Monday, April 30, 2012

US Government Loss: Over $6 Trillion in 2011

The January 2012 actuarial report from the Social Security and Medicare board (printed page 238 or pdf file page 244/285, Table V.F2:

The Medicare and SS shortfall over the next 75 years is $38.6 trillion for budget purposes or $14.0 trillion after estimated transfers and revenues

-- and --

The January 2011 actuarial report (printed page 227 or pdf file page 233/273), Table V.D2 shows:
Medicare and SS shortfall over the next 75 years of $33.8 trillion for budget purposes or 9.5 trillion after estimated transfers and revenues.

Combining this information gives us an annual actuarial calculation for increase in the net unfunded debt of Social Security and Medicare. For budgetary purposes, the Medicare/OASDI loss for the year ending 12/31/11 was $38.6 trillion less $33.8 trillion or $4.8 trillion dollars (a loss not included in the cash basis federal government cash loss of $1.299 trillion for 2011). So, under generally accepted accounting principles, the loss for calendar year 2011 was AT LEAST $6 trillion (federal pensions, military pensions, and other guarantees such as ERISA guarantees of private pensions, guarantees to financial institutions and Federal Reserve commitments are not included here).

If we include transfers from trust funds and interest credits in addition top the budgetary calculation above, the loss for calendar year 2011 is $4.5 trillion instead of $4.8 trillion. It still brings the annual loss to nearly $6 trillion for 2011 in an economy with a $3.6 trillion cash budget and a cash debt of $16 trillion for an economy with GDP of about 14.8 trillion.

Plainly, we’re broke. We have to freeze entitlements and cut where we can. If we wait, we’ll have to cut benefits for the current recipients. We used to have some slack when our federal cash debt total was smaller than the nation’s annual gross domestic product. But that cushion vanished on August 2, 2011, when financial borrowing was extended – Standard and Poors properly downgraded the nation’s credit rating the same day.

These links are annual actuarial reports signed by the registered actuary and by the members of the Medicare/SS board. They are public record. The Senate and House spend $5 billion a year, every year, on themselves. They all have access to this information and several dozen staff members apiece -- and – they do nothing about annual losses that lead to federal bankruptcy and hyperinflation. Congress was warned about this coming fiasco by several books published in the last decade and, specifically, by the final testimony of Alan Greenspan to Congress when he left the Federal Reserve chairmanship in 2006.

Don’t take the word of a Senator or Congressional representative about anything fiscal nor monetary.

Link for Jan 2011 report:

Link for Jan 2012 report:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Logical Thought Causes Less Religious Belief

 Friday, April 27, 2012 by Tara Francis, Cosmos Online

CARDIFF: Thinking logically, or even just thinking about thinking logically, causes people to report higher levels of religious disbelief.

A study published this week in Science, established that people exercising analytical thinking were more likely to have religious disbelief. It also showed that this disbelief could be induced by priming participants with analytical images, words and tasks – showing for the first time that analytical thinking can cause religious disbelief.

"These results join a number of other findings in recent years demonstrating that people's religious beliefs are surprisingly malleable, both across time and across different situations," said Will Gervais from University of British Columbia, in Canada, who co-authored the study.

Gut instinct increases belief
Similar research from Harvard University recently looked at the flip side of the coin – how intuition predicts religious beliefs. Intuition - your immediate ‘gut instinct’ - is thought to work alongside analytical thinking, which is a much more deliberate and logical process. The researchers found that people who used their intuition on puzzles reported stronger beliefs in God, regardless of their upbringing or intellect.

Crucially, they also managed to show a causal relationship – individuals that wrote about a time they used their intuition, rather than those who wrote about a time of reasoning, were more likely to report a belief in God.

According to Gervais, however, focussing only on religious belief does not give us the full picture. "A comprehensive understanding of religion needs to also accommodate the hundreds of millions of nonbelievers in the world. If you want to take religion seriously, you need to study the factors that promote both belief and disbelief," said Gervais.

Look, play, think
To remedy this Gervais and his colleagues established a number of tasks that promoted analytical thinking, initially to establish a link and then see if there was a causal relationship with disbelief.

In the first experiment each person was given three puzzles where the intuitive and analytical answers differ. For example: A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total, the bat costs $1.00 more than the ball, so how much does the ball cost? The instinctive answer is 10 cents but the more analytical, correct answer is 5 cents. From these answers the prevalence of their intuitive or analytical thinking would be evident.

The next experiments primed individuals with analytical images, like The Thinker, and analytical words such as ‘think’ and ‘rational.’ After every task participants filled out forms about their religious beliefs but the last task was the most subtle. The only difference was some forms came in a hard-to-read font, a technique called ‘cognitive disfluency,’ where difficult tasks like this are also known to activate analytical thinking.

Font affects beliefs

In the first experiment, the ability of individuals to override intuition with analytical responses was associated with a tendency to religious disbelief and the remaining experiments showed analytical thinking could cause higher levels of disbelief in supernatural agents like God, angels and the devil.

"We predicted these effects, and had solid theoretical support for those predictions. But it was still surprising that, say, different fonts could influence what people told us about their personal spirituality," said Gervais.

Being analytical doesn’t make you an atheist
Gervais warns, however, that all the responses varied largely. Nonreligious participants were not all perfectly rational and religious participants were not incapable of thinking analytically. Each person uses both these systems but now we understand that analytical thinking is one factor that can promote religious disbelief that by overriding intuitive beliefs.

"It’s important not to interpret these findings as suggesting that "thinking analytically will make you an atheist". It’s not as simple as that," said Stuart Wilson a psychologist at

Queen Margaret University, in Scotland, who was not involved in this study. "What this study is essentially saying is that analytic thinking can dampen down the intuitive thinking system that sometimes acts as a fertile ground from which religious ideas can grow."

More research still needs to be done to understand why religious belief, and disbelief, can be held on to so strongly, as well as understanding how people change from one to the other.
"There’s still a long way to go before we understand all of these things, but studies like this one are, in my opinion, on the right track," said Wilson.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

New Most Efficient Solar Cell

Quirky solar cell sets new efficiency record, Apr 26, 2012

Researchers in the US have built a new type of solar cell that emits light as well as absorbs it, making it the most efficient single-junction device ever developed. The efficiency of their prototype cell allows it to convert 28.6% of the Sun's energy into electricity. This is a considerable increase from the previously recorded highest efficiency of 26.4%, which was achieved in 2010.

Scientists have known since 1961 that the absolute limit for the amount of energy that can be harvested from sunlight hitting a typical solar cell is about 33.5%. However, for almost five decades researchers have been unable to come close to achieving this theoretical efficiency. But now, Eli Yablonovitch and his graduate student Owen Miller from the University of California, Berkeley have designed and built a new type of solar cell that gets closer to that limit by mimicking the behaviour of a light-emitting diode. That is to the say the solar cell is highly capable of absorbing light as well as emitting it.

In fact, it is the controlled emission of light that has boosted the efficiency.

The researchers have shown that the better a solar cell is at emitting photons, the higher its voltage is and the greater its efficiency. "[The result] is almost paradoxical and counterintuitive. It can be quite confusing to grasp at first," says Yablonovitch, as he tells that he and his colleagues discovered the connection while trying to resolve the large gap between the theoretical and achieved limits for solar-cell efficiency.

Managing photons

The solution lay in a mathematical connection between absorption and emission of light – a phenomenon better understood as "photon management". Conventionally, photon management involves controlling the photons incident on a solar cell so that a photon ejects as many electrons as possible, thereby generating the maximum amount of electric current. "But there is another aspect to photon management, in that we manage not only the incident light, but also the emitted light. Emitted photons sometimes get 'lost' within the cell, so what we do is make sure those photons are emitted," explains Yablonovitch. In a conventional solar cell, photons from the Sun hit a semiconductor material, knocking electrons loose and allowing them to flow freely. But this process can also generate new photons, in a process known as "luminescent emission". As there is a fundamental thermodynamic link between absorption and emission, designing solar cells to emit light causes an increase in the voltage produced by the device.

The researchers' novel concept has been put into practice by a company called Alta Devices, which was co-founded by Yablonovitch and California Institute of Technology physicist Harry Atwater in 2007. The firm was set up specifically to produce economic and high-energy solar cells. The new prototype solar cell is made of gallium arsenide, a material often used to make solar cells for satellites. The result is a device that operates at 28.6% efficiency.

First to put into practice

While the theory of luminescent emission causing an increase in voltage has been known for a while, it has never been put into practice. "It is somewhat puzzling why it has never been used in the field of solar-cell development until now. But a lack of certain requirements might explain that," says Yablonovitch. He goes on to say that solar cells are "grown" on substrates that are generally of poor quality and act as "sinks" for the emitted luminescent photons, which are then lost. The new cell made by Alta Devices is separated from the substrate, which delivers a much better performance. "In fact, we separate the substrates on which the cells are grown and then re-use them. This not only helps with efficiency, but it also brings the cost of producing our cells down, and so it is a key factor," says Yablonovitch. He explains that the cells are still as thin (1 µm) as traditional cells and so people are genuinely shocked to know the devices have been developed cheaply using gallium arsenide. Alta Devices is already producing the cells on an industrial scale, with samples being shipped to customers.

Yablonovitch says he hopes researchers will be able to use this technique to achieve efficiencies close to 30% in the coming years. And given that the work applies to all types of solar cells, the findings have implications throughout the field.

The team will present its findings at the Conference on Lasers and Electro Optics to be held in early May in California in the US.

The research is to be published in Journal of Photovoltaics.

 About the author

Tushna Commissariat is a reporter for
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Friday, April 27, 2012

Four People with Super Memory

By David K. Israel, April 26, 2012

What if you finished reading this article and remembered every detail of it for the rest of your life? That’s the problem people with super-autobiographical memory face—and yes, it’s often referred to as a problem, not a gift. Their minds are like a computer hard drive that retains everything: dates, middle names, license plate numbers, even what they eat for lunch on a daily basis. There are only four confirmed super memory cases, a disorder experts say is somewhat related to OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder], though no doubt there are plenty others who haven’t been identified yet.

So who are the four individuals who’ve all recently been the subject of a study at the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California, Irvine? Let’s meet them and find out…

Bob Petrella
 A Los Angeles based producer for the Tennis Channel, Bob Petrella may remember every number in his cell phone, but it’s his ability to recall sporting events that’s most remarkable. Give him a date, like March 30, 1981, and he could tell you not only that it was the day Reagan was shot, but also that Indiana beat North Carolina for the NCAA championship that evening. Even more impressive: when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers, his favorite team, you can show him a single freeze frame from most any game that he’s seen, and he can tell you not only the date of the game, but the final score.

According to a piece on ABC news, Petrella "remembers all but two of his birthdays since he turned 5. He recalls where he was and what he did with high school buddies. Grainy images of the 1970s are vivid pictures in his head. ‘I remember all my ATM codes,’ he said. ‘I remember people’s numbers. [I] lost my cell phone Sept. 24, 2006. A lot of people, if they lost their cell phone, they would panic because they have all these numbers. I didn’t have any numbers in my cell phone because I know everybody’s numbers up here [in my head].’

Jill Price
 Probably the best known of the four, Jill Price has described her ‘gift’ as "nonstop, uncontrollable and totally
exhausting." She was the first to be diagnosed with the condition, and recently published a memoir, The Woman Who Can’t Forget. Price remembers most details of nearly every day she’s been alive since she was 14 and compares her super memory to walking around with a video camera on her shoulder. "If you throw a date out at me, it’s as if I pulled a videotape out, put in a VCR and just watched the day," she has said.

Like Bob Petrella, Price calls California home, though working as an assistant at a Jewish religious day-school, she’s about as far from Hollywood as you can get. And although people she meets at parties are impressed with her ability to remember everything from the date of the Lockerbie plane bombing (December 21, 1988) to the last episode of Dallas (May 3, 1991), in her memoir, she describes super memory as a nuisance, partly because she can’t seem to forget painful events, like when someone she was crushing on rejected her.

Brad Williams
 For every Jill Price, there’s a Brad Williams, a Wisconsin radio anchor who embraces his super memory and enjoys having it tested. Ask him what happened on November 7, 1991 and he’ll tell you that it was the day Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive. But Williams does not stop there. "It was a Thursday," he once said in an MSNBC piece. There was a big snowstorm here the week before."

Unlike Bob Petrella, Williams has a tough time with sports, but excels at pop-culture trivia. For instance, he could name you every Academy Award winner and even nailed all five questions in the category "1984 Movies" when he appeared on Jeopardy! in 1990.

Although the folk at the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California, Irvine don’t agree, Williams says he never saw his ability as anything out of the ordinary.

"Growing up, I never really had reason to think I wasn’t like everyone else," he has said. A feature-length doc on his life, titled Unforgettable, is presently in production.

If you’re interested in the subject, remember to check it out once it hits theaters.

4. Rick Baron
A Cleveland, Ohio native, Rick Baron came out and announced his super ability directly to USA Today, after reading a piece the newspaper published on Jill Price. Unlike Price, Baron uses his super memory to win stuff. Although unemployed, he’s extremely resourceful and is constantly entering and winning trivia contests. His list of rewards includes restaurant gift cards, tickets to sporting events, even all expense paid vacations (Baron has won 14 of them). Baron claims to remember every detail of his life since the age of 11, and is usually pretty successful at remembering the day-to-day going all the way back to when he was seven.

According to the USA Today piece on Baron, his sister claims he shows signs of hardcore OCD. "He organizes and catalogs everything. He even keeps his bills in order of the city of the Federal Reserve Bank where they were issued and also by how the sports teams in that city did."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Arizona and Immigration at Supreme Court

A Bad Day In Court for the Obama Administration

April 25, 2012 by John Hinderaker

Some years ago, I worked on a big case in Alaska and spent a lot of time there. At that
time, the local bar was buzzing about a lawyer who had a really bad day in court: he was
kicked to death by a moose in the parking lot of the federal courthouse in Anchorage.

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli didn’t have that bad a day today in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that Arizona’s immigration law is invalid by virtue of federal pre-emption, but he was kicked about a good bit by the justices.

On Twitter, Byron York asked: "Question for legal types: Is Donald Verrilli bad at his job or just burdened by having to defend the indefensible?" You can read the entire argument here and draw your own conclusions, but in my opinion, the problem was not with Verrilli but rather with the quality of the arguments that he was required to make by his client, the Obama administration.

News reports have focused on an exchange in which Justice Sotomayor, an Obama appointee, spoke for the Court in expressing open skepticism about Verrilli’s argument:
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Can I get to a different question? I think even I or someone else cut you off when you said there were three reasons why — 2(B). Putting aside your argument that this — that a systematic cooperation is wrong — you can see it’s not selling very well — why don’t you try to come up with something else? Because I, frankly — as the chief has said to you, it’s not that it’s forcing you to change your enforcement priorities. You don’t have to take the person into custody. So what’s left of your argument?
Justice Sotomayor was commenting here on an extraordinary aspect of the Obama administration’s position, to the effect that it is OK if individual Arizona law enforcement officers decide to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, but if the state directs them all to cooperate, it is somehow unconstitutional. The Obama administration literally argued that for a state to engage in "systematic cooperation" with the federal government on immigration is unlawful. We can’t blame Mr. Verrilli for his inability to sell that bizarre argument. We do blame Barack Obama and Eric Holder for trying to assert it.

Of course, what is going on here is that the Obama administration doesn’t want to enforce the immigration laws that Congress has enacted. The essence of its position in the Arizona case is that the federal government has the right to decide not to enforce the law, and if it so decides, then no state has the power, under the Constitution, to do anything that would tend to enforce those federal laws. So if the Obama administration decides that it will gain political advantage by ignoring federal laws against illegal immigration, states like Arizona just have to take the consequences without complaining.

That proposition–the real essence of the Obama administration’s case–is not one that can survive the light of day. Thus, near the end of Verrilli’s argument, Justice Kennedy cut to the chase:
JUSTICE KENNEDY: So you’re saying the government has a legitimate interest in not enforcing its laws?
GENERAL VERRILLI: No. We have a legitimate interest in enforcing the law, of course, but it needs to be — but these — this Court has said over and over again, has recognized that the — the balance of interest that has to be achieved in enforcing the — the immigration laws is exceedingly delicate and complex, and it involves consideration of foreign relations, it involves humanitarian concerns, and it also involves public order and public –
That answer was incoherent, obviously, but not because Verrilli is a fool; rather, because the Obama administration’s position is indefensible. Later, Justice Scalia followed up:
JUSTICE SCALIA: So we have to — we have to enforce our laws in a manner that will please Mexico. Is that what you’re saying?
GENERAL VERRILLI: No, Your Honor, but what — no, Your Honor, I’m not saying that –
JUSTICE SCALIA: Sounded like what you were saying.
So the Obama administration had a tough day in court today, and deservedly so. Let’s hope that the Supreme Court’s majority opinion in this case delivers President Obama the stinging rebuke that he so richly deserves.

UPDATE: Ironically, the Obama administration’s sheer incompetence is the one factor now mitigating our illegal immigration problem–an unintended consequence of the fact that Obama completely fails to understand economics.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Polymers Attack Toxic Brain Disease Prions

Prions in the Brain Eliminated by Homing Molecules

ScienceDaily (Apr. 24, 2012) — Toxic prions in the brain can be detected with self-illuminating polymers. The originators, at Linköping University in Sweden, has now shown that the same molecules can also render the prions harmless, and potentially cure fatal nerve-destroying illnesses.

Linköping researchers and their colleagues at the University Hospital in Zürich tested the luminescent conjugated polymers, or LCPs, on tissue sections from the brains of mice that had been infected with prions. The results show that the number of prions, as well as their toxicity and infectibility, decreased drastically.

This is the first time anyone has been able to demonstrate the possibility of treating illnesses such as mad cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jacobs with LCP molecules.

"When we see this effect on prion infections, we believe the same approach could work on Alzheimer's disease as well," says Peter Nilsson, researcher in Bioorganic Chemistry funded by ERC, the European Research Council.

Along with professors Per Hammarström and Adriano Aguzzi and others, he is now publishing the results in The Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Prions are diseased forms of normally occurring proteins in the brain. When they clump together in large aggregates, nerve cells in the surrounding area are affected, which leads to serious brain damage and a quick death. Prion illnesses can be inherited, occur spontaneously or through infection, for example through infected meat -- as was the case with mad cow disease.

The course of the illness is relentless when the prions fall to pieces and replicate at an exponential rate. When researchers inserted the LCP molecules into their model system, the replication was arrested, possible through stabilizing the prion aggregates.

The variable components in an LCP are various chemical subgroups attached onto the polymer. In the published study, eight different substances were tested, and all of them had significant effect on the toxicity of the prions.

"Based on these results, we can now customise entirely new molecules with potentially even better effect. These are now being tested on animal models," Nilsson says.

Researchers want to go even further and test whether the molecules will function on fruit flies with an Alzheimer's-like nerve disorder. Alzheimer's is caused by what is known as amyloid plaque, which has a similar but slower course than prion diseases.

The study is part of the EU LUPAS project with participants from Sweden, Switzerland, France, Israel, Norway, and Germany. The coordinator is Per Hammarström, at Linköping University.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Long Range Electric Car Batteries

If the Bugs Can Be Worked Out

IBM has a partnership with two Japanese chemical firms to develop a battery for cars with a 489 mile range, according to an April 20, 2012, article by Larry Greenemeier in Scientific American.  IBM has scheduled a working prototype for completion by the end of 2013.

The partners working with IBM since 2009 on this "IBM Battery 500 Project" are chemical firm Asahi Kasei Corporation and electrolyte manufacturer Central Glass.

Current lithium ion batteries use a metal oxide or metal phosphate cathode, particularly cobalt, manganese or iron-based, as the positive electrode and an anode based on carbon. An electrolyte fluid conducts lithium ions from one electrode to the other, flowing from the anode to the cathode while in use, through the electrode and a separator membrane. The flow is reversed when charging the battery. This will propel an electric vehicle only about 99 miles before exhausting the power, and some plug-in hybrids have a range of only about 50 miles before the gasoline motor must supply the power.

The air breathing battery replaces heavy metal oxides from within the battery with oxygen collected from the atmosphere while the vehicle is moving, forming lithium peroxide for electrical current to power the motor. When charging, the oxygen is released back into the atmosphere. In this design, a lithium anode is used. Sincd the battery has no heavy metal, it is very significantly lighter yet able to store more energy than a heavy-metal, lithium-ion battery.

A significant bottleneck in the air batteries is that the oxygen attacks and destroys the electrolyte, leaving it unable to conduct a charge. A suggestion by Winfried Wilcke, the project’s principal investigator, is to use one electrolyte for the cathode and a different electrolyte for the anode, with a membrane to keep the separate fluids from mixing. A project partner, Asahi Kasei, is developing such a membrane. Central Glass is creating a new group of electrolytes and high performance additives to increase the performance of lithium air batteries.

Wilcke estimates the lithium–air batteries might be ready for production by 2020 at the earliest, "if we don't find any show-stopping technology along the way." He adds: "The only thing I'm certain of is that it won't happen this decade."

An important way to compare batteries is to measure the specific energy of the device. Conventional lead-acid batteries produce 40 watt-hours per kilogram. The lithium-ion batteries in use in many present electric cars have a maximum of 250 watt-hours per kilogram. The potential for lithium-air batteries is above 1,400 watt-hours per kilogram. Wilcke says a larger prototype is needed to give a more accurate figure for lithium-air density, but he is working for 1,000 watt-hours per kilogram. Wilcke projects such batteries may be ready for production by 2020 if no technological barrier is discovered, but he also noted that he is certain such batteries will not be available in this decade.

The IBM partnership is not alone in pursuing this research. M.I.T. researchers are working on a lithium-air battery with carbon nanofiber electrodes and Yangchuan Xing of Missouri University of Science and Technology receivdd a $1.2 million Department of Energy award to develop lithium-air batteries.

Summarized from:

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
It won’t be easy solving these technical issues. The above link includes a comment section. Comment 9 by "scudge" at 01:39 AM on April 21st, 2012, reads:
"propylene carbonate is too unstable even if you put oxooxazolidines for non aqueous electrolyte... acids, bases and salts all decompose it... carbon dioxide froth is all you'll end up with..."

Monday, April 23, 2012

Manufacturing Is Going Digital

An article in The Economist this week reminds us that the first industrial revolution began in Britain in the 18th century as weavers’ cottages were combined into a cotton mill. The second industrial revolution began with Henry Ford’s moving assemble line early in the twentieth century.

An Economist report argues that digital manufacturing is the third industrial revolution and that it will change economies. Digital manufacturing will combine clever software, new materials, new robots and new ways of manufacturing, particularly three-dimensional printing, with a range of web-based services. Unlike a Ford factory churning out thousands of identical products, the new system will tailor each product to customer desires with technological advances providing for falling production costs.

Instead of parts being screwed or welded together, a computer-designed product will be printed in three dimensions, built up layer by layer. The design can be customized with a few mouse clicks.

If something is needed, the design can be downloaded and printed. If a part is missing, it can be printed locally instead of ordered and waited for. Carbon fiber will be used more and steel and aluminum will be used less often. Nanotechnology will improve features – bandages that help heal wounds, engines that run with greater efficiency, pots and pans that are easier to clean. Huge capital requirements for building large factories will become the exception rather than the rule.

As cotton mills ended hand looms and the Model T ended the work of farriers, digital manufacturing will be a revolution and changes the workforce. Many factories will be squeaky clean and manned by designers, engineers, IT experts, logistics personnel, marketing staff and others. There will be few, if any, riveters.

Labor costs as a percentage of total manufacturing costs are often shrinking for high tech products. Therefore outsourcing to offshore factories may be reversed by digital manufacturing where changes in demand can be implemented, especially for products that are sophisticated in ways that make it advisable to have the designers and manufacturers in the same location. The Economist notes that The Boston Consulting Group estimates that for transport, computers, fabricated metals and machinery, ten to thirty percent of currently imported goods may be made instead in America by 2020.

The Economist sees customers adapting quickly to new and better products that are delivered quickly. But governments may balk – "Their instinct is to protect industries and companies that already exist, not the upstarts that would destroy them." They rain down benefits on old factories and try to cherry pick the technologies they guess will prevail. "And they cling to a romantic belief that manufacturing is superior to services, let alone finance." The magazine recommends that government stick to the basics – better schools so the workforce will have higher skills, clear rules and a (legally and economically) level playing field.  Beyond that, "Leave the rest to the revolutionaries."

Summarized from: 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

College Grads Face Sour Job Market

More than half of new bachelor degree graduates are jobless or underemployed

An analysis of government information by the Associated Press shows that half of college graduates under 25 are unemployed or underemployed. Median wages are down from the level of 2000, through an education in science, education or health fields is in strong demand. In 2011, 53% of young college graduates were unemployed or underemployed, a high compared to the 2000 low of 41% unemployed or underemployed. Arts and humanities degrees are less attractive. Overall, job prospects for holders of bachelor’s degrees are at the lowest level in more than ten years. Most future job openings are expected for positions with lower skill levels such as home health aides.
The decisions young adults make about schooling, academic field and training, which college to attend, and how to finance the degree have enormous and long-term financial consequences.

The job market is worst for young graduates in the Mountain West, followed by the rural southeastern states and the Pacific region (including Alaska and Hawaii). The rest of the South, especially Texas, has brighter prospects for graduates in higher-skill jobs. This data is based on a 2011 survey by Northeastern University with additional information from Paul Harrington at the Drexel University and by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, relying on Department of Labor assessments.
Young college graduates were often employed in jobs requiring a high school diploma such as waiters, waitresses, bartenders, receptionists, payroll clerks, cashiers, retail clerks and customer representatives. The government projects that of the 30 occupations with the highest number of openings by 2020, only three will require a degree – teachers, college professors and accountants. Those educated in nursing, teaching, accounting or computer science were most likely to find a position in their field, whereas a background in zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history or the humanities was hardest to find for graduates in those fields.

Job category gains seem to be going to workers in the top or bottom of the wage scale. Middle income jobs for holders of bachelor’s degrees are getting scarcer. Some studies show that up to 95% of lost positions were in middle-income jobs such as bank tellers – positions not expected to return in a society turning to high technology.

Summarized from an April 22,2012, AP article by Hope Yen at:

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Great Movie Dialog

"I do not drink [pause] wine."
--Bela Lugosi as Dracula

"Orange groves?"
-- John Huston as Noah Cross in Chinatown

"Leonard, who is this woman?!"
-- Marlene Dietrich in Witness for the Prosecution

"I pray God all goes well with you, Miss Melly, and I want to thank you for all you’ve done for Scarlett – and for me – from my heart I thank you."
-- Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind

Sister: "It may not be quite so cold, really."
Brother: "Stop it, Pam. It’s clammy and rotten!"
-- Ruth Hussey and Ray Milland in The Uninvited

"You and your dopey schemes!"
-- Cary Grant to Leo G. Carroll in North by Northwest

"You hit a cop, you’re going in."
--the judge in Good Will Hunting

"This is a nightmare."
-- Dustin Hoffman between clenched teeth in Tootsie

James Bond: "Do you expect me to talk?"
Auric Goldfinger: "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."
-- Goldfinger dialog

"I’m in love with a nerd!"
-- Elizabeth Montgomery’s daughter in Revenge of the Nerds

[in a resigned, deadly calm voice]: "It’s the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man."
-- Dan Ackroyd in Ghostbusters

"One of the planes will get through."
-- the game theory mathematician in Fail Safe

[in response to a scream from the attic]: "The elephant man."
-- John Guilgud as the hospital administrator in The Elephant Man

"I pray thee, my lord, do not do this."
-- Richard Burton as Beckett, horrified by the notion of becoming Archbishop of Canterbury

"But history only remembers most what you did last."
-- Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace in The Insider

"A whole world at war and I’m left out of it! God will not permit this to happen. I am going to be allowed to fulfill my destiny. So help me God."
-- George C. Scott as Patton

"Suppose none of us ever knew who she really was."
-- William Hurt in Body Heat

"We need a bigger boat."
-- Roy Scheider’s character in Jaws

"There is another system."
-- the computer itself in The Forbin Project

Friday, April 20, 2012

New: Airborne Blimp Electric Generator

A replacement for diesel generators

By Tecca

Look, up in the sky! It's a bird… it's a plane… it's a… wind turbine? Altaeros Energies, a Massachusetts-based company formed by M.I.T. and Harvard grads, has aimed high — literally — in its quest to deliver power to remote, off-the-grid locations, creating a blimp that harnesses the power of the wind at 1,000 feet up.

The prototype, seen in this video, is a large helium-filled shell that looks almost like a jet engine (or, as we suspect more than a few people thought when it was tested in Maine earlier this year, a UFO). Attached to a trailer on the ground, it automatically deploys itself 1,000 feet in the air (350 feet for its inaugural test flight) where a fan at its center is turned by the wind. At this altitude, the wind is not only stronger than at ground level, but also much steadier, resulting in twice the energy production of a traditional, pole-mounted turbine.

The electricity generated by the turbine is sent down to the trailer via the tether cables,
where it can be used to power remote villages, military outposts, or anywhere that would normally have to depend on polluting diesel generators. When it's not in use, it can be automatically reeled in.

Altaeros Energies says that while the power its blimp provides costs more than getting it from the grid, it's actually more affordable than from generators that require a constant supply of gasoline, not to mention greener. The company plans to develop a larger, sturdier version of the 35-foot dirigible for use offshore by utility companies.


This article was written by Randy Nelson and originally appeared on Tecca;_ylt=ApAdhSgNKngteBTl7Arc2uGs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTNtNjhzMTBhBG1pdANUb3BTdG9yeSBGUARwa2cDYzkyOTQ5ZWEtY2E5Zi0zZDU4LTljNDItY2M1NGViYzY0N2Q3BHBvcwMxNgRzZWMDdG9wX3N0b3J5BHZlcgMyMzM5MjI2MC04YjM1LTExZTEtYmRiMy1jMWViYTg4ODNlNzc-;_ylg=X3oDMTFrM25vcXFyBGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDBHBzdGNhdAMEcHQDc2VjdGlvbnMEdGVzdAM-;_ylv=3

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Note: The link immediately above also provides a picture and video of the device. It doesn’t look like a blimp, it looks like a huge helium-filled doughnut with stabilizing fins to prevent oscillation. A three-bladed fan is suspended in the middle of the doughnut hole. The device is portable and can be transported by a large trailer. A recent press release with a good picture is at this link:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dark Matter Getting Darker and Murkier

New blow to dark matter theory
by Will Parker

A study of the motions of stars in the Milky Way has found no evidence for the existence of dark matter in a large volume around the Sun. According to widely accepted theories, the solar neighborhood was expected to have dark matter - estimated to constitute 83 percent of the matter in the Universe - in relative abundance. But a new study by a team of astronomers at the European Southern Observatory's La Silla facility in Chile has found that these theories do not fit the observational facts. Their analysis appears in The Astrophysical Journal.

The team based their findings on the motions of more than 400 stars up to 13,000 light-years from the Sun. From this new data they calculated the mass of material in the vicinity of the Sun, in a volume four times larger than ever considered before.

"The amount of mass that we derive matches very well with what we see - stars, dust and gas - in the region around the Sun," said team leader Christian Moni Bidin, from the Universidad de Concepción, Chile. "But this leaves no room for the extra material - dark matter - that we were expecting. Our calculations show that it should have shown up very clearly in our measurements. But it was just not there."

Dark matter is thought to be a substance that cannot be seen, but shows itself by its gravitational attraction for the material around it. It was originally theorized to explain why the outer regions of galaxies, including our own Milky Way, rotated so quickly.

Dark matter theory has continued to evolve, and it is now also an essential component of theories about galaxy formation. Today, it is widely accepted that this mysterious dark component constitutes the bulk of the mass in the Universe, despite the fact that it has resisted all attempts to understand its nature and all experiments to detect it have failed.

Moni Bidin explained that by measuring the motions of many stars, particularly those away from the plane of the Milky Way, the astronomers could work backwards to deduce how much matter was present. These motions, he explained, are a result of the mutual gravitational attraction of all material - both normal matter and dark matter.

Currently accepted theories predict that the average amount of dark matter in the Sun's part of the galaxy should be in the range 0.4-1.0 kilograms of dark matter in a volume the size of the Earth. But the new measurements found evidence for only 0.00-0.07 kilograms of dark matter in the same volume.

Existing models of how galaxies form and rotate suggested that the Milky Way is surrounded by a halo of dark matter. Astronomers are not able to precisely predict what shape this halo takes, but they had expected to find significant amounts in the region around the Sun. Moni Bidin says that only very unlikely shapes for the dark matter halo - such as a highly elongated form - could explain the observations in the new study.

"Despite the new results, the Milky Way certainly rotates much faster than the visible matter alone can account for. So, if dark matter is not present where we expected it, a new solution for the missing mass problem must be found. Our results contradict the currently accepted models. The mystery of dark matter has just become even more mysterious," Moni Bidin concluded.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

New Approach for Brain Cancer

Gold Nanoparticles, Three Types of
Imaging Used to Remove Brain Tumors
By Tiffany Kaiser, April 16, 2012

Stanford University researchers can completely remove tumors without harming healthy tissue

Stanford University researchers have combined tiny, laboratory-made nanoparticles with three imaging methods to successfully remove brain tumors entirely.

Sam Gambhir, MD, Ph.D, study leader and professor and chair of radiology at Stanford University School of Medicine, has created tiny nanoparticles that are capable of highlighting tumor tissue both before and during removal with the help of three imaging techniques. This not only helps researchers remove brain tumors completely, but it also allows them to avoid messing with healthy brain tissue.

Brain tumors are not easy to remove. The major issue with removal is making sure to leave as much healthy brain tissue intact as possible. On the other hand, this means that some cancer cells could be left behind that aren't visible to the surgeon's eye, or are embedded in healthy tissue.

Glioblastomas, which are rough-edged tumors with finger-like projections that invade healthy tissues, and micrometastases, which are tiny tumor patches created by the replication of cells from the primary tumor, are two major issues with tumor removal as well.

But now, Gambhir has created a new technique that could help the 14,000 U.S. citizens diagnosed with brain cancer annually. The nanoparticles he developed are small, gold spheres that measure less than about five one-millionths of an inch in diameter. They are coated with an MRI contrast agent called gadolinium, and are injected intravenously to surround tumor tissue, but not healthy tissue.

The blood vessels that sustain a brain tumor are leaky, and the nanoparticles end up bleeding out of these vessels and embedding themselves in tumor tissue. Then, using their enhanced gold cores, they become visible using three different types of imaging.

The first type is the standard magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which identifies a tumor's boundaries before surgery. However, MRI alone cannot determine the growing tumor's position during surgery.

That's where photoacoustic imaging comes in. This method uses pulses of light that are absorbed by the gold cores in the nanoparticles, and causes the particles to heat up. This creates a detectable ultrasound and produces a three-dimensional image of the tumor. This allows for removal of the tumor during surgery.

The third and final imaging method is called Raman imaging, which causes a layer of the gold nanoparticles to radiate nearly undetectable amounts of light in certain patterns. The gold cores enhance the signals from the Raman imaging so that a microscope can catch them. After the tumor is removed via MRI and photoacoustic imaging, Raman is used to show micrometastases that are left behind in healthy tissue. This allowed for the removal of these projections.

This isn't the first time gold nanoparticles were used to fight cancer. Back in 2008, MIT researchers used gold nanoparticles, which can melt when exposed to certain wavelengths of infrared light, to carry drugs into the body and release them in certain areas of the body.

Source: Science Daily

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Important Advance in Artificial Photosynthesis

Artificial Photosynthesis Breakthrough: Fast Molecular Catalyzer

ScienceDaily (Apr. 12, 2012) — Researchers from the Department of Chemistry at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, Sweden, have managed to construct a molecular catalyzer that can oxidize water to oxygen very rapidly. In fact, these KTH scientists are the first to reach speeds approximating those is nature's own photosynthesis. The research findings play a critical role for the future use of solar energy and other renewable energy sources.

Researchers all over the world, including the US, Japan, and the EU, have been working for more than 30 years on refining an artificial form of photosynthesis. The results have varied, but researchers had not yet succeeded in creating a sufficiently rapid solar-driven catalyzer for oxidizing water.

"Speed has been the main problem, the bottleneck, when it comes to creating perfect artificial photosynthesis," says Licheng Sun, professor of organic chemistry at KTH.

But now, together with research colleagues, he has imitated natural photosynthesis and created a record-fast molecular catalyzer. The speed with which natural photosynthesis occurs is about 100 to 400 turnovers per seconds. The KTH have now reached over 300 turnovers per seconds with their artificial photosynthesis.

"This is clearly a world record, and a breakthrough regarding a molecular catalyzer in artificial photosynthesis," says Licheng Sun.

The fact that the KTH researchers are now close to nature's own photosynthesis regarding speed opens up many new possibilities, especially for renewable energy sources.

"This speed makes it possible in the future to create large-scale facilities for producing hydrogen in the Sahara, where there's an abundance of sunshine. Or to attain much more efficient solar energy conversion to electricity, combining this with traditional solar cells, than is possible today," says Licheng Sun.

He points to the problem of skyrocketing gasoline prices, and these advances with the rapid molecular catalyzers can in turn lay the groundwork for many important changes. They make it possible to use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into various fuels, such as methanol. And, technology can be created to convert solar energy directly into hydrogen. Licheng Sun adds that he and his research colleagues are working hard and pursing intensive research to make this technology reasonably inexpensive.

"I'm convinced that it will be possible in ten years to produce technology based on this type of research that is sufficiently cheap to compete with carbon-based fuels. This explains why Barack Obama is investing billions of dollars in this type of research," says Licheng Sun.  [Sun's breakthrough occurred without any American funding].

He has conducted research in this field for nearly twenty years, more than half of that time at KTH, and adds that he and many other researchers see efficient catalyzers for oxidation of water as key to solving the solar energy problem.

"When it comes to renewable energy sources, using the sun is one of the best ways to go," says Sun.
The research findings are of such importance that they have recently attracted the attention of the scientific journal Nature Chemistry.

The research pursued by Licheng Sun and his colleagues is funded by the Wallenberg Foundation and the Swedish Energy Agency. They collaborate with researchers at Uppsala University and Stockholm University, and, together with Professor Lars Kloo at KTH, they run a joint research center involving KTH and Dalian University of Technology (DUT) in China.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Research into Artificial Photosynthesis

[The information below from Wikipedia sounds technical and tedious – but there is a vital basic message here: It is theoretically possible to use catalysts and special materials, including in some approaches genetically engineered micro-organisms, to produce great amounts of clean energy efficiently from water and sunlight.]

Artificial photosynthesis is a chemical process that replicates the natural process of photosynthesis, a process that converts sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and oxygen. The term is commonly used to refer to any scheme for capturing and storing the energy from sunlight in the chemical bonds of a fuel (a solar fuel). Photocatalytic water splitting converts water into protons (and eventually hydrogen) and oxygen, and is a main research area in artificial photosynthesis. Light-driven carbon dioxide reduction is another studied process, replicating natural carbon fixation.

Research developed in this field encompasses design and assembly of devices (and their components) for the direct production of solar fuels, photoelectrochemistry and its application in fuel cells, and engineering of enzymes and photoautotrophic microorganisms for microbial biofuel and biohydrogen from sunlight. Many, if not most, of the artificial approaches are bio-inspired, i.e., they rely on biomimetics.


The photosynthetic reaction can be divided into two half-reactions (oxidation and reduction), both of which are essential to producing fuel. In plant photosynthesis, water molecules are photo-oxidized to release oxygen and protons. The second stage of plant photosynthesis (also known as the Calvin-Benson cycle) is a light-independent reaction that converts carbon dioxide into glucose. Researchers of artificial photosynthesis are developing photocatalysts to perform both of these reactions separately. Furthermore, the protons resulting from water splitting can be used for hydrogen production. These catalysts must be able to react quickly and absorb a large percentage of solar photons.

Whereas photovoltaics can provide direct electrical current from sunlight, the inefficiency of fuel production from photovoltaic electricity (indirect process) and the fact sunshine is not constant throughout time sets a limit to its use. A way of using natural photosynthesis is via the production of biofuel through biomass, also an indirect process that suffers from low energy conversion efficiency (due to photosynthesis' own low efficiency in converting sunlight to biomass), and clashes with the increasing need of land mass for human food production. Artificial photosynthesis aims then to produce a fuel from sunlight that can be stored and used when sunlight is not available, by using direct processes, that is, to produce a solar fuel. With the development of catalysts able to reproduce the key steps of photosynthesis, water and sunlight would ultimately be the only needed sources for clean energy production. The only by-product would be oxygen, and production of a solar fuel has the potential to be cheaper than gasoline.

One process for the creation of a clean and affordable energy supply is the development of photocatalytic water splitting under solar light. This method of sustainable hydrogen production is a key objective in the development of alternative energy systems of the future. It is also predicted to be one of the more, if not the most, efficient ways of obtaining hydrogen from water. The conversion of solar energy into hydrogen via a water-splitting process assisted by photosemiconductor catalysts is one of the most promising technologies in development. This process has the potential for large quantities of hydrogen to be generated in an ecologically sound method. The conversion of solar energy into a clean fuel (H2) under ambient conditions is one of the greatest challenges facing scientists in the twenty-first century.

Two approaches are generally recognized in the construction of solar fuel cells for hydrogen production:

  • A homogeneous system is one where catalysts are not compartmentalized, that is, components are present in the same compartment. This means that hydrogen and oxygen are produced in the same location. This can be a drawback, since they compose an explosive mixture, demanding further gas purification. Also, all components must be active in approximately the same conditions (e.g., pH [the standard method for measuring acidity of a solution]).
  • A heterogeneous system has two separate electrodes, an anode and a cathode, making possible the separation of oxygen and hydrogen production. Furthermore, different components do not necessarily need to work in the same conditions. However, the increased complexity of these systems makes them harder to function and they are more costly.
Another area of research within artificial photosynthesis is the selection and manipulation of photosynthetic microorganisms, namely green microalgae and cyanobacteria, for the production of solar fuels. Many strains are able to produce hydrogen naturally, and focus exists to improve on these. Algae biofuels such as butanol and methanol are produced both at laboratory and commercial scales. This approach has benefited with the development of synthetic biology, which is also being explored by the J. Craig Venter Institute to produce a synthetic organism capable of biofuel production.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

America's Colleges Are Atop a Financial Bubble

Wade Gilley used to be Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Virginia. He wrote an article for today’s Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper about the high expenses of a modern college education. Gilley noted that

  • Outstanding student debt is approaching $1 trillion
  • Student debt is now the largest type of consumer debt in the nation
  • 37 million current and former students owed over $25,000 in 2010
  • Possibly one third of debtors are late on their monthly payments
  • Time magazine says student loan interest will double from 3.4% to 6.8%
  • Bankruptcy does not discharge student loans
  • The colleges themselves have borrowed hundred of billions
  • Many college degrees have limited economic value nowadays
  • More than 12 million degrees have been awarded since 2001
  • There are 6 million fewer jobs in American than in 2001
  • Of 2010 graduates, a Rutgers study shows only 56% got a job within a year
  • Salaries for college administration and coaching are rapidly increasing
  • Many schools allow five or more years to complete a four year degree
Summarized from:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Negative Quiddity: Dystopia via Urban Planning

A dystopia is the idea of a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian. Examples of dystopias are characterized in books such as Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Other examples include The Iron Heel, described by Erich Fromm as "the earliest of the modern Dystopian", and the religious dystopia of The Handmaid’s Tale. Dystopian societies feature different kinds of repressive social control systems, various forms of active and passive coercion. Ideas and works about dystopian societies often explore the concept of humans abusing technology and humans individually and collectively coping, or not being able to properly cope with technology that has progressed far more rapidly than humanity's spiritual evolution. Dystopian societies are often imagined as police states, with unlimited power over the citizens.

The word dystopia represents a counterpart of utopia, a term originally coined by Thomas More in this book of that title completed in 1516.

The first known use of dystopian, as recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary, is a speech given before the British House of Commons by John Stuart Mill in 1868, in which Mill denounced the government's Irish land policy: "It is, perhaps, too complimentary to call them Utopians, they ought rather to be called dys-topians, or caco-topians. What is commonly called Utopian is something too good to be practicable; but what they appear to favour is too bad to be practicable."

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The Trylon and the Perisphere

The Trylon and Perisphere were two modernistic structures, together known as the "Theme Center," at the center of the New York World’s Fair of 1939-1940. Connected to the 700-foot (210 m) spire-shaped Trylon by what was at the time the world's longest escalator, the Perisphere was a tremendous sphere, 180 feet in diameter. The sphere housed a diorama called "Democracity" which, in keeping with the fair's theme "The World of Tomorrow", depicted a utopian city-of-the-future. Democracity was viewed from above on a moving sidewalk, while a multi-image slide presentation was projected on the interior surface of the sphere. After exiting the Perisphere, visitors descended to ground level on the third element of the Theme Center, the Helicline, a 950-foot-long (290 m) spiral ramp that partially encircled the Perisphere.

                                   The Trylon, Perisphere and Helicline

The Trylon and Perisphere became the central symbol of the 1939 World's Fair, its image reproduced by the million on a wide range of promotional materials and serving as the fairground's focal point. The United States issued a postage stamp in 1939 depicting the Trylon and Perisphere. Neither structure survives; however, the Unisphere [symbol of the 1964 world’s fair at the same location] is now located where the
Perisphere once stood.

The Theme Center was designed by architects Wallace Harrison and J. Andre Fouilhoux, with the interior exhibit by Henry Dreyfuss. The structures were built in Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, New York and were intended as temporary with steel framing and plaster board facades. Both buildings were subsequently razed and scrapped after the closing of the fair, their materials to be used in World War II armaments.
The word Perisphere was coined using the Greek prefix peri-, meaning all around, about, or enclosing, surrounding. The word Trylon was coined from the phrase "triangular pylon".

also noteworthy at the 1939 World’s Fair – the General Motors Pavilion
and its Futurama exhibit – well described at this link:

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The Trylon and Perisphere hatched the even weirder "Skylon" in London in 1951-2

The Skylon

The Skylon was a futuristic-looking, slender, vertical, cigar-shaped steel tensegrity structure located by the Thames in London, that apparently floated above the ground, built in 1951 for the Festival of Britain. [It should not be confused with Skylon Tower, the tower overlooking Niagara Falls].

A popular joke of the period was that, like the British economy of 1951, "It had no visible means of support".

               Skylon at left and Festival of Britain – by John Ritchie Addison

The Skylon was the "Vertical Feature" that was an abiding symbol of the Festival of Britain. It was designed by Hidalgo Moya, Philip Powell and Felix Samuely, and fabricated by Painter Brothers of Hereford, England, on London's South Bank between Westminster Bridge and Hungerford Bridge. The Skylon consisted of a steel latticework frame, pointed at both ends and supported on cables slung between three steel beams. The partially constructed Skylon was rigged vertically, then grew taller in situ. The architects' design was made structurally feasible by the engineer Felix Samuely who, at the time, was a lecturer at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in Bedford Square, Bloomsbury. The base was nearly 15 metres (50 feet) from the ground, with the top nearly 90 metres (300 feet) high. The frame was clad in aluminium louvres lit from within at night.

Its name was suggested by Mrs A G S Fidler, wife of the chief architect of the Crawley Development Corporation.

A few days before the King and Queen visited the exhibition in May 1951, Skylon was climbed at midnight by student Philip Gurdon from Birkbeck College who attached a University of London Sairt Squadron scarf near the top. A workman was sent up a few days later to collect it.

Questions were asked in Parliament regarding the danger to visitors from lightning-strikes to the Skylon, and the papers reported that it was duly roped off at one point, in anticipation of a forecast thunderstorm.
In spite of its popularity with the public, the £30,000 cost of dismantling and re-erecting the Skylon elsewhere (£642,979 as of 2012) was deemed too much for a government struggling with post-war austerity. Skylon was removed in 1952 on the orders of Winston Churchill, who saw it a symbol of the preceding Labour Government, when the rest of the exhibition was dismantled.

Speculation as to the Skylon's fate included theories from Juder Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre, that it was thrown into the River Lea in east London, or that it was dumped into the Thames, buried under Jubilee Gardens, made into souvenirs or sold as scrap. The base is preserved in the Museum of London and the wind cups are held in a private collection. An investigation was carried out by the Front Row programme on BBC Radio 4. The result was broadcast on 8 March 2011, revealing that the Skylon and the roof of the Dome of Discovery were sold for scrap to George Cohen and Sons, scrap metal dealers of Wood Lane, Hammersmith, and dismantled at their works in Bidder street, Canning Town, on the banks of the River Lea. Some of the metal fragments were then turned into a series of commemorative paper-knives and artefacts. The inscriptions on the paper-knife read "600" and "Made from the aluminium alloy roof sheets which covered the Dome of Discovery at the Festival of Britain, South Bank. The Dome, Skylon and 10 other buildings on the site, were dismantled by George Cohen and Sons and Company Ltd during six months of 1952."

The former location of the Skylon is the riverside promenade between the London Eye and Hungerford Bridge, alongside the Jubilee Gardens (the former site of the Dome of Discovery). A new connection to the original Skylon was formed in May 2007 when D&D London (formerly Conran Restaurants) opened a new restaurant named Skylon on the third floor of the Royal Festival Hall, within metres of the location of the original.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Negative Quiddity: America in Decline

Edward Luce is the chief American columnist for the Financial Times of London. He has written a book on the future economy of the United States: Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent. A review of the book by Daniel Gross is available at:

Gross notes that Luce used to write speeches for Larry Summers in the 1990, so he had access to government and industry leaders for interviews as he traveled across America. Luce sees a country where
  • The middle class is being hollowed-out
  • Major cities, like Detroit, are in decline
  • Manufacturing jobs are being lost
  • The educational system is broken
  • Politics are in perpetual gridlock
  • The chief and central failures are those in the public sector
Luce does not see a depression for America, but views the country as a nation slowly falling behind its competitors.

Here is a description of Time to Start Thinking from The Book in London:
In Time to Start Thinking, Edward Luce offers an incisive and highly engaging account of America's economic and geopolitical decline. The Washington bureau chief for the Financial Times for the last four years, Luce has traveled the country interviewing public officials like Lawrence Summers and Senator Don Riegle, business leaders including Jeff Immelt and Bill Gates, as well as teachers, health care workers, and scientists. His interviews are candid and revealing: former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen told Luce about the catch-22-like situation of American defense spending: "We are borrowing money from China to build weapons to face down China." Mullen is just one of many voices who are united in their belief that America must evolve or face serious consequences. Luce's research, analysis, and reporting covers areas from education to health care to politics to business and innovation. Luce frames the issues historically, comparing America today to Britain in the early-twentieth century, when U.S. inventors developed the light bulb and the internal combustion engine, usurping Britain's position as the center of research and development, while Germany took the lead in the chemicals and metallurgy industries. As a result, Britain lost its place at the top of the world's pecking order. Today, the same situation is evolving in America: Chinese and Korean scientists and innovators are becoming increasingly competitive with those in America, and companies like IBM and General Electric now employ more people outside the United States than inside it. In domestic politics, things are also dire: conversation between Republicans and Democrats has all but ceased --Barney Frank calls it "the dialogue of the deaf," and the once noisy Senate dining room, specifically designed so that members of different parties would be forced to talk to one another, is now empty most lunch hours. No surprise, when the politicians are busy talking to lobbyists and trying to raise campaign funds. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has more than 2,300 different I.T. systems on which it spends more than $10 billion a year and the crippling bureaucracy in the education system leads more than a fifth of new teachers to leave their jobs within three years. In what may be the smartest book yet on why and how America is broken, Luce offers a critical, nonpartisan analysis of the issues facing America today and a renowned journalist's report on a country in economic, social, and political crisis.
-- reviews are at:

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Blog author’s note

These are serious and daunting issues. Edward Luce writes for the Financial Times, the world’s premier financial newspaper. It is the blog author’s opinion that the decline in the USA becomes irreversible if the Supreme Court determines that Obama Care is constitutional in an upcoming decision, as the financial burden of this new bureaucracy is weighty enough to break that back of America’s economy.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Future Computers

Steve Mills is Senior Vice President and Group Executive - Software & Systems at IBM. He had some views about the future of computing that he shared in an article at CNN/Money yesterday, April 11, 2012.

Computers may be able to think eventually

They will become more and more closely involved in our daily lives

They will continue to increase the speed and efficiency of our work

But in Information Technology, they have a long way to go because, at present:
  • Over 70% of IT budgets are spent on operations and maintenance
  • 55% of IT professionals experience downtime, which can take anywhere between minutes to over a week to fix
  • It can take up to four to six months just to establish hardware and software infrastructure
  • Nearly two-thirds of organizations fall behind schedule when deploying new IT capabilities
Summarized from:

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Blog Author Comments
There is, in my view, an unstoppable trend toward self-programming. For example, who needs a programmer when a data base can be entered into Access and, through some screens and selections lasting no longer than a question session with a programmer, the screens can be developed so that, much like a video game, the desired program is written automatically in SQL language. This quasi-programming is faster, cheaper and less prone to error than re-inventing the wheel whenever data reporting needs change or mature.

The same accomplishment at a higher level is available through quasi-programming a cube of data, an area pioneered by Hyperion Essbase (now part of Oracle).

Artificial intelligence may require at least two breakthroughs:

a.  A revolutionary improvement in search engine programming, along the lines of Wolfram Alpha (see described at ) but even more advanced than these advanced algorithms of Stephen Wolfram

b.  A new computer essential architecture which, like the human brain, requires no "central processing unit" as devised by von Neumann circa 1947 and used in nearly all modern computers for the past 65 years

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

GM Test Battery Creates Blast

Prototype EV Battery Explodes
at GM Michigan Research Lab 
Tiffany Kaiser -- April 11, 2012

GM says the battery had nothing to do with the Chevrolet Volt.

A prototype electric vehicle (EV) battery exploded at a General Motors plant in Michigan this morning, seriously injuring one auto worker.

The explosion occurred at a General Motors Technical Center battery research lab in Warren, Michigan at approximately 8:45 a.m. The Warren Fire Department and authorities were called immediately to investigate.

The building was safely evacuated, with only one employee requiring treatment. Four other employees were evaluated at the scene and did not require further treatment, according to GM.

It was discovered that a small fire had started due to "extreme testing of a prototype battery."

"We are aware of an incident this morning at about 8:45 a.m. in one of the laboratories at the Alternative Energy Center at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Mich.," said GM in a statement. "Fire and emergency authorities were called to the scene. The building was evacuated. All employees have been accounted for. We are aware of five employees being evaluated on scene by medical personnel and only one employee is being further treated."

The one employee that required further treatment is expected to make a full recovery, with some chemical burns and a possible concussion.

Warren Mayor James Fouts visited the GM site after the explosion for a further look, and said there was plenty of damage and a chemical smell at the scene.

"I just want to say how very fortunate we are that only one person was seriously injured," said Fouts. "There were 80 people in that building, but only one person received a possible concussion and some chemical burns, from what I've been told.

"It was significant structural damage. Three very large windows were blown out and thick, fortified doors were forced open by the blast. Our fire commissioner said the blast went straight up in the area where they test lithium batteries. The building was stuffed with personnel and equipment, but it was designed very well."

GM wouldn't say exactly what kind of battery exploded, but mentioned that it was built by A123 Systems and was going through tests that were meant to stress the battery. GM made sure to note that the battery was not Chevrolet Volt related.

"The incident was unrelated to the Chevy Volt or any other production vehicle," said GM in a statement. "The incident was related to extreme testing on a prototype battery."

GM is likely making sure to protect its Volt against any more bad publicity than it has already received in the past year. Back in May 2011, a Chevrolet Volt caught fire after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a side-impact crash test on the vehicle. It caught fire while parked in the Wisconsin testing facility.

This incident prompted an investigation of the safety of lithium batteries used for EVs. In November 2011, three more Volts were tested by the NHTSA, and two out of three either sparked or caught fire while the third remained normal.

"We're not yet able to confirm that it was a battery per se, but it was in one specific lab in the advanced research building," said Wilbert McAdams, Warren fire commissioner. "There's water damage to the building and OSHA will have to be called in because a person was injured."

McAdams is referring to the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is currently inspecting the situation.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cable versus Broadband

The cable industry isn’t stupid, right?

By Stacey Higginbotham Apr. 10, 2012

We’re rapidly moving to a future where cable broadband service will be the predominant choice for consumers who want fast access to the Internet, but in light of a study that predicts $200 bills by 2020 for the pay TV portion of cable, I have to wonder: Are the cable guys the idiots, or is it the consumer?

The NPD Group put out a survey Tuesday suggesting that pay TV rates could hit $200 by 2020 from an average rate of $86 per month now. The analysts at NPD credit rising content licensing fees and the average 6 percent rate increase that cable companies jam down users’ throats each year. Check out the expected rise in this graph [through the link at the bottom of this posting].

The big threat to cable is broadband.

But the idea of paying $200 in eight years, or even $123 in 3 years seems like an insanity for most consumers. It also seems like an insanity for the cable companies to attempt given how rising cable costs amid grim economic times leads folks to cut the cord. But is demand for cable inelastic? The NPD report notes that 16 percent of U.S. households don’t have pay TV service. This means 84 percent do — a huge success for the industry. But can it last? From the NPD report:
"As pay-TV costs rise and consumers’ spending power stays flat, the traditional affiliate-fee business model for pay-TV companies appears to be unsustainable in the long term," said Keith Nissen, research director for The NPD Group. "Much-needed structural changes to the pay-TV industry will not happen quickly or easily; however, the emerging competition between S-VOD and premium-TV suppliers might be the spark that ignites the necessary business-model transformation of the pay-TV industry."
That business model transformation is already occurring, but the end result isn’t likely to be exactly the a la carte, pay-for-channels-you-want and watch-it-when-you-want model that many of us in the web world are hoping for. Instead, we’re witnessing the first steps towards the creation of a combined pay TV and broadband bundle that gives consumers most of the TV they want on-demand and encourages them to avoid going to the outside web.

Cable sees the threat, but consumers are missing the opportunity

If done quickly, consumers, which are just discovering how pleasant (and economical) it can be to watch TV via broadband using over the top services such as Netflix or Hulu, will be lulled back into complacency and will still view their pay TV and broadband subscriptions as necessary. So far, research this week from the Leichtman Research Group notes that 79 percent of consumersare streaming Netflix to their TV, up from 65 percent in 2010, but in the last six months only .1 percent of survey respondents dropped cable because they found all the content they wanted online.

Today, a big reason why people don’t cut the cord is the lack of content, such as live sports programming as well as some people experiencing problems in getting broadcast content that should be free. This can be an issue with not being able to get the over the air signal clearly inside a home, or it can also be a result of the cable companies interfering with technology that can make it easier. And finally, consumers still want the convenience of one place to go for all their television. According to NPD, 59 percent of pay-TV subscribers preferred having one single provider for their pay-TV services, compared to 21 percent who desired multiple providers, and 21 percent who expressed no preference.

And only 20 percent told NPD they would consider going over the top if they could access their favorite shows online. This may be the case today, but if pay TV subs reach $200 or even $123 those sentiments may change. The lure of convenience may not be enough if the content is available and people can access it without going over some set broadband cap. And it appears that cable companies, especially Comcast are preparing for that future today.

Creating the TV walled garden.

TiVo, the original TV disrupter, said yesterday that it would offer Comcast’s Xfinity video-on-demand service via its boxes for users in San Francisco. A Comcast spokesman called the plan a pilot and confirmed that the Xfinity content watched via the TiVo wouldn’t count against a user’s broadband cap. Comcast is offering the same arguments that it made in deciding to exempt content streamed over the Xbox, namely that this content never leaves its private network to travel over the public Internet.

The FCC left that loophole open in its network neutrality ruling as I explained in a previous post, but as media watchdog Dwayne Winseck notes, public interest groups and the FCC may have a chance to stop the practice using the merger conditions associated with the Comcast NBC-U deal. But the political will to enforce those conditions and recognize the potential for creating a shadow Internet has to be in place at the FCC and in the government (or courts) in general.

So by offering the cap as a stick to prevent over the top streaming from disrupting its pay TV and the carrot of exempt television content from the Xfinity service, Comcast is well on its way to creating a safe haven inside its network to keep subscribers complacent and making the idea of leaving to grab content elsewhere a risky proposition: If you go over the cap too often, you get cut off. And if the fears of a cap don’t stop people, the cable industry is also tied pretty closely with content providers via ownership as Comcast owns NBC-U or via the relationships forged by access to their subscribers (see this awesome post from The
Economist on why HBO isn’t going to abandon the cable guys and go over the top).

So the question for TV consumers is: Do you keep paying $86 today for access to a walled garden of really good content that will likely to continue to rise in cost? Or do you go outside the walled garden and scramble to get your regular shows while fighting the caps and agreements that will eventually make the world outside the walled garden inhospitable for a TV lover? And the bigger question is whether or not the FCC or anyone in Washington is watching this play out and plans to help the consumers by taking action? Otherwise $200 cable doesn’t make the cable guys stupid. It makes them brilliant.

Monday, April 9, 2012

What Gives Liars Away?

Liars tend to raise their eyebrows and smirk.  An honest person will furrow the eyebrows and look confused.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia, Canada, have found that liars raise their eyebrows in an expression of apparent surprise and smile slightly, whereas innocent people furrow their eyebrows in distress.

The results were published in Evolution and Human Behavior, which concluded that the lack of control over facial expressions indicated real feelings, which are different from fake emotion.

The study, published in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour, concluded that a person’s lack of control over their facial expressions meant genuine feelings could be differentiated from fake emotion.
"Psychologists say most humans can control lower face muscles in order to talk or eat but those in the upper face are difficult to manipulate and can spark involuntary behaviour.
"On Wednesday, Dr Leanne ten Brinke, who led the study, said the findings suggested attempts to mask our emotions are likely to fail when engaging in a "consequential act of deception".
                                        -- summary in The Daily Telegraph

The researchers analyzed the expressions of 52 people, half of whom were lying. Over 23 thousand frames of video were viewed from Britain, America, Canada and Australia.

Dr. ten Brinke, one of the researchers, cautioned, "Not everyone will leak their true emotions, and some people are better than others at adopting a false face (such as) psychopaths."

Summarized from an article in the UK Daily Telegraph by Andrew Hough at:

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Expert Interviewer Mike Wallace (1918 - 2012)

Myron Leon "Mike" Wallace (May 9, 1918 – April 7, 2012) was an American journalist, game show host, actor and media personality. During his career, which spanned over sixty years, he interviewed a wide range of prominent newsmakers.

He was one of the original correspondents for CBS’ 60 Minutes which debuted in 1968. Wallace retired as a regular full-time correspondent in 2006, but still appeared occasionally on the series until 2008.

Wallace's youngest son is journalist Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday.

Wallace appeared as a guest on the popular radio quiz show Information Please on February 7, 1939, when he was in his last year at the University of Michigan. His first radio job was as newscaster and continuity writer for WOOD Radio in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This lasted until 1940, when he moved to WXYZ Radio in Detroit, Michigan, as an announcer. He then became a freelance radio worker in Chicago, Illinois.

Wallace enlisted in the United States Navy in 1943, and served as a communications officer during World War II on the USS Anthedon, a submarine tender. He saw no combat, but travelled to Hawaii, Australia, and Subic Bay in the Philippines, then patrolling the South China Sea, the Philippine Sea and south of Japan. Discharged in 1946, he returned to Chicago.

Early in his career, Wallace announced for the radio action shows Ned Jordan, Secret Agent, Sky King and The Green Hornet. It is sometimes reported Wallace announced for The Lone Ranger, but Wallace said he never did.

Wallace announced wrestling in Chicago in the late 1940s and early 1950s, sponsored by Tavern Pale beer.

In the late 1940s, Wallace was a staff announcer for the CBS radio network. He had displayed his comic skills when he appeared opposite Spike Jones in dialogue routines. He was also the voice of Elgin-American in their commercials on Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life.In 1949, he starred under the name Myron Wallace in a short-lived police drama, Stand By for Crime.

During the 1950s, Wallace hosted a number of game shows, including The Big Surprise, Who's the Boss? and Who Pays?. Early in his career Wallace was not known primarily as a news broadcaster. It was not uncommon during that period for newscasters (the term then used) to announce, do commercials and host game shows; Douglas Edwards, John Daly, John Cameron Swayze and Walter Cronkite hosted game shows as well. Wallace also hosted the pilot episode for Nothing but the Truth, which was helmed by Bud Collyer when it aired under the title, To Tell the Truth. Wallace occasionally served as a panelist on To Tell the Truth in the 1950s. He also did commercials for a variety of products, including Procter & Gamble’s 's Fluffo brand shortening.

Wallace also hosted two late-night interview programs, Night Beat (broadcast in New York during 1955–7, only on DuMont’s WABD) and The Mike Wallace Interview on ABC in 1957–8.

In 1959, Louis Lomax told Wallace about the Nation of Islam. Lomax and Wallace produced a five-part documentary about the organization, The Hate that Hate Produced, which aired during the week of July 13, 1959. The program was the first time most white people heard about the Nation, its leader, Elijah Muhammad, and its charismatic spokesman, Malcolm X.

By the early 1960s, Wallace's primary income came from commercials for Partliament cigarettes, touting their "man's mildness" (he had a contract with Philip Morris to pitch their cigarettes as a result of their original sponsorship of The Mike Wallace Interview). He hosted a New York based nightly interview program for Metropolitan Broadcasting stations (MetroMedia) called PM East one hour; it was paired with PM West, 30 minutes, hosted by San Francisco Chronicle television critic Terrence O’Flaherty. Also in the early 1960s, he was the host of the David Wolper-produced Biography series. After his elder son's death, however, Wallace decided to get back into news, and hosted an early version of The CBS Morning News, from 1963 through 1966. In 1964 he interviewed Malcolm X, who, half jokingly, commented "I probably am a dead man already".

His career as the lead reporter on 60 Minutes naturally led to some run-ins with the people interviewed.  While interviewing Louis Farrakhan, Wallace alleged that Nigeria is the most corrupt country in the world.   Farrakhan immediately shot back, declaring "Nigeria didn't bomb Hiroshima or slaughter millions of Indians!"   "Can you think of a more corrupt country?" asked Wallace. "I am living in one," said Farrakhan. Wallace expressed regret in regard to the one big interview he was never able to secure: First Lady Pat Nixon. 

On March 14, 2006, Wallace announced his retirement from 60 Minutes after 37 years with the program.

He continued working for CBS News as a "Correspondent Emeritus", albeit at a reduced pace. In August 2006, Wallace interviewed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejah. Wallace's last CBS interview was with retired baseball star Roger Clemens in January 2008 on "60 Minutes." Wallace suffered from health problems afterward, and in June 2008 his son Chris said that his father would not be returning to television.

Wallace's professional honors include at least 20 Emmy Awards, among them a report just weeks before the 9/11 terrorist attacks for an investigation on the former Soviet Union’s smallpox program and concerns about terrorism. He has also won three Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Awards, three George Foster Peabody Awards, a Robert E. Sherwood Award, a Distinguished Achievement Award from the University of Southern California School of Journalism and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in the international broadcast category. In September 2003, Wallace received a Lifetime Achievement Emmy, his 20th. Most recently, on October 13, 2007, Wallace was awarded the University of Illinois Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism.

Wallace interviewed Gen. William Westmoreland for the CBS special The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception, aired January 23, 1982. Westmoreland then sued Wallace and CBS for libel. In February 1985, the parties settled just before the case was to go to trial. Each side agreed to pay its own costs and attorney's fees and CBS issued a clarification of its intent with respect to the original story.

Wallace was played by actor Christopher Plummer in the 1999 feature film, The Insider. The screenplay was based on the Vanity Fair article, "The Man Who Knew Too Much" by Marie Brenner, which accused Wallace of capitulating to corporate pressure to kill a story about Jeffrey Wigand, a whistle-blower trying to expose Brown & Williamson’s dangerous business practices. Wallace, for his part, disliked his on-screen portrayal and maintains he was in fact very eager to have Wigand's story aired in full.

-- from: