FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- Within the next year, experimental surgery will be performed to connect a brain chip to systems that activate muscles in a paralyzed man’s arm.
- A new surgical adhesive is strong enough, and elastic enough, to seal a beating heart.
- The city of Phoenix has announced that it has eradicated chronic veteran homelessness through an innovative idea known as “Housing First” — providing somewhere to live for homeless individuals without first requiring that they be sober or drug-free.
- A poll of 67,806 respondents from 65 countries found that the U.S. won by a landslide the dubious distinction of being considered the “greatest threat to peace in the world today”.
by John L. Petersen
Happy New Year to you! There are many indicators that suggest this is going to be an extraordinary year. Great change is afoot and we’re all blessed to have the opportunity to help shape this transition to an emerging new world. We will continue, here at FUTUREdition, to chronicle the most interesting harbingers that we can find of the future that is incoming.
The objective of all of this, of course, is to keep you informed so that you can be actively engaged in the evolution of this rather amazing, new reality. We’d like to provide early warnings and weak signals of what may turn out to be very significant downstream events that will affect us all. In a sense, we’re trying to assure that you, and we, are not overly surprised by what transpires.
It appears that this global process is intrinsically evolutionary – accelerated evolution, to be sure – but not abrupt and highly disruptive. Therefore, in order to keep up with the accelerating rate of change we strive to highlight those events and trends –both conventional and unconventional – that point toward to looming new world so that we’re all acclimated, so to speak, to the systematic contributions to this dramatic change.
In a real sense, this is all about adaptation – changing our perspectives, values and paradigm (our understanding of how our reality works) fast enough to effectively surf the immense, multi-dimensional wave that is driving us toward a new shore. It is about permeability – the ability to let new ideas shine in (easily and quickly), so that we can constantly reconfigure our personal paradigms to reflect the new understanding and changes that surround us.
The massive shifts that are happening are rather extraordinary. There’s the radical, new role of our government in our private lives, amazing new technologies that call into question the utility and appropriateness of our legacy social systems, the global dominance of corporate agriculture, the changing understanding of the history of our species, the rapid emergence of new possibilities in consciousness, the coming revolution in energy production and storage, rapid change that is threatening older social systems that see the emerging new reality as antithetical to their social and religious order, the extraordinary way that we are polluting our planet and now, global climate change that will shift how everything else works in the coming years (see the video below) . . . to name a few.
So, as the metabolism of the larger, planet-wide system shifts into a higher gear we all need to be aware of – but not emotionally connected to – those things that are contributing to the change. Our ability to respond effectively to the change fundamentally depends upon how things either make sense or not to us. We’d like to help shine a little light on the situation and help us all make sense of the change.
We only make this happen with your help. So, many, many thanks to all of you who contributed financially to supporting the publication of FUTUREdition in the last few weeks. All of us who play a part in getting this out twice a month very much appreciate your generosity.
Berkeley Springs Transition Talks
If you are a regular reader of this column, you’ve noticed that we have a speaker series here in our town of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. We try to have someone interesting each month that provokes us all to think in new ways about something germane to the global shift that is underway.
Many of you have asked if we could generate videos of the talks and make them available to FE readers who can’t make it to Berkeley Springs. I’m happy to report that we have now worked out a process for video recording the presentations going forward (we have tried it in the past with almost universal failure!), that we will produce and post online. I’ll mention them here each time they become available, but you will also be able to find them at our new Berkeley Springs Transition Talks website, www.transitiontalks.org. We’re still putting together our schedule for this year, so right now there’s a big blank page where upcoming talks will be posted, but you can find historical information and more about our speaker series on the other pages.
Climate Change Video
I gave a talk in October about climate change and tried to tape it without success, so I sat down here and had a friend shoot the talk which you will find here.
This presentation is about 1h25m and summarizes my take on the current debate on global warming, the fact that the planet has not warmed in 17 years and the distinct likelihood that we are about to enter a mini-ice age — soon.
As it turns out, the sun is driving all of these changes, not humans. Just moments ago I received this report from the BBC where they’re now starting to link the lack of solar activity to historical global cooling events and questioning what is on our horizon.
Check out the video and see what you think. Pass it along if you choose to.
Blackphone, ‘NSA-Proof’ Smartphone Focused on Privacy, to Debut in February – (Huffington Post – January 15, 2014)
The tech world is abuzz with news that an “NSA-proof” smartphone will soon be available for purchase. Silent Circle — an encrypted communications service based in D.C. — and Spanish smartphone startup Geeksphone announced that they’ve teamed up to create the Blackphone. According to a media release, the handset promises to be the first-ever smartphone to place “privacy and control directly in the hands of its users.” The release continues: Blackphone, powered by a security-oriented Android build named PrivatOS, is a carrier- and vendor-independent smartphone giving individuals and organizations the ability to make and receive secure phone calls, exchange secure texts, transfer and store files, and video chat without compromising user privacy on the device. The details of exactly how the Blackphone will work remain hazy, but more information about the device likely will be unveiled at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Feb. 24, when the phone will officially be unveiled. As TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas points out, the Blackphone isn’t the first encrypted smartphone to hit the market, but its appearance may be a harbinger of a burgeoning trend. “[W]hile Blackphone is not the only secure phone game in town, there’s no doubt that last year’s revelations about security agencies’ consumer electronics and services powered data-harvesting habits — revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden — have accelerated interest in security and privacy,” Lomas wrote. “The fallout from Snowden’s big reveal is clearly attracting new players to what could potentially become a much more mainstream space.”
Hyper-dense Pulsar May Nix Einstein’s Theory of Gravity – (Daily Galaxy – January 6, 2014)
A newly discovered system of two white dwarf stars and a superdense pulsar–all packed within a space smaller than the Earth’s orbit around the sun–is enabling astronomers to probe a range of cosmic mysteries, including the very nature of gravity itself. The pulsar – 4,200 light-years from Earth, spinning nearly 366 times per second – was found to be in close orbit with a white dwarf star and the pair is in orbit with another, more distant white dwarf. The three-body system is scientists’ best opportunity yet to discover a violation of a key concept in Albert Einstein’s theory of General Relativity: the strong equivalence principle, which states that the effect of gravity on a body does not depend on the nature or internal structure of that body. “By doing very high-precision timing of the pulses coming from the pulsar, we can test for such a deviation from the strong equivalence principle at a sensitivity several orders of magnitude greater than ever before available,” says Stairs, with UBC’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. “Finding a deviation from the strong equivalence principle would indicate a breakdown of General Relativity and would point us toward a new, revised theory of gravity. This triple system gives us a natural cosmic laboratory far better than anything found before for learning exactly how such three-body systems work and potentially for detecting problems with General Relativity that physicists expect to see under extreme conditions.”
GENETICS/ HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/ BIOTECHNOLOGY
Quest to Grow Human Organs Inside Pigs in Japan – (BBC News – January 2, 2014)
The ultimate objective of Tokyo University Professor Hiro Nakauchi’s research is to get human organs to grow inside pigs. By itself, that would be a massive breakthrough for science. But what Nakauchi is trying to achieve goes further. He is hoping to develop a technique to take skin cells from a human adult and change them in to iPS cells. Those iPS cells are “induced pluripotent stem” cells which have many of the same characteristics as embryonic stem cells. In other words, they can develop into any part of the animal’s body. iPS cells can then be injected into a pig embryo. The result, he hopes, will be a pig with a human pancreas or kidney or liver, or maybe even a human heart. Not only that, the organ would be genetically identical to the human from which the skin cells were taken. This is one of the holy grails of medical research: the ability to reproduce a human organ that is genetically identical to the person who needs it. It could mean an end to donor waiting lists, and an end to problems of organ rejection. But there are some obstacles ahead. One is that pigs are only distantly related to humans. Another problem is getting approval for the process. In Japan, it is illegal to make human-animal hybrids. Animal rights activists object to the idea of pigs, sheep or goats being used as human organ factories and many more people simply feel uncomfortable about the idea of animal-human hybrids. Professor Nakauchi is pushing for a change in the law. But if that does not happen, he may have to move his research to America.
Experimental Surgery Aims to Revive a Paralyzed Limb – (Technology Review – January 14, 2014)
Doctors will attempt to reanimate a patient’s paralyzed arm with a pioneering surgery that involves capturing signals from his brain and restoring movement through a fine network of electronics linked to arm muscles. The new effort, being planned by researchers at Case Western Reserve University, will use a brain computer interface, or BCI, developed by researchers at Brown University and Massachusetts General Hospital. In previous work, patients have used this interface to control a computer cursor or a robotic arm. The new effort will use the same technology to control the patient’s actual arm with a system called functional electrical stimulation (FES). This will send signals to as many as 18 arm and hand muscles to allow the subject, who is paralyzed from the neck down, to perform tasks such as eating and nose-scratching. “This will be the first time someone has hooked up a BCI to an FES device,” says Daniel Moran, a neuroscientist at Washington University at St. Louis who is not involved in the study. “They’re putting the whole system together.” The surgery may occur this or next year, according to Case Western researchers. At the heart of the new device is the brain implant—a small probe four millimeters on each side with 96 hair-like electrodes that penetrate 1.5 millimeters into a portion of the motor cortex that controls arm movements. The implant records the impulses of dozens of neurons corresponding to a patient’s intent to move.
Nine Swedish Women Receive Womb Transplants – (BBC News – January 13, 2014)
Nine women in Sweden have received womb transplants from living relatives in a pioneering trial. Dr Mats Brannstrom, of the University of Gothenberg, who has been leading the experimental fertility project, hopes the technique could help other women who want to become pregnant. These women were born without a uterus or had it removed because of cervical cancer. Most are in their 30s and are part of the first major experiment to test whether it is possible to transplant wombs into women so they can give birth to their own children. The transplant operations did not connect the women’s uteruses to their fallopian tubes, so they are unable to become pregnant naturally. But all who received a womb have their own ovaries and can produce eggs to be used for IVF treatment.
Surgical Glue to Mend Broken Hearts – (Technology Review – January 8, 2014)
Many infants born with heart defects have to undergo repeated surgeries as they grow. Replacing the sutures and staples used in surgery today with fast-acting, biodegradable glues could help make these cardiac procedures faster and safer. Researchers at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have developed a surgical glue with promising properties: it doesn’t dissolve in blood, and it’s rubbery enough to hold a seal inside a beating heart. Staples, which work by piercing tissue, can cause damage, and putting in sutures is time consuming. Replacing these tools with rubbery, fast-acting adhesives could help make surgeries faster and less invasive, and potentially prevent complications. The cardiac adhesive has been tested in mice and pigs and is being developed as a commercial product by French startup, Gecko Biomedical. The company plans to bring the surgical adhesive to patients in Europe in one to two years.
The Dark Money In Climate Change – (Washington Post – December 28, 2013)
As virtually everyone who follows that debate knows, climate denialists are aggressive and particularly well-funded. A new study from Drexel University has broken down the financial structure of the climate-denial movement. The thrust of the study, done by Dr. Robert J. Brulle, is that climate-denial money has largely been driven underground to dark-money sources. About 75% of the money backing climate-denial efforts is untraceable, primarily via conservative foundations and shadowy tax-exempt groups that obscure their funding sources. What’s notable is that many of the big industrial funders — ExxonMobil and Koch Industries chief among them — have withdrawn their publicly traceable funding in recent years, and that withdrawal tracked closely with an increase in untraceable funding. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out what’s happening there. So why is industry money going underground? In part, it’s just part of a much broader trend in the post-Citizen’s United world in which corporations prefer to make their political giving anonymous. But the somewhat drastic nature of that change in the climate-denial movement also indicates a couple vulnerabilities for the denialists. Among the things environmentalists have been able to achieve in the past decade or so is making climate denialism (1) seem increasingly kooky and unfounded, and (2) seem like the efforts of an industry that is protecting itself rather than one that wants an honest debate about the science.
The Flood Next Time – (New York Times – January 13, 2014)
The U.S. Coast Guard is operating equipment linked to probes in the water that keep track of the ebb and flow of the tides in New York Harbor, its readings are beamed up to a satellite every six minutes. While the gear today is of the latest type, some kind of tide gauge has been operating at the Battery since the 1850s. That long data record has become invaluable to scientists grappling with this question: How much has the ocean already risen, and how much more will it go up? Scientists have spent decades examining all the factors that can influence the rise of the seas, and their research is finally leading to answers. Their detective work starts with the tides. Because of their importance to navigation, they have been measured for the better part of two centuries. While the record is not perfect, scientists say it leaves no doubt that the world’s oceans are rising. The best calculation suggests that from 1880 to 2009, the global average sea level rose a little over eight inches. The evidence suggests that the sea-level rise has probably accelerated, to about a foot a century. Scientists say the East Coast will be hit harder than other areas for many reasons, but among the most important is that even as the seawater rises, the land in this part of the world is sinking. And that goes back to the last ice age, which peaked some 20,000 years ago.
Swarms of Robotic Bees Could Pollinate the Flowers of the Future – (io9 – December 3, 2013)
With the bee population in distressing decline, Harvard roboticists have been looking into an artificial solution for pollinating plants. That solution: Robobees, tiny winged robots that the team hopes will autonomously fly from flower to flower, spreading the pollen around. But these creepy little beauties may do more than pollinate — and they may be more insect-like than we ever imagined. The Harvard Microrobotics Lab, founded within the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, has been working on developing the Robobees, also known as the Micro Air Vehicles Project, since 2009. The idea is to pull from both the biomechanics and social organization of bees to create robots that can both fly and, to some extent, behave like bees. The Robobees won’t just share the pollinating function of real bees; the team is also looking to imbue them with colony behaviors. Although they won’t have a queen, the Robobees will live in a hive, which functions as a refueling station. See also: Britain only has 25% of the bees it needs.
Consumer Electronics Show Will Highlight New Ways to Collect Biometric Data – (Washington Post – January 5, 2014)
Tablets that measure pupil dilation to determine whether you’re in the mood to watch a horror movie or a comedy. Headbands, socks and bras that analyze brain waves, heart rates and sweat levels to help detect early signs of disease or gauge a wearer’s level of concentration. Cars that recognize their owner’s voice to start engines and direct turns and stops, all hands-free. In Las Vegas at the annual International Consumer Electronics Show, personal technology will get much more personal, with the proliferation of biometric tools to create more-customized online experiences while also testing new boundaries on privacy. Once just a niche for fitness buffs and law enforcement officials, the use of biometrics for activity tracking, voice and facial recognition, and fingerprint identification has made its way into mainstream consumer devices. The trend could represent the next wave of mobile computing after smartphones and weave technology into more aspects of everyday life. As technology moves deeper into the habits — and the biology — of Internet users, the collection and analysis of everything from iris patterns to the unique qualities of a person’s walking style raise fresh questions about privacy, as companies share the information to build more-sophisticated portraits of consumers. “Biometric data is personally identifiable information, and the question is how will it be stored and who has access to it,” said Jeramie D. Scott, national security counsel for the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Can WiFi Signals Stunt Plant Growth? – (ABC News – May 24, 2013)
A Danish science experiment by a group of 9th-graders has gained worldwide interest and may have us rethinking the proliferation of wireless devices in our homes. Five girls from Hjallerup Skole, a primary education school in Denmark, began the experiment after the resources weren’t available to conduct an experiment around wireless signals affecting brain activity. So instead the girls decided to monitor the growth of plants near WiFi routers – and the results were a bit shocking. Six trays containing the seeds of a garden cress herb were placed in a room without a WiFi router, and six trays were placed in a different room and next to two WiFi routers which, according to the girls’ calculations, emitted about the same type of radiation as an ordinary cellphone, reports Danish news site DR. During the 12 days of the experiment, the seeds in the six trays away from the WiFi routers grew normally, while the seeds next to the routers did not. In fact, the project photos show that many of the seeds placed near the routers turned brown and died. A similar study was conducted about three years ago in the Netherlands when researchers noticed that some trees in urban areas were showing “bark lumps”. The experiment, conducted by Wageningen University, involved exposing 20 ash trees to various kinds of radiation for three months. The trees chosen to test tolerance to heavy WiFi signals began to show typical signs of radiation sickness, including a “lead-like shine” on their leaves.
World’s First Text Message Via Molecular Communication Sent – (Kurzweil AI – December 20, 2013)
Scientists have created a molecular communications system for the transmission of messages and data in challenging environments where electromagnetic waves cannot be used — such as tunnels, pipelines, underwater, within the body, and in biomedical nanorobots. Molecular signaling is a common feature of the plant and animal kingdom — insects for example use pheromones for long-range signalling — but to date, continuous data have not been transmitted using this method. Researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK and the York University in Canada have developed the capability to transform any generic message into binary signals. These are in turn “programmed” into evaporated alcohol molecules to demonstrate the potential of molecular communications.
SmartCharge Light Bulb Keeps the Lights on When the Power Goes Out – (GizMag – December 19, 2013)
The SmartCharge LED bulb has been developed with the simple aim of ensuring that users are never left in the dark again. It includes technology that’s able to determine whether someone has just turned off the light at the switch, or there’s been an actual power failure. If the latter, the bulb will provide users with hours of continuous light . The 5 W SmartCharge LED bulb can put out 350 lumens, with a 120 degree beam angle. A built-in, patent-pending Grid & Switch Sensor is able to determine if there’s been a power failure, can then detect the on/off position of the switch the light or lamp is wired to, and will either allow a bulb to illuminate a room or leave it in the dark until someone flicks the switch. “For the first time you can control your light bulb from the same wall switch during a power failure,” inventor Shailendra Suman. The light keeps shining thanks to an integrated 2200 mAh Li-ion battery that offers up to four hours of continuous use before the light really goes out.
Smart Homes Open Their Doors – (Technology Review – January 10, 2014)
Significant in the long run, several companies are demonstrating progress in getting smart home devices from different manufacturers to link up and work together. A lack of compatibility between devices has previously forced people to either buy all their kit from one company, or to juggle separate control systems. One effort comes from office supplies retailer Staples. It now has a significantly expanded number of companies whose products work with the Staples Connect system for home automation, which it launched late in 2013. The system centers on a $99 “hub” that connects to a person’s Internet router and allows a Staples smartphone app to control thermostats, light bulbs, and security systems. Lowe’s has recently debuted an improved version of its own smart home control system, known as Iris. However, although most of the connected home products available on the market today aren’t yet able to link up to those systems, pressure from consumers will ultimately ensure that it becomes easier to use connected devices from different companies together. “There’s a lot of big siloed systems right now, but that’s just how it will start out,” said Shane Dyer, CEO of Arrayent, which develops connected home technology used in products from brands including Maytag and Whirlpool. “People get frustrated if there are five, six, or seven apps to control their home.”
Algae to Crude Oil: Million-year Natural Process Takes Minutes in the Lab – (GizMag – December 24, 2013)
Engineers at the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have created a continuous process that produces useful crude oil minutes after harvested algae is introduced. This new process does not require drying out the algae, which grows in water, saving time and energy that would be otherwise wasted. The final product can be refined into aviation fuel, diesel, or gasoline. The process mimics some of the conditions that originally turned prehistoric plant material into fossil fuel deep within the earth – high pressures and temperatures. Algae, an aquatic plant, has long been considered as a biofuel source, but the steps needed to turn a wet, green plant into clear, burnable fuel have been both expensive and time-consuming. The algae had to be processed in a series of steps, one of which involved drying it out and removing all the water, which might be 80 percent of the biomass. Then solvents were used to extract energy-rich hydrocarbons from the dried material. The PNNL team created a continuous process that starts with the wet algae and subjects the entire mass – water, algae, and all – to high temperatures and pressures, in this case, 350ºC (662ºF) and 3,000 psi. (Editor’s note: Unfortunately, the article does not offer any information regarding either the monetary cost or the energy cost of this process relative to the amount of output. It is not clear if this is currently a net-positive process or not.)
New Battery Material Could Help Wind and Solar Power Go Big – (Technology Review – January 8, 2014)
Utilities would love to be able to store the power that wind farms generate at night—when no one wants it—and use it when demand is high during the day. But conventional battery technology is so expensive that it doesn’t make economic sense. Harvard University researchers say they’ve developed a new type of battery that could make it economical to store a couple of days of electricity from wind farms and other sources of power. The new battery is based on an organic molecule—called a quinone—that’s found in plants such as rhubarb and can be cheaply synthesized from crude oil. The molecules could reduce, by two-thirds, the cost of energy storage materials in a type of battery called a flow battery, which is particularly well suited to storing large amounts of energy. The Harvard work is the first time that researchers have demonstrated high-performance flow batteries that use organic molecules instead of the metal ions usually used. The quinones can be easily modified, which might make it possible to improve their performance and reduce costs more. “The options for metal ions were pretty well worked through,” Aziz says. “We’ve now introduced a vast new set of materials.”
Ford Exec: ‘We Know Everyone Who Breaks the Law’ Thanks to Our GPS in Your Car – (Business Insider – January 8, 2014)
Ford’s Global VP/Marketing and Sales, Jim Farley, said something both sinister and obvious during a panel discussion about data privacy today at CES, the big electronics trade show in Las Vegas. Because of the GPS units installed in Ford vehicles, Ford knows when many of its drivers are speeding, and where they are while they’re doing it. Farley has since retracted his statements. Farley was trying to describe how much data Ford has on its customers, and illustrate the fact that the company uses very little of it in order to avoid raising privacy concerns: “We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing. By the way, we don’t supply that data to anyone,” he told attendees.
Tesla Motors’ Over-the-Air Repairs Are the Way Forward – (Technology Review – January 14, 2014)
Tesla and GM have both issued fire-related recalls, but Tesla’s fix doesn’t require owners to bring their cars in. In Tesla’s case, an overheating charger plug seems have to have been the cause of a fire in a garage (it’s not clear if the problem had to do with miswiring of the wall charger, damage to the plug, or something else). Both auto manufacturer’s defects can be addressed with software updates–in Tesla’s case, the software detects charging problems and decreases charging rates to avoid overheating (GM hasn’t provided details). Owners of 370,000 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups will need to find time to take their pickups to the dealer to get the software fixed. But because of its ability to send software updates to its vehicles wirelessly, the 29,222 Tesla Model S electric cars that were affected have already been fixed. This isn’t the first time Tesla has taken advantage of its software update system. One of the most notable examples happened last year after three Tesla Model S’s caught fire in collisions, two with objects in the road. Tesla sent out an update that changed the suspension settings, giving the car more clearance at high speeds. Expect over-the-air updates to become more common, although companies will need to work to make sure they can be done securely. Not only are they more convenient, they can also improve safety, since the updates can be made right away. (Editor’s note: Not only the updates need to be secure. The security of all vehicle software will be critical – a hacked vehicle’s systems could easily be deadly.)
Inside McDonald’s Quest for Sustainable Beef – (Green Biz – January 7, 2013)
McDonald’s has announced that it will begin purchasing verified sustainable beef in 2016, the first step on a quest to purchase sustainable beef for all of its burgers worldwide. Behind McDonald’s lofty ambitions is a complex story that has been unfolding over the past several years. It involves engaging the global beef industry, from ranchers and feedlots to restaurants and supermarkets, as well as environmental groups, academics and the McDonald’s senior executive team. Beef represents about 28% of the company’s carbon footprint — nearly as much as the operation of its 34,500 restaurants worldwide. Beyond the greenhouse gas emissions associated with raising cows and producing beef, other major environmental impacts include deforestation and land degradation for cattle grazing or feed; the contamination of water, air and other natural resources; and the energy and natural resources embedded in fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides for grain to feed cattle. One obvious hurdle to McDonald’s aspiration is the definition of “sustainable beef”: There is none — at least, not yet. McDonald’s is pretty clear that it didn’t want to create a standard. “Sustainable beef is not going to be defined by McDonald’s,” said Bob Langert, McDonald’s vice president, global sustainability. “The key here is to get sustainable beef defined by a wide stakeholder group and coalition. We needed a bigger critical mass.” Toward that goal, in November 2010 McDonald’s came together with Wal-Mart, JBS, Cargill, WWF and others to convene the Global Conference on Sustainable Beef. The four-day event in Denver brought together 350 players from around the world — packers and processors, restaurants and retailers, associations and activists.
The ChefJet 3D Printer Prints Dessert, And Yes, It’s Really Good – (Huffington Post – January 10, 2014)
3D Systems, a South Carolina-based company, unveiled what it’s billing as “the world’s first and only professional-certified, kitchen-ready 3D food printer.” It can print sugar, chocolate or candy in pretty much any design imaginable. To create a sweet, the printer needs water and dry powder ingredients. Here’s how it works: A rolling pin-like mechanism first spreads a fine, even layer of powder on the printing surface. An inkjet print head then sprays a narrow stream of water, drawing on the layer of sugar in whatever pattern the owner has pre-programmed. When the water hits the powder, it recrystallizes, so that whatever the water touches hardens. The process is repeated layer-by-layer, building the treat from the bottom up, printing at the rate of a vertical inch each hour. The final result: intricate, detailed confections that twist, turn and sparkle. The sweets can be used as sculptural toppers on wedding cakes, custom sugar cubes, printed and personalized candies, “and everything in between,” said Liz Von Hasseln, the creative director of food products for 3D Systems. But don’t expect to buy one of these for your home. The ChefJet, when it’s released sometime in the first half of the year, will start at “under $5,000”. It’s geared toward professional bakers, pastry chefs, restaurateurs and chocolatiers. (Editor’s note: Printable candy is pretty cool if you are a celebrity chef, but if you’re not, check out this video clip for the iSense 3D scanner, compatible with the iPad. See also a video clip of one father who found instructions on the internet and 3D printed a prosthetic hand for his son.)
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
N.S.A. Devises Radio Pathway into Computers – (New York Times – January 14, 2014)
The National Security Agency has implanted software in nearly 100,000 computers around the world that allows the United States to conduct surveillance on those machines and can also create a digital highway for launching cyberattacks. While most of the software is inserted by gaining access to computer networks, the N.S.A. has increasingly made use of a secret technology that enables it to enter and alter data in computers even if they are not connected to the Internet, according to N.S.A. documents, computer experts and American officials. The technology, which the agency has used since at least 2008, relies on a covert channel of radio waves that can be transmitted from tiny circuit boards and USB cards inserted surreptitiously into the computers. In some cases, they are sent to a briefcase-size relay station that intelligence agencies can set up miles away from the target. The radio frequency technology has helped solve one of the biggest problems facing American intelligence agencies for years: getting into computers that adversaries, and some American partners, have tried to make impervious to spying or cyberattack. In most cases, the radio frequency hardware must be physically inserted by a spy, a manufacturer or an unwitting user. The N.S.A. calls its efforts more an act of “active defense” against foreign cyberattacks than a tool to go on the offensive. But when Chinese attackers place similar software on the computer systems of American companies or government agencies, American officials have protested, often at the presidential level. The N.S.A. refused to talk about the [Snowden-released] documents that contained these descriptions, even after they were published in Europe. See an NSA map of places where the U.S. has inserted spy software.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
The Most Important Political Story You Haven’t Heard About – (Washington Post – December 18, 2013)
Money is flooding into federal elections in the post-Citizens United era. And yet the agency tasked with monitoring and regulating all of that activity is close to crippled due to staff cuts and partisan bickering. That’s according to Dave Levinthal of the Center for Public Integrity, which has released a massive analysis on the Federal Election Commission and its problems. For example: Analysts charged with scouring disclosure reports to ensure candidates and political committees are complying with laws have a nearly quarter-million-page backlog. See full report.
Inside the Saudi 9/11 Cover-up – (New York Post – December 15, 2013)
Knowledgeable sources report that shortly after Edward Snowden released top secret documents confirming the massive surveillance of heads of state in the EU, European intelligence agencies dumped a massive amount of their 9/11 files into the public domain via selected release to independent media in Europe. Now, the New York Post, (owned by arch-conservative Australian billionaire, Rupert Murdoch) has published an editorial revealing a shift in their editorial policy away from their hitherto unflinching support for the official version of the 9/11 Commission’s story. The appearance of this article in the most popular tabloid in New York is being interpreted by astute observers as a sea change in public attitudes to the tragedy of 9/11. The White House never let the public see an entire section of Congress’ investigative report on 9/11 dealing with “specific sources of foreign support” for the 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudi nationals. It was kept secret and remains so today. A pair of lawmakers who recently read the redacted portion say they are “absolutely shocked” at the level of foreign state involvement in the attacks. See also: Congress Cites 9/11 Bush Cover-up, Demands Obama Act
Greatest Threat to World Peace: The United States of America – (Global Research – January 1, 2014)
Over 12 years into the so-called “Global War on Terror,” the United States appears to be striking terror into the hearts of the rest of the world. In their annual End of Year survey, Win/Gallup International found that the United States is considered the number one “greatest threat to peace in the world today” by people across the globe. The poll of 67,806 respondents from 65 countries found that the U.S. won this dubious distinction by a landslide, as revealed in the chart in the article.
A Deadly Mix in Benghazi – (New York Times – December 28, 2013)
Fifteen months after the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in the attacks on the diplomatic mission and C.I.A. compound in Benghazi, Libya, the question of responsibility remains a searing issue in Washington, framed by two contradictory story lines. One has it that the video, which was posted on YouTube, inspired spontaneous street protests that got out of hand. This version, based on early intelligence reports, was initially offered publicly by Susan E. Rice, who is now Mr. Obama’s national security adviser. The other, favored by Republicans, holds that Mr. Stevens died in a carefully planned assault by Al Qaeda to mark the anniversary of its strike on the United States 11 years before. Republicans have accused the Obama administration of covering up evidence of Al Qaeda’s role to avoid undermining the president’s claim that the group has been decimated, in part because of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The investigation by the New York Times shows that the reality in Benghazi was more complex, and murkier, than either of those story lines suggests. Benghazi was not infiltrated by Al Qaeda, but contained local Islamic militants who opposed American interests. The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs. (Editor’s note: This is a very lengthy article which we recommend both for its detail and its willingness to explore the “murkiness” of the entire situation.)
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Phoenix Becomes First City to End Chronic Homelessness among Vets – (Nation of Change – December 24, 2013)
Phoenix has announced that it has eradicated chronic veteran homelessness — making it the first city in the country to do so — after it housed an additional 56 veterans. Three years ago, city officials identified 222 homeless veterans living in Phoenix. Using both state and federal funds, the city had successfully housed the last veterans who were living without homes. They did so through an innovative idea known as “Housing First” — providing somewhere to live for homeless individuals without first requiring that they be sober or drug-free. The thinking goes that homeless individuals with drug or alcohol problems will be far more capable to address these issues if they first have a stable place to live. Housing First works best when it’s coupled, as it was in Phoenix, with supportive services like job training and health care. In 2009, President Obama and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced an initiative to combat veteran homelessness with the goal of housing every veteran in the country by 2015. The most recent nationwide homeless count found 57,849 homeless veterans in the United States, fully 12% of the total adult homeless population. Though that number is still unbearably high, it represents a 24% decline over the past four years. (Editor’s note: We were unable to locate the percentage of veterans in the overall US adult population.)
Hydrophobic Silic Shirt Repels Sweat and Stains – (GizMag – December 22, 2013)
We’re still a long ways away from the self-drying clothing seen in Back to the Future II, but we may have a useful alternative in the form of a piece of clothing that never gets wet to begin with. Young entrepreneur Aamir Patel has developed the Silic shirt, which is made from a hydrophobic fabric that repels liquids away from it like a force field to keep it from getting wet. At first glance, the Silic shirt looks like any other simple, form-fitting T-shirt – until you see what happens when someone throws a glass of water on it. The shirt’s soft polyester fabric is layered with microscopic silica particles, which bond to the fibers and create a tiny barrier of air around it. This causes any water-based liquid, including sweat and even maple syrup, to form into beads and slide off like rainwater on a windshield. As an added bonus, since the material never retains any moisture for bacteria to grow, it’s also anti-microbial and doesn’t need to be washed as often as a result. There are already some effective hydrophobic coatings on the market today, the most prominent being NeverWet, but these tend to change a fabric’s texture and rinse away in the wash. Patel says his own experience with NeverWet is what convinced him to create the Silic shirt. According to Patel, the Silic shirt is just as comfortable as any other shirt and can be machine washed 80 times before its water-repelling properties are affected.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Fast Radio Bursts Might Come from Nearby Stars – (Astronomy – December 13, 2013)
First discovered in 2007, “fast radio bursts” continue to defy explanation. These cosmic chirps last for only a thousandth of a second. The characteristics of the radio pulses suggested that they came from galaxies billions of light-years away. However, new work points to a much closer origin — flaring stars within our own galaxy. “We propose that fast radio bursts aren’t as exotic as astronomers first thought,” said Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Fast radio bursts are both brief and bright, packing a lot of energy into a short time. Only six have been discovered to date, all of them in archival data. Each was detected only once, making follow-up studies difficult. A detailed analysis of the bursts showed that the pulses passed through a large column of electrons on their way to Earth. If those electrons were spread out across intergalactic space, then the pulses must have crossed billions of light-years. As a result, they would have to come from extremely energetic events. Gamma-ray bursts don’t produce the right radio frequencies, so astronomers looked to other extreme events like the collapse of a neutron star into a black hole. Loeb and his colleagues reasoned that if the bursts came from a closer location, within the Milky Way, then they wouldn’t require as much energy.
Charts: The Worst Long-Term Unemployment Crisis Since the Depression – (Mother Jones – December 23, 2013)
Currently, nearly 11 million Americans are unemployed. The unemployment rate stands at 7 percent. Both of those stats are improvements from a little more than four years ago, when the post-recession jobless rate peaked at 10 percent and more than 15 million people were out of work. However, there currently are more than 4 million Americans who have been unemployed for six months or longer. Not since the Great Depression has the United States experienced such massive and persistent long-term unemployment.
Obama’s Not to Blame for Our Historically Pathetic Participation Rate – (Atlantic – January 13, 2014)
In December, the U.S. participation rate—that’s the share of the working-age population that’s working or looking for work—dropped to its lowest percentage in four decades. Unlike the country’s high unemployment and slow job-creation, our low participation rate (the lowest since 1978, to be exact) is sometimes considered something of a mystery. But upon examination, it’s really not that mysterious. The recession has discouraged many people from looking for a job and encouraged marginal workers to find other things to do with their time, like care for their kids. But most of the decline appears to be the predictable result of an aging cohort stepping out of the job market and a younger one that is waiting longer to enter the workforce because it is spending more time in school.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
‘Spy Camera’ Takes 3D Photos in Almost Complete Darkness – (Daily Mail – November 29, 2013)
Spies operating under the cover of darkness might find that their job is about to get easier as U.S. scientists have developed a camera that can take photographs of objects and people that are only very dimly lit. The camera works by reconstructing 3D images from photons reflected from barely visible objects. The technology could be used in next generation spy cameras or to treat eyes that are easily damaged by bright light. Researchers from MIT have managed to create sharp images of dimly lit objects using photons, which are elementary particles that are not composed of smaller particles. Electrical engineer Ahmed Kirmani and his colleagues said they did not invent a new type of laser or detector, but applied their algorithm to an off-the-shelf photon detector. The camera works by scanning an object using low-intensity pulses of laser light. Each pulse is fired until a reflected photon is recorded by a detector and using the algorithm, each illuminated location is matched to a pixel in the image that is created.
Cubli — A Cube That Can Walk – (Kurzweil AI – December 23, 2013)
The Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control, a research institute at ETH Zurich university, has developed Cubli: a 15 × 15 × 15 cm cube that can jump up and balance on its corner. Reaction wheels mounted on three faces of the cube rotate at high angular velocities and then brake suddenly, causing the Cubli to jump up. Once the Cubli is balancing on its edge, the next two wheels are instantaneously stopped to make it stand on its corner, and an inertial measurement unit (IMU) allows the motor torques to be precisely controlled to make the Cubli continue standing. In addition to balancing, the motor torques can also be used to achieve a controlled fall such that the Cubli can be commanded to fall in any arbitrary direction. Combining these three abilities — jumping up, balancing, and controlled falling — the Cubli is able to “walk.”
Scientists Grow Liquid Crystal “Flowers” to Use as Lenses – (GizMag – December 24, 2013)
Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania have grown liquid crystal “flowers”, making it possible to create lenses as complex as the compound eye of a dragonfly. When perfected, the technology could allow the growth of lenses on curved surfaces, and structures to be assembled out of liquid crystals to build new materials, smart surfaces, microlens arrays and advanced sensors. To create the lenses from the liquid crystals, the researchers planted tiny silica beads in a pool of transparent liquid crystal, to obtain a pattern of defects. Petal-like shapes formed in the liquid crystal around the defects in a tiered manner, resulting in a flower-like structure that resembles an insect’s compound eye. The research represents a significant step forward in “directed assembly” nanotechnology, where scientists try to build minute structures by specifying starting conditions and letting physical and chemical processes do the assembly work, instead of doing it themselves.
Chart Shows How Middle Easterners Think Women Should Dress (in Public) – (Washington Post – January 8, 2014)
Veiling can be controversial in the Middle East. Views on it vary widely among and within countries, reflecting both the diversity of opinion in the region on how women should dress and the larger forces driving that debate. The range is really driven home by this chart, assembled by the Pew Research Center, showing how people in seven Middle Eastern countries answered a question posed by a University of Michigan study: Which of these six styles of dress is most appropriate for women? Veiling is such a sensitive issue in much of the Middle East because, in many ways, it’s about much more than just clothing. It’s about religious vs. secular identity, about the degree to which women are or are not afforded equality and about embracing or rejecting social norms that are seen as distinctly Islamic. The countries where people most embrace conservative dress for women are, by far, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Americans don’t always see those two countries as similarly conservative, and they are indeed very different in many ways, but this is a reminder that religious conservatism and piety run deep in both. Unfortunately, the study didn’t report results by gender; male and female respondents are lumped together. Nor did it include an option to answer that women should be able to dress however they prefer.
Think Metadata Isn’t Intrusive? Read This – (Common Dreams – January 8, 2014)
You’ve probably heard politicians or pundits say that “metadata doesn’t matter.” They argue that police and intelligence agencies shouldn’t need probable cause warrants to collect information about our communications. Metadata isn’t all that revealing, they say, it’s just numbers. But the digital metadata trails you leave behind every day say more about you than you can imagine. Now, thanks to two MIT students, you don’t have to imagine—at least with respect to your email. Deepak Jagdish and Daniel Smilkov’s Immersion program maps your life, using your email account. After you give the researchers access to your email metadata—not the content, just the time and date stamps, and “To” and “Cc” fields—they’ll return to you a series of maps and graphs that will blow your mind. The program will remind you of former loves, illustrate the changing dynamics of your professional and personal networks over time, mark deaths and transitions in your life, and more. You’ll probably learn something new about yourself, if you study it closely enough. Watch the video embedded in the article to see illustrations from Immersion and listen to its creators talk about what they discerned about themselves from looking at their own metadata maps.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
President Truman’s Warning on the CIA – (Consortium News – December 22, 2013)
Fifty years ago, exactly one month after John Kennedy was killed, the Washington Post published an op-ed titled “Limit CIA Role to Intelligence.” The first sentence of that op-ed on Dec. 22, 1963, read, “I think it has become necessary to take another look at the purpose and operations of our Central Intelligence Agency.” The writer was former President Harry S. Truman, who spearheaded the establishment of the CIA 66 years ago, right after World War II, to better coordinate U.S. intelligence gathering. But the spy agency had lurched off in what Truman thought were troubling directions. Truman began his article by underscoring “the original reason why I thought it necessary to organize this Agency… and what I expected it to do.” It would be “charged with the collection of all intelligence reports from every available source, and to have those reports reach me as President without Department ‘treatment’ or interpretations.” Truman then moved quickly to one of the main things bothering him. He wrote “the most important thing was to guard against the chance of intelligence being used to influence or to lead the President into unwise decisions.” It was not difficult to see this as a reference to how one of the agency’s early directors, Allen Dulles, tried to trick President Kennedy into sending U.S. forces to rescue the group of invaders who had landed on the beach at the Bay of Pigs, Cuba, in April 1961 with no chance of success, absent the speedy commitment of U.S. air and ground support.
JUST FOR FUN
Die Maiers- Comedy Trapeze – (Facebook – November 9, 2013)
The Maiers are a German duo of clowns. In this video clip, Sabine Maier, dressed in a prim, pink suit, does one of the best deadpan acts since Buster Keaton. Joining her to perform a brilliantly funny trapeze act is her geeky-looking husband Joachim Mohr.
A FINAL QUOTE–
Cooperation is the architect of creativity throughout evolution, from cells to multicellular creatures to anthills to villages to cities. – Martin Nowak, Harvard University biologist
A special thanks to: Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Pravalon Ray, 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