2013 December 30 Monday
Supersonic Business Jets And The Cutting Edge

Spike Aerospace claims they will deliver a supersonic business jet in 2018. A competitor, Aerion, now puts their own supersonic jet delivery in in 2021 (a multi-year slip btw).

Since the world now has so many billionaires and highly paid CEOs I would like to see more cutting edge products developed to address their needs and desires. They can afford to pay high prices for small volume and technologically sophisticated products. What would be ideal: major efforts to develop rejuvenation therapies that at first only the wealthiest will be able to afford.

Our problem: as long the wealthy make most of their personal expenditures on just more of the same stuff everyone else can buy (e.g. the whole 787 rather than just a seat on it; a house with more rooms) their purchases aren't doing much to push the cutting edge of technology. But if they buy stuff moves the edge of the technologically possible then they fund early stage development of technologies that will some day reach us all.

So what we need: ideas for cutting edge products that the wealthy would want to buy first at very high prices. Got any ideas?

By Randall Parker 2013 December 30 10:13 PM 
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2013 December 24 Tuesday
Colder North America And Warmer Rest Of World

Wondering what the extensive snow cover in the US says about the climate of the rest of the world? The US and Canada are the outliers. The rest of the world is warmer. Scroll down to the November 2013 NASS GISS global temperature anomaly map at that link. Alaska is warmer than normal and the rest of North America is colder than normal. Siberia is much warmer than normal.

Bottom line: heavy snows in North America are not a sign that the world is cooling. Unless you have time machine the future of global climate is hard to predict. Since a lot is riding on future trends in climate I'd really like to know what is going to happen.

On the NASA Earth Observatory site you can look at sea surface temperature anomalies (deviations from historical averages) in an animation over 2002 to 20011 and the same for land surface temperature anomalies. I think they should combine those into a single animation series for land and sea.

The sea surface temperature anomaly series certainly shows a warming Arctic region.

I am especially curious about where the rain will fall in a warmer world. This NASA IPCC Sept 2013 sim shows heavily on the equator and less almost everywhere else.

However, this different sim from a NASA site shows Central America and the US southwest drying up but the northern states and Canada getting more rain. More rain in Siberia too. Both sims show a much wetter equator and wetter southeast Asia. Also, the Mediterranean dries in both sims.

You can find more animated precipitation simulations here.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 24 12:37 PM 
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2013 December 21 Saturday
Coal Consumption Growth Still Outpacing Oil And Natural Gas

If you pay attention to press stories in the United States about booming production of oil and natural gas from shale you might think that King Coal is in serious trouble. Well, coal consumption in America is certainly down. But King Coal is still booming globally, outpacing oil and natural gas.

Coal use increased by an average of 3.4 percent per year from 2007 to 2012, faster than the increase in either oil or natural gas. Consumption through 2018 is expected to increase by 2.3 percent a year, the I.E.A. said.

Most countries are not willing to impose on themselves the sorts of high electric power costs that Germans pay in the name of green energy.

If the natural gas drillers start finding it hard to find good unexploited shale natural gas formations in the United States then coal's decline in the US could reverse as well. If the natural gas lasts long enough then dropping costs for photovoltaics will eventually cause big growth in solar power. In 2012 solar power amounted to just 0.3% of US electric power production. While wind is much bigger (at 3.4% of US electric power) than solar my guess is that solar will catch up with wind because solar panels work in a lot more places than wind farms can be installed.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 21 05:52 PM 
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Eat Nuts And Live Longer

Are you averaging at least one ounce of nuts per day?

BOSTON— In the largest study of its kind, people who ate a daily handful of nuts were 20 percent less likely to die from any cause over a 30-year period than were those who didn't consume nuts, say scientists from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and the Harvard School of Public Health.


"The most obvious benefit was a reduction of 29 percent in deaths from heart disease – the major killer of people in America," said Charles S. Fuchs, MD, MPH, director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber, who is the senior author of the report. "But we also saw a significant reduction – 11 percent – in the risk of dying from cancer," added Fuchs, who is also affiliated with the Channing Division of Network Medicine at Brigham and Women's.

Whether any specific type or types of nuts were crucial to the protective effect couldn't be determined. However, the reduction in mortality was similar both for peanuts and for "tree nuts" – walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamias, pecans, cashews, pistachios and pine nuts.

The reduction on death rate is dose-dependent.

"Compared with those who did not eat nuts, individuals who consumed nuts (serving size of one ounce) seven or more times per week had a 20% lower death rate and this association was dose-dependent," stated lead author, Ying Bao, MD, ScD, from the Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA. "Those who consumed more nuts were also leaner, and tended to have a healthy lifestyle, such as smoking less and exercising more," added Dr. Bao.

Eating nuts just once per week gives 11% reduction in death.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 21 04:01 PM 
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Inflammation Blood Markers Linked To Violence Disorder

Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) is correlated with blood markers C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) for inflammation

People with intermittent explosive disorder — a psychiatric illness characterized by impulsivity, hostility and recurrent aggressive outbursts — have elevated levels of two markers of systemic inflammation in their blood, according to a study involving nearly 200 subjects.

The paper, published in the December 18, 2013, issue of JAMA Psychiatry, is the first carefully controlled study to document a direct relationship between inflammatory markers and recurrent, problematic, impulsive aggression in people diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder, but not in people in good mental health or those with other psychiatric disorders.

"These two markers consistently correlate with aggression and impulsivity but not with other psychiatric problems," said senior study author Emil Coccaro, MD, the Ellen C. Manning professor and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Chicago. "We don't yet know if the inflammation triggers aggression or aggressive feelings set off inflammation, but it's a powerful indication that the two are biologically connected, and a damaging combination."

IED is common with strong genetic underpinnings. Lots of potentially dangerous people walking around waiting to explode. The first rage happens in adolescence. So these dangerous people could be tagged as dangerous pretty early.

IED outbursts are out of proportion to the social stressors triggering them. Such blow-ups may at first be written off by friends as "simple bad behavior," Coccaro said, "but intermittent explosive disorder goes beyond that. It has strong genetic and biomedical underpinnings. This is a serious mental health condition that can and should be treated."

IED is common. In 2006 Coccaro and colleagues at Harvard Medical School found that the disorder affects up to 5 percent of adults, or about 16 million Americans, in their lifetimes. Typically, the first episode of rage occurs in adolescence, around age 13 for males and age 19 for females.

It would be helpful to know who the IED people are. Imagine an ear implant that will whisper to you when an IED person (or any convicted felon) is near. That would be useful.

Blood tests could screen for IED potential.

Both CRP and IL-6 levels were higher, on average, in subjects with IED, compared to either psychiatric or normal controls. Average CRP levels, for example, were twice as high for those with IED as for normal healthy volunteers. Both markers were particularly elevated in subjects who had the most extensive histories of aggressive behaviors. Each marker independently correlated with aggression, the authors note, suggesting that "both have unique relations with aggression."

Earlier studies have pointed to connections between an inflammatory response and depression or stress, said Coccaro. Healthy people who have been exposed to endotoxins — which set off a powerful immune reaction — have a much more robust brain reaction to exposure to social threat, such as photographs of an angry or fearful face, than those who were not exposed to endotoxin.

Other biological markers associated with criminality exist, for example, low resting heart rate. See Adrian Raine's book The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime

By Randall Parker 2013 December 21 01:00 PM 
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2013 December 18 Wednesday
Plant Genetic Engineering Needed To Adjust For Climate Change?

David Rotman argues that genetic engineering of plants will be needed to feed the world because climate change will speed the spread of plant diseases. This could lead off into a discussion on whether the globe is warming. Well, the signal from the ocean is much clearer on that score (warming) than the signal from atmospheric temperatures. Since the oceans have way more mass than the atmosphere I'm thinking the oceans are telling us what we need to know.

But we don't need global warming in order to see the necessity of crop genetic engineering. Cheaper faster transportation and global trade are already spreading many plant diseases around the world. The spread of plant diseases is nothing new though. The American chestnut tree was almost entirely wiped out from 1900 to 1940 without climate change as the culprit. The problem is more basic: Lots of plants evolved in local areas where some fungus or other organism did not exist and so the plants in that area have no evolved resistance. Move lots of stuff around the world and the result is lots of funguses (I refuse to use the Latin plural form), bacteria, and insects show up and wipe out local organisms.

Agriculture has this problem worse than wild organisms because lots of crops are heavily inbred with little genetic diversity. So, for example, it is not surprising that the biggest banana variety, Cavendish, is threatened with elimination by a fungus. Other banana varieties, less developed for agriculture, could be used as substitutes. But it would be more economically advantageous to just put a resistance gene in Cavendish.

C. liberibacter asiaticus is threatening to wipe out oranges. Only genetic engineering can save orange trees.

I think population growth is going to lead to a massive trashing of the environment even if we do very extensive crop genetic engineering to increase yields per acre. Global warming, if it comes, will make the destruction of habitats go even faster as more land gets pushed into agricultural production to compensate for the loss of other crop lands due to drought and heat.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 18 09:21 PM 
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2013 December 14 Saturday
Robotic Delivery: Easier With Restaurant, Fresh Food?

For general parcels the hardest part for robotic delivery trucks is the last dozen few hundred feet to your doorstep. The truck can get near the destination but can't take the final step. A friend was telling me how he uses a web site to order restaurant food. The service places the order with the restaurant, picks it up, and drives it to your home. That got me thinking: It is easier to do robotic pizza delivery than robotic delivery of non-cooked goods. Why? You are usually there waiting for the hot food to get delivered.

Suppose you order a hot pizza or (being more health conscious) hot turkey, sweet potatoes, and beans. You will want to get the food as soon as it arrives. A robotic delivery truck could have lots of locked side compartments. The truck could send you a phone call or message as it approaches. You walk outside. Your smartphone talks to the robot car to say "here I am". The robot car scans your face. A compartment door on the side of the vehicle has a light that comes on to say "your dinner is here". You walk up and put your hand on a finger or palm reader. The door pops open. You pull out a tray with your meal. The door closes itself and away whisks the delivery truck to its next stop.

Maybe this can be made to work for regular deliveries too. Your smart phone could tell a delivery company's server when you are approaching home. Robots in a nearby warehouse could put your goods into a robotic vehicle that would then go thru your neighborhood stopping at places where people are home to receive goods. Computer algorithms would work out, based on past patterns, when it can get the most people home to deliver goods for a particular neighborhood.

The key piece of the puzzle is your presence at home to offload your goods from compartments whose doors open under computer control. The internal area of the vehicle could have robotic equipment that reloads each externally accessible compartment between stops.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 14 12:05 PM 
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2013 December 12 Thursday
1 Percent Of Swedes Commit 63% Of Violent Crimes

You've heard about the most wealthy 1%. But what about the most violent 1%? Only a very small fraction of the Swedish population commit all the violent crimes. What matters to me: Can they be identified in advance?

One percent of the population is responsible for 63 percent of violent crime convictions

Imagine some of these people could be identified in advance with high accuracy. Would you favor sending them into exile to a territory made up of only dangerous people? Or of a gene therapy could make their minds much less prone to violence would you favor their getting a dose of gene therapy to make them less angry and less aggressive?

Only 23,342 individuals out of 2.5 million accounted for 63% of the violent crime.

The majority of all violent crime in Sweden is committed by a small number of people. They are almost all male (92%) who early in life develops violent criminality, substance abuse problems, often diagnosed with personality disorders and commit large number non-violent crimes. These are the findings of researchers at Sahlgrenska Academy who have examined 2.5 million people in Swedish criminal and population registers.

In this study, the Gothenburg researchers matched all convictions for violent crime in Sweden between 1973 and 2004 with nation-wide population register for those born between 1958 to 1980 (2.5 million).

Not all crimes are solved. So a method of biologically assessing for criminality might be able more accurate than the criminal justice system.

The ones that were convicted 3 or more times represent a failure of the Swedish criminal justice system. Why were these wolves released back to live among the lambs once again?

Of the 2.5 million individuals included in the study, 4 percent were convicted of at least one violent crime, 93,642 individuals in total. Of these convicted at least once, 26 percent were re-convicted three or more times, thus resulting in 1 percent of the population (23,342 individuals) accounting for 63 percent of all violent crime convictions during the study period.

Identifying every single person with a high potential for violence will be hard. But suppose some of them have brain patterns that become easy to recognize. What would you recommend be done with this capability?

It is possible to identify psychopathic and narcissistic personality traits from Facebook posts. As we increasingly live the measured life by the time someone turns 16 the amount of signals that will be available to assess a person's risk factors will be enormous. Imagine kids who beat up other kids in grade school getting electronic monitoring devices attached to them to record all their acts of violence. Before they commit adult acts of violence the signals for their potential threat will be available even before putting them under a brain scanner to testing their DNA. I expect highly machine learning models will be able to pick out most dangerous youth.

A good book by Adrian Raine: The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 12 09:30 PM 
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2013 December 09 Monday
Hardware Now Less Than Half Of Solar Residential Cost

Installation, marketing, and other costs total up to 64% of residential solar panel installation.

Two detailed reports from the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) find that solar financing and other non-hardware costs — often referred to as "soft costs" — now comprise up to 64% of the total price of residential solar energy systems, reflecting how soft costs are becoming an increasingly larger fraction of the cost of installing solar.

It is worth noting that costs for new construction are lower than costs for upgrading existing housing.

For residential systems, the greatest soft costs were supply chain costs ($0.61/watt), installation labor ($0.55/W), customer acquisition ($0.48/W), and indirect corporate costs ($0.47/W), such as maintaining office management and accounting functions. Other soft costs examined for the report included costs for permitting, inspection, interconnection, subsidy applications and system design.

This result suggests to me that solar panel installation will play a much larger role in new home construction. Labor costs will be lower when the solar panels are installed as part of the original roof construction. Little or no marketing costs if a builder is doing the installation to a group of houses.

Robotic construction equipment is going to cut home construction labor costs, including labor costs for installing solar panels. But as solar expands it is going to get battery storage costs tacked on as it causes more imbalances in the grid between demand and supply.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 09 08:25 PM 
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2013 December 04 Wednesday
Gene Therapy Slows Advanced Heart Disease

Gene therapies will some day fix what ails us. That day is getting closer as a gene therapy that introduces a calcium pump enzyme reduces the worsening of advanced heart disease.

Researchers from the Cardiovascular Research Center at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai reported the long-term benefits of a single dose of their gene therapy AAV1/SERCA2a in advanced heart failure patients on Nov. 19 at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2013.

The new long-term follow-up results from their initial Calcium Up-Regulation by Percutaneous Administration of Gene Therapy In Cardiac Disease (CUPID 1) clinical trial found a one-time, high-dose injection of the AAV1/SERCA2a gene therapy results in the presence of the delivered SERCA2a gene up to 31 months in the cardiac tissue of heart failure patients.

In addition, study results show clinical event rates in gene therapy patients are significantly lower three years later compared to those patients receiving placebo. Also, patients experienced no negative side effects following gene therapy delivery at three-year follow-up.

Three years later: So how many years before a much larger number of people can get this gene therapy? People with fatal diseases should have more freedom to try experimental therapies.

The gene gets at the root cause of enlarged hearts.

SERCA2a is an enzyme critical for proper pumping of calcium in calcium compartments within cells. SERCA2a dysfunction or reduced expression occurs in patients with heart failure. When SERCA2a is down-regulated, calcium stays longer in the cells than it should, and it induces pathways that lead to overgrowth of new and enlarged cells. This contributes to an enlarged heart in heart failure patients.

Another related gene therapy might help as well.

In his Plenary talk, Dr Hajjar presented his new findings just published in the journal Science Translational Medicine on Nov. 13 that show delivery of small ubiquitin-related modifier 1 (SUMO-1), an important regulator of SERCA2a, in preclinical heart failure models improves cardiac contractility and prevents left ventricular dilatation — two major aspects of heart failure.

Some of the stuff that kills us involves the accumulation of many failures. So it is hard to fix. But other failures are simpler. Tweak a few genes and stop a fatal disease progression. Got to like that. But a lot of hard work went into discovering the roles of the genes that are key to disease progression. As the function of the body's many genes and proteins come to be understood the rate at which new gene therapies can be developed will go way up. The targets will become clear.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 04 08:56 PM 
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2013 December 02 Monday
Healthy Obesity Is A Myth

Obese but with low blood pressure and good lipid profile? Healthy Obesity does not exist. That is from a meta study by Canadian researchers. Some researchers in Texas published similar findings a couple of weeks ago: The damage is being done.

"Unfortunately, our findings suggest metabolically healthy obesity is not a benign condition," said the study's corresponding author, Carlos Lorenzo, MD, of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Texas. "Regardless of their current metabolic health, people who are obese face an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes in the future."

Researchers analyzed prospective data from the San Antonio Heart Study, a population-based study of Mexican Americans and Caucasians, to assess incidence of diabetes in 2,814 participants and cardiovascular disease incidence in 3,700 participants. The SAHS study followed up with participants for a period lasting between six and 10 years. The analysis examined whether the risk of developing diabetes or heart disease was different for normal weight people who had at least two metabolic conditions or metabolically healthy obese people.

What would be the effect of wearing 50 pounds of weights outside your body as you go thru life? Probably beneficial on net. Though maybe more joint injuries. But fat tissue releases lots of hormones into the blood. In particular one hormone released by adipose tissue causes the liver to produce too much glucose. This leads to type 2 diabetes.

The ability of one organ—in this case, the adipose tissue—to so directly and profoundly control the actions of another—the liver —is in itself very exciting, said Hotamisligil. "We suspect this communication system between adipose tissue and liver may have evolved to help fat cells command the liver to supply the body with glucose in times of nutrient deprivation. However, when the engorged fat cells lose control over this signal in obesity, the blood levels of aP2 rise, glucose is poured into the bloodstream and cannot be cleared by other tissues. The result is high blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetes.

We need some great biotechnology for regulating appetite.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 02 08:31 PM 
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2013 December 01 Sunday
Your Job Susceptible To Automation?

Back once again to the question of how fast jobs will get destroyed by automation as computers gain the ability to do tasks which previously only brains could do. A couple of Oxford academics think in the next 20 years machine learning and mobile robotics could even cut into a lot of jobs, including previously safe service jobs.

Certain job fields were cited as being at especially high risk for getting automated, including transportation, logistics, office and administration support and jobs in the service industry.

Check out this document for clues about whether your job is at risk. The Future Of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation? says "about 47 percent of total US employment is at risk."

We examine how susceptible jobs are to computerisation. To assess this, we begin by implementing a novel methodology to estimate the probability of computerisation for 702 detailed occupations, using a Gaussian process classifier. Based on these estimates, we examine expected impacts of future computerisation on US labour market outcomes, with the primary objective of analysing the number of jobs at risk and the relationship between an occupation’s probability of computerisation, wages and educational attainment. According to our estimates, about 47 percent of total US employment is at risk. We further provide evidence that wages and educational attainment exhibit a strong negative relation- ship with an occupation’s probability of computerisation.

My prediction: smarter and more affluent people will more easily accept and productively use automated replacements for many current face-to-face services. The people who will still use, say, bank tellers will be cognitively impaired due to age or born low innate abilities. Anyone who can handle computer interfaces will be able to get goods and services more cheaply.

These researchers expect legal writing and truck driving will get automated. Long haul seems like it'll go robotic before local delivery. The more complex environments of surface streets and more customer interactions make local delivery harder to automate. We could therefore see warehouses located at special highway exits that can handle automated vehicles in controlled environments.

In the present study, we will argue that legal writing and truck driving will soon be automated, while persuading, for instance, will not.

The middle can not hold. Read the bottom of page 12 which ends with:

The result has been an increasingly polarised labour market, with growing employment in high-income cognitive jobs and low-income manual occupations, accompanied by a hollowing-out of middle-income routine jobs.

This is in line with Tyler Cowen's Average Is Over argument.

Look at your job and ask this question: do computers that collect more data enable you to analyze more data and find patterns of greater value? Do you have data analysis skills that get more valuable as more data become available? If yes, you have better employment prospects than most people. But if more data makes your own judgment less valuable and the computer can make better decisions without you then think about how to do a career change that will make your brain more valuable.

Home package delivery: Amazon has a prototype UAV hover craft to do automated home deliveries. Jeff Bezos thinks maybe 4-5 years. Say it is 10 years. Well, 10 years from now lots fewer people will be driving delivery trucks. This will also cut road traffic. Fewer people driving to stores. Brave new world.

Which sorts of service jobs will last the longest? Home repair strikes me as longer lasting than package delivery.

By Randall Parker 2013 December 01 01:57 PM 
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