Volume 14, Number 6 – 03/31/11

Volume 14, Number 6 – 3/31/11FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS

A new type of implanted device placed in the eye is bringing some vision to people who were not otherwise able to see.A study has confirmed that serious disease can pass to gorillas from people.Researchers have developed a battery that takes advantage of the difference in salinity between freshwater and seawater to produce electricity.Robotic add-ons (exo-skeletons) can allow a human to carry 200 pounds without tiring, or allow a wheelchair user to stand and walk. See demo of existing equipment.
by John L. Petersen

Since our last issue, the disaster in Japan has taken place and there has been an extraordinary amount news and speculation about what the implications might be from that event. I have been collecting radiation related articles for this issue of FUTUREdition, but to tell the truth, the analysts and pundits are all over the place in trying to handicap what this all might mean. In particular, I have found no good, solid explanation of alternative scenarios about how the damaged reactors situation might play out.

There are lots of people who have taken it upon themselves to be new experts on global radiation proliferation and at this point, at least, it seems that the major result is to generate a lot of fear that in some cases seem to be unfounded. I suspect that it will become clearer in the next couple of weeks what we all have on our hands so we will continue to collect articles for the next issue with hopes that I can provide you with something somewhat more substantive than what I have found so far.

Here’s something on another subject that I have been thinking about.

WIKILEAKS: The Crack in the Fortress Wall

Those of us in the futures business have long suggested that the Internet, in general, and the Web, in particular were going to fundamentally change the world. Over time it became obvious in terms of technology development, news distribution, and goods and services promotion, delivery and customer relations management. Finding a date, keeping in touch with friends, and the proliferation of ideas quickly blossomed. And now, governments are falling.

Think of the Web as the rapidly growing organism in a Sci-Fi movie: the tentacles of connective tissue – the neurons – are rapidly feeling their way into every crevice and crack, permanently tying together the minds of every human being encountered on the way. The giant is getting smarter as it grows, finding amazingly creative new ways to both influence and empower the individual consciousnesses that make up the evolving global brain.

This thing is inexorable. Absent an asteroid strike that puts us all back to the Stone Age, nothing is going to stop the proliferation and ubiquity of “the Net”. The transition may be a little rough, though.

The World Wide Web was born just over 22 years ago and now 2 billion people populate it. That extraordinary growth threatens any other institution that can’t keep up with it. Newspapers and travel agents come to mind, immediately. Social systems are clearly at risk as well: they change and adapt far more slowly than the exponential technological change.

On one hand, we’re obviously becoming increasingly dependent upon the Internet. Business – the economic lifeblood of all countries – can’t stay alive without its ability to help manage both internal and external functions. Therefore the commercial sector adapts quickly . . . and becomes even more dependent and interconnected, all to be more responsive to customers.

On the other hand, the free-flow of ideas that the agnostic infrastructure facilitates is very threatening to institutions that can’t keep up. The external environment changes faster than they do. Chief among those institutions are governments. Even the most liberal governments are relatively conservative, compared to rate of change in business, and furthermore, those people who gravitate to government tend to be risk adverse. They’re bureaucrats, of course, so part of their life’s mission is to assure control and continuity.

Do you see the tension? The desire to slow down and manage change juxtaposed against the highest rates of change in the history of the species.

The pressure is particularly acute for institutions that depend upon authoritarian control and secrecy. It’s one thing to be oppressed and not have the ability to know what the oppressors are doing and how they operate (think feudal times or authoritarian religions); it’s quite another when it becomes clear what they’re doing to you and how they’re doing it. In open societies, the press, of course, is supposed to play that function – illuminating the otherwise dark workings of the interiors of agencies (and predatory corporations) – thus balancing the bureaucratic need to control and manage change (and information) and the public desire for responsiveness to the contextual environment in which they live.

The problem is that the press has largely abdicated that responsibility, jettisoning investigative journalism for info-entertainment. Even widely watched cable sources that purport to be about current events spin stories and issues so as to generate fear and other emotional responses, much the same way as movie story tellers.

Now, for the first time, the Internet enables anyone to instantaneously propagate anything that can be digitized across the globe: a far more effective (and threatening) capability than any pre-Web newspaper could ever boast. And if the “news” folks aren’t going to do what they are supposed to, then empowered individuals and groups certainly have both the capability and intent to take on that role.

Enter WikiLeaks. In much the same way that fax machines were used to distribute the ideas that brought down the Soviet Union and cassette-taped sermons mobilized the collapse of the Shah of Iran, WikiLeaks (and it’s certain progeny) will now play an important (and inevitable, I think) role in providing information to the people that oppressive and secretive governments have previously been able to contain.

In general, openness is good and secrecy is bad. Complex social systems work much better with transparency and authoritarian systems can’t operate when the people are informed. Nevertheless, there are those who defend the paradigm of secrecy in countries like the U.S. as though the government could do no significant wrong and exposing our secrets would be helping our “enemies”.

Anyone who has worked at any significant level in government knows that much of what is classified is done so to keep the information away from the American people, not our so-called enemies. For years, the locations of the CIA and NSA were classified – as though the Soviets didn’t know where to find them. Even today, plain old garden variety analysts who work for the NSA can’t tell anyone really who their employer is. I’ve been in briefings by the CIA where information that I had read in the New York Times that morning was classified SECRET in the briefing in the afternoon. “Embarrassing to the Administration” could easily replace the classification stamp on many documents. Why, for example, have many other countries – including the UK – declassified their files on unidentified flying objects and the U.S. hasn’t? (Hint: keep in mind who’s doing the classification and what their motivations are: control and change management).

What does this all mean for the future? WikiLeaks is not the end. It is the beginning. Like all successful technologies, relatively simple breakthroughs (like spreadsheet programs, for example) always morph into increasingly sophisticated, ultimately integrated, applications that could never have been anticipated when something like VisiCalc first showed up. WikiLeaks represents an initial crack in the fortress of government that is certain to be exploited to ever-larger growing groups of young people who are bright, connected, and feel that their governments are not being honest and truthful with them. I find that encouraging.


From Cotton Candy to Rock: New Evidence about Beginnings of the Solar System – (Science Daily – March 28, 2011)
The earliest rocks in our Solar System were more like cotton candy than the hard rock that we know today. The researchers reached their conclusions after carrying out an extremely detailed analysis of an asteroid fragment known as a carbonaceous chondrite meteorite, which came from the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars. It was originally formed in the early Solar System when microscopic dust particles collided with one another and stuck together, coalescing around larger grain particles called chondrules, which were around a millimeter in size.

Sperm Wales Found to Announce Themselves by a Personal Identifier or Name – (Daily Galaxy – March 15, 2011)
Minute variations in sperm-whale calls suggest that specific individuals announce themselves with discrete personal identifier – what we refer to as “names.” Based on observations of three whales, biologist Luke Rendell of Scotland’s University of St. Andrews said, “They seem to make that coda in a way that’s individually distinctive.” Rendell and team found that the vocal repertoires of sperm whales may communicate individual or group identity. “Whales are pretty hard to study, but evidence is coming up from quite a number of species that in a whole range of ways, they’re learning things from each other and they’re passing it on to other whales, and that’s culture,” says Hal Whitehead, biology professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Mysterious ‘Ribbon’ of Energy and Particles That Wrap Around Solar System’s Heliosphere Isolated – (Science Daily – March 31, 2011)
Scientists on NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission, have isolated and resolved the mysterious “ribbon” of energy and particles the spacecraft discovered in the heliosphere – the huge bubble that surrounds our solar system and protects us from galactic cosmic rays. The finding, which overturns 40 years of theory, provides insight into the fundamental structure of the heliosphere, which in turn helps scientists understand similar structures or “astrospheres” that surround other star systems throughout the cosmos. The ribbon of energy was captured using ultra-high sensitive cameras that image energetic neutral atoms (instead of photons of light) to create maps of the boundary region between our solar system and the rest of our galaxy.

Human Virus Linked to Deaths of Endangered Gorillas; Finding Confirms That Serious Diseases Can Pass from People to Gorillas – (Science Daily – March 28, 2011)
For the first time, a virus that causes respiratory disease in humans has been linked to the deaths of wild mountain gorillas, reports a team of researchers in the United States and Africa. Humans and gorillas share approximately 98% of their DNA. This close genetic relatedness has led to concerns that gorillas may be susceptible to many of the infectious diseases that affect people. “Because there are fewer than 800 living mountain gorillas, each individual is critically important to the survival of their species,” said Mike Cranfield, executive director of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and a UC Davis wildlife veterinarian. “But mountain gorillas are surrounded by people, and this discovery makes it clear that living in protected national parks is not a barrier to human diseases.”


Sexual Preference Chemical Found in Mice – (BBC News – March 23, 2011)
A chemical in the brain controls sexual preference in mice, according to scientists in China. Male mice bred without serotonin lose their preference for females, a report in the journal Nature says. The researchers say it is the first time that a neurotransmitter has been shown to play a role in sexual preference in mammals. The research team first bred male mice whose brains were not receptive to serotonin. When presented with a choice of partners, they showed no overall preference for either males or females. Experts have warned about the dangers of drawing conclusions about human sexuality.

New Implants Make Vision Possible – (NPR – March 29, 2011)
A new type of implanted device placed in the eye is bringing vision to people who were not otherwise able to see. It’s far from simple and doesn’t offer 20/20 eyesight, but it’s making a huge difference in people’s lives. The device is implanted within the eye itself and it works in conjunction with a mounted camera on a set of glasses that the patient wears along with a power pack on the belt. It’s not the lightest set of equipment you could possibly imagine, and at around $115,000, it’s far from affordable for a lot of people. But the important development here is that the technology is real and it’s becoming available.

Will We Hear the Light? Infrared Light Can Activate Heart and Ear Cells – (Science Daily – March 27, 2011)
University of Utah scientists used invisible infrared light to make rat heart cells contract and toadfish inner-ear cells send signals to the brain. The scientific significance of the studies is the discovery that optical signals – short pulses of an invisible wavelength of infrared laser light delivered via a thin, glass optical fiber – can activate heart cells and inner-ear cells related to balance and hearing. In addition, the research showed infrared activates the heart cells, called cardiomyocytes, by triggering the movement of calcium ions in and out of mitochondria, the organelles or components within cells that convert sugar into usable energy. The same process appears to occur when infrared light stimulates inner-ear cells. The discovery someday might improve cochlear implants for deafness and lead to devices to restore vision, maintain balance and treat movement disorders like Parkinson’s.

Breakthrough in Delivering Drugs to the Brain – (BBC News – March 20, 2011)
A new way of delivering drugs to the brain has been developed by scientists at the University of Oxford. They used the body’s own transporters – exosomes – to cross the blood/brain barrier and deliver drugs in an experiment on mice. Exosomes are like the body’s own fleet of incredibly small vans, transporting materials between cells. This could be vital for treating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Muscular Dystrophy.

Microscopic Fungus Threatens Your Life – (Second Opinion – April 1, 2011)
A team of scientists has reportedly discovered a new pathogen that could threaten life on the planet: a fungus so small it’s the size of a virus. It infects both plants and animals! There are high concentrations of the pathogen in Roundup-ready products (including corn and soy) and in the stomachs and placentas of animals fed these crops. The pathogen causes sudden death syndrome in soy and corn. It also causes spontaneous abortions and infertility in farm animals. This may explain the escalating epidemic of infertility and spontaneous abortions we’ve seen recently in U.S. livestock. U.S. dairy heifers have an infertility rate of over 20% and spontaneous abortions are as high as 45% in animals contaminated with Roundup crops. This compares to no spontaneous abortions in cattle fed hay. See also this article which notes that fertility and reproductive problems have been noted in mice, rats, hamsters, livestock and humans and have been reported by farmers and researchers in the U.S., Russia, Austria, Italy, and India.


Fission Products in Seattle Reveal Clues about Japan Nuclear Disaster – (Technology Review – March 25, 2011)
When the Fukushima nuclear disaster began to unfold on March 11, it quickly became clear that anything downwind was in for a sprinkling of radioactivity. So Jonathan Diaz Leon and pals at the University of Washington in Seattle began removing air filters from the intake to the ventilation system of the Physics and Astronomy building at the University of Washington and then measuring the levels of radiation they were emitting. Sometime between 12pm on 17 March and 2pm on 18 March, the radiation levels began to rise. By measuring the energy of the gamma rays from the filters, they have identified exactly which fission products have made their way across the Pacific. And this in turn allows them to make a number of inferences about what has gone wrong at Fukushima.

Warm Water Causes Extra-Cold Winters in Northeastern North America and Northeastern Asia – (Science Daily – March 30, 2011)
Throughout northern Europe, average winter temperatures are at least 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than similar latitudes on the northeastern coast of the United States and the eastern coast of Canada. The same phenomenon happens over the Pacific, where winters on the northeastern coast of Asia are colder than in the Pacific Northwest. For decades, the conventional explanation for the cross-oceanic temperature difference was that the Gulf Stream delivers warm water from the Gulf of Mexico to northern Europe. But in 2002, research showed that ocean currents aren’t capable of transporting that much heat, instead contributing only up to 10 percent of the warming. Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have now found a mechanism that helps explain these chillier winters – and the culprit is warm water off the eastern coasts of these continents.


It’s Tracking Your Every Move and You May Not Even Know It – (New York Times – March 26, 2011)
As German Green party politician, Malte Spitz, recently learned, we are already continually being tracked whether we volunteer to be or not. Cellphone companies do not typically divulge how much information they collect, so Mr. Spitz went to court to find out exactly what his cellphone company, Deutsche Telekom, knew about his whereabouts. The results were astounding. In a six-month period – from Aug 31, 2009, to Feb. 28, 2010, Deutsche Telekom had recorded and saved his longitude and latitude coordinates more than 35,000 times. Mr. Spitz has provided a rare glimpse – an unprecedented one, privacy experts say – of what is being collected as we walk around with our phones. Unlike many online services and Web sites that must send “cookies” to a user’s computer to try to link its traffic to a specific person, cellphone companies simply have to sit back and hit “record.”

Quantum Computing Device Hints at Powerful Future – (BBC News – March 22, 2011)
One of the most complex efforts toward a quantum computer has been shown off at the American Physical Society. It uses the strange “quantum states” of matter to perform calculations in a way that, if scaled up, could vastly outperform conventional computers. The 6cm-by-6cm chip holds nine quantum devices, among them four “quantum bits” that do the calculations. The team said further scaling up to 10 qubits should be possible this year.

Spammers Sought after Botnet Take Down – (BBC News – March 25, 2011)
The Rustock botnet, which sent up to 30 billion spam messages per day, might have been run by two or three people. Early analysis, following raids to knock out the spam network, suggest that it was the work of a small team. Rustock was made up of about one million hijacked PCs and employed a series of tricks to hide itself from scrutiny for years. Work by FireEye, Microsoft, Pfizer and others culminated on 16 March with simultaneous raids on data centers in seven US cities that seized 96 servers which had acted as the command and control system for Rustock.


Nuclear Remediation: Inventory of Techniques – (Pure Energy Systems Wiki – March 26, 2011)
Among other techniques, this link showcases a composite graphic (from the ABC network television program “Good Morning America”) revealing an “impossible” nuclear remediation technology … demonstrated LIVE to the entire country on network television in 1997. The graphic shows two views of the SAME radiation meter – from “before” and “after” the 1-hour, 42 minute run – unequivocally demonstrating that HALF of the radiation from the constantly fissioning U-235 is GONE. The natural half-life of U-235 – the same fuel that is in the Fukushima reactors – is approximately700 million years.

Engineered Organisms for Making Cheap Sugar – (Technology Review – March 28, 2011)
In a bid to make biofuels cheaper, a startup called Proterro, based in Princeton, New Jersey, is developing a way to cut the cost of making sugar, a basic building block for ethanol. The company is engineering photosynthetic microorganisms to secrete large amounts of sugar, and it is designing a bioreactor for growing the organisms using small amounts of water. Photosynthetic microorganisms, such as algae, are usually prized for their ability to produce oils. Proterro chose to focus on sugar production because that’s the source for biofuel ethanol, and it’s also the starting point for new processes for making other types of biofuels.

River Water and Salty Ocean Water Used to Generate Electricity – (Science Daily – March 30, 2011)
Stanford researchers have developed a battery that takes advantage of the difference in salinity between freshwater and seawater to produce electricity. Anywhere freshwater enters the sea, such as river mouths or estuaries, could be potential sites for a power plant using such a battery, said Yi Cui, associate professor of materials science and engineering, who led the research team. Initially, the battery is filled with freshwater and a small electric current is applied to charge it up. The freshwater is then drained and replaced with seawater. Because seawater is salty, containing 60 to 100 times more ions than freshwater, it increases the electrical potential, or voltage, between the two electrodes. That makes it possible to reap far more electricity than the amount used to charge the battery


Drivers May Lower Insurance Premiums by Getting Monitored – (USA Today – March 14, 2011)
Progressive, one of the nation’s largest auto insurers, has initiated a “Snapshot” program, in which drivers can elect to install a small data recorder in their cars that tracks how hard they brake, how far they drive and whether it’s day or night driving. Based on the results, drivers can save up to 30% on their insurance. Average savings: $150 a year.

Bananas Could Make Cars Leaner, Greener – (Wired – March 28, 2011)
Brazilian scientists have developed a way of using fibers from bananas, pineapples and other plants to create plastic that is stronger and lighter than the petroleum-based stuff. So-called nanocellulose fibers rival Kevlar in strength but are renewable, and the researchers believe they could be widely used within a couple of years. “The properties of these plastics are incredible,” said Alcides Leão, a researcher at Sao Paulo State University. “They are 30% lighter and three to four times stronger.” That could reduce the weight of new vehicles, which would increase fuel economy. Several automakers are cutting weight in their campaigns to maximize mpg. Beyond being lighter and stronger, Leão says nanocellulosic plastic is more resistant to heat, gasoline and water. He sees it being used for dashboards, bumpers and some body panels.


Florida Lawmaker Wants to Make Farm Photos Illegal – (Health Freedoms – March 17, 2011)
Out of sight, out of mind – right? Well that’s what Big Ag companies in Florida are hoping for. SB 1246 introduced by Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa would make it a first-degree felony to photograph a farm without consent. This is the sort of legislation that will turn down the exposure on factory farms, the likes of which have been infiltrated by animal activists armed with hidden cameras. Media law experts say the ban would violate freedoms protected in the U. S. Constitution. But Wilton Simpson, a farmer who lives in Norman’s district, said the bill is needed to protect the property rights of farmers and the “intellectual property” involving farm operations. The bill was apparently inspired by the successful undercover videos produced by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society.


Iran Accused in Net Security Attack – (BBC News – March 26, 2011)
Hackers in Iran have been accused of trying to subvert one of the net’s key security systems. Analysis in the wake of the thwarted attack suggests it originated and was co-ordinated via servers in Iran. If it had succeeded, the attackers would have been able to pass themselves off as web giants Google, Yahoo, Skype, Mozilla and Microsoft. The attack was mounted on the widely used online security system known as the Secure Sockets Layer or SSL. Analysis of the attack reveals that someone got access to the computer systems of one firm that issue SSL certificates. This allowed them to issue bogus certificates that, if they had been used, would have let them impersonate any one of several big net firms. The attack exhibited “clinical accuracy” and that, along with other facets of the attack led it to one conclusion: “this was likely to be a state-driven attack.”


US Spy Operation that Manipulates Social Media – (Guardian – March 17, 2011)
The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda. A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an “online persona management service” that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world. Centcom spokesman Commander Bill Speaks said: “The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language websites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US.” None of the interventions employing this software will be in English, but will include Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto.


Eurovison Singers Give Voice to a Nation’s Anger – (Telegraph – March 26, 2011)
On the face of it, Portugal’s Eurovision song contest entry is just another piece of euro-trash pop, a cheesy folk-disco number sung by a comedy moustachioed troupe that is, definitely, too camp to be taken seriously. But first appearances can be deceptive – and the song by the band Homens da Luta (Men of Struggle) has become an ironic anthem for thousands of Portuguese angry at the misery about to be imposed on them by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. “Portugal doesn’t need any help,” Mr. Sócrates pleaded with other European leaders at an EU summit in Brussels recently. “I know what it would mean. I know what it meant for the Greeks and the Irish and I don’t want that for my country.” The Portuguese have already seen what austerity means and they have seen what popular demand can do to entrenched governments; this is an unfolding situation that may not turn out exactly as the IMF might predict.


Possibly Trillions of Earths Orbiting Red Dwarf Stars – (Daily Galaxy – March 14, 2011)
Yale University astronomer Pieter van Dokkum says that the red dwarfs they have discovered are over 10 billion years old, which means they’ve had enough time for complex life to develop and evolve, summarizing research recently conducted at Hawaii’s Keck Observatory that discovered that the number of stars in the universe is triple what was previously thought. Red dwarfs are the most common stars in the Milky Way, accounting for three fourths of its stellar population. And like our Sun, red dwarfs generate energy by converting hydrogen into helium at their centers; however, the stars have less mass—between 8 and 60% of the solar value – so they are smaller, fainter, and cooler than the Sun.

When Is an Asteroid Not an Asteroid? – (Science Daily – March 30, 2011)
In 1807, German astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers spotted Vesta as a pinprick of light in the sky. Two hundred and four years later, as NASA’s Dawn spacecraft prepares to begin orbiting this intriguing world, scientists now know how special this world is, even if there has been some debate on how to classify it. Vesta is most commonly called an asteroid because it lies in the orbiting rubble patch known as the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. But the vast majority of objects in the main belt are lightweights, about 60-miles wide or smaller, compared with Vesta, which is about 330 miles across on average. But Dawn scientists prefer to think of Vesta as a protoplanet because it is a dense, layered body that orbits the sun and began in the same fashion as Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, but somehow never fully developed.


What’s It Take to be a Millionaire? $7.5 million. – (Reuters – March 14, 2011)
A million dollars ain’t what it used to be. More than four out of ten American millionaires say they do not feel rich. Indeed many would need to have at least $7.5 million in order to feel they were truly rich, according to a Fidelity Investments survey. Some 42% of the more than 1,000 millionaires surveyed by Fidelity said they did not feel wealthy. Respondents had at least $1 million in investable assets, excluding any real estate or retirement accounts.


A Cloud to Cool Your Corner of the Earth – (Peninsula Qatar – March 22, 2011)
Dr Saud Abdul Ghani, head of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Qatar University, unveiled a design and construction of an artificial cloud to shade and cool the open playgrounds to be used in the 2022 World Cup in Doha. He said the artificial cloud will move by remote control, made of light carbonic materials, fuelled by four solar-powered engines and it will fly high to protect direct and indirect sun rays to control temperatures at the open playgrounds. The initial model of the cloud will cost $500,000 but the cost will decrease upon launching the commercial models.

Eythor Bender Demos Human Exoskeletons – (TED – March, 2011)
Eythor Bender is the CEO of Berkeley Bionics, which augments humans with wearable, powered and artificially intelligent devices called exoskeletons or “wearable robots.” At a TED conference, he brings onstage two amazing exoskeletons, HULC and eLEGS – robotic add-ons that can allow a person to carry 200 pounds without tiring, or allow a wheelchair user to stand and walk. It’s an impressive onstage demo, with implications for human potential of all kinds.


Why Inflation Hurts More Than It Did 30 Years Ago – (Sun Times – March 19, 2011)
Inflation spooked the nation in the early 1980s. It surged and kept rising until it topped 13%. These days, inflation is much lower. Yet to many Americans, it feels worse now. And for a good reason: Their income has been even flatter than inflation. Back in the ’80’s, the money people made typically more than made up for high inflation. In 1981, banks would pay nearly 16% on a six-month CD. And workers typically got pay raises to match their higher living costs. No more.

Food Inflation Foments Political Unrest – (Wall St. Journal – Marcy 26, 2011)
100%: That’s the increase in antigovernment protests associated with a 10% rise in global food prices. Despotic leaders, entrenched inequality and new forms of communication have all played their roles in the political turmoil now shaking the Middle East. But new research by economists at the International Monetary Fund points to another potential contributor: global food prices. Looking at food prices and instances of political unrest from 1970 through 2007, the economists found a significant relationship between the two in low-income countries. To be exact, a 10% increase in international food prices corresponds to an added 0.5 antigovernment protests over the following year in the low-income world – a twofold increase from the annual average. Given the recent trend in food prices, leaders of low-income countries – a group that also includes China – might have reason for concern.

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

The Untapped Power of Smiling – (Forbes – March 22, 2011)
An intriguing UC Berkeley 30-year longitudinal study examined the smiles of students in an old yearbook, and measured their well-being and success throughout their lives. By measuring the smiles in the photographs the researchers were able to predict: how fulfilling and long lasting their marriages would be, how highly they would score on standardized tests of well-being and general happiness, and how inspiring they would be to others. The widest smilers consistently ranked highest in all of the above. Even more surprising was a 2010 Wayne State University research project that examined the baseball card photos of Major League players in 1952. The study found that the span of a player’s smile could actually predict the span of his life! Players who didn’t smile in their pictures lived an average of only 72.9 years, while players with beaming smiles lived an average of 79.9 years.

Evolution: Not Only the Fittest Survive – (Science Daily – March 27, 2011)
Darwin’s notion that only the fittest survive has been called into question by new research published in the journal Nature. Conventional wisdom has it that for any given niche there should be a best species, the fittest, that will eventually dominate to exclude all others. Professor Robert Beardmore, from the University of Exeter, said: “Microbiologists have tested this principle by constructing very simple environments in the lab to see what happens after hundreds of generations of bacterial evolution, about 3,000 years in human terms. It had been believed that the genome of only the fittest bacteria would be left – but that wasn’t their finding.”


Universal Property of Music Discovered – (Science Daily – March 25, 2011)
Researchers at the University of Amsterdam have discovered a universal property of musical scales. Until now it was assumed that the only thing scales throughout the world have in common is the octave. The many hundreds of scales, however, seem to possess a deeper commonality: if their tones are compared in a two- or three-dimensional way by means of a coordinate system, they form convex or star-convex structures. Convex structures are patterns without indentations or holes, such as a circle, square or oval. By placing scales in a coordinate system (an ‘Euler lattice’) they can be studied as multidimensional objects. Dr. Aline Honingh and Prof. Rens Bod from the ILLC did this for nearly 1,000 scales from all over the world, from Japan to Indonesia and from China to Greece. To their surprise, they discovered that all traditional scales produced star-convex patterns. This was also the case with almost 97% of non-traditional scales conceived by contemporary composers.


The future is not something we enter. The future is something we create. – Leonard I. Sweet

A special thanks to: : Thomas Burgin, Bernard Calil, Jackie Capell, Kevin Clark, Kevin Foley, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Kurzweil AI, Diane Petersen, Laura Pieratt, Bobbie Rohn 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 14, Number 5 – 03/15/11

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