FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- Researchers are repeatedly confirming near-fantastical findings that the blood of young mice can rejuvenate older mice.
- A chemistry professor in Madurai, India has developed a process for transforming common plastic liter into a substitute for bitumen in asphalt.
- A quarter of the world’s most educated people live in the 100 largest cities.
- Check out the 10 most inspirational sustainability initiatives in the US.
by John L. Petersen
Visit Damanhur and Findhorn with Us in October
Only two weeks left to decide to join us to visit Damanhur, Findhorn and the area around Stonehenge in October . . . and we’d love to have you with us.
A new world is emerging on this planet and this fall we’re going off on a two-week trip to Explore the Origins of an Emergent New World. The trip will center around two of the most innovative and progressive communities in the world, Italy’s Damanhur and Findhorn, in northern Scotland. These storied societies will give us an inside view of how two venerable groups have been experimenting with new approaches (economic, political, agricultural, et. al.) that are early indicators of the next era of human existence. In each of these places, some of the most innovative and interesting ideas have been percolating for many years (Damanhur has gone through over 25 versions of their constitution, for example), so there will be a lot to learn from spending time with these good people.
Damanhur is considered by many as the eighth wonder of the world because of their extraordinary temples, carved into the inside of a mountain. We’ll spend three days at this wonderful place, touring all of the facilities and meeting with Damanhur leadership to discuss their understanding of where the world is going and some of the new approaches that they have found for living together. These are not communes or anything like that, but federations of individuals, businesses and families who have systematically worked to figure out how to effectively interface with the larger world . . . and live together in a more effective way.
We’ll bus down near Portofino, Italy, after that for a couple of days to relax and internalize what we’ve experienced at Damanhur. This famous, coastal vacation area, the location for quite a few movies, has drawn visitors from around the world for many decades. Then we’ll fly up to Inverness, Scotland and spend another three days at Findhorn, one of the most amazing social and agricultural experiments in the world. Findhorn is famous for being the place where, on a rocky, outcrop facing the North Sea, the founders developed a way of working with the underlying spiritual forces to be able to grow extraordinary vegetables and other plants where none should be able to grow. This remarkable place has evolved to become one of the most advanced ecovillages on the planet, with a very sophisticated, practical understanding of what it means to live sustainably.
Next we’ll hop on to an all-day train headed south through the length of Scotland and England to Salisbury, in Wiltshire. That will be our two-day operating base for visiting Stonehenge, Avebury, the town of Bath, Wells Cathedral and Glastonbury – unusually energetic places all. We’ll be joined the first day by Lucy Pringle, the world’s premier expert on crop circles, to guide us around and provide an afternoon lecture on crop circles. She’ll stay for dinner for an extended conversation.
Christopher Robinson, the famous dream detective, who nightly dreams about the future, will provide commentary on day two and tell us about how he accurately helped the UK authorities for many years to anticipate attacks by terrorists. (I can assure you that Chris is for real. On a couple of days when staying with us, he came down in the morning and showed us his dreams that described where we’d be visiting later in the day – before we even knew we were going out!)
If you depart from the U.S., you’ll leave on Saturday the 4th of October and arrive Milan on Sunday, the 5th. We’ll all head home from London on Saturday, the 29th , excited by all of the experiences and memories of the previous two weeks. We’ll be staying in 3 and 4-star hotels so we will be guaranteed hot water, decent beds and good food.
Complete information on this extraordinary tour can be found here.
This will be an extraordinarily memorable and provocative trip, designed especially to provide our group with a look into some of the best examples in the world of how humans are inventing new ways of living . . . and how they’ve successfully addressed some of the most significant issues that universally dominate how most of us now live. I promise you it will be great fun, intellectually provocative, spiritually uplifting and full of beauty.
Complete information on this extraordinary tour can be found here.
Buenos Aires New Lighting Can Be Monitored and Controlled from a Browser – (GizMag – July 23, 2014)
Philips has been selected to replace 91,000 street lights across Buenos Aires with LED lighting. That’s more than 70% of the city’s lighting. Philips says that it is the biggest city deployment of its kind. A total of 28,000 lights have now been replaced and are already being controlled remotely. Once deployed, the lighting infrastructure is controlled by Philips CityTouch, a management console that provides a level of control and usage data not possible with traditional city lighting. “The Philips CityTouch system enables monitoring of each light point in the network on an individual basis, allowing the optimal operation of each luminaire and programming of potential replacements or future maintenance tasks,” product manager Stijn Witteveen explains to Gizmag. Such analytics combined with other data, such as traffic levels, can be used to inform operators about when certain sets of lights can be dimmed to save energy, for example. The system also allows city officials to monitor faults, manage lighting assets and view an both an overview of infrastructure and individual unit details. It is estimated that the switch to LEDs will reduce lighting electricity usage in Buenos Aires by up to 50%. In addition, the LEDs will produce a whiter light that provides better visibility, will last five times longer and will reduce maintenance costs.
Physicists Prove Surprising Rule of Threes – (Quanta – May 27, 2014)
More than 40 years after a Soviet nuclear physicist proposed an outlandish theory that trios of particles can arrange themselves in an infinite nesting-doll configuration, experimentalists have reported strong evidence that this bizarre state of matter is real. In 1970, Vitaly Efimov was manipulating the equations of quantum mechanics in an attempt to calculate the behavior of sets of three particles, such as the protons and neutrons that populate atomic nuclei, when he discovered a law that pertained not only to nuclear ingredients but also, under the right conditions, to any trio of particles in nature. Together, the components form a state of matter similar to Borromean rings, an ancient symbol of three interconnected circles in which no two are directly linked. The so-called Efimov “trimer” could consist of a trio of protons, a triatomic molecule or any other set of three particles, as long as their properties were tuned to the right values. And in a surprising flourish, this hypothetical state of matter exhibited an unheard-of feature: the ability to range in size from practically infinitesimal to infinite. Theorists waded into the equations in search of an error. Instead, they became convinced that it was true. But even with airtight logic, the theory did not necessarily have to manifest itself in nature. Rudi Grimm and his group at the University of Innsbruck in Austria managed to create an Efimov trimer for the first time in 2006, building it from a trio of cesium atoms cooled to 10-billionths of a degree above absolute zero. But the result did not decisively prove the theory. “With just one example, it’s very difficult to tell if it’s a Russian nesting doll,” said Cheng Chin, a professor of physics at the University of Chicago who was part of Grimm’s group in 2006. The ultimate proof would be an observation of consecutive Efimov trimers, each enlarged by a factor of 22.7.e “That initiated a new race” to prove the theory, Chin said. Eight years later, the competition to observe a series of Efimov states has ended in a photo finish.
The Game Theory of Life – (Quanta – June 18, 2014)
In what appears to be the first study of its kind, computer scientists report that an algorithm discovered more than 50 years ago in game theory and now widely used in machine learning is mathematically identical to the equations used to describe the distribution of genes within a population of organisms. Researchers may be able to use the algorithm, which is surprisingly simple and powerful, to better understand how natural selection works and how populations maintain their genetic diversity. By viewing evolution as a repeated game, in which individual players, in this case genes, try to find a strategy that creates the fittest population, researchers found that evolution values both diversity and fitness. Some biologists say that the findings are too new and theoretical to be of use; researchers don’t yet know how to test the ideas in living organisms. Others say the surprising connection may help scientists understand a puzzling feature of natural selection: The fittest organisms don’t always wipe out their weaker competition. Indeed, as evidenced by the menagerie of life on Earth, genetic diversity reigns.
GENETICS/ HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/ BIOTECHNOLOGY
A Protein in Young Blood Recharges the Brains and Muscles of Old Mice – (Technology Review – May 9, 2014)
Researchers and investors are already dreaming up ways to devise medical treatments based on the near-fantastical findings that the blood of young mice can rejuvenate older mice. In some cases, a single protein found circulating in the blood is sufficient to restore muscle tissue and improve brain activity. The excitement is spurred by three newly published studies that showed that components of blood from young mice were able to repair damage and improve the function of the muscles and brains of older mice. Previous work from one of the research teams involved has also shown that a specific component of young blood can repair the damaged hearts of older mice. “We started this work more than a decade ago, with a kind-of crazy hypothesis that there might be something in the blood that influences tissue repair with age,” says Amy Wagers, a researcher at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, who is a coauthor on two of the three new works. (Technology Review has covered Wagers’s work in the past, in “Young Blood Reverses Signs of Aging in Old Mice”; however, the study in question in that story was later retracted due to questions over the role of particular cells: “Research on Rejuvenating Effect of Young Blood Retracted.”) Last year, Wagers had reported that linking the circulatory systems of an older mouse and a younger mouse at the hip helped improve the appearance and function of the weakened, enlarged hearts of older mice. The team then screened the blood of young and old mice to look for differences and found that older mice had less of a protein growth factor called GDF11, which is also found in human blood. “The most exciting aspect of the set of papers is that there is a common signal talking to the brain, heart, and skeletal muscles,” says Wagers. “The same signal is talking to at least three organs and multiple cells types within each organ.”
Study in Mice Shows Brain Cells Can Suppress Appetite – (BBC News – July 27, 2014)
Scientists have discovered a central hub of brain cells that may put the brakes on a desire to eat, a study in mice shows. And switching on these neurons can stop feeding immediately. Researchers say the findings may one day contribute to therapies for obesity and anorexia. Experts say this sheds light on the many complex nerve circuits involved in appetite control. Scientists from the California Institute of Technology suggest the nerve cells act as a central switchboard, combining and relaying many different messages in the brain to help reduce food intake. Using laser beams they were able to stimulate the neurons – leading to a complete and immediate stop to food consumption. Prof. David Anderson, lead author of the study told the BBC: “It was incredibly surprising. It was like you could just flick a switch and prevent the animals from feeding.” Researchers then used chemicals to mimic a variety of scenarios – including feelings of satiety, malaise, nausea and a bitter taste. They found the neurons were active in all situations, suggesting they may be integral in the response to many diverse stimuli.
What Else Could Smart Contact Lenses Do? – (Technology Review – July 22, 2014)
Google and Novartis have announced that they’re teaming up to develop contact lenses that monitor glucose levels and automatically adjust their focus. But these could be just the start of a new product category. From cancer detection and drug delivery to reality augmentation and night vision, our eyes offer unique opportunities for both health monitoring and enhancement. “Now is the time to put a little computer and a lot of miniaturized technologies in the contact lens,” says Franck Leveiller, head of research and development in the Novartis eye care division. One of the Novartis-Google prototype lenses contains a device about the size of a speck of glitter that measures glucose in tears. A wireless antenna then transmits the measurements to an external device. It’s designed to ease the burden of diabetics who otherwise have to prick their fingers to test their blood sugar levels. Tears also contain a chemical called lacryglobin that serves as a biomarker for breast, colon, lung, prostate, and ovarian cancers. Monitoring lacryglobin levels could be particularly useful for cancer patients who are in remission, says Thomas Quinn, who is head of the American Optometric Association’s contact lens and cornea section. Quinn also believes that drug delivery may be another use for future contact lenses. If a lens could dispense medication slowly over long periods of time, it would be better for patients than the short, concentrated doses provided by eye drops, he says. Google and Novartis are far from the only ones interesting in upgrading the contact lens with such new capabilities; check out the article and see what three other developers are up to. See also: Prototype display lets you say goodbye to reading glasses.
This Floating Platform Could Filter the Plastic from Our Polluted Oceans – (Arch Daily – July 16, 2014)
Today there are six mega-vortexes of floating plastic: five between the continents and a sixth close to the Arctic, which is similar in size to Brazil (8.5 million square kilometers) and is 10 meters thick. It is in this environment that Halobates – a wild insect that feeds on zooplankton – thrives. The insect has experienced such exponential growth, in fact, that it’s endangering the zooplankton, essentially eliminating the base of the oceanic food chain. Cristian Ehrmantraut has developed a prototype for a floating platform that filters the ocean and absorbs plastic. Located 4 km from the coast of Easter Island, close to the center of the mega-vortex of plastic located in the South Pacific, the tetrahedral platform performs a kind of dialysis, allowing the natural environment to be recovered as well as energy and food to be produced. Ocean water is directed toward the recycling zone via gravity filters that separate the water from the plastic, which is later processed into plastic bricks, tiles, or anything that could be used to improve the quality of life of those in need. The habitable zone also has gardens to produce food for its 65 workers, without having to resort to supplies from the Island. The roof is made from photovoltaic cells. Article includes photos of tetrahedral platform.
How a Solar-Powered Water Wheel Can Clean 50,000 Pounds of Trash Per Day – (Nation of Change – July 17, 2014)
On a somewhat similar, but much smaller scale (and not ocean-compatible), a large wheel has been strolling the Baltimore Inner Harbor the past month, doing its best to clean the trash that has littered a city landmark and tourist attraction. It’s called the Inner Harbor Water Wheel, and though it moves slowly, it has the capability to collect 50,000 pounds of trash. The timing for this solar-powered creation is crucial—hands and crab nets simply can’t keep up with the growing amount of wrappers, cigarette butts, bottles and other debris carried from storm drains into the harbor. The wheel has become an integral part of the Healthy Harbor Waterfront Partnership Initiative. It receives power from the Jones Falls river’s current near the harbor, which turns the wheel and lifts trash from the water into a dumpster barge. A solar panel array keeps it running when there water current isn’t enough.
Water Reserves in Western US Being Drained Underground – NASA Study – (RT – July 25, 2014)
As droughts have ravaged the western US for over a decade, much of the water loss has come from underground resources in the Colorado River Basin, a new study has found. The water loss may pose a greater threat to the West than previously thought. The study by NASA and the University of California, Irvine found that more than 75% of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources. It is the first time researchers have quantified the amount that groundwater contributes to the water needs of western states, NASA said. In the nine-year study, the basin – which covers Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California – lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater, almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead. More than three-quarters of the total – about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers) – was from groundwater, according to NASA. “We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out,” Stephanie Castle, a water resources specialist at UC Irvine, and the study’s lead author, said. “We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.” The Colorado River is the only major river in the southwestern United States, and the water source is relied upon by 40 million people. The surface water in the basin is regulated by the US Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), but the groundwater is regulated by the individual states. Some states, like California, have no groundwater management rules. Others, like Arizona, have gone so far as to transfer surface water from the Colorado River into underground aquifers for later use.
Citizen Scientists Track Bee Health and Shed Light on Colony Collapse – (Nation of Change – July 23, 2014)
Most scientists agree that pesticides, drought, habitat loss, pollution and other major environmental concerns are all contributing to colony collapse disorder. A new project called Open Source Beehives has set out to help understand the issue in individual colonies. This multi-continent partnership between Open Tech Collaborative and Fab Lab Barcelona proposes public participation through easily made backyard hives in conjunction with software that will track hive health. Individuals can be part of the solution by keeping bees themselves. To construct the hives, keepers need only a 4 foot by 8 foot piece of plywood and a CNC router. Those who aren’t quite as tech savvy with computer controlled saws can buy a prefabricated kit. There are two models: the smaller Colorado Top Bar (pictured in article) and a multi-tiered Barcelona Warre. They are easily shipped due to their flat design and packaging. These “smart hives” will be connected to Smart Citizen through a piece of hardware installed within the hives. Users can view data online as well as through a mobile app. Information such as CO levels, humidity, bee count, noise intensity and more will be sent via Wi-Fi. An upcoming feature will notify beekeepers when there is something amiss within their hive. Web programmers can find the code for the monitoring software on GitHub, the world’s largest code sharing site. Those with other talents and knowledge are also encouraged to help with the project. To contribute, visit Open Source Beehives’ collaboration page.
A Transistor Material Intended to Replace Silicon by 2024 – (KurzweilAI – July 7, 2014)
USC Viterbi School of Engineering researchers have developed a flexible, transparent, energy-efficient, lower-cost hybrid design that could replace silicon as the traditional transistor material used in electronic chips. The new design combines carbon nanotube thin-film transistors with thin-film transistors comprised of indium, gallium and zinc oxide (IGZO). Electrical engineering professor Dr. Chongwu Zhou and graduate students Haitian Chen, Yu Cao, and Jialu Zhang developed this energy-efficient circuit by integrating carbon nanotube (CNT) thin film transistors (TFT) The potential applications for this kind of integrated circuitry are numerous, including Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs), digital circuits, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, sensors, wearable electronics, and flash memory devices. Even heads-up displays on vehicle windshields could soon be a reality. The new technology also has major medical implications. Currently, memory used in computers and phones is made with silicon substrates, the surface on which memory chips are built. To obtain medical information from a patient such as heart rate or brainwave data, stiff electrode objects are placed on several fixed locations on the patient’s body. With this new hybridized circuit, however, electrodes could be placed all over the patient’s body, linked to a single large but flexible object.
Meet the Online Tracking Device That is Virtually Impossible to Block – (Nation of Change – July 23, 2014)
A new, extremely persistent type of online tracking is shadowing visitors to thousands of top websites, from WhiteHouse.gov to YouPorn.com. This type of tracking, called canvas fingerprinting, works by instructing the visitor’s Web browser to draw a hidden image. Because each computer draws the image slightly differently, the images can be used to assign each user’s device a number that uniquely identifies it. Like other tracking tools, canvas fingerprints are used to build profiles of users based on the websites they visit — profiles that shape which ads, news articles, or other types of content are displayed to them. But fingerprints are unusually hard to block: They can’t be prevented by using standard Web browser privacy settings or using anti-tracking tools such as AdBlock Plus. The researchers found canvas fingerprinting computer code, primarily written by a company called AddThis, on 5% of the top 100,000 websites. Most of the code was on websites that use AddThis’ social media sharing tools. Other fingerprinters include the German digital marketer Ligatus and the Canadian dating site Plentyoffish. A list of all the websites on which researchers found the code is included in the article.
StormTag – A Bluetooth Weather Station on Your Key Ring – (Kickstarter – July 25, 2014))
Want to be part of a team that changes the way our climate was analyzed? StormTag intends to perfect crowd sourced weather forecasts, and needs your commitment to help. And, wouldn’t it be great to carry a weather station on your keyring? Now you can. With StormTag, Not only do you get the best Bluetooth Weather Station for yourself, but your StormTag will contribute meaningful data that is open for scientific analysis. StormTag is set to revolutionize weather data collection and, as our App collects that data, the company will begin to provide you with some weather predictions in real time, even without an internet connection. StormTag has a temperature and a barometric pressure sensor and uses Bluetooth LE to communicate this data to iPhones, iPads and compatible Android devices. (Note: this Kickstarter campaign has been completely funded, but you can still get a StormTag. Go to www.stormtag.co for more info and to place an order. StormTag will begin shipping in November 2014.)
Math Can Make the Internet 5-10 Times Faster – (Aalborg University – July 17, 2014)
Internet communication formats data into packets. Error control ensures that the signal arrives in its original form, but it often means that it is necessary to send some of the packets several times and this slows down the network. Danish and US researchers are collaborating to solve the problem with a special kind of network coding that utilizes clever mathematics to store and send the signal in a different way. The advantage is that errors along the way do not require that a packet be sent again. Instead, the upstream and downstream data are used to reconstruct what is missing using a mathematical equation. With the old systems you would send packet 1, packet 2, packet 3 and so on. “We replace that with a mathematical equation. We don’t send packets. We send a mathematical equation. You can compare it with cars on the road. Now we can do without red lights. We can send cars into the intersection from all directions without their having to stop for each other. This means that traffic flows much faster”, explains Frank Fitzek. A new study uses a four minute long mobile video as an example. The method used by the Danish and US researchers in the study resulted in the video being downloaded five times faster than state of the art technology. The video also streamed without interruptions. In comparison, the original video got stuck 13 times along the way.
Brazil’s World Cup Stadiums Reimagined As Sorely Needed Housing – (Fast Company – July 16, 2014)
Brazil spent around $4 billion on the stadiums used this year, including four new stadiums that are unlikely to ever see much action again. In Brasilia, a $900 million stadium has 72,000 seats, but local football teams will probably draw crowds less than a tenth of that size. In the heart of the Amazon rainforest, a little-used stadium will cost $250,000 a month just to maintain. One suggestion is to turn the Amazonian stadium into a giant jail. But two architects have a more positive idea: Why not convert part of the old stadiums into much-needed housing? An estimated 170,000 families were evicted for the World Cup, and that came on top of a housing shortage of over a million homes in the state of Sao Paulo alone. So any solution that can provide more housing might be welcome. The architects suggest there might even be an advantage to living inside a stadium, as long as the residents were soccer fans. “It would be quite an experience,” Macaux says. “Maybe the owners could receive some guests to watch the games. Though if you don’t like football, it could be problematic.” The design is just a concept, and intended more as a thought experiment than something that will get built. “It’s a bit ambitious, but we would like to bring people to question themselves about the social contexts that always accompany these programs,” the architects explain.
Vibrations in Vegetables: Energetics in Process of Photosynthesis Could Boost Solar Power Efficiency – (Nation of Change – July 16, 2014)
Utilizing short pulses of light to peer inside spinach leaves to see how the mechanics of photosynthesis really work, researchers from the University of Michigan have discovered that the vibrations of plant molecules aid in energy conversion of light into power a plant can sustain itself with. This news could drastically improve the way engineers make solar cells and energy storage systems, potentially aiding in the efficiency of such systems. This new discovery also adds evidence to the latest quantum biology debate, suggesting that one of the most important biochemical processes on the plant – turning sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into food – happens through vibration. The UM researchers identified specific molecular vibrations that enable charge separation, wherein electrons are set free from atoms in the preliminary steps pf photosynthesis, which then allows a plant to convert solar energy into chemical energy, upon which it thrives.
New Stirling Engine Will Get You off the Grid for Under $10K – (Forbes – July 2, 2014)
Inventor Dean Kamen (of Segway fame) is planning a 2.5 kW home version of his Deka Research Beacon 10 Stirling engine that could provide efficient around-the-clock power or hot water to a home or business. The machine — which can generate 10 kilowatts of continuous power, fed by a natural gas line — is a new iteration of an old creation, the Stirling engine. This version was created after a decade of engineering. With the Beacon 10, says Kamen, “you don’t have to feel guilty heating up the pool.” That’s because of the highly efficient nature of the Stirling engine. First conceived in 1816 by Scottish minister Robert Stirling, the device in its simplest form consists of applying an external heat source to a closed cylinder where the cyclical expansion and compression of air inside the cylinder drives the pistons up and down. Unlike your car, where fuel is combusted inside the engine, the Stirling is an external combustion engine; it can work with any external heat source. The Stirling is quieter than an internal combustion engine, and it’s more efficient because the heat is retained inside the engine by to do more work rather than allowed to escape to the environment. Kamen’s contribution has been in engineering his Stirling with the most high-performance materials. He started off using skilled welders to put together key parts of the engine made out of exotic alloys. More recently he’s figured out how make those pieces with even more precision using 3-D printing. It won’t be long before Kamen has a smaller version ready for commercialization. He’s already been running a 2.5 kw Beacon at his New Hampshire home for four years. Why not offer the smaller version first? “A 2-kilowatt machine would make one-fifth the power, but wouldn’t cost just one-fifth the money,” says Kamen. That’s why he and commercial partner NRG Energy will be relying on high-tech early adopters, such as Tesla owners, to buy the first run.
Solar Panels Light the Way from Carbon Dioxide to Fuel – (Science Daily – July 1, 2014)
Researchers in the laboratory of Andrew Bocarsly, a Princeton professor of chemistry, collaborated with start-up company Liquid Light Inc. of Monmouth Junction, N.J. to devise an efficient method for harnessing sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into a potential alternative fuel known as formic acid. The transformation from carbon dioxide and water to formic acid was powered by a commercial solar panel. The process takes place inside an electrochemical cell, which consists of metal plates the size of rectangular lunch-boxes that enclose liquid-carrying channels. To maximize the efficiency of the system, the amount of power produced by the solar panel must match the amount of power the electrochemical cell can handle (impedance matching), said Bocarsly. By stacking three electrochemical cells together, the research team was able to reach almost 2% energy efficiency, which is twice the efficiency of natural photosynthesis. It is also the best energy efficiency reported to date using a human-made device. A number of energy companies are interested in storing solar energy as formic acid in fuel cells. Additionally, formate salt — readily made from formic acid — is the preferred de-icing agent on airplane runways because it is less corrosive to planes and safer for the environment than chloride salts.
Big Corporations Have an Overwhelming Amount of Power over Our Food Supply – (Washington’s – July 16, 2014)
The U.S. food industry has become increasingly concentrated with each passing year. Just consider the following numbers about the U.S. agricultural sector: The U.S. agricultural sector suffers from abnormally high levels of concentration. Most economic sectors have concentration ratios around 40%, meaning that the top four firms in the industry control 40% of the market. If the concentration ratio is above 40%, experts believe competition can be threatened and market abuses are more likely to occur: the higher the number, the bigger the threat. However, the concentration ratios in the agricultural sector are shocking: four companies own 83.5% of the beef market; the top four firms own 66% of the hog industry; the top four firms control 58.5% of the broiler chicken industry; in the seed industry, four companies control 50% of the proprietary seed market and 43% of the commercial seed market worldwide; when it comes to genetically engineered (GE) crops, just one company, Monsanto, boasts control of over 85% of U.S. corn acreage and 91% of U.S. soybean acreage. (Editor’s note: The graphic display of the 10 major global food corporations and all of their various subsidiaries is well worth a few minutes of study without necessarily spending time on the obvious bias of the article’s author.)
What is Growing in the Greenhouse? – (Henry Ford Hospital website – no date)
Henry Ford Hospital, in Detroit, MI, organically grows produce for patients in an onsite greenhouse. This cost conscious hospital not only feeds its patients nutritious, organic food, but it reduces hospital food costs by producing 15,000 heads of lettuce & 1,000 pounds of organic produce per year – saving almost $30,000 on food costs annually. A hospital that feeds patients nutritious food & saves money in the process. This leads us to ask… why aren’t the majority hospitals doing this? The leadership at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital had a vision to serve as a national model for wellness by providing organically grown food to its patients and community. September 2012 saw the opening of the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital Greenhouse. The Greenhouse grows produce hydroponically, provides healthy meals to its patients and community while reducing food costs, and makes a significant impact on the childhood obesity epidemic by providing clinically based programs for a variety of audiences, including children. For specifics concerning the greenhouse, see here.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
The Brilliant Machine That Could Finally Fix Airport Security – (Wired – July 14, 2014)
Australian fans pumped to see their team take on Spain during the first round of the World Cup were intrigued by the honeycomb-like machine that had replaced the standard manual search process at Arena de Baixada stadium in Curitiba, Brazil. They were less thrilled when the machine spotted the toy kangaroos they were trying to sneak into the match. That machine is the Qylatron Entry Experience Solution, and it could soon replace a crappy experience of going through security checks at airports and other venues with one that’s faster and less invasive. Instead of having a human poke around in your bag, the machine scans it for a variety of threats in just a few seconds. Searching those Aussies and other soccer fans may prove to be a watershed moment for the system, a successful test of how well it can spot trouble and move people through security, efficiently and with their dignity intact. The system is the work of Silicon Valley-based Qylur Security Systems, and it consists of five pods that sit around a central sensor. The process is a much closer to being pleasant than having your stuff searched by hand at a stadium or going through the mundane horrors of TSA security. You don’t have to open your bag or let any else touch it. And with five people moving through at once, you’re through security before you have time to really get annoyed. See video clip embedded in article. (Editor’s note: The equipment looks great, but it doesn’t appear to address the issues of a TSA “pat down” of your person.)
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
High-Level NSA Whistleblower Says Blackmail Is a Huge – Unreported – Part of Mass Surveillance – (Washington’s Blog – July 21, 2014)
It is well-documented that governments use information to blackmail and control people. The Express reported last month: “British security services infiltrated and funded the notorious Pedophile Information Exchange in a covert operation to identify and possibly blackmail establishment figures, a Home Office whistleblower alleges.” In the Obama years, the first signs have appeared that NSA surveillance will use the information gathered to traffic in scandal, much as Hoover’s FBI once did. In September 2013, the New York Times reported that the NSA has, since 2010, applied sophisticated software to create “social network diagrams…, unlock as many secrets about individuals as possible…, and pick up sensitive information like regular calls to a psychiatrist’s office, late-night messages to an extramarital partner.” Whistleblower Edward Snowden has accused the NSA of actually conducting such surveillance. In December 2013, he wrote, “They even keep track of who is having an affair or looking at pornography, in case they need to damage their target’s reputation.” FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds alleged under oath that a recently-serving Democratic Congresswoman was secretly videotaped – for blackmail purposes – during a lesbian affair. There have been allegations of blackmail of gay activities within the U.S. armed forces for years.
3 Congressmen Call for Release of Secret 9/11 Documents after Reading Them – (Washington’s Blog – July 16, 2014)
All of the chairs of the 9/11 Commission and the Congressional Investigation Into 9/11 say it’s “Implausible” that the 9/11 hijackers acted without government backing. Congressman Thomas Massie read the 28 classified pages of the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry into 9/11 (the joint Senate and House investigation into 9/11) and immediately called for them to be released to the public. By way of background, the former Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, outside adviser to the CIA, and Co-Chair of the congressional investigation into 9/11 – Bob Graham – says: I have personally talked to the other cochair of the Congressional Joint Inquiry, a man who was a very distinguished congressman and, later, director of the CIA [Porter Goss], I have talked to the two chairs of the … 9/11 Commission, asking them, what do you think were the prospects of these 19 people being able to plan, practice, and execute the complicated plot that was 9/11 without any external support? All three of them used almost the same word: “Implausible”. Yet that has now become the conventional wisdom to the aggressive exclusion of other alternatives. Indeed, Graham – along with 9/11 Commissioner and former Senator Bob Kerrey – said in sworn declarations that the Saudi government is linked to the 9/11 attacks. They’re calling for either a “permanent 9/11 commission” or a new 9/11 investigation to get to the bottom of it. An FBI report implicates the Saudi government. Article includes supporting links.
Americans Are Fine with Drone Strikes. Everyone Else in the World? Not So Much. – (Washington Post – July 15, 2014)
A new poll from Pew shows that majorities in every country polled oppose drones … except for Israel, the U.S. – and Kenya. Article includes a good graphic display of statistics by country for “in favor of”/ “oppose”. Why is Kenya in the “in favor of” group? Perhaps because in Kenya drones have been successfully used to stop poaching of elephants and rhinos in their national parks. Kenya is to deploy drones in all of its 52 national parks and reserves in a bid to monitor and stop the poaching of elephants and rhinos. The move by the government follows a successful pilot project in major protected wildlife area, that saw drones reduce poaching by up to 96%. As the Post put it: “Why the humongous gulf in approval between the United States and the rest of the world? Drone airstrikes look a lot different when you are exporting the strikes instead of expecting them.”
Emerging Nations Plan Their Own World Bank, IMF – (ABC News – July 14, 2014)
Fed up with U.S. dominance of the global financial system, five emerging market powers this week will launch their own versions of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa —the so-called BRICS countries — are seeking “alternatives to the existing world order,” said Harold Trinkunas, director of the Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institution. At a recent summit in Brazil, the five countries unveiled a $100 billion fund to fight financial crises, their version of the IMF. They will also launch a World Bank alternative, a new bank that will make loans for infrastructure projects across the developing world. The five countries will invest equally in the lender, tentatively called the New Development Bank. Other countries may join later. The BRICS powers are still jousting over the location of the bank’s headquarters — Shanghai, Moscow, New Delhi or Johannesburg. The headquarters skirmish is part of a larger struggle to keep China, the world’s second-biggest economy, from dominating the new bank the way the United States has dominated the World Bank. Whatever their differences, the BRICS countries have a shared desire for a bigger voice in global economic policy. Each has had painful experiences with Western financial dominance: They’ve contended with economic sanctions imposed by Western powers. Or they’ve been forced to make painful budget cuts and meet other strict conditions to qualify for emergency IMF loans. Thomas Wright, a fellow at Brookings’ Project on International Order and Strategy, notes, “They want a safety net if they fall out with the West.”
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Beijing Residents Will Have to Wait at Least Another 16 Years to Breathe Healthy Air – (Quartz – July 2, 2014)
Over the past six years, Beijing has seen at least 1,812 days of “unhealthy” air quality, and that trend isn’t going to get better any time soon. Pan Tao, head of the Beijing Municipal Research Institute of Environmental Protection, estimates that air pollution in the capital won’t be reach safe levels until at least 2030. China’s president Xi Jinping has called air pollution the “most prominent challenge” Beijing faces. Foreign firms are paying their workers “hardship” salaries to be posted in the city. In February a report from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences said that pollution in the capital is “near a level that is no longer livable for human beings.” As a result, China is trying to improve air quality however it can, from deploying pollution zapping drones to shutting down outdoor barbecues and planting 667 hectares (1,648 acres) of trees, as well as more serious moves to shift coal-powered energy production westward, shutter or fine polluting factories, and curb nearby steel production. The government has also announced a 10 billion yuan ($1.65 billion) fund devoted to cleaning up the country’s air overall. Still, Beijing’s levels of PM2.5—the most dangerous kind of particulate matter, which is small enough to enter the bloodstream—won’t reach 35 micrograms per cubic meter for another 16 years. See also: China exempts electric cars from tax.
Cops Across the Country are Cracking Down on the Crime of “Homelessness” – (Free Thought Process – July 21, 2014)
Whether the dehumanization is to make way for the up and coming comic book festival or just a run of the mill sadistic police gang murder, homeless folks in the US are finding themselves in an increasingly hostile police state. Cops in Saginaw, Michigan, who shot and killed homeless Saginaw resident Milton Hall, in firing squad fashion, during a confrontation in a shopping plaza parking lot were told this year that they won’t be facing any charges. Not only are police attacking the homeless, but they are also attacking people for helping the homeless. In a display of totalitarianism, Daytona Police descended upon a group of Good Samaritans who were feeding homeless people in a public park last May. They were told that if they tried to come back in the park, they would be arrested. Since 2001, the U.S. has lost nearly 13% of its low-income housing according to a report by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty that surveyed 187 cities. As more and more people find themselves in this unfortunate situation, the government is reacting with force instead of aid. Eighteen percent of cities now ban sleeping in public and 42% of cities ban sleeping in vehicles. As if it’s not hard enough to get a job while homeless, now it’s becoming nearly impossible to hold a job long enough to get on your feet and stop being homeless. Article includes numerous links supporting its statements.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
“Google Street View” of the Cosmos Unveiled – (Daily Galaxy – July 23, 2014)
A new home-grown instrument based on bundles of optical fibres is giving Australian astronomers the first ‘Google street view’ of the cosmos — incredibly detailed views of huge numbers of galaxies. Developed by researchers at the University of Sydney and the Australian Astronomical Observatory, the optical-fibre bundles can sample the light from up to 60 parts of a galaxy, for a dozen galaxies at a time. The technological leap is the ‘hexabundle’, sixty or more optical fibres close-packed and fused together, developed by the University of Sydney’s astrophotonics group. Using the new instrument, astronomers have already spotted ‘galactic winds’—streams of charged particles travelling at up to 3,000 km a second—from the center of two galaxies. “We’ve seen galactic winds in other galaxies, but we have no idea how common they really are, because we’ve never had the means to look for them systematically. Now we do,” said the University of Sydney’s Associate Professor Scott Croom, a Chief Investigator on the project. By analyzing the light’s spectrum astronomers can learn how gas and stars move within each galaxy, where the young stars are forming and where the old stars live. This will allow them to better understand how galaxies change over time and what drives that change. “It’s a giant step,” said Dr James Allen of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO) at the University of Sydney. “Before, we could study one galaxy at a time in detail, or lots of galaxies at once but in much less detail. Now we have both the numbers and the detail.”
A Quarter of the World’s Most Educated People Live in 100 Largest Cities – (Washington Post – July 18, 2014)
College graduates are increasingly sorting themselves into high-cost, high-amenity cities such as Washington, New York, Boston and San Francisco, a phenomenon that threatens to segregate us across the country by education. This clustering of the well-educated — who are drawn to cities with a high quality of life and good jobs, further pushing up the cost of rent there — isn’t limited to the United States, though. Ugne Saltenyte, an analyst at the market research firm Euromonitor, recently calculated that 24% of the world’s population over 15 years of age and with the equivalent of a two-year degree or more is concentrated in the world’s 100 largest cities. These same 100 cities —full metropolitan areas — are home to just 11% of the world’s total population. But, in these cities, residents with higher education account for 21% of the population over 15, a number that’s increased from 18% as recently as 2005. This suggests that these cities may be both investing more heavily in education and luring educated workers from elsewhere. Locally, the educated share of the over-15 population is particularly high in the Washington/Baltimore metro region, San Francisco and Boston, even by global standards. Metropolitan New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Houston are also included on this list, but the identity of the city with the very highest percentage of highly educated people might surprise you.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
Ultrasonic Imaging at 1,000 Times Higher Resolution – (KurzweilAI – June 13, 2014)
A next-generation ultrasonic imaging system that could provide 1,000 times higher resolution than today’s medical ultrasound systems has been demonstrated by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) researchers. The researchers used a combination of subpicosecond laser pulses and unique nanostructures to produce acoustic phonons — quasi-particles of vibrational energy that move through an atomic lattice as sound waves — at a frequency of 10 gigahertz (10 billion cycles per second). By comparison, medical ultrasounds devices today typically reach a frequency of only about 20 megahertz (20 million cycles per second). The 10GHz phonons can be used to “see” subsurface structures in nanoscale systems that optical and electron microscopes cannot. “We have demonstrated optical coherent manipulation and detection of the acoustic phonons in nanostructures that offer new possibilities in the development of coherent phonon sources and nano-phononic devices for chemical sensing, thermal energy management and communications,” said research team leader Xiang Zhang, a faculty scientist with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division. Acoustic imaging offers several advantages over optical imaging. The ability of sound waves to safely pass through biological tissue has made sonograms a popular medical diagnostic tool. Sound waves have also become a valuable tool for the non-destructive testing of materials.
Professor of Chemistry Turns India’s Plastic Trash into Usable Roadways – (Nation of Change – July 23, 2014)
A professor of chemistry in Madurai, India thinks that the trash lining his country’s roads and fields could be utilized as a ‘wonderful resource,” transforming common plastic liter, from thicker acrylics to bottles and grocery bags, into a substitute for bitumen in asphalt. The ‘Plastic Man,’ as Rajagopalan Vasudevan is known in India, travels throughout the country instructing engineers how to apply his technology to recycle the trash copiously littering streets from Punjab to Tamil Nadu. To date, more than 3,000 miles of plastic roads have been laid in at least 11 states. Almost none of India’s trash is currently recycled. Just as a comparison, the US farmers in California have sent over 50,000 to 75,000 tons of trash to be recycled in China, but they too are now refusing our trash because the country is also drowning in plastic. India simply represents a global epidemic of plastic trash pile-up. Vasudevan’s technology is a “win-win-win.” It consumes an unwanted and mostly nonrecyclable resource; it results in stronger roads; and because it replaces as much as 15% of more expensive bitumen in the mix used to lay roads, it also lowers the cost. The life of roads that have been paved with a mix of bitumen and plastic is at least twice that of normal asphalt roads.
A Graphene Replacement Made from Plastic – (KurzweilAI – July 8, 2014)
A team of Korean researchers has synthesized hexagonal carbon nanosheets similar to graphene, using a polymer. The new material is free of the defects and complexity involved in producing graphene, and can substitute for graphene as transparent electrodes for organic solar cells and in semiconductor chips. The research team notes: “Through a catalyst- and transfer-free process, we fabricated indium tin oxide (ITO)-free organic solar cells (OSCs) using a carbon nanosheet (CNS) with properties similar to graphene. The morphological and electrical properties of the CNS derived from a polymer of intrinsic microporosity-1 (PIM-1), which is mainly composed of several aromatic hydrocarbons and cycloalkanes, can be easily controlled by adjusting the polymer concentration.” The research was funded by the KIST Proprietary Research Project and National Research Foundation of Korea. See here for more detailed chemical information.
Media’s Old Guard Fights Back Against Amazon and Google – (Telegraph – July 19, 2014)
As revolutions go, it was a quiet one: earlier this month, HarperCollins quietly began selling its titles directly to customers. It had dabbled in selling a few of its own books before but this time it went about things differently. Its new US website offers every single title in its catalogue to readers around the world, wherever it owns the rights to sell them. This might seem an obvious enough move but in the genteel old world of books, the rule that publishers should not step on the toes of booksellers has always been sacrosanct. HarperCollins’ decision to break the code and compete with retailers directly was borne of exasperation. The company – along with the rest of the publishing industry’s biggest players – had found itself steadily boxed into a corner by Amazon. The online retailer started innocuously enough, but over the past seven years it has used its Kindle e-reader device to make a land-grab for the eBooks market, establishing a stranglehold so strong that around 60% of all eBooks are now sold through the retailer. That sort of scale puts Amazon in a position to turn the screws – and turn the screws it does. Publishers have been forced to slash their profit margins, so that Amazon can keep prices low. They have also been asked to hand over additional money for all sorts of bells and whistles that used to be considered part of the basic package. According to The New York Times, Amazon is now demanding publishers pay extra if they want a button offering customers the chance to buy a book ahead of publication. If they want Amazon to tell customers, “you might like this book”, that will cost more, too. Unsurprisingly, publishers are unhappy.
Three Million Underwater Volcanoes Can’t be Wrong – (Ice Age Now – July 17, 2014)
Most estimates of volcanogenic carbon dioxide emission are woefully low, says consulting geologist Timothy Casey. An enormous and unmeasured amount of carbon dioxide degases from volcanoes, mostly submarine. Lava contains a surprising amount of carbon dioxide, says Casey in his new paper, “Volcanic Carbon Dioxide.” (Principia Scientific International, 16 June 2014). In fact, CO2 is the second most abundantly emitted volcanic gas next to steam. Carbon dioxide emissions from volcanoes – especially from underwater volcanoes – dwarf anthropogenic contributions (man-made) sources, says Casey. Because the oceans occupy twice the surface area of land, it would be easy to conclude that one the oceans would contain twice the number of volcanoes as exist on land. But the number of submarine volcanoes is far, far higher than that. After surveying 201,055 submarine volcanoes, Hillier & Watts estimated that a total of 3,477,403 submarine volcanoes exist worldwide, of which, Casey estimates, 139,096 are active. Although some researchers dismiss not only mid-oceanic-ridge emissions, but all other forms of submarine volcanism altogether, Casey’s paper conclude that this is a major oversight. Article includes link to original paper – quite technical, with more than 60 entries in the bibliography.
The 10 Most Inspirational Sustainability Initiatives in the US – (Nation of Change – July 16, 2014)
New York-based Recyclebank took note of sustainable solutions in the U.S. and issued a ranking of the 10 it believes set the bar for urban sustainability and environmental practices by inspiring other communities. “We have watched many communities significantly reduce their negative impact on the environment; be it by reducing waste with the help of programs like Recyclebank, educating residents on sustainable practices through community volunteers, or growing food in a community garden that can be eaten for lunch at the local school,” said Javier Flaim, CEO of Recyclebank. “All of these practices are taking place in cities across the U.S. and can be replicated in other communities.” Check out “Green building in Chicago”, “Wind Energy in Corpus Christi”, “Xeriscaping in Denver”, and seven others.
JUST FOR FUN
Stairway to Heaven – on Oahu – (YouTube – December 1, 2010)
The Haiku Stairs, also known as the Stairway to Heaven or Haiku Ladder, is a steep hiking trail on the island of Oahu. The trail began as a wooden ladder spiked to the cliff on the south side of the Haiku Valley. It was installed in 1942 to enable antenna cables to be strung from one side of the cliffs above Haiku Valley to the other. A building to provide a continuous communication link between Wahiawa and Haiku Valley Naval Radio Station was constructed at the peak of Puukeahiakahoe, elevation about 2,800 feet. The antennas transmitted very low frequency radio signals from a 200,000-watt Alexanderson alternator in the center of Haiku valley. The signals could reach US Navy submarines as far away as Tokyo Bay while the submarines were submerged. Testers for RCA picked up signals on Long Island, and the signal also reached India, 6,600 miles away. In the mid-1950s, the wooden stairs were replaced by sections of metal steps and ramps by one count, 3,922 steps. The station and trail were closed to the public in 1987. In 2003, the stairs were repaired, costing the city $875,000. Some hikers ignore the “No Trespassing” signs and dozens of people hike up the stairs every day. This can also be hiked the legal, back way.
A FINAL QUOTE–
I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. – Thomas Jefferson
A special thanks to: Thomas Bergin, Bernard Calil, Kevin Foley, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Sergio Lub, Diane Petersen, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.
Edited by John L. Petersen