Who Says Space Isn’t Important…

There was once a day we soared to the heavens, we commanded the sky! Yet today, our wings clipped we stand on Terra Firma and watch as the world passes us by...

There is a race going and we are not part of it and we all know if you’re not in a race, you can’t be a winner and that is on many fronts.  As Asia’s current space race could also turn into an arms race akin to what we saw in the days of the Cold War.  Well that is I guess according to James Clay Moltz, who is a professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School.

As he writes that the major Asian nations, namely China, Japan, India, and South Korea, are all investing monies to expand their space programs [are we? No] with little-to-no cooperation. While these efforts appear to be driven by want of national prestige there also exist geopolitical rivalries, similar to the ones faced by the US and Soviet’s in the space race of the 1960s. The thing is and what most westerners forget is that during the period of the “space race” it stimulated technological advancements which made us who we are today [and thus missing out on for the future].

While competing agendas in Asia are leading to a duplication of work and mistrust among the countries involved.  Where is also the waste of resources while even worse [for us], is this “competition” if you will is also undermining recent cooperation which has been built up between the US, Russia, and Europe.

As unlike here in the west, Asia doesn’t have any type of regional security organization such as NATO.  So when you add this fact with the long-standing feuds seen between  nations such as China & India, India & Pakistan, to of course  North Korea & South Korea, and on and on and on, well you get the idea as cant we all just get along? Means a civilian space race could turn into an arms race as what other good use of could there be for a big rocket, let see [insert thinking time here].  Aah yes, an ICBM and guess what, yes a big rocket makes for bad bomb building techniques.  As thermo nuclear bombs are easy to build, however it’s hard to make them small, so the issue has been one of “delivery”, whereas have big [rocket] then can deliver.

On the other front, each of these nations has performed separate lunar-mapping missions since 2007, with planned follow ups which will include the deployment of rovers, landers, and lunar bases.  Again without any cooperation, even though a lot of the work will be redundant.   Even our friends in Japan are climbing fast with the most human spaceflight experience in the region.  As with 15 manned flights since 1992 along with a paid membership in the International Space Station.  However it has always had to  hitchhike a ride with either us or Russia.

Here China on the other hand as launched its first astronaut in only 2003  along with many follow-up flights since.  To its most recent accomplishment of launching a Tiangong-1 orbital test module for a planned 2020 space station all on its own!  While not to be out done, India who feels a little earth bound has announced  a planned manned flight to take place in 2016. Have to wonder if they are interested in buying a fleet of slightly used space shuttles?

Worth noting is they don’t also plan to stop with manned  spaceflight efforts either, as the three major nations also have plans to deploy their own solutions to the US-maintained Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite network.  In fact, China has already deployed over one third of its planned 35-satellite “BeiDou” network in orbit  Note worthy too is ours are old, theirs are new.

The long story short is we the west are being left behind, we have retired our only good manned way to space and depend now upon others for rides aloft.  We have forgotten how to go to the moon as well as “this that and the other thing”, god speed John Glenn…

Unconventional Economic Measures…

industrialism runs on transistors...

Sometimes there are things which seem to have no connections, however when you start to peel the onion back you find there is far more correlation there than meets the eye.  One of these is the Top 500 Super computer list, and while my main stream employment happens to be in the technology field it would make some sense to take a peek at this list.  Second, HPC (High Performance Computing) has always been a passion of mine so this was a double down to at least passively watch the players come and go from the list.  For those normal folk with only a little “geek-dom” this is a roster of the top 500 most powerful computer installations in the world which is managed by University of Tennessee professor Jack Dongarra who has the task to oversee the list.

So outside of general bragging rights what makes this list so important you might be asking.  Well the first thing is HPC installations have only one purpose and that is to solve very complex problems, as these are not the systems your bank would use to keep track of your checking account nor host your favorite streaming web site.  These systems have the sole purpose to understand the “complex” as in model global weather patterns, find oil in petabytes of seismic data, unravel the human genome and so on.  These are the modern day industrial engines of nations allowing us to understand and achieve things simply not possible or practical in the physical world.

With this said, its then important to see which countries are on the Top 10 list and as of June 2011 the United States holds the most spots with 5, followed in a tie between Japan and China and bringing up the rear is France.  So while this bodes well for the US thought complex, the other piece is the coveted top spot which is currently held by Japan and it looks like they will hold this position for a year which is far longer than most even if measured in dog years when we speak of computers.

However it’s not so much the fact that Japan has held this position for so long (as rumor has it IBM and Cray are building 20 petaflop machines for the Department of Energy, and these should go live next year).   It that we appear to be hitting a sigmoidal curve in the growth of computing on dual fronts, as the first is power.  As the Japan behemoth consumed 9.89 megawatts when it reached a peak of 8.162 petaflop!  Ok, this is enough electricity to power up almost 10,000 US homes with an electric bill of nearly 10 million dollars.  As you can see, this is one of the main reasons the constructions of these beasts are so closely linked to nations as even large corporations lack the checkbook to feed these monsters  on a steady bases.

As while we have the technology to go higher (computation wise) meaning we can solve more and greater problems  in complexity, power is now a limiting factor.  Second in this mix is “software” as where the body has the might, the brain lacks the fight as we humans can’t seem to keep up with adapting software to the challenges as you can have all the transistors in the world, yet if you lack the ability to tie it all together for a value added outcome, its pretty much for nothing.

In summary the 1900’s marked an era where industrialism was governed by the locomotive’s ability to move raw materials, to production facilities.  Whereas today, it’s the ability of the transistor to solve complex problems, and anything which impedes that also impedes  industrialism…

Unconventional Economic Measures…

industrialism runs on transistors...

Sometimes there are things which seem to have no connections, however when you start to peel the onion back you find there is far more correlation there than meets the eye.  One of these is the Top 500 Super computer list, and while my main stream employment happens to be in the technology field it would make some sense to take a peek at this list.  Second, HPC (High Performance Computing) has always been a passion of mine so this was a double down to at least passively watch the players come and go from the list.  For those normal folk with only a little “geek-dom” this is a roster of the top 500 most powerful computer installations in the world which is managed by University of Tennessee professor Jack Dongarra who has the task to oversee the list.

So outside of general bragging rights what makes this list so important you might be asking.  Well the first thing is HPC installations have only one purpose and that is to solve very complex problems, as these are not the systems your bank would use to keep track of your checking account nor host your favorite streaming web site.  These systems have the sole purpose to understand the “complex” as in model global weather patterns, find oil in petabytes of seismic data, unravel the human genome and so on.  These are the modern day industrial engines of nations allowing us to understand and achieve things simply not possible or practical in the physical world.

With this said, its then important to see which countries are on the Top 10 list and as of June 2011 the United States holds the most spots with 5, followed in a tie between Japan and China and bringing up the rear is France.  So while this bodes well for the US thought complex, the other piece is the coveted top spot which is currently held by Japan and it looks like they will hold this position for a year which is far longer than most even if measured in dog years when we speak of computers.

However it’s not so much the fact that Japan has held this position for so long (as rumor has it IBM and Cray are building 20 petaflop machines for the Department of Energy, and these should go live next year).   It that we appear to be hitting a sigmoidal curve in the growth of computing on dual fronts, as the first is power.  As the Japan behemoth consumed 9.89 megawatts when it reached a peak of 8.162 petaflop!  Ok, this is enough electricity to power up almost 10,000 US homes with an electric bill of nearly 10 million dollars.  As you can see, this is one of the main reasons the constructions of these beasts are so closely linked to nations as even large corporations lack the checkbook to feed these monsters  on a steady bases.

As while we have the technology to go higher (computation wise) meaning we can solve more and greater problems  in complexity, power is now a limiting factor.  Second in this mix is “software” as where the body has the might, the brain lacks the fight as we humans can’t seem to keep up with adapting software to the challenges as you can have all the transistors in the world, yet if you lack the ability to tie it all together for a value added outcome, its pretty much for nothing.

In summary the 1900’s marked an era where industrialism was governed by the locomotive’s ability to move raw materials, to production facilities.  Whereas today, it’s the ability of the transistor to solve complex problems, and anything which impedes that also impedes  industrialism…

Germany to the Rescue…

Angela how do you feel about the Euro?

As the euro crises races forward with Greece hitting the economic wall and spinning out of control, we see the country of Portugal closely on their tail now caught up in the mayhem of a classic Formula 1 crash!  However to make matters even worse for our friends on that side of the pond is this doesn’t appear to be the end as it’s clear that the killer wall of “economic over indulgence” now has its sights set on Spain and possibly even our French friends which leads me to ask two questions.

The first is why “Germany” as they have similar social systems as their European brethren and especially their comrades in euro (currency) arms who are in trouble today.  While they sport the world’s fourth largest economy (America, China, Japan and Germany) there has to be limits as too how much money they can dole out before the economic reaper shows up in Bonn to collect his due.

Also how much are the working German people going to stand for becoming the central bank (lender) to a bunch of countries who for one refuse to acknowledge their spending indiscretions and two have done nothing really to change their ways either.  Seems to me that this is simply a kin to another Fukushima Daiichi waiting to happen all over again as the economic tsunami will strike further inland this time.

However in fact we might find part of the answer to the second (question) in the first as the second is “why“, why are our Germanic friends bailing out all of these folks, is it simply the goodness in Angela Merkels heart as she says with a frown she is 100 percent behind supporting the euro at basically all costs.  However what is the cost and back to question and answer to say how is that Germany the world’s fourth largest economy anyway?

The answer is simple as with the US and China, who are buying products from the one bailing them out. Say for example if the cash stayed inside of say Greece would there be this issue?  The answer is no as the cash would have recycled itself, however in an unbalanced economy, open economic systems spell doom.

Now this isn’t protection talk either as it’s the application of common sense that budget being “budgets” must be balanced by nature otherwise you start to fund at least in essence your countries GDP with debentures meaning bonds which are loans, and “loans” are intended to be paid back.  As GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is the output of a country, basically it’s sales if you will.  So the out flow (spending) of a government is an under pinning part of that GDP, therefore when a government borrows money to fund its debt.  It is in fact creating a false GDP when its borrowings cross from being simple operating  efficiency as there are good reasons for governments to borrow somewhat.

However the issue arises when borrowing turns from providing an operating advantage, to being a strategic necessity to support countries GDP.  This is not only true on the euro side of the pond however this side of the Atlantic too as the American debt is pushing 10% of GDP meaning we are 20 percent short as we owe 10% and have a gap of 10% meaning my friends we too are looking at a deep hole if you what I mean, wonder if the Germans will bail us out too once the Chinese grow wry of contained currency devaluation…

To Nuke or Not is the Question…

Nuclear Energy, Gift or Curse...

Here it is, Sunday morning and I’m here with my coffee scanning the news sites catching up on what is happening in Japan with their nuclear issues as the media in my home state is even talking about the radioactive cloud floating over our heads.  However what CNN was carrying wasn’t news so much of the status of the nuclear meltdown (which is bothersome in itself) however they were showing images of Japanese citizens protesting the use of nuclear power wanting the government to turn the remaining active plants down.

All of this got me thinking as alright, so the government gives into the demands turning these plants down and now what will they do to replace that power?  As what concerns me is people in general are just not getting it as what does the Japanese government or any other government for that matter get out of nuclear energy?  Just a headache, as “if” there is a better way, why live with the nightmare of dealing with both the practical and perceptional aspects of this sticky issue?

As there is also no question that nuclear energy comes with its fair share of risks and the “risks” themselves are steep as here we have two plants half way around the world impacting the other side in a measurable way.  As if we look back to 1986 on that fateful April day to the Chernobyl incident which occurred in Russia raising the amount of overall global radiation by 3% which in itself is amazing, along with plain scary fact itself.

However we also have to ask the question if it’s better that China is bringing online two coal fired (electric) plants every week using high sulfur coal which will pump the results of its combustion into the atmosphere a better option?  Again, life is a zero sum game as if you take something, you must also put something back and that “something” isn’t necessarily a good thing in many cases.

Too least we think this protest is only a Japanese issue, we should think again as if we flip over to Europe one will see that in Germany Angela Merkel the Chancellor has been sent a clear message by the Green Party with a major political victory on her home turf.  Here the feeling is that Herne Chancellor has moved to slow in moth balling the German plants which cost her significant political points.

So what’s the answer wind power, solar energy while both interesting neither is capable or cost effective to produce energy at the industrial levels we need to support today’s “powered” lifestyles.  In addition each brings with it simply a different set of problems as with wind energy, its damaging the ecosystems in which they were placed killing migratory bird and bats which has artificially increase the insect population, as well as changing wind flows are negatively affect the microclimates. As the world is a zero sum place and if we take from one area, then you must give to another.

As one of the things which is true is that electricity is the primal difference in our economy and life’s as we need it and we will also “need more of it” as time goes as our demand for the electron grows faster than even oil…

To Loot or Not to Loot that is the Question…

What Drives Negative Actions?

It’s interesting that during Katrina what the world media saw was not the pain and suffering of the people impacted as much as it was the people looting anything which was not nailed down and even if it was they were seen trying to pry it up.  However when we look toward the triad of Japanese tragedies which have befallen the populous there, why don’t we see the same?   No one is running down the street with another person’s big screen TV or smashing out store windows to get at the latest athletic footwear or trendy purses which everyone needs to survive a disaster.

Here many of the news organizations are reporting on this fact (lack of looting) interestingly enough as in the absents of something to talk about (like looting), one has to create something right?  This seems to be the goal of an advertizing based media as if it doesn’t take up air space it can’t attach banners as who couldn’t benefit by the change from Comcast ™ to AT&T U-verse ™ cable as I don’t know about you however that’s foremost on my mind when reading something about the plight of the poor folks in Japan who have had their lives crushed.  In fact this was not made up as part of poetic license, however a real example of the news page which I was reading.  Don’t get me wrong, as everyone has to make a buck as servers and internet access cost money, however the point to this is, is the cart in front of the horse?

As the media outlets are all touting the “honor” of the Japanese people and there is no question this is an embedded anthropological aspect of their culture and in context a good thing.   However is this the sole driver of the action or a result of another cultivated attribute of their society?  For example can we Americans lack that much honor, as Webster says honor is “a showing of usually merited respect” so in our case  is respect not “merited” and honor therefore  lacking, could be.  None of these are easy questions to answer; however there is a lot to be learned from the dignity and honor displayed by these people who have been involved in this unfortunate set of events and how they handled themselves.

As above, the point with the tongue in cheek comments about the media’s filling of space for the sake of just filling it, while the “message” takes a back seat is in my mind a potential driver to create this problem.  As in the information age we are creating more and more space to fill at a frightening rate and as with Parkinson’s Law where “work will fill the time allotted”, Campbell’s Law says “Information will fill the space allotted”.  As with “work” where the quality could be considered subjective when measured against time, the same will hold true for the media and the “space” we allow it to fill.

In fact the interesting thing is we are creating ever more and more space for the media to appear from our gas pumps, to above our urinals, public restroom mirrors and our cell phones the space grows.  So in turn is it really only “honor”,  or is it the message driven by  our media which needs to fill space as Marshall McLuhan was fond of saying “the message is the medium”…

The Coming Japan Effect…

Japaneses Nuclear Event

Again sitting here in the comfort of my home with the lights and power on sipping clean drinking water watching the events in Japan unfold as the ticker for the number of souls lost continue to toll higher and higher as the hours click past.  However I’ve been around long enough to know that there will be far more fall out as a result of this even which will send economic shock waves around the world.  As its clear the destruction is so wide spread from the triad of events including the earthquake itself, the following tsunami, and now the nuclear crises, the world won’t be the same for a long while.

As Japan boasts the world’s 3rd largest economy at $4,305,000,000,000 Purchasing Power Parity or PPP GDP only behind the United States and China, its Central Bank is now finding the need to inject and astonishing 15 Trillion Yen into the monetary system.   This 183 billion (USD) of inflow is an amazing amount of capital and is backed by yet another 61 billion (USD) and frankly have to question if that will even be enough.  As the devastation is so high, it will call into question the solvency of many financial institutions as well as operating businesses.  In addition it will place a massive weight on social systems which will be forced to make up the difference in the provisioning of food and healthcare to the masses due to the loss of business.

The rebuilding will also come at a precarious time for Japan as first of all, should it rebuild at least in the areas impacted as when you steal from nature, it will always take back.  So once bitten twice shy however who are we to talk as we’ve built the 6th largest economy of the world on a fault line too being California just because of the sunny weather.  However while never a good time for disasters to come, this is an extra difficult time for the fragile Japanese economy, as it has now slipped from being number two to the world’s third largest losing ground to China in 2010.  As Japan’s heavily export-driven business was hit hard by the financial crisis and a rising yen, which negatively impacted profits from its sales abroad.

The rebuilding efforts from the triad of disasters also will add to Japan’s already towering load of public debt; as it stands at nearly twice the size of its total GDP which is the highest in the developed world. With this said, many rating agencies such as S&P have downgraded Japan’s long-term credit ratings in January prior to the events of the past week, citing its high fiscal deficits.  So with this injury added to the existing insult brought forward by the preexisting national debt we could be looking at the unthinkable.

Yes the first true collapse of a world economy as one could be looking at physical damages ranging upwards of 160 billion (USD) which does not account for the loss of the economic opportunity over time which could be equal to or double this number depending upon the impacts of the nuclear portion of the event.   As not only will there be the environmental and health issues which will result from the failure, there is also the fact it will not be easy to replace this power and energy is the driver of business.  So while we pray for the people of Japan impacted by this event and their families, it’s clear the economics of this event will ripple back and forth throughout the world economy for some time to come…

Japanese Earthquake……

Japan March 11th 2011

It was a little after midnight when my phone made a noise and while a cell phone making noise isn’t anything new, this noise was.  My cell phone makes a special noise when there is a “situation” and I get paid to deal with “situations” so that in itself isn’t that uncommon either.  What is a “situation” you ask, in simple terms it’s a problem that needs to be solved, however it’s typically high profile and high impact.  I’ve been solving these problems around the world for well over a decade now and when you do that you come to find things happen in cycles and this time was not in one of those typical cycles.

So when you hear something like this off cycle you get a bit of a knot in your stomach as it’s a kin to having a loved one in the hospital and things aren’t well then the phone rings at 3am.  Well you just know it isn’t going to be good news and it was with this feeling I rolled over out of my slumber to pick up the phone from the night stand next to the bed in the hotel room and while rubbing the sleep out of my eyes entered the security code to unlock the phone.    Once unlocked, the message read “Situation: 8.9 Earth Quake in Japan causing widespread disruption.” and those who may not know, the Richter scale stops at 10, so it was clear to even my still sleepy mind this was a big one.

While scrolling down, it became clear from a personal perspective my business exposure was limited which was both a good and bad thing.  As since the business exposure for myself was low it meant I was spared from jumping to it, hopping a plane to the other side of the world or the like.  However on the other side it meant all one could do is think about the devastation which will come with the loss of life.  The family members left to wonder for weeks or even months about missing friends or relatives only to face the hard realization of their loss, making the pain just that much worse.

Also pictures of the aftermath from the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean came to mind as it was not even barely a week old when I showed up in Chennai (Madras) India and saw the aftermath of 3 feet of mud filling the streets nearly a mile inland from the shore.  In fact, I was also suppose to pass through Sri Lanka however the airport was too badly damaged and therefore had to be rerouted back westward.  In short this wall of water had simply washed man and his work away in minutes leaving in its wake debris and death as even as I was there looking at the remains of the aftermath, efforts where still going on to collect the dead from the muddy silt.

My  mind jumped forward to the views of Japan as I’ve been in country there several times and Tokyo is an amazing city on par with New York however even more busy and crowded if you can believe that.   Again the global implications of this where also not lost as  I am all too familiar with Tuesday, January 17, 1995 as I stood there and watched the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake which cost me real money as I was long on Nikkei calls and the market of coursed tanked.  However that was one time, I was numb to the loss of money, as I stood there and watched the television it was clear I was one of the lucky ones.  For me it was only money, for others it was something they could not replace or earn back over time, they lost their lifes…