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The Race for Hydrogen

Industrial Hydrogen Pipelines Get a Boost from Lamination

December 29th 2008

Energy / Environment - Energy

The infrastructure and technology exists today to begin using hydrogen as a fuel. This will involve the proliferation of onsite hydrogen production using electrolysis or reformation from natural gas as well as neighborhood stations.

We have a sprawling, million mile natural gas pipeline network but only seven hundred miles of hydrogen pipeline, primarily serving high volume users such as Gulf Coast region refineries. In addition to the short pipelines serving high volume users, we ship tanks of hydrogen in either compressed or liquefied form. This is acceptable if you need hydrogen for some chemical manufacturing process, but it's a poor way to transport energy. The liquefaction process alone eats up 30% of the energy value of any hydrogen transported in this fashion.
But thanks to recent innovations, that hydrogen pipeline network could spread.

Early attempts to integrate hydrogen into existing pipelines tests supplementing natural gas with up to 20% hydrogen. This worked well for combustion but not for transport. Pipeline welds that easily stopped the larger natural gas molecules were quite willing to let hydrogen slip through, resulting in losses and the potential for fires and explosions where the gas accumulated.

Plastics and metals had long been used for piping, but plastics are permeable to hydrogen and metals are subject to hydrogen embrittlement as well as being permeable. Hydrogen molecules are a pair of atoms, and they pass through plastics still joined together. When presented with a metal barrier, the hydrogen atoms must dissociate, pass through the metal as individual atoms, and then find a partner again on the other side of the barrier. Read more ..

Genetic Edge

Genetic Engineering Limits—A Planet Responds

December 22nd 2008

Science - Mouse in Beaker

Over the past half century, the world has been transformed through rapid developments in communications, transportation, weaponry, and trade. A vast infrastructure of intergovernmental institutions has been established to help ensure that these and related developments generate more benefit than they do harm. These include global institutions such as the United Nations and the World Bank, regional groups such as the European Union and the African Union, and those with issue-specific agendas such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the World Health Organization. Although the record of these institutions is far from perfect, a world without them would be fraught with even more risk than it is today.

The rapid development of powerful new human biotechnologies raises precisely the sort of questions that such intergovernmental institutions are positioned to address. If developed wisely, these technologies could help prevent and cure diseases that have afflicted humanity for millennia; if misapplied, they could pose new and profoundly consequential risks. Detailed knowledge of the human genome might lead to improved medical diagnostics, but could also lead to a Gattaca-like world in which affluent couples genetically modify their embryos in an attempt to create “designer babies.” The creation of clonal human embryos gives researchers tools to help investigate the developmental origin of congenital diseases, but brings us closer to the day when rogue scientists might attempt to create live-born human clones. Genetic interventions intended to help those suffering from degenerative muscular diseases could be used by athletes to illicitly enhance their strength and endurance. Read more ..

Edge on Autism

Autism's Mysterious Increase

December 15th 2008

Health/Medicine - Autism

Impaired social function, repetitive motion, circumscribed interests—these are common themes in a group of complex developmental disabilities known as Autism Spectrum Disorders or ASD.

Individuals with ASD refer to themselves as being “on the spectrum” as they exhibit symptoms, characteristics, and function spanning the wide range from being unable to communicate or care for themselves, to managing to fit into society despite their quirks.

Although recognizable in historical writings, autism is still a relatively recent diagnosis. New collections of behaviors and deficits are being recognized as part of the autism spectrum. The initial characterization of Asperger's Syndrome (one of three forms of ASD) occurred in 1944, and work continues on sensory integration disorder, and on the catch-all pervasive developmental disorder. Read more ..

Genetic Edge

The Spitterati And Trickle-Down Genomics

December 8th 2008

Science - DNA Strands

Just before the world's financial system hit the skids, the New Yorker's Talk of the Town and the New York Times' Sunday Styles section both featured lengthy accounts of a celebrity "spit party," at which notables in cocktail attire ejected their saliva into test tubes.

The chic gala, hosted by media moguls Barry Diller, Rupert Murdoch, and Harvey Weinstein, was the latest episode of a remarkable publicity push by 23andMe, the start-up biotech firm whose mission is "to be the world's trusted source of personal genetic information." The Google-backed company launched its celebrity strategy this past January, when it distributed a thousand free spit kits at the elite World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But the genomes of the rich and famous were just the first step. Early this fall, 23andMe announced that it's slashing its prices to Christmas-stocking levels, in a bid to make DNA tests this year's high-tech must-have. Read more ..

The Edge of Disease

Nigeria Immunizing 30 Million Children Despite Muslim Protests Of U.S. "Depopulation Conspiracy"

December 1st 2008

Nigeria Polio vaccination

Despite the vehement protests of Muslim clerics, some 30 million children in Nigeria are to be vaccinated against polio and measles during an integrated immunization campaign set to begin immediately in Nigeria’s northern states.

For five days 200,000 health workers will be stationed at 33,000 schools throughout northern Nigeria to administer oral polio drops and measles vaccines to millions of children under the age of five in a new drive to eradicate the two diseases. The innoculation drive is beign spearheaded by the country's health ministry, with financial and technical support from UNICEF, the World Health Organization and other partners. But the campaign is proceeding despite vehement protests by radical Islamists.

Polio cases have more than doubled this year in Nigeria as health officials struggle to fight various natural strains of the virus as well as outbreaks set off by the polio vaccine itself three years ago. Kano, in northern Nigeria, has been the epicenter for the transmission of the crippling polio virus to other parts of the world since 2003 when the authorities suspended polio immunization for 13 months. That suspension followed claims by radical Muslim clerics and some medical doctors that the vaccine was laced with substances that could render girls infertile as part of a U.S.-led Western plot to depopulate Africa. Read more ..

Genetic Edge

The Quest for Global Consensus on Human Biotechnology

November 24th 2008

Science - Mouse in Beaker

The newest human biotechnologies have the potential for both great good and great harm. If used responsibly they could lead to medical advances and improved health outcomes. If misapplied they could exacerbate health disparities and generate new forms of discrimination and inequality. If we are to realize their benefits yet avoid their risks we will need regulations, laws, and guidelines at both national and international levels.

But how and where should the lines be drawn? If drawn too tightly they could constrain valuable medical research. If drawn too loosely they could open the door to a Gattaca-like world of neo-eugenic practices and ideologies.

In the United States, serious discussion of these questions has been thwarted for the past eight years by partisanship and polarization, and constructive engagement by the Bush administration at the international level has been effectively nil. The good news, however, is that during this same period many countries have been developing comprehensive human biotech policies that strike a practicable and socially responsible balance between being overly restrictive and overly permissive.

A survey of 192 countries and eight major intergovernmental organizations suggests that:

  • There is widespread support for human embryonic stem cell research involving embryos created but not used in the course of assisted reproductive technology (ART) procedures.
  • There is similarly widespread support for embryo screening to avoid passing serious diseases to one's offspring.
  • There is strong opposition to human reproductive cloning, inheritable genetic modification, and embryo screening for non-medical purposes.
  • There is widespread concern about the commercialization of human reproductive activities and about the use of genetic technologies for so-called "enhancement" purposes

The Water’s Edge

Municipal Water Stresses Abundant As the Levels Shrink

November 17th 2008

Science - Low Water

 The United States has always been two separate countries when it comes to water. The east has riparian water rights like those of England, while the west has right of prior appropriation which has descended to us through Spanish laws modified for use in the arid southwest.

Riparian rights permit a variety of uses for water found on, under, or flowing next to a property. The rights can't be sold or transferred except to an adjacent piece of land, the water may not be transferred out of the watershed, and the use must be reasonable. Unfortunately what was reasonable in a high precipitation year may not be in a dry year, and reasonableness is not precisely defined but instead depends upon the views of the others who have right to the water. Read more ..

The Edge of Wind

Arctic Ammonia Production Might Produce Energy and Stem Ice Loss from Global Warming

November 10th 2008

Energy / Environment - Polar Bear

The last three years have seen a mad scramble in the Arctic with undersea mapping of continental surface features and a Russian submarine placing a flag on the ocean floor at the North Pole—all efforts to claim potential fossil fuel resources beneath the sea bed.

But another vision, by independent researcher Dr. Homer Wang, is far different, allowing not only the production of energy but also the simultaneous correction of arctic ice loss.

Wind speeds of 7.5 meters per second in the continental United States can be promptly developed for the four hundred to five hundred watts per square meter available. But Arctic winds are twice as fast. Because wind energy increases with the cube of speed, harnessing winds in a Arctic meter can yield three to four thousand watts. The question is how?

Today's largest wind turbines, built by Enercon, offer hubs that stand a hundred and forty meters above the landscape and sweep an area of twelve thousand square meters. Such a device would not work on an oceangoing plantship facing arctic winds. Instead, it would act as a gigantic lever, capsizing even a large vessel. Arctic wind must be harvested with vertical axis wind turbines. Read more ..

The Race for Hydrogen

Ocean Thermals Can Produce Green Hydrogen

November 3rd 2008

Energy / Environment - Ocean scene

Many have heard the phrase "The Hydrogen Economy" and it stirred hopes, but reality is not so rosy.

The hydrogen molecule, just a pair of electrons and protons, misbehaves in all sorts of ways.

Its tiny size allows it to slip past tank and pipeline seals, when under pressure it embrittles metals just like the loose neutrons from a nuclear reactor, and it can explode or cause a flash fire across a wide range of conditions.

Hydrogen doesn't even qualify as an energy source as it's not found in its free form anywhere on Earth—for us it's just an energy carrier. Every bit we have we've made by either stripping it from fossil fuels or by cracking water using electricity. The only way hydrogen qualifies as “clean” is if it's made with electricity that came from a renewable source. Sometimes this is called “green hydrogen” versus “brown hydrogen.” Read more ..

Terrorism on the Internet

Hamas's AqsaTube in Cat and Mouse with Israeli Intelligence

October 27th 2008

Terrorism - AqsaTube

An Israeli intelligence think-tank and a Hamas video Web site seem to be playing a game of cat-and-mouse with each other.

Last week the Intelligence Terrorism Information Center, a Ramat Hasharon-based research center closely associated with Israel's Shin Bet and Military Intelligence, released a report detailing the establishment by Hamas of AqsaTube, a video-sharing web platform closely modeled on the popular YouTube, but filled with videos praising suicide martyrdom and showing how to build bombs and carry out attacks.

Following publication of the story in The Jerusalem Post, Google removed its AdSense program from the Hamas Web site, and one day later, AqsaTube's French Internet Service Provider OVH took the Islamist site off-line. But within days, AqsaTube was back up, bigger and more brazen than before.

The Hamas site obtained a new service provider, a new logo, brand new videos and some new ads. The graphic design of the site underwent a number of changes. The original logo, whose color was almost identical with that of YouTube, was now yellow and gray and bore its name in Arabic and a picture of the Aksa Mosque. The site was still registered to Abu Nasser Skandar, from Dubai. Read more ..

Feeding the Planet

Wheat, Fertilizer, Ammonia and Land Realities Threaten Global Food Supply

October 20th 2008

Farming - wheat fields
Wheat fields

Farming has changed dramatically in the last century. The horse as a source of power, the cow as a source of fertilizer, and triennial mix of corn, alfalfa or soy, and letting the land lay fallow is gone.

Today on the fertile lands of Iowa, Illinois, and Nebraska--our precious midwest farmbelt--the biennial dance of corn and soy is giving way to economic pressure from ethanol and advancing technology. Unthinkable even five years ago, today "corn on corn" is the norm.

Things are changing in equally dramatic ways in the drylands of the Dakotas, but the trend runs opposite to that seen in the wetter, richer lands to the east. Skyrocketing ammonia prices and limited moisture are driving lands out of annual wheat production and into a biennial rotation of fallow and wheat production.

This sounds like something only an agronomist could love, but the reality of the matter is that lives are on the line eighteen months from now based on the decisions farmers are making today. Read more ..

The Edge of Wind

Freeing the Wind

October 13th 2008

Energy / Environment - Wind Farm

 If you've done any reading at all on renewable energy, you'll have heard the marvelous phrase "The U.S. is the Saudi Arabia of wind." Like the Saudi Arabian oil, lying almost entirely under their country's Empty Quarter, the wind resources of the United States are found in our Empty Quarter—the plains from north Texas up through the Dakotas.

When natural gas exists in small pools or in oil field caps with too little volume to be economically exploited it is referred to as stranded gas. When wind resources exist in areas without the transmission lines required to send their power somewhere else and without local consumers to use them they are said to be stranded as well. Read more ..

Tracking Electric Cars

First Mass-Upfitted Electric Car Hits New Zealand

October 6th 2008

Energy / Environment - Getz
Upfitted Hyundai Electric Blade Getz

Mass upfitting has come to New Zealand. South Korean Hyundai has introduced the first mass-upfitted electric car, the Getz. It will be on the streets of New Zealand within weeks. The Getz employs household recharging utilizing the same plug that powers electric shavers, cell phones and laptops. Charging costs about $2.00 per 100 km—not much more than running a toaster.

Mass upfitting—the new term for retrofitting—is the mechanism for moving a large number of new or existing gas and diesel vehicles to a non-oil fuel source. New Zealand is the first country worldwide to undertake this process on such a national scale. Edwin Black, author of The Plan: How to Rescue Society the Day the Oil Stops--or the Day Before, said, “New Zealand’s action is significant. It is proactively adopting one of the keys provisions for getting the country off oil.”

David Crawford, general manager land transport environment and safety for New Zealand’s Ministry of Transport supports Hyundai's emission-free electric cars. "The ministry sees it as an important first step towards…the Government's target to become one of the first countries in the world to widely use electric vehicles," he said.

New Zealand’s Energy Strategy sets its goal at electric cars being 5 per cent of market share by 2020 and 60% by 2040. While those target percentages may seem almost tokenistic in view of the 500 million gas consuming vehicles expected by 2030, Black commended the concept. “Mass upfitting is essential to post-oil survival. New Zealand has quietly taken a leadership role in this regard.” Read more ..

Edge on Alternative Fuels

Ammonia Fuel—The Other Hydrogen Future

September 29th 2008

Energy / Environment - Ammonia-fueled Bus, Belgium, 1943
Ammonia-fueled bus, Belgium, 1943
Courtesy: Ammonia Fuel Network

America’s approach to the transformational challenge of Peak Oil has resembled nothing so much as a Keystone Kops two-reeler. Not since Jimmy Carter has an administration demonstrated a commitment commensurate to the challenge, perhaps because President Carter was sent packing back to Georgia with his cardigans after an attempt to rouse Americans from their blissful dreams of a future where Exxon and Mobil would ensure that no one would have to line up for gasoline ever again. Thirty years later, we are just one Category Four hurricane in the wrong place or a Strait of Hormuz terrorist attack away from waiting in long lines to buy fuel we can no longer afford for the SUVs we no longer love. Recent events in Nashville suggest that even imagined shortages will have the same results. We need a rational approach to energy transition, and nothing exemplifies the lack of a comprehensive energy policy as much as the magical-time-machine thinking involved in the promise of a "hydrogen future." Read more ..

Edge on Health

Snoring A Risk But Only for the Young

September 22nd 2008

Science - Snore Away

Now you can let your old Grandpa or Grandma snore—if it doesn't bother anybody else—according to new sleep research at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology's Medical Faculty. Prof. Peretz Lavie reported at the European Sleep Research Society in Glasgow last week that snoring is a health risk in young and middle-aged people, but surprisingly not in the elderly.

About five percent of women and 10 percent of men in the general population, especially the overweight, snore. This has been thought to be an important high-risk mortality factor in all people with sleep apnea (a momentary cessation of breathing hundreds of times per night) and heart disease. Sleep apnea, which causes snoring, is more common in men and in the elderly than in women and younger people.

But Lavie, one of the country's leading sleep medicine experts and his fellow researcher and wife, Dr. Lena Lavie, found that sleep apnea in the old is not necessarily accompanied by a higher risk of death. He compared death rates from cardiovascular disease among people according to their age, gender, and ethnic background. Read more ..

Tracking Electric Cars

Sizzling Future Electric Car Market Attracts Middle East Investment

September 15th 2008

Energy / Environment - Fisker EV
Fisker-Karma EV

The hot new ticket for the investment community is electric vehicles, from mass-market hybrids like the Toyota Prius to plug-ins hybrids (PHEVs) like the Volt to pure electric vehicles (EVs) like the Tesla Roadsters.

In 2007, about 500,000 HEVs were sold worldwide. PHEVs entry into the market in 2010 is projected to increase the total light electric vehicle to three million units by 2012. That means there is green to made in the green car field. Whenever investments are tallied, Middle East money flows. The same has now occurred for electric vehicle market. Read more ..

Environmental Awareness

Heavy Air Pollution Reduces Rainfall, Scientists Find

September 8th 2008

Energy / Environment - Smog and Pollution3

A certain number of aerosol particles in the air increases rainfall, but an overabundance of them retards it, according to new research by a group of international scientists, led by Prof. Daniel Rosenfeld of the Institute of Earth Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The team developed a model that shows how particles in the air influence cloud formation and rain. The findings were published Friday in the latest issue of the journal Science. Tiny floating particles, known as aerosols, significantly influence cloud formation. While they occur naturally, they are also produced through human action. As pollution rises, the aerosol particles produced can tip the natural balance. Read more ..

Internet Edge

Comcast Cap on Internet Downloads Signals Beginning of the End of “Free Internet”

September 1st 2008

Technology - Computer User

Internet analysts are pointing to the recent Comcast cap on the most active Internet downloaders as foreshadowing the beginning of the end of the "free Internet."

Comcast, a major Internet provider, set off the alarm when it announced it would limit the broadband usage of that small segment of its customer base with a record of the largest downloads.

Commencing October 1, Comcast will slap a 250 gigabyte-a-month cap on its residential users. Comcast states that 250 gigabytes is about 100 times the average residential usage. Typically, customers use two to three gigabytes monthly, a spokeswoman explained, adding that less than 1 percent of all residential customers exceed that level.

Comcast and other companies have long considered restricting their most active users, claiming the limits were necessary to ensure fair access to the network for all users. While the policy appears to target download abusers and excessive users, that is precisely the avenue providers such as Comcast are expected to take as they incrementally broaden the restrictions. Observers compare the restrictions to that seen in the telephonic world with Directory Assistance.

First the free service was subject to a cap, then the cap became progressively more restrictive and now all Directory Assistance calls are expensive fee-for calls.Internet usage is constantly evolving as the Internet and the technology itself evolves. Web analysts argue that an "Internet year" is just 90 calendar days. Cisco reminded in report on usage last winter that "today’s ‘bandwidth hog’ is tomorrow’s average user." Read more ..

Genetic Edge

Assisted Reproduction at 30

August 25th 2008

Science - Designer Embryo

Thirty years ago the assisted reproduction industry was born. From tiny but noisy beginnings, it grew through an occasionally troubled adolescence to maturity. Now it's time for it to become a responsible member of society. 

The modern industry's symbolic birth was on July 25th, 1978, when the first "test-tube baby" was born. It was one of the great media launches of all time. Louise Brown, who celebrates her 30th birthday on Friday, is English, but her birth was on the cover of Time magazine before it even happened. As Newsweek said, her first yell was "a cry heard round the brave new world." By late 1978, polls revealed that a remarkable 93% of Americans were aware of her -- and 85% of American women thought infertile couples should have the chance to try in-vitro fertilization (IVF). 

"IVF was a gigantic step," according to Alan Trounson, who now runs the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. "We didn't realize it at the time; people didn't think it would work that well. We never envisaged that it would expand so dramatically around the world."

An estimated 4 million babies have been born using IVF. In the U.S. alone, over 52,000 were born in 2005, the latest year for which data is available, slightly more than 1% of all births in the country. That's more than two-and-a-half times the 1996 number, and the rate keeps increasing.  Read more ..

Edge on Geology

Evidence North America and Antarctica Were Connected Might Be Revealed by Discovered Rock

August 11th 2008

Science - Antarctica from space

A lone granite boulder found against all odds high atop a glacier in Antarctica may provide additional key evidence to support a theory that parts of the southernmost continent once were connected to North America hundreds of millions of years ago.

Writing in the July 11 edition of the journal Science, an international team of U.S. and Australian investigators describe their findings, which were made in the Transantarctic Mountains, and their significance to the problem of piecing together what an ancient supercontinent, called Rodinia, looked like. The U.S. investigators were funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Previous lines of scientific evidence led researchers to theorise that about 600-800 million years ago a portion of Rodinia broke away from what is now the southwestern United States and eventually drifted southward to become eastern Antarctica and Australia.

The team's find, they argue, provides physical evidence that confirms the so-called southwestern United States and East Antarctica (SWEAT) hypothesis. Read more ..

Beyond Earth

Water on Red Planet Leads Scientists to Ask About Life

August 4th 2008

Science - Water on Mars
Martian Waterways

"We have water," declared William Boynton of the University of Arizona, the lead scientist for TEGA, the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer on board NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander. With these words, a new chapter in the history of man was written. Now, according to NASA officials, there is a real possibility of a new home for humans in the universe beyond planet Earth.

The discovery of water on the red planet did not come as a surprise. "We've seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the Mars Odyssey orbiter," said Boynton. The years-long search has been dubbed “Follow the Water.”

On May 25th, the spacecraft Phoenix landed on a crater-free arctic plain of Mars searching for "habitable environments" and organic chemicals. The $420 million mission was to spend at least four months searching for signs that Mars was once habitable to life. Both the atmosphere and ground levels were to be explored for clues to finding essential life-giving elements, such as carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and hydrogen. Scientists planned to probe the land and eventually drop soil samples in TEGA, an oven instrument. About the thickness of a pencil lead and one inch long, TEGA heats up the soil to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit and analyzes the vapor given off for water, hydrogen, carbon and other components needed for a habitable place for humans. The soil samples must be rasped, scooped, collected and delivered within 30 minutes.  Read more ..

Healthy Edge

Caloric Intake Reduction May Impede Aging in Complex Obesity Catch-22

July 21st 2008

Science - Mouse in Beaker

Restricting caloric intake has been previously shown to slow the aging process in rodents. Now researchers believe the same mechanism could work in humans as well. How calorie restriction as an age retardant works is not yet precisely understood. But scientists support one popular hypothesis that the intake reduction slows aging by decreasing the body’s production of triiodothyronine (T3) – a thyroid hormone which regulates metabolism. Decreasing the production of T3 slows metabolism.

A new study in the June 2008 issue of Rejuvenation Research reports that eliminating 300-500 calories per day appeared to slow the aging process in people. The study was conducted by Saint Louis University and authored by Dr. Edward Weiss, Associate Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Our research provides evidence that calorie restriction does indeed work in humans like it has been shown to work in animals. The next step is to determine if this fact slows age-related tissue deterioration. The only way to be certain, though, is to do a long term study,” Weiss said.

In order to determine whether decreased levels of T3 were the result of caloric intake restriction and not decreases in fat mass in general, Weiss recruited volunteers to lose weight through both exercise and calorie reduction. The study volunteers included sedentary, non-smoking 50-60 year old men, and post menopausal women with average to slightly higher than average body mass indices (BMI). The volunteers selected did not report cardiovascular disease, diabetes, lung disease, uncontrolled hypertension, or evidence of malignancy. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Little Noticed Decline in Penguin Population Signals Dangerous Changes in Oceans

July 7th 2008

Science - Penguins

At Punta Tombo on Argentina’s Atlantic coast, home to the world's largest penguin breeding colony, a team of experts from University of Washington, together with The Wildlife Conservation Society, recorded a sharp decline in the population of the Magellanic penguin. In the 1960s and the 1980s (the last time they were monitored) about 400,000 breeding pairs were observed. Today, there are only about 200,000.

"Penguins are among those species that show us that we are making fundamental changes to our world," said Dee Boersma, a University of Washington biology professor, an expert in penguins, and the leader of the research team at Punta Tombo. Although warming of the climate can certainly account for the change, she says that the penguins’ loss of habitat can be blamed on costal development, pollution, and exploitation of fisheries as well.

The increase in human population is affecting the planet's wildlife, Boersma said. "In 1960 we had 3 billion people in the world. Now it's 6.7 billion, and it's expected to be 8 billion by 2025... As the fish humans have traditionally eaten get more and more scarce, we are fishing down the food chain and now we are beginning to compete more directly with smaller organisms for the food they depend on."

Sixteen to nineteen penguin species are found throughout 43 breeding sites in the world, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere. The telling decline of the penguin population has not been noticed until now, because most of these sites are not monitored.

"It's clear that humans have changed the face of the Earth and we have changed the face of the oceans, but we just can't see [always] it. We've already waited too long." Read more ..

Terrorism on the Internet

Battle of the Taliban Bloggers Could Alter Counterinsurgency Efforts in Afghanistan

June 30th 2008

Islamic Topics - Taliban
Taliban leaders

Islamic extremists who regularly post messages to a pro-al-Qaida website in Egypt are accusing Afghanistan's Taliban of straying from the path of global jihad. Prominent Taliban have responded by lashing back with criticism of their own.

The development suggests a rift is emerging between the Taliban leadership and religious extremists in the Arab world - including the al-Qaida network that the Taliban had hosted in Afghanistan while it planned the 11 September 2001, terrorist attacks in the US. Such a break could affect Afghan government efforts to convince Taliban fighters to lay down their weapons and peacefully resolve their differences with officials, which could in turn influence whether non-Afghan al-Qaida fighters continue to be welcomed among the Taliban.

Internet criticisms of the Taliban follow a February statement from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar announcing that his movement wants to maintain positive and "legitimate" relations with countries neighboring Afghanistan. Read more ..

Edge on the Cosmos

Pluto’s Identity Crisis Foments Confusion in Classrooms and Bookstores

June 23rd 2008

Science - Plutoid

It’s a planet, it’s a dwarf planet, no…it’s a plutoid!

The journey of Pluto’s identity began in 1930 when astronomer Clyde Tombaugh discovered the small, frigid Kuiper Belt-dwelling oddball that was named Pluto by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and dubbed the solar system’s ninth planet. Pluto, whose orbit around the sun takes 248 Earth years, is orbited by three moons: Charon, Hydra, and Nix. Its temperature is roughly 43 K (-382 degrees Fahrenheit).

For over seven decades children were taught that Pluto was the ninth planet, which is furthest from the sun. Now that has changed.

The IAU voted to reclassify Pluto as a "dwarf planet." Demoting it from its 70-year status as a planet, and placing Pluto in the same category as Eris and Ceres which are considered dwarf planets.

The IAU’s reasoning behind its demotion of Pluto is based on their agreed strict definition of a planet. According to the IAU, a planet: must be in orbit around the Sun; must be large enough that it takes on a nearly spherical shape; and its orbit must clear the orbits of other objects. All three prongs of the planet definition must hold in order for a body to be classified as a planet. This definition was introduced formally by the IAU on August 24th 2006. The third prong of the IAU’s definition is not met by Pluto because of its irregular orbit which causes it to cross the orbit of Neptune. Pluto’s mass is 27% less than that of dwarf planet Eris, which bolstered acceptance of Pluto’s reclassification.


The Genetic Divide

Red Flags Over Consumer Genetics

June 16th 2008

World Citizens - Marcy Darnovsky
Marcy Darnovsky

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, known as GINA, sailed through Congress earlier this month and was signed into law yesterday by President Bush. The law of the land now prohibits health insurance companies or employers from using information gleaned from your genes against you. If your doctor recommends a genetic test, you'll be able to take it with less worry.

GINA is a welcome step, and a long overdue one. But even assuming it's effectively enforced, we're at the beginning of a long and bumpy road.

Consider one of the warning lights already flashing: the aggressive marketing of "direct-to-consumer" gene tests for scores of medical and nonmedical conditions. Unlike the tests ordered by a doctor, these at-home tests are often sold online. More than two dozen companies now offer to analyze your DNA if you'll just send them some spit in a test tube and a wad of cash.

Some of these companies promise information about your risk of specific serious conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Others offer tests for "hair loss" or "addiction," or claim to reveal the optimum foods for your genetic profile. And then there's the trio of "personal genome" companies - 23andMe, Navigenics and DeCodeMe - that have been much in the news of late.


Genetic Edge

Recent Genetic Link Gives Insight as Vision Problems Increase Worldwide

June 9th 2008

Contributors / Staff - Jacqueline Homan
Jacqueline S. Homan

Myopia and hyperopia, two vision problems based on refractive errors in the eye, are primarily genetic, according to recent research led by Dr. Gu Zhu of the Genetic Epidemiology Unit, Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Brisbane, Australia. The probable location of the offending gene has been identified by Zhu and his team. He believes it lies on the long arm of chromosome 5, containing the genes that help determine axial length. Axial length, the measurement from the front to the back of the eye, is a key factor in these refractive errors. When the axial length is not normal, the eye cannot focus correctly without corrective lenses. Axial length is longer than normal in nearsighted people and shorter than normal in farsighted people.

Myopia is more commonly known as nearsightedness and hyperopia is farsightedness. Sufferers of myopia cannot see far away; those with hyperopia cannot see close up. Zhu’s research confirms the long-held view that both conditions are most likely inherited.

Vision experts have determined that myopia is on the rise both in the United States and globally, thus research efforts have intensified accordingly. Myopia is expensive to treat if it is severe, and costly to the patient’s quality of life. Dr. Zhu’s study focused on myopia, building on previous research on genetic aspects and environmental factors. He recruited 893 individuals from the Tasmania Twin Eye Study and the Brisbane Adolescent Twin Study (BATS) in Australia, obtaining axial length measurements. The team analyzed the proportional impacts of genetic and environmental factors on axial length values after adjusting for age and sex. His study breaks new ground in linking axial length to the heritability of refractive error. Read more ..

Climate Change

Bush Administration Releases Suppressed Report on Global Warming

June 2nd 2008

Science - Polar Bear

The Bush administration capitulated to a court order and released a fresh summary of federal and independent research on global warming. The summary pointed to the large and harmful impact of human-caused global warming in the United States. The report was released on Thursday and is available online at climatescience.gov, together with a new report updating the administration’s priorities for climate research. Most of the findings, like the spread of warmth-loving pests and rising sea levels eroding lands, are not new. The report included new projections of how the poor, the elderly, and communities lacking adequate public health and public works systems will face outsize health risks from warming.

One of the important new conclusions concerning health in the report stated: “An increased frequency and severity of heat waves is expected, leading to more illness and death especially among the young, the elderly, the frail and the poor.” The report speculated that deaths from the cold would decline, but stated that uncertainties on both projections made it impossible to characterize overall risk. The report gave a two out of three chance that Lyme disease and West Nile virus would have expanded ranges due to a warmer climate, and these diseases would increase in proliferation among susceptible communities. The report also states that “major epidemics” were unlikely as long as public health systems remained effective. Read more ..

Running Out of Oil

Shell Execs Briefed on Peak Oil in 1956

May 5th 2008

Unknown - Shell Oil - Hubbert
Shell Geologist M. King Hubbert

When did Shell executives first learn that the world would one day face the moment of peak oil, known to many as Hubbert’s Peak? Answer: as far back as 1956 when M. King Hubbert delivered his seminal speech to Shell employees predicting the day when oil reserves would begin to decline. For more than a half century, Shell has known that the world of the 21st Century would begin running out of oil with disastrous ramifications. Yet little was done to prepare society.

The story begins in 1950s when the United States was the world’s largest producer and exporter of oil, making it mostly self-sufficient. The U.S. also was the largest creditor nation, while its manufacturing output fed the world’s demand for tools and machinery. This new world power from the West emerged relatively unscathed from the second of two world wars, for which its unprecedented access to oil proved the deciding factor. This quite literally was America’s peak in wealth and potential.

Before embarking on an ambitious plan to rebuild the bombed-out cities of Europe, the U.S. built more than 2 million homes on the home front, mostly to meet the unprecedented demand of returning GIs. The resulting paradigm shift, constructed around a flawed assumption of infinite bounty, was the beginning of the suburbanization of America that continues to follow its terminal path. Intensive highway development would continue for decades, further solidifying American’s love affair with the automobile and redefining the American Dream. Read more ..

Edge on Epidemics

Malaria---New Tools Needed to Combat an Old Disease

April 28th 2008

Headshot - Richard Tren headshot
Richard Tren

April 25th marked World Malaria Day---an occasion to assess progress, galvanize support, and of course, solemnly recognize the suffering that this devastating disease causes.

Every year, over one million people, mostly young children, die from malaria and up to 500 million become ill. However, it need not be this way. Malaria is both preventable and curable. With US taxpayers’ money, much is being done to save lives, but investment in new tools and methods of control is essential to sustaining success. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Basketball Association, and Boys and Girls Clubs of America have also contributed funds, and fund-raising, to help eliminate the scourge, especially in Africa. Parts of Africa are considered hyper-endemic since they have transmission rates up to 100 times the rate of those areas where the disease has been eliminated.

Malaria is caused by the plasmodium parasite which is transmitted from person to person by the female Anopheles mosquito. Controlling malaria successfully and breaking the transmission cycle requires treating patients with effective medicines so that parasites are cleared out of the body, as well as controlling mosquitoes.

Targeted mosquito, or vector, control only began in earnest in the early part of the 20th century when scientists discovered how the disease was transmitted. Spraying insecticides on the inside walls of houses where mosquitoes rest was first tried in the 1930s, though these efforts were expensive. However, spraying interior walls appears to be making something of a come-back. At that time the best available insecticide – pyrethrum – only remained effective for approximately two weeks; houses had to be re-sprayed frequently which limited the scope of the programs.  Read more ..

The Genetic Divide

Are We Headed for a Sci-Fi Dystopia?

April 14th 2008


Gattaca, 1997

For Boomers and the World War II generation, Aldous Huxley's 1932 Brave New World is the touchstone tale of a techno-utopian nightmare created by reproductive and biological engineering. Those in Gen X and Gen Y who ponder the prospect of a repro-genetic dystopia think of Gattaca.

The recent release of a collector's edition of the 1997 film unavoidably prompts us to measure ourselves against its "not-too-distant future" of genetic castes and DNA-based discrimination. Has our world become more like Gattaca than it was a decade ago?

In Gattaca world, nonenhanced babies are born only to the poor and the sexually reckless. Those who can possibly afford it consult with a genetic technician before initiating a pregnancy, and select their future child's traits for optimum success: sex, life expectancy, intelligence, appearance.

Children with high-caliber preselected genes are classified at birth as "Valids." They're the ruling elite, eligible for top careers and entitled to high social status. "In-Valids" labor at menial jobs with no way up or out. In one memorable scene, a team of In-Valid janitors in prisoner-like jumpsuits is bussed into a gleaming office building. It's clear that the only way they get through the door is to clean the toilets and sweep the floors. Read more ..

Nazi Legacy Today

Congressman Slams Google, Yahoo--Likens China Censorship to IBM's Assistance to Nazis

March 24th 2008

IBM-Nazi Rassenamt Card
IBM Custom Punch Card for Nazi SS Race Office

Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) likened Google, Yahoo and other Internet companies to the IBM's cooperation with Hitler's Nazi government to help carry out the Holocaust.

The sharp criticism was part of an on-going Congressional scrutiny of Internet and technology companies for their involvement with what is seen as a repressive regime in China. "Did you ever wonder why the Gestapo always had all those very well-laid-out prints of where the Jews lived?" according to Information Week reporter Paul McDougall quoted Smith as saying. "Because IBM made it happen."

Smith's comments about IBM helping to enable the Holocaust referred to investigative author Edwin Black's 2001 book "IBM And The Holocaust,"  which extensively documents IBM's role in enabling the Nazis to efficiently exterminate over 7 million people, including about 6 million Jews using IBM's technology. IBM has never denied its 12 year highly profitable relationship with Nazi Germany in which it used its information technology--punch cards--to help plan the Third Reich's war against the Jews. This including such campaigns as the census and other identification programs, asset seizures, extermination by labor which matched job skills to useful slave labor details, and the train schedules and factories serving Auschwitz.

IBM maintained a customer site known as the "Hollerith Department" in virtually every concentration camp. IBM coded its punch cards for special Nazi needs allowing them unheard of efficiency. Prisoner Code 8 was Jew, Code 11 was Gypsy. Camp Code 001 was Auschwitz, Code 002 was Buchenwald. Status Code 5 was executed by order, code 6 was death by gas chamber. One extensively quoted IBM report written by the company's European manager during WWII declared “in Germany a campaign started for, what has been termed … ‘organization of the second front.’” The memo added, “In military literature and in newspapers, the importance and necessity of having in all phases of life, behind the front, an organization which would remain intact and would function with ‘Blitzkrieg’ efficiency … was brought out. What we had been preaching in vain for years all at once began to be realized.” Read more ..

Science and Gays

Female Sperm and Gay Guinea Pigs

March 17th 2008

Marcy Darnovsky
Marcy Darnovsky

While gay families and their supporters await the California Supreme Court's ruling on the constitutionality of a voter-approved law banning same-sex marriage, a few researchers and pundits are proposing that same-sex procreation with bio-engineered gametes will undermine one of the key arguments of same-sex marriage opponents.

These technological enthusiasts are portraying a recent biological experiment with artificial gametes as a breakthrough that will one day enable gay and lesbian couples to have children who are genetically related to both of them. Some media reports have described the step toward "female sperm" as a portent of gay freedom. "Good news for lesbians," the lead of one story gushed.

Well, maybe not. The news accounts and enthusiasts haven't raised the question of whether equality can be engineered in a test tube or discrimination solved with a technical fix. Nor have they pointed out that procreation with artificial gametes would be a biologically extreme measure that would pose enormous risks to any resulting children. While speculation about using such constructs in humans typically includes the standard disclaimer - "assuming this is shown to be safe" - the far more likely "not safe" option has remained unexamined.

The recent discussion of female sperm was triggered by a report from scientists at the United Kingdom's University of Newcastle. The British researchers, who had previously coaxed bone marrow cells taken from men to develop into sperm precursor cells, announced that they had done the same with female embryonic stem cells and now plan to try repeating the trick with female bone marrow. As the scientists and various commentators hastened to point out, these techniques raise the possibility that sperm created from one woman's cells could be used to fertilize an egg from her partner. Read more ..

Saving lives

Israeli system turns contaminated water into drinking water--instantly

March 12th 2008

Drinking Water
The Sulis System

Sulis was a Greek goddess connected with water and healing, therefore it's also become an appropriate moniker for an innovative new Israeli device which instantly purifies contaminated water.

The Sulis Personal Purification System (PPS) takes all the ingredients needed to transform dirty water into clean water - whether it be for stranded hikers, soldiers in the field, or victims of disasters - and has miniaturized the technology to fit into the top of a cork that can be plugged into virtually any size bottle, container or tap.

"Above everything else, the product we've developed is going to save lives," explained Yossi Sandak, the CEO of Watersheer, the Israeli company which has developed the Sulis PPS.

"Over 1.6 million children under the age of five die each year in the undeveloped world from drinking untreated water. What we have is a solution to reduce death in the world that is not a medical solution, but simply providing people with clean drinking water."

The Sulis unit is lightweight and small (10 grams, 2.7 Inches / 7 cm) and is designed to fit onto most universal bottles. According to Sandak's partner, Ron Shani, the founder, chairman and vice president of Watersheer's R&D division, the Sulis system treats water from upper sources containing organic, biological and chemical contaminates.

"The problem is that there aren't enough products in the humanitarian field that are inexpensive enough and efficient enough to solve the problems of contaminated water - from a biological and chemical standpoint," Shani said.


Amazon Author Wars

Shadowy New Amazon Service Kindles More Questions than Answers

December 14th 2007

Amazon Kindle2
Amazon's Kindle

Many Authors have recently become astonished to discover their books being offered by Amazon at a steep discount on a promising and highly promoted if shadowy new Amazon service called Kindle. Most authors did not know their books were being converted into that format, and what the royalties will be. This latest Amazon technological incision into copyrighted content has only deepened the divide between the company and the world of writers who have collectively voiced resentment over the company’s sales tactics.

What is Kindle? The service is simply an e-book system rigged to work only with a sleek new Amazon ten ounce electronic PDA-style reader called Kindle that stores books remotely. But it is wireless. You only own a virtual copy that does not exist outside a wireless-enabled environment. Forget about it on a cruise, a trip into the wilderness, crossing the border into Mexico or Canada unless you download books into a handheld library which can be a time consuming an expensive proposition especially for those who have to pay for a wireless connection.

The $400 reader, currently not shipping due to limited manufacturing, is the latest attempt to convince people to read books on palm-top computer screens instead of holding them in their hands. Previous attempts have suffered a dismal fate. Initial reviews are mixed from unlimited praise by first adopters on the Amazon website to "not used friendly and destined to failure" by one publisher working closely with the site. That said, the Kindle concept is more than nifty. It may be the wave of the future. Unfortunately for now, Amazon’s mishandling of the program is giving it a black eye. Read more ..

Getting off Oil

Joint American-Israel Effort to Get off Oil

December 13th 2007

Empty on Oil

One little known but crucial provision in the comprehensive energy legislation that just passed the Senate last week is the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Act (USIECA). The bill is headed for passage in the House this week and the President’s signature thereafter.

USEICA allocates U.S. funding for Israeli research into new technologies to decrease American dependence on foreign oil. The law will establish a multi-year program of grants for joint projects at the basic research level between U.S. and Israeli academic institutions, and at the applied research and development level between U.S. and Israeli companies. Administered by the Secretary of Energy, the program who will be driven by a joint American and Israel board of advisors.

USIECA was the brainchild of Jack Halpern, Chairman of the American Jewish Congress’s Energy Independence Task Force. For his part, Halpern expressed “Extraordinary pride in the passage of this important measure because of the many years we put into the effort for its enactment, beginning with our conceptualization of the measure in 2003, through lobbying for the measure for four years.” Read more ..

The Genetic Battlefield

Stem-Cell Science Outruns Political Debate

December 11th 2007

Marcy Darnovsky
Marcy Darnovsky

Research teams at two prestigious universities announced a major feat of biological alchemy this week: They've taken ordinary human cells and turned them into cells with all the characteristics and promise of embryonic stem cells.

This entirely new way to derive what the researchers are calling induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells uses neither eggs nor embryos. Instead, it reprograms body cells, reactivating genes that return them to the undifferentiated state characteristic of "conventional" embryonic stem cells.

If the new technique holds up, it will also reprogram the science and politics of stem-cell research. Read more ..

The Genetic Battlefield

Beyond the Embryo Fight

December 11th 2007

Richard Hayes

The debate over cloning embryos for stem cell research has been one of the most divisive and unpleasant public controversies of the last decade. Partisans on both sides have sought to polarize the issue for political advantage rather than look for middle-ground positions that a majority of Americans would welcome.

In general, Republicans have equated medical research using single-celled clonal embryos with murder, while Democrats have promoted state ballot initiatives enshrining human embryo cloning as a constitutional right and committing billions of taxpayer dollars to a procedure that could open the door to socially pernicious applications, threaten women's health and exacerbate healthcare inequities.

Now we have a chance to put the cloning debate behind us. Read more ..

Getting Off Oil

Honda’s Decisive Clarity Steals LA Auto Show

November 14th 2007

Honda Clarity Fueling
Honda's new Clarity

American Honda Motor Company stole the Los Angeles Auto Show with decisive clarity today. Shortly after show doors opened, the company announced the summer 2008 initial rollout of its sleek, new and tantalizing four-passenger zero-emissions hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle. The long-awaited, market-ready hydrogen car, called “Clarity,” will use zero oil and feature zero emissions.

No longer experimental, the Honda FCX Clarity is powered by a breakthrough, “V Flow” fuel cell stack that delivers vastly increased power and range over previous FCX hydrogen models. The FCX Clarity utilizes its V Flow stack in combination with a new compact and efficient lithium ion battery pack and a single hydrogen storage tank to power the vehicle's electric drive motor. Hydrogen combines with atmospheric oxygen in the fuel cell stack, where chemical energy from the reaction is converted into electric power to propel the vehicle. Additional energy captured through regenerative braking and deceleration is stored in the lithium ion battery pack. It is used to supplement power from the fuel cell when needed. The vehicle's only emission is water. Indeed, the company invites drivers to drink the exhaust, and has even distributed novelty drinking glasses to drive home the point. Read more ..

Online Banking

BBT Apologizes for Broken Online Banking Site

September 12th 2007

BBT Online Service Unavailable
BBT'S broken website notice

BBT is still struggling to bring its online service back to full functionality and cope with outraged consumer backlash. Shortly after the bank "improved" its online software on August 3, 2007 to make it “safer, faster, and more convenient for you,” the website slowed to a crawl, lost and duplicated transactions, clobbered integrated customer financial management software such as Quicken, and in many cases became completely inaccessible. The problems were first reported exclusively by The Cutting Edge. Online function problems heightened during late August and by Labor Day the BBT site became completely inaccessible for many customers during most business hours. In early September, patches and fixes were installed, but problems have persisted so the company has been forced to post a prominent apology on its logon page.

“Recently, you may have experienced slow response times while accessing BB&T OnLine banking.” The statement reads, adding, “Over the past several days, you may also have been unable to log on to BB&T OnLine at different times. We understand this may have made it difficult for you to access your accounts and schedule your bill payments. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you. Please know that our technicians are working diligently to expedite a solution. Our goal at BB&T OnLine is to provide you with the Perfect Client Experience for every online interaction. We know we have fallen short of this promise and want to assure you that we are doing everything we can to correct this problem. Thank you for your patience as we work to resolve our performance issues and restore your confidence in BB&T OnLine.”


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