Saturday, November 30, 2013

Yes, One Person Could Actually Destroy the World

Source: io9

Philippe van Nedervelde is a reserves officer with the Belgian Army's ACOS Strat unit who's trained in Nuclear-Biological-Chemical defense. He's a futurist and security expert with a specialization in existential risks, sousveillance, surveillance, and privacy-issues and is currently involved with, among others, the P2P Foundation.

"The vast majority of humanity today seems blissfully unaware of the fact that we actually are in real danger," said van Nedervelde. "While it is important to stay well clear of any fear mongering and undue alarmism, the naked facts do tell us that we are, jointly and severally, in 'clear and present' mortal danger. What is worse is that a kind of 'perfect storm' of coinciding and converging existential risks is brewing."

If we're going to survive the next few millennia, he says, we are going to need to get through the next few critical decades as unscathed as we can.

van Nedervelde also warned me about SIMADs, short for 'Single Individual, MAssively Destructive'.

"If you think ADC through to its logical conclusions, we have actually less to fear from a terrorist organization, small as it is, as Al-Qaeda or such, than from smart individuals who have developed a deep-seated, bitterly violent grudge against human society or the human species," he says.

The Unabomber case provides a telling example. Now imagine a Unabomber on science-enabled steroids, empowered by NBIC-converged technologies. Such an individual would conceivably have the potential to wreak destruction and cause death at massive scales: think whole cities, regions, continents, possibly even the entire planet.

"SIMAD is one of the risks that I worry about the most," he says. "I have lost sleep over this one."

Thursday, November 28, 2013

New Study Finds U.S. Has Greatly Underestimated Methane Emissions

Source: New York Times

Robert Howarth:

Using this new information as well as other independent studies on methane emissions published since 2011, and the latest information on the climate influence of methane compared to carbon dioxide from the latest synthesis report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released in September of this year, it is clear that natural gas is no bridge fuel. When used to generate electricity, natural gas likely has a greenhouse gas footprint similar to that for coal. However, when used for domestic heating of water, the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas is at least two-times larger than that of using modern electric-driven heat pumps.

Society should move as quickly as possible away from using natural gas for water heating and domestic and commercial space heating – uses which are equal to the use of gas to generate electricity in the US. This is the low-hanging fruit for reducing the total greenhouse gas emissions from the United States.

When you add up that there is more methane being emitted than E.P.A. has estimated, that methane is responsible for up to half of all the greenhouse gas emissions for the entire US, and that each unit of methane emitted is far more important in causing global climate change over the critical few decades ahead, it should be clear that bridge-fuel argument just doesn’t hold up. And the oil and gas industry is the major source of these methane emissions.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Americans have "no reasonable expectation" to privacy when it comes to phone calls they make

Source: Courthouse News

Americans have "no reasonable expectation" to privacy when it comes to the telephone calls they make, Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery said at a packed hearing in federal court.
"People assume that phone companies are recording phone numbers and how long the call lasted," he said. "We know that because all of us get the bills with those details."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Secular Victory: Religious income tax exemption ruled unconstitutional

Source: Examiner

“Some might view a rule against preferential treatment as exhibiting hostility toward religion, but equality should never be mistaken for hostility. It is important to remember that the establishment clause protects the religious and nonreligious alike.” --Judge Barbara Crabb

Sono, a noise cancelation and isolation device that sticks on your window

Source: Extreme Tech

... a concept created by Australian industrial designer Rudolf Stefanich. Sono works by vibrating a window in a pattern counter to the vibrations caused by the ambient noise, essentially turning the surface into a noise-canceling speaker. ...

The strength of Sono is not that it can cancel out obnoxious ambient noises, but can still filter pleasant ambient noises through. So, not only can you still get the chirping birds and rustling leaves from that park across the street, but the sounds are natural...

Monday, November 18, 2013

The FAA Says Pilots Are Forgetting How To Fly

Source: Vice Motherboard

“Automation has become so sophisticated that on a typical passenger flight, a human pilot holds the controls for a grand total of just three minutes.”


Source: Ensia

The dominant story about the future of the world food supply is logical, well known and wrong.

You’ve probably heard it many times. While the exact phrasing varies, it usually goes something like this: The world’s population will grow to 9 billion by mid-century, putting substantial demands on the planet’s food supply. To meet these growing demands, we will need to grow almost twice as much food by 2050 as we do today.

To be fair, there are grains of truth in each of these statements, but they are far from complete. And they give a distorted vision of the global food system, potentially leading to poor policy and investment choices.

To make better decisions, we need to examine where the narrative goes off the rails. 

There are more than 7 billion people on Earth today, and we’re expected (if current demographic trends continue unabated) to reach 9 billion by mid-century. Two billion more people in the next 40 years — that’s roughly a 28 percent increase. If those additional 2 billion people were to eat the average diet (which is actually unlikely, since most of these people will be added to the poorest regions of the world, where diets are very minimal) that would mean we need roughly 28 percent more food. It’s just simple math.

What we really need to do is deliver more food and good nutrition to the world. And there is another way to deliver more food to the world besides simply growing more crops: Better use of the crops we already grow, making sure they create as much nutritious food as possible.

... the use of crops for animal feed (instead of for direct human consumption) can be extremely inefficient in feeding people. Furthermore, some key crops are increasingly being used for biofuels, at the expense of producing food.

... the typical Midwestern farm could theoretically provide enough calories to feed about 15 people daily from each hectare of farmland. But there’s a catch: People would need to eat the corn and soybeans these farms grow directly, as part of a plant-based diet, with little food waste.

... the actual Midwestern farm today provides only enough calories to feed roughly five people per day per hectare of farmland, mainly because the vast majority of the corn and soybeans are being used to make ethanol or to feed animals.

The new narrative might sound something like this: The world faces tremendous challenges to feeding a growing, richer world population — especially to doing so sustainably, without degrading our planet’s resources and the environment. To address these challenges, we will need to deliver more food to the world through a balanced mix of growing more food (while reducing the environmental impact of agricultural practices) and using the food we already have more effectively. Key strategies include reducing food waste, rethinking our diets and biofuel choices, curbing population growth, and growing more food at the base of the agricultural pyramid with low-tech agronomic innovations. Only through a balanced approach of supply-side and demand-side solutions can we address this difficult challenge.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Do We Live in the Matrix?

If you were given the choice to take the red pill or the blue pill, would you want to know if we've been living in an artificial reality?

Source: Discover Magazine

As fanciful as it sounds, some philosophers have long argued that we’re actually more likely to be artificial intelligences trapped in a fake universe than we are organic minds in the “real” one.

Justice is reviewing criminal cases that used surveillance evidence gathered under FISA

Months after Ed Snowden leaked details of widespread spying on American citizens the Justice Department decided that they might need to notify some defendants that FISA was involved in their case and that due process may apply in some cases.

Source: Washington Post

The Justice Department is conducting a comprehensive review of all criminal cases in which the government has used evidence gathered through its warrantless surveillance program and will be notifying defendants in some of those cases, according to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

“We have a review underway now,” Holder said in an interview with The Washington Post. “We will be examining cases that are in a variety of stages, and we will be, where appropriate, providing defendants with information that they should have so they can make their own determinations about how they want to react to it.”

Friday, November 15, 2013

Some spent fuel rods at Fukushima were damaged before 2011 disaster

Source Reuters

Three of the spent fuel assemblies due to be carefully plucked from the crippled Japanese nuclear plant at Fukushima in a hazardous year-long operation were damaged even before the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that knocked out the facility.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, or Tepco, said the damaged assemblies - 4.5 meter high racks containing 50-70 thin rods of highly irradiated used fuel - can't be removed from Fukushima's Reactor No. 4 using the large cask assigned to taking out more than 1,500 of the assemblies.

Tepco is due within days to begin removing 400 tones of the dangerous spent fuel in a hugely delicate and unprecedented operation fraught with risk.

Having to deal with the damaged assemblies is likely to make that task more difficult and could jeopardize a 12-month timeframe to complete the removal that many have already called ambitious.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Insurance cancelled? Don't blame Obama or the ACA, blame America's insurance companies

Source: Fox News - Juan Williams - Opinion

The fact is if you are one of the estimated 2 million Americans whose health insurance plans may have been cancelled this month, you should not be blaming President Obama or the Affordable Care Act. 

You should be blaming your insurance company because they have not been providing you with coverage that meets the minimum basic standards for health care.

Let me put it more bluntly: your insurance companies have been taking advantage of you and the Affordable Care Act puts in place consumer protection and tells them to stop abusing people.

The government did not “force” insurance companies to cancel their own substandard policies.The insurance companies chose to do that rather than do what is right and bring the policies up to code. 

This would be like saying the government “forces” chemical companies to dispose of toxic waste safely rather than dumping it in the river. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

How to Hack the Backbone of the Internet

Source: The Motherboard blog at Vice Magazine

The highlight of the NSA’s Powerpoint presentation is a hand-drawn slide of two circles that shows where the public internet meets Google's private cloud. That meeting point is a prime spot for the NSA to intercept traffic,  encryption is “added and removed here!” as the slide states, with a smiley face no less.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Decade of Water - A map of how water supply has changed from 2003 to 2012

I've been gathering tons of information to help make a decision about where to homestead. Water-related data like this is particularly important. On a related note, see also Joel Skousen's book called "Strategic Relocation".

Source: NASA Earth Observatory

Adapting to climate change will require more than fortifying coastlines and preparing for warmer temperatures. It will require a careful look at how we manage our water resources. Nearly a decade of observations from the twin GRACE satellites shows that some parts of the United States could face hard times in coming years.

This map shows how water supplies have changed between 2003 and 2012. GRACE measures subtle shifts in gravity from month to month. Variations in land topography or ocean tides change the distribution of Earth’s mass; the addition or subtraction of water also changes the gravity field. In the past decade, groundwater supplies have decreased in California’s Central Valley and in the Southern High Plains (Texas and Oklahoma)—places that rely on ground water to irrigate crops. Eastern Texas, Alabama, and the Mid-Atlantic states also saw a decrease in ground water supplies because of long-term drought. The flood-prone Upper Missouri basin, on the other hand, stored more water over the decade.

“Groundwater reserves, the traditional backup for water supplies during extended periods of drought, are in decline globally,” James Famiglietti (University of California, Irvine) and Matthew Rodell (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) noted in a paper published in Science. This means that the water issues they observed in the United States are issues that other countries face as well.

The problem is only going to get worse over time, according to the most recent climate report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between wet and dry seasons will increase,” warn scientists in the report. In Famiglietti and Rodell’s words, “the dry regions of the world will become drier, whereas the wet areas will become wetter.” This means that those places that now rely on groundwater because they are dry will need groundwater even more in the future. The current decrease in water reserves highlights the need to monitor and manage ground water resources for the future.

“Worldwide, groundwater supplies about half of all drinking water, and it is also hugely important for agriculture, yet without GRACE we would have no routine, global measurements of changes in groundwater availability,” said Rodell. “Other satellites can’t do it, and ground-based monitoring is inadequate.”