East African geothermal tests successful


Geothermal power plant on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula

Geothermal energy generation in Africa could take a leap forward in 2009 after exploratory studies in Kenya exceeded all expectations.

A new enterprise – the African Rift Geothermal Development Facility (ARGeo) – will drive forward the plan to harvest the steam locked among the rocks under East Africa…

Over the last three years, GEF has funded a $1 million project in Kenya to identify promising new drilling sites. Although there are already two geothermal sites near Nairobi, Kenya, the main challenge to expansion in the country, and elsewhere along the Rift, has been the risk associated with drilling and the high costs if steam is not found.

The project harnessed new technologies to locate promising sites. Steiner said that the Rift Valley is now thought to have the potential to generate at least 4,000 megawatts of electricity.

“We have shown that geothermal electricity generation is not only technologically viable but also cost-effective,” said Monique Barbut, chief executive officer of GEF. The results mean that ARGeo can now expand geothermal projects up and down the Rift, which runs from Mozambique in the south to Djibouti in the north. The organisation is charged with raising private sector and public investment in selected geothermal sites in ARGeo countries as well as “creating an enabling environment for geothermal investments”.

It’s only one of many alternative means of producing electricity; but, if you have the resource – it’s a great way to go. Ask anyone in Iceland. Or Kamchatka.

Iraq asks Obama to hold new U.S.- Iran talks


Iran’s former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani prays during Eid al-Adha ceremonies
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

The Iraqi government has called for the administration of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to initiate sustained dialogue with Iran in hopes of greater Middle Eastern stability.

Spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh also called for dialogue to improve relations between Iran and Arab countries. “The time has come for a new, serious, and calm policy with an open-minded vision.”

The Shi’ite-led Iraqi government, which is friendly toward Shi’ite Iran and has been backed by Washington since the 2003 invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, has supported U.S.-Iran dialogue before. It now appears to be pinning its hopes on Obama for greater talks between the long-time foes.

Iraq and Iran, which fought an eight-year war in the 1980s, both have a Shi’ite Muslim majority.

Without specifying whether he was addressing Iran or the United States, Dabbagh called for respect for international law, alternatives to military solutions to conflict, and for regional answers to regional problems.

NSS. The whole world is looking forward to a United States that abandons unilateral politics. There’s no guarantee of better understanding coming from the White House or the State Department; but, at least there’s a chance someone might use their ears and brain – before using a bomb.

Transplanted fat cells restore function after spinal cord injury


Iraq War vet, James Lathan Jr. – could use some good news

A new study suggests that mature adipocytes – fat cells – could become a source for cell replacement therapy to treat central nervous system disorders. The precis offered here is almost as dull as the article. The potential for victims of spinal cord injury is fantastic!

According to the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Yuki Ohta of the Institute of Medical Science, St. Mariana University School of Medicine, Kawasaki, Japan, adipose-derived stem/stromal cells have in the past been shown to differentiate into neuronal cells in an in vitro setting. In their study, for the first time fat cells have been shown to successfully differentiate into neuronal cells in in vivo tests. The fat cells are grown under culture conditions that result in them becoming de-differentiated fat (DFAT) cells.

“These cells, called DFAT cells, are plentiful and can be easily obtained from adipose tissue without discomfort and represent autologous (same patient) tissue,” said Ohta. “DFAT cells, with none of the features of adipocytes, do have the potential to differentiate into endothelial, neuronal or glial lineages…”

According to Ohta and colleagues, tests in animal models confirmed that the injected cells survived without the aid of immunosuppression drugs and that the DFAT-grafted animals showed significantly better motor function than controls.

That’s a bona fide WOW! I’ll be watching for further studies, potential developments.

Obama’s energy secretary to push renewables, alternatives, less oil


Four Corners Power Plant – strip mined coal and belching away!

The change promised by U.S. President-elect Barack Obama will extend to the Energy Department, where the next energy secretary is likely to focus more than ever on renewable and alternative energy sources and less on traditional fossil fuels like crude oil.

Steven Chu, Obama’s pick to be energy secretary, will play a major role in implementing the incoming president’s plan to resuscitate the U.S. economy with millions of new green energy jobs that will cut America’s polluting emissions and the country’s addiction to foreign oil supplies.

“The biggest challenge for the next energy secretary is to develop, support, and adopt clean energy policies that put Americans to work and reduce global warming pollution,” said Dan Weiss, energy expert at the Center for American Progress think tanks.

“The Energy Department must shift its mission to speeding the transformation to a clean energy economy, rather than finding new ways to concoct or burn fossil fuels,” Weiss said.

Crude oil and gasoline prices have become less of an issue now that the U.S. recession and the weak global economy has reduced petroleum demand and slashed energy costs for consumers. That will last about as long as the recession.

Other challenges facing Chu will be modernizing the U.S. electricity grid, whether to boost the size of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and if the emergency stockpile should be used to lower fuel prices and how to store the millions of radioactive waste now at nuclear power plants and government weapons sites.

How can you write this article without mentioning a need for someone-or-other to get serious about Clean Coal? The coal producers have essentially done diddly-squat. Milking every minute of the Bush League energy fiasco, hoping against hope that John McCain would be elected.

If we’re up for modernizing the electricity grid and maybe – finally – getting serious about electricity for transportation, we have a vast resource in coal ready to be used. But, not at the expense of the environment. My enviro brother and sisters aren’t as kooky as the Euro-flavor-Green; but, giving coal producers carte blanche to strip-mine and crank up the carbon ain’t about to happen.

Keeping track of people and objects – not much difference is there?

Aircrafts and fueling vehicles move around, cleaning brigades come and go. Security staff keep watch on everything to ensure nobody gets into danger. Software will soon help them with their task: It locates people and objects, and immediately detects unauthorized persons.

The apron of an airport is a hive of activity. Ground staff drive baggage trolleys to the aircraft, load air freight containers in the hold and refuel the aircraft. Cleaning brigades have to clean the aircraft before new passengers can board it. But which persons, vehicles and objects are moving around on the apron? Are all the people authorized to be there? Are people getting into hazardous situations? For the security staff who have to supervise the terrain on the monitor, it is almost impossible to keep track of everything.

LocON is a platform developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS in collaboration with European partners. It enables automatic gate-free access control, both for the people who work there and for vehicles and other objects. LocON permanently locates all persons and objects by radio. “The security staff watches the entire airfield on a huge monitor,” explains René Dünkler, head of marketing at the IIS. “LocON recognizes everything that moves on the airfield and is authorized to do so – in real time.”

To make this possible, all employees wear an electronic identity badge that transmits a radio signal and thus the person’s location and identification to the LocON platform. Vehicles, air freight containers and other objects are also equipped with a tag that emits radio signals.

LocON can process various types of radio positioning signals, GPS and RFID alike. Of course. Combining it with video surveillance systems offers even greater potential…If the system discovers anything wrong – if there is any risk of an accident –, the security officers receive an alert.

LocON’s pilot applications are lining up: Airports, building sites, at train stations or on company premises, as well as in harbors, hospitals and shopping centers.

Here come the RFID tags. Roll up your sleeve, please!

Iraq offers yet another lesson from history


British War Cemetary in Baghdad – from the last time

As Britain prepares to pull its troops out of Iraq, former BBC Baghdad correspondent Andrew North looks back to a previous military campaign and considers whether history is destined to repeat itself?

As the insurgency spread, the letters from the British diplomat in Baghdad grew bleaker. “There’s no getting out of the conclusion that we have made an immense failure here.”

In fact, this insurgency was in 1920, the uprising against the British occupation of what was then still Mesopotamia.

The diplomat was Gertrude Bell, an energetic and passionate Arab expert who literally drew Iraq’s borders…

The average Brit, the average American, hasn’t a clue about how Iraq came to be. Or Kuwait. Or Kashmir or Lebanon for that matter. All reflections in the mirror of Western imperialism in the Middle East.

The article is a few minutes of primer for the ignorant, reminder for those who’ve done a bit of reading. A good read – as you would expect from the BBC.

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10 worst predictions of 2008

This is why pundits should be more careful about making predictions. It’s easier than ever to check back on them.

Here’s a couple of the Top Ten from Foreign Policy magazine:

#1 – “If [Hillary Clinton] gets a race against John Edwards and Barack Obama, she’s going to be the nominee. Gore is the only threat to her, then. … Barack Obama is not going to beat Hillary Clinton in a single Democratic primary. I’ll predict that right now.” —William Kristol, Fox News Sunday, Dec. 17, 2006

Weekly Standard editor and New York Times columnist William Kristol was hardly alone in thinking that the Democratic primary was Clinton’s to lose, but it takes a special kind of self-confidence to make a declaration this sweeping more than a year before the first Iowa caucus was held. After Iowa, Kristol lurched to the other extreme, declaring that Clinton would lose New Hampshire and that “There will be no Clinton Restoration.” It’s also worth pointing out that this second wildly premature prediction was made in a Times column titled, “President Mike Huckabee?” The Times is currently rumored to be looking for his replacement.

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New Year’s Eve will be one second longer. Yay!!


Capturing the leap second in June 1992

For three years it was possible to do without it. But now it’s become necessary again. This coming New Year’s Eve, the radio controlled clocks will, after 0:59:59, instead of jumping to 1 o’clock at the next tick of the second, pause shortly in order to insert a small portion of extra time: a leap second.

The International Earth Rotation Service (IERS) in Paris has prescribed this addition to coordinated universal time (UTC), as our Earth is again too much out of sync.

The Earth lags behind atomic clock time, whose ticking seconds do not pay attention to any earthly fluctuation.

We have a whole population in the United States that pays little or no attention to earthly fluctuations.

Portsmouth gets ‘crime-detecting’ CCTV

Anti-social behaviour has become a familiar activity in some towns and cities across the UK. Now there’s a new weapon in the fight against it called Smart CCTV.

Portsmouth City Council is the first, and so far only, local authority in the UK to try out the new system.

It’s a computer programme that has been integrated into the city’s existing network of 152 cameras and has been programmed to spot unusual behaviour in places and at times when it’s not expected.

Ray Stead runs the CCTV operation for Portsmouth City Council. He said: “With the total number of CCTV cameras that we have, 152, the operators cannot see all of those cameras or monitor them live. “So this software programme will actually help the operators become more effective.”

The Smart CCTV technology is on trial in Portsmouth but if it proves successful, other UK cities could set up similar systems.

C’mon, we’re still lacking RFID tags, folks. Tag everyone. Be certain we’re all tucked in at night.

Just leave the government alone to steal whatever they like.