Saturday, December 06, 2008

Mistrust of India Forges Sense of Unity in Pakistan

Mistrust of India Forges Sense of Unity in Pakistan
Washington Post Foreign Service 
Saturday, December 6, 2008; Page A08

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Dec. 5 -- Fateh Khan doesn't know much about the fight against terrorism. He doesn't know much about the attacks that killed more than 170 people in Mumbai last week, either. But if there is one thing the Pakistani taxi driver feels sure about, it's that after three wars, India -- not terrorism -- remains the No. 1 threat to his country.

"Every Pakistani is clear that India is the enemy state," Khan said. "Pakistan has always tried to live at peace with India. But India has not tried for peace."

As more details emerge about alleged Pakistani links to the three-day siege in India's financial capital last week, a rare national unity is coalescing in Pakistan, centered on its old enemy. Although debate continues about how to manage attacks on politicians and government institutions by armed Pakistani groups, the Indian accusations against Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks have reminded many of India's 60-year role as the primary security threat here.

From Taliban commanders in the northwest to liberal businessmen in Islamabad, the capital, Pakistanis have this week been rallying around the flag. Tensions with India have prompted pledges of support for the government even from the Taliban, the growing insurgent force based on the tribal agencies of the country's North-West Frontier Province.

This week, several leaders of armed Islamist groups in that region vowed to lay down their arms against the government and stand with Pakistan's military in the event of a clash with India -- a turnaround for groups that in the past six years have killed more than 1,200 Pakistani troops.

"We may have a dispute with the Pakistan government, but we would set aside our differences if our homeland was threatened by outside powers," said Maulvi Nazir, head of a powerful Pakistani Taliban splinter group in the tribal area of South Waziristan. "We would raise a force of 15,000 tribal Taliban to fight on the side of Pakistan's armed forces. We would infiltrate 500 suicide bombers into India to cause havoc there."

That promise of assistance has not gone unnoticed in Islamabad.

In a briefing with reporters after the Mumbai attacks, several top officials of Pakistan'sInter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, said they welcomed the offers of support from Nazir and Taliban leaders such as Baitullah Mehsud.

Only a year ago, Mehsud, who reportedly commands thousands of foot soldiers in his native South Waziristan, was Pakistan's most wanted man. Days after the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Mehsud's name surfaced as the possible perpetrator of the Dec. 27 bomb attack that killed her.

Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Pakistani journalist based in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said the current mood among insurgent leaders such as Nazir and others in the region is sharply anti-Indian and pro-Pakistani. But Yusufzai cautioned that an opportunistic impulse lies beneath the groups' recent avowals of support for the government against India.

"Right now, these are only statements. They are offering support, but they are also saying that in return for their support the military must stop its operations in the tribal areas, in Swat and other places," Yusufzai said. "They are trying to seize the moment and say, 'Look we're not anti-state, not anti-Pakistan.' But the government has to be careful. It should not respond by pulling out troops."

Many ordinary people in northwestern cities such as Peshawar are wary of expressions of national unity and more inclined to empathize with India's position, Yusufzai said. Hundreds of civilians have been killed and wounded in insurgent attacks this year, and the mounting violence has sensitized the population to the government's failure to rein in terrorists within Pakistan.

"There is a feeling that these jihadi groups need to be cut down to size," Yusufzai said. "People here have seen up close the results of their activities, so they are probably more inclined to believe some of the Indian accusations."

On Friday evening, a car bomb exploded in Peshawar, killing at least 20 people and injuring scores more, the Associated Press reported. Neither the motive nor the identity of the perpetrators was clear, but provincial government chief Haider Khan Hoti said "external forces" could be to blame -- a comment understood in Pakistan to mean India, the AP said.

Before the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan was already deeply divided over how to deal simultaneously with the internal threats posed by extremist groups and the external pressures from countries such as India and the United States. Since the attacks, that fracture has given rise to a heated public debate.

In a column Friday in the popular English-language newspaper Dawn, Pakistani defense analyst and author Ayesha Siddiqa noted the Pakistani Taliban's apparent overnight transformation from pariah to patriot amid the public furor over the events in Mumbai. "And hadn't we been informed earlier that all these 'patriotic' warriors were in fact murdering Pakistan's people and its brave soldiers?" Siddiqa wrote.

"We could cry ourselves hoarse about a foreign conspiracy to finish Pakistan, but it would not change the fact that Pakistan faces the threat of being internationally ostracized unless it begins to look inwards," Siddiqa added.

Since its founding in 1947, Pakistan has been ruled by a succession of military generals, wavering all the while between war and tense detente with India. Civilian governments have historically been short-lived and widely seen as ineffectual against threats to national security, particularly from India. But after the resignation this year of President Pervez Musharraf, the country's former army chief, expectations were high that the civilian government elected in February would reverse that perception.

Nearly four months after Musharraf stepped down, those hopes remain largely unfulfilled. Overwhelmed by economic crisis and the continuing insurgent threat, the new government has failed to mend the country's divisions and bring the military establishment to heel, experts say. Many of the militant groups propped up by the military in the 1980s and '90s have expanded their reach, and some still enjoy support from rogue elements within the military, according to U.S. military officials and intelligence experts.

Samina Ahmed, country director for the International Crisis Group in Pakistan, said the chasm between Pakistan's military and its civilian government undercuts the possibility of stability in the region as a whole. Pointing to several failed attempts by the civilian government this year to gain control of intelligence operations, Ahmed said conflict with India will remain imminent until the clash between the military and civilian cultures is resolved in Pakistan.

"What you see is a house divided, in which the military is hostile, and there's been a pushback from the civilian government, as well," Ahmed said.

After decades of diplomatic brinkmanship with India, many ordinary Pakistanis are skeptical of India's assertions of a Pakistani tie to the massacre in Mumbai. Yet many also appear to agree that another armed conflict with Pakistan's nuclear rival in the region should be the last option on the table.

"Whatever happened in [Mumbai] is a problem for the whole world. It's not just a problem for Pakistan or India," said Mohammed Ejaz, an Islamabad clothes vendor. "This should not reopen old wounds or hostilities, because any conflict would engulf the whole region."

Klügere Männer haben besseres Sperma


Klügere Männer haben besseres Sperma

Die Spermaqualität von Männern hängt mit ihrer Intelligenz zusammen - zumindest ein bisschen. Das hat ein internationales Forscherteam nachgewiesen. An einem womöglich gesünderen Lebenswandel der klügeren Männer liegt der Zusammenhang offenbar nicht.

--- from

Das Forscherteam um Rosalind Arden analysierte Daten von ehemaligen US-Soldaten, die während des Vietnamkrieges ihre Dienstzeit absolvierten. Von den insgesamt 425 Männern lagen jeweils mehrere Intelligenztest-Ergebnisse und Daten über verschiedene Eigenschaften ihres Samens vor. Zwischen den Werten fanden Rosalind Arden vom King's College in London und ihre Kollegen schwache aber dennoch bedeutsame Korrelationen.

Menschliches Sperma: Beweglichkeit und Menge korreliert mit Intelligenz
Zur Großansicht

Menschliches Sperma: Beweglichkeit und Menge korreliert mit Intelligenz

Der Zusammenhang zwischen Köpfchen und Spermaqualität habe nichts mit "Alter, Body Mass Index, Zeiten sexueller Abstinenz, dem Dienst in Vietnam oder dem Missbrauch von Alkohol, Tabak, Marihuana oder harten Drogen" zu tun, schreiben die Mediziner im Fachblatt "Intelligence". Sowohl die Konzentration und absolute Spermien-Menge als auch die Beweglichkeit der Spermien hänge mit dem Faktor Intelligenz zusammen.

Die Forscher gehen allerdings nicht davon aus, dass Gehirnjogging auch das Sperma fitter machen kann. Sie vermuten eher, dass es einen Zusammenhang mit einem allgemeineren genetischen Faktor gibt, der sowohl Intelligenz als auch Samenqualität beeinflusst.

Allan Pacey, Fertilitätsfachmann an der University of Sheffield, sagte der BBC zum Thema: Dass man "eine statistische Beziehung zwischen Intelligenz und Samenqualität bei erwachsenen Männern herstellen kann", sage vermutlich "mehr über die parallele Entwicklung von Gehirn und Hoden in der Gebärmutter" als nahezulegen "dass Sodoku-Spielen irgendwie die Samenproduktion anregen kann".

The quality of a man’s sperm depends on how intelligent he is, and vice versa

Balls and brains

Dec 4th 2008
From The Economist print edition

The quality of a man’s sperm depends on how intelligent he is, and vice versa

Illustration by Peter Schrank

THERE are few better ways of upsetting a certain sort of politically correct person than to suggest that intelligence (or, rather, the variation in intelligence between individuals) is under genetic control. That, however, is one implication of a paper about to be published in Intelligence by Rosalind Arden of King’s College, London, and her colleagues. Another is that brainy people are intrinsically healthier than those less intellectually endowed. And the third, a consequence of the second, is that intelligence is sexy. The most surprising thing of all, though, is that these results have emerged from an unrelated study of the quality of men’s sperm.

Ms Arden is one of a group of researchers looking into the connections between intelligence, genetics and health. General intelligence (the extent to which specific, measurable aspects of intelligence, such as linguistic facility, mathematical aptitude and spatial awareness, are correlated in a given individual) is measured by psychologists using a value called Spearman’s g. Recently, it has been discovered that an individual’s g value is correlated with many aspects of his health, up to and including his lifespan. One possible explanation for this is that intelligent people make better choices about how to conduct their lives. They may, for example, be less likely to smoke, more likely to eat healthy foods or to exercise, and so on.

Alternatively (or in addition) it may be that intelligence is one manifestation of an underlying, genetically based healthiness. That is a view held by many evolutionary biologists, and was propounded in its modern form by Geoffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico, who is one of Ms Arden’s co-authors (and, as it happens, her husband). These biologists believe intelligence, as manifested in things like artistic and musical ability, is such a reliable indicator of underlying genetic fitness that it has been chosen by members of the opposite sex over the millennia. In the ensuing arms race to show off and get a mate it has been exaggerated in the way that a peacock’s tail is. This process of sexual selection, Dr Miller and his followers believe, is the reason people have become so brainy.

Hitting the g spot

Ms Arden sought to test this idea in a way that excluded intelligent choice and got directly at any correlations between intelligence and health that operate at the physiological level. She chose sperm quality because it is both easily measured and about as far from intelligent choice as it is possible to imagine—and because the relevant data had already been collected.

Her retrospective “volunteers” were former American soldiers enrolled in what was known as the Vietnam Experience Study. In 1985 almost 4,500 veterans of that war volunteered for extensive medical and mental examinations. Some of them gave semen samples that were analysed for sperm concentration (ie, number of sperm per cubic centimetre), sperm count (ie, total number of sperm in the ejaculate) and sperm motility.

Ms Arden found 425 cases where samples had been collected and analysed from unvasectomised men who had managed to avoid spilling their seed during the collection process and had answered all the necessary questions for her to test her hypothesis, namely that their g values would correlate with all three measures of their sperm quality.

They did. Moreover, neither age nor any obvious confounding variable that might have been a consequence of intelligent decisions about health (obesity, smoking, drinking and drug use) had any effect on the result. Brainy men, it seems, do have better sperm.

By implication, therefore, they have fitter bodies over all, at least in the Darwinian sense of fitness, namely the ability to survive, to attract mates and to produce offspring. That is an important finding. Hitherto, biologists have tended to disaggregate the idea of fitness into a series of adaptations that are more or less independent of each other. This work adds to the idea of a general fitness factor,f, that is similar in concept to g—and of which g is one manifestation. To him that hath, in other words, shall be given. Unfortunately for the politically correct, Dr Miller’s hypothesis looks stronger by the day.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Wind power is growing fast

Blow hard

Dec 5th 2008

Wind power is growing fast

THE first wind farms sprouted in California in the early 1980s, thanks to generous tax credits. Today's machines typically have a capacity of 1.5-2.5 megawatts, or 30 to 50 times that of early turbines. Although wind generates only about 1% of all electricity globally, it provides a respectable portion in several European countries: 20% in Denmark, 10% in Spain and about 7% in Germany. Capacity in America jumped by 45% last year to reach nearly 17 gigawatts (GW). China has nearly doubled its capacity every year since 2004. Globally, wind power installations are expected to triple from 94GW at the end of 2007 to nearly 290GW in 2012, according to BTM Consult, a Danish market-research firm.


A new tool makes it easier to see the Web changing over time

Friday, December 05, 2008

Back-Button to the Future

A new tool makes it easier to see the Web changing over time.

By Erica

Huge quantities of information are never more than a few clicks away on the Web, but it's not always easy to see what things were like yesterday. News stories and blog posts might be archived, but other information often gets lost. For instance, while it's trivial to find a book's sales ranking on Amazon today, it's less simple to see what it was last week. And for anyone curious about how news evolves, it might not be obvious how a story's prominence has changed--did it get top billing on news sites the day it broke, or was it buried at the bottom of the page? A new tool called Zoetrope is designed to help track such information by letting users browse backward through time.

Credit: Technology Review
video See how Zoetrope brings a new dimension to Web browsing.

Other projects, such as the Internet Archive, already preserve historical versions of websites. But Mira Dontcheva, a research scientist in the Advanced Technologies Lab at Adobe Systems, where Zoetrope was developed, says the new tool makes it much easier to browse through this kind of data. "Having access to temporal information can help us come up with more compelling stories of what's going on around us," she says.

A user can peer back in time through Zoetrope in several ways. Simply pulling a scrollbar at the bottom of the browser winds a Web page back to show what it looked like hours, days, or months ago. Or, if the user is interested in one specific piece of information, like the price of a certain product, he or she can draw a "lens" over that area of the page to see how it changes.

An experienced user can perform even more-advanced analysis. For example, configured correctly, Zoetrope will recognize a price as it goes up or down and will show the results as a graph. It's also possible to draw lenses on different websites and sync them in order to carry out a historical comparison. For example, a user could use one lens to track weather information and another lens to track movie-attendance figures. Looking at how both lenses change over time might reveal a correlation between bad weather and high movie turnout. Zoetrope can also track some pieces of data as they move about a page over time.

The system is limited, however, by how much historical data is available. To test the tool, the researchers chose 1,000 frequently updated websites and stored information captured every hour over four months. 

But for Zoetrope to cover the entire Web would mean capturing huge amounts of data, says Eytan Adar, a PhD student at the University of Washington who was involved with the research. He has investigated the rates at which people tend to check different pages for updates and says that such information could provide insights into how often pages need to be recorded, thereby reducing the amount of data that needs to be stored. "It's impossible to crawl and capture some of these things at the rate at which they're changing," Adar says. "But for something like Zoetrope, it's a smaller percentage of the Web that we want to track. We don't actually need to get every single page that's out there."

Kris Carpenter, who directs efforts to record Web pages at the Internet Archive, is enthusiastic about the new tool. "This is a fantastic leap forward," she says, adding that Zoetrope could be used as a stand-alone application or eventually become part of the browser. "The advances of the interface are phenomenal in terms of being able to navigate data in a very different way and associate it across websites," Carpenter says. "I think most users have an interest in trying to connect the dots between different sources of information, but there are almost no tools available to make that an easy thing to do." She adds that the Internet Archive is interested in sharing its data with the Zoetrope researchers.

Adobe's Dontcheva says that before Zoetrope can be released, her team intends to develop additional features to make it simpler and more powerful to use. "The interface is still evolving," she says

Swiss Steel in operation with the Material Tracking and Flow Control System of AIS

Swiss Steel in operation with the Material Tracking and Flow Control System of AIS 
December 04, 2008  ---

AIS successfully completed the implementation of a MTS including Production Order Tracking in Switzerland.

Swiss Steel (SWST, formerly von Moos Stahl) situated in Emmenbrücke/Switzerland has selected the AIS solution for a plant-wide Material and Production Order Tracking System, for its high performance wire rod and bar mill.

The aim of SWST was to get a solution that covers the whole production process through all material and production order routes of the entire rolling mill plant, also integrating several stand-alone systems providing relevant quality information and manual inputs.

SWST intended to increase the productivity by reducing position gaps between production orders and to prevent material mix-up along the production. A further objective was to collect high quality process data over a long period to prove and increase product quality upon the results of process data analysis.

Detailed information about each production order and piece of material is managed by the system. For each material leaving a production area, relevant quality parameters are validated against technological, production order, and customer constraints. Violations are logged and notified immediately to the operator. 

Most of the process and data are recorded with a frequency of one second. All gathered production orders and processes related data are stored over a period of 15 years in a dedicated Archiving and Reporting Database. Thus this easy-to-handle application provides a maximum of information on the actual and already finished production. Swiss Steel wants to strengthen its cooperation with AIS in Level 2 process engineering and for further extensions of the system.

Mr. Benno Brun, Project Manager and System Engineer, and Mr. Georg Nussbaum, Production Manager, say: “With this system we have the best overview and control of what actually happens in production. We can intervene in time when scheduling or charging problems occur. With the big amount of collected data and analysis tools, we have means to identify weak points in our production processes. Since the introduction of the new system the productivity was significantly increased.”

The project was finished in summer 2008.


About AIS Group

The AIS Group, headquartered in Linz, Austria, is a leading supplier of planning and scheduling systems for the metals industry. Solutions from AIS increase the efficiency of expensive heavy equipment through the optimization of capacity planning and production schedules. Numerous references worldwide of the SteelPlanner® family of planning, scheduling and control solutions underline the effectiveness and reliability of SteelPlanner® for the metals industry.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

US Manufacturing Activity Falls To Lowest Level In 26 Years.

US Manufacturing Activity Falls To Lowest Level In 26 Years.

The AP (12/2, Rugaber) reports, "A gauge of US manufacturing activity that fell to a 26-year low Monday followed similarly weak readings in Europe and China, fueling fears of a deepening global downturn. The Institute for Supply Management's (ISM) index of manufacturing activity for November fell to 36.2 from October's 38.9." Economists said that "the manufacturing survey showed that the US economy is in a steep recession and that tough times will continue for manufacturers. ... Exports, a key source of strength for manufacturers over the past couple of years, are no longer a bright spot as major economies in Europe and Asia also slow." Economists also said that "separate manufacturing surveys on Monday from the United Kingdom, the European Union, China and other countries were weak." In addition, "Other figures from the manufacturing survey signaled trouble ahead: The ISM's new-orders index fell to 27.9 from 32.2, its lowest level since June 1980."

The Wall Street Journal (12/2, Bater) quotes Cliff Waldman, an economist for the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI trade group, as saying that "the sharp drop 'indicates that the rapidly declining US and global economies have created a deep and worrisome slump in the US manufacturing sector.'" The ISM report also "showed payrolls shrank, with the employment index at 34.2 from 34.6."

The Financial Times (12/2, Giles) notes that in China, "the purchasing managers index compiled by the government-linked China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing fell from 44.6 in October to 38.8 last month, the lowest since the series started in 2005." In addition, "the eurozone manufacturing PMI figures hit a series low."

The New York Times /AP (12/2, B3) adds that economists said that "they believe the construction industry will be facing severe troubles until an economic recovery is firmly under way, probably not until the second half of 2009." A Commerce Department report "showed that nonresidential construction dropped 0.7 percent in October, the third decline in four months, leaving activity at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $417.7 billion. Nonresidential activity had been an island of strength in the midst of the steep downturn in housing, but that area has begun to weaken because of the severe credit squeeze, which is making it harder for developers to get financing."

Detroit Bailout Fueling Trade Tensions with Europe

Tuesday, Dec. 02, 2008

Detroit Bailout Fueling Trade Tensions with Europe

While Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and other Congressional Democrats mull an auto industry bailout plan, it's worth recalling a pair of Republican legislators from the past. Among the most derided pieces of 20th century economic policy was introduced by Senator Reed Smoot of Utah and Rep. Willis C. Hawley of Oregon. Signed into law on June 17, 1930, the notorious Smoot-Hawley Act jacked up U.S. tariffs on more than 20,000 imported goods, sparking a global trade war that deepened the Great Depression at home and spread it abroad.

The current debate in Washington over whether to extend a $25 billion lifeline to Detroit's Big Three carmakers has been framed almost exclusively in terms of domestic economic considerations: avoiding massive job layoffs vs. throwing money at possibly doomed companies. But a bailout would have major reverberations abroad as well. Though it may not be the blatant protectionism of the 1930s tariffs introduced by the notorious Smoot-Hawley Act, Europeans warn that a rescue of Detroit amid a major global slowdown could be the first shot in a new trade war.

Indeed, even before GM, Ford and Chrysler officials submit recovery proposals Tuesday in hopes of convincing Congress to steer aid their way, Europe has already started to react. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed a four-year, 400-million-euro package to help French automakers build more environmentally friendly cars. Sarkozy also called last week for the loosening of E.U. restrictions on direct state aid to companies, restrictions established to to encourage more competitive markets in Europe. "We can't have the Americans unlocking $25 billion in loans for their three manufacturers while we would be caught up in a state assistance regime that does not allow us to help our European automakers," Sarkozy said.

Due to plunging consumer demand — new car sales across Europe dropped 14.5% in October — France's two major automakers, Renault and Peugeot-Citroen, have temporarily shut down production at several plants. Peugeot is expected to present a plan Tuesday to cut 2,700 jobs. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has been more cautious in response to the crisis, and warned against precipitous state intervention. Still, Berlin is expected to approve up to $1.26 billion in loan guarantees for Opel if parent company GM goes under.

Meanwhile, the European Investment Bank is set to pledge $2.5 billion to help the continent's auto industry develop more environmentally friendly cars, according to Reuters. That support could help struggling companies stay in the race to bring greener vehicles to market during a global economic downturn. Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne summed up the situation in simple terms: "Either [aid] is for everyone or for no one."

Marchionne, Merkel and Sarkozy are part of a generation of Europeans who have long advocated the weaning of business from government aid as a way of fostering competition and improving companies, in accordance with the free-market model of the U.S. But now the financial twister spiraling from Wall Street across the Atlantic has turned the tables, with Europe trying to keep up with gargantuan state intervention by Washington, first in the banking and insurance sectors, and now in the automobile industry.

Willem Buiter, a political economy professor at the London School of Economics, said that while the infusion of capital and soft loans in the financial sector "violates the letter and spirit" of standing E.U. laws on competition, European officials are turning a collective blind eye due to the credit crisis. Still, Buiter counsels Europe against matching any eventual bailout of the Big Three with aid to their own automakers. "If the Americans want to extend the life of the dinosaurs at public expense, they are free to do that," he says. "But if I see someone else jump off the cliff, that doesn't mean I follow."

Buiter says that tough economic times inevitably increase the risk of protectionist policies, including state aid to struggling companies. "Anything that smacks of subsidies is protectionist in consequence and often intent, and can raise temperatures."

The E.U.'s competition commissioner Neelie Kroes cautioned European lawmakers against propping up domestic companies. "All governments," she said, "have to resist that." As history teaches, when attempts to protect national economic interests lead to a trade war, everybody loses.

Car Companies Seeking Government Loans For Green Technology Development.

Car Companies Seeking Government Loans For Green Technology Development.

The New York Times (12/2, B6, Wayne) reports that, while "Detroit's automakers are focused this week on convincing Congress to provide them $25 billion in federal aid," another $25 billion auto industry loan program, which was "set up by the Department of Energy" would "quicken the development of fuel-efficient cars." Since "it is open to any company with a promise and a plan to make more fuel-efficient cars, it has set off something of a gold rush, as a number of companies besides the Big Three, including Silicon Valley firms and old-line Detroit auto suppliers, angle for a piece of the program." Therefore "many of the companies flocked to Washington for a meeting Monday sponsored by the Energy Department to review the rules governing the direct loans, which the government is expected to start making in coming weeks." Curt Brainard, a spokesman for EcoMotors International, said, "It will give us a tremendous benefit to have the government behind us and as we ramp up with investors." EcoMotors "is developing a two-stroke diesel engine that it says will allow compact cars to get 100 miles to the gallon."

Amazon Aims at Content Delivery

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Amazon Aims at Content Delivery

Startups may be drawn to the company's content-delivery network.

By Erica Naone --- from

Credit: Technology Review

Amazon has become a major player in cloud computing in recent years. Many Web startups have come to rely on its pay-as-you-go hosting and computing services rather than investing in costly and complex infrastructure of their own. The newest offering from Amazon Web Services, called Cloudfront, may provide insight into Amazon's long-term business model. This new product offers companies that are already hooked on Amazon storage and processing the ability to distribute their content and thus make themselves more stable and reliable.

Cloudfront is a distributed content-delivery network. It improves the performance of a website by strategically placing copies of that site's content on servers around the world. A user of such a site who is located in Europe, for example, might see an improvement in performance by loading that data from a European server, rather than from the original server hosted in the United States.

The giants of content delivery--companies like Akamai and Limelight--need a lot of infrastructure, not to mention clever algorithms, to provide services to massive Internet companies such as Google and Microsoft, and this makes it difficult for new entrants to challenge them. Amazon has servers dotted around the world and says only that it has "invested significantly" in building capacity for Cloudfront.

However, rather than take on the giants of content delivery directly, the new service is a fairly simple add-on to the company's existing storage solution, Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service). "[Customers] asked us for a service that complemented Amazon S3's high-durability storage with even higher performance delivery, by storing and delivering popular content from edge locations close to where their customers make requests," says a company spokesperson. "That is why the service was built."

Cloudfront reflects the fact that it is basically an extension of an existing solution in that it offers a fairly basic content-delivery service. The infrastructure can be used to distribute large files but not live streaming video, and it is not as large or complex as the content-delivery network offered by Akamai, for example. However, Amazon says that other features are on the way, again as an outgrowth of existing uses of Amazon infrastructure. "We intend to add streaming in later versions of the service," the spokesperson says. "Many Amazon Web Services customers already use Amazon EC2 [Elastic Compute Cloud] to stream content live or on demand."

The customers that Amazon has chosen to test Cloudfront give some clue to the target audience. Woot, an e-commerce site that offers a different deal every day, is using the service to cope with spikes in traffic that occur right when a new deal is posted. "We're not [photo-sharing site] Flickr," says Woot's retail IT director Luke Duff. "We're just doing our sale images for products. As far as performance, we only really care about the current day's items." Since Woot already used other features of Amazon Web Services, he says, it just made sense to try Cloudfront, especially since the cost was "quite a bit less" than other services that the company investigated. And because of the site's volatile traffic patterns, pay-as-you-go works well for Woot, Duff adds.

Amazon isn't the only company hoping to fill this niche in content-delivery networks with a pay-as-you-go business model. Voxel, based in New York, has offered, for about a year, pay-as-you-go content delivery, including support for streaming video. Voxel CEO Raj Dutt says that he expects pay-as-you-go content delivery to appeal particularly to customers with unpredictable traffic patterns.

James Staten, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, believes that Cloudfront is likely to attract startups that are new to using content-delivery networks. But this might not be a bad thing for more-established players. "If I was Akamai, I wouldn't be too worried," Staten says. "Because [Cloudfront] is a limited implementation, it becomes a nice on-ramp for customers, when they mature, to move up to Akamai." Growing companies may eventually move on, he says, because "the value of a content-delivery network is directly related to how many locations it provides you." More-established content-delivery companies are currently much better than Amazon at providing sophisticated access to a wide variety of locations, Staten says.

But even though Amazon Cloudfront may be less sophisticated, Staten says that Amazon's popular S3 and EC2 products are "absolutely" going to draw companies into trying Cloudfront and any other add-ons that Amazon develops in the future. "If you're drinking the Kool-Aid and the experience is good," Staten says, "there's no point in not trying the additional services that they make available to you."

Europe Backs Supergrids

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Europe Backs Supergrids

Recent efforts show hope for regional transmission planning for renewable power.

By Peter Fairley ---

Wind boost: This wind farm in Galicia, Spain, is among the developments that make Spain the largest wind-power producer in Europe. Europe’s goal of reaching 20 percent renewable power by 2020 will require new transmission links to balance wind’s fluctuating power output with conventional power sources across large regions. A new link between Spain and France will help.
Credit: Arnejohs

Last month, the European Commission (EC) called for construction of regional electric transmission connections across the North Sea, around the Baltic region, and around the Mediterranean Sea, to distribute solar and wind power to and across Europe. It's all part of a plan to boost renewable energy from 8.5 percent of European energy consumption to 20 percent by 2020--and even more thereafter.

But the EC, the European Union's executive body, acknowledges that getting these so-called supergrids built will mean forging new agreements between European countries for transmission planning and investment--much as the United States needs more cooperation between states to, for example, move wind power from the Midwest to major cities. "The wind power which consumers demand cannot be delivered without new networks," the EC report says, and "there is little strategic planning" between nations to build the required connections.

However, several recent developments suggest that progress on transmission between European nations is possible. This summer, for example, a negotiator appointed by the EC convinced France to accept a new transmission connection with Spain, breaking a 15-year impasse over expanding power exchanges between the countries. Use of high-voltage DC (HVDC) technology will enable planners to bury the new line and thereby overcome local opposition to conventional overhead AC transmission lines.

The French-Spanish connection will help both countries balance power supply and consumption--especially Spain, which struggles at times to accommodate its installations of highly variable wind power, the largest in Europe. EC negotiator Mario Monti estimated that the link, called an interconnection, would reduce reliance on the countries' least efficient power plants, thus avoiding 1.5 million tons per year of carbon-dioxide emissions (roughly the annual emissions of 600,000 cars).

Christian Kjaer, CEO of the European Wind Energy Association, a Brussels-based trade group, calls it a "major breakthrough" that shows how Europe can overcome entrenched opposition to such interconnections. "It's a good example of why we need more than a national approach," says Kjaer.

Meanwhile, proposals for HVDC grids to deliver clean power from offshore wind farms to European consumers are getting more detailed. In September, for example, Brussels-based environmental consulting firm 3E mapped out a blueprint for what a North Sea offshore wind-power grid might look like. In 3E's design, 3,500 miles of underwater HVDC cables crisscross the North Sea, forming a network capable of hooking up 68,000 megawatts' worth of new offshore wind farms--enough generating capacity to meet 13 percent of the region's power consumption.

Still, political challenges remain. Kjaer points to a set of wind farms for Kriegers Flak, a shallow sandbar in the Baltic where the territorial waters of Denmark, Sweden, and Germany converge. Each country plans to build three of the world's largest offshore wind farms--up to 640 megawatts each, about the size of a medium-size coal plant--within a few miles of each other, yet without coordinated transmission. "They are talking about taking one grid into Sweden, and one into Germany, and then you have the Danes," says Kjaer. "It makes no sense."

A coordinated link, Kjaer says, would cost less to build than three separate lines, and would provide considerable extra value by linking Northern Germany's variable wind-power production with Sweden's hydropower riches. Germany could export excess wind power to Sweden via a Kriegers Flak interconnection when it has more than it can absorb, then import hydropower from Sweden when the wind dies down. The EC has appointed a mediator--as it did for the French-Spanish interconnection--to work on the issue.

Such efforts could pave the way to an entirely fossil-free power supply in Europe, much as Al Gore has proposed for the United States. Modeling by Gregor Czisch, an energy consultant in Kassel, Germany, shows that in theory, Europe and North Africa can source all of their electricity from renewable sources using a supergrid with conventional HVDC lines that can shift power thousands of miles with minimal losses. In this vision, wind power provides 70 percent of Europe and North Africa's energy needs, and Scandinavian hydropower serves as the backup battery, while African solar farms and distributed biomass-fueled power plants play supporting roles.

Notably missing from the supergrid vision? A role for the conventional power plants that provide most of today's power. "The utilities are thinking about the supergrid," says Czisch, "but not too fast." Czisch says that the utilities prefer a short-term approach to transmission planning that is more protective of their existing investments, whereas the public needs a bold new approach to planning at a European or at least regional level: "We really need an independent organization which can do the calculations necessary."

Monday, December 01, 2008

Seeing the Sights of Industrial China: 2 Factories, 2 Futures

April 5, 2008
Talking Business

Seeing the Sights of Industrial China: 2 Factories, 2 Futures


“The RMB is killing me,” groaned Jin Jue.

Mr. Jin, a hip-looking 35-year-old with spiky hair and an all-black ensemble, describes himself on his business card as the “board chairman” of the Shanghai Jinjue Fashion Company. It was my first full day in China, and Mr. Jin was showing me around his factory on the outskirts of town.

RMB, of course, is shorthand for renminbi, the Chinese currency, also known as the yuan, which, since the beginning of the year, has risen more than 4 percent against the declining dollar. Even as the Chinese economy has become increasingly powerful, the government has kept the yuan artificially low, much to the annoyance of the United States. Truth to tell, it is still not nearly as high as it would be if it were unmoored from government control. When the Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson Jr., was in Beijing this week, he praised the recent rise of the yuan though — as he invariably does when he’s in China — he called on Chinese officials to let their currency float freely.

This is my first trip to China and, like most Americans, I had an image of what a Chinese factory looked like. Mr. Jin’s operation fit that image almost to a T. It was housed in a run-down building amid a sea of run-down buildings in the Kun Shan industrial zone, just northwest of Shanghai. Except for Mr. Jin’s own office, it was really just one cavernous room, filled with rows of tables, on which stood old-fashioned sewing machines. There was a cafeteria with rickety wooden chairs and beaten-up tables where the workers ate their meals, and a sad-looking dormitory where they slept. Behind the building was a dirty-looking river. Debris littered its banks.

Mr. Jin’s factory also makes the sort of thing you expect a Chinese factory to make: it churns out inexpensive clothing, aimed at the European market. Mr. Jin is the classic low-cost, tight-margin, squeeze-every-penny manufacturer, the kind of entrepreneur who has been the backbone of China’s astounding economic rise — and who has also been the primary beneficiary of the low yuan, which has spurred the market for China’s cheap goods. On the day I visited, his work force was making tan jackets under the French brand Camaïeu.

Except ... where were all the workers? I had expected the place to be teeming with people. Instead, only about a quarter of the room was in use; Mr. Jin later confirmed that 60 percent of his work force had either quit or been laid off. Business, clearly, was terrible, and Mr. Jin was losing money.

What the low yuan giveth, the rising yuan taketh away. As China’s currency has risen, Mr. Jin’s cheap clothes suddenly aren’t so cheap anymore. And he had other problems as well. “The business environment in Europe is bad,” he said through a translator. Thanks to inflation in China — up 8.7 percent in February alone — his workers wanted more than the several hundred dollars or so a month he says he pays them. The tax rebates he received from the government were shrinking.

Recently, the government passed labor laws that included a series of protections for workers; that was also pushing up his costs. As a result, orders that had once come to him as a matter of course were now gravitating to Vietnam, Mexico and other countries that could undercut him on his only competitive advantage: cost. (I later heard that some Chinese garment manufacturers were putting a “Made in Mexico” tag on their goods and routing them through Mexico to take advantage of Nafta.)

Though he lacked a college education — Mr. Jin had started in business right out of the army, he told me — he had a pretty clear-eyed understanding of what was happening to him. Though factories like his had led the way in China’s economic miracle, the government was not all that terribly interested anymore in having the country be the lowest-cost producer of every good imaginable. Factories that played that game sometimes produced toys that were tainted. And they didn’t necessarily improve the quality of life of their workers. Ultimately, relying on cheap labor to build an economy was a sucker’s game. “If the government lets the RMB keep rising,” Mr. Jin said, “all these factories will go out of business.”

And so it may turn out. But though it may inflict some pain in the short term, over the long haul, it will almost surely be a good thing for the Chinese economy. And it won’t be a lot of fun for the West to watch.

When you travel around China these days and listen to businessmen and analysts, there is a phrase you hear again and again. They all talk about “moving up the value chain.” By that they mean they want their businesses to gravitate toward more complex, higher-value goods — the ones that bring in bigger profits, are less dependent on rock-bottom costs and are more immune to currency fluctuations.

Andrew Rothman, a China strategist with the investment firm CLSA, described it as “a deliberate policy to push manufacturing up the value chain.”

“It is coming at the same time as rising raw material costs. What the Chinese government is saying is that, ‘We don’t want to be the world’s workshop for junk. We want to make higher-value stuff that creates more wealth and better jobs.’ ”

For instance, if you open up, say, an iPod, you’ll find that many of the higher-value components are made in places outside of China—and then brought into the country to be assembled. And, of course, the biggest profit of all goes to the owner of the brand: Apple. The Chinese are no long content to simply assemble the components. They want to make them as well — and own the brand.

In his own way, Mr. Jin understood that, too. On the flip side of his business card was the word “Tousnosamis.” It was, he told me, a fashion brand he had started recently; he had put out several lines of women’s clothing that he was selling in the domestic market. Eventually, he said with a small, self-conscious laugh, he hoped it would become “like Armani.” At the least, it would allow him to be freed from the grinding pressure of being a low-cost manufacturer. “Maybe in 10 years,” he said. It was his dream — and China’s.

The next morning, I met someone who had already fulfilled the dream. His name is Li Xian Shou, and he is the founder and chief executive of a company called ReneSola, which makes the silicon wafers that are used in solar panels.

Mr. Li, 39, looks as uncool as Mr. Jin looks cool; his pink tie was slightly askew and the sleeves of his suit were so long they almost covered his hands. His company, however, is as cool as can be: In the fourth quarter of 2007, its revenue was up nearly 200 percent from the fourth quarter of 2006. Last year, it made $53 million, almost double its 2006 profit, and in January it raised $130 million in a stock offering on the New York Stock Exchange.

The ReneSola factories were also on the outskirts of Shanghai, but that’s where the similarities with Mr. Jin’s factory ended. Mr. Li’s company was expanding like crazy, taking over acre after acre of former farmland, and snapping up plants, dormitories and other facilities as fast as it could. As we toured through Mr. Li’s plants, I was a little stunned to discover that some of the buildings were only six months old; the plaster was nicked and scarred, suggesting a lot of wear and tear. Like many Chinese businessmen, Mr. Li is moving so fast he doesn’t have time to worry about whether the plaster on his walls is smooth.

Before giving me the tour, Mr. Li told me his story (again through a translator). A former government official, he had raised $1.5 million from four friends to start his company in 2001. (Government officials who go into business tend to have the crucial advantage of good connections.) At first, the company assembled solar panels; most of his customers were companies in Germany and Japan that made the wafers and then sold the panels once they were assembled. “By 2003,” he said, “revenue was about $10 million.”

But assembling the panels was the lowest-cost, lowest-value part of the solar industry. “It is a commodity business,” he said. “And it can attract a lot of competition.” So in 2005, he decided to take the big leap. He got out of the solar panel business and into the more profitable solar wafer business.

Now instead of competing with other Chinese companies, he is competing with German and Japanese companies — where his cost advantage is huge. His company has created a technology for using recycled wafers and other materials, which is helping him avert the shortage of polysilicon, the material from which the wafers are made. He employs 3,300 people, up from 20 in 2005, and pays his line operators upward of $500 a month. From a standing start three years ago, ReneSola is among the world’s top five suppliers of solar wafers.

When I asked Mr. Li about the effect of the rising yuan, he gave me an indifferent shrug. Because his wafers are shipped to other Chinese companies — the panel assemblers — instead of exported, he can demand payment in yuan. His is a business that relies on complicated machinery at least as much as manual labor, so he can work toward productivity improvements. And because he is making a product with a much higher profit margin than a solar panel’s, he can more easily absorb a currency hit. So far, he said, the money lost from the rise of the yuan was “trivial.”

As we toured his plant, I couldn’t help noticing that much of the machinery ReneSola uses to make wafers came from Germany. A rising yuan helps Mr. Li there, too.

As the Chinese say, Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Paulson.

Global Acquisitions for ABB, Rockwell


Global Acquisitions for ABB, Rockwell

December 2008 (p.22)

ABB targets the Canadian oil and gas business with its deal, while Rockwell aims to expand its reach and support of process industries in central and western China.

Two major automation suppliers announced plans on Nov. 12 to expand through international acquisitions.

ABB Group, the Zurich, Switzerland-based power and automation technology company, announced that it has signed an agreement to acquire the business of Ber-Mac Electrical and Instrumentation Ltd., of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in order to expand its presence and capabilities in the oil and gas sector. ABB did not disclose the value of the transaction, which is subject to the customary regulatory approvals.

Ber-Mac specializes in industrial automation, electrical, instrumentation design, process optimization, panel fabrication and field services. It is particularly strong in the oil and gas industry.

Also on Nov. 12, Rockwell Automation Inc., the Milwaukee-based automation supplier, announced that it has reached an agreement to acquire substantially all of the assets and business of Xi’An Hengsheng Science & Technology Co. Ltd., a privately held engineering firm located in Xi’an, China. The company serves customers in the power, petrochemical, coal mining, chemical and oil markets.

Xi’An Hengsheng Science & Technology conducts much of its business in the fast-growing regions of middle and western China with an installed base of approximately 300 customers, Rockwell said. The acquisition is expected to be completed during the first calendar quarter of 2009, subject to satisfaction of customary closing conditions. Rockwell did not disclose terms of the deal.

Oil & gas growth

The ABB acquisition of Ber-Mac will increase ABB’s presence in North America by more than 400 employees, based in several locations, the company said. Ber-Mac is well known and highly respected in the region—a key factor in the decision to acquire the firm, according to ABB.

Established in 1980, Ber-Mac has enjoyed steady growth in recent years and earned revenues of Canadian $100 million in 2007, serving primarily oil and gas customers with power and automation solutions that maximize performance and reduce operating and maintenance costs.

“The acquisition is perfectly aligned with ABB’s growth initiative to enhance its engineering and service capabilities, and will also increase our presence in the large oil and gas industry in North America,” said Veli–Matti Reinikkala, head of ABB’s Process Automation division. “At the same time, this business will complement ABB’s offerings, and benefit from the Group’s established network of global resources.”

Complete systems

Rockwell said the Xi'An Hengsheng Science & Technology acquisition is important to its Chinese market initiatives. “This acquisition is a vital step in continuing to provide world-class design and delivery service to our customers throughout China,” said Tom O’Reilly, managing director, Rockwell Automation, Greater China. “It is also another example of how Rockwell Automation is helping China save energy, reduce emissions, protect the environment and achieve a sustainable economy.”

“Xi’An Hengsheng Science & Technology’s process solutions expertise and heavy industry knowledge strengthens Rockwell Automation’s ability to deliver complete systems in one of the fastest growing markets in the world,” said Terry Gebert, vice president and general manager, Rockwell Automation Systems & Solutions business. “Xi’An Hengsheng Science & Technology’s management team and its 85 employees will join our business, bringing a broad range of industrial automation application expertise and deep local market knowledge.”

“This strategic acquisition further strengthens our global project management and engineering solutions delivery capabilities following our other three recent acquisitions of ProsCon and ICS Triplex in Europe, and Caribbean Integration Engineers in Latin America,” Gebert added.

ABB Group

Ber-Mac Electrical and Instrumentation Ltd.

Rockwell Automation Inc.

Intelligence Report Predicts Robotics Will Replace Low-Skilled Jobs By 2025

Intelligence Report Predicts Robotics Will Replace Low-Skilled Jobs By 2025.

Computerworld (11/30, Thibodeau) reported, "The National Intelligence Council (NIC), in a report titled 'Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World'...offered its long-range strategic thinking about the military and economic challenges the US will face from other countries over the next 17 years, as well as the environmental challenges ahead." The document "also looks at technologies, and it includes some sweeping ideas about the future. ... By 2025, robotics technology will be far enough along to take over low-skilled jobs." According to the NIC, "that could provide benefits, such as enabling robots to be used to help provide care for the elderly. But the machines also may be far enough along 'to disrupt unskilled labor markets.'" The NIC added "that they could also affect immigration patterns by taking over some jobs now performed by migrant workers."

Lower total cost of ownership (TCO)

Lower total cost of ownership (TCO)

Not all open source software is available for free, neither is even the free software without cost in management. With any choice of operating system and software packages someone will have to be responsible for maintaining the system and applying security and product updates. Someone will have to be responsible for fixing things when they go wrong, regardless of the reason.

Most open source operating systems are low-cost or free for educational use. They come with a variety of useful administration tools and user applications. All can be setup to have total, restricted or no access to the internet. However, these operating systems are very much unlike Microsoft Windows or Microsoft NT from an administration point of view and these differences often make it necessary to either employ a system administrator or contract the system administration out to a qualified professional. Many of the companies whom make up OSV are happy to provide on-going support in this manner [link to sysadmin page].

Hiring external system administration may appear to stretch the IT budget. Keep in mind, though, that if you use an open source operating system, you won't have to pay large licence fees for each computer's operating system. What is more there are many open source software packages that also come at lost cost but provide equivalent functionality to the propriety alternatives.

For example, for word processing tasks:

    A free multi-platform office productivity suit. It includes the key desktop applications such as a word procesor, spreadsheet, presentation manager and drawing program.
  • Abiword
    A free word processing program similar to Microsft Word.

Pharmaceutical Supply Chains Reshaped As Industry Undergoes Changes

Pharmaceutical Supply Chains Reshaped As Industry Undergoes Changes.

IndustryWeek (12/1, Jusko) reports that, "as multiple forces challenge the pharmaceutical industry, supply chains" are getting "a new look." Paul Papas, partner and Americas Life Sciences leader, IBM Global Business Services, points out that "high levels of patent expiration among pharmaceutical companies are impacting their top-line growth, which is then driving a whole series of additional events." Among these events are "more mergers and acquisitions to augment the product pipeline, changes to fundamental operating models, increasing globalization and a growing emphasis on partnering. Additionally, 'if the top line isn't growing, it makes sense to try to rationalize your cost basis to deliver your bottom line,'" Papas explained. "Add to that changing compliance demands in sales and marketing, manufacturing, and research and development, as well as a shifting client base, and really, pharmaceutical manufacturers -- and the supply chains in which they operate -- have little choice except to change and adapt to the volatile environment in which they operate."

with solid, outline, hatched and cross-hatched filling methods.

with solid, outline, hatched and cross-hatched filling methods.
PGplot Ex 1-5

Das war der Westen

Das war der Westen

01. Dezember 2008, 07:34 Uhr---

So sah der Westen aus, als sich China vor dreißig Jahren öffnete. Die Zeitschrift „Zhongguo Xinwen Zhoukan" (China Newsweek, ohne Verbindung zu dem amerikanischen Magazin) bringt in der heute erschienenen Ausgabe ein Foto von 1978, als Pierre Cardin mit chinesischen Arbeiterinnen zusammentraf.

NASA Tests the Interplanetary Internet

NASA Tests the Interplanetary Internet

A system designed to make space communications more robust passes its first test.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
By Brittany Sauser ---from
Credit: NASA

A spacecraft 20 million miles away from Earth recently sent the first dozens images back to our planet using a completely new kind of space communications: the Interplanetary Internet.

This system is being developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as a more robust way to communicate in space, modelled on the terrerstrial Internet. The project is being led by Google's vice president and chief internet evangelist, Vint Cerf, who designed many of the networking protocols that launched the Internet in the 1970s. Last month, Cerf talked about the Interplanetary Internet with Technology Review and discussed a crucial protocol called Disruption-Tolerant Networking (DTN).

NASA will be testing the new communications link for a month or so to qualify the technology for use on a variety of upcoming space missions.

A Design for Cheaper Wind Power

Monday, December 01, 2008

A Design for Cheaper Wind Power

A new design that draws on technology developed for jet engines could halve the cost of generating electricity from wind.

By Kevin Bullis --- from technologyreview

Wind jet: A rendering of a new turbine design, which can increase the energy captured from wind.
Credit: FloDesign Wind Turbine
video See how the technology works.

FloDesign Wind Turbine, a spin-off from the aerospace company FloDesign based in Wilbraham, MA, has developed a wind turbine that could generate electricity at half the cost of conventional turbines. The company recently raised $6 million in its first round of venture financing and has announced partnerships with wind-farm developers.

The company's design, which draws on technology developed for jet engines, circumvents a fundamental limit to conventional wind turbines. Typically, as wind approaches a turbine, almost half of the air is forced around the blades rather than through them, and the energy in that deflected wind is lost. At best, traditional wind turbines capture only 59.3 percent of the energy in wind, a value called the Betz limit.

FloDesign surrounds its wind-turbine blades with a shroud that directs air through the blades and speeds it up, which increases power production. The new design generates as much power as a conventional wind turbine with blades twice as big in diameter. The smaller blade size and other factors allow the new turbines to be packed closer together than conventional turbines, increasing the amount of power that can be generated per acre of land.

The idea of enshrouding wind-turbine blades isn't new. But earlier designs were too big to be practical, or they didn't perform well, in part because the blades had to be very closely aligned to the direction of the wind--within three or four degrees, says Stanley Kowalski, FloDesign's CEO. The new blades are smaller and can work at angles of up to 15 to 20 degrees away from the direction of the wind.

From the front, the wind turbine looks something like the air intake of a jet engine. As air approaches, it first encounters a set of fixed blades, called the stator, which redirect it onto a set of movable blades--the rotor. The air turns the rotor and emerges on the other side, moving more slowly now than the air flowing outside the turbine. The shroud is shaped so that it guides this relatively fast-moving outside air into the area just behind the rotors. The fast-moving air speeds up the slow-moving air, creating an area of low pressure behind the turbine blades that sucks more air through them.

It's plausible that such a design could double or triple a turbine's power output, says Paul Sclavounos, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. Part of the increase comes simply from guiding the air to the turbine with the shroud. But Sclavounos notes that it also helps to use the wind surrounding the turbine to speed up the airflow, because the power produced by a wind turbine increases with the cube of the wind speed. The key question is whether the new turbines can be built and maintained at a low-enough cost, Sclavounos says.

FloDesign has already built a small prototype for wind-tunnel tests. Its next step is to build a 12-foot diameter, 10-kilowatt system for field tests. The prototype will be finished by the end of next year or early in 2010, with commercial wind turbines to follow. Eventually the company plans to make turbines as large as one megawatt.

Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla on reasons for long-term optimism about technology and the economy

Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla on reasons for long-term optimism about technology and the economy

A Conversation with Vinod Khosla by Alison Berkley Wagonfeld

From Vinod Khosla’s perspective, the world’s economic future looks bright. After cofounding Sun Microsystems and spending two decades as a venture capitalist with Kleiner Perkins, Khosla created his own venture firm in 2004 to invest in early-stage technologies, especially those with minimal environmental impact. Khosla Ventures, based in Menlo Park, California, has a portfolio of some 65 start-ups, 45 of which are in clean technology, or cleantech. The latter range from Kior, a speculative biofuels company, to Ausra, which is developing utility-scale solar thermal technology. Khosla’s goals include turning niche cleantech forms of energy into what he calls “maintech” by proving that green technologies can be economically cheaper than current ones.

Do you see the current downturn differently from how other people do?

Economists don’t appreciate the extent to which innovation can disrupt assumptions. A new technology can render forecasts obsolete. We are investing in many such technologies, and some of them will surely succeed. I live by an idea from the computer pioneer Alan Kay, who said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

The technologies we’re working on have the potential to affect energy prices and thus geopolitics and poverty, not to mention global warming. But the impact won’t be immediate. Many of the technologies are in early stages and face significant hurdles before they can become operational. The economists may be correct that in the near term, at least, the cost of inputs will continue to rise. But the specific critical technological events that will truly determine future economics are impossible to predict.

Which technologies give you the greatest hope?

While home rooftop solar photovoltaic cells will continue to improve, I’m excited about solar thermal’s ability to compete cost-effectively with utility-scale power from coal and natural gas plants. Many of our investments are in biofuels, which I’m very positive about because they have low financial and adoption risks. We look for technologies that don’t require people to change their driving, transportation, and heating patterns. Within 25 years, I believe the world will be able to replace most fossil fuels with nonfood biomass and waste or with solar, geothermal, and wind energy. There is no question in my mind that biofuels can be produced for a dollar per gallon, probably much less.

In the U.S., for example, the acreage that is currently out of production or devoted to export crops is more than adequate to supply the country’s biofuel needs. If we innovate in biomass production, my analysis shows that we may need zero additional land to replace all our gasoline. The biofuels I’m referring to are cellulosic, such as forestry waste and winter cover crops—maybe even algae someday—but not corn, which cannot scale up to meet the world’s energy needs.

Will the world’s current financial state delay development of some critically important technologies?

I do worry about that. Energy and cleantech companies require plenty of follow-on financing. Combine the current state of the capital markets with the risk aversion we are seeing among other investors in this space, and there’s real reason for concern. I also worry about governmental policies, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. The traditional enemies of alternative energy—the coal and oil industries—are fighting change. However, policy is gradually moving in the right direction, and the entrenched industries will adapt, because the global imperative is immense. The world is witnessing an unusual confluence of natural, geopolitical, and technological factors that are pulling in the same direction, away from fossil fuels and toward alternatives. I believe there will be many energy and cleantech successes, not just from the companies we’re working with. In addition, traditional energy companies will participate actively as investors and implementers.

There’s always another worry, too—that our firm might be dead wrong about its investments. There are no historical rules on what will and won’t work. But we believe that the freedom to fail gives us the freedom to succeed. We are willing to take risks because we believe the opportunities are so exciting. I am a technology optimist. A lot of what can be imagined can be invented.