IF NO ONE'S WATCHING

from: http://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2011/01/06/if-no-ones-watching/

‘Anti-Genocide Paparazzi’
http://www.satsentinel.org/maps
http://www.satsentinel.org/reports

“…In what may be the most ambitious project of its kind, the United Nations and human rights advocates in the US are turning to satellite images and the Web to monitor the border between northern and southern Sudan, as the south prepares for a referendum on Jan. 9 that could split the country in two. The concern: If the referendum in southern Sudan supports independence for the oil-rich, largely Christian region, the country once again could dissolve into a brutal civil war. By combining on-the-ground reports with a nearly daily review of commercial-satellite images, the project’s participants say they hope to head off potential large-scale human rights abuses, should a conflict break out.

“We want to let potential perpetrators of genocide and other war crimes know that we’re watching,” said Clooney, a co-founder of Not on Our Watch, a human rights group funding the effort, in a statement. “It’s a lot harder to commit mass atrocities in the glare of the media spotlight.” National intelligence services in the United States and for other major countries are widely acknowledged to have access to more-detailed images than remote-sensing companies can provide. But those images tend to remain classified and out of the public spotlight. The new effort announced Wednesday – the Satellite Sentinel Project – will post its images on a publicly available website, in hopes of mobilizing public opinion in ways that pressure governments to respond to any abuses the effort detects…”

the CRYPTO 'BLAST SHACK' FINALLY GOES OFF

excerpt from ‘The BLAST SHACK’
http://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/crypto-blast-shack-finally-goes-off/
by Bruce Sterling / 22 December 2010

“…It’s going to take me a while to explain why this highly newsworthy event fills me with such a chilly, deadening sense of Edgar Allen Poe melancholia. Part of this dull, icy feeling, I think, must be the agonizing slowness with which this has happened. At last — at long last — the homemade nitroglycerin in the old cypherpunks blast shack has gone off. Those “cypherpunks,” of all people. Way back in 1992, a brainy American hacker called Timothy C. May made up a sci-fi tinged idea that he called “The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto.” This exciting screed — I read it at the time, and boy was it ever cool — was all about anonymity, and encryption, and the Internet, and all about how wacky data-obsessed subversives could get up to all kinds of globalized mischief without any fear of repercussion from the blinkered authorities. If you were of a certain technoculture bent in the early 1990s, you had to love a thing like that. As Tim blithely remarked to his fellow encryption enthusiasts, “The State will of course try to slow or halt the spread of this technology, citing national security concerns, use of the technology by drug dealers and tax evaders, and fears of societal disintegration. Many of these concerns will be valid; crypto anarchy will allow national secrets to be traded freely,” and then Tim started getting really interesting. Later, May described an institution called “BlackNet” which might conceivably carry out these aims. Nothing much ever happened with Tim May’s imaginary BlackNet. It was the kind of out-there concept that science fiction writers like to put in novels. Because BlackNet was clever, and fun to think about, and it made impossible things seem plausible, and it was fantastic and also quite titillating. So it was the kind of farfetched but provocative issue that ought to be properly raised within a sci-fi public discourse. Because, you know, that would allow plenty of time to contemplate the approaching trainwreck and perhaps do something practical about it. Nobody did much of anything practical. Tim May and his imaginary BlackNet were the sci-fi extrapolation version of the NSA. A sort of inside-out, hippiefied NSA. Crypto people were always keenly aware of the NSA, for the NSA were the people who harassed them for munitions violations and struggled to suppress their academic publications. Creating a BlackNet is like having a pet, desktop NSA. Except, that instead of being a vast, federally-supported nest of supercomputers under a hill in Maryland, it’s a creaky, homemade, zero-budget social-network site for disaffected geeks.

That is how we come to the dismal saga of Wikileaks and its ongoing Cablegate affair, which is a melancholy business, all in all. Private Manning was a young American, a hacker-in-uniform, bored silly while doing scarcely necessary scutwork on a military computer system in Iraq. Private Manning had dozens of reasons for becoming what computer-security professionals call the “internal threat.” His war made no sense on its face, because it was carried out in a headlong pursuit of imaginary engines of mass destruction. The military occupation of Iraq was endless. Manning, a tender-hearted geek, was overlooked and put-upon by his superiors. Although he worked around the clock, he had nothing of any particular military consequence to do. It did not occur to his superiors that a bored soldier in a poorly secured computer system would download hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables. Because, well, why? They’re very boring. Soldiers never read them. The malefactor has no use for them. They’re not particularly secret. They’ve got nothing much to do with his war. He knows his way around the machinery, but Bradley Manning is not any kind of blackhat programming genius. Instead, he’s very like Jerome Kerveil, that obscure French stock trader who stole 5 billion euros without making one dime for himself.

Jerome Kerveil, just like Bradley Manning, was a bored, resentful, lower-echelon guy in a dead end, who discovered some awesome capacities in his system that his bosses never knew it had. It makes so little sense to behave like Kerveil and Manning that their threat can’t be imagined. A weird hack like that is self-defeating, and it’s sure to bring terrible repercussions to the transgressor. But then the sad and sordid days grind on and on; and that blindly potent machinery is just sitting there. Sitting there, tempting the user. Bradley Manning believes the sci-fi legendry of the underground. He thinks that he can leak a quarter of a million secret cables, protect himself with neat-o cryptography, and, magically, never be found out. So Manning does this, and at first he gets away with it, but, still possessed by the malaise that haunts his soul, he has to brag about his misdeed, and confess himself to a hacker confidante who immediately ships him to the authorities. No hacker story is more common than this. With more political awareness, he might have made himself a public martyr to his conscience; but he lacks political awareness. He only has only his black-hat hacker awareness, which is all about committing awesome voyeuristic acts of computer intrusion and imagining you can get away with that when it really matters to people. The guy preferred his hacker identity to his sworn fidelity to the uniform of a superpower. This mild nobody has become super-famous, and in his lonely military brig, screenless and without a computer, he’s strictly confined and, no doubt, he’s horribly bored.

Then there is Julian Assange, who is a pure-dye underground computer hacker. He’s the silver-plated real deal, the true avant-garde. Julian is a child of the underground hacker milieu, the digital-native as twenty-first century cypherpunk. The guy has surrounded himself with the cream of the computer underground, wily old rascals like Rop Gonggrijp and the fearsome Teutonic minions of the Chaos Computer Club. Assange has had many long, and no doubt insanely detailed, policy discussions with all his closest allies, about every aspect of his means, motives and opportunities. Julian Assange doesn’t want to be in power; he has no people skills at all, and nobody’s ever gonna make him President Vaclav Havel. He’s certainly not in for the money, because he wouldn’t know what to do with the cash; he lives out of a backpack, and his daily routine is probably sixteen hours online. I don’t even think Assange is all that big on ego; I know authors and architects, so I’ve seen much worse than Julian in that regard. He’s just what he is; he’s something we don’t yet have words for. He’s a different, modern type of serious troublemaker. Julian Assange’s extremely weird version of dissident “living in truth” doesn’t bear much relationship to the way that public life has ever been arranged. It does, however, align very closely to what we’ve done to ourselves by inventing and spreading the Internet. If the Internet was walking around in public, it would look and act a lot like Julian Assange. The Internet is about his age, and it doesn’t have any more care for the delicacies of profit, propriety and hierarchy than he does. The chances of that ending well are about ten thousand to one. And I don’t doubt Assange knows that. This is the kind of guy who once wrote an encryption program called “Rubberhose,” because he had it figured that the cops would beat his password out of him, and he needed some code-based way to finesse his own human frailty.

The one grand certainty about the consumers of Cablegate is that diplomats are gonna be reading those stolen cables. Not hackers: diplomats. Hackers bore easily, and they won’t be able to stand the discourse of intelligent trained professionals discussing real-life foreign affairs. American diplomats are gonna read those stolen cables, though, because they were supposed to read them anyway, even though they didn’t. Now, they’ve got to read them, with great care, because they might get blindsided otherwise by some wisecrack that they typed up years ago. And, of course, every intelligence agency and every diplomat from every non-American agency on Earth is gonna fire up computers and pore over those things. To see what American diplomacy really thought about them, or to see if they were ignored (which is worse), and to see how the grownups ran what was basically a foreign-service news agency that the rest of us were always forbidden to see…”


NSA, via Google Earth, 10 March 2008

BACTERIAL INTELLIGENCE

from : http://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/bacterial-intelligence/

Sine Qua Non | Distributed Awareness
http://astrobio.net/interview/2111/bacterial-intelligence
http://miller-mccune.com/science-environment/bacteria-r-us-23628/

“Strictly by the numbers, the vast majority — estimated by many scientists at 90 percent — of the cells in what you think of as your body are actually bacteria, not human cells. In fact, most of the life on the planet is probably composed of bacteria. They have been found making a living in Cretaceous-era sediments below the bottom of the ocean and in ice-covered Antarctic lakes, inside volcanoes, miles high in the atmosphere, teeming in the oceans — and within every other life-form on Earth. In a series of recent findings, researchers describe bacteria that communicate in sophisticated ways, take concerted action, influence human physiology, alter human thinking and work together to bioengineer the environment. Emerging knowledge about bacteria suggests that the micro-biosphere is much more like a web, with information of all kinds, including genes, traveling in all directions simultaneously. Microbes also appear to take a much more active role in their own evolution than the so-called “higher” animals. If conditions are favorable, a population of bacteria can double every 20 minutes or so. The primary method most bacteria use is called “conjugation,” a process in which genetic material is transferred between two bacteria that are in contact. It’s as close as they come to sex (although, as far as we know, lacking the romance; it’s more like downloading apps from a website). In principle, every bacterium can exchange genes with every other bacterium on the planet. A side effect of this reality: The notion of separate bacterial species is somewhat shaky, although the term is still in use for lack of a better alternative. Group behavior has now been demonstrated so widely that many microbiologists view bacteria as multicellular organisms, much of whose activity — from gene swapping to swarming to biofilm construction — is mediated by a wide variety of chemical communications. Bacteria use chemicals to talk to each other and to nonbacterial cells as well. In other words, they have “social intelligence.”

In 2007, the NIH began an ambitious program called the Human Microbiome Project, which aims to take a census of all the microorganisms that normally live in and on the human body. Most of these live in the digestive tract, but researchers have also discovered unique populations adapted to the inside of the elbow and the back of the knee. Even the left and right hands have their own distinct biota, and the microbiomes of men and women differ. The import of this distribution of microorganisms is unclear, but its existence reinforces the notion that humans should start thinking of themselves as ecosystems, rather than discrete individuals. Recent research has shown that gut microbes control or influence nutrient supply to the human host, the development of mature intestinal cells and blood vessels, the stimulation and maturation of the immune system, and blood levels of lipids such as cholesterol. They are, therefore, intimately involved in the bodily functions that tend to be out of kilter in modern society: metabolism, cardiovascular processes and defense against disease. Many researchers are coming to view such diseases as manifestations of imbalance in the ecology of the microbes inhabiting the human body. If further evidence bears this out, medicine is about to undergo a profound paradigm shift, and medical treatment could regularly involve kindness to microbes. In a surgical patient being fed by an IV drip, the gut bacteria perceive their sustenance disappearing. A decline in available nutrients alarms them. And surgery triggers the release of stress compounds that bacteria also sense, Alverdy says. Chemotherapy and radiation have similar effects. When threatened, bacteria become defensive, often producing toxins that make the host even sicker. They also tend to speed up their acquisition of and purging of genes when under external selection pressure, of which antibiotics are an obvious and powerful example. Alverdy is finding success in treating patients with a strategy he calls “ecologic neutrality.” In research reported in the August 2008 Surgery, he was able to prevent P. aeruginosa from turning virulent in surgically stressed mice by dosing them with polyethylene glycol, which supplies the bacteria with phosphate, one of their primary needs. “Once they sense there’s plenty of phosphate,” he says, “they figure everybody must be happy here.” The treated mice in his experiments, unlike the controls, did not contract fatal infections. Researchers have found several reasons to believe that bacteria affect the mental health of humans. For one thing, bacteria produce some of the same types of neurotransmitters that regulate the function of the human brain. The human intestine contains a network of neurons, and the gut network routinely communicates with the brain. Gut bacteria affect that communication. “The bugs are talking to each other, and they’re talking to their host, and their host talks back,” Young says. The phrase “gut feeling” is probably, literally true. Even more intriguingly, there have long been hints that some bacteria, including Bifidobacteria commonly found in yogurt, can improve mood. A common soil microbe, Mycobacterium vaccae, has recently been found to cheer up lab mice in experiments by Christopher Lowry.


Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring’s vivid colours are the result of pigmented bacteria; the colours range from green to red, depending on the amount of chlorophyll the bacteria has, as well as the temperature of the water.

Beyond the universe of bacterial genes recently discovered in the human gut, surveys of marine microbes are producing similarly staggering numbers of genes and species. This spring, J. Craig Venter and co-authors reported that samples of seawater taken near Bermuda yielded 150 new types of bacteria and more than a million previously unknown genes — this in an area of open ocean thought to be low in nutrients and sparsely populated by microorganisms. R. John Parkes studies microbes found in core samples collected by the Ocean Drilling Program from rocks deep below the ocean floor. “For a long time, these deep sediments were thought to be devoid of any life at all,” he says. There’s life down there, all right, but talk about slow metabolism: When Parke analyzed 4.7 million-year-old organic sediment in the Mediterranean, he estimated the average time it took for resident microbes to reproduce by cell division at 120,000 years. And he reported finding living bacteria just over a mile below the seafloor, in sediments 111 million years old and at temperatures of 140 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. But wherever they live, bacteria can take most of the credit for bringing planetary geology into the service of life. They started working on these processes promptly upon their first emergence, perhaps as early as a mere billion years into Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history. Both the energy-releasing chemical reactions and the assembly of complex organic molecules necessary for life are “an emergent property of microbial life on a planetary scale.” In fact, Falkowski wrote, the genes that enable these processes today “may have been distributed across a common global gene pool, before cellular differentiation and vertical genetic transmission evolved as we know it today.” In other words, bacteria are supreme code monkeys that probably perfected the packages of genes and the regulation necessary to produce just about every form of life, trading genetic information among themselves long before there was anything resembling a eukaryotic cell, let alone the masters of the universe that humans believe humans to be. “They don’t waste things. They’re very efficient, very clever. They keep it simple but very elegant and sophisticated.” Giovannoni stops short of claiming that bacteria are actually thinking. But the litany of bacterial talents does nibble at conventional assumptions about thinking: Bacteria can distinguish “self” from “other,” and between their relatives and strangers; they can sense how big a space they’re in; they can move as a unit; they can produce a wide variety of signaling compounds, including at least one human neurotransmitter; they can also engage in numerous mutually beneficial relationships with their host’s cells. Even more impressive, some bacteria, such as Myxococcus xanthus, practice predation in packs, swarming as a group over prey microbes such as E. coli and dissolving their cell walls.

Marc van Duijn and colleagues point out that the presence of “the basic processes of cognition, such as perception, memory and action” in bacteria can now be “plausibly defended.” And bacteria that have antibiotic-resistance genes advertise the fact, attracting other bacteria shopping for those genes; the latter then emit pheromones to signal their willingness to close the deal. These phenomena, Herbert Levine’s group argues, reveal a capacity for language long considered unique to humans. But this raises the question: Is some nonhuman software organizing the teamwork of all those nonhuman semi-smart robots, aka bacteria? For this would be the truly radical argument: that bacteria — demonstrably integrated deeply and broadly into the entire planet, shaping its geochemistry, creating substrates and chemical processes that support the development of complex organic molecules, regulating the cycling of energy and nutrients both in “higher” organisms and their environments — constitute a kind of distributed awareness encompassing the whole planet. That not only are bacteria in a given local environment busy texting each other like mad, but the entire planet may consist of a giant Microbial World Wide Web. In a more down-to-earth assessment, it is clear that bacteria are not what the general run of humans thought they were, and neither are humans. Bacteria are the sine qua non for life, and the architects of the complexity humans claim for a throne. The grand story of human exceptionalism — the idea that humans are separate from and superior to everything else in the biosphere — has taken a terminal blow from the new knowledge about bacteria. Whether humanity decides to sanctify them in some way or merely admire them and learn what they’re really doing, there’s no going back. And if there’s any hope of rebalancing the chemistry of a biosphere deranged in two short centuries by humans, it very likely lies in peaceful coexistence with the seemingly brilliant, deceptively simple life-forms comprising the domain Bacteria.”

HARNESSING LIGHTNING

from : http://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2010/08/26/harnessing-lightning/


Photo taken by Camille Flammarion in 1902 of lightning striking the Eiffel Tower on a summer night.

Positively Charged Humidity
http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-20014798-54.html
“Nikola Tesla would be jealous. A group of chemists from Brazil have presented research claiming they’ve figured out how electricity is formed and released in the atmosphere. Based on this knowledge, the team said it believes a device could be developed for extracting electrical charges from the atmosphere and using it for electricity. They found that silica becomes more negatively charged when high levels of water vapor are present in the air, in other words during high humidity. They also found that aluminum phosphate becomes more positively charged in high humidity. “This was clear evidence that water in the atmosphere can accumulate electrical charges and transfer them to other materials it comes into contact with. We are calling this ‘hygroelectricity,’ meaning ‘humidity electricity,'” Galembeck said in a statement. But the discovery, if true, goes against the commonly held theory among scientists that water is electroneutral–that it cannot store a charge. Galembeck does not dispute the principle of electroneutrality in theory, but believes real-life substances like water have ion imbalances that can allow it to produce a charge.”

Steam Shocks
http://scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=harness-lightning-for-energy-thanks-2010-08-26
“My colleagues and I found that common metals—aluminum, stainless steel and others—acquire charge when they are electrically isolated and exposed to humid air,” he says. “This is an extension to previously published results showing that insulators acquire charge under humid air. Thus, air is a charge reservoir.” The finding would seem to confirm anecdotes from the 19th century of workers literally shocked—rather than scalded—by steam. And it might explain how enough charge builds up for lightning, Galembeck argues. The scientists envision devices to harness this charge out of thick (with water vapor) air—a metal piece, like a lightning rod, connected to one pole of a capacitor, a device for separating and storing electric charge. The other pole of the capacitor is grounded. Expose the metal to high humidity (perhaps within a shielded box) and harvest voltage.”

Ion Imbalances
http://newscientist.com/article/dn19367-can-we-grab-electricity-from-muggy-air.html
“In 1840, workers in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, reported painful electric shocks when they came into close contact with steam leaking from factory boilers. Both Michael Faraday and Alessandro Volta puzzled over the mysterious phenomenon, dubbed steam electricity, but it was ultimately forgotten without being fully understood. Fernando Galembeck thinks there is a simple explanation, but it involves accepting that water can store charge – a controversial idea that violates the principle of electroneutrality. This principle – which states that the negatively and positively charged particles in an electrolyte cancel each other out – is widely accepted by chemists. His team electrically isolated chrome-plated brass tubes and then increased the humidity of the surrounding atmosphere. Once the relative humidity reached 90 per cent, the uncharged tube gained a small but detectable negative charge of 300 microcoulombs per square metre – equating to a capacity millions of times smaller than that of an AA battery. The Victorian workers would have had to have been particularly sensitive souls to complain of such a shock, but Galembeck thinks his study shows steam electricity may be a credible phenomenon. He thinks the charge builds up because of a reaction between the chrome oxide layer that forms on the surface of the tube and the water in the atmosphere. As the relative humidity rises, more water condenses onto the tube’s surface. Hydrogen ions in the water react with the chrome oxide, leading to an ion imbalance that imparts excess charge onto the isolated metal.

The work finds favour with Gerald Pollack at the University of Washington in Seattle. Last year he suggested that pure water could store charge and behave much like a battery, after finding that passing a current between two submerged electrodes created a pH gradient in the water that persisted for an hour once the current had been switched off. He says this is evidence that the water stores areas of positive and negative charge, but the experiment led to a lively debate in the pages of the journal Langmuir over whether the results really violated the principle of electroneutrality or whether there were salt impurities in the water that led it to behave like a conventional electrochemical cell.”

Polywater Batteries
http://uwtv.org/newsletter/insider_0408.asp
“Pollack’s water studies have led to amazing possibilities: that water acts as a battery, that this battery may recharge in a way resembling photosynthesis, that these water batteries could be harnessed to produce electricity. “Some findings seemed to imply that water acted as though it was a polymer; in other words, all the molecules would somehow join together into a polymer and create some really weird kinds of effects,” Pollack described. Eventually, these results – first presented by a Russian chemist – were discredited. “The nails were driven into the coffin of water research by another debacle that took place 20 years later, and that was the idea of water memory,” Pollack said. “The idea was that water molecules could have memory of other substances into which it had been in contact. It’s a 100-year-old idea that there’s a fourth phase of water. This is not an original idea.” Though the concept of a liquid crystalline, or gel-like, phase of water has been around for some time, the generally accepted view is that this kind of water is only two or three molecular layers thick. “And what we found in our experiments is that it’s not two or three layers, but two or three million layers. In other words, it’s the dominant feature,” Pollack said. He has since discovered much about its underestimated thickness, its capacity to create a charge, its connections to photosynthesis and its practical applications. The thickness of this gel-like water may explain why items of higher density than water – such as a coin – can float. Surface tension is at work, but it arises from this thick, gel-like surface layer. “Turns out that the thickness depends on the pH,” Pollack said. “If you increase the pH, we found that this region gets thicker. It also gets thicker with time.

Dr. Pollack works in his lab to demonstrate some of the unusual properties of water. “This kind of water is negative, and the water beyond is positive. Negative, positive – you have a battery,” Pollack explained. “The question is, how is it used and might we capitalize on this kind of battery?” The key to understanding how this water battery works is learning how it is recharged. “You can’t just get something for nothing – there has to be energy that charges it,” Pollack said. “This puzzled us for several years, and finally we found the answer: it’s light. It was a real surprise. So if you take one of these surfaces next to water, and you see the battery right next to it, and you shine light on it, the battery gets stronger. It’s a very powerful effect.””

PRICELESS MEANS WORTHLESS?

from : http://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2010/08/11/priceless-or-worthless

Deliberate Extinction
http://latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-sci-seed-bank-ruling-20100812,0,7445908.story
“A Russian seed bank preserving more than 5,000 rare fruits, including unique varieties of strawberries, plums, pears, apples and currants, moved one step closer to demolition after losing a court hearing Wednesday, in which rights to the federally-owned land were granted to a government housing development agency. The Vavilov Research Institute, which manages the bank as well as 11 other crop development and conservation facilities across Russia, immediately filed an appeal. Another hearing will follow in about a month, at which point the land’s future will be finalized. It is unlikely, however, that the ruling will be changed, said Cary Fowler, director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust. Even Sergey Alexanian, deputy director of foreign relations at the Vavilov Institute, acknowledged that the Russian Housing Development Foundation is legally in the right. The seed bank’s final hope is to win the support of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev or Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who have the power to overrule the court’s decision. So far, neither has responded to letters.”


Tamara Yashkina, a researcher at the Vavilov research institute that runs the seed bank outside St. Petersburg, sorts through oat seeds. {photo by Vyacheslav Yevdokimov}

Private Homes vs Global Good
http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-russian-seed-bank-20100811,0,5738442.story
“The threatened plants are part of a collection of rare berries and other fruits growing at the Pavlovsk Experimental Station, a seed bank that blankets over 200 acres of prime land about 20 miles outside St. Petersburg; 90% of the bank’s plant varietals are found nowhere else. “Saving varieties is critical for breeding,” said Kent Bradford, a plant scientist at UC Davis. “When breeders are faced with a new issue, like a disease or growing in a new area, they need to go back to that diversity to see which ones are resistant or have traits that they like.” The Pavlovsk facility is one of about 1,400 such operations in the world. The best known is probably the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on the remote Norwegian island of Spitzbergen in the Arctic, which keeps frozen seeds as backup for collections around the world, but that facility’s stores are far from complete. Moreover, not all plants can grow from frozen seeds — such as most of those at the Russian station. Furthermore, there is little possibility of relocating the Russian facility. An appropriate backup site isn’t available, and moving all the plants would be expensive and labor-intensive. “These are not some boxes to move to another location; these are trees,” Alexanian said. In short, if the fields are razed, the particular varietals that grow there will be gone forever. “There’s no backup for this collection, and that’s the real tragedy of it all,” said Cary Fowler. “This is extinction on a scale that I’ve not seen in my professional lifetime, and it can’t be replaced.”

Oldest Global Seed Bank
http://guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/aug/08/pavlovsk-seed-bank-russia
“In what appears Kafkaesque logic, the property developers argue that because the station contains a “priceless collection”, no monetary value can be assigned to it and so it is worthless. In another nod to Kafka, the government’s federal fund of residential real estate development has argued that the collection was never registered and thus does not officially exist. “It is a bitter irony that the single most deliberately destructive act against crop diversity could be about to happen in the country that invented the modern seed bank,” said Cary Fowler. “Russia taught the world about the importance of crop collections for the future of agriculture. A decision to destroy Pavlovsk would forever tarnish a cause that generations of Russian plant scientists have lived and, quite literally, died, to protect.” The station was established in 1926 by Nikolai Vavilov, the man credited with creating the idea of seed banks as repositories of plant diversity that could be used to breed new varieties in response to threats to food production. During the siege of Leningrad, 12 scientists chose to starve to death while protecting the diversity amassed by Vavilov, even though the seeds of rice, peas, corn and wheat that they were protecting could have sustained them.”

Nikolai Vavilov
http://vir.nw.ru/history/vav_sp.htm
http://vir.nw.ru/history/vavilov.htm
“Vavilov is recognized as the foremost plant geographer of contemporary times. To explore the major agricultural centers in this country and abroad, Vavilov organized and took part in over 100 collecting missions. Vavilov, the symbol of glory of the national science, is at the same time the symbol of its tragedy. As early as in the beginning of the 1930’s his scientific programs were being deprived of governmental support. In the stifling atmosphere of a totalitarian state, the institute headed by Vavilov turned into a resistance point to the pseudo-scientific concepts of Trofim D.Lysenco. As a result of this controversy, Vavilov was arrested in August 1940, and his closest associates were also sacked and imprisoned. He died in the Saratov prison of dystrophia on 26 January 1943 and was buried in a common prison grave. Nevertheless, the memory of Vavilov has been preserved by his followers. During that tragic period they kept on gathering Vavilov’s manuscripts, documents and pictures. Since mid-50’s, after the official rehabilitation of Vavilov, hundreds of books and articles devoted to his life and scientific accomplishments have been published. The name of Vavilov is now born by the Russian Society of Geneticists and Breeders, the Institute of General Genetics of the Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Plant Industry, and the Saratov Agricultural Institute.”


One of the 893 blackcurrant varieties in the threatened collection.

Dear Mr. President
http://croptrust.org/main/index.php?itemid=773
http://eng.letters.kremlin.ru/
http://change.org/croptrust/petitions/view/tell_the_president_of_russia_to_stop_the_destruction_of_the_future_of_food
Medvedev’s New Twitter Account : “@KremlinRussia_E Mr. President, please protect #Pavlovsk Station”

Only 150 Plants in Cultivation (Down from 7000)
http://cchronicle.com/2009/11/from-india-six-lessons/
http://fao.org/DOCREP/004/V1430E/V1430E04.htm
http://nytimes.com/2005/08/17/world/europe/17iht-food.html
“Historically, humans utilized more than 7,000 plant species to meet their basic food needs. Today, due to the limitations of modern large-scale, mechanized farming, only 150 plant species are under cultivation, and the majority of humans live on only 12 plant species, according to research by the Food and Agriculture Organization. In the last century, dozens of varieties of corn, wheat and potato have disappeared. “This is not nearly as sexy as a panda going extinct, but the losses are far more dangerous for our survival,” Esquinas said. The consequences are potentially dire: Of the nearly 8,000 varieties of apple that grew in the United States at the turn of the century, more than 95 percent no longer exist. In Mexico, only 20 percent of the corn types recorded in 1930 can now be found. Only 10 percent of the 10,000 wheat varieties grown in China in 1949 remain in use.”


display showing grains, honey, vegetables and fruits produced by Indian farmers in a region where traditional crop diversity is still intact

Previously on Spectre : Guarded by Polar Bears, For Now
http://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2006/06/20/guarded-by-polar-bears-for-now/

DIY PERSONAL SATELLITES

from : http://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/diy-personal-satellites/

$8K Personal Satellite Kit
http://news.discovery.com/space/personal-satellite-kit.html
“Bringing the do-it-yourself market to a whole new level, a California firm is selling kits to build a personal satellite — and get it into space — for $8,000. The program, called TubeSat, is the brainchild of Randa and Roderick Milliron, a Mojave, Calif.-based couple who’ve been developing a bare-bones, low-cost rocket system for the past 14 years. Selling flights as a package deal with satellite-building kits is proving to be a winning combination, with more than a dozen customers signed up to fly on the debut launch early next year. The first of four suborbital test flights is scheduled for August and there are customers for those as well. The kit contains the shell components for a satellite including a printed circuit board, solar cells, batteries, a combination transmitter-receiver, microcomputer, electronic components, blueprints and a structural shell that’s about the size of a one-liter bottle. Most TubeSat customers, so far, are universities. “There’s been a massive number of shelved experiments,” Milliron said, caused by a dearth of low-cost launch systems. “This is an opportunity for the academic community to fly affordably.” Interorbital’s rocket, called the Neptune, will place up to 32 TubeSats and 10 slightly larger off-the-shelf spacecraft called CubeSats into orbit about 192 miles above Earth. At that altitude, the spacecraft will orbit for about six weeks, then burn up in the atmosphere. Launches will take place from the island of ‘Eua, located in the Kingdom of Tonga, in the South Pacific.”

Includes Free Launch (32 at a Time)
http://interorbital.com/Company%20Page_1.htm
http://interorbital.com/TubeSat_1.htm
“A TubeSat is designed to function as a Basic Satellite Bus or as a simple stand-alone satellite. Each TubeSat kit includes the satellite’s structural components, safety hardware, solar panels, batteries, power management hardware and software, transceiver, antennas, microcomputer, and the required programming tools. With these components alone, the builder can construct a satellite that puts out enough power to be picked up on the ground by a hand-held HAM radio receiver. The TubeSat also allows the builder to add his or her own experiment or function to the basic TubeSat kit. As long as the experiment or function satisfies the volume and mass restrictions, it can be integrated into the TubeSat. These restrictions provide a unique intellectual challenge for the experiment or function designer. TubeSats are also available as Double TubeSats, Triple TubeSats, or Quadruple TubeSats. Prior to launch, each TubeSat is inserted into one of the rocket’s 32 Satellite Ejection Cylinders. They never come into contact with the other TubeSats. Once on-orbit, the satellites are released according to a pre-programmed timing sequence. The timing sequence is designed to prevent satellite clustering. Interorbital expects to launch a set of 32 TubeSats per month. If the buyer pays the full cost of the TubeSat kit upfront, he or she is immediately placed on a launch manifest according to the order in which the payment was received. TubeSat buyers also have the option of paying half of the cost upfront, then paying the other half of the cost at a later date or when the TubeSat is completed and ready for integration into the launch vehicle. With this option, the builder will be placed on a launch manifest according to the time when full payment is received.”

See Also: CubeSats
http://cubesatkit.com/content/overview.html
http://cubesat.calpoly.edu/index.php/collaborate/suppliers
http://space.com/businesstechnology/cube_sats_040908.html
“A standard CubeSat is a motherboard of invention: About a 4-inch (10-centimeter) block of equipment that tips the scale at roughly 2 pounds (1 kilogram). A handful are already in space and with other launches planned for later this year. Peep inside a CubeSat and you’ll spot off-the-shelf circuitry in the familiar form of microprocessors and modem ports, and other microchip devices typically used in cell phones, digital cameras and hand-held Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite navigation units. A CubeSat can be built for under $25,000, although they typically come in at the $30,000 to $40,000 price range – still a bargain. The “going-rate” per CubeSat launch is in the $40,000 range. Universities have an inherent advantage in developing “disruptive” space systems, Swartwout contends, and that is the freedom to fail. In fact, he added, three of the six CubeSats placed in orbit in 2003 were either never contacted or failed very early. “Experimental failure is a basic element of university life, and from the university’s perspective, a failed spacecraft is not necessarily a failed mission,” Swartwout said. Swartwout explained that the tremendous reductions in the size and cost of electronics are making possible “disposable” probes that function for only weeks, but whose very low cost and short development cycle make their launch and operation affordable. There is talk about flying tethers on the spacecraft, as well as toting along inflatable packages – both techniques viewed as a way to hasten a CubeSat’s reentry and lessen worry about adding to already orbiting space clutter. CubeSat innovators also envision the small spacecraft deployed from the International Space Station – chucked out of an airlock. Then there is the prospect of CubeSats toting biological or hardware experiments that reenter and parachute to Earth. “I hope the CubeSat is like the personal computer…you don’t know what the heck you’re going to do with this little box when you build it or what markets will be enabled. But it’s so cool, you’ve got to do it,” Twiggs concluded.”

Open Source Arduino Sats
http://opensat.cc/download/DIYSatellite_en.pdf
http://books.google.com/books?id=YAIHa97G4icC

Cellphone + Toy Parts
http://wired.com/wiredscience/2010/07/cell-phone-satellite/
“Instead of investing in their own computer research and development, engineers at the NASA Ames Research Center are looking to cellphones and off-the-shelf toys to power the future of low-cost satellite technology. The smartphone in your pocket has about 120 times more computing power than the average satellite, which has the equivalent of a 1984-era computer inside. “You can go to Walmart and buy toys that work better than satellites did 20 years ago,” said NASA physicist Chris Boshuizen. The biggest challenge of sending cellphones and toys into space is whether the parts can get up there without shaking apart and work in a vacuum at extreme high and low temperatures. To do some preliminary testing, two Nexus One cellphones caught rides on two rockets on July 24 that launched 30,000 feet into the atmosphere at a maximum speed of mach 2.4 (about 1,800 miles per hour). One of the rockets crashed into the ground after its parachute failed, but the other made it back with the cellphone unscathed. Both cellphones were able to record the acceleration of the rocket using their built-in accelerometers, and the undamaged phone captured 2.5 hours of video of the event through a hole in the side of the rocket. “Everything that didn’t break is a piece of data,” said volunteer engineer Ben Howard. “We know that the batteries didn’t break and that the computer worked the whole time.” If the cellphones ultimately get used to power satellites, they will probably be sent up without a screen and with a different battery to make them lighter. Next, the team will build a stabilizing mechanism for the satellite using the cellphone, $100 toy gyroscopes and parts similar to those of the Mindstorms Lego, so the satellite can orient itself in space. By installing three spinning gyroscopes and getting them to spin at different velocities, a satellite can move in any direction. The same technique is currently used on many satellites, but requires multimillion dollar technology. The whole goal of the project is to make satellites cheap and affordable, so that anyone with bit of time and a couple of thousand dollars can send their own satellite into space. Upgrading the computing power of satellites using cellphones would mean increased satellite capabilities, possibly including artificial intelligence. “We’re not sure yet exactly what people will want to do with their satellites, and that’s the point,” said NASA education specialist Matt Reyes. “What can you imagine doing with your phone in space?””


Retrieving the Nexus One cell phone from the rocket post-launch

Previously on Spectre : Sat Hacks
http://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2009/10/02/sat-hacks/
Consumer Satellite Use
http://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2008/07/16/consumer-satellite-use/
Russians Launching Satellites From Subs
http://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2007/07/10/russians-launching-satellites-from-subs/
Brazilian Satellite Squatters
http://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/brazilian-satellite-squatters/
Earth Will Have Rings
http://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2008/03/24/earth-will-have-rings/

POST-QUAKE ARCHITECTURE

from : http://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/post-quake-architecture/

What’s Lying Around
http://earthship.com/haiti-disaster-relief.html
http://earthship.com/aboutus

Earthship n. 1. passive solar home made of natural and recycled materials 2. thermal mass construction for temperature stabilization. 3. renewable energy & integrated water systems make the Earthship an off-grid home with little to no utility bills.

Biotecture n. 1. the profession of designing buildings and environments with consideration for their sustainability. 2. A combination of biology and architecture.

Tires + Bottles + Dirt = House
http://blogs.wsj.com/developments/2010/07/20/solving-haitis-housing-problem-with-old-tires-bottles/

“Made from used tires, discarded bottles, cardboard, Styrofoam and other waste materials, Mr. Reynolds designs and builds these homes to be essentially energy self-sufficient. Earlier this month, Mr. Reynolds and two builders went to Haiti intending to survey the area to see how they could help. “There was nothing but tents, nothing but cleanup,” Mr. Reynolds says of what he saw in Port-au-Prince. Instead of just surveying the city, Mr. Reynolds and his team ended up building. A non-governmental organization called Grassroots United had gotten Haitian children to collect tires and plastic bottles from the tent camps. Mr. Reynolds himself had one arm in a cast because of rotator cuff surgery, and the two builders with him both got sick from the water and heat. “The three of us were worthless, pretty much,” he says. But 40 locals, ranging in age from four to 50, built an earthship in just four days under his guidance. “They had nothing to do. They were all eager to learn, and it turns out all the skills we could do, they could do.” The earthship, just 120 square feet, is made of 120 tires packed with dirt – such tires are the main building blocks of any earthship. Designed to be earthquake- and hurricane-resistant, the Haiti earthship is not completely finished. Mr. Reynolds plans to return in October to add plaster to the exterior and a screened-in veranda with flush toilets, as well as outfit it for solar energy and water collection. He hopes the home will be used as a prototype for more in Haiti, an example of what’s possible. Earthships could be a boon for a place like Haiti, says Mr. Reynolds, where even the capital city has little infrastructure like sewage or electricity. “The most substantial thing I saw down there was a plywood shack,” he says. When he returns to Haiti in October, he plans to find a site where he can build a small village of earthships. “It doesn’t have to be in the city because there is nothing in the city anyway,” he says of the lack of infrastructure. “These buildings would provide their own power, their own water, their own sewage (systems).” Most important, Mr. Reynolds says, is a sense of empowerment instilled in those who helped. “They built the building!” he says. “The real thing that shows it’s possible for them to do it is that they did it.””

See Also : Post-Tsunami
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124510435308816591.html

Q: Where did you get the idea to use trash?
A: Walter Cronkite did a piece on clear-cutting timber in the Northwest. Even in 1969, he predicted massive deforestation would result in wood scarcity and would affect our oxygen levels, things that have become big issues today. Charles Kuralt did another piece on beer cans being thrown all over the streets and highways. So I started playing with beer cans and trying to make them into building blocks. It was a way to kill two birds with one stone. I later decided to try a different material and thought of the mountains of discarded tires that can be found everywhere. Pack them with dirt and they will store energy. Plus they’re strong and resilient, so I built an entire house out of them. I went on to add photovoltaic panels, windmills, water collection and onsite sewage treatment.

Q: And you went overseas with your ideas?
A: For a while… I went wherever there was a desire to use my ideas. After the earthquake and tsunami in 2004, an architect [from the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean] that lived right in the middle of the disaster saw our Web site and asked us to come. Their whole community was just wiped out. We paid the local kids to bring us bottles, and we built a house out of them that collects its own water. We gave the plans to the engineers.

Non-Biodegradables as Building Materials
http://earthship.com/materials/the-offgassing-non-issue-tires-are-hazardous-in-piles-not-earthships
http://earthship.com/materials/green-building-construction-materials

“A sustainable home must make use of indigenous materials, those occurring naturally in the local area. For thousands and thousands of years, housing was built from found materials such as rock, earth, reeds and logs. Today, there are mountains of by-products of our civilization that are already made and delivered to all areas. These are the natural resources of the modern humanity. These materials and the techniques for using them must be accessible to the common person in terms of price and skill required to use them. The less energy required to turn a found object into a usable building material the better. This concept is also called embodied-energy.

The Primary Building Block: Rammed-Earth encased in Steel Belted Rubber: The major structural building component of the Earthship is recycled automobile tires filled with compacted earth to form a rammed earth brick encased in steel belted rubber. This brick and the resulting bearing walls it forms is virtually indestructible.

Aluminum Cans and Glass/Plastic Bottles: These ‘little bricks’ are a great, simple way to build interior, non-structural walls. Aluminum can walls actually make very strong walls. The ‘little bricks’ create a cement-matrix that is very strong and very easy to build. Bottle can create beautiful colored walls that light shines through.

Resilient: Earthquakes are an issue in many parts of the world. Any method of building must relate to this potential threat. Since earthquakes involve a horizontal movement or shaking of the structure, this suggests a material with resilience or capacity to move with this shaking. Brittle materials like concrete, break, crack and fracture. The ideal structural material for dealing with this kind of situation would have a ‘rubbery’ or resilient quality to it. This kind of material would allow movement without failure.

Low specific skill requirements: If the materials for easily obtainable housing are to be truly accessibly to the common person they must, by their very nature, be easy to learn how to assemble. The nature of the materials for building an earthship must allow for assembling skills to be learned and mastered in a matter of hours, not year. These skills must be basic enough that specific talent is not required to learn them.”