Volume 10, Number 1
Edited by John L. Petersen
In This Issue:
- Snakes can sense a nascent earthquake from 70 miles away, three to five days before it happens.
- Four million of a newly discovered microbe – the smallest form of life discovered to date – could fit into the period at the end of this sentence.
- New solar cells have a 40.7% sunlight-to-energy conversion efficiency.
- Advances in technology have helped to drastically improve the ratio between dead and wounded among US troops in Iraq, bringing it to one to eight – in Vietnam it was one to three.
The Opening Salvo in China’s Media War
Criminals Teach Target Students
The Opening Salvo in China’s Media War — (International Herald Tribune– January 3, 2007)
A lawsuit that has been filed by one of China’s largest newspapers against one of the country’s leading Internet portals over the issue of massive copyright violations is being described as “the opening salvo” in a media war over copyright law. In the suit, which was filed in October and is expected to go to court soon, The Beijing News is seeking $400,000 in damages from a popular Internet site called Tom.com for having copied and republished more than 25,000 articles and photographs without authorization.
Criminals Teach Target Students — (BBC — December 8, 2006)
The boom in cyber crime is forcing criminals to go to great lengths to recruit skilled hackers. Some criminal gangs are paying students while they study to ensure they have a pool of tech-savvy workers to call on. Others are cashing in on the glamour of the hi-tech world to tempt youngsters into embarking on a life of crime.
Meteorite’s Organic Matter Older than the Sun
New Microbe Could be Smallest Life Form Yet
Head-Banging Snakes May Predict Quakes
Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t
Scientists Predict Big Solar Cycle
Meteorite’s Organic Matter Older than the Sun — (National Geographic — November 30, 2006)
Organic globules found in a meteorite that slammed into Canada’s Tagish Lake may be older than our sun. The ancient materials could offer a glimpse into the solar system’s planet-building past and may even provide clues to how life on Earth first arose.
New Microbe Could be Smallest Life Form Yet — (New York Times — December 25, 2006)
The smallest form of life known to science just got smaller. Scientists found the microbes living in a remarkably inhospitable environment — drainage water, as caustic as battery acid, from a mine in Northern California. The microbes are about 200 nanometers wide — the size of large viruses. Bacteria average about five times that size.
Head-Banging Snakes May Predict Quakes — (Reuters — December 38, 2006)
China may have come up with an earthquake prediction system which relies on the behavior of snakes. The earthquake bureau in Nanning, capital of the Guangxi autonomous region in southern China, has developed a system that uses a combination of natural instinct – in this case, snake behavior – and modern technology to can detect earthquakes days in advance.
Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t — (New York Times — January 2, 2007)
A bevy of experiments in recent years suggest that the conscious mind is like a monkey riding a tiger of subconscious decisions and actions in progress, frantically making up stories about being in control. As a result, physicists, neuroscientists and computer scientists have joined the heirs of Plato and Aristotle in arguing about what free will is, whether we have it, and if not, why we ever thought we did in the first place.
Scientists Predict Big Solar Cycle — (NASA — December 21, 2006)
Solar cycle 24, due to peak in 2010 or 2011 looks like it is going to be one of the most intense cycles since record-keeping began almost 400 years ago. Astronomers have been counting sunspots, a core measure of solar activity, since the days of Galileo, watching solar activity rise and fall every 11 years. Curiously, four of the five biggest cycles on record have come in the past 50 years.
Back From the Dead
Mobiles Cleared of Cancer Risk
Cell Phones: Invisible Hazards of the Wireless Age
Cows Engineered to Lack Mad Cow Disease
Longevity Gene Keeps Brain Agile
A Step Closer to the Creation of Human Organs
Back From the Dead — (Cosmos — December 6, 2006)
One day we may again hear the roar of a woolly mammoth as it might have sounded when brought down by a group of Neanderthal hunters. Scientists are racing to resurrect long dead animals with modern cloning technology. It may seem like science fiction, but it’s not. Not even ten years after the first mammal was cloned, scientists are trying to clone the first extinct species.
Mobiles Cleared of Cancer Risk — (BBC — December 6, 2006)
Long or short-term mobile phone use is not associated with increased risk of cancer, a major study has found. Mobile phone antennas emit electromagnetic fields that can penetrate the human brain. But a research team found no evidence that this was linked to an increased risk of tumors in the head or neck as had been feared.
Cell Phones: Invisible Hazards of the Wireless Age — (Common Ground — December, 2006)
An interesting opinion blog that, as does the previous article, takes on the issue of cell phone safety. The difference between the two articles’ conclusions is stark, with this article referring to cell phones as a significant public health hazard.
Cows Engineered to Lack Mad Cow Disease — (Physorg — January 2, 2007)
Scientists have genetically engineered a dozen cows to be free from the proteins that cause mad cow disease, a breakthrough that may make the animals immune to the brain-wasting disease. An international team of researchers reported that they had “knocked out” the gene responsible for making the proteins, called prions. The disease didn’t take hold when brain tissue from two of the genetically engineered cows were exposed to bad prions in the laboratory.
Longevity Gene Keeps Brain Agile — (MIT Technology Review — December 29, 2006)
A genetic variation that helps people live longer may also help keep their minds intact as they age. A study of a group of elderly people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent found that those with the genetic variation, which changes the way the body processes cholesterol, perform better on tests of mental ability. The researchers found that in a group of 158 people age 95 and older, those with the variant were twice as likely to pass tests of mental agility as those with a different version of the gene.
A Step Closer to the Creation of Human Organs — (Guardian — December 28, 2006)
Scientists are a step closer to growing replacement organs and tissues which can be transplanted into patients. Their breakthrough uses tiny protein scaffolds that encourage stem cells to grow into three-dimensional structures for the first time. Growing organs that are genetically matched to patients is one of the great hopes of research using stem cells.
Nanoparticle Implant Measures Tumor Growth
Remotely Activated Nanoparticles Destroy Cancer
Nanoparticle Implant Measures Tumor Growth — (Science Daily — December 29, 2006)
A tiny implant now being developed could one day help doctors rapidly monitor the growth of tumors and the progress of chemotherapy in cancer patients. The implant contains nanoparticles that can be designed to test for different substances, including metabolites such as glucose and oxygen that are associated with tumor growth. It can also track the effects of cancer drugs: Once inside a patient, the implant could reveal how much of a certain cancer drug has reached the tumor, helping doctors determine whether a treatment is working.
Remotely Activated Nanoparticles Destroy Cancer — (BBC — January 2, 2007)
The first in a new generation of nanotechnology-based cancer treatments will likely begin clinical trials in 2007. If the promise of animal trials carries through to human trials, these treatments will transform cancer therapy. By replacing surgery and conventional chemotherapy, this nanotech approach could reduce or eliminate side effects by avoiding damage to healthy tissue. It could also make it possible to destroy tumors that are inoperable or won’t respond to current treatment.
Thousands of Ducks Mysteriously Dying in Idaho
Bird Flu Kills Woman in Egypt, Infects Family Members
New Approach Disarms Deadly Bacteria
New AIDS Drug Shows Phenomenal Results
Medicines Patent Loophole Found
Thousands of Ducks Mysteriously Dying in Idaho — (Reuters — December 13, 2006)
Officials scrambled to determine what has caused the deaths of thousands of mallard ducks in south-central Idaho near the Utah border. Although wildlife experts are downplaying any links to bird flu, they have sent samples to government labs to test for the deadly H5N1 flu strain, among other pathogens.
Bird Flu Kills Woman in Egypt, Infects Family Members — (Bloomberg — December 26, 2006)
Bird flu killed a woman in northern Egypt as authorities attempt to eradicate the lethal virus that infected two other members of the woman’s family. The woman from Zifta, in the northern province of Gharbia, had been in contact with infected poultry. Fowl kept by the family and neighbors have been culled, and people in contact with the birds are being tested.
New Approach Disarms Deadly Bacteria — (Science Daily — December 29, 2006)
Health experts warn that if bacteria keep toughening up, some deadly diseases that have been treatable for the last five-plus decades again will have no cure. A better battle plan may be to make them “nice”. Instead of killing off disease-causing bacteria, bacteriologists may be able to simply disarm them, via DNA modifications that would leave the bacteria toothless, but alive.
New AIDS Drug Shows Phenomenal Results — (Physorg — January 2, 2007)
AIDS researchers said a new drug shows promise for inhibiting the HIV virus in patients new to treatment or those currently taking a drug cocktail. Clinical studies showed that, when combined with two existing drugs, it reduced the virus to undetectable levels in nearly 100 percent of HIV patients prescribed a drug regimen for the first time. The drug essentially prevents the virus’ DNA from integrating with a host’s cells, inhibiting its ability to replicate itself.
Medicines Patent Loophole Found — (BBC — January 2, 2007)
Researchers who have found a way to bypass the legal patent on an expensive drug say others should follow suit. Imperial College experts have developed a potentially cheaper version of an existing Hepatitis C drug by altering the molecular structure.
Supercomputers Crunching Chips, Proteins and Nuclear Bombs
New Research Could Lead to Invisible Electronics
Face-Hunting Software will Scour Web for Targets
Supercomputers Crunching Chips, Proteins and Nuclear Bombs — (CNN — December 7, 2006)
An average PC can perform in the tens or hundreds of megaflops – millions of calculations per second. A supercomputer like Purple at Livermore can calculate 100 teraflops – 100 million million calculations per second. Using this ability to think faster, Purple can simulate the explosion of a nuclear weapon – from the moment the button is pressed to the point when the bomb detonates. In just a just a few billionths of a second, many complex systems interact to create a nuclear explosion. In 1994 it would have taken the world’s fastest computer 6,000 years to complete the highly classified “button to bang” simulation. It took Purple about six weeks.
New Research Could Lead To Invisible Electronics — (Science Daily — December 23, 2006)
Imagine a car windshield that displays a map to your destination, military goggles with targets and instructions displayed right before a soldier’s eyes or a billboard that doubles as a window. Only in science fiction you say? Researchers report that by combining organic and inorganic materials they have produced transparent, high-performance transistors that can be assembled inexpensively on both glass and plastics.
Face-Hunting Software will Scour Web for Targets — (New Scientist — December 19, 2006)
A search engine that uses sophisticated facial recognition to allow users to identify and find people in online images will launch next month. But civil liberties groups say the biometric-style tool could compromise the privacy of anyone who has their picture online. Search engine Polar Rose reconstructs the 3D shape of a person’s face and then combines that with characteristics of their features to generate a unique “face print”. This can then be used to search other photos for a match.
By 2040: an Arctic with no Ice
Chemicals in Everyday Products can be Found in Humans
Ancient Ice Shelf Breaks Free from Canadian Arctic
U.S. Proposes Listing Polar Bears as Threatened Species
Louisiana Slowly Slipping into Gulf
Disappearing World: Global Warming Claims Tropical Island
By 2040: an Arctic with no Ice — (The Times — December 12, 2006)
Ice is melting so fast in the Arctic that the North Pole will be in the open sea in 30 years, according to leading climatologists. Ships will be able to sail over the top of the world and tourists will be able visit what was, until climate change, one of planet’s most inaccessible landscapes.
Chemicals in Everyday Products can be Found in Humans — (Lexington Herald-Leader — December 2, 2006)
They’re found in floor waxes and shampoos, fast-food wrappers and microwave popcorn bags. They coat pizza boxes, carpets and frying pans. And they’re in people. They’re perfluorochemicals. Though you might not recognize the word, you probably know the brand names: Teflon, Stainmaster, Gore-Tex. You are exposed to those compounds every day, and there is mounting concern that they might cause a variety of health problems
Ancient Ice Shelf Breaks Free from Canadian Arctic — (AP — December 29, 2006)
A giant ice shelf the size of 11,000 football fields has snapped free from Canada’s Arctic. The collapse was so powerful that earthquake monitors 155 miles away picked up tremors from it. The Ayles Ice Shelf, roughly 41 square miles in area, was one of six major ice shelves remaining in Canada’s Arctic. Scientists say it is the largest event of its kind in Canada in 30 years and point their fingers at climate change as a major contributing factor.
U.S. Proposes Listing Polar Bears as Threatened Species — (Science Daily — December 31, 2006)
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne has announced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and initiating a comprehensive scientific review to assess the current status and future of the species. “Polar bears are one of nature’s ultimate survivors, able to live and thrive in one of the world’s harshest environments,” Kempthorne said. “But we are concerned the polar bears’ habitat may literally be melting.”
Louisiana Slowly Slipping into Gulf — (Physorg — January 2, 2007)
A new report by scientists studying Louisiana’s sinking coast says the land here is not just sinking, it’s sliding ever so slowly into the Gulf of Mexico. Researchers have known for years that the swampy land under south Louisiana is sinking (potholed streets and wobbly porches and floors are visible evidence of that) but a lateral movement of the land into the Gulf enters largely unstudied terrain.
Global Dimming — (BBC — December 5, 2006)
An interesting BBC video on the effects of pollution on a phenomenon known as ‘global dimming’ – the cooling of the earth, due to the increase of sunlight-reflecting particulate matter in the atmosphere.
Disappearing World: Global Warming Claims Tropical Island — (The Independent — December 24, 2006)
Rising seas, caused by global warming, have for the first time washed an inhabited island off the face of the Earth. The obliteration of Lohachara island, in India’s part of the Sundarbans where the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, marks the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists has started coming true.
Solar Cell Breakthrough Claimed
Samsung Develops Marathon Fuel Cell
India’s Big Plans for Biodiesel
Solar Cell Breakthrough Claimed — (Information Week — December 6, 2006)
Most of today’s solar cells are between 12% and 18% efficient. Some of the ones used to power satellites are around 28% efficient. In 1954, 4% efficiency was state of the art. Researchers have now managed to create a solar cell with 40.7% sunlight-to-energy conversion efficiency
Samsung Develops Marathon Fuel Cell — (Top Tech News — December 28, 2006)
Researchers have engineered a fuel cell that can power a notebook computer for up to a month. The fuel cell is part of a docking station that lets a laptop run for eight hours a day, five days a week, for up to four weeks in a row. Of course, fuel cells are nothing new in the market for smarter, cleaner energy, but this is the first instance of applying the technique to a notebook with such long-lasting results. The new fuel cell is a 1200 watt-hour direct methanol fuel cell, or DFMC, which convert methanol to water to produce DC power.
India’s Big Plans for Biodiesel — (MIT Technology Review — December 27, 2006)
India has launched an initiative aimed at eventually producing more than 2.3 million barrels of bio-diesel annually. The initiative is focused around commercial production and synthesis of the jatropha plant. The plant can grow in wastelands, and it yields more than four times as much fuel per hectare as soybean and more than ten times that of corn.
TERRORISM, SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Ultra-Secure Long-Distance Quantum Key Distribution
Army Game Proves U.S. can’t Lose
Spies in the Sky
The Future of War
Molecule-Size Keypad Lock
The Mathematics of Cloaking
America’s Holy Warriors
Ultra-Secure Long-Distance Quantum Key Distribution — (Physorg — December 22, 2006)
Scientists have demonstrated unconditionally secure quantum key distribution (QKD) over a record-setting 107 kilometers of optical fiber. The work is a significant step towards enabling communication with an unprecedented level of security over long distances of optical fiber.
Army Game Proves U.S. can’t Lose — (Wired — November 27, 2006)
A new video game commissioned by the U.S. Army as a recruiting tool portrays the nation’s military in 2015 as an invulnerable high-tech machine. However, equipment never breaks down, electronics are never jammed and, in contrast to a certain real-life conflict where the hallmark of insurgents is their ability to rapidly gain knowledge and evolve, enemies never learn.
Spies in the Sky — (Jackson Free Press — December 27, 2006)
Jackson, Mississippi will have a new ‘eye in the sky’ that gives a whole new meaning to the old phrase, ‘Big Brother Is Watching.’ The helicopter, called Metro One, features an array of high technology and spying devices, such as a 360-degree 18x zoom color camera, video recording, a GPS in-flight map, a 20-million candle searchlight and, most notably, an infrared camera that can pick up both biological and mechanical heat signals.
The Future of War — (The Independent — November 21, 2006)
At a recent exhibition of new military technology one independent expert stood almost agog as the prototype for a new killing machine was rolled out. It went by the acronym of URV or Unmanned Robot Vehicle – and it looked like something from the movies.
Molecule-Size Keypad Lock — (Live Science — December 26, 2006)
Scientists have created a keypad lock a single molecule in size. This lock only activates when exposed to the correct password, a sequence of chemicals and light. Researchers suggest their device could in the future lead to a new level of safeguards for secret information. This lock might also serve to recognize when certain sequences of chemicals are released in the body—for instance, after exposure to Sarin or another deadly chemical or biological weapon.
The Mathematics of Cloaking — (Physorg — December 26, 2006)
The theorists who first created the mathematics that describe the behavior of the recently announced “invisibility cloak” have revealed a new analysis that may extend the current cloak’s powers, enabling it to hide even actively radiating objects like a flashlight or cell phone.
America’s Holy Warriors — (Truth Dig — December 31, 2006)
This opinion piece represents an interesting perspective, not commonly seen, on several key aspects of American society. In particular, it examines the relationship between conservative Christian groups and American security forces, speculating on whether US forces are at risk of becoming religiously polarized.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
First South Korean Space Rocket to Launch in 2008
India to Test Space Capsule as Part of Moon Mission
Google and NASA Pair Up for Virtual Space Exploration
First South Korean Space Rocket to Launch in 2008 — (AFP — January 2, 2007)
South Korea plans to launch its first space rocket next year, becoming the world’s ninth country to do so. A space centre on the country’s south coast is around 90% complete after construction began in late 2000. The rocket, named Korea Space Launch Vehicle, will put a small satellite into orbit for scientific research and atmospheric surveys. Between this year and 2010, South Korea plans to build or launch a total of nine satellites
India to Test Space Capsule as Part of Moon Mission — (AFP — January 3, 2007)
India plans to launch a capsule into orbit early next year and bring it back to Earth, an initial step towards an unmanned mission to the moon by 2010. India also announced recently its intentions to send an unmanned mission to Mars by 2013 to look for evidence of life.
Google and NASA Pair Up for Virtual Space Exploration — (New Scientist — December 18, 2006)
The crunch of Martian soil underfoot and the feel of Martian wind against your cheek could one day be experienced by anyone with an internet connection as a result of a new collaboration between NASA and internet titan Google.
DEMOGRAPHICS AND SOCIAL CHANGE
Education is Proving Key to a Longer Life — (International Herald Tribune — January 3, 2007)
The one social factor that researchers agree is consistently linked to longer lives in every country where it has been studied is education. It is more important than race; it obliterates any effects of income. A few extra years of school is associated with extra years of life and vastly improved health decades later, in old age.
Technology… is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other. -C.P. Snow
A special thanks to Hanna Adeyema, Bernard Calil, Ken Dabkowski, Neil Freer, Humera Khan, KurzweilAI, Sher Patterson-Black, Diane C. Petersen, John C. Petersen, the Schwartzreport, Joel Snell and Matthew W. Sollenberger our contributors to this issue. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.