|FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT…
- Soon there will be a trillion sensors connected to the Web.
- In the future, people with diabetes may be able to monitor their blood sugar levels using a glucose “tattoo.”
- A new type of shock absorber under development converts the bumps and jolts of vehicles on rough roads into usable electricity.
- NASA reports that an unknown object approaching the Earth from deep space is almost certainly artificial in origin.
by John L. Petersen
First of all, I’d like to remind you again that Lee Carroll and Kryon are coming to Berkeley Springs, West Virginia on the 17th of July. It’s guaranteed that Lee and Kryon will provide significant insights that will allow you to make more sense out of all that is happening around and to us in these extraordinary days. I always find them most provocative. You can get more information by clicking on the banner to the right.
To fear or not to fear
A sad thing happened recently in our little town. Our courthouse burned down a couple of years ago and in the last 18 months a beautiful, new structure has arisen to anchor our main intersection. (It’s easy to find; it’s at the second of three traffic lights along the main street. And those are the only three traffic lights in the whole county.) The top two floors of the structure include the court rooms and associated offices. On the bottom floor are all of the usual county offices – assessor, clerk, commissioners, planning commission, etc.
When it was designed, the then commissioners and architect determined rightly that the upper floors (where all of the conflicts and criminals would be) should be secured with the usual airport-like guards, magnetometers, and inspections. The first floor would be open to the public like almost every other local office facility in the state. If you were just coming to pay your taxes or register to vote or attend a commission meeting, you could just walk in. In our friendly little community, that’s the way the present offices are and the way it’s always been from the very first day the county was chartered. Remember, we’re a town of 600 people in a county of 16,000 in the mountains of West Virginia.
Well, then some security guy from state government came in and essentially said that there were security threats out there and the whole building should be secured. The sheriff agreed and a big argument ensued. The president of the county commission argued that open government (something that she had campaigned on) also means physically open facilities that allows citizens to have easy access to officials and offices. The newspaper editor weighed in suggesting that because of 9/11 and the shoe bomber and the unsuccessful bombing attempt in Times Square there clearly was a terrorist threat that we all should be worrying about and those who thought the offices should be open to just anyone were naïve.
Of course, there were personalities involved in the whole thing, but the basic proposition was essentially, should we be afraid or not be afraid . . . of an abstract, undefined threat.
Sadly, fear prevailed. It was interesting how literally over 100 people vocally contacted the commissioners confirming that they thought that there was an (undefined) threat that needed to be defended against and that the whole building should be locked up. The vote was 2 to 1 for securing it at the front door.
This is not just a small town story. This is an illustrative example of a fundamental, corrosive issue in this country and the world today. This susceptibility to fear is being overtly manipulated by politicians, bureaucrats, policy makers, and most anyone else who wants to sell you something.
In the case of terrorism, it’s just not justified. Not even close – and yet we are letting it consume great amounts of our lives, our time and our fortune. Let me tell you why.
First of all, to put the “threat” into perspective, as risk expert Bruce Schneier says, “Compared to the real risks in the world, the risk of terrorism is so small that it’s not worth a lot of worry. As John Mueller pointed out, the risks of terrorism “are similar to the risks of using home appliances (200 deaths per year in the United States) or of commercial aviation (103 deaths per year).”
Maybe that’s why when asked last year, (even with their watch list that reportedly now includes 1 million individuals who they think present some kind of potential “threat”), the TSA couldn’t point to one terrorist plot that all of their airport security apparatus had prevented or nipped in the bud.
That’s emblematic of a more fundamental issue: the government really never does this stuff right. Jim Fallows writing in The Atlantic hit the nail on the head.
How would it respond to this weekend’s Times Square bomb threat? Well, by extrapolation from its response to the 9/11 attacks and subsequent threats, the policy would be:
– All vans or SUVs headed into Midtown Manhattan would have to stop and have their contents inspected. If any vehicle seemed for any reason to have escaped inspection, Midtown in its entirety would be evacuated;
– A whole new uniformed force — the Times Square Security Administration, or TsSA – would be formed for this purpose;
– The restrictions would never be lifted and the TsSA would have permanent life, because the political incentives here work only one way. A politician who supports more open-ended, more thorough, more intrusive, more expensive inspections can never be proven “wrong.” The absence of attacks shows that his measures have “worked”; and a new attack shows that inspections must go further still. A politician who wants to limit the inspections can never be proven “right.” An absence of attacks means that nothing has gone wrong — yet. Any future attack would always and forever be that politician’s “fault.” Given that asymmetry of risks, what public figure will ever be able to talk about paring back the TSA?You can read the whole interesting article here.
But this is not about the overreaction or lack of effectiveness of a government agency. There’s nothing new about that. This is much more serious. The artificial sense of threat – this worst-case thinking – is corroding us as a society. It’s changing who we are and how we see ourselves and potentially setting us up for a far worse situation.
Bruce Schneier, mentioned above, is the Chief Security Technology Officer of BT in the UK. He’s also an internationally renowned security technologist and author. Schneier was kind enough to give me permission to reprint here the piece from his blog that also ran on the CNN site.
Worst-case thinking makes us nuts, not safe
By Bruce Schneier
At a security conference recently, the moderator asked the panel of distinguished cybersecurity leaders what their nightmare scenario was. The answers were the predictable array of large-scale attacks: against our communications infrastructure, against the power grid, against the financial system, in combination with a physical attack.
I didn’t get to give my answer until the afternoon, which was: “My nightmare scenario is that people keep talking about their nightmare scenarios.”
There’s a certain blindness that comes from worst-case thinking. An extension of the precautionary principle, it involves imagining the worst possible outcome and then acting as if it were a certainty. It substitutes imagination for thinking, speculation for risk analysis and fear for reason. It fosters powerlessness and vulnerability and magnifies social paralysis. And it makes us more vulnerable to the effects of terrorism.
Worst-case thinking means generally bad decision making for several reasons. First, it’s only half of the cost-benefit equation. Every decision has costs and benefits, risks and rewards. By speculating about what can possibly go wrong, and then acting as if that is likely to happen, worst-case thinking focuses only on the extreme but improbable risks and does a poor job at assessing outcomes. Second, it’s based on flawed logic. It begs the question by assuming that a proponent of an action must prove that the nightmare scenario is impossible.
Third, it can be used to support any position or it’s opposite. If we build a nuclear power plant, it could melt down. If we don’t build it, we will run short of power and society will collapse into anarchy. If we allow flights near Iceland’s volcanic ash, planes will crash and people will die. If we don’t, organs won’t arrive in time for transplant operations and people will die. If we don’t invade Iraq, Saddam Hussein might use the nuclear weapons he might have. If we do, we might destabilize the Middle East, leading to widespread violence and death.
Of course, not all fears are equal. Those that we tend to exaggerate are more easily justified by worst-case thinking. So terrorism fears trump privacy fears, and almost everything else; technology is hard to understand and therefore scary; nuclear weapons are worse than conventional weapons; our children need to be protected at all costs; and annihilating the planet is bad. Basically, any fear that would make a good movie plot is amenable to worst-case thinking.
Fourth and finally, worst-case thinking validates ignorance. Instead of focusing on what we know, it focuses on what we don’t know — and what we can imagine.
Remember Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s quote? “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” And this: “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Ignorance isn’t a cause for doubt; when you can fill that ignorance with imagination, it can be a call to action.
Even worse, it can lead to hasty and dangerous acts. You can’t wait for a smoking gun, so you act as if the gun is about to go off. Rather than making us safer, worst-case thinking has the potential to cause dangerous escalation.
The new undercurrent in this is that our society no longer has the ability to calculate probabilities. Risk assessment is devalued. Probabilistic thinking is repudiated in favor of “possibilistic thinking”: Since we can’t know what’s likely to go wrong, let’s speculate about what can possibly go wrong.
Worst-case thinking leads to bad decisions, bad systems design, and bad security. And we all have direct experience with its effects: airline security and the TSA, which we make fun of when we’re not appalled that they’re harassing 93-year-old women or keeping first-graders off airplanes. You can’t be too careful!
Actually, you can. You can refuse to fly because of the possibility of plane crashes. You can lock your children in the house because of the possibility of child predators. You can eschew all contact with people because of the possibility of hurt. Steven Hawking wants to avoid trying to communicate with aliens because they might be hostile; does he want to turn off all the planet’s television broadcasts because they’re radiating into space? It isn’t hard to parody worst-case thinking, and at its extreme it’s a psychological condition.
Frank Furedi, a sociology professor at the University of Kent, writes: “Worst-case thinking encourages society to adopt fear as one of the dominant principles around which the public, the government and institutions should organize their life. It institutionalizes insecurity and fosters a mood of confusion and powerlessness. Through popularizing the belief that worst cases are normal, it incites people to feel defenseless and vulnerable to a wide range of future threats.”
Even worse, it plays directly into the hands of terrorists, creating a population that is easily terrorized — even by failed terrorist attacks like the Christmas Day underwear bomber and the Times Square SUV bomber.
When someone is proposing a change, the onus should be on them to justify it over the status quo. But worst case thinking is a way of looking at the world that exaggerates the rare and unusual and gives the rare much more credence than it deserves. It isn’t really a principle; it’s a cheap trick to justify what you already believe. It lets lazy or biased people make what seem to be cogent arguments without understanding the whole issue. And when people don’t need to refute counterarguments, there’s no point in listening to them.
There’s a lot of truth here . . . but the story doesn’t end with Schneier’s assessment.
The larger issue is that a fearful society lays the groundwork for authoritarian governments. Alan Hall, writing in the May 2010 issue of The Socionomist, very persuasively argues that, “As society becomes more fearful, many individuals yearn for the safety and order promised by strong, controlling leaders … fear creates the conditions under which such individuals gain control.” You can access the whole of The Dow of Dictatorship: Socionomic Origins of Authoritarianism here. (Sorry, but I don’t know how to get it without subscribing.)
So, the next time after you’re finished taking off your shoes and belt and you’re finally waiting for your flight and you hear the ever-present warning about Threat Level Orange and the need to report any unaccompanied bags that you might see, just remember: There is no threat that justifies anything above “Threat Level Green”, we’ve made it all up based upon ungrounded fear. The government has (predictably) overreacted; it has cost us all extraordinary amounts of time, money and lost opportunity and it has produced broad-based corrosive apprehensive in our society and potentially started us on the way to a (more) oppressive government.
Have a good day!
The Coming Data Explosion – (New York Times – May 31, 2010)
One of the key aspects of the emerging “Internet of Things” – where real-world objects are connected to the Internet – is the massive amount of new data on the Web that will result. As more and more “things” in the world are connected to the Internet, it follows that more data will be uploaded to and downloaded from the cloud. And this is in addition to the burgeoning amount of user-generated content – which has increased 15-fold over the past few years. Google VP Marissa Mayer said, “This data explosion is bigger than Moore’s law.” HP CEO Mark Hurd put it this way in June 2009: “More data will be created in the next four years than in the history of the planet.” One thing is for sure: the internet companies that survive will have to know how to sprocess and make sense of massive quantities of data flowing through the Web – and do it in real-time.
Analytics Software Must Adapt or Die – (Read Write Web – June 2, 2010)
Soon there will be a trillion sensors connected to the Web, which will result in an explosion of online data. Sensor data, along with other Web data such as feeds, should be managed as enterprise assets. Here’s a view of how that might be handled.
Earth’s Biodiversity Linked to the Solar-System’s Milky Way Orbit – (Daily Galaxy – June 1, 2010)
Researchers at UC, Berkeley found that marine fossil records show that biodiversity increases and decreases based on a 62-million-year cycle. Our own star moves toward and away from the Milky Way’s center, and also up and down through the galactic plane. One complete up-and-down cycle takes 64 million years- suspiciously close to the Earth’s biodiversity cycle. If future studies confirm the galaxy-biodiversity link, it would force scientists to broaden their ideas about what can influence life on Earth. “Maybe it’s not just the climate and the tectonic events on Earth,” one researcher said. “Maybe we have to start thinking more about the extraterrestrial environment as well.”
“There Was No Big Bang!” Say Several Leading Cosmologists – (Daily Galaxy – June 11, 2010)
Several of the worlds leading astrophysicists believe there was no Big Bang that brought the universe and time into existence. Proponents of branes propose that we are trapped in a thin membrane of space-time embedded in a much larger cosmos from which neither light nor energy -except gravity- can escape or enter and that “dark matter” is just the rest of the universe that we can’t see because light can’t escape from or enter into our membrane from the great bulk of the universe. And our membrane may be only one of many, all of which may warp, connect, and collide with one another in as many as 10 dimensions -a new frontier physicists call the “brane world.” Stephen Hawking, among others, envisions brane worlds percolating up out of the void, giving rise to whole new universes.
Science Catches Water Doing Some Bizarre Things – (Daily Galaxy – June 9, 2010)
Recently exotic new states of water caused Harvard researchers to question what we really know about one of the most common and abundant substances on the planet. irst there was the discovery that you can actually burn salt water (see related posts below) if you zap it with just the right radio frequency, fueling hopes that plain old seawater could someday be converted to abundant clean energy. Now researchers are finding that water forms a floating bridge when exposed to high voltages. Other researchers also recently discovered that you can make water stay frozen at very warm temperatures if you coat it with a special diamond mixture.
GENETICS/ HEALTH TECHNOLOGY
From Californians’ DNA, a Giant Genome Project – (New York Times – May 28, 2010)
More than 130,000 members of Kaiser Permanente in Northern California have volunteered to have their DNA scanned by robotic, high-speed gene-reading machines as part of the largest human genome study of its kind ever attempted. The goal of the study is to help scientists uncover the genetic roots of chronic disease and, perhaps, to find out why some people live longer than others. What makes the Kaiser study unique is that members of a single, colossal cohort will have their genomes scanned uniformly, then paired with their medical histories. “It is absolutely the largest study of its kind, and it has enormous statistical power.”
Glucose ‘Tattoo’ Could Track Blood Sugar Levels for Diabetics – (Health Day – June 4, 2010)
In the future, people with diabetes may be able to monitor their blood sugar levels using a glucose “tattoo.” This new type of continuous glucose monitor relies on fluorescent nanoparticle ink injected under the skin to detect blood sugar levels with a watch-sized or smaller monitor worn over the skin, according to the researchers at MIT who are developing the new technology. The glucose “tattoo” ink would be made from carbon nanotubes that can reflect infrared light back through the skin to the monitor, and this new device has the potential to free people with diabetes from having to do numerous finger pricks each day or to change a continuous glucose monitor device every three to seven days to keep track of their blood sugar levels.
DNA Logic Gates Herald Injectable Computers – (New Scientist – June 3, 2010)
DNA-based logic gates that could carry out calculations inside the body have been constructed for the first time. The work brings the prospect of injectable biocomputers programmed to target diseases as they arise. “The biocomputer would sense biomarkers and immediately react by releasing counter-agents for the disease,” says Itamar Willner of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, who led the work.
Doctors to ‘Print’ New Organs for Transplant Patients – (Mail Online – June 4, 2010)
Doctors might one day be able to ‘print’ living body parts they need for surgery, including blood vessels and entire organs. The technique is known as bio-printing and it could make the transplant list a thing of the past. the 3D bio-printer, developed by US company Organovo, is already capable of growing arteries and its developers say arteries ‘printed’ by the device could be used in heart bypass surgery in five years. More complex organs such as hearts, and teeth and bone should be possible within ten years.
DISCOVERIES ENABLED BY NEW TECHNOLOGY
Exploring Music’s Hold on the Mind – (New York Times – June 1, 2010)
Music neuroscience is helping us understand Alzheimer’s. There are Alzheimer’s patients who cannot remember their spouse, but they can remember every word of a song they learned as a kid. Both humans and parrots are vocal learners, with the ability to imitate sounds. In that one respect, our brains are more like those of parrots than chimpanzees. By studying the behaviors of other vocal learners as well – dolphins, seals, songbirds – we may be able to learn more about how memory works.
CLIMATE CHANGE & ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES
Megaborg Oil Spill – (You Tube – April 30, 2010)
Over 20 years ago, the State of Texas used a natural remediation technology using microbes that turn crude from oil spills literally into a safe and benign fish food. This video clip, produced by the State of Texas General Land Office, demonstrates microbial remediation technologies. The technology was developed by Dr. Carl Oppenheimer, founder of Oppenheimer BioTechnology, Inc, http://www.obio.com, based in Austin. This company has a proven track record in the Mega Borg oil spill disaster off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and in marshland bioremediation in the same region which took only 6 weeks to restore. “OBIOTech” has been listed on the EPA’s National Contingency Product Plan Schedule since 1991.
Nigeria’s Agony Dwarfs the Gulf Oil Spill – (Guardian – May 30, 2010)
In the Niger delta, according to Nigerian academics, writers and environment groups, oil companies have acted with such impunity and recklessness that much of the region has been devastated by leaks. In fact, more oil is spilled from the delta’s network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico. With 606 oilfields, the Niger delta supplies 40% of all the crude the United States imports and is the world capital of oil pollution. Life expectancy in its rural communities, half of which have no access to clean water, has fallen to little more than 40 years over the past two generations. Locals blame the oil that pollutes their land and can scarcely believe the contrast with the steps taken by BP and the US government to try to stop the Gulf oil leak and to protect the Louisiana shoreline from pollution.
Another Gulf Oil Spill: Well near Deepwater Horizon Leaking Since at Least April 30 – (Al – June 8, 2010)
The Ocean Saratoga, has been leaking since at least April 30, according to a federal document. While the leak is decidedly smaller than the Deepwater Horizon spill, a 10-mile-long slick emanating from the Ocean Saratoga is visible from space in multiple images gathered by Skytruth.org, which monitors environmental problems using satellites.
Gulf Oil Dispersants: Helpful or Harmful? – (Smart Planet – May 24, 2010)
Now that hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemical dispersants have been pumped into the Gulf of Mexico to try to stop the oil leak from reaching the fragile coastal marshes of Louisiana (too late), scientists at U.C. Santa Barbara are racing to figure out how the dispersants might impact oil-eating microbes that could help clean up the spill. Oil is a very complex substance, according to principal researcher David Valentine. By 2008, for instance, his team had traced 1,500 different compounds in the Santa Barbara oil seep – at least 1,000 of them eaten by microorganisms.
Steve Jobs: Post-PC Era is Nigh – (CNet – June 1, 2010)
Jobs said the day is coming when only one out of every few people will need a traditional computer. He noted that advances in chips and software will allow tablet devices like the iPad to do tasks that today are really only suited for a traditional computer, things like video editing and graphic arts work. The move, Jobs said, will make many PC veterans uneasy, “because the PC has taken us a long ways.” “We like to talk about the post-PC era, but when it really starts to happen, it’s uncomfortable,” he said.
‘Imaginary’ Interface Could Replace Screens and Keyboards – (Tech News Daily – June 7, 2010)
Researchers are experimenting with a new interface system for mobile devices that could replace the screen and even the keyboard with gestures supported by our visual memory. Called Imaginary Interfaces, the German project uses a small, chest-mounted computer and camera to detect hand movements. Users conjure up their own imaginary set of graphical interfaces. For example, people can manually draw shapes and select points in space that have programmed functions, such as a power switch or a “send” key, for example. This interface could allow people to use gestures during phone calls, much as they do in face-to-face conversations, while eliminating traditional hardware elements.
AUGMENTED/ ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Japanese Robots to Take Over the Moon by 2020 – (Daily Tech – June 1, 2010)
Another Asian superpower is thirsting for the resources buried on Earth’s largest natural satellite. JAXA, Japan’s space program, is looking to pour $2.2B USD into plans to put an army of robots (peaceful robots, of course) on the Moon. Japan, always on the cutting edge of technology, has come up with all sorts of creative and outlandish uses for robots. But its lunarbots may just steal show. JAXA plans on landing humanoid robots on the moon by 2015. After receiving the official backing, the mission timeline has been expanded to include plans for a full fledged robot space-base by 2020.
Biodiesel from Sewage Sludge “Very Close” to Economical – (Al Fin Energy – May 20, 2010)
Municipal sewage sludge is a “pre-processed” lipid feedstock for biofuels production and is relatively concentrated, compared to forestry and agricultural leavings and waste. It would seem to be an ideal feedstock for biofuels – if only there were not so much oil and other fossil fuels waiting to be used! Existing technology can produce biodiesel fuel from municipal sewage sludge that is within a few cents a gallon of being competitive with conventional diesel refined from petroleum, according to Dr. David Kargbo, with the US EPA’s Office of Innovation, Environmental Assessment & Innovation Division.
Harnessing the Power of the Pothole – (New York Times – June 4, 2010)
A new type of shock absorber under development by the Levant Power Corporation converts the bumps and jolts of vehicles on rough roads into usable electricity. Usually, shock absorbers dissipate the energy of bouncing vehicles as heat. But the new shocks can use the kinetic energy of bounces to generate watts, putting the electricity to use running the vehicle’s windshield wipers, fans or dashboard lights, for example. The devices, called GenShocks, can be installed both in ordinary and hybrid vehicles, lowering fuel consumption by 1 to 6 percent, depending on the vehicle and road conditions, said Shakeel Avadhany, chief executive of the company, which is based in Cambridge, Mass.
International Market for Wood and Wood Pulp Expanding Rapidly – (Al Fin Energy – May 28, 2010)
In Sweden, biomass has surpassed oil to become the number one source of energy generation – now producing 32% of all energy needs. And, biomass-based energy consumption is projected to rise another 10% in 2011. GP Cellulose’s multimillion-dollar overhaul of its Brunswick pulp mill has slashed the amount of water it uses and decreased pressure on the drinking water supplies for most of Southeast Georgia and Northeast Florida. Through a recycling process, the water is used to produce about 70% of the mill’s electricity.
The Future of Biofuels – (Al Fin Energy – May 24, 2010)
Synthetic biology represents the future of a lot of things that make human life interesting, enjoyable, and productive – including fuels. Craig Venter’s company, Synthetic Genomics, has a contract from Exxon to generate biofuels from algae. Exxon is prepared to spend up to $600 million if all its milestones are met. Dr. Venter said he would try to build “an entire algae genome so we can vary the 50 to 60 different parameters for algae growth to make superproductive organisms.”
Exxon $600 Million Algae Investment – (Bloomberg – June 3, 2010)
A brown paste made of sugar cane waste is called bagasse. The algae gorging on the treat – filling themselves with fatty oils – will double in size every six hours. By the end of 2010, Exxon hopes to get the cost down to $60 to $80-a-barrel – clearly within range of the price of crude oil.
Seven New Algae Ventures – (Al Fin – May 29, 2010)
Algae (and other microbes) represent a qualitatively new form of biomass — a much denser and more prolific form of biomass than most analysts have accounted for in their long term energy projections. Algae biomass will be a game changer. Later, as the production of oil-from-algae improves, algal oils will be a game changer. Here are 7 new algal ventures attempting to prove their worth.
Nano Building Blocks for a New Class of Optical Circuits – (KurzweilAI.net, June 2, 2010)
By chemically building clusters of nanospheres from a liquid, a team of Harvard researchers, in collaboration with scientists at Rice University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Houston, has developed novel devices with amazing and exotic optical properties not found in nature – by simply evaporating a droplet of particles on a surface. The finding demonstrates simple scalable devices that exhibit customizable optical properties suitable for applications ranging from highly sensitive sensors and detectors to invisibility cloaks.
TERRORISM, SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Radiation Risks Cited in Full-body Airport Scans – (Daily News – June 1, 2010)
Full-body airport security scanners manufactured by Rapiscan Inc. expose the skin to high radiation levels that may lead to cancer and other health problems, according to researchers from the University of California, San Francisco. Particularly at risk, the researchers said, are travelers who are pregnant, elderly or have weakened immune systems. The machines emit X-ray energy levels that would be safe if they were distributed throughout the body, but a majority of that energy is delivered to the skin and underlying tissue at levels that “may be dangerously high,” the researchers wrote last month to the White House Office of Science and Technology. Officials with the Department of Homeland Security defended the use of Rapiscan’s backscatter machines. The amount of energy emitted from the machines is equal to two minutes in flight at cruising altitude, said Dr. Alex Garza, chief medical officer for the Department of Homeland Security.
U.S. Faces Remote Sabotage Cyber Danger – (Reuters – June 3, 2010)
The potential for sabotage and destruction is “something we must treat very seriously,” General Keith Alexander said in his first public remarks since the new U.S. Cyber Command was activated on May 21. “In short, we face a dangerous combination of known and unknown vulnerabilities, strong adversary capabilities and weak situational awareness,” he said. Senior aides to President Barack Obama are weighing such issues as how the laws of warfare apply to a digital attack routed through a neutral country, he said.
iRobot Demonstrates New Weaponized Robot – (IEEE Spectrum – May 30, 2010)
iRobot released today new video of its Warrior robot, a beefed up version of the more well-known PackBot, demonstrating use of the APOBS, or Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System, an explosive line charge towed by a rocket, with a small parachute holding back the end of the line. The APOBS, iRobot says, is designed for “deliberate breaching of anti-personnel minefields and multi-strand wire obstacles.” It is used to “clear a path of obstacles for the soldiers to walk through,” producing a path 45 meters long and 0.6 meters wide.
TRENDS OF GOVERNMENT
The Blog Prophet of Euro Zone Doom – (New York Times – June 8, 2010)
For years, almost nobody paid attention to the sky-is-falling alarms of Edward Hugh, a gregarious British blogger and self-taught economist who repeatedly predicted that the euro zone could not survive. Living a largely hand-to-mouth existence here on his part-time teacher’s salary, he sent one post after another into the Internet wilderness. It was the height of policy folly, he warned, to think that aging, penny-pinching Germans could successfully coexist under one currency umbrella with the more youthful, credit-card-wielding Irish, Greeks and Spaniards who shared the euro with them. But as questions rise over how European governments can escape their debt trap and resume growth, Mr. Hugh, who has been pondering this topic for years, is for the first time being turned to for insights and wisdom. His analysis is level-headed and may not be far off the mark.
America’s Predicament – (American Thinker – June 10, 2010)
America’s public debt recently exceeded 13 trillion, or more than 90% of the country’s GDP. Public debts of more than 60% of GDP are considered unhealthy. Public debts above 90% of GDP cause severe disruptions in the country’s financial framework and the economy at large. According to the Obama administration, America’s public debt will exceed 100% of GDP in the next fiscal year. History shows that most countries whose debt exceeds this mark are rarely able to control it. This level of indebtedness usually leads to currency debasement. In the few historical examples whereby countries were able to contain debts of more than 100% of GDP, the debts were almost always contracted as a result of extraordinary one-time expenditures, usually war. America’s debt, on the other hand, is a result of decades of structural deficits. This means that we have grown accustomed to spending more than we can afford (in part because we now have an effectively permanent state of war).
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
NASA: Is Approaching Space Object Artificial? – (Daily Galaxy – May 29, 2010)
NASA authorities report that an unknown object approaching the Earth from deep space is almost certainly artificial in origin rather than being an asteroid. Object 2010 KQ was detected by the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona earlier this month, and subsequently tracked by NASA.. The mysterious artificial object has apparently made a close pass by the Earth, coming in almost to the distance of the Moon’s orbit, and is now headed away again into the interplanetary void. The object has used no propulsion during the time NASA has had it under observation. However the Spacewatch experts believe that it must have moved under its own power at some point, given its position and velocity.
What’s Wrong with the Sun? – (New Scientist – June 9, 2010)
The sun is under scrutiny as never before thanks to an armada of space telescopes. The results they beam back are portraying our nearest star, and its influence on Earth, in a new light. Sunspots and other clues indicate that the sun’s magnetic activity is diminishing, and that the sun may even be shrinking. Together the results hint that something profound is happening inside the sun. The big question is what? The flood of observations from space and ground-based telescopes suggests that the answer lies in the behaviour of two vast conveyor belts of gas that endlessly cycle material and magnetism through the sun’s interior and out across the surface.
Two Gamma-Ray Bubbles 65,000 Light Years Across Spewing from Milky Way’s Supermassive Black Hole – (Daily Galaxy – June 4, 2010)
The source of the hour-glassed-shaped bubbles is a mystery, but a new analysis of the Fermi data suggests that the gamma radiation traces out a pair of distinct bubbles that span some 65,000 light years from end to end – soaring above the disc of the galaxy. The Harvard-Smithsonian tea thinks the bubbles may have been blown out by the explosion of short-lived, massive stars born in a burst of new star formation about 10 million years or they may have been created about 100,000 years ago by high-speed jets of matter created when roughly 100 suns’ worth of material fell into the Milky Way’s black hole.
In New Space Race, Enter the Entrepreneurs – (New York Times – June 8, 2010)
At the Bigelow Aerospace factory, the full-size space station mockups sitting on the warehouse floor look somewhat like puffy white watermelons. The interiors offer a hint of what spacious living in space might look like. Four years from now, the company plans for real modules to be launched and assembled into the solar system’s first private space station. Paying customers – primarily nations that do not have the money or expertise to build a space program from scratch – would arrive a year later. If this business plan unfolds as it is written – the company has two fully inflated test modules in orbit already – Bigelow will be buying 15 to 20 rocket launchings in 2017 and in each year after, providing ample business for the private companies that the Obama administration would like to finance for the transportation of astronauts into orbit – the so-called commercial crew initiative.
Big Changes in Online News Consumption – (Gather – May 26, 2010)
Nearly half (49%) of all adults consider the internet their primary source for news, there is a shift in what people are doing with that news – nearly 80% of adults ages 18+ are actively sharing news stories online. However, the manner in which people share news online varies greatly based on their age – while 68% of those aged 45 and older share news primarily via email, 54% of those under the age of 45 share news primarily via Facebook, and a full 90% of respondents 24 years and younger use Twitter and Facebook to share news (double the respondents 40+).
Surging Costs Hit Food Security in Poorer Nations – (Associated Press – June 7, 2010)
Families from Pakistan to Argentina to Congo are being battered by surging food prices that are dragging more people into poverty, fueling political tensions and forcing some to give up eating meat, fruit and even tomatoes. With food costing up to 70% of family income in the poorest countries, rising prices are squeezing household budgets and threatening to worsen malnutrition, while inflation stays moderate in the United States and Europe. Compounding the problem in many countries: prices hardly fell from their peaks in 2008, when global food prices jumped in part due to a smaller U.S. wheat harvest and demand for crops to use in biofuels. No single factor explains the inflation gap between developing and developed countries but poorer economies are more vulnerable to an array of problems that can push up prices, and many are cropping up this year.
Owners Stop Paying Mortgages, and Stop Fretting – (New York Times – May 31, 2010)
A growing number of the people whose homes are in foreclosure are refusing to slink away in shame. They are fashioning a sort of homemade mortgage modification, one that brings their payments all the way down to zero. The average borrower in foreclosure has been delinquent for 438 days before actually being evicted, up from 251 days in January 2008, according to LPS Applied Analytics. People use the money they save to get back on their feet or just get by. This type of modification does not beg for a lender’s permission but is delivered as an ultimatum: Force me out if you can. Any moral qualms are overshadowed by a conviction that the banks created the crisis by snookering homeowners with loans that got them in over their heads.
Risks to Global Economy Have Risen Significantly, Top IMF Official Warns – (Telegraph – June 9, 2010)
“After nearly two years of global economic and financial upheaval, shockwaves are still being felt, as we have seen with recent developments in Europe and the resulting financial market volatility,” Naoyuki Shinohara, the IMF’s deputy managing director, said in Singapore on Wednesday. “The global outlook remains unusually uncertain and downside risks have risen significantly.” Mr Shinohara, the former top currency official in Japan, added that “a key concern is that the room for continued policy support has become much more limited and has, in some cases, been exhausted.”
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Exxon Valdez: How It Destroyed the Economy 20 Years Later – (Huffington Post – June 8, 2010)
The Exxon Valdez disaster, which occurred on March 24, 1989, played a major role in the collapse of the economy some 19 years later. After lengthy litigation, Exxon managed to get the amount of punitive compensatory damages reduced from the hoped-for $5 billion to $500 million. But back when Exxon had reason to imagine it might actually have to part with the $5 billion, the oil giant needed to find a way to meet the potential cash flow requirements. Exxon found a savior in the form of J.P. Morgan & Co., who extended the beleaguered company a line of credit in the amount of $4.8 billion. Of course, that put J.P. Morgan on the hook for any potential judgment against Exxon. So the bank went looking for a way to mitigate that risk. J.P. Morgan’s creative solution? A deal so new that it didn’t even have a name: eventually, the one settled on was “credit-default swap.”
Mozart to Help Treat Sewage – (Orange News – June 3, 2010)
A German sewage plant has unveiled a new scheme to speed up the sewage process – by playing Mozart to their microbes. Officials believe the composer’s music helps to stimulate activity among the tiny organisms that break down waste. The scheme was developed by scientists at German firm Mundus who say microbes are particularly partial to harmonies and rhythms. When combined with large quantities of oxygen, the sonic patterns stimulate activity and help to breakdown sludge more efficiently. “If it means we can save $1200 per month on sludge disposal, then it would definitely be worth it,” said plant sewage manager Detlef Dalichow. Classics such as The Magic Flute and The Marriage of Figaro are being piped in around-the-clock. (Editor’s note: We’re not sure if the “magic” is the music or the “large quantities of oxygen”. On the other hand, if the entire universe is sentient, well, why not?)
JUST FOR FUN
Yike Bike – (Yike Bike website – 2010)
The world’s most lightweight electric bike folds down into something the size of a backpack. Its designers wanted to create something that could dramatically change urban transport, enabling city dwellers a fast, safe and easy way to navigate their environment. You might not wish to ride it to work on snowy days, but for elegant design, check this out.
Top 10 Photos Taken by Hubble Space Telescope in Last 16 Years – (Gukurup – August 27, 2007)
These photographs are not new, but they are worth another viewing. As Daily Mail, reporter Michael Hanlon wrote the photos “illustrate that our universe is not only deeply strange, but also almost impossibly beautiful.” For example, see the image of the Sombrero Galaxy – 28 million light years from Earth – voted best picture taken by the Hubble telescope. The dimensions of the galaxy, officially called M104, are as spectacular as its appearance. It has 800 billion suns and is 50,000 light years across.
A FINAL QUOTE…
“One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.”
– Henry Miller
A FINAL NOTE…
If you’d like to take part in an International Delphi Survey and Scenario development project about Latin America 2010 – 2030, please click here.
A special thanks to: Bernard Calil, Kevin Clark, Kevin Foley, Ursula Freer, Deanna Korda, Kurzweil AI, Diane Petersen, John Rolls, Stu Rose, 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