Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bridges of Black Plastic Manicotti

The [Neal] bridge is newer than most, as suggested by the still-black asphalt and the fresh galvanized gleam of the guardrails. But it’s what is underneath that really makes the bridge stand out.

Rather than steel or concrete beams, the structure consists of 23 graceful arches of carbon- and glass-fiber fabric. These are 12-inch-diameter tubes that have been inflated, bent to the proper shape and stiffened with a plastic resin, then installed side by side and stuffed with concrete, like giant manicotti. Covered with composite decking and compacted soil, the arches support a standard gravel-and-asphalt roadway.

The bridge is the first of what its designers, about 50 miles up the road at the University of Maine in Orono, hope will be many of its type, combining composite materials with more conventional ones like concrete. With an estimated 160,000 of the nation’s 600,000 road bridges in need of repair or replacement, if it or other hybrid designs catch on, they could mark a breakthrough in the use of fiber-reinforced plastics, known as F.R.P., on highways. __NYT_via_ImpactLab
These new plastic-fiber bridges are lighter for the same strength -- thus allowing for heavier live loads (traffic). How well they will age in different climates is a question that will have to be answered with more testing, and time.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Another Century of Crude Oil?

The following is excerpted from the October 2009 Scientific American article by Leonardo Maugeri, "Another Century of Oil?"

On fourteen dry, flat square miles of California’s Central Valley, more than 8,000 horsehead pumps—as old-fashioned oilmen call them—slowly rise and fall as they suck oil from underground. Glittering pipelines crossing the whole area suggest that the place is not merely a relic of the past. But even to an expert’s eyes, Kern River Oil Field betrays no hint of the technological miracles that have enabled it to survive decades of dire predictions.

When Kern River Oil Field was discovered in 1899, analysts thought that only 10 percent of its unusually viscous crude could be recovered. In 1942, after more than four decades of modest production, the field was estimated to still hold 54 million barrels of recoverable oil, a fraction of the 278 million barrels already recovered. “In the next 44 years, it produced not 54 [million barrels] but 736 million barrels, and it had another 970 million barrels remaining,” energy guru Morris Adelman noted in 1995. But even this estimate proved wrong. In November 2007 U.S. oil giant Chevron, by then the field’s operator, announced that cumulative production had reached two billion barrels. Today Kern River still puts out nearly 80,000 barrels per day, and the state of California estimates its remaining reserves to be about 627 million barrels.

Chevron began to markedly increase production in the 1960s by injecting steam into the ground, a novel technology at the time. Later, a new breed of exploration and drilling tools—along with steady steam injection—turned the field into a kind of oil cornucopia.

Kern River is not an isolated case. According to common wisdom, a field’s production should follow a bell-shaped trajectory known as the Hubbert curve (after the late Shell Oil geologist M. King Hubbert) and peak when half of the known oil has been extracted. Instead most of the world’s oil fields have revived over time. In a way, technology is the real cornucopia.

Many analysts now prophesy that global oil production will peak in the next few years and then decline, following the Hubbert curve. But I believe that those projections will prove wrong, just as similar “peak oil” predictions [see “The End of Cheap Oil,” by Colin J. Campbell and Jean H. Laherrère; Scientific American, March 1998] have been mistaken in the past. New exploration methods have revealed more of the earth’s secrets. And leaps in extraction technology have led to tapping oil in once inaccessible areas and in places where drilling used to be uneconomic. Advanced exploration and extraction methods can keep oil production growing for decades to come and could allow oil supplies to last at least another century.

Although oil and other fossil fuels pose risks for the climate and the environment, for now alternative energy sources cannot compete with their versatility, cost, and ease of transport and storage. As research into alternatives goes on, we will need to be sure that we use the oil we have responsibly.

All That You Can’t Leave Behind
At a time when the world increasingly fears an approaching peak and subsequent decline in oil production, it may be surprising to learn that most of the planet’s known resources are left unexploited in the ground and that even more still wait to be discovered.

On the face of it, oil should last only a few more decades. In 2008, just before the economic meltdown slashed consumption, the world burned about 30 billion barrels of oil a year. Assuming that in the near future consumption resumed at 2008 levels and then stayed constant, our planet’s proven reserves of oil—currently estimated at between 1.1 trillion and 1.3 trillion barrels—would have about 40 years to go.

But proven reserves are only estimates and not fixed numbers. They are defined as the amount of known oil that can be recovered economically with current technology, so the definition changes as technology develops and as the price of crude varies. In particular, if supply tightens or demand increases, resale prices go up, and oil that was once too expensive to extract becomes part of the proven reserves. That is why most oil fields have produced much more than the initial estimates of their reserves assumed and even more than the initial estimates of their total content. Today only 35 percent of the oil in the average oil field is recovered, meaning that about two thirds of the oil in known fields remains underground. That resource is rarely mentioned in the debate on the future of oil.

Even a mature oil country such as the U.S., whose oil production has been declining since the 1970s (if not as fast as the Hubbert curve predicted), still holds huge volumes of unexploited oil under its surface. Although the country’s proven oil reserves are now only 29 billion barrels, the National Petroleum Council (NPC) estimates that 1,124 billion barrels are still left underground, of which 374 billion barrels would be recoverable with current technology.

On a global scale, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates the earth’s remaining conventional oil (petroleum) deposits to be around seven trillion to eight trillion barrels. But with today’s technology, know-how and prices, only part of that oil can be recovered economically and is thus classified as a proven reserve.

And there is more.

Only one third of the sedimentary basins of our planet—the geologic formations that may contain oil—has been thoroughly explored with modern technologies. Moreover, the USGS data do not include unconventional oils, such as ultraheavy oils, tar sands, oil shales and bituminous schist, which together are at least as abundant as conventional oil.

Thus, a country or a company may increase its reserves of black gold even without tapping new areas and frontiers, if it is capable of recovering more oil from known fields. Still, doing so is not always easy.

A Rocky Start
Contrary to common belief, oil is not held in great underground lakes or caves. If you could “see” an oil reservoir, you would notice only a rocky structure seeming to have no room for oil. But beyond the reach of the human eye, a world of often invisible pores and microfractures entraps minuscule droplets of oil, together with water and natural gas.

Nature created these formations over millions of years. It started when huge deposits of vegetation and dead microorganisms piled up at the bottom of ancient seas, decomposed and became buried under successive layers of rock. High temperatures and pressures then slowly transformed the organic sediments into today’s oil and gas. These fossil fuels soak the porous underground rock almost like water soaks pumice.

When such a reservoir is drilled, it behaves a bit like an uncorked bottle of champagne. The oil is freed from its ancient rocky prison, and the reservoir’s internal pressure pushes it to the surface (along with stones, mud and other debris). The process goes on until the pressure peters out, usually after several years. This initial, or primary, stage of recovery can usually yield between 10 and 15 percent of the oil in place. From then on, recovery must be assisted.

About one third of the oil left in a reservoir after the initial “champagne” release is called immobile oil—drops trapped by strong capillary forces within isolated pores in the rock. No technique exists yet to extract this part of the oil. The remaining two thirds, though mobile, will not necessarily flow into the wells on its own. In fact, usually about half of the mobile oil stays stuck inside the reservoir because of geologic barriers or low permeability, which happens when the pores are too narrow. The situation is even worse when the oil is not a light liquid but a heavy, viscous, molasseslike substance.

To help some of the remaining oil seep through the pores in the rock and come out of the wells, operators usually inject natural gas and water into the reservoir, in what is called secondary recovery. Injecting gas restores the lost pressure and forces oil that is sufficiently fluid to seep through the rock’s pores. Meanwhile, because oil is lighter than water, injection of water raises the oil toward the well, just like pouring water in a glass filled with olive oil would send the oil upward.

In the past decade or so, the distinction between primary and secondary recovery has blurred as companies have begun to apply advanced technology from the outset. One of the most important developments so far has been the horizontal well, an L-shaped structure able to deliver dramatically more oil than the traditional vertical drilling that has been used since the inception of the oil industry. The L shape enables horizontal wells to change direction and penetrate sections of a reservoir that would otherwise be unreachable. The method, first adopted commercially in the 1980s, is particularly suitable in reservoirs where oil and natural gas occupy thin, horizontal layers.

Continue reading here.

Peak oil has never been an intelligent religion, but it is growing less and less bright every day.   If peak oilers knew one tenth as much about what is going to happen with oil supplies and prices as they pretend, they would be stinking rich from crafty investing.  

Between the Peak Oil Religion and the Climate Catastrophe Religion, a huge proportion of the world's nutcases can be grouped.  Add the Fundamentalist Muslim Religion and you have largely covered the world's majour delusions and problem children.  Throw in the Obama Zombies and that just about does it.   While still delusionary, the rest of the religions are not a significant threat to the future of abundance and sustainability.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Back by Popular Demand: Obama, Saviour of the Universe Film Festival and Bacchanalia

Okay, well perhaps the last video is just a bit over the top. It reminds me of something the Obama juggernaut (ACORN, moveon.org, Rev. Wright, etc) might have cooked up, if the Obama steamroller had been running against Obama. Sauce for the goose and the gander, you might say. It certainly had me laughing uncontrollably most of the way through.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Worlds of Secession

Image Source
It is likely that as the Obama Depression goes worldwide, more parts of the world will wish to secede from their parent national government. If so, this map could grow substantially more divided in a very short time.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Bulletproof Super-Cat Has Its Own Amphibious Plane!

The Aeroyacht 110has been dubbed “the world’s most innovative super catamaran” by its designers and, while that’s a pretty big claim, it’s certainly an audacious concept. Capable of speeds of over 32 knots but able to cruise effortlessly at 20, boasting a superbly-appointed 32ft wide salon with 360º sea views and with its own fold-up amphibious plane as a tender, the Aeroyacht 110 looks to be the ne plus ultra of luxury sailing.

Designed from scratch by Gregor Tarjan, founder of Aeroyacht International, together with naval architect Pete Melvin, of the world-renowned Morrelli & Melvin multihull architects, the Aeroyacht 110 was designed from the outside-in. Tarjan started with the concept for a “pure sailing machine” and, once its streamlined shape was established, only then worked out how many people it could and should accommodate.Source
The amphibious tender ICON A5 adds a completely new dimension of freedom to the maritime ensemble. All that is lacking is a small submarine. Perhaps the Aeroyacht people can correct that oversight by the time the super cat hits the market.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Tuition-Free "University of the People" Now Open

Brainchild of Israeli entrepreneur Shai Reshef -- who has donated $1 million of his own money to the effort -- the UN Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technology and Development (GAID) sponsored University of the People opened for business the first of May, 2009 with programs of instruction in business and computers. The institution is "online only" and opened with 200 students from some 52 countries -- but it needs 15,000 students and $6 million to continue operating.
Admission opened just over two weeks ago and without any promotion some 200 students from 52 countries have already registered, with a high school diploma and a sufficient level of English as entry requirements.

Students will be placed in classes of 20, after which they can log on to a weekly lecture, discuss its themes with their peers and take a test all online. There are voluntary professors, post-graduate students and students in other classes who can also offer advice and consultation.

The only charge to students is a $15 to $50 admission fee, depending on their country of origin, and a processing fee for every test ranging from $10 to $100. For the University to sustain its operation, it needs 15,000 students and $6 million, of which Mr. Reshef has donated $1 million of his own money. _UN
It sounds as if the infrastructure is still being assembled, and the May 2009 opening is actually something of a trial period shakeout cruise. More about Shai Reshef:
Mr. Reshef hopes to build enrollment to 10,000 over five years, the level at which he said the enterprise should be self-sustaining. Startup costs would be about $5 million, Mr. Reshef said, of which he plans to provide $1 million.

For all the uncertainties, Mr. Reshef is probably as well positioned as anyone for such an enterprise.

Starting in 1989, he served as chairman of the Kidum Group, an Israeli test preparation company, which he sold in 2005 to Kaplan, one of the world’s largest education companies. While chairman of Kidum, he built an online university affiliated with the University of Liverpool, enrolling students from more than 100 countries; that business was sold to Laureate, another large for-profit education company, in 2004.

Mr. Reshef is now chairman of Cramster.com, an online study community offering homework help to college students.

“Cramster has thousands of students helping other students,” said Mr. Reshef, who lives in Pasadena, Calif., where both Cramster and the new university are based. “These become strong social communities. With these new social networks, where young people now like to spend their lives, we can bring college degrees to students all over the world, third-world students who would be unable to study otherwise. I haven’t found even one person who says it’s a bad idea.” _NYT
As long as the university is run far, far away from the UN and its kleptocratic bureaucracy, it may well succeed. No doubt some palms are being greased at GAID to allow the use of the UN's name in marketing the concept. But if the behind-the-scenes hands-on managers of the UOP can run things without interference from the Palace of Thieves on Turtle Bay, they may actually create something good that benefits a lot of people.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Where Is Switzerland on this List?

Impact Lab
The top ten most peaceful nations:
  • 1 New Zealand,
  • 2 Denmark,
  • 3 Norway,
  • 4 Iceland,
  • 5 Austria,
  • 6 Sweden,
  • 7 Japan,
  • 8 Canada,
  • 9= Finland,
  • 10= Slovenia.
The Global Peace Index, a report prepared for the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace in conjunction with the Economist Intelligence Unit, ranks 144 countries in a league table of peacefulness.

The index defines peace as “the absence of violence”.

Twenty-three criteria on which the league table is compiled include political stability, risk of terrorism, murder rate, likelihood of violent demonstrations, respect for human rights, internal conflicts, arms imports and involvement in foreign wars. _ImpactLab
The ten least peaceful countries:
  • 1 Iraq,
  • 2 Afghanistan,
  • 3 Somalia,
  • 4 Israel,
  • 5 Sudan,
  • 6 Democratic Republic of the Congo,
  • 7 Chad,
  • 8 Pakistan,
  • 9 Russia,
  • 10 Zimbabwe
Like any such list, it was compiled more for political reasons than to be informative. You have to take it with a tonne of salt. But there is plenty to think about. These are calculations generally done by the subconscious mind, on local, regional, and global levels. Every time we consider a travel route or a vacation plan.

People do not emigrate from Switzerland or the Cayman Islands to Egypt or Gaza.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Pick Any Lock, Fleece Any Flock

You would like to believe in a world that is safe from terrorists, thieves, spies, and busybodies. But that would not be the truth. There is no lock that cannot be hacked. The security procedures of governments, corporations, and homes is more of a convenient fiction than a reality.
Tobias thinks of himself as a humble public servant. When he attacks the Kryptonite bike lock or the Club (or those in-room safes at Holiday Inn or Caesars Palace), he's not a bad guy—he's just Ralph Nader with a slim jim, protecting consumers by exposing locks, safes, and security systems that aren't actually locked, safe, or secure. At least, not from people like him.

The problem, if you're a safe company or a lock maker, is that Tobias makes it all public through hacker confabs, posts on his Security.org site, and tech blogs like Engadget. He views this glasnost as a public service. Others see a hacker how-to that makes The Anarchist Cookbook read like Betty Crocker. And where Tobias sees a splendid expression of First Amendment rights, locksmiths and security companies see a criminal finishing school. Tobias isn't just exposing problems, they say. He is the problem.

But forget bike locks and hotel room safes: These days, Tobias is attacking the lock famous for protecting places like military installations and the homes of American presidents and British royals...

...Kids study Tobias' online video, crack the lock off Dad's Glock, and put holes in things that shouldn't have them. Enterprising junkies embark on habit-feeding crime waves. Hotel rooms, no longer secure, become magnets for burglary and rape. High school truants walk the halls shimming combination locks off rows of lockers. Crime gangs use Tobias' case study to copycat the 2003 Antwerp diamond heist, while tech terrorists simply co-opt the master list of Marc Weber Tobias problems to outwit America's Keystone Kop-homeland security and generally blow stuff up. The world is unzipped. And our innocence—not to mention a good deal of our cash, jewelry, and portable electronics—is lost.

Tobias shrugged off such concerns, along with the hate mail. Scaring citizens to attention is part of his educational program. "Do you really think ignorance will keep you safe?" he asks. "Is it even an option?" ...

..."It's not about me. It's about what these locks protect," Tobias says. "Medeco locks are the best in the world—that's why they're used by the Pentagon, the embassies. These agencies believe that the locks can't be picked in under 15 minutes, that they can't be bumped, that you can't trace keys onto plastic. It's the definition of high security—and it's wrong! We proved it."

"Look," he says, taking it down a few notches. "If we can do it, so can the bad guys. Medeco needs to acknowledge it and let the locksmiths know it—and the DOD, FBI, CIA, Secret Service, and all their clients." _Wired
And so we are left with a world without security. Nothing is safe, not really. But if that is true, are we not better off knowing the facts and learning to take the necessary precautions? Is it not past time for us to outgrow our psychological neoteny, and to move through our rites of passage into adulthood?

That is when the fun really starts.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Steps to A Better Matrix

One of the challenges of creating artificial organs for replacement of human body parts is the need for a structural matrix to build the functional tissue around. Australian and Korean scientists have developed an interesting approach to the problem by pairing carbon nanotubes and DNA strands together, then treating them with calcium chloride solution to create cross-linking between the fibres.
The new concept uses DNA strands as a matrix; the strands completely “wrap” the scaffold-forming carbon nanotubes in the presence of an ionic liquid, networking them to form a gel. This gel can be spun: just as silk and synthetic fibers can be wet-spun for textiles, the gel can be made into very fine threads when injected into a special bath. The dried fibers have a porous, sponge-like structure and consist of a network of intertwined 50 nm-wide nanofibers. Soaking in a calcium chloride solution further cross-links the DNA, causing the fibers to become denser and more strongly connected.

These spongy fibers resemble the collagen fiber networks of the biological extracellular matrix. They can also be knotted, braided, or woven into textile-like structures. This results in materials that are as elastic as the softest natural tissues while simultaneously deriving great strength from the robust DNA links. An additional advantage is the electrical conductivity of the new material, which can thus also be used in electrodes for mechanical actuators, energy storage, and sensors. _Wiley
A similar matrix might be seeded with living cells to create tendons, cartilage, or more complex structures such as noses, ears, blood vessels, eyelids, lips, or as support reinforcement for hernia or breast surgeries etc. Reconstructive surgery and vascular surgery would create a demand for such living replacement parts immediately, should they prove safe and durable.

For more complex organs such as kidneys, livers, lungs, and hearts, more breakthroughs will be needed. For intermediate structures such as bladders, rectums, and other GI or GU segments, the jump from simple replacement parts may not be too difficult once the best ways for making the simpler parts are perfected.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Clever Hemp-Based Wood Replacement

Hemp is a fast-growing source of plant fiber that may help preserve the majestic forests of the world. Stanford University researchers are busy at work creating a very intriguing faux wood from hemp, combining a bioplastic called PHB with sheets of hemp fiber. The resulting wood substitute may also prove to be a plastic substitute!
The hemp-PHB biocomposite material has several characteristics similar to wood from trees, according to Craig Criddle, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, who collaborated on the project. “It’s quite attractive looking and very strong,” he said. “You can mold it, nail it, hammer it and drill it a lot like wood. But, bioplastic PHB can be produced faster than wood, and hemp can be grown faster than trees.” _Biomass
The age of advanced biomaterials is arriving at the same time as the age of advanced bio-fuels and bio-chemicals. Many technologies for turning biomass into plastics and structural fiber, can be used to turn biomass into fuels and high value chemicals.

Laws against the growth and use of hemp are just one example of the government's counterproductive meddling in the markets -- eventually resulting in depressed economies. The current Obama reich's meddling in energy markets is another fine example of government stupidity. Here's a novel idea: why doesn't the government concentrate on protecting its citizens from violence, fraud, and greedy, corrupt bureaucrats? The mainspring of human progress is the human spirit and human imagination. Big greedy government is the antithesis of an open and vibrant future.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rats Can be Trained as Soldiers Too

The rat brain is a highly effective survival tool. Rats can learn to navigate complex maizes, can be taught to respond to complex sequences of stimuli, and now can learn to target a robot arm with a high degree of precision. How much longer before rats can target projectile weapons and detonate command mines and booby traps?
Fitted with tiny electrodes in their brains to capture signals for the computer to unravel, three rats were taught to move a robotic arm toward a target with just their thoughts. Each time they succeeded, the rats were rewarded with a drop of water.

The computer's goal, on the other hand, was to earn as many points as possible, Sanchez said. The closer a rat moved the arm to the target, the more points the computer received, giving it incentive to determine which brain signals lead to the most rewards, making the process more efficient for the rat. The researchers conducted several tests with the rats, requiring them to hit targets that were farther and farther away. Despite this increasing difficulty, the rats completed the tasks more efficiently over time and did so at a significantly higher rate than if they had just aimed correctly by chance, Sanchez said.

"We think this dialogue with a goal is how we can make these systems evolve over time," Sanchez said. "We want these devices to grow with the user. (Also) we want users to be able to experience new scenarios and be able to control the device."

Dawn Taylor, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve University, said the results of the study add a new dimension to brain-machine interface research. That UF researchers were able to train rats to use the robotic arm and then obtain significant results from animals lacking the mental prowess of primates or humans is also impressive, she said. _Source
This type of research is meant to develop into human research, of course, to help paralysed and disabled humans to learn to manipulate prosthetic arms and other aspects of their environment, mentally. Such goals are quite worthwhile and should be pursued. Sophisticated brain implants will learn to adapt to an individual's unique intra-brain communication signaling -- it will self-customise itself to fit each person whose brain it finds itself within.

But the rat brain is far more capable of precise, real time adaptive behaviour in the real world than any human-made computer of such small size. In combat, a brain implant equipped rat could create total mayhem within the ranks of an opposing military, given the proper weapons and munitions. Will such rodent warriors take the form of Cyborgs or Grobycs? It depends upon the approach of their developers. Either way, such four legged commandos could pack quite a wallop.

Monday, March 09, 2009

President Obama's Brave New Brain Implant

Image Source
Barak Obama's addiction to the teleprompter is becoming a sore point with White House insiders. Not the addiction itself, but rather the fact that people are beginning to notice. In fact, Mr. Obama cannot give a simple four minute announcement without spoon-feeding from a teleprompter.

This unseemly dependency has prompted White House aides to pursue a less conspicuous way of feeding the president his lines. That is how the idea of a brain implant for Mr. Obama came up in conference recently. Caught between a rock (Mr. Obama's inability to speak publicly without prompting) and a hard place (the fact that Mr. Obama's handicap is being noticed beyond deniability), the White House Office of Perpetual Campaigning is considering the technology option. The only question now seems to be, "how to do it?"

A bionic eye implant may seem at first glance a plausible plan. But a few moment's thought should make it obvious that the "camera glasses" Mr. Obama would have to wear to make the bionic eyes work would be an unsightly obstacle to the president's facial expression magic.

When faced with the shortcomings of plan A, one White House counsel suggested a brain implant without the glasses. But there was the problem of how the implant would receive the signal transmitting the president's speech to his brain. Would he wear an antenna on his head? "No," scoffed another aide, "The president's hair is too short to conceal an antenna and power supply for the implant."

"Then what about using an implant that uses photoelectrodes instead of electrical signals? You could covertly beam the speech to an array of fiberoptics cunningly concealed in the president's hair!" yet another aide enthused.

"I've got a better idea," interjected Rahm Emanuel over the intercom. "How about using a focused ultrasonic brain stimulator? You wouldn't need any kind of receiver or antenna then!"

Everyone turned to look at the only scientist in the group, a neuropsychologist on loan from MIT. What did he suggest? "Well, there have been some embarrassing side effects from brain implants in the past. If the president started to ... you know ... in the middle of a State of the Union Address, or in high level talks with the Chinese Premier ... "

For a moment, there was only silence in the room as White House aides contemplated the enormous risks of their mission. Then, over the intercom came the voice of WHCOS Emanuel: "we could always include a 'kill switch' in the device signal." The suggestion was greeted with gasps and moans. "No, no, not that kind of a kill switch. Just a type of 'reset switch' that causes him to lose consciousness temporarily so that a medical team can rush him out, in case he starts to do something too embarassing."

With that explanation, the tension blew out of the room as from a runaway balloon. They were all in agreement, it would be done. Just how it would be done, and who could be trusted to do it secretly was another matter, for another conference. But that is how government works. That is just how government works.

First published at Al Fin

Obama on Verge of Nervous Breakdown!!!

Allies of Mr Obama say his weary appearance in the Oval Office with Mr Brown illustrates the strain he is now under, and the president's surprise at the sheer volume of business that crosses his desk.

"Obama is overwhelmed. There is a .... tension between his ability to attend to the economic issues and his ability to be a proactive sculptor of the national security agenda.

"That was the gamble these guys made at the front end of this presidency and I think they're finding it a hard thing to do everything." Telegraph
The simple fact is that Barak Obama was not prepared to be US President. He was not prepared to be US Senator, for that matter, but in the Senate a member can spend most of his time running for president -- occasionally sparing the time to vote "present" on important issues -- and still be considered a US Senator in good standing. A president is expected to stay on top of things, and to actually ... you know ... make decisions.

Up to this point, Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel have been making almost all of the decisions for Mr. Obama. Obama makes decisions about vacations, parties, eating out, and setting the thermostat near 80 degrees F. Or perhaps Michelle makes those decision -- who knows?

White House insiders say Obama may not be getting enough sleep. What -- twelve hours a night is not enough? Perhaps a bit of modafinil might help, but I suspect that a nice long vacation is what the president really needs. Say, a forty year vacation in Hawaii? Perhaps he could run for president of the Honolulu Marxist Association? That might suit him to a tee.

Image h/t Rob's No Bull Zone

First published at Al Fin

Friday, January 02, 2009

Guys and Their Real Dolls

This 47 minute video tells the story of four different adult male owners of Real Dolls, plus a visit to the factory where Real Dolls are made and an interview with Matt, the creator of Real Dolls.

These silicone mannequins weigh about 100 pounds, and can be made to look surprisingly life like. All four of the featured owners appear thoroughly addicted to their dolls, although one of the owners denies it, unconvincingly.

A "Real Doll Doctor" is also featured, a mechanic who maintains, repairs, and restores used mannequins to a like-new condition -- for a price. The doll doctor appears reasonably normal, and is shown at home with an attractive living girlfriend. But even the normal "doctor" admits to being seduced a time or two by particularly alluring Real Dolls that he has restored. He sounded almost sheepish in the admission, but not apologetic.

I see these dress-up and dress-down mannequins as an early incarnation of something which in five or ten years will be a booming business, presenting a very real threat to several existing industries including pornography, prostitution, computer dating services, and the wedding industry. As in the animation titled "Don't Date Robots!!!", it is clear that the human male can be seduced by substitutes for real women, if the substitute passes a certain threshold of "realness."

Real Dolls will not pass that threshold for most men. But what will the next incarnation of girl surrogate be capable of? Blinking, smiling, frowning, and pursing her lips? Thrusting her hips and moaning at the proper times? Perhaps engaging in simple verbal exchanges, expressions of love, even offering devotion approaching the false adoration of a Stepford Wife? How long before they can go out dancing and to a movie?

Little by little, the dolls cum robots cum androids will pass the thresholds of surrogate acceptability for more and more men of all strata of society. How severely that impacts marriage and family and fertility inside a society probably depends upon how women react to made-to-order sex objects that never grow old and flabby -- with a little maintenance and occasional restorative work.

North American societies are oriented toward the needs of girls and women. Women enjoy affirmative action in school admissions, work hirings, government contracts. Government education in K-12 has been totally re-structured to benefit girls, to the severe disadvantage of boys. Women are taking over higher education in almost every field except math-intensive fields. This advantaging of women over men in education is beginning to show itself in the changing gender makeup of various professions and careers.

Women are favoured in divorce settlements and in child custody arrangements, often at the expense of not only the father but of the children as well. It is socially acceptable to tell cruel jokes about men, but not about women. And so on.

For those and many other reasons, many men have already turned away from marriage, and from most social relationships with women other than perhaps quick hookups. Men sense that the playing field is not level, and feel little desire to play in a rigged game.

But for now, Real Dolls simply are not good enough to fool the senses, to overcome the natural repulsion that most men feel in the presence of something that looks like a woman superficially, but doesn't breathe, move, talk, or respond meaningfully.

I prefer my non-sexual android, Valerie. She takes care of the house, and she is surprisingly well read. If she would just stop hacking into my web sites and posting under my name. Nobody's perfect.

Also published at Al Fin, You Sexy Thing!