FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- Dogs understand both vocabulary and intonation of human speech.
- Restaurants that switch to smaller containers for leftovers find more food goes home, reducing overall restaurant food waste.
- The public cost of cleaning up the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster topped ¥4.2 trillion (roughly $628 billion) as of March and is expected to keep climbing.
- Austin, along with Los Angeles, has 23% of its labor force working on a “contract” basis, i.e. without paid benefits and typically without a steady income.
by John L. Petersen
Explaining the Paradigm Shift: Steve McDonald coming to Berkeley Springs
Steve McDonald, an extraordinary Australian thinker and researcher who arguably knows as much about the structure of the global planetary transition that we are experiencing as anyone on the planet is coming to Berkeley Springs on the 24th of September.
Few people can draw the coherent pictures he does from the deep insights of Clair W. Graves and then paint clear, explanatory images of not only how humanity has evolved to this point, but what is inevitably on our horizon . . . and how this epic transition will continue to play out.
Steve’s operating structure and framework is an integrated, multidimensional one that synthesizes and explains what is happening now (in science, politics, geopolitics, attitude shifts, consciousness, values and perspectives) and what it is evolving into. This is inherently predictive and very enlightening, making clear why US politics is in disarray and the Middle East is chaotic . . . and science and technology are exploding, for example. This is a story about the very interworkings of the evolution of a new world and a new human.
The result? One of the clearest outlines of the emerging new world that you will find anywhere.
Come hear this message of hope that will help you make sense of all of the swirling change that is everywhere that we look. This will be a very powerful presentation that will pull away the curtains from the window that looks out onto the path ahead.
Steve will be speaking on Saturday, the 24th of September at the Ice House Theatre starting at 2PM. For complete information go to www.transitiontalks.org
Gregg Braden Returns in October
Internationally acclaimed author, Gregg Braden, returns again to Transition Talks on Saturday, the 29th of October. This will be a whole new presentation that Gregg has prepared that shows how the cycles and patterns of the past point directly at what is now coming our way.
What would it mean to discover that life events—everything from our success and abundance to our betrayals and hurts—are based upon natural rhythms that can be known and predicted? Does an artifact from our ancient past hold the key to understanding nature’s cycles in our lives today? The recent discovery of Fractal Time now gives us everything we need to answer these questions, and more. Doing so, however, opens the door to even deeper mysteries!
We always have a great crowd when Gregg is with us, so plan for this now and register as soon as possible to assure yourself of a seat at this transformational day.
Full information is at www.transitiontalks.org
Liberal, Moderate or Conservative? See How Facebook Labels You – (New York Times – August 23, 2016)
You may think you are discreet about your political views. But Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, has come up with its own determination of your political leanings, based on your activity on the site. And now, it is easy to find out how Facebook has categorized you — as very liberal or very conservative, or somewhere in between. This works best on your desktop computer: Go to facebook.com/ads/preferences on your browser. (You may have to log in to Facebook first.) That will bring you to a page with your ad preferences. Under the “Interests” header, click the “Lifestyle and Culture” tab. Then look for a box titled “US Politics.” In parentheses, it will describe how Facebook has categorized you, such as liberal, moderate or conservative. (If the “US Politics” box does not show up, click the “See more” button under the grid of boxes.) Facebook makes a deduction about your political views based on the pages that you like — or on your political preference, if you stated one, on your profile page. If you like the page for Hillary Clinton, Facebook might categorize you as a liberal. Even if you do not like any candidates’ pages, if most of the people who like the same pages that you do — such as Ben and Jerry’s ice cream — identify as liberal, then Facebook might classify you as one, too. The information is valuable. Advertisers, including many political campaigns, pay Facebook to show their ads to specific demographic groups. The labels Facebook assigns to its users help campaigns more precisely target a particular audience. For instance, Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign has paid for its ads to be shown to those who Facebook has labeled politically moderate.
Did Physicists Discover a Previously Unknown Fifth Force of Nature? – (LA Times – August 17, 2016)
A tiny, unseen force could potentially alter our basic understanding of the universe — if it really exists. Theoretical physicists at UC Irvine say they’ve found evidence for a fifth fundamental force of nature, carried by a particle that until now has gone totally unnoticed. If supported by the independent work of other teams, the boson could move scientists to rewrite the standard model of particle physics. “If this is true, it would be a really big guide as to what the future would hold as far as the ultimate theory of particle physics,” said study coauthor Timothy Tait, a UC Irvine theoretical particle physicist. There are four known forces that govern the interactions of matter: gravitation, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces. A force like gravitation sculpts the universe at the enormous scale of galaxy clusters; the strong and weak nuclear forces prevail in the tiny interactions between subatomic particles. Together, those four forces govern the interactions between all the matter in the universe. But (possible) fifth force – one carried by a particle that they’re calling “boson X” is a sort of analogue to electromagnetism — except where electromagnetism acts on electrons and protons (and ignores neutrons), this fifth force works between electrons and neutrons (and ignores protons).
Dogs Understand Both Vocabulary and Intonation of Human Speech – (Science Daily – August 30, 2016)
Dogs have the ability to distinguish vocabulary words and the intonation of human speech through brain regions similar to those that humans use, a new study reports. Attila Andics et al. note that vocabulary learning “does not appear to be a uniquely human capacity that follows from the emergence of language, but rather a more ancient function that can be exploited to link arbitrary sound sequences to meanings.” Humans understand speech through both vocabulary and intonation. In this study, Andics and colleagues explored whether dogs also depend on both mechanisms. Researchers used fMRI to analyze the dogs’ brain activity as the animals listened to each combination. Their results reveal that, regardless of intonation, dogs process vocabulary, recognizing each word as distinct, and further, that they do so in a way similar to humans, using the left hemisphere of the brain. Also like humans, the researchers found that dogs process intonation separately from vocabulary, in auditory regions in the right hemisphere of the brain. Lastly, and also like humans, the team found that the dogs relied on both word meaning and intonation when processing the reward value of utterances. Thus, dogs seem to understand both human words and intonation. The authors note that it is possible that selective forces during domestication could have supported the emergence of the brain structure underlying this capability in dogs, but, such rapid evolution of speech-related hemispheric asymmetries is unlikely.
What Was Otzi the Iceman Wearing When He Died? Pretty Much an Entire Zoo. – (Washington Post – August 18, 2016)
When Otzi the Iceman was discovered in 1991, his 5,300-year-old body had been remarkably well preserved by his glacial tomb. And while they weren’t exactly runway ready, his clothes held up pretty nicely as well. The garments were clearly made of animal skins and furs, but scientists had no way of knowing what species the scrappy ensemble had come from. DNA sequencing has come a long way since then, and now we’ve finally gotten a peek into Copper Age wardrobe choices. Otzi was wearing hides from at least five different animals when he met his maker. For now, the team has analyzed the mitochondrial DNA in his leggings (goat), loincloth (sheep), shoelace (cow leather), hat (brown bear), coat (sheep and goat) and quiver (roe deer). But the researchers don’t think the Iceman got dressed in the dark. For example, cow leather, which was found in Otzi’s shoes, was the sturdiest material on his body – suggesting his boots were made for walking. Sheep leather, which made up parts of his striped coat, would have kept him warmer than other materials. And his leggings are made of the same material as some other Copper Age legwear found nearby, suggesting that goatskin was chosen for a reason.
Seeing Through to a Mouse’s Nervous System – (New York Times – August 22, 2016)
Neuroscientists have developed a way to turn an entire (dead) mouse, including its muscles and internal organs, transparent while illuminating the nerve paths that run throughout its body. The process, called uDisco, provides an alternate way for researchers to study an organism’s nervous system without having to slice into sections of its organs or tissues. It allows researchers to use a microscope to trace neurons from the rodent’s brain and spinal cord all the way to its fingers and toes. To do this, the mice were tagged with a special fluorescent protein to make specific parts of their anatomy glow. Dr. Ertürk and his team developed a two-step process that renders a rodent transparent while keeping its internal organs structurally sound. First, they dumped the mouse in a glass of alcohol to dehydrate it. Water acts like a mirror and reflects light, so they needed to rid the mouse’s muscles and tissues of it. Then they soaked the mouse in an organic solvent that dissolves its fats like a dishwashing detergent. While the researchers were soaking the outsides of the rodent in alcohol and the organic solvent, they were simultaneously pumping the liquids through its blood vessels to douse its insides as well. It takes about four days for the mouse to become transparent. Another effect of the uDisco formula is that it also shrinks the mouse to about half or a third of its size. That makes it small and flexible enough to fit under a microscope. So far, the technique has been conducted only in mice and rats, but the scientists think it could one day be used to map the human brain. They also said it could be particularly useful for studying the effects of mental disorders like Alzheimer’s disease or schizophrenia. (Editor’s note: This gives the notion of a witch doctor’s shrunken heads a whole new sense of possibility.)
New Nanotechnology Could Make Dentist Visits Thing of the Past – (Vacativ – August 1, 2016)
Plaque is a biofilm, a thin but strong 3D matrix of bacteria that work together. Once the slimy film adheres to a surface, it’s really difficult to get it off. Dentists recommend brushing, flossing, and mouthwash to slow the buildup of plaque, but some plaque buildup is inevitable even for those with the best oral hygiene. If plaque is left stuck to the teeth indefinitely, the bacteria can eat away at the tooth enamel, causing damage and cavities. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have developed a way to get rid of plaque using nanoparticles. Iron-rich nanoparticles ignite the activity of hydrogen peroxide, an antibacterial compound that’s often used in mouthwashes to help damaged gums heal. The chemical reaction between the particles and the hydrogen peroxide creates unbound molecules called free radicals, which can puncture the plaque’s defenses and kill the bacteria inside the biofilm. When rats were treated with the nanoparticle and hydrogen peroxide solution for one minute twice per day over the course of three weeks, the researchers saw a dramatic decrease in the amount of plaque buildup and tooth decay compared to the control rats that were just treated with hydrogen peroxide. The gums or other soft tissue in the mouth weren’t damaged or inflamed.
Mouse Study Suggests Stem Cells May Reverse Stroke Damage – (US News – August 22, 2016)
Research in mice shows it may be possible to reverse brain damage after a stroke. “No one in the stroke field has ever shown this, so I believe this is going to be the gold standard for future studies,” said senior study author Berislav Zlokovic, director of the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute at the University of Southern California. The experimental treatment combined transplanted neural stem cells with a protein called 3K3A-APC, the scientists said. In mice, the protein triggered the stem cells to become functioning neurons. But animal research does not always pan out in humans. Jim Koenig, a program director at the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), said that the “study could pave the way for a potential breakthrough in how we treat people who have experienced a stroke.” NINDS funded the research. Zlokovic and his team now want to conduct a clinical trial to test whether this therapy is effective in people with strokes. If it’s successful, they plan to test the therapy in treating other neurological conditions, such as spinal cord injuries.
Controversial US Scientist Creates Deadly New Flu Strain for Pandemic Research – (Independent – June 30, 2016)
Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison has genetically manipulated the 2009 strain of pandemic flu in order for it to “escape” the control of the immune system’s neutralizing antibodies, effectively making the human population defenseless against its reemergence. Most of the world today has developed some level of immunity to the 2009 pandemic flu virus, which means that it can now be treated as less dangerous “seasonal flu”. However, Professor Kawaoka intentionally set out to see if it was possible to convert it to a pre-pandemic state in order to analyze the genetic changes involved. Some scientists who are aware of the research project are horrified that Dr. Kawaoka was allowed to deliberately remove the only defense against a strain of flu virus that has already demonstrated its ability to create a deadly pandemic that killed as many as 500,000 people in the first year of its emergence. Professor Kawaoka has so far kept details of the research out of the public domain but admitted that the work is complete and ready for submission to a scientific journal. The experiment was designed to monitor the changes to the 2009 H1N1 strain of virus that would enable it to escape immune protection in order to improve the design of vaccines, he said. The work was carried out at Wisconsin University’s $12m Institute for Influenza Virus Research in Madison which was built specifically to house Professor Kawaoka’s laboratory, which has a level-3-agriculture category of biosafety: one below the top safety level for the most dangerous pathogens, such as Ebola virus. Professor Kawaoka’s work had been cleared by Wisconsin’s Institutional Biosafety Committee, but some members of the committee were not informed about details of the antibody study on pandemic H1N1, and have voiced concerns about the direction, oversight and safety of his overall research on flu viruses.
An MIT Scientist Claims That This Pill Is the Fountain of Youth – (NY Mag – August 23, 2016)
Leonard Guarente is certain he’s succeeded where doctors (and quacks) before him have failed. His pill will either extend lives or tarnish his career. The supplement, Basis, which can be ordered online without a prescription, ($60 for a month’s supply), is either the most sophisticated fountain-of-youth scam ever to come to market or the first fountain-of-youth pill ever to work. Most impressively, the company’s co-founder is Leonard Guarente, who heads MIT’s aging center and is one of the pioneers of aging science, a contender for the Nobel Prize should geroscience ever get a nod from the Swedish academy.Basis and the other pills that will likely follow it in the next five to ten years are the fruits of a scientific backwater that has been working toward this moment for a quarter-century. These drugs and supplements are aimed to be a hack of the heretofore most intractable condition of human existence, the invisible countdown clock with which evolution has equipped our bodies. They just might postpone the onset of the most common afflictions of our dotage, from cancer to heart disease to diabetes to Alzheimer’s. We won’t necessarily enjoy longer maximum life spans (though that’s a possibility), but we very well might enjoy longer health spans, meaning the vital, productive chunk of our lives before degeneration kicks in. Because the two active compounds in Basis, pterostilbene and NR, are natural (occurring in blueberries and milk, respectively) and have long been available separately as supplements, Elysium has been able to skip the FDA gauntlet and sell its capsules immediately. The agility that comes with bypassing federal regulation has an obvious cost: Guarente and his advisory board are the only scientific credibility the manufacturer can claim. (Editor’s note: We draw no conclusions about this particular supplement, but recommend the article for its review of the larger geroscience field.)
Nuclear Accident in New Mexico Ranks Among the Costliest in U.S. History – (Los Angeles Times – August 22, 2016)
When a drum containing radioactive waste blew up in an underground nuclear dump in New Mexico two years ago, the Energy Department rushed to quell concerns in the Carlsbad desert community and quickly reported progress on resuming operations. The early federal statements gave no hint that the blast had caused massive long-term damage to the dump, a facility crucial to the nuclear weapons cleanup program that spans the nation. But the explosion ranks among the costliest nuclear accidents in U.S. history. The long-term cost of the mishap could top $2 billion, an amount roughly in the range of the cleanup after the 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. The dump, officially known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, was designed to place waste from nuclear weapons production since World War II into ancient salt beds, which engineers say will collapse around the waste and permanently seal it. The equivalent of 277,000 drums of radioactive waste is headed to the dump, according to federal documents. It had operated problem-free for 15 years and was touted by the Energy Department as a major success until the explosion. Though [an] error at the Los Alamos lab caused the accident, a federal investigation found more than two dozen safety lapses at the dump. The dump’s filtration system was supposed to prevent any radioactive releases, but it malfunctioned. The accident is also complicating cleanup programs at about a dozen current and former nuclear weapons sites across the U.S. Thousands of tons of radioactive waste that were headed for the dump are backed up in Idaho, Washington, New Mexico and elsewhere.
Saudi Princess Compares Geoengineering to a “Weapon of Mass Destruction” – (Collective Evolution – February 22, 2016)
HRH Princess Basmah Bint Saud, humanitarian and daughter of King Saud, has compared geoengineering science and programs to weapons of mass destruction. She also stressed that geoengineering threatens the world’s water and food supply, and is one of the keys of the “new power” in the world. She emphasized that the people behind these programs are playing a very dangerous game with the planet’s equilibrium through geoengineering, and that this is a method of “slow poisoning.” Geoengineering is the deliberate and large-scale intervention into the Earth’s climatic system. This is done through various means, one of which is the spraying of chemicals into the atmosphere via planes. Weather modification actually dates back to the 1940s, when the General Electric Company demonstrated that a cloud of super-cooled water droplets could be transformed into ice crystals when seeded with dry ice. In 1990, the Hughes Aircraft Company was awarded a patent for processes that claim to reduce global warming through stratospheric seeding with aluminum oxide, thorium oxide, and refractory Welsbach material. In the UK, government funded geoengineering research projects collaborate with the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Bristol; some of the proposed particles to spray in the air include: Sulphate/Sulphuric Acid/Sulphur Dioxide; Titania; Silicon Carbide; Calcium Carbonate; Alumina; Silica; and Zinc Oxide. They refer to it as Solar Radiation Management, and the idea is to spray these chemicals into the atmosphere in order to combat the effects of global warming by deflecting them away from Earth’s surface. A 1996 report conducted by top military personnel in the U.S., titled “Weather as a Force Multiplier; Owning the Weather in 2025,” noted that “In the United States, weather-modification will likely become a part of national security policy with both domestic and international applications. Our government will pursue such a policy, depending on its interests, at various levels.” In other words, this paper envisions the weaponization of weather modification.
Over $628 Billion in Public Costs Cleaning Up Fukushima and Not Near Done – (Nation of Change – August 29, 2016)
According to the Japan Times, the public cost of cleaning up the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster topped ¥4.2 trillion (roughly $628 billion) as of March and is expected to keep climbing. Radioactive decontamination, waste disposal and compensation payments are included in this price. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is asking for more taxpayer money to finish the job. “There are numerous problems that are all interconnected, but one of the biggest that we are facing at the moment is the highly contaminated water that is being stored in huge steel tanks at the site,” said Aileen Mioko-Smith, an anti-nuclear activist with the group Green Action Japan. “They are running out of space at the site to put these tanks. The water that is being generated on a daily basis means they have to keep constructing more, and the ones that are not welded have a history of leaking.”
How Lightning Can Kill 300 Reindeer with One Strike – (Wired – August 30, 2016)
Recently on Norway’s Hardangervidda mountain plateau, more than 300 reindeer corpses were found piled up and strewn across the mountainside, in a natural massacre that Norwegian officials are calling the deadliest lightning strike in their country’s history. Lightning strikes are not uncommon, nor are animals getting killed by them. But it’s the scale of the Norway event that is puzzling experts. At this time, the Norwegian Environmental Agency has not released details of the investigation, but some scientists are formulating a few theories of their own. And they all involve some very basic principles of electromagnetism. The Hardangervidda sits at something called a zero degree isotherm, where the average air temperature hovers right around the freezing point of water. That means that permafrost (soil that’s been frozen for two plus years) occurs a bit deeper down—but near the surface it’s constantly in flux between melting and freezing, depending on the season. This is important, because while liquid water is a strong electrical conductor, frozen water very much is not. When lightning strikes, the current flows into the ground and outward, following the path of least resistance. In a warmer place, the electricity would penetrate deep into the soil and disperse quickly (this is called grounding). But in a place like the Hardangervidda, as the current runs into the soil and hits the permafrost layer, it spreads out along the surface of the soil, which is saturated with water from annual cycles of melting—and in this case, the massive rainstorms that generated the lightning strike. Thus the area that gets zapped is much bigger and as current from a lightning strike encounters the high resistance of permafrost, it magnifies the voltage experienced by any object that happens to be unlucky enough to be on the surface at the time. Like a herd of reindeer.
Linux Took over the Web. Now, It’s Taking over the World – (Wired – August 25, 2016)
Linux is one of the most important pieces of computer software in the world. Chances are, you use it every day. Linux runs every Android phone and tablet on Earth. And even if you’re on an iPhone or a Mac or a Windows machine, Linux is working behind the scenes, across the Internet, serving up most of the webpages you view and powering most of the apps you use. Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Wikipedia—it’s all running on Linux. You can already find Linux in smart TVs from companies like Samsung and LG, Nest thermostats, Amazon’s Kindle e-readers, and drones from companies like 3DR. Those huge displays in Tesla cars are powered by Linux, and many car companies—including Toyota, Honda, and Ford—sponsor the Automotive Grade Linux project, which is dedicated to building software for connected cars. And when self-driving cars finally hit the road, you can bet they’ll be powered by Linux. Companies turn to Linux today when they want to build new technology for the same reason that web developers turned to the operating system in the 1990s: they can customize it to meet their needs, and then share (or sell) the results without having to get permission.
DUS Architects Builds 3D-printed Micro Home in Amsterdam – (Dezeen – August 30, 2016)
Dutch studio DUS Architects has 3D printed an eight-square-meter cabin and accompanying bathtub in Amsterdam, and is now inviting guests to stay overnight. The company used sustainable bio-plastic to create the 3D Print Urban Cabin, which is intended to demonstrate how additive manufacturing can offer solutions for temporary housing or disaster relief. When the cabin is no longer needed, it can be destroyed and almost all the materials can be reused. “The building is a research into compact and sustainable dwelling solutions in urban environments,” said the team. “3D printing techniques can be used particularly well for small temporary dwellings or in disaster areas. After use, the bio print material can be shredded entirely and re-printed into new designs.” The current design is impractical for temporary disaster housing; it appears to have no running water, no toilet, and no heat. However, it does nicely showcase a completely recyclable structure, printed from a bio-based material. Article includes numerous photos.
Good Vibrations: No Heat Needed for Ultrasonic Dryers – (Energy.gov – May 10, 2016)
Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee are changing the way Americans do laundry—using vibrations instead of heat to dry their clothes. This new technology, called the ultrasonic clothes dryer, is expected to dry clothes in half the time and use 70% less energy than today’s products, saving American consumers money on their energy bills. With support from the Energy Department’s Building Technologies Office, ORNL and GE Appliances are in the process of scaling-up this technology to a press dryer and clothes dryer drum within the next five months. Nearly 80% of U.S. households have clothes dryers. Combined, they consume 4% of all residential electricity use, and cost Americans nearly $9 billion per year on their utility bills. This is because they rely on an inefficient process that hasn’t seen significant innovation in decades—using electricity to heat the air and evaporate the water out of clothes. ORNL and GE are taking an entirely new approach to this traditional process by using high-frequency vibrations, instead of heat, to remove the water from the fabric with minimal lint generation. The technology uses piezoelectric transducers that contract and expand when voltage is added. By using a custom amplifier, the transducers—a device that converts electricity to vibration—vibrate at a high frequency turning the water into a cool mist as it’s removed from the fabric. The ultrasonic dryer is expected to cut drying time to about 20 minutes per load, down significantly from the current average of 50 minutes.
‘Smart’ Meter Fire Situation Continues to Escalate – (KSHB-TV, Kansas City – August 30, 2016)
Kansas City Power & Light is at the tail end of a two and a half year project to install more than 700,000 smart meters across the metro. It’s a small part of the billions of dollars utilities have invested in smart meters across the U.S. Kansas City Power and Light (KCP&L) Vice President Chuck Caisley said in a statement to the 41 Action News Investigators, “Out of the more than 700,000 meters KCP&L has installed, we are only aware of a handful of meter malfunctions.” There are multiple smart meter makers and different models. The company KCP&L uses has had past issues in other places. Despite few problems in the metro, hundreds of thousands of smart meters have been recalled in the last several years across North America. And hundreds of fires have broken out in California, Texas, Florida, Nevada, Illinois and across Canada. For example, California insurance adjuster Norman Lambe currently has seven open smart meter fire claims on his desk. Of the dozens of smart meter fires he’s investigated, he said overheating is the major issue. To check on your own meter, Lambe said the best way is to feel your meter at the end of the day when it’s cool outside. He said if it’s hot to the touch, call your utility company.
World’s First Self-Driving Taxis Hit the Road in Singapore – (Wall St. Journal – August 25, 2016)
Singapore has become the first country in the world to launch a self-driving taxi service on Thursday, beating ride-hailing giant Uber Technologies Inc. by mere days to public road tests of a technology that could revolutionize the transport industry. The trial, although small, illustrates how intense the global race to develop autonomous driving vehicles has become. The field has traditionally been dominated by U.S. tech giants like Uber and Alphabet Inc.’s Google. Singapore’s nuTonomy, founded by two researchers from MIT, said it began testing a free taxi-hailing service in a small business district in Singapore called one-north, a campus-like space dominated by tech firms and biotechnology companies. Other tech companies including Chinese internet giant Baidu Inc. have been testing self-driving cars on the roads for years, but this is the first time the vehicles have been open to public use. The trial was given the blessing of the Singapore government, which has long sought to turn the city-state into a hub for disruptive technology through generous financial-assistance programs and research partnerships with firms like nuTonomy. The one-north district is a self-contained area of about 0.8 square miles accessible by trunk roads but much quieter than most public roads in Singapore. NuTonomy said it would test its vehicles on a 3.7 mile route. The Singapore government has laid out a series of milestones for nuTonomy to achieve before it is allowed to extend its trials to other areas of the city. NuTonomy’s test vehicles will have backup human driver during the trial phase, and can be hailed by select members of the public using a smartphone app.
Airbus Is Building a High-speed Flying Taxi Fleet So You Never Have to Sit in Traffic Again – (Business Insider – August 17, 2016)
Airbus wants to make the flying car a reality. The aircraft manufacturer is designing a flying taxi, named CityAirbus, that can fly itself to make commuting easier in traffic-heavy cities. Airbus wrote on its website that the flying taxi will be part of a fleet so you can summon it on your smartphone. “Techies in Silicon Valley invent high-tech products every day. However, they still do not have a solution for one of their biggest problems: rush hour,” Airbus wrote on its website announcing the project. “In response, Airbus Group experts are looking skywards to develop radical concepts that will relieve urban congestion.” The biggest challenge is creating the system that will allow the CityAirbus to fly autonomously, Airbus wrote on the website. Airbus said that the taxi will first be operated by a pilot, but will fly autonomously once federal regulations are put in place that allow that. Airbus is also creating an electric, autonomous helicopter that can be used for commercial or personal use called Project Vahana. Airbus is aiming to conduct its first flight tests of the Vahana prototype vehicle by 2017 — a goal Rodin Lyasoff, the engineer leading the project, said sounds ambitious but is entirely feasible. “Many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors and avionics are most of the way there,” he wrote on the website.
Ship Operators Explore Autonomous Sailing – (Wall St. Journal – August 31, 2016)
“All hands on deck” may become a thing of the past. Ship designers, their operators and regulators are gearing up for a future in which cargo vessels sail the oceans with minimal or even no crew. Advances in automation and ample bandwidth even far offshore could herald the biggest change in shipping since diesel engines replaced steam. British engine maker Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC is leading the Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications initiative involving other companies and universities. It foresees technologies long used to improve commercial airline operations migrating to ships. The group also is tapping know-how from those working on driverless cars to adapt for safe at-sea autonomous operations. A future unmanned ship could resemble some of the most advanced combat drones. It would sport infrared detectors, high-resolution cameras and laser sensors to monitor its surroundings. The vast troves of data would be transmitted to command centers where staff do little more than monitor progress and ensure ships are operating at optimum speeds. The consortium completed a study this year that concluded such vessels are feasible and offer savings.
Chefs Get Creative about Restaurant Food Waste – (Truth Out – August 28, 2016)
The numbers are big. $218 billion of food is wasted every year in the United States — 1.3 percent of national GDP, or $1,500 a year for a family of four. In a country with 48 million food-insecure people, this represents 1,250 calories per person, every day. For restaurants and chefs, reducing food waste is becoming business as usual. Not only does it help the bottom line — a potential savings of $1.6 billion a year in an industry with tight margins — it saves resources all along the food supply chain. Dana Gunders of the National Resources Defense Council breaks it down like this: Plan smart and don’t have extra food to begin with, feed surplus to people if possible, animals second, and then look at composting as a last resort. She also points out that not all food waste is created equal. More resources go into producing animal products. Gunders compares throwing away a hamburger to taking a 90-minute hot shower, whereas throwing away an egg is like taking an 11-minute shower. One surprisingly effective solution to reducing waste? Shrink the size of the takeout container. Restaurants that switch to smaller containers for leftovers find more food goes home, Gunders said. Apparently customers feel more comfortable taking a half a pork chop or that side salad home in a tiny package. After all, who wants to lug a big box around to save a little bit of food? Chef Steven Satterfield of Miller Union Restaurant in Atlanta recommends reducing portion size on dishes that routinely come back from the table with leftovers. Restaurants can even lower the price on reduced portions and perhaps sell more overall.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Evidence Points to Another Snowden at the NSA – (Reuters – August 22, 2016)
The cyberspies, who recently penetrated the DNC, were armed with computers and sophisticated hacking tools. Where the Watergate burglars came away empty-handed and in handcuffs, the modern- day cyber thieves walked away with tens of thousands of sensitive political documents and are still unidentified. Now, in the latest twist, hacking tools themselves, likely stolen from the National Security Agency, are on the digital auction block. Once again, the usual suspects start with Russia – though there seems little evidence backing up the accusation. A more logical explanation could be insider theft. If that’s the case, it’s one more reason to question the usefulness of an agency that secretly collects private information on millions of Americans but can’t keep its most valuable data from being stolen, or as it appears in this case, being used against us. In addition, if Russia had stolen the hacking tools, it would be senseless to publicize the theft, let alone put them up for sale. It would be like a safecracker stealing the combination to a bank vault and putting it on Facebook. In what appeared more like a Saturday Night Live skit than an act of cybercrime, a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers put up for bid on the Internet what it called a “full state-sponsored toolset of cyberweapons.” The group said it was releasing some NSA files for “free” and promised “better” ones to the highest bidder. While the “auction” seemed tongue in cheek, more like hacktivists than Russian high command, the sample documents were almost certainly real.
Government Hackers Caught Using Unprecedented iPhone Spy Tool – (Motherboard – August 25, 2016)
On the morning of August 10, Ahmed Mansoor, a 46-year-old human rights activist from the United Arab Emirates, received a strange text message from a number he did not recognize on his iPhone. Mansoor, who had already been the victim of government hackers using commercial spyware products from FinFisher and Hacking Team, was suspicious and didn’t click on the link. Instead, he sent the message to Bill Marczak, a researcher at Citizen Lab, a digital rights watchdog at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. As it turned out, the message wasn’t what it purported to be. The link led to a sophisticated piece of malware that exploited three different unknown vulnerabilities in Apple’s iOS operating system that would have allowed the attackers to get full control of Mansoor’s iPhone, according to new joint reports released by Citizen Lab and mobile security company Lookout. Until this month, no one had seen an attempted spyware infection leveraging three unknown bugs, or zero-days, in the iPhone. It appears that the company that provided the spyware and the zero-day exploits to the hackers targeting Mansoor is a little-known Israeli surveillance vendor called NSO Group, which Lookout’s vice president of research Mike Murray labeled as “basically a cyber arms dealer.” Since its founding in 2010, NSO has developed a reputation for providing sophisticated malware to governments that need to target cellphones in their investigations, although the use of its tools has never been documented before. The patch is now live as part of the iOS 9.3.5 update, which every iPhone user should download and install as soon as possible. This is also the first sign of the rise of a new superpower in the spyware industry. NSO has potential to grow after the damaging—yet not deadly—hacks on FinFisher and Hacking Team, which are still the most well-known, and notorious, spy tech vendors today.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
How Voters with $25 “Democracy Vouchers” Might Overtake the Super PACs – (Yes Magazine – August 25, 2016)
Election reform advocates are closely watching Seattle to see whether it becomes a viable model for getting big money out of local politics. Last year the city approved a “democracy vouchers” program, which will publicly fund local candidates through small donors, requiring limits on campaign spending. Starting in 2017, all registered voters will receive $100 in vouchers from the city government to spend in $25 parcels on their preferred candidates for city office. Since then, two states—Washington and South Dakota—are putting similar programs on this fall’s ballot. Other local governments are considering donor matching programs, in which donations are paired with an extra chunk of public money, much the way New York City has practiced for nearly 30 years. While their methods may differ, local movements like these share the common goal of cutting big-money influence in elections in a post-Citizens United America. If they are successful, the power of the small donor may overtake that of the super PAC. New York City is considered the leader of the modern public-financing movement with the system it adopted in 1988. In a continual effort to lift the influence of small donors, the city initially matched donations to citywide candidates dollar-for-dollar for a donor’s first $1,000. In the 2001 elections, it shifted its formula to give a 4-1 match for the first $250, and in 2009, it used a 6-1 match for the first $175. This is now known as a “supermatch system,” and has since been adopted by Los Angeles and, most recently, Montgomery County, Maryland, located in the Washington, D.C., metro area.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
MIT Shows off a Smart Tattoo That Can Turn Your Skin into a Touchpad – (Quartz – August 17, 2016) With DuoSkin, wearables are no longer just an accessory. They become part of your skin. The MIT Media Lab and Microsoft Research set out to create on-skin user interfaces using gold leaf, which is commonly found in craft stores, as a conductor. Piggybacking on the trend in body-art and metallic jewelry-like temporary tattoos, the team decided to repurpose gold leaf because it is “robust to movements and skin deformations during motion…[and] both workable and aesthetic in appearance.” The smart tattoos look like fashion statements but they include other materials and electrical components that make the tattoos interactive. The tattoos can turn into an interface that can be used, for example, as a trackpad or a button to remotely control your phone. Alternatively, they can track and show you information about yourself. For example, by including thermochromic displays that change color in reaction to heat, the tattoos can show you your body temperature. DuoSkin’s lead researcher Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao calls DuoSkin a “project” and not, as you might expect, a product or prototype. The team hopes that others will read their research and use the information as a basis to create their own personalized on-skin wearables. (Editor’s note: We expect to see the intersection of tattoos, wearables, and functional implants generating products that are widely adopted within a few short years.)
Why Does My Exercise Clothing Smell? – (BBC News – August 30, 2016) We’ve probably all noticed that there are certain items in our gym bags that always smell worse than others. And now and then most of us have probably wondered why. So here’s the latest research. Studies have actually been done comparing the smelliness of different fabrics. Two such studies, at the University of Alberta and the University of Ghent, used highly trained odor analysts to sniff various fabrics after they’d been worn, and they both came to the conclusion that polyester gets much smellier than natural fibers like cotton or wool. But interestingly, this difference can’t be blamed solely on sweat, because sweat itself doesn’t smell. Instead, odor is produced when the bacteria that live naturally on our skin feed on a particular kind of oily sweat that comes from places like our armpits and groins. So what does account for the more intense aroma that clings to synthetic fabrics? Dr. Rachel McQueen, at the University of Alberta in Canada, has studied polyester, cotton and merino textiles and proposes that one of the reasons for their contrasting smells is the different make-up and behavior of natural and synthetic fibers. Natural fibers like cotton absorb moisture, including the smelly compounds produced by bacteria, which get trapped inside the fibers where they can’t reach our noses. Synthetic fibers on the other hand, do not absorb moisture. Instead they attract oils. This means that they hang on to the “oily soils” from our sweat which sit on the surface of the fibers, waiting to be guzzled by whatever odor-producing bacteria happen to come along. And when you’ve got your workout clothes washed and they’re twirling through the dryer, see: How Science Can Help You Sort out Your Socks.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
SpaceX’s Biggest Rival Is Developing “Space Trucks” to Ferry Cargo in an Orbital Economy – (Quartz – August 27, 2016)
The big kahuna of American rocket companies is the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin that until this year held a monopoly on the lucrative business of launching rockets for the US Air Force. However, the company faces a new era of competition as Elon Musk’s maturing SpaceX aims to fly more space missions in one year than ULA does, and as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin breaks ground on a new factory for orbital rockets. ULA expects that humans will begin living and working in orbit during the next five years, building the infrastructure for space mining and exploration that will culminate with lunar colonies before 2050. Rockets tend to follow a predictable construction that combine two “stages,” each with its own engine or engines—a large first stage that carries the rocket into space, and a smaller one that takes whatever the rocket is carrying to its destination. SpaceX has been trying to reuse the big first stage of the rocket, generally the most expensive section. Its engineers designed the rocket to land on the ground after flight, and the company plans to re-fly one for the first time this fall. ULA is instead looking to the second stage of the rocket as a source of cost-savings and efficiency. Except that ULA wouldn’t relaunch the used stage from Earth. “We realized that you don’t have to bring it back in order for it to be reusable,” Bruno says. “That’s the big paradigm change in the way that you look at the problem—if you have an upper stage that stays on orbit and is reusable.”
NASA Just Found a Lost Spacecraft – (GizModo – August 22, 2016)
If movies about space have taught us anything, it’s that no one can hear you scream. If you get lost in space, nobody’s going to find you. Unless you’re a spacecraft with a direct link to NASA. Then, there is hope for you yet. STEREO-B, from the Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory mission, went missing on October 1, 2014 after losing contact with the team back on Earth. However, on Sunday night, scientists were able to reestablish contact, after 22 months of searching, when the Deep Space Network (NASA’s tool for tracking space missions) was able to lock on to the signal. In October 2006, STEREO-B and its partner STEREO-A embarked on a two-year-long mission to provide measurements of the sun’s flow of energy to Earth. One was slightly inside Earth’s orbit, and one was outside, allowing scientists to measure energy from multiple angles and eventually, the far side of the sun for the first time. However, the team ran into a problem. One of the spacecraft was about to drift to the opposite side of the sun from Earth, so there was going to be a three-month period during which communication would be impossible. Since the spacecraft were only designed to be in space for two years, this development was overlooked at the time of the launch. In a report from December 2015, scientists hypothesized that the tests went awry because the sensor that tells the spacecraft how fast it’s rotating failed, sending it spinning out of control. Meanwhile, the spacecraft’s battery was powered by solar panels, which weren’t able to get energy to power it up. Since communications were lost, scientists have been using three three-hour blocks each week to search for it. This was a tough task, considering scientists had no idea where the spacecraft was.
When You Don’t Have a Traditional Job, This Is How You Get Creative – (Yes Magazine – August 18, 2016)
Austin, along with Los Angeles, has the nation’s highest rate of 1099 jobs, (jobs for which one is paid on a contract labor basis and receives an IRS form 1099 rather than a W-2 at the end of the year, aka “gig jobs”). In 2015, both cities had 23% of their labor force working as “contract labor”. For example, Miss Grace and Joe Bones renovated two aging houses in East Austin and began renting them on Airbnb in 2014 to fund their myriad other part-time occupations, including skateboarding instructor, massage therapist, clown, and yoga instructor. German Lopez Aguilar, a day laborer from Honduras, comes to an Austin-area Home Depot parking lot on his days off from his unsteady construction job in the hopes of getting work for the day. The work typically ranges from construction to gardening. Becca Borrelli, a freelance artist, has been selling her illustrations on Etsy, an online sales platform tailored for artists, since 2013, but has several part-time jobs to make ends meet, including teaching signmaking and art and waiting tables. Article includes photos. But it’s not just Austin and LA – it’s everywhere: Orlando 20%, NYC and San Francisco both at15%, Chicago 14%, Seattle 13%. This is what a post-industrial economy looks like. See also: As 9-to-5 Jobs Vanish, Look Who’s Reinventing the Working World. (Editor’s note: If you’re unfamiliar with the term “MTurk”, you should read this article. “MTurk” refers to possibly half-million people who currently work for Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, one of the largest employers in the gig economy of network platforms, like Uber or Handy, that link workers to employers one job at a time.)
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
This Cheap Material Can Purify Dirty Water and Make It Safe to Drink – (Futurism – July 30, 2016)
Biofoam sheets based on graphene can be laid on top of dirty or salty bodies of water to purify them and make the water safe to drink, scientists in the US have discovered. The process has huge potential as a cheap, electricity-free water purification method for developing nations. These dual-layer biofoam sheets work by drawing up water from underneath and then causing it to evaporate in the uppermost layer, releasing fresh water as condensation on the top and leaving particles and salts stuck in the foam. The graphene is present in the top layer in the form of graphene oxide. The lower layer, made from an organic compound called pristine cellulose and produced by cultured bacteria, is responsible for drawing up the water, and both sections of the biofoam are carefully balanced to complement each other. The process used to make these sheets is also of special interest: as bacteria is cultured to form cellulose, graphene oxide flakes are added for half of the process, creating the uppermost layer. The researchers liken it to the way an oyster makes a pearl. See also: This Tech Could Make Water Shortages a Thing of the Past, an article that discusses a newly improved technique of desalinization.
Emerging New Lip-Reading Technology to Revolutionize Modern-Day Crime Solving – (Inquisitr – March 25, 2016)
A new lip-reading technology is likely to transform modern-day crime solving by flawlessly deciphering visually observed speech captured on closed circuit television. Sophisticated “visual speech recognition” technology being developed by a team of University of East Anglia (Australia) researchers can reportedly be employed to detect with a surprisingly high degree of precision what people say in different situations. Highly accurate results can be best achieved through camera footage particularly in the absence of adequate audio support. According to Helen Bear, researcher associated with the project and a computer scientist at the university, the technology can be applicable to a varying set of scenarios from criminal investigations to entertainment. “We are still learning the science of visual speech and what it is people need to know to create a fool-proof recognition model for lip-reading, but this classification system improves upon previous lip-reading methods by using a novel training method for the classifiers. Potentially, a robust lip-reading system could be applied in a number of situations, from criminal investigations to entertainment. Crucially, whilst there are still improvements to be made, such a system could be adapted for use for a range of purposes — for example, for people with hearing or speech impairments.”
Amazon Delivers Hyundai Test Drives to Prime Members (Retail Dive – August 21, 2016)
Amazon is offering on-demand test drives of Hyundai Elantras to Prime subscribers around Los Angeles and Orange County, CA, through a program taking place during the last two weekends in August. The program is called Prime Now, Drive Now, and falls under Amazon’s Prime Now two-hour delivery offering. Subscribers can have a 2017 Hyundai Elantra brought to them for a 45-minute to 60-minute test drive. Marketing agency The Drive Shop is providing trained driving hosts to conduct the test drives, and Amazon Prime subscribers who take advantage of the program will be directed to their local Hyundai dealer after the test drive in the hope they will buy the car. This is one of the first attempts of the on-demand test drive concept in the U.S. and an intriguing push by Amazon to see if it could shake things up in the automobile industry. For now, it’s a very brief test program, limited to a specific geography, and involving only one car model. If it proves popular, however, it’s easy to see Amazon and automakers moving quickly to support on-demand drive tests of many more car makes and models. If the program does prove successful enough that Hyundai and other automakers want to do more of it, Amazon should be able to name its price for letting them have access to its 63 million or so Prime members.
No Man’s Sky Is an Existential Crisis Simulator Disguised as a Space Exploration Game – (Vox – August 27, 2016)
At Recode’s annual Code Conference in June, venture capitalist Elon Musk made the provocative argument that reality is not reality at all, but a massive simulation built on top of some other reality. “There’s a billion-to-one chance we’re living in base reality,” he said. Musk’s idea isn’t a new one: Philosophers and science fiction authors have been toying with versions of it for years. But part of what made Musk’s notion interesting was that it rested entirely on a simple extrapolation from the trajectory of the video game industry. Musk also cited advancements in virtual reality, noting that with any rate of improvement, games and reality will eventually be indistinguishable. It could take 10,000 years, he cautioned, but that’s “nothing on the evolutionary scale.” Thanks to No Man’s Sky, a new video game from the indie studio Hello Games, you don’t have to wait 10,000 years. The game sets players loose in a massive artificial universe, with 18 quintillion — yes, that’s an 18 with 18 zeros after it — fully explorable planets, each the (virtual) size of a planet in our reality. The universe is procedurally generated, meaning that its planets and creatures are “built” on the fly, as you discover them, by an all-controlling algorithm, as opposed to being custom-made by a human designer. The objective, always, is to craft more so you can explore more, in an endless, monotonous loop of non-achievement. And yet — aren’t most video games ultimately pointless? The difference is that No Man’s Sky does not attempt to disguise its nature. Instead, by refusing to provide you with a purpose, it forces you to reconcile with the essential emptiness of its universe, with the pointlessness of a game whose only reward is the opportunity to continue playing the game. (Editor’s note: There’s more in this article than a short blurb can capture. If No Man’s Sky sounds suspiciously like real life, the point of this “pointless” game may be an electronic version of stopping to smell the roses. We recommend the article for the reflections it may generate.)
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Ramen Has Become the Black-market Currency in American Prisons – (Times Picayune – August 24, 2016)
Instant Ramen is delicious, easy to cook, ludicrously cheap and surprisingly non-perishable. For all those reasons and more, the noodles are taking over tobacco as the preferred underground currency inmates use in prisons, according to a new study by Michael Gibson-Light, a doctoral candidate in the University of Arizona School of Sociology. “Prisoners are so unhappy with the quality and quantity of prison food that they receive that they have begun relying on ramen noodles – a cheap, durable food product – as a form of money in the underground economy,” Gibson-Light said. Over a year, Gibson-Light interviewed 60 male inmates and staff members in an unnamed state-run facility as part of a larger investigation into how prisoners were responding to declining prison services. He labeled what he found “punitive frugality” – that is, as corrections budgets shrink, the cost of care is shifting onto prisoners and their support networks. Enter the humble ramen brick. Gibson-Light said he noted that the move away from a “luxury” currency such as cigarettes occurred even though the prison had not banned smoking or tobacco products. Rather, he wrote that inmates told him they were receiving food deemed “inedible or too little to sustain them for a day.” He noted that the inmates at the prison in question used to receive three hot meals a day, but in the early 2000s, the second meal was changed to a cold sandwich and a small bag of chips. Weekend lunches had been eliminated; overall, portion sizes for every meal were reduced, he said.
The EpiPen Drama Shows What’s Wrong with How Drugs Are Priced – (Bloomberg – September 1, 2016)
The EpiPen pricing controversy is enough to trigger mental anaphylactic shock. First, Mylan raised the list price of EpiPens to more than $600 a pair. When protests predictably erupted, Chief Executive Officer Heather Bresch went on TV to say that if she cut the price of EpiPens, some people wouldn’t be able to get them anymore. Which is weird, because usually a lower price makes things easier to get. Then, on Aug. 29, Mylan announced it will sell a generic version of EpiPens at half the price—but keep selling the identical brand-name version at full price. Because, um, some people will be happy to spend twice as much as everyone else for their EpiPens? None of this, including the original price hike, makes sense if you think of brand-name pharmaceuticals as normal products whose prices are set by the forces of supply and demand. It does start to make sense if you picture drug pricing as a multisided, Machiavellian, long-running, high-stakes Game of Thrones involving drugmakers, insurance companies, pharmacies, pharmacy benefit managers, Congress, presidential candidates, and somewhere, down there in the smoke and dust, the children with life-threatening allergies who need to bring EpiPens to school this fall. (Editor’s note: We recommend this article for its explanation of behind-the-scenes arrangements that shed some light on this seemingly irrational situation.) For another perspective on this complex issue, where the US Patent Office and the FDA play a role, see: The Real Reason the EpiPen and Other Off-patents Are So Expensive. And see: EpiPen Maker Mylan Tied Executive Pay to Aggressive Profit Targets.
JUST FOR FUN
Eyeborg: The Man Who Replaced His Eyeball with a Camera – (PetaPixel – January 25, 2016)
Rob Spence is a filmmaker who calls himself the “Eyeborg.” After losing sight in his right eye at age 9 by incorrectly shooting a shotgun, Spence decided 26 years later to have his sightless eye removed and replaced with a digital camera. After sharing his initial eye camera back in 2011, Spence has gotten major upgrades to the design. While the early model clearly looked like a mass of electronics in his eye socket, Spence’s new camera looks just like a regular eye prosthesis. But behind the facade is a working camera with a built-in micro radio-frequency transmitter. The camera isn’t wired to Spence’s nerves, so it doesn’t do the duties of a real eye, but it does record 3-minutes of video at a time (the time limit is due to overheating). Spence is now working with his development team on getting the camera to record his life for hours at a time. Once that happens — he estimates that it will this year — Spence plans to use the eye for more serious documentary film projects that are shot from his exact point of view.
A FINAL QUOTE
The future is like heaven. Everyone exalts it, but no one wants to go there now. – James Baldwin
A special thanks to: Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks. [email protected]
Edited by John L. Petersen