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FE Archive Volume 17, Number 7

Volume 17, Number 7 - 4/15/14 Twitter  Facebook  JLP Blog  

FUTURE FACTS - FROM THINK LINKS

DID YOU KNOW THAT--
  • A Stanford professor and his students have developed a high-resolution microscope out of a flat sheet of paper, a watch battery, LED, and optical units that when folded together, much like origami, create a functional instrument costing about $1.50

  • New nanoelectronic circuits can operate more than 10,000 times faster than current microprocessors

  • Nearly 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. drank single-cup-brewed coffee yesterday, but the packaging needed for these systems comes with environmental and health-related costs.

  • Check out six countries that have pursued innovative approaches to improving workers’ lives.


PUNCTUATIONS
by John L. Petersen

Gregg Braden Coming to Berkeley Springs

New York Times best-selling author Gregg Braden will be the next speaker in our Berkeley Springs Transition Talks series (www.transitiontalks.org), held in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia on Saturday the 24th of May.

Gregg Braden is internationally renowned as a pioneer in bridging science, ancient wisdom, and the real world! For more than 27 years he has explored high mountain villages, remote monasteries and forgotten texts to merge their timeless secrets with the best science of today. His discoveries are now shared in 33 countries and 38 languages through such paradigm-inspiring books as: The God Code, The Divine Matrix, Fractal Time, and his newest, Deep Truth. His 2007 best seller, The Divine Matrix, was recently selected as the source for the made-for-television feature, “Entanglement,” and is now a textbook for college level courses exploring new discoveries of science and our relationship to the world.

Gregg’s Subject: Creating Resilience in a Time of Extremes

The Situation: We live in a time of extremes. From failing economies and the realities of climate change, to the violent breakdown of traditional societies it's clear that we've entered a new phase of life on planet Earth. Without the tools to adapt to such abrupt change the consequences include:
  • The documented rise of stress-related illness, disease and deaths
  • The rising loss of traditional jobs, stable income and feelings of security
  • The struggle to find a sense of well-being in life
  • Increased conflict in families and societies as they try to meet new needs with old thinking
The Opportunity: We solve our problems based upon the way we think of ourselves. When new discoveries show us where the beliefs of the past no longer apply, we owe it to ourselves to update our thinking!

In this Program Discover For yourself
  • The 5 false assumptions of traditional science that the modern world is built upon
  • The single belief that keeps us locked in conflict and struggle, and why it’s wrong
  • The new discoveries that change 300 years of scientific beliefs, and the reluctance of mainstream media and classrooms to share them
  • The strategies for personal resilience that hold the key to adapting to change
The solutions to life’s biggest problems already exist! Join Gregg Braden in this compelling on-line presentation to discover the extremes that are shaping our world and how you can thrive from them in your life!

Register today here!

Come With Us to Damanhur and Findhorn

In October I’m leading a small group of new world explorers to visit some of the most iconic and important sites on this planet that point (in practical terms) toward the new world that is emerging. We’re going to amazing Damanhur to see the extraordinary temples (called the 8th wonder of the world by many) and learn from them about their advanced social system that integrates multiple villages, businesses and lots of people into a progressive, enlightened community. They’ve worked out a unique approach to social systems, economics, conflict resolution, etc., that will tell us about new ways of living.



Then we’ll go down to Portofino on the Italian Riviera for a couple of days of rest before we jet up to Scotland to visit Findhorn – another leading edge community that has learned how to live in concert with the land – and each other – in uniquely successfully ways. Findhorn is one of the leading centers of prototypical approaches to sustainability in the world.



We’ll end the two weeks with a train trip through the length of Scotland and England to visit Salisbury and nearby Stonehenge, Avebury, Glastonbury and other extraordinary places.



If you can join us, this will be one of the most memorable trips that you will take in your life. You will see wonderful new things, relax and get rejuvenated, and, importantly, learn a great deal about how you and your community – as well as all of us as humans – can begin to practically plan for the unprecedented future that is fast upon us.

Get complete information here

Do come and join us on this certain to be memorable exploration of both the past and the future.

FBI Plans to Have 52 Million Photos in its NGI Face Recognition Database by Next Year

I received the above Electronic Frontier Foundation link this morning about the FBI’s plan to generate a comprehensive database that ultimately includes all major identifying information on almost all Americans.

New documents released by the FBI show that the Bureau is well on its way toward its goal of a fully operational face recognition database by this summer.

EFF received these records in response to our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for information on Next Generation Identification (NGI)—the FBI’s massive biometric database that may hold records on as much as one third of the U.S. population. The facial recognition component of this database poses real threats to privacy for all Americans.

What is NGI?

NGI builds on the FBI’s legacy fingerprint database—which already contains well over 100 million individual records—and has been designed to include multiple forms of biometric data, including palm prints and iris scans in addition to fingerprints and face recognition data. NGI combines all these forms of data in each individual’s file, linking them to personal and biographic data like name, home address, ID number, immigration status, age, race, etc. This immense database is shared with other federal agencies and with the approximately 18,000 tribal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the United States.


It reminded me about how this digital information revolution cuts many ways. On one hand it dramatically strengthens the capabilities of government agencies like the National Security Agency and the FBI. At the same time, it is ravaging the legacy news business. The Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project: State of the News Media 2014 report just came out. Kosmos Journal published a summary of the report that is illuminating.

Overview of the Report

In many ways, 2013 and early 2014 brought a level of energy to the news industry not seen for a long time. Even as challenges of the past several years continue and new ones emerge, the activities this year have created a new sense of optimism – or perhaps hope – for the future of American journalism.

Digital players have exploded onto the news scene, bringing technological knowhow and new money and luring top talent. BuzzFeed, once scoffed at for content viewed as “click bait,” now has a news staff of 170, including top names like Pulitzer Prize-winner Mark Schoofs, and is the kind of place that ProPublica’s Paul Steiger says he would want to work at if he were young again. Mashable now has a news staff of 70 and enticed former New York Times assistant managing editor Jim Roberts to become its chief content officer. And in January of this year, Ezra Klein left the Washington Post for Vox media, which will become the new home for his explanatory journalism concept. Many of these companies are already successful digital brands – built around an innate understanding of technology – and are using revenues from other parts of the operation to get the news operations off the ground.

Other kinds of new revenue are flowing into news operations as well. A new breed of entrepreneurs – like Jeff Bezos, John Henry and Pierre Omidyar — are investing their own money in the industry, in some cases creating wholly new entities and in others looking to bring new life to long-standing ones. Among their best credentials – beyond deep pockets – is that they are tech industry insiders and news media outsiders.  Philanthropic money has grown as well, in many cases focused on smaller outlets seeking to fill the gap in news coverage left by legacy cutbacks. As recently as March 2014, the Jerome L. Greene Foundation announced a $10 million grant to New York Public Radio to help build its digital capabilities, an expressed need among nonprofits.

The year also brought more evidence than ever that news is a part of the explosion of social media and mobile devices, and in a way that could offer opportunity to reach more people with news than ever before. Half of Facebook users get news there even though they did not go there looking for it. And the Facebook users who get news at the highest rates are 18-to-29-year-olds. The same is true for the growth area of online video. Half of those who watch some kind of online video watch news videos. Again, young people constitute the greatest portion of these viewers.

Accompanying this momentum is the question of what it adds up to within the full scope of news that consumers receive. Here the events of the last year get put in some perspective. Our first-ever accounting found roughly 5,000 full-time professional jobs at nearly 500 digital news outlets, most of which were created in the past half dozen years. But the vast majority of bodies producing original reporting still comes from the newspaper industry. But those newspaper jobs are far from secure. Full-time professional newsroom employment declined another 6.4% in 2012 with more losses expected for 2013. Gannett alone is estimated to have cut 400 newspaper jobs while the Tribune Co. announced 700 (not all of them in the newsroom). The new money from philanthropists, venture capitalists and other individuals and non-media businesses, while promising, amounts to only a sliver of the money supporting professional journalism. Traditional advertising from print and television still accounts for more than half of the total revenue supporting news, even though print ad revenues are in rapid decline. While seeing some small gains in new revenue streams like digital subscriptions and conferences, total newspaper advertising revenue in 2012 (the last year that full data are available) was down 52% from 2003. Television ad revenue, while stable for now, faces an uncertain future as video becomes more accessible online. What’s more, most of the new revenue streams driving the momentum are not earned from the news product itself.

There were a number of other events over the last year for which the impact on citizens is mixed or unclear. Local television, which remains the primary place American adults turn to for news, saw its audience increase for the first time in five years. At the same time, though, there were fewer stations producing original news compared with 2012, primarily the result of television acquisitions that left fewer companies in control of more stations.  At this point, fully a quarter of the 952 U.S. television stations that air newscasts do not produce their news programs. Additional stations have sharing arrangements where much of their content is produced outside their own newsroom. The impact on the consumer seems to vary from market to market, with some markets increasing potential reach by airing news on stations that never had it – even if that newscast is the same one that airs on another local station. In other markets the news has contracted, as news organizations have reduced staff or content production for cost efficiency.     

In digital news, the overlap between public relations and news noted in last year’s State of the News Media report became even more pronounced. One of the greatest areas of revenue experimentation now involves website content that is paid for by commercial advertisers – but often written by journalists on staff – and placed on a news publishers’ page in a way that sometimes makes it indistinguishable from a news story. Following the lead of early adapters like The Atlantic and Mashable, native advertising, as it is called by the industry, caught on rapidly in 2013. The New York Times, The Washington Post and most recently The Wall Street Journal have now begun or announced plans to begin devoting staff to this kind of advertising, often as a part of a new “custom content division.” eMarketer predicts that native ads spending will reach $2.85 billion by 2014.

Many of these publishers initially expressed caution over such ads, with Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker even describing it as a “Faustian pact.” In the end, though, many publishers eventually came down with a conclusion similar to Baker’s, who said that he was  “confident that our readers will appreciate what is sponsor-generated content and what is content from our global staff,” according to a statement released by The Journal. That may be the case, and it could also be the case that stories created for and paid for by advertisers do not bother consumers as long as they are a good read. At this point, though, there is little if any public data that speak to consumer response one way or the other.

And despite evidence of news consumption by Facebook users—half of whom report getting news across at least six topic areas—recent Pew Research data finds these consumers to have rather low levels of engagement with news sites. Another question looming over developments in social media is whether the self-selective process combined with algorithmic feeds are narrowing the kinds of information Americans are exposed to.

One of the biggest stories of the year, the NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden, shined light on yet another area of challenge for journalism in the digital age: easy access to web-based content. It threatens the security of journalists’ communications and their ability to get sources to share information with them, the ultimate impact of which could be the stories that don’t get reported on and delivered to consumers.

A year ago, the State of the News Media report struck a somber note, citing evidence of continued declines in the mainstream media that were impacting both content and audience satisfaction. As indicated above and throughout this report, many of these issues still exist, some have deepened and new ones have emerged. Still, the level of new activity this past year is creating a perception that something important, perhaps even game-changing, is going on. If the developments in 2013 are at this point only a drop in the bucket, it feels like a heavier drop than most. The momentum behind them is real, if the full impact on citizens and our news system remains unclear.

This year’s Annual Report, our 11th edition, set out to examine these shifts—in revenue, in jobs, in technology, in content, in consumer behavior. It is structured a bit differently than in the past – to account for the widening of the industry, the growing influence of technology and new ways of sharing of our data. This year’s report includes four original research reports and two graphical presentations, along with key findings and a searchable database of all the statistics gathered in past years. From these reports, six major trends emerge:

1) Thirty of the largest digital-only news organizations account for about 3,000 jobs and one area of investment is global coverage.  Vice Media has 35 overseas bureaus; The Huffington Post hopes to grow to 15 countries from 11 this year; BuzzFeed hired a foreign editor to oversee its expansion into places like Mumbai, Mexico City, Berlin and Tokyo. The two-year-old business-oriented Quartz has reporters in London, Bangkok and Hong Kong, and its editorial staff speaks 19 languages. This comes amid pullbacks in global coverage form mainstream media. The amount of airtime network evening newscasts devoted to overseas reporting in 2013 was less than half of what it was in the late 1980s. International reporters working for U.S. newspaper have declined 24% from 2003 to 2010. As the new digital native outlets continue to add staff, the country may be seeing the first real build-up of international reporting in decades – save for a few start- ups like Global Post.

2) So far, the impact of new money flowing into the industry may be more about fostering new ways of reporting and reaching audience than about building a new, sustainable revenue structure.  The news industry in the U.S. brings in a little over $60 billion of revenue annually, according to estimates in our report. Advertising, at least for now, accounts for roughly two-thirds of this pie, most of which remains tied to legacy forms. Audience revenue accounts for about a quarter and is growing both in total dollars and in share. But this revenue may also be coming from a smaller—or at least flat—pool of contributors. New kinds of earned revenue streams like event hosting and web consulting account for about 7%, while investment from sources such as venture capital and philanthropy amount to only about 1% of the total.  One part of the equation worth exploring is what kind of savings occurs at digital news startups free of the legacy infrastructure, but taking on the newer costs of technology development and maintenance.

3) Social and mobile developments are doing more than bringing consumers into the process – they are also changing the dynamics of the process itself. New survey data released here find that half (50%) of social network users share or repost news stories, images or videos while nearly as many (46%) discuss news issues or events on social network sites. And with broader mobile adoption, citizens are playing important eyewitness roles around news events such as the Boston bombing and the Ukrainian uprising. Roughly one-in-ten social network users have posted news videos they took themselves, according to the data.  And 11% of all online news consumers have submitted their own content (including videos, photos, articles or opinion pieces) to news websites or blogs. Just as powerful, though, are the shifts in how news functions in these spaces.  On social sites and even many of the new digital-only sites, news is mixed in with all other kinds of content – people bump into it when they are there doing other things. This bumping into means there may be opportunity for news to reach people who might otherwise have missed it, but less of that may be in the hands of news organizations. Only about a third of people who get news on Facebook follow a news organization or individual journalist. Instead, stories get shared from friends in their networks. And few Facebook visitors, according to a separate Pew Research study of traffic to top news sites, end up also coming to a site directly.  For news providers, this means that a single digital strategy – both in terms of capturing audience and building a viable revenue base – will not be enough.

4) New ways of storytelling bring both promise and challenge. One area of expansion in 2013 was online news video. Ad revenue tied to digital videos over all (no firm calculates a figure specifically for news videos) grew 44% from 2012 to 2013 and is expected to continue to increase. For now, though, its scale is still small, accounting for just 10% of all digital ad revenue in the U.S. YouTube alone already accounts for 20% of these revenues and Facebook has now entered the digital video ad market and, based on its rapid growth in display ad revenue, is expected to quickly account for a significant portion of these dollars. In terms of audience appeal, one-third of U.S. adults watch online news videos, but that growth has slowed considerably. After a 27% increase from 2007 to 2009, the next four years saw just 9% growth. Again, large distributors of video content like YouTube and Facebook already account for a hefty portion of video watching on the web.  Nonetheless, some news providers are making significant investments in digital video. The Huffington Post celebrated the one year anniversary of HuffPost Live, Texas Tribune held a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the purchase of equipment to stream live video coverage of the 2014 Texas governor’s race, and the multimedia company Vice in early 2014 launched a new multimedia portal just for news stories.

5) Local television, which reaches about nine in ten U.S. adults, experienced massive change in 2013, change that stayed under the radar of most. Nearly 300 full-power local TV stations changed hands in 2013 at a price of more than $8 billion. The number of stations sold was up 205% over 2012 and the value up 367%, with big owners getting even bigger. If all the pending sales go through, Sinclair Broadcasting alone will own or provide service to 167 stations in 77 markets, reaching almost 40% of the U.S. population. Sinclair’s CEO, David Smith, at the UBS conference in December 2013 expressed an interest in growing even more: “I’d like to have 80% of the country if I could get it. I’d like to have 90%.” Much of what is driving these purchases is the growth in fees that local stations are able to charge cable companies for re-airing their content – known by the industry as retransmissions fees. Both Meredith (which owns 13 stations) and Scripps (which owns 19) said they saw their retransmission revenues roughly triple in the last three years.  In terms of programming, a clear result is more stations in the same market being operated jointly and sharing more content. As of early 2014, joint service agreements exist in almost half of the 210 local TV markets nationwide, up from 55 in 2011. And fewer stations are producing their own newscasts. The ultimate impact on the consumer is complicated to assess, but the economics benefit to the owner is indisputable.

6) Dramatic changes under way in the makeup of the American population will undoubtedly have an impact on news in the U.S, and in one of the fastest growing demographic groups – Hispanics – we are already seeing shifts. The Hispanic population in the U.S. has grown 50% from 2000 to 2012–to 53 million people. Most of that growth has come from births in the U.S. rather than the arrival of new immigrants, reversing a trend from previous decades. As a result, a growing share of the Hispanic population is American-born and a growing number speak English proficiently.  In response to these trends, more general-market media companies—like ABC, NBC, Fox and The Huffington Post—have started Hispanic news operations. Since 2010, six national Hispanic outlets have been launched, all of which are either owned in full or in partnership by a general-market media company. Not all of them have been successes, however.  Earlier this year, NBC Latino—a website-only outlet—closed, after only 16 months, and CNN Latino, which had both a web and on-air presence, was shut down just a year after its launch. At the same time, Fusion, a joint effort by ABC and Univision, initially described the channel as aimed at Hispanic millennials but later switched to aiming it at millennials more broadly—currently the largest and most diverse generational group in the U.S. As demographic shifts within the U.S. continue, so too will their impact on the news ecosystem.

Explore the complete ‘State of the New Media 2014 Report’ here.




THINK LINKS



INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

The New Economic Events Giving Lie to the Fiction That We Are All Selfish, Rational Materialists – (AlterNet – April 14, 2014)
Jeremy Rifkin's new book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society, brings welcome new attention to the commons just as it begins to explode in countless new directions. His book focuses on one of the most significant vectors of commons-based innovation — the Internet and digital technologies — and documents how the incremental costs of nearly everything is rapidly diminishing, often to zero. Rifkin explored the sweeping implications of this trend in an  excerpt from his book and points to the "eclipse of capitalism" in the decades ahead. But it's worth noting that the commons is not just an Internet phenomenon or a matter of economics. The commons lies at the heart of a major cultural and social shift now underway. People's attitudes about corporate property rights and neoliberal capitalism are changing as cooperative endeavors — on digital networks and elsewhere — become more feasible and attractive. This can be seen in the proliferation of hackerspaces and Fablabs, in the growth of alternative currencies, in many land trusts and cooperatives and in seed-sharing collectives and countless natural resource commons. Beneath the radar screen of mainstream politics, which remains largely clueless about such cultural trends on the edge, a new breed of commoners is building the vision of a very different kind of society, project by project. This new universe of social activity is being built on the foundation of a very different ethics and social logic than that of homo economicus — the economist's fiction that we are all selfish, utility-maximizing, rational materialists.



GENETICS/ HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/ BIOTECHNOLOGY

Dog Disease Could Be Boon for Human Medicine – (BBC News – March 22, 2014)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is well described in humans and the dog version of the disease presents with similar repetitive behaviors. Whereas people might wash their hands multiple times or hoard objects, dog symptoms include constantly chasing their own tails or shadows, blanket sucking or repeated grooming. Other "human" conditions that dogs are susceptible include: epilepsy, narcolepsy, cancer, muscular dystrophy, and retinal degeneration. Recent studies have identified genes that might cause the canine form of these conditions. "It is much easier to find disease genes in dogs than in people," said Prof Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, of Uppsala University in Sweden. This is due to the fact that humans have been breeding dogs for hundreds of years. Selecting dogs to create pups with specific characteristics has resulted in a certain amount of inbreeding, allowing disease-causing genes to become widespread in certain breeds. This breeding history also means that all dogs within a breed are very similar genetically. "This makes the search for the specific disease mutations less complex," said Prof Lindblad-Toh."In dogs we can find [disease-causing] genes with only a few hundred sick and healthy dogs, whereas in people thousands of patients and controls are needed." Prof Lindblad-Toh and her colleagues have recently published a study in Genome Biology which has identified four genes that are associated with OCD in dogs. They are currently carrying out studies into whether these genes are also implicated in the human condition.

Super-Cheap Paper Microscope Could Save Millions of Lives – (ABC News – March 24, 2014)
Manu Prakash, a professor at Stanford University and his students have developed a microscope out of a flat sheet of paper, a watch battery, LED, and optical units that when folded together, much like origami, create a functional instrument with the resolution of 800 nanometers – basically magnifying an object up to 2,000 times. Called Foldscope, the microscope is extremely inexpensive to manufacture, costing between fifty-cents and a dollar per instrument. And because the microscope is assembled primarily from paper and optical components the size of a grain of sand, it is virtually indestructible. Foldscope also differs from the microscopes typically found in science labs because it’s not only portable, but it also has the ability to project an image on any surface, allowing a larger group of people the ability to look at an image simultaneously. For millions of people around the world waiting to be diagnosed and treated, this could be a life-saver.

Human Bone Made from Glue – (BBC News – April 11, 2014)
Recipe for a new wonder material: add some glue to a food mixer, whip it up, put it in the oven...and wait. That’s the process for a new type of bone for repairing the body. Grafting artificial bone into people’s bodies can help them heal after injuries, but finding the right material can be tricky. Dr. Karen Hing from Queen Mary University was on a mission to find a substitute for bone that was light and strong. She realized that she could achieve a lightweight honeycomb-like structure by using a plastic derived from the white glue typically used in schools and for woodwork. Article includes interesting video clip of process – no plastic remains in the end product.

The Revival of Cancer Immunotherapy – (Technology Review – April 7, 2014)
New medicines that shrink tumors and have beneficial effects lasting for months to years in some cancer patients are helping breathe new life into an old idea: using a patient’s own immune cells to attack malignant cells. Several drug makers are trying to prove the safety and efficacy of new medicines that harness the body’s own lines of defense. Merck, for one, is testing an immune-modulating compound in patients with metastatic, or spreading, melanoma. Merck’s compound is an antibody, a Y-shaped biological molecule that grabs onto a specific protein. The target protein normally prevents immune cells from attacking cancer. By blocking the activity of that protein, the antibody frees the immune cell to fight the disease. Numerous other pharmaceutical companies are also developing antibodies to release such brakes on the immune system. Although researchers express excitement about the potential for immune-modulating medicines to combat cancer—some experts even use the word “cure”—many caution that it will take time to fully understand how well the treatments are working.

Tamiflu: Drugs Given for Swine Flu Were Waste of £500m – (Telegraph – April 10, 2014)
The drug Tamiflu, given to tens of thousands of people during the swine flu pandemic, does nothing to halt the spread of influenza and the Government wasted nearly £500 million stockpiling it, a major study has found. The review, authored by Oxford University, claims that Roche, the drug’s Swiss manufacturer, gave a “false impression” of its effectiveness and accuses the company of “sloppy science”. Roche claimed at the time of the 2009 swine flu outbreak that trials had shown that it would reduce hospital admissions and complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis or sinusitis. Based on the results, the Department of Health bought around 40 million doses of Tamiflu at a cost of £424 million and prescribed it to around 240,000 people. In 2009, 0.5 per cent of the entire (British) national health budget was spent on the drug. However, researchers from The Cochrane Collaboration, a not-for-profit organization which carries out reviews of health data, found that Tamiflu only cut flu-like symptoms from seven days to 6.3 days and there was no evidence of a reduction in hospital admissions. Eight children who took the drug in Japan ended up committing suicide after suffering psychotic episodes. Other side effects included kidney problems, nausea, vomiting and headaches.


ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES/CLIMATE

This Underwater Computer Will Let Humans and Dolphins Talk to Each Other – (Fast Company – April 14, 2014
This summer in the Bahamas, researchers will test new technology that helps humans get one step closer to communicating with dolphins using a series of whistles that dolphins can easily reproduce. An underwater computer called the CHAT interface will broadcast artificial whistles through speakers, and then, if the dolphins start copying the whistles, will “translate” the sounds back into English. The test is starting small, using whistles for a few toys that dolphins like to play with--seaweed, ropes, and scarves. Since dolphins also use whistles to call each other by name, the machine will also create whistle names for each of the researchers. “CHAT is not magically translating natural dolphin sounds into human words,” explains Denise Herzing, founder of the Wild Dolphin Project, who has been working on the same long-term study of dolphin communication for nearly 30 years. “What CHAT is doing is real-time sound recognition, recognizing pre-programmed artificial whistles that we put in the system. CHAT is essentially looking for a “match” or mimic [of] synthesized whistles.” In the past, cross-species communication was limited by a lot of physical constraints: Dolphins often whistle in ranges that humans can't hear, and even lower tones are hard to distinguish underwater. Researchers can analyze the sounds in the lab later, but can't easily interpret sounds in real time. And since dolphins can't reproduce human words, they obviously can't communicate by talking. The new interface will overcome some of those barriers to test how much dolphins can understand.

Asian Air Pollution Strengthens Pacific Storms – (BBC News – April 14, 2014)
Air pollution in China and other Asian countries is having far-reaching impacts on weather patterns across the Northern Hemisphere, a study suggests. Researchers have found that pollutants are strengthening storms above the Pacific Ocean, which feeds into weather systems in other parts of the world. The effect was most pronounced during the winter. Lead author Yuan Wang, from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, said: "The effects are quite dramatic. The pollution results in thicker and taller clouds and heavier precipitation." Researchers from the US and China used computer models to look at the effect of Asia's pollution on weather systems. "There have also been suggestions that aerosols over the North Atlantic effect storms over the North Atlantic, and that aerosols in the monsoon region over South Asia can affect circulation around the whole of the world."



COMMUNICATIONS/COMPUTING

Nanoelectronic Circuits That Operate More Than 10,000 Times Faster Than Current Microprocessors – (Kurzweil AI – April 14, 2014)
Circuits that can operate at frequencies up to 245 terahertz — tens of thousands times faster than today’s state-of-the-art microprocessors — have been designed and fabricated by researchers at National University of Singapore and Agency for Science, Technology and Research. The new circuits can potentially be used to construct ultra-fast computers or single-molecule detectors in the future, and open up new possibilities in nanoelectronic devices. For example, by changing the molecules in the molecular electronic device, the frequency of the circuits can be altered over hundreds of terahertz. The invention uses a new physical process called “quantum plasmonic tunneling.” Plasmons are collective, ultra-fast oscillations of electrons that can be manipulated by light at the nanoscale.

NSA Said to Exploit Heartbleed Bug for Intelligence for Years – (Bloomberg – April 11, 2014)
The U.S. National Security Agency knew for at least two years about a flaw in the way that many websites send sensitive information, now dubbed the Heartbleed bug, and regularly used it to gather critical intelligence, two people familiar with the matter said. The agency’s reported decision to keep the bug secret in pursuit of national security interests threatens to renew the rancorous debate over the role of the government’s top computer experts. The NSA, after declining to comment on the report, subsequently denied that it was aware of Heartbleed until the vulnerability was made public by a private security report earlier this month. “Reports that NSA or any other part of the government were aware of the so-called Heartbleed vulnerability before 2014 are wrong,” according to an e-mailed statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. As Mother Jones points out – whether or not the NSA knew about the bug – the Heartbleed episode makes it look bad: “I’m honestly not sure which would be worse. That the NSA knew about this massive bug that threatened havoc for millions of Americans and did nothing about it for two years. Or that the NSA’s vaunted—and lavishly funded—cybersecurity team was completely in the dark about a gaping and highly-exploitable hole in the operational security of the internet for two years. It’s frankly hard to see any way the NSA comes out of this episode looking good.”

Einstein’s Skepticism about Quantum Mechanics May Lead to Ultra-secure Internet – (Kurzweil AI – March 31, 2014)
Associate Professor Margaret Reid from Swinburne’s Center for Quantum and Optical Science said Einstein’s reservations about quantum mechanics were highlighted in a phenomenon known as “spooky action at a distance,” which is the strange way entangled particles stay connected even when separated by large distances. “Until now the real application of this has been for messages being shared between two people securely without interception, regardless of the spatial separation between them,” Reid said. “In this paper, we give theoretical proof that such messages can be shared between more than two people and may provide unprecedented security for a future quantum internet.” In the 1990s, scientists realized you can securely transmit a message through encrypting and using a shared key generated by entanglement to decode the message from the sender and receiver. Sending entanglement to a larger number of people means the key can be distributed among all the receiving parties, so they must collaborate to decipher the message, which Reid said makes the message even more secure. “We found that a secure message can be shared by up to three to four people, opening the possibility to the theory being applicable to secure messages being sent from many to many. “The message will also remain secure if the devices receiving the message have been tampered with, because of the nature of entanglement.” However, “this proof is at the fundamental theoretical level only and has not yet been experimentally observed,” Reid explained.

New “Cloak” App Helps You Avoid Friends. Have We Reached the Anti-Facebook Era? – (Daily Beast – April 24, 2014)
The turf war for social media top dog has never been more ferocious, with new apps encouraging us to update the world on our lives’ minutiae being launched daily. But, mercifully, there’s a new creation willing us to embrace our anti-social sides: Cloak, the app that tells you where your friends are so that you can avoid them at all costs. Cloak works by pulling in geo-data from people’s Instagram and Foursquare accounts, pinning users down to whichever street they’re posting from (and thereby enabling you to dodge them completely). The social-convention-crushing idea arose after co-creator Brian Moore inadvertently intercepted his ex-girlfriend four times in six months. A number of recently launched apps are claiming to emulate those same sentiments espoused by Cloak; a means of escaping the “share everything” mentality that’s become so intrinsic to Generation Y. But when you look a little closer, they too are simply trying to trade off of our apparent need for incessant public sharing – in spite of their claims to the contrary. (Editor’s note: The pitch is that you can use this to avoid running into those you wish to avoid. But, as someone pointed out, it can just as easily be used to track – or even stalk – your “friends”.)



SHELTER/ARCHITECTURE

Photos of Fukushima's Post-Apocalyptic Abandoned Landscape--Taken By Drone – (Fast Company – April 11, 2014)
Local governments near the destroyed Fukushima nuclear reactors still operate in exile three years after the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan. As workers dig up radioactive soil, high weeds grow over cars and demolished buildings. But getting high-resolution images of the cleanup progress is a challenge. Satellite imagery alone doesn’t tell the whole story. And actually going in person for more than a few hours is not advisable. That’s why, last year, a humanitarian drone group teamed up with University of Tokyo researchers to see how unmanned aerial vehicles might be able to capture the landscape. From an abandoned school baseball field and train station parking lot, the team launched a drone to help map three towns roughly equidistant from the reactors. The high-resolution images captured by the drone, however, show fields destroyed by wild boars and hundreds of bright blue bags of radioactive soil organized in neat rectangular patches. Japan’s rambunctious wild boar population has drawn much public attention in recent years for causing damage to human property, but Furuhashi and Klaptocz were still surprised to see how much they had affected the nuclear landscape. But while the drone technology is helpful, it still leaves much to be desired, Furuhashi says. The professor hopes to combine panoramic imaging and radiation mapping with the drone technology to cover new areas. He’s now working with Mozilla on a mobile bus that can launch more drone mapping projects in Fukushima. 



ENERGY DEVELOPMENTS

We Could Power All 50 States With Wind, Solar and Hydro – (Washington’s Blog – March 24, 2014)
Mark Diesendorf, Associate Professor and Deputy Director, Institute of Environmental Studies, at the University of New South Wales, notes: The deniers and scoffers repeatedly utter the simplistic myth that renewable energy is intermittent and therefore cannot generate base-load (that is, 24-hour) power. Detailed computer simulations, backed up with actual experience with wind power overseas, show that the scoffers are wrong. Several countries, including Australia with its huge renewable energy resources, could make the necessary transition to an electricity generation system comprising 100% renewable energy over a few decades. Similarly, Dr. Mark Jacobson – the head of Stanford University’s Atmosphere and Energy Program, who has written numerous books and hundreds of scientific papers on climate and energy, and testified before Congress numerous times on those issues – has run a series of computer simulations based on actual historical energy usage data. Jacobson has now developed specific plans for each of the 50 states on how to do it. Click on a state to see the specific energy mix which Dr. Jacobson’s team has found would provide 100% sustainable energy.

World’s First Self-Cleaning Solar Park – (Nation of Change – April 5, 2014)
One of the biggest challenges to increasing solar panel efficiency is keeping panels clean, especially in locations where there is much sun to be harnessed. Now, in Kibbutz Ketura, an arid desert in Israel, a huge solar farm has increased its sun-gathering power by 35% utilizing 100 robots that nightly wash panels clean boosting their solar power. The sun-powered robots are timed to clean a 20-acre solar farm jointly owned by Siemens AG and solar energy pioneer, Arava Power. Cleaning the dust from solar panels results in better energy capture, and facilitates the creation of 9 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. Every night they roll down the panels, brushing off dust and debris, powered themselves by the sun. The ‘soiling’ of solar panels, an industry term that refers to panels losing their efficiency over time due to grime accumulation, is a big problem since often where there is lots of sun, there is also lots of sand. Normally, panels must be cleaned with water – a commodity which is hard to come by in the desert. Keeping huge solar arrays clean is one of the hurdles the solar industry has been seeking to overcome to be more competitive with other energy sources. 

BlackLight Power Announces Sustained Production of Electricity Using Photovoltaic Conversion of Brilliant Plasma – (Yahoo News – April 3, 2014)
BlackLight Power, Inc. has achieved sustained electricity production from a primary new energy source by using photovoltaic technology to transform brilliant plasma, with power comprising millions of watts of light, directly into electricity. By applying a very high current through its proprietary water-based solid fuel technology, water ignites into brilliant plasma that has a power density of over 1,000,000 times that of any prior controllable reaction. BlackLight Power has now successfully converted the brilliant plasma directly into electricity using photovoltaic cells (solar cells). Simply replacing the consumed H2O regenerated the fuel, and the fuel can be continuously fed into the electrodes to continuously output optical power that can be converted into electricity. This safe, non-polluting power-producing system catalytically converts the hydrogen of the H2O-based solid fuel into a non-polluting ... lower-energy state hydrogen called “Hydrino,” by allowing the electrons to fall to smaller radii around the nucleus. The energy release is 200 times that of burning the equivalent amount of hydrogen with oxygen. The device which uses readily available components is less than a cubic foot in volume.

What Is the Optimal Size of a Power Grid? – (Kurzweil AI – April 14, 2014)
David Newman, a physicist at the University of Alaska, believes that smaller grids would reduce the likelihood of severe outages, such as the 2003 Northeast blackout that cut power to 50 million people in the United States and Canada for up to two days. Currently, North America has three power grids that transmit electricity from hundreds of power plants to millions of consumers. Each grid is huge, because the more power plants and power lines in a grid, the better it can even out local variations in the supply and demand or respond if some part of the grid goes down. But large grids are vulnerable to the rare but significant possibility of a grid-wide blackout like the one in 2003, when overloaded transmission lines hit unpruned foliage in Ohio, combined with a software bug a power-plant alarm system. “The problem is that grids run close to the edge of their capacity because of economic pressures. Electric companies want to maximize profits, so they don’t invest in more equipment than they need,” Newman said. In their new paper, the researchers ask the question: What is the optimal size of a grid – one large enough to share power efficiently but small enough to prevent enormous blackouts? The team based its analysis on the Western United States grid, which has more than 16,000 nodes. Nodes include generators, substations, and transformers.  


TRANSPORTATION

Navy Powers Model Plane Using Fuel Made from Sea Water – (GizMag – April 9, 2014)
Although no one is saying that aircraft carriers will soon be able to fuel their jet fighters using water from the ocean, such a scenario has recently come a step closer to reality. Scientists from the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) have successfully flown a radio-controlled airplane that was running purely on fuel derived from sea water. The fuel was obtained using NRL's gas-to-liquid technology. This involved running sea water through the group's E-CEM (electrolytic cation exchange module) Carbon Capture Skid, which removed carbon dioxide from the water at 92% efficiency while simultaneously producing hydrogen as part of the process. Using a metal catalyst in a separate reactor system, the CO2 and hydrogen gases were then converted into a liquid hydrocarbon fuel. For more details, see US Navy Can Convert Sea Water into Fuel. (Editor’s note: There is no information as to how much energy was required to convert the water into fuel, but this an interesting proof of concept.)

A Low-cost Vehicle That Gets 84 Miles Per Gallon – (SmartPlanet – April 2, 2014)
Elio Motors has designed a three-wheeled vehicle that gets 84 miles/gallon. With an eight-gallon tank it can get more than 670 miles in one fill up. The car's price tag: $6,800. Elio said "We’re creating an entirely new industry segment that appeals to people who want a low-cost, highly efficient mode of transportation, but still want to own a unique vehicle that will turn some heads. The Elio gives people the best of both worlds." The vehicle has a maximum speed of 100 miles per hour and accelerates from 0-60 miles per hour in 9.6 seconds. Elio Motors plans for the first vehicles to roll off the production line in 2015. While it's a fascinating concept, it's not clear if a low-cost car, especially one with minimal interior space will catch on in the United States. One recent example of an ultra-cheap car, from Tata Motors, was a flop in India. There are numerous reasons for this, including an abysmal safety rating. Elio Motors seems to have already taken note, with the company saying it's building the vehicle with the expectation that it will receive a five-star safety rating. Elio also has a very specific consumer it hopes to attract: people who drive alone to work, especially people in families that already have one large car. That's a smart consumer to target in the United States since about 80% of commuters drive alone. Whether consumers think it's smart for them remains to be seen, but more than 14,000 people have already reserved the vehicle. See Elio Motors website. (Editor’s note: Think of the Elio as the inverse of the Tesla Model S.... now if only they could team up on their sales process!)



AGRICULTURE/FOOD

Jean-Martin Fortier: A Model for Profitable Micro-Farming – (Peak Prosperity – March 29, 2014)
As we awaken to the realities in store for us in a future defined by declining net energy, concerns about food security, adequate nutrition, community resilience, and reliable income commonly arise. Small-scale farming usually quickly surfaces as a pursuit that could help address all of these. Yet most dismiss the idea of becoming farmers themselves; mainly because of lack of prior experience, coupled with lack of capital. It simply feels too risky. Enter Jean-Martin Fortier and his wife, Maude-Hélène. They are a thirtysomething couple who have been farming successfully for the past decade. In fact, they've been micro-farming: their entire growing operations happen on just an acre and half of land. And with this small plot, they feed over 200 families. And do so profitably. They have published a book, The Market Gardener, which is nothing short of an operating manual for their entire business. In it, they reveal exactly what they grow, how they grow it, what tools and farming practices they use, who their customers are, what they charge them, and how much profit they take home at the end of the day.

US Bacon Prices Rise: Virus Kills Baby Pigs – (Philly – April 8, 2014)
A virus never before seen in the U.S. has killed millions of baby pigs in less than a year and, with little known about how it spreads or how to stop it, it's threatening pork production and pushing up prices by 10 percent or more. Scientists think porcine epidemic diarrhea, which does not infect humans or other animals, came from China, but they don't know how it got into the country or spread to 27 states since last May. China has seen repeated outbreaks since the 1980s. The federal government is looking into how such viruses might spread, while the pork industry, wary of future outbreaks, has committed $1.7 million to research the disease.

Brazil’s Federal Public Prosecutor Attorney General Demands Ban on all Glycoside Poisons (such as Roundup) – (Nation of Change – April 11, 2014)
Recently, the Federal Appeals Court in Brazil unanimously decided to cancel Bayer’s Liberty Link GM Maize. Thanks to the BRICs nations, biotech just might get a run for their money and have to stop poisoning the world. Now the Federal Prosecutor has asked for all glyphosate herbicide use to be suspended due to questions about its chemical makeup. The Prosecutor is calling into question 2,4-D as well as the active ingredients methyl parathion, lactofem, phorate, carbofuran, abamectin, tiram, and paraquat because the inactive ingredients can be just as, if not more toxic. A study published in Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology entitled, “The effect of metabolites and impurities of glyphosate on human erythrocytes (in vitro),” explains just how RoundUp chemicals are invading our human blood.



SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE

NSA Surveillance Program Reaches ‘into the Past’ to Retrieve, Replay Phone Calls – (Washington Post – March 18, 2014)
The National Security Agency has built a surveillance system capable of recording “100 percent” of a foreign country’s telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and review conversations as long as a month after they take place, according to people with direct knowledge of the effort and documents supplied by former contractor Edward Snowden. A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine — one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance. The voice interception program, called MYSTIC, began in 2009. Its RETRO tool, short for “retrospective retrieval,” and related projects reached full capacity against the first target nation in 2011. Planning documents two years later anticipated similar operations elsewhere. In the initial deployment, collection systems are recording “every single” conversation nationwide, storing billions of them in a 30-day rolling buffer that clears the oldest calls as new ones arrive, according to a classified summary. Analysts listen to only a fraction of 1% of the calls, but the absolute numbers are high. Each month, they send millions of voice clippings, or “cuts,” for processing and long-term storage. At the request of U.S. officials, The Washington Post is withholding details that could be used to identify the country where the system is being employed or other countries where its use was envisioned. See also this article that makes a case that the country in question may be the US.

The Federal Bureau of Incompetence – (Esquire – April 11, 2014)
A recent hearing before the House Committee on Homeland Security in Washington raised more questions than answers because the FBI wouldn't give answers. "Why would they be accountable to ‘60 Minutes' or the Globe or whoever when they aren't even accountable to Congress?" asks Bill Keating, the Massachusetts congressman who sits on that committee. Keating watched the "60 Minutes" episode and almost fell off his chair because the FBI had been ducking Congress by suggesting they didn't want to compromise the investigation into the bombing or Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's upcoming trial. "We asked the FBI to come before our committee three times, and they refused," Keating told me. "And then I see them on TV pointing at one of the Tsarnaev brothers in a surveillance photo . . . So they can go on TV, but they can't go before Congress?" Why did the FBI slow-play the local cops on what the Russians told them about the elder Tsarnaev? They're not talking, not even to Congress, which really ought not to be optional at this point. In fact, the whole thing stinks of bureaucratic empire building and ass-covering. The New York Times ran a Bureau-centric piece in which the FBI's inspector general blamed the Russians, not for refusing to share information on Tsarnaev, but refusing to share enough information about him. (It must be nice to have the Russians to blame for things again.)



TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE

Man Films Local Officers’ Attempt to Intimidate Him Under False Pretenses - (KMOV – March 12, 2014)
A north St. Louis man claims he was unfairly handcuffed and detained by St. Louis Metropolitan Police. Terry Robinson, 21, said officers saw him outside in the Blair neighborhood, handcuffed him and pretended to drive back to the police station. Robinson caught the conversation inside the police cruiser on his cell phone. Robinson has been arrested before and is currently on probation.  He said he promised his mother that, if she got him a good lawyer, he would stay out of trouble. He is reportedly back in school and working to turn his life around. If he gets in trouble again, he faces at least nine years in prison. He said for weeks, two officers have been harassing him, claiming they want him to give up a name of anyone they can plant a gun on or else they’ll arrest him. Robinson said they made it very clear what they’d do if he didn’t give up a name.  “If you don’t give me anything in the next 24-hours then I’ll write this case up as you ran from me but you got away. But I know who you are and you had this gun.”

The New Washington War Machine – (Daily Iowan – April 8, 2014)
In Washington, Iowa, the local police have recently acquired an MRAP vehicle (short for Mine Resistance Ambush Protected) through a Defense Department program that donates excess vehicles originally produced for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to local police departments across the United States, including other Iowa towns such as Mason City and Storm Lake. The MRAP weighs an impressive 49,000 pounds, stands 10-feet tall, and possesses a whopping six-wheel drive. Originally designed to resist landmines and IEDs, it sure seems like the MRAP will come in handy for the notorious war zone otherwise known as Washington County, Iowa. If you’re having a bad day, I highly recommend watching a video produced by the Des Moines Register in which Washington police officials try to justify the possession of a vehicle it clearly has no use for. The excuses range from school shootings (which are an actual concern but an MRAP seems like overkill) to a terrorist attack happening in central Iowa (because if there’s any place that seems ripe for a high-profile terrorist attack it’s Washington, Iowa, population 7,000). This highlights several disturbing trends in the American cultural landscape. Most blatantly, the collective paranoia that’s gripped post-9/11 America so tightly that small-town Iowa police officers are convinced that, any minute, the whole state could become engulfed in some Red Dawn-style conflict that would require the use of a device such as the MRAP. But, a little more subtly, this incident reflects the out-of-control militarization of the police that’s been occurring across small towns and big cities from Los Angeles to Waterville, Maine. How else can you explain the rise in police shootings since 9/11?

Behind Closed Doors, the Pentagon Is Talking about America's 'War' in Africa – (AlterNet – April 14, 2014)
For years, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has maintained a veil of secrecy about much of the command’s activities and mission locations, consistently downplaying the size, scale, and scope of its efforts.   At a recent Pentagon press conference, AFRICOM Commander General David Rodriguez adhered to the typical mantra, assuring the assembled reporters that the United States “has little forward presence” on that continent. Just days earlier, however, the men building the Pentagon’s presence there were telling a very different story -- but they weren’t speaking with the media. They were speaking to representatives of some of the biggest military engineering firms on the planet. They were planning for the future and the talk was of war. Captain Rick Cook, the chief of U.S. Africa Command’s Engineer Division, was one of three U.S. military construction officials who, earlier this month, spoke candidly about the Pentagon’s efforts in Africa to men and women from URS Corporation, AECOM, CH2M Hill, and other top firms.  During a paid-access web seminar, the three of them insisted that they were seeking industry “partners” because the military has “big plans” for the continent.  They foretold a future marked by expansion, including the building up of a “permanent footprint” in Djibouti for the next decade or more, a possible new compound in Niger, and a string of bases devoted to surveillance activities spreading across the northern tier of Africa.  They even let slip mention of a small, previously unacknowledged U.S. compound in Mali. 



GLOBAL RELATIONS

Undocumented Migrants in Venezuela Have More Rights than US Citizens in the US – (Global Research – April 13, 2014)
Venezuela has the third highest number of migrants in Latin America, according to El Carabobeno. A 2011 World Bank study also put Venezuela in second place in the region for number of refugees, though the line between migrants and refugees is sometimes hard to draw, as many Colombians flee a range of factors, from violence to political repression, to economic hardship. Venezuela also has more migrants than emigrants. A 2011 study by Ivan de la Vega for the Central University of Venezuela estimated the number of Venezuelans living overseas to be 1.2 million, while the World Bank in 2010 only registered 521,620. Either way, the number is well below the number of foreigners living in Venezuela, with an estimated 4.5 million Colombians. Under the Bolivarian government, migrants’ rights have significantly improved. “Foreigners in the territory of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela will have the same rights as nationals, without any limitations,” reads article 13 of the migration law, passed by the Chavez government in 2003. (This includes realistic access to education and medical care.) Foreigners residing in Venezuela without documents could legalize their stay and become “indefinite residents”. Venezuela has been taking concrete, though slow and small steps, towards a united Latin America based on cooperation between regions, and where borders either don’t exist, or are less prohibitive, and where no one is “illegal”.



LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES

Your Coffee Pods’ Dirty Secret – (Mother Jones – March 19, 2014)
According to a survey by the National Coffee Association, nearly 1 in 5 adults drank single-cup-brewed coffee yesterday, making it the second most popular way to brew after the traditional drip methods—and far more popular than espresso machines. But critics warn that the packaging needed for these systems comes with environmental and health-related costs. By making each pod so individualized, and so easy to dispose of, you must also exponentially increase the packaging—packaging that ultimately ends up in landfills. (And that's to say nothing of the brewing systems which, if broken, aren't that easy to recycle either.)  In 2013, Keurig Green Mountain produced 8.3 billion K-Cups, enough to wrap around the equator 10.5 times. Another reason to look beyond plastic is a concern with what could leach out of the material when heated. A spokesperson for the company confirmed that the #7 plastic used in K-Cups is BPA-free, safe, and "meets or exceeds applicable FDA standards." But new evidence suggests that even non-BPA plastics can test positive for estrogenic activity. By the way, The New York Times did a comprehensive analysis of the actual price of single-brew coffee, and determined that it ends up costing more than $50 a pound, even for standard brands like Folgers.

We're All Paying for Student Loan Defaults and the Incredible Cost of U.S. Higher Education – (AlterNet – April 8, 2014)
Parents are increasingly struggling to repay federal loans they've taken out to help cover their children's college costs, according to newly released federal data. The Parent Plus program allows parents to take out essentially uncapped amounts to cover college costs, regardless of the borrower's income or ability to repay the loan. As the cost of college has risen, the program has become an increasingly critical workaround for families that max out on federal student loans and can't pay the rest out of pocket. Education Department officials have long said that they simply don't have figures on how many of the loans were in default. But the agency has finally run some numbers. The data shows that default rates, while still modest, have nearly tripled over the last four years. About 5% of loans originated in fiscal year 2010 were in default three years later. The default rate at for-profit colleges is much higher, at 13%. Overall, there is about $62 billion in outstanding debt from Parent Plus, according to the new data. The average Parent Plus loan borrower owes about $20,300. The availability of easy money puts families in a difficult place, leaving them to choose between taking on debt that they may struggle to repay and curtailing what they believe to be their child's best shot at building a future. The program can wind up not only overburdening parents, but also taxpayers when the government isn't able to recoup what it loaned.



CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE

Astronomers Find Possible Evidence of First Observed Exomoon – (Nature World News – April 12, 2014)
A rare cosmic opportunity allowed astronomers to detect what may be the first signs of an exomoon - a satellite orbiting an as-of-now unknown planet beyond our solar system. The specific observation, however, were a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - a chance encounter of objects in our galaxy. But astronomers do expect to come upon similar events in the future. "We won't have a chance to observe the exomoon candidate again," David Bennett of the University of Notre Dame, said in a statement issued by NASA. "But we can expect more unexpected finds like this." The observation was the result of an astronomy technique known as gravitational microlensing, which takes advantage of chance alignments between stars. When this happens, the foreground star acts as a magnifying glass, intensifying the light emitted from the more distant one. Events like these usually are observable from Earth for about one month.

Earthrise: The 45th Anniversary – (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center – 2013)
Watch the story of the Earth’s most famous photograph.



STATISTICS/DEMOGRAPHICS

Global Rankings Study Depicts an America in Warp Speed Decline – (AlterNet – April 8, 2014)
Harvard business professor Michael E. Porter, who earlier developed the Global Competitiveness Report, designed the Social Progress Index (SPI). A new way to look at the success of countries, the SPI studies 132 nations and evaluates 54 social and environmental indicators for each country. Rather than measuring a country’s success by its per capita GDP, the index is based on an array of data reflecting suicide, ecosystem sustainability, property rights, access to healthcare and education, gender equality, attitudes toward immigrants and minorities, religious freedom, nutrition, infrastructure and more. New Zealand is ranked in first place in social progress. Interestingly, it ranks only 25th on GDP per capita, which means the island of the long white cloud is doing a far better job than America when it comes to meeting the need of its people. In order, the top 10 is rounded out by Switzerland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Denmark and Australia. Unsurprisingly these nations all happen to rank highly in the 2013 U.N. World Happiness Report with Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden among the top five. While the U.S. enjoys the second highest per capita GDP of $45,336, it ranks in 16th place overall. It gets worse. The U.S. ranks 70th in health, 69th in ecosystem sustainability, 39th in basic education, 34th in access to water and sanitation and 31st in personal safety. So, what of the U.S? In terms of happiness, the U.S. ranks 17th, trailing Mexico. Access the original report. (Editor’s note: Ignore the political “perspective” of the article’s author and just go for the facts. If you have the time, read the original report.)



NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES

Narrative Clip: Wearable Lifelogging Camera – (GizMag – April 9, 2014)
In October 2012, a device called Memoto raised its Kickstarter goal of US$50,000 in under 5 hours and went on to raise over $550,000. Memoto went into production and began shipping in November 2013. Now called Narrative Clip, the device is a wearable lifelogging camera and a smash Kickstarter success. It is designed to be clipped onto clothing or placed standing up somewhere and it takes a photo every 30 seconds. If the lens is visible, it is taking photos. To turn the device off, users need only place it face down on a surface. But, in real life, is it any good? Here’s a review.

Neil Young's Long Fight to Restore the Quality of Music – (Mashable – April 12, 2014)
Neil Young has been disappointed by the sound of his own music for more than 30 years. Back in 1982, Young listened to some of his songs on a CD for the first time and couldn't help but "question what had happened" to the sound quality. CDs had just come to market that year and some, like Young, believed there was a noticeable drop in quality from vinyl and certainly from what was heard in the recording studio. That fidelity only worsened in the years that followed as the industry shifted to mp3 downloads and streaming music. About three years ago, Young started laying the foundation for a standalone company called PonoMusic (pono means "righteousness" in Hawaiian) that would develop an ecosystem for high-quality digital music. The first product, a Toblerone-shaped device, would let users store 1,000-2,000 digital albums of studio master quality music that would be purchased through a dedicated online marketplace. In essence, it would function like an iPod to give music listeners of all types access to the sweet, full sounds of vinyl or better. Even by recent Kickstarter standards, the Pono campaign started in March has a jaw-dropping number of stars. In a promo video, Arcade Fire, Tom Petty, Norah Jones, Eddie Vedder, David Crosby and others all talk about the ear-opening experience of using Pono for the first time. The Pono Kickstarter campaign hit its $800,000 funding goal in just one day. The campaign is now closing in on $6 million from more than 17,000 backers, making it the third most successful Kickstarter campaign ever. The next step for PonoMusic will be to make good on delivering pre-ordered devices starting in October as well as to build up its content library of high-quality tracks provided by the major and independent labels. Beyond that, the company is evaluating whether and how to innovate with home stereo systems to car systems. The team argues that the Kickstarter campaign is validation that there is a market for high-quality music beyond just a handful of audiophiles. But not all industry execs agree.



ECONOMY/FINANCE/BUSINESS

Here are 6 Countries That Are Experimenting How to Make Workers' Lives Better – (AlterNet – April 14, 2014)
Study after study has demonstrated that the U.S. lags far behind most European countries when it comes to paid vacation, sick days, work-life balance, labor conditions for women and much more. Recent initiatives in France and Sweden have brought these stark differences into the spotlight. Here are six countries that have pursued innovative approaches to improving workers’ lives. The U.S. ought to take a close, hard look at them. For example: limiting after-work emails. Last week, labor unions and corporations announced an agreement to disconnect the communication tools of those working in consulting, computing and polling after they finished working. While the agreement is not a law, it will impact about 250,000 people. Each company would implement their own way of living up to the agreement. A company could shut down email servers or just ask employees not to check their work email. While the French agreement has captured a lot of attention, there is a precedent for it in Germany. In 2011, the German car company Volkswagen began to shut off its Blackberry servers at the end of the work day. BMW and Puma implemented similar policies. And last year, the German Labor Ministry banned after-work emails except for emergencies or if the task cannot wait for the next day.


PROVOCATIVE IDEAS

Growing Evidence That Autism Is Linked to Pollution (Time, March 14, 2014)
A new study offers strong evidence that environmental toxins play a role in autism. The report looked at birth defects associated with parental exposure to pollution and found a 1% increase in the defects corresponded to a 283% increase in autism. Several studies have shown a link between air pollution and autism, but a new study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology is one of the largest to put the two together. Researchers studied insurance claims from around 100 million people in the U.S., and used congenital malformations in boys as an indicator for parental exposure to environmental toxins. “Autism appears to be strongly correlated with [the] rate of congenital malformations of the genitals in males across the country. This gives an indicator of environmental load and the effect is surprisingly strong,” study author Andrey Rzhetsky from the University of Chicago said in a statement. Every 1% increase in malformations corresponded to a 283% increase in autism in the same county. Although the findings are still new, the researchers say they offer support for the theory that environmental pollutants, in addition to genetics, play a role in the development of autism.

Awakening Is Not a Metaphor: The Effects of Buddhist Meditation Practices on Basic Wakefulness – (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences – December 26, 2013)
From the article’s abstract: Buddhist meditation practices have become a topic of widespread interest in both science and medicine. Traditional Buddhist formulations describe meditation as a state of relaxed alertness that must guard against both excessive hyperarousal (restlessness) and excessive hypoarousal (drowsiness, sleep). Modern applications of meditation have emphasized the hypoarousing and relaxing effects without as much emphasis on the arousing or alertness-promoting effects. In an attempt to counterbalance the plethora of data demonstrating the relaxing and hypoarousing effects of Buddhist meditation, this interdisciplinary review aims to provide evidence of meditation's arousing or wake-promoting effects by drawing both from Buddhist textual sources and from scientific studies, including subjective, behavioral, and neuroimaging studies during wakefulness, meditation, and sleep. Factors that may influence whether meditation increases or decreases arousal are discussed, with particular emphasis on dose, expertise, and contemplative trajectory. The course of meditative progress suggests a nonlinear multiphasic trajectory, such that early phases that are more effortful may produce more fatigue and sleep propensity, while later stages produce greater wakefulness as a result of neuroplastic changes and more efficient processing.



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

Squirrel Blamed for $300K Damage to Indiana Building – (ABC News – April 12, 2014)
Officials say a wayward squirrel caused about $300,000 in damage to an eastern Indiana community center set to open in June. Fort Wayne Parks Department officials say the squirrel got into the electrical equipment of the building in McMillen Park last week, causing a power surge that damaged the heating and air conditioning systems and some parts of the boiler system. The squirrel didn't survive. The repairs will be covered by insurance, minus the Park Department's $50,000 deductible. The project - transforming the former McMillen Ice Arena into a community centre with basketball courts, an indoor track and other facilities – has an overall budget of $2 million.



JUST FOR FUN

Journey North – (Annenberg Lerner website – no date)
If you are curious about the status of the northward migration of monarch butterflies, ruby-throated hummingbirds or American robins this spring, there is a wonderful organization and website that you should be aware of: Journey North. They recruit citizen scientists throughout the U.S. to report sightings of certain selected species. Journey North then posts these sightings on their website, making it possible for anyone to see exactly how far each of these species has advanced in their migration north. Sightings are clumped into two week periods of time, allowing you to see not only where the birds or butterflies are currently, but how long it’s taken them to get there. A North American map for each species has sightings color-coded by date, allowing you to follow their progress closely. Migratory information on other songbirds, Whooping Cranes, Gray Whales and much more is also available. (Editor’s note: For those interested in a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England, we also highly recommend the free blog Naturally Curious with Mary Holland.)



A FINAL QUOTE--

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. -- Max Planck



A special thanks to: Frank DeMarco, 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.
johnp@arlingtoninstitute.org




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Edited by John L. Petersen
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Publication Date:
04/15/2014