FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- Dark matter may be older than the Big Bang.
- The first human–monkey chimeras have been developed in China.
- 1 in 4 food delivery drivers admit to eating your food.
- A cafe staffed entirely by robots is opening in Dubai.
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:
The Radical Transformation of the Textbook – (Wired – August 4, 2019)
For several decades, textbook publishers followed the same basic model: Pitch a hefty tome of knowledge to faculty for inclusion in lesson plans; charge students an equally hefty sum; revise and update its content as needed every few years. Repeat. But the last several years have seen a shift at colleges and universities—one that has more recently turned tectonic. In a way, the evolution of the textbook has mirrored that in every other industry. Ownership has given way to rentals, and analog to digital. A company called Chegg launched the first major online textbook rental service in 2007; Amazon followed suit in 2012. Both advertise savings of up to 90% off the sticker price. But as students flock to more affordable options, textbook prices have skyrocketed to make up for the lost revenue. The price of textbooks has increased 183% over the last 20 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Within the broad strokes of that transition, though, lie divergent ideas about not just what learning should look like in the 21st century but how affordable to make it. Pearson is one of the biggest publishers of educational books in the world, with a roster of 1,500 textbooks in the US market. Last month, it announced that going forward it would still produce physical textbooks, but students will rent by default with the option to buy after the rental period ends. It enables Pearson to staunch the bleeding caused by an explosion in the second-hand market. Pearson’s digital-first strategy is a significant step toward a more sustainable business model. Under the new system, ebooks will cost an average of $40. Those who prefer actual paper can pay $60 for the privilege of a rental, with the option to purchase the book at the end of the term. But increasingly, colleges are embracing textbooks that cost … nothing.
Earth’s Last Magnetic Field Reversal Took Far Longer Than Once Thought – (PhysOrg – August 7, 2019)
The magnetic North Pole is currently careening toward Siberia, which recently forced the Global Positioning System that underlies modern navigation to update its software sooner than expected to account for the shift. And every several hundred thousand years or so, the magnetic field dramatically shifts and reverses its polarity: Magnetic north shifts to the geographic South Pole and, eventually, back again. This reversal has happened countless times over the Earth’s history, but scientists have only a limited understanding of why the field reverses and how it happens. New work from University of Wisconsin-Madison geologist Brad Singer and his colleagues finds that the most recent field reversal, some 770,000 years ago, took at least 22,000 years to complete. That’s several times longer than previously thought, and the results further call into question controversial findings that some reversals could occur within a human lifetime. The new analysis—based on advances in measurement capabilities and a global survey of lava flows, ocean sediments and Antarctic ice cores—provides a detailed look at a turbulent time for Earth’s magnetic field. Over millennia, the field weakened, partially shifted, stabilized again and then finally reversed for good to the orientation we know today. The results provide a clearer and more nuanced picture of reversals at a time when some scientists believe we may be experiencing the early stages of a reversal as the field weakens and moves.
How Sharks Glow to Each Other Deep in the Ocean – (New York Times – August 11, 2019)
The home of the swell shark and chain catshark is about 1,000 to 2,000 feet below sea level, a place where only blue beams in sunlight can penetrate. Look at them with your human, land-ready eyes, and all you’ll see are a couple of unimpressive fish, spotted in shades of brown, beige and gray. But peer through a blue filter, more like the way these sharks see each other, and behold beaming beauties robed in fluorescent green spots. Recently scientists discovered that these sharks see the world totally differently than we do. They’re mostly colorblind, with eyes that can detect only the blue-green spectrum. This means when the sharks appear to change color in the blue water, they’re almost projecting a secret code to other sharks: One pattern male, the other female — come and get it. But just how they take blue light from their dull environment and transform it into a neon sign has been a mystery. Researchers have recently discovered that molecules inside their scales transform how shark skin interacts with light, bringing in blue photons, and sending out green. This improved understanding of these sharks’ luminous illusions may lead to improvements in scientific imaging, as the study of biofluorescence in other marine life already has. This phenomenon is widespread, and these sharks are among at least 200 marine species known to color their dim oceanic world through biofluorescence. But the molecules these shark species use are nothing like the painting tools that other species use.
For The First Time, a Rare Type of Space Dust Has Been Found in Antarctic Snow – (Science Alert – August 12, 2019)
Cosmic dust is drifting down to Earth all the time, tiny bits of debris from the rough and tumble of star and planet formation, sometimes billions of years old. Antarctica is a great place to look for such dust, because it’s one of the most unspoilt regions on Earth, making it easier to find isotopes that didn’t originate on our own planet. In this case, the isotope that researchers have pinpointed is the rare 60Fe (or iron-60), one of many radioactive variants of iron. Previously, the presence of this iron in deep-sea sediment and fossilized remains of bacteria has suggested one or more supernovae exploded in Earth’s vicinity between 3.2 and 1.7 million years ago. The new study marks the first time interstellar iron-60 has been detected in recent Antarctic snow – the dust would have fallen from the skies within the last 20 years, the researchers say. The Solar System is currently travelling through what’s known as the Local Interstellar Cloud (LIC), a pocket of dense interstellar medium that contains several cloudlets of interstellar dust. If iron-60 has been deposited on Earth in recent years, that helps to validate the idea that our local galactic neighbourhood and its particular make-up of interstellar starstuff may have been shaped by exploding stars. Further research should be able to tell us for sure. It could also help us to better pinpoint our location in the LIC, and how long the Solar System has been traversing it.
GENETICS / HEALTH TECHNOLOGY / BIOTECHNOLOGY
The Fundamental Link between Body Weight and the Immune System – (Atlantic – August 2, 2019)
It is becoming clear that some people’s guts are simply more efficient than others’ at extracting calories from food. And those calorie-converting abilities can change over a person’s lifetime with age and other variables. The questions are: Why? And is it possible to make changes, if a person wanted to? If so, the solution will involve the trillions of microbes in our intestines and how they work in concert with another variable that’s just beginning to get attention. The immune system determines levels of inflammation in the gut that are constantly shaping the way we digest food—how many calories get absorbed, and how many nutrients simply pass through. The relationship between microbes and weight gain has long been overlooked in humans, but people have known about similar effects in animals for decades. As the usage of animal antibiotics exploded in the 20th century, so too did usage in humans. The rise coincides with the obesity epidemic. This could be a spurious correlation, of course—lots of things have been on the rise since the ’50s. But dismissing it entirely would require ignoring a growing body of evidence that our metabolic health is inseparable from the health of our gut microbes. Because leanness and obesity seem to be transmissible through the microbiome, “metabolic disease turns out to be, in some ways, like an infectious disease,” says Lora Hooper, the chair of the immunology department at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. While other researchers focused on the gut microbiome itself, she took an interest in the immune system. Specifically, she wanted to know how an inflammatory response could influence these microscopic populations, and thus be related to weight gain. The human gut is host to about 100 trillion bacteria. They serve vital metabolic functions, but can quickly kill a person if they get into the bloodstream. “So clearly the immune system has got to be involved in maintaining them,” she says. It made sense to her that even subtle changes in the functioning of the immune system could influence microbial populations—and, hence, weight gain and metabolism.
New Procedure Could Delay Menopause up to 20 Years, But Long-term Impact Unknown – (CBS – August 6, 2019)
A first-of-its-kind surgical procedure could delay menopause by up to 20 years. Doctors at ProFam in Birmingham, England, have performed it on 10 British women ranging in age from 22 to 36. In the surgery, a portion of a patient’s ovaries are removed and the tissue is then cryogenically frozen. When the woman gets closer to the age of menopause, doctors thaw and re-implant the tissue. That restores the patient’s younger, natural hormones. So menopause, osteoporosis, increased heart disease, hot flashes, potentially memory problems, and others, could be delayed with this procedure. But no one knows what kind of effects the procedure will have on people as time goes by. And no one will know for several decades. It could change cancer risk (either up or down). It could change cognitive function later as a woman gets older. We just don’t know the answer. procedures along these lines have been available for decades for women battling cancer, but not women who are healthy. So who, if anyone, should be considering this procedure? The answer to that is also unknown. The majority of the 10 women who have had the procedure had mothers who experienced significant side effects when going through menopause.
Japan Approves First Human-animal Embryo Experiments – (Nature – July 26, 2019)
A Japanese stem-cell scientist is the first to receive government support to create animal embryos that contain human cells and transplant them into surrogate animals since a ban on the practice was overturned earlier this year. Hiromitsu Nakauchi, who leads teams at the University of Tokyo and Stanford University in California, plans to grow human cells in mouse and rat embryos and then transplant those embryos into surrogate animals. Nakauchi’s ultimate goal is to produce animals with organs made of human cells that can, eventually, be transplanted into people. Until March, Japan explicitly forbade the growth of animal embryos containing human cells beyond 14 days or the transplant of such embryos into a surrogate uterus. The strategy that he and other scientists are exploring is to create an animal embryo that lacks a gene necessary for the production of a certain organ, such as the pancreas, and then to inject human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells into the animal embryo. iPS cells are those that have been reprogrammed to an embryonic-like state and can give rise to almost all cell types. As the animal develops, it uses the human iPS cells to make the organ, which it cannot make with its own cells. In 2017, Nakauchi and his colleagues reported the injection of mouse iPS cells into the embryo of a rat that was unable to produce a pancreas. The rat formed a pancreas made entirely of mouse cells. Nakauchi and his team transplanted that pancreas back into a mouse that had been engineered to have diabetes. The rat-produced organ was able to control blood sugar levels, effectively curing the mouse of diabetes. See also: First Human–Monkey Chimeras Developed in China, an article about similar, but apparently more advanced, research.
Ethiopia Plants More Than 350 Million Trees in 12 Hours – (CNN – July 30, 2019)
According to Farm Africa, an organization working on reforestation efforts in East Africa and helping farmers out of poverty, less than 4% of Ethiopia’s land is forested, compared to around 30% at the end of the 19th century. The landlocked country is also suffering from the effects of climate crisis, with land degradation, soil erosion, deforestation, and recurrent droughts and flooding exacerbated by agriculture. Eighty percent of Ethiopia’s population depends on agriculture as a livelihood. In 2017, Ethiopia joined more than 20 other African nations in pledging to restore 100 million hectares of land as part of the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative. Recently Ethiopia planted more than 353 million trees in 12 hours. The burst of tree planting was part of a wider reforestation campaign named “Green Legacy,” spearheaded by the country’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Millions of Ethiopians across the country were invited to take part in the challenge and within the first six hours, Ahmed tweeted that around 150 million trees had been planted. A study, carried out by researchers at Swiss university ETH Zurich, calculated that restoring degraded forests all over the world could capture about 205 billion tons of carbon in total. Global carbon emissions are around 10 billion tons per year. See also: The most effective way to tackle climate change? Plant 1 trillion trees.
Compostable Plastic Wrap That’s Made from Shellfish Shells – (Fast Company – August 12, 2019)
Wrapping food in plastic does serve a purpose. A plastic-wrapped cucumber at a supermarket may seem egregious, but the vegetable lasts longer and is less likely to end up as food waste; throwing out food can have an even bigger impact on the environment than the plastic itself. But the system’s reliance on plastic in its current form can’t last. In a year, the world uses more than 160 million tons of plastic food packaging made from fossil fuels, little of which is recycled. In a lab at a Scottish startup, researchers are turning waste from the seafood industry into a new kind of plastic wrap that can safely go in your compost bin. “We’re in the process of developing fully compostable, antimicrobial food packaging which looks and feels to the consumer like the petroleum plastic version—but the difference is that it will not add to the millions of tons of waste that comes from packaging that has ended up in the oceans,” says Cait Murray-Green, CEO of the startup, called CuanTec (“cuan” is the Gaelic word for sea). The startup uses a fermentation process, similar to brewing beer, to extract a material called chitin from the shells of langoustine, a type of shellfish related to lobsters. The fishing industry in Scotland generates huge quantities of shellfish waste. While chitin has other industrial uses, the typical process for extracting it is expensive, and so most of the shells are thrown out now. The company has prototypes of the film now, and it’s in the process of finalizing a round of financing that will allow it to finish development, step through the regulatory hurdles for food packaging, and then scale up. Supermarkets like U.K.-based Waitrose are already interested in using the product; they’re likely to begin with a plastic wrap for salmon, creating a circular loop in the seafood industry.
Scientific Paper Details Entire Geo-Engineering Program Using Jet Aircraft – (Sarah Westall – July 30, 2019)
Geoengineering is a controversial subject, to say the least, with so many different theories about its origins and implementation. Geoengineering using aircraft has a long history and many different forms from cloud seeding in the 1960s over Vietnam in Project Pop-Eye to ski resorts using commercial weather modification companies to create snow to this day. Far from a conspiracy theory, geoengineering is being openly bragged about by China and Russia, both using jet aircraft to spray chemicals to disperse clouds for national holiday parades. China has a huge geoengineering program to create rain for its agricultural regions and publicly admits to using jet aircraft and mountain top dispersal units to inject chemicals into the atmosphere to make rain for crops. It only adds to speculation when the summation of all the U.S. funded government research on future geoengineering describe a program that is a mirror image of what curious observers are seeing now and may be the use of jets to disperse chemical aerosols at high altitude to reduce solar radiation. The U.S. government claims geoengineering is definitely not going on right now but probably will be in the future. A recently published paper in IOP Science by professors Wake Smith and Gernot Wagner titled “Stratospheric Aerosol Injection Tactics and Costs in the First Fifteen Years of Deployment” is a collation of all the public research on geoengineering and prescribes a program using high altitude aircraft to disperse chemicals in the stratosphere to reflect sunlight and curb global warming, going into all the details that would constitute a geoengineering program. This paper gives insight into how such a thing would operate, how much it would cost and how many planes would be needed, lending clues to those who want to estimate the size and scope of any possible ongoing geoengineering that may be occurring over Western countries but is being kept classified.
12 Skinny Houses That Make the Most of Every Inch – (Dezeen News – August 10, 2019)
With space at a premium in cities, architects are designing homes that can squeeze into the narrowest of gaps. We’ve rounded up 12 skinny houses that are four-meters (13’) wide or less to show that size isn’t everything. For example, in Japan, skinny houses are called ‘eel’s beds’ for their long and thin shape. Built on a plot in one of Tokyo’s densest areas, YUUA Architects designed this eel bed (just under 6’ wide) to fit between two existing buildings. Article includes links to see more of each skinny house.
A Remote-Start App Exposed Thousands of Cars to Hackers – (Wired – August 10, 2019)
This article discusses an automobile remote starter app called Linkr and an accompanying device and that would connected to a car’s dashboard allowing one to start the car’s engine with a tap on their phone. That way, you can start heating or cooling the car well before getting in it without being physically present. But in a talk at the recent Defcon hacker conference, Jmaxxz (a hacker) described a series of vulnerabilities in MyCar, a system made by Canadian company Automobility, whose software is rebranded and distributed under names including MyCar Kia, Visions MyCar, Carlink, and Linkr-LT1. MyCar’s devices and apps connect to radio-based remote start devices like Fortin, CodeAlarm, and Flashlogic, using GPS and a cellular connection to extend their range to anywhere with an internet connection. But with any of three different security flaws (described in article) present across those apps—which Jmaxxz says he reported to the company and which have since been fixed—he says he could have gained access to MyCar’s database backend, letting him or a less friendly hacker pinpoint and steal any car connected to the MyCar app, anywhere in the world. Based on a scan of MyCar’s exposed database—and Jmaxxz says he was careful not to access anyone else’s private data—he estimates that there were roughly 60,000 cars left open to theft by those security bugs, with enough exposed data for a hacker to even choose the make and model of the car they wanted to steal. “You want a new Cadillac? You can find a new Cadillac,” Jmaxxz says. Separately, Jmaxxz says he found in his probing of MyCar’s database that it had also stored vastly more information about an individual car than he expected. Over just 13 days, it had collected 2,000 locations of the car. “That one offends me more than all the others,” he says.”That’s not what I signed up for.”
1 in 4 Food Delivery Drivers Admit to Eating Your Food – (NPR – July 30, 2019)
A survey conducted by US Foods, which supplies food to restaurants, gathered information from about 500 food delivery drivers and more than 1,500 customers in America who order through apps such as DoorDash, Postmates, Grubhub and UberEats. Fifty-four percent of the drivers surveyed admitted to being tempted by the smell of a customer’s food, and about half of them actually took a bite. (That’s a fairly high percentage when you realize that no driver took a bite of any pizza.) When asked if they minded if their driver snagged a few fries, the average customer response was an 8.4 out of 10 — 1 represented “no big deal” and 10 signified “absolutely unacceptable.” To remedy the problem, 85% of customers recommended adding tamper-evident labels or packaging, which commonly comes in the form of a sticker seal. Some delivery services already have strategies in place. Overall, restaurant food delivery services are a growing business, transforming the way people receive their meals. In 2018, UBS found that on average, food delivery platforms were in the top 40 most-downloaded apps in major markets. “We think it’s possible that by 2030 most meals currently cooked at home will instead be ordered online and delivered from restaurants or central kitchens,” according to UBS.
This Is the Beginning of the End of the Beef Industry – (Outside – July 31, 2019)
Alt meat isn’t going to stay alt for long, and cattle are looking more and more like stranded assets. There’s a famous Gandhi aphorism about how movements progress: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” That was actually written by the Workshop on Nonviolence Institute as a summary of Gandhi’s philosophy, but regardless, it’s remarkable how often it accurately describes the evolution of causes, from legal cannabis to gay marriage. In 2014 Beyond Meat, the first of the Silicon Valley startups to use advanced technology to produce extremely meat-like burgers, released its Beast Burger. That product wasn’t very good. But I knew it would keep getting better and beef wouldn’t. And I thought the bar for ground beef was pretty low. Burger King, the second-largest fast-food chain in the world rattled big beef’s cage by testing an Impossible Whopper in St. Louis in April. Resulting foot traffic was so strong that Burger King decided to serve the Impossible Whopper in all 7,200 restaurants, marking the moment when alt meat stopped being alt. Both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods recently released new, improved versions of their meat. Both have the same amount of protein as ground beef (about 20 grams per quarter-pound serving) and less fat. Being plant-based, they also provide a healthy shot of fiber. Both get their unctuousness from coconut oil. But the core of each formula is very different. Beyond uses pea protein, while Impossible uses soy. Beyond gets its bloody color from beet juice; Impossible uses heme—the same molecule that makes our blood red—to achieve its meaty color and flavor. This is its killer app. Beef gets its beefiness from heme. When you cook heme, it produces the distinctive savory, metallic flavor of meat. Since heme is normally found in blood, no veggie concoction has ever used it. Soy plants do make microscopic amounts of it, but not enough to ever use. Impossible Foods’ breakthrough was to genetically engineer yeast to produce soy heme in a tank, like beer. This GMO process is a deal breaker for some people, but it makes all the difference. The Impossible Burger is incredible, the Beyond Burger merely passable.
MIT Researchers Working on AI-based Knitting Design Software – (Tech Crunch – August 4, 2019)
The growing popularity of 3D printing machines and companies like Thingiverse and Shapeways have given previously unimaginable powers to makers, enabling them to create everything from cosplay accessories to replacement parts. But most of us are still buying clothes off the rack. Now researchers at MIT are working on software that will allow anyone to customize or design their own knitwear, even if they have never picked up a ball of yarn.A team of researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, led by computer scientist Alexandre Kaspar have created two new software programs. One is called InverseKnit that automatically creates patterns from photos of knitted items. The other one, called CADKnit, allows people with no knitting or design experience to quickly customize templates, adjusting the size, final shape and decorative details (see gloves shown in article). The final patterns can be used with a knitting machine which has been available to home knitters for years, but still require a fair amount of technical knowledge in order to design patterns for. Both CADKnit and InverseKnit want to make designing and making machine-knitted garments as accessible as 3D printing. Once the software is commercialized, Kaspar envisions “knitting as a service” for consumers who want to order customized garments. It can also enable clothing designers to spend less time learning how to write knitwear patterns for machines and reduce waste in the prototyping and manufacturing process. Another target audience for the software is hand-knitters who want to try a new way of working with yarn.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
It’s Sentient – (The Verge – July 31, 2019)
At the final session of the 2019 Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, attendees straggled into a giant ballroom to listen to an Air Force official and a National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) executive discuss, as the panel title put it, “Enterprise Disruption.” The presentation stayed as vague as the title until a direct question from the audience seemed to make the panelists squirm. Just how good, the person wondered, had the military and intelligence communities’ algorithms gotten at interpreting data and taking action based on that analysis? They pointed out that the commercial satellite industry has software that can tally shipping containers on cargo ships and cars in parking lots soon after their pictures are snapped in space. “When will the Department of Defense have real-time, automated, global order of battle?” they asked. Chirag Parikh, director of the NGA’s Office of Sciences and Methodologies, began describing how “geospatial intelligence” no longer simply means pictures from satellites. It means anything with a timestamp and a location stamp, and the attempt to integrate all that sundry data. Then, Parikh actually answered this question: When would that translate to near-instantaneous understanding and strategy development? “If not now,” he said, “very soon.” Parkih didn’t mention any particular programs that might help enable this kind of autonomous, real-time interpretation. But an initiative called Sentient has relevant capabilities. A product of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), Sentient is (or at least aims to be) an omnivorous analysis tool, capable of devouring data of all sorts, making sense of the past and present, anticipating the future, and pointing satellites toward what it determines will be the most interesting parts of that future. That, ideally, makes things simpler downstream for human analysts at other organizations, like the NGA, with which the satellite-centric NRO partners. The agency has been developing this artificial brain for years, but details available to the public remain scarce. “It ingests high volumes of data and processes it,” says Deputy director of NRO’s Office of Public Affairs Karen Furgerson. “Sentient catalogs normal patterns, detects anomalies, and helps forecast and model adversaries’ potential courses of action.” It’s not all dystopian: the documents released by the NRO also imply that Sentient can make satellites more efficient and productive. It could also free up humans to focus on deep analysis rather than tedious needle-finding. But it could also contain unquestioned biases, come to dubious conclusions, and raise civil liberties concerns.
Deadly Germ Research Is Shut Down at Army Lab over Safety Concerns – (New York Times – August 5, 2019)
Safety concerns at a prominent military germ lab have led the government to shut down research involving dangerous microbes like the Ebola virus. The statement said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided to issue a “cease and desist order” last month to halt the research at Fort Detrick in Maryland because the center did not have “sufficient systems in place to decontaminate wastewater” from its highest-security labs. The suspended research involves certain toxins, along with germs called select agents, which the government has determined have “the potential to pose a severe threat to public, animal or plant health or to animal or plant products.” There are 67 select agents and toxins; examples include the organisms that cause Ebola, smallpox, anthrax and plague, and the poison ricin. The problems date back to May 2018, when storms flooded and ruined a decades-old steam sterilization plant that the institute had been using to treat wastewater from its labs, Ms. Vander Linden said. The damage halted research for months, until the institute developed a new decontamination system using chemicals. The new system required changes in certain procedures in the laboratories. During an inspection in June, the C.D.C. found that the new procedures were not being followed consistently. Inspectors also found mechanical problems with the chemical-based decontamination system, as well as leaks, Ms. Vander Linden said, though she added that the leaks were within the lab and not to the outside world.
A Model Hospital Where the Devices Get Hacked—on Purpose – (Wired – August 6, 2019)
In the middle of a convention hall in Las Vegas, amid workshops on cryptography and digital defense, a hospital will soon be humming with activity—or at least a pretty good facsimile of one. Visitors will wander through a radiology department, a pharmacy, a laboratory, and an intensive care unit. And it’ll be stocked with all the devices you’d find in a real medical center. The difference is that here, they’re supposed to get hacked. The Medical Device Village, housed within the DefCon hacking conference BioHacking Village, has previously consisted of a small table with a few medical devices available for hacking. But as horror stories about vulnerable pacemakers or insulin pumps persist, and ransomware continues to target hospitals around the world, that more casual approach has felt increasingly insufficient. This year, it’s going all out. Until very recently, most of this activity would have been not just infeasible but illegal. Medical devices only won a Digital Millennium Copyright Act exemption in 2016, allowing researchers to hack the devices without breaking the law. This year’s program will include not just a mock hospital but also a formal capture the flag hacking competition, and much more extensive hands-on hacking. It also stresses the scope and reach of medical devices beyond high-profile implants like pacemakers. Health care environments are stuffed with sensors, scanners, monitors, and PCs that all connect to networks that share massive amounts of sensitive data. Also see: Apple’s iPhone FaceID Hacked In Less Than 120 Seconds.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
Why Is the Forest Service Trying to Evade the Public? – (New York Times – August 7, 2019)
The United States Forest Service’s most important job is balancing the many needs and uses of the 193 million acres of public land it manages. But the Trump administration is preparing to eliminate public participation from the overwhelming majority of decisions affecting our national forests. If the Forest Service has its way, visitors won’t know what’s coming until logging trucks show up at their favorite trailheads or a path for a gas pipeline is cleared below a scenic vista. At stake is how the Forest Service complies (or doesn’t) with the National Environmental Policy Act, our nation’s most important environmental law. The law requires every government agency to look for less harmful ways of meeting its goals. To that end, agency decisions must be based on solid science and made in the sunlight of public accountability. Each federal agency has some leeway to implement the law, but the Forest Service’s newly proposed rules would instead circumvent it, creating loopholes for logging projects, road construction and even permits for pipelines and other utilities. Public participation is important because our national forests are as vast and complex as they are beloved and the social and economic contexts of these lands are as complex as their ecologies. Our national forests’ summits, white water rivers and a trail system nearly 160,000 miles long anchor the outdoor recreation economy, contributing more than $13 billion each year to our economy and supporting 205,000 jobs. Though it provides only about a fifth of the overall economic effect of outdoor recreation, timber harvesting on national forests is vitally important to many rural economies. And national forests are also our single most important source for clean drinking water, filtering out sediment and other pollutants for 180 million Americans. In an attempt to keep pace with the administration’s ambitious and growing timber targets, the agency has been speeding through its “shelf stock” of approved projects — timber sales that have been vetted by the public, reviewed by scientists and improved based on feedback from both. With those projects drying up, the agency is now looking for shortcuts to get more timber on the shelf by allowing decisions to be made behind closed doors.
Encountering Peace: Have We No Shame? – (Jerusalem Post – July 24, 2019)
As I watched the video of the Israeli soldiers and police blowing up one of the 13 residential buildings demolished this week in the Wadi al-Hummus neighborhood of Sur Bahir in east Jerusalem, I wanted to bury myself in shame. When the building imploded and the soldiers laughed as we heard the screams and cries from the Palestinians who became homeless, my shame turned to pure outrage and the urge to be violent. But I will not step down to that level. I will not be violent. But I will not hold back, I will not forget and I will not forgive. What we did, what the State of Israel did, what we do in the name of the Jewish state is becoming pure evil. My first thoughts about what I see in the daily reality of east Jerusalem, and the West Bank and Gaza – things such as the Sur Bahir home demolitions; the removal of Palestinians from their homes in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, and the moving in of Jewish settlers in their place; settlement expansion and building at a faster pace than I have seen in many years; unauthorized settlements being built, budgeted and hooked up to Israeli infrastructure; massive police presence all over the West Bank ticketing hundreds of Palestinian cars (not cars of settlers); and the ongoing strangling the Palestinian economy in full coordination with the US government – all of these actions and more are leading to a definite explosion. My thought: Maybe that is exactly what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants? This is the perfect backdrop for Election Day. Could even Netanyahu be so cynical? I thought to myself – this can’t be. (Editor’s note: The writer is of this article has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press and is now available in Israel and Palestine.)
To Feed Its 1.4 Billion, China Bets Big on Genome Editing of Crops – (ScienceMag – July 31, 2019)
The Chinese government is betting that CRISPR can transform the country’s food supply. A natural bacterial immune system, CRISPR was turned into a powerful genome editor just a few years ago in U.S. and European labs. Yet today, China publishes twice as many CRISPR-related agricultural papers as the second-place country, the United States. There are currently 20 research groups in China seeking to use CRISPR to modify crop genes. “All the labs use CRISPR for basic research,” Gao Caixia says. “They cannot live without CRISPR.” China also expanded its efforts beyond its borders in 2017, when the state-owned company ChemChina bought Switzerland-based Syngenta—one of the world’s four largest agribusinesses, which has a large R&D team working with CRISPR—for $43 billion. That was the most China has ever spent on acquiring a foreign company, and it created an intimate relationship between government, industry, and academia—a “sort of a ménage à trois” that ultimately could funnel intellectual property from university labs into the company, says plant geneticist Zachary Lippman of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. Researcher Li Jiayang, former president of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing and vice minister of agriculture, noted, “We have to feed 1.4 billion people with very limited natural resources. We want to get the highest yield of production with the least input on the land from fertilizers and pesticides, and breed supervarieties that are pest and disease resistant as well as drought and salt tolerant.” Chinese consumers are wary of GM food and China strictly limits the import of GM crops. But for CRISPR, many plant researchers around the world assume China will follow in the United States’s footsteps. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) exempts genome-edited plants from regulations covering GMOs as long as they were produced not by transferring DNA from other species, but by inducing mutations that could have occurred naturally or through conventional breeding.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Now Even Funerals Are Livestreamed—and Families Are Grateful – (Wired – July 30, 2019)
In a culture obsessed with tweeting and Instagramming every moment of life, it’s little surprise that streaming extends to death. Funeral livestreaming services have been around for more than a decade, but the practice has recently exploded in popularity, says Bryant Hightower, president-elect of the National Funeral Directors Association. He estimates that nearly 20% of US funeral homes now offer the service—a big number in an industry resistant to change—in response to demand from clients. Tech-savvy entrepreneurs offer livestreaming as a service to hesitant funeral directors. Larger firms have more diverse clients and are better equipped to deal with the many small issues of running their own livestreaming operation – including buying a music license in order to play recorded music from artists at funeral services. But as livestreaming has become more popular, funeral directors have encountered unexpected copyright issues, such as an additional streaming license for copyrighted music. Gary Richards, founder of OneRoom, a company that offers livestreaming services to funeral directors in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the US, says he’s noticed that many of the families that use his service are recent immigrants from the Philippines, Vietnam, or India, who are looking for a way to connect with family and friends from back home. He’s says he’s also noticed a considerable number of Americans looking to bridge the east and west coasts. The videos are not solely for the benefit of remote viewers. Families have found that it proved most useful to those that attended. “One of the things that we were told was: You’re not going to remember anything. [Everyone is] saying all these wonderful things, they’re telling these stories and you can’t process it,” the grief and shock is just too much.
10% of Older Adults Are Binge Drinking – (Newser – July 31, 2019)
There are the usual problems associated with binge drinking—and then there’s an additional set of problems associated with binge drinking as you age. And that second set of problems is something we need to be concerned with, say researchers involved in a new study that found an estimated 10.6% of people over age 65 reported binge drinking in the prior 30 days. That’s defined as five or more drinks in one sitting for men, or four or more for women. As lead study author Dr. Benjamin Han explains, a person’s body becomes more sensitive to alcohol the older they get. Researchers say more studies are needed, but rates of binge drinking among older adults may be rising; the rate of binge drinking among older adults was only 7% in 2006. Binge drinking can make certain chronic health issues, including hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes, worse, and may put people at risk for other chronic conditions including cancer, dementia, and liver disease. It can also cause people to forget to take medications and can put them at risk for falls. The fall risk is increased if they are also using cannabis, and the study found cannabis use was higher among subjects who reported binge drinking—not to mention the fact that falls are the leading cause of broken bones, trauma, and deaths among older adults even when alcohol and cannabis use are not considered.
Everything You Think You Know about Addiction Is Wrong – (TED – May 17, 2019)
This TED talk was presented by Johann Eduard Hari,a Swiss-British writer and journalist. Hari has written books on the topics of depression, the war on drugs, and the monarchy. His talk begins, “One of my earliest memories is of trying to wake up one of my relatives and not being able to. And I was just a little kid, so I didn’t really understand why, but as I got older, I realized we had drug addiction in my family, including later cocaine addiction. And a few years ago, I was looking at some of the addicts in my life who I love, and trying to figure out if there was some way to help them. And I realized there were loads of incredibly basic questions I just didn’t know the answer to, like, what really causes addiction? Why do we carry on with this approach that doesn’t seem to be working, and is there a better way out there that we could try instead?” To try to answer that question, Hari wound up going over 30,000 miles and meeting people, from a transgender crack dealer in Brownsville, Brooklyn, to a scientist who spends a lot of time feeding hallucinogens to mongooses to see if they like them — it turns out they do, but only in very specific circumstances — to the only country that’s ever decriminalized all drugs, from cannabis to crack, Portugal. And the thing I realized that really blew my mind is, almost everything we think we know about addiction is wrong, and if we start to absorb the new evidence about addiction, I think we’re going to have to change a lot more than our drug policies. Hari’s talk is a synopsis of what he learned on that long journey. (Editor’s note: If you don’t have 14 minutes to listen to his talk, there is a link to a transcript and you can skim it. Either way, we recommend it.)
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
The Galaxy Is Not Flat – (TechCrunch – July 31, 2019)
Six years of tracking a special class of star have yielded a new and improved 3D model of our galaxy, based on direct observation rather than theoretical frameworks. And although no one ever really thought the Milky Way was flat flat, the curves at its edges have now been characterized in better detail than ever before. Researchers at the University of Warsaw in Poland found that a certain type of star has special qualities that allow us to tell exactly how far away it is. “Cepheid variable stars” are young stellar bodies that burn far brighter than our own sun, but also pulse in a very stable pattern. Not only that, but the frequency of that pulsing corresponds directly to how bright it gets — sort of like a strobe that, as you turn the speed up or down, also makes it dimmer or brighter. What this means is that if you know the frequency of the pulses, you know objectively how much light the star puts out. And by comparing that absolute amount to the amount that reaches us, you can tell with remarkable precision how far that light has had to travel.
“Unexpected Potential Problems” Predicted for Travelers to Mars and Beyond – (Inverse – August 5, 2019)
Using a new “low-dose” radiation facility at the University of California Irvine, a team of scientists observed that when mice spent months exposed to radiation similar to that found in deep space, they started acting strangely. The mice in the study displayed “severe impairments” in learning and memory, and they became extremely anxious. These symptoms may sound unsurprising since the mice had just spent six months as part of an experiment, but the team also found physical changes in their brains that may explain the changes. Specifically, they saw that the neurons in the hippocampus of the radiation-exposed mice were far less excitable than they were in the control mice. That effect created a reduction in signaling, which they say explains some behavioral changes when the mice performed memory and social interaction tests. Charles Limoli, Ph.D., a professor of radiation oncology at UC Irvine School of Medicine, and his team makes the case that its findings “would clearly impair the abilities of astronauts needing to respond quickly, appropriately and efficiently to unexpected situations that arise over the course of a mission to Mars.” Back in April the results of the NASA twin study showed that when astronaut Scott Kelly spent a year aboard the International Space Station, he sustained some small physiological changes compared to his Earth-bound twin, but nothing was life threatening. Low-Earth orbit is one thing, but going to Mars (and beyond) is quite another. Deep space missions will have to contend with galactic cosmic radiation (GCR), particles that are accelerating so fast that they’ve been stripped of their electrons, leaving only the nucleus behind. Those particles can “pass practically unimpeded through a typical spacecraft or the skin of an astronaut,” posing threats to human health, NASA has noted.
Why Video Games Aren’t Causing America’s Gun Problem, in One Chart – (Vox – August 5, 2019)
After recent mass shootings in Ohio and Texas, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said that “video games that dehumanize individuals” are the problem. However, there is plenty of research debunking video games as the cause. And here’s a simple chart showing the top video game–consuming countries (based on video game revenue per person, estimated for 2019) and the number of violent gun deaths in each of them. One of these countries is a huge outlier in terms of violent gun deaths per 100,000 people. (Editor’s note: The chart is definitely worth seeing, but the statistics presented don’t actually prove anything about the impact of video games per se – either benign or detrimental. What they show is that in countries where gun ownership is very low, very few people use them to commit murder – and certainly not mass murder.)
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
RoboCafe: A Cafe Run by Robots Is Opening in Dubai – (The National – July 31, 2019)
A cafe run entirely by a staff of robots is opening in Dubai. RoboCafe will be located in Dubai Festival City, and will see customers order via their smart phones or iPads, and have their food served by a team of robots. The cafe will be operated by three robotic arms that, according to the cafe, “will also perform light and musical shows to entertain guests”. RoboCafe is keeping details quiet, but it has given customers a sneak peek at the robots on Instagram (embedded in article). As well as serving the orders, the team of robot arms will also prepare drinks, like tea and coffee, for customers. The menu will include a range of organic hot drinks, as well as mocktails and snacks. Promotional materials states that the robot arms will perform light shows and other forms of entertainment while customers eat their food. It’s unknown if there will be a separate kitchen to prepare ingredients.
Facebook Is Funding Brain Experiments to Create a Device That Reads Your Mind – (Technology Review – July 30, 2019)
In 2017, Facebook announced that it wanted to create a headband that would let people type at a speed of 100 words per minute, just by thinking. Now, a little over two years later, the social-media giant is revealing that it has been financing extensive university research on human volunteers. Some of that research is being done at the University of California, San Francisco, where researchers have been developing “speech decoders” able to determine what people are trying to say by analyzing their brain signals. The research is important because it could help show whether a wearable brain-control device is feasible and because it is an early example of a giant tech company being involved in getting hold of data directly from people’s minds. To some neuro-ethicists, that means we are going to need some rules, and fast, about how brain data is collected, stored, and used.
Last Mile Training and the Future of Work in an Expanding Gig Economy – (Tech Crunch – July 28, 2019)
There are two trends purported experts are reasonably certain about: (1) continued growth in the number of jobs requiring substantive and sustained interaction with technology; and (2) continued rapid expansion of the gig economy. This first future of work trend is evident today in America’s skills gap, with 7 million unfilled jobs — many mid- or high-skill positions requiring a range of digital and technology capabilities. Amazon’s recent announcement that it will spend $700 million over the next six years to upskill 100,000 of its low-wage fulfillment center employees for better digital jobs within Amazon and elsewhere demonstrates an understanding that the private sector must take some responsibility for the requisite upskilling and retraining, as well as the importance of establishing pathways to these jobs that are faster and cheaper than the ones currently on offer from colleges and universities. These pathways typically involve “last-mile training,” a combination of digital skills, specific industry or enterprise knowledge and soft skills to make candidates job-ready from day one. What’s powered the gig revolution is the shift from signs and classified ads to digital platforms and marketplaces that facilitate continued and repeated matching of gig and gig worker. These talent platforms have made it possible for companies and organizations to conceptualize and compartmentalize work as projects rather than full-time jobs, and for workers to earn a living by piecing together gigs. To date, conversations about pathways and upskilling have focused on full-time employment. But how do these important concepts intersect with the rising gig economy? This article offers some answers.
Was E-mail a Mistake? – (New Yorker – August 6, 2019)
One of the major technological movements of the twentieth century was the push to create what communication specialists call “asynchronous messaging” in the workplace. An interaction is said to be synchronous when all parties participate at the same time, while standing in the same room, perhaps, or by telephone. Asynchronous communication, by contrast, doesn’t require the receiver to be present when a message is sent. I can send a message to you whenever I want; you answer it at your leisure. For much of workplace history, collaboration among colleagues was synchronous by default. In the emerging age of large offices (post 1920), practical asynchrony seemed like a productivity silver bullet. Finally in the 1980s, a convenient technology arrived, in the form of desktop computers connected through digital networks. As these networks spread, e-mail emerged as the killer app for bringing asynchronous communication to the office. With the arrival of practical asynchronous communication, people replaced a significant portion of the interaction that used to unfold in person with on-demand digital messaging, and they haven’t looked back. The Radicati Group, a technology-research firm, now estimates that more than a hundred and twenty-eight billion business e-mails will be sent and received daily in 2019, with the average business user dealing with a hundred and twenty-six messages a day. But as e-mail was taking over the modern office, researchers in the theory of distributed systems were also studying the trade-offs between synchrony and asynchrony. The conclusion they reached was exactly the opposite of the prevailing consensus. They became convinced that synchrony was superior and that spreading communication out over time hindered work rather than enabling it. The article traces their logic.
Psychedelic Medicine Is Coming. The Law Isn’t Ready – (Scientific American – July 31, 2019)
In March, the Food and Drug Administration approved esketamine, a drug that produces psychedelic effects, to treat depression—the first psychedelic ever to clear that bar. Meanwhile the FDA has granted “breakthrough therapy” status—a designation that enables fast-tracked research—to study MDMA (also called “ecstasy”) as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and psilocybin as a treatment for major depression. While these and other psychedelic drugs show promise as treatments for specific illnesses, FDA approval means doctors could also prescribe them for other, “off-label” purposes—including enhancing the quality of life of people who do not suffer from any disorder. Hence if MDMA gains approval as a treatment for PTSD, psychiatrists could prescribe the drug for very different purposes. Indeed, before the federal government banned MDMA, therapists reported striking success in using MDMA to improve the quality of intimate relationships. Recent research bolsters these claims, finding that the drug enhances emotional empathy, increases feelings of closeness, and promotes thoughtfulness and contemplativeness. Similarly, while psilocybin has shown potential as a treatment for depression and anxiety, physicians could also prescribe the drug to promote the well-being of healthy individuals. Yet while the FDA generally does not regulate physicians’ prescribing practices, a federal law called the Controlled Substances Act bars them from writing prescriptions without a “legitimate medical purpose.” Although this prohibition aims to prevent doctors from acting as drug traffickers, the law does not explain which purposes qualify as “legitimate,” nor how to distinguish valid prescriptions from those that merely enable patients’ illicit drug abuse. Would prescribing a psychedelic drug simply to promote empathy or increase “life satisfaction” fall within the scope of legitimate medicine—or not?
A Reformed White Nationalist Says the Worst Is Yet to Come – (Atlantic – August 6, 2019)
It’s going to get worse. That’s the warning of a former violent extremist, Christian Picciolini, who joined a neo-Nazi movement 30 years ago and now tries to get people out of them. White-supremacist terrorists—the ones who have left dozens dead in attacks in Pittsburgh, New Zealand, and El Paso, Texas, in recent months—aren’t just trying to outdo one another, he told us. They’re trying to outdo Timothy McVeigh, the anti-government terrorist who blew up an Oklahoma City federal building and killed more than 100 people in 1995—the worst terrorist attack in the United States before September 11, 2001. Picciolini noted that even if the U.S. could get a handle on its gun problem, terrorists can always find other ways. McVeigh had his car bomb, the September 11th hijackers had their airplanes, Islamic State attackers have suicide bombings, trucks, and knives. “I have to ask myself, Do we have white-nationalist airline pilots?” Picciolini said. “There have to be. I knew people in powerful positions, in politics, in law enforcement, who were secretly white nationalists. I think we’d be stupid and selfish to think that we don’t have those in the truck-driving industry.” Picciolini now runs a global network, the Free Radicals Project, where former extremists like him provide counseling to others trying to leave extremist movements. The rest of the article in an interview with him about the mainstreaming of white nationalism, what it takes to de-radicalize far-right extremists, and why the problem is metastasizing.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Hordes of Earth’s Toughest Creatures May Now Be Living on Moon – (PhysOrg – August 7, 2019)
There might be life on the Moon after all: thousands of virtually indestructible creatures that can withstand extreme radiation, sizzling heat, the coldest temperatures of the universe, and decades without food. These are microscopic Earthlings known as tardigrades, who likely made it out alive following a crash landing on the lunar surface by Israel’s Beresheet probe in April. Based on an analysis of the spacecraft’s trajectory and the composition of the device the micro-animals were stored in, “we believe the chances of survival for the tardigrades… are extremely high,” said Nova Spivack, co-founder and chairman of the Arch Mission Foundation. He added that the diminutive creatures, which are under a millimeter (0.04 inches) in size, had been dehydrated to place them in suspended animation, then “encased in an epoxy of Artificial Amber, and should be revivable in the future.” The tardigrades were stored inside a “Lunar Library,” a nanotechnology device that resembles a DVD and contains a 30-million-page archive of human history viewable under microscopes, as well as human DNA. Spivack is confident this too survived impact—but it doesn’t represent the first genetic code or life forms to be deposited on the barren celestial body. That distinction belongs to the DNA and microbes contained in the almost 100 bags of feces and urine left behind by American astronauts during the Apollo lunar landings from 1969-1972.
JUST FOR FUN
The Most Satisfying Domino Fall Ever – (YouTube – June 29, 2019)
7 builders had 3.5 days to make the most satisfying domino fall ever. They created the most satisfying domino tricks they could think of using 32,000 colored dominoes. The assembled result is a real wow. 7 people working 3.5 days each (call that about 28 hours) = 196 person hours of artistic endeavor. Demolished in less than 4 minutes. Captured by cameras on small drones. Photographic footage survives indefinitely.
A FINAL QUOTE
The mind of man is capable of anything – because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future.” – Joseph Conrad
A special thanks to: Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy, and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.
Edited by John L. Petersen