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Saturday, December 06, 2008


Carbon nanotubes are being developed that are thin & sturdy enough to prevent salt in seawater passing through while allowing fresh water to pass.

In the initial discovery, reported in the May 19, 2006 issue of the journal Science, the LLNL team found that water molecules in a carbon nanotube move fast and do not stick to the nanotube’s super smooth surface, much like water moves through biological channels. The water molecules travel in chains - because they interact with each other strongly via hydrogen bonds....

A while back I asked a member of the LLNL team what the best investment of dollars would be for research in this field. He said that the best investment currently would be “in coming up with scalable (economical) processes for producing membranes that use nanotubes or other useful nanomaterials for desalination.”

Which seems to me to be where a number of X-Prizes for achieving improved membranes & improved large scale manufacturing methods to cover the load would be useful. Ultimately somebody will be able to produce a large breakwater to provide a lagoon of permanently fresh water at which point it will be profitable, but the intermediate research may not be.

At which point Israel can build one on their northern Mediterranean coast & cut a tunnel through to the Sea of Galilee.

This shows the amount of the Dead Sea area which is below sea level. The sea itself is 400m below. Imagine it as a sea of fresh (perhaps brackish) water. Water flowing into Galilee would provide hydro power which could be used to pump out the water from the Dead Sea & eventually keep a throughflow of new water. This isn't perpetual motion because, with the surface area about 6 times greater than currently the amount of evaporation would be tremendous so only a small proportion would get pumped out & hydro pump storage runs at about 80% efficiency.

God may have promised the Hebrews a "land flowing with milk & honey" but that was back when the Sahara was still the breadbasket of the Roman Empire. Since then it has fallen off a bit. However with an entire sea full of fresh water (& enough hydro or nuclear power to get it into the fields) the land on both sides of the Jordan could become very fertile indeed.

How the politics works out is up to the locals but certainly there would be enough fertile land to support everybody.

’The next war in the Middle East will be over water’ Dr Boutros-Ghali

Ending the water shortage would be the best possible step for peace.

An alternative would be to divert much of the water from the Euphrates by tunnel through Syria perhaps as the price for getting the Golan Heights back. However the Iraquis who live downstream would be legitimately livid & under international law would be in the right.

A more traditional use of the water from the Euphrates & Tigris would be to emulate its original civilisations. The ancient Babylonians, in an age when the height of technology was a wooden spade made the area between these rivers the most fertile area in the world. In the age of massive earthmovers it should be possible to make use of most of the water flowing in these rivers. The Tigris at 1,2490 cubic metres/second & the Euphrates is estimated at half this is, in total, a bit less than the Nile but has clearly proven more than sufficient in the past.

Addendum 2
Lake Eyre in South Australia is 37 m below sea level. It could be turned into a fresh water lake in the same way.


A shortened letter in the Scotsman yesterday. This was a response to a letter from Patrick Harvie, Green Party leader, claiming that his party is against fuel poverty & wishes to achieve this by more windmills. This is quite clearly so wholly dishonest that every single member of the Green Party who is in any way honest had to right in dissociating themselves from this lie. Every single one did - a total of zero.

[The letter from Patrick Harvie of the Green Party saying his party is not in any way responsible for increased fuel poverty is at variance with the facts. Firstly he claims that his party wants to spend £200 million on insulation. This would only be a useful contribution if his party were willing to say that they intended to raise this mony by raising Scottish income tax by 1p or some similar method. If this is official Green policy we should be told. If it isn't official policy but the inevitable result of their policies they should accept responsibility. In any case £200 million will barely buy 1 hours insulation fitting time for each of us. He cannot honestly say this will reverse the effects of recent price increases.

Secondly] Mr Harvie says that to cut prices we must go from oil & coal to "renewables". Previous discussion in these columns has proven that nuclear power at 1/3rd of the cost of oil is 1/10th that of windmill electricity. Is Mr Harvie so ignorant of the prime policy his party stands for as to be unaware of this?
{Of course this whole campaign is based on the claim that we are currently suffering from catastrophic global warming. As the leader of the only party to stand in the last election expressing scepticism on that question & calling for a 3p cut in income tax paid for by ending windmill subsidies (& ignored by the entire media) may I point out that the fall in global temperature over the last decade is such that it is now back to where it was when James Hansen started the scare by promising a 1 C rise by today.]

As you can see they only used the middle paragraph. Oh well. Rather sorry they didn't allow me to say I was a party leader like Harvie.

Friday, December 05, 2008


About 11,000 workers from the steel industry in European countries gathered on Tuesday in Brussels to protest the European Union's climate change policy which they fear might make them lose their jobs.

The European Parliament and the French Presidency of the European Union agreed Monday on details of future targets on emissions from cars, setting the target for 2020 at 95 g CO2 per kilometer.

"We don't want to lose our job," one protester said, adding that the new regulations will possibly kill the steel industry in Europe. Several protesters held a coffin to indicate that the European steel industry will die when EU's climate change plan is implemented.

Under the new regulations, from 2012 to 2018 manufacturers exceeding the carbon dioxide targets set by the regulation will have to pay fines 5 euros for the first gram of CO2, 15 euros for the second gram of CO2 and 95 euros from the fourth gram of CO2.

Not perhaps the middle class types George Moonbat is so keen on reporting about but a protest by 10,000 is pretty big. It does show real & massive popular discontent with the alarmists & the fact that it is driven not by theortical or scientific disagreements but by apolitival people just wanting to keep their jobs makes it all the more important.

So obviously the BBC, who spent days on reporting a well funded demonstration at Heathrow which, despite all the tents etc set up by the organisers, only drummed up 300 people will have given this massive coverage.


The above report comes from the Chinese news agency. A Google news search shows this 11,000 person demonstration has been considered to small to report by anything but a couple of Belgian papers & a mention by AP not used by our media.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


The interim Calman Report has come out & it is more interesting for its tone than for what it actually presents. Its tone is "no great changes but a few tokens like giving the Scots control, over airguns, energy & the BBC." The only thing it actually rejects is full fiscal autonomy.

But he added: "Full fiscal autonomy is inconsistent with the union and we do not consider it further."

Well actually I agree & have said so. Full fiscal autonomy is independence under another name. Nonetheless this need not have been their first line.

On the other hand they are considering some changes:

"It identified a range of areas that could see further powers granted to Holyrood, including broadcasting, energy policy, animal health, firearms and misuse of drugs"

Most of these are tokens - cuddly animals & airguns popular issues but not really what revolutionary changes are made of which is why they were chosen. The BBC are already desperately promising that 8% of their programming will be Scots made, something which would only reduce with full autonomy. Much more important is the offer to put energy policy in the SNP's hands. This is not being done because it is unimportant. That the lights are going to go out & thousands die should be the most important issue in Scottish politics. It is being done because the SNP have already seized it, through planning controls & none of the other parties have the integrity to fight to stop blackouts. Anyway SNP caused blackouts & a total dependence on England for electricity would clearly work for the unionist cause.

What we should get from Calman is the right to change corporation tax. Nominally this is the SNP's big policy on which they wish to erect the "Celtic Lion" economy which is what Salmond is talking about when he says:

A spokesman for Alex Salmond, first minister and SNP leader, dismissed the report, saying: "We need the economic and financial powers to build a lion economy. What the Calman commission has produced is a constitutional mouse."

Strangely enough, however, he has done very little to push this Celtic Tiger. To get our corporation tax down to the level that gave Ireland 7% growth would cost about £2 billion & there is no sign that he has got this ready. Even today putting a lesser amount into ending business rates would have a lesser but comparable effect yet the SNP's steps here have been very hesitant. If his main economic election promise was a bluff based on the belief that Westminster would never give such powers the only sensible thing to do is to call it.

In fact Labour have already expressed a willingness to do this in Gordon Brown's speech here in September. "we asked the commission to look carefully at the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament and this is a critical part of Calman's remit."

Nicol Stephen ran for Scottish leader on a position of cutting business taxes & though he was not overly specific David Steel was.

The Conservatives nationally support it, David Cameron promising "We'll get rid of those complex reliefs and allowances and use the savings to cut corporation tax by three pence" & has made it clear to the Scots Tories that he would not be embarrassed by them coming up with some interesting policies but would actually like to see them trying.

So if everybody says they are in favour of it, to a greater or lesser extent, why is nobody doing anything. Perhaps it is because they are only in favour during elections. They know 77% of Scots think if taxes are cut the economy will grow faster, which will mean higher living standards AND more money available for public services. They know this is an overwhelmingly popular policy which doesn't fit the agenda of the political class so, while going into the Calman commission calling for it they now hope to lose it in the long grass.

I think that not only Scots but anybody in the UK who wants a progressive government committed to growth should push for Scotland to get the power to set CT. If it is a bluff then the unionist parties win anyway but if it is not, it does get used & our economy prospers it would be an unmistakable sign which could not be ignored (as the example of Ireland is ignored in the Westminster square mile) & the pressure to adopt a successful policy would be irresistible. In the event that I & decades of economists are wrong then a small failure is better than a large one - but I don't think I am.

So far Calman seems to be desperate to do nothing, suggesting change only where the SNP have already achieved it (even though the particular change in power policy heralds disaster. If they do not offer the possibility of economic success by CT cuts within the union they may well force us into the only alternative - independence & trusting that the SNP will keep their word. If so the unionist parties will have nobody but themselves to blame.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


South Pole

The Earth has a surface area of roughly 171 million square kilometres of which 3/4s is ocean. The IPCC have said they expect the rise in sea level over the next century to be about 0.375 m (15 inches). Because sea level rise would endanger the world's seaports, it is the most, indeed probably only, damaging part of alleged global warming. Indeed the actual warming effect itself would probably be beneficial because crops grow better in warmer weather, midwinter deaths are lower & history shows the Sahara was fertile during the Climate Optimum. Increased CO2 also increases crop growth since more carbon is available for plants.

The alleged increase in lea level amounts to 64,000 cubic km (171 million x 0.000375). Over 100 years this amounts to 20,000 cubic metre per second. This is equivalent to 7 Niles

So one option would be to put that much water somewhere else & the obvious place would be to pump it into the centre of Antarctica. Antarctica is not only the coldest place on Earth it has some of the lowest precipitation. Clearly if there were more water but the same temperature there would be bigger glaciers.

Antarctica is a frozen desert with little precipitation; the South Pole itself receives less than 10 centimeters (4 in) per year, on average. Temperatures reach a minimum of between −80 °C and −90 °C (−112 °F and −130 °F) in the interior in winter and reach a maximum of between 5 °C and 15 °C (41 °F and 59 °F) near the coast in summer.

....Weather fronts rarely penetrate far into the continent, leaving the center cold and dry. Despite the lack of precipitation over the central portion of the continent

Clearly the interior of the continent isn't, whatever "kindergarten analysis" the government's chief science advisor makes about it becoming the "only habitable continent", remotely close to melting. Indeed it is currently getting colder though inexplicably this doesn't get widely reported.

So lets pump the water ashore. The Aswan dam produces 2.1 gigawatts & run at about 80% efficiency so we are talking about, by that comparison, under 20 gigawatts, probably actually a bit more to the extent the water is being pumped higher. That is a lot, even using nuclear power. However while the most common nuclear generator is about 1 gigawatt ones twice that size have been built & bigger is theoretically possible it is only lack of demand which has prevented them being built. There are impressive economies of scale possible. Thus while a 1 gw generator can be built for $1 bn, 5 at 4 gw might only cost $10 bn. Also there is a lack of local population to be worried about the alleged danger of reactors. Since most of the cost of nuclear power is in the building & we are talking about costs amortised over a century this is clearly very easily affordable by the whole world.

Certainly an awful lot cheaper than the $800 million a day Kyoto is costed at (even ignoring the fact that Kyoto is not claimed, even by believers, to be enough to solve the "crisis" & in fact want restrictions 10s of times greater).

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Crossrail is an underground rail project to link London on its east-west axis. Its current projected cost is £16 billion.

The principal works are:

1 -The central tunnels, with new subterranean stations at Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel and the Isle of Dogs, each offering interchange opportunities with existing London Underground, National Rail and the Docklands Light Railway services.
2 - Another pair of tunnels, running under the Thames at North Woolwich and including a new station at Woolwich. This connects the reused former part of the North London Line with the North Kent Line.
3 - Most existing stations on the route will receive platform extensions, and a significant number will be completely rebuilt.
4 - Overhead electrification to be installed between Heathrow Airport junction and Maidenhead.

......The tunnelled section of the line will be about 22 km (13.75 miles) in length: a difficult and expensive piece of engineering, because of two factors: London’s geology, and the extensive tunnelling that already exists in central London. Its twin circular tunnels will have an internal diameter of 6 m (19.7 ft)[1], compared with the 3.8 m (12.5 ft) diameter of existing deep Tube lines.

I have previously written on the outrageous cost of public projects in Britain. The Dome costing £670 million to build but only £46 million for building & the new Forth Bridge being £4.2 bn when the last one cost, in today's money, £314 million.

I have also previously written about how the Norwegians have cut 750 km of tunnels over the last couple of decades at a cost of between £3.2 million & £10 million per km.

Taking this at the most expensive rate, because London is indeed built on clay & bearing in mind that it is a 2 direction tunnel the tunneling cost for 22 km should be £440 million.

Even if you say the same cost again for extending platforms & yet again for electrification & new rolling stock the total cost comes out at about £1.3 billion. 8% of the proposed cost. The Dome was 7% & the Forth Bridge is costed at 7.5%. I see a trend here. I have previously sent my articles to those in government & had letters published in newspapers but, strange as it may seem, nobody in government has been willing to explain exactly where our money is going.

The 2 best answers I have seen are this online response from Alex which largely blames it on the Health & Safety Executive & other regulators, our labyrinthine planning system, & lack of trained workers. & this rather amusing piece from Steve Sailer on how Obama will find it possible to create 2.5 million jobs improving America's infrastructure jobs:

At its peak, the Big Dig employed about 5,000 construction workers. That's a lot of construction workers relative to most big projects. But it's a tiny number compared to Obama's 2.5 million number. So, Obama is proposing, in effect, to have 500 Big Digs going full blast in 24 months.

Even assuming away the lead time issue, just notice from the Big Dig that infrastructure is a very, very expensive way to create jobs. This isn't 1935. Public works workers need more than just shovels. The capital requirements for infrastructure jobs are enormous.

The next thing the media are going to notice about infrastructure projects is that they and the rest of Obama's base don't actually want jobs operating, say, a jackhammer. If a journalist gets laid off by his newspaper, is he going to want Obama to give him a jackhammer job? Of course not. He's going to want Obama to get him a job where he sits at a desk with a computer and a phone in an air-conditioned office.

In fact, Obama's people don't want anybody operating a noisy, smelly jackhammer anywhere near them. It's not that they're against infrastructure per se. Indeed, they would like infrastructure to have been built, but Obama People are going to oppose via lawsuits the actual building of infrastructure anywhere close to them, with its attendant racket, odors, and traffic jams. Not in my back yard!

In contrast to infrastructure jobs, Obama will eventually realize, makework office jobs are relatively cheap (perhaps not so cheap ultimately) and easy to create. To employ people to administer programs aimed at, say, enhancing outcomes among our troubled youths, you don't need an environmental impact statement. You don't need to buy a bulldozer for a new worker, just a computer, a desk, and a chair. (Eventually, you'll need guys with jackhammers to come build another office building for all the new staffers, but you can squeeze them in for awhile.) And every bureaucracy already has lots of existing plans on file to hire more staffers to help them do whatever it is they do.

And Obama's kind of people like office jobs administering social work programs a lot more than they like jackhammer jobs. So, it's a win-win proposition!

Therefore, expect to hear the term "human infrastructure" a lot this winter as the Obama Administration starts to realize that actual infrastructure projects aren't going to make much of a dent in the unemployment rate before the 2010 elections, but hiring a ton of people to staff, say, innovative programs to foster excellence in public schools are an easy way to provide jobs for the boys (and girls).

It rather looks like in Britain we have years ago managed to create more jobs in infrastructure by creating lots & lots of jobs in offices with desks & phones to discuss with each other when the guy with the jackhammer or tunnel boring machine should be allowed to start.

Monday, December 01, 2008


The English Civil War essentially started when Charles I marched into Parliament to arrest 5 MPs.

a herald was sent to the House of Commons to order that the Five Members be handed over to answer the charges against them. The House refused to comply with the King's command because it was an infringement of parliamentary privilege. The following afternoon, 4 January 1642, Charles marched to Westminster at the head of a body of soldiers and retainers, intending to arrest the Five Members in person.....

Warned of the King's approach by the Earl of Essex, the Five Members had already escaped and gone into hiding in London. Asked by the King whether he saw any of them present or knew where they were, the Speaker of the House, William Lenthall, famously replied, ".. I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this House is pleased to direct me."

Not quite the response of today's Speaker Michael Martin, or possibly his assistant - Michael isn't saying.. Personally I find it impossible to believe that the decision to invite the police to turn over Green's office was taken at such a low level. I regard this as worse even than the arrest since it certainly involved a breach of Parliamentary privilege within its walls.

The decision to dispatch counter-terrorism police to arrest Damian Green opens a Pandora's box of political and legal issues.

Information from moles and whistleblowers is the lifeblood of Westminster. Leaked secrets helped Winston Churchill sound a warning over appeasement, Gordon Brown land blows on the Major government, and forced Margaret Thatcher to explain fully British actions in fighting the Falklands war.

But the practice has long existed against a backdrop of laws and punishments designed to deter officials from revealing the workings of government.

Whitehall mandarins have recently dusted off these rules as they seek to close down a series of leaks. Ministers suspect that several moles - including in the Treasury - have been passing information to the Tories.

What has stunned MPs, however, is the relish with which the laws have been deployed against Mr Green, breaking decades of custom on parliamentary privilege.

Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leader, yesterday said it was a "Mayday warning for democracy" that highlighted an "unaccountable, secretive" side of government that was more akin to a "tinpot dictatorship".

David Vincent, a professor at the Open University and an expert on how Whitehall has maintained its secrets, said he saw the arrest as intimidation, a warning to Whitehall rather than an attempt to convict.

"As a rule, governments have been very reluctant to test official secrecy legislation in the courts as they prefer not to explore where the public interest lies," he said.

There is only one case of an MP being threatened with legal action for exposing government secrets. In the 1930s, two anonymous officials told Duncan Sandys, Churchill's son-in-law, to stop using classified defence information or face prosecution. He complained and was protected by parliamentary privilege

This is the other point. This is not, despite Jacqui Smith's pretence, a classified security document. It is not something which runs the slightest risk to national security. Quite the opposite, this is about a document that showed the government itself were manifestly failing to control immigration. If there is a national security interest it is that the public should know of this failure. This is the bureaucracy using the law simply to conceal its incompetence from us & even from MPs.

Michael Martin should be fired by Parliament for failing in his duty to serve the house.
Jacqui Smith should be fired because either she authorised this decision & has behaved improperly or she didn't & has no control over here own department.
And the senior person who authorised this & whoever made the decision not to tell the Minister should, most of all, be fired for this gross abuse of power. They won't be because in our government the "civil servants" don't carry the can but they should.

In one Heinlein book he describes a benevolent dictator's job as being finding cases where officials are engaged in abusing their power to overgovern:

Half my time is used in the negative work of plucking such officious officials and ordering that they never again serve in any official capacity.
Then I usually abolish their jobs and all jobs subordinate to them.
I have never noticed any harm from such pruning save that parasites whose jobs have been eliminated must find some other way to avoid starvation. (They are welcome to starve -- better if they do. But they don't.)

This example is so blatant that even our governing class seems to be noticing it is an abuse.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Quite a lot of designs are in process for orbital spaceships & traditional chemical rockets to get us to the Moon. Most of the immediate future will be in the Earth-Moon system involving zero-G production & solar power & Earth monitoring satellites. Nonetheless there is a lot of space beyond that. To get to Mars for a practical cost & to get beyond that at all we will need atomic rockets.

There are a lot of possible forms of atomic rocket propulsion & obviously we already use it for nuclear propulsion in submarines. The problem with chemical rockets is that we have to fetch up an enormous quantity of fuel from Earth. Just as, with a 3 stage rocket, each stage launches progressively less so the payload of a rocket to Mars would be but a fraction of what was put into orbit. On the other hand once an atomic rocket has been assembled it can use a non-reactive material, like Moon metals, as fuel & rather less of it.

The wikipedia article on nuclear propulsion lists several possibilities Antimatter catalyzed nuclear pulse propulsion
Bussard ramjet
Fission-fragment rocket
Fission sail
Fusion rocket
Gas core reactor rocket
Nuclear electric rocket
Nuclear photonic rocket
Nuclear pulse propulsion
Nuclear salt-water rocket
Nuclear thermal rocket
Radioisotope rocket

of which the nuclear electric looks to me like the front runner for manned exploration in the near future.

In a nuclear electric rocket, nuclear thermal energy is changed into electrical energy that is used to power one of the electrical propulsion technologies. So technically the powerplant is nuclear, not the propulsion system, but the terminology is standard. A number of heat-to-electricity schemes have been proposed.

One of the more practical schemes is a variant of a pebble bed reactor. It would use a high mass-flow nitrogen coolant near normal atmospheric pressures. This leverages highly developed conventional gas turbine technologies. The fuel for this reactor would be highly enriched, and encapsulated in low-boron graphite balls probably 5-10 cm in diameter. The graphite serves to slow, or moderate, the neutrons.

This style of reactor can be designed to be inherently safe. As it heats, the graphite expands, separating the fuel and reducing the reactor's criticality. This property can simplify the operating controls to a single valve throttling the turbine.

While I am not overly worried by small amounts of radioactivity a long way away, being convinced of the hormesis effect, a system which does not involve release of any material which has been in direct contact with anything radioactive is as good as you get. While the parts, particularly the engine, would be manufactured here the ship itself would be put together in orbit & would never land.

The electric propulsion means firing charged particles (electrons, protons) out the back to provide propulsion. Depending on the speed at which it accelerates them it will not need much mass to throw. It will probably not produce a great acceleration but a small acceleration goes a very long way when there is no friction or countervailing force. The speed to which the particles are accelerated will be proportional to the efficiency of the electromagnetic accelerater hence the length in the picture shown. 1/100th of a G for 5 hours is the same as 1 1/2 G for 2 minutes so such a ship could get explore a long way on a trip of a few months. Since distance covered is a function of acceleration times the aquare of the time even a very small acceleration can suffice to get a long way if you can run voyages for as long as in the age of sail. This makes the entire solar system more colonisable than Australia was in the time of Captain Cook.

We obviously can't start building it yet but an X-Prize Foundation could start producing prizes for designing the sort of engine that will, in time, do it.

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