Volume 16, Number 16 – 8/30/13

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  • Researchers grow 3D human brain tissue.
  • SkyTruth, a small nonprofit, is reshaping the postmodern environmental movement with aggregated satellite data.
  • The Japanese company Blest has developed one of the world’s smallest oil-to-plastic conversion devices. Founder Akinori Ito takes this machine around the world to change people’s thinking about plastic trash.
  • New data have revised the Hubble Constant and imply that the age of the Universe is 13.82 billion years – younger than previously thought.

by John L. Petersen

Bethi Black coming to Berkeley Springs

We’re particularly pleased that Bethi Black will be both giving a presentation on the 7th of September and then staying to do a workshop on Sunday the 8th. She’ll also be in town for Monday and Tuesday for individual consultations.

Workshop: An Introduction to Type, Strategy and Authority through The Human Design System

Sunday September 8, 2013 10:00 to 4:00 pm (1 hour lunch-break); Price $100

Beth will also be available for personal chart readings. A one-hour reading is $150*, a 90-minute reading is $200*.

*Attendees of the Sunday workshop will receive a $30 discount on a personal reading.


35 Innovators under 35 – (Technology Review – Sept./Oct., 2013)
This article groups the innovators by categories that reflect the variety of approaches that people can take to solving big problems. The Inventors, for instance, are creating new technologies. The Entrepreneurs are turning technologies into viable businesses. The Visionaries are anticipating how technologies can make life better, while Humanitarians are concentrating on expanding opportunities. And the Pioneers are exploring new frontiers, setting the stage for future innovations. Check out all 35 people, even if only briefly; the website is exceptionally well designed for reader navigation, allowing you to click through the site in 3 different ways.


NASA Reveals Massive 460-Mile Long Canyon Hidden Millions of Years under Greenland’s Ice Sheet – (Daily Galaxy – August 30, 2013)
Hidden for all of human history, a 460 mile long canyon under a mile of Greenland ice. Using radar data from NASA’s Operation IceBridge, scientists found the canyon runs from near the center of the island northward to the fjord of the Petermann Glacier. The canyon has the characteristics of a winding river channel and is at least 460 miles long, making it longer than the Grand Canyon. In some places, it is as deep as 2,600 feet, on scale with segments of the Grand Canyon. This immense feature is thought to predate the ice sheet that has covered Greenland for the last few million years. The scientists used thousands of miles of airborne radar data, collected by NASA and researchers from the United Kingdom and Germany over several decades, to piece together the landscape lying beneath the Greenland ice sheet. A large portion of this data was collected from 2009 through 2012 by NASA’s Operation IceBridge, an airborne science campaign that studies polar ice. The researchers believe the canyon plays an important role in transporting sub-glacial meltwater from the interior of Greenland to the edge of the ice sheet into the ocean. Evidence suggests that before the presence of the ice sheet, as much as 4 million years ago, water flowed in the canyon from the interior to the coast and was a major river system.


Down’s Syndrome Cells Fixed in First Step Towards Chromosome Therapy – (Guardian – July 17, 2013)
Scientists have corrected the genetic fault that causes Down’s syndrome – although only in isolated cells – raising the prospect of a radical therapy for the disorder. In an elegant series of experiments, US researchers took cells from people with DS and silenced the extra chromosome that causes the condition. A treatment based on the work remains a distant hope, but scientists in the field said the feat was the first major step towards a “chromosome therapy” for Down’s syndrome. Despite advances in medical care that allow most people with Down’s Syndrome to live well into middle age, those who have the disorder are at risk of heart defects, bowel and blood disorders, thyroid problems, gastrointestinal problems, childhood leukemia and early-onset dementia. Jeanne Lawrence and her team at the University of Massachusetts, used “genome editing”, a procedure that allows DNA to be cut and pasted, to drop a gene called XIST into the extra chromosome in cells taken from people with Down’s syndrome. Once in place, the gene caused a buildup of a version of a molecule called RNA, which coated the extra chromosome and ultimately shut it down. Lawrence’s work shows that the gene can shut down other chromosomes too, a finding that paves the way for treating a range of other “trisomy” disorders, such as Edward syndrome and Patau syndrome, caused by extra copies of chromosomes 18 and 13 respectively.

Ultrasound-emitting “Band-aids” Speed Healing of Venous Ulcers – (GizMag – August 7, 2013)
Venous ulcers are nasty, often occurring on the lower extremities of elderly or inactive people. They are caused by high blood pressure leading the skin adjacent to the affected veins to break down, leaving open wounds that take months or even years to heal. Standard treatments include compression bandages, infection control and standard wound dressings, although these approaches don’t work in all cases. Now, however, scientists are getting good results using band-aid-like patches that emit ultrasound into the ulcers. It’s been suspected for some time that ultrasound could have a curative effect on the ulcers, however most studies have investigated the use of fairly high frequencies – around 1 to 3 megahertz. Instead, a group of scientists from Philadelphia’s Drexel University tried using frequencies that were considerably lower. Although the treatment certainly shows promise, standard ultrasound transducers can be big and bulky, and need to be plugged into an AC outlet … which is why the patch was created. In its current form, it weighs 100 grams and runs off two rechargeable AA batteries. It’s designed to be worn over the ulcer while the patient is at home, delivering controlled pulses of ultrasound to the wound. It also features a monitoring component, that uses near infrared spectroscopy to assess how well the ulcer is healing.

Researchers Grow 3D Human Brain Tissue – (Technology Review – August 30, 2013)
Scientists at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Vienna, Austria, have grown three-dimensional human brain tissues from stem cells. The tissues form discrete structures that are seen in the developing brain. The Vienna researchers found that immature brain cells derived from stem cells self-organize into brain-like tissues in the right culture conditions. The “cerebral organoids,” as the researchers call them, grew to about four millimeters in size and could survive as long as 10 months. For decades, scientists have been able to take cells from animals including humans and grow them in a petri dish, but for the most part this has been done in two dimensions, with the cells grown in a thin layer in petri dishes. But in recent years, researchers have advanced tissue culture techniques so that three-dimensional brain tissue can grow in the lab. The new report from the Austrian team demonstrates that allowing immature brain cells to self-organize yields some of the largest and most complex lab-grown brain tissue, with distinct subregions and signs of functional neurons.


SkyTruth, the Environment and the Satellite Revolution – (Washington Post – July 21, 2013)
Somewhere in the South Pacific, thousands of miles from the nearest landfall, there is a fishing ship. Let’s say you’re on it. You are about as far from anyone as it is possible to be. But you know what you should do? You should look up and wave. Because 438 miles above you, moving at 17,000 miles per hour, a polar-orbiting satellite is taking your photograph. A man named John Amos is looking at you. He knows the name and size of your ship, how fast you’re moving and, perhaps, if you’re dangling a line in the water, what type of fish you’re catching. Amos is a 50-year-old geologist who heads a tiny nonprofit called SkyTruth located in Shepherdstown, W.Va. Amos is looking at these ships to monitor illegal fishing in Chilean waters. With a couple of clicks on the keyboard, Amos switches his view from the South Pacific to Tioga County, Pa., where SkyTruth is cataloguing, with a God’s-eye view, the number and size of fracking operations. Then it’s over to Appalachia for a 40-year history of what mountaintop-removal mining has wrought in 59 counties covering four states. “You can track anything in the world from anywhere in the world,” Amos is saying, a smile coming into his voice. “That’s the real revolution.” Amos is reshaping the postmodern environmental movement. He is among the first, if not the only, scientist to take the staggering array of satellite data that have accumulated over 40 years, turn that into maps with overlays of radar or aerial flyovers, then fan it out to environmental agencies, conservation nonprofit groups and grass-roots activists. This arms the little guys with the best data they’ve ever had to challenge oil, gas, mining and fishing corporations over how they’re changing the planet. His satellite analysis of the gulf oil spill in 2010, posted on SkyTruth’s web site, almost single-handedly forced BP and the U.S. government to acknowledge that the spill was far worse than either was saying.

Decade of Drought Threatens West – (Wall St. Journal – August 16, 2013)
More than a decade into a drought that has plagued the Southwest. Now, for the first time, federal officials plan a sharp cut in the amount of Colorado River water that flows 360 miles from Lake Powell into Lake Mead. In the year starting Oct. 1, officials at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said Friday, that supply will drop by nearly 10%—roughly equivalent to the annual water usage of about 700,000 families. The cut will translate into a reduction in hydroelectric power generation in some areas served by the reservoir—Nevada, Arizona and California—and brings the reservoir level close to a federal declaration of a water shortage. Such a declaration would mean that Nevada and Arizona would face having their water allocations cut. The cutback is being ordered as part of a 2007 state-federal agreement designed, in part, to keep the levels of the two reservoirs balanced so they can be operated in tandem, maintaining more storage overall. It will be the first reduction since completion in 1963 of the Glen Canyon Dam that formed Lake Powell, which straddles Utah and Arizona. The effect on Lake Mead will be a drop in water level of eight feet, which will come on top of receding water levels that already have totaled about 100 feet since the drought took hold in 2000. Water levels at Lake Mead now stand at an elevation of 1105 feet. The new cutback will bring the level perilously close to a federal trigger point of 1075 feet—the measure at which the Interior Department would declare a water shortage. Mr. Fulp said in an interview that there is a 50% chance such a shortage would be declared in 2016; a probability he added has been increased this year as the drought has intensified. The reduction will result in an 8% decrease in electricity production at Glen Canyon Dam, requiring a federal power agency to spend about $10 million to buy electricity on the open market to meet customer demands, said Lisa Iams, a Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman in Salt Lake City.

EPA Censored Key Pennsylvania Fracking Water Contamination Study – (LA Times – July 29, 2013)
The Obama administration has again put the kibosh on a key Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) groundwater contamination – this study in Dimock, Pennsylvania. Though EPA said Dimock’s water wasn’t contaminated by fracking in a 2012 election year desk statement, internal documents show regional EPA staff members saying the exact opposite.  In an internal EPA PowerPoint presentation…staff members warned their superiors that several wells had been contaminated with methane and substances such as manganese and arsenic, most likely because of local natural gas production. The presentation, based on data collected over 4 1/2 years at 11 wells around Dimock, and titled “Isotech-Stable Isotype Analysis: Determinining the Origin of Methane and Its Effets on the Aquifer,” the PowerPoint presentation concludes that in Cabot Oil and Gas’ Dimock Gesford 2 well, “Drilling creates pathways, either temporary or permanent, that allows gas to migrate to the shallow aquifer near [the] surface…In some cases, these gases disrupt groundwater quality.” Other charts depict Cabot’s Gesford 3 and 9 wells as doing much of the same, allowing methane to migrate up to aquifers to unprecedented levels – not coincidentally – coinciding with the wells being fracked. The PowerPoint’s conclusions are damning. It’s essentially a repeat of Steve Lipsky’s water contamination by Range Resources in late-2010 in Weatherford, Texas. In that case, EPA conducted a taxpayer funded study, determined Range had contaminated his water, sued Range – and then proceeded to drop the suit and censor the study in March 2012. EPA also recently kicked the can down the road on a high-profile fracking groundwater contamination study in Pavillion, Wyoming, originally set to come out in 2014. That release is now expected in 2016, another election year. Just days after EPA’s decision, a Duke University study again linked fracking to groundwater contamination in the Marcellus Shale.

5 Terrifying Statements in the Leaked Climate Report – (Mother Jones – August 20, 2013)
A leaked copy of the draft Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2013 Summary for Policymakers report, dated June 7, 2013, is not final, and is in fact certain to change. But the content bears careful scrutiny because, among other things, it may well be whitewashed before the final report is released. The document concluded that it is now “extremely likely”—or, 95%  certain—that humans are behind much of the global warming seen over the last six decades. But there is much more of note about the document—for instance, it says, very bluntly, just how bad global warming is going to be. It gives a sense of irreversibility, of scale…and, of direness. In particular, this article sites five very sobering statements from the new draft report.


YouTube Censors Protest Video – (Nation of Change – August 27, 2013)
YouTube, whose tagline is ‘Broadcast Yourself’ starts removing protest videos and activist commentary on government actions in the UK. YouTube has done so in compliance with the British government’s requests to sensor protests from the British Constitution Group Lawful Rebellion. Members of this organization filmed and posted an attempt to civilly arrest Judge Michael Peake in the Birkenhead county court while he was ruling on a case involving Roger Hayes, who has refused to pay council tax, proving that it is illegal. Hayes also complained that the tax support global elite interests and not the government in a way that supports British people. The British government does not want poll tax riots reminiscent of the 1990s, a massive revolt against government taxes that forced the poll tax to be eradicated due to mass civil disobedience.

Got a Kinect and a Laptop? Get Ready to 3D Print – (GizMag – August 2, 2013)
Scanning and 3D printing an object could become much simpler if 3D printing company Volumental is successful in crowdfunding the development of a web app which would allow users to scan and print 3D objects using nothing more than a Kinect sensor and a web browser. Though the company already has a web service that allows people to upload scanned 3D models, Volumental says that it needs to refine an app which is better able to differentiate a thing (toys, pets, family members are among the suggestions) from its surroundings in order to be able to print the object in isolation. Though this is a tricky problem to solve, the company claims it knows how to do it, and simply needs to hire a developer to get it done. If funded, the app raises the exciting prospect of being able to scan more or less anything. Connect your Kinect sensor to a laptop tethered to a smartphone and you theoretically have yourself a portable 3D scanner with which to snap a quick model of anything you fancy a 3D print of, which would arrive soon after on your doorstep. The team claims the process will be as easy as streaming a movie using Netflix.

Physicists Test Quantum Cryptography for Handheld Mobile Devices – (Technology Review – August 28, 2013)
Quantum cryptography is one of the few quantum technologies that is become mature enough to make the leap from the laboratory to the commercial world. So governments, the military and commercial organizations such as banks are all interested having this kind of perfect secrecy. And indeed a number of companies have cropped up in the last 10 years to sell the service. One problem is that quantum cryptography is only possible between places that have the kind of gear usually only found in quantum optics laboratories. It generally requires that both the transmitter and receiver have a source of single photons, a way of controlling and modifying individual photons and superconducting photon detectors. What’s more, the equipment at each end has to be carefully aligned so that both parties are able to detect the polarization of the photons they send. And if there is any noise that changes the polarization of the photons, the cryptography simply doesn’t work. A team working under Jeremy O’Brien at the University of Bristol have found a way to solve this problem which they say could make quantum cryptography available in handheld machines. In the new technique, only one of the parties, Alice say, needs to have the quantum optics gear such as a source of photons and so on. Alice creates the photons and then sends them down an ordinary optical fibre to Bob, the other party. Bob, merely modifies the photons to encode them with information before sending them back to Alice. This dramatically simplifies the equipment Bob requires, allowing it to fit in a handheld device. O’Brien and team also use a robust form of quantum key distribution that does not require Alice and Bob to align their equipment before making a measurement.


California Duo Create First 3D Printed Architecture – (DaZeen – August 21, 2013)
California studio Smith|Allen has completed the world’s first architectural structure using standard 3D printers. Called Echoviren, the 10 x 10 x 8 foot pavilion was completed last weekend. It consists of 585 individually printed components produced on seven Series 1 desktop printers. It took the printers two months and 10,800 hours to print the components, but just four days to assemble them on site. Artist Stephanie Smith and architect Bryan Allen of Smith|Allen built the structure in a redwood forest at Project 387, an arts residency programme in Mendocino County north of San Francisco. Each component is made of a plant-based PLA bio-plastic, meaning the structure will decompose over time, disappearing within 30-50 years. “As it weathers it will become a micro-habitat for insects, moss, and birds,” the architects write. See also: other design concepts of 3D printed architecture – a looping two-storey dwelling by Dutch architects Universe Architecture, a fibrous single-story dwelling by UK studio Softkill and a plan to create a canal-side house room by room in Amsterdam. (Editor’s note: None of these projects is remotely ready for commercialization, but they are interesting examples of the potential of 3D printing.)


Holy Grail of Water Splitting Technology Now Achieved with Sunlight, Mirrors and Seawater – (Watchers – August 2, 2013)
The “holy grail” of solar power has always been finding a way to store solar energy that’s portable, dense and relatively lightweight. Until now, that discovery has been elusive. But now a team of scientists in Boulder, Colorado say they have come up with “a radically new technique that uses the power of sunlight to efficiently split water into its components of hydrogen and oxygen, paving the way for the broad use of hydrogen as a clean, green fuel.” The system works by exploiting a large array of ground mirrors to focus sunlight onto a tall reaction tower. There, the intense heat (2,500 degrees Fahrenheit) powers a reaction chamber containing metal oxides. The heat drives oxygen atoms off the metal oxides, causing them to “soak up” the oxygen from steam vapor introduced into the chamber. Steam vapor is, of course, made of water (H2O), so stealing the oxygen atoms from water leaves hydrogen gas that can then be collected. In effect, the tower uses sunlight to split water into hydrogen gas and oxygen gas. The hydrogen gas is then collected, purified and pumped into high-pressure hydrogen containers which, pound for pound, are extremely dense “batteries” of energy that far out-perform chemical batteries. Better yet, hydrogen gas then holds all this energy with 100% efficiency, losing no potential whatsoever, even if stored for decades. From an environmental perspective, hydrogen is also a super clean-burning fuel, producing no carbon dioxide emissions or particulate matter.


Is USA’s Love Affair With the Automobile Over? – (USA Today – August 29, 2013)
After rising for decades, total vehicle use in the U.S. — the collective miles people drive — peaked in August 2007. It then dropped sharply during the Great Recession and has largely plateaued since, even though the economy is recovering and the population growing. The Federal Highway Administration has recently reported that vehicle miles traveled during the first half of 2013 were down slightly, continuing the trend. Even more telling, the average miles drivers individually rack up peaked in July 2004 at just over 900 per month. By July of last year, that had fallen to 820 miles per month, down about 9%. Per capita automobile use is now back at the same levels as in the late 1990s. In a role reversal, there are now more women than men in the U.S. with driver’s licenses. And the declines in miles driven over the past decade were more widespread among men than women, according to Pickrell and Pace. Driving by men has declined in every age group except those 65 or older, where it increased slightly. Among women, driving declined only among young adults and teenagers. There are several economic factors that help explain the trends. Driving declines exactly mirror job losses among men during the recession, when male-dominated industries like manufacturing and construction were especially hard hit, researchers said. But average automobile use has declined recently even among those who have remained employed.

Are Driverless Cars Really Just Around the Corner? – (Technology Review – August 28, 2013)
The speculation about driverless cars took a few questionable turns this week. The hype surrounding autonomous vehicles shifted up a gear recently, first with claims that Google could develop its own autonomous taxis, and then with Nissan’s promise to sell an autonomous vehicle by 2020. Perhaps these two stories should be taken with heavy dose of road salt. The first story builds on a report in the German newspaper Aktuelle Nachrichten suggesting Google is working with auto-component companies, including Continental AG and Magna International. Google may well be considering all possibilities, but it’s unlikely it will attempt to build its own cars. That would be a colossal undertaking, even for such an ambitious company; and it’s experience with electronics hardware hardly seems like sufficient preparation for a leap into the immensely complex and high-risk world of automotive manufacturing. Nissan is one car maker that clearly isn’t shy about talking about its plans. But recent coverage concerning the company’s autonomous driving goals may be confused about what the company is actually promising. Its statement says that it will introduce something called Autonomous Drive by 2020. This is unlikely to involve full automation—i.e. total control of steering and braking—100% of the time. It’s more likely to mean full automation in limited situations, particularly highway driving, and this will probably still need to be monitored by the driver while in operation. No-one seems to believe it’s yet possible to make a car capable of constant, full automation. But if Nissan were actually able to deliver that, then the hype might well be justified.


Mountain Grown: Appalachia’s New Local Food – (Yes – August 23, 2013)
Since 2002, skyrocketing demand for local food has been recorded in the Local Food Guide published annually by the Asheville-based Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. The number of local farms listed in that guide has grown from 58 to 691 – an increase of 1,091%. Likewise, the number of farmers markets is up 197%, and the number of restaurants serving local food is up 542%. The reasons for such a dramatic shift are manifold – but like so many social movements, this one started with a problem. Back in the late 1990s,plenty of North Carolina farmers were watching tobacco profits melt away and coming to terms with the prospect that no other cash crop could take its place. So they decided to try something different: touting the economic and environmental benefits of local food. Eventually, the idea started to catch on, and in 2002 Jackson helped to found the nonprofit Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, along with two initiatives that would help transform the local and sustainable food movement in southern Appalachia. The Business of Farming Conference was founded to teach farmers how to market their products to local and regional customers, while the Local Food Guide showed consumers how to find food produced nearby. Just over a decade later, Jackson, now ASAP’s executive director, estimates that more than a million copies of the guide have been printed. A decade ago, the climate wasn’t right for a hyper-local restaurant: there wouldn’t have been the agricultural community to support it and there wouldn’t have been customer understanding. Now such restaurants are thriving.

A Race to Save the Orange by Altering Its DNA – (New York Times – July 27, 2013)
The disease that sours oranges and leaves them half green, already ravaging citrus crops across the world, reached Florida in 2005. In the years that followed, 8,000 Florida growers who supply most of the nation’s orange juice poured everything they had into fighting the disease they call citrus greening. To slow the spread of the bacterium that causes the scourge, they chopped down hundreds of thousands of infected trees and sprayed an expanding array of pesticides on the winged insect that carries it. But the contagion could not be contained. They scoured Central Florida’s half-million acres of emerald groves and sent search parties around the world to find a naturally immune tree that could serve as a new progenitor for a crop that has thrived in the state since its arrival, it is said, with Ponce de León. But such a tree did not exist. With a precipitous decline in Florida’s harvest predicted within the decade, the only chance left to save it was one that the industry had long avoided for fear of consumer rejection. They would have to alter the orange’s DNA — with a gene from a different species. The development of a “transgenic” tree could take a decade and cost as much as $20 million. The quest to save the orange offers a close look at the daunting process of genetically modifying one well-loved organism — on a deadline. In the past several years, out of public view, he has considered DNA donors from all over the tree of life, including two vegetables, a virus and, briefly, a pig. A synthetic gene, manufactured in the laboratory, also emerged as a contender. (Editor’s note: We highly recommend this article for its detailed and balanced reporting of the many issues surrounding genetic modification as a way to save an important food staple threatened by a bacteria first detected in China over a century ago and spread by an insect.)

10 Things Americans Eat That Are Banned Elsewhere – (MSN – July, 2013)
This article details 10 commonly eaten foods, what they contain that has been shown to be either definitely or potentially detrimental to health and notes the countries in which they are currently banned from sale.


Launch This New 9-Hour Solar-Powered Drone from Your Shoulder – (Wired – August 13, 2013)
A new small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) boasts something no other has been able to do thus far: continuous flight for 9 hours and all on the clean energy of solar power. AeroVironment‘s 13-pound Puma AE can be assembled and hand-launched in minutes and requires no infrastructure for launch or landing, making them attractive for frontline use where time and space can be too scarce for the requirements of full-scale drones. And while it may be some time before the Pentagon is showing off solar-powered tanks, AeroVironment insists these types of solar technology advancements are indispensable for the military. AeroVironment enlisted the help of Alta Devices for its proprietary, ultra-thin solar cells. Past attempts to attach solar power to small UAS were either too heavy or couldn’t produce enough power for long-range flights but recent tests prove that the solar Puma AE technology  ”can produce enough power, while adding negligible weight, so that endurance is no longer an issue for most customer missions.” Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration gave the Puma AE a “Restricted Category” certification, which permits commercial operators to fly the UAS in the regions of the Arctic. It was previously not permissible to operate drones in national airspace for commercial purposes.


ACLU Reveals FBI Hacking Contractors – (Nation of Change – August 27, 2013)
James Bimen Associates of Virginia and Harris Corporation of Florida have contracts with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to hack into computers and phones of surveillance targets, according to Chris Soghoian, principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. The agency “hires people who have hacking skill, and they purchase tools that are capable of doing these things,” a former official in the FBI’s cyber division told the Wall Street Journal recently. Soghoian verified the information from other sources, after uncovering the information from Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) and other publicly available information. Explains Soghoian, “What do you do when you don’t have the manpower to collect everyone’s communications?” The answer, he says, is spy software. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bought commercial products from a company named SpectorSoft in Florida to track five staff whom they suspected of whistleblowing in 2009. The software allowed them to capture “screen images from the government laptops of five scientists as they were being used at work or at home, tracked their keystrokes, intercepted their personal e-mails, copied the documents on their personal thumb drives and even followed their messages line by line as they were being drafted,” the New York Times reported last year. Other companies like Gamma International from the UK and Hacking Team from Italy have also been aggressively marketing their products for purchase by local police officers. A number of national governments like Egypt and Mexico have also reportedly bought such systems that allow them to listen to regular phone and Skype conversations and read email. But what agencies like the FBI are now worried about is that individuals are “going dark” by using freely available encryption software to prevent their email and phone conversations to be captured by law enforcement agencies. In order to combat this, Soghoian says the FBI wanted custom designed products, so they turned to an internal team named the “Remote Operations Unit”, which set up a project called “Going Dark”. See also FBI Taps Hacker Tactics to Spy on Suspects from the Wall St. Journal.

The Feds’ Deconfliction – (YouTube – February 12, 2010)
Although this video clip was posted 2 ½ years ago, it seems just as timely now.

The Detroit (or New American) Yard Sale … Coming to a City Near You – (Sovereign Investor – August 9, 2013)
With the city of Detroit in dire economic straits, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has contacted Christie’s, the famed auction house, to help auction off works from the Detroit Institute of Art to generate some much-needed cash for the bankrupt city. This is no average city museum. It’s home to one of the best art collections in America, valued at roughly $1 billion. What would America’s auto barons like the Dodges, Firestones and especially Edsel and Eleanor Ford – whose donations and charitable support over the decades has created the cultural gem that is the Detroit Institute of Art –think of their art being auctioned off to pay government debt? It’s a dramatic turn of events in less than a century. The bankruptcy of the Motor City is not the last domino to fall, but rather one of the first. With cities around the country drowning in voluminous debt, a federal government enmeshed in spending sequesters and a new debt ceiling about to be hit … we could be on the cusp of national fire sale to raise cash. Will Disney one day own Yosemite National Park or Old Faithful? Will Six Flags own Mt. Rushmore? Will hedge funds buy up tracks of national forests and manage them like they would manage other timber assets? Without the required municipal financial discipline, auctioning or selling national treasures is probably one of the most effective ways to accomplish what needs to be done. It would raise money and reduce federal spending on salaries and maintenance. Think this is unheard of? It’s not. Countries all over the world have privatized national assets for eons. See also this article on goods and services already privatized in the U.S. but not in other countries : 8 Ways Privatization Has Failed America.


40 Maps That Explain the World – (Washington Post – August 12, 2013)
The author of this article writes, “Maps can be a remarkably powerful tool for understanding the world and how it works, but they show only what you ask them to. So when we saw a post sweeping the Web titled “40 maps they didn’t teach you in school,” one of which happens to be a WorldViews original, I thought we might be able to contribute our own collection. Some of these are pretty nerdy, but I think they’re no less fascinating and easily understandable. A majority are original to this blog, with others from a variety of sources. I’ve included a link for further reading on close to every one. (Editor’s note: Both collections of maps are fascinating.)


Post 9/11 Veterans Come Home to a Nation That Cannot Meet Their Needs – (Nation of Change – August 26, 2013)
In the 12 years since American troops first deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, more than 2.6 million veterans have returned home to a country largely unprepared to meet their needs. The government that sent them to war has failed on many levels to fulfill its obligations to these veterans as demanded by Congress and promised by both Republican and Democratic administrations. Members of Congress continue to demand that the claims of the more than 500,000 veterans waiting more than 125 days be processed and paid, but so far the VA’s fixes have not cleared the backlog. America’s post-9/11 veterans are overwhelmingly young, more than half were between the ages of 18 and 32. By comparison, about 37% of the nonveteran population is over 50, and less than 29% of the nonveteran population is between the ages of 18 and 32. The post-9/11 veterans use the VA more than other veterans and their numbers are growing at the fastest rate, records show. Many will require care for the rest of their lives. About 25% of post-9/11 veterans have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and 7% have traumatic brain injury, according to Congressional Budget Office analysis of VA data. The average cost to treat them is about four to six times greater than those without these injuries, the CBO reported. Despite intervention initiatives by the Department of Defense and VA, more than 46,000 veterans nationwide died by suicide between 2005 and 2011, according to state mortality data collected from 49 states. In every year over the last decade, the percentage of veteran suicides has significantly exceeded — usually by double or even triple — the suicide rate of the general populations.

Pets Might Soon Become a Staple in the Workplace – (Nation of Change – August 10, 2013)
It’s becoming more common to see animals roaming the halls of companies, sitting under work desks or nestled in the laps of employees. And it looks as though this trend is here to stay after a new study revealed that employees who bring their dogs to work are less stressed and show greater signs of job satisfaction. A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management investigated the stress levels and organizational perceptions of pet dogs in the workplace. The study was designed to measure the scores of 75 participants who were broken into two group—employees who brought their dogs to work and employees who did not—in the areas of physiology and perceived stress, perception of job satisfaction, organizational affective commitment and perceived organizational support.

Denmark Bans Meatballs to Accommodate Muslims – (Gate Stone Institute – August 16, 2013)
To begin with, this article’s title is greatly overstated. Denmark did not ban meatballs; roughly 30 children’s nurseries, pre-schools and daycare centers banned them along with all pork products in one town that is now predominantly Muslim. However, one of the largest hospitals in Denmark has admitted to serving only halal beef — meat that is slaughtered in accordance with strict Islamic guidelines — to all of its patients regardless of whether or not they are Muslim. The revelation that Danes are being forced to eat Islamically slaughtered meat at public institutions has triggered a spirited nationwide debate about how far Denmark should go to accommodate the estimated 250,000 Muslim immigrants now living in the country. The halal food row erupted in July when the Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet reported that Hvidovre Hospital near Copenhagen has been secretly serving only halal-slaughtered meat for the sake of its Muslim patients, for the past ten years. The hospital serves more than 40,000 patients annually, many (if not most) of whom presumably are non-Muslim. Amid a surge of public outrage over the decision to serve only halal beef, Hvidovre Hospital’s vice president, Torben Mogensen, has been unapologetic. “We have many patients from different ethnic backgrounds, which we must take into account, and it is impossible to have both the one and the other kind of beef,” he says. Mogensen adds, “All chickens in Denmark are halal slaughtered, and it has to my knowledge not caused anyone to stop eating chicken.” In a press release, Hvidovre Hospital states, “We introduced halal meat both for practical and economic reasons. It would be both more difficult and more expensive to have to make both a halal version and a non-halal version of the dishes. Then we have two production lines. It requires more people, more equipment and more money.” But officials at the University Hospital in Aarhus, the second-largest urban area in Denmark after Copenhagen, say the decision by Hvidovre Hospital to serve only halal is an example of political correctness run amok. (Editor’s note: What is interesting about this article, far beyond the specific details, is the glimpse into the process – and angst – with which a nation works to balance a responsiveness to cultural diversity with a deep pride in and love of foods which are part of the national identity.)

The Drone Gender Gap – (Wired – July 26, 2013)
A new report on global attitudes about the U.S. from the Pew Research Center shows something that isn’t terribly surprising: American drone strikes are unpopular around the world (only Israel approves U.S. drone strikes more than the U.S.). What is surprising, however, is the unusually large gender gap in attitudes about one of the Obama administration’s signature national security tools. When asked, “Do you approve or disapprove of the United States conducting missile strikes from pilotless aircraft called drones to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia?” women were much less likely to say they approved. At the most extreme end of that gap is Japan where 41 percent of men approve of while only 10 percent of women do. Double digit gender gaps are found in six of the eight EU countries polled and the U.S. had a 17 point gap. “Gender gaps are also often seen in global surveys over the use of military force, with women far less likely than men to say that force is sometimes necessary in the pursuit of justice,” wrote Bruce Stokes, Director of Global Economic Attitudes at the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, in a blog post about the project. “But the gender difference over drone strikes is unusually large.” Pew didn’t offer an explanation for the difference between the gender gap on drones versus the gender gap in the use of military force more generally, because there wasn’t a qualitative portion to the survey. However, a review done last year of recent public polling about gender gaps and support for war seems to support Stokes’ claim that there is something different about drones.


The Big Bang Afterglow – New Mysteries Revealed – (Daily Galaxy – August 31, 2013)
This past spring, the most detailed map ever created of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) – the relic radiation from the Big Bang – was released by the ESO revealing the existence of features that challenge the foundations of our current understanding of the Universe. When compared to the best fit of observations to the standard model of cosmology, the Planck Space Telescope’s high-precision capabilities reveal that the fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background at large scales are not as strong as expected. The graphic shows a map derived from the difference between the two, which is representative of what the anomalies could look like. One of the most surprising findings is that the fluctuations in the CMB temperatures at large angular scales do not match those predicted by the standard model – their signals are not as strong as expected from the smaller scale structure revealed by Planck. Another is an asymmetry in the average temperatures on opposite hemispheres of the sky. This runs counter to the prediction made by the standard model that the Universe should be broadly similar in any direction we look. Furthermore, a cold spot extends over a patch of sky that is much larger than expected. Overall, the information extracted from Planck’s new map provides an excellent confirmation of the standard model of cosmology at an unprecedented accuracy. But because the precision of Planck’s map is so high, it also made it possible to reveal some peculiar, unexplained features that may well require new physics to be understood. The Planck data also set a new value for the rate at which the Universe is expanding today, known as the Hubble constant. At 67.15 kilometres per second per megaparsec, this is significantly less than the current standard value in astronomy. The data imply that the age of the Universe is 13.82 billion years.


6.5% of All Humans Ever Born Are Still Alive Today – (Nation of Change – August 23, 2013)
This article is a simple, bullet-point collection of 23 human data points – most of them interesting. For example: estimated number of humans who have been born in the last 50,000 years (when modern humans appeared) – 107 billion; percentage of humans ever born who are alive today – 6.5; year the Mars One program plans to establish a permanent colony on the surface of Mars – 2023; number of settlers who will initially populate the Mars colony – 4; number who will return to Earth – 0.

More Americans Living Alone – (USA Today – August 27, 2013)
More Americans are living alone than at any time in the past century, new U.S. Census Bureau findings show. More than one in four households now have just a single person. One-person households last year accounted for 27.5% of the total across the USA. In 1970, they accounted for just 17% and 5.1% in 1900. The new statistics show that the sheer number of Americans living alone has more than tripled since 1970. Looking back over the past 50 years, the figure is more than four times as high as in 1962. The new findings, out Tuesday, also show that for the first time since 1970, married couples with children now make up fewer than one in five households. Four decades ago, traditional families were 40.3% of households.


Upsalite, ‘Impossible’ Material Believed to Have Many Uses, Created in Swedish Lab – (Huffington Post – August 8, 2013)
Scientists from Sweden’s Uppsala University are calling a newly created form of magnesium carbonate an “impossible” material. Dubbed upsalite, the highly porous material sets new records for surface area and water adsorption. It is expected to have all sorts of applications, from controlling moisture in processes used by the electronics and pharmaceutical industries to sopping up toxins in the aftermath of chemical and oil spills. “In contrast to what has been claimed for more than 100 years in the scientific literature, we have found that amorphous magnesium carbonate can be made in a very simple, low-temperature process,” study co-author Johan Goméz de la Torre, a researcher in the university’s nanotechnology and functional materials division, said in the statement. Upsalite has the highest surface area ever measured for a so-called alkaline earth metal carbonate. In addition, it’s filled with empty pores with diameters measuring less than 10 nanometers. “This, together with other unique properties of the material, is expected to pave the way for new sustainable products in a number of industrial applications”, said study co-author Maria Strømme, a professor of nanotechnology at the university.

Plastic from Grass – (Technology Review – June 5, 2013)
Engineers seek a cheaper biodegradable polymer. Nearly all the plastics sold today come from petroleum and aren’t biodegradable. But researchers at Metabolix in Cambridge, Massachusetts, are genetically engineering switchgrass to produce a biodegradable polymer that can be extracted directly from the plant. That could transform the economics of making biodegradable polymers. Metabolix already sells such a polymer, but it’s produced by bacteria that feed on plant sugars in expensive fermenters. A plant-based process, which could use crops grown on marginal lands, would require less equipment. Metabolix estimates that it could ultimately sell its plant-based polymers at less than half today’s prices. Whereas today’s end products are niche items like biodegradable plastic shopping bags, more widely used types of products and packaging could then become economical. In switchgrass, they’re coaxing the plant to produce and store in its tissues a specific type of polymer known as PHB, that can be used to make injection-­molded products such as electronics housings. Metabolix calculates that the grass must produce 10% of its weight as PHB to be economically competitive with other sources of biodegradable plastics. The company has already nearly doubled the PHB content in switchgrass, from 1.2% in 2008 to 2.3% last year, including 7% in the leaves.


50 Disruptive Companies – (Technology Review – July/August, 2013)
The editors of this compendium write, “It might be easier to explain the 50 Disruptive Companies project by starting with what it is not. It is not a quantitative assessment; we don’t think R&D spending or numbers of patents and new products necessarily reveal what’s most meaningful about a company’s innovative power. It also is not a ranking. We don’t mean to suggest that any of these 50 companies is more important or better than the others. Instead, this package is meant to capture the rich variety of ways that innovations get commercialized. Each company on this list has done something over the past year that will strengthen its hold on a market, challenge the leaders of a market, or create a new market. As we detail in four feature stories and three CEO Q&As in this package, some of these companies, like the thermostat maker Nest, have burst forth with a breakthrough product, and the question now is what the next one will be. Others, like the battery startup Ambri, are still on the verge of their breakthrough. Then there are startups like Pinterest that still have to figure out their business model, and long-established companies like Xerox and Microsoft that have managed to change how their customers think of them. And some members of this group are opening up opportunities by greatly expanding the use of existing technology—such as the Chinese genomics research company BGI. The pace of technological change is brutal. Even Apple, which we have selected for this package four years in a row, has to scramble. We think TV will be the product that returns it to the list next year, but there are hardly any guarantees. Only 15 of these 50 companies were also here last year—or 14 if you don’t count Nicira, a cloud-computing company that returns as part of its acquirer, VMware.”


Converting Plastic to Oil – (YouTube – May 19, 2010)
The Japanese company Blest has developed one of the world’s smallest oil-to-plastic conversion devices. Founder Akinori Ito takes this machine around the world to change people’s thinking about plastic trash. Video clip courtesy of the United Nations University. In Japanese with English subtitles. But you can also make your own device in your front yard — which might be anywhere on earth. For example, here is another clip from a university in Thailand showing the process done on a much larger scale.

India Bans Captive Dolphin Shows, Says Dolphins Should Be Seen as ‘Non-human Persons’ – (Treehugger – May 21, 2013)
In a move to protect the well-being of dolphins, India has moved to ban dolphin shows — a push that helps elevate their status from creatures of mere curiosity to one that borders more closely to that of personhood. India’s Ministry of the Environment and Forests has released a statement banning “any person / persons, organizations, government agencies, private or public enterprises that involves import, capture of cetacean species to establish for commercial entertainment, private or public exhibition and interaction purposes whatsoever.” In so doing, India became the fourth country to ban the practice; the others are Costa Rica, Hungary, and Chile. However, India did not grant dolphins the legal status of personhood. The probable cause for the legal personhood confusion appears to stem from a misreading of a government statement, “Whereas cetaceans in general are highly intelligent and sensitive, and various scientists who have researched dolphin behavior have suggested that the unusually high intelligence; as compared to other animals means that dolphins should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights and is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purpose.” Being seen as ‘non-human persons’ is far different from actually having the rights and protections of a ‘non-human person.’ The Indian government said that dolphins “should” be recognized as legal persons with the capacity for certain legal rights, but has not in fact granted them such status or rights.

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

US Air Force Transports 24 Tons of Cocaine to Miami – (TopInfoPost – August 8, 2013)
According to the Costa Rica Star, a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III out of Dover Air Force Base landed at the Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport (LIR) on Saturday July 27, loaded almost 24 tons of cocaine in pallets and then set off for its ultimate destination of Miami, but not before stopping in Nicaragua and Honduras. The US Air Force agreed to transport the cocaine after a successful Costa Rican program that was destroying 300 kilos of the drug an hour had to be suspended because of a broken incinerator. Following the airlift, Costa Rica’s Organization of Judicial Investigations said they would no longer authorize the transportation of cocaine to Miami and would go back to stockpiling the drug in secure warehouses. The report cites another newspaper article which detailed how, “two magistrates at the Judicial Branch were in the dark about the U.S. Air Force arriving in Costa Rica to pick up a massive amount of cocaine,” noting that no proof of permission for the US aircraft to enter Costa Rican airspace was ever seen by legislators at the Costa Rican National Assembly. The exact identity of the Globemaster was also kept secret until further enquiry revealed it to be the “Spirit of Delaware.” When the plane arrived, the Costa Rican consulate in Miami was supposed to confirm the delivery and destruction of the cocaine, but no such advisory has been forthcoming, although the Organization of Judicial Investigations claims the drugs were destroyed.

Why Are Millions Of Fish Suddenly Dying in Mass Death Events All Over the Planet? – (Intellihub – August 12, 2013)
Millions upon millions of fish are suddenly dying in mass death events all over the world, and nobody seems to know why it is happening. In many of the news reports that are linked to in the article, locals are quoted as saying that they have never seen anything like this before. So is there a connection between all of the fish deaths that are now occurring all over the planet? If there is a connection, is there anything that we can do to stop the fish die-off? Sadly, because the big mainstream news networks in the United States have been virtually silent about this phenomenon, most Americans have absolutely no idea that it is happening. The article lists (with links to the original articles) 40 news items culled from around the globe reporting on mass fish die-offs between July 18 and August 8, 2013. The article does not provide any overarching answers; it simply amasses the data as a way of suggesting that something larger than the individual events, each one taken alone, may be occurring (although some of the die-off events appear to have specific, identifiable causes). See also: Why are Dead Bottlenose Dolphins Washing Up on the US East Coast?


Medieval Tech Support – (Flixxy – February 6, 2007)
Tech support in the old days. In Norwegian with English subtitles.


The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created – created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating. The paths to it are not found but made, and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination. –John Schaar, scholar and political theorist

A special thanks to: Thomas Bergin, Bernard Calil, Terah Collins, Kevin Foley, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Abby Porter, 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

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