MonthMarch 2010

Identifying People by their Bacteria

bacteria plate

The human body hosts hundreds of bacterial species that perform various salubrious housekeeping chores, from aiding digestion to helping the immune system identify foreign invaders. Every person—even an identical twin—has a unique distribution of bacteria on various body areas. Now some researchers are suggesting that these individual differences could lead to the development of new crime-solving tools.

Science: CSI’s Latest Clue—Bacteria

(via Schneier on Security)

Computer-Controlled Swarm of Bacteria Builds Tiny Pyramid

bacteria build pyramid

Who needs nanobots when you can control a swarm of bacteria to do your bidding?

Researchers at the NanoRobotics Laboratory of the École Polytechnique de Montréal, in Canada, are putting swarms of bacteria to work, using them to perform micro-manipulations and even propel microrobots.

Led by Professor Sylvain Martel, the researchers want to use flagellated bacteria to carry drugs into tumors, act as sensing agents for detecting pathogens, and operate micro-factories that could perform pharmacological and genetic tests.

They also want to use the bacteria as micro-workers for building things. Things like a tiny step pyramid. […]

The bacteria, of a type known as magnetotactic, contain structures called magnetosomes, which function as a compass. In the presence of a magnetic field, the magnetosomes induce a torque on the bacteria, making them swim according to the direction of the field. Place a magnetic field pointing right and the bacteria will move right. Switch the field to point left and the bacteria will follow suit.

IEEE: Computer-Controlled Swarm of Bacteria Builds Tiny Pyramid

(via Popular Science via Edge of Tomorrow)

See also:

Researchers rapidly turn E. coli into biotech factories

Augmented reality for the blind

LookTel- augmented reality for the blind

Now here’s a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day. LookTel is an object identifier – you point it at something and it tells you what it is. You can teach it to recognize new objects and by aiming it at a product, the program can tell what it is using real speech and when you need to ID something on the fly, you can stick on an image sticker and read that sticker. It’s more or less a barcode and QR scanner with some image recognition thrown in, but it really could be a boon to those with failing – or failed – eyesight.

The system needs a little more computing power than is available in the average smartphone so you need a local PC to help ID some things.

CrunchGear: LookTel, an app for the blind

(Via Augmented Timessee also their previous post on AR and blindness)

Paranormal Seizure Activity

two surreal figures with aztec skull heads by uair01

A new case study in Cortex by neurologist Dr. Fabienne Picard (2010) reports on a patient who experienced unusual phenomena during epileptic seizures. She had the convincing sense that several familiar people (family members) were standing before her. This experience of a “sensed presence” is a classic trope in movies with supernatural themes (e.g., Carnival of Souls [available at Internet Archive], The Haunting [trailer for the 1963 version], Poltergeist, Dark Water), but it’s generally attributed to ghosts and not to seizure activity.

From the report:

A 62-year-old right-handed woman of normal psychiatric history presented a simple focal epileptic seizure including a complex sensation characterized by feeling the presence of several members of her family in the immediate environment, associated with paresthesia of the right hemibody (excluding the face). The feeling of presences and the paresthesia (numbness) appeared concomitantly and lasted in total several minutes. The episode occurred while she was sitting alone on the sofa of her living room and immediately felt the presence of four persons in her frontal space. She did not see or hear these persons (no visual or auditory hallucinations), but felt vividly their presence in her peripersonal [within reach] and near extrapersonal space [just outside of reach]. She “recognized” them as close family members. Closest was her grand-daughter who was sitting on the floor immediately in front of her, without any left or right lateralization in relation to her body, whereas the three other persons, her daughter and two other grand-children, were experienced to be localized at a distance of several meters. … This highly vivid and convincing feeling of presences was described by the patient as deeply pleasant, although she guessed that it was not possible that they were really there, as she was alone just before. … She was treated with pregabalin (300 mg/day) and there was no recurrence of simple or complex partial seizures and no further feeling of presences.

NeuroCritic: Paranormal Seizure Activity

See also:

Sleep Paralysis

The God Experiments

(Photo credit: uair01 / CC)

EyeWriter: Open source technology for people suffering from ALS



The EyeWriter project is an ongoing collaborative research effort to empower people who are suffering from ALS with creative technologies.

It is a low-cost eye-tracking apparatus & custom software that allows graffiti writers and artists with paralysis resulting from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis to draw using only their eyes.

Members of Free Art and Technology (FAT), OpenFrameworks, the Graffiti Research Lab, and The Ebeling Group communities have teamed-up with a legendary LA graffiti writer, publisher and activist, named Tony Quan, aka TEMPTONE. Tony was diagnosed with ALS in 2003, a disease which has left him almost completely physically paralyzed… except for his eyes. This international team is working together to create a low-cost, open source eye-tracking system that will allow ALS patients to draw using just their eyes. The long-term goal is to create a professional/social network of software developers, hardware hackers, urban projection artists and ALS patients from around the world who are using local materials and open source research to creatively connect and make eye art.


(Thanks to Brett Burton, who pointed this out on the post about Intendix’s brain-computer interface)

Cooking With Sound: Bio-Mass Burning Stove Also Converts Heat Into Sound Then Electricity

cooking with sound

A low-cost generator with the potential to transform lives in the world’s poorest communities is now being tested across the UK and in Nepal. The Score project, led by The University of Nottingham, is developing a bio-mass burning cooking stove which also converts heat into acoustic energy and then into electricity, all in one unit.

The £2 million Score project (Stove for Cooking, Refrigeration and Electricity) brings together experts from across the world to develop the biomass-powered generator. By developing an affordable, versatile domestic appliance Score aims to address the energy needs of rural communities in Africa and Asia, where access to power is extremely limited.

Science Daily: Cooking With Sound: Bio-Mass Burning Stove Also Converts Heat Into Sound Then Electricity

(Thanks Capn Marrrk)

Occult Profiling: Where it comes from and why it’s worth fighting

West Memphas Three

In In Pursuit of Satan: The Police and the Occult, Robert Hicks describes how news reporters get their misinformation about so-called occult crimes from police. Police, in turn, learn what they know from seminars – and the information disseminated at those seminars comes from conservative Christian sources.

“Cult officers employ fundamentalist rhetoric, distribute literature that emanates from fundamentalist authorities, and sometimes offer bibliographies giving many fundamentalist publications,” Hicks writes. “Further, cult cops sometimes team up with clergy to give Satanism seminars.”

At the same time, police are discouraged from studying primary sources on the occult, according to Kail. “One law enforcement guide warns: ‘Intense study of resource books and materials by occult sources is hazardous. Preferred is studying overviews and synopses by credible authors who have studied the occult traditions. The unknown realm of the occult beckons with many lures. Study and/or experimentation are to be avoided. There are safer ways to test for poisonous chemicals than by tasting them.’”

Plutonica: Occult Profiling: Where it comes from and why it’s worth fighting

Disputed Bay of Bengal island ‘vanishes’ say scientists

new moore island

A tiny island claimed for years by India and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal has disappeared beneath the rising seas, scientists in India say.

The uninhabited territory south of the Hariabhanga river was known as New Moore Island to the Indians and South Talpatti Island to the Bangladeshis.

Recent satellites images show the whole island under water, says the School of Oceanographic Studies in Calcutta.

Its scientists say other nearby islands could also vanish as sea levels rise.

BBC: Disputed Bay of Bengal island ‘vanishes’ say scientists

(via FJennings)

Revolution – history and praxis. Technoccult interviews Johnny Brainwash

Johnny Brainwash

Johnny Brainwash is an armchair activist and disaffected leftist. His past political activity has ranged from blockading logging roads with Wild Rockies Earth First to coordinating a state campaign for Nader in 2000, with lots of other stops along the way. He mostly organizes Discordian bullshit now, because when he fucks up, no forests get cut down and no one goes to jail. He blogs occasionally at Dysnomia and Shut Up You Are An Idiot. You can read his open letter to Obama-haters here and his follow-up here.

Klint Finley: I suppose you should start by defining what you mean when you say “revolution.”

Johnny Brainwash: Well, it’s one of those slippery words, like freedom or democracy, that gets used a lot of different ways. I’m assuming here a political and social aspect, and really focusing on what are sometimes called “social revolutions” or “the Great Revolutions.”

The basic definition for me is a rapid and fundamental change in not only political leadership, but also economic and social relations.

So the American Revolution or the various colored revolutions (like Georgia’s Rose Revolution) don’t make the cut, but the French or Russian Revolutions do.

Johnny Brainwash

True Story: Johnny Brainwash and his compatriots once, while in jail, went on a hunger strike because the guards wouldn’t feed them. It worked.

What made you decide to study the revolutions and their history?

I was an Earth First! activist in the 90s, and had been involved in various other causes as well. We talked a lot about revolution, but never had a solid foundation to build on. It was always based on the world as we thought it ought to be, but rarely took into account the world as it is.

When I bailed on that type of activism, I went back to school to finish my history degree with the pretty clear intention of learning how it had actually worked in the past. I’m drawing especially on a poli-sci class called “Political Violence and Revolutions,” but also on a broad range of other sources I’ve encountered both in school and out.

What are the essential conditions required for a revolution to take place?

Surprisingly, revolutions don’t typically happen when things are bad and getting worse. The classic phrase is “the miserable don’t rebel.” Revolution usually happens when things are getting better but not as fast as people expect, or when things were getting better and have now taken a dive. The key is the gap between reality and expectations. Obamanauts, I’m looking at you.

Also, a very important caveat: anything that meets this standard of revolution has happened in a society that is entering the modern world- typically transitioning from agrarian to industrial economy, and from rural to urban. So to some extent, social revolution belongs to the past. The models I’ll be talking about give us some good ideas of what’s important and what to look for, but I wouldn’t expect them to play out the same way today except in narrow circumstances.

Iranian Revolution

Protesters in Tehran, 1979

Well then, what models are you going to talk about?

I’m drawing pretty heavily on Samuel P. Huntington here, so let me warn you that he’s a bad man. He did a lot of this work in the 70’s on behalf of the military dictatorship of Brazil, helping them forestall a revolution. But that meant he had to get his hands dirty with the details of history, and he’s always insightful, even when serving the dark side.

Huntington basically divided revolutions into two categories, eastern and western. The names are unfortunate, so don’t be fooled- there’s no real geography involved. It’s just that one is modeled on China and the other on France.

Eastern revolutions we can cover quickly and dismiss, since they’re not terribly relevant to our situation. These are the classic guerrilla uprisings, like we saw in China, Cuba or Nicaragua. They involve a revolutionary actor building its strength in the countryside until it’s strong enough to take cities, and ultimately to take the capital. Very exciting, but not likely to happen in our society.

Much more interesting is the western model, such as France, Russia or Iran. Typically this involves a long period of troubles or unrest, leading to the collapse of the ruling elite. Then others can step in to pick up the pieces. There’s typically a struggle at this point, and if the military or another faction of the old elite come out on top, you don’t get real social change. If a group with a different power base and a different agenda end up in power, however, you’ve got a revolution on your hands.

So that’s why you say the American Revolution and the “color revolutions” don’t count? Because the new powers were old elites?

Essentially, yes. The American Revolution, for instance, may have made some huge localized differences, such as in upland New England, but the big landowners were still big landowners, the wealthy merchants were still wealthy merchants, and the slaves were still slaves. Representative government wasn’t a big change, and no big changes occurred (on the large scale) in who was represented. We could say that a lot of big changes followed, but if it takes 150 years, it ain’t a revolution.

Policemen and flowers

What about the Velvet Revolution?

I’m torn about how to view the various post-Soviet changes. A lot of them ended up with party bosses still in charge, but Czechoslovakia was a clearer change. There was a shift from state capitalism to market capitalism, but I’m not too clear on how much social change occurred.

What many of those post-Soviet changes had in common is that the waters are muddied by the absorption of the former communist states into the Western institutions such as NATO, the EU, etc.

Why do you say an eastern revolution unlikely to take place?

A couple of reasons. For one, the traditional model requires a large agrarian base, and all the angry farmers in the US just don’t add up to enough people anymore. More important is the simple question of military power. The only way a movement could grow strong enough to take on the paramilitarized surveillance state backed up by an enormous and well-prepared military is if it recruits its own military power from the army and the police.

I don’t say this is unlikely- in fact, it’s a more valid concern than it has been in decades. But by drawing on the institutions of power, it guarantees that it will not be revolutionary in nature. Just a different set of goons on top, and no more hiding behind veils of democracy or what have you.

Are there means by which groups can engineer revolutions?

Um… maybe. Like I said at the outset, the social revolutions are all a product of the transition to an industrial urbanized society. So we can reason by analogy, but there are limits to how far that goes.

I would say it’s important to look at Huntington’s western model and see how much we would be relying on stepping into a political vacuum. In that case, it’s a matter of organizing ourselves today for something that might not happen for a long time, and pursuing goals short of revolution in the meantime.

You can’t rely on calling up your friends in a moment of crisis. By the time the crisis occurs, you want to have a large network that is ready to go. The only way I know how to do that is to organize today for the things that are in our reach and don’t frighten people away from us. As the crisis approaches, we can ask for more.

Sooner or later, the choice may be stark enough that people will have to choose.


Are there any countries that are close enough to collapse to have a revolution? Mexico, for example?

Mexico is interesting. Close to collapse, sure, maybe. But who would step in to fill the vacuum? Maybe the Zapatista networks could carve out a region in the south, but I don’t know if there’s a strong enough revolutionary movement to succeed nationwide. The worst case is that the drug cartels end up ruling big chunks of the north.

Pakistan, now, that’s a whole ‘nother question. They’re still in the transition to urban and industrial, their government is in pretty bad shape, and there’s a revolutionary movement already taking power in some places the government can’t hold. It’s not the kind of revolution I’d want, but it’s certainly revolutionary.

10th anniversary of the Nicaraguan revolution

Above: photo from 10th anniversary of the Nicaraguan revolution

What revolutions have been the most successful overall – the ones you’d most like to see emulated?

I’m careful about saying I’d like to see any of them emulated- the Terror was a logical outcome of the French Revolution, and similar outcomes can be seen in nearly every example. As an old lefty, I’m inclined to point out Nicaragua as a revolutionary state that had less of that sort of atrocity than most, but we never got a chance to see how things would play out there.

In general, revolution is always violent and bloody, and the violence is often indiscriminate. The older I get and the more I learn about history, the harder it is to close my eyes to mass murder. On the other hand, leaving our society as it is amounts to closing our eyes to massive indiscriminate violence as well.

I would like to spend more time learning about how the relatively bloodless colored revolutions work, knowing that they only happened with support from outside powers (like the US) and served only to bring those countries into the western institutions. But the use of civil society as an organizing principle might be of some use in making future revolutions less vicious.

Rose Revolution

Above: Demonstration at the Mayor’s Office, Freedom Square, Tbilisi, Georgia, 2003

Are you suggesting that radicals might be better off working within civil society to bring about change gradually rather than revolutionarily?

I think the choice of whether to commit revolution or not isn’t necessarily in our hands. It depends on material conditions. I suppose at some point we could work on bringing about a collapse, but trying that before we build the strength to exploit the collapse would be silly.

To me, the argument between revolution and reform is old baggage we need to get rid of. We don’t know what the world will do around us, so we should be prepared for whatever awaits. If we start organizing and find we’re strong enough when a vacuum occurs, then great, we’ve got a revolution. If we start organizing and find that the vacuum never happens, then we’d better do what we can with what we’ve got.

Demanding revolutionary action or none at all is simply hubris.

What do you think radically minded activists can do to make a difference in their communities or the world?

Well, I keep using the word “organize,” and I’m not sure it’s one people really get. We’re mostly stuck in the “activism” paradigm, which is very individualistic and focuses on people getting to express themselves. It’s egotistical in that the goal is for the activist to feel fulfilled, rather than to achieve anything concrete.

Real organizing means you have to work with people you might not have a beer with otherwise, and focus on what’s important to them instead of you. It means building an organization or a network that is capable of responding to events instead of building ad hoc groups for every issue.

If you’re thinking of revolutionary change, it means recruiting people who are not as revolutionary as you, and helping them become radicalized as their expectations of Obama are continually dashed.

It also means leadership, organization and discipline, three things that are anathema to many radicals with roots in the old “new left.”

Anti-fur activists

Above: anti-fur activists

Can you point to any good examples of the type of organizing you’d like to see more of?

I’ve got a knee-jerk reaction to say the teabaggers, but without Fox News on your side, you can’t get the coverage that they did. And besides, it’s not like they’re winning or anything.

I have a hard time pointing to much that I like from the aughts, but in the 90s, the two most effective movements (and therefore those worth studying, if not necessarily emulating) were the anti-abortion crowd and the anti-fur people.

More broadly, I would set political baggage aside and study how the modern conservative movement went from the political wilderness in 1960 to the Reagan/Bush/Gingrich/Bush years that reshaped an awful lot of how the country is run. They had a genuine grassroots, combined with a slick political operation that invented a lot of our modern techniques of mass politics.

Do you have any other messages for would-be organizers before we sign off?

Be patient. You can build something that can fit into the flow of events, but no one can simply grab the world by the collar and issue demands. You need time to build, and you need time to understand. A good dose of humility helps as well- you’re not the messiah, and you’re not the only one trying to do good.

Finally, just stay grounded in the world. It’s good to have lots of theories, but nothing gets done until you’ve got some dirt under your nails.

Sanal Edamaruku’s quest to bring reason to India

Pandit Surender Sharma attempts to kill Sanal Edamaruku

Rationalising India has never been easy. Given the country’s vast population, its pervasive poverty and its dizzying array of ethnic groups, languages and religions, many deem it impossible.

Nevertheless, Mr Edamaruku has dedicated his life to exposing the charlatans — from levitating village fakirs to televangelist yoga masters — who he says are obstructing an Indian Enlightenment. He has had a busy month, with one guru arrested over prostitution, another caught in a sex-tape scandal, a third kidnapping a female follower and a fourth allegedly causing a stampede that killed 63 people. […]

His organisation traces its origins to the 1930s when the “Thinker’s Library” series of books, published by Britain’s Rationalist Press Association, were first imported to India. They included works by Aldous Huxley, Charles Darwin and H.G. Wells; among the early subscribers was Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister.

The Indian Rationalist Association was founded officially in Madras in 1949 with the encouragement of the British philosopher Bertrand Russell, who sent a long letter of congratulations. For the next three decades it had no more than 300 members and focused on publishing pamphlets and debating within the country’s intellectual elite. […]

Exposing such tricks can be risky. A guru called Balti (Bucket) Baba once smashed a burning hot clay pot in Mr Edamaruku’s face after he revealed that the holy man was using a heat resistant pad to pick it up.

Times: Sceptic challenges guru to kill him live on TV


Atheism = 1, Magick = 0

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