2011 April 29 Friday
TenKsolar: 25 to 50 Percent Solar Rooftop Power Boost

Kevin Bullis in MIT's Technology Review reports on a company that can squeeze a lot more power out of existing solar cells.

A startup called TenKsolar, based in Minneapolis, says it can increase the amount of solar power generated on rooftops by 25 to 50 percent, and also reduce the overall cost of solar power by changing the way solar cells are wired together and adding inexpensive reflectors to gather more light.

The key innovation: a method to allow solar panels to not be limited by the output from their lowest output cells.

They claim that in higher sunlight areas the result is solar for 8 cents per kilowatt-hour. If you are a high electric power user in southern California you can find yourself paying 34 cents/kwh in the higher usage tiers. So the case for PV on your roof is especially compelling in SoCal. Phoenix Arizona has more insolation but Arizona electricity is less than 2/3rds the cost of California electricity. But to decide whether solar will save you money you need to look more closely at your electric power costs. Some areas have season price differences, tiered rates with higher prices for bigger users, options for time-of-day pricing, and also even options for cheaper recharging of electric vehicles.

By Randall Parker 2011 April 29 02:46 PM  Energy Solar
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Megan McArdle On Labor Savings In The Kitchen

Writing at The Atlantic at Megan McArdle takes a look (with home kitchen video for demonstration) at just how much time modern appliances save us in the kitchen.

When my grandmother was growing up in the 1920s, the average woman spent about 30 hours a week preparing food and cleaning up. By the 1950s, when she was raising her family, that number had fallen to about 20 hours a week. Now, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, women average just 5.5 hours—and those who are employed, like me, spend less than 4.4 hours a week. And that’s not because men are picking up the slack; they log a paltry 15 minutes a day doing kitchen work. One market-research firm, the NPD Group, says that even in the 1980s, 72 percent of meals eaten at home involved an entrée cooked from scratch; now just 59 percent of them do, and the average number of food items used per meal has decreased from 4.4 to 3.5. That’s when we’re home at all: by 1995, we consumed more than a quarter of all meals and snacks outside the home, up from 16 percent two decades earlier.

Her accompanying video shows some of the kitchen innovations that we might think have always been around. Some are simple and yet had their origins only in the 20th century. 19th century cooking was no fun. 18 century? Time travel would be no fun.

Go back to the year 1900 or earlier and the labor needed for food preparation was even greater. Food storage was a much bigger problem with early home refrigerators only first making it to the market in the 1910s with a much larger roll-out in the 1920s. Before that ice boxes were used in areas where ice could be stored into the summer from the winter or traded along coasts.

The further back we look the more of the food processing steps were done at home and the manual the labor was for doing those steps. In England when did the majority of harvested grain begin to be processed by specialized laborers called millers? When did butchers become the venues thru which most meat flowed?

Technological advances made the womens' liberation movement possible. Men were going to do lots of manual labor outside of the house and women were going to do lots of manual labor inside the house until machines freed women from the kitchen and washroom. The movement of women into commercial workplaces was enabled not just by freeing them from kitchen labor but also by machines in factories and other job sites that reduced the need muscles to do most commercial work.

So what about the future? What technological advances are going to cause changes in human labor on the same scale as industrial food processing, refrigerators, home cooking appliances, frozen dinners, and pizza delivery? So far modern communications technologies (cell phones, the internet) have not caused changes as fundamental as those which occurred in the 20th century using primarily mechanical technologies. For example, the living standards gains from personal computers have been relatively small. In my view this supports the argument put further by Tyler Cowen that the rate of fundamental innovation has slowed. Or his argument see his Kindle book The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History,Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better. As for eventually feeling better: Only once full body rejuvenation becomes possible.

By Randall Parker 2011 April 29 11:29 AM  Trends Technological Advance
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2011 April 27 Wednesday
Omega 3 Fatty Acids Increase Prostate Cancer Risk?

Starve a heart disease and feed a cancer?

SEATTLE – The largest study ever to examine the association of dietary fats and prostate cancer risk has found what's good for the heart may not be good for the prostate.

Analyzing data from a nationwide study involving more than 3,400 men, researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that men with the highest blood percentages of docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, an inflammation-lowering omega-3 fatty acid commonly found in fatty fish, have two-and-a-half-times the risk of developing aggressive, high-grade prostate cancer compared to men with the lowest DHA levels.

Conversely, the study also found that men with the highest blood ratios of trans-fatty acids – which are linked to inflammation and heart disease and abundant in processed foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils – had a 50 percent reduction in the risk of high-grade prostate cancer. In addition, neither of these fats was associated with the risk of low-grade prostate cancer risk. The researchers also found that omega-6 fatty acids, which are found in most vegetable oils and are linked to inflammation and heart disease, were not associated with prostate cancer risk. They also found that none of the fats were associated with the risk of low-grade prostate cancer.

How does this work? Does reduced inflammation leave cancer cells less attacked by the immune system?

I hear Joe Jackson singing: Everything gives you cancer.

By Randall Parker 2011 April 27 08:05 PM  Aging Diet Cancer Studies
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2011 April 26 Tuesday
SETI Alien Scanners Turned Off

If alien invasion armadas are approaching we aren't watching for their radio transmission signals.

Lacking the money to pay its operating expenses, the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., has pulled the plug on the renowned Allen Telescope Array, a field of radio dishes that resemble giant dinner plates. The radio dishes in the Northern California mountains scan the skies for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations.

Deep in space word is getting around that the SETI Institute has stopped watching for aliens. So all the aliens in hiding are popping their heads out, hopping on their space scooters, and meeting up to make space jamborees with radio transmissions going in every direction. Yes, you read that right: The aliens are using this gap in our searching to get out and move around.

Think about it. If you've been hiding behind asteroids and moons trying to evade detection for years then finally you aren't being scanned for what are you going to do? Resume your trip to wherever you were going before you went into hiding.

So now is the time to watch for UFOs - unless the USAF hasn't stopped looking for them. The UFOs might all be hopping out from behind Mars to cruise down to Earth to frighten people hanging out in the countryside. Watch for an uptick in reports of alien abductions.

Here's from the SETI Institute front page about the radio observatory funding shortfall.

Federal and state funding cutbacks for operations of U.C. Berkeley’s Hat Creek Radio Observatory (HCRO) force hibernation of Allen Telescope Array – In an April 22, 2011 email (PDF) to Allen Telescope Array stakeholder level donors, SETI Institute CEO Tom Pierson described in detail the recent decision by U.C. Berkeley, our partner in the Array, to reduce operations of the Hat Creek Radio Observatory (and thus the Allen Telescope Array) to a hibernation state effective this month. NSF University Radio Observatory funding to Berkeley for HCRO operations has been reduced to approximately one-tenth of its former level and, concurrently, growing State of California budget shortfalls have severely reduced the amount of state funds available for support of the HCRO site.

Work for the US Air Force makes sense. Gotta help the USAF spot alien invasion fleets.

What next for the ATA? – The SETI Institute is working on numerous efforts to insure the Array comes back on line as soon as possible. Pierson’s email outlines potential work the ATA may be performing for the United States Air Force. Donor support is also needed to restart SETI observations on the Array. For the first time in history, SETI researchers are poised to use the ATA to examine the bounty of smaller planetary systems starting to be revealed by NASA’s Kepler Mission. We are also working with a consortium of big thinkers to develop exciting opportunities for the public to participate in the future of SETI, making the science much less vulnerable to government budget cycles. Watch for these future developments in the realm of our citizen science. In the interim, if you haven’t already done so, check out the early results of these efforts at setiQuest.org and setiQuest Explorer.

Worried you are going to wake up tomorrow with an alien invasion fleet camped out in your back yard? Or is your neighbor using the gap in radio telescope monitoring to send back reports of his reconnaissance of this plant? I figure there could be Vulcans living among us. Carl Sagan was probably a Vulcan in disguise sent to help orient ourselves more toward outer space and prepare us for First Contact.

By Randall Parker 2011 April 26 10:21 PM  Space Alien Intelligence
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Polymer Enables Heat And Electric Solar Energy Capture

Some Wake Forest University researchers have developed a solar collector design that captures both electric power and heat for a higher overall efficiency.

A new polymer-based solar-thermal device is the first to generate power from both heat and visible sunlight – an advance that could shave the cost of heating a home by as much as 40 percent.

Geothermal add-ons for heat pumps on the market today collect heat from the air or the ground. This new device uses a fluid that flows through a roof-mounted module to collect heat from the sun while an integrated solar cell generates electricity from the sun’s visible light.

If this approach can be commercialized then it could lower water and home heating bills.

Only a relatively small portion of the light hitting photovoltaic (PV) material gets converted into electric power. Check out this table of average PV conversion efficiencies by type with silicon crystals at 20% on average. Much of the remaining energy in the light can be captured as heat.

The design of the new solar-thermal device takes advantage of this heat through an integrated array of clear tubes, five millimeters in diameter. They lie flat, and an oil blended with a proprietary dye flows through them. The visible sunlight shines into the clear tube and the oil inside, and is converted to electricity by a spray-on polymer photovoltaic on the back of the tubes. This process superheats the oil, which would then flow into the heat pump, for example, to transfer the heat inside a home.

Houses of the future will do more work. They will combine the German Passivhaus (Passive House) design ideas (where a house leaks very little heat) with solar panels that collect electric and heat energy. As a result houses will do more work to supply a comfortable environment and to power appliances and highly efficient lighting fixtures. Houses will also contain computers with sensors and software that will monitor your health, let you know when your kids or pets are up to trouble, do self-cleaning, and other tasks. Future houses as capital assets will have higher productivity than they do today.

By Randall Parker 2011 April 26 07:35 AM  Energy Solar
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2011 April 24 Sunday
Heart Transplant For Rapist?

Kenneth Pike might become the first prisoner in New York state to get a heart transplant. What is your reaction to that?

Taxpayers may pay $800,000 to give a life-saving heart transplant to an upstate rapist whose crime of incest was so "grotesquely criminal" that a prosecutor said he should "rot in prison."

If doctors give the OK, Kenneth Pike, 55, would be the first New York prisoner to get a heart transplant.

This report brings to mind a larger issue that looms in our future: Once it becomes possible to do full body rejuvenation what to do about the most dangerous criminals who have been sentenced to 50, 100 or longer (yet finite) in jail? Keep them alive with rejuvenation?

For those who oppose the death penalty a question arises: If a killer is allowed to grow old naturally and die of natural causes does that constitute a (admittedly slow) death penalty? If death by old age won't be morally acceptable to you given the existence of rejuvenation therapies then do you favor basically infinite incarceration? If not, what alternative do you suggest?

Imagine it becomes possible to do cell therapy or nanobot therapy to the brain of a serial killer or pedophile that would make them extremely averse to committing a serious crime. Would you oppose or support use of such a therapy to allow a criminal to be released from jail?

By Randall Parker 2011 April 24 11:14 PM  Bioethics Debate
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Soy Isoflavones Block DNA Repair

Soy isoflavones block DNA repair mechanisms and help radiation kill cancer cells. But you might worry about what blocking the DNA repair mechanism does to your cells if you aren't undergoing treatment for cancer.

"To improve radiotherapy for lung cancer cells, we are studying the potential of natural non-toxic components of soybeans, called soy isoflavones, to augment the effect of radiation against the tumor cells and at the same time protect normal lung against radiation injury," said Dr. Gilda Hillman, an associate professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Wayne State University's School of Medicine and the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit.

"These natural soy isoflavones can sensitize cancer cells to the effects of radiotherapy, by inhibiting survival mechanisms which cancer cells activate to protect themselves," Hillman said. "At the same time, soy isoflavones can also act as antioxidants in normal tissues, which protect them against unintended damage from the radiotherapy. In a recent study, published in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology, we demonstrated that soy isoflavones increase killing of cancer cells by radiation via blocking DNA repair mechanisms, which are turned on by the cancer cells to survive the damage caused by radiation."

Soy is very un-paleo. Soy is high in lectins (unless fermented) and for men the soy isoflavone genistein is only appropriate if you want to shrink your prostate and don't mind the feminization.

Soy might not be as harmful as poisonous sugar and high fructose corn syrup. We need to turn back the clock on our diets by about a century.

By Randall Parker 2011 April 24 10:09 PM  Aging Diet Studies
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2011 April 22 Friday
Cut Carbs To Cut Liver Fat

Another reason to eat a more paleo diet:

DALLAS – April 19, 2011 – Curbing carbohydrates is more effective than cutting calories for individuals who want to quickly reduce the amount of fat in their liver, report UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers.

"What this study tells us is that if your doctor says that you need to reduce the amount of fat in your liver, you can do something within a month," said Dr. Jeffrey Browning, assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern and the study's lead author.

The results, available online and in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, could have implications for treating numerous diseases including diabetes, insulin resistance and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD. The disease, characterized by high levels of triglycerides in the liver, affects as many as one-third of American adults. It can lead to liver inflammation, cirrhosis and liver cancer.

While a high percentage of obese people develop fatty liver disease and fatty liver disease is associated with metabolic syndrome and obesity the arrows of causation are not easily discerned. One might expect obesity causes metabolic syndrome. But it could be that only when fat cells exceed their capacity to store lipids do lipids get deposited in the liver and other places where they cause metabolic syndrome and diseases. Still, if you aren't obese the odds of getting excess fat in the liver and metabolic syndrome are lower.

Since fried foods seem to boost the risk of metabolic syndrome it could be the omega 6 fatty acids in the vegetable oil used for frying is causing inflammation that leads to metabolic syndrome.

Aerobic exercise can help against fatty liver disease too.

BTW, I've been pouring more olive oil on my lunches to cut my desire for carbohydrates. Seems to be working.

Update: Read the Gary Taubes article in the NY Times Magazine “Is Sugar Toxic?”. Also, see my post on fructose as a possible cause of high blood pressue and watch the video of UCSF medical school prof Robert Lustic about why fructose is the most dangerous type of sugar.

By Randall Parker 2011 April 22 02:05 PM  Aging Diet Metabolism
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Brain Region Determines Embarrassment Level

If you could suppress your brain's "pregenual anterior cingulate cortex" you could probably avoid the feeling of embarrassment.

The twist to the experiment was that most of the subjects had neurodegenerative diseases, which helped scientists identify a thumb-sized bit of tissue in the right hemisphere of the front part of the brain called the "pregenual anterior cingulate cortex" as integral to embarrassment.

The degree to which the singers were embarrassed in hearing themselves sing "My Girl" – the 1964 hit by the Temptations – depended on the integrity of this particular region.

"In healthy people, watching themselves sing elicits a considerable embarrassment reaction," said Virginia Sturm, a postdoctoral fellow at UCSF. Their blood pressure goes up, their heart rate increases, and their breathing changes, she explained. People who had neurological damage in the medial frontal cortex, however, responded more indifferently.

Too embarrassed to learn singing or to approach someone you have a crush on? It'd be mighty handy to be able to push a button on your iPhone and turn turn your pregenual anterior cingulate cortex. Maybe in 20 or 30 years you'll be able to get injected by nanobots that travel to that part of the brain and then start listening for orders to suppress neural activity.

Then there's offspring genetic engineering. When it becomes possible to choose genetic variants that control the size of the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex will you want to make your kids have a smaller one or a bigger one you have?

"This brain region predicted the behavior," said Sturm. "The smaller the region, the less embarrassed the people were."

The feeling of embarrassment is a restraint on behavior. Imagine that anyone who wants a job on Wall Street was required to have a pregenual anterior cingulate cortex with some minimum size to assure they can feel embarrassed. Would they be less likely to do corrupt things? Ditto elected officials. Require a bigger pregenual anterior cingulate cortex at each step up in elected level?

By Randall Parker 2011 April 22 09:30 AM  Brain Innate
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2011 April 19 Tuesday
Parents Support Genetic Testing Of Their Kids

Parents find the idea of genetically testing their kids to be appealing.

Washington, D.C. – Parents offered genetic testing to predict their risks of common, adult-onset health conditions say they would also test their children. That is the finding of a new study published in the May issue of Pediatrics (published online April 18). The study authors note these and other findings should put pediatricians on alert that parents may chose predictive genetic tests for themselves and for their children, and seek guidance from doctors about what to do with the information.

The tone of the press release is one of concern that parents will go and get their kids tested without professional supervision. Who knows what they might think and do with the information? Parents can already get their children genetically tested just like they can get themselves tested - all without medical supervision.

Personal genetic tests are available directly to consumers at drug stores and over the Internet. They are controversial, and generally marketed to adults for their own use. However, it might be only a matter of time before parents become the focus of advertising campaigns targeting their children for testing, says Kenneth P. Tercyak, PhD, associate professor of oncology and pediatrics at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, a part of Georgetown University Medical Center.

"The findings of our study should remind clinicians and policy-makers to consider children when regulating genetic tests," says Tercyak, the study's lead author. "These tests usually don't offer a clean bill of health and can be hard to interpret even in the best scenario. They identify incremental risks for many common diseases. Most people carry some risk based on a combination of their family history, genetics, and lifestyle. A child's unexpected test results could trigger negative reactions among parents and children, and lead to conversations at the pediatrician's office that providers aren't prepared to have."

My view: Regulators should find something else to do with their time instead of trying to prevent people from getting their own or the childrens' DNA tested.

People who were interested in their own genetic sequences were also most interested in the genetic sequences of their children. The parents see value in getting more information. Since I generally see more information as better the reasoning of the parents makes sense to me.

Tercyak says the group of parents that were most interested in the test for themselves were interested in having their child tested too. In fact, parents made little distinction between the pros and cons of testing for themselves and for their children -- generally favoring the information, and believing it could lead to improved health maintenance, disease prevention, and other personal benefits during childhood and later on in the child's life.

Genetic tests are going to become more detailed and the number of insights we'll be able to get from our genetic tests will rise drastically in the next 10 years. The cost of genetic testing has fallen so fast that scientists are now much better positioned to tease out the functional significance of large numbers of locations in the genome where we differ from each other. I say let the information flow directly to us.

By Randall Parker 2011 April 19 12:44 AM  Policy Medical
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2011 April 17 Sunday
Oil Industry Macondo Response Lesson For Nukes

In response to the BP Macondo Deepwater Horizon oil well blow-out and resulting 87 days of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico 2 consortiums of oil companies and formed 2 companies to develop devices that can be brought on after a blow-out to cap a run-away well within a couple of weeks of a blow-out. 10 major oil companies (e.g. Exxon and COP) that account for 70% of the oil pumped in the Gulf put up $1 billion to fund the Marine Well Containment Company (MWCC) to create what are called capping stacks. Some of these stacks are ready for deployment.

A separate group of oil companies founded Helix Well Containment Group which has developed their own capping stacks. The first Helix design works to 5600 feet, which is deeper than the 5000 feet water depth of the Macondo well. The next Helix capping stack due this summer will be good to 10000 feet. Many of proposed new drilling sites are at 10,000 feet and deeper. MWCC is on a similar path to develop greater well capping capability.

The MWCC interim well containment system is ready for deployment with the capacity to contain up to 60,000 barrels per day of fluid in up to 8,000 feet of water. Work is also under way on the expanded system for delivery in 2012 to handle up to 100,000 barrels per day of fluid in up to 10,000 feet of water.

To my mind this aspect of the oil industry's response to this disaster (develop much better tools for handling worst case scenarios) illustrates what the nuclear power industry needs to do: develop a set of portable capabilities that can be rapidly deployed to any nuclear reactor site to rapidly recover from major systems failures. These capabilities are not a substitute for improvements that reduce the odds of such failures. But industries such as nuclear power and oil extraction should admit their best laid plans (which are often not laid out all that well in the first place) can fail and fail very badly.

I would like to see the nuclear power industry explain how they can develop a number of capabilities including:

Portable reactor cooling systems for cooling system failures.
  • Reactor wall patching systems for cases when a reactor breach occurs.
  • Portable shielded reactor control centers for when normal control centers become damaged or their radiation levels go too high.
  • Everything that went wrong at Fukushima should be dealt with by consortia of nuclear power industry companies by developing technologies that can substitute rapidly for damaged systems and do more rapid repair of reactor sites.

    Update: The fact that new nuclear reactors can be designed to be less susceptible to the failure mode at Fukushima is a good thing. But it is besides the point for the already existing hundreds of nuclear reactors around the world. Unless those are going to be shut down soon (and with the possible exception of Germany that appears very unlikely) we need better ways to handle failures at reactors already in place. Of course existing reactors can be upgraded (e.g. with cooling pumps that won't get knocked out by a tsunami wave). But if one fails we need better tools to deal with the consequences.

    By Randall Parker 2011 April 17 10:16 AM  Dangers Complex Engineering
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    Sun Spot Activity Coming Back: Little Ice Age Averted?

    Okay, anyone fantasizing about a new Little Ice Age due to an extended period of low sun spot activity should probably give up hope for revival of Thames frost fairs on a frozen river because the sun appears to be swinging back up out of its recent low point of sun spot activity. The solar cycle appears to be kicking up again.

    Quiet spells on the sun are nothing new. They come along every 11 years or so—it's a natural part of the solar cycle. This particular solar minimum, however, was lasting longer than usual, prompting some researchers to wonder if it would ever end.

    The sun's flaring and doing big spews of particles.

    News flash: The pot is starting to boil. "Finally," says Fisher, "we are beginning to see some action."

    As 2011 unfolds, sunspots have returned and they are crackling with activity. On February 15th and again on March 9th, Earth orbiting satellites detected a pair of "X-class" solar flares--the most powerful kind of x-ray flare. The last such eruption occurred back in December 2006.

    Another eruption on March 7th hurled a billion-ton cloud of plasma away from the sun at five million mph (2200 km/s). The rapidly expanding cloud wasn't aimed directly at Earth, but it did deliver a glancing blow to our planet's magnetic field. The off-center impact on March 10th was enough to send Northern Lights spilling over the Canadian border into US states such as Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan.

    No need to worry about the loss of prospects for an ice age epic disaster. When nature takes away it often gives as well. With large coronal mass ejections come back we should think about the real possibility of a solar Carrington Event with destruction of large numbers of electric power transformers and cause civilization to collapse. Even worse, there'd be no way to recharge Kindles and iPads.

    By Randall Parker 2011 April 17 01:17 AM  Climate Trends
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    2011 April 14 Thursday
    Chronic Air Pollution Causes Inflammation

    White blood cells reacting to chronic air pollutants will stoke up changes that cause cardiovascular disease and other diseases.

    COLUMBUS, Ohio – Chronic inhalation of polluted air appears to activate a protein that triggers the release of white blood cells, setting off events that lead to widespread inflammation, according to new research in an animal model.

    This finding narrows the gap in researchers’ understanding of how prolonged exposure to pollution can increase the risk for cardiovascular problems and other diseases.

    When you are thinking about where to live or work consider air quality. Too many office buildings get built near freeways because people are averse to living near freeways. Well, unless you get an employer who will shell out the bucks for a thorough air filtration system a job next to a freeway could set you up for cardiovascular problems and other diseases that can be accelerated by inflammation.

    Here is what I'd like to know: Suppose you are going to live next to a freeway or near other major air pollution sources. How much of the bad stuff in the air can get scrubbed out by the right air filtration system? In particular, is a basic HEPA filter good enough against vehicle air pollution? Most discussions of air filtration seem to center around allergens because so many people know they are allergen sensitive. It is relatively harder to find informed discussions about pollutant filtration. So I'm left wondering at the utility of more powerful filtration systems that work against chemicals in the air. Know pertinent facts about pollutants and air filtration? Can air filtration systems make living next to a freeway safe?

    Update: So how close to a highway is close enough to worry? The first 100 meters (about 300 feet) are the worst and by 300 meters distance there's little effect from a highway on air quality. These are approximate numbers due to different geographies and traffic loads and wind patterns. Check out a graph of particle concentration as a function of distance from a highway in LA as an example.

    Unfortunately, the smallest particles are both harder to filter and quite harmful (and read that article if you want to rationally fear air pollution). I am still left wondering how well air filtration systems can work for those who dwell near major highways. My guess is they will substantially reduce harm from vehicle pollution. But can they totally eliminate the added health risk?

    By Randall Parker 2011 April 14 11:11 PM  Aging Pollution Studies
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    2011 April 13 Wednesday
    Vitamin D Cuts Old Age Eye Disease Risk

    Hey, time for another "vitamin D is good for you" post. Been too long since the last one. This time you can see the benefit.

    "In women younger than 75, those who had 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations lower than 38 nanomoles per liter were more likely to have age-related macular degeneration than women with concentrations greater than 38 nanomoles per liter," says Amy E. Millen, PhD, assistant professor in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions and lead author. "Blood concentrations above 38 nanomoles per liter were associated with at least a 44 percent decreased odds of having AMD."

    Of course, this is not a double blind longitudinal intervention study with pills. So other factors might both cut eye risk and raise vitamin D levels. But while we wait for results of more definitive studies our eyes will (regrettably) age.

    High vitamin D foods were found linked to lower age-related macular degeneration (AMD) risk.

    In women younger than 75 years, intake of vitamin D from foods and supplements was associated with decreased risk of developing early AMD. Women who consumed the most vitamin D had a 59 percent decreased odds of developing early AMD compared with women who consumed the least vitamin D. The top food sources of vitamin D in the sample were milk, fish, fortified margarine and fortified cereal. No relationship was observed using self-reported time spent in direct sunlight.

    Measures to slow our eye aging aren't the final answer. What we need: Full body repair. If we only had a time machine some of us could travel up ahead 50 years, hop out, and get cell therapies, gene therapies, and growth of replacement organs.

    Update: Also see this Harvard School of Public Health article on what factors increase your risk of low vitamin D.

    By Randall Parker 2011 April 13 11:36 PM  Aging Diet Eye Studies
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    Tired Judges More Likely To Decide For More Jail Time

    Fresh minds are more forgiving. (thanks Valentin)

    The research, which examined judicial rulings by Israeli judges who presided over parole hearings in criminal cases, found that judges gave more lenient decisions at the start of the day and immediately after a scheduled break in court proceedings such as lunch. Jonathan Levav, associate professor of business at Columbia University, who co-authored the paper, said: "You are anywhere between two and six times as likely to be released if you're one of the first three prisoners considered versus the last three prisoners considered."

    We are influenced in our cognition by many forces without our awareness. Do we have free will? Are our decisions really based on conscious deliberation? Lots of lines of evidence argue that we are puppets to the time of day, our level of restedness, what we eat, noises, visuals, smells, and other influences.

    I'm intrigued by the idea of creating environments that will allow us to manipulate ourselves with suites of influences calculated to encourage us to achieve our goals.

    Here's the full PNAS paper.

    By Randall Parker 2011 April 13 11:15 PM  Brain Free Will
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    Magnetic Resonance Imaging Helps Brain Training

    Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging can help you train your brain to introspect more intensely.

    As humans face increasing distractions in their personal and professional lives, University of British Columbia researchers have discovered that people can gain greater control over their thoughts with real-time brain feedback.

    The study is the world's first investigation of how real-time functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) feedback from the brain region responsible for higher-order thoughts, including introspection, affects our ability to control these thoughts. The researchers find that real-time brain feedback significantly improves people's ability to control their thoughts and effectively 'train their brains.'

    This result would be a lot more interesting if MR scanners did not cost $1 million to $3 million. Superconducting cools supercooled make for an expensive machine. What's a cheaper way to do this? What are the prospects for room temperature superconductors?

    Train your brain to make your rostrolateral prefrontal cortex (RLPFC) think more higher-order thoughts. Any way to do this without an fMRI machine?

    For the study, published the current issue of NeuroImage journal, participants performed tasks that either raised or lowered mental introspection in 30-second intervals over four six-minute sessions. fMRI technology tracked real-time activity in the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex (RLPFC), the region of the brain involved with higher-order thoughts.

    Participants with access to real-time fMRI feedback could see their RLPFC activity increase during introspection and decrease during non-introspective thoughts, such as mental tasks that focused on body sensations. These participants used the feedback to guide their thoughts, which significantly improved their ability to control their thoughts and successfully perform the mental tasks. In contrast, participants given inaccurate or no brain feedback did not achieve any improvement in brain regulation.

    What would also be helpful: A graphical display above one's desk that shows how much people coming in to ask questions are cutting into mental output. Recent mental productivity should be shown going back and hour or so with a live feed. Then a pair of bars on a bar graph could show how much mental work one has done so far and how much one could have done without interrupts.

    By Randall Parker 2011 April 13 08:51 PM  Brain Enhancement
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    2011 April 12 Tuesday
    Weight Loss Improves Memory Of Obese

    Take off the weight and bring back the memory.

    John Gunstad, an associate professor in Kent State University's Department of Psychology, and a team of researchers have discovered a link between weight loss and improved memory and concentration. The study shows that bariatric surgery patients exhibited improved memory function 12 weeks after their operations.

    The findings will be published in an upcoming issue of Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases, the Official Journal of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. The research report is also available online at www.soard.org/article/S1550-7289(10)00688-X/abstract.

    Obese people who lose weight improve their cardiovascular risk factors. On a related note, older adults with risk factors for stroke have a greater risk of cognitive decline. The same factors that put your cardiovascular system at risk also put your mind at risk.

    Older adults at risk for stroke have significantly increased risk for some types of cognitive decline, according to a multicenter study led by University of California scientists.

    The study, which involved 73 older women and men who had not had a stroke and did not have dementia, showed that participants had substantially greater risk for decline in some aspects of "executive function" – specifically in verbal fluency and the ability to ignore irrelevant information. Verbal memory and short term, or "working memory," were not affected.

    The sorts of risk factors that boost heart disease risk and risk of cognitive decline would also be improved for the obese by weight loss.

    They assessed participants' risk for coronary artery disease using the widely used Framingham Coronary Risk Score, which incorporates coronary artery disease risk factors – age, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, presence of diabetes, and smoking status – to generate a person's risk of stroke within 10 years.

    Aside from losing weight what to do to improve your cardiovascular system and therefore your brain? How about tart cherries? Or an old standard: an apple a day keeps the LDL cholesterol away.

    This study randomly assigned 160 women ages 45-65 to one of two dietary intervention groups: one received dried apples daily (75g/day for 1 year) and the other group ate dried prunes every day for a year. Blood samples were taken at 3, 6 and 12-months. The results surprised Dr. Arjmandi, who stated that "incredible changes in the apple-eating women happened by 6 months- they experienced a 23% decrease in LDL cholesterol," which is known as the "bad cholesterol." The daily apple consumption also led to a lowering of lipid hydroperoxide levels and C-reactive protein in those women.

    By Randall Parker 2011 April 12 11:12 PM  Aging Diet Brain Studies
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    2011 April 11 Monday
    Old Brains Do Poorer Job Processing Interrupts

    UCSF researchers find that when looking at brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) older brains interrupted from a task do a poorer job of resuming where they left off.

    Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco have pinpointed a reason older adults have a harder time multitasking than younger adults: they have more difficulty switching between tasks at the level of brain networks.

    Juggling multiple tasks requires short-term, or "working," memory – the capacity to hold and manipulate information in the mind for a period of time. Working memory is the basis of all mental operations, from learning a friend's telephone number, and then entering it into a smart phone, to following the train of a conversation, to conducting complex tasks such as reasoning, comprehension and learning.

    "Our findings suggest that the negative impact of multitasking on working memory is not necessarily a memory problem, per se, but the result of an interaction between attention and memory,” said the senior author of the study, Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD, UCSF associate professor of neurology, physiology and psychiatry and director of the UCSF Neuroscience Imaging Center.

    Basically, after processing an interrupt and resuming an interrupted task older brains show they did a poorer job of restoring context. In software terms, their stack gets corrupted.

    When the young and older adults were interrupted, their brains disengaged from a memory maintenance network and reallocated neural resources toward processing the interruption. However, the younger adults re-established connection with the memory maintenance network following the interruption and disengaged from the interrupting image. The older adults, on the other hand, failed both to disengage from the interruption and to reestablish the neural network associated with the disrupted memory.

    This has obvious implications for workplaces: cut back on unnecessary interrupts. But this advice doesn't just apply to older workers. Everyone takes a hit from interrupts, the extent of the cost is just a matter of degree. The cost has been documented for software developers in DeMarco and Lister's book PeopleWare. Unfortunately, the book has not had much of an impact on management thinking.

    If you can see an interrupt coming then it would make sense to jot down some thoughts about what you are thinking about at that moment. Such jottings could help you restore state more quickly once the interrupt is over. Or just maintain a more detailed list of what you are trying to accomplish in a given day. One needs the ability to isolate oneself to think thru bigger thoughts.

    By Randall Parker 2011 April 11 11:12 PM  Brain Aging
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    2011 April 10 Sunday
    China Oil Use Surpassing USA In 2018?

    Steve Kopits says oil demand from China will surpass that of the United in just 7 years. To translate that into practical matters: Your price for gasoline will be a lot higher. You need to use something else to power your car (natural gas in his view) or use gasoline far more efficiently.

    In evidence to the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Energy and Power's hearing, April 4th, regarding the "The American Energy Initiative", Douglas-Westwood LLP's Managing Director, .Steve Kopits, gave dire warnings about the likely development of China's future energy demand

    "China's oil demand will likely keep pressure on oil prices for the indefinite future," said Kopits. "China consumes 10 million barrels of oil per day (mbpd) on global consumption of about 88 mbpd. ...it is already the second biggest consumer of oil in the world ...we see China surpassing US consumption levels around 2018."

    Kopits thinks we should seriously think about shifting part of our transportation energy demand to natural gas and I agree. Western nations need to get their energy demand basically out of the way of rising Asian energy demand. When faced with a zero sum game (or worse) the wise thing to do is find another game to play. Kopits thinks we are at considerable risk of an oil price shock in 2012. The Kopits slide show (pasted into an article with commentary by Gail Tverberg) there includes his observation that compressed natural gas tanks for vehicles in the US cost too much. He suspects safety regulations or other regulations are boosting their cost far more than makes sense. Kopits shows up in the comments of econbrowser.com blog posts by James Hamilton (UCSD economist who does a lot of research on energy economics). Back in December 2010 Kopits stated that the biggest factor holding back natural gas cars is the cost of the storage tanks.

    The key to natural gas vehicles, based on our research in conjunction with Columbia University, is the price of the vehicle in the showroom. CNG vehicles have to be priced the same as gasoline powered ones. The fuel station appears to be a dependent variable ("Buy it and they will build.")

    So no need to worry about the refueling infrastructure. But he identifies the key issue: why do natural gas vehicles cost so much? Low production volume? Safety regulations? Other?

    Kopits thinks if the price premium for natural gas vehicles declined from $10k to $1k then they'd take off without any additional government intervention needed to encourage their use.

    As I mentioned yesterday, I tesitified to the House Energy and Power Subcommittee on Monday, ostensibly on China's oil and gas, but all the Congressmen had their own wish list: one from Kansas wanted a coal-fired power plant; one from California wanted a nuke; one from Massachusetts wanted a lot of wind turbines.

    All of these would be closer to realization if natural gas moved into use as a transportation fuel. At present, nat gas costs about $4 / mmbtu; as a transportation fuel, it would currently be valued (at steady state consumption) at around $12 / mmbtu. Thus, nat gas would tend to migrate out of power gen and into transport, leaving behind it space for more coal, nukes, wind. Onshore wind, for example, is thought competitive around $8 / mmbtu, so it would be comfortably in the money. (Yes, this is pure Picken's Plan. Don't let the Oklahoma twang fool you: the man is a very solid analyst.)

    To make this happen, we need a CNG tank which can be delivered at the showroom at a variable cost no more than $1000 (ie, a payback period of less than 2 years). The Indians can do this for $200; in the US, the differential is well over $10,000. I believe (but am not entirely sure) that the high US differential is the result of CNG tank regulation, which is geared for safety and environmental protection without consideration of market constraints. That's enough to put CNG out of the money ($3,000+), and then low vehicle sales volumes and large allocated overheads do the rest. For example, Honda typically sold 1,000 CNG GX's per year. If you had only $10 million of overhead associated with this effort (not a lot by auto industry standards), then you'd have to allocate $10,000 per car to break even.

    So, that's what we need: a $1,000 CNG tank. That's it. Our research with Columbia University suggests that neither filling stations nor energy companies need to be subsidized. Nat gas vehicles must be priced in the showroom the same as their gasoline counterparts. If you have that, you'll get market acceptance.

    So, for me, CNG as a transport fuel is priority No. 3 for energy policy. Shouldn't be that hard to do.

    Again, why do CNG vehicles cost so much? Does any reader know the answer?

    A separate topic: Will the huge price premium of oil over natural gas remain? Looks like natural gas might go up to $7/mmBTU. That'd still make it much cheaper than gasoline, especially if gasoline keeps going up in price. Even $8/mmBTU would make natural gas useful for transportation if (as I expect) oil prices go much higher in coming years.

    Update: Think Saudi Arabia is going to ramp up production? Saudi oil production peaked in 1981 and Saudi domestic consumption is causing declining exports on flat production.

    By Randall Parker 2011 April 10 05:42 PM  Energy Peak Oil Adaptations
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    Atherosclerotic Plaque Forms In Short Period

    Plaques that cause strokes and heart attacks form in just several years.

    In a new study performed in humans, researchers from Karolinska Institutet have determined the age of atherosclerotic plaques by taking advantage of Carbon-14 (14C) residues in the atmosphere, prevailing after the extensive atomic bomb tests in the 50ties and 60ties. The findings, published in the scientific online journal PLoS ONE, suggest that in most people plaque formation occurs during a relatively short and late time period in life of 3-5 years.

    This raises an obvious question: Why isn't plaque accumulation a long term process? What changes in the cardiovascular system that allows or causes a sudden acceleration in plaque formation? Do stem cells become too old to do repairs? Or do other cells suddenly change their behavior in ways that encourage plaque formation?

    "We suspected that the plaque would be substantially younger than the patients, who were on average were 68 years old at surgery, but we were surprised when we found that the average age of these plaques was less than 10 years", says Associate Professor Johan Björkegren, who lead the study at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics.

    They found plaque age to be inversely correlated with plasma insulin. That makes sense. High insulin is associated with insulin-resistant diabetes which is, in turn, associated with many diseases including cardiovascular diseases. Eat a diet and get enough exercise to avoid insulin-resistant diabetes and reduce your risk of plaque formation, strokes, and heart attacks.

    You can read the full article here.

    An observed relationship between shorter chromosome telomere length (telomere caps shrink with age and are a biomarker for aging) and atherosclerosis suggests cellular aging somehow accelerates plaque formation. You can read one research paper that looked at telomere length and plaque formation for an interesting discussion of hypotheses on this topic. Possibly infusion of youthful endothelial cells into the walls of the vascular system will some day stop and possibly even reverse plaque formation. Here's another reason to wish for rapid development of cell therapies.

    By Randall Parker 2011 April 10 03:07 PM  Aging Cardiovascular Studies
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    Political Book Burning To Become Impossible?

    My deep thought for the day: In the future, when some group wants to burn some politically or religiously objectionable book, will physical books be so rare that they'll have to get the books specially printed just to burn them?

    Or will protesters copy electronic books onto many hard drives and simultaneously all pull out magnets to pass over the hard drives in a mass demonstration of magnetic erasure?

    Got any ideas on how book suppression will be done 50 years hence?

    By Randall Parker 2011 April 10 11:58 AM  Comm Tech Society
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    2011 April 09 Saturday
    Chevy Volt Cuts Gasoline Use Two Thirds?

    Early Chevrolet Volt buyers are going a thousand miles between refills.

    Tony Posawatz, Vehicle Line Director for the Chevrolet Volt, said that early sampling has found that Volt drivers go an average of 1,000 miles before they have to refuel. The company is on track to sell 50,000 cars in 2011.

    Since the car goes only about 35 miles and then about 340 more miles on gasoline this suggests the users are rarely letting the batteries go all the way down. Only about a third of those 1000 miles would be on gasoline power. So the Volt is cutting gasoline consumption by early adopters by two thirds. Mind you, that's a rough calculation since the drivers might be buying more gasoline with a few gallons still in the tank.

    Since the Volt has a 9.3 gallon gas tank and drivers are probably refilling with over a gallon still left in the tank this suggests Volt drivers are probably going about 120 miles per gallon of gasoline.

    Ideal early adopters for the Chevy Volt drive about 35 miles to work, can recharge at work, and then drive home into a garage with a power plug for overnight driving. People who fit that pattern are the ones who can save the most from a Volt.

    So can the Volt become cheap enough to hit a price point for mass adoption? Its battery has been Experts think battery costs are going to dive. Of course, you are left wondering when.

    "The question is: Can these guys make a battery that is five times cheaper? I think yes. I think we can do it," Eric Isaacs, the director of the Argonne National Laboratory, said in an interview. Argonne, outside Chicago, is the Department of Energy's lead lab for advanced battery research and development.

    Even if we ignore battery costs in areas with high residential electricity prices (e.g. much of SoCal) the Volt only saves money when gasoline prices are high (like right now).

    By Randall Parker 2011 April 09 02:18 PM  Energy Electric Cars
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    Big Gene Search Turns Up Obesity Gene

    A mildly interesting discovery turns up a gene that might some day help lead to a treatment for insulin-resistant diabetes. But the actual discovery isn't the most important part of it.

    LA JOLLA, CA – New research by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute and collaborating institutions has identified a key regulator of fat cell development that may provide a target for obesity and diabetes drugs.

    In a paper published in the latest issue of Cell Metabolism, the scientists describe a protein called TLE3 that acts as a dual switch to turn on signals that stimulate fat cell formation and turn off those that keep fat cells from developing. TLE3 works in partnership with a protein that is already the target of several diabetes drugs, but their use has been plagued by serious side effects.

    What is especially interesting: the scientists were able to test 18,000 genes to discover the importance of just one gene.

    To find additional players in adipocyte formation, Saez, Tontonoz, and colleagues induced cells growing in a dish to differentiate into adipocytes. The scientists then individually tested the ability of 18,000 genes to augment the conversion of undifferentiated cells into fully functioning adipocytes, looking for genes that might play a role in this process.

    In this way, they identified the gene encoding the TLE3 protein, which had never before been linked to fat development.

    Our cells and bodies are enormously complex. Studying one gene at a time won't get us to many major treatments in our lifetimes. Only massive parallel searches and parallel interventions (e.g. with large numbers of gene arrays and microfluidic devices) can provide the massive amounts of information we need to do detailed reverse-engineering of the human body.

    The speed with which research tools get more powerful is the rate-limiting factor for how soon we will get major rejuvenation therapies. Given sufficiently powerful tools the body can be reverse-engineered orders of magnitude faster.

    By Randall Parker 2011 April 09 11:14 AM  Biotech Advance Rates
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    2011 April 07 Thursday
    Skepticism On Algae Biodiesel Yields

    Kansas State University researchers claim that optimistic projections of algae biodiesel production are not realistic.

    "We found that phycologists -- algae scientists -- maintain that some popular estimates of producing 200 to 500 grams of algae per square meter of open pond per day weren't feasible because there's simply not enough sunlight coming through the atmosphere to do so," Pfromm said. "Unless we can change the sun, such production is physically impossible -- and the hard numbers prove that. Most economists wouldn't necessarily recognize this as an issue in a business plan because it's dictated by physics, not finances."

    The team used a more realistic, yet still optimistic, production number -- 50 grams per square meter per day. They determined it would take 11 square miles of open ponds making 14,000 tons of algae a day to replace 50 million gallons of petroleum diesel per year -- about 0.1 percent of the U.S. annual diesel consumption -- with an eco-friendly algae alternative.

    The cheaper open pond approaches face problems with water evaporation rates (big underground water reservoirs are already getting depleted), invasion by organisms that eat algae, and invasion by algae species that can out-compete any species ideal for oil production, whether natural or genetically engineered.

    Natural algae produce oil best when they are nitrogen-starved.

    "Algae don't make oil out of the kindness of their hearts. They store energy as oil when they are starved for nitrogen so they can make more algae in the future," Pfromm said. "The end result is the yield isn't that high because we can either stress the algae to produce more oil or let them reproduce very efficiently -- not both."

    Lots of selection for higher production crops amounts to selecting away overhead aimed at protection against predators and competitors. The same will apply to genetically engineering algae for higher oil production. So methods to keep out other species will need to be developed for algae oil ponds that are open. I think this is a very hard set of problems to solve.

    By Randall Parker 2011 April 07 08:00 AM  Energy Biomass
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    2011 April 05 Tuesday
    Junk Food Sugar Spike Worse With Coffee

    Don't drink coffee when you eat a meal at a fast food joint. Or, better yet, don't eat junk food so that you can drink coffee.

    Eating a fatty fast food meal is never good for you, but washing that meal down with a coffee is even worse, according to a new University of Guelph study.

    Researcher Marie-Soleil Beaudoin has discovered not only that a healthy person's blood sugar levels spike after eating a high-fat meal, but that the spike doubles after having both a fatty meal and caffeinated coffee – jumping to levels similar to those of people at risk for diabetes.

    Saturated fat and caffeine interact to impair sugar removal from the blood?

    "The results tell us that saturated fat interferes with the body's ability to clear sugars from the blood and, when combined with caffeinated coffee, the impact can be even worse," said Beaudoin, a PhD student who conducted the study with U of G professors Lindsay Robinson and Terry Graham. "Having sugar remain in our blood for long periods is unhealthy because it can take a toll on our body's organs."

    Or even better: skip the coffee and the junk food and eat a paleo diet.

    By Randall Parker 2011 April 05 11:53 PM  Aging Diet Metabolism
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    Rising Vitamin D Correlated With Lower Blood Pressure

    In an observational study those who experienced rising blood vitamin D during the study period also experienced declining blood pressure.

    A lack of vitamin D, even in generally healthy people, is linked with stiffer arteries and an inability of blood vessels to relax, research from the Emory/Georgia Tech Predictive Health Institute has found.

    The results add to evidence that lack of vitamin D can lead to impaired vascular health, contributing to high blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Study participants who increased their vitamin D levels were able to improve vascular health and lower their blood pressure.

    This was not an interventional study. So it does not prove that vitamin D lowers blood pressure. It could be that, for example, some study participants started jogging outside (where the sun raised their skin vitamin D synthesis) and the exercise improved their cardiovascular systems enough to lower their blood pressure.

    Participants whose vitamin D levels increased over the next six months, either from dietary supplements or ample sun exposure, tended to improve their measures of vascular health and had lower blood pressure. Forty-two study participants with vitamin D insufficiency whose levels later went back to normal had an average drop in blood pressure of 4.6 millimeters mercury.

    "This was an observational study, rather than an interventional one, and it was difficult to tease out how the people who restored their vitamin D levels got there," Al Mheid says. "We are hoping to conduct a study where we have participants take a defined regimen of vitamin D."

    But if your blood pressure is too high vitamin D might help.

    By Randall Parker 2011 April 05 11:31 PM  Aging Diet Heart Studies
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    2011 April 04 Monday
    Wind Energy Growth Slowed By Lower Demand

    A Wall Street Journal article reports on a big drop in demand for new wind power installations. Demand for electric power dropped when recession and economic crisis hit in full force and has yet to fully recover. It is hard for wind to compete against existing power plants. Wind really needs rising total electric power demand to grow. But the US Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration expects wind to become competitive with current low cost leader natural gas electric by 2016 in the windy plains states.

    The Energy Information Administration projects that, in 2016, the cost of producing electricity from a new wind farm will be about equal to that from a new gas-fired plant in the windiest parts of America's midsection, such as the Dakotas and Colorado. It forecasts that producing wind power still will cost about twice as much as producing gas-fired power in less-windy places such as the Mid-Atlantic coast and the Southeast.

    Natural gas probably has more pricing risk though. If the current low costs of natural gas do not continue then it won't remain the low price leader. Coal and wind would become more viable in the great plains states.

    What I'd like to know: What would be the cost of transporting great plains wind electric power to the coasts? Political opposition to a big transmission lines build-out from plains to coasts might prevent this. The opposition comes both from people who do not want high power electric lines built near them and also from owners of electric power plants who do not want more competing electric power sources. But absent that opposition would the long distance transmission lines make economic sense?

    In New England electric power costs almost double the costs in the plains states (mostly due to cheap coal from Wyoming and North Dakota and regulations in the Northeast). That difference in costs is not a recent development. Yet the long distance power lines haven't been built to exploit those price differences. Connecticut especially has extremely high electric power prices at over 19.29 cents/kwh. In North Dakota the price is a mere 8.09 cents/kwh.

    The fact that (at least in America) the wind blows hardest where electric prices are lowest is a real stumbling block for wind power's growth. But that's not the only stumbling block. Bird lovers celebrate when a big wind turbine farm is blocked.

    (Washington, D.C., April 4, 2011) American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the nation’s leading bird conservation organization, today said that the cancellation of the Xcel Energy Inc. 150-megawatt, $400 million wind farm in southeastern North Dakota reflects how serious bird mortality issues are in connection with the burgeoning wind farm industry.

    Opposition to wind noise near human populations seems to be growing with local complaints about wind turbine noise and health at many sites.

    I'd rather see more geothermal (which to make scalable might require the same fracturing techniques that make environmentalists upset about shale natural gas) and serious development of thorium LFTR reactors. Smaller footprints. There is no ideal energy source.

    By Randall Parker 2011 April 04 11:06 PM  Energy Wind
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    Instant TV Political Debate Polls Influence Interpretations

    A researcher paper in Plos One By researchers at University of London and University of Bristol finds that real time reporting of reactions of other viewers to political debates shifts the views of the TV audience and illustrates the tendency of human herd behavior. More automated herd view formation.

    A recent innovation in televised election debates is a continuous response measure (commonly referred to as the “worm”) that allows viewers to track the response of a sample of undecided voters in real-time. A potential danger of presenting such data is that it may prevent people from making independent evaluations. We report an experiment with 150 participants in which we manipulated the worm and superimposed it on a live broadcast of a UK election debate. The majority of viewers were unaware that the worm had been manipulated, and yet we were able to influence their perception of who won the debate, their choice of preferred prime minister, and their voting intentions. We argue that there is an urgent need to reconsider the simultaneous broadcast of average response data with televised election debates.

    What I wonder: Has the web done more to encourage independent thinking or herd following? Does all the information on the web increase the amount of well informed rational opinion formation by a greater or lesser amount than how much it enables some people to follow leaders?

    Think about Twitter. You can follow people on Twitter. You can find out their opinions. In discussion forums you can find out opinions of others.

    In the early days of blogging there were so few blogs that they linked to each other more across the political spectrum and between specialties. But the partisan warrior blogs ("Singing songs and carrying signs, Mostly say, hooray for our side") enable people to find confirmation for their views. It is not clear to me what's the net result.

    By Randall Parker 2011 April 04 09:37 PM  Comm Tech Society
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    2011 April 03 Sunday
    Periodic Fasting Improves Blood Lipids

    Periodic starvation anyone?

    Murray, UT (4/03/11) – Fasting has long been associated with religious rituals, diets, and political protests. Now new evidence from cardiac researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute demonstrates that routine periodic fasting is also good for your health, and your heart.

    Today, research cardiologists at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute are reporting that fasting not only lowers one's risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes, but also causes significant changes in a person's blood cholesterol levels. Both diabetes and elevated cholesterol are known risk factors for coronary heart disease.

    Would periodic fasting deliver the same benefits as a calorie restriction diet in terms of a potential increase in life expectancy? Periodic fasting strikes me as much easier to do than continually eating fewer calories than it takes to maintain a normal body weight. No need to go around continually gaunt, hungry, and less able to handle severe conditions.

    Fasting improved many cardiac risk factors.

    The discovery expands upon a 2007 Intermountain Healthcare study that revealed an association between fasting and reduced risk of coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death among men and women in America. In the new research, fasting was also found to reduce other cardiac risk factors, such as triglycerides, weight, and blood sugar levels.

    So should you fast to live longer? My take: Get many other things right first before even considering fasting. Stephan Guyenet points out that the evidence is pretty strong that the coronary heart disease epidemic is a product of modern civilization. It is not just that we are living long enough to get heart disease. Stephan suggests a major risk factor for heart disease is too much omega 6 fatty acids and too little omega 3s. The best diet changes to make amount to turning the clock back: Reverse the wheat, vegetable oils, and sweetener consumption increase of the modern age before you start thinking about fasting.

    By Randall Parker 2011 April 03 09:43 PM  Aging Diet Heart Studies
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