China starting construction of world’s 1st AP1000 unit in March 2009

China is to begin construction of the world’s first nuclear plant using the AP1000 technologies at Sanmen Nuclear Power Project (NPP) in Zhejiang Province in March 2009.

“All kinds of preparation work is underway as scheduled,” said Wang Binghua, board chairman of the State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC).

Sanmen NPP is in southeast Zhejiang Province. It is the world’s first nuclear plant using the AP1000 technologies, considered the third-generation nuclear technology, and the first phase of the project will be put into commercial operation in November 2013.

China now has 11 nuclear power reactors in operation. Among them, three use domestic technologies, two are equipped with Russian technology and four with French technologies, and two are Canadian designed. All the 11 reactors employ second-generation nuclear power technologies.

China recently announced they want 100 Westinghouse AP1000 power plants operating or under construction by 2020. These will produce 200GW of power by 2025.

Anyone question the wisdom of Toshiba purchasing Westinghouse Electric?

Killing Russians, one cigarette at a time

The average life expectancy of male Russians hovers around 60, and health analysts say the heavy rate of smoking here plays a big role in a looming population drop that has economists here quite worried.

Yet the Russian government seems reluctant to tackle the high smoking rate. Even as it tries to forestall a sharp drop in the population with campaigns that heavily promote family life and a higher birthrates, it has barely invested in anti-tobacco ads and education. A pack of cigarettes here can cost 7 rubles or less, or about 25 cents, because, unlike in the United States and many West European countries, in Russia, tobacco is hardly taxed.

The government appears to have allowed cigarette sales and smoking to flourish in part because it is wary of engaging in the kind of anti-vice campaigns that have historically produced a sharp backlash in Russia.

“The ineffectiveness of these antitobacco measures is connected to the state being scared of provoking the protests of various social groups,” said Dmitri Yanin.

When the Soviet government ran low on state-brand cigarettes in the late 1980s, smokers took to the streets in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kiev. Mikhail Gorbachev, then the Soviet leader, had to appeal to international tobacco manufacturers to send an emergency shipment of 34 billion cigarettes.

Since then, foreign tobacco companies have become among Russia’s biggest foreign investors.

Of course. No one ever blames the provider of the means of suicide – except on an individual basis. Mass suicide is business as usual.

What’s so fascinating about the end of the world?

When you see a headline in a newspaper that says “Are we all going to die next Wednesday?”, one can’t help but wonder at our fascination with the idea of the end of the world.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have predicted the end several times, but have stopped. Millerites predicted end of world for 22 October 1844 – day known to followers as Great Disappointment. Edgar C Whisenant wrote 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988 – followed up with predictions for 1989, 1993, and 1994.

“It is a very ancient pattern in human thought. It is rooted in ancient, even pre-biblical Middle Eastern myths of ultimate chaos and ultimate struggle between the forces of order and chaos,” says cultural historian Paul S Boyer…

And although end of the world thinking crops up in many religions, those in the West are probably most aware of Christian eschatology. “It isn’t just the lunatic fringe, it’s an integral part of all Christianity. But [in mainstream Christianity] it is put into perspective that it may happen ‘one day’,” says Stephen J Hunt, a sociologist of religion.

“But certain groups and movements believe it is in their generation. They are saying we have got the truth and nobody else has.”

Any religion worth its salt – and tithe – has to have an exclusive market for True Believers. It’s the best way to ensure a useful amount of power and wealth.

Apple has in-store “geniuses” – Microsoft recruits “gurus”

Daylife – AFP/Getty Images

Microsoft will deploy “Gurus” to stores to help customers interested in purchasing a new PC or learn more about Windows products…Microsoft reinvigorated marketing efforts also include customer-service representatives who will be sent to Best Buy, Circuit City and other brick and mortar retail stores.

The Redmond, Washington-based company plans to have 155 “Microsoft Gurus” deployed to retailers across the country throughout 2008 and will expand the program depending on its success at the end of the year.

Rather than pay each guru on commission, they’ll be graded according to the customer experience by customers, who will chat with the gurus and learn more about Microsoft products and the PC industry.

Apple has a similar service, dubbed the “Genius Bar,” located in many Apple retail stores, with Apple employees available to help customers with their Macs or iPods. Each Apple Genius Bar also helps offer on-site technical support for customers who purchased something and are having problems with it.

While consumers generally have offered compliments about the genius program at Apple – it varies from store-to-store, region-to-region.

Predicting how well Microsoft does with their next step of copying Apple’s marketing methods is worth a smile at best. Calling their shills “gurus” is a reasonable indicator of how out-of-touch Microsoft management can be.

France is taking Scientology to court as “organized fraud”

The Church of Scientology in France will be tried in court for “organised fraud”, according to legal sources. The lawyer for one of the plaintiffs behind the case told the BBC that if convicted the controversial Church could be banned.

This case stems from claims by a woman who said she was approached by Scientologists in a Paris street in 1998 and offered a free personality test.

She says she ended up handing over more than 20,000 euros (£16,000) for courses, books, illegally prescribed drugs and an “electrometer” supposed to measure fluctuations in her mental state.

Olivier Morice, a lawyer for the woman and for one other plaintiff in the case, says the case could be brought before the court by the end of the year or in early 2009.

France refuses to recognise Scientology as a religion, categorising it as a purely commercial operation and keeping it under surveillance.

These tales are always good for chuckles – for me – because I was around back in the day when L.Ron started this hustle. It was always looked at as straight-up philosophic idealism comparable to radio preachers telling their followers to lay hands on their [tube-type] radio and “feel the warmth”.

My opinion hasn’t changed.

Brave New World of digital intimacy

Social scientists have a name for incessant online contact. They call it “ambient awareness.” It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye…

For many people — particularly anyone over the age of 30 — the idea of describing your blow-by-blow activities in such detail is absurd. Why would you subject your friends to your daily minutiae? And conversely, how much of their trivia can you absorb? The growth of ambient intimacy can seem like modern narcissism taken to a new, supermetabolic extreme — the ultimate expression of a generation of celebrity-addled youths who believe their every utterance is fascinating and ought to be shared with the world. Twitter, in particular, has been the subject of nearly relentless scorn since it went online. “Who really cares what I am doing, every hour of the day?” wondered Alex Beam, a Boston Globe columnist, in an essay about Twitter last month. “Even I don’t care…”

This is the paradox of ambient awareness. Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible…
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Active ingredient in Marijuana fights bacteria

Researchers in Italy and Britain have found that the main active ingredient in marijuana — tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — and related compounds show promise as antibacterial agents, particularly against microbial strains that are already resistant to several classes of drugs.

It has been known for decades that Cannabis sativa has antibacterial properties. Experiments in the 1950s tested various marijuana preparations against skin and other infections, but researchers at the time had little understanding of marijuana’s chemical makeup.

The current research, by Giovanni Appendino, looked at the antibacterial activity of the five most common cannabinoids. All were found effective against several common multi-resistant bacterial strains, although, perhaps understandably, the researchers suggested that the nonpsychotropic cannabinoids might prove more promising for eventual use.

European researchers, of course, have an advantage. They won’t be burned at the stake for suggesting usefulness for a substance feared almost as much as furriners, homosexuals or atheists in some “moral” nations.

Computers crash – halting London stocks surge

Trading on the London Stock Exchange was halted this morning because of a computer fault, interrupting a surge in share prices as markets reacted to a U.S. mortgage bailout.

The LSE said it has been suspended because of a “connectivity” problem — meaning that transactions could not be completed — after customers noticed problems just 45 minutes into the trading day.

Shares had been soaring after the U.S. bailout of its mortgage market. The FT-100 was up nearly 4 percent when trading halted.

The LSE was unable to say when the market was expected to reopen. A spokesperson said existing trades should be processed through the computer system once the system is restarted.

Tee hee. Now, there are a few IT geeks who are pulling their hair out.

French postpone trial of Muslim because he’s fasting

A decision by a French court to postpone a robbery trial involving a Muslim defendant until the end of the holy month of Ramadan has set off a new fracas about whether France’s fiercely secularist institutions are bending to religious demands.

The court in the western city of Rennes did not cite the period of religious fasting as the reason for rescheduling the trial, which was due to begin Sept. 16. It stated only that the decision was made to ensure “a good administering of justice.”

The prosecutor in the case, Léonard Bernard de la Gratinais, responded to the protests by saying at an impromptu news conference that Ramadan had nothing to do with the postponement. “That could be contrary to the principles of the republic,” he said.

But several observers argued that the request to reschedule the trial had been filed by the Muslim defendant explicitly on the grounds that he would be fasting and therefore at a disadvantage during the proceedings.

The Brits and Americans are still in the lead when it comes to bending over for religious claptrap. Cripes! I live in a county where you probably could get a continuation if your astrologer was in a trance and couldn’t be disturbed.