2014 August 31 Sunday
Renewable Power Makes Electricity Expensive In Germany

Residential customers in Germany pay dearly for electric power.

In 2010, Germany introduced Energiewende, or ?energy transformation,? which is its plan to increase electricity production from renewable sources to 80 percent by 2050 and to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent from 1990 levels. In addition, Germany wants to phase out nuclear power by 2022. Prior to Energiewende, the country had introduced other policies related to increasing renewable energy production, such as the feed-in-tariff, that provided lucrative subsidies to renewable technologies paid mostly by residential customers. Due the feed-in tariff program supporting renewable energy, residential electricity prices have more than doubled, from 18 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2000 to more than 37 cents in 2013. The feed-in-tariff subsidy program has cost more than $468 billion, and it is estimated that program costs could exceed $1.3 trillion by the time it expires in 2015. German consumers pay a surcharge on their monthly power bills that increased 18 percent on January 1, 2014, (more than a fivefold increase since 2009) to finance renewable subsidies.[i]

The 37 cents per kwh is amazing. Heavily nuclear powered France is only at 19 cents per kwh and you can see the costs for other countries at that page. The US is around 12 cents and Canada (with lots of hydro and also some nukes) is lower. Denmark is at 40 cents. Note the islands are all very expensive. They can't get natural gas piped in directly from natural gas fields and their grids are small. So many of them have 40-50 cents per kwh electric prices.

Another page with 2011 electric prices shows similar but slightly lower numbers. Germany is again almost 3 times as expensive as the US. Denmark (with lots of expensive offshore wind) is highest among those countries listed at 41 cents per kwh.

Industry in Germany does not pay anywhere near as much for electric power as residences do. Industry basically told the government they'd move their factories abroad unless the renewable costs were shifted mainly to residential customers. For industries where electric power is a substantial portion of total it does make sense to move if electric power prices get too high. Cheap hydro and geothermal electric power have induced aluminum companies to move smelters to Iceland so that Iceland does 2% of world aluminum smelting. Similarly, all else equal if photovoltaics are going to be used to power an industry it makes sense to install the PV panels where the sun shines a lot more than it does in Germany. Why not get twice as much or more electric power per year by installing the panels in Australia, Arizona, the brighest parts of Mexico, or perhaps a very sunny area on the Argentina-Peru border (scroll down to find it).

If you click thru on the first link about Germany you will see that wind, solar and coal use for generating electricity in Germany are all rising. They'll rise further when Germany phases out nuclear power, as will the price of electricity. The electric power prices in Germany are cheapest on a May afternoon with less clouds and long days for lots of solar power. But the grid power from wind and solar is highly unstable Backup coal power plants sell much higher priced electricity at nights, when clouds pass over, and in winters. The coal plants have to sell for much more per kwh because they no longer can run constantly and sell constantly. Wind and solar have subsidies that get passed on to consumers too.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 31 11:39 AM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(5)
2014 August 30 Saturday
Robotic Warriors: Who Will Be Morally Responsible?

Angela Kane, the UN’s high representative for disarmament, wants to ban battlefield robots.

She worries that robots will be able to kill people without human intervention. Who is morally responsible for the deaths? Well, lets consider the possibilities. First, nobody is responsible. So humans escape the burden of responsibility. Second possibility: whoever sends the robots onto the field of battle (someone in the chain of command) is responsible.

As long as governments exist and have laws and human agency initiates battles I do not see the problem. Of course, if the robots turn on all of humanity and wipe us out then once we are gone we aren't responsible for anything.

What can go wrong with robotic warriors?

  • Terminator scenario: Robots might turn on us.
  • Software bugs cause killings of innocents around battlefields.
  • Dictators could become impossible for oppressed people to overthrow. Especially problematic if the world was ruled by such a dictatorship. Nowhere to escape to or to get opposing robots.

Will robots increase or decrease the number of people killed in wars? Will robots do more to entrench or overthrow tyrannies? What do you think?

By Randall Parker 2014 August 30 04:28 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
2014 August 25 Monday
Few Electric Vehicles Sold In Significant Volumes

An article by John Voelcker at Green Car Reports claims that of the electric cars (including pluggable hybrids like the Volt) on the market only the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Tesla Model S are being widely marketed and sold. Some of the EVs are only sold in California and a few other states in very limited numbers just to meet state regulatory requirements.

Those are the Chevy Spark EV, Fiat 500e, Honda Fit EV, and Toyota RAV4 EV.

In June 2014 the Fusion Energi outsold the Chevy Volt and the plug-in version of the Prius. But Energi sales fell in July and Energi dropped back a couple of places in the sales rankings of EVs and PHEVs.

A really successful EV at this point racks up a few thousand sales per month. This in a market where the total volume of cars sold per month is well over 1 million. EVs and PHEVs still have little impact on demand for gasoline.

Here is the full list of PHEVs and of EVs available in at least some portions of the American market.

So far improvements in the internal combustion engine (e.g. turbo, direct injection, variable valve timing) and in transmissions (e.g. dual clutch) have made a far greater impact on demand for gasoline. Lighter materials have also made a bigger impact. HEVs are saving far more gasoline than PHEVs and EVs combined.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 25 08:08 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(2)
2014 August 23 Saturday
Mobile Phone Ransomware: Dark Portents For Cyborgs

Hackers are planting bugs on mobile phones and demanding ransoms to get them removed.

The continued successes of virus and malware authors do not bode well for cyborgs. Some people are eager to become cyborgs, mixtures of flesh and powerful computing machines with perhaps robotic extensions thrown in. Well, if someone ever offers to implant an AI computer in your skull ask them how often one of these computers get taken over by hackers. Imagine losing control of your body because your embedded computer gets hacked and suddenly your body walks itself to your bank to get all your money to send to a foreign address. Or, your body just hands the money to someone who shows up just at that moment when you walk out of the bank.

At the same time, the development of effective gene therapies and cell therapies will create a baseline of biotechnologies which would be used to substantially alter one's personality and instinctive desires against one's will.

Maintaining autonomy and control over oneself could become much more difficult in the future.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 23 12:18 AM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(9)
2014 August 19 Tuesday
Testosterone Increases Male Brain Response To Threat

Our hormones alter our emotional reactions.

The researchers recruited 16 healthy young male volunteers, who completed two test days on which they received either testosterone or placebo. On both testing days, the men first received a drug that suppressed their testosterone. This step ensured that testosterone levels were similar among all study participants. The amount of testosterone administered in this study only returned testosterone levels to the normal range. Subjects then completed a face-matching task while undergoing a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan.

Data analyses revealed that, compared with placebo, testosterone increased reactivity of the amygdala, hypothalamus and periaqueductal grey when viewing angry facial expressions.

"We were able to show for the first time that increasing levels of testosterone within the normal physiological range can have a profound effect on brain circuits that are involved in threat-processing and human aggression," said Carré, Assistant Professor at Nipissing University.

What's happening in the minds of older guys taking testosterone replacement therapy? Alternatively, what's happening in the minds of older guys with declining testosterone who aren't taking testosterone? Becoming more meek, less assertive, easier push-overs?

30 years from now we'll be able to tune our emotional reactions with drugs and gene therapies. Do you want to tune your emotions?

By Randall Parker 2014 August 19 12:10 AM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(3)
2014 August 16 Saturday
Cripple A Gene For A Longer Life?

Cripple a gene for longer life?

Cambridge, Mass. Wed. June 18, 2014 – By scouring the DNA of thousands of patients, researchers at the Broad Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, and their colleagues have discovered four rare gene mutations that not only lower the levels of triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood, but also significantly reduce a person's risk of coronary heart disease — dropping it by 40 percent. The mutations all cripple the same gene, called APOC3, suggesting a powerful strategy in developing new drugs against heart disease. The work, which appears in the June 18 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, sheds light on the biological role of triglycerides and contributes to a growing body of knowledge that suggests that high triglyceride levels — rather than low HDL, another type of fat in the blood — are a major culprit in heart disease.

What I find intriguing about this story: crippling a gene probably extends life, at least for humans living in modern industrial environments.

"Genetic load" mutations are mutations that just plain make us worse off. We all have such mutations, perhaps hundreds or thousands of harmful mutations in each of us. I wonder how often mutations start out as genetic load mutations (harmful under the circumstances) but become beneficial when circumstances change.

Did mutations that messed up the function of APOC3 exist in small numbers of individuals hundreds and thousand of years ago? Probably. Were they harmful to humans on average back then? Quite possibly. We might have many mutations scattered around the human population in low frequencies today that would be good to have more widely distributed because conditions have changed to make those mutations more beneficial.

Given our diets and lower levels of exercise today it seems reasonable to expect we will find people who have mutations that were neutral or harmful to their ancestors but which are beneficial to people who have them in current conditions. Some mutations around diet that, say, reduce appetite or that reduce the body's response to a high sugar diet might be beneficial where even as recently as the 19th century they were harmful.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 16 09:22 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(0)
2014 August 09 Saturday
Natural Selection For Less Aggression Enabled Complex Societies

In order for human societies to grow in complexity and sophistication humans first had to evolve to become less aggressive. A greater capacity for cooperation was needed. Well, 50,000 years ago human skulls developed more rounded appearances with and brows became less heavy. Technology boom 50,000 years ago correlated with apparent reduction in testosterone

DURHAM, N.C. -- Modern humans appear in the fossil record about 200,000 years ago, but it was only about 50,000 years ago that making art and advanced tools became widespread.

A new study appearing Aug. 1 in the journal Current Anthropology finds that human skulls changed in ways that indicate a lowering of testosterone levels at around the same time that culture was blossoming.

I've been reading a lot of books lately on rises and declines of great civilizations. I've wondered whether a large scale settled society selects for less aggressive males which eventually makes it vulnerable to being overrun by a neighboring society that is less civilized. Take the Roman Empire for example. Were the Romans of 100 BC a more genetically masculine people than the Romans of 400 AD? Did their own success and long period of fairly safe living set them up to be overrun by genetically more masculine tribes sweeping down from northern Europe?

Cooperative temperaments are needed for larger scale human undertakings.

"The modern human behaviors of technological innovation, making art and rapid cultural exchange probably came at the same time that we developed a more cooperative temperament," said lead author Robert Cieri, a biology graduate student at the University of Utah who began this work as a senior at Duke University.

Lowering blood testosterone wasn't the only way this change could have come about. Testosterone binds on many receptors and activates many genetic regulatory systems. Lots of different places in the genome could have mutated to modify the effects of a given level of testosterone.

The study, which is based on measurements of more than 1,400 ancient and modern skulls, makes the argument that human society advanced when people started being nicer to each other, which entails having a little less testosterone in action.

Heavy brows were out, rounder heads were in, and those changes can be traced directly to testosterone levels acting on the skeleton, according to Duke anthropologist Steven Churchill, who supervised Cieri's work on a senior honors thesis that grew to become this 24-page journal article three years later.

Some features of the masculine mind (e.g. greater ability at spatial reasoning) would have remained advantages in some ecological niches. Especially before settled agriculture spatial reasoning would have enhanced hunting performance and therefore food supply.

After 150,000 years humans went thru a technological renaissance. The Upper Paleolithic was getting old and it was time to start preparing for the Middle Paleolithic. Sure, it was cold in the Ice Age. But intelligent manipulation of fire could make caves quite cozy.

There are a lot of theories about why, after 150,000 years of existence, humans suddenly leapt forward in technology. Around 50,000 years ago, there is widespread evidence of producing bone and antler tools, heat-treated and flaked flint, projectile weapons, grindstones, fishing and birding equipment and a command of fire. Was this driven by a brain mutation, cooked foods, the advent of language or just population density

What about selective effects for greater intelligence? Could the burst in tools making also come about due to selective pressures for higher intelligence? Maybe formation of tribes which internally had a greater willingness to cooperate created societies where being smart provided a bigger selective advantage. So the greater amount of cooperation created conditions for new selective pressures to emerge.

Another thing I wonder about: How much do variations in facial shapes across the world today represent sexual selective pressures for specific appearances, different selective pressures for masculinity or femininity, or just genetic drift? What are all the reasons why people come in so many shapes, sizes, and complexions?

And then there is my favorite question about human genetics: What happens to future humans when prospective parent start doing offspring genetic engineering? For example, do the girls become more feminine and the guys more masculine? Or do they converge? Do girls become taller? Or more in a narrower height band? What will be the most popular eye color or hair color? Will genetically engineered offspring be more or less cooperative? More or less motivated to work?

By Randall Parker 2014 August 09 09:37 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(6)
2014 August 07 Thursday
Atherosclerosis In Ancient Mummy Bodies Due To Chronic Infection?

Heart disease and stroke have been characterized products of modern civilization. But is that true? CT scans of ancient mummified bodies turned up just as much atherosclerotic disease as found in modern Egyptians.

New research published in Global Heart (the journal of the World Heart Federation) shows that there are no significant differences in the incidence or severity of atherosclerotic disease (narrowing of the arteries with fatty deposits) between ancient and modern Egyptians, showing that atherosclerosis is not just a disease of modern times. The research is by Dr Adel Allam, Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt, and Professor Jagat Narula, Editor-in-Chief of Global Heart and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, USA, and colleagues from the HORUS team of investigators. While the HORUS team has previously reported atherosclerotic vascular calcifications on computed tomography (CT) scans in ancient Egyptians, the purpose of this new study was to compare patterns and demographic characteristics of this disease among Egyptians from both ancient and modern eras. The authors compared the presence and extent of vascular calcifications from whole-body CT scans performed on 178 modern Egyptians from Cairo undergoing positron emission tomography (PET)/CT for cancer staging to CT scans of 76 Egyptian mummies (3100 BCE to 364 CE). Patients undergoing cancer staging were selected for the study because these scans had already been completed for this group of patients as part of their cancer care.

It was really thoughtful of ancient Egyptians to mummify lots of bodies. They sent forward thru time some key pieces of evidence we can use to figure out why they had poor health. They might be expecting future time travelers to go back to their time carrying effective treatments for the disease evidence they sent to us. So if you are thinking about making a time travel trip to ancient Egypt better first go into the future and get some cures you can take back with you.

These ancients didn't smoke cigarettes (no tobacco), sit around as couch potatoes watching TV (no TV shows), or go to fast food restaurants (the hamburger hadn't even been invented yet and Hamburg called Hamburg yet either).

In this paper, by Dr. Gregory S Thomas, Medical Director of the MemorialCare, Heart & Vascular Institute of Long Beach Memorial, Long Beach, CA, USA, and Professor Jagat Narula, Editor-in-Chief of Global Heart and Associate Dean for Global Health at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. New York, USA, and colleagues, they suggest potential causes for this modern disease to occur in ancient times. None of these cultures suffered from significant obesity, lack of physical activity, cigarette smoking, or other well-known 'modern' risk factors that can cause narrowing of the arteries and thus raise the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems.

Could chronic inflammation from living in high disease environments be a cause?

However, the authors suggest that a non-traditional cause or causes of atherosclerosis could explain the burden of atherosclerosis in ancient peoples. Thomas comments, "These ancient people were unaware of the germs lurking in the unhygienic environments in which they lived, animals and people living side by side, inadequate sewage, contaminated water. They did not know that the germs amongst which they lived caused infection after infection. In addition to frequent bacterial and viral infections, the ancients likely suffered from lifelong parasitic infestations. Modern medicine, knowledge and antibiotics had not yet arrived."

But the disease load in industrialized humans is much lower. So why don't they have less heart disease? Other causes?

Chronic infection with chronic inflammation is thought to cause artery clogging.

A strong and prolonged inflammatory effort by the body would have been necessary to fight off the infections that plagued ancient humans. However, this intense inflammatory response may have accelerated the inflammation that occurs when cholesterol, an unwelcome guest, gets into the wall of the artery. Inflammation is an integral part of the atherosclerotic process. Cholesterol is not supposed to be in the wall, thus the body fights it. The process is counterproductive, however, attracting more unwelcome cells in the wall of the artery resulting in a further build up of an atherosclerotic plaque.

I teenage weaver boy who died in Thebes (Luxor Egypt) in 1200 BC had 4 parasites in his body.

As evidence, the authors cite a 1974 investigation into the mummy 'Nakht', a teenage boy who worked as a weaver circa 1200 BCE in Thebes (modern day Luxor, Egypt). The extensive investigation found that Nakht was infected with four parasites, suffering from schistosomiasis, trichinosis, malaria and tapeworm infestation. The authors comment: "If Nakht is representative of those living along the ancient Nile, these populations must have endured enormous, lifelong inflammatory burdens." Other mummies were found to be harbouring tuberculosis infections.

Want you lower your infectious disease burden? Floss your teeth. Lower the inflammatory bacteria load in your mouth.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 07 11:29 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(3)
Airline Pilots To Be Replaced Before Car Drivers

Aircraft piloting is easier to automate than car driving because the operational environment is much simpler Other aircraft can be spotted with radar. The aircraft never get as close as cars do. No pedestrians and kids on bicycles are bouncing around and popping out of clouds. Automatic pilot systems came to aircraft decades before autonomous vehicles hit the highways. Some say the end is in sight for pilots.

I expect the biggest benefit for smaller communities since the cost of a pilot per passenger is a larger percentage of total cost for a 5 or 10 seater airplane than for a jumbo jet. Automated aircraft could lower the financial hurdle for setting up passenger aircraft to smaller and more rural towns. Automated small passenger aircraft could even provide on-demand taxi-like service.

Former Marine Corps pilot Steve Ganyard thinks the F-35 will be the last manned US fighter aircraft. Fighter pilots are becoming sensor managers.

“The modern fighter pilot is becoming more of a sensor manager or aerospace technician, and many of the tasks may not even require a pilot,” then-Lt. Col. Pete Zuppas wrote in a 2007 article that appeared on the Air Force’s website.

If you are 20 years old and thinking about becoming a pilot you ought to consider other options. Do not develop a skill at high risk for automation.

Hey, do you work in an industry where you see some job as likely to get partially or entirely automated out of existence? What's the job? When do you expect it to get done by robots and computers?

By Randall Parker 2014 August 07 12:51 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(4)
2014 August 01 Friday
Clue On Immune System Aging

Why do old folks die from influenza and other infectious diseases? Aged immune systems. Some UCSF researchers have a clue as to why: diminished function of protein helicase that helps cells replicate.

There's a good reason people over 60 are not donor candidates for bone marrow transplantation. The immune system ages and weakens with time, making the elderly prone to life-threatening infection and other maladies, and a UC San Francisco research team now has discovered a reason why.

"We have found the cellular mechanism responsible for the inability of blood-forming cells to maintain blood production over time in an old organism, and have identified molecular defects that could be restored for rejuvenation therapies," said Emmanuelle Passegué, PhD, a professor of medicine and a member of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF. Passegué, an expert on the stem cells that give rise to the blood and immune system, led a team that published the new findings online July 30, 2014 in the journal Nature.

We need youthful stem cell therapies that can replace our aging immune systems. Reboot the immune system every 20 years or so to prevent it from ever getting old in the first place/

The stem cells to create blood and immune cells have to divide a lot. They get worn out.

Blood and immune cells are short-lived, and unlike most tissues, must be constantly replenished. The cells that must keep producing them throughout a lifetime are called "hematopoietic stem cells." Through cycles of cell division these stem cells preserve their own numbers and generate the daughter cells that give rise to replacement blood and immune cells. But the hematopoietic stem cells falter with age, because they lose the ability to replicate their DNA accurately and efficiently during cell division, Passegué's lab team determined.

Especially vulnerable to the breakdown, the researchers discovered in their new study of old mice, are transplanted, aging, blood-forming stem cells, which lack the ability to make B cells of the immune system. These B cells make antibodies to help us fight all sorts of microbial infections, including bacteria that cause pneumonia, a leading killer of the elderly.

So your B cells get too old and tired and you never know whether the next person who sneezes in front of you is going to give you a bacteria or virus you'll be unable to defeat. Death awaits.

Why not enough helicase?

In old blood-forming stem cells, the researchers found a scarcity of specific protein components needed to form a molecular machine called the mini-chromosome maintenance helicase, which unwinds double-stranded DNA so that the cell's genetic material can be duplicated and allocated to daughter cells later in cell division. In their study the stem cells were stressed by the loss of activity of this machine and as a result were at heightened risk for DNA damage and death when forced to divide.

Maybe low helicase is a helpful mechanism to cause old and damaged cells to die off. I would not assume that boosting helicase activity will necessarily extend life. Better to replace old cells with new cells rather than try to fix the old cells.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 01 09:25 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
Gene Drive Treatment To Control Invasive Species?

The idea: Use CRISPR genetic editing technology to genetically alter invasive species to make them less problematic for us humans. For example, alter invasive Southeast Asian Tiger mosquitoes so their populations will collapse in a region or make them less able to carry assorted diseases that infect and kill humans.

A cross-disciplinary team is calling for public discussion about a potential new way to solve longstanding global ecological problems by using an emerging technology called "gene drives." The advance could potentially lead to powerful new ways of combating malaria and other insect-borne diseases, controlling invasive species and promoting sustainable agriculture.

I can see how to alter a species to make it less dangerous to us without affecting its fertility. But I am not clear on how genetic alteration can cause lasting population collapse. Genetic alterations would need to spread. So initially they've have to have neutral or positive impacts on fertility. But later the genetic alterations would need to suddenly cause fertility to plummet. How? Once the plummeting happened how would it be sustained? Wouldn't those creatures not infected by a genetic engineering modification make more offspring?

People from assorted prestigious universities

Representing the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston University, the Woodrow Wilson Center, and Arizona State University, the team includes scientists working in disciplines ranging from genome engineering to public health and ecology, as well as risk and policy analysis.

Engineered gene drives are genetic systems that circumvent traditional rules of sexual reproduction and greatly increase the odds that the drive will be passed on to offspring. This enables the spread of specified genetic alterations through targeted wild populations over many generations. They represent a potentially powerful tool to confront regional or global challenges, including control of invasive species and eradication of insect-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue.

This technique has to do battle with natural selection. While the researchers think they can make genetic alterations get passed to most or all offspring that still leaves the problem of members of a species that never got the treatment in the first place. An isolated ant colony or puddles with mosquitoes will survive an attempt to spread altered genes.

The idea is not new, but the Harvard-based researchers have now outlined a technically feasible way to build gene drives that potentially could spread almost any genomic change through populations of sexually reproducing species.

"We all rely on healthy ecosystems and share a responsibility to keep them intact for future generations," said Kevin Esvelt, PhD, Wyss Institute Technology Development Fellow and lead author of two papers published this week. "Given the broad potential of gene drives to address ecological problems, we hope to initiate a transparent, inclusive and informed public discussion—well in advance of any testing—to collectively decide how we might use this technology for the betterment of humanity and the environment."

If all members of a species can get genetically altered then, sure, an invasive species could be wiped out. But short of something very close to 100% infection how to wipe out the species?

More on the story.

By Randall Parker 2014 August 01 09:24 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(7)
Site Traffic Info
Site Copyright
The contents of this site are copyright ©