Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Navy Railgun Weapon Promises Quite a Barrage

It could take up to a decade to find its way into shipboard systems - and the budget for the final weapon is now in some doubt.

The energy level has jumped from 0.5 megajoules to 1.5 megajoules. Even at one megajoule, the projectiles hit with the force of a one-ton car striking a wall at 100mph. _DailyMail

The Navy began pursuing the railgun in 2005, and for now, there are only lab prototypes of the weapon. But already the Navy has set a world record (see video below) for muzzle energy used in a weapon--33 megajoules. According to Defense Market, a shot of that magnitude could potentially reach "extended ranges with Mach 5 velocity."

Ellis said, the Navy has awarded contracts to BAE and General Atomics to build prototypes that "are more tactical in nature."...when the railgun is finally deployed, it is likely to be used--or at least be ready for action--in several different kinds of missions. First, Ellis explained, it could be used from a ship to fire inland in support of marines as they come ashore.

At the same time, because the weapon's range is so long, it could allow a Naval ship that features the railgun to defend itself from sea-borne threats long before it can itself be attacked, or from missiles fired from land or sea.

Now it's on to the next phase of the project. According to Ellis, that phase includes demonstrating that it's possible to fire a railgun at a rate of 10 rounds per minute _CBS
9 Second Clip of Record Setting Naval Rail Gun Shot

To supply it, Raytheon’s building a “Pulse Forming Network” or PFN. That's a large power system that stores up electrical power and then converts it to a pulse that is directed into the gun's barrel, John Cochran, the railgun program manager in Raytheon's Advanced Technology Group, told CNET’s News.com. _FoxNews
The US Navy desperately wants to put this gun onboard its attack ships, but it is not clear whether the railgun will be used by land forces or sea forces, if it ever does make it through all the levels of financing and final approval.

This electromagnetic catapult weapon may be a glimpse into the future of medium distance ballistic weaponry, particularly if it can achieve pinpoint accuracy over hundreds of miles distance. Providing the massive amounts of electricity required over a sustained attack might well require a nuclear reactor, along with Raytheon's pulse-forming network.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

How to Turn Every Brain into Spock's Brain

A machine which stimulates your brain with tiny electric shocks can improve memory, problem-solving and mathematical abilities, psychologists have found.

Dr Roi Cohen Kadosh, a neuroscientist, uses a high-tech system called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to stimulate precise regions of the brain with a tiny buzz of electric current.

When he stimulates the parietal lobes, which are responsible for our skills in reading, writing and numeracy, he can boost mathematical skills...When Dr Cohen Kadosh’s subjects had their parietal lobes stimulated for 30 minutes every day for a week, they were able to pick up maths skills through conventional lessons far more quickly and effectively than they could before.

‘It’s completely safe. The electric current is one thousand times lower than anything that could cause damage,’ he says.

Tests have shown that the subjects’ maths abilities remain boosted six months after the treatment. _DailyMail

Devices which administer the electric pulses required for the treatment can be bought for as little as £500 and are portable, making them affordable and convenient to use. However, this and the fact that there are no rules governing their use, means that they are not restricted to use by professionals in labs and clinics.

... _Telegraph
Daily Mail
Of course any effective means of improving performance could give certain people an advantage over others. Those who could afford the brain-boosting technology, for example, might be thought to have an unfair advantage over those who had to wait for the price of the technology to fall, before they could gain access.

This might represent a threat to our modern leftist-egalitarian zeitgeist, where it is felt that if anyone advances, then everyone should advance in lock-step. But that is not how nature works, and it is not the way that any meaningful type of abundant future for humanity will be achieved. The sooner that self-improvement technologies escape the grip of the politically correct drone-minded politicians and academics, the better.
"This research cuts to core of humanity: the capacity to learn," says Professor Julian Savulescu. "The capacity to learn varies across people, across ages and with illness. This kind of technology enables people to get more out of the work they put into learning something."

He adds: "This is a first step down the path of maximizing human potential. It is a very exciting development but we need to control the release of the genie. Although this looks like a simple external device, it acts by affecting the brain. That could have very good effects, but unpredictable side effects."

One of the most obvious uses of brain stimulation techniques is in children as an educational or learning aid. The researchers believe that their use in children would be warranted, and that we should begin research to understand how TDCS might be used in children.

Roi notes that: "Parents will often send their child to piano lessons or to football lessons, wanting them to do well." He considers that providing people with ways of fulfilling their potential is not a bad thing. _Medicalxpress
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a technique that has been intensively investigated in the past decade as this method offers a non-invasive and safe alternative to change cortical excitability2. The effects of one session of tDCS can last for several minutes, and its effects depend on polarity of stimulation, such as that cathodal stimulation induces a decrease in cortical excitability, and anodal stimulation induces an increase in cortical excitability that may last beyond the duration of stimulation6. These effects have been explored in cognitive neuroscience and also clinically in a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders – especially when applied over several consecutive sessions4. One area that has been attracting attention of neuroscientists and clinicians is the use of tDCS for modulation of pain-related neural networks3,5. Modulation of two main cortical areas in pain research has been explored: primary motor cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex7. Due to the critical role of electrode montage, in this article, we show different alternatives for electrode placement for tDCS clinical trials on pain; discussing advantages and disadvantages of each method of stimulation. _Jove


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Basic Primer on Brain Memory

The prefrontal cortex is the chief executive of our brain. It plans complex actions, helps us make decisions, predicts what’s about to happen and applies breaks to bad behavior. Part of this region is in charge of working memory, a kind of mental sketchpad.

The dorsolateral section is thought to be the engine of memory suppression, a type of willful forgetting.

The left inferior prefrontal cortex processes information deeply and helps make emotional memories stick in your mind.

The parietal cortex covers the parietal lobe, a large section of the brain. Parts of it map the position of the body in space and the whereabouts of nearby objects. Other sections help us remember. A brain wave detected over this area shrinks when a person forgets.

Sensory information—sights and sounds—form the raw material for memory.

The visual cortex handles basic information about the orientation and color of objects. It also helps us perceive depth, lighting and texture. When someone shuts a memory out of consciousness, the visual cortex quiets down, as if the brain is trying to rid itself of recollected imagery.

The auditory cortex handles basic sound information: pitch and volume. It also quiets down when the mind is blocking a recollection.

The hippocampus is memory central. When memories form, it is abuzz with neural chatter. It calms down when a recollection is suppressed.

The amygdala comes to life when feelings are involved. It works with the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex to create emotional memories. _SCIAMmind
Of course there is a lot more involved to brain memory than what you find in the brief primer above. Human memory is incredibly dynamic, and involves most of the same parts of the brain in recall as were involved in the original laying down of memory. Even more interesting, is the fact that the memory deals not just with the past, but with the future!
It is proposed that the human brain is proactive in that it continuously generates predictions that anticipate the relevant future. In this proposal, analogies are derived from elementary information that is extracted rapidly from the input, to link that input with the representations that exist in memory. Finding an analogical link results in the generation of focused predictions via associative activation of representations that are relevant to this analogy, in the given context. Predictions in complex circumstances, such as social interactions, combine multiple analogies. Such predictions need not be created afresh in new situations, but rather rely on existing scripts in memory, which are the result of real as well as of previously imagined experiences. This cognitive neuroscience framework provides a new hypothesis with which to consider the purpose of memory, and can help explain a variety of phenomena, ranging from recognition to first impressions, and from the brain's ‘default mode’ to a host of mental disorders. _Abstract...Royal Society
Read the full article at the Royal Society link above.

Once we learn that the brain works much the same during perception, cognition, and memory -- and when reliving the past or predicting the future -- a wide range of opportunities for shaping our experience suddenly opens up to us.

But as always, it is best to view these things in a circular manner, and to begin at the center and work our way outward in a spiral. When beginning at the center, it is best to breathe deeply, and let go a huge belly laugh. After that, things seem to become easier.

For although life is full of surprises, chance favours the prepared mind. Which means that a great deal of laughter is likely to be needed along the way, to build mental resilience and receptivity.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Contingencies: Keeping Your Options Open

We would like to think that things can continue on as they have done, generation after generation. Through good and bad, humans have muddled through and survived -- even prospered in more advanced parts of the world. But there is always a niggling of a doubt in the back of the mind: "What if this happens, or that? How would we survive the ultimate catastrophe?"
Abandoned Missile Silo Home

Certainly a nuclear war, a worldwide fatal contagion, or a global zombie apocalypse would all be difficult trials to endure. An ice age might push civilisation to the very brink. But Earth abides, and humans could too. In the near future, the only catastrophe that might require the complete abandonment of the planet, would be an extraterrestrial strike -- a comet, asteroid, or equivalent large scale impact.
Space Station Fallback Option

Should such a planetary catastrophe occur, one would wish to have a convenient launch pad for an orbital craft capable of carrying one's self and significant others. One would also need a destination in orbit, where one could "freshen up" and restore one's natural vigour and vitality.

A missile silo home such as the one pictured at the top of this entry, provides both a rocket launching platform and a convenient aerocraft runway for quick access, if one is caught away from home base when news of the unthinkable arrives.
Contour Crafting a Lunar Habitat
But others will likely be thinking along the same lines, and before long the space station would begin to look and smell like a regular refugee camp. Humans are much more comfortable on planetary surfaces anyway, so you would probably want to re-locate to Luna or Mars fairly quickly.

Fortunately, robotic habitat-building apparatuses are being developed which will allow you to construct your Lunar or Martian habitat over a 24 hour period, using a robotic contour crafting robot.

Parenthetically, the same robotic contour crafter could also be used to build an underground missile silo home & retreat, if none were available. International treaties are causing such valuable properties to become scarce.

Regardless, try to keep all of your options open. Most types of apocalypse will allow you to continue to reside on the most beautiful and life-loving planet in the solar system. But some types of doom will not permit that.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Cornucopia of Doom from Wired.com

Presented here, for your discriminating perusal, is a veritable cornucopia of doom from the prolific producers of Wired.com. Contemplate at your leisure.


The chances of an earthquake unzipping the world’s fault system are negligible, says seismologist Thorne Lay of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

This is because the energy released by a quake is related to the length of the fault that is ruptured during the event. For example, the 2004 magnitude 9.1 Sumatra quake that triggered the Indian Ocean tsunami and killed nearly 300,000 people, ruptured around 900 miles of a subduction zone fault, the longest ever recorded for a single quake. But the major fault zones that mark boundaries between tectonic plates are not continuous, and irregularities like changes in the type of faulting and the existence of smaller plates with shorter boundaries stop ruptures short of apocalyptic lengths.

But other geologic hazards may have more potential for doom.

“It’s more plausible that you have a truly mammoth eruption,” like an eruption of the supervolcano that lies beneath the Yellowstone National Park area, Lay said. Yellowstone has experienced colossal volcanic explosions in the past, most recently 2 million and 640,000 years ago. Another such mega eruption would be devastating for much of North America, he says.

Giant eruptions have contributed to mass extinctions, including the one that killed off the dinosaurs around 65 million years ago. At that time, volcanoes spewed out a roughly 2,000-foot-deep layer of lava to form part of the 10,000-foot-thick Deccan Traps of India, the world’s largest lava beds, geophysicist Anne-Lise Chenet of the Paris Geophysical Institute wrote in an email. And scientists have also shown that a Siberian volcano may have precipitated the largest extinction on record about 250 million years ago. These blazing behemoths belched out so much sulfur, carbon dioxide and ash that they may have altered the climate enough to collapse the food chain, Lay says.

Yellowstone's giant volcanic crater has risen about 10 inches in the last decade, suggesting molten rock may be building up underneath. During its lifetime, the megavolcano has probably experienced more than a dozen giant eruptions, Lay says. Lately, it’s been blowing off steam through little vents, but it’s unclear whether it’s gearing up for another Earth-shattering blast.

Image courtesy of NOAA / USGS

Asteroid Accident

Asteroid Accident

Asteroids typically top the list of extraterrestrial objects that could hit Earth. A 9-mile wide asteroid that crashed into what is now Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula was partly responsible for the dinosaurs' extinction about 65 million years ago.

The 2004 announcement that 900-foot long Apophis had more than a 2 percent chance of colliding with Earth in 2029 revved up research on asteroid detection and defense, when scientists recalculated the odds down to 1 in 250,000.

Luckily, nothing of that size is in Earth’s path currently, so “we may be safe for at least a few million years,” said planetary scientist Jay Melosh of Purdue University.

But smaller threats may be looming.

NASA expects that roughly every 100 years, an asteroid larger than 55 yards wide will strike. The impact could cause local catastrophes like massive floods, destruction of entire cities and agricultural collapse. Around once every few 100,000 years, chunks of rock more than three-fifths of a mile wide — the equivalent of about 12 New York City blocks — could come tumbling through the atmosphere causing much more serious problems, on a global scale. Acid rain would kill crops, debris would shield Earth from sunlight, and firestorms would ensue, according to NASA’s Near Earth Object Program.

To understand our cosmic risks, scientists are inspecting the solar system to find asteroids that may be heading our way, said UCSC planetary scientist Erik Asphaug. They’ve discovered about 900 of an estimated 1,000 asteroids wider than three-fifths of a mile thought to have an Earth-crossing orbit. None appears to have Earth as its target.

“The plain vanilla odds are very low” that anything already discovered of that size will strike in the near future, Asphaug said. But that doesn’t mean Earth is 100 percent safe.

It’s close to impossible to find every asteroid that could be a threat to Earth.

“There’s always some uncertainty that we’re going to have to live with,” he said. “Or die with.”

Image courtesy of Don Davis / NASA

Comet Collision

Comet Collision

Some of that uncertainty comes from asteroids’ sometimes forgotten cousins, comets. (Comets are made up of ice and dust, while asteroids are made up of rock and metals.)

Hartley 2 came within 11 million miles of Earth on Oct. 20, which was among one of the closest times a comet has gotten to Earth in centuries.

“Comets are especially dangerous because they are coming from farther distances, at higher velocities,” Asphaug said.

Comets zoom through space at almost 100,000 mph and pick up speed due to Earth's gravitational pull, he said. The faster an object moves, the bigger the force it exerts on whatever it happens to hit and the more energy it deposits. For Earth, that means more damage. For humans, it may spell out R.I.P.

To add insult to potential injury, finding comets in the outer solar system is very difficult because these dirty snowballs are extremely dark.

But when comet gets within about 390 million miles from Earth, the sun heats comets' dark surface and starts to warm its icy interior, making it spew out the dust and gas that form its distinctively bright tails.

Assuming astronomers developed the technology to discover Earth-bound comets farther away than Jupiter, scientists might have about 10 years before a comet hit Earth in a worst case scenario, Asphaug said.

But “if there’s a 10-kilometer (6-mile) hunk of ice and rock that’s heading straight toward the Earth," he added, "there aren’t very many options there, except to do the Bruce Willis thing,” and nuke it.

Image courtesy of National Science Foundation

Algal Apocalypse

Algal Apocalypse

Another big problem for Earth could come from a tiny source, according to Caltech geobiologist Joe Kirschvink. He raises the possibility that diatoms — a type of microscopic algae that inhabit moist surfaces, lakes, rivers, oceans and soil — could alter Earth’s atmosphere in a fatal way.

These microbes live off fuel produced through photosynthesis, a process that converts light energy (photons) from the sun into energy a cell can use to function (sugar). As they photosynthesize, diatoms break up water into hydrogen and oxygen other organisms can then use to breathe.

But if mutant diatoms couldn’t use water — or other substances in their environment, like iron or hydrogen — they might be tempted to pick salt (sodium chloride) off Earth’s menu of molecules. These diatoms would release poisonous chlorine gas. Assuming the chlorine didn’t kill them and nothing else limited their growth, the diatoms would grow exponentially, setting off a death-by-inhalation doomsday.

“The damn thing could take the world over in a couple of million years,” Kirschvink said.

If his diatomical predictions pan out, it would be the second time biology issued a molecular death sentence for most living organisms on Earth. A similar scenario played out about 2.35 billion years ago when cyanobacteria, a type of blue-green bacteria, learned how to photosynthesize. The bacteria dumped oxygen molecules into the atmosphere — which until then was mostly carbon dioxide — and killed off species that couldn’t tolerate oxygen, Kirschvink says.

“Oxygen molecules at the time were unheard of in the environment,” he said. Once diatoms set in motion the “oxygen apocalypse,” there was no stopping them. They had an advantage over creatures that didn’t like oxygen.

Fortunately for Earth's inhabitants today, the water microbes need to photosynthesize abounds, so it’s unlikely they’ll set off a chlorine apocalypse any time soon, Kirschvink said.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons / Wipeter

Killer Contagion

Killer Contagion

Lately, there's been a lot of movie-fueled worry surrounding the possibility of a devastating global pandemic. Currently science is contributing to these fears in the form of a highly contagious lab-made variant of the H5N1 virus.

In case you missed it, American and Dutch scientists studying the virus in ferrets made the already deadly virus that much more dangerous by mutating some of its genes. Before the genetic changes were made, the virus could only spread through touch, but the mutations let it survive in the air, allowing it to pass between ferrets without the need for contact. The results sparked panic that the pathogen could leak out of the lab and trigger a pandemic.

But could a virus bring about the end of days?

Probably not, said Peter Katona, whose research at UCLA focuses on biological terrorism preparedness, though it would "wreak havoc."

A single virus is unlikely to wipe out all humans or animals on Earth because there's enough diversity that at least some would be resistant, agreed Caltech virologist Alice Huang.

Even the new lab strain of H5N1 virus, which only has five mutations, is similar enough to other versions of the flu virus that people would have some protection against it and it wouldn't wipe out all life, Huang said.

"For a virus to kill all humans on Earth, it would have to kill rapidly, like a week or less," Huang said. If it took any longer, the immune system would have time to attack it.

And the virus would have to infect most of the world's population simultaneously.

Picture thousands of drones disseminating a killer virus with aerosols "to every nook and cranny" of the planet at once, she said.

Or "you would have to imagine some new (highly virulent) pathogen that lived and reproduced in some unlikely place, like under ice caps or in deep sea water near hydrothermal vents," she said. Then, the tiny predators would have to be spread far and wide, say by some huge natural disaster.

Because this is highly unlikely, Huang added, even science fiction usually imports apocalyptic pathogens from outer space.

Image courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Suicidal Supernova

Suicidal Supernova

Supernovas are among the most powerful explosions in the universe and can rival the strength of a few octillion nuclear warheads, according to NASA.

These super-booms come in two varieties: core-collapse supernovas, which happen when a giant star’s core collapses after 5 million to 20 million years of life; and type-1a supernovas which occur when a white dwarf star detonates after its core gets too dense.

In our galaxy, core-collapse supernovas occur two to four times more frequently than type-1a supernovas, says astronomer Todd Thompson of Ohio State University. And in the Milky Way, a core collapse tends to happen every 100 years or so, he says. Luckily, most will happen at a safe distance of 5 to 10 parsecs, or 16.5 to 33 light-years — too far away to do any real damage.

If supernovas occurred randomly throughout the Milky Way, Earth could expect one every 5 billion years. But because they congregate near the Milky Way’s spiral arms, “we would in fact expect to come within 10 parsecs of a supernova nearly every time we pass through a spiral arm, which is about every 100 million years,” Thompson said.

These stellar fireworks produce x-rays, cosmic rays — electrons, protons and nuclei zooming through space at nearly the speed of light, and gamma rays -- light waves so powerful they’re capable of killing cells.

A supernova’s radiation would destroy the ozone in the atmosphere, increasing the amount of ultraviolet light that gets through. The UV flash could increase skin cancer rates; set off mass die-offs of bacteria and plankton; and precipitate another ice age, Thompson said.

Image courtesy of NASA / JPL

Orbital Obliteration

Orbital Obliteration

Changes in how the planets circle the sun could also knock out Earth.

Jupiter is the most massive planet in the sun’s posse. As such, it tugs at the orbits of the other planets. Over millions of years, the gaseous giant could bully tiny Mercury’s elliptical orbit so much that the farthest distance it travels away from the sun increases, and the closest point gets closer.

As Mercury’s orbit stretches, the swift planet could crash into the sun, according to a 2008 study in the Astrophysical Journal. Alternatively, Mercury could cross Venus’ orbit and then “there’s a very short time until there’s a real disaster,” said UCSC astronomer Greg Laughlin, one of the study’s authors. Venus and Mercury’s kiss of death, he said, “could eject Mars from the solar system.”

But in the worst-case scenario, Mercury and Earth could collide. The impact would destroy Earth even though our planet has about 20 times the mass of Mercury.

Thinking about “orbits going unstable adds a little spice of danger” to planetary science, Laughlin said. But there’s only about a 1 percent chance any of these situations will pan out in the next 5 billion years.

mage courtesy of Lynette Cook for the Gemini Observatory/AURA

Solar Slaughter

Solar Slaughter

Even if the Earth dodges Mercury, the blue planet eventually will be turned into an oven by the sun, says NASA planetologist Chris McKay.

As the sun burns, the hydrogen in its core converts to helium by fusion, a process through which the nuclei of atoms meld together. Fusion produces a tremendous amount of heat. So as time passes, the 5 billion-year-old star gets hotter and brighter.

In about 1 billion years, scientists predict the sun will shine about 10 percent brighter than it does now. The extra energy will heat Earth to well over 200 F. The oceans will boil off, the climate will collapse and “any kind of real estate won’t be worth anything anymore,” said astrophysicist Klaus-Peter Schrœder of the University of Guanajuato in Mexico.

“We’ll have to look for a new planet."

Those who don’t want to leave home will have to hope that Schrœder’s colleague, astronomer Robert Smith of the University of Sussex, is right. Smith suggests scientists may be able to enlarge Earth’s orbit by manipulating asteroids visiting our solar system.

Shifting the path of these rocky passers-by so that they move in front of Earth should create a slight pull on the planet and help to speed it up. Earth’s quicker pace would make its orbit slightly larger. If done enough times over millions of years, Earth’s orbit could swell by about 5 percent, which would translate into about 10 percent less solar energy reaching our planet, Schrœder said.

That may only buy the planet time, however. In about 7 billion years, Schrœder says, the sun will bloat into a red giant, a much brighter and voluminous version of its current self.

“It will be so big that the Earth will be inside the sun,” McKay said.

In the meantime, unless Smith’s orbital expansion works out, Earth will almost certainly cook and steam under the sun’s powerful rays.

“Not that I’m a great believer, but credit needs to be given sometimes,” Schrœder quipped. “The Bible’s predictions that we’ll end up in an eternal fire are somewhat accurate.”

Image courtesy of American Museum of Natural History's space show "Journey to the Stars"

Full article at Wired.com


Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Story of Data


Everywhere you look, the quantity of information in the world is soaring. Mankind created approximately 150 exabytes (billion gigabytes) of data in 2005. In 2010 it created 1,200 exabytes. Merely keeping up with this flood, and storing the bits tåhat might be useful, is difficult enough. Analysing it, to spot patterns and extract useful information, is harder still. Even so, the data deluge is already starting to transform business, government, science and everyday life. It has great potential for good—as long as consumers, companies and governments make the right choices about when to restrict the flow of data, and when to encourage it. _Big Data
Modern societies are desperately dependent upon their data processing infrastructure. Should something happen to bring down that infrastructure -- such as a massive EMP that knocked out power grids for a year or so -- people might find it difficult to adapt quickly to the change.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Easy Path to Apocalypse: High Altitude EMP

...what do you think would happen to society without power, water, food, and fuel? It’s not a pretty picture. People will begin dying off by the end of the first week, those without a minimal storage of water or those who live in regions where water is not immediately available to them. Desperation will result in a rampage of crime with hoards searching for food and water. Within several weeks, a complete civil breakdown will be underway as mass migration out of the major cities creates extremely dangerous conditions while people search for food, water, and supplies. _ModernSurvivalBlog
In addition to causing the immediate damage and failure of transformers, there is also evidence that GIC may be responsible for the onset of long-term damage to transformers and other key power grid assets. Damaged transformers require repair or replacement with new units. Currently most large transformers are manufactured in foreign countries and replacements would likely involve long production lead times in excess of a year. _EENews.net PDF
In excess of a year? After a year, it is estimated that as many of 90% of the residents of a high tech society would have lost their lives to the wide range of complications and repercussions of a long-term power outage.
EMP Commission Report 7MB PDF Download
An EMP attack is different since it only requires but one nuclear weapon, detonated 300 miles above the middle of the United States. One bomb. The launch could even be done from a container ship somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico and in that instant, the war is already over and won.

...The first few million deaths are tragically obvious. Those aboard commercial flights, and even most private flights, those in nursing homes, hospices, and hospitals. The next few million are obvious as well. Those with severe aliments requiring careful daily medication or treatment, such as those awaiting transplants, people undergoing dialysis, those with severe heart ailments both known and not yet realized.

...Our interstate highways will become nightmare paths of exile as our largely urban population tries to fan out to find food that once was shipped in. Millions could and will die on that road. Where do they get safe water? The nearby stream or river is now a dump for raw sewage since purification plants are off line.

...Within a month the next level of die off will be in full development. Those who survive the initial onset of illnesses from polluted water and food, and survive, will nevertheless be weakened, knock down a level...At what point do we begin to kill each other for food, water, shelter? At what point does a small town mobilize, barricade itself in and make clear that any who enter will be shot because there is not enough food to share

...By sixty days true starvation will be killing off millions and by 120 days mass starvation will be the norm. Those lucky enough to be in rich farm producing areas, with the knowledge of how to gather food by hand, and then preserve it, will have a temporary surplus, but even then, if they do not ration it out wisely, as did our colonial forefathers, they too will starve before the next crop is in the ground come spring... _Forstchen
Over 250 million North Americans are likely to die of various causes over the first 6 to 9 months, unless massive assistance arrives from the outside. But since the outside is likely to be at war with itself, how likely is North America to receive foreign aid? After all, it is usually North America that is the source of most foreign aid to the outside.
EENews.Net PDF
During an overnight power blackout one hot July night in 1977 in New York City, dozens of city blocks were destroyed by fire, almost 2,000 stores were looted and vandalised, and most of the tragedy that occurred that short summer night will never be known. That is from one night without power in a modern city. Imagine 6 months to a year without power over most of an entire continent.

The map above focuses upon the most vulnerable areas in the US grid. But if advocates of the highly vulnerable smart grid have their way, the entire map will be the vulnerable area.

One reason that Al Fin Energy blog often focuses on decentralised production of power and fuels, is because of the enormous vulnerability of a massively interconnected system which has inadequate backups and a rapidly depleting supply of human capital which would be capable of instituting needed immediate repairs and workarounds.

You might think that having a lot of big solar electric plants and wind farms hooked to the grid would be helpful at such times. But no, they would make the situation even worse. Think about it a bit, and if you have any knowledge of the systems involved, you will see what I mean.

Where would the fatal strike arise? Most EMP activists are concerned about an attack from rogue states such as Iran or North Korea -- perhaps via an intermediary such as Venezuela, Cuba, or a ship-launched missile offshore. Al Fin analysts suspect that a more likely scenario involves a dual function space launch by the space services of an established space power such as China or Russia. With the simultaneous orbital placement of multiple satellites, a small yield nuclear device or two might wander off into the night to await subsequent orders to detonate in a particular orbital location. Or such a device might exist in conjunction with a conventional satellite that "fails", and is accepted as "space junk" until needed to fulfill its primary mission.

There a number of possible scenarios which would leave the target of the attack defenseless to stop the initiating event, the high altitude orbital EMP.

As the US falls more deeply into entitlement debt, makes itself more vulnerable to uneducable and unassimilable illegal immigrants, makes war on its own private sector business and commerce, cuts its defenses against foreign threat, shuts down its energy infrastructure due to faux environmental concerns, and moves closer to a catastrophic energy infrastructure of vulnerable "smart" grids paired with unreliable big wind and solar -- you may begin to see a society rotting from within. Such a society is not resilient to the type of attack and damage which is described in the links above.

Make your plans accordingly.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

China's Super-Skylines of Doom?

In a recent blog post, Brian Wang described a new mass-production method for building skyscrapers more quickly and efficiently that has been developed in China. China was already rapidly boosting the number of high-rises in its cities, even before this development. Now it seems likely that skyscrapers will be rising above Chinese cities more rapidly than ever. Is this a good thing for China, or does it portend the approach of an economic collapse for the celestial kingdom?
Amid the ongoing bubble watch in China’s real-estate sector, new research Wednesday showed the mainland is home to more than half of the world’s skyscrapers currently under construction.

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

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

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

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

Here is more on the skyscraper index of doom from an article published on Al Fin almost one year ago:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China's empty skyscrapers and office buildings

Amazing satellite images of some of China's ghost cities

World's loneliest shopping mall

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

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

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

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

China's economic success has been driven by mercantilist policy of beggaring its own people in the interest of building up massive trade surpluses. Its foreign currency holdings now total $2.9 trillion, and most of that is in U.S. Treasuries and other dollar-denominated assets. That's China's hole-card in talks with the U.S. _IBD
End of Al Fin article from Jan 2011

China's ongoing construction boom may be evidence of an economic bubble getting ready to burst. Or it may be possible that China is wealthy enough to be able to afford this massive misallocation of resources into an "infrastructure to nowhere," and not pay a significant price. Time will tell.


Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Guerilla Grafting: Turning Ordinary Trees into Fruit Bearing Trees

There is no reason for anyone living in a temperate or tropical climate to go hungry. Life is ubiquitous on the planet's surface. And it is getting easier to program non-food bio-life into food. This story is about something more ordinary and less futuristic than genetic programming, although in the near future it will be possible to program plants to make just about anything you might want, in the way of food or chemistry.

In San Francisco, a group of renegade agriculturalists called Guerrilla Grafters are...grafting fruit-bearing branches onto public trees that otherwise don’t bear fruit. The group has created a web app to help locals find trees that might be good candidates for a new, fruit-bearing branches and provides tips on how to pull off a successful grafting. They also have a Facebook page where they report on upcoming events and track the progress of their cherry and pear grafts.

...What makes them guerrillas is the fact that this grafting is illegal. As the group’s Tara Hui explains, “people think of fruit trees as kind of a nuisance.” That’s both because of the mess they might create in the form of rotten fruit and the vermin they might attract in the form of rats. Depending on the species you’re using, grafting might also run afoul of patent law. The Guerrilla Grafters address the first two problems by making sure each grafted tree has a “steward” who can monitor and take care of it.

Guerrilla grafting might be seen as another branch (ahem) of a diverse and burgeoning movement to bring nature--and its bounty--into the urban environment. The practice of guerrilla gardening (first popularized, perhaps, by a certain John “Appleseed” Chapman in Ohio in the late 18th and early 19th centuries) has attracted a lot of media attention in the last five years, and local organizations have proliferated. The related ideas of urban gleaning, urban agriculture, urban aquaculture, and vertical farming also seem to be gaining momentum. _Fast Coexist
Here is a useful tutorial on fruit tree grafting from the University of Minnesota extension

Guerilla grafting is just a variation on guerilla permaculture. Permaculture is the process of converting ordinary environments into ubiquitous, aesthetically pleasing gardens. With healthy food always at our fingertips, why go hungry?


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