Volume 11, Number 12 – 07/10/08

Volume 11, Number 12 – 07/10/08
FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKSThe Farmer’s Almanac has been supplanted by satellite images, digital soil maps and lots of algorithms.171 forest species in Western Europe have been shifting upward in elevation by 95 feet per decade over the last 30 years.Recounting the oral history of the Internet, at fifty years and counting.The US government is trying to legally force the Swiss bank UBS to disclose the names of its US account holders.
INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE• Supermarket of the Future
• Marine Microbes in Cars, Cooking Oil
• Why Fly When You Can Float?

Supermarket of the Future – (BBC News – June 27, 2008)
A German supermarket is encouraging customers to scan and ring up their groceries using mobile phones, and check out without the help of a cashier. By inserting a credit card, a shopper can sample a number of different wines for sale – all completely automated.  These are only two of the innovations at the new “Future Store”. 

Marine Microbes in Cars, Cooking Oil – (CNET News – June 26, 2008)
From biofuel to cooking oil and skin care products, algae is becoming the new go-to ingredient for a myriad of products. On a visit to Solazyme, a San Francisco-based biotech company, the reporter rode in a 100% algae-fueled car and sampled algae cooking oil that rivals extra virgin olive oil.

Why Fly When You Can Float? – (New York Times – July 5, 2008)
Imagine gliding in a floating hotel over the Serengeti, gazing down at herds of zebra or elephants; or floating over Paris as the sun sets and lights blink on across the city as you pass the Eiffel Tower.  Because of new materials and sophisticated means of propulsion, a diverse cast of entrepreneurs is taking another look at dirigibles. For example, a French technology start-up, Aerospace Adour Technologies, is working with the French post office to study the feasibility of transporting parcels by dirigible.

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NEW REALITIESBlackLight’s Physics-defying Promise: Cheap Power from Water – (CNN Money – July 2, 2008)
Imagine being able to convert water into a boundless source of cheap energy. That’s what BlackLight Power, a 25-employee firm in Cranbury, N.J., says it can do. The only problem: Most scientists say that company’s technology violates the basic laws of physics. However, the business has attracted $60 million in funding from wealthy individuals, investment firms, and utilities such as Delaware’s Conectiv. BlackLight’s board of directors reads like a Who’s Who of finance and energy leaders.  Perhaps the scientifically impossible is not impossible.  Stay tuned.

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DISCOVERIES ENABLED BY NEW TECHNOLOGY• Sun Goes Longer than Normal without Producing Sunspots
• Pre-quake Changes Seen in Rocks
• Feeding the Masses: Data In, Crop Predictions Out

Sun Goes Longer than Normal without Producing Sunspots – (Montana State Univ. – June 9, 2008)
The sun usually operates on an 11-year cycle with maximum activity occurring in the middle of the cycle. Minimum activity generally occurs as the cycles change. The last cycle reached its peak in 2001 and is believed to be just ending now. The next cycle is just beginning and is expected to reach its peak sometime around 2012. Today’s sun, however, is as inactive as it was two years ago, and scientists aren’t sure why. The sun once went 50 years without producing sunspots. That period coincided with a “little ice age” that lasted from 1650 to 1700.

Pre-quake Changes Seen in Rocks – (BBC News – July 9, 2008)
A team of US researchers has detected stress-induced changes in rocks that occurred hours before two small tremors in California’s San Andreas Fault. The team says they are a long way from routine tremor forecasts but the latest findings hold out hope that such services might be possible one day. “If you had 10 hours’ warning, from a practical point of view, you could evacuate populations, you could certainly get people out of buildings, you could get the fire department ready,” said co-author Paul Silver.

Feeding the Masses: Data In, Crop Predictions Out – (Wired – June 23, 2008)
The Farmer’s Almanac is finally obsolete. Last October, agricultural consultancy Lanworth not only correctly projected that the US Department of Agriculture had overestimated the nation’s corn crop, but it nailed the margin: roughly 200 million bushels. The USDA bases its estimates on questionnaires and surveys — the agency calls a sample of farmers and asks what’s what. Lanworth uses satellite images, digital soil maps, and weather forecasts to project harvests at the scale of individual fields. It even looks at crop conditions and rotation patterns — combining all the numbers to determine future yields. The company sorts 100 gigs of intel every day, adding to a database of 50 terabytes and counting. It’s also moving into world production-prediction — wheat fields in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine are already in the data set, as are corn and soy plots in Brazil and Argentina. The firm expects to reach petabyte scale in five years.

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GENTICS/HEALTH TECHNOLOGY• MIT Unlocks Mystery Behind Brain Imaging
• New Clue to Alzheimer’s Disease
• UNC Scientist Shows that Cells Travel
• Blood Pressure Link to Dementia
• Scientists Prevent Brain-Cell Suicide to Keep Birds Singing

MIT Unlocks Mystery Behind Brain Imaging – (MIT News – June 19, 2008)
In work that solves a long-standing mystery in neuroscience, researchers have shown for the first time that star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes – previously considered bit players by most neuroscientists – make noninvasive brain scans possible. Imaging techniques have transformed neuorscience, providing colorful maps of brain activity in living subjects. The scans’ reds, oranges, yellows and blues represent changes in blood flow and volume triggered by neural activity. But until the MIT study no one knew exactly why this worked.

New Clue to Alzheimer’s Disease – (Associated Press – June 22, 2008)
The brains of people with the memory-robbing form of dementia are cluttered with a plaque made up of beta-amyloid, a sticky protein. But there long has been a question whether this is a cause of the disease or a side effect. Now, researchers have caused Alzheimer’s symptoms in rats by injecting them with one particular form of beta-amyloid. Injections with other forms of beta-amyloid did not cause illness, which may explain why some people have beta-amyloid plaque in their brains but do not show disease symptoms. Now, the question is why one has the damaging effect and not others.

UNC Scientist Shows that Cells Travel – (Herald-Sun – July 1, 2008)
Hendrik van Deventer, a UNC assistant professor of medicine has shown for the first time that cells could travel around the body, rushing to the site of an injury to aid in healing when needed.
The research might answer how cancer cells can travel from one organ, such as the skin, and take root in a totally different organ, like the lung. The study also suggests ways to develop treatments to prevent cancers from metastazing using already available medications. He based his work on a century-old idea of how cancer spreads: English surgeon Stephen Paget’s “seed and soil” theory.

Blood Pressure Link to Dementia – (BBC News – July 8, 2008) 
Two studies support a link between high blood pressure and dementia risk with one suggesting treatment could cut this. The precise reasons why high blood pressure might increase the risk of dementia are not fully understood although many scientists believe that it can starve the brain of bloodflow and the oxygen it carries. Patients suffering this restricted bloodflow are often described as having “vascular dementia”, and account for approximately a quarter of dementia patients.

Scientists Prevent Brain-Cell Suicide to Keep Birds Singing – (Wired – July 9, 2008)
Programmed cell death, or apoptosis, is common in multicellular organisms and aids important biological processes, like maintaining homeostasis and acting as the chisel in skeletal development. While there are many reasons that a cell could sense it is supposed to die, the actual suicide process is generally the same: a group of enzymes called caspases execute on the order for cellular degeneration. What the researchers have shown is that inhibiting the caspases preserves neurons and brain-region function – and, in the case of white-crowned sparrows, singing. “In the future, physicians might be able to stabilize people who have suffered a stroke using these inhibitors,” said Eliot Brenowitz, a University of Washington professor of psychology and zoology.

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ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES• Global Warming Sends Plants Uphill
• Texas Oil Tycoon Tackles Renewable Energy

Global Warming Sends Plants Uphill – (CNN News – June 26, 2008)
A study of 171 forest species in Western Europe shows that most of them are shifting their favored locations to higher, cooler spots. For the first time, research can show the “fingerprints of climate change” in the distribution of plants by altitude, and not only in sensitive ecosystems, said Jonathan Lenoir of AgroParisTech in Nancy, France. Comparing the distribution of species between 1905 and 1985 with their distribution between 1986 and 2005 showed a shift upward of 95 feet per decade.

Texas Oil Tycoon Tackles Renewable Energy – (Fast Company – May 9, 2008)
T. Boone Pickens is planning to build a wind farm the size of two nuclear plants in output, enough to power a million homes. The project calls for more than 2,000 turbines, each generating between 2 and 3 megawatts. He adds, “I’m not going to have the windmills on my ranch. They’re ugly. The hub of each turbine is up 280 feet, and then you have a 120-foot radius on the blade. It’s the size of a 40-story building. [They’re going on] my neighbors’ [land], mainly south of my ranch. They’ll get royalties.”  The rest of this interview with him is equally plain spoken and revealing.

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ENERGY DEVELOPMENTSBMW’s Building an Electric Mini – (Wired – July 9, 2008)
And you can’t have one. BMW’s planning to build just 500 Mini EVs. They’re all destined for California to help meet the zero-emissions vehicle mandate that requires automakers to build 7,500 non-polluting cars by 2014. A team of engineers is building an electric version of the Mini and it’s headed to California. Unnamed BMW sources saying 490 of the cars will be leased “to selected customers” and the remaining ones will be used as show cars.

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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY• Recharge Pod at Glastonbury
• Spam Experiment Overloads Inboxes
• Cold Calculation Predicts Death Row Executions
• How the Web Was Won
• Google Must Divulge YouTube Log

Recharge Pod at Glastonbury – (Triple Pundit – June 25, 2008)
Glastonbury hosts a massive annual music festival in the UK that encompasses 175,000 people on 900 acres of land. And it tends to rain. A lot. Keeping in touch with your friends is no mean feat, especially if your phone should die on you. Orange, one of the top mobile phone companies in Europe, has partnered up with GotWind, a company known for its DIY wind power kits, to create the Recharge Pod. This structure will combine wind and solar power to charge up to 100 phones an hour.

Spam Experiment Overloads Inboxes – (BBC News – July 1, 2008)
Surfing the web unprotected will leave the average web user with 70 spam messages each day, according to an experiment by security firm McAfee which invited 50 people from around the world to surf without spam filters. The US still tops the global spam league. Participants in the US received a total of 23,233 spam e-mails during the course of the experiment compared to 15,856 for the second most spammed country – Brazil.

Cold Calculation Predicts Death Row Executions – (Tech News Watch – June 27,2 008)

Which inmates on death row will eventually be executed? Many never make the final journey from prison cell to execution chamber — but nobody really understands who will be spared. Until now. A new computer system can predict which death row prisoners will live and which will be killed — with chilling accuracy. And its dispassionate analysis has confirmed suspicions that the people most likely to be executed are those who have had the least schooling, rather than those who have committed the most heinous crimes.

How the Web Was Won – (Vanity Fair – July, 2008)

An Oral History of the Internet: Fifty years ago, in response to the surprise Soviet launch of Sputnik, the U.S. military set up the Advanced Research Projects Agency. It would become the cradle of connectivity, spawning the era of Google and YouTube, of Amazon and Facebook, of the Drudge Report and the Obama campaign. Each breakthrough—network protocols, hypertext, the World Wide Web, the browser—inspired another as engineers, hackers, and visionaries built the foundations for a world-changing technology. In this article, the people who made it happen tell the story.

Google Must Divulge YouTube Log – (BBC News – July 3, 2008)
Google must divulge the viewing habits of every user who has ever watched any video on YouTube, a US court has ruled. The ruling comes as part of Google’s legal battle with Viacom over allegations of copyright infringement. The viewing log, which will be handed to Viacom, contains the log-in ID of every user, the computer IP address (online identifier) and video clip details of what was watched. Google’s senior litigation counsel Catherine Lacavera said in a statement: “We will ask Viacom to respect users’ privacy and allow us to anonymise the logs before producing them under the court’s order.”

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• The Era of Oil Wars

Climate Change Could Spark War – (Wired – June 23, 2008)

The U.S. intelligence community has finished up its classified assessment of how our changing weather patterns could contribute to “political instability around the world, the collapse of governments and the creation of terrorist safe havens. “Climate change and other projected trends will compound already difficult conditions in many developing countries. These trends will increase the likelihood of humanitarian crises, the potential for epidemic diseases, and regionally destabilizing population migrations,” the Army says in its 2008 posture statement.

The Era of Oil Wars – (Guardian – June 29, 2008)

The oil industry itself in its own report Facing the Hard Truths about Energy, produced by 175 authorities including all the heads of the world’s big oil companies, for the first time predicted that oil and gas may run short by 2015. The geopolitical implications of this gathering crisis for world oil supply 2010-15 are immense. The risk of further military interventions and conflicts in the Middle East is clearly high. Non-Opec production is expected to peak and decline within the next five years, driven mainly by burgeoning demand from China and the US, together with restricted output from Iraq. Then in the following five years Opec’s diminishing spare capacity will probably become increasingly unable to accommodate short-term fluctuations, depending on how fast world demand grows and how extensively Opec invests in new capacity.

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GLOBAL EPIDEMIC• New CJD Type Discovered in US
• Researchers Track Disease with Google News

New CJD Type Discovered in US – (BBC News – July 10, 2008)

A new form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) may have been uncovered in a handful of patients in the US. Ten people have so far died from a fast-advancing form of fatal dementia called PSPr. Patients develop the trademark brain damage associated with CJD – the type not linked to BSE – but scientists believe there may be a genetic cause. One common factor was that the patients came from families with a history of dementia, suggesting a genetic cause, but did not carry the gene traditionally associated with a small number of sporadic CJD cases.

Researchers Track Disease with Google News – (Wired – July 7, 2008)
A new website, HealthMap, siphons text from Google News, the World Health Organization and online discussion groups, then filters it and boils it down into mapped data that researchers – and the public – can use to track new disease outbreaks, region by region.  HealthMap goes beyond the standard mashup and is more like a small-scale implementation of the long-awaited semantic web. By doing it all with publicly available news sources and low operating costs, the service itself remains free. After a small-scale launch in 2006, the site’s model and potential attracted a $450,000 grant last year from’s Predict and Prevent Initiative, which is focused on emerging infectious diseases.

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NANOTECHNOLGYNanotubes Hold Promise for Next-Generation Computing – (Wired – July 9, 2008)
Carbon nanotubes have been around for more than a decade, but so far they haven’t shown up anywhere outside of R&D labs and tennis racquets. Now, two separate groups of researchers have recently published papers demonstrating advances in creating, sorting and organizing carbon nanotubes so they can be used in electronics. Nanotubes might be coming on the scene just in time, as modern chipmaking technologies approach their physical limits for two reasons: leakage and light. As silicon-and-copper circuits get smaller, electricity leakage and heat dissipation become proportionally greater problems. By contrast, a nanotube circuit could potentially be as small as 1 or 2nm, and it would be extremely efficient, even over comparatively long distances.

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TRENDS OF GOVERNMENTU.S. Asks Court to Force UBS to Provide Names – (New York Times – July 1, 2008)
There may be serious implications for high net worth individuals everywhere if the US authorities can force Swiss bank UBS to reveal the names of its US depositors. It started with the German government going after the names of its high net worth citizens who may have been trying to evade taxes by using banks accounts in Lichtenstein. After the German government retrieved the names of some of its citizens, nine other countries wanted to review that same stolen list of Lichtenstein customers for the same purposes.
us-among-countries-investigating-tax-evasion/  If the US succeeds, the centuries-old Swiss banking model will forever be changed.

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• Moon’s Interior Did Hold Water

Japan Astronomers Hunt Aliens – (Reuters – June 20, 2008)
Japan’s biggest astronomical observatories are teaming up for an unprecedented quest to find out whether there is life in outer space. The project will bring together a dozen or more observatories from all over the country to study one star that researchers see as a potential home to an extraterrestrial civilization.

Moon’s Interior Did Hold Water – (BBC News – July 9, 2008)

US scientists have found evidence that water was held in the Moon’s interior, challenging some elements of the theory of how Earth’s satellite formed. A new study shows water was delivered to the lunar surface from the interior in volcanic eruptions three billion years ago. This suggests that water has been a part of the Moon since its early existence. The discovery came from lunar volcanic glasses, pebble-like beads collected and returned to Earth by the US Apollo missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

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ECONOMIC INDICATORS• Financial Market Losses Could Top $1,600 Billion
• Hoarding Nations Drive Food Costs Ever Higher
• Oil Prices are Set to Fall – Weak Signals of Change

Financial Market Losses Could Top $1,600 Billion – (SonntagsZeitung – July 6, 2008)
The Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung quoted a confidential study by the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates as saying losses for banks holding risky assets could be four times greater than the $400 billion dollars previously estimated. The hedge fund expressed doubts that the financial institutes would be able to drum up enough funds to cover the losses, something it said could exacerbate the crisis. Bridgewater, one of the world’s biggest hedge funds, based its calculations on the state of risky debt-based US assets, such as mortgages, credit and credit card demands.

Hoarding Nations Drive Food Costs Ever Higher – (New York Times – June 30, 2008)
At least 29 countries have sharply curbed food exports in recent months, to ensure that their own people have enough to eat, at affordable prices. When it comes to rice, India, Vietnam, China and 11 other countries have limited or banned exports. Fifteen countries, including Pakistan and Bolivia, have capped or halted wheat exports. More than a dozen have limited corn exports. Kazakhstan has restricted exports of sunflower seeds. The new restrictions are just an acute symptom of a chronic condition. Since 1980, even as trade in services and in manufactured goods has tripled, adjusting for inflation, trade in food has barely increased.

Oil Prices are Set to Fall – Weak Signals of Change – (Smart Economy – July 1, 2008)
You won’t see this happening overnight, but the driving forces are in place. “Over the next four years, we are likely to witness the greatest mass exodus of vehicles off America’s highways in history.” according to Jeffrey Rubin of CIBC Markets. A huge share of crude oil is used to produce and distribute industrial products which explains why the price of oil is extremely cyclical – that is, it rises during economic booms and falls during contractions.  It dropped 44% in the last recession (from November 2000 to November 2001), 48% from October 1990 to January 1992 and 71% from July 1980 to July 1986. (FE Editor’s note: this presumes 1) that potential oil supply remains relatively constant – disruption of Iran’s oil sales changes the entire picture and 2) that demand in the rest of the world echoes the demand curve in the US.)

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DEMOGRAPHICS• A New Vision for Refrigeration
• Obesity in China Doubled in 11 Years with Rising Prosperity

A New Vision for Refrigeration – (TED video clip – February, 2008)
It started as a search for a way to provide cold storage for vaccines in underdeveloped areas.  Adam Grosser talks about a project to build a refrigerator that works without electricity or other stored fuels to bring the vital tool to villages and clinics worldwide. Tweaking some old technology, he’s come up with a system that works.

Obesity in China Doubled in 11 Years with Rising Prosperity – (Bloomberg – July 8, 2008)
Waistlines in China are expanding faster than almost anywhere else, with nearly a quarter of residents in the Earth’s most populous nation now overweight. Obesity among China’s 1.3 billion people doubled among women and tripled in men from 1989 to 2000, according to a study published in the journal Health Affairs. China’s rising prosperity, which allows more people to afford meat, dairy foods, vegetable oils and sedentary living, is fueling the growth, the study said.

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JUST FOR FUN• Sharp’s 108” LCD TV on Sale for $185,000
• Victoria’s Circuit

Sharp’s 108” LCD TV on Sale for $185,000 – (TG Daily – June 23, 2008)
Retailers have begun selling Sharp’s LB-1085 108” LCD TV in Europe with prices starting at about 120,000 Euro – about $185,000 at the current exchange rate. Expect this TV to be a very special order, as you cannot simply pick it up (which will be quite difficult considering the TV’s weight of 430 pounds), but will have to wait 16 weeks until the device will be delivered. Sharp maintains that the LB-1085 will hit these shores this September and the TV won’t cost $185,000 here. But plan on spending about $150,000.

Victoria’s Circuit – (Slate – June 23, 2008)

The idea of an energy-generating bra isn’t as crazy as it might sound. A company called Triumph International in Japan recently unveiled a solar-powered bra that supposedly will generate enough energy to power an iPod. LaJean Lawson, a former professor of exercise science at Oregon State University, has studied breast motion since 1985 and now works as a consultant for companies like Nike to develop better sports bra designs. “It’s just a matter of finding the sweet spot, between reducing motion to the point where it’s comfortable but still allowing enough motion to power your iPod,” she said.

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A FINAL QUOTE…Life is a series of collisions with the future; it is not the sum of what we have been, but what we yearn to be.   – Jose Ortega y Gasset

A special thanks to:, Erik Beaumont, Tom Burgin, Bernard Calil, Ken Dabkowski, Walter Derzko, Neil Freer, Ursula Freer, Brett Holverstott, KurzweilAI, Oliver Markley, Planet 2025, Sebastian McCallister, Diane C. Petersen, John C..Petersen, Planet 2025, 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.
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Volume 11, Number 11 – 06/26/08

Volume 11, Number 13 – 07/30/08