Volume 10, Number 2
Edited by John L. Petersen
In This Issue:
- For the first time, US cancer deaths have declined for two consecutive years.
- China recently shot down an orbiting satellite – the first such anti-satellite test by any nation in more than two decades.
- More than two thirds of the Yellow River is undrinkable. The Yellow River, China’s second longest waterway, runs over 3,350 miles.
- Workers in a British survey ranked having companionable co-workers as most important to a happy work environment, significantly ahead of monetary compensation.
How to Leak a Secret and Not Get Caught
Internet Economy Passes New Milestone
Do ‘You’ Really Matter
Bloggers Who Criticize Government May Face Prison
How to Leak a Secret and Not Get Caught — (New Scientist — January 12, 2007)
Leaking a sensitive government document can mean risking a jail sentence – but not for much longer if an online service called WikiLeaks goes ahead. WikiLeaks is designed to allow anyone to post documents on the web without fear of being traced. The creators of the site are thought to include political activists and open-source software engineers, though they are keeping their identities secret. Their goal is to ensure that whistle-blowers and journalists are not thrown into jail for emailing sensitive documents.
Internet Economy Passes New Milestone — (Physorg — January 15, 2007)
Americans spent over 100 billion dollars shopping on the Internet in 2006, and growth in e-commerce is likely to extend its strong pace in the coming years. This could put e-commerce in a position to account for 4.7 percent of total US retail sales in five years, up from 2.7 percent at the end of 2006, with significant implications for the way ‘everyday’ American companies do business.
Do ‘You’ Really Matter — (CNN Money — January 17, 2007)
Just because “You” can create a commercial or a two-minute comedy sketch and easily post it online, doesn’t mean that “You” will dominate the media and marketing landscape in the years to come. Only a handful of user-generated ideas will be successful and even then, odds are that they are going to be financial windfalls for large advertisers and big media companies. So far, it remains to be seen whether or not “You” will ever be able to generate much more than a lot of buzz. Sure, buzz is sexy. But revenue and profis are sexier.
Bloggers Who Criticize Government May Face Prison — (Infowars — January 18, 2007)
A proposal currently before congress would force bloggers and online grassroots activists to register and regularly report their activities to Congress. Section 220 of S. 1, the lobbying reform bill currently before the Senate, would require grassroots causes, even bloggers, who communicate to 500 or more members of the public on policy matters, to register and report quarterly to Congress. Section 220 would amend existing lobbying reporting law by creating the most expansive intrusion on First Amendment rights ever. Critics of Congress will need to register and report with Congress itself.
Experts Home in on ‘God Particle’
Fossil Skull, Artifact, Help Date Human Migration
‘Mach c’? Sound Traveling Faster than the Speed of Light
Experts Home in on ‘God Particle’ — (BBC — January 9, 2007)
Scientists may be closing in on the most sought-after particle in physics. The hypothetical Higgs boson, often dubbed the “God particle”, is fundamental to our understanding of the Universe but has yet to be detected. Now, data from the Tevatron particle collider has enabled the most precise calculation yet to be made for its predicted mass, narrowing the window in which to locate the elusive particle.
Fossil Skull, Artifact, Help Date Human Migration — (Reuters — January 11, 2007)
An ancient skull from South Africa and carved tools and ornaments from Russia paint a rare picture of the time when modern humans migrated out of Africa to colonize Europe. The two reports link the far reaches of Europe to southernmost Africa across a short time span of 36,000 to 45,000 years ago.
‘Mach c’? Sound Traveling Faster than the Speed of Light — (Physorg — January 17, 2007)
Past experiments have demonstrated that the group velocities of other materials’ components—such as optical, microwave, and electrical pulses—can exceed the speed of light. But while the individual spectral components of these pulses have velocities very close to c, the components of ordinary sound waves are almost six orders of magnitude slower than light (compare 340 m/s to 300,000,000 m/s). However, these are no ordinary sound waves….
New Stem Cell Source Discovered
Modified Skin Cells Resist Bugs
Memories are Made of This Molecule
New Stem Cell Source Discovered — (BBC — January 8, 2007)
Scientists say they have discovered a new source of stem cells that could one day repair damaged human organs. Researchers successfully extracted the cells from the fluid that fills the womb in pregnancy and then grew them in lab experiments.
Modified Skin Cells Resist Bugs — (BBC — January 8, 2007)
Scientists say they have made germ-resistant skin that could one day save the lives of severe burns victims. The genetically modified skin cells, when added to cultured skin substitutes, killed more bacteria than normal skin in the lab.
Diabetes Breakthrough — (National Post — December 15, 2006)
Scientists say they have proof the body’s nervous system helps trigger diabetes, opening the door to a potential near-cure of the disease that affects tens of millions. Diabetic mice became healthy virtually overnight after researchers injected a substance to counteract the effect of malfunctioning pain neurons in the pancreas.
Memories are Made of This Molecule — (New Scientist — January 15, 2007)
How are memories formed? The question has perplexed scientists for years, but now it seems we’re a step closer to solving it. The leading candidate is a process called long-term potentiation (LTP), in which the connections between individual brain cells get stronger the more often they are used, such as during learning.
AUGMENTED INTELLIGENCE AND ROBOTICS
We’ll All be Cyborgs Someday
Conceptualizing a Cyborg
Direct Brain Control of Robots
We’ll All be Cyborgs Someday — (Statesman — December 23, 2006)
In “Casino Royale,” the latest James Bond movie, Bond is implanted with a microchip that allows headquarters to track his whereabouts and monitor his vital signs. If cybernetics experts are right, the day will come when most people are implanted with chips – and the real-life chips will do a lot more than Bond’s does.
Conceptualizing a Cyborg — (Physorg — January 18, 2007)
To develop the next generation of prosthetics the idea is to use regions of undamaged nervous tissue to provide command signals to drive a device, such as an artificial limb. The central feature of the proposed interface is the ability to create transplantable living nervous tissue already coupled to electrodes.
Direct Brain Control of Robots — (Science Agogo– December 18, 2006)
A metal skullcap with electrodes sticking out has turned a sci-fi cliché into reality, with the wearer being able to control a robot’s movements with thought power alone. Researchers have demonstrated that an individual can “order” the robot to move to specific locations and pick up specific objects merely by generating the proper brain wave instructions.
A Fast, Sensitive Virus Detector
New Vaccines Against the Flu
Circumcision Appears to Reduce AIDS Risk in Men
1918 Flu Pandemic Virus Overwhelmed Lungs
U.S. Cancer Deaths Drop for 2nd Year in a Row
A Fast, Sensitive Virus Detector — (MIT Technology Review — January 8, 2007)
Researchers have developed an ultra-sensitive sensor that could potentially be housed in a handheld device. Within minutes, it can detect various viruses and measure their concentration. The sensor, which only requires a small sample of saliva, blood, or other body fluid, could be used to quickly screen people at hospitals and emergency clinics to control outbreaks of diseases such as SARS and the bird flu.
New Vaccines Against the Flu — (MIT Technology Review — January 10, 2007)
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently began a clinical trial of a novel kind of bird-flu vaccine that can be designed and manufactured three times faster than traditional vaccines. These new DNA vaccines, which have shown promise in animals, could help researchers respond rapidly to an emerging flu pandemic.
Circumcision Appears to Reduce AIDS Risk in Men — (International Herald Tribune — December 14, 2006)
Circumcision appears to reduce a man’s risk of contracting AIDS from heterosexual sex by half, according to U.S. government health officials. Circumcision has been working so well that continuing clinical trials was determined to be unethical and two of the trials in Africa have been stopped. Directors of the U.S. and international funds for fighting the disease said they would now consider paying for circumcisions.
1918 Flu Pandemic Virus Overwhelmed Lungs — (Live Science — January 17, 2007)
An international team of scientists say they’ve uncovered an important clue as to why the 1918 Spanish flu virus was so lethal, killing over 50 million people worldwide. Reporting in Nature magazine, scientists say the virus caused an immune response that destroyed the lungs within a few days. It appeared to disrupt the body’s typical reaction to viral infection, causing the immune system to attack the respiratory system. As a result, victims’ lungs filled with fluid, and they essentially drowned.
U.S. Cancer Deaths Drop for 2nd Year in a Row — (CNN — January 17, 2007)
The number of cancer deaths in the United States has dropped for the second year in a row, the first such decreases since researchers started keeping national statistics more than 70 years ago. The most recent decline was much larger than the year before with 3,014 fewer deaths reported between 2003 and 2004, compared to 369 fewer deaths from 2002 to 2003.
New Magnets Attract International Attention
Touch Screens for Many Fingers
The Open Source Solution
Novel Chip Architecture Could Extend Moore’s Law
Record-Breaking Speed for Flexible Silicon
New Magnets Attract International Attention — (University of Victoria — January 17, 2007)
Pure metal or metal alloy magnets are heavy, inflexible and can only be produced under high temperatures. Researchers have now discovered new lightweight magnets that could be used in making everything from extra-thin magnetic computer memory to ultra-light spacecraft parts. The discovery is the first step in designing the next generation of magnets which could, in theory, be easily manipulated at room temperature.
Touch Screens for Many Fingers — (New Scientist — January 18, 2007)
The full power of multi-touch technology might be unleashed in screens far larger than those on the highly-touted Iphones. Over the past few years, researchers have developed an inexpensive way to make large multi-touch screens accommodating 10, 20, or even more fingers. Applications range from interactive whiteboards to touch-screen tables and digital walls – any of which could be manipulated by more than just one person.
The Open Source Solution — (MIT Technology Review — January 8, 2007)
As you read this, countless programmers worldwide are collaborating to write, refine, and debug open-source software. Some estimates claim that more than a million programmers now contribute to these efforts, in which the original written form of the code -the source- is made freely available for everyone to work on and worry over. Once a fringe phenomenon, the practice has grown into a major force in software development.
Novel Chip Architecture Could Extend Moore’s Law — (MIT Tech Review — January 16, 2007)
In the chip-making industry, the best way to increase the speed of electronics and make them cheaper has always been to shrink a chip’s transistors to create room for more. But now researchers have announced a radically different approach: a design that creates room for eight times more transistors on a chip, while avoiding the need to make the transistors smaller.
Record-Breaking Speed for Flexible Silicon — (MIT Technology Review — January 11, 2007)
Researchers have made ultra-thin silicon transistors that operate more than 50 times faster than previous flexible-silicon devices. The advance could help make possible flexible high-end electronics that would be useful in a variety of applications, from computers to communication.
March in January! Or Is It Mayday?
If We Fail to Act…
Chrysler Questions Climate Change
Plastics Poisoning World’s Seas
World Faces Hottest Year Ever
Cutbacks Impede Climate Studies
30% of Yellow River Fish Species Extinct
March in January! Or Is It Mayday? — (Washington Post — January 7, 2007)
Never has good weather felt so bad. Never have flowers inspired so much fear. Never has the warm caress of a sunbeam seemed so ominous. The weather is sublime, it’s glorious – it’s quite possibly the end of the world as we know it.
If We Fail to Act… — (Independent — January 1, 2007)
One of the world’s leading experts on climate change has warned that the Earth is being turned into a “different planet” because of the continuing increase in man-made emissions of greenhouse gases. One of the first scientists to warn of climate change in scientific testimony to the US Congress in 1988, now claims that we have less than 10 years to begin to curb carbon dioxide emissions before global warming runs out of control and changes the landscape forever.
Chrysler Questions Climate Change — (BBC — January 10, 2007)
Chrysler’s chief economist Van Jolissaint has attacked European attitudes to global warming, describing climate change as “way, way in the future, with a high degree of uncertainty”. Mr Jolissaint was speaking at a private breakfast where the chief economists of the “Big Three” US car firms presented their forecasts for auto industry sales this year. Most of the audience seemed to nod in agreement with Mr Jolissaint.
Plastics Poisoning World’s Seas — (BBC — December 7, 2006)
Microscopic particles of plastic could be poisoning the oceans. Researchers report that small plastic pellets called “mermaids’ tears”, which are the result of industry and domestic waste, have spread across the world’s seas. The scientists had previously found the debris on UK beaches and in European waters; now they have replicated the finding on four continents.
World Faces Hottest Year Ever — (Independent — January 22, 2007)
A combination of global warming and the El Niño weather system is set to make 2007 the warmest year on record with far-reaching consequences for the planet, according to leading climate researchers. As the new year was ushered in with stormy conditions across the UK, the forecast for the next 12 months is of extreme global weather patterns which could bring drought to Indonesia and leave California under a deluge.
Cutbacks Impede Climate Studies — (Washington Post — January 16, 2007)
The government’s ability to understand and predict hurricanes, drought and climate changes of all kinds is in danger because of deep cuts facing many Earth satellite programs and major delays in launching some of its most important new instruments. A two-year study by the National Academy of Sciences determined that NASA’s earth science budget has declined by 30% since 2000. It stands to fall further as funding shifts to plans for a manned mission to the moon and Mars
30% of Yellow River Fish Species Extinct— (Guardian — January 18, 2007)
Dams, pollution and over-fishing have wiped out a third of the fish species in the Yellow river – China’s second longest waterway. The extinction toll strengthens fears that China’s major rivers are losing their ability to support life as the country’s rapid – and poorly regulated – economic growth takes an increasingly heavy toll on the environment.
Powering GM’s Electric Vehicles
Solar Power Eliminates Utility Bills in U.S. Home
Powering GM’s Electric Vehicles — (MIT Technology Review — January 11, 2007)
General Motors recently announced that it is developing two types of plug-in hybrid vehicles, cars designed to run exclusively or almost exclusively on electricity for daily commutes – but the announcements came with this caveat: the battery technology isn’t ready, and production will have to wait. In reality, the battery technology is actually quite close to being ready.
Solar Power Eliminates Utility Bills in U.S. Home — (Reuters — January 18, 2007)
Michael Strizki heats and cools his house year-round and runs a full range of appliances including such power-guzzlers as a hot tub and a wide-screen TV without paying a penny in utility bills. His conventional-looking family home in the pinewoods of western New Jersey is the first in the United States to show that a combination of solar and hydrogen power can generate all the electricity needed for a home.
TERRORISM, SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
America’s New Global Strike Weapon
NSA Spy Program to be Reformed
Chinese Test Anti-Satellite Weapon
Walking Like a Bomber
America’s New Global Strike Weapon — (Popular Mechanics– January, 2007)
If Pentagon strategists get their way, there will be no place on the planet to hide from such a US assault. The plan is part of a program — in slow development since the 1990s, and now quickly coalescing in military circles — called Prompt Global Strike. The goal, according to the U.S. Strategic Command’s deputy commander Lt. Gen. C. Robert Kehler, is “to strike virtually anywhere on the face of the Earth within 60 minutes.”
NSA Spy Program to be Reformed — (Cnet — January 17, 2007)
The Bush administration will substantially alter its controversial domestic surveillance program by seeking approval for wiretaps from a secret court. The surprise announcement said President Bush has agreed that “any electronic surveillance that was occurring” under the program will be conducted subject to the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington, D.C. The program is conducted by the National Security Agency.
Chinese Test Anti-Satellite Weapon — (Aviation Week — January 15, 2007)
U. S. intelligence agencies believe China performed a successful anti-satellite weapons test at more than 500 mi. altitude, destroying an aging Chinese weather satellite target with a kinetic kill vehicle launched on board a ballistic missile. The Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, NASA and other government organizations have a full court press underway to obtain data on the alleged test. If the test is verified it will signify a major new Chinese military capability.
Walking Like a Bomber — (MIT Technology Review — January 18, 2007)
In November 2005, three suicide bombers walked into three hotels in Jordan and blew themselves up, killing 63 and injuring more than 100. While the world is alert to such deadly threats, the challenge remains: how to detect approaching suicide bombers from a safe distance. A new radar-imaging technology expected to reach market later this year could solve the problem by directing low-power radar beams at people – who can be 50 yards or more away – and analyzing reflected radar returns to reveal concealed objects.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Rare Black Diamonds May have Come from Space — (New Scientist — January 15, 2007)
Black diamonds found in only a few places on Earth may have crashed down from space in a kilometer-sized rock, according to new research. The diamonds, also called carbonado, are only found in Brazil and the Central African Republic. Unlike other diamonds, they are made of millions of diamond crystals that are stuck together.
DEMOGRAPHICS AND SOCIAL CHANGE
Another Worry for Those Who Believe the Glass is Half-Empty
You’ve Got to Laugh
Another Worry for Those Who Believe the Glass is Half-Empty — (International Herald Tribune — January 9, 2007)
Now, it seems, pessimists may really have something to worry about: their health. A study has found that people who are temperamentally pessimistic are more likely to die of heart disease and other causes than those who are by nature optimistic.
You’ve Got to Laugh — (BBC — January 10, 2007)
Forget salary, location, prospects – happiness is the new weapon in the drive to recruit the best and brightest new workers. A new survey which set out to understand what makes for happy employees, found the most important factor is having friendly, supportive colleagues. Languishing in 10th place in the Happiness at Work index is a competitive salary.
Restlessness and discontent are the first necessities of progress. -Thomas Edison
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.