Friday, November 7, 2008

Killer virus on the loose!

Yet another awful virus from Africa.
A new virus that causes fatal hemorrhagic fevers has been discovered in southern Africa. It killed four people in South Africa and sickened a fifth, but health authorities believe the outbreak has been contained.
Sounds pretty virulent:
The first victim was Cecilia Van Deventer, a safari tour booker in Lusaka, Zambia, who fell ill on Sept. 2 and was airlifted to Johannesburg. She apparently infected Hannes Els, the paramedic who accompanied her, and Gladys Mthembu, a nurse tending her at the Morningside Medi-Clinic in a Johannesburg suburb.

The fourth to die was Maria Mokubung, who cleaned the room where Ms. Van Deventer died on Sept. 14. According to South African news reports, the last death was originally misdiagnosed because the victim had tuberculosis and meningitis and was hemorrhaging and confused when her family sought medical care.

A fifth victim, a nurse who cared for Mr. Els, was in critical condition but responded to early treatment with the antiviral drug Ribavirin.

Need another reason to spurn ethanol?

Ethanol from corn is under assault from all sides these days, blamed (unfairly, I think) for food shortages, decried (fairly, I think) as an inefficient use of resources. Now we have news from the Washington Post that it may be the reason for an increase in E. coli poisoning:
Last year scientists noted an uptick in the prevalence of potentially deadly E. coli O157:H7 bacteria in beef products. Frequently found in the digestive tracts of cattle, the bug can wind up in ground beef during the slaughter and grinding process.

There were 21 beef recalls in the United States in 2007, compared with eight the year before. About a third of the recalls were prompted by reports of human illness, while none of the 2006 recalls were.

This year, meat inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have continued to see more contaminated beef samples. Through mid-October, they had recorded 50 percent more than at the same time last year.

Officials have assumed that these numbers reflect an overall increase in the prevalence of the E. coli strain in cattle, but no one has been able to explain why the dangerous bacteria have become more abundant.

Now scientists are looking into a possible explanation -- one that's related to alternative fuels and the economics of farming.

The link is distillers grain, the stuff left over after starch is removed from corn. With corn prices up, cattle ranchers rely more heavily on distillers grain as feed. The relationship isn't clear, however, with some studies confirming it and others showing the opposite.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Nearly perfect

One of the drawbacks of silicon photovoltaics is the poor absorption of light from oblique angles owing to reflection. To get around that, solar cells are often mechanized to follow the sun. That requires energy, and it's also liable to breakdown.
An untreated silicon solar cell only absorbs 67.4 percent of sunlight shone upon it — meaning that nearly one-third of that sunlight is reflected away and thus unharvestable. From an economic and efficiency perspective, this unharvested light is wasted potential and a major barrier hampering the proliferation and widespread adoption of solar power.
Now researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a nanostructured anti-reflective coating that enables solar cells to absorb 96.21 percent of the incident light, no matter what direction it comes from.
Typical antireflective coatings are engineered to transmit light of one particular wavelength. Lin's new coating stacks seven of these layers, one on top of the other, in such a way that each layer enhances the antireflective properties of the layer below it. These additional layers also help to "bend" the flow of sunlight to an angle that augments the coating's antireflective properties. This means that each layer not only transmits sunlight, it also helps to capture any light that may have otherwise been reflected off of the layers below it.

The seven layers, each with a height of 50 nanometers to 100 nanometers, are made up of silicon dioxide and titanium dioxide nanorods positioned at an oblique angle — each layer looks and functions similar to a dense forest where sunlight is "captured" between the trees. The nanorods were attached to a silicon substrate via chemical vapor disposition, and Lin said the new coating can be affixed to nearly any photovoltaic materials for use in solar cells, including III-V multi-junction and cadmium telluride.

change and hope

or, accentuate the positive:

“It is clear that a majority of Americans have chosen the Democratic Party to lead the country in a different direction,” said Bill Allmond, SOCMA’s Director of Government Relations. “With control of the White House and solid majorities in Congress, Democrats will wield significant authority but also have an enormous responsibility. These results will create historic challenges for our industry’s priorities, but they will also offer some opportunities as well,” he said.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

team work

I'm impressed, although the little guys are as often as not a menace when I take my lunch in the park.

The cheeky greys decided to team up when they realised the swinging cylinder would not stay still long enough for them to reach inside and grab food.

One clambered up the tree to hold the container, while his pal happily swiped seeds down below.

They then swapped positions when the diner had eaten enough.

via Gene Expression

Monday, November 3, 2008

Deal me out

If you think we need another FDR during these economically troubled times, take a look at this article, which describes work by two UCLA economists, Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian:
"Why the Great Depression lasted so long has always been a great mystery, and because we never really knew the reason, we have always worried whether we would have another 10- to 15-year economic slump," said Ohanian, vice chair of UCLA's Department of Economics. "We found that a relapse isn't likely unless lawmakers gum up a recovery with ill-conceived stimulus policies."

In an article in the August issue of the Journal of Political Economy, Ohanian and Cole blame specific anti-competition and pro-labor measures that Roosevelt promoted and signed into law June 16, 1933.

"President Roosevelt believed that excessive competition was responsible for the Depression by reducing prices and wages, and by extension reducing employment and demand for goods and services," said Cole, also a UCLA professor of economics. "So he came up with a recovery package that would be unimaginable today, allowing businesses in every industry to collude without the threat of antitrust prosecution and workers to demand salaries about 25 percent above where they ought to have been, given market forces. The economy was poised for a beautiful recovery, but that recovery was stalled by these misguided policies."

...In the three years following the implementation of Roosevelt's policies, wages in 11 key industries averaged 25 percent higher than they otherwise would have done, the economists calculate. But unemployment was also 25 percent higher than it should have been, given gains in productivity.

Meanwhile, prices across 19 industries averaged 23 percent above where they should have been, given the state of the economy. With goods and services that much harder for consumers to afford, demand stalled and the gross national product floundered at 27 percent below where it otherwise might have been.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Iran's economic stimulus package

With the price of oil crashing, look for an "incident" to scare it back up, says Galrahn at Information Dissemination:
As the price of oil drops, the pursuit of nuclear power doesn't justify the economic costs to the autocratic driven economy in Iran. The loss of government revenue due to lower oil prices comes at the same time the UN is discussing the next round of sanctions. It also comes at the same time that Iran's biggest supporter Russia suffers a stock market crash, which is noteworthy because the Micex is where a lot of Iranian autocrats go with their investments.

So what will Iran do? Raise the price of oil, and they have a time tested strategy for doing exactly that.