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Volume 21, Number 22 - 11/15/18 Twitter  Facebook  JLP Blog  


FUTURE FACTS - FROM THINK LINKS

DID YOU KNOW THAT--
  • Dark roast coffee and espresso protect against Alzheimer's and Parkinson's better than light roast coffee.
  • Faster government spending, particularly on military, accounted for nearly half of acceleration in economic growth since mid-2017.
  • Altruists make more money and have more kids
  • Using Wi-Fi to “see” behind closed doors is easier than anyone thought.


PUNCTUATIONS
by John L. Petersen

Top Secret Psychic Spy coming to TransitionTalks
November 17th in Berkeley Springs



Forty years ago, the US (and other countries), used highly trained and sensitive psychics to spy on the Soviet Union, China and other countries. The program was VERY successful. It turned out the “remote viewers” could see, hear, smell and feel almost anywhere else in the world . . . from their operations center outside of Washington, DC.

One of the top remote viewers was Paul H. Smith, who went on to form the foremost training program for remote viewers – an initiative that continues on today – is coming to Berkeley Springs on Saturday, the 17th of November.

An Army major at the time and now a PhD, Paul has extraordinary stories to tell about “Project Stargate” and will be explaining how it all worked – and then lead all attendees in a remote viewing exercise to give you a chance to test your psychic skills.

This will be an extraordinary opportunity to look into one of the country’s most highly classified projects, learn what skilled psychics can really do, and take a lesson in testing your own psychic skills.

Opportunities like this almost never come to TransitionTalks, so don’t miss this chance to explore the practical applications of refined extrasensory sense with one of the best people on the planet that teach the skill.

Watch this brief interview I just had with Paul about his upcoming talk.



Get complete details at TransitionTalks.org, along with information on local lodging and restaurants.


Our e-Magazine has complete information on our TransitionTalks series with articles from past speakers
Gregg Braden, Joe Dispenza & Bruce Lipton:




New Energy: The Linchpin to Unprecedented Change and the Emergence of a New Era by John Petersen

1 hour and 10-minute presentation by John Petersen on downloadable digital video:

This is a dynamic presentation showing you the path that mankind is on and how a new human being is emerging.

Get the complete details here.










THINK LINKS



INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

World's First AI News Anchor Unveiled in China – (Guardian - November, 2018)
China’s state news agency Xinhua has introduced the newest members of its newsroom: AI anchors who will report “tirelessly” all day every day, from anywhere in the country. Chinese viewers were greeted with a digital version of a regular Xinhua news anchor named Qiu Hao. The anchor, wearing a red tie and pin-striped suit, nods his head in emphasis, blinking and raising his eyebrows slightly. Xinhua also presented an English-speaking AI, (video clip in article) based on another presenter, who adds: “The development of the media industry calls for continuous innovation and deep integration with the international advanced technologies … I look forward to bringing you brand new news experiences.” Developed by Xinhua and the Chinese search engine, Sogou, the anchors were developed through machine learning to simulate the voice, facial movements, and gestures of real-life broadcasters, to present a “a lifelike image instead of a cold robot,” according to Xinhua. The broadcasters made their debut during China’s annual World Internet Conference, an event meant to be China’s Davos for the tech sector as well as a platform for China’s vision of the internet. At the conference in Wuzhen in southern China, attendees saw their photos flash on a screen as soon as they passed through security checks using facial recognition. In a session on fintech, companies discussed cooperating with law enforcement, providing information for negligent citizens to be put on social credit blacklists. “We are an important advocate for peace in cyberspace and a guardian of order,” said Huang Kunming, head of Communist Party’s propaganda department, speaking at the event. “China stands ready to safeguard the sound order of cyberspace.” See also: Inside Shanghai's Robot Bank: China Opens World's First Human-free Branch.



GENETICS/HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/BIOTECHNOLOGY

Three Paralyzed Patients Walk Again With Breakthrough Spinal Cord Implant – (IFL Science – November 2, 2018)
Ever since scientists established that instructions from our brains to our limbs are transmitted as electrical signals through the spinal cord, people have wondered whether we could bypass the damage caused in accidents. Putting the idea into practice has been much harder, but several labs have been able to get rats with severed spinal cords walking again. Now Lausanne University Hospital has announced a similar achievement in humans. Dr Jocelyne Bloch inserted implants into three patients to activate leg muscles. "All the patients could walk using body weight support within one week. I knew immediately that we were on the right path,” Bloch said. “The work is not just a matter of providing a path that carries the electrical signals from the brain to the legs. “The targeted stimulation must be as precise as a Swiss watch.” Bloch and colleagues mapped the parts of the spinal cord responsible for each movement that combines to allow us to walk, and established the sequence of electrical pulses that would make these occur. They then used messages coming from the brain down the undamaged part of the spinal cord to trigger the necessary signals below the injury. The triggering of neglected nerves encourages the building of connections to replace those that were lost. Participants in other trails who started walking through the use of electrical stimulation slipped backwards once intensive therapy stopped. Two of the three participants in the Lausanne trial, however, held onto the gains they had made when left to continue alone. Trials by other researchers this year also usually required longer periods of concerted training to achieve their benefits. For people with spinal injuries and limited access to rehabilitation facilities, these differences will matter. So far none of the participants are walking more than a few meters unaided, and all three had residual movement prior to the operation. One had previously been able to shuffle, while another could move one leg but not the other. All three showed major improvements afterward, but the greatest test of the technology will be whether it will benefit those with no current leg movement.

Llama Blood Clue to Beating All Flu – (BBC News – November 2, 2018)
Llamas have been used to produce a new antibody therapy that has the potential to work against all types of flu, including new pandemics. Influenza is the ultimate shape-shifter, constantly mutating its appearance to evade our immune system. That is why a new flu jab is needed each winter and why the vaccine sometimes misses the mark. Science is on the hunt for a way to kill all types of flu, no matter the strain or how much it mutates. That's where the llama, better known for its wool, comes in. The animals produce incredibly tiny antibodies in comparison to our own. Antibodies are weapons of the immune system and they bind to the proteins that stick out from the surface of a virus. Human antibodies tend to attack the tips of those proteins, but that's the part influenza mutates most readily. Llama antibodies use their size advantage to wriggle a little bit deeper and attack the parts that flu cannot change. The team at the Scripps Institute in California infected llamas with multiple types of flu to provoke an immune response. They then scoured llama blood for the most potent antibodies that could attack a wide range of flu strains. They picked four, and then built their own synthetic antibody that used elements from each. It was tested on mice, which were given deadly doses of influenza. Prof Ian Wilson, one of the researchers, said: "It's very effective, there were 60 different viruses that were used in the challenge and only one wasn't neutralized and that's a virus that doesn't infect humans. "The goal here is to provide something that would work from season to season, and also protect you from possible pandemics should they emerge." The work is very early stage research and the team will do more tests before starting human trials.

These Flatworms Can Regrow a Body From a Fragment. How Do They Do It and Could We? – (NPR – November 6, 2018)
Nelson Hall wants you to know that the googly-eyed flatworm he just sliced into four pieces is going to be OK. In fact, it's going to be great. Three of the flatworm's four pieces have started to wriggle away from each other; its head is moving in circles under Hall's microscope. But within three weeks, the pieces, as well as the head, will each have grown into a complete flatworm — identical to the one Hall sliced up — dark brown and about a half-inch long. Hall and researchers around the world are hard at work trying to understand how most of a group of flatworms called planarians can use powerful stem cells to regenerate their entire bodies, an ability humans can only dream of. Other animals like starfish, salamanders and crabs can regrow a tail or a leg. Some planarians, on the other hand, can regrow their entire bodies — even their heads, which only a few animals can do. Key to planarians' regenerative ability are powerful cells called pluripotent stem cells, which make up one-fifth of their bodies and can grow into every new body part. Humans only have pluripotent stem cells during the embryonic stage, before birth. At Stanford University, Hall is working to make a green fluorescent planarian — one that would be genetically engineered with a protein to glow green under a certain type of light. This would allow researchers to insert different genes into planarians and study what those genes do. "How do we genetically modify these worms so that we can put in our own genes," Hall wonders, "or remove existing genes to better understand how their regenerative programs function?" See also: Bioreactor Device Helps Frogs Regenerate Their Legs.

The Key to a Long Life Has Little to Do With ‘Good Genes’ – (Wired – November 6, 2018)
In 2013, Google cofounder and CEO Larry Page announced the formation of a new Alphabet entity dedicated to solving the pesky puzzle of mortality. Since then, the billion-dollar longevity lab known as Calico—short for California Life Company—has been trying to tease apart the fundamental biology of aging in the hopes of one day defeating death. One of the company’s first hires was renowned geneticist Cynthia Kenyon, a UC San Francisco researcher who 20 years ago doubled the lifespan of a lab roundworm by flipping a single letter in its DNA. Shortly after joining Calico, Kenyon recruited a UCSF bioinformatics postdoc named Graham Ruby. He wanted to know how big a role do genes play, anyway, in determining how long someone lives. Other scientists had tried to ask that question before, with conflicting results. To clear things up would require getting much, much more data. So Calico went to the biggest family history database in the world: the consumer genetics and genealogy firm Ancestry. In 2015, the companies inked a research partnership to investigate the human heredity of lifespan, with Ruby leading the charge to sift through Ancestry’s vast forest of family trees. What he found by analyzing the pedigrees of more than 400 million people who lived and died in Europe and America going back to 1800 was that although longevity tends to run in families, your DNA has far less influence on how long you live than previously thought. “The true heritability of human longevity for that cohort is likely no more than seven percent,” says Ruby. Previous estimates for how much genes explain variations in lifespan have ranged from around 15% - 30%. So what did Ruby uncover that previous studies had missed? The enormous impact of “assortative mating”.

Coffee May Protect Against Alzheimer's and Parkinson's—and This Roast Seems to Have the Biggest Benefits – (Health – November 6, 2018)
Drinking coffee has previously been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and now scientists say they may have an idea of why. It turns out that phenylindanes – chemical compounds that form during the brewing process – inhibit the growth of proteins associated with degenerative brain diseases. And the darker the roast, they say, the more of these protective compounds there are in every cup. For the new study, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, researchers at the Krembil Brain Institute in Toronto analyzed the chemical components of three different samples of Starbucks Via instant coffee: light roast, dark roast, and decaffeinated dark roast. Then they exposed extracts of each sample to two types of proteins – amyloid beta and tau – that are known to be hallmarks of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Studies have shown that as these conditions progress, these proteins tend to form clumps (known as amyloid plaques and tau protein tangles) in the brain. All three coffee extracts prevented the “clumping” of these proteins, suggesting that something in coffee may be protective against the progression of disease. And because the researchers noticed no difference in the effectiveness of the regular versus decaf brews, they determined that it’s likely not the caffeine that’s providing these benefits. They did, however, notice more inhibitory effects from the two dark roasts compared to the light roast. This led the researchers to think about phenylindanes—compounds formed from the breakdown of acids during coffee roasting, which are largely responsible for coffee’s bitter taste. Phenylindanes are found in higher concentrations in coffees with longer roasting times, such as dark roasts and espressos. They’ve been shown to display “surprisingly potent antioxidant activity,” the authors wrote in their paper, but their ability to interact with amyloid and tau proteins has not previously been reported. In further lab studies, they found that a phenylindane mixture did indeed prevent disease-related protein clumping; in fact, it was the only compound studied that had an effect on both amyloid and tau proteins. For tau proteins, it displayed more potent levels of inhibition than any other compound investigated. (And good news for decaf drinkers: Because the decaffeinating process happens before the roasting process, the authors assume that it has no effect on phenylindane levels.)

What if the Placebo Effect Isn’t a Trick? – (New York Times – November 6, 2018)
But as ubiquitous as the phenomenon is, and as plentiful the studies that demonstrate it, the placebo effect has yet to become part of the doctor’s standard armamentarium — and not only because it has a reputation as “fake medicine” doled out by the unscrupulous to the credulous. It also has, so far, resisted a full understanding, its mechanisms shrouded in mystery. Without a clear knowledge of how it works, doctors can’t know when to deploy it, or how. Not that the researchers are without explanations. But most of these have traditionally been psychological in nature, focusing on mechanisms like expectancy — the set of beliefs that a person brings into treatment — and the kind of conditioning that Ivan Pavlov first described more than a century ago. These theories, which posit that the mind acts upon the body to bring about physical responses, tend to strike doctors and researchers steeped in the scientific tradition as insufficiently scientific to lend credibility to the placebo effect. “What makes our research believable to doctors?” asks Ted Kaptchuk, head of Harvard Medical School’s Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter. “It’s the molecules. They love that stuff.” As of now, there are no molecules for conditioning or expectancy — or, indeed, for Kaptchuk’s own pet theory, which holds that the placebo effect is a result of the complex conscious and nonconscious processes embedded in the practitioner-patient relationship — and without them, placebo researchers are hard-pressed to gain purchase in mainstream medicine. But as many of the talks at the conference indicated, this might be about to change. Aided by functional magnetic resonance imaging (f.M.R.I.) and other precise surveillance techniques, Kaptchuk and his colleagues have begun to elucidate an ensemble of biochemical processes that may finally account for how placebos work and why they are more effective for some people, and some disorders, than others. The molecules, in other words, appear to be emerging. And their emergence may reveal fundamental flaws in the way we understand the body’s healing mechanisms, and the way we evaluate whether more standard medical interventions in those processes work, or don’t. Long a useful foil for medical science, the placebo effect might soon represent a more fundamental challenge to it.

Researchers Uncover a Circuit for Sadness in the Human Brain – (NPR – November 8, 2018)
Scientists may have caught a glimpse of what sadness looks like in the brain. A study of 21 people found that for most, feeling down was associated with greater communication between brain areas involved in emotion and memory, a team from the University of California, San Francisco. "There was one network that over and over would tell us whether they were feeling happy or sad," says Vikaas Sohal, an associate professor of psychiatry at UCSF. Previous research had established that sadness and other emotions involve the amygdala, an almond-shaped mass found in each side of the brain. And there was also evidence that the hippocampus, which is associated with memory, can play a role in emotion. But Sohal and the other researchers were curious about precisely what these and other brain areas are doing when someone's mood shifts. You can't get that information from brain scans, which don't capture changes that happen in fractions of a second. So the team studied 21 people who were in the hospital awaiting brain surgery for severe epilepsy. Before the surgery, doctors insert tiny wires into the brain and monitor its electrical activity for up to a week. Sohal says the team hoped those recordings would help answer a basic question: "When patients are sitting there, or watching TV or talking with their family or waiting or being anxious, which regions of the brain are talking to each other?" The patients agreed to keep a running log of their mood. And the team looked to see whether certain moods coincided with communication within specific networks in the brain. The researchers thought they might find networks that were similar in a couple of people. But they were "really surprised" to learn that 13 of the 21 patients shared the same network, Sohal says. "It's really important that we find the circuits underlying mood so we can learn more about them and treat them with tools we are developing that are aimed at circuits." Those tools include transcranial magnetic stimulation, which uses pulses of energy delivered through the skull to change the activity of brain circuits.




ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES/CLIMATE

Whales Go Quiet and Dolphins Shout in Loud Oceans – (Washington Post – October 27, 2018)
The oceans are loud and getting louder all the time. And marine mammals must live in the din. These animals take different approaches to the noise: Dolphins perform the equivalent of shouting. Humpback whales, when competing with a nearby boat, go silent. “A lot of people imagine that underwater is this really quiet place, but it isn’t,” said biologist Helen Bailey, who studies marine mammals and sea turtles at the University of Maryland. Ocean sounds are more than just crashing waves. Sharp noises, like sonar used in oil exploration or explosive Navy war games, can damage whale ears. Busy cargo lanes thrum with ship traffic. Increasing ocean noise was identified as a potential problem more than 20 years ago. Near California, the loudness of ship traffic has roughly doubled each decade since the 1960s. But the specific effects of this human-made cacophony are still being pieced together. Ms. Bailey and her colleagues, in a report published in the journal Biology Letters, used underwater microphones to listen to bottlenose dolphins about 20 miles offshore from Ocean City, Md. The scientists recorded 77 different animals, who distinguished themselves by their “signature whistles,” Ms. Bailey said. The ability to identify wild dolphins by their whistles rather than relying on visual markings, is a new and powerful development in research, Ms. Bailey said. Sound is a cornerstone of dolphin society. When the background sea noise — the ambient sounds of the offshore shipping lanes, which sounds something like loud radio static — began to crescendo, the dolphins used information-poor whistles, Ms. Bailey and her co-authors found. The contours of their calls became flat, rather than the richer, curvier whistles. It’s been known that human-made noise can mask animal calls, as long as the frequencies overlap. But in the new study “this adjustment wasn’t just to noise in the same frequency as their calls,” Ms. Bailey said. That surprised her and her co-authors. In Japan, researchers recently monitored humpback whales near a remote shipping lane. Two recorders captured the sounds of the cargo liner and nearby whales. When the ship passed by, “humpback whales seemed to stop singing temporarily,” the study authors reported in their study published in PLOS One. This paper was unusual because “there are not so many studies based on a direct and quantitative approach,” said Sadaharu Koga, a chief scientist at the Japan Ship Technology Research Association. It is unclear how damaging the cetaceans’ cessations are, but previous studies show that “singing behavior is related to the breeding strategies of male whales,” Mr. Koga said. Songs are a way for males to advertise their presence and attract females. Another study, published in 2012, examined a relative period of ambient quiet, when ship traffic ceased after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Along with a 6 dB decrease in noise, stress hormones dropped in the feces of North Atlantic right whales. This suggests that when ambient noise dropped precipitously, the whales were far less stressed.

SpaceWeather – (spaceweather.com - no date)
Here is an interesting website that provides news about the Sun-Earth environment. For example, on November 12: Breaking a string of 24 spotless days, a new sunspot is growing near the center of the solar disk. Here it is (image on where the sunspot is located on the Sun). Amateur astronomers with backyard solar telescopes are encouraged to monitor its development. After all, sunspot genesis is rare during solar minimum. The website also has a new data feed, the Thermosphere Climate Index (TCI). The daily TCI is a number recently developed by NASA and university researchers that tells us how Earth's upper atmosphere is responding to solar activity. Monitoring TCI is a must for anyone wanting a true situational awareness of how space weather "touches" Earth. See here for an explanation of the TCI.



COMMUNICATIONS/COMPUTING

A Dark Consensus about Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley – (New York Times – October 25, 2018)
The people who are closest to a thing are often the most wary of it. Technologists know how phones really work, and many have decided they don’t want their own children anywhere near them. A wariness that has been slowly brewing is turning into a regionwide consensus: The benefits of screens as a learning tool are overblown, and the risks for addiction and stunting development seem high. The debate in Silicon Valley now is about how much exposure to phones is O.K. This idea that Silicon Valley parents are wary about tech is not new. The godfathers of tech expressed these concerns years ago, and concern has been loudest from the top. Tim Cook, the C.E.O. of Apple, said earlier this year that he would not let his nephew join social networks. Bill Gates banned cellphones until his children were teenagers, and Melinda Gates wrote that she wished they had waited even longer. Steve Jobs would not let his young children near iPads. But in the last year, a fleet of high-profile Silicon Valley defectors have been sounding alarms in increasingly dire terms about what these gadgets do to the human brain. Suddenly rank-and-file Silicon Valley workers are obsessed. No-tech homes are cropping up across the region. Nannies are being asked to sign no-phone contracts. And there are those in tech who disagree that screens are dangerous. Jason Toff, 32, who ran the video platform Vine and now works for Google, lets his 3-year-old play on an iPad, which he believes is no better or worse than a book. This opinion is unpopular enough with his fellow tech workers that he feels there is now “a stigma.” Other Silicon Valley parents say there are ways to make some limited screen time slightly less toxic. Renee DiResta, a security researcher on the board of the Center for Humane Tech, won’t allow passive screen time, but will allow short amounts of time on challenging games. She wants her 2- and 4-year-old children to learn how to code young, so she embraces their awareness of gadgets. But she distinguishes between these types of screen use. Playing a building game is allowed, but watching a YouTube video is not, unless it is as a family.

Apple’s Tim Cook Makes Blistering Attack on the ‘Data Industrial Complex’ – (Tech Crunch – October 24, 2018)
Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has joined the chorus of voices warning that data itself is being weaponized against people and societies — arguing that the trade in digital data has exploded into a “data industrial complex”. Cook did not namecheck the adtech elephants in the room: Google, Facebook and other background data brokers that profit from privacy-hostile business models. But his target was clear. “Our own information — from the everyday to the deeply personal — is being weaponized against us with military efficiency,” warned Cook. “These scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded and sold. “Taken to the extreme this process creates an enduring digital profile and lets companies know you better than you may know yourself. Your profile is a bunch of algorithms that serve up increasingly extreme content, pounding our harmless preferences into harm. We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences. This is surveillance,” he said. Cook was giving the keynote speech at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC), which was held in Brussels this year. “We should celebrate the transformative work of the European institutions tasked with the successful implementation of the GDPR (EU law, General Data Protection Regulation). We also celebrate the new steps taken, not only here in Europe but around the world — in Singapore, Japan, Brazil, New Zealand. In many more nations regulators are asking tough questions — and crafting effective reform. “It is time for the rest of the world, including my home country, to follow your lead.”

Frequency Used by 1990s Cell Phones Linked to Cancer in Rats – (CNet – November 1, 2018)
Toxicology studies more than 10 years in the making have found that high exposure to radiation from radio frequencies used by cell phones was linked to tumors in male rats. The National Toxicology Program (NTP), which released the results of its $30 million studies, found that radio frequency radiation (RFR) similar to that used in 2G and 3G cell phones is associated with cancerous heart tumors in male rats. The studies also found evidence that the radiation was linked to tumors in male rats' brains and adrenal glands. It's unclear whether tumors observed in female rats, as well as male and female mice, were linked to radiation exposure. The studies examined radiation similar to that used in 2G and 3G cell phones because those networks were standard at the time the studies were designed. Both 2G and 3G networks remain in use for calls and texts. The studies didn't look into the kinds of RFR used for WiFi or 5G networks. "5G is an emerging technology that hasn't really been defined yet," lead toxicologist Michael Wyde said in the statement. "From what we currently understand, it likely differs dramatically from what we studied." The studies could be an important step to understanding RFR's impact on humans. But the exposures in the studies can't be directly compared to what humans experience, said John Bucher, a senior scientist at NTP. The rats and mice in the study were exposed to radiation across their entire bodies, while humans are usually exposed to radiation near where they keep their phones. The exposure levels and lengths were also greater in the studies. The lowest exposure level was the same as the maximum exposure allowed for cell phone users, a power level that "rarely occurs with typical cell phone use," according to the NTP statement. The highest exposure level used in the studies was four times greater than the maximum power level allowed.



ENERGY DEVELOPMENTS

Wind Dominates, Solar Taking Land from Gas as Cheapest Electricity – (PV Magazine – October 31, 2018)
In 2016, The University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute, took on the task of developing, “an interdisciplinary initiative to identify and quantify the full-system cost of electric power generation and delivery – from the power plant to the wall socket – to inform public policy discourse with comprehensive, rigorous and impartial analysis.” That led to the development and release of a series of complementary research documents called the Full Cost of Electricity in December of 2016. In October 20118, this was refreshed to reflect today’s reality – finding that wind, solar and gas are the cheapest sources of electricity nationwide, and that because of updated information – solar now is also the cheapest in more eastern and northern regions. Wind again proved to be the option with the lowest cost, on a levelized basis, for a broad swath of the country from the High Plains, the Midwest and Texas, and even portions of the Northeast. Solar power is the cheapest technology in much of the Southwest, and, based on updated data, also in the eastern and northern regions of the United States. Natural gas prevailed for much of the rest of the country.

With 3D-Printed Bacteria, This Bionic Mushroom Turns Light into Electricity – (Discover – November 7, 2018)
Hoping to create a new source of renewable energy (and to test out some ideas), a team at the Stevens Institute of Technology engineered a symbiotic relationship between the common button mushroom, some cyanobacteria and a few electrodes made of “graphene nanoribbons” (GNRs) — basically really thin layers of electrically conductive carbon atoms. To achieve their fungal feat, they turned to the near-magic technology of 3-D printing. They literally took a button mushroom, printed the GNRs on it in a branching Fibonacci pattern (inspired by nature), then printed the bacteria using “bioink” in a spiral shape on top. The mushrooms proved better than artificial materials with similar shapes at providing the bacteria with nutrients and humidity. Cyanobacteria were the perfect choice because they’re so good at photosynthesis, “with an unmatched internal quantum efficiency of nearly 100%” according to the authors. The GNRs were specifically engineered to be efficient at transporting electricity noninvasively, and the different patterns of 3-D printing allowed the GNRs and bacteria to interact at multiple points. Altogether, the team established what they call an “engineered bionic symbiosis,” combining natural and artificial components into one viable, stable network. Once they got all the right wires connected, they could shine a light on the mushroom, and when the cyanobacteria produced electric current, the GNRs would transport it off the mushroom’s cap and through the wires into the instruments. True, it was only around 67 nanoAmps of current, but still, the point is that it works. The other exciting thing here is that the whole idea of engineering bionic symbiosis, and 3-D printing these things into being, really works.





TRANSPORTATION

Hyundai and Kia Unveil New Solar Roof to Charge Batteries in Vehicles, Launching Next Year – (Electrek – October 31, 2018)
The problem with solar panels on vehicles is that they don’t generate enough electricity to do much of anything. Toyota already had an option for a solar roof on the previous PHEV Prius, but it was only generating 50 W and powering the fans for the AC. Fisker had a similar option for the Karma, but it also had only a little impact. But now several automakers are moving forward with new systems that would be able to add some energy to batteries to power the vehicle and even add some range. Hyundai and Kia are the latest ones to jump on board and they are developing three different solar cells for all vehicles from ICE to all-electric: “The first-generation system is for hybrid vehicles, while the second-generation technology brings a semi-transparent solar roof system to ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) vehicles. The third generation of the technology will see the introduction of a lightweight solar roof for battery electric vehicles.” The solar cells are semi-transparent and would enable a glass roof. However, a car’s roof is just not very big and efficiently positioned relative to the sun often enough to make a good support for a solar array. It’s generally more efficient to have solar panels at your house and charge your car there. (Editor’s note: Not everyone can put solar panels on their residence – but many people can park their car in the sun and let the battery charge for free while they spend 8-10 hours in their office.)

Virgin Orbit Moves Closer to Launching a Rocket to Space from a 747 – (The Verge – October 26, 2018)
LauncherOne is 70 feet long and weighs 57,000 pounds. It’s designed to carry small satellites into orbit around Earth. But instead of blasting off directly from the ground like a typical rocket, LauncherOne will start its journey on a runway. LauncherOne is a prototype rocket designed by Virgin Orbit and attached to Cosmic Girl, a modified 747 that used to carry passengers as part of the Virgin Atlantic fleet. The company hopes to send the rocket into orbit early next year. The plane will fly LauncherOne to an altitude of about 30,000 feet. At that point, the rocket will release from the plane and engage its thrusters to travel into orbit at speeds of up to 17,500 miles per hour, which is 20 times the speed of sound. Virgin Orbit is a spinoff of Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company also owned by Sir Richard Branson. While Virgin Galactic is focused on bringing people to space, Virgin Orbit’s goal is to launch small satellites into space. Since its founding last year, the company has already signed on several customers for future satellite launches, including the Department of Defense and the European Space Agency.





AGRICULTURE/FOOD

Eating with Your Eyes: Virtual Reality Can Alter Taste – (EurekAlert – October 15, 2018)
Humans not only relish the sweet, savory and saltiness of foods, but they are influenced by the environment in which they eat. Cornell University food scientists used virtual reality to show how people's perception of real food can be altered by their surroundings, according to research published in the Journal of Food Science. "When we eat, we perceive not only just the taste and aroma of foods, we get sensory input from our surroundings - our eyes, ears, even our memories about surroundings," said Robin Dando, associate professor of food science and senior author of the study. About 50 panelists who used virtual reality headsets as they ate were given three identical samples of blue cheese. The study participants were virtually placed in a standard sensory booth, a pleasant park bench and the Cornell cow barn to see custom-recorded 360-degree videos. The panelists were unaware that the cheese samples were identical, and rated the pungency of the blue cheese significantly higher in the cow barn setting than in the sensory booth or the virtual park bench. The purpose of this project was to develop an easy-to-implement and affordable method for adapting virtual reality technology for use in food sensory evaluation. "This research validates that virtual reality can be used, as it provides an immersive environment for testing. Visually, virtual reality imparts qualities of the environment itself to the food being consumed - making this kind of testing cost-efficient," said Dando.

China Successfully Harvests Saltwater Rice That Could Feed Another 80 Million People – (RT – October 27, 2018)
Chinese scientists have harvested alkali-resistant ‘sea rice’ planted in east China’s Shandong Province, marking initial success of an ambitious plan to boost the country’s rice production and feed an additional 80 million people. The new type of rice, successfully harvested by a group of scientists in the seaside city of Qingdao, eastern China, was revealed a year ago. Sea rice that is able to grow in tidal flats or saline-alkali land was developed by crossbreeding different varieties of rice. “With the joint efforts of our team and the whole of society, more than 65,000 square kilometers of salt and alkali land will be transformed in China,” said Deputy Director of Qingdao Sea Rice R&D Center, Guodong Zhang. “That can increase food by 30 billion kilograms based on the calculation of at least 300 kilograms per 667 square meters. This can support an additional 80 million people in China.” Earlier this year, the research team successfully grew and harvested the salt-resistant rice in a Dubai desert.




SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE

The CIA's Communications Suffered a Catastrophic Compromise. It Started in Iran. – (Yahoo – November 2, 2018)
In 2013, hundreds of CIA officers — many working nonstop for weeks — scrambled to contain a disaster of global proportions: a compromise of the agency’s internet-based covert communications system used to interact with its informants in dark corners around the world. Multiple former intelligence officials said that the damage from the potential global compromise was serious — even catastrophic — and will persist for years. From around 2009 to 2013, the U.S. intelligence community experienced crippling intelligence failures related to the secret internet-based communications system, a key means for remote messaging between CIA officers and their sources on the ground worldwide. The previously unreported global problem originated in Iran and spiderwebbed to other countries, and was left unrepaired — despite warnings about what was happening — until more than two dozen sources died in China in 2011 and 2012 as a result. Former U.S. officials said the internet-based platform, which was first used in war zones in the Middle East, was not built to withstand the sophisticated counterintelligence efforts of a state actor. By 2010, however, it appears that Iran had begun to identify CIA agents. Iran executed some of the CIA informants and imprisoned others in an intelligence setback that one of the former officials described as “incredibly damaging.” Though the Iranians didn’t say precisely how they infiltrated the network, two former U.S. intelligence officials said that the Iranians cultivated a double agent who led them to the secret CIA communications system. After this betrayal, Israeli intelligence tipped off the CIA that Iran had likely identified some of its assets. In fact, the Iranians used Google to identify the website the CIA was using to communicate with agents. Because Google is continuously scraping the internet for information about all the world’s websites, it can function as a tremendous investigative tool. Google’s search functions allow users to employ advanced operators — like “AND,” “OR,” and other, much more sophisticated ones — that weed out and isolate websites and online data with extreme specificity. According to the former intelligence official, once the Iranian double agent showed Iranian intelligence the website used to communicate with his or her CIA handlers, they began to scour the internet for websites with similar digital signifiers or components — eventually hitting on the right string of advanced search terms to locate other secret CIA websites. From there, Iranian intelligence tracked who was visiting these sites, and from where, began to unravel the wider CIA network, and likely shared some of this information with Chinese counterparts and possibly with the intelligence organizations of certain other countries.




TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE

New York City Owes over $100 Billion for Retiree Health Care – (Bloomberg – November 1, 2018)
While Chicago and California hog the “unfunded pension liability” spotlight, it turns out that good old New York City has quietly been accumulating unfunded liabilities sufficient to make them members in good standing of the “imminent bankruptcy” club. New York City faces future health costs for its retired workers of $103.2 billion, an increase of $40 billion over a decade. It has about $5 billion, (up from $2.4 billion as of 2014), set aside to pay the bill. The city’s $98 billion unfunded liability for retiree health care is in addition to the city’s $93 billion of bond debt and $48 billion pension-fund shortfall. New York City has almost 300,000 current employees and is responsible for more than 230,000 retirees and their beneficiaries. City employees with 10 years of service qualify for free retiree health care. Unlike debt, which is limited by statute, nothing restricts the level of retiree health liabilities. Money set aside for retiree health benefits has been used as a rainy-day fund by mayors during times of fiscal stress, said Maria Doulis, a vice president at the Citizens Budget Commission, a budget watchdog group funded by the business community. The city pays retiree health costs from its general fund budget on a "pay-as-you-go" basis, at a cost of $2.6 billion last year.

The President Has Entirely Too Many Lawyers (And Not Just This President) – (White House Watch -- October 18, 2018)
As Don McGahn departs from his job as White House counsel, I’m reminded of an interview I had a few weeks back with Yale Law School Professor Bruce Ackerman, one of the most astute observers of the presidency I know. I asked him what his number one post-Trump reform would be, and he didn’t hesitate for a second. “Abolish the White House counsel,” he said. Ackerman, who has been eloquent about the danger to our constitutional system presented by an uncontrollable, bloated executive branch – see his 2013 book, The Decline and Fall of the American Republic – considers the modern White House Counsel’s Office ground zero for the continued expansion of executive power. “They’re the ones who are the source of one after another ‘creative interpretation’ that build on each other from term to term — always in the same direction,” Ackerman said. They see their job not as neutral legal advisors, but as trying to create the best legal case for the president, he said. “One ‘creative opinion’ is the basis for the next,” he said. “This is a one way ratchet.” As a result, the outlines of what Ackerman calls “executive constitutionalism” are not determined by the Supreme Court, but by a few dozen not particularly experienced, but very smart and extremely loyal lawyers, who are completely replaced with every new president. Unburdened by institutional memory, fueled by ambition, “they can create very imaginative opinions,” Ackerman said. In fact, the president’s lawyer is supposed to be the attorney general, who oversees a vast staff of long-serving legal experts with institutional memory. The Office of Legal Counsel (so badly abused by Dick Cheney) is housed there, specifically charged with acting as constitutional counsel to the entire executive branch, and primarily the attorney general and the president. Unlike the attorney general, the White House counsel doesn’t require Senate confirmation, can’t be held accountable by congressional committees, and operates with no transparency.

A Big Reason U.S. Economy Is Accelerating: Government Spending – (Wall St. Journal – October 25, 2018)
A stark pickup in government spending, particularly in defense, has helped fuel a broad acceleration in U.S. economic growth in the past year and a half, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Commerce Department data. The U.S. economy has expanded at a 2.9% annual rate since April of 2017, according to the Commerce Department’s tabulations of the nation’s gross domestic product, or output. That growth rate is faster than the 2.2% annual growth rate between mid-2009—when the expansion started—and April 2017. Faster government spending accounted for nearly half of the acceleration, according to The Wall Street Journal analysis. President Trump and Republicans say tax cuts and less regulation have accelerated growth. Democrats say faster growth is uneven and unsustainable. The role of government spending has gotten less attention from either side. “There really had been some pent-up demand within the Department of Defense for modernization, for training, for maintenance,” said Todd Harrison, a senior fellow and defense budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Now [with] the sudden increase in the budget in fiscal year 2018 and fiscal year 2019, you see some of that pent-up demand being unleashed in the market.” Defense outlays grew 6% in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, thanks in part to a bipartisan budget agreement to boost government spending this year and next by nearly $300 billion above limits set in a 2011 law, including $165 billion more for military.



INTERNATIONAL TRENDS

The New Global Tinderbox – (Nation of Change – October 30, 2018)
Recent steps by leaders in Washington, Moscow, and Beijing may seem to lend credence to such a “new Cold War” narrative, but in this case history is no guide. Almost two decades into the twenty-first century, what we face is not some mildly updated replica of last century’s Cold War, but a new and potentially even more dangerous global predicament. But what others are now calling the New Cold War – the author of this article prefers to think of as a new global tinderbox – bears only the most minimal resemblance to that earlier period. As before, the United States and its rivals are engaged in an accelerating arms race, focused on nuclear and “conventional” weaponry of ever-increasing range, precision, and lethality. All three countries, in characteristic Cold War fashion, are also lining up allies in what increasingly looks like a global power struggle. But the similarities end there. Among the differences, the first couldn’t be more obvious: the U.S. now faces two determined adversaries, not one, and a far more complex global conflict map (with a corresponding increase in potential nuclear flashpoints). At the same time, the old boundaries between “peace” and “war” are rapidly disappearing as all three rivals engage in what could be thought of as combat by other means, including trade wars and cyberattacks that might set the stage for far greater violence to follow. To compound the danger, all three big powers are now engaging in provocative acts aimed at “demonstrating resolve” or intimidating rivals, including menacing U.S. and Chinese naval maneuvers off Chinese-occupied islands in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, rather than pursue the sort of arms-control agreements that tempered Cold War hostilities, the U.S. and Russia appear intent on tearing up existing accords and launching a new nuclear arms race. These factors could already be steering the world ever closer to a new Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world came within a hairsbreadth of nuclear incineration. This one, however, could start in the South China Sea or even in the Baltic region, where U.S. and Russian planes and ships are similarly engaged in regular near-collisions. Why are such dangers so rapidly ramping up? To answer this, it’s worth exploring the factors that distinguish this moment from the original Cold War era. (Editor’s note: We recommend this article.)

A Chapter Closes: Last Hong Kong Bookshop Selling Titles Banned in China Shuts – (Guardian – October 31, 2018)
The last bookshop in Hong Kong selling titles banned by the Communist Party on the mainland has closed, marking the last chapter of the city’s historic independent publishing scene. Human rights activists and publishers have raised grave concerns over the closure of the People’s Bookstore, a tiny shop in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay district, known to be the last source of literary contraband in the city, in the latest example of China’s tightening pressure over the city. Locals familiar with the matter believe that bookseller Paul Tang closed the shop under pressure from the government. A frequent visitor of the shop, who preferred to remain anonymous, said the city “was once the place where mainland readers came looking for the truth. But today, you’re afraid to even mention these forbidden topics.” Fears that Beijing has hardened its policy on freedom of speech were raised earlier this month when the Financial Times’ Asia news editor, Victor Mallet, had his visa effectively revoked and the pro-independence Hong Kong National party was banned. The closure follows the disappearance and detention of five city booksellers in 2015, who were linked to the Mighty Current publishing house that produced critical books about China’s leadership. High on the best-seller list of forbidden books were taboo topics such as politics, religion, and sex. From the private life of President Mao to the history of the cultural revolution, mainland customers could leaf through books supporting the 1989 Tiananmen Square movement or essays on the struggles within the Communist party, as well as bluer topics such as oral sex bibles and sadomasochism guides. The closure of the shop leaves Hong Kong with no outlet that challenges censorship. Albert Cheng, renowned Hong Kong political commentator, said the concern was that “the ‘one country, two systems’ principle will gradually fade, while Hong Kong will become simply another Chinese city.”



LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES

The First Guaranteed Basic Income Program Designed for Single Black Moms – (Nation of Change – November 7, 2018)
The Magnolia Mother’s Trust is an upcoming guaranteed basic income pilot project for low-income single Black mothers in Jackson, Mississippi. It will award 16 low-income single Black mothers with $1,000 a month for a year. No restrictions will be made on how the money is spent. They will be selected through a lottery drawing in November, with disbursements beginning in December. Every qualified mother who applies will be entered. Names will be drawn from a hat. Although other guaranteed income programs exist, the Magnolia Mother’s Trust is the first of its kind that specifically targets single Black mothers. And while money for the program was raised through the Economic Security Project, a network that funds unconditional cash and basic income projects in the United States, the mothers themselves play a central role in crafting the program. They were part of a task force developed to help set the program parameters, including determining the stipend amount and the length of the program. The women, who are potential participants, were instrumental in adding complementary pieces such as leadership training and community service components aimed at helping them stay connected to and supportive of one another. They also developed an in-house counseling service for the program. Kira Johnson, a licensed clinical social worker who will counsel the women, says her services will include individual, relationship, and family counseling. Money for the program was raised through the Economic Security Project, a network that funds unconditional cash and basic income projects in the United States. For many single Black mothers, the lack of motivation to get a job isn’t the problem. It’s finding one that pays a livable wage. On average, women earn about 80 cents for every dollar men make, and Black women earn just 63 cents for every dollar that White, non-Hispanic men make. The consequences are especially grave for the 80 percent of Black mothers who are the primary breadwinners for their households. These gaps are even wider in Mississippi, where women earn just 76 cents for every dollar men earn, and Black women earn just 56 cents for every dollar White, non-Hispanic men make. This is why Saadia McConville of the Economic Security Project says guaranteed income projects are necessary. “We don’t think it’s the silver bullet, but I think it’s a part of what we consider as we figure out a 21st century solution,” McConville says. The project is starting with only 16 families to see what works and what doesn’t, with plans to explore sustainable models to expand it later.



CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE

Astronomers Claim Earth Has Two Ghostly Dust-Moons – (Forbes – October 29, 2018)
A team of astronomers and physicist claim to have confirmed that Earth has two ghostly dust-moons just a few hundred thousand miles away. The elusive Kordylewski dust clouds, named for the Polish astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski who first spotted them in 1961, are a controversial topic. First theorized in the 50s, the clouds are said to gather around the semi-stable Lagrange points L4 and L5, where gravitational forces maintain the relative position of objects and which move around the Earth as the Moon moves in its orbit. But they are so faint that their very existence has been questionable. Earlier this year, a Hungarian team led by Gábor Horváth of Eötvös Loránd University, modeled the Kordylewski clouds to assess how they form and how they might be detected. They theorized that the clouds could appear if they used polarizing filters, like those used in sunglasses, to pick up scattered, reflected light from the dust. With a linearly polarizing filter system attached to a camera lens and CCD detector at co-author Judit Slíz-Balogh’s private observatory in Hungary, the team was able to pick up polarized light reflected from dust, extending well outside the field of view of the camera lens, at L5. The pattern matches both their own predictions about where the dust-moon should be and the observations originally made by Kordylewski. It’s a confirmation that warrants further exploration. Because of their stability, the Lagrange points are often touted as potential sites for space stations that would enable deeper exploration of the galaxy as jumping off points for trips to Mars and further, refueling stations for mining operations, somewhere to store pollutants or even places to live. But scientists will have to first know if the dust there presents any threat to potential spacecraft or future astronauts.

Asteroid ‘Oumuamua Was an Alien Probe Sent to Investigate Earth, Harvard Astronomers Suggest – (Metro – November 5, 2018)
Two Harvard stargazers have published a paper which seeks to explain why Asteroid ‘Oumuamua, a cigar-shaped object which sped through the solar system last year, accelerated and changed direction as it shot past humanity’s home planet. Shmuel Bialy and Abraham Loeb from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics suggested the elongated asteroid might have an ‘artificial origin’. ‘‘Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization,’ they wrote in their paper submitted to The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Their research suggests several explanations for the formation of ‘Oumuamua, which is regarded as a ‘new class’ of space object. It sped past Earth and looped around our sun at 196,000 mph and was about half a mile long. The object was so unusual that NASA said it had ‘never seen a natural object with such extreme proportions in the solar system before’. Initially, the fact ‘Oumuamua appeared to speed up led astronomers to suggest it was a comet. These icy objects accelerate due a process called outgassing, in which the sun heats up a comet and causes it to release gases. But in their paper, the Harvard stargazers ruled out the possibility it was an active comet. They proposed that it was powered along by ‘solar radiation pressure’ produced by the sun, but went on to make more ‘exotic’ suggestions to explain its acceleration. Here is the abstract of the Bialy/Loeb article submitted for publication, with more scholarly discussion.



STATISTICS/DEMOGRAPHICS

Altruists Make More Money and Have More Kids – (Pacific Standard – October 18, 2018)
Altruistic people tend to score higher on many measures of life satisfaction. Yes, that seems counterintuitive, and such scales can admittedly be subjective. So a research team decided to explore the relationship between selflessness and two outcomes we are evolutionarily programmed to desire: wealth and procreation. It reports generous people have more children than selfish ones. What's more, as a rule, they also earn more money. It further finds "people generally expect selfish individuals to have higher incomes," an unsupported belief that can inspire bad behavior. In fact, writes a research team led by Kimmo Eriksson of Stockholm University, being socially conscious literally pays dividends. In the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the researchers describe five studies that explore this connection. They analyzed four large-scale data sets, including two that tracked individuals and families over a period of years. How to explain the link with fertility? The researchers point to two possibilities. Selfish people tend to have "lower quality relationships," which means they "have fewer opportunities to have children," they note. In addition, such people "may simply be less interested in having children, given the time, money and other forms of self-sacrifice that having and raising children typically entail." So are we evolving into less-selfish people? Unlikely, the researchers report. While genes promoting selfishness may be getting less common, they write, "the total level of selfish behavior in society is likely to be more strongly determined by norms, institutions, and other psychological factors."



NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES

Beyond Plastic Bans: Creating Products to Replace It – (NPR – November 4, 2018)
Packaging designer Ryan Gaither works at the Swedish-owned BillerudKorsnäs design lab in Portland, Oregon. He believes in the power of cardboard. The growing number of campaigns to ban plastic waste are putting pressure on companies to find alternatives – not just for straws, but for all kinds of plastic packaging. So BillerudKorsnäs tests out products they hope to sell in the budding market for plastic replacements. Some of their customers now use cardboard instead of clear plastic packaging for camping gear, and paper bags instead of plastic ones for food like pasta. The lab is even working on a paper soda bottle, which Tor Lundqvist, head of the company's Americas division, calls a "fly to the moon kind of thing." BillerudKorsnäs is primarily a paper company that prides itself on its sustainably managed forests. It also has a process — the details of which it won't divulge — that it says produces super strong paper. "I think the sense that it's become pervasive is what can turn the tide, and come up with perhaps radical solutions that were not thinkable three, four, five years ago," says Conrad MacKerron, spokesperson for the non-profit As You Sow, which teams up with investors to push big manufacturers to change their plastic packaging. In the past few years, BillerudKorsnäs has seen 25% revenue growth year after year.

Using Wi-Fi to “See” Behind Closed Doors Is Easier Than Anyone Thought – (Technology Review – November 2, 2018)
Wi-Fi fills our world with radio waves. In your home, in the office, and increasingly on city streets, humans are bathed in a constant background field of 2.4- and 5-gigahertz radio signals. And when people move, they distort this field, reflecting and refracting the waves as they go. That’s given more than one group of researchers an interesting idea. In theory, they say, it ought to be possible to use this changing electromagnetic field to work out the position, actions, and movement of individuals. Thanks to the work of Yanzi Zhu at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and colleagues that theory is not a reality. These guys have found a way to see through walls using ambient Wi-Fi signals and an ordinary smartphone. They say the new technique allows an unprecedented invasion of privacy. “Bad actors using smartphones can localize and track individuals in their home or office from outside walls, by leveraging reflections of ambient Wi-Fi transmissions,” they say. The researchers say that by walking back and forth a few times outside a room or building, they can reliably locate the transmitter. “We found that consistency check across 4 rounds of measurements is sufficient to achieve room level localization of 92.6% accuracy on average,” they say. Having done that, it’s just a question of waiting. Provided nothing moves inside the target building, the Wi-Fi signal will be constant. But any small movement changes the signal in a way that is straightforward to measure. More technical details in the article. This work suggests that the mere presence of Wi-Fi signals is a significant risk to privacy. “While greatly improving our everyday life, [wireless transmissions] also unknowingly reveal information about ourselves and our actions,” say Zhu and co. Until now, this risk has been largely overlooked.



ECONOMY/FINANCE/BUSINESS

The Dark Side of Gamifying Work – (Fast Company – November 1, 2018)
Gamification is the application of game elements into nongame spaces. It is the permeation of ideas and values from the sphere of play and leisure to other social spaces. It’s premised on a seductive idea: if you layer elements of games, such as rules, feedback systems, rewards and videogame-like user interfaces over reality, it will make any activity motivating, fair and (potentially) fun. Gamification is now everywhere. It’s in coupon-dispensing loyalty programs at supermarkets. Gamification is in the driver interfaces of Lyft and Uber, which give badges for miles driven. In 2008, union contracts for laundry workers were up, and Disney wouldn’t renew without adjustments. One of the changes involved how management tracked worker productivity. Before, employees would track how many sheets or towels or comforters the workers washed, dried, or folded on paper notes turned in at the end of the day. But Disney was replacing that system with an electronic tracking system that monitored their progress in real time. Electronic monitoring wasn’t unusual in the hotel business. But Disney took the highly unusual step of displaying the productivity of their workers on scoreboards all over the laundry facilities, says Austin Lynch, director of organizing for Unite Here Local 11. According to Lynch, every worker’s name was compared with the names of coworkers, each one color-coded like traffic signals. If you were keeping up with the goals of management, your name was displayed in green. If you slowed down, your name was in yellow. If you were behind, your name was in red. Managers could see the monitors from their office, and change production targets from their computers. Each laundry machine would also monitor the rate of worker input, and flash red and yellow lights at the workers directly if they slowed down. The workers called this ‘the electronic whip’. ‘We saw a higher incidence of injuries,’ Union organizer, Beatriz Topete said. ‘Several people were injured on the job.’ The formerly collegial environment degenerated into a race. The laundry workers competed with each other, and got upset when coworkers couldn’t keep up. People started skipping bathroom breaks. Pregnant workers fell behind. ‘The scoreboard incentivizes competition,’ said Topete. ‘Our human competitiveness, whatever makes us like games, whatever keeps us wanting to win, it’s a similar thing that was happening. Even if you didn’t want to.’ The electronic whip is an example of gamification gone awry.

Who Tells How Much They Make? Millennials Do, Boomers Don't – (Bloomberg – October 31, 2018)
Millennials are almost twice as likely as Baby Boomers to share their salary with their coworkers, according to a new survey from personal finance site Bankrate. They’re also more comfortable divulging their pay to other people in their lives, too, with almost two-thirds of those surveyed sharing how much they make with their family. Employers have long discouraged talking about pay among coworkers. It’s easier to underpay certain people-- certain groups of people--if they don’t know they’re being underpaid. Calls for more fairness in pay, however, have prompted calls for more transparency. Workers want to know more about what goes into their compensation, and they want to know they’re getting a fair deal. Some companies are accommodating them, with approaches that range from the radical, sharing all pay information with all employees, to more general indicators of pay ranges or scales. See also this article which we recommend: The Company Where Everybody Knows What You Make.



PROVOCATIVE IDEAS

Truly Useful Augmented Reality Is Coming. We’re Not Ready. – (Futurism – October 25, 2018)
Most of today’s augmented reality wearables are not very subtle. The hardware has simply not progressed as quickly as the software, so the devices are often clunky and unwieldy. Upside: it’s easier for a passerby to tell how they’re being used. But the software is rapidly advancing even farther. For the first time, tech giants are testing the boundaries of AR in everyday gadgets instead of separate wearable gizmos. Take Google’s Lens, a camera tool that the company says “answer[s] all kinds of questions — especially when they’re difficult to describe in a search box, like ‘what type of dog is that?’ or ‘what’s that building called?’” And that’s just the beginning of what AR could do for us. With sophisticated augmented reality, we’ll have new types of movies and games, but also a more streamlined experience going about our daily lives. Everything we need will be right in front of us. However, we need ground rules for how to use augmented reality. Those could be hard rules like formal legislation and restriction (ban facial recognition software from any AR platform), or soft rules like social norms (basic decency and not using our newfound technological powers to exploit people.). If we don’t make them before they’re needed, we might find ourselves in a world where our already-scarce digital privacy goes away altogether. As individuals, we don’t have much leverage over the tech companies pushing these gadgets. But we can push our leaders to address forward-looking concerns. Congress has recently held Facebook and Twitter accountable for their role in the 2016 presidential election. It’s not a stretch to think the companies that might be bringing AR into maturity might find themselves in a new age of intense scrutiny.



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

Table for None: Why Do Certain Foods Turn You Off? – (New York Times – October 31, 2018)
The idea that anything labeled “food” can be described as “disgusting” is a minefield, running up against cultural tastes and personal preferences, not to mention the shrinking ability of some countries to feed all their people. But clearly, if every human had a cornucopia of the world’s edibles laid out on a table stretching from one end of the earth to the next, not everyone would dig enthusiastically into, say, a lamprey pie, a sliver of maggot-infested pecorino or a chunk of rotten shark meat. A basic human reaction would surface at some point: disgust. For example, (pictured in the article: Fruit Bat Soup from Guam, Twinkies from the United States, a boiled duck egg with a partially developed fetus from the Philippines, Haggis from Scotland, baby mice from China and pork brains from the United States.) And that emotion is the basis for an unusual and controversial exhibition here in Malmo, in the south of Sweden. “I want people to question what they find disgusting,” said Samuel West, the lead curator of the Disgusting Food Museum, a touring pop-up exhibition. Visitors will be invited to explore their notions of food through the lens of disgust, said Dr. West, an organizational psychologist, who hopes the museum will stimulate discussion and self-reflection. “What’s interesting is that disgust is hard-wired biologically,” Dr. West said this week over a restaurant lunch of cabbage pudding. “But you still have to learn from your surroundings what you should find disgusting.” More than 80 items from 35 countries will be on display.



JUST FOR FUN

The Jive Aces Present: Bring Me Sunshine – (YouTube – March 17, 2011)
Here’s some sunshine – and it’s pretty much guaranteed to give you a smile. Enjoy.



A FINAL QUOTE

If we could unfold the future, the present would be our greatest care. – Edward Counsel (1849-1939), Surveyor-general and Secretary for Lands, Tasmania



A special thanks to: Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Gary Sycalik, James Terrell, 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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