Lee Arnold sends this along, and says:
Nature magazine has put up a great new video about the Antikythera mechanism. It includes computer animations of the mechanism from 3-D x- rays of the object and someone who is building a working replica.
This is an astounding thing.
The video is here.
Instead of all the drivel about offshore drilling from Republicans, this is what we need - technological solutions as described below. We aren't going to solve our energy problems, or even make a noticeable dent in them, by allowing offshore drilling. That's a ruse to capture votes. The solution lies in alternatives and conservation, and if the claims made below are correct, this looks like a big step in the development of solar power:
'Major discovery' from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution, Anne Trafton, News Office: In a revolutionary leap that could transform solar power from a marginal, boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source, MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn't shine.
Until now, solar power has been a daytime-only energy source, because storing extra solar energy for later use is prohibitively expensive and grossly inefficient. With today's announcement, MIT researchers have hit upon a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar energy.
Requiring nothing but abundant, non-toxic natural materials, this discovery could unlock the most potent, carbon-free energy source of all: the sun. "This is the nirvana of what we've been talking about for years," said MIT's Daniel Nocera ... senior author of a paper describing the work in the July 31 issue of Science. "Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution. Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon."
Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera's lab, have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun's energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power your house or your electric car, day or night.
The key component in Nocera and Kanan's new process is a new catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water; another catalyst produces valuable hydrogen gas. The new catalyst consists of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode, placed in water. When electricity -- whether from a photovoltaic cell, a wind turbine or any other source -- runs through the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode, and oxygen gas is produced.
Combined with another catalyst, such as platinum, that can produce hydrogen gas from water, the system can duplicate the water splitting reaction that occurs during photosynthesis.
The new catalyst works at room temperature, in neutral pH water, and it's easy to set up, Nocera said. "That's why I know this is going to work. It's so easy to implement," he said. ...
James Barber, a leader in the study of photosynthesis who was not involved in this research, called the discovery by Nocera and Kanan a "giant leap" toward generating clean, carbon-free energy on a massive scale.
"This is a major discovery with enormous implications for the future prosperity of humankind," said Barber, the Ernst Chain Professor of Biochemistry at Imperial College London. "The importance of their discovery cannot be overstated..."
Currently available electrolyzers, which split water with electricity and are often used industrially, are not suited for artificial photosynthesis because they are very expensive and require a highly basic (non-benign) environment that has little to do with the conditions under which photosynthesis operates. More engineering work needs to be done to integrate the new scientific discovery into existing photovoltaic systems, but Nocera said he is confident that such systems will become a reality. ...
Nocera hopes that within 10 years, homeowners will be able to power their homes in daylight through photovoltaic cells, while using excess solar energy to produce hydrogen and oxygen to power their own household fuel cell. Electricity-by-wire from a central source could be a thing of the past. ... The success of the Nocera lab shows the impact of a mixture of funding sources - governments, philanthropy, and industry. ...
David Beckworth on evidence for The Big Push theory of economic development, the idea that "publicly coordinated investment can break the underdevelopment trap by helping economies overcome deficiencies in private incentives that prevent firms from adopting modern production techniques and achieving scale economies." Given recent debate over using infrastructure spending as a means of stimulating the economy, the long-run supply-side effects of stimulating the economy through spending on infrastructure are noteworthy:
The 'Big Push' and Economic Devlopment in the American South, by David Beckworth: One of the great stories from 20th century U.S. economic history is the great economic rebound of the American South. From the close of the Civil War up through World War II, this region's economy had been relatively undeveloped and isolated from the rest of the country. This eighty-year period of economic backwardness in the South stood in stark contrast to the economic gains elsewhere in the country that made the United States the leading industrial power of the world by the early 20th century. Something radically changed, though, in the 1930s and 1940s that broke the South free from its poverty trap. From this period on, the South began modernizing and by 1980 it had converged with the rest of the U.S. economy. But why the sudden break in the 1930-1940 period? A new paper by Fred Bateman, Jaime Ros, and Jason E. Taylor provides a fascinating answer: the economic rebound of American South was the result of a 'Big Push' from large public capital investments during the Great Depression and World War II.
A novel contribution of this paper is that it appears to provide a real-world example of the 'Big Push' theory. Never heard of the 'Big Push' theory? Well, here is how the authors describe it:
According to the "big push" theory of economic development, publicly coordinated investment can break the underdevelopment trap by helping economies overcome deficiencies in private incentives that prevent firms from adopting modern production techniques and achieving scale economies. These scale economies, in turn, create demand spillovers, increase market size, and theoretically generate a self-sustaining growth path that allows the economy to move to a Pareto preferred Nash equilibrium where it is a mutual best response for economic actors to choose large-scale industrialization over agriculture and small-scale production. The big push literature, originated by Rosenstein-Rodan [1943, 1961], was initially motivated by the postwar reconstruction of Eastern Europe. The theory subsequently appeared to have had limited empirical application... [S]cholars have found few real-world examples of such an infusion of investment helping to "push" an economy to high-level industrialization equilibrium.
Until this paper, that is. The authors continue:
We argue here that the "Great Rebound" of the American South, which followed large public capital investments during the Great Depression and World War II, is one such application. Although 1930s New Deal programs are typically presented in the context of their attempt to bring relief and recovery to the U.S. economy through demand-stimulating public expenditures, the long-term economic effects of these and subsequent wartime expenditures were profound for the South. Specifically, and consistent with big push theoretical literature, the infusion of public capital—roads, schools, waterworks, power plants, dams, airfields, and hospitals, among other infrastructural improvements—fundamentally reshaped the Southern economy, expanded markets, generated significant external economies, increased rates of return to large scale manufacturing, and encouraged a subsequent investment stream. These improvements helped create the conditions that allowed the region to break free from its low-income, low-productivity trap and embark on its rapid postwar industrialization.
This paper deals with the break from the South's poverty trap. The sustained nature of the South's postwar economic recovery has been covered by other studies: Connolly (2004) looks to improved human capital formation, Cobb (1982) points to industrial policy, Beasley, Persson, and Sturm (2005) finger increased political competition, and Glaeser and Tobio (2008) discuss the merits of the climate or Sunbelt effect. (I will also note I have seen somewhere the advent of air conditioning did wonders for development in the South).
In short, this paper tells an interesting and under reported story of 20th century U.S. economic history. In so doing, it also provides what appears to be a good example of the 'Big Push'. Read the rest of the paper here.
Why has unemployment remained relatively low even though the economy is sputtering?:
A Hidden Toll on Employment: Cut to Part Time, by Peter S. Goodman, NY Times: ...On the surface, the job market is weak but hardly desperate. Layoffs remain less frequent than in many economic downturns, and the unemployment rate is a relatively modest 5.5 percent. But that figure masks the strains of those who are losing hours or working part time because they cannot find full-time work — a stealth force that is eroding American spending power.
All told, people the government classifies as working part time involuntarily — predominantly those who have lost hours or cannot find full-time work — swelled to 5.3 million last month, a jump of greater than 1 million over the last year.
These workers now amount to 3.7 percent of all those employed, up from 3 percent a year ago, and the highest level since 1995.
"This increase is startling," said Steve Hipple, an economist at the Labor Department.
The loss of hours has been affecting men in particular — and Hispanic men more so. ... Some 28 percent of the jobs affected were in construction, 14 percent in retail and 13 percent in professional and business services...
"The unemployment rate is giving you a misleading impression of some of the adjustments that are taking place," said John E. Silvia, chief economist of Wachovia in Charlotte. "Hours cut is a big deal. People still have a job, but they are losing income."
Many experts see the swift cutback in hours as a precursor of a more painful chapter to come: broader layoffs. Some struggling companies are holding on to workers and cutting shifts while hoping to ride out hard times. If business does not improve, more extreme measures could follow.
"The change in working hours is the canary in the coal mine," said Susan J. Lambert of the University of Chicago,... an expert in low-wage employment. "First you see hours get short, and eventually more people will get laid off." ...
The growing ranks of involuntary part-timers reflect the sophisticated fashion through which many American employers have come to manage their payrolls, say experts.
In decades past, when business soured, companies tended to resort to mass layoffs, hiring people back when better times returned. But as high technology came to permeate American business, companies have grown reluctant to shed workers. Even the lowest-wage positions in retail, fast food, banking or manufacturing require computer skills and a grasp of a company's systems. Several months of training may be needed to get a new employee up to speed.
"Companies today would rather not go through the process of dumping someone and hiring them back," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. "Firms are going to short shifts rather than just laying people off." ...
And it works just the opposite way on the other side when GDP begins to recover. At first, firms will increase hours rather than employment. Firms won't invest in new workers until they are sure that the economy is improving, and that doesn't happen with just a single month or a single quarters worth of improved data. It takes a time for enough data to accumulate to convince firms that business really has taken a turn for the better, that what they are seeing is not just a temporary blip, and that it is worthwhile to pay the costs of hiring and training new workers.
This provides one potential explanation for why employment growth has been sluggish in the recovery period after the last two recessions, both of which occurred after the revolution in digital technology. To the extent that technology has increased training costs over time, the delay in the recovery in employment would be even longer. With higher training costs, firms would need to be even more certain that things have improved, i.e. they would need to wait for and analyze more data than before to be convinced that it's worthwhile to pay the cost of investing in new workers, and that increases the delay between the uptick in GDP and the uptick in employment (and to the extent that technology can substitute for labor, the employment response could be even more sluggish and muted).