Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Tests Neither Accurate in Their Predictions nor Beneficial to Individuals, Study Suggests

Posted by on May 31st, 2011

From ScienceDaily, the study looked at the risk factors given by two large DTC companies, deCODEme (Iceland) and 23andMe (USA):

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests give inaccurate predictions of disease risks and many European geneticists believe that some of them should be banned, the annual conference of the European Society of Human Genetics heard May 31. In the first of two studies to be presented, Rachel Kalf, from the department of epidemiology at Erasmus University Medical Centre, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, will say that her research is the first to look at the real predictive ability of such tests, the results of which are available directly to an individual without having to go through a healthcare professional.

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A 21st Century Enlightenment

Posted by on May 6th, 2011
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TEDTalks: Are we ready for neo-evolution?

Posted by on May 4th, 2011

Always interesting to see how the mainstream re-packages the fringe as the cutting edge.

Tim Flannery on humanity’s future as a super organism

Posted by on May 4th, 2011

From the Guardian, where it appears Flannery is updating the Gaia hypothesis:

Tim Flannery argues that humankind is evolving into a ‘super-organism’ where interdependence has profound consequences for the individual.

Look for an expansion of this in his Long Now seminar.

Elf Ears, Facial Horns & Complete Freedom of Expression

Posted by on April 19th, 2011

Via BoingBoing we have this piece on one of ABC’s programs, a “Look at the Freaks” story on the ‘sudden rising trend of Elf Ears‘, the new body-mod “fad.”‘ Blamed for this are Lord of the Rings and Avatar (and we’ll leave aside for now the separate issue of the rise of Na’vi as a hyper-real faith & freedom of religion). The story begins, as such fine pieces of journalism usually do, with a lighthearted quip:

Why would anybody want to do this?

So sayeth the gym-broadened, bottle-blonde’d, make-up wearing, probable result of plastic surgery, carefully constructed media personage. Oh, you meant why would they do stuff that isn’t socially accepted within the enforced/repeated framing of the Mainstream Media?

There’s an old quote I always like to bust out in situations like these, that I once read in a cartoon in a tattoo magazine:

Q. What’s the difference between a person with tattoos and a person without tattoos?

A. The person with tattoos doesn’t care if you don’t have any.

We’ve featured the work of Steve Haworth before, and the best thing about this story was that I immediately sought out a body-mod artist that visits my own shores on occasion, for friends seeking just such enhancements.

Now our old friend Ötzi the Iceman has tattoos, making this a most timeless, Human act. So what is the deal here? Are we in a new Victorian Age of Prudes?

Well, before I go any further, let me wedge in the recent contribution on this issue made by Lady Gaga: “‘I think promoting insecurity in the form of plastic surgery is infinitely more harmful than an artistic expression related to body modification”, continuing “I am an artist, and I have the ability and the free will to choose the way the world will envision me.” Speaking after appearing on the Jay Leno show thusly:

Honestly, I’m a bit disappointed that these Facial Horns are only cosmetic.. that she didn’t go all the way. Maybe she will soon? Maybe she won’t? Maybe it’s perfectly cool for her to play around with her own Identity?!

Indulge me while I wax lyrical for a bit, because there are some Things that need to be Said:

We are The Strange Children of Change.. the Wild, Beautiful Freaks that half frighten, half excite. . It falls on us to lead the way across these waves of radical change, calling back the way forward.

We come from all the cultures across the world and all ages. From many subcultures too; from SF Fandom, Science, Goth, Steampunk, Otherkin, Cyberpunk, Biopunk, Biohackers, etc

Radical Inclusiveness & Revolutionary Optimism are the Tools of our Trade.

We are friends to all. But remember, good friends call you on your bullshit and help you grow. They encourage you to realize your full potential and be a better (post)human.

Those within the Hierarchy see everything with binary vision: us/them, friend/foe, good/bad..  immediately judging for Fitness within it’s internal categories of Correctness.

We natives of the Network see with multiplicitous eyes.  Not judging, but listening.. finding all the common ways we connect, sharing our stories, offering advice, hard won wisdom and invitations to explore new things based on our own past experience and knowledge.

The only thing we don’t tolerate is intolerance.

Where our fellow travelers are mocked. Where courageous explorers like Lepht Anonym are criticized and called “un-transhumanist” by the likes of Natasha Vita-Moore & other elements of the H+ society, we are saddened. This is the Transhumanism of the Hierarchy. Remember, it is the forces of Control that started this whole mess.

The answer isn’t to appear “more palatable to the mainstream” (the defense with which they mark such decrees), it’s to shatter the whole fiction of a Mainstream to begin with!

So much of Transhumanist literature and discussion reeks of body hatred, of a desire to leave the meat behind and live forever in electric dreams, in their idealized, distant Future. Maintaining their current existence purely through virtual avatars. Grinders challenge and extend their limits in the here-and-now, taking everything they can find from the realms of Diet, Psychology, Linguistics, Philosophy, Computer Science, Neuroscience, Engineering, Physical Fitness, Architecture, Industrial and Fashion Design, etc etc, to enhance, explore & express themselves however they choose.

Freedom to modify one’s body, and it’s cousin, cognitive liberties… are they harder to fight for when the previous victories of Freedom of Speech, Religion, Association and so on seem to be under threat at present by so many forces. I say no! We support them all. We demand the right of a person to live and act however they choose – so long as they don’t physically harm anyone or restrict anyone else from equally doing so.

These Cultural Norms we struggle against are forced on to us by the weight of history and the continued existence of a Society where Citizens still need permission to make choices. Where they are not trusted and must be nannied by the State. Where everything appears to exist purely to reinforce the Normal (a term who’s only true meaning is in Statistics); that Impossible Individual representing the complete average of the group. This impossibility makes everyone a Square Peg in a Round Hole.. forever trying to Fit In.

Which brings us to the First Corollary of There Is No They: There Is No Normal.

If necessary, think of it this way, from a purely economic rationalist, productive point of view: if everyone is free to express themselves however they choose, they’ll be happier, more motivated (and frankly, less likely to kill themselves), instead of spending so much energy squashing down their True Self. A richer Society could exist!

We need to Defend these Freedoms. All of them. To stand firmly and say these things are Correct. Let us evolve!

In the Industrial Age everything seemed to be measured with the Bell Curve, but now we are in the territory of Exponential Graphs, Asymmetry and Radical Multiplicity.

For now, let us look Forward! to a more rich, varied world. Let multi-humanism be the new multi-culturalism!  Because it’s all hands on deck time, people.

In conclusion, as catt avery tweeted recently, “the evolutionary strength of the human social colony is most certainly its diversity of expression.”

(And that’s why I think Elf Ears and Facial Horns are cool.)

TED Talk: It’s time to question bio-engineering

Posted by on March 23rd, 2011

There’s not that much that’s new here, for those of us that have been closely following this over the years, but it’s still quite something to see listed, one after another, the many achievements made recently in genetic and bio engineering.

What I also like about this TED Talk, being by a bio-ethicist, is that he focuses on identifying the areas ethics need to be applied, without prescribing solutions or making immediate value judgements, something that seems to be increasingly rarer these days.

Engineers can build it for you

Posted by on March 7th, 2011

Mr Matthew Plymale, student of Computer Engineering at Concordia University in Montreal, has sent in a most interesting submission:

Background: Engineering is evolving to acknowledge several facts: that engineers have multi-disciplinary skills, that those skills can benefit people already working in other fields, that engineers place great emphasis on the integrity of their professional practice on a global scale, that engineers have ethical and social responsibilities for their creations, and that engineers can be agents of change. These changes are causing engineers (and engineering education) to look beyond the textbook, to the world outside, and causing them to make themselves available for potentially radical projects without corporate interest or backing.

Engineers can build it for you

There has always been an unspoken battle of ideas between scientists and engineers. From the scientist’s perspective, the scientist comes up with the theoretical and experimental foundations for technology, while the engineer simply turns that work into money. From the engineer’s perspective, the scientist thinks about doing great things, but it takes an engineer to do them. The scientist prides himself in making things make sense. the engineer prides himself in making things work. Part of the animosity stems from the fact that scientists tend to work at universities, and engineers tend to work in corporations or consulting firms.

Recently, there has been a push in engineering education to impose the desire upon the engineer to expand beyond his specific field, and make connections. Economics can be modeled by artificial agents; The risk of a medical device to malfunction can be modeled with numerical methods; Start-ups can benefit from engineering processes to quickly get organized. The drive to make those connections used to come from entrepreneurs who could stand to make a buck from marketing that knowledge. Increasingly, we see engineers taking their knowledge on the road, to build networks, stir people to action and enable change. Unfortunately, engineers tend to be a quiet bunch, preferring to bow out of policy-making and protest-organizing.

We left it to the hobby-makers and high-tinkerers to come up with innovative gadgets use and languages to speak with. But what we used to relegate to the weekend project is now becoming sorely needed. While it seems the desire for change and tools to enact that change is stronger than ever, the change agents of today don’t seem to know how to get there. They are experimenting with different methods, some radical and some subtle. Engineers can no longer isolate themselves from the quickening pace outside.

The engineer does not necessarily care how you feel about a topic. He wants to know what you need.

I need a global communication grid.”  ”Done.”

“I need something to protect me from Big Brother” ”Take this, now they can’t track you”

“I need some cyborg wings” ”Do you prefer a matte or gloss finish?”

Part of the problem is that engineers do not advertise themselves very well. The same technology I use to build a multiplayer game can be used to send encrypted messages to and from oppressed dissidents. I have to take responsibility for the fact that my creations have a broader impact, whether good or bad. I am ready to take on that responsibility (it is written into our code), and until now, I thought other people would ask me to build those tools. Maybe the best approach is to build it and send it out into the world, and hope it is picked up by the people who need it?

If you find yourself with a challenge involving politics, economics, medicine, AND human rights, maybe you should ask an engineer. Because we can build it for you.

* Title Credit goes to Phillip K. Dick (author of “We can build you” and “We can remember it for you wholesale”)

I like this. I like this a lot! I am very fond of the work being done by Geeks Without Bounds for the same reasons. Thank you, Matthew.

Chained to their desks: prisoners will staff call centre within Indian jail

Posted by on February 2nd, 2011

From The Guardian:

For a man serving a life sentence for murder, Pradeep Deburma has a slightly unlikely dream: to work in a call centre like hundreds of thousands of other young ambitious Indians. Even more improbably, he has every chance of realising it while still behind bars.

Deburma, 24, is detained in a high-security prison near Hyderabad which is launching an innovative scheme to turn convicts into “outsourcing providers” for local firms and eventually, it is hoped, international clients.

The scheme is in its early stages, with prisoners being trained in basic data entry skills. Jail authorities hope that inmates will soon be just as likely to tap at a keyboard as dig vegetables, make carpets or stitch uniforms.

“We have got so many computer literates and professionals in our prison,” said Gopinath Reddy, director general of prisons in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

“So far they are not being fully recognised, but now their knowledge will be utilised for the nation and when they go out they can also lead a meaningful life.”

Forgotten: The most radioactive town in Europe

Posted by on January 31st, 2011

At about 10.30am on 17 January 1966, when Jesus Caceido heard a deafening explosion coming from the village of Palomares, the future mayor of the area had no idea he had just witnessed one of the Cold War’s most serious nuclear accidents – or that nearly half a century later, the 1,500 villagers would still be battling to have the ensuing contamination removed for good. After all, they live in Europe’s most radioactive village.

Today, 45 years after four nuclear bombs fell near the village when a US Air Force B-52 bomber and a refuelling aircraft collided in mid-air, tens of thousands of cubic metres of contaminated soil and an estimated – although never officially confirmed – half a kilogram of plutonium remain. And the radiation is getting potentially more dangerous, not less.

“As this type of plutonium decays, it is converted into another radioactive substance, americium, which is highly carcinogenic and can be released into the atmosphere,” says Igor Parra, a specialist for the Ecologistas en Accion pressure group for Palomares.

Via The Independent.

China To Create Mega-City With Population of 42 Million

Posted by on January 31st, 2011

City planners in south China have laid out an ambitious plan to merge together the nine cities that lie around the Pearl River Delta. The “Turn The Pearl River Delta Into One” scheme will create a 16,000 sq mile urban area that is 26 times larger geographically than Greater London, or twice the size of Wales.

The new mega-city will cover a large part of China’s manufacturing heartland, stretching from Guangzhou to Shenzhen and including Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Zhuhai, Jiangmen, Huizhou and Zhaoqing. Together, they account for nearly a tenth of the Chinese economy.

Over the next six years, around 150 major infrastructure projects will mesh the transport, energy, water and telecommunications networks of the nine cities together, at a cost of some 2 trillion yuan (£190 billion). An express rail line will also connect the hub with nearby Hong Kong.

“The idea is that when the cities are integrated, the residents can travel around freely and use the health care and other facilities in the different areas,” said Ma Xiangming, the chief planner at the Guangdong Rural and Urban Planning Institute and a senior consultant on the project.

Via disinfo.

The Soul is a Plastic Bag

Posted by on January 31st, 2011

In the film Plastic Bag, the title character spends a lifetime (or more) on a quest for a creator not even aware of his existence. A stunning short by Ramin Bahrani, director of Man Push Cart and Goodbye Solo, Plastic Bag is both a postmodern spiritual pilgrimage and an ecological fable.

Via Next Nature.

In the Naughty Chair

Posted by on January 21st, 2011


From Wired, part of a sinister exhibition by Doug Foster.

Hot Train

Posted by on January 20th, 2011


Railroad cars carrying some 123 tons of nuclear waste glow red-hot in an infrared picture taken in Valognes (map), France, in November and released by Greenpeace International as part of an antinuclear-power campaign that included arranging protests that delayed the train’s progress.

The train is hauling a so-called CASTOR convoy, named after the type of container carried: Cask for Storage and Transport Of Radioactive material. These trademarked casks have been used since 1995 to transport nuclear waste from German power plants to France for reprocessing, then back to Germany for storage.

“High-level waste is in fact hot,” said nuclear energy and proliferation expert Matthew Bunn. “It doesn’t mean anything in particular in terms of how dangerous it is.”

From nationalgeographic.

Thermo Mirror

Posted by on January 20th, 2011


NEC subsidiary NEC Avio has developed a thermometer [JP] that measures the user’s temperature without them having to touch the device. As the world’s first device of its kind, it captures your temperature via a built-in infrared sensor and integrates a desktop mirror (hence the name “Thermo Mirror”).

All you need to do is to look at the mirror and your temperature will be measured automatically, and when it detects someone who is feverish, an alarm goes off.

Via crunchgear.

New Taser Specially Designed For Use On Wildlife

Posted by on January 19th, 2011

Silly bear, put back that picnic basket! A new ‘non-lethal’ weapon is availible to dissuade the local wildlife from snacking on someone:

According the manufacturer, Taser International, the animal oriented stun guns are capable of firing multiple shots, delivering a shock specially designed to stop animals like bears and moose in their tracks. Law enforcement officers have been using similar devices for years, but now the Tasers are available for any outdoor enthusiast who fears a run-in with disgruntled wildlife.


DNA: Next Military Battleground?

Posted by on January 19th, 2011

Combine cheaper DNA sequencing prices with the fact that U.S. soilders are not protected by the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), and this happens:

The report, prepared by a defense science advisory panel known as JASON and reported by Secrecy News and HuffPost’s Dan Froomkin, among others, recommends that the military take advantage of the rapidly falling cost of gene sequencing by preparing to engage in the mass sequencing of the genomes of all military personnel. …

Specifically, the report recommends that the Pentagon begin collecting sequencing soldiers’ DNA for “diagnostic and predictive applications.” It recommends that the military begin seeking correlations between soldiers’ genotypes and phenotypes (outward characteristics) “of relevance to the military” in order to correlate the two. And the report says — without offering details — that both “offensive and defensive military operations” could be affected.

Article via the Huffington Post.

34,000 Year-Old Bacteria Discovered Alive

Posted by on January 19th, 2011

Scientists have found prokaryotes believed to have been alive when trapped in salt crystals 34,000 years ago, according to a study published this month in The Geological Society of America’s open-access journal GSA Today.

“Microbes are known to exist in subsurface habitats, such as sub-seafloor sediments and continental and oceanic crust, to depths of up to 3 km,” the paper reads.

“Prokaryotes (single-celled organisms lacking a nucleus and other membrane-bound specialized structures) in these subsurface environments live in water within sediment pores and rock fractures.”


Extinctions Expected to Increase Strongly Over the Century

Posted by on November 25th, 2010

The main factors behind loss of biodiversity are the degradation and destruction of natural habitats, climate change and overexploitation of biological resources. Changes in land use, brought on for instance by urbanization or the conversion of equatorial forest into pasture and arable land, is therefore the principal threat to biodiversity.

Via ScienceDaily.

The SenseFly Swinglet CAM: Your Very Own UAV

Posted by on November 5th, 2010

The SenseFly Swinglet CAM, via crunchgear, who’s calling it “a micro version of real aerial survey vehicles“.

Nice. Need to carry something heavier than 150g? They can design a larger platform to fit your needs.

Trippy Bowls Inspired By Spiders On Drugs

Posted by on November 4th, 2010

The famous NASA doped spider webs, created by French designer Guillaume Lehoux for his SOD Project :


Link and photo via