Changes Over One Lifetime

I’m going off subject for this post.  Today, June 28 2018 would have been my grandmother’s 100th birthday.  She died of a stroke in 2015 at the age of 97.  Fortunately for our family, she was very sharp mentally right up until her stroke.  She would often talk about the things she saw and experienced in her lifetime.  Grandma Foster could just as easily recall events from her teenage years during the Great Depression as she could events that happened within the last week.  In some ways, she was like having a local historian in our family.

Today I would like to talk about some of the changes that occurred since my grandmother’s birth that early summer day in 1918.  One hundred years isn’t really a long time in terms of our recorded civilizations, let alone on the time frame of the cosmos.  But we have seen many changes.  And I would like to mention some of these.

In 1918, when my Grandma Foster was born, World War I was still going on.  The Spanish Flu Pandemic was at it’s hight.  The old Ottoman Empire was still in existence.  The Russian Revolution was going on.  China was still a very poor country.  India was still a possession of the British Empire.  Much of Africa was divided into European colonies.  Automobiles had been available to the working and middle classes for only a handful of years.  Industrial magnates like John Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Nikola Tesla, etc. were still alive.  It was mostly urban areas in America and Europe that had electricity.  Coal and steam powered almost all industrial processes.

Technologies that my Grandma Foster saw rise during her lifetime included regular radio broadcasts, anti biotic medications, hybrid crops, nitrogen based chemical fertilizers, radar, reliable rockets, nuclear weapons and energy, jet propulsion, reliable airline travel, television, computers, more fuel efficient automobiles, plastics, reliable contraceptive pills, super highway systems, easily available credit cards, lasers, the beginnings of space exploration, organ transplants, test tube children, cellular phones, active searches for alien intelligences beyond our solar system,  high speed railways (granted not so much in America as in Europe and East Asia), the internet, near free information via wikipedia, near free self broadcasting via youtube and podcasting, social media, the beginnings of inexpensive renewable power, the rise of automated drone technology, the rise of robotics, the human genome project, the beginnings of affordable electric automobiles, the discovery of anti matter, and the early research into fusion power, genetic engineering, 3D printing, and artificial intelligence.

Cultural changes my Grandma Foster saw witness to involved women’s suffrage, the beginning and end of Prohibition, the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Communist Russia, World War II, the decline of children in the work force, the increase of women in the work force, the assassination of Gandhi, the Civil Rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s, the rise of rock and roll music, the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Pearl Harbor, the assassination of John Kennedy, the turmoil of the 1960s, the rise of cable and satellite television, the first people on the moon, the fears of nuclear war and it’s after effects, the popularization of hip hop music and urban culture, the launch of space probes to almost all of our solar system, the Hubble Telescope, the popularization of science fiction and futurism, the rise of awareness of industrial pollution and the beginnings of the efforts to undo the effects thereof, the AIDS epidemic, the end of colonialization, the rise of China as an industrial and scientific power, the rise of the United Nations and globalization, the beginnings of the decline of nationalist furvor that was the norm for most of civilization, the rise of the European Union, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the War on Terrorism, the first black man to be U.S. president, the first women Supreme Court justices, the beginnings of the declines in the marganializations of religious, sexual, cultural, etc. minorities, the beginnings of plans to colonize space, the realizations of the potential benefits and drawbacks of artificial intelligence, and the rise of better treatment for the disabled, mentally ill, and pretty much anyone who didn’t conform to the average norm.

All of this I mentioned was just in the lifetime of someone I was blood relation to.  As you could see, the rate of changes only accelerated as time went forward.  I’m sure there are changes I forgot to mention.  My grandmother was old enough to remember people who were Civil War veterans and probably met people who were born into slavery or at least their children.  I write all of this to state that yes, the world changes over time.  People change over time, and not just because older generations die off and younger ones take their places.  I think of some of the changes I’ve seen just in my 38 years living as a human.  I really don’t recognize much of what I saw in the mid 1980s now and some of the attitudes and practices of even my childhood has me wondering “what were we thinking” and even “what was I thinking.”  Change is constant.  Change is inevitable even if not predictable or even in coming.  Or as one science fiction writer put “The future is already here.  It just isn’t evenly distributed.”

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Optimism and Good News

Been spending more time inside lately.  We’re currently in the hottest parts of the summer.  So far I’m managing alright.  I think it helps that I’m getting enough sleep and keeping my mind occupied through computer games and educational programs on youtube and curiosity stream.  I had to get a new phone a few days ago after my old one quit working.  So far it’s doing everything I need done.

In spite spending so much time indoors and not socializing much outside of internet and phone, I’m still feeling pretty decent.  I’m feeling actually quite optimistic overall.  Watching science programs and programs about what is actually going right in civilization while avoiding the negativity and background noise can do that to even a hardened mentally ill person like myself.  I do find it tragic that the advances in science and humanitarian efforts aren’t given more publicity in the media.  I get it that mass media isn’t a public service and they have to draw and audience like every other business.  And nothing draws a human’s attention like fear and anxiety.  There is actually far more going on right than most people will ever know.

Last Christmas I did a piece on science and tech advances that happened just in 2016.  I’m going to do this again at the end of 2017.  I really don’t think people pay enough attention to what’s going on in the realms of science, tech, and humanitarian efforts.  I wonder how many people know that over 90 percent of people in Africa have access to cell phones.  Granted the same CNN article states that only 63 percent of people in Africa have access to piped water and only 30 percent to flushing toilets.  But both of those numbers are better than many people in the developed world thought they would be.  And this article was written in 2016.

When my parents were first married in the early 1970s, many people were worried about overpopulation and as a result my parents decided to have only two kids.  Fast forward 45 years and many countries, especially in the developed world, are actually experiencing decreasing populations.  USA would have the same problem if it wasn’t for many immigrants still wanting to come here.  The fears of overpopulation didn’t come to fruition because as people became more prosperous and better educated, they started having fewer kids and investing more in the one or two kids they did have.  The population is still growing, yes, but that is far more because people no longer die like flies than breed like rabbits.  Smallpox is eradicated and polio is all but eradicated.

There were similar fears about acid rain in the 1970s.  But we as a species, especially scientists and engineers, saw that this could become a problem eventually and we adapted.  As a result, the worst didn’t happen.  Right now there are fears about climate issues and what could happen within the next several decades.  But few people realize that air pollution has actually gone down in many countries and industrializing countries like China and India are going forward with non polluting energy sources now that the prices are more competitive with traditional fuel sources.  My country may have pulled out of the Paris Agreements, but that was my federal government and not individual peoples or state governments.  And in the USA, regardless of individual political beliefs, most people do not approve of the leadership our federal officials are offering.  So many state and local governments are taking it on themselves to develop non polluting energy sources.  I may live in a state where many people aren’t sold on the sciences being climate changes but that doesn’t stop people from putting up wind generators and solar panels.  In my own family, my parents have been using solar panels since the 1980s.  Many people don’t know that the largest state for wind power generation is Texas, a traditionally oil rich state.  Just because a person may not be sold on the hard science doesn’t mean they can’t or aren’t doing their parts to bring about less toxic energies and use less fuel.  Can you imagine how bad pollution and oil issues would be if we had the same cars from the 60s and 70s?  When my father was in the military, he had a street racer car that got less than 9 miles to the gallon in gas.  Pickup trucks now get much better than that, let alone family sedans or smaller cars.  My dad said about his hot rod, “it would pass everything on the road besides a gas station.”  Science is saving our bacon right now, more so than governments or most other established large institutions.

I’m also encouraged by the prospects of private individuals and companies taking on space exploration.  We aren’t living my parents’ space race when it was just Russia and USA doing the work.  There are many things I am encouraged and optimistic about.  But I did not get this way getting information just from traditional sources.  I had to use search engines.  I had to go to science specific websites and journals.  I had to specifically look for the science information because most of it wasn’t being reported in traditional mass media.  But traditional mass media is in decline and will eventually break apart if they don’t adapt to the new realities.  And that doesn’t hurt my feelings at all.  I’m tired of hearing about what is going wrong all the time.  I doubt I’m the only one who feels this way.  I want to know what’s going well and what we’re improving.  I have dig deeper than most people, but I am finding out some of what’s going right.  Maybe more research labs and universities should hire publicity firms to better promote what’s going on.  I think many people would be interested providing the information is presented in the right ways.

Science and Technology Advances of 2016, Part 2

This is the second part of my science and tech of 2016 entry.  Remember that these are advances and findings that were announced just this year.  This is only one year. Remains to be seen what 2017 will hold.

35. Scientists formally announce HGP-Write, a plan to synthesize the human genome.

36. A Stanford clinical trial finds that stem cells injected directly into the brain of chronic stroke sufferers revived dead brain circuits and restored patients’ ability to walk.

37. A way of pumping CO2 underground and turning it from a gas into solid carbonate minerals is demonstrated in Iceland, offering a potentially better method of carbon capture and storage.

38. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital announce a new method for long-term culturing of adult stem cells.

39. China introduces the Sunway TaihuLight, the world’s fastest supercomputer, capable of 93 petaflops and a peak performance of 125 petaflops.

40. Dutch scientists announce that crops of four vegetables and cereals grown in soil similar to that on Mars are safe to eat.

41. NASA scientists announce the arrival of the Juno spacecraft at the planet Jupiter.

42. China completes construction on the world’s largest radio telescope.

43. Scientists at Rice University announce a new titanium-gold alloy that is four times harder than most steels.

44.  Solar Impulse 2 becomes the first solar-powered aircraft to circumnavigate the Earth.

45. Neonicotinoids, the world’s most widely used insecticide, are found to reduce bee sperm counts by almost 40%, as well as cutting the lifespan of bee drones by a third.

Okay, so it’s not all good news.

46. A new “vortex” laser that travels in a corkscrew pattern is shown to carry 10 times or more the information of conventional lasers, potentially offering a way to extend Moore’s Law.

47. Using the DNA from over 450,000 customers of gene-testing company 23andMe, researchers identify for the first time 15 regions of the genome associated with depression.

48. Researchers pinpoint which of the more than 4,000 exoplanet candidates discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission are most likely to be similar to Earth. Their research outlines 216 Kepler planets located within the ‘habitable zone’, of which 20 are the best candidates to be habitable rocky planets like Earth.

49. A team at the University of Oxford achieves a quantum logic gate with record-breaking 99.9% precision, reaching the benchmark required to build a quantum computer.

50. MIT announces a breakthrough which can double lithium-ion battery capacity.

51. HI-SEAS IV, the latest Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, an experiment to simulate a human colony on Mars, concludes after exactly one year.

52. Carbon nanotube transistors are shown to outperform silicon for the first time.

53. The development of 1 terabit-per-second transmission rates over optical fiber is announced by Nokia Bell Labs, Deutsche Telekom T-Labs and the Technical University of Munich.

54. A Japanese team accurately sequences a tardigrade genome, finds minimal foreign DNA, and discovers a protein that confers resistance to radiation when transferred into human cells.

55. SpaceX founder and entrepreneur Elon Musk reveals his plan to send humans to Mars on a new spacecraft, with unmanned flights beginning as early as 2022.

56. A study led by the University of Cambridge finds that body-worn cameras led to a 93% drop in complaints made against police by the UK and US public.

57. The British Journal of Sports Medicine reports that playing golf can increase life expectancy by five years.

58. President Obama renews a vision for US government involvement in a human mission to the planet Mars by the mid-2030s.

59. Using 3D imaging techniques on 20 years of photographs by the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers estimate there are 2 trillion galaxies in the observable universe, about 10 times more than previously thought.

60. A new automated system that can achieve parity with humans in conversational speech recognition is announced by researchers at Microsoft.

61. Researchers at James Cook University in Australia report that adding a type of dried seaweed (Asparagopsis taxiformis) to the diet of cattle could reduce their emissions of methane by 50-70%.

62. Scanning people’s brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is found to be significantly more effective at spotting lies than a traditional polygraph test.

63. Researchers in the UK announce a genetically modified “superwheat” that increases the efficiency of photosynthesis to boost yields by 20 to 40 percent.

64. Lab-grown mini lungs, developed from stem cells, are successfully transplanted into mice by researchers at the University of Michigan Health System.

65. The University of East Anglia reports that global emissions of CO2 did not grow in 2015 and are projected to rise only slightly in 2016, marking three years of almost no growth.

66. Scientists at Rockefeller University identify which genes in a microbe’s genome ought to produce antibiotic compounds and then synthesize those compounds to discover two promising new antibiotics.

67. The United States Geological Survey estimates there are 20 billion barrels of oil in Texas’ Wolfcamp Shale Formation, the largest estimate of continuous oil that USGS has ever assessed in the United States.

68. Researchers at the Salk Institute use a new gene-editing technology known as HITI, which is based on CRISPR, to partially restore vision in blind animals. Their technique is the first time a new gene has been inserted into a precise DNA location in adult cells that no longer divide, such as those of the eye, brain, pancreas or heart.

69. Researchers from Caltech and UCLA develop a technique to remove mutated DNA from mitochondria, which could help slow or reverse an important cause of aging.

70. Large-scale testing of a potential HIV vaccine known as HVTN 702 begins in South Africa.

71. Researchers at UC Berkeley design a wall-jumping robot known as Salto, which is described as the most vertically agile robot ever built.

72. Researchers at Tohoku University in Japan demonstrate a super flexible liquid crystal (LC) device, which could make electronic displays and devices more flexible, increasing their portability and versatility.

73. Scientists use a new form of gene therapy to partially reverse aging in mice. After six weeks of treatment, the animals looked younger, had straighter spines and better cardiovascular health, healed quicker when injured, and lived 30% longer.

74. Ebola virus disease found to be 70–100% prevented by RVSV-ZEBOV vaccine, making it the first proven vaccine against the disease.