Volume 13, Number 19 – 10/15/10

Volume 13, Number 19 – 10/15/10FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS

Something unknown appears to be “pulling” the Milky Way and tens of thousands of other galaxies toward itself at 14 million miles per hour.The largest ocean vortex of floating plastic waste is in the North Pacific and covers an area twice the size of France.Engineers at Google have tested a self-driving car on the streets of California.The highest peak and the deepest canyon in the solar system are both on Mars.

What’s Pulling the Milky Way Towards It at 14-Million MPH? – (Daily Galaxy – October 5, 2010)
Astronomers have known for years that something unknown appears to be “pulling” the Milky Way and tens of thousands of other galaxies toward itself at a breakneck 14 million miles per hour. But they can’t pinpoint exactly what, or where it is. Andromeda – about 2.2 million light-years from the Milky Way – is speeding toward our galaxy at 200,000 miles per hour. This motion can only be accounted for by gravitational attraction, even though the mass that we can observe is not nearly great enough to exert that kind of pull. The only thing that could explain the movement of Andromeda is the gravitational pull of unseen mass – perhaps the equivalent of 10 Milky Way-size galaxies – lying between the two galaxies.

Is Saturn’s Titan Producing DNA in its Atmosphere Without Water? Experts Say “Yes” – (Daily Galaxy – October 9. 2010)
The orange hydrocarbon haze that shrouds Saturn’s largest moon could be creating the molecules that make up DNA without the help of water – an ingredient widely thought to be necessary for the molecules’ formation according to a new study. But that doesn’t mean that the molecules are combining to form life. However the finding could entice astrobiologists to consider a wider range of extrasolar planets as potential hosts for at least simple forms of organic life, the team of scientists from the US and France suggests. The new findings also suggest that billions of years ago Earth’s upper atmosphere – not just the so-called primordial soup on the surface – may have been the sources for these “prebiotic” molecules, amino acids and the so-called nucleotide bases that make up DNA.


Scientists Overcome Hurdles to Stem Cell Alternatives – (Washington Post – September 30, 2010)
A team of researchers at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in Boston has published a series of experiments showing that synthetic biological signals can quickly reprogram ordinary skin cells into entities that appear virtually identical to embryonic stem cells. Moreover, the same strategy can then turn those cells into ones that could be used for transplants. The cells produced by the Harvard team, known as induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, would avoid that ethical objection and could in some ways be superior to embryonic stem cells. For example, iPS cells could enable scientists to take an easily obtainable skin cell from any patient and use it to create perfectly matched cells, tissue and potentially even entire organs for transplants that would be immune to rejection.

Parasite Disease Rises in Sudan – (BBC News – October 6, 2010)
The number of cases of a potentially fatal parasitic disease has increased six-fold in southern Sudan. Visceral leismaniasis- also known as kala-azar – is the most severe form of the disease. More than 6,000 people have been infected and over 300 have died in the last year. The diesease is transmitted via the bite of an infected sand fly. Dr Abdi Aden, head of the WHO’s office for Southern Sudan said “The increased number of cases in Old Fangak, Ayod and surrounding areas is very disturbing and it is becoming difficult to contain the outbreak. Before the situation becomes uncontrollable, we must do something about it.”

Researchers Create Experimental Vaccine against Alzheimer’s – (Science Daily – October 8, 2010)
Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have created an experimental vaccine against beta-amyloid, the small protein that forms plaques in the brain and is believed to contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The antibody is specific; it binds to plaque in the brain. It doesn’t bind to brain tissue that does not contain plaque,” Dr. Rosenberg said. The DNA vaccine contains a piece of the beta-amyloid gene that codes for the protein. The researchers coated tiny gold beads with the beta-amyloid DNA and injected them into the skin of the animals’ ears. Once in the body, the DNA stimulated an immune response, including antibodies to beta-amyloid. The next step is to test long-term safety in animals. “After seven years developing this vaccine, we are hopeful it will not show any significant toxicity, and that we will be able to develop it for human use,” he said.

Cool Evolution Trick: Platinum Turns Baby Snails into Slugs – (Wired – October 8, 2010)
Evolution doesn’t have to operate at a snail’s pace, even for snails. In experiments designed to simulate the evolutionary transition that produced slugs, researchers exposed baby snails to the metal platinum, causing the animals to develop without external shells. The research illustrates how a big leap on the evolutionary path of animal body plans might have occurred. It also reopens a can of worms concerning the development and evolution of an entire class of shelled creatures.


Massive Count a Drop in the Bucket – (Science News – October 5, 2010)
A 10-year international project called the Census of Marine Life has come to an end with what has to be one of the strangest census reports ever. At the project’s finale in London October 4, a summary of the collaboration by 2,700 scientists from more than 600 institutions around the world highlighted their own undercounts and the vast realms they missed. That, however, was the point. The census teams predict at least 750,000 marine species, not including microbes, still await discovery. In the seas, the mysteries easily outnumber known species, now estimated at 250,000.

Study Shines New Light on Sun’s Role in Earth’s Climate – (CNN – October 7, 2010)
Previously scientists had thought that radiation reaching the Earth rises and falls in line with the Sun’s activity, which during the 11-year solar cycle goes though periods of low and high activity. But research at the Imperial College, London and the University of Colorado examining solar radiation levels from 2004 to 2007 — a period of declining solar activity — revealed that levels of visible radiation reaching the Earth actually increased during the period. What the data has shown, rather unexpectedly, is that the decline in ultra-violet radiation is much larger than anticipated. But more surprisingly the visible radiation actually increased as solar activity was declining.

Can the Oceans be Cleared of Floating Plastic Rubbish?– (BBC News – October 6, 2010)
Scientists are investigating ways of dealing with the millions of tons of floating plastic rubbish that is accumulating in our oceans. They are a quirk of ocean currents – a naturally created vortex known as a gyre – where floating rubbish tends to accumulate. The largest is in the North Pacific and covers an area twice the size of France. Others have since been discovered in the North Atlantic and most recently the South Atlantic. Scientists now fear the same process is probably taking place in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. At the UK’s University of Sheffield, scientists are investigating how they could accelerate the speed at which the plastic breaks down by looking at micro-organisms already found in the sea that naturally feed on plastic. But the researchers emphasize that even if they can narrow down the microbes and encourage their proliferation in an area like the plastic waste patch just found in the South Atlantic, this would be a very slow process.


The Future of Books – (Vimeo – September 24, 2010)
Meet “Nelson”, “Coupland”, and “Alice” — the faces of tomorrow’s book. See what new experiences might be created by linking diverse discussions, what additional value could be created by connected readers to one another, and what innovative ways we might use to tell our favorite stories and build community around books.

Informational Crowdsourcing Takes Off – (Scientific American – October 6, 2010)
The Internet is an overwhelmingly powerful source of information, but the technology for harnessing that information, for getting it filtered and delivered how and when we want it, is still in its infancy. If you don’t believe it, see what kind of useful information you get when you Google “What kind of harmonica should I get for my 10-year-old?” Recently, though, a flock of new services have cropped up to deliver highly targeted answers by passing your queries on to a sea of strangers. Call it informational crowdsourcing.

Electrofluidics Design to Enable Low-power Color Displays for E-readers and Cell Phones – (Kurzweil AI – October 6, 2010)
A new “zero-power” electrofluidics design promises to dramatically improve the image capabilities of electronic devices such as e-readers and cell phones. Currently, electronic devices fall into two basic camps. The first includes those devices that offer limited function and slow speed but require little power to operate. These include e-readers. In the second camp, devices like cell phones, laptops and the iPad provide high color saturation and high-speed capability for video and other functions, but at the cost of high-power usage. A completely new technology, the new “zero-power” e-display screen, will enable  e-readers like the Kindle to display color and video, and devices like cell phones and the tablets will require much less power and will be readable even in bright sunlight. Consumers will likely first see the technology in action as grocery-store shelf labels and advertising displays in about three years.

Social Science Data Emerges from the Twitterverse – (Scientific American – October 7, 2010)
To researchers, Twitter presents a rich trove of data. Barbara Poblete and her colleagues at Yahoo Research in Santiago analyzed tweets in the wake of February’s Chilean earthquake to learn how rumors propagate online. They found that people used Twitter to sort truth from falsehoods. Poblete’s group saw that 62% of tweets with earthquake-linked keywords from users in the Santiago time zone questioned or denied rumors that later turned out to be false. By comparison, when it came to confirmed truths, just 2% of tweets questioned them, and 0.3% were denials. For the original research, see: Twitter Under Crisis: Can we trust what we RT?


In the Arabian Desert, a Sustainable City Rises – (New York Times – September 25, 2010)
In 2007, when the U.A.E. announced its plan for “the world’s first zero-carbon city” on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, many Westerners dismissed it as a gimmick — a faddish follow-up to neighboring Dubai’s half-mile-high tower in the desert and archipelago of man-made islands in the shape of palm trees. Designed by Foster & Partners, a firm known for feats of technological wizardry, the city, called Masdar, would be a perfect square, nearly a mile on each side, raised on a 23-foot-high base to capture desert breezes. Beneath its labyrinth of pedestrian streets, a fleet of driverless electric cars would navigate silently through dimly lit tunnels. Well, those early assessments of “gimmick” turned out to be wrong.


How to Hack the Power Grid for Fun and Profit – (Technology Review – October 7, 2010)
The decades-old technology used to manage the power grid is vulnerable to manipulation or sabotage, according to a recent study. Attackers could manipulate power-grid data by breaking into substations and intercepting communications between substations, grid operators, and electricity suppliers. This data is used by grid operators to set prices for electricity and to balance supply and demand, the researchers say. Grid hackers could make millions of dollars at the expense of electricity consumers by influencing electricity markets. They could also make the grid unstable, causing blackouts. Vulnerabilities have existed in some grid systems for decades. But the threat is becoming worse as more substations become automated, and unmanned, making it easier for an attacker to access grid data.


Google Tests Cars that Drive Themselves – (BBC News – October 9, 2010)
Engineers at Google have tested a self-driving car on the streets of California, the company has announced. The cars use video cameras mounted on the roof, radar sensors and a laser range finder to “see” other traffic, software engineer Sebastian Thrun said. They remain manned at all times by a trained driver ready to take control as well as by a software expert. Google hopes the cars can eventually help reduce road traffic and cut the number of accidents. So far the self-driven cars have covered 140,000 miles on the road.


Death and Chocolate: Disease Threatens to Devastate Global Cocoa Supply – (Scientific American – September 24, 2010)
In a rare tale of technology, bio­terrorism and chocolate, scientists are racing to sequence the cacao tree genome. They fear that without the genome in hand they will be unable to stop the spread of two virulent pathogens that threaten to devastate the world’s cocoa crop. Cacao trees were first domesticated more then 1,500 years ago by Mayans living in what is now Central America, but fungal diseases such as witch’s broom and frosty pod have largely chased the bean out of its native habitat. The great worry is that one of these diseases will cross the Atlantic Ocean to West Africa, where 70 percent of the crop is now produced. Cacao trees in West Africa have no resistance to the pathogens, which form spores and spread via the wind, careless farmers and, in at least one case, bioterrorists. Scientists say that just a few infected pods would lead to the loss of one third of total global production. One way to forestall such a crash is to breed plants that are resistant to infection.


Now the Government is X-Raying You as You Drive – (This Can’t Be Happening – September 30, 2010)
As reported in Forbes Magazine and the Christian Science Monitor, the Homeland Security Department has purchased 500 mobile X-ray vans called ZBVs that can scan cars, trucks and homes without the drivers or residents in a building even knowing that they’re being zapped. These vans, made by a Massachusetts company called American Science & Engineering, are fitted out with what are called Z Backscatter X-ray devices, which aim a powrful X-ray beam that reportedly has the capability of penetrating 14 inches of steel. If used properly, the radiation doses received by targeted persons would be very minute, but if the government begins a major campaign of surreptitious X-raying on highways and at locations of security concern (the machines are already being used at major sporting events like the Superbowl), there have to be concerns about whether the machines are being maintained in proper working condition and about whether the operators are using them properly.


China Rises and Rises, Yet Still Gets Foreign Aid – (Associated Press – September 25, 2010)
China spent tens of billions of dollars on a dazzling 2008 Olympics. It has sent astronauts into space. It recently became the world’s second largest economy. Yet it gets more than $2.5 billion a year in foreign government aid – and taxpayers and lawmakers in donor countries are increasingly asking why. Many countries are finding such generosity politically and economically untenable. China says it’s still a developing country in need of aid, while some critics argue that the money should go to poorer countries in Africa and elsewhere. (Editor’s note: $2.5B is not that large compared to other financial figures now commonly in the news, e.g the Gulf oil clean-up costs may exceed $30B.)


Global Unemployment to Trigger Further Social Unrest, UN Agency Forecasts – (Guardian – October 1, 2010)
The International Labor Organization has warned of growing social unrest because it fears global employment will not recover until 2015. This is two years later than its earlier estimate that the labor market would rebound to pre-crisis levels by 2013. About 22 million new jobs are needed – 14 million in rich countries and 8 million in developing nations. The United Nations work agency today warned of a long “labor market recession” and noted that social unrest related to the crisis had already been reported in at least 25 countries, including some recovering emerging economies. (Editor’s note: There is almost no country on the planet with enough jobs to create “full” employment; unemployment is now a global issue.)

These Families Shop When Aid Arrives – (Wall St. Journal – October 2, 2010)
At midnight on the first of the month, a scene unfolds at many Wal-Mart Stores Inc. sites that underscores the deep financial strains that many low-income American consumers still face. Parking lots come to life after 11 p.m. as customers start to stream into the stores, cramming their shopping carts full of milk, infant formula and other necessities. Then at midnight, when the government replenishes their electronic-benefit accounts with their monthly allotments of food stamps, nutritional grants for mothers with babies or other aid for needy families, they head for the registers. Participation in the federal food-stamp program swelled from 26 million Americans in 2007 to more than 41.2 million people as of June, the latest figures available. Monthly assistance averaged $133.36 a person.

Social Games that Sway Behavior – (Technology Review – October 5, 2010)
With the rise of social networks, game designers are finding new paths to desired outcomes. Can your social network make you healthier? It’s a question that health organizations are asking more and more–as part of a wave of new gaming experiments that aim to persuade players to think and act differently while having fun. As more and more industries look to social games to change habits, games can become a win-win situation: the user feels engaged and rewarded for winning while a company or a society can achieve a critical goal. “Games are stylized systems of social interaction that incentivize engagement and behavior,” says Kati London, who serves as the senior producer at the New-York based game consulting company Area/Code. “That potentially makes them great engines for influencing and producing behavior change.”


Solar System’s Deepest Canyon Sinks Miles into Mars – (Wired – October 8, 2010)
Not only is the martian volcano Olympus Mons the highest peak in the solar system, the canyon Melas Chasma is the deepest in the solar system. It sits a whopping 5.6 miles below the plateau. Mars’ deepest, longest and most prominent scar is the 2,500-mile-long Valles Marineris rift valley.


New China UFO Sighting Closes Airport – (Huffington Post – October 6, 2010)
Flights were re-routed or forced to circle an airport for over an hour after Chinese air traffic controllers saw what they believed to be a UFO hovering over the runway. The incident, which took place at about 8 p.m. on Sept. 11 at an airport in Baotou, is the eighth reported UFO sighting in China since June, according to AOL News. While the others were dismissed as part of routine military exercises, the Chinese government has refused to comment on this sighting. Article includes video clip.

‘Living Dinosaurs’ in Space: Galaxies in Today’s Universe Thought to Have Existed Only in Distant Past – (Science Daily – October 8, 2010)
The galaxies in question look like disks, reminiscent of our own galaxy, but unlike the Milky Way they are physically turbulent and are forming many young stars. Such galaxies were thought to exist only in the distant past, ten billion years ago, when the Universe was less than half its present age. Green said, “We still don’t know where the gas to make these stars comes from though.” Understanding star formation is one of the most basic, unsolved problems of astronomy.


Census Finds Record Gap Between Rich and Poor – (Associated Press – September 28, 2010)
The top-earning 20% of Americans — those making more than $100,000 each year — received 49.4% of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4% earned by those below the poverty line, according to newly released census figures. That ratio of 14.5-to-1 was an increase from 13.6 in 2008 and nearly double a low of 7.69 in 1968. At the top, the wealthiest 5% of Americans, who earn more than $180,000, added slightly to their annual incomes last year, census data show. Families at the $50,000 median level slipped lower. The U.S. also has the greatest disparity among Western industrialized nations.


Aluminum Foam Made from Recycled Cans – (Impact Lab – October 3, 2010)
Aluminum foam is made by melting the metal down and adding a bubbling agent while it’s in liquid form. The resultant material looks like a sponge, is up to 95% air, is fireproof, sound-dampening, reflective, and can absorb a high amount of impact force. The military is incorporating aluminum foam in Humvees  to absorb IED blasts, and Frank Gehry’s making a building complex out of the stuff. This informative (but occasionally silly) video below takes a closer look at the material and how it’s made.

Clean Water for the Developing World – (Technology Review – September 8, 2010)
At least a billion people have access only to water contaminated by pathogens or pollution. “There is a huge need for an extremely robust, low-cost filter material that does not require a lot of power,” says Mark Shannon, who directs a center of advanced materials for water purification at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A water filter under development at Stanford University removes bacteria from water quickly and without clogging–and could lead to a simple and inexpensive method of cleaning water for the developing world. The device, which uses a piece of cotton treated with nanomaterial inks, kills bacteria with electrical fields but uses just 20% of the power required by pressure-driven filters. The Stanford filter, which is driven by gravity, has pores large enough to allow for a high flow rate–about 100,000 liters per hour.


Bernanke Tells the Truth – (Economic Policy Journal – October 5, 2010)
Leaving aside the angled comments made by the editor of this article, the direct quotations from a speech given by Bernanke fall in the category of “a breath of fresh air”. Without gloss and without rhetoric, they simply recount what most people already know. For example, “The budgetary position of the federal government has deteriorated substantially during the past two fiscal years, with the budget deficit averaging 9½ % of national income during that time. For comparison, the deficit averaged 2% of national income for the fiscal years 2005 to 2007, prior to the onset of the recession and financial crisis.”


Indian Man Immune to Electrocution – (Weird Asian News – September 29, 2010)
Dubbed the ‘Electro Man’ on the History Channel’s premier reality series, “Stan Lee’s Superhumans,” Rajmohan Nair has the superhuman ability to conduct large currents of electricity without suffering any bodily harm whatsoever. according to host Daniel Smith, Rajmohan is approximately 10-times more resistant to electricity than the average human. Article includes video clip showing him as exposed wires are wrapped around him and then powered. The electricity flows from the plug, through Rajmohan, and to a light bulb and, later on, a hotplate.

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

Men Perspire, Women Glow – (Science Daily – October 7, 2010)
A study by Japanese scientists at Osaka International University and Kobe University looked at differences between men and women’s sweating response to changes in exercise intensity. The results, published in the journal Experimental Physiology, showed that men are more efficient at sweating. The findings have implications for exercise and heat tolerance in humans, including shedding light on why the sexes cope differently with extremes of temperature like heat waves. There may also be an evolutionary reason why men and women have evolved to sweat differently. ‘Women generally have less body fluid than men and may become dehydrated more easily,’ the lead researcher explained. ‘Therefore the lower sweat loss in women may be an adaptation strategy that attaches importance to survival in a hot environment, while the higher sweat rate in men may be a strategy for greater efficiency of action or labor.’


Commonwealth Games, Delhi: Trained Monkeys to Police Athletes’ Village – (Metro – September 28, 2010)
Slender long-tailed Langur monkeys have been brought in (although they’re not getting uniforms) to patrol the major areas where the Games will be held. they are to protect athletes and spectators from the dangerous Common Indian Bonnet monkey. This particular genus often attacks humans, so the organizers are keen to keep them away from the areas that will be most populated at the Games. They are expected to be a successful deterrent: a single Langur is capable of putting the frighteners on a whole troupe of Common Indian Bonnet monkeys.


“The future started yesterday and we are already late.” – John Legend

A special thanks to: Kenton Anderson, Bernard Calil, Jackie Capell, Kevin Clark, Kevin Foley, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Kurzweil AI, Diane Petersen, T. Roberts, Joel Snell, Nova Spivak 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 18 – 9/30/10

Volume 13, Number 20 – 10/31/10