|FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT…
- Underwater footage reveals the first example of tool use in octopuses.
- The galactic tide is strong enough to influence Oort Cloud comets, which means it may also have helped shape our planet.
- Crowdsourcing, solving a task by appealing to a large undefined group of web users to each do a small chunk of it, has been associated with well-meaning altruism but it also has a dark side which is beginning to be implemented.
- By 2011, according to Department of Labor estimates, 40 state unemployment insurance funds will have been emptied by unemployed workers.
by John L. Petersen
Warm wishes for the New Year. My guess: it will be the most interesting year yet. Hang on for big change.
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Snap and Search
Trading Shares in Milliseconds
Snap and Search – (New York Times – December 19, 2009)
The world, like the World Wide Web before it, is about to be hyperlinked. Soon, you may be able to find information about almost any physical object with the click of a smartphone. Google unveiled a smartphone application called Goggles. It allows users to search the Web, not by typing or by speaking keywords, but by snapping an image with a cellphone and feeding it into Google’s search engine. Computer scientists have been trying to equip machines with virtual eyes for decades, and with varying degrees of success. But recognizing images at what techies call “scale,” meaning thousands or even millions of images, is hugely difficult, partly because it requires enormous computing power. It turns out that Google, with its collection of massive data centers, has just that.
Trading Shares in Milliseconds – (Technology Review – January/February, 2010)
Technology has changed the game forever. Today’s stock market has become a world of automated transactions executed at lightning speed. This high-frequency trading could make the financial system more efficient, but it could also turn small mistakes into catastrophes. Five years ago, automated trades made up about 30% of the market, and few of those moved as quickly as today’s trades do. Since then, automated trading has become much more widespread, and much quicker. The estimate is that high-frequency automated trading now accounts for 61% of the more than 10 billion shares traded daily across the numerous exchanges that make up the U.S. market. Profits from high-frequency trading in the first nine months of last year were $8 billion or more.
Yellowstone’s Plumbing Reveals Plume of Hot and Molten Rock
410 Miles Deep
Lost City Hydrothermal Field
Yellowstone’s Plumbing Reveals Plume of Hot and Molten Rock 410 Miles Deep – (Science Daily – December 14, 2009)
The most detailed seismic images yet published of the plumbing that feeds the Yellowstone supervolcano shows a plume of hot and molten rock rising at an angle from the northwest at a depth of at least 410 miles, contradicting claims that there is no deep plume, only shallow hot rock moving like slowly boiling soup. A related University of Utah study used gravity measurements to indicate the banana-shaped magma chamber of hot and molten rock a few miles beneath Yellowstone is 20 percent larger than previously believed, so a future cataclysmic eruption could be even larger than thought.
Lost City Hydrothermal Field – (National Geographic – October 6, 2009)
This National Geographic video clip introduces the Lost City Hydrothermal Field on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. In a super-heated mix of chemicals spewing from an undersea mountain ridge, complex micro-organisms and animals live in complete darkness, in a liquid chemically similar to Draino, and thrive on toxic gases released from rocks formed several miles beneath the seafloor. The Lost City Field is unlike any hydrothermal vent system previously discovered and may yield new insights into the first hydrothermal systems on Earth and the life that they supported. It also lends credence to the idea that very different life forms may exist in places previously thought impossible, such as one of the moons of Jupiter.
GENETICS/ HEALTH TECHNOLOGY
Study Redefines Placebo Effect as Part of Effective Treatment
The Next Generation of Retinal Implants
Noninvasive Technique to Rewrite Fear Memories Developed
Important Step Toward the Proverbial Fountain of Youth
Scientists Crack Entire Genetic Code of Cancer
Scientists Discover How the Brain Encodes Memories at a Cellular
Study Redefines Placebo Effect as Part of Effective Treatment – (Science Daily – December 23, 2009)
Researchers used the placebo effect to successfully treat psoriasis patients with one quarter to one half of their usual dose of a widely used steroid medication. By designing treatment regimens that mix active drug and placebo, researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center hope to maximize drug benefits, reduce side effects, increase the number of patients who take their medicine and extend the use of drugs otherwise limited by addiction risk or toxicity.
The Next Generation of Retinal Implants – (Phys Org – December 10, 2009)
A team of Stanford researchers has developed a new generation of higher-resolution retinal implants with approximately 1,000 electrodes (compared to 60 electrodes commonly found in fully implantable systems) to make artificial vision more natural. Typically, a camera embedded in glasses collects visual information and sends it to a computer that converts the images to electrical signals, which are then transmitted to the implant and interpreted by the brain. There are several private companies and universities working on different versions, but most people with implants can only make out fuzzy borders between light and dark areas. The Stanford implant would allow patients to make out the shape of objects and see meaningful images.
Noninvasive Technique to Rewrite Fear Memories Developed – (Science Daily – December 10, 2009)
While researchers have traditionally seen long-term memory as fixed and resistant, it is now becoming clear that memory is, in fact, dynamic and flexible. As a result, the act of remembering makes the memory vulnerable until it is stored again — a process called reconsolidation. During this instability period, new information could be incorporated into the old memory. NYU researchers showed that reactivating fear memories in humans allows them to be updated with non-fearful information, a finding previously demonstrated in rodents.
Important Step Toward the Proverbial Fountain of Youth – (Phys Org – December 22, 2009)
Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham have shown exactly how restricted calorie diets – specifically in the form of restricted glucose – help human cells live longer. The reduced glucose caused normal cells to have a higher activity of the gene that dictates the level of telomerase, an enzyme that extends their lifespan and lower activity of a gene that slows their growth. Gerald Weissmann, M.D. said “This study confirms that we are on the path to persuading human cells to let us to live longer, and perhaps cancer-free, lives.”
Scientists Crack Entire Genetic Code of Cancer – (BBC News – December 14, 2009)
Scientists around the globe are now working to catalogue all the genes that go wrong in many types of human cancer. The UK is looking at breast cancer, Japan at liver and India at mouth. China is studying stomach cancer, and the US is looking at cancers of the brain, ovary and pancreas. Scientists have already unlocked the entire genetic code of two of the most common cancers – skin and lung – a move they say could revolutionize cancer care. Not only will the cancer maps pave the way for blood tests to spot tumours far earlier, they will also yield new drug targets
How the Brain Encodes Memories at a Cellular Level – (Phys Org – December 23, 2009)
A team of scientists at UC Santa Barbara is the first to uncover a central process in encoding memories that occurs at the level of the synapse, where neurons connect with each other. One of the most important processes is that the synapses — which cement those memories into place — have to be strengthened. Part of strengthening a synapse involves making new proteins. The production of new proteins can only occur when the RNA that will make the required proteins is turned on. When the signal comes in, the wrapping protein degrades or gets fragmented. Then the RNA is suddenly free to synthesize a new protein.
DISCOVERIES ENABLED BY NEW TECHNOLOGY
Octopus Snatches Coconut and Runs
Ancient Whale Sucked Mud for Food
Octopus Snatches Coconut and Runs – (BBC News – December 14, 2009)
The veined octopus (Amphioctopus marginatus) and its coconut-carrying antics have surprised scientists. Underwater footage reveals that the creatures scoop up halved coconut shells before scampering away with them so they can later use them as shelters. The research team says it is the first example of tool use in octopuses.
Ancient Whale Sucked Mud for Food – (BBC News – December 26, 2009)
An ancient “dwarf” whale, the primitive baleen whale Mammalodon colliveri, appears to have fed by sucking small animals out of the seafloor mud with its short snout and tongue, experts say. Researchers say the 25 million-year-old fossil is related to today’s blue whales – the largest animals on Earth. The ancient animal’s mud slurping may have been a precursor to the filter feeding seen in modern baleen whales.
Pentagon Launches Plan to Master Lightning
Climate Change Has Become a Reality for Germany
Warming Already Speeding Up Insect Breeding
Greenland Glaciers: What Lies Beneath
A Lot of Hot Wind
Pentagon Launches Plan to Master Lightning – (Sphere.com – Decmeber 17, 2009)
Lightning is not only little understood, it is dangerous and destructive. Lightning strikes cause more than $5 billion in damage annually. NIMBUS, a new program sponsored by DARPA, will look at ways to protect against that destruction, including attempting to direct where lightning strikes. The initiative also includes plans to try to trigger lightning using rockets, which could be used to model and study the discharges.
Climate Change Has Become a Reality for Germany – (Der Spiegel – December 26, 2009)
Researchers in Eberswalde, near Berlin, are using Germany’s first dry lab to test the root system of the common beech for its reaction to periods of drought. The UBA is advocating a massive “forest conversion” and it seems the change is unavoidable — the timber industry’s beloved monoculture spruce stands will have to give way to stable mixed forests capable of withstanding dry summers as well as the devastating winter storms that have been felling shallow-rooted spruces by the thousands since the early 1990s.
Warming Already Speeding Up Insect Breeding – (Wired – December 25, 2009)
Ecologist Florian Altermatt of the University of California, Davis has been tracking 44 species of moths and butterflies in Central Europe. As the region has warmed since the 1980s, some of these species have added an extra generation during the summer for the first time on record in that location. Among the 263 species already known to have a second or third generation there during toasty times, 190 have grown more likely to do so since 1980.
Greenland Glaciers: What Lies Beneath – (Ohio State University – December 15, 2009)
Scientists studying the melting of Greenland’s glaciers are previously thought that meltwater simply lubricated ice against the bedrock, speeding the flow of glaciers out to sea. Now, new studies have revealed that the effect of meltwater on acceleration and ice loss — through fast-moving outlet glaciers that connect the inland ice sheet to the ocean — is much more complex. This is because a kind of plumbing system evolves over time at the base of the ice, expanding and shrinking with the volume of meltwater. “We’ve come to realize that sub-glacial meltwater is not responsible for the big accelerations that we’ve seen for the last ten years,” Howat said. “Changes in the glacial fronts, where the ice meets the ocean, are the real key.”
A Lot of Hot Wind – (International Medical Veritas Assoc. – 2009)
Does anyone notice that the global warming crowd never talks about the sun and its activity? Here’s an obviously biased – but interesting – take on the issue that seems provocative (if it all is true and you can sidestep rhetoric). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Climatic Data Center has recorded 150 record breaking cold temperatures with another 50 locations recording record breaking ties with old records.
The Potential of SixthSense Technology
Controlling the TV with a Wave of the Hand
More Publications Moving to Digital Only
The Potential of SixthSense Technology – (TED – November, 2009)
Pranav Mistry is among the most brilliant inventors in the world. At TEDIndia, he demos several tools that help the physical world interact with the world of data – including a deep look at his SixthSense, a wearable device that enables new interactions between the real world and the world of data including a new, paradigm-shifting paper “laptop.”
Controlling the TV with a Wave of the Hand – (Phys Org – December 23, 2009)
Touchscreens are so yesterday. Remote controls? So last century. The future is controlling your television with a simple wave of your hand. A wiggle of the fingers will change television channels or turn the volume up or down. In videogames, your movements will control your onscreen digital avatar. It’s called 3D gesture recognition and a number of technology companies are promising will be in stores by Christmas next year.
More Publications Moving to Digital Only – (OhmyNews – December 15, 2009)
The recent Online Information show in Olympia coincided with a decision by the Guardian newspaper to cease print publication of the Technology supplement. From next year this will be available online only. Academic journals have been moving towards a digital default for several years. Highwire Press, based at Stanford University Libraries, have started to promote e-books as well. They offer a hosting service for many university presses and journals. Oxford University Press (OUP) have added some handbooks alongside journals. This article examines both the pros and cons of that trend.
Recycle Your Yule into Christmas Alt-Fuel (Wired – December 24, 2009)
For all the joy of Christmas morning, there’s certainly a lot of waste involved. Reams of wrapping paper, forests of evergreens and piles of unwanted fruitcakes are discarded after the holidays. That got us thinking: Wouldn’t it be great if some of that trash could be repurposed as fuel? Turns out it can. First on our list is fruitcake. They certainly aren’t edible, and they’ll take about a million years to biodegrade, so what can we do with them? Answer: biofuel.
China Develops Herbal Medication to Treat A/H1N1 Flu
Soil Studies Reveal Rise in Antibiotic Resistance
China Develops Herbal Medication to Treat A/H1N1 Flu – (Xinhua News Agency – December 17, 2009)
After seven months of scientific and clinical studies, Chinese medical specialists announced they had developed a Chinese herbal medication to treat the A/H1N1 flu. The medication, called “Jin Hua Qing Gan Fang,” is effective in treating A/H1N1 flu patients, said Wang Chen, president of Beijing’s Chaoyang Hospital. “It can shorten patients’ fever period and improve their respiratory systems. Doctors have found no negative effects on patients who were treated in this way. It is also very cheap, only about a quarter of the cost of Tamiflu,” he said at a press conference held by the Beijing Municipal Government.
Soil Studies Reveal Rise in Antibiotic Resistance – (Newcastle University – December 23, 2009)
Antibiotic resistance in the natural environment is rising despite tighter controls over our use of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture. Bacterial DNA extracted from soil samples collected between 1940 and 2008 has revealed a rise in background levels of antibiotic resistant genes. The team found that 78% of genes from four classes of antibiotics showed increasing levels since 1940 – despite continued efforts to reduce environmental levels. Professor Graham said the next step would be to analyze soil samples from other parts of the world, although he expects to see similar results. He adds: “The big question is that with more stringent European regulations and greater emphasis on conservative antibiotic use in agriculture and medicine, why are antibiotic resistant gene levels still rising?”
Synthetics Stop the Bleeding
IBM Nanotechnology Might Improve Cell Phones
Batteries Built out of Paper
Synthetics Stop the Bleeding – (Technology Review – December 18, 2009)
Nanoparticles designed to mimic the clotting capability of blood platelets have been shown to quickly reduce bleeding in rodents with severed arteries. The synthetic particles, which stick to the body’s own platelets, stanch bleeding more effectively than a clotting drug currently used to stem uncontrolled blood loss. If successful in further tests, researchers hope the nanoparticles could one day be injected soon after a traumatic injury by paramedics, or in the battlefield. Early safety tests are promising, but developing safe blood-clotting treatments has been a challenge. “There’s a balance between the two edges of the sword–bleeding too much and clotting too much,” says Mortimer Poncz, a physician at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, in Philadelphia, who was not involved in the research. “You don’t want to stop bleeding in the leg but die of a heart attack or have stroke.”
IBM Nanotechnology Might Improve Cell Phones – (PC World – December 18, 2009)
Researchers at IBM are using nanotechnology to build a future generation of wireless transceivers that are much more sensitive and less expensive than the ones found in phones today. The catch is that the new chips probably won’t make it into consumers’ hands for another five or ten years. As a part of DARPA’s CERA (Carbon Electronics for radio-frequency applications), IBM has built prototype transistors with the new material, called graphene. It is a form of graphite that consists of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern.
Batteries Built out of Paper – (PC World – December 21, 2009)
Researchers at Stanford University have used nanotechnology to create lightweight, bendable batteries out of paper. The paper batteries are designed to be folded, crumpled or even soaked in an acidic solution and still work, according to Yi Cui, assistant professor at Stanford. The team created the batteries by coating a sheet of paper with ink made of carbon nanotubes and silver nanowires. The striking aspect of the development is “how a simple thing in daily life — paper — can be used as a substrate to make functional conductive electrodes by a simple process,” said Peidong Yang, at UC, Berkeley. Stanford offered no indication of when the batteries might be ready for commercial use.
TERRORISM, SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
The Sinister Powers of Crowdsourcing – (New Scientist – December 22, 2009)
So far crowdsourcing, solving a task by appealing to a large undefined group of web users to each do a small chunk of it, has been associated with well-meaning altruism, such as the creation and maintenance of Wikipedia or searching for lost aviators. But crowdsourcing of a different flavor has started to emerge. Law enforcement officials in Texas have installed a network of CCTV cameras to monitor key areas along that state’s 1900-kilometre-long border with Mexico. To help screen the footage, a website lets anyone log in to watch a live feed from a border camera and report suspicious activity. A similar system called Internet Eyes, which pays online viewers to spot shoplifters from in-store camera feeds, is set to launch in the UK in 2010. An Iranian website is offering rewards for identifying people in photos taken during protests over June’s elections. A Harvard University law professor says the next step may be for such efforts to get web users to help out covertly.
TRENDS OF GOVERNMENT
What Happens When We Can’t Trust the Verifiers? – (TruthOut – December 23, 2009)
This month, a British government report admitted that one of the major rationales for invading Iraq – the claim that Saddam could deploy WMDs in 45 minutes – probably came from a cab driver. Had the public originally been told about this sketchy sourcing, there may have been a more, ahem, forceful mass opposition to pre-emptive war in the Middle East. It’s a good lesson about the need for transparency. We cannot fully snuff out spin, and we will never be able to guarantee perfect results from policy choices. But we can increase the chances for successful societal decision-making when we at least know the facts. More often than not, this was the American compromise: We fought about regulations and mandates, but there had been consensus support for transparency. “Had been,” mind you, is the key phrase – and the cab-driver-induced war is only the beginning.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Earth’s Atmosphere May Have Alien Origin
Galactic Tide May Have Influenced Life on Earth
Earth’s Atmosphere May Have Alien Origin – (Wired – December 10, 2009)
Krypton and xenon appear in Earth’s atmosphere – and in the universe as a whole – only in trace amounts. Detailed analyses of the gases provide clues about where those atmospheric components originated, says Greg Holland, an isotope geochemist at the University of Manchester in England. Those analyses suggest that those gases, as well as many others now cloaking our planet, arrived via comets or were swept up from nearby gas clouds during the late stages of Earth’s formation.
Galactic Tide May Have Influenced Life on Earth – (Technology Review – December 18, 2009)
The Moon’s tides have been an ever-present force in Earth’s history, shaping the landscape and the lives of the creatures that inhabit it. Now there’s a tantalizing hint that the galactic tide may have played a significant role in Earth’s past. Jozef Klacka at Comenius University in the Slovak Republic has concluded that the tide is strong enough to significantly effect the orbital evolution of Oort Cloud comets. But if the galactic tide plays a role in sending these comets our way, then it looks as if we’re part of a much larger web. Could it be that Earth and the life that has evolved here, is crucially dependent, not just on our planet, our star and our local interplanetary environment, but on the Milky Way galaxy itself?
Adequate, Negative, Sustainable: What Kind of Growth?
States’ Jobless Funds are Being Drained in Recession
Detroit’s Unemployment Rate Is Nearly 50%
Adequate, Negative, Sustainable: What Kind of Growth? – (TruthOut – December 15, 2009)
The ever-more-fashionable idea that we should desire and organize shrinkage in the economy to fight against the destruction it generates may seem a priority totally idiotic: how can anyone want to institutionalize depression, the consequences of which the whole world is suffering today in terms of unemployment and poverty? Nonetheless, the idea makes sense if one understands it as the determination to reconsider the commercial definition of greater welfare, of being better off. In order to effect such a transformation, however, negative growth in the strict sense of the term is not what the world needs. Nor even is a different growth which would not change anything in the structure of production. But rather, a radical change in the very nature of the material goods produced and of their relationship to the times, to awareness and to feelings. See also TruthOut: Negative Growth and TruthOut: A Sustainable Economy – We’re Not There Yet…
States’ Jobless Funds are Being Drained in Recession – (Washington Post – December 22, 2009)
The recession’s jobless toll is draining unemployment-compensation funds so fast that according to federal projections, 40 state programs will go broke within two years and need $90 billion in loans to keep issuing the benefit checks. Debates over the state benefit programs have erupted in South Carolina, Nevada, Kansas, Vermont and Indiana. And the budget gaps are expected to spread and become more acute in the coming year, compelling legislators in many states to reconsider their operations. Currently, 25 states have run out of unemployment money and have borrowed $24 billion from the federal government to cover the gaps. By 2011, according to Department of Labor estimates, 40 state funds will have been emptied by the jobless tsunami.
Detroit’s Unemployment Rate Is Nearly 50%, According to the Detroit News – (Huffington Post – December 16, 2009)
Officially, Detroit’s unemployment rate is just under 30%. But the city’s mayor and local leaders are suggesting a far more disturbing figure — the actual jobless rate, they say, is closer to 50%. Homelessness, especially among those becoming homeless for the first time, is expected to jump at least 10% this year.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Brits Opting for IVF ‘Viking’ Babies – (BBC News – December 23, 2009)
A new act from the UK’s fertility watchdog – the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority – came into force this month. It allows people who were conceived with donor sperm to identify any half-siblings they might have. But it does not address the shortage of donor sperm in the UK. Since 2005 men in Britain have not been allowed to donate sperm anonymously, and demand in the UK now outstrips supply. So Denmark, as home to the world’s biggest sperm bank, is a popular destination. The Danish spermbank Cryos exports sperm to 60 countries around the world. Its slogan is “Congratulations, it’s a Viking”. Unlike the UK, it allows donors to be anonymous as well as paying them for their donations.
JUST FOR FUN
100 Best Innovations of 2009 – (Pop Sci – December 16, 2009)
Images and descriptions of 100 innovations: a great gallery to browse through. Many are practical; all are interesting in that they point out where there were gaps between people’s needs and previously available products.
A FINAL QUOTE…
“The future should be something we deserve, not something which is merely reached at the rate of 60 minutes per hour.”
A special thanks to: Thomas Burgin, Kevin Clark, Kevin Foley, Ursula Freer, Kurweil AI, Kent Myers, Diane Petersen, Bobbie Rohn, Stu Rose, Schwartz Report, Steve Ujvarosy and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.
Edited by John L. Petersen