Friday, May 29, 2009

ZENN Funds EEStor

ZENN has stepped up to the plate and funded the next tranche of funding for the EEStor ultra capacitor system. This is welcome. We as complete outsiders can never know how valid a company’s representations are, while an interested large investor is in position to get all the obvious questions satisfied. ZENN is in that position. They have a clearly declared self interest and unless we start into conspiracy theories, they will do their best to see this through properly.

That they are satisfied with progress opens the door to accepting the eminence of successful product demonstration. As posted earlier, it sounds like they can do it and their success ushers in the first truly practical electrical automobile.

It is also fitting that Lithium technology has recently picked up the pace and may soon be able to match EEStor’s advertised performance. No great breakthrough ever was unchallenged by an alternate technology that accelerated the product rollout.

So without a total briefing on the current state of research, ZENN’s action is about as good as it gets for a third party endorsement along with the additional effective endorsement of Lockheed Martin back in January. Now of these outfits want egg on their face, so you count on a solid job of due diligence.

It is an important milestone and we can expect performance demonstrations. However, never take projected delivery targets in a deal like this too seriously. Treat them as a best guess if nothing goes of track, and since any minor thing can do exactly that, it is always probable that something will cause delays. Wait until they try to get the packaging right.

So far so good. We are possibly on the way to a gasoline free future.

ZENN Motor Company Reports Second Quarter 2009 Results

TORONTO, ONTARIO -- (Marketwire) -- 05/27/09 -- ZENN Motor Company Inc. ("ZMC" or the "Company") (TSX VENTURE: ZNN) a leading developer of zero emission transportation solutions and technologies, today announced its financial results for the three and six months ended March 31, 2009. All amounts are expressed in Canadian dollars unless otherwise indicated.

For the three and six months ended March 31, 2009 gross revenues were $391,227 and $936,619, respectively (2008 - $740,748 and $1,641,172, respectively).

Net losses for the three and six month periods were $1,973,015 or $(0.05) per share and $3,759,387 or $(0.11) per share compared with net losses of $1,837,940 or $(0.06) per share and $3,515,602 or $(0.12) per share for the corresponding periods in the prior year.

At March 31, 2009 the Company had working capital of $12,373,427 including cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments totaling $10,804,427 compared to $15,068,689 and $14,686,100, respectively, at September 30, 2008.

"Revenue in the quarter reflects the general malaise of the auto industry." said Ian Clifford, CEO of the Company. "Fortunately, the Company's strong balance sheet allowed us to continue to invest and make progress in a number of key areas, such as the development of the ZENNergy(TM) drivetrain and cityZENN(TM) projects which are integral parts of the Company's strategy, especially with the planned commercialization of EEStor's energy storage technology."

"On May 21, 2009 the Company confirmed EEStor's permittivity test results which exceeded the target level stipulated in our Technology Agreement with EEStor by over 21 percent," said Clifford. "The permittivity milestone is significant for the Company as it gives us a clearer line of sight to the delivery of a production quality Electrical Energy Storage Unit (EESU) from EEStor. According to EEStor, the EESU is expected to outperform every chemical battery on the market in terms of energy density, charge time, cost, and overall performance. In addition to our exclusive automotive applications, our equity position in EEStor gives our shareholders a stake in the many potential mass applications EEStor can pursue such as powering portable consumer electronics, improving the performance of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar generation, and increasing the efficiency and stability of power grids around the world. The milestone not only triggers a payment of US$700,000 under our Technology Agreement but also the Company's investment option in EEStor and we are currently assessing the opportunity to increase our equity position to the maximum extent possible."

"We believe that the widespread interest by consumers, governments and manufacturers in environmentally friendly, sustainable and cost-effective solutions bodes well for the future of the EV industry and the role that ZMC can play," said Clifford.

Additional Information

Readers are encouraged to read the Company's unaudited consolidated financial statements for the three and six months ended March 31, 2009 and the corresponding Management's Discussion and Analysis both of which have been filed on SEDAR at and posted on the Company's website at

About ZENN Motor Company Inc.

ZENN Motor Company, Toronto, Canada, is dedicated to being a global leader in zero emission transportation solutions and technologies for markets around the world. Driven by quality, ingenuity and a philosophy of social responsibility, the ZMC team is redefining what is possible in both urban and business fleet transportation.

The ZENN(TM) (Zero Emission No Noise) provides an excellent alternative transportation solution for environmentally conscious drivers who want to dramatically reduce their operating costs and free themselves from dependence on oil. The current ZENN low speed vehicle is perfect for urban commuters and commercial fleets such as resorts, gated communities, airports, college and business campuses, municipalities, and parks and is sold through a network of retailers across the United States and directly by the Company in Quebec.

The planned commercialization and implementation of the ultra capacitor being developed by ZENN Motor Company's strategic partner EEStor, Inc., is expected to enable future ZMC vehicles and ZENNergy(TM) drivetrain powered vehicles to travel at speeds and distances similar to internal combustion powered vehicles but at a fraction of the cost and with zero emissions!

Electrons in Graphene

Graphene keeps coming up with surprises, but somehow a mass less transfer of physical electrons seems a bit of a stretch. This is the sort of discrepancy that generates new physics and it is exciting for that reason.

At this point, no one knows what it means, except that it promises to make even faster computers available. We are a long way from magnetic cores.

Obviously there is more to come since no theoretician is going to leave it alone. In the meantime we can only wait for clarifying data.

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have measured the unusual energy spectrum of graphene.

Their work, published in Science, is said to help to explain the unusual physical phenomena and properties associated with graphene, which is formed of a single layer of carbon atoms.

Graphene is being examined as a potential material for next generation electronic devices. Electrons in graphene are more than 100 times more mobile than those in silicon, prompting researchers to consider the possibility that graphene might replace silicon as the basis for integrated circuits.

The research team believes this increased mobility is due to electrons and other carriers of electric charges in graphene behaving as though they have no mass. 'Although they do not approach the speed of light, the unbound electrons in graphene behave much like photons, massless particles of light that also move at a speed independent of their energy', the researchers note.

A special NIST instrument was used to zoom in on the graphene layer, tracking the electronic states while applying high magnetic fields. This allowed a high resolution map of the distribution of energy levels in graphene to be created. This showed that, in contrast to metals and other conducting materials, the distance from one energy peak to the next is uneven in graphene.

The work is thought to show a way to developing manufacturing methods for making large, uniform batches of graphene for carbon based electronics.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Putin on Innovation

I find these comments by Putin to be the most encouraging ever. The western press loves to get frantic over Russian bluster, forgetting that it is part of their culture to negotiate through bluster. This comment acknowledges that the encouragement of internal innovation is becoming central to Russian economic development.

This means that the establishment of effective laws will become a priority, though more likely that will mean more effective application of laws already on the books. Entrepreneurs need to prosper and not be haunted by the internal problems that have dogged Russia’s transition from the state ordered system to its current form of market economy.

At the same time, their special form of crony capitalism and so called organized crime capitalism has also run its course, mostly because of age. The beneficiaries will want to prepare for their mortality and the rule of law is needed to ensure that their transition plans outlast them.

Russia has arrived at a consensus for the application of a universal system of corporate law and a system that makes the rule of law work. They took the long way around but they have gotten there in the end.

This makes the prospect of doing business in Russia far less daunting. And recall that today, Russia is MacDonald’s most successful division. In fact, the advent of that first restaurant completely reshaped Russian ides of customer service. So it was not a case of telling Russians how to do things better, which everyone was guilty of, but a spectacular case of showing them how to do it better that actually worked in the end. We today forget just how influential MacDonald’s was in terms of the US restaurant market and are therefore a little surprised when the same holds true elsewhere.

Putin urges innovation to revive Russia

by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) May 27, 2009

Russia must focus on technology and innovation to modernize its economy or risk falling behind other world powers, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.

"We need to move forward, to put the economy on an innovative track," Putin told an audience of business people in Moscow.

"Otherwise, doing nothing, we will simply preserve the current not very effective model which depends very much on external factors... and will continue to lag behind the world's leading economies."

Putin's comments echoed the criticism of many analysts who say Russia is overly dependent on the export of natural resources, especially oil and gas
, leaving it susceptible to sudden drops in commodities prices.

The Russian economy has been hit hard amid the global economic crisis, which has seen oil prices plummet from over 147 dollars a barrel last summer to currently around 60 dollars.

Putin said that despite budget cuts, the state would spend over 300 billion rubles (9.6 billion dollars, 6.9 billion euros) in 2009 to support high-tech sectors like aviation, atomic energy, space and electronics.

He argued that Russia had "serious competitive advantages" in sectors like space, saying that the country could increase its share of commercial space launches from 40 percent to around 50 percent.

The prime minister also called on business to be more far-sighted in its approach to innovation.

"In the business sphere, the status of the innovator and the inventor must be raised.... A culture of innovation needs to be created," Putin said.

Giant Cod and Whales

This is the first serious measure of what has been lost in terms of our global fishery. Of much more concern is the ongoing lack of willingness to tackle the economic fallout and to establish protocols that can bring about recovery.

The loss is huge and catastrophic. Recovery must take decades and in some instances it will take centuries. That is necessary is obvious to everyone, and delay is beginning to wear very thin. This is a valid cause for Greenpeace to take on and develop.

Right now, we are passing through the era of the last common fisheries in which the stakeholders are been squeezed out of their livelihoods. Since no one is prepared to step up and manage anything except political spin, it is reasonable that the Alaska fishery will be soon destroyed. It is also obvious that even the mid ocean fisheries are been diminished by practices that can be described as boneheaded stupid.

Two things have to happen once all fisheries are driven to economic failure.

Fishery title must be established by international convention on the basis of a guaranteed annual tax remittance and bonded accordingly.

A system of refuges must be established and rigorously enforced. Fish are not overtly territorial but are predictable enough that coastal strips and certain reefs and the like act as nurseries for the production of both juveniles and mature fish. Checkerboard refuges can be established for bottom dwellers, allowing the surplus to constantly repopulate fishing areas. Everyone uses gps today, so it has become completely practical.

Thus if you want to fish, you will bid the fishery for twenty years or so at a crack with renewal rights and provide a guaranteed minimum every year. This forces one to maintain the health of the fishery. It is chancy and difficult, but also rewarding to the good operator.

Even fishing in pre determined quarter mile strips that are spaced a half a mile apart and are miles long should work very well. It would leave the sea full of fish and create natural refuges for most species. It could also put the catch on an upward trend.

I am sure that this will be argued as naïve but the technology exists to provide the necessary compliance framework.

Giant cod and whales were once plentiful: researchers

by Staff WritersWashington (AFP) May 26, 2009

Just 200 years ago, tens of thousands of whales swam the waters around New Zealand while sharks patrolled the British coastlines, say researchers who tell of lost abundance in the world's oceans.

Around 100 global experts have united under a group called the Census of Marine Life to study the state of the Earth's waters from a historical viewpoint and how advances in technology have wielded devastation on sealife.

The decade-long project brings researchers to Vancouver, Canada from Tuesday and aims to publish its final report in 2010 with inputs from historical accounts as well as geological, botanical and archeological research.

"What we are looking at is a global picture of decline because of fisheries and habitat destruction," said Poul Holm, professor at Trinity college Dublin and one of the authors of a report to be presented at the three-day conference.

The revolution in fishing first came in the 1600s, when boaters began taking their vessels out in pairs to fish with nets. Then, large scale fisheries began to take hold in the 1800s.

"The impact of early fisheries was substantial," Holm told AFP. "The impact on ocean life has been enormous. And it happened earlier than anyone would have thought."

Not so long ago, marine fauna was more abundant, fish were bigger and predators more numerous.

But the size of fish began to decline in Europe from the Middle Ages with the first mass-scale fisheries, and the variety of underwater sealife began to shrink as well.

Today, even the predator population is but 10 to 15 percent of what it was at the start of the 19th century, researchers say.

One hundred years ago, cod measuring 1.5 meters (nearly five feet) was frequently sold while today the biggest are around 50 centimeters (20 inches) because of overfishing and the trend of catching the cod too early.

The cod's average lifespan has also dropped dramatically from 10 years to barely 2.8, according to Holm.
Researchers point to losses in the whale population particularly around New Zealand, whose waters boasted between 22,000 and 32,000 whales at the start of the 1800s but only had about 25 in 1925. Around a thousand live today off the country's southern coast.

In the same area, where historians say settlers began moving to in the 13th century, the snapper population was seven times higher then.

In most of the zones studied, changes brought on by human activity stretched on for a periods of more than a thousand years but radical changes are also observable within the space of just a few dozen years.

In south Florida's Key West for example, the average size of a fish in the mid 1950s was 20 kilograms (50 pounds). Today it is 2.3 kilograms (five pounds).

Still Holm says the findings give reason for hope.

"It's very useful to just be aware of what we have lost," said Holm.

"Although we are detecting a story of decline, its actually a hopeful message," he added.

"Because we can use the evidence to suggest that if we step back, if we introduce
conservation measures, fisheries regulations and avoid some of the stresses that cause harm to ocean life, we will be able to rebuild ocean life to a level which provides a lot of hope and would be able to feed many more people than the oceans are able today."

French Climate Sceptic Eyed for Super Ministry

It is always much more telling when a scientific leader is advancing his stature by calling everyone out on the global warming hypothesis. More telling is that he is leading the chorus on the challenge to the granting of a Nobel Prize to Al Gore and others over the subject. If it was not based on accomplishment other than political promotion, then what was accomplished? That Nobel Prize is now coming back to haunt the committee and the recipients and possibly represents a degradation of the honor.

In the meantime, global warming has had to survive two cold winters. In the meantime, the Okanagan grape vines suffered winter damage this year because of conditions not seen for fifteen years. That also means that the pine beetle will have been beaten back finally.

However, do not write it of yet. Arctic sea ice remains low and a fortuitous combination of winds can still maintain present levels and hold of recovery until another warm spell hits. Should that happen the global warming believers will become fanatics. Otherwise, we are on track for a good season of open water through the North West passage.

A couple more years of this and ice accumulation will begin in earnest and we can declare the two decade warm spell over. I am surprised at how two years has not made it completely clear yet even though it is seriously cooler. At least it is not a late spring. That happens and we will have the ice age crowd to listen to again.

Et Tu Francois? Skeptical Scientist Who Mocked Gore's Nobel Prize as 'Political Gimmick' May Be Appointed to French Super-Ministry Post

Ridiculed Gore's Warming Documentary as 'Nonsense'

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 - By
Marc MoranoClimate Depot

Washington, DC: French President Nicolas Sarkozy's appears ready to appoint renowned geophysicist and former socialist party leader Dr. Claude Allegre – France's most outspoken global warming skeptic -- as the new super-ministry of industry and innovation.

If Allegre, who has mocked former Vice President Al Gore's Nobel Prize as “a political gimmick,” is chosen for the appointment, it would send political earthquakes through Europe and the rest of the world. Allegre is a former believer in man-made global warming who reversed his views in recent years to become one of the most vocal dissenters of man-made global warming fears.
Climate Depot first reported on Allegre's possible appointment to a government post on April 16, 2009.

Allegre, a former French Socialist Party leader and a member of both the French and U.S. Academies of Science, was one of the first scientists to sound global warming fears 20 years ago, but he now says the cause of climate change is "unknown." Allegre has authored more than 100 scientific articles, written 11 books, and received numerous scientific awards including the Goldschmidt Medal from the Geochemical Society of the United States.

Allegre's possible appointment has 'drawn strong protests' from environmentalists, the
Financial Times reported on May 27, 2009.

"Putting him in charge of scientific research would be tantamount to 'giving the finger to scientists', said Nicolas Hulot, France's best-known environmental activist," told the Financial Times.

But Allegre hit back at his environmental critics and accused them of "lies and distortions" about his record and beliefs. "As a scientist and citizen, I, unlike others, do not want environmentalism to accentuate the crisis or make the least well-off suffer more," Allegre said according to the May 27
Financial Times article.

Called Gore's Nobel Prize 'Political Gimmick'

Allegre was one of 1500 scientists who signed a November 18, 1992, letter titled "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity" in which the scientists warned that global warming's "potential risks are very great." But Allegre now believes the global warming hysteria is motivated by money. "The ecology of helpless protesting has become a very lucrative business for some people!" he explained. (

Allegre mocked former Vice President Al Gore's Nobel Prize in 2007, calling it "a political gimmick." Allegre said on October 14, 2007, "The amount of nonsense in Al Gore's film! It's all politics; it's designed to intervene in American politics. It's scandalous." (

Ridiculed 'Prophets of Doom'

Allegre ridiculed what he termed the "prophets of doom of global warming" in a September 2006 article. (
LINK) Allegre has mocked "the greenhouse-gas fanatics whose proclamations consist in denouncing man's role on the climate without doing anything about it except organizing conferences and preparing protocols that become dead letters."
Capitol Hill's leading climate skeptic, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has highlighted Allegre's recent conversion to a dissenter of global warming.

“I find it ironic that a free market conservative capitalist in the U.S. Senate and a French Socialist scientist both apparently agree that sound science is not what is driving this debate, but greed by those who would use this issue to line their own pockets,” Inhofe said in an
October 26, 2007 speech on the Senate floor.

Allegre was also featured in several U.S. Senate reports on global warming highlighting dissenting scientists. Allegre was featured in a May 15, 2007, report entitled “
Climate Momentum Shifting: Prominent Scientists Reverse Belief in Man-made Global Warming - Now Skeptics.” In addition, Allegre was featured in the March 16, 2009, U.S. Senate report entitled “Update: More Than 700 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims."

Allegre's full entry in 2009's
U.S. Senate Report: More Than 700 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims:

Geophysicist Dr. Claude Allegre, a top Geophysicist and French Socialist who has authored more than 100 scientific articles, written 11 books, and received numerous scientific awards including the Goldschmidt Medal from the Geochemical Society of the United States, converted from climate alarmist to skeptic in 2006.

Allegre, who was one of 123 the first scientists to sound global warming fears 20 years ago, now says the cause of climate change is "unknown" and accused the "prophets of doom of global warming" of being motivated by money, noting that "the ecology of helpless protesting has become a very lucrative business for some people!" "Glaciers' chronicles or historical archives point to the fact that climate is a capricious phenomena. This fact is confirmed by mathematical meteorological theories. So, let us be cautious," Allegre explained in a September 21, 2006 article in the French newspaper L'EXPRESS.

The National Post in Canada also profiled Allegre on March 2, 2007, noting, "Allegre has the highest environmental credentials. The author of early environmental books, he fought successful battles to protect the ozone layer from CFCs and public health from lead pollution." Allegre now calls fears of a climate disaster "simplistic and obscuring the true dangers" and mocks "the greenhouse-gas fanatics whose proclamations consist in denouncing man's role on the climate without doing anything about it except organizing conferences and preparing protocols that become dead letters." Allegre, a member of both the French and U.S. Academy of Sciences, had previously expressed concern about man-made global warming. "By burning fossil fuels, man enhanced the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which has raised the global mean temperature by half a degree in the last century," Allegre wrote 20 years ago.

In addition, Allegre was one of 1500 scientists who signed a November 18, 1992 letter titled "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity" in which the scientists warned that global warming's "potential risks are very great." Allegre mocked former Vice President Al Gore's Nobel Prize in 2007, calling it "a political gimmick." Allegre said on October 14, 2007, "The amount of nonsense in Al Gore's film! It's all politics; it's designed to intervene in American politics. It's scandalous."

Related Links:

Climate Depot: French Reversal on Climate Policy? Outspoken Skeptical Scientist May Be Tapped as Government Minister! - April 16, 2009

2009 U.S. Senate Report: More Than 700 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims

U.S. Senate Report: Climate Momentum Shifting: Prominent Scientists Reverse Belief in Man-made Global Warming - Now Skeptics

National Post: Allegre's second thoughts

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Space Debris

This conference has been generating a lot of news stories on the festering problem of debris in earth orbit generated by our efforts. It is obviously getting dangerous and something needs to be done to address the issue.

However, I think that we must wait until we have the capacity to put a very powerful energy source in orbit to operate a microwave laser similar to that been tested aboard a 747 against missiles. (earlier post)

Such a laser can be used to target debris and impart a small change in kinetic energy through a series of pulses that vaporise the surface. The only saving grace is a rapid firing cycle that allows a swift handling of the thousands of prospective targets, most of whom are quite small.

The larger items are all prospects for simple interception and direct disposal which is feasible today but rather unnecessary. They mostly degrade in their own good time and we can find them anyway. This problem is all about the small stuff that inevitably gets loose. There we really are beginning to dodge bullets.

Then we have even blown some of this stuff up and a lot of that is in more eccentric orbits and thus more likely to cause a problem. You wonder what they were thinking and are still thinking today when we have no way yet to mop up the mess.

Key findings from the Fifth European Conference on Space Debris

by Staff Writers
Darmstadt, Germany (ESA) Apr 04, 2009

During the 5th European Conference on Space Debris, 30 March to 2 April 2009, held at the European Space Agency, Darmstadt, Germany, experts from a wide spectrum of disciplines communicated their research results through 100 oral presentations and more than 40 poster presentations.

The conference was attended by some 330 participants from 21 countries, making this the largest dedicated space debris conference in the world.

Key areas were measurements and debris environment characterisation, environment modelling and forecasting (including orbit prediction aspects), risk analysis for the in-orbit and re-entry mission phases, protection and shielding, debris mitigation and remediation, and debris policies and guidelines.

As a special topic, the surveillance and cataloguing component of Space Situational Awareness (SSA), was addressed.

Highlights and key findings

In his keynote address, Gerard Brachet, former chair of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), reviewed the status of debris environment characterisation and identified the need for concerted actions toward sustainable use of outer space.

A corresponding UN Scientific and Technical Sub-Committee (STSC) activity has recently been initiated. It will build upon past UN space debris activities, which led to a first set of UN space debris mitigation guidelines in 2007.

In the Measurement and Space Surveillance area, the airborne, multi-instrument re-entry observation campaign of ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), in September 2008, is expected to increase our understanding of re-entry and break-up physics, leading to more reliable risk estimates in the case of uncontrolled re-entries.

Moreover, the new US Space Surveillance Network S-band fence will further lower the size threshold of space objects that can be routinely tracked and catalogued, hence (among other achievements) also improving collision avoidance capabilities.

Besides, optical measurements have improved our knowledge of the debris population in high earth orbits, including GEO (Geostationary Orbit), and of high area-to-mass objects on eccentric orbits.

In addition, several beam-park experiments (mono- and bi-static), involving European radars and radio telescopes, provided debris data down to 1-cm sizes.

In the Modelling and Orbit Prediction area, the most recent NASA (ORDEM 2008) and ESA (MASTER 2009) models of the space debris environment were discussed, and long-term environment stability analyses were compared.

The orbit-related contributions addressed the stability of disposal orbits, particularly for navigation constellations, and they looked at ways of extracting orbit and orbit uncertainty information from optical and radar measurements, and from US Catalog data.

In the area of On-Orbit and Reentry Risk Analysis, the focus was on collision avoidance services and supporting risk analyses for LEO (Low Earth Orbit) and GEO (Geostationary Orbit) objects. Reentry risk assessments, based on a detailed simulation of the underlying break-up processes, was another focus of interest.

In the area of Mitigation, the current status of international, national, and agency-specific guidelines or requirements on space debris mitigation was described. It was noted that these can only be a first step toward maintaining a safe space debris environment.

Space debris remediation, i.e. active debris removal from orbit, was identified as the next necessary step. Several contributions addressed technical and operational aspects of implementing such measures.

In the area of Hypervelocity Impacts and Protection, the latest results were presented on accelerator technologies, debris shield optimisation and damage prediction tools. Examples of impacts on the International Space Station (ISS) highlighted the importance of protective measures.

In the area of Space Surveillance, European researchers presented their proposals for optical and radar sensors, and for data processing methods for a European Space Situational Awareness System (SSA).

They looked at expected detection, correlation and cataloguing performances. US and Russian surveillance experts provided some insight into their experience gained over some 50 years of service. Many participants encouraged international cooperation and/or coordination of surveillance activities.

With the high quality presentations by a truly international community of experts, the 5th European Conference on Space Debris provided a comprehensive snapshot of the current state of space debris research.

The aspect of space surveillance, which was for the first time included as a main theme, showed a high degree of commonality with several of the traditional topics of this conference. Such synergies should also be pursued in future events.

The 5th European Conference on Space Debris demosntrated a well-established, consolidated knowledge base on the understanding and protection of the current space debris environment. This consolidated knowledge has led to internationally accepted concepts of space debris mitigation.

Main conference finding

However, it is common understanding that mitigation alone cannot maintain a safe and stable debris environment in the long-term future. Active space debris remediation measures will need to be devised and implemented. This is the main message from this conference.

While such measures are technologically demanding and potentially costly, there is no alternative to protect space as a valuable resource for the operation of indispensable satellite infrastructures. Their direct costs and the costs of losing them will by far exceed the cost of remedial activities.

Wolves Running Wild in China

This item is a worthy reminder that all carnivores must be tightly managed. Humanity happens to be a natural prey to all such animals and our historical aggressiveness kept them in fear of us. Unless they caught us alone and vulnerable.

The press loves to push tales of their reappearance in historics regions long since hunted out. This is quite silly. The grizzly had a natural range that reached the banks of the Mississippi. It is now restricted mostly to the Great Bear Rainforest which has its almost inhabitability to recommend it. It is a very safe place to keep them.

My recent reading of Humbolt’s Cosmos informed me that in the rainforest, your constant nightly visitor was the jaguar, kept at bay by the blazing fire kept. And the lions of Africa are denied by a fondness for thorn thickets.

This tale out of China shows just how a pack will identify a source and keep at it until it is wiped out. They stay with the game.

On top of it, wolves are notoriously difficult to hunt. That is why ranchers have resorted to poison.

Of course we now have the Yellowstone pack. I wonder how much public support will remain if a cunning wolf grabs a young child and takes off.

The truth is that the wolf pack of our recent past was a fearsome force during times of famine in the wild. It was quite common for hungry wolves to be driven down into the valleys where dozens would waylay travelers on horseback. We may have insolated ourselves from all that, but the relaxation of our guard demonstrated here is unwise.

China's herders plea for help as wolf packs rampage

by Staff WritersSiziwangqi, China (AFP) May 25, 2009

Scanning the vast northern China steppe surrounding him, Delger leans on a wooden staff that is his herd's only protection against a lethal enemy that is out there, somewhere.

"They come at night, but you never hear them. When you do hear something, it is the sheep crying out, and by then it's too late," he said.

Delger, 44, has lost six of his 40 sheep in the past two years to stealthy attacks by the wolf packs that roam northern China's Inner Mongolia region.

The wolves were hunted to near extinction in China as Communist leader Mao Zedong encouraged the eradication of an animal viewed as a threat to his utopian efforts to increase agricultural and livestock production.

But mounting attacks by the wolves -- now protected -- have sparked calls by herders and some local governments for resumed hunting of the predator.

"There is not enough protection for us herders now. The wolves cannot be hunted. What about us?" complained Delger, who like many members of China's ethnic Mongolian minority goes by one name.
The attacks have become so frequent that desperate authorities in the Alxa district of Inner Mongolia constructed a 100-kilometre (62-mile) fence last June near the border with the republic of Mongolia.
Alxa herders had lost more than 600 sheep and 300 camels over the preceding two years, state media said. Similar tolls have been reported across Inner Mongolia.

In December, a wolf was spotted along the Great Wall just 50 kilometres from Beijing, the first sighting there in a generation, according to Chinese media.

What remains unclear is the reason for the wolves' boldness.

Government reports and state-controlled media have said all the indicators show wolf populations are on the upswing thanks to environment-protection measures.

But wolf expert Gao Zhongxin said the opposite is likely true.

Wolves are attacking livestock because environmental

, expanding desertification, and human encroachment have reduced their natural prey, said Gao, who has studied the issue for China's Northeast Forestry Institute.

"The number of wolves has probably stabilised but desertification and degeneration of the grassland is increasingly serious and a new threat to the wolves," he told AFP.

The issue is an emotional one in China's ethnic Mongolian border areas due to the powerful symbolism of wolves in traditional Mongol society.

Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan modeled his fierce and highly mobile cavalry on the wolf packs, eventually amassing the largest land empire ever.

Mongol nomads have for centuries battled the wolves to protect their flocks, even while revering them as guardians of the grasslands.

"The wolves are central to Mongol culture, but there are fewer of them now. Young Mongols today do not hear the old wolf stories anymore. That is dying out," author Lu Jiamin told AFP.

Lu, an ethnic Han Chinese who lived with Mongol herders during China's Cultural Revolution, detailed the animals' spiritual connection to the wolves in his acclaimed book "Wolf Totem," written under a pseudonym.

He agrees the stepped-up wolf attacks indicate the animals are under pressure, which he calls a bad sign for China's six million ethnic Mongols, many of whom claim their culture is rapidly dying out under Chinese rule.

So far, proposals to relax the hunting ban have gained no traction, although Gao says illegal hunting is under way in some areas.

For now, Delger keeps his sheep closer to home than before and does not let them roam at night.

He was already under pressure from a recent plunge in mutton prices and says promised government compensation for lost sheep has not come through.

"They used to prey on wild animals," he said of the wolves.

"But now they are preying on us."

New Wood Dissolution Process Replaces Krafting

A new method of gently tearing apart the chemical constituents of wood has been discovered.

The historic krafting process is a potent chemical process that operates at over a hundred degrees Celsius. It is not easy to work with at all.

Again this is early days, but once again, this may lend itself to small farm based operations able to ship byproducts such as the lignins.

Up to now, one was forced to dismiss wood waste as much other than an inconvenient handling problem for silviculture. This may help change all that. The idea of the wood waste entering a vat and then exiting later as a liquor or as a baled paper like product has appeal.

Now we have a way that will allow ease of handling and no caustic chemicals to deal with. If it can be limited to a modest vat for batch handling, then it should be possible to produce a farm friendly system.

Something like this can be also used to create a woodlot management system. Chips can be gathered and processed over the year for their product stream that can subsidize the whole enterprise.

Queen's Scientists Discover Eco-Friendly Wood Dissolution

by Staff Writers

Belfast, UK (SPX) May 22, 2009

\Scientists at Queen's University Belfast have discovered a new eco-friendly way of dissolving wood using ionic liquids that may help its transformation into popular products such as bio fuels, textiles, clothes and paper.

Dr Hector Rodríguez and Professor Robin Rogers from the University's School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering worked along with The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, to come up with a more cost and energy efficient way of processing wood.

Their solution, which is reported in the journal Green Chemistry, may see a new sustainable future for industry based on bio-renewable resources.

At present wood is broken down mainly by the Kraft pulping process, which originates from the 19th century and uses a wasteful technology relying on polluting chemicals.

The key reason for tolerating this method is that it is very difficult to break down and separate the different elements of wood. Until now any alternatives to the process have presented similar problems.
The Queen's researchers found that chips of both softwood and hardwood dissolved completely in ionic liquid and only mild conditions of temperature and pressure were needed. By controlled addition of water and a water-acetone mixture, the dissolved wood was partially separated into a cellulose-rich material and pure lignin.
This process is much more environmentally-friendly than the current method as it uses less heat and pressure and produces very low toxicity while remaining biodegradable.

Professor Robin Rogers said: "This is a very important discovery because cellulose and lignin have a wide variety of uses. Cellulose can be used to make products such as paper, biofuels, cotton and linen, as well as many other commodity materials and chemicals.

"Lignin can be used to create performance additives in various applications, such as strengthening cars and airplanes with a fraction of the weight of conventional reinforcement materials. It is also a source of other chemicals which are mainly obtained from petroleum-based resources."

Dr Hector Rodríguez said: "The discovery is a significant step towards the development of the biorefinery concept, where biomass is transformed to produce a wide variety of chemicals. Eventually, this may open a door to a truly sustainable chemical industry based on bio-renewable resources."

The approaches that the scientists are considering for the future include the addition of eco-friendly additives to the ionic liquid system or the use of catalysts.

The researchers are hoping to eventually achieve better dissolution under even softer conditions and are also trying to achieve complete separation of the different elements in one single step.

Both teams are also focusing on biomasses which are rich in essential oils and can later be used in processes such as the manufacture of fragrances.

Drug Legalization Debate

This article marshals the problems facing society in terms of coming to grips with the ongoing drug abuse prevalent throughout society. That must also include alcohol and tobacco. That marijuana has been positioned as the flash point between the various camps has created the focus of this article.

For the record, I personally abhor the idea of any drug that might affect my mind and judgment and wish that they would all go away. I personally have about one drink a month and I am sure it is because I do not wish to get into debates over why I am a teetotaler.

However, we are at were we are at.

I personally think that the debate is misdirected into a counterproductive confrontational style that has only served the interests of the parasitic bureaucracies and the criminal class.

First, I think all drug use should be simply reclassified as a medical issue first. But then society needs to demand mandatory treatment of those afflicted in order to restore their contribution to society. A few will resist treatment, but the repetition of the process will surely wear them down.

This is actually important. Wartime conscription is an example of mandatory reshaping of people’s lives that stood up well in its benefits to post war development. Applying those lessons could swiftly sort out the present problems that we have with users. And it is something that a society must demand of its citizens. Just as we must pay our taxes, it is also unreasonable for us to conduct our lives in such a way as to be both a burden on the state and our families and to be unable to advance ourselves so that we might contribute.

Knowledge that a negative drug test will fast track you to a conscripted training and work battalion would surely make drug experimentation very unattractive to any youth who does not have serious home problems to begin with.

The law has no place attempting to micro control people’s behavior, but it clearly has a place in establishing expectations and seeing them met. In practice, we should expect a twenty year old to meet the physical fitness levels easily achieved in basic training. The future benefits are manifold in terms of health and future productivity. And such training never needed to be military, nor should it.

Thus a person who has succumbed to drug abuse must be brought back to productive status as a benefit to himself and society. Once that becomes the guiding principle, the remainder of the drug problem will evaporate for lack of support to a residual nub.

Legalize marijuana? Not so fast.

Backers serve up a timely batch of arguments, but their latest reasons are half-baked.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board

The American movement to legalize marijuana for regular use is on a roll. Or at least its backers say it is.
They point to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said in early May that it's now time to debate legalizing marijuana – though he's personally against it. Indeed, a legislative push is on in his state (and several others, such as Massachusetts and Nevada) to treat this "soft" drug like alcohol – to tax and regulate its sale, and set an age restriction on buyers.

Several recent polls show stepped-up public support for legalization. This means not only lifting restrictions on use ("decriminalization"), but also on supply – production and sales. The Obama administration, meanwhile, says the US Drug Enforcement Agency will no longer raid dispensaries of medical marijuana – which is illegal under federal law – in states where it is legal.

The push toward full legalization is a well-organized, Internet-savvy campaign, generously funded by a few billionaires, including George Soros. It's built on a decades-long, step-by-step effort in the states. Thirteen states have so far decriminalized marijuana use (generally, the punishment covers small amounts and involves a fine). And 13 states now allow for medical marijuana.

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), recently told a Monitor reporter that
three reasons account for the fresh momentum toward legalization: 1) the weak economy, which is forcing states to look for new revenue; 2) public concern over the violent drug war in Mexico; and 3) more experience with marijuana itself.

If there is to be a debate, let's look at these reasons, starting with experience with marijuana.

A harmless drug? Supporters of legalization often claim that no one has died of a pot overdose, and that it has beneficial effects in alleviating suffering from certain diseases.

True, marijuana cannot directly kill its user in the way that alcohol or a drug like heroin can. And activists claim that it may ease symptoms for certain patients – though it has not been endorsed by the major medical associations representing those patients, and the Food and Drug Administration disputes its value.

Rosalie Pacula, codirector of the Rand Drug Policy Research Center, poses this question: "If pot is relatively harmless, why are we seeing more than 100,000 hospitalizations a year" for marijuana use?

Emergency-room admissions where marijuana is the primary substance involved increased by 164 percent from 1995 to 2002 – faster than for other drugs, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network.
Research results over the past decade link frequent marijuana use to several serious mental health problems, with youth particularly at risk. And the British Lung Foundation finds that smoking three to four joints is the equivalent of 20 tobacco cigarettes.

While marijuana is not addictive in the way that a drug like crack-cocaine is, heavy use can lead to dependence – defined by the same criteria as for other drugs. About half of those who use pot daily become dependent for some period of time, writes Kevin Sabet, in the 2006 book, "Pot Politics" – and 1 in 10 people in the US who have ever used marijuana become dependent at some time (about the same rate as alcohol). Dr. Sabet was a drug policy adviser in the past two presidential administrations.

He adds that physicians in Britain and the Netherlands – both countries that have experience with relaxed marijuana laws – are seeing withdrawal symptoms among heavy marijuana users that are similar to those of cocaine and heroin addicts. This has been confirmed in the lab with monkeys.

Today's marijuana is also much more potent than in the hippie days of yesteryear. But that doesn't change what's always been known about even casual use of this drug: It distorts perception, reduces motor skills, and affects alertness. When combined with alcohol (not unusual), or even alone, it worsens the risk of traffic accidents.

Would legalization take the violence out of the Mexican drug war?
NORML likes to point out that marijuana accounts for the majority of illicit drug traffic from Mexico. End the illicit trafficking, and you end the violence. But that volume gives a false impression of marijuana's role in crime and violence, says Jonathan Caulkins, a professor at Carnegie Mellon and a drug-policy adviser in the US and Australia.

It's the dollars that count, and the big earners – cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin – play a much larger role in crime and violence. In recent years, Mexico has become a major cocaine route to the US. That's what's fanning the violence, according to Dr. Caulkins, so legalizing marijuana is unlikely to quiet Mexico's drug war.

Neither are America's prisons stuffed with users who happened to get caught with a few joints (if that were the case, a huge percentage of America's college students – an easy target – would be behind bars). Yes, there are upward of 700,000 arrests on marijuana charges each year, but that includes repeat arrests, and most of those apprehended don't go to jail. Those who do are usually large-scale offenders.
Only 0.7 percent of inmates in state and federal prisons are in for marijuana possession (0.3 percent counting first-time offenders only, according to a 2002 US Justice Department survey). In federal prisons, the median amount of marijuana for those convicted of possession is 115 pounds – 156,000 marijuana cigarettes.

Can marijuana rescue state coffers?

The California legalization bill proposes a $50/ounce tax on marijuana. The aim is to keep pot as close to the black-market price as possible while still generating an estimated $1.3 billion in income for this deficit-challenged state.

But the black market can easily undercut a $50 tax and shrink that expected revenue stream. Just look at the huge trade in illegal cigarettes in Canada to see how taxing can spur a black market (about 30 percent of tobacco bought in Canada is illegal).

A government could attempt to eliminate the black market altogether by making marijuana incredibly cheap (Dr. Pacula at the RAND Organization says today's black market price is about four times what it would be if pot were completely legalized). But then use would skyrocket and teens (though barred) could buy it with their lunch money.

Indeed, legalizing marijuana is bound to increase use simply because of availability. Legalization advocates say "not so" and point to the Netherlands and its legal marijuana "coffee shops." Indeed, after the Dutch de facto legalized the drug in 1976, use stayed about the same for adults and youth. But it took off after 1984, growing by 300 percent over the next decade or so. Experts attribute this to commercialization (sound like alcohol?), and also society's view of the drug as normal – which took a while to set in.

Now the Dutch are finding that normalization has its costs – increased dependence, more dealers of harder drugs, and a flood of rowdy "drug tourists" from other countries. The Dutch "example" should be renamed the Dutch "warning."

As America has learned with alcohol, taxes don't begin to cover the costs to society of destroyed families, lost productivity, and ruined lives – and regulators still have not succeeded in keeping alcohol from underage drinkers.

No one has figured out what the exact social costs of legalizing marijuana would be. But ephemeral taxes won't cover them – nor should society want to encourage easier access to a drug that can lead to dependency, has health risks, and reduces alertness, to name just a few of its negative outcomes.
Why legalize a third substance that produces ill effects, when the US has such a poor record in dealing with the two big "licits" – alcohol and tobacco?

Parents need to resist peer pressure, too.

Legalization backers say the country is at a tipping point, ready to make the final big leap. They hope that a new generation of politicians that has had experience with marijuana will be friendly to their cause.

But this new generation is also made up of parents. Do parents really want marijuana to become a normal part of society – and an expectation for their children?

Maybe parents thought they left peer pressure behind when they graduated from high school. But the push to legalize marijuana is like the peer pressure of the schoolyard. The arguments are perhaps timely, but they don't stand up, and parents must now stand up to them.

They must let lawmakers know that legalization is not OK, and they must carry this message to their children, too. Disapproval, along with information on risk, are the most important factors in discouraging marijuana and cocaine use among high school seniors, according to the University of Michigan's "Monitoring the Future" project on substance abuse.

Parents must make clear that marijuana is not a harmless drug – even if they personally may have emerged unscathed.

And they need to teach the life lesson that marijuana does not really solve personal challenges, be they stress, relationships, or discouragement.

In the same way, a search for joy and satisfaction in a drug is misplaced.

The far greater and lasting attraction is in a life rooted in moral and spiritual values – not in a haze, a daze, or a munchie-craze.

Today's youth are tomorrow's world problem solvers – and the ones most likely to be affected if marijuana is legalized. Future generations need to be clear thinkers. For their sakes, those who oppose legalizing marijuana must become vocal, well-funded, and mainstream – before it's too late.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lithium Battery Breakthrough

This news could not be better in terms of energy storage technologies. We now have a way to manufacture a composite using nano sized carbon fibers which is also non reactive and permits simple wicking of other substances. We can do this with molten sulphur but what is to stop us from doing the same with any and all other molten elements.

Recall that carbon and here we are working with elemental carbon has the highest melting point of any and all elements. I made use of that obscure fact to argue the existence of a carbon layer slip plane between the earth’s crust and the core. The same fact allows us to create full range of carbon based composites with the various elements.

Thus a woven carbon sheet might be dipped in molten titanium to form an advanced material superior to anything otherwise possible.

This and previously reported advances in lithium battery technology is speeding us toward the super battery that is a full order of magnitude superior to what is now possible.

It used to be that a bright young mind could tear apart a device and sort of figure out how it might work. That day is long past. Now we will be confronted with products whose critical structure will be invisible even under a microscope. Sort of like an UFO.

Major Breakthrough In Lithium Battery Technology

by Staff Writers
Ontario, Canada (SPX) May 21, 2009

An NSERC-funded lab at the University Of Waterloo has laid the groundwork for a lithium battery that can store and deliver more than three times the power of conventional lithium ion batteries.

The research team of professor Linda Nazar, graduate student David Xiulei Ji and postdoctoral fellow Kyu Tae Lee are one of the first to demonstrate robust electrochemical performance for a lithium-sulphur battery. The finding is reported in the on-line issue of Nature Materials.

The prospect of lithium-sulphur batteries has tantalized chemists for two decades, and not just because successfully combining the two chemists delivers much higher energy densities.

Sulphur is cheaper than many other materials currently used in lithium batteries. It has always showed great promise as the ideal partner for a safe, low cost, long lasting rechargeable battery, exactly the kind of battery needed for energy storage and transportation in a low carbon emission energy economy.

"The difficult challenge was always the cathode, the part of the battery that stores and releases electrons in the charge and recharge cycles," said Dr. Nazar. "To enable a reversible electrochemical reaction at high current rates, the electrically-active sulphur needs to remain in the most intimate contact with a conductor, such as carbon."

The Canadian research team leap-frogged the performance of other carbon-sulphur combinations by tackling the contact issue at the nanoscale level.

Although they say the same approach could be used with other materials, for their proof of concept study they chose a member of a highly structured and porous carbon family called mesoporous carbon. At the nanoscale level, this type of carbon has a very uniform pore diameter and pore volume.

Using a nanocasting method, the team assembled a structure of 6.5 nanometre thick carbon rods separated by empty three to four nanometre wide channels. Carbon microfibres spanning the empty channels kept the voids open and prevented collapse of the architecture.

Filling the tiny voids proved simple. Sulphur was heated and melted. Once in contact with the carbon, it was drawn or imbibed into the channels by capillary forces, where it solidified and shrunk to form sulphur nanofibres.

Scanning electron microscope sections revealed that all the spaces were uniformly filled with sulphur, exposing an enormous surface area of the active element to carbon and driving the exceptional test results of the new battery.

"This composite material can supply up to nearly 80 percent of the theoretical capacity of sulphur, which is three times the energy density of lithium transition metal oxide cathodes, at reasonable rates with good cycling stability," said Dr. Nazar.

What is more, the researchers say, the high capacity of the carbon to incorporate active material opens the door for similar "imbibed" composites that could have applications in many areas of materials science.

The research team continues to study the material to work out remaining challenges and refine the cathode's architecture and performance.

Dr. Nazar said a patent has been filed, and she is reviewing options for commercialization and practical applications.

China says Industrial Output to Climb in Second Quarter

For those of us who have spent their entire lives as we all have, but for those who count themselves baby boomers doubly so, it is difficult to rid oneself of the notion that US economy is the center of the universe. US weakness and floundering is no longer shared relentlessly by the rest of the globe.

Today half of the global population expects to end their lives as members of the global middle class. They are beginning to make their consumption felt. Nowhere is this more clearly true but in China. China held off expanding their internal market because they simply could ill afford to keep up with their export driven economy.

After twenty years they needed a break in the pace in order to focus on building the internal Chinese market. The shift has taken place and this news item reflects that. Last year every village had shipped out all available manpower. This year twenty million went home. I think that they will be quickly back to work as the internal economy develops traction.

We are talking of a proper medical system and plenty of public works consolidation. Perhaps that old perennial of a paved road to every village will be the leading slogan.

Chinese credit markets are in their infancy and are expanding. Internal real estate is able to generate huge employment and will.

China has been very good and careful in managing their foreign reserves. They are now spending to buy up cheap raw materials everywhere and this is recycling those reserves in a way that is globally beneficial. China does not have to bail out a collapsed banking sector.

They plan to come out of this economic shock much richer and stronger.

China says industrial output growth to jump in 2Q

by Staff Writers
Shanghai (AFP) May 22, 2009

China on Friday said industrial output is expected to rise eight percent in the second quarter and exceed ten percent in the second half of the year as stimulus measures kick in.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology forecast the second quarter would post a jump from the 15-year low of 5.1 percent growth seen in the first three months of the year.

"The overall situation in both heavy and light industries is turning positive," the ministry said in a report on its website.

"The rapid pace of decline in production in some regions and industries has already slowed, while companies become more adaptable to the economic downturn and market fluctuations," the ministry said.

China's eastern coastal regions, the powerhouse of the country's economy, recorded 6.7 percent growth in industrial output in April, three percentage points higher than the first quarter, the report said.

The trade-dependent Chinese economy, the world's third-largest, has been severely hit by the global financial crisis, but Beijing has announced various packages and tax incentives to spur the economy.

The government at the end of last year unveiled a 590 billion dollar stimulus aimed at kickstarting the economy, which has been battered by the global slump.

Despite the optimistic outlook, the ministry also warned that weak external demand continued to be a big barrier to achieving a broad-based recovery.

"Reversing the downturn in industrial output growth should be placed as the top priority in economic plans... (We) should continue to boost domestic demand to promote industrial output growth," the report said.

Phaistos Disc as Bronze Age Email

Nice discussion of the Phaistos disk for what it is worth. Whatever the object is it is currently a one off sample of an unknown system of writing. In as much the Bronze Age Mediterranean was a hotbed of experimental alphabetics that surely ebbed and waned as one unsatisfactory system replaced another unsatisfactory system, this sample conforms nicely. Translation is presently hopeless and no other samples have arisen. And yes it may well be a pure hoax foisted on us. The lack of additional samples supports the hoax explanation for the present. Yet we may well be dealing with a specialized palace script used to send mail between various rulers, while the more common scripts in use was dedicated to the needs of commerce.

There is a vast difference between the offer to sell thirty cows and the proposal to beat up on a neighbor. That it was formed in clay shows it was taking advantage of the messaging system used in Mesopotamia. Using carved stamps tells us that the vocabulary was very small and that some of the content is naming conventions. In short, it is likely to be a cleverly developed method for sending messages between palaces in a reasonably secure manner. Symbol recognition could even be prearranged at gatherings in order to make it completely impenetrable.

So the use of such a disc fits the information milieu of the times and for that reason alone should likely be accepted. The chance of finding even this disc was remote and if they were in fact critical messages of a diplomatic nature and easily changeable, it makes good sense to destroy upon receipt. Thus archives may simply not exist.

It is additional evidence that a culture was struggling to develop a superior writing system, and the exigencies of using clay discs to send letters would promote an efficient alphabet. In fact this is strong evidence that our alphabet was originally shaped around the needs of carving stamps. This is an important insight regarding the formation of a writing system. Cuneiform arose because of reed styluses, Chinese arose out of hair brushes and Mesoamerica had large brushes to work with.

The Phaistos disk: hoax, ancient calculator, or Piltdown cookie?

May 25, 9:25 AM

I mentioned the Phaistos Disk in a previous column, just in passing, and thought it merited a meandering discussion of its own. This famous disk is a saucer-sized clay object, about six inches across, that was found in Phaistos, a city on the island of Crete, which is south of the Greek mainland in the Mediterranean Sea – for those of you who are weak in geography. This disk has what appears to be writing on it, spiraling in from the rim. Unless, of course, it’s really spiraling out from the center. The writing, if that’s what it really is, appears on both sides, but the “message” is not the same on the two sides. A long time ago, I came up with my own fanciful “decipherment” because I was getting tired of reading everybody else’s, as no two of these experts agreed with each other in the slightest. Mine doesn’t agree with anybody else’s either, though, so I won’t bother you with a rendition of it.

One hypothesis concerning this famous disk, a hypothesis that was making the rounds of archeology circles about a year ago, is that the disk is actually a fake. Shades of that infamous fake fossil, the Piltdown Man! Supposedly, the Phaistos Disk was created and then put in the dig to be found by some local but not too famous archeologist (one Pernier) back in the early years of the 20th century. The purpose was to impress Sir Arthur Evans, an archeologist who had dug up some real neat stuff at Knossos on Crete and had become very famous indeed. The famous Sir Evans was impressed all right.

So was a lesser known fellow named Michael Ventris, who took a shot at cracking the code of the enigmatic script. Ventris failed to decipher the Phaistos disk, but he did figure out how to read another ancient system of writing, some of which was found at Knossos, mostly on rather ordinary clay tablets. That clay tablet system was called Linear B. It wasn’t supposed to be Greek, according to Sir famous and influential Arthur Evans. Fortunately, Ventris didn’t know that, and assumed it was Greek, just the same. Once he’d applied his skills as a code-breaker to it, he was able to prove it was Greek, just as he’d suspected. Fortunately for all concerned, the famous and influential Arthur Evans had departed for the next world by that time, so Ventris became famous and his discovery was accepted by all and sundry.

More recently, another type of writing also found at Knossos has been deciphered, but you don’t see much mention of it in the English language. That’s because a Frenchman did the deciphering and he did it only recently. This was Hubert LaMarle and he deciphered Linear A. That’s not Greek, but something related to Old Persian. This identification turned out to be quite a surprise, since Linear A was supposed to be either Semitic (related to Hebrew, Ugaritic, Babylonian, and Assyrian) or else Anatolian (related to Hittite and Luwian). But the language on those tablets steadfastly refused to be either Anatolian or Semitic for years and years despite all the efforts of many gifted linguists, until LaMarle tried another tack.

Still, no one has managed to decipher the Phaistos Disk to the satisfaction of anyone but himself. The language of this fascinating object has been “revealed” to be Greek a few times, like Linear B. But it’s also been shown to be Slavic which is quite impossible. It’s also been proven to be not linguistic at all but purely mathematical. Others have said it was Anatolian or Semitic at different times, and a few other things as well. It’s a calendar according to several folks, a prayer according to others, cult instructions in still other versions, and a chart of some constellations in yet other versions. Obviously somebody out there can’t be right!

Why has the Phaistos Disk proved such a difficult nut to crack? Well, the big problem is that it is unique. There’s only the one disk, which leaves all would-be code crackers with a very small sample to work with. Besides that, it’s nothing like a Rosetta Stone – no bilingual inscription to give a clue to the meaning. So what possible key can one use to unlock it? The symbols aren’t the same as Linear A or Linear B and they’re not the same as those used in Luwian hieroglyphs across the Aegean “pond” to the northeast of Crete. They don’t like anybody else’s symbols, in fact. The symbols were stamped onto the disk, too, and stamping hardly seems worth the bother unless somebody was going to make a lot of these. But still there’s only the one.

Since there’s only one disk, the scholar Jerome Eisenberg suggests it’s nothing but a fake. He published a long article spelling out why he thought this, concluding that the thing ought to be tested via thermoluminescence, to see how old it is. If it turns out to be only 100 years old, dating to the time of its own excavation, it’s definitely a fake. If it turns out to be about 3,200 years old, maybe it’s authentic, since it would go back to the Bronze Age. It seems pretty cut and dried.

But there happens to be a certain bronze wolf, a she-wolf to be precise, who was always proclaimed to be Etruscan by a certain museum in Italy, and this wolf was recently tested and found to be medieval and so not Etruscan at all. How embarrassing! After this fiasco, the Heraklion Museum, the one showing off the famous disk, isn’t taking any chances. They’re not letting anybody test their disk!

But it may not be a fake, just because of a few other facts wandering out there, seldom noted. There’s supposedly an axe (possibly from an island next door to Turkey unless I have that confused with Etruscan) that has two or three symbols on it that are reminiscent of some that are on this here disk, so maybe it’s not entirely unique and therefore authentic after all. This is the so-called axe of Arkhalokouri, which I have yet to see, so I can’t really vouch for its similarity to the disk. I’ve only heard about it.

More exciting is another disk that showed up in, of all places, the Caucasus. It’s known as the Disk of Vladikavkaz because it turned up in Vladikavkaz. Yes, I figured you would have figured that out! You’re very clever. Unfortunately, this “new” disk is incomplete, but what there is of it resembles the Phaistos Disk quite closely in the signs on its surface. Well, that is, the newly found disk looks like an untalented amateur drew its signs, whereas the old Greek one has very neat and tidy and clever stamped signs. But the signs are recognizable anyhow. The disk of Vladikavkaz has the little pagoda-like building that some say is a beehive, the little jogging man, and the circle with dots that some call a warrior’s shield but that looks more like a chocolate chip cookie to me. It has the Mohawk that’s probably the head of a warrior with a feathered helmet. Plus, there’s the flying bird, although apparently without those little eggs falling under her. Maybe those were her feet and weren’t considered important in Ossetia, where this was found. There is a symbol that looks like the hide of some animal on the Phaistos Disk, a hide that I always figured was a bull’s hide for some reason that I no longer recall. On the Vladikavkaz fragment, it looks much less like a hide and more like a cartoon of a stuffed toy or a doll with an eensy-weensy head. But I suppose it’s meant to be the same symbol. Then there are those two bunny ears and the wiggly horn as well. I have no earthly idea what any of this really represents and I suspect that no one else actually does either. But it’s fun to speculate.

For a good look at both disks and some other examples of early writing, look for a pdf document online called “Il disco di Festo: Un calcolatore vecchio di 4.000 anni” by Rosario Vieni, on This author’s hypothesis is that the Phaistos disk, along with a number of other enigmatic items, is a 4,000 year old calculator. Since my Italian is a little weak, I won’t try to spell it all out for you, but his illustrations are excellent even if you don’t understand a word of it. He shows both sides of the Phaistos Disk, both the one with the repetitions of the feathered warrior and the shield, and the other side which you almost never get to see. He also shows a close-up of this newly discovered Vladikavkaz Disk, so you can compare the clumsy drawings.

As a bonus, Vieni also talks about and shows two little amber plaques found in Tuscany, Italy. One has a face on one side and three symbols in either Linear A or Linear B on the other side. The second plaque has four symbols from the same writing system. Since Linear B derived from Linear A, I can’t tell them apart at a glance, not with such short inscriptions. The author seems to be saying that the first one reads sarano, in Linear A, while the second one is Linear B for three symbols but I don’t follow his conclusion about the last symbol.

Vieni goes on to tell about several ancient calendars, showing a picture of the famous scene of the man in the cave at Lascaux from the Paleolithic. This scene may depict a dead man, or he may be a shaman. He’s lying next to a bird on a stick, and both are in front of a bison which seems to have its intestines hanging down, as well as a spear through it. Yes, it’s a gloomy scene all around!

The author also shows a still earlier object dating to the Aurignacian period of the Paleolithic, a piece of ivory bearing incisions that are either tiny circular indentations or short diagonal lines. According to Alexander Marshack, this piece of mammoth ivory, so decorated, was an early calendar, a record of phases of the moon. His reasoning is rather long and technical, plus it involves some math that I really can’t follow in the Italian. I once read it in English but I don’t remember it very well except to say that it was impressive.

Another example of an early calendar or calculator is supposedly the monument of Stonehenge, the plan of which is shown on another page. This stone monument was constructed over a long period of time but it dates generally to the Bronze Age. It, too, was apparently set up to enable its ancient users to predict phases of the moon, including eclipses. At least, this is an older hypothesis. Nowadays, I understand a British archeologist has excavated a Woodhenge, the Excursus, a long lump in the earth on the other side of Stonehenge from the river, plus some famous avenues linking these three. He concludes from all this that Stonehenge was a place of funerals and Woodhenge a place for the living, for seasonal festivals. Still, it might have required sighting the moon and perhaps some stars at particular times, such as solstices.

Following this there seems to be a picture of the Antikythera device, an extremely complex and clever “proto-computer” discovered on the seafloor in the Mediterranean. It was most certainly used by some classical Greeks as a calendrical device, as shown in a recent article in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). Finally, we are treated to a short discussion of an unusual bronze disk with perhaps a similarly calendrical purpose from Germany, the Nebra Disk, which is 3,600 years old. The symbols on it definitely look like moons and stars, so I’m perfectly willing to believe it had something to do with astronomy. But I haven’t gotten that far in my translating.

For a brief discussion of the merits of the various “translations” of the Phaistos disk as well as a summary of Eisenberg’s reasons for considering it a hoax (which is why I called it a Piltdown cookie), you can sample the archaeology site at

For what it’s worth, I don’t believe the Phaistos Disk is a star chart, since that shield plus warrior head motif keeps repeating on the one side. What star would do that? Assuming that it is authentic, I also can’t imagine how the language of the thing could be anything other than one of the languages of the ancient world, namely of the Bronze Age. That rules out Ukrainian and makes it most likely either Mycenean Greek or else the contemporary Eteocretan language that we now know to be a version of Persian. I suppose it might possibly be some Semitic or Anatolian language, an import as it were. But since those people – Semites and Persians – all had writing systems of their own that we know about (like cuneiform and Linear A), none of which look anything like what’s on the Phaistos disk, it hardly seems likely. You know, some of the proposals that people have come up with are so far out, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these days somebody claimed that Bigfoot wrote it as a love letter to the Loch Ness Monster!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Mercury Extraction of Gold Confirmed in Ancient Andes

Mercury is associated with free gold recovery from mineral concentrates. The method is as crude as ordinary traditional placer mining and ore beneficiation. However, it was pervasively used until cyanization came into use in the late nineteenth century which is awfully recent.

So it is never a surprise to locate traces of mercury metal around old mining buildings. The only saving grace was that it was good at sinking out of sight and usually found a way to sort of get out of the way.

Making mercury is easier still. Locate a source of cinnabar which is red, and roast it to distill the mercury fumes. Cinnabar is easily identified by the likelihood of minute drops of mercury associated with it. In short, you really have to work in order to not figure all this out.

So it is hardly a surprise that the Indians have been using mercury. Most likely the antiquity of the practice will likely prove out to be millennia. The gold extraction of the Andes was extraordinary and was only plausible if it had been continuous for several millennia.

Of course proving all of that is a bit of a trick for the above mentioned reasons. It really likes to travel and get lost making it difficult to prove associations. Also processing would necessarily be at a remove from any habitation. Toxicity is learned quickly with mercury.

First Evidence Of Pre-Industrial Mercury Pollution In The Andes

by Staff Writers
Edmonton, Canada (SPX) May 21, 2009

The study of ancient lake sediment from high altitude lakes in the Andes has revealed for the first time that mercury pollution occurred long before the start of the Industrial Revolution.

"We found that mercury mining, smelting and emissions go back as far as 1400 BC," said Cooke. "More surprisingly, mining appears to have began before the rise of any complex or highly stratified society. This represents a departure from current thinking, which suggests mining only arose after these societies emerged," said Cooke.

University of Alberta Earth and Atmospheric Sciences PhD student Colin Cooke's results from two seasons of field work in Peru have now provided the first unambiguous records of pre-industrial mercury pollution from anywhere in the world and will be published in the May 18th Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

"The idea that mercury pollution was happening before the industrial revolution has long been hypothesised on the basis of historical records, but never proven," said Cooke whose research was funded by the National Geographic Society.

Cooke and his team recovered sediment cores from high elevation lakes located around Huancavelica, which is the New World's largest mercury deposit. By measuring the amount of mercury preserved in the cores back through time, they were able to reconstruct the history of mercury mining and pollution in the region.

"We found that mercury mining, smelting and emissions go back as far as 1400 BC," said Cooke. "More surprisingly, mining appears to have began before the rise of any complex or highly stratified society. This represents a departure from current thinking, which suggests mining only arose after these societies emerged," said Cooke.

Initially, mercury pollution was in the form of mine dust, largely resulting from the production of the red pigment vermillion. "Vermillion is buried with kings and nobles, and was a paint covering gold objects buried with Andean kings and nobles," said Cooke. However, following Inca control of the mine in 1450 AD, mercury vapour began to be emitted.

"This change is significant because it means that mercury pollution could be transported over much greater distances, and could have been converted into methylmercury, which is highly toxic," said Cooke.
"All of these results confirm long-standing questions about the existence and magnitude pre-industrial mercury pollution, and have implications for our understanding of how mining and metallurgy evolved in the Andes," said Cooke.

Extracting Gold Using Mercury

Taken from Gold Prospector magazine March, 1995

"I think that if you follow this step by step process, you will find, as many prospectors have, that this is a proven, profitable method for extracting fine gold from concentrates.

Whether you use a gold dredge, sluice box, dry washer, rocker box or most any other type of gold getting apparatus, the concentrates you accumulate in the field should be dumped into five-gallon buckets. Of course, you should pick out all the visible gold then and there.

You should dump the remaining material into the five-gallon buckets and bring them home with you. Even if you have a month to work, don't attempt to set up an operation for cleaning concentrates in the field. Once you get the concentrates home, run them through a poop tube, spinner or wheel, concentrating a five-gallon bucket down to an amount about the size of a quart fruit jar or a three-pound coffee can.

You then put that material into the rock tumbler with some caustic soda (Sodium Hydroxide) and run it for about two or three hours. Add mercury, run another two to three hours. Run the concentrates back through the poop tube, wheel or spinner. Lift out the mercury by inserting a large glob of mercury. Put this into your syringe or your mercury press and squeeze through pure cotton to recover ninety percent of the mercury at this stage.

Deposit the compressed ball of mercury containing your gold into nitric acid in a Pyrex beaker over a hot plate. Let it boil for fifteen minutes. Do this OUTSIDE in a well ventilated area. Be sure you DO NOT BREATHE any of the vapors. Dump that material off into a water-baking soda solution, rinse with clean water and remove the fine gold. Insert a copper rod overnight in the acid waste before disposing of the solution.

This, my friend, is a method for making money each and every time you go out."

BE CAREFUL!! I have found that a 50/50 acid and water solution works well and makes it more cost effective.

Start out with a cold acid solution with the cotton ball in it. Then bring it to a boil. Wear rubber gloves when handling mercury and do not smoke.

After you have experimented with this method, the most cost effective way to use the mercury is to run large quantities of concentrates at one time.

You can also run small amounts and put the mercury back in a used mercury container until the mercury is full of gold. Mercury amalgam will hold two to three times its weight in gold. When the mercury is full of gold, it will look thick and dull in luster.

Mathematics of Credit Crisis

I was disquieted when Wall Street types began talking about advanced mathematics as the core tool for producing economic models that priced product. I simply know it can not work that way. Our mathematica is based on continuity, while our economic world is based on discrete events that can only be estimated by mathematica.

Large numbers tend to make the estimating mathematica fit better but it does not repeal the role of human decision making over discrete events or that they communicate and can catastrophically develop schooling behavior.

Over the long term, even extreme schooling events can be compensated for, except that no credit system is actually able to withstand such an extreme event. In this case, it was the classic push to increase leveraged assets and the loosing of regulatory ratios that allowed the capital base to become far too small to handle what is after all a run on the bank. We just do not do line ups any more. So in the short term the global banking system lost cash holder’s confidence and paid the price.

Having been involved with portfolios and the like for years, I have always found portfolio riskiness analysis to be rubbish. They fail for one very sound reason. If the risk of failure is 5%, then the sheer weight of time will reward you with failure. A portfolio must have dynamic management to prosper and the winners must be able to provide a tenfold return over the long term to offset real losers.

From this it should be clear that if your bond portfolio has no upside save the interest earned, then the lower the rate, the less risk that you can actually accept. Sustained low cost money should cause a strong improvement in corporate capital positions, but it is also not the time to load up on debt that will need to be refinanced with expensive money later.

Cheap rates drove Wall Street to manufacture attractive yield bearing securities with fraudulent credit worthiness because the demand was there and there was no supply.

It is telling that the Chinese put their US dollar accumulation into US treasuries. That surely meant that the alternative investments offered to them did not pass muster.

Today, I am informed that they have commenced buying raw material displacing demand that used to come from Europe. I would suggest that they are now using physicals to burn off some of the US dollar hoard. This will become clearer over the next few months and it is a luxury that a state has. Repatriation of this cash will shore up corporate balance sheets everywhere.

It is just that it is hard for Americans to imagine that other nations are actively doing things to restore the economic system regardless of US floundering.

I am scheduled to interview Riccardo Rebonato tomorrow for EconTalk. His book,
Plight of the Fortune Tellers is one of the best things I've read about the crisis. Maybe the best. Written before the crisis, Rebonato warns of the dangers of the techniques being used at the time by both firms and regulators to assess the riskiness of their portfolios. He has a lot to say about probability, risk, and the seductive romance of the ill-suited applications of advanced mathematics. Best of all, it's very well-written and though at times, very ambitious, it is always accessible to the non-practitioner.

He has a fascinating discussion of "economic capital," the amount a firm would hold on its own to avoid the risk of bankruptcy. He argues that firms will hold too little capital because they will rationally ignore the spillover effects a collapse of their firm would have on other insititutions, so-called systemic risk. But a firm doesn't want to go bankrupt. It may take too much risk and end up bankrupt anyway.

Rebonato also points out that bondholders and stockholders have different goals for the firm.
Bondholders want enough profitability to get their money back but do not share in any upside risk. Stockholders generally wnat more risk even though there is the risk of bankruptcy. For a naif like myself, this raises the question of why these institutions have both stakeholders with such conflicting goals. And the managers in these publicly traded companies would seem to have different goals as well.

A few semi-random questions, a few of which I hope to ask Rebonato tomorrow.

If it's hard to assess risk, and therefore hard for regulators to specify what is "enough" capital, how would an unregulated firm choose economic capital to reassure bondholders and stockholders that their firm is a good risk?

Why did firms choose such radically different levels of riskiness when they faced similar constraints?

Some people argue that the reason firms took on so much risk was because they were publicly traded. Didn't investors know about the moral hazard problem?

Was "too big to fail" an important, crucial, or irrelevant factor in the risk profiles these firms ended up with?

What role does mark-to-market play in risk assessment?

How did the ratings agencies distort choice if at all? (He seems to think it did.)

How much did Basel II distort choice, if at all? (He seems to think it did.)

Rebonato also observes that the 1990s reduced profit margins because of increased competition, encouraging innovation as a way to achieve yield. That's generally good. But Rebonato implies that firms continued to take bigger and bigger risks as a way to sustain yield. Why didn't self-regulation slow or stop this?