The Not so (I)SS

The I in ISS is starting to fade.

As space missions become more commercial (because governments are trying to find some purpose to the big hunk-o-metal in the sky), tensions aboard the ISS are rising.

Essentially, what happened is that Russia started billing the US for sending astronauts into space. The US has responded by not allowing Russian cosmonauts to use US ISS facilities.

It has gotten to the point that Russians cant use the US toilets or gym.

This creates a problem, especially as the ISS crew recently expanded to the long-planned 6 instead of the 3 person skeleton crew it has been running since 1998.

I cant imagine that the current US/Russian relations are helping the situation any.

I have never thought that the ISS makes a great deal of sense - I think that the govt. should be involved only on the cutting edge of space exploration, where there is little economic short-term incentive. I don't think that they should be operating a space hotel where limited scientific research can be done. If one thing has been proven by the space shuttle (on which many such science missions were carried out before the ISS was operational) it is that humans floating around in space to conduct experiments on plants and crystals is not an economically viable operation.

Leave near-space to the space tourists, and focus on the Moon and beyond, as well as robotic probes. That shoudl be the NASA mandate.

Worst Job in the World

Found by Minnucci, this has got to be a contender for worst job ever.
A manhole worker Ramesh Sahu enters a sanitary manhole in Eastern Indian city of Calcutta


A manhole worker Ramesh Sahu enters a sanitary manhole in Eastern Indian city of Calcutta

A manhole worker Ramesh Sahu enters a sanitary manhole in Eastern Indian city of Calcutta
A manhole worker Ramesh Sahu enters a sanitary manhole in Eastern Indian city of Calcutta

The GM/Chrysler kicker

The kicker to the whole thing (other than the fact that the US Govt. will be backing GM/Chrysler warranties if the companies go out of business) is that Edward Montgomery will now be the "Director of Auto Recovery."

"Dr. Montgomery will work to leverage all resources of government to support the workers, communities and regions that rely on the American auto industry."

It may not be surprising to learn that Edward Montgomery is a labor economist, and an academic. He has absolutely no connection to the auto industry, no qualifications for the job, and no legitimate reason to be considered for the job. Many of his academic papers focus on issues such as whether workplace bans on smoking affect smoking behavior. His only qualification is his friendship with Obama.

Fiat Or Bust

For Chrysler the only way forward is with Fiat holding its hand.

The Obama press release:

the Administration has reluctantly concluded that Chrysler is not viable as a stand-alone company.

Administration will provide Chrysler with working capital for 30 days to conclude a definitive agreement with Fiat

If an agreement is not reached, the government will not invest any additional taxpayer funds in Chrysler.

Headhunting

And I dont mean it in the good "trying to find the right person for the job" kind of way. I mean it in the "find somebody we can sacrifice to the altar of public perception" kind of way.

The Obama administration has asked for Rick Wagoner to step aside as CEO of GM. There is no real reason behind this - he still has the support of the company and the board - but the administration did not feel that he was the right man for the job.

From the White House press release:
"While GM’s current plan is not viable, the Administration is confident that with a more fundamental restructuring, GM will emerge from this process as a stronger more competitive business. This process will include leadership changes at GM and an increased effort by the U.S. Treasury and outside advisors to assist with the company’s restructuring effort. Rick Wagoner is stepping aside as Chairman and CEO. In this context, the Administration will provide GM with working capital for 60 days to develop a more aggressive restructuring plan and a credible strategy to implement such a plan. The Administration will stand behind GM’s restructuring effort."

Do you see the way that is worded? Look closesly at this part:
"Rick Wagoner is stepping aside as Chairman and CEO. In this context, the Administration will provide GM with working capital"

How could that have been anything but intentionally worded? The administration got its pound of flesh, and now it will give the company the money it needs and wants. Not at all surprising in the course of action, but to me, surprising in the very clear way in which it was worded.

Texas lists towards creationism

Creationism, the religious doctrine which insidiously claims to have something to do with science, has gotten a little closer to being taught across the US.

The Texas board of education has decided to include the following language in their review of new textbooks - due for 2012:
textbooks must "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data on sudden appearance and stasis and the sequential groups in the fossil record."

This is one of the main claims against evolution: because we have a very incomplete fossil record, there is no evidence on how certain organisms "jumped" from one form to another. Hence, it must have been done by god. This makes about as much sense as buying your groceries from a French arms dealer in Sierra Leone.

The sad part is because any textbook has to be bought by Texas and California in order to be profitable, this could end up changing the wording of textbooks across the country to make it sound like there was some actual basis to creationism's criticisms of evolution.

"Creation Science - The bastard offspring of scientific ignorance and religious arrogance."

The
worst part is this: almost half US HS bio teachers think that God guided the development of mankind (I suppose you could get away with this by saying they meant it "in a spiritual sense," but that is a big stretch) and 16% are "young earth creationists," or "religious drivel swallowing idiots."

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/05/20/creationism_in_hs.jpg

GM and Chrysler searching for Ch. 11 in textbook

Obama and his administration have decided that GM and Chrysler's plans for returning to profitability were not up to snuff. They have decided they will still finance GM for another 60 days and Chrysler another 30... but then said that Fiat could not take a majority ownership of Chrysler until the pentastar paid back all the govt. money it has received so far.

This would have been like telling JP Morgan that it could take over Bear until Bear had paid back everything it borrowed from the fed. RIP Chrysler.

In related news, GM and Chrysler put out a press release stating they did not have confidence in the US $'s long-term viability and would henceforth be pricing their models in Euro's.

(Ok, that last one is not true)

I love w00t pt.2

There is a wootoff going on right now, and this just came up.. and it is classic = )

Welcome to Woot. Skip straight to the content or let us know if anything on our site can be improved to further meet your accessibility needs.

Disney Pix Max 3MP Digital Camera

Disney Pix Max 3MP Digital Camera

$12.99

  • + $5 shipping
Condition:
New
Product:
1 Digital Blue Disney Pix Max 3MP Digital Camera
Kind:
Pirates, Stars, Hannah Montana
I Want One!

Got something of value to say about today's Woot? You'd be the first. Somebody, anybody, give us a quality post. We're dying here.

Piracy Is Like Kicking A Baby In The Face, Exactly Like Kicking A Baby In The Face

Everyone deserves to be happy. Artists, lawyers, pirates, criminals, there’s a place in the world for all of us. And yes, we try to let people have their fun, but we do still know what’s going on out there. Especially when it involves our work.

We obviously know there are a lot of people who buy from us and run right to eBay. And that’s just capitalism, which is perfectly okay with us. We’re completely prepared to hit eBay tomorrow and see this Disney Pix Max Pirates of the Caribbean 3MP Digital Camera in the hands of power sellers all over the place. No skin off our Roombas.

The part that frustrates us, though, is when we see our copy just cut and pasted into a big sale without any sort of passing reference to us. We’re not that self-centered here, but we think it would be nice if we got a little credit. It’s hard work making people laugh about things like a 1.5” color screen and 3 MP resolution.

Honestly, how would you feel, power sellers, if you spent a whole day coming up with a way to tie 32 MB memory and TV Out capability to a gag about post-war Sino-Soviet relations and some dude just cut and pasted it without giving a credit? How would you feel with someone else’s name on all your innovations? We don’t know what they would be, really, but one of you guys has got to have done something worthwhile in life. Just statistically speaking. You can’t all be failures that never leave the house.

Anyway, we’re don’t want to get too Peter David about this, so, just for today, here’s some pre-written copy you can use however you want. Really. We’re giving it to you, just to prove that we “get it” when it comes to fighting on the Internet. Here you go.

- – - START CUTTING HERE - – -


DISNEY PIX MAX 3MP DIGITAL CAMERA

Hi! Thanks for checking out my sale! This digital camera has a 1.5” Color LCD and 4x Digital Zoom. You’ll enjoy taking pictures with 32 megabytes of space, and you’ll be able to find your camera in a crowd thanks to the special picture of Peter DeLuise dressed as a pirate. Relive the Halloween episode of 21 Jump Street over and over again every time you take it out of your purse or pocket!

You’ll also have access to 20 Disney PhotoFriends, built right into the camera. This means you can make photos that imply you’ve been to Disneyland! Great for people who find it hard to travel from far away places. Speaking of far away places, unlike other sellers, I’ll happily ship to Nigeria! And will always take third party checks for an amount higher than the purchase price! Especially if you use the Buy It Now option before contacting me to be sure!

If you’re looking for a fun camera with SD/SDHC/MMC memory card compatibility, this is the one for you. Thanks for looking at my auction!

- – - STOP CUTTING HERE - – -


Isn’t that much nicer than stirring up a crusade about justice that ends with a million death threats and sixty new anonymous LiveJournal accounts explaining how we suck? We think it is.

So all we’re asking is that maybe, in future, you eBay people try to think about giving us a little shout out if you’re borrowing our words to pay your rent. That’s all we ask. Enjoy your Disney Pix Max Pirates of the Caribbean 3MP Digital Cameras. And please, don’t tell your friends the ending to this writeup. We’re trying to triple sales.

SmartPost

Warranty: 1 Year Digital Blue

Shane McConkey Dies

One of the best skiers of all time, and one of the people who pushed skiing into the modern freeride era, Shane McConkey died today during a BASE jumping accident while filming with Matchstick Productions in Italy.

No further information has yet been released.

He was a godfather to the freeride community, and he will be missed. He is easily one of the most influential skiers of all time, and someone I have looked up to for a long time.

10 Things you probably did not know about American Health Care

A lot has been said about the American health care system. However, when it comes down to it, it is the best health care system in the world. There are downsides to it, certainly, but in sum it is the best and strongest option which is out there.

Ten facts you may not have come across about the US health care system:

Fact No. 1: Americans have better survival rates than Europeans for common cancers. Breast cancer mortality is 52 percent higher in Germany than in the United States, and 88 percent higher in the United Kingdom. Prostate cancer mortality is 604 percent higher in the U.K. and 457 percent higher in Norway. The mortality rate for colorectal cancer among British men and women is about 40 percent higher.

Fact No. 2: Americans have lower cancer mortality rates than Canadians. Breast cancer mortality is 9 percent higher, prostate cancer is 184 percent higher and colon cancer mortality among men is about 10 percent higher than in the United States.

Fact No. 3: Americans have better access to treatment for chronic diseases than patients in other developed countries. Some 56 percent of Americans who could benefit are taking statins, which reduce cholesterol and protect against heart disease. By comparison, of those patients who could benefit from these drugs, only 36 percent of the Dutch, 29 percent of the Swiss, 26 percent of Germans, 23 percent of Britons and 17 percent of Italians receive them.

Fact No. 4: Americans have better access to preventive cancer screening than Canadians. Take the proportion of the appropriate-age population groups who have received recommended tests for breast, cervical, prostate and colon cancer:

  • Nine of 10 middle-aged American women (89 percent) have had a mammogram, compared to less than three-fourths of Canadians (72 percent).
  • Nearly all American women (96 percent) have had a pap smear, compared to less than 90 percent of Canadians.
  • More than half of American men (54 percent) have had a PSA test, compared to less than 1 in 6 Canadians (16 percent).
  • Nearly one-third of Americans (30 percent) have had a colonoscopy, compared with less than 1 in 20 Canadians (5 percent).

Fact No. 5: Lower income Americans are in better health than comparable Canadians. Twice as many American seniors with below-median incomes self-report “excellent” health compared to Canadian seniors (11.7 percent versus 5.8 percent). Conversely, white Canadian young adults with below-median incomes are 20 percent more likely than lower income Americans to describe their health as “fair or poor.”

Fact No. 6: Americans spend less time waiting for care than patients in Canada and the U.K. Canadian and British patients wait about twice as long - sometimes more than a year - to see a specialist, to have elective surgery like hip replacements or to get radiation treatment for cancer. All told, 827,429 people are waiting for some type of procedure in Canada. In England, nearly 1.8 million people are waiting for a hospital admission or outpatient treatment.

Fact No. 7: People in countries with more government control of health care are highly dissatisfied and believe reform is needed. More than 70 percent of German, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and British adults say their health system needs either “fundamental change” or “complete rebuilding.”

Fact No. 8: Americans are more satisfied with the care they receive than Canadians. When asked about their own health care instead of the “health care system,” more than half of Americans (51.3 percent) are very satisfied with their health care services, compared to only 41.5 percent of Canadians; a lower proportion of Americans are dissatisfied (6.8 percent) than Canadians (8.5 percent).

Fact No. 9: Americans have much better access to important new technologies like medical imaging than patients in Canada or the U.K. Maligned as a waste by economists and policymakers naïve to actual medical practice, an overwhelming majority of leading American physicians identified computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as the most important medical innovations for improving patient care during the previous decade. The United States has 34 CT scanners per million Americans, compared to 12 in Canada and eight in Britain. The United States has nearly 27 MRI machines per million compared to about 6 per million in Canada and Britain.

Fact No. 10: Americans are responsible for the vast majority of all health care innovations. The top five U.S. hospitals conduct more clinical trials than all the hospitals in any other single developed country. Since the mid-1970s, the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology has gone to American residents more often than recipients from all other countries combined. In only five of the past 34 years did a scientist living in America not win or share in the prize. Most important recent medical innovations were developed in the United States.

Obama's Continued Speaking Gaffes

Bush was terrible at speaking in public. However, it is increasingly coming to light that Obama can only speak well when he is reading off a teleprompter.

I just had to repeat this quote from his Tonight Show appearance, not because I care much about what he said, but because I find it impressive the media and disabled community are not up in arms about this:

The first appearance by a sitting president on "The Tonight Show" may well end up being the last.

President Obama, in his taping with Jay Leno Thursday afternoon, attempted to yuk it up with the funnyman, and ended up insulting the disabled.

Towards the end of his approximately 40-minute appearance, the president talked about how he's gotten better at bowling and has been practicing in the White House bowling alley.He bowled a 129, the president said.

"That's very good, Mr. President," Leno said sarcastically.
It's "like the Special Olympics or something," the president said.When asked about the remark, the White House said the president did not intend to offend.

Simple, smart tech

This is a basic one, and yet pretty sweet. Someone has come up with a heat exchanger which transfers some of the waste heat from your shower water going down the drain to the cold water heading to the faucet. Incredibly simple really, but it cuts hot water use from showering by as much as 40% (seem s a little high to me, but even %10-20 would be sweet).

It really is not complicated and so should not be expensive. One of the few smart and actually economical 'green' ideas I have seen in a while.

Maine

Sign language: week 37

No Turbos in WRC

One of the reasons (I just found out) that Subaru left the WRC (World Rally Championship) that made them famous is because the WRC has decided to ban turbos for the next couple years.

How incredibly dumb is that. At a time when manufacturers are increasingly looking to turbos and superchargers to get more out of small engines--BMW, Ford, VW, and others all have combo supercharged/turbocharged engines in the works or in production--the WRC is looking to pull out. Dumb dumb dumb. The only reason they did it is because they are looking to pull in teams from a rival league. If the IRL/CART fiasco taught the world anything, it should have been that fueding leagues get you nowhere.

3D street art - glacier cliff

Extreme Shepherding - Art, Pong, and More!!

German Pack bot robot tank killer... crazy

My New Skis

My Crazy new skis:
Dimensions: 148-128-148
Reverse Camber (bent up, not down)

http://images.usoutdoorstore.com/usoutdoorstore/products/full/volkl_chopstick_skis_09.jpg

New Template

I finally figured out how to play with the template settings. For now, it just means the main text is wider (mostly so that I can put in graphs and pics easier, without them getting chopped), in the future, further developments may (or may not) occur.

The American Peso

China is looking to move away from the USD as the reserve currency of choice, and with good reason. The way that we are printing money, it is not going to hold up for long. China has stated that they would rater use the IMF's SDR (Special Drawing Rights) which is essentially a 'currency' made up of a basket of other currencies that has been in limited use since the 70's.

Basically, if China moves away from the $ as the reserve currency of choice, the US is screwed. It is basically that simple.

The long-term fall of US dominance is going to come from the vast over-spending set in motion by Bush and exaggerated by Obama:

"It took the U.S. government 191 years – from 1791 until 1982 – to run up its first trillion dollars in debt. The second and third trillions got on the scoreboard much more quickly – each in just four years.

By the time George W. Bush was inaugurated in 2001, the National Debt stood at $5.7-trillion. He ran up more debt faster than nearly all of his predecessors combined: just under $4.9-trillion.

The National Debt stood at $10.6-trillon on the day Barack Obama took office. But if his budget projections are accurate, he’ll run up nearly as much government debt in four years as President Bush did in eight. "

Some scary charts:
http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2104/2443689261_b3e0cea86e.jpg
http://www.plumbbobblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/bigdeficit.jpg
Dependency Ratio (the % of the population dependent on the rest of it)

dependency

GPS Fail

A guy in the UK followed his sat nav up a narrow hiking path (no mean feat in a BWM), and then hit a fence and nearly went down a steep mountain side (reported as a 'cliff' in the media) after deciding that the best thing to do was follow his GPS whatever it said.

The kicker is that the guy's job is to be a driver.

Classic.

The car on the edge of the cliff

EU Pres to US Pres: Obama Plan "A Way to Hell"

The EU pres Mr Topolanek has called out Obama on his over-spending plan, stating the United States combo of budget deficit and "buy American" policies were not the way to go: "all of these steps, these combinations and permanency is the way to hell".

Justly attacking the plan from a historical perspective, he went on to state:
"We need to read the history books and the lessons of history and the biggest success of the (EU) is the refusal to go this way."

Sadly, because it is a sad day when the EU Pres is reminding the US Pres of the basics of modern capitalism, the statements seem to fall on deaf ears as Obama pushes forward with his huge printing money plan. Interestingly, at his press conference, this is the same subject where Obama took the most flak, and were he was at his weakest, according to the pundits.

Norm's ultra short story/description

Ethan walked along the street, his hand in his pocket idly flicking a credit card in and out of his wallet. The wallet carried that credit card and a few others, one earmarked and stained old business card, a NY State driver's license, and a few pithy Chinese fortunes: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," "Any rough times are behind you," and "You will be fortunate in everything you put your hands to." Money, however, never seemed to stay in the wallet, always slipping away through the cracks.

Norm's Movie Review: The Watchmen

Went and saw the Watchmen last night. My reaction was similar to my reaction to the book: I liked it quite a lot, but was not overwhelmingly impressed.

My criticisms are this:
1) The director manages to subvert all of the drama in the movie. Only the lead character (Rorschach) is the only really "dramatic" character, in all other cases, there is not the light/dark battle which comes through so well in the book. The watchmen hero's are all the Han Solo type, you are never meant to be totally sure that they really are the good guys. This does not come through well in the movie. Also, both the romantic plot lines and the main plot line fail to engage the watcher in the way that the should, and so the viewer is left not really caring as much as they should about the things that happen.

2) The movie is too brutal. I dont know if the 300 caused this shift in movie making, but excessive blood is not really needed in a movie such as this.

3) Overly aggressive use of prosthetics. Not sure why this really bothers me, but it does.

4) The Watchmen, who are meant to be human other than Dr. Manhattan, are "superhuman," with physical abilities well above that of the average man. This does not fit well.

5) Ozymandias is meant to be handsome and jacked, and friendly, it would have fit the character much better than the skinny annoying guy they have in the movie.

6) The ending. It is in form very similar to the book, but it does not somehow deliver the dramatic punch it does in the book. I am guessing that this was somewhat intentional, as otherwise the movie would be depressing, or negative (which is exactly what the book is.)

All in all, I liked the movie, and it was well worth watching in a big movie theater. That said, I was left not overly impressed. Perhaps part of the disappointment was unlike a traditional book, I was not watching characters 'come to life' but rather watching a scene by scene replay of something I had already read/seen (the movie did stay very close to the book, other than one necessary change).

It was a good movie, especially if you liked the book. But personally, I never got that involved with the characters, so I never really cared that much what happened. Only Rorschach do you end up really caring about, in my opinion.

Missing Treasure Ship

Most treasure ships you hear about are from ye olden tymes. But this one is not. It is very recent, and has a very dubious history.




Quoting from the AP article:

BUENOS AIRES (AFP) — It's a story of a ship that vanished off the coast of Patagonia with a cargo of gold and silver, but its ending remains shrouded in mystery.

The Polar Mist was abandoned by its crew in a storm and sank earlier this year, but did the nine tons of gold and silver aboard worth more than 16 million dollars go down with it?

"Nobody knows anything. There is something strange here, but nobody knows what. I've made inquiries everywhere: nobody knows," said John Wilson, the Argentine representative of the British insurance company Lloyd's.

The mining group Cerro Vanguardia, which owns nearly all the gold and silver aboard the Polar Mist, has said the cargo was insured by Lloyd's.

The cost of recovering the cargo, which went down in waters 75 meters (225 feet) deep, is estimated at three million dollars. It has to be done by the start of autumn in the southern hemisphere, March 21, for it to have a chance of succeeding.


The big news is that the sinking of the ship was kept secret for a month, and this has all involved feeling very skeptical about the nature of the sinking. Time, and the salvage operation, will tell whether this is simply the story of a ship caught in a storm or something more.


Underwater Volcano

Well, its only just under the water at this point.. and it makes for some amazing footage:

UFO over china

UFO Spotted Over China

Chinese officials saw a UFO while they were flying around, and they reported that it looked nothing like a plane, moved very quickly, and changed direction at very high speeds.

Interestingly, the sighting was offially reported in a state controlled newspaper, meaning that China's govt. has no interesting in supressing UFO sightings.

Pretty crazy looking object if you ask me.

Man Spends $30,334.40 on Top Gear

A brit traveling in Europe decided that he and his son were a little bored with the local TV offering (understandable). He thus decided the way to go would be to download the best car show ever over his Vodafone data card.

What he did not check was whether his plan covered data access outside of the UK.

As a result, when he got home, he had a data bill of $30,334.40. That is a lot of cash. Luckily, the story has a happy ending, as Vodafone waived the bill, and told the guy to make sure to read his contract next time.

The War Wounded

Whatever your stance on public health care, it must be recognized that a government has a responsibility to those injured in war. Soldiers in such a case are acting for the government, and as such, that government should pay for the care of the soldiers.

An Obama administration plan would renege on that contract. His idea is to charge private insurers for injuries sustained in combat. This is an absolutely heinous decision, one that would try to pass on the cost of war to the private sector. There is something so very disturbingly calculating about this idea. It speaks to a deep rooted lack of respect for the economic system of the United States and for it citizens.

Excerpt from Washington Post article:

An Obama administration proposal to bill veterans' private insurance companies for treatment of combat-related injuries has prompted veterans groups to condemn the idea as unethical and powerful lawmakers on Capitol Hill to promise their opposition.

Nevertheless, the White House confirmed yesterday that the idea remains under consideration, and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and leaders of veterans groups are scheduled to meet tomorrow to discuss it further.

The proposal -- intended to save the Department of Veterans Affairs $530 million a year -- would authorize VA to bill private insurance companies for the treatment of injuries and medical conditions related to military service, such as amputations, post-traumatic stress disorder and other battle wounds. VA already pursues such third-party billing for conditions that are not service-related.

Veterans groups said the change would be an abrogation of the government's responsibility to care for the war wounded. And they expressed concern that the new policy would make employers less willing to hire veterans, for fear of the cost of insuring them, and that insurance benefits for veterans' families would be jeopardized.

France rejoins NATO

In an interesting move, meant to re-align France with the other European states, France has rejoined NATO. This is the end of the "Third Way," and most frenchies are totally against it. Though they avoided saying they were aligning with the US, everyone knows that NATO is dominated by the Yankees.

Though I cant imagine that France will be much use militarily... it is still good that they are joining the most important global military alliance, especially at a time of resurgent Russian pain-in-the-assism.

It is also another reason to like Sarkozy.

China's Carriers, Taiwan's Subs, and one crazy story

China is looking to develop its own aircraft carriers. They have been discussing this for some time, but they are really pushing for it now. Over the last 20 years, they have bought 4 older aircraft carriers: the Melbourne (1985), the Varyag (1998), the Minsk (1998) and the Kiev (2000) from Australia, Ukraine and Russia respectively.

While mostly these carriers have been set up as amusements/attractions, the Varyag especially is likely to be used in a military, albeit training, capacity. As is typical with China, they have tried to acquire knowledge from outside sources, and then will likely design and build their own indigenous design which is an upgrade of the older units they derived their knowledge from. China often takes a long term and meticulous route to this in order to develop their own capacity, rather than India which generally just buys military hardware directly for use.

China has agreed to buy 50 Su-33 carrier aircraft from Russia, and has set up a fake carrier deck at one of its flight schools for pilots to practice carrier landings.

All this leads China-watchers to conclude that China is looking to have its own carrier in operation by the end of the decade, or early in the next decade.

Strategically, this would vastly unbalance the region, as with "blue water" capability, China could attack Taiwan from both sides, and cut off approaches to the island from the East. China is well aware of the huge benefit a carrier would provide in a conflict with Taiwan.

The counter to carriers is submarines. And here, Taiwan is lacking. They have four ships: two two Hai Lung-class (improved Dutch Zwaardvis-design) submarines, which were acquired from the Netherlands in the 1980s, and two US GUPPY II boats used for training. The GUPPY II was a WWII design. China was so angry with the Netherlands over the sale of the two subs that it almost severed relations with the country. In 1992 Taiwan wanted four more Zwaardvis boats, but the Netherlands turned them down because of China's reaction to the first sale. The Zwaardvis is a capable medium sized disel sub, as it is based entirely on the US Barbel-class: the last diesel sub made by the US.

Similar difficulties have postponed Taiwan's wishes to aquire 8 new diesel subs. Taiwan's position in the world (not officially existing) has made any sale complicated, as has their desire for the latest technology. The Italians reportedly agreed to a sale of four Sauro class boats, and four more as they are decommissioned by the Italian Navy, but Taiwan rejected the offer, preferring new submarines instead. The Sauro is a small and basic submarine by modern standards.

Both Russia and India have offered to sell Taiwan subs. However, these offers were turned down. It is likely that the subs offered were older boats, and likely nuclear boats at that. Taiwan has no near for nuclear attack subs: they are much larger and more expensive to maintain than an efficient diesel sub. Nuclear sub's advantages lie in the ability to stay at sea for very long periods and to remain nearly indefinitely submerged. Diesel subs, generally speaking, are more effective per $ when the objective is short range defense, especially against surface ships rather than enemy subs.

The last option, and one that has been going around in circles for a while, is that the US either builds an updated Barbel-class for Taiwan, or sells the plans for the Barbel to Taiwan so that it can build its own. However, politics in both countries have so far prevented this, with the Taiwanese opposition party strongly opposed to the expenditure, and many in the US worried about the possible reaction from China. It is unlikely with the current administration that anything will happen on this front.

Last, is the interesting story of the Varyag: the one purchased aircraft carrier that China may actually commission, though it is unlikely. Quoting from Wikipedia, the story of the Varyag makes an interesting read:

Varyag was to be an Admiral Kuznetsov class multirole aircraft carrier. She was known as Riga[1] when her keel was laid down at Nikolayev South (formerly Shipyard 444) in Nikolayev December 6, 1985,[2] and she was launched December 4, 1988, but she was renamed Varyag (Varangian) in late 1990, after the famous Russian cruiser.

Construction stopped by 1992 with the ship structurally complete but without electronics. Ownership was transferred to Ukraine as the Soviet Union broke up and the ship was laid up unmaintained, then stripped. In early 1998, she lacked engines, a rudder, and much of her operating systems. She was put up for auction.

In April 1998, Ukrainian Trade Minister Roman Shpek announced the winning bid—$20 million USD from a small Hong Kong company called the Chong Lot Travel Agency Ltd. Chong Lot proposed to tow Varyag out of the Black Sea, through the Suez Canal and around southern Asia to Macau, where they would moor the ship and convert it into a floating hotel and gambling parlor.[2] It would be similar to the attractions Kiev in Tianjin and Minsk at Minsk World in Shenzhen.

Chong Lot is owned by a Hong Kong firm called Chin Luck (Holdings) Company. Four of Chin Luck's six board members live in Yantai, China where a major Chinese Navy shipyard is located. Chin Luck's chairman is a former career military officer with the People's Liberation Army.

In mid-2000, the Dutch ITC tugboat Suhaili with a Filipino crew was hired to take Varyag under tow. However, Chong Lot could not get permission from Turkey to transit the dangerous Bosporus strait; under the Montreux Treaty of 1936 Turkey has obligations to permit free passage, but has certain sovereignty and refusal rights. The hulk spent 16 months under commercial tow circling in the Black Sea. High-level PRC government ministers conducted negotiations in Ankara on Chong Lot's behalf, offering to allow Chinese tourists to visit cash-strapped Turkey if the travel agency's ship were allowed to pass through the straits. On 1 November 2001, Turkey finally relented from its position that the vessel posed too great of a danger to the bridges of Istanbul, and allowed the transit.

Escorted by 27 vessels including 11 tug boats and three pilot boats, Varyag took six hours to transit the strait; most large ships take an hour and a half. The Russian press reported that 16 pilots and 250 seamen were involved.

The Suez Canal does not permit passage of "dead" ships — those without their own on-board power source — so the hulk was towed through the Straits of Gibraltar, around the Cape of Good Hope, and through the Straits of Malacca. The tugs towing the hulk maintained an average speed of 6 knots (11 km/h) over the 15,200-nautical-mile (28,200 km) journey.

They entered Chinese waters on 20 February 2002, and arrived 3 March at Dalian Shipyard in northeastern China. China continued to assert that Varyag would be a casino. However, when Macau awarded new casino licenses in February 2002, Chong Lot was not among successful bidders. The hulk was tied up at Dalian and left to rust. The total cost of acquiring the hulk was over $30 million USD: $25 million to the Ukrainian government for the hull, nearly $500,000 in transit fees, and some $5 million for the towing.

After little activity for three years, Varyag was moved in early June 2005 to a dry dock at Dalian. Her hull was sandblasted and scaffolding erected around her. The most visible modification done to the Varyag is that her island has been painted in a red marine primer that is used to treat corroded metal.

Analysts believe that the PLAN will use Varyag as a training platform for carrier take-offs and landings.Also recent photos in the Dalian Shipyard have shown that a yellow anti-skid primer was added to the flightdeck. Then the final flight deck turf layering was added on top of it. The vessel has also been painted in the standard PLA Naval colours. This may indicate that the PLA Navy intend to use the ex-Varyag as an operational carrier at some point in the future.

Jane's Fighting Ships states that Varyag may have been named Shi Lang and assigned pennant number 83. Jane's notes that both the name and pennant number are unconfirmed, however. Shi Lang was a Ming-Qing Dynasty admiral who claimed Taiwan in 1681.[4] Jane's Navy International noted in October 2007 that 'refurbishment work and fitting out is continuing and the vessel is expected to begin initial sea trials in 2008.'[5] However, at the end of 2008, the carrier is still lying idle in dry dock.

Russian Bombers Part 2

Russia is now planning to deploy bombers to their lovely friends Venezuela and Cuba. We've had Web 2.0, welcome to Cold War 2.0

Basically, this is just another attack on the new administration. Since it has already buckled once under pressure, the Russians must be thinking they are an a fine position to keep pushing.

Much as it is an aggressive stance however, the reality of the situation is that no Russian bomber would have a snowball's chance in hell of striking the continental US. We are talking about Tupolev Tu-95 Bears - an icon of the Cold War and a relic of the 1950's. They are equivalent, roughly, to the B-52, but they are turboprop aircraft. They have been very versatile and successful, but they would have no real ability to get past US fighters. Other than their cruise missle capability, they dont pose a threat to the US, but do signal an increasingly agressive stance.

Fermi paradox meets the timescale

This is a repost from another blog, but I found it interesting enough that I would like to share it here. Basically, it is asking why we have not seen aliens yet? And the logic is that if they visited the planet 50 times, the chance of running into us is tiny: humans have only been around for a very very short amount of time.

That said, I do have a bit of a hard time with this, because I think we are being visited constantly, and I dont really understand why everyone refuses to admit it.


Fermi paradox meets the timescale

John over at cosmic variance has been discussing extra-terrestrial life, so I figured I'd put a geologic spin on it. Specifically, look at the Fermi Paradox through the lens of deep time. The Fermi paradox states, "If advanced aliens are common in the galaxy, where are they?" More specifically, why aren't they here. As a geochronologist, I don't wonder where and why, I wonder when. So let's make a few assumptions:

Suppose that Earth has been visited by aliens 50 times since our solar system's accretion disk started to cool 4,567 million years ago. What would the aliens have seen? In order to simulate this, I generated 50 random alien arrival times in between then and now, sorted them, and put them in geologic context. They are listed below, in stratigraphic order.


Time (Ma) Time (name) My comment Alien's comments
125 Cretaceous Dinosaurs!
270 Permian Gondwanan glaciers and funky reptiles
352 Carboniferous Swamps and really big insects
668 Cryogenian Pre-Marinoan- no sponges yet
675 Cryogenian

701 Cryogenian

748 Neoproterozoic

750 Neoproterozoic

808 Neoproterozoic

925 Neoproterozoic

1021 Mesoproterozoic Grenville Big Mountains
1049 Mesoproterozoic Grenville Big Mountains
1300 Mesoproterozoic

1355 Mesoproterozoic

1533 Mesoproterozoic Mt Isa is forming If these aliens came for resources, they didn't want base metals
1684 Paleoproterozoic

1857 Paleoproterozoic

1888 Paleoproterozoic

2159 Paleoproterozoic Trans-Amazonian orogeny
2247 Paleoproterozoic Various poorly constrained glaciations in this general timeframe
2272 Paleoproterozoic Various poorly constrained glaciations in this general timeframe
2355 Paleoproterozoic

2358 Paleoproterozoic

2400 Paleoproterozoic

2459 Paleoproterozoic Oxygen just starting to leak into the atmosphere, Manganese and BIFs
2610 Neoarchean

2612 Neoarchean

2631 Neoarchean

2661 Neoarchean

2682 Neoarchean

2745 Neoarchean

2948 Mesoarchean

2956 Mesoarchean These two mesoarchean visitors missed each other by only 95,000 years.
2956 Mesoarchean These two mesoarchean visitors missed each other by only 95,000 years.
2972 Mesoarchean

2990 Mesoarchean

3152 Mesoarchean

3281 Paleoarchean

3609 Eoarchean

3614 Eoarchean

3641 Eoarchean

3647 Eoarchean

3669 Eoarchean

3828 Eoarchean

3837 Eoarchean

3875 Eoarchean LHB Dynamical instability of this system precludes the development of complex life
3947 Eoarchean LHB Dynamical instability of this system precludes the development of complex life
4011 Hadean

4266 Hadean

4425 Hadean Moon forming impact "That's not a moon, that's a battlestation"


As you can see, for aliens looking for 'Earthlike' planets, the actual Earth was easy to overlook for msot of its history. In this simulation, there was only macroscopic life for 3 of 50 visits. From another POV, three visits were eaither during the Late Heavy Bombardment, or during the moon forming impact- both of which would appear (to the casual alien visitor) to make long-term viability of life on Earth pretty unlikely.

So as we start to find 'earth-like' planets in our sky surveys, it is important to remember that Earth has only been Earthlike for a relatively short period of time.

Opt out of big brother

This is a fantastic find. A website which lets you, in about 5 seconds, opt out of being tracked by all of the major internet ad agencies (including Google). They put cookies on your computer so they can track you and target ads. If you dont like being tracked unwittingly, opt out here:

http://www.networkadvertising.org/managing/opt_out.asp

The CDS Naked short

Forwarded from James, an interesting explanation of how CDS can create unlimited downward pressure on a stock. Personally, I have always thought that no CDS's should be sold that are not insuring an actual bond...

This insanity is caused by the CDS feedback loop; here's how it works.I buy a CDS on GE (a few weeks ago) for a couple hundred basis points ($200,000 per $10 million)The SELLER of that CDS protects against possibly having to pay by shorting whatever he can against that short credit position. This means he buys PUTs, he shorts the common, he does whatever he needs to in order to lay off that risk. He does this because if GE goes bankrupt their stock would presumably go to zero; therefore, if he has a potential $10 million exposure on the CDS he will short $10 million face value of the common stock, or buy enough PUTs to pay him $10 million if the stock goes to zero.The PUT writer (assuming he buys PUTs), being a market-maker, will in turn short the common to lay off the risk as well.This hammers the stock price which then reflects into the pricing models for the CDS, driving them higher.This cycle repeats; unfortunately credit rating models include market cap as one of their inputs, which causes a credit downgrade (eventually.)That in turn adds more pressure.This cycle is repeated until the company is destroyed.Why is this not a problem with options and straight short sales?Because with both straight short sales and PUT purchases the short side is required to post margin every night, and if the price goes the wrong way they get an immediate margin call and are required to buy that position back at a loss. That in turn puts pressure UPWARDS on share price and arrests the slide.As such the people selling short (whether stock or listed options) do not dare short in unlimited amounts, because if they get caught on the wrong side of a squeeze they are dead.The enforcement of risk against the people betting on a bankruptcy through regulated instruments puts a natural limit on their activity and prevents an unwarranted "death spiral".But in the CDS world there is no mark-to-market margin supervision, because there is no central counterparty supervising exposure and demanding it.As a consequence it is only the counterparty and the written document that can demand collateral posting and usually that is either on an infrequent schedule (monthly, quarterly, annually or on an "event") or in some cases not at all provided the writer maintains some specific credit rating criteria themselves!Without nightly margin supervision on CDS short positions these vehicles have turned into the means to launch monstrous focused attacks on specific companies; the buyer has limited risk and virtually unlimited reward.This is exactly like me buying fire insurance on your house, and in addition I can name the amount of insurance I want to buy, even exceeding the house's value!How nervous will you get if I buy $10 million in "fire insurance" against your $100,000 bungalow and then start stacking up gasoline cans in my driveway?As a direct and proximate cause of this ability to distort the market it becomes possible to create self-fulfilling prophecies almost on demand, with the people doing it profiting handsomely - at the expense of American workers and otherwise-sound companies.This form of exploitation of the market must stop.As I have repeatedly noted "The Bezzle" will be removed from our financial system one way or another. The problem with what we're doing now - refusing to address this issue - means that we will see companies dismantled one-by-one using this "tool" until huge parts of our corporate structure are laid waste, whether they deserve it or not.Had CDS been "common" during the 2000-03 tech wreck Cisco and many other sound firms (Amazon anyone?) would not now exist as a public company as they would have been driven to zero by this very same vehicle.President Obama: You can stop this with the stroke of a pen. Issue an executive order today that says:"Naked", that is, CDS that are not insuring an actual bond, which are not traded on a public exchange with nightly margin supervision, are uncollectable as contrary to the public interest. ALL CDS, covering a bond or not, are uncollectable six months hence unless they are traded on a public exchange with nightly margin supervision. This will force all CDS onto a public exchange and stop OTC dealing in these instruments. It will stop dead the writing of these instruments without the capital behind them to pay. It will stop the speculative attacks right now, resolve most of the AIG issue immediately, and within six months put a stop to all abuse of the CDS marketplace.If President Obama fails to do this imminently we may not have a functioning capital market for long enough for Congress to act and put these provisions into a statute.Yes, I know the ISDA's members and some others would likely sue the government immediately claiming a "taking". Nonsense; this executive order would only delay collection until the contract is posted to a public exchange and both sides net against the central counterparty, not prevent collection, provided the writer is solvent.If the writer is not solvent then the money isn't there to pay in the first place and the arguing over "takings" is academic since the agreed actions in the contract cannot be performed.A contract to do an impossible thing is not a contract.Let 'em sue - doing so will force discovery of the solvency of the writer of these contracts along with the identification of exactly who owes who what. THAT isn't something that the "market participants" want out in the public, is it?The insanity must stop now before the capital markets literally consume themselves, destroying not only the guilty firms but those that are otherwise solvent and able to operate through these rough economic times.If you're looking for a scenario where the shotguns could come out if the CDS insanity is not stopped that's one of the ways it can happen.