FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- Up to 50% of Earth’s water is older than our solar system.
- A newly discovered antibiotic can eliminate pathogens without encountering any detectable resistance — a finding holds great promise for treating chronic infections like tuberculosis and those caused by MRSA.
- A novel nanowire coating for clothes can both generate heat and trap the heat from our bodies better than regular clothes.
- A new device increases the short-term storage time for fruit and vegetables for farmers and produce vendors in developing countries without access to electricity.
by John L. Petersen
What’s Real These Days?
About three decades ago I remember seeing an interesting bar graph that historically tracked the number of people a single individual could kill based upon the “technology” that was available at the time. It started with rocks and clubs, evolved to bows and arrows and catapults throwing boulders and fiery liquids, advanced with muskets and then machine guns, moved through aircraft with bombs and terminated with nuclear weapons, drawing an exponential curve rapidly growing over time. I was impressed, as I thought about it, with the unique period in which we are living where one person could kill hundreds of thousands of people with the single application of something like a nuclear bomb . . . and wondered where all of this was going.
That was long enough ago that the weapons were only kinetic and the statistics related to physical deaths, and so I (and everyone else) was limited to thinking about devices that blew things up. The advertised purpose of weapons is to produce behavior change, so big weapons and events were needed to get large-scale response (e.g. “Remember the Maine!, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, MAD).
Getting the word out is a key part of the equation. If the people don’t know what happened the effect is limited. It’s obvious that if you can shape the message related to an event you can significantly influence the response to it, so telling people what happened has always been an integral component of the big-event/big-response equation. In the past the communications options were clearly defined (newspapers, radio, TV, books, etc.), and significant effort was expended by governments and corporations to control and manipulate those outlets to their ends.
Then the World Wide Web showed up and now the equation is changing.
We as individuals don’t know anything for sure except for what happens within the space within which we can see, hear, feel, etc. Everything else we think we know is communicated – mediated — by and through something or someone else. In a sense, we only know what we are told.
OK, so now consider this.
Last week icy weather across the US directly contributed to at least 5 people dying in car wrecks. It was also a week where as many as 2000 people in Africa were killed by the extremist group Boko Haram. An Israeli airstrike killed 5 Hezbollah fighters in southern Syria, significant numbers of people were killed by American and allied strikes against ISIS, ISIS killed a bunch of people, 16 people were murdered in the city of Chicago and three gunman killed 12 magazine employees in Paris.
You may not have heard much about the other deaths, but 12 people dying in Paris generated an extraordinary amount of news coverage and produced an inordinate response, compared to the other dying that was taking place so many other places. How does it work that a dozen people dying in one place produces so much more fear, stress and anxiety than almost all of the concurrent events across the planet that result in equal or more mayhem?
Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery noticed the same thing, (though from a different perspective) in his article:
Waving in the first Row
THE THREE Islamic terrorists could have been very proud of themselves, if they had lived to see it.
By committing two attacks (quite ordinary ones by Israeli standards) they spread panic throughout France, brought millions of people onto the streets, and gathered more than 40 heads of states in Paris. They changed the landscape of the French capital and other French cities by mobilizing thousands of soldiers and police officers to guard Jewish and other potential targets. For several days they dominated the news throughout the world.
Three terrorists, probably acting alone. Three!!!
Look at that. The media selected and amplified this event so very much that unlike all of the other similar things that were happening across the planet, the Paris event became a global event. And the purpose was, what? The reason all of this attention was given to the Paris shootings was because it was a threat to freedom of speech and expression, right? That’s certainly what they said.
But wait . . . what is this?
France Arrests a Comedian for His Facebook Comments, Showing the Sham of the West’s ‘Free Speech’ Celebration By Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept
Forty-eight hours after hosting a massive march under the banner of free expression, France opened a criminal investigation of a controversial French comedian for a Facebook post he wrote about the Charlie Hebdo attack, and then this morning, arrested him for that post on charges of “defending terrorism.” The comedian, Dieudonné (above), previously sought elective office in France on what he called an “anti-Zionist” platform, has had his show banned by numerous government officials in cities throughout France, and has been criminally prosecuted several times before for expressing ideas banned in that country.
The apparently criminal viewpoint he posted on Facebook declared: “Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly.” Investigators concluded that this was intended to mock the “Je Suis Charlie” slogan and express support for the perpetrator of the Paris supermarket killings (whose last name was “Coulibaly”). Expressing that opinion is evidently a crime in the Republic of Liberté, which prides itself on a line of 20th Century intellectuals – from Sartre and Genet to Foucault and Derrida – whose hallmark was leaving no orthodoxy or convention unmolested, no matter how sacred.
Since that glorious “free speech” march, France has reportedly opened 54 criminal cases for “condoning terrorism.” AP reported this morning that “France ordered prosecutors around the country to crack down on hate speech, anti-Semitism and glorifying terrorism.”
As pernicious as this arrest and related “crackdown” on some speech obviously is, it provides a critical value: namely, it underscores the utter scam that was this week’s celebration of free speech in the west. The day before the Charlie Hebdo attack, I coincidentally documented the multiple cases in the west – including in the U.S. – where Muslims have been prosecuted and even imprisoned for their political speech. Vanishingly few of this week’s bold free expression mavens have ever uttered a peep of protest about any of those cases – either before the Charlie Hebdo attack or since. That’s because “free speech,” in the hands of many westerners, actually means: it is vital that the ideas I like be protected, and the right to offend groups I dislike be cherished; anything else is fair game.
( . . . continue article)
Maybe this is not about free speech. Maybe this is about fear – generating a constant drumbeat of apprehension and anxiety to produce a certain kind of behavior. Why is it that a couple times a year, almost like clockwork, somewhere there is a “terrorist” incident in a western country that shifts the news machine into high gear, reminding everyone that they really are threatened and should be fearful? It wouldn’t be hard to believe that it’s for political or economic objectives. But it just keeps coming.
Even former CIA executives, like Haviland Smith, are questioning the underlying premises of what is going on here. Consider this.
The wages of fear
If one looks back carefully at the post-9/11 period here in America, all related governmental activities are claimed to have been undertaken in the name of increasing the safety of the American people.
For its part, the press, probably because of the ceaseless demands of a 24-hour news cycle, has been on top of any story that smacked of danger, terrorism or counterterrorism, to the point where terrorism was clearly their priority topic.
After 9/11, our lives were touched, not necessarily positively, by legislation on immigration, deportations, tourism and border security. Then, think of the NSA, warrantless wiretaps and covert intrusions into our lives. In addition, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act has turned air travel into a nightmare for passengers and cost us additional billions of dollars. And consider the Patriot Act, which many believe has unnecessarily complicated the federal response to terrorism and created counterproductive duplications and levels of authority.
In 15 years, over 250 governmental agencies were created or reorganized. Over 1,200 government agencies and just under 2,000 private companies are now involved in counterterrorism.
And on the military side, estimates are that our military invasions in the Middle East have cost us multiple trillions of dollars. Apparently any money spent on counterterrorism is well-spent.
We are continually reminded that these post-9/11 defenses have prevented all serious terrorist attacks against us. Yet we have paid heavily in other ways. We have lived in an ongoing climate of fear and concern about future terrorist attacks here at home. If you don’t believe this, just look at the U.S. press coverage of the terrorist attack on the publication Charlie Hebdo in Paris. It is, to say the least, pervasive.
On CNN, Wolf Blitzer exclaimed excitedly, “What a story this is!” For its part, just about every conceivable element of the federal government is exhorting us to “be vigilant.”
A charitable soul would say that all the legislation passed, all the money spent, all the press coverage has been designed to somehow make us safer. But it has also made us more afraid and more malleable, which is the goal of the terrorists. Nothing could possibly have made them happier.
There is an alternate theory available that also fits the facts of the past 15 years. That is that it has been a conscious aim of U.S. government, an aim augmented almost inadvertently by the U.S. press, to keep Americans on edge about the imminent threat of terrorism.
When fear is a dominant factor in peoples’ lives, people change. They are more tolerant of policies they would normally never accept. They will put up with the loss of basic constitutional and human rights for any sort of increased sense of personal security. In a fearful society, the people are more docile, more ready to accept a diminution of their rights.
What makes it all the more worrisome is that the Paris attack has brought a chorus of voices from our legislators which, if nothing else, has energized our press and their fellow politicians into fits of coverage.
In this context, it might be well for Americans to remember the judicious advice of Benjamin Franklin, who admonished pre-revolutionary Americans that “those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
So there is a move afoot, either spontaneous or, more likely, quietly encouraged by the government and energetically pursued by the press, to persuade us that terrorist disaster is just around the corner. One of our august senators just suggested that attacks like Paris could come as often as weekly.
Just what does our government mean when it encourages our “vigilance”? Are we to profile people we take to be Muslims? If so, what do they really look like? Are we to report to the authorities activities that we, as uninformed and inexpert individuals, decide are dangerous or suspicious by people we think might be Muslims? Should we keep an eye on the mosques?
But then, if we are truly interested in the whys and wherefores of Middle East terrorism, and if we do not fear the truth, we might even take the time to ask ourselves honestly why the situation exists as it does. What roles have our Middle East polices and our military invasions played in the Muslim view of and policies toward America? If we can’t do that as a nation, we will forever be vulnerable to the kind of fear that now grips the West.
Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served in Europe and the Middle East, as Chief of the Counter-terrorism Staff and as Executive Assistant in the Director’s Office.
Wow! Did this former CIA guy really say: “There is an alternate theory available that also fits the facts of the past 15 years. That is that it has been a conscious aim of U.S. government, an aim augmented almost inadvertently by the U.S. press, to keep Americans on edge about the imminent threat of terrorism”.? Think about that for a minute.
If you asked yourself, “How would they do that?”, then you should read this next piece by Larry Chin and see if it makes any sense to you. Consider the fact that over 50% of Americans now believe that 9/11 was a put-up job and nothing like what we have been told by our government. Also, think about the details that Chin catalogs. (I always wondered why terrorists and mass killers kept journals that explained it all.)
“Je Suis CIA”
Since 9/11, the imperial playbook has consisted of a favorite and time-tested tactic: the false flag operation.
Carry out or facilitate a spectacular atrocity. Blame it on the enemy of choice. Issue a lie-infested official narrative, and have the corporate media repeat the lie. Rile up ignorant militant crowds, stoke the hatred, and war-mongering imperial policy planners and their criminal functionaries get what they want: war with the public stamp of approval.
Here we are again.
The Charlie Hebdo incident is being sold as “the French 9/11”. It certainly is, in all of the most tragic ways: France, like the United States on 9/11, has been used. The masses of the world have been deceived, and march in lockstep to NATO’s again.
All signs lead from French intelligence back to Washington—and Langley, Virginia—directly and indirectly. Red herrings and deceptions comprise the official narrative.
The Al-Qaeda narrative, the classic CIA deception, gets fresh facelift. The fact that Al-Qaeda is CIA-created Anglo-American military-intelligence is ignored. The agenda behind the ISIS war—a massive and elaborate regional CIA false flag operation—registers even less.
The Charlie Hebdo terrorists have ties to Anglo-American intelligence and the Pentagon that the masses do not bother to think about. They are also tied to the (conveniently dead) 9/11-connected Al-Qaeda mastermind/CIA military-intelligence asset Anwar Al-Awlaki. These and other obvious connections to Washington and the CIA do not raise alarm bells among the ardent ones waving “Je Suis Charlie” signs (which “magically” appeared, and seem to have been mass-produced in advance).
Signs of an inside job and a still unfolding cover-up are significant, from pristine, undamaged passports found on scene to the convenient suicide of Helric Fredou, the Paris police commissioner in charge of the Hebdo investigation.
The Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly were well known by French authorities, French intelligence and the CIA. The Kouachis were tracked and monitored—guided—over the course of many years, arrested many times, yet were allowed to continue training and plotting with fellow Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, etc. These are telltale signs of a guided military-intelligence operation. A blatantly obvious terror cell, known to authorities, “drops out of sight”, and is then set loose at an appropriate moment. And then executed.
None of these things, which alarm seasoned observers, registers among the emotional masses; the lemmings who willfully refuse to address its real source: the architects of Anglo-American war policy.
Only the NATO war agenda benefits from any of this. (. . . continue)
Wait a minute, you say. Our government wouldn’t do that!
Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Secretary of Treasury and the designer of Reganomics thinks so. Roberts is a solid citizen and crisp thinker and asks some very important questions about all of this.
False Flags, Charlie Hebdo and Tsarnaev’s Trial: Cui bono?
According to news reports, police found the ID of Said Kouachi at the scene of the Charlie Hebdo shooting. Does this sound familiar? Remember, authorities claimed to have found the undamaged passport of one of the alleged 9/11 hijackers among the massive pulverized ruins of the twin towers. Once the authorities discover that the stupid Western peoples will believe any transparent lie, the authorities use the lie again and again. The police claim to have discovered a dropped ID is a sure indication that the attack on Charlie Hebdo was an inside job and that people identified by NSA as hostile to the Western wars against Muslims are going to be framed for an inside job designed to pull France firmly back under Washington’s thumb. [Link]
There are two ways to look at the alleged terrorist attack on the French satirical magazine. Charlie Hebdo. One is that in the English speaking world, or much of it, the satire would have been regarded as “hate speech,” and the satirists arrested. But in France Muslims are excluded from the privileged category, took offense at the satire, and retaliated.
Why would Muslims bother? By now Muslims must be accustomed to Western hypocrisy and double standards. Little doubt that Muslims are angry that they do not enjoy the protections other minorities receive, but why retaliate for satire but not for France’s participation in Washington’s wars against Muslims in which hundreds of thousands have died? Isn’t being killed more serious than being satirized?
Another way of seeing the attack is as an attack designed to shore up France’s vassal status to Washington. The suspects can be both guilty and patsies. Just remember all the terrorist plots created by the FBI that served to make the terrorism threat real to Americans. [Link]  (. . . . continue)
If you’ve stayed with me this far, let me offer you one more timely piece. Monday was Martin Luther King day here in the U.S., the holiday that we observe to remember the leader of the civil rights movement in this country. It was also the day when this article started making the rounds.
Court Decision: U.S. “Government Agencies” Found Guilty in Martin Luther King’s Assassination
Coretta Scott King: “We have done what we can to reveal the truth, and we now urge you as members of the media, and we call upon elected officials, and other persons of influence to do what they can to share the revelation of this case to the widest possible audience.” – King Family Press Conference, Dec. 9, 1999.
From the King Center on the family’s civil trial that found the US government guilty in Martin’s assassination: After four weeks of testimony and over 70 witnesses in a civil trial in Memphis, Tennessee, twelve jurors reached a unanimous verdict on December 8, 1999 after about an hour of deliberations that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. In a press statement held the following day in Atlanta, Mrs. Coretta Scott King welcomed the verdict, saying,
“There is abundant evidence of a major high level conspiracy in the assassination of my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. And the civil court’s unanimous verdict has validated our belief. I wholeheartedly applaud the verdict of the jury and I feel that justice has been well served in their deliberations. This verdict is not only a great victory for my family, but also a great victory for America. It is a great victory for truth itself. It is important to know that this was a SWIFT verdict, delivered after about an hour of jury deliberation.” (. . . read more)
An Internet of Treacherous Things – (Technology Review – January 13, 2015)
Plenty of science-fiction stories feature ordinary household appliances staging a revolt. In an episode of Futurama, toasters and home robots rise up against their human oppressors. Two trends are now starting to make such scenarios seem less far-fetched. One is the wave of Internet of things devices being developed for homes. The other is the increased hacking of home networking gear—as demonstrated by a zombie horde of home network routers discovered recently. Brian Krebs, a security researcher and writer, authored a recent post concerning hackers who had built a network called Lizard Stressor that other people can use to take websites offline, either to create a nuisance or for criminal purposes. Networks of personal computers or servers being turned into “bots” are nothing new. What Krebs uncovered, however, is that Lizard Stressor relies on routers used in homes and commercial networks. Infected or compromised devices that are connected to a home network could be used for more nefarious ends. They could provide a starting point for breaking into personal computers, or be used to capture data passing over the home network, including passwords or credit card details. The ease with which these routers were compromised is perhaps not surprising. It’s well documented that most home routers ship with easy-to-exploit software or with an administrative control panel that uses a default username and password such as “admin.” Smart devices typically include similar networking features. And as more home appliances are computerized and connected to the Internet, hackers could turn their attention to these new targets.
Up to 50% of Earth’s Water is Older Than Our Solar System – (Daily Galaxy – January 12, 2015)
Were the molecules in comet ices and terrestrial oceans born with the system itself—in the planet-forming disk of dust and gas that circled the young sun 4.6 billion years ago? Or did the water originate even earlier—in the cold, ancient molecular cloud that spawned the sun and that planet-forming disk? Up to half of the water on Earth is likely older than the solar system itself, University of Michigan astronomers theorize. The researchers’ work helps to settle a debate about just how far back in galactic history our planet and our solar system’s water formed. Between 30 – 50% came from the molecular cloud, says Ilse Cleeves, a doctoral student in astronomy at University of Michigan. That would make it roughly a million years older than the solar system.To arrive at that estimate, Cleeves and Ted Bergin, a professor of astronomy, simulated the chemistry that went on as our solar system formed. They focused on the ratio of two slightly different varieties of water—the common kind and a heavier version. Today, comets and Earth’s oceans hold particular ratios of heavy water—higher ratios than the sun contains. “Chemistry tells us that Earth received a contribution of water from some source that was very cold—only tens of degrees above absolute zero, while the sun being substantially hotter has erased this deuterium, or heavy water, fingerprint,” Bergin said. Cleeves said, “If water formation had been a local process that occurs in individual stellar systems, the amount of water and other important chemical ingredients necessary for the formation of life might vary from system to system. But because some of the chemically rich ices from the molecular cloud are directly inherited, young planetary systems have access to these important ingredients. “Based on our simulations and our growing astronomical understanding, the formation of water from hydrogen and oxygen atoms is a ubiquitous component of the early stages of stellar birth,” added Bergin. ”
Sun May Determine Lifespan at Birth – (TerraDaily – January 7, 2015)
In an unusual study, Norwegian scientists said people born during periods of solar calm may live longer, as much as five years on average, than those who enter the world when the Sun is feisty. The team overlaid demographic data of Norwegians born between 1676 and 1878 with observations of the Sun. The lifespan of those born in periods of solar maximum — interludes marked by powerful flares and geomagnetic storms — was “5.2 years shorter” on average than those born during a solar minimum, they found. There was a stronger effect on girls than boys, it said. The team, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, based their study on demographic data from church records of some 8,600 individuals from two different mid-Norwegian populations, one poor and one wealthy. Being born in a solar maximum period also “significantly reduced” fertility for women born into the poor category, but not for wealthier women or for men, said the authors. It was not clear whether the same would necessarily hold true for people born in the modern era. One explanation could be ultraviolet-induced degradation of the B vitamin folate, a shortage of which before birth has been linked to higher rates of illness and death, the team theorized. Further investigation is needed, they said, to test whether the results would be repeated in people of different skin colors, and for those living at different latitudes. “This study is the first to emphasize the importance of UVR (ultraviolet radiation) in early life,” the authors said.
A Brain-Computer Interface That Works Wirelessly – (Technology Review – January 14, 2015)
A few paralyzed patients could soon be using a wireless brain-computer interface able to stream their thought commands as quickly as a home Internet connection. After more than a decade of engineering work, researchers at Brown University and a Utah company, Blackrock Microsystems, have commercialized a wireless device that can be attached to a person’s skull and transmit via radio thought commands collected from a brain implant. Blackrock says it will seek clearance for the system from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so that the mental remote control can be tested in volunteers, possibly as soon as this year. A major limit to an earlier prototype was that patients could only use the prosthetic with the help of a crew of laboratory assistants. The brain signals were collected through a cable screwed into a port on their skull, then fed along wires to a bulky rack of signal processors. “Using this in the home setting is inconceivable or impractical when you are tethered to a bunch of electronics,” says Arto Nurmikko, the Brown professor of engineering who led the design and fabrication of the wireless system. The new interface does away with much of that wiring by processing brain data inside a device about the size of an automobile gas cap. It is attached to the skull and wired to electrodes inside the brain. Inside the device is a processor to amplify the faint electrical spikes emitted by neurons, circuits to digitize the information, and a radio to beam it a distance of a few meters to a receiver. There, the information is available as a control signal; say to move a cursor across a computer screen.
The High Tech Future of the Uterus – (Atlantic – January, 2015)
Following the recent success of the world’s first uterus transplant, scientists are pursuing the new frontier of the bioengineered womb. In September, a 36-year-old Swedish woman gave birth to a baby boy in the first-ever birth from a transplanted uterus. The woman, whose identity remains anonymous, was born without a uterus but with functioning ovaries. She is one of nine women to participate in a transplant study led by Mats Brännström, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. The uterus was donated by the woman’s 61-year-old friend, and conception was achieved by in-vitro fertilization, after which the embryo was implanted in the woman’s newly transplanted uterus. Now that the hurdle of the transplanted uterus has been overcome, researchers have turned to a technology borrowed straight from sci-fi: a bioengineered uterus. Doctors in the burgeoning field of regenerative medicine produce organs and parts of organs in a few different ways. One is by taking a small number of stem cells from a patient’s blood or bone marrow, and then amplifying and shaping the growth of those cells. Another involves taking a moderate number of the patient’s own uterine cells, and then de-differentiating them, meaning that they are converted from highly specialized uterine cells back into less specialized cells to allow cellular growth (called “cellular amplification”) in the lab. The cells are then applied to a uterus-shaped scaffold. When transplanted, they re-differentiate back into specialized uterine cells.
Colorado Funds Medical Marijuana Research, a First – (New York Times – December 17, 2014)
Colorado will spend more than $8 million researching marijuana’s medical potential. The grants awarded by the Colorado Board of Health will go to studies on whether marijuana helps treat epilepsy, brain tumors, Parkinson’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of the studies still need federal approval. Though the awards are relatively small, researchers say they’re a big step forward. While several other federal studies currently in the works look at marijuana’s health effects, all the Colorado studies are focused on whether marijuana actually helps. “This is the first time we’ve had government money to look at the efficacy of marijuana, not the harms of marijuana,” said Dr. Suzanne Sisley, a Scottsdale, Arizona, psychiatrist who will help run a study on marijuana for veterans with PTSD. Federal approval to study marijuana’s medical potential requires permission of the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and either the National Institutes of Health or the Department of Health and Human Services. Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C., allow marijuana use by people with various medical conditions. But under federal law, pot is considered a drug with no medical use and doctors cannot prescribe it. Dr. Larry Wolk, Colorado’s Chief Medical Officer, says the lack of research on marijuana’s medical value leaves sick people guessing about how pot may help them and what doses to take.
3D Printing Used to Help Fight Malaria in Zambia – (3ders – January 11, 2015)
A video released by Vanderbilt University (embedded in the article) shares both good news, and bad. The bad news is that every day, approximately 1300 children die of malaria. The mosquito-borne infectious disease is both preventable and treatable, yet it continues to spread in areas of the world were access to basic healthcare facilities and education is limited. The good news, however, is that researchers from the Vanderbilt-Zambia Network for Innovation and Global Health Technology, based in Nashville, Tennessee, have teamed up with local scientist Pricsilla Lumano-Mulenga to apply 3D printing technologies in the battle against Malaria and other life-threatening diseases. They are currently developing a malaria diagnostic device that enhances the texts that already exist on the market. “These tests work great because they don’t require any electricity, they don’t require clean water or advanced technical skills,” said Conrad. “What we found is that our process could enhance the best tests to make them perform even better, and it could enhance the lower performing tests and make them perform more adequately.” With 3D printing technologies, distance is truly a minor obstacle. “We could actually prototype and design devices here in our labs at Vanderbilt and then transfer those design files over email to our collaborators in Zambia,” explains Conrad. Scientists in Zambia could then print them out and be field-testing them within a day. See also: Youbionic Developing Low-cost 3D-printed Bionic Hand.
Finally, an Antibiotic That Kills Pathogens Like MRSA Without Resistance – (KurzweilAI – )
Northeastern University researchers have dis¬cov¬ered an antibi¬otic called “teixobactin” that elim¬i¬nates pathogens without encoun¬tering any detectable resistance — a finding that chal¬lenges long-held sci¬en¬tific beliefs and holds great promise for treating chronic infec¬tions like tuber¬cu¬losis and those caused by MRSA. Pathogens’ resis¬tance to antibi¬otics is causing a public health crisis, according to Pro¬fessor Kim Lewis. Lewis’ lab played a key role in ana¬lyzing and testing teixobactin for resis¬tance from pathogens. Lewis said this marks the first dis¬covery of an antibi¬otic to which resis¬tance by muta¬tions of pathogens have not been identified. The research team says teixobactin’s dis¬covery presents a promising new oppor¬tu¬nity to treat chronic infec¬tions caused by staphy¬lo¬coccus aureus (MRSA), the “superbug” that infects 1 mil¬lion Amer¬i¬cans annu¬ally and which is highly resis¬tant to antibi¬otics; and tuber¬cu¬losis, which requires a com¬bi¬na¬tion of ther¬a¬pies, with neg¬a¬tive side effects. Their method for growing uncul¬tured bac¬teria in their nat¬ural envi¬ron¬ment is based on the iChip, a minia¬ture device North¬eastern biology pro¬fessor Slava Epsteinn’s team cre¬ated that can iso¬late and help grow single cells in their nat¬ural envi¬ron¬ment, pro¬viding researchers with much improved access to uncul¬tured bac¬teria. Using this method, they have so far assem¬bled about 50,000 strains of uncul¬tured bac¬teria and dis¬cov¬ered 25 new antibi¬otics, of which teixobactin is the latest and most inter¬esting, Lewis said. Going for¬ward, the research team hopes to develop teixobactin into a drug. See here for more about how the iChip works.
Hibernating Hints at Dementia Therapy – (BBC News – January 15, 2015)
Bears, hedgehogs and mice destroy brain connections as they enter hibernation, and repair them as they wake up. A UK team discovered “cold-shock chemicals” that trigger the process. They used theses to prevent brain cells dying in animals, and say that restoring lost memories may eventually be possible. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and other neurodegenerative disorders, synapses are lost. This inevitably progresses to whole brain cells dying. But during hibernation, 20-30% of the connections in the brain – synapses – are culled as the body preserves precious resources over winter. And remarkably those connections are reformed in the spring, with no loss of memory. In experiments, non-hibernating mice with Alzheimer’s disease and prion disease were cooled so their body temperature dropped from 37C to 16-18C. Young diseased mice lost synapses during the chill and regained them as they warmed up. Old mice also lost brain connections, but were unable to re-establish them. The study found levels of a “cold-shock” chemical called RBM3 soared when young mice were chilled, but not in old mice. It suggested RBM3 was key to the formation of new connections. In a further set of tests, the team showed the brain cell deaths from prion disease and Alzheimer’s could be prevented by artificially boosting RBM3 levels. Prof. Giovanna Mallucci, from the MRC Toxicology Unit in Leicester, said, “This gives us a target to develop a drug.”
First Contracting Human Muscle Ever Grown in Laboratory – (GizMag – January 14, 2015)
Researchers working at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering have grown human muscle tissue that contracts and reacts to stimuli. Electrical pulses, biochemical signals and pharmaceuticals have all been used to produce reactions in the tissue that show it behaves in the same way that natural human muscles does. As a result, laboratory grown tissue may soon provide researchers with the ability to study diseases and assess drugs without invasive procedures on human subjects. the team began by using a sample of human cells that had already been grown beyond the stem cell stage, but had not yet formed into muscle tissue. These “myogenic precursors” (that is, cells that will become muscle tissue) were then stretched by the researchers over a supportive scaffolding designed to promote their growth in 3D and to increase their area to more 1,000 times their original size. Molded from silicone, the entire structure was filled with a growth medium that allowed the cells to develop while the structure itself helped to form aligned and functioning muscle fibers. As a result, the team was able to grow around 5 grams of muscle tissue for every 50 mg of donor tissue – a hundred-fold increase in mass. To ascertain how closely it replicated muscle tissue naturally occurring within a human body, Madden peppered the newly-formed muscle tissue with an array of tests. As a result, when electrical stimuli were applied, Madden observed that the muscles strongly contracted in response. As the first human muscle grown in a laboratory to react in this way, further tests also showed that along the entire length of the new tissue pathways for nerves to activate the muscle were also complete and functioning. “One of our goals is to use this method to provide personalized medicine to patients,” Nenad Bursac, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University, said. “We can take a biopsy from each patient, grow many new muscles to use as test samples and experiment to see which drugs would work best for each person.”
In Jakarta, That Sinking Feeling Is All Too Real – (Reuters – December 22, 2014)
The Ciliwung River flows from a volcano south of the Indonesian capital, through the heart of one of the world’s most densely populated cities and almost into Jakarta Bay. Almost, because for the final mile or so of its course, the river would have to flow uphill to reach the bay. The same is true for the rest of the half-dozen sewage-choked rivers that wind though central Jakarta. Unable to defy gravity, they’ve been redirected to canals that drain into the sea. The reason these conduits are necessary is that Greater Jakarta, home to 28 million people, sits on a swampy plain that has sunk 13 feet over the past three decades. The entire sprawl of Jakarta’s north coast – fishing ports, boatyards, markets, warehouses, fish farms, crowded slums and exclusive gated communities – it’s all sinking. Even the 40-year-old seawall that is supposed to keep the Java Sea from inundating the Indonesian capital is sinking. Jakarta is sinking because of a phenomenon called subsidence. This happens when extraction of groundwater causes layers of rock and sediment to slowly pancake on top of each other. The problem is particularly acute in Jakarta because most of its millions of residents suck water through wells that tap shallow underground aquifers. The effect is worsened by the sheer weight of Jakarta’s urban sprawl. Economic development in recent decades has transformed the city’s traditional low-rise silhouette into a thickening forest of high-rise towers. The weight of all those buildings crushes the porous ground underneath. In many places – from metro Houston, Texas, and cities on the U.S. East Coast to the megacities of Southeast Asia – the impact of subsidence is significant. Manila is sinking at a rate of around 3.5 inches a year. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is subsiding 3 inches a year, and Bangkok around an inch.
2014 US Divisional Average Temperature Ranks – (NOAA.gov – January, 2015)
Here is a graph compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showing how the average temperatures across the US in 2014 compare to temperature records for the period 1895 – 2014. Short take-away: both record heat and record cold – heat in the southwest and cold in the plains.
New Research May Solve Puzzle in Sea Level’s Rise – (New York Times – January 14, 2015)
A team of researchers has reported that the ocean did not rise quite as much as previously believed in the 20th century. They proposed a seemingly tiny adjustment that could make a big difference in scientific understanding of the looming problem of sea-level rise. Instead of rising about six inches over the course of the 20th century, as previous research suggested, the sea actually rose by approximately five inches, the team from Harvard and Rutgers Universities found. The difference turns out to be an immense amount of water: on the order of two quadrillion gallons, or enough to fill three billion Olympic-size swimming pools. If the findings stand up to scrutiny by other scientists, they could help resolve a longstanding conundrum in climate research. For years, when experts added up their best measurements of melt water from land ice and of other factors causing the sea to rise, the numbers fell a bit short of the rise that had been recorded at harbors around the world. If the harbor measurements were right and the ocean really had two quadrillion gallons of extra water, where was it coming from? The discrepancy set off an intensive search for additional ice that might be melting from glaciers and ice sheets, or extra heat that might be causing ocean water to expand, and so on. To some scientists, the answers that emerged were never entirely satisfactory. The Harvard and Rutgers scientists applied advanced statistical techniques to the measurements taken at harbors. They found that previous research on that record had slightly overestimated the amount of sea-level rise in the 20th century. With their downward revision, the harbor record now matches the other records rather neatly.
Snowden Claims U.S. Policy Is Creating a Black Market for Digital Weapons – (Tech Crunch – January 8, 2015)
Edward Snowden says in a new interview that the U.S. government is “creating a class of Internet security researchers who research vulnerabilities, but then instead of disclosing them to the device manufacturers to get them fixed and to make us more secure, they sell them to secret agencies. They sell them on the black market to criminal groups to be able to exploit these to attack targets. And that leaves us much less secure, not just on an individual level, but on a broad social level; on a broad economic level. And beyond that, it creates a new black market for computer weapons, basically digital weapons.” We spend much more on research and development, compared to the rest of the world. So when it comes to our cyber security says Snowden, “We have more to lose than any other nation on Earth.” Snowden said he didn’t want to overhype the problem, “Nobody’s going to press a key on their keyboard and bring down the government.” But he did emphasize that the threats from foreign governments were real and that we should be focusing more on the defense of our own information than focusing on others. See also: The Twitter account for U.S. Central Command was hacked on Jan. 11, 2014, with pro-ISIS messages plastering the account’s profile. The FBI said it was working with the Department of Defense to investigate the hacking of the Twitter and YouTube accounts of the U.S. military command that oversees operations in the Middle East.
TextBlade Portable Keyboard Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts – (GizMag – January 14, 2015)
Various folding portable keyboards designed to make it easy for those that like some tactile feedback when entering text on mobile devices are now on the market. But California-based WayTools has taken a different approach with the TextBlade keyboard, which it claims is the “most compact touch-type machine ever produced” and literally pulls apart to fit in a pocket. Sticking to the familiar QWERTY layout, the TextBlade comprises three separate modules, each of which isn’t much bigger than a stick of chewing gum. When placed in close proximity to one another in the correct orientation, the three pieces magnetically snap together to form the complete keyboard. One of the modules forms the space bar, while the other two each feature four oversized “ultra smart keys” and make up the remainder of the keyboard. Each of these smart keys packs capacitive touch technology like that used in smartphone touchscreens to bring multi-touch capabilities to each individual physical button. This allows up to six different characters to be placed on each key – or 12 if you count the use of a shift key – with a full 19 mm finger spacing. To provide the feel of a conventional desktop keyboard without the bulk, the keys feature what WayTools calls “MagLever” technology. This is a contactless sensing technology that provides 2 mm of travel, without any of the wear or depth associated with spring-based keys. The space bar also holds the lithium polymer battery that fast charges in under an hour via USB. The company claims a single charge will last around a month with typical usage, largely due to the use of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to connect wirelessly with a mobile device.
Foster + Partners Works on World’s First Commercial Concrete-Printing Robot – (Dezeen – November 25, 2014)
Foster + Partners has teamed up with building contractor Skanska to pioneer the use of 3D-printed concrete in the construction industry. The computer-controlled machine would work by precisely laying down successive layers of concrete, via a gantry and a robotic arm. The device could significantly reduce the time it takes to produce concrete building elements, making it an even more cost-effective material within the construction industry. The designers are confident that the robotic system, currently at its second prototype, could be used to manufacture complex structural components, curved cladding panels, and other architectural features that are impossible to produce using conventional processes. See also: A Chinese materials firm has reportedly produced 10 3D-printed buildings in 24 hours, using a custom-built machine that outputs layers of construction waste mixed with cement.
Caribbean Island Says Goodbye Fossil Fuels, Hello 100% Renewable Electricity – (Nation of Change – January 11, 2015)
Bonaire (pop. 14,500), a small island off the coast of Venezuela, is famous for its beautiful marine reefs, which are visited by 70,000 tourists every year. Like many Caribbean islands, Bonaire originally relied on diesel fuel to generate electricity for residents, with a peak demand of 11 megawatts (MW). This fuel had to be shipped in from other nations, resulting in high electricity prices for Bonaire residents, along with uncertainty about when and how much prices might increase with changing fuel costs. But in 2004, everything changed when a fire destroyed the existing diesel power plant. Although tragic, the situation provided an opportunity for Bonaire to consider what kind of new electricity system to build. Temporary diesel generators were rented to provide power for the short term. Meanwhile, the government and local utility began working together to create a plan that would allow Bonaire to reach a goal of generating 100% of its electricity from renewable sources. The result is a transformed electricity system on Bonaire. The island is now home to 12 wind turbines with a total of 11 MW of wind power capacity, which contribute up to 90% of the island’s electricity at times of peak wind, and 40-45% of its annual electricity on average. Battery storage (6 MWh) is included in order to take advantage of available power in times of excess wind, and provide that stored electricity in times of low wind. The Bonaire system also includes 14 MW of diesel generation, which provide the necessary power to meet the load when there is not enough wind power available. The generators are equipped to run on both traditional diesel as well as biodiesel. The next steps in the island’s energy transformation involve using local algae resources, grown in the large salt flats on the island, to create biofuel, which can then be used in the existing generators. This will allow Bonaire to operate a 100% renewable electricity system—with on average 40–45% from wind and 55-60% from biodiesel.
‘Wind Trees’ Could Replace Controversial Giant Turbines – (International Business Times – December 1, 2014)
An artificial ‘wind tree’ has been created to generate electricity from even the slightest flow of air. Jérôme Michaud-Larivière, founder of the Paris-based start-up NewWind, has created Tree Wind and plans to market the invention next year. The 25ft high tree consists of a steel trunk, from which extend branches holding 100 plastic ‘leaves’. The prototype has been “planted” at the telecom City Pleumeur-Bodou. As well as being aesthetically attractive (photos in the article), the wind tree is completely silent as the leaves turn in the wind. The leaves act as mini wind turbines and can generate electricity from wind as slow as 5.5mph.
Nanowire Could Keep People Warm – (Space Daily – January 8, 2015)
Scientists have now developed a novel nanowire coating for clothes that can both generate heat and trap the heat from our bodies better than regular clothes. Yi Cui and colleagues at Stanford University note that nearly half of global energy consumption goes toward heating buildings and homes. But this comfort comes with a considerable environmental cost – it’s responsible for up to a third of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists and policymakers have tried to reduce the impact of indoor heating by improving insulation and construction materials to keep fuel-generated warmth inside. Cui’s team wanted to take a different approach and focus on people rather than spaces. The researchers developed lightweight, breathable mesh materials that are flexible enough to coat normal clothes. When compared to regular clothing material, the special nanowire cloth trapped body heat far more effectively. Because the coatings are made out of conductive materials, they can also be actively warmed with an electricity source to further crank up the heat. The researchers calculated that their thermal textiles could save about 1,000 kilowatt hours per person every year – that’s about how much electricity an average U.S. home consumes in one month.
Never Get Lost Again with This Navigational Flashlight – (CubeBreaker – January 13, 2015)
Designer Jones He of Moiless created the Navi-Torch with hopes that its users would never have to worry about getting lost in the dark — provided you know the direction you’re supposed to be heading. The flashlight illuminates your pathway with an integrated compass displayed on the ground in front of you. See how it works from the illustrations in the article.
Russian President Putin Signs GMO Labeling Liability Law – (Sustainable Pulse – January 3, 2015)
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed the Russian Federation Code of Administrative Offences into law, including a new article establishing liability for the violation of mandatory requirements for the labeling of food products that contain GMOs. The bill which was submitted by the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Protection and Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor) imposes fines for vague or unclear labeling on food products containing genetically modified ingredients. According to the bill, individual entrepreneurs could be fined up to 50,000 rubles ($890), and the products will be confiscated. Business entities face a fine of up to 150,000 rubles (over $5,300). At a meeting of deputies representing rural areas organized by United Russia, Russian Minister of Agriculture Nikolai Fyodorov said that the government will not “poison their citizens.” (Editor’s note: This law is not only intended to inform citizens by requiring explicit food labeling, but also in part to support the economic stability of Russian agriculture. It will be interesting to see how citizens do or do not change their buying habits based on greater information.) See also this article concerning one particular gene control element used in more than 80% of commercial GM crops and its ability to achieve horizontal gene transfer (from one plant species to other species) with deleterious effects.
Wakati Keeps Fruit and Veg Fresh for Longer without a Fridge – (GizMag – December 30, 2014)
For farmers in developing countries without refrigerators, a great deal of produce – and therefore profit – can be lost through spoilage. A new device seeks to tackle this problem by increasing the short-term storage time for fruit and veg. The Wakati stores produce in a sterilized microclimate. The Wakati designers recognize that often there is no regular access to electricity in developing countries. Therefore, it uses a solar power system for its operation. In addition to a 3 W solar panel, the device comprises a top-loading tent-like structure, in which up to 330 lb of produce can be stored, and a solar-powered ventilator. The ventilator gradually evaporates a weekly supply of 200 ml (6.7 fl oz) of water creating a humid environment within the tent. Company founder Arne Pauwels explains that the humid environment created by the Wakati helps to reduce the extent to which crops dry out after being harvested. As a result, he says, the cells of the crops are kept intact and the acids and enzymes inside the cells that would otherwise begin to digest the crops are kept contained. Unlike a refrigerator, the Wakati does not control temperature and, therefore, cannot store fruit and veg for long-term periods. Pauwels says, however, tests on the Wakati have shown that a one or two-day shelf-life in a hot climate can be increased to 10 days. The first batch of 100 Wakatis has already been supplied to Haiti, Uganda and Afghanistan and Pauwels says that the company is ready to go into full production at an initial cost of US$100 per unit (though it is hoped that increased production will drive that figure down).
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
William Binney to Receive Sam Adams Award – (Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence – (January, 2015)
Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (SAAII) is pleased to announce that it has selected retired NSA Technical Director William “Bill” Binney to receive its 2015 award for integrity in intelligence. The public is invited to attend the award presentation scheduled to begin at 7 pm on January 22nd in Berlin, Germany. As a 36-year intelligence agency veteran, William Binney resigned from the NSA in 2001 and became a whistleblower after discovering that elements of a data-monitoring program he had helped develop were being used to spy on Americans. Binney explained that he “could not stay after the NSA began purposefully violating the Constitution.” In September 2002, he, along with colleagues, Wiebe and Loomis, asked the U.S. Defense Department Inspector General to investigate the NSA for allegedly wasting “millions and millions of dollars” on Trailblazer, a system intended to analyze data carried on communications networks such as the Internet. Binney had been one of the inventors of an alternative, less intrusive and far less expensive system, ThinThread, which was shelved when Trailblazer was chosen instead. Trailblazer was declared a failure in 2005. Binney became one of several people investigated as part of an inquiry into the 2005 (Pulitzer prize-winning) exposé by New York Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau) on the agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program. Although Binney was told he was cleared of wrongdoing after three interviews with FBI agents beginning in March 2007, a dozen agents with guns drawn appeared at his house a few months later, one of whom entered his bathroom and pointed his weapon at Binney, who was coming out of the shower. In that raid, the FBI confiscated a desktop computer, disks, and personal and business records. The following day, NSA revoked his security clearance, forcing him to close a business he ran with Loomis and Wiebe.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
The Police in America Are Becoming Illegitimate – (Rolling Stone – December 5, 2014)
Nobody’s willing to say it yet. But after Ferguson, and especially after the Eric Garner case that exploded in New York after yet another non-indictment following a minority death-in-custody, the police suddenly have a legitimacy problem in this country. Law-enforcement resources are now distributed so unevenly, and justice is being administered with such brazen inconsistency, that people everywhere are going to start questioning the basic political authority of law enforcement. And they’re mostly going to be right to do it, and when they do, it’s going to create problems that will make the post-Ferguson unrest seem minor. The Garner case was a perfect symbol of everything that’s wrong with the proactive police tactics that are now baseline policy in most inner cities. Police surrounded the 43-year-old Garner after he broke up a fight. The officers who responded to that call then decided to get in Garner’s face for the preposterous crime of selling “loosies,” i.e. single cigarettes from a pack. City police have tough, brutal, dangerous jobs. Even in the “hot spots,” residents know this and will cut officers a little slack for being paranoid and quick to escalate. Still, being quick to draw in a dark alley in a gang chase is one thing. But if some overzealous patrolman chokes a guy all the way to death, on video, in a six-on-one broad daylight situation, for selling a cigarette, forget about a conviction – someone at least has to go to trial. You can’t send hundreds of thousands of people to court every year on broken-taillight-type misdemeanors and expect people to sit still while yet another coroner-declared homicide goes unindicted. It just won’t hold. If the law isn’t the same everywhere, it’s not legitimate. And in these neighborhoods, what we have doesn’t come close to looking like one single set of laws anymore. When that perception sinks in, it’s not just going to be one Eric Garner deciding that listening to police orders “ends today.” It’s going to be everyone. And man, what a mess that’s going to be. See also this article from Rolling Stone: Black Lives Matter: 11 Racist Police Killings With No Justice Served.
At America’s Court of Last Resort, a Handful of Lawyers Now Dominates the Docket – (Reuters – December 8, 2014)
The U.S. Supreme Court building proclaims a high ideal: “Equal Justice Under Law.” But inside, an elite cadre of lawyers has emerged to give their clients a disproportionate chance to influence the law. A Reuters examination of nine years of cases shows that 66 of the 17,000 lawyers who petitioned the Supreme Court … were at least six times more likely to be accepted by the court than were all others. About half [of these 66 lawyers] worked for justices past or present, and some socialize with them. Although they account for far less than 1% of lawyers who filed appeals to the Supreme Court, these attorneys were involved in 43% of the cases the high court chose to decide from 2004 through 2012. The Reuters examination of the Supreme Court’s docket, the most comprehensive ever, suggests … a decided advantage for corporate America. Some legal experts contend that the reliance on a small cluster of specialists, most working on behalf of businesses, has turned the Supreme Court into an echo chamber – a place where an elite group of jurists embraces an elite group of lawyers who reinforce narrow views of how the law should be construed. Of the 66 most successful lawyers, 51 worked for law firms that primarily represented corporate interests. In cases pitting the interests of customers, employees or other individuals against those of companies, a leading attorney was three times more likely to launch an appeal for business than for an individual, Reuters found.
A Message from the Dispossessed – (Truth Dig – January 12, 2015)
The terrorist attack in France that took place at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo was not about free speech. It was not about radical Islam. It did not illustrate the fictitious clash of civilizations. It was a harbinger of an emerging dystopia where the wretched of the earth, deprived of resources to survive, devoid of hope, brutally controlled, belittled and mocked by the privileged who live in the splendor and indolence of the industrial West, lash out in nihilistic fury. We have engineered the rage of the dispossessed. The evil of predatory global capitalism and empire has spawned the evil of terrorism. And rather than understand the roots of that rage and attempt to ameliorate it, we have built sophisticated mechanisms of security and surveillance, passed laws that permit the targeted assassinations and torture of the weak, and amassed modern armies and the machines of industrial warfare to dominate the world by force. This is not about justice. It is not about the war on terror. It is not about liberty or democracy. It is not about the freedom of expression. It is about the mad scramble by the privileged to survive at the expense of the poor. And the poor know it. (Editor’s note: This op-ed piece has an obvious perspective; what’s interesting about it is that it rises above – or below – much of the mainstream press reporting to focus on very elemental issues.)
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Racism in America: How Did We Get Here? – (Bill Moyers & Co. – January 1, 2015)
The protests that erupted following the deaths of unarmed black men by police officers in Ferguson and New York have led us closer to a “national conversation on race in America.” These conversations rarely progress beyond the exchange of angry recriminations because race is a difficult issue to discuss — its influence on our society exists in both past and present, and it manifests itself in both explicit racism and, making matters more complicated, subconscious racial bias. It doesn’t help that the mainstream cable news nets are poorly suited to handle such a difficult topic in a way that offers some illumination. Much of their coverage boils down to shouting at each other about whether race even plays a role in American society today — a debate about whether people of color are treated differently by the criminal justice system, or face economic challenges that their white counterparts don’t. But this is not a serious matter of debate — denying that race matters is akin to denying that human activity is warming the planet. It flies in the face of rigorous empirical research by sociologists, historians and economists. Over the years, Bill Moyers has taken another approach, conducting interviews that grapple honestly with our history — and our present. The remainder of this article presents a collection of interviews (video clips) done by Moyers with significant African-American leaders about race in America.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Binary Pulsar Gives Up Secrets, Then Disappears – (EarthSky – January 8, 2015)
Astrophysicists say they pinned down some of the characteristics of a distant and exotic inhabitant of our universe, a binary millisecond pulsar, shortly before it disappeared from our view. They call this system a relativistic binary pulsar, because the masses and densities of the two objects are so extreme that they’re best understood in light of Einstein’s relativity theory. The system is called PSR J1906+0746, or J1906 for short. It consists of a neutron star orbiting another dense object (possibly another neutron star, or a white dwarf), in a little under 4 hours. Before it disappeared, the neutron star was seen to spin rapidly and emit a lighthouse-like beam of radio waves every 144 milliseconds. An international team of researchers studied the system and was able to describe the masses of the two objects, as well as measure the space-time warp in the gravity of the system. They say that space-time warp ultimately caused the disappearance of the pulsar from our earthly vantage point (it may wobble back into view in approximately 160 years). Joeri van Leeuwen, an astrophysicist at The Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, who led the study said, “Our result is important because weighing stars while they freely float through space is exceedingly difficult. That is a problem because such mass measurements are required for precisely understanding gravity, the force that is intimately linked to the behavior of space and time on all scales in our universe.”
Japanese Space Agency Uses Worms to Help Understand Bone Loss in Astronauts – (GizMag – January 14, 2015)
Mankind is not built for life in space. This is one of the fundamental truths that we have been forced to come to terms with during the short period in which humanity has frequented low-Earth orbit. In an effort to better understand the detrimental effects of microgravity on the human body, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is conducting a pair of experiments centering around observing the tiny roundworm, Caenorhabditis Elegans. Currently, astronauts are forced to undertake time-consuming workouts using specialized equipment on a daily basis during their time aboard the ISS, in an attempt to mitigate the detrimental effects of microgravity. However, regardless of the precautions taken, the average astronaut will return to Earth having suffered an average loss of 1-2% of overall bone mass for each month spent aboard the station. Caenorhabditis elegans was chosen as the specimen for the study, as its physiology can be used as a small-scale model of the muscle and bone composition of larger animals such as human beings. At less than 1 mm in length, the round worm has a number of advantages over other live animal specimens – for example, the short life span of the species (roughly 2-3 weeks in a laboratory environment) allows astronauts to cultivate several generations whilst aboard the station. JAXA hope to capitalize on this trait by observing how genetic adaptation to the microgravity environment prevailing on the ISS progresses on a cellular level from generation to generation. “The astronauts will cultivate multiple generations of the organism, so we can examine the organisms in different states of development,” states Atsushi Higashitani, principal investigator for the projects with Tohoku University, Japan. “Our studies will help clarify how and why these changes to health take place in microgravity and determine if the adaptations to space are transmitted from one cell generation to another without changing the basic DNA of an organism.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
‘Pop-up’ Fabrication Technique Trumps 3D Printing – (KurzweilAI – January 8, 2015)
Researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a simple new fabrication technique to create beautiful, complex 3D micro- and nanostructures with advantages over 3D printing for a variety of uses. The technique mimics the action of a children’s pop-up book — starting as a flat two-dimensional structure and popping up into a more complex 3D structure. The new pop-up method, which is based on compression buckling, is fast and inexpensive, and can be used to build many different structures at one time. It uses many different materials, including silicon, incorporating different materials into one hybrid structure. It can be used to build structures on both micro- and nano-levels (down to a thickness of 100 nanometers), and can produce a wide range of different geometries. Using a variety of advanced materials, the researchers produced more than 40 different geometric designs, including shapes resembling a peacock, flower, starburst, table, basket, tent, and starfish. “In just one shot you get your structure,” said Northwestern’s Yonggang Huang, one of three co-corresponding authors on the study. “We first fabricate a two-dimensional structure on a stretched elastic material. Then we release the tension, and up pops a 3-D structure. The 2-D structure must have some place to go, so it pops up.” The pop-up assembly technique is expected to be useful in building biomedical devices, sensors and electronics.
Drones Swoop into Electronics Show as Interest Surges – (Space War – January 7, 2015)
Drones have shown up in a variety of shapes and sizes at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) , the annual huge electronics fair in Las Vegas, which has for the first time a space dedicated to “unmanned systems.” More than a dozen companies are displaying the flying devices, for uses ranging from remote-controlled toys to professional filmmaking to industrial and agricultural applications. The article goes on to describe a number of specific drones being showcased at this year’s CES. With US regulations on drone still uncertain, some drone developers are looking for ways to avoid being grounded. The one we found most interesting was the the Zano drone, (priced at $279) a so-called nano-drone designed for aerial photography and selfies. It weighs in at just 55 grams (two ounces) to be under the current limit of 60 grams to be regulated in the United States, said Thomas Dietrich, design director for the British-based Torquino Group. Dietrich said, “It’s a smart device. It’s all gesture based and it has obstacle avoidance.”
Black Phosphorous: The Birth of a New Wonder Material – (Technology Review – January 12, 2015)
In the last few years, two-dimensional crystals have emerged as some of the most exciting new materials to play with. Consequently, materials scientists have been falling over themselves to discover the extraordinary properties of graphene, boron nitride, molybdenum disulphide, and so on. A late-comer to this group is black phosphorus, in which phosphorus atoms join together to form a two-dimensional puckered sheet. Last year, researchers built a field-effect transistor out of black phosphorus and showed that it performed remarkably well. This research suggested that black phosphorous could have a bright future in nanoelectronic devices. But there is a problem. Black phosphorus is difficult to make in large quantities. Today, Damien Hanlon at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, and a number of pals, say they have solved this problem. These guys have perfected a way of making large quantities of black phosphorus nanosheets with dimensions that they can control. And they have used this newfound ability to test black phosphorus in a number of new applications, such as a gas sensor, an optical switch, and even to reinforce composite materials to make them stronger. In bulk form, black phosphorus is made of many layers, like graphite. So one way to separate single sheets is by exfoliation, simply peeling off layers using Scotch tape or other materials. That is a time-consuming task that severely limits potential applications. So Hanlon and co have been toying with another approach. Their method is to place the black phosphorus lump in a liquid solvent and then bombard it with acoustic waves that shake the material apart. The result is that the bulk mass separates into a large number of nanosheets that the team filters for size using a centrifuge. That leaves high-quality nanosheets consisting of only a few layers.
Today’s Tech Billionaires Have a Lot in Common with a Previous Generation of Capitalist Titans – (Economist – January 3, 2015)
In the 50 years between the end of the American civil war in 1865 and the outbreak of the first world war in 1914, a group of entrepreneurs spearheaded America’s transformation from an agricultural into an industrial society, built gigantic business empires and amassed huge fortunes. In 1848 John J. Astor, a merchant trader, was America’s richest man with $20m (now $545m). By the time the United States entered the first world war, John D. Rockefeller had become its first billionaire. In the 50 years since Data General introduced the first mini-computers in the late 1960s, a group of entrepreneurs have spearheaded the transformation of an industrial age into an information society, built gigantic business empires and acquired huge fortunes. When he died in 1992, Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, was probably America’s richest man with $8 billion. Today Bill Gates occupies that position with $82.3 billion. The first group is now known as the robber barons. The second lot—call them the silicon sultans—could face a similar fate. All business titans have certain things in common—a steely determination to turn their dreams into reality, a gargantuan appetite for success and, as they grow older, a complicated relationship with the fruits of their labor. But the robbers and sultans have more in common than most: they are the Übermenschen of the past 200 years of American capitalism, the people who feel the future in their bones, bring it into being—and sometimes go too far. Like their predecessors, they were once revered as inventive mould-breakers, delivering gadgets to the masses. But just like Rockefeller and the other “malefactors of great wealth”, these new capitalists have been diversifying into businesses that have little to do with computers, while egotistically proclaiming that they alone can solve mankind’s problems, from ageing to space travel. More pointedly, they stand accused of being greedy businessfolk who suborn politicians, employ sweatshop labor, stiff other shareholders and, especially, monopolize markets. Rockefeller once controlled 80% of the world’s supply of oil: today Google has 90% of the search market in Europe and 67% in the United States. Together, the two groups throw light on some of the most enduring themes of American history—both the country’s extraordinary ability to generate vast wealth and its enduring ambivalence about concentrations of power. (Editor’s note: we highly recommend this article for its insightful comparisons.)
Innovation Takes the Exponential Express – (Wired – January 5, 2015)
We’re all familiar with Moore’s Law: the observation that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles every two years or so. We’re also familiar with the plethora of corollaries to the law, pertaining to everything from network speed to hard drive capacity to the number of pixels in our digital cameras. It seems that the natural behavior for technology advancement follows an exponential growth curve. Moore’s law is now about fifty years old, more than a lifetime for most of the people who have been riding the exponential express for their entire careers. Yet, while such exponential behavior is now all around us, one question strangely appears to be as yet unanswered: why. What is it about technology innovation that naturally proceeds along an exponential path? Curiously, disruptive innovation and incremental innovation are at opposite ends of a spectrum – and yet, still adhere to the same curve. Such adherence can’t be coincidence. There must be some underlying principle of human innovation – or broadly speaking, human behavior – that drives both ends of this spectrum of innovation. This article takes a shot (a pretty good one) at articulating that principle.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Teacher Has Students Write Letters to Their Future Selves, Then Posts Them 20 Years Later – (YouTube, November 3, 2014)
For decades, high school teacher Bruce Farrer, who taught in the Canadian town of Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, has been asking his students to write letters to their future selves. 20 years later, he tracks down the students and posts their letters to them. Speaking in a video, Farrer says that the letters have become more valuable because we now communicate far less by letters than we did 20 years ago. He created the assignment because he wanted his students to do an exercise “that was different, that would be interesting and one that they would value”. An old pupil of Farrer says when he was asked to write a 10 page letter to his future self, he thought it was “a lesson just to pass the time, to keep us busy for a few hours while he did other things”. He now understands what a dedicated teacher Farrer was. Farrer describes tracking down your students 20 years after teaching them as “a lot of detective work” but he is excited to find out the different paths his ex-pupils have taken. The video shows the reactions of some of Farrer’s former students upon opening their letters. Despite the profound effect that receiving the letters has on its recipients, Farrer remains modest about his diligence and commitment. “I’m just a regular teacher who happened to assign a rather different assignment”, he says. For a little more about Mr. Farrer himself, see this article
JUST FOR FUN
The Walk into an Opening in the Hillside – (Damn.com – January, 2015)
In the sandstone hills of northern New Mexico, Ra Paulette has been tirelessly cave sculpting, creating what he calls “the cave effect”, for over 25 years. As showcased in this video clip, his work is a stunning creation of sacred space. See also his website Additionally, the video clip mentions two properties, jointly consisting of 208 acres on which Paulette has created 2 caves, which are for sale. Now listed at $795,000, they can be viewed on this realtor’s website. And here is the trailer for the documentary about his work.
A FINAL QUOTE–
The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope. – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
A special thanks to: 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