31 May 2012

US Demographics at the Tipping Point

This article was previously published on abu al-fin blog

The US has passed a milestone: From now on, the majority of births in the US will be to non-European women. Highest birthrates in the US occur among non-white Hispanics. Black American women also have higher birthrates than do Euro American women. Birthrates among the much smaller groups of disparate Asian populations in the US vary considerably.
Wall Street Journal

For the first time in US history, whites of European ancestry account for less than half of newborn children, marking a demographic tipping point . . . _WSJ
This demographic tipping point changes a lot more than just the ethnic makeup of the US population. Because different population groups tend to arise from different cultures, holding different customs and values, the political and economic behaviour of the new majority is likely to tip the overall economic and political behaviour of the US significantly.

Perhaps it would be instructive to look at the differences between the populations of Northern Europe and Southern Europe. While both the North and the South are governed by some form of welfare state, Northern Europeans tend to be more naturally austere and thrifty, whereas Southern Europeans tend to take like more from day to day, enjoying the warmer sunnier climate, the wine, the Med.

Greece is becoming the first to suffer for its peoples' inherent lack of austerity and thrift. As Greece's economy crumbles, a regime of austerity would allow the country's economy to recover its footing -- but the politics of Greece and the natural inclination of its people will not tolerate austerity enforced from above. And as for austerity from within -- the people simply do not have it in them.

The same is likely to prove true for Spain, Italy, Portugal, as the economic crisis worsens for each in its turn. Their economies could use some austerity to allow them to recover and rebuild, but the people are not likely to stand for it. Perhaps it was the lack of inherent austerity in the people which allowed the situation to approach its denouement.

In the demographic transition of the US, we see populations of innate austerity giving way to rapidly growing populations which lack this natural thrift and planning sense. Given these changes, we can expect an acceleration of the trend toward larger government and less personal savings, planning, and responsibility.

Regardless of the best intentions, and all of the other strengths which may be brought to a nation, people cannot help who they are. If a majority contains a flaw which will prove to be fatal within a particular type of political and economic system -- say a democratic welfare state -- then events will work themselves out much like water finding its way to the sea.

There are many ways to find one's way to "the truth", but at the end of every chapter in life, the real world will have had its say.

Some changes are abrupt and unpredictable. Other changes -- such as the consequential changes in a society that come with a changing demographic -- may occur more slowly. While these shifts may be predictable, they can take place at a rate which allows them to be easily ignored, if the mainstream of government, media, and academia does not wish the population to be bothered with troublesome implications.

Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. And expect something somewhere unpredictably in between.

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Big Green and the Coming Collapse of Europe

Taken from a previously published article on Al Fin Energy blog

Germany is proceeding along a path that puts it at greater and greater risk of potentially catastrophic power blackouts. Recent changes to German energy infrastructure introduce increasingly dangerous levels of instability which become more and more difficult for power grid managers to control. And the German grid is the power hub of Europe -- if it fails, Europe's grid fails.

Germany is phasing out its nuclear power plants and attempting to replace its infrastructure of baseload power generation with an infrastructure of intermittent unreliable energy sources -- big wind and big solar installations. Germany publicly hopes to provide as much as 50% of its electrical power from wind and solar within the next few decades.

Unfortunately, large power grids grow unstable when big wind and big solar -- intermittent unreliables -- attempt to provide more than 20% of overall power. Going far beyond that level of dependency on intermittent unreliables would place the German gird -- and thus the European grid -- in an untenable position.

More information on the danger of relying on intermittent energy sources
A look at Denmark's unfortunate experience with wind energy (PDF)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is unrepentant -- and almost boastful -- over her energy plan which commits Germany to invest at least $25 billion to upgrade its power grid.

The high cost of upgrades to the power grid could not come at a worse time for Germany or Europe, already stressed by a banking crisis. But the $25 billion or $30 billion needed to improve the grid systems is only the barest down payment toward the ultimate costs of Merkel's suicidal energy decisions.

Spain was once caught up in the green fantasy of the intermittent unreliables, just like Merkel's Germany. But Spain was forced to admit that it could not afford the green fantasy any longer. Eventually, Germany will be forced to come to the same conclusion. The only question is the price that the German people will have to pay for the stubborn stupidity of its leaders.

Greens are reluctant to admit the problems which intermittent unreliables pose for grid stability, particularly the higher the levels of penetration of the intermittent unreliable sources. But the truth will come out in the most painful ways, and many people will remember who has led them to suffer unnecessarily.

Europe is undergoing a demographic implosion, which is putting increasing -- although still subtle -- pressures on the ability of European nations to maintain technological infrastructures and to pay back large debts. If Europe goes through with this suicidal abandonment of reliable power sources in favour of the intermittent unreliables -- and goes even more deeply in debt in the process -- future generations of Europeans will pay the the price.

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30 May 2012

Breaking Bad

Clever chemists can create designer drugs far more quickly than a government's drug enforcement agency can identify them, get them classified as illegal drugs, and begin to control their illegal distribution.
“Manufacturers turn these things around so quickly. One week you’ll have a product with compound X, the next week it’s compound Y,” said forensic toxicologist Kevin Shanks of AIT Laboratories, an Indiana-based chemical testing company.

“It’s fascinating how fast it can occur, and it’s fascinating to see the minute changes in chemical structure they’ll come up with. It’s similar, but it’s different,” Shanks continued. _Wired
Some of these drugs are very dangerous to particular persons who may use them, or be around others who are using them. Others may be generally benign -- but government agencies and their evolving penalties for sale and use of these designer drugs, are unlikely to be able to distinguish between the bad and the indifferent. Likely result: A lot more people in prison for questionable offenses.
via Wired

Fattore, whose research specialty is cannabinoids and the new wave of THC mimics, says the new drugs often contain unpredictable mixes of these extra-potent compounds. The same goes for synthetic stimulants and dissociatives.

In a May 14 Journal of Analytical Toxicology study, Shanks’ team described AIT’s tests of legal drugs purchased since the Drug Enforcement Agency’s 2010 bans of three synthetic stimulants and five synthetic cannabinoids.

A full 95 percent of the products contained compounds not covered by the law. They’d been subtly tweaked so as to possess a different, legal molecular form while performing the same psychopharmaceutical role.

“If you want any evidence that drugs have won the drug war, you just need to read the scientific studies on legal highs,” wrote Vaughan Bell at MindHacks, a neuroscience blog that’s covered legal highs in depth.

While it’s conceivable that laws could be adjusted to reflect each new ingredient, it would be highly impractical: Between 400 and 450 compounds were synthesized by Huffman alone, and those represent just one of four major groups of cannabinoid mimics.

Stimulant and dissociative derivatives are less numerous, the portfolio of possible derivatives still includes hundreds of forms. A compound-by-compound pursuit could last for decades. _Wired
Why do chemists go to so much trouble to generate such a wide range of designer drugs, when most of them are likely to be crap? Because a lot of people will do almost anything to get high, and governments have made it a criminal offense to get high on relatively safe drugs.

You know where all of this is going to lead? Gene-engineered food plants that produce opium, cocaine, hashish, and any number of other potent drugs -- inside beans, cucumbers, and potatoes.... Try regulating that!

Of course we are likely to move quickly to more refined types if "highs" such as electromagnetic brain stimulators, intense high resolution virtual realities, and other ways to generate thrills, chills, and unimaginable pleasures, which will ride the photons far beyond the control of drug enforcers.

People want to get high. Other people will bend or break the rules to help them, for a price. The profits from the breaking of the rules make their way back to drug enforcers, judges, lawyers, elected officials, respected bankers, etc. In fact, societies that try too hard to regulate every action of their citizens end up being corrupted, perhaps beyond repair. It is such societies as a whole that are breaking bad.

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If the Great Green Global Agenda is to Succeed, Most of You Will Have to Die

The great green global agenda -- from carbon hysteria to resource scarcity to overpopulation doom to pollution apocalypse -- has been promoted by blowhards such as James Hansen and Paul Ehrlich, and supported by politicians from Barack Obama to Al Gore to Angela Merkel to Kevin Rudd. But prophets of the green apocalypse have been forecasting doom and devastation to occur "in the next ten or fifteen years" for the past 50 years or more. People are beginning to notice that the dire green predictions have not been coming true. And frankly, more and more people are getting a bit nervous about the undercurrent talk about "the great human dieoff" that seems to take the stage whenever green elites think that no outsiders are within earshot.
Concern about the climate, ..., the crazy set of unrealistic objectives, laughable foreign aid boondoggles, Malthusian panic mongering and cockamamie treaty plans made this UN process a clown circus that was doomed to fail — and the sooner, the better. There was a time — as recently as early 2010 — when the Great and the Good, the Champions of the Conventional Wisdom and the Oracles of the Davoisie identified this forlorn negotiation as the wave of the future and the last best hope of man.

Let the futility and failure to which all this led be a reminder to us and to them: those who guide the world’s destiny aren’t nearly as discerning as they think they are. Between the American housing bubble, the European meltdown and the climate disaster, it almost begins to look as if the Establishment consists mostly of overpaid, egotistical blowhards. _WR Mead

Overpaid egotistical blowhards? That could accurately describe the top levels of academia, journalism, government, law, and environmental activism in one short phrase. Too bad there is no way to send such top-floating scum on its merry way to oblivion. Indeed.

Consider energy, and the enormous amounts of reliable and affordable energy that any advanced society needs to provide its people with their many needs and opportunities: The earth contains vast and unknown quantities of fossil fuels, including coal. But greens of the lefty-Luddite dieoff.orgy persuasion want all advanced nations to abandon coal, and to move willy-nilly to a dependency on big wind and big solar energy.

Most intelligent and sober analysts understand that such a precipitous move away from coal toward dependency on intermittent unreliable green energy sources such as big wind and big solar, would trigger the very type of dieoff which global green elites (not-so) secretly cherish and wish for.

In fact, while US greens inside and outside of the Obama administration are trying to shut down the use of coal in the US, nations from China to Germany to Vietnam and more are gearing up to use more and more coal. Many of these nations would be happy to buy and use US coal, at the same time that US greens would like to keep Americans shivering in the dark for lack of reliable and affordable energy.

Modern leftist greens are Malthusians by nature, and doomers by inclination -- victims of their own limited thinking. They not only believe that humans are a vermin pest on the pristine landscape of Earth. They actually want to behave as responsible and sustainable pest exterminators, so as to save the planet, while also giving themselves more lebensraum.

The green apocalyptic theories of climate catastrophe and carbon hysteria are based upon computer models that have been fed much erroneous data, while having omitted crucial data that would have helped avoid much of the destructive and disruptive hysteria.

This failure to look at as many aspects of the problem as possible, along with the failure to brutally test their own models and theories (as scientists should always do), has painted the green doomers into a corner. They have no choice but to screech ever louder songs of doom, regardless of what the outer world reality indicates.

The destructiveness of this approach is just now being calculated in the cost of energy to European commerce, government, and industry, and the subsequent demand destruction that is beginning to sweep through those countries, working its way from south to north. The consequent capital flight within Europe has so far landed in continental safe havens, the stronger European economies such as Germany and Switzerland.

But as the consequences of their green energy starvationist approaches hit even the relatively strong industrial economies of Germany, France, and the UK, even these economic strongholds of Europe will suffer from both capital flight and a renewed brain drain to countries with fewer restrictions on energy production and use. All of this will happen on top of an underlying demographic collapse, which is quite real for all its stealth and popular denial.

For the great green global agenda to succeed, most of you are going to have to die. Because, to put it bluntly, the intermittent unreliable sources of energy that the greens are foisting on modern nations will not be able to support the needs of those nations. Systems will collapse like tilting dominoes, and the offal will flow downhill -- doing the most damage to third world nations and their populations as more advanced nations can no longer afford to provide life support to a perpetually failing and conflicted third world.

Will this great green doom and dieoff.orgy actually come to pass? Only if we allow it.

Take your time. Think about it. Here's a riddle to help with your meditations:

What is the difference between an onion and a green activist?

(answer: When you chop up the onion, you cry.)

Heh. Just kidding, of course. If we let it get to the chopping up stage, we are all in big trouble.

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29 May 2012

Flame Malware Burns Information Systems Across MENA

From Iran to Sudan, computer systems across MENA (Middle East North Africa) are being infected by Flame, a huge and powerful type of spyware, of unknown origin. Flame seeks out hidden information inside targeted systems, and transmits it to command and control centres outside the countries targeted.

Russia's Kaspersky Lab discovered the sophisticated virus while following a request by the United Nations to look into reports that Iranian Oil Ministry and Oil Company computers may have been infected by a new, unknown virus.
A massive, highly sophisticated piece of malware has been newly found infecting systems in Iran and elsewhere and is believed to be part of a well-coordinated, ongoing, state-run cyberespionage operation.

The malware, discovered by Russia-based anti-virus firm Kaspersky Lab, is an espionage toolkit that has been infecting targeted systems in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Sudan, the Israeli Occupied Territories and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa for at least two years.

...Early analysis of Flame by the Lab indicates that it's designed primarily to spy on the users of infected computers and steal data from them, including documents, recorded conversations and keystrokes. It also opens a backdoor to infected systems to allow the attackers to tweak the toolkit and add new functionality.

The malware, which is 20 megabytes when all of its modules are installed, contains multiple libraries, SQLite3 databases, various levels of encryption -- some strong, some weak -- and 20 plug-ins that can be swapped in and out to provide various functionality for the attackers. It even contains some code that is written in the LUA programming language -- an uncommon choice for malware.

...Gostev says that because of its size and complexity, complete analysis of the code may take years.

"It took us half-a-year to analyse Stuxnet," he said. "This is 20-times more complicated. It will take us 10 years to fully understand everything." _Wired.co.uk
Read the full article linked above for more information.

While the author of the article speculates that "Flame" may have been written by the same authors as Stuxnet and Duqu, Al Fin analysts suspect that the three viruses were each written by distinct groups of malware creators.

It is likely that Stuxnet was a joint project of US and Israeli spy agencies. Duqu is more likely to be the product of Chinese malware labs. Flame is probably either a Russian or a Chinese project.

Expect such spyware to increase in sophistication over time, as the war of the codes intensifies.

And just wait until nano-ware -- entire mobile computer and telecom systems which can be transported and placed virtually anywhere in a covert manner -- becomes more prominent. Interesting times.


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25 May 2012

SpaceX Dragon Hooks Up with ISS in Orbit

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The International Space Station's crew reached out today with a robotic arm to grab SpaceX's Dragon cargo capsule and brought it in for the orbital outpost's first-ever hookup with a commercial spaceship.

It marks the station's first linkup with a U.S.-made spacecraft since last year's retirement of NASA's space shuttle fleet, and potentially opens the way for dozens of commercial cargo shipments. If the long-range plan unfolds as NASA hopes, U.S. astronauts could be shuttled back and forth on the Dragon or similar spacecraft within just a few years.

"Today, this really is the beginning of a new era in commercial spaceflight," said Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of NASA's commercial crew and cargo program. _CosmicLog

Keep watching the video through the initial ad, the news story, and subsequent ad. The actual video footage of the linkup itself is provided along with a view of the Houston control centre. More SpaceX news coverage follows after each subsequent ad.

Brian Wang has more on SpaceX : ISS hookup

New Scientist interviews SpaceX founder Elon Musk on past and future of company

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New Addition to Al Fin Blogroll: Forward Base B

I learned about the blog Forward Base B while looking over inbound web activity. It seems fairly new, but the posting is prolific, and covers a wide range of intriguing topics.

Take a look and see what you think.


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24 May 2012

International Capital Seeks Safe Haven

Russia's capital flight is intensifying under a threatened international economic crisis and collapse of the global oil & gas price bubble

Russia, which relies on oil and gas exports for half of its budget revenue and Europe as a market for more than 50 percent of its exports, may suffer a worse recession than in 2009 if energy prices plunge, according to Dmitriev.

..."There is large-scale capital flight from Russia, despite the economic recovery," Dmitriev said. "And this capital is flying into the epicenter of the global financial crisis, which is in Europe. That is actually the same as creating a food supply in the center of an atomic explosion." _SFGate

China's rich elites are unnerved by the twin political and economic situations popping up in the middle kingdom, and are looking for a safe place to stash their cash and valuables.

The two China crises are entwined, although the China bubble had been looking for an excuse to deflate for a few years.

The Eurozone is beginning to feel the stress of the building chaos and fiscal crises in Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. An underswell of capital flight is starting to build, even in Europe.

The world is watching the US for any sign that the former global economic bulwark is willing to turn away from its mindless and wasteful spending spree of the last few years that has occurred for no better reason than support for political cronies and a suicidal green energy starvation.

If November elections in the US provide reassurance of a long needed change in US fiscal and monetary policies, global markets may be reassured before the bottom completely erodes.

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22 May 2012

Peter Thiel: Who's Afraid of the Higher Ed. Bubble Bursting?

Entrepreneur, venture capitalist, philanthropist, and teacher/philosopher Peter Thiel sat down to talk with CBS' Morley Safer:

video via MJ Perry

Morley Safer: You think if the [higher education] bubble bursts, it's a good thing?

Peter Thiel: I don't think bubbles bursting are ever good things. I think they are inevitable things.

For Thiel success seemed inevitable -- child prodigy, chess champion, arrogantly self confident. He breezed through Stanford undergrad and law schools. With his Midas touch he took the millions he made as a co-founder of Paypal and turned that into billions as the first investor in Facebook.

Morley Safer: And you're a billionaire before the age of 40.

Peter Thiel: I guess that might be correct, yes.

Morley Safer: No, it is correct. _CBS_via_MJPerry

Peter Thiel is backing the Methuselah Project for anti-aging, he is backing the Seasteading Institute, he backs Elon Musk's SpaceX, he teaches a Stanford course on high tech startups, and is involved in a number of unconventional and cutting edge enterprises.

So far, he has been able to avoid the ire of the skankstream journolist thugmonkeys -- for the most part. It might be best if he continues to avoid commenting on political topics. ;-)

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Not as Easy as it Looks

Video via Telegraph Coverage at link

More from Wired

National Geographic Coverage

The planned future of NASA's collaboration with private space taxis

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21 May 2012

SpaceX Launch Time Set for 03:44 EDT 22 May 2012

If all goes as planned, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will lift off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 3:44 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time tomorrow. The Falcon 9 will loft the company’s Dragon space capsule into orbit. The Dragon is slated to become the first privately operated spacecraft to rendezvous with the International Space Station, delivering a payload of crew rations and other cargo to the six astronauts on the station.

If the mission unfolds smoothly, SpaceX will begin regular deliveries of supplies to the space station. The company has agreed to send 12 cargo capsules to the space station over the next few years, at a total cost to NASA of $1.6 billion. Someday, a human-rated Dragon capsule could ferry astronauts, not just cargo, to and from orbit. But first the Falcon 9 rocket must get off the ground. _Sciam
Problems with last weekend's planned launch are being blamed on a faulty valve, which allowed pressures in the #5 engine combustion chamber to climb to marginally high levels -- automatically scrubbing the closely timed launch.
SpaceX has replaced a faulty valve that led to the aborted launch attempt early Saturday morning and is currently planning a second launch attempt at 3:44 a.m. EDT Tuesday, May 22. The first launch attempt was unsuccessful after a last-half-second shutoff occurred due to higher than acceptable pressure in the combustion chamber of one of the Falcon 9′s Merlin rocket engines.

After examining the problematic engine, SpaceX engineers were able to trace the high-pressure problem to a valve that controls the flow of nitrogen used to purge the engine before ignition. Using the inert nitrogen gas to purge rocket engines is common and has been used for decades. The nitrogen displaces gases and/or liquids, effectively cleaning the engine and preventing any volatile mixtures before ignition.

A check valve that allows the nitrogen purge prior to ignition in the Merlin engine was stuck open just before launch. This stuck valve allowed “liquid oxygen to flow from the main injector [for the rocket engine itself] into the gas generator injector” that generates hot turbine gas, which drives the turbopumps, according to SpaceX. The turbopumps (pictured) are basically very high-powered fuel and oxidizer pumps that deliver the liquids to the main combustion chamber of the rocket. The result was the turbopumps were operating at a slightly higher power level, resulting in the high pressure detected in the combustion chamber on engine five. _Wired

The more moving parts an engine contains, the more potential for such problems as apparently occurred. Potential hazards tend to expand exponentially at the kinds of pressures and temperatures which are normally found in and around rocket engines such as SpaceX's Merlin.

Here is a SpaceX flashback to 2003, containing a report on early tests and plans for the Merlin engine and the company. Such looks back are likely to prove nostalgic, should SpaceX achieve tomorrow morning's launch, and succeed in this and subsequent missions.

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Behind the Scenes of The Green Doomer Eco-Fascist Cult

This article was previously published on Al Fin Energy blog

Green doomer eco-fascist cultists all follow similar guidelines: Slash the human population of the planet, although they themselves are unwilling to go first.. Blame free markets and western civilisation for most of the world's problems. Eschew all viable forms of large-scale energy in favour of those which are exorbitantly expensive and innately unreliable. Hate advanced technology, and want to push the world toward primitive lifestyles and global poverty. They are essentially anti-individual and pro-collective.

Members of any doomer cult will recognise the litany, whether from the climate change catastrophe cult, the peak oil doomer cult, the overpopulation doom cult, the global pollution doom cult, the biodiversity doom cult, etc.

Here is more from one of the horses' mouths:

This is Finnish writer Pentti Linkola — a man who demands that the human population reduce its size to around 500 million and abandon modern technology and the pursuit of economic growth — in his own words.

He likens Earth today to an overflowing lifeboat:

What to do, when a ship carrying a hundred passengers suddenly capsizes and there is only one lifeboat? When the lifeboat is full, those who hate life will try to load it with more people and sink the lot. Those who love and respect life will take the ship’s axe and sever the extra hands that cling to the sides.

He sees America as the root of the problem:

The United States symbolises the worst ideologies in the world: growth and freedom.

He unapologetically advocates bloodthirsty dictatorship:

Any dictatorship would be better than modern democracy. There cannot be so incompetent a dictator that he would show more stupidity than a majority of the people. The best dictatorship would be one where lots of heads would roll and where government would prevent any economical growth .

We will have to learn from the history of revolutionary movements — the national socialists, the Finnish Stalinists, from the many stages of the Russian revolution, from the methods of the Red Brigades — and forget our narcissistic selves.

A fundamental, devastating error is to set up a political system based on desire. Society and life have been organized on the basis of what an individual wants, not on what is good for him or her.

As is often the way with extremist central planners Linkola believes he knows what is best for each and every individual, as well as society as a whole:

Just as only one out of 100,000 has the talent to be an engineer or an acrobat, only a few are those truly capable of managing the matters of a nation or mankind as a whole. In this time and this part of the World we are headlessly hanging on democracy and the parliamentary system, even though these are the most mindless and desperate experiments of mankind. In democratic coutries the destruction of nature and sum of ecological disasters has accumulated most. Our only hope lies in strong central government and uncompromising control of the individual citizen.


H/T Zerohedge

This fellow is not actually so extreme, for a green. He may be a bit more honest and open about his convictions than most, but that is changing. Even the WWF -- which has written many of the supporting "studies" for the IPCC climate change reports -- has come out in support of policies which would ultimately result in a large scale human dieoff.

Is this also the face of the peak oil doomer cult? Certainly you find a lot of peak oil cult wankers fixated on doom porn, compulsively getting their doom fix whenever possible. It would be easy to assume that they actually want to see suburbia burning, that they would like to see the end of civilisation as we know it.

Not that most of the incompetent athols would survive very long after such an event. More: Europe as the canary in the coal mine

Early dissent among former believers in the CAGW orthodoxy and carbon hysteria warming cult

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19 May 2012

Preserving Food for 100 Years? . . . Indefinitely?

Food and Drug Administration Article about a shelf life test that was conducted on 100-year old canned foods that were retrieved from the Steamboat Bertrand can be read at the following link:


Following is a brief summary of a very small portion of the above article:

"Among the canned food items retrieved from the Bertrand in 1968 were brandied peaches, oysters, plum tomatoes, honey, and mixed vegetables. In 1974, chemists at the National Food Processors Association (NFPA) analyzed the products for bacterial contamination and nutrient value. Although the food had lost its fresh smell and appearance, the NFPA chemists detected no microbial growth and determined that the foods were as safe to eat as they had been when canned more than 100 years earlier. _Grandpappy Shelflife

So food that is carefully canned and stored may still be safe to eat 100 years later! But here is something even more impressive: Hormel Foods says their canned meats can stay safe to eat indefinitely!
"What is the shelf life of a Hormel Foods product in an unopened can?

The processing techniques utilized by Hormel Foods makes the canned product safe for use indefinitely if the product seal remains intact, unbroken and securely attached to a can that has been well maintained. It is suggested that all canned products be stored in a cool and dry environment to keep the flavor adequately preserved. For maximum flavor it is recommended that the product be used within three years of the manufacturing date. After that period of time, the product is still safe to use however, the flavor gradually declines."

These products include the following among many others:

Dinty Moore Beef Stew 
Dinty Moore Chicken Stew 
Hormel Corned Beef 
Hormel Corned Beef Hash_Wilderness Survival
Hormel suggests eating their canned foods within a few years, however, for maximum taste and nutritive value.

9 foods that can outlast you...

Information on food radiation, which improves shelf life......more here

General discussion of shelf life of a range of foods and beverages

Food Product Design archives of news articles on shelf life

Surprising foods you can freeze to eat or drink later . . .

Conventional ways of preserving foods include canning, freezing, drying, salting, freeze-drying, vacuum packing, nitrogen packing, and smoking, among others. But irradiating foods can become a useful additional way of extending the shelf life of foods.

Under the old regime of psychological neotenates, it would be unheard of for a prepper group or a survival compound to have its own food irradiator. But we are approaching the days of "the dangerous child," which is likely to change everything.

Remember: It is never too late to have a dangerous childhood.

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High Combustion Chamber Pressure Reading in Engine 5 Aborts SpaceX Launch

All nine engines for the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket roared to life Saturday morning. But with a mere half-second remaining before liftoff, the onboard computers automatically shut everything down. So instead of blasting off on a delivery mission to the space station, the rocket stayed on its launch pad amid a plume of engine exhaust.

...SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said that high combustion chamber pressure in engine No. 5 was to blame and that technicians would conduct an inspection later in the day. If the engine needs to be replaced, a spare is available.

Tuesday is the earliest that SpaceX can try again to send its cargo-laden Dragon capsule to the space station. The California-based company - formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp. - is targeting every few days for a launch attempt to save fuel in case of rendezvous problems at the space station. Wednesday also could be a launch option. _SeattleTimes
Over 1,000 guest observers left Cape Canaveral disappointed, early this morning. But SpaceX officials vow to persist until they achieve a successful launch and docking with the international space station (ISS).

This morning's launch required precise timing in order to achieve full mission goals. Even one second's delay in launch would have prevented the mission from proceeding to completion, thus the absolute abort and computer shutdown when the anomalous pressure reading was detected.

Saturday morning's setback is the latest in a long line of delays for the private space company. And yet, SpaceX remains on the path to set countless records for private space missions, in addition to the records it has already set. The smart money continues to bet on SpaceX.

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Saturday Morning Cartoon for the Cognitively Boosted

This video by Eric Schadt gives us a look at the incredible complexity of dynamic gene expression in humans, primarily in the brain. If you pay attention, you will begin to understand the challenge of understanding brain disease and intervening pharmacologically in brain gene expression.

Other videos from the same conference as this presentation was given. Videos at this symposium tend to be under 30 minutes in length.

Other videos from conferences on cognitive science that you may find interesting: 2011 MIT Brains, Minds, and Machines Several panel discussions, with many famous cognitive scientists participating, if you want to attach a face and voice to a cogsci author you may have read.

2006 IBM Almaden Conference on Cognitive Computing
You will find several classic and useful presentations in this group of videos.

2004 Columbia University Brain and Mind

H/T Brian Wang

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18 May 2012

Potemkin China: Struggling to Discover Its True Self

When I think about an economic black box China is the economy that comes to mind. This video from Reuters shows a Chinese economist snooping around Chinese ports and commercial areas looking for clues on the ground. What did he find? An economy that looks a lot slower than the one reported by the Chinese government. Some people claim to understand what’s going on in China, but given the many inconsistencies I just don’t see how anyone can claim to be an expert. After all, even Chinese economists feel the need to investigate their own economy…. _PragCap


We already knew that the CCP government had a tendency to shade the truth to fit the approved narrative. But deeper undercurrents of turmoil are taking place inside of China, with more troubling implications. China's government is undergoing an identity crisis, an internal power struggle.
there are political sides in the communist state of China. Here, it's a matter of the right and the left. In China, it's a matter of private enterprise and strong foreign investment versus highly centralized and debt-heavy state enterprise.

According to the geopolitical analysis company Stratfor, the left may be losing ground in China, and Beijing may be headed down an economic path that focuses on private enterprise. _Mauldin

Stratfor is being a bit premature in its prognosis, according to Al Fin Global Analysts Ltd. Chinese security and defense forces are populated by persons with the old collectivist mentality. The struggle has just begun. China's transition to a new government elite may have to be postponed until 2013 as a result.

Interesting times.

More: Michael Pettis predicts collapse in China's investment growth rate

China's huge commodities stockpiles suggest a darker future for national and world economies

No nation can be permanently immunised from the laws of economics.

Even more (20May2012):

China biggest threat to global economy

Heavy hand of CCP on China's economy threatens China's economic future


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Venter Tries to Put the Genomics Revolution in Perspective

Craig Venter has done some amazing things. Follow the link to read the Wired interview in full, and you will see an abbreviated bio for the disruptive scientist. In the excerpts from the interview below, Venter attempts to describe what will be required before society can expect to reap all the benefits from the coming genomic revolution.

Venter has to simplify the challenge for the sake of the public, but there is no minimising the promise. Life is hackable, and we are developing the tools that will be able to hack just about any genome. More exciting than that, is the challenge of creating entirely new genomes, which function on different principles, using different nucleic acids, amino acids, carbohydrates, and lipids. Now that will be biohacking.

Venter's Synthetic Algal Farm

Venter: ...what most people think about when it comes to genetics is personalized medicine. If we sequence your genome or my genome, what can we interpret, what can we predict for the future, what can we change? That’s in its absolute infancy. We’re at the point where we don’t need one genome or just a few genomes to interpret your genome. We need tens of thousands of genomes as a starting point, coupled with everything we can know about their physiology. It’s only when we do that giant computer search, putting all that DNA together, that we will be able to make sense in a meaningful statistical manner of what your DNA is telling you. We’re just at the start of trying to do that. So the fact that it’s 10 years out and we’re able to start on that project—that, I think, is pretty exciting.

Goetz: There is some perception, though, that in terms of human health the genomics revolution has overpromised and underdelivered.

Venter: Well, it depends on whose promises you’re talking about. Some people were saying that 10 years out we’d have every disease cured. I think that was overpromising. I always said it was a race to the starting line. Once we got the first genome, that’s when genomics would really start.

Goetz: I’m curious about your own interest in human health. Where does that stand on the spectrum of what you’re doing?

Venter: I turned 65 last year, and each year I get more and more interested in human health. For most people it happens around age 50, but I’ve always been a slow learner. It’s critical in terms of the cost of health care. If we can actually do this experiment of getting at least 10,000 human genomes and then get the corresponding phenotype information, we can show that this data set could make preventative medicine possible and thereby reduce health care costs. And one of the things about genetics that has become clearer as we’ve done genomes—as we’ve worked our way through the evolutionary tree, including humans—is that we’re probably much more genetic animals than we want to confess we are.

Goetz: What do you mean by that?

Venter: We’re much more genetically determined in terms of our physiology. We have 200 trillion cells, and the outcome of each of them is almost 100 percent genetically determined. And that’s what our experiment with the first synthetic genome proves, at least in the case of really simple bacteria. It’s the interactions of all those separate genetic units that give us the physiology that we see.

Goetz: So on a cellular level, since the genes control the function of the cell, no matter what happens in that cell’s environment, we’re more the product of our genes than our environment.

Venter: Yes. And that has important consequences when it comes to reading our genomes, trying to understand the basis of disease, and then trying to alter those features. We’re a country that seems to love drama and disasters. We’re not so good at preventing them. But preventing disease is the future of medicine. That’s the only way to lower costs and improve outcomes.

Goetz: You mentioned synthetic life. This is another area that you have helped pioneer. It’s built on the same raw material—DNA—as your work on the human genome, but it leads us in a very different direction, toward energy solutions, things like that.

Venter: The term synthetic life means different things to different people. For some it’s green monsters, for others synthetic means plastic. Most people didn’t know what to make of it when we announced that we had created synthetic life. We’re talking about chemical synthesis.

...Goetz: But it’s not like just asking a cell to start making furniture. You’re trying to get them to do something that’s close to what they already do naturally.

Venter: Right. We’re trying to harness photosynthesis. A key part of photosynthesis is what happens when the sun goes down. Cells convert CO2 into sugar and fat molecules. And they store the fat to burn as energy to get them through the night—the same way we store fat, only that’s just to get us through TV shows. We’re trying to coax our synthetic cells to do what’s happened to middle America, which is store far more fat than they actually were designed to do, so that we can harness it all as an energy source and use it to create gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel straight from carbon dioxide and sunlight. This would shift the carbon equation so we’re recycling CO2 instead of taking new carbon out of the ground and creating still more CO2. But it has to be done on a massive scale to have any real impact on the amount of CO2 we’re putting into the atmosphere, let alone recovering from the atmosphere.

“There are not enough scientists on the planet to look at all the genes that we’ve discovered.”

Goetz: A massive industrial scale.

Venter: We envision facilities the size of San Francisco. And 10 or 15 of those in this country. We need sunlight, seawater, and non-agricultural land, but you need a lot of photons to drive this. You need a lot of surface area of sunlight to do that. It’s a great use for Arizona. Lots of sunlight there.

Goetz: You’ve been working on synthetic life for 15 years or more. How long until we reach scale? There must be many experiments between here and there.

Venter: We’re looking at this as a 10-year problem, not a 10-month problem.

Really? You think that we can get to industrial-scale energy production in just 10 years?

Venter: If we can’t get some key scientific breakthroughs within the next couple of years, it probably won’t happen in 10 years. So it’s something that’s really dependent on fundamental science. But we’re already able to do things that were once seen as impossible.

Goetz: Just to put a couple of things together: The part of this that involves genetic sequencing is figuring out what different genes can do so you can plug them in for specific outputs. And when you have cataloged thousands and millions of these genes and what proteins they create, then those are potential building blocks to synthesize new organisms that produce specified outputs. Is that it?

Venter: That’s right. And there are new functions being discovered all the time. But there are not enough scientists on the planet to look at all the genes that we’ve already discovered. From the ocean expedition alone, we have about 60 million to 80 million genes. We don’t know what most of them do.

What’s needed is an automated way to discover what they do. And then we can actually make substitutions starting with the digital world and converting that into these analog DNA molecules, then transplant them automatically and get cells out. It’s a matter of scoring the cells based on knowing what the input information is, to work out what that gene does, what impact it has. Do you get a living cell or not? I think we can make a robot that learns 10,000 times faster than a scientist can. And then all bets are off on the rate of new discovery.

Goetz: And energy is just one of your targets. You believe DNA is a code that can be used to solve all sorts of problems: health, energy, food.

Venter: I think of it as an equation: Water equals food equals energy. It doesn’t matter where you start in that equation, you need cheap renewable energy to produce food and clean water, and vice versa. Biology is a natural part of many of those, certainly the food part. And it’s been a part of energy. Oil is ancient biology, very ancient biology, as is coal, but we need to not take that ancient biology out of the ground, burn it, and put it into the atmosphere. We need a way to recycle the biology. So biology will be a key part of the solution. Will it be the only solution? No. We need lots of solutions. We can now start with the code, the digital code of DNA, convert that into chemical DNA, and convert that into new living organisms that have the potential to do what we need them to do. Producing these very necessary things for society.

... _Venter Interview in Wired

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17 May 2012

The Fight to Control the Human Future: Round I

Round I: Green Global Juggernaut vs. Superhuman AI

Contender #1: The Great Green Global Juggernaut Grabs for Control
Getting Back to the Garden

Forty years ago, two ideas about humanity’s relationship with the natural world caught the imagination of the richest and most influential people. The first was that the demands of a growing population were taking more from the planet than could be replaced by natural processes. The second, related idea was that there exist natural ‘limits to growth’. These two reinventions of Malthusianism became the basis of a new form of global politics, which has sought to [control] human industrial and economic development ever since...

In 1972, the UN held its Conference on the Human Environment, and began its environment programme, UNEP. In 1983, the World Commission on Environment and Development ... was formed, leading to the publication of its findings in 1987 in Our Common Future. Also known as the Brundtland Report, it became the bible of ‘sustainable development’.

Having established sustainable development as an imperative of global politics, more organisations and programmes under the UN were formed to deliver it. In 1992, the UN Conference on Environment and Development, the first ‘Earth Summit’, was held in Rio, leading to the Agenda 21 ‘blueprint for a sustainable planet’, UN conventions on climate change and biodiversity, and the creation of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (UNSCD). Since then, an entire ecosystem of global, national, governmental and non-governmental organisations has emerged, to advocate and implement the closer integration of human productive life with knowledge about the environment: to observe the ‘limits to growth’. The most notable of these is the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), under which a global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions is being sought.

...why are world leaders set to meet next month in Rio at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development?

The conference, known as Rio+20, aims to bring together‘world leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups’ to ‘shape how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever-more crowded planet to get to the future we want’....It’s not for you or I to decide what ‘the future we want’ will look like by participating in democratic processes. Instead, ‘world leaders’ from governments, businesses and NGOs are to decide it for us. _Spiked_via_GWPF
It is worth reading the entire article, to get a better feel for how and why the extreme elitists of the global green movement aim to take control of the human future. Perhaps the key point is that a world designed by the green elite will contain far fewer human beings than the one we live in. Can you say, "Downsize?"

Contender #2: Superhuman AI Lags Behind, but Offers a Deeper Contentment

Computer Taking Control

"Any intelligence is dangerous, and any intelligence that doesn't share your goals is doubly dangerous, and any constraint we could devise for the AI merely pits human intelligence against superhuman intelligence, and we should expect the latter to prevail...."

..."AI would be able to use its superpowers to accumulate vast fortunes on the stock exchange, or even 'be Google', as AI would be cheaper and more productive than the human workers currently employed. It could even be a Super Clinton or Super Goebbels, able to take over by persuading us to let it." Or it may gain more powers that we have not even thought of, given that "the space beyond human intelligence is vast".

...any superintelligent AI "may quickly learn to tell the human testers what they want and then manipulate them", as would any AI that was isolated in some kind of "oracle". "Wouldn't you?" he adds. _Wired.co.uk

Computer Multitasking Human

Decades are likely to pass before we reach the point where superhuman AI will be able to fool us into letting it take control. In the meantime, we are already making ourselves and our societies hugely dependent upon an ever-expanding infrastructure of computing. As our lives, livelihoods, and identities come to require advanced computing more and more, we become more like powerful cyborgs, and less like native humans.
A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed an experimental system that can detect when a human is trying to multitask, and help out.

...When Brainput detected that the driver was multitasking, it was able to detect one of the robots to use its own sensors to help navigate -- making it partially autonomous. The operator's overall performance improved, as a result, with little additional effort, and they didn't seem to notice or get frustrated by the bot's autonomous behaviour while multitasking.

..."Multitasking has become integral in many aspects of our lives, so there are opportunities to explore Brainput in other tasks and domains," said the team in a paper (.pdf) detailing the project. "In any activity involving multitasking or information overload, we could expect to see improvements in the user's performance and experience. Some examples of other domains are complex data analytics, air traffic control and management of multiple unmanned vehicles."

They added that future work could consider other cognitive states where humans could do with a helping hand from a machine. "An exploration of the system's ability to distinguish other states could lead to new enhancements at little to no cost to the operator." _Wired.co.uk
Perhaps Brainput could help us relax and enter a state of bliss whenever we are not working and performing vital tasks. Brainput might even instill in us a greater sense of purpose, of devotion to a higher goal, which would make it all worthwhile.

The global green juggernaut vs. superhuman AI. Being downsized out of existence vs. merging with the machine. These are the contenders before us today, of all of those who wish to control the human future. Something to contemplate.

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16 May 2012

Using Brain Imaging to Replace IQ Tests and SATs

In 1988, Haier and his colleagues scanned volunteers while they attempted to solve problems from the Raven's Advanced Progressive Matrices, a nonverbal intelligence test. The scientists wanted to know which parts of the brain were active as the participants solved the problems. What they discovered was that there was an inverse relationship between brain activation and scores on the intelligence test.

In other words, smarter people had brains that could be more efficient.

Since that landmark study, the field of Neuro-Intelligence has started to take off. From 1988 to 2007, 37 imaging studies of intelligence and reasoning were published. From a 2007 synthesis of the literature, Rex Jung of the University of New Mexico and Haier concluded that intelligence was distributed across the brain and not focused in one part of the frontal lobe.

...Now Haier and his colleagues are collecting data to compare the brains of bright (IQs around 130 and higher) and average participants (IQs in the low 100's). They plan to use an imaging technique that will allow imaging of the problem solving experience to be recorded millisecond by millisecond.

According to Haier, "We will be able to see what parts of the brain are activated when people are solving problems. We can see the part of the brain that begins to work on the problem and where that information goes in the brain over the course of problem solving until there is an answer." _PsychologyToday
There are a number of types of brain imaging that one could use to measure brain function power or efficiency.

In this study, Richard Haier looks at imaged cortical thickness, and finds a high correlation with "g."

In this video, Professor Haier looks at a dynamic magneto-encephalogram (MEG) of a brain performing a basic cognitive function. The MEG provides incredible time resolution imaging, allowing a more comprehensive correlation of neural functioning with conscious and subconscious cognitive activity.

Here, UCLA researchers used diffusion tensor imaging of the brain to study white matter function, and found high correlations between white matter integrity and standard IQ test scores.

Other types of dynamic imaging might include PET (positronic emission tomography), EEG, and more. There is typically a tradeoff between temporal (time) resolution and spatial resolution with various scanning methods, but clever ways of combining and correlating different types of scans should help to get around those limitations.

In addition to visualizing simple brain activation, cortical thickness, white matter integrity, etc., advanced imaging will also allow researchers to observe genetic variation in brain activity as it occurs. We are still in the early stages of such dynamic genetic probing, but these tools should help us avoid having to sacrifice human subjects in order to observe changes in brain structure and genetic activity post-mortem. ;-) Heh. Just kidding.

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Did Gigantic Phartosaurs Devastate the Mesozoic Climate?

The following piece was previously published on Al Fin Potpourri blog

UK climate scientologists scientists have discovered that huge dinosaurs -- nicknamed "phartosaurs" -- may have produced enough methane by flatulence to tip the balance of the mesozoic climate into catastrophe.
Baby Phartosaurs in Various Stages of Hatching
Like huge cows, the mighty sauropods would have generated enormous quantities of methane. Sauropods, recognisable by their long necks and tails, were widespread around 150 million years ago.

They included some of the largest animals to walk the Earth, such as Diplodocus, which measured 150 feet and weighed up to 45 tonnes.

Scientists believe that, just as in cows, methane-producing bacteria aided the digestion of sauropods by fermenting their plant food.

''A simple mathematical model suggests that the microbes living in sauropod dinosaurs may have produced enough methane to have an important effect on the Mesozoic climate,'' said study leader Dr Dave Wilkinson, from Liverpool John Moores University.

''Indeed, our calculations suggest that these dinosaurs could have produced more methane than all modern sources - both natural and man-made - put together.''

The research is published today in the journal Current Biology. _Telegraph_via_WUWT

This "phartosaurus hypothesis" is still in its preliminary stages, although it is as well supported as any other catastrophic theories or models of climate put forward by IPCC climate scientologists scientists up until now.

One must admire the brilliance of the keen minds capable of dreaming up modeling such clever hypotheses.

By the way, how long is it going to take Steven Spielberg to grow some of those giant phartosaurs, as food livestock? Imagine how many hungry people could be fed around the world from just a small herd of domesticated phartosaurs! Hurry up, Steven. There are hungry people out there!

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China's Real Estate Economy Unraveling

  • The market is not poised to recover, but will continue to see greater downward pressure on prices;
  • and
  • Real estate investment is likely to flatten out or start falling, erasing several percentage points of GDP growth.
_Patrick Chovanec

Bad loans and shady business practises dot the landscape of the domestic Chinese economy -- from the local and regional governments all the way to the top. Many of these problems are coming to light at the same time that the CCP regime is experiencing the greatest political threat and instability since Tienanmen Square in 1989.

More from China specialist Patrick Chovanec:
China’s developers are playing out a kind of prisoner’s dilemma: rush to complete, in hopes of cashing out. But while supply keeps going up, demand is going down. In late March, a central bank (PBOC) survey reported that only 14.1% of Chinese consumers were looking to buy a house in Q2, the lowest level since 1999. Only 17.7% expected home prices to rise in Q2, and 62.9% said they still consider prices to be too high. So all those rushed completions only add to the glut already on the market, driving prices down further and giving buyers — investors and aspiring residents alike — all the more reason to hold off for a better deal. Perhaps this is why Qin Hong, deputy head of research for the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD), told the Oriental Morning Post in late March that she doesn’t expect housing prices to rebound significantly for the rest of the year. A strong rebound is impossible, she said, due to the continued property tightening policy and high housing inventory (my italics).

The second implication of the dynamic I’ve just described is that the “resilient” growth in real estate investment that seemed to promise a “soft landing” is not very resilient at all. It’s more like the last gasp of a market that’s running out of steam. Once the surge in completions plays out, the declining number of new starts will become the pipeline, and growth in property investment will flatten or go negative. Property investment accounts for roughly a quarter of gross Fixed Asset Investment (FAI), and net FAI accounts for over half of China’s GDP growth. As I noted in January, in a back-of-the-envelope thought exercise, if property investment plateaus (growth falls to zero), it could shave as much as 2.6 percentage points off of real GDP growth. If it fell 10% (in real, not nominal terms) it could bring GDP growth down to 5.3%. _Chovanec.wordpress.com
China hand Michael Pettis is another Beijing-based economist who is expecting a China hard landing. For those investors who haven't considered what a China hard landing would mean for global markets, the answer is: Nothing good.

Global demand for commodities from crude oil to coal to steel ore etc. hinge upon the Chinese economy's ability to import. As global demand cools, global prices should decline.

There is not an economy on Earth that has been permanently exempted from the laws of economics, despite what politicians, pundits, and greens may say.

More from Mish on China Slowdown


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15 May 2012

Private Space Companies: Don't Try to Convince People -- Just Do It

At 4:55 a.m. on Saturday, a rocket is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and carry cargo — but no people — to the International Space Station.

But if all goes as planned, that morning will mark something transformative for the space industry: a victory for capitalism in what has been for decades a government-run enterprise. The capsule, built by Space Exploration Technologies Corporation — SpaceX, for short — would be the first commercial spacecraft to make it to the space station, and many observers view its launching as the starting gun in an entrepreneurial race to turn space travel into a profit-making business in which NASA is not necessarily the biggest customer. _NYT

SpaceX Falcoln 9 Hotfire Test of First Stage
The long-awaited mission will, if all goes well, combine the milestones of two separate missions, designated C2 and C3, originally planned as part of NASA’s award to SpaceX under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. This “C2+” mission will perform a series of maneuvers in the vicinity of the station—milestones from the original C2 mission—and, if all goes well, then approach the station, whose robot arm will grapple the spacecraft and berth it—milestones from the C3 mission.

That mission will begin with the launch of the Dragon on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral at 4:55 am EDT on Saturday, May 19. The launch window is instantaneous, leaving no margin for error in the event of a technical or meteorological issue during the countdown. Moreover, launch opportunities are only once every three days, something SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said at a press conference last month was designed to minimize the propellant Dragon will have to use to reach the ISS, maximizing the amount available for maneuvering in the station’s vicinity.

After the Falcon 9’s second stage places Dragon into an approximately 310 by 340 kilometer orbit, the spacecraft will spend two days gradually maneuvering towards the ISS. On Day 3 of the mission, Dragon will move to a position 2.5 kilometers below the ISS, then fly around the station before returning to that initial location, demonstrating its ability to precisely and safely fly in proximity to the ISS. As soon as the following day, pending approval from NASA, Dragon will approach the station, holding at positions 250 and then 30 meters from it, before moving to its “capture point” 10 meters below the station. At that point, the station’s Canadarm2 will grapple Dragon and berth it to the Earth-facing node on the station’s Harmony module.

Should all that go according to plan, the station’s crew will open the hatches between the station and Dragon the following day and start to unload the 520 kilograms of cargo it contains. While not an official cargo delivery flight under SpaceX’s separate Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, the Dragon is carrying some relatively nonessential cargo, including food and other supplies, as well as a laboratory module for NanoRacks, a company that provides access to the station for commercial and educational research.

After about two weeks on the station, the Dragon will be loaded with 660 kilograms of cargo for return to Earth, including experiments and unneeded equipment. Dragon will undock, maneuver away from the station, and reenter, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California... _Space Review
That is the plan, anyway. In a few days, we will see if things go according to plan.
...Only recently have smaller, nimbler companies like SpaceX, some of them run by billionaires who proved themselves in other fields, started trying to compete as equals with NASA and its major contractors. (Mr. Musk, for example, is an Internet entrepreneur who founded PayPal.)

...Already, there are some hints of how the era of commercial space travel might unfold. Companies like Virgin Galactic, XCOR and Space Adventures are booking passengers on suborbital joy rides to space, promised for dates within the next few years, and hundreds of people are signing up. And already there are celebrity tie-ins: Among the people who have signed up for Virgin’s first flights are Ashton Kutcher, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks and Katy Perry.

On a more mundane note, the launching of commercial satellites has been a steady business for decades, and SpaceX is among the companies already competing for contracts. Indeed, SpaceX already seems to have built a viable business here, having announced more than $1 billion of contracts in the last few years.

Then there are the longer-term dreams, which may sound less far-fetched as each landmark in space travel grows nearer.

“I think humanity needs to get to Mars, one way or another,” said Elon Musk, the founder and chief executive of SpaceX, who vows that his company will send people to Mars in as little as 10 years — more likely 15 years, and certainly within 20. He said he would do this with or without NASA: “I would prefer it would be with NASA. If not, we have to find another path.” _NYT
For humans to be able to move around the solar system quickly enough to make a difference, we will need better methods of propulsion. Perhaps something like an antimatter rocket:
First, some basic rocket science. The maximum speed of a rocket depends on its exhaust velocity, the fraction of mass devoted to fuel and the configuration of the rocket stages. "The latter two factors depend strongly on fine details of engineering and construction, and when considering space propulsion for the distant future, it seems appropriate to defer the study of such specifics," say Keane and Zhang.

So these guys focus on the exhaust velocity--the speed of the particles produced in matter-antimatter annihilations as they leave the rocket engine.

The thrust from these annihilations comes largely from using a magnetic field to deflect charged particles created in the annihilation. These guys focus on the annihilation of protons and antiprotons to produce charged pions.

So an important factor is how efficiently the magnetic field can channel these particles out of the nozzle.

In fact, the exhaust velocity of these pions depends on two factors--their average initial velocity when they are created and the efficiency of the magnetic nozzle design.

In the past, various physicists have calculated that the pions should travel at over 90 per cent the speed of light but that the nozzle would be only 36 per cent efficient. That translates into an average exhaust velocity of only a third of lightspeed, barely relativistic and somewhat of a disappointment for antimatter propulsion fans.

All that is set to change now, however. Keane and Zhang have come up with a different set of figures with the help of software developed by CERN that simulates the interaction between particles, matter and fields of various kinds. _TechnologyReview
More from Brian Wang:

How Space Can Open Up a World of Unprecedented Abundance

Anticipated Propulsion Breakthroughs

Ultimately, it is a waste of time to try to convince people that you are going to do something spectacular. The best approach is to just do it.

At this time, the governments and inter-governments of the world exist to limit what individuals and groups of independent individuals can do. Such limitations will not always be in force, for all humans everywhere.

Remember: It is never too late to have a dangerous childhood. The world of the future will need as many dangerous children as it can get.


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Government Radiation Hysteria May Do More Harm Than Good

This article is cross-posted to Al Fin Energy blog

A recent study from MIT suggests that government guidelines to protect from low-level radiation exposure may be verging on the the hysteric -- if not downright harmful.
The study, led by Bevin Engelward and Jacquelyn Yanch and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that when mice were exposed to radiation doses about 400 times greater than background levels for five weeks, no DNA damage could be detected. _MITNews
Life on Earth has always been exposed to variable levels of low level radiation. Background radiation has been a powerful driving force behind evolution, over the aeons.

Until now, governments have arbitrarily set radiation exposure limits, without basing them on realistic scientific studies. That may be about to change.
Until now, very few studies have measured the effects of low doses of radiation delivered over a long period of time. This study is the first to measure the genetic damage seen at a level as low as 400 times background (0.0002 centigray per minute, or 105 cGy in a year).

“Almost all radiation studies are done with one quick hit of radiation. That would cause a totally different biological outcome compared to long-term conditions,” says Engelward, an associate professor of biological engineering at MIT.

...Background radiation comes from cosmic radiation and natural radioactive isotopes in the environment. These sources add up to about 0.3 cGy per year per person, on average.

“Exposure to low-dose-rate radiation is natural, and some people may even say essential for life. The question is, how high does the rate need to get before we need to worry about ill effects on our health?” Yanch says.

Previous studies have shown that a radiation level of 10.5 cGy, the total dose used in this study, does produce DNA damage if given all at once. However, for this study, the researchers spread the dose out over five weeks, using radioactive iodine as a source. The radiation emitted by the radioactive iodine is similar to that emitted by the damaged Fukushima reactor in Japan.

At the end of five weeks, the researchers tested for several types of DNA damage, using the most sensitive techniques available. Those types of damage fall into two major classes: base lesions, in which the structure of the DNA base (nucleotide) is altered, and breaks in the DNA strand. They found no significant increases in either type.

DNA damage occurs spontaneously even at background radiation levels, conservatively at a rate of about 10,000 changes per cell per day. Most of that damage is fixed by DNA repair systems within each cell. The researchers estimate that the amount of radiation used in this study produces an additional dozen lesions per cell per day, all of which appear to have been repaired.

Though the study ended after five weeks, Engelward believes the results would be the same for longer exposures. “My take on this is that this amount of radiation is not creating very many lesions to begin with, and you already have good DNA repair systems. My guess is that you could probably leave the mice there indefinitely and the damage wouldn’t be significant,” she says. _MITNews
What is the cost of government-instigated radiation hysteria? Look at how the world reacted to last year's tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Instead of focusing on the human tragedy of 30,000 human casualties, the media focus was on a nuclear power plant that lost power due to a poor design, discovered in hindsight, after an unanticipated natural disaster. And all of that, in spite of no one being killed or badly harmed from radiation exposure!

Advanced human societies are badly in need of reliable electrical power. The best source for that power is advanced nuclear reactors from gen III, gen IV, and beyond. But instead of pursuing an all out campaign of research and development to produce the needed electrical power generators, humans are retreating from the future in Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Italy, and more -- out of radiation hysteria.

It is time to return to a careful scientific study and to get away from hysterical herd behaviours, led by cynical governments and big money green organisations. That applies not only to nuclear hysteria, but to carbon hysteria, overpopulation hysteria, resource scarcity hysteria, and all the other forms of pseudoscientific hysteria that governments and the skankstream media love to torture the public with.

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14 May 2012

Africa: 50 Years After

After 50 + years of independence, and despite glowing reports by "international development specialists", most of SubSaharan Africa exists in a state of perpetual tragedy. Africa is only a tragedy in comparison with most of the rest of the world, of course. If more advanced parts of the human world did not exist, Africa would be a shining example of human progress and achievement.

Here is a look at the reality of urbanisation in Africa:
Although the central districts of many of Africa’s major cities now boast numerous skyscrapers of cement, glass and steel, and are host to great night life with vibrant bars and night clubs, these are transposed on unplanned, chaotic settlements built of wood, corrugated metal sheeting, mud bricks and whatever other materials may be at hand, with dirt roads and open sewer ditches.

This scenario is further complicated by other ills such as lack of piped water, unsafe sanitation, near absence of refuse collection, unstable electricity supply, poor housing, striking inequalities in wealth, absence of recreation parks and green landscapes, heavy traffic jams, and pervasive poverty, all of which have negative impacts on the quality of life and working environment in many African cities and towns.

These problems are compounded by corrupt and inefficient local government institutions and governance issues that hinder effective urban management as the lack of capacity and weakness in the municipalities result in critical problems such as unfocussed planning, weak resource mobilisation, and creation of slum conditions as “nobody is taking charge, and nobody is providing guidance”.

As of 2007, Africa housed an estimated 250 million people in urban slums, which are reduced to wastelands of overcrowding, poverty and social exclusion, and labelled by governments as illegal informal settlements that do not deserve provision of services.

In most African large cities, these informal settlements provide domicile to 40 and 70 percent of urban dwellers, especially those who work in the informal sector of employment.

Further, the African continent sits with an insurmountable level of unemployment as high as an average of 8.5 percent but going to 40 and 95 percent in some countries.

Forty percent of the people work in the informal sector of unemployment, which accounts for an extraordinary 78 percent of non-agricultural employment, 61 percent of urban employment, and 93 percent of all new jobs.

The documented growth in Africa has been driven mainly by services and capital-intensive extractive sectors, with the result that it has been growth without jobs and without reduction in poverty levels.

The formal economic sector (excluding government) has been incapable of creating sufficient jobs for urban populations, partly due to rapid influx of people, but mainly due to poorly managed urban development and weakened national economies.

It is reported to account for barely 10 percent of the total employment on the continent. _Africa 50 Years Later
Clearly the "African miracle" of growth and urbanisation looks somewhat different without the rose coloured glasses of international development "experts."

The IMF has just cut estimates for the near term economic growth of Sub-Saharan Africa, and there is little reason to hope for the long term. In terms of the reality of the ordinary African, the IMF's predictions have very little impact. Growth in Africa, when it occurs, rarely trickles down to the street level.

The reasons why African nations perpetually sit at the bottom rank of nations in terms of virtually all measures of development, achievement, and quality of life, could be debated over an indefinite period of time.

A lot of things could be done in terms of nutrition, public health, medical care, education, housing, and access to clean water, electricity, and advanced telecommunications. But almost as soon as an African achieves higher education, he is likely to emigrate to the western world, to escape the political caprice and instability of Africa.

Perhaps Africa should not be compared to the outside world. But you can be sure that Africans themselves will do so, and whenever possible, they will vote with their feet.


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