Volume 11, Number 13 – 07/30/08

Volume 11, Number 13 – 07/30/08
FUTURE FACTS – FROM THIS ISSUERapid changes in the churning movement of Earth’s liquid outer core are weakening the magnetic field in some regions of the planet’s surface.The Large Hadron Collider in a tunnel below the French-Swiss border is fast becoming one of the coolest places in the Universe.Artificial wombs and experiments on human embryos grown in the lab may be commonplace and no big deal ethically in 30 years.
Rock Port, Missouri is the first U.S. town powered completely by wind.
INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE• Real Racing in the Virtual World
• MySpace Signs up to OpenID Scheme

Real Racing in the Virtual World – (BBC News – June 11, 2008)

For any Formula One fan the chance to race against their heroes would be a dream come true.
Sadly, the closest most of us will ever get is watching the Grand Prix on television. But that could soon change if a company from the Netherlands has its way. Andy Lurling, founder of iOpener Media, said that the patented system his company is developing sucks in real-time GPS data from racing events and pumps it out to compatible games consoles and PCs. The idea is that you could pit yourself against the top drivers in the world, as it happens, from the comfort of your living room.

MySpace Signs up to OpenID Scheme – (BBC News – July 23, 2008)

The social networking giant, which boasts more than 100 million accounts, has signed up for the OpenID initiative. The project aims to ease the mental load of going online by letting people use one set of login details for many different places. Sites such as AOL, Blogger, Flickr and Yahoo already use OpenID. Open ID removes some of the need to keep creating new login names and passwords by adopting the approach used by your computer when it looks up a site name you type into an browser address bar. The Open ID approach revolves around an already established web identity that people nominate as their core identifier. When this identity is used to sign on elsewhere, requests are sent back to the original place it was created to be verified.

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NEW REALITIES• Earth’s Core, Magnetic Field Changing Fast
• Using Neptunium, Plutonium Provide Insight into Superconductivity

Earth’s Core, Magnetic Field Changing Fast – (National Georgraphic – June 30, 2008)

Rapid changes in the churning movement of Earth’s liquid outer core are weakening the magnetic field in some regions of the planet’s surface. “What is so surprising is that rapid, almost sudden, changes take place in the Earth’s magnetic field,” said study co-author Nils Olsen, a geophysicist at the Danish National Space Center in Copenhagen. The findings suggest similarly quick changes are simultaneously occurring in the liquid metal, 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometers) below the surface, he said. The decline in the magnetic field also is opening Earth’s upper atmosphere to intense charged particle radiation, scientists say.

Using Neptunium, Plutonium Provide Insight into Superconductivity – (Rutgers – July 21, 2008)

While superconductivity holds promise for massive energy savings in power transmission and for uses such as levitating trains, today it occurs only at extremely cold temperatures. As a result, its use is now limited to specialized medical and scientific instruments. Over the past two decades, scientists have made metals that turn superconducting at progressively higher temperatures, but even those have to be cooled below the temperature of liquid nitrogen.
Still, physicists believe room temperature superconductivity may be possible. The work reported by the Rutgers and Columbia physicists is a step in that direction – shedding new light on the connection between magnetism and superconductivity.

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• Human Speech Traced to Talking Fish
• Yemen Embraces its Jurassic Past
• Cern Lab Goes Colder than Space

Seas Striped With Newfound Currents – (Live Science – July 14, 2008)

Sailors and scientists have been mapping ocean currents for centuries, but it turns out they’ve missed something big. How big? The entire ocean is striped with 100-mile-wide bands of slow-moving water that extend right down to the seafloor, according to a recent study. They flow past each other in opposing directions at 130 feet per hour—just 1/10th to 1/100th the speed of major ocean currents—and subtle changes in temperature demarcate their boundaries.

Human Speech Traced to Talking Fish – (Live Science – July 18, 2008)
Researchers say real fish can communicate with sound. And they say (the researchers, that is) that your speech skills and, in fact, all sound production in vertebrates can be traced back to this ability in fish. (You got your ears from fish, too.) The scientists mapped developing brain cells in newly hatched midshipman fish larvae and compared them to those of other species. They found that the chirp of a bird, the bark of a dog and all the other sounds that come out of animals’ mouths are the products of the neural circuitry likely laid down hundreds of millions of years ago with the hums and grunts of fish.

Yemen Embraces its Jurassic Past – (BBC News – July 21, 2008)
Tucked away in the heart of rural Yemen, Madar now finds itself in the limelight after a series of dinosaur prints were discovered in the village – the first such discovery on the Arabian Peninsula. The dinosaur tracks have been lying exposed, above ground, for centuries, but scientists only recently stumbled across them following a tip-off from a local journalist. The prints – some of which are half a meter wide – show a herd of eleven dinosaurs walking together and offer a glimpse into the dinosaurs’ behaviour, vital information which cannot be gleaned by studying fossils alone.

Cern Lab Goes Colder than Space – (BBC News – July 18, 2008)
A vast physics experiment built in a tunnel below the French-Swiss border is fast becoming one of the coolest places in the Universe. The Large Hadron Collider is entering the final stages of being lowered to a temperature of -456F – colder than deep space. The LHC has thousands of magnets which will be maintained in this frigid condition using liquid helium. The magnets are arranged in a ring that runs for 27km through the giant tunnel. The most powerful physics experiment ever built, the LHC will re-create the conditions just after the Big Bang.

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GENTICS/HEALTH TECHNOLOGY• Gene Tags Fuel Obesity Epidemic
• The Future of Babies
• Tobacco Could Help Treat Cancer
• Human-frog Hybrids Reveal Autism’s Secrets
• Animal Tissue Rejection Advance
• Human Blood Vessels Grown in Mice
• Tongue Drive Technology

Gene Tags Fuel Obesity Epidemic – (BBC News – July 16, 2008)

Researchers increasingly believe that the effect of conditions in the womb on the developing fetus can play an important role in setting future health. Specifically, the womb environment may be able to produce chemical changes which control the level at which certain genes function. This process is called “epigenetics”. Mice genetically prone to obesity get fatter generation by generation. “Epigenetic” tags, which affect the function of our genes, may be responsible, according to researchers.

The Future of Babies – (Live Science – July 16, 2008)

Artificial wombs and experiments on human embryos grown in the lab will be commonplace and no big deal ethically in 30 years, several scientists predict. Here are a couple of the report’s other predictions: newborns and 100-year-olds alike will be able have children and labs will be able to generate sperm and eggs for anybody.

Tobacco Could Help Treat Cancer – (BBC News July 21, 2008)

The tobacco plant – responsible for millions of cancer cases – may actually offer the means to treat one form of the disease, a study suggests. The ironic new role for tobacco is the work of researchers from Stanford University. They are using the plants as factories for an antibody chemical specific to the cells which cause follicular B-cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. These antibodies are put into a patient newly-diagnosed with the disease, to “prime” the body’s immune system to attack any cell carrying them.

Human-frog Hybrids Reveal Autism’s Secrets – (New Scientist – July 21, 2008)

Human-frog hybrids might reveal the neurological secrets of autism. By fusing cells from the preserved brains of deceased autistic patients with the eggs of a carnivorous African frog called Xenopus, scientists have started investigating the way the brain cells of people with autism behave. The frog eggs work a little like human neurons and the hybrid cells act as a surrogate of a living brain with the condition. “It’s almost as if you were studying a neuron in the human brain,” says Ricardo Miledi, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Irvine, who developed the approach and has previously used Xenopus eggs to study epilepsy.

Animal Tissue Rejection Advance – (BBC News – July 21, 2008)

Scientists have found a way to overcome the problem of the human body rejecting animal parts used in transplants. For instance, chemically treated heart valves from pigs have been transplanted into patients for more than a decade, but have a limited life span as they are inert and cannot be populated by the patient’s own cells, and ruling out any possibility of repair to damage. The Leeds team used a combination of freezing, chemical baths and ultrasound to strip the animal tissue of the cells and biological molecules that trigger a response from the immune system. This left a biological scaffold which could then be populated by cells from a patient’s own body, creating a tissue which carries no risk of rejection, which can be repaired, and which can grow with the body.

Human Blood Vessels Grown in Mice – (BBC News – July 18, 2008)

Scientists have used human cells to grow new blood vessels in a mouse for the first time. Unlike more controversial stem cell therapies, which might require cells taken from an embryo, the study used human cells that can be obtained from blood or bone. They were mixed together in growth-promoting chemicals in the laboratory, then implanted into mice whose immune systems had been weakened to avoid rejection. Within seven days, a vigorous network of new vessels formed, joined up with the host animal’s blood vessels and started transporting blood.

Tongue Drive Technology – (National Science Foundation – July 21, 2008)

Researchers have developed an experimental tongue-based system that may allow individuals with debilitating disabilities to control wheelchairs, computers and other devices with relative ease and no sophistication. Because the tongue is directly connected to the brain via cranial nerves, it usually remains mobile when other body parts lose function to disease or accidents. That mobility underlies the new system, which may one day provide greater flexibility and simplicity to individuals who would otherwise use sip-and-puff controls or brain implants.

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ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES• Myth of Consensus Explodes: APS Opens Global Warming Debate
• How Will the Arctic Sea Ice Cover Develop this Summer?
• Iceberg Damage to Seafloor Increases
• Penguins Threatened with Extinction
• Farms in the Sky Gain New Interest
• Amazon Outflow Powers Ocean Capture of Carbon Dioxide

Myth of Consensus Explodes: APS Opens Global Warming Debate – (Daily Tech – July 16, 2008)
The American Physical Society, an organization representing nearly 50,000 physicists, has reversed its stance on climate change and is now proclaiming that many of its members disbelieve in human-induced global warming.  The APS is also sponsoring public debate on the validity of global warming science.  The leadership of the society had previously called the evidence for global warming “incontrovertible.”

How Will the Arctic Sea Ice Cover Develop this Summer? – (Phys Org – July 9, 2008)
The ice cover in the Arctic Ocean at the end of summer 2008 will lie, with almost 100% probability, below that of the year 2005 – the year with the second lowest sea ice extent ever measured. Chances of an equally low value as in the extreme conditions of the year 2007 lie around 8%. Participating with their prognosis in an international scientific contest, climate scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association come to this conclusion in a recent model calculation.

Iceberg Damage to Seafloor Increases – (Live Science – July 17, 2008)
Worms, sea spiders, urchins and other creatures that dwell on the Antarctic seafloor are pounded daily by icebergs scraping up their homes. Now scientists say these denizens of the deep take more hits as global warming diminishes the layer of sea ice that blocks the icebergs and protects habitats. As newly broken-off icebergs float in shallower areas, pushed around by winds and tides, their bottoms, which can sometimes reach to a depth of 1,600 feet (500 meters), scour the seafloor beneath them.

Penguins Threatened with Extinction – (Live Science – July 1, 2008)
The dwindling march of the penguins is signaling that the world’s oceans are in trouble, scientists now say. Penguins may be the tuxedo-clad version of a canary in the coal mine, with generally ailing populations from a combination of global warming, ocean oil pollution, depleted fisheries, and tourism and development, according to a new scientific review paper. A University of Washington biologist detailed specific problems around the world with remote penguin populations, linking their decline to the overall health of southern oceans.

Farms in the Sky Gain New Interest – (New York Times – July 15, 2008)
What if “eating local” in Shanghai or New York meant getting your fresh produce from five blocks away? And what if skyscrapers grew off the grid, as verdant, self-sustaining towers where city slickers cultivated their own food? The “vertical farm,” a 30-story skyscraper growing hydroponic vegetables, could feed 50,000 people in a city (at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars), proposes Dickson Despommier, a professor of public health at Columbia University.

Amazon Outflow Powers Ocean Capture of Carbon Dioxide – (EurekAlert – July 22, 2008)
Nutrients washed out of the Amazon River are powering huge amounts of previously unexpected plant life far out to sea, thus trapping atmospheric carbon dioxide, according to a new study. Until now, the areas around the Amazon and other great rivers had been thought to be emitting CO2, so the study may affect climate scientists’ calculations of how the greenhouse gas acts.

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ENERGY DEVELOPMENTS• Solar Energy: Cost Effective Devices Expected Soon
• First U.S. Town Powered Completely by Wind
• Energy from Waves
• Chemical Breakthrough Turns Sawdust into Biofuel
• GM Partners with Utilities to Advance Plug-in Hybrids

Solar Energy: Cost Effective Devices Expected Soon – (Phys Org – July 10, 2008)

Organic solar concentrators collect and focus different colors of sunlight. Solar cells can be attached to the edges of the plates. By collecting light over their full surface and concentrating it at their edges, these devices reduce the required area of solar cells and consequently, the cost of solar power. Stacking multiple concentrators allows the optimization of solar cells at each wavelength, increasing the overall power output.

First U.S. Town Powered Completely by Wind – (Live Science – July 15, 2008)
Rock Port, Missouri has an unusual crop: wind turbines. The four turbines that supply electricity to the small town of 1,300 residents make it the first community in the United States to operate solely on wind power. Northwest Missouri has the state’s highest concentrations of wind resources and contains a number of locations that are potentially suitable for utility-scale wind development. The four turbines that power Rock Port are part of a larger set of 75 turbines across three counties. The turbines have another benefit besides producing clean energy: the Missouri wind farms will bring in more than $1.1 million annually in county real estate taxes.

Energy from Waves – (Technology Review – July 14, 2008)
The ocean’s waves have enough energy to provide two trillion watts of electricity, according to the Department of Energy. Extracting that enormous resource of power, however, has proved to be a herculean challenge. A new device being developed by U.K.-based Checkmate SeaEnergy could help tap a portion of this wave power. The device, aptly named the Anaconda, is a long, water-filled rubber tube closed at both ends. It currently exists as a small laboratory-scale model, but it could eventually be 200 meters long and seven meters in diameter. At such a size, it will be capable of generating one megawatt of power at about 12 cents a kilowatt-hour, which is competitive with electricity costs from other wave-power technologies.

Chemical Breakthrough Turns Sawdust into Biofuel – (New Scientist – July 18, 2008)
A wider of range of plant material could be turned into biofuels thanks to a breakthrough that converts plant molecules called lignin, an essential component of wood, into liquid hydrocarbons. However, lignin is a complex molecule and, with current methods, breaks down in an unpredictable way into a wide range of products, only some of which can be used in biofuels. Now Yuan Kou at Peking University in Beijing, and his team have come up with a lignin breakdown reaction that more reliably produces the alkanes and alcohols needed for biofuels. The reaction reliably and efficiently turns the lignin in waste products such as sawdust into the chemical precursors of ethanol and biodiesel.

GM Partners with Utilities to Advance Plug-in Hybrids – (C/Net – July 22, 2008)
General Motors is teaming up with 30 utilities in 37 states and with the Electric Power Research Institute to develop a charging infrastructure for electric cars. They aim to fine-tune the technology, safety, and customer experience for car-charging stations by 2010, when the Chevy Volt is due to be produced. Another aim is to prevent utilities from being overwhelmed during peak hours when the grid is already challenged. Electric cars can be charged at night when electrical rates and demand are low, but that’s not feasible for drivers either traveling away from a home outlet or living where a personal plug-in isn’t available.

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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY• As Travel Costs Rise, More Meetings Go Virtual
• Quarter of the Planet to be Online by 2012
• Speak Up
• First Paper-based Transistors
• Say Goodbye to the Computer Mouse

As Travel Costs Rise, More Meetings Go Virtual – (New York Times – July 22, 2008)
As travel costs rise and airlines cut service, companies large and small are rethinking the face-to-face meeting — and business travel as well. Past predictions that technology could replace travel have been frequent and premature. The main difference today, analysts say, is that the technology is finally catching up to its promise. No single breakthrough explains the progress, but rather a series of step-by-step advances — and steady investment — in telecommunications networks, software and computer processing. Videoconferencing technology, known as telepresence, can now deliver an experience so lifelike that “10 minutes into it, you forget you are not in the room with them.”

Quarter of the Planet to be Online by 2012 – (IT News – June 26, 2008)
According to the report by Jupiter Research, the total number of people online will climb to 1.8 billion by 2012, encompassing roughly 25 percent of the planet. The company sees the highest growth rates in areas such as China, Russia, India and Brazil. Overall, the number of users online is predicted to grow by 44% in the time period between 2007 and 2012.

Speak Up – (Economist – June 25)
The war in Iraq has created a demand for machines that can translate between Arabic and English. Although some experimental devices have proved unreliable, they are now improving. The hardware still needs to become more rugged and the error rates need to fall from one word in six to one in ten. The names of people and places also remain difficult for the machines to grasp. On the other hand, one-way translation is easier and can be more reliable. IBM, for instance, has a program for translating Arabic and Chinese television broadcasts into English. It is already good enough to find commercial applications.

First Paper-based Transistors – (ZD Net – July 22, 2008)
Portuguese researchers have created the first paper-based transistors. To be more precise, they’ve made the first field effect transistors (FET) with a paper interstrate layer.  The research team fabricated the devices on both sides of the paper sheet such that the paper acts simultaneously as the electric insulator and as the substrate. Furthermore, electric characterization of devices showed that the hybrid FETs’ performance outpace those of amorphous silicon TFTs, and rival with the actual state of the art of oxide thin film transistors.

Say Goodbye to the Computer Mouse – (BBC News – July 17, 2008)
It’s nearly 40 years old but one leading research company says the days of the computer mouse are numbered. Taking over will be so called gestural computer mechanisms like touch screens and facial recognition devices. “The mouse works fine in the desktop environment but for home entertainment or working on a notebook it’s over,” declared analyst Steve Prentice. “You’ve got Panasonic showing forward facing video in the home entertainment environment. Instead of using a conventional remote control you hold up your hand and it recognises you have done that,” he said.

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TERRORISM, SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE• Palm Scanning: Better Than Fingerprints
• Oyster Card Hack to be Published

Palm Scanning: Better Than Fingerprints – (Live Science – June 30, 2008)
Forget fingerprint scanners, which have replaced password access on some high-end laptops. Forget iris scanners. The future of biometrics (automated identification using body parts) involves scanning palms. At least, that’s the message from Fujitsu Computer Products of America, which recently unveiled palm-scanning technology for the U.S. market that’s already in widespread use in Asia.

Oyster Card Hack to be Published – (BBC News – July 21, 2008)
“Oyster cards” are used as payment on London’s public transportation system. In March, 2008, security weaknesses in the card were discovered by Prof. Bart Jacobs and colleagues from Radboud University, in the Netherlands. The weaknesses center on the chip that sits at the heart of the contactless card system. As well as being used on 17 million Oyster cards, the Mifare chip is used by about 1bn smartcards worldwide. Many organizations, including governments, use Mifare technology as a secure entry system for buildings. Given the many millions of cards in use, Prof. Jacobs held off publishing details about how the information on the chips can be copied and used. It told the Dutch government and NXP about its work to give them time to harden systems against the attack.

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GLOBAL EPIDEMIC• Malaria Gene Increases HIV Risk
• Ancient Bones Could Yield TB Clue

Malaria Gene Increases HIV Risk – (BBC News – July 16, 2008)
A gene which apparently evolved to protect people from malaria increases their vulnerability to HIV infection by 40%, say US and UK scientists. People of African descent have a variation of the “DARC” gene which may interfere with their ability to fight HIV in its early stages. The Cell Host and Microbe study says the gene accounts for millions of extra HIV cases in sub-Saharan Africa. However, people with the gene appear to live longer with HIV than others.

Ancient Bones Could Yield TB Clue – (BBC News – July 16, 2008)
Little is known of TB’s evolution, but it is believed to have been prevalent in the early settlements of the Near East many thousands of years ago. Jericho, located in the present-day West Bank, is one of the oldest cities in the world, dating back 9,000 years. TB is often regarded as a disease of crowded areas, so scientists believe the conditions in the early cities of the “fertile crescent” region would have been ripe for the spread of infection. Researchers are using human remains from the ancient city to study the evolution of tuberculosis. The work could also help medical researchers combat modern forms of the bacterial disease.

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NANOTECHNOLGYInvisible Nanotube Cable Could Support a Human – (New Scientist – July 20, 2008)
Being narrower than the wavelength of light, nanotubes are normally invisible – as long as they are separated by more than one wavelength. Now Nicola Pugno of the Polytechnic of Turin, Italy, has calculated how many nanotubes would be needed to support a person, taking into account small defects that develop in the tubes during manufacture. When held 5 micrometers apart, to keep them invisible, they would form a cable only 1 centimeter in diameter weighing a mere 10 milligrams per kilometer. Circus acts and movie special effects may never be the same again.

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• Comcast Pressured Over Porn

Collateral Damage – (Washington Post – July 13, 2008)
In The Dark Side, Jane Mayer, a staff writer for the New Yorker, documents some of the ugliest allegations of wrongdoing charged against the Bush administration. Her achievement lies in weaving into a comprehensive narrative a story revealed elsewhere in bits and pieces. Mayer substantiates her facts in persuasive detail, citing the testimony of military officers, intelligence professionals, “hard-line law-and-order stalwarts in the criminal justice system” and impeccably conservative Bush appointees. In Washington, the concept of the global war on terror continuing for generations has become widely accepted. The Dark Side allows us a glimpse of what that achievement signifies.

Comcast Pressured Over Porn – (Washington Post – July 22, 2008)
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo wants major Internet providers to agree on steps to remove newsgroups that contain child pornography and purge their servers of Web sites that contain child porn. New York has already reached such agreements with AT&T, AOL, Verizon Communications, Sprint Nextel and Time Warner Cable.

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CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACEManned Spaceship Design Unveiled – (BBC News – July 22, 2008)
The first official image of a Russian-European manned spacecraft has been unveiled. It is designed to replace the Soyuz vehicle currently in use by Russia and will allow Europe to participate directly in crew transportation. The reusable ship was conceived to carry four people towards the Moon, rivaling the US Ares/Orion system.

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ECONOMIC INDICATORSBhutan King to be Crowned at Last – (BBC News – July 23, 2008)
The transition from Bhutan’s monarchy to democracy has been deliberately designed to be slow and steady and the monarchy will continue to play a central role in Bhutanese life. Both the new government and the opposition say they are committed to the king’s own five-year plan, and to the royal philosophy of Gross National Happiness – or GNH – which aims to strike a better balance between the spiritual and the material. A date has been announced in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan for the long awaited coronation of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. who took over after his father abdicated in 2006 as part of a move towards a constitutional monarchy. “Gross National Happiness”? Bhutan’s monarchs have been remarkably forward-looking for decades. What would the global economy look like if that economic metric were more widely embraced?

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JUST FOR FUNArchitectural Monuments in a Reshaped Beijing – (New York Times – July 10, 2008)
Get ready for the Olympics. Explore five new, notable architectural projects in Beijing.  These buildings are audacious and beautiful, not to mention: very large.  The new airport terminal is two miles across and would reach all the way across lower Manhattan.

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A FINAL QUOTE…I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.  -Thomas Jefferson

A special thanks to:, Erik Beaumont, Philip Bogdonoff, Tom Burgin, Bernard Calil, Ken Dabkowski, Walter Derzko, Neil Freer, Ursula Freer, 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 12 – 07/10/08

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