no news are good news


Shield shock
The atmospheric ozone layer, the causes and consequences of its antropogenic regional destruction has converted many unaware citizens in the industrialized world during the 1980s and 1990s.

Heavy industrial emissions of volatile compounds containing halogens are thought to destroy the ozone layer, dimishing its UV absorptive effect. A good review on the matter was published by Prof. Solomon showing for exmple, that the ozone concentration above Antartica drastically declined during the 1970 / 80s to a value of less than half its plateau level in the 1960.

Many researchers have provided evidence (sometime rather early on) for a link between increases in biological damage (such as skin cancer occurance) and increase of UV radiation dose, due to reduction of the UV protective effect of the ozone layer. Public awareness was fear heightened and urgency to amend the matter.

So what's up 20 years after the Montreal protocol came into force? Climate is still a buzz word in the media but ozone is not a daily staple anymore.

Is the story over?
Not quite, but there may be some good hope. A comprehensive report was published by the UN in 2006 to summarize the status quo. According to that, the general opinion is, that ozone depletion is slowing down virually to a halt.

Nevertheless, there is no strong increase yet. Recovery to pre 1990s levels (let alone pre 1960s levels...) may not be seen until 2050. Given the usual temporal asymmetry between geophysical events and human life span, this is rather fast. More recent evidence do in fact suggest a turnaround in athmospheric ozone depletion from frightening max. -7% pa to overall positive trends (depending on which altitude you look at).

Thus, we have bucked the trend. Can we do this also with notorious green house gases such as CO2? Unfortunately, that would be too easy. Our globalized system is built on fossile resources not only in regards to energy but also as building blocks for everything from plastics to pharmaceuticals. Also, CO2 is a very stable molecule whereas ozone is unstable and, in this case is catalytically depleted by CFCs and NO species. On top of it, ozone is effective in ppt concentrations. It needs much more CO2 to keep us warm (>150 ppm), but too warm (such as 400- 500 ppm) is not good, plus that it will be hard to get CO2 out of the athmosphere again.

Maybe we need another spray can frenzy...

Will he make it?


obama_mccain_trends.pngBarack Obama leads the trends:


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After my visit last year to the CERN in Geneve I was flattered of what human beings can achieve for the good.

While CERN and the people working in it are certainly setting the standards in particle physics, they are rather bad at PR. No one really knows where it came from but suddenly half the world turned their eyepairs on Geneva with a sweaty forehead believing that the LHC experiment would trigger the end of the world through creation of a black hole. These unconfounded doubts even made it to the Indian times!

Check out the trends of searches done via google on "CERN" (blue) and "LHC" (red)

and against "mortgage" (red):

Now, you dont have to be a physicist to count 1+1 together and see that its really bull*+&%*ç% to assume that the LHC would ditch our "superior civilisation".

Dont blame the public for having watched too many movies, but ask yourself if and why the CERN PR office was totally overwhelmed by this. Could it have been anticipated and if so, how could this have been probably used to keep interest of people in this piece of kit?

If any, CERN is public money black hole. On top of the negative association with doomsday, people discovered that this thing costs billions to keep it up. And many people will feel that the doomsday nerds cannot even explain what will come back to society one day. Some politician in one of the consortia's sponsor countries may see here a great opportunity to reroute funds to other projects such as "defense".

Dont let that happen. Marketing is not fancy complex, but needs to be done, too.

How to improve your play

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Working yourself "out of the crisis" during a round of golf is all too often discussed while sipping on a pimm's at hole 19. An astounding number of golfer lament their shortcomings but are not able to improve significantly (including myself).

So, is there a way to become a happy constantly playing golfer?

Of course. Demings famous book on quality management sporting the same title could not be more apt for a sport that writes tombs on the effects of variation. In golf a well performed stroke is dependent on tons of factors, that sometimes have a very narrow range of operability in order to get a straight drive with distance.

As a full swing usually takes about a second, the human brain is hardly able to monitor precisely position, speed, accerlation and dihedral angles of every body part. So, the secret of good play must be hard coded onto unconcious mind by lots of training

Back on the driving range, pros have given us lessons on how to narrow variation using the right setup. However, one crucial part in training is grossly underrepresented: detailed measurements, data collection and analysis. At best all in real time.

How about fixing sensors on wrists, elbows, knees, and hips? Suunto has acknowledged this fact already and built the G6 which measures swing variation. A cleverly designed real time analysis of the last movement may give you tons of clues about errors and may suggest improvements. The pro does not need to watch your back anymore.

Finally one component is the players motivation. Real time feedback will have any effect on your score if you not really committed to improve (like the chicken and the pig).

And another bucket....

Gene doping is the latest looming spectre of unfairness feared by many in the upcoming games in China.

Gene doping may be become popular as many athletes or their doctors assume that it will be diffcult to detect the cause of their drastically increased compared to classical substance abuse.

Examples include famous EPO (blood gets more oxygen capacity), insuline-like growth factor (
peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-delta (against fatigue), and myostatin inhibitor (drastic muscle growth) (see Azzazy et al. ) and several others (check out a comprehensive review by Baoutina et al). Besides performance enhancement, recovery enhancement and healing promotion as well as pain killing are other therapeutic goals.

Besides these "already old-fashioned" gene-transfer approaches, more sophisticated techniques such as RNAi are speculated of being used such as in the case of myostatin inhibitors.

All these techniques share the same shortfalls and advantages of their legal gene-therapeutic counterparts.

The important point for the games is not that WADA has to worry about detection (it could merely sample as much as it can get from suspect athletes, deep-freeze the stuff until detection methods are sophisticated enough and just follow the athletes health record and investigate potential adverse effects or even death).

If athletes gene-dope, they participate in a sloppy non-blind, non-randomized, slightly monitored clinical phase I trial with clear endpoints instigated by good old darwinian selection pressure. Fair or unfair, ethical or not, I thank the participating athletes for voluntarily endangering their lives (though e.g. lethal immunological responses or infections from virulent viral strains thought fit as vectors).

Finally, I believe that genetic engineering is technology that is established as this example shows and poses many advantages. Secondly, enhancement is a big off-label market, probably bigger than several therapeutic usese of gene-transfer. After all many performance enhancing drugs such as caffein and nicotine are readily available and these have all their own risk/ benefit ratio.

And for those opponents of it: seldom are problems solved "single-genedly". It'll take the "omics" experts some time to work out the details of multi-gene approaches.

Brain cancers are former brain cells. If, after malignant transformation they are still susceptible to neurotransmitters, surrounding healthy cells may be able to influence those.

Would it then be possible to detect and "attack" brain cancer cells by mere thoughts?

For a start brain cells secrete quite an array of neurotransmitters and other substances like hormones. Cancer cells are affected by such neurotransmitters. Specifically, Entschladen et al. have shown here and here that tumors cell migration is induced and promoted by several different neurotransmitters. In turn, GABA is more of an inhibitor.

Further evidence by Entschladen and a few other guys showed that brain cancer cells remain in transmission contact of other non-cancerous brain cells.

Neoneurogenesis (Entschladen, again), a rather recent and very interesting concept deals with the induced innervation of tumors. That is in analogy to neo-angiogenesis, where tumor-derived growth factors stimulate surrounding blood vessels by VEGF to grow new vessels into the tumor to provide it with additional oxygen and nutrients promoting growth. However, in neuroneogenesis, brain tumor cells crave for stimulation and guidance for migratory behaviour.

Hence it is established that brain cells definitely interact with their environment. Can this be used to fight cancer using a type of neurofeedback therapy? As the name says a feedback loop needs to be established, meaning the patient must be able to clearly identify and potentially quantify ("feel") a stimulus from the brain cancer and also be able learn to control that stimulus. Unfortunately, brain cancer symptoms are rather fuzzy. Many of the regular symptoms are results of spatial limitations of the surrounding tissues, rather than inter cell communications. Also, it was repeatedly shown that the brain mitigates significant functional changes or shortcomings, may they come from injury or disease to enable or recover correct functioning. This makes it probably difficult to design a neuropsychological scheme to "direct thoughts" onto cancer foci, let alone diffuse tumors.

Potentially, one could think about trying to pharmacologically changing the endocrine behaviour of tumors, that stark that they would create a feelable symptom. Let the tumor raise a flag to direct the GABA-guns on it...

Rise of the FLAC


My recent entry on lossless audio codecs comes undusted again. One lossless audio codec, the free lossless audio codec, or FLAC has been on the continous rise. The past few months saw a drastic increase in FLAC coded music files on (not-so-legal) sharing sites.

The reason is clear: with bandwidth being no longer a bottleneck for transferring large datafiles and clever ways of peer to peer file sharing, CD quality music downloads are a reality nowadays.

And it is a driver for the legal industry as well: on one hand, several artist release albums in FLAC such as the Eagles or the nine inch nails.

Further, hardware industry includes the codec in their handhelds: Cowon's A3 is a real competitor to the video ipod, eats a truely wide variety of music and video file formats. And a number of hifi hardware producers have included the codec into their standalone players as well.

Should that proove to be a real test to the itunes predominance? If Apples adds FLAC capability to their ipods, this will mean that users will turn to other sources than itunes for their daily dose. Hence there is vast opportunity for competitors to chip in....

Agent orange in Vietnam
Despite Vietnams modern social, political aspirations, its developing economy and beautiful landscape, the critical traveller is every once in a while confronted with its violent and dark past. Several famous movies may only touch the surface of the extent of the Vietnam War in the 60s and seventies.

Besides human casualties, nature was a special victim as well. Vietnam saw one of the most widespread and systematic use of different defoliation agents to deminish cover of the viet cong and destroy food supply, among which was the infamous agent orange. More than 80 mio litres of the different agents were (sometimes repeatedly) sprayed on 2.6 mio hectares of land and forests. An article by Stellman et al. summarizes the extent of the agent orange spraying.

Most importantly, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodipbenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) was a contaminant (exact levels are hard to estimate, but apparently 13 ppm are a good measure) in 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid, one ingredient of agent orange preparations. Agent orange basically consisted of a mixture of two plant hormone-mimicking compounds that were and are still considered relatively safe. 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid the other agent orange component is still used nowadays.

However, TCDD was shown to be related with teratogen and carcinogen effect (Mimura et al. and other groups showed that teratogenicity may be related to TCDDs interacion with the aryl hydrocarbon receptor) , in both operators and sprayers of the US Army as well as in the vietnamese population. Among others, severe malformed Vietnamese children were the consequence.

The other major consequence of agent orange was thousands of hectars of destroyed forests and contaminated land.


TCDD half life in humans, as cited by Miniero et al., was similar among both Seveso victims as well as Vietnam veterans, at about 2700 - 2900 days or almost 8 years! Initial contamination levels are mostly unknown.

Given this, one would not believe that Vietnam is today not only self sufficient in rice production, but is a net rice exporter (benefitting at the moment from high rice prices in the region).

Slash and burn in Laos

On the plane, descending towards Luang Prabang in northern Lao, I was almost shocked because of the degree of deforestation by slash-and-burn (SNB) practice.

Not incense...

Digital presence of individuals


There is still a chasm between the mode of presence of individuals in the real compared to the digital world:

People nowadays more than 3 email adresses, provided by different providers that nearly offer the same range of services at the same quality. At home, there is a mail box that you own or rent including the flat.

Individual webpages and also personal profiles on social networks are hosted on servers belonging to someone else, located in distant places.

In an odd attempt to let appear the mobile phone web personal, femtocells were recently "invented" (personally, when I scan from where I sit now, I can find at least as many WLAN access points as there are flats around, so I think that femtocell concept is nothing new and will be only moderately successful) that are being set up locally.

Additionally, personal storage systems like RAID SANs are becoming very cheap and abundant (1 TB via GB ethernet for less than 400 CHF, some SAN servers became 20% cheaper within 6 months, probably catalysed by slowing US consumption) at the moment.

One step further would mean to physically locate internet servers in each house and to locate individual digital presence (including email and possible webpages) on the local server. The hispeed lines are already there and, as hardware is a commodity and its costs rather low. Where people move places, they move their digital identity on solid state disks with them and plug into new places. Social networks are physically connected to you presence at people would connect directly to your server. That would relieve a user from the must to join the latest network as several of the came and went in the past years.

Ishi's light is a marvelous piece of art:


Looking inside I had the impression (this art inspires...) that this or a different, similarly formed structure could be used for other purposes as well.

Some affluent people spend a lot of money on toys like cars and houses. Of course a real cosmopolitan needs an excellent sound system. The high end market for HIFI systems is very fragmented and very expensive. Consider KEF's muon. OK that is a little overdone. But a pair of good speakers can easily fetch 2 k€. Ah yeah you need a subwoofer (another 1 k€) and also the box that creates sound (still a CD player for 0.5 k€) and of course something to amplify (another 2 k€), totaling to about 6 k€. Some of those components can be double or triple the price. So a good price is 10 k€ (hey that less than the Zenith Defy...). But I also heard about systems for 50 k€...

The bad thing is that many of those formidably expensively generated sound waves are being bounced off your room walls. The acoustics of the listening room needs to be precisely measured and speakers in relation to listening position set up to eliminate interference.

What then if one will engineer a room in room. Ishi's light, made of whatever material, seems not to be more expensive than 3k€. Potentially, such a room-improver could yield very good result while still providing excellent sound and non-claustrophobic experiences. But I would make is transparent and fit a layback chair inside.