FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- In laboratory rats, weight training appeared to promote the creation of new neurons in the memory centers of the brain.
- In Ivory Coast, a company is turning plastic trash into plastic bricks to build schools across the country.
- China, which has a population more than five times that of the U.S., has half a million fewer people incarcerated.
- Teen ‘Fortnite’ champion won more money than Tiger Woods at the Masters.
by John L. Petersen
Free Book Offer
Our friends at The Fetzer Memorial Trust would like to give you a free hard-cover copy of the book “John E. Fetzer and the Quest for The New Age” by Brian Wilson, Ph. D.
John E. Fetzer, was a pioneer in the broadcast industry, owner of the World Series Detroit Tigers, advisor to two presidents and one of America’s 400 most wealthy individuals. Driven by a deep spiritual quest and interest in scientific exploration he is a true inspiration.
I found this biography of John Fetzer most interesting. Here was a titan of industry who had another life that was involved in helping to fund and enable a great deal of research in the metaphysical area and who set up a major foundation that continues to explore the leading edge of our reality.
The Fetzer Institute has always had a very impressive, big outlook on this world and what was possible and I’m pleased that they are making this hardcover book available at no cost to FUTUREdition subscribers.
I certainly would encourage you to take advantage of this offer. — JLP
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Cannabis and Man: Coevolution and Sacred Connection
Drs. Brian Sanderoff and Carrie Hempel come to TransitionTalks in Berkeley Springs on September 14th to discuss the extraordinary indicators that suggest that cannabis (and other hallucinogens) seem always to be an integral part of great changes in our species. Dr. Sanderoff is the medical director for one of the largest medical marijuana clinics in Maryland and brings a lifetime of experience from the profession of pharmacology. It will be a fascinating – and provocative – afternoon. Get complete information at TransitionTalks.org
Penny Kelly on PostScript Show
Our July speaker at Berkeley Springs Transition Talks was author, teacher, speaker, publisher, personal and spiritual consultant, and Naturopathic physician Penny Kelly. Check out our interview on PostScript. Enjoy!
|Our e-Magazine has complete information on our TransitionTalks series with articles from past speakers
Gregg Braden, Joe Dispenza & Bruce Lipton:
Once Considered Creepy, Location Apps Now Seen as Critical for Safety, Logistics – (NPR – July 12, 2019)
Modern relationships have become defined by the constant communication enabled by smartphones. Josh Constine, editor at large of the website TechCrunch, said constant checking-in through location sharing is the next natural step. According to Constine, launches of apps like Foursquare, in 2009, and Find My Friends, in 2011, were the start of mainstream location sharing. But at the time, many people were hesitant to share their location and thought twice before using these apps regularly. Location sharing had really taken off, Constine said, by the time Snapchat released, in 2017, its Snap Map feature, which shows users where all their contacts are anywhere on the globe. Today, people frequently opt to broadcast their whereabouts to their social circles, something that Constine said would have been a terrifying concept before smartphone technology. “Now we all treat GPS as a critical utility,” Constine told NPR in an email. “Privacy and security norms continue to loosen. We don’t think twice about staying in a stranger’s house via Airbnb or riding in their car via Uber.” Why should location-sharing apps be any different? Overall, people reported a common theme — that location sharing is a double-edged sword. These apps provide a constant source of useful information and can be invaluable in emergency situations. But they’re also rapidly changing social norms and revealing behaviors that people used to be able to hide. “It kind of exposes the lies, which I guess is a good thing,” Jordan says. “But at the same time, it does kind of make you begin to question, well, what else could you be telling little fibs about in our relationship?”
This New Liquid is Magnetic, and Mesmerizing – (New York Times – July 19, 2019)
Until now, all magnets have been made from solid materials. But what if scientists could make magnetic devices out of liquids? Researchers have managed to do exactly that. “We’ve made a new material that has all the characteristics of an ordinary magnet, but we can change its shape, and conform it to different applications because it is a liquid,” said Thomas Russell, a polymer scientist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the study’s lead author. Using a special 3D printer, Dr. Russell and his colleagues at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory injected iron oxide nanoparticles into millimeter-scale droplets of toluene, a colorless liquid that does not dissolve in water. The team also added a soap-like material to the droplets, and then suspended them in water. The soap-like material caused the iron oxide nanoparticles to crowd together on the surface of the droplets and form a semisolid shell. “The particles get stuck in place, like a traffic jam at 5 o’clock,” Dr. Russell said. Next, the scientists placed the droplets on a stirring plate with a spinning bar magnet, and observed something extraordinary: The solid magnet caused the positive and negative poles of the liquid magnets to follow the external magnetic field, making the droplets dance on the plate. When the solid magnet was removed, the droplets remained magnetized. The droplets created by Dr. Russell and his team become magnetic and stay that way, thanks to the nanoparticle shell that forms within the soapy emulsion.
Quantum Darwinism Could Explain What Makes Reality Real – (Wired – July 27, 2019)
How do quantum probabilities coalesce into the sharp focus of the classical world? Physicists sometimes talk about this changeover as the “quantum-classical transition.” But in fact there’s no reason to think that the large and the small have fundamentally different rules, or that there’s a sudden switch between them. Over the past several decades, researchers have achieved a greater understanding of how quantum mechanics inevitably becomes classical mechanics through an interaction between a particle or other microscopic system and its surrounding environment. One of the most remarkable ideas in this theoretical framework is that the definite properties of objects that we associate with classical physics—position and speed, say—are selected from a menu of quantum possibilities in a process loosely analogous to natural selection in evolution: The properties that survive are in some sense the “fittest.” As in natural selection, the survivors are those that make the most copies of themselves. This means that many independent observers can make measurements of a quantum system and agree on the outcome—a hallmark of classical behavior. This idea, called quantum Darwinism (QD), explains a lot about why we experience the world the way we do rather than in the peculiar way it manifests at the scale of atoms and fundamental particles. Although aspects of the puzzle remain unresolved, QD helps heal the apparent rift between quantum and classical physics. Only recently, however, has quantum Darwinism been put to the experimental test. These tests are rudimentary, and experts say there’s still much more to be done before we can feel sure that QD provides the right picture of how our concrete reality condenses from the multiple options that quantum mechanics offers. Yet so far, the theory checks out.
GENETICS / HEALTH TECHNOLOGY / BIOTECHNOLOGY
Scientists Close in on Blood Test for Alzheimer’s – (Associated Press – July 15, 2019)
At the recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, half a dozen research groups gave new results on various experimental tests, including one that seems 88% accurate at indicating Alzheimer’s risk. Doctors are hoping for something to use during routine exams, where most dementia symptoms are evaluated, to gauge who needs more extensive testing. Current tools such as brain scans and spinal fluid tests are too expensive or impractical for regular checkups. Dr. Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, called the new results “very promising” and said blood tests soon will be used to choose and monitor people for federally funded studies, though it will take a little longer to establish their value in routine medical care. A blood test — rather than subjective estimates of thinking skills — could get the right people into studies sooner. One of the experimental blood tests measures abnormal versions of the protein that forms the plaques in the brain that are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s. Last year, Japanese researchers published a study of it giving results from validation testing on 201 people with Alzheimer’s, other types of dementia, mild impairment, or no symptoms. The blood test results closely matched those from the top tests used now — three types of brain scans and a mental assessment exam, said Dr. Akinori Nakamura of the National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology in Obu, Japan. The test correctly identified 92% of people who had Alzheimer’s and correctly ruled out 85% who did not have it, for an overall accuracy of 88%. “Everyone’s finding the same thing … the results are remarkably similar across countries, across techniques,” said Dr. Randall Bateman of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, whose work is supported by the U.S. government and the Alzheimer’s Association. He estimates a screening test could be as close as three years away. What good will that do without a cure? An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll last year found that most Americans would want to know if they carried a gene tied to a disease even if it was incurable.
The Promise and Price of Cellular Therapies – (New Yorker – July 22, 2019)
New “living drugs”—made from a patient’s own cells—can cure once incurable cancers. But can we afford them? Does it really matter that engineered T cells—or gene therapies or genetically modified viruses and microbes—are now defined and marketed as “drugs”? Is this more than a semantic quibble? We don’t entirely know how to regulate, or even conceptualize of, this new generation of drugs. Should the irreversible alteration of a body be governed by different rules from those that are used for conventional pharmaceuticals? Should it be priced through an alternative structure? If your cells are being genetically modified and reinfused into you, who should we say owns them? Perhaps the most immediate implication of the blurring of lines between procedure and drug is the conundrum of price. A single dose of Kymriah for pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is priced at $475,000; for Yescarta, a CD19 T-cell therapy designed for certain types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, that number is $373,000. These prices rival those of some of the most expensive procedures in American medicine. (A kidney transplant can be priced at $415,000, a lung transplant at about $860,000.) And these price tags don’t include the delivery of post-therapy care to CAR-T patients, who typically suffer complications from the infusion. Subsequent hospital stays and supportive care can drive the total costs to a million dollars or more. Merely counting the seventy-five hundred U.S. patients who meet the current F.D.A. indications for Yescarta, the estimated annual expenditure could be three billion dollars. (Editor’s note: As an introduction to the sections of this article that discuss processes to fabricate these drugs and the resultant prices, the opening sections of this article trace the decades-long – and fascinating – process by which procedures and protocols around engineered T cells were developed.)
Elon Musk Hopes to Put a Computer Chip in Your Brain. Who Wants One? – (CNN – July 20, 2019)
This week Elon Musk unveiled his most sci-fi project thus far: a computer chip connected to exceptionally slender wires with electrodes on them, all of which is meant to be embedded in a person’s brain by a surgical robot. The implant would connect wirelessly to a small behind-the-ear receiver that could communicate with a computer. Musk hopes the implant, created by his brain-computer interface startup Neuralink, could one day help quadriplegics control smartphones, and perhaps even endow users with a sort of telepathy. Like existing brain-machine interfaces, it would collect electrical signals sent out by the brain and interpret them as actions. Neuralink, which was founded in 2016, has already tested an early, wired version of this implant in rats (and Musk indicated it has enabled a monkey to control a computer with his brain, too); Musk said human trials could start by the end of next year, though the company doesn’t yet have approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for such a study. Neuralink could, in the coming years, be a boon for people with conditions such as quadriplegia, enabling increased independence and ushering potentially life-transforming technology out of the lab and into the real world. Neuralink president Max Hodak said during a presentation that the company’s plan for its first product includes it being able to control mobile devices and a keyboard or mouse, though he noted that, as of now, “these are aspirations.”
Someday, an Arm Implant May Prevent H.I.V. Infection for a Year – (New York Times – July 23, 2019)
About 75 million people have contracted the lethal virus since the AIDS epidemic began. Even now, about 1.7 million people are infected each year — despite decades of promotion of condoms and abstinence, and years of efforts to get people to take a daily pill that prevents infection. Many people at risk of H.I.V. infection, particularly women in Africa, are desperate for prevention methods that are easier to use, and easier to conceal, than a bottle of pills. According to Unaids, more than 6,000 young women under age 24 are infected every week, and 80% of infected teenagers in Africa are girls. In what could eventually become a milestone for H.I.V. prevention, very preliminary tests of an implant containing a new drug suggest that it may protect against infection for a full year. The new implant, by the drug company Merck, was tested in just a dozen subjects for 12 weeks. But experts were quite excited at its potential to revolutionize the long battle against H.I.V. Dr. Robert M. Grant, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, who led the landmark 2010 trial that proved that a daily pill could thwart H.I.V., said he had expected a breakthrough based on the powerful new drug used in the implant. Merck’s innovation is to deliver its new antiretroviral drug, islatravir, with a proven technology long used for birth control: a matchstick-sized plastic rod inserted just under the skin of the upper arm that slowly releases tiny doses of the medication. Islatravir is the first in a new class of drugs called nucleoside reverse transcriptase translocation inhibitors, which block movement of the enzyme responsible for cloning the virus’s DNA so that it can infect new cells.
Scientists Have Created a Prosthetic Arm That Lets Patients Feel Touch Again –(GizModo – July 24, 2019)
Perhaps one of the profound yet underappreciated aspects of being alive is the ability to reach out with your hand and feel the world around you—whether it’s fresh-cut grass or the face of a loved one. For people who have lost a hand or arm, prosthetics may restore some functioning, but not the sense of touch itself. But scientists at the University of Utah say they’ve created technology that can return some degree of feeling for people with amputations. There has been work elsewhere in creating prosthetics capable of providing sensation. But according to the team, the sensations people have while using them are limited and imprecise. They claim their work comes much closer to mimicking how our hands feel and sense the world around us. Gregory Clark, a biomedical engineer and neuroscientist at the University of Utah noted that one major contribution was the development of the Utah Slanted Electrode Array (USEA). The USEA provides an interface between a prosthetic hand and the user’s remaining sensory and motor nerves in their arm; these nerves and the person’s own thoughts then help operate the device. This happens through the surgical implantation of hundreds of electrodes directly next to the nerve fibers. They can “record from (listen to) or stimulate (talk to) small subsets of nerve fibers very selectively, and reasonably comprehensively,” Clark explained. This allows for a wide range of specific sensory and motor signals to be received and sent back between the prosthesis and the nervous system. Eventually researchers hope to create a portable version of the prosthesis, one that would be used at home. They also want to switch entirely to wireless implants for the interface, which would not only be less cumbersome for the user, but reduce the risk of infection or breakage. They plan to start at-home trials within the next few months, provided that the Food and Drug Administration approves them. However, it will be years at least before these devices could be commercially available even if these trials and others go off without a hitch.
Self-healing Antibacterial Gel Is Made of Viruses – (New Atlas – July 26, 2019)
The most numerous of organisms on Earth, bacteriophages are viruses that infect and kill bacteria. Now, scientists have grown enough of them to create a self-healing hydrogel that’s made almost entirely of the things. It could have important applications in medicine, and in other fields. Led by chemical engineer Zeinab Hosseini-Doust, researchers at Canada’s McMaster University grew bacteriophages in the lab, extracted them from their growth medium, and then packed them together within a confined space. This caused the “phages” to self-assemble into liquid crystals, to which a chemical binder was added. The result was a gelatin-like hydrogel, that heals back together when cut. Just a single milliliter of the substance contains approximately 300 trillion phages. And by modifying their DNA, it’s possible to tweak the viruses to attack different types of bacteria or other targets. What’s more, the gel should work against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. One of the most obvious places in which the material could be used is the field of medicine, where it may be utilized as a wound dressing, an antibacterial coating for implants, or a sterile three-dimensional scaffold for growing biological tissue. The phages might even be made to attack cancer cells. In other fields, the gel could be utilized to clean up the environment, as the viruses can be altered to target plastics or other pollutants.
How Weight Training Changes the Brain – (New York Times – July 24, 2019)
When rats lift weights, they gain strength and also change the cellular environment inside their brains, improving their ability to think, according to a notable new study of resistance training, rodents and the workings of their minds. The study finds that weight training, accomplished in rodents with ladders and tiny, taped-on weights, can reduce or even reverse aspects of age-related memory loss. The finding may have important brain-health implications for those of us who are not literal gym rats. To better understand how ladder climbing might have changed the rats’ brains and minds, Taylor Kelty, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and his collaborators microscopically examined brain tissue from each of the groups. As expected, they found signs of inflammation in the brains of the animals that had been injected. But they found, too, that the memory centers of the brains in the weight trainers teemed now with enzymes and genetic markers that are known to help kick-start the creation and survival of new neurons, while also increasing plasticity, which is the brain’s ability to remodel itself. In effect, the brains of the weight-trained rats were remaking themselves to resemble those of brains that had not been inflamed and impaired.
A Tree Stump That Should Be Dead Is Still Alive; Here’s Why – (PhysOrg – July 25, 2019)
Within a shrouded New Zealand forest, a tree stump keeps itself alive by holding onto the roots of its neighboring trees, exchanging water and resources through the grafted root system. New research details how surrounding trees keep tree stumps alive, possibly in exchange for access to larger root systems. The findings suggest a shift from the perception of trees as individuals towards understanding forest ecosystems as “superorganisms.” “My colleague Martin Bader and I stumbled upon this kauri tree stump while we were hiking in West Auckland,” says corresponding author Sebastian Leuzinger, an associate professor at the Auckland University of Technology (AUT). Leuzinger and Bader decided to investigate how the nearby trees were keeping the tree stump alive by measuring water flow in both the stump and the surrounding trees belonging to the same species. What they found is that the water movement in the tree stump was strongly negatively correlated with that in the other trees. These measurements suggest that the roots of the stump and surrounding conspecific trees were grafted together, Leuzinger says. Root grafts can form between trees once a tree recognizes that a nearby root tissue, although genetically different, is similar enough to allow for the exchange of resources. “For the stump, the advantages are obvious—it would be dead without the grafts, because it doesn’t have any green tissue of its own,” Leuzinger says. “But why would the green trees keep their grandpa tree alive on the forest floor while it doesn’t seem to provide anything for its host trees?” One possible explanation, Leuzinger says, is that the root grafts formed before one of the trees became a stump. The grafted roots expand the root systems of the trees, allowing them to access more resources such as water and nutrients, as well as increase the stability of the trees on the steep forest slope. As one of the trees stops providing carbohydrates, this may go unnoticed and thus allow the “pensioner” to continue its life on the backs of surrounding, intact trees.
India’s Terrifying Water Crisis – (New York Times – July 15, 2019)
India’s water crisis offers a striking reminder of how climate change is rapidly morphing into a climate emergency. Piped water has run dry in Chennai, the southern state of Tamil Nadu’s capital, and 21 other Indian cities are also facing the specter of “Day Zero,” when municipal water sources are unable to meet demand. Chennai, a city of eight million on the Bay of Bengal, depends on the fall monsoon to provide half of the city’s annual rainfall. Last year, the city had 55% less rainfall than normal. When the monsoon ended early, in December, the skies dried up and stayed that way. Chennai went without rain for 200 days. As winter passed into spring and the temperature rose to 108° F, its four water reservoirs turned into puddles of cracked mud. These water crises are now global and perennial. Day Zero plagues cities from Cape Town to Mexico City to São Paulo, Brazil. Nearly half of the human population is living with water scarcity, inhabiting places unable to fully meet their drinking, cooking and sanitation needs. As with most environmental crises, the poor are affected disproportionately. Around the world, inadequate water and sanitation kills 780,000 people each year. The story of water is global, but the impact of too little (or too much) water is intimately local. Solutions need to be local, too. Instead, governments in Chennai and elsewhere keep turning unilaterally to major infrastructure projects such as desalination plants and other large-scale projects involving linking distant rivers and constructing mega-dams. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government’s focus on huge projects is flawed because moving water works only if there is water to move. But effective0020efforts to renew natural capital through green infrastructure are being built, for example in the Alwar District of the northern state of Rajasthan I stood on a hillside looking down on a verdant valley that had been brought back to life by villagers who built small-scale earthen dams known as “johads.”
Cambodia Returning Plastic Waste Back to the U.S. and Canada – (Nation of Change – July 18, 2019)
China had made the decision to ban foreign plastic waste imports last year creating a ripple effect among other countries like Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, and more. Cambodia is the latest Asian country to reject the U.S. and Canada’s onslaught of plastic waste. They will be sending approximately 1,764 tons in 83 containers back to North America. A government committee is making an effort to find out why the containers were shipped to them in the first place. They were marked as “recyclable products” and the country is hoping the company responsible will be fined and brought to court. Cambodia already suffers greatly from its own plastic waste issue generated domestically. With little public awareness or the infrastructure to deal with the issue, the last thing they need is another country’s waste.
The Cheapest Way to Save the Planet Grows Like a Weed – (TruthDig – July 24, 2019)
Planting billions of trees across the world is by far the cheapest and most efficient way to tackle the climate crisis. So states a new analysis published in the journal Science. For skeptics who reject the global warming thesis, reforestation also addresses the critical problems of mass species extinction and environmental pollution. The analytical review in Science calculated how many additional trees could be planted globally without encroaching on crop land or urban areas. It found that there are 1.7 billion hectares (4.2 billion acres) of treeless land on which 1.2 trillion native tree saplings would naturally grow. Using the most efficient methods, 1 trillion trees could be restored for as little as $300 billion—less than 2% of the lower range of estimates for the Green New Deal introduced by progressive Democrats in February. The chief drawback of reforestation as a solution to the climate crisis is that trees grow slowly. The projected restoration could take 50 to 100 years to reach its full carbon sequestering potential. Fortunately, as of December 2018, there is now a cheaper, faster and more efficient alternative—one that was suppressed for nearly a century but was legalized on a national scale when President Trump signed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. This is the widespread cultivation of industrial hemp, the nonintoxicating form of cannabis grown for fiber, cloth, oil, food and other purposes. Hemp grows to 13 feet in 100 days, making it one of the fastest carbon dioxide-to-biomass conversion tools available. Industrial hemp has been proved to absorb more CO2 per hectare than any forest or commercial crop, making it the ideal carbon sink. It can be grown on a wide scale on nutrient-poor soils with very small amounts of water and no fertilizers.
Brazil Is at the Forefront of a New Type of Router Attack – (ZDNet – July 12, 2019)
For nearly a year, Brazilian users have been targeted with a new type of router attack that has not been seen anywhere else in the world. The attacks are nearly invisible to end users and can have disastrous consequences, having the ability to lead to direct financial losses for hacked users. What’s currently happening to routers in Brazil should be a warning sign for users and ISPs from all over the world, who should take precautions to secure devices before the attacks observed in South American country spread to them as well. The attacks targeting routers in Brazil started last summer and were first observed by cyber-security firm Radware, and a month later by security researchers from Netlab, a network threat hunting unit of Chinese cyber-security giant Qihoo 360. At the time, the two companies described how a group of cyber-criminals had infected over 100,000 home routers in Brazil and were modifying their DNS settings. The modifications made to these routers redirected infected users to malicious clone websites whenever they tried to access e-banking sites for certain Brazilian banks. Besides hijacking users visiting Brazilian banks, the hackers were also redirecting users to phishing pages for Netflix, Google, and PayPal, to collect their credentials. According to a report published by Avast this week, these attacks haven’t stopped. In fact, according to the company, in the first half of 2019, hackers have infected and modified the DNS settings of over 180,000 Brazilian routers. Article goes on to explain the hacking method and how to secure your router from this type of attack.
SafeG: A Safe Alternative to Harmful 5G Wireless – (Citizens for Health – July 18, 2019)
The wireless industry’s marketing plan is to shower people in their homes and businesses with harmful wireless radiation many times more intense than anything we’ve ever been exposed to. If the wireless marketers have their way, wireless antennas mounted on utility poles everywhere just outside our homes and businesses will beam powerful wireless radiation at us 24/7/365. There will be no way we can turn it off. That would make 5G one of the most pervasive public health threats ever – possibly more dangerous than cigarettes, leaded gasoline and asbestos combined. The worst of it is that the damage done by 5G is totally unnecessary. Our technical advisors estimate that more than 95 percent of what we need in our internet and telecommunications services including new information technologies can be achieved with a wired (rather than wireless) network to our homes and offices. We call this approach SafeG, and you can read more about it below. Wireless technology would still be available for when we are out and about and provide all its current services: calls, texts, email and internet access.
12 Houses Photographed Directly from Above – (Dezeen – July 13, 2019)
With the proliferation of drone photography more houses are being photographed from the air. Here are 12 homes that look impressive in bird’s-eye view. Accompanying each bird’s eye view is a link to an article about that house showing elements of the interior. (Editor’s note: The majority of these houses look as though they were extremely challenging projects for the contractors who built them. They are all fascinating buildings, but maybe not all so livable.)
Less Trash, More Schools — One Plastic Brick at a Time – (New York Times – July 27, 2019)
A legion of women in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, make their living picking up plastic waste on the city streets and selling it for recycling. Now they are lead players in a project that turns trash into plastic bricks to build schools across the country. They are working with a Colombian company to convert plastic waste — a scourge of modern life — into an asset that will help women earn a decent living while cleaning up the environment and improving education. In the past year, the venture has built nine demonstration classrooms out of recycled plastic bricks in Gonzagueville, a scrappy neighborhood on the outskirts of Abidjan, and in two small farming villages, Sakassou and Divo. The first schools were built with bricks imported from Colombia. But in the fall, a factory now rising in an Abidjan industrial park will begin making the bricks locally. The new plastic-brick classrooms are badly needed. Some classrooms now pack in 90 students, according to the country’s education minister. The company building the factory, Conceptos Plásticos, has a contract with UNICEF to deliver 528 classrooms for about 26,400 students, at 50 students per classroom. The interlocking bricks look like black and gray Legos. They are fire retardant and stay cool in hot weather. There is no shortage of plastic waste. Abidjan produces about 300 tons of it a day, but only 5% is recycled. Each classroom takes about five tons of plastic trash to build. There are hopes to expand to plastic housing for teachers and latrines for schools. For example, at one school, there are 14 latrines for 2,700 children and their teachers.
A New Wave of Smart Cities Is Here, and They Look Nothing Like What You’d Expect – (Fast Company – July 26, 2019)
An abandoned mine shaft beneath the town of Mansfield, England, is an unlikely place to shape the future of cities. But here, researchers from the nearby University of Nottingham are planning to launch a “deep farm” that could produce 10 times as much food as farms aboveground. Deep farms are an example of what the latest wave of smart cities looks like: putting people first by focusing on solving urban problems and improving existing infrastructure, rather than opening shiny new buildings. These smart cities look nothing like science fiction. In fact, the sleek, futuristic visions often used to promote smart cities tend to alienate residents. Isolated high-tech buildings, streets, or cities can foster social inequality, and even free WiFi and bike-sharing schemes mainly benefit the affluent. These new smart cities are getting communities and universities involved, alongside big companies and city authorities. This has helped shift the focus of smart-city projects onto the needs of residents. Above all, communities are now part of the conversation. The EU-funded Sharing Cities program, led by city halls and universities in London, Lisbon, and Milan, has the audacious goal of proving that at least half of the 15,000 locals affected by improvements have actively participated in the process. City authorities have worked with residents to design and implement smart-city technologies including smart lampposts, energy management, and e-mobility (smart parking, car sharing, electric charging points, and so on)—but also to ensure these changes actually improve their lives. Ultimately, the smart city of the future is more likely to be defined by quieter upgrades to existing infrastructure and new partnerships that better represent residents, than by flashy new developments that resemble visions from science fiction.
Tesla’s Megapack Is a Battery Built for the Electrical Grid – (Engadget – July 29, 2019)
Tesla’s utility-sized energy storage has become a practical reality. The tech company has introduced the Megapack, a container-sized battery meant for “large-scale” storage that could help quickly deploy renewable energy and even replace conventional “peaker” power plants that come online when there’s high demand. A single Megapack has up to 3MWh of storage, or roughly 14 times the 210kWh of a Powerpack. The batteries can connect directly to solar, and all the Megapacks in a storage farm talk to a central Powerhub that helps control and monitor projects. Utilities that have an excess of energy can also use the AI-powered Autobidder to sell electricity to others in need. Renewable energy is continuing to grow rapidly, to the point where the US’ capacity has overtaken coal. There’s a good chance all those new solar and wind farms will need energy storage to reliably deliver electricity, and giant batteries like these could make that storage relatively easy to deploy.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Dragonfly Brains Could Make Missile Defenses Faster and More Accurate – (New Atlas – July 24, 2019)
Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories led by computational neuroscientist Frances Chance are looking to the common dragonfly for clues to develop smaller, more efficient missile defenses. By replicating the predatory insect’s brain in a computer algorithm, the goal is to create interceptors that can lock on to threats much faster and achieve a much higher kill ratio. Dragonflies have been around for about 325 million years and haven’t changed all that much since then, so they must be doing something right. Part of the reason they’ve lasted so long is that, though they are typically associated with bucolic moods as they buzz about on warm summer evenings, they are one of nature’s consummate predators with a kill ratio of 95 percent once they’ve targeted their prey. The dragonfly manages this through its remarkable brain, which on first inspection seems to be a very simple, even primitive thing, but is capable of some remarkably fast and complicated computations. When it pursues its prey in flight, the dragonfly doesn’t chase after it. Instead, it anticipates where its dinner will be and calculates a straight intercept course that it corrects as its target bobs and weaves. This is pretty good, considering that the dragonfly doesn’t even have depth perception, so how does it do this? To find out Sandia National Laboratories did some reverse engineering based on the real dragonfly’s behavior and created simulated dragonflies in a digital environment that duplicated the insect’s brains as neural networks. This is of great interest because the dragonfly can react to its prey in only 50 milliseconds, or six times faster than the blink of a human eye.
This Is Palantir’s Top-Secret User Manual for Cops – (Motherboard – July 12, 2019)
Palantir is one of the most significant and secretive companies in big data analysis. The company acts as an information management service for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, corporations like JP Morgan and Airbus, and dozens of other local, state, and federal agencies. It’s been described by scholars as a “secondary surveillance network,” since it extensively catalogs and maps interpersonal relationships between individuals, even those who aren’t suspected of a crime. Few people outside the company and its customers know how its software works or what its specific capabilities and user interfaces are. Through a public record request, Motherboard has obtained a user manual that gives unprecedented insight into Palantir Gotham (Palantir’s other services, Palantir Foundry, is an enterprise data platform), which is used by law enforcement agencies like the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center. The NCRIC serves around 300 communities (roughly 8 million people) in northern California and is what is known as a “fusion center,” a Department of Homeland Security intelligence center that aggregates and investigates information from state, local, and federal agencies, as well as some private entities, into large databases that can be searched using software like Palantir. The Palantir user guide shows that police can start with almost no information about a person of interest and instantly know extremely intimate details about their lives. The capabilities are staggering, according to the guide. All of this information is aggregated and synthesized in a way that gives law enforcement nearly omniscient knowledge over any suspect they decide to surveil. Available data through Palantir include a person’s email addresses, their bank account information, their license information, current addresses, previous addresses, locations of a suspected crime, work locations, family addresses, and travel history (as captured by ALPR-cameras). (Editor’s note: we recommend this article for its level of detail.)
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
US Navy Disclosing Secret Space Program Technologies through Patents System – (Exopolitics – July 13, 2019)
The US Navy has arranged for one of its scientists to openly apply for patents of advanced technologies that are allegedly under experimental development, but according to multiple insiders have been covertly developed and used in secret space programs for decades. In four patent applications lodged since 2015, the applicant, Dr. Salvator Cezar Pais, who filed on behalf of the Secretary of the Navy as the Assignee, has proposed revolutionary inventions that use principles such as electromagnetic propulsion rather than more conventional liquid fuel propulsion. In one application, Philip J. Bonzell, a Primary Patent Examiner for the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) believed the proposed invention of “A Craft Using an inertial Mass Reduction Device” was so outlandish and scientifically unfeasible that he rejected it on November 28, 2017. The rejection led to an immediate appeal by a Navy attorney who provided a supporting letter dated December 15, 2017, by Dr. James Sheehy, the Chief Technology Officer for the Naval Aviation Enterprise. Sheehy pointed out that Pais was employed by the Navy, and was currently working on proving the feasibility of the revolutionary propulsion system for a hybrid aerospace undersea craft described in the application. (For information on the standard suppression of patents, the disclosure of which is deemed to be “detrimental to national security,” largely for military technology, see this article from the Federation of American Scientists.
Private Prison Bosses Beg Taxpayers to Pay Human-Trafficking Lawsuit Bills – (Daily Beast – July 17, 2019)
Early last year, a senior executive in the nation’s second-largest private prison company went to Immigration and Customs Enforcement with a desperate plea: to pick up their multimillion-dollar legal bills. Over the last five years, a series of people formerly held in GEO Group’s private immigration detention centers have sued the company over a work program. They allege that the company forces detainees to do manual labor for $1 a day (sometimes less) and has punished detainees who refuse with solitary confinement. Half a dozen suits are challenging the work programs and seeking damages for detainees from GEO and CoreCivic, another private prison company. They allege that the programs break a landmark law against human trafficking. So GEO’s legal bills have piled up. And while the company has publicly downplayed the challenge the lawsuits pose, private correspondence between its top executives and senior officials at ICE indicates GEO views the litigation as cause for major concern. GEO’s senior vice president of business development sent the first letter on Feb. 14, 2018. The exec’s name is redacted, but an archived page from the company’s website shows Dave Venturella held the post at the time (and still does). Before joining the private prison giant, Venturella was director of the arm of ICE responsible for arresting and detaining undocumented immigrants.
The US Law Restricting Satellite Imagery of Palestine-Israel – (Al Shabaka – July 21, 2019)
Bipartisan legislation passed by the US Congress in 1997 limits the quality and availability of satellite imagery of Palestine-Israel. The Kyl-Bingaman Amendment (KBA) to the US National Defense Authorization Act was passed under the pretext of protecting Israel’s national security. It prevents US satellite operators and retailers from selling or disseminating images of Palestine-Israel at a resolution higher than that available on the non-US market. The amendment’s interpretation has been confusing and contradictory in terms of meaning, geographical scope, and legal implications. Its result has been over two decades of limited access to clear satellite imagery of Palestine-Israel. The kinds of research carried out with geospatial data include environmental, geographic, and humanitarian surveys. From an archaeological, geographical, geological, and botanical perspective, high-resolution imagery enables researchers to understand, identify, and document landscape changes. The KBA is in fact an act of censorship, posing serious obstacles for the preservation of cultural heritage and the monitoring of the decades-long Israeli occupation, including documenting home demolitions, territorial disputes, and settlement growth. Moreover, the KBA has become obsolete and does not serve its intended purpose. In the 22 years since the KBA was passed, the satellite imagery sector has developed significantly, such that a growing number of non-US satellite imaging companies now offer very high-resolution images of Palestine-Israel with a resolution of 0.4-0.7 meters (in line with the global average) as compared to the 2-meter restriction imposed by the KBA on US companies. Meanwhile, US federal agencies are slowly losing their ability to successfully restrict access to imagery by third parties on the basis of national security and/or foreign policy interests.
The Gulag: America’s Moral Cancer – (Science Direct – July 21, 2019)
The United States of America, land of the free, home of the brave, has 4.4% of the world’s population and 22% of the people incarcerated all over the world. That works out to be 716 men and women per 100,000 of the national population. Compared to other Western democracies the U.S. is grotesquely out of line. Denmark is 73 out of 100,000; Norway is 72 per 100,000; Germany is 79, France is 98, the entire United Kingdom is 348. We hear about how large and dreadful the prisons of North Korea, Russia, or China are, but the truth is no other country on earth has anything like the American gulag. As of April 2019, The American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1719 state prisons, 109 federal prisons, 1772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3163 local jails, and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and state psychiatric hospitals. To give a sense of contrast, China, which has a population more than five times that of the U.S., has half a million less people incarcerated. Over the course of a single year there are 10.6 million jail admissions, 9 million of whom are unique individuals. There are also 540,000 people locked up in pretrial detention. Men, women, and children in jail who have not even been convicted of anything are stuck in jail because the median bail amount in the U.S. is $10,000, which for this cohort represents at least eight months income. They cannot get out because they do not have the money. Are prisons about punishment; are they about rehabilitation; or are they about profit, and a form of indentured servitude for the poor, the “others”? The answer to that question becomes obvious when you correlate financial status with the prisoner population. It becomes immediately apparent that even more than race, as notable as that is, is poverty.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
They Tried to Start a Church without God. For a While, It Worked. – (Atlantic – July 21, 2019)
According to data from the latest version of the Public Religion Research Institute’s (PRRI) annual “American Values Atlas,” 25% of Americans today are religiously unaffiliated, up from single digits in the 1990s. Among young people, that number is 39%. Those numbers describe not just a retreat from organized religion, but also an erosion of community. Many faith congregations have acted as social anchors in their areas, providing a place to see and be seen by the same friendly faces each week. As these and other traditional social supports hollow out, Americans are left “bowling alone,” as the political scientist Robert Putnam famously put it. Secular congregations such as Sunday Assembly and Oasis – a similar group started in 2012 – seek to offer a solution. Both were founded by faithless seekers hoping to carry on certain aspects of religious life: the community, the moral deliberation, and the rich sense of wonder. When they were growing so rapidly in their early years, these congregations were heavily covered by media outlets. But even as the growth of “nones” (“no religious affiliation”) has revved up in the intervening years, the growth of secular congregations hasn’t kept pace. After a promising start, attendance declined, and nearly half the chapters have fizzled out. Building a durable community of nonbelievers, it turns out, is more complicated than just excising God. One thing has become clear: The yearning for belonging is not enough, in itself, to create a sense of home. For many nones, their lack of religion is not a strong part of their identity. Alan Cooperman, the director of religion research at Pew Research Center, says that about one-third of nones fall into the category of “principled rejecters” of organized religion or “principled embracers” of atheism or humanism. But the majority of nones are just indifferent to religion. Robert P. Jones, the CEO and founder of PRRI, said that 93% of unaffiliated Americans say they’re not searching for a religion that would be right for them. (Editor’s note: We recommend this insightful article.)
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
New Hubble Constant Measurement Adds to Mystery of Universe’s Expansion Rate – (PhysOrg – July 16, 2019)
Scientists have known for almost a century that the universe is expanding, meaning the distance between galaxies across the universe is becoming ever more vast every second. But exactly how fast space is stretching, a value known as the Hubble constant, has remained stubbornly elusive. Astronomers have made a new measurement of how fast that is occurring, using an entirely different kind of star than previous endeavors. The revised measurement, which comes from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, falls in the center of a hotly debated question in astrophysics. University of Chicago professor Wendy Freedman and colleagues have a new measurement for the rate of expansion in the modern universe, suggesting the space between galaxies is stretching faster than scientists would expect. Freedman’s is one of several recent studies that point to a nagging discrepancy between modern expansion measurements and predictions based on the universe as it was more than 13 billion years ago, as measured by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite. As more research points to a discrepancy between predictions and observations, scientists are considering whether they may need to come up with a new model for the underlying physics of the universe in order to explain it.
Scientists Almost Didn’t Detect Aapproach of ‘City-killer Asteroid’ – (LMTonline/Washington Post – July 26, 2019)
Asteroid 2019 OK wasn’t one that scientists had been tracking and it had seemingly appeared from “out of nowhere,” said Michael Brown, a Melbourne-based observational astronomer. According to data from NASA, the craggy rock was large, roughly 110 yards wide, and moving quickly along a path that brought it within about 45,360 miles of Earth. That’s about one-fifth of the distance to the moon and what Duffy considers “uncomfortably close.” “It snuck up on us pretty quickly,” said Brown, an associate professor with Australia’s Monash University’s School of Physics and Astronomy. “People are only sort of realizing what happened pretty much after it’s already flung past us.” The asteroid’s presence was discovered only earlier this week by separate astronomy teams in Brazil and the United States. Information about its size and path was announced just hours before it rocketed past Earth, Brown said. So how did the event almost go unnoticed? First, there’s the issue of size. Asteroid 2019 OK is a sizable chunk of rock, but it’s nowhere near as big as the ones capable of causing an event like the dinosaurs’ extinction. “Nothing this size is easy to detect,” Duffy said of the 110-yard-wide asteroid. ″You’re really relying on reflected sunlight, and even at closest approach it was barely visible with a pair of binoculars.” Brown said the asteroid’s “eccentric orbit” and speed were also likely factors in what made spotting it ahead of time challenging. Its “very elliptical orbit” takes it “from beyond Mars to within the orbit of Venus,” which means the amount of time it spends near Earth where it is detectable isn’t long, he said.
Two-thirds of Online Gamers in the US Experience ‘Severe’ Harassment – (Engadget – July 25, 2019)
It’s no secret that online gaming can harbor toxic and abusive behavior. But a new survey by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) says as many as many as two-thirds of US online gamers have experienced “severe” harassment. More than half of the respondents said they’ve been targeted based on their race, religion, ability, gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity. Nearly 30% claim they’ve been doxed in an online game, and nearly a quarter of respondents say they’ve been exposed to white supremacist ideology. Past studies have suggested that online harassment is getting worse, and a similar ADL survey conducted earlier this year reported that 37% of Americans have experienced “severe” harassment online. It seems to be even more of an issue in online gaming, though, given that the current ADL survey found 65% of players experienced “severe” harassment.
Teen ‘Fortnite’ Champion Won More than Tiger Woods at the Masters – (Engadget – July 29, 2019)
It’s not entirely fair to say Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf became a millionaire overnight. You don’t beat out millions of other players on the path to winning the first Fortnite World Cup without untold hours of practice and playing at a consistently high level over an extended period. But after utterly dominating six matches of battle royale chaos at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City Sunday, the 16-year-old Pennsylvania resident walked away with the title and a $3 million check in his back pocket. He’s not the only player who had a big payday on Sunday. Each of the 100 competitors was guaranteed $50,000, with four of them taking home seven-figure sums. The fifth-placed player in the Solos competition, Argentina’s Thiago “King” Lapp, won $900,000 — King is 13 years old. Saturday’s Duos champions split the same $3 million grand prize and the team of four who won Friday’s relatively more casual Creative Finals took away $1.345 million. If it weren’t already clear, there’s a lot of money at stake in high-level esports. Let’s give Bugha’s massive paycheck a little perspective. The $30 million prize pool for the Fortnite World Cup matched that of this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, the biggest showpiece event in women’s soccer. The teenager even earned almost 50% more than Tiger Woods did for winning the Masters — the golfing legend scooped up $2.07 million along with his 15th major title. The Fortnite World Cup prize pool wasn’t the biggest in esports, though. Dota 2’s The International has the largest one around. It topped $30 million last week, and is likely to grow even more ahead of next month’s event. Last year’s winning squad, OG, took away $11.2 million. But Bugha’s prize is the largest ever for a single player at an esports tournament.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
Color-changing Tattoo Shows Blood Glucose Level – (Boing Boing – July 22, 2019)
An experimental dermal implant changes color in the presence of high acidity or blood glucose, potentially allowing diabetics and other patients to monitor their wellbeing without taking samples. The implant material can be integrated into tattoo ink formulations, making them as discrete or ostentatious as the wearer wishes. The authors claim that such sensor tattoos could allow permanent monitoring of patients using a simple, low-cost technique. With the development of suitable colorimetric sensors, the technique could also extend to recording electrolyte and pathogen concentrations or the level of dehydration of a patient. Further studies will explore whether tattoo artwork can be applied in a diagnostic setting.
As U.S. ‘Superstar’ Cities Thrive, Weaker Ones Get Left Behind – (Reuters – July 19, 2019)
In many ways the country has seemingly recovered from a 2007-2009 recession that was the worst downturn since the 1930s. Unemployment is near a 50-year low, household income has been rising, and the country is at a point in the business cycle when workers typically see their most robust gains. But a Reuters analysis of federal data shows just how unevenly the spoils of growth have been divided. In a ranking of 378 metropolitan areas by how their share of national employment changed from 2010 to 2017, 40% of the new jobs generated during that time went to the top 20 places, along with a similar share of the additional wages. Those cities represent only about a quarter of the country’s population and are concentrated in the fast-growing southern and coastal states. None were in the northeast, and only two were in the “rust belt” interior – Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a rebounding Detroit. The drop from there is steep. The next set of 20 cities captured about 10% of the jobs created from 2010 through 2017, close to their roughly 7.5% share of the population. At the bottom, 251 cities, many spread across the heartland and in the industrial northeast, lost job share. It is a map that hews close to Trump’s election results: Of 221 counties that voted for President Barack Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016, only three are in the metropolitan areas that won the most job share. Sixty-two are part of metro areas where the share of national employment declined.
IRS Is Going after Cryptocurrency Users with Warning Letters about Back Taxes – (CNN – July 26, 2019)
The IRS has begun sending thousands of letters to US cryptocurrency holders warning them they may have incorrectly reported the taxes they owe on their transactions involving digital money. As many as 10,000 taxpayers will have received the letters by the end of August. Regulators identified the taxpayers through what the agency described as “ongoing IRS compliance efforts.” The IRS is sending out three types of letters to taxpayers — known as Letter 6173, Letter 6174 and Letter 6174-A — depending on the severity of the issue. On social media, some people who claim to have received the letters say that one version simply asks taxpayers to review their returns and file an amended one if necessary. Another is a more serious warning of possible noncompliance with US tax law and potential IRS enforcement. And a third requires a response, or the recipient will be audited. The existing guidance, IRS Notice 2014-21, said that for the purposes of federal taxation, virtual currency is property. When a user purchases cryptocurrency at a given price and then later trades it away — whether by buying a coffee or by selling it on an exchange — the sale is subject to capital gains tax reporting (and taxation if there is a net profit) because it is considered property. Failing to report the transaction to the IRS could expose the user to criminal and financial penalties.
The Black Hole of Debt – (Armstrong Economics – July 17, 2019)
We are facing a serious collapse in government that appears to be shaping up on the horizon beginning 2021/2022. Take the city of Chicago for example. The city is buried under a mountain of city employee pension debt and it’s impossible to see how their city could possibly survive. There will be a major financial collapse because those in power are also involved in the very same pension scheme so they have no incentive to do what is required to save Chicago — implement major structural reforms. The total amount of city, county, and state retirement debt Chicagoans are on the hook for amounts to $150 billion, according to Moody’s most recent pension data. If we look at the city’s one million plus households, that means that each household is on the hook for nearly $145,000 to cover government employee pensions. They can forget their own pensions. One-fifth of Chicagoans live in poverty and nearly half of all Chicago households make less than $50,000 a year. There is no possible way to raise taxes to cover these obligations.
Can Sci-Fi Writers Prepare Us for an Uncertain Future? – (Wired – July 12, 2019)
Harvard Business Review made the corporate case for reading sci-fi years ago, and mega consulting firm Price Waterhouse Cooper published a guide on how to use sci-fi to “explore innovation.” The New Yorker has touted “better business through sci-fi.” As writer Brian Merchant put it, “Welcome to the Sci-Fi industrial complex.” Each company uses writers slightly differently, but the premise is often the same: Imagine the future for us, they say, so we can better prepare for what might be coming. Science fiction writers may be hired to bring to life scenarios the company has already researched or to cook up ideas the company hasn’t even thought of yet. It’s not just businesses, either. The use of sci-fi has bled into government and public policy spheres. The New America Foundation recently held an all-day event discussing “What Sci-Fi Futures Can (and Can’t) Teach Us About AI Policy.” And Nesta, an organization that generates speculative fiction, has committed $24 million to grow “new models of public services” in collaboration with the UK government. All this raises an important question: Are science fiction writers actually qualified to consult on matters of business and international policy? The answer is one that divides futurists, writers, and academics.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
17 Places to Hunt for Aliens Besides Area 51 – (Atlas Obscura – July, 2019)
In July of 2019, more than 1 million people banded together online and hatched a plan to raid Area 51, the top-secret Nevada base where the United States government purportedly detains extraterrestrials. But there’s no need to force your way into the high-security site. From an airstrip in Argentina to an allegedly alien-packed airport in Colorado, here are 17 places you can actually visit to search for signs that we’re not alone in the universe. List includes photographs of each location.
JUST FOR FUN
A Broken Vintage Piano Turned Into a Unique Analog Hybrid of 20 Instruments Connected to the Piano Keys – (You Tube – January 29, 2019)
When the Ukrainian band Brunettes Shoot Blondes came across a vintage broken piano, they decided to transform it into a unique and completely analog hybrid of 20 different instruments that are each connected and controlled by the piano keys. The resulting instrument is 100% mechanical and uses no electricity. The band prominently featured this wonderful instrument in the music video for their song “Houston”.
A FINAL QUOTE
In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. – Yogi Berra
A special thanks to: Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Norie Huddle, Diane Petersen, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy, and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.
Edited by John L. Petersen