Volume 13, Number 7 – 4/15/10

Volume 13, Number 7 – 4/15/10FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS

Forty thousand years ago the planet had four species of humans, including one newly discovered.The best earthquake predictor just might be a toad.Mounting evidence in both humans and animals suggests that infection with particular parasitic worms seems to protect against a number of inflammatory diseases.Antimatter has triggered the largest explosion ever recorded.

Judge Invalidates Human Gene Patent – (New York Times – March 29, 2010)
A federal judge has struck down patents on two genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer. The decision, if upheld, could throw into doubt the patents covering thousands of human genes and reshape the law of intellectual property. Judge Sweet ruled that the patents were “improperly granted” because they involved a “law of nature.” He said that many critics of gene patents considered the idea that isolating a gene made it patentable “a ‘lawyer’s trick’ that circumvents the prohibition on the direct patenting of the DNA in our bodies but which, in practice, reaches the same result.” The case could have far-reaching implications: about 20% of human genes have been patented, and multibillion-dollar industries have been built atop the intellectual property rights that the patents grant.

How the Internet Has Changed the Face of Terrorism – (Guardian – April 4, 2010)
Why did Dzhennet Abdurakhmanova become a suicide bomber on the Moscow subway? The most common explanation is revenge – that like other “Black Widows” who lost husbands or male relatives in the Kremlin’s wars in Chechnya, she was seeking to avenge her husband’s death. But perhaps we shouldn’t ignore a simpler reason: the internet. The web has become a potent tool for recruiting volunteers. According to Kommersant newspaper, Dzhennet and her husband met while chatting online; at the time she was just 16.

New Ways to Read Economy – (Wall St. Journal – April 8, 2010)
Economic prognosticators have a history of looking to nontraditional signs of impending boom or bust. For instance, some economists consider cardboard-box production a leading indicator of economic activity. But the newest offbeat indicators, made possible by improving systems for collecting and disseminating data, are painting even timelier and more geographically specific pictures of economic forces, economists say. One rich repository of predictive data is Web searches, said Hal Varian, Google Inc.’s chief economist. Jumps in such queries as “unemployment office” and “jobs” can help predict increases in initial jobless claims, he said. Other search terms, he added, can anticipate traditional data on travel behavior and sales of cars and homes.


Discovery That Quasars Don’t Show Time Dilation Mystifies Astronomers – (Phys Org – April 9, 2010)
The phenomenon of time dilation is a strange yet experimentally confirmed effect of relativity theory. One of its implications is that events occurring in distant parts of the universe should appear to occur more slowly than events located closer to us. Time dilation should be a property of the universe that holds true everywhere, regardless of the specific object or event being observed. However, a new study has found that this doesn’t seem to be the case – quasars, it seems, give off light pulses at the same rate no matter their distance from the Earth, without a hint of time dilation.

Gene Research Reveals Fourth Human Species – (Financial Times – March 24, 2010)
Forty thousand years ago the planet was more crowded than we thought,” said Terry Brown, an expert in ancient DNA at Manchester University. Until recently scientists believed there were just two members of the genus Homo alive at the time: Neanderthals whose ancestors left Africa 400,000 years ago, and modern humans, who left about 50,000 years ago. The picture changed in 2003 when archaeologists found remains of a third species, the tiny “hobbit”, which had survived on the Indonesian island of Flores until 14,000 years ago. A new discovery shows that a fourth type of hominid was living as recently as 40,000 years ago. The discovery by Svante Pääbo and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute is based on DNA sequences from a finger bone fragment discovered in a Siberian cave.

Toad is a Telltale for Impending Quakes – (Breitbart – March 30, 2010)
The best hope yet of an earthquake predictor could lie in a small, brown, knobby amphibian. The male common toad (Bufo bufo) gave five days’ warning of the earthquake that ravaged the town of L’Aquila in central Italy on April 6, 2009, killing more than 300 people and displacing 40,000 others, according to a recent study. The study is one of the first to document animal behavior before, during and after an earthquake. Findings suggest that toads are able to detect pre-seismic cues such as the release of gases and charged particles, and use these as a form of early warning system.


Fighting Allergies by Mimicking Parasitic Worms – (Technology Review – April 9, 2010)
How about swallowing a batch of pig whipworm eggs, or deliberately infecting oneself with the fecal-dwelling hookworm? Yucky as these options sound, mounting evidence in both humans and animals suggests that infection with these parasitic worms seems to protect against a number of inflammatory diseases, including asthma and allergy, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and type 1 diabetes. Because parasitic infection is unappealing to even the most severe allergy sufferer, some scientists hope to decipher how these organisms control the immune systems of their human hosts and to develop new therapies that replicate the parasites’ beneficial effect.

Advanced Retinal Implant Developed – (Kurzweil AI – March 30, 2010)
Bionic Vision Australia and University of New South Wales researchers have developed an advanced retinal implant to enable patients suffering from degenerative vision loss caused by retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration to perceive points of light in the visual field that the brain can then reconstruct into an image. The device consists of a miniature camera mounted on glasses that captures visual input, transforming it into electrical signals that directly stimulate surviving neurons in the retina.

Paralysed Limbs Revived by Hacking into Nerves – (New Scientist – April 1, 2010)
A number of gadgets are being developed that plug into the network of nerves that normally relay commands from the spinal cord to the muscles, but fall silent when a spinal injury breaks the chain. New ways to connect wires to nerves allow artificial messages to be injected to selectively control muscles just as if the signal had originated in the brain. Limbs that might otherwise never again be controlled by their owners can be brought back to life. One new solution, known as the flat interface nerve electrode (FINE), is a cuff that squashes a nerve flat to bring fibre bundles closer to the surface – and to the eight electrodes in the device’s soft rubber lining.

Tiny Drill Attacks Tough Tumors – (Technology Review – April 6, 2010)
Osteosarcoma is an aggressive and difficult-to-treat bone tumor that’s found most commonly in adolescent children and large-breed dogs. At Texas A&M University, veterinarians are testing a new technology that delivers radiation directly to solid bone tumors. During a two-hour procedure, the vets use a drill roughly the size of an electric toothbrush to inject a radioactive isotope directly into the tumor, in the hopes of shrinking it without harming surrounding tissue.


Empathy and Violence Have Similar Circuits in the Brain – (Phys Org – April 9, 2010)
A study Researchers from the University of Valencia, Spain has concluded that the prefrontal and temporal cortex, the amygdala and other features of the limbic system (such as insulin and the cingulated cortex) play “a fundamental role in all situations in which empathy appears”. Moya Albiol says these parts of the brain overlap “in a surprising way” with those that regulate aggression and violence. As a result, the scientific team argues that the cerebral circuits – for both empathy and violence – could be “partially similar”.

Magnets Can Manipulate Morality – (Discovery News – March 29, 2010)
Using a powerful magnetic field, scientists from MIT, Harvard University and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center are able to scramble the moral center of the brain, making it more difficult for people to separate innocent intentions from harmful outcomes. The research could have big implications for not only neuroscientists, but also for judges and juries. “It’s one thing to ‘know’ that we’ll find morality in the brain,” said Liane Young, a scientist at MIT and co-author of the article. “It’s another to ‘knock out’ that brain area and change people’s moral judgments.”


Iceland Waits for Volcanic Shoe to Drop – (New Scientist – March 23, 2010)
Volcanologists have warned that previous Eyjafjallajökull eruptions have triggered eruptions of neighboring Katla, one of the largest volcanoes in Iceland. Katla erupted every 40 to 80 years in the thousand years before the last eruption in 1918. The larger volcano, beneath the larger Mýrdalsjökull glacier, has a reputation for triggering huge jökulhlaup – the Icelandic term for the sudden release of meltwater from glaciers and ice sheets. Its last eruption generated a peak discharge of 1.6 million cubic metres per second within 4 to 5 hours and moved so much debris that Iceland’s coastline was extended by 4 kilometers.

Melting Ice Caps May Trigger More Volcanic Eruptions – (New Scientist – April 3, 2010)
A warmer world could be a more explosive one. Global warming is having a much more profound effect than just melting ice caps – it is melting magma too. Vatnajökull is the largest ice cap in Iceland, and is disappearing at a rate of 5 cubic kilometres per year. as the ice disappears, it relieves the pressure exerted on the rocks deep under the ice sheet, increasing the rate at which it melts into magma. An average of 1.4 cubic kilometres has been produced every century since 1890, a 10% increase on the background rate.


Twitter Developing Censorship-proof Technology – (Daily Galaxy – March 23, 2010)
Evan Williams, CEO and co-founder of Twitter, which has been credited with helping anti-government protesters in Iran to organize resistance, said software developers were working on “interesting hacks” to stop any blocking by foreign governments. “We are partially blocked in China and other places and we were in Iran as well. The most productive way to fight that is not by trying to engage China and other governments whose very being is against what we are about. I am hopeful there are technological ways around these barriers,” he said.

3D without the Glasses: Introducing pCubee – (Phys Org – March 31, 2010)
The usual 3D technology uses a stereoscopic principle in which a slightly different image is presented to each eye, thanks to the special glasses the viewer has to wear. Now a device named pCubee gives you the experience of 3D without the need for the glasses. The pCubee consists of five LCD screens arranged as a cubic “fish tank” box that viewers can pick up, tilt, shake or turn to watch the 3D content or play games with virtual objects that seem to be within the box. Instead of stereoscopy, the device uses a principle called motion parallax, which is one of the means by which we usually perceive depth in a three dimensional scene.

Promising Approach to Chemical Computing – (Computing Now – March, 2010)
A multinational European project has begun work on a biologically inspired, “wet” computer designed to mimic living brain functions through chemical assembly processes and pharmaceutical manufacturing techniques. The Neuneu project will exploit several properties of chemical systems for their computing power. “This is the first step towards real-life construction of an artificial chemical brain with well-defined architecture of connections between artificial neurons,” said professor Andy Adamatzky at the University of the West of England. “It will be a massive parallel computer made of lipid bubbles.”


Synapse on a Chip – (H Plus – March 30, 2010)
The memristor – the so-called “missing link of electronics” memory technology that can change its resistance in varying levels – has been around on paper for nearly 40 years. However it wasn’t until 2010 that a group at the University of Michigan led by Dr. Wei Lu demonstrated that it can be used to build brain-like computers. New Scientist reports that “memristors can behave uncannily like the junctions between neurons in the brain.” Scientific American describes a US military-funded project that is trying to use the memristor “to make neural computing a reality.” DARPA’s Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics Program (SyNAPSE) is funded to create “electronic neuromorphic machine technology that is scalable to biological levels.”

Smart Pill Reports Back – (Technology Review – April 7, 2010)
The medicine cabinet of the future could help make sure patients take their medications on time via a myriad of smart technologies. There are already pill bottles that wirelessly report to a computer when a cap has been opened, and devices for automatically dispensing medicine at the right time, and for reminding patients to take their meds. Now researchers at the University of Florida have engineered a smart pill with a tiny antenna and microchip that could signal when it has made it into a patient’s stomach–reporting to a cell phone or computer that she has taken her medicine. Their design is the latest of several high-tech pill-reporting efforts to improve patient adherence and provide accurate reporting.


Solar-Powered Desalination – (Technology Review – April 8, 2010)
Saudi Arabia meets much of its drinking water needs by removing salt and other minerals from seawater. Now the country plans to use one of its most abundant resources to counter its fresh-water shortage: sunshine. Saudi Arabia’s national research agency is building what will be the world’s largest solar-powered desalination plant in the city of Al-Khafji. When completed at the end of 2012, the plant will produce 30,000 cubic meters of desalinated water per day to meet the needs of 100,000 people. main goal is to reduce the cost of desalinating water. Half of the operating cost of a desalination plant currently comes from energy use, and most current plants run on fossil fuels. Depending on the price of fuel, producing a cubic meter now takes between 40 and 90 cents.

Microbes Ooze Oil for Renewable Energy – (Biodesign Institute – March 30, 2010)
Video clip: Cyanobacteria species Synechocystis is getting a genetic makeover. The bacteria has learned to release its oil without dying – which may boost oil production significantly. The researchers had earlier modified these microbes to self-destruct and release their lipid contents. In the group’s latest effort however, the energy-rich fatty acids were extracted without killing the cells in the process.

Nuclear Energy Facts Report – (Learning About Energy – April, 2010)
The Facts Report itself contains only facts that manifest in the physical world; no opinions, conclusions, recommendations, or attempts at consensus-building. However, it is preceded with some explanatory material on energy production, and conclude with some comments on the historical context. The report is not intended to be public relations document for the general public, but an interactive reference document, for people who work in, or report on, the energy production field.

Tobacco Touted as Future Fuel – (The Australian – March 31, 2010)
Genetically modified tobacco could be used as biofuel to help solve the US energy crisis, researchers say. Tobacco is an attractive “energy plant” because it can generate a large amount of oil and sugar more efficiently than other crops, said Vyacheslav Andrianov, a researcher at the Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Furthermore, it would not affect a major food source, unlike other biofuels made from corn, soybeans and other crops.

Thin Film Solar Panels Take Leap Toward Affordable Renewable Energy – (Cooler Planet – April 1, 2010)
Over the past decade continual breakthroughs have made the manufacture of thin-film solar panels less expensive while improving their efficiency in producing electricity. Some are even capable of rivaling the power produced by their heavy silicone counterparts. Abound Solar, a Colorado based company, has claimed they can produce thin-film photovoltaics at $1 per watt. That makes it cost-competitive with fossil fuels. By comparison, crystalline silicone panels cost roughly $4 per watt to make.


Smallest Superconductor Promises Cool Electronics – (New Scientist – March 30,2010)
Ohio University researchers have made four-molecule-long nanowires — the smallest superconducting structure yet reported. The nanowires achieve two objectives of engineers trying to maintain exponential growth in the power of electronics: making components smaller and making them produce less waste heat. The nanoscopic wires were made by placing a mixture of a large organic molecule and a salt of the metal gallium. The molecules in the mixture then automatically arrange themselves into long strings or wires that are superconducting.


Winged Warriors Train for Terror, Drug Wars – (AOL News – March 28, 2010)
Inscentinel Ltd. is a British biotechnology company specializing in harnessing the olfactory ability of insects for trace vapor detection. The company’s primary focus is the development of a new generation of handheld portable detectors, through the use of live honeybees. The science is based on the acute olfactory sense of honeybees. Bees are trained to recognize particular odors (e.g. that of explosives) and associate that smell with a food reward. Honeybees make excellent detectors because they are inexpensive, quick to train (a few minutes per bee) and have extremely low limits of detection (odors can be detected to parts per trillion levels). See also


Sex Virus Blamed for Rise in Head and Neck Cancers – (Reuters – March 26, 2010)
The number of head and neck cancers linked to a virus spread by oral sex is rising rapidly and suggests boys as well as girls should be offered protection through vaccination. Despite an overall slight decline in head and neck cancers in recent years, cases of a particular form called oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) have increased sharply, particularly in the developed world.


Antimatter Triggers Largest Explosion Ever Recorded – (Daily Galaxy – April 9, 2010)
The super-supernova SN2007bi is an example of a “pair-instability” breakdown. At sizes of around four megayottagrams (that’s thirty-two zeros) giant stars are supported against gravitational collapse by gamma ray pressure. The hotter the core, the higher the energy of these gamma rays – but if they get too energetic, the gamma rays can begin pair production: creating an electron-positron matter-antimatter pair out of pure energy as they pass an atom. This means that the entire stellar core acts as a gigantic particle accelerator. The antimatter then annihilates its opposite, as antimatter is wont to do.


Multiple Generations under One Roof, Again – (Live Science – March 18, 2010)
Adult children are moving back in with parents, and grandparents are taking up residence with their kids’ families. Sound like old times? In fact, multi-generational households are making a comeback. Some 49 million Americans now live in such an arrangement, up from 28 million in 1980. The tight-knit families could be the result of both social and economic factors, including the recession but more broadly reflecting a years-long trend, according to study researchers from the Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends project.

Sharp Increase in March in Personal Bankruptcies – (New York Times – April 1, 2010)
More Americans filed for bankruptcy protection in March than during any month since the federal personal bankruptcy law was tightened in October 2005, a new report says, a result of high unemployment and the housing crash. Federal courts reported over 158,000 bankruptcy filings in March, or 6,900 a day, a rise of 35% from February. Filings invoking Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code, a simple and inexpensive option, are rising faster than more complex Chapter 13 reorganization filings, under which consumers repay a portion of their debts so they can keep their homes, suggesting that more homeowners are simply walking away from underwater mortgages.


From Lithuania, a View of Austerity’s Costs – (New York Times – April 1, 2010)
Faced with rising deficits that threatened to bankrupt the country, Lithuania cut public spending by 30% – including slashing public sector wages 20 – 30% and reducing pensions by as much as 11%. Even the prime minister, Andrius Kubilius, took a pay cut of 45%. And the government didn’t stop there. It raised taxes on a wide variety of goods, like pharmaceutical products and alcohol. Corporate taxes rose to 20% from 15%. The value-added tax rose to 21%, from 18%. But austerity has exacted its own price, in social and personal pain.

Be Careful What You Wish for on Currencies – (Reuters – March 19, 2010)
Before pressing China to allow a maxi-revaluation of the yuan, western commentators need to think through the consequences carefully. The idea that devaluing the dollar (and by extension euro and yen) will cause payment imbalances to disappear and boost employment in the West with little or no impact on inflation and living standards is a pipe dream. Since most observers assume bilateral relationships between the dollar and other major currencies would not alter significantly, China is in fact being pressed to permit a balanced depreciation of the dollar, euro, yen and other major currencies.

Where’s the Recovery in U.S. Consumer Spending? – (Seeking Alpha – March 29, 2010)
The Commerce Department released figures for February consumer spending on March 29th. The report indicated that consumer spending was up 0.3% in February, but personal incomes were flat. If income is not going up, but consumer spending is going up, there are only three possible explanations. Consumers have gotten increased credit and are borrowing more, they are spending savings, or they are selling assets. A figure on ‘Personal Income Receipts on Assets’ that includes interest and dividend income decreased by $16.5 billion in both February and January and that may indicate that the public is quite possibly a net seller of assets.

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

Not Feeling Well? Perhaps You’re ‘Marijuana Deficient’ – (AlterNet – March 23, 2010)
The therapeutically active components in marijuana – the cannabinoids -mimic compounds our bodies naturally produce – so-called endocannabinoids – that are pivotal for maintaining proper health and homeostasis. In recent years scientists have discovered that the production of endocannabinoids (and their interaction with the cannabinoid receptors located throughout the body) play a key role in the regulation of proper appetite, anxiety control, blood pressure, bone mass, reproduction, and motor coordination, among other biological functions. Just how important is this system in maintaining health? In studies of mice genetically bred to lack a proper endocannabinoid system the most common result is premature death.

Towards the Empathic Civilization – (Financial Times – March 26, 2010)
Jeremy Rifkin writes, “The human race is in a twilight zone between a dying civilization on life support and an emerging one trying to find its legs. Old identities are fracturing while new identities are too fragile to grasp. Our new ideas about human nature throw into doubt many of the core assumptions of classical economic theory. For example, how do we explain hundreds of millions of young people sharing creativity and knowledge in collaborative spaces such as Wikipedia and Linux?


Stunning Photographs of Sleeping Insects Covered in Dew – (Daily Mail – March 31, 2010)
Glistening in the early morning, these insects look like creatures from another planet as dew gathers on their sleeping bodies. Captured in extreme close-up, one moth appears to be totally encrusted in diamonds as it rests on a twig. The exquisite photographs were taken by physiotherapist (and amateur photographer) Miroslaw Swietek at around 3am in the forest next to his home in rural Poland. Using a flashlight, the 37-year-old amateur photographer hunts out the motionless bugs in the dark before setting up his camera and flash just millimetres from them.


“The past can’t see you, but the future is listening.” ~Terri Guillemets


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A special thanks to: Jackie Capell, Kevin Clark, John Douglas, Ursula Freer, Deanna Korda, Kurzweil AI, Diane Petersen, John C. Petersen, Samantha Redston, Ted Rockwell, Stu Rose 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 6 – 3/31/10

Volume 13, Number 8 – 4/30/10