Volume 16, Number 22 – 11/30/13

 Volume 16, Number 22 – 11/30/13 Twitter  Facebook



  • Google Glass and telepresence technology greatly expand the possibilities of real-time surgical consulting and oversight.
  • By reactivating a dormant gene called Lin28a, normally active in embryonic stem cells, researchers were able to regrow hair and repair cartilage, bone, skin and other soft tissues in a mouse.
  • New fracking procedure recycles 100% of water – no toxic water disposal.
  • A program devised by the British intelligence agency allowed analysts to monitor the bookings of foreign diplomats at 350 top hotels across the world.

by John L. Petersen

Help Us Keep FUTUREdition Going

Each year during this holiday season we appeal to you to help support this free e-newsletter that you are reading. The truth of the matter is that without your help we would not be able to publish FE. As I’ve mentioned before, it costs something more than $15,000 a year (not counting any of my time) to gather up, organize and get it out to you twice month.

Throughout the year I receive a great number of positive comments from FE readers recounting why they value the unique articles and perspectives that they find here. Most say something like they don’t know where else they could go to get the broad coverage of many different – and important – trends and events, all of which have the potential of significantly influencing our lives in the coming months and years. And, “How in the world do you collect so many interesting articles each issue? It must take you all month just to gather them up.”

For me, FE is an extraordinary resource for taking the temperature of the unprecedented change that is happening on this planet. I try to select items that are out on the leading edge of change . . . and I particularly look for those things that won’t show up in the mainstream media. I’m interested in things that are provocative and encourage us all to think more broadly, becoming open to possibilities that we have never before experienced. Our ability to navigate the change that is on the horizon will largely be determined by the new ideas – the innovation – that we, as a species are able to come up with for dealing with the unfamiliar new terrain spread as far as we can see.

You’ll have to admit that there are a lot of new and novel ideas in each edition of FE that help to push you into thinking about things in a different way than you have in the past.

I think that it’s clear that familiar legacy systems like politics, foreign affairs, climate, energy, and the financial system (to name a few) are all imploding. They are not structurally able to deal with the magnitude and rate of change that we are experiencing.

The situation will only become exacerbated as the underlying exponential compounding moves us rapidly into situations for which there are no precedents. Even more reason to be aware, as soon as possible, of what might be headed this way. That’s our goal here – anticipating the emergence of a new era — and I hope that you will support us this holiday season.

We publish twice a month – 24 issues a year. If you think what you learn each issue is worth a buck and a half (that’s about half the cost of a cup of coffee at Starbucks!) then please click here and send us $35 to help keep FE coming.

Not everyone will want to, or be able to contribute, so you may choose to be even more generous to help us cover the direct costs. Every year some readers send along $100 or even $500. A couple of years ago one very generous friend clicked on the link and sent $5,000 – which was really wonderfully appreciated.

Even at that, with all of the kindness of folks like you, we have never been able to cover all of the costs of publishing this newsletter.

So, help us if you can. Click here. It’s easy and fast . . . and we’ll be very appreciative.

Warm holiday wishes.

The New Future of Art and Science

A few weeks ago Daniel Pinchbeck invited me up to New York to tape an episode of his GaiamTV show Mind Shift. It was an interesting session that you may want to see. You can find my contribution (and those of many other interesting people) at Here’s what they said about our segment:

Since time immemorial, art has had the pervasive power to influence attitudes and opinions on a grand scale. In more recent times, science has come forward as the primary architect of the world in which we now live. John Petersen and Carter Cleveland join Daniel Pinchbeck to explain how the collusion of art and science can inspire mankind’s coming of age in this interview originally webcast October 29, 2013.

John Petersen stands at the forefront of technological advancements and offers his unique foresight for the next generation of humankind. Carter Cleveland, who has always stood at the precipice of art and science, realized his vision of bringing art collections to a wider audience with his website, Together, they explain how advancements in social network technology will become the most powerful tool for transformation that we have ever known.

The show’s host, Daniel Pinchbeck, got married earlier this Thanksgiving week in New York City and he and his new bride, Jana, invited Diane and me to join in their delightful, post-wedding festivities where I met a number of new friends who have been a part of Daniel’s life. As you may know, Daniel’s reputation is one of being an explorer of the future through the lens of psychedelic experiences. Thinking about that and the subject of our on-air segment about the intersection of art and the future suggested the following as an integrated way of understanding the reality in which we live.

Drugs, Dreams and Art

Many unconventional and conventional sources (including people like Albert Einstein) have proposed that we are part of one reality in which everything, both in terms of possibilities and temporal time, coexist in one, wholistic entity. It’s a hard concept for us, locked in a linear time-defined subset of the whole, to wrap our minds around, but attempts to do so look something like this:

Each of our personal realities is like a single sheet of paper located within a pile of millions of papers (or alternatively, a single point on a very large oriental carpet), where each sheet (or point) represents one distinct reality within a larger context within which every other potential reality coexists. In this overarching reality, -space time does not exist, so every possible past and future exists (and is accessible).

The focus of our consciousness at any given moment on a particular page/point gives us the sense of a unique, temporal experience. We systematically move from page/point to page/point with each of the thousands (or millions) of decisions we make each day, manufacturing the time-based experience that defines our human sense of reality. We have a certain amount of latitude in making those moment-by-moment decisions and thus exercise a degree of control over the future that we ultimately experience. In general, the system is deterministic – earlier decisions constrain the options that are available downstream.

Since every potential future (and past) exists within the space where we operate the possibility exists for us to:

a) move to another page/point (at will), and
b) sense major aspects of adjacent or emerging futures before we move into the page/point of having the literal experience.

There are processes (Matrix Energetics comes to mind), that appear to have refined the methodology of moving – rather quickly – from one situation/state to another and in the process, (by definition) eliminating aspects of the previous state. They use this approach for healing and affecting rather miraculous shifts to new realities.

The issue of anticipating futures seems to behave somewhat differently. It is almost as though there is a field – maybe an emotional one – that is attached to large-scale disruptions like tsunamis, 9/11, and the death of Princess Diana. On one hand, the aggregated individual emotions that attend extraordinary events of this type seem like the bow wave on a large, fast moving ship that is transmitted into the near space that surrounds the actually experienced page/point. It is as though this pulsing event sends out signals that broadcast across the adjacent “timelines”.

The intensity of this field is said to vary geometrically in a compounding relationship derived from the underlying number of similarly entrained individuals, e.g. 12 people having a common image/feeling is more powerful than over 4000 individuals with different perspectives, so when large numbers of people are similarly consumed with emotions and images related to a particular event, a very significant signal is transmitted to adjacent potential realities.

Continuing with this necessarily very inadequate model, the projected field, which contains both emotional and detailed descriptive information, appears to be accessed by certain individuals who, like a sensitive radio receiver, are open enough to effectively receive, tune to and translate the images.

I use this analogy because there are people, like my friend Chris Robinson and others that I know, who appear to access these fields in dreams. Chris, in particular, has a very successful history of anticipating futures for government agencies, and when staying in our home on one occasion, telling us in the morning what was going to happen later in the day. I have other friends who dream about the future in somewhat different ways.

And there’s the history of hundreds of individuals who, starting six months before 9/11, began to have dreams about people jumping out of burning high rise buildings that only made sense after the fact. Sometimes the emotional intensity of the inbound event bleeds into the dream space where, one could argue, we are more open to such things then when we are awake.

Clif High and his web bot project at is built around the notion that significant potential future events telegraph their incoming arrival almost subliminally into the everyday thoughts of the human population and then show up in specific terms and phrases that can be extracted, with the right technology, from the larger global Internet-based conversation. He certainly got 9/11, the big tsunami and Edward Snowden (and a number of other events) spot on.

On a different front, people like Daniel Pinchbeck (in his books Breaking Open the Head, and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl) would argue that psychedelic drugs appropriately used can function to open the aperture of the mind to other “dimensions” that can, among other things, provide indications of potential upcoming events . . . or help mitigate traumatic past experiences.

There are others who appear to function in this transition space between the present and potential futures. I know an art analyst, for example, (I wouldn’t necessarily call him a critic) who argues that he can see broad, but defined indications of general futures (or the direction that humanity is going) through leading edge art.

It is as though certain artists, like all who try to convert the ineffable into the tangible, have the ability to tap into the underlying directional flow of the river of time and can tune into and translate those “radio waves” into representational shapes, textures, figures, colors and sounds. If, like my friend, you can “see” the message, then the creative product has significantly more meaning than for someone like me who just knows what he likes and how it makes him feel.

In any case, this kind of analysis begs the question, what is it the artist is receiving and turning into physical form? Maybe our best guess is that it is an informational field.

There’s an important point that needs to be made here: we’re talking about potential futures. Where each of us ends up in the paper pile of futures or specific spot on the highly decorated carpet depends specifically on what decisions each of us makes – both individually and in concert.

As suggested earlier, the likelihood (or impact) of a particular future appears to vary with the number of people who hold the picture and associated emotions in their minds. If the effectiveness of this imaging process varies geometrically with the number of people participating in the specific process a relatively small number of people, resolutely focused on a common image of a future, could well change the direction of how reality manifests on a much larger scale.

What this also means is that if a small number of key individuals change their mind, a particular future that otherwise looked like a slam dunk won’t show up.

There’s an interesting angle on all of this that I haven’t seen mentioned before and that’s the role that social media and that alternative press play in mediating the process by which small (and large) numbers of people are able to collect around common images of the future – both positive and negative – and thereby drive the corporate process of manifesting the future.

Not only has the Internet, alternative press and social media disintermediated the whole information proliferation process by replacing the intrinsic control that was built into a relatively small numbers of channels, networks, publishers and commercial printers, but it has accelerated the metabolism of the idea proliferation process by orders of magnitude over that of magazines, newspapers, and broadcast television. New ideas and images rocket their way around the globe almost instantaneously as it is and I am aware of a new technology now being deployed that will dramatically increase the ability and incentives for new ideas to find and take hold in groups of like-minded people.

This new generation and distribution infrastructure also significantly complicates the ability of governments, politicians and commercial interests to control the messages that are translated, generating a far more volatile and malleable idea space.

In any case, all of these converging ideas, capabilities and forces appear to be fundamentally changing the essential nature of how we all live on this planet.



5 Visions for What Families Will Look Like in 2030 – (Fast Company – November 22, 2013)
Over the past few generations, Western ideas about family have shifted dramatically. People wait longer to have kids and many “boomerang” back to their parents’ homes before finally setting out on their own. When they do finally leave, they often scatter far away from their hometowns. The elderly, meanwhile, are sent off into old age homes instead of staying at home with their communities. As more people move into cities, natural resources decline, climate change heats up, and the “sharing economy” continues to pick up steam, our notions of family will continue to shift. Dragon Rouge, a design and marketing firm in London, imagines five different types of families of the future: the Multi-Gens, the Silver Linings, Ruralites, the Tandem Tribe, and Modular Movers. For example, The Multi-Gens are exactly what they sound like–multiple generations of families living together. In some respects, the Multi-Gens are a throwback to the not-so-distant past, when it was the norm to have old and young living together. But this concept of family has a futuristic twist: a “cloud-based family hub” that allows family members to divvy up chores and financial transactions. The firm also work out how different brands might service each family type. (Editor’s note: We suspect Dragon Rouge is a bit off-target with their brand/marketing ideas, but maybe fairly on-target in terms of their five groups.  Besides the Multi-Gens, check out the others.)

Is it OK to Torture or Murder a Robot? – (BBC News – November 27, 2013)
For Kate Darling, a researcher at MIT, our reaction to robot cruelty is important because a new wave of machines is forcing us to reconsider our relationship with them. When Darling described her Pleo dinosaur experiment (asking people to torture or dismember a robotic toy), she made the case that mistreating certain kinds of robots could soon become unacceptable in the eyes of society. She even believes that we may need a set of “robot rights”. If so, in what circumstances would it be OK to torture or murder a robot? And what would it take to make you think twice before being cruel to a machine? Nobody feels bad about chucking away a toaster or a remote-control toy car. Yet the arrival of social robots changes that. They display autonomous behavior, show intent and embody familiar forms like pets or humanoids, says Darling. Earlier this year, researchers from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany used an fMRI scanner and devices that measure skin conductance to track people’s reactions to a video of somebody torturing a Pleo dinosaur. The physiological and emotional responses they measured were much stronger than expected, despite the fact that people were aware that they were watching a robot. Given the possibility of such strong emotional reactions, a few years ago roboticists in Europe argued that we need a new set of ethical rules for building robots. The idea was to adapt author Isaac Asimov’s famous “laws of robotics”. One of the five rules was that robots “should not be designed in a deceptive way… their machine nature must be transparent”. In other words, there needs to be a way to break the illusion of emotion and intent, and see a robot for what it is: wires, actuators and software. This article raises interesting hypothetical questions, not only about what may or may not be acceptable to do to a machine but about the larger social implications of machine or virtual game “cruelty”. (Editor’s note: The article does not go quite so far as to explore the ever-thinning line between virtual and real cruelty or violence – between, say, violence seen on a television screen in a living room, violence to a robot performed in that same living room or violence performed by a robot. When exactly does violence go from being virtual to real? Such a question is just outside the scope of the article – but very soon will become relevant.)


New Star System Similar to Ours –“We Cannot Stress How Important This Discovery Is” – (Daily Galaxy – November 27, 2013)
A team of European astrophysicists has discovered the most extensive planetary system to date that orbit  star KOI-351 – with seven planets, more than in other known planetary systems arranged in a similar fashion to the eight planets in the Solar System, with small rocky planets close to the parent star and gas giant planets at greater distances. Although the planetary system around KOI-351 is packed together more tightly, “We cannot stress just how important this discovery is. It is a big step in the search for a ‘twin’ to the Solar System, and thus also in finding a second Earth,” said Juan Cabrera, an astrophysicist at the DLR Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin-Adlershof. KOI is the abbreviation for ‘Kepler Object of Interest’, which means the star was observed by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, between 2008 and 2013, and classified as a candidate for the existence of exoplanets. At present, KOI-351 is the star with the most extrasolar planets, or exoplanets for short. The star is 2500 light years away from Earth. Three of the seven planets in orbit around the star KOI-351 were discovered in recent years, and have periods of 331, 211 and 60 days, similar to those of Earth, Venus and Mercury. “No other planetary system shows such a similar ‘architecture’ to that of our cosmic home as does the planetary system around KOI-351,” says Cabrera.


Remote Virtual Surgery via Google Glass and Telepresence – (Kurzweil Ai – November 12, 2013)
A University of Alabama at Birmingham(UAB) surgical team has performed one of the first surgeries using a telepresence augmented reality technology from VIPAAR (Virtual Interactive Presence in Augmented Reality) in conjunction with Google Glass. The combination of the two technologies could be an important step toward the development of useful, practical telemedicine. VIPAAR is commercializing a UAB-developed technology that provides real-time, two-way, interactive video conferencing. UAB orthopedic surgeon Brent Ponce, M.D., performed a shoulder replacement surgery Sept. 12 at UAB Highlands Hospital in Birmingham. Watching and interacting with Ponce via the VIPAAR technology was Phani Dantuluri, M.D., from his office in Atlanta. Ponce wore Google Glass during the operation. The built-in camera transmitted the image of the surgical field to Dantuluri. The VIPAAR technology allowed Dantuluri to see exactly what Ponce saw in the operating room and introduce his hands or instruments into the virtual surgical field.At the same time, Ponce saw Dantuluri’s hands and instruments in his Google Glass display, along with his own field of view, as a merged-reality environment. UAB physicians say this kind of technology could greatly enhance patient care by allowing a veteran surgeon to remotely provide valuable expertise to less experienced surgeons.

Genetic Link to Skin Cancer Found in Medical Records – (Technology Review – November 24, 2013)
Usually, studying the relationship between DNA and disease involves comparing the genomes of thousands of people who have a disorder to the genomes of thousands of people who don’t. These studies can be expensive and may take years. A more cost-effective and speedier alternative is to mine the growing pool of genetic data in electronic medical records. The idea behind the new method for genetic discover is to be able to “reuse” the data in these records for medical discoveries, says Joshua Denny, a physician-scientist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. To identify previously unknown relationships between disease and DNA variants, Denny and colleagues grouped around 15,000 billing codes from medical records into 1,600 disease categories. Then, the researchers looked for associations between disease categories and DNA data available in each record. Their biggest new findings all involved skin diseases (just a coincidence, says Denny, the lead author): non melanoma skin cancer and two forms of skin growths called keratosis, one of which is pre-cancerous. The team was able to validate the connection between these conditions and their associated gene variants in other patient data.

Hair, Bone and Soft Tissue Regrown in Mice by Enhancing Cell Metabolism– (GizMag – November 11, 2013)
Young animals are known to repair their tissues effortlessly, but can this capacity be recaptured in adults? A new study from researchers at the Stem Cell Program at Boston Children’s Hospital suggests that it can. By reactivating a dormant gene called Lin28a, which is active in embryonic stem cells, researchers were able to regrow hair and repair cartilage, bone, skin and other soft tissues in a mouse. The study also found that Lin28a promotes tissue repair in part by enhancing metabolism in mitochondria — the energy-producing engines in cells — suggesting that a mundane cellular “housekeeping” function could open new avenues for developing regenerative treatments. ` Lin28a enhances the production of metabolic enzymes in mitochondria, the structures that produce energy for the cell. By revving up a cell’s bioenergetics, Lin28a helps generate the energy needed to stimulate and grow new tissues. Further experiments showed that bypassing Lin28a and directly activating mitochondrial metabolism with a small-molecule compound also had the effect of enhancing wound healing. This suggests the possibility of inducing regeneration and promoting tissue repair with drugs. “We already know that accumulated defects in mitochondrial metabolism can lead to aging in many cells and tissues,” says Shyh-Chang. “We are showing the converse — that enhancement of mitochondrial metabolism can boost tissue repair and regeneration, recapturing the remarkable repair capacity of juvenile animals.”

Body Piercing Controls Wheelchair – (BBC News – November 27, 2013)
The movement of a tiny magnet in a tongue piercing is detected by sensors and converted into commands, which can control a range of devices. The team at the Georgia Institute of Technology made the unlikely leap from body art to wheelchairs because the tongue is so spectacularly supple. A large section of the brain is dedicated to controlling the tongue because of its role in speech. It is also unaffected by spinal cord injuries that can render the rest of the body paralyzed, tetraplegic, as it has its own hotline to the brain. A lentil-sized piercing in the tongue produces a magnetic field, which changes as the tongue moves. Sensors on the cheeks can then detect the precise position of the piercing. In the trial, on 23 able-bodied people and 11 with tetraplegia, six positions in the mouth were programmed to control a wheelchair or a computer such as touching the left cheek to turn the chair to the left.

New Genome-Editing Method Could Make Gene Therapy More Precise and Effective – (Technology Review – November 27, 2013)
In the last two years, scientists have come to better understand that many microbes use a system of protein and RNAs (molecular cousins of DNA) to defend themselves against invading viruses. Researchers have adapted this bacterial immune system, referred to as CRISPR/Cas, to edit single base pairs of the human genome as well as larger stretches of DNA. “Big ideas like this emerge in the science world infrequently,” says Douglas Cole of Flagship Ventures, one of the three life-science-focused venture-capital firms investing in Editas Medicine, a new startup, now backed with $43 million. The CRISPR/Cas system uses a “guide” RNA to bring the DNA-cutting Cas protein to a specific DNA sequence that contains a disease-causing mutation. Once the Cas protein cuts the DNA at that target site, the system replaces the faulty DNA sequence with a healthy version. Harvard geneticist George Church, who cofounded Editas, says the technology’s ability to change single base pairs enables fundamentally new ways of thinking about gene therapy. Many inherited diseases, including cystic fibrosis and sickle-cell anemia, are caused by single base pair changes to the DNA sequence of genes; the precise CRISPR/Cas technology could correct these mutations in patients. However, research is still needed to address significant technical issues before this method can become medically useful.


Fracking without Freshwater at a West Texas Oilfield – (Reuters – November 21, 2013)
At a dusty Texas oilfield, Apache Corp has eliminated its reliance on what arguably could be the biggest long-term constraint for fracking wells in the arid western United States: scarce freshwater. For only one well, millions of gallons of water are used for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the process that has helped reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil over the past five years by cracking rock deep underground to release oil and gas. The company’s approach could have broader significance for areas prone to drought. “We’re not using freshwater out here,” Lucian Wray, production manager for Apache’s South Permian region, said of the company’s Barnhart operating area, which is run out of a former hunting lodge. “We are recycling 100% of our produced water. We don’t dispose of any of it.” “Produced water” is a byproduct of oil and natural gas drilling. “Flowback” water is the fluid pushed out of a well during fracking. Apache is recycling both types, which are typically trucked away and put into underground disposal wells. Apache’s ultimate goal is to develop a recycling system for use in its other oilfields. Excluding outlays for its homegrown recycling system, Apache says it costs 29 cents a barrel to treat flowback water. That is a fraction of the $2.50 per barrel it costs to dispose of water using a third party. Using conventional methods, water costs can eat up 10% of a well’s capital budget.


Google’s Top Futurist Says Your ‘Privacy May Be An Anomaly’ – (Business Insider – November 21, 2013)
One of Google’s top futurists, Vinton Cerf, has said that “privacy may be an anomaly” and “it will be increasingly difficult for us to achieve privacy.” They are scary words, coming from a man whose official job title at Google is vp/chief internet evangelist. Cerf is also known as the “father of the internet,” after his role in developing ARPANET, the forerunner to the web. His remarks came during a speech he made at a conference on the “Internet of Things”. Historically, Cerf said, humans have had very little personal privacy. The industrial revolution may have created a brief period in which humans enjoyed private, anonymous lives. But that temporary era may be over. “We are gonna live through situations where some people get embarrassed, some people end up going to jail, some other people have other problems as a consequence of some of these experiences,” Cerf said. More respectful privacy conventions will likely develop as we move forward, he says, but for now, “This is something we’re gonna have to live through. I don’t think it’s easy to dictate this.” On the subject of the Internet of things, see also: The Internet of Things Will Be Huge—Just Not as Huge as the Hype and this collection of articles all on that topic along with the one from Technology ReviewThe Internet of Things, Unplugged and Untethered.

Leap Reader Interprets Sign Language – (Ubergizmo – November 11, 2013)
Google Translate comes in pretty handy for the most basic of phrases, but how about sign language? It has not quite reached such a standard just yet, but a couple of Portuguese designers based in Sydney are at work on a practical idea for facilitating communication between people whenever there is sign language involved. The project by Catarina Araujo and Sofia Santos currently remains at the development stage, although they are already on the lookout for financial backers. It will make use of Leap Motion technology in order to create a wearable sign language translator to be worn around the neck, just like a necklace. Since Leap Motion technology will be able to track hand movements, the new device would know how to translate such tracked movements into words which then appear on a screen. See here for a more complete description of proposed product.

Powerful Nations and Companies Fight Back Against NSA Spying – (Washington’s Blog – October 24, 2013)
This blog entry gives an excellent, detailed review of some of the steps being taken by countries and communications corporations to circumvent the possibility of NSA eavesdropping. For example, the Brazilian government plans to lay underwater fiber optic cable directly to Europe and also link to all South American nations to create what it hopes will be a network free of US eavesdropping; China is dropping IBM hardware like a hot potato due to security concerns (Intel and AMD may not be far behind); Germany is also rolling out a system that would keep all data within Germany’s national borders. ICANN and W3C – along with groups like the Internet Society and the Internet Engineering Task Force – are largely responsible for administering the electronic “plumbing” of the Web. In response to NSA spying revelations, all of these groups just told the U.S. to pound sand.


In the Backyard, Grandma’s New Apartment – (New York Times – May 1, 2012)
Though many families with aging parents who are no longer safe alone are often forced to consider nursing homes, there are other options. One of them is a MEDCottage — a prefabricated 12-by-24-foot bedroom-bathroom-kitchenette unit that can be set up as a free-standing structure in a backyard. It’s more than a miniature house — it’s decked out with high-tech monitoring and safety features that rival those of many nursing homes. The floors, for instance: It has special rubber floors, so even if you fall, you’ll be safe[r].” Indeed, according to Kenneth Dupin, a minister and the founder of N2Care, the Virginia company that worked with the Virginia Tech College of Engineering to design the MEDCottage, you can drop an egg from 18 inches onto the special flooring without breaking it. The cottage costs about $85,000 new; the distributor will buy it back for about $38,000 after 24 months of use. A prefab alternative is P.A.L.S., short for Practical Assisted Living Structures. Though each P.A.L.S. unit is customized to the client’s needs, the standard 20-by-14-foot bedroom and bathroom unit starts at about $67,000. Homeowners can also lease a unit. A five-year lease runs about $1,700 per month, after which you own the unit. The pod comes with phone and TV cable lines built into the wall (no wires to trip on), a closet with levers that lower the clothes to wheelchair level, motion detectors that automatically turn the knee-high night-light system on, showers with grab bars and various types of no-step entries, wheelchair-accessible sinks and comfort-height toilets.


Water-recycling Shower Cuts Bills by Over $1,000 – (CNN – November 11, 2013)
In space, astronauts go for years without a fresh supply of water. Floating in a capsule in outer space they wash and drink from the same continuously recycled source. So why, asked Swedish industrial designer Mehrdad Mahdjoubi, do we not do the same on Earth? This was the concept behind the OrbSys Shower — a high-tech purification system that recycles water while you wash. Similar to space showers, it works on a “closed loop system:” hot water falls from the tap to the drain and is instantly purified to drinking water standard and then pumped back out of the showerhead. As the process is quick, the water remains hot and only needs to be reheated very slightly. As a result, it saves more than 90% in water usage and 80% in energy every time you shower, while also producing water that is cleaner than your average tap. The system doesn’t compromise on comfort. It has a higher than average water pressure and a very stable flow because, unlike conventional showers, it works independently from other appliances. This year, his showers were field tested in Ribersborgs Kallbadhus, a coastal bathing house in Sweden. During the summer months more than 1000 bathers come and swim in waters rich with plankton, algae and seaweed, before showering. User feedback was positive.

Printing Batteries – (Technology Review – November 25, 2013)
New inks and tools allow 3-D printing of lithium-ion technology. By making the basic building blocks of batteries out of ink, Harvard materials scientist Jennifer Lewis is laying the groundwork for lithium-ion batteries and other high-performing electronics that can be produced with 3-D printers. Although the technology is still at an early stage, the ability to print batteries and other electronics could make it possible to manufacture new kinds of devices. Think of self-powered biomedical sensors, affixed to the skin, that would continuously transmit vital signs to a smartphone. Or existing products could be made more simply and efficiently. For example, the plastic shell of a hearing aid is already 3-D printed for a custom fit inside a wearer’s ear. But the electronics are manufactured separately, and the batteries are often the type that must be replaced frequently. If the electronics and a rechargeable battery were printed together, the final product could be made more rapidly and seamlessly.


Someday Your EV Charger May Be the Roadway Itself – (Technology Review – November 19, 2013)
One way to extend the range of electric vehicles may be to provide power wirelessly through coils placed under the surface of a road. Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a way to deliver power to moving vehicles using simple electronic components, rather than the expensive power electronics or complex sensors previously employed. The system uses a specialized receiver that induces a burst of power only when a vehicle passes over a wireless transmitter. Initial models indicate that placing charging coils in 10% of a roadway would extend the driving range of an EV from about 60 miles to 300 miles, says Srdjan Lukic, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at NCSU.Wireless charging through magnetic induction—the same type typically used for electric toothbrushes—is being pursued by a number of companies for consumer electronics and electric vehicles.Such chargers work by sending current through a coil, which produces a magnetic field. When a car with its own coil is placed above the transmitter, the magnetic field induces a flow of power that charges the batteries. See also: Wireless Charging—Has the Time Finally Arrived?


Review Finds Diet Soda to be Health Destroyer – (Nation of Change – November 24, 2013)
Recently researchers from Purdue reviewed a dozen studies all published within the last five years on the health risks of consuming diet soda. They published their findings in an opinion piece in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. The researchers wrote: “The negative impact of consuming sugar-sweetened beverages on weight and other health outcomes has been increasingly recognized; therefore, many people have turned to high-intensity sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin as a way to reduce the risk of these consequences. However, accumulating evidence suggests that frequent consumers of these sugar substitutes may also be at increased risk of excessive weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.” The researchers suggest that diet sodas trick the body into thinking it has consumed sugar. It confuses the normal reactions that follow sugar ingestion (blood sugar regulation, etc.). This leads the body to further confusion and malfunction when actual sugar is consumed, resulting in unregulated blood sugar, blood pressure fluctuations, and changes in metabolism. See the original study: Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements. Another study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology found a strong positive correlation between degeneration of kidney function and consumption of aspartame-containing diet soda. See that study: Associations of sugar and artificially sweetened soda with albuminuria and kidney function decline in women.


Spoils of War: Police Getting Leftover Iraq Trucks – (Associated Press – November 24, 2013)
Coming soon to your local sheriff: 18-ton, armor-protected military fighting vehicles with gun turrets and bulletproof glass that were once the U.S. answer to roadside bombs during the Iraq war. The hulking vehicles, built for about $500,000 each at the height of the war, are among the biggest pieces of equipment that the Defense Department is giving away free to law enforcement agencies under a national military surplus program. For police and sheriff’s departments, which have scooped up 165 of the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, (MRAPS), since they became available this summer, the price and the ability to deliver shock and awe while serving warrants or dealing with hostage standoffs was just too good to pass up. But the trucks have limits. They are too big to travel on some bridges and roads and have a tendency to be tippy on uneven ground. And then there’s some cost of retrofitting them for civilian use and fueling the 36,000-pound behemoths that get about 5 miles to the gallon. The American Civil Liberties Union is criticizing what it sees as the increasing militarization of the nation’s police. ACLU affiliates have been collecting 2012 records to determine the extent of military hardware and tactics acquired by police, planning to issue a report early next year.


Up in Arms – (Tufts University – Fall, 2013)
Our violent streak has become almost a part of our national identity. What’s less well appreciated is how much the incidence of violence, like so many salient issues in American life, varies by region. Beyond a vague awareness that supporters of violent retaliation and easy access to guns are concentrated in the states of the former Confederacy and, to a lesser extent, the western interior, most people cannot tell you much about regional differences on such matters. In fact, there’s never been an America, but rather several Americas—each a distinct nation. There are eleven nations today. Each looks at violence, as well as everything else, in its own way and the battle lines of today’s debates over gun control, stand-your-ground laws, and other violence-related issues were drawn centuries ago by American’s early settlers. (Editor’s note: this is a highly detailed analysis of regional differences in cultural attitudes that have persisted since the various regions of the North American continent were settled by non-indigenous peoples. We strongly recommend it.)

Torture and the Harvard Man – (Harvard Crimson – November 19, 2013)
The United States Senate recently produced a massive report assessing the merits of “enhanced interrogation”—America’s euphemism for torture—which sits classified and unpublished in a Capitol Hill vault. The Obama Administration opposes declassification, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know what it says. Indications are that the report confirms what the author of this article says he learned during 23 years of working in the CIA and revealed in his book, “The Interrogator”: Torture does not work and provides virtually no useful intelligence. He was involved in the enhanced interrogation program and served as a senior officer responsible for terrorist reporting. As he states, “It was clear that “enhanced interrogation” was illegal; it was also clear to me that enhanced interrogation created fear and anger, and made psychological understanding, and therefore successful interrogations, impossible. Torture is atavistic, an expression of power, the humiliation of a foe. It has nothing to do with obtaining intelligence. The foundation of my understanding, however, came not from my government training but from the lecture halls of Harvard. It was Thucydides’ psychological insights that were most relevant to me in my career; few of my peers had studied the humanities as I had. Thucydides teaches that understanding the deep human motivators of fear, honor, and interest enables us to understand foreign relations as well as our enemies. Understanding those motivators also makes a good operations officer, one better equipped to recruit spies and conduct successful interrogations. For intelligence work and interrogation are profoundly human enterprises.”


US and UK Struck Secret Deal to Allow NSA to ‘Unmask’ Britons’ Personal Data – (Guardian – November 20, 2013)
The phone, internet and email records of U.K. citizens not suspected of any wrongdoing have been analyzed and stored by America’s National Security Agency under a secret deal that was approved by British intelligence officials, according to documents from the whistleblower Edward Snowden. In the first explicit confirmation that U.K. citizens have been caught up in U.S. mass surveillance programs, an NSA memo describes how an agreement was reached that allowed the agency to “unmask” and hold on to personal data about Britons that had previously been off limits. Britain and the US are the main two partners in the ‘Five-Eyes’ intelligence-sharing alliance, which also includes Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Until now, it had been generally understood that the citizens of each country were protected from surveillance by any of the others. A separate draft memo, marked top-secret and dated from 2005, reveals a proposed NSA procedure for spying on the citizens of the UK and other Five-Eyes nations, even where the partner government has explicitly denied the US permission to do so. The memo makes clear that partner countries must not be informed about this surveillance, or even the procedure itself. The Five-Eyes nations have, so far, steered clear of the diplomatic upheavals, which have emerged as a result of revelations of the NSA spying on its allies. France, Germany and Spain have all recently summoned their respective US ambassadors to discuss surveillance within their borders, while earlier this month the UK ambassador to Germany was invited to discuss alleged eavesdropping from the UK embassy in Berlin.

Snowden Cache Reveals Diplomats’ Hotel Bookings Being Tracked by GCHQ – (Guardian – November 17, 2013)
A program devised by British intelligence allowed analysts to monitor the bookings of foreign diplomats at 350 top hotels across the world, according to documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. The German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that the automated system alerted the UK’s top spy agency, GCHQ, to the timings and locations of diplomats’ travel arrangements. The papers make clear that these details allowed the “technical operations community” to make necessary preparations before the visits, the magazine said, suggesting that the diplomats’ rooms would be monitored or bugged. The GCHQ program, called Royal Concierge, was first trialed in 2010 and has been in operation since then, the papers reveal. The program worked by intercepting reservation confirmations when they were sent to government addresses from any of the 350 monitored hotels. The papers did not name any hotels or diplomats who had been spied upon, though unnamed hotels in Zurich and Singapore were cited as examples.

‘Concerned’ Asio Running Checks on Material Edward Snowden May Possess – (Guardian – November 18, 2013)
Asio (Australian Security Intelligence Organization), Australia’s top spy agency has expressed “great concern” over material leaked by the fugitive US intelligence worker Edward Snowden and has carried out an audit to ascertain what Australian information Snowden might have. Top-secret documents from the Defence Signals Directorate, now known as the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), show Australian spies targeted the mobile phones of Indonesia’s president, his wife and senior officials in 2009. The ASD slide, published by the ABC and Guardian Australia, has prompted Indonesia to recall its ambassador to Australia in protest. Asio’s director general, David Irvine, said Asio had conducted an audit of intelligence it has shared with foreign agencies to assess what sort of Australian material Snowden might have.

The Debacle – (Uri Avnery – November 30, 2013)
Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement. In this op-ed piece, he posits that “the greatest danger to Israel is not the putative Iranian nuclear bomb. The greatest danger is the stupidity of our leaders. Israel has maneuvered itself into a position of total isolation. Its demands have been ignored, its traditional friends have distanced themselves. But above everything else, its relations with the US have been seriously damaged. What Netanyahu and Co. are doing is almost unbelievable. Sitting on a very high branch, they are diligently sawing through it. Any military action against Iran was bound to lead to a major war, something in the category of Vietnam, in addition to the collapse of world oil supplies. Even if the US public had not been so war weary, in order to start such an adventure one would not only have to be a fool, but practically mad. The military option is not “off the table” – it never was “on the table”. It was an empty pistol, and the Iranians knew this well. The loaded weapon was the sanctions regime. It hurt the people. It convinced the supreme leader, Ali Husseini Khamenei, to completely change the regime and install a new and very different president. The Americans realized this, and acted accordingly. Netanyahu, obsessed with the bomb, did not. Worse, he still does not.”


Urban Hens Often Abandoned Once Egg-laying Ends – Santa Fe New Mexican – November 16, 2013)
Urban chicken populations have been on the rise since the mid-2000s, championed by people who wanted to know where their eggs came from and whether the animals were free-range and hormone-free. It’s unclear how many people have backyard chickens and there’s no official count of the number of cities that have approved chicken-friendly ordinances. But many people find that the fun of bringing a slice of farm life into the city stops when the hens become infertile. Hesitant to kill, pluck and eat a chicken, some people abandon the animal in a park or rural area. As a result, more old hens are showing up at animal shelters. Mary Britton Clouse, who operates Chicken Run Rescue in Minneapolis, she had six calls from people seeking homes for abandoned chickens in 2001. That rose to nearly 500 last year.

Caught in a Revolving Door of Unemployment – (New York Times – November 16, 2013)
Long-term joblessness — the kind that about four million people are experiencing — is now one of the defining realities of the American work force. The unemployment rate has fallen to 7.3%, down from 10 percent four years ago. Private businesses have added about 7.6 million positions over the same period. But while recent numbers show that there are about as many people unemployed for short periods as in 2007 — before the crisis hit — they also show that long-term joblessness is up 213%. One woman featured in this article is a 53-year-old college graduate who worked steadily for three decades. She is now broke and homeless. “I’ve been turned down from McDonald’s because I was told I was too articulate,” she says. “I got denied a job scrubbing toilets because I didn’t speak Spanish and turned away from a laundromat because I was ‘too pretty.’ I’ve also been told point-blank to my face, ‘We don’t hire the unemployed.’ And the two times I got real interest from a prospective employer, the credit check ended it immediately.” The long-term jobless actually tend to be more educated. And long spells of joblessness have hit black workers especially hard, as well as single parents, the disabled and older workers.

Switzerland’s Proposal to Pay People for Being Alive – (New York Times – November 12, 2013)
Swiss citizens will soon be voting on a public referendum to provide a monthly income to every citizen, no strings attached. Every month, every Swiss person would receive a check from the government, no matter how rich or poor, how hardworking or lazy, how old or young. The general idea is called “basic income”. See here for a more complete description of the proposal. Basic-income schemes are having something of a moment, even if they are hardly new. (Thomas Paine was an advocate.) Go to a cocktail party in Berlin, and there is always someone spouting off about the benefits of a basic income, just as you might hear someone talking up Robin Hood taxes in New York or single-payer health care in Washington. And it’s not only in vogue in wealthy Switzerland. Beleaguered and debt-wracked Cyprus is weighing the implementation of basic incomes, too. They even are whispered about in the United States, where certain wonks on the libertarian right and liberal left have come to a strange convergence around the idea — some prefer an unconditional “basic” income that would go out to everyone, no strings attached; others a means-tested “minimum” income to supplement the earnings of the poor up to a given level. Suppose that Congress decided to provide a basic income through the tax code or by expanding the Social Security program. Such a system might work better, be more efficient, less costly overall and fairer than the current patchwork of programs, including welfare, food stamps and housing vouchers. (Editor’s note: It would seem that sooner or later most of the developed world is going to come to something along the lines of basic income in that it would probably be less federally expensive than trying to create jobs while the corporate sector is automating them out of existence even faster. One impact of this would be that people would start moving to parts of the country with low cost housing even though there were no jobs there to speak of – but very shortly there would be more jobs there: low-paying service jobs to be sure, but jobs for people who wanted to supplement their “basic income” .)


Odd Orbits of Stars at Milky Way’s X-Shaped Central Bulge – (Daily Galaxy – November 27, 2013)
Astronomers think that the Milky Way was originally a pure disc of stars which formed a flat bar billions of years ago. The inner part of this then buckled to form the three-dimensional peanut shape seen in new observations. One of the most important and massive parts of the galaxy is the X-shaped galactic bulge. This huge central cloud of about 10 000 million stars spans thousands of light-years, but its structure and origin were not well understood. Unfortunately, from our vantage point from within the galactic disc, the view of this central region — at about 27 000 light-years’ distance — is heavily obscured by dense clouds of gas and dust. Previous explanations suggested that the stars that form the bulge are in banana-like orbits, but a paper published recently suggests that the stars probably move in peanut-shell or figure of eight-shaped orbits instead. The difference is important; astronomers develop theories of star motions to not only understand how the stars in our galaxy are moving today but also how our galaxy formed and evolves.


$1 Billion in Gift Cards Go Unredeemed – (Market Watch – November 27, 2013)
Gift cards are not exactly the most imaginative gift in the world, but they are easy to give and even easier re-gift. Yet despite their convenience, a surprising number of them go to waste. Sales of gift cards have risen from $80 billion in 2007 to a forecasted $118 billion this year, a 47% increase in five years. But more than $1 billion on gift cards still goes unredeemed annually, says Brian Riley, research direct with CEB TowerGroup, despite significant improvements in the law governing the use of these cards. Cards should not expire until five years after they are issued, or after the date they are loaded with money. That law has certainly given new life to gift cards left at the bottom of the sock drawer: In 2007, 10% of gift card sales were estimated to have gone unredeemed versus 1% this year, Riley says. But why do $1 billion in gift cards still going unredeemed? One problem is that only 50% of small businesses last five years. When a business does go under, the consumer and his or her $100 gift card may have to get in line behind a creditor who’s owed $100 million. The five-year minimum expiration date can also encourage people to delay using them, increasing the likelihood that the cards will get lost, says Elliot Bohm, CEO of, a company that buys gift cards at a discount from consumers and re-sells them. The biggest mistake is to buy gift cards at face value, experts say. “Look for special gift card promotions,” says consumer advocate Edgar Dworsky. For those wishing to trade in their gift cards for cash, sites like buy cards at around 80% to 85% of their value and will re-sell them at around 8% to 90% of their value.


Inside Coin’s Techie Vision for the All-in-One Credit Card – (CNET – November 14, 2013)
In a compact San Francisco office suite equipped with soldering stations and swipe-testing machines, Coin’s team of seven has been working furiously to perfect the final prototype of an unlimited credit card. No, not one that will let you charge with abandon. Rather, a device as slim as a standard piece of payment plastic that can hold countless credit, debit, and gift cards in its dynamic magnetic stripe. the team opened up its Web site for preorders as part of a crowdfunding campaign to raise $50,000. For $50, Coin is offering its fully finished card in black — “We call it midnight,” CEO Parashar said — that it projects will last two years on a single charge when the team is done prototyping in two months. After the funding round, the device will go for $100. Delivery time is slated for summer of 2014. You simply load a card into Coin’s companion iOS or Android app by taking a photo of it, swiping it through Coin’s headphone jack dongle, and then toggling it on and off as you see fit while on the go. Paying with Coin involves squeezing a button on the card itself to turn it on and cycle to the desired card with the help of a small rectangular screen. Coin can then be swiped like any other card. The Coin app can hold an unlimited number of cards, while the device itself can sync with up to eight for immediate use. Swapping cards in and out of Coin can be done in seconds on the go thanks to Bluetooth low energy connectivity, without needing the original piece of plastic. Coin uses 128-bit and 256-bit encryption on both its server and mobile app, as well as on the card itself. The app will also communicate with your smartphone in the event you leave the Coin behind, letting you know you’ve forgotten it. If it loses contact with your phone for a self-designated amount of time, Coin will deactivate itself.

inFORM – Interacting with a Dynamic Shape Display– (MIT website – 2013)
The MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group recently unveiled inFORM, its dynamic shape display, which, besides being a very cool tech invention, also allows you to interact with real objects by reaching through your screen. Here’s how they describe it: Dynamic Shape Display that can render 3D content physically, so users can interact with digital information in a tangible way. inFORM can also interact with the physical world around it, for example moving objects on the table’s surface. Remote participants in a video conference can be displayed physically, allowing for a strong sense of presence and the ability to interact physically at a distance. Link includes video clip of inFORM. See also the Tangible Media Group’s website in general. It’s an interesting place to wander around.

“Genius Materials” on the ISS – (NASA – November 27, 2013)
“Smart materials” are designed at the molecular level to produce substances made-to-order for futuristic applications. The Corning Gorilla Glass that overlays the displays of many smartphones is a great example. It gets its toughness, in part, from “fat” potassium ions stuffed into the empty spaces between old-fashioned glass molecules. When the molten glass cools during manufacturing, dense-packed molecules solidify into a transparent armor that gives Gorilla Glass its extraordinary properties. Around the world, designers are working on other smart materials such as alloys that can change shape on demand, plastics that heal themselves when ruptured, and fluids that obey magnetic commands to flow or stiffen under computer control. “One of the great challenges in creating a smart material is arranging the molecules,” says Eric Furst of the University of Delaware.  “They’re so small!” Furst wants to create a new class of materials, beyond smart. “We need ‘genius materials’–materials that arrange themselves,” he says. The research to accomplish this is already underway on the International Space Station. Recently, observers have seen the colloidal particles forming long fibrous chains. Furst speculates that these could lead to materials that conduct heat or electricity in one direction only.  The experiment has also yielded crystalline structures that the team is just beginning to investigate. The fluids underlying these tests called magnetorheological or “MR” fluids because they harden or change shape when they feel a magnetic field.


Spooky Business: A New Report on Corporate Espionage Against Nonprofits – (Center for Corporate Policy – November 20, 2013)
The corporate capacity for espionage has skyrocketed in recent years. Most major companies now have a chief corporate security officer tasked with assessing and mitigating “threats” of all sorts – including those from nonprofit organizations. And there is now a surfeit of private investigations firms willing and able to conduct sophisticated spying operations against nonprofits. The corporate watchdog organization Essential Information found a diverse groups of nonprofits have been targeted with espionage, including environmental, antiwar, public interest, consumer safety, pesticide reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights and arms control groups. The corporations carrying out the spying include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Bank of America, Dow Chemical, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Burger King, McDonald’s, Shell, BP, and others. According to the report, these corporations employ former CIA, National Security Agency and FBI agents to engage in private surveillance work, which is often illegal in nature but rarely — if ever — prosecuted. Read the complete 54 page report.


U.S. Adults Have Mediocre Reading, Math, and Tech Skills: Does It Matter? – (Atlantic – October 16, 2013)
It is old news that average American student performance is mediocre on international tests. With the recent release of the OECD’s first survey of adult skills, we now know that American adults continue that mediocre track record. And once again, the big achievers are Japan and small Nordic countries like Finland. At first glance, it appears this mediocrity constitutes a grave threat to U.S. economic competitiveness. But the picture is far more complicated. The internal dynamics of the U.S. labor market and how it creates and treats winners and losers for different skill sets may be the more relevant policy issues. To be sure, these adult test results—which measure literacy, numeracy, and digital problem-solving—do point to weaknesses in the U.S. human capital development system. The average American adult is the equivalent of half a year of school behind the average OECD adult. The average Japanese adult is three years ahead. Especially troubling in the U.S. case is the lack of progress over time. In nearly every other advanced economy, young people joining the labor market are substantially more skilled than those retiring. Not so in the United States—and this lack of progress holds for high school and college attainment as well. One fascinating finding from the survey is that, taken broadly, there is far more variability in performance within countries than between them. What makes the United States stand apart from the rest is the way in which its labor market efficiently uses and rewards skilled workers, and punishes those who lack such skills. This helps to reconcile how the United States can at the same time have mediocre average human capital and a high-performing economy.

Big Pharma and the Mafia – (Lynne McTaggart – October 22, 2013)
Peter Gøtzsche is the head of the Nordic Cochrane Centre, the Scandinavian arm of the Cochrane Collaboration, an independent research and information center committed to preparing, maintaining, and disseminating reviews of the various treatments of mainstream medicine and examining whether they have adequate evidence of safety and effectiveness. Gøtzsche’s  latest book, entitled Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How Big Pharma has Corrupted Healthcare’ (Radcliffe Publishing Ltd) essentially makes the point that the drugs industry uses virtually every tactic used by the mob to sell its products. He even quotes a former vice-president of Pfizer as saying, ‘It is scary how many similarities there are between his industry and the mob.  The mob makes obscene amounts of money, as does this industry.  The side effects of organized crime are killings and deaths, and the sides effects are the same in this industry.  The mob bribes politicians and others, and so does the drug industry.’ Perhaps even more extraordinary is the fact that Richard Smith, the former editor of the British Medical Journal, agreed to write the book’s foreword. In the book, Smith points out, the characteristics of organized crime include extortion, fraud, federal drug offences, bribery, embezzlement, obstruction of justice, obstruction of law enforcement, tampering with witnesses, and political corruption. “Peter produces evidence, most of it detailed, to support his case that pharmaceutical companies are guilty of most of these offenses,” says Smith.

Black-capped Chickadees – (Naturally Curious – November 21, 2013)
Black-capped Chickadees actually refresh their brains once a year. According to Cornell’s Laboratory of Ornithology, every autumn Black-capped Chickadees allow brain neurons containing old information to die, replacing them with new neurons so they can adapt to changes in their social flocks and environment. (Editor’s note: Talk about having evolved to be adaptive! – we’ve never come across anything that tops this. By the way, New England naturalist, Mary Holland, not only has a wonderful blog, but a daily free email if you wish to subscribe.)

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

Chinese Artist Brings Five Decades’ Worth of Clutter to London Exhibition – (Guardian – February 14, 2012)
At the Barbican, conceptual artist Song Dong displayed 10,000 of his mother’s possessions. The items, transported to London in two shipping containers, took a fortnight for Song and his family to arrange on the floor of the Barbican’s corridor-like Curve gallery, creating a work called “Waste Not”. The slogan was drummed into the Chinese people during the cultural revolution: nothing was thrown away in case it could be used later. Ten umbrellas, 16 chairs, three ancient radiators, innumerable medicine bottles and old boxes of tea – and that’s just scratching the surface. After Song’s father died in 2002, depression turned his mother’s thrift into hoarding and her house in Beijing was stuffed with clutter. “I asked her why she wanted to fill the room with what to me is rubbish, and she said: ‘If I fill the room, the things remind me of your father.'” Song suggested his mother should collaborate with him by arranging the possessions into an artwork. She agreed, and Waste Not was first exhibited in Beijing in 2005. “So many people came who had a similar life during the cultural revolution and talked to my mother for half a day at a time,” said Song. “They told her: ‘It’s not your home, it’s my home.'” Jane Alison, senior curator at the Barbican, said that Waste Not was “so personal and poetic… it helps us to understand the reality of Chinese history and culture in the 20th century in a way that newspapers can’t”.

Today’s Front Pages – (Newseum – “Today”)
Through a special agreement with more than 800 newspapers worldwide, the Newseum displays their front pages each day on its website. Currently, the actual count was 955 front pages displayed from 89 countries. Just pick a continent; dots will appear on a map wherever a front page is available. Hover your cursor over the dot and you’ll see a small view; double click to open to a full page view. The print may still be too small to actually read, but then you can click on a readable .pdf (upper right corner of page).


Nikon Small World Contest Winners Show Beauty of the Microscopic – ( – November 1, 2013)
If a marine diatom doesn’t sound like a beautiful thing to you, you haven’t yet seen Wim van Egmond’s photo of one, which took first place in the 2013 Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition. Judged for both artistry and scientific technique, the entries into Nikon’s annual competition reveal the complexity and beauty of the world that lies beyond our eye’s ability to see. This year’s winners included the spidery web of a neuron as it receives a signal, a chameleon embryo color-coded to show cartilage and bone and the eye of a ghost shrimp magnified 140 times. If you have the time, scroll through the photographs of all 115 finalists as well. (Editor’s note: Because we now have the tools to perceive it, we can see that the universe is beautiful at any scale – whether it is at the level of cosmic nebulae or something under a microscope magnified perhaps 200 times. Is all that beauty “in the eye of the beholder” – or is it just there, independent of any observer?)


The rational man adjusts to his environment while the irrational man tries to change it. Therefore all progress depends upon the actions of irrational men. – George Bernard Shaw

A special thanks to: Bernard Calil, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Sergio Lub, Diane Petersen, Todd Pierce, 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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