Thursday, May 29, 2008

Probing Oil Market

I have my doubts on market speculations being the prime force driving oil price higher recently. Dwindling supply and outstripping demand in the energy market, the basics in world economics mostly are playing major part in rising fuel price in the pump. However, there should be government and independent organizations monitored procedures in place so that no abuse of the system like market manipulation is taking place from various active players. Last year in U.S., The Commodity Futures Trading Commission started a probe in possible price manipulation in energy market. Here is a few quotes from Globe and Mail:
"The CFTC said in a statement that in December, its enforcement unit “launched a nationwide crude oil investigation into practices surrounding the purchase, transportation, storage, and trading of crude oil and related derivative contracts.”

It added that all enforcement inquiries are focused on ensuring markets are properly policed for manipulative and abusive practices. “In addition to the CFTC's ongoing examination of the role of fundamental economic forces and new investors in the recent commodity market price increases, the agency continues to pursue one of its primary missions – to deter, detect, and punish futures market manipulation,” the regulator's statement said."

An example is given on the type of probe that CFTC is enged in: "the CFTC said it will immediately require monthly reports from institutional investors who manage funds designed to mimic the price of crude oil and other energy futures. The goal, the agency said, is to
identify the amount of such index trading and to “ensure that this type of trading activity is not adversely impacting the price discovery process.”

At least on the surface, this ongoing investigations and initiatives by CFTC are commendable as it is the dire necessity in this anxiety filled times from growing fuel prices so that oil price "reflect fundamental economic forces of supply and demand, free of manipulation and fraud".

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Batteries Not Included

This CBC program on recycling batteries was re-broadcast today. Here is a quote from CBC site:

"Rechargeable batteries are loaded with heavy metals. Non-rechargeable alkaline ones contain potassium hydroxide, a potent corrosive. The button cells used in hearing aids and watches have mercury in them. Long story short, there is no such thing as a battery that is friendly on the inside."

The interview by Erica Johnson with a representative who is part of battery recycling process shows how inept this program is, less than 10% battery being recycled in Canada after more than ten years of this recycle program had started, rest of them goes to landfill, poisoning the earth. But when the program host Erica took recycle matter on her own, she inspired and collected thousands of batteries from school children, offices, and ordinary people in a small town came forward bringing all those hazardous "dead" batteries. It proves, once again, that ordinary folks are willing to take actions, take the necessary steps for the betterment of environment or the world, all is needed is active guidance and forward thinking "push" from government, media, local and regional organizations.


Link to CBC site:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pickens: Oil Going to $150, So Move to Gas

Oil tycoon Boone Pickens' is in several news this week. First was his multi billion dollar investment in Texas wind firms. Now his simple talks on the very finiteness of oil and world's outstripping demand comparing to peaked out supplies may influence some more upward price for oil soon, very soon. Here are a few quotes from CNBC article:
"The Saudis claim they have more oil," Pickens told CNBC. "They don't. The President wasted his time to go to Saudi Arabia, to say, 'Give us more oil.' They can't give any more oil...they're stacking up the money as fast as they can stack it up."Pickens expects the price of oil to continue rising.

"Eighty-five million barrels of oil a day is all the world can produce, and the demand is 87 million," he said. "It's just that simple. It doesn't have anything to do with the value of the dollar."

He expects the price of a barrel of oil to reach $150 this year, and he insists speculation has nothing to do with it."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Policy of Intolerance

While Iran's bitter battle of gaining nuclear technologies gets abundant news coverage, the horrific human rights abuse, intolerance and point blank hatred toward Iranian minorities do not get much attention it seems. Any questions raised against Iran's violating of human rights are labeled as "Pro Western" conspiracy against Iran and its state sponsored religion. For ordinary civilians these bloated words don't mean anything. What matters are being put into prison for simply having different religious belief than the Iranian state condones, that should be condemned for every instance of abuse, torture and questionable deaths while in custody happens.

In Iran, 350,000 Baha'is "are not recognized as a legitimate religious minority, unlike the country's Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians. According to the hard-line clerics, this reduces them to the status of “infidels” beyond the protection of the law.

This radical interpretation of sharia is clearly contrary to Iran's obligations under UN human-rights covenants to which Tehran is signatory. It is also contrary to the view of respected Islamic scholars that freedom of worship is a fundamental Koranic principle. Iran's policy of intolerance betrays a regime that has cynically manipulated Islam as an instrument of power and used hate-mongering to legitimize its authoritarian rule."

Ordinary Iranian citizens have started noticing the brutal treatment of their fellow countrymen of Bahai faith, "as ordinary Iranians increasingly reject the lies they have been fed over the past 30 years by the clerical leadership. To give but one example, the recent expulsion of a Baha'i student from a high school resulted in spontaneous protests from Muslim students outraged that one of their classmates was being denied the right to education solely because of his beliefs. There are increasing calls from eminent human-rights advocates, such as Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, for a constitution in which all citizens enjoy the same rights, regardless of religious beliefs."

A Policy of Intolerance

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Robot removes Calgary woman's brain tumour

A promising news from Calgary:
"Doctors used remote controls and an imaging screen, similar to a video game, to guide the two-armed robot through Paige Nickason's brain during the nine-hour surgery Monday.

Surgical instruments acting as the hands of the robot -called NeuroArm - provided surgeons with the tools needed to successfully remove the egg-shaped tumour. This is the first time a robot has performed surgery of this kind, but it will not be the last.

Already, the University of Calgary has patients lined up to receive similar surgeries.

"Paige's brain surgery represents a technical achievement in the use of image-guided robotic technology to remove a relatively complex brain tumour," said Dr. Garnette Sutherland, professor of neurosurgery at the University of Calgary faculty of medicine and NeuroArm team leader."
Robot removes Calgary woman's brain tumour

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The "Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch

Randy Pausch is dying from pancreatic cancer. An accomplished professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, Randy's "Last Lecture" video is deeply affecting and inspiring. See this video below or from following

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Instant Extinction Lotto

Buried deep in LA Times' archived articles for the past week is Mark Slouka's article on "gambling" on our very existence by experiments in laboratories. Questioning the risk factors of any scientific experiments, however remotely theoretical that may be, and particularly if that risk factors have the slight chance of annihilating the entire world as we know of it is not "anti-rationalism", as the writer points out, shouldn't there be more open discussions on this experiments that is scheduled to take place in summer of this year? Here is an extract from Mark Slouka's article:
"there exists the remote possibility that the Large Hadron Collider, a proton-smashing machine located at the European Organization for Nuclear Research outside Geneva and due to be fired up this summer, could conceivably produce particles that would instantly end all life on Earth: the jay on the house across the street, the cat on the bed, my daughter walking back from the school bus. Something to think about. All history, all we've been and all we could have been, gone in one unfathomable instant; the Earth collapsed, according to the experts, into a dead, dense lump."
Professors and scientists, some of them holding prestigious Nobel prize, the men of reason, have repeatedly postulated that the risk factor from such an experiment is like winning a lottery jackpot, like "the odds of disaster at less than 1 in 50 million". In other words, the man with rationality and material wisdom should never be questioning such a far fetched odd of disaster. But lottery jackpot is being won by ordinary folks and lightening does strike twice at the same place.

Mark Slouka has a fair point that should be considered with seriousness it deserves, "debating what might constitute acceptable odds on the risk of global extinction is a fundamentally unreasonable act, indicative of a failure of imagination and proportion more commonly found within the precincts of religious and political fanaticism. Were some demagogue to do something similar, we would rightly judge him insane."

As the writer correctly ponders that opening up every scientific policy to public debate will bring paralysis to the progress of science, and our advancements in terms of our monumental achievements will come to screeching halt. But isn't there accountability that should be proportional to the risk factors? Mark Slouka writes, "Accountability must rise in proportion to risk. Simply put, if the price of a miscalculation -- the "oops factor," my wife calls it -- is reasonable, there's no reason to interfere. If, on the other hand, a miscalculation risks erasing every man, woman and child on the planet -- indeed, every life form there is -- it may be time to meddle."

Pursuit of knowledge may have price to pay, but the "price to pay" is the operative term here. If the "price to pay" has the remotest possibility of extinguishing the very essence of humanity and existence we know of, is it worth taking the risk?

Like all the "miracles" science has bestowed on humanity, it has also begotten tools of destructions like hydrogen bombs, nuclear arsenals, and not so crude cluster bombs, maiming and blasting shred of conscience and grief from splintered bones and tissues, left in guttered homes in incinerated towns and villages in "faraway" places. Practicing scientists, the "experimental" number crunchers' ethical view may not be as universal as rest of the gullible human beings think they are as the proof of wide disparity exists in the past, like Josef Mengele who was a notorious physician in Nazi concentration camp "who supervised the selection of arriving transports of prisoners, determining who was to be killed and who was to become a forced laborer, and for performing human experiments on camp inmates".

Science and scientists must progress in its and their determined goals of achieving more "miracles" for the world and its citizenry, but accountability and weighing risk factors that should be open for public domain in all its gory detail so that even if that doom and gloom befallen us like winning a lottery jackpot, humanity will know till the last moment that it's their collective agreement that fixated their fate unlike being completely unaware of a seemingly implausible doomsday!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Did the solar system ‘bounce’ finish the dinosaurs?

Every 35 to 40 million years our solar system goes through the dense part of the galaxy. It increases the chance of collisions with comets, asteroids, etc, that might have caused mass extinctions in our world in the past, like the extinction of dinosaurs around 65 million years back though there are other conflicting theories abound. Life also gets dispersed when comets bombard earths, as microorganisms take ride in resulting debris across the universe.

Here is an extract from an article from Cardiff University News Center that discusses a computer model of our solar system's movement built by scientists at Cardiff University:
"we pass through the galactic plane every 35 to 40 million years, increasing the chances of a comet collision tenfold. Evidence from craters on Earth also suggests we suffer more collisions approximately 36 million years. Professor William Napier, of the Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology, said: “It’s a beautiful match between what we see on the ground and what is expected from the galactic record.”

The periods of comet bombardment also coincide with mass extinctions, such as that of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Our present position in the galaxy suggests we are now very close to another such period.

While the “bounce” effect may have been bad news for dinosaurs, it may also have helped life to spread. The scientists suggest the impact may have thrown debris containing micro-organisms out into space and across the universe."

Monday, May 05, 2008

Does your brain have a mind of its own?

We set up goals, things to do, task lists, etc. Then comes short term and long term visions. We motivate ourselves losing weight, learning new technologies, meditations or musical instruments. As time passes by, most of our goals, things to do and task lists simply disappear from our mind or get pushed back further from newer goals, things to do, task lists and instant gratifications. If "selfish genes" were the sole answers of evolution, why wouldn't "selfish genes" fulfill the goals and tasks that are more rewarding?

Gary Marcus answers:
"The fact that evolution is entirely blind, unable to look forward, backward or to the side. As Charles Darwin observed, evolution invariably proceeds through a process called "descent with modification." In lay language, this means that Mother Nature never starts from scratch, no matter how useful an overhaul might be. Everything that evolves necessarily builds on that which came before. Our arms, to take one simple example, are adaptations of the front legs of our primate ancestors.

In practical terms, that means that evolution's products aren't always particularly sound. Truly dismal solutions are quickly weeded out; if someone has a genetic condition that brings them into the world without a functioning heart, they don't live long enough to reproduce. But merely adequate solutions (what engineers call "kluges") -- like the awkward, injury-prone human spine, good enough but far from perfect -- can stick around indefinitely if better solutions are too far away on the evolutionary landscape."
Here is the reason per Gary Marcus our goals get "thwarted":
"Our attempts to pursue our goals are often thwarted by the fact that evolution has built our most sophisticated technologies on top of older technologies -- without working out how to integrate the two. We can plan in advance, using our modern deliberative reasoning systems, but our ancestral reflexive mechanisms, which evolved first, still basically control the steering wheel. When the chips are down, it's those mechanisms that our brains turn to, and that means that our brains frequently wind up relying on machinery that is all about acting first and asking questions later, squandering some of the efforts of our deliberative system.

No sensible engineer would have designed things this way. Why design fancy machinery for making long-term goals if you're not going to use it? Yet the brain is structured such that the more tired, stressed or distracted we are, the less likely we are to use our forebrains and the more likely to lean back on the time-tested but shortsighted machinery we've inherited from our ancestors."
Gary Marcus also describes the way conning our ancestral reflexive system so that goals and visions get realized. How? "Translate those abstract goals into a form your ancestral systems -- which traffic largely in dumb reflexes -- can understand: if-then. If you find yourself in a particular situation, then take a specific action: "If I see French fries, then I will avoid them."

Read this impressively mind grabbing article from following link:
Does your brain have a mind of its own?

A Disaster in Myanmar

Brutally efficient in suppressing protests, Myanmar's military junta is horribly incompetent in dealing with cyclone disaster unfolding in this impoverished nation. "The government, sensibly, has said it will welcome foreign aid, showing a small glint of humanity and gaining some credit from the outside world. However, it is wise never to overestimate the common sense or underestimate the callousness of this, one of the world’s most paranoid regimes."

World's growing food crisis may get another jolt from disaster in Burma, as urgent help is needed in cyclone stricken areas while taking humanitarian resources away from other regions where shortages of food is becoming acute. "Worse, the cyclone, which hit Myanmar’s main rice-growing areas, may intensify the worldwide panic over scarce rice supplies that have led to food riots in dozens of countries."

Link to The Economist article:
A Disaster in Myanmar

An Electrifying Startup

This is a good development in business side. Lithim-Ion battery from A123 Systems has already attracted huge interests and capitals from venture capitalists, receiving 148 million dollar investments already. What can this new technology do? Read the following extract:
"The A123 batteries for GM's Volt store enough energy for 40 miles of driving, enough to cover daily commutes. (On longer trips, the small gasoline engine would kick in to recharge the battery, extending the range to more than 400 miles.)"
Link to article:
An Electrifying Startup

Imagine how it feels to be chronically hungry

"When thinking of food shortages, we envision empty shelves, rather than empty bellies. When we think of feeding the hungry can we really imagine the effect of hunger on 100 million people? We can all imagine what it would be like to be hungry for a day, or even two days. But can we imagine the impact of chronic hunger from not enough food if it happened to us every day for the foreseeable future? How would we feel? What impact would it have on our lives?"
Read Stanley Zlotkin's article:
Imagine how it feels to be chronically hungry

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Two America

In one bakery shop in Waco, Texas, "thumbs up for prejudice, and emphatic thumbs down for the same prejudice", what a stark contrast of two strikingly dissimilar America.

Video Link:

Multinationals make billions in profit out of growing global food crisis

With increased demand for biofuels and meat consumption from India and China come food speculation that is also part of current food crisis. "Index-fund investment in grain and meat has increased almost fivefold to over $47bn in the past year, concludes AgResource Co, a Chicago-based research firm. And the official US Commodity Futures Trading Commission held special hearings in Washington two weeks ago to examine how much speculators were helping to push up food prices."

Link to article:

Multinationals make billions in profit out of growing global food crisis

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Blood and Sand

Very few writers can avoid being "one sided". In the more than a century old Israeli Palestinian "blood and sand" saga, this is true more so. Benny Morris is a world wide respectable writer whose scholarly and impartial work portrayed the grim reality of Israel and Palestinian conflict, even giving equal weights to two "righteous victims", rightfully rejecting virulent anti-semitic fervors in despotic Arab leadership and manipulated populace, but also highlighting the suppressed historical facts of forceful exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland, massacres and rapes committed by zealot Israelis.

In The New Yorker, the writer David Remnick chronicled a writer's slow progression from preserving journalistic neutrality to being trapped in the middle of prejudicial notions of contemporary "us and them" mentality. The same Benny Morris who was so remarkable in depicting the plight of both Israeli and Palestinian complex reality, faltered from his earlier integrity as a writer, and commented the regrettable remarks like "his call to build “something like a cage” for the Palestinians: “I know that sounds terrible. It is really cruel. But there is no other choice. There is a wild animal that has to be locked up in one way or another.”

David Remnick observes the striking non-resemblance between Benny Morris' most recent "one sided" public pronouncements and his scholarly books that are completely opposite to each other. Why would a writer write books that are so blatantly different from their public stance? Here is David Remnick's observation: "What is so striking about Morris’s work as a historian is that it does not flatter anyone’s prejudices, least of all his own. The stridency and darkness of some of his public pronouncements is not a feature of “Righteous Victims,” which is the most useful survey of the conflict, or of “1948,” which is the best history of the first Arab-Israeli wars. In “1948,” the assembled compendium of aspiration, folly, aggression, hypocrisy, deception, bigotry, violence, suffering, and achievement is so comprehensive and multilayered that no reader can emerge without a feeling of unease—which is to say, a sense of the moral and historical intricacy of the conflict."

David Remnick's The New Yorker article is engrossing and balanced. Here is the link:
Blood and Sand
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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Hunger affects us all

Food riots around the world have grabbed our attention. Slowly but surely pouring of news articles, and TV and radio coverages only started to unravel the depth of this problem which is not new, but only beginning to get into "well-fed's" eye sight.

James Carroll observes, "Not only do the well fed fail to perceive the despair and fear that hunger breeds, until it explodes in riots of rage, but the well fed are equally incapable of seeing the causal link between their own privilege and the suffering of the dispossessed - although the substitution of bio-fuel corn production for the growing of edible wheat makes that link unusually apparent. Filling gas tanks of automobiles matters, in effect, more than filling bellies of children."

Article link:
Hunger affects us all