Volume 13, Number 14 – 7/30/10

Volume 13, Number 14 – 7/30/10


  • A number of physicists who say that science has been looking at gravity the wrong way and that there is something more basic, from which gravity “emerges”.
  • An upper layer of Earth’s atmosphere recently collapsed in an unexpectedly large contraction, the sheer size of which has scientists scratching their heads, NASA announced.
  • The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.
  • A roughly $35 computing-cum-access device with impressive capabilities has been unveiled by the Indian Human Resources Department.


Amazon Says E-Book Sales Outpace Hardcovers – (Wall St. Journal – July 20, 2010) Inc. said it reached a milestone, selling more e-books than hardbacks over the past three months. But publishers said it is still too early to gauge for the entire industry whether the growth of e-books is cannibalizing sales of paperback books, a huge and crucial market. Over the past month, the Seattle retailer sold 180 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books it sold, it said. “That is dramatic evidence of how powerful the e-book is now,” said Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney.


A Scientist Takes On Gravity – (New York Times – July 13, 2010)
Erik Verlinde, 48, a respected string theorist and professor of physics at the University of Amsterdam, is among a number of physicists say that science has been looking at gravity the wrong way and that there is something more basic, from which gravity “emerges,” the way stock markets emerge from the collective behavior of individual investors or that elasticity emerges from the mechanics of atoms. Looking at gravity from this angle, they say, could shed light on some of the vexing cosmic issues of the day, like the dark energy, a kind of anti-gravity that seems to be speeding up the expansion of the universe, or the dark matter that is supposedly needed to hold galaxies together.

Plants Can Think and Remember – (BBC News – July 14, 2010)
Plants, scientists say, transmit information about light intensity and quality from leaf to leaf in a very similar way to our own nervous systems. These electro-chemical signals are carried by cells that act as “nerves” of the plants. In this study, Stanislaw Karpinski from the Warsaw University of Life Sciences and colleagues discovered that when light stimulated a chemical reaction in one leaf cell, this was immediately signalled to the rest of the plant by via specific type of cell called a “bundle sheath cell”. He said that plants used information encrypted in the light to immunise themselves against seasonal pathogens. “Every day or week of the season has… a characteristic light quality,” Professor Karpinski explained.

Mystery Supernova May Point to Unknown Laws of Physics – (Daily Galaxy – July 16, 2010)
An international team of astronomers has uncovered a supernova whose origin cannot be explained by any previously known mechanism and which promises exciting new insights into stellar explosions. Supernova (SN) 2005E, discovered five years ago by the University of California, Berkeley’s Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope (KAIT), is one of eight known “calcium-rich supernovae” that seem to stand out. If these eight calcium-rich superonovae are the first examples of a common, new type of supernova, they could explain two puzzling observations: the abundance of calcium in galaxies and in life on Earth and the concentration of positrons – the anti-matter counterpart of the electron – in the center of galaxies.


Whisker Stimulation Prevents Strokes in Rats – (Science Daily – July 13, 2010)
UC Irvine researchers found that mechanically stroking a single whisker activated a rat’s cerebral cortex – seen lighting up in magenta and blue – and prompted obstructed blood to take other routes to the brain. The team discovered that mechanically stroking just one whisker for four minutes within the first two hours of the blockage caused the blood to quickly flow to other arteries – like cars exiting a gridlocked freeway to find detours.But unlike freeway off-ramps, which can quickly clog, the alternate arteries expanded beyond their normal size, opening wide to allow critical blood flow to the brain. In people, “stimulating the fingers, lips or face in general could all have a similar effect,” says Melissa Davis, co-author of the study.

Depression Linked to Later Dementia – (New York Times – July 19, 2010)
A new study suggests that people with depression are significantly more likely to develop dementia later in life. The analysis followed 949 participants in the famous Framingham Heart Study over an average of eight and a half years, some for as long as 17 years. Adjusting for differences between groups, researchers found that depression raised the risk of dementia by 72%. And the more severe the depression, the greater the risk of dementia later. Given the study’s long interval, the lead author, Dr. Jane Saczynski said, “it is very clear that depression is a risk factor for dementia rather than a consequence of the disease.”


Earth’s Upper Atmosphere Collapses. Nobody Knows Why. – (Christian Science Monitor – July 15, 2010)
An upper layer of Earth’s atmosphere recently collapsed in an unexpectedly large contraction, the sheer size of which has scientists scratching their heads, NASA announced. The layer of gas – called the thermosphere – is now rebounding again. This type of collapse is not rare, but its magnitude shocked scientists. “This is the biggest contraction of the thermosphere in at least 43 years,” said John Emmert of the Naval Research Lab. The collapse occurred during a period of relative solar inactivity – called a solar minimum from 2008 to 2009. These minimums are known to cool and contract the thermosphere, however, the recent collapse was two to three times greater than low solar activity could explain. Something is going on that we do not understand,” Emmert said.


Solar Cycle Prediction Lowered Again – (Hockey Schtick – June 6, 2010)
Solar physicist Dr. David Hathaway of NASA has again lowered his prediction of the peak in sunspot numbers for the current solar cycle 24 to only 65 sunspots/month as of June 2010. The predictions for Solar Cycle 24 have plummeted from “one of the most intense” to now one of the least intense cycles of the past 400 years. If the anemic activity continues, the sun may be entering a quiet phase similar to the Dalton Minimum, characterized by approximately 50 sunspots/month at the peak of the solar cycle.

Why China Has to Dominate Green Tech – (Forbes – July 20, 2010)
Beijing wants to encourage domestic production into wind and solar products for export around the world. With patents on the new technology used in manufacturing, China would control the intellectual property and licensing on the products that would be used all over the world. If Beijing is able to do this, it would control the next generation of energy products used by the world for the next century. That is how China obviously plans to keep most of the value-added profits within China’s borders. (Editor’s note: Some of those “value-added profits” will leave China just as soon as the companies involved issue IPOs and outside investors buy the stocks.)

BP Buys up Gulf Scientists for Legal Defense – (Alabama Blog – July 16, 2010)
For the last few weeks, BP has been offering signing bonuses and lucrative pay to prominent scientists from public universities around the Gulf Coast to aid its defense against spill litigation. BP PLC attempted to hire the entire marine sciences department at one Alabama university, according to scientists involved in discussions with the company’s lawyers. The university declined because of confidentiality restrictions that the company sought on any research. With its payments, BP buys more than the scientists’ services, according to Robert Wiygul, an Ocean Springs lawyer who specializes in environmental law. It also buys silence, he said, thanks to confidentiality clauses in the contracts.


Google’s Latest Invention May Lead to a Severe Loss of App-etite – (Guardian – July 18, 2010)
Google has launched a new online tool called App Inventor, a DIY kit that will allegedly enable non-techies to build applications for Android smartphones. “To use App Inventor,” says Google, “you do not need to be a developer. App Inventor requires no programming knowledge. This is because instead of writing code, you visually design the way the app looks and use blocks to specify the app’s behavior.” To make this as effortless as the App Inventor appears to do requires a great deal of cleverness. In fact the software underpinning the tool is wonderfully elegant and ingenious. It’s based on research originally done at MIT and on a dialect of the Scheme programming language, which is itself a descendant of Lisp, the original artificial intelligence language.

Indian HR Ministry Brings $35 Computing Device to Reality – (Trak In – July 22, 2010)
Finally: a low-cost computing-cum-access device has been unveiled by Human Resources minister Shri. Kapil Sibal. HR ministry is aiming at bringing down the cost of this device to $20 and ultimately to $10. IIT’s and other Technical Institutions are setting up research teams to cover wide range of issues and capability enhancements to achieve the ultimate goal of bringing down the the cost of this device to $10. It looks like a notepad (see photo) and its minimum expected functionalities are fairly impressive.

Google Buys Metaweb, the One Company That Could Revolutionize Google Search – (Fast Company – July 16, 2010)
Metaweb views keywords, the way we search now, as an inferior search method to what it calls “entities.” Words can vary in meaning, refer to different things, have different levels of importance or relevance at different times, and often return inexact results. So Metaweb has created a constantly growing database, or directory, of 12 million “entities,” which are really just persons, places, or things, and all the different ways you might refer to them. Wording isn’t so important with Metaweb, it’s the end meaning that matters.


Robotic Exoskeleton Gets Wheelchair Users Back on Their Feet – (Gizmag – July 16, 2010)
A robotic exoskeleton called REX puts wheelchair users back on their feet, enabling a person to stand, walk and go up and down stairs and slopes, controlling it with a joystick. REX users can stand up, walk, move sideways, turn around, go up and down steps, as well as walk on flat, hard surfaces including ramps and slopes. Sales are expected to commence in New Zealand by the end of 2010 and elsewhere by the middle of 2011. It is expected to cost about US$150,000.

The Loneliest Humanoid in America – (Pop Sci – July 20, 2010)
Walking, self-contained, adult-size robots are commonplace in robotics labs in Japan and South Korea, but there’s only one made here. Why are we falling behind? Broken into a daisy chain of input, calculation and action, just kicking a ball is incredibly hard. It’s so difficult, in fact, that engineers from all over the world have embraced it as the modern era’s standardized test of humanoid-robot sophistication, and they converge each June at an event called RoboCup to try it. This year, only one adult-size, self-contained, humanoid robot in the USA can even attempt it.


Terawatt Research LLC Defies Free Energy Stereotypes – (Pure Energy Systems News – July 14, 2010)
This overunity magnet motor company is opposite the typical free energy image. They are low on fluff, have never been in the mainstream press; and they are high on evidence, including test results from TÜV and UL. One of their strategic advisors (not suppressors) served as former director of the CIA and of the FBI. Terawatt has evidence supporting their claims by two of the most reputable testing organizations in the world: TÜV Rhineland of North America and Underwriter Laboratories (UL). Both data plots clearly show performance frequency ranges in which much more energy is produced from the system than what is required to drive the system – at least three-fold.

China Passes U.S. as World’s Biggest Energy Consumer – (Wall St. Journal – July 19, 2010)
The Paris-based agency, whose forecasts are generally regarded as bellwether indicators for the energy industry, said China devoured 2,252 million tons of oil equivalent last year, or about 4% more than the U.S., which burned through 2,170 million tons of oil equivalent. The figures reflect, in part, how the global recession hit the U.S. more severely than China and hurt American industrial activity and energy use. Still, China’s total energy consumption has clocked annual double-digit growth rates for many years, driven by the country’s big industrial base. Highlighting how quickly its energy demand has increased, China’s total energy consumption was just half the size of the U.S. 10 years ago. The U.S. is still by far the bigger energy consumer per capita, with the average American burning five times as much energy annually as the average Chinese citizen.


Researchers Engineer Malaria-proof Mosquitoes – (L.A. Times – July 17, 2010)
Malaria kills nearly 1 million people a year, but it has a weakness – to infect humans, it needs mosquitoes. In a potential step toward eradicating the disease, researchers report that they have developed a genetically engineered breed of mosquito that cannot be infected by the malaria-causing parasite. Genetically-modified mosquitoes are far from ready for use in the field, but the researchers achieved an unprecedented 100% blockage of the Plasmodium parasite, highlighting the promise of this approach, according to their study.


Nanotech Coatings Produce 20 Times More Electricity from Sewage – (Science Daily – July 22, 2010)
Engineers at Oregon State University found that by coating graphite anodes with a nanoparticle layer of gold, the production of electricity increased 20 times. Coatings with palladium produced an increase, but not nearly as much. And the researchers believe nanoparticle coatings of iron – which would be a lot cheaper than gold – could produce electricity increases similar to that of gold, for at least some types of bacteria. This brings us one step closer to a technology that could clean biowaste at the same time it produces useful levels of electricity.


Hidden US Afghan War Details Revealed by Wikileaks – (BBC News – July 26, 2010)
More than 90,000 leaked US military records have been published on the website Wikileaks, reportedly revealing hidden details of the Afghanistan war. Three major news publications which have been shown the documents say they include unreported killings of Afghan civilians. The huge cache of classified papers is described as one of the biggest leaks in US military history. The White House has condemned the leaks as “irresponsible”.

Toxic Legacy of US Assault on Fallujah Worse than Hiroshima – (Independent – July 24, 2010)
Dramatic increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukemia in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which was bombarded by US Marines in 2004, exceed those reported by survivors of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, according to a new study. Iraqi doctors in Fallujah have complained since 2005 of being overwhelmed by the number of babies with serious birth defects, ranging from a girl born with two heads to paralysis of the lower limbs. Their claims have been supported by a survey showing a four-fold increase in all cancers and a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer. Dr Chris Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster and one of the authors of the survey of 4,800 individuals in Fallujah, says that while he cannot identify the type of armaments used by the Marines, the extent of genetic damage suffered by inhabitants suggests the use of uranium in some form.

The Lonely, Dangerous Fight against Christian Supremacists inside the Armed Forces – (TruthOut – July 11, 2010)
Over the past year, Mikey Weinstein, 55-year-old founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), and his organization have recorded a tremendous string of victories in the fight against Christian supremacists inside the U.S. armed forces. In January, the MRFF broke the story on the Pentagon’s Jesus Rifles, where rifle scopes used in Afghanistan and Iraq were embossed with New Testament verses. In April, he got the military to rescind its invitation to the Reverend Franklin Graham to speak at May’s National Prayer Day because of Islamophobic remarks. Most shockingly, MRFF received its second nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in late October. These high-profile victories have earned him the enmity of the hardcore Christian Right and the mentally unstable.

A Hidden World, Growing Beyond Control – (Washington Post – July 19, 2010)
The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work. These are some of the findings of a two-year investigation by The Washington Post that discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine. See also:


Jailed for Debt in the U.S. in the 21st Century – (All Gov – June 19, 2010)
With millions of Americans struggling to pay off credit cards and loans, some are finding themselves serving time in local jails because of failures to make payments or to appear at court hearings with debt collectors. Consumer attorneys said they’ve witnessed a rise in debt-related arrests in Arkansas, Arizona, Minnesota and Washington. In Minnesota, arrest warrants for debtors have increased 60% during the past four years. Those arrested often serve 48 hours in local jails. But in some states, judges have ordered individuals to serve jail time until coming up with minimum payments to creditors.

Rethinking the Measure of Growth – (New York Times – July 19, 2010)
Some Asian governments, China’s included, have been trying to recalibrate gross domestic product to include the cost of growth to the environment, creating a green gross domestic product. Such efforts, said Mr. Tan, the Nanyang professor, have been frustrated by the difficulty in determining the future cost of environmental destruction. However, economists warn that even with greener development, the result may still be the same (severe eco-destruction) if the goal remains an American-style standard of living. Asia may instead need to carve out a vastly different vision of prosperity that does not rely on ever-increasing levels of material consumption.


The Shadow over Israel – (Haaretz – February 6, 2010)
An essay by Margaret Atwood recounts her experience during a trip to Israel, “The Israelis I met could not have been more welcoming. The sun was shining, the waves waving, the flowers were in bloom. Tourists jogged along the beach at Tel Aviv as if everything was normal. But… there was the Shadow. Two minutes into any conversation, the Shadow would appear. It’s not called the Shadow, it’s called “the situation.” It haunts everything. The Shadow is not the Palestinians. The Shadow is Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, linked with Israeli’s own fears. The worse the Palestinians are treated in the name of those fears, the bigger the Shadow grows, and then the fears grow with them; and the justifications for the treatment multiply.”


China’s UFO Conspiracy Frenzy – (Daily Galaxy – July 20, 2010)
Signs are accumulating that China is experiencing a growing fascination with UFO’s. After an unidentified object was detected last week blazing through China’s Hangzhou airspace, dozens of inbound flights to nearby Xiaoshan Airport were diverted. Explanations have ranged from an alien spacecraft to “sunlight reflected from planes” to military trials to, but there’s no official statement yet from the Chinese government. A number of people had apparently seen a white glowing object proceeding rapidly across the evening skies over Xiaoshan, near Hangzhou in Eastern China. Panic broke out – and the authorities decided to close the airport just in case.

UFO Testimony from Don Phillips of Lockheed Skunkworks – (ListRocket – July 21, 2010)
In this interview with Don Phillips, a design engineer from Lockheed, he says in part, “These UFOs were huge and they would just come to a stop and do a 60 degree, 45 degree, 10 degree turn, and then immediately reverse this action. During the Apollo landing, Neil Armstrong said, ‘They’re here. They are right over there and look at the size of those ships. And, it is obvious they don’t like us being here’.” Phillips also noted, “Anti-gravitational research was going….We know that there were some captured craft from 1947 in Roswell, they were real. And, yes, we really did get some technology from them. Moreover, yes, we really did put it to work….”


More Americans’ Credit Scores Sink to New Lows – (Yahoo – July 12, 2010)
Figures provided by FICO Inc. show that 25.5% of consumers – nearly 43.4 million people — now have a credit score of 599 or below, marking them as poor risks for lenders. Historically, just 15% of the 170 million consumers with active credit accounts, or 25.5 million people, fell below 599, according to data posted on More are likely to join their ranks. On the positive side, the number of consumers who have a top score of 800 has increased in recent years. In part, this is because more individuals have cut spending and paid down debt in response to the recession. Their ranks now stand at 17.9%, which is notably above the historical average of 13%, though down from 18.7% in April 2008 before the market meltdown.

Of Medical Specialties, Demand for Psychiatrists Growing Fastest – (USA Today – July 1, 2010)
A national physician recruiting firm, which tracked more than 2,800 physician requests, found that psychiatrists were the third-most-requested physician. Family practice doctors were the most requested, followed by internists, but the number of requests for both those specialties decreased from the previous year. Though demand is growing, fewer medical students are entering psychiatry. Health officials say the field garners little interest because psychiatrists earn less than other specialties, even though they spend the same amount of time in medical training.

China’s Money and Migrants Pour into Tibet – (New York Times – July 24, 2010)
Han Chinese workers, investors, merchants, teachers and soldiers are pouring into remote Tibet. After the violence that ravaged this region in 2008, China’s aim is to make Tibet wealthier – and more Chinese. But if the influx of money and people has brought new prosperity, it has also deepened the resentment among many Tibetans. Migrant Han entrepreneurs elbow out Tibetan rivals, then return home for the winter after reaping profits. Robert Barnett, a scholar of Tibet at Columbia University, said the goal of maintaining double-digit growth in the region had worsened ethnic tensions. “Of course, they achieved that, but it was disastrous,” he said. “They had no priority on local human resources, so of course they relied on outside labor, and sucked in large migration into the towns.” Now, a heavy security presence is needed to keep control of Lhasa.


Why Are Banks Withholding Highend Repossessions over $300,000 from the Market? – (Real Estate Channel – July 20, 2010)
There are now two main props keeping the housing market afloat. One is the refusal of banks to put on the market foreclosed homes over $300,000. For example, this year, banks in the Chicago area have foreclosed on a huge number of expensive homes: 2,650 repossessed homes for more than $300,000 and 169 for more than $1 million. But out of 28,829 repossessed properties, there were only 1,292 listed by lenders as “for sale.” And a mere 29 homes over $300,000 were for sale. In other words, the banks have withheld from the market 2,621 properties listed at $300,000 or higher. There are probably two important reasons why banks have pursued this strategy.

Fiscal Localism on Rise In Germany – (NPR – July 15, 2010)
The Havelbluete, the Augusta and the Chiemgauer are micro-currencies which are in abundance in Germany. There are more than two dozen local currencies in circulation, and 40 or so initiatives are about to start printing their own banknotes. These notes are not gimmicks. They’re recognized legal tender — at least within each local region. For example, one Chiemgauer equals one euro and aims to promote regional investment while also helping the community. It’s not backed by any government body. But what used to be illegal gray area is now legal tender here. The Chiemgauer, named after a region in Bavaria, is a depreciative currency. It loses two% of its value at the end of each quarter (the notes are date stamped) which encourages people to spend, something the frugal Germans are notoriously unwilling to do.

Three Years On, Fault Lines Threaten the World Economy – (Financial Times – July 14, 2010)
As Raghuram Rajan of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund notes in a thought-provoking new book, the earthquake of the past few years has damaged western economies, while leaving those of emerging countries, particularly Asia, standing. It has also destroyed western prestige. The west has dominated the world economically and intellectually for at least two centuries. That epoch is over. In the US, the post-WW II “deal” centered on full employment and high individual consumption. In Europe, it centered on state-provided welfare. The deal is over.

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.

How Facts Backfire – (Boston Globe – July 11, 2010)
Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. “The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon – known as “backfire” – is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”


Paul the Psychic Octopus: There’s an App for That – (AOL News – July 19, 2010)
Paul the octopus is leaving Oberhausen, Germany for new home in Madrid. More importantly, he could be headed for your i-phone. Brazilian developer UTouchLabs has released “Ask the Octopus”, an app that allows a cartoon version of Paul to help users make decisions – be they mundane or mind-boggling. Simply enter two possible options and the eight-legged oracle will make a choice, hopefully guiding your life in the right direction.


“We have no right to assume that any physical laws exist, or if they have existed up until now, that they will continue to exist in a similar manner in the future. “ –Max Planck

A special thanks to: Bernard Calil, Jackie Capell, Kevin Clark, Bob Cockrell, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Kurzweil AI, John Mearsheimer, Diane Petersen, Abby Porter, Stu Rose, Cory Shreckengost, Michael Weiner 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 13, Number 13 – 7/15/10

Volume 13, Number 15 – 8/15/10