Volume 12, Number 9 – 12/15/09

Volume 12, Number 9 – 12/15/09FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS


What do you get when the past crystallizes out of the future? According to a new model of the universe that combines relativity and quantum mechanics, the answer is: the present.Syntax, previously thought to be a uniquely human faculty, has been deciphered in a monkey language.Don’t wait for an organ donation — grow your own.Cloud-based hacking service can crack wi-fi passwords in 20 Minutes.
by John L. Petersen

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Rumors That First Dark Matter Particle Found
New Model of the Universe Says Past Crystallizes out of the Future
A Monkey Language Is Deciphered
Saturn’s Hexagon May Be Solar System’s Coolest Mystery

Rumors That First Dark Matter Particle Found – (New Scientist – December 8, 2009)
The physics blogs are abuzz with rumors that a particle of dark matter has finally been found. If true, it is huge news. Dark matter is thought to make up 90% of the universe’s mass and what evidence there is for it remains highly controversial. That’s why any news of a sighting is seized upon. The Cryogenic Dark Matter Search experiment is one of several designed to look for the tell-tale signature of dark matter particles passing through. No one is sure what a dark matter particle will look like, though theory gives some pointers.

New Model of the Universe Says Past Crystallizes out of the Future – (Technology Review – December 8, 2009)
What do you get when the past crystallizes out of the future? According to a new model of the universe that combines relativity and quantum mechanics, the answer is: the present. Theoreticians Ellis and Rothman have introduced a significant new type of block universe. They say the character of the block changes dramatically when quantum mechanics is thrown into the mix. All of a sudden, the future is dominated by the weird laws of quantum mechanics in which objects can exist in two places at the same time and particles can be so deeply linked that they share the same existence. By contrast, the past is dominated by the unflinching certainty of classical mechanics.

A Monkey Language Is Deciphered – (New York Times – December 7, 2009)
Having spent months recording the monkeys’ calls in response to both natural and artificial stimuli, a group led by Klaus Zuberbühler of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland argues that the Campbell’s monkeys have a primitive form of syntax. The adult males have six types of call, each with a specific meaning, but they can string two or more calls together into a message with a different meaning. This is likely to be a controversial claim because despite extensive efforts to teach chimpanzees language, the subjects showed little or no ability to combine the sounds they learned into a sentence with a larger meaning. Syntax, basic to the structure of language, seemed be a uniquely human faculty.

Saturn’s Hexagon May Be Solar System’s Coolest Mystery – (Wired – December 9, 2009)
The Cassini spacecraft has returned the best images yet of the strange hexagonal jet stream that flows around the northern pole of Saturn. First discovered by the Voyager spacecraft in the early 1980s, the hexagon remains a beautiful mystery to astronomers, and one they’ve been waiting for another shot to see for almost three decades. “The longevity of the hexagon makes this something special, given that weather on Earth lasts on the order of weeks,” said Kunio Sayanagi, a Cassini project researcher. “It’s a mystery on par with the strange weather conditions that give rise to the long-lived Great Red Spot of Jupiter.”


3-D Software Gives View Inside the Body
Grow Your Own Body Parts? The Future is Now
Gene Therapy Halts Fatal Brain Disease

3-D Software Gives View Inside the Body – (Science Daily – November 27, 2009)
With an Xbox game controller, looked up to a video screen and used the device’s buttons and joystick, it is now possible to fly through a patient’s chest cavity for an up-close look at the bottom of the heart. And there was a sight doctors had never seen before: an accurate, 3-D view inside a patient’s body accessible with a personal computer, a view doctors can shift, adjust, turn, zoom and replay at will.

Grow Your Own Body Parts? The Future is Now – (Star Tribune – November 29, 2009)
Don’t wait for an organ donation — grow your own. Here’s how: cells from an organ to be replaced are put into nutrients, where they multiply and create a “soup,” explained Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina. The “soup” of cells is “painted” on a form or scaffolding in the shape of the organ, say a bladder, and placed into an incubator. A new bladder grows in about six weeks. See also:

Gene Therapy Halts Fatal Brain Disease – (Wired – November 5, 2009)
Scientists have used gene therapy to halt the progression of adrenoleukodystrophy, a fatal neurodegenerative disease caused by a single defective gene, in two seven-year-old boys. It took more than a decade to refine the therapy, in which stem cells taken from the boys’ bone marrow were hacked with healthy copies of the gene, then returned to their bodies. Without them, the boys would soon be dead.


Worldwide Change in Blue Whale’s Song Baffles Scientists
People Hear with Skin as Well as Their Ears
New Brain Connections Form Rapidly During Motor Learning

Worldwide Change in Blue Whale’s Song Baffles Scientists – (Daily Galaxy – December 4, 2009)
The function of whale song, even the better-studied song of the humpback whale, has long baffled marine scientists. Songs of the blue whale, the planets largest living creature, can be divided into at least 10 types worldwide, each type retaining the same units and similar phrasing over decades, unlike humpback whale song which changes substantially from year to year. That is until recently with a worldwide occurrence of a nearly linear downward shift in the tonal frequencies of blue whale song.

People Hear with Skin as Well as Their Ears – (New York Times – November 25, 2009)
If humans can integrate different sensory cues, do they do so through experience (through seeing countless speaking faces over time), or has evolution hard-wired them to do it? A new study that looks at a different set of sensory cues adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests such integration is innate. In a current study, cues from sensory receptors on the skin trumped the ears as well. “Our skin is doing the hearing for us,” the lead researcher said.

New Brain Connections Form Rapidly During Motor Learning – (Science Daily – November 30, 2009)
New neural connections begin to form between brain cells within one hour as animals learn a new task. “Motor learning makes a permanent mark in the brain. When you learn to ride a bicycle, once the motor memory is formed, you don’t forget. The same is true when a mouse learns a new motor skill; the animal learns how to do it and never forgets.” Understanding the basis for such long-lasting memories is an important goal for neuroscientists, with implications for efforts to help patients recover abilities lost due to stroke or other injuries.


Hackers Reveal Corrupt Science at Climate Research Unit
Climate Catastrophe: Never Anything But a Fraud
MIT Team Asks: Is Increase in Greenhouse Gas Part of Natural Cycle?
World Carbon Emissions Overshoot “Budget”
Israeli Ecologists Could Help Stop Global Warming

Hackers Reveal Corrupt Science at Climate Research Unit – (MIT Tech – December 1, 2009)
Over the past few weeks anonymous “hackers” entered the computer systems of the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in the UK. This intrusion has been confirmed by the university and at least some of the data leaked to have been confirmed as authentic by officials at the CRU. Among the data were hundreds of e-mails and source code files which describe a shameful corruption of the scientific process. Many corporate media outlets have refused to report on this story. Indeed much of the biased reporting recently put forth as journalism by CNN, The New York Times, etc. has presented anthropogenic global warming as a foregone conclusion. In reality, there is a great deal of disagreement among scientists on the subject.

Climate Catastrophe: Never Anything But a Fraud – (Al Fin – November 22, 2009)
Before the governments of the western world commit their constituents and their descendants to lifetimes of enforced energy poverty and re-distributive slavery, they need to admit to their citizens that science has nothing to do with this massive change in their circumstances. See also: and

World Carbon Emissions Overshoot “Budget” – (Reuters – December 1, 2009)
The world has emitted extra greenhouse gases this century equivalent to the annual totals of China and the United States above a maximum for avoiding the worst of climate change. “If you stay on this path the entire carbon budget will be used by about 2034, about 16 years early,” John Hawksworth, head of macroeconomics at global accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

MIT Team Asks: Is Increase in Greenhouse Gas Part of Natural Cycle? – (Daily Galaxy – December 3, 2009)
A team of MIT scientists recorded a nearly simultaneous world-wide increase in methane levels -the first increase in ten years. What baffles the team is that this data contradicts theories stating humans are the primary source of increase in greenhouse gas. It takes about one full year for gases generated in the highly industrial northern hemisphere to cycle through and reach the southern hemisphere. Since all worldwide levels rose simultaneously throughout the same year, however, it is probable that this may be part of a natural cycle – and not the direct result of man’s contributions.

Israeli Ecologists Could Help Stop Global Warming – (Haaretz – November 30, 2009)
Prof. Hugues Faure of the University of Marseilles in France, who studied Saharan terrain and groundwater resources, has calculated that if we used the groundwater beneath the Sinai Desert and western Negev for irrigation, and restored the greenery that covered it during the last ice age, the vegetation would absorb all the carbon generated by industry each year. According to his calculations, the water supply could last a few hundred years.


You’ll Buy More from Web Ads That Know How You Think
New Cloud-based Hacking Service Can Crack Wi-Fi Passwords in 20 Minutes
The American Diet: 34 Gigabytes a Day

You’ll Buy More from Web Ads That Know How You Think – (New Scientist – December 7, 2009)
An internet marketing researcher at the MIT Sloan School of Management has developed an “ad morphing” system that attempts to make internet banner ads more appealing by tailoring the content more closely to users’ personality type. Now websites can be primed to “read” potential customers from the way they interact with web pages using a program called the Bayesian Inference Engine which runs unobtrusively on a user’s computer to monitor the person’s click patterns and thus determine how they respond to different textual and visual cues. This is then used to categorize the user’s cognitive style.

New Cloud-based Hacking Service Can Crack Wi-Fi Passwords in 20 Minutes – (ZD Net – December 8, 2009)
The $34 “WPA Cracker” service is a tool for security auditors and penetration testers to test breaking into certain types of WPA Wi-Fi networks. The service leverages a known vulnerability in Pre-shared Key (PSK) networks usually used by home and small-business users. To use it, the tester first submits a small file that contains an initial communication between the WPA router and a computer. Based on that information, WPA Cracker can then figure out whether the network is vulnerable to a type of attack. While this job would take over five days on a contemporary dual-core PC, using only half the cluster (costs $17), will do the job in about 40 minutes.

The American Diet: 34 Gigabytes a Day – (New York Times – December 9, 2009)
A report by the University of California, San Diego, calculates that American households collectively consumed 3.6 zettabytes of information in 2008. The paper – entitled “How Much Information?” – explores all forms of American communication and consumption and hopes to create a census of the information we consume. If a zettabyte is beyond your comprehension, too, it’s essentially one billion trillion bytes: a 1 with 21 zeros at the end. To put that into perspective, one exabyte – which equals 1/1000 of a zettabyte or 1 billion gigabytes – is roughly equivalent to the capacity of 5.1 million computer hard drives, or all the hard drives in Minnesota.


A Robot That Sees, Speaks, Reacts to Touch and Surfs the Web
Optical Pressure Sensors Give Robots the Human Touch
Man Controlled Robotic Hand with Thoughts
Scientists Unveil World’s First Bionic Fingers

A Robot That Sees, Speaks, Reacts to Touch and Surfs the Web – (GizMag – December 6, 2009)
The versatile humanoid robot Nao can see (via two cameras), will react to touch, can surf the Web and can interact with other Naos. He can speak (in English or French, so far) by reading out any file stored locally in his storage space or captured from a website RSS flow. His eyes can interpret his surroundings thanks to a set of algorithms in his on-board computer that can detect faces and shapes. This enables Nao to recognize the person talking to him, find a ball, and more complex objects.

Optical Pressure Sensors Give Robots the Human Touch – (New Scientist – December 1, 2009)
Existing sensors, such as those based on simple pressure switches and motor resistance, are limited in their ability to detect subtle changes in pressure and to distinguish between different textures. A key reason for this is the electrical components and wires they are made from tend to be inflexible. To get around these obstacles, Jeroen Missinne and colleagues at Ghent University in Belgium have developed a flexible “skin” containing optical sensors.

Man Controlled Robotic Hand with Thoughts – (Breitbart – December 2, 2009)
An Italian who lost his left forearm in a car crash was successfully linked to a robotic hand, allowing him to feel sensations in the artificial limb and control it with his thoughts. Though similar experiments have been successful before, the European scientists who led the project say this was the first time a patient has been able to make such complex movements using his mind to control a biomechanic hand connected to his nervous system. While the “LifeHand” experiment lasted only a month, this was the longest time electrodes had remained connected to a human nervous system in such an experiment, said Silvestro Micera, one of the engineers on the team.

Scientists Unveil World’s First Bionic Fingers – (BBC News – December 8, 2009)
The bionic unit fits over the person’s palm to help people with any number of missing digits. The custom made ProDigits are fitted on to what remains of the hand, and can be controlled by myoelectric sensors which register muscle signals from the residual finger or palm. Those fitted with the device can bend, touch, pick up and point. Developers hope the device will be a boost to the partial hand amputee population, which is estimated at about 1.2 million worldwide.


New Drive to Harness Wave Power
Innovation Puts Next-generation Solar Cells on the Horizon
Battery Made of Paper
Sunlight Turns Water and Carbon Dioxide into Fuel
Steorn – Convenient, Clean and Constant Supply of Energy

New Drive to Harness Wave Power – (BBC News – December 9, 2009)
In the turbulent waters off the shores of Orkney, in the far north of Scotland, an array of bizarre machines is being deployed in a drive to harness the power of the sea. The European Marine Energy Centre at Stromness is playing host to nearly a dozen experimental devices designed to capture the energy of the tides and the waves. This is a watery, green equivalent to the start of the steam age: lots of clever ideas but the inevitability that there will be winners and losers. The technologies are in their infancy, the costs at this stage are very high and still unknown are the practical implications of deploying hundreds or thousands of machines at sea. Although it is too early to tell if any of them will work on a large scale or ever succeed commercially, this is one direction that energy generation will be taking.

Innovation Puts Next-generation Solar Cells on the Horizon – (Phys Org – December 1, 2009)
Scientists have produced tandem dye-sensitized solar cells with a three-fold increase in energy conversion efficiency compared with previously reported tandem dye-sensitized solar cells. When the research team combined two types of dye-sensitized solar cell – one inverse and the other classic – into a simple stack, they were able to produce for the first time a tandem solar cell that exceeded the efficiency of its individual components.

Battery Made of Paper – (BBC News – December 8, 2009)
These batteries could make for future energy storage that is truly paper thin. A team of researchers at Stanford University started with off-the-shelf copier paper, painting it with an “ink” made of carbon nanotubes. The coated paper is then dipped in lithium-containing solutions and an electrolyte to provide the chemical reaction that generates a battery’s electric current. Using paper in this way could reduce the weight of batteries, typically made with metal current collectors, by 20%.

Sunlight Turns Water and Carbon Dioxide into Fuel – (Pop Sci – November 23, 2009)
Scientists at Sandia National Labs, seeking a means to create cheap and abundant hydrogen to power a hydrogen economy, realized they could use the same technology to “reverse-combust” CO2 back into fuel. Researchers still have to improve the efficiency of the system, but they recently demonstrated a working prototype of their “Sunshine to Petrol” machine that converts waste CO2 to carbon monoxide, and then syngas, consuming nothing but solar energy. The device sets off a thermo-chemical reaction by exposing an iron-rich composite to concentrated solar heat. The composite sheds an oxygen molecule when heated and gets one back as it cools, and therein lies the eureka.

Steorn – (Steorn website – December, 2009)
Steorn, the Irish company that previously said that they had an over-unity energy device (that produces more energy output than input), is back again, this time apparently with a device that they say is ready for application development. The company has announced a public demonstration in Dublin of its controversial technology. See also for six video clips.


Device Spells Doom for Superbugs
Breakthrough Flu Drug Might Already Exist

Device Spells Doom for Superbugs – (BBC News – November 26, 2009)
Researchers have demonstrated a prototype device that can rid hands, feet, or even underarms of bacteria, including the hospital superbug MRSA. The device works by creating something called a plasma, which produces a cocktail of chemicals in air that kill bacteria but are harmless to skin. A related approach could see the use of plasmas to speed the healing of wounds.

Breakthrough Flu Drug Might Already Exist – (Technology Review – December 8, 2009)
Scientists have announced a new method for fighting pandemic influenzas such as H1N1 (swine) and H5N1 (avian). The approach involves using massive amount of computer power to simulate never-before-seen conformations of a virus. Using the method, researchers at the University of California at San Diego have not only identified a new molecular target for influenza drugs, they have also found drugs already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that just might hit the target perfectly.


Nanotechnology to End Insulin Injections for Diabetics – (Smart Planet – December 8, 2009)
Insulin injections may soon be a thing of the past for diabetics thanks to nano-technology. At UCSF Professor of bioengineering, Tejal Desai, implants millions of pancreatic cells that secrete insulin into tiny capsules that can be implanted into the body in an effort to create an artificial pancreas. When blood sugar flows inside the capsule, it stimulates the cells to produce insulin to control sugar levels. The device has nano pores, pores so small that the body’s antibodies cannot get in to attack the cells, but large enough that the insulin can flow out and into the body. Video clip attached to article.


Zombie Pigs First, Then Hibernating Soldiers – (Wired – December 4, 2009)
Around half of U.S. troop fatalities are caused by blood loss from battlefield injuries. Odds of survival plummet after an hour – during combat, that kind of quick evacuation, triage and treatment is often impossible. The Defense Department’s latest research idea: Stop bleeding injuries by turning pigs into the semi-undead. If it works out, we humans could be the next ones to be zombified.


We Have a Nobel Peace President Who Won’t Ban Land Mines
Wave of Debt Payments Facing U.S. Government
Obama’s Big Sellout
An Empire at Risk
Imperial America’s Reckoning Day Has Only Been Delayed

We Have a Nobel Peace President Who Won’t Ban Land Mines – (AlterNet – December 11, 2009)
This op-ed piece by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship notes that United States has not actively used land mines since the first Gulf War in 1991, but we still possess some 10-15 million of them, making us the third largest stockpiler in the world, behind China and Russia. Like those two countries, we have refused to sign an international agreement banning the manufacture, stockpiling and use of land mines. Since 1987, 156 other nations have signed it, including every country in NATO. Amongst that 156, more than 40 million mines have been destroyed.

Wave of Debt Payments Facing U.S. Government – (New York Times – November 22, 2009)
The United States government is financing its more than trillion-dollar-a-year borrowing with i.o.u.’s on terms that seem too good to be true. But that happy situation, aided by ultralow interest rates, may not last much longer. Treasury officials now face a trifecta of headaches: a mountain of new debt, a balloon of short-term borrowings that come due in the months ahead, and interest rates that are sure to climb back to normal as soon as the Federal Reserve decides that the emergency has passed.

Obama’s Big Sellout – (Rolling Stone – December 9, 2009)
Barack Obama ran for president as a man of the people, standing up to Wall Street as the global economy melted down in that fateful fall of 2008. Then he got elected. Obama had a clear mandate to rein in Wall Street and remake the entire structure of the American economy. What he did instead was pack the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place. This new team of bubble-fattened ex-bankers and laissez-faire intellectuals then proceeded to sell us all out.

An Empire at Risk – (Newsweek – November 28, 2009)
If you fly across the Atlantic on a clear day, you can look down and see the same phenomenon but on four entirely different scales. At one extreme there is tiny Iceland. Then there is little Ireland, followed by medium-size Britain. They’re all a good deal smaller than the mighty United States. But in each case the economic crisis has taken the same form: a massive banking crisis, followed by an equally massive fiscal crisis as the government stepped in to bail out the private financial system.

Imperial America’s Reckoning Day Has Only Been Delayed – (The National – December 7, 2009)
The costs of the Afghanistan “surge” will, the congressional research service (CRS) says, extend the price tag for Washington’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan above $1tn. The White House estimates the annual cost of the new deployment of 30,000 new troops at about $1 million a head, although independent estimates put the total figure closer to $40bn. The president intends to foot the bill as an off-budget, supplemental expenditure, the same way his predecessor, George W Bush, paid for the two conflicts throughout his two terms. When he assumed the presidency, Mr Obama to his credit reversed this accounting sleight of hand, insisting that the cost of war be reflected in the budget as an additional burden for a heavily indebted nation. Now, only half way into the current fiscal year, he is reversing.


Audio Slideshow: Deep Space X-rays – (BBC News – December, 2009)
The biggest scientific satellite ever built in Europe, the XMM-Newton observatory has been orbiting Earth for a decade – with its mirrors capturing X-ray images from across the Universe. See what the telescope has seen in its first 10 years.


Across U.S., Food Stamp Use Soars and Stigma Fades
Many Minorities Shun Banks

Across U.S., Food Stamp Use Soars and Stigma Fades – (New York Times – November 28, 2009)
With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children. More than 36 million people use inconspicuous plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese, swiping them at counters in blighted cities and in suburbs pocked with foreclosure signs. Virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs.

Many Minorities Shun Banks – (USA Today – December 1, 2009)
More than one in four American households, including more than half of black households, use check cashers, payday lenders or pawnbrokers rather than a bank, according to a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation report. About 9 million households – including 20% of families earning less than $30,000 a year – have no bank account at all, the report says. Households that have bank accounts but still use check-cashing services are just as likely to be moderate-income – earning up to $50,000 a year – as low-income.


Dog in a BP Shirt Greets Customers
The Next Shoes to Drop In Commercial Real Estate

Dog in a BP Shirt Greets Customers – (St. Petersburg Times – November 25, 2009)
This article isn’t the usual “economic indicator” article – but this convenience store’s way to put a smile on people’s faces (and increase customer retention) isn’t exactly a business-as-usual solution. “In a dog-eat-dog world, when our economy sucks and business is hard, you’ve got to find a way to stand out.”

The Next Shoes to Drop In Commercial Real Estate – (Zero Hedge – December 6, 2009)
Even though everyone “knows” the state of commercial real estate (CRE) is in free fall, few have been able to pin it down to specific buildings, as property-level data is still very expensive and more often than not, proprietary. In order to bring the full degree of CRE collapse closer to home, here is a detailed analysis of 10 of the most impacted CRE properties that have yet to make headline news. (Editor’s note: this article is drawn from records used by commercial property lenders and is filled with industry abbreviations. Nonetheless, a quick read will be revealing. BTW: “U/W” means “underwriter”, i.e. at the time the loan was originated. “BWR” means “borrower”. “NRA” means “net rentable area”.)


The 10 Strangest Mutual Funds – (US News and World Report – December 2, 2009)
If you’ve seriously wondered about the future of the US economy and where the stock market is going, take a moment for some humor. When mutual funds step off the beaten path, there’s no telling what will happen. In the past, for example, oddball funds have fought the war on terror (the Ancora Homeland Security Fund), tried to prop up the sky (the Chicken Little Growth Fund), and fantasized about swinging a presidential election (the Blue Fund). And although those three particular funds-all of which have been liquidated-failed, others have stepped in to carry the torch and preserve a long and proud tradition of eccentric investing styles. Here are the 10 quirkiest funds around.


The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet.
– William Gibson, science fiction novelist

A special thanks to: Sam Bonasso, Kevin Clark, Kevin Foley, Ursula Freer, Al Kurzweil, Eddie Mahe, Diane Petersen 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

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Volume 12, Number 8 – 11/30/09

Volume 12, Number 10 – 12/30/09