31 January 2012

Open Courseware and Online Learning: A Dynamic Flux

The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) has agreed to join Massachusetts Institute of Technology‘s (MIT) OpenCourseWare community...MIT’s OpenCourseWare currently has over 250 universities onboard and the prominent members include Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore; Yale University; Peking University; Harvard Law School; University of Notre Dame; Tufts University; University of California, Irvine and Utah State University. The consortium claims to have published materials from more than 13,000 courses in 20 languages, available through its website. MIT had reportedly invited IIT to join its OpenCourseWare consortium in 2007 but IIT had apparently declined the invitation then, stating that their initiatives are still young to join the Open Source learning bandwagon, as stated by TOI. _Source
Udemy is a new addition to the list of online open courseware providers. Some courses are free, and others require a fee. Udemy provides something called "The Faculty Project" which aims to provide a wide range of free university level courses to online learners, as well as providing a technology platform for professors to create new courses.

The infographic below, from onlinecollegecourses.com, provides a quick snapshot of the rapidly changing entity known as open courseware. A year from now, the entire project is likely to have grown appreciably.
The State of OpenCourseWare
Via: Online College Courses Blog

More sites for free video courses and lectures:


Academic Earth



Some emerging tech trends for online classes

Remember: Anything that moves education toward the open source model, is probably a good thing. Anything that moves education toward increasing dependency upon government and a highly centralised, top-down sanctioning of education, is probably a bad thing.

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When Public Servants Become Public Overlords

The Congressional Budget Office found Monday that federal workers are compensated 16 percent more than comparable private-sector workers on average.

..."While millions of Americans continue to struggle with stagnant wages and high unemployment, government bureaucrats in Washington continue to enjoy significant advantages over those whose tax dollars finance their compensation," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) office said in reaction to the finding. _TheHill
Once new government agencies, departments, and bureaus form, they are forever. They grow and expand their mandates, jurisdictions, and budgets as quickly and widely as they can.

The US federal government will continue to expand to consume whatever the shrinking private sector can give it. Every time a US president, senator, or congressman makes a promise to supply a service to a taxpayer, he is inflating the problem by growing the government.
Federal benefits include:

More expensive health benefits.

Both a defined-benefit and defined-contribution pension plan.

Full retirement at 56.

Retiree health benefits.

Significantly more paid leave than private-sector workers. A federal employee with three years on the job receives all 10 federal holidays, 20 paid vacation days, and 13 sick leave days per year.

Federal employees enjoy job security irrespective of the state of the economy. Since the recession began, federal employment (not including the Postal Service) has risen by 230,000, or 12 percent. Federal employees are almost never fired for poor performance.

Federal employees demonstrate with their actions that they receive better compensation in the public sector than in the private sector: They quit their jobs at one-third the rate of private employees.

Policy Concerns

Taxpayers should not sacrifice so that federal employees can enjoy better pay and benefits than they could hope to receive in the private sector.

Many federal employees retire in their late 50s, collect their pension and retiree health benefits, and then take a second job in the private sector. Taxpayers should not have to subsidize this double-dipping.

The General Schedule does not connect pay and performance. Workers automatically receive step and grade increases in pay whether they work diligently or not. It is almost impossible to fire an underperforming federal employee. This reduces the productivity of federal workers. _Government Pay Is Inflated
We know that government does not create wealth or prosperity, and yet we sit by as government balloons and bloats itself in ways that disrupt and destroy genuine wealth creating, productive entities in the private sector.

The US government is a bloated and somewhat consolidated — but antagonistic — block of catering services, which prepare US taxpayers and private concerns to be eaten by fat, unscrupulous, and well-connected party-goers of the lifelong vulture persuasion.

One does not expect either competence or benevolence from such entities. One merely tries not to be utterly consumed before one is dead.


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30 January 2012

Global Cooling: A Return to the Age of a Frozen Thames?

The supposed ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming is facing an inconvenient challenge after the release of new temperature data showing the planet has not warmed for the past 15 years.

The figures suggest that we could even be heading for a mini ice age to rival the 70-year temperature drop that saw frost fairs held on the Thames in the 17th Century. _DailyMail
A Frozen Thames During Little Ice Age DailyMail

Meanwhile, leading climate scientists yesterday told The Mail on Sunday that, after emitting unusually high levels of energy throughout the 20th Century, the sun is now heading towards a ‘grand minimum’ in its output, threatening cold summers, bitter winters and a shortening of the season available for growing food.

Solar output goes through 11-year cycles, with high numbers of sunspots seen at their peak.
We are now at what should be the peak of what scientists call ‘Cycle 24’ – which is why last week’s solar storm resulted in sightings of the aurora borealis further south than usual. But sunspot numbers are running at less than half those seen during cycle peaks in the 20th Century.

...According to a paper issued last week by the Met Office, there is a 92 per cent chance that both Cycle 25 and those taking place in the following decades will be as weak as, or weaker than, the ‘Dalton minimum’ of 1790 to 1830. In this period, named after the meteorologist John Dalton, average temperatures in parts of Europe fell by 2C.

However, it is also possible that the new solar energy slump could be as deep as the ‘Maunder minimum’ (after astronomer Edward Maunder), between 1645 and 1715 in the coldest part of the ‘Little Ice Age’ when, as well as the Thames frost fairs, the canals of Holland froze solid. _DailyMail
Using the Livingston and Penn Solar Cycle 25 amplitude estimate, this is what the solar cycle record is projected to look like:
Slowing Sun, Cooling Climate WUWT

And, yes, that means the end of the Modern Warm Period. _WUWT David Archibald
Normal Temperature Fluctuation Daily Mail

This graph indicates what global temperatures have done since 1997. Rather than shooting skyward as the "hockey stick" graphs of IPCC fame predicted, temperatures have rather plateau'd, and may be trending downward.
400 Years of Sunspots DailyMail
It is too early to predict whether the sun is approaching a multi-decadal "Dalton Minimum" type decline in activity, or whether it may be on the verge of a more extended "Maunder Minimum" type decline. The difference between the two could be quite important, and solar physicists and astronomers are beginning to take notice.

On the global climate front, ocean scientists are already beginning to note that improved ocean heat content measurements are failing to confirm high priced computer climate models.
WUWT Ocean Temps Diverge From Model Predictions

Because ocean temperatures exhibit a "thermal flywheel effect," ocean temperatures can continue to gradually warm for some time after incoming solar energy has declined. Water, with a 4X higher specific heat than air, takes longer to reverse a temperature trend.

Of course there is a lot more going on with the climate than solar cycles. But thanks to the impressive solar changes that we are witnessing, we may be closer to seeing who the big boss of the climate truly is.

But since many hundreds of billions of dollars in carbon taxes, carbon trades, carbon reparations, and carbon hysteria oriented research are at stake, do not expect the orthodoxy of climate alarmism to take all of this lying down, frozen Thames or no frozen Thames.

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29 January 2012

How Obama Could Help US Energy: Get His Energy Starvationist Government Out of the *&%# Way!

Without his nose growing visibly, the President claimed the government was behind the technological advances that led to the current shale gas boom, and even suggested that he might take credit for the rise in domestic oil production. In fact, Mr. Obama's administration has hampered and castigated oil companies at every turn. In the light of the hysterical grandstanding over the BP Gulf spill (whose impact proved to be greatly exaggerated), it was ironic indeed to hear the President now declare a great opening up of offshore exploration.

The industry has responded to attacks by becoming more innovative and productive. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, between 2007 and 2010, U.S. oil production grew from 5.1 million barrels a day (mbd) to 5.5 mbd. The agency predicts domestic production will hit 6.7 mbd by 2020, helping take imports down to 36% of domestic usage in 2035 from 60% in 2005. So much for peak oil. Meanwhile, the EIA also predicts that by 2016, thanks to the shale boom, the U.S. will be a natural gas exporter. _NatPost
In other words, the US oil & gas sector has grown and prospered despite Obama's agenda of energy starvation. Imagine how much healthier US energy and US industry would be without vicious governmental harassment and regulatory handicapping.

After taking credit for prosperity that has occurred despite everything he could do to shut it down, Mr. Obama goes on to promote the green energy scams which are helping to kill Europe, and which will certainly destroy any economy foolish enough to depend upon them.
One wonders if the President has the slightest clue about the flagging state of the wind and solar industries in Germany, or that what is boosting China's alternatives industry is government subsidies ... from other countries.

The President announced a plan to devote huge swathes of public land to the development of clean energy to power "three million homes." He also apparently committed the Navy to buying a chunk of this power, as if it weren't expensive enough to guard the Strait of Hormuz.

Mercantilist alternative energy strategies represent - as Jimmy Carter famously suggested - the "moral equivalent of war." The problem is that it is war on one's own economy. At least, with his partial ceasefire against the oil industry, President Obama is now only shooting himself in one policy foot rather than both. _NatPost
Obama says he is promoting clean oil technologies, and takes credit for the economic success of technologies which he has tried to kill, but more intelligent people can see through his endless crap. Obama's ongoing (although publicly undeclared) war against coal, oil sands, oil shale kerogens, shale oil & gas, advanced nuclear power, arctic oil, offshore oil, etc. etc. amounts to a total policy of energy starvation -- relentlessly pursued by the EPA, NRC, Interior Department, and a score of other agencies and politically controlled bureaucratic entities.

Warren Meyer: Obama Deserves No Credit for US Oil & Gas Boom

Master Resource: Did the Government Invent the Shale Gas Revolution?

US President Obama Misrepresents His Own Record on Oil & Gas in Televised Speech

Previously published on Al Fin Energy blog


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28 January 2012

China's Skyscrapers of Doom?

In a recent blog post, Brian Wang described an exciting new mass-production method for building skyscrapers more quickly and efficiently, recently developed in China. China has been rapidly boosting the number of high-rises in its cities, even before this development. Now it seems likely that skyscrapers will be rising above Chinese cities more rapidly than ever.

Is this a good thing for China, or does it portend the approach of an economic collapse for the celestial kingdom?
Amid the ongoing bubble watch in China’s real-estate sector, new research Wednesday showed the mainland is home to more than half of the world’s skyscrapers currently under construction.

Barclays Capital said that China is now flashing some of the telltale signs of a bubble on its Skyscraper Index, which is designed to track the correlation between tall buildings and an impending financial crisis.

Slightly over half of the 124 skyscrapers due to be completed in the next six years are in China, according to Barclays, which cited its own in-house research and website Skyscrapernews.

The construction binge will increase the number of skyscrapers in Chinese cities by 87% the report said, noting that the average height of buildings under construction is also increasing.

Barclays analysts said the frenzied activity in these lesser-known cities amounted to “evidence of the expanding building bubble,” adding that its Skyscraper index has acted as barometer of widespread misallocation of capital that can see instances of excesses dating back to before the Great Depression. _Marketwatch
Barclay's suggests that an economic collapse could occur in China as early as 5 years from now, if the past performance of "the skyscraper index" is any guide.

Here is more on the skyscraper index of doom from an article published on Al Fin almost one year ago:
Chinese government officials believe high-rises "show their progress in terms of urbanization and modernism," spur wider development by boosting investor confidence, and symbolize "a city's desire to become modern and international," says Chiow, a Chinese-American based in China for the past 15 years. _USAToday_via_ImpactLab
Lawrence showed that in almost all cases the initiation of construction of a new record-breaking skyscraper preceded major financial corrections and turmoil in economic institutions. Generally, the skyscraper project is announced and construction is begun during the late phase of the boom in the business cycle; when the economy is growing and unemployment is low. This is then followed by a sharp downturn in financial markets, economic recession or depression, and significant increases in unemployment. The skyscraper is then completed during the early phase of the economic correction, unless that correction was revealed early enough to delay or scrap plans for construction. For example, the Chrysler Building in New York was conceived and designed in 1928 and the groundbreaking ceremony was conducted on September 19, 1928. "Black Tuesday" occurred on October 29, 1929, marking the beginning of the Great Depression. Opening ceremonies for the Chrysler Building occurred on May 28, 1930, making it the tallest building in the world. _Mises

Table 1: World's Tallest Buildings
Completed Building Location Height Stories Economic Crisis
1908 Singer New York 612 ft. 48 Panic of 1907
1909 Metropolitan Life New York 700 ft. 50 Panic of 1907
1912 Woolworth New York 792 ft. 57 ——
1929 40 Wall Street New York 927 ft. 71 Great Depression
1930 Chrysler New York 1,046 ft. 77 Great Depression
1931 Empire State New York 1,250 ft. 102 Great Depression
1972/73 World Trade Center New York 1,368 ft. 110 1970s stagflation
1974 Sears Tower Chicago 1,450 ft. 110 1970s stagflation
1997 Petronas Tower Kuala Lumpur 1,483 ft. 88 East Asian
2012 Shanghai Shanghai 1,509 ft. 94 China?
If large buildings are constructed due to high utilisation and strong demand for space, they can be very profitable over their lifetimes. But if a skyscraper is constructed as a symbol or monument to the "greatness of a nation's political structure," the building may remain the empty prayer of a cargo cult.
China is building 44% of the 50 skyscrapers to be completed worldwide in the next six years, increasing the number of skyscrapers in Chinese cities by over 50%, says Andrew Lawrence, an Asian property analyst at investment bank Barclays Capital.

China is already host to six of the 15 tallest, completed buildings in the world, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.

..."The appetite in China for high-rises, in the last five years and the next five, is bigger than ever before in the history of building," says Silas Chiow, China director for Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the U.S. architectural firm, founded in Chicago, responsible for the Burj Khalifa.

The firm is currently engaged in 50 China projects, including the tallest buildings in eight separate cities.

Chinese government officials believe high-rises "show their progress in terms of urbanization and modernism," spur wider development by boosting investor confidence, and symbolize "a city's desire to become modern and international," says Chiow, a Chinese-American based in China for the past 15 years. _USAToday_via_ImpactLab

China is already full of "ghost cities," "ghost housing projects," "ghost office complexes," and "ghost shopping malls."

There is no denying the huge number of people living in China -- many of whom could use better and larger living and working space. But the economic structure of Communist Chinese society is rife with the mal-allocation of resources and enterprise. Corruption permeates the culture, driving much of the "road to nowhere" construction frenzy. Too much of the GDP-inflating construction is of a shoddy nature -- certain to collapse far sooner than projected lifetimes suggest.

Will the "Skyscraper Index" prove prophetic for Potemkin China of the cargo cult, or will the middle kingdom defy the curse of the world's tallest buildings?

More on skyscraper index:
From Mises.org
From CNN here and here

China's empty skyscrapers and office buildings

Amazing satellite images of some of China's ghost cities

World's loneliest shopping mall

More: And just in case you are still thinking that China may be ready to lead the world, perhaps you should think again:
We hear constantly how China's economy has "leapfrogged" other nations and now ranks third in the world — still behind the U.S. — with a total GDP of $3.3 trillion. The truth is more complex.

China has 1.3 billion people. So you're spreading that economy among one-sixth of the world's humanity. As the chart shows, China's economy on a per-person basis — the real measure of success — doesn't even come close to ours. The average American produces over $42,000 a year in goods and services; the average Chinese produces $2,800. That's an enormous gap in productivity.

Moreover, in its recent rankings of economic freedom, the Heritage Foundation put China 135th out of 179 countries. The U.S., even with all its current problems, ranks ninth. Who's the leader?

Citizens in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai live a privileged existence, well-documented by the Western media. Deep inside rural China, however, hundreds of millions live in near-absolute poverty. This isn't a country ready for global economic leadership.

China's economic success has been driven by mercantilist policy of beggaring its own people in the interest of building up massive trade surpluses. Its foreign currency holdings now total $2.9 trillion, and most of that is in U.S. Treasuries and other dollar-denominated assets. That's China's hole-card in talks with the U.S. _IBD
China's ongoing construction boom may be evidence of an economic bubble getting ready to burst. Or it may be possible that China is wealthy enough to be able to afford this massive misallocation of resources into an "infrastructure to nowhere," and not pay a significant price. Time will tell.

Cross-posted from an article originally written for Al Fin Potpourri


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27 January 2012

How the Global Climate Cabal is Destroying Scientific Integrity

Climate Gate Facts

Although the number of publicly dissenting scientists is growing, many young scientists furtively say that while they also have serious doubts about the global-warming message, they are afraid to speak up for fear of not being promoted—or worse. They have good reason to worry. In 2003, Dr. Chris de Freitas, the editor of the journal Climate Research, dared to publish a peer-reviewed article with the politically incorrect (but factually correct) conclusion that the recent warming is not unusual in the context of climate changes over the past thousand years. The international warming establishment quickly mounted a determined campaign to have Dr. de Freitas removed from his editorial job and fired from his university position. Fortunately, Dr. de Freitas was able to keep his university job.

This is not the way science is supposed to work, but we have seen it before—for example, in the frightening period when Trofim Lysenko hijacked biology in the Soviet Union. Soviet biologists who revealed that they believed in genes, which Lysenko maintained were a bourgeois fiction, were fired from their jobs. Many were sent to the gulag and some were condemned to death.

Why is there so much passion about global warming, and why has the issue become so vexing that the American Physical Society, from which Dr. Giaever resigned a few months ago, refused the seemingly reasonable request by many of its members to remove the word "incontrovertible" from its description of a scientific issue? There are several reasons, but a good place to start is the old question "cui bono?" Or the modern update, "Follow the money."

Alarmism over climate is of great benefit to many, providing government funding for academic research and a reason for government bureaucracies to grow. Alarmism also offers an excuse for governments to raise taxes, taxpayer-funded subsidies for businesses that understand how to work the political system, and a lure for big donations to charitable foundations promising to save the planet. Lysenko and his team lived very well, and they fiercely defended their dogma and the privileges it brought them.

Speaking for many scientists and engineers who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate, we have a message to any candidate for public office: There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to "decarbonize" the world's economy. Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically. _WSJ
Science is under assault from within by climate grifters and from without by climate opportunists.

Dedicated climate blogger Tom Nelson is on the front lines of the fight to expose the climate grifters, and to attempt to rescue science from the new dark ages of politically enforced neo-Lysenkoism being forced upon it by special interest groups which have a great deal of money and power on the line.

Tom Nelson Climate Gate Archives

Climategate Archive Watts Up With That

"One of the darkest periods in the history of science":
Instead of seeing large collaborations of meticulous, careful, critical scientists, we instead see a small team of incompetent cowboys, abusing almost every aspect of the framework of science to build a fortress around their “old boys’ club”, to prevent real scientists from seeing the shambles of their “research”. Most people are aghast that this could have happened; and it is only because “climate science” exploded from a relatively tiny corner of academia into a hugely funded industry in a matter of mere years that the perpetrators were able to get away with it for so long.

But as wisely noted by both P. T. Barnum and Abraham Lincoln,

You may fool all the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.

As an increasing number of highly qualified scientists slowly began to realize that the “climate science” community was a facade—and that their vitriolic rebuffs of sensible arguments of mathematics, statistics, and indeed scientific common sense were not the product of scientific rigor at all, but merely self-protection at any cost—the veil began to drop on what has already become clear as the greatest scientific fraud in this history of mankind.

This is one of the darkest periods in the history of science. Those who love science, and all it stands for, will be pained by what they read below. However, the crisis is here, and cannot be avoided. _Assassination Science
The whole episode would be laughable if not for the devastation that it is dealing to the funding and administration of science and science journalism, and to the economic sectors that intersect with the carbon hysteria orthodoxy -- such as energy. The threat of a massive multi $trillion redistribution of funds from Europe, North America, and other advanced regions to the kleptocracies of the third world -- via the corrupt United Nations infrastructure -- is no laughing matter, either.


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26 January 2012

The Rocket Men of Private Space: The Future, Finally?

Rocket Men and Futurists

Ever since Albert Gore Jr. took control of NASA funding in the 1990s, the US space agency has been on the decline, in terms of human exploration of space. Mr. Gore helped shift the emphasis of NASA funding over to climate research, and paybacks to powerful campaign backers -- shunting funds away from the type of programs that space enthusiasts wanted to see.

With the coming of President Obama, NASA is really and truly passing the baton of manned space travel and exploration to private entities -- and none too soon! Below are excerpts from a Reason Magazine article profiling the "Rocket Men," the men who are opening the new frontier of private space:
The Daredevil: Elon Musk

Musk, a Stanford grad school dropout who was born in South Africa, made his fortune—estimated at $670 million—as one of the founders of the online payment site PayPal. Then he founded Tesla Motors, where he led development of an all-electric sports car.

After the space shuttles were retired, NASA was forced to start paying Russians to ferry Americans and their gear back and forth to the International Space Station, at about $63 million per seat. Musk says SpaceX can do it for one-third the price. The added risk of throwing humans—or as Musk refers to them, “biological cargo”—doesn’t seem to worry him.

The Mogul: Richard Branson

Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson isn’t a rocket scientist, but he knows a good publicity stunt when he sees it. The Ansari X Prize, which offered $10 million in private money for the first nongovernmental organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft twice in a two-week period, brought a burst of public attention to the commercial space race in 2004. Branson quickly snapped up the rights to the winning vehicle, SpaceShipOne, and the team that went with it, including famous aviation whiz Burt Rutan.

Since then Virgin has been working on SpaceShipTwo, which would carry two pilots and six passengers a few miles above the Karman line (the generally accepted threshold 62 miles up that separates Earth’s atmosphere from outer space) to check out the view and enjoy a brief period of weightlessness. Charging $200,000 per person (with a $20,000 deposit, please) Virgin Galactic already has 450 people signed up to fly as soon as the technology is ready and the regulatory hurdles have been cleared....

In August, NASA announced that it would be purchasing a full suborbital flight from Virgin, with an option for two more, to carry research payloads as part of the Flight Opportunities Program, a government initiative designed to “foster the development of the commercial reusable suborbital transportation industry.” The price for those three flights is a bargain at $4.5 million, about 1 percent of the cost of a single (orbital, to be fair) shuttle mission. Virgin was just one of seven companies to cut similar deals with NASA, but as is his wont, Branson grabbed the headlines.

The Dark Horse: Jeff Greason

“The technology that we’re missing is capitalism,”... at an April TEDx conference in San Jose. “The same thing that makes things work in every other arena of modern life.”

...Insiders see XCOR as an underrated rival to flashy players like Branson and Musk. XCOR has taken a gradualist approach, flying a succession of small but ever-larger rockets, including the aptly named EZ-Rocket. The current Lynx model is a two-seater that allows horizontal takeoff and landing but only goes up 38 miles, leaving the goal of outer space for the next generation rocket. But that distinction may not matter if Greason becomes the first entrepreneur to fly a paying customer on a rocket he built himself. At $95,000 for the Lynx’s single passenger seat, this small company is also offering the cheapest ticket on the market.

The Prize Giver: Peter Diamandis

Peter Diamandis is the chairman and CEO of the X Prize Foundation, the nonprofit organization that dreamed up the Ansari X Prize—$10 million for a reusable suborbital launch vehicle—and is now offering prizes for everything from better oil spill management technology to rapid sequencing of human genomes. Richard Branson snagged the first winner, SpaceShipOne, to form the basis of Virgin Galactic’s program. But just as important, from Diamandis’ perspective, were the 25 losers. Collectively, the teams spent more than $100 million in pursuit of the prize. And that was precisely the idea.

The Hotelier: Robert Bigelow

Robert Bigelow knows hotels. He owns the Budget Suites of America extended-stay hotel chain here on Earth. But after a long rocket ride, when you need a place to crash—just figuratively, of course—Bigelow is your man. His Las Vegas company, Bigelow Aerospace, has launched two experimental orbiting modules, Genesis I and Genesis II, into space since its founding in 1996. Bigelow already has spent well over $200 million of his own money and says he’s ready to drop another $300 million on his quest to be the final frontier’s first hotelier and commercial real estate baron....

Bigelow isn’t just another space entrepreneur, he is also a client. Cheap, safe rockets are a crucial part of any plan to build while aloft. It’s big and empty up there, for the most part, so materials have to come from Earth. Bigelow sent up his test modules on Russian Dnepr rockets but has made no secret of his desire to use rockets from an American company for crew and cargo as soon as they become available.

The Rocketeer: John Carmack

The mascot of John D. Carmack’s rocket company is a cartoon armadillo wearing goggles and a scarf. It’s an oddly warm and fuzzy choice for such a nerdy founder. Armadillo Aerospace is the part-time venture of the lead programmer of Doom, Quake, and other 3D graphics-intensive video game megahits.

It’s also the leanest of the companies described here. Before he started Armadillo Aerospace, Carmack had very little experience in building spaceships, but his company went on to scoop up a couple of prizes that NASA was offering for building lunar landers while simultaneously working on suborbital (and eventually orbital) rockets. Armadillo’s strategy is physically different from those of most of its competitors, featuring a rapidly evolving form that adhered to Carmack’s credo to try out lots of options and abandon failures quickly—pretty much the opposite of NASA’s modus operandi. _Read the full article at Reason Rocket Men
Robert Zubrin: How Much Is An Astronaut's Life Worth?

There are a lot of valuable resources and real estate outside the Earth's atmosphere. The first human $trillionaire is fairly likely to earn his first $trillion via off-planet enterprises. Perhaps that is what attracts so many billionaires to space ventures.

Whatever US President Obama's reasons for opening part of the NASA budget to private space companies, the move is likely to spur a great deal of momentum toward a more economical and sustainable approach to space launch, space travel, space exploration and exploitation, and eventually space colonies. If only he would begin to shunt all of the NASA climate hysteria research funds to more productive private sector use!

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Radical Future of Food

Food, farm and water technologists will have to find new ways to grow more crops in places that until now were hard or impossible to farm. It may need a total rethink over how we use land and water. So enter a new generation of radical farmers, novel foods and bright ideas.


....Algae are at the bottom of the food chain but they are already eaten widely in Japan and China in the form of seaweeds, and are used as fertilisers, soil conditioners and animal feed. "They range from giant seaweeds and kelps to microscopic slimes, they are capable of fixing CO2 in the atmosphere and providing fats, oils and sugars. They are eaten by everything from the tiniest shrimp to the great blue whales. They are the base of all life and must be the future," says Edwards.

Artificial meat

It looks like meat, feels like meat and it is meat, although it's never been near a living, breathing animal. Instead, artificial or "cultured" meat is grown from stem cells in giant vats.

...Much of the research into artificial meat is being done in Europe with scientists in Holland and Britain developing edible tissue grown from stem cells in laboratories. But while the first artificial hamburger could be developed next year, it might taste of nothing at all...studies show that artificial meat wins hands down in the environmental stakes, using far less water, energy and land.

New crops

Few people have heard of Zhikang Li, but history may judge the Chinese plant breeder to be one of the most important people of the century. Last year, after 12 years' work with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, he and his team developed "green super rice", a series of rice varieties which produce more grain but which have proved more resistant to droughts, floods, salty water, insects and disease.

...Green super rice, which could increase yields in Asia enough to feed an extra 100 million people, will be rolled out in the coming years....Last year more than 350m acres – about 10% of global cultivated area, or the same area as Germany, France and the UK together – were planted with GM crops, but this mainly covered only three big foods – maize, oilseed rape and soya – most of which went to animal feed.

Desert greening

Much of the world is arid, with its only nearby water being the sea. So could a technology be found to green coastal deserts in places such as Chile, California, Peru and the Middle East using salt water?
Charlie Paton, a British inventor, has a vision of vast "seawater greenhouses" to grow food and generate power. The idea is simple: in the natural water cycle, seawater is heated by the sun, evaporates, cools to form clouds, and returns to earth as refreshing rain. It is more or less the same in Paton's structures. Here, hot desert air going into a greenhouse is first cooled and then humidified by seawater. This humid air nourishes crops growing inside and then passes through an evaporator. When it meets a series of tubes containing cool seawater, fresh water condenses and is then collected. And because the greenhouses produce more than five times the fresh water needed to water the plants, some of it can be released into the local environment to grow other plants. [also see Sahara Forest]


Locusts, grasshoppers, spiders, wasps, worms, ants and beetles are not on most European or US menus but at least 1,400 species are eaten across Africa, Latin America and Asia. Now, with rising food prices and worldwide land shortages, it could be just a matter of time before insect farms set up in Britain.

Not only are many bugs rich in protein, low in fat and cholesterol and high in calcium and iron, but insect farms need little space. Environmentally, they beat conventional farms, too. The creatures are far better at converting plant biomass into edible meat than even our fastest growing livestock, they emit fewer greenhouse gases and they can thrive on paper, algae and the industrial wastes that would normally be thrown away._Guardian
It is also worth revisiting the topic of "Aeroponics," a form of agriculture that requires no soil at all, can be built up in 3 dimensions, and is very thrifty with water. Aeroponics could be used on seasteads -- using "seawater greenhouse" techniques, on space stations and lunar outposts using recycled water, in polar colonies on Antarctica -- even on submarines or undersea habitats.

H/T NextBigFuture

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25 January 2012

The Udacity of Hope: Just Say No to Tenure

Sebastian Thrun, a [tenured] research professor of computer science at Stanford, revealed today that he has departed the institution to found Udacity, a start-up offering low-cost online classes. _Chronicle Higher Ed
Thrun will continue to work at Google while starting up the online learning website, Udacity, with fellow computer scientist David Evans.
One of Udacity’s first offerings will be a seven-week course called “Building a Search Engine.” It will be taught by David Evans, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Virginia and a Udacity partner. Mr. Thrun said it is designed to teach students with no prior programming experience how to build a search engine like Google. He hopes 500,000 students will enroll. _Chronical Higher Ed
Free world-class online education sounds like a great idea, until you get around to asking, "Who will pay for it?"
Udacity looks great, and I can’t wait for it to be a revolutionary success, educating and empowering students around the world, especially in places like Africa and India, and, in those places, especially women.

...Stanford was willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars building a new physical campus in New York City — but it isn’t willing, it seems, to help Thrun build a free virtual campus which could reach the whole world. That’s a dereliction of its educational duty. But where Stanford has failed, surely some other elite university will step in. Thrun is taking a bold step here. Let’s hope he soon gets the support, if not of Stanford, then of some other college. Like Harvard, or Yale, or Oxford, or Cambridge. They’re exclusive places now. But they don’t have to be, in the future. _Reuters
It may be asking too much to demand that Harvard, Yale, or Oxford contribute to the seeds of their own demise. But somewhere out there, someone must be interested in fanning the flames of the education revolution. I suppose that Google may kick in a few pennies, and perhaps the Bill and Mel Gates Foundation will toss in a dime or two. But they are already helping to support Khan Academy, as well as all of their other projects.

What would be great is if some of the oil sheikhs of the Persian Gulf were to stop funding the terrorist madrasas, and start funding some positive revolutions, meant to lay the groundwork for a peaceful and productive future.

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IQ Matters: Understanding Your World So As to Predict the Future

Decades of genetics research have shown...that people are born with different hereditary potentials for intelligence and that these genetic endowments are responsible for much of the variation in mental ability among individuals
. Last spring an international team of scientists headed by Robert Plomin of the Institute of Psychiatry in London announced the discovery of the first gene linked to intelligence. Of course, genes have their effects only in interaction with environments, partly by enhancing an individual's exposure or sensitivity to formative experiences. Differences in general intelligence, whether measured as IQ or, more accurately, as g are both genetic and environmental in origin--just as are all other psychological traits and attitudes studied so far, including personality, vocational interests and societal attitudes. This is old news among the experts. The experts have, however, been startled by more recent discoveries.

One is that the heritability of IQ rises with age--that is to say, the extent to which genetics accounts for differences in IQ among individuals increases as people get older. Studies comparing identical and fraternal twins, published in the past decade by a group led by Thomas J. Bouchard, Jr., of the University of Minnesota and other scholars, show that about 40 percent of IQ differences among preschoolers stems from genetic differences but that heritability rises to 60 percent by adolescence and to 80 percent by late adulthood. With age, differences among individuals in their developed intelligence come to mirror more closely their genetic differences. It appears that the effects of environment on intelligence fade rather than grow with time. In hindsight, perhaps this should have come as no surprise. Young children have the circumstances of their lives imposed on them by parents, schools and other agents of society, but as people get older they become more independent and tend to seek out the life niches that are most congenial to their genetic proclivities.

A second big surprise for intelligence experts was the discovery that environments shared by siblings have little to do with IQ. Many people still mistakenly believe that social, psychological and economic differences among families create lasting and marked differences in IQ. Behavioral geneticists refer to such environmental effects as "shared" because they are common to siblings who grow up together. Research has shown that although shared environments do have a modest influence on IQ in childhood, their effects dissipate by adolescence. The IQs of adopted children, for example, lose all resemblance to those of their adoptive family members and become more like the IQs of the biological parents they have never known. Such findings suggest that siblings either do not share influential aspects of the rearing environment or do not experience them in the same way. Much behavioral genetics research currently focuses on the still mysterious processes by which environments make members of a household less alike. _Linda Gottfredson
The general finding after over 100 years of studying intelligence and genetics, is that IQ is heritable over the lifetime to between 50% and 80%. Heritability of IQ tends to be lower in low socioeconomic groups and in very young children. As a person ages, the genes tend to influence intelligence more.

The table below is a guessing game, where you are to fill in the "country" which matches the continent and the IQ score. The table of national IQs below, should assist you in this task. Notice that African nations are not included in the game, since the national IQ scores in the game do not go below 92.
Continent/RegionCountryAverage IQ
Asia 106
Asia 105
North America99
Continent/RegionCountryAverage IQ
North America98
South America96
Middle East95
Middle East94
Middle East94
South America93
Name the Country

A more complete table of national IQ scores from Lynn and Vanhanen summarized by Steve Sailer
This graphic displays a simplified bell curve distribution overlap for 4 generalised human population groupings.
This graphic provides a general idea as to realistic occupational expectations for individuals whose valid IQ scores fall within a particular range of values.
This simplified time projection from the Fourmilab website: Global IQ 1950-2050, looks at the change in average "global IQ" over time, due to differential birthrates among distinct breeding groups, possessing different IQ.
Total fertility rates by country (via the EvoandProud anthropology site). By comparing the TFRs and national IQs, one can estimate the general trend for global IQ, as a falsifiable hypothesis.

What about the "Flynn Effect?" Unfortunately, the multiple and poorly defined underlying mechanisms behind the "Flynn Effect" are not strong enough to overcome the compounding magic of differential birthrates combined with heritability of IQ.
This graphic allows you to visually compare homicide rates with both total fertility rates and national IQ. Keeping in mind the heritability of IQ, this triple juxtaposition allows for some simple falsifiable predictions as to the future of both particular nations, and of the nations which are emigration targets for the excess from low IQ, high crime, high fertility populations.

Hope for the best. Plan for the worst.

More: Here is an extremely optimistic look at the future of commodities, energy resources, and food. The human ingenuity of "the smart fraction" has been pushing back against the forces of depletion -- just as Julian Simon said they would do.

It is crucial to look at as many sides to the story as one can. Nothing in real life is as simple as it seems.

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24 January 2012

Living in a Fool's Paradise: Spritely Foundations of the Modern World

A security researcher was able to locate and map more than 10,000 industrial control systems hooked up to the public internet, including water and sewage plants, and found that many could be open to easy hack attacks, due to lax security practices.

...Leverett used the SHODAN search engine developed by John Matherly, which allows users to find internet-connected devices using simple search terms. He then matched that data to information from vulnerability databases to find known security holes and exploits that could be used to hijack the systems or crash them. He used Timemap to chart the information on Google maps, along with red markers noting brand devices that are known to have security holes in them. He described his methodology in a paper (.pdf) about the project.

Leverett found 10,358 devices connected through a search of two years worth of data in the SHODAN database _Wired
Of course, in China and Russia, teams of hackers are paid well to find ways of exploiting security weaknesses in government and industrial infrastructure. The US NSA is on that like buzzing insects on excreta.

Your life depends upon the smooth working of industrial, commercial, governmental, and municipal infrastructure. If something mucks that up, you will suffer the consequences.
Leverett’s tool shows how easy it is for a dedicated attacker or just a recreational hacker to find vulnerable targets online to sabotage.

...“Vendors say they don’t need to do security testing because the systems are never connected to the internet; it’s a very dangerous claim,” Leverett said last week at the S4 conference, which focuses on the security of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems (SCADA) that are used for everything from controlling critical functions at power plants and water treatment facilities to operating the assembly lines at food processing and automobile assembly plants.

“Vendors expect systems to be on segregated networks — they comfort themselves with this. They say in their documentation to not put it on an open network. On the other side, asset owners swear that they are not connected,” Leverett said. But how do they know? _Wired
Here is more about the network threat to vital utilities.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. It is likely that you do not really want to know about the many vulnerabilities that underlie your existence. Perhaps it is best to trust the media, trust your professors, trust the things people tell you. What possible good could come from trying to look too deeply into such things as the nuts and bolts which make modern high tech civilisations possible?

And they tell us that the world can run on big wind castles in the sky and high-rise buildings covered with solar glass and solar paint. All we need in order for it all to work -- to turn the innate unreliability and intermittency of wind and solar into a rock solid foundation for civilisation -- is "the smart grid" and its ultraconnectivity. What could go wrong?

Shodan search engine

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23 January 2012

"Free Online Higher Education as a Force for Human Progress"

MITx is the next big step in the open-educational-resources movement that MIT helped start in 2001, when it began putting its course lecture notes, videos, and exams online, where anyone in the world could use them at no cost. The project exceeded all expectations—more than 100 million unique visitors have accessed the courses so far.

...Now MIT has decided to put the two together—free content and sophisticated online pedagogy­—and add a third, crucial ingredient: credentials. Beginning this spring, students will be able to take free, online courses offered through the MITx initiative. If they prove they've learned the materi­al, MITx will, for a small fee, give them a credential certifying as much.

...The Internet is a very different environment than the traditional on-campus classroom. Students and employers are rightly wary of the quality of online courses. And even if the courses are great, they have limited value without some kind of credential to back them up. It's not enough to learn something—you have to be able to prove to other people that you've learned it.

...Already, the elite Indian Institutes of Technology has announced plans to join MIT's open-education consortium. Building MITx on an open platform could make the university the global nexus of online higher education, which is the way most people are likely to access higher learning in the future. In the hunt for the best and brightest students around the globe, MIT won't need to guess who's in the top 1 percent of 1 percent—it can simply pick them out of the millions of students who will enroll in MITx. _Chronicle Higher Education
Not everyone can single-handedly use freely available materials in a way to master difficult material. Many people will need assistance with sticky concepts and mental blocks at certain points in particular courses. This need for additional coaching and tutoring will open the door to private coaching -- both personal and online, both for-profit and non-profit. An entire new industry is likely to arise to help facilitate the online education revolution that MITx is helping to spawn.

H/T Carpe Diem

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A Basic Understanding of Oil

The creation of oil, gas, coal, and kerogen is an ancient process, which has taken place over the eons ever since photosynthetic life first occurred in the oceans and seas. For example, did you know that the Alberta oil sands area was once part of a prehistoric sea?
Alberta's oilsands are in an area that was once part of a prehistoric sea and have yielded several important marine reptile fossils. _CBC.ca

Oil creation is a renewable process, but over quite a long time span. Gas is made more quickly and more ubiquitously under the seabed than oil, and is becoming so cheap and common as to be thought of as a nuisance in many locations.

But it is crude oil about which such a fuss has been made for the past 100 years or so. And a well educated person should know more about crude oil than he is likely to find in the media or on the doomer sites. This embedded book by oil insider Leonardo Maugeri is likely to fill a lot of holes in the oil education of most ordinary people.
"The Age of Oil" by Leonardo Maugeri is a basic-level primer on the various facets of the modern petroleum age, from past, to present, and to future. It is best to start with basic history and basic supportable facts. Then, if you wish to go out on a limb, at least you will have a solid foundation from where to start.

Where oil comes from, and a hint of where new oil may be found
Looking at changes in atmospheric concentrations of O2 and CO2 over time is another way of noting the underlying biological processes involved in making the plants and microbes that go into making fossil fuels.

Oil shale sediments were deposited on large lake beds in the US western states:
Lacustrine sediments of the Green River Formation were deposited in two large lakes that occupied 65,000 km2 in several sedimentary-structural basins in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah during early through middle Eocene time....The warm alkaline lake waters of the Eocene Green River lakes provided excellent conditions for the abundant growth of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) that are thought to be the major precursor of the organic matter in the oil shale. _geology.com
How old is the oldest oil? No one knows, since it hasn't yet been found. But some oil has reportedly been found in rock that was billions of years old. Photosynthetic life has been around almost 3 billion years, so that provides for a lot of oil creation in deep rock layers.
Geologists usually don't bother looking for oil in very ancient (Precambrian) rocks for two reasons:

Conventional wisdom insists that oil is derived almost exclusively from organic matter, and additional conventional wisdom assures us that life was exceedingly scarce on earth billions of years ago.

Any oil that was created billions of years ago would have surely been destroyed by intense pressures and high temperatures over the eons.

Yet, Precambrian oil in commercial quantities has been found in formations up to 2 billion years old (in Siberia, Australia, Michigan, for example). While some of this oil might have migrated in-to the Precambrian rocks from younger source rocks, some of it does seem indigenous and, therefore, ancient.

...Now, three Australian scientists (R. Buick, B. Rasmussen, B. Krapez) have discovered tiny nodules of bitumen (lumps of hydrocarbons) in sedimentary rocks up to 3.5 billion years old in Africa and Australia. These bitumen nodules were formed when natural hydrocarbons were irradiated by radioactive isotopes that coexisted in the ancient rocks. Futhermore, these African and Australian rock formations were never severely deformed or subjected to high temperatures. The possibility exists, therefore, that some of the earth's oldest rocks may contain substantial oil reserves. So far, no one has seriously looked for oil in Precambrian rocks because of the two preconceptions noted above. _Science-Frontiers
The planet has gone through a large number of cycles over the past few billion years. Unless you can go back through time and trace the large numbers of optimal areas for oil, gas, coal, kerogen, and bitumen formation which have come and gone, come and gone, come and gone -- and been hopelessly changed and disguised by ongoing geologic processes -- you may be easily persuaded that almost all the fossil fuels have already been found.

The "abiotic oil" concept is not discussed here because the concepts behind biotic oil are difficult enough for most people to understand. And most hydrocarbons produced in the mantle by abiotic processes are shorter chain hydrocarbons, as you might find in "wet gas." Biotic and abiotic hydrocarbons tend to mix in the crust and follow much the same routes of migration upward in many cases. But if you want a good example of quick renewable hydrocarbons, the abiotic variety might qualify.

Previously published on Al Fin Energy

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22 January 2012

A Sense of Impending Doom Settles Over Obama's America

In the US of the late 1970s, Americans experienced an economic and emotional malaise which has since been associated with the Jimmy Carter presidency. Survivalism and prepperism were in full boom time, in the late days of the Carter Presidency.

After Carter left office, Americans seemed to recover their typical sense of optimism and opportunity. Survivalism and doomerism settled down to much lower levels of activity. But for those who had experienced the Carter malaise, the taste of uneasiness and foreboding remained deep, undercover.

In the age of US President Obama, that strange sense of imminent disaster has returned, and is felt even by supporters of the "hope and change" president. If Mr. Obama succeeds at being re-elected -- something President Carter was unable to do in his own age of malaise -- the sense of impending Obama-doom is likely to grow to suffocating levels.
"We could see a cascade of higher interest rates, margin calls, stock market collapses, bank runs, currency revaluations, mass street protests, and riots," [Rawles] told Reuters. "The worst-case end result would be a Third World War, mass inflation, currency collapses, and long term power grid failures."

..."Modern preppers are much different from the survivalists of the old days," he said. "You could be living next door to a prepper and never even know it. Many suburbanites are turning spare rooms into food pantries and are going for survival training on the weekends."

Like other preppers, Snider is worried about the end of a functioning U.S. economy. He points out that tens of millions of Americans are on food stamps and that many U.S. children are living in poverty.

"Most people have a gut feeling that something has gone terribly wrong, but that doesn't mean that they understand what is happening," he said. "A lot of Americans sense that a massive economic storm is coming and they want to be prepared for it." _Reuters
Of course the skankstream media pretends that this deep uneasiness has nothing to do with President Obama, or with the millions of Americans who lost hope and have been driven out of the job market since Obama took office. It fails to associate the ongoing housing and banking crisis, the high level deflation combined with low level inflation, with the Obama war against the US private sector and the Obama energy starvation agenda. The Obama-friendly media has not sounded any warning calls regarding the great shift in power from the private sector to government under Obama which threatens to destroy the fiscal foundations of government at all levels . . . Mr. Obama's all out spending spree has led to a sky-rocketing of US federal debt to unprecedented levels at an unprecedented rate, in what might be perceived by some cynical souls (at least those who had read Mr. Obama's autobiographies) as a conscious effort to weaken the world's only superpower, down to its very roots.

If Mr. Obama is re-elected, there will be no long term return of optimism, as there had been after the defeat of the malaise-laden President Carter. Most Americans sense this, and yet, an observation of the early primary and debate results of the opposition US Republican Party points to a high likelihood of re-election for the current incumbent president. Mr. Obama's opposition candidates appear to be engaged in a dysfunctional barroom brawl of dirty infighting, which to most of the voting public appears even more distasteful than the picture of the current administration being presented to them on the nightly news.

It is beginning to seem to a large cross-section of Americans that any common ground they may have once had, is now either slipping away, or being consciously destroyed by those currently in power. This growing loss of cohesiveness among those who would otherwise have united against the emotional and economic darkness descending over America, can only help one group -- the Washington DC based vultures currently picking over the scattered bones of the republic and the populace.

All of this could have happened 32 years ago, had Jimmy Carter been re-elected as US President. But 32 years ago, the majority of Americans united behind a former film star and California governor, Ronald Reagan. In 2012, it is not clear that there is anyone of sufficient grit and substance who is capable of uniting most of the people behind him ( or her).

If things continue to play out in this way, the preppers may very well have their day after all.


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21 January 2012

Girls Suck at Math; But True Grit Can Help Sum

World class psychologist David Geary looked into the issue of why girls suck at math, and came to the conclusion that you cannot blame "stereotype threat" or any of the other usual suspect excuses.
There is a large body of research about why more girls aren’t at the top of the spectrum in math skills. One study in 1999 blamed poor self-image for underachievement in math among girls. The theory was popular, Geary said, “because it gives a sense that you can do something about it easily, so it’s taken off as an explanation.”

Geary, a curators’ professor of psychological sciences, and Gijsbert Stoet from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom examined 20 influential replications of the original study and found serious scientific flaws. Among the most concerning was a lack of a male control group: Researchers told girls who were getting ready to take math tests that females typically don’t do well on the exams but did not give the same message to boys who took the tests. When Geary and his team adjusted the findings based on the lack of a control group and statistical flaws in other studies, they found little to no significant effect on performance based on stereotypes. _ColumbiaTribune
There are far more males at the top end of math ability than females, and that discrepancy tends to widen during the passage through puberty, into adulthood. Most knowledgeable cognitivists understand that the male hormone testosterone plays an important role in this notable and enduring discrepancy.

But for girls who are truly determined to succeed in fields where top level math skills are needed, besides a bit of math talent, there is nothing quite like "true grit."
“Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress.”

...What differentiates kids who are gritty from kids who are not gritty is not just the hours of work they are putting in, (but) they’re putting the hardest kind of work in.

...Grit is also distinct from […] self-control, in its specification of consistent goals and interests. An individual high in self-control but moderate in grit may, for example, effectively control his or her temper, stick to his or her diet, and resist the urge to surf the Internet at work—yet switch careers [frequently]. As Galton (1892) suggested, abiding commitment to a particular vocation [..] does not derive from overriding “hourly temptations.” _Source

But of course, if you are practising the wrong things or the right things the wrong way, there is no amount of practise which will turn out right. Take as an example the way that some psychologists attempt to teach people about risk -- by using probability. How stupid is that? Risk is not a cerebral topic, it is visceral. If psychologists are too stupid to understand that fact, they should probably be working as janitors or parking attendants.

Here is an interesting study that looks at the effect of "make believe" personas in a virtual environment.
Video games constitute a popular form of entertainment that allows millions of people to adopt virtual identities. In our research, we explored the idea that the appeal of games is due in part to their ability to provide players with novel experiences that let them “try on” ideal aspects of their selves that might not find expression in everyday life. We found that video games were most intrinsically motivating and had the greatest influence on emotions when players’ experiences of themselves during play were congruent with players’ conceptions of their ideal selves. Additionally, we found that high levels of immersion in gaming environments, as well as large discrepancies between players’ actual-self and ideal-self characteristics, magnified the link between intrinsic motivation and the experience of ideal-self characteristics during play. _PsychologicalScience
As we approach the promise of virtual reality games and total sensory immersion environments, the ability to take on virtual identities which are either significant variations of our real selves, or even totally alien to our true selves, should prove to be a powerful learning tool -- not to mention a diagnostic and evaluative tool.

Along with grit and intelligent practise, one should also try to enhance one's own creative abilities. To that end, here is a useful infographic provided as a bonus, for no extra charge. Good luck.

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20 January 2012

Micro-Brewed Explosives: The Renewable Choice in Demolition

The techniques that make synthetic biology such a powerful tool for positive innovation may be also used for destruction. The military’s new search for biologically brewed explosives threatens to reopen an avenue of research that has been closed for 37 years: biotechnology developed for use in war...Because explosives-producing microbes in themselves would not be weapons, they would not appear to violate the convention [Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention]. _Slate
It is nice to see that under President Obama, even state sponsored violence is becoming greener and more natural. But already, President Obama's enemies are questioning his wisdom by conjuring up the wicked spirit of proliferation:
The quality that makes microbes so powerful will also make them difficult to contain: A single microscopic cell, acquired by a criminal or enemy, could in principle multiply to fill a vat within a few days. _Slate
Microbial genes can be programmed to produce a wide range of products that are useful to humans. From antiquity, humans have used microbes in the production of foods and beverages. More recently, microbes are being programmed for a wider array of synthetic products.
In 2000, when Weiss gave talks in MIT's biology department, the weirdness of this biology/engineering synthesis was apparent. “When I spoke of circuits that could turn genes on and off, some probably thought I had fallen out of space,” he says. “Those days, we did not speak the same language. Now we have developed a hybrid vocabulary.”

... Weiss's goal was to build a plasmid, a custom-made DNA sequence that can be replicated easily. Knight, an electrical engineer, aimed to pare down the genome and repurpose the cell to produce things it was not originally designed to make -- plastics, say, or fuels. _Science
Weiss and Knight developed a Registry of Standard Biological Parts to assist researchers in designing programmable genetic circuits, for the custom designing of microbes. The idea is to take synthetic biology, and "put it on steroids."

Most people like the idea of using microbes to produce insulin and other life-saving drugs. Few people object to the idea of using microbes to produce fuels, plastics, and high value chemicals for industry. But die-hard enemies of President Obama cannot seem to accept his ingenious ideas for micro-brewing explosives with convenient and prolific microbes!

Picture, if you will, bombs and cruise missiles which when they reach their targets do not explode. Instead, they release a fine mist of microbes in nutrient suspension, which coat the surfaces of everything in the vicinity of the target. These microbes can then proceed to proliferate wildly, in exponential fashion. They grow. And grow. And grow.

What do these "weaponised" microbes become? Whatever you want! They could become food -- cheese or wine, for example. Or they could become biofuels if you'd rather. New age weapons designers would have their pick of a wide array of breeds of microbe.

Very wicked weapons designers might send microbial colonies capable of assembling and detonating a nuclear weapon out of soil, rock, and junk parts. Such micro-weapon nukes may very well violate a treaty or convention. But what about microbe colonies that first disperse and grow to cover an entire city, then synthesise enough conventional explosives to destroy the entire metropolis in one fell swoosh? Military lawyers may wish to burn the midnight oil before signing off on those plans.

Regardless of eventual application, micro-brewed weapons certainly represent a new dawn in renewable military applications. Mr. Obama can be forgiven many of his more questionable decisions in the light of his enlightened choice for the Pentagon to go renewable.

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Half of All Universities to Go Out of Business in 10 Years?

Michael Horn, co-author with Clayton Christensen of several studies and publications on education, predicts: "I wouldn't be surprised if in 10 to 15 years half of the institutions of higher education will have either merged or gone out of business." According to Christensen, this change will not seriously threaten exclusive top-brand universities like Harvard and Yale, given the perceived high value of their brands and the connections and other extras they provide. Public universities, however, are in for a real shock. _NationalAffairs
Al Fin education analysts say that Harvard and Yale will be very much threatened by the coming revolution in education -- from K-12 through post-grad. By the time they and other overpriced palaces of mediocrity understand the hole they have dug for themselves, it will likely be too late.

But Christensen is correct when he says that US states will be devastated by the education revolution. Already forced to slash budgets and raise tuition, when the full impact of their dilemma hits them, heads will roll. A large part of the bloodshed will be caused by public sector union pension explosions and the state employee pension explosion.
As state budgets come under increasing pressure, tuition costs are likely to continue growing and services at state schools are likely to be slashed further by hard-pressed legislatures. California, for instance, hiked in-state tuition by 21% this year; over the next few years, the University of California system envisions annual tuition increases ranging from 8% to 16%. Other states face similarly grim prospects.

And the problem is only exacerbated by public universities' politicized governance structures — which, when combined with the state schools' lack of endowments to rival private universities', makes it much more difficult for public schools to adjust and innovate in response to changing conditions and competition. Those looking for signs of the coming revolution in higher education would thus be wise to keep their eyes on America's bloated public universities. _National Affairs
The article linked above is interesting, but it is largely beside the point. The reason for that is political correctness -- the author cannot come out and say what needs to be said about higher education and educational institutions in the post-modern world.

Outside of particular circumscribed areas of education -- professional schools, schools of engineering and science, business schools, etc. -- universities are no longer places of education, but are rather centres of indoctrination. Professors and administrators grasp onto tenure, bloat their own departments, assure their own futures, and to hell with students and their needs, and the long term vitality and survivability of the institution.

Affirmative action stuffs classrooms with students destined to fail bitterly. Title IX type mandates devastate economic opportunities formerly available to gifted athletes -- diverting the funds to feminist causes. Student loan debt across the US is greater than all credit card debt, and continues to grow -- although destined to burst in a huge conflagration of default.

Universities exist primarily for the vultures who feed upon failed students' carcasses. The various interlocking infrastructure of government, education, finance, and labour which have brought things to their current stage of impending doom.

The revolution could not come too soon.

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