Volume 17, Number 9 – 5/15/14

 Volume 17, Number 9 – 5/15/14


  • Physicists are suggesting that consciousness is a state of matter, like a solid, a liquid or a gas.
  • Big data and artificial intelligence are producing ultra-accurate forecasts that will make it feasible to integrate much more renewable energy into the grid.
  • New evidence suggests that lightning on Earth is triggered not only by cosmic rays from space, but also by energetic particles from the sun.
  • While not mentioned by its developers, Google Glass has the potential to completely redefine the concept of targeted advertising.

by John L. Petersen

Gregg Braden Coming to Berkeley Springs

New York Times best-selling author Gregg Braden will be the next speaker in our Berkeley Springs Transition Talks series (, held in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia on Saturday the 24th of May.

Gregg will be addressing Creating Resilience in a Time of Extremes.

The Situation: We live in a time of extremes. From failing economies and the realities of climate change, to the violent breakdown of traditional societies it’s clear that we’ve entered a new phase of life on planet Earth. Without the tools to adapt to such abrupt change the consequences include:

  • The documented rise of stress-related illness, disease and deaths
  • The rising loss of traditional jobs, stable income and feelings of security
  • The struggle to find a sense of well-being in life
  • Increased conflict in families and societies as they try to meet new needs with old thinking

The Opportunity: We solve our problems based upon the way we think of ourselves. When new discoveries show us where the beliefs of the past no longer apply, we owe it to ourselves to update our thinking!

In this Program Discover For yourself

  • The 5 false assumptions of traditional science that the modern world is built upon
  • The single belief that keeps us locked in conflict and struggle, and why it’s wrong
  • The new discoveries that change 300 years of scientific beliefs, and the reluctance of mainstream media and classrooms to share them
  • The strategies for personal resilience that hold the key to adapting to change

The solutions to life’s biggest problems already exist! Join Gregg Braden in this compelling presentation to discover the extremes that are shaping our world and how you can thrive from them in your life!

Register here today!

Gregg Braden is internationally renowned as a pioneer in bridging science, ancient wisdom, and the real world! For more than 27 years he has explored high mountain villages, remote monasteries and forgotten texts to merge their timeless secrets with the best science of today. His discoveries are now shared in 33 countries and 38 languages through such paradigm-inspiring books as: The God CodeThe Divine MatrixFractal Time, and his newest, Deep Truth. His 2007 best seller, The Divine Matrix, was recently selected as the source for the made-for-television feature, “Entanglement,” and is now a textbook for college level courses exploring new discoveries of science and our relationship to the world.

This three-hour presentation will be a very special event. Don’t miss it if at all possible.

Register here today!

How the NSA’s Domestic Spying Program Works

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is at the forefront of explaining and defending the privacy and other interests of Americans. They have been laboring in this space from the beginning of the Web and have been particularly effective in the past in helping to shape and curtail what otherwise would have been intrusive policies advanced by the government and corporations.

EFF has an interesting page that explains how the NSA’s domestic spying program works that I commend to you. I’d particularly suggest that you watch the video presentation that provides an extended overview of the whole process.

Here’s how they begin the description:

The NSA’s domestic spying program, known in official government documents as the “President’s Surveillance Program,” (“The Program”) was implemented by President George W. Bush shortly after the attacks on September 11, 2001. The US Government still considers the Program officially classified, but a tremendous amount of information has been exposed by various whistleblowers, admitted to by government officials during Congressional hearings and with public statements, and reported on in investigations by major newspaper across the country.

Our NSA Domestic Spying Timeline has a full list of important dates, events, and reports, but we also want to explain—to the extent we understand it—the full scope of the Program and how the government has implemented it.

In the weeks after 9/11, President Bush authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct a range of surveillance activities inside the United States, which had been barred by law and agency policy for decades. When the NSA’s spying program was first exposed by the New York Times in 2005, President Bush admitted to a small aspect of the program—what the administration labeled the “Terrorist Surveillance Program”—in which the NSA monitored, without warrants, the communications of between 500-1000 people inside the US with suspected connections to Al Qaeda.

But other aspects of the Program were aimed not just at targeted individuals, but perhaps millions of innocent Americans never suspected of a crime.

Details of Every American’s Call History

First, the government convinced the major telecommunications companies in the US, including AT&T, MCI, and Sprint, to hand over the “call-detail records” of their customers. According to an investigation by USA Today, this included “customers’ names, street addresses, and other personal information.” In addition, the government received . . . (read more)

The Biggest Snowden Story is Soon to Be Published

It was Edward Snowden, of course, who made us aware of much of this through the reporting of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Glenn Greenwald and his colleagues. Greenwald has a new book out that he is out pitching and Justin Raimondo from has written an informative summary of what may be on the horizon. I’ve printed it in its entirety here because even though I don’t use Google as a search engine, when I go to the website, I get a Google-based warning saying that somewhere on AntiWar (a link to a .ru site) there is a link that will put something on your computer. The warning sounded fishy to me and my antivirus program has not given me any indications of problems, but I nevertheless thought that I’d just print it here rather than have you driven away from the article by the “warning”.

The American Republic Is Dead
Only a revolution can resurrect it
by Justin Raimondo, May 14, 2014

The release of Glenn Greenwald’s new book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, has been the occasion for a media storm: Greenwald is all over the place, from Colbert to “Democracy Now,” and there is much new material for us to chew over. One shocker: the NSA intercepts computer equipment intended for its targets, implants bugging devices, and then reships it, a procedure they dub “supply chain interdiction.” As Greenwald put it in an interview with Canadian media:

“While American companies were being warned away from supposedly untrustworthy Chinese routers, foreign organizations would have been well advised to beware of American-made ones. A June 2010 report from the head of the NSA’s Access and Target Development department is shockingly explicit. The document gleefully observes that some ‘SIGINT [signals intelligence] tradecraft … is very hands-on (literally!).”

NSA employees engage in “supply chain interdiction”

There are more revelations, but the Big One, as Greenwald has made clear, is yet to come. In an interview with GQ magazine, he had this to say:

“I like to think of it as a fireworks show: You want to save your best for last. There’s a story that from the beginning I thought would be our biggest, and I’m saving that. The last one is the one where the sky is all covered in spectacular multicolored hues. This will be the finale, a big missing piece. Snowden knows about it and is excited about it.”

So what could this explosive story be? Last [Monday] night on “The Colbert Report” he dropped us a hint: “One of the missing pieces,” Greenwald said, “is on whom is the NSA spying?” He gives us more in the first part of a two-part colloquy with Amy Goodman on “Democracy Now’:

“You know, one of the interesting things is, obviously, people are very aware of the COINTEL abuses. I know you’ve had people on your show who actually participated in the break-in of the FBI and took the documents that unveiled that program. People are aware of J. Edgar Hoover’s abuses. The nature of that series of events is that the United States government looks at people who oppose what they do as being, quote-unquote, ‘threats.’ That’s the nature of power, is to regard anybody who’s a threat to your power as a broad national security threat. And a lot of times people will say, ‘We don’t yet have the reporting in this case that shows that kind of abuse.’ And a lot of that reporting is still reporting that we’re working on and that I promise you is coming.”

My blood ran cold when I heard Glenn say that, for two reasons.

The first is that if this is true – if the US government is now targeting political dissidents with its hi-tech tools, just as J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI did using the primitive technology of the 1960s era – then our liberty is for all intents and purposes gone.

We’ve been told that the rationale for this all-pervasive surveillance is to target “terrorists” and protect the country from their evil plots: but if the reality is that they’re going after garden-variety “radicals,” i.e. targeting Americans because of their political views – and getting away with it – then we are living in a police state no better (and in some ways worse) than anything the world has yet seen.

The NSA’s “new collection posture,” as shown in the NSA documents reproduced in Greenwald’s book, is: “Sniff it all, know it all, collect it all, process it all, exploit it all, partner it all.” In short, they aim to abolish the concept of privacy – and if they are now targeting political “radicalizers,” as one of their documents puts it – not Al Qaeda, but American political dissidents – then our old republic is no more. The Constitution means nothing: the Bill of Rights is abolished, and we are living under a de facto “democratic” dictatorship.

My blood ran cold for a second reason, however, one more personal and immediate: that’s because in the summer of 2011 we discovered that the FBI had indeed targeted – specifically myself and our webmaster, Eric Garris – for what they termed a “preliminary investigation” in 2004. We learned this through a Freedom of Information Act request made by someone else: in an April 2004 memo some FBI high mucka-muck speculated that we might very well be “agents of a foreign power” – and that it was high time to “sniff” around after us.

The significance of the “foreign agent” phraseology was underscored when the Snowden revelations came to light: for the “legal” rationale behind the NSA’s police state operation is that targets are alleged to have a “foreign” connection. Technically, the American version of the KGB isn’t supposed to be conducting surveillance on any US citizen without a requisite “foreign” connection – and here was the FBI inventing one, or at least trying to. Since there is no such connection – is run by Americans, and has no overseas organization or funders – I assumed, at first, that this exempted us from the NSA’s spying.

As time went on, however, and it became clear that a “foreign connection” could be established by discovering a “two-hop” or even a “three-hop” link to an entity deemed foreign, I started getting a little nervous – and yet still my innate skepticism remained largely intact. After all, wouldn’t it be awfully stupid for the NSA – and the FBI – to be spying on a legitimate constitutionally-protected non-criminal enterprise such as The danger of being caught, I thought, was too great: it would all come out eventually.

And perhaps now it will.

The specter of the Surveillance State is hanging not just over my head, and Eric’s – it’s casting its dark shadow over everyone in America who has ever had a “dissident” or “radical” thought and expressed himself or herself in an email, over the phone, on a blog, or using any other form of electronic communication. This is what an authoritarian state looks like – and “elections” don’t change the equation one bit.

In a truly free, or even semi-free society, this question – “Am I being spied on by the government?” – wouldn’t even come up. As it stands now, however, anyone in America who has ever expressed a “radical” idea is now a potential target.

Nothing short of a revolution is going to reverse this monstrous reality. Whether it comes in a peaceful form – perhaps some combination of electoral and legislative action – in which the warlords of Washington are thrown out on their ears, or some other way is not for me to say. No one can know the future. What I do know, however, is this: one way or another, the monster must be slain.

Peasants with pitchforks – that’s your cue….


You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

Read more by Justin Raimondo



Why Virtual Reality Will Compete with the Real World – (Technology Review – May 5, 2014)
Several remarkable advances in hardware are going to dramatically change our ability in the coming year to immerse ourselves in a 3-D world. We won’t just be able to see these worlds—we’ll be able to touch them. We’ll also be able to communicate with others while we’re inside these worlds: the Internet is now fast enough to allow us to be in a virtual environment with other people who are accessing it from elsewhere, even halfway across the world. The feeling of really being face-to-face with another person requires an end-to-end delay (including hardware, software, and network transmission) of around 100 milliseconds or less between your movement and their perception of that movement. We can feel empathy and connection, interrupt each other, and smoothly and rapidly exchange thoughts. At less than 100 milliseconds of delay you can reach out and virtually touch or shake hands with another person and find the perception of the resulting collisions and motion to be perfectly believable and immersive. If virtual reality can replace (or even improve upon) videoconferencing or long-distance travel as a way of getting together with people, it will surely disrupt and restructure many different basic human exchanges that have nothing to do with playing games. For many of the everyday things we do—talking face-to-face, working together, or designing and building things—the real world will suddenly have real competition.


Why Physicists Are Saying Consciousness Is a State of Matter, Like a Solid, a Liquid or a Gas – (Medium – January 16, 2014)
While the problem of consciousness is far from being solved, it is finally being formulated mathematically as a set of problems that researchers can understand, explore and discuss. Max Tegmark, a theoretical physicist at MIT sets out the fundamental problems that this new way of thinking raises. He shows how these problems can be formulated in terms of quantum mechanics and information theory. And he explains how thinking about consciousness in this way leads to precise questions about the nature of reality that the scientific process of experiment might help to tease apart. Tegmark’s approach is to think of consciousness as a state of matter, like a solid, a liquid or a gas. Interestingly, the new approach to consciousness has come from outside the physics community, principally from neuroscientists such as Giulio Tononi at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. In 2008, Tononi proposed that a system demonstrating consciousness must have two specific traits. First, the system must be able to store and process large amounts of information. In other words consciousness is essentially a phenomenon of information. And second, this information must be integrated in a unified whole so that it is impossible to divide into independent parts. That reflects the experience that each instance of consciousness is a unified whole that cannot be decomposed into separate components.

Hale-Bopp: the Electric Comet – (YouTube – April 25, 2014)
A team of scientists analyzing the coma and tail of Comet Hale- Bopp have published their observations in a landmark paper. What they discovered cannot be explained by the standard model of comets. The scientists analyzed the comet’s surprising coma and tail at distances up to 27 times the average distance between the Earth and Sun. The structure of the comet’s tail and its relative brightness at such a large heliocentric distance remains a mystery for comet scientists. However, the “Electric Universe” model explains the composition and behavior of comets in a dramatically different way.


Scientists Reconnect Severed Nerves with Liquid Metal – (GizModo – April 29, 2014)
A team of Chinese biomedical engineers recently used an alloy to close the gap between severed sciatic nerves in frogs. In effect, it made electronic circuits out of nerves — and it worked. Shockingly, this sci-fi solution is as simple as it sounds. Looking for a way to keep muscles active while nerves healed, the Tsinghua University researchers identified liquid metal as a highly conductive but also safe material to bridge the gap. They decided on the liquid metal alloy gallium-indium-selenium, a benign material that’s liquid at body temperature and is highly conductive. (This liquid metal is not to be confused with the brand-name product Liquidmetal, which is not actually a liquid.) To test the alloy, the engineers applied an electric pulse to nerves in a frog leg so that the calf muscle would contract. They then severed the sciatic nerve and connected the two ends with either the liquid metal alloy or Ringer’s solution, a mix of electrolytes that mimic body fluids. Sure enough, the Ringer’s solution only carried the charge so far, while the liquid metal alloy transmitted the electrical signals about as well as the nerve before it had been severed.

Harvard Researchers Find Protein That Could Reverse the Aging Process – (GizMag – May 7, 2014)
Researchers from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) have shown that injections of a protein dubbed GDF11, when administered to older mice, appear to cause a reversal of many signs of aging. Analysis showed that every major organ system tested displayed signs of improvement, with the protein even appearing to reverse some of the DNA damage which is synonymous with the aging process itself. The protein GDF11 is found in humans as well as mice, and is now being considered for possible human testing due to its surprising and apparently regenerative properties. A previous study had focused on examining the hearts of mice the equivalent of 70 human years old. The mice were regularly exposed to the blood of younger mice whose blood carried a higher concentration of GDF11. Ordinarily the hearts of older mice are enlarged and weakened, however due to the GDF11 protein present in the blood of the younger mice, the hearts of the elderly mice reduced in size, making them appear younger and healthier. Results from the second study showed that the protein had positive effects reaching far beyond the heart. It was found that, having been exposed to increased levels of the protein, all organs examined by the researchers displayed a heightened level of function. Furthermore, while previous studies on the protein had focused on regenerating damaged muscle in mice, the most recent study focused on the repair of cells damaged by the aging process. “There seems to be little question that, at least in animals, GDF11 has an amazing capacity to restore aging muscle and brain function,” states Dr. Doug Melton, co-chair of HSCI.

Nerve Stimulating Implant Could Lower Blood Pressure – (Technology Review – May 14, 2014)
An implantable device that reduces blood pressure by stimulating a nerve in the neck could someday be an alternative to drugs for controlling hypertension. The device is one of the latest efforts to use a nerve-stimulating implant to treat a medical condition. Such implants might offer new hope to those with extreme hypertension. Up to 30 percent of people with high blood pressure cannot be fully treated with medication, and some patients taking the drugs suffer from side effects including fatigue and light-headedness. Dennis Plachta, a microsystems engineer at the University of Freiburg in Germany, and his team developed a micromachined cuff that wraps around the vagal nerve—a nerve found in the neck that exchanges critical physiological information between the brain and other major organs, including the heart. The 20-millimeter-long cuff positions a set of electrodes on a region of the nerve that the team determined would specifically stimulate the changes in blood pressure. The researchers tested their implant in five adult rats and found that a certain stimulation pattern could reduce the rodents’ blood pressure by 40% without any major side effects.

New Tech Could Take Light-based Cancer Treatment Deep inside the Body – (Science Daily – May 15, 2014)
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is an effective treatment for easily accessible tumors such as oral and skin cancer. But the procedure, which uses lasers to activate special drugs called photosensitizing agents, isn’t adept at fighting cancer deep inside the body. However new technology could bring PDT into areas of the body which were previously inaccessible. The approach involves using near-infrared beams of light that, upon penetrating deep into the body, are converted into visible light that activates the drug and destroys the tumor. “We expect this will vastly expand the applications for an effective cancer phototherapy that’s already in use,” said co-author Tymish Ohulchanskyy, PhD, University at Buffalo research associate professor. Doctors have used PDT to treat cancer for decades. Cancer cells absorb the drug, which is delivered to the tumor via the bloodstream or locally. Visible light is then applied to the site, which causes the drug to react with oxygen and create a burst of free radicals that kill the tumor. Unfortunately, visible light does not penetrate tissue well. Conversely, near-infrared light penetrates tissue well but doesn’t activate the drugs efficiently. To solve this problem, researchers are developing drugs that absorb near-infrared light. This method is limited, however, because stable and efficient near-infrared absorbing photosensitizers are difficult to synthesize.


China Says Massive Area of Its Soil Polluted – (PhysOrg – April 17, 2014)
A huge area of China’s soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government has said, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret. Of about 6.3 million square kilometres (2.4 million square miles) of soil surveyed—roughly two thirds of China’s total area—16.1 percent is thought to be polluted, the environmental protection ministry said in a report. “The national soil pollution situation is not positive,” the ministry said, adding that more than 19% of the farmland which was surveyed is polluted. More than 80% of the soil pollution was caused by “non-organic contaminants”, the ministry said in its report. The survey was carried out over an eight-year period from 2005 to 2013. The ministry last year acknowledged the existence of “cancer villages”, years after Chinese media first reported on more than 100 polluted rural areas with a higher incidence of the disease. See also: 6 Charts That Show How We Became China’s Grocery Store and Wine Cellar.

Scientists Pack Lab into Pill Using Idea Inspired by Breath-freshening Strips – (Terra Daily – April 30, 2014)
A group of McMaster researchers has solved the problem of cumbersome, expensive and painfully slow water-testing by turning the process upside-down. Instead of shipping water to the lab, they have created a way to take the lab to the water, putting potentially life-saving technology into the hands of everyday people. The team has reduced the sophisticated chemistry required for testing water safety to a simple pill, by adapting technology found in a dissolving breath strip. Want to know if a well is contaminated? Drop a pill in a vial of water and shake vigorously. The researchers have now created a way to store precisely measured amounts of enzymes and other active agents in pills made from the same naturally occurring substance used in breath strips, putting lab-quality science within instant and easy reach of people who need quick answers to questions such as whether their water is safe. “This is regular chemistry that we know works but is now in pill form,” says John Brennan, director of McMaster’s Biointerfaces Institute, where the work took place. “The user can be anybody in a village somewhere who can take a pill out of a bottle and drop it in water.” The material, called pullulan, forms a solid when dry, and protects sensitive agents from oxygen and temperature changes that can render them useless within hours. Until now, such agents have had to be stored at extremely cold temperatures and shipped in vials packed in huge chunks of dry ice, at great cost and inconvenience.

Nuclear Fuel Fragment from Fukushima Found In Europe – (Washington’s Blog – May 6, 2014)
The Fukushima nuclear core has finally been found … scattered all over the world. Fukushima did not just suffer meltdowns, or even melt-throughs … It suffered melt-OUTS … where the nuclear core of at least one reactor was spread all over Japan. In addition, the Environmental Research Department, SRI Center for Physical Sciences and Technology in Vilnius, Lithuania reported in the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity: Analyses of (131)I, (137)Cs and (134)Cs in airborne aerosols were carried out in daily samples in Vilnius, Lithuania after the Fukushima accident during the period of March-April, 2011. The activity ratio of (238)Pu/(239,240)Pu in the aerosol sample was 1.2, indicating a presence of the spent fuel of different origin than that of the Chernobyl accident. (“Pu” is short for plutonium.) Fukushima is 4,988 miles from Vilnius, Lithuania. So the plutonium traveled quite a distance. EneNews reports that a fuel fragment from Fukushima has been found in Svalbard, Norway. Fukushima is 6,606 miles from Svalbard. Moreover, the distance the fragment traveled is actually much further … because it took a circuitous route from Fukushima to Norway.

High-speed Solar Winds Increase Lightning Strikes on Earth – (Science Daily – May 14, 2014)
Scientists have discovered new evidence to suggest that lightning on Earth is triggered not only by cosmic rays from space, but also by energetic particles from the Sun. University of Reading researchers found a link between increased thunderstorm activity on Earth and streams of high-energy particles accelerated by the solar wind, offering compelling evidence that particles from space help trigger lightning bolts. Researchers from Reading’s Department of Meteorology found a substantial and significant increase in lightning rates across Europe for up to 40 days after the arrival of high-speed solar winds, which can travel at more than a million miles per hour, into Earth’s atmosphere.Although the exact mechanism that causes these changes remains unknown, the researchers propose that the electrical properties of the air are somehow altered as the incoming charged particles from the solar wind collide with the atmosphere.


SCiO and the Rise of Hardware Start-ups – (BBC News – May 6, 2014)
Forget social applications, and take your head out of the cloud: let’s get physical. For decades now, technology start-ups have focused on creating software – but 2014 looks to be the year of hardware hopefuls. “It’s gotten much less capital intense to build a hardware start-up and much less risky,” says investor Boris Wertz, founding partner of Version One Ventures. Mr. Wertz says the rise of 3-D printing, the ubiquity of smartphones, which can be used as controllers, and better manufacturing processes have all contributed to making it easier for many hardware entrepreneurs to get their products made quickly, without putting too much money on the line. Part of what is attracting investors like Mr Wertz and others is that hardware firms can now first display prototypes and gauge interest by putting their projects on crowd-funding sites. Mr. Miller, who worked at iRobot, Disney and Hasbro before co-founding Dragon, says that “In the old days you’d do these focus groups and they’d just tell you what you want to hear”. “When you have people vote with their wallets for something that doesn’t exist, that’s a strong indicator that you’re on the right track,” he adds.

Synchronized Oscillators May Allow for Computing That Works Like the Brain – (Kurzweil AI – May 15, 2014)
Computing is currently based on binary (Boolean) logic, but a new type of computing architecture created by electrical engineers at Penn State stores information in the frequencies and phases of periodic signals and could work more like the human brain. It would use a fraction of the energy necessary for today’s computers, according to the engineers. To achieve the new architecture, they used a thin film of vanadium oxide on a titanium dioxide substrate to create an oscillating switch. Using a standard electrical engineering trick, Nikhil Shukla, graduate student in electrical engineering, added a series resistor to the oxide device to stabilize oscillations. When he added a second similar oscillating system, he discovered that, over time, the two devices began to oscillate in unison, or synchronize. This coupled system could provide the basis for non-Boolean computing. “It’s called a small-world network,” explained Shukla. “You see it in lots of biological systems, such as certain species of fireflies. The males will flash randomly, but then for some unknown reason the flashes synchronize over time.” The brain is also a small-world network of closely clustered nodes that evolved for more efficient information processing. “Biological synchronization is everywhere,” added Suman Datta, professor of electrical engineering. “We wanted to use it for a different kind of computing called associative processing, which is an analog rather than digital way to compute.”

World’s First Covert Communications System with Camouflage Guaranteed – (Technology Review – May 8, 2014)
The world of cryptography has undergone a quiet revolution in recent years. That’s largely because of the advent of techniques that exploit the laws of quantum mechanics to send messages with perfect privacy. So-called quantum cryptography ensures that an eavesdropper cannot decode a message under guarantee by the laws of physics. But sometimes perfect privacy isn’t enough. Sometimes the knowledge that a message has been sent is all that an adversary needs. So the question arises of how to hide a message so that an eavesdropper cannot tell whether it has been sent or not. The discipline, known as steganography or covert communication, is as old as its cryptographic cousin but has received much less attention in recent years. But that changes today thanks to the work of Boulat Bash at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and a few pals who have worked out how to camouflage messages in a way that is guaranteed mathematically. And they’ve put their ideas into practice with a proof-of-principle demonstration. The technique is relatively straightforward, relying on a method of communication known as pulse position modulation. This divides each second (or other unit of time) into a number of time bands which each correspond to a symbol. There’s an important caveat, of course. This system requires the sender and receiver to agree on the band structure and the symbols they refer to. And this must be done in advance in secret. The breakthrough is in showing that the message can always be camouflaged with an arbitrary probability of detection, provided noise is within certain limits. Bash and co show this is true even when Willie collects all the photons that Bob does not receive.


Vertical Forest in Milan Nears Completion – (Dezeen – May 15, 2014)
A pair of skyscrapers by Milan office Boeri Studio are nearing completion in the Italian city, featuring as many trees as could be planted in a hectare of forest. The studio led by Italian architect Stefano Boeri came up with the concept of Bosco Verticale, or Vertical Forest, as a way to combine high-density residential development with tree planting in city centers. Two towers, measuring 80 and 112 meters, are set to open later this year and are already home to 900 trees. A mixture of large and small trees have been planted on balconies on all four sides of the towers, accompanied by 5,000 shrubs and 11,000 floral plants. The design team claims these will absorb dust in the air, helping to depollute the city. The choice of the types of trees was made to fit with their positioning on the facades and in terms of their height, and took two years to plan working with a group of botanists. The plants used in this project have been grown specifically for this purpose and were pre-cultivated. Over this period these plants slowly got used to the conditions they will be placed in on the building. creating an adequate micro-climate in order to filter out the sunlight. Subsequent care of the trees and their water needs were among the design considerations.


Smart Wind and Solar Power – (Technology Review – April 23, 2014)
Big data and artificial intelligence are producing ultra-accurate forecasts that will make it feasible to integrate much more renewable energy into the grid. Wind power is booming on the open plains of eastern Colorado where rows of towering wind turbines stretch for miles. Every few seconds, almost every one of the hundreds of turbines records the wind speed and its own power output. Every five minutes they dispatch data to high-performance computers 100 miles away at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder. There artificial-intelligence-based software crunches the numbers, along with data from weather satellites, weather stations, and other wind farms in the state. The result: wind power forecasts of unprecedented accuracy that are making it possible for Colorado to use far more renewable energy, at lower cost, than utilities ever thought possible. The forecasts are helping power companies deal with one of the biggest challenges of wind power: its intermittency. Using small amounts of wind power is no problem for utilities. However, a utility that wants to use a lot of wind power needs backup power to protect against a sudden loss of wind. These backup plants, which typically burn fossil fuels, are expensive and dirty. But with more accurate forecasts, utilities can cut the amount of power that needs to be held in reserve, minimizing their role. An early version of NCAR’s forecasting system was released in 2009, but last year was a breakthrough year—accuracy improved significantly, and the forecasts saved Xcel, Colorado’s major power company, nearly as much money as they had in the three previous years combined. This year NCAR is testing a similar forecasting system for solar power.


The Self-driving Car Masters City-street Driving – (Kurzweil AI – May 1, 2014)
Google has shifted the focus of its self-driving car project onto mastering city-street driving. “Since the last update, we’ve logged thousands of miles on the streets of our hometown of Mountain View, Calif. A mile of city driving is much more complex than a mile of freeway driving, with hundreds of different objects moving according to different rules of the road in a small area,” Google says. “We’ve improved our software so it can detect hundreds of distinct objects simultaneously — pedestrians, buses, a stop sign held up by a crossing guard, or a cyclist making gestures that indicate a possible turn. A self-driving vehicle can pay attention to all of these things in a way that a human physically can’t — and it never gets tired or distracted. As it turns out, what looks chaotic and random on a city street to the human eye is actually fairly predictable to a computer.” Google’s self-driving vehicles have now logged nearly 700,000 autonomous miles. “With every passing mile we’re growing more optimistic that we’re heading toward an achievable goal — a vehicle that operates fully without human intervention,” Google says. (Editor’s note: This technology could solve the problem of seniors who are no longer able to drive but who live in places where no public transportation exists.)

A Battery That ‘Breathes’ Could Power Next-gen Electric Vehicles – (Science Daily – March 16, 2014)
Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) nearly doubled in 2013, but most won’t take you farther than 100 miles on one charge. To boost their range toward a tantalizing 300 miles or more, researchers are reporting new progress on a “breathing” battery that has the potential to one day replace the lithium-ion technology of today’s EVs. “Lithium-air batteries are lightweight and deliver a large amount of electric energy,” said Nobuyuki Imanishi, Ph.D. “Many people expect them to one day be used in electric vehicles.” The main difference between lithium-ion and lithium-air batteries is that the latter replaces the traditional cathode — a key battery component involved in the flow of electric current — with air. That makes the rechargeable metal-air battery lighter with the potential to pack in more energy than its commercial counterpart. While lithium-air batteries have been touted as an exciting technology to watch, they still have some kinks that need to be worked out. Researchers are forging ahead on multiple fronts to get the batteries in top form before they debut under the hood. See also: In the wake of high-profile battery fires, a safer approach emerges.


The Top Twelve “Dirty” Fruits and Vegetables – (KTVZ –  May 1, 2014)
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released its annual “Dirty Dozen” list, which ranks produce most likely to be contaminated with pesticides. EWG analyzed pesticide residue data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration to come up with rankings for these popular fresh produce items. Find out where your favorite fruits and veggies rank on the list.

The Next Start-up Craze: Food 2.0 – (Technology Today – May 7, 2014)
Hampton Creek Foods, a two-year-old company in San Francisco’s South of Market tech hotbed, grinds, clatters, and whirs like a laundromat run amok. That’s the sound of industrial-strength mixers, grinders, and centrifuges churning out what the company hopes is a key ingredient in food 2.0: an animal-free replacement for the chicken egg. The prepared-food counter at Whole Foods began using the startup’s egg-free Just Mayo mayonnaise in September 2013, with four other mainstream grocery chains lined up for the first half of this year. And, thanks to a recent investment round that boosted Hampton Creek’s funding to $30 million and drew in Li Ka-shing, the wealthiest person in Asia, Just Mayo soon will be sold by a large online grocer in Hong Kong. Hampton Creek Foods and other startups have big dreams of restructuring the food supply so that it uses less land, water, energy, and other resources. Hampton Creek’s CEO, Josh Tetrick, wants to do to the $60 billion egg industry what Apple did to the CD business. “If we were starting from scratch, would we get eggs from birds crammed into cages so small they can’t flap their wings, shitting all over each other, eating antibiotic-laden soy and corn to get them to lay 283 eggs per year?” asks the strapping former West Virginia University linebacker. While an egg farm uses large amounts of water and burns 39 calories of energy for every calorie of food produced, Tetrick says he can make plant-based versions on a fraction of the water and only two calories of energy per calorie of food — free of cholesterol, saturated fat, allergens, avian flu, and cruelty to animals. For half the price of an egg.


Preventing an Autonomous-systems Arms Race – (Kurzweil AI – April 21, 2014)
A study by AI researcher Steve Omohundro just published in the Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence (open access) suggests that humans should be very careful to prevent future autonomous technology-based systems from developing anti-social and potentially harmful behavior. Modern military and economic pressures require autonomous systems that can react quickly — and without human input. These systems will be required to make rational decisions for themselves. “When roboticists are asked by nervous onlookers about safety, a common answer is ‘We can always unplug it.’ But imagine this outcome from the chess robot’s point of view. A future in which it is unplugged is a future in which it cannot play or win any games of chess.” Like a human being or animal seeking self-preservation, a rational machine could exert harmful or anti-social behaviors, unless it is designed very carefully.

Killer Robots to Be Debated at UN – (BBC News – May 9, 2014)
Killer robots will be debated during an informal meeting of experts at the United Nations in Geneva. Two robotics experts, Prof. Ronald Arkin and Prof. Noel Sharkey, will debate the efficacy and necessity of killer robots. The meeting will be held during the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). A report on the discussion will be presented to the CCW meeting in November. This will be the first time that the issue of killer robots, or lethal autonomous weapons systems, will be addressed within the CCW. A killer robot is a fully autonomous weapon that can select and engage targets without any human intervention. They do not currently exist but advances in technology are bringing them closer to reality. Those in favor of killer robots believe the current laws of war may be sufficient to address any problems that might emerge if they are ever deployed, arguing that a moratorium, not an outright ban, should be called if this is not the case. However, those who oppose their use believe they are a threat to humanity and any autonomous “kill functions” should be banned. “Autonomous weapons systems cannot be guaranteed to predictably comply with international law,” Prof. Sharkey said.


FBI Plans to Have 52 Million Photos in its NGI Face Recognition Database by Next Year – (Electronic Frontiers Foundation – April 14, 2014)
New documents released by the FBI show that the Bureau is well on its way toward its goal of a fully operational face recognition database by this summer. EFF received these records in response to our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for information on Next Generation Identification (NGI)—the FBI’s massive biometric database that may hold records on as much as one third of the U.S. population. The facial recognition component of this database poses real threats to privacy for all Americans. NGI builds on the FBI’s legacy fingerprint database—which already contains well over 100 million individual records—and has been designed to include multiple forms of biometric data, including palm prints and iris scans in addition to fingerprints and face recognition data. NGI combines all these forms of data in each individual’s file, linking them to personal and biographic data like name, home address, ID number, immigration status, age, race, etc. This immense database is shared with other federal agencies and with the approximately 18,000 tribal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the United States. See also: The Mentality of J Edgar Hoover’s FBI Undergirds Today’s Surveillance State.

This American Refused to Become an FBI Informant – (Mother Jones – May/June, 2014)
This exposé in Mother Jones magazine chronicles the story of an American named Naji Mansour who was living in Kenya. After he refused to become an informant he saw his life, and his family’s life, turned upside down. He was detained, repeatedly interrogated and ultimately forced into exile in Sudan, unable to see his children for years. Mansour began recording his conversations with the FBI. When Mansour declined to be an FBI informant, he was warned that he “might get hit by a car”. Listen to a recording of a conversation here or read full transcript.

Gangster State America – (Counter Punch – May 6, 2014)
This article was written by former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Treasury Paul Craig Roberts. He observes: The US government is used to impose agendas that result from the symbiotic relationship between the neoconservative ideology of US world hegemony and the economic interests of powerful private interest groups, such as Wall Street, the military/security complex, the Israel Lobby, agribusiness, and extractive industries (energy, mining, and timber). Dollar imperialism, threats, bribes, and wars are means by which US hegemony is extended. These agendas are pursued without the knowledge or approval of the American people and in spite of their opposition. Professor Martin Gilens at Princeton University and Professor Benjamin Page of Northwestern University have examined American governance and have concluded that the US is an oligarchy ruled by powerful rich private interest groups and that the US government has only a superficial resemblance to a democracy. “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence; when a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose.”


Kissinger Papers Reveal Death Squads – (YouTube – April 7, 2014)
One year after the release of the Kissinger Papers by Wikileaks, the full impact of those documents is becoming clear. According to the documents, Henry Kissinger personally ordered the creation of death squads in South America that were responsible for thousands of deaths. In 1973, the National Security adviser directed the assassination of the president of Chile. Eleven days after the murder of Salvador Allende, Kissinger became Secretary of State. The late leader was the first Marxist elected to head a nation by open elections. One year later, the Kissinger papers reveal he managed the invasion of Cypress by Turkey. The invaders were supplied by the United States and trained by NATO. Kissinger also played the role of unofficial adviser to Dick Cheney in 2003, assisting in planning for the invasion of Iraq. The source documents are publicly available on a searchable database.

Israel Won’t Stop Spying on the U.S. – (Newsweek – May 6, 2014)
When the National Security Agency was caught eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone, it was considered a rude way to treat a friend. Now U.S. intelligence officials are saying—albeit very quietly, behind closed doors on Capitol Hill—that our Israeli “friends” have gone too far with their spying operations here. According to classified briefings on legislation that would lower visa restrictions on Israeli citizens, Jerusalem’s efforts to steal U.S. secrets under the cover of trade missions and joint defense technology contracts have “crossed red lines.” Israel’s espionage activities in America are unrivaled and unseemly, counterspies have told members of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees, going far beyond activities by other close allies, such as Germany, France, the U.K. and Japan. A congressional staffer familiar with a briefing last January called the testimony “very sobering…alarming…even terrifying.” Another staffer called it “damaging.” The Jewish state’s primary target: America’s industrial and technical secrets. “No other country close to the United States continues to cross the line on espionage like the Israelis do,” said a former congressional staffer who attended another classified briefing in late 2013, one of several in recent months given by officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the State Department, the FBI and the National Counterintelligence Directorate. In view of this, see also: NSA Shares Raw Intelligence Including Americans’ Data with Israel. And see: New Snowden Document Implies NSA May Be Putting Israel’s Security Ahead of America’s.


Resell Jeans? Resale Goes Beyond Used Cars – (Post Bulletin – May 9, 2014)
As the latest reflection of the tough economy, Americans increasingly are considering the resale value when they shop for everything from jeans to handbags. The habit is in part due to a growing number of web sites that make it easy for shoppers to buy and resell pre-owned goods. Just as people lease a new car every couple of years so they’re always riding in style, reselling clothes is a way for Americans to trade up or splurge without spending a lot of additional cash. The trend also is a consequence of the escalating cost of luxury. Rising prices of designer merchandise in recent years have tested the willingness of even affluent shoppers to pay full price. The price tag of a classic Chanel handbag, for example, is now $4,900 this year, up from $2,250 in 2007. The size of the resale market is tiny: about 10% of overall luxury goods — including clothing, handbags, accessories and home furnishings, are sold in the aftermarket — with about 1% of pre-worn goods sold online, estimates Forrester Research’s Sucharita Mulpuru. But data suggests it’s a fast growing area of retail: Shoppers seem to have resale value in mind. According to a survey conducted last year by market research firm The Intelligence Group’s Cassandra Report, 44% of 900 shoppers between the ages of 14 and 34 think of resale value when they purchase things like electronics, furniture and clothing. Luxury sites like Portero and TheRealReal, the largest seller of authenticated luxury resale goods with business expected to reach $100 million this year, have staff to make sure designer goods are authentic.


Astronomers Find Sun’s Sibling Star – (Kurzweil AI – May 12, 2014)
A team of researchers led by astronomer Ivan Ramirez of The University of Texas at Austin has identified the first “sibling” of the sun — a star almost certainly born from the same cloud of gas and dust as our star. Ramirez’s methods will help astronomers find other solar siblings, which could lead to an understanding of how and where our sun formed, and how our solar system became hospitable for life. There is a chance, “small, but not zero,” Ramirez said, that these solar sibling stars could host planets that harbor life. In their earliest days within their birth cluster, he explains, collisions could have knocked chunks off of planets, and these fragments could have traveled between solar systems, and perhaps even may have been responsible for bringing primitive life to Earth. “So it could be argued that solar siblings are key candidates in the search for extraterrestrial life,” Ramirez said.


40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World – (Twisted Sifter – August 13, 2013)
If you’re a visual learner, then you know maps, charts and infographics can really help bring data and information to life. Maps can make a point resonate with readers and this collection aims to do just that. Some of these maps may surprise you and you’ll learn something new. A few are important to know, some interpret and display data in a beautiful or creative way, and a few may even make you chuckle or shake your head. For example: where Google Street View is (and is not) available and a map of Pangea with current international borders. (Pangea was the supercontinent that existed during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras, forming about 300 million years ago when the entire world’s land mass was a single continent. It began to break apart around 200 million years ago.)

The American Middle Class Is No Longer the World’s Richest – (New York Times – April 22, 2014)
While the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many of their global peers, a New York Times analysis shows that across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades. Median income in Canada pulled into a tie with median United States income in 2010 and has most likely surpassed it since then. After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada — substantially behind in 2000 — now appear to be higher than in the United States. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans. The numbers, based on surveys conducted over the past 35 years, offer some of the most detailed publicly available comparisons for different income groups in different countries over time. They suggest that most American families are paying a steep price for high and rising income inequality. Although economic growth in the United States continues to be as strong as in many other countries, or stronger, a small percentage of American households is fully benefiting from it.


New Family of Recyclable Plastics Created by Accident – (BBC News – May 15, 2014)
Researchers have developed a collection of new plastics that are recyclable and adaptable – and the discovery began with a laboratory mistake. They include strong, stiff plastics and flexible gels that can mend themselves if torn. The findings could lead to cheaper and greener cars, planes and electronics. It is the first time that durable “thermoset” plastic has been produced in a recyclable form. Dr Jeanette Garcia, from IBM’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, stumbled upon the first new class of thermosets in many years when she accidentally left one of three components out of a reaction. “I had this chunk of plastic, and I had to figure out what it was,” Dr Garcia said. “I had to smash my round-bottomed flask with a hammer.” That chunk of plastic, produced from unexpectedly simple ingredients, proved to be tremendously hard and stable. Crucially, it could be digested in acid, reverting to its original components. This digestion reaction allows the chemical building blocks, or monomers, to be reused. Because they are strong and light-weight, thermosets are used throughout modern cars and aircraft, often mixed with carbon nanotubes to form composites. Some 50% of the new Airbus A350 jet, for example, will be made from composites. Yet until now, none of this thermoset plastic could be recycled.

Nanotech Poster Absorbs Pollution – (BBC News – May 15, 2014)
A scientist and an award winning poet, both at the University of Sheffield, have made a giant poster that uses nanotechnology to gobble up pollution. It can absorb the poisonous compounds from around 20 cars each day if you put it by a busy road. Prof. Tony Ryan (the science expert) and Prof. Simon Armitage (the words expert) came up with the idea to highlight one possible way to cut disease and save lives by taking poisonous compounds from the air in our towns and cities. First the science bit: The 10m by 20m poster is coated with microscopic, pollution-eating nanoparticles of titanium dioxide. It’s the same material used for self-cleaning windows, apparently. Prof. Ryan told me that when light hits them they get excited, react with oxygen, and wash the pollution out of the air. It doesn’t get rid of all the nasties from traffic, but it will absorb the nitrogen oxides, which you can’t see or feel but which have been linked to breathing problems including asthma. Professor Ryan comments: “If every banner, flag or advertising poster in the country did this, we’d have much better air quality. “It would add less than £100 to the cost of a poster and would turn advertisements into catalysts in more ways than one.” He’s also working on another idea, which is to add the nanoparticles to laundry detergent, so that your clothes soak up these poisons while you walk along. (Editor’s note: Putting nanoparticles in contact with the skin has received too little research to conclude that it has no long term negative effects.)


Brain-scanning Devices Will Revolutionize Advertising – (Dezeen – May 15, 2014)
Data collected via Google Glass could soon be used to deliver advertising tailored to the wearer’s taste, mood, and location, according to Tony Gaitatzis, a leading figure in the wearable technology sector. “The potential is incredible and hyper-targeted to the point where it is no longer advertising,” said Gaitatzis, who is chief technology officer at PND, a company developing wearable technology that monitors the human brain. PND is developing PND Wearable – a “personal neuro device” that gathers information on the wearer’s moods, emotions and health. This data could be used by advertisers to target wearers of Google Glass head-mounted computers. When combined with the geolocation features built into Glass, the devices could work out how wearers feel about brands they are engaging with, Gaitatzis explained. Google – which has made billions of dollars from contextual advertising on traditional web platforms – doesn’t allow staff or partners to mention the potential use of Glass for advertising. But he said the device could “absolutely” be used for that purpose. He said, “If you can get the individual’s personal taste coupled with all the other information you can get now with these sensors such as location, time, their social media – oh man, the potential is incredible.”


Infographic Reveals The World’s Deadliest Animal — (Business Insider – April 28, 2014)
Bill Gates recently posted this graphic on his blog. It shows how many people are killed by different species of animal every year. “The number of mosquito-caused deaths is approximately 725,000 per year. Other than humans killing humans during periods of war, most years, the mosquito wins by a landslide. The reason? Mosquitoes carry terrible diseases, including malaria (which kills more than 600,000 people every year); dengue fever virus; Rift Valley fever virus; yellow fever; chikungunya virus; West Nile virus; Lymphatic filariasis; and Japanese encephalitis.

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

Spurious Correlations – (Tyler Vigen website – no date)
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” – attributed by Mark Twain to the 19th-century British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881). This is an amusing website devoted to exposing the power of statistics to show the correlation of a great number of data points that have nothing to do with each other. Seriously. And these are legitimate statistics taken from respected sources. For example, US spending on science, space, and technology from 1999 to 2009 has a 99.2% positive correlation with suicides by hanging, strangulation and suffocation. Here’s another one: Per capita consumption of mozzarella cheese in the U.S. from 2000 to 2009 has a 95.9% correlation with civil engineering doctorates awarded in the U.S. Not yet convinced that statistics can go one better than damned lies? Check out these correlations.


Paul Smith — Typewriter Artist – (YouTube – August 24, 2008)
Paul Smith was born on September 21, 1921, with severe cerebral palsy. Not only did he beat the odds of a life with spastic cerebral palsy, a disability that impeded his speech and mobility but he taught himself to become a master artist despite having no formal education as a child. “When typing, Paul used his left hand to steady his right one.  Since he couldn’t press two keys at the same time, he almost always locked the shift key down and made his pictures using the symbols at the top of the number keys. In other words, his pictures were based on these characters: @ # $ % ^ & * ( )_ . Across seven decades, Paul created hundreds of pictures. He often gave the originals away. Sometimes, but not always, he kept or received a copy for his own records. As his mastery of the typewriter grew, he developed techniques to create shadings, colors, and textures that made his work resemble pencil or charcoal drawings. The breadth and sophistication of his work demonstrates (yet again) that, in the hands of an accomplished artist, absolutely anything can be an artistic medium.


Everybody, soon or late, sits down to a banquet of consequences. ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

A special thanks to: Bernard Calil, Frank DeMarco, 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

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