Volume 19, Number 21 – 12/1/16

Volume 19, Number 21 – 12/1/16 Twitter  Facebook  JLP Blog



  • Social media, and particularly Facebook, has an increasingly dominant role as a news media.
  • A plastic surgeon in China has grown an artificial ear on a man’s arm (as a temporary location before repositioning it) in a pioneering medical procedure.
  • A recently leaked, unpublished paper from NASA reveals that NASA has made a functioning Radio Frequency Resonant Cavity Thruster, otherwise known as electromagnetic propulsion drive or EM Drive or Warp Drive.
  • Denver voters have approved a first-in-the-nation law allowing bars and restaurants to give patrons the option to use marijuana alongside a cocktail or meal.

by John L. Petersen

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Continuing Uncertainty

Interesting past couple of weeks (he said) . . .

Well, that was some election! I wasn’t for either of the candidates – both of them had significant downsides and were strongly unappealing. Whoever won was going to take us into a future that was sure to be disruptive. A lot of people seem to have voted for whichever candidate they believed to be the lesser of the two evils.

In the end, the whole thing was fundamentally shaped by almost religious beliefs by many voters about their candidate—which beliefs will surely be dashed to some degree, regardless of who one’s champion was. Clearly there were enough misjudgments by most of the major players – Clintons, Democratic National Committee, press, pundits, and pollsters – to go around. They were arrogant and did not see or believe what clearly going on. Most of the “pros” missed it.

Extracting oneself from a strongly held belief, whether related to politics or something like climate change, is a hard thing for most of us. Americans get emotionally tied to a candidate or an idea and become impermeable to logic and facts that run counter to their perspective. They are unable to muster simple logic to provide the platform for their ideas and beliefs and so they become puppets and parrots for the orchestrators.

The political operatives play on this, of course. They repeat a “fact” over and over again until it becomes truth for many people (for example, the present emphasis on “fake” news is almost certainly a defensive ploy by the discredited mainline news and could well be a deflection initiative to draw attention away from something else that “they” don’t want exposed. Once one of these ideas becomes established – becomes a meme — it is very hard to convince people that what they have heard over and again is not true.

This “blind spot” is only one of a number of layered pseudo-realities that are engineered, manipulated and delivered to the populace by those with the interests and resources to do so. They believe that fooling the majority of the people is the most effective way of accomplishing their objectives. This time, though, one could make the case that the Internet (among other things), eroded the projected effectiveness of that elitist approach. Perhaps what we witnessed was the biggest – but not last – failure of the traditional political operating model. (I wonder what will be next. The financial system?)

In the last issue of FUTUREdition, I pointed to a group within the US government that had launched a “counter coup” against what they described as a coup by the Clinton forces. Some are calling it the Second American Revolution. I thought that something of this magnitude and historical significance should certainly be part of our reporting here in FUTUREdition. These things are a big deal and need to be seen as such if we are going to effectively navigate our way forward. I’m a futurist, and if something significant – anything significant – is in the works and we don’t mention it to you, then we’re not doing our job. I’m not playing politics here. We’re trying to highlight what appears to be truth and reasonably possible futures. In this case, there are a whole bucketful of prospective implications – many that could be quite profound.

For starters, the election has spawned a variety of rather extraordinary byproducts, like the effort in the works (the “coup” perhaps), that is clearly trying to invalidate the Trump election. This is important not only for what it wants to accomplish, but because these kinds of initiatives, inevitably are focused on their near term objective and have not factored in the spectrum of potential downstream effects of their activities. They are intrinsically shortsighted. That, of course, is a variation of the same perspective that has produced the present situation.

Almost none of this is spontaneous. I know enough about how political campaigns and some social “movements” in this country work to know that multiple demonstrations popping up in cities across the US just two days after the election do not “just happen” on their own. They are orchestrated. There is leadership. There are significant resources that are put into play by those who want a different outcome. Some of these people appear to sincerely want to initiate a revolution. They should be careful about what they wish for.

It’s hard to know what’s real because there are “dirty tricks” that are thrown into the mix to convince unthinking people that “the other side” is responding in ways that would be inflammatory. I got an email a couple of days before the election, for example, from some presumably authoritative source saying that Vladimir Putin had agreed to campaign here in the US for Donald Trump on Election Day. Of course, that was consistent with the drumbeat of the messages that the (obviously biased) press had been trying to proliferate. It was propaganda – disinformation.

If you have any sense about how geopolitics works, you would have immediately recognized that as ludicrous – but I’m sure that there were a substantial number of Americans who read that message and presumed that Putin was really going to fly over here to stand up with his friend Trump.

So, if you think that the political process is even “generally” representative of the peoples’ interest and that national elections in the US are honest, then you haven’t done your homework. There are no ethics in the operation of two major political parties at the national level in this country. Anything goes.

Look, I’m no fan of Donald Trump, but so far, it does appear like he’s most likely to be the next president. And unlike George W. Bush, the last president I really didn’t like, this guy has some clear ideas about what he wants to do and is much less likely to be dominated by those who surround him. His economic ideas, in particular, really did resonate with the struggling working class in this country, so there is the possibility that some net good will emerge from the next four years

That said, there’s something we all should have learned from the Barack Obama experience: politicians don’t do what they say they are going to do. Other realities intervene. Other forces and perspectives come to bear.

That will happen with Donald Trump. He’s going to change his mind . . . get different priorities. Some things are going to be too hard to do. He’ll learn things he didn’t know that will change his position. Perhaps he’ll be threatened – and decide that that battle is not worth waging. He’ll find out that there is a different reality that exists in the new space where he now has to operate; it is full of things that he never anticipated.

Then, of course, he’ll start thinking about getting reelected.

In the short term, though, it looks like things will be volatile. Multiple sources are suggesting that something quite significant is in the works for the last week or two of December. Could have something to do with Antarctica – there’s a lot of new interest in something down there. Some have suggested it could be about “aliens” – whatever that might mean.

Clif High (who certainly got most of the last month’s gyrations right), recently tweeted: “[New data] shows a hell of a weekend setup for December 30. The emotional tone is off scale.” Some of my researchers are reporting an increase in calls for stockpiling two weeks’ worth of food, water and cash.

Who knows? Be a Boy Scout. Be prepared.



Did Social Media Ruin Election 2016? – (NPR – November 8, 2016)
In two distinct ways, social media has changed the way we talk to each other about politics. One happens on Facebook all the time. For example, something like “If you can’t support candidate X/Y, we don’t need to be friends anymore.” This public declaration, if not celebration, of the end of friendships because of politics is one new element of social media. And then on Twitter, there’s the public shaming of those who dare disagree with or insult you. This is our present political social life: We don’t just create political strife for ourselves; we seem to revel in it. It would be easy to spend most of our time examining Donald Trump’s effect on these media, particularly Twitter. It’s been well-documented; Trump may very well have the most combative online presence of any candidate for president in modern history. But underneath that glaring and obvious conclusion, there’s a deeper story about how the very DNA of social media platforms and the way people use them has trickled up through our political discourse and affected all of us, almost forcing us to wallow in the divisive waters of our online conversation. At its core, Twitter is a messaging service allowing users to tweet in 140-character bursts. For many critics, that DNA makes Twitter antithetical to sophisticated, thoughtful political conversation. Facebook fares no better in garnering scathing critique of its influence on the political conversation. At its core, it’s a platform meant to connect users with people they already like, not to foster discussion with those you might disagree with. After trying unsuccessfully to begin filtering out fake news stories from users’ feeds, Facebook has been increasingly accused of becoming a hotbed of fake political news. The most recent allegation comes from a BuzzFeed report, which found that a good amount of fake — and trending — Donald Trump news was coming from business-savvy millennials. In Macedonia.

The Real Problem Behind the Fake News – (Slate – November, 2016)
Facebook has taken justifiable heat for its role in spreading misinformation and propaganda about the candidates. In particular, its news feed algorithm fueled a cottage industry of fake and intentionally misleading “news” that skewed heavily anti–Hillary Clinton and pro-Trump, according to a BuzzFeed analysis. These falsehoods attracted far more user engagement, on average, than true stories from the same outlets and drowned out earnest attempts by dedicated fact-checking sites such as Snopes to debunk them. This should not surprise anyone who understands how Facebook works. People tend to read, like, and share stories that appeal to their emotions and play to their existing beliefs. And yet, in the days following the election, as criticisms of the company mounted, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg downplayed and denied the issue—a defensiveness that says even more about the company than the fake news scandal itself. Zuckerberg’s response points to a problem deeper than any bogus story, one that won’t be fixed by cutting some shady websites out of its advertising network. The problem is Facebook’s refusal to own up to its increasingly dominant role in the news media. It’s one that is unlikely to go away, even if the fake news does. It reveals a company increasingly torn between its self-conception as a neutral technology platform and its undeniable influence on the creation, distribution, and consumption of news and other media.


Life Took Hold on Land 300 Million Years Earlier Than Thought – (EurekAlert – November 7, 2016)
Life took hold on land at least as early as 3.2 billion years ago, suggests a study by scientists from Berlin, Potsdam and Jena (Germany). The team led by Sami Nabhan of the Freie Universität Berlin studied ancient rock formations from South Africa’s Barberton greenstone belt. These rocks are some of the oldest known on Earth, with their formation dating back to 3.5 billion years. In a layer that has been dated at 3.22 billion years old, tiny grains of the iron sulfide mineral pyrite were discovered that show telltale signs of microbial activity. These signs are recorded both in trace element distributions as well as in the ratio between the sulfur isotopes 34S and 32S in the pyrite. Field data collected during this study imply that a braided river system transported the sediment containing the iron sulfide crystals. It is interpreted that microbes living in the soil, at a level that was continually shifting between wet and dry conditions, subsequently produced the rim overgrowths on the pyrite crystals. Based on this evidence, the scientists conclude in their publication in the journal Geology that they found evidence for biological activity on land at this very early date. Their research pushes back the date for the oldest evidence of life on land to some 300 million years earlier than previously documented.

What Happens When Rats Get Tickled for Science – (Telegram – November 12, 2016)
A ticklish rat is an adorable sight to see. The chubby little rodent darts toward a scientist’s gloved hand, eager for the delightful agony of its next scratch. It emits rapid-fire, ultrasonic “giggles” – chirps so high pitched they’re inaudible to human ears – and dashes around its enclosure in spontaneous leaps that researchers call Freudensprünge, or “joy jumps.” Joy jumps. Really. “It’s the weirdest job ever, tickling rats professionally,” said animal physiologist Shimpei Ishiyama. Ishiyama and Michael Brecht, a fellow researcher at Humboldt University in Berlin, who co-authored a new study in the journal Science, learned that a rat only enjoys being tickled when it feels happy and safe. The scientists also pinpointed the ticklish spot in the rat’s brain and discovered that they could induce behavior like squeaking and joy jumping just by activating that spot. The results suggest that tickling could be intimately connected to mood – a finding that could have implications far beyond the world of rodent entertainment. It could help neuroscientists explain the brain circuits associated with mood and the influence of positive thinking on human behavior. Nearly two decades ago, Jaak Panskepp was the first researcher to demonstrate that rats emit something like a giggle when tickled. Many scientists thought animals had to have more cognitive sophistication to be able to laugh; the only other creatures to do something similar are apes and dogs. But it’s evident in Ishiyama’s study that the rats thoroughly enjoy being tickled. In a video of the experiment, a gray-and-white rat chases after the scientist’s hand so he can gently ruffle its fur. It joy jumps. It emits the chirps that have been associated with pro-social behavior and expectations of rewards.

Pigs Can Be Optimists or Pessimists, Depending on Personality and Mood – (LA Times – November 15, 2016)
A new study finds that, like humans, pigs can be optimists or pessimists, and that the pessimists are more strongly affected by their current environments. The results, described in the journal Biology Letters, hint that the complex interplay between personality and mood may extend far beyond the human experience. “This finding demonstrates that humans are not unique in combining longer-term personality biases with shorter-term mood biases in judging stimuli,” the study authors wrote. Mood, together with baseline personality, influences a person’s cognitive bias — patterns of thinking that may lead to deviations in good judgment. Researchers have increasingly looked at cognitive bias in animals to study animal mood, the study authors wrote, but the results from these experiments have been inconsistent. Perhaps that’s because the interaction of personality and mood, which together generate cognitive bias in humans, hadn’t really been studied in animals until now. For this paper, a team of scientists from Great Britain looked to probe that mood-personality dynamic in 36 domestic pigs, animals known for their intelligence. The researchers tested whether they had proactive or reactive personalities by studying how they behaved in an area with an unknown object. Proactive behavior is more active and less flexible; reactive behavior is more passive and more flexible. (In humans, proactivity has been linked to extraversion and reactivity has been linked to neuroticism.)“These results suggest that judgment in non-human animals is similar to humans, incorporating aspects of stable personality traits and more transient mood states,” the authors wrote. (Editor’s note: The design of this experiment to uncover these results is interesting. And, at a meta-level, it suggests that pigs are far more like humans than we might care to imagine. Did your last pork roast come from an optimistic pig or one in a life-long sour mood due to its environment?)


Paralyzed Monkeys Regain Control of Their Legs after Brain Implants – (CNN – November 9, 2016)
Researchers at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland were able to restore movement in the legs of two paralyzed rhesus macaques within two weeks of them being injured; one regained mobility after just six days. The procedure involved two wireless implants that worked together as a “brain-spine interface” to communicate nerve signals between the brains and spines of the monkeys — where each implant was positioned. The implants communicated with each other through a computer and enabled brain signals to jump over the point of injury along the spine. By resuming this once-broken path of communication, the signals can arrive in the spine, and the resulting nerve stimulation means specific muscles within the legs of the two monkeys could be activated as needed on the brain’s command. Similar research has been conducted in the past, with Grégoire Courtine, professor of neural engineering at EPFL, who led the research and his team showing it could give paralyzed rats the ability to walk again, and even climb stairs, in previous studies. Other research groups have used electrodes and brain implants to restore movement in humans, both through their muscles as well as through prosthetic arms and legs. But this new research in monkeys is the first to record brain activity and link this to nerves within the spinal cord itself. “The brain is in control,” Courtine said. It’s also the first to go wireless.

Toward a Hand-held ‘Breathalyzer’ for Diagnosing Diabetes – (EurekAlert – November 9, 2016)
For several years, scientists have been working toward “breathalyzers” that can diagnose various diseases without painful pinpricks, needles or other unpleasant methods. Now, one team has developed a new, portable breath analyzer that could someday help doctors diagnose diabetes noninvasively in the office. Many studies examining the hallmarks of diabetes in exhaled breath have shown that elevated levels of acetone are strongly linked to diabetes. Detecting the concentrations of any given substance in breath in a simple way, however, is a major challenge. Breath contains a complex mix of compounds, including water, carbon dioxide and methane, that can throw results off. Mass spectrometry can do the job, but it’s not very practical for point-of-care testing. Robert Peverall and colleagues from Oxford University wanted to fill that void. The researchers created a hand-held device with an adsorbent polymer that can trap acetone from exhaled breath, then release it into a cavity where a laser probes its concentration. They tested the accuracy of the device on the breath of healthy subjects under different conditions, such as after overnight fasting or exercising, and compared results with mass spectrometry readings. The measurements were a close match and covered a wide range of concentrations, including those that would suggest a patient has undiagnosed type-1 diabetes, or has problems controlling their blood glucose. Adding to the practicality of the device, the researchers say it could be re-used many times.

Doctor Grows New Ear on a Man’s Arm to Restore His Hearing – (Daily Mail – November 9, 2016)
A plastic surgeon in China has successfully grown an artificial ear on a man’s arm in a pioneering medical procedure. Doctor Guo Shuzhong at a hospital in Xi’an, in China’s Shaanxi Province, used cartilage from the patient’s ribs to build the new ear; and he expects to transplant the organ to the man’s head in about four months. Mr. Ji sustained serious injuries in the right side of his face in a traffic accident about a year ago when his right ear was torn from his face. The man has since received multiple surgical operations to restore his facial skin and his cheeks. Doctor Guo, a renowned plastic surgeon, conducted China’s first face transplant operation in 2006, according to China Daily.

Stress Changes Brains of Boys and Girls Differently – (Stanford University – November 12, 2016)
Traumatic stress affects the brains of adolescent boys and girls differently, according to a new brain-scanning study from the Stanford University School of Medicine. Among youth with post-traumatic stress disorder, the study found structural differences between the sexes in one part of the insula, a brain region that detects cues from the body and processes emotions and empathy. The insula helps to integrate one’s feelings, actions and several other brain functions. The researchers saw no differences in brain structure between boys and girls in the control group. However, among the traumatized boys and girls, they saw differences in a portion of the insula called the anterior circular sulcus. This brain region had larger volume and surface area in traumatized boys than in boys in the control group. In addition, the region’s volume and surface area were smaller in girls with trauma than among girls in the control group. The study is the first to show differences between male and female PTSD patients in a part of the insula involved in emotion and empathy. “The insula appears to play a key role in the development of PTSD,” said the study’s senior author, Victor Carrion, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford. “The difference we saw between the brains of boys and girls who have experienced psychological trauma is important because it may help explain differences in trauma symptoms between sexes.” The insula normally changes during childhood and adolescence, with smaller insula volume typically seen as children and teenagers grow older. Thus, the findings imply that traumatic stress could contribute to accelerated cortical aging of the insula in girls who develop PTSD, Megan Klabunde, PhD, the study’s lead author, said. “There are some studies suggesting that high levels of stress could contribute to early puberty in girls,” she said.

First Home Brain Implant Lets ‘Locked-in’ Woman Communicate – (New Scientist – November 12, 2016)
A paralyzed woman has learned to use a brain implant to communicate by thought alone. It is the first time a brain–computer interface has been used at home in a person’s day-to-day life, without the need for doctors and engineers to recalibrate the device. HB, who is 58 years old and wishes to remain anonymous, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2008. The disease ravages nerve cells, leaving people unable to control their bodies. Within a couple of years of diagnosis, HB had lost the ability to breathe and required a ventilator. “She is almost completely locked in,” said Nick Ramsey at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands. Teams around the world have been working to develop devices that are controlled directly by the brain to help people like HB. But so far, it has been difficult to make these devices fit into people’s daily lives. They tend to need recalibrating by a team of engineers on a daily basis, and many are so complex that they cannot work wirelessly. The device developed by Ramsey’s team uses electrodes placed on the surface of the brain, just underneath the skull. This makes it more invasive than external devices like an EEG cap, but less so than traditional deep brain stimulation, which is used to treat Parkinson’s disease. Using the device to communicate is still a slow process – it can take a few minutes to spell a single word – but HB is getting faster with training. At first, it took her 50 seconds to select a letter – she can now do it in 20 seconds. Although this is slower than using her eye tracker, she is able to use the implant outdoors. Eye trackers had struggled to pick up subtle eye movements when HB was in natural light, away from home, for example. “Now I can communicate outdoors when my eye-track computer doesn’t work,” says HB. “I’m more confident and independent now outside.”

Dementia Game Shows Lifelong Navigational Decline – (BBC News – November 17, 2016)
The world’s largest dementia research experiment which takes the form of a video game has indicated the ability to navigate declines throughout life. The findings harnessed data from 2.4 million people who downloaded the game. Getting lost is one of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. And the researchers at University College London believe the results could help make a dementia test. Sea Hero Quest is a nautical adventure to save an old sailor’s lost memories. With the touch of a smartphone screen, players sail a boat round desert islands and icy oceans. The game anonymously records the player’s sense of direction and navigational ability as they work their way through the levels. Players aged 19 were 74% accurate at firing a flare back home, but accuracy fell year by year until it reached 46% at age 75. The point of the research is to develop a way of diagnosing dementia in its earliest stages – something not yet possible. Becoming completely disorientated is normally rare, but is more common in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Having a record of the normal decline in the internal compass could help doctors spot patients developing Alzheimer’s. Dr. Spiers noted: “The value of a future test built from Sea Hero Quest is that we will be able to provide a diagnostic for Alzheimer’s dementia and a tool that allows us to monitor performance in drug trials.”


German Cabinet Approves Draft Law Banning GMO Crops – (Reuters – November 8, 2016)
The German cabinet has approved a draft law banning cultivation of crops with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Germany had announced in September 2015 that it will ban cultivation of crops with GMOs under new European Union rules allowing member states to opt out of their cultivation. An EU law approved in 2015 cleared the way for new GMO crops to be approved after years of deadlock. But the law also gave individual countries the right to ban GMO crops even after they have been approved as safe by the European Commission. Under the draft German law, applicants seeking EU approval to cultivate GMO crops will be asked by the German government to remove Germany from the area in the EU where the crops are approved for growing. If this is refused, a ban on growing the GMO crop in Germany can be imposed even if the EU approves the plant strain as safe to cultivate.

Warka Water Tower Harvests Clean Drinking Water from the Air – (Dezeen – November 10, 2016)
In this video clip, Italian architect Arturo Vittori explains how his wooden Warka Water structures can provide clean drinking water for rural communities in the developing world. Vittori is currently developing a lightweight wooden tower – which is quick and cheap to build without any power tools – that harvests water from the atmosphere via condensation. The tower consists of a bamboo frame supporting a mesh polyester material inside. Rain, fog and dew condenses against the mesh and trickles down a funnel into a reservoir at the base of the structure. A fabric canopy shades the lower sections of the tower to prevent the collected water from evaporating. The performance of the towers varies depending on the weather, but Vittori’s aim is to create a structure that would enable the community to extract up to 100 liters of water a day without the reservoir running dry.


The Looming Disaster of the Internet of (Hackable) Things – (Motherboard – November 7, 2016)
Last month, hackers used a massive army of hundreds of thousands, perhaps even more than a million, hacked devices—likely internet-connected surveillance cameras and DVRs—to flood the website of the independent security journalist and blogger Brian Krebs with a reportedly record-breaking amount of bogus traffic. It was an attempt to take the site down. This type of attack is, essentially, a form of censorship powered by our own gizmos enlisted in zombie armies. The whole scheme relied on the fact that hundreds of thousands of these devices get sold with little to no security. ou might not care if your appliances take other people’s websites down. You will probably care, though, when your $3,600 smart fridge leaks your Gmail password. But there are other dangers, too. If a hacker breaks into your internet-connected toilet-paper holder, which holds little to no valuable information, he or she can then more easily target your computer, which is on the same WiFi and is more likely to have interesting information such as Social Security numbers or bank passwords. The famous saying that “the internet was not built with security in mind” is a dogma in the world of hackers and is largely accurate. It’s becoming clear we can’t afford to think the same way while building the Internet of Things.


Biofuel: Wood Scraps Help Power Alaska Air Cross-country Flight – (USA Today – November 15, 2016)
Flights powered by biofuels are not new. The airline industry has been experimenting with alternative fuel types for years as the search continues for renewable and environmentally-friendly alternatives to current jet fuel options. Previous attempts have included fuel blends made in part from items like algae and discarded industrial cooking oils. But Alaska Airlines claims it is the first to use an wood-based alternative fuel on a commercial passenger flight. Alaska Airlines Flight 4 took off Monday from Seattle for Washington’s Reagan National Airport and was powered by a jet-fuel blend that contained 20% renewable biofuel made from logging scraps in the Pacific Northwest. Alaska Airlines describes the fuel blend as containing “forest residuals, the limbs and branches that remain after the harvesting of managed forests.” The alternative jet fuel was produced in conjunction with the Washington State University-led Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance.

Local Grid Solution for Global Energy Transition – (Science Daily – November 17, 2016)
By the year 2050, the majority of energy in Germany will come from renewable sources such as wind or solar power. So what will intelligent, decentralized energy management look like in the future? Using its own Micro Smart Grid and control systems developed in-house, the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO is exploring how to efficiently coordinate energy producers, storage systems, and consumers as well as how to test the innovative technologies required. The research parking garage houses 30 charging spots for electric vehicles, Europe’s fastest high-speed charging station, as well as Europe’s first hydrogen storage system based on LOHC technology. The entire vehicle power supply is produced by a photovoltaic system located on the roof of the parking structure. A lithium-ion battery storage system achieves the best possible balance between differences in energy production and consumption. What is special about this setup is that all components are operated under scientific supervision and real-life conditions.


Self-Flying Choppers Fight Wildfires So Humans Don’t Have To – (Wired – November 17, 2016)
Since 2000, the fire season has grown longer, and the damage more severe. The US spent more than $2 billion fighting the flames last year—and it lost six firefighters doing it. The solution, according to Lockheed Martin, is taking the human out of the battle. In a series of demonstration flights last week, the defense contractor showed off four unmanned aircraft that join forces to beat back the flames. A quadcopter drone known as Indago uses infrared and visible light cameras to pinpoint the fire. It passes the coordinates along to K-MAX, a cargo chopper Lockheed retrofitted to fly itself, initially for service in Afghanistan. K-MAX takes off, pausing to dunk a bucket into a nearby pond, then drops the water to douse the ground and contain the fire. Suppose someone is trapped behind the fire line. Bring in the Desert Hawk. In the demo, Lockheed’s hand-launched surveillance drone spotted a “lost camper.” It relayed that info to SARA, an unmanned helicopter that demotes the human to a flight planning role. (To prove how easy it is to control the bird with a tablet, Lockheed let a 13-year-old boy in the audience do the work.) SARA found a clear landing spot, touched down, and welcomed its stranded human passenger aboard.


A Roomba for Your Garden – (Technology Review – November 15, 2016)
What do vacuuming, mopping, and weeding have in common? They’re all repetitive household chores that must be done frequently. They’re also all targets for roboticist Joe Jones. Jones invents practical, mobile robots, among them the vacuum-cleaning Roomba and floor-washing Scooba, which he developed at his former employer iRobot. At his new startup, Franklin Robotics, he’s continuing to alleviate housework drudgery by making a waterproof robot that weeds flower and vegetable gardens. The Tertill, which has been prototyped and is scheduled to launch in summer 2017 for $250, operates autonomously by using solar power, sensors to identify obstacles, and a string trimmer to cut weeds. Jones hopes later versions of it will appeal to organic farmers who want to weed their crops without using herbicide. The Tertill is also part of Jones’s master plan to use robots to increase agricultural efficiency and, ultimately, ameliorate global food shortages.


America’s Top Spy Talks Snowden Leaks and Our Ominous Future – (Wired – November 17, 2016)
On November 17, James Clapper announced that he had submitted his letter of resignation. Clapper is the United States director of national intelligence. America’s top spy is a 75-year-old self-described geezer who speaks in a low, guttural growl; his physical appearance—muscular and bald—recalls an aging biker who has reluctantly accepted life in a suit. Clapper now presides over a broader intelligence purview than any one of his bosses ever did. And hanging over his tenure is a sense that our spies have once again overstepped the bounds of acceptable behavior. Many in the public today regard former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as a whistle-blower and a hero for exposing another era of domestic surveillance. Clapper says he has never doubted the morality of his profession. The job of the intelligence community is, in his view, honorably straightforward: to provide policymakers with objective analysis derived from intelligence gathered through legally authorized methods. It’s the battlefield that’s confusing and dystopian. From Clapper’s standpoint, the country is locked in a seemingly constant state of war against a protean and often faceless set of enemies, at a time when a single employee can walk out with a thumb drive containing decades’ worth of secrets. It’s enough to make him nostalgic for the comparatively uncomplicated era of nuclear détente. In mere weeks, when a new presidential administration takes office, all those issues will be someone else’s problem. For Clapper, the transition can’t come soon enough. He has spent much of this year literally counting down the days he has left. Some mornings, when he briefs the commander in chief, known as Intelligence Customer Number One, President Barack Obama will ask him what the current tally is and then offer Clapper a fist bump. In his final months in the role, Clapper and more than a dozen of his top aides and advisers provided WIRED with an unprecedented series of interviews discussing the state of America’s intelligence apparatus and the threats they’ll be handing off to a new administration come January 20. (Editor’s note: We highly recommend this article.)

From Drones to Body Cams, Tech Is Changing the Fight Against Crime – (Digital Trends – November 14, 2016)
There were 245 million video surveillance cameras in use in 2014, according to IHS research. Cameras are ubiquitous now, from closed-circuit television (CCTV) and dash cams, to smartphones and body-worn cameras. CCTV has been increasingly adopted in the United States and even more so in the United Kingdom. The British Security Industry Association estimates that there are between 4 and 5.9 million CCTV surveillance cameras in the U.K. covering a population of around 65 million but the research on its effectiveness in preventing crime is disappointing. “The results show that in terms of violence and aggression, there’s actually no effect on crime or criminal behavior,” Dr. Barak Ariel, lecturer and analyst in Experimental Criminology at Cambridge University told Digital Trends. “If you’re an experienced offender, you pretty much know already that if you put your hood up, CCTV is almost useless in investigations.” Several police departments are using drones now including Little Rock, Arkansas, Miami-Dade, Florida, and Arlington, Texas. While some are limited to car chases and siege situations, others are being used for general surveillance. They can fill in gaps in CCTV coverage and offer police greater capability to track people. But serious privacy concerns have slowed adoption. And there’s another problem if police want to track suspects across cities – reviewing video footage is a huge burden and few police departments have the resources to do that. Various companies, like SeeQuestor, are trying to address this issue by offering software that enables law enforcement to quickly review people and faces in video, but it still requires a review by a human being because facial recognition software is not yet up to the task. Law enforcement may eventually benefit from the work that tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are doing in this area. For this kind of technology to work well, you’d also need a database of every person’s face in the country and an enormous amount of processing power to make a search fast enough. There will also inevitably be a lot of false positives, and there are serious privacy issues around consent.

AT&T and NASA to Build National Drone Tracking System – (Vocativ – November 15, 2016)
The largest telecommunications company in the world wants to serve as a watchdog for all drones in the United States — and in the process, play a major role in supervising the national airspace. AT&T has announced that it was collaborating with NASA to develop an Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management program to allow agencies to monitor drones. An AT&T release states this program will make it safer for drone operators to plan and monitor flight paths, navigate drones, and use drones for surveillance. The company stated that its main focus is to lower the risk of drone-related cyberattacks. Many commercial drones available today are easy to hack and some hackers have even exposed vulnerabilities in drones used by government agencies. AT&T and NASA aren’t the only ones trying to regulate the skies. In September, DARPA announced the Aerial Dragnet program, requesting proposals for technology that would allow the government to keep track of all objects flying below 1,000 feet. But AT&T’s initiative shows the company wants to have a foothold in the burgeoning drone industry. “Working with NASA and others, we are designing the management system for a new frontier in aviation,” said Mike Leff, AT&T’s vice president of civilian agencies. “Drones are already used in agriculture, public safety, construction, utilities, real estate, and TV.” The company is already focused on using drones to inspect cell towers and boost LTE service in areas where a sudden influx of people is straining wireless coverage, like concerts, sports events, and protests.


Where Citizens Can Run for Office Without Big Money—and Win – (Yes Magazine – November 4, 2016) State representative Joyce McCreight never thought she would run for office. She’d always been an advocate for her neighbors in her coastal Maine town of Harpswell, but she did that as a social worker in public middle schools. he was convinced that the state government could do more to help those people, and she had ideas about how to do it. But she didn’t want to raise money from donors to pay for her campaign. It went against her sense of ethics. In most states, that would have been the end of the story. But Maine has a law that makes it easier for people who see things like McCreight does to run for state office. The Maine Clean Elections Act, originally passed in 1996 and strengthened in 2015, gives candidates the option to finance campaigns with taxpayer dollars. Candidates who choose to run a publicly financed campaign don’t need to spend time courting wealthy donors—in fact, they’re prohibited from raising private money. Instead, constituents show their support through $5 contributions to the Maine Clean Elections Fund made on behalf of a candidate. But that money doesn’t go to the candidate—instead, it shows support and helps fund the public-financing program. Once candidates have raised the required number of donations, they receive a flat fee from the state, which can vary depending on the office being sought. Also, there’s an option to seek more funding in certain circumstances. During McCreight’s first campaign, in 2014, the state gave her nearly $5,000 once she’d collected 60 contributions. She won, and by the end of her first term, she’d helped to write a bill that makes it easy for low-income people without insurance to get reproductive health, including birth control and screenings for sexually transmitted infections. The bill passed, and McCreight expects it to save the state $2.5 million a year, primarily by catching conditions early and preventing unwanted births.


In Historic First, ICC Preparing to Investigate US War Crimes in Afghanistan – (Common Dreams – November 1, 2016)
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is preparing to initiate a full investigation into potential war crimes in Afghanistan, including those committed by U.S. military personnel, according to Foreign Policy. The magazine writes: “Multiple sources have indicated that the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, will seek to initiate an investigation in the coming weeks, likely after the U.S. presidential election but before the end of the year. U.S. officials visited The Hague recently to discuss the potential investigation and to express concerns about its scope.” A formal investigation of U.S. activities would be the first in the history of the ICC, to which the U.S. is not a party. But because Afghanistan is a member, an investigation is “certainly possible,” Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies told Common Dreams. “Afghanistan joined the ICC in 2003, so all actions after that time are subject to ICC jurisdiction,” Bennis said. “But then you get to the question of political will,” Bennis added. The ICC has famously failed to investigate powerful Western nations while prosecuting African dictators, a disparity so glaring that several African countries recently quit the court, condemning it as the “International Caucasian Court.”

84% of Ukrainians Want Vladimir Putin as Their President – (Global Research – November 14, 2016)
The Ukrainian publication Nedelya.UA conducted a poll among its readers asking the following question: “Which politician would you entrust with the governance of your country?” The survey involved the participation of 41,600 readers and showed the following figures: 84% (34,900) of Ukrainian respondents want to see Vladimir Putin as president of Ukraine. In second place with 5% (2,000) was Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Third place with 2% (820) was claimed by Xi Jinping and fourth, also with 2% (708) was leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Vladimir Zhirinovsky. The current president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, took 5th place with only 1% (538 votes).


3 Tattoo Revolutionaries Who Express Their Values in Ink – (Yes Magazine – October 26, 2016)
When most people think of veganism, tattoos aren’t top of mind. But many of the ingredients that make up tattoos are full of animal products: Inks can contain glycerin from animal fat as a stabilizer, animal bone ash for dark lines, and, in some cases, gelatin from animal hooves and shellac from beetle waste as binding agents. So when longtime vegan James Spooner opened his tattoo shop in Los Angeles seven years ago, he wanted to offer a service consistent with his political and ethical choices. Monocle Tattoo is believed to be the first and only 100 percent vegan tattoo parlor in Los Angeles, using animal-free alternative products in every step of the process. As a tattoo artist, Friday Jones brings an education in philosophy, religion, and art to the craft, enabling clients to imagine and wear their internal narratives. Jones focuses on a specific client base: breast cancer survivors. Jones, based in New York City, and scores of other tattoo artists across the country partner with Personal Ink, a Colorado nonprofit that connects breast cancer survivors with professionals who specialize in post-operative tattoos. In the early 1990s, Miya Bailey was one of only a few African-American tattoo artists working professionally in the United States. Inspired by a new wave of tattoo artists who were bringing the world of fine art to a canvas of skin, Bailey developed techniques to make color inks visible on dark skin. He brought the basic principles of tattooing—“clean line work, smooth shading, and solid color”—and mixed them with a painter’s vision for Black clients.

Denver Is the First City to Allow Marijuana in Bars and Restaurants – (Fortune – November 16, 2016)
Denver voters have approved a first-in-the-nation law allowing willing bars and restaurants to give patrons the option to use marijuana alongside a cocktail or meal. Denver’s measure takes effect immediately, but it has a lot of caveats. First, interested bars and restaurants would have to show they have neighborhood support before getting a license to allow marijuana use. In addition, patrons would have to bring their own weed to comply with state law banning the sale of both pot and food or drink at a single location. Patrons at participating bars could use pot inside as long as it isn’t smoked. The law does provide for the possibility of outside smoking areas under restrictive circumstances. The law also allows for non-service establishments, such as yoga galleries or art galleries, to set up pot-smoking areas or hold events serving both pot and food and drink. Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the national Marijuana Policy Project and a Denver proponent of the consumption law, said the measure would reduce instances of tourists smoking pot on sidewalks and in parks because they have nowhere private to consume weed. Denver voters approved Proposition 300 on the same day that the nation’s largest state of California and two others legalized pot for all adults and five more states approved pot for sick people—signs of society’s increasing tolerance for the drug.

Molecules Found on Phones Reveal Lifestyle Secrets – (BBC News – November 15, 2016)
Californian scientists found traces of everything from caffeine and spices to skin creams and anti-depressants on 40 phones they tested. We leave traces of molecules, chemicals and bacteria on everything we touch. Even washing hands thoroughly would not prevent the transfer to everyday objects, the researchers said. Using a technique called mass spectrometry, the University of California San Diego research team tested 500 samples taken from 40 adults’ mobile phones and hands. They then compared them to molecules identified in a database and produced a “lifestyle profile” of each phone owner. Dr Amina Bouslimani, an assistant project scientist on the study, said the results were revealing. “By analyzing the molecules they left behind on their phones, we could tell if a person is likely to be female, uses high-end cosmetics, dyes her hair, drinks coffee, prefers beer over wine, likes spicy food, is being treated for depression, wears sunscreen and bug spray – and therefore likely to spend a lot of time outdoors – all kinds of things,” she said.


NASA Leaks: Warp Drive a Reality? – (Daily Galaxy – November 15, 2016)
A recently leaked, unpublished paper from NASA reveals that NASA has made a functioning Radio Frequency Resonant Cavity Thruster, otherwise known as electromagnetic propulsion drive or EM Drive or Warp Drive – a space engine with fuel-free propulsion system. The EM Drive uses magnetic waves to create thrust by bouncing microwave photons within a closed cone-shaped metal vessel shown below. The motion causes the pointed end of the drive to generate thrust and propel it in the opposite direction. The microwaves gather electricity via solar power and it does not require a propellant. Critics remain skeptical about the idea saying that the engine violates basic Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. According to state-of-the art theory, a warp drive could cut the travel time between stars from tens of thousands of years to weeks or months, of transporting humans to Mars in 10 weeks, fly to the Moon in four hours, and travel to Pluto in only 18 months – all without the need for a propellant. As detailed in the paper, NASA physicists led by Harold “Sonny” White and Paul March were able to generate thrust in a “tapered RF test article” (EmDrive prototype) during a series of tests at NASA’s Eagleworks Labs at Johnson Space Center in the fall of 2015.

Watching the Clouds Move on Titan Is Freaky – (GizModo – November 7, 2016)
Watching clouds float by is usually a serene, relaxing experience. Watching methane clouds float by on Saturn’s moon Titan, however, is not. NASA recently released a new video captured by Cassini, a spacecraft currently making its way around the Saturnian system. The footage—which is set to some pretty dramatic music—shows the methane clouds developing, moving, and disappearing over an 11-hour span. It’s not terrifying, exactly, but it is a little strange to watch.


New Data on How Race Shapes Women’s Workplace Experiences May Surprise You – (Fast Company – November 17, 2016)
This article reviews data gathered at the women’s employer review platform Fairygodboss on gender and ethnicity, to see whether job-satisfaction levels and opinions about gender equality in the workplace shed any light on the divisions in the electorate. What we found surprised us. You might think that women of color suffer from workplace biases (both overt and unconscious) that, on balance, affect them more negatively than Caucasian women. Certainly gender pay gap data shows that Hispanic, black, and Native American women have lower median annual earnings relative to Caucasian and Asian women. But while Caucasian women comprise 70% of our total community, they haven’t been the most positive group when it comes to gender equality in their workplaces. It’s Asian American women who in fact occupy that position—they’re the most likely to say that their employers were fair to them. From a sample of over 3,500 women of all races and ethnicities in our community, 66% of our Asian women users report that their employers treat men and women equitably. They’re followed in that sentiment by African-American women, 60% of whom have said they’ve experienced gender equality at work. Caucasian women are next in line, with 56% reporting gender equality, while Hispanic women seem to have fared the worst (54%). When it comes to job satisfaction, the results may not be what you’d expect. Here, too, it wasn’t white women who proved the happiest cohort overall. The highest average job-satisfaction levels were again reported by Asian American women (rating their satisfaction an average of 3.4 on a 1–5 scale, with 5 being most satisfied). Hispanic women came in next, followed by Caucasian women, and black women reported the lowest levels of average job satisfaction at 3.1. This article goes on to suggest some reasons for the surprising data.


A Deep-learning System to Alert Companies Before Litigation – (Kurzweil AI – October 27, 2016)
The average cost per lawsuit: at least about $350,000. Imagine a world with less litigation: that’s the promise of a deep-learning system developed by Intraspexion, Inc. that can alert company or government attorneys to forthcoming risks before getting hit with expensive litigation. “These risks show up in internal communications such as emails,” said CEO Nick Brestoff. “In-house attorneys have been blind to these risks, so they are stuck with managing the lawsuits.” Intraspexion’s first deep learning model has been trained to find the risks of employment discrimination lawsuits by scanning emails for key words. “What we can do with employment discrimination now we can do with other litigation categories, starting with breach of contract and fraud, and then scaling up to dozens more,” he said. Brestoff claims that deep learning enables a huge paradigm shift for the legal profession. “We’re going straight after the behemoth of litigation. This shift doesn’t make attorneys better able to know the law; it makes them better able to know the facts, and to know them early enough to do something about them.”

UN Report: Robots Will Replace Two-Thirds of All Workers in the Developing World – (Futurism – November 11, 2016)
From recent reports, it may seem like automation only affects those in developed countries. But a report from the UN Conference on Trade and Development says that it will also affect those in developing countries, likely, even more so. The report explains that, “The increased use of robots in developed countries risks eroding the traditional labor-cost advantage of developing countries.” It cites another report from the World Bank that states: “The share of occupations that could experience significant automation is actually higher in developing countries than in more advanced ones, where many of these jobs have already disappeared.” This means that low-skill jobs in developing countries are more vulnerable since these jobs could also be done by robots, thus displacing human low-skill labor in these countries. This translates to about “two thirds of all jobs” developing countries might lose to automation. It states that automation could run the risk of having economic activity, like the manufacturing industry, be reshored to developed countries from developing ones. It is already happening today but according to the report, it’s happening in a slow pace.


Commentary: Don’t Be So Sure Russia Hacked the Clinton Emails – Reuters – November 2, 2016)
On October 7, James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, issued a statement referring to leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee: “The U.S. Intelligence community is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of emails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations.” Notably, however, the FBI declined to join the chorus, according to reports by the New York Times and CNBC. The problem with attempting to draw a straight line from the Kremlin to the Clinton campaign is the number of variables that get in the way. For one, there is little doubt about Russian cyber fingerprints in various U.S. campaign activities. Moscow, like Washington, has long spied on such matters. The question isn’t whether Russia spied on the U.S. presidential election, it’s whether it released the election emails. Then there’s the role of Guccifer 2.0, the person or persons supplying WikiLeaks and other organizations with many of the pilfered emails. Is this a Russian agent? A free agent? A cybercriminal? A combination, or some other entity? No one knows. There is also the problem of groupthink that led to the war in Iraq. For example, just as the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and the rest of the intelligence establishment are convinced Putin is behind the attacks, they also believed it was a slam-dunk that Saddam Hussein had a trove of weapons of mass destruction. Then there’s the Shadow Brokers, that mysterious person or group that surfaced in August with its farcical “auction” to profit from a stolen batch of extremely secret NSA hacking tools, in essence, cyber weapons. Where do they fit into the picture? They have a small armory of NSA cyber weapons, and they appeared just three weeks after the first DNC emails were leaked.

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

You Want It Darker – (YouTube – September 21, 2016)
Leonard Cohen, a Canadian singer, songwriter, poet and novelist, died recently at age 82. With that wonderful, gravelly voice of his, he explored religion, politics, isolation, sexuality, and personal relationships. His last recorded song, released only a few weeks before his death, is titled You Want It Darker. As he sees the level of darkness rising in the world and knows that his own “darkness” is very soon to come, his conclusion is that God must want it that way. His personal response is “hineni”, a Hebrew word which, literally translated, would be “I am here.” It’s meaning is something closer to “I make myself fully available to you.” The link to the soundtrack is above; the lyrics are here.


The 25 Most Mysterious Archaeological Finds on Earth – (Live Science – October 27, 2016)
Puzzling ancient finds have a way of captivating the public, perhaps because it’s just too easy to dream up interesting explanations for how and why things exist. These 25 archaeological discoveries have left people in awe — and left scientists scratching their heads — year after year.


The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet. – William Gibson, science fiction novelist

A special thanks to: Bernard Calil, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Gary Sycalik, David Townsend, Steve Ujvarosy and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.


Edited by John L. Petersen

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