FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- “As far as we know, sea anemones are immortal animals,” says Dan Rokhsar, professor of genetics at the University of California, Berkeley.
- Singapore Post, the country’s national postage and logistics company, claims it is the first world postage service to use a drone for “point-to-point, recipient-authenticated” mail delivery. (It was a test run.)
- Three British companies have created a device to deter drones from entering sensitive areas by freezing them in mid-flight.
- Humans differ in their personal microbial cloud.
The Creature with the Key to Immortality? – (BBC News – October 9, 2015)
Once thought to be plants, sea anemones are soft bodied animals that attach themselves to rocks and coral reefs in shallow waters. Their tentacles inject venom into the small fish and shrimp that brush up against them and guide the paralyzed prey into the mouth – an opening that also functions as an anus. There are more than 1,000 species of anemone, varying in size from a few centimetres to more than a meter across. They live in every ocean, from the warmest to the coldest. “As far as we know, these are immortal animals,” says Dan Rokhsar, professor of genetics at the University of California, Berkeley. “They live a very long time – one was documented to have lived 100 years. They don’t have old age. They live forever and proliferate, just getting bigger.” If you cut off their tentacles, they grow new ones. Even if you cut off their mouths they grow new “heads.” As long as they are not poisoned or eaten, as is often the case, they seem to go on and on. They appear to avoid ageing and the adverse effects that humans experience over time. Instead of ageing, anemones seem to stay young and fully functioning. How they do this isn’t clear. “We would love to be able to find a gene or pathway that allows it to avoid ageing,” says Rokhsar. But he and his team are still searching for that Holy Grail.
Researchers Say Gene Changes Show Who’s Gay – (NBC – October 8, 2015)
U.S. researchers say they’ve come up with a formula that can show someone’s sexual orientation by looking at genetic changes. It’s a controversial idea, and they have not made public the details of what they did. But the research, being presented at a meeting of genetics experts, suggests a variety of factors come together to help determine whether someone is gay or straight. “To our knowledge, this is the first example of a predictive model for sexual orientation based on molecular markers,” said Tuck Ngun, a researcher at the David Geffen School of Medicine of the University of California, Los Angeles, who led the study. Other experts said Ngun may be going too far in saying he can predict someone’s sexual orientation by looking at his or her genes. His study group was very small. Ngun looked at epigenetic changes called methylation in 47 pairs of male twins. Identical twins have the same underlying DNA, but the epigenetic changes can make big differences in what happens to them later in life. In 37 of the twin pairs, one brother was homosexual and the other wasn’t. In 10 pairs, both brothers were. Ngun and his colleagues came up with a computer algorithm, a formula, that suggested that patterns of methylation in nine regions were associated with sexual orientation with 67% of the time.
Elephants Rarely Get Cancer – (UPI – October 12, 2015)
Elephants have genes that seem to make them far more resistant to cancer than humans and other mammals. Researchers led by the University of Utah found elephants have 40 copies of a gene that encodes a known tumor suppressor called p53. Humans have two. The researchers found elephants have an effective ability for killing damaged cells at risk for becoming cancerous, an ability twice that of human cells. “Nature has already figured out how to prevent cancer,” said co-senior author Dr. Joshua Schiffman, pediatric oncologist at Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah School of Medicine. “It’s up to us to learn how different animals tackle the problem so we can adapt those strategies to prevent cancer in people.” Because elephants live nearly as long as humans and are so large, they have about 100 times more cells as humans and consequently are 100 times as likely to develop cancer. However, they have a mortality rate from the disease of less than 5%. Humans cancer mortality is 11-25%.
3-D Printing’s Next Act: Nerve Regeneration – (Technology Review – September 23, 2015)
Bridging the gap between the ends of a torn nerve is the latest biomedical trick performed with the help of a 3-D printer. Peripheral nerve injuries, caused by a variety of things including disease and trauma, are fairly common—doctors perform more than 200,000 nerve repair procedures each year in the United States alone. The most common surgery entails using nerve tissue taken from another spot in the body to fill the gap. But this requires an additional surgery to harvest that tissue, and can lead to chronic pain, sensory loss, or other problems at the site from which it was cut. An alternative approach involves using an artificial scaffold, generally tube-shaped, that sits between the two ends of the broken nerve and serves as a conduit for regeneration, often with the help of biochemical cues known to prompt nerve growth. But nerves and nerve injuries are often not so straightforward, and 3-D printing technology makes it possible to design and make guides that are conducive to more complicated shapes, says Michael McAlpine, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota. To demonstrate the new technique, McAlpine and his collaborators, including neurosurgeons and biomedical engineers, showed in rats that they could regenerate the original Y-shaped structure after a 10-millimeter piece of the sciatic nerve—including the point where it branches—had been cut out. In an intact and functioning sciatic nerve, the base of the Y shape contains a mix of motor and sensory nerve fibers. It splits into branches that contain either mostly sensory nerve fibers, which send information to the brain, or mostly motor neurons, which send information to the muscles. On the inside of the silicone guide, the same printer deposits precise amounts of biochemical “cues” chosen to promote nerve growth. Each branch of the Y shape gets a different cue—one is meant to encourage sensory nerve growth and the other is meant to encourage the growth of motor nerves.
Brain’s Activity Map Makes Stable ‘Fingerprint’ – (BBC News – October 13, 2015)
Neuroscientists have found that they can identify individuals based on a coarse map of which brain regions “pair up” in scans of brain activity. The map is stable enough that the researchers could pick one person’s pattern from a set of 126, by matching it to a scan taken on another day. This was possible even if the person was “at rest” during one scan, and busy doing a task in the other. Furthermore, aspects of the map can predict certain cognitive abilities. Crucially, this fingerprint is based on brain activity – not the organ’s physical structure. If these individual maps show strong associations with psychological phenomena, she added, they could prove useful in the clinic. According to Emily Finn, a PhD student at Yale University who co-wrote the study with her colleague Dr. Xilin Shen, “This opens the door to predicting things that are harder to tell just by looking at someone, or giving them a test – like risk for different mental illnesses.” Tim Behrens, professor of computational neuroscience at Oxford University, said he was most impressed by the consistency between the resting and task-based maps in the study. “What is particularly interesting is that the way the brain connects… at rest, is so similar to how it connects during a task – when it’s doing something interesting. That’s what’s exciting about it,” Behrens noted. By comparison, he said, you would not expect “the pattern of ones and noughts” in a busy computer to reflect the pattern in a computer that is not doing anything. “It tells you that something about the function of the brain is fundamentally built into patterns of activity that just live there, all the time.”
Evidence for Person-to-Person Transmission of Alzheimer’s Pathology – (Scientific American – September 9, 2015)
Prions are the misshapen proteins that replicate by inducing normal proteins to misfold and aggregate in the brain, leading to rare diseases such as mad cow and kuru. In recent years, scientists have discovered that similar processes of protein misfolding are at work in many neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease. Now, a study reveals the first evidence for human-to-human transmission of the misfolded proteins that underlie the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease. To explore the question of human transmission, John Collinge, a neuroscientist at University College London and his colleagues, conducted an autopsy study of eight patients who died from CJD after treatment with cadaver-derived growth factor. To their surprise, they found that six of the brains had the amyloid-beta pathology found in Alzheimer’s patients, and four exhibited some degree of cerebral amyloid angiopathy, in which amyloid deposits build up on the walls of blood vessels in the brain. The patients were between the ages of 36 and 51—typically too young to exhibit Alzheimer’s pathology—and none of the individuals bore genetic mutations associated with early onset of the disease. All evidence pointed toward one possibility: Like prions, amyloid-beta seeds were in the growth hormone injections and infected these individuals. Although none of the brains showed any other Alzheimer’s disease markers, such as buildup of another misfolded protein called tau, the researchers suggest that had the patients not died young, they would have developed the disease later in life.
California Lake Dries Up Overnight, Leaving Thousands of Dead Fish – (Huffington Post – September 25, 2015)
Residents of Lassen County, California, are baffled after an artificial lake dried up, seemingly overnight, leaving thousands of dead fish across 5,800 acres of mud. People were fishing at Mountain Meadows Reservoir, also known as Walker Lake, on Sept. 12, according to Eddy Bauer, who has lived near the lake his whole life. By the next day, he said, the lake was totally dry. Thousands of rotting fish remained more than a week later. Bauer said he suspects the Pacific Gas and Electric Co.(PGEC), which owns water rights to the lake and uses the water for hydroelectric power, drained the lake on purpose to avoid the hassle of relocating the fish. Bauer said that on Sept. 12, there appeared to be enough water to last for around two weeks. PGEC spokesman Paul Moreno said the company didn’t intentionally drain the lake. He blamed drought and an August heat wave, saying that too little water was entering the lake from mountain streams that feed it. Moreno noted that the company realized in March that there wouldn’t be enough water left to sustain the lake for the rest of the year, and ceased using the water to generate power. The utility also reduced water outflows from the lake, he said, but didn’t completely shut them off due to concerns for fish downstream. Doug Carlson, with the state Department of Water Resources, said he fears drought will create similar situations throughout the state.
Engineering “1000 Year” Weather Catastrophes, the Reality of Weather Warfare – (Geoengineering Watch – October 6, 2015)
A “1000 year” flood has just occurred on the East Coast and a “1200 year” drought continues to worsen rapidly on the West CoastRecord shattering floods and droughts are rapidly accelerating all around the globe. In fact, “100 year” disasters are now occurring every 100 days or less. The article then focuses in on recent hurricane Joaquin, stating that there were at least 8 meteorological factors that all had to come together in order to create the fire hose effect that just devastated South Carolina. Even more astounding consideration is that these factors generally remained in place for three consecutive days. It goes on to suggest that as of October 5, 2015, the path of “Joaquin” was being heavily sprayed with aerosols by jet aircraft as satellite photos in the article clearly show. Joaquin was heading toward (being steered?) the extremely anomalous cold “blob” in the North Atlantic which has scientists puzzled. Excessive atmospheric moisture is a necessary component of the chemically nucleated short term cool-downs being carried out around the globe. Could the geoengineers have an agenda to direct this major moisture producing storm to this region? Many scientists are already concerned about the effect the “cold blob” is having on the thermohaline circulation (Gulf Stream), could the climate engineers be attempting to actually manipulate this critical ocean current? (Editor’s note: This article does not particularly address geoengineering as a technique of unconventional warfare. It does, however, includes numerous links to support many of its statements. If you are interested in this topic – or if you consider it pure nonsense – we suggest that you check out some of the links and, at a minimum, explore some non-mainstream thinking.)
Extreme Weather Failing to Follow ‘Global Warming’ Predictions: Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Droughts, Floods, Wildfires, All See No Trend or Declining Trends – (Climate Depot – October 1, 2015)
This article directly contradicts one major assertion in the previous article (that extreme weather is becoming more common). Fine print in Obama’s climate report breaks from warmist narrative — Admits no trends in droughts, storms, tornadoes and hail! – After cranking up the fear of increasing droughts, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, the report offers some little disclaimers admitting to unsettled science: But the fine print that few will ever read acknowledges the real uncertainties of something as complex as the planet’s atmosphere. – “There has been no universal trend in the overall extent of drought across the continental U.S. since 1900,” the authors observe. We also learn that “trends in severe storms, including the intensity and frequency of tornadoes, hail, and damaging thunderstorm winds, are uncertain and are being studied intensively.” And again, copious links to support these points are included in this article. (Editor’s note: We are reminded of the phrase, variously attributed: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” We do not individually recommend any of these positions, but we are interested to note how little agreement exists on these matters in the public sphere.)
Top US Scientist Resigned after Admitting That Global Warming Was a Big Scam – (Ice Age Now – October 4, 2015)
Explaining his shocking resignation from the American Physical Society, Professor Emeritus of physics Hal Lewis of the University of California at Santa Barbara wrote: “It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist.” The renowned physicist further wrote: “Some have held that the physicists of today are not as smart as they used to be, but I don’t think that is an issue. I think it is the money, exactly what Eisenhower warned about a half-century ago. There are indeed trillions of dollars involved, to say nothing of the fame and glory (and frequent trips to exotic islands) that go with being a member of the club.” Dr. Lewis, who was also a former department chairman at the University of California, had been a member of the American Physical Society for 67 years.
The Secret Battle to Save Our Soils – (New Scientist – October 7, 2015)
In the US alone, more than 20,000 soils have been catalogued. Many are facing extinction. It may seem like madness to speak of soils going extinct, but more than a third of the world’s top layer is endangered, according to the UN, which declared 2015 the International Year of Soils. This December, it will release a much-anticipated report on the state of the world’s dirt. The news won’t be good: we are losing soil at a rate of 30 soccer fields a minute. If we don’t slow the decline, all farmable soil could be gone in 60 years. Given soil grows 95% of our food, and sustains human life in other more surprising ways, that is a huge problem. “Many would argue soil degradation is the most critical environmental threat to humans,” says Peter Groffman, who studies soil microbes at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. Yet all is not – quite – lost. The degradation of the world’s dirt has been a disaster in slow motion. “Soil scientists have been prattling on about this for decades,” says Groffman. All the while, our understanding of just how crucial soil is has only grown. A single gram might contain 100 million bacteria, 10 million viruses, 1000 fungi, and other populations living amid decomposing plants and various rocks and minerals. It’s not that the dirt is wiped off the face of the planet. “When folks refer to the soil as endangered, they’re not thinking of it in the same sense as endangered species,” says Ostfeld. Rather, extinction transforms a fecund soil into a dusty, microbiologically flat shadow of its former self. Once that diversity is gone, it’s gone for a while. “Soil takes thousands of years at a minimum to gestate,” says Groffman. This article goes on to discuss ways in which researchers are learning to rehabilitate soil, for example by mimicking the ways plants signal to soil bacteria. (Editor’s note: This article is truly “as interesting as dirt” – which is a whole lot more interesting than you might have guessed.)
This Is How the Future Looks with IBM Watson and ‘Perfect Data’ – (PC World – September 24, 2015)
IBM recently held an event in San Francisco to show off the new capabilities in Watson, it’s artificial intelligence system that’s being made available to developers to let them build smarter, “cognitive” applications. To set the futuristic tone, IBM invited Peter Diamandis, founder of the nonprofit X Prize Foundation, which humbly describes itself as “a catalyst for the benefit of humanity.” To give you an idea of Diamandis’ interests, he said he is currently “prospecting” asteroids that he plans to mine for resources. He put the value of one asteroid at $5.4 trillion. But on that day, he was talking about Watson, and how humankind is producing so much data these days that it can no longer make sense of it all without artificial intelligence (AI). Watson and its ilk are needed to uncover patterns in mountains of information and make decisions we can no longer arrive at through traditional programming. This isn’t big data, it’s gargantuan data. Take,for example, images from new fleets of satellites that can see things as small as 50 centimeters across. “You want to know what your competitors in China are doing? You can watch them,” said Diamandis. Want to predict what Best Buy’s earnings will be at the end of the quarter? Count the number of cars in its parking lots and the size of packages people are carrying out. The future is a world of unparalleled convenience, untold marketing opportunities, and zero privacy.
UK Firms Develop Drone-freezing Ray – (BBC News – October 8, 2015)
Three British companies have created a device to deter drones from entering sensitive areas by freezing them in mid-flight. The Anti-UAV Defense System (Auds) works by covertly jamming a drone’s signal, making it unresponsive. After this disruption, the operator is likely to retrieve the drone believing that it has malfunctioned. The system joins a host of recently announced technologies which can blast larger drones out of the sky. A drone flying in sensitive airspace can be detected by the Auds radar and then sighted via a camera equipped with thermal imaging capabilities so that it can be targeted visually. Then, a high-powered radio signal can be focused on the drone – essentially overriding the connection to whoever is operating it. The whole process takes as little as 25 seconds, according to the manufacturers.
How to Save Our Digital Knowledge for Future Generations to Read – (New Scientist – October 7, 2015)
Humans and their computers are now generating more data every year than the entire planet did up until 2003, and thus how we store and preserve that data has to change. As time passes, hard drives fail, web pages disappear and valuable data stored by companies can vanish if the firm goes bankrupt. And that’s assuming we still know how to access obsolete formats. Group 47 in Woodland Hills, California, is working on ways to get around the fact that our drives and discs have a limited lifespan. Instead of writing 1s and 0s as magnetic signals, they write them as microscopic dots onto metal tape, using a laser in a system called DOTS. The tape is then stored in cartridges. A high resolution digital camera can read the data back, but all a future human would need to retrieve the image is knowledge of binary code and a microscope. The tape should last hundreds of years without degrading and, crucially, doesn’t need any special climate-controlled storage. The company received funding from a US intelligence agency last year to develop a prototype, and is now raising funds to build a commercial version. The medium is designed to guide someone with no knowledge of hard drives or computers to read its data – all 1.2 terabytes of it. “It’s just like the disc on the side of the Voyager spacecraft,” says Rob Hummel, Group 47’s president. Hummel says he sees demand for this kind of offline storage that will last indefinitely. For example, the government agency he dealt with wanted to back up the data contained in 40 football fields’ worth of data centers. “They want to keep it forever – they don’t actually say forever, they say for the life of the republic,” he says. But it’s not just government agencies that want to keep things on record indefinitely. Future historians will need a way of accessing the incredible explosion of information that has taken place over the past 15 years. Ian Milligan, a digital historian at the University of Waterloo in Canada, says digital records, like web pages and personal blogs from before the dotcom boom, give historians insights into the lives of normal people. “Starting from about 1996, we’re collecting billions of digital objects, things documenting the lives of everyday people, their fears, their loves, their thoughts,” he says.
Where Tiny Houses and Big Dreams Grow – (New York Times – September 23, 2015)
What does a well-heeled tech entrepreneur create for a weekend commune? Check out Beaver Brook, which exhibits a nexus of themes: a millennial’s version of the Adirondack camps of the robber barons, the back-to-the-land movements and intentional communities of the 1950s and ’60s, and a combination folk school/artists’ residency. The inspirations are familiar: the writings of Stewart Brand, the ’60s era eco guru and editor of the Whole Earth Catalogue; and John Seymour, the author of “The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live it, ” along with the architectural ideals of Christopher Alexander. If those ideas (and ideals) appeal to you, the book of Beaver Brook, Cabin Porn: Inspiration for Your Quiet Place Somewhere, has just come out from Little, Brown.
Utility-scale Solar Power Reaches Cost Parity with Natural Gas throughout America – (Green Tech Media – September 30, 2015)
Low prices are not limited to California and the Southwest—they’re everywhere. The cost of installing utility-scale solar has fallen considerably in recent years, from more than $6 per watt in 2009 to about $3 per watt in 2014. Power-purchase agreement (PPA) prices are also continuing their downward trend, according to the third annual report on utility-scale solar from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. With the rush to get projects done before the cut to the federal Investment Tax Credit, levelized PPA prices have come down as low as $40 per megawatt-hour in the Southwest. At that price, PV compares to just the fuel costs for natural-gas plants. Although the Southwest has the lowest prices, $50 to $75 per megawatt-hour is the new norm across the country. Boulder’s PPA with SunPower, for example, came in at $46 per megawatt-hour and Austin Energy’s most recent solar project came in at under $50 per megawatt-hour.
Bengaluru Innovator Creates Super High-efficiency Machine That Produces Power from Vacuum – (Times of India – April 7, 2015)
After toiling on it for nearly half his life, 80-year-old Paramahamsa Tewari finally received validation for his space generator – a super high-efficiency machine that produces power from vacuum. A prototype of the machine tested by Kirloskar ElectricBSE exhibited 165% efficiency, said Murlidhar Rao, former director of Karnataka Power Corporation (KPCL), assisting Tewari. Through an agreement signed earlier, the Kirloskar group company can now enter into a contract with Tewari. The breakthrough for Tewari, a former director of the Kaiga Atomic Power Station, came last year when his machine achieved an efficiency of 238%, which means it produced 2.38 times the electrical power provided to it initially, making it the first to achieve this. This essentially defies the Law of Conservation of Energy – and in the case of electrical generators, Lenz’s Law, which forms the basis of mechanics and thermodynamics laws that suggests machines cannot attain over a 100% efficiency. KPCL has deputed a team of engineers to evaluate the machine. “We have reviewed the product. The evaluations and analysis have been submitted to the managing director for the final approval (to use in the Kappatagudda windmill project),” one of the KPCL engineers said, requesting anonymity. The generator requires an initial infusion of power through a battery or AC supply, following which it produces power sustaining itself on electrons in a vacuum, without requiring external supply. “ Tewari has applied for an international patent for his device in the US.
Volvo: We Will Be Responsible for Accidents Caused by Our Driverless Cars – (International Business Times – October 9, 2015)
Volvo has become one of the first car companies to confirm that it will accept full responsibility for any accidents caused by its future driverless cars. The carmaker’s stance is an effort to speed up regulations which currently fail to fully recognize how autonomous cars and their manufacturers should be liable. Mercedes and Google have made similar claims, as they and the industry as a whole work to develop autonomous features which take control and responsibility away from the driver. Rules governing self-driving cars vary by state, making it difficult for manufacturers to build a vehicle which can be driven legally nationwide. To help fix this, Volvo Cars president Hakan Samuelsson proposed that Volvo will take full responsibility for any incidents caused by a design flaw in its autonomous cars – and, countering claims by some autonomous car backers that computer-controlled vehicles will never make mistakes, he said driverless technology “will never be perfect…one day there will be an accident.” He added, “Volvo wants to remove the uncertainty of who would be responsible in the event of a crash. At the moment it could be the manufacturer of the technology, the driver, a maker of a component in a car.” Volvo also wants US lawmakers to clear up what would happen in the event of an autonomous car (or an internet-connected car driven by a human) being hacked. Samuelsson said Volvo considers car hacking a criminal offence.
The Future Is Here: Singapore Post Tests Drone Deliveries – (Tech in Asia – October 8, 2015)
Singapore Post, the country’s national postage and logistics company, has completed a package drone delivery trial in a remote part of Singapore. The trial was developed together with the Infocomm Development Agency, and uses a customized version of the commercially-available Pixhawk Steadidrone. SingPost claims this is the first time in the world a postage service has used a drone for “point-to-point, recipient-authenticated” mail delivery. The company hopes to use drones to deliver packages for ecommerce companies. The test flight took five minutes, and saw the drone carrying a letter and a T-shirt for 2.3 kilometers. The drone landed at a stipulated point, after which a postman retrieved the goods. The trial involved the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Committee of the Singapore government, which is run by multiple agencies. Yes, the government has such a committee. To underscore how much government involvement is needed in this, the trial required permissions and cooperation from six organizations, including the air force and police.
The Full-Fat Paradox: Whole Milk May Keep Us Lean – (NPR – February 12, 2014)
What if dairy fat isn’t the dietary demon we’ve been led to believe it is? Consider the findings of two recent studies that conclude the consumption of whole-fat dairy is linked to reduced body fat. In one study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care, middle-aged men who consumed high-fat milk, butter and cream were significantly less likely to become obese over a period of 12 years compared with men who never or rarely ate high-fat dairy. “I would say it’s counterintuitive,” says Greg Miller, executive vice president of the National Dairy Council. The second study, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, is a meta-analysis of 16 observational studies. There has been a hypothesis that high-fat dairy foods contribute to obesity and heart disease risk, but the reviewers concluded that the evidence does not support this hypothesis. In fact, the reviewers found that in most of the studies, high-fat dairy was associated with a lower risk of obesity. It’s not clear what might explain this phenomenon. One possibility is the satiety factor. The higher levels of fat in whole milk products may make us feel fuller, faster. And as a result, the thinking goes, we may end up eating less. Or the explanation could be more complex. “There may be bioactive substances in the milk fat that may be altering our metabolism in a way that helps us utilize the fat and burn it for energy, rather than storing it in our bodies,” Miller says. Whatever the mechanism, this association between higher dairy fat and lower body weight appears to hold up in children, too.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
U.S. and China Seek Arms Deal for Cyberspace – (New York Times – September 19, 2015)
The United States and China are negotiating what could become the first arms control accord for cyberspace, embracing a commitment by each country that it will not be the first to use cyberweapons to cripple the other’s critical infrastructure during peacetime, according to officials involved in the talks. While such an agreement could address attacks on power stations, banking systems, cellphone networks and hospitals, it would not, at least in its first version, protect against most of the attacks that China has been accused of conducting in the United States, including the widespread poaching of intellectual property and the theft of millions of government employees’ personal data. In fact, a senior administration official involved in the discussions cautioned that an initial statement between Mr. Obama and Mr. Xi may not contain “a specific, detailed mention” of a prohibition on attacking critical infrastructure. Further, it seems unlikely that any deal coming out of the talks would directly address the most urgent problems with cyberattacks of Chinese origin, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Most of those attacks have focused on espionage and theft of intellectual property. The rules under discussion would have done nothing to stop the theft of 22 million personal security files from the Office of Personnel Management, which the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., recently told Congress did not constitute an “attack” because it was intelligence collection — something the United States does, too. The agreement being negotiated would also not appear to cover the use of tools to steal intellectual property, as the Chinese military does often to bolster state-owned industries, according to an indictment of five officers of the People’s Liberation Army last year.
American Jihadi Starts Private NSA and Attacks America – (RINF – October 11, 2015 )
In the wake of 9/11 a new industry emerged that quickly developed into personal NSA-style intrusive stalkers. These are people with no background in intelligence, law, law enforcement, or security. They aren’t connected to any State or agency like the FBI, CIA, or NSA. Not long after September 11th, 2001 these people quickly became aware of what is known as OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) tools. They use different software and programs that data mine information exhaustively. They are not the designers of the various software. Their claim to fame is turning that software on to look at you and hack your life. Freelancers work for whoever will hire them and early in the last decade they found plenty of work hunting potential terrorists. Even though law enforcement rarely agrees with their assessments, the freelancers still have to deliver the terrorists to get paid. Many of them started circumventing the law and taking due process away from US and EU citizens in the name of the War on Terror at the behest of foreign governments, people, PACs, or companies that hired them. The Guardian made the point in November 2014 with “Our choice isn’t between a world where either the good guys spy or the bad guys spy. It’s a choice of everybody gets to spy or nobody gets to spy.” So said the security luminary Bruce Schneier at BBC Future’s World-Changing Ideas Summit in October. With so many cheap or free tools out there, it is easy for anyone to set up their own NSA-esque operations and collect all this data. Though breaching systems and taking data without authorization is against the law, it is possible to do a decent amount of surveillance entirely legally using open-source intelligence (OSINT) tools.” From 2003 until present, the story of one particular OSINT practitioner shows how quickly the jump from citizen activist to private intel operator could morph into an online campaign that dwarfs Joseph McCarthy’s Anti-American Activities Committee activities in scope. This article goes on to detail the private surveillance business of Andrew Aaron Weisburd as just one wake-up example of what is not only possible, but already being done in terms of privatizing McCarthyism.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
6 Government Secrets That Go Far Beyond Edward Snowden’s Surveillance Leaks – (Collective-Evolution – October 14, 2015)
“A power has risen up in the government greater than the people themselves, consisting of many, and various, and powerful interests, combined into one mass, and held together by the cohesive power of the vast surplus in the banks.” – John C. Calhoun, the 7th Vice President of the United States. There are a number of important issues that need constant attention and reiteration when it comes to creating awareness, and one of them is government secrecy, which is happening on multiple levels. So states the author of this article which then goes on to examine and quote sources for 6 areas of government secrecy. You are almost certainly already aware of some of them but, depending on which segments of the news you tend to follow and which you skip over, you may very well not be aware of some others. (Editor’s note: We found the section on secrecy surrounding the US patent process went well beyond what we had been aware of.)
The “A” Word That Terrifies Washington – (UNZ Review – October 13, 2015)
The “A” word is “accountability”. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has declared that there will be a thorough investigation of the recent U.S. destruction of a hospital in Afghanistan that killed 22, including 12 of the medical staff, with more than thirty still missing in the rubble. The hospital, run by Geneva-based Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, Doctors without Borders), had informed the U.S. headed international military force of both its location and its activities in order to avoid becoming a target for either side in fighting around Kunduz but that apparently was not enough. The U.S. military command in Afghanistan approved the bombing, which reportedly included multiple attacks from a C-130 gunship and lasted over half an hour, though there is some confusion over what constituted the “threat” that was being responded to, MSF claiming that there were no Taliban militants anywhere near their building either using it for shelter or as a firing point. Both MSF and some senior United Nations officials regard the attack as a war crime. President Barack Obama uncharacteristically apologized for a “mistake” though he took pains not to blame the U.S. military. Mr. Ashton might be a brilliant physicist but he has never been a soldier in spite of his long service in the Department of Defense and, despite his good intentions when it comes to declaring United States government willingness to let the chips fall where they may, he has no idea what he is up against. The uniformed military will stonewall, run circles around him and work hard to construct a narrative that ultimately blames no one but the Afghans for what happened. In the unlikely event that they fail in that, a soldier at the low end of the process will be punished with a slap on the wrist to demonstrate that military justice works while pari passu protecting the senior commanders. And the report will not even appear until long after Kunduz is forgotten. At that point Congress and the White House will have no stomach for going after our valiant warriors so the buck will ultimately stop with a toothless report that accomplishes nothing at all. In short: War crimes are for losers.
Chinese Newspaper: Spy Satellites Will Target US Carriers – (Defense News – October 8, 2015)
China’s military is getting its ducks in a row for what many experts see as a realistic competence at destroying US aircraft carriers during a confrontation scenario over Taiwan. In a recent issue of the Chinese-language state-run China Youth Daily newspaper, a report claims that the Gaofen-4 geostationary earth observation satellite will be launched by the end of this year with the express purpose of hunting US aircraft carriers. The satellite is equipped with a visible light imager at 50 meters and infrared staring optical imager at 400 meters. During the 1996 Taiwan Strait missile crisis, the Chinese military was flustered by the presence of two US aircraft carriers sent to protect Taiwan during missile exercises designed to intimidate the island.“The Gaofen series of satellites, as the first series of satellites developed under the Medium and Long-term Development Plan for Science and Technology, appears to be another important piece in China’s evolving space-based monitoring capabilities — a network that will work together to locate, target and destroy aircraft carriers and destroyers.
Western Wars Have Killed at Least 4 Million Muslims Since 1990 – (Voltaire Network – April 18, 2015)
The Washington DC-based Physicians for Social Responsibility (PRS) has released a landmark study concluding that the death toll from 10 years of the “War on Terror” since the 9/11 attacks is at least 1.3 million, and could be as high as 2 million. The 97-page report by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning doctors’ group is the first to tally up the total number of civilian casualties from US-led counter-terrorism interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The PSR report is authored by an interdisciplinary team of leading public health experts, including Dr. Robert Gould, director of health professional outreach and education at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, and Professor Tim Takaro of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University. Yet it has been almost completely blacked out by the English-language media, despite being the first effort by a world-leading public health organisation to produce a scientifically robust calculation of the number of people killed by the US-UK-led “war on terror”. The report conducts a critical review of previous death toll estimates of “war on terror” casualties. It is heavily critical of the figure most widely cited by mainstream media as authoritative, namely, the Iraq Body Count (IBC) estimate of 110,000 dead. That figure is derived from collating media reports of civilian killings, but the PSR report identifies serious gaps and methodological problems in this approach. For instance, although 40,000 corpses had been buried in Najaf since the launch of the war, IBC recorded only 1,354 deaths in Najaf for the same period. That example shows how wide the gap is between IBC’s Najaf figure and the actual death toll – in this case, by a factor of over 30. An early PSR study by Beth Daponte, then a US government Census Bureau demographer, found that Iraq deaths caused by the direct and indirect impact of the first Gulf War amounted to around 200,000 Iraqis, mostly civilians. Meanwhile, her internal government study was suppressed. After US-led forces pulled out, the war on Iraq continued in economic form through the US-UK imposed UN sanctions regime, on the pretext of denying Saddam Hussein the materials necessary to make weapons of mass destruction. Items banned from Iraq under this rationale included a vast number of items needed for everyday life. Undisputed UN figures show that 1.7 million Iraqi civilians died due to the West’s brutal sanctions regime, half of whom were children.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
‘Agrihoods’ Offer Suburban Living Built around Community Farms, Not Golf Courses – (Huffington Post – August 17, 2015)
The phrase “planned community” conjures up a lot of images — maybe a swimming pool, obsessively manicured lawns, white picket fences — but a farm is probably not one of them. Pushing back against that stereotypical image of suburban living is a growing number of so-called “agrihoods” springing up nationwide. These developments center around a real, functional farm as their crown jewel. According to CivilEats, there are currently about 200 of them nationwide. The latest, called The Cannery, opened on a site that was previously home to a tomato cannery facility located about a mile outside downtown Davis, California. The 100-acre project of the New Home Company development company is considered to be the first agrihood to take root on formerly industrial land. All of its 547 energy-efficient homes will be solar-powered and electric car-ready. The Cannery is unique for other reasons, too. The community’s 7.4-acre farm will be managed by the Center for Land-Based Learning, a nonprofit group that plans to run agricultural education programs for students and aspiring farmers from the site in addition to a commercial operation focusing on organic vegetables once they’ve raised money for farm equipment and improved the soil. While the term “agrihood” may be relatively new, the concept is not; its roots date back to the mid-1800s. The nation’s first planned community, in Riverside, Illinois, had a decidedly pastoral feel falling somewhere in the middle of city and country life. And many established agrihoods have been around for some time, such as the Agritropia community in Gilbert, Arizona, the Serenbe development outside Atlanta, and Prairie Crossing in Grayslake, Illinois, all of which were established over a decade ago and appear to be flourishing.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
“New Horizons” Spacecraft Discovers Pluto Has Blue Skies and Frozen Water – (Wired – October 8, 2015)
The first crewed mission to Pluto is going to be a master class in homesickness. After traveling 4.7 billion miles to the icy rock, those future pioneers—breathing bottled air, bundled in awkward space clothes, buoyant in low gravity—will have little to remind them of home. But upon landing, they might just ease their pangs of longing by gazing up into the dwarf planet’s sky—which, scientists now know, is blue just like Earth’s. NASA broke the news by sharing the above photo of Pluto’s cerulean halo, taken in July by the New Horizons spacecraft. Like Earth’s heavenly hue, Pluto’s blue sky is caused by tiny, sunlight-scattering particles in the atmosphere. Those particles probably begin as molecular nitrogen (which Pluto is constantly emitting) and other trace gases. The sun’s ultraviolet rays break down and ionize these molecules, which then combine into larger (though still microscopic) particles. The particles aren’t blue themselves; they’re reddish to grey, and are heavy enough that they eventually fall back down to the dwarf planet’s surface.
The Most Mysterious Star in Our Galaxy – (Atlantic – October 13, 2015)
In the Northern hemisphere’s sky, hovering above the Milky Way, there are two constellations—Cygnus the swan, her wings outstretched in full flight, and Lyra, the harp that accompanied poetry in ancient Greece, from which we take our word “lyric.” Between these constellations sits an unusual star, invisible to the naked eye, but visible to the Kepler Space Telescope, which stared at it for more than four years, beginning in 2009. The light pattern suggests there is a big mess of matter circling the star, in tight formation. Boyajian, a Yale Postdoc who oversees Planet Hunters, recently published a paper describing the star’s bizarre light pattern. Several of the citizen scientists are named as co-authors. The paper explores a number of scenarios that might explain the pattern—instrument defects; the shrapnel from an asteroid belt pileup; an impact of planetary scale, like the one that created our moon. The paper finds each explanation wanting, save for one. If another star had passed through the unusual star’s system, it could have yanked a sea of comets inward. Provided there were enough of them, the comets could have made the dimming pattern. But that would be an extraordinary coincidence, if that happened so recently, only a few millennia before humans developed the tech to loft a telescope into space. That’s a narrow band of time, cosmically speaking. And yet, the explanation has to be rare or coincidental. After all, this light pattern doesn’t show up anywhere else, across 150,000 stars. We know that something strange is going on out there. Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University, is set to publish an alternative interpretation of the light pattern. SETI researchers have long suggested that we might be able to detect distant extraterrestrial civilizations, by looking for enormous technological artifacts orbiting other stars. Wright and his co-authors say the unusual star’s light pattern is consistent with a “swarm of megastructures,” perhaps stellar-light collectors, technology designed to catch energy from the star.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
Adidas Unveils Futurecraft 3D, Its First 3D-Printed Midsole – (Architectural Digest – October 9, 2015)
Adidas has unveiled Futurecraft 3D, a 3-D-printed midsole—the layer of material between a shoe’s inner and outer soles, used for absorbing shock—which can be tailored to the cushioning needs of an individual consumer. It is just one of a string of recent innovative designs from the German-based brand, including a line footwear made primarily of recycled plastic gathered from the ocean. “Futurecraft 3D is our sandbox,” says Paul Gaudio, creative director at Adidas. “Our ambition was to marry the qualities of handcrafting and prototyping with the limitless potential of new manufacturing technologies.” For now the Futurecraft 3D is only a prototype, but Adidas hopes that it represents the first step toward being able to have customers walk into its store, run briefly on a treadmill for a foot scan, have an instant 3-D model of their midsole created, and then leave with running shoes that perfectly fit the unique contours of and pressure points on their feet.
WaterStillar Readies Roll-out of Scaleable Solar Water Distiller – (GizMag – October 4, 2015)
In a bid to help bring greater access to clean drinking water to the developing world, WaterStillar has created a solar-distillation system designed to produce clean drinking water from almost any source. Conceived as a cheap, efficient, modular system that can be scaled up to produce thousands of liters per day, The WaterStillar Water Works was first conceived in 2004. Like nature’s water cycle, it works by heating water until it evaporates and condenses to rid it of any contaminants. Water is gravity fed into the Works unit from a tank above, so that no pump is required. (Editor’s note: The article does not discuss how the water gets up into the “tank above” in the first place.) The unit is split vertically into a number of sections, with the water routed evenly into each. The water routed to the lowest section of the unit is heated by vacuum tube solar collectors (thermal solar panels). As it heats up, it begins to evaporate and the resulting vapor rises to the top of the section, leaving any contaminants as run-off. The run-off is recirculated and diluted with fresh source water. When the vapor hits the distillation panel at the top of its section, it condenses to form clean water droplets. Held on by surface tension, the droplets then run down the angled panel to an outlet ready for consumption. The residual heat from each lower layer used to heat the layer above. In this way, the system is able to be highly efficient. A standard installation produces 2-300 liters of clean water per day, but can be scaled up to 10,000 liters. The system uses no electricity or chemicals and produces no emissions. WaterStillar’s plan is to offer the system at no up-front capital cost, with the customer paying a quarterly invoice based on a metered supply. The company says it has 80 Works systems awaiting dispatch from warehouses in Copenhagen and Mexico City and that it is currently seeking an NGO partner to help with distribution. Article includes video clip of the equipment in operation.
Why Sweden Is Shifting To A 6-Hour Workday – (Fast Company – September 29, 2015)
The eight-hour workday hasn’t changed much since Henry Ford first experimented with it for factory workers. Now, Americans work slightly longer—an average 8.7 hours—though more time goes into email, meetings, and Facebook than whatever our official job duties actually are. Is it time to rethink how many hours we spend at the office? In Sweden, the six-hour workday is becoming common. “I think the eight-hour workday is not as effective as one would think,” says Linus Feldt, CEO of Stockholm-based app developer Filimundus. The company switched to a six-hour day last year, and says that the change hasn’t really made a major difference in how people work. The leadership team just asked people to stay off social media and personal distractions, and eliminated some standard weekly meetings. The company is not alone. Brath, another tech startup, made the move three years ago. For them, one of the biggest advantages is that it helps them hire and keep employees, as the CEO writes in a blog post: “We also believe that once you’ve gotten used to having time for the family, picking up the kids at day care, spending time training for a race or simply just cooking good food at home, you don’t want to lose that again. We believe that this is a good reason to stay with us and not only because of the actual impact longer hours would make in your life but for the reason behind our shorter days. . . . We actually care about our employees.” But before you take all this as a generalized trend, see also “No, Sweden is not moving to a six hour work day”
That Time Wasn’t Different: A Short History of the Money Printing Folly During the French Revolution – (David Stockman’s Contra Corner – October 5, 2015)
The exact sequence of events leading up the French Revolution are likely unfamiliar to most. Yet money printing and a debased French currency played no small part in those events. This article provides an historical, step-by-step, example of money printing (quantitative easing) which lead to a full-blown financial crisis, and ultimately the revolution of a major sovereign nation. The events recounted in this article are not a forecast for what may happen but an example of what has repeatedly happened in the past.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Cavemen Did Not Have Cavities – (Delancey Place – September 2, 2015)
This article is drawn from Evolving Ourselves by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans. The human diet has changed radically since the days of the hunter-gatherers. Dental plaque provides a small window through which to view this massive evolutionary upheaval. Anyone who has been to the dentist knows how tough it is to remove plaque. Its toughness makes plaque a great reservoir of data for bioanthropologists. Diet affects plaque, and by comparing the plaque in ancient and modern human teeth, scientists can infer what kinds of things we ate and what lived in our mouths. In the pre-Twinkie era, both early humans and our close relatives had mouths that were quite healthy. There are almost no examples of Neanderthal cavities. Paleolithic and Mesolithic human skulls are almost devoid of cavities. (Article includes photos of human teeth more than 400,000 years old discovered in a cave outside Tel Aviv which were found to contain tartar.) As human diets began to modernize, as we began cooking and cleaning more of our daily foodstuffs, a strange thing happened: The bacterial colonies in our mouths became far less diverse. Hunter-gatherers from seven thousand years ago had far more microbial diversity in their mouths than did Stone Age agriculturalists. Bacteria that had coexisted and coevolved with our bodies and diets, that had adapted, were crowded out by a new environment, and our mouths became colonized by nastier bacteria. We further repopulated our mouths with the ever more widespread use of processed sugars. The incidence of cavities exploded. Our changing diet wasn’t just hard on our mouths. Average male height during the ninth to eleventh centuries was just below that of modern men. But the transition into the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution was brutal. Disease, wars, serfdom, and filthy cities changed the morphology of men; by the 1700s, the average Northern European was 2.5 inches shorter than before and did not recover until the twentieth century.
Humans Differ in Their Personal Microbial Cloud – (PeerJ – September 22, 2015)
Humans emit upwards of 106 biological particles per hour, and have long been known to transmit pathogens to other individuals and to indoor surfaces. However it has not previously been demonstrated that humans emit a detectible microbial cloud into surrounding indoor air, nor whether such clouds are sufficiently differentiated to allow the identification of individual occupants. This study used high-throughput sequencing of 16S rRNA genes to characterize the airborne bacterial contribution of a single person sitting in a sanitized custom experimental climate chamber. Researchers compared that to air sampled in an adjacent, identical, unoccupied chamber, as well as to supply and exhaust air sources. Additionally, they assessed microbial communities in settled particles surrounding each occupant, to investigate the potential long-term fate of airborne microbial emissions. Most occupants could be clearly detected by their airborne bacterial emissions, as well as their contribution to settled particles, within 1.5–4 hours. Bacterial clouds from the occupants were statistically distinct, allowing the identification of some individual occupants. Our results confirm that an occupied space is microbially distinct from an unoccupied one, and demonstrate for the first time that individuals release their own personalized microbial cloud. (Editor’s note: Your dog has always known this.)
JUST FOR FUN
Photographing a Town That Never Was: Michael Paul Smith’s Incredible Models – (Amusing Planet – November 28, 2010)
Few people put as much time, effort and craftsmanship into a project that results in photos which are totally believable, as Michael Paul Smith who creates realistic 1/24 scale models of an imaginary town from memories of his youth. His photos tell a story that takes you back to that time and place. “What started out as an exercise in model building and photography, ended up as a dream-like reconstruction of the town I grew up in. It’s not an exact recreation, but it does capture the mood of my memories”, he says. The photos that recreate this imaginary town of “Elgin Park” are believable not only because the backgrounds, lighting and subject are expertly integrated, but also because of the extensive and thoroughly researched details in each scene. They are also nostalgically beautiful.
A FINAL QUOTE–
One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea. – Walter Bagehot (1826 – 1877), British journalist and businessman.
A special thanks to: Bernard Calil, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Sergio Lub, Diane Petersen, Abby Porter, 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. [email protected]
Edited by John L. Petersen