Volume 17, Number 17 – 9/30/14

 Volume 17, Number 17 – 9/30/14


  • A ‘breakthrough’ energy project in Russia enables a closed nuclear fuel cycle which produces no radioactive waste.
  • GM to launch cars that detect distracted driving
  • Princeton study finds that citizens have ‘near zero’ impact on US policy.
  • Bacteria within you — which outnumber your own cells about 100 times — may be affecting both your cravings and moods to get you to eat what they want.

by John L. Petersen

John Petersen: The Emerging New World

I’m giving a Transition Talk here in Berkeley Springs on the 15th of November on the underlying dynamics that are shaping the new world that is emerging. I hope that you can come.

For many years now I have been thinking that there must be some indications within the character of the system within which we live that point toward the likely (or possible) ways in which this whole paradigm shift plays out. It’s an interesting idea that, it turns out, has some surprising substance to it.

Others have described the transition/emergence process as being holonic – including aspects of the past while transcending into new space. Even there one finds clues about the prospective future: some of it will seem familiar with the past we have experienced. Although possible, a dramatic, asteroid strike-like event that changes everything overnight is neither likely nor something for which we can effectively plan, so we’re left with considering somewhat manageable shifts.

With that in mind, there are a number of substantial indicators of how large social systems effect state changes that cast a rather bright light on to the pathway ahead. I’ll give you a hint: think “as below, so above” and focus on the behavior of microorganisms. There are, as well, other models that describe social system emergence that are very interesting in this context.

So, for this talk we’ll look at a number of these frameworks and try to paint the outlines of a picture of where we are headed in this “largest in the history of the planet” shift into a really different operating space.

If you can make it happen, come to our town for a pretty fall weekend and we’ll consider together the future of all of us.

Click here for complete information on where and where.

Larry Dossey in December

New York Times best-selling author Dr. Larry Dossey will be with us for our December Transition Talk. Larry is one of those authors who always ends up on Oprah and those other big TV and radio shows when he writes a new book because the subjects are so interesting and important. He’ll talk to us about ONE MIND: How Our Mind Is Part of a Greater Consciousness and Why It Matters, and I promise you that you will find his presentation extraordinarily provocative. Larry always looks at the deep, rich character of the essential nature of our consciousness and experience on this planet. His powerful books in the past have shown, from a scientific basis, how prayer works, what dreams are about, how thoughts effect situations at a distance and how everything is connected.

Plan to be with us Saturday, December 6th to hear Larry Dossey.

Click here for complete information on where and where.

Considering the Future, Writ Large

Jason Louv is a young futurist who thinks big. If I have one criticism of the futures profession, it is the inability of most of those who include that area of interest in their bios to think across disciplines – to think systemically. In a sense, most futurists are neither vertically nor horizontally integrated. They do not take a long look at where our species has been and where it is going, and at the same time they are not broad – they focus narrowly on one or two areas of interest or expertise.

That is a problem, of course, because we live in a very complex system that is highly interconnected and dynamic – things are changing all of the time inside of separate life-on-this-planet-long cycles that are driving us in possible directions that can only be generally outlined through robust scenario processes. It’s one of those wheels within wheels situations that doesn’t lend itself at all to linear analysis.That’s why it is a breath of fresh air to run into someone like Louv, who thinks big across many different dimensions . . . and has a better than average sense of where this all may be going. Let me point you toward a couple of examples of his work.

In his piece, Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger, and the psychedelic interstellar future we need, Louv makes a big loop around a bunch of seemingly disparate, but connected, subjects. It’s fun.

Here’s how it started: In 1962, 30-year-old Robert Anton Wilson was working as an assistant sales manager in Yellow Springs, Ohio, with a wife and four young children, when he decided to eat some peyote. As a hard-headed rationalist, Wilson was in for a rough ride: The cactus shredded his narrowband understanding of existence and his place in the universe.

Wilson walked straight through the now-opened doors of perception and into a decade and a half of exhaustive experimentation with willed brain change—encapsulating research into LSD, Aleister Crowley’s Magick, Count Alfred Korzybski’s General Semantics, Dr. John Lilly’s sensory deprivation tank, conspiracy theories, Sufism, Buckminster Fuller, UFOs, Gurdjieff, Zen Buddhism and a lot more.

A collaborative partnership with Timothy Leary and a five-year stint as an associate editor at Playboy provided more fuel for Wilson’s voyage, which culminated in the publication of Cosmic Trigger. The book is his first-person record of messing with the settings of his own mind—all while maintaining a healthy degree of skepticism and empiricist rigor, as an antidote to the muddled thinking that blights much of the territory he was scouting.

Wilson’s experiments convinced him that humanity’s limitations are largely self-imposed, that “reality is always plural and mutable,” and that if we were to just take off our conditioned blinkers of superstition and ideology, we could unlock our dormant Promethean intelligence, overcome our tribal conflicts and get our species off the planet. Cosmic Trigger ends far from Wilson’s early rural peyote trips, with a vision of mankind colonizing the stars.

Read the rest of the article

Louv edits the interesting futurist blog where writers like Daniel Appel hold forth. Here’s a piece by Appel on 5 Ways That Humans May Be Able to Live Forever. Here’s some of it:

Are we close to an immortality pill? Here’s five ways humans might be able to achieve their age-old dream of finding a way to live forever.

Advances in biology, medicine, and computing have created an environment where a thorough exploration of life extension—and the possibility of cellular immortality—is feasible.

In the past, the idea of human beings living indefinitely fell into the realm of science fiction or folklore. Many thinkers of antiquity assumed that death is a constant, inevitable aspect of existence. After the discovery of DNA and the genome, however, clues from the animal kingdom were found which demonstrated the evolutionary existence of immortality. Negligible senescence, the lack of cellular aging, has been observed in a microscopic, fresh water dwelling creature called the Hydra. Other creatures, including flatworms, some turtles and jellyfish, also show characteristics of negligible senescence. These demonstrated the real possibility of cellular immortality for animals, and gave insight into the mechanisms that lead to aging in humans.

Read the rest of the article

Now, for a little levity I’d like to point you toward some Australians – who make fun of most everyone. This time they take on science fiction and futurists. Even though it cuts a little close to the bone in a couple of cases, you may find it . . . encouraging – or amusing – or provocative – or something else.



3 Teenagers Created An App to Hold Police Accountable – (Think Progress – August 16, 2014)
Caleb, Ima, and Asha Christian, three siblings from Decatur, Georgia, created Five-O for individuals to document and rate their encounters with police officers. With the app, citizens can discuss the reason behind their police encounters, and what occurred during their interactions. Moreover, individuals can transfer the recorded information to law enforcement, which can be used in cases where legal action is necessary. Five-O allows citizens to input relevant demographic information, including age and race, and rank officers’ level of professionalism. “We’d like to know which regions in the US provide horrible law enforcement services as well as highlight the agencies that are highly rated by their citizens. In addition to putting more power into the hands of citizens when interacting with law enforcement, we believe that highly rated police departments should be used as models for those that fail at providing quality law enforcement services,” explained Ima, the eldest of the three siblings. Police accountability is a grave concern for criminal justice advocates, particularly in regards to seeking justice for victims of police violence. On one hand, there is a lack of national data on police shootings, as individual police departments tend to be protective of complaints against officers. On the other hand, quantifying excessive force is difficult, and there are varying standards of what constitutes “reasonable” force. See also: How Cops Get Away With It: Why the Government Can Not Count Shooting Deaths which examines why there is no way of knowing how often American citizens are killed at the hands of the authorities.


New Quantum Camera Capable of Snapping Photos of ‘Ghosts’ – (Mother Nature Network – August 27, 2014)
By utilizing a process that Einstein famously called “spooky,” scientists have successfully caught “ghosts” on film for the first time using quantum cameras. The “ghosts” captured on camera were images of objects from photons that never actually encountered the objects pictured. The technology has been dubbed “ghost imaging.” Normal cameras work by capturing light that bounces back from an object. That’s how optics are supposed to work. So how can it be possible to capture an image of an object from light if the light never bounced off the object? The answer in short: quantum entanglement. Entanglement is the weird instantaneous link that has been shown to exist between certain particles even if they are separated by vast distances. How exactly the phenomenon works remains a mystery, but the fact that it works has been proven. Quantum cameras capture ghost images by making use of two separate laser beams that have their photons entangled. Only one beam encounters the object pictured, but the image can nevertheless be generated when either beam strikes the camera.

Milky Way Galaxy Is Part of a 520 Million Light-year Wide Super-galactic Cluster Called Laniakea – (Daily Kos – September 7, 2014)
Until now, the Milky Way was believed to be one galaxy in the 2,000 that make up what’s known as the Virgo “supercluster.” But as the new map shows, the Milky Way’s 100 billion stars are actually part of something 100 times bigger: a supercluster of galaxies astronomers have christened Laniakea, meaning “immense heavens” in the Hawaiian language. Laniakea spans some 520 million light-years across. As you might imagine, all those stars contain a lot of mass. In fact, astronomers say the supercluster is as massive as 100 million billion suns. “We have finally established the contours that define the supercluster of galaxies we can call home,” lead researcher R. Brent Tully, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said in a written statement. “This is not unlike finding out for the first time that your hometown is actually part of much larger country that borders other nations.” This is one of those rare times when if someone used the adjective “massive” to mean enormous that would actually be correct in both senses of the word. Laneakea contains as much mass as 100 million billion suns.


Nanosheet Burn Dressing Clings to Uneven Skin – (GizMag – August 12, 2014)
Even with advances in gels and dressings, burns remain a difficult injury to treat. This applies particularly to parts of the body where the skin bends around bones and joints, creating surfaces unfavorable to most types of bandaging. But researchers from Japan’s Tokai University have developed a new ultra-thin material that clings to those trickier locations, serving to ward off infectious bacteria. Beginning with a biodegradable polyester called poly (L-lactic acid), or PLLA, the team put the material in a water-filled test tube and proceeded to spin it around. This caused the material to break into smaller pieces and then overlap once the liquid was poured out onto a flat surface. As the contents dried, the broken fragments meshed together to form the single nanosheet. The team then observed how effectively the nanosheet could stick to uneven surfaces, applying it to objects such as a metal needle and a mouse’s finger. They found that the material coated the entire surface, including smaller wrinkles on the mouse’s fingers. It then investigated the ability of the material to protect burns from infection, finding it to repel Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a pathogen often responsible for skin and hospital acquired infections. The nanosheets safeguarded against infection for three days; an additional coating stretched this out to six.

Blood of World’s Oldest Woman Hints at Limits of Life – (New Scientist – April 23, 2014)
Born in 1890, Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper was at one point the oldest woman in the world. She was also remarkable for her health, with crystal-clear cognition until she was close to death, and a blood circulatory system free of disease. When she died in 2005, she bequeathed her body to science, with the full support of her living relatives that any outcomes of scientific analysis – as well as her name – be made public. Researchers have now examined her blood and other tissues to see how they were affected by age. What they found suggests that our lifespan might ultimately be limited by the capacity for stem cells to keep replenishing tissues day in day out. Once the stem cells reach a state of exhaustion that imposes a limit on their own lifespan, they themselves gradually die out and steadily diminish the body’s capacity to keep regenerating vital tissues and cells, such as blood. In van Andel-Schipper’s case, it seemed that in the twilight of her life, about two-thirds of the white blood cells remaining in her body at death originated from just two stem cells, implying that most or all of the blood stem cells she started life with had already burned out and died. “Is there a limit to the number of stem cell divisions, and does that imply that there’s a limit to human life?” asks Henne Holstege of the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, who headed the research team. “Or can you get round that by replenishment with cells saved from earlier in your life?” she says.

Fully Functional Immune Organ Grown in Mice from Lab-created Cells – (Center for Regenerative Medicine – August 24, 2014)
Scientists have for the first time grown a complex, fully functional organ from scratch in a living animal by transplanting cells that were originally created in a laboratory. The advance could in future aid the development of ‘lab-grown’ replacement organs. Researchers from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, at the University of Edinburgh, took cells called fibroblasts from a mouse embryo and converted them directly into a completely unrelated type of cell – specialized thymus cells- using a technique called ‘reprogramming’. When mixed with other thymus cell types and transplanted into mice, these cells formed a replacement organ that had the same structure, complexity and function as a healthy native adult thymus. The reprogrammed cells were also capable of producing T cells – a type of white blood cell important for fighting infection – in the lab. The researchers hope that with further refinement their lab-made cells could form the basis of a readily available thymus transplant treatment for people with a weakened immune system. They may also enable the production of patient-matched T cells.

Injected Bacteria Shrink Tumors in Rats, Dogs and Humans – (Johns Hopkins Medicine – August 18, 2014)
A modified version of the Clostridium novyi bacterium can produce a strong and precisely targeted anti-tumor response in rats, dogs and now humans, according to a new report from Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers. In its natural form, C. novyi is found in the soil and, in certain cases, can cause tissue-damaging infection in cattle, sheep and humans. The microbe thrives only in oxygen-poor environments, which makes it a targeted means of destroying oxygen-starved cells in tumors that are difficult to treat with chemotherapy and radiation. The Johns Hopkins team removed one of the bacteria’s toxin-producing genes to make it safer for therapeutic use. Researchers at Johns Hopkins began exploring C. novyi’s cancer-fighting potential more than a decade ago after studying hundred-year old accounts of an early immunotherapy called Coley toxins, which grew out of the observation that some cancer patients who contracted serious bacterial infections showed cancer remission.

Scientists Link Autism to Toxic Chemicals During Fetal Development – (Collective Evolution – May 11, 2014)
In the United States alone, autism rates have risen from 1:10,000 in 1981 to 1:68 in 2014 although autism rates in Europe have remained steady over the last decade. A new study from researchers at the University of Chicago revealed that autism and intellectual disability (ID) rates are linked with exposure to harmful environmental factors during congenital development. “During pregnancy… there are certain sensitive periods where the fetus is very vulnerable to a range of small molecules – from things like plasticisers, prescription drugs, environmental pesticides and other things. Some of these small molecules essentially alter normal development. Autism appears to be strongly correlated with rate of congenital malformations of the genitals in males across the country, this gives an indicator of environmental load and the effect is surprisingly strong.” according to Andrey Rzhetsky, professor of genetic medicine and human genetics at the University of Chicago. The team analyzed data that covered more than one third of the U.S. population. Fetuses, particularly males, are sensitive to multiple toxins such as environmental lead, medications and a wide variety of other synthetic molecules, like pesticides, mercury and more. Exposure to these toxins during critical stages of development is thought to explain a large portion of congenital reproductive malformations. This isn’t the first time that scientists have linked autism to the environment. In 2009, Hertz-Picciotto and Lora Delwiche of the UC Dais Department of Public Health Sciences analyzed 17 years of state data that tracks developmental disabilities. Another recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine compared brain autopsies of autistic children who had died from unrelated causes to those of normal ones. The autistic brains demonstrated abnormal patches of disorganized neurons that disrupted the usual distinct layers in the brain’s cortex. The study suggests that abnormalities occurred in utero during key developmental stages between 19 to 30 weeks gestation. It’s not just the toxin, it’s the timing of the exposure as well. See also: A Center for Disease Control whistleblower says that the agency falsified a 2001 study, making it appear that autism was not linked to the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella – which contains mercury) .


As More Male Bass Switch Sex, a Strange Fish Story Expands – (Washington Post – August 4, 2014)
In the latest study, smallmouth bass and white sucker fish captured at 16 sites in the Delaware, Ohio and Susquehanna rivers in Pennsylvania had crossed over into a category called intersex, an organism with two genders. Since 2003, USGS scientists have discovered male smallmouth and largemouth bass with immature eggs in several areas of the Potomac River, including near the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in the District. The previous studies detected abnormal levels of compounds from chemicals such as herbicides and veterinary pharmaceuticals from farms, and from sewage system overflows near smallmouth-bass nesting areas in the Potomac. Those endocrine-disrupting chemicals throw off functions that regulate hormones and the reproductive system. In the newest findings, at one polluted site in the Susquehanna near Hershey, Pa., 100% of male smallmouth bass that were sampled had eggs, according to Vicki Blazer, a U.S. Geological Survey biologist who studies fish. It is a problem that extends well beyond the Chesapeake Bay region, which includes the District, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Intersex bass were found by the USGS in the Columbia, Colorado and Mississippi river basins in 2009. Scientists have yet to identify a single chemical responsible for causing male fish to become part female. In urban areas, estrogen products are often flushed down drains, contaminating water. In rural areas, natural animal hormones, much of it estrogen, is excreted in manure, which is spread on fields and washed into water by rain. “I think it’s a complex mixture of chemicals,” said Blazer, who authored the study with nine researchers.

Radioactive Wild Boar Roaming the Forests of Germany – (Telegraph – September 1, 2014)
Wild boars still roam the forests of Germany, where they are hunted for their meat, which is sold as a delicacy. But in recent tests by the state government of Saxony, more than one in three boars were found to give off such high levels of radiation that they are unfit for human consumption. They are believed to be a legacy of the Chernobyl nuclear accident twenty-eight years ago, in 1986. Even though Saxony lies some 700 miles from Chernobyl, wind and rain carried the radioactivity across western Europe, and soil contamination was found even further away, in France. Wild boar are thought to be particularly affected because they root through the soil for food, and feed on mushrooms and underground truffles that store radiation. Many mushrooms from the affected areas are also believed to be unfit for human consumption. Since 2012, it has been compulsory for hunters to have wild boar they kill in Saxony tested for radiation. Carcasses that exceed the safe limit of 600 becquerels per kg have to be destroyed. The radioactivity causes economic problems as well. Many hunters sell the boar as game meat, and across Germany hundreds of thousands of Euros are paid out each year out in government compensation to hunters whose kills have to be destroyed. “It doesn’t cover the loss from game sales, but at least it covers the cost of disposal,” Steffen Richter, the head of the Saxon State Hunters Association.

Is Our Sun Falling Silent? – (BBC News – January 17, 2014)
“I’ve been a solar physicist for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” says Richard Harrison, head of space physics at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire. “If you want to go back to see when the Sun was this inactive… you’ve got to go back about 100 years,” he says. This solar lull is baffling scientists, because right now the Sun should be awash with activity. But apart from the odd event, like some recent solar flares, it has been very quiet. And this damp squib of a maximum follows a solar minimum – the period when the Sun’s activity troughs – that was longer and lower than scientists expected. See also the NASA Solar Cycle Prediction, updated as of August 12, 2014 noting that “Many cycles are double peaked but this is the first in which the second peak in sunspot number was larger than the first. We are currently over five years into Cycle 24. The current predicted and observed size makes this the smallest sunspot cycle since Cycle 14 which had a maximum of 64.2 in February of 1906.”

‘Garbage Patch’ in Pacific Grows to Hundreds of Miles – (NBC – August 15, 2014)
Though it’s existed for decades, the swirling collection of debris particles and trash adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is attracting renewed attention from scientists and environmental experts with the return of a research vessel that has been collecting data from the gyre — a circular system of rotating ocean currents — for the past several months. Charles Moore, who is credited with discovering the gyre on a yachting race in the North Pacific, led a team of scientists on a two-month expedition to the heart of the Garbage Patch beginning in July, and what they saw shocked them. “Floating plastic visible to the naked eye now persist for hundreds of miles,” Charles Moore said via telephone on his way back from the gyre. “I’ve been monitoring the patch for 15 years and I’ve never seen it like this.” Video shot by the crew aboard the ship show clumps of buoys, nets and plastic debris adrift in the ocean. In one instance, so much debris had accumulated in one particular area that Moore was able to stand atop the floating mound of trash. See also: Great Pacific Garbage Patch Visible Off Coast

Australian Bureau of Meteorology Caught Manipulating Temperature Records – (Breitbart – August 25, 2014)
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has been caught red-handed manipulating temperature data to show “global warming” where none actually exists. At Amberley, Queensland, for example, the data at a weather station showing 1 degree Celsius cooling per century was “homogenized” (adjusted) by the Bureau so that it instead showed a 2.5 degrees warming per century. At Rutherglen, Victoria, a cooling trend of -0.35 degrees C per century was magically transformed at the stroke of an Australian meteorologist’s pen into a warming trend of 1.73 degrees C per century. Last year, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology made headlines by claiming that 2013 was Australia’s hottest year on record. This prompted Australia’s alarmist-in-chief Tim Flannery to observe that global warming in Australia was “like climate change on steroids.” But Australian scientist Jennifer Marohasy has shown that this story was based on fabrications. Though the Bureau of Meteorology has insisted its data adjustments are “robust”, it has been unable to come up with a credible explanation as to why it translated real-world data showing a cooling trend into homogenized data showing a warming trend. See also: Global warming computer models confounded as Antarctic sea ice hits new record high with 2.1million sq km more than is usual for time of year.


Mobile Phones Could Be Charged Using Sound – (GizMag – August 12, 2014)
Four years ago, we first heard about Korean scientists who had proposed using sound to charge mobile phones via a piezoelectric effect, in which zinc oxide nanowires converted sound-caused vibrations into electricity. At the time, the researchers couldn’t generate enough of a current to actually charge a phone. Now, however, scientists from Nokia and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have succeeded in doing so. Like the Korean team, the Nokia/QMUL researchers utilized zinc oxide, in the form of a sheet of tiny nanorods. As is the case with other piezoelectric materials, zinc oxide produces an electrical current when subjected to mechanical stress. The nanorods will actually bend in response to sound waves, creating that stress in the process. The prototype energy-harvesting device is about the size of a Nokia Lumina 925, and is reportedly capable of generating up to five volts using “everyday background noise” such as traffic, music and voices. Five volts is enough to charge a mobile phone, and is significantly higher than the 50 millivolts managed in the previous effort.

Has the Flawed Password System Finally Had Its Day? – (BBC News – August 29, 2014)
The reported theft of 1.2 billion email passwords by Russian hackers earlier this month was just the latest in a long string of major password security breaches that have led some people to wonder if the use of passwords should be abandoned. But what are the alternatives? One low-cost option, according to Dr Ant Allan, an authentication expert at Gartner Research, could be biometrics, making use of the microphones, cameras and web cams most computers and mobile devices are equipped with. The simplest way to log on might be through facial recognition – or “authentication by selfie,” as Dr Allan calls it – because it would require the user to do nothing more than look at their computer or mobile screen. Logging in using voice recognition would also be straightforward, he argues.


Construction Starts on Jean Nouvel’s National Art Museum of China – (Dezeen – September 19, 2014)
As with so much of China’s newest architecture, the National Art Museum of China is going to be beautiful, dramatic and unlike any building you’ve ever seen previously. The design for the features an intricately patterned perforated facade, which wraps around part of the building. This facade filters natural sunlight, providing environmental protection for an indoor garden that occupies a six-storey atrium on the north side of the building. And that’s just the beginning; check out the architect’s renderings of other parts of the museum as well.


No Nuclear Waste: Fuel of Future Produced at Russia’s High-tech Underground Plant – (RT – September 17, 2014)
Russia’s ‘breakthrough’ energy project enables a closed nuclear fuel cycle and a future without radioactive waste. The first ten kilograms of the mixed-oxide fuel (MOX) – a mixture of plutonium and uranium dioxides (UO2 and PuO2), have been industrially produced by Russia’s nuclear monopoly, Rosatom, at the Mining & Chemical Combine (GKhK) in the Krasnoyarsk region. A world first, tablets of the fuel of the future have been put on serial production and are destined for Russia’s next generation BN-800 breeder reactor (880 megawatts), currently undergoing tests at the Beloyarskaya nuclear power plant. The production line, now undergoing start-up and adjustment, was assembled in a mine 200 meters underground and will become fully operational by the end of 2014. Fast fission reactors solve the problem of depleted uranium nuclear fuel on the planet. They can ‘burn’ not only ‘classic’ uranium-235, (scarce and already coming to an end), but also uranium-238, which is abundant, and expands the world’s nuclear fuel capacity by an estimated 50 times. Fuel for breeder reactors could even be made from nuclear waste, which from an ecological point of view is a priceless advantage.


GM to Launch Cars That Detect Distracted Driving – (CNBC – September 1, 2014)
Drivers who like to check their email or do their make-up at traffic lights, beware. General Motors, the largest U.S. auto manufacturer by sales, is preparing to launch the world’s first mass-produced cars with eye- and head-tracking technology that can tell whether drivers are distracted. Seeing Machines, an Australian company, has signed an agreement with safety-goods maker Takata to supply GM with tracking devices for up to 500,000 vehicles over the next three to five years. The gadgets will start by measuring the rotation of the head so they can alert drivers if they are not spending enough time looking in certain areas such as the road ahead or the rear-view mirror. “Safety doesn’t sell cars – sexy sells cars,” said Ken Kroeger, Seeing Machines’ chief executive. “But once cameras are there, they can be expanded for other features and purposes.” The car is the next frontier for using “smart” sensors to gather and crunch consumer data, along with the home and the workplace. The move is part of the escalating fight over who can use technology to make money from drivers – whether via dashboard apps, streaming music or even watching movies in self-driving cars. “The key way for carmakers to differentiate themselves is how they enable the consumer and create and share content,” said Thilo Koslowski, analyst at research group Gartner. “The user experience is an untapped opportunity that will crown the leader in this space.”


San Francisco: First to Test Urban Farming Law – (Lompoc Record – September 1, 2014)
San Francisco will soon become the first city to enact a California law giving owners who turn empty lots into gardens the chance to get a tax break. The measure lets cities and towns lower the assessed value — and therefore the property taxes — on parcels of land if owners dedicate them to growing food for at least five years. Among its aims is reducing urban blight. “I have heard from literally hundreds of residents who would like to have the opportunity to farm, but the waiting lists for a lot of our community gardens are over two years long,” said Supervisor David Chiu, who wrote the local legislation. “There is simply not enough space.” A lot must be at least one-tenth of an acre, no larger than three acres and have no permanent structures to qualify for the tax break. The property would be reassessed at the average price for irrigated farmland in California. San Francisco’s ordinance limits individual property owners’ tax savings to $25,000 per year.

This Bug’s Bite Can Turn You into a Vegetarian – (Yahoo News – August 10, 2014)
Hundreds of people across the United States can no longer eat red meat because of a tiny tick. Scientists became aware of the effects of the lone star tick, named after barbecue-loving Texas, a few years ago. But only recently are doctors seeing a surge of people across the country who suddenly develop meat allergies, landing them in the hospital after eating a burger or, in one case, a Twinkie. (It contains beef fat.) The lone star tick carries alpha-gal, a sugar found in red meat. It’s harmless when humans ingest it by eating beef, pork, rabbit, or venison. But when it comes from a tick bite, the body’s immune system goes on high alert—causing a severe allergic reaction that could be deadly. The victim suffers from hives and itching, and his or her throat could swell shut. Lone star ticks have spiked in number over the past two to three decades. Though they’re mainly found throughout the eastern and southern states, the critters have been reported as far west as Oklahoma and Texas. Doctors are still figuring out how long the allergy could last. Some patients recover, while others remain allergic.

Chopsticks of the Future Will Count Your Calorie Intake for You – (Huffington Post – September 23, 2014)
Chinese search engine Baidu is working on a technology for chopsticks, called Kuaisou, that’ll enable them to test PH levels, the temperature of food and track nutritional information. They’ll also be able to detect the freshness of oils, helping to prevent the use of contaminated foods like gutter oil. (Gutter oil is something that should never — EVER — exist, but does in Chinese and Taiwanese street food.) Chinese chefs have recently had some bad press for using unsavory ingredients in dishes and serving them, like the previously-mentioned gutter oil. These smart chopsticks may be able to protect people from ingesting things they never intended to — like painted food. Plus, the utensils will count your calories, too. The chopsticks will work with an app on your smart phone, of course. They aren’t available yet and pricing has yet to be disclosed, but get ready for their existence by seeing how they work in the video embedded in the article. See also: Consumers Will Soon Have Devices in Their Hands to Detect GMO and Toxic Foods.


For Sale: Systems That Can Secretly Track Where Cellphone Users Go Around the Globe – (The Washington Post – August 24, 2014)
Makers of surveillance systems are offering governments across the world the ability to track the movements of almost anybody who carries a cellphone, whether they are blocks away or on another continent. The technology works by exploiting an essential fact of all cellular networks: They must keep detailed, up-to-the-minute records on the locations of their customers to deliver calls and other services to them. Surveillance systems are secretly collecting these records to map people’s travels over days, weeks or longer, according to company marketing documents and experts in surveillance technology. The National Security Agency and Britain’s GCHQ have long used cellphone data to track targets around the globe. But experts say these new systems allow less technically advanced governments to track people in any nation — including the United States — with relative ease and precision. Users of such technology type a phone number into a computer portal, which then collects information from the location databases maintained by cellular carriers. In this way, the surveillance system learns which cell tower a target is currently using, revealing his or her location to within a few blocks in an urban area or a few miles in a rural one. It is unclear which governments have acquired these tracking systems, but one industry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share sensitive trade information, said that dozens of countries have bought or leased such technology in recent years. Security experts say hackers, sophisticated criminal gangs and nations under sanctions also could use this tracking technology, which operates in a legal gray area. It is illegal in many countries to track people without their consent or a court order, but there is no clear international legal standard for secretly tracking people in other countries, nor is there a global entity with the authority to police potential abuses.

Underwater Robot for Port Security – (EurekAlert – September 26, 2014)
MIT researchers have unveiled an oval-shaped submersible robot, a little smaller than a football, with a flattened panel on one side that it can slide along an underwater surface to perform ultrasound scans. Originally designed to look for cracks in nuclear reactors’ water tanks, the robot could also inspect ships for the false hulls and propeller shafts that smugglers frequently use to hide contraband. Because of its small size and unique propulsion mechanism — which leaves no visible wake — the robots could, in theory, be concealed in clumps of algae or other camouflage. Fleets of them could swarm over ships at port without alerting smugglers and giving them the chance to jettison their cargo. “It’s very expensive for port security to use traditional robots for every small boat coming into the port,” says Sampriti Bhattacharyya, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, who designed the robot together with her advisor, Ford Professor of Engineering Harry Asada. “If this is cheap enough — if I can get this out for $600, say — why not just have 20 of them doing collaborative inspection? And if it breaks, it’s not a big deal. It’s very easy to make.”


You Have ‘Near Zero’ Impact On Policy, Determines Princeton Study — (Progressive – August 17, 2014)
Is America really the most free country on the plant? Despite what patriots may tell themselves, several new studies say ‘no.’ A shocking new report from Princeton University Professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Professor Benjamin Page found that the average American has a “near-zero” impact on U.S. policy, both domestic and foreign. “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impact on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little to no independent influence,” reads the study which is slated to appear in the fall edition of Perspectives on Politics. For the paper, researchers examined over 1,800 separate policy issues and the public attitude towards them. Of these 1,800 issues, the study determined that public opinion was almost categorically ignored by legislators. (Editor’s note: The study only looked at citizen effectiveness at the national level.)


Treasure Map: The NSA Breach of Telekom and Other German Firms – (Der Spiegel – September 14, 2014)
According to top-secret documents from the NSA and the British agency GCHQ, the intelligence agencies are seeking to map the entire Internet, including end-user devices. In pursuing that goal, they have broken into networks belonging to Deutsche Telekom. When it comes to choosing code names for their secret operations, American and British agents demonstrate a flare for creativity. Sometimes they borrow from Mother Nature, with monikers such as “Evil Olive” and “Egoistic Giraffe.” Other times, they would seem to take their guidance from Hollywood. A program called Treasure Map even has its own logo, a skull superimposed onto a compass, the eye holes glowing in demonic red, reminiscent of a movie poster for the popular “Pirates of the Caribbean.” However, Treasure Map is anything but harmless entertainment. Rather, it is the mandate for a massive raid on the digital world. It aims to map the Internet, and not just the large traffic channels, such as telecommunications cables. It also seeks to identify the devices across which our data flows, so-called routers. Furthermore, every single end device that is connected to the Internet somewhere in the world — every smartphone, tablet and computer — is to be made visible. Such a map doesn’t just reveal one treasure. There are millions of them. The breathtaking mission is described in a Treasure Map presentation from the documents of the former intelligence service employee Edward Snowden which SPIEGEL has seen. It instructs analysts to “map the entire Internet — Any device, anywhere, all the time.” Deutsche Telekom’s security division has conducted a forensic review of important routers in Germany, but has yet to detect anything (presumably meaning that they can’t locate the breach).


The Wealth Gap Between Rich And Poor Americans is Affecting Our Diets – (Nation of Change – September 2, 2014)
Americans’ diets have gradually been improving, but the gains aren’t being shared equally across socioeconomic lines, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine. Low-income people’s diets have gotten worse over the past decade as richer people’s nutrition has been improving. Researchers examined Americans’ diet quality over a 12 year period, using an index of healthy eating developed by the Harvard School of Public Health in which a perfect score is 110. Between 1999-2000, U.S. adults averaged about 40 points on that scale. Although the average climbed to 47 points in 2009-2010, the study authors caution that doesn’t necessarily signal a lot of good news. It’s only a modest improvement, and the gap in nutritional quality between rich Americans’ and poor Americans’ diets actually doubled over that time period. The growing disparity is likely due to the recent recession, which deepened income inequality and made it harder for low-income Americans to afford healthy food. The national obesity epidemic is inextricably related to poverty, as low-income Americans are more likely to struggle with their weight. More than 33% of adults who earn less than $15,000 per year are considered to be obese, compared with about 25% of people who earn more than $50,000 per year.

5 Surprising Reasons to Finally Give Up Soda – (AlterNet – September 24, 2014)
Our love affair with soda is slowly changing from infatuation to a love/hate relationship. We know it isn’t good for us, we know that diet soda has its own dangers — but it’s hard to put down. More and more Americans are trying to kick the habit, though. According to a July 2014 Gallup poll, 63% of Americans are actively trying to avoid soda. That’s up from 51% in 2004. One reason: Danish researchers conducted a study of the effects of non-diet soda by asking participants to drink either sweetened soda, milk containing the same amount of calories as the soda, diet soda, or water every day for six months. Total fat mass remained the same across all beverage-drinking groups, but the drinkers of regular soda saw a drastic increase in harmful hidden fats, like liver and skeletal fat. Another reason: It’s aging you quickly by lowering your bone density, eroding your teeth, and causing kidney problems. Diet and regular sodas contain phosphoric acid to ward off the growth of bacteria and mold and give it that tang that keeps you coming back. It’s also what’s causing all those health problems. A 2010 study published online in the FASEB Journal found that high levels of phosphate caused mice to die a full five weeks sooner than mice with normal phosphate levels.


Astronauts Just Found Life in Outer Space — and Scientists Aren’t Sure How It Got There – (Mik – August 21, 2014)
Russian cosmonauts have discovered something remarkable clinging to the outside of the International Space Station: living organisms. The microscopic creatures appeared during a spacewalk intended to clean the vessel’s surface, and were allegedly identified — incredibly — as a type of sea plankton. According to Sploid, Russian scientists are both “shocked by [the] discovery and can’t really explain how [it] is possible.” While not exactly alien life forms, experts are having trouble explaining how the plankton ended up on the station and survived — possibly even grew and multiplied — 205 miles above Earth’s surface. Some claim they were carried there from the ocean by “uplifting air currents,” according to Sploid. The plankton are atypical for Baikanour, Kazakhstan, where the station initially launched, meaning it’s unlikely they were on its hull before it took off.

Rosetta: Date Fixed for Historic Comet Landing Attempt – (BBC News – September 26, 2014)
The date has been fixed for Europe’s daring attempt to land on a comet: Wednesday 12 November. It will see the Rosetta satellite, which is currently orbiting the huge “ice mountain” known as 67P, drop a small robot from a height of 20km. If all goes well, the lander will free-fall towards the comet, making contact with the surface somewhere in a 1km-wide zone at roughly 15:35 GMT. The European Space Agency (Esa) says the challenges ahead are immense. Imagine pushing a washing machine out the back of an airliner at twice cruising altitude and expecting it to hit Regent’s Park in London – all while the ground is moving underneath. Although not really analogous for many reasons, this scenario does give a sense of the difficulties involved. The chances of failure are high. The chosen landing site is on the “head” of the rubber-duck-shaped comet and is currently referred to simply as “J”, the designation it was given in a list of possible destinations in the selection process. It is far from ideal and contains some terrifying cliffs, but is the flattest, most boulder-free location the mission team could find in its survey of the icy object. Because the whole event will be taking place 509 million km from Earth, any radio signal will take 28 minutes and 20 seconds to reach Esa’s ground station network. It means confirmation of success or failure will not come until perhaps just after 16:00 GMT.


The Plus Side of Population Aging – (EurekAlert – September 24, 2014)
Around the world, people are living longer and having fewer children, leading to a population that is older, on average, than in the past. On average, life expectancy in developed countries has risen at a pace of three months per year, and fertility has fallen below replacement rate in the majority of Europe and other developed countries. Most academic discussion of this trend has so far focused on potential problems it creates, including challenges to pension systems, economic growth, and healthcare costs. But according to a new study, population aging and the compositional change that go along with it—such as increasing education levels—may also turn out to have many positive impacts for society. The researchers chose to use Germany as a case study because the country is at an advanced stage of the demographic transition, with a current fertility rate of around 1.4 and the second oldest average population in the world (median age 44.3 years). They identified five areas in which population aging could bring net benefits, when considered in combination with other demographic factors, among them: increased productivity; a benefit to the environment; and improved health over a greater percent of a person’s lifetime.

Dizzying Stat: 10% of American Adults Down at Least 10 Drinks a Day – (AlterNet – September 26, 2014)
Washington Post reporter Christopher Ingraham seems fascinated with charts and economic statistics and public policy professor Philip J. Cook is fascinated with America’s love-hate relationship with alcohol. Let these two minds meet for a few moments and what you’ll learn about booze is shocking. Ingraham got a hold of Cook’s new book, Paying the Tab: The Costs and Benefits of Alcohol Control, which chronicles the economic and societal costs of destructive drinking. And what he found in it is stunning. Cook says that 10% of American adults participate in destructive drinking to the point where they’re consuming at least 10 drinks a day. That’s more than two bottles of wine or about two-thirds of a 750ML bottle of hard liquor. Or as Cook’s research shows, almost 74 drinks a week. Moreover, Cook’s research shows about 30% of U.S. adults consume at least a drink a day and 20% have second. If just thinking about the size of those tabs gives you nausea and inspires you to be nicer to your liver, you’re in good company; more than 30% of Americans don’t drink at all.


How to Make Stronger, ‘Greener’ Cement – (EurekAlert – September 25, 2014)
“Cement is the most-used material on the planet,” says MIT senior research scientist Roland Pellenq, noting that its present usage is estimated to be three times that of steel. “There’s no other solution to sheltering mankind in a durable way — turning liquid into stone in 10 hours, easily, at room temperature. That’s the magic of cement.” But it also produced as much as one-tenth of industry-generated greenhouse-gas emissions. Now a new study suggests a way in which those emissions could be reduced by more than half — and the result would be a stronger, more durable material. The findings come from the most detailed molecular analysis yet of the complex structure of concrete, which is a mixture of sand, gravel, water, and cement. Cement is made by cooking calcium-rich material, usually limestone, with silica-rich material — typically clay — at temperatures of 1,500 degrees Celsius, yielding a hard mass called “clinker.” This is then ground up into a powder. The decarbonation of limestone, and the heating of cement, are responsible for most of the material’s greenhouse-gas output. The new analysis suggests that reducing the ratio of calcium to silicate would not only cut those emissions, but would actually produce better, stronger concrete. In conventional cements, Pellenq explains, the calcium-to-silica ratio ranges anywhere from about 1.2 to 2.2, with 1.7 accepted as the standard. But the resulting molecular structures have never been compared in detail. Pellenq and his colleagues built a database of all these chemical formulations, finding that the optimum mixture was not the one typically used today, but rather a ratio of about 1.5.

‘Active Clothing’ for Soft Robots – (Kurzweil AI – September 24, 2014)
Purdue University researchers are developing a robotic fabric that moves and contracts and is embedded with sensors, an approach that could bring “active clothing” and a new class of soft robots. Such an elastic technology could make possible robots that have sensory skin, stretchable robotic garments that people might wear for added strength and endurance, “g-suits” for pilots or astronauts to counteract the effects of acceleration, and lightweight, versatile robots to roam alien landscapes during space missions. The robotic fabric is a cotton material containing sensors made of a flexible polymer and threadlike strands of a shape-memory alloy that return to a coiled shape when heated, causing the fabric to move. The goal is to make possible a class of soft robots where all the functional elements are embedded in a stretchable skin. This skin will include flexible electronics that are less sensitive to vibration than conventional hardware, making them rugged enough for space missions. Such a technology could allow space travelers to ship lightweight, easy-to-store sheets of robotic skin for assembly once they reach their destination.


The Most Wanted Man in the World – (Wired – August, 2014)
This lengthy and, frankly, fascinating interview with Edward Snowden contains not only Snowden’s perspectives but the fruit of excellent investigative journalism. For example: there’s another prospect that further complicates matters: Some of the revelations attributed to Snowden may not in fact have come from him but from another leaker spilling secrets under Snowden’s name. Snowden himself adamantly refuses to address this possibility on the record. But independent of my visit to Snowden, I was given unrestricted access to his cache of documents in various locations. And going through this archive using a sophisticated digital search tool, I could not find some of the documents that have made their way into public view, leading me to conclude that there must be a second leaker somewhere. I’m not alone in reaching that conclusion. Both Greenwald and security expert Bruce Schneier—who have had extensive access to the cache—have publicly stated that they believe another whistle-blower is releasing secret documents to the media. (Editor’s note: we highly recommend this article for its detailed reporting, some of which is completely new material.)

Researchers Achieve First Successful Telepathic Transfer – (Zen Gardener – August 22, 2014)
There has been much speculation about what could be achieved in the area of human brain-to-brain transfer of information. A series of studies have intimated at the possibilities: Brain-to-Brain Control Established Between Humans and Animals at Harvard; Remote Controlled Humans Via Internet Now a Reality; New Mind Reading Research Aims to Synchronize Humans (article includes links to each of these studies). Now an international team is declaring a successful brain-to-brain data transfer between a person sitting in India to a receiving person in France. Journal PLOSone reports that the first brain-to-brain interface has been achieved, and that “brain stimulation techniques are now available for the realization of non-invasive computer-brain interfaces.” The research is summarized in the article.

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

Do Gut Bacteria Control Your Mind? – (KurzweilAI – August 20, 2014)
Bacteria within you — which outnumber your own cells about 100 times — may be affecting both your cravings and moods to get you to eat what they want, and may be driving you toward obesity. That’s the conclusion of researchers from UC San Francisco, Arizona State University and University of New Mexico based on a review of the recent scientific literature. The diverse community of microbes, collectively known as the gut microbiome, influence human eating behavior and dietary choices to favor consumption of the particular nutrients they grow best on, rather than simply passively living off whatever nutrients we choose to send their way. Some bacterial species prefer fat, and others sugar, for instance. They vie with each other for food and to retain a niche within their ecosystem — your digestive tract — and they also often have different aims than you do when it comes to your own actions. Bacteria may influence your decisions by releasing signaling molecules into your gut. Bacteria may be acting through the vagus nerve, which connects 100 million nerve cells from the digestive tract to the base of the brain, changing taste receptors, producing toxins to make you feel bad, and releasing chemical rewards to make you feel good. And you thought you were in charge?

Poo Puck Cleans Up Dog Waste with Ease – (GizMag – September 2, 2014)
The Poo Puck is a simple alternative to the plastic bag-mitt grab. It consists of a permanent base and disposable honeycomb cartridges. After your dog does its business, you simply put the cartridge-filled puck on top of the poop, step down and the poop mushes up into the cartridge. If you’re at home, you can just dispose of the cartridge directly in the garbage by pushing it out through the holes in the base. If you’re out walking the dog, you can use the included cardboard lid to package it up for later disposal. You don’t have to handle the poop with your hands, as you would when doing the plastic bag grab, or carry around a big scooper that’s covered in poop residue. The system also eliminates the reliance on slow-to-decompose plastic bags, purportedly biodegrading in about two months. On the other hand, the system isn’t without its pitfalls. What happens if you’re out on a walk and you misalign the puck or that poop is larger than you thought? Suddenly you’re stuck figuring out how to carry a poop-smeared puck home and maybe dragging your foot along the sidewalk the whole way. And what if your dog’s stools are looser than usual and don’t properly stick inside the cartridge? An even bigger issue is cost. That’s why using the plastic bags that you get for free or a few cents at practically every retailer you ever shop at is a cost-effective solution. Having to buy a cartridge, and possibly lid, for every poop could get expensive quickly. We appreciate innovation being directed into eliminating the need to grab warm, fresh poop with an ultra-thin layer of cheap plastic, but we’re not sure the Poo Puck is a great solution for all dog owners. The slow start it’s off to on Kickstarter suggests our hunch might be correct.


Juice Rap News: The Singularity – (You Tube – September 21, 2014)
Written & created by Giordano Nanni & Hugo Farrant in a backyard home studio in Melbourne, Australia, “Juice Rap News” is exactly that: news delivered in rap style with a fairly no-holds-barred type of tell-all. This particular newscast explores the much vaunted future event known as ‘The Singularity’. What will a machine consciousness mean for humanity? What are the ethical, political, military and philosophical implications of strong A.I.? And what would an AI sound like when spitting rhymes over a dope beat?

Planetary Panorama – (Vincent Brady website – no date)
This video clip showcases 360°, night-sky time-lapse photography. The artist’s description: Since the Earth is rotating at a steady 1,040 mph I created a custom rig of 4 cameras with fisheye lenses to capture the entire night-sky in motion. Thus the images show the stars rotating around the north star as well as the effect of the southern pole as well and a 360 degree panorama of the scene on Earth. Each camera is doing nonstop long exposures, typically about 1 minute consecutively for the life of the camera battery. Usually about 3 hours. I then made a script to stitch all the thousands of these panoramas into this time-lapse.


The future influences the present just as much as the past. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

A special thanks to: Ursula Freer, Sergio Lub, Steve McDonald, Diane Petersen, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.


Edited by John L. Petersen

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