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Monday, December 3, 2007

Stepping back from the brink of war

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) has presented a consensus view of all 16 American security and intelligence agencies that Iran does not possess Nuclear weapons, nor does it currently have the capability to produce them.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence today declassified the findings from the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran. NIEs are the Intelligence Community’s most authoritative written judgments on national security issues and are designed to help US civilian and military leaders develop policies to protect US national security interests. The findings are as follows:
  • We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.

  • We judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years.

  • We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.

  • We continue to assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapon.

  • Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously.
The report goes on to conclude:
"We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough HEU [Highly Enriched Uranium] for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame. (INR [Bureau of Intelligence and Research] judges Iran is unlikely to achieve this capability before 2013 because of
foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.) All agencies recognize the possibility that this capability may not be attained until after 2015."

Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Dr. Donald M. Kerr writes of the NIE findings:
"The decision to release an unclassified version of the Key Judgments of this NIE was made when it was determined that doing so was in the interest of our nation’s security. The Intelligence Community is on the record publicly with numerous statements based on our 2005 assessment on Iran. Since our understanding of Iran’s capabilities has changed, we felt it was important to release this information to ensure that an accurate presentation is available. While the decision to release the declassified Key Judgments was coordinated in discussion with senior policy makers, the IC [Intelligence Community] took responsibility for what portions of the NIE Key Judgments were to be declassified. These unclassified Key Judgments are consistent with the findings of this National Intelligence Estimate."

Read more (pdf)

Brazil oil find poses challenges

The recently discovered Tupi oil field, 290 km off the Brazilian coast, holds between 5 and 8 billion barrels of oil and natural gas.

Analysts estimate that the deposit is worth US $60 billion and that by 2013 will elevate Brazil to the rank of 12th largest oil producer in the world. The discovery is not without its challenges, say Brazilian state oil company, Petrobras.

Tupi is the largest ever oil find in deep waters and Petrobras believes it may be the first of several new fields of over a billion barrels in size, termed "Elephants". This has prompted the Brazilian government to remove over 40 adjacent oil exploration blocks from an upcoming auction and draft new legislation to limit the role of private companies in oil exploitation in the area.

Petrobras has a reputation as one of the world's best at exploiting deep-sea oil deposits; even so the Tupi field poses significant engineering challenges. The oil lies a total of 7km (4.3 miles) beneath the ocean's surface — deeper than Petrobras has ever drilled. The sea bed is 2km (1.2 miles) beneath the surface at this point, and from there lies a further 2km of rock-hard salt, and 3km (1.8 miles) of rock, sand and silt. Much of Brazil's oil production currently comes from deep water, but none yet comes from below the salt layer, which can turn 'sticky' and clog drilling equipment.

"Despite all the difficulties, Petrobras will rise to the challenge," says Marcio Rocha Mello, president of the Brazilian Association of Petroleum Geologists

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Nanosolar - printable solar panels

Palo Alto based nanotechnology company Nanosolar has been working since 2002 on building low-cost "thin-film" solar panels that are literally printed onto flexible sheets; dramatically reducing production, distribution and installation costs.

Prominent Nanosolar investors

  • U.S. Department of Energy - $20M award
  • Benchmark Capital - VC behind eBay
  • Mohr Davidow Ventures - VC behind Rambus
  • Mitsui & Co
  • OnPoint Technologies - US Army equity fund
  • Stanford University
  • Swiss Re
  • GLG Partners
  • LGT Capital Group
  • SAC Capital
  • Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google)
  • Nanosolar's Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide (CIGS) thin film has comparable efficiencies to regular multicrystalline silicon cells. However, the cost per watt for CIGS will be about 1/5th that of regular solar cells, making it comparable in cost to grid generated power at under $2 per watt.

    Instead of using expensive vacuum based thin-film deposition processes, Nanosolar developed a nanoparticle ink that enables them to use a much simpler and higher yield printing process for depositing the solar cell's semiconductor onto a low-cost foil substrate; using a continuous roll-to-roll printing process. This enables the production of high-power high-current panels with significantly lower costs.

    • Ink

      Nanosolar has developed a proprietary ink that makes it possible to simply print the semiconductor of the solar cell. The homogeneous mix of nanoparticles in the ink ensures that the atomic ratios of the elements are correct wherever the ink is printed, even across large areas of deposition. This contrasts to vacuum deposition processes where the various materials sources have to be "atomically" synchronized.

    • Printing

      Printing is simpler, faster and more cost efficient than other semiconductor techniques. Using a process that can work in plain air without the need of vacuum deposition enables Nanosolar to significantly cut the costs of manufacture.

    • Substrate

      A thin-film solar cell consists of an absorber layer (the semiconductor) sandwiched in between a top and a bottom electrode layer. The thin films of the Nanosolar cell are deposited directly onto a highly conductive copper foil electrode, which is not only much simpler than electrodes used on glass or stainless steel substrates, it can carry 5-10 times more current than other thin-film cells.

    • Roll-to-roll processing

      Rolls that are meters wide and kilometers long can be processed efficiently with high throughput in equipment with significantly lower capital cost than current wafer-based methods.

    • Patents

      Nanosolar has over 180 patents issued, licensed, or pending regarding all critical aspects of nanostructured solar cell materials and relevant product and equipment designs.

    Saturday, December 1, 2007

    Oregon Attorney General rebukes RIAA, files counter discovery motion

    The Oregon Attorney General has filed a Reply Memorandum which very eloquently sums up the entire debacle of the RIAA—on behalf of the Recording Industry—filing subpoenas seeking universities to reveal the identities of students they allege to be involved in copyright infringement.

    Previously this year, attempts by the RIAA to intimidate Harvard University were met with a fiery rejoinder from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, which has seen the RIAA subsequently subpoena every other ivy league university in the US except Harvard.

    Now the Oregon Attorney General has stepped in to support the motion by the University of Oregon to quash the RIAA's subpoena in its case Arista Records LLC v. Does 1-17, which requires the university to disclose the identities of students allegedly involved in file sharing activities.

    The Memorandum of Response from the Attorney General is possibly one of the best pieces of legal narrative I have read and it certainly sums up the situation faced by a number of universities around the US. Here are the highlights:

    • The University of Oregon (University) currently finds itself on a battleground not of its own making. By challenging over-broad and burdensome subpoena from the RIAA (Plaintiff), the University has attempted to protect the fundamental privacy rights of its students, conserve limited public resources, and to provide pertinent information for the Court's consideration regarding whether Plaintiffs' discovery efforts are appropriate. Sadly, the University's efforts thus far have been met by accusations that the University is obstructing the process and even conspiring with law-breakers. Those accusations are not warranted. Certainly it is appropriate for victims of copyright infringement to lawfully pursue statutory remedies. However, that pursuit must be tempered by basic notions of privacy and due process. The record in this case suggests that the larger issue may not be whether students are sharing copyrighted music, but whether Plaintiffs' investigative and litigation strategies are appropriate or capable of supporting their conclusory allegations.

    • Before Plaintiffs may properly obtain the identities of the Doe Defendants through a compulsory discovery process, Plaintiff must support those allegations with evidence sufficient to establish a prima facie claim.

    • Since expedited discovery is a discretionary process, it follows that the Court may also consider information relating to Plaintiffs' conduct. If the record shows more intent to harass than anything else, expedited discovery is simply not appropriate. The same is true if the discovery is fairly characterized as a fishing expedition, causing needless expense and burden to all concerned. Such discovery runs counter to the important but often neglected Rule I of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which requires that all rules "shall be construed and administered to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.

    • The Plaintiffs only affiant, Mr. Carlos Linares, has no first hand information about the alleged misconduct and played no role in its investigation.

    • The "data mining" techniques used to investigate computer users really only prove that computer files associated with a particular IP address contain copyrighted songs and also contain software used to exchange data files, including but not limited to music files. The data mining does not indicate how the music files were obtained in the first instance (legally or illegally) or even whether the files were actually shared thereafter. It follows that Plaintiffs have shown only a potential for illegal file sharing; they have not shown that any infringing activity took place. The testimony also shows that the when the file sharing software is enabled on an individual's computer, with or without his knowledge, it allows copyright violators elsewhere to access his music files and copy them without his participation or awareness.

    • Other red flags are apparent. For instance, Plaintiffs' investigation practices probably provide the capability to "mine" private, confidential information unrelated to copyright infringement. Plaintiffs' expert, Mr. Jacobson, testified under oath that file-sharing programs Plaintiffs are accessing sometimes upload personal and confidential information of the user and make that information available for sharing unbeknownst to the user. It only follows that Plaintiffs' investigator, MediaSentry, has access to such information when it is stored in a file-sharing program that it is "mining." In conferral, Plaintiffs refused to answer interrogatories that would shed light on this obvious and legitimate concern.

    • Plaintiffs' third-party investigator, MediaSentry, is investigating in Oregon without a license. By investigating Oregonians without proper licensing, MediaSentry may be in violation of ORS 703.993(2), a misdemeanor crime.

    • The credibility of the Plaintiff in regards their investigation and
      their litigation tactics was highlighted in the case of Atlantic Recording Corp., et al. v. Tanya Andersen. Plaintiffs sued an Oregon woman for copyright infringement, based on the same theories and investigative techniques at issue herein. The Defendant actively contested the allegations and denied any unlawful activity. The Plaintiffs, and, rather than submit to discovery or oppose the motion for summary judgment, Plaintiffs abandoned their case. Tanya Andersen claims Plaintiffs' litigation strategy involves the use of collection firms, which apparently engage in debt collection activities in Oregon and across the country. Information in her Complaint suggests that Plaintiffs may use the judicial power of this and other courts to identify persons suspected of copyright infringement, and then, rather than pursue the litigation, use the collection firms to leverage payment of arbitrary sums of money, based on threats and evidence from the data mining.

    • Plaintiffs mislead the court by stating that the information they seek concerning the John Does is "directory information" and thus available under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act even in the absence of a subpoena. Plaintiffs seek the name, address and telephone number of students who were allegedly engaged in specific conduct at specific times. Clearly, when Plaintiffs seek the names of individuals with access to an IP address associated with a specific computer or a specific residence at a specific point in time, the information sought is personally identifiable information. Furthermore, the alleged directory information sought by Plaintiffs names, addresses and phone numbers-is clearly linked to non-directory information computer habits, an individual's physical presence at a specific location at a particular point in time-and thus cannot be released absent appropriate legal process.

    • And the coup de grĂ¢ce... While the University is not a party to the case, Plaintiffs' subpoena affects the University's rights and obligations. Plaintiffs may be spying on students who use the University's computer system and may be accessing much more than IP addresses. The University seeks the Court's permission to serve the attached interrogatories on Plaintiffs and conduct telephonic depositions of the individuals who investigated the seventeen John Does named in this lawsuit to determine 1) what their investigative practices are and 2) whether they have any additional information with which to identify the John Does. Plaintiffs have refused to provide the University with answers to these basic questions. If Plaintiffs have nothing to hide, they should be able to agree to these reasonable requests. Since Plaintiffs have declined to share any information about what they know and how they know it, the University seeks the assistance of the Court to obtain it.

    Read more (pdf)

    NASA to honor Gene Kranz

    On Dec 6th, NASA will honor Eugene "Gene" Kranz with the presentation of an Ambassador of Exploration Award for his involvement in the U.S. space program.

    The award is a moon rock encased in Lucite and mounted for public display as inspiration to a new generation of explorers who will help return humans to the moon and eventually travel on to Mars and beyond. The rock is part of the 842 pounds of samples collected during the six Apollo lunar expeditions from 1969 to 1972.

    NASA is giving the Ambassador of Exploration Award to the first generation of explorers in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs for realizing America's vision of going to the moon. NASA also is recognizing several key individuals who played significant roles in the early space programs.

    Kranz worked on NASA's Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space missions; and was probably best noted as the lead flight director during the Apollo 13 mission. An explosion aboard the spacecraft during Apollo 13 required Kranz and other team members to help resolve the crisis and safely bring the astronauts back to Earth. Kranz was a co-recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for the Apollo 13 Mission.

    Wednesday, November 28, 2007

    US plan to cut growth in energy use by at least 50% by 2025

    More than 60 energy, environmental and other organizations have collaborated on a new report that could save Americans more than $500 billion in energy costs over 25 years and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 90 million vehicles.

    The National Action Plan for Energy Efficiency Vision for 2025 provides a framework for states, utilities and other stakeholders to achieve the following by 2025:

    • More than $100 billion in lower energy bills

    • Annual energy savings exceeding 900 billion KWh. Equivalent to over 50 GW of power, or more than 100 500 MW power plants over 20 years.

    • Generate over $500 billion of total net savings.

    Read more

    Group selection: A fresh approach to evolution

    The Quarterly Review of Biology will publish a landmark paper in December written by two giants in sociobiology, David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson.

    The paper “Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology,” proposes a new consensus and theoretical foundation that affirms Darwin’s original conjecture and is supported by the latest biological findings.

    Wilson and Wilson trace much of the confusion in the field to the 1960’s, when most evolutionists rejected “for the good of the group” thinking and insisted that all adaptations must be explained in terms of individual self-interest. In an even more reductionistic move, genes were called “the fundamental unit of selection,” as if this was an argument against group selection. Scientific dogma became entrenched in popular culture with the publication of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene (1976). Although evidence in favor of group selection began accumulating almost immediately after its rejection, its taboo status prevented a systematic re-evaluation of the field until now.

    Based on current theory and evidence, Wilson and Wilson show that natural selection is unequivocally a multilevel process, as Darwin originally envisioned, and that adaptations can evolve at all levels of the biological hierarchy, from genes to ecosystems.

    Read more (pdf)

    Tuesday, November 27, 2007

    Disproving Einstein's Blunder

    Texas A&M researchers Nicholas Suntzeff and Kevin Krisciunas are part of the ESSENCE project that has been studying supernovae since 2002 in an attempt to prove or disprove Einstein's self-proclaimed “biggest blunder” – his postulation of a cosmological constant (λ).

    The international team is studying supernovae to figure out if dark energy (the accelerating force of the universe) is consistent with Einstein’s cosmological constant.

    “The magic value is -1 exactly. If the number turns out to be precisely -1, then this dark energy is a relatively simple thing – it is Einstein’s cosmological constant.” -- Kevin Krisciunas

    The team won’t have the final results until later next year, but according to Suntzeff, the measurement is coming in at -1 plus or minus 10 percent error, so the initial data seems to point to Einstein being correct.

    In 1917, Einstein was working on his Theory of General Relativity and was trying to come up with an equation that describes a static universe – one that stands still and does not collapse under the force of gravity. In order to keep the universe static in his theory, Einstein introduced a cosmological constant – a force that opposes the force of gravity.

    Related Stories

  • An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything
  • Dwarf galaxies with dark secrets
  • Cosmic Background Radiation Possibly Flawed

  • 12 years later, Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is not static – it is actually expanding. So Einstein scrapped his idea of a cosmological constant and dismissed it as his biggest blunder.

    In 1998, two teams of scientists, one of which Suntzeff co-founded, discovered that the universe is not only expanding, but its expansion is actually accelerating. This observation formed the basis of dark energy: A force that not only overcomes gravity but is driving the universe into an exponential acceleration.

    Read more

    Monday, November 26, 2007

    T-Rays to replace X-Rays in security and medicine

    The U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory along with collaborators in Turkey and Japan, have created a compact source of T-rays.

    Until now T-rays (or terahertz radiation) could not be generated by conventional solid-state electrical circuits. Having a compact, cost-effective source of terahertz radiation will enable commercial application of T-Rays in both security and medicine.

    Unlike far more energetic X-rays, T-rays do not have sufficient energy to "ionize" an atom by knocking loose one of its electrons. This ionization causes the cellular damage that can lead to radiation sickness or cancer. Since T-rays are non-ionizing radiation, like radio waves or visible light, people exposed to terahertz radiation will suffer no ill effects. Furthermore, although terahertz radiation does not penetrate through metals and water, it does penetrate through many common materials, such as leather, fabric, cardboard and paper.

    These qualities make terahertz devices one of the most promising new technologies for airport and national security. Unlike today's metal or X-ray detectors, which can identify only a few obviously dangerous materials, checkpoints that look instead at T-ray absorption patterns could not only detect but also identify a much wider variety of hazardous or illegal substances.

    T-rays can also penetrate the human body by almost half a centimeter, and they have already begun to enable doctors to better detect and treat certain types of cancers, especially those of the skin and breast, Welp said. Dentists could also use T-rays to image their patients' teeth.

    The new T-ray sources created at Argonne use high-temperature superconducting crystals grown at the University of Tsukuba in Japan. These crystals comprise stacks of so-called Josephson junctions that exhibit a unique electrical property: when an external voltage is applied, an alternating current will flow back and forth across the junctions at a frequency proportional to the strength of the voltage; this phenomenon is known as the Josephson effect.

    These alternating currents then produce electromagnetic fields whose frequency is tuned by the applied voltage. Even a small voltage – around two millivolts per junction – can induce frequencies in the terahertz range, according to Welp.

    Since each of these junctions is tiny – a human hair is roughly 10,000 times as thick – the researchers were able to stack approximately 1,000 of them on top of each other in order to generate a more powerful signal. However, even though each junction would oscillate with the same frequency, the researchers needed to find a way to make them all radiate in phase.

    Read more

    Thursday, November 22, 2007

    What the IAEA really said about Iran

    The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has filed its latest report on the implementation of safeguards and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

    Timeline leading up to the current report

    In December 2006 and again in March 2007 the UN Security Council passed resolutions requiring Iran to comply with the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and urging it to implement a number of safeguards in its nuclear program.

    In June 2007 IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei outlined that "diplomacy and negotiation" provided the only durable solution for the implementation of safeguards and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in Iran.

    In the months from June to August a number of IAEA inspections were carried out along with meetings and interviews with officials and technicians involved in Iran's nuclear program.

    On 27 August, the IAEA Secretariat released the text of a work plan agreed between Iran and the IAEA titled "Understandings of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the IAEA on the Modalities of Resolution of the Outstanding Issues."

    On 30 August, Director ElBaradei released a report on the implementation of the NPT safeguards. This contained a number of outstanding questions that required actioning.

    On 15 November, ElBaradei circulated the current report to the IAEA Board of Governors on the Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

    The findings of the current IAEA report

    • The work plan agreed by the Secretariat and Iran in August, in which Iran has finally committed itself to address the outstanding issues relevant to its nuclear activities, is proceeding according to schedule.

    • As the report makes clear - the scope and nature of Iran´s centrifuge enrichment activities - there has been good progress in connection with the verification of Iran´s past acquisition of P-1 and P-2 centrifuge enrichment technologies. The Agency has concluded that the information provided by Iran in that regard is consistent with the Agency´s own investigation.

    • Verification of the uranium particle contamination at a technical university, as well as the alleged studies and other activities that could have military applications, will, in accordance with the work plan, take place over the next several weeks.

    • The Agency will also continue to seek corroboration and verification of the completeness of Iran´s declarations concerning its nuclear material and activities as per the agreed work plan.

    • The IAEA's knowledge about specific aspects of Iran´s current programme has diminished since 2006, when Iran ceased to provide the Agency with information under the additional protocol and additional transparency measures.

    • Progress over the past two months has been made possible by an increased level of cooperation on the part of Iran, in accordance with the work plan.

    With regard to Iran´s current nuclear activities, we have been able to verify the non-diversion of all declared nuclear material. We also have in place a safeguards approach for the Natanz facility that enables us to credibly verify all enrichment activities there.

    However, as with all States that do not have an additional protocol in force, we are unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities. This is especially crucial in the case of Iran, because of its history of undeclared activities, and the corresponding need to restore confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran´s nuclear programme.

    I urge Iran, therefore, to resume without delay the implementation of the additional protocol. The Agency needs to have maximum clarity not only about Iran´s past programme but, equally or more important, about the present. I should note, however, that the Agency has no concrete information about possible undeclared nuclear material or weaponization activities in Iran, other than the outstanding issues I have already mentioned.

    Read more

    Tuesday, November 20, 2007

    Scientists recreate embryonic stem cells from regular skin cells

    A team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers reports the genetic reprogramming of human skin cells to create cells indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells.

    James Thomson, Junying Yu and colleagues introduced a set of four genes into human fibroblasts; skin cells that are easy to obtain and grow in culture. This induced the cells into what scientists term as a pluripotent state: A condition that is essentially the same as that of embryonic stem cells.

    Using these reprogramming techniques, the Wisconsin group has developed eight new blank slate stem cells capable of becoming any of the 220 types of cells in the human body. Some of these new cell lines have now been growing continuously in culture for as long as 22 weeks.

    When perfected, the new technique would bring stem cells within easy reach of many more scientists as they could be easily made in labs of moderate sophistication, and without the ethical and legal constraints that now hamper their use by scientists.

    This paper will appear in the Dec. 21, 2007 print edition of the journal Science.

    Read more

    UW bioethicist R. Alta Charo says that the scientific finding could have far-reaching effects on the social dimensions of the ongoing controversy over embryonic stem cell research.
    "This is a method for creating a stem cell line without ever having to work through, at any stage, an entity that is a viable embryo. Therefore, you manage to avoid many of those debates with the right-to life community."

    Monday, November 19, 2007

    FCC grants more wishes on 700MHz band

    In addition to measures to open up the 700MHz spectrum as per Google's requests, the FCC has just agreed to remove the restrictions on how much of the D-Block portion of the spectrum can be put up for wholesale by the winner.
    To encourage the widest range of potentially qualified applicants to participate in bidding for the D Block license, we enabled eligible bidders for this license to seek designated-entity bidding credits for small businesses, as a means to create incentives for investors to provide innovative small businesses with the capital necessary to compete for the D block license at auction -- FCC

    This move will significantly bolster the abilities of entrepreneurial businesses like Frontline Wireless in securing spectrum for their nationwide "4G" wireless network.

    The 700MHz spectrum explained

    • The D-Block portion of the spectrum (purple) lies adjacent to the two portions of spectrum reserved for public safety use. The winner of the D-Block auction will be required to "build out a nationwide wireless network that is good enough to meet public safety specifications for coverage and redundancy." The payoff for the D-Block winner is that they will get to use the public safety channels for commercial purposes while they are not being used; significantly increasing their overall bandwidth.

    • The C-Block portion of the spectrum (yellow) covers the 22MHz that Google has indicated may bid the FCC's reserve price of $4.5B on. This is the prime "beach front" real estate the likes of Verizon would like to control. Google CEO Eric Schmidt told reporters last month that Google may team with another company to bid for this portion of the spectrum. Analysts are predicting that this could be someone like Sprint, who have already partnered with Google to provide the wireless Internet service WiMax in 2008.

    • The A and B portions have already been auctioned off.

    Read more (pdf)

    Saturday, November 17, 2007

    IPCC publishes its fourth assessment report

    Human readable IPCC report without the media hype, politics or scientific gobbledygook:
    1. Earth has warmed 0.74°C in the last 100 years

    2. Sea level has risen on average between 1.8mm and 3.8mm per year since 1961

    3. Snow and ice cover has been shrinking by 0.27% every year since 1978

    4. In the last 100 years, rains increased in some parts of the world and decreased in others. It is unclear however if drought has increased overall.
    5. It is likely that cold days have become less frequent and warm days more frequent in the last 50 years

    6. It is difficult to tell if intense tropical cyclone activity has increased since 1970

    Observed changes in (a) average temperature; (b) average sea level and (c) Northern Hemisphere snow cover for March-April. All differences are relative to 1961-1990 averages. The shaded areas mark the uncertainty in the data.

    1. Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses in 2005 far exceed the natural range over the last 650,000 years. These increases are due primarily to fossil fuel.

    2. Most of the observed increase in temperatures in the last 50 years is very likely due to the observed increase in greenhouse gasses.

    Global annual emissions of human-caused greenhouse gasses from 1970 to 2004.5

    1. Current governmental policies are highly likely to allow greenhouse gas emissions to grow over the next few decades.

    2. Continued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming effects larger than those observed during the last 100 years

    The solid lines are averages of surface warming for various possible scenarios from worst-case (red) to best case (blue). The uncertainty is shown in the shaded areas. The bars at the end show the likely range of temperature increases in the 100 year period after 2100. All temperatures are relative to today.


    • In the next 100 years temperature will rise between 1.8°C and 4.0°C over today.

    • The sea level will rise between 0.2m and 0.6m (between 0.6 and 1.9 feet) in the next 100 years

    Read more

    Friday, November 16, 2007

    Scientists develop a direct neural interface

    Scientists say they may be on the brink of translating the thoughts of a man who can no longer speak into words after a pioneering experiment.

    Electrodes have been implanted in the brain of Eric Ramsay, who has been "locked in" - conscious but paralysed - since a car crash eight years ago.

    Although the data is still being analysed, researchers at Boston University believe they can correctly identify the sound Mr Ramsay's brain is imagining some 80% of the time.

    In the next few weeks, a computer will start the task of translating his thoughts into sounds.

    Read more

    Two years ago, Professor John Donoghue at Brown University in Rhode Island, used similar techniques for direct brain control of prosthetic devices.

    Thursday, November 15, 2007

    Comet grows bigger than the Sun

    Eruptions on the surface of the once tiny Comet Holmes has inflated its size to over 1.4 million km in diameter.

    Comet Holmes (left) from the 3.6-meter Canada-France-Hawaii telescope on Mauna Kea showing the coma at 869,900 miles (1.4 million kilometers) in diameter. The white ''star'' near the center of the coma is in fact the dust-shrouded nucleus of the comet.The sun and the planet Saturn are shown at the same scale for comparison. Credit: University of Hawaii/CFHT (comet); NASA/Voyager (Saturn); NASA/ESA/SOHO (sun)

    Read more

    An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything

    Freelance Physicist, A. Garrett Lisi has come up with a simple and elegant Grand Unified Theory (GUT) based on the beautiful geometry of the only recently understood E8 manifold.

    Lisi's theory successfully unifies the Standard Model and General Relativity into a single testable framework; describing how all the fields of the standard model and gravity interact with each other; as well as predicting 18 new particles that can be verified as early as next year when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) comes online in Geneva.

    The theory uses the principal bundle geometry of E8 and its curvature to model the Universe and reproduce all known fields and dynamics through pure geometry. This is in contrast to String Theory, which relies on elaborate structures of branes and orbifolds using a number of contrived assumptions.

    The theory represents a comprehensive unification program, describing all fields of the standard model and gravity as parts of a uniquely beautiful mathematical structure -- Lisi

    Lee Smolin at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, describes Lisi's work as "one of the most compelling unification models I've seen in many, many years."

    The theory is not without its skeptics, but most physicists seem content to to wait until the theory can produce results testable by LHC to see which theory, if any, wins.

    Some aspects of this theory are not yet completely understood, and until they are it should be treated with appropriate skepticism. However, the current match to the standard model and gravity is very good. Future work will either strengthen the correlation to known physics and produce successful predictions for the LHC, or the theory will encounter a fatal contradiction with nature. The lack of extraneous structures and free parameters ensures testable predictions, so it will either succeed or fail spectacularly. If E8 theory is fully successful as a theory of everything, our universe is an exceptionally beautiful shape. -- Lisi

    Related Stories

  • Disproving Einstein's Blunder
  • Dwarf galaxies with dark secrets
  • Cosmic Background Radiation Possibly Flawed

  • Read more (pdf)

    Wednesday, November 14, 2007

    Niels Bohr Institute publishes study on Global Warming

    The Ice and Climate Research Group at the Niels Bohr Institute of the University of Copenhagen published a benchmark study in Science (Vol. 317, no. 5839), which investigates data from the 3.2km deep Dome C ice core taken in East Antarctica. The study provides an unprecedentedly clear view of the climate record from 800,000 years ago to the present day.

    Highly correlated with the 120,000 year core taken in Dronning Maud Land in Greenland, this study will serve as a benchmark for future Climate Change research.


    • Early interglacial periods were characterized by less pronounced warmth than those of the past four climatic cycles. The rainbow colors represent temperature from blue (9° colder than today) to red (4.5° warmer than today).

    • The study suggests that interplay between obliquity (the tilt of the Earth's axis as shown by the red line on the graph) and precession (change in the position of the Earth's pole as shown by the black line on the graph) accounts for the variable intensity of interglacial periods in the ice core records.

    • CO2 and CH4 (greenhouse gas) over the past 650,000 years seem to lag behind Antarctic and tropical temperature changes rather than preceed them.

    Read more (pdf)

    Bacterial cells produce abundant hydrogen from wastes

    Researchers from Pennsylvania State University have coaxed common bacteria to produce hydrogen in a new, efficient way.

    Bruce Logan and colleagues at Penn State University have created a modified Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) capable of converting waste products into hydrogen gas at efficiency rates of up to 82%; paving the way for sustainable hydrogen production from any type of biodegradable organic matter.

    By using common exoelectrogenic bacteria in specially designed reactors with the addition of a small voltage to the circuit, hydrogen gas was produced at the rate of 1.1 m3 per cubic meter of reactor per day. The efficiency of the process is far in excess of the next leading alternative fuel, ethanol, which has at best a 50% overall energy efficiency; at worst a negative gain.

    Read the published paper at PNAS.

    Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    Google thinks green to power its business

    To reach its goal of creating 50 megawatts of renewable generating capacity for its operations by 2012, Google is looking into the use of various forms of renewable energy.

    Clean and affordable energy is a growing need for our company, and we’re excited about the opportunity to help create competitive green alternatives. Our new initiative isn’t just about Google’s energy needs; we're seeking to accelerate the pace at which clean energy technologies are developing, so they can rival the economics of coal quickly. We've gained expertise in designing and building large-scale, energy-intensive facilities by building data centers that lead the industry in efficiency. We want to apply the same creativity and innovation to the challenge of generating inexpensive renewable electricity at scale.

    Read more

    Cosmic Background Radiation Possibly Flawed

    Dr. Gerrit Verschuur, Adjunct Professor of Physics at the University of Memphis, has noticed a disturbing correlation between the small-scale structures in the Cosmic Background Radiation (CMB) and data from his All Sky Survey of Interstellar Neutral Hydrogen (HI.)

    The Nobel Winning COBE and it's successor, WMAP were designed to detect faint variations in the CMB signals left over from the Big Bang. The age and composition of the Universe has been predicted from the small-scale structure observed in this data.

    However, if even a small fraction of the anisotropy can be associated with structure in the Milky Way, the cosmological interpretations of the data could be called into question.

    Related Stories

  • Disproving Einstein's Blunder
  • Dwarf galaxies with dark secrets
  • An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything

  • Verschuur, a pioneer in the science of radio astronomy, has been studying the properties of the Milky Way using interstellar HI for almost 50 years. According to his recent work, it appears that many of the small-scale structures observed by WMAP are correlated with HI.

    If confirmed, Verschuur's discovery means that the structure superimposed on the CMB is produced in the Milky Way and does not have a cosmic origin. Thus the CMB signal from the early universe may be smoother than anyone expected, which raises new questions as to how structure ever emerged in the Universe to create galaxies.

    Read more

    Friday, November 9, 2007

    Yellowstone supervolcano on the rise

    The Yellowstone supervolcano rose at a record rate since mid-2004, likely because a Los Angeles-sized, pancake-shaped blob of molten rock was injected 6 miles beneath the slumbering giant, University of Utah scientists report in the journal Science.

    The upward movement of the Yellowstone caldera floor - almost 3 inches (7 centimeters) per year for the past three years - is more than three times greater than ever observed since such measurements began in 1923, says the study in the Nov. 9 issue of Science by Smith, geophysics postdoctoral associate Wu-Lung Chang and colleagues.

    "Our best evidence is that the crustal magma chamber is filling with molten rock," Smith says. "But we have no idea how long this process goes on before there either is an eruption or the inflow of molten rock stops and the caldera deflates again," he adds.

    Read more

    The consequences of a Yellowstone eruption

    70,000 to 75,000 years ago a supervolcanic event at Lake Toba, on Sumatra, reduced the world's human population to 10,000 or even a mere 1,000 breeding pairs, according to the Toba catastrophe theory. This eruption released energy equivalent to about one gigaton of TNT and reduced the average global temperature by 5 degrees Celsius for several years.

    Dwarf galaxies with dark secrets

    Stars in dwarf spheroidal galaxies behave in a way that suggests the galaxies are utterly dominated by dark matter, University of Michigan astronomers have found.

    Astronomy professor Mario Mateo and post-doctoral researcher Matthew Walker measured the velocity of 6,804 stars in seven dwarf satellite galaxies of the Milky Way: Carina, Draco, Fornax, Leo I, Leo II, Sculptor and Sextans. They found that,

    Related Stories

  • Disproving Einstein's Blunder
  • Cosmic Background Radiation Possibly Flawed
  • An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything

  • contrary to what Newton's law of gravity predicts, stars in these galaxies do not move slower the farther they are from their galaxy's core.
    "These galaxies show a problem right from the center," Mateo said. "The velocity doesn't get smaller. It just stays the same, which is eerie."

    Read more

    Sole Animator Creates CG Animated Feature Film

    Former lead animator of Matrix Reloaded, Jeff Lew, spent 4 years working at home to create his independent animated feature film. Killer Bean Forever combines action, drama, and comedy into one visually stunning CG movie.

    Killer Bean Forever - Official Trailer

    Thursday, November 8, 2007

    Schwarzenegger Works Behind the Scenes on Writers Guild Strike

    In talks unbeknownst to even his top aides, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has spoken to representatives on both sides in this week’s Writers Guild of America strike against the studios and networks. Schwarzenegger has been speaking with both WGA members as well as studio execs heading the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers in an attempt to broker a deal.

    read more

    Congress defies Bush, hikes health care spending

    Congress defies Bush's $3 billion cuts to labor, health and education programs for the poor.

    read more

    Brazil announces new oil reserves

    The Brazilian government says huge new oil reserves discovered off its coast could turn the country into one of the biggest oil producers in the world.

    read more

    Congress overrides Bush veto of water projects bill

    "There are some moments in time when (the president) needs to come together to work with us. This was one of those times," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Today is "one of those very rare moments in a very, very divided Senate that we came together."

    read more

    Wednesday, November 7, 2007

    Google at the gas pump translates to happy motorists, retailers

    Google has been making efforts lately to get in front of people everywhere, not just while they're at home. But aside from its mobile initiatives, Google is now making its way to the gas pump in an effort to help out motorists while on the the road.

    read more

    Lawsuit claims iPod + iTunes bond is monopolistic

    The complaint alleges that certain limitations -- such as the inability to play content purchased through iTunes on anything not labeled an iPod -- is unreasonable and illegal under antitrust and unfair trade laws. Furthermore, the plaintiff claims that Apple willfully disabled embedded support for rival formats.

    read more

    Eight killed at Finland school after YouTube post

    By Sami Torma TUUSULA, Finland (Reuters) - Seven children were killed when a fellow student opened fire at a school in southern Finland on Wednesday, hours after a video was posted on YouTube predicting a massacre there. The school principal also...

    read more

    Symbian sour about Google Android

    Google's dominance of the web will not translate to the mobile phone market says Symbian VP John Forsyth.

    Mr Forsyth said there was nothing to indicate that Google's dominance of the web would make it successful as a mobile phone platform provider. "Search and a mobile phone platform are completely different things. "It's costly, arduous and at times a deeply unsexy job of supporting customers day by day in launching phones. That's something there's very little experience of in Google's environment.

    Since when have Google ever cared about sexy? Symbian may disagree that a company 1,000 times its size has the resources to foster a competitive Open Source initiative, but the market has come to the opposite conclusion.

    read more

    Tuesday, November 6, 2007

    Judge forces telcos to retain data in NSA spy case

    The judge overseeing the NSA surveillance case against several major telephone companies has ruled in favor of an EFF request to make the companies hold onto all relevant data.

    read more

    Free jibba jabba with opt-in ads: JAJAH experiments with ad-supported VoIP

    VoIP service JAJAH has announced a partnership that will allow its customers to opt in to in-call advertising. The audio clips will enable advertisers to target customers in a new way while earning users free phone credits. EBay will assuredly be taking note of this as a way to monetize Skype.

    read more

    Monday, November 5, 2007

    Dead Certain and the Terror Presidency

    The New York Times has an excellent review of two new books: Dead Certain by Robert Draper and The Terror Presidency by Jack Goldsmith

    Draper was given extraordinary access to president Bush and other members of the Executive; and has as a result written a shocking and revealing biography of Bush in his book “Dead Certain;” the title reflecting Bush's relentless denial of the facts in favor of his own strongly held beliefs.
    When “Mission Accomplished” turned sour in Iraq, when various supposed benchmarks of success did not stop the bloodshed, the president remained utterly confident of victory. He was sure, Draper writes, that “history would acquit him.”

    Goldsmith's book "The Terror Presidency" deals with issues Draper does not discuss: Bush's policies on the use of torture.
    Goldsmith is a conservative Harvard law professor who was assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel for nine months in 2003-4. That is where official government opinions on the law are prepared.

    John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general in the office, prepared the 2002 opinion defining torture narrowly and asserting that the president had supreme power to order its use. Goldsmith withdrew that opinion and replaced it with a much more modest one. It took courage to do that, because he was treated as a traitor by some in the administration — notably David Addington, then Vice President Cheney’s counsel, now his chief of staff. And it has taken courage to write this book.

    Read the reviews at the New York Times

    Sunday, October 21, 2007

    California to sue Environmental Protection Agency

    California plans to sue the Bush administration next week to demand action on the state's request to restrict greenhouse emissions from cars and trucks. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office says the state has waited too long for a decision from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    California wants to start implementing a 2002 state law that limits auto emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming. But it needs EPA's approval because the statute is stricter than federal clean-air standards.

    California requested federal permission to enforce the state law in December 2005.

    California's auto emissions law is a model for similar statutes passed in 11 other states.

    A spokesman for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said a lawsuit is inevitable if the EPA fails to issue a waiver so California can enact restrictions that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles by 30 percent by 2016.

    Full story at San Jose Mercury News

    Wednesday, October 10, 2007

    Fuck*ng good article on the linguistics of cursing

    Professor Steven Pinker of Harvard University writes on the subject of cursing; the taboos, social and psychological implications and lots of fucking great shit. His new book, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature, is published by Viking.

    Monday, September 24, 2007

    Bush skips talks on the 'warming of the globe'

    Dozens of world leaders are to gather at the United Nations on Monday for a full agenda of talks on climate change; and President Bush is skipping all the day’s events but the dinner. Read more on this story in the NY Times.

    Humorous clip from YouTube, unrelated to story

    Wednesday, September 19, 2007

    Earth Sized Sunspot Swims Around

    NASA Scentists observing sunspot 10926 were suprised by an object as big as a planet appearing to break through the turbulent surface and swim toward the sunspot. Some scientists have compared this to a trilobite swimming on the surface of the sun. You decide...

    Friday, August 10, 2007

    Universal Music Group Ditches DRM and Apple

    The music industry giant, Universal Music Group (UMG) has taken a bold step to sell all of its top music brands without DRM in a trial set to run from August 21 until early next year.

    "Universal Music Group is committed to exploring new ways to expand the availability of our artists' music online, while offering consumers the most choice in how and where they purchase and enjoy our music," Says Doug Morris, UMG's Chairman and CEO.

    Apple left out

    One notable omission from the list of stores able to sell the 99c DRM free tracks is Apple's iTunes. It appears to be part of the ongoing bitter negotiation between UMG and Steve Jobs regarding pricing, exclusivity and other issues. UMG have recently threatened to cancel iTunes license altogether if an agreement can't be reached.

    Thursday, August 9, 2007

    Build your own frikkin laser beam

    Watch this DIY video as it explains how to turn a regular mini-Maglite into a laser capable of mass insect genocide.

    Thursday, August 2, 2007

    MC Escher in da house

    MC Escher's famous Waterfall comes alive in both 3d and in Lego!

    Also find out how mathematicians reconstructed Escher's "Prentententoonstelling" by modelling the same mathematics on computer that he used to create the artwork by hand in 1956.

    Computer transformations
    Hole Filled in
    Twisted in reverse

    The rise of the robot overlords

    The first fully armed military robots have been deployed in Iraq.