Volume 16, Number 20 – 10/31/13

 Volume 16, Number 20 – 10/31/13 Twitter  Facebook



  • The Securities and Exchange Commission has voted unanimously to propose rules that, for the first time, would allow investors to buy stock in companies over the Internet using a crowdfunding exchange.
  • A Dutch designer  has developed an “electronic vacuum cleaner” that can remove smog from urban skies on a very localized basis and is working with the mayor of Beijing to use the technology in a new park in the city.
  • More than a third of Americans say they expect to work until they drop, according to a new study from Wells Fargo.
  • Scientists in Australia have discovered gold deposits on eucalyptus trees in the Outback. Yes, money can actually “grow” on trees.

by John L. Petersen

Portals: The Openings Between Dimensions
We’ve got a really great speaker coming to our Berkeley Springs Transition Talks series here in Berkeley Springs in a couple of weeks. Rosemary Ellen Guiley, one of the world’s experts on all things paranormal – and author of over 50 books – will be with us to hold forth on what she knows about portals, those distinct places on this planet where things and entities from other dimensions can easily make it into our operating area.

Rosemary Ellen Guiley

There’s no doubt that some places seem to be magnets for paranormal activity (I’ve had an arm’s length relationship with one rather famous and extraordinary one), but not very many people really understand how these transition and access points work. Rosemary certainly comes equipped to have as good an idea about these things as anyone I know – and from hearing past presentations of hers I can assure you that you will find this talk both entertaining and provocative.

Come join us at this pretty time of the year in West Virginia on the 16th.

Who: Rosemary Ellen Guiley
When: 2:00 PM, Saturday, November 16th
Where: Ice House Theatre, Mercer and Independence Streets, Berkeley Springs, WV 25411

You can reach the descriptive flyer of Rosemary’s talk here.

Two Great Videos
Here are a couple of fascinating videos.

First, take a look at what can be done with Photoshop to manipulate an image . . . and then tell me what is real, for sure.

Photoshop ‘Body Evolution’ Video Blows Our Minds.

The manipulation of what we see and hear is increasingly going on in almost every area of our lives. For example, the military now has cloaking technology that makes things invisible. Seems to me that it’s a natural extension of advertising copywriting and the “spinning” of perceptions by pundits and political operatives only augmented now by technology. Makes you wonder where it is all going.

Now, hold on to your chair. Just over a year ago Felix Baumgartner jumped out of a balloon almost 25 miles above the earth . . . and exceeded the speed of sound as he fell to the ground. Here’s the whole flight. This video is almost as good as the movie Gravity (which I highly recommend).

Red Bull Releases Incredible POV Video of 128,000-Foot Stratos Jump.

Europe, the NSA and the Future
OK, enough of that frivolous stuff. Let’s get serious.

Happily, the NSA is still in the news. Every week The Guardian and the New York Times seem to play out another Snowden document that broadens our understanding of what our government is doing to us and others. And the commitment to change the system increases a bit more.

Right now the focus is on spying on friendly foreign leaders and accessing the data that is in the data “clouds” of Google and Yahoo. Here’s a very thoughtful assessment of the current and potential future of the US-European relations in light of the NSA revelations.
NSA Does the Grand Tour.

A Culture of Ignorance
You’d think that more Americans would be concerned about what our government is going and has become. The notion that someday some political appointee or bureaucrat in one of our spy agencies could decide that they don’t like what you are doing . . . and could access everything you have written and visited online, said on the phone, purchased, all of your travel and most every location you have physically visited, as well as your friends . . . for all of your life . . . for the sole purpose of destroying your life, well, I’d think that that would seriously get the attention of large numbers of people. But somehow, it seems to rank far below which sports teams are playing this weekend or what some celebrity said or did.

It’s almost as though there is an inability by many people to seriously consider some of the bigger things that are happening during this time of extraordinary change.

I was thinking about this when I ran into this provocative piece from Washington’s Blog which is a genuine tour of the horizon of America’s culture of ignorance. Here’s how it begins:

Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.
– Thomas Edison.

The kabuki theater that passes for governance in Washington D.C. reveals the profound level of ignorance shrouding this Empire of Debt in its prolonged death throes. Ignorance of facts; ignorance of math; ignorance of history; ignorance of reality; and ignorance of how ignorant we’ve become as a nation, have set us up for an epic fall. It’s almost as if we relish wallowing in our ignorance like a fat lazy sow in a mud hole. The lords of the manor are able to retain their power, control and huge ill-gotten riches because the government educated serfs are too ignorant to recognize the self-evident contradictions in the propaganda they are inundated with by state controlled media on a daily basis.

The second part of this series on ignorance – focused on technology – should be interesting. I’ll keep an eye out for it.



SEC Moves Toward Allowing Crowdfunding IPOs – (USA Today – October 23, 2013)
Up until now, crowdfunding has just been a way for consumers to give money to inventors concocting newfangled things ranging from Big Wheel bikes for grown-up and smartphones. But soon, it could become a way to actually invest in those companies. The Securities and Exchange Commission voted unanimously to propose rules that, for the first time, would allow investors to buy stock in companies over the Internet using a crowdfunding exchange. These rules could reinvent the way that companies raise money by allowing them to bypass the traditional costs of going public, which usually involved hiring costly investment bankers and accountants. The SEC’s vote on so-called equity crowdfunding is in direct response to Title III of the JOBS Act, passed last year, in which Congress is looking for a loophole to allow smaller companies to get an exemption from the strict rules controlling the sale of securities to individuals. Congress is hoping that by using Internet crowdfunding, small and promising companies could gather capital needed to grow and expand from a wide pool of investors. These companies could, in theory, raise money they need to grow well before they could afford the relatively high costs of a traditional initial public offering. (Editor’s note: This probably won’t cause Goldman Sacks to lose any sleep – at least not anytime soon – but it might substantially change the landscape for private equity, venture capital funders.)

Data-Mining Our Dreams – (New York Times – October 20, 2013)
For a number of years now, researchers have been using quantitative methods of analysis to study the content of dreams. The findings from these studies provide compelling evidence that dreaming is not meaningless “noise” but rather a coherent and sophisticated mode of psychological functioning. Furthermore, recent advances in digital technology are expanding this approach, potentially boosting by many orders of magnitude our ability to understand the statistically recurring patterns in people’s dreams. The earliest work in the quantitative study of dream content goes back to a Wellesley psychologist named Mary Whiton Calkins. Her 1893 article “Statistics of Dreams” described one of the first scientific experiments devoted to dream content. Calkins used fairly simple tools and a small data set to identify patterns in dream content, but later studies have largely confirmed these insights and extended them to new groups of people. The emergence of modern digital-search technology has raised the intriguing possibility of pushing Calkins’s rather slow and labor-intensive approach to new levels of speed and sophistication. What if the coding categories she and others have used could be transformed into computer algorithms that automatically analyze not just hundreds but thousands or even millions of dreams? What new patterns and subtler dimensions of meaning might we identify? How much more might a technologically enhanced system of “big data” dream analysis teach us about people’s lives? (Editor’s note: What’s interesting here is not so much the article, per se, which clearly shows how preliminary these dream studies are, but the possibility that by simply cataloging dream content in “large data” quantities, we might discover new insights into the collective unconscious and into the workings of the collective “dream” that we are all creating.)

How a Digital Currency Could Transform Africa – (Financial Times – October 29, 2013)
Here is a proposition: provide a secure and authentic digital identity for every person in Africa who wants one. India has shown it is possible to achieve something similar at scale. Its Aadhar national identity scheme, launched in 2009, has registered 500m people using a number code and matching biometrics. It will improve service delivery – although it also strengthens the state in a way that tempts over-reach. Improving technology makes it possible to think more audaciously in Africa. Instead of just tagging a person – gathering their personal data – why not give them digital sovereignty? High quality global journalism requires investment. Connectivity is already in place across the continent – with more than half of young Africans on smartphones – which means the era of big data is on its way. Open source software now being developed, such as ID3’s Open Mustard Seed , is likely to be available within three years – and can be built as standard into every smartphone, tablet and wearable digital device. It will allow many of the poorest Africans to own their data through a highly secure “core identity”. That will make it harder for the state and companies such as Google and Facebook to scrape private data for their own ends. One of the first results, we believe, will be to replace coins with a digital equivalent. At present, 99% of low-value transactions in Africa are in cash. Within a decade, digital transactions will be standard, using devices such as electronic bangles, at almost no cost, in a virtual currency. Such currencies will be indexed to commodities and highly localized: not just one for Nairobi but, say, one for poor women’s savings clubs in Nairobi. All will work off a base currency reflecting the pan-African swagger of a rising continent.


Alzheimer’s Insight from DNA Study – (BBC News – October 27, 2013)
A group involving nearly three quarters of the world’s Alzheimer’s geneticists from 145 academic institutions looked at the DNA of 17,000 patients and 37,000 healthy people. They found versions of 21 genes, or sets of instructions, which made it more likely that a person would develop Alzheimer’s disease. They do not guarantee Alzheimer’s will develop, but they do make the disease more likely. By looking at the genes’ function in the body, it allows researchers to figure out the processes going wrong in Alzheimer’s disease. Professor Julie Williams, the head of neurodegeneration at Cardiff University, said: “We’ve doubled the number of genes discovered and a very strong pattern is emerging. “There is something in the immune response which is causing Alzheimer’s disease and we need to look at that.” The way the body deals with cholesterol and the way cells in the brain deal with big molecules in a process called endocytosis also seem to be involved. It now needs other research groups to pick up on the findings, work out exactly what is going wrong and develop treatments. This could include drugs, genetic therapies or changes to lifestyle. See also Technology Review article: Startup Finds Hope in Second Look at “Failed” Alzheimer’s Drugs.

Evidence That Dendrites Actively Process Information in the Brain – (Kurzweil AI – October 29, 2013)
The brain’s theoretical information processing power has just been multiplied. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers have discovered that dendrites do more than passively relay information from one neuron to the next — they actively process information, according to  Spencer Smith, PhD, an assistant professor in the UNC School of Medicine. Previous research using dissected brain tissue had demonstrated that dendrites can use those molecules to generate electrical spikes themselves, but it was unclear whether normal brain activity uses those dendritic spikes. The answer is in; it is “yes”.

Slow Metabolism Obesity Excuse True – (BBC News – October 24, 2013)
A team at the University of Cambridge has found the first proof that mutated DNA does indeed slow metabolism. The researchers say fewer than one in 100 people are affected and are often severely obese by early childhood. The findings may lead to new obesity treatments even for people without the mutation. Scientists at the Institute of Metabolic Science, in Cambridge, knew that mice born without a section of DNA, a gene called KSR2, gained weight more easily. But they did not know what effect it may be having in people, so they analyzed the DNA of 2,101 severely obese patients. Some had mutated versions of KSR2. It had the twin effect of increasing their appetite while their slowing metabolism. KSR2 is mostly active in the brain and it affects the way individual cells interpret signals, such as the hormone insulin, from the blood. This in turn affects the body’s ability to burn calories. Fewer than 1% of people had mutated versions of the gene and some would be a normal weight, but about 2% of children who were obese by the age of five would have the mutated gene. However, if drugs could be developed to target problems with KSR2, they might be beneficial to anyone who is overweight.

New Substance Effectively Combats Multi-Resistant Bacteria – (Science Daily – October 30, 2013)
Today, bacteria resistant to nearly all known antibiotics are prevalent in many parts of the world. In Europe alone, more than 25,000 people die each year from infections caused by multi-resistant bacteria. “We have succeeded in preparing and characterizing a very stable substance that kills multi-resistant bacteria extremely quickly and effectively. The most interesting aspect is that the bacteria are attacked using a multifunctional mechanism that drastically reduces the risk of resistance development compared with traditional antibiotics,” says Rasmus Jahnsen who conducted the research at the University of Copenhagen. The recently developed substance is called HDM-4, which stands for Host Defence Peptidomimetic 4. “The killing mechanism involves destabilising the bacterial membrane and binding onto the bacteria’s DNA, which in both cases results in the death of the bacteria. We have also shown that the substance can activate the human body’s own immune cells, strengthening its defence against bacteria during infection,” says Rasmus Jahnsen. See also a PBS interview with the Associate Director of the CDC: We’ve Reached “The End of Antibiotics, Period”.


Streams Below Fracking Wastewater Treatment Show Elevated Salts, Metals, Radioactivity – (Science Daily – October 2, 2013)
Elevated levels of radioactivity, salts and metals have been found in river water and sediments at a site where treated water from oil and gas operations is discharged into a western Pennsylvania creek. “Radium levels were about 200 times greater in sediment samples collected where the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility discharges its treated wastewater into Blacklick Creek than in sediment samples collected just upstream of the plant,” said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. The study found that some of the discharged effluent is derived from the Marcellus shale gas flowback water, which is naturally high in salinity and radioactivity. High concentrations of some salts and metals were also observed in the stream water. “The treatment removes a substantial portion of the radioactivity, but it does not remove many of the other salts, including bromide,” Vengosh said. “The radioactivity levels we found in sediments near the outflow are above management regulations in the U.S. and would only be accepted at a licensed radioactive disposal facility,” said Robert B. Jackson, professor of environmental science at Duke.

Electronic Vacuum Cleaner Could Solve Smog Problem – (Dezeen – October 21, 2013)
Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde has developed an “electronic vacuum cleaner” that can remove smog from urban skies on a very localized basis and is working with the mayor of Beijing to use the technology in a new park in the city. The concept uses buried coils of copper to create an electrostatic field that attracts smog particles, creating a void of clean air above it. “You can purify the air so you can breathe again,” Roosegaarde said. “It creates these holes of 50-60 meters of clean air so you can see the sun again.” Roosegaarde’s company Studio Roosegaarde has signed a memorandum of understanding with the mayor of Beijing to create a public park to showcase the technology. Roosegaarde has created a working prototyp. “We have a 5×5 meter room full of smog where we created a smog-free hole of one cubic meter,” he said. “And now the question is to apply it in public spaces.” Article includes interview and video clip. See also: Harbin, China Hit By Super Smog, Schools Closed, Flights Cancelled.

The Ocean is Broken – (Newcastle Herald – Oct. 18, 2013)
Exactly 10 years before, when Newcastle yachtsman Ivan Macfadyen had sailed exactly the same course from Melbourne to Osaka, all he’d had to do to catch a fish from the ocean between Brisbane and Japan was throw out a baited line. “There was not one of the 28 days on that portion of the trip when we didn’t catch a good-sized fish to cook up and eat with some rice,” Macfadyen recalled. But this time, on that whole long leg of sea journey, the total catch was two. No fish. No birds. Hardly a sign of life at all. “In years gone by I’d gotten used to all the birds and their noises,” he said. “They’d be following the boat, sometimes resting on the mast before taking off again. You’d see flocks of them wheeling over the surface of the sea in the distance, feeding on pilchards.” But in March and April this year, only silence and desolation surrounded his boat, Funnel Web, as it sped across the surface of a haunted ocean. (Editor’s note: We highly recommend this piece. It’s not statistics; it’s one man’s experience and he writes from the heart as a man who loves the sea.)


John McAfee Reveals Details of Gadget to Thwart NSA – (Mercury News – September 28, 2013)
John McAfee has again lived up to his reputation as tech’s most popular wild child, electrifying an audience with new details of his plan to thwart the NSA’s surveillance of ordinary Americans with an inexpensive, pocket-size gadget. Dubbed “Decentral,” the as-yet-unbuilt device will cost less than $100, McAfee promised the enthusiastic crowd of about 300 engineers, musicians and artists at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center. “There will be no way (for the government) to tell who you are or where you are,” he said. And if the U.S. government bans its sale, “I’ll sell it in England, Japan, the Third World. This is coming and cannot be stopped.” He said the gadget is called Decentral because by communicating with smartphones, tablets and other devices, it will create decentralized, floating and moving local networks that can’t be penetrated by government spy agencies. The design is in place already for a version whose range will be three blocks in the city and a quarter mile in the country, he said. The device will be compatible with both Android and iPhones.

Selling Secrets of Phone Users to Advertisers – (New York Times – October 6, 2013)
Smartphones know everything — where people go, what they search for, what they buy, what they do for fun and when they go to bed. That is why advertisers, and tech companies like Google and Facebook, are finding new, sophisticated ways to track people on their phones and reach them with individualized, hypertargeted ads. And they are doing it without cookies because cookies don’t work on mobile devices. For example, Drawbridge is one of several start-ups that have figured out how to follow people without cookies, and to determine that a cellphone, work computer, home computer and tablet belong to the same person, even if the devices are in no way connected. Before, logging onto a new device presented advertisers with a clean slate. “We’re observing your behaviors and connecting your profile to mobile devices,” said Eric Rosenblum, chief operating officer at Drawbridge. But don’t call it tracking. “Tracking is a dirty word,” he said. Drawbridge, founded by a former Google data scientist, says it has matched 1.5 billion devices this way, allowing it to deliver mobile ads based on Web sites the person has visited on a computer. If you research a Hawaiian vacation on your work desktop, you could see a Hawaii ad that night on your personal cellphone. For advertisers, intimate knowledge of users has long been the promise of mobile phones. But only now are numerous mobile advertising services that most people have never heard of — like Drawbridge, Flurry, Velti and SessionM — exploiting that knowledge, largely based on monitoring the apps we use and the places we go. This makes it ever harder for mobile users to escape the gaze of private companies, whether insurance firms or shoemakers. Drawbridge states that its pinpointing is so accurate that it could show spouses different, personalized ads on a tablet they share.

Inside the Arctic Circle, Where Your Facebook Data Lives – (Business Week – September 3, 2013)
The heart of Facebook’s experiment lies just south of the Arctic Circle, in the Swedish town of Luleå. In the middle of a forest at the edge of town, the company in June opened its latest megasized data center, a giant building that comprises thousands of rectangular metal panels and looks like a wayward spaceship. By all public measures, it’s the most energy-efficient computing facility ever built, a colossus that helps Facebook process 350 million photographs, 4.5 billion “likes,” and 10 billion messages a day. While an average data center needs 3 watts of energy for power and cooling to produce 1 watt for computing, the Luleå facility runs nearly three times cleaner, at a ratio of 1.04 to 1. “What Facebook has done to the hardware market is dramatic,” says Tom Barton, the former chief executive officer of server maker Rackable Systems. “They’re putting pressure on everyone.” The location has a lot to do with the system’s efficiency. Sweden has a vast supply of cheap, reliable power produced by its network of hydroelectric dams. Just as important, Facebook has engineered its data center to turn the frigid Swedish climate to its advantage. Instead of relying on enormous air-conditioning units and power systems to cool its tens of thousands of computers, Facebook allows the outside air to enter the building and wash over its servers, after the building’s filters clean it and misters adjust its humidity. Unlike a conventional, warehouse-style server farm, the whole structure functions as one big device.

Motorola Teams Up with Phonebloks to Create Modular Mobile Phones – (Dezeen – October 29, 2013)
Google-owned communications company Motorola is working with Design Academy Eindhoven graduate and Phonebloks creator Dave Hakkens to develop open-source modular mobile phones. Motorola has revealed on its blog that it has been working for a year on a scheme named Project Ara, a “free, open hardware platform for creating highly modular smartphones,” which will allow users to develop, swap and replace modules for their phones to create customized handsets. “We want to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software: create a vibrant third-party developer ecosystem, lower the barriers to entry, increase the pace of innovation, and substantially compress development timelines,” Motorola Advanced Technology and Projects group leader Paul Eremenko said. The phones will comprise a structural base frame and modules that lock on to it, which could include an extra battery, additional screen or keyboard. See also: With Phonebloks, You Only Throw Away the Parts That Are Broken. – includes link to video clip of Hakkens explaining the concept.


Group Makes 3-D Backups of World Landmarks – (Associated Press – October 21, 2013)
We all know to back up our files and photos, but what about our castles and churches? A nonprofit named CyArk has created digital copies of more than 100 of the world’s best-known monuments, mapping Roman ruins, ancient statues, and even an entire island. Now it plans 400 more, with the goal of digitally preserving the world’s most important sites against war, wear, and the impact of climate change. “There is never going to be enough time or money to preserve everything,” CyArk co-founder Barbara Kacyra said Monday at a launch event at the Tower of London. “If you can’t physically save something, your next best thing is to digitally preserve it.” Oakland, California-based CyArk works by using 3-D laser scanners, radar, and a host of other technologies to create detailed maps of famous monuments — from Mayan pyramids in Chichen Itza to the Leaning Tower of Pisa — measuring nooks and nicks with millimeter precision. Not only do the lasers capture minute damage invisible to most cameras, the 3-D data can be used to create hyper-realistic models and flyover programs used by tourists and educators. Master copies of the measurements are kept by Iron Mountain Inc., which stores some 2 petabytes’ worth of data on magnetic tape in its secure underground archive at the bottom of a former limestone mine in Pennsylvania.


California Company Creates Sustainable Biogas from Landfills – (Nation of Change – October 17, 2013)
Sustainably utilizing the waste of human consumption, though, and a California company has unleashed a biofuel – one that can even run your car – which is sourced from the methane that emanates from landfills. The energy has been named ‘Redeem’ and it burns 90% cleaner than diesel. Clean Energy Fuels is the first company to ever release a commercial form of transportation fuel that is made entirely from human waste. Thousands of taxis, shuttles, rental cars and buses are already using the clean form of energy throughout the state. It is 100% renewable – at least while we have landfills scattered throughout North America. The US currently has over 3000 active landfills, which means there is ample energy to be sourced. Another consideration is the cost of turning this form of energy into a usable fuel. Considering the cost of cleaning up just one oil spill can be billions, like the recent 20,600 barrels of oil which spewed from the Tesoro Logistics Pipeline, the high cost of converting methane gas from landfills is still negligible in comparison. Currently, California incentives allow Clean Energy Fuels to sell Redeem for about the same price as natural gas, and much cheaper than diesel though it runs so much cleaner.

Redox Power Plans to Roll Out Dishwasher-Sized Fuel Cells That Cost 90% Less Than Currently Available Fuel Cells – (Forbes – August 14, 2013)
Redox Power Systems, a Fulton, MD-based start-up company founded last year, sealed the deal on a partnership with researchers at the University of Maryland to commercialize a potentially game-changing distributed generation technology. Redox says that it plans to bring to market a fuel cell that is about one-tenth the size and one-tenth the cost of currently commercial fuel cells by 2014. The breakthrough solid oxide fuel cell technology is the brainchild of Eric Wachsman, the director of the University of Maryland’s Energy Research Center. Redox says that it will provide safe, efficient, reliable, uninterrupted power, on–site and optionally off the grid, at a price competitive with current energy sources. Warren Citrin, CEO and director of Redox, said, “We currently rely upon a vulnerable electrical grid. The best way to decrease that vulnerability is through distributed energy, that is, by making your own energy on-site. We are building systems to do that, with an emphasis on efficiency and affordability. These should be common appliances.” Redox’s PowerSERG 2-80, also called “The Cube,” connects to your natural gas line and electrochemically converts methane to electricity.


Ride to the Edge of Space – (Washington Post – October 22, 2013)
A Tucson-based start-up plans to use a helium balloon to lift big-ticket customers in a pressurized capsule to nearly 100,000 feet. That’s a journey to the edge of space, if not into space as traditionally defined. The passengers would ascend for 1 ½ hours, then spend two hours admiring the world from on high. Then the capsule would be disconnected from the balloon and begin a free-fall, but a parafoil above the capsule would become increasingly effective in the thickening air and the capsule would glide to the surface, landing on skids. Price point: $75,000. The eight passengers on board would presumably come from the same customer pool that feeds high-end luxury vacations, such as round-the-world golf tours. “The sky’s going to be completely black. You’ll be able to see the curvature of the Earth,” said Jane Poynter, co-founder of Paragon Space Development, which has lined up investors for the new venture, World View Enterprises. World View hopes to begin the balloon flights in three years.  (Editor’s note: We wondered how long the free-fall would last; there is no information on the descent time.)

What Will It Take to Actually Build the Hyperloop? – (Fast Company – October 10, 2013)
The Hyperloop made a splash when Elon Musk dreamed up the designs for his 800-mile-per-hour mass transit system in August. But he didn’t have much intention to pursue the $6 billion idea any further. Now the Hyperloop is taking on legs of its own–and maybe going all according to Musk’s plan after all. A team led by Patricia Galloway, a top civil engineer, and Marco Villa, a former SpaceX executive, announced that it would start raising funds to form a company around the goal of developing the Hyperloop. The group will use input from the crowd, through the platform JumpStartFund, and award an ownership stake in the project for useful ideas. And at the 3-D design software company Autodesk, staff have already been working to see how they could improve on the Hyperloop designs–mostly just for fun, says Jordan Brandt, the company’s technology futurist, but he says they’d like to keep seeing where it’ll go. See also: Here’s What Elon Musk’s High Speed Hyperloop Will Look Like.


The Next Generation of Genetic Engineering: Syn-bio – (Organic Matters – September 24, 2013)
Synthetic Biology is a confusing and invariably eerie term which can be best understood as an extreme version of genetic engineering. Also known as “syn-bio,” this extension of genetic engineering is creating something radically new. Traditional genetic engineering requires moving one or two genes from one organism into another organism – a sort of cut and paste affair. Synthetic Biology involves writing new genetic code and biological “circuits” from scratch by printing them out on a DNA printer. In this way scientists can produce synthetic DNA and manipulate it into other organisms to create new living entities never before found in nature. Using computers, yeasts and algae, these synthetically-engineered entities hold great rewards for manufacturers and food companies looking to source less expensive alternatives to natural ingredients and for future potential applications to biofuels, the production of industrial chemicals and biomedical applications. The market for syn-bio is estimated to be $2.4 Billion this year and $10.8 Billion by the year 2016. Between 2005 and 2010 the US government spent $430 million on synthetic biology related research. They spent zero dollars on environmental risk assessment. Large agribusiness, energy, chemical, cosmetics and flavoring companies have meanwhile invested many billions of dollars into the technology. Around 20 products are already on the market or close to commercial use. Our ability to synthesize new genes far outpaces our understanding of how they work. A syn-bio grapefruit flavor and orange flavor are already in commercial use, and some companies want to introduce syn-bio vanillin into our food. Constructed in labs and grown in vats, the DNA of yeast has been genetically reengineered to produce a substance with a vanilla like taste.

The Rise of Indoor Cropping – (GreenFutures – October 11, 2013)
As food producers look for ways to boost productivity and safeguard their crops from an unpredictable climate, has the time come to take agriculture indoors? Fly over Holland and you’ll find yourself looking down on a sea of glass; here, hydroponic greenhouses account for 50% of the value of all fruit and vegetables produced in the country – a practical response to soil depletion, disease and salinization. Making plants less vulnerable to soil degradation and unpredictable weather is just one advantage of indoor cropping; it also offers horticulturalists more control over the conditions, allowing them to drive efficiency, reduce waste and expand production beyond seasons. The potential environmental benefits of this are significant: the assumption that the greenest farming is done outdoors needs to be challenged. The variety of cultivation and irrigation technologies available – as well as ways to harvest key resources, from water to light – makes indoor cropping a diverse practice. While it’s not a given that every indoor project will be high tech, the enclosed environment lends itself well to bio-control technologies. The exceedingly efficient LED lighting new to the market, for example, allows for year round food production in previously unsuitable climates.

Farming in the Arctic: It Can Be Done – (Modern Farmer – October 18, 2013)
On a misty fjord in Greenland, just miles from the planet’s second largest body of ice, Sten Pedersen is growing strawberries. Yellowknife, a Canadian city 320 miles below the Arctic Circle, hosted a farmers market this summer. And a greenhouse in Iqaluit, the capital of the vast Canadian Inuit territory of Nunavut, is producing spinach, kale, peppers and tomatoes. The frozen tundra of the Arctic is experiencing something of an agriculture boom. The reasons are many. For one, Arctic temperatures over the past 100 years have increased at almost twice the global average. The diet of many indigenous Arctic peoples is also changing: Traditionally meat-eaters, groups like the Inuit are now consuming more grains and vegetables. And as is happening further south in the United States and Canada, there’s budding demand for locally grown foods. But perhaps most significant is the fact that Arctic and sub-Arctic communities are isolated: Vegetables and other foods are shipped long distances and cost a fortune, $28 for a head of cabbage in some instances. Not to mention, these supply chains are vulnerable to the region’s litany of both natural and human-made disasters, including blizzards, earthquakes, volcanoes and shipping strikes. One of the biggest challenges seems to be soil: in most areas of the far north, the last Ice Age’s glaciers have scraped the land clear and obtaining good soil is problematic. Soil exists in river deltas but most planters don’t have access to those areas and get their soil from contractors, a system that is not necessarily environmentally sustainable. But solutions are being discovered.


New Air Force Planes Go Directly to ‘Boneyard’ – (Defense Update – October 7, 2013)
New cargo planes on order for the U.S. Air Force are being delivered straight into storage in the Arizona desert because the military has no use for them. A dozen nearly new C-27J Spartans have already been taken out of the US Air National Guard service and shipped to the so-called ‘boneyard’ at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. Five more are expected to be built by April 2014, all of which are headed to the boneyard unless another use for them is found. The Air Force has spent $567 million on 21 C-27J aircraft since 2007, according to purchasing officials at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Sixteen had been delivered by the end of September. A solicitation issued from Wright-Patterson in May sought vendors to build more C-27Js, citing Congressional language requiring the military to spend money budgeted for the planes, despite Pentagon protests. Former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz testified before Congress last year that the military wanted to divest its C-27J fleet to come in line with budget cuts. He said the C-130 can do everything currently asked for and costs $213 million to fly over its 25-year lifespan. The C-27J, on the other hand, would cost $308 million per aircraft. Nevertheless, the C-27Js are still being produced. When asked why the Air Force can’t simply put the brakes on having the other five planes delivered, Air Force spokesman Darryl Mayer responded, “They are too near completion for a termination to be cost effective and other government agencies have requested the aircraft.” Military officials are working to find another user for the planes. In the meantime they will be kept ‘operational’ at the ‘boneyard’ established near Tucson after World War II because the region’s low rainfall, humidity and soil minimize deterioration and corrosion.


Committee to Protect Journalists Issues Scathing Report on Obama Administration – (Guardian – October 10, 2013)
James Goodale, the former general counsel of the New York Times during its epic fights with the Nixon administration, recently observed that “President Obama wants to criminalize the reporting of national security information” and added: “President Obama will surely pass President Richard Nixon as the worst president ever on issues of national security and press freedom.” Still, a new report by the highly respected Committee to Protect Journalists – its first-ever on press freedoms in the US – powerfully underscores just how extreme is the threat to press freedom posed by this administration. Written by former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr., the report offers a comprehensive survey of the multiple ways that the Obama presidency has ushered in a paralyzing climate of fear for journalists and sources alike, one that severely threatens the news-gathering process. Ellen Weiss, Washington bureau chief for E.W. Scripps newspapers and stations, said , “The Obama administration is far worse than the Bush administration’ in trying to thwart accountability reporting about government agencies.” The report identifies at least a dozen other long-time journalists making similar observations. The report ends by noting the glaring irony that Obama aggressively campaigned on a pledge to usher in The Most Transparent Administration Ever™

NSA Collects Millions of e-mail Address Books Globally – (Washington Post – October 14, 2013)
The National Security Agency is harvesting hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world, many of them belonging to Americans, according to senior intelligence officials and top-secret documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The collection program, which has not been disclosed before, intercepts e-mail address books and “buddy lists” from instant messaging services as they move across global data links. Online services often transmit those contacts when a user logs on, composes a message, or synchronizes a computer or mobile device with information stored on remote servers. Rather than targeting individual users, the NSA is gathering contact lists in large numbers that amount to a sizable fraction of the world’s e-mail and instant messaging accounts. Analysis of that data enables the agency to search for hidden connections and to map relationships within a much smaller universe of foreign intelligence targets. During a single day last year, the NSA’s Special Source Operations branch collected 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers, according to an internal NSA PowerPoint presentation. Those figures, described as a typical daily intake in the document, correspond to a rate of more than 250 million a year.


Pet Food Moves up to ‘Fresh’ and ‘Natural’- (Toledo Blade – October 27, 2013)
Marketed as a healthier, more nutritious alternative, some premium dog and cat cuisine has gone the Whole Foods route. Nowhere is that more evident than in Freshpet’s new $25 million factory in eastern Pennsylvania. There thousands of pounds of fresh meat and poultry are pasteurized, mixed with vegetables, chilled, packaged, and sent to branded, refrigerated display cases in more than 10,000 U.S. stores. The 7-year-old company, founded by former Purina executives, is trying to establish a category in an industry long dominated by kibbles and cans: fresh, preservative-free food that requires refrigeration. With sales exceeding $100 million, executives say they are on their way. “People are trying to eat healthier, less processed, simpler foods, and I think they are applying that logic when they’re making pet food decisions,” said Scott Morris, Freshpet’s president and co-founder. Marketing experts say manufacturers are tapping into a number of powerful trends and emotions: Americans’ interest in healthy eating, the rising popularity of organic food, and the tendency to humanize pets.

HBO DOCUMENTARY: “Redemption” – (Democracy Now – January 31, 2013)
The HBO documentary “Redemption” examines New York City’s canners — the largely invisible people who survive by redeeming bottles and cans they collect from curbs, garbage cans and apartment complexes. Many have quietly slipped into poverty after losing their jobs, now living on the margins of society. “In New York City, I think we all tend to walk on the street, and the people who are going through our garbage sort of blend in, and we don’t look them in the eye, we don’t talk to them”. And one day, Sheila Nevins of HBO was walking past her garbage – really early in the morning – and saw somebody who was up earlier than she was, working harder than she was, and she wondered who these people were. It turns out that most of our can collectors have homes. They are the working poor.

Bodies Double as Cash Machines With U.S. Income Lagging – (Bloomberg – October 15, 2013)
Hair, breast milk and eggs are doubling as automated teller machines for some cash-strapped Americans. One woman posted pictures of her 18-inch auburn mane on , asking at least $1,000 and receiving responses within hours. In all but two quarters since the beginning of 2011, “hair,” “eggs,” or “kidney” have been among the top four autofill results for the Google search query, “I want to sell my…,” according to Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at New York-based ConvergEx Group, which provides brokerage and trading-related services for institutional investors. While Americans can legally sell hair, breast milk and eggs, the sale and purchase of a kidney in the U.S. is against the law. “The fact that people even explore it indicates that there are still a lot of people worried about their financial outlook,” said Colas, who tracks off-the-grid economic indicators.


Our Star-Trek Future – NASA Scientists Engineering a Warp-Drive Solution for Faster-Than-Light Space Travel – (Daily Galaxy – October 28, 2013)
According to current theory, a warp drive could cut the travel time between stars from tens of thousands of years to weeks or months. Harold G. White, a physicist and advanced propulsion engineer at NASA and other NASA engineers are trying to determine whether faster-than-light travel — warp drive — might someday be possible. The team has attempting to slightly warp the trajectory of a photon, changing the distance it travels in a certain area, and then observing the change with a device called an interferometer. In 1994, a Mexican physicist, Miguel Alcubierre, theorized that faster-than-light speeds were possible in a way that did not contradict Einstein by harnessing the expansion and contraction of space itself. Alcubierre’s theory, however, depended on large amounts of a little understood or observed type of “exotic matter” that violates typical physical laws. Dr. White believes that advances he and others have made render warp speed less implausible. Among other things, he has redesigned the theoretical warp-traveling spacecraft — and in particular a ring around it that is key to its propulsion system — in a way that he believes will greatly reduce the energy requirements. But ”We’re not bolting this to a spacecraft,” he said of the technology.


37% of Americans Expect to Work for Life – (Parade – October 24, 2013)
For a big portion of middle-class Americans, retirement seems like nothing more than a fantasy. More than a third of Americans say they expect to work until they drop, according to a new study from Wells Fargo. The survey asked middle-income Americans (who earn between $25,000 and $100,000) whether they think they’ll stay on the job until death or illness prevents them from working—and 37% said yes. “This is the first time we asked if people thought they would work until they die or become too sick,” according to Laurie Nordquist, head of Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust. Wells Fargo also asked if respondents think they’ll keep working until they are at least 80 years old—and 34%, up from 25% two years ago, said yes.


Major Silicon Photonics Breakthrough Could Allow for Continued Exponential Growth in Microprocessors – (KurzweilAI – October 8, 2013)
Researchers have developed a new technique in silicon photonics that could allow for exponential improvement in microprocessors to continue well into the future. The technique allows microprocessors to use light instead of electrical wires to communicate with transistors on a single chip, a system that could also lead to energy-efficient computing. CU-Boulder researcher Milos Popovic, an assistant professor of electrical, computer and energy engineering, and his colleagues created two different optical modulators — structures that detect electrical signals and translate them into optical waves — that can be fabricated within the same processes already used in industry to create today’s state-of-the-art electronic microprocessors. Microelectronics also are limited by the fact that placing electrical wires that carry data too closely together can result in “cross talk” between the wires. In the last half-dozen years, microprocessor manufacturers, such as Intel, have been able to continue increasing computing speed by packing more than one microprocessor into a single chip to create multiple “cores.” But that technique is limited by the amount of communication that then becomes necessary between the microprocessors, which also requires hefty electricity consumption. Optical communication circuits, known as photonics, have two main advantages over communication that relies on conventional wires: using light has the potential to be brutally energy efficient, and a single fiber-optic strand can carry a thousand different wavelengths of light at the same time, allowing for multiple communications to be carried simultaneously in a small space and eliminating cross talk.


Rental Business Aaron’s Admits Role in Spying on Its Customers – (Arizona Star – October 22, 2013)
Spying is not just government business. After firmly denying that it used software on its rent-to-own computers to spy on customers — including capturing passwords, sensitive financial information and images of private intimate moments — Aaron’s has owned up to the practice in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. Aaron’s, one of the nation’s biggest rental businesses with 1,880 locations in 48 states, admitted that it “knowingly played a direct and vital role in its franchisees’ installation and use of software” to secretly collect data from customers. The company also stored the captured data on its servers and shared collected information with franchisees. The revelation comes as Atlanta-based Aaron’s fights at least four class-action lawsuits over the spying, with plaintiffs numbering in the thousands. The FTC focused on Aaron’s after investigating Designerware LLC, a Pennsylvania company that provided Aaron’s software, called PC Rental Agent. The software was included on laptops and desktops so Aaron’s and its franchisees could recover unreturned computer equipment. The software, however, was turned on — regardless of customers’ rental status — and monitored keystrokes, captured screenshots and activated computer webcams. It also included “deceptive ‘software registration’ screens designed to get computer users to provide personal information,” the FTC said. The class-action lawsuits also allege that captured information included photos of children, and photos of partially clothed individuals and couples engaged in intimate moments.

Startup to Revolutionize Inflation Tracking – (Investor Place – October 15, 2013)
Google‘s venture capital group is funding a fledgling company that promises to change the way analysts monitor changes in key global economic metrics. Premise Data Corp. has found a novel way to track real-time changes in inflation. The startup uses smartphone-taken photos of products on store shelves, gathered by 700 workers in 25 U.S. cities, to track daily price changes. While the photo-taking is novel, Premise Data obtains about 80% of its current inflation tracking data through other software that analyzes pricing information for products listed on retail websites. See also: Startup Premise Data collects, sells better data.

Switzerland to Vote on $2,800 Monthly ‘Basic Income’ for Adults – (Yahoo News – October 5, 2013)
More than 100,000 residents in Switzerland have signed a petition demanding that the government ensure a minimum monthly income of nearly $2,800 (2,500 Swiss francs) for all adults in the country. The 120,000 signatures are enough to formally call a vote in the government over whether or not to approve the “CHF 2,500 monthly for everyone” (Grundeinkommen)” funding proposal. For comparison, the average U.S. worker earned $3,769 in pre-tax, monthly salary in 2011. Food service industry workers earned $1,785 in pre-tax income during the same period. A formal date has yet to be set for the vote but it could come as early as this year. Funding for the proposed measure would come out of the Swiss social insurance system, which already guarantees universal health care coverage for its citizens, along with other benefits designed to uphold the country’s social safety net. Because of the relatively low threshold for forcing votes on referendum driven issues, Switzerland typically votes on several public measures each year. For example, on November 24th, the country will vote on a separate measure that would limit executive pay to the same amount paid to a company’s lowest paid staff member. The so-called 1:12 initiative has received support from the Swiss government’s Social Democrat bloc. At least one of Switzerland’s biggest CEO’s has said if the measure passes, he would consider moving his company out of the country . (Editor’s note: If 47% of American jobs become automated within the next 20 years, as an Oxford University study has predicted, simply guaranteeing everyone a basic income may become a political necessity.)


As Health Marketplaces Open, Vermont Has Bigger Goals – (Austin Chronicle – October 26, 2013)
Vermont is planning a 2017 launch of the nation’s first universal health care system, a sort of modified Medicare-for-all that has long been a dream for many liberals. The plan is especially ambitious in the current atmosphere surrounding health care in the United States. Republicans in Congress balk at the federal health overhaul years after it was signed into law. States are still negotiating their terms for implementing it. And some major employers have begun to drastically limit their offerings of employee health insurance, raising questions about the future of the industry altogether. In such a setting, Vermont’s plan looks more and more like an anomaly. It combines universal coverage with new cost controls in an effort to move away from a system in which the more procedures doctors and hospitals perform, the more they get paid, to one in which providers have a set budget to care for a set number of patients. The result will be health care that’s “a right and not a privilege,” Gov. Peter Shumlin said. The reasons tiny Vermont may be ripe for one of the costliest and most closely watched social experiments of its time? It’s the most liberal state in the country, according to Election Day exit polls. Democrats hold the governor’s office and big majorities in both houses of the Legislature. It has a tradition of activism. Several times in recent years, hundreds of people have rallied in Montpelier for a campaign advocating that health care is a human right. And it’s small. With a population of about 626,000 and just 15 hospitals, all nonprofits, Vermont is seen by policy experts as a manageable place to launch a universal health care project.

Dogs Are People, Too – (New York Times – October 6, 2013)
FOR the past two years, researchers have been training dogs to go in an M.R.I. scanner — completely awake and unrestrained. Their goal has been to determine how dogs’ brains work and, even more important, what they think of us humans. Now, after training and scanning a dozen dogs, the one inescapable conclusion is this: dogs are people, too. Because dogs can’t speak, scientists have relied on behavioral observations to infer what dogs are thinking. It is a tricky business. You can’t ask a dog why he does something. And you certainly can’t ask him how he feels. The prospect of ferreting out animal emotions scares many scientists. After all, animal research is big business. It has been easy to sidestep the difficult questions about animal sentience and emotions because they have been unanswerable. Until now. By looking directly at their brains and bypassing the constraints of behaviorism, M.R.I.’s can tell us about dogs’ internal states. Although we are just beginning to answer basic questions about the canine brain, we cannot ignore the striking similarity between dogs and humans in both the structure and function of a key brain region: the caudate nucleus. Rich in dopamine receptors, the caudate sits between the brainstem and the cortex. In humans, the caudate plays a key role in the anticipation of things we enjoy, like food, love and money. But can we flip this association around and infer what a person is thinking just by measuring caudate activity? Because of the overwhelming complexity of how different parts of the brain are connected to one another, it is not usually possible to pin a single cognitive function or emotion to a single brain region. But the caudate may be an exception. By using the M.R.I. to push away the limitations of behaviorism, we can no longer hide from the evidence. Dogs, and probably many other animals (especially our closest primate relatives), seem to have emotions just like us. And this means we must reconsider their treatment as property.

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

Touching Strangers – (Facebook – 2008)
Richard Renaldi is a professional photographer who has been walking up to complete strangers in New York City and asking them to pose for him. Not just pose with each other, but to also touch each other while doing that. The photographs that come out of his project, “Touching Strangers”, are a remarkable testament to the connectedness of humanity.  See also: A Conversation with Richard Renaldi about ‘Touching Strangers’.

Scientists Find Gold Growing on Trees in Australia – (CNN – October 22, 2013)
Parents beware: You’re about to have one less idiom in your repertoire. Scientists in Australia have discovered gold deposits on eucalyptus trees in the Outback. Yes, you read that right — money can actually “grow” on trees. While it’s not new that plants and trees absorb minerals such as gold through their leaves, scientists had previously been unable to prove that the minerals in question came from deeper underground and not from surface soil deposits. The paper’s authors hope that their findings will turn into a trusted form of gold prospecting. According to the paper, eucalyptus and acacia trees, such as the ones studied at the Freddo and Barns Gold prospects in Western and South Australia respectively, have deep and extensive root systems. In times of drought, their roots dig deep in search of water. So deep, in fact, that some trees have literally struck gold.(Editor’s note: We presume that the paper’s authors do not intend to have people stripping off all of a tree’s leaves to extract the gold – the amount of gold in leaves is roughly 80 parts/billion – but will test a few leaves and, if gold is present, will have better information about sub-surface prospecting. Unfortunately, even that, may disturb a tree’s root structure enough that it will kill the tree – not a good thing in already drought-stricken Australia.)


Sculpture for Wildlife Habitat – (Crafthaus – June, 2013)
This Crafthaus exhibit features sculptors whose work provides habitat for wild creatures.  Intended inhabitants range from insects to birds to sea life.


If you are going through hell, keep going. –Winston Churchill

A special thanks to: Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, 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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