Science & Technology


"Internet of things" and "Smart grid" trojan horse for further erosion of privacy

The "Internet of Things" (IoT) and Smart Grid technologies will together be aggressively integrated into the developed world's socioeconomic fabric with little-if-any public or governmental oversight. This is the overall opinion of a new report by the Federal Trade Commission, which has announced a series of "recommendations" to major utility companies and transnational corporations heavily invested in the IoT and Smart Grid, suggesting that such technologies should be rolled out almost entirely on the basis of "free market" principles so as not to stifle "innovation."[1]

As with the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, the FTC functions to provide the semblance of democratic governance and studied concern as it allows corporate monied interests and prerogatives to run roughshod over the body politic.

The IoT refers to all digital electronic and RFID-chipped devices wirelessly connected to the internet. The number of such items has increased dramatically since the early 2000s. In 2003 an estimated 500 million gadgets were connected, or about one for every twelve people on earth. By 2015 the number has grown 50 fold to an estimated 25 billion, or 3.5 units per person. By 2020 the IoT is expected to double the number of physical items it encompasses to 50 billion, or roughly 7 per individual.[2]

The IoT is developing in tandem with the "Smart Grid," comprised of tens of millions of wireless transceivers (a combination cellular transmitter and receiver) more commonly known as "smart meters." Unlike conventional wireless routers, smart meters are regarded as such because they are equipped to capture, store, and transmit an abundance of data on home energy usage with a degree of precision scarcely imagined by utility customers. On the contrary, energy consumers are typically appeased with persuasive promotional materials from their power company explaining how smart meter technology allows patrons to better monitor and control their energy usage.

Almost two decades ago media sociologist Rick Crawford defined Smart Grid technology as "real time residential power line surveillance" (RRPLS). These practices exhibited all the characteristics of eavesdropping and more. "Whereas primitive forms of power monitoring merely sampled one data point per month by checking the cumulative reading on the residential power meter," Crawford explains.

Comment: For further information about the health dangers of WiFi see:

WiFi to kill millions, with its effects being cumulative over generations


Russian scientists discover new "water dinosaur" remains in Ural Mountains

© East News/ CDA
The remains of a previously unknown marine reptile species have been discovered in Russia's Ural Mountains.

Scientists say the reptiles supposedly resemble the Plesiosaurs and might have lived more than 65 million years ago.

"Rather intact fragments of skeletons of earlier unseen plesiosauruses of the Polycotylus type, which lived in the late Cretaceous, have been found in a unique deposit in Russia's Orenburg region," Russian newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta quotes Vladimir Yefimov, the chariman of the local department of the Russian Paleontology Society as saying.

Having studied the fragments of skull, teeth, spine, shoulder and pelvic girdle, upper and lower limbs, the scientists estimated the reptiles might have been 4-7 meters long with a large head and powerful neck.
Life Preserver

Researchers discover cold plasma has ability to kill norovirus

cold plasma

Cold plasma consists of ionised gas molecules at room temperature
Norovirus, the most common cause of gastroenteritis in the world, can be killed with "cold plasma," researchers in Germany have reported.

The virus, which elicits vomiting and diarrhoea, has gained international notoriety for causing outbreaks on cruise ships.

However, such incidents represent merely a fraction of the tens of millions of cases that occur around the world each year.

The research appears in mBio journal.

Preventing norovirus outbreaks is complicated by the fact that the virus is highly resistant to several different chemical disinfectants.

Bleach, a chlorine-based solution, is currently the most effective treatment, but researchers are seeking more convenient alternatives.

One such alternative is cold plasma, also known as non-thermal plasma. This "fourth state of matter" consists of ionised gas molecules at room temperature. These ions can destroy many kinds of microbes, but their effect on viruses was less clear.

Naked Titan blasted by solar wind viewed for first time

© Illustration by A.Fazekas, SkySafari
Saturn's largest moon, Titan, looks more like Venus and Mars than astronomers ever suspected - at least when it comes to suffering a severe strike from the solar wind.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft made a flyby of Titan in December 2013 that offered a unique opportunity for scientists, in newly reported observations. For the first time, scientists caught a close glimpse of the large moon when it was outside Saturn's protective magnetic field.

The solar wind, basically fast-flowing charged particles, continually blasts out from the sun and past the entire solar system.

Earth's magnetic field shields the atmosphere from being stripped away by the solar wind. By studying the solar wind's impacts on worlds lacking a global magnetic field, like Venus, Mars, and now Titan, scientists learn about their atmospheres and how their chemistry changes under solar assault.
Post-It Note

Language: What will the world speak in 2115?

Tower of Babel
The Tower of Babel
In 1880 a Bavarian priest created a language that he hoped the whole world could use. He mixed words from French, German and English and gave his creation the name Volapük, which didn't do it any favors. Worse, Volapük was hard to use, sprinkled with odd sounds and case endings like Latin.

It made a splash for a few years but was soon pushed aside by another invented language, Esperanto, which had a lyrical name and was much easier to master. A game learner could pick up its rules of usage in an afternoon.

But it didn't matter. By the time Esperanto got out of the gate, another language was already emerging as an international medium: English. Two thousand years ago, English was the unwritten tongue of Iron Age tribes in Denmark. A thousand years after that, it was living in the shadow of French-speaking overlords on a dampish little island. No one then living could have dreamed that English would be spoken today, to some degree, by almost two billion people, on its way to being spoken by every third person on the planet.

Science fiction often presents us with whole planets that speak a single language, but that fantasy seems more menacing here in real life on this planet we call home - that is, in a world where some worry that English might eradicate every other language. That humans can express themselves in several thousand languages is a delight in countless ways; few would welcome the loss of this variety.

But the existence of so many languages can also create problems: It isn't an accident that the Bible's tale of the Tower of Babel presents multilingualism as a divine curse meant to hinder our understanding. One might even ask: If all humans had always spoken a single language, would anyone wish we were instead separated now by thousands of different ones?

Comment: Meaning and nuance of human diversity: Information gained. Increased complexity and discovery demands the evolution of language and the invention of terminology.

In the beginning there was the WORD. The rest is history.


Galactic CAT scan reveals bubbly interior of supernova Cassiopeia A

© D. Milisavljevic (CfA) & R. Fesen (Dartmouth)
Astronomers have produced a 3D map of the interior of Cassiopeia A, a supernova in our galaxy, using the astronomical equivalent of a CAT scan.

The Cassiopeia A, or Cas A, exploded around 340 years ago and its relatively close proximity to the Earth makes it one of the most well-studied supernovas in our galaxy. Many astronomers still observe the supernova with great interest.

A new study conducted by researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Dartmouth College unravels the bubbly interior of the supernova. The findings may shed more light on the way a supernova dies.

"Our three-dimensional map is a rare look at the insides of an exploded star," said Dan Milisavljevic of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Astronomers explain that when a star explodes, it spews out extremely radioactive and hot matter outward from the core of the star. It is complex to model such process even with some of the most powerful computers on Earth.

However, by cautiously studying the remnants of fairly young supernovae such as Cas A, astronomers can examine several key processes that drive such stellar explosions.
Alarm Clock

Researchers investigate link between hydrogen sulfide poisoning and psychological and neurological problems in humans

Ongoing research at Iowa State University is investigating the long-term neurological damage caused by hydrogen sulfide poisoning, a threat to both humans and animals that can originate from sources as varied as swamps to industrial processes to manure pits.

Wilson Rumbeiha, a professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine, said the poison targets multiple systems in the human body, including the respiratory and cardiovascular systems and the brain. In high enough concentrations, exposure to the gas can be acutely fatal.

But Rumbeiha's research is focused on the long-term consequences of hydrogen sulfide poisoning in survivors. He said exposure can bring about psychological and neurological problems in humans, sometimes months after the exposure.

"In some cases, survivors can end up in a permanent vegetative state," Rumbeiha sad. "We don't have an antidote, and little is known about the mechanisms behind how it works. It's really a novel area that hasn't been investigated very well."

Rumbeiha recently received a two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the long-term risks associated with exposure to the gas and to test a drug that may pave the way to a therapy in humans. Rumbeiha is working with personnel at the University of California, San Diego, to determine if a novel compound currently being investigated as a treatment for cyanide exposure may also have benefits in cases of hydrogen sulfide poisoning.

Comment: Such research may prove highly significant given the increasing number of 'stinky smell' cases all around the world, such as in Moscow recently. See also:

Blue Planet

Stunning time lapse video shows off Earth bathed in infrared light

© Screenshot from
A mesmerizing new video showcases what the Earth looks like in infrared light - something that is invisible to the human eye but that nonetheless radiates from the planet's surface constantly.

Using images captured by two of NASA's geostationary satellites, GOES 13 and GOES 15, University of Victoria graduate student James Tyrwhitt-Drake pieced them together to create an impressive time lapse. The video covers nearly two months of time, between November 30, 2014 and January 26, 2015.

The resulting footage depicts infrared light as it is absorbed by the planet's clouds and water vapor. The brighter a section looks in the video, the more infrared light is being blasted into space.

New computer, smart phone app would monitor 'mental health' through social media

Researchers at the University of Rochester have developed an innovative approach to turn any computer or smartphone with a camera into a personal mental health monitoring device.

In a paper to be presented this week at the American Association for Artificial Intelligence conference in Austin, Texas, Professor of Computer Science Jiebo Luo and his colleagues describe a computer program that can analyze "selfie" videos recorded by a webcam as the person engages with social media.

Apps to monitor people's health are widely used, from monitoring the spread of the flu to providing guidance on nutrition and managing mental health issues. Luo explains that his team's approach is to "quietly observe your behavior" while you use the computer or phone as usual. He adds that their program is "unobtrusive; it does not require the user to explicitly state what he or she is feeling, input any extra information, or wear any special gear." For example, the team was able to measure a user's heart rate simply by monitoring very small, subtle changes in the user's forehead color. The system does not grab other data that might be available through the phone - such as the user's location.

The researchers were able to analyze the video data to extract a number of "clues," such as heart rate, blinking rate, eye pupil radius, and head movement rate. At the same time, the program also analyzed both what the users posted on Twitter, what they read, how fast they scrolled, their keystroke rate and their mouse click rate. Not every input is treated equally though: what a user tweets, for example, is given more weight than what the user reads because it is a direct expression of what that user is thinking and feeling.

To calibrate the system and generate a reaction they can measure, Luo explained, he and his colleagues enrolled 27 participants in a test group and "sent them messages, real tweets, with sentiment to induce their emotion." This allowed them to gauge how subjects reacted after seeing or reading material considered to be positive or negative.

They compared the outcome from all their combined monitoring with the users' self reports about their feelings to find out how well the program actually performs, and whether it can indeed tell how the user feels. The combination of the data gathered by the program with the users' self-reported state of mind (called the ground truth) allows the researchers to train the system. The program then begins to understand from just the data gathered whether the user is feeling positive, neutral or negative.

Researchers discover environmentally-friendly process for the purification of water

water purification process
© Thor Nielsen/SINTEF
When biologist Netzer (left), who specialises in bioprocesses, met electrochemist Colmenares, whose field is water purification, they came up with the idea of a practical, microbial, energy-generating water purification system. Today their demonstration plant is up and running.
Researchers in Trondheim have succeeded in getting bacteria to power a fuel cell. The "fuel" used is wastewater, and the products of the process are pure water droplets and electricity.

This is an environmentally-friendly process for the purification of water derived from industrial processes and suchlike", says SINTEF researcher Luis Cesar Colmenares, who is running the project together with his colleague Roman Netzer. "It also generates small amounts of electricity - in practice enough to drive a small fan, a sensor or a light-emitting diode", he says.

In the future, the researchers hope to scale up this energy generation to enable the same energy to be used to power the water purification process, which commonly consists of many stages, often involving mechanical and energy-demanding decontamination steps at its outset.