FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- Horizontal gene transfer, when DNA passes from one organism to another generally unrelated one, has happened between all kinds of living entities throughout the history of life on the planet – not just between species, but also between different kingdoms of life.
- The weight of the plastic floating in the world’s oceans is more than the weight of the entire biomass of humans.
- Singapore wants a driverless version of Uber.
- For 2012 and 2013, suicide outranked war, cancer, heart disease, homicide, transportation accidents and other causes as the leading killer of members of the US military, accounting for about three in 10 military deaths each of those two years.
by John L. Petersen
One More Chance to Help Keep FUTUREdition Coming to You
As we enter a new year I’d like to give you one more chance to support the publishing of this free newsletter, which we regularly send your way.
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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2015: A Year of Great Change
By all counts this coming year, 2015, promises to be an extraordinary one for change. We are fully into the most amazing shift in the history of life on this planet and the evidence of that transition will only become more obvious in the months and years that are racing this way.
Let me provide you with a tangible example of that dynamic.
In conventional terms, there is nothing on this planet that is as important to human life as the availability of usable energy. The history of human development is the history of energy development. Where there is no effective usable electricity there is no development. Nothing is more central.
For years now, there have been growing indications that we are on the verge of a revolution in energy – reflected both in the decreasing availability of oil and the emergence of clear indicators of potential breakthroughs that would make fossil fuels obsolete and usher in an extraordinary new era of abundant, clean electricity.
A week ago, FE contributor Gary Sycalik sent along this enlightening summary of historical pieces related to an energy revolution from the website WantToKnow.info.
First of all, let me commend this site to you. WantToKnow.info is an archetype of the unique power and benefit of the Internet’s alternative press – a group of smart, driven individuals who are focused on the relatively narrow (but extraordinarily powerful) sector that describes those things that the conventional media does not cover because governments and/or businesses believe that it is not in their interest. In a sense, they cover the real world – what’s really happening underneath all of the daily fluff of what is called news.
Recently WantToKnow.info published the following summary of energy-related stories from the past decades. Just stand back and look at these and tell me that a revolution is not in the making. Admittedly some of the announced capabilities have not made it to market yet . . . or developed as quickly as forecast, but there are also other initiatives that are not mentioned here. To me it is clear that something really significant is in the works.
There are a number of these technologies that, just by themselves, represent a potential revolution so I would not be surprised if one or more show up in force this next year – making 2015 a pivotal year.
So hold on to your hat, because we’re accelerating into a very interesting new space.
The coming era of unlimited — and free — clean energy (2014-09-19, Washington Post blog)
In the 1980s, leading consultants were skeptical about cellular phones. The handsets were heavy, batteries didn’t last long, coverage was patchy, and the cost per minute was exorbitant. The experts are saying the same about solar energy now. They say that solar is inefficient, too expensive to install, and unreliable, and will fail without government subsidies. They too are wrong. Solar will be as ubiquitous as cellular phones are. Futurist Ray Kurzweil notes that solar power has been doubling every two years for the past 30 years — as costs have been dropping. He says solar energy is only six doublings — or less than 14 years — away from meeting 100 percent of today’s energy needs. By Kurzweil’s estimates, inexpensive renewable sources will provide more energy than the world needs in less than 20 years. In places such as Germany, Spain, Portugal, Australia, and the Southwest United States, residential-scale solar production has already reached “grid parity” with average residential electricity prices. In other words, it costs no more in the long term to install solar panels than to buy electricity from utility companies. The prices of solar panels have fallen 75 percent in the past five years alone and will fall much further as the technologies to create them improve and scale of production increases. By 2020, solar energy will be price-competitive with energy generated from fossil fuels on an unsubsidized basis in most parts of the world. Within the next decade, it will cost a fraction of what fossil fuel-based alternatives do. Despite the skepticism of experts and criticism by naysayers, there is little doubt that we are heading into an era of unlimited and almost free clean energy.
Note: This article also points out how some big energy companies and the Koch brothers are lobbying to stop alternative technologies from flowering.
BlackLight’s physics-defying promise: Cheap power from water (2008-07-02, CNN Money)
Imagine being able to convert water into a boundless source of cheap energy. That’s what BlackLight Power, a 25-employee firm in Cranbury, N.J., says it can do. The only problem: Most scientists say that company’s technology violates the basic laws of physics. Such skepticism doesn’t daunt Dr. Randell Mills, a Harvard-trained physician and founder of BlackLight, who recently claimed that he has created a working fuel cell using the world’s most pervasive element: the hydrogen found in water. Mills says he has a market-ready product: a fuel cell that produces a chemical reaction to alter hydrogen atoms. The fuel cell releases heat that turns water into steam, which drives electric turbines. The working models in his lab generate 50 kilowatts of electricity – enough to power six or seven houses. But these, Mills says, can be scaled [up] to drive a large, electric power plant. The inventor claims this electricity will cost less than 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, which compares to a national average of 8.9 cents. Mills developed the patented cocktail that enables the reaction – a solid fuel made of hydrogen and a sodium hydride catalyst – only a year ago. (He recently posted instructions on the company’s Web site, blacklightpower.com). Now that the device is ready for commercialization, he says, BlackLight is negotiating with several utilities and architecture and engineering firms. The business, Mills says, has attracted $60 million in funding from wealthy individuals, investment firms … and it is no longer seeking money. BlackLight’s board of directors reads like a Who’s Who of finance and energy leaders.
Note: For two New York Times articles showing the viability of this amazing technology, click here and here. And for the latest on this exciting technology, click here.
Italian cold fusion machine passes another test (2011-11-03, MSNBC)
Italian physicist and inventor Andrea Rossi has conducted a public demonstration of his “cold fusion” machine, the E-Cat, at the University of Bologna, showing that a small amount of input energy drives an unexplained reaction between atoms of hydrogen and nickel that leads to a large outpouring of energy, more than 10 times what was put in. The first seemingly successful cold fusion experiment was reported two decades ago. Two types of atoms, typically a light element and a heavier metal, seem to fuse together, releasing pure heat that can be converted into electricity. The process is an attractive energy solution for two reasons: Unlike in nuclear fission, the reaction doesn’t give off dangerous radiation. Unlike the fusion processes that take place in the sun, cold fusion doesn’t require extremely high temperatures. In April … Rossi and fellow physicist Sergio Focardi successfully demonstrated the device for a group of Swedish physicists. At the demo in October, after an initial energy input of 400 watts into each module, each one then produced a sustained, continuous output of 10 kilowatts (470 kW altogether) for three to four hours. Peter Hagelstein, an MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science and one of the most mainstream proponents of cold fusion research, thinks the process may involve vibrational energy in the metal’s lattice driving nuclear transitions that lead to fusion.
Note: For lots more on this exciting development, click here. And for a CBS video segment and another excellent documentary showing top researchers who continue to be very excited about results of ongoing cold fusion experiments, click here.
Cold Fusion Is Hot Again (2009-04-19, CBS News)
Twenty years ago it appeared, for a moment, that all our energy problems could be solved. It was the announcement of cold fusion – nuclear energy like that which powers the sun – but at room temperature on a table top. It promised to be cheap, limitless and clean. Cold fusion would end our dependence on the Middle East and stop those greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. It would change everything. But then, just as quickly as it was announced, it was discredited. So thoroughly, that cold fusion became a catch phrase for junk science. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to oblivion – for many scientists today, cold fusion is hot again. “We can yield the power of nuclear physics on a tabletop. The potential is unlimited. That is the most powerful energy source known to man,” researcher Michael McKubre told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley. McKubre says he has seen that energy more than 50 times in cold fusion experiments he’s doing at SRI International, a respected California lab that does extensive work for the government. McKubre is an electro-chemist who imagines, in 20 years, the creation of a clean nuclear battery. “For example, a laptop would come pre-charged with all of the energy that you would ever intend to use. You’re now decoupled from your charger and the wall socket,” he explained. The same would go for cars. “The potential is for an energy source that would run your car for three, four years, for example. And you’d take it in for service every four years and they’d give you a new power supply,” McKubre told Pelley.
Note: To watch the full, revealing 12-minute video clip of this segment, click here.
2,757.1 MPG Achieved at 2009 Shell Eco-marathon Americas (2009-04-19, CNBC News)
Distance, not speed, was the goal this weekend on the track at the 2009 Shell Eco-marathon Americas(R), a challenge for students to design, build and test fuel-efficient vehicles that travel the farthest distance using the least amount of fuel. This year, more than 500 students from North and South America were on hand to stretch the boundaries of fuel efficiency. So who came out on top? The student team from Laval University, with an astonishing 2,757.1 miles per gallon, equivalent to 1,172.2 kilometres per liter, won the grand prize in the “Prototype” category. And in the “UrbanConcept” category – new to the Americas event this year – the team from Mater Dei High School took the grand prize by achieving 433.3 mpg, equivalent to 184.2 km/l. With 44 participating teams at track competition was steep. This year’s challenge brought together a number of returning teams determined to beat the 2,843 mpg (1,208 km/l) record set by Mater Dei High School (Evansville, Ind.) in 2008, combined with a number of new teams adding fresh innovation and vehicle designs to the competition. “The Shell Eco-marathon is a platform for students to let their imaginations run wild,” said Mark Singer, global project manager for the Shell Eco-marathon. “By encouraging these students to build vehicles with greater energy efficiency, we hope this will help inspire others; and together we can find solutions that will help meet the global energy challenge.”
Note: CNBC removed this article for some reason. It was still available on the Shell website at this link for a while, but then strangely removed. Using the Internet Archive, you can still view the article at this link. Why so little media attention to this most exciting race for top gas mileage? And if high school students can build a car that gets over 2,500 mpg, what’s up with Detroit? Could big business be suppressing, or at the very least ignoring these inspiring inventions?
Taming the Gas-Hogging SUV (2008-06-09, ABC News)
Johnathan Goodwin walks to the back of his auto conversion shop in Wichita, Kan., and lifts up a gas nozzle connected to a huge cube-shaped container. The orange stuff he’s pumping is the key to his company’s mission: converting the worst gas-gulping SUVs into cleaner, meaner machines. “This is 100 percent canola oil, refined to biodiesel,” Goodwin said. His well-maintained shop is a bit like a showroom for that much-maligned symbol of environmental ruin: the Hummer. The silver H-1 – which Goodwin says gets 60 miles per gallon – has already been modified to run on biodiesel, diesel, vegetable oil, gasoline, ethanol, hydrogen, natural gas and propane. On a standard gasoline-to-biodiesel conversion, Goodwin starts by taking a new nine-mile-per-gallon Hummer and removing the original gas engine. In goes an off-the-shelf GM Duramax engine that runs on diesel fuel. A few extra modifications and a tank full of biodiesel later, the Hummer – now boasting 500 horsepower and getting about 20 miles per gallon – is ready for the road. He offers a couple of lower-cost options, including a fuel vaporizer for $1,000 that he says boosts fuel economy by 30 percent, and a $500 software download that reprograms diesel engines to get up to an additional seven miles per gallon. His work has many wondering why the big automakers can’t simply reconfigure their assembly lines to make their own cars run as efficiently as Goodwin does. “I don’t know why GM hasn’t done it,” says Goodwin. “But I can tell you that all the parts that I use for the conversion – 95 percent – are all GM parts. I’m not reinventing anything.”
Note: For lots more powerful and inspiring information on this breakthrough technology and kits you can order, click here.
Researcher sets saltwater on fire (2007-11-14, CNN)
Last winter, inventor John Kanzius was already attempting one seemingly impossible feat — building a machine to cure cancer with radio waves — when his device inadvertently succeeded in another: He made saltwater catch fire. TV footage of his bizarre discovery has been burning up the blogosphere ever since, drawing crackpots and Ph.D.s alike into a raging debate. Can water burn? And if so, what good can come of it? Some people gush over the invention’s potential for desalinization or cheap energy. Briny seawater, after all, sloshes over most of the planet’s surface, and harnessing its heat energy could power all sorts of things. Skeptics say Kanzius’s radio generator is sucking up far more energy than it’s creating, making it a carnival trick at best. For now, Kanzius is tuning out the hubbub. Diagnosed with leukemia in 2002, he began building his radio-wave blaster the next year, soon after a relapse. If he could seed a person’s cancerous cells with nanoscopic metal particles and blast them with radio waves, perhaps he could kill off the cancer while sparing healthy tissue. The saltwater phenomenon happened by accident when an assistant was bombarding a saline-filled test tube with radio waves and bumped the tube, causing a small flash. Curious, Kanzius struck a match. “The water lit like a propane flame,” he recalls. “People said, ‘It’s a crock. Look for hidden electrodes in the water,’ ” says Penn State University materials scientist Rustum Roy, who visited [Kanzius] in his lab in August after seeing the feat on Google Video. A demo made Roy a believer. “This is discovery science in the best tradition,” he says. Meanwhile, researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have made progress using Kanzius’s technology to fight cancer in animals. They published their findings last month in the journal Cancer.
Note: For other compelling articles on this fascinating invention, see recent articles in the Los Angeles Times, ABC News, and especially Medical News Today. And for dozens of astounding major media articles showing clear suppression of potential cancer cures, click here.
The Prophet of Garbage (2007-03-00, Popular Science – March 2007 Issue)
The Plasma Converter … can consume nearly any type of waste—from dirty diapers to chemical weapons—by annihilating toxic materials in a process … called plasma gasification. A 650-volt current passing between two electrodes rips electrons from the air, converting the gas into plasma. The plasma arc is so powerful, it disintegrates trash into its constituent elements by tearing apart molecular bonds. The system is capable of breaking down pretty much anything except nuclear waste. The only by-products are an obsidian-like glass [and] a mixture of primarily hydrogen and carbon monoxide that can be converted into a variety of marketable fuels, including ethanol, natural gas and hydrogen. Perhaps the most amazing part of the process is that it’s self-sustaining. Once the cycle is under way, the 2,200°F syngas is fed into a cooling system, generating steam that drives turbines to produce electricity. About two thirds of the power is siphoned off to run the converter; the rest can be used on-site for heating or electricity, or sold back to the utility grid. Even a blackout would not stop the operation of the facility. New York City is already paying an astronomical $90 a ton to get rid of its trash. According to Startech, a few 2,000-ton-per-day plasma-gasification plants could do it for $36. Sell the syngas and surplus electricity, and you’d actually net $15 a ton. But the decision-making bureaucracy can be slow, and it is hamstrung by the politically well-connected waste-disposal industry. Startech isn’t the only company using plasma to turn waste into a source of clean energy. A handful of start-ups—Geoplasma, Recovered Energy, PyroGenesis, EnviroArc and Plasco Energy, among others—have entered the market in the past decade.
Note: Why isn’t this amazing, proven machine and technology making front page headlines? Read this exciting article to find how it is already being used. For why you don’t know about it, click here. And for another amazing new energy source not yet reported in the major media, click here.
A Faith-Based Fuel Initiative (2007-01-30, New York Times)
In 1975, after the oil embargo, Congress approved the most successful energy-saving measure this country has ever seen: the Corporate Average Fuel Economy system, known as CAFE, which set minimum mileage standards for cars. Within 10 years, automobile efficiency had virtually doubled, to 27.5 miles per gallon in 1985 from just over 14 miles per gallon in 1976. The mileage standards are still 27.5 m.p.g. Except for minor tweaks, Congress has refused to raise fuel efficiency requirements or close a gaping loophole that lets S.U.V.’s and pickups be measured by a more lenient standard.
Note: Thank you New York Times for pointing out what so few have bothered to mention. In the U.S., it is not the automotive industry that determines fuel mileage standards, but rather Congress. Whenever Congress has raised the mileage standard, industry complies and average mileage increases. When the standards are not raised, average car mileage for new cars stays the same. Yet Congress refused to significantly raise the standards from click here1985 to 2012, despite the increasing talk of an energy crisis. Why? If you really want to know, click here and here.
Brazil’s alcohol cars hit 2m mark (2006-08-18, BBC News)
Brazil’s new generation of cars and trucks adapted to run on alcohol has just hit the two-million mark. “Flex-fuel” vehicles, which run on any combination of ethanol and petrol, now make up 77% of the Brazilian market. Brazil has pioneered the use of ethanol derived from sugar-cane as motor fuel. Ethanol-driven cars have been on sale there for 25 years, but they have been enjoying a revival since flex-fuel models first appeared in March 2003. Just 48,200 flex-fuel cars were sold in Brazil in 2003, but the total had reached 1.2 million by the end of last year and had since topped two million, the Brazilian motor manufacturers’ association Anfavea said.
Note: With sky-high gasoline prices and the fear of depletion of global oil supplies, why don’t such cars exist in the U.S.? Why are the trains of almost every other developed nation far advanced from trains in the U.S.? And why isn’t the U.S. media reporting on this important development? For possible answers, click here. The excellent movie Who Killed the Electric Car is also incredibly revealing.
Enron Schemes Caught On Tape (2005-02-03, CBS News)
During the West Coast Power crisis homes went dark and streetlights were out … causing injuries and accidents. But the danger didn’t stop Enron’s energy traders from having a good laugh. CBS … reports on the Enron scheme, as caught on new audio tape. The traders and plant operator laugh and plot in a display that seems to prove the theory that years before the energy crisis, Enron manipulated markets. “They had to do a rolling blackout through the town and there was a red light there he didn’t see,” one Enron trader says on tape. “That’s beautiful,” a second voice responds. Enron secretly shut power plants down so they could cause, and then cash in on, the crisis. Enron also pulled power out of states like California, causing emergency conditions to worsen. “Sorry California,” an Enron trader says. “I’m bringing all our power out of state today.” Plant operators were coached on how to lie to officials. “We want you guys to get a little creative…” one voice says on the tape, “and come up with a reason to go down. Just call ’em, Hey guys…we’re coming down.” The plant operator replies, “OK, so we’re just comin’ down for some maintenance?” “Right,” the trader says. “And that’s cool?” the plant operator asks. “Hopefully,” the trader responds, to which the men are heard laughing. Enron also pulled power out of states like California, causing emergency conditions to worsen. The “shut downs” and “pull outs” triggered sky high power prices. “We’re just making money hand over fist!” one voice is heard saying on the tape. And when states complained, the guys at Enron seemed to have a response. “Get a f****** clue,” one says. “Yeah,” another chimes in. “Leave us alone. Let us make a little bit of money.”
Note: For an eye-opening two-minute video clip on CBS, watch “Enron Schemers on Tape” at this link. MSNBC also published a revealing article on this. And a New York Times article states “Company officials had long denied that they illegally shut down plants to create artificial shortages. Two months after the recording showed how the Nevada plant was shut down, [Enron CEO Kenneth] Lay called any claims of market manipulation ‘conspiracy theories.'” For lots more reliable information on the energy cover-up, click here.
Car achieves almost 10,000 miles per gallon (1999-07-16, BBC News)
A car driven by a 10-year-old and built at a French school has set a new world record for fuel efficiency. The Microjoule team managed the equivalent of 9,845 miles per gallon while driving for 10 miles around Silverstone race track in the UK. More than 100 teams competed in the Shell Eco-Marathon. Their one goal was to see how far they can get these amazing machines to travel on a minuscule amount of fuel. While we might be delirious if we managed 40 miles (64 kilometres) to the gallon (4.5 litres) pottering about town in our super minis, these people are not happy until they have seen the mileometer click through the thousands. The teams have a choice of petrol or diesel, with solar assistance permitted for the first time this year. A car is allowed three 40-minute runs. It must average at least 15 mph (24 kph) after which the stewards at the meeting calculate the machine’s fuel efficiency. “The top fuel teams do about 10 miles, which is six laps on the club circuit at Silverstone,” says the event’s fuel manager Geoff Houlbrook. “They do that on less than 10 millilitres which is just two teaspoons of fuel.” The entries come from all over Europe. Some teams use advanced materials like titanium and carbon fibre. Some of the machines built by schoolchildren are made from parts of old sewing and washing machines. “It’s fun but it’s also science,” says BBC Top Gear presenter and racing driver Tiff Needell. “It’s like an experiment with people learning how to save energy.”
Note: Some of these amazing vehicles built in 1999 were “built by schoolchildren,” yet the auto industry still can’t come up with a car that get’s 100 mpg? Granted these cars are slow and small, but if they can get almost 10,000 mpg, don’t you think similar technology could be used to get at least several hundred mpg in regular cars? For why car mileage hasn’t increased much since the 1908 Model T got 25 mpg, click here and here.
The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough? (2010-02-18, CBS 60 Minutes)
In the world of energy, the Holy Grail is a power source that’s inexpensive and clean, with no emissions. Over 100 start-ups in Silicon Valley are working on it. One of them, Bloom Energy, is about to make public its invention: a little power-plant-in-a-box they want to put literally in your backyard. You’ll generate your own electricity with the box and it’ll be wireless. The idea is to one day replace the big power plants and transmission line grid. K.R. Sridhar … says he knows it works because he originally invented a similar device for NASA. He really is a rocket scientist. He invented a new kind of fuel cell, which is like a very skinny battery that always runs. Sridhar feeds oxygen to it on one side, and fuel on the other. The two combine within the cell to create a chemical reaction that produces electricity. There’s no need for burning or combustion, and no need for power lines from an outside source. “It’s cheaper than the grid, it’s cleaner than the grid.” Twenty large, well-known companies have quietly bought and are testing Bloom boxes in California. The first customer was Google. Four units have been powering a Google datacenter for 18 months. They use natural gas, but half as much as would be required for a traditional power plant. John Donahoe, eBay’s CEO, says its five boxes were installed nine months ago and have already saved the company more than $100,000 in electricity costs. eBay’s boxes run on bio-gas made from landfill waste, so they’re carbon neutral. “In five to ten years, we would like to be in every home.” [Sridhar] said a unit should cost an average person less than $3,000.
Note: To watch the fascinating 60 Minutes video clip of this amazing invention, click here. For other CBS videos clips on the Bloom Box, click here. For more on other new energy sources and inventions, click here.
Was Edison Adversary Father Of ‘Star Wars’? (1986-08-10, Chicago Tribune)
Weren’t we taught that radio was invented by an Italian named Guglielmo Marconi? And that the legendary Thomas Alva Edison devised today’s electrical power system? “We were taught wrong,” said Toby Grotz, president of the International Tesla Society. Two years before Marconi demonstrated his wireless radio transmission, [Nikola Tesla] performed an identical feat at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. On June 21, 1943, in the case of Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. vs. the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that that Tesla’s radio patents had predated those of the Italian genius. To be sure, Edison invented the incandescent light bulb. But he powered it and all of his other projects with inefficient direct current (DC) electricity. It was Tesla who discovered how to use the far more powerful phased form of alternating current (AC) electricity that is virtually the universal type of electricity employed by modern civilization. There are indications that Tesla also discovered many of the devices … for the Pentagon’s controversial Star Wars antimissile defense system. “Tesla dreamed of supplying limitless amounts of power freely and equally available to all persons on Earth,” said Grotz. And he was convinced he could do so by broadcasting electrical power across large distances just as radio transmits far smaller amounts of energy. [Tesla’s] tests … caused lights to burn as much as 26 miles away, according to news reports of the time.
Note: Tesla was written out of history texts likely because he advocated providing methods for extremely cheap electricity available to everyone. He successfully transmitted electricity through the air to lights 26 miles away. Yet the rich energy power brokers of his time could not stand for this. Only the little known Supreme Court ruling mentioned above restored his claim as original inventor of the radio. For lots more on this most fascinating genius, click on the article link above and click here and here.
Grid parity: Why electric utilities should struggle to sleep at night(2014-03-25, Washington Post blog)
What’s good news for those concerned with climate change, and bad news for electric utilities? That’s grid parity. It exists when an alternative energy source generates electricity at a cost matching the price of power from the electric grid. As grid parity becomes increasingly common, renewable energy could transform our world and slow the effects of climate change. Advances in solar panels and battery storage will make it more realistic for consumers to dump their electric utility, and power their homes through solar energy. A 2013 Deutsche Bank report said that 10 states are currently at grid parity: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Vermont. Germany, Spain, Portugal and Australia have reached grid parity. This shift has benefited from a dramatic drop in the price of solar panels, which dropped 97.2 percent from 1975 to 2012. As solar energy gets cheaper, traditional electric utilities are doing the opposite. The cost of maintaining the electric grid has gotten more expensive, but reliability hasn’t improved. If customers leave electric utilities, it starts a downward spiral. Fewer customers will mean higher rates, which encourages remaining customers to jump ship for a solar-battery system. Energy upstarts are led by forward thinkers with disruptive track records and eyes on society’s big problems. NRG Energy chief executive David Crane … highlighted the climate change concerns in a recent letter to shareholders: “The day is coming when our children sit us down … look us straight in the eye, with an acute sense of betrayal and disappointment in theirs, and whisper to us, ‘You knew… and you didn’t do anything about it. Why?’”
Note: Explore a treasure trove of concise summaries of incredibly inspiring news articles which will inspire you to make a difference.
Loremo: The ‘Low Resistance Mobile’ (2008-02-20, MSN)
The idea is deceptively simple. Forget about fancy batteries, regenerative braking, and alternative fuels. Instead, make a car that’s elegant in its minimalism and efficiency. The Loremo’s German designers revisited the basics — engine efficiency, low weight, and minimal drag — to create a car that offers fuel-efficiency in the neighborhood of 130 to 150 miles per gallon. The Loremo is likely to dazzle drivers not with its acceleration, but with its ability to drive from New York to L.A. with only three stops at the pump. Loremo stands for low resistance mobile, and its engineers have stuck obsessively to this idea. By building the car around a 2-cylinder turbodiesel engine, and cutting back on weight, drag, and other excess fat such as side-opening doors, the Loremo puffs out a mere 50 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer. This is about 40 grams less per kilometer than the tiny diesel smart. According to its creators, this will make the Loremo the most efficient production car ever sold. If the Loremo showed up as a concept on an auto show pedestal, it would certainly garner some attention. But the Loremo is not a car for dreamers; not only will it enter mass production next year, it will sport a base price attainable by mortal motorists: 15,000 euros (about U.S. $22,000). After its 2009 release in Europe, the Loremo will be redesigned to reach the North American market the following year. A $30,000, 3-cylinder GT model will also become available, offering better acceleration (0-60 in roughly 10 seconds, vs. 16 for the base model). Both hybrid and fully electric versions are also in the works.
Miracle material graphene can distil booze, says study (2012-01-27, BBC News)
Membranes based on the “miracle material” graphene can be used to distil alcohol, according to a new study in Science [magazine]. An international team created the membrane from graphene oxide – a chemical derivative of graphene. They have shown that the membrane blocks the passage of several gases and liquids, but lets water through. This joins a long list of fascinating and unusual properties associated with graphene and its derivatives. Graphene … is a flat layer of carbon atoms tightly packed into a two-dimensional honeycomb arrangement. Because it is so thin, it is also practically transparent. As a conductor of electricity, it performs as well as copper; and as a conductor of heat, it outperforms all other known materials. The unusual electronic, mechanical and chemical properties of graphene at the molecular scale promise numerous applications. Andrei Geim and Konstantin Novoselov from the University of Manchester were awarded 2010’s Nobel Prize in physics for their discovery [of graphene]. Geim and others have now developed a laminate made from thin sheets of graphene oxide. These films were hundreds of times thinner than a human hair but remained strong, flexible and easy to handle. In another study in Science journal, a different team reports the development of a membrane based on diamond-like carbon. This membrane has unique pore sizes that allow for the ultra-fast passage of oil through it. One expert said it could potentially be used for filtering toxic contaminants out of water or for purifying industrial chemicals.
Note: To read about the exciting potential of this miracle material to create fresh water from salt water, click here.
Abiotic Oil: A Theory Worth Exploring (2011-09-14, US News & World Report magazine)
[Abiotic oil theorists] hold that oil can be derived from hydrocarbons that existed eons ago in massive pools deep within the earth’s core. That source of hydrocarbons seeps up through the earth’s layers and slowly replenishes oil sources. In other words, it turns the fossil-fuel paradigm upside down. Thomas Gold, a respected astronomer and professor emeritus at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, has held for years that oil is actually a renewable, primordial syrup continually manufactured by the Earth under ultrahot conditions and tremendous pressures. As this substance migrates toward the surface, it is attacked by bacteria, making it appear to have an organic origin dating back to the dinosaurs, he says. That … raises the tantalizing possibility that oil may not be the limited resource it is assumed to be. In 2008 … a group of Russian and Ukrainian scientists [said] that oil and gas don’t come from fossils; they’re synthesized deep within the earth’s mantle by heat, pressure, and other purely chemical means, before gradually rising to the surface. The idea that oil comes from fossils “is a myth” that needs changing according to petroleum engineer Vladimir Kutcherov, speaking at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. “All kinds of rocks could have oil and gas deposits.” Alexander Kitchka of the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences estimates that 60 percent of the content of all oil is abiotic in origin and not from fossil fuels.
Note: For more on the intriguing abiotic oil theory, click here.
Solar Panel Drops to $1 per Watt (2009-02-26, Popular Mechanics)
A long-sought solar milestone was eclipsed on Tuesday, when Tempe, Ariz.–based First Solar Inc. announced that the manufacturing costs for its thin-film photovoltaic panels had dipped below $1 per watt for the first time. With comparable costs for standard silicon panels still hovering in the $3 range, it’s tempting to conclude that First Solar’s cadmium telluride (CdTe) technology has won the race. But if we’re concerned about the big picture (scaling up solar until it’s a cheap and ubiquitous antidote to global warming and foreign oil) a forthcoming study from the University of California–Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory suggests that neither material has what it takes compared to lesser-known alternatives such as—we’re not kidding—fool’s gold. Even if the solar cell market were to grow at 56 percent a year for the next 10 years—slightly higher than the rapid growth of the past year—photovoltaics would still only account for about 2.5 percent of global electricity, LBNL researcher Cyrus Wadia says. “First Solar is great, as long as we’re talking megawatts or gigawatts,” he says. “But as soon as they have to start rolling out terawatts, that’s where I believe they will reach some limitations.” Even the current rate of growth won’t be easy to sustain. Despite the buck-per-watt announcement, First Solar’s share price plummeted more than 20 percent on Wednesday, thanks to warnings from CEO Mike Ahearn about the effect of the credit crisis on potential solar customers—as much as 10 to 15 percent of current orders might default.
Note: Solar energy costs have dropped consistently and steadily over the past 30 years. In the late 1970s solar energy cost $100 per watt. The price will almost certainly continue to drop. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2005 that “the electricity currently provided by utilities … averages $1 per watt.” Why isn’t it being trumpeted loudly worldwide in the media that solar energy is reaching parity with traditional energy sources? Could it be that powerful interests don’t want solar energy to be competitive with oil and nuclear?
Blacklight Power bolsters its impossible claims of a new renewable energy source (2008-10-21, New York Times)
Ask nearly any physicist if it’s possible for a hydrogen atom to enter a lower energy state than the ground, or resting, state they hold in nature, and you’re likely to get an unequivocal “no”. But a tiny company in New Jersey called Blacklight Power has been disputing that assumption for over a decade, and of late, making gad-fly claims that its founder says will overturn the accepted scientific order. Blacklight’s claims have a special significance: If they’re true, there’s a source of cheap, clean energy that can be easily tapped anywhere in the world. Blacklight is now saying that it has physical proof of its energy generator, verified by an independent university lab. Its “hydrino” theory isn’t put forth by a single crackpot; instead, the company employs a good handful of high-level scientists who would presumably rebel if the idea was totally false. It has also taken over $60 million in venture funding. Despite a hearty rejection by the scientific mainstream, and being ignored for years on end, its founder, Randell Mills, has plugged on. Now an engineering team at Rowan University …has come forward with results from its own tests of the Blacklight process. Tests conducted in sealed chambers, and measured with a device called a calorimeter, show a heat reaction from a substance provided by Blacklight far beyond anything anticipated. “We’ve been able to regularly reproduce these results and we believe any research lab could do the same,” Peter Jansson, the faculty member heading the experiments, [said].
Note: For several videos demonstrating this amazing new energy source, click here. For reports from professors and engineers who have validated this exciting technology, click here.
Important Note from WantToKnow.info: Explore our full index to revealing excerpts of key major media news articles on several dozen engaging topics. Or explore another 20 riveting energy news articles. And don’t miss amazing excerpts from 20 of the most revealing news articles ever published.
12 Hashtags That Changed the World in 2014 – (Nation of Change – December 20, 2014)
Hashtags often emerge from tragedies. In the age of the Internet, conflict comes with corresponding online movements. This year alone, we saw a massive movement erupt around the shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers, from Los Angeles to Ferguson, Missouri. We saw several horrific mass shootings, including the misogynistic murder of college students in Santa Barbara, California. And we saw the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria. Hashtags often emerge from tragedies, so this year’s fantastic crop of activist hashtags (hashtactivism?) isn’t necessarily good news. But in the middle of creating this article, something incredible rose out of yet another terrible incident. When a gunman in Sydney held 17 people hostage in a cafe, it ended in the deaths of two innocent people. Yet instead of the predictable reports of Islamophobic attacks on innocent Muslims, perhaps the most heartening hashtag of the year emerged. People all over Australia are tweeting #IllRideWithYou. They’re offering themselves as personal guards and companions to Muslims who are now afraid to go out alone. They’re posting photos of themselves and wearing stickers with the hashtag so that Muslim people can identify friendly faces. Here is a list of the year’s best examples in hashtag-based awesomeness.
How the Internet Is Taking Away America’s Religion – (Technology Review – April 4, 2014)
Back in 1990, about 8% of the U.S. population had no religious preference. By 2010, this percentage had more than doubled to 18%. That’s a difference of about 25 million people, all of whom have somehow lost their religion. That raises an obvious question: how come? Why are Americans losing their faith? A possible answer comes from the work of Allen Downey, a computer scientist at the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, who has analyzed the data in detail. He says that the demise is the result of several factors but the most controversial of these is the rise of the Internet. He concludes that the increase in Internet use in the last two decades has caused a significant drop in religious affiliation. Downey’s data comes from the General Social Survey, a widely respected sociological survey carried out by the University of Chicago, that has regularly measure people’s attitudes and demographics since 1972. In the 1980s, Internet use was essentially zero, but in 2010, 53% of the population spent two hours per week online and 25% surfed for more than 7 hours. This increase closely matches the decrease in religious affiliation. In fact, Downey calculates that it can account for about 25% of the drop. But there is something else going on here too. Downey has found three factors—the drop in religious upbringing, the increase in college-level education and the increase in Internet use—that together explain about 50% of the drop in religious affiliation. But what of the other 50%? Something else about modern life that is not captured in this data is having an even bigger impact. And no one knows yet what that is.
The Gene That Jumped – (Aeon – December 11, 2014)
Long ago, hornworts did something plants are not supposed to do: they breached the species barrier, trading DNA with an entirely different kind of plant – a fern. Between 300 and 130 million years ago, as trees and flowering plants grew to dominate the globe, the sun-loving ferns of yore found themselves trapped beneath forest canopies. Most fern species perished under this umbrage, but the ones that survived learned to live on lean light. These persistent plants evolved a molecule called neochrome that could detect both red and blue light, helping them stretch towards any beams that managed to filter through the dense awning of leaves. Neochrome’s origins have long eluded scientists. As far as anyone knew, the gene that codes for neochrome existed in only two types of plants separated by hundreds of millions of years of evolution: ferns and algae. It was extremely unlikely that the gene had been passed down from a common ancestor, yet somehow skipped over every plant lineage between algae and ferns. But about two years ago, while searching through a new massive database of sequenced plant genomes, Fay-Wei Li found a near-exact match for the neochrome gene in a group of plants not previously known to possess the light-sensitive protein: hornworts. Through subsequent DNA analysis of living specimens, Li confirmed his suspicion: ferns did not evolve neochrome on their own; rather, they took the gene from hornworts. What has become increasingly clear in the past 10 years is that this liberal genetic exchange is definitely not limited to the DNA of the microscopic world. It likewise happens to genes that belong to animals, fungi and plants, collectively known as eukaryotes because they boast nuclei in their cells. The communion between ferns and hornworts is the latest in a series of newly discovered examples of horizontal gene transfer: when DNA passes from one organism to another generally unrelated one, rather than moving ‘vertically’ from parent to child. In fact, horizontal gene transfer has happened between all kinds of living things throughout the history of life on the planet – not just between species, but also between different kingdoms of life. Bacterial genes end up in plants; fungal genes wind up in animals; snake and frog genes find their way into cows and bats. It seems that the genome of just about every modern species is something of a mosaic constructed with genes borrowed from many different forms of life.
Changing Our DNA through Mind Control? – (Scientific American – December 16, 2014)
Findings from a new study published in Cancer by a Canadian group suggest that our mental state has measurable physical influence on … our DNA. Dr. Linda E. Carlson and her colleagues found that in breast cancer patients, support group involvement and mindfulness meditation – an adapted form of Buddhist meditation in which practitioners focus on present thoughts and actions in a non-judgmental way … are associated with preserved telomere length. Telomeres are stretches of DNA that cap our chromosomes and help prevent chromosomal deterioration. In Carlson’s study distressed breast cancer survivors were divided into three groups. The first group was randomly assigned to … mindfulness meditation and yoga; the second to 12-weeks of group therapy; and the third was a control group, receiving just a 6-hour stress management course. Telomeres were maintained in both treatment groups but shortened in controls. Previous work hinted at this. More recent work looking at meditation reported similar findings. The biologic benefits of meditation in particular extend well beyond telomere preservation. Earlier work by Carlson found that mindfulness is associated with healthier levels of the stress hormone cortisol and a decrease in compounds that promote inflammation.
Homo Minutus – (The Scientist – December 1, 2014)
Led by toxicologist Rashi Iyer of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, project ATHENA (Advanced Tissue-engineered Human Ectypal Network Analyzer) aims to create a multiorgan platform that mimics the human body. In addition to the heart, this “desktop human” includes organ-on-a-chip counterparts for the lung, liver, and kidney. Notions of replicating human organs in the laboratory began in the late nineties, says biomedical engineering researcher Michael Shuler of Cornell University who was one of the earliest users of the term “organ-on-a-chip.” Most such devices combine cell culture technologies with microfluidics in some fashion. “The need [for such structures] has become more and more obvious,” says Shuler. Traditional drug discovery “can’t be done much more quickly than we do now,” he says. But with a human-based platform such as ATHENA, a new drug could be tested in months rather than several years. Better screening platforms could also prove useful “if we’re confronted with a public emergency in terms of a health crisis,” he adds.
Existing Drug Riluzole May Prevent Foggy ‘Old Age’ Brain – (KurzweilAI – December 24, 2014)
New experiments suggest that riluzole, a drug already on the market as a treatment for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), may help prevent the fading memory and clouding judgment that comes with advancing age. Researchers at The Rockefeller University and The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai found they could stop normal, age-related memory loss in rats by treating them with riluzole. The treatment prompted changes known to improve connections, and as a result, communication between certain neurons within the brain’s hippocampus. “By examining the neurological changes that occurred after riluzole treatment, we discovered one way in which the brain’s ability to reorganize itself — its neuroplasticity — can be marshaled to protect it against some of the deterioration that can accompany old age, at least in rodents,” says co-senior study author Professor Bruce McEwen.
Full Scale of Plastic in the World’s Oceans Revealed for First Time – (Guardian – December 10, 2014)
More than five trillion pieces of plastic, collectively weighing nearly 269,000 tons, are floating in the world’s oceans, causing damage throughout the food chain, new research has found. Data collected by scientists from the US, France, Chile, Australia and New Zealand suggests a minimum of 5.25tn plastic particles in the oceans, most of them “micro plastics” measuring less than 5mm. The volume of plastic pieces, largely deriving from products such as food and drink packaging and clothing, was calculated from data taken from 24 expeditions over a six-year period to 2013. The research is the first study to look at plastics of all sizes in the world’s oceans. “We saw turtles that ate plastic bags and fish that ingested fishing lines,” said Julia Reisser, a researcher based at the University of Western Australia. “But there are also chemical impacts. When plastic gets into the water it acts like a magnet for oily pollutants. It’s hard to visualize the sheer amount, but the weight of it is more than the entire biomass of humans.” The research, the first of its kind to pull together data on floating plastic from around the world, will be used to chart future trends in the amount of debris in the oceans. But researchers predict the volume will increase due to rising production of throwaway plastic, with only 5% of the world’s plastic currently recycled.
30 Top Scientists Predict Global Cooling 2015-2050 – (IceAgeNow – December 14, 2014)
“A 2 degree Celsius drop takes us back to temperatures 400 years ago when 25% of the people on the planet starved to death,” are among the predictions in this video. ”Food prices will begin rising exponentially next year.” Average global atmospheric and oceanic temperatures will drop significantly beginning between 2015 and 2016 and will continue with only temporary reversals until they stabilize during a long cold temperature base lasting most of the 2030’s and 2040’s. The bottom of the next global cold climate caused by a “solar hibernation” (a pronounced reduction in warming energy coming from the Sun) is expected to be reached by the year 2031.
Stanford Engineers Invent Radical ‘High-rise’ 3D Chips – (KurzweilAI – December 16, 2014)
Stanford engineers have build 3D “high-rise” chips that could leapfrog the performance of the single-story logic and memory chips on today’s circuit cards, which are subject to frequent traffic jams between logic and memory. Their approach attempts to end these jams by building layers of logic atop layers of memory to create a tightly interconnected high-rise chip. Many thousands of nanoscale electronic “elevators” would move data between the layers much faster, using less electricity, than the bottleneck-prone wires connecting single-story logic and memory chips today. The researchers’ innovation leverages three breakthroughs: a new technology for creating transistors using nanotubes, a new type of computer memory that lends itself to multi-story fabrication, and a technique to build these new logic and memory technologies into high-rise structures in a radically different way than previous efforts to stack chips. “This research is at an early stage, but our design and fabrication techniques are scalable,” lead engineer Subhasish Mitra said. “With further development this architecture could lead to computing performance that is much, much greater than anything available today.” “Paradigm shift is an overused concept, but here it is appropriate,” said Philip Wong, Stanford professor of engineering. “With this new architecture, electronics manufacturers could put the power of a supercomputer in your hand.”
Breakthrough in RRAM Technology Could Lead to Hard Drives the Size of a Postage Stamp – (Digital Times – December 21, 2014)
Solid state drives are quick, but capacity remains a major concern. Intel and Samsung have tackled the problem with a technology called 3D NAND which builds upon existing SSD technology by adding more planes to each memory chip’s die. But it’s not the only game in town. Crossbar, a hardware startup founded in 2010, has been pouring time and money into an alternative called resistive random access memory, or RRAM. This is a “non-volatile” form of random access memory, which means it retains information without an electrical current applied (the DDR-RAM in your PC forgets all its data when your computer is powered off). Crossbar’s approach involves RRAM stacked into a cube-like structure that expands in three dimensions, making capacities of up to one terabyte theoretically possible on a single chip. Just one problem; placing so much memory so close normally results in current leakage, which can increase power consumption at best and make a drive useless at worse. However, Crosbar’s engineers say they have found a solution called “1 Transistor Driving n Resistive memory cell,” or 1TnR, which ties up to 2,000 memory cells to a single transistor. With this design in place the company has been able to avoid current leakage, which means high-capacity drives are a more practical possibility. The design can also endure up to 100 million usage cycles and switch between on and off states within 50 nanoseconds, traits that make the technology more than durable enough for consumers.
Hundreds of Portuguese Buses and Taxis Are Also Wi-Fi Routers – (Technology Review – December 26, 2014)
A massive mobile Wi-Fi network that could be a model for many cities was launched in the city of Porto, Portugal, this fall. Buses and taxis are equipped with routers that serve as mobile Wi-Fi hot spots for tens of thousands of riders. The routers also collect data from the vehicles—and from sensors on trash bins around the city—and relay it back to city offices to help with civic planning. More than 600 buses and taxis are part of the network, which is now serving 70,000 people a month and absorbing between 50 and 80% of wireless traffic from users who otherwise would have had to use the cellular network. Built by a startup called Veniam, spun out of the University of Porto, it is the largest and most sophisticated vehicle-based network in the world, the company says. In addition to supplying Internet access, the Porto network is being used to collect sensor data. When buses and taxis hit a sharp bump that might be due to a pothole, the suspension sensors detect this and relay the information to City Hall to help identify where roads need repairs. Waste containers equipped with sensors use the network to relay whether they are full, so they can be picked up at the most efficient times.
Prying Eyes: Inside the NSA’s War on Internet Security – (Der Spiegel – December 28, 2014)
A look into the archive of whistleblower Edward Snowden shows that not all encryption technologies live up to what they promise. One example is the encryption featured in Skype, a program used by some 300 million users to conduct Internet video chat that is touted as secure. It isn’t really. “Sustained Skype collection began in Feb 2011,” reads a National Security Agency (NSA) training document from the archive of whistleblower Edward Snowden. Less than half a year later, in the fall, the code crackers declared their mission accomplished. Since then, data from Skype has been accessible to the NSA’s snoops. For the NSA, encrypted communication — or what all other Internet users would call secure communication — is “a threat”. In one internal training document viewed by SPIEGEL, an NSA employee asks: “Did you know that ubiquitous encryption on the Internet is a major threat to NSA’s ability to prosecute digital-network intelligence (DNI) traffic or defeat adversary malware?” The Snowden documents reveal the encryption programs the NSA has succeeded in cracking, but, importantly, also the ones that are still likely to be secure. Although the documents are around two years old, experts consider it unlikely the agency’s digital spies have made much progress in cracking these technologies. “Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on,” Snowden said in June 2013, after fleeing to Hong Kong. The article goes on to list and discuss specific encryption software protocols which are effective.
OnPlug Eliminates Standby Power Drain – (GizMag – February 14, 2014)
Call it standby power, phantom power or vampire power, but the current drawn by various household electrical devices when they are supposedly “off” can account for up to 10% of a home’s energy use. Fortunately, there are gizmos available that act as “middle men” between wall outlets and devices, completely shutting off the power supply when the devices are not in use. One of the newest is the OnPlug, which manages to come in at quite a low price point by avoiding the bells and whistles of similar products. The OnPlug is pretty much just a single-outlet power bar. It has a male plug that goes into a wall socket, with a single female receptacle that receives a household device’s power cord. An on/off switch allows current to flow – or not to flow – through the OnPlug and into the device. When that switch is in the On position and power is going to a device that isn’t in use, an LED on the OnPlug will alert users that it should be turned off. While the US$11 OnPlug isn’t the only product to do what it does, it is one of the simplest and least expensive. One feature that the OnPlug lacks is a ground plug. Although this limits its applications, the company decided that the reduction in the unit’s size was worth the sacrifice – two OnPlugs can fit into one dual wall outlet, a claim that reportedly cannot be made by any other such device.
Satellites Shed Light on Solar System—The One on Your Rooftop – (NASA – December 4, 2014)
You’ve gone solar! Thousands of dollars worth of photovoltaic panels sit atop your roof, harnessing the sun’s energy to power your lights and devices. But has your investment been paying off as richly as it should? A pair of satellites orbiting Earth at about a 10th of the distance to the moon can help you find out. “You just don’t know how efficiently the system was performing unless you know how much sunlight actually hit that location,” said Adrian De Luca, marketing head for Locus Energy. His company enables solar-panel users to evaluate the performance of their systems. The idea is simple: The amount of sunlight falling onto your solar panels multiplied by the amount of electricity they’re designed to produce per unit of sunlight equals the amount of electricity your system should produce. Compare that to what you’re actually getting and you know whether all is well or something needs to be fixed. But how can you measure the sunlight? For light commercial and residential systems, Locus Energy offers reports based on information from the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) system, a collaboration between NASA and NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “The satellite imagery comes out in at least 15-minute intervals at a resolution of roughly one square kilometer,” said Shawn Kerrigan, the company’s chief technology officer. “We capture whatever is made available and run it through our processing engine. We’ll distill out what the cloud cover is and, using our models, estimate how much sunlight is getting through.” This enables the company’s Virtual Irradiance software to calculate how much electricity each customer’s system should have produced over any given time period.
Mechanic Advisor’s Connection Key Tells You What’s Wrong with Your Car, and Who Can Fix It – (GizMag – December 23, 2014)
Mechanic Advisors’ new product is designed to make the appearance of the dreaded check engine light that little bit less disheartening, by giving car owners a portal into the health of their vehicle. The device provides drivers with the same information available to their local auto repair shop, but what makes it truly unique is its ability to put them in touch with a suitable, trustworthy mechanic. The device plugs into the vehicle’s standard On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) port, linking to iOS and Android smartphones to provide real-time vehicle data and decipher more than 20,000 error codes – the exact same diagnostic tools available to mechanics. It’ll also provide alerts when it’s time to change oil or replace tires, and according to the company, will work with almost any vehicle manufactured from 1996 onwards. If and when a problem arises, the companion app will link you directly to one of more than half a million trusted mechanics, making it easier to get your vehicle into a reliable repair shop. In future, the company plans to improve the service by using anonymous data to provide useful information such as known issues for specific models of car, breaking down stats based on location and driving habits. (Editor’s note: We’d like to know more about how the “trusted mechanics” are vetted.)
Singapore Wants a Driverless Version of Uber – (Technology Review – December 23, 2014)
As driverless cars edge slowly toward commercial reality, some people are wondering how cities might change as a result. Will traffic lights disappear? Will parking garages become obsolete? Will carpooling become the norm? Singapore is keen to find out. The city-state will open one of its neighborhoods to driverless cars in 2015, with the idea that such vehicles could operate as a kind of jitney service, picking up passengers and taking them to trains or other modes of public transportation. At 700 square kilometers, Singapore is about three times the size of Boston, but it has 5.5 million residents versus Boston’s 646,000. Because it is so dense, Singapore is aggressively trying to discourage car traffic. For example, if you want to own a car in Singapore you have to pay a “certificate of entitlement” fee that’s roughly equal to the price of a car. It also offers free travel on city trains before peak periods (along with free breakfast vouchers). Lam Wee Shann, director of the futures division for Singapore’s Ministry of Transport, said during a panel held at MIT last month that the government wants to explore whether autonomous vehicles could reduce congestion and remake the city into one built around walking, bicycling, and public transit.
Food Hubs Link Consumers with Locally Farmed Food – (ABC News – December 27, 2014)
Move over farmers’ markets. More than 300 food hubs around the country are also providing small farms another outlet to sell locally raised food to consumers. There’s no one model for a food hub. It depends on the market, the location and what it is grown in that area. Some collect food from farms and dole it out to customers in weekly deliveries. Other hubs help consumers, restaurants, colleges and institutions to source food online. But producers, consumers and experts all say food hubs have an important thing in common: it’s an efficient way to get locally raised food to those clamoring for it. “We’ve seen in the last few years in particular as local and region food systems have grown and become not only larger but kind of more sophisticated that there has been a need for sort of the logistics of moving food from the field to the consumers. And food hubs kind of fill that space,” said Doug O’Brien, deputy undersecretary for rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency spent about $25 million from 2009-2013 supporting food hubs. The number of food hubs has doubled over the last six years, and many are in urban areas, with the Northeast leading the way. Some operate as nonprofits, others are for-profit or producer-consumer cooperatives. Some are modeled after CSAs, or community supported agriculture, where consumers pay up front for food throughout the season. That’s how the Intervale Food Hub in Burlington, Vermont, works, with 30 farms, 15 specialty producers and 1,100 members who pick up their weekly bundles at various sites around the city. The venture started in 2008 with just 192 members and 24 farms.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Suicide Surpassed War as the Military’s Leading Cause of Death – (USA Today – October 31, 2014)
War was the leading cause of death in the military nearly every year between 2004 and 2011 until suicides became the top means of dying for troops in 2012 and 2013, according to a bar chart published in a monthly Pentagon medical statistical analysis journal. For those last two years, suicide outranked war, cancer, heart disease, homicide, transportation accidents and other causes as the leading killer, accounting for about three in 10 military deaths each of those two years. Transportation accidents, by a small margin, was the leading cause of military deaths in 2008, slightly more than combat. The fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan accounted for anywhere from one out of three deaths in the military — in 2005 and 2010 — to more than 46% of deaths in 2007, during the height of the Iraq surge, according to the chart. More than 6,800 troops have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11 and more than 3,000 additional service members have taken their lives in that same time, according to Pentagon data.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
How CIA Torture Has Spread Like a Wildfire Throughout the US Military – (AlterNet – December 22, 2014)
The U.S. Senate summary of the report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s post-9/11 torture program runs 500 pages. It is filled with grisly details on the waterboarding, sexual assault, sleep deprivation and death threats that the CIA subjected detainees to. But there’s a lot the report does not cover–like how members of the U.S. military also tortured prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. One man who has spent time investigating the full breadth of the U.S. government’s torture regimen is Alex Gibney, an Academy Award-winning filmmaker known for movies that expose rot in the halls of power. In 2007, Gibney’s documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side, was released to wide acclaim. The film, which won an Oscar for Best Documentary, focuses on one story: how an Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar wound up dead in the hands of U.S. custody. Dilawar was arrested on suspicion of being a fighter with the Taliban–a suspicion that proved groundless. He was tortured for five days before he was killed. Dilawar. But he was being held by the U.S. military–not the CIA. That tells us that the CIA program mutated and migrated like a virulent virus throughout all the armed forces, even without explicit orders. Once the armed forces learned about the use of these “techniques,” and the tacit approval for them up the chain of command, they started to use them in increasingly unpredictable ways. The Senate Report makes it clear that the torture advocates in the CIA lied to the executive branch about its effectiveness. At the same time, it is also clear – through the report and public pronouncements – that the Bush Administration conveyed its approval of torture (redefined as “enhanced interrogation techniques”) to all the Armed Forces. Early on, a key legal and symbolic moment was when Bush, Cheney et al decided to endorse the lawyers who argued that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the Global War on Terror. With a wink and a nod, that sent a powerful message of implied consent to all the armed forces to go over to “the dark side.”
Leaked Internal CIA Document Admits US Drone Program “Counterproductive” – (Common Dreams – December 18, 2014
Wikileaks has made public a never-before-seen internal review conducted by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency that looked at the agency’s drone and targeted assassination programs in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere. The agency’s own analysis, conducted in 2009, found that its clandestine drone and assassination program was likely to produce counterproductive outcomes, including strengthening the very “extremist groups” it was allegedly designed to destroy. The document, Best Practices in Counterinsurgency: Making High-Value Targeting Operations an Effective Counterinsurgency Tool is now available to be read in its entirety. In one of the key findings contained in the CIA report, agency analysts warn of the negative consequences of assassinating so-called High Level Targets (HLT). “The potential negative effect of HLT operations,” the report states, “include increasing the level of insurgent support […], strengthening an armed group’s bonds with the population, radicalizing an insurgent group’s remaining leaders, creating a vacuum into which more radical groups can enter, and escalating or de-escalating a conflict in ways that favor the insurgents.” Wikileaks points out that this internal prediction “has been proven right” in the years since the internal review was conducted near the outset of President Obama’s first term. And despite those internal warnings—which have been loudly shared by human rights and foreign policy experts critical of the CIA’s drone and assassination programs—Wikileaks also notes that after the internal review was prepared, “US drone strike killings rose to an all-time high.”
Goodbye Privacy, Hello Censorship – (CounterPunch – December 30, 2014)
Internet privacy and net neutrality would become things of the past if the secret Trade In Services Agreement comes to fruition. And on this one, the secrecy exceeds even that shrouding the two better-known corporate giveaways, the Trans-Pacific and Transatlantic partnerships. Yet another tentacle in the octopus of multi-national corporations’ attempt to achieve dictatorial control, the Trade In Services Agreement (TISA) is intended to eliminate government regulations in the “professional services” such as accounting and engineering but goes well beyond that, proposing sweeping de-regulation of the Internet and the financial industry. Another snippet of TISA’s text has been leaked, this time by the freedom-of-information organization Associated Whistleblowing Press. Without this leak, and an earlier leak published by WikiLeaks in June 2014, we would know absolutely nothing about TISA and its various annexes. No matter what a negotiating government might claim about it, should one actually deign to discuss it, TISA is not about your right to hire your accountant of choice. Here is Article X.4 on “movement of information”: “No Party may prevent a service supplier of another Party from transferring, accessing, processing or storing information, including personal information, within or outside the Party’s territory, where such activity is carried out in connection with the conduct of the service supplier’s business.” What that proposal means is that any regulation safeguarding online privacy would be deemed illegal. (“Party” in the quoted text refers to national governments.) European rules on privacy, much stronger than those found in the United States, for example, would be eliminated. What this has to do with the provision of “professional services” is not clear. TISA seems intended to be a catch-all to eliminate regulation and allow multi-national corporations to muscle their way into as many areas as possible unimpeded, and the benign-sounding surface purpose of liberalizing access to foreign engineers may be intended as a wedge to force open all barriers to corporate profiteering. (Editor’s note: We highly recommend this article as an important source of information about potential international regulations.)
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
How Middle Class Christmas Has Changed – (CNN – December 24, 2014)
Thirty years ago, Sam Oliverio’s Christmas list included Teddy Ruxpin, Cabbage Patch dolls and Speak & Spell for his nieces and nephews. Playing Santa set him back about $350. Though he now only buys gifts for one niece and one nephew, both his godchildren, it’s all about tech. That means he’s spending $1,300, or nearly 60% more in inflation-adjusted dollars. That’s not easy for the assistant high school principal in Putnam Valley, N.Y. to afford. Even the cost of his dogs’ Christmas gifts are rising faster than inflation. In 2003, he bought his late Golden Retriever, Carmine, a Jolly ball for $7. To buy the same gift this year for his German Shepherd, Memphis, cost him $22. Overall, Americans plan to spend $861 on Christmas gifts this year, according to American Research Group, a polling firm. That’s up 35% from 1985. Median income, meanwhile, is only up 6.5% over that time. Technology plays a big role in boosting both cost and expectations, said Jeanne Etling, 63, a librarian in Schaumburg, Illinois, with two grown children. Three decades ago, when her kids were young, she bought them Transformers and Legos. Now, FitBits and printers will be under the tree.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
NASA Mars Rover Has Found Organic Molecules in Martian Soil for the First Time – (Business Insider – December 16, 2014)
A team of scientists has announced that after careful analysis of the powder collected from inside the rock, that Curiosity has definitively discovered organic molecules on the planet’s surface for the first time. This announcement was the result of months of work to ensure that what the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument aboard Curiosity had analyzed was organic molecules of Martian origin and not contamination from Earth. The samples taken at Cumberland rock are not the first soil samples ever collected from Mars, but they were the first time that the organic compounds that SAM analyzed were at a high enough concentration to distinguish between background, potentially Earth-based organic contamination, and Martian-based organics. “This first confirmation of organic carbon in a rock on Mars holds much promise,” said Curiosity Participating Scientist Roger Summons of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Organics are important because they can tell us about the chemical pathways by which they were formed and preserved.” The Curiosity rover team plans to drill a second hole in the next few months in hopes of finding other organic-rich samples to ultimately help them determine the source of these molecules.
Our Voyage Through the Local Interstellar Cloud — “Different from the Chemical Make-up of Our Solar System” – (Daily Galaxy – December 14, 2014)
Our solar system has been voyaging through the very low density Local Interstellar Cloud, a region about 30 light-years across that’s as sparse as a handful of air stretched over a column that is hundreds of light years long, or about one atom per three cubic centimeters of space. Earth and our Sun has been traveling through the Cloud for somewhere between 40,000 and 150,000 years and will probably not emerge for another 20,000 years. A mere blip in our 250 million-year orbit through the Milky Way. “Our solar system is different than the space right outside it, suggesting two possibilities,” said David McComas, IBEX principal investigator, at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Either the solar system evolved in a separate, more oxygen-rich part of the galaxy than where we currently reside, or a great deal of critical, life-giving oxygen lies trapped in interstellar dust grains or ices, unable to move freely throughout space.” “We’ve directly measured four separate types of atoms from interstellar space and the composition just doesn’t match up with what we see in the solar system,” said Eric Christian, IBEX mission scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “IBEX’s observations shed a whole new light on the mysterious zone where the solar system ends and interstellar space begins.”
NASA Wants to Explore Venus with Inflatable Air-born “Habitats” – (Dezeen – December 22, 2014)
NASA’s Space Mission Analysis Branch has unveiled a research project to send astronauts to Venus, envisioning “lighter-than-air” pods that could hover above the clouds to house explorers. On a NASA website, a movie and an accompanying image show a conceptual design for inflatable silver blimp-like air balloons for working and living that would house two astronauts for up to a month in the upper atmosphere of the planet Venus. According to the American space agency, a mission to Venus would require less time than a similar manned mission to Mars. Key technical challenges for the mission include performing the aerocapture maneuvers at Venus and Earth, inserting and inflating the airship at Venus, and protecting the solar panels and structure from the sulphuric acid in the atmosphere. NASA said that there would need to be “advances in technology” and “further refinement” of the concept before it could actually proceed.
The Remarkable Collapse of Our Trust in Government, in One Chart – (Washington Post – December 4, 2014)
No one likes — or trusts — the government. At this point, that’s accepted conventional wisdom. And most people assume it has always been like that. But that lack of trust hasn’t always been a part of the American experience — as this chart from the Pew Research Center shows. The downward trajectory is stark. The collapse began during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, which, not coincidentally, overlapped with the Vietnam War. The 1970s — thanks to Vietnam and Watergate — sped up the loss of faith in the government. And, after a quasi-resurgence during the 1980s, the trend line for the past few decades is quite clear. With the exception of relatively brief spikes that overlap with the first Gulf War and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the number of people who trust the government has been steadily declining; the last time Pew asked the question, in February, just 24% said they trust the government “always” or “most of the time”. Exit polling from the 2014 midterms makes clear that things haven’t improved. But, if the chart is any indication, it’s the new normal.
17 Things We Learned about Income Inequality in 2014 – (Atlantic – December, 2014)
Earnings growth for the richest Americans has been outpacing the income growth of the lower and middle classes since the 1970s, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’s analysis of data from the Congressional Budget Office. That means that income inequality is not a new concept. So why does it suddenly feel like such a big deal? Because the pinch of sluggish wages and the lackluster job market are more acute for more Americans. President Obama also played a part in the narrative, highlighting the issue during his 2014 State of the Union. Here are 17 items, creating an overall sense of where things stand now. For example, “Goodbye, Middle Class”: in 2013, median household income was $51,939, still 8% lower than in 2007, the year before the recession started, according to Census data. A recent report by the Center for American Progress shows that in 1979, a majority of American households (59.5%) had earnings that qualified them as middle class (defined as working-age households with incomes between 0.5 and 1.5 times the median national income). In 2012, the share of middle class families had fallen to 45.1%, indicating that American households have become more concentrated at the top and bottom of the earnings ladder.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
Crafting Color Coatings from Nanometer-thick Layers of Gold and Germanium – (KurzweilAI – December 24, 2014)
Harvard scientists who developed a technique in 2012 that coats a gray metallic object with a semiconductor layer just a few nanometers thick to achieve a variety of vibrant hues have now applied the technique to almost any rough or flexible material, from wearable fabrics to stretchable electronics. The coating exploits optical interference effects in the thin films. Researcher Mikhail Kats compares it to the iridescent rainbows that are visible when oil floats on water. Carefully tuned in the laboratory, these coatings can produce a bright, solid pink — or, say, a vivid blue — using the same two metals, applied with only a few atoms’ difference in thickness. “This is a way of coloring something with a very thin layer of material, so in principle, if it’s a metal to begin with, you can just use 10 nanometers to color it, and if it’s not, you can deposit a metal that’s 30 nm thick and then another 10 nm. That’s a lot thinner than a conventional paint coating that might be between a micron and 10 microns thick.” In those occasional situations where the weight of the paint matters, this could be very significant. The external fuel tank of NASA’s space shuttle used to be painted white. After the first two missions, engineers stopped painting it and saved 600 pounds of weight.
Material Question – (The New Yorker – December 22, 2014)
Graphene may be the most remarkable substance ever discovered. But what’s it for? “Until Andre Geim, a physics professor at the University of Manchester, discovered an unusual new material called graphene, he was best known for an experiment in which he used electromagnets to levitate a frog.” – so begins the story of the discovery of graphene. At this point, the situation is this: New discoveries (such as graphene) face formidable challenges in the marketplace. They must be conspicuously cheaper or better than products already for sale, and they must be conducive to manufacture on a commercial scale. If a material arrives, like graphene, as a serendipitous discovery, with no targeted application, there is another barrier: the limits of imagination. Basically the question is: Now that we’ve got this stuff, what do we do with it? (Editor’s note: We recommend this article. Simply put: it’s fascinating.)
Walmart Forced to Increase Minimum Wage at 33% of US Stores – (RT – December 25, 2014)
Walmart, America’s largest private employer, is being forced to raise its minimum wage payments for workers. The move could improve the lives of roughly one-third of its 1.3 million employees and reduce the burden on the government. Since 21 states have adopted minimum wage increases either via legislative pressure or ballot initiatives, Walmart must now adjust base salaries at a third of its locations, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters. The memo sent to store managers this month said the wage hikes are due to come into effect on January 1. Walmart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan told Reuters that the company is making the changes to “ensure our stores in the 21 states comply with the law.” Until now, Walmart’s low pay has meant that many of its employees depend on federal programs like Medicaid and food stamps to make ends meet. According to a 2013 congressional research report, “a single 300-employee Walmart Supercenter may cost taxpayers anywhere from $904,542 to nearly $1.75 million per year.” The total cost of Walmart workers on federal programs is an estimated $6.2 billion. Walmart estimates its average full-time hourly wage is $12.92, and says that it pays competitive wages and offers its employees ample opportunity for advancement. However, most people aren’t hired as full-time workers and need government benefits to make up the difference.
Forecast: Workplace Trends, Choices and Technologies for 2015 – (Recode – December 18, 2014)
Looking at the directions firmly seeded in 2014, the following represent strategies and choices for 2015 that demand an execution-oriented point of view: Enterprise cloud comes to everyone; Email isn’t dead, just wounded, but kill off attachments with prejudice; Productivity breaks from legacy work products and workflows; Tablets make a “surprise comeback”; Mobile device management aims to get it right; Hybrid cloud ROI isn’t there, and the complexity is huge; Cross-platform really (still) won’t work; and Massive security breaches challenge the enterprise platform. Article discusses each item in detail.
Sony Made It Easy, But Any of Us Could Get Hacked – (Wall St. Journal – December 19, 2014)
Earlier this month, a mysterious group that calls itself Guardians of Peace hacked into Sony Pictures Entertainment’s computer systems and began revealing many of the Hollywood studio’s best-kept secrets, from details about unreleased movies to embarrassing emails (notably some racist notes from Sony bigwigs about President Barack Obama ’s presumed movie-watching preferences) to the personnel data of employees, including salaries and performance reviews. Hackers can be characterized along two axes: skill and focus. Most attacks are low-skill and low-focus. High-skill, low-focus attacks are more serious. These include the more sophisticated attacks using newly discovered “zero-day” vulnerabilities in software, systems and networks. This is the sort of attack that affected Target, J.P. Morgan Chase and most of the other commercial networks that you’ve heard about in the past year or so. But even scarier are the high-skill, high-focus attacks—the type that hit Sony. This includes sophisticated attacks seemingly run by national intelligence agencies, using such spying tools as Regin and Flame, which many in the IT world suspect were created by the U.S.; Turla, a piece of malware that many blame on the Russian government; and a huge snooping effort called GhostNet, which spied on the Dalai Lama and Asian governments, leading many to blame China. With attackers who are highly skilled and highly focused, however, what matters is whether a targeted company’s security is superior to the attacker’s skills. That is why security experts aren’t surprised by the Sony story. We know people who do penetration testing for a living—real, no-holds-barred attacks that mimic a full-on assault by a dogged, expert attacker—and we know that the expert always gets in. Against a sufficiently skilled, funded and motivated attacker, all networks are vulnerable.
Pope Francis Celebrates Birthday by Giving Sleeping Bags to Homeless People – (ThinkProgress – December 19, 2014)
Pope Francis, who turned 78 in December, celebrated the occasion by handing out 400 sleeping bags to homeless people living on the streets in Rome. There are approximately 3,276 homeless people currently living in Rome, half of whom have no shelter at all and live on the streets. The Pope’s archbishop in charge of charitable giving, Konrad Krajewski, led a group of volunteers around the local area to distribute the sleeping bags. “This is a gift for you from the pope on the occasion of his birthday,” the group told recipients. The pope also held a birthday lunch at the Vatican, with four homeless individuals among the guests. Last month, despite some internal opposition in the Vatican, the pope ordered that public showers be installed in St. Peter’s Square so homeless people would have a place to bathe.
Doctor Transparency: Why Leana Wen Received Threats After Launching “Who’s My Doctor” – (International Business Times – November 19, 2014)
Leana Wen created the “Who’s My Doctor” campaign last year. The effort goes a step further than the federal government’s mandate requiring physicians to disclose all money they receive from drug companies. In October, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released data that outlined the $3.5 billion that companies paid to the nation’s doctors. The Open Payments database was heavily opposed by physician groups and pharmaceutical companies. “Incentives matter,” said Wen in a recent TED talk, “If you go to your doctor because of back pain, you might want to know he’s getting paid $5,000 to perform spine surgery versus $25 to refer you to see a physical therapist.” As part of the “Who’s My Doctor” effort, each physician voluntarily publishes a “Total Transparency Manifesto,” which flows into a searchable database that prospective patients can use. One year after starting the project, only 34 “transparent doctors” are listed on the website. There are many more who were less than pleased. “I thought some doctors would sign on and others wouldn’t, but I had no idea of the backlash that would ensue,” she said in her TED talk. The criticism quickly went beyond online comments. Soon, people were asking Wen’s employer to fire her, and sending mail to her home address with threats. (Editor’s note: We recommend Dr. Wen’s TED talk.)
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
With Memories of a Comic Comrade, Margaret Cho Helps the Homeless – (New York Times – December 24, 2014)
The comedian Margaret Cho has been busking around her hometown, singing, plinking on her guitar and nearly stripping to raise money for the homeless. San Francisco has pop-up restaurants, art galleries and shops, but Ms. Cho’s may be the first pop-up charity. Through social media, she has notified fans, who brought coats, pants, shirts, shoes, blankets and lots of socks as well as cash, which she gave away at each event. The inspiration, Ms. Cho said, was her friend Robin Williams. When she could not shake her sadness, another comedian friend said, “Don’t mourn Robin — be Robin.” She also did it because, she said pointedly, this city has become Dickensian, with the rich getting richer as they till the digital fields of Google and Facebook and the poor getting poorer and priced out of their apartments. Ms. Cho knows that she cannot change the economy, but she can lift spirits by doing what she knows best. There are more than a half-million homeless people in the United States, and 6,500 live in San Francisco. Many sleep on the sidewalks and under building overhangs. She said she could relate to the people she was helping in other ways. “I have issues with drugs and alcohol,” Ms. Cho said, “I’m not that far away from where they are.” If they spend the money she gives them on drugs and drink, she does not judge them. “Why not give people a party?” Ms. Cho said, “That’s what’s missing from the streets.”
Christmas Tree, Inc. – (Mashable – December 13, 2014)
Thirty-three million trees were sold last year in the United States, from tiny lots in Manhattan to big box stores that sell millions apiece. A plurality, though not a majority, of those Christmas trees come from Oregon. The Beaver State sent out 6.4 million Christmas trees in 2012; other powerhouses include North Carolina (4.2 million trees) and Michigan (1.7 million). Oregon is the biggest producer in the country, and arguably the world. In this green and gray state, there are 45 to 50 million Christmas trees in the ground at any given time, which means Christmas trees outnumber humans 12 to 1. The cycle of a tree, from seed to sale at your local market, lasts about 8-10 years. This article gives you the back-story of the production of Christmas trees.
JUST FOR FUN
Opening Performance – Nanjing Youth Olympics 2014 – (Flixxy – August, 2014)
Watch 500 young gymnasts “dance” in midair. The performance is stellar and the camera work does it full justice.
A FINAL QUOTE–
If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong. — Arthur C. Clarke
A special thanks to: Dorothy Denning, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, 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