FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- Researchers from the MIT Sloan School of Management have evidence to suggest that technology is indeed destroying jobs faster than it is creating new ones.
- Scientists have discovered a previously unknown layer, dubbed Dua’s layer, in the human eye.
- Hours spent at the video gaming console train the brain to make better and faster use of visual input.
- No longer will consumers have to wonder what companies are behind the millions of products that fill supermarket shelves because there’s an app for that.
by John L. Petersen
Out-of-body Presentation in Berkeley Springs
I once had an out-of-body experience, where I found myself on the ceiling looking down at my body as “I” made a pitch to a potential client. This happened many years ago when I owned an advertising agency – and it changed my life. Never again could you convince me that the physical world that we mostly experience is all that there is.
I’m therefore excited that William Buhlman, probably the
planet’s most knowledgeable authority on this fascinating subject, is coming to make a presentation in our Berkeley Springs Transition Talks series next month. William has studied more than 16,000 OBE experiencers and written a number of books about his findings – what happens, what people experience, what it means – and how, in very practical terms, you can self-initiate one of these extraordinary and mind-blowing experiences.
Come join us on Saturday, the 13th of July at 1PM at the Star theatre here in Berkeley Springs. You can get complete details here.
Data, Data Everywhere
These past two weeks have been largely defined by the outing of the NSA by Edward Snowden – and the firestorm of words that have dominated the airwaves and cyberspace in the aftermath of this extraordinarily illuminating event.
I’d like to start here with a little history. Here is a link to what many people believe is the best magazine article ever written. The 1971 article is about phone hacking and it inspired Steve Jobs to get in the business. It essentially describes the origins of what we’re dealing with now. If you’re into this stuff, it is very interesting reading. Secrets of the Little Blue Box
The current situation was not unanticipated. The man who knows more about the National Security Agency than probably any other outsider, James Bamford, author of four books about the organization is profiled in an interesting piece, The N.S.A.’s Chief Chronicle.
“In 1982, long before most Americans ever had to think about warrantless eavesdropping, the journalist James Bamford published “The Puzzle Palace: A Report on N.S.A., America’s Most Secret Agency,” the first book to be written about the National Security Agency, which was started in 1952 by President Harry Truman to collect intelligence on foreign entities, and which we learned last week has been collecting the phone and Internet records of Americans and others. In the book, Bamford describes the agency as “free of legal restrictions” while wielding “technological capabilities for eavesdropping beyond imagination.” He concludes with an ominous warning: “Like an ever-widening sinkhole, N.S.A.’s surveillance technology will continue to expand, quietly pulling in more and more communications and gradually eliminating more and more privacy.” Three decades later, this pronouncement feels uncomfortably prescient: we were warned.”
And of course, that got us to the Snowden announcements two weeks ago that showed that the NSA and British intelligence are collecting and monitoring all telephone and internet traffic of all Americans and Brits. The Washington Post reported in this piece that,
“Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said “information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats. The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans.”
Have I got this stuff right? He’s saying that exposing the secret programs of spying on the lives of all Americans is somehow weakening our country’s security. Are the American people a threat to their government and that’s why they’re collecting everything on everything they do and say? That’s what this logic appears to suggest.
As someone on the radio suggested yesterday, there is no end to the different ways in which this event can be analyzed – the angles extend into infinity – but let’s consider a number of significant ones.
First of all, the umbrage that the government and some of the press is taking over Snowden’s leaks, misses the point that this stuff goes on all of the time in Washington. It’s part of the process and the government and elected officials do it all the time – they just get really excited when someone who is not in authority does it.
Here’s a good piece that makes that case: Edward Snowden and the selective targeting of leaks. Author Jack Shafer says:
Secrets are sacrosanct in Washington until officials find political expediency in either declassifying them or leaking them selectively. It doesn’t really matter which modern presidential administration you decide to scrutinize for this behavior, as all of them are guilty. For instance, President George W. Bush’s administration declassified or leaked whole barrels of intelligence, raw and otherwise, to convince the public and Congress making war on Iraq was a good idea. Bush himself ordered the release of classified prewar intelligence about Iraq through Vice President Dick Cheney and Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby to New York Times reporter Judith Miller in July 2003.
Sometimes the index finger of government has no idea of what the thumb is up to. In 2007, Vice President Cheney went directly to Bush with his complaint about what he considered to be a damaging national security leak in a column by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius. “Whoever is leaking information like this to the press is doing a real disservice, Mr. President,” Cheney said. Later, Bush’s national security adviser paid a visit to Cheney to explain that Bush, um, had authorized him to make the leak to Ignatius.
In 2010, NBC News reporter Michael Isikoff detailed similar secrecy machinations by the Obama administration, which leaked to Bob Woodward “a wealth of eye-popping details from a highly classified briefing” to President-elect Barack Obama two days after the November 2008 election. Among the disclosures to appear in Woodward’s book “Obama’s Wars” were, Isikoff wrote, “the code names of previously unknown NSA programs, the existence of a clandestine paramilitary army run by the CIA in Afghanistan, and details of a secret Chinese cyberpenetration of Obama and John McCain campaign computers.”
The secrets shared with Woodward were so delicate Obama transition chief John Podesta was barred from attendance at the briefing, which was conducted inside a windowless, secure room known as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or “SCIF.”
Isikoff asked, quite logically, how the Obama administration could pursue a double standard in which it prosecuted mid-level bureaucrats and military officers for their leaks to the press but allowed administration officials to dispense bigger secrets to Woodward. The best answer Isikoff could find came from John Rizzo, a former CIA general counsel, who surmised that prosecuting leaks to Woodward would be damn-near impossible to prosecute if the president or the CIA director authorized them. Read the whole article.
So, there’s more than a little hypocrisy when the guys who leak and live on leaks to benefit themselves suddenly decide that if some little guys like Snowden and Bradley Manning do it for what they think is the good of all Americans, providing transparency is traitorous.
Ah, but it’s legal you may say. Perhaps that says more about the state of our country and its leadership than about the legality of the act. Well, you should see Good News! You’re Not Paranoid – NSA Oversight at the end of these musings (penultimate link) and consider this article by Ivan Eland in AntiWar.com: NSA Snooping on Americans Is Unconstitutional and Outrageous. Eland argues:
Government officials and their surrogates in the media keep telling us that these programs are legal — that is, enshrined in law — and are overseen by all three branches of government: Congress, the executive branch, and the FISA court. That may be true, but laws can be unconstitutional, and these statutes even violate the text of the founding document. All three branches agreeing with and overseeing an unconstitutional law is the worst possible situation, because this fact is used to legitimize to the American people excessive government power. Read the whole article.
Some of the more thoughtful and knowledgeable writers on the issue see much deeper and ominous implications than the simple tracking of phone calls and emails. Steven Walt, writing in Foreign Policy says:
You might think that you don’t need to worry about the secret U.S. government programs to collect phone and Internet information on ordinary Americans, a program that is not quite so secret after last week’s revelations. There are over 300 million Americans, after all, and the vast majority of their online and cell-phone communications have nothing to do with national security and are unlikely to attract any scrutiny. We are still some ways from Big Brother, “Minority Report,” or “The Adjustment Bureau,” and maybe we can trust the nameless, largely anonymous army of defense contractors and government employees (by one source numbering more than 800,000) to handle all that data responsibly. Yeah, right.
In fact, you should be worried, but not because most of you are likely to have your privacy violated and be publicly exposed. If you’re an ordinary citizen who never does anything to attract any particular attention, you probably don’t need to be concerned. Even if your Internet and phone records contain information you’d rather not be made public (an online flirtation, the time you emailed a friend to bring over some pot, or maybe some peculiar porn habits), there’s safety in numbers, and you’ll probably never be exposed.
The real risk to our democracy is what this situation does to potential dissenters, whistle-blowers, investigative journalists, and anyone else who thinks that some aspect of government policy might be boneheaded, unethical, or maybe even illegal. If you are one of those people — even on just a single issue — and you decide to go public with your concerns, there’s a possibility that someone who doesn’t like what you are doing will decide to see what they can find out about you. It doesn’t have to be the attorney general either; it might just be some anonymous midlevel bureaucrat or overly zealous defense contractor. Or maybe it will be someone who wants to suck up to their superiors by taking down a critic or who wants to have their own 15 minutes of fame. It really doesn’t matter: Unless you’ve lived an absolutely pristine online and cellular life, you might wake up to discover that some regrettable moment from your past is suddenly being plastered all over the blogosphere or discussed in the New York Times.
You can find the whole article The real threat behind the NSA surveillance programs here.
So, Walt is saying that these collection programs work to generate fear and eliminate dissent against the government. More than that, Shane Harris says in This is, hands down, the scariest part of the NSA revelations that they’re figuring out everything about you from the metadata.
Forget PRISM, the National Security Agency’s system to help extract data from Google, Facebook, and the like. The more frightening secret program unearthed by the NSA leaks is the gathering and storing of millions of phone records and phone-location information of U.S. citizens.
According to current and former intelligence agency employees who have used the huge collection of metadata obtained from the country’s largest telecom carriers, the information is widely available across the intelligence community from analysts’ desktop computers.
The data is used to connect known or suspected terrorists to people in the United States, and to help locate them. It has also been used in foreign criminal investigations and to assist military forces overseas. But the laws that govern the collection of this information and its use are not as clear. Nor are they as strong as those associated with PRISM, the system the NSA is using to collate information from the servers of America’s tech giants.
Metadata is not protected by the Fourth Amendment. Content of emails and instant messages — what PRISM helps gather — is. An order issued to Verizon by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court instructs the company to supply records of all its telephony metadata “on an ongoing, daily basis.” Although legal experts say this kind of broad collection of metadata may be legal, it’s also “remarkably overbroad and quite likely unwise,” according to Paul Rosenzweig, a Bush administration policy official in the Homeland Security Department. “It is difficult to imagine a set of facts that would justify collecting all telephony meta-data in America. While we do live in a changed world after 9/11, one would hope it has not that much changed.”
By comparison, PRISM appears more tightly constrained and operates on a more solid legal foundation. Current and former officials who have experience using huge sets of data available to intelligence analysts said that PRISM is used for precisely the kinds of intelligence gathering that Congress and the administration intended when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was amended in 2008. Officials wanted to allow intelligence agencies to target and intercept foreigners’ communications when they travel across networks inside the United States.
The surveillance law prohibits targeting a U.S. citizen or legal resident without a warrant, which must establish a reasonable basis to suspect the individual of ties to terrorism or being an agent of a foreign power. In defending PRISM, administration officials have said repeatedly in recent days that the FISA Court oversees the collection program to ensure that it’s reasonably designed to target foreign entities, and that any incidental collection of Americans’ data is expunged. They’ve also said that press reports describing the system as allowing “direct access” to corporate servers is wrong. Separately, a U.S. intelligence official also said that the system cannot directly query an Internet company’s data.
But the administration has not explained why broadly and indiscriminately collecting the metadata records of millions of U.S. citizens and legal residents comports with a law designed to protect innocent people from having their personal information revealed to intelligence analysts. Nor have officials explained why the NSA needs ongoing, daily access to all this information and for so many years, particularly since specific information can be obtained on an as-needed basis from the companies with a subpoena.
Here’s why the metadata of phone records could be more invasive and a bigger threat to privacy and civil liberties than the PRISM system:
1. Metadata is often more revealing than contents of a communication, which is what’s being collected with PRISM. A study in the journal Nature found that as few as four “spatio-temporal points,” such as the location and time a phone call was placed, is enough to determine the identity of the caller 95 percent of the time.
2. The Wall Street Journal reports that in addition to phone metadata, the NSA also is collecting metadata on emails, website visits, and credit card transactions (although it’s unclear whether those collection efforts are ongoing). If that information were combined with the phone metadata, the collective power could not only reveal someone’s identity, but also provide an illustration of his entire social network, his financial transactions, and his movements.
3. Administration officials have said that intelligence analysts aren’t indiscriminately searching this phone metadata. According to two intelligence employees who’ve used the data in counterterrorism investigations, it contains no names, and when a number that appears to be based in the United States shows up, it is blocked out with an “X” mark. But these controls, said a former intelligence employee, are internal agency rules, and it’s not clear that the FISA Court has anything to say about them. In this employee’s experience, if he wanted to see the phone number associated with that X mark, he had to ask permission from his agency’s general counsel. That permission was often obtained, but he wasn’t aware of the legal process involved in securing it, or if the request was taken back to the FISA court.
4. The metadatabase is widely available across the intelligence community on analysts’ desktops, increasing the potential for misuse.
5. The metadata has the potential for mission creep. It’s not only used for dissecting potential homegrown terror plots, as some lawmakers have said. The metadata is also used to help military forces overseas target terrorist and insurgent networks. And it is used in foreign criminal investigations, including ones involving suspected weapons traffickers. For all these reasons, and probably more yet to emerge, it’s the metadata that’s of bigger concern. By comparison, PRISM is a cool name, a lame PowerPoint presentation — and business as usual.
Read all of This is, hands down, the scariest part of the NSA revelations
Now, add to that NSA whistleblower William Binney’s assessment that what we know is just the tip of an iceberg. Whistleblower’s NSA warning: ‘Just the tip of the iceberg’
The National Security Agency’s collection of phone data from all of Verizon’s U.S. customers is just the “tip of the iceberg,” says a former NSA official who estimates the agency has data on as many as 20 trillion phone calls and emails by U.S. citizens.
William Binney, an award-winning mathematician and noted NSA whistleblower, says the collection dates back to when the super-secret agency began domestic surveillance after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“I believe they’ve been collecting data about all domestic calls since October 2001,” said Mr. Binney, who worked at NSA for more than 30 years. “That’s more than a billion calls a day.”
In a previous Punctuations column I detailed the loss of Constitutional rights that has systematically be taken from us in the last 15 years. David Rothkopf, writing in ForeignPolicy.com wonders, Do Americans realize their privacy rights have been obliterated?, says:
In this one over-reaction to 9/11 alone we have violated not only our values and the rights of our citizens, we have undercut our international standing and leverage with oppressive regimes worldwide. Whether this has been business as usual is irrelevant. What we should focus on now is how we stop it and force the government once again to place our national character and the fundamental rights of Americans ahead of the expedients offered up by hysterics and their allies among the disconnected and complacent. Read all at Control+Freedom+Delete
The frantic efforts of the controllers to staunch the leakage from the secretive system that they have built up is turning into travesties of justice. In particular, the “trial” of Bradley Manning has the distinct look of something that Americans of three decades ago would have ascribed to the Soviet Union. They are essentially eliminating his ability to mount any defense of substance for fear, I’d guess, that if Americans became more aware of his motivations and saw the lack of impact on “national security”, many would be moved to sympathize with him. What do you think? Read The Judicial Lynching of Bradley Manning
The military trial of Bradley Manning is a judicial lynching. The government has effectively muzzled the defense team. The Army private first class is not permitted to argue that he had a moral and legal obligation under international law to make public the war crimes he uncovered. The documents that detail the crimes, torture and killing Manning revealed, because they are classified, have been barred from discussion in court, effectively removing the fundamental issue of war crimes from the trial. Manning is forbidden by the court to challenge the government’s unverified assertion that he harmed national security. Lead defense attorney David E. Coombs said during pretrial proceedings that the judge’s refusal to permit information on the lack of actual damage from the leaks would “eliminate a viable defense, and cut defense off at the knees.” And this is what has happened. Read The Judicial Lynching of Bradley Manning
Well, it should be obvious where I come down on all of this. We have been warned throughout history by Presidents, historians, analysts and whistleblowers that left to themselves and fueled with very large amounts of money, governments (like corporations) will not gravitate toward openness, freedom and transparency, but rather inexorably toward control, secrecy and oppression. I’m just impressed with how fast it is happening here.
OK, getting to the end here. For those of you interested in some heavy intellectual lifting on the subject, I turn to Tony Judge and his always provocative and deep assessment. This is good stuff, but I’m warning you, get ready to work. Vigorous Application of Derivative Thinking to Derivative Problems: Transcending bewailing, hand-wringing and emotional blackmail
As I said earlier, there are an unlimited number of angles and approaches to this all. Here, I’ll prove it. Try this . . . and this.
Now, that was fun, wasn’t it?
How Technology Is Destroying Jobs – (Technology Review – June 12, 2013)
Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and his collaborator and coauthor Andrew McAfee have been arguing for the last year and a half that impressive advances in computer technology—from improved industrial robotics to automated translation services—are largely behind the sluggish employment growth of the last 10 to 15 years. That robots, automation, and software can replace people might seem obvious to anyone who’s worked in automotive manufacturing or as a travel agent. But Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s claim is more troubling and controversial. They believe that rapid technological change has been destroying jobs faster than it is creating them, contributing to the stagnation of median income and the growth of inequality in the United States. And, they suspect, something similar is happening in other technologically advanced countries. Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence, according to Brynjolfsson, is a chart that only an economist could love. For years after World War II, the pattern is clear: as businesses generated more value from their workers, the country as a whole became richer, which fueled more economic activity and created even more jobs. Then, beginning in 2000, productivity continued to rise robustly, but employment suddenly wilted. By 2011, the chart showed economic growth with no parallel increase in job creation. Brynjolfsson and McAfee call it the “great decoupling.”
Earth’s Center is Out of Sync – (Phys Org – May 13, 2013)
New research has revealed that the center of the Earth is out of sync with the rest of the planet, frequently speeding up and slowing down. Associate Professor Hrvoje Tkalcic from the Australian National University College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences and his team used earthquake doublets to measure the rotation speed of Earth’s inner core over the last 50 years. They discovered that not only did the inner core rotate at a different rate to the mantle – the layer between the core and the crust that makes up most of the planet’s interior – but its rotation speed was variable. Scientists have so far assumed the rotation rate of the inner core to be constant because they lacked adequate mathematical methods for interpreting the data, says Associate Professor Tkalcic. A new method applied to earthquake doublets – pairs of almost identical earthquakes that can occur a couple of weeks to 30 or 40 years apart – has provided the solution.
Evidence of the Existence of ‘Multiverse’ Revealed for the First Time – (Daily Mail – May 21, 2013)
The first ‘hard evidence’ that other universes exist has been found by scientists. Cosmologists studying a map of the universe from data gathered by the Planck spacecraft have concluded that it shows anomalies that can only have been caused by the gravitational pull of other universes. Radiation from the Big Bang 13.8billion years ago that is still detectable in the universe – known as cosmic microwave radiation. Scientists had predicted that it should be evenly distributed, but the map shows a stronger concentration in the south half of the sky and a ‘cold spot’ that cannot be explained by current understanding of physics. Laura Mersini-Houghton, theoretical physicist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Richard Holman, professor at Carnegie Mellon University, predicted that anomalies in radiation existed and were caused by the pull from other universes in 2005. Now that she has studied the Planck data, Dr Mersini-Houghton believes her hypothesis has been proven. Her findings imply there could be an infinite number of universes outside of our own.
Physicists Get 1st Look at Strange Quantum Magnetism – (Live Science – May 24, 2013)
Using super-chilled atoms, physicists have for the first time observed a weird phenomenon called quantum magnetism, which describes the behavior of single atoms as they act like tiny bar magnets. Quantum magnetism is a bit different from classical magnetism, the kind you see when you stick a magnet to a fridge, because individual atoms have a quality called spin, which is quantized, or in discrete states (usually called up or down). Seeing the behavior of individual atoms has been hard to do, though, because it required cooling atoms to extremely cold temperatures and finding a way to “trap” them. The new finding opens the door to better understanding physical phenomena, such as superconductivity, which seems to be connected to the collective quantum properties of some materials.
GENETICS/ HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/ BIOTECHNOLOGY
Doctors Save Life of a Baby by 3-D Printing Him an Airway Tube – (Huffington Post – May 22, 2013)
In a medical first, doctors used plastic particles and a 3-D laser printer to create an airway splint to save the life of a baby boy who used to stop breathing nearly every day. It’s the latest advance from the field of regenerative medicine, making body parts in the lab. Because of a birth defect, Kaiba Gionfriddo’s airway kept collapsing, causing his breathing to stop and often his heart, too. Doctors in Michigan had been researching artificial airway splints but had not implanted one in a patient yet. In a single day, they printed 100 tiny tubes, using computer-guided lasers to stack and fuse thin layers of plastic instead of paper and ink to form various shapes and sizes. The next day, with special permission from the Food and Drug Administration, they implanted one of these tubes in Kaiba, the first time this has been done. Suddenly, a baby that doctors had said would probably not leave the hospital alive could breathe normally for the first time. He was 3 months old when the operation was done last year and is nearly 19 months old now. See also: Mind Control: World’s First 3D Printed Object Created Using Brain Waves.
Video Gamers Really Do See More: Gamers Capture More Information Faster for Visual Decision-Making – (Science Daily – June 11, 2013)
“Gamers see the world differently,” said Greg Appelbaum, an assistant professor of psychiatry in the Duke School of Medicine. “They are able to extract more information from a visual scene.” Earlier research by others has found that gamers are quicker at responding to visual stimuli and can track more items than non-gamers. When playing a game, especially one of the “first-person shooters,” a gamer makes “probabilistic inferences” about what he’s seeing — good guy or bad guy, moving left or moving right — as rapidly as he can. Appelbaum said that with time and experience, the gamer apparently gets better at doing this. “They need less information to arrive at a probabilistic conclusion, and they do it faster.”
Mucus Found to Harbor Unknown Immune System- (GizMag – May 26, 2013)
The purpose of mucus as a protective barrier that keeps underlying tissues moist and traps bacteria and other foreign organisms is well known. However, researchers at San Diego State University (SDSU) have now discovered that the surface of mucus is also the site of an independent human immune system that actively protects us from infectious agents in the environment. This immune system consists of a layer of bacteria-infecting viruses (bacteriophage), that actively attack and kill infectious (as well as harmless) bacteria as the viruses multiply. When such a layer was exposed to E. coli bacteria, the SDSU researchers found that the bacteriophage immediately attacked and killed the E. coli. The bacteriophage layer acts as a powerful anti-microbial barrier that protects animals from infection and disease. To double check this hypothesis, cells not coated by mucus were also exposed to E. coli. The cell death rate was three times greater for the non-mucus coated cells than for those coated with mucus. “This discovery not only proposes a new immune system but also demonstrates the first symbiotic relationship between phage and animals,” lead researcher Jeremy Barr said.
Avatars Help Schizophrenics Gain Control of Voices in Their Heads – (Giz Mag, May 30, 2013)
In a study conducted at University College London, 16 schizophrenic test subjects worked with a therapist to select a computer-generated face and voice that they felt most closely matched the evil “entity” that was speaking to them. The therapist was then able to converse with the patient in real time via that avatar, its animated lip movements matching its speech. In up to seven 30-minute sessions, each subject interacted with their entity’s avatar, and were encouraged to oppose its threats and orders. Not only did this allow the subjects to get comfortable with the idea of standing up to the “actual” entities themselves, but because they had taken part in creating the avatars, it helped them realize that the entities actually originated within their own mind. Additionally, each subject received an MP3 recording of their sessions, which they could listen to whenever they started hearing voices again. Once they had completed all of their sessions, almost all of the participants reported a reduction in both the frequency and the severity of their hallucinations. Three of the subjects, who had been experiencing hallucinations for 16, 13 and 3.5 years, stopped hearing voices completely.
Artificial Spleen Offers Hope for Faster Sepsis Diagnosis and Treatment – (Technology Review – June 13, 2013)
Taking advantage of recent advances in nanotechnology and microfluidics, researchers have made significant progress toward a device that could be used to rapidly remove pathogens from the blood of patients with sepsis, a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when an infection is distributed throughout the body via the bloodstream. The new system effectively acts as an artificial spleen, filtering the blood using injectable magnetic nanobeads engineered to stick to microorganisms and toxins. After the beads are injected, blood is removed and run through a device that uses a magnetic-field gradient to extract the nanobead-bound germs. Then the blood is returned to the body. Engineers at Harvard University, where the technology is under development, are also hoping the device will be able to identify the specific microorganism causing the problem, which could help physicians determine the most effective antibiotic treatment more quickly than they can with conventional diagnostic tests. Sepsis is a leading killer of soldiers in combat. To address this problem, DARPA is aiming to develop a portable “dialysis-like” therapy that would quickly cleanse blood that has been removed from the body and then return it. The desired technology would be capable of removing many different types of pathogens and would function without the need for anticoagulants, which can cause a wounded soldier to bleed out. Dialysis patients usually have to take anticoagulants so that their blood doesn’t clot inside the dialysis machine’s tubing.
New Layer in Human Eye Discovered – (Live Science – June 11, 2013)
Scientists have discovered a previously unknown layer in the human eye. The newfound body part, dubbed Dua’s layer, is a skinny but tough structure measuring just 15 microns thick, where one micron is one-millionth of a meter and more than 25,000 microns equal an inch. It sits at the back of the cornea, the sensitive, transparent tissue at the very front of the human eye that helps to focus incoming light, researchers say. The feature is named for its discoverer, Harminder Dua, a professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Nottingham. Dua said in a statement that the finding will not only change what ophthalmologists know about human eye anatomy, but it will also make operations safer and simpler for patients with an injury in this layer.
Tamiflu Resistance Found in Some Cases of New Bird Flu – (Reuters – May 28, 2013)
Scientists have established that a new strain of bird flu that has killed 36 people in China has become resistant to Roche’s Tamifulu and other medicines that use neuraminidase inhibitors, until now the only known treatment option for the virus. In one patient, evidence exists that the flu’s resistance may have occurred as a result of the drug treatment. See also Reuters article: New Bird Flu May Be Capable of Human to Human Spread.
China: High and Dry – (Financial Times – May 14, 2013)
China is running out of water. In per capita terms, China’s water resources are just a quarter of the world average. Eight of China’s 28 provinces are as parched as countries in the Middle East such as Jordan and Syria. Chinese officials identify water scarcity as one of the nation’s most pressing difficulties. The problems are social, political and economic. This year Beijing for the first time issued water quotas to every province, setting targets for annual consumption by 2015. The water shortage is made even more urgent by China’s rapid urbanization, as expanding cities have greater water needs. More than 300m people are expected to move into cities between now and 2030. The water scarcity is also worsened by the heavy pollution that accompanies China’s economic growth. “Controlling pollution is the most difficult aspect of China’s water policies,” says Xia Jun, director of the centre for water resources research at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “Even in places that have water, it is so polluted that you might not be able to use it.” Already, 39% of the water in China’s major rivers is too toxic to be fit for any contact with humans. For more detailed statistics, see also: China’s mounting ecological disaster: prelude to a water and economic crisis?
Drought Prompts Plan to Remove Wild Horses in Nevada – (Seattle Post Intelligencer – May 26, 2013)
Federal land managers say the drought is prompting plans to remove an unspecified number of wild horses from a large swath of the range in northeastern Nevada — two years after they removed some 1,400 mustangs from the same area. Bureau of Land Management officials said the 1.8-million acre area they’re targeting is home to roughly 1,500 wild horses, but it can only sustain from 548 to 1,015 mustangs. The plan is based on limited water and forage to support the current horse population and on adverse impacts to the range caused by horses concentrating around springs. Horse advocates criticized the agency’s plan, saying the animals should remain on the range because the number of wild horses in government holding facilities has reached an all-time high at a growing cost to taxpayers. According to a recent BLM report, 49,369 wild horses and 1,348 wild burros are currently housed in short- and long-term government corrals and pastures, costing American taxpayers more than $120,000 per day.
Frog, Toad and Salamander Populations Plummeting in U.S. – (Washington Post – May 22, 2013)
Frogs, toads and salamanders continue to vanish from the American landscape at an alarming pace, with seven species — including Colorado’s boreal toad and Nevada’s yellow-legged frog — facing 50% drops in their numbers within seven years if the current rate of decline continues, according to new government research. The exact reasons for the decline in amphibians, first noticed decades ago, remain unclear. But scientists believe several factors, including disease, an explosion of invasive species, climate change and pesticide use are contributing. The disappearance of amphibians is a global phenomenon. In the United States, it adds to a disturbing trend of mass vanishings that include honeybees and numerous species of bats along Atlantic states and the Midwest. Bees, which also are disappearing in Europe, serve nature and farmers by pollinating a wide range of plants and food crops. Bats, which have died by the millions from a disease called white nose syndrome, also are pollinators but, along with amphibians, eat many metric tons of insects each year, allowing farmers to cut back on insecticides.
A Password So Secret, You Don’t Consciously Know It – (Technology Review – June 6, 2013)
Some efforts to replace traditional letter-and-number passwords rely on gestures, wearable devices, or biometrics. An approach in the works from research-and-development company SRI International and Stanford and Northwestern takes a different tack: passwords that you know but don’t know you know. Patrick Lincoln, director of SRI’s computer science laboratory and a researcher on the project, calls this “rubber-hose resistant authentication” in reference to rubber-hose cryptanalysis, in which a user is coerced or physically forced to give up, say, the passcode to a secure building. Lincoln says the approach relies on implicit learning—the sort of learning that occurs through sheer repetition, such as learning to ride a bike, that the learner can’t verbally explain—to prevent passwords from being compromised. The researchers’ initial findings included a study indicating that trained users could properly enter their patterns over time but couldn’t consciously remember them. The project has received a National Science Foundation award that Lincoln says is allowing the research to move forward.
Smart Technology Makes Its Way into Lighting – (Science Daily – June 13, 2013)
Smart lighting systems are becoming increasingly popular in both new builds and renovation projects. Technologically speaking, the next major step will be to integrate better sensors and new functions into lighting systems, which will allow the occupants of a room to adjust lighting with increasing accuracy and flexibility according to their movements and activities. The first-generation smart lighting systems that are currently available on the market are mostly designed for commercial use, and they include features such as integrability with building automation systems. In ten years’ time, user-friendly and affordable lighting systems could become everyday consumer goods. More and more wireless lighting systems that can be controlled via devices such as a mobile telephone are becoming available. In the future, smart lighting technology will enable the direction, power and color of lighting to be adjusted automatically according to whether a room is being used for watching television or eating dinner and according to where people are in the room. Lights positioned near windows will change color according to outdoor temperature. Wall-mounted light switches will detect when a person enters the room. New smart features for light fittings will be available to download from the internet. In office buildings, smart lighting technology will help shift-workers to adapt to changes in their circadian rhythm. (Editor’s note: These features would not necessarily be energy efficient since they would require a greater use of what is known as “phantom load” – small power consumption even when nothing is “on” in order to sense when they should self-adjust.)
States Fight Green-building Leader over Local Wood – (Associated Press – June 9, 2013)
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, is the No. 1 rating system for green building. Administered by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council, the LEED program puts its stamp on an estimated 1.5 million square feet of new construction worldwide each day. But the program is facing an outcry from a growing number of governors and legislatures who say LEED uses unfair standards that effectively keep their states’ timber growers out of the booming green-building market, since LEED holds timber producers to a high standard met by few timber companies in the Southeast. In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal last year used an executive order to ban state government construction projects from seeking LEED certification. Alabama, Maine and Mississippi also enacted bans, while a similar measure has passed the North Carolina House and awaits a Senate vote. The Green Building Council says the ruckus has been drummed up by industry groups trying to pressure it into giving LEED sustainability credits for wood that hasn’t earned them. The push is being led by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, or SFI, which certifies more than 60 million acres of U.S. timberland including forests owned by corporate giants such as Weyerhaeuser and Rayonier. The group and its standards were created by the timber industry, though SFI says it’s been independently governed for the past decade. The groups that say they’re being snubbed by LEED insist all three major standards accomplish the same big-picture goals – they require replanting after trees are removed by logging, they impose buffers next to rivers and streams to reduce pollution and they contain protections for habitat used by endangered animals. But there are differences. For example, the standard LEED uses to credit builders for using sustainable wood bans the use of certain pesticides that are allowed under the other two systems and by U.S. law. The standard LEED uses also discourages replanting of forests plantation-style, where trees of the same species and often the same age are planted in neat rows like crops, a method which is especially popular with Southern pine growers.
The Nuclear Reactor in Your Basement – (NASA – February 13, 2013)
How would you like to replace your water heater with a nuclear reactor? That’s what Joseph Zawodny, a senior scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center, hopes to help bring about. It would tap the enormous power of the atom to provide hot water for your bath, warm air for your furnace system, and more than enough electricity to run your house and your electric car. If your thoughts have raced to Fukushima or Three Mile Island or Chernobyl, rest assured: Zawodny is not suggesting that you put that kind of reactor in your house. What he has in mind is a generator that employs a process called Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions. So what is LENR and how might it one day fill all your energy needs without risk of blowing up, melting down, or irradiating the neighbors? The article contains some interesting clues, but the researchers are still working on detailing the theory behind it. “Several labs have blown up studying LENR and windows have melted,” according to Dennis Bushnell, Langley’s chief scientist. This, he wrote, indicates that “when the conditions are ‘right’ prodigious amounts of energy can be produced and released.” But it’s also an argument for the approach that the Langley researchers favor: master the theory first.
EcoBoomer iGo Joins the Self-balancing Electric Unicycle Parade – (Giz Mag – May 16, 2013)
Joining the likes of the eniCycle, Solowheel and SBU, is the LED-light-strip-adorned EcoBoomer iGo, another self-balancing electric unicycle. The 57-lb vehicle stays balanced on its 16-inch wheel via integrated gyroscopes, that detect and account for changes in the rider’s center of mass – these changes are detected mainly through the two folding footpads. As with a Segway, leaning into the handlebars causes it to move forward, pulling back causes it to stop, and turning is accomplished by leaning to either side. Its 500-watt motor is powered by a 48-volt/8-Ah lithium-ion battery, that charges to full capacity in three hours. It has a range of 19 miles per charge, and a top speed of 13 mph. Its maximum payload is 250 lb. It’s priced at $1,595, and can be seen in action in the video below. (Editor’s note: We weren’t sure what demographic this product is being marketed to. Is the iGo intended as personal transportation for “eco-Boomers” as the name might suggest?)
Poultry Drug Increases Levels of Toxic Arsenic in Chicken Meat – (Johns Hopkins Univerity – May 11, 2013)
Chickens raised with arsenic-based drugs result in chicken meat that has higher levels of inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen, according to a new study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. This is the first study to show concentrations of specific forms of arsenic (e.g., inorganic arsenic versus other forms) in retail chicken meat, and the first to compare those concentrations according to whether or not the poultry was raised with arsenical drugs. The findings provide evidence that arsenical use in chickens poses public health risks and indicate that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency responsible for regulating animal drugs, should ban arsenicals. Arsenic-based drugs have been used in poultry production for decades. Arsenical drugs are approved to make poultry grow faster and improve the pigmentation of the meat. The drugs are also approved to treat and prevent parasites in poultry. Chronic inorganic arsenic exposure has been shown to cause lung, bladder and skin cancers and has been associated with other conditions, as well, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cognitive deficits, and adverse pregnancy outcomes. See also this informative article that mentions arsenic in chicken and 6 other instances where U.S. practices are highly corporate-friendly rather than consumer and/or animal safe: 7 Dangerous Food Practices Banned in Europe But Just Fine in America
Farm Equipment that Runs on Oats – (New York Times – May 15, 2013)
Approximately 400,000 farm operations in North American use draft horses in some capacity, estimates Lynn Miller, the editor of the Small Farmer’s Journal, in Sisters, Ore., who has farmed with horses for more than 40 years. After World War II, farmers traded in tens of millions of horses for tractors — “There was no place for the horses except the glue factory,” Mr. Miller said — the use of draft horses plummeted. By the 1970s, some of the breeds that had been the most popular were down to the thousands. But “since then, the number of work horses and draft mules has steadily climbed,” said Mr. Miller, who has written more than a dozen books on the subject. “People are attracted to the way of working with animals, of being back in touch with nature, of regaining a kind of rhythmic elegance to our lives.” Stephen Leslie voiced a similar sentiment in The New Horse-Powered Farm: Tools and Systems for the Small-Scale Sustainable Market Grower, recently published by Chelsea Green. In it, he writes, “I envision a day when live horse power will be joined in tandem on farms with new and cleaner technologies that will include tractors and delivery vans that will run on alternatives to diesel such as recycled vegetable oil, locally and sustainably produced biofuels, and solar-powered batteries, just as the glory days of horse power in North America and Britain coupled advances in horse-drawn implements with stationary steam-powered engines.”
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Social Media Pose Riddle for CIA – (Wall St. Journal – May 16, 2013)
Effective spycraft has long called for cover—a job, family or routine that would keep a government agent from drawing undue attention. Now, that calculation extends to spies’ use of social media. Only in the past few years has the Central Intelligence Agency issued standardized guidelines on how to use social media, according to one former intelligence official. The line these guidelines draw appears to be thin: Revealing too much on Facebook and Twitter risks tipping too much to the other side. But given that social media use is becoming ubiquitous, revealing too little could also arouse suspicion. “Technology is changing the spy business in so many different ways,” the ex-intelligence official said. “It’s very easy to find out a lot of information about people.” The question of how much a spy should divulge online became a touch less theoretical this week after Russia unmasked what it said was an American spy.
U.S. Power Companies under Frequent Cyberattack – (CFO World – May 21, 2013)
A survey of U.S. utilities shows many are facing frequent cyberattacks that could threaten a highly interdependent power grid supplying more than 300 million people, according to a congressional report. More than a dozen utilities said cyberattacks were daily or constant, according to the survey. The 15-question survey was sent to more than 150 utilities owned by investors, municipalities, rural electric cooperatives and those that are part of federal government entities. About 112 responded to the survey. Many utilities were coy in their responses. None reported damage as a the result of cyberattacks, and many declined to answer the question of how many attempted attacks were detected, the report said. One utility said it recorded 10,000 cyberattacks per month, while another said it saw daily probes for vulnerabilities in its systems and applications. Cyberattacks are inexpensive to execute and hard to trace, the report said. The U.S. Congress has not delegated oversight of utilities’ cybersecurity to a federal agency. In 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the GRID Act, which would have given the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the authority to protect the electricity grid. But the legislation did not pass the Senate, and the issue remains inactive in the House, the report said.
Confidential Report Lists U.S. Weapons System Designs Compromised by Chinese Cyberspies – (Washington Post – May 27, 2013)
Designs for many of the nation’s most sensitive advanced weapons systems have been compromised by Chinese hackers, according to a report prepared for the Pentagon and to officials from government and the defense industry. Among more than two dozen major weapons systems whose designs were breached were programs critical to U.S. missile defenses and combat aircraft and ships, according to a previously undisclosed section of a confidential report prepared for Pentagon leaders by the Defense Science Board. The programs to have been breached include missile systems from Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, and aircraft made by Boeing, Textron’s Bell Helicopter and United Technology’s Sikorsky. (Editor’s note: How “confidential” is an article in the Washington Post? One wonders if this report was not intentionally “leaked” and, if so, why.)
The Afghanistan War Comes Home to Philadelphia – (Counterpunch – May 27, 2013)
The author of this piece writes that “Although I have been a journalist now for 40 years, I have, by design, never sought an assignment as a war correspondent. And yet, this week I find that I am now in a combat zone in spite of myself. Yesterday I learned, courtesy of my congressional representative, Republican Pat Meehan, that my neighborhood, the Upper Dublin and Horsham area of Montgomery County, PA, is being made into a front-line battle zone in the Afghanistan War. Not that Rep. Meehan put it that way. His announcement was that Montgomery County was going to get 250 new jobs thanks to a decision by the Pentagon to set up a new piloting facility for Reaper drones at the currently mothballed Willow Grove Naval Air Station. This new drone piloting facility, like the ones in Nevada and upstate New York, will be flying drones not locally using the Willow Grove facility’s huge airfield, but in Afghanistan, Pakistan and wherever else they’re fighting the so-called War on Terror. With this decision, the war has literally come home. Two miles from my house, to be exact. Left unsaid in the hoopla over the supposed 250 new jobs (only 75 of which would be full-time), is what it means to have combat personnel responsible for killing operating in a densely populated suburb of a major city like Philadelphia. “I’ll get back to you on that,” a press spokesman for Rep. Meehan said, when I asked him about whether the congressman had thought about the security issues involved in locating a drone piloting operation in Horsham. He never did return the call, or a second one leaving a reminder message.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
Is the FBI Now in the Execution Business? – (Nation of Change – June 6, 2013)
According to the FBI, Ibragim Todashev, 27, who was an acquaintance, or friend, of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, was shot and killed by an FBI agent who was interviewing the young man, at his home, at midnight, allegedly because Todashev had suddenly attacked him, causing the agent to feel threatened. There are an astonishing number of conflicting versions of this official story, involving a variety of different weapons and multiple explanations for how it happened. These versions variously had Todashev threatening the agent with a sword, a knife, a chair, a pipe, a metal pole or even a broomstick. But one thing that stands out is that the agent in each version was alone with Todashev, who was suspected of having been an participant, with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, in an as yet unsolved September 11, 2011 slaying of three suspected young drug dealers in Waltham, Mass. at least one of whom was also a friend of the Tsarnaev brothers. The critical word here is “alone.” But as watchers of those FBI TV programs know that FBI agents always work in pairs. This is not just Hollywood. It’s FBI policy.
Woman Facing Misdemeanor for Video Recording Utah Slaughterhouse – (Salt Lake Tribune – April 29, 2013)
Amy Meyer was horrified by what she saw at a Draper slaughterhouse, but she didn’t plan on becoming the first person charged with violating Utah’s “ag gag” law. Amy Meyer, 25, faces a class B misdemeanor for agricultural operation interference. Prosecutors filed the charge in Draper’s justice court Feb. 19 after Meyer reportedly used her cell phone to film the Dale T. Smith and Sons Meat Packing Co. 11 days earlier. In a written statement sent to the Salt Lake Tribune, Meyer explains that she went to the slaughterhouse because she heard bystanders on public property could “witness the horror of cows struggling for their lives as they were led to their violent deaths.” Defense attorney Stewart Gollan said Monday that as Meyer stood on public property she used her cellphone to capture video of the facility. She reiterated the point in her statement, saying she “never once crossed the barbed wire fence that exists to demarcate private and public property.” The so-called “ag gag” law was passed during Utah’s 2012 legislative session. Utah State Courts spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said a search of records confirms Meyer’s is the first such prosecution. But Gollan argued that Meyer never crossed into private property. She thought her behavior was constitutionally protected and, according to Gollan, police reports state there was no evidence of interference. Gollan also expressed concern over the constitutionality of law itself, saying it was apparently designed to prevent people from gathering information about agricultural facilities. “When you shield certain kinds of activities from public criticism,” Gollan added, “that raises some concerns.” Meyer’s case could become a cause célèbre for animal activists and First Amendment supporters online. See also: Governor Haslam’s ‘Ag-Gag’ Veto Could Have National Impact.
Why Did Edward Snowden Go to Hong Kong? – (Nation of Change – June 13, 2013)
A lot of people in the US media are asking why America’s most famous whistleblower, 29-year old Edward Snowden, hied himself off to the city state of Hong Kong, a wholly owned subsidiary of the People’s Republic of China, to seek at least temporary refuge. Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the US, they say. And as for China, which controls the international affairs of its Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, while granting it local autonomy to govern its domestic affairs, its leaders “may not want to irritate the U.S.” at a time when the Chinese economy is stumbling. These people don’t have much understanding of either Hong Kong or of China. The author of this article, someone who has spent almost seven years in China and Hong Kong, offers his thoughts about why Snowden, obviously a very savvy guy despite his lack of a college education, went where he did.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
‘Buycott’ – (Buycott website – no date)
No longer will consumers have to wonder what companies are behind the millions of products that fill supermarket shelves because there’s an app for that. Buycott, now available on Apple and Android platforms, is a tool that allows consumers to organize their spending depending on personal values. The app helps consumers determine whether their spending is funding causes that they either support or oppose. From categories such as animal welfare and the environment to Gay Rights and social responsibility, the app prompts users to join the causes they support and, or boycott the campaigns they oppose. Users of the app scan products’ barcodes while shopping to determine “what the product is and who owns it,” according to Buycott’s website. The app then crosschecks the products’ parent company to the app user’s participating campaigns and will alert them of any conflict.
Mapping The Most Hate-Filled Places In America – (Fast Company – May 15, 2013)
The “Geography of Hate” offers eight maps based on an analysis of 150,000 geo-located tweets from June last year to this April, to show where people are using Twitter to express homophobic, racist, or disability-related slurs. The maps show relative use: where people tweeted the offending terms most often. The maps were assembled by Monica Stephens, an assistant professor and students at Humboldt State University. “As all the data is normalized based on how much content there is on Twitter, the map primarily shows areas where the proportion of content is above average,” she says. Though the maps make use of new technology like Twitter and Google’s Map API, they show some limitations, too. To make sense of the 150,000 tweets, the study first had to find only the negative ones (they didn’t want phrases celebrating “dykes on bikes #SFPride”). The job took about 150 hours in total, but was worth it because algorithmic analysis couldn’t have achieved the same thing. “Computers are poor judges of sarcasm, and Twitter is often used in sarcastic ways, or used to quote somebody else.” (Editor’s note: The study looked at slurs in only three general content areas and clearly does not pinpoint the overall “most hate-filled places in America” [What does that phrase even mean in operational terms?], but it is an interesting example of the way in which attitudes can be geographically mapped using social media.) See also: A Map of the World’s Most and Least Racially Tolerant Countries from the Washington Post.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
3D Printing Could Aid Deep-Space Exploration, NASA Chief Says – (Space – May 27, 2013)
Technological advances are bringing down the cost of space research and exploration, with 3D printing poised to provide a transformative leap, NASA chief Charles Bolden says. Partnering with the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, a company called Made in Space is slated to launch one of its prototype 3D printers to the International Space Station next year in the first test of off-Earth manufacturing. And NASA recently funded the development of a prototype “3D pizza printer” that could help feed astronauts on long space journeys, such as the 500-day trek to Mars.
Health Care for a Family of Four Now Costs More Than the Groceries to Feed Them – (ThinkProgress – May 22, 2013)
According to a new report from consulting firm Milliman, Inc., a typical family of four with an employer-sponsored health plan will end up incurring about $22,030 for all of their medical costs in 2013. That represents a 6.3% increase from last year, when the typical family racked up $20,728. Some of that total sum ends up being covered by the family’s health insurance plan — the firm’s analysts found that employers paid about 58% of the total health care costs — but a big chunk of it falls onto the family itself. The average family pays more than $9,000 in payroll deductions and out-of-pocket bills for their health care, which is more than they typically spend on groceries and gas for an entire year.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
New Magnetic Graphene May Revolutionize Electronics – (Space Mart – May 14, 2013)
Researchers from IMDEA-Nanociencia Institute and from Autonoma and Complutense Universities of Madrid have managed to give graphene magnetic properties. The breakthrough opens the door to the development of graphene-based spintronic devices, that is, devices based on the spin or rotation of the electron, and could transform the electronics industry. Spintronics is based on the charge of the electron, as in traditional electronics, but also on its spin, which determines its magnetic moment. A material is magnetic when most of its electrons have the same spin. As the spin can have two values, its use adds two more states to traditional electronics. Thus, both data processing speed and quantity of data to be stored on electronic devices can be increased, with applications in fields such as telecommunications, computing, energy and biomedicine.
Liquid Lights and Musical Posters: Welcome to the World of Electric Paint – (CNN – May 23, 2013)
Imagine if you could paint a working light switch directly onto your wall, without any need for sockets, cables or wiring. A group of students from the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London has made that possible by creating electrically conductive paint. The paint acts as a form of liquid wiring. Unlike conventional wires, it can be applied to almost any surface, including paper, plastic, metal and even fabric. Its inventors call their creation “Bare Paint.” While they don’t claim to be the first group to have invented a conductive ink, they are pioneering new ways it can be used. “Devices no longer have to look high tech to be high tech,” Johnson says. “Our goal is to put interactivity onto objects you don’t expect.”
Beautiful “Flowers” Self-assemble in a Beaker – (Harvard University – May 16, 2013)
With the hand of nature trained on a beaker of chemical fluid, the most delicate flower structures have been formed in a Harvard laboratory—and not at the scale of inches, but microns. These minuscule sculptures, curved and delicate, don’t resemble the cubic or jagged forms normally associated with crystals, though that’s what they are. Rather, fields of carnations and marigolds seem to bloom from the surface of a submerged glass slide, assembling themselves a molecule at a time. By simply manipulating chemical gradients in a beaker of fluid, Wim L. Noorduin, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, has found that he can control the growth behavior of these crystals to create precisely tailored structures. “For at least 200 years, people have been intrigued by how complex shapes could have evolved in nature. This work helps to demonstrate what’s possible just through environmental, chemical changes,” says Noorduin. (Editor’s note: Per the photo caption, the images have been color-enhanced for effect.)
3D Print Your Own Invisibility Cloak – (Fox News – May 25, 2013)
The first clues that cloaking devices might one day become more than science fiction began emerging seven or so years ago. Since then researchers have made such cloaks a reality by smoothly guiding rays of electromagnetic radiation such as microwave beams completely around objects so they proceed along their original trajectory as if nothing were there. The first working invisibility cloaks were demonstrated using complex lab experiments. They can now, in principle, be made at home using 3D printers. “I would argue that essentially anyone who can spend a couple thousand dollars on a non-industry-grade 3D printer can literally make a plastic cloak overnight,” said researcher Yaroslav Urzhumov, an electrical engineer at Duke University. For instance, printers can make ones about 1 inch thick and 8 inches wide resembling Frisbees made of Swiss cheese. Previous invisibility cloaks all included a fair amount of metal, “but with these new cloaks, no metal is involved,” Urzhumov told TechNewsDaily. “This makes them easier to fabricate and lighter.” So far, these cloaks hide objects only when viewed from the side. (Editor’s note: this process cloaks items from electromagnetic radiation such as microwave beams; it does not cloak against optical frequencies.) See also: More Large-Scale Invisibility Cloaks, This Time From China and Beyond
Money Backed by the Full Faith and Credit of Guinness – (Huffington Post – May 28, 2013)
With the growing disconnect with retail banking as exemplified by the expanding migration to Bitcoin and other virtual currencies such as Litecoin and PPcoin offering decentralized , peer-to-peer commerce without the mediation of the banking system, perhaps one of the more entertaining and imaginative solutions spontaneously emerged out of dire necessity. Long before the Digital Age, Ireland, during the decade between 1966 and 1976, experienced three separate bank strikes that caused the banks to completely shut down for a total of 12 months, virtually bringing the country to a standstill. It was impossible to cash a check or carry out any banking transaction while the banks’ doors were closed. Consequently, the population of Ireland could not access well over 80% of its money supply. What arose from this seeming disaster was the largest, spontaneous nationwide mutual credit system–with the local pubs acting as the center of commerce. Michael Linton comments, “The Irish are an imaginative bunch, and they soon realized if the banks were closed then nothing prohibits writing a check and using this like cash. So they started writing checks that soon circulated as face-value money. The details of how and why this actually worked are included in the article.
Digital Currency Firms Rush to Adopt Regulation – (Reuters – May 31, 2013)
Digital currencies, such as the most prominent, Bitcoin, must comply with anti-money-laundering regulations or risk a crackdown. They had been put on notice first by an April, 2012 report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation explaining how criminals were using Bitcoins to move money around the world, and then again in March, 2013 by the Treasury Department. Its Financial Crimes and Enforcement Network (FinCEN) stated that digital currency firms needed to follow the same anti-money-laundering rules, including monitoring customers and reporting suspicious activity to the government, that other financial institutions do. Businesses exchanging Bitcoins were coming to terms with needing to be licensed as money transmitters in 48 states—a process requiring in-person interviews in each state, according to FinCEN’s guidance.
Monsanto Targets the Heart of Science – (Truth Out – May 21, 2013)
Scholarly journal editors have a lot of power in science – power that provides opportunities for abuse. The life science industry knows this, and has increasingly moved to influence and control science publishing. The strategy, often with the willing cooperation of publishers, is effective and sometimes blatant. In 2009, the scientific publishing giant Elsevier was found to have invented an entire medical journal, complete with editorial board, in order to publish papers promoting the products of the pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck. Merck provided the papers, Elsevier published them, and doctors read them, unaware that the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine was simply a stuffed dummy. Fast forward to September 2012, when the scientific journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) published a study that caused an international storm. The study, led by Prof Gilles-Eric Séralini of the University of Caen, France, suggested a Monsanto genetically modified maize, and the Roundup herbicide it is grown with, pose serious health risks. Subsequently, an orchestrated campaign was launched to discredit the study in the media and persuade the journal to retract it. Many of those who wrote letters to FCT (which is published by Elsevier) had conflicts of interest with the GM industry and its lobby groups, though these were not publicly disclosed. The journal did not retract the study. But just a few months later, in early 2013 the FCT editorial board acquired a new “Associate Editor for biotechnology”, Richard E. Goodman. This was a new position, seemingly established especially for Goodman in the wake of the “Séralini affair”. Goodman is professor at the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program, University of Nebraska. But he is also a former Monsanto employee.
Teotihuacan ‘Orbs,’ Metallic Spheres, Found by Robot under ‘Temple of the Feathered Serpent’ in Mexico – (Huffington Post – May 3, 2013)
For centuries, Mexico’s ancient city of Teotihuacan has concealed a mysterious secret, only recently revealed by the help of robots equipped with lasers and infrared cameras. The small, remote-controlled devices have explored several rooms beneath the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, a structure described by Discovery as a “six-level pyramid decorated with snake-like creatures.” The probes revealed hundreds of mysterious yellow orbs that range from four to 12 centimeters across. According to a release from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, the clay spheres are believed to have originally been covered in pyrite, a yellow-colored mineral known as “Fool’s Gold,” which oxidized over thousands of years to become jarosite, an amber mineral crust. Jorge Zavala, an archaeologist at the excavation, called the metallic orbs an “unprecedented discovery,” adding that the scientists “do not know their meaning.” The odd spheres were found deep within the temple in three burial chambers that are believed to house some of Teotihuacan’s ancient leaders. The tunnel concealing the three rooms had been sealed off 1,800 years ago and was rediscovered in 2003 after a heavy rainstorm caused the ground to sink, revealing the hole. Article includes photos. See this for additional details.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Dominos Tests Drone Pizza Delivery – (CNN – June 4, 2013)
Domino’s in the UK is on a quest to make its pizza fly. The pizza company is working on developing more innovative delivery options—not to mention, engaging in a great PR stunt. The remote-controlled drone flew the pizza inside an insulated bag high above the city streets direct to the customer, eliminating the possibility of a late, cold meal. Domino’s U.K.’s press release said a “Domino’s Flight Academy is also rumored to be in the pipeline should the DomiCopter delivery service take off.” At the present time, such a service is illegal in the U.S. where Federal Aviation Administration rules ban unmanned aircraft like drones from being used for commercial purposes.
Huggies TweetPee App in the (Water)Works – (Giz Mag, May 30, 2013)
A case of technology gone too far? Huggies has revealed a concept device and accompanying iPhone app that clips onto a baby diaper in the region where natural springs are expected to flow and sends parents a message when a rescue operation is called for. Dubbed the TweetPee, the bird-shaped humidity sensor is being put through its paces in Brazil. Don’t believe it? A link to the Huggies video promo is attached to the article; it’s in Portuguese, but you get the picture. On the downside, it’s been suggested that the effect of early exposure of the genitals to microwave frequencies is unknown. Ok, now that you have your wee one in dry diapers, you’re ready to roll; check out the Longboard Stroller. As its name suggests, it is essentially a skateboard with the child-carrying portion of a stroller bolted on. Setting aside the myriad safety issues, it appears to work as expected and, providing your offspring isn’t the nervous type, should be up to the task of challenging any nearby Buggy Strollers to a race (check out Roller Buggy – the baby stroller/scooter hybrid).
JUST FOR FUN
The Concentration of Miyoko Shida Rigolo – (You Tube – April 29, 2013)
Watch this woman’s ability to focus—and her extraordinary ability to utilize points of balance.
A FINAL QUOTE–
Curiosity is the engine of achievement. — Sir Ken Robinson, educator/author
A special thanks to: Thomas Bergin, Bernard Calil, Kevin Foley, Chas Freeman, Kevin Foley, Ursula Freer, Michael Ostrolenk Diane Petersen, Bobbie Rohn, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.
Edited by John L. Petersen