Thursday, August 6, 2020

Friday Thinking 7 Aug 2020

Friday Thinking is a humble curation of my foraging in the digital environment. Choices are based on my own curiosity and that suggest we are in the midst of a change in the conditions of change - a phase-transition. That tomorrow will be radically unlike yesterday.

Many thanks to those who enjoy this.

In the 21st Century curiosity is what skills the cat -

for life of skillful means .

Jobs are dying - Work is just beginning.

Work that engages our whole self becomes play that works.

The emerging world-of-connected-everything - digital environment - 

computational ecology - 

may still require humans as the consciousness of its own existence. 

To see red - is to know other colors - without the ground of others - there is no figure - differences that make a defference.  

‘There are times, ‘when I catch myself believing there is something which is separate from something else.’

“Be careful what you ‘insta-google-tweet-face’”

Woody Harrelson - Triple 9



Climate Change’s New Ally: Big Finance

‘This Is a New Phase’: Europe Shifts Tactics to Limit Tech’s Power


Stephanie Kelton: The Public Purse

Why Bitcoin is not a socialist’s ally – Reply to Ben Arc

A Sick Sous-Vide Has Been Bricked by Mandatory Subscriptions

Unauthorized Bread: Real rebellions involve jailbreaking IoT toasters

This Tool Could Protect Your Photos From Facial Recognition

Why Are Plants Green? To Reduce the Noise in Photosynthesis.

Metal-breathing bacteria could transform electronics, biosensors, and more

Scientists pull living microbes, possibly 100 million years old, from beneath the sea

Geothermal energy is surging — battered oil and gas companies should take advantage

Deutsche Bank Immediately Ends Funding For Oil Sands And Arctic Oil Projects

Total writes off $9.3B in oilsands assets, cancels Canadian oil lobby membership

Google Earth Engine and Google Earth Timelapse

Engineers detect health markers in thread-based, wearable sweat sensors

A Fourth Law of Thermodynamics: Synergy Increases Free Energy While Decreasing Entropy

In 2014 a trio of economists found that the key players in the U.S. airline industry compete less with one another as a result of being all partially owned by the same institutional investors. In a two-year period, the same 7 shareholders who controlled 50 percent of American Airlines’s stock also had large ownership shares in American’s competitors. This “common ownership” was found to result in higher ticket prices. Since then, similar anti-competitive effects have been found in the banking, pharmaceutical, seed, and even cereal industries.

Institutional investors, of course, deny that they help the firms within their portfolios collude. They insist that they lack the power to influence specific supply and pricing decisions made within firms. When it comes to issues of “corporate social responsibility,” however, these same investors are much more willing to trumpet their expectations and influence. At a Federal Trade Commission hearing on common ownership’s anti-competitive effects in 2018, BlackRock co-founder Barbara Novick discussed the investor’s “engagements” with firms on topics ranging from women’s representation on boards, to the opioid epidemic, and climate change, but emphasized that discussions were “never about product pricing.” But these interventions can, and do, influence supply and pricing in much the same way as collusive anti-competitive behavior would. The same market power that enables the jacking of airline tickets is key toward making emission reductions happen. 

Pressuring only one or two oil producers to slash supply is unlikely to have much of an effect on total emissions; their competitors will step in to fill the supply gap. But Climate Action 100+ is targeting, simultaneously, all publicly owned producers and major consumers of fossil products, including auto manufactures and construction companies. And the group is very coordinated in its efforts: individual investor signatories of Climate Action 100+ are tasked with specific companies to pressure, so they share the costs of economy-wide engagement across their membership.

We should question the desirability of a democratically unaccountable financial behemoth making centralized resource allocation decisions.

Consolidation in the asset management industry shows no signs of slowing, leading some to caution that eventually just twelve funds will control nearly all of corporate America. As corporate governance scholars and activists fight against the Trump administration’s attempts to weaken institutional investor oversight of corporate managers, we should think harder about the question of who oversees the overseers.

Climate Change’s New Ally: Big Finance

Europe’s lawmakers and regulators have shifted to a new stage in their battle to limit the power of the world’s biggest tech companies. While the region has long been at the forefront of using existing antitrust laws and levying multibillion dollar penalties against the tech giants, officials now say that those tactics have not gone far enough in altering the behavior of Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook.

So authorities in Brussels and other European capitals are pursuing at least half a dozen new laws and regulations that directly target the heart of how those tech companies’ businesses work. If enacted, the policies could lead to a major overhaul of Europe’s digital economy, where there are more than 500 million consumers, by regulating the tech companies more like traditional industries such as telecommunications and finance.

“This is a new phase,” Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission executive vice president who is leading the effort in Brussels to write new laws, said in an interview.

Ms. Vestager said the proposed laws would lower hurdles to force the tech companies to change and even restrict them from moving into new product areas. “At stake is whether or not these markets will be open and contestable and innovative, or if they will just be governed by these walled gardens of de facto monopolies,” she said.

This Is a New Phase’: Europe Shifts Tactics to Limit Tech’s Power

This is a Must View 1.5 hour video explaining Modern Monetary Theory by Stephanie Kelton - Rethinking how public value is created, nurtured and evaluated. We must become literate in the power of our federal governments to issue currency to balance the economy - rather than thinking like a household that has to balance its budget - Governments are currency issuers and families are currency users.

Stephanie Kelton: The Public Purse

Drawing on her experience as the Chief Economist on the US Senate Budget Committee, Stephanie Kelton gives a beginner’s class on public deficits and what (almost) everyone is missing in the debate over the government’s budget. Is the government’s budget really just like a family budget? (Teaser: It’s not!) What is the purpose of budgeting anyway? Is it to balance spending and revenue, or is targeting a balanced budget the wrong goal altogether? Is the British government living beyond its means? 

Stephanie outlines a new way of understanding deficits, debt, taxes, the relationship between the public and private sectors, and what our economy could look like. Turning the public budget into a participatory, mission-oriented endeavor is critical to restructuring public services and public investment and building the kind of economy that will deliver a cleaner, safer, more secure future for all.

Rethinking Public Value and Public Purpose in 21st Century Capitalism is a lecture series presented by UCL’s new Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose in collaboration with the British Library.

This is an excellent and brief account of how bitcoin and other crypto-currencies are not the future for a democratic society - while also making the claim for the role of ‘blockchain’ and distributed ledger technologies as essential.

Why Bitcoin is not a socialist’s ally – Reply to Ben Arc

On 15th July, Ben Arc published in Bitcoin Magazine an open letter addressed to me in a bid to convince me that I should re-assess my rejection of Bitcoin as a force for good; as a bulwark for democratising capitalism and paving the ground for socialism. Here is my reply:

I am one of those who, back in 2011, were genuinely intrigued, fascinated even, by the remarkable blockchain algorithm. The prospect of a decentralised ledger controlled by its community of users was mesmerising.

As you also know, I was unimpressed by Bitcoin as an alternative to fiat money that is either likely, or indeed desirable, under our current capitalist predicament.

Having read your open letter, I remain as enthusiastic on blockchain’s capacities and as unimpressed by Bitcoin’s ability to help us either civilise or (as any socialist dreams of) transcend capitalism.

Two propositions support this view. In the hypothetical case where Bitcoin were, under presently-existing capitalism, to replace fiat money: (1) It would lack the mechanism necessary to stop capitalist crises from yielding depressions that benefit only the ultra-right; and, (2) Its community-based, democratic protocols would do little to democratise economic life.

This is another signal of the need to ensure the digital environment remains and becomes even more of a ‘commons’ than becoming colonized by an enclosure movement led by privateers. 

Tacking on a $50 tax just to use a product’s best features seems just outrageous enough to set loyal users to a temperature just below boiling for two to three hours, resulting in delicately cooked—and angry—fans.

A Sick Sous-Vide Has Been Bricked by Mandatory Subscriptions

The Mellow Sous-Vide machine-made soft, gentle, susurrating waves when it first launched in 2014. Designed to keep and cook foods at a specific temperature, it featured an elegant design and an integrated tub that ensured uniform heating and cooling.

Fast forward a few years and it looks like the Mellow team has finally figured out that selling hardware is hard. In a move that is actively angering early backers, the company has added a mandatory subscription fee to use the device’s best features.

Mellow’s app was simple: you picked a recipe and told it when you wanted it done. Pork took an hour or so, beef a little longer. Now, however, if you want access to those so-called recipes the app requires a payment of $6 a month or $48 yearly.

Manual mode still works, allowing you to set a temperature and time, although the recipes were useful for set-it-and-forget-it sous-vide.

To elaborate many implications of this sort of enclosure and colonization Cory Doctorow has a great short story.

Unauthorized Bread: Real rebellions involve jailbreaking IoT toasters

Cory Doctorow's book, Radicalized, is up for a CBC award. To celebrate, here's an excerpt.

"Unauthorized Bread"—a tale of jailbreaking refugees versus IoT appliances—is the lead novella in author Cory Doctorow's Radicalized, which has just been named a finalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's national book award, the Canada Reads prize. "Unauthorized Bread" is also in development for television with Topic, parent company of The Intercept; and for a graphic novel adaptation by First Second Books, in collaboration with the artist and comics creator JR Doyle. It appears below with permission from the author.

The fear of an AI revolution taking over the world has often overlooked that all AIs exist now and will exist in an ecology of other AIs - viruses - and other forms of countering. This is an interesting signal to that possibility.

This Tool Could Protect Your Photos From Facial Recognition

Researchers at the University of Chicago want you to be able to post selfies without worrying that the next Clearview AI will use them to identify you.

In recent years, companies have been prowling the web for public photos associated with people’s names that they can use to build enormous databases of faces and improve their facial recognition systems, adding to a growing sense that personal privacy is being lost, bit by digital bit.

A start-up called Clearview AI, for example, scraped billions of online photos to build a tool for the police that could lead them from a face to a Facebook account, revealing a person’s identity.

Now researchers are trying to foil those systems. A team of computer engineers at the University of Chicago has developed a tool that disguises photos with pixel-level changes that confuse facial recognition systems.

Named Fawkes in honor of the Guy Fawkes mask favored by protesters worldwide, the software was made available to developers on the researchers’ website last month. After being discovered by Hacker News, it has been downloaded more than 50,000 times. The researchers are working on a free app version for noncoders, which they hope to make available soon.

The software is not intended to be just a one-off tool for privacy-loving individuals. If deployed across millions of images, it would be a broadside against facial recognition systems, poisoning the accuracy of the so-called data sets they gather from the web.

This is a fantastic signal in many different ways - better understanding of photosynthesis - interesting contribution to bio-quantum phenomena that could show how quantum biology deals with noise - insight that could be useful in quantum computing - and creating ever better solar energy technologies. It seems that in living systems - stability (viability) is more important than efficiency - another insight that may better support a more honest and accurate socio-political-economic theories. 

“It was extraordinarily impressive, I think, to explain a pattern in biology with an incredibly simple physical model,” said Christopher Duffy, a biophysicist at Queen Mary University of London, who wrote an accompanying commentary on the model for Science. “It was nice to see a theoretically led work that understands and promotes the idea that it is robustness of the system that seems to be the evolutionary driving force.”

Why Are Plants Green? To Reduce the Noise in Photosynthesis.

Plants ignore the most energy-rich part of sunlight because stability matters more than efficiency, according to a new model of photosynthesis.

From large trees in the Amazon jungle to houseplants to seaweed in the ocean, green is the color that reigns over the plant kingdom. Why green, and not blue or magenta or gray? The simple answer is that although plants absorb almost all the photons in the red and blue regions of the light spectrum, they absorb only about 90% of the green photons. If they absorbed more, they would look black to our eyes. Plants are green because the small amount of light they reflect is that color.

But that seems unsatisfyingly wasteful because most of the energy that the sun radiates is in the green part of the spectrum. When pressed to explain further, biologists have sometimes suggested that the green light might be too powerful for plants to use without harm, but the reason why hasn’t been clear. Even after decades of molecular research on the light-harvesting machinery in plants, scientists could not establish a detailed rationale for plants’ color.

Recently, however, in the pages of Science, scientists finally provided a more complete answer. They built a model to explain why the photosynthetic machinery of plants wastes green light. What they did not expect was that their model would also explain the colors of other photosynthetic forms of life too. Their findings point to an evolutionary principle governing light-harvesting organisms that might apply throughout the universe. They also offer a lesson that — at least sometimes — evolution cares less about making biological systems efficient than about keeping them stable.

Instead, for a safe, steady energy output, the pigments of the photosystem had to be very finely tuned in a certain way. The pigments needed to absorb light at similar wavelengths to reduce the internal noise. But they also needed to absorb light at different rates to buffer against the external noise caused by swings in light intensity. The best light for the pigments to absorb, then, was in the steepest parts of the intensity curve for the solar spectrum — the red and blue parts of the spectrum.

Another interesting signal of progress towards domesticating DNA and the capacity to tailor and harness domesticated bacteria for bio-fabrication.

"This has some serious potential if we can understand this process and control aspects of how the bacteria are making these and other materials," said Shayla Sawyer, an associate professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering at Rensselaer.

"Biology has had such a long run of inventing materials through trial and error. The composites and novel structures invented by human scientists are almost a drop in the bucket compared to what biology has been able to do."

Metal-breathing bacteria could transform electronics, biosensors, and more

When the Shewanella oneidensis bacterium "breathes" in certain metal and sulfur compounds anaerobically, the way an aerobic organism would process oxygen, it produces materials that could be used to enhance electronics, electrochemical energy storage, and drug-delivery devices.

The ability of this bacterium to produce molybdenum disulfide—a material that is able to transfer electrons easily, like graphene—is the focus of research published in Biointerphases by a team of engineers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The research was led by James Rees, who is currently a postdoctoral research associate under the Sawyer group in close partnership and with the support of the Jefferson Project at Lake George—a collaboration between Rensselaer, IBM Research, and The FUND for Lake George that is pioneering a new model for environmental monitoring and prediction. This research is an important step toward developing a new generation of nutrient sensors that can be deployed on lakes and other water bodies.

An amazing signal of the weirdness and robustness of life - maybe even increasing the likelihood of life elsewhere in the universe.

by showing that life can survive in places biologists once thought uninhabitable, the research speaks to the possibility of life elsewhere in the Solar System, or elsewhere in the universe. “If the surface of a particular planet does not look promising for life, it may be holding out in the subsurface,” 

Scientists pull living microbes, possibly 100 million years old, from beneath the sea

Microbes buried beneath the sea floor for more than 100 million years are still alive, a new study reveals. When brought back to the lab and fed, they started to multiply. The microbes are oxygen-loving species that somehow exist on what little of the gas diffuses from the ocean surface deep into the seabed.

The discovery raises the “insane” possibility, as one of the scientists put it, that the microbes have been sitting in the sediment dormant, or at least slowly growing without dividing, for eons.

The new work demonstrates “microbial life is very persistent, and often finds a way to survive,” says Virginia Edgcomb, a microbial ecologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who was not involved in the work.

A great signal that it is time to ‘smell the coffee’ - renewables are reaching the tipping point in the transformation of global energy geopolitics.

Geothermal energy is surging — battered oil and gas companies should take advantage

Even before the spread of COVID-19 oil investors were running for the exits — dropping holdings in fossil fuel companies and proclaiming the start of a "death-knell phase." In our carbon-constrained future, with viable clean-energy alternatives ready to be deployed, the economics for oil and gas no longer add up. But with the spread of COVID-19 and the abrupt drop in global demand, the sector is now in free-fall — with tens of thousands of American workers bound to bear the brunt of the impact.

It doesn't have to be this way. We already know that just a fraction of oil and gas jobs will return once the economy recovers: The bulk lost in the 2014-'16 crash simply vanished as companies found ways to do more with less. Business-as-usual won't work.

We need to think bigger, to harness this opportunity to launch a bold energy transition, one powered by a ready-to-scale, off-the-shelf solution that will put America's idled oil and gas workforce back into the field almost immediately: clean, abundant and renewable geothermal energy.

The timing for oil and gas firms could not be better: ExxonMobil in September fell outside the top ten largest companies in the S&P 500 for the first time since the list was assembled in 1925. Oil stocks, accounting for more than a tenth of the bellwether index barely a decade ago, now account for just 4% of the S&P 500. BlackRock, the world's largest investment firm, announced that it would begin dropping investments that "present a high sustainability-related risk," namely fossil-fuel investments. Shale production, the engine of the U.S. oil and gas boom, has been especially hard-hit, imploding under a mountain of debt obligations, costly break-even prices, and so much excess oil on the market that you can't pay someone to take a barrel.

And another signal.

Deutsche Bank Immediately Ends Funding For Oil Sands And Arctic Oil Projects

Deutsche Bank is ending financing for new oil and gas projects in the oil sands and the Arctic region effective immediately, becoming the latest major bank to reconsider lending money to fossil fuel projects in sensitive areas.

Deutsche Bank will no longer finance any new projects in the Arctic or the oil sands and will review all its existing business in the oil and gas industry, the bank said in a statement on Monday.   

Deutsche Bank unveiled an updated Fossil Fuels Policy to set new limits on financing business activities that involve oil, gas, or coal, and pledged to end its global business activities in coal mining by 2025 at the latest “in order to help drive the transformation to a sustainable economy.”

And another,

Total writes off $9.3B in oilsands assets, cancels Canadian oil lobby membership

It will take writedowns worth $7.3B related to its ownership in the Fort Hills operation

French energy giant Total says it is writing off $9.3-billion worth of oilsands assets in Alberta and cancelling its membership in the Calgary-based Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Total now considers oil reserves with high production costs that are to be produced more than 20 years in the future to be "stranded" given its carbon reduction targets and because the resource may not be produced by 2050, the Paris-based company said Wednesday.

It will take writedowns worth $7.3 billion related to its 24.6 per cent ownership in the Fort Hills oilsands mine operated by partner Suncor Energy Inc., the company said, and its 50 per cent stake in the Surmont thermal oilsands project operated by partner ConocoPhillips.

Total will also write off $2 billion in other oilsands assets, it said, along with $1.07 billion on its liquefied natural gas assets in Australia.

This is an interesting signal of progress in human self-awareness - a new consciousness of not only one planet - but also of how the planet has been changing through time. The visuals are amazing - key is to imagine what other visualization are possible with the ever growing massive ‘big data’ bases.

Google Earth Engine and Google Earth Timelapse 

Earth Engine is a platform for scientific analysis and visualization of geospatial datasets, for academic, non-profit, business and government users.

Earth Engine hosts satellite imagery and stores it in a public data archive that includes historical earth images going back more than forty years. The images, ingested on a daily basis, are then made available for global-scale data mining.

Earth Engine also provides APIs and other tools to enable the analysis of large datasets.

Google Earth enables you to travel, explore, and learn about the world by interacting with a virtual globe. You can view satellite imagery, maps, terrain, 3D buildings, and much more.

Earth Engine, on the other hand, is a tool for analyzing geospatial information. You can analyze forest and water coverage, land use change, or assess the health of agricultural fields, among many other possible analyses.

While the two tools rely on some of the same data, only some of Google Earth's imagery and data is available for analysis in Earth Engine.

The emerging world-of-connected-everything - the digital environment - as a computational ecology - may still require humans as the consciousness of its own existence. This is small signal - but one entangled with innumerable other small signals

"The sensor patch that we developed is part of a larger strategy to make completely flexible thread-based electronic devices," said Sameer Sonkusale, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Tufts' School of Engineering and corresponding author of the study. "Flexible devices woven into fabric and acting directly on the skin means that we can track health and performance not only non-invasively, but completely unobtrusively—the wearer may not even feel it or notice it."

Engineers detect health markers in thread-based, wearable sweat sensors

Engineers at Tufts University have created a first-of-its-kind flexible electronic sensing patch that can be sewn into clothing to analyze your sweat for multiple markers. The patch could be used to to diagnose and monitor acute and chronic health conditions or to monitor health during athletic or workplace performance. The device, described today in the journal NPJ Flexible Electronics, consists of special sensing threads, electronic components and wireless connectivity for real time data acquisition, storage and processing.

The patch device created by the Tufts engineers performs real-time measurements of important biomarkers present in sweat including sodium and ammonium ions (electrolytes), lactate (a metabolite) and acidity (pH). The device platform is also versatile enough to incorporate a wide range of sensors cabable of tracking nearly every marker present in sweat. The measurements taken can have useful diagnostic applications. For example, sodium from sweat can indicate the hydration status and electrolyte imbalance in a body; lactate concentration can be an indicator of muscle fatigue; chloride ion levels can be used to diagnosis and monitor cystic fibrosis; and cortisol, a stress hormone, can be used to assess emotional stress as well as metabolic and immune functions.

This is an fascinating weak signal - but of potential importance for the sciences of complexity and living systems that take us beyond traditional physics. This is a non-equation, not-peer-reviewed 2 page paper.

A Fourth Law of Thermodynamics: Synergy Increases Free Energy While Decreasing Entropy


Synergy, emerges from synchronized reciprocal positive feedback loops between a network of diverse actors. For this process to proceed, compatible information from different sources synchronically coordinates the actions of the actors resulting in a nonlinear increase in the useful work or potential energy the system can manage. In contrast noise is produced when incompatible information is mixed. This synergy produced from the coordination of different agents achieves non-linear gains in free energy and in information (negentropy) that are greater than the sum of the parts. The final product of new synergies is an increase in individual autonomy of an organism that achieves increased emancipation from the environment with increases in productivity, efficiency, capacity for flexibility, self-regulation and self-control of behavior through a synchronized division of ever more specialized labor. Examples that provide quantitative data for this phenomenon are presented. Results show that increases in free energy density require decreases in entropy density. This is proposed as a law of thermodynamics.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Friday Thinking 31 July 2020

Friday Thinking
Many thanks to those who enjoy this.

In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.

To see red - is to know other colors - without the ground of others - there is no figure - differences that make a defference.

'There are times, when I catch myself believing there is something which is separate from something else.'

“Be careful what you ‘insta-google-tweet-face’”
Woody Harrelson - Triple 9

the banality of evil can perhaps best be defined as unfettered self-interest. Banal because everyone has self-interest, and because American culture expects and even celebrates its most gratuitous pursuits and expressions. Evil because, when unchecked, self-interest leads not only to intolerable disparities in wealth and power, but eventually the erosion of democratic norms.

American culture has historically found ways to limit individual self-interest. Particularly during times of calamity and instability, it has created expectations of sacrifice for the common good that pressure political leaders to limit their excesses.

For example, during and after the American Revolution, the concept of republican virtue advanced the notion of self-sacrifice to safeguard and develop the fragile new nation and its untested, grandiose, halting experiment in democratic self-rule. Military service in local and state militias was the core of national defense and a standard obligation of male citizens. Elites eligible for political service (most commoners initially could not vote, much less hold office) were expected to sacrifice their personal self interest, forgoing their business and commercial pursuits to temporarily serve the public interest before returning to private life.

The point is not that everyone lived up to these expectation. Many did not. Rather, it’s that the expectations existed, and they helped temper runaway self-interest. Overt selfishness at the expense of a then narrowly-defined polity was hardly eliminated, but it was discouraged, criticized, and sometimes even censured.

….During the 1930s, the shared misery of economic calamity thwarted self-interest as opportunities for individual advancement dried up like never before. For many, mere economic survival was the pressing concern. And the depression transitioned almost seamlessly into the shared sacrifices required for victory in World War II.

After sixteen years of profound struggle and ultimate success, the Great Depression/WWII generations emerged deeply patriotic and with a strong sense of limited self-interest. Paramount was protecting the nation and government that had aided them in times of misery and beaten back fascism.

The Banality Of Trump

today, authoritarianism works differently: it keeps a veneer of democracy, allowing (and then rigging) elections; it keeps a pocket of opposition; it may not use much physical violence, opting for threat and legal harassment, as Viktor Orbán does in Hungary. I call this “new authoritarianism,” others call it “electoral authoritarianism,” or, Orbán’s own self-serving term, “illiberal democracy.” We are still searching for a language to describe what is unfolding.

Histories of Violence: America Is Not a Fascist State — It’s an Authoritarian One

He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past. But when he stood at the railing of the ship and saw the white promontory of the colonial district again, the motionless buzzards on the roofs, the washing of the poor hung out to dry on the balconies, only then did he understand to what extent he had been an easy victim to the charitable deceptions of nostalgia.

– From Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) by Gabriel García Márquez

Coined by the Swiss physician Johannes Hofer in 1688, ‘nostalgia’ referred to a medical condition – homesickness – characterised by an incapacitating longing for one’s motherland. Hofer favoured the term because it combined two essential features of the illness: the desire to return home (nostos) and the pain (algos) of being unable to do so. Nostalgia’s symptomatology was imprecise – it included rumination, melancholia, insomnia, anxiety and lack of appetite – and was thought to affect primarily soldiers and sailors. Physicians also disagreed about its cause. Hofer thought that nostalgia was caused by nerve vibrations where traces of ideas of the motherland ‘still cling’, whereas others, noticing that it was found predominantly among Swiss soldiers fighting at lower altitudes, proposed instead that nostalgia was caused by changes in atmospheric pressure, or eardrum damage from the clanging of Swiss cowbells. Once nostalgia was identified among soldiers from various nationalities, the idea that it was geographically specific was abandoned.

Indeed, feeling nostalgic for a time one didn’t actually live through appears to be a common phenomenon if all the chatrooms, Facebook pages and websites dedicated to it are anything to go by. In fact, a new word has been coined to capture this precise variant of nostalgia – anemoia, defined by the Urban Dictionary and the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows as ‘nostalgia for a time you’ve never known’.

How can we make sense of the fact that people feel nostalgia not only for past experiences but also for generic time periods? My suggestion, inspired by recent evidence from cognitive psychology and neuroscience, is that the variety of nostalgia’s objects is explained by the fact that its cognitive component is not an autobiographical memory, but a mental simulation – an imagination, if you will – of which episodic recollections are a sub-class. To support this claim, I need first to discuss some developments in the science of memory and imagination.

Nostalgia reimagined

This is a great read discussing Covid-19 as the world’s first complexity crisis (I’m not sure that is true - but it is the first global complexity crisis of the 21st Century). The authors are from the Santa Fe Institute.

A city of a million will double the number of COVID cases in half the time as a city of 10,000.

Cities are machines we evolved to accelerate socio-biological interactions. The larger the city, the more the average individual interacts with other people in a multiplicative positive feedback process. It has recently been observed that high-density urban settings are associated with the super-linear scaling of a large number of biological and social variables. This means that a doubling in city size leads to more than twofold increase in these variables which include economic productivity, rates of innovation, crime, and disease. 

A key insight from complexity science is that complex systems function by the continuous tradeoff between robustness and evolvability. 

Robustness describes the ability of a system to withstand a critical perturbation without a significant loss of function. 

Evolvability describes a mechanism that allows for the efficient exploration of adjacent novelties, whereby small changes to a mechanism or structure can engender new functions. 

The Damage We’re Not Attending To

Scientists who study complex systems offer solutions to the pandemic.

The damage we are not attending to is the deeper nature of the crisis—the collapse of multiple coupled complex systems.

Societies the world over are experiencing what might be called the first complexity crisis in history. We should not have been surprised that a random mutation of a virus in a far-off city in China could lead in just a few short months to the crash of financial markets worldwide, the end of football in Spain, a shortage of flour in the United Kingdom, the bankruptcy of Hertz and Niemann-Marcus in the United States, the collapse of travel, and to so much more.

As scientists who study complex systems, we conceive of a complexity crisis as a twofold event. First, it is the failure of multiple coupled systems—our physical bodies, cities, societies, economies, and ecosystems. Second, it involves solutions, such as social distancing, that involve unavoidable tradeoffs, some of which amplify the primary failures. In other words, the way we respond to failing systems can accelerate their decline.

We and our colleagues in the Santa Fe Institute Transmission Project believe there are some non-obvious insights and solutions to this crisis that can be gleaned from studying complex systems and their universal properties. One useful way to think about a complexity crisis is in terms of the strategic tradeoffs that need to be managed and the complex mechanisms that these tradeoffs involve. These mechanisms include ideas of contagion, epidemic cycles, super-spreading events, critical phenomena, scaling, and path dependence.

2020 - will undoubtedly be seen in history as a massive turning point in the human project of the 21st century (perhaps more transformative as the two world wars and depression of the 20th century) - This is an important signal of how little we know about the change agent that is Covid-19

“There is evidence now that the virus can directly attack heart muscle cells, and there’s also evidence that the cytokine storm that the virus triggers in the body not only damages the lungs, but can damage the heart,” says Swartzberg, who did not work on either of these new studies. “We don’t know what the long-term effects of that may be, but it could be that we will have a population of people who survive COVID-19 only to go on and have chronic cardiac problems.”

Study detects heart damage in majority of recovered COVID-19 patients

A pair of newly published studies in the journal JAMA Cardiology highlight the potential for long-term heart complications in recovered COVID-19 patients. The research suggests the virus can directly damage cardiovascular muscles with ongoing inflammation detectable months after recovery, even in patients originally suffering a mild form of the disease.

While much attention has been focused on the volume of deaths caused by COVID-19, now that we are six months into this global pandemic researchers are beginning to see signs of chronic health problems in recovered patients. Only now are clinicians starting to get a glimpse at the potential persistent health consequences of this new virus, and two new studies offer insights into the cardiovascular impact of COVID-19.

Back in March it was quickly apparent that patients with underlying cardiovascular disease were more likely to suffer a fatal outcome from COVID-19. However, it was unclear whether the virus was directly damaging myocardial cells, or whether there was longer-term cardiovascular damage following recovery.

The migration of the ARPANet to TCP/IP was officially completed on January 1, 1983, when the new protocols were permanently activated. Most of the world couldn’t imagine what that would mean even 10 years later with the invention of HTTP and the web - and the rise of a connected world.

This is a signal of one dimension of the next stage of the digital environment.

Quantum loop: US unveils blueprint for 'virtually unhackable' internet

US officials and scientists have begun laying the groundwork for a more secure "virtually unhackable" internet based on quantum computing technology.

At a presentation Thursday, Department of Energy (DOE) officials issued a report that lays out a blueprint strategy for the development of a national quantum internet, using laws of quantum mechanics to transmit information more securely than on existing networks.

The agency is working with universities and industry researchers on the engineering for the initiative with the aim of creating a prototype within a decade.

In February, scientists from DOE's Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago created a 52-mile (83-kilometer) "quantum loop" in the Chicago suburbs, establishing one of the longest land-based quantum networks in the nation.

The aim is to create a parallel, more secure network based on quantum "entanglement," or the transmission of sub-atomic particles.

This is also a very fascinating signal of not just the devices and energy-use - but also of a way of life with precise data about our behavior - the are many assumption being made - but it is worth the time to let yourself imagine what this could enable - good-bad-indifferent

"Imagine firefighters in the field fighting a brush fire near Los Angeles," she says. "If they were equipped with a device like this, we could tell very easily what each firefighter is doing and if they're moving. We could do so far better than we can with external cameras, which might be limited by smoke or the terrain."

Next generation of wearable devices will stay charged longer and track movements better

What if your belt did more than hold up your pants? What if it also listened to your FitBit, smart glasses, and smart jewelry to better recognize what activities you were engaged in  while using far less power than anything currently on the market?

In a new paper published in Nature Communications, researchers at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering demonstrated how magnetic induction might one day power the next generation of wearable devices.

In the near future, wearable devices will be doing a lot more than counting our steps. They'll be used in conjunction with other wearables to monitor the vitals of hospital patients or track the location of firefighters and first responders, among other applications.

The problem, however, is power and cost. No one wants to charge their smart watch, glasses, wristband or anklet every time they walk out the door,

This system can monitor daily activities, encourage the user to perform specific actions, or help physical therapists in tracking their patients' progress. According to Golestani, the applications go far beyond hospitals and wearables for every-day health, too; they include surveillance and disaster response.

This is a very strong signal of the emerging interface with our digital environment and more.

Yet despite its new tricks, GPT-3 is still prone to spewing hateful sexist and racist language. Fine-tuning the model helped limit this kind of output in GPT-2.

GPT-3’s human-like output and striking versatility are the results of excellent engineering, not genuine smarts. For one thing, the AI still makes ridiculous howlers that reveal a total lack of common sense. But even its successes have a lack of depth to them, reading more like cut-and-paste jobs than original compositions.

OpenAI’s new language generator GPT-3 is shockingly good—and completely mindless

The AI is the largest language model ever created and can generate amazing human-like text on demand but won't bring us closer to true intelligence.

“Playing with GPT-3 feels like seeing the future,” Arram Sabeti, a San Francisco–based developer and artist, tweeted last week. That pretty much sums up the response on social media in the last few days to OpenAI’s latest language-generating AI.  

OpenAI first described GPT-3 in a research paper published in May. But last week it began drip-feeding the software to selected people who requested access to a private beta. For now, OpenAI wants outside developers to help it explore what GPT-3 can do, but it plans to turn the tool into a commercial product later this year, offering businesses a paid-for subscription to the AI via the cloud.

GPT-3 is the most powerful language model ever. Its predecessor, GPT-2, released last year, was already able to spit out convincing streams of text in a range of different styles when prompted with an opening sentence. But GPT-3 is a big leap forward. The model has 175 billion parameters (the values that a neural network tries to optimize during training), compared with GPT-2’s already vast 1.5 billion. And with language models, size really does matter.

This is a nice account signaling the state of robotics today.

Five incredibly talented robots

Highly flexible, environmentally friendly, with the agility of a human hand or the ability to interact in groups... Portraits of five incredibly talented robots that could soon make a debut in the fields of health, industry, and underwater exploration.

This is a good signal of surveillance and responses emerging from the digital environment.

Many of these anti-drone measures are expensive and complicated. Some are illegal. The most affordable – and legal – way to avoid drone technology is hiding.

How to hide from a drone – the subtle art of ‘ghosting’ in the age of surveillance

Drones of all sizes are being used by environmental advocates to monitor deforestation, by conservationists to track poachers, and by journalists and activists to document large protests. As a political sociologist who studies social movements and drones, I document a wide range of nonviolent and pro-social drone uses in my new book, “The Good Drone.” I show that these efforts have the potential to democratize surveillance.

But when the Department of Homeland Security redirects large, fixed-wing drones from the U.S.-Mexico border to monitor protests, and when towns experiment with using drones to test people for fevers, it’s time to think about how many eyes are in the sky and how to avoid unwanted aerial surveillance. One way that’s within reach of nearly everyone is learning how to simply disappear from view.

This is a very strong signal of the transformation of our energy geopolitics. A longish read signaling change in crime but also change in agricultural practice.

"It's just how opium poppy is farmed now," Mr Brittan tells me. "They drill down 100m (325ft) or so to the ground water, put in an electric pump and wire it up to a few panels and bingo, the water starts flowing."

Take-up of this new technology was very rapid.

Buying diesel to power their ground water pumps used to be the farmers' biggest expense.

"And it isn't just the cost," Dr Mansfield continues. "The diesel in these remote areas is heavily adulterated so pumps and generators keep breaking down. That's a huge problem for farmers."

What does this tell us about solar power?

That is simple.

The story of the revolution in Afghan heroin production shows us just how transformative solar power can be.

Don't imagine this is some kind of benign "green" technology.

Solar is getting so cheap that it is capable of changing the way we do things in fundamental ways and with consequences that can affect the entire world.

What the heroin industry can teach us about solar power

If you have ever doubted whether solar power can be a transformative technology, read on.

This is a story about how it has proved its worth in the toughest environment possible.

The market I'm talking about is perhaps the purest example of capitalism on the planet.

There are no subsidies here. Nobody is thinking about climate change - or any other ethical consideration, for that matter.

This is about small-scale entrepreneurs trying to make a profit.

It is the story of how Afghan opium growers have switched to solar power, and significantly increased the world supply of heroin.

Another good signal of the progress being made in transforming energy geopolitics.

Iter: World's largest nuclear fusion project begins assembly

The world's biggest nuclear fusion project has entered its five-year assembly phase.

After this is finished, the facility will be able to start generating the super-hot "plasma" required for fusion power.

The £18.2bn (€20bn; $23.5bn) facility has been under construction in Saint-Paul-lez-Durance, southern France.

Advocates say fusion could be a source of clean, unlimited power that would help tackle the climate crisis.

Iter is a collaboration between China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the US. All members share in the cost of construction.

Current nuclear energy relies on fission, where a heavy chemical element is split to produce lighter ones.

Nuclear fusion, on the other hand, works by combining two light elements to make a heavier one.

This is a fantastic signal of the next level of research into human wellness and biological complexity.

"This immense catalog is a landmark in microbiome research, and will be an invaluable resource for scientists to start studying and hopefully understanding the role of each bacterial species in the human gut ecosystem," 

Unparalleled inventory of the human gut ecosystem

An international team of scientists has collated all known bacterial genomes from the human gut microbiome into a single large database, allowing researchers to explore the links between bacterial genes and proteins, and their effects on human health.

This project was led by EMBL's European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and included collaborators from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the University of Trento, the Gladstone Institutes, and the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute. Their work has been published in Nature Biotechnology.

The scientists have now compiled 200,000 genomes and 170 million protein sequences from more than 4,600 bacterial species in the human gut. Their new databases, the Unified Human Gastrointestinal Genome collection and the Unified Gastrointestinal Protein catalog, reveal the tremendous diversity in our guts and pave the way for further microbiome research.

The project revealed that more than 70% of the detected bacterial species had never been cultured in the lab—their activity in the body remains unknown. 

All the data collected in the Unified Human Gastrointestinal Genome collection and the Unified Human Gastrointestinal Protein catalog are freely available in MGnify, an EMBL-EBI online resource that allows scientists to analyze their microbial genomic data and make comparisons with existing datasets.