Category Archives: Complex Systems Concepts

Chronicling the Ecological Impact of C. Columbus

Chronicling the Ecological Impact of Columbus’ Journey | Magazine.

Columbus’ discovery of the New World unleashed centuries of geopolitical turmoil. But humans weren’t the only creatures whose fortunes were forever altered. Entire species of plants and animals either thrived or suffered as well. In the book 1493, author (and Wired contributor) Charles C. Mann traces the far-reaching biological consequences of Columbus’ journey across the ocean blue. “There is a Rube Goldberg aspect to this,” Mann says. “Things are connected in ways that you would never expect.” And just as with human societies, some organisms came out on top, while others were radically subjugated. Here are a few key flora and fauna and how they weathered the storm.

  1. PLANTAINS ENABLE FIRE ANTS. The African plantain is plagued by insects called scale. Back in Africa, however, predators help combat these scavengers. But when the fruit was brought to Hispaniola, it received no such aid. So the bugs proliferated—along with fire ants, which fed on the other insects’ sugary excrement. Both pests thrived until their unchecked appetites destroyed the local plantain crop.
  2. RUBBER CONQUERS ORCHIDS. For centuries, orchids thrived in the jungles of Southeast Asia. The damp terrain and omnipresent mist provided the perfect environment for the moisture-loving epiphytes. But when rubber trees from the Amazon rain forest were imported to southern China, their thirst for water dried out the soil. The once-plentiful morning fog began to disappear. Soon the orchids started to as well.
  3. EARTHWORMS STARVE TREES AND POWER UP MAIZE. Before being brought to the US, the common earthworm aided farmers in England by humbly tilling their soil. But once transplanted, the wrigglers’ tu nneling disrupted the nutrient-absorbing fungi on the roots of sugar maples, causing the trees’ decline. And by aerating the newly cleared land, the worm allowed crops like maize to grow year-round.
  4. POTATOES BATTLE NEW FOE. In its Andean motherland, the resilient potato grew in all shapes and sizes. But as the mighty tuber spread across the globe, its varieties dwindled to a monoculture—an easy target for opponents in adopted lands. None was quite so vicious as the Colorado potato beetle. Carried to North America in the manes of traveling horses, the bug became a permanent scourge to the plant in regions around the world.

UBS: Our risk systems did detect £1.3bn rogue trader – We just didn't do anything about it

UBS: Our risk systems did detect £1.3bn rogue trader – ComputerworldUK.com.

But the warnings were ignored, bank claims

UBS has insisted its IT systems did detect unusual and unauthorised trading activity, before rogue trader Kweku Adoboli ran up a $2 billion (£1.3 billion) loss on the bank’s derivatives desk.

Interim chief executive Sergio Ermotti, who is running the company following Oswald Grubel’s resignation last month, sent a memo to employees saying the bank is aware that its systems did detect the rogue activity.


In the memo, seen by the Wall Street Journal, Ermotti wrote: “Our internal investigation indicates that risk and operational systems did detect unauthorised or unexplained activity but this was not sufficiently investigated nor was appropriate action taken to ensure existing controls were enforced.”

He added: “We have to be straight with ourselves. In no circumstances should something like this ever occur. The fact that it did is evidence of a failure to exercise appropriate controls.”

The news comes as the heads of UBS’ global equities business, Francois Gouws and Yassine Bouhara, also resigned.

Meanwhile, regulatory and internal investigations continue into the problem.

“Criminal law prevents us from disclosing detailed information at the moment,” Ermotti wrote. He added that the company was taking “immediate and decisive action based on the findings of our own review of what happened”.

The bank insisted it was working to improve its risk and control framework, adding that it was clarifying rules and processes.

Rogue trader: How UBS systems and controls failed to stop a £1.3bn loss

Quake-prone Japanese Area Runs Disaster System on Force.com

Quake-prone Japanese Area Runs Disaster System on Force.com | PCWorld.

A coastal region of Japan due for a major earthquake and possible tsunamis has implemented a cloud-based disaster management system run by Salesforce.com.

Shizuoka Prefecture, on Japan’s eastern coast in the central region of the country, lies curled around an undersea trough formed by the junction of two tectonic plates. It has been rocked by repeated large temblors in past centuries, collectively called “Tokai earthquakes,” and the central government has warned that with underground stresses high another is imminent.

The local prefectural government began to build a new disaster management system last year, the initial version of which went live in July. It is based on Salesforce.com’s platform-as-a-service offering, Force.com, which hosts hundreds of thousands of applications.

“It would have cost a lot more to run our own servers and network, and if a disaster happened managing something like that would be very difficult, especially if the prefecture office was damaged,” said Keisuke Uchiyama, a Shizuoka official who works with the system.

Japanese prefectures are the rough equivalent of states.

The system is currently hosted on Salesforce.com’s servers in the U.S. and goes live when an official disaster warning is issued by the government. It links up information about key infrastructure such as roads, heliports and evacuation centers.

Salesforce.com says it combines GIS (geographic information system) data with XML sent from Japan’s Meteorological Agency. Users can also send email updates from the field using their mobile phones, with GPS coordinates and pictures attached.

Uchiyama said the original plan was to allow open access, but budget cuts forced that to be postponed and it is now available only to government workers and disaster-related groups. The system was implemented with a budget of about 200 million yen (US$2.6 million) over its first two years, down from an original allotment of about 500 million yen over three years.

He said it was used to keep track of the situation last week when a powerful typhoon swept through central Japan.

The obvious downside to a hosted system is that key infrastructure is often destroyed during natural disasters. After the powerful earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan’s northeastern coast in March, some seaside towns were completely devastated and went weeks without basics like power or mobile phone service. Local communities turned to word-of-mouth and public bulletin boards to spread information and search for survivors.

“If the network gets cut, it’s over,” said Uchiyama.

A second Great Depression: Eight drastic policy measures necessary to prevent global economic collapse?

A second Great Depression: Eight drastic policy measures necessary to prevent global economic collapse. – By Nouriel Roubini – Slate Magazine.

The latest economic data suggest that recession is returning to most advanced economies, with financial markets now reaching levels of stress unseen since the collapse of Lehman Bros. in 2008. The risks of an economic and financial crisis even worse than the previous one—now involving not just the private sector, but also near-insolvent governments—are significant. So, what can be done to minimize the fallout of another economic contraction and prevent a deeper depression and financial meltdown?

First, we must accept that austerity measures, necessary to avoid a fiscal train wreck, have recessionary effects on output. So, if countries in the Eurozone’s periphery such as Greece or Portugal are forced to undertake fiscal austerity, countries able to provide short-term stimulus should do so and postpone their own austerity efforts. These countries include the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, the core of the Eurozone, and Japan. Infrastructure banks that finance needed public infrastructure should be created as well.

Second, while monetary policy has limited impact when the problems are excessive debt and insolvency rather than illiquidity, credit easing, rather than just quantitative easing, can be helpful. The European Central Bank should reverse its mistaken decision to hike interest rates. More monetary and credit easing is also required for the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan, the Bank of England, and the Swiss National Bank. Inflation will soon be the last problem that central banks will fear, as renewed slack in goods, labor, real estate, and commodity markets feeds disinflationary pressures.

Third, to restore credit growth, Eurozone banks and banking systems that are undercapitalized should be strengthened with public financing in a European Union-wide program. To avoid an additional credit crunch as banks deleverage, banks should be given some short-term forbearance on capital and liquidity requirements. Also, since the U.S. and EU financial systems remain unlikely to provide credit to small and medium-size enterprises, direct government provision of credit to solvent but illiquid SMEs is essential.

Fourth, large-scale liquidity provision for solvent governments is necessary to avoid a spike in spreads and loss of market access that would turn illiquidity into insolvency. Even with policy changes, it takes time for governments to restore their credibility. Until then, markets will keep pressure on sovereign spreads, making a self-fulfilling crisis likely.

Today, Spain and Italy are at risk of losing market access. Official resources need to be tripled— through a larger European Financial Stability Facility, Eurobonds, or massive ECB action—to avoid a disastrous run on these sovereigns.

Advertisement

Fifth, debt burdens that cannot be eased by growth, savings, or inflation must be rendered sustainable through orderly debt restructuring, debt reduction, and conversion of debt into equity. This needs to be carried out for insolvent governments, households, and financial institutions alike.

Sixth, even if Greece and other peripheral Eurozone countries are given significant debt relief, economic growth will not resume until competitiveness is restored. And, without a rapid return to growth, more defaults—and social turmoil—cannot be avoided.

There are three options for restoring competitiveness within the Eurozone, all requiring a real depreciation—and none of which is viable:

  • A sharp weakening of the euro toward parity with the U.S. dollar, which is unlikely, as the United States is weak, too.
  • A rapid reduction in unit labor costs, via acceleration of structural reform and productivity growth relative to wage growth, is also unlikely, as that process took 15 years to restore competitiveness to Germany.
  • A five-year cumulative 30 percent deflation in prices and wages—in Greece, for example—which would mean five years of deepening and socially unacceptable depression. Even if feasible, this amount of deflation would exacerbate insolvency, given a 30 percent increase in the real value of debt.

Because these options cannot work, the sole alternative is an exit from the Eurozone by Greece and some other current members. Only a return to a national currency—and a sharp depreciation of that currency—can restore competitiveness and growth.

Leaving the common currency would, of course, threaten collateral damage for the exiting country and raise the risk of contagion for other weak Eurozone members. The balance-sheet effects on euro debts caused by the depreciation of the new national currency would thus have to be handled through an orderly and negotiated conversion of euro liabilities into the new national currencies. Appropriate use of official resources, including for recapitalization of Eurozone banks, would be needed to limit collateral damage and contagion.

Seventh, the reasons for advanced economies’ high unemployment and anemic growth are structural, including the rise of competitive emerging markets. The appropriate response to such massive changes is not protectionism. Instead, the advanced economies need a medium-term plan to restore competitiveness and jobs via massive new investments in high-quality education, job training and human-capital improvements, infrastructure, and alternative/renewable energy. Only such a program can provide workers in advanced economies with the tools needed to compete globally.

Eighth, emerging-market economies have more policy tools left than advanced economies do, and they should ease monetary and fiscal policy. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank can serve as lender of last resort to emerging markets at risk of losing market access, conditional on appropriate policy reforms. And countries like China that rely excessively on net exports for growth should accelerate reforms, including more rapid currency appreciation, in order to boost domestic demand and consumption.

The risks ahead are not just of a mild double-dip recession, but of a severe contraction that could turn into the Great Depression II, especially if the Eurozone crisis becomes disorderly and leads to a global financial meltdown. Wrong-headed policies during the first Great Depression led to trade and currency wars, disorderly debt defaults, deflation, rising income and wealth inequality, poverty, desperation, and social and political instability that eventually led to the rise of authoritarian regimes and World War II. The best way to avoid the risk of repeating such a sequence is bold and aggressive global policy action now.

Read this story at Project Syndicate.

Post-9/11 U.S. intelligence reforms take root but problems remain

Post-9/11 U.S. intelligence reforms take root, problems remain | Reuters.

(Reuters) – U.S. intelligence agencies will forever be scarred by their failure to connect the dots and detect the September 11 plot, but a decade later efforts to break down barriers to information-sharing are taking root.

Changing a culture of “need-to-know” to “need-to-share” does not come easily in spy circles. Some officials say they worry, a decade later, about a future attack in which it turns out that U.S. spy agencies had clues in their vast vaults of data but did not put them together, or even know they existed.

Yet significant changes, both big and small, have broken down barriers between agencies, smoothed information-sharing and improved coordination, U.S. intelligence experts say.

From issuing a blue badge to everyone working in the sprawling intelligence community to symbolize a common identity, to larger moves of mixing employees from different agencies, the goal is singular — to prevent another attack.

“We’re much further ahead,” David Shedd, Defense Intelligence Agency deputy director, said of the ability to connect the dots compared with 10 years ago. Still, signs of a plot to attack the United States could be missed again.

“My worst fear, and I suspect probably one that would come true, is that in any future would-be or actual attack, God forbid, we will be able to find the dots again somewhere because of simply how much data is collected,” Shedd said.

The political response to the failure to stop the attack was the 2002 creation of the Department of Homeland Security, pulling together 22 agencies to form the third largest U.S. Cabinet department behind the Pentagon and Veterans Affairs.

That was followed by the creation in late 2004 of the Director of National Intelligence to oversee all the spy agencies, as recommended by the bipartisan 9/11 commission.

Previously, the CIA director held a dual role of also overseeing the multitude of intelligence agencies. But in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks, policymakers decided that was too big of a job for one person to do effectively.

‘THERE ARE PROBLEMS’

Critics argued then and now that the reforms were the government’s usual response to crises — create more bureaucracy. But others see much-needed change.

“It has been a tremendous improvement,” said Lee Hamilton, who was the 9/11 commission vice chair. “It’s not seamless, there are problems, and we’ve still got a ways to go.”

The 2001 attacks involving airliners hijacked by al Qaeda operatives killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. Various U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies had come across bits of information suggesting an impending attack but failed to put the pieces together.

The CIA had information about three of the 19 hijackers at least 20 months before the attacks; the National Security Agency had information linking one of the hijackers with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s network; the CIA knew one hijacker had entered the United States but did not tell the FBI; and an FBI agent warned of suspicious Middle Eastern men taking flying lessons.

Have the reforms made America safer? Officials say yes, and point to the U.S. operation that killed bin Laden in Pakistan in May that demanded coordination among intelligence agencies and the military. But there is an inevitable caveat: no one can guarantee there will never be another attack on U.S. soil.

On Christmas Day 2009, a Nigerian man linked to an al Qaeda off-shoot tried unsuccessfully to light explosives sewn into his underwear on a flight to Detroit from Amsterdam. It turned out U.S. authorities had pockets of information about him.

President Barack Obama used a familiar September 11 phrase to describe the 2009 incident as “a failure to connect the dots of intelligence that existed across our intelligence community.”

Roger Cressey, a former White House National Security Council counterterrorism official, resurrected another September 11 phrase: “It was a failure of imagination.”

The intelligence community had not seen al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based al Qaeda off-shoot, as capable of striking the U.S. homeland. If the “underwear bomber” threat had originated in Pakistan “they would have gone to battle stations immediately,” Cressey said.

Some proposed changes in how authorities would respond to another successful attack still are pending. For example, creation of a common communication system for police, firefighters and other emergency personnel remains tangled up in political wrangling in Congress over how to implement it.

“This is a no-brainer,” Hamilton said. “The first responders at the scene of a disaster ought to be able to talk with one another. They cannot do it today in most jurisdictions.”

Former leaders of the 9/11 commission issued a report card saying nine of its 41 recommendations remain unfinished.

WHERE’S THE POWER?

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has experienced growing pains as overseer of the 17 spy agencies, churning through four chiefs in six years.

Tensions over turf, confusion about the DNI’s role, and problems herding agencies with very powerful chiefs of their own all came to a crescendo when retired Admiral Dennis Blair, the third DNI, tried to assert authority over CIA station chiefs, who represent the agency in different countries.

“The position of chief of station is one of the crown jewels of the CIA, and they don’t want anyone playing with their crown jewels,” said Mark Lowenthal, a former senior U.S. intelligence official.

After a dust-up with CIA Director Leon Panetta, who now is defense secretary, it was Blair who was sent packing.

“I think the mistake that some have made is to have viewed the DNI and the Director of CIA as an either/or proposition rather than the power of the two working together,” the DIA’s Shedd said in an interview in his office.

“There is a history of where that hasn’t worked so well, I believe it is working much better today,” said Shedd, who has worked at the DNI, CIA and National Security Council.

Intelligence experts say in the current administration, Obama’s top homeland security and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan arguably has more power than any of them because he has the president’s ear. It’s a reminder that, bureaucratic reform or no, personalities count in making national security policy.

The improved sharing of secret data has led to yet another set of problems. The deluge of bits and bytes has subjected intelligence analysts to information overload as they try to sift through it all for relevant pieces.

“Our analysts still are spending way too much time on finding the information rather than on the analysis of the information,” Shedd said. “There is just too much data to go find it all.”

The intelligence community wants a system developed that would automatically process information from multiple agencies and then make the connections for the analysts.

But greater inroads into sharing data across agencies does not guarantee that another attack will be averted.

The threat has evolved and officials now are increasingly concerned about a “lone wolf” plot by an individual, not tied to any militant group, that may be more difficult to uncover.

“Those threats will not come to our attention because of an intelligence community intercept,” said John Cohen, a senior Department of Homeland Security counterterrorism official.

“They will come to our attention because of an alert police officer, an alert deputy sheriff, an alert store owner, an alert member of the public sees something that is suspicious and reports it,” Cohen said.

One measure of the success of post-9/11 reforms is that a decade later the United States has not had a similar attack.

“Now that could be luck, that could be skill, we don’t really know,” Hamilton said. “But in all likelihood what we have done, including the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security and the transformation in intelligence and FBI, has certainly been helpful.”

(Editing by Warren Strobel and Will Dunham)

We Need a Materials Taxonomy to Solve the final steps in the recycling chain | ITworld

Want to be a billionaire and a hero? Solve the final steps in the recycling chain | ITworld.

Want to be a billionaire and a hero? Solve the final steps in the recycling chain

Your challenge: Develop a usable taxonomy of parts and materials so that products can be safely and profitably devolved.

By Tom Henderson  Add a new comment

 

You can buy that cool tablet today, and its useful life is probably three years on the outside. Something new and cool will be available in 2014 (no pre-announcements here, just predictions) and you’ll want to buy it. Perhaps you’ll use a vendor’s trade-in program to do something with the old one — after you’ve conveniently moved the data to your new machine. We hope.

[DEMO 2011: EcoATM recycles gadgets, gives cash | IT recycling charities need your monitors]

There’s a huge opening for someone to get rich, developing a usable taxonomy of parts and materials so that products can be safely and profitably devolved. The way you do it is clear: find a method to describe parts in such a way that they can be taken apart and recycled or safely disposed of. The avalanche of tech products is unlikely to stop, and we expect even less time with them before the new thing arrives to tempt us.

You bought. Someone now has your old machine, with its data removed. What’s done with it is then, is something ranging from devolution to landfill fodder. Inside the derelict are a number of precious metals, and depending on the battery technology, a lump of lithium, nickel, and/or other metals. Many smaller bits inside will become reduced to smaller and smaller bits until they’re either disposed of in a pile (in the ocean, landfill, etc.) or smelted and separated into base elements. It’s an inefficient and labor-intensive process. Plastics can be reused, as well as the stickers and box that an item arrived in.

Lots of derelict products are shipped to SE Asia, where the labor cost of this inefficient process helps compensate by being comparatively low. It also leads to huge piles of ex-computer gear parts that pollute the groundwater in hideous ways. People are poisoned in the scavenging process, not to mention the evil piles of computer dung that are nuclear waste without the isotopes.
What’s needed is a way to mark directly, every part in a machine. Some parts will be more lucratively recycled. Importantly, those parts that are environmentally damaging, or those that require special devolution processes can be aggregated so that they don’t cause interim pollution, and recyclers can benefit from scale of devolution of hazardous materials.

Today, we use primitive marks to denote very basic (typically plastic) product composition. We have hazardous materials markers and identification and other markings to identify objects that can be either recycled or are hazardous/dangerous-to-handle.

My suggestion: use advanced barcodes to identify everything by a recycling mark that can be rapidly identified for devolution. The marking doesn’t have to be on an easily visible area, but it needs to be revealed somehow. The marks can be tiny, almost microscopic, yet recognized by modern bar code scanners. They could identify either specific categories of product materials, or by actual part number.

In the first case, generic markers can identify tens of millions of generic product identifications, making devolution and separation into elements for recycling vastly simpler than it is today. Specific identification then differentiates subsystems and elements that need specific handling requirements, or perhaps have vendor/manufacturer-specific (even mandated) devolution processes (including rewards).

Another reward potential is that most consumer and industrial products could benefit from the same marking scheme that would permit rapid and accurate product devolution. Junkyards across the world are full of unidentifiable bits and pieces of products gone by, ranging from building cranes to old Volkswagens to refrigerators and no one knows what this stuff is. There are various tests for precious metals (often using primitive magnets) and certain plastics, but many materials aren’t easily identified. So they rot, rust, and ooze back into the environment. Materials identification methodologies won’t be tough to deploy, and a government mandate seems unnecessary because the motivation to make money from recycled materials exists now.

If we don’t do this, then the chances of high-efficiency recycling becomes reduced vastly, and piles of useless and hazardous ex-computer junk become taller. Just as every bill of materials includes parts and sources, we could devolve products when their lifecycle is over systematically. What’s needed is an agreement to employ this methodology to the production process: deproduction. The devil of the details will come. Barcodes exist. Now we need a product identification taxonomy, a method to affix material markings, and a database access method that tells the devolvers how to make money.

Could the World Situation Get Any Worse? You Betcha!

From Bad to Worse – By David J. Rothkopf | Foreign Policy.

It is hard to deny. Things are looking bleak. But are they as bad as they could get?

The answer, of course, is no.

Here are 10 things that could happen between now and the end of next year that could make things much worse and why President Obama should consider not running for reelection.

Europe’s debt crisis could deepen
The European Central Bank’s interventions to prop up Spain and Italy could prove inadequate. EU leaders will continue to avoid real structural reform. European banks, now showing a reluctance to lend (akin to their mood immediately after the collapse of Lehman Brothers) could themselves teeter, burdened by the prospects of sovereign debt defaults and a global slow down. Spain and Italy could take a turn for the worse. The rest of the world, preoccupied with their own problems, might be as distracted as are the northern Europeans frustrated with bailing out their feckless southern neighbors.

Tensions tighten
Europe’s economic problems could beget deepening social tensions. Unrest like that seen in the United Kingdom could become more commonplace. With jobs drying up, anti-immigrant violence could grow. Nationalism could feed off these tensions and fuel more steps like Denmark’s move away from the EU’s commitment to open borders among its states.

U.S. recession regression
The United States could officially enter recession. Reduced tax revenues will be one painful consequence of the slow down. Politicians will struggle to reduce debt but find it hard to do so in the near term. The problem will burgeon. Small- and medium-sized communities will default. Several large cities and perhaps one or two significant states will be at risk of being unable to pay their bills. Draconian cutbacks in police and social services will blend with high unemployment and growing inequality to produce social unrest in the United States. Stock markets will continue their slide.

Global contagion
We could enter a global recession. Downturns in the United States and the European Union could feed off of one another and the fragile Japanese economy would almost certainly sink as a result. Credit tightness and political indecisiveness will deepen the gloom.

Inflation hits the BRICs
While emerging markets like China and Brazil might see inflation worries ebb due to the global recession and falling demand for high-priced commodities … they might not. Their currencies could strengthen as established ones falter, making exports more costly at just the wrong moment. Secular growth in demand for commodities may slow declines somewhat reducing the “benefits” of declining demand. Alternatively, or additionally, real estate and financial bubbles might burst in each of these countries as investor doubts grow. Note that Brazil took a particular beating during the recent downward market spike.

Middle East meltdown
Tensions in the Middle East could grow. Palestine’s push for statehood might be followed by massive displays of civic unrest. An Israeli government burdened with economic problems of its own and a little arthritic when it comes to its willingness to show flexibility with its near-neighbors will move too slowly. States elsewhere in the region grappling with their own problems — a more anti-Israel Egypt, Syria, Iran, and others — will fan the flames. Meanwhile, the problems in those states will put the entire region on the edge of an unprecedented meltdown. Thus, even with falling global demand and the recent downturn in oil prices, you could see upward pressure on petroleum as well. Then, Iran announces it has successfully tested a nuclear weapon.

Sub-continental showdown
The government in Pakistan could totter or be decapitated thus heightening fears of even more pronounced Islamist influence and of growing tension with India. Indian markets fall. The Indian government is unable to pursue needed economic reforms. Social unrest might be seen throughout the sub-continent.

Another Eyjafjallajokull
One or more exogenous events of the type that regularly occur without warning — a terror attack, an earthquake, a tsunami, a devastating hurricane or typhoon, the eruption of an Icelandic volcano — could slam a major economy weakening the global situation further.

Expect the unexpected
An unexpected or unexpectedly intense conflict could erupt in the Russian near abroad, in Central Asia, in Turkey, in Africa, or in the Middle East creating even more uncertainty. With economically unsteady and politically hesitant leadership in the world’s most important powers growing instability fueled by rogue opportunists seems increasingly likely.

Some combination of the above could then turn the global recession plus related banking, derivatives and stock-market crises into a depression.

It is undeniable that many of the above developments are not highly likely. But what is striking is just how plausible most of them are. These are the kind of medium-to-low probability outcomes with significant consequences that planners must take into account.  It is also easy to see how further inaction, half-steps, and wrong steps by leaders could make these and other grim turns much more likely.

Such possibilities should not trigger panic. They should however, focus the minds of politicians, bankers, and electorates everywhere. The problem with the leadership failures of the recent past is not just that they have slammed the world economy yet again, it is that they have made the future more dangerous than it was.

My fantasy is that recognizing this, President Obama would do as he once promised he would do, set personal ambition aside and announce he is not running for re-election. Instead, he would say that he wanted to shrug off the straight jacket of political considerations and focus exclusively on finding bi-partisan solutions to America’s problems. Perhaps he would make a bold gesture, like appointing Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson co-secretaries of the Treasury or, at least, give both economic leadership roles on his team. Others in the Democratic Party can focus on 2012 and beyond. There are many qualified to lead. (Who knows, perhaps the next candidate we find can actually have experience with markets and with the rest of the world.) There are certainly plenty of Democrats who stand head and shoulders above the current, feeble array the Republican Party has rolled out, which will only grow more feeble with the likely addition of Rick Perry this weekend. And then Barack Obama, a decent, talented, and gifted man, can fashion a unique legacy for himself, as a public servant who actually thought his first duty was to serve the public.

But, I’ll admit it, that fantasy is less likely to occur than any of the other events I listed above.  And so I will continue to hope for the next best thing: The president and his fellow heads of state and government worldwide begin to govern as though they didn’t care whether they won re-election or not, but instead as though their top priorities was ro

Can Planting Vegetables in Vacant Lots Save Cleveland?

Can Planting Vegetables in Vacant Lots Save Cleveland? | Wired Science | Wired.com.

Backyard vegetables can fight crime, improve health, and boost the economy.

By transforming its vacant lots, backyards and roof-tops into farming plots, the city of Cleveland could meet all of its fresh produce, poultry and honey needs, calculate economists from Ohio State University. These steps would save up to $155 million annually, boost employment and scale back obesity.

“Post-industrial cities like Cleveland are struggling with more and more unused land, these become sources of crime,” said Parwinder Grewal co-author of a study “Can cities become self-reliant in food?” published July 20 in Cities.

“I was motivated to show how much food a city could actually produce by using this land,” he said. “We could address global problems through this way of gardening.”

Urban gardening improves health, reduces pollution, and creates local businesses, Grewal said. The population of Cleveland, what Grewal considers a typical post-industrial city, peaked near one million in 1950, and has been declining since. Today scarcely half a million people call Cleveland home.

 

As industrial jobs have dried up, the city’s exodus has accelerated. Unable to keep up their properties, many former residents have abandoned their homes. Vacant lots are proliferating, and currently number more than 20,000, according to the Cleveland City Planning Commission.

Ten percent of Clevelanders have been diagnosed with diabetes, as compared to the national average of 8 percent, and more than a third are obese. Among cities with a population between 100,000 and 500,000, it is the seventh most dangerous, according to one crime ranking. Growing tomatoes and beans, and keeping bees and chickens, would change all this, Grewal said. Studies have shown that gardens improve community health, reduce crime and increase property values.

Cleveland city planners have placed special emphasis on programs to foster urban gardening in the past five to 10 years, however, Grewal’s visions are on a more ambitious scale.

In the most intensive scenario he outlines 80 percent of all vacant lots, 62 percent of business rooftops, and 9 percent of residential lots would be tied to food, allowing the city to meet up to 100 percent of its fresh food needs. Grewal, who grows the bulk of his own food in his backyard, believes that his propositions are realistic and practical. The largest barrier is convincing citizens to garden.

“No discredit to the value of Grewal’s study,” said Kim Scott, a Cleveland City Planner and urban gardening specialist, “but articulating an idea is a different experience from implementing it.”

While Cleveland might have enough land to be self-sufficient, it doesn’t yet have the labor force to make it happen, Scott said.

“A mental shift has to take place,” said Scott. “Many people don’t have a clue about farming. They lack the patience to eat whole foods, they lack the desire.”

Both Scott and Grewal hope that shift is coming. Cleveland now has hundreds of community gardens. Some residents are growing market gardens, cultivating and selling produce as a full-time job. The city is seeing the grandest show of large public gardens since the Victory Gardens of World War II, when 40 percent of U.S. vegetables came from private and public gardens.

“If we could do it then,” said Grewal, “we can do it now. And if we design cities that are as self-sufficient as possible, the longer human civilization can sustain itself.”

Image: Parwinder Grewal

See Also:

Chaos radar uses messy signals to see through walls

Chaos radar uses messy signals to see through walls – tech – 27 July 2011 – New Scientist.

 

 

A NEW type of radar which harnesses chaos theory can see clearly through walls and could help find survivors in disasters. The technology could also make on-board radar a practical proposition for cars.

Ultra-wideband (UWB) radar is already used to “see” through walls. It can detect the presence of people on the other side of a barrier by distortions to the reflected radio waves caused by their breathing or heartbeat. However, the radar returns are often cluttered by interference, obscuring the signal.

Now, Henry Leung and colleagues at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, have found a way to sharpen the signal, which gets lost among multiple reflections within walls, known as reverberation, and by returns bouncing back via different routes.

Existing UWB radars typically use a random noise signal to avoid interference between waves of the same wavelength. But because the outgoing signal is not known it takes more processing to match it to the return. A second approach is to use a wide range of sequential frequencies; this is easier to match but more prone to interference.

Leung’s team are using a “chaotic oscillator” to generate their signal. The device creates what seems like random noise, but which is actually generated by a fixed algorithm. It is matched by a receiver using the same algorithm. Because the outgoing signal is known, it is as easy to process as spread-spectrum signals. It is also irregular, like random noise, meaning reflections are less likely to interfere with each other.

In tests, the chaotic signal produced better results than the other approaches. “It captures the desired properties of these two systems,” says Leung. This means the radar can see reliably through more layers.

Leung’s colleagues suggest that chaos radar could be used as an on-board sensor for vehicles as part of a smart traffic-management system. As chaos signals do not interfere with each other, many could operate in the same area.

Karl Woodbridge, who researches radar systems at University College London, warns that there may be some way to go before practical hardware emerges. “There are many complications in a real-world scenario which are not easy to predict in simulations.”