Monday, October 27, 2008

Johnson Thermo-electrochemical Converter system earns honors

Beyond ‘Super Soaker’: Johnson Thermo-electrochemical
Converter system earns honors. Called JTEC.

Exerpted from an article by Bo Emerson
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Monday, October 27, 2008

Lonnie Johnson has some impressive hard science credentials.
He’s worked for the Strategic Air Command and for NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, outfitting missions to Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. He holds about
100 patents, many of them in that arcane spot where chemistry, electricity
and physics cross into the marketplace. And his latest invention appears to
do the impossible: generating electricity with no fuel and no moving parts.

Even among the geniuses who gathered to honor him and his new thermo-
electrochemical converter at a “Breakthrough Awards” banquet in Manhattan
this month, the Atlanta scientist’s new invention was ignored when his most
famous device was revealed.

“What?” they cried. “You invented the Super Soaker?”
He’s still known as Mr. Squirt Gun.

Johnson’s share (he licensed the Soaker’s design to Larami, later bought by
Hasbro) won him the financial independence to pursue his own ideas, which
is how the Johnson Thermo-electrochemical Converter system —
- JTEC for short —- was born.

“This is a whole new family of technology,” said the NSF’s Paul Werbos.
“It’s like discovering a new continent. You don’t know what’s there, but
you sure want to explore it to find out.”

Johnson’s device can potentially work with even modest temperature
differentials —- say, between body heat and ambient air —- to power implanted
medical devices such as pacemakers. If successful, at high heat it would
generate Con Edison-scale output. It also would run backward for refrigeration
purposes: put in electricity to generate heat loss for, say, wearable air

Paired with a parabolic solar array to generate heat, it could create virtually
limitless emission-free power.


Most electricity is generated using heat to power a mechanical device,
such as a piston or a turbine. The JTEC uses heat to force ions through
a special membrane. “It’s a totally new way of generating electricity
from heat,” Paul Werbos told Popular Mechanics. The JTEC includes
two closed hydrogen cells or “stacks” attached to pairs of electrodes.
One is a low-temperature stack, the other is high-temperature. Current
compresses hydrogen in the low-temperature stack, ionizing the
hydrogen and forcing its protons through the membrane to the high-
temperature stack, where the hydrogen expands. Current is generated
as electrons are freed. The high-temperature end generates more
power than the low-temperature end uses —- creating an excess that
can cool beer or run TVs and washing machines. Hydrogen is neither
burned nor added, and emissions are zero.

Born: Oct. 6, 1949, Mobile
Residence: Ansley Park

Education: Tuskegee University, with degrees in mechanical engineering
and nuclear engineering

Career: Research engineer with Oak Ridge National Laboratories; engineer
at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; nuclear safety engineer with U.S. Air
Force; officer with the Strategic Air Command; flight test engineer Edward’s
Air Force Base.

Businesses: Johnson Research and Development, Johnson Electro-Mechanical
Systems, Excellatron Solid State LLC

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Archaeology update

Infectious finds at ancient site
By Bruce Bower
Web edition : Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

credit: I. Hershkovitz

DNA evidence of human tuberculosis from the 9,000
year-old bones of a woman and an infant suggests
the disease appeared in humans much earlier than
had been thought. Work at the ancient village of
Atlit-Yam, off the Mediterranean coast of Israel,
which has been covered by water for the past
several thousand years, yielded the skeletons.

credit: I. Hershkovitz
Ancient Stone Shrine?
A semi-circular construction made of stones,
some more than two meters tall, dominated the
center of the long submerged city of Atlit-Yam
and might have hosted ritual ceremonies.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Paulson tries again

Unlike the UK plan, the revamped American bail-out puts banks first and taxpayers second...

Joseph Stiglitz - The Guardian - October 16, 2008

Gordon Brown has won plaudits over recent days for inspiring the turnaround in Hank Paulson's thinking that saw him progress from his "cash for trash" plan - derided by almost every economist, and many respected financiers - to a capital injection approach. The international pressure brought to bear on America may indeed have contributed to Paulson's volte-face. But Paulson figured he could reshape the UK approach in a way that was even better for America's banks than his original cash strategy. The fact that US taxpayers might get trashed in the process is simply part of the collateral damage that has been a hallmark of the Bush administration.

Will this bail-out be enough? We don't know. The banks have engaged in such non-transparency that not even they really know the shape they are in. Every day there are more foreclosures - Paulson's plan did little about that. That means new holes in the balance sheets are being opened up as old holes get filled. There is a consensus that our economic downturn will get worse, much worse; and in every economic downturn, bankruptcies go up. So even if the banks had exercised prudent lending - and we know that many didn't - they would be faced with more losses.

Britain showed at least that it still believed in some sort of system of accountability: heads of banks resigned. Nothing like this in the US. Britain understood that it made no sense to pour money into banks and have them pour out money to shareholders. The US only restricted the banks from increasing their dividends. The Treasury has sought to create a picture for the public of toughness, yet behind the scenes it is busy reassuring the banks not to worry, that it's all part of a show to keep voters and Congress placated. What is clear is that we will not have voting shares. Wall Street will have our money, but we will not have a full say in what should be done with it. A glance at the banks' recent track record of managing risk gives taxpayers every reason to be concerned.

For all the show of toughness, the details suggest the US taxpayer got a raw deal. There is no comparison with the terms that Warren Buffett secured when he provided capital to Goldman Sachs. Buffett got a warrant - the right to buy in the future at a price that was even below the depressed price at the time. Paulson got for the US a warrant to buy in the future - at whatever the prevailing price at the time. The whole point of the warrant is so we participate in some of the upside, as the economy recovers from the crisis, and as the financial system starts to work.

The Paulson plan responded to Congress's demand to have something like a warrant, but as a matter of form, not substance. Buffett got warrants equal to 100% of the value of what he put in. America's taxpayers got just 15%. Moreover, as George Soros has pointed out, in a few years time, when the economy is recovered, the banks shouldn't need to turn to the government for capital. The government should have issued convertible shares that gave the right to the government to automatically share in the gain in share price.

Whether we were cheated or not, the banks now have our money. The next Congress will have two major tasks ahead. The first is to make sure that if the taxpayer loses on the deal, financial markets pay. The second is designing new regulations and a new regulatory system. Many in Wall Street have said that this should be postponed to a later date. We have a leaky boat, some argue, we need to fix that first. True, but we also know that there are really problems in the steering mechanism (and the captains who steer it) - if we don't fix those, we will crash on some other rocks before getting into port. Why should anyone have confidence in a banking system which has failed so badly, when nothing is being done to affect incentives? Many of those who urge postponing dealing with the reform of regulations really hope that, once the crisis is passed, business will return to usual, and nothing will be done. That's what happened after the last global financial crisis.

There is a hope: the last financial crisis happened in distant regions of the world. Then it was the taxpayers in Thailand, Korea and Indonesia who had to pick up the tab for the financial markets' bad lending; this time it is taxpayers in the US and Europe. They are angry, and well they should be. Hopefully, our democracies are strong enough to overcome the power of money and special interests, and we will prove able to build the new regulatory system that the world needs if we are to have a prosperous and stable global economy in the 21st century.

• Joseph E Stiglitz is university professor at Columbia University and recipient of the Nobel memorial prize in economic science in 2001. He was chief economist at the World Bank at the time of the last global financial crisis.

Credit Woes Hit Oil Supply Chain, Push Prices Down - temporarily!

LONDON (Dow Jones)--Already suffering amid a global financial meltdown, oil and gas prices are feeling further pressure as the scarcity of credit squeezes the supply chain that has long provided support for them.

Most observers see the drop in the oil price - which Thursday fell - as collateral damage from weakening consumption, itself driven by the credit crunch. But the link between the two may be more direct: The banking crisis is reducing financial flows that normally propped up the oil price.

Banks are either refusing or tightening up credit conditions in a long chain that starts in the ports of oil-producing Middle Eastern and African countries, goes through tankers and refineries and ends up in gas stations in Europe and the U.S. Less crude is being purchased while buying is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of a smaller number of companies - mostly oil majors and large retailers - that are able to bargain for lower prices.

"The credit crunch is putting on a brake at every level of supply," said Antoine Halff, deputy head of research at brokerage Fimat USA. "Levels of credit are evaporating, so producers and refiners are having a hard time selling -they want to make sure their customers are good for the money," Halff added.

"The oil trade relies on credit lines, so the freezing of credit is making the system less optimal," agreed Olivier Jakob, an analyst at Petromatrix.

Cash-rich majors are set to gain more bargaining power with national oil companies, as the latter are now less willing to deal with credit-starved smaller players, said crude traders and an oil industry banker. "Those who don't have their own oil (as possible collateral) are in trouble. Nobody wants to sell to them," said the banker. In contrast to pure traders who rely on letters of credit or credit lines for spot cargoes, oil majors are both buyers and sellers, meaning they have their own cash and crude reserves.

Shippers - who bring tankers from the ports to consuming countries - are also seeing a reduction of available credit, with some of them going under as a result. On Monday, For instance, well-known Swedish company Svithoid Tankers went into liquidation after facing an immediate liquidity shortage. Global shipping loans dropped 23% to $13.31 billion in the first half of 2008 from the same period last year, according to data from Reuters Loan Pricing Corp., leading to a scarcity of available capacity for shipping.

"Even with the credit crunch, there is still a capacity crunch," said Drewry Shipping Consultants Ltd. in a report last week.

To make matters worse, some of the major investments banks that are currently under stress - such as Morgan Stanley (MS) - are also an important part of the oil chain. "They hold storage, are active physical traders and some of them actively participate in the physical delivery process," said Petromatrix's Jakob. A large refinery such as U.K. chemicals producer Ineos Group Ltd.'s Grangemounth in Scotland relies on supply from Morgan Stanley. Earlier this month, Ineos itself faced speculation that the company could be close to breaching the covenants on its loan agreements, though the company has said this wouldn't happen.

Indeed, refiners appear to have been affected even more than traders. In a report last week, the International Energy Agency said refiners who rely on letters of credit to facilitate product exports are finding these "increasingly difficult to obtain," the Paris-based agency said, and that higher interest rates are reducing their ability to maximize the value of production. "Were such practices to become widespread it could potentially lead to some refiners cutting runs for financial reasons, despite apparently healthy product margins and demand for products," the IEA said.

Though consumers sometimes feel massive profits are being made at the pump, the credit crunch is also pushing many gas stations owners to the end of their tether and reducing their ability to buy refined products. Jeff Lenard, vice president for communications at the U.S. Association for Convenience and Petroleum Retailing, said "the challenges (of gas station owners) are now accelerated by the credit crunch." Many distributors are passing the impact of tightened credit conditions on to their clients.

In testimony before members of the House of Representatives in May, Bill Douglass, chief executive of Texas-based Douglass Distributing Co., said distributors servicing retailers are "running into their own credit limits in their efforts to keep their customers supplied with fuel" and as a result, have cut the time for making payments from 10 days to seven or fewer.

So far, Tim Rogers, owner of California-based distributor and retailer Tower Energy Group Corp., can consider himself lucky. Rogers said this week he expects to sign a new, $150 million credit line Friday. But it took longer than a previous line because it involved four banks instead of two and the interests will be higher - two points above the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, instead of 1.5 points before.

But when banks fail to renew credit lines, it can trigger a domino effect as experienced by Atlanta-based natural gas marketer Catalyst Energy Group Inc. earlier this month. Catalyst filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after its credit line with independent distributor Constellation Energy was suddenly ended. Constellation was a trading partner of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (LEH), and its stock price collapsed with the fall of Lehman, precipitating its own sellout toBerkshire Hathaway's (BRKA) MidAmerican Energy Holding Co. Catalyst itself is now being sold to fellow retailer MX Energy Inc.

With smaller players diminishing in numbers - 6,000 gas stations have disappeared in the U.S. in the past two years - the largest of the survivors, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), may have the upper hand in negotiations with sellers of products. Lenard said those large buyers, facing less competition, can "probably" negotiate lower prices. "If you can get more of the same product, you can get a discount," he said.

-By Benoit Faucon and Angela Henshall, Dow Jones Newswires; +44-20-7842-9266;

Friday, October 17, 2008

Wall Street banks in $70bn staff payout

Pay and bonus deals equivalent to 10% of US government bail-out package
Simon Bowers The Guardian, Saturday October 18 2008

Financial workers at Wall Street's top banks are to receive pay deals worth more than $70bn (£40bn), a substantial proportion of which is expected to be paid in discretionary bonuses, for their work so far this year - despite plunging the global financial system into its worst crisis since the 1929 stock market crash, the Guardian has learned.

Staff at six banks including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup are in line to pick up the payouts despite being the beneficiaries of a $700bn bail-out from the US government that has already prompted criticism. The government's cash has been poured in on the condition that excessive executive pay would be curbed.

Pay plans for bankers have been disclosed in recent corporate statements. Pressure on the US firms to review preparations for annual bonuses increased yesterday when Germany's Deutsche Bank said many of its leading traders would join Josef Ackermann, its chief executive, in waiving millions of euros in annual payouts.

The sums that continue to be spent by Wall Street firms on payroll, payoffs and, most controversially, bonuses appear to bear no relation to the losses incurred by investors in the banks. Shares in Citigroup and Goldman Sachs have declined by more than 45% since the start of the year. Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley have fallen by more than 60%. JP MorganChase fell 6.4% and Lehman Brothers has collapsed.

At one point last week the Morgan Stanley $10.7bn pay pot for the year to date was greater than the entire stock market value of the business. In effect, staff, on receiving their remuneration, could club together and buy the bank.

In the first nine months of the year Citigroup, which employs thousands of staff in the UK, accrued $25.9bn for salaries and bonuses, an increase on the previous year of 4%. Earlier this week the bank accepted a $25bn investment by the US government as part of its bail-out plan.

At Goldman Sachs the figure was $11.4bn, Morgan Stanley $10.73bn, JP Morgan $6.53bn and Merrill Lynch $11.7bn. At Merrill, which was on the point of going bust last month before being taken over by Bank of America, the total accrued in the last quarter grew 76% to $3.49bn. At Morgan Stanley, the amount put aside for staff compensation also grew in the last quarter to the end of August by 3% to $3.7bn.

Days before it collapsed into bankruptcy protection a month ago Lehman Brothers revealed $6.12bn of staff pay plans in its corporate filings. These payouts, the bank insisted, were justified despite net revenue collapsing from $14.9bn to a net outgoing of $64m.

None of the banks the Guardian contacted wished to comment on the record about their pay plans. But behind the scenes, one source said: "For a normal person the salaries are very high and the bonuses seem even higher. But in this world you get a top bonus for top performance, a medium bonus for mediocre performance and a much smaller bonus if you don't do so well."

Many critics of investment banks have questioned why firms continue to siphon off billions of dollars of bank earnings into bonus pools rather than using the funds to shore up the capital position of the crisis-stricken institutions. One source said: "That's a fair question - and it may well be that by the end of the year the banks start review the situation."

Much of the anger about investment banking bonuses has focused on boardroom executives such as former Lehman boss Dick Fuld, who was paid $485m in salary, bonuses and options between 2000 and 2007.

Last year Merrill Lynch's chairman Stan O'Neal retired after announcing losses of $8bn, taking a final pay deal worth $161m. Citigroup boss Chuck Prince left last year with a $38m in bonuses, shares and options after multibillion-dollar write-downs. In Britain, Bob Diamond, Barclays president, is one of the few investment bankers whose pay is public. Last year he received a salary of £250,000, but his total pay, including bonuses, reached £36m.


None of the banks the Guardian contacted wished to comment on the record about their pay plans. But behind the scenes, one source said: "For a normal person the salaries are very high and the bonuses seem even higher. But in this world you get a top bonus for top performance, a medium bonus for mediocre performance and a much smaller bonus if you don't do so well."

You have to wonder: in light of the above explanation of how the bonuses are earned, If Mr. O'Neal earned a 161 Million dollar bonus for presiding over a loss of 8 Billion dollars, how much do you have to lose to earn $200 Million?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Humans Wore Shoes 40,000 Years Ago

Scott Norris
for National Geographic News

Humans were wearing shoes at least 10,000 years earlier than previously thought, according to a new study. The evidence comes from a 40,000-year-old human fossil with delicate toe bones indicative of habitual shoe-wearing, experts say.

A previous study of anatomical changes in toe bone structure had dated the use of shoes to about 30,000 years ago. Now the dainty-toed fossil from China suggests that at least some humans were sporting protective footwear 10,000 years further back than thought, during a time when both modern humans and Neandertals occupied portions of Europe and Asia.

Study author Erik Trinkaus, a paleoanthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, said the scarcity of toe bone fossils makes it hard to determine when habitual shoe-wearing became widespread.

However, he noted, even Neandertals may have been strapping on sandals.

"Earlier humans, including Neanderthals, show [some] evidence of occasionally wearing shoes," Trinkaus said. Regular shoe use may have become common by 40,000 years ago, but "we still have no [additional] evidence from that time period—one way or the other," the scientist said.

The study by Trinkaus and Chinese co-author Hong Shang appears in the July issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Read the rest of the story...

That gives you some hope, doesn't it, that our ancestors were smart enough to put something on their feet when walking in the snow. I'm betting that they didn't finance their caves with adjustable rate mortgages either... Or maybe they did and that's why the world is full of empty caves with brown lawns in front.