Friday, September 24, 2010

China's secret weapon: rare earth materials

How China forced Japan to bow

China showed its hand this month on how powerful it has become in using its economic power to influence foreign governments. While nuclear weapons and military capabilities no doubt still is the ultimate deterrent and measurement of a superpower, it is nothing in comparison to the economic weapons that can be used in times of peace.

On September 8th, the Japanese coast guard captured a Chinese fishing vessel in the disputed territory of Senkaku Islands and arrested it's captain. Japanese prosecutors were attempting to put him through an official court hearing. However, China demanded his immediate release arguing that the arrest was illegal.

Japanese prosecutors initially resisted releasing the Chinese national, but eventually bowed to pressure in less than a week after Chinese customs officials stopped rare earth shipments to Japan.

The unofficial export ban (an official ban would violate WTO rules) of these important raw materials would critically endanger Japan's economy in the long term. The materials are needed for manufacturing sophisticated electronic components that are used in batteries, aircraft parts, cars, cameras, cell phones, and military equipment.

Japan also has no choice but to buy from China. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, out of the 124,000 tons of rare earth materials that are sold annually worldwide, China ships 97% of it.

An April 2010 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) also highlights America's weaknesses to China's monopoly and could find itself in a situation similar to Japan. The report states it will take nearly 15 years before the United States can wean itself off from foreign supply chains.

How China almost took control of Mountain Pass, California

The largest rare earth mine that's not in China or under Chinese control can be found in Mountain Pass, California. It was nearly purchased by a Chinese company when the U.S. oil company, Unocal, was up for bid in 2005. Thankfully, there was a lot of domestic opposition to the sale.

While Congress and the media was focused on the negative consequences of foreign influence on our energy supply (as if there's not enough), many did not notice that Unocal owned the Mountain Pass mine. In fact, I would argue that the only reason why China was interested in Unocal at all was because of the mine. With it, they could solidify their total control of rare earth materials and could leverage that into political power against the United States and other countries, as we have witnessed in Japan.

What can you do?

Educate yourself and write a letter to your congressman. Support alternatives to China's monopoly of rare earth materials and have Congress approve incentives to kick start our domestic supply. Besides, who would want to have a shortage on aircraft maintenance supplies or batteries for your latest gadget and electric powered cars?

Friday, September 10, 2010

"Swiss Valley: A glimpse of heaven"

"Swiss Valley: A glimpse of heaven"
Originally uploaded by Don Sausa

Jen and I were on a small train to the Jungfrau-Aletsch Protected Area, the only World Heritage Site in the Alps. We had to go to this small town called Grindelwald which you see in the valley below. That town's at 4,000 feet above sea level and I'm guessing here, but I took this shot probably around 5,000 feet.

I can honestly say that this valley is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. Simply, simply amazing. It makes you want to think what heaven would be like.

I didn't know this until later but Grindelwald's very popular in film:

- Many scenes of the documentary film The Alps were shot in the region of Grindelwald.
- The James Bond film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service includes a chase through a skating rink and Christmas festival in Grindelwald.
- Grindelwald's mountains were used as the basis for the view of Alderaan in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
- Some of the action scenes in The Golden Compass were also shot in Grindelwald.
- JK Rowling is said to have used the name of 'Grindelwald' in the creation of her character; Gellert Grindelwald, in the Harry Potter novels.

Equipment: Canon 7D + Canon 17-40mm f/4L: 1/160 secs, f8, ISO 100
Composition notes: The valley starts from the bottom right of the frame and leads to the top of the mountain.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Hova Bator Air Flowing Incubator Review

Incubator with quail and hen eggs.
I've recently hatched 15 chicks: 5 Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica), and 10 regular chickens after one month of use in my awesome new Hova Bator. The setup wasn't as simple as I thought. There's a few included parts that you have to install:

  1. You have to actually screw in a small piece of metal called a thermostat wafer.
  2. Lay down a piece of plastic and put a little bit of warm water.
  3. Then a small metallic screen where you put the eggs on top of it.

After all of the parts are installed, you can then turn it on and just put the eggs in! I've managed to put in a mix of quail and chicken eggs together with no problems, although you have to make sure the new hatchings don't trample over the eggs that haven't hatched yet.

It will maintain 100 F degrees and have a fan spinning the entire time it's operating.

Excellent experiment for my kids to play around with.