Virginia plans to build telecom system to boost rural economy

I hope my hometown can start recovering from the collapse of the textile industry.

DANVILLE, Va. — Virginia will build a $12 million fiber-optic network throughout its struggling manufacturing belt along the North Carolina state line to spark an economy decimated by factory layoffs.

Gov. Mark R. Warner said Friday the project will connect five cities, 20 counties and 56 industrial parks with a new communications network that will be the largest publicly funded system in the state.

“Being left off the information superhighway is just not something rural communities can afford to overcome,” Warner said.

State officials hope the project, known as Regional Backbone Initiative, will eventually create 1,500 jobs and lure $143 million in private investment to the region. It is funded with $6 million of Virginia’s share of tobacco settlement money and a $6 million federal grant.

When the network is completed in two years, a private nonprofit management agency called Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative is expected to offer Internet service to businesses at a 20 percent discount.

Service providers also will be allowed to connect with the network at a reduced price in hopes that they will pass the savings along to customers, said Mid-Atlantic’s interim general manager, Tad Deriso.

Virginia’s “Southside” manufacturing region has been ravaged by thousands of factory layoffs during the past decade.

The labor market area that includes Henry and Patrick counties and the city of Martinsville had an average unemployment rate of 14 percent in 2002 and 2003, according to the Virginia Employment Commission. It jumped as high as 16 percent in July.

Community leaders see telecommunications capability as the key to jump-starting the region’s lagging economy. They believe a massive Internet network would do as much to lure companies to the region as a major interstate or airport.

Link Virginia plans to build telecom system to boost rural economy

When We Run Out of Gas

Here’s a scientific analysis of why our American lifestyle will be changing soon.

…Economists seem to believe that the problem is not real. As oil becomes scarce, its price will rise, permitting other fuels to take over. That argument ignores fundamental realities however. Our vehicles, our roads, our cities, our power plants, our entire social organization has evolved on the promise of an endless supply of cheap oil. It seems unlikely that the era of cheap oil will end painlessly.

A more likely possibility is that when the peak occurs, rapidly increasing demand will meet rapidly decreasing supply with disastrous results. We had a small foretaste of what might happen in 1973, when some Middle Eastern nations took advantage of the declining U.S. supplies and created a temporary, artificial shortage of oil. The immediate result was long lines at the gas stations accompanied by panic and despair for the future of our way of life. After Hubbert’s peak the shortage will not be artificial and it will not be temporary. At the very least, the end of cheap oil will mean steep inflation, not only due to the rising cost of gasoline at the pump, but also due to the rising cost of petrochemicals, and of anything that has to be transported.

…The crisis will come not when we pump the last drop of oil, but rather when the rate at which oil can be pumped out of the ground starts to diminish. That means the crisis will come when we’ve used roughly half the oil that nature made for us. Any way you look at it, the problem is much closer than we previously imagined. Even beyond that, burning fossil fuels alters the atmosphere and could threaten the balmy but metastable state our planet is in. We have some very big problems to solve.

So, what does the future hold? We can easily sketch out a worst case scenario and a best case scenario.

Worst case: After Hubbert’s peak, all efforts to produce, distribute and consume alternative fuels fast enough to fill the gap between falling supplies and rising demand fail. Runaway inflation and worldwide depression leave many billions of people with no alternative but to burn coal in vast quantities for warmth, cooking and primitive industry. The change in the greenhouse effect that results eventually tips the Earth’s climate into a new state hostile to life. End of story. In this instance, worst case really means worst case.

Best case: The worldwide disruptions that follow Hubbert’s peak serve as a wake-up call. A methane-based economy is successful in bridging the gap temporarily, while nuclear power plants are built and the infrastructure for other alternative fuels is put in place. The world watches anxiously as each new Hubbert’s peak estimate for uranium and oil shale makes front-page news.

Is there any hope for a truly sustainable long-term future civilization? The answer is yes.

…I have a prediction to make. Here it is: Civilization as we know it will come to an end some time in this century, when the fuel runs out.

Running Out of Gas by David Goodstein, Ph.D.

Bigfoot in Virginia?

From Wired Magazine

William Dranginis saw a bigfoot once. It was hairy, a good 7 feet tall, and sprinting through the woods of Virginia. In the decade since that 12-second sighting, Dranginis has dedicated himself to getting another look. To improve his chances, the 45-year-old surveillance and security expert from Manassas, Virginia, bought a 24-foot mobile veterinary unit and converted it into the Bigfoot Primate Research Lab.

So far, Dranginis has spent about $50,000 to outfit the mystery mobile with state-of-the-art gear, much of it custom-built. He mounted a Raytheon NightSight 200 thermal camera on a 25-foot-tall crank-up mast. (The camera can detect an animal in the dark 800 yards away.) He’s also got two night-vision scopes, a surface-to-aircraft radio, and TV monitors that can combine images from roof-mounted videocams into one 360-degree view, or receive feeds from remote cams in the woods. He deploys at least two weekends a month.

And still no second sighting. “Early on, I said if I could just look into the eyes of this thing I would sell all my equipment and get back to my life,” he says. “But my main goal now is to try to establish contact, then push for legislation to protect the areas they inhabit.” You are now exiting Sasquatch territory.

Link Desperately seeking Sasquatch

Global Warming: Is Nuclear Power Green?

My concerns are nuclear waste disposal and the potential for terrorism. I think we need to de-centralize our sources of energy rather than concentrate them in a few huge power plants.

James Lovelock, an independent scientist and the creator of the Gaia hypothesis of the Earth as a self-regulating organism, says that civilisation is in imminent danger and nuclear power is the only green solution because we have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources.

What makes global warming so serious and so urgent is that the great Earth system, Gaia, is trapped in a vicious circle of positive feedback. Extra heat from any source, whether from greenhouse gases, the disappearance of Arctic ice or the Amazon forest, is amplified, and its effects are more than additive. It is almost as if we had lit a fire to keep warm, and failed to notice, as we piled on fuel, that the fire was out of control and the furniture had ignited. When that happens, little time is left to put out the fire before it consumes the house. Global warming, like a fire, is accelerating and almost no time is left to act.

So what should we do? We can just continue to enjoy a warmer 21st century while it lasts, and make cosmetic attempts, such as the Kyoto Treaty, to hide the political embarrassment of global warming, and this is what I fear will happen in much of the world. When, in the 18th century, only one billion people lived on Earth, their impact was small enough for it not to matter what energy source they used.

But with six billion, and growing, few options remain; we can not continue drawing energy from fossil fuels and there is no chance that the renewables, wind, tide and water power can provide enough energy and in time. If we had 50 years or more we might make these our main sources. But we do not have 50 years; the Earth is already so disabled by the insidious poison of greenhouse gases that even if we stop all fossil fuel burning immediately, the consequences of what we have already done will last for 1,000 years. Every year that we continue burning carbon makes it worse for our descendants and for civilisation.

Worse still, if we burn crops grown for fuel this could hasten our decline. Agriculture already uses too much of the land needed by the Earth to regulate its climate and chemistry. A car consumes 10 to 30 times as much carbon as its driver; imagine the extra farmland required to feed the appetite of cars.

By all means, let us use the small input from renewables sensibly, but only one immediately available source does not cause global warming and that is nuclear energy. True, burning natural gas instead of coal or oil releases only half as much carbon dioxide, but unburnt gas is 25 times as potent a greenhouse agent as is carbon dioxide. Even a small leakage would neutralise the advantage of gas.

The prospects are grim, and even if we act successfully in amelioration, there will still be hard times, as in war, that will stretch our grandchildren to the limit. We are tough and it would take more than the climate catastrophe to eliminate all breeding pairs of humans; what is at risk is civilisation. As individual animals we are not so special, and in some ways are like a planetary disease, but through civilisation we redeem ourselves and become a precious asset for the Earth; not least because through our eyes the Earth has seen herself in all her glory.

There is a chance we may be saved by an unexpected event such as a series of volcanic eruptions severe enough to block out sunlight and so cool the Earth. But only losers would bet their lives on such poor odds. Whatever doubts there are about future climates, there are no doubts that greenhouse gases and temperatures both are rising.

We have stayed in ignorance for many reasons; important among them is the denial of climate change in the US where governments have failed to give their climate scientists the support they needed. The Green lobbies, which should have given priority to global warming, seem more concerned about threats to people than with threats to the Earth, not noticing that we are part of the Earth and wholly dependent upon its well being. It may take a disaster worse than last summer’s European deaths to wake us up.

Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media. These fears are unjustified, and nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources. We must stop fretting over the minute statistical risks of cancer from chemicals or radiation. Nearly one third of us will die of cancer anyway, mainly because we breathe air laden with that all pervasive carcinogen, oxygen. If we fail to concentrate our minds on the real danger, which is global warming, we may die even sooner, as did more than 20,000 unfortunates from overheating in Europe last summer.

I find it sad and ironic that the UK, which leads the world in the quality of its Earth and climate scientists, rejects their warnings and advice, and prefers to listen to the Greens. But I am a Green and I entreat my friends in the movement to drop their wrongheaded objection to nuclear energy.

Even if they were right about its dangers, and they are not, its worldwide use as our main source of energy would pose an insignificant threat compared with the dangers of intolerable and lethal heat waves and sea levels rising to drown every coastal city of the world. We have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources; civilisation is in imminent danger and has to use nuclear – the one safe, available, energy source – now or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet.

Link Argument

New Sources of Energy: Solar crystals double output

Researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory have tapped the efficiencies of nanotechnology to increase solar cells’ potential energy production by as much as 37 percent.

Solar cells generate electricity by absorbing photons and directing the resulting energy to move an electron from the low-energy valence band in a material to a higher-energy conduction band where it is free to flow.

Researchers working to squeeze more energy from sunlight are generally aiming for solar cells that can absorb and use a higher percentage of the wavelengths of light in the sun’s spectrum. Today’s commercial solar cells can use anywhere from 10 percent to 35 percent.

The Los Alamos researchers have found that it is possible to increase a cell’s energy production by making each photon move two electrons. “Carrier-multiplication-enhanced solar cells can, in principle, produce twice as large a current as conventional solar cells,” said Victor Klimov, a team leader at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The method could increase what has been thought of as the maximum power conversion of solar cells by as much as 37 percent, depending on the materials used, resulting in a solar cell with a potential efficiency of over 60 percent. The method could also be used to increase the efficiency of other optical components, including amplifiers, lasers, switches and light absorbers, according to Klimov.

Solar crystals get 2-for-1
May 19/26, 2004
By Kimberly Patch, Technology Research News

Link Solar crystals get 2-for-1 TRN 051904

Counterterrorism in Airports

From security expert Bruce Schneier:

It’s just a pilot program, but undercover security officers are roaming Boston’s Logan Airport, looking for suspicious people who may be planning a terrorist act. It’s got a fancy name, “behavior pattern recognition,” but basically it means “be on the lookout for suspicious people.”

I think this is the best thing to happen to airplane security since they reinforced the cockpit doors.

I’ve long argued that traditional airport security is largely useless. Air travelers — the innocent ones — are subjected to all sorts of indignities in the name of security. Again and again we read studies about how bad the checkpoints are at keeping weapons out of airports. The system seems to do nothing more than irritate honest people. (Remember, when airport security takes a pair of scissors away from an innocent grandma, that’s a security failure. It’s a false positive. It’s not a success.)

Well-trained officers on the lookout for suspicious people is a great substitute.

The devil is in the details, of course. All too often “he’s acting suspicious” really translates to “he’s black.” Well-trained is the key to avoiding racism, which is both bad for society and bad for security. But security is inherently about people, and smart observant people are going to notice things that metal detectors and X-ray machines will miss.

Of course, machines are better at ducking charges of prejudice. It may be less secure to have a computer decide who to wand, or to have random chance decide whose baggage to open, but it’s easier to pretend that prejudice is not an issue. “It’s not the officer’s fault; the computer selected him” plays well as a defense. And in a world where security theatre still matters more than security, this is an important consideration.

For about a year now, I’ve been saying we can improve airport security by doing away with the security checkpoints and replacing them with well-trained officers looking out for suspicious activity. It’ll probably never happen, but at least this is a start.

Crypto-Gram: May 15, 2004

When Will Gas Prices Go Down?

Source: The New York Times: The Oil Crunch, by Paul Krugman

Oil is a resource in finite supply; no major oil fields have been found since 1976, and experts suspect that there are no more to find. Some analysts argue that world production is already at or near its peak, although most say that technological progress, which allows the further exploitation of known sources like the Canadian tar sands, will allow output to rise for another decade or two. But the date of the physical peak in production isn’t the really crucial question.

The question, instead, is when the trend in oil prices will turn decisively upward. That upward turn is inevitable as a growing world economy confronts a resource in limited supply. But when will it happen? Maybe it already has.

…Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about competition from Chinese manufacturing and Indian call centers. But a different kind of competition — the scramble for oil and other resources — poses a much bigger threat to our prosperity.

So what should we be doing? Here’s a hint: We can neither drill nor conquer our way out of the problem. Whatever we do, oil prices are going up. What we have to do is adapt.

Is America Losing Its Competitive Edge?

Second crisis blindsides U.S. by Thomas Friedman Thursday, April 22, 2004

Thomas Friedman worries that we are neglecting our advantage in innovation.

We are actually in the middle of two struggles right now. One is against Islamist terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere, and the other is a competitiveness and innovation struggle against India, China, Japan and their neighbors. And while we are all fixated on the former (I’ve been no exception), we are completely ignoring the latter. We have got to get our focus back in balance, not to mention our budget. We can’t wage war on income taxes and terrorism and a war for innovation at the same time.

And what is the Bush strategy? Let’s go to Mars. Hello? Right now we should have a Manhattan Project to develop a hydrogen-based energy economy — it’s within reach and would serve our economy, our environment and our foreign policy by diminishing our dependence on foreign oil. Instead, the Bush team says let’s go to Mars. Where is Congress? Out to lunch — or, worse, obsessed with trying to keep Susie Smith’s job at the local pillow factory that is moving to the Caribbean — without thinking about a national competitiveness strategy. And where is Wall Street? So many of the plutocrats there know that the Bush fiscal policy is a long-term disaster. They know it — but they won’t say a word because they are too greedy or too gutless.