Winter time tomorrow and the elk are in the garden

October 25, 2014

We change to winter time tonight.

This evening at dusk we had the privilege of two elk (moose) visiting the garden. A mother and a rather large calf it seemed. It was getting quite dark but I managed to get this blurry picture on my I-phone through a window. The calf was just about 2 m from the window. They stayed for about half an hour till they got spooked when I came out of the house.

elk in the garden 20141025 1802

elk in the garden 20141025 1802

I am no hunter and the elk are quite welcome to whatever they can find in my garden. The hunting regulations for this season in our county are:

The moose hunt begins on the second Monday in October, according to Appendix 2 of the Hunting Ordinance (1987: 905)

Hunting for moose calf Monday, October 13 – Wednesday, October 15 2014
(unregistered area)
Licensed area Monday, October 13 – Saturday, February 28 2015
Moose fostering area Monday, October 13 – Saturday, February 28 2015
1. Cows with calves should not be culled  unless the calf or calves have been shot before the cow.
2. At least 50-60% of the shoot should consist of calves. 
3. Avoid posted restrictions limiting calf shooting.
4. Of the total shoot of adult animals no more than 30% should be males.
5. The variation in moose density and injury rate in different geographical areas should be clearly reflected in the shoot. Avoid assigning the moose shoot solely on an acreage basis.
6. The shoot in January-February should primarily focus on calves

Shale gas in Europe worries Putin

October 25, 2014

It might seem counter-intuitive for Russia to be against the advent and development of shale gas in Europe since they themselves have huge quantities of oil and gas bearing shale in SiberiaBut Russia has a very large investment in conventional natural gas production and pipelines (through Gazprom) which must be protected and nurtured. Putin needs to ensure revenues and that exports of conventional natural gas gives them a reasonable return on the investment before moving onto shale gas. About 30% of Europe’s gas comes from Russia. Russia needs Europe to go slow with its own shale gas production and to continue buying Russian gas at reasonably high prices for as long as possible. So much so that Russia has even been supporting anti-fracking groups in Europe. (It is a little ironic when the European anti-fracking alarmists take well disguised Russian funds and play into Russian hands).

The MotleyFoolNow there are accusations that Russia is working hard to keep Europe dependent on its gas supplies. According to Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Russia is doing this by funding anti-fracking groups. That’s something that some of the larger groups deny, but it would be hard to suss out where all of their donations come from in the anti-fracking movement.

There are good reasons for Russia to undertake such a covert operation. For starters, Gazprom would suffer greatly if its European business started to slip away. Second, by keeping Europe hooked on Gazprom gas, Russia maintains a strong bargaining position in world politics.

That, however, just gives the United States more reason to come to the aid of its European allies. Right now, the export of U.S. natural gas is severely limited. With the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the U.S., however, the flow of gas has outstripped demand and pushed U.S. domestic gas prices to record low levels.

While being able to sell natural gas to Europe would be a huge win for Europe politically and U.S. gas drillers financially, it would also be a big win for pipeline operators like Kinder Morgan (NYSE: KMI  ) . Moving natural gas from where it’s drilled to where it’s used made up roughly 50% of Kinder Morgan’s business last year. The business isn’t about natural gas prices, either; it’s about providing a service. CEO Richard Kinder describes it this way: “We operate like a giant toll road.” So, if natural gas starts going overseas, Kinder Morgan will be involved in the process and make money doing it.

The possibility of surplus shale gas from the US entering Europe and depressing sales of Russian natural gas is a nightmare economic scenario for Vladimir Putin. Even the recent drop in oil prices has seriously unbalanced the Russian budget which needs an oil price of over $100 to be in balance.

Putin takes part in final session of 11th Valdai International Discussion Club meeting

Putin at the 11th Valdai International Discussion Club meeting in Sochi

Putin is clearly worried. Russian President Vladimir Putin took part at the plenary session of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi. He talked up the risks with US shale gas to Europe and talking up the benefits of Russian gas.

TassPutin: Europe’s transition to American shale gas will be suicidal for EU economies

Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that transition to shale gas will be suicidal for the EU economies. In his speech at the Valdai discussion club on Friday, Putin said that Russia’s trade turnover with the European Union stood at 260 billion dollars in the first half of 2014 even despite sanctions. He assumed, however, that the trade volumes could fall if Russia stopped all gas and oil supplies to Europe.

“We assume that it can happen at the will of our partners in Europe. But it’s hard to imagine,” Putin said, explaining that alternatives to Russian gas and oil supplies were worse.

It is either the crisis-hit Middle East where the “Islamic State” militants have stepped their operations or deliveries of shale gas and shale oil from the United States.

“We can imagine that /deliveries/ of shale oil and shale gas from the United States are possible. But how much it will cost?” Putin asked.

“This is going to be a direct way to reducing their own competitive ability because it is going to be more expensive than our pipe gas or oil delivered from deposits in Russia,” the Russian president went on to say.

“They are simply going to kill their competitive ability. What kind of a colony Europe should be to agree to this option. But I believe that common sense will prevail. The same is true of Asia,” Putin said in conclusion.

For very many reasons the very best thing that Europe (and Asia) could do would be to expedite the production of their own shale gas. It would bring down energy prices, stimulate growth, increase jobs, increase independence from Russia, increase exports, increase competitiveness against the US and consolidate energy intensive industries which are moving out. But this would have to overcome the opposition of the alarmist, European green parties who have a remarkable facility for being counter-productive.

Opposing the development of shale gas in Europe gives Russia the edge on the geopolitical playing field.

More speech gives fewer malignant breast tumours!

October 25, 2014

Who would have thought the ability to develop speech may be linked to the malignancy of breast cancer cells.

A new paper in Cell Stem Cell apparently shows that “silencing the Speech Gene FOXP2 Causes Breast Cancer Cells to Metastasize”Forkhead box protein P2 (FOXP2) is a protein that in humans is encoded by the FOXP2 gene and which is thought to enable speech and language development in the brain. It is also known to affect tissue development. While Neanderthals had the physical capability for speech it is not known if they had the FOXP2 gene. The new paper reports that suppressing the FOXP2 gene leads to more breast cancer cells turning malignant.

Perhaps the ability to talk is a survival factor for women?

The number of genes may be finite and limited but they are expert not only at multi-tasking but also in working in very many different “teams” with other genes.

Beth Israel Press Release:

It is an intricate network of activity that enables breast cancer cells to move from the primary breast tumor and set up new growths in other parts of the body, a process known as metastasis.

Now a research team led by investigators at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) has identified an unexpected link between a transcription factor known to regulate speech and language development and metastatic colonization of breast cancer.

Currently described online in Cell Stem Cell, the new findings demonstrate that, when silenced, the FOXP2 transcription factor, otherwise known as the speech gene, endows breast cancer cells with a number of malignant traits and properties that enable them to survive – and thrive. …

…….. FOXP2 has primarily been implicated in regulating speech and language development and several reports have described functions for this protein in developmental neurogenesis. Additional reports have also linked FOXP2 to tissue development, such as the lung.

“We were curious and wanted to find out the business of FOXP2 in breast cancer,” he adds. “Surprisingly, we found that its suppression in the tumor cells was sufficient to expand cancer stem cell traits and caused the cancer cells to metastasize much more vigorously.”

These findings agreed with similar results in which the authors determined that miR-199a upregulation and FOXP2 repression are prominent features of aggressive clinical breast cancers and represent independent prognostic parameters for overall patient survival.

“We are one step closer to understanding how cells in the tumor microenvironment, such as MSCs, promote the malignancy of neighboring cancer cells,” says Karnoub. “We’re now more closely investigating FOXP2’s potential role as a metastasis suppressor that needs to be downregulated for metastasis to take place.”


Sweden gets it wrong in rejecting treatment for Ebola infected UNICEF worker

October 24, 2014

Swedish Social Services received a request yesterday to accept a UNICEF worker smitten with Ebola for treatment. They merely responded with a demand for more information and when they did not get that information they rejected the request.

They got it wrong I think.

I imagine the request was urgent in an effort to find a place willing and capable to treat the unfortunate UNICEF worker. The correct response should have been “Yes, in principle, subject to practical feasibility”. To note the limitations or constraints on what help could be provided would have been perfectly in order. But just a counter-request for more information would have been taken – and rightly so – as prevarication and a fundamental unwillingness to help.

I hope that some country with suitable medical services has accepted the unfortunate patient.

From my little experience of emergency situations, the bottom line is that emergency requests for help must be answered YES or NO, and not just generate requests for further information. A YES can – and must – be qualified with the constraints or limitations of what help can be provided. The requests usually originate from the “front line” (whether disease or earthquake or tsunami or typhoon) and it is unreasonable for those receiving requests for help, to burden those at the “front” with more bureaucratic requests for information. Responses must be for the sake of being helpful for those at the “front line” to take a call and make decisions and take actions. A response cannot be – as in this case – something which makes it more difficult for the “front line” to act.

(I would give Fukushima as an example. When the plant engineers and managers at the Fukushima nuclear plant requested permission from Headquarters in Tokyo to use sea water for emergency cooling – which they well knew would permanently disable the plant – TEPCO HQ responded by asking for more information. The “front line” at the plant knew they were no other options but the lack of clear response and unending requests for more information from Tokyo led to many hours (about 6 hours) being lost).

As a response from someone called the “Emergency Management Director” of the National Social Service Board, Sweden’s response left a lot to be desired.

Dagens Nyheter:

On Thursday, Sweden received a request to receive a suspected Ebola infected person who worked for UNICEF in Sierra Leone. But the reflection period was too short and the information was very sketchy and therefore rejected by the National Social Services Board writes

“We had no medical information in general, and requested it, but received no such information. Therefore it was hard to know what to say yes to and what to prepare”, says Johanna Sandwall, emergency management director on the National Social Services Board.

I would suggest that the National Social Services Board has not yet distinguished sufficiently between normal processes and emergency procedures. I take it for granted that Sweden, in fact, does want to assist and is probably among the more capable countries for treating patients.

Silicon Valley’s EFI pays Indian workers $1.21 per hour for a 122 hour week

October 24, 2014

Sweatshop in California: Electronics for Imaging in Silicon Valley

The land of milk and honey has a seamy side of its own. There are sweat shops in Silicon Valley in California as well. And this particular sweat shop – Electronics for Imaging (EFI) – which paid workers imported from India $1.21 per hour (in Rupees) and worked them upto 122 hours per week, is no fly-by-night operation but a  company listed on Nasdaq and generated about $200 million in revenue in its last quarter. Taking the cost of living into account and the relative salaries in California and Bangladesh, EFI is worse than the textile companies in Bangladesh.

Business Journal

Electronics for Imaging Inc. has been ordered by the U.S. Department of Labor to pay $40,156 in back wages to employees who had allegedly received as little as $1.21 an hour, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

EFI also paid a fine of $3,500 following a federal investigation into its wage and hour practices, which had included paying its workers in Indian rupees and having them work up to 122 hours in the Fremont company’s IT department. …. 

The EFI violations of state and federal labor laws concerned eight employees who were paid to help install a computer network when the company moved its home office from Foster City to Fremont, according to the Mercury News. The data storage provider said that it had brought in some of its IT employees from Bangalore, India, to do the jobs in Fremont between Sept. 8, 2013 and Dec. 21, 2013.

You couldn’t get the hours worked into a 5 day week. 122 hours a week averages to over 17 hours a day for a 7 day week. The EFI defence is remarkable for its callousness – “we unintentionally overlooked laws that require even foreign employees to be paid based on local U.S. standards” the company said in a statement. Who in their right minds would expect foreign workers in California to be paid the local Californian wage?

Not so very different from conditions in Bangladesh:


The majority of garment workers in Bangladesh earn little more than the minimum wage, set at 3,000 taka a month (approximately £25), far below what is considered a living wage, calculated at 5,000 taka a month (approximately £45), which would be the minimum required to provide a family with shelter, food and education. 

As well as earning a pittance, Bangladeshi factory workers face appalling conditions. Many are forced to work 14-16 hours a day seven days a week, with some workers finishing at 3am only to start again the same morning at 7.30am.

Offshore oil rigs promote a richer marine life than at coral reefs

October 24, 2014

A 15 year study of the oil platforms off the California coast shows that they promote a rich and varied fish and marine life. They are greater than at estuaries and reefs on the California coast and richer even than at the famed coral reefs of Polynesia.

Don’t expect the WWF to support offshore oil rigs anytime soon! Or to admit that the oil rigs off the Santa Barbara coast are more beneficial to marine life than the wind and solar farms in California are to avian life which they regularly chop and fry.

More fool them.

JT Claisse et al, Oil platforms off California are among the most productive marine fish habitats globally, PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1411477111


A recent study has determined that large oil or gas platforms off the California coast are actually serving as ideal bases for highly productive marine habitats, boasting a stunning amount of healthy aquatic life.

That’s at least according to a study recently conducted by researchers from Occidental College, the University of California, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management off the West Coast.

The study, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), details how fish communities that have made their homes under well-maintained oil rigs are up to 27 times more productive than California reefs.

…. This was determined after a research team annually surveyed 16 oil or gas platforms and seven rocky reefs along the Californian coast for 15 years, starting in 1995.

They paid special attention to fish population count, size, and diversity in these unique habitats. From this, they worked out the weight of fish supported each year per square meter of sea floor for each habitat. They even reportedly accounted for the chance that some fish “just passing through” could affect the data.

In a surprising show of data, the researchers determined that the productivity of rig-based communities supported 105 to a whopping 887 grams of fish per square meter of habitat. By comparison, the most productive reef they examined, a coral reef in Mo’orea, French Polynesia, had a fish productivity of 74.2 grams per square meter per year. …

….. “The platform structures support a diverse community of invertebrates that, along with floating resources such as plankton, provide the base of the food web supporting fish,” he explained.

If handled properly, Claisse and his colleagues add, man-made structures can actually be beneficial to the ocean floor.


Secondary (i.e., heterotrophic or animal) production is a main pathway of energy flow through an ecosystem as it makes energy available to consumers, including humans. Its estimation can play a valuable role in the examination of linkages between ecosystem functions and services. We found that oil and gas platforms off the coast of California have the highest secondary fish production per unit area of seafloor of any marine habitat that has been studied, about an order of magnitude higher than fish communities from other marine ecosystems. Most previous estimates have come from estuarine environments, generally regarded as one of the most productive ecosystems globally. High rates of fish production on these platforms ultimately result from high levels of recruitment and the subsequent growth of primarily rockfish (genus Sebastes) larvae and pelagic juveniles to the substantial amount of complex hardscape habitat created by the platform structure distributed throughout the water column. The platforms have a high ratio of structural surface area to seafloor surface area, resulting in large amounts of habitat for juvenile and adult demersal fishes over a relatively small footprint of seafloor. Understanding the biological implications of these structures will inform policy related to the decommissioning of existing (e.g., oil and gas platforms) and implementation of emerging (e.g., wind, marine hydrokinetic) energy technologies.

Nokia adapts genetically while Microsoft drops the “Nokia” brand

October 24, 2014
Nokia NMT900 1987

Nokia NMT900 1987

A few days ago Microsoft announced that it was dropping the “Nokia” brand and would continue with “Lumia”.  My first mobile phone ever was an NMT900 in 1988 or ’89. My first five mobile phones were all Nokias. It felt like the end of an era. As if some well loved species was going extinct.

Irish IndependentFor many of us it’s a name synonymous with mobile phones, but Microsoft is now officially axing the Nokia brand in favour of its own Lumia range of Windows smartphones.

The tech giant bought Nokia’s mobile division back in April for $7.2bn along with a 10-year deal to use the Finnish company’s name on smartphones. Now, however, it seems Microsoft wishes to push its own Lumia brand, the most successful iteration of the company’s Windows Phone OS – rival to Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS systems.

The company actually began life in the 19 century as a single paper mill in what was then part of the Russian Empire. It grew into an industrial conglomerate with interests in everything from galoshes to gas masks, with the push into electronics only coming in the 1960s.

From the 1980s to 2000s it had a string of mobile hits (including the famous 3310 – one of the best selling mobile devices of all time, with more than 126 million units sold worldwide) but failed to keep on top of its smartphone competitors.

Windows Phone meanwhile continues to struggle against iOS and Android, with global market falling to 2.5 per cent. Microsoft will be hoping that Nokia’s ever-popular range of capable, low-end devices will eventually shuffle users in developing markets onto its OS, but nothing looks like it will shake Android and iOS in the high end.

But there is no need to be sad.

The brand is not going extinct. It is adapting and changing with the times. The company started with a paper mill and only enetered electronics in the 1960s. Now it has adapted and has returned to profit  – demonstrating the benefits of genetic evolution over stagnating conservation.

The Register: Nokia reported strong results on Thursday even after giving long-suffering shareholders a dividend and taking the hit of a one-time charge.

Profits rose to €353m on earnings of €3.3bn, up from €2.9bn a year ago. 

With the Windows Phone albatross thrown to a reluctant new owner, Nokia is now three divisions: network equipment (Nokia Networks), mapping (HERE) and IPR licensing (Nokia Technologies), but with €2.6bn of income, Networks provides most of the meat.

Nokia Networks sales rose 13 per cent year on year, based on LTE sales into China and North America, the company said. HERE grew 12 per cent, and IP licensing nine per cent to €152m; Microsoft is now a more important licensee. 

The company paid out €1.372bn in dividends and recorded a goodwill charge of €1.2bn against HERE’s profits, the latter reflecting a new evaluation of the division at €2bn.

The HERE charge reflected, “an adjustment to the HERE strategy and the related new long-range plan”. Nokia also spent €220m buying back shares.

Nokia made a string of mapping acquisitions in the Noughties, the largest of which was Navteq for $8.1bn (€5.6bn at the time). The company defended its continuing investment in HERE, declaring that “we continue to believe we have an opportunity to create significant value with the HERE business, as connected cars become more pervasive and as enterprises deploy new location-services to improve their productivity and efficiency”.

Despite all the charges, the company still has €5.4bn in cash and assets.

For a corporation to change its genetic code and shift away from a previously successful habitat and move into new territory is not easy. It needs changes to corporate competences and culture and shape and size – and many of the changes are painful. But Nokia seems to be well on the way to reinventing itself – again.

It is a lesson from the corporate world which should be taken to heart by all so-called conservationists. In the corporate world, continuing with a failing strategy, or a failing habitat or living in past glories does not help survival. It is genetic adaptation (from paper to tyres to gas masks to phones to networks) which provides Nokia with a new future. Similarly, in the animal world, trying to freeze failing species into a failed strategy in an artificial habitat is pointless. Genetic adaptation not stagnating conservation is the way to go.


Swedish submarine hunt continues ….. but is it just a play to promote NATO membership?

October 23, 2014

The hysteria is dying down.

Well nothing has been found so far but the search continues for “foreign” underwater activity. There are military officers addressing press conferences every day. Of course, it is implied, the military cannot reveal all the information they have. “We know much more than we are telling you — but trust us. We know what we are doing” is the impression they try to foster. They have even threatened to use “live fire” to force the dastardly, foreigners to the surface.

The coverage, not only from the outside world but even in Sweden, is more amused than concerned. Coverage from European NATO countries tends to paint a picture of a naive Sweden terribly “unprepared” for the real and nasty Russian Bear (implying that Sweden needs to join NATO). Some of the Swedish comments are about the threat to the West from Russia through the Baltic (implying that NATO needs Sweden to join the club). Other commentary in Sweden is about the lack of personnel and ships and equipment and how the defence budget needs to be increased sharply. Some claim that Sweden’s military has only the capability to resist foreign (read Russian) aggression for about 3 days!! This needs – so the story goes – to be urgently increased to at least 4 days of resistance.

The Russian press and social media comments have treated the whole story as a bit of a joke.

Dagens Nyheter:

That there is any real foreign submarine in the Stockholm archipelago is anything but convincing. Meanwhile, “the hysterical” submarine hunt is part of Sweden’s effort to get ever closer to the Western defense alliance NATO. These are some of the general comments in the Russian media in response to the feverish search for a “possible submarine” in Swedish waters.

“Sweden has suffered from a ‘Russian submarine syndrome’ since 1981, when a Soviet submarine through a navigational error came into Swedish waters and went aground near the Swedish naval base in Karlskrona. Since then ‘Russian submarines’ show up in Swedish waters just before a defense budget is to be adopted”, says the Russian newspaper, Pravda, about events in the Stockholm archipelago. 

Pravda, which has consulted with military experts, also dismisses press reports (in Svenska Dagbladet) that the Swedish military had captured emergency radio signals from an unidentified submarine in Swedish waters. The signals were reported to have been directed to and received in Kaliningrad, where the Russian Baltic fleet’s main base is located. The signals were said to be on a frequency that the Russian Navy uses in extreme situations, hence the conclusion that there may have been a submarine that was in distress.

But according to Igor Kurdin, president of the Submarine Men’s club in St Petersburg, the information about a distress signal is baseless. “There are several channels of communication on board submarines. Registering a signal is possible, but it is impossible to decrypt them, and to determine the direction of a radio signal is impossible according to the laws of physics”, says Kurdin (Interfax news agency).

Perhaps there is a submarine out there. Perhaps it was in distress. Perhaps it was testing Swedish defences.

I have my doubts. Maybe I am just being cynical but I see two “drivers” here. A push for NATO membership and a larger defence budget. There is a new Red/Green government in place and they are due to present their first budget proposal today. Normally the Red/Greens could be expected to cut back on defence spending and they are ideologically not at all comfortable in joining NATO. They have an idealised and somewhat glorified vision of a “Swedish neutrality” even if it is completely contradicted by the reality of cooperation with the US and NATO for at least the last 30 years. Public opinion is against NATO membership – but only just. The Swedish military would just love to be part of NATO and take part not only in exercises but also in some real live fire-fights. The Swedish military – for all its restricted defence budget – is quite technologically advanced but lack playgrounds for their toys. Being part of NATO would provide more playgrounds and even more toys and many more players to play with. The difference between playing The World of Warcraft all by yourself or playing it on the internet!!

There are therefore – as I see it –  three parties who could possible lie behind the furore in the Stockholm archipelago:

  1. It could have been a real Russian submarine on a testing or a training exercise, or
  2. It could be a play by the Swedish military to try and get a larger defence budget, or
  3. It could be a joint NATO/ Swedish military exercise to show the benefits of NATO membership.

There is a faint possibility there was something real but relatively innocent by the Russians but which has been opportunistically seized and blown up by the defence lobby and NATO supporters.

The budget proposal today is now expected to have some defence spending increase included.

A partial success for someone.

This is not a NASA image of India on Diwali night

October 23, 2014

It is doing the rounds again purporting to be a NASA image of India on Diwali night. It surfaces every year at Diwali time. It is a composite image and the coloured lights only represent different times between 1992 and 2003.

I just repeat what I wrote two years ago.

It is indeed from NASA, it is from space and it is at night. But it is not on a Diwali night and is actually a composite picture of night illumination over many years to try and show population increase. Even the colours are not real. It was circulated widely at this time last year as well. But as Robert Johnson of Business Insider points out:

The photo is an overlay of shots highlighting India’s burgeoning population over several years. The white lights were the only illumination visible before 1992. The blue lights appeared in 1992. The green lights in 1998. And the red lights appeared in 2003.

Current speculation suggests the lights are a result of the Hindu celebration Diwali, or the celebration of lights, held from mid-October to mid-November, but NASA was unable to confirm what time of year the shots were taken.

…. NASA says there are no more recent versions available.

Composite NASA image of India’s population development between 1992 and 2003. Blue is lights which appeared in 1992, green in 1998 and red in 2003. – image


XKCD captures the spirit of CERN

October 22, 2014

This one from xkcd is very apposite!

Higgs Boson

“It could have been another particle not inconsistent with the Higgs boson – or something like it. And it’s really small” – cartoon by xkcd/1437


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