Volume 11, Number 09 05/26/2008

Volume 11, Number 09 05/26/2008 Edited by John L. Petersen

See past issues in the Archives

In This Issue:
Future Facts – From Think Links Think Links – The Future in the News…Today A Final Quote


  • Chinese blogs are reporting a number of earthquake indicators – including frogs and zebras.
  • A fragment of DNA from the Tasmanian tiger, extinct since 1936, has been brought back to life.
  • A “plastic soup” of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States.
  • Strangford Lough, in County Down, Northern Ireland, has become the home of the world’s first commercial tidal turbine.


How Second Life Affects Real Life – (Time – May 12, 2008),8599,1739601,00.html
Jeremy Bailenson, an assistant professor of communication at Stanford, studies the way self-perception affects behavior. Bailenson’s research suggests that the qualities you acquire online — whether it’s confidence or insecurity — can spill over and change your conduct in the real world, often without your awareness. Bailenson has found that even 90 seconds spent chatting it up with avatars is enough to elicit behavioral changes offline — at least in the short term.


A Critique of Shortsighted Anthropic Principles
China Earthquake: Blogs Claim Swarming Toads Warned of Sichuan Disaster
Curious Cloud Formations Linked to Quakes

A Critique of Shortsighted Anthropic Principles – (Phys Org – May 16, 2008)
Many people marvel that we live in a universe that seems to be precisely tailored to suit the development of intelligent life. The observation is the basis for some forms of “Anthropic Principles” that strive to explain why the laws of physics take the form we observe, given the nearly countless other possibilities permitted by schools of thought such as string theory. But a new paper in Physical Review Letters from a group of physicists at Case Western Reserve University argues that any connection between the laws of physics and the existence of life is likely to be an illusion stemming from our shortsighted definition of intelligent life.

China Earthquake: Blogs Claim Swarming Toads Warned of Sichuan Disaster – (Telegraph – May 5, 2008)
-claim-‘swarming-toads’- warned-of-Sichuan-disaster.html

The first sign came about three weeks ago, when a large volume of water suddenly disappeared from a pond in Enshi, Hubei province, around 350 miles east of the epicentre of the May 12 quake in Sichuan, according to media reports. Three days before the earthquake, thousands of toads roamed the streets of Mianzhu, a hard-hit city where at least 2,000 people have been reported killed. The day of the earthquake, zebras banged their heads against their enclosure door at the zoo in Wuhan, 600 miles east of the epicenter, according to a newspaper in the city. Five minutes before the quake hit, dozens of peacocks started screeching. Zoo officials told the Wuhan newspaper that the behavior was probably a sign that an earthquake would happen.

Curious Cloud Formations Linked to Quakes – (New Scientist – April 11, 2008)

Can unusual clouds signal the possibility of an impending earthquake? That’s the question being asked following the discovery of distinctive cloud formations above an active fault in Iran before each of two large earthquakes occurred. Geophysicists Guangmeng Guo and Bin Wang of Nanyang Normal University in Henan, China, noticed a gap in the clouds in satellite images from December 2004 that precisely matched the location of the main fault in southern Iran. It stretched for hundreds of kilometers, was visible for several hours and remained in the same place, although the clouds around it were moving. At the same time, thermal images of the ground showed that the temperature was higher along the fault. Sixty-nine days later, on 22 February 2005, an earthquake of magnitude 6.4 hit the area, killing more than 600 people.


Tasmanian Tiger DNA Resurrected
DNA Sequencing in a Snap
A Faster Way to Detect Heart Attacks
Tiny Blood Pumps for Failing Hearts
A New Approach to Treating Alzheimer’s

Tasmanian Tiger DNA Resurrected – (BBC News – May 20, 2008)
A fragment of DNA from the Tasmanian tiger has been brought back to life. The last living specimen died in Hobart zoo in 1936. Australian scientists extracted genetic material from a 100-year-old museum specimen, and put it into a mouse embryo to study how it worked.
It is the first time DNA of an extinct species has been used in this way, says a University of Melbourne team. Some researchers think the method could help reveal the function of genes in species such as the Neanderthals or mammoths.

DNA Sequencing in a Snap – (Technology Review – May 19, 2008)
A novel sequencing technology being developed by a Massachusetts startup allows scientists to take photographs of the sequence of a DNA molecule. ZS Genetics says that its approach will allow scientists to read long stretches of DNA, enabling the sequencing of hard-to-read areas, such as highly repetitive regions in plants and some parts of the human genome. Longer sequences also allow scientists to distinguish between maternal and paternal chromosomes, which might have important diagnostic applications. Most of the newest technologies generate very short sequences which are then stitched together using special software. But this method doesn’t always capture all the information in the genome, and some parts of the genome are difficult to sequence this way.

A Faster Way to Detect Heart Attacks – (Technology Review – May 9, 2008)
A newly developed saliva-based test could give physicians and emergency-care technicians a quicker and easier way to diagnose heart attacks. The nano-biochip test measures proteins, or biomarkers, in the saliva that researchers found corresponded with heart attacks. Potential biomarkers are harder to detect in saliva than in blood, and this required the development of more-sensitive protein tests. The saliva proteins are captured on microbeads; different protein biomarkers become color-coded with fluorescent dyes, letting the analyzer read the levels of each using a video chip (like the ones in digital cameras) that takes pictures at different wavelengths. The result is either a healthy-protein fingerprint or heart-attack fingerprint on the analyzer’s display.

Tiny Blood Pumps for Failing Hearts – (Technology Review – May 8, 2008)
For a patient with end-stage heart failure, an implantable pump that helps circulate the blood can mean added months or even years of life. Now the company CircuLite is developing an implantable pump that weighs just one-sixth as much as its smallest predecessor. About the size of a AA battery, it could ultimately be implanted through a catheterization procedure that is far less invasive than the operations used to place today’s pumps. It could thus be used to treat patients in earlier stages of heart failure, for whom implantation surgery had previously been too risky.

A New Approach to Treating Alzheimer’s – (Technology Review – May 12, 2008)
Alzheimer’s is sorely in need of new treatment approaches. Five million people suffer from it in the United States, a number expected to rise dramatically as the baby boomers enter their senior years. Finding new treatments has proved extremely difficult: drugs currently on the market have at best only a modest impact on symptoms. And experimental drugs that improve cognitive function in animals have largely failed in human tests. However, in a new procedure, a thin electrode is surgically implanted into part of the brain, stimulating neurons in brain areas affected by disease. The voltage delivered to the brain is controlled by a power pack implanted in the patient’s chest and connected to the electrode via wires threaded beneath the skin. With Alzheimer’s, a neurodegenerative disease that affects brain cells involved in memory, the idea is to boost activity in the memory circuits that patients have left.


The World’s Rubbish Dump
Fewer Hurricanes as World Warms

The World’s Rubbish Dump – (Independent – February 5, 2008)

A “plastic soup” of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean is growing at an alarming rate and now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States. The vast expanse of debris – in effect the world’s largest rubbish dump – is held in place by swirling underwater currents. This drifting “soup” stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan.

Fewer Hurricanes as World Warms – (BBC News – May 18, 2008)
Hurricanes and tropical storms will become less frequent by the end of the century as a result of climate change, US researchers have suggested. But the scientists added their data also showed that there would be a “modest increase” in the intensity of these extreme weather events. The model is simulating increased intensity of the hurricanes that do occur, and also increased rainfall rates. The findings are at odds with some other studies, which forecast a greater number of hurricanes in a warmer world.


Harnessing Sunlight on the Cheap
Nissan Plans Electric Car in U.S. by ’10
Riding the Power of Undersea Waves
New Source for Biofuels Discovered
Like Your Car…But Faster
Alternative Energy Making Waves in Ireland
Green Giant
Indiana’s First Commercial Wind Farm Online

Harnessing Sunlight on the Cheap (Phys Org – May 7, 2008)
For a project that could be on the very cutting edge of renewable energy, this one is actually decidedly low tech–and that’s the point. A team of MIT students has spent the last few months assembling a prototype for a concentrating solar power system they think could revolutionize the field. It’s a 12-foot-square mirrored dish capable of concentrating sunlight by a factor of 1,000, built from simple, inexpensive industrial materials selected for price, durability and ease of assembly rather than for optimum performance.

Nissan Plans Electric Car in U.S. by ’10 – (New York Times – May 13, 2008)

Nissan Motor Company plans to sell an electric car in the United States and Japan by 2010, raising the stakes in the race to develop environmentally friendly vehicles. Nissan will be the first major automaker to bring a zero-emission vehicle to the American market. (The zero emissions refers to those from the car’s tailpipe and not those from the production of electricity used to power the car.) It also envisions producing small commercial and small crossover vehicles.

Riding the Power of Undersea Waves – (CNet News – April 24, 2008)
Wave Roller, a company based in Espoo, Finland, says it has devised a way to generate electricity from waves without buoys or other floating devices, the mainstay of other wave power companies. Instead, the company wants to plant oscillating fiberglass/steel plates on the sea bed. Waves rolling in push over the plates, which rebound after the wave passes to only be knocked down by another wave. The back-and-forth motion of the plates drives a piston and creates hydraulic pressure. The pressure ultimately gets fed to a turbine to generate electricity.

New Source for Biofuels Discovered – (EurekAlert – April 23, 2008)
A newly created microbe produces cellulose that can be turned into ethanol and other biofuels, report scientists from the University of Texas at Austin who say the microbe could provide a significant portion of the nation’s transportation fuel if production can be scaled up. Along with cellulose, the cyanobacteria secrete glucose and sucrose. These simple sugars are the major sources used to produce ethanol.

Like Your Car…But Faster – (Unimodal Website – no date)
SkyTran might be L.A.’s answer to gridlock. As envisioned, the transportation system could provide high speed point-to-point, non-stop, on-demand transit service. All you do is climb in, enter your destination, and then enjoy full web access, entertainment and climate controls.

Alternative Energy Making Waves in Ireland – (OhMyNews – April 28, 2008)
Strangford Lough, an area of great natural beauty in County Down, Northern Ireland, has become the home of the world’s first commercial tidal turbine. At a cost of 12,000,000 British pounds, the turbine is set to power over 1,000 homes. With two 16-meter wide rotors operating noiselessly for up to 20 hours a day, 365 days a year, the tidal turbine is predicted to be far more reliable and predictable than other forms of renewable energy. The Lough is also the site of one of the earliest known tide mills. At Nendrum Monastery, on an island in the Lough, a mill dating from the 8th century was found.

Green Giant – (Haaretz – May 17, 2008)
All liquid fuels are compressed ancient organic matter, the outcome of photosynthesis. The liquid fuels that are pumped out of the earth are ancient plants. Dr. Berzin, the founder of GreenFuel Technologies – a U.S. company that produces green fuel from algae – discovered that “green slime” contains one of the keys to the alternative fuel the world is seeking: a quarter of the weight of algae is vegetable oil from which biofuel can be produced.

Indiana’s First Commercial Wind Farm Online – (Chicago Tribune – May 18, 2008),0,1308753.story
A nearly treeless stretch of northern Indiana that once produced only corn and soybeans is now dotted with 87 hulking wind turbines that harvest the region’s incessant breezes, generating enough power to light 43,000 homes. The 130-megawatt Benton County Wind Farm — the state’s first commercial power station fueled by the wind — went online this month about 90 miles northwest of Indianapolis near the Illinois state line. The $250 million project is the first of six Indiana wind farms in the works that will generate a combined 3,000 megawatt.


Working to Make the Internet Safe
Modeling Surprise
Reality Mining
$100 Laptop Gets Redesigned
Archiving E-mail Effectively

Working to Make the Internet Safe – (BBC News – May 20, 2008)
As the need for security on the internet continues to grow, one of the guardians of the networked world lays claim to an enviable record. In its 13 years in business, VeriSign says it has maintained a “100% up time” service in operating the infrastructure that controls the internet. The firm has a crucial role in the day-to-day operation of the internet – two of the world’s 13 root servers, which direct global internet traffic, are managed by the firm. It routes every web address ending in .com or .net and it issues secure digital certificates to protect more than 900,000 web servers on the net.

Modeling Surprise – (Technology Review – March/April, 2008)

Combining massive quantities of data, insights into human psychology, and machine learning can help manage surprising events, says Eric Horvitz, head of the Adaptive Systems and Interaction group at Microsoft Research. Horvitz stresses that surprise modeling is not about building a technological crystal ball to predict what the stock market will do tomorrow, or what al-Qaeda might do next month. But, he says, “We think we can apply these methodologies to look at the kinds of things that have surprised us in the past and then model the kinds of things that may surprise us in the future.” The result could be enormously useful for decision makers in fields that range from health care to military strategy, politics to financial markets.

Reality Mining – (Technology Review – March/April, 2008)
Every time you use your cell phone, you leave behind a few bits of information. Some people are nervous about trailing digital bread crumbs behind them. However, MIT professor of media arts and sciences Sandy ­Pentland, would like to see phones collect even more information about their users, recording everything from their physical activity to their conversational cadences. Pentland, who has been sifting data gleaned from mobile devices for a decade, calls the practice “reality mining.” ­Pentland and his group showed that cell-phone data enabled them to accurately model the social networks of about 100 MIT students and professors.

$100 Laptop Gets Redesigned – (Technology Review – May 21, 2008)
One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is pursuing a smaller 2.0 version, scheduled for release in 2010, in which dual touch screens will completely replace the keypad. The new version will have lower power consumption and a $75 price–a figure that OLPC claims is achievable despite the fact that the current model, the XO, sells for nearly double the sum mentioned in its “$100 laptop” moniker. With its hinged dual display, the new version could be used as a book, as a laptop with a touch-screen keypad, or as one continuous display when folded flat.

Archiving E-mail Effectively – (Technology Review – May 9, 2008)
The White House’s recent problems archiving e-mail could be solved by emerging technologies. According to the Washington Post, court documents revealed that the White House has not been able to find e-mails sent during a period in 2003 that encompasses the Iraq invasion. Commenting on that, one professional notes that, “A decent archiving system includes the ability to know what you have and the ability to… find e-mails and retrieve them easily, which is very difficult on backup tapes.” Mimosa Systems CEO T.M. Ravi agrees about the direction in which the field is heading. Mimosa has announced new features for the company’s existing e-mail archiving system that will allow companies to archive and search for documents in addition to e-mail and instant messages.


“Mobsters without Borders” are Global Threat
What Makes a Cyber Criminal?
Hacker Leaks 6m Chileans’ Records
Criticism for UK Database Plan

“Mobsters without Borders” are Global Threat – (Reuters – April 23, 2008)
Crime groups operating as “mobsters without borders” have gained significant footholds in global markets and provide logistic support to terrorists, according to a report issued by the U.S. attorney general. Attorney General Michael Mukasey cited recent cases, many with links to the former Soviet bloc. The groups launder billions of dollars through U.S. financial institutions, and invest profits in publicly traded companies. They also “exploit the Internet,” by running scams on eBay, flooding in-boxes with e-mail spam and laundering money through “virtual worlds” such as Second Life, Mukasey said.

What Makes a Cyber Criminal? – (BBC News – May 19, 2008)
Cyber crime – internet banking and credit card fraud – is now the fastest growing sector of global organized crime, increasing at a rate of about 40% per year.
Fraud loss is estimated at $100bn annually, although banks and other major companies are reluctant to release any figures about the losses they sustain, for fear of scaring off customers. That is why they continue to reimburse the victims of computer scams with no questions asked. Brazil is thought to have by far the largest number of cyber criminals.

Hacker Leaks 6m Chileans’ Records – (BBC News – May 12, 2008)
A computer hacker in Chile has published confidential records belonging to six million people on the internet, officials say. The information was obtained by hacking into government and military servers, and was posted on a technology blog. It included ID card numbers, addresses, telephone numbers and academic records. The hacker left a message saying the aim was to demonstrate the poor level of data protection in Chile, says the newspaper which uncovered the story.

Criticism for UK Database Plan – (BBC News – May 20, 2008)
Plans for a super-database containing the details of all phone calls and e-mails sent in the UK have been heavily criticised by experts. The government is considering the changes as part of its ongoing fight against serious crime and terrorism. Assistant Information Commissioner Jonathan Bamford has warned that the UK could be “sleepwalking into a surveillance society”. Others have questioned how such a database could be made secure.


Asbestos Warning on Nanotubes – (BBC News – May 20, 2008)
Carbon nanotubes, the poster child of the burgeoning nanotechnology industry, could trigger diseases similar to those caused by asbestos, a study suggests. Specific lengths of the tiny fibers were found to cause “asbestos-like” inflammation and lesions in mice. The lining around the lungs is known to be prone to the cancer mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos. “What we found was that the long nanotubes were pathogenic – they caused inflammation and scar formation. The short nanotubes were not,” said Dr. Donaldson. “The problem seems to be that the cells that usually deal with particles can’t deal with a long, straight shape.”


China Child Virus Death Toll up to 43
New Drug Can Kill MRSA Superbug

China Child Virus Death Toll up to 43 – (Associated Press – May 16, 2008)
The death toll rose to 43 from the hand, foot and mouth disease (named for the primary symptoms) that has sickened tens of thousands of children across China. Most cases of hand, foot and mouth disease in China this year have been blamed on enterovirus 71. The virus spreads through contact with saliva, feces, nose and throat mucus or fluid secreted from blisters. There is no vaccine or specific treatment, but most children with mild forms of the illness recover quickly after suffering little more than a fever and rash. The disease is expected to peak in the hot months of June and July.

New Drug Can Kill MRSA Superbug – (BBC News – May 18, 2008)
British scientists are working on a drug which they say can destroy the most virulent strains of superbug MRSA. Researchers are testing the bactericidal compound in the hope it can be used in hospitals by 2011. Official figures show in the last three months of last year there were more than 1,000 cases of MRSA in England. Most antibiotics used to treat hospital bugs such as MRSA are bacteriostatic, meaning they prevent the growth of bacteria. But pharmaceutical company Destiny Pharma says its compound – codenamed XF-73 – kills bacteria.


You Know Your Empire Is Collapsing When…
Democracy in America Is a Series of Narrow Escapes…

You Know Your Empire Is Collapsing When… – (Vermont Commons – March 12, 2008)

This essay offers a reasonably calm and collected look at the American “empire” within the context of other major empires throughout the last few thousand years. It examines the four processes by which empires inevitably fall – environmental, economic, military, and civil. “Let’s say for starters, you know your empire is collapsing when the empire that is your fiercest rival buys up a total of 26 percent of three of your major Wall Street firms for $9 billion, and declares that it has another $200 billion that it is looking to invest.”

Democracy in America Is a Series of Narrow Escapes… – (AlterNet – May 17, 2008)
And We May Be Running Out of Luck. The link leads to an excerpt from Bill Moyers’ new book, Moyers on Democracy. Moyers writes, “For all of its shortcomings, we keep telling ourselves, “The system works.” Now all bets are off. We have fallen under the spell of money, faction, and fear, and the great American experience in creating a different future together has been subjugated to individual cunning in the pursuit of wealth and power – and to the claims of empire, with its ravenous demands and stuporous distractions.”


The Water-Industrial Complex
World Bank `Destroyed Basic Grains’ in Honduras
World’s Poor Pay Price as Crop Research Is Cut

The Water-Industrial Complex – (Forbes – May 12, 2008)

Water is an essential part of doing business in almost every industry, and unexpected shortages can trigger potentially catastrophic consequences. Companies don’t want to call attention to a vulnerability and that applies very much to the water scarcity issue. Investors in general know very little about what is going on in companies’ supply chains.” The water risks are most obvious in the food and beverage sector. Together, Nestlé, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch and Danone consume an estimated 575 billion liters of water every year, or roughly the amount of water needed to meet the basic daily needs of every person on the planet. But “watergy,” as some are now calling it, is a very big deal for all industries.

World Bank `Destroyed Basic Grains’ in Honduras – (Bloomberg – May 14, 2008)
Honduras was $3.6 billion in debt in 1990. In return for loans from the World Bank, it became one of dozens of developing nations that abandoned policies designed to protect farmers and citizens from volatile food prices. The trade barriers that helped the country meet more than 90% of domestic demand were dismantled under an agreement for a World Bank loan in September that year, allowing cheaper imports to flood the market. At the time it lowered domestic food prices but it put farmers out of business. Now the farmers are gone; the price of basic grains which must be bought on international markets is skyrocketing and people are going hungry.

World’s Poor Pay Price as Crop Research Is Cut – (New York Times – May 18, 2008)
Experts say that during the food surpluses of recent decades, governments and development agencies lost focus on the importance of helping poor countries improve their agriculture. The budgets of institutions that delivered the world from famine in the 1970s, including the International Rice Research Institute, have stagnated or fallen, even as the problems they were trying to solve became harder. Agricultural experts have complained about the flagging efforts for years and warned of the risks. Now, a reckoning is at hand.


The Antarctic Iceberg That Looks Like a Giant Humbug
The Power of Play on the Internet

The Antarctic Iceberg That Looks Like a Giant Humbug – (Daily Mail – March 18, 2008)

Stunningly banded icebergs – formed over hundreds, if not thousands, of years – are floating in the waters of the Antarctic. Photographed by Norwegian sailor Oyvind Tangen, on board a research ship around 1,700miles south of Cape Town and 660miles north of the Antarctic, these icebergs are breathtakingly beautiful. “It reminds me of the striped candy (“Humbugs”) I bought as a child,” said Mr. Tangen.

The Power of Play on the Internet – (BBC News – April 25, 2008)
Game design and social networks are merging into one of the most persuasive forces on the net. “So the idea that there is a game market here and a web market here isn’t true. The two are influencing each other.” Perhaps the greatest effect of that interplay can be seen in the rise and rise of the social gamer. Recent figures by research firm Park Associates estimates that 34% of US adult internet users play online games weekly. For example, check out start up called Mytopia, a social gaming community where everyone can play together. It offers everything from chess to Sudoku and hearts to poker which you can play directly from their site or via Facebook, MySpace, Hi5 and Bebo.

A FINAL QUOTE… The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different. – Peter Drucker

A special thanks to: Paul Alois, Ken Dabkowski, Neil Freer, Ursula Freer, Deanna Korda, KurzweilAI, Oliver Markley, Sebastian McCallister, Cady North, Diane C. Petersen, John C..Petersen, Planet 2025, Chris Robinson, Stu Rose, the Schwartzreport, Joel Snell, Gary Sycalik, and Steve Ujvarosy, our contributors to this issue.

If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.



See past issues in the Archives

Volume 11, Number 08 05/14/2008

Volume 11, Number 10 06/13/2008