Volume 10, Number 4
Edited by John L. Petersen
In This Issue:
- A new autonomous underwater vehicle can stay out to sea for up to a year and dive to depths of nearly 9,000 feet – nearly three times deeper than the deepest-diving military submarines.
- Scientists have successfully regrown a tooth from cells extracted from mouse embryos.
- A new chip can perform 1 trillion operations per second and is the size of a large postage stamp. In 1996, supercomputers of comparable power took up about 2,000 square feet.
- Americans hate their jobs more than ever, with fewer than half saying they are satisfied. 20 years ago, 61% of Americans said they were satisfied with their jobs.
- The seeds for more than 1.5 million different agricultural crops will soon be interred in an Arctic seedbank, as part of a plan to combat catastrophic climate change.
Downloading is a Packrat’s Dream
Brain Scan Can Read People’s Intentions
Plan to Vaccinate Babies Against Drugs
Downloading is a Packrat’s Dream— (Wired — March 7, 2007)
The technical name is syllogomania, from sylloge (“to collect”), but most psychiatric professionals call it compulsive hoarding. Like everyone else, compulsive hoarders have gone digital. Infohoarding may be the first psychiatric dysfunction born of digital age.
Brain Scan Can Read People’s Intentions — (Guardian — February 9, 2007)
A team of world-leading neuroscientists has developed a powerful technique that allows them to look deep inside a person’s brain and read their intentions before they act. The research breaks controversial new ground in scientists’ ability to probe people’s minds and eavesdrop on their thoughts, and raises serious ethical issues over how brain-reading technology may be used in the future.
Plan to Vaccinate Babies Against Drugs— (This is London — February 2, 2007)
Under a plan being considered by the British government, babies could be vaccinated with brain-altering chemicals to stop them getting hooked on drugs and cigarettes in later life. Newborns would have jabs which could prevent addiction to cocaine, heroin or tobacco.
Hidden Twist in the Black Hole Information Paradox
Archaeologists Uncover 2,300-Year-Old Solar Calendar
Huge ‘Ocean’ Discovered Inside Earth
Hidden Twist in the Black Hole Information Paradox — (SPX — March 1, 2007)
Researchers have established that quantum information cannot be ‘hidden’ in conventional ways. Conventional information can vanish in two ways, either by moving to another place (e.g. across the internet), or by “hiding”, such as in a coded message. This new result regarding quantum data gives a surprising new twist to one of the great mysteries about black holes…
Archaeologists Uncover 2,300-Year-Old Solar Calendar — (Bloomberg — March 1, 2007)
A set of 2,300-year-old towers in Peru was used as a solar calendar by ancient Andeans. The Chankillo site, about 250 miles north of Lima, features a line of 13 towers and two structures the archaeologists call observation points. The two points were built to observe the movement of the sun through spaces between the towers, erected between 200 and 300 B.C., and track the course of a solar year.
Huge ‘Ocean’ Discovered Inside of Earth — (Live Science — February 28, 2007)
Scientists scanning the deep interior of Earth have found evidence of a vast water reservoir beneath eastern Asia that is at least the volume of the Arctic Ocean. The discovery marks the first time such a large body of water has found in the planet’s deep mantle. Previous predictions calculated that if a cold slab of the ocean floor were to sink thousands of miles into the Earth’s mantle, the hot temperatures would cause water stored inside the rock to evaporate out.
Who Owns Your Genes?
Electric Switch Could Turn on Limb Regeneration
Who Owns Your Genes? — (International Herald Tribune — February 13, 2007)
You, or someone you love, may die because of a gene patent that should never have been granted in the first place. Sound far-fetched? Unfortunately, it’s only too real. In the United States, gene patents are now used to halt research, prevent medical testing and keep vital information from you and your doctors. Gene patents slow the pace of medical advance on deadly diseases. And they raise costs exorbitantly: A test for breast cancer that could be done for $1,000 now costs $3,000.
Regrowing Teeth — (MIT Technology Review — February 22, 2007)
The average American will lose about eight teeth by the time he or she turns 50. Common replacements include dentures, which have been known to erode the underlying bone over time, and dental implants, which are prone to falling out after several years’ use. Thus, the ability to regrow a natural tooth, with the accompanying bone, root, and nerves, could provide a significantly healthier alternative for many – and scientists have done just that… at least, in mice.
Electric Switch Could Turn on Limb Regeneration — (Nature – February 28, 2007)
Tadpoles can achieve something that humans may only dream of: pull off a tadpole’s thick tail or a tiny developing leg, and it’ll grow right back – spinal cord, muscles, blood vessels and all. Now researchers have discovered the key regulator of the electrical signal that convinces Xenopus pollywogs to regenerate amputated tails. The results give some researchers hope for new approaches to stimulating tissue regeneration in humans.
Nanocoating Is Virtual Black Hole for Reflections
Nanotechnology Seen as Answer to Counterfeiters
Nanocoating Is Virtual Black Hole for Reflections — (Physorg — March 1, 2007)
Most surfaces reflect some light – from a puddle of water all the way to a mirror. The new material has almost the same refractive index as air, making it an ideal building block for anti-reflection coatings. It sets a world record by decreasing the reflectivity compared to conventional anti-reflection coatings by an order of magnitude. The material has a refractive index of 1.05, which is extremely close to the refractive index of air and the lowest ever reported. Window glass, for comparison, has a refractive index of about 1.45.
Nanotechnology Seen as Answer to Counterfeiters — (NPR — February 27, 2007)
The money in your pocket is going to start looking and acting – yes, acting – quite strange in a few years. That’s according to a government report, just released, which argues that the only way for the U.S. government to stay ahead of counterfeiters is to use nanotechnology. If this happens, our money will no longer be a printed piece of paper. It will become a very thin, very high-tech machine.
Health Experts Place Bets on Bird Flu Pandemic
A Cheaper, Easier Malaria Pill
New Drugs Promise Options for HIV Patients
Mystery Ailment Strikes Honeybees
Health Experts Place Bets on Bird Flu Pandemic— (CBC — March 1, 2007)
Health experts have launched a new “market” aimed at predicting when a potential bird flu pandemic will hit. The project aims to collect opinions from medical experts such as epidemiologists, veterinarians, nurses and laboratory technicians who notice an odd case, virus sample or disease pattern.
A Cheaper, Easier Malaria Pill — (International Herald Tribune — March 1, 2007)
A new, cheap pill to treat malaria has been introduced, the first product of an innovative partnership between an international drug company and a medical charity. The medicine, called ASAQ, is a pill combining artemisinin, invented in China using sweet wormwood and hailed as a miracle malaria drug, with amodiaquine, an older drug that still works in many malarial areas. A treatment will cost less than $1 for adults and less than 50 cents for children.
New Drugs Promise Options for HIV Patients — (Bloomberg — March 1, 2007)
Three experimental HIV drugs with two entirely new mechanisms for attacking viruses promise to spur a change in how doctors treat the virus that causes AIDS, helping thousands of patients who have stopped responding to previous medicines. One, Maraviroc is the first drug in an entirely new class of HIV-drugs that works by preventing the virus AIDS virus from entering cells.
Mystery Ailment Strikes Honeybees — (AP — February 11, 2007)
A mysterious illness is killing tens of thousands of honeybee colonies across the country, threatening honey production, the livelihood of beekeepers and possibly crops that need bees for pollination. Researchers are scrambling to find the cause of the ailment, called Colony Collapse Disorder. Reports of unusual colony deaths have come from at least 22 states. Some affected commercial beekeepers, who often keep thousands of colonies, have reported losing more than 50 percent of their bees.
A Wireless Street Fight
The Promise of Personal Supercomputers
Data-Storing Bacteria Could Last Thousands of Years
A Wireless Street Fight — (Time — February 15, 2007)
Your cell phone is spying on you, but don’t be afraid. Thanks to better mapping technology and hyper-local services tailored to the small screen, the latest wireless gadgets can automatically pinpoint your location and then direct you to everything from the nearest Chinese restaurant to where your friends are hanging out. And while it may seem creepy to have your phone keeping tabs on you even when you’re sleeping, this isn’t some Homeland Security nightmare. It’s just an easier way to find people and places nearby.
The Promise of Personal Supercomputers — (MIT Technology Review — February 23, 2007)
A new research project has made computer geeks jump with glee: the first programmable “terascale” supercomputer on a chip. The new chips each contain 80 cores, or processors, and could be programmed to crunch numbers at the rate of a trillion operations per second, a measure known as a teraflop. The chips are about the size of a large postage stamp, but have the same calculation speed as a supercomputer that, in 1996, took up about 2,000 square feet and drew about 1,000 times more power.
Data-Storing Bacteria Could Last Thousands of Years — (ComputerWorld — February 27, 2007)
Scientists have developed a new technology that uses bacteria DNA as a medium for storing data long-term, even for thousands of years. The new technology creates an artificial DNA that carries up to more than 100 bits of data within the genome sequence. The researchers said they successfully encoded “e= mc2 1905!” – Einstein’s theory of relativity and the year he enunciated it – on the common soil bacteria, Bacillius subtilis.
Race to the Bottom
New Sub Dives Crushing Depths
Pollution Threat in Tehran ‘Bad as Huge Quake’
Corporations Agree to Cut Emissions
Ocean Circulation Not Slowing Down
Cooling the Planet
Work Starts on Artic Seed Vault
Race to the Bottom — (Wired — March, 2007)
A new age of undersea mining may be dawning. Test digs from ocean floors around the world have produced rock samples with gold, copper and other precious metal concentrations far in excess of what is currently found in most mining operations. This new approach to mining comes as the industry reaches a critical juncture. Many of the major land deposits have been exhausted by the $225 billion-a-year industry. But demand for minerals has never been higher.
New Sub Dives Crushing Depths — (Wired — February 26, 2007)
Scientists have developed an autonomous underwater vehicle that can stay out to sea for up to a year and dive to depths of nearly 9,000 feet — nearly three times deeper than the deepest-diving military submarines. Known as Deepglider, the 71-inch long, 138-pound device is made of carbon fiber that can withstand the deep ocean’s immense pressure. The energy-efficient, battery-powered glider carries sensors to measure oceanic conditions including salinity and temperature – information that is key to understanding climate change.
Pollution Threat in Tehran ‘Bad as Huge Quake’ — (Guardian — January 10, 2007)
Officials in Tehran have warned that the city’s notoriously polluted air could cause a catastrophe after figures showed 120 people a day had died from toxic fumes. The potential effects have been compared to those of a large earthquake, after 3,600 people were reported to have died from pollution-related illnesses in four weeks during October and November. The figures were released by officials heading a government program to cut pollution in Tehran, home to 12 million people.
Corporations Agree to Cut Emissions— (Reuters — February 20, 2007)
More than 100 corporate heads, international organizations and experts set out a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions, calling on governments to act urgently against global warming. The agreement urged governments to place a price on the carbon emissions released by power plants, factories and other sectors to discourage emissions.
Ocean Circulation Not Slowing Down — (Live Science — February 27, 2007)
Scientific evidence and Hollywood’s “The Day After Tomorrow” have fueled fears that global warming could disrupt the Atlantic Ocean’s main circulation system and drastically alter global weather patterns, but there is no firm evidence that shows this is actually happening, says a prominent oceanographer.
Cooling the Planet — (MIT Technology Review — February 13, 2007)
In the past two decades, various novel planet-cooling technologies have been proposed – improbable, monumental projects such as putting into orbit giant mirrors with thousand-kilometer diameters or clouds of trillions of wafer-thin, butterfly-light lenses. Until recently, such proposals have remained on the fringes of acceptable scientific speculation. Now, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claiming in its latest report that there’s a 90% probability that the last half-century of global warming has been caused by humans, radical planet-cooling technological possibilities are suddenly receiving consideration alongside the standard proposals for capping, reducing, or sequestering carbon emissions.
Work Starts on Artic Seed Vault — (CNN — February 9, 2007)
Deep inside the Arctic Circle work is about to begin on a giant frozen Noah’s Ark for food crops to provide a last bastion in the battle against global warming. And within a year the first seeds of what will eventually be home for samples of all 1.5 million distinct varieties of agricultural crops worldwide will be tucked safely inside the vaults deep in a mountain on the archipelago of Svalbard. There, at the end of a tunnel 120 meters into the side of a mountain, 80 meters above estimated sea levels even if all polar ice melts, and 18 degrees Celsius below freezing, they will stay like a bank security deposit.
A Portable Refinery Powered by Garbage
Wild Grass Could Hold Key to Clean Fuels
Global Warming Worries to Boost Renewables
Tax Credits for Plug-In Hybrids
A Portable Refinery Powered by Garbage — (MIT Technology Review — February 14, 2007)
Scientists have developed a portable machine that turns a variety of food waste and inorganic trash into electricity. Despite being small enough to transport in a 20-foot shipping container, the “tactical refinery” is three technologies in one: a bioreactor that uses enzymes and micro-organisms to turn food waste into ethanol; a gasification unit that turns plastics, paper, and other residual waste into methane and low-grade propane; and a modified diesel engine that can burn gas, ethanol, and diesel fuel in variable proportions.
Wild Grass Could Hold Key to Clean Fuels — (AFP — February 17, 2007)
Miscanthus, a perennial grass native to subtropical and tropical regions of Africa and southern Asia, may be an ideal plant for producing ethanol at a lower cost than corn, currently the most widespread source of the fuel. The grass, which is used as an ornamental plant in the United States, had produced yields between five and 10 times greater than corn, experts said.
Global Warming Worries to Boost Renewables — (Reuters — February 25, 2007)
Three decades after former U.S. President Jimmy Carter experimented with solar panels on the White House roof, grim U.N. warnings about climate change may kick-start wider global use of renewable energy. Governments from Japan to Germany are already subsidizing energies such as wind, hydro, biofuels, geothermal, solar or tidal power, spurred by worries about security of supply, climate change and high oil prices at about $60 a barrel.
Tax Credits for Plug-In Hybrids — (MIT Technology Review — March 1, 2007)
Plug-in hybrid vehicles, which can be recharged using a standard wall outlet, are becoming increasingly practical because of advances in battery technology. And now the technology is also gaining support in Washington, with the promise that it could soon receive the type of federal tax incentives that have helped fuel the sales of conventional hybrid vehicles over the past several years. Depending on the configuration of the vehicle, people who drive less than 40 miles a day could use no gasoline at all, while the average U.S. driver could see fuel economy of 150 miles per gallon.
TERRORISM, SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Record Power for Military Laser
Surveillance Cameras Get Smarter
Record Power for Military Laser — (BBC — February 22, 2007)
A laser developed for military use is a few steps away from hitting a power threshold thought necessary to turn it into a battlefield weapon. The Solid State Heat Capacity Laser has achieved 67 kilowatts (kW) of average power in the laboratory. It could take only a further six to eight months to break the “magic” 100kW mark required for battlefield use.
Surveillance Cameras Get Smarter — (AP — February 25, 2007)
The never-blinking surveillance cameras, rapidly becoming a part of daily life in public and even private places, may be sizing you up as well. And they may soon get a lot smarter. Researchers and security companies are developing cameras that not only watch the world but also interpret what they see. Soon, some cameras may be able to find unattended bags at airports, guess your height or analyze the way you walk to see if you are hiding something.
DEMOGRAPHICS AND SOCIAL CHANGE
Fact or Fiction: Living People Outnumber the Dead
Americans Hate Their Jobs More Than Ever
Fact or Fiction: Living People Outnumber the Dead — (Scientific American — March 1, 2007)
The human population has swelled so much that people alive today outnumber all those who have ever lived, says a factoid whose roots stretch back to the 1970s. Some versions of this widely circulating rumor claim that 75 percent of all people ever born are currently alive. Yet, despite a quadrupling of the population in the past century, the number of people alive today is still dwarfed by the number of people who have ever lived.
X-treme Eating — (BBC — February 27, 2007)
Chain restaurants in the United States are promoting dangerous “X-treme Eating”, a US watchdog has said. Several individual dishes can exceed more than 2,000 calories – indeed, some American restaurant chains have menus that contain 2,000-calorie appetizers, 2,000-calorie main courses and 1,700 calorie desserts.
Americans Hate Their Jobs More Than Ever — (Live Science — February 26, 2007)
Americans hate their jobs more than ever before in the past 20 years, with fewer than half saying they are satisfied. The trend is strongest among workers under the age of 25, less than 39% of whom are satisfied with their jobs. Workers age 45 to 54 have the second lowest level of satisfaction. Overall, dissatisfaction has spread among all workers, regardless of age, income or residence. Twenty years ago, the first time the survey was conducted, 61% of all Americans said they were satisfied with their jobs.
To err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer. – Farmers’ Almanac, 1978
A special thanks to Bernard Calil, Ken Dabkowski, Neil Freer, Ursula 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.