Friday, February 29, 2008

How Thera Changed the World

The next installment of the Livescience series on events that changed the world examines the impact of the Theran volcanic explosion. Thera was a volcano on the eastern Mediterranean island of Santorini which exploded around 1600 BC. The explosion was most likely the most devastating volcanic eruption in human history, dwarfing the 1883 explosion of the Indonesian island of Krakatoa by four or five times, the equivalent of over 100 atomic bombs being released in a single second. The Krakatoa explosion had quite extensive global environmental climate impacts, which the Thera explosion would have likely far exceeded.

"That fiery explosion (Krakatoa) killed upwards of 40,000 people in just a few hours, produced colossal tsunamis 40 feet tall, spewed volcanic ash across Asia, and caused a drop in global temperatures and created strangely colored sunsets for three years. The blast was heard 3,000 miles away."

As a result of the Thera explosion, the dominant Mediterranean Minoan culture, based on the island of Crete, spun rapidly into decline. The resulting tsunami from the explosion would likely have devastated its naval and trading fleets and coastal settlements, then the dust generated by the volcano would have caused a drastic climatic change toward much cooler temperatures. More aggressive cultures entering the area such as the Doric Greek civilization would finish the Minoan fall. The eruption is also linked to the mythical legend of Atlantis and the Biblical flood stories, and the environmental effects were likley felt as far away as China and the Western hemisphere.

Boston Legal Quotes

Catherine Piper: Cookies, everyone! Nourishment is most important in the morning.
Paul Lewiston: Who is this woman?
Catherine Piper: Take two, Tara, you're a rail.
Paul Lewiston: Who is this woman?
Catherine Piper: The ones on the left have a little bran to help our older lawyers with their routine.
Paul Lewiston: Who is this woman?
Catherine Piper: I'm Catherine Piper. I'm Alan's new assistant. My, don't you have an interesting face.
Paul Lewiston: We are in the middle of a staff meeting.
Catherine Piper: No need to be snippy, dear. Especially since I come bearing treats. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
[to Lori]
Catherine Piper: You certainly made one... with all that bleach.
Paul Lewiston: Ma'am, you will have to leave.
Catherine Piper: I'm beginning to not like you.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Doc Sadler's Husker Hoopsters

via the OWH, Doc's got the Husker basket ball squad relevant in March for the first time in years. Fresh off upset victories over K-St and Texas Tech, the Huskers crank up the D and smother the Sooners 63-45 at Devaney. The Husker roundballers held OU to a mere 12 first half points enroute to a 17 point halftime lead. After starting the Big 12 schedule 0-4, NU is 6-3, and has now moved into a tie for sixth in the conference, a single game back from fourth.

"Oklahoma (18-10, 6-7) came to the Devaney Center with NCAA tournament dreams and the fancy RPI.

But in front of a noisy crowd of 10,031, Nebraska shot 50 percent from the field for the third straight game, put four players in double figures and held the Sooners to a point total that matched their season low."

NU committed just 8 tunrovers despite missing starting PG Cookie Miller and guard Ryan Anderson picking up a dislocated finger in the first half. Huskers were led by Steve Harley's 17 points, along with C Aleks Maric going for 16 points and 11 boards. Ade Dagunduro and Paul Velander chipping with 13 and 11 respectively. Next up is Okie St, tied with NU in the conference at 6-7 but with wins in its last five in a row, and then #5 nationally ranked UT next Tuesday.

Boston Legal Quotes

Denny Crane: TiVo me, will ya?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

How Trade Networks Changed the World

The third of the series on things that changed the world from Livescience, this time - the economic benefits of trade. As urbanization began to take root, people began to specialize in particular skills and learned to trade the items they produced with other people for the items they mnaufactured. Then cities themselves began to get into the act.

"When people first settled down into larger towns in Mesopotamia and Egypt, self-sufficiency – the idea that you had to produce absolutely everything that you wanted or needed – started to fade. A farmer could now trade grain for meat, or milk for a pot, at the local market, which was seldom too far away.

Cities started to work the same way, realizing that they could acquire goods they didn't have at hand from other cities far away, where the climate and natural resources produced different things. This longer-distance trade was slow and often dangerous, but was lucrative for the middlemen willing to make the journey."

While the earliest trade networks go far back into pre-history, these were relatively small scale, short term affairs. Extensive long term organized trade goes back to around 3000 BC, when the Mesopotamian civilizations of the Near East began to exchange items with the Indus Harrapan civilization of found in modern day Pakistan.

The dangers involved in such long distancre trading required a high pay off, so the majority of trade items were luxury goods such as spices, jewelry and the like. Both the indivduals and the cities involved in such trade (whether found nearby or located on the routes travelled by merchants) exchanging such goods could become fantastically wealthy. Specialized resources located in very specific areas such as copper, tin, silk, cedar wood, purple dyes, jade, spices and papyrus could be exchanged over thousands of miles.

The easiest and probably most secure method of transporting large amounts of such goods was by water, with early river civilzations in Mesopotamia, Egypt and China benefitting from their fertile agricultural river valleys and then using the riverways to transport goods regionally. Later developments allowed naval sea powers located in the Mediterranean such as Cyprus, Crete, Phoenicia, Carthage, Greece and eventually Rome to reap enormous benefits from their control of the sea lanes. The domestication of the camel around 1000 BC allowed the first extensive long term land routes to be established across the forbidding terrain of North Africa and Central Asia.

Boston Legal Quotes

Alan Shore: Ah, Denny, I've hardly seen you this episode.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How Writing Changed the World

I saw this a while back and meant to get to it earlier, but Livescience is running a series of articles on some rather significant events in human history, the second being the development of writing. This generally occured with the development of urban life as a way of keeping track of property. The beginning of writing forms the divide between pre-history and history.

The first evidence we have of writing is from ancient Mesopotamia, starting around 3000 BC, when priest began keep agricultural records, beginning with pictograms and then developing into a system of standard symbols they used to mark clay tablets with a reed stylus, a type of writing called cuneiform. The system later developed as a way of representing sounds in addition to numbers. The Egyptian system of hieroglyphics is thought to have developed soon thereafter.

"A few thousand years later, as variations on the two systems spread throughout the region, the entire ancient world had writing schemes that vastly improved the efficiency of economies, the accountability of governments and, maybe most importantly to us, our understanding of the past."

It should be pointed out that only a very few people were literate in those times, and actually quite far into the modern period literacy was the almost exclusive preserve of aristocratic males. Almost 20% of people residing on the Third World nations today is still illiterate.

Lunar Base Construction

Found a great new site called Universe Today, which has an outstanding article on the challenges and opportunities provided by Lunar colonization. Just a sample of the reasons to go:

"the Moon is an ideal "staging post" for us to accumulate materials and manpower outside of the Earth's deep gravitational well. From the Moon we can send missions into deep space and ferry colonists to Mars. Tourists may also be interested in a short visit. Mining companies will no doubt want to set up camp there. The pursuit of science is also a major draw."

The biggest benefit in my view is that it would give us the practical experience to determine how to conduct long term exploration of other parts of the solar system, like Mars and the outer gas giant moons wher some awfully interesting things might be sitting. So what are the challenges? One would be to answer how materials hold up to long term exposure to the vacuum of space, extreme temperature variations, micrometeorite impacts, cosmic rays, solar wind particles, and other space hazzards.

How would we accomplish the establishment of a permanent outpost? First of all, we'd eventually have to use local materials like lunar regolith, likely for both the habitat itself as well as shielding from dangerous radiation and cosmic rays. The challenges of mining, drilling and excavating in a vacuum would also be considerable. There are several concepts that might provide the answer on how to get started, including enclosing a small impact crater with a dome, designing an inflatable or erectable structure, utilizing ancient lunar lava tubes or even mining out an underground habitat.

Once a base is established, then the work on a more permanent dwelling could be conducted and the settlement expanded over time. One thing I think would be a good way to start is to use a combination of these ideas - bring an inflatable structure but install it along the side of an impact crater and cover it with regolith, and use the space created to tunnel further under the surface.

Boston Legal Quotes

Alan Shore: Denny, I'm going to miss you.
Denny Crane: I'm not going anywhere!
Alan Shore: I've been married; of course you are.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Index of Economic Freedom

The Heritage Foundation and Wall St Journal have released their annaul Index of Economic Freedom for 2008, with the US finishing 5th behind Hong Kong, Singapore, Ireland, and Australia.

With an overall score of 80, the low scores for the US were: size of government, 59.8(Ouch!) fiscal freedom 68, and freedom from curruption 73.

Bottom 10 are the usual suspect dictatorships: North Korea, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Libya, Burma, Turkmenistan, Iran, Belarus, Bangladesh, and Venezuela.

New Zealand, Canada, Chile, Switzerland and the UK round out the top 10.

Boston Legal Quotes

Alan Shore: Let me tell me two things about myself. I too am a lawyer, I can be painfully vindictive, and I do not play fair.
Lester Tremont: That's three things.
Alan Shore: See? Not playing fair already. And I'm just getting started.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Thanks, Mr. Reagan

Investor's Business Daily thanks the Gipper for having the forsight and fortitude to start the work developing the dream of defensive anti-missile technology. As shown this week in the US Navy's destruction of an aging, decayed orbit spy satellite with dangerous chemicals aboard, it is most definitely possible to "hit a bullet with a bullet." The SM-3 missile launched from the guided missile cruiser Lake Erie hit the satellite precisely in the hydrazine fuel tank at a combined closing speed of over 22,000 miles per hour 133 miles above our heads.

A number of people have expressed tehir doubts over the years, but this was no test -this was a real life scenario, and we were completely successful. Our Chinese and Russian friends were most certainly watching, as well as their Iranian and North Korean associates.

Earth's Orbit & Climatic Effects

SD also looks into the effects that our shiny blue marble's orbit has on the climate on the ground. In short, a lot of things effect the weather and climate.

"Parameters such as planetary gravitational attractions, the Earth's elliptical orbit around the sun and the degree of tilt of our planet's axis with respect to its path around the sun, have implications for climate change and the advent of ice ages."

While the Earth's orbit is elliptical, it is also irregular - meaning that the orbit tends to stretch further from the Sun on occaision, and when that happens, look out -it tends to get a bit chilly. These periods of more elliptical orbits happen about every 100,000 years - the same period of time that separate the more recent Ice Ages.

In addition, the summer and winter months are greatly effected by the Earth's tilt, with the summer months occuring mid year in the Northern hemisphere and at the yearly transistion in the Southern hemisphere. What most people don't realize is that the Earth is actually further away during the middle of the year. However, the Southern summer is greatly mitigated since it is mostly water, which heats five times more slowly than the land which comprises most of the Northern hemisphere. Thus the climatic effects of the seasonal swings is muted, or at least until the situation reverses itself - in 12,000 years. At that point, the seasonal variations will reinforce themselves creating more extreme temperature swings - mcuh warmer in Northern summers and much colder in Southern winters.

Coal Gassification: Challenge & Opportunity

ScienceDaily has a good article on our most prevalent US energy source - coal. Coal gets a bad name in many circles, but is our most abundant and economical source of energy and supplies us with approximately half of our national energy needs. The US has the most abundant coal resources of any nation on the planet. Of course, coal gets its bad name from some of the issues that come from burning it - namely, some not so nice emmissions, some of which have been addressed with technological innovations such as scrubbers, while other types of issues still need some work. There are plans in the works to address quite a number of these by utilizing the concept of coal gassification and sequestering the carbon dioxide released from burning.

""Coal gasification offers one of the most versatile and clean ways to convert coal into electricity, hydrogen and other valuable energy products," said George Muntean, staff scientist at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

"Gasification provides significant economic and environmental benefits to conventional coal power plants," Muntean said. Rather than burning coal directly, gasification breaks down coal into its basic chemical constituents using high temperature and pressure. Because of this, carbon dioxide can be captured from a gas stream far more easily than from the smokestacks of a conventional coal plant.

"If we plan to use our domestic supply of coal to produce energy, and do so in a way that does not intensify atmospheric CO2 concentrations, gasification is critical," Muntean said. "It has the potential to enable carbon capture and sequestration technologies and play an important role in securing domestic sources of transportation fuels."

The biggest technical hurdle in introducing this technology is in the lifespan of the refractories that line the gassification chamber, which are expensive (a million plus $ a pop) and difficult to replace (3-6 weeks of plant downtime). With a 12-16 month lifespan, this simply isn't economically feasible, but some of the research work at PNNL might expand this period up to three years. Reducing the capital costs of refractories by nearly half could wind up making gassification not only economically feasible, but profitable.

In a related note, the first commercial plant utilzing carbon sequestration technology is being built near Sweetwater Texas by Tenaska, Inc - an Omaha firm. (news release here)Up to 90% of the CO2 will be captured and sold to oil firms, which will pump it into the Permian Basin oil fields, allowing additional domestic black gold to be extracted. Talk about a win-win solution!

Boston Legal Quotes

Denny Crane: I don't know whether you know this but not many men take the time, every day, to have a cigar, glass of scotch, to talk to their best friend. That's not something most men have.
Alan Shore: No it isn't.
Denny Crane: What I give to you, what I share, I do with no one else. I like to think that what you give to me you do with nobody else. Now that may sound silly to you. But here's what I think is silly, the idea that jealousy or fidelity is reserved for romance. I always suspected that there was a connection between you and that man. That you got something you didn't get from me.
Alan Shore: I probably do. But gosh, what I get from you Denny. People walk around today calling everyone their best friend. The term doesn't have any real meaning anymore. Mere acquaintances are lavished with hugs and kisses upon a second or at most third meeting, birthday cards get passed around offices so everybody can scribble a snippet of sentimentality for a colleague they barely met, and everyone just loves everyone. As a result when you tell somebody you love them today, it isn't much heard. I love you Denny, you are my best friend. I can't imagine going through life without you as my best friend. I'm not going to kiss you however.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Boston Legal Quotes

Denny Crane: [to Alan about the riot on television] 100 women there, and you didn't invite me. That's 200 breasts! And you kept them all to yourself.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Most Powerful Laser Ever

ScienceDaily reports on the most powerful pulsed laser ever built, a University of Michigan designed 300 terrawatt behemoth that beats any other laser in the world by two orders of magnitude in intensity and can fire every 10 seconds at a target just over a micron in diameter. A single terrawatt is the capacity of the entire US electrical grid, and a human hair is about 100 microns wide. However, the beam lasts only 30 femotseconds - 30 millionth of a billionth of a second. The laser could eventually be developed into medical applications such as cancer treatements, among others including fusion research. The researchers upgraded a former 50 terrawatt device by adding an additional amplifier to the already impressive HERCULES laser.

"HERCULES is a titanium-sapphire laser that takes up several rooms at U-M's Center for Ultrafast Optical Science. Light fed into it bounces like a pinball off a series of mirrors and other optical elements. It gets stretched, energized, squeezed and focused along the way.

HERCULES uses the technique of chirped pulse amplification developed by U-M engineering professor emeritus Gerard Mourou in the 1980s. Chirped pulse amplification relies on grooved surfaces called diffraction gratings to stretch a very short duration laser pulse so that it lasts 50,000 times longer. This stretched pulse can then be amplified to much higher energy without damaging the optics in its path. After the beam is amplified to a higher energy by passing through titanium-sapphire crystals, an optical compressor reverses the stretching, squeezing the laser pulse until it's close to its original duration. The beam is then focused to ultra-high intensity."

Basically, power is built up over a period then releases in an extremely powerful but short burst, comparable in intensity to all the sunlight striking the Earth focused onto a single grain of sand. Zoinks!

Boston Legal Quotes

Denny Crane: I can act... I have an Emmy.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Rocky Exoplanets may be common

via ScienceDaily, a new survey of Sun like stars appears to indicate that the formation terrestrial type planets around such stars may be fairly commmon. The survey covered a range of young yellow stars under 3 billion years old and sought out tell tale signs of terrestrial planet formation, clouds of dust surrounding the stars. The warmer the dust, the more likely that accretion and collisions within it have caused planets to form.

"University of Arizona astronomer Michael Meyer led a Legacy Science Program with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to determine whether planetary systems like ours are common or rare in the Milky Way galaxy. Meyer and his colleagues found that at least 20 percent, and possibly as many as 60 percent, of stars similar to the sun are candidates for forming rocky planets."

The lower figure is arrived at by calculating the potential for "warm dust" near the stars indicating planetary formation to sustain itself as the stars age. The 60% number comes from a more optimistic viewpoint indicating that larger dust clouds would from planets quickly from the available materials, but it may take smaller clouds of dust longer to form planets. Meyer believes the true number is likely somewhere in between the two figures.

A Little Site Housecleaning

Did a little housecleaning in the Local Yokel link section, had a couple of dead/non active links, as well as several adds, including former Husker defensive lineman Jason Peter's site (Double Nickel), a couple of Husker fan sites (Big Red Analysis, Husker Faithful, Husker Guy) a Ron Paul devotee and political commenter with an interesting perspective (Red State Eclectic) and a fantastic site for the local weather (OmahaWeatherSite)- with isobar maps and everything!

Check them and all the others out when you get a chance. All links have been verified.

How the Americas may have been settled

via Livescience, a little more regarding the new theory of how early American natives settled the New World. While it does not change the early notion of people migrating over the Bering Strait land bridge during the last global Ice Age, it certainly does modify it substantially. In short, the new idea is that the migration occurred in three phases.

The first phase was one in which people migrated into the area of the land bridge, called Beringia, around 40,000 years ago, following migratory game. While not sedentary, these early hunters more or less stayed in this region for around 20,000years as the routes through the Rocky Mountains were blocked by the substantial glaciation taking place at that time. As these glaciers began to melt and passes opened through the mountains and along the coast, people migrated south approximately 15,000 years ago. As the glaciers continued to melt, the Beringian "homeland" slipped under the sea 10-11,000 years ago. So how did the researchers reach these conclusions? DNA.

"DNA allows scientists to deduce the history of populations. For instance, mutations that all New World populations have in common with each other and no one else means they share a common ancestry, suggesting there was just one wave of migration into the Americas, as opposed to several unrelated waves. However, the molecular evidence was confusing as to when this wave of migration took place. DNA accumulates mutations over time, serving like a clock, but some DNA suggested people came to the New World about 13,000 years ago, while other sequences hinted at 30,000 or more years ago."

The long wait on the doorstep of the Americas neatly explains both the DNA evidence and the apparent lack of artifacts from the earliest time period - even if the relatively small population of this group of prehistoric people did leave any artifacts behind, they are likely now underwater. Obviously, conditions today in this region of the world make finding such artifacts a daunting task, one which very few researchers (if any) have attempted to tackle.

Shuttle Preps for Landing

via the Space Shuttle Atlantis is preparing for a Florida landing tomorrow after a very successful ission to deliver a key European laboratory module to the International Space Station.

"Atlantis' seven-astronaut crew is due to land at 9:07 a.m. EST (1407 GMT) on a runway at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., here to conclude a successful 13-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The astronauts delivered the European Space Agency's (ESA) 1.4 billion euro ($2 billion) Columbus laboratory to the ISS and swapped out one member of the station's three-person crew."

All of the mission's goals were completed successfully despite the illness of German astronaut Hans Schlegel, who missed out on one of the mission's three spacewalks. The orbiter returns American ISS crewmember Dan Tani, who was replaced on the ISS by French astronaut Leopold Eyharts.

Boston Legal Quotes

Denny Crane: [talking to Alan on the balcony] The only thing to be scared of son is tomorrow. I don't live for tomorrow. Never saw the fun in it.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Larry's Back on the Bandwagon

Kudlow's issues from last week have been favorably resolved with some new numbers for both manufacturing and retail sales.

"To get a true recession reading, the production index would have to fall for 4 to 6 months in a row. That’s not happening. Despite some monthly declines over the past half year, the production reading for January was 114.2 -- exactly where it was in July and September of last year. Looking inside the January index, there was a 0.3 percent increase for consumer-goods production and a 0.4 percent rise for business equipment. Both are solid numbers.

Meanwhile, the just-released January retail sales report defied the recessionistas with a better-than-expected 0.3 percent gain. Retail sales are climbing at a 2.7 percent annual rate over the past 3 months and a 3.9 percent rate over the past year."

He alos goes on to note the very strong export numbers from December, $144 billion, and also notices that the export sector is now fully responsible for 1/3 of the US economy - Wow. While the recently passed stimulus package has a lot of issues, the temporary expensing of capital investments, along with the strong Fed rate moves hold promise for a much stronger Q2.

GM Volt Concept Car

LiveScience reports on the futuristic GM concpet car called the Volt. The interesting feature of the car is its throwback engine design - it runs on rechargable electric batteries and uses its engine to recharge them, much like old WWI and WWII submarines did before the advent of nuclear power.

"They have taken the way that the automobile industry thinks about hybrid cars, and turned it on its ear," said Michelle Krebs, editor at Edmunds "If you don't drive far, you may never need gasoline. No other major car maker had done this." Most hybrid cars, she noted, retain a connection between the engine and the wheels, and use the electric motor to supplement the gasoline engine."

The Volt owns lithium ion batteries holding 16 kw hours of energy, powering a 120 kw motor enabling a zero to 60 time of 8.5 seconds, and allowing a driving range of over 40 miles, more than enough for most commutes, on just half the battery power. The car could be recharged in around 8 hours with a 110 volt outlet, which would you around 88 cents at the average electrical price today. With a 12 gallon tank of gasloline and a charged battery, you would have a theoretical range of 640 miles - or 53 miles per gallon. One technical hurdle yet to overcome, however, is how to disperse heat generated by the batteries, but GM is hoping to be able to have the car in its production lineup by 2010.

Boston Legal Quotes

Alan Shore: What's your specialty?
Dr. Allen Konigsberg: Couples' counseling. I first saw the client and his wife together. Since the divorce I've been working with him alone.
Alan Shore: So they came to you to improve their relationship, and now one wants to kill the other. Not your best work, was it, doctor?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Boston Legal Quotes

Denny Crane: Did my client tell you that this drug is unapproved by the FDA?
Mark Harrison: Yes.
Denny Crane: Did he tell you that, ah, there could be side effects?
Mark Harrison: Yes.
Denny Crane: You were fully informed.
Mark Harrison: I was.
Denny Crane: You consented.
Mark Harrison: I did.
Denny Crane: Take it again?
Mark Harrison: Absolutely.
Denny Crane: Like the doctor?
Mark Harrison: Love him.
Denny Crane: How's your memory?
Mark Harrison: My memory's fine.
Denny Crane: What's my name?
Mark Harrison: Denny Crane.
Denny Crane: Like you mean it!
Mark Harrison: Denny Crane!
Denny Crane: What's my name?
Mark Harrison: [shouts] Denny Crane!
Denny Crane: No further questions.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Econ Watch

Larry Kudlow takes a look at the recent economic numbers at his place and finds some very disturbing trends - when Larry says things are looking bleak, you really have to worry. I know of no bigger bullhorn touting the economic positives for the current administration.

Jobs, industrial production, personal income and manufacturing and trade numbers all show a peak late last year, with mild declines from those peaks. Ouch. We may already be in a mild recessionary period. The good news is that the last two recessions only lasted 8 months - the bad news is there is an election coming up.

Historical Markets

Arnold Kling over at TCS had a nice column last week about the economic benefits of a "great power" enforcing the peace. In short, such a power, or hegemon, is necessary for the benefits of trade and exchange to take place between the peoples of the globe.

"Trade flourishes under hegemony. That is the lesson I took from Power and Plenty, a dense, arduous survey of economic history written by Ronald Findlay and Kevin H. O'Rourke. In addition to the Mongol empire, they describe the increased trade under the hegemonies of the Romans, the Muslim Caliphate, and various dynasties in China and Latin America during the first millenium. Of course, the most recent example of trade under hegemony has been what Walter Russell Mead in God and Gold calls the maritime powers of Great Britain and the United States.

It makes sense once you think about it. Disparate peoples can coexist in three ways: in isolation, under hegemony, or at war. In the absence of hegemony, peaceful intercourse is an elusive ideal."

Kling notes that geopgraphic isolation has been the norm throughout most of human history, sometimes due not only to vast intervening distances between cultures but also at times through political or military reasons, such as Tokugawa Japan. This isolation generally results in economic and technological inferiority to those cultures that embrace trade and exchange. Whenever and however a major power asserts itself over a wide region, trade begins to flourish within that region, and often between regional hegemons - the hegemon(s) prevent pirates, bandits and the like from stealing a merchant's goods.

Where I disagree with the column is in the appendix, where Kling argues (fairly well, I might add) that the market economy to which we have become accustomed is a relatively recent phenomenon. He suspects that most households throughout history produced their own goods for internal use, with relatively small amounts for exchange. He also states that most people over the historical frame weren't just illiterate, but innumerate - they wouldn't be able to count or estimate much past their fingers. I would agree with this to a some degree - but depending on the time period, location and the culture in question, there would be some notable exceptions to this thesis.

He also refers to what he calls the production/plunder ratio - with few people involved in the production of goods for exchange, he believes the markets that archaeologists find in ancient cities were generally empty except when the legions came home from foreign adventures. He also believes that cities shrank dramatically in population whenever the legions weren't returning with this plunder, becoming far smaller than their geographic size would indicate. I'd agree this would certainly happen at times, but ignores that these hegemonic entities were often regional powers for quite lengthy periods, often hundreds of years. All historical polities have undergone an expansion, stability and contractionary decline phase - perhaps even our own will do so in the coming century as places such as India, China and Brazil modernize.

He believes the ratio of production to plunder is much higher in modern societies, and I would have to agree - the productivity gains over the last ten or so generations has been unprecedented. However, I wouldn't say that there were no periods in which a market economy took place before this period. He notes that urbanization is the opposing force to his thesis, but appears to believe it wasn't widespread for very long anywhere. I'd say there are several instances when it was, and we often have either the written records or the remains to prove it.

Boston Legal Quotes

Denny Crane: Did something happen? Was I in the room when it happened?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Early Egyptian Farm Settlement Found

via National Geographic, the earliest settlement in Egypt showing evidence of agriculture has been found in the Faiyum area SW of Cairo. Dating back to around 5200 BC, the village shows evidence of domesticated livestock and cereal grains.

"Just centimeters beneath the modern plowed surface, in an area that had been used until recently to grow grapes, the researchers discovered evidence of structures, such as clay floors, and hearths containing homegrown wheat grain and barley.

Also unearthed were the remains of sheep, goats, and pigs—which, along with the grains, were imported from the Middle East."

The exciting part of the find is the stratigraphy is around a meter deep - meaning that archaeologists can track changes at the site over a significant period of time, perhaps as long as a couple of thousand years. Earlier finds near the site discovered evidence of agriculture, but the finds also have habitation sites, which could shed light on precisely when the livestock and grains were introduced to the area, and how tool use in Egypt may have evolved. Finds include potttery, shells, jewelry, flints, grinding stones and a very unique find - an unfired clay vessel, the first from this era to be discovered.

The other major impact of the find will be the view it gives us of Egypt's interactions with other areas of the Near East and the trade relationships between these cultures. Agricultural domestication appears to have started around 9000 BC in Mesopotamia and the "package" including both plants and animals combining with a more sedentary lifestyle began around 7000 BC. There is a new focus on discovering the routes and timelines of the diffusion of this package outside the region. The discovery of shells from the Red Sea at the site does give a slight clue that this agricultural lifestyle may have migrated overland via the Sinai, but also could have been transmitted from seafarers voyaging through the Mediterranean.

Boston Legal Quotes

Alan Shore: [addressing a Canadian court] Oh, yes, mindful that abroad people tend to expect shock and awe when Yankees arrive on the scene, we shall leave you with two small but lasting words.
Denny Crane: Denny Crane, eh?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Oldest Galaxy Discovered

via Livescience, the Hubble Space Telescope has discovered an incredibly ancient and distant galaxy - likely one of the very first to form after the Big Bang that originated the universe, around 13 million years ago just 700 million years after universe began.

"Since the galaxy is so far away, its light took ages to reach us, so what we see now is a snapshot of how this galaxy looked 13 billion years ago. At that point in time, the galaxy would have been newly formed, so the new observations provide a baby picture.

"We certainly were surprised to find such a bright young galaxy 13 billion years in the past," said astronomer Garth Illingworth of the University of California, Santa Cruz, a member of the research team. "This is the most detailed look to date at an object so far back in time.""

While the Hubble usually can't see such distant and old objects, it got an assist from an unlikely source: the huge mass of the galactic cluster Abel 1869, whose gravity acts as a giant magnifying glass by bending the light from more distant object around it. The new galaxy, called A1689-zD1, is at just the right location for this gravitational lensing to produce the maximum magnification.

Very cool.

Boston Legal Quotes

Judge Sean O'Byrne: I find it insulting to be lectured by an American about the environment.
Denny Crane: Watch it, judge, we're a superpower. Don't make us add you to the axis.

Monday, February 11, 2008

McCain's Running Mate

Jennifer Rubin at Human Events and Club for Growth President Pat Toomey (at the Wall St Journal) start the McCain Vice Presidential watch, along with a host of others at various blog spots. Among the possible candidates, there are four very general groupings:

One of the other Presidential candidates, such as Fred!, Rudy, Mitt or Mike, or even past Presidential candidate Steve Forbes - possible but thought to be unlikely. I'd have to agree, although I could see one or more being asked to serve on a McCain cabinet, particularly the first two or Forbes.

Another current or former Senator or Congressman - names being bandied about include SC Senator Jim DeMint, former TX Senator Phil Gramm, IN Rep. Mike Pence, former CA Rep (and SEC commiteeman) Chris Cox or even OH Rep. Jay Boehner. Again, I see maybe Gramm in cabinet position, while the others currently in Congress remaining in the legislative branch where they can better influence policy.

Then there are the Governors - MN Gov. Tim Pawlenty, SC Gov. Mark Sanford, MS Gov. Haley Barbour, FL Gov Sharlie Christ, and former Govs Bill Owens of CO and Frank Keating of OK. This might be the place the pick originates from, giving the ticket access to some executive level experience, with Pawlenty and the two southerners having the inside track in both placating conservatives and provide some regional balance and putting Blue/Purple states (MN, IA, WI if it's Pawlenty) into possible play. Christ is more of a dark horse possibility, and the two former politicos are fairly unlikely as well. Pawlenty is the co-chair of McCain's campaign, so he may have the inside track, but Barbour or Sanford would also be very attractive in the slot as well.

Then there is the diversity group - former MD Lt Gov. Michael Steele, former OH Lt Gov Ken Blackwell, AK Gov. Sarah Palin, LA Gov Bobby Jindal, former OK Rep JC Watts, TX Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson or Sec of State Condi Rice. Unless Obama wins the Democratic nomination, any of these appear more likely to be cabinet or agency level appointments. Jindal and Plain are unlikely due to being relativley inexperienced, Hutchinson would only be attractive if Hillary gets the nomination, and the former Lt Govs and Watts probably only make sense if the opponent is Obama, although I think highly of all of the gentlemen, particularly Steele. Condi is quite unlikely, but gives the double whammy of black and female.

It should be interesting to see what happens at convention time.

Boston Legal Quotes

Denny Crane: You're one of those environmental lawyers?
Peter Barrett: Is there something wrong with that?
Denny Crane: They're evildoers. Yesterday it's a tree, today it's a salmon, tomorrow it's, "Let's not dig up Alaska for oil because it's too pretty." Let me tell you something, I came out here to enjoy nature, don't talk to me about the environment.
Alan Shore: All reality, none of it scripted

Friday, February 08, 2008

Shuttle Atlantis Finally Lifts Off

Via ScienceDaily, the long delayed flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis lifted off this morning on its mission to deliver the European Space Agency's primary contribution to the International Space Station, the Columbus laboratory module.

"Columbus was onboard NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis when it lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 20:45 CET today. For this one-way trip to Earth orbit, Columbus is in the expert hands of a crew of seven astronauts, including two members of the European astronaut corps: LĂ©opold Eyharts of France and Hans Schlegel of Germany."

The docking with the ISS is schedule for tomorrow, with the unloading of the module from the shuttle's cargo bay, along with the attendent space walk, scheduled for Sunday. Two additional space walks will conducted to commission the module. The shuttle will undock on February 16 and is scheduled to return to Earth in Florida two days later.

Boston Legal Quotes

Alan Shore: [to Tara] Hello, I'm a complete stranger and I'm here to pick you up.
[notices Joe]
Alan Shore: Oh, I see, there's two of us. I'll be evens, you be odds.
Joe: You got a problem?
Alan Shore: No, actually. I just saw this fair maiden here talking to a tree trunk, and since I'm an arborist I thought I could help translate.
Joe: Here's a health tip. Walk away.
Alan Shore: Why would I do that?
Tara Wilson: All right, guys.
Alan Shore: Don't be deceived by my cushy appearance.
Tara Wilson: Excuse me. I actually am with him.
Joe: I don't care. Walk away, or I lay you out.
Alan Shore: I don't mean to be a stickler, but isn't the object to lay her out?
[Joe punches Alan]
Tara Wilson: Hey!
Joe: Oh, gee, I'm sorry, I was reaching for my wallet...
Alan Shore: I see. Allow me to reach for mine.
[walks away to the other end of the bar]
Tara Wilson: Are you all right?
Alan Shore: Fine.
[to Mike and friends]
Alan Shore: Hello, big people. Sorry to intrude, but you seem rather strapping. Here's three hundred dollars. Would you be so kind as to go hit that man down there?
Mike: [laughs incredulously] Really?
Tara Wilson: Alan!
Alan Shore: There's an extra hundred if he goes down.
Mike: You're on.
Alan Shore: Make it a good one.
Tara Wilson: Oh, for God's sakes.
Alan Shore: [Mike hits Joe; fistfight ensues. Alan gives money to Mike's friend] Here's a hundred; go help your friend.
Alan Shore: [watches the fighting] Gee, seems Joe has buddies.
[passing out money to Mike's friends]
Alan Shore: One for you, one for you. I've got plenty of them. Hit him hard, now. For you, and for you...

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Husker Recruiting

Bo Pelini's first recruiting class of 28 has signed, complete list at the above link from Huskerpedia. Nine recruits out of the Lone Star state, a pair out of Bama, three from Cali, a pair from Cajun country, six in-staters, and single recruits out of FL, GA, IA, KS, MO and OH (from Cardinal Mooney High). One service rated it 21st, the other 30th. Pretty good for a staff thrown together on pretty short notice.

Pretty well rounded class on paper, but as the coach says, we won't really know until two to three years down the road. Defensively, we add a couple of corners, two or three safeties (depending on which side of the ball in-stater John Levorson of Crete lands), four or five backers, and at least three defensive linemen, although super recruit Baker Steinkuhler out of Lincoln SW may also play defense.

On offense, we signed a QB, three RBs (including Omaha Westside's Collins Okafor), three or four wideouts, a couple of TEs (including Coach Cotton's son Ben) and four offensive linemen. We also have two "athletes" on the list. Of course, these are just the 28 scholarship athletes, Coach Bo also has 30(!) in state walk-ons committed to the program - out of the 31 in-state players targetted by the staff, they closed on all but one. As the coach himself puts it, the significance of the walk-on program cannot be overstated - via an article at HuskerExtra:

"“Most of the walk-ons are coming from the state of Nebraska,” he said. “They come from towns, from areas that have a love for the state, the university and our football program. And the more people you bring into a culture that have strong beliefs about something and have a strong commitment and want-to, it’s going to make you stronger in the future.”

Yep, I do believe the man "gets it". And on a related note, I bought tickets to the Spring Game for the first time in my life - five days after seeing my first NU hoops game at Devaney on Saturday. While the gridiron will always be #1, I do believe it's time for me to step up and support the program better now that the four year nightmare is over. It could be time to catch a game the Hyamarket Park as well this year.

Boston Legal Quotes

Brad Chase: I outrank you.
Alan Shore: And I'm such a slut for authority.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Boston Legal Quotes

Alan Shore: [overhearing two co-workers having an argument] You two have had sex!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Run Down on New Astronomical Observatories has the rundown on the latest astronomical telescope projects being planned or built over the next decade. Despite all the recent progress in such matters, we're still actually very early in the process of building our knowledge of our system, other solar systems and the beginnings of the universe. All of the proposed projects would result in imagery that makes those gathered from the Hubble look like black and white TV.

"Just the names of many of the proposed observatories suggest an arms race: the Giant Magellan Telescope, the Thirty Meter Telescope and the European Extremely Large Telescope, which was downsized from the OverWhelmingly Large Telescope. Add to those three big ground observatories a new super eye in the sky, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2013.

With these proposed giant telescopes, astronomers hope to get the first pictures of planets outside our solar system, watch stars and planets being born, and catch a glimpse of what was happening near the birth of the universe."

Current telescopes are limited into how far in the past they can peer to about 1 billion years. The new projects will be so powerful they will be able to study the early formative years of the universe only a couple of hundred million years after the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago.

Two technical breakthroughs have completely redefined how such telescopes are designed and built. The first is adaptive optics, which allows astronomers to "tune" telescopes to adjust for atmospheric distortion created by the Earth's atmosphere -something which would have been impossible before the advent of economical high speed computing, which provides the capability of making the hundreds of adjustments per second necessary. The second is in how the actual mirrors are built. Instead of building a single large mirror, many small mirrors are built and pieced together. Astronomer Jerry Nelson of Hawaii's Keck observatory got the idea from seeing the tiled mosaics of ancient Greek and Roman baths.

The current single mirror Keck telescope is the world's largest at 10 meters. All of the new projects will dwarf it. The bigger the mirror, the more light that can be gathered and further back in time we can examine. The American/Australian Magellan project is planning an 80 foot telescope in 2016 to be located at Las Campanas, Chile at a cost of $800 million. Another joint project, this one American/Canadian , the 30 Meter Telescope, (Nelson is working on this one) is planning a 98 foot observatory with 492 mirror segments (some of the best current segmented Earth telescopes have 36) costing $780 million for 2018 but has not yet decided on a site. Not to be outdone, a European project destined for Chile (exact location to be determined) is planning a monster 138 foot (reduced from 328 feet!) for 2018 as well with a price tag around $1.17 billion.

Then there is the Hubble replacement.

This is the $4.5 billion James Webb Telescope, an 18 mirror segmented telescope 2 1/2times the size of its predecessor. Planned for launch into deep space 900,000+ miles from Earth in 2013 by NASA, the Webb will carry four different scientific instruments. Interestingly enough, it too will utilize adaptive optics due to the extreme temperature variations in the cold of space. The Webb's mirror will face the cold of space and be shielded from the sun by the remainder of the spacecraft, called the bus, where the control mechanisms will reside. (Images courtesy of NASA)

We are almost certainly going to learn more about the universe in the next decade or two than we have in all of human history.

US Navy's Newest Weapon

via Livescience, the US Navy has produced and tested a devastating new weapon: the rail gun. Such weapons use electromagnetic energy instead of gunpowder as a propellant, allowing a muzzle velocity of seven to eight times the spped of sound and a range of 230 miles versus a conventional naval big gun range of 23 miles. An additional advantage is that the weapon uses kinetic energy rather than explosives to provide its destructive impact, making the deployed warships much safer for the crew. Theoretically, the weapon will provide a speedy precision strike weapon from extreme ranges without the possibility of bringing defensive missile weaponry to bear, such as in the case of a cruise missile.

"I never ever want to see a Sailor or Marine in a fair fight. I always want them to have the advantage," said Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Gary Roughead. "We should never lose sight of always looking for the next big thing, always looking to make our capability better, more effective than what anyone else can put on the battlefield."

The Navy plans to deploy the weapon on warships during the next decade, hopefully by around 2018. If I recall correctly, one of the warships it is planned to be installed on is the next generation "stealth" DDG destroyer design. (After checking, yes it is).

More on the weapon here can be found at, condensed below.

The current test version of the weapon is a 32 megajoule weapon, the most powerful ever built to date, with a 64 megajoule weapon being planned for deployment. One of the weapon's teething issues is the tremendous amounts of electricity required for firing, 3 million amps for the test weapon and 6 million for the one planned. The planned electrical propulsion system on the DDG would have a capacity of 72 megawatts, and the planned 64 megawatts weapon would require 16 megawatts to fire, requiring the vessle to slow down in order to fire. Another issue is the need for high end material breakthroughs to prevent the gun's barrel and conductive rails from being shredded after repeated firings by the high velocities generated .

Cool stuff if we can get it out of development and into the field.

Boston Legal Quotes

Judge Brian Stevens: Motion for continuance is denied.
Denny Crane: You know what I'm going to do, Brian, just to show you there are no hard feelings? I'm going to sleep with your wife

Monday, February 04, 2008

Habitable Zones More Extensive

via Astrobiology, a new look at both our own world and exoplanets like those found in the Gliese system have caused researchers to expand the habitable zone found around distant stars. In effect, previous searches for planets with liquid water ignored the latitudinal variation that effects temperature so much here on Earth. Adding in effects like hydrothermal vents, volcanic activity and tidal forces, and the distance in which liquid water could range on a distant world could more than double.

"In old models of planetary conditions, average global temperatures provided approximate figures. For example, the Earth is said to have a mean global temperature of 15°C. This simplification is useful for mathematical modelling but doesn’t reflect reality. We know that some places on the Earth are much hotter and others colder. There’s also great variability in temperatures during different seasons. The latitude of continents dramatically influences temperature as well. Consider that Africa is hotter than Antarctica, even though they’re on the same planet. Professor Siegfried Franck of the Potsdam Institute realised that such variations on a planet could change our views on habitable zones.

Franck and his team devised equations to take into account temperature variations caused by the latitude of continents. They found that areas of frozen worlds could be habitable even though they are far from their parent stars. “Our result was that if we investigate this latitudinal dependence, the outer edge of the habitable zone can be extended a remarkable amount,” says Franck."

To use our own system as an example, liquid water could exist under the right conditions on a planet up to twice as distant as the Earth is from the Sun. Therefore, hardy types of biological organisms (such as extremophiles found in the Artic and Antarctic regions on Earth) could exist on frozen worlds far from their parent stars, such as the Gliese system, where a pair of large "super Earths" exist just inside the habitable zone of their star. Such organisms might hibernate for long periods until temperatures raise for brief periods in the planet's orbit or local conditions activate the creatures.

Boston Legal Quotes

Denny Crane: Massachusetts is a blue state. God has no place here.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Boston Legal Quotes

Al Sharpton: [bursts into the courtroom] Sorry I'm late, Judge, I'll make this quick...
Alan Shore: [buts in] And subtle!
Judge Harry Hingham: [to Sharpton] Who the Hell are you?
Al Sharpton: [Continues without pause] ... The image of Santa Claus has been crafted for hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of years. We're supposed to be in a different day. Give the world a black Santa Claus, let the people have an African-American come down the chimney bearing joy and good will!
Alan Shore: [whispers to Sharpton] Gay, not black.
Al Sharpton: The prejudice against gay people must stop. We all say we're for gay rights. We all say we accept homosexuality. But give a gay man a hug, sit in his lap?
Judge Harry Hingham: [Interrupts] Who is this man?
Al Sharpton: [Continues without stopping] Let the bells of tolerance ring out this Christmas. Let people open their minds as they open their presents underneath the tree. We need your mind, judge, today. Let the gay man be my brother, be your brother, be the school teacher, be the construction worker. Give the world a gay Santa Claus, God Almighty, God Almighty, God Almighty! Leave out the cookies and milk this Christmas Eve for a holly, jolly homosexual, God Almighty!
Alan Shore: And cut!
[Applause ensues]