29 June 2012

How Many People Could Live in a 100 km Tall Building?

In January of 2010, inspired by the opening of the world's tallest skyscraper the Burj Dubai, J. Storrs Hall described an easy and luxurious way of housing the entire world's population in an area the size of the US state of Montana. His plan called for one giant tower per square mile, allowing most of the land area in between the towers to be used for agriculture, parks, and recreation etc.

The image at left portrays the progression of tall buildings from the pyramids of Egypt to the Burj Dubai. With every increase in height for tall skyscrapers, the potential for housing more people within each building tends to grow.

Below and to the right you can see Hall's trend line for the world's tallest buildings. He projects that at that rate, the world's tallest building will reach 1 mile high by about the year 2065.

But now we learn that visionary architect Zhang Yue -- of China's Broad Group -- is already designing plans for a skyscraper that would reach roughly 1.25 miles (via Brian Wang)!

The Broad Group's current planned magnum opus -- the Broad Skycity One (pictured below right) -- is planned for the city of Changsha, and is slated to be 10 metres taller than the Burj (Khalifa) in Dubai. But apparently the world's tallest tower at 838 metres is not enough for Yue. He wants to build one that is 2 km tall!
The plan seems impossibly ambitious: Build a 220-story building, the tallest in the world, in just four months by using the rapid-construction techniques his company has developed.

Zhang, a slight but wiry and intense man of 52, says "Sky City" - as he has dubbed it - can fix many of the world's pollution, congestion, transportation and even disease problems by completely purifying the tower's air. The 838-meter-tall building (10 meters taller than the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, currently the world's tallest) will hold schools, a hospital, 17 helipads and some 30,000 people. It will, indeed, be a city in the sky.

His dreams don't stop there. Pinned up on his office wall are plans for a project even more audacious - an almost preposterously massive building two kilometers high. _Reuters (viaNBF)

When Josh Hall calculated that the entire population of the world could reside in a number of "Burj Dubais" scattered about the state of Montana, he was estimating the average human residency per building of around 40,000.

The Broad Group's Sky City One is designed to house 30,000 + people, along with shops, restaurants, hospitals, commercial offices, schools, and more. And each Sky City can be built in just 4 months.

This is roughly in line with J. Storrs Hall's plan to house the entire world's population in an area the size of Montana, placing one tower in the middle of each square mile of land area -- leaving the overwhelming balance of land for purposes other than housing, commerce, industry, etc. Each tower would be a city in itself.

But once Zhang Yue is able to scale up to his 2,000 metre (over 1.2 miles) towers, we can really start talking about increased population density.

Which brings us to another of J. Storrs Hall's fabulous ideas: A 100 km tall space pier, designed as a platform for space launch. Such a space pier would need to be supported by strong structures to maintain stability for safe launch. No one knows how to build 60 mile high structures safely -- for now.

But at the rate that Zhang Yue is going, it may not be many years before he is ready to tackle the project of building the towers to support the 100 km tall space pier. And how many people do you think he could house within each of his 100 km skyscrapers?

Perhaps Zhang Yue and Josh Hall should sit down for a talk, to mull over some of these ideas.

Link to earlier Al Fin article discussing placing the world's population inside the state of Montana

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28 June 2012

An Explosion of Experimentation in Synthetic Biology

The cost of both decoding DNA and synthesizing new DNA strands... is falling about five times as fast as computing power is increasing under Moore's Law, which has accurately predicted that chip performance will double roughly every two years. Those involved in synthetic biology, who often favor computer analogies, might say it's becoming exponentially easier to read from, and write into, the source code of life. These underlying technology trends... are leading to an explosion in experimentation of a sort that would have been inconceivable only a few years ago. _Technology Review
This rapid improvement in the tools of synthetic biology is making it much easier to re-program living organisms, and to eventually generate a wide range of entirely new creatures -- custom-made for specific purposes.
Among its many projects, [George] Church's lab [at Harvard's Center for Computational Genetics] has invented a technique for rapidly synthesizing multiple novel strings of DNA and introducing them simultaneously into a bacterial genome. In one experiment, researchers created four billion variants of E. coli in a single day. After three days, they found variants of the bacteria in which production of a desired chemical was increased fivefold.

The idea, Church explains, is to sort through the variations to find "an occasional hopeful monster, just as evolution has done for millions of years." By mimicking in lab experiments what takes eons in nature, he says, he is radically improving the odds of finding ways to make microbes not just do new things but do them efficiently. _TechnologyReview
It is only natural to devise ways of speeding up evolution. But synthetic biologists are not likely to remain satisfied within the confines of nature, regardless of the speed of evolutionary change.

The new breed of scientists in this field will want to colour outside the lines.
[James] Collins wanted to study cellular processes by constructing gene networks rather than taking them apart. As a first step, he built a biological toggle circuit. A toggle is a mechanism with two possible states—in the case of a light switch, on or off. In the switch he and his colleagues built from DNA, two genes next to each other in a bacterial genome both produced proteins when they were "on." But Collins set things up so that each protein would block production of the other—if gene 1 was on, it would keep gene 2 off, and vice versa. With the aid of chemicals or a thermal pulse, Collins could flip between the two states. The DNA toggle switch was analogous to an electronic transistor, able to store a single bit of information. It was also an engineered example of the kind of feedback loop that often determines whether cells grow, divide, or die. "The idea that you could build a circuit out of biological parts helped launch the field of synthetic biology," says Collins. The results were published in January 2000. Soon Collins's toggle was joined by an expanding list of DNA circuits, including biosensors, oscillators, bacterial calculators, and similar molecular gadgetry. Researchers even established a Registry of Standard Biological Parts: 7,100 different DNA structures are available to order. Scientists were excited by the idea that biology might be modular and predictable, like something made with Lego blocks or computer code. Many scrambled to found companies that they hoped would commercialize the technology to produce fuels, drugs, or other products.

...[George Church's] Warp Drive Bio... combines computer science, chemistry, and genetic engineering in ways that would not have been possible until recently. It aims to use ultrafast DNA sequencing and synthetic-biology techniques, some of which Church pioneered, to hunt for potential medicines by scouring the DNA of millions of environmental samples that drug companies have collected and stored over several decades. Warp Drive is, in effect, searching for genetic parts that nature has already programmed to make particularly potent, useful chemicals. Church's technology will be used to generate copies of those parts, incorporate them into bacteria, and optimize their performance. Then the bacteria can be used to produce chemicals that, if all goes according to plan, have new and interesting therapeutic properties.

... If Church and Collins are intent on creating new synthetic parts and bioengineering techniques, [Gregory] Verdine is hoping to use many of the same techniques to unwrap the mysteries of how nature does it. Over the decades, he explained to me, pharmaceutical researchers have collected and stored tens of thousands, and more likely millions, of environmental samples, including dirt and pond scum. The idea was to discover some potent chemical in these mixtures by dripping extracts onto cancer cells or into petri dishes of bacteria. But that process is laborious and subject to chance. Most drug companies have scaled back such research.

The answer, Verdine decided, was to search for DNA instead. Given the plummeting cost of DNA sequencing, it's now feasible to simply decode all the genetic material present in, say, a drop of pond water teeming with microörganisms. Verdine says many of the natural drugs that have already been identified have similar DNA signatures—clusters of genes that often occur together in a microbe's genome. The trick, he adds, is to scan the samples' DNA to locate familiar-looking clusters that might be recipes for synthesizing a natural product—ideally, an important one that hasn't been found before.

Once identified, the DNA sequences will need to be engineered into a bacterium so that the company can produce the chemical and study the potential drugs. This is where the synthetic-biology techniques developed by Church will be crucial: in transforming the code into actual compounds. "We use genomics and informatics to find a gene cluster. But that's an information unit," Verdine says. "We have to get the molecule. Synthetic biology involves coaxing the cluster into biosynthetic factories, which then produce the molecules. If we don't have the molecule, the cluster is useless." _TechnologyReview

It is a very competitive field, with potential payoffs for commercialisation easily into the billions of dollars, and higher.

It is difficult to find and properly train minds capable of spanning the vast conceptual distances between the molecular, the genetic, the cellular, the physiologic, the pharmacologic, and the business / economic / legal /ethical issues.

And that is the crux of the issue: What the best human minds can do, with the assistance of the best tools that they can conceive and create.

This is one area where the contrast between dynamists and stasists could not be clearer.

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Growing Replacement Organs in the Lab: Wake Forest University's Anthony Atala

This article was originally published on Al Fin Longevity blog

[Anthony] Atala currently heads up more than 300 researchers in the Wake Forest University lab who are working on growing more than 30 different organs and body tissues.

In one trial for the U.S. Armed Forces, his team is collecting healthy skin cells from injured soldiers, processing them, and then spraying them onto battle wounds as a tailored treatment for healing. For deeper wounds, they are in the process of developing an ink jet printer that scans a wound and creates a custom map of the defect.

"After the scan, the printer can go back and print multiple layers of cells right over the wound," Atala said.

The idea of using a patient's own cells rather than relying on those of a donor is important because it eliminates the need to find a "match." For any transplant procedure there is a concern that tissues from a donor will be rejected by a recipient's body. _ABC_via_NBF

There are many challenges to creating lab-grown replacements for human organs. But the promise of being able to create a perfect tissue match replacement organ, and no longer being forced to wait at the bag of the organ donour line, is simply too great a promise to ignore.
By the early 1990s, tissue engineering had become an established field of investigation (30). Concurrently, adult stem cells and ESC were isolated in animals (31, 32) and humans (33), and the advent of nuclear transfer technology made animal cloning possible (7, 34–36). These apparently distinct fields of science had one unifying concept, namely the regeneration of living and functioning body parts destined to replace diseased or damaged cells, tissues, or organs (7). In 1999, the term “regenerative medicine” was coined to describe the use of natural human substances, such as genes, proteins, cells, and biomaterials to regenerate diseased or damaged human tissue (4, 7). It is important to note that the terms tissue engineering and regenerative medicine are not synonymous. The term regenerative medicine is used to define a field in the health sciences that aims to replace or regenerate human cells, tissues, or organs to restore or establish normal function (37). The process of regenerating body parts can occur in vivo or ex vivo and may require cells, natural or artificial scaffolding materials, growth factors, or combinations of all three elements. In contrast, the term tissue engineering is narrower in scope and strictly defined as manufacturing body parts ex vivo, by seeding cells on or into a supporting scaffold. _Excerpted from: Regenerative Medicine and Organ Transplantation: Past, Present, and Future (Atala et al)
Since the early days of tissue engineering, advances in stem cell science, genetic engineering, tissue engineering, 3D printing, and related fields, have given the field of regenerative medicine new powers that were not previously imagined. While all of those sciences continue to advance, it remains for the regenerative medicine specialist to bring them all together and create a new state of the art in tissue and organ transplantation.
One useful "shortcut" in creating new organs from a patient's own tissues, is the use of "acellular" scaffoldings. A donour organ is stripped of its cells, leaving only the supporting acellular matrix scaffolding, including vascular matrix. This scaffolding is then seeded with replacement cells and growth factors for the tissue being replaced, ie vascular, renal, hepatic etc.
A significant advancement in the field of bioscaffold design has been the utilization of decellularized tissue as the three-dimensional scaffold in tissue engineering strategies.11 Our laboratory has previously reported the successful decellularization of porcine aortas and urinary bladder submucosa for use as scaffolds for cell seeding.2, 12 These decellularized aortas were seeded with endothelial progenitor cells and implanted into sheep, and the neovessels remained patent for more than 4 months.2 However, effective decellularization of thicker organs and tissues has been very difficult to achieve due to inefficient penetration of the decellularization solution into the organ. More recently, Ott et al. have developed a more effective method for organ decellularization.13 They have shown that by perfusing a detergent solution through the vascular network rather than relying on agitation and diffusion alone, the entire mouse heart could be decellularized and used as a scaffold for tissue engineering. However, cell seeding of three-dimensional, naturally derived scaffolds presents additional challenges.14 For example, to achieve a recellularized human liver adequate for clinical use, one needs to transfer approximately 10 × 1010 liver cells into the scaffold. So far, such a task has not been successfully achieved. Although perfusion bioreactors have been developed to address cell seeding problems,15, 16 cell seeding across the entire thickness of the scaffold has been limited due to the lack of intrascaffold channels.

The goal of our study was to develop a novel scaffold that human liver cells could readily enter in order to repopulate the scaffold volume. We report the production of such a scaffold via a decellularization process that preserves the macrovascular skeleton of the entire liver while removing the cellular components. The intact vascular tree is accessible through one central inlet, which branches into a capillary-like network and then reunites into one central outlet. Human fetal liver and endothelial cells were perfused through the vasculature and were able to repopulate areas throughout the scaffold by engrafting into their putative natural locations in the liver. These cells displayed typical endothelial, hepatic and biliary epithelial markers, thus creating a liver-like tissue in vitro. This technology may provide important tools for the creation of a fully functional bioengineered liver that can be used as an alternative for donor liver transplantation. _Hepatology 2011 (Atala et al)

Ideally, one would wish to grow and/or print the entire organ in the lab, but the intricate 3D complexity of the intercellular scaffolding of many organs makes such a task very difficult at this time.


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27 June 2012

Reality Check: What Does Chinese Economic Growth Really Mean?

China promoters have long touted the admittedly amazing economic growth numbers coming out of China. And even now, in the middle of a global downturn involving both Europe and China, investors' eyes still turn to China when scouting for isolated patches of growth:
China has long been seen as the country with the biggest potential to prevent the world from falling into another 1930s-style depression, helping to offset contraction in North America and Europe. Admittedly, China is highly dependent on markets in both regions for exports, and thus for wages and domestic consumer spending. And admittedly, the economic data coming out of Beijing have been called into question. Yet growth there will still be the most robust of anywhere in the world, according to forecasts from Oxford Economics via Datastream – real GDP should grow 7.5 percent in China this year. But that’s almost anemic compared to the country’s recent track record of annual double-digit GDP advances. _Fiscal Times

But even if one takes the Chinese economic growth figures at face value, there are any number of details which could devil your dreams, should you decide to make big and bullish bets on China.
News of a slowdown in China’s economic growth has been building of late, and many disparate theories have been offered in explanation of the phenomenon. One issue facing the country has been debated particularly heatedly. Commentators cannot seem to reach a conclusion on whether the Chinese economy is a victim of over-investment.

...The story, in simple terms, begins with the restrictions China places on the maximum deposit rates allowed by banks there. These restrictions, though slightly relaxed earlier this month, leave borrowers accepting very low rates on deposits, because of lack of other investment opportunities.

The low rates allow money to flow to borrowers, who pay very low rates on their loans. That means householders are effectively losing money to subsidize the borrowing of investors. The Chinese financial system is being used as a machine, that allows this to happen.

The borrowers in China are the local and central government agencies, real estate developers, corporations, and other infrastructure investors. Because their investments are effectively subsidized, they face lower repercussions than borrowers face in free market conditions.

...China’s low interest rate constraints mean investment that is concentrated in a single area, and therefore provides economic growth in the short term, has its cost spread across the entire country through the household financial system.

The cost of building the infrastructure is much higher than the benefits that come from it. This is over-investment. The scourge is exacerbated by the structure of the country’s financial system. The subsidized lending leads to worse decisions being made because market realities are not in force.

China’s per capita income and worker productivity mean that the level of capital stock in the country should land at a much lower equilibrium level. Advanced infrastructure is not saving labour as much as it does in Germany or the United States. China is over-investing.

...Politics in China is undergoing its most egregious challenges in decades this year. The succession plans for the replacement of the country’s leaders have already been rocked by scandal. Something special will be needed to avoid the worst effects of the over-investment problems that have been created in recent years.

That is unlikely to come from these appointments. China is still conservative when it comes to reform, even when faced with economic slowdown. The recent tremors in the party’s system of choosing successors, could bring to the fore a more open method of investing leaders but it is not likely to do so.

China’s government has allowed over-investment to become rampant in the east Asian giant. It is not a sustainable situation. If something is not done at the highest levels in the country there will be a market readjustment that will shake China and the rest of the world.

Pettis also makes a startling statement on China:

” A mainland think tank, Unirule, estimated in 2011 that monopoly pricing and direct subsidies may have accounted for as much as 150 percent or more of total profitability in the state owned sector over the past decade. I calculate that repressed interest rates may have accounted for another 400 to 500 percent of total profitability over this period.?Monopoly pricing, direct subsidies, and repressed interest rates all represent transfers from the household sector.”
_Value Walk

China Financial Markets _ Michael Pettis' blog

Another look at threats to economic stability in China from Patrick Chovanec

Inbred Chinese State Owned Enterprises Hope to Monopolise Coming Shale Gas Boom in China

Meanwhile, belated news of coal and other commodities stockpiles growing to record levels, and reports of faked electricity utilisation data being leaked to financial media, suggest that someone in China may be trying to project a false impression.

The political class in China benefits from the massive economic inequality fueled by corrupt state owned enterprises. As long as Chinese wage earners cannot invest outside of China, corrupt insiders have the means of re-distributing hard-earned funds from the pockets of wage earners, into the pockets of political insiders and the well-connected.

How is that different from the situation existing in western countries? In western countries, citizens can invest overseas, can move to other countries relatively easily, and are generally not being held as captive blood donours to the same extent as their counterparts inside China.

How long can this China scam of massive malinvestment continue? Time will tell.

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Human 2.0: Surviving On 1 Oz of Water a Day

This article was previously published on Al Fin Potpourri blog

How could you re-design your body so that instead of requiring over 2 litres per day of water, you suddenly need only about 30 ml to survive in good health?

Such a radical reduction in daily water requirements suddenly opens up large areas of the planet for human habitation -- from the deserts to the poles to the open ocean and more.

Reducing human water requirements also makes it easier for humans to live in outer space habitats and on long-distance spaceships. The video below describes one approach to the problem.

Video via Takram (h/t Popsci)

The video describes the Shenu Hydrolemic System, which works to limit water losses through perspiration, urination, and feces through multiple body implants and prostheses.
We were given a vision of cathartic future. A world in which humanity experiences a cataclysmic sequence of events that will bring us to the brink of annihilation. Afflicted by manmade causes, the rising sea level, radioactive emissions and release of hazardous materials into the environment, art and culture cease to exist. This provides an opportunity, not lament, to re-evaluate what constitutes art, design, culture and the quality of life itself when all prejudices and preconceptions vanish.

With this premise, takram was tasked to design a water bottle.After a period of thorough research and analysis, takram reached an uncanny solution. Our conclusion was that it would make more sense, in fact, to regulate how much water the human body can retain and recycle in this dire environment. This revelation resulted in the Hydrolemic system, a set of artificial organs. _Takram

Watch the short video, and follow the link above for more information.

The human body is in for some radical re-design, as humans attempt to expand their activities into more and more extreme environments. From the polar regions to the deep seas, to high altitude atmospheric regions, to the many environments available off-planet -- humans are looking to extend their reach and expand their practical vision.

We were not evolved for most of those environments, however. We can compensate for some of these evolutionary deficiencies by creating artificial environments around us. Submarines allow us to live and work at depth undersea. Spaceships can protect us from vacuum and temperature extremes in space, with partial protection from radiation hazard. Pressurised capsules could allow us to live at high altitudes either on mountaintops or in large high altitude lighter than air habitats.

But we are the naked ape, and we would rather be able to face these exotic environments with a minimum of artifact between us and the environment -- if we could do so safely.

That is why reducing the daily water requirement is just the beginning for the grand project of re-designing humans for the challenges ahead of us.

Much more on this topic in future postings.

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26 June 2012

The 48 Laws of Power, and Other Secret Archives

From Sun Tzu to Machiavelli and beyond, clever strategists have sought to unearth the secrets of wealth, power, happiness, and ultimate victory. Today we will focus on Robert Greene's The 48 Laws of Power.

Law 1 Never Outshine the Master

Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. In your desire to please or impress them, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish the opposite inspire fear and insecurity. Make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power.

Law 2 Never put too Much Trust in Friends, Learn how to use Enemies

Be wary of friends-they will betray you more quickly, for they are easily aroused to envy. They also become spoiled and tyrannical. But hire a former enemy and he will be more loyal than a friend, because he has more to prove. In fact, you have more to fear from friends than from enemies. If you have no enemies, find a way to make them.

Law 3 Conceal your Intentions

Keep people off-balance and in the dark by never revealing the purpose behind your actions. If they have no clue what you are up to, they cannot prepare a defense. Guide them far enough down the wrong path, envelope them in enough smoke, and by the time they realize your intentions, it will be too late.

Law 4 Always Say Less than Necessary

When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you appear, and the less in control. Even if you are saying something banal, it will seem original if you make it vague, open-ended, and sphinxlike. Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.

Law 5 So Much Depends on Reputation Guard it with your Life

Reputation is the cornerstone of power. Through reputation alone you can intimidate and win; once you slip, however, you are vulnerable, and will be attacked on all sides. Make your reputation unassailable. Always be alert to potential attacks and thwart them before they happen. Meanwhile, learn to destroy your enemies by opening holes in their own reputations. Then stand aside and let public opinion hang them.

Law 6 Court Attention at all Cost

Everything is judged by its appearance; what is unseen counts for nothing. Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion. Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost. Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colorful, more mysterious, than the bland and timid masses.

Law 7 Get others to do the Work for you, but Always Take the Credit

Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause. Not only will such assistance save you valuable time and energy, it will give you a godlike aura of efficiency and speed. In the end your helpers will be forgotten and you will be remembered. Never do yourself what others can do for you.

Law 8 Make other People come to you use Bait if Necessary

When you force the other person to act, you are the one in control. It is always better to make your opponent come to you, abandoning his own plans in the process. Lure him with fabulous gains then attack. You hold the cards.

Law 9 Win through your Actions, Never through Argument

Any momentary triumph you think gained through argument is really a Pyrrhic victory: The resentment and ill will you stir up is stronger and lasts longer than any momentary change of opinion. It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word. Demonstrate, do not explicate.

Law 10 Infection: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky

You can die from someone elses misery emotional states are as infectious as disease. You may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster. The unfortunate sometimes draw misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it on you. Associate with the happy and fortunate instead.

Law 11 Learn to Keep People Dependent on You

To maintain your independence you must always be needed and wanted. The more you are relied on, the more freedom you have. Make people depend on you for their happiness and prosperity and you have nothing to fear. Never teach them enough so that they can do without you.

Law 12 Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm your Victim

One sincere and honest move will cover over dozens of dishonest ones. Open-hearted gestures of honesty and generosity bring down the guard of even the most suspicious people. Once your selective honesty opens a hole in their armor, you can deceive and manipulate them at will. A timely gift a Trojan horse will serve the same purpose.

Law 13 When Asking for Help, Appeal to Peoples Self-Interest, Never to their Mercy or Gratitude

If you need to turn to an ally for help, do not bother to remind him of your past assistance and good deeds. He will find a way to ignore you. Instead, uncover something in your request, or in your alliance with him, that will benefit him, and emphasize it out of all proportion. He will respond enthusiastically when he sees something to be gained for himself.

Law 14 Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy

Knowing about your rival is critical. Use spies to gather valuable information that will keep you a step ahead. Better still: Play the spy yourself. In polite social encounters, learn to probe. Ask indirect questions to get people to reveal their weaknesses and intentions. There is no occasion that is not an opportunity for artful spying.

Law 15 Crush your Enemy Totally

All great leaders since Moses have known that a feared enemy must be crushed completely. (Sometimes they have learned this the hard way.) If one ember is left alight, no matter how dimly it smolders, a fire will eventually break out. More is lost through stopping halfway than through total annihilation: The enemy will recover, and will seek revenge. Crush him, not only in body but in spirit.

Law 16 Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor

Too much circulation makes the price go down: The more you are seen and heard from, the more common you appear. If you are already established in a group, temporary withdrawal from it will make you more talked about, even more admired. You must learn when to leave. Create value through scarcity.

Law 17 Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability

Humans are creatures of habit with an insatiable need to see familiarity in other peoples actions. Your predictability gives them a sense of control. Turn the tables: Be deliberately unpredictable. Behavior that seems to have no consistency or purpose will keep them off-balance, and they will wear themselves out trying to explain your moves. Taken to an extreme, this strategy can intimidate and terrorize.

Law 18 Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself Isolation is Dangerous

The world is dangerous and enemies are everywhere everyone has to protect themselves. A fortress seems the safest. But isolation exposes you to more dangers than it protects you from it cuts you off from valuable information, it makes you conspicuous and an easy target. Better to circulate among people find allies, mingle. You are shielded from your enemies by the crowd.

Law 19 Know Who Youre Dealing with Do Not Offend the Wrong Person

There are many different kinds of people in the world, and you can never assume that everyone will react to your strategies in the same way. Deceive or outmaneuver some people and they will spend the rest of their lives seeking revenge. They are wolves in lambs clothing. Choose your victims and opponents carefully, then never offend or deceive the wrong person.

Law 20 Do Not Commit to Anyone

It is the fool who always rushes to take sides. Do not commit to any side or cause but yourself. By maintaining your independence, you become the master of others playing people against one another, making them pursue you.

Law 21 Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker Seem Dumber than your Mark

No one likes feeling stupider than the next persons. The trick, is to make your victims feel smart and not just smart, but smarter than you are. Once convinced of this, they will never suspect that you may have ulterior motives.

Law 22 Use the Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness into Power

When you are weaker, never fight for honors sake; choose surrender instead. Surrender gives you time to recover, time to torment and irritate your conqueror, time to wait for his power to wane. Do not give him the satisfaction of fighting and defeating you surrender first. By turning the other check you infuriate and unsettle him. Make surrender a tool of power.

Law 23 Concentrate Your Forces

Conserve your forces and energies by keeping them concentrated at their strongest point. You gain more by finding a rich mine and mining it deeper, than by flitting from one shallow mine to another intensity defeats extensity every time. When looking for sources of power to elevate you, find the one key patron, the fat cow who will give you milk for a long time to come.

Law 24 Play the Perfect Courtier

The perfect courtier thrives in a world where everything revolves around power and political dexterity. He has mastered the art of indirection; he flatters, yields to superiors, and asserts power over others in the mot oblique and graceful manner. Learn and apply the laws of courtiership and there will be no limit to how far you can rise in the court.

Law 25 Re-Create Yourself

Do not accept the roles that society foists on you. Re-create yourself by forging a new identity, one that commands attention and never bores the audience. Be the master of your own image rather than letting others define if for you. Incorporate dramatic devices into your public gestures and actions your power will be enhanced and your character will seem larger than life.

Law 26 Keep Your Hands Clean

You must seem a paragon of civility and efficiency: Your hands are never soiled by mistakes and nasty deeds. Maintain such a spotless appearance by using others as scapegoats and cats-paws to disguise your involvement.

Law 27 Play on Peoples Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following

People have an overwhelming desire to believe in something. Become the focal point of such desire by offering them a cause, a new faith to follow. Keep your words vague but full of promise; emphasize enthusiasm over rationality and clear thinking. Give your new disciples rituals to perform, ask them to make sacrifices on your behalf. In the absence of organized religion and grand causes, your new belief system will bring you untold power.

Law 28 Enter Action with Boldness

If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid.

Law 29 Plan All the Way to the End

The ending is everything. Plan all the way to it, taking into account all the possible consequences, obstacles, and twists of fortune that might reverse your hard work and give the glory to others. By planning to the end you will not be overwhelmed by circumstances and you will know when to stop. Gently guide fortune and help determine the future by thinking far ahead.

Law 30 Make your Accomplishments Seem Effortless

Your actions must seem natural and executed with ease. All the toil and practice that go into them, and also all the clever tricks, must be concealed. When you act, act effortlessly, as if you could do much more. Avoid the temptation of revealing how hard you work it only raises questions. Teach no one your tricks or they will be used against you.

Law 31 Control the Options: Get Others to Play with the Cards you Deal

The best deceptions are the ones that seem to give the other person a choice: Your victims feel they are in control, but are actually your puppets. Give people options that come out in your favor whichever one they choose. Force them to make choices between the lesser of two evils, both of which serve your purpose. Put them on the horns of a dilemma: They are gored wherever they turn.

Law 32 Play to Peoples Fantasies

The truth is often avoided because it is ugly and unpleasant. Never appeal to truth and reality unless you are prepared for the anger that comes for disenchantment. Life is so harsh and distressing that people who can manufacture romance or conjure up fantasy are like oases in the desert: Everyone flocks to them. There is great power in tapping into the fantasies of the masses.

Law 33 Discover Each Mans Thumbscrew

Everyone has a weakness, a gap in the castle wall. That weakness is usual y an insecurity, an uncontrollable emotion or need; it can also be a small secret pleasure. Either way, once found, it is a thumbscrew you can turn to your advantage.

Law 34 Be Royal in your Own Fashion: Act like a King to be treated like one

The way you carry yourself will often determine how you are treated; In the long run, appearing vulgar or common will make people disrespect you. For a king respects himself and inspires the same sentiment in others. By acting regally and confident of your powers, you make yourself seem destined to wear a crown.

Law 35 Master the Art of Timing

Never seem to be in a hurry hurrying betrays a lack of control over yourself, and over time. Always seem patient, as if you know that everything will come to you eventually. Become a detective of the right moment; sniff out the spirit of the times, the trends that will carry you to power. Learn to stand back when the time is not yet ripe, and to strike fiercely when it has reached fruition.

Law 36 Disdain Things you cannot have: Ignoring them is the best Revenge

By acknowledging a petty problem you give it existence and credibility. The more attention you pay an enemy, the stronger you make him; and a small mistake is often made worse and more visible when you try to fix it. It is sometimes best to leave things alone. If there is something you want but cannot have, show contempt for it. The less interest you reveal, the more superior you seem.

Law 37 Create Compelling Spectacles

Striking imagery and grand symbolic gestures create the aura of power everyone responds to them. Stage spectacles for those around you, then full of arresting visuals and radiant symbols that heighten your presence. Dazzled by appearances, no one will notice what you are really doing.

Law 38 Think as you like but Behave like others

If you make a show of going against the times, flaunting your unconventional ideas and unorthodox ways, people will think that you only want attention and that you look down upon them. They will find a way to punish you for making them feel inferior. It is far safer to blend in and nurture the common touch. Share your originality only with tolerant friends and those who are sure to appreciate your uniqueness.

Law 39 Stir up Waters to Catch Fish

Anger and emotion are strategically counterproductive. You must always stay calm and objective. But if you can make your enemies angry while staying calm yourself, you gain a decided advantage. Put your enemies off-balance: Find the chink in their vanity through which you can rattle them and you hold the strings.

Law 40 Despise the Free Lunch

What is offered for free is dangerous it usually involves either a trick or a hidden obligation. What has worth is worth paying for. By paying your own way you stay clear of gratitude, guilt, and deceit. It is also often wise to pay the full price there is no cutting corners with excellence. Be lavish with your money and keep it circulating, for generosity is a sign and a magnet for power.

Law 41 Avoid Stepping into a Great Mans Shoes

What happens first always appears better and more original than what comes after. If you succeed a great man or have a famous parent, you will have to accomplish double their achievements to outshine them. Do not get lost in their shadow, or stuck in a past not of your own making: Establish your own name and identity by changing course. Slay the overbearing father, disparage his legacy, and gain power by shining in your own way.

Law 42 Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep will Scatter

Trouble can often be traced to a single strong individual the stirrer, the arrogant underling, the poisoned of goodwill. If you allow such people room to operate, others will succumb to their influence. Do not wait for the troubles they cause to multiply, do not try to negotiate with them they are irredeemable. Neutralize their influence by isolating or banishing them. Strike at the source of the trouble and the sheep will scatter.

Law 43 Work on the Hearts and Minds of Others

Coercion creates a reaction that will eventually work against you. You must seduce others into wanting to move in your direction. A person you have seduced becomes your loyal pawn. And the way to seduce others is to operate on their individual psychologies and weaknesses. Soften up the resistant by working on their emotions, playing on what they hold dear and what they fear. Ignore the hearts and minds of others and they will grow to hate you.

Law 44 Disarm and Infuriate with the Mirror Effect

The mirror reflects reality, but it is also the perfect tool for deception: When you mirror your enemies, doing exactly as they do, they cannot figure out your strategy. The Mirror Effect mocks and humiliates them, making them overreact. By holding up a mirror to their psyches, you seduce them with the illusion that you share their values; by holding up a mirror to their actions, you teach them a lesson. Few can resist the power of Mirror Effect.

Law 45 Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform too much at Once

Everyone understands the need for change in the abstract, but on the day-to-day level people are creatures of habit. Too much innovation is traumatic, and will lead to revolt. If you are new to a position of power, or an outsider trying to build a power base, make a show of respecting the old way of doing things. If change is necessary, make it feel like a gentle improvement on the past.

Law 46 Never appear too Perfect

Appearing better than others is always dangerous, but most dangerous of all is to appear to have no faults or weaknesses. Envy creates silent enemies. It is smart to occasionally display defects, and admit to harmless vices, in order to deflect envy and appear more human and approachable. Only gods and the dead can seem perfect with impunity.

Law 47 Do not go Past the Mark you Aimed for; In Victory, Learn when to Stop

The moment of victory is often the moment of greatest peril. In the heat of victory, arrogance and overconfidence can push you past the goal you had aimed for, and by going too far, you make more enemies than you defeat. Do not allow success to go to your head. There is no substitute for strategy and careful planning. Set a goal, and when you reach it, stop.

Law 48 Assume Formlessness

By taking a shape, by having a visible plan, you open yourself to attack. Instead of taking a form for your enemy to grasp, keep yourself adaptable and on the move. Accept the fact that nothing is certain and no law is fixed. The best way to protect yourself is to be as fluid and formless as water; never bet on stability or lasting order. Everything changes. _RobertGreene.net 48 Laws of Power

Power, Seduction, and War . . . the blog of Robert Greene

The 48 Laws of Power at Amazon.com

Free Online Library: Works on Strategy and War (Includes Machievelli, Sun Tzu, von Clauswitz, etc) click on the book you wish to study

The Occult Technology of Power

As always on the Al Fin blog, we do not attempt to move anyone to adopt a particular point of view. Our purposes are almost exclusively to inform and to provoke.

Everything you think you know, just ain't so. Until you figure that out, you are only going to be taken advantage of by folks who have a better feel for the deep inner grit of things.

H/T Foseti


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Should Prostitution Be Legalised to Help Coeds Pay for A College Education?

This article is cross-posted from Al Fin, You Sexy Thing! blog

Making ends meet while going to college can be very difficult for young girls, who have often not lived away from home before going to university. California coeds have long discovered the working opportunities available in and around Nevada communities such as Las Vegas and Reno. But in parts of the world where prostitution is less accepted, college girls who utilise their innate assets for raising tuition money are often hassled by law enforcement -- as well as by criminal gangs and pimps.

College aged girls are at the optimum stage of physical development for using their natural charms to entice salary men to part with their money. And as long as the girls use the money to better themselves, who can argue with their choice?

"Over the past few years, the number of college students using our site has exploded," says Brandon Wade, the 41-year-old founder of Seeking Arrangement. Of the site's approximately 800,000 members, Wade estimates that 35 percent are students. "College students are one of the biggest segments of our sugar babies and the numbers are growing all the time." _HP

Several internet sites exist to match college girls with older men with money.

At least one university president is known to have run a large prostitution ring, no doubt using some of his university connections to recruit girls. University professors have been known to recruit girls from their classes to work as strippers and exotic dancers.

The main obstacle to developing this opportunity more widely for college girls, appears to be the legal difficulties. As long as college girls have to operate outside the law to pay for school, they must risk losing everything they have worked so hard for.

If prostitution were legalised, girls could organise for security and protection from all types of predators -- on both sides of the law.

Legal status might also help prevent more girls from falling prey to drug abuse and addiction -- one of the many hazards of the occupation.

There is no denying the allure which college aged girls hold for men of all ages.
Educated, debt-ridden 20-somethings happen to be an age demographic that intersects nicely with Jack's preferences. "I only go out with girls 25 and under," says Jack, whose thick head of white hair and bushy eyebrows form a halo around a red, flushed face. "But I can't walk into a bar and go up to a 25-year-old. They'd think I'm a pervert. So, this is how I go about meeting them."

As he continues, he repeatedly glances over his shoulder to make sure no one is listening.

"Most of these young women have debt from school," says Jack, who finds most young women also carry an average of $8,000 in credit-card debt. "I guess I like the college girls more because I think of their student debt as good debt. At least it seems like I'm helping them out, like I'm helping them to get a better life." _HP

College girls simply have what most men want -- youth, vitality, naivete, and that certain je ne sais quoi, which everyone knows what it is.

We all know that this kind of thing has gone on for ages. In modern times, when US college student debt is over $1 trillion dollars, we all know that those who can find a way to get out from under all that debt will tend to use it -- if they think they can come out unscathed on the other side.

Polite societies have long made activities such as prostitution and gambling illegal. But doing so only seems to drive these activities further underground, where they become the province of criminal -- often violent criminal -- elements.

Of course, the philosophy that everyone should go to college is more than a little insane. But if society is willing to live with that little fiction -- to the tune of $1 trillion in college loan debt -- perhaps society might need to learn to live with a bit of blunt reality in terms of the available choices for paying the debt.

Should society be willing to face that reality, it might make things safer for everyone.

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25 June 2012

Coal Will Be Thriving Long After Obama Is Gone

This article was previously published on Al Fin Energy blog

The National Coal Council delivered a report to the US DOE which points to increasing uses of coal -- to generate electric power, to produce large quantities of liquid fuels via CTL, and to expedite enhanced oil recovery (EOR) using CO2 recovered from coal gasification (both IGCC and CTL).
  • By 2035, the combination of coal-based EOR and CTL technology could provide up to 30 percent of U.S. liquid fuel demand and ensure America's energy security for decades....
  • Use of ... CTL could generate $200 billion in economic activity, more than 1 million skilled jobs and $60 billion in tax revenues.
  • At least 100 gigawatts of advanced coal generating capacity could be built or retrofitted over the next two decades. These advanced plants would use an additional 300 million tons of coal annually.
  • CTL plants with carbon capture could convert coal into more than 2.5 million barrels a day of additional oil. An additional 450 million tons of coal would be used annually in these operations.
  • Capturing a high volume of CO2 for commercial purposes, coupled with CTL operations, would increase coal use to 1.75 billion tons annually. This production level is well within the capability of the United States, home to 30 percent of the world's coal reserves.
_Nat.Coal Council Report to US DOE

Obama's misguided war against coal -- along with his war against all other forms of viable energy -- mark him as a political activist rather than a true leader. Obama's war against energy and against the US private sector has led to a stagnant economy with very slow job creation.

Meanwhile, Primus Green Energy is pushing ahead with a shale gas - to - liquids project which hopes to produce 100 million gallons of gasoline from shale oil per year.
The allure of cheap nature gas has altered the course of a New Jersey biofuel start-up’s path to commercialization. Shale gas will serve as Primus Green Energy’s (PGE) bridge fuel until it shifts to biomass feedstocks.

PGE today held a dedication ceremony for a demo plant at its Hillsborough, NJ headquarters. Local luminaries and a swarm of politicians, including former governor Jim Florio, Representative Leonard Lance, and an Obama administration agricultural official, were in attendance.

The plant will create up to 5 barrels of fuels per day, which will be used for customer certification testing and approvals. It is also a proof of concept for technology that PGE says can scale to upwards of 100 million gallons per year at a significantly higher yield (35 percent) than the industry average.

The company is hoping to raise US$150 million to build a facility next year that would produce 20 million gallons of fuel annually. In comparison, the Pearl GTL (gas to liquids) facility in Qatar has cost over $19 billion to build. _SP
The Pearl GTL plant in Qatar expects to yield profits of $6 billion a year, for as long as the price of crude oil (Brent) remains above $80 a barrel.

Primus Green Energy had intended to be a biomass-to-liquids (BTL) company rather than a GTL company, but basic economics dictated Primus' decision to go with shale gas rather than biomass -- at least in the beginning.

Meanwhile, commodities prices remain well above 2007 levels, suggesting that without big government stimulus from the US, Europe, and China, there is still significant deleveraging and deflating of bubbles that could occur.

The billions which Obama spent on his green energy crusade created almost no jobs, and has had a negligible effect on the nation's energy supplies. Most of the $billions went to political cronies of the president, and that money is long gone. Several of Obama's startups have gone bankrupt, with others in very deep financial trouble. Mr. Obama's great green crusade is turning out to have been a grand political gesture to get elected. What will he do for an encore?

The Obama government has injected about $1.5 trillion per year of fiat stimulus into the US economy, with very little positive effect to show for it -- except a rapidly growing debt which could destroy the economy if interest rates should be forced upward.

The energy world does not exist apart from the political and economic worlds, but is rather inextricably enmeshed within both.

Obama has attempted to re-shape the energy worlds, the political worlds, and the economic worlds -- as a legacy to his own unique greatness. Time will tell what lasting impact Obama's policies have had on those worlds -- if any.

See also: The Slow Sinking of Obama's Green Energy Policy

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21 June 2012

An Apocalypse of Stupidity: One Possible Future

They will tell you that the world will end by nuclear holocaust, or by climate catastrophe. Or perhaps they'll say the world will choke to death on its own pollution, or starve for lack of enough resources to feed an overpopulated planet.
But more likely to seal the fate of humanity, is the slow and steady loss of human problem-solving ability.

Regional Variations in IQ Test Scores

Over tens of thousands of years, separate human breeding populations evolved to meet divergent challenges in their environments (Kanazawa PDF). Some environments presented greater challenges to be solved, for the sake of survival. The farther from the equator a group migrated, the greater the seasonal challenges of survival. As greater intelligence evolved, humans devised sophisticated societies and technologies to shield them from the environment.

But in the course of becoming more intelligent, they created micro-environments of culture, with differential rates of divergent intellectual revolution.
Rates of Population Growth

Not all populations reproduced at the same rates. More affluent, more intelligent, and better educated women chose to reproduce at lower levels -- or not at all -- compared to women of lower educational attainment (on average). Higher birthrates among less intelligent populations began to affect overall average IQ levels.

And since IQ is strongly correlated with level of economic achievement (Gottfredson PDF), societies with lower average IQ levels tended to be the most impoverished societies.
Besides economic achievement, scientific and technological achievement tends to accompany high average IQ. Low IQ nations in the map above tend to be very tiny, unless they are lucky enough to have a high IQ smart fraction.

The higher IQ populations which are responsible for the economic, scientific, and technological accomplishments in the map above, are also the populations which are shrinking in size -- while lower IQ populations are growing.

Finally, crime and corruption tend to correlate with low average IQ levels. So that even low IQ populations lucky enough to have a smart fraction, will be less able to efficiently utilise that lucky bit of human capital.
Homicide per 100,000

There is no reason to expect the differential birthrates between the different strata of IQ and education, to change. The global decline in average IQ seen in the graph above, is likely to continue unless something significant happens to change the trend.

Many people are aware of the trend, but no one has a good answer for it. Good people may well think the answer may be found thru better education:
While the smart people know they must fight the tyrannical government or run away to another country, the not so smart grow in numbers. In our current state, we will not be able to hold government accountable and put a stop to the tyranny. We must overcome the stupid somehow. We must find a method to show them the folly of their ways. We must “educate” them on what their responsibilities are in society and we must show them how to exercise those responsibilities properly. _LibertarianViewpoint

But no one really believes that such "education" can be both effective and humane. And since we voluntarily limit ourselves to humane methods, we must admit that we will have to look for other solutions.

Here is an analogy: Realistic energy analysts generally accept that humans should use unconventional oil, gas, and liquids as temporary "bridge" fuels to better forms of power and energy such as advanced nuclear power. In other words, we must make good use of the next few decades to develop long term energy solutions that will last for many thousands of years.

In the same way, realistic students of the human future understand that brighter people must make very good use of the next few decades to develop bridge technologies which will see us past the approaching dysgenic bottleneck.

First, we must take the trouble to understand that the problem is real.

Genetics, Genes, Genomics, and g (Plomin PDF) _via Meng hus blog

g: Highly General and Highly Practical (Gottfredson PDF)

We must understand how differences in average intelligence between population groups influence quality of life issues such as crime, affluence, social trust, levels of corruption, etc. Such an understanding is likely to influence important life choices.

And we must be able to project current trends -- often contradictory trends -- into the near future. Then we must devise ways of best dealing with our conclusions for our own sake, and for the sake of our dependents.

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20 June 2012

Wealth of Nations

Some nations make it easier for inventors, entrepreneurs, and small business -- causing their economies to grow. Some governments start out making it easy for innovators, then grow so bureaucratically large and corrupt that they forget that the secret to a healthy economy is healthy innovation and growth from the bottom up.

In the US, there is a movement afoot to bypass unwieldy government in order to promote innovation at the grass roots level.

The following is excerpted from Popular Science "Invent Your Own Anything"

The path to becoming a successful inventor is easier than ever--but there are also a surplus of options, and it can be difficult to know where to start. Here's a step-by-step plan to inventing your own anything.

Step 1: Think Big

Think Big: Click here to see this image much larger.  Katherine Bagley

The most original projects combine two or more disciplines. Look to mash them up.

Step 2: Team Up

Team Up: Here's a map of hackerspaces all around the country. We've picked out three--one in Brooklyn, one in Chicago, and one in the Bay Area--to give an idea of how these work. Find more at Hackerspaces.  Katherine Bagley

Shared workspaces let you learn new skills and wield expensive tools. These are some of the largest and most active.


Each of TechShop’s five 15,000-square-foot locations contains more than $1 million in prototyping equipment and software. Its 3,000-plus members include entrants in the Google Lunar X Prize and the makers of the fastest electric motorcycle. Starting at $75/month; techshop.ws


Chicago’s first hackerspace, Pumping Station: One lets members use its tools, such as CNC machines and laser cutters, 24/7. Projects include pants that produce music and a biosensor array that reads patient vitals. Starting at $40/month; pumpingstationone.org


Genspace in Brooklyn caters to professional biologists and amateur beaker jockeys alike. It has everything from microscopes and incubators to PCR machines and spectrometers. $100/month; genspace.org

Step 3: Gear Up

Click to launch the gallery.
Some tools are for research, some make other tools, and some just tear stuff apart.

Step 4: Get the Right Stuff

Sugru:  Courtesy Sugru

New materials can protect your project against anything--even outer space.


Imagine Play-Doh that waterproofs holes in your hiking boots, repairs electrical cords, and hangs pictures on the wall. Hand-mold this silicone rubber into anything, let it sit for 24 hours, and you’ve got a grippy, electrically insulating, dishwasher-safe product that maintains its shape between –76° and 356°F. Pictured above. $18/60-gram pack; sugru.com


Ultrahigh-molecular-weight polyethylene is a plastic that can handle up to 7,740 pounds per square inch, resist moisture and chemicals, and dampen noise. Useful in heavy-use projects like snowboards and body armor, it has a low friction coefficient and is 10 times as resilient to abrasion as carbon steel. $35/square foot; polymerplastics.com


This polyimide film withstands temperatures between –452° and 752°, so engineers use it to insulate products such as photovoltaic panels and spacecraft. It flexes without cracking, is a thermal conductor, and can withstand copper etching, as in printed circuits. The trickiest part is smoothing it on without forming bubbles. $12/square foot; professionalplastics.com

Step 5: Build a Supply Chain

Don't blindly DIY--outsource the tough stuff.


McMaster-Carr sells more than 490,000 items for your shop. The Electronic Goldmine and SparkFun are reliably cheap sources for circuits, solar kits and transformers. Digi-Key has every electronic part you can think of. And the MakerShed offers not just mechanical and electrical parts but lab tools as well. Also, AliExpress carries inexpensive off-brand miscellany from China and can be your source for components you couldn’t find, much less afford, otherwise.


Describe your process and your problems to a vendor; they want to help. DNA-synthesis companies, for instance, can speed a project along. They may offer cells with a fluorescence gene that makes it easy to spot which ones you’ve modified.


Who else uses the same equipment? Rather than buying glassware from pricey lab suppliers, for instance, get them cheap from beer-making sites like brouwland.com.


Sites like elance.com, odesk.com and ifreelance.com help you outsource tasks—coding, graphics, product design and marketing—that you can’t (and shouldn’t) handle.


eMachineShop allows you to draft your design on free CAD software, upload it, and order finished parts that arrive by mail a few days later. Or go international: Upload to MFG.com, where manufacturers from around the world can bid on the job.

Step 6: Get It Funded

Get It Funded: Some examples of Kickstarter-funded projects.  Katherine Bagley

Crowdfunding can get your first prototype built, but you have to know your backers' tastes. Take a cue from four emerging categories on Kickstarter.

Step 7: Get It Out There

Red Bull Creation: The Red Bull Creation hackathon, taken at last year's event.  Courtesy Red Bull

Events draw the press, investors and other makers together. Share your idea at an up-and-coming venue.


A 72-hour hackathon for 16 teams. Last year’s challenge was to move a person without using fossil fuels. This September, finalists will show off a new round of projects in New York.


The year’s biggest synthetic-biology event, founded by MIT, is a race to genetically engineer something innovative. The world championship is held each November.


Presentations at this beloved nine-year-old meet-up of makers, held in Cleveland each April, range from discussions of neurohacking and data analysis to lighter topics, like swords.


Hacker spaces complete an assigned challenge every month while streaming their work by webcam. Tasks have included improving the long-term energy efficiency of the team’s workspace and mailing a cupcake to another hacker group so that it arrives in pristine condition.

_Invent Your Own Anything -- Popular Science
The governments of the western world -- from Europe to North America to Oceania -- have grown large, corrupt, and dysfunctional. They are no longer supportive of the genuine needs of their people, and have gotten sidetracked onto "pseudo-issues" which allow governments to show favouritism to large campaign contributors and to political cronies.

If individuals can be empowered by new technologies and powerful methods of networking, they may eventually create leaner, meaner, more functionally limited but effective governments.

That would be a great innovation.


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19 June 2012

China Playing "Catch-Up" in Space Race

Update 27 June 2012: China Deeply Suspicious of USAF X-37B Spaceplane

China successfully docked its Shenzhou 9 spacecract with an orbiting spacelab, just weeks after private US space company SpaceX delivered cargo to the International Space Station. While China's accomplishment should be celebrated as a milestone in that nation's ability to achieve a human presence in space, we should have no illusions about China's current ranking in the international space race.

China's space activity is an appendage of its military organisation. That will be a drag on its speed of space accomplishments -- not only compared with much smaller and more nimble SpaceX, but even with the US military, significant parts of which have adopted the motto: "smaller, cheaper, faster, better."
...the X-37B seems to be a triumph of spacecraft reusability, the holy grail of latter-day western space flight. In December 2010, the first X-37B (called OTV-1) landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California after a 220-day mission, its nose still glowing in infrared footage with the residual heat of its incandescent re-entry. Now that mission time has been more than doubled by the second vehicle which landed on 16 June: OTV-2 managed an astonishing 469 days in orbit. _NewScientist

In geopolitical terms, and at a time of major cost pressures, developing viable reusability like this is key. It is the major technology driver for SpaceX, for example, the first firm to fly a commercial cargo flight to the ISS and which is now converting that technology for crewed missions. Boeing says the X-37B is designed to develop "reusable space vehicle technologies that could become key enablers for future space missions". Its design is scalable, too, so larger versions could be made to carry astronauts.

So while China's achievement today is impressive, it's on the trailing edge of space-flight technology: the US and Russia docked with their own orbital space stations in the early 1970s - and even with each other in Apollo and Soyuz capsules in 1975. Congratulations to the Chinese space agency - but the landing of the X-37B only serves to show them how far they have to go. _NewScientist

USAF X37B Lands AFter 469 Days in Orbit

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Truthland: The Movie

This 34 minute documentary was made by a Pennsylvania farm wife, who became concerned about the natural gas well on her farm when she and her family watched Josh Fox's propumentary "Gasland."

After talking it over with her family, the farm wife went on the road to interview a number of world-class experts on various aspects of the fracking phenomenon. You can view her odyssey in search of the truth, in Truthland.

video h/t Master Resource

You may remember that "Gasland" was nominated for an academy award in the best documentary category. After watching "Truthland," you may well wonder why.

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18 June 2012

Endless Possibilities at Sea: 650 Abandoned Oil Rigs in Gulf of Mexico; Over 4,000 Worldwide

A fight is raging over abandoned oil platform High Island 389-A, pictured below. Obama's Interior Department, led by Ken Salazar, wants to dynamite the structure, killing thousands of fish in the process, and damaging delicate seafloor ecologies -- including coral reefs. But there may be more economical and ecologically sound ways of dealing with abandoned oil platforms.
Now, 30 years after it was built and months after it was abandoned, it is set to be demolished under Interior Department rules governing nonproducing ocean structures. And when it goes, the lush ecosystem that has grown around it will also vanish. There are now about 650 such oil and gas industry relics, known as idle iron, that may meet this fate.

The federal government estimates that the blasts needed to remove one platform kill 800 fish, although others who have observed the process put the number in the thousands. Much of the marine life on or around the structure dies, either from the explosions to separate the platform from its supports or when it is toppled or towed to shore and recycled as scrap metal. _NYT

Texas governor Rick Perry is one of the people trying to stop the Obama-Salazar wanton destruction of ecosystems and fish life. Years ago, President George W. Bush tried to put an end to the bureaucratic rules which make it possible for government to intrude so destructively in offshore waters, proposing to allow abandoned platforms to be used by offshore fish farms.
Oil Rig Conversions

There have been many proposals for ways in which to convert abandoned offshore platforms and rigs to more economic and ecologically sound uses. Here is a rather ambitious and stylish proposal for creating a mini-city from an abandoned offshore rig.

One offshore sea platform originally used as a sea fort, was even declared an independent country -- the Principality of Sealand. But there are many other potential uses for the structures, including as resorts, hotels, diving sites, aquaculture farms, zen monasteries, and more.

Ken Salazar is likely to want to wipe away all traces of oil & gas activity from all US offshore waters. He has done his best to retard and obstruct such activity in the Gulf of Mexico under President Obama's watch. The Obama - Salazar policies toward the Gulf of Mexico waters have harmed the economies of local states far worse than any combination of oil spills could have done. And these policies continue to hurt Gulf economies. Too bad such self-important bureaucrats cannot learn to be more open-minded in their dotage.

Worldwide, there are thousands of abandoned offshore structures, with more likely to become available every year. More recent versions of offshore platforms can even be moved from one location to another. In fact, the Seasteading Institute's main design for an early seastead is derived from the same floating architecture as state of the art floating oil rigs.

Keep an eye on this legal battle over the status of High Island 389-A. It may set a precedent for future policy on abandoned offshore platforms and rigs.

Oil Rig Photos

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Pathetic Germany: Who Can Save You Now?

This article is cross-posted from Al Fin Energy blog

Germany intends to produce 40% of its electric power from big wind and big solar by 2020 -- and 80% of its power from big green by 2050. German politicians say it will work. They are betting the entire country on it. The cost of Germany's great energy experiment -- Energiewende -- has risen to upwards of $250 billion over the next 8 years. That is about 7% of Germany's 2011 GDP. Electricity costs are already going up, and German electricity consumers must pay a 15% renewable-energy surcharge tax with every monthly bill.

Germany's government is betting its industry and its economy that green energy technologists can somehow pull a herd of rabbits out of a thimble, and save the day. Pathetic Germany: Who can save you now?
In 2010, the German government declared that it would undertake what has popularly come to be called an Energiewende—an energy turn, or energy revolution. This switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy is the most ambitious ever attempted by a heavily industrialized country: it aims to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 percent by midcentury. The goal was challenging, but it was made somewhat easier by the fact that Germany already generated more than 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, which produces almost no greenhouse gases. Then last year, responding to public concern over the post-tsunami nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered the eight oldest German nuclear plants shut down right away. A few months later, the government finalized a plan to shut the remaining nine by 2022. Now the Energiewende includes a turn away from Germany's biggest source of low-­carbon electricity.

To some German economists, the country's energy policy is simply wrong-headed. Hans-Werner Sinn, president of the Ifo Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, is especially scathing. "The Energiewende is a turn into nowhere-land, because the green technologies are just not sufficient to provide a replacement for modern society's energy needs," he says. "It is wrong to shut down the atomic power plants, because this is a cheap source of energy, and wind and solar power are by no means able to provide a replacement. They are much more expensive, and the energy that comes out is of inferior quality. Energy-intensive industries will move out, and the competitiveness of the German manufacturing sector will be reduced or wages will be depressed." _TechnologyReview

The problems with Germany's plan are too many, too obvious, and too grave to dismiss. And yet that is exactly what Germany's politicians are doing, to the ultimate demise of the nation's industrial might and its economy. And when Germany goes, it will drag the rest of Europe down with it.
There is much about the current policy that arguably isn't logical. In the short term at least, the decision to close the nuclear plants means that the Energiewende will actually push utilities to rely more heavily on coal. Last year, for example, RWE fired up two long-planned new boilers at an existing facility near the Belgian border that burns the dirtiest fossil fuel of them all: brown lignite coal. Though these boilers are cleaner than the ones they're replacing, the coal plant is the largest of its kind in the world, and it's going full blast these days to keep up with power demand.

...Inevitably, some hot July week will come when a high-pressure system stalls over Europe, stilling turbines just when sunburned Germans reach for their air conditioners. Until large-scale, cheap storage is available, gas power plants, which can start up quickly and efficiently, will be the most practical way to cope with these situations. But there's little incentive to build such plants. Owners of gas plants meant to meet peak power needs can no longer count on running for a certain number of hours, since the need will no longer fall on predictable workday afternoons but come and go with the sun and wind. Says ­Ottmar ­Edenhofer, chief economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, "The design of the electricity market will change fundamentally. You have fluctuating demand, and at the same time a fluctuating supply. The linkage and the interplay in these two dimensions has become the subject of intense research. There could be new and emerging market failures." _TechnologyReview
Market failures? Certainly. But more importantly, power failures. As power blackouts and cascading failures become more common across Germany -- and thus across Europe -- Germans will find themselves immersed in the true experience of big green: Freezing or roasting in the dark.
Without enough cheap, reliable power to support the high-technology industry and the transportation system, Germany's economy—and that of Europe as a whole—could be in trouble. Already some German firms are building new manufacturing facilities elsewhere; for example, last year the chemical producer Wacker ­Chemie decided to build a polysilicon plant in Tennessee, partly because energy costs in Germany were so high. Weale says, "The quality of the supply would only have to deteriorate a little bit and it would be quite serious for this high-­technology industry. We've already seen, even without the lights going out, that industry is getting nervous." _TechnologyReview

Not long ago, German politicians were talking about having to spend $25 billion on new power infrastructure to facilitate new offshore wind installations and new solar power plants. Now, they are talking about up to $250 billion -- a significant portion of German GDP.

But in reality, German economists admit that no one knows how high the ultimate cost of the Energiewende will grow to be.

And in the end, what will Germany have? A former economic powerhouse of Europe, reduced to dependency upon intermittent unreliable forms of energy. A nation in demographic decline, stripped of its most profitable industrial producers -- because these producers could not depend upon Germany's power supply.

Rarely has a nation gone through the rapid ups and downs that Germany has undergone over the past century. It is not certain that the much depleted German character can survive the next collapse.

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