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Future Imperative

What if technology were being developed that could enhance your mind or body to extraordinary or even superhuman levels -- and some of these tools were already here? Wouldn't you be curious?

Actually, some are here. But human enhancement is an incredibly broad and compartmentalized field. We’re often unaware of what’s right next door. This site reviews resources and ideas from across the field and makes it easy for readers to find exactly the information they're most interested in.


The future is coming fast, and it's no longer possible to ignore how rapidly the world is changing. As the old order changes -- or more frequently crumbles altogether -- I offer a perspective on how we can transform ourselves in turn... for the better. Nothing on this site is intended as legal, financial or medical advice. Indeed, much of what I discuss amounts to possibilities rather than certainties, in an ever-changing present and an ever-uncertain future.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Japan's Windpower Survives Earthquake/Tsunami Unharmed

With all the attention on Japan's various nuclear reactors, especially the Fukushima Daiichi site, the fact that her various wind farms have apparently all survived unharmed.

But, I must point out, if one of those giant wind turbines had toppled in some distant field, it would not now be leaking radiation or melting down. And where is the excitement in that?

Radiation Found in Tokyo Tapwater

The Japanese government has reported the presence of radioactive iodine in samples of Tokyo tapwater, but states that the levels found are well within safe limits for human consumption.

I have no recommendations for people living in the city of Tokyo who have no other place to go, but if I were living there, I would be taking potassium iodide (or some other source of healthy iodine) as a preventative at this point. You really do not want radioactive-iodine levels to be reported as dangerous after you have spent several days taking in that iodine.

The point is to avoid flooding your thyroid with radioactive iodine and thus to avoid thyroid cancer.

More About the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant

First, an extensive set of satellite images of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Second, Japanese officials are discussing sealing away the entire plant in a sarcophagus of concrete or sand, as was done with Chernobyl. Unfortunately, there is a concern that simply dropping vast amounts of material on these buildings would overload and destroy them, thus releasing even more radiation, and that containing overheating rods in sand or concrete would simply cause them to heat up further, and melt through the mass meant to contain them.

And third, we should also remember that TEPCO itself is saying that the stored, spent fuel rods could go critical once, restarting a nuclear chain reaction and thus becoming an even more intense source of energy and a more dire threat.

Resveratrol Combined with Acetyl Can Protect Against Radiation

A study has found that acetylated resveratrol can protect cells exposed to radiation and help prevent death. Resveratrol can be found in many places, including your local health food or drugstore, but the acetylated resveratrol used in the experiments is different from the normal version. The mice in the experiment received a body-cavity injection of the resveratrol ten minutes before being exposed to what is normally a fatal dose of radiation for a majority of the rodents. The most successful dosage was 10 mg/kg of body mass -- substantially reducing fatalities. But only 1 mg/kg of body mass actually resulted in a drop in the survival rate. (Editorial speculation: Perhaps an already severely irradiated mouse, receiving a body-cavity injection of an inadequate dosage of resveratrol, found it hard to deal with the additional trauma of the injection. I do not know, but would be very interested in finding out.)

What does the above information mean in terms of human dosages, in the event of human trials.

I have no idea. Be advised.

But given how many of the world's nuclear plants are built in earthquake zones, or are otherwise threatened by everything from major civil disorder to rising sea levels, this seems to be information well worth knowing. And the question I raised above, well worth answering.

Update: A summary by the researchers can be found here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Japan May Encase Reactors in Sand and Concrete

Apparently, Japanese engineers are considering the possibility of encasing the Fukushima Daiichi reactors in sand and concrete (the Chernobyl method), though they are still trying to regain control of the situation by other means. I suspect that sealing up the reactors may prove a monumental task, given the radiation levels involved, and related risks, but given tactics such as the one's I suggested here, materials could probably be dumped in large quantities on the site -- perhaps enough initially to allow properly garbed workers to approach on the ground and handle some tasks by more economical means.

We shall see.

Transition Initiatives -- Davie Philip on "The Good Life, 2.0"

"Davie Philip, coordinator of the Irish Transition Towns network, sees the 'new emergency' as a 'once-in-a-species' opportunity to make a controlled, planned transition to a post-industrial society." A very interesting video, discussing some aspects of the work his network is doing to deal with peak oil, climate change and economic convulsions as people come together to "prepare for a low-carbon future."

Davie Philip – Developing a transition mindset to overcome the inertia of the familiar from Feasta on Vimeo.

The Fukushima Disaster -- Some Interesting Information

Recombinomics notes:
The radiation released at the Daiichi plant is forecast to go east to the Aleutian Island, and the back over Russia, China, and Korea, where H5N1 is circulating in wild birds. Exposure of H5N1 to ionizing radiation can lead to rapid genetic change, which may increase the ability of H5N1 to transmit in humans.

Moreover, the earthquake and tsunami have led to overcrowding conditions in displaced persons, which would also favor viral spread.
I do not know if Recombinomics is correct in its assessment, but it seemed like something to be aware of.

Meanwhile, anyone in the U.S. presently obsessing over fallout from Japan's reactors may find the following sites of interest -- Radiation Network and the Online Geiger Counter Nuclear Radiation Detector Map. These maps both use volunteer Geiger-counter readings from across America, but are regularly updated.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dropping Coolant from Helicopters -- When All Else Fails

As word spread that Japan was trying to find a means of putting coolant on its critical reactors from the air without killing her pilots, I read a someone's comment on another site...
If this was a movie, right about now, someone would come up with a daring but risky plan that would just barely work.  I'd really like to see life imitate art, but I don't think it's going to happen in this case.

To which I replied...
Remote control.

Take whatever DARPA has for remote controlled and autonomous vehicles, plus whatever the military and others have for aircraft, particularly helicopters.

See what kind of major earthmoving equipment you can get in there.

See what kind of guided helicopters you can move in that direction. Also, whether or not any blimps in the area could be remotely controlled, rigged up with a harness moving material, and then able to release that material while slowly moving over one of the reactors.

If you get desperate, or feel a mass of sand and/or boronic acid can't do too much harm, opening the bottom of an underslung box beneath a relatively fast-moving vehicle, such as a drone, might also get a ton or so of material on the target.

Finally, if none of that works, or is inadequate...

The reactors are in a line. Again, if you can drop the sand and/or boron safely by itself, could you take certain aircraft and start targeting each reactor with de facto payloads of whatever dampening/covering materials you were putting in place, assuming that you wouldn't be damaging reactor integrity further, and that near misses would mostly end up on other reactors, or nearby (perhaps covering other contaminants).

In that case, you could probably employ all kinds of hardened U.S. aircraft, possibly from safer standoff distances than helicopters can manage. U.S. bombers tend to be built with nuclear incidents in mind, and many transport and cargo aircraft can open their doors while in flight to release people or cargo.

Speaking of which, there's the old parachuting materials trick. The U.S. used to have a project for a retrojet cargo box that could be dropped from an airplane and which would slow its own descent using mini-jets. I don't know if that ever reached prototype stage, much less real use, but it could probably be guided if it existed.

But failing that, small, simple propellers or miniature jets or even basic controls (as with a glider or aircraft) could guide the descent of large, parachuting packages. If necessary, they could be made to pop open by remote order, or could simply be designed to break up on impact -- whatever turns out to be best for the circumstances and the location where they are being dropped.

Aside from that...

How radiation resistant are Harriers and hover-capable Joint Strike Fighters?

Could you attach cables or other supports to such a plane's weapons hardpoints, undersling some kind of relatively aerodynamic, robust container (without getting too close to the turbofan, when in use), and rig the systems so all the hardpoints could release at once, thus dumping a payload? If you really needed a slower vehicle for targeting your drops, these could at least get in and out of the area a lot faster, and the JSFs are probably a bit better shielded against radiation. Throw in protective gear and it might have a chance.

And failing that... you may honestly have to ask for a lot of volunteers for the high-risk option, and hopefully have enough that you can rotate them safely.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The “RTR” Medical Response System for Nuclear and Radiological Mass-Casualty Incidents

For those curious about American disaster planning, here is: The “RTR” Medical Response System for Nuclear and Radiological Mass-Casualty Incidents. This document is the work of a Federal, interagency medical response planning group.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Twin Meltdowns: Saving the Japanese People & the U.S./EU Economies

Japan, as is becoming increasingly clear, is facing an incredible crisis as one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded, followed by a massive tsunami, has led to critical damage to several reactors in the quake-stricken region, including as many as three reactor meltdowns and a risk to several hundred thousand spent fuel rods at the Fukushima Daiichi site.

Meanwhile, in seemingly unrelated economic news, high-risk national bonds sold by a number of European economies are now rolling over and have to be refinanced, in spite of the fact that a few of the countries offering them appear to be on the verge of bankruptcy and that the Japanese government -- the main buyer at the last round of European national-debt sales -- will now need to sell a great many assets, such as bonds, to deal with its staggering problems at home.

Neither situation can really be overstated at this point. Radiation from a multi-reactor meltdown, combined with the meltdown of most of the spent fuel on site (most of which was apparently stored directly above the reactors, including the four now either immediately threatened or in meltdown) could release enough radioactive isotopes to force the evacuation of a relatively nearby city -- greater Tokyo, with a combined population of 35 million -- and an unknown area of the home island of Honshu.

The European Union, on the other hand, is looking at a devastating economic and financial picture, with no effective way to roll over its national debts and an unstable currency. Though slightly less acute, the United States is also faced with major financing problems related to its debt, which the Treasury and Federal Reserve have generally managed to paper over.

Private-sector financial institutions in the U.S. and EU have mostly suffered great losses as a result of the meltdown of their real-estate industries and in many cases hold title to large numbers of "non-performing" mortgages (that no one is paying off) and foreclosed properties. And because the U.S., Britain and most other nations involved in the real-estate bubble now have considerably more properties than they can afford, there is no reasonable way to dispose of these properties without taking a massive loss.

Which brings us to one partial solution to these seemingly unrelated crises. Japanese who need to be resettled can have homes and certain goods purchased for them, by their governments, in countries around the world, though in particular in Europe and North America. Whole developments of McMansions stand empty in even some of America's relatively viable large cities, and more to the point, whole towns in the fading counties of the Great Plains stand practically empty, and the city of Detroit, despite its favored position beside a Great Lake and its grand industrial history, has vast swaths of all-but-deserted neighborhoods.

But generally a host of homes, large and small, are available across the North American and European landscapes, so shopping for a few good properties should be relatively easy to accomplish. Also, a sudden injection of funds into all of these economies, from whatever source, and by whatever financial path, should create at least a temporary boom in most local economies.

Personally, I would emphasize the development of independent, mostly self-sustaining local economies in these settlements, whether free-standing or part of larger towns or cities. Given the extreme issues the world is now facing with regards to food and energy, as well as its overall economic and environmental crises, an emphasis on frugality -- both monetary and energy-wise -- and the local, sustainable, high-intensity production of sustenance, seems prudent. A mix of methods could be used to provide both food and energy -- low-impact farming, gardening, greenhouses, aquaponics and the planting of fruit and nut trees on the one hand, and geothermal, solar thermal, solar electric, and wind and micro-hydro turbines (among other tools) on the other. These options, obviously, could also be funded by the sale or barter of bonds.

And who would be willing to accept these national bonds in exchange for real estate and other goods of some presumed cash value? Well, in the U.S., the Federal government, the Federal Reserve and pretty much every bank in the country. Given a choice between dumping assets that in the present market and given the present size of the population have considerably less than their face value, and recovering something from what is otherwise a dead loss -- while staving off general economic catastrophe for the institutions in question... well, that will probably look like a good deal to quite a few organizations.

If I were managing such an operation, I would start quickly but do it in stages. If a relative trickle of people went out who were relatively mobile and ready to go -- like just about every college student with a vague grasp of English and a desire to visit an English-speaking country some day -- I would sweep those people up, send them off to their newly purchased apartments in the university towns where they might be taking classes, acquire for them some food stores -- purchased at bulk rates as a massive coop, with all the economic advantages that offers -- and shuffle them around later, if they end up studying or working somewhere else in their destination country. In the meantime, they can work on their English. And gardening, and/or other potentially useful skills, such as Arduino.*

Other obvious candidates would be farmers from stricken regions, who could not only help kick start new farming in relocation towns in, say, the Great Plains, but work with local farmers to learn about local conditions, and help direct other workers who showed up later to help expand these new farms. Translators, permaculture and aquaculture experts would be other obvious first arrivals.

Given that metals in irradiated areas can be washed free of fallout, trains (and some of their tracks) might also make an appearance in new host countries, perhaps deployed wherever they would make the most difference -- such as giving Detroit something it badly needs... a decent mass-transit system.

I should add... Many Americans have a very high opinion of the Japanese and their culture in general, and there is a wide familiarity with many products of Japanese mass culture, in particular manga and anime. While language would initially be a barrier, well-translated anime movies might be a way to help students of either language pick up the basics of the language faster than through study alone -- although obviously full immersion would probably be most effective, were many people not already shocked and overwhelmed by recent events.

Whatever path the Japanese choose to take, I wish them all the best. Like so many in the rest of the world, my heart goes out to them, and they remain in my prayers.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Live Streaming on the Earthquake/Tsunami/Nuclear Disaster in Japan

The NHK news broadcast is being streamed live here.

A Site Showing Wind Conditions in Japan

This site shows general wind conditions in Japan. I would caution readers to realize this information seems to show winds closer to the surface, as opposed to the higher atmospheric Jet Stream, which is flowing consistently across the Pacific and towards the United States.

This difference is critical if a meltdown sends large numbers of radioactive particles high into the atmosphere, where they could conceivably spread much farther -- in particular the highly poisonous plutonium used as part of the fuel mix in one of the reactors.

Nuclear Engineer: Fuel Rod Fire at Fukushima "Like Chernobyl on Steroids"

From an article at the FireDogLake blog:
The Fukushima Daiichi plant has seven pools for spent fuel rods.  Six of these are (or were) located at the top of six reactor buildings.  One “common pool” is at ground level in a separate building.  Each “reactor top” pool holds 3450 fuel rod assemblies.  The common pool holds 6291 fuel rod assemblies.  [The common pool has windows on one wall which were almost certainly destroyed by the tsunami.]  Each assembly holds sixty-three fuel rods.  This means the Fukushima Daiichi plant may contain over 600,000 spent fuel rods.

The fuel rods must be kept submerged in water.  Why?  Outside of the water bath, the radioactivity in the used rods can cause them to become so hot they begin to catch fire.  These fires can burn so hot the radioactive rod contents are carried into the atmosphere as vaporized material or as very small particles.  Reactor no 3 burns MOX fuel that contains a mix of plutonium and uranium.  Plutonium generates more heat than uranium, which means these rods have the greatest risk of burning.  That’s bad news, because plutonium scattered into the atmosphere is even more dangerous that the combustion products of rods without plutonium.

Some Information on Fukushima from the Japanese Government

From a Japanese government news release regarding the Fukushima nuclear disaster:

Arduino Documentary

From the Top Documentary Films site comes this half-hour story about the creation of Arduino, a kind of open-source hardware that makes building gadgets and developing inventions remarkably cheap. The Arduino board -- a microcontroller, which is a kind of simple computer used to control other machines -- has, in turn, helped kick start a larger movement to enable ordinary people to make much, and eventually, perhaps all, of the technology they use in their daily lives.

Arduino The Documentary (2010) English HD from gnd on Vimeo.