Volume 17, Number 21 – 11/30/14

 Volume 17, Number 21 – 11/30/14 Twitter  Facebook  JLP Blog



  • The magnetic field polarity on the surface of the Sun impacts the weather on Earth.
  • The global cost of obesity has risen to $2 trillion annually.
  • Newly created cobalt-based crystals may make breathing underwater a possibility.
  • Boeing has developed a laser cannon for the U.S. Army that blasts drones out of the sky, even in fog; the operator uses an X-box controller.

by John L. Petersen

Help Us Keep FUTUREdition Coming

As we approach Thanksgiving here in the U.S. and then Christmas (and all of the other seasonal holidays), each year we appeal to you to help support this free e-newsletter that you are reading. The truth of the matter is that without your help we would not be able to publish FE. As I’ve mentioned before, it costs something more than $15,000 a year (not counting any of my time) to gather up, organize and get it out to you twice month.

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

For me, FE is an extraordinary resource for taking the temperature of the unprecedented change that is happening on this planet. I try to select items that are out on the leading edge of change . . . and I particularly look for those things that won’t show up in the mainstream media. I’m interested in things that are provocative and encourage us all to think more broadly and open ourselves to new possibilities. Our ability to navigate the change that is on the horizon will largely be determined by the new ideas – the innovation – that we, as a species, are able to come up with for dealing with the unfamiliar new terrain spread as far as we can see.

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

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

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

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

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Warm holiday wishes.



‘Le Black Friday’ Goes Global With Deals Just a Click Away – (Bloomberg – November 27, 2014)
Black Friday, the annual rite of retail that commands American attention the day after Thanksgiving, is catching on around the world. Though the U.S. is the only nation to gather for a family meal on the fourth Thursday in November, people from London to Leipzig to London, Ontario, are starting to rush big box stores the following day. The trend of discounts to kick off the Christmas shopping season — a staple of U.S. retailing for decades — reached neighboring Canada about five years ago, though Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October. The rise of the Internet has made it a worldwide phenomenon, as customers are always just one click away from the deals offered by U.S. e-tailers, even if shipping fees often erase the price advantage. In Britain, Inc. introduced the idea in 2010, and it has since spread to at least a dozen big chains. “Amazon did the groundwork in terms of increasing knowledge and awareness of the event,” said Bryan Roberts, an analyst at researcher Kantar Retail. Now “tactical bandwagon climbing” by other retailers has turned Black Friday into the biggest fixture on the British shopping calendar after Dec. 26, Boxing Day.

In Malibu, Developer Sees Ultimate Resort: Posh Cemetery – (Seattle Times – November 28, 2014)
Developer Richard Weintraub tried for years to push through a plan to build a resort-style hotel on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, Calif., only to face pushback from the notoriously slow-growth enclave. Now he’s proposing an alternative: a cemetery, the city’s first, with nearly 55,000 burial plots. The ultimate destination, one might say. “Guests check in, but they can’t check out,” said Malibu Mayor Skylar Peak, who likes the idea. For visitors, Weintraub said: “It will not look or feel like any cemetery that anyone has ever seen. We’re not planning on having headstones or even ground markers, except for maybe small circles.” Visitors would find grave sites by using GPS. In-ground plots are expected to start at $10,000 or so with family plots or mausoleums running $50,000 to $100,000.


Sun’s Rotating ‘Magnet’ Pulls Lightning Towards UK – (Space Daily – November 24, 2014)
The Sun may be playing a part in the generation of lightning strikes on Earth by temporarily ‘bending’ the Earth’s magnetic field and allowing a shower of energetic particles to enter the upper atmosphere. This is according to researchers at the University of Reading who have found that over a five year period the UK experienced around 50% more lightning strikes when the Earth’s magnetic field was skewed by the Sun’s own magnetic field.The Earth’s magnetic field usually functions as an in-built force-field to shield against a bombardment of particles from space, known as galactic cosmic rays, which have previously been found to prompt a chain-reaction of events in thunderclouds that trigger lightning bolts. The Sun’s magnetic field is like a bar magnet, so as the Sun rotates its magnetic field alternately points toward and away from the Earth, pulling the Earth’s own magnetic field one way and then another.” This change of direction can skew or ‘bend’ the Earth’s own magnetic field and the researchers believe that this could expose some regions of the upper atmosphere to more galactic cosmic rays – tiny particles from across the Universe accelerated to close to the speed of light by exploding stars. According to lead author of the research Dr. Matt Owens, “Scientists have been reliably predicting the solar magnetic field polarity since the 1970s by watching the surface of the Sun. We just never knew it had any implications on the weather on Earth.”

The Mysterious ‘Action at a Distance’ Between Liquid Containers – (Space Daily – November 27, 2014)
For several years, it has been known that superfluid helium housed in reservoirs located next to each other acts collectively, even when the channels connecting the reservoirs are too narrow and too long to allow for substantial flow. The theoretical model of the phenomenon, developed by an international team of scientists, including those from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IPC PAS) in Warsaw, however, suggests that this effect may also be present in other liquids – and in much more typical conditions. The new theory, confirmed by computer simulations carried out by Oleg Vasilyev from the Max-Planck-Institut fur Intelligente Systeme, proves that the effect of “action at a distance” does not require quantum physics and can also occur in classical one-component fluids, as well as in mixtures. “Physics in the microworld, even classical physics, is turning out, not for the first time, to be different from the physics we all know from everyday life,” concludes Dr. Maciolek. The sizes of the containers and channels in microfluidic systems are so small that the “action at a distance” can occur as an unintended effect, disturbing the results of experiments, or as an intentionally introduced factor increasing the functionality of the system.


Organovo Announces Commercial Release of the exVive3D™ Human Liver Tissue – (Organovo – November 18, 2014)
Organovo, a three-dimensional biology company focused on delivering breakthrough 3D bioprinting technology, has announced the full commercial release of the exVive3DTM Human Liver Tissue for preclinical drug discovery testing. Initially, clients will be able to access the technology through Organovo’s contract research services program. This model is intended to provide human-specific data to aid in the prediction of liver tissue toxicity in later stage preclinical drug discovery programs. The exVive3D Liver Models are created using Organovo’s proprietary 3D bioprinting technology that builds functional living tissues containing precise and reproducible architecture. The tissues are functional and stable for at least 42 days, which enables assessment of drug effects over study durations that well beyond those offered by industry-standard 2D liver cell culture systems.

New Technique Allows Ultrasound to Penetrate Bone, Metal – (North Carolina State Univ. – November 20, 2014)
Ultrasound imaging works by emitting high frequency acoustic waves. When those waves bounce off an object, they return to the ultrasound equipment, which translates the waves into an image. But some materials, such as bone or metal, have physical characteristics that block or distort ultrasound’s acoustic waves. These materials are called aberrating layers. Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a technique that allows ultrasound to penetrate bone or metal, using customized structures that offset the distortion usually caused by aberrating layers. “We’ve designed complementary metamaterials that will make it easier for medical professionals to use ultrasound for diagnostic or therapeutic applications, such as monitoring blood flow in the brain or to treat brain tumors,” says Tarry Chen Shen, a Ph.D. student at NC State and lead author of a paper on the work. “These metamaterials could also be used in industrial settings,” says Dr. Yun Jing, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State and senior author of the paper. “For example, it would allow you to use ultrasound to detect cracks in airplane wings under the wing’s metal ‘skin.’” The metamaterial structure uses a series of membranes and small tubes to achieve the desired acoustic characteristics. The researchers have tested the technique using computer simulations and are in the process of developing and testing a physical prototype.

Brain’s Dementia Weak Spot Identified – (BBC News – November 27, 2014)
The Medical Research Council (MRC) team who carried out the study did MRI brain scans on 484 healthy volunteers aged between eight and 85 years. The researchers, led by Dr.Gwenaëlle Douaud of Oxford University, looked at how the brain naturally changes as people age. The images revealed a common pattern – the parts of the brain that were the last to develop were also the first to show signs of age-related decline. These brain regions – a network of nerve cells or grey matter – co-ordinate “high order” information coming from the different senses, such as sight and sound. When the researchers looked at scans of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and scans of patients with schizophrenia they found the same brain regions were affected. Prof. Hugh Perry of the MRC said: “Early doctors called schizophrenia ‘premature dementia’ but until now we had no clear evidence that the same parts of the brain might be associated with two such different diseases. This large-scale and detailed study provides an important, and previously missing, link between development, ageing and disease processes in the brain.


One Year of Beijing Pollution – (That’s – November 4, 2014)
Every day, 365 days a week, Beijing resident Zou Yi photographs the same building. Since January 27, 2013, he’s been uploading a single picture of Beijing’s BTV Tower to his Sina Weibo microblog — every morning, without fail, from the exact same angle at roughly the same time. “A picture is worth a thousand words. If you see the same place, at the same time over a full year, the quality of the air becomes perceptible immediately. I hope that after seeing the pictures people will start to pay attention to and protect our living environment. Data and theories are too abstract, but pictures can give a much more vivid picture.” Since he began his experiment, Zou Yi has attracted followers from around the country, and has inspired others to do the same in their own cities. He says that he wants to see similar projects in every Chinese city, and hopes to roll out exhibitions of the photos nationwide. This article includes a compilation of Zou Yi’s first year’s worth of Beijing photos.

Fossil DNA Has Clues to Surviving Rapid Climate Change – (New Scientist – January 31, 2012)
Surviving the last ice age was more than just a matter of growing a woolly coat. Rapid global temperature swings had to be matched by equally rapid adaptation. Now a remarkable find from Canada’s permafrost could help explain how the trick was done, through a process that might offer organisms a way to cope with the dramatic climate change the world is facing. DNA extracted from the bones of an extinct bison shows that the environment influenced the way the animal’s genes worked without altering the genetic code. It is the best evidence yet that such epigenetic changes can be fossilized. Inheritance doesn’t begin and end with genetic mutations. Environmental factors can modify DNA and lead to heritable changes in the way that genes are expressed – even though the genetic code itself is unchanged. The big unanswered question is whether these epigenetic changes influence the long-term evolution and survival of a species, or whether they disappear too quickly to have any lasting impact. “Epigenetic modification strikes me as an ideal way for animals to respond to environmental change,” says Alan Cooper, a palaeobiologist at the University of Adelaide in South Australia. Before that idea could be tested, though, Cooper needed to show that epigenetics is preserved in the fossil record – the best place to study evolutionary processes over a large number of generations. The article goes on to describe how he did that using DNA from the bones of a 26,000-year-old extinct bison (Bison priscus) preserved in permafrost in the Canadian Arctic. The next step will be to gather more ancient samples from before and after a major environmental change – the end of a glaciation, for example, or the arrival of humans in the New World – to see whether any epigenetic changes correlate with the environmental transition. If they do, evolutionary biologists will move a step closer to proving that epigenetic changes help species adapt to rapid change.

Fresh Snow Hits Northeastern US in Killer Storm – (Terra Daily – November 20, 2014)
Fresh snowstorms struck the northeastern US on Thursday, paralyzing communities in a rare mid-autumn blizzard that killed eight people and dumped more than six feet of snow near Buffalo. The National Weather Service said an extra two to three feet (60 to 90 centimeters) of “lake effect snow,” created when frigid air moves over warm lake waters, could fall on Thursday. Snowfall roughly equivalent to a year’s supply of snow in two days saw the National Guard called up and could yet prompt a federal disaster declaration, local officials said. The colossal snowfall has collapsed roofs, damaged homes and businesses, canceled flights and stranded motorists for as many as two nights on the highway. See also: a quick graphic of the snow cover as of 11/17/2014, looking “down” from the north pole.

Rising Sea Levels Show Strange Patterns – (Wired – November 27, 2014)
The oceans aren’t level. Over the span of decades, atmospheric weather patterns push water the water around, causing sea levels in connected basins to rise and fall somewhat predictably. A map in the article shows the different oceanic basins (which aren’t always separated by continental bodies). The Indian ocean and southern Atlantic form the largest such connected system, and historically a rise in one would result in the fall of another. However, since 2000 the two huge basins in the southern hemisphere have broken their trend, rising jointly over 2 millimeters per year. A new paper in Geophysical Research Letters proposes that this new development, found using satellite-derived sea height data, could be due to changes in a large climate system that wraps around the entire southern hemisphere. Changes in the east to west wind pattern seem to be driving the difference in Indian/southern Atlantic system. The scientists have several hypotheses for what’s driving the shift in wind patterns, all of which are linked to climate change.


Out in the Open: The Little-Known Open Source OS That Rules the Internet of Things – (Wired – June 3, 2014)
You can connect almost anything to a computer network. Light bulbs. Thermostats. Coffee makers. Even badgers. Yes, badgers. Badgers spend a lot of time underground, which makes it difficult for biologists and zoologists to track their whereabouts and activities. GPS, for example, doesn’t work well underground or in enclosed areas. But about five years ago, University of Oxford researchers Andrew Markham and Niki Trigoni solved that problem by inventing a wireless tracking system that can work underground. Like many other scientists, they turned to open source to avoid having to rebuild fundamental components from scratch. One building block they used is an open source operating system called Contiki. Contiki isn’t nearly so well-known as Windows or OS X or even Linux, but for more than a decade, it has been the go-to operating system for hackers, academics, and companies building network-connected devices like sensors, trackers, and web-based automation systems. It’s lightweight, it’s free, and it’s mature. It provides a foundation for developers and entrepreneurs eager to bring us all the internet-connected gadgets the internet of things promises, without having to develop the underlying operating system those gadgets will need. Perhaps the biggest thing Contiki has going for it is that it’s small. Contiki needs just a few kilobytes to run. Contiki will soon face competition from the likes of Microsoft, which recently announced Windows for the Internet of Things. But while Microsoft’s new operating system will be free for devices less than 9 inches in size, it won’t be open source. And Contiki has an 11-year head start.

3 Misconceptions in’s Conversation on “The Myth of AI” – ( – November 18, 2014)
As the title makes clear, this article is entering into a conversation mid-stream. And that’s not a bad thing. Instead, it gives the reader a link to the earlier referenced article and then proceeds to examine the fine points of the AI cutting edge – and what that does (and doesn’t) imply. This article and the one it’s based on offer a quick way of getting up to layman’s speed. “A recent conversation — “The Myth of AI” with Jaron Lanier — is framed in part as a discussion of points raised in Bostrom’s Superintelligence, and as a response to much-repeated comments by Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking that seem to have been heavily informed by Superintelligence. Unfortunately, some of the participants fall prey to common misconceptions about the standard case for AI as an existential risk, and they probably haven’t had time to read Superintelligence yet.”

Georgia Tech Professor Proposes Another Alternative to the Turing test – (KurzweilAI – November 20, 2014)
Georgia Tech associate professor Mark Ried has developed a new kind of “Turing test” — a test proposed in 1950 by computing pioneer Alan Turing to determine whether a machine or computer program exhibits human-level intelligence. Most Turing test designs require a machine to engage in dialogue and convince (trick) a human judge that it is an actual person. But creating certain types of art also requires intelligence, leading Reid to consider if that approach might lead to a better gauge of whether a machine can replicate human thought. “It’s important to note that Turing never meant for his test to be the official benchmark as to whether a machine or computer program can actually think like a human,” Riedl said. “And yet it has, and it has proven to be a weak measure because it relies on deception. This proposal suggests that a better measure would be a test that asks an artificial agent to create an artifact requiring a wide range of human-level intelligent capabilities.” To that end, Riedl has created the Lovelace 2.0 Test of Artificial Creativity and Intelligence. Article includes description of the original Lovelace 1.0 test and the newer version.

Google Glass Is Dead; Long Live Smart Glasses – (Technology Review – November 26, 2014)
Two and a half years after Google cofounder Sergey Brin unveiled Google Glass with a group of skydivers jumping from a zeppelin above San Francisco, the computer you wear on your face is falling to its death. It’s still not a finished consumer product. It’s not even close to being something people yearn for, at least not beyond the Glass Explorers who each paid $1,500 for early access. Although Google says it’s still committed to Glass, several companies, including Twitter, have stopped working on apps for it. Even some of the early adopters are getting weary of the device. “I found that it was not very useful for very much, and it tended to disturb people around me that I have this thing,” says James Katz, the director of emerging media studies at Boston University’s College of Communication. A lot of this is Google’s fault. Rather than spending years developing Glass in secret, Google trotted it out as an early “beta” product that was somewhat functional but finicky and literally in your face. But despite Google’s missteps, the technology isn’t going away. The idea that Glass represents—allowing you to ingest digital information at a glance—hasn’t lost its appeal. So imagine that in a few years someone comes out with smart glasses that are pretty much unnoticeable. The article goes on to discuss some of the relevant innovations that are now in development.


Palacio de Sal – Hotel Built of Salt – (GizMag – July 11, 2012)
The Salar de Uyuni, located in Bolivia, is the largest salt flat in the world. Extending over 4,000 square miles, the Salar was once part of a prehistoric salt lake that covered much of Southwestern Bolivia. The lake dried up, leaving a massive layer of salt crust almost 12,000 feet above sea level. The enchanting (and precarious) natural wonder — don’t try crossing it without sunglasses — is one of the most savage and surreal destinations on Earth. At the edge of the Salar de Uyuni is the Palacio de Sal (Salt Palace),a hotel and spa where the walls and furniture are made entirely of salt. Since the hotel’s location is sparse on local wood materials and abundant in salt, the building was constructed using close to one million blocks of salt. Its walls, floors, ceilings, and even some of the furnishings, such as chairs, tables, beds and sculptures are all made of salt. The hotel has 16 guest rooms, a dry sauna, steam room, salt water bathing, salt beds, whirlpool, massage room and a nine hole golf course that is open from May through to November. Positioned at an altitude of 12,000 ft. above sea level, the hotel is in a great spot to enjoy some remarkable sunsets and expansive starry skies. Article includes 18 photos of the hotel. See also: Surreal and Stunning Visions from the Largest Salt Flat in the World.

White Solar Panels Blend In, Are More Energy Efficient – (Drive the District – November 20, 2014)
Solar has hit the mainstream in a big way, and because of this, engineers and companies alike are racing to find ways to better integrate solar panels into daily life. Current solar panels are rather, um, noticeable. But one company, CSEM, has found a way to integrate solar into architecture without any noticeable presence of paneling. CSEM, a Swiss nonprofit technology company, has developed a solar panel that can be integrated into the walls of buildings, cars or even billboards more or less invisibly. The company recently introduced a white solar panel that blends in just about everywhere. And since it’s white, it stays cooler, boosting overall efficiency. The solar panel is actually still “blue,” but is covered with a layer of colored plastic. This layer acts as a scattering filter that reflects all visible light, yet lets in infrared rays. It can be applied on top of an existing module or integrated into a new module during assembly, on flat or curved surfaces. We can change the color of all existing panels or create customized looks from scratch. Solar panels can now disappear; they become virtually hidden energy sources,” said CSEM. This paneling technology gives architects, advertisers and even product engineers the versatility to incorporate solar power into their designs without having to give up aesthetics.


Mitsubishi to Use LENRs to Clean Nuclear Waste – (New Energy Times – April 24, 2014)
On April 8, 2014, Nikkei, the Japanese equivalent of the Wall Street Journal, reported that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Yokohama, Japan, plans to use low-energy nuclear reactions to clean nuclear waste. This patented LENR transmutation method was developed by Mitsubishi physicist Yasuhiro Iwamura. This article contains a translation of the original Nikkei report and an online copy of a recent slide presentation from Iwamura and an updated European patent specification from the company. The patent claims that the reactions occur not by fission or fusion, but by a two-step mechanism beginning with a weak interaction; a neutron is created and is followed by a neutron capture process.

Plant-e – (Plant-e website, no date)
Plant-e is a Dutch company that develops products in which living plants generate electricity. These products are based on technology that was developed at Wageningen University and patented in 2007. The patent is now held by Plant-e. The technology enables us to produce electricity from living plants at practically every site where plants can grow. The technology is based on natural processes and is safe for both the plant, and its environment. Via photosynthesis a plant produces organic matter. Part of this organic matter is used for plant-growth, but a large part can’t be used by the plant and is excreted into the soil via the roots. Around the roots naturally occurring micro-organisms break down the organic compounds in order to gain energy. In this process, electrons are released as a waste product. By providing an electrode for the micro-organisms to donate their electrons to, the electrons can be harvested as electricity. Research has shown that plant-growth isn’t compromised by harvesting electricity, so plants keep on growing while electricity is concurrently produced. The video clip embedded in the website is in Dutch and has no subtitles, nonetheless you can get a sense of the technology. This is what is being shown: The first two Plant-e systems were launched on November 5th. The two systems are installed at the HEMbrug grounds in Zaandam and at a crossover of the A12 highway (the rainbow route) on the food innovation strip Ede-Wageningen. Both systems power an artwork of light and were switched on simultaneously. Here is a press release in English about the event. Here is an explanation of the process.


UK’s First “Poo Bus” Is Powered by Human Waste – (Time – November 22, 2014)
A new bus in Britain runs on biomethane fuel produced by humans sewage and food waste. The Bio-Bus—or as it’s more affectionately known, “the poo bus”—can travel up to 186 miles on one tank of gas, which takes the annual waste of about five people to produce. A single passenger’s annual food and sewage waste can fuel the Bio-Bus for 37 miles. The bus, which emits up to 30% less carbon dioxide than conventional diesel vehicles, will shuttle people between Bristol Airport and Bath. See also a short video clip of the bus itself and the plant that converts the waste to methane.


Fun with Food – (Technology Review – October 3, 2014)
Ever since cooks began playing with the equipment of the food industry, chefs have felt compelled to join one of two camps. The first believes any kitchen is incomplete without a centrifuge, combination steam-convection oven, and $6,000 vacuum-seal machine and immersion circulator to cook 22-hour eggs sous vide. The second camp takes pride in telling you that all these gadgets, and ingredients like hydrocolloids and calcium baths, are outlawed in their kitchens—because gadgets and industrial powders have nothing to do with cooking. But now that the equipment, ideas, and techniques of modernist cuisine have been around more than a decade, a new generation of chefs declines to declare loyalty to either camp. The most interesting cooks today are not on the barricades but those eager to discover new flavors. They use low-tech means like fermentation and cook over a stove. The really ambitious cooks—those who aspire to a place on the world culinary map—create those novel flavors at food labs. For example at the Nordic Food Lab, which can be found in a houseboat on a Copenhagen canal, a short walk down a cobbled lane from a restaurant called Noma. The lab is the brainchild of Rene Redzepi, whose quest at Noma for new flavors, whether from plants, fungi, lichen, or animal by-products, has given rise to an international obsession with foraging for new, questionably edible ingredients. It’s easy to parody the results. But up close, in the sweeping, palatial kitchens of Noma, a floor above the restaurant, the patience, attention, and meticulous care with which gnarled and ancient vegetables or half-rotten weeds are treated is impressive, as is the dedication of the international cast of apprentices.


Stealthy Spy Software Snooping for Years: Symantec – (Space War – November 25, 2014)
Computer security firm Symantec has recently uncovered stealthy software wielded as part of a years-long spying campaign, most likely by a nation state. The malicious software, dubbed Regin, has a rare level of sophistication and has been targeting government agencies, telecoms, utilities, airlines, research facilities, private individuals and others since at least 2008, according to Symantec Corporation. Attacks on telecom firms appeared aimed at getting access to calls being routed through networks. “Regin is a highly complex threat which has been used in systematic data collection or intelligence gathering campaigns,” Symantec said. “The development and operation of this malware would have required a significant investment of time and resources, indicating that a nation state is responsible.” Regin was found mainly in 10 countries, but more than half of infections discovered were in Russia and Saudi Arabia, according to Symantec researchers. Regin’s capabilities include letting hackers snap screen-shots, steal passwords, monitor network traffic, take files or tap into mobile telephone calls, researchers said. Regin may have taken years to make, according to Symantec, which said the tool could be used for mass surveillance. Nearly half the infections discovered targeted small businesses and private individuals. Researchers found Regin infected a variety of organizations from 2008 to 2011, only to be withdrawn, though a new version of the malicious software appeared last year. Symantec did not indicate who it thought might be behind the cyber-espionage tool.

Army’s New Laser Cannon Blasts Drones Out of the Sky, Even in Fog – (Wired – September 5, 2014)
Boeing is building a laser cannon for the U.S. Army, and the new weapon has now proved it will be as capable at sea as on land. The High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD)—basically a high-energy laser mounted on top of a big truck—was successfully used to blast some UAV drones and 60mm mortars out of the Florida sky earlier this year. This test was done in a windy and foggy environment, an essential step to proving the technology is useful for naval deployment. The HEL MD used a 10-kilowatt laser—a much less powerful version of what it will eventually fire—to “successfully engage” more than 150 targets at Eglin Air Force Base, a Department of Defense weapons testing facility on the Florida Panhandle. In other words, it disabled or destroyed them. In simple terms, the laser makes an incredibly powerful, highly focused beam of light and aims it at a moving target. Light equals heat, and, after enough heat has been transferred, the target is compromised and crashes or blows up. The Army and Boeing (which landed a $36 million contract for the project) have been working on this for the better part of a decade, par for the course for a next-generation weapons platform. The lithium ion batteries that power the HEL MD’s laser are charged by a 60 kW diesel generator, so if the Army can keep the fuel tank full, they can shoot down incoming threats indefinitely. The system uses a telescope and infrared-based, wide field of view camera to locate and designate targets. Boeing has designed the system to be operated by a driver and an operator with a laptop and an Xbox controller. Putting it on a truck makes the system mobile, and thus much more useful in battle situations.


‘Amnesty’ Pond for Dumping Unwanted Goldfish Planned after Deadly Restoration of SF’s Mountain Lake – (CBS – November 22, 2014)
People can soon start dumping their pet goldfish, carp and other unwanted fishy pets in a designated “amnesty” pond near San Francisco Presidio’s Mountain Lake. Federal park officials in San Francisco say they’ve finished the first phase of an experimental — and deadly — attempt to restore native fish to Mountain Lake. Apparently, disenchanted pet owners have been dumping non-native carp and goldfish into the four-acre pond. Officials at San Francisco’s Presidio purposely poisoned the pond earlier this month. Officials said the plan is to restock Mountain Lake with native creatures after the foreign fish are gone. Workers retrieved 842 poisoned goldfish, carp and other fish that San Franciscans had dumped into the pond over the years. Park officials plan to test the waters in May and then start restocking the pond’s original three-spined sticklebacks, Western pond turtles and chorus frogs. The so-called amnesty pond is planned nearby so people can keep dumping their goldfish, carp and other fish.


Spooky Alignment of Quasar Axes across Billions of Light-years with Large-scale Structure – (KurzweilAI – November 21, 2014)
New observations with ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile have revealed alignments over the largest structures ever discovered in the Universe. A European research team has found that the rotation axes of the central supermassive black holes in a sample of quasars are parallel to each other over distances of billions of light-years. The team has also found that the rotation axes of these quasars tend to be aligned with the vast structures in the cosmic web in which they reside. A team led by Damien Hutsemékers from the University of Liège in Belgium studied 93 quasars that were known to form huge groupings spread over billions of light-years, seen at a time when the Universe was about one third of its current age. The new VLT results also indicate that the rotation axes of the quasars tend to be parallel to the large-scale structure in which they find themselves — a cosmic web of filaments and clumps around huge voids where galaxies are scarce.

NASA’s Van Allen Probes Spot an Impenetrable Barrier in Space – (NASA – November 26,2014)
The Van Allen belts are a collection of charged particles, gathered in place by Earth’s magnetic field. They can wax and wane in response to incoming energy from the sun, sometimes swelling up enough to expose satellites in low-Earth orbit to damaging radiation. Two donuts of seething radiation that surround Earth, called the Van Allen radiation belts, have been found to contain a nearly impenetrable barrier that prevents the fastest, most energetic electrons from reaching Earth. The discovery of the drain that acts as a barrier within the belts was made using NASA’s Van Allen Probes, launched in August 2012 to study the region. A slot of fairly empty space typically separates the belts. But, what keeps them separate? Why is there a region in between the belts with no electrons? Enter the newly discovered barrier. Understanding what gives the radiation belts their shape and what can affect the way they swell or shrink helps scientists predict the onset of those changes. Such predictions can help scientists protect satellites in the area from the radiation.

The Dangers of Nuclear Materials Entering into Space – (Nation of Change – November 22, 2014)
The recent crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and explosion on launch three days earlier of an Antares rocket underline the dangers of inserting nuclear material in the always perilous space flight equation¬s the U.S. and Russia still plan. The Antares rocket operated by Orbital Sciences Corp. blew up seconds after launch. It was carrying 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments to the International Space Station. The cost of the rocket alone was put at $200 million. “These two recent space ‘anomalies’ remind us that technology frequently goes wrong,” said Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. “When you consider adding nuclear power into the mix it becomes an explosive combination.” But that is exactly what the U.S. and Russia are planning. Both countries have been using nuclear power on space missions for decades¬ and accidents involving their nuclear-powered space devices have happened with substantial amounts of radioactive particles released on Earth. Now, a major expansion in space nuclear power activity is planned with the development by both nations of nuclear-powered rockets for trips to Mars. As devastating in terms of financial damage were the explosions of the SpaceshipTwo and the Antares rocket, an accident involving a nuclear-powered vehicle or device could be far more costly. The NASA Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Curiosity (then called Mars Science Laboratory) mission states, for example, that the cost of decontamination of areas affected by dispersed plutonium would be $267 million for each square mile of farmland, $478 million for each square mile of forests and $1.5 billion for each square mile of “mixed-use urban areas.” And that’s just the financial cost.


Global Obesity Costs Hit $2 Trillion – (Associated Press – November 20, 2014)
The global cost of obesity has risen to $2 trillion annually — nearly as much as smoking or the combined impact of armed violence, war and terrorism, according to a new report. The McKinsey Global Institute consulting firm’s report focused on the economics of obesity, putting it among the top three social programs generated by human beings. It puts its impact at 2.8% of global gross domestic product. The company says 2.1 billion people — about 30% of the global population— are overweight or obese and that about 15% of health care costs in developed economies are driven by it. In emerging markets, as countries get richer, the rate of obesity rises to the same level as that found in more developed countries. The report offers the stark prediction that nearly half the world’s adult population will be overweight or obese by 2030 should present trends continue. See this article for a graph showing the percentage of overweight and obese adults by country in 1980 and in 2008. The U.S. was in the lead both times, but the difference in 28 years is startling.


Cloaking Device Hides Across Continuous Range of Angles – (SpaceMart – November 20, 2014)
Scientists have recently developed several ways–some simple and some involving new technologies–to hide objects from view. The latest effort, developed at the University of Rochester, not only overcomes some of the limitations of previous devices, but it uses inexpensive, readily available materials in a novel configuration. “There’ve been many high tech approaches to cloaking and the basic idea behind these is to take light and have it pass around something as if it isn’t there, often using high-tech or exotic materials,” said John Howell, a professor of physics at the University of Rochester. Forgoing the specialized components, Howell and graduate student Joseph Choi developed a combination of four standard lenses that keeps the object hidden as the viewer moves up to several degrees away from the optimal viewing position. “This is the first device that we know of that can do three-dimensional, continuously multidirectional cloaking, which works for transmitting rays in the visible spectrum,” said Choi, a Ph.D. student at Rochester’s Institute of Optics.

Scientists Just Created Crystals That Make Breathing Underwater a Possibility – (Earth We Are One – October 11, 2014)
Danish scientists are a step closer to helping those suffering from respiratory ailments thanks to a revolutionary new absorption crystal. Working out of the University of Southern Denmark, the group has uncovered crystalline materials that are capable of pulling oxygen out of both air and water – which could eventually mark the end of the need to carry around large oxygen tanks. The revolutionary crystalline material can bind and store oxygen in high concentrations, then control its release time depending on what the user needs. This new discovery could even benefit deep sea divers, giving them superhero-like abilities to stay submerged for extended periods of time without an oxygen tank. According to the study, the crystalline-made material was obtained by using x-ray diffraction, displaying the atomic behavior of the material while it’s full of oxygen – it was then emptied of it. Professor Christine McKenzie noted: “An important aspect of this new material is that it does not react irreversibly with oxygen – even though it absorbs oxygen in a so-called selective chemisorptive process. The material is both a sensor, and a container for oxygen – we can use it to bind, store and transport oxygen – like a solid artificial hemoglobin.” An unexpected aspect to the new development is the oxygen storing process, which turned out to be completely natural. The metal cobalt, which is the essential component in the new crystalline material, controls the process of absorption. She added, “A few grains contain enough oxygen for one breath, and as the material can absorb oxygen from the water around the diver and supply the diver with it, the diver will not need to bring more than these few grains. When the substance is saturated with oxygen, it can be compared to an oxygen tank containing pure oxygen under pressure – the difference is that this material can hold three times as much oxygen.”


Radical New Economic System Will Emerge from Collapse of Capitalism – (The Guardian – November 7, 2014)
At the very moment of its ultimate triumph, capitalism will experience the most exquisite of deaths. This is the belief of political adviser and author Jeremy Rifkin, who argues the current economic system has become so successful at lowering the costs of production that it has created the very conditions for the destruction of the traditional vertically integrated corporation. Rifkin, who has advised the European Commission, the European Parliament and heads of state, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, says: “No one in their wildest imagination, including economists and business people, ever imagined the possibility of a technology revolution so extreme in its productivity that it could actually reduce marginal costs to near zero, making products nearly free, abundant and absolutely no longer subject to market forces.” With many manufacturing companies surviving only on razor thin margins, they will buckle under competition from small operators with virtually no fixed costs. “We are seeing the final triumph of capitalism followed by its exit off the world stage and the entrance of the collaborative commons,” Rifkin predicts. “We’ve got a new potential platform to get us to where we need to go”, he says. “I don’t know if it’s in time, but if there’s an alternative plan I have no idea what it could be. What I do know is that staying with a vertically integrated system – based on large corporations with fossil fuels, nuclear power and centralized telecommunications, alongside growing unemployment, a narrowing of GDP and technologies that are moribund – is not the answer.” From the ashes of the current economic system, he believes, will emerge a radical new model powered by the extraordinary pace of innovation in energy, communication and transport. The sine qua non for this is net neutrality and Rifkin also predicts what will happen if we lose it.

Banking Industry Culture Promotes Dishonesty, Research Finds – (Guardian – November 19, 2014)
How do you tell if a group of bankers is dishonest? Simply by getting them all to toss a coin. That may not seem like in-depth research, but it is the basis of an academic paper published in Nature magazine this week, which investigates whether the financial sector’s culture encourages dishonesty – and concludes that it does. The academics from the University of Zurich used a sample of 128 employees of a large bank, and split them into two groups. The first set of bankers were primed to start thinking about their job, with questions such as “what is your function at this bank?”. They were then asked to toss a coin 10 times, in private, knowing which outcome would earn them $20 a flip. They then had to report their results online to claim any winnings. Unsurprisingly perhaps, there was cheating – with the percentage of winning tosses coming in at an incredibly fortunate 58.2% (although the research omitted to say how many bankers also trousered the coin). Meanwhile, the second group completed a survey about their wellbeing and everyday life, that did not include questions relating to their professional life. They then performed the coin-flipping task, which threw up a quite astonishing finding: these bankers proved honest. Identical exercises in other industries did not produce the same skewing in results when participants were primed to start thinking about their work. The bank where the study was done is not named and may well have been located in Zurich. (Editor’s note: According to an article in Time magazine covering the same story, the American Bankers Association rebuffed the study’s findings to the AP. “While this study looks at one bank, America’s 6,000 banks set a very high bar when it comes to the honesty and integrity of their employees. Banks take the fiduciary responsibility they have for their customers very seriously,” the Association said. Might they be protesting a bit too much?)

Kroger – the Wait Time Innovators – (You Tube – November 19, 2014)
R&D is paying off at the Kroger chain of grocery stores with wait times in checkout lines vastly reduced through a mix of new technology and advanced algorithms. Video clip explains how Kroger uses heat sensing technology to track traffic at store entrances, exits, and checkout lanes and then adjusts the number of cashiers in real time. Execs says the average checkout wait time has gone from a range of 3.5 minutes to 4 minutes down to 30 seconds.


Project Censored – (Santa Fe Reporter – November 4, 2014)
Here are the top 10 stories of the year ignored by the mainstream media. Some of these should surprise no one. But as much as I browse through news sources that collectively have become known as the “alternative press”, one of these items (ocean acidification) was almost entirely new to me. It is also the top story of Project Censored, an annual book and reporting project that features the year’s most underreported news stories, striving to unmask censorship, self-censorship and propaganda in corporate-controlled media outlets. “Information is the currency of democracy,” Ralph Nader, the prominent consumer advocate and many-time presidential candidate, wrote in his foreword to this year’s Project Censored 2015. But with most mass media owned by narrow corporate interests, “the general public remains uninformed.” We invite you to at least skim through all 10 of them.

Battling the Datenkraken’s Business of Surveillance – (Wired – November 17, 2014)
A recent hubris and cavalier attitude toward user privacy is not unique to Facebook – it is true of nearly all today’s Data Collectors, or Data States as many of us like calling it. These data hoarders — who hold our data hostage in exchange for “free” services that we can’t live without — actually grow their business by selling off our psychological profiles to advertisers and marketers (not to mention, government agencies). But it’s their business model, and after all, we do consent to this data collection when we agree to use free services, so who cares: right? Perhaps at one time this was partially true, but the boundaries between free and paid services, between private and monitored channels, and between open and closed environments have now blurred to the point that terms of services (and the benefits) are unclear, with users having little knowledge of where their data is stored, and how it is being used, and re-used. But let’s not pick on just Facebook – Google is the poster child in so many ways for this critique. With its Android mobile OS, Chrome desktop OS and ubiquitous “free” services like Gmail, Drive and Google Maps, this “open source” company has created an enormous global web of data – including pictures of your backyard, and to-the-second location records of anyone who has enabled GPS on their Android or Chrome-enabled device – to the point that they know where you are going before you leave home. This editorial goes on to discuss further issues of data privacy.

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

Tiny Pufferfish Spends a Week Creating Art on the Ocean Floor to Attract a Mate – (Twisted Sifter – November 28, 2014)
Courtship mandala: a Japanese pufferfish makes an extraordinary sand sculpture to attract a mate.


Wild December – (Forbidden Knowledge TV – no date)
Shot with a high speed video camera, this is a clip, running just under 4 minutes, of animals moving through their natural winter habitat. Let the camera take you where you couldn’t possibly go on your own – and watch it “full screen” to get all the advertisements out of your line of sight and let you enjoy the wildlife.


When it comes to the environment, the invisible hand never picks up the check. – Kim Stanley Robinson, science fiction writer

A special thanks to: Thomas Bergin, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Tom Hartman, Matthew Kolasinski, 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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