Volume 19, Number 8 – 4/15/16

Volume 19, Number 8 – 4/15/16 Twitter  Facebook  JLP Blog



  • 3D printing pen allows surgeons to draw and sculpt customized cartilage implants made from actual human stem cells during surgery.
  • Abandoned “Things” is highly likely to be a growing hazard of the Internet of Things.
  • Scientists in China have developed an innovative solar cell design which can be “triggered” by both rain and sun.
  • A specialized detective company employs satellite photography to help clients argue cases in court.



Facebook Is a Growing and Unstoppable Digital Graveyard – (BBC News – March 14, 2016)
What would happen if new sources of mind control began to emerge that, unlike advertizing, had little or no competition? And what if a newHow is our continuing presence in digital space changing the way we die? And what does it mean for those who would mourn us after we are gone? While it’s obvious that people don’t outlive their bodies on digital technology, they do endure in one sense. People’s experience of you as a seemingly living person can and does continue online. The numbers of the dead on Facebook are growing fast. By 2012, just eight years after the platform was launched, 30 million users with Facebook accounts had died. That number has only gone up since. Some estimates claim more than 8,000 users die each day. At some point in time, there will be more dead Facebook users than living ones. Facebook is a growing and unstoppable digital graveyard. Many Facebook profiles announce their owners have passed; they are “memorialized”. It used to be that only certain prominent people were granted legacies, either because they left written records for their forebears, or because later inquisitive minds undertook that task. But digital technology changes that. In the past few years, several tech companies have extended the idea of a digital soul., launched in 2014, promises to create a digital version of “you” that will live on after your death. Death is certain, admits the website — but what if you could live forever as a digital avatar, “and people in the future could actually interact with your memories, stories and ideas, almost as if they were talking to you?”


The Ancient Peruvian Mystery Solved from Space – (BBC News – April 11, 2016)
In one of the most arid regions in the world a series of carefully constructed, spiraling holes form lines across the landscape. Known as puquios, their origin has been a puzzle – one that could only be solved from space. The holes are located in the Nasca region of Peru – an area famous for the Nasca lines, several enormous geometric images carved into the landscape; immaculate archaeological evidence of ceremonial burials; and the rapid decline of this once flourishing society. What adds to the intrigue concerning the native Nasca people who lived in the region from before 1,000 BC to AD750 is how they were able to survive in an area where droughts can last for years at a time. The puquios were a “sophisticated hydraulic system constructed to retrieve water from underground aquifers,” says Rosa Lasaponara of the Institute of Methodologies for Environmental Analysis, in Italy. Lasaponara and her team studied the puquios using satellite imaging. From this, the team were able to better understand how the puquios were distributed across the Nasca region, and where they ran in relation to nearby settlements – which are easier to date. “Exploiting an inexhaustible water supply throughout the year the puquio system contributed to an intensive agriculture of the valleys in one of the most arid places in the world.”  A series of canals brought the water, trapped underground, to the areas where it was needed; anything left was stored in surface reservoirs. To help keep it moving, chimneys were excavated above the canals in the shape of corkscrewing funnels. These funnels let wind into the canals, which forced the water through the system. “The construction of the puquios involved the use of particularly specialized technology,” says Lasaponara. Not only did the builders of the puquios need a deep understanding of the geology of the area and annual variations in water availability, maintaining the canals was a technical challenge as they spread across tectonic faults. The quality of construction was so good, that some of the puquios still function today.


3D Printing Pen Can “Draw” Human Cartilage Directly into Patients – (Futurism – April 4, 2016)
A team of Australian surgeons and researchers from the ARC Center of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) and St. Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne have invented a new method of treating arthritis, and it addresses the issue of cartilage having no blood supply or nerves. The team created a mobile 3D printing pen, dubbed the ‘BioPen,’ which is a revolutionary device that allows users to 3D print cartilage directly into the patient’s body. The BioPen works similarly to a 3Doodler, instead using a mixture of the patient’s own stem cells and a protective hydrogel bioink. When the stem cells are ‘printed’ into the affected area, the hydrogel bioink acts to protect them while they regrow. It hardens into a 3D scaffold, later dissolving back into the body after time. Lab tests conducted revealed that more than 97% of stem cells were still alive and thriving after just one week.

A Brain Implant Brings a Quadriplegic’s Arm Back to Life – (Wired – April 13, 2016)
Ian Burkhart has been a cyborg for two years now. In 2014, scientists at Ohio State’s Neurological Institute implanted a pea-sized microchip into the 24-year-old quadriplegic’s motor cortex. Its goal: to bypass his damaged spinal cord and, with the help of a signal decoder and electrode-packed sleeve, control his right arm with his thoughts. Neuroengineers have been developing these so-called brain-computer interfaces for more than a decade. They’ve used readings from brain implants to help paralyzed patients play Pong on computer screens and control robotic arms. But Burkhart is the first patient who’s been able to use his implant to control his actual arm. Over the past 15 months, researchers at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and engineers from Battelle, the medical group that developed the decoder software and electrode sleeve, have helped Burkhart relearn fine motor skills with weekly training sessions. In a paper in Nature, they describe hooking a cable from the port screwed into Burkhart’s skull (where the chip is) to a computer that translates the brain signals into instructions for the sleeve, which stimulates his muscles into moving his wrist and fingers. When Burkhart thinks “clench fist,” for example, the implanted electrodes record the activity in his motor cortex. Those signals are decoded in real-time, jolting his arm muscles in all the right places so that his fingers curl inwards. But he can do more than make a fist: Using the one-of-a-kind system, he’s learned to shred a video game guitar, pour objects from a bottle, and pick up a phone. “Card swiping is the most impressive movement right now,” says Herb Bresler, a senior researcher at Battelle. “It demonstrates fine grip as well as coarse hand movements.”

Brain Scans Reveal What LSD Does to the Brain – (CBS – April 14, 2016)
When people take the psychedelic drug LSD, they may feel as if the boundary that separates them from the rest of the world has dissolved, as if they are connected with everything. Now, a new study has revealed a neural mechanism behind this phenomenon, called “ego dissolution.” The study’s results suggest that further research on LSD and other psychedelic drugs, which is currently banned in the U.S. and elsewhere, could provide important insight into how the human brain works, the researchers said. Enzo Tagliazucchi, a co-author of the new study and a neuroscientist at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in Amsterdam, noted “For some people, the experience of ego dissolution can be overwhelming and lead to anxiety, panic and what is usually called a ‘bad trip.'” However, ego dissolution is also at the core of the treatment of death-related anxiety in terminal-stage cancer patients, which involves the use of psilocybin, another psychedelic that has some similarities with LSD. For such patients, ego dissolution “can be a positive and transformative experience, leading to peace, acceptance, a new perspective on things,” he said. The new findings also suggest that taking LSD may result in an enhanced sharing of information among different brain regions that, in turn, reinforces a stronger link between a person’s sense of self and his or her sense of the rest of the world, Tagliazucchi said in a statement. The researchers found that, when the people were high on LSD, different regions of their brains were more connected to each other, compared with when the people were given placebo. And the more connected these brain regions were in these people, the higher their sense of ego dissolution was, the researchers found.

Genetic Superheroes Walk Among Us, But Shhh! No One Can Tell ‘Em – (Wired – April 11, 2016)
Genetic superheroes walk among us but they—maybe you?—don’t know it. Results from a study called the Resilience Project show 13 “resilient” people—out of over half a million genomes studied—who have genetic mutations that should have doomed them to serious, often deadly, childhood disease. Instead, they’ve apparently lived healthy lives into adulthood. But the scientists have not been able to contact those people—not to tell them about their special genetic status nor to do any follow-up research. Research consent forms drawn up long before the Resilience Project even existed put the kibosh on the idea—yet another example of the tricky issue of consent for genetic studies. The study, published in Nature Biotechnology, is the first step for the Resilience Project—it’s proof that these resilient people really do exist. And for this first step, the scientists relied on genomic data originally collected for other studies. Most of the genomes, nearly 400,000 of them, came from people who sent their spit to the sequencing company 23andMe and checked the box on the accompanying form that said it was OK to use their DNA in research. The Resilience Project scientists didn’t have names or contact information or complete medical records. The team had built a program to analyze genomic data to find people with mutations for 584 severe genetic disorders, like cystic fibrosis. They sent the program to their partners like 23andMe, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Beijing Genomics Institute, who ran it and returned the anonymized data of 303 candidates. Doing their best to verify using self-reported medical information from the people sequenced, the team winnowed down the candidates to 13 resilient people. Michelle Meyer, a bioethicist at Clarkson University and Mount Sinai, has also consulted on the next phase of the Resilience Project, which will recruit an additional one million people who will expressly consent to recontact.

Zika Mutates Extremely Quickly, Which Is Why It’s So Scary – (Time – April 15, 2016)
Now that the Zika virus has been linked to more than 1,000 microcephaly cases, scientists have taken a closer look, recently declaring it “scarier than we initially thought,” as one U.S. health official put it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced it is now absolutely confident that Zika causes microcephaly—a connection that was suspected but not proven. It also appears to be linked to other disorders like Guillain-Barré syndrome and other autoimmune syndromes. The virus, experts now know, can be transmitted through sex. In a new twist, experts are questioning the idea that mosquitoes are the primary cause of transmission. The virus was first discovered in 1947 and has caused some disease in Africa and Asia before notable outbreaks in Micronesia in 2007 and in French Polynesia in 2013. But the current outbreak is by far the worst. To figure out why, the UCLA team partnered with Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College in Beijing and compared 40 strains of Zika from past outbreaks as well as strains from the current one. The researchers analyzed some strains collected from people, some from monkeys, and some from mosquitoes. When sequences of the viruses were compared, the scientists noted a variety of differences between them. “The things that change a lot [in the virus] might explain why it causes different disease now,” says study author Stephanie Valderramos, a fellow in obstetrics-gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. What’s also curious, the researchers note, is that the strains of the virus collected from humans in this outbreak haven’t matched the strains seen in mosquitoes.“We haven’t found any human sequences in the mosquito in recent history,” says Valderramos. “It could be we haven’t been looking hard enough. If we can’t find them, it brings into question whether the mosquito is the primary mode of transmission in the current epidemic.” It’s possible, the researchers suggest, that other modes of transmission, like sex, may play a bigger role. “What’s new and interesting and scary is that this is the first time a virus transmitted by mosquitoes has been shown to spread in any other way,” says Valderramos.


World’s First Plastic Fishing Company Wants to Rid the Oceans of Plastic Pollution – (Nation of Change – April 3, 2016)
The premise behind the Amsterdam-based venture Plastic Whale is beautifully simple. First, the company fishes out plastic bottles and other debris from the city’s numerous canals. Second, when enough bottles are collected, the plastic is transformed into material to make a boat. Third, the new boat is used to fish for more plastic bottles—to make more boats. Genius. The goal of Plastic Whale—which describes itself as the world’s first plastic fishing company—is to rid the world’s waters of plastic pollution. With an estimated 8 million tons of plastic trash entering our waterways annually, Plastic Whale is going to need a lot of boats. Founder and captain Marius Smit, however, is up for the ambitious task. He says that he not only envisions a world of plastic-free waters but also a world where people understand that everyday trash, such as plastic bottles, can be transformed into “a valuable raw material.” Since its 2010 launch, the company has fished more than 50,000 plastic bottles and more than 10,000 kilos of various waste from the canals of Amsterdam, according to Smit. Presently, the company offers businesses and individuals plastic fishing tours on its total fleet of seven boats, all made from plastic bottles. One of its newest boats—created in partnership with Interface, the world’s largest carpet tile manufacturer—is made from more than 7,000 plastic bottles. As it turns out, the light and buoyant plastic from PET bottles make great boat building blocks.

To Fight Chronic Wasting Disease Among Deer, We Must Act Now – (Detroit Free Press – April 3, 2016)
When a deer infected by Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD – the deer equivalent of mad cow disease) nibbles a plant, the prion infection in its saliva absorbs into the plant’s roots and into the soil, and it emerges again with new sprouts. Should another deer graze that same trail, it will become infected with the fatal neurological disease. With the recent discovery of two more deer infected with CWD in Ingham and Clinton counties, Michigan faces what certainly will become a generational battle, destined to turn our deer management topsy-turvy. “In CWD areas, we are going to have no antler point restrictions for 20-25 years,” said Russ Mason, Michigan DNR wildlife chief. In order to save hunting for the next generation, there’s no time for a learning curve. Where CWD is concerned, a scorched earth approach is required. If the disease reaches a certain saturation point, the deer population will plummet. “Studies show that once it gets to 10% of the population, it escalates to 50% very quickly,” Mason said. “Then the population declines fairly rapidly and becomes noticeable. We need to act now.” Answers aren’t simple. Areas with CWD have limitless hunting permits, but it isn’t going to be enough. Even those limitless hunting permits may just push deer away from humans, causing the disease to spread in remote areas, rather than managing the situation. Landowners who have cultivated their property for years for a herd think of those deer as their babies. They get angry when someone else shoots a deer that they would have passed on. And now they are being asked (in CWD areas) to slaughter that herd. Also, Michiganders go to states that have CWD to hunt and bring back infected carcasses. “Even one bad player can ruin the game for everyone,” Mason said. How bad is the disease? It resides in the deer, the soil and plants quietly, a hidden terror cell of prions, waiting to emerge. So far, this disease hasn’t jumped to humans, though it seems that squirrels and hamsters are vulnerable to contracting it. (Editor’s note: Although we would have reservations about it, apparently, eating the meat of diseased deer is safe. See this article.)

China Report Sounds Alarm on Groundwater Pollution – (Associated Press – April 12, 2016)
More than 80% of China’s underground water drawn from relatively shallow wells used by farms, factories and mostly rural households is unsafe for drinking because of pollution, a government report says. The Water Resources Ministry study posted to its website Tuesday analyzed samples drawn in January from 2,103 wells used for monitoring in the country’s major eastern flatland watersheds. The ministry said that of those samples, 32.9% were classed as suitable only for industrial and agricultural use, while 47.3% were unfit for human consumption of any type. None were considered pristine, although water in wells in the Beijing area was rated better overall than elsewhere in the northeast. Officials sought to reassure the public that most household water used by urban Chinese households is safe because it comes from reservoirs, deep aquifers or rivers that are treated to ensure safety. Water shortages are also expected to pose an increasing challenge to agriculture, with much of the arid North China Plain reliant on aquifers whose levels are falling fast. China’s major lakes are also heavily polluted, largely due to fertilizer run-off and the dumping of untreated factory waste.


Security Experts: What’s Wrong with Internet of Things Security, and How to Fix It – ( Tech Republic – March 31, 2016)
Every object you interact with on a daily basis will soon be networked, collecting data, and easily hacked. Internet of Things security is already so bad that simple search engines have indexed and provided detailed information about millions of connected devices around the world, ranging from common wearable devices to home climate systems to public security cameras. “The emotional reaction of security professionals when looking at IoT is to throw up one’s hands, decry how everything is always broken forever, and we’re doomed,” said Tod Beardsley, Rapid7’s Senior Security Research Manager. “To be sure, there are serious, systemic problems in the IoT space. These problems are real and difficult, but not insurmountable.” Beardsley explained that a lack of ability on the part of vendors to produce interoperable secure firmware, web, and mobile applications that encompasses the breadth of IoT presents a number of vulnerabilities. Timothy Sparapani, Founder of SPQR Strategies and former Director of Public Policy at Facebook, notes, “The greatest vulnerability for both businesses and consumers is that we have not yet developed a [standard] for shipping patches for security vulnerabilities remotely.” He added, “When we turn over devices to IoT monitoring there will be very few people who have the skills to fix the device in question when it is hacked, and even fewer who are proximate to the devices to physically override their programming.” What does a strong IoT security model look like? The article goes on to discuss that.

Why Nest’s Revolv Hubs Won’t Be the Last IoT Devices Knocked Offline – (PC World – April 4, 2016)
Following up on the previous article, software security won’t be the only issue with the IoT. Owners of the Revolv connected-home hub are about to experience what may become a growing hazard of the Internet of Things: abandoned Things. The hubs they use to control devices around their homes through a smartphone app will stop working on May 15. It seems that Nest, the division of Alphabet that acquired Revolv in 2014, thinks it has a better way to do this. So the service connected to Revolv hubs will end and the devices, which sold for a list price of US$299, will be deactivated. “As of May 15, 2016, Revolv service will no longer be available. The Revolv app won’t open and the hub won’t work,” the company said. All Revolv data will be deleted. The one-year warranties on all Revolv hubs ever sold have expired. Devices that rely on cloud-based software are inherently vulnerable to getting left behind if that software gets shut down, but IoT raises the stakes. Rather than just a lone gadget that’s not useful anymore, a decommissioned IoT device is likely to become a missing link in a larger system. Devices that rely on cloud-based software are inherently vulnerable to getting left behind if that software gets shut down, but IoT raises the stakes. Rather than just a lone gadget that’s not useful anymore, a decommissioned IoT device is likely to become a missing link in a larger system.


Creative Houses from Reclaimed Stuff – (TEDx – Houston – October, 2010)
In this funny and inspiring talk, Dan Phillips tours you through a dozen homes he’s built in Texas using recycled and reclaimed materials in wildly creative ways. His brilliant, low-tech design details have a surprising elegance.

These $150,000 Prefab Houses Don’t Need Any Energy from the Grid – (Fast Company – March 14, 2016)
When a home-building company called Deltec Homes first launched in 1968, they focused on designing houses that could survive a hurricane. Now one of their main focuses is a different challenge—how to make affordable prefab houses that don’t require any electricity from the grid. The company has been developing a line of net-zero homes for the last decade. “People 10 years ago didn’t call them net-zero homes,” says Steve Linton, president of Deltec. “But people were building homes that essentially produced all their own energy and asking us to play a big part in that type of project. It’s sort of a long evolution for us.” The company currently makes nine different models of net-zero houses, each designed to cut out two-thirds of the energy used in a typical house of the same size. The rest is powered by rooftop solar. “It starts the energy conservation,” Linton says. “We know that ultimately it’s better to save a kilowatt hour of electricity than to produce an extra one.” By making the walls in a factory, for example, it’s possible to include gaskets that make them more airtight than if they were built piece by piece on site. The company also works with clients to plan a design based on their land—how the sun can warm and light the house, and how trees can keep it cool. Basic homes start around $66,000; building out the inside using local contractors brings the price up to at least $145,000. For more information, here is the company’s website.


Electric Rain? Solar Panel Turns Raindrops into Power – (Fox News – April 11, 2016)
Scientists in China have developed an innovative solar cell design which can be “triggered” by both rain and sun. The technology combines an electron-enriched graphene electrode with a dye-sensitized solar cell. “The new solar cell can be excited by incident light on sunny days and raindrops on rainy days,” explain the scientists from Ocean University of China and Yunnan Normal University. By using a thin layer of highly conductive graphene, the solar cell could effectively harness power from rain. “The salt contained in rain separates into ions (ammonium, calcium and sodium), making graphene and natural water a great combination for creating energy,” the study reports. “The water actually clings to the graphene, forming a dual layer (AKA pseudocapacitor) with the graphene electrons. The energy difference between these layers is so strong that it generates electricity. Vasilis Fthenakis, a senior research scientist and adjunct professor at Columbia University who did not participate in the paper, said that if the technology’s additional costs and potential solar cell optical losses do not exceed the benefits of rain-harvested energy, it could be used in climates not typically associated with strong solar energy. “The dye-sensitized cells where this is applied are not the type of technology that would be deployed globally as a replacement of conventional energy; they have applications mostly in diffuse-light applications, not in the high sun regions,” he noted.

Researchers Generate Clean Energy Using Bacteria-powered Solar Panel – (Phys Org – April 11, 2016)
For the first time ever, researchers connected nine identical bio-solar cells in a 3×3 pattern to make a scalable and stackable bio-solar panel. The panel continuously generated electricity from photosynthesis and respiratory activities of the bacteria in 12-hour day-night cycles over 60 total hours. They continuously produced electricity from the panel and generated the most wattage of any existing small-scale bio-solar cells – 5.59 microwatts. “Once a functional bio-solar panel becomes available, it could become a permanent power source for supplying long-term power for small, wireless telemetry systems as well as wireless sensors used at remote sites where frequent battery replacement is impractical,” said Seokheun “Sean” Choi, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in Binghamton University’s Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science, and co-author of the paper. “This research could also enable crucial understanding of the photosynthetic extracellular electron transfer processes in a smaller group of microorganisms with excellent control over the microenvironment, thereby enabling a versatile platform for fundamental bio-solar cell studies,” said Choi.


Convoy of Self-driving Trucks Completes First European Cross-border Trip – (Guardian – April 7, 2016)
Six convoys of semi-automated “smart” trucks have arrived in Rotterdam’s harbor after an experiment its organizers say will revolutionize future road transport on Europe’s busy highways. More than a dozen self-driving trucks made by six of Europe’s largest manufacturers arrived in the port in so-called “truck platoons”, said Eric Jonnaert, president of the umbrella body representing DAF, Daimler, Iveco, MAN, Scania and Volvo. “Truck platooning” involves two or three trucks that autonomously drive in convoy and are connected via wireless, with the leading truck determining route and speed. This concluded the first-ever cross-border experiment of its kind, with self-driving trucks leaving factories from as far away as Sweden and southern Germany, Jonnaert said. “Truck platooning will ensure cleaner and more efficient transport. Self-driving vehicles also contribute to road safety because most accidents are caused by human failure,” said the Dutch infrastructure and environment minister, Melanie Schultz van Haegen.

Autonomous Ford Uses LiDAR to Navigate in the Dark – (GizMag – April 11, 2016)
Ford explains that, typically, the virtual driver software in its autonomous vehicles employs LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging, a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure distances) along with radar and cameras in order to navigate. Despite this, the test shows that LiDAR alone is enough for a vehicle to navigate autonomously in the dark. “Thanks to LiDAR, the test cars aren’t reliant on the sun shining, nor cameras detecting painted white lines on the asphalt,” says Ford’s technical leader for autonomous vehicles Jim McBride. “In fact, LiDAR allows autonomous cars to drive just as well in the dark as they do in the light of day.” Ford also uses LiDAR for its autonomous vehicles to navigate in the snow (when cameras may not be able to read the painted lines on the road). The carmaker has tested one of its Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicles at its Arizona Proving Ground in conditions too dark for a human driver to see where they were going. To achieve this, Ford uses high-resolution 3D maps, with LiDAR pulses used to locate a car on the map in real time. Embedded video clip shows the Fusion driving autonomously in the dark, with some of the LiDAR’s 2.8 million infrared pulses a second able to be seen.


The Insanely Complicated Logistics of Cage-Free Eggs for All – (Wired – January 21, 2016)
2015 was the year of the egg, at least as far as the food industry was concerned. An Avian flu outbreak briefly sent egg prices soaring. Meanwhile, McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast food chain and one of the biggest egg buyers anywhere, announced it would ditch its conventionally farmed eggs and sell nothing but cage-free eggs in all of its US and Canadian restaurants. By the end of the year, just about every major fast food chain and a handful of multinational food companies had followed suit, including Subway, Starbucks, Nestle and most recently Wendy’s and Walmart. But these announcements had a catch. The companies said the switch to cage-free would take anywhere from five years to a decade to complete. How could it possibly take ten years to let a bunch of chickens out of their cages? As it turns out, going cage-free requires much more planning, money, and logistical engineering than the seemingly simple notion of setting some hens free would suggest. Ironically, this massive supply chain overhaul stems from consumer demand to return to the egg-producing practices of our pre-industrial past, but without undoing all the positive benefits of scale, affordability, and safety that were achieved through industrialization. It actually took farmers a really long time to figure out how to put the bird in the cage—and it’s going to take a while to figure out how to get it back out. This article lays out the details along with the whys and wherefores.

Drugs Found in Puget Sound Salmon from Tainted Wastewater – (Seattle Times – February 23, 2016)
Puget Sound salmon are on drugs — Prozac, Advil, Benadryl, Lipitor, even cocaine. Those drugs and dozens of others are showing up in the tissues of juvenile chinook, researchers have found, thanks to tainted wastewater discharge. The estuary waters near the outfalls of sewage-treatment plants, and effluent sampled at the plants, were cocktails of 81 drugs and personal-care products, with levels detected among the highest in the nation. The medicine chest of common drugs also included Flonase, Aleve and Tylenol. Paxil, Valium and Zoloft. Tagamet, OxyContin and Darvon. Nicotine and caffeine. Fungicides, antiseptics and anticoagulants. And Cipro and other antibiotics galore. The samples were gathered over two days in September 2014 from Sinclair Inlet off Bremerton and near the mouth of Blair Waterway in Tacoma’s Commencement Bay. The chemicals turned up in both the water and the tissues of migratory juvenile chinook salmon and resident staghorn sculpin. If anything, the study probably underreports the amount of drugs in the water closer to outfall pipes, or in deeper water, researchers found. Even fish tested in the intended control waters in the Nisqually estuary, which receives no direct municipal treatment-plant discharge, tested positive for an alphabet soup of chemicals in supposedly pristine waters. “That was supposed to be our clean reference area,” said Jim Meador, an environmental toxicologist at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. Meador said he doubted there would be effects from the chemicals on human health, because people don’t eat sculpin or juvenile chinook, and levels are probably too low in the water to be active in humans. But one of the reasons the wastewater pollutants studied as a class are called “chemicals of emerging concern” is because so little is known about them. However, “You have to wonder what it is doing to the fish,” Meador said. His other recent work has shown that juvenile chinook salmon migrating through contaminated estuaries in Puget Sound die at twice the rate of fish elsewhere.


Company Invents Gun That Folds Up to Look Like a Cellphone – (NBC – March 29, 2016)
A Minnesota company has invented a handgun that folds up to look just like a smartphone. The .380-caliber pistol, called Ideal Conceal, will be available later this year and “will be virtually undetectable because it hides in plain sight,” its manufacturer, Ideal Conceal, says.  In locked position, the two-shot plastic gun with a metal core can be discreetly slipped into pockets, like a real phone. But “with one click of the safety it opens and is ready to fire,” Ideal Conceal claims. The creator, Kirk Kjellberg, said the idea came to him after he attracted attention for carrying a concealed weapon in a restaurant. Kjellberg, who calls himself a “serial inventor,” decided to make a gun that wouldn’t stand out so much. He says the Ideal Conceal is the roughly the same size as his Galaxy S7 phone with a protective case on it: about 3” by 5”.


Oliver Stone Makes Impassioned Plea for Sanders: ‘Hillary Clinton Has Effectively Closed the Door on Peace’ – (AlterNet – April 1, 2016)
This op-ed piece by Oliver Stone observes that, Hilary Clinton’s “point of view is steeped in the traditional post-World War II, Atlanticist, NATO-domination of the universe. It’s set in stone. No president it seems, no democratic vote, no dissenting media can alter this. We’re going to be in border, resource, and forever wars for the next 10, 20, 100 years, until Trump (who our shadow government will never allow to exercise power) actually said in his straight way of talking, “our cities go bust.” Clinton has been brainwashed by the neoconservatives to believe it’s about “Russian aggression” when it’s the United States that’s ensuring the greatest build-up on the European borders of Russia since Hitler did it in World War II. We’re going to war — either hybrid in nature to break the Russian state back to its 1990s subordination, or a hot war (which will destroy our country). We are being led, as C. Wright Mills said in the 1950s, by a government full of “crackpot realists: in the name of realism they’ve constructed a paranoid reality all their own.” Our media has credited Hillary Clinton with wonderful foreign policy experience, unlike Trump, without really noting the results of her power-mongering. She’s comparable to Bill Clinton’s choice of Cold War crackpot Madeleine Albright as one of the worst Secretary of States we’ve had since … Condi Rice? Albright boasted, “If we have to use force it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future.” Hillary’s record includes supporting the barbaric “contras” against the Nicaraguan people in the 1980s, supporting the NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia, supporting the ongoing Bush-Iraq War, the ongoing Afghan mess, and as Secretary of State the destruction of the secular state of Libya, the military coup in Honduras, and the present attempt at “regime change” in Syria. Every one of these situations has resulted in more extremism, more chaos in the world, and more danger to our country. Next will be the borders of Russia, China, and Iran. Can we really bear to watch as Clinton “takes our alliance [with Israel] to the next level”? Cannot the media, at the least, call her out on this extremism? The problem, I think, is this political miasma of “correctness” that dominates American thinking (i.e. Trump is extreme, therefore Hillary is not).


A World War Has Begun: Break the Silence – (CounterPunch – March 23, 2016)
This article is very far from being unbiased but what makes it worth reading is that, in between the sentences of polemic is a pattern of “connected dots” that is quite different from what is being reported in the mainstream media outlets and it is a perspective that warrants consideration. Nuclear warhead spending alone rose higher under Obama than under any American president. The cost over thirty years is more than $1 trillion. A mini nuclear bomb is planned. It is known as the B61 Model 12. There has never been anything like it. General James Cartwright, a former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said, “Going smaller [makes using this nuclear] weapon more thinkable.” In the last eighteen months, the greatest build-up of military forces since World War Two — led by the United States — is taking place along Russia’s western frontier. Having orchestrated a coup in Kiev, Washington effectively controls a regime that is next door and hostile to Russia. Prominent parliamentary figures in Ukraine are the political descendants of the notorious OUN and UPA fascists. They openly praise Hitler and call for the persecution and expulsion of the Russian speaking minority. In Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — next door to Russia – the US military is deploying combat troops, tanks, heavy weapons. This extreme provocation of the world’s second nuclear power is met with silence in the West. What makes the prospect of nuclear war even more dangerous is a parallel campaign against China. Seldom a day passes when China is not elevated to the status of a “threat”.  According to Admiral Harry Harris, the US Pacific commander, China is “building a great wall of sand in the South China Sea”. What he is referring to is China building airstrips in the Spratly Islands, which are the subject of a dispute with the Philippines – a dispute without priority until Washington pressured and bribed the government in Manila and the Pentagon launched a propaganda campaign called “freedom of navigation”. What does this really mean?  It means freedom for American warships to patrol and dominate the coastal waters of China. The United States is encircling China with a network of bases, with ballistic missiles, battle groups, nuclear -armed bombers. This lethal arc extends from Australia to the islands of the Pacific, the Marianas and the Marshalls and Guam, to the Philippines, Thailand, Okinawa, Korea and  across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India. In 2015, in high secrecy, the US and Australia staged the biggest single air-sea military exercise in recent history, known as Talisman Sabre. Its aim was to rehearse an Air-Sea Battle Plan, blocking sea lanes, such as the Straits of Malacca and the Lombok Straits, that cut off China’s access to oil, gas and other vital raw materials from the Middle East and Africa. For more information on the B61 Model 12, see this NY Times article. For more information on the Talisman Sabre exercise, see this article in Stars and Stripes.

Nagmachons – (Charles Glass blog – April 5, 2016)
(A nagmachon is a tracked Israeli armored personnel carrier.) Policemen with truncheons in Ferguson, Missouri, bash African American protestors. A Predator drone bombs a Muslim wedding party in Afghanistan. Israeli soldiers raid a village in the occupied West Bank. Links among such apparently unrelated events are not obvious, but each of these books in differing ways confronts us with evidence that domestic policing, international warfare and global surveillance have become joint elements of a mushrooming system that curtails liberty, violates privacy and takes human life by executive fiat. In two new books the Israeli academic and activist Jeff Halper and Andrew Cockburn, the America-based Irish writer whose previous books include a critical analysis of the Soviet Army, both contend that crowd management, counter-terrorism, drones, “securitized” law enforcement and military intervention comprise elements of a structure of control that has gone, well, out of control. America’s armed forces, intelligence agencies, cyber-war experts and arms manufacturers lead the world in bringing the latest technology to bear on enemies foreign and domestic, while Israel provides key components of equipment and doctrine to the US. Israel’s security innovations are tested in what Halper calls the “laboratory” of the Palestinian Territories; in some specializations, it supersedes its benefactor and occasionally, as with its weapons sales to China, it works against American interests. For the most part, however, the private and public security sectors in the two countries work in harmony to regulate the ambitions of those who would disrupt the status quo. “The refugee crisis in Europe is causing a renewed interest in Israeli intelligence and surveillance systems”, wrote Gili Cohen in a recent article in Haaretz. She reported that Israel’s Elbit Systems won a €230 million contract to supply six Hermes 900 drones to Switzerland for monitoring its borders, while Hungary and Bulgaria were looking at Israel’s refugee-proof border fence with Egypt as a model to deter Syrian asylum seekers. This is one among many instances of a crisis boosting the market for hi-tech security gizmos. (Editor’s note: We recommend this article which, again, shows the connecting links between items, events, and the flows of power and profit that are not generally visible.)


Total Inequality – (The Atlantic – April 1, 2016)
“Total Inequality” refers to the sum of the financial, psychological, and cultural disadvantages that come with poverty. Researchers cannot easily count up these disadvantages, and journalists cannot easily graph them. But they might be the most important stories about why poverty persists across time and generations. It’s expensive to be poor—in ways that are often quantitatively invisible. Research on the psychology of poverty suggests that not having enough money changes the way people think about time. It’s hard to prepare for the next decade when you’re worried about making it to next Monday. The tens of millions of Americans without bank accounts can spend as much as 10% of their income on pawn shops, check cashing services, and payday loans that charge punishing fees. Total inequality is a cultural force, insinuating itself into family life and classrooms and replicating across generations. For example, economic insecurity for men has led to a collapse in marriage rates among less educated couples. These households earn less early on, but the demise of marriage does not show its true costs in today’s income tables. It will take years to see the damage. Marriage inequality in one generation creates economic inequality in the next generation. Children of low-income, non-married couples are more likely to grow up without both parents, more likely to experience family instability, less likely to go to college, less likely to earn above-median wages, and less likely to send their own children to college. See also: The End of Welfare As We Know it. (Editor’s note: We recommend both these articles as a way to glimpsing some of the social drivers that are dramatically changing the overall social fabric of the US.)

The Detectives Watching You from Space – (BBC News – April 5, 2016)
Fans of crime writer Raymond Chandler’s wise-cracking prose would no doubt be pleased that there’s a real-life private detective agency run by two men called Raymond. But Ray Harris and Ray Purdy are not planning to tail unfaithful spouses to seedy motels like Chandler’s pulp detective Philip Marlowe. Rather, the two Rays are cosmic private eyes, running the world’s first outer space detective agency – and they don’t care who knows it. The pair’s aim is to use satellite photography to help clients argue cases in court – anything from property border disputes, to establishing rights of way, spotting stolen vehicles and illegal landfills – or proving serious environmental harm to vital wetlands and ancient woodlands. Purdy, a space lawyer, and Harris, a geographer schooled in the use of geospatial imagery and databases, set up their space detective agency, Air & Space Evidence, in October 2014. Their familiarity with imaging satellites, and how the law applies, gives them a distinct advantage. And the technology can be extremely useful. “With resolution as high as 30 centimeters you can see a mailbox or a manhole cover from space now,” says Purdy. Although video-recording satellites do exist they don’t have the resolution of the best stills cameras in orbit – and can’t yet offer extended coverage. Google-owned Terra Bella – formerly Skybox Imaging – for instance, is building a fleet of imaging Cubesats in low-Earth orbit. These are capable of providing 90-second-long clips of video over a spot on Earth – before it moves out of range. But the increasing numbers of Earth imaging satellites could have “profound implications” for privacy in the future says Richard Tynan, technologist at London pressure group Privacy International. “Satellites can focus their capabilities across borders and examine the pattern of life of societies on a large scale or be used to track individuals,” he says – suggesting the industry needs privacy-sensitive regulation.


A Plan to Hide Humanity from Hostile Aliens – (Discover – March 31, 2016)
(Editor’s note: This article refers to what does indeed appear to be a serious paper in a reputable journal.) Earth is a bountiful planet rich in resources. And, if you believe Stephen Hawking, that might cause our demise. Such alien alarmists compare first contact to the devastation Europeans brought to North America. “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet,” Hawking said back in 2010. “I imagine they might exist in massive ships … having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.” And, in a scientific paper that sounds like it came into the world scribbled on a barroom napkin, Columbia University’s David Kipping and Alex Teachey now propose that humanity could hide its presence from these hostile aliens — with lasers. Their paper, “A cloaking device for transiting planets,” was recently published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. One NASA scientist estimates that, using technology equivalent to Kepler, alien astronomers could detect Earth from as far away as 1,300 light-years. Earth is in a Goldilocks-perfect position for liquid water. Assuming these creatures had much better space-faring technology than humanity, they could then jump in their starships and come capture the place for themselves. Thankfully, hiding from advanced aliens really isn’t that complicated, according to Kipping and Teachey.


Obese Humans Now Outnumber the Underweight – (CNBC – March 31, 2016)
For the first time in history, the number of obese people around the world now is greater than the number of undernourished, according to a new analysis of population data from a prestigious medical journal. While the rates of obesity have leveled off in some countries where it’s already a public health concern, other places are seeing their obesity rates increase, helping to prop up the global average, according to a study published in The Lancet. “Over the past four decades, we have transitioned from a world in which underweight prevalence was more than double that of obesity, to one in which more people are obese than underweight, both globally and in all regions except parts of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia,” the researchers wrote in their study. Indeed, parts of South Asia and Central and East Africa are among the places where excessively low bodyweight remains a public health concern. But by 2025, one-fifth of adults around the world are forecast to be obese, including 40% of American adults. Just six wealthy Anglophone countries — Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, U.K. and USA — account for a fifth of the world’s obese people. However, the correlation between the wealth of a country and its obesity rate is becoming “weaker and weaker,” Majid Ezzati, one of the paper’s co-authors, and a professor at the Imperial College, London School of Public Health, said. “The problem is not worse in high-income countries than in middle-income countries.” The highest average obesity rates are found in Middle Eastern and North African countries, a few Caribbean countries, and Pacific Island nations.

China Workers to Account for 12% of Global Consumption – (Financial Times – April 4, 2016)
China’s working-age population will account for 12 cents of every $1 spent worldwide in urban areas by 2030, reshaping the global economy much as the west’s baby-boomer generation did in its prime. Their annual consumption will more than double, from $2.5tn in 2015 to $6.7tn in 2030, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of the eponymous consultancy. “This generation of consumers in China is more prosperous, more educated and more willing to spend a higher share of their income than previous generations were at the same age. These consumers are now reaching income thresholds at which spending on services takes off rapidly,” McKinsey GI said. McKinsey predicted that working-age Chinese people will account for 18% of global urban consumption growth by 2030, with their compatriots aged 60+ accounting for a further 10%. (McKinsey does seem to be oddly obsessed with urban consumption, rather than consumption in general, but this does not matter too much as spending by those in areas it deems “urban” will account for 91% of global spending growth in the period to 2030, it estimates). To put this into perspective, Europe’s much-discussed millennials (defined as those born between 1985 and 2000) will account for less than 2% of global consumption growth in the period to 2030, says Richard Dobbs, a director of the McKinsey GI, who believes “the glamorization of youth by marketers and advertising buyers is a vestige of the past”. Currently food accounts for almost half the spending of even middle-class Chinese workers. Just 11% of consumption is directed towards dining out and recreation, and 7% to housing and utilities. In contrast, US workers (or at least 25-34 year-olds) spend almost half their money on housing and utilities and a further quarter on dining out and recreation. Just 13% goes on food. One area where China is forging ahead of many of its western peers, however, is the importance it places on education. According to McKinsey, education accounts for half of the spending of the average Chinese 20-year-old, compared to less than a quarter in the US.


This Flexible Sheet Camera Captures Images of What It’s Wrapped Around – (GizModo – April 13, 2016)
Bored of taking photographs from a single point in space? This experimental new camera can be wrapped around objects to capture images in completely different ways. A team of researchers from Columbia University’s Computer Vision Laboratory has developed this new device which shuns the conventional form of the camera to create a thin and deformable light-sensing sheet. By flexing the sheet it’s possible to dramatically widen its field of view, capturing larger swathes of reality as an image, whilst also allowing the device to be wrapped around an object. The device is made up of a series of lenses positioned over a sheet of deformable silicone. the team developed a system where each lens is itself elastic, changing shape in response to the curvature of the device. That allows it to always capture the full image, without the need for extra mechanical or electrical systems. It seems to work rather well. In the gif embedded in the article, you can see the device being flexed in an arc, alongside the resulting images it manages to capture at each point. Though the views are a little blurry, you can see that the field of view widens greatly. The team suggests that it may ultimately be possible to create a pocket-sized version that photographers could wrap around strangely shaped objects to capture images that may have been impossible to produce in the past.

Transforming Metamaterial Alters Size, Volume, and Shape on Command – (GizMag – March 21, 2016)
Harvard researchers have created a 3D programmable mechanical metamaterial that can be programmed to change shape, volume and size on command, making it ideal for building a range of different assemblies and structures that can be automatically altered to suit their purpose or environment. Claimed to be able to take the weight of an elephant when laid flat, the new material could be used to make everything from tiny self-deploying nanostructures for use in medical procedures, all the way up to large buildings that are able to metamorphose for different purposes on command. “This research demonstrates a new class of foldable materials that is also completely scalable,” said Johannes T. B. Overvelde, graduate student in the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard. “It works from the nanoscale to the meter-scale and could be used to make anything from surgical stents to portable pop-up domes for disaster relief.” Inspired by a type of modular, unit-based origami called snapology, in which strips of paper are joined together to create complex, multi-faceted shapes, the metamaterial structure is made from extruded cubes with 24 faces and 36 edges. Like traditional origami creations, the Harvard device is also able to fold along its edges to change shape. Unlike normal origami, however, this metamaterial version folds and unfolds using remotely-controlled embedded pneumatic actuators. See images accompanying the article.


Crowd Source – (California Sunday – March 31, 2016)
If you need a crowd of people — for nearly any reason — Crowds on Demand can make it happen. Crowds on Demand, says Adam Swart, the company’s 24-year-old CEO, serves several clients a week, sometimes a day — most in L.A., San Francisco, and New York but an increasing number in smaller cities like Nashville, Charlotte, and Minneapolis. When people inquire about a potential event, Adam guides them through the possibilities and the approximate costs: $600 for fake paparazzi at a birthday dinner; $3,000 for a flash mob dancing, chanting, and handing out fliers as a PR stunt; $10,000 for a weeklong political demonstration; $25,000 to $50,000 for a prolonged campaign of protests. According to Adam, protests have become the company’s growth sector, and just as with advertising, repeat impressions are key. “When the targets of our actions see that we’re going to be back, day after day, they get really scared,” he says. “We’re in it for the long haul, and the problem’s not going to go away on its own.”


Don’t Let Them Tell You You’re Not at the Center of the Universe – (New York Times – April 1, 2016)
Misconception: The universe started someplace. Actually: The Big Bang didn’t happen at a place; it happened at a time, namely 13.8 billion years ago, according to the best cosmological data. It’s been expanding ever since — not into space because the universe by definition fills all space already, so much as into time, which as far as we know is open-ended. It is true that everything we can see now, out to 13.8 billion years of light-travel time, was once the size of a grapefruit, buzzing with hideous energies, but that grapefruit was already part of an infinite ensemble with no edge, except one made up of time. When we look out, we look into the past, the farther we look, the more deeply into the past we see. At the center is the present. Alas there is no direction in which we can look to see the future — except perhaps into our own hearts and dreams. All we know is right now. So where is the center of the universe? Right here. Yes, you are the center of the universe. Einstein’s relativity teaches us that the center of the universe is everywhere and nowhere. It is the present, surrounded by concentric shells of the past. History is racing at you at 186,282 miles per second, the speed of light, the speed of all information. Your eyes are the cockpit of a time machine, filmy wet orbs looking in the only direction any of us can ever look: backward. Everything we see or feel or hear — now that gravitational waves have been discovered — took some time to get here, and so comes to our senses from the past. The moon, hovering over the horizon, is an image of light that left its cratered surface traveling at the speed of light a second and a half ago. The sun that burns your skin is eight minutes and nineteen seconds in the past.

Are Humans the New Supercomputer? – (Scientific Computing – April 14, 2016)
When a computer routinely beats us at chess and we can barely navigate without the help of a GPS, have we outlived our place in the world? Not quite. Welcome to the front line of research in cognitive skills, quantum computers and gaming. We are not beaten yet — human skills are still superior in some areas. This is one of the conclusions of a recent study by Danish physicist Jacob Sherson, published in the prestigious science journal Nature. ”It may sound dramatic, but we are currently in a race with technology — and steadily being overtaken in many areas. Features that used to be uniquely human are fully captured by contemporary algorithms. Our results are here to demonstrate that there is still a difference between the abilities of a man and a machine,” explains Jacob Sherson. At the interface between quantum physics and computer games, Sherson and his research group at Aarhus University have identified one of the abilities that still makes us unique compared to a computer’s enormous processing power: our skill in approaching problems heuristically and solving them intuitively. The discovery was made at the AU Ideas Centre CODER, where an interdisciplinary team of researchers work to transfer some human traits to the way computer algorithms work. The CODER research group mapped out how the human brain is able to make decisions based on intuition and accumulated experience. This is done using the online game “Quantum Moves.” Over 10,000 people have played the game that allows everyone contribute to basic research in quantum physics. “We behave intuitively when we need to solve an unknown problem, whereas for a computer this is incomprehensible. A computer churns through enormous amounts of information, but we can choose not to do this by basing our decision on experience or intuition. It is these intuitive insights that we discovered by analyzing the Quantum Moves player solutions,” explains Jacob Sherson.

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

The ‘Darker Link’ Between Ancient Human Sacrifice and Our Modern World – (Washington Post – April 5, 2016)
In much of the pre-modern world, ritual sacrifice was framed as necessary for the good of the society at large — the only way to guarantee, say, a plentiful harvest or success in war. But the priests and rulers who sanctioned such killings may have had another motive. The cultures used in this study all descended from an ocean voyaging society that originated in Taiwan, but they ranged across the Pacific as far south as New Zealand and as far east as Easter Island. The group was also hugely diverse, including both the small, egalitarian family-based communities of the Isneg in the Philippines and the huge societies of the Hawaiian Islands, which were home to complex states with royal families, slaves, and more than 100,000 people who often came into conflict. Evidence of human sacrifice was observed in 40 of the 93 cultures sampled (43%). Human sacrifice was practiced in 5 of the 20 egalitarian societies (25%), 17 of the 46 moderately stratified societies (37%), and 18 of the 27 highly stratified societies (67%) sampled. This finding supports the “social control hypothesis” of human sacrifice, the researchers said. This theory suggests that ritual killings are a way to terrorize people into submission, allowing the religious and political leaders (and in many cultures, those were one and the same) who ordered the killings to consolidate power unopposed. Speaking to Smithsonian Magazine, lead researcher Joseph Watts noted that ritual killings often occurred in elaborate ceremonies that exploited gore as effectively as an HBO show: “It’s not just a matter of killing efficiently. There’s more to it than that,” he said. “The terror and spectacle [of the act] were maximized.” (Editor’s note: We highly recommend this article which is far more nuanced and raises more valuable questions than this précis would suggest.)


A Sea Organ Played by Waves – (Twisted Sifter – November 12, 2015)
Shown in this link is a 230 ft long ‘sea organ’ (morsek orgulje) located on the shores of Zadar, Croatia and played by crashing waves. Created in 2005 by architect Nikola Basic, the acoustic architecture contains 35 musically tuned tubes with whistle openings on the long steps. Depending on the size and velocity of the incoming wave, musical chords are played, creating random harmonic sounds for those nearby. You can listen to the sounds of the sea in the embedded Soundcloud clip attached to the article.


The best way to predict the future is to invent it. – Alan Kay, computer scientist who conceived of laptops and graphical interfaces years before they were realized.

A special thanks to: A special thanks to: Bernard Calil, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Ela Kuresevic, 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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