|Volume 23, Number 22 – 11/15/20
FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- Companies making cheating-detection software have made millions during the pandemic.
- The discovery of a woman buried 9,000 years ago in the Andes Mountains with weapons and hunting tools, and an analysis of other burial sites in the Americas, challenges the widely accepted division of labor in hunter-gatherer society.
- A new technique can now regenerate cartilage for knee joints.
- The average species exists for 1 million to 2 million years.
Special Day: Becoming a New Human – Rising to Engage the Biggest Change in History
Saturday, the 12th of December, will be a special day you’ll not want to miss. Futurist John Petersen returns to TransitionTalks with a major presentation on the practical aspects of rising to become the new human – the fundamental requirements for effectively engaging in the extraordinary shift that is surrounding us. The next handful of years promise to be the most turbulent – and rewarding – in human history. The result will be the emergence of a new human … and then a new world.
The key players that launch the new world will be the relatively small group of individuals that will have new values, perspectives and capabilities that are quite different from how we’ve all been raised. They will see themselves and the world – and their function in it – in radically unencumbered terms.
This is a huge transition, where the old, familiar world implodes (perhaps you’ve noticed that this is happening all around us), providing a “vacuum” for the emergence of a new world – a planet where ultimately there is no war and humans see themselves, in general, as an integral part of all that is, and specifically and directly connected to all of nature and life on earth.
The most important issue for all of us is about how we change and adapt ourselves to effectively surf this tsunami – and not be driven into the rocks by the giant wave of change. This is what we’ve come here for! It means that we must evolve – and do so quickly. It’s an amazing opportunity – literally the chance to awaken to extraordinary new, personal capabilities and an expanded perspective of who we are and what we can do.
Just think of it: the chance to be part of building a whole new world! Not too many people get the chance to play in this way. We are truly blessed.
This will be a transformative presentation that takes you step-by-step through a new understanding of who you are and how you must position yourself for the coming disruption … to practical suggestions about how to daily contribute to manifesting your own new world out of all of the change.
If you think you have a role to play in helping to facilitate the transition to the new world, you don’t want to miss this important day!
Livestream and In Person
Saturday, 12 December, 1-5 PM
Berkeley Springs, WV
You can personally join us at Coolfont Resort in Berkeley Springs for a packed afternoon of provocative information and the chance to participate in the Q&A session afterwards – always a great afternoon in our resort town. If you can’t make it to Berkeley Springs, you can still watch the whole presentation by livestream … both on the 12th and anytime (and how many times you want), for two weeks thereafter. Space is limited for the in-person event, so register early to be a part of this powerful, holiday event.
Futurist John Petersen is going to be the featured speaker at TransitionTalks in Berkeley Springs, WV on December 12th. Here he summarizes his talk about how one can prepare for the great changes that are headed this way. Click below to watch this short video.
TRANSITION TALKS MAGAZINE
Doctors Found a Flu Drug That Might Also Be a Coronavirus Cure – (BGR – November 3, 2020)
Remdesivir and dexamethasone are two of the most well-known COVID-19 therapies, although neither drug can save lives. Remdesivir can hasten recovery in some patients, while dexamethasone can reduce the potentially deadly immune response in severe cases. Blood thinners can reduce the clotting complication that impacts nearly every organ, and blood plasma transfusions can save some lives in certain conditions. But none of those drugs are miracle cures. There’s still no perfect COVID-19 cure that can significantly cut the risk of transmission — and there are no over-the-counter drugs that would allow patients to treat the illness at home. Doctors are trying several novel therapies in tests, and now a team of scientists from Germany and the UK think they’ve found another drug that can effectively block the replication of SARS-Cov-2 inside the body. The researchers conducted experiments with aprotinin, a protease inhibitor that can block the virus from entering cells. The antiviral activity of the drug would help reduce the SARS-CoV-2 viral load and improve a patient’s COVID-19 prognosis. The scientists say that the drug may work best if given early after a COVID-19 infection. Aprotinin “may be if limited in late-stage COVID-19 disease.” At that point, it’s the exacerbation of the immune response that needs to be stopped rather than viral replication. “The main potential of antiviral drugs may lie in the early treatment of COVID-19 patients to suppress virus replication and, through this, to prevent COVID-19 progression into a severe, life-threatening disease,” the researchers write. “Local aprotinin therapy of the airways and the lungs using an aerosol, which is clinically approved in Russia and has been reported to be very well tolerated in influenza patients, may have particular potential as such an antiviral treatment for early-stage COVID-19 disease. Notably, aprotinin may additionally prevent the very early stages of lung injury by inhibition of matrix metalloproteinases and, in turn, of the cytokine storm that eventually results in severe, systemic COVID-19 disease.” But the drug may need additional clinical trials that prove its efficacy for COVID-19 compared to standard care before it can be widely used to treat coronavirus infections.
Scientists Develop Nasal Spray That Can Disable Coronavirus – (Extreme Tech – November 9, 2020)
A team from Columbia University, Cornell University, and others has developed something new: a nasal spray that attacks the virus directly. The concoction was effective at deactivating the novel coronavirus before it could infect cells. Like all viruses, SARS-CoV-2 (the causative agent of COVID-19) needs to enter a cell to reproduce. The virus injects its RNA genome and hijacks cellular machinery to make copies of itself, eventually killing the cell and spreading new virus particles to infect other cells. Gaining access to a cell requires a “key” that fits into a protein lock on the cell surface. In the case of SARS-CoV-2, we call that the spike protein, and that’s where the new nasal spray blocker attacks. The spray contains a lipoprotein, which has a complementary strand of amino acids linked with a cholesterol particle. The lipoprotein inserts itself into the spike protein, sticking to one of the chains that would otherwise bind to a receptor and allow the virus to infect the cell. With that lipoprotein in the way, the virus is inactivated. This work is still in the very early days, and there have been no human trials. The study is based on testing with a handful of ferrets, several of which received the real lipoprotein spray and several who were given a placebo. The animals, which were used because they are susceptible to many human respiratory infections, were then deliberately exposed to the coronavirus. The medicated animals didn’t contract COVID-19, but the controls did.
Llama Nanobodies Could Be a Powerful New Weapon Against COVID-19 – (SciTech Daily – November 8, 2020)
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine describe a new method to extract tiny but extremely powerful SARS-CoV-2 antibody fragments from llamas, which could be fashioned into inhalable therapeutics with the potential to prevent and treat COVID-19. These special llama antibodies, called “nanobodies,” are much smaller than human antibodies and many times more effective at neutralizing the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They’re also much more stable. “Nature is our best inventor,” said senior author Yi Shi, Ph.D., assistant professor of cell biology at Pitt. “The technology we developed surveys SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing nanobodies at an unprecedented scale, which allowed us to quickly discover thousands of nanobodies with unrivaled affinity and specificity.” To generate these nanobodies, Shi turned to a black llama named Wally. These nanobodies represent some of the most effective therapeutic antibody candidates for SARS-CoV-2, hundreds to thousands of times more effective than other llama nanobodies discovered through the same phage display methods used for decades to fish for human monoclonal antibodies. Shi’s nanobodies can sit at room temperature for six weeks and tolerate being fashioned into an inhalable mist to deliver antiviral therapy directly into the lungs where they’re most needed. Since SARS-CoV-2 is a respiratory virus, the nanobodies could find and latch onto it in the respiratory system, before it even has a chance to do damage. In contrast, traditional SARS-CoV-2 antibodies require an IV, which dilutes the product throughout the body, necessitating a much larger dose and costing patients and insurers around $100,000 per treatment course. “Nanobodies could potentially cost much less,” said Shi. “They’re ideal for addressing the urgency and magnitude of the current crisis.”
Cheating-detection Companies Made Millions During the Pandemic. Now Students Are Fighting Back. – (Washington Post – November 12, 2020)
“Online proctoring” companies saw in coronavirus shutdowns a chance to capitalize on a major reshaping of education, selling schools a high-tech blend of webcam-watching workers and eye-tracking software designed to catch students cheating on their exams. They’ve taken in millions of dollars, some of it public money, from thousands of colleges in recent months. But they’ve also sparked a nationwide school-surveillance revolt, with students staging protests and adopting creative tactics to push campus administrators to reconsider the deals. Students argue that the testing systems have made them afraid to click too much or rest their eyes for fear they’ll be branded as cheats. Some students also said they’ve wept with stress or urinated at their desks because they were forbidden from leaving their screens. One system, Proctorio, uses gaze-detection, face-detection and computer-monitoring software to flag students for any “abnormal” head movement, mouse movement, eye wandering, computer window resizing, tab opening, scrolling, clicking, typing, and copies and pastes. A student can be flagged for finishing the test too quickly, or too slowly, clicking too much, or not enough. If the camera sees someone else in the background, a student can be flagged for having “multiple faces detected.” If someone else takes the test on the same network — say, in a dorm building — it’s potential “exam collusion.” Room too noisy, Internet too spotty, camera on the fritz? Flag, flag, flag. (Editor’s note: We recommend this article and some of the ones that are linked to it as offering critical insight into the future of higher education. BTW, so far the students are not fighting very successfully.)
Physicists Circumvent Centuries-old Theory to Cancel Magnetic Fields – (PhysOrg – October 28, 2020)
A team of scientists including two physicists at the University of Sussex has found a way to circumvent a 178-year old theory which means they can effectively cancel magnetic fields at a distance. They are the first to be able to do so in a way which has practical benefits. The work is hoped to have a wide variety of applications. For example, patients with neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s might in future receive a more accurate diagnosis. With the ability to cancel out ‘noisy’ external magnetic fields, doctors using magnetic field scanners will be able to see more accurately what is happening in the brain. “Earnshaw’s Theorem” from 1842 limits the ability to shape magnetic fields. The team were able to calculate an innovative way to circumvent this theory in order to effectively cancel other magnetic fields which can confuse readings in experiments. In practical terms, they achieved this through creating a device comprised of a careful arrangement of electrical wires. This creates additional fields and so counteracts the effects of the unwanted magnetic field. Scientists have been struggling with this challenge for years but now the team has found a new strategy to deal with these problematic fields. While a similar effect has been achieved at much higher frequencies, this is the first time it has been achieved at low frequencies and static fields—such as biological frequencies—which will unlock a host of useful applications. Other possible future applications for this include work in: quantum technology and quantum computing; neuroimaging; and biomedicine.
Prehistoric Hunters Weren’t All Male. Women Killed Big Game, New Discovery Suggests – (CNN – November 4, 2020)
Men hunted. Women gathered. That has long been the prevailing view of our prehistoric ancestors. But the discovery of a woman buried 9,000 years ago in the Andes Mountains with weapons and hunting tools, and an analysis of other burial sites in the Americas challenges this widely accepted division of labor in hunter-gatherer society. The woman, thought to be between 17 and 19 years old when she died, was buried with items that suggested she hunted big-game animals by spear throwing — stone projectile points for felling large animals, a knife and flakes of rock for removing internal organs, and tools for scraping and tanning hides. “Labor practices among recent hunter-gatherer societies are highly gendered, which might lead some to believe that sexist inequalities in things like pay or rank are somehow ‘natural,'” said lead study author Randy Haas, an assistant professor of anthropology at University of California, Davis. “But it’s now clear that sexual division of labor was fundamentally different — likely more equitable — in our species’ deep hunter-gatherer past.” The burial site was discovered in 2018 during excavations at a high-altitude site called Wilamaya Patjxa in what is now Peru. The skeleton’s sex was confirmed by analysis of the bones and protein found on the skeleton’s teeth. Although some scholars have suggested a role for women in ancient hunting, others have dismissed this notion even when hunting tools were uncovered in female burials. However, Hass said this burial site was a particularly robust case. “It took a strong case to help us recognize that the archaeological pattern indicated actual female hunting behavior.” To examine whether this woman found at this site was an outlier, the researchers examined 429 skeletons at 107 burials sites in North and South America from the late Pleistocene and early Holocene periods — around 8,000 to 14,000 years ago. Of those, 27 individuals were buried with hunting tools — 11 were female and 15 were male.
Neanderthals and Humans Were at War for Over 100,000 Years, Evidence Shows – (Science Alert – November 3, 2020)
Neanderthals fascinate us because of what they tell us about ourselves – who we were, and who we might have become. It’s tempting to see them in idyllic terms, living peacefully with nature and each other, like Adam and Eve in the Garden. But biology and paleontology paint a darker picture. The archaeological record confirms Neanderthal lives were anything but peaceful. Like lions, wolves and Homo sapiens, Neanderthals were cooperative big-game hunters. Neanderthalensis used spears to take down deer, ibex, elk, bison, even rhinos and mammoths. It defies belief to think they would have hesitated to use these weapons if their families and lands were threatened. Archaeology suggests such conflicts were commonplace. Prehistoric warfare leaves telltale signs. A club to the head is an efficient way to kill – clubs are fast, powerful, precise weapons – so prehistoric Homo sapiens frequently show trauma to the skull. So too do Neanderthals. Another sign of warfare is the parry fracture, a break to the lower arm caused by warding off blows. Neanderthals also show a lot of broken arms. At least one Neanderthal, from Shanidar Cave in Iraq, was impaled by a spear to the chest. Trauma was especially common in young Neanderthal males, as were deaths. Some injuries could have been sustained in hunting, but the patterns match those predicted for a people engaged in intertribal warfare- small-scale but intense, prolonged conflict, wars dominated by guerrilla-style raids and ambushes, with rarer battles. War leaves a subtler mark in the form of territorial boundaries. The best evidence that Neanderthals not only fought but excelled at war, is that they met us and weren’t immediately overrun. Instead, for around 100,000 years, Neanderthals resisted modern human expansion. See also: At Home With Our Ancient Cousins, the Neanderthals, a book review of Kindred – Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art, which synthesizes thousands of academic studies into a single accessible narrative. In its pages emerge new Neanderthals that are very different from the cartoon figures of old. Kindred is important reading not just for anyone interested in these ancient cousins of ours, but also for anyone interested in humanity.
Indian Fossils Support New Hypothesis for Origin of Hoofed Mammals – (PhysOrg – November 6, 2020)
New research describes a fossil family that illuminates the origin of perissodactyls—the group of mammals that includes horses, rhinos and tapirs. It provides insights on the controversial question of where these hoofed animals evolved, concluding that they arose in or near present day India. With more than 350 new fossils, the 15-year study pieces together a nearly complete picture of the skeletal anatomy of the Cambaytherium—an extinct cousin of perissodactyls that lived on the Indian subcontinent almost 55 million years ago. The findings include a sheep-sized animal with moderate running ability and features that were intermediate between specialized perissodactyls and their more generalized mammal forerunners. Comparing its bones with many other living and extinct mammals revealed that Cambaytherium represents an evolutionary stage more primitive than any known perissodactyl, supporting origin for the group in or near India—before they dispersed to other continents when the land connection with Asia formed. Cambaytherium, first described in 2005, is the most primitive member of an extinct group that branched off just before the evolution of perissodactyls, providing scientists with unique clues to the ancient origins and evolution of the group. Despite the abundance of perissodactyls in the Northern Hemisphere, Cambaytherium suggests that the group likely evolved in isolation in or near India during the Paleocene (66-56 million years ago), before dispersing to other continents when the land connection with Asia formed.
Instead of Knee Replacement Surgery, ‘Cutting Edge’ Medicine Regenerates Cartilage for the Joint – (Washington Post – October 17, 2020)
A relatively new and innovative technique regenerates cartilage from a sample of cells taken from a person’s knee and grown in a lab, where they are embedded on a collagen membrane. The surgeon then implants the membrane back into the knee, where new cartilage tissue forms over time. “It’s the first procedure that uses a patient’s own knee cartilage cells to try to regrow cartilage that has been lost or damaged,” says Seth Sherman, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Stanford University Medical Center and chair of the Sports Medicine/Arthroscopy Committee for the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Sherman points out that the approach, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2016, has been in use for years in other countries with “robust evidence” to support its efficacy. “That’s why I like to use it,” Sherman says. “It’s a huge deal.” It’s unclear how many of these cartilage-restoring operations have been performed in the United States since its introduction here, but experts say its use is rapidly growing. “The beauty of this procedure is that you can restore an area that has no cartilage left by putting in a patient’s own normal cells,” says Joseph Barker, a Raleigh orthopedic surgeon. “When it’s all done, it’s a completely normal knee.” The downside is that the treatment requires two procedures — one to remove the cells and a second to put them back — and a long, restrictive recovery period that can take as much as a year before full function returns. Initially, the patient must lie flat in bed (hooked up to a continuous passive motion machine to prevent scar tissue from forming) for as long as six weeks to allow the cells to adhere to the bone and proliferate. The name of the procedure is a mouthful — autologous cultured chondrocytes on porcine collagen membrane — commonly called MACI.
Crispr Gene Editing Can Cause Unwanted Changes in Human Embryos, Study Finds – (New York Times – October 31, 2020)
A powerful gene-editing tool called Crispr-Cas9, which this month nabbed the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for two female scientists, can cause serious side effects in the cells of human embryos, prompting them to discard large chunks of their genetic material, a new study has found. Administered to cells to repair a mutation that can cause hereditary blindness, the Crispr-Cas9 technology appeared to wreak genetic havoc in about half the specimens that the researchers examined, according to a study published in the journal Cell. The consequences of these errors can be quite serious in some cases, said Dieter Egli, a geneticist at Columbia University and an author of the study. Some cells were so flummoxed by the alterations that they simply gave up on trying to fix them, jettisoning entire chromosomes, the units into which human DNA is packaged, Dr. Egli said. “That is not a correction, That is a vastly different outcome,” he added. Crispr-Cas9 treatments have already been given directly to people to treat conditions like blindness — a potential cure that affects that patient, and that patient only. But modifications made to sperm, eggs and embryos can be passed to future generations, raising the stakes for any mistakes made along the way. The new paper’s findings further underscore that “it’s really too soon to be applying Crispr to reproductive genetics,” said Nita Farahany, a bioethicist at Duke University who was not involved in the study.
Breakdown of Gene Coordination During Aging Suggests a Substantial Challenge to Longevity – (PhysOrg – November 2, 2020)
Although all humans share similar changes during aging such as gray hair, wrinkles, and a general decline in function, aging is considered to be the result of a cellular wear-and-tear process due to accumulated random damage, such as genetic mutations or DNA structural damage. How is it that random, disorganized damage, which accumulates differently among different humans, and moreover, among different cells of the same individual eventually leads to the same outcomes? Several theories try to address this paradox, and they have great implications for our ability to affect the aging process, making elderly life better and longer. The potential to develop treatments for aging depends on understanding the fundamental process of growing old. A common approach holds that most cells in the human body are barely damaged during aging, while just a few “rotten apples”—a small fraction of non-functioning cells—are significantly damaged. Accordingly, a potential treatment for aging could involve removing these few highly-damaged cells. Approximately 15 years ago Prof. Jan Vijg proposed a different approach. He suggested that the proper function of biological tissues may decline during aging because many cells lose their ability to tightly regulate their genes. According to Vijg’s theory, there are no single non-functioning cells—or rotten apples—on the one hand, but none of the apples is “fresh” on the other. In a study published in the journal Nature Metabolism, researchers from Bar-Ilan University in Israel report evidence that supports Vijg’s theory for the first time. Using a novel approach from physics, they developed a computational method that quantifies the coordination level between different genes. With this approach, they measured the gene activity of individual cells and compared cells from old and young subjects, discovering phenomena never before observed: old cells lost significant coordination levels compared to young cells. The researchers also observed coordination reduction in tissues with an increased level of damage, suggesting a direct link between increased damage level and coordination breakdown. The findings support the theory that during aging, accumulated random damage affects regulation mechanisms and disrupts the ability of genes to coordinate (resulting in a general decrease in tissue function), just like an orchestra without proper coordination between musicians ruins a symphony. If the coordination reduction between genes is indeed a leading cause for aging phenomena, there may be a need to change course in current efforts to develop aging treatments.
Hungry Bears with a Taste for Grapes and Chestnuts Are Causing Havoc in Japan – (Washington Post – October 30, 2020)
Hungry bears with a taste for grapes and chestnuts are causing havoc across Japan, and thousands of the animals are ending up dead as a result. Farmers are counting the cost this week after bears raided their vineyards and munched through thousands of dollars’ worth of premium grapes. Crop losses in many areas are rising. But the news is even more grisly for the bears. More than 9,000 Asiatic black bears have been caught and killed since the start of 2019, according to the Environment Ministry, by far the highest rate since data began in 1950. Bears have been spotted on school grounds and even wandering around a shopping mall in central Japan’s Ishikawa prefecture in recent weeks. Another injured four people, at one point ramming into a police car and puncturing a tire with its claws. A shortage of acorns is propelling the bears down from their mountain homes in search of food ahead of their winter hibernation, but that’s only half the story. As Japan’s rural population shrinks, people have pulled out of the foothills that formed buffer zones between the bears’ mountain homes and the flatlands where people live. “Those farmlands have been abandoned, and they have grown into forests,” said Shinsuke Koike, associate professor at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology. “They, in turn, become part of the habitat for bears, boars and monkeys. Gradually, the habitat for wild animals is expanding toward flatter areas across Japan and approaching the flat areas just behind populated areas.” Environmentalists say buffer zones need to be created between the animals’ mountain habitats and human settlements. “Over the past decade, the response has been to catch them as they appear in populated areas. But that’s a tentative solution and like a whack-a-mole,” said Shinsuke Koike, associate professor at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology. “We certainly need to remove problem bears, but we also need to implement policies not to create those problem bears without delay.”
U.S. Leads the World in Plastic Waste, New Study Finds – (EcoWatch – November 3, 2020)
The U.S. is the No. 1 generator of plastic waste in the world and as high as the No. 3 generator of ocean plastic waste. That’s the finding of a new study published in Science Advances that sought to paint a more accurate picture of the U.S. contribution to the plastic crisis. While previous studies had suggested that Asian countries were responsible for the bulk of ocean plastics, the new study upends this assumption by taking into account the plastic that the U.S. ships abroad. “For years, so much of the plastic we have put into the blue bin has been exported for recycling to countries that struggle to manage their own waste, let alone the vast amounts delivered from the United States,” lead author and Sea Education Association professor of oceanography Dr. Kara Lavender Law said. “And when you consider how much of our plastic waste isn’t actually recyclable because it is low-value, contaminated or difficult to process, it’s not surprising that a lot of it ends up polluting the environment.” It has long been known that the U.S. produces lots and lots of plastic, but the assumption was that this plastic was being effectively managed. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), for example, reports that 75.4% of plastic waste is landfilled, 15.3% is incinerated and 9.3% is recycled, which suggests that all U.S. plastic is accounted for. But this does not take into account illegal littering or what happens once plastic is collected for recycling, the study authors pointed out. The new analysis concluded that the U.S. generated around 42 million metric tons of plastic in 2016. Of the U.S. plastic collected for recycling, more than half of it was shipped abroad, and 88% of that was to countries that struggle to adequately recycle. Further, 15 – 25% of it was contaminated or poor quality plastic that would be extremely difficult to recycle anyway. These figures mean that the U.S. is polluting in foreign countries with as much as one million tons of plastic.
How Long Do Most Species Last Before Going Extinct? – (Live Science – November 8, 2020)
The majestic blue whale has plied the seas for about 4.5 million years, while the Neanderthals winked out of existence in a few hundred thousand years. But are those creatures representative of species overall? How long do species usually last before they go extinct? Right now, plants and animals are disappearing from the planet faster than in all but maybe five other points in history. Some experts say we’re in the sixth mass extinction event. But even in calmer periods of Earth’s history, the answer has varied depending on the type of species. For mammals, the average species exists for 1 million to 2 million years. However, this average doesn’t hold during all geologic periods and for all mammals. The average for the Cenozoic era (65 million years ago to present) mammals is 3.21 million years, with larger mammals lasting longer than smaller mammals, according to a 2013 study in the journal Integrative Zoology. For invertebrate species, the duration is even more impressive; they last between 5 million to 10 million years, on average. These numbers, however, are contentious. Experts don’t agree on the average amount of time that species in any category last before going extinct. Stuart Pimm, a leading extinction expert and a conservation ecologist at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, said he prefers to think about extinction in terms of how many species die out every day, or month, or year. “It’s easier to think of in terms of… death rates, largely because there are some species that live a really long time,” Pimm said. “And then there are other species that are short-lived. And the average doesn’t really help you as much as you might think.” This species death rate, called the background extinction rate, is also contentious. Pimm placed the historic number — a figure that covers all time, excluding mass extinctions — at around one species extinction per 1 million species per year. The current extinction rate is much higher than any of these predictions about the past — about 1,000 times more than Pimm’s background extinction rate estimate, he said. However, not everyone agrees on how accelerated species extinction is now, said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity in Oregon. Some experts estimate that the current extinction rate is only 100 times faster or, at the other extreme, 10,000 times faster. There are several reasons why estimates of the current extinction rate vary. One thing the experts do agree on is that the modern extinction rate is far too high. “Species are adapting as fast as they can,” Pimm said. “But eventually the luck runs out and they don’t adapt fast enough. And they go.”
This Zoom Hack Will Deter You from Ever Side-chatting Again – (Fast Company – November 2, 2020)
Now that we spend so much of our days on Zoom, I think we can all be adult enough to admit: We’ve all side-chatted, saying one thing to the camera, and another on the side. Maybe it was a joke over Gchat at a coworker’s expense. Maybe it was just multitasking some emails. Maybe it was entering a password into another site. It’s a relatively innocuous behavior, but it could come back to bite us. Researchers from the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Oklahoma have demonstrated something terrifying: They can read what people are typing during video calls on Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts with up to 93% accuracy. What are they analyzing to do so? Not your hands, but your shoulders. As University of Texas assistant professor of computer science Murtuza Jadliwala explains, the core problem is that our face-to-face video streams are presented in high fidelity, and their pixels convey more information than we realize. Without using any special machine learning or artificial intelligence techniques, Jadliwala’s team figured out how to read the subtle pixel shifts around someone’s shoulders to make out their basic cardinal movements: north, south, east, and west. Once researchers figured out how to read these directions through shoulder movements, they were able to create software that could cross-reference them with what they call “word profiles” built with an English dictionary, which turned the maze of directions into meaningful words. When the team tested subjects working from home in uncontrolled setups (they were asked to visit any websites, write emails, and enter their passwords), the team was able to reverse-engineer 66% of the websites visited, but only 21% of random English words, and about 18% of the passwords typed. But Jadliwala points out that this is still a significant vulnerability, particularly because it’s based not upon one company’s problematic code but an entire industry of video chat software that many of us rely on for sensitive communication every day. This security vulnerability is due to the design of the communication medium itself.
The Capital of Sprawl Gets a Radically Car-Free Neighborhood – (New York Times – October 31, 2020)
The coasts may dominate American culture now, but for decades the biggest growth rates have been in sprawl-heavy places like Atlanta, Houston and Phoenix. The latter remains among the nation’s fastest-growing metropolitan areas, adding about 750,000 people since 2010. With a total population just under five million, Phoenix has edged out Boston as the country’s 10th-most-populous urban area. Compare that with New York and Chicago, which are losing population, and with California, which continues to see a net outflow of middle-class residents to cheaper cities beyond its borders. If you want to be in the business of creating not just new buildings but entire neighborhoods, you go where demand is exploding, and that’s Arizona. Nonetheless, the heavily car-dependent Phoenix metropolitan area is the last place you might expect a real estate developer to spend $170 million creating what it calls the first-ever car-free neighborhood built from scratch in the United States. The development, Culdesac Tempe, is a 17-acre lot just across the Salt River from Phoenix. Currently a mess of dust and heavy equipment, the site will eventually feature 761 apartments, 16,000 square feet of retail, 1,000 residents — and exactly zero places for them to park. The people who live there will be contractually forbidden to park a car on site or on nearby streets, part of a deal the development company struck with the government to assuage fears of clogged parking in surrounding neighborhoods. Culdesac Tempe is a proving ground for a start-up also called Culdesac, which was founded in San Francisco and moved to Tempe during the pandemic. Started in 2018 by two native Arizonans, the company announced the project last year to a mixture of curiosity and doubt. Urbanists cheered it as a bold and important step toward a future with fewer cars, while suburban developers said the concept could never work on a large scale. The car-addicted reality of the area makes Culdesac’s architectural renderings both intriguing and a little hard to believe. According to the images, neighbors will lounge in communal courtyards and walk to do their errands. Culdesac Tempe is directly on a light-rail line to downtown Phoenix, but residents may never need to leave: The complex will feature its own grocery store, coffee shop, restaurant, co-working space and other amenities. The 167 rowhouse-size apartment buildings will be broken up by wide pedestrian malls, and there will be a half-acre park where residents can walk their dogs and stage picnics. A limited amount of parking will be provided for outsiders who want to visit friends or shop at the stores, but the people who live there will have to rely on public transit, bikes, ride-hailing apps, scooters and the like to get around greater Phoenix. Apartments start at about $1,000 a month for a studio and $2,200 for a three-bedroom, about in line with the area.
Virgin Hyperloop Completes First Test with Actual Passengers – (CNN – November 9, 2020)
Virgin Hyperloop gave the first ride on its test track in Las Vegas, but it will be years before the public can potentially take a high-speed ride on a hyperloop. A hyperloop is an unproven transportation system in which people travel in a vehicle in a vacuum tube at speeds as high as 600 mph. Virgin’s system includes magnetic levitation, much like used in advanced high speed rail projects in Japan and Germany. Magnetic levitation lifts a train car above a track, as the magnets’ like poles push the train upward. The magnets also propel the train as like poles repel and push the train forward, and the opposite poles attract and pull the train forward. Magnetic levitation has been used on some train systems since the 1970s. Virgin Hyperloop’s pod only reached 100 mph on the track, according to the company, rather than the 600 mph that hyperloop advocates have long promised. Virgin Hyperloop says its track is 500 meters long, limiting how fast the pods can go. Virgin Hyperloop envisions building systems that connect cities. Josh Giegel, Virgin Hyperloop’s Chief Technology Officer said that its future commercial systems will have pods that seat between 25 and 30 people. Virgin Hyperloop envisions carrying tens of thousands of passengers per hour. Virgin Hyperloop still needs to raise enough money for its next project, a six-mile, $500 million test facility in West Virginia. The company expects its hyperloop system will be certified in 2025 or 2026, and that we could see hyperloop projects before the decade ends. See also this video clip of the Virgin Hyperloop test run.
As Biotech Crops Lose Their Power, Scientists Push For New Restrictions – (NPR – October 29, 2020)
Some of the most popular products of biotechnology — corn and cotton plants that have been genetically modified to fend off insects — are no longer offering the same protection from those bugs. Scientists say that the problem results from farmers overusing the crops, and are pushing for new regulations. These crops got their bug-resistant features from a kind of bacteria that lives in the soil, called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, which is poisonous to the larval stage of some major insect pests, including the corn rootworm and cotton bollworm. Scientists inserted some of these bacterial genes into corn and cotton, and the plants themselves produced these insect-killing proteins. The Bt proteins are toxic to a relatively small number of insects, and they’re practically harmless to people and other animals. Unlike the insecticides that they replaced, they were not killing significant numbers of pollinators like bees and butterflies, or beneficial insects that prey on pests and help to keep them under control. New strains of bollworms, rootworms, and other pests have emerged that are able to feed on Bt plants without dying. Some farmers are pretty angry about having to pay for a technology and still having to spray insecticides. The current situation is complicated by the fact that biotech companies have deployed close to a dozen slightly different Bt genes, targeting a variety of insects. In many cases, the bugs have evolved resistance to some Bt proteins, but not others, and the prevalence of Bt-resistant insects varies from place to place. Scientists have long warned about this risk. Even before Monsanto started selling the first Bt crops, independent scientists pushed the Environmental Protection Agency to limit the amount of land that farmers could devote to Bt crops. If these crops were planted everywhere, the scientists argued, it would create a situation in which, if a few rare insects happened to be genetically capable of surviving Bt proteins, they would be the sole survivors, quickly mate with each other, and produce a new strain of resistant insects. Biologists call this “selection pressure.” The solution, they said, was a requirement that farmers devote some of their land to non-Bt crops. Market considerations won out and the solution was not well accepted nor practiced widely enough. Julie Peterson, an entomologist at the University of Nebraska, has said that if current farming practices don’t change, it’s possible that all of the Bt genes currently on the market will stop working reliably within a decade.
New Way of Cooking Rice Removes Arsenic and Retains Mineral Nutrients, Study Shows – (PhysOrg – November 2, 2020)
Arsenic, which is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, is water-soluble—so it accumulates in rice, which is grown in flooded fields more than other cereals. Arsenic exposure affects almost every organ in the body and can cause skin lesions, cancer, diabetes and lung diseases. Rice is known to accumulate around ten times as much arsenic as other cereals. In rice grains arsenic is concentrated in the outer bran layer surrounding the endosperm. This means that brown rice, (unmilled or unpolished rice that retains its bran) contains more arsenic than white rice. This milling process removes arsenic from white rice but also removes 75-90% of its nutrients. A new paper, published in Science of the Total Environment shows that cooking rice in a certain way removes over 50% of the naturally occurring arsenic in brown rice, and 74% in white rice. Importantly, this new method does not reduce micronutrients in the rice. Previous research from the University of Sheffield that found half of the rice consumed in the UK exceeded European Commission regulations for levels of arsenic in rice meant for the consumption for infants or young children. the Institute for Sustainable Food found that “parboiling with absorption method” removed most of the arsenic, while keeping most nutrients in the cooked rice. See article for detailed simple easy cooking instructions.
Cyber’s Uncertain Future: These Radical Technologies and Negative Trends Must Be Overcome – (C4isrnet – November 11, 20200
The fate of the world may literally hinge on which states develop and appropriately introduce the radical technologies that are likely to disrupt cyberspace and the world. What are they, and what disruption do they pose? This article offers a few, split into two categories: 1) Radical-leveling technologies have leapt from linear to exponential capabilities and will shape the future competition. Examples: Additive manufacturing (i.e., 3D printing) – “Who can manufacture what” may no longer be decided by governments and chain algorithm (i.e., blockchain) and cryptocurrencies. We have yet to discern how blockchain technology will be integrated into both public and private networks, such as for protecting the national currency of states, and what such integration will mean for intelligence collection and effects operations. 2) Emerging technologies — currently developed or developed within five to 10 years — that will shape the future competition. Examples: Quantum computing – the integration of quantum computing will assist and thwart cyber intelligence collection, as well as affect the development of offensive and defensive cyberspace operations. And neuroscience technologies — biology and cyber. We have yet to discern how biology and cyberspace will converge to afford biological levels of cybersecurity and cyber biosecurity. (Editor’s note: We recommend this article for its threat assessments capability. We also recommend this website if you are interested in military intelligence.)
The Polls Underestimated Trump – Again. Nobody Agrees on Why. – (New York Times – November 4, 2020)
As the results rolled in, so did a strong sense of déjà vu. Pre-election polls, it appeared, had been misleading once again. What is now clear is that there was an overestimation of Mr. Biden’s support across the board — particularly with white voters and with men, preliminary exit polls indicate. While polling had presaged a swing away from Mr. Trump among white voters 65 and over, that never fully took shape. Partly as a result, Mr. Biden underperformed not only in polyglot states like Florida but also in heavily white, suburban areas like Macomb County, Mich., where he had been widely expected to do well. “In the end, like so many Trump-related things, there may be different rules when polling an election with him on the ballot,” Dr. Borick said. “I’m a quantifiable type of human being; I want to see evidence. And I only have two elections with Donald Trump in them — but both seem to be behaving in ways that others don’t behave.” At the top of that list is Mr. Trump’s strength among college-educated white voters, particularly men. According to the exit polls, the candidates split white college graduates evenly — after an election season in which almost every major poll of the country and of battleground states had shown Mr. Biden ahead with white degreeholders. On the subject of the coronavirus pandemic, it is also notable that compared with most pre-election surveys, the exit polls showed a smaller share of respondents favoring caution over a quick reopening. VoteCast, a new, probability-based voter survey, found that upward of four in 10 voters said the pandemic was the No. 1 issue facing the country when presented with a list of nine choices. But in the exit polls, when asked which issue had the biggest impact on their voting decision, respondents were less than half as likely to indicate it was the pandemic. Far more likely was the economy; behind that was the issue of racial inequality.
French Bulldog Wilbur Beast Wins Mayoral Race in Kentucky – (Independent – November 5, 2020)
A small American town, Rabbit Hash, located in northern Kentucky on Tuesday elected a dog as their mayor. Every aspiring candidate must be able to chase a rabbit from their home to the Rabbit Hash town center within one hour time, in order to be considered eligible. Wilbur Beast, a French bulldog, won the mayoral election with about 13,143 votes, making him the most popular canine candidate in the history of the town. The race saw the biggest turnout ever, with a total of 22,985 votes cast. Wilbur Beast is not the first dog to lead the town, which has been electing dogs as mayors since the 1990s. The residents cast their vote by writing their preferred canine candidate’s name on a ballot paper and then donate $1 to the Rabbit Hash Historical Society. Jack Rabbit, a beagle, and Poppy, a golden retriever, came in second and third respectively, making them both Rabbit Hash Ambassadors along with Ambassador Lady Stone, who will retain her position. (Editor’s note: Rabbit Hash has a population of 315. And 22,985 votes were cast. Hello?? Could this be a case of voter fraud?)
China Extends Reach in the Caribbean, Unsettling the U.S. – (New York Times – November 8, 2020)
China has offered Jamaica loans and expertise to build miles of new highways. Throughout the Caribbean, it has donated security equipment to military and police forces, and built a network of Chinese cultural centers. And it has dispatched large shipments of test kits, masks and ventilators to help governments respond to the pandemic. The initiatives are part of a quiet but assertive push by China in recent years to expand its footprint and influence in the region through government grants and loans, investments by Chinese companies, and diplomatic, cultural and security efforts. But while governments in the region have welcomed Beijing’s interest, the Trump administration has viewed China’s growing presence — and its potential to challenge Washington’s influence in the region — with concern and suspicion. The Caribbean markets are generally small, and most of the nations there lack the sizable reserves of minerals and other raw materials that often draw Chinese attention. But the region has strategic importance as a hub for logistics, banking and commerce, analyst say, and could have great security value in a military conflict because of its proximity to the United States. Low-interest loans by the Chinese government totaling more than $6 billion over 15 years have financed major infrastructure projects and other initiatives throughout the Caribbean, according to the Inter-American Dialogue, a research organization based in Washington. During the same period, Chinese firms have invested in ports and maritime logistics, mining and oil concerns, the sugar and timber industries, tourist resorts and technology projects. Between 2002 and 2019, trade between China and the Caribbean rose eightfold, said Mr. Ellis, the professor at the U.S. Army War College.
Ticketmaster Plans to Require Negative COVID Test Or Proof of Vaccine When Events Resume – (Collective Evolution – November 11, 2020)
We’ve all been confused and unsure of what ‘the new normal’ will look like. Heck, why are we even talking about a new normal in the context of more centralized power and control? Nonetheless, the mainstream plan for ‘new normal’ is becoming clear, and it’s precisely what we’ve been projecting would happen. Ticketmaster is looking at requiring event-goers to have proof of a negative coronavirus test or proof of COVID-19 vaccine if they wish to attend concerts and other events when they resume again. Article includes link to a detailed explanation of the process TicketMaster is proposing which will rely on three separate components: the Ticketmaster digital ticket app, third party health information companies like CLEAR Health Pass or IBM’s Digital Health Pass and testing and vaccine distribution providers like Labcorp and the CVS Minute Clinic.
A Spice Boom Has Left Manufacturers Scrambling, and Packaging Materials Can’t Keep Up – (Washington Post – October 28, 2020)
The pandemic has had dramatic effects on the food system, ingredients ping-ponging between surfeit and scarcity. Broken supply chains have resulted in the dumping of milk and eggs, and the rotting of produce in the fields, even as grocery stores have seen shortages of things such as meat, flour and yeast. But spices have been a bright spot, a category steadily increasing in demand since the virus took hold, with plastic and glass container manufacturers straining to keep up. There are several things going on. More meals are being prepared at home, which has led consumers to reinforce their existing herb and spice pantry. Also, more young or first-time cooks are taking the plunge and laying in seasonings beyond salt and pepper. According to Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst at the market research NPD Group, Americans’ collective embrace of international restaurants has made us pine for certain flavors during the protracted shutdown of food service, and a pandemic surge in the sale of multicookers such as the Instant Pot have put many Asian cuisines — from Indian to Thai — within reach. Buyers’ willingness to pay a premium for new flavors and global tastes has been fueling the growth of the international product market for some time. According to Grand View Research, the global seasoning and spices market was valued around $13.8 billion in 2019 and was expected to see substantial growth through 2027. The pandemic has accelerated this. According to the NPD Group, national consumption of spices, seasonings, marinades and rubs was up over 50% in July 2020, the most recent month for which data is available, compared with July 2019. The spices themselves have been relatively easy to source, but two- and nine-ounce glass jars, 5.5-ounce plastic containers and even restaurant-sized containers have been in short supply.
‘I Wanted to Meet a Mate and Have a Baby without Wasting Time’: The Rise of Platonic Co-parenting – (Guardian – October 31, 2020)
In a world where biological science and equal rights have diversified ways to start a family, platonic co-parenting – the decision to have a child with someone you are not romantically involved with and, in most cases, choose not to live with – remains a relatively new phenomenon. Well established in gay communities, along with egg and sperm donation, it is on the rise among heterosexual singles. Tens of thousands have signed up to matchmaking sites at a cost of around £100 a year. On Coparents.co.uk, which launched in Europe in 2008, two-thirds of its 120,000 worldwide members are straight. Modamily, which launched in LA in 2012, has 30,000 international members, of whom 80% are straight and 2,000 are British. UK-based competitor PollenTree.com has 53,000 members, split 60/40 women to men, and ranks its domestic market as its strongest. During lockdown, the latter two sites reported traffic surges of 30-50%. Prof. Susan Golombok, director of the University of Cambridge’s Center for Family Research and author of We Are Family, a new book examining the wellbeing of children in structures beyond the nuclear unit, has researched new family forms since the 1980s. She has studied families created via IVF, sperm and egg donation, and surrogacy, as well as lesbian mother families, gay father families and single mothers by choice. Golombok’s team turned their attention to elective co-parenting as an emerging trend in 2015. They are now following 50 families in what they believe to be the world’s first study considering the impact of the arrangement on children. She says: “It was a gradual realization that this was a new phenomenon picking up speed. The main question for us is how does this relationship between parents, where there is no romantic relationship, develop, with each other and the child? Is the relationship breakdown rate higher or lower? Very early findings suggest that how well the parents communicate with each other and collaborate over childcare seems to make a big difference.”
A Guaranteed Monthly Check Changed His Life. Now He Sends Out 650. – ((New York Times – November 6, 2020)
Mr. Bohmeyer is a resident of Berlin who grew up in East Germany. His experimental, grass-roots platform has thus far given more than 650 randomly-selected people 1,000 euros a month, around $1,165, for a year, no strings attached, just to test a thesis. Namely, that what people need to thrive in a rapidly changing world is not more money, but more security, and that an unconditional basic income — a monthly sum to cover living expenses that, if implemented, would be paid by the government and received by everyone — could enable this. The idea has resonated in Germany, a wealthy country that spends about a third of its G.D.P. on a robust social welfare system. In the six years since Mr. Bohmeyer first called for donations “My Basic Income” has raised about €8 million, thanks to 140,000 or so private donations of sums as low as a couple of euros a month. Now, after publishing a best-selling book detailing the experiences of a cross-section of recipients — ranging from a hotel heiress to a homeless man — Mr. Bohmeyer and his team have partnered with the respected German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin for a study. As part of this “pilot project,” 120 randomly chosen people will receive €1,200 a month for three years, while a larger control group of “statistical twins” in similar life situations will not. When the call for applications went out in August, a million people signed up in less than three days. For Jürgen Schupp, a senior research fellow at the institute and professor at the Free University in Berlin, the number of applicants was less surprising than the number of donors. “I was most fascinated by the people giving money for free to support this idea,” said Mr. Schupp, who will oversee the pilot project. “We have a lot of ‘citizen scientists’ counting birds, and giving the data to scientists. This is like that, but for civil society.” Of course, Bohmeyre added, the only way to see if basic income works is to test it. “We really want to find out,” he said. “I’d be happy if it turns out this is a bad idea. I’d be free to do something else.”
We Finally Know What Has Been Making Fast Radio Bursts – (Ars Technica – November 4, 2020)
Researchers have solved one of the questions that has been nagging them over the past decade: what exactly produces the weird phenomena known as fast radio bursts (FRBs)? As their name implies, FRBs involve a sudden blast of radio-frequency radiation that lasts just a few microseconds. We didn’t even know that FRBs existed until 2007 but have since cataloged hundreds of them; some come from sources that repeatedly emit them, while others seem to burst once and go silent. Obviously, you can produce this sort of sudden surge of energy by destroying something. But the existence of repeating sources suggests that at least some of them are produced by an object that survives the event. That has led to a focus on compact objects, like neutron stars and black holes, with a class of neutron stars called magnetars being viewed very suspiciously. Magnetars are an extreme form of a neutron star, a type of body that is already notable for being extreme. They are the collapsed core of a massive star, so dense that atoms get squeezed out of existence, leaving a swirling mass of neutrons and protons. That mass is roughly equal to the Sun’s but compressed into a sphere with a radius of about 10 kilometers. Neutron stars are best known for powering pulsars, rapidly repeating bursts of radiation driven by the fact that these massive objects can complete a rotation in a handful of milliseconds. Those suspicions have now been borne out, as astronomers have watched a magnetar in our own galaxy sending out an FRB at the same time it emitted pulses of high-energy gamma rays. This doesn’t answer all our questions, as we’re still not sure how the FRBs are produced or why only some of the gamma-ray outbursts from this magnetar are associated with FRBs. But the confirmation will give us a chance to look more carefully at the extreme physics of magnetars as we try to understand what’s going on.
This UK Company Has a Contract to Turn Moon Dust into Oxygen – (CNN – November 9, 2020)
Metalysis, a materials technology firm based in South Yorkshire, England, has been awarded a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) to further develop a method of extracting extraterrestrial oxygen from materials found on the moon’s surface. In research published this year, scientists affiliated with Metalysis said they could extract 96% of oxygen from debris found on the moon’s surface, known as lunar regolith, and leave behind a mixed metal alloy that could be used for construction. The process, which was developed at the University of Cambridge, has already been established to work on earth. Now, Metalysis has received around £250,000 (around $329,000) in funding from the ESA to perfect it in an extra-terrestrial environment according to Ian Mellor, the company’s managing director. The project is a step in the development of a sustainable source of oxygen on the moon — needed to support human life on permanent lunar bases, and championed by agencies including the ESA, which has shown support for a “Moon Village” — and to provide the fuel for vehicles landing on and launching from the moon. Researchers also hope that by cultivating and producing essential resources such as oxygen on the moon, they will be able to significantly reduce the payload mass that would be needed to be launched from Earth.
Smart Tablecloth Can Find Fruit and Help with Watering the Plants – (NewsWise – October 30, 2020)
Researchers have designed a smart fabric that can detect non-metallic objects ranging from avocadoes to credit cards, according to a study from Dartmouth College and Microsoft Research. The fabric, named Capacitivo, senses shifts in electrical charge to identify items of varying shapes and sizes. “This research has the potential to change the way people interact with computing through everyday soft objects made of fabrics,” said Xing-Dong Yang, an assistant professor of computer science and senior researcher for the study. The fabric system recognizes objects based on shifts to electrical charge in its electrodes caused by changes to an object’s electrical field. The difference in charge can relate to the type of material, size of the object and shape of the contact area. Information detected on the electrical charge is compared to data stored in the system using machine learning techniques. The ability to recognize non-metallic objects such as food items, liquids, kitchenware, plastic, and paper products makes the system unique. Twenty objects were tested on the “smart tablecloth” as part of the study. The objects varied in size, shape and material. The team also included a water glass and a bowl to test how reliably the system could recognize the fullness of a container. Overall, the system achieved a 94.5% accuracy in testing. The system was particularly accurate for distinguishing between different fruits, such as kiwis and avocados. The status of a liquid container was also relatively simple for the system to determine. In a supplemental study, the system was able to distinguish between different types of liquids such as water, milk, apple cider and soda. The system was less accurate for objects that don’t create firm footprints on the fabric, such as credit cards. See demonstration video to get a much better sense of this system and how it operates.
The Technologies That Could Transform Ageing – (BBC News – November 4, 2020)
Top of the line hearing aids, for example, now contain fall detection as a safety feature. An undershirt studded with sensors was key to the functionality of Alfred, a virtual butler developed by the EU to engage with older people and lead them through daily balance and exercise tasks. The Lean Empowering Assistant or Lea, meanwhile, is a robotic walker which also serves as a virtual assistant and even dance partner. In 2019, Cera Care (a UK long term care company) partnered with IBM to trial the installation of Lidar sensors – more often seen on self-driving vehicles – in people’s homes. The sensors collect data on how much residents move about the home, and most importantly can alert carers if the resident suffers a fall. “It’s 24/7 support, rather than only when carers are there,” says Cera Care’s CEO. But the cohort of those in need will grow even while resources and health budgets constrict. Providing a dignified elder life, then, means finding ways to do more with less. Hopefully technology will be able to take up the slack. The 2018 Smart Ageing prize from UK innovation think tank Nesta, for example, was awarded to the Norwegian Komp, a one-button tablet aimed at elderly users. The stripped-down tablet is modeled on old analogue televisions, and offers a simplified way to share photos and make video calls to family and friends. A cuddly robotic seal pup named Paro http://www.parorobots.com/ (retail cost around $6,000) is found in care centers the world over, mewing and wriggling as seniors cuddle it. The improbably cute Japanese “carebot” (to charge its batteries, it sucks on a tethered pacifier) is designed to be a therapeutic experience for dementia patients, many of whom are unaware that they are holding a robot and not a live seal pup, bonding with the robot as if it were a real animal. And the EU-funded Enrichme project dispatched Tiago robots built by Spain’s Pal Robotics into the homes of elderly people. The large, squinting droids trundled after their charges, reminded them of appointments and medication schedules, ran through fitness routines and sought out mislaid items. But their companionship was rated as highly as their ability to track down lost keys. When the experiment ended, residents mourned the loss of their new friends, with one seen rearranging their furniture to fill in the empty space left by the droid.
PayPal: Going Long On Bitcoin – (Seeking Alpha – October 26, 2020)
PayPal has announced the launch of a new service facilitating customers to buy, hold, and sell cryptocurrencies directly from their PayPal accounts. Currently, the service is offered to U.S. account holders only via the PayPal platform, with expansion into international markets and its Venmo subsidiary slated for early 2021. In the near future, PayPal intends on enabling its users to pay with cryptocurrencies by converting the selected cryptocurrency into the merchant’s national currency, ensuring that merchants are always paid on time without being exposed to the constant fluctuations in value of cryptocurrencies. At the announcement, Dan Schulman, president and CEO of PayPal, said: “The shift to digital forms of currencies is inevitable, bringing with it clear advantages in terms of financial inclusion and access; efficiency, speed and resilience of the payments system; and the ability for governments to disburse funds to citizens quickly. BitPay, launched in 2011, is the most prominent third-party transaction processor for bitcoin, partnering with a range of well-known companies from Amazon’s video live streaming service, Twitch, to cosmetics retailer, Lush. BitPay partners can accept bitcoins via their website, e-mail, or in person using a mobile POS device, incurring a 1% transaction fee and receive payments in most of the world’s major currencies. Investing in bitcoin and QR code payment opportunities is vital for PayPal, given that it allows PayPal to broaden its payments offerings to offline brick-and-mortar businesses which currently constitute ~80% of all retail sales.
COVID-19: A Precursor to a ‘New World Order?’ aka “The Great Reset” – (Collective Evolution – November 11, 2020)
Global chaos has always been a precursor to big change on our planet, this initiative by ‘the powers that be’ is now being called “The Great Reset.” Are problems created by those who want to propose the solution? Do naturally occurring issues become hi-jacked to implement greater measures of control? Are we living through an epidemic of control? The “New World Order” refers to the idea that many crises’ are manufactured by powerful groups of people in order to justify a more heightened national security state. While some might view this as an unfounded conspiracy theory, a more nuanced approach is necessary. Many world leaders have spoken about a ‘new world order’ on multiple occasions, pointing to greater global collaboration, control and surveillance to pull it all off. It’s an agenda of greater centralized power for those already in great positions of unelected power. A heightened national security state in our current times includes more surveillance and data acquisition, using more methods for tracking the general population, their actions, intentions, and even their currency. Again, it’s no conspiracy theory, Edward Snowden made it quite clear that the NSA was tracking US citizens all along, illegally. This article will examine the use of continuous ‘threats,’ sometimes manufactured to impose more security measures on the population, what the “Great Reset” is, and why it’s important to recognize the measures taken by those who claim this is a step towards more authoritarianism.
How Do You Know When Society Is About to Fall Apart? – (New York Times – November 4, 2020)
Joseph Tainter is the author of the book that made his reputation, The Collapse of Complex Societies, which has for years been the seminal text in the study of societal collapse, an academic subdiscipline that arguably was born with its publication in 1988. “Civilizations are fragile, impermanent things,” Tainter writes. Nearly every one that has ever existed has also ceased to exist, yet “understanding disintegration has remained a distinctly minor concern in the social sciences.” Tainter’s argument, which became the heart of The Collapse of Complex Societies, rests on two proposals. The first is that human societies develop complexity, i.e. specialized roles and the institutional structures that coordinate them, in order to solve problems. For an overwhelming majority of the time since the evolution of Homo sapiens, Tainter contends, we organized ourselves in small and relatively egalitarian kinship-based communities. All history since then has been “characterized by a seemingly inexorable trend toward higher levels of complexity, specialization and sociopolitical control.” His second proposal is based on an idea borrowed from the classical economists of the 18th century. Social complexity, he argues, is inevitably subject to diminishing marginal returns. It costs more and more, in other words, while producing smaller and smaller profits. Only complexity, Tainter argues, provides an explanation that applies in every instance of collapse. We go about our lives, addressing problems as they arise. Complexity builds and builds, usually incrementally, without anyone noticing how brittle it has all become. Then some little push arrives, and the society begins to fracture. The result is a “rapid, significant loss of an established level of sociopolitical complexity.” In human terms, that means central governments disintegrating and empires fracturing into “small, petty states,” often in conflict with one another. Trade routes seize up, and cities are abandoned. Literacy falls off, technological knowledge is lost and populations decline sharply. A disaster — even a severe one like a deadly pandemic, mass social unrest or a rapidly changing climate — can, in Tainter’s view, never be enough by itself to cause collapse. Whether any existing society is close to collapsing depends on where it falls on the curve of diminishing returns. “The world today is full,” Tainter writes. Complex societies occupy every inhabitable region of the planet. There is no escaping. This also means, he writes, that collapse, “if and when it comes again, will this time be global.” Our fates are interlinked. “No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole.”
Behind the Uniform – (YouTube – August 12, 2020)
One gift the great newspaper columnists gave us was an appreciation for the rich, complex lives behind the faces and storefronts and doorways people saw every day. In 15 minutes, this New Yorker film does the same thing: It’s a look at one New York City doorman, Yves Deshommes, a Haitian immigrant who’s a violinist, an art dealer, a father, and a philanthropist who helped establish two schools on his home island after the 2010 earthquake. The filmmaker, Lydia Cornett, met him when they sat next to each other on the subway. It’s a lovely reminder never to see only the surface.
Baby Shark Becomes YouTube’s Most-watched Video of All Time – (BBC News – November 2, 2020)
“Baby Shark”, the infuriatingly catchy children’s rhyme recorded by South Korean company Pinkfong, has become the most-watched video ever on YouTube. The song has now been played 7.04 billion times, overtaking the previous record holder “Despacito”, the Latin pop smash by singer Luis Fonsi. Played back-to-back, that would mean “Baby Shark” has been streamed continuously for 30,187 years. Pinkfong stands to have made about $5.2m from YouTube streams alone. It took four years for “Baby Shark” to ascend to the top of YouTube’s most-played chart, but the song is actually much older than that. It is thought to have originated in US summer camps in the 1970s. One theory says it was invented in 1975, as Steven Spielberg’s Jaws became an box office smash around the world. But none of them could match the phenomenal success of Pinkfong’s interpretation, which was sung by 10-year-old Korean-American singer Hope Segoine and uploaded to YouTube in 2015. It’s addictive “doo doo doo doo doo doo” hook and fishy dance moves became a craze in South Korea, where popular bands like Red Velvet, Girls’ Generation and Blackpink started incorporating it into their concerts. The following June, Pinkfong put out a second video, titled “Baby Shark Dance”, featuring two cute kids performing the dance routine. Pinkfong’s marketing director Jamie Oh told the BBC in 2018, “Pinkfong’s ‘Baby Shark’ is very trendy and it has a very bright beat with fun dance moves. The animation is very vivid. We call it K-Pop for the next generation.” However, Pinkfong’s parent company SmartStudy was sued last year by children’s songwriter Jonathan Wright, who recorded a similar arrangement of the song in 2011 and argues that he owns the copyright to that interpretation. SmartStudy responded that their version was “based on a traditional sing-along chant which has passed to public domain”. The case is still under consideration by the Korea Copyright Commission. Last month, the song was at the center of another controversy, when three prison workers in Oklahoma were accused of using it to punish inmates. According to court documents, five prisoners were handcuffed against a wall and forced to stand for two hours while listening to “Baby Shark” on repeat. (Editor’s note: Consider yourself warned – you probably don’t want this song stuck on mental repeat running through your head, but here’s the link.)
Romancing The Wind – Ray Bethell – (YouTube – May 23, 2012)
“I thought (kite-flying) was for sissies.” Eventually, Ray Bethell came to think differently, and by the time he died at age 90 he’d figured out how to fly three kites simultaneously (one tied to his waist), performed in front of enormous crowds, and won countless ribbons and awards for both artistic and endurance kite-flying. He lost his hearing in his 60s. “The rest of the world is in silence,” he said later, “so I put my whole heart and soul into my kite-flying … completely at peace with myself and the whole world.” This video is of him and his three kites in Vancouver, to the “Flower Duet” from Léo Delibes’ opera Lakmé.
The future starts today, not tomorrow.
― Pope John Paul, II
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