July 13, 2004



Better All The Time #16


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.




Today's Good Stuff:

    Quote of the Day
  1. More Hardware from Veggies
  2. Stem Cells Grow Up
  3. Hope for Hubble
  4. Now All We Need is a Tiny, Portable Sofa
  5. Bug-Proof Duds
  6. Stoneage Sistine Chapel Discovered
  7. Is This Really "Good" News?

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Quote of the Day

Only those who will risk going too far, can possibly find out how far they can go

-- T. S. Eliot


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Item 1
You Call it Corn, We Call it Optical Disks

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 downside:

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?)

Anyway...

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.

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Item 2
If I Only Had a Heart, the Nerve, some...Teeth


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.

The downside:

Randall explains:

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.

Hear, hear.

Anyway...

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.

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Item 3
Keep Hubble Repair Options Open - Experts

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.

Anyway:

In a week in which the Cassini probe has survived being peppered by ring chunks, and speculation is increasing about passengers on SpaceShipOne, we didn't want to miss this very positive development.

Obscure Blogosphere Reference:

James Taranto would have headlined this piece as follows:

What Would the Hubble Telescope Do Without Experts?

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Item 4
New Portable Multimedia Entertainment Devices Head for Stores

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 downside:

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...

It's 1984.

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."

"Tell me."

"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?"

"Guess."

"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 —"

[Click]

So you see, "expensive" is a relative notion.


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Item 5
West Nile fears boost protective clothing sales

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.

The downside:

In the long run, insect-proof clothes are probably bad news for, say, the people who make Off.

Anyway...

The Better All The Time Wardrobe grows. Insect-proof clothes now join power-generating clothes, self-cleaning clothes, and bullet-proof shirts.

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Item 6

A Stoneage Sistine Chapel

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."

Moreover...

It seems we know less than we think we do about the world we live in. There's more to learn, folks.

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Item 7
Extended Life For Baby Boomers!

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.


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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 | TrackBack
Comments

Great feature! Keep up the good work.

Posted by: G. Murry at July 14, 2004 09:15 AM

Great site! Thanks to Instapundit for the link--I'm adding this to my Favorites.

Posted by: Dar at July 14, 2004 10:01 AM

Good work on the adult stem cell item.

Unfortunately the self-cleaning clothes thing won't work. Stop washing them, and environmentalists will complain that we won't be putting enough phosphates in our rivers...

Posted by: J Bowen at July 14, 2004 10:02 AM

"These discs will have a lifetime of 50 to 100 years and are biodegradable."

I'd say those two qualities are mutually incompatible.

Posted by: Mike at July 14, 2004 12:21 PM

re:Item 2

pet peeve #427 - the phrase is "hear, hear", NOT "here, here".

Otherwise, great job!

Posted by: gram at July 14, 2004 01:12 PM

Gram -

I'm fixing it. There, there now.

:-)

Posted by: Phil at July 14, 2004 01:24 PM

Mike:

'"These discs will have a lifetime of 50 to 100 years and are biodegradable."

I'd say those two qualities are mutually incompatible.'

Current model humans have a lifetime of 50 to 100 years and are also biodegradable.

Posted by: raymund at July 14, 2004 02:48 PM

Hopefully the boomers will all die before life extension technology really kicks in.

Posted by: Scott at July 14, 2004 04:52 PM

Scott

Lighten up, my friend. Intergenerational bigotry is no more appealing than any other kind. Granted, I opened us up for your comment by my question about whether life extension for boomers is really good news, but come on.

Wishing a whole generation dead seems kinda harsh.

Posted by: Phil at July 14, 2004 05:06 PM

It may be harsh, but sharing the benefits of sweet, sweet life extension with millions of aging hippies and irritable seniors isn't my idea of good times. It's going to be a lot more harsh when the boomers use their seniority and numbers to crowd anyone under age 60 away from the precious, life-giving stem cells we're all going to be guzzling out of Capri-Sun packs in a few years. Generation X will *not* take this lying down! *WE* want to control the fountain of youth, dammit. You heard it here first: when life extension becomes less general, more immediate, and less available to everyone, there will be intergenerational warfare. Every old person that doesn't die takes a disproportionate amount of resources away from everyone else. It's the cycle of life for a reason. Old must make way for new, or we're going to have big, big trouble.

Posted by: PS at July 15, 2004 07:37 AM

Scott/PS:

I can only assume that you're having some fun and are not being serious. The boomers may not be "The Greatest Generation," but certainly you admire individual boomers. How about your parents? Do you want to see them shrivel up and die after a few years? As for me, my inheritance can wait, I'd rather see my folks stick around awhile. And let's not forget Speculist co-blogger Kathy Hanson, who is neither an "aging hippy" nor an "irritable senior."

Assuming you're serious and genuinely dislike all boomers to the point you wish them dead after a "normal" lifespan, how about self-interest? Think of all the human generations that have gone before. Every individual born before 1884 good, bad, beautiful, ugly they are all dead. Isn't a one-generation buffer between our generation and death close enough?

As for generational warfare, it isn't going to happen. Generational differences will mean less and less as the infirmities of aging diminish.

Posted by: Stephen Gordon at July 15, 2004 10:18 AM

Actually, about the intergenerational thing, not enough thought is devoted to how rejuvenation will effect people's brains.

Neurology has advanced greatly these last few decades, but it's still not clear to us how much of wisdom is merely due to the shaping of neural connections (what we call experience and contemplation.) and how much of it is due to hormonal changes.

For example, is it possible that a rejuventated person may have all these memories gained over 70 or 80 years that somehow lose some indefinable meaning now that their brains are floating the biochemistry of youth? Obviously emotion strongly affects memory in terms of formation and recollection. Emotion is strongly effected by biochemical pathways outside the electrochemical ones of neurons. So, how will this change the emotional power that some memories have over us?

Is it likely that some newly rejuvenated person might laugh off the painful memories of a very introspective hospital recovery after a sky diving disaster?

Another example: Soon I will be 41 (Just on the cusp between the Boom and Gen X.) and, I'd like to believe that I am stronger and wiser person now than I was when I was 19. I feel now that a lot of things I obssessed about then turned out to be irrelevent and a waste of time. Or is this just my brain wearing out?

Will I be forced into these pointless obssessions again when all my cells are replaced with squeaky clean new ones?

Will rejuvenation affect aquired wisdom, assuming we can even adequately define wisdom?

FuturePundit had a post that started to touch on this unexplored question but the comment thread got sidetracked onto other issues.

(Hm. Maybe I should put something about this on my hopelessly unreadable site.)

On preview, I think some of you are missing the point. It's not really one generation or another that will somehow dole out rejuvenation technology. Generation is irrelevent. It's those who have the money that will be the first to benefit. Although there'll also be strong political pressures within the governments to get people off pensions, the dole and stipends by forcing them to take rejuvenation.

[voice type="sottovoce"]Enough grist for arguments, Phil?[/voice]

Posted by: Mr. Farlops at July 15, 2004 12:14 PM

[voice type="sottovoce"]Enough grist for arguments, Phil?[/voice]

Yep, that's a good start. I really found this idea intriguing:

Although there'll also be strong political pressures within the governments to get people off pensions, the dole and stipends by forcing them to take rejuvenation.

Do you really think it would come to anybody being forced to rejuvenate? I certainly hope not. That would be as big a violation as forcing people to die because they've already lived their alloted years.

Anyhow -- tying back to your original premise -- even if there were seniors forced at gunpoint to rejuvante, once they got juiced up with youth again, maybe they wouldn't mind being off the dole and having to go back to work.

See? There's always an upside.

Posted by: Phil at July 15, 2004 04:47 PM

It may be harsh, but sharing the benefits of sweet, sweet life extension with millions of aging hippies and irritable seniors isn't my idea of good times. It's going to be a lot more harsh when the boomers use their seniority and numbers to crowd anyone under age 60 away from the precious, life-giving stem cells we're all going to be guzzling out of Capri-Sun packs in a few years. Generation X will *not* take this lying down! *WE* want to control the fountain of youth, dammit. You heard it here first: when life extension becomes less general, more immediate, and less available to everyone, there will be intergenerational warfare. Every old person that doesn't die takes a disproportionate amount of resources away from everyone else. It's the cycle of life for a reason. Old must make way for new, or we're going to have big, big trouble.

Intergenerational warfare isn't a given here. We need not live in a zero-sum game. I can see situations where it becomes inevitable. A good example can be found in as a connected theme of Larry Niven in some of his science fiction books (see "A Patchwork Girl" or "A Gift from Earth") where human transplant organs become so valuable and necessary that government law is warped in order to generate the organ stream. For example, at one point jaywalking becomes punishable by death and subsequent organ harvesting. Only relatively youthful organs can be harvested so you can guess which generation gets the brunt of these laws.

As far as your discussion of "control" goes, I think this is an issue not of generations, but rather of who benefits from controlling things. Hollywood and the media has long fed the generation-conflict game. The babyboomers are portrayed as shallow, materialistic yuppies and hippies while generation Xers are portrayed as shallow, whiny slackers or brats. There seems to be a lot of other frictions: social security, home ownership, stance on crime, etc. But who really benefits from this conflict?

I think you need to consider who the arm-runners are for this potential generation warfare. There's always room for profit in such conflicts.

Posted by: Karl Hallowell at July 15, 2004 09:36 PM

Phil,

Well, maybe "force" is the wrong word. Perhaps the phrase that will be used is, "tremendous incentives for people to take rejuvenation therapy even though that takes them off social security." Taxes, investment plans or some kind of subsidized discount for the treatments.

Of course a lot of seniors, if they can afford it, will voluntarily rejuvenate. I think the majority of them will. I guessing most people, if offered the opportunity to return to a youthful state and avoid death by old age, would do it. A tiny fraction, probably for religious and philosophical reasons, will reject the therapy. A smaller fraction still might buy into the plan if give financial reasons to do so. Fixed incomes stink.

Maybe it's not force but there will strong financial pressures to take up the therapy.

Posted by: Mr. Farlops at July 16, 2004 03:34 PM

I'm not sure but ten CD's from an ear of corn seems high. From what I read, corn starch (the precessor of dextrose used in the process) is concentrated in the kernels. Perhaps some variants of corn product much more corn starch per ear and hence justify the claim that ten CD's can be made from one ear?

In any case, corn starch is dirt cheap. Think they have a winner here even if they have to add some petrochemical to deal with the heat problem.

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