Volume 10, Number 5
Edited by John L. Petersen
In This Issue:
- More than six million computers world wide are now part of “bot networks” – collections of hijacked computers used by hackers in cyber attacks.
- Mars has ice deposits more than 2.3 miles thick.
- HIV has killed an estimated 22 million people since it was first recognized more than 25 years ago.
- The US Mid-West is experiencing the largest growth in coal-fired power plant construction in more than 3 decades.
China Approves Law that Protects Private Property
Latest Twist: Useful Online Ads
Push for Open Access to Research
China Approves Law that Protects Private Property — (International Herald Tribune — March 16, 2007)
After more than a quarter-century of market-oriented economic policies and record-setting growth, China recently approved its first law to protect private property explicitly. The measure, which was delayed a year ago amid vocal opposition from resurgent socialist intellectuals and old-line, left-leaning members of the ruling Communist Party, is viewed by its supporters as building a new and more secure legal foundation for private entrepreneurs and the country’s urban middle-class.
Latest Twist: Useful Online Ads — (Wired — March 20, 2007)
Netvibes lets users build their own personalized homepage simply and quickly by assembling favorite sites, data feeds, blogs and e-mail accounts for free. The concept is hardly new – however, in addition to this basic usefulness and simplicity, Netvibes offers something unusual: the complete absence of advertisements.
Push for Open Access to Research — (BBC — February 28, 2007)
Five leading European research institutions launched a petition that called on the European Commission to establish a new policy that would require all government-funded research to be made available to the public shortly after publication. That requirement – called an open access principle – would leverage widespread internet connectivity with low-cost electronic publication to create a freely available virtual scientific library available to the entire globe.
New Leopard Species Found in Borneo
Physicists Modify Double-Slit Experiment to Confirm Einstein’s Belief
New Leopard Species Found in Borneo — (AP — March 14, 2007)
The clouded leopard of Borneo – discovered to be an entirely new species – is the latest in a growing list of animals and plants unique to the Southeast Asian country’s rainforest and underscores the need to preserve the area. The news about the clouded leopard comes just a few weeks after a WWF report showed that scientists had identified at least 52 new species of animals and plants over the past year on Borneo, the world’s third largest island that is shared by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
Physicists Modify Double-Slit Experiment to Confirm Einstein’s Belief — (Physorg — March 12, 2007)
Physics professors have definitively shown that light is made of particles and waves, a finding that refutes a common belief held for about 80 years. Previously, the scientific community had tended to support Niels Bohr’s ideas, commonly known as the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, which stated that in any experiment light shows only one aspect at a time, either behaving as a wave or as a particle.
Invisible Revolution — (MIT Technology Review — March 12, 2007)
Using rings of printed circuit boards, researchers managed to divert microwaves around a kind of “hole in space.” Even when a metal cylinder was placed at the center of the hole, the microwaves behaved as though nothing were there. It was arguably the most dramatic demonstration so far of what can be achieved with metamaterials, composites made up of precisely arranged patterns of two or more distinct materials.
MRI Scanner Steers Magnetic Particle in Live Animal’s Blood
Scientists say Nerves Use Sound, not Electricity
Artificial Lymph Node Transplanted into Mice
Artificial Vein to Boost Surgery
Wipe Out a Single Memory
MRI Scanner Steers Magnetic Particle in Live Animal’s Blood — (New Scientist — March 15, 2007)
Microscopic medical devices could one day be steered through a patient’s bloodstream using magnetic resonance imaging machines. In a recent study, researchers were able to move small magnetic beads through the arteries of live pigs using the magnetic coils inside an MRI device. Being able to move tiny working medical devices through the body this way could let doctors reach areas beyond the scope of keyhole surgery or other existing techniques.
Scientists say Nerves Use Sound, not Electricity — (CBC – March 9, 2007)
The common view that nerves transmit impulses through electricity is wrong; according to a team of scientists, they actually transmit via sound. The laws of thermodynamics tell us that electrical impulses must produce heat as they travel along the nerve. However, experiments found that no such heat is produced, leading the scientists to formulate a new theory for nerve impulse propagation.
Artificial Lymph Node Transplanted into Mice — (New Scientist – March 15, 2007)
An artificial lymph node has been transplanted into mice, where it successfully produced immune cells. The new form of bioengineered tissue marks a significant step towards transplanting an entire immune system into patients dying of AIDS, cancer or other diseases.
Artificial Vein to Boost Surgery — (BBC – March 14, 2007)
Scientists are developing an artificial vein for use in patients with circulation problems. The device, which encourages blood to flow in its natural spiraling fashion, has produced highly promising results in clinical trials. The developers hope it will offer surgeons carrying out bypass operations an alternative to relying on blood vessels taken from the patient’s body.
Wipe Out a Single Memory — (Nature – March 11, 2007)
A single, specific memory has been wiped from the brains of rats, leaving other recollections intact. The brain secures memories by transferring them from short-term to long-term storage, through a process called reconsolidation. This process can be interrupted with drugs – however, until now, scientists did not know how specific this interference was: could the transfer of one specific memory be meddled with without affecting others? The answer, apparently, is yes.
Cheap Nano Solar Cells
How the Tiniest Sieve in the World Could Improve Dialysis
Cheap Nano Solar Cells — (MIT Technology Review — March 5, 2007)
Researchers have demonstrated a way to significantly improve the efficiency of solar cells made using low-cost, readily available materials, including a chemical commonly used in paints. The researchers added single-walled carbon nanotubes to a film made of titanium-dioxide nanoparticles, doubling the efficiency of converting ultraviolet light into electrons when compared with the performance of the nanoparticles alone. The solar cells could be used to make hydrogen for fuel cells directly from water or for producing electricity.
How the Tiniest Sieve in the World Could Improve Dialysis — (The Guardian — March 15, 2007)
A new, ultra-thin silicon membrane could revolutionize the way that doctors or scientists manipulate molecules. Only 50 atoms thick, it might even improve treatment regimes for haemodialysis patients with kidney failure.
Rise of a Deadly TB Reveals a Global System in Crisis
Scientists Discover Natural Barrier to HIV
GM Mosquito May Wipe Out Malaria
Rise of a Deadly TB Reveals a Global System in Crisis — (NY Times — March 20, 2007)
The spread of a particularly virulent form of tuberculosis in South Africa illustrates a breakdown in the global program that is supposed to keep the disease, one of the world’s deadliest, under control. But international tuberculosis experts say the system is in deep trouble for an array of reasons: misuse of antibiotics; other bad medical practices, like failing to segregate high-risk patients in hospitals and clinics; and cuts in government spending for such basics as adequate supplies of drugs and laboratories. Such factors have led to the rise of drug-resistant tuberculosis bacteria, a menace the world has only begun to appreciate.
Scientists Discover Natural Barrier to HIV — (HealthDay — March 5, 2007)
Researchers have discovered that cells in the mucosal lining of human genitalia produce a protein that “eats up” invading HIV – possibly keeping the spread of the AIDS more contained than it might otherwise be. Even more important, enhancing the activity of this protein, called Langerin, could be a potent new way to curtail the transmission of the virus that causes AIDS.
GM Mosquito May Wipe Out Malaria — (Al Jazeera — March 20, 2007)
Mosquitoes genetically engineered to resist infection with malaria have outbred their normal cousins and may be used to help control malaria, researchers have said. They said a study suggests that releasing such genetically altered insects may help to battle malaria, which kills up to three million people a year, most of them young children.
A Depth-Sensing Camera, an LCD Projector and Some Genius
Are Secure Connections Really Secure
A Depth-Sensing Camera, an LCD Projector and Some Genius — (Microsoft — March 12, 2007)
The above link points towards a video – a fascinating demonstration of leading-edge technology with numerous potential applications. Curious? Watch the video!
Single-Photon Server — (Max Plank Society — March 12, 2007)
Every time you switch on a light bulb, 10 to the power of 15 (a million times a billion) visible photons, the elementary particles of light, are illuminating the room in every second. If that is too many for you, light a candle. If that is still too many, and say, you just want one and not more than one photon every time you press the button, you will have to work a little harder. A team of physicists have now built a single-photon server based on a single trapped neutral atom. The high quality of the single photons and their ready availability are important for future quantum information processing experiments with single photons.
Are Secure Connections Really Secure — (ComputerWorld — March 19, 2007)
The little lock icon that appears on a Web browser window frame when a secure connection exists between a browser and a Web server may be lulling users into a false sense of security. The reality is that secure connections, in which data is encrypted using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) technology before being transmitted over the Web, is increasingly being used to hide and spread malicious code.
Don’t Exaggerate Climate Dangers, Scientists Warn
Cherry Blossom Season Blooms Early
Mars Melt Hints at Solar, Not Human, Cause for Warming
Eco Group Warns of Freshwater Crisis
Solar Pulses Suggest Heavy Australia Rain
Honey Bee Disappearances Continue: Do Pesticides Play A Role
Don’t Exaggerate Climate Dangers, Scientists Warn — (The Observer — March 18, 2007)
Leading climate change experts have warned of the ‘Hollywoodization’ of global warning and criticized American scientists for exaggerating the message of global warming. Professors of the Royal Meteorological Society said scientists, campaign groups, politicians and the media were all guilty of making out that catastrophic events were likely when this could not be proved. They also criticized the tendency to say individual extreme events – such as the Birmingham typhoon and the Boscastle floods – were evidence of climate change.
Cherry Blossom Season Blooms Early — (AP — March 20, 2007)
When the cherry trees come alive in their explosion of pink, millions of Japanese hit the parks for one of this country’s biggest outpourings of merrymaking. So, when will it all start? Very soon, officials say. Thanks to global warming, the Tokyo area is having one of its earliest cherry seasons ever. According to predictions released by Japan’s Meteorological Agency, the trees were expected to bloom as early as March 24th in the capital area. That would be 10 days earlier than average and the second earliest since the agency started compiling data in 1953.
Mars Melt Hints at Solar, Not Human, Cause for Warming — (National Geographic — February 28, 2007)
Simultaneous warming on Earth and Mars suggests that our planet’s recent climate changes have a natural – and not a human-induced – cause, according to one scientist’s controversial theory. Earth is currently experiencing rapid warming, which the vast majority of climate scientists says is due to humans pumping huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. However, Mars also appears to be enjoying more mild and balmy temperatures, leading some scientists to claim that the simultaneous planetary warmings indicate a solar-source for both planets’ temperature spikes.
Eco Group Warns of Freshwater Crisis — (Guardian — March 20, 2007)
Some of the world’s largest and best-known rivers are at risk of drying up as a result of climate change, pollution and bad planning, a report warned today. The study focuses on the ten rivers most danger of drying up or dying. It warns that, without action, the world faces “a freshwater emergency”. Five of the ten rivers listed are in Asia, including the Yangtze, the Ganges and the Salween, highlighting the profound problems facing the region.
Solar Pulses Suggest Heavy Australia Rain — (Reuters — March 18, 2007)
Links between the sun’s magnetic pulse and Earth’s climatic systems point to heavy rainfall later this year and in 2008, which could break Australia’s worst drought in 100 years, new scientific research says. The theory is based on correlations between Australian rainfall and 11-year peaks in the sun’s magnetic emissions, along with switches in the sun’s poles, which also occur every 11 years. The last flip occurred in 2001.
Honey Bee Disappearances Continue: Do Pesticides Play A Role — (Earthfiles — March 16, 2007)
Bees are disappearing in massive numbers. Examples abound – one Midwestern beekeeper had 13,000 healthy, full hives in mid-November 2006. Those bees began disappearing in mid-December and now he’s lost 96% of them. This week, another Ohio beekeeper opened up his hives after the winter to find 80% were empty. Over the past six months, massive disappearances of honey bees have been reported in at least 24 states and internationally in Poland and Spain. It’s still unknown how many more honey bees will be gone as more northern hives are opened this spring in North America and Europe. Right now, dozens of scientists are trying to find out what is causing what they call “colony collapse disorder,” or CCD – and some are pointing to a new breed of pesticides as a possible cause.
Using Solar Energy to Keep Homes Cool
Catalyst Could Help Turn CO2 into Fuel
Midwest Has Coal Rush, Seeing No Alternative
General Atomics Scores Power Production First
Using Solar Energy to Keep Homes Cool — (CNET — March 20, 2007)
A new type of air conditioning system will lower electricity costs substantially, according to its manufacturers. If these units gained widespread use, they could also reduce the odds of summer “brown outs”, power outages caused because homes and buildings crank up their air conditioners. The unit operates at a maximum of 500 watts, far less than half what typical air conditioning units use.
Catalyst Could Help Turn CO2 into Fuel — (New Scientist — March 15, 2007)
A new catalyst that can split carbon dioxide gas could allow us to use carbon from the atmosphere as a fuel source in a similar way to plants. Plants use the energy of sunlight to cleave the relatively stable chemical bonds between the carbon and oxygen atoms in a carbon dioxide molecule. In photosynthesis, the CO2 molecule is initially bonded to nitrogen atoms, making reactive compounds called carbamates. These less stable compounds can then be broken down, allowing the carbon to be used in the synthesis of other plant products, such as sugars and proteins.
Midwest Has Coal Rush, Seeing No Alternative — (Washington Post — March 10, 2007)
There is a coal rush going on in America’s heartland – the biggest wave of coal plant construction since the 1970s – which is on a collision course with Congress. While lawmakers are drawing up ways to cap and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, the Energy Department says as many as 150 new coal-fired plants could be built by 2030, adding volumes to the nation’s emissions of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent of half a dozen greenhouse gases scientists blame for global warming.
General Atomics Scores Power Production First — (SPX — March 15, 2007)
A team of researchers successfully tested a new method for generating electrical power on board a hypersonic vehicle. A magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) generator was operated to produce electrical power using the exhaust stream from a prototype hypersonic scramjet combustor simulating flight at Mach 8 conditions. This is the world’s first successful demonstration of a hypersonic MHD generator. This will lead the way for future development of this technology as a viable means to provide multi-megawatt MHD auxiliary power systems for air-breathing hypersonic vehicles.
TERRORISM, SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Cyber-Worms Could Cripple FCS
Surge in Hijacked PC Networks
Hiding Messages in Plain Sight
Cyber-Worms Could Cripple FCS — (UPI — March 20, 2007)
The U.S. armed forces are still pushing ahead with trying to implement former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s visionary Future Combat Systems programs to centralize command, control and firepower of land, sea and air weapons systems into high-tech headquarters – almost like the ultimate video game made real. However, the more the U.S. armed forces become dependent on efficiently integrated IT systems, as FCS requires, the more they could be vulnerable to being paralyzed by asymmetrical cyber-warfare attacks. This is a by no means hypothetical danger. All major nations are working on such programs with China by far the most active.
Surge in Hijacked PC Networks — (BBC — March 19, 2007)
The number of computers hijacked by malicious hackers to send out spam and viruses has grown almost 30% in the last year, according to a major industry survey. While the total number of bot-net PCs rose, the number of servers controlling them dropped by about 25% to 4,700, the twice-yearly report said. Symantec researchers said the decrease showed that bot network owners were consolidating to expand their networks, creating a more centralized structure for launching attacks.
Hiding Messages in Plain Sight — (BBC — February 15, 2007)
A technology that can “hide” information in plain sight on printed images has begun to see the first commercial applications. The technology can encode data into a picture that is invisible to the human eye but can be decoded by relatively simple camera, not too dissimilar from ones already found in mobile phones.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Icy Map to Probe Europa’s Secrets
Immense Ice Deposits Found at South Pole of Mars
Icy Map to Probe Europa’s Secrets — (BBC — March 15, 2007)
Scientists have produced a global geological map of Jupiter’s moon Europa, which has been proposed as a destination for a future space mission. Interest in Europa has been fuelled by indications that a liquid water ocean lurks beneath its outer shell of ice. The mapping effort will help build a geological history of the enigmatic moon and target future explorations.
Immense Ice Deposits Found at South Pole of Mars — (Reuters — March 15, 2007)
Spacecraft orbiting Mars has scanned huge deposits of water ice at its south pole so plentiful they would blanket the planet in 36 feet of water if they were liquid, scientists said on Thursday. Scientists have known that water exists in frozen form at the Martian poles, but this research produced the most accurate measurements of just how water is present.
DEMOGRAPHICS AND SOCIAL CHANGE
Choosing Babies — (MIT Technology Review — March 12, 2007)
A woman with fertility problems has three sons but wants a daughter to round out the family. She uses in vitro fertilization (IVF) to conceive and asks her doctors to transfer only female embryos; the male embryos are destroyed. Is this use of reproductive technology acceptable? What if a couple with a family history of diabetes wants to use IVF to select an embryo without a diabetes risk? If afflicted family members have the disease under control, are the parents justified in choosing IFV so that they can bear a child with a lower chance of developing it? Such questions are becoming more common as preimplantation genetic diagnosis makes it possible for some prospective parents to select specific embryos before a pregnancy begins.
JUST FOR FUN
Search for bin Laden at Home
Paying Attention to Not Paying Attention
Species Evolve Faster in Cooler Climes
Search for bin Laden at Home — (Wired — March 15, 2007)
Where in the world is Osama bin Laden? Uh … try checking Google Earth. After Google recently updated its satellite images of parts of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, much of the region still looked blotchy – but several small squares (they stand out as off-color patches from 680 miles up) suddenly became highly detailed. These sectors happen to be precisely where the US government has been hunting for bin Laden. It turns out that Google gets its images from many of the same satellite companies – DigitalGlobe, TerraMetrics, and others – that provide reconnaissance to US intelligence agencies.
Paying Attention to Not Paying Attention — (Physorg — March 19, 2007)
C’mon, admit it. Your train of thought derails several times a day – if not more. It’s just, well, mind-wandering. We all do it, and surprisingly often, whether we’re struggling to avoid it or not. Mainstream psychology hasn’t paid much attention to this common mental habit. But a spate of new studies is chipping away at its mysteries and scientists say the topic is beginning to gain visibility. Someday, such research may turn up ways to help students keep their focus on textbooks and lectures, and drivers to keep their minds on the road. It may reveal ways to reap payoffs from the habit.
Species Evolve Faster in Cooler Climes — (New Scientist — March 15, 2007)
Contrary to popular belief, the ‘hot spots’ of evolution are actually quite cool: a study suggests that new species emerge more frequently in temperate regions than in the tropics. Scientists had assumed that new species develop faster in the tropics, since they are home to greater species diversity than at higher latitudes. But the researchers behind the new analysis say the explanation for this is that fewer species have gone extinct near the equator.
The learning and knowledge that we have, is, at the most, but little compared with that of which we are ignorant. – Plato
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.