FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- New research suggests that in the quantum world time runs both backward and forward.
- A US intelligence group has been linked to the spread of PC spyware across 30 countries.
- Since Portugal decriminalized all drugs, addiction has fallen, and injecting drug use is down by 50%,
- The average American going about his daily business is monitored, surveilled, and tracked in more than 20 different ways daily, by both government and corporate eyes and ears.
Geologists Unlock Mysteries of the Planet’s Inner Core – (Space Daily – February 10, 2015)
Seismic waves are helping scientists to plumb the world’s deepest mystery: the planet’s inner core. Thanks to a novel application of earthquake-reading technology, a research team at the University of Illinois and colleagues at Nanjing University in China have found that the Earth’s inner core has an inner core of its own, which has surprising properties that could reveal information about our planet. Led by Xiaodong Song, a professor of geology at the U. of I., notes, “Even though the inner core is small – smaller than the moon – it has some really interesting features. It may tell us about how our planet formed, its history, and other dynamic processes of the Earth. It shapes our understanding of what’s going on deep inside the Earth.” The team used a technology that gathers data not from the initial shock of an earthquake, but from the waves that resonate in the earthquake’s aftermath. “It turns out the coherent signal enhanced by the technology is clearer than the ring itself,” said Song. “The basic idea of the method has been around for a while, and people have used it for other kinds of studies near the surface. But we are looking all the way through the center of the Earth.”The inner core, once thought to be a solid ball of iron, has some complex structural properties. The team found a distinct inner-inner core, about half the diameter of the whole inner core. The iron crystals in the outer layer of the inner core are aligned directionally, north-south. However, in the inner-inner core, the iron crystals point roughly east-west. Not only are the iron crystals in the inner-inner core aligned differently, they behave differently from their counterparts in the outer-inner core.
In the Quantum World, the Future Affects the Past – (Space Daily – February 18, 2015)
Even if you know everything quantum mechanics can tell you about a quantum particle, said Kater Murch, an assistant professor of physics in Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, you cannot predict with certainty the outcome of a simple experiment to measure its state. All quantum mechanics can offer are statistical probabilities for the possible results. The particle’s state is not merely unknown, but truly undefined before it is measured. The act of measurement itself forces the particle to collapse to a definite state. But there is a way to narrow the odds. Calculating forward, using the Born equation that expresses the probability of finding the system in a particular state, your odds of guessing right are only 50-50,” Murch said. “But you can also calculate backward using something called an effect matrix. Just take all the equations and flip them around. They still work and you can just run the trajectory backward. So there’s a backward-going trajectory and a forward-going trajectory and if we look at them both together and weight the information in both equally, we get something we call a hindsight prediction, or ‘retrodiction.’” Retrodiction is 90% accurate. The quantum guessing game suggests ways to make both quantum computing and the quantum control of open systems, such as chemical reactions, more robust. But it also has implications for much deeper problems in physics. For one thing, it suggests that in the quantum world time runs both backward and forward (time symmetry),whereas in the classical world it only runs forward. The improved odds imply the measured quantum state somehow incorporates information from the future as well as the past. And that implies that time, notoriously an arrow in the classical world, is a double-headed arrow in the quantum world. In a world where time is symmetric, however, is there such a thing as cause and effect? To find out, Murch proposes to run a qubit experiment that would set up feedback loops (which are chains of cause and effect) and try to run them both forward and backward.
Software Analyzes Human Genome in as Little as 90 Minutes – (GizMag – February 5, 2015)
New software developed at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio can take raw sequence data on a person’s genome and search it for disease-causing variations in a matter of hours, which its creators claim puts it ahead of the pack as the fastest genome analysis software around. They believe that this makes it now feasible to do large-scale analysis across entire populations. Whereas it took 13 years and cost US$3 billion to sequence a human genome for the first time, senior author Peter White notes that now “even the smallest research groups can complete genomic sequencing in a matter of days.” The chokepoint lies in the next step: calibrating and analyzing the billions of generated data points for genetic variants that could lead to diseases. White and his team tackled the problem by automating the analytical process in a computational pipeline they called Churchill. Churchill spreads each analysis step across multiple computing instances – a process its creators call balanced regional parallelization – with special care taken to preserve data integrity so that results are “100% reproducible.” Tests showed that Churchill can analyze a whole genome sequence in as little as 90 minutes from a raw FASTQ text-based format through to identifying variant cells at high confidence. An exome, which contains the bulk of disease-causing variants despite being a mere one per cent of the whole genome, can be analyzed in less than an hour.
Placebo Effect Influenced by Perceived Cost, Study Finds – (L.A. Times – January 28, 2015)
How do you convert a simple saline solution into a useful treatment for people with Parkinson’s disease? Tell them it’s a drug that costs $100 per dose. And if you want to make it even more effective, tell them it costs $1,500 instead. That’s what researchers from the University of Cincinnati discovered in an unusual clinical trial. Instead of testing a placebo against an actual drug, they pitted two placebos against each other. The only difference between the two sham treatments was their purported price. The team from the University of Cincinnati and their colleagues recruited 12 patients with “moderately advanced” Parkinson’s and asked them to participate in a clinical trial of a medication described as “a new injectable dopamine agonist.” The study volunteers were told that there were two versions of the experimental drug and that both were believed to work equally well. The main difference, the story went, was the way they were made. As a result, one version cost 15 times more than the other. Both of the placebos improved motor function compared with a base line test. But when patients got the $1,500-per-dose placebo, their improvement was 9% greater than when they got the $100-per-dose placebo, the researchers reported. In another test, 67% of the patients were judged “very good” or having “marked improvement” after they took the expensive placebo, compared with 58% of patients after they took the purportedly cheap placebo. The researchers also used functional MRI scans to assess the patients’ brain activity and found that the “cheap” placebo prompted more action than the “expensive” one. To the researchers, this was a sign that the patients expected less from the placebo they believed cost less, so their brains responded by doing more work.
Attacking Alzheimer’s with Ultrasound – (National Institutes of Health – February 11, 2015)
For the first time, researchers have reversed some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in mice using magnetic resonance (MR) imaging-guided focused ultrasound. The procedure has been shown to temporarily open the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which allows for more effective delivery of drugs to the brain. In this study, Kullervo Hynynen, Ph.D., a medical physicist at Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto, and his collaborators studied the effects of using MR imaging-guided focused ultrasound on the hippocampus of transgenic mice. Mice with this genetic variant have increased plaque on their hippocampus, the part of the brain that helps convert information from short-term to long-term memory; they also display symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s such as memory impairment and learning reversal. Thus, transgenic mice are used as an animal model for Alzheimer’s disease. The treatment led to improvements in cognition and spatial learning in the transgenic mice, potentially caused by reduced plaque and increased neuronal plasticity due to the focused ultrasound treatment. They found no tissue damage or negative behavioral changes in the mice due to the treatments in either the transgenic mice or the control (nontransgenic) mice. Both groups of mice benefited from increased neuronal plasticity, which confirms the previous research on the effects of MR imaging-guided focused ultrasound on plasticity in healthy mice.
Smartphone-powered Dongle Tests for HIV in 15 Minutes – (Dezeen – February 13, 2015)
Columbia Engineering researchers have developed a smartphone accessory that can simultaneously detect HIV and syphilis within minutes. A team led by professor Samuel Sia, associate professor at Columbia University’s engineering school, designed the low-cost smartphone add-on, which has already been tested by healthcare workers in Rwanda. The device emulates an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, or ELISA – a blood test usually carried out in a lab – using the phone’s audio jack as a power source. An app prompts the user to enter a patient ID and then displays instructions to guide them through the process. Users first disinfect a finger and obtain a finger-prick of blood for testing. This is placed into a plastic collector and then inserted into a special chip. A disposable cassette containing the chip with the blood sample is then inserted into the dongle. Pressing a bulb activates the testing process, and 15 minutes later the results are displayed on-screen. According to Sia, the dongle could have a manufacturing cost of $34, compared to the $18,450 cost for equipment typically used for these tests.
The Sun’s Activity in the 18th Century Was Similar to That Now – (Space Daily – February 10, 2015)
Counting sunspots over time helps in knowing the activity of our star but the two indices used by scientists disagree on dates prior to 1885. Now an international team of researchers has tried to standardize the historical results and has discovered that, contrary to what one may think, the solar activity of our times is very similar to that of other times, such as the Enlightenment. Scientists have been counting sunspots since 1610 with small telescopes. Thus it has been verified that the Sun’s activity increases every eleven years, according to the interval in the growth of the number of darker and colder spots in comparison with the rest of its surface. The more spots that appear, the more luminous the surrounding areas are, and our star shines brighter. Nonetheless, the eleven-year cycles do not always have the same intensity. The more intense peaks of the Sun’s luminosity were produced in the 20th century, which experts have called the ‘modern maximum’. However, an international team of scientists has reviewed the historical data and has verified that there were also elevated values in other periods. “It has been a huge surprise to observe that in the 18th century the levels of the Sun’s activity were practically the same as they are now,” points out Jose M. Vaquero, researcher at the University of Extremadura (Spain) and co-author of the research, a review of the number of sunspots recorded in the last 400 years.
The Fiddling with Temperature Data Is the Biggest Science Scandal Ever – (Telegraph – February 7, 2015)
When future generations look back on the global-warming scare of the past 30 years, nothing will shock them more than the extent to which the official temperature records – on which the entire panic ultimately rested – were systematically “adjusted” to show the Earth as having warmed much more than the actual data justified. Two weeks ago, under the headline “How we are being tricked by flawed data on global warming”, Christopher Booker (author of this article), wrote about Paul Homewood, who, on his Notalotofpeopleknowthat blog, had checked the published temperature graphs for three weather stations in Paraguay against the temperatures that had originally been recorded. In each instance, the actual trend of 60 years of data had been dramatically reversed, so that a cooling trend was changed to one that showed a marked warming. Following that, Homewood checked a swathe of other South American weather stations around the original three. In each case he found the same suspicious one-way “adjustments”. First these were made by the US government’s Global Historical Climate Network (GHCN). They were then amplified by two of the main official surface records, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (Giss) and the National Climate Data Center (NCDC), which use the warming trends to estimate temperatures across the vast regions of the Earth where no measurements are taken. Yet these are the very records on which scientists and politicians rely for their belief in “global warming”. Homewood has now turned his attention to the weather stations across much of the Arctic, between Canada (51 degrees W) and the heart of Siberia (87 degrees E). Again, in nearly every case, the same one-way adjustments have been made, to show warming up to 1 degree C or more higher than was indicated by the data that was actually recorded.
The Monarch Massacre: Nearly a Billion Butterflies Have Vanished – (Washington Post – February 9, 2015)
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has summed it up in just one grim statistic: Since 1990, about 970 million monarch butterflies have vanished. It happened as farmers and homeowners sprayed herbicides on milkweed plants, which serve as the butterflies’ nursery, food source and home. In an attempt to counter two decades of destruction, the Fish and Wildlife Service launched a partnership with two private conservation groups, the National Wildlife Federation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, to basically grow milkweed like crazy in the hopes of saving the monarchs. Monarch butterflies are a keystone species that once fluttered throughout the United States by the billions. They alighted from Mexico to Canada each spring on a trek that required six generations of the insect to complete. Afterward, young monarchs about the quarter of the weight of a dime, that know nothing about the flight pattern through the United States, not to mention Mexico, fly back, resting, birthing and dining on milkweed. Only about 30 million remain.
Kaspersky Links US to Spread of PC Spyware across 30 Countries – (Financial Times – February 17, 2015)
Researchers in Russia said they have found a series of sophisticated hacking tools within the hard drives of personal computers built by some of the world’s biggest manufacturers. Kaspersky Labs, a Moscow-based cyber security company, said it had uncovered the spying software in computers that were used in 30 countries, including Iran, Pakistan, Russia and China, which have long been priorities for US intelligence agencies. Without accusing the National Security Agency of being the source of the malware, Kaspersky researchers indirectly suggested that the tools were devised by the US. Some of the surveillance tools had been hidden deep inside the hard drives of computers made by companies such as Toshiba, Western Digital, Seagate and IBM, the Russian company said. Publishing the technical details of the spyware, Kaspersky said that they were introduced by a group “that surpasses anything known in terms of complexity and sophistication of techniques”. Avoiding any direct reference to the NSA, Kaspersky said the spying software had been developed by an entity it called the Equation Group, which it said had been operating for 20 years. It said, however, that the Equation Group had “solid links” to the creators of Stuxnet — the virus that attacked an Iranian nuclear facility and that was developed by the US, in co-operation with Israel. According to Kaspersky, one of the surveillance tools is embedded in the computer “firmware”, code that sends messages to the rest of a computer when it is switched on — a development the Russian researchers described as “an astonishing technical accomplishment” because it was so hard to detect and extract.
New Algorithms Locate Where a Video Was Filmed from Its Images and Sounds – (February 17, 2015)
Researchers from the Ramón Llull University (Spain) have created a system capable of geolocating videos by comparing their audiovisual content with a worldwide multimedia database. In the future this could help to find people who have gone missing after posting images on social networks, or even to recognize locations of terrorist executions. The method is based on the recognition of their images or frames and all of the audio. “The acoustic information can be as valid as the visual and, on occasions, even more so when it comes to geolocating a video,” comments Xavier Sevillano, one of the authors. “In this field we use some physics and mathematical vectors taken from the field of recognition of acoustic sources, because they have already demonstrated positive results”. All of the data obtained is merged together and grouped in clusters so that, using computer algorithms developed by the researchers, they can be compared with those of a large collection of recorded videos already geolocated around the world.
Google’s New California Headquarters – (Dezeen – February 27, 2015)
Google has released a videoclip detailing its plans for a new California headquarters. Danish firm Bjarke Ingels Group and London-based Heatherwick Studio plan to redevelop four sites in Mountain View, California to create the Google campus – marking the first time the internet giant has designed and built an office complex from scratch. The concept for Google North Bayshore is to create lightweight block-like structures that can be moved around, rather than investing in permanent buildings. According to Google, this will offer flexibility as the company invests in new product areas. Translucent canopies will cover buildings and outdoor areas, designed to control the climate whilst also allowing natural daylight and ventilation throughout the facility. “With trees, landscaping, cafes, and bike paths weaving through these structures, we aim to blur the distinction between our buildings and nature,” said Google. Video clip is embedded in article and is an interesting peek into where/what Google thinks the future will be.
Tesla Gearing Up for Release of Batteries for the Home – (GizMag – February 25, 2015)
The same lithium-ion battery technology that powers Tesla’s electric vehicles will be used to develop a battery for the home, according to a statement by CEO Elon Musk during a recent conference call with analysts. The batteries would be used by homes and businesses to store excess energy generated from solar panels during the day, and drawn from at night when panels sit idle. Official details of the project are still a ways off. Tesla Company has said they’re currently not sharing any additional information about their energy storage and home batteries for several months. What Musk did reveal during the conference call was that “we’re going to unveil the Tesla home battery, or consumer battery, that will be for use in people’s houses or businesses, fairly soon.” Adding that, “we have the design done and it should start going into production probably in about six months or so. We’re trying to figure out a date to have the product unveiling – it’s probably in the next month or two. See also: Why Tesla’s battery for your home should terrify utilities: . Elon Musk’s electricity empire could mean a new type of power grid
New Biological Solar Cell 1 Million Times More Powerful Than Current Tech – (Techswarm – February 11, 2015)
A Binghamton University engineering researcher designed a biological solar cell that’s a million times more effective than current technology. Preliminary data on Seokheun “Sean” Choi’s next advancement is a thousand times better than that. His cell also works in the dark, and is self-sustaining. The new designs don’t make biological solar cells practical, yet. But they do take them out of the realm of “absurd” and place them squarely in the realm of “someday soon.” Existing biological cells — which use photosynthesis to generate electricity — produce picowatts per square centimeter — a trillionth of a watt. To power a simple hand-held calculator, the cells would stretch 20 meters wide and from Binghamton to Ireland. Choi’s first biological solar cell produces a million times more energy, microwatts per square centimeter, so the calculator could operate with a solar panel that fits on a trailer home roof — just 20 meters by 5 meters. Choi’s latest experiment churns out milliwatts per square centimeter — reducing the calculator’s solar panel to a backpack-sized 8 inches by 20. That brings it into the range of practical application, says Hongseok Noh, an engineer and professor at Drexel University who specializes in lab-on-a-chip technology and applications. If Choi can reduce the cell to a tenth of its size while maintaining milliwatt power density, it would be enough to power hand-held blood analysis devices or air-testing machines.
Portland to Generate Electricity within Its Own Water Pipes – (GizMag – February 17, 2015)
There’s a lot of water constantly moving through the municipal pipelines of most major cities. While the water itself is already destined for various uses, why not harness its flow to produce hydroelectric power? Well, that’s exactly what Lucid Energy’s LucidPipe Power System does, and Portland, Oregon has just become the latest city to adopt it. LucidPipe simply replaces a stretch of existing gravity-fed conventional pipeline, that’s used for transporting potable water. As the water flows through, it spins four 42-inch (107-cm) turbines, each one of which is hooked up to a generator on the outside of the pipe. The presence of the turbines reportedly doesn’t slow the water’s flow rate significantly, so there’s virtually no impact on pipeline efficiency. The 200-kW Portland system was privately financed by Harbourton Alternative Energy, and its installation was completed late last December. It’s now undergoing reliability and efficiency testing, which includes checking that its sensors and smart control system are working properly. It’s scheduled to begin full capacity power generation by March. Once up and running, it’s expected to generate an average of 1,100 megawatt hours of energy per year, which is enough to power approximately 150 homes. Over the next 20 years, it should also generate about US$2 million in energy sales to Portland General Electric, which Harbourton plans on sharing with the City of Portland and the Portland Water Bureau in order to offset operational costs. At the end of that period, the Portland Water Bureau will have the right to purchase the system outright, along with all the energy it produces.
Britain Debuts First Self-Driving, Low-Speed Electric Vehicle – (EVWworld – February 18, 2015)
As one wag put it, the Lutz Pathfinder, more closely resembles an errant airplane cockpit escape pod than an automobile, but being a car isn’t its purpose: providing neighborhoods with self-driving, autonomous errand-runners is. Electrically-driven with a operational endurance of up to eight hours on a single charge, the two-passenger vehicle is intended to operate on sidewalks and pedestrian walkways, starting on the postwar town of Milton Keynes, some 50 miles north of London. The Transportation Systems Catapult-developed vehicle uses a combination of radar, proximity sensor and cameras to detect and avoid obstacles. It’s top speed is a seemingly leisurely 12 mph, but that still four times faster than a person typically walks. It’s also about the same speed at which people ride bicycles. The mission of the Pathfinder is to provide a locally-operated alternative to the automobile, with the goal being the ability to call one up when needed for running close-in trips, which would be especially handy for the elderly.
More Electric Car Charging Points in Japan Than Gas Stations – (Phys Org – February 17, 2015)
The country’s number-two automaker Nissan says there are now 40,000 charging units—including those inside private homes—across the nation, compared with 34,000 gas stations. While gas stations have multiple pumps and can service many more cars, the figures underscore efforts to boost green-vehicle infrastructure in Japan, long a leader in a sector that remains tiny globally. Nissan is betting on growing demand for electric cars, while rival Toyota said it has been swamped by orders for its first mass market hydrogen fuel-cell car, the Mirai sedan. See also: . Toyota to give away fuel-cell patents to boost industry
Local Food With a Big Twist: Oregon Super-Cooperative Takes Aim at the Corporate Food System – (Nation of Change – February 20, 2015)
Our Table Cooperative is a farm and grocery cooperative that aims to provide locally sourced, organically grown food to the city of Sherwood, Oregon. But people all over the world want chocolate and coffee and other things that can’t necessarily be grown in their backyard. Founders of the co-op struggled with the question of how to provide those staple foods to their customers. “It was a very interesting, soul-searching moment for us internally,” Narendra Varma, one of the co-founders, said. “What does local mean?” So Our Table decided to adjust their definition of the term. When they encounter a food that can’t be grown in the region but that they want in the store, the team makes sure the importer is Oregon-based and has a transparent and direct relationship with the growers. “No faceless transactions,” Varma says. “At some level, that is the core value of this project. It’s taking faceless transactions and turning them into interdependent relationships.” That’s the transformation in the food system that Our Table is pursuing by building a cooperative that stretches from farm to table—but also encompasses all the stops in between. The project goes beyond the “know your farmer” ethos of the local food movement to create an environment where you know your cheese maker, truck driver, and grocery store attendant too.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
The Billion Dollar Bank Job: How Hackers Stole $1bn from 100 Banks in 30 Countries – (International Business Times – February 16, 2015)
It is being called the “the great bank robbery” and unprecedented in nature but just how did a cyber-crime gang steal more than $1bn (£648, €878m) from more than 100 institutions in 30 countries over a period of two years? It has been revealed that the Carbanak gang (named after the malware it uses), with members in Russia, Ukraine, China and other parts of Europe, has been stealing tens of millions of dollars from banks, e-payment systems and other financial institutions since 2013, and is still active. The gang has targeted up to 100 institutions in 30 countries with each theft taking on average between two and four months to complete. So how did this gang manage to steal so much money without anyone noticing sooner? Here we dissect the techniques used and look at what security experts have said on the matter. The first step, just as it is in almost all sophisticated targeted attacks these days, was a spear phishing campaign. Tailored and authentic-looking emails which will have been written to target specific employees at specific banks, with this technique being one of the most popular – and successful – ways to infiltrate networks. The emails sent by the gang to bank employees feature a Word document attachment which, when downloaded and opened, executed the Carbanak malware and gave the hackers direct access to the system. While Kaspersky Lab has yet to reveal much of the technical detail about the Carbanak malware, we can tell this is what is known as a remote administration tool (RAT) which gives the hackers control over the systems they have infected. Carbanak allows the criminal gang to monitor network traffic, grab screenshots as well as record keystrokes on the infected machine allowing them to find the administrators’ computers for video surveillance. Using a bank’s own camera against them, the gang were able to see and record everything that was happening on the screens of bank employees.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
From Warrior Cops to Community Police: A Former Chief on How We Can Turn Back the Tide of Militarization – (Nation of Change – February 12, 2015)
There is a time and place for military-style tactics, carried out by police officers who do, in fact, look more like soldiers than cops. Think active shooter situations, or armed and dangerous suspects who’ve taken hostages and barricaded themselves. Think service of warrants accompanied by a reasonable suspicion that the suspects are armed and poised to do violence. Think terrorists. But it is the routinization of police militarism that ought to concern us all. America’s police departments—aided and abetted by the federal government’s “1033” program, which allocates to local law enforcement military surplus, including armored vehicles, weapons, even aircraft—have gradually morphed from images of “Officer Friendly,” neighborhood-oriented cops to those of war zone occupiers. But how to reverse the militarization trend? As Seattle’s police chief during the World Trade Organization’s 1999 “Battle in Seattle,” and acutely aware of my own unwise reliance on militarized tactics, Norm Stomper realizes just how difficult the task will be. But that should not stop us, he says. In this article, he offers five steps that can help us turn things around. See also: In one small town, (Pasco, Washington), the police have killed more people than police in Germany and the UK combined.
Creepy, Calculating and Controlling: All the Ways Big Brother Is Watching You – (Washington’s Blog – February 17, 2015)
Today, there’s little room for indiscretions, imperfections, or acts of independence—especially not when the government can listen in on your phone calls, monitor your driving habits, track your movements, scrutinize your purchases and peer through the walls of your home. That’s because technology—specifically the technology employed by the government against the American citizenry—has upped the stakes dramatically so that there’s little we do that is not known by the government. In such an environment, you’re either a paragon of virtue, or you’re a criminal. If you haven’t figured it out yet, we’re all criminals. This is the creepy, calculating yet diabolical genius of the American police state: the very technology we hailed as revolutionary and liberating has become our prison, jailer, probation officer, Big Brother and Father Knows Best all rolled into one. Consider that on any given day, the average American going about his daily business will be monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways, by both government and corporate eyes and ears. A byproduct of this new age in which we live, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior. This doesn’t even begin to count the corporate trackers that monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere.
The Real Ruler of Israel: Sheldon Adelson – (ConterPunch – February 13-15, 2015)
The real ruler of Israel is one Sheldon Adelson, 81, American Jew, Casino king, who was rated as the world’s tenth richest person, worth 37.2 billion dollars at the latest count. But who is counting? Besides his casinos in Las Vegas, Pennsylvania, Macao and Singapore, he owns the US Republican party and, lately, both Houses of the US Congress. He also owns Binyamin Netanyahu. Both Mr. Adelson and his wife are fanatical supporters of Israel. Not just any Israel, but a rightist, supremacist, arrogant, violent, expansionist, annexationist, non-compromising, colonialist Israel. In “Bibi” Netanyahu they found their man. Through Netanyahu they hope to rule Israel as their private fief. To assure this, they did an extraordinary thing: they founded an Israeli newspaper, solely devoted to the furthering of the interests of Binyamin Netanyahu. Not of the Likud, not of a specific policy, but of Netanyahu personally. “Israel Hayom” (“Israel Today”) is a newspaper with unlimited funds, distributed every day for nothing in the streets and malls all over the country by hundreds, perhaps thousands of paid young persons. Israelis love getting something for nothing. Israel Hayom is now the daily paper with the widest distribution in Israel. In the last US presidential elections, Adelson poured rivers of dollars into the contest. He supported Newt Gingrich, and then Mitt Romney, with huge sums of money. In vain. For the next US presidential elections, Adelson has started early. He has summoned to his Las Vegas casino HQ all leading Republican candidates, to grill them on their allegiance to him – and to Netanyahu. See also: . Israel’s Fifth Column: Enabling Netanyahu benefits no one
Leaked Cables Show Netanyahu’s Iran Bomb Claim Contradicted by Mossad – (Guardian – February 23, 2015)
Binyamin Netanyahu’s dramatic declaration to world leaders in 2012 that Iran was about a year away from making a nuclear bomb was contradicted by his own secret service, according to a top-secret Mossad document. It is part of a cache of hundreds of dossiers, files and cables from the world’s major intelligence services – one of the biggest spy leaks in recent times. Brandishing a cartoon of a bomb with a red line to illustrate his point, the Israeli prime minister warned the UN in New York that Iran would be able to build nuclear weapons the following year and called for action to halt the process. But in a secret report shared with South Africa a few weeks later, Israel’s intelligence agency concluded that Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons”. The report highlights the gulf between the public claims and rhetoric of top Israeli politicians and the assessments of Israel’s military and intelligence establishment. The disclosure comes as tensions between Israel and its staunchest ally, the US, have dramatically increased ahead of Netanyahu’s planned address to the US Congress on 3 March. The documents, almost all marked as confidential or top secret, span almost a decade of global intelligence traffic, from 2006 to December last year. It has been leaked to the al-Jazeera investigative unit and shared with the Guardian. The cache, which has been independently authenticated by the Guardian, mainly involves exchanges between South Africa’s intelligence agency and its counterparts around the world. It is not the entire volume of traffic but a selective leak. One of the biggest hauls is from Mossad. But there are also documents from Russia’s FSB, which is responsible for counter-terrorism. Such leaks of Russian material are extremely rare. Other spy agencies caught up in the trawl include those of the US, Britain, France, Jordan, the UAE, Oman and several African nations. (Editor’s note: There is nothing at all in the article concerning the source of the leak – clearly not Snowden since materials are dated as late as December 2014, about which one can only speculate given the timing.)
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Student Develops Cream That Can Remove Your Regrettable Tattoo – (ExtremeTech – February 16, 2015)
Getting a tattoo is not a decision to rush into without thinking things through. After all, it’s no walk in the park to get ink out of your skin after you’ve had it injected by way of thousands upon thousands of needle punctures. PhD student Alec Falkenham at Dalhousie University is working on a cream that he thinks will be able to remove an ill conceived tattoo without further abusing your skin. The cellular process that occurs during the healing process is what makes the ink stick around for decades and also what enables Falkenham’s process, known as bisphosphonate liposomal tattoo removal (or BLRT), to supposedly wipe the skin clean. The current leading method of doing this is with a laser that introduces sufficient energy to destroy the target cells. Not only is this process even more painful than tattooing, it can take many treatments and a lot of cash. BLRT can apparently accomplish the same task without causing damage to surrounding skin. The key is those inky macrophages embedded in the skin. Rather than heating them until they burst, BLRT delivers a drug that kills the cells without harming surrounding tissues. Falkenham believes that after enough applications, the ink from the original tattoo could be mostly cleared. Early estimates suggest weekly applications for a few months, but lasers aren’t particularly fast either. Falkenham is testing BLRT in the lab right now and plans to begin trials on pigs that were tattooed with ID numbers at birth. Human trials could begin in a few years. So for the time being, think hard about your trip to the tattoo parlor.
Portugal Cut Addiction Rates in Half by Connecting Drug Users With Communities Instead of Jailing Them – (Yes – February 12, 2015)
The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself. But in the 1970s, Bruce Alexander, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver, noticed that the rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends. The rats with good lives mostly shunned the drugged water. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did. Professor Alexander argues that addiction is an adaptation. The opposite of addiction is not sobriety; it is human connection. This isn’t theoretical. Fifteen years ago, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe, with 1% of the population addicted to heroin. They had tried a drug war, and the problem just kept getting worse. So they decided to do something radically different. They resolved to decriminalize all drugs, and transfer all the money they used to spend on arresting and jailing drug addicts, and spend it instead on reconnecting them to their own feelings, and to the wider society. The results? Since total decriminalization, addiction has fallen, and injecting drug use is down by 50%.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
The Mars “Methane Equals Life” Debate Rolls On… – (Daily Galaxy – February 27, 2015)
The Curiosity robot confirms methane in Mars’ atmosphere which may hint that life may have existed. An article published in Science confirms the existence of methane fluctuations in the atmosphere of Mars, as a result of the detailed analysis of data sent during 605 SOLs or Martian days. The tunable laser spectrometer in the SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) instrument of the Curiosity robot has unequivocally detected an episodic increase in the concentration of methane in Mars’ atmosphere after an exhaustive analysis of data obtained during 605 soles or Martian days. This puts an end to the long controversy on the presence of methane in Mars, which started over a decade ago when this gas was first detected with telescopes from Earth. The controversy increased afterwards with the measurements obtained by orbiting satellites, some of which were occasionally contradictory. These new and incontrovertible data open paths for new research that can identify the sources that produce this gas–which could include some type of biological activity–and the mechanisms by means of which the gas is eliminated with such inexplicable speed. The new questions posed by these results far outnumber the answers it does provide, such as the nature of its sources–which must lie in one or two additional sources that were not originally contemplated in the models used so far. Among these sources, we must not rule out biological methanogenesis. Another new question is related to the bizarre evolution of methane in the Martian atmosphere after its emission.
Saturn’s Titan: Life Not As We Know It – (Daily Galaxy – February 27, 2015)
A new type of methane-based, oxygen-free life form that can metabolize and reproduce similar to life on Earth has been modeled by a team of Cornell University researchers. Taking a simultaneously imaginative and rigidly scientific view, chemical engineers and astronomers offer a template for life that could thrive in a harsh, cold world – specifically Titan, the giant moon of Saturn. A planetary body awash with seas not of water, but of liquid methane, Titan could harbor methane-based, oxygen-free cells. On Earth, life is based on the phospholipid bilayer membrane, the strong, permeable, water-based vesicle that houses the organic matter of every cell. A vesicle made from such a membrane is called a liposome. Thus, many astronomers seek extraterrestrial life in what’s called the circumstellar habitable zone, the narrow band around the sun in which liquid water can exist. But what if cells weren’t based on water, but on methane, which has a much lower freezing point? The researchers theorized a cell membrane, composed of small organic nitrogen compounds and capable of functioning in liquid methane temperatures of 292 degrees below zero. Excited by the initial proof of concept, the researchers’ next step is to try and demonstrate how these cells would behave in the methane environment – what might be the analogue to reproduction and metabolism in oxygen-free, methane-based cells.
Fatal Accidents as a Global Health Crisis – (New York Times – February 17, 2015)
Worldwide, road injuries kill more people than AIDS. Falls kill nearly three times as many people as brain cancer. Drowning claims more lives than mothers dying in childbirth. Both fire and poisonings have many times more fatal victims than natural disasters. In 2013, the combined death toll from all unintentional injuries was 3.5 million people. Only heart disease and stroke were greater killers. These findings are from the “Global Burden of Disease” study, an international collaboration led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which tracks the annual toll of 240 causes of death for men and women in 20 age groups across 188 countries. Look beneath the top-level results and you can see huge variations among countries that are economic peers. This is actually encouraging news: It means that some countries have figured out a much better way to curb accidental deaths — and that other countries might be able to follow. In France and Spain, according to the study’s authors, people die from transport injuries at roughly the same rate, but the French are twice as likely to die from falls, even when you adjust for the country’s older population. In Britain and the United States, deaths from falls are almost equivalent, but Americans are twice as likely to die from poisonings, again adjusted for age differences. Why? If Russia could emulate Brazil, it would cut age-standardized deaths per capita from fire by 80%. If India could copy China, it would cut age-standardized deaths per capita from drowning by 30%. How?
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
New Wearable: Zaps Your Brain to Help Focus or Relax – (Fast Company – February 13, 2015)
A new wearable promises to optimize your state of mind through electrical stimulation, giving the same mood-changing benefits of caffeine or alcohol without any of the downsides. “This is the first wearable that actually modulates your biology,” says Jamie Tyler, co-founder of the startup Thync. By attaching an electrode behind an ear or the neck, a user is supposed to target specific regions of his or her brain to become more focused and motivated, or more calm. Through “neurosignaling algorithms”—waveforms that signal neural pathways—the device helps shift between the part of the brain responsible for the fight-or-flight response and the part of the nervous system that is more relaxed, according to the company. You basically just get a shift in your mental state,” says Tyler. “The acute effect can last anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour; with some people it can last two or three hours.” There are “calm vibe” and “energy vibe” settings. Users who tested the calm state were so relaxed, Tyler explains, that they couldn’t even force themselves to worry about anything. “We always tell people to worry about something that would upset you or stress you out, and people can’t,” he says. “They try to think of something that would worry them or cause them stress, and they don’t feel the stress. And that’s because we’re basically dampening the sympathetic nervous system or the stress part of the nervous system.” The result, he says, feels a little like drinking a couple of glasses of wine, but without impairment. In tests, the team found that reaction times didn’t change, and people didn’t think any less clearly. They just felt relaxed, and that had a multiplying effect throughout the day. The “energy vibe” is similar to drinking coffee, but without jitteriness or other side effects.
New Processing Technique Transforms Biochar from Agricultural Residue into Graphene – (AZO Materials – February 2, 2015)
Researchers from the South Dakota State University (SDSU) have used a pyrolysis process to transform plant materials such as corn stover, native grasses and dried distillers grain solids (DDGS) into bio-oil and biochar, which could then be converted into graphene. The resulting product – graphene, is many times more valuable than the agricultural residue. Zhengrong Gu, an assistant professor at the SDSU agricultural and biosystems engineering department, states that the pyrolysis process converts the plant materials into biochar and bio-oil, and further processing of bio-oil transforms it into biofuel. Biochar is a charcoal-like material, which Gu is converting into graphene. Activated carbon is a material that is used for coating the electrodes of supercapacitors, which are used for storage of energy. Activated carbon is expensive and graphene can be used in place of this material for electrode coating. Gu explained that start-up and run capacitors are used by small engines, however supercapacitors possess a higher energy storage capacity and also have more fast charge and discharge rates. Supercapacitors also have the ability to can withstand low temperatures, which conventional batteries cannot. The United States imports most of its activated carbon requirements from Asian countries including Japan, China and Thailand, for manufacturing supercapacitors. Gu estimates that around 2.2lb of graphene has a value of $1,000. The cost of 1 pound of DDGS is around 7.5-9¢, which, when converted, produces approximately 7oz of graphene.
Bacteria Used to Yield Pure Water and Produce Hydrogen – (International Business Times – February 2, 2015)
In two separate research findings, scientists have used bacteria in processes that can deliver substantial power when scaled up in the future. While a Sintef team in Norway has a method to deliver purified water, a Missouri researcher has discovered a bacterium that produces hydrogen, the fuel of the future. The Sintef researchers converted waste water into power using bacteria in an entirely natural process that delivers purified water. As the bacteria feed on waste water, they produce electrons and protons and the resulting voltage generates electricity. While the electricity generated is small, it is an environmentally friendly process where the end product is purified water. The team plans to scale up the process to generate the power needed for the water purification. “In simple terms, this type of fuel cell works because the bacteria consume the waste materials found in the water,” explains Sintef researcher Luis Cesar Colmenares. The challenge was in finding the bacteria most suited for the job and the right mechanism. A researcher at Missouri University of Science and Technology has stumbled upon a bacterium that could help mass-produce hydrogen for fuel cells in the future.
Visa to Track Smartphones to Spot Fraud – (Associated Press – February 14, 2015)
Those days of calling your bank to let them know that, yes, you really are in Thailand, and yes, you really did use your credit card to buy $200 in sarongs may be nearing an end. The payment processing company Visa will roll out a feature this spring that will allow its cardholders to inform their banks where they are automatically using the location function found in nearly every smartphone. Having your bank and Visa know where you are at all times may sound a little like “Big Brother.” But privacy experts are applauding the feature, saying that, if used correctly, it could protect cardholders and cut down on credit card fraud. Here’s how it works: starting in April, banks will update their smartphone apps to include Visa’s new location-tracking software. If the consumer opts in, the Visa software will, over a period of time, establish a customer’s home territory of roughly a 50-mile radius. If the person uses his or her Visa card at stores in that area, those transactions will be considered low risk for fraud. When that person travels outside their home area, the phone will notify Visa that they’ve entered a new city or country, using the phone’s cellular data plan or the next time the phone connects to a Wi-Fi network. When that person uses their card for a transaction in that location, Visa will already know he or she is there and will be less likely to flag the card for a fraud alert. The feature is optional and can be deactivated at any time. Visa says none of the location tracking will be used for marketing purposes. Visa’s new anti-fraud measure won’t address every potential fraud situation. If a card user has both their phone and credit cards stolen, for example, Visa wouldn’t necessarily know that the card was at risk of fraudulent use until the cardholder contacted the company.
Most Design Brands Will Disappear within Five Years Says Stefano Giovannoni – (Dezeen – February 28, 2015)
Most furniture and lighting brands “will disappear in five years” as the internet revolutionizes the way products are distributed, according to Italian industrial designer Stefano Giovannoni. “I think the old world of distribution is at the end. This kind of company has five years of life.” Giovannoni, head of Milan-based Giovannoni Design, predicted that new web-based brands will spring up that sell products directly to consumers, undercutting the prices charged by traditional retailers by up to 50%. “The future will be based on taking products from production directly to the final user,” he said. The result will be a dramatic fall in prices as new online brands with the resources to invest in high-volume, low-cost products are able to bypass distributors and retailers and pass on savings to consumers. The markets for products such as furniture, lighting and bathroom products are already saturated, the designer argued, and the companies operating in these sectors have so far failed to establish strong online presences or strategies. To survive, they will have to take product distribution and retail out of the hands of third parties and sell exclusively via their own shops, or sell discounted products online. (Editor’s note: It will be interesting to see how willing customers are going to be to shop for home furnishings in on-line “boutiques” as opposed to on-line “department stores” such as Restoration Hardware, Wayfair and Build.com – and how well the boutiques can position themselves in a Google search. ) See also: “It’s the end of fashion as we know it” says Li Edelkoort.
Time Is Running Out for Ethicists to Tackle Very Real Robot Quandaries – (ExtremeTech – February 16, 2015))
By its nature, the Open Roboethics Initiative is easy to dismiss — until you read anything they’ve published. As we head toward a self-driving future in which virtually all of us will spend some portion of the day with our lives in the hands of a piece of autonomous software, it ought to be clear that robot morality is anything but academic. In an unavoidable crash scenario, should your car kill the child on the street, or the one in your passenger seat? Even if we can master such calculus and make it morally simple, we will do so only in time to watch a flood of household robots enter the market and create a host of much more vexing problems. There’s nothing frivolous about it — robot ethics is the most important philosophical issue of our time. Open Roboethics conducted a poll on this issue, and the respondents had a spectrum of opinion on such coldly numerical ways of thinking. Right away we have a conflict, and one that could dramatically slow the release (or at least the sales) of self-driving cars. Who’s going to buy a car that would decide to kill you, your spouse, and your three kids to avoid forcing a school bus into a wall? Who’s going to buy a car that wouldn’t? Alternatively, who’s going to support a politician who wants one or the other standard to be enforced by law? (Editor’s note: The range of responses to the poll, displayed in a fast-grab graph in the article is a must-see.)
No one in control: The algorithms that run our lives – (New Scientist – February 4, 2015)
We only notice when algorithms go wrong. Most of the time they get on with business out of sight and out of mind. And business is booming. Automated processes are no longer simply tools at our disposal: they often make the decisions themselves. Much of the news we read, the music we listen to and the products we buy are served up automatically, based on statistical guesswork about what we want. Invisible chaperones shape our online experiences. Systems we can’t examine and don’t understand determine the route we take to work, the rates we get for mortgages, and the price we see for airfares. They decide what results you see in an internet search, and what adverts appear next to them. They choose which friends you hear from on social networks. They may decide if you’re a valid target for the intelligence services. They may even decide if you have the right to vote. Much of this goes unremarked by those it affects. But when people become aware of it, the reaction is apt to be hostile – as it was last year when news broke that Facebook had experimented with manipulating its users’ emotions through minor changes to their newsfeeds. This mistrust isn’t helped by the baffling, often absurd results when algorithms don’t work as anticipated. Minor goofs, from odd translations to eccentric suggestions, are popular when shared on social media. But bigger glitches can have serious consequences, from “flash crashes” on stock markets to fire sales on shopping sites. Many algorithms are proprietary and all are complex, pushing them beyond public scrutiny. How can we be sure they’re playing fair? A new wave of algorithm auditors are on the case, intent on pulling back the curtain on the hidden workings and hunting for undue bias or discrimination. But is this the fix? Do algorithms need better policing, or must we accept their nature as a price we pay for our automated world? (Editor’s note: The link above requires a subscription to read the entire article. It may also be found for free here .)
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Landsat Goes over the Top: A Long View of the Arctic – (NASA – February 18, 2015)
On February 11, 2013, the Landsat 8 satellite rocketed into space to extend a four-decade legacy of Earth observations. A few months after launch, NASA published a composite of images that spanned 9,000 kilometers of land from Russia to South Africa. In celebration of the satellite’s second anniversary, the mosaic concept returns with a chilly twist, this time featuring a slice of the Arctic Circle. The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired this unbroken swath of images on June 21, 2014—the summer solstice—when the Sun stays above the horizon of the Arctic for at least 24 hours. While much of the region is still frozen in June, the ice is in various stages of melting. The Landsat 8 swath begins in Sweden and Finland, then crosses the Greenland Sea and northern Greenland. The scenes then take us over North America, through Canada’s Nunavut and Northwest Territories, before ending up offshore of British Columbia. In its entirety, the flyover covers an area about 4,200 miles long by 120 miles wide. (Editor’s note: This is stunning photography, with the geographic features well labeled.)
See Russia’s Tesla Tower Through the Eyes of a Drone – (Engadget – February 18, 2015)
Russia’s massive impulse generator that can shoot deadly 500 to 650-foot lightning bolts isn’t exactly off limits, but it is tucked away near a forest, far from the usual tourist traps… for obvious reasons. However, Russia Today got permission to film the Tesla Tower-inspired complex, giving us a complete view of the whole facility from up high. The Marx generator, also called the “Tesla Tower” like the early 1900s New York facility that inspired it, was built during the 1970s, 25 miles west of Moscow. It’s so powerful, it can emit energy equivalent to the electricity produced by all the power plants in Russia for 100 microseconds. The tower’s original purpose was to serve as a testing ground during the USSR’s quest to weaponize electromagnetic pulses, but these days, the country’s using it to test its superjets’ lightning protection. If you’d rather not risk going near a structure that fires out bolts of lightning, you can see the Soviet era Tesla Tower for yourself in the video below the fold.
JUST FOR FUN
Fly Through the Largest Picture Ever Taken – (YouTube – January 6, 2015)
Here is the largest photograph ever taken. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope captured the full image, which is made up of 411 Hubble images. It takes you through a 100 million stars and travels over more than 40,000 light years. The photograph has a staggering 1.5 billion pixels, meaning you would need 600 HD television screens to display it. It shows the neighboring Andromeda galaxy, closest spiral galaxy to our Milky Way. This video clip takes you on a “fly-through”, showing detail in the gigantic Andromeda galaxy.
A FINAL QUOTE–
The future started yesterday and we are already late. – excerpt from If You’re Out There, Track 9 of John Legend’s album, Evolver.
A special thanks to: Uri Avnery, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Sergio Lub, Michael Ostrolenk, 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