Saturday, June 29, 2013

Congress Votes to Legalize Hemp

The process is slow, but hemp is on the march through the USA regulatory maze while farmers are busy learning how to grow the crop. The point today is that dawn is creeping over the horizon to the inevitable. Stevia was way harder when I first wrote about it in 2007.

Marijuana is quite another matter, and this debate is part of that process of recognition. However the drive toward legalization has made opposition to hemp itself look idiotic although the technical reasons do not change. After all the best place to hide a Marijuana crop is surely in the middle of a hemp field.

We will have this important cash crop back in favor soon.

U.S. House of Representatives Votes to Legalize Industrial Hemp

 Thomas R. Eddlem

Friday, 21 June 2013 16:00

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 225-200 on June 20 to legalize the industrial farming of hemp fiber. Hemp is the same species as the marijuana plant, and its fiber has been used to create clothing, paper, and other industrial products for thousands of years; however, it has been listed as a “controlled substance” since the beginning of the drug war in the United States. Unlike marijuana varieties of the plant, hemp is not bred to create high quantities of the drug THC.

The amendment's sponsor, Jared Polis (D-Colo.), noted in congressional debate that “George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp. The first American flag was made of hemp. And today, U.S. retailers sell over $300 million worth of goods containing hemp — but all of that hemp is imported, since farmers can’t grow it here. The federal government should clarify that states should have the ability to regulate academic and agriculture research of industrial hemp without fear of federal interference. Hemp is not marijuana, and at the very least, we should allow our universities — the greatest in the world — to research the potential benefits and downsides of this important agricultural commodity.”

The 225-200 vote included 62 Republican votes for the Polis amendment, many of whom were members of Justin Amash's Republican Liberty Caucus or representatives from farm states. But most Republicans opposed the amendment, claiming it would make the drug war more difficult. “When you plant hemp alongside marijuana, you can't tell the difference,” Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) said in congressional debate on the amendment to the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013.

This is not about a drugs bill. This is about jobs,” Representative Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) countered King in House floor debate June 20. Massie, a key House Republican ally of Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and a member of the Republican Liberty Caucus,opposes marijuana legalization but had signed on as a cosponsor of the Polis amendment.

The amendment would take industrial hemp off the controlled substances list if it meets the following classification: “The term ‘industrial hemp’ means the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” The amendment would allow industrial farming of hemp “if a person grows or processes Cannabis sativa L. for purposes of making industrial hemp in accordance with State law.” Most states have passed laws legalizing industrial hemp, in whole or in part, but federal prohibitions have kept the plant from legal cultivation.

However, the annual agricultural authorization bill subsequently went down to defeat in the House by a vote of 195 to 234. Sponsors of the amendment hope that it will be revised in conference committee, where it has strong support from both Kentucky senators, Rand Paul and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The legislation, originally offered as the bill H.R. 525, was sponsored by Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who represent states where voters recently considered ballot measures that legalized marijuana within their states, a fact King pointed out in House floor debate. Voters in Colorado and Washington approved the ballot measures in 2012, but voters in Oregon rejected a ballot measure that would have legalized cultivation of marijuana.

Recent polls have indicated that most Americans want legalization of marijuana, as well as hemp. Though support for marijuana legalization is by only a slim majority of the public, there's a larger divide among age groups, with younger voters more heavily favoring legalization.

None of the debate on the amendment related to the constitutional authority of Congress to ban substances. Nor did any congressman reference the first time Congress banned a drug — alcohol. At that time, Congress followed proper constitutional protocol to amend the U.S. Constitution first, giving it the legitimate power to ban alcohol (i.e., the 18th Amendment). No comparable constitutional amendment has been passed for hemp, marijuana, raw milk, or any other substance prohibited by the federal government.

China Puts up a Green Wall to US Trash

Unsurprisingly China is finally stepping in to regulate this sector. They will not quit, but they will stop outright abuse.

There are obviously still ample places to send garbage besides China. Yet the other problem out there is that alternative processing is becoming available to grab some of that feed. What China does provide is ample manpower to operate a picking line. This will become more and more important and once set up is easy to manage profitably.

On the other hand, a picking line manned by unskilled people also works in North America and haulage pays for several hours of minimum wages. It is only artificially viable to ship garbage to China.

China puts up a green wall to US trash

US recyclers are nervous about losing their largest market after China began enforcing new environmental laws this year.

By Peter Ford, Staff Writer / June 19, 2013

A Chinese woman holds her baby as she strips labels from plastic soda bottles so they can be recycled. If she works hard, she can earn about $15 a day.

Have you ever wondered what happens to the soda can that you toss into a recycling bin?

Chances are high that it ends up in China – like 75 percent of the aluminum scrap that the United Statesexports. Or 60 percent of its scrap paper exports. Or 50 percent of its plastic.

But a new Chinese edict, banning "foreign rubbish," has thrown the international scrap and waste trade into turmoil and is posing a major new challenge for US recyclers.

RECOMMENDED: How much do you know about China? Take our quiz.

Operation Green Fence, a campaign by Chinese customs to strictly enforce laws governing the import of waste, "could be a game changer," says Doug Kramer, president of Kramer Metals, an international scrap dealer in Los Angeles. "A lot of companies have used China as a dumping ground, getting rid of ... substandard scrap and trash," Mr. Kramer says.

As China's government seeks to raise environmental standards, he says, "I understand China's need to take a hard look" at its imports.

That hard look, involving stepped-up inspections of containers filled with scrap metal, paper, and plastic at Chinese ports and a merciless application of the rules, has intercepted more than 800,000 tons of illegal waste since the campaign began in February, according to the customs agency.

Now nervous traders are refusing to ship consignments of recyclables that might contain unacceptably large amounts of unrecyclable materials (anything from unwashed items to the wrong kind of plastic to random bits and pieces of garbage that get mixed in with the recyclables). And cities and towns across the US and Europe are finding there is no longer a ready market in China for their poorly sorted and often impure bales of plastics, paper, and other waste.

"A butterfly in China has caused a tornado in Europe," Surendra Borad, chairman of Gemini, the world's largest collector of waste plastic, told the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), an international federation of recyclers, at its annual convention in Shanghai last month.

Why China needs the West's scrap

However, China is not bringing down the hammer on every kind of scrap (and "scrap" is the preferred term of art). The country has few resources of its own, and its fast-growing industry relies heavily on reprocessing other countries' plastic soda bottles into fabrics, or their junked metal into machinery.

"Making proper use of this scrap supplements China's resources, helps save energy, protects the environment, and boosts economic efficiency," Li Xinmin, a former pollution inspector at the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, told a recent meeting of the China Metals Recycling Association.
But in China, much of the imported plastic scrap, for example, is recycled in primitive, family-owned workshops with no facilities to treat waste water before it flows into local rivers. And Chinese recyclers "have got used to expecting 20 percent trash" in the bales of mixed plastics they buy from the US, according to David Cornell, technical consultant to the Washington-based Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers.

That trash has to be sorted from the recyclables, then buried or burned, further degrading China's environment.

Though Chinese regulations have long banned excessive levels of contamination in imports of recyclables, they were rarely enforced until Green Fence was launched, traders say. "Before, we were able to import dirty materials and bottles, but not any longer," explains Sun Kangning, who owns a small plastics recycling plant in the village of Laizhou in Shandong Province (see sidebar on the industry's woes).

Since February, he says, 24 shipping containers of plastic waste that he had bought from the US have been turned away by customs – about 20 percent of his business.

Because the government finds it hard to control all the mom and pop makeshift recycling workshops, it appears to have chosen to enforce environmental standards on imports at the pier.

Those imports have been skyrocketing in recent years. Scrap was America's top export to China by value in 2011 – worth $11.3 billion, according to US trade figures. (Last year, record soybean sales knocked scrap and waste into second place.)

Also in 2011, the US exported 23 million tons of scrap (a little less than half of everything that was collected for recycling). Two-thirds of it went to China, according to figures from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) in Washington.

'We don't have the capacity'

The international trade has boomed partly because the US cannot dispose of all the waste it generates; the country has neither enough recycling facilities nor sufficient manufacturing demand for all its scrap.

"If the US border were closed, most of the scrap that is exported today would go to landfill," says Robin Wiener, president of ISRI. "We don't have the capacity to absorb it all."

The rising overseas sales of paper, aluminum, copper, plastics, and steel also have to do with the nitty-gritty economics of America's trade deficit with China.

Because China exports so much more to America than it buys back, the shipping containers from Shanghai that are full of computers, mobile phones, and TVs on the journey to Long Beach, Calif., risk returning empty for the trip back.

Shipping companies, seeking to cut their losses, offer bargain rates on their westbound freighters: It is cheaper to ship a 40-foot container full of iron scrap from Los Angeles to a Chinese port than it is to send it by train to a foundry in Chicago. US and Chinese scrap merchants have not been slow to take advantage of the deals.

At the same time, sorting and recycling is a lot cheaper in China, where wages are a fraction of US levels. At Mr. Sun's courtyard processing plant, for example, women using box cutters to strip labels from plastic soda bottles before they are ground up earn about $15 for a day's work.

Such factors have made the world "over-dependent on China" for scrap recycling and vulnerable to sudden changes in the rules, such as Green Fence, worries Mr. Borad. "That is a matter of concern."

Some traders say the new policy in China has forced them to sell their scrap in different countries, such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia, where it is either reprocessed or simply sorted and cleaned to the new Chinese standards and then shipped on to China.

"We've seen a pretty good uptick in shipments to Southeast Asia," says Joe Pickard, ISRI's chief economist. But capacity there "is not sufficient to take up the slack from China," he adds.

Nor are the new destinations likely to tolerate being the planet's trash can indefinitely, predicts Kramer, who sells American scrap iron and nonferrous metals in several Asian countries. " 'If you can't send it anywhere else, send it here' is not the kind of message anyone wants to send," he says.

How long will this last?

Some businesses do not expect Chinese customs officials to go on being so zealous for long. Indeed, previous similar crusades have petered out in the past, and the General Administration of Customs in Beijing has announced that its current campaign to "reinforce inspection and prevention work in key areas" will end in November.

But well-placed observers do not think that the old lax habits will reassert themselves. "Before Green Fence, both companies and customs officials were unclear about the laws and regulations," says Wang Jiwei, secretary-general of the China Metals Recycling Association. "After the campaign, both sides will understand the laws better, and I think they will continue to be enforced."

The first four months of the campaign have certainly hit the Chinese recycling industry – raising prices for some recyclable materials that are now in shorter supply. "Our industry is really facing a very big adverse impact from the stricter environmental standards," complained Huang Chongsheng, chief executive officer of aluminum scrap smelter Ye Chiu Metal Recycling at last month's BIR conference.

US recyclers, too, are beginning to feel the effects, especially those who collect, sort, or trade low-end materials, such as the cheaper sorts of mixed plastics often extracted from household waste.

"The market for mixed rigids [such as plastic yogurt containers, margarine tubs, or buckets] has gone to hell in a handbasket," says Jeff Powell, publisher of Resource Recycling magazine. "Mixed paper and mixed plastics are being put into landfill" now that they cannot be sold to Chinese recyclers, he adds.

What next?

"We used to send garbage because it was the cheapest thing to do and because the Chinese would accept it," Mr. Powell explains. The new Chinese policy, he says, will force US recyclers either to sort recyclables more carefully, or to recycle more material in the US, or both.

"We are going to find ourselves forced to be much more innovative" in dealing with waste, predicts Michael Schipper, a scrap trader with International Alloys in Mendham, N.J. "We will have to find ways of processing that material here in a much more cost-effective way."

US processors "are beginning to dip their toes into" that future, says Mr. Schipper, but they are constrained by the cost of more sophisticated machinery.

Already, however, US businesses handling scrap are dealing with it more carefully, according to Steve Alexander, spokesman for the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers. "People who took the easiest route" before by baling and selling heavily contaminated material "may be running it through a second sorting step, putting it through optical sorters," he says, because that is what the market now demands.

That means that more of the plastic ends up where it is meant to be, and less gets thrown away or burned, either in the US or in China. "Environmentalists love Green Fence," says Powell.

"We are at a turning point in our business," Gregory Cardot of the French waste management firm Veolia Propreté told the BIR conference. "We have to seize this opportunity ... for a sustainable environment for our planet."

If the new Chinese policy lasts, predicts Borad, "the fly-by-night exporters will be eliminated. Green Fence will be a blessing in disguise for our industry."

Common Virus linked to Alzheimer's

Recent work has already hinting at this conjecture, or more properly it is better to say that the data was conforming to a pathological vector as yet unidentified. Now we have a prospect. This does means that an outright cure should be come possible and prevention likelier still. We needed that.

I think that seeing off most forms of brain disease in the next decade has now become possible with the exception of impact induced micro tears. That may be more of a challenge yet we also see the way there to some degree. Scar has to be removed and adjoining tissue must be properly rejoined and healed with an injection of stem cells. All this has to be done through micro veins.

It would be a blessing though if we can narrow Alzheimer's down to a known virus and this allowed quick diagnostics and useful therapies.

Common Virus Linked to Alzheimer's Disease, Study Suggests

Anna Azvolinsky
Date: 19 June 2013

Contracting a common virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV) may contribute to the development of Alzheimer's disease, a new study of the brains of older adults suggests.

The study found an association between patients' immune responses to CMV and signs of Alzheimer's disease.

However, more studies are still needed to understand how anactive CMV infection might be related to this most common form of dementia, said study researcher Dr. Julie Schneider, of the Rush University Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago.

The study did not show a cause-and-effect link between CMV and Alzheimer's. It is possible that other stimulants of inflammation, including other viral infections, might also lead to the brain changes seen in the study, which could cause a decline in cognitive function leading to Alzheimer's disease.

Whether CMV — which most people in the U.S. have been exposed to — may play a role in Alzheimer's has been controversial. CMV is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, including sexual contact.

In the new study, Schneider and her colleagues analyzed blood and cerebrospinal fluid (brain- and spinal-cord fluid) samples from the bodies of people who were part of an aging-and-dementia study during their lives. All had passed away, and had mild or probable Alzheimer's disease at the time of their death. Of the participants, 37 had antibodies against CMV, and 22 were CMV-negative.

The researchers found that 80 percent of the patients who were positive for a CMV infection had high levels of an inflammation marker in their cerebrospinal fluid, while none of the patients who were negative for the virus had this marker present.

Such a clear-cut difference supports the idea that CMV may specifically cause inflammation related to Alzheimer's, said study researcher Nell Lurain, professor of immunology at Rush University.

The patients with higher levels of antibodies against CMV were also more likely to have brain cells with aggregated tau proteins, called neurofibrillary tangles that have been connected to Alzheimer's disease.

While most people are carriers of the CMV virus, generally only those with weakened immune systems have symptomatic, active CMV infections. The virus may infect the brain and spinal cord, and has been shown to increase inflammation. This inflammation, which can occur in the brain, is thought to contribute to Alzheimer's, and perhaps other diseases that result in the degeneration of nerve cells.

The herpes simplex virus (HSV1), another virus that can infect the brain and spinal cord, has also been linked with Alzheimer's progression. But the new study did not find a connection between HSV1 and markers of Alzheimer's disease in patient samples.

The study also showed no evidence of a link between higher levels of CMV infection and levels of amyloid-beta — an imperfect marker of Alzheimer's but still the hallmark of the disease that most researchers consider the best indicator.

The researchers did see that infecting human cells in lab dishes with CMV, but not HSV1, resulted in an increase in amyloid-beta protein.

Ruth Itzhaki, professor at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, said the laboratory-experiment part of the new study had flaws. Itzhaki, who studies the causes of Alzheimer's disease, but was not involved in the new study, said more than 30 studies have linked HSV1 with Alzheimer's disease.

David Goldeck, who works on aging and immunology at the University of Tübingen in Germany, argued that there is little evidence of a direct link between CMV and Alzheimer's. Studies, including the new one, still only suggest that CMV can enter the brain and contribute to cognitive decline. Meanwhile, other studies have found no evidence of even an indirect relationship — let alone a causal relationship — between CMV infection and Alzheimer's, Goldeck said.

In other words, the jury is still out on whether a CMV infection, or the inflammation caused by such an infection, directly contributes to brain changes that lead to Alzheimer's.

More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease, the causes of which are still unknown. There are no direct ways to prevent the disease, and no treatments.

If CMV is, indeed, found to contribute to Alzheimer's disease, vaccines that prevent infection may be the best approach, Schneider said.

Chinese wine heads to Europe

 The reality of the wine business model is that you pay attention to the product and your market will emerge. The grape has beaten off all competition for centuries and this will continue until it is everyone's preference. Southern China in particular is obvious, but also many other terranes throughout China. Better yet, China gas an unlimited supply of real growers.

The same holds true for India and the Himalayas.

Of course the industry is just getting going in the far east, but so what? I recall when Canadian wines were an awful joke. Then free trade was going to wipe out the protected plonk monopoly. Now our vineyards win awards and we own the the ice wine industry.

All I know for sure is that if I wished to hold a block of productive land onto multiple generations, the vineyard is the most secure investment possible with olive oil an excellent second.

Yunnan Red, anyone? Chinese wine heads to Europe

by Staff Writers

Bordeaux (AFP) June 19, 2013

Wine war fears already slowing French exports to China

Bordeaux (AFP) June 18, 2013 - Chinese wine importers have already started putting orders from France and other European countries on hold over fears of a hike in tariffs being triggered as part of a broader EU-China trade dispute, say leading figures in the sector.

Industry insiders attending this week's Vinexpo exhibition in Bordeaux revealed that China's decision to launch an anti-dumping investigation into European wine has created a backdrop of uncertainty that has resulted in buyers sitting on their hands.

"The simple fact that the announcement of an investigation has triggered a wait-and-see attitude from our Chinese customers who prefer to postpone deliveries rather than take the risk of seeing them subject to additional duties when they arrive in two months time," said Georges Haushalter, the chairman of the CIVB Bordeaux wine trade body.

Bordeaux stands to be hit far harder than any other producer region in Europe in the event of China's anti-dumping probe leading to punitive duties on French exports to a fast-growing and potentially huge new market.

China is Bordeaux's biggest export market and takes around one in five of the bottles produced in the renowned area, where up to 55,000 jobs depend on the sector.

That has led to frustration at how the sector has become caught up in a trade spat in which China appears to be seeking to punish France for its high-profile support for a move by the EU to impose anti-dumping duties on Chinese solar panels.

"We would like not to be held hostage to those discussions but while we wait for them to be resolved there is already an impact on the market," said Bernard Farges, the president of a group representing a number of Bordeaux wine producers.

"We are already seeing a slowdown in sales, or an increase in orders being delayed, even though absolutely nothing has been concluded or decided," he said.

A major exporter of Bordeaux wines to China said some Chinese importers, many of whom are already sitting on significant stocks, were looking to cash in on the current uncertainty.

"There are 8,000 wine importers in China. Many of them have come from other market sectors and the market still needs to find a proper structure. The pipes are a bit blocked at the moment and some are trying to take advantage to push prices down," the merchant told AFP on condition of anonymity.

On a visit to Vinexpo earlier this week, French Trade Minister Nicole Bricq attempted to reassure winemakers that punitive Chinese duties remain a distant prospect.

"There is no trade war with China, there are global rules for trade and they have to be respected," she said. "China's anti-dumping investigation will take six to eight months, that gives us plenty of time to negotiate with them."

For years the Chinese have been buying up wine from Europe, but with domestic wine production predicted to overtake Australia and Chile by next year, Tiana Wu is hoping European drinkers are ready to be tempted by a glass of her "Yunnan Red".

"We produce one million cases per year. We're exploring the possibility of exporting," Wu told AFP at Vinexpo in Bordeaux, one of the world's largest wine and spirit fairs.

"Our wines have a unique taste, and we want to see if consumers here accept it or not," added Wu whose family runs a wine business, Yunnan Red, in China's southern Yunnan province.

Vinexpo chief Robert Beynat says China's growing domestic wine production has enabled it to steadily climb the ranks of wine producing countries.

"By next year we expect them to be number six, ahead of Australia, Chile and a lot of countries. We are very happy about that," he said.

"Why? Because the more a country produces, the more wine a country drinks, and the more it drinks, the more it imports. This is the story of America 50 years ago."

The big question for Chinese producers, however, is whether or not their wine -- and other potential alcoholic exports -- can please Western palates.

Following the Chinese acquisition of Bordeaux vineyards in recent years, the producers of French wine now include Chinese owners.

Zhang Jinshan, a tycoon who has been producing Goji berry-based alcohol for 30 years, acquired Chateau du Grand Moueys, a historic estate in Bordeaux's Entre-Deux-Mers region where he also plans to build a golf course and spa.

Exhibiting for the first time at Vinexpo, Zhang displayed his Bordeaux wine along with his Chinese alcohol, with an eye on exporting some of his 10-million-bottle production, and a clear game plan.

Outlining his game plan, he told AFP: "We bought the chateau. Now we will create a wine merchant business to buy other wines to sell in China, and then we will import Chinese wine into Europe."

But while Zhang said he found it fairly easy to adapt to winemaking, the language, culture and business practices in Europe presented a challenge, though he remains optimistic.

"We will adapt, we will understand them and we will work in harmony," he said.

Vinexpo research estimates that the number of potential wine drinkers in China could be between 200 and 250 million people.

But Beynat warned that that per capita consumption remained small -- 1.4 litres (2.4 pints) per person per year versus 12 litres per year for Americans, 52 litres for the French and 23 litres for Britons.

Nevertheless, a record number of Chinese wine professionals at Vinexpo was fresh confirmation of the rapidly developing nation's influence as both consumers and producers, he said.

"For exhibitors, there are more Chinese, mostly in the spirit industry. In 2011 we had two, this year we accepted 18," he said, adding that Vinexpo would even hold an event in Beijing in November 2014.

According to Vinexpo, we are all drinking more wine. Worldwide wine consumption hit 2.6 billion cases in 2011, a 2.83 percent increase over four years, and the fair's analysts predict it will increase 5.31 percent by 2016.

Between 2012 and 2016, it is expected that wine consumption in China will increase by 40 percent, making it the second most lucrative market after the United States.
Vinexpo runs until Thursday.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Arctic Ice to Shrink to New Low

The evidence to date does not show this but we also know that modeling has been improved hugely over the past several years. Area is adjusted heavily by wind and current. So it is very brave to predict a five percent drop this September.

Regardless the delta heat that has been applied to the Arctic of the past forty years continues to be sustained and the majority of multiyear ice is now long gone. The trend has not obviously been reversed.

I would like to see a fleet of container ships make the North West Passage. Of course, they would have to be double hulled and have a reinforced bow to brush off small ice floes. However, they could do the passage in convoy with a icebreaker in attendence.

Scientists: Arctic sea ice to shrink to record low this summer

June 21, 2013

The white areas in this graphic show the predicted sea ice coverage areas in the Arctic Ocean for this summer. The inner curve shows the Sept. 11 ice contour averaged over a decade from 2003 through 2012, whereas the outer curve shows the Sept. 11 ice contour averaged over a decade from 1993 through 2002. (Provided by Noriaki Kimura)

In a sign of continued global warming, the Arctic sea ice this summer will shrink to a new low, 5 percent smaller than the previous minimum of last summer, scientists in Japan said.

A group of researchers led by Hajime Yamaguchi, a professor of ocean information systems with the University of Tokyo, said their predictions are based on satellite data on movements of ice from winter through spring.

The U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center has said the Arctic sea ice shrank to 3.41 million square kilometers on Sept. 16, 2012, the smallest since satellite monitoring began in 1979. Yamaguchi and colleagues predict the area will be 160,000 square km smaller than that in early September 2013.

Research associate Noriaki Kimura said the thaw started from the Russian coasts this year. He added that ice north of Russia will be completely melted around July 21 and north of Canada around Aug. 6, opening sea routes in the respective areas.

The Arctic sea ice averaged 6.71 million square km between 1979 and 2000. This summer's minimum prediction is less than half that figure.

Brain Mapped at 20 microns

 It just keeps getting better. As well each of those sheets will also be available for microscopic viewing if a comparable is called for. This mapping should be almost the catalog. A decade of solid work will end up mapping all brain activity generally and lead to meaningful recognition of anomalies.

At worst, we can expect brain diseases to be easily identified at the earliest stages.

I am sure we will have similar work for the rest of the body, before we are finished, as well as additional comparables to check on the range of possible variation.

Map of brain at cellular level should aid Alzheimer, other neurological research

By Sheryl Ubelacker

TORONTO - In what's being called a landmark development for neuroscience, researchers have created a 3D digital reconstruction of a complete human brain that for the first time shows the organ's complex anatomy at the cellular level.

Dubbed BigBrain, the computer-based map of the brain provides a spatial resolution of 20 microns — smaller than the width of a single strand of human hair and 50 times more refined than existing reference brains available for scientific study.

The map permits scientists to zoom into the brain to view various cells in the same way Google Earth allows web users to zero in on a house on a particular street.

"This allows us a completely new level of insight into the brain's organization," said co-developer Alan Evans of the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University.

"What this allows us is to further examine the interaction between different brain regions, the organization of the brain and how it observes behaviour — how it underpins how our brains work and how we function as human beings," said Evans, director of the Montreal Consortium for Brain Imaging Research.

"So we have raised the level of insight ... beyond what was possible at the turn of the 20th century. This dataset will revolutionize our ability to understand internal brain organization."

To construct BigBrain, scientists studied the brain of an unidentified 65-year-old woman, who had died with no evidence of neurological disease. The brain was embedded in paraffin wax and cut into more than 7,400 slices using a special large-scale tool called a microtome.

The 20-micrometre-thick sections — likened to small pieces of plastic sandwich wrap — were mounted on slides and stained to detect cell structures. The slices were then digitized with a high-resolution scanner so researchers could construct the high-resolution 3D brain model. Collecting the data took about 1,000 hours.

The result is an online map that provides extremely fine details of the brain's microstructure at the cellular level. Previously available reference brains did not probe further than the macroscopic, or visible, components of the brain.

While not every cell can be seen, the map for the first time allows deeper analysis of the brain's architecture and distribution of neurons and other cells in sub-layers of the brain, something that wasn't possible before, said Dr. Katrin Amunts, head of the Institute for Brain Research at Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf, Germany.

The new reference brain, which is part of the European Human Brain Project, "redefines traditional maps from the beginning of the 20th century," she said. "The famous cytoarchitectural atlases of the early 1900s were simplified drawings of a brain and were based on pure visual analysis of cellular organization patterns."

The finely detailed anatomical resolution of BigBrain will allow scientists to gain insights into the neurobiological basis of cognition, language, emotions and other processes, the authors report in Thursday's issue of the journal Science.

"You can look at practically all the areas in the brain," said co-author Dr. Karl Zilles, senior professor at Germany's Julich Aachen Research Alliance. "For instance, when you are interested in a common neurodegenerative disorder like Alzheimer's disease, you have the first-ever brain model where you can look into details of the hippocampus, which is the brain region extremely important for memory.

"You can look into brain regions which are connected with the hippocampus and play a major role in this disease, but you can also study how many cells you need to build up a cortical unit model in 3D.

"It is a common basis for scientific discussions because everybody can work with the brain model and speak about the same basic findings," he said.

"If you take one brain here and another brain there, then you start to compare differences, but what we need for answering principal and basic questions in neuroscience is to have a common structure, which is the basis for all our discussions."

Researchers worldwide will be able to download brain sections from the BigBrain website at

Evans said staff at the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI), where the brain slices were digitized and compiled using advanced software, are already using BigBrain.

Specialists such as neuroanatomists and neurosurgeons at the MNI are "absolutely ecstatic" over their ability to explore structures of the brain, he said, explaining that an MRI can provide only a fraction of the detail exhibited by BigBrain.

"So the surgeons are all running in and out of the room trying to get at the data on the very, very big screen that we have on a wall."

The map can help surgeons performing deep brain stimulation (DBS) for such conditions as Parkinson's and intractable epilepsy, for example, by allowing greater accuracy in pinpointing which neurons are responsible for certain symptoms. DBS involves implanting a pacemaker that sends electrical impulses to specific parts of the brain.

Evans said BigBrain is like a scaffold on which the visual data has been built, and new information can be added as more is revealed about the microscopic structures and intricate functions of the brain's various regions.

The scientists are already in discussions with other research groups, including those at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, which has compiled a number of its own specialized brain "atlases."

"We've been working and speaking with scientists from the institute precisely about this issue of integrating data that they are collecting into the space of the BigBrain," said Evans.

"So we are already on this case, and we are very excited about the possibility of ... data integration into the BigBrain space."

Utilities grapple With Change

 As usual leaders take up the challenge and find solid working solutions when real change arrives.

The fact remains that a given utility can sit on its book of business and not respond and they will get along okay for quite a while. Yet that is a form of eating your capital.

What is important is that a flood of technological change is upon the industry right now. The palette is filling up and certainly prudent buys are demanded.

At the same time, it is clear that natural gas will replace Coal unless there is something wrong with the reserves. The value proposition is just too compelling. The speed of the turnover has been breathtaking.

Sooner or later a new heat source will be rolled out to replace natural gas.

Behind Closed Doors, Utilities Grapple With New Strategies

According to energy analyst Chris Nelder, not all utilities are simply digging in their heels against change.

: JUNE 19, 2013

Not all utilities are simply digging in their heels against change, or merely wringing their hands over disruptions to their business models. Some are taking the bit between their teeth and experimenting with new ways of doing business.

San Antonio-based CPS Energy, the largest municipally owned electric and gas utility in the U.S., is the solar leader in Texas, accounting for roughly half the solar power installed in the state under utility rebate programs. Supported by one of the most attractive rebate programs in the country, which covers nearly half the cost of a rooftop solar system, CPS Energy’s system includes 10.8 megawatts of customer-installed rooftop solar and 44 megawatts of utility-scale solar PV.

The utility aims to add another 400 megawatts over the next four years, increasing its utility-scale capacity by a factor of ten, as part of its ambition to generate 65 percent of its power from “low- and no-carbon-emitting” sources by 2020. The utility also offers rebates for energy efficiency upgrades, free weatherization for low-income households, and demand response services.

Private forums

On Tuesday this week, CPS hosted the second in a series of invitation-only, closed-door regional forums designed to bring utilities, regulators, and “advanced energy” businesses together for frank discussions on how to adopt new grid technologies and services more rapidly.

The Advanced Energy Executive Forum series was conceived last year by Hemant Taneja, who co-founded Advanced Energy Economy along with California billionaire hedge fund manager and clean energy activist Tom Steyer, and Dr. Richard Lester of MIT's Industrial Performance Center. They hope that the discussions will lead to an action plan to remove the structural, financial, regulatory, and cultural obstacles that stand between us and AEE’s vision for a “prosperous world that runs on secure, clean and affordable power.” The MIT Industrial Performance Center is pitching in by studying various strategies for accelerating the adoption of low-carbon power.

Attendees at the first forum, held at MIT on March 6, included top executives from PSEG Energy Holdings, Northeast Utilities, CPS Energy, NRG Energy, NextEra Energy Resources, CLEAResult, EnerNOC, Gridco Systems, SustainX, Viridity Energy, and California ISO.

The San Antonio forum included executives from OGE Energy, First Solar, Silver Spring Networks, Landis+Gyr, Green Energy Corp., C3 Energy, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), in addition to attendees from the first event.

On a Q&A call after the forum, Lester explained why it’s so important to engage all the stakeholders in the utility business to find solutions. It's important to “recognize that the power industry is on the verge of a set of changes that are greater than anything that has taken place for the last century,” he said, “both upstream and downstream. Mainly because of need.” In his view, “There’s no innovation and change needed more in this country than the transition to renewables while maintaining reliability.”

Taneja emphasized that making public policy more friendly to renewables must be done at a regional level, because each state has a different set of regulations. Lester was drawn to Texas, he said, “because some of the most interesting and exciting activities are happening here” and it might offer some useful lessons to the rest of the country. When I asked if that was partly due to the fact that Texas is the only state in the union with its own grid, which would make it easier to implement changes, CPS Energy CEO Doyle Beneby acknowledged that it certainly helped, but asserted that “differentiated solutions for various areas” will work across the country.

I asked Beneby if municipally owned utilities are better positioned to adopt distributed generation from sources like rooftop solar, as I speculated in April, since it poses a challenge to the investor-owned utility (IOU) business model. Beneby didn’t think there was an “absolute answer” to that question, but noted that one of the IOUs participating in the forum was “on a similar track to us,” which he saw as a “validation of bottom-up, inside-out change.” For both municipals and IOUs, Beneby thinks it’s important to “take the pulse of your own customer base, regulatory regime, and zeitgeist to figure out what works in your community.”

Where Beneby does see an advantage is in being vertically integrated: owning generation, transmission and distribution assets. It allows CPS to implement changes in the system more extensively, and means the utility is “linked instead of coupled” to the value proposition of each business unit. Being locally managed also means the utility can get things done more quickly.

Try and try again

Distributed generation and technologies like demand response and microgrids need not cut into the revenue streams of utilities, Beneby said; they just have to be marketed the right way. Utilities should differentiate their service offerings and segment their companies to go after specific niches, much as Rob Day suggested in April. Beneby noted that demand response and microgrids can be treated as a generation source.

Even the problem of short-term overproduction from wind and solar, which occasionally drives grid prices into negative territory, could be addressed by “aggregating at certain times of day or in certain regions” so that it “can be bid into the market profitably.”

Regulations must also be updated to allow renewables to compete more effectively. The utility industry has become calcified and lost its innovative spirit. “Regulations set a rigid framework, and ways of thinking are conditioned by those ways of doing things,” Lester observed. “All that has to be loosened up to get the kind of innovation we need over the coming decades,” he said, even as innovation is being forced upon the system from outside.

Naimish Patel, CEO of grid integration company Gridco Systems, agreed. “Current regulatory structures have historically been shaped by reliable and cost-effective delivery. That’s worked well,” he said. “Now what’s happening is that technology is becoming available to meet diversified customer needs.” But to meet those needs, it will be necessary to "pare down certain regulations.” Patel is confident that “well-placed and -architected deregulation would help to unleash innovation.”

Specifically, Beneby thinks state renewable portfolio standards offer a supportive policy framework, as do regional greenhouse gas standards like those in California and the Mid-Atlantic region. “Hard” reserve margins on generation capacity, instead of the soft reserve margins in Texas, might also be worth reconsidering.

The participants agreed on one thing: There aren’t any one-size-fits-all solutions. Every region has its own needs and its own capacities. The best strategy is to start experimenting and see what works. “We can’t delay,” Beneby said. “We need ideas and test beds. [...] Utilities have to reach out beyond conservative, low-risk approaches and start trying things. We have to keep evolving, [...] get something in the ground and moving, and see what happens.”

CPS Energy seems to be taking that notion to heart. After announcing in April that it would replace its net metering program with a new “solar credit” program that would only pay about half as much for the power generated by rooftop solar systems, the utility responded to the resulting cries of dismay by delaying changes to the program for one year. It now intends to work “with local installers to come up with an equitable solution.”


Chris Nelder is an energy analyst and consultant who has written about energy and investing for more than a decade. He is the author of two books (Profit From the Peak andInvesting in Renewable Energy) and hundreds of articles, and has been published byScientific American, Slate, the Harvard Business Review blog, Financial Times' Alphaville,Quartz, the Economist Intelligence Unit, and many other publications.

Precision Farming

This article sort of gets it. We will have available manpower and we will have field robotics able to physically replicate human dexterity in collecting product. All this and a full palette of tools will also be available to allow successful multicropping that naturally maximizes productivity.

It is also painfully clear that simple improvements to the stock in hand will allow a doubling of the global population to 15,000,000,000 without doing anything special like greening all deserts.

We have addressed this before but it is well worth repeating just in case some other enthusiast wants to waltz out the idea that humanity is going to run out of food.

Precision Farming Gains Global Foothold

Lloyd Treinish, IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center
Date: 12 June 2013

Our world is getting larger … and hungrier … with every tick of the clock.

Indeed, each second the world's population grows by two more people, and by 2050, food production must increase by at least 70 percent to keep pace.

Unfortunately, about half of the world's food is never consumed due to inefficiencies in the harvesting, storage and delivery of crops. Even in developed nations, about 30 percent of purchased food ends up going to waste, and supply-chain inefficiencies only exacerbate the problem.

Certainly, weather-related events — like the current and long-lasting drought in portions of the U.S. — add further complexity to the science of farming, as resultant crop damage, food supply shortages and rising commodities prices frequently illustrate.

To help reverse this sobering trend, and to generate enough food to meet the ever-growing demands of a growing global population, today's — and tomorrow's — agribusinesses need to embrace smarter farming methods.

Fortunately, the technology to do so is available — and working — right now.

Fueling better farming is a practice known as precision agriculture, which uses extensive data from a farmer's field and the surrounding region to help predict weather conditions and optimize operations. While collecting real-time data on weather, soil, health of crops and air quality is important, as is the availability of equipment and labor, predictive analytics can be much a smarter approach for making better farming decisions.

Precision agriculture can help farmers from Brunei to Brazil pinpoint the best time for harvesting to mitigate crop damage and loss; determine how many workers are needed at harvest time; and show how and when to deploy delivery trucks to ensure immediate shipment — an especially important factor in farmlands where the lack of paved roads can paralyze distribution.

Those and other smarter farming methods — including techniques used early in the growing cycle — are reducing weather-related crop damage by as much as 25 percent in some areas, ensuring that fewer crops are wasted and more food makes it to the dinner table.

The development and use of those predictive, analytics based techniques and technologies is not limited to mega-farms. Small, family-run fields and co-ops, worldwide, are also reaping better results by maximizing production and reducing waste.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, weather-related incidents cause 90 percent of all crop losses. Precision agriculture helps address that problem by improving weather forecasting and modeling, and localizing it — even within a particular farm. Knowing that it will rain in Nairobi, Kenya is irrelevant if skies are clear above your farm just outside of the city.

At IBM, we developed a precision agriculture weather-modeling service using Deep Thunder, our Big Data analytics technology, for local, customized, high-resolution and rapid weather predictions. It gathers data from sensors placed throughout fields that measure the temperature and moisture levels in soil and surrounding air. That information is combined with multi-spectral images of fields taken by advanced camera systems from satellites and airplanes.

The system then combines the field data with a diversity of public data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S .Geological Survey, and private data from companies like Earth Networks. A supercomputer processes the combined data and generates a four-dimensional mathematical model derived from the physics of the atmosphere.

With high accuracy, Deep Thunder can deliver hyper-localized weather conditions up to three days in advance, with calculations as fine as a single mile and as granular as every 10 minutes.

In practical terms, a farmer armed with precise weather forecasting information may choose to hold off on fertilizing an area of a farm expecting heavy rains; or, he may irrigate only that portion of the farm that will not receive rainfall. With 70 percent of the world's freshwater supply already going to agriculture, every drop counts.

Also, better understanding — and predicting — of weather effects on transportation networks can help farmers make better decisions about which routes and methods will be fastest to transport harvested food. That is especially critical in countries like Brazil, where many of the roads are unpaved and heavy rain can cause trucks to get stuck in mud.

Coupling predictive analytics and modeling techniques with other sophisticated farming methods can prove to be quite beneficial when resources — like water — are at a premium.

For instance, many farmers are now using methods like flow-through irrigation, drip irrigation, micro-sprinklers and more efficient  use of groundwater to increase yields. Getting more "crop per drop" not only improves farm productivity but provides enough return on investment to fund additional high-tech solutions.

While the days of farmers using the divining rod to find water are long since passed, many farmers — especially in developing countries — still rely too much on guesswork in making planting, irrigation and harvesting decisions.

By combining supercomputing and Big Data analytics with other technological innovations, even farmers with modest means can bolster production and profits. And all of us who eat will be grateful.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Giant Sloths Encountered in Nam

This is a extraordinary report that I plucked out of several from Indochina. What is critical here is that these are real creatures that conform to what I already know about the giant three toed sloth. The bright yellow is their fur. Their flat face and nose slits and large eyes all conform to other reports and the fossil data for the giant sloth. Their physical reality as wild animals is confirmed by the feces on the ground. You do not make this up in the middle of a mystery report that could be aliens.

This was a war zone and it is a good bet that the creatures were gathered in a natural Refugio to avoid human contact. Their charging behavior also conforms to similar reports that I have isolated. They will charge and use their claws to tear you apart.

I have no doubt that a number of missing hunter reports are victims of such terrifying encounters. That their metabolism is naturally slow also explains why bullet wounds do not quickly fell these creatures.

Recall also that their real food source comes from eating the maggots produced by their victims. This is one dangerous scary puppy that we generally do not survive except in rare cases such as this one.


Location.Vietnam, just north of the DMZ

Date: December 17 1974

Time: 01:30 a.m.

A group of heavily armed soldiers had gone out in a search and destroy mission and had gone along a river bank by a heavily wooded area and had reached a clearing. When they began spreading out, their leader sensed something peculiar about the area. There was a strange eerie silence all around with the normal animals sounds totally absent. A scout went ahead and reported finding no tracks of any kind around. The silence continued. Strange fecal deposits were located then sounds from the nearby brush were heard, several huge figures then came into view just ahead of the soldiers. The figures were almost eight-foot tall and bright yellow in color, as they came closer, large three digit hands with what appeared to be long claws could bee seen on the creatures. They had large eyes,nose slits and flat faces. The figures passed near the men apparently without noticing them. The men then decide to turn back, as they walked into the bushes they began hearing loud crashing noises and realized that the creatures were running behind them. The men all ran towards the river where their boat was located with the creatures in hot pursuit. Several times the men fired their high caliber weapons at the creatures without any apparent effect. At one point one of the men fired several armor piercing rounds at one of the creature’s chest area, this also without any apparent effect. The men finally reached their boat and left the area, before leaving they saw a strong powerful glow on the riverbank as if dozens of the creatures had gathered to watch them leave.