies, implying a corresponding increase in the extent of oceanic anoxia. The intensification of oceanic anoxia coincided with, or slightly preceded, the EH and persisted for an interval of at least 40,000 to 50,000 y following the EH. These findings challenge previous hypotheses of an extended period of whole-ocean anoxia prior to the end-Permian extinction. _PNAS

More information on the study

The suggestion is that the ocean anoxia was secondary to the main extinction event, rather than being the cause. More study will be necessary to validate the isotopic techniques utilised. But this finding cannot but be a disappointment to the politically correct denizens of deep climate scientology science.

But what interests Al Fin know-it-all-o-tologists about this information, is how it may relate to the topic of the production and sequestration of ancient oil. Deep ocean anoxia is not only related to mass extinction events, it is also a component of oil formation in the deep seabed.

Sea bottom anoxia occurs routinely at the mouths of large rivers, where massive sediment routinely buries dead sealife that is constantly deposited on the seafloor. That is why rich oil fields are often found offshore of large river deltas -- either where the deltas are now, or where they were hundreds of millions of years ago.

An ancient oil sleuth must be able to backward-trace the movements of continents and great river valleys, in order to know where to look for such sediment-buried deposits.

Another cause of mass sediment burial of seafloor organic material, is massive volcanic activity. This would be particularly important to an ancient oil sleuth when a group of volcanoes might stay active for millions of years, in the same general vicinity upwind of river deltas or rich upwelling currents.

But in cases of mass extinctions, the large scale deep ocean anoxia occurring at the same time as massive deposition of organic material onto the seafloor, might be a particularly rich time for the initiation of large scale oil production.

When this process occurs over continental crust, the oil can be preserved for a very long time. If it occurs over oceanic crust, the oil may be subducted with the crust into the mantle, where it will likely be converted into short chain hydrocarbons, CO2, CO, and other forms of carbon. The short chain hydrocarbons may return to the crust, and may eventually be recovered economically. Diamond and graphite may also return to depths which allows humans to recover them economically.

Regardless, it is the ancient oil we are interested in. The challenge is to connect the extinction events, the ocean anoxia, and the ancient geographic patterns together, to provide the best guess for the locations of giant oil deposits which might conceivably still exist in an undiscovered, but ultimately recoverable state.

Humans have become accustomed to utilising the easy oil, and are just now getting good at recovering oil from the harsh, deep ocean environments. That is a good thing, because the Earth is 70% ocean-covered.

Still, some the planet which was once covered by oceans is now dry land, and such places -- if they fit the criteria above -- might be some of the first locations to check out.

First published at Al Fin, the Next Level, and also published at Al Fin Energy


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26 October 2011

Starting a New Civilisation from the Ground Up

Global Village Construction Set - TED Talk from Open Source Ecology on Vimeo.

Have you ever considered how you would go about re-starting civilisation if the Earth were struck by a comet, or suffered some other widescale, civilisation-ending catastrophe? The people at Open Source Ecology have, and they are in the process of building the Global Village Construction Sett.

This construction set is a platform which will allow you to build 50 industrial machines that you can use to re-build civilisation from the ground up.

The complete Global Village Construction Set will include 50 different industrial machines, from tractors and sawmills to wind turbines and steam generators and CNC mills and 3D printers and laser cutters. Apparently, with all 50 of these machines, you can create "a small civilization with modern comforts." Yep, that's all it takes. So far, they've prototyped eight of these machines, and with help from Kickstarter, they're hoping to get to work on the other 42 to make them available to hopeful developing civilizations all over the world. _DVice
What Makes the Global Village Construction Set so special?

Open Source- we freely publish our 3d designs, schematics, instructional videos, budgets, and product manuals on our open source wiki and we harness open collaboration with contributors.
Low-Cost- The cost of making or buying our machines are, on average, 8x cheaper than buying from an Industrial Manufacturer, including an average labor cost of $15 hour for a GVCS fabricator and using mail-order parts.
Modular- Motors, parts, assemblies, and power units can interchange.
User-Serviceable - Design-for-disassembly allows the user to take apart, maintain, and fix tools readily without the need to rely on expensive repairmen.
DIY - The user gains control of designing, producing, and modifying the GVCS tool set.
Closed Loop Manufacturing - Metal is an essential component of advanced civilization, and our platform allows for recycling metal into virgin feedstock for producing further GVCS technologies - thereby allowing for cradle-to-cradle manufacturing cycles
High Performance - Performance standards must match or exceed those of industrial counterparts for the GVCS to be viable.
Flexible Fabrication - It has been demonstrated that the flexible use of generalized machinery in appropriate-scale production is a viable alternative to centralized production.
Open Business Models - We encourage the replication of enterprises that derive from the GVCS platform as a route to truly free enterprise - along the ideals of Jeffersonian democracy.
Industrial Efficiency - In order to provide a viable choice for a resilient lifestyle, the GVCS platform matches or exceeds productivity standards of industrial counterparts. _Global Village Construction Set
Cross-posted to Al Fin, the Next Level

This type of hands-on, can-do creative tinkering-in-depth, is something that has been largely lost in an American society that has handed its children over to an irresponsible and untrustworthy academia. The result of this misplaced trust, and low rates of trained practical competencies, is the higher education bubble, high unemployment, lowered rates of inventions and independent business startups, and an extremely unhealthy growth in dependency on government.

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Growing Small Brains on Chips -- What Can We Learn?

Scientists can now grow interconnecting cultures of nerve cells on microfluidic chips in the lab, to study neuron growth and synaptic activity. MIT postdoc Peng Shi is hoping to use that technique to learn more about neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.
a team of MIT researchers has developed a new way to grow synapses between cells in a laboratory dish, under very controlled conditions that enable rapid, large-scale screens for potential new drugs.

Using their new technology, the researchers have already identified several compounds that can strengthen synapses. Such drugs could help compensate for the cognitive decline seen in Alzheimer’s, says Mehmet Fatih Yanik, the Robert J. Shillman (1974) Career Development Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at MIT and leader of the research team. Yanik and his colleagues described the technology in the Oct. 25 online edition of the journal Nature Communications.

Lead author of the study is MIT postdoc Peng Shi. _MedXpress_Physorg
Peng Shi began working with this technique for studying synapses when he was doing PhD work at Columbia. Here is an earlier study using similar microfluidic chips for studying axon guidance in development.
Proper function of the nervous system relies on the formation of precise connections between nerve cells that span complex substrates and long distances. Axon guidance is a key process in establishing this architecture, in which cells must appropriately integrate and respond to multiple signals presented in the extracellular environment 1. These cues come from a wide range of signaling systems, including “canonical” guidance molecules (e.g. Netrins, Slits, Semaphorins, and Ephrins), morphogens (e.g. Hedgehog, BMP, and Wnt families), growth factors (e.g. NGF, BDNF, HGF, and FGFs), and cell adhesion proteins (e.g. N-cadherin, NCAM, L1-CAM). Extensive cross-talk between these pathways has been demonstrated, introducing additional layer of complexity to the mechanisms controlling axonal navigation. Moreover, guidance molecules that are often associated with extracellular matrix components are received and interpreted by nerve cells in a highly localized manner within the growth cones found at the tips of growing axons. Axon guidance is thus an intricate process occurring on a subcellular scale, requiring highly refined experimental techniques to study and manipulate.

Contemporary microfabrication methods have much promise for enhancing the tools that are used to study how localized signaling drives cell function. For example, Campenot chambers, which consist of millimeter-scale barriers that isolate axons and cell bodies into separate compartments, have been widely used to investigate local signaling by restricting the activity of pharmacological agents to distinct parts of the neuron 2. This allows localized study of receptors on the cell surface and limits the effects of detrimental or toxic drugs to the rest of the cell. Microfabricated versions of the Campenot chamber have been more recently developed that provide higher reproducibility and better compatibility with a broad range of nerve cells... _LabChip 2010 April 21

Abstract of Peng Shi's PhD thesis on using microfluidic labs-on-chips to study neuronal development and regeneration

Good overview of the use of microfluidic chambers for the study of synapses (PDF)

Why do I refer to such work as "growing small brains on chips?" Because that is the possiblity that this research promises for the future. Different chips can be fabricated to serve as scaffolds for different types of brain structures and substructures. One chip could host a cerebellum, another chip a hippocampus, another chip a prefrontal cortex . . . and so on. It sounds like an overly ambitious goal, considering how things currently stand, but then there is nothing wrong with looking far ahead -- as long as it is possible and useful to discover how to get there from here.

Very tedious work, you say? Yes, but we have vastly improved tools of micro- and nano-fabrication, along with exponentially improving computational tools, and rapidly increasing knowledge of the genetics and molecular dynamics of neuronal activity and needs.

It is the nature of nerve cells to exhibit spontaneous activity, both in normal development, and in cell culture. As neuronal cultures become more sophisticated -- grown on crafted scaffolds and supplied with a specialised combination of humoral factors -- it will be possible to grow miniature models of brain components which exhibit spontaneous activity. As you then interconnect the different models together, you might expect the different miniature conglomerates to begin communicating, spontaneously. And so on.

This is not what Peng Shi and other researchers are doing. They are looking at synaptic strength, and trying to find ways to strengthen synapses in hopes of finding ways to treat neurodegenerative diseases. Such research is extremely important, and critical to the needs of modern, aging societies.

But growing miniature, working brains using future iterations of similar technologies as used by Peng Shi is something of a holy grail to the Dr. Frankensteins among us. You know who you are.

The aims of such in vitro whole brain modeling are largely theoretical at this point, but who knows? We may eventually find the cure to the Idiocracy and the Age of Zombies.

More: Brian Wang presents links to an MIT article about this research and a link to the study.

Supplementary information (PDF)

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25 October 2011

Warning: This Tune Unsafe for Listening While on Zombie Guard Duty

...women were connected to sensors and given challenging puzzles to complete against the clock in order to induce a level of stress.

They were then played different songs as their heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and brain activity were recorded.

Studies found Weightless was 11 per cent more relaxing than any other song and even made many of the women 'drowsy' in the lab.

It induced a 65 per cent reduction in overall anxiety and brought them to a level 35 per cent lower than their usual resting rates.

The song features guitar, piano and electronic samples of natural soundscapes. It is pierced throughout by buddhist-like chants that induce a trance-like state. _DailyMail

"Weightless" is reputed to be the "most relaxing tune ever (mp3)." People are advised not to listen to it while driving, so it goes without saying that it should not be on your playlist while transiting zombie zones.
A British band and a group of scientists have made the most relaxing tune in the history of man (mp3)....

Sound therapists and Manchester band Marconi Union compiled the song. Scientists played it to 40 women and found it to be more effective at helping them relax than songs by Enya, Mozart and Coldplay.

Weightless works by using specific rhythms, tones, frequencies and intervals to relax the listener. A continuous rhythm of 60 BPM causes the brainwaves and heart rate to synchronise with the rhythm: a process known as ‘entrainment’. Low underlying bass tones relax the listener and a low whooshing sound with a trance-like quality takes the listener into an even deeper state of calm. _ShortList
Here is a top-ten list of most relaxing songs taken from a recent study, see if you agree:
The study - commissioned by bubble bath and shower gel firm Radox Spa - found the song [Weightless] was even more relaxing than a massage, walk or cup of tea. So relaxing is the tune, apparently, that people are being...advised against listening to it while driving.

The top 10 most relaxing tunes were: 1. Marconi Union - Weightless 2. Airstream - Electra 3. DJ Shah - Mellomaniac (Chill Out Mix) 4. Enya - Watermark 5. Coldplay - Strawberry Swing 6. Barcelona - Please Don't Go 7. All Saints - Pure Shores 8. AdelevSomeone Like You 9. Mozart - Canzonetta Sull'aria 10. Cafe Del Mar - We Can Fly _ShortList
Of course each person has his own grouping of tunes which elicit the greatest relaxation. But the list above serves as an example.

Using modern brain monitoring and imaging, scientists can test the relaxation effects of different types of brain inputs to all of the senses, as well as effects of internal inputs such drugs or electrical impulses via implants.

Audio relaxation utilising binaural beats and other subliminal effects are likely to grow ever more popular, as their effectiveness improves. When used in combination with complementary electromagnetic and advanced visual stimulation, it is likely that such non-invasive and time controllable mood control methods could become more popular than recreational drugs, among a certain smart set.

But when combined with structured mental training, meditations, and advanced neurofeedback, such an approach might revolutionise psychotherapy. For maximum effectiveness, such avant-garde psychotherapy would need to bring out a full range of emotions in an appropriate sequence -- much like the Sentic Cycles of Manfred Clyne. The deep relaxation segment would likely occur near the end, with a finishing touch of rejuvenatingly brisk wakeup to finish.

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24 October 2011

Peak Ingenuity and Peak Manpower Skills: Human Capital Needed

When confronted with a problem such as the rapid growth in demand for fuels and energy, humans need to use their ingenuity to develop new technologies. They also need to train a manpower force in the skills needed to develop, operate, and maintain the new energy technologies. Let's look at the Canadian oilsands as a case in point:
It was not until the late 1990s that the oilsands finally began to prove themselves as a large-scale commercial resource, facilitated by a crucial tax reform and lessrigid government intervention, and by major advances in technology.

The mining process was modernized, expanded in scale, and made more flexible. Fixed conveyer belts were replaced with huge trucks with the biggest tires in the world, and with giant shovels that gather up oilsands and carry them to upgraders that separate out the bitumen. Refining processes then upgrade the bitumen into higher-quality synthetic crude oil, akin to light, sweet crude oil, which can be processed in a conventional refinery into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and all the other normal products. _CalgaryHerald
There has always been a shortage of human ingenuity. In situations where human societies are short on inventiveness and competent tech and trade skills, the fate of that society is usually quite dire. When people talk about "peak oil" or "peak resources," they do not usually understand that what they are talking about is peak ingenuity along with peak manpower skills. Many times in history, the difference between the total collapse of a society and the prospering of the same society, is a simple innovation combined with sufficient manpower skills to take advantage of the innovation.

Consider this question in the light of Canadian oil sands:
...a breakthrough introduced an alternative way of producing oilsands - not with mining but rather in situ (Latin for "in place"); that is, with the crucial link in the production chain done in place - underground. This was very significant for many reasons, including the fact that 80 per cent of the oilsands resource is too deep for surface mining.

The in situ process uses natural gas to create superhot steam that is injected to heat the bitumen underground. The resulting liquid - a combination of bitumen and hot water - is fluid enough to flow into a well and to the surface. The best-known process is SAGD - for steam-assisted gravity drainage, and pronounced as "sag-dee." It has been described by oilsands historian Paul Chastko as "the single most important development in oilsands technology" in a half century.

Altogether, since 1997, over $120 billion of investment has flowed into Alberta's oilsands, now defined as a "mega-resource."

Oilsands production more than doubled from 600,000 barrels per day in 2000 to almost 1.5 million barrels per day in 2010. By 2020 it could double again to 3 mbd - an output that would be higher than the current oil production of either Venezuela or Kuwait. Adding in its conventional output, Canada could reach almost 4 mbd by 2020. _CalgaryHerald
Canadian oilsands do not solve the world's problems of energy scarcity. But they do temporarily abate the problem for certain parts of the world. And the impact of Canadian oilsands on global oil prices -- once high-throughput pipelines to the coast are built -- will grow significantly.
The technologies for producing oilsands continue to evolve, and increasing ingenuity is being applied to shrinking the environmental footprint and reducing the CO2 emissions in the production process. As the industry grows in scale, it will require wider collaboration on the R& D challenges not only among companies and the province of Alberta but also with Canada's federal government.

Yet the very scale of the resource, and its reliability, puts a premium on its continued evolution of this particular industry. Oilsands are, after all, an enormous resource. For the 175 billion barrels of recoverable oilsands is only 10 percent of the estimated 1.8 trillion barrels of oilsands "in place." The development of the other 90 per cent requires further technological progress. _CalgaryHerald
It usually seems as if human innovators are "running in place," running as fast as they can just to keep from falling behind. Thomas Malthus put his finger on one key issue -- human societies without appreciable ingenuity or manpower skills will out-reproduce the ability of the land to support them. But Julian Simon presents the flip side of the coin -- for societies that possess innovators and skilled manpower.

Miracle of Oil from Sand by Ronald Bailey, in Reason Magazine -- an on the scenes look at Alberta oilsands.

There is never an end to scarcity, because there is never an end to human desire and ambition -- which are essentially limitless.

Lefty-Luddites of the green dieoff.orgy persuasion, want to do away with humans -- or 90% of them at least -- in order to do away with "scarcity." By eliminating most human beings, you are eliminating most human desire and ambition, or so they think. But that is not really how it works. Perhaps they will find out the hard way.

Or perhaps pockets of civilisation will learn how to instill innovativeness and competencies into their offspring, so that the dieoff dreams of the greens will never come to reality. Competent innovating societies that were wise, would look to the possibilities that exist in the universe at large.

Earth is a fine birthplace and cradle. It should be preserved in good condition over the indefinite future. In the meantime, the ultimate future for creatures that are resourceful and competent, is the larger universe.

We might start by taking off the straitjackets of political correctness and faux environmentalism, so that we can see our problems for what they are.

The above was adapted from material previously published on Al Fin Energy blog.

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23 October 2011

Is This the State of the Earth, Prior to the Collapse?

Globaia.org has compiled a set of maps which reveal much of the "human layer of planet Earth." The energy map above reveals pipelines, powerlines, and other parts of the planetary energy infrastructure.
This map reveals the cities, the roads, the airways, the shipping ways, and more. Note where most of the action takes place, and consider why that may be so.
This map reveals where humans are procreating the most rapidly, and where future population growth is likely to occur. This is particularly important, as the United Nations ramps up overpopulation fears this week at a highly publicised event.
This map reveals the per person GDP of selected nations, as well as the estimated average population IQ by nations. Note that it is the poorest and least intelligent populations which exhibit the highest fertility. As we have learned recently, these are also some of the world's most violent populations.

So, is it time to panic? The global hysteria bandwagon and PR machine appears to be mobilised for an all out panic blitz via the skankstream media. The rather sleazy media release of partial and preliminary conclusions of the BEST Project has tipped the hand of the backstage manager -- particularly when combined with this coming week's UN population report extravaganza. More on BEST Project from Steve McIntyre.

According to our overlords, it is time to panic. According to our masters, we have no choice but hand total control of our lives over to those who know best. The alternative, you see, is total devastation of the entire planet. A race of conquering extraterrestrial invaders could not craft a more stark ultimatum: Surrender, or your planet will be destroyed!

The clear -- but unintentional -- message from this ramping up of public hysteria and alarmism, is that the overseers are beginning to see their grand plans falling apart in their hands.

What has changed over the past year, for the UN to suddenly warn that the world population may grow to 15 billion by the year 2100 -- when the message from the UN last year was that the most likely number in the year 2100 would be 10 billion or fewer? This appears to be a re-cycled prediction from the 20th century of population angst, brought back to life to suit a particular purpose in time and place.

Large portions of the populations of North America, Europe, and Oceania, have begun to move away from this mass hysteria over climate, population, resource scarcity, and environmental doom. Suddenly, a tempered optimism is gaining ground in the public sphere. We have grown emboldened enough to ask ourselves: "Would the world end if we became more optimistic?".

But this optimism is unacceptable, so we are being told to panic by the UN, the climate orthodoxy, the multi-billion dollar Green power block, and by powerful members within our own governments. We are being pressured to give up and let our betters take over the planning and operations of virtually every detail of our lives. We are being told that we have no choice in the matter.

But if we truly had no choice in the matter, I suspect that the public relations machine of the movement -- in conjunction with the skankstream media -- would not be resorting to these dishonest and frantically thuggish methods of influencing public opinion.

Question authority.

All of this renewed drive toward a grand global public hysteria is oriented toward upcoming elections. Many of the politicos who are favoured by the movement, are in danger of losing power, causing the movement to lose precious momentum. This momentum must be maintained at all costs. Thus the rush to panic the herd.

But when things are rushed, mistakes are made. These mistakes allow clearer glimpses into the machinations of the movement's coalition. That is when the weak points can be noted, and studied.

Pay close attention to what happens next.

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22 October 2011

Debating a Near-Term Singularity: Kurzweil vs. Allen

When will humanity reach Singularity, that now-famous point in time when artificial intelligence becomes greater than human intelligence? It is aptly called the Singularity proponents like Ray Kurzweil: like the singularity at the center of a black hole, we have no idea what happens once we reach it. However, the debate today is not what happens after the Singularity, but when will it happen. _BigThink
In the video below, Kurzweil discusses some of his ideas about the coming singularity, including timelines and cautionary notes.

Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen recently expressed skepticism about Kurzweil's timeline for the singularity, in a Technology Review article.
Futurists like Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil have argued that the world is rapidly approaching a tipping point, where the accelerating pace of smarter and smarter machines will soon outrun all human capabilities. They call this tipping point the singularity, because they believe it is impossible to predict how the human future might unfold after this point. Once these machines exist, Kurzweil and Vinge claim, they'll possess a superhuman intelligence that is so incomprehensible to us that we cannot even rationally guess how our life experiences would be altered. Vinge asks us to ponder the role of humans in a world where machines are as much smarter than us as we are smarter than our pet dogs and cats. Kurzweil, who is a bit more optimistic, envisions a future in which developments in medical nanotechnology will allow us to download a copy of our individual brains into these superhuman machines, leave our bodies behind, and, in a sense, live forever. It's heady stuff.

While we suppose this kind of singularity might one day occur, we don't think it is near.

...Kurzweil's reasoning rests on the Law of Accelerating Returns and its siblings, but these are not physical laws. They are assertions about how past rates of scientific and technical progress can predict the future rate. Therefore, like other attempts to forecast the future from the past, these "laws" will work until they don't. More problematically for the singularity, these kinds of extrapolations derive much of their overall exponential shape from supposing that there will be a constant supply of increasingly more powerful computing capabilities. For the Law to apply and the singularity to occur circa 2045, the advances in capability have to occur not only in a computer's hardware technologies (memory, processing power, bus speed, etc.) but also in the software we create to run on these more capable computers. To achieve the singularity, it isn't enough to just run today's software faster. We would also need to build smarter and more capable software programs. Creating this kind of advanced software requires a prior scientific understanding of the foundations of human cognition, and we are just scraping the surface of this. _Technology Review_Paul Allen
Allen goes on to discuss the "complexity brake," which the limitations of the human brain (and the limitations of the human understanding of the human brain) will apply to any endeavour that begins to accelerate in complexity too quickly.

Allen's argument is remarkably similar to arguments previously put forward by Al Fin neurscientists and cognitivists. The actual way that the human brain works, is something that is very poorly understood -- even by the best neuroscientists and cognitivists. If that is true, the understanding of the brain by artificial intelligence researchers tends to be orders of magnitude poorer. If these are the people who are supposed to come up with super-human intelligence and the "uploading of human brains" technology that posthuman wannabes are counting on, good luck!

But now, Ray Kurzweil has chosen the same forum to respond to Paul Allen's objections:
Allen writes that "the Law of Accelerating Returns (LOAR). . . is not a physical law." I would point out that most scientific laws are not physical laws, but result from the emergent properties of a large number of events at a finer level. A classical example is the laws of thermodynamics (LOT). If you look at the mathematics underlying the LOT, they model each particle as following a random walk. So by definition, we cannot predict where any particular particle will be at any future time. Yet the overall properties of the gas are highly predictable to a high degree of precision according to the laws of thermodynamics. So it is with the law of accelerating returns. Each technology project and contributor is unpredictable, yet the overall trajectory as quantified by basic measures of price-performance and capacity nonetheless follow remarkably predictable paths.

...Allen writes that "these 'laws' work until they don't." Here, Allen is confusing paradigms with the ongoing trajectory of a basic area of information technology. If we were examining the trend of creating ever-smaller vacuum tubes, the paradigm for improving computation in the 1950s, it's true that this specific trend continued until it didn't. But as the end of this particular paradigm became clear, research pressure grew for the next paradigm.

...Allen's statement that every structure and neural circuit is unique is simply impossible. That would mean that the design of the brain would require hundreds of trillions of bytes of information. Yet the design of the brain (like the rest of the body) is contained in the genome. And while the translation of the genome into a brain is not straightforward, the brain cannot have more design information than the genome. Note that epigenetic information (such as the peptides controlling gene expression) do not appreciably add to the amount of information in the genome. Experience and learning do add significantly to the amount of information, but the same can be said of AI systems.

...How do we get on the order of 100 trillion connections in the brain from only tens of millions of bytes of design information? Obviously, the answer is through redundancy. There are on the order of a billion pattern-recognition mechanisms in the cortex. They are interconnected in intricate ways, but even in the connections there is massive redundancy. The cerebellum also has billions of repeated patterns of neurons.

...Allen mischaracterizes my proposal to learn about the brain from scanning the brain to understand its fine structure. It is not my proposal to simulate an entire brain "bottom up" without understanding the information processing functions. We do need to understand in detail how individual types of neurons work, and then gather information about how functional modules are connected. The functional methods that are derived from this type of analysis can then guide the development of intelligent systems. Basically, we are looking for biologically inspired methods that can accelerate work in AI, much of which has progressed without significant insight as to how the brain performs similar functions. _TechnologyReview_Ray Kurzweil
Kurzweil's attitude seems to be: "Because difficult problems have arisen and been solved in the past, we can expect that all difficult problems that arise in the future will also be solved." Perhaps I am being unfair to Kurzweil here, but his reasoning appears to be fallacious in a rather facile way.

Al Fin neuroscientists and cognitivists warn Kurzweil and other singularity enthusiasts not to confuse the cerebellum with the cerebrum, in terms of complexity. They further warn Kurzweil not to assume that a machine intelligence researcher can simply program a machine to emulate neurons and neuronal networks to a certain level of fidelity, and then vastly expand that model to the point that it achieves human-level intelligence. That is a dead end trap, which will end up wasting many billions of dollars of research funds in North America, Europe, and elsewhere.

This debate has barely entered its opening phase. Paul Allen is ahead in terms of a realistic appraisal of the difficulties ahead. Ray Kurzweil scores points based upon his endless optimism and his proven record of skillful reductionistic analyses and solutions of previous problems.

Simply put, the singularity is not nearly as near as Mr. Kurzweil predicts. But the problem should not be considered impossible. Clearly, we will need a much smarter breed of human before we can see our way clear to the singularity. As smart as Mr. Kurzweil is, and as rich as Mr. Allen is, we are going to need something more from the humans who eventually birth the singularity.

Written originally for Al Fin, the Next Level

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21 October 2011

The Third World? It's Murder Out There!

The above map gives a rough idea of where the global hot spots of murder occur. Across Latin America, the Caribbean, SubSaharan Africa, and other third world areas. A finer level of detail, seen in the tables below, reveals the third world hot spots of crime seen first in regions, then in particular countries. If we chose to look even closer, we would see concentrations of third world crime within the inner cities and banlieus of Europe, North America, and Oceania.

The tables below are taken from Wikipedia "List of countries by intentional homicide rate"

Intentional homicide rates per 100,000 population by region 2004[5] 2010[6]
Southern Africa 37.3 32
Central America 29.3 25
South America 25.9 21
West and Central Africa 21.6 19
East Africa 20.8 23
Africa 20 17.4
Caribbean 18.1 21
Americas 16.2 15.5
East Europe 15.7 7
North Africa 7.6 6
World 7.6 6.9
North America 6.5 4.7
Central Asia and Transcaucasian countries 6.6 6
Europe 5.4 3.5
Near and Middle East/Southwest Asia 4.4 3
Oceania 4 3.5
South Asia 3.4 4
Asia 3.2 3.1
Southeast Europe 3.2 1.5
East and Southeast Asia 2.8 3
West and Central Europe 1.5 1.2

Country Sources 2010
 Honduras [7][8] 78
 El Salvador [7][8] 66
 Jamaica [7] 52
 Venezuela [9] 48
 Belize [7][8][10] 42
 Guatemala [7][8] 41
 Colombia [11] 38
 Saint Kitts and Nevis [7] 38
 Trinidad and Tobago [12] 37
 South Africa [13] 32
 Bahamas [7] 28
 Brazil [14] 25
 Dominican Republic [7] 25
 Saint Lucia [7] 25
 Dominica [7] 22
 Panama [7][8] 22
 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines [7] 22
 Ecuador [7] 18
 Guyana [7] 18
 Mexico [15] 18
 Russia [16] 13
 Nicaragua [7][8] 13
 Grenada [7] 12
 Paraguay [7] 12
 Barbados [7] 11
 Costa Rica [7][8] 11
 Bolivia [7] 8.9
 Moldova [7] 7.4
 Haiti [7] 6.9
 Antigua and Barbuda [7] 6.8
 Estonia [17] 6.3
 Uruguay [7] 6.1
 Thailand [7] 5.3
 United States [18] 4.8
 Georgia [7] 4.1
 Latvia [19] 3.6
 Taiwan [20] 3.2
 Bangladesh [21] 2.4
 Lebanon [7] 2.2
 Israel [7][22] 2.1
 Macedonia [7] 1.94
 New Zealand [23] 1.76
 Czech Republic [24] 1.67
 Canada [25] 1.62
 Morocco [7] 1.40
 Chile [26] 1.33
 Ireland [27] 1.25
 Netherlands [28] 0.87
 Denmark [29] 0.85
 Germany [30] 0.84
 Japan (including attempts) [31] 0.83
 Austria [32] 0.56
Intentional homicide tends to drop off in areas of greater development, and where populations are most homogeneous and the least multicultural. As Europe, Canada, and Oceania become more multicultural -- closer to the United States -- the crime rates for those areas are likely to approach the crime rates in the US. If countries such as Finland are able to resist immigration from the third world, they should be able to keep their crime rates among the lowest in the world.

Honduras is on the path to having the highest murder rates in the world.

Jamaica is a perennial crime capital of the Caribbean -- which is saying quite a lot.

Latin America is often dangerous, but if you look you should find some safe havens.

Part of the problem involves race. As we have noted before, in the US, African American males are the worst violent offenders. Take away African American crime from the US, and the country compares well with the best of Europe on that score.

Areas of the world with large populations of African descent will typically have high rates of violent crime. Low IQ and low impulse control appear to be the most likely heritable traits contributing to high violent crime among Africans and among persons of African descent. The violent gangsta rap culture also contributes an "expectation of violence" and early death among its many adherents in the ghetto and among wannabes elsewhere.

US Hispanics likewise exhibit higher rates of violent crime than both European and Asian Americans, although Hispanic crime rates are not nearly as high as African American crime rates. That being the case, one must wonder why Latin American crime rates rival the worst of African rates.

Part of the problem is the violently competitive drug trade in Latin America. Another part of the problem is the conflation caused by African-descended populations living in Latin American cities contributing to high crime rates there. In addition, given the extreme high rates of crime within some indigenous tribes in Latin America, one must allow for the possibility that some behavioural traits contributing to criminal behaviour are inherited within the mestizo communities. Original settlers and conquerors from Spain and Portugal were not necessarily the most peace-loving members of their societies. They have no doubt passed along some of their propensity to violence to their descendants. Finally, the latino culture is a machismo culture, which can contribute to postures of ready violence among men, often egged on by women.

Given these possible reasons for high crime in Africa and Latin America, it should be clear that the politically correct agenda of modern leftists will be of absolutely no help at all in lowering third world crime rates.

So what do we do? First of all, immigration from the third world into the advanced world should be severely curtailed immediately. Second, black markets within the advanced world which contribute to third world crime should be crippled, using market means and deregulation as much as possible rather than law enforcement. Third, every effort should be made to aid the deportation of third world career criminals who have taken up residence within advanced nations.

More on this topic later.

Previously published on abu al-fin

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