Visions of the future

Brilliant Minds Forecast the Next 50 Years

Over 70 of the world’s most brilliant scientists with their ideas about the coming decades.

Nuff sed.

Ultrasound makes teeth grow

We can regrow teeth!
Grow a replacement tooth rather than installing foreign objects.

The treatment, called low-intensity pulsed ultrasound, massages the gums to stimulate jaws, encourage growth in the roots of teeth and aid healing in dental tissue.

El-Bialy discovered ultrasound could be used to form new dental tissue from his research on rabbit incisors, which was published in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics.

He then tested the technique on people who needed to get their teeth pulled.

Participants held the bulky ultrasound device for 20 minutes a day for four weeks against a tooth that had a problem, such as erosion after a root canal.

When El-Bialy looked at the extracted teeth under the microscope, he found new tissue was added to the roots of treated teeth, but not to untreated ones. The therapy regenerates the inner part of the tooth, but not the enamel.

The team has filed for a patent on their prototype in the U.S. They expect to have a version that is ready for patients within two years.

link from coMags

Crude flares of injustice


The Niger Delta is made up of nine states, 185 local government areas, and a population of 27 million. It has 40 ethnic groups speaking 250 dialects spread across 5,000 to 6,000 communities and covers an area of 27,000 square miles. This makes for one the highest population densities in the world, with annual population growth estimated at 3 percent. About 1,500 of those communities play host to oil company operations of one kind or another. Thousands of miles of pipelines crisscross the mangrove creeks of the Delta, broken up by occasional gas flares that send roaring orange flames into the already hot, humid air. Modern, air-conditioned facilities sit cheek-by-jowl with primitive fishing villages made of mud and straw, surrounded with razor wire and armed guards trained to be on the lookout for local troublemakers. It is, and always has been, a recipe for disaster.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that for fifty years, foreign oil companies have conducted some of the world’s most sophisticated exploration and production operations, using millions of dollars’ worth of imported ultramodern equipment, against a backdrop of Stone Age squalor. They have extracted hundreds of millions of barrels of oil, which have sold on the international market for hundreds of billions of dollars, but the people of the Niger Delta have seen virtually none of the benefits. While successive military regimes have used oil proceeds to buy mansions in Mayfair or build castles in the sand in the faraway capital of Abuja, many in the Delta live as their ancestors would have done hundreds, even thousands of years ago—in hand-built huts of mud and straw. And though the Delta produces 100 percent of the nation’s oil and gas, its people survive with no electricity or clean running water. Seeing a doctor can mean traveling for hours by boat through the creeks.

How does Google make money?

How much is a search worth?
Google apparently now makes $0.20 per search from advertising revenue, according to Caris & Co. analyst Tim Boyd as quoted in the BusinessWeek article, “Why Yahoo’s Panama Won’t Be Enough”.

Using data on total search queries, released by comScore, Caris & Co. analyst Tim Boyd estimates that Yahoo made on average between 10 cents and 11 cents per search in 2006, bringing in a total of $1.61 billion for the first nine months of the year.

Google, meanwhile, makes between 19 cents and 21 cents per search. As a result, it made an estimated $4.99 billion during the same period.


Why does Google make so much money?

It turns out that owning the starting point on the Internet is really, really valuable.

Not just because it gets a lot of traffic. It’s because that traffic is so much more valuable than the rest of the page views bouncing around the net.

Google’s CPMs [cost per 1,000 impressions] are $90-120, vs. $4-5 for an average page view elsewhere.

This value premium on search vs. content is because of the massive concentration of choice potential which exists on the decision point, Google.

John Battelle calls this power behind user search queries “intent“. This is why the ROI of a clickthough bought from Google is so much higher than a clickthrough bought from a banner ad impression. It represents a higher likelihood that someone is going to take action if they came from a search instead of a mouse click.

Snakes predict earthquakes

China has come up with an earthquake prediction system which relies on the behavior of snakes. Snakes might be hyper-aware of being crushed in their burrows and therefore respond to unknown quake predictors.

A south China bureau monitors local snake farms 24 hours per day via video cameras linked to a broadband Internet connection.

“Of all the creatures on Earth, snakes are perhaps the most sensitive to earthquakes. When an earthquake is about to occur, snakes will move out of their nests, even in the cold of winter. If the earthquake is [likely] a big one, the snakes will even smash into walls while trying to escape.”

A military not counted

About private armies:

In the first Gulf war, the ratio of private contractors to military personnel was one to sixty. This time it’s approaching one to one.

There are now as many as 48,000 mercenaries in Iraq, funneling income for the private military and security industry that reached $100 billion in 2004.

A bit of info about private armies here. A USA-centric essay of private armies in Mark Hemmingway’s “Warriors for Hire” cover story about private military contractors at The Weekly Standard, or follow his blog [now deleted].


Old wheat helps new wheat

An ancient strain of wild wheat found growing in Israel has enabled a team of Israeli and American scientists to boost the protein, zinc and iron content in modern wheat about 10 – 15 per cent, an accomplishment that could help supply more nutritious food to millions of people worldwide.

The scientists now plan to distribute the seeds freely to farmers throughout the world through international public seed agencies. India, China, Argentina and Canada have already launched projects the make the new wheat available.

Wheat was first harvested on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea 10,000 years ago.

Over the centuries, as wheat became domesticated, the gene that enhances the protein, zinc and iron value in the grain, became non-functional.

This discovery provides a clear example of the value and importance of conserving the wild germplasm.

Providing about 20 percent of all calories, annual global wheat production is an estimated 620 million tons.

The shadow and the long tail of music

It ain’t over ’til it’s over. The Internet builds more data per day than the entire Internet of 10 years ago. Music and video are just beginning to impact the load. There is much more content on the horizon. And there are new tools to help discover content that matches our interest.

Calcutta blogs about Long Tail Music — the shape of things to come where music is independent in production, in venue and club, in genre and even in audience.

After his first post about Songbird,
Ross Karchner is celebrating new extensions for Songbird:

Only a few months ago a “rough-but-serviceable iTunes replacement”, Songbird is becoming a contender in the “shadow music industry” of independent labels, clubs, DJ’s, sites like eMusic and it’s competitors, MP3 blogs, and yes-goddammnit-Myspace…”

Ecological conscientiousness

“Do the ideals of organic farming and the triumphs of the Green Revolution have to be locked in mortal combat?

In the culture wars, there is a conservative faction that loves nothing better than savaging the organic-farming movement as an elitist affectation that is out of touch with economic reality.”

Andrew Leonard has written a superb article in Salon outlining the caustic nature of the debate about organic vs. chemical farming.

The two poles of the debate. One side envisions a world of small organic farms knit together into sustainable ecological networks. Another pins its hopes on continuing technological advances that must aggressively increase yields in order to cope with an ever-burgeoning global population. Representatives of the two sides rarely have kind words for each other.

Norman Borlaug, the father of the “green revolution,” winner of the Nobel peace prize and an outspoken advocate of the use of synthetic fertilizers to increase crop yields. He claims the idea that organic farming is better for the environment is “ridiculous” because organic farming produces lower yields and therefore requires more land under cultivation to produce the same amount of food.

The Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Minnesota retorts:

Organic management practices promote soil health, water conservation and can reverse environmental degradation. The emphasis on small-scale family farms has the potential to revitalize rural areas and their economies. Counter to the widely held belief that industrial agriculture is more efficient and productive, small farms produce far more per acre than large farms. …though the yield per acre of a single [monoculture] crop might be lower than a large farm, total production per acre of all the crops and various animal products is much higher than large conventional farms … Conversion to small organic farms therefore would lead to sizeable increases of food production worldwide.

story at Salon, with huge ads and advert trickery, but a concise and readable essay.

More than 5,000 pesticides studied

Biological contaminations such as E. coli now present a larger threat than chemical residues, says the EPA.

The Environmental Protection Agency has nearly finished approving 5,237 existing pesticide tolerances, modifying 1,200 others and revoking 3,200. The revocations mean that of the many possible combinations of pesticides and crops, 3,200 will no longer be allowed. The EPA Office of Pesticides Program states that the 10-year study under the Food Quality Protection Act provides “the highest food safety standards in the world.”

Studies from many sources continue the frustrating effort to measure the ambient causes of cancer.

Researchers think that about 80 to 90 per cent of all cancers are due to environmental causes including lifestyle such as smoking and diet.

It’s far harder to tease out just how much is due to polluted air, water or food, or to radiation or workplace exposures to cancer-causing substances. One recent estimate of the impact of pollution placed the total cancers due to this factor at about 8 to 16 per cent.

Another update:
Applying the Clean Air Act to dust and soot begins 2012. To protect people living downwind, new standards for regulating soot, dust and other coarse air pollution particles are aimed at industrial and urban sources and will gradually extend to any “particulate matter deposited in the ambient air”.

Moyers: A Parable For Our Times

Bill Moyers, thinking over the holidays:

Political dynasties fall from negligent stewardship. One thinks of the upward redistribution called “tax relief”; of the Iraq invasion sold as critical to the “War on Terror”; of rising poverty, inequality, crime, debt, and foreclosure as America spews its bounty on war and a military so muscle-bound it is like Gulliver. It would be hard to imagine a more catastrophic failure of stewardship, certainly in the biblical sense of helping the poor and allocating resources for the health of society. Once upon a time these errant stewards boasted of restoring a culture of integrity to politics. They became instead an axis of corruption, joining corporate power to political ideology to religious self-righteousness.

I think the Nobel Laureate economist Robert Solow’s analysis sums it up well: What it’s all about, he simply said, is “the redistribution of wealth in favor of the wealthy and of power in favor of the powerful.”

In today’s America, as it was in ancient Galilee, we must fight for a more equal society.

Another drug quality warning

Taking such popular heartburn drugs as Nexium, Prevacid or Prilosec for a year or more can raise the risk of a broken hip markedly in people over 50 — up to 44% — a large study in Britain found.

The study raises questions about the safety of some of the most widely used and heavily promoted prescription drugs on the market, taken by millions of people.

The researchers speculated that when the drugs reduce acid in the stomach, they also make it more difficult for the body to absorb bone-building calcium. That can lead to weaker bones and fractures.

Depleted jihad?

Interesting and unusual perspective:

Singapore’s elder statesman, Lee Kuan Yew, sheds fascinating light on another question dominating discussion in the last year — are we losing in Iraq? Lee recalls that, not long after the Vietnam conflict ended, he argued that America may have lost in Indochina but that those 58,000 American lives were not sacrificed in vain. They bought time for the rest of East Asia to attain economic prosperity and stability — and the communists exhausted themselves in the struggle. Judged by the snapshot of 1975, America lost the battle. But in the longer term, it won the war for the wider region.

Many years hence, will Iraq come to be viewed in the same light? From 2005, the jihadi world was riven by a dispute between al-Qaeda’s Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his mentor, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi. Al-Maqdisi stated that al-Zarqawi’s priorities were askew. Iraq was the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time. It was rapidly becoming a “crematory” for the flower of Islamist youth. No energies were left for wider Islamist revolution elsewhere in the region.

Although al-Zarqawi was killed, he has for now won the debate.

Somebody edits links for you

News links you may not have seen.

  • 45 percent of craft sent into space this year was from Russia.

  • A gene variation protects memories and ability to think and learn new information by altering the cholesterol particles in the blood, making them bigger than normal. Little effort has been made to identify the reasons for longevity in exceptionally old people, and why they don’t develop disease.
  • Carbon dioxide emissions will produce a 3 percent reduction in the density of Earth’s outermost atmosphere by 2017.
  • People estimate that, on average, they make about 15 food- and beverage-related decisions each day. But the truth is, they make more than 15 times that — more than 200 such decisions.
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the bald eagle will be officially taken off the endangered species list in February.
  • Mothers who fret that their children will send them to an early grave may be closer to the truth than they think.

The words influence the smell

Interesting research.
Vintners, for instance, might want to rework traditional terminology and develop an updated language library, rethinking wine’s traditional flavor and smell descriptors in order to help tasters improve their sense of smell.

How learning influences smell

The smell of an odor is not merely a result of chemical detection but is also influenced by what the smeller learns about the odor.

Now, researchers have discovered how such “perceptual learning” about an odor influences processing of information from the purely olfactory chemical detection system. Wen Li, Jay Gottfried, and colleagues at Northwestern University reported their findings with human subjects in the December 21, 2006, issue of the journal Neuron.

“Verbal context strongly influences the perception of odor quality—a rose by any other name would not smell as sweet,” explained the researchers. “For example, the same odorant smells entirely different depending on whether it is labeled as fresh cucumber or mildew.”

Every second of your life on record

human black boxes

A device the size of a sugar cube will be able to record and store high resolution video footage of every second of a human life within two decades, experts said yesterday.

Researchers said governments and societies must urgently debate the implications of the huge increases in computing power and the growing mass of information being collected on individuals.

Checks and balances slipping in America

So many good and direct questions were launched in my lifetime. So few replies seem to have been heard.

I enjoyed the wisdom and candor of a panel titled “Who’s Watching the Spies: Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans — A Look Back at the Church Committee Report” Walter Mondale, Vice President of Jimmy Carter, quipped about younger George Bush, “No administration has celebrated a lack of understanding such as this administration.”, 9/21/06 CSpan.

Walter Huddleston, Senator from Kentucky, says Iraq is the most misguided effort in US history; “How do we get a discourse among people who want a solution?” Mondale said what is missing in America is honest debate because the checks and balances of the American government is slipping. Frederick Schwarz, who served as chief counsel to the Church Committee, repeated Madison’s warning that men are not angels, therefore the first obligation of government is to restrain overbearing control of its people and the second to control itself; “A reasonable and lawful policy is to be based on our good work and the ideas we derive from faith, confidence and strength. But our current administration seems to interpret the response to ugly terrorists only under the War Powers Act as if, “If I have the power, you have the emergency.” An informed American public would not allow this to be our dominant policy.

The members continue. As well as a short sighted policy in the Executive, we have another broken branch of government. Congress. Congress is compliant. Congress operates with the appearance of power but not the substance. It fails us in our communities, and fails us globally because its oversight is exceedingly weak.

The University of Kentucky reunited members of the Church Committee, featured on CSpan as “Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans”, with former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, former U.S. Sen. Walter “Dee” Huddleston of Kentucky, and Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., chief counsel to the committee, the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activity (1975-1976).

The Church Committee revealed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was destabilizing foreign governments and conducting illegal intelligence operations against U.S. citizens. The 11-member committee, which faced great criticism and opposition, was given nine months and a staff of 150 to investigate the nation’s intelligence agencies and their activities.

During the investigation, the committee interviewed 800 individuals, and conducted 250 executive and 21 public hearings. Among the Church Committee’s 14 submitted reports were such surprising recommendations as barring assassination as a tool of foreign policy and setting limits on the spying of Americans. The committee’s two-foot-thick final report issued in 1976 verified the need for continuous surveillance of the intelligence community and resulted in the creation of the Senate’s permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

My thoughts about a lack of discourse and oversight:

In the last several years, the character of Congress has changed. Perhaps because of the influence of political parties that are too powerful. The parties are larger than most organizations in the world. We have seen greater power in the rivalry between the parties than between the branches of our government.

I’m certain that the Founders did not imagine a time when the political parties would build organizations able to influence the branches of government more than the power of the Constitution itself.

As the ‘party’ has become a major player in the execution of our Constitution, we endure our changing Representative, from statesman to politician to fund raiser to a local broker of polling and earmarking on behalf of marketing the political party.

Crippled but growing Iraq economy

Civil war or not, Iraq has an economy, and—mother of all surprises—it’s doing remarkably well.

Real estate is booming. Construction, retail and wholesale trade sectors are healthy, too, according to a report by Global Insight in London. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports 34,000 registered companies in Iraq, up from 8,000 three years ago. Sales of secondhand cars, televisions and mobile phones have all risen sharply. Estimates vary, but one from Global Insight puts GDP growth at 17 percent last year and projects 13 percent for 2006. The World Bank has it lower: at 4 percent this year. But, given all the attention paid to deteriorating security, the startling fact is that Iraq is growing at all.

National oil revenues and foreign grants look set to total $41 billion this year, according to the IMF. Imported goods have grown increasingly affordable, thanks to the elimination of tariffs and trade barriers. Salaries have gone up more than 100 percent since the fall of Saddam, and income-tax cuts (from 45 percent to just 15 percent) have put more cash in Iraqi pockets. story at Newsweek

There are now as many as 48,000 mercenaries in Iraq, funneling income for the private military and security industry that reached $100 billion in 2004.

In the first Gulf war, the ratio of private contractors to military personnel was one to sixty. This time it’s approaching one to one.

A bit of info about private armies here. And a USA-centric assay of private armies in Mark Hemmingway’s “Warriors for Hire” cover story about private military contractors at The Weekly Standard, or follow his blog.

In our democracy

This editorial at the Seattle PI captures a note, and a reminder from the notes we carry in our pocket:

Next month, Keith Ellison, a 42-year-old lawyer elected to Congress from Minnesota, will take his oath of office with a Quran instead of a Bible.

We cannot think of a more inspiring application of the First Amendment because this demonstrates, in a practical way, how this country truly reflects what a congressional committee pegged in 1776 as “E Pluribus Unum” or “Out of many, one.”

This is an important time for such symbolism. Ellison, a Muslim, is part of a fast-growing U.S. population. There are now around 5 million Muslims who deserve a say in our democracy.

Some critics see this as an assault on what never was, America as an official Christian nation. In fact, Ellison will be sworn in in a private ceremony — as is the practice for other members of Congress. It’s the Constitution, not any religious scripture, that’s the sacred democratic text.

The full impact of the livestock sector

The livestock industry is degrading land, contributing to the greenhouse effect, polluting water resources, and destroying biodiversity.

…the cow, pig, chicken sector is

“one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every scale”.

…the livestock sector accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than transport, which emits 13.5%. Livestock occupies 26% of Earth’s ice-free land. Producing their feed occupies one-third of global cropland.

Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale. 10 billion cows, pigs, lambs, chickens (and various other creatures) are slaughtered per year in the United States alone.

Story at New Scientist

Justin Erik Halldór Smith

“The present system of meat production is perceived as acceptable by most not due to any widespread consensus that animals are not the sort of creatures that have rights, and thus that whatever happens to them behind the gates of a factory farm is morally irrelevant. It is perceived as acceptable only because it is not, for the most part, perceived.”


In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Apparent voyeurism

Do you believe Congress has acted sufficiently to prevent and punish producers of tracking malware?

Two years ago, university IT managers busted comScore for tricking students into installing tracking software packaged with a free Web-accelerator program. Students were often unaware that they were being watched. comScore has since discontinued the program, called MarketScore.

But comScore remains the only major online research company that partners with third-parties. Outside distributors bundle its surveillance software with desirable free programs like games or videos.

comScore’s software records every Web page visited. [including purchases]

comScore “…software is sneaking onto users’ computers without the user agreeing to receive it,” says Harvard University researcher Ben Edelman, at Forbes Magazine.

A bonus is better than a raise in pay

Giving a 1 percent raise boosts employee job performance by roughly 2 percent, but offering that same money in the form of a bonus that is strongly linked to a job well done can improve job performance by almost 20 percent, finds a new Cornell study on the relationship between pay and performance. At Science Daily