There are so many exciting developments taking place every week that it's sometimes hard to narrow them down to seven. We'd like to think that the following items are a representative sample, but failing that, they're at least a good start.
Only those who will risk going too far, can possibly find out how far they can go
-- T. S. Eliot
In September 2003, Sanyo Electric introduced the concept of a new optical disc, dubbed 'MildDisc' and based on poly lactid acid produced from corn. These discs will have a lifetime of 50 to 100 years and are biodegradable.
The good news:
A CD made from corn? What could be better for running on your spinach-powered laptop? We live in amazing times.
The disks have been delayed coming to market. Apparently they do not do well with high temperatures. (Is it possible that their failure is accompanied by a loud popping sound?)
Roland Piquepaille comments on the production of the disks:
[H]ere are interesting numbers. Sanyo said that an ear of corn would be enough to deliver 10 discs. There are about 9 billions of CDs produced annually, and the yearly world corn production is estimated to be around 600 million tons. So only 0.1 percent of the world corn's production would be enough to satisfy the worldwide disc market, according to the company.
Our good friend Randall Parker, the FuturePundit himself, has run a series of stories over the past week about major breakthroughs in the use of adult stem cells:
Helmut Drexler of University of Freiburg, Germany and his colleagues treated sufferers of acute myocardial infarctions (i.e. heart attacks) with bone marrow stem cells and found that the bone marrow stem cells boosted the volume of blood pumped by the left ventricle of the heart.
Better Humans reports on research by Siddharthan Chandran of the University of Cambridge, UK Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair on the use of a mix of growth factors to successfully turn skin cells into neural stem cells.
Working with freshly extracted human third molars (wisdom teeth) scientists have been able to isolate stem cells that can turn into the ligament that hold teeth into place.
The good news:
Adult stem cells are the often-ignored older siblings of embryonic stem cells, which hold so much promise and which are surrounded by so much controversey. The conventional wisdom is that embryonic stem cells are more or less "universal assemblers" capable of replenishing or creating anew virutally any cell in the body, where adult stem cells are much less flexible, having only one direction that they can grow. The second item cited above, which describes adult skin cells being converted to neural stem cells, would appear to fly in the face of the conventional wisdom. We may yet see universal cell assemblers grown from adult cells. And even if we don't, it seems that new applications for adult stem cells are being found all the time which is tremendous news in its own right.
In the United States the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is throwing up roadblocks even for adult stem cell therapy. The FDA's stance has nothing to do with the debate about embryonic stem cells. Rather, it is part of the FDA's never-ending quest to protect people with fatal diseases from the risk that experimental therapies might harm them. In my view people with fatal diseases ought to be allowed to try experimental therapies and the FDA's position both slows the rate at which treatments are developed and unjustifiably takes away the individual's right to choose which treatment risks are worth taking.
It's encouraging to see that progress is being made in so many different areas at once. We can expect to hear a lot more about adult stem cell therapy in the months and years to come.
NASA should not rule out sending a shuttle to fix the aging Hubble Space Telescope, an expert panel told the space agency on Tuesday, six months after a planned repair mission was dismissed as too risky.
The good news:
We are big believers that the Hubble telescope, which has opened the eyes of the world to a universe we could scarcely have imagined, is worth saving. It's gratifying to see NASA coming to the same conclusion.
Obscure Blogosphere Reference:
James Taranto would have headlined this piece as follows:
What Would the Hubble Telescope Do Without Experts?
Get ready to feel obsolete with your iPod. Portable media players will be available within weeks, and they store and play not only music, but movies, recorded TV shows, and photo slide shows.
The good news:
These gadgets can be configured with up to 40 GB of storage, "enough to store every episode of The Simpsons." Kawabunga, Dude!
The screen sizes are 3.5 and 3.8 inches, which might prove to be a bit of a strain for tired old eyes. Also, at an estimated street price of $500, they are a smidge more expensive than an iPod.
On the other hand...
The phone rings, and you answer it. It's you, calling from the future:
"Hey, Me-From-20-Years-Ago. How's it going?"
"Okay. How about with you, Me-From-20-Years-Ahead?"
"Great! You'll never guess what I just bought."
"Well, it's a portable combination TV, VCR, stereo."
"Portable? What does it use, tiny little tapes?"
"No tapes. It stores everything in computer memory."
"No kidding. Can it hold as much as a six-hour extended play vhs tape?"
"It can hold hundreds of hours of video and music."
"Whoah. So you say it's portable. What does it weigh, 15-20 pounds?"
"It weighs about the same as your beloved Sony Walkman. And it's just a little bigger than the Walkman. You could carry it in your coat pocket if you wanted to."
"I don't believe it! How much did it cost?"
"Well, let's see. I just bought some stuff. My TV cost me about $500. My VCR was about $200. My stereo was about $300. That's $1,000 in 1984 money. I'm thinking the device you're talking about must have set you back a good $10,000. What, are we like rich in the future?"
"Gotta go. See you in 20!"
"But, wait I want to know "
So you see, "expensive" is a relative notion.
Recently, the battle of man vs. insect has spawned a new tool: clothes that appear normal in every way, except for their built-in repellent that keeps bugs at bay.
"This is the first new development in personal insect protection since DEET," says Haynes Griffin, CEO of Buzz Off Insect Shield of Greensboro, N.C. DEET is the active ingredient in most tick and insect repellents.
The active ingredient in Buzz Off clothing is permethrin, a synthetic version of pyrethrum, a natural insect repellent derived from the daisy-like flowers of a plant in the chrysanthemum family.
The good news:
You might be wondering just how effective these bug-proof clothes really are. It seems that West Point Academy has reported a reduction in the incidence of Lyme disease from 10 cases to zero one year after switching to field uniforms made from the fabric.
That's pretty impressive.
In the long run, insect-proof clothes are probably bad news for, say, the people who make Off.
An elaborately decorated cave ceiling with artwork dating to 13,000 years ago has been found in Nottinghamshire, England, according to a press release issued today by the University of Sheffield.
The site of the find, Church Hole Cave at Creswell Crags, is being called the "Sistine Chapel" of the Ice Age because it contains the most ornate cave art ceiling in the world. The ceiling extends the earliest rock art in Britain by approximately 8,000 years and suggests that a primary culture unified Europeans during the Ice Age.
The good news:
The fact that this important find is just now being discovered in a well-known cave is evidence of how much we still can still learn from known archeological sites.
The scope of the discovery:
Jon Humble, inspector of ancient monuments for a preservation group called English Heritage, commented, "The text books say that there is no cave art in Britain. These will now have to be rewritten. It is remarkable to consider that some 500 generations ago people created pictures on the wall of the caves depicting the world that they knew, which certainly was not as we know it."
It seems we know less than we think we do about the world we live in. There's more to learn, folks.
In a radio interview, famous futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that health conscious baby boomers have a good shot of living long enough to benefit from life extension technologies - to bootstrap into indefinite lifespans.
On "Living Forever," Kurzweil discussed how to dramatically slow down the aging process, even stop and reverse it, and the social and cultural ramifications. He also described his forthcoming book, "Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever," co-authored with Terry Grossman, M.D.
"The book makes the scientific case that immortality is within our grasp," says Kurzweil. "Our health program enables people to slow aging and disease processes to such a degree that we can remain in good health and spirits until the more radical life-extending and life-enhancing technologies, now in the research and testing pipeline, become available.
Here's an real audio link to the interview.
Better All The Time is compiled by Phil Bowermaster, Stephen Gordon, and Kathy Hanson. Live to see it!
Posted by Phil at July 13, 2004 07:52 AM