Shark Tales: JFK, Mercury 7 astronauts and shark repellents

This seems such an odd topic from the start, but I thought it’s worth revisiting in celebration of today’s 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s orbital flight around the earth.  John Glenn and Scott Carpenter (who will be celebrating his own 50th anniversary in May) are the last surviving members of the original seven astronauts of NASA’s Project Mercury.  Though two other Russian cosmonauts had orbital flights before his, John Glenn’s flight was America’s first and its success changed the momentum of the race to the moon to America’s favor.

Looking back 50 years, I am always amazed at the significant advances mankind has made as a result of the space race with Soviet Russia — calculators, computers, internet, among many.  Mankind seems to excel when in competition, whether at war, in commerce or in the arts. The rudimentary equipment half a century ago could not even compare with the precision of our digital age.  Many of the technologies we now take for granted were pioneered by the men and women of Project Mercury.  Those that followed in their wake made American pre-eminence in technology possible.

Space travel was a fascination for me long after the Mercury astronauts had made their mark in history.  I was only aware of them through later documentaries.  As a young boy in the 60’s, there was certainly the thrill of watching the spaceships blast off to space.  Yet, I was more keenly interested in the splash down when the capsule plunges into the sea on its return trip.  There was that unexplainable excitement at seeing the helicopters hover around the capsule to retrieve the astronaut and the tiny space capsule.  What seemed odd at time were the other helicopters hovering around with sharpshooters on board.  It wasn’t till later when I got interested in sharks that I learned why.

So, this is my “Shark’s Tale’ for you. And it’s not about saving the shark from extinction, who got bitten lately or about shark fin soup.  Before I tell you the rest of the story, I would like to tell you a little bit more about shark repellents first.

Between sports fishing, by-catch from longline fishing and the Chinese penchant for shark’s fin soup, mankind has devastated the world’s shark population to the point that sharks are becoming endangered.  But the fear of sharks remains with us.  It is a visceral fear.  More people die of bee stings than shark bites.   With bears or lions, the fear is also there, but tempered by the fact that we can always carry a gun, can run off in a jeep or simply hide inside a house.  With sharks the fear is magnified because there is really not much one can do in the water if the shark decides to take a bite, mostly by mistaking us for a seal or a big fish dinner. 

In North America prior to 1916, there was never a fear of sharks simply because there had been no documentation of sharks attacking human beings in temperate waters.  In 1891 Hermann Oelrichs, a banker/adventurer, even put up a reward for anyone who can document a shark attack in the temperate waters of North America.  Everything changed in 1916, detailed in Richard Fernicola’s book entitled “Twelve Days of Terror,” when, in over a span of just 12 days, four people along of the shores of New Jersey were killed by a shark, most likely a bull shark rather than a Great White (a story that inspired Peter Benchley’s book, “Jaws.”)

The idea of a shark repellent was not new.  It was suggested way back in 1895.  However, serious work on the idea started with the US Navy during World War II when airmen and sailors inevitably find themselves in shark infested waters.  The sinking of USS Indianapolis, a destroyer that carried the atomic bomb to the tiny Pacific island of Tinian, by a Japanese torpedo made that need imperative.  The mission was so secret then that no SOS signal was transmitted even as the ship sank with over a 1,000 sailors in the water.  When they were finally rescued 4 days later, only 316 remained alive, the rest were eaten by sharks.   

The Navy developed a shark repellent, called the “Shark Chaser.”  It was ineffective, yet given to sailors more for morale to allay fears of sharks rather than as a true protection.  Shark research continued after the war through the Office of Naval Research (ONR) through the 1960’s with not much success either.

Eugenie Clark, a world renowned shark expert, discovered in the 70’s that a flat fish in the Red Sea, aptly called Mose’s sole (Pardachirus marmoratus), can repel sharks.  Sharks have a powerful bite and when committed to a potential meal, would not likely stop.  When the fish is about to be bitten, the shark stops at mid bite and run’s off like a scared rabbit.  It was found later on that the flat fish has glands along its sides that secrete a venomous cocktail of peptides and steroidal compounds, presumably not meant to frighten sharks, but to repel/stun organsims as it glides along the sandy bottom of the Red Sea.  It is the Mose’s sole’s fast food drive-in! Like our quick trip to McDonald’s for a fish sandwich.

When purified, this 33 amino acid peptide repellent was called pardaxin, a term coined by Naftali Primor, an Israeli scientist funded at the time through ONR, working in one of the laboratories at New York University.  As my research team at NYU Medical Center tended to work long hours, Naftali often came by for a short visit at night, the first time to get some of our ‘extra’ mice for his pet snakes.  We talked often about sharks, snakes, Israel and Chinese food.  During this period, he was able to demonstrate pardaxin’s mechanism of action. This peptide create pore channels through the gill membrane that causes a sudden rush of sodium ions through the gills. Likely, it is perceived by the shark as an ‘unpleasant” or perhaps a painful experience.  Naftali used to go out to the fishing port in Montauk Point at the end of Long Island to remove gills from sharks caught by fishermen.  It took a day’s hard work to get enough for his research.  One night, he came back totally disgusted and exhausted.  The cooler was just open for a moment and seagulls rushed to eat all the shark gills he collected.   By then my interest in pardaxin got stimulated.  Yours truly‘s contribution to shark science was helping him dissect late into the night the opercular cells out of the killifish, Fundulus heteroclitus, to use a model system to validate the concept. Certainly beats hanging around fishing ports for shark gills and fighting off seagulls! He told me one night jokingly that Orientals are the ones with the patience for this kind of work.  I just chuckled because I knew he was right! 

My real interest was to develop a gadget, a release mechanism that would enable dispersion of pardaxin or pardaxin-like analogues around the person in water upon seeing the shark.  Great idea, if we only had enough repellent.  I did manage to develop a prototype for the device that still sits on my desk till now with many fond memories.  But, back then the cost of synthesizing the active compound and the liability issues (if the person who have the device got bitten) in a litigious society like United States made the project at that time quite daunting. 

Dr. Naftali Primor holding a restrained venomous snake( Daboia palaestinae). Its venom is being used for the production of a life saving anti venom.

Naftali eventually returned to Israel, but continues to work on venoms.  This time his interest is turned on to new exciting research on the analgesic effects of small peptides from snake venoms.  This new concept, called Zep3, is a promising technology for relief of chronic pain and treatment of various skin disorders, such as  those caused HSV viruses.  This scientific adventure started me on the path of studies on repellents, leading to the development of barnacle and insect repellents called MR08.  All these new body of work and long-term friendship started on a chance meeting at the corridor of NYU Medical Center 25 years ago.

There had been continuing work on repellents from many other scientists.  That pardaxin also behave like surfactants led to new work on molecules, like SDS (sodium dodecyl sulfate), that can ward off sharks.  SDS did not meet the Navy requirement of a non-directional surrounding cloud-type repellent at 100 parts per billion.  It would require a barrel full of SDS to ward off sharks around a single person.  It is likely useful as directional type repellent where one squirts directly on an oncoming shark.  Not likely a viable option for a swimmer in panic.  Other products include the Shark Shield, a Navy led research on bag type product with a floats where one climbed inside to avoid being detected by shark. There is also a similar concept of bubbles created around a swimmer to deter sharks. There is always of course the shark cage to hide into.  A patent was issued for the Shark Stopper, an acoustic device to ward off sharks.  Wet suits with surface patterns to mask the silhouette of a man underwater are also being developed. More promising areas of work these days involve semiochemicals, associated with decaying shark carcasses (Shark Defense Technologies) that act as small molecule messengers that modulate shark behavior.

JFK and the Mercury astronauts

Consider this scenario:  America sends a daring young astronaut, the cream of the crop of military pilots (immortalized in the book and movie entitled ‘The Right Stuff’), the best among the best, in a space ship to outer space at a cost of billions of dollars in today’s money; against all odds, the ship survives re-entry and the tiny capsule comes back to Earth, lands in the ocean; the astronaut comes out alive from the tiny space capsule, swims to be rescued and then eaten by a shark in full view of journalist and shown on live television all over the world!  This was President John F. Kennedy’s and NASA’s nightmare scenario; hence, the sharpshooters on board the helicopters.

The image of an astronaut being eaten by shark was not out of irrational fear and dark imagination.  Prior unmanned space capsules brought of out the water occasionally had embedded shark teeth on the heat shielding tiles.  Like all ships of the period, Project Mercury’s Friendship 7 came with standard military survival kit and included a shark repellent device that shoots out of the capsule ahead of splash down.

Years after my shark science with Naftali, I reluctantly went with my wife one night to attend a marketing conference in Connecticut, sponsored by Arbonne, a cosmetic company.  The after dinner speaker, to my great surprise, was Scott Carpenter, who recounted his days as a Mercury astronaut.  In his dinner speech, he related the story of NASA’s preoccupation with sharks.  As the NASA-US Navy liaison officer, astronaut Scott Carpenter took the NASA- approved shark repellent device and sent it to the Navy’s shark experts for validation testing.  Scott related that as he was preparing to embark on his first space trip, he received a letter from the shark experts essentially saying that “the electronic shark chaser device was interesting with all the lights and sounds, but appeared to be mildly effective against sharks in either the on or off positions!”  Later, after the Mercury Mission, Scott became part of the Sealab Program to develop underwater living habitats — the only austronaut who also became an aquanaut. 

As we celebrate John Glenn’s and Scott Carpenter’s 50th anniversaries of their space flights, America should be grateful that JFK’s nightmare of his astronauts being eaten by sharks never came to pass.

The most eloquent sentence in space travel to date was by Scott Carpenter before Friendship 7’s lift-off:  “God speed John Glenn”

 

Jonathan R. Matias

Poseidon Sciences Group

www.poseidonsciences.com    [email protected]

Dedicated to my children who are on their own unique adventures.

 

References:

Lazarovici  P, Primor N, Loew LM Purification and Pore Forming Activity of Two Hydrophobic Polypeptides from the Secretion of the Red Sea Moses Sole (Pardachirus marmoratus). J Biol Chem. 1986.  261:16704-167123

Primor N. Pardaxin produces sodium influx in the teleost gill-like opearcular epithelia. J exp Biol. 1983. 105:83094

Primor N. Pharyngeal cavity and the gills are the target organ for the repellent action of pardaxin in shark. Experientia. 1985. 15: 693-695

Primor N, et al.  Toxicity to fish, effect on gill ATPase and gill ultrastructural changes induced by Pardachirus secretion and its derived toxin pardaxin.  J exp Biol. 1980. 211:33-43

Sisneros JA,Nelson DR. Surfactants as chemical shark repellents: past, present and future.  Environmental Biology of Fishes. 2001.  60:117-129

http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/breaking/12848556/experts-work-on-wetsuit-to-outwit-sharks/

http://news.yahoo.com/john-glenn-reunites-50-old-mercury-team-022029804.html

http://www.scottcarpenter.com/sealab.htm

http://www.collectspace.com/ubb/Forum29/HTML/000375.html

http://sharkdefense.com/Repellents/repellents.html

http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2005/Aug/22/ln/FP508220336.html

http://onlineissues.wherewhenhow.com/article/Dive+Training+Shark+Repellent/866010/85272/article.html

http://www.mach25media.com/bookspacious.html

http://www.scottcarpenter.com

 
 
     
  BibTex | EndNote | RefWorks Download  
     
 

 

Barbarians at the gate: Reflections on the decline of American innovation while watching a spectacular sunset at Gantry Park

        Despite the recent spectacular scientific achievement of DARPA (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) on a hypersonic glider traveling at 13,000 miles per hour, American innovation, like this Mach 20 glider, is on a downward path towards unknown depths, with profound ramifications to our economic and political status among nations.  We all know intuitively that the declining trend exists and I am not sure there is a way to reverse that in such a complicated world we live in today.  In my life experience as an American scientists and a former immigrant, I can see it as clearly as the sun sets behind midtown Manhattan from across the East River in Gantry Park. 

        Often, I sit on the bench at Gantry Plaza State Park waiting for sunset, mostly alone or at rare times with my kids or friends.  Just recently I began thinking about my years through graduate school, work, science and the economy.  These thoughts came about after a friend sent me a link to an MSNBC interview with Michael Greenstone, an MIT economist heading the Hamilton Project, on the subject of the Innovation Gap.  It is definitely worth taking time to see the video before reading the rest of my blog.  Here it is http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/44041044#44038620

       My career spanned the period from the height of American innovation of the 70’s and 80’s to its post-millennium decline.  Why the decline?  There are already many reasons that pundits, strategists, economists, professors and politicians came up with and you can read them elsewhere.  But, it’s not just because of the rise of China and India as economic powerhouses.  It is not just the decline in American knowhow or enthusiasm for the sciences.  And it is not just outsourcing.  It’s all of these.  Most of all it is about the human element–the scientists.

        Sitting in Gantry Park at sunset is like a metaphor of the waning American supremacy in science and technology.  American innovation is spectacular in its achievements, like the burst of light of the waning sun behind the majestic skyscrapers of Manhattan, slowly fading away to darkness.

       Just to digress for a minute, what’s so special about Gantry Park anyway, you may ask?  I think of it as one of the most beautiful small parks in New York City, with the breathtaking view of Manhattan, especially at dusk.  It is at the waterfront in Hunter’s Point on what used to be an industrial/ warehouse district no one wanted to be caught walking at night years ago; a place to be avoided then, but not anymore.  Once the site of the Pepsi bottling plant, whose sign still remains today as a relic of the past, this waterfront area in the 1920’s serviced  rail cars coming from Manhattan and New Jersey to supply the industrialized Long Island City in the NYC borough of Queens.  Gantry refers to cranes that lift objects by hoists that move horizontally.  Back in the heyday of American industrial might, rail cars were lifted off barges, moved on to rail tracks and hooked on to trains that crisscrossed Long Island.  With the decline of American industries and the pre-eminence of trucking systems, the gantries ceased to serve its purpose and the machines became silent, another testimony to the doomed manufacturing industry.  One can still see the original rail road tracks in between the manicured gardens.

       Now, it is gentrified, with bustling new businesses and pricey condominium buildings mushrooming around the park.  It is one of the those truly wonderful little known places in New York, just a subway stop in Queens Borough on the #7 subway train from Manhattan’s Grand Central Station-42nd Street.  I go there because it is a quiet place to contemplate, work and just simply do nothing or go fishing (I have yet to try that).  As I sit by the fishing pier, I can see where I had been.  From my beginnings as a research intern at Goldwater Memorial Hospital on Roosevelt Island on the right of the East River, through my days in graduate school at New York University, my work at Orentreich Foundation on 72nd Street, my old labs leased by the Foundation at NYU Medical Center Public Health building on 29th Street and the Metro North trains I took from Grand Central Station– all laid out for me just across the East River. 

       In a way, standing there on that pier gives me a quick view of where I had been.  Here I share an anecdote about the multibillionaire, Harry Helmsley, among the great real estate magnates of his time; back in the 1970’s when he used to stand on a waterfront building in New Jersey facing Manhattan.  When asked why he often have luncheons on top of this building.  He replied (from memory), “I am old now. I cannot understand the spreadsheets of real estate properties my accountants carry around.  Standing here, I can see all of Manhattan and I do my own accounting.  I own those buildings there, there and there.  And I can see the buildings I would like to buy over there and there.  Here I take stock of  where I had been, what I have and where I am going.”  In a way, standing on the pier at Gantry Park also shows me where I had been, though not necessarily where my life is heading at the moment.

       Having digressed enough, I would like to tell you what I think about how the decline of American innovation came about.

       In the 70’s and 80’s and certainly even decades before, American innovation in computers, engineering, chemistry and practically all scientific pursuits were in a frenzy.  American technology dominated the world, from soft drinks to blue jeans.  That was also a time when young men and women from foreign lands flocked to American universities to continue graduate school.  That was a time when foremost in the mind among foreign students, who tend to work harder than most, was the dread of having to go back where they came from, where political instabilities, economic issues and lack of opportunities persisted.  Coming back to their home countries was not on their priority list, reaching the American dream was.  That means being sponsored by a company and making big bucks.  I know that for a fact as I had sponsored many during that period.  That also was a time when American businesses need more scientists and the steady flow of foreign student filled that gap. And, talented scientists flocked into America through working visas. 

        In the 1980’s China was just experimenting on private enterprise.  Having visited China in those days, I have seen the change; from the early days with people wearing Chairman Mao style jackets and avoiding contact with Americans to a time when local Chinese students would go out of their way to meet with me just to practice their English. (That was also a time when I was courageous in haggling with a street merchant for a pair of shoes that I know was worth $75 in NY, then coming back to the hotel proudly telling the concierge that I got it for $4 and only deflated when he told me I was cheated—it was only $2 for the locals. I knew then something was very wrong).

       It was the 1990’s when things began to change.  China opened its doors to manufacturing for overseas markets and India slowly made strategic changes in its business laws.  Exports brought wealth and China opened a hybrid enterprise system allowing private ownership.  American and European companies saw the opportunity for cheaper good to be manufactured, increasing their profitability and dooming their own domestic manufacturing industries.  More important, foreign students and foreign workers began to have a change of attitude about coming home.  It is not simply being homesick that drove them back.  Certainly they have the economic capacity to come home for frequent visits.  It was the lure of starting a business in their home countries where economic opportunities began to be rosier than struggling in America.  For these young men and women, it was riskier but the potential opportunities outstrip what they can get here. 

        I know this because I was once one of them.  In 1995, I came back to the old country, started some businesses, did research at a cost of 1/10th it would had I stayed in America.  Though political issues had made me return to New York in 2000, the experience was profound, memorable and productive.  I was able to accomplish much more in that 5 years than I could have possibly done in NYC in 20 years.  The 1990’s also saw countries adjusting to the new-found wealth.  By the turn of the century, opportunities abounded in Asia.  It was no longer a risky experiment for foreign scientists from America to come home.  The infrastructure, though imperfect, was there, waiting for the young scientists/entrepreneur from America.  American knowhow, learned from years of study and hard work are being snapped up by companies in foreign soil.  Is there anything wrong with that?  Absolutely not, as long as they are not bringing patented ideas.  And even so, most of those countries are not places American inventors filed their patents anyway and therefore free for the taking and/or improvements. 

       America is hemorrhaging its talents not just from reverse migration.  American talents from those born here are also being lured by foreign companies and governments with higher wages, better scientific support and a better life style than they could ever imagine at home.  Just simply take the case of Singapore, whose expat communities are bursting at the seams.  American innovations are being sucked out of the country year after year.  You will see great innovations coming out of Asia in the next decade, innovations that would have originated from America had we been able to keep our scientists happier at home.

       These thoughts are from my own personal experiences.  Can I support this point of view?  Absolutely! 

        The backbone of a modern economy is innovation.  In the days of the Spanish, the British and the Portuguese empires, economic wealth came from conquest of new lands and people.  Modern economies, such as the ‘American Empire,’ is built solely in innovation; not the military innovations whose proprietary ownership is often fleeting.  Take the case of the US stealth fighter shot down in Serbia and ended up being reversed engineered by the Chinese who now have stealth technology of their own.  Outsourcing in history is best exemplified by the Roman Empire, whose lack of foresight and need to save money on its military outsourced the defense of its borders to ‘barbarians.’  The Goths, Visigoths and others eventually turned on the Empire, emptying Rome of its 1 million inhabitants down to the size of Google’s workforce of 30,000 by simply destroying its greatest innovation—the Roman aqueducts that brought freshwater to the city.

        The Hamilton Project demonstrated that the loss of America’s innovative edge translated to American workers losing 51% of the value of the dollar compared to the 1970’s.  This loss of purchasing power was made up by credit and eventually led up to our current economic crisis.  There is no direct way to show how innovation’s decline affects our economy.  However, the 2009 article by Vivek Wadha in YaleGlobal served to highlight the impact of migrant workers, foreign students and immigrants on the American economy.  A most telling part of the article described an adhoc question he posed on Indian techies at a conference on who wanted to return home.  Fifty percent raised their hand.  Had I asked the same question in the 1980’s, I would had been lucky to get one!  It is really worth reading his article entitled “Is the US brain drain on the horizon?  Immigrants now see better prospects back home” (see link below).

       Considering that the Chinese and Indian nationalities in the US represent only 3% of the population, over 25% of all patents have ethnic Chinese and Indians listed as inventors. 

Vivek Wadha writes:

      In 2006, immigrants contributed to 72 percent of the total patent filings at Qualcomm, 65 percent at Merck, and 60 percent at Cisco Systems. And contrary to claims that immigrant patent-filers crowd out US-born researchers, emerging research is increasingly showing that immigrants actually tend to boost patent output by their US born colleagues. These immigrant patent-filers emerged from the US university system, where foreigners now dominate the advance degree seeking ranks in science, technology, engineering and mathematical disciplines. For example, during the 2004–2005 academic year, roughly 60 percent of engineering Ph.D. students and 40 percent of Master’s students were foreign nationals. (We don’t know for certain that those who have been leaving are patent-filers but anecdotal evidence suggests this to be the case).

       Beyond intellectual contributions, Chinese and Indian immigrants have been key entrepreneurial drivers in the US. According to another survey we conducted, one-quarter of all technology companies in the US have at least one founder who is a Chinese or Indian immigrant. The concentration is even heavier in certain key industries such as semiconductors and enterprise software. Based on this data, we calculated that in 2005, immigrant-founded tech companies generated $52 billion in revenue nationwide and employed 450,000 workers. This revenue total bridges multiple multi-billion dollar sectors including semiconductors, Internet, software and networking.

…. the Rising East will continue to pull in its fair share of future science and technology rock stars who may build the next Google or Microsoft in Gujarat or Mumbai.

That immigrant-founded tech companies employed 450,000 people with a $52 billion in revenue is awesome to contemplate.  And if 50% of them returned home to their own countries, that’s an economic loss that will never be recovered.

The barbarians are at our gates and they are tearing down our aqueducts. What to do?

       All is not lost of course.  There had been so many suggestion put forth by strategic thinkers.  They range from improving educational opportunities, inviting more foreign techies on H1 visa, providing better business opportunities, relaxing the immigration hurdles for scientists.  All these require a bouncing economy and political will, both simply lacking in our current domestic environment.  Even if those were to be implemented now it is unlikely that the tide will reverse since other countries can offer much more.  And Congress has to debate on that for a while if they ever get to it, unless of course they are distracted by something else like elections or the debt ceiling.

       The answer is through private initiatives, backed by government immigration reforms specifically tailored for inventors.  Here is what I thought of at Gantry Park (I certainly had a lot of free time then):

1.  Have a Gates Foundation type of initiative where a fund is created to entice potentially lucrative inventions from overseas.  Bill Gates can easily do this with his own money besides creating challenge funds for the best ecofriendly toilet for the third world.  (I think toilets are also important.  But as one of the great American inventors, it’s time for him to put in a little for his fledgling inventor colleagues of the new generation).  We have enough billionaires here in the US and each can donate a million or two to this fund if Gates is preoccupied with toilets.  Hey, that’s just your annual budget for fuel for your private jet.  Time to kick in some for your country.  I would like to call this The Great American Enterprise Fund (GAEF) and a billion $ should just about do it.

2.  Winning ideas from anywhere in the world get evaluated by the private sector; not some academics who likely have not made a dollar on his own.  Many great inventions were made in the dining room table or the garage—take the case of Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google.  Fellow inventors and business people can make the winning technologies much better than any government or academic-led initiative.

3.  Have the winning invention patented in the US and licensed to an American company.  With few exceptions, inventors typically make lousy businessmen anyway (me included in that group).

4.  If the invention makes X amount of money or employs X number of Americans, give the guy or gal (have to be politically correct here) prize money above and beyond the license for the technology.  If he/she is foreign born, give him/her a fast track to citizenship and let him/her invent some more right here in America. 

5.  What does the donor get? Besides the usual tax write off, whoever invests in GAEF has first option to commercialize the new invention (provided the inventor agrees) before anyone else does and the unique opportunity to feel good about being an instrument in reversing this innovation gap.

       For now, that’s all I thought about.  Perhaps, someone already have this idea before and just did not know about it.  Let me know.

I did not want to miss this sunset because the Gantry Park locals say such a view happens only once a year when the sun comes down at the right angle on 42nd Street.  My lucky day!

       Any better ideas or have something to add, just send me a note (use subject heading GAEF) on my email ([email protected]) or send your comments here. 

Jonathan R. Matias, Chief Science Officer

Poseidon Sciences  www.poseidonsciences.com

PS:

This blog is dedicated to my colleagues who loved inventing:  Jason, Mike, Kosta, George, Naftali, Ernie, Saudha, Avelin, Aras, Tim, Coleen, just to name a few.

References:

http://www.qchron.com/news/western/article_5f2a6db9-2e05-5f0d-8c5c-34993b652151.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gantry_crane

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/44041044#44038620

http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2011/0805_jobs_greenstone_looney.aspx

http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/us-brain-drain-horizon

Collapse of dictatorships through people power revolutions expedited by science and technology

“The revolution that surprised the world” was a headline in 1986 and just as easily applies to the revolutions now sweeping the Middle East.   Today is the 25th anniversary of the first People Power Revolution that took the Philippine dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, out of power.  That was Feb 22-25, 1986, the remarkable days of non-violent civil resistance against the 20-year repressive rule of a dictator.  Those were the 4 days when 2 million unarmed people –common folks, priests, nuns – took to the main thoroughfare of Manila, called EDSA, built barricades, sang songs, made prayer vigils and refused to disperse.  Those were the days when soldiers and tank crews facing the crowds were given kind words, praises and flowers.  Also the days when soldiers simply could not fire on their own people and turned their guns around to join the revolution instead.

Back then, I was among the millions watching the events unfold on television, but in the comforts of home in New York.  My parents and I were among the few that managed to go on a self-imposed exile to escape the dictatorship and could not return until the dictatorship was over.  So, the events of those four days took on a more personal meaning for me.

Many similar revolutions have followed since then, taking the Philippine example of nonviolent regime change, such as that in East Germany and many other former Soviet Bloc countries.  These last few weeks see history being made once again in the Middle East.

Non-violent civil disobedience is not new.  It was happening already in many instances long before and made more widespread by Gandhi against British rule in India.  But, it was never in the scale seen in the last 25 years.  Why such a phenomenon only in the last 25 years?  Repressive regimes have been around for millennia and people suffered through successions of regimes—good and bad—without triggering a massive popular revolt.  What made the last 25 years so different? 

I suppose dictators can blame it partially on science and technology!

People Power then

Perhaps the first attempt at people power revolt ever recorded was during the reign of Ramses III of ancient Egypt.  In that instance, the wives and concubines of Ramses conspired to start revolts against their own pharaoh by sending written messages to their relatives in the far flung empire at the same time.   The revolt failed and all the conspirators executed.  Ramses III ‘s reign was also the first time in recorded history of a labor strike when tomb builders were not provided with adequate grain supply.

Back then Ramses could blame his problem on the invention of the papyrus.

The Philippine experience 3,000 years later was two million people coming out on the streets almost at the same time, surprising a dictatorship that could not muster effective resistance against such an unexpected, passive, non-confrontational show of displeasure against the government.  Soldiers would not fire on the mass of people, many of whom are their own relatives.  Although there were organized opposition leaders at the time, they too were surprised by the unexpected turn out. 

That revolution was made possible by portable radios.  People listened to Radio Veritas (a Catholic church owned and operated radio station), coordinating the revolt by listening to the minute by minute events, troop movements and where food/ water were needed.  If it were not because of the popularity of cheap, portable ‘transistor’ radios, it is doubtful that such a spontaneous mass movement of people can be coordinated back in 1986.

For the engineering impaired ones like me, I had to read more about what transistors radios really mean as I have always taken that for granted.  And, most of our newer generation probably can’t relate to this at all.  I asked my kids what they know about transistor radios and I just drew a blank stare.  Before the transistor radio was developed by Bell Laboratories (Yes, its Bell and not Sony as most think) in the 1940’s, the typical radio used a vacuum tube and the smallest radio was the size of a toaster.  Hardly the type to carry around since it needed to be plugged to an electrical outlet.  The transistor changed all that.  It is a tiny, solid piece of semiconductive material which amplifies and switches electronic signals.  Unlike the vacuum tubes that serve the same function, the transistor is compact, does not need to warm up first like the vacuum tube, turns the radio on instantly, can be operated by batteries, rugged and lost lasting (over 50+ years of performance life).  Its invention, thought to be among the best of the 20th century, made the development of hand-held calculators, cell phones and laptop computers possible.  By the 1970’s,  over 7 billion cheap transistor radios were manufactured.  Almost every household on earth can afford to have one, even in poor countries where it became a common source of entertainment, especially with the worldwide popularity of rock and roll music.  And there were plenty during the People Power Revolution to coordinate the mass uprising.

People Power now

Though the passions, anger, resentments and collective suffering were all part of the common experiences, the single catalyst that made these revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya possible was the technology of cell phone, video and internet.  Had the mobile systems not evolve from its original 80 lb weight in 1946 by Bell Labs engineers to its current light weight design first developed by Motorola in 1973 , these popular uprisings would have been more difficult.  The first call made from a cell phone by Motorola’s inventor, Martin Cooper, in 1973 was to his rival at Bell Labs, Dr. Joel S. Engel.  Even years before that, the concept of cellular phone was already part of the science fantasy of Star Trek in the late ‘60s.  Back then, it was called the ‘communicator.’

Mobile phones and internet are the first to be shut down by besieged dictators because of their power to mobilize people.  Just like cryptic messages written on papyrus 3,000 years ago, mobile text messages, voice and videos certainly made the call to action even more immediate, compelling and personal.

People Power in the future

While dictatorships are slowly fading to the pages of history just like hard core communism, there will always be room for dissent in mass scale.  Being dissatisfied is a very human thing and there will always be some cause to take up later on.  What technology will propel the future people power revolt?  Can’t imagine.

But, if I have to fantasize, I would say teleportation, just like in Star Trek episodes and movies.  Scientist are making progress now in transporting tiny objects from one place to another already.  The popular phrase “Beam me up Scotty” will be in common usage by then and people will simply materialize instantly for the next people power revolt.

Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry would had been ecstatic.

Jonathan R. Matias

Chief Science Officer

Poseidon Sciences Group

www.poseidonsciences.com

Mathematical models of emerging and collapsing societies. From Asimov’s fictional futuristic tale to the real science of Gavrilets’ numerical simulations

I was preoccupied in this last three weeks of January about the bigger picture of how life and work might look like in 2011, mostly playing catch-up with work issues since a lot of things just got placed in my ‘waiting basket’ during the Holidays.  I was also bothered by little things; especially about finding my old collection of science fiction books by Isaac Asimov called The Foundation Series, the first trilogy printed in the 1950’s.  My kids typically classify my preoccupation with things and events of that era as the ‘dinosaur years.’  With a plethora of science fiction paperback novels and special effects movies in the last 10 years alone, why should I be interested in a similar genre written 60 years ago?  Not sure what the answers is.  Perhaps by the time I finish this tale of science fiction and real science we will both have the answer to this question.  

As I rummage hopelessly through my ‘library’ (In my case defined as rooms full of books, manuscripts, articles and magazines scattered on the floor, on bookshelves and on top of tables, along with the smattering of half a dozen partially filled and almost empty cups of coffee for ‘decorative’ purposes), I decided to just glance over to my laptop to check out today’s smorgasbord of science news in scienceblog.com.  And there it was!  Not Asimov’s books, but an article published recently by Sergey Gavrilets (National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis) and co-authored by David G. Anderson (University of Tennessee-Knoxville) and Peter Turchin (University of Connecticut).  The article “Cycling in the complexity of early societies” was among the first in the brand new journal called Cliodynamics: The Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History, “the first academic journal to research from the emerging science of theoretical history and mathematics.”    

That’s nice.  But, where’s the connection to Asimov’s books?  Let me tell you first what this article is all about as best as I can figure it out.  I really am not a fan of anything mathematical, especially when it comes to theoretical population biology on which I still harbor occasional nightmares from grad school days.  The start of the population biology class usually triggers also the start of  my usual fantasy of being somewhere else—on a tropical beach, sipping margarita under a coconut tree, surrounded by native women wearing sarong– that is, when I wasn’t dozing off. 

Gavrilets developed a mathematical model, using hundreds of years of human historical data, to predict the rise and fall of complex societies.  Through numerical simulations that take into account parameters such the size of the state, political power, length of rule, economic variables, etc, his team was able to explain the dynamic processes that cause kingdoms, states and empires to collapse on the scale of decades and centuries.  

Gavrilets concludes: 

Over the past several decades mathematical methods and techniques have become very important in life sciences and social sciences. In particular, mathematical and computational modelings are powerful tools for better understanding the origins of new species and of general rules of biological diversification. Agent-based simulation modeling efforts like those advanced here offer fruitful avenues for future research on general patterns in historical dynamics and on the emergence and diversification of human societies. 

Isaac Asimov

Much has been written about Asimov and thought I just give you a snapshot of his life and his works as a preamble to the next part of this narrative.  Isaac Asimov (family name derived from the Russian word meaning winter grain—from his great grandfather’s occupation) was born in Russia as Isaak Yudovich Ozimov of Jewish ancestry, immigrated to United  States at the age of 3 and later became one of the most prolific American writers of all time, with over 500 books  to his credit.  Not knowing the exact date of his birth due to the uncertainty between the Gregorian and Jewish calendars of the time, he simply decided that his birthday ought to be January 2, 1920.  He would have been 90 years of age this month.  

Young Isaac taught himself to read English at the age of five, taking advantage of the “pulp” science fiction magazines sold in his father’s candy store in Brooklyn, NY. (Pulp  magazines, pulp fiction or simply ‘the pulps’ refer to cheap fiction magazines printed between 1896 through the 1950’s on cheap, ragged, untrimmed wood pulp paper.  It was famous for being cheaper than the magazines called ‘glossies.’  Pulps mostly feature lurid, sensational, exploitive stories with colorful page covers.  Comic book superheroes are considered descendants of pulp fiction).  Though his father disapproved of pulp science fiction magazines, Isaac managed to convince him otherwise since he reasoned that the word ‘science’ was there and therefore must be ‘educational.’  By 11, he was already writing his own stories and by the age of 19 selling stories to science fiction magazines himself.  Educated in the New York public school system, he eventually received his PhD in biochemistry from Columbia University in 1948.  Along with Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov is considered the master of science fiction during his life time. 

The words robotics, positronic (an entirely fictional technology) and psychohistory (also fictional) are all attributed to Asimov from his novels.  Robotics and positronic continues to be part of American lexicon, most notably in movies, such as Star Trek; The Next Generation that featured androids with positronic brains.   His robot stories which became part of the novel I, Robot in 1950 and  made into a film in 2004 with Will Smith, described a set of ethical rules for robots (The Three Laws of Robotics) leading to other stories, such as the Bicentennial Man, also made into a movie starring Robin Williams.  He became a friend and science advisor to Gene Roddenberry on many Star Trek projects. 

The Foundation Series 

Though Asimov had written history books (about the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians and Egyptians), mystery stories (in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine), scholarly biblical works and countless science fiction stories, he is singularly remembered for his Foundation SeriesThis is where Gavrilets and Asimov converged in this narrative.  The Foundation Series comprises seven science fiction novels, the first three, the Foundation Trilogy (Foundation, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation) are considered the most famous and written in the early 1950’s.  It wasn’t until 30 years later that he began writing again the 4th entry in the saga.  

The fictional story goes like this: 

The setting is the universe thousands of years in the future when mankind, with a population in the quadrillions and ruled by a Galactic Empire, occupied millions of star systems in the galaxy.  A mathematician named Hari Seldon developed a mathematical simulation, called psychohistory.  The principle, based on the laws of mass action, numerically calculates the behavior of a quadrillion inhabitants (anything less is inaccurate) that enabled Seldon to predict the imminent collapse of the Empire.  It also predicted that the collapse will follow a period of 30,000 years of descent to anarchy and barbarism, akin to the Dark Ages of medieval Europe, before the rise of the Second Empire.  His mathematical modeling also predicted an alternative option with the Dark Ages lasting only 1,000 years, if a source of knowledge can fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the Empire and the technologies that created it.  The Seldon Plan, which attempts to minimize the period of the Dark Ages, was to establish two cryptic societies, one at each opposite end of the Milky Way galaxy, populated by scientists and technocrats, called the Foundations, ready to step in as the Empire collapses.  The Galactic Emperor found out about psychohistory and the adventures began… 

Gavrilet and Asimov’s Hari Seldon 

A science fiction writer conceives the idea from basic facts and then extrapolates from there, creating fantasies and visions not always possible in a real scientific discipline. 

There are times when the figment of a fiction writer’s fantasy decades before becomes a common reality now.   Let’s take the case of the Star Trek television series of the late 60’s.  The series described the interstellar adventures of Capt. Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, a multi-ethnic crew (first time such an attempt was made in the racially charged era of the 1960’s) and the occasional alien crew member or guests in galactic starship Enterprise of the 22nd century.  This unique TV series created the biggest ever fan base of science fiction enthusiasts (and that includes yours truly).  Even NASA named its first space shuttle Enterprise in honor of the fictional galactic starship. Though the original airing of the TV series was not accessible to me then (I happened to be in an island in another continent at the time; and yes, no American TV), coming to America, I did grow up on the TV reruns of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future, many of which has come to fruition in my life time:  mobile phones, pda, tablet PC, hand held diagnostic instruments (Mr. Spock’s tricorder), MRI (Dr. Spock’s diagnostic table), the jet injector for drugs (Dr. McCoy’s hypospray), the universal translator (now the voice recognition and language software), the telepresence device (now the video conferencing) and the phaser set to stun (now the Taser gun to immobilize), just to name a few.  Even the truly far out concepts of the Romulan cloaking device, the transporter beam, the tractor beam, the energy shield to protect the starship are being researched seriously.  New results from military and university research are paving the way for new materials to distort light to hide objects in plain sight, new methods  transport small items by fragmenting molecules and electronic shield/counter strike weapons that destroy incoming projectiles, now featured in the more recent Israeli design for combat tanks. 

Isaac Asimov’s fiction of a mathematician predicting the collapse of the Galactic Empire made a good the story.  It was purely from the fantasies of Asimov’s fertile mind.  But like in Star Trek, some fantasies eventually turn to something real—sometimes.  Gavrilets’ numerical simulations do seem to show that such predictions can be possible.  His paper certainly is an elegant piece of scientific work and will surely be controversial.  Whether it can predict the collapse of empires, perhaps Gavrilets, like Hari Seldon, have to wait before mankind reach the quadrillion mark in the far flung reaches of a future galactic empire. 

I wonder if Sergey Gavrilets ever read the Foundation trilogy.  Had he been alive today, Isaac Asimov would have been ecstatic to read Gavrilets’ paper.  Perhaps, I should ask Gavrilets about the Foundation novels if we ever meet one day.   Not to talk about galactic futures, but about the recent collapses of dictatorial states and when future ones might be expected to follow the same path. 

I think science fiction writers and mathematicians in sociobiology have one thing in common – they seem to chase after futuristic events. 

I am sure Isaac Asimov would agree.

Jonathan R. Matias

Chief Science Officer

Poseidon Sciences Group

www.poseidonsciences.com

PS

Still looking for Asimov’s books !

SUGGESTED READING

http://scienceblog.com/41939/mathematical-model-explains-how-complex-societies-emerge-collapse/

Gavrilets S, Anderson D, Turchin P. 2010. Cycling in the complexity of early societies. Cliodynamics: The Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History. 1:1

http://escholarship.org/uc/irows_cliodynamics?volume=1;issue=1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foundation_series

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Asimov

http://www.tiem.utk.edu/~gavrila/Research.htm

http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/10-star-trek-technologies10.htm

Animation—from an ancient art form to high science. Cryptic images from Paleolithic cave drawings to Shrek, the movie.

     I thought to tackle a much lighter topic than aging, cancer, toxic spills and malaria for a change of pace, especially since Christmas is getting closer and need some happier thoughts.  Today’s blog will have less to do with biology and more into a topic of great personal interest since I was 4 years old.  You may ask, “What prompted this all of a sudden?”  I’ll tell ya.  Blame it on Shrek.

     Animation, as we know today as motion picture or video, is an increasingly sophisticated art form.  It is the method of creating optical illusion of motion through a rapid display of images in two or three dimensions.  This illusion is created in our mind because of the phenomenon called “persistence of vision” in which the retina of our eye retains an afterimage for 1/25th of a second.   It is for this reason that modern films run at 24 frames per second; at 16 frames per second, the images flash and not pleasing.  We can still see motion at 10 frames per second, akin to watching someone flip a book in front you.  It is the retina that does this all on its own, not the brain as once thought; hence, the term “iconic memory “ that has been debunked by physiologists as early as 1912.  Even the concept of persistence of vision dates back to the Roman poet and philosopher, Titus Lucretius Carus (ca. 99 -55 BC), from his only known work, an epic poem called “On the Nature of the Universe.” 

     It is also a perennial surprise to me that the things we now know often have ancient beginnings.  Cave dwellers of the Upper Paleolithic era (40,000-10,000 BC) began creating images of animals in motion by superimposing multiple legs.  Without any means of making the images move, the drawing is not animation in the true sense of the word, yet they conveyed the human need to display motion in art.  Hypotheses abound on the meanings of these cave paintings, ranging from pre-historic star charts (Dr. Michael Rappenglueck, University of Munich), spiritual trances invoking the power of nature (David Lewis-Williams), imagery of past hunting successes and rituals to improve hunting success.  Considering the thousands of images painted on the walls of Lascaux alone, I think that they simply have a lot of free time and like to doodle whenever they can.  Try this on your teenagers—don’t pay the Internet and cable bills, take their mobile phone away and keep them in the house.  The artistic ones will be doodling all day, while the rest with no talent will find other mischief or sneak out to go shopping, which is sort like “hunting and gathering” the modern way.   In fact, these ancient cave dwelling artists were so good that the painting called the “The Crossed Bison” showed perspective drawings not seen in art until the Renaissance, about 15th century AD.

     In 180 AD, the Chinese invented the zoetrope.  It’s ok if you don’t know what it is.  I did not know what it meant either until I looked it up (from Greek zoe meaning life and tropos meaning turn; the “wheel of life”).   A zoetrope is a cylindrical device with vertical slits. Below the slits, inside the cylinder is a series of drawings or pictures.  When you turn the cylinder while looking though the slits, the perception of motion is created.  It must had been a hit in 180 AD, just like getting your first Polaroid  instant camera in 1948 (called the Land camera from its inventor, Edwin H. Land, who also designed the optics for the Lockheed U-2 spy plane, later shot down by the Soviets –Sorry, can’t resist the trivia).  

     Zooming on to modern times and for my fellow New York  ‘straphangers’ who may not know, there is a linear zoetrope aptly called “Masstransiscope” built in 1980 on the subway platform at Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn.  The Masstransiscope (Sounds appropriate, doesn’t it?) consists of 228 slits set against a linear wall, behind each slit a hand painted mural is illuminated from behind.  As the train runs past the station, the riders, nicknamed straphangers for holding on to the leather straps (not leather anymore, but stainless steel now) hanging from the ceiling of the train, see  the images as a motion picture. 

     Stop-motion cinematography was developed in the 19th century and the first one was attributed to George Melies, who discovered it by accident when his camera broke down while photographing a passing bus.  By the time he restarted the film, a hearse was passing by after the bus.  Later, he discovered that his images transformed the bus into a hearse. And so began the motion picture industry, hearse notwithstanding.

     Animated films of the 20th century are a bit more complicated and involved hand drawing of each frame, the second frame slightly different from the previous ones, each drawing is traced or copied into acetate sheets called “cels,” colored and photographed one by one to create the motion picture.  The traditional cel animation was replaced in the 21st century with scanning and computer drawings, integrated with computer software.  Despite such technological advances, the art form of traditional cel animation is preserved to this day and the input of the animators remained as it was 70 years ago.  The technology has changed but the art remains blended into the new ways of creating the images.

    I fell in love with animation as a child living in a village far away from the city in the Philippine island of Luzon.  That was in the very early 60’s when television had yet to reach the village.  It was a time when a phone was a rare item and even a car passing through the village was a special event, a cause for celebration among the children who would chase the car as it sped out; must have been the same inclination that dogs have for doing the same for no reason at all.   As a 4-year old, my only recollection of that period was the movie van coming to the village every 6 months after the rainy season, a much awaited event for the young and old alike.  All the kids sit in front on the grounds of a dusty clearing at dusk, watching the driver/movie technician/marketing agent unfurl the wide screen attached to the outside of the van and get the movie projector going.  It was the only time I can remember as a kid to be in a hurry for darkness to come.

  The first 30 minutes was a promotion of Darigold powdered milk.  Back then in the village milk cames from some rare cows, water buffalos and nursing mothers.  Darigold, a brand since 1918, is a farming cooperative of over 500 dairy farmers in the United States.  Then, there was the Carnation evaporated milk promotion movie.  The company, founded in 1899 by Eldridge Amos Stuart, was famous for its for its slogan of the milk coming from “Contented Cows.”  The milk products and the contented cows were irrelevant to me; all the kids I knew hated drinking milk or had no chance to get any, anyway.  I did not even know what ‘contented’ means; thought it was something to do with bowel movement.  I was contentedly waiting for the animated cartoons of Mickey Mouse and Mighty Mouse to start.   Walt Disney’s Fantasia and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs were just pure works of wonder to me.   Life was simpler then, or perhaps, life was always simpler for all 4 year olds anywhere on Planet Earth.

     Half a century later, animation remains an interest, though vicariously enjoyed in the guise of taking my kids to the movies.    The high tech changes in animation, though visually appealing, seemed missing something.  The only enduring animation that made its recent mark on me was Shrek, but only the first movie in 2001.  (If you have not seen it, maybe you should go out of the cave and stop making drawings on the wall !) It was a different genre all of a sudden; a bit brash, irreverent, yet reminded me of the same qualities of the old animation films.  Just like the ancient cave dwellers, each generation leaves a mark for posterity within the limits of their own technology.  Our generation is leaving so much mark that we hardly notice.  Perhaps, it is the generations a hundred years from now who will decide the defining marks of our generation.

     Shrek was an unconventional movie on its own right, but something else that struck me as unusual.  I could not pin point what it was until I watched it alone, undistracted, early in the morning while I was taking a break from writing a dreary piece on malaria.  And, there it was!  An image of not so long ago, taking me back to the old country, an image of the Philippine flag embedded within the narrative of Shrek.  I only remembered it because of the recent diplomatic flap at the US State Department when the Philippine flag was displayed incorrectly, with the side signifying the country is at war.

   To make this observation plausible, I think it is best to give a quick primer on the Philippine flag.  This tri-color flag, whose colors were influenced by the Cuban Revolution, was first raised during the proclamation of Independence from Spain by the nascent Philippine Revolutionary government in June 12, 1898.  Within the white triangle is the sun, with 8 radiating rays symbolizing the first 8 provinces that revolted against Spain, a concept similar to the Betsy Ross flag of the American Revolution with the stars representing the first 13 colonies that fought the British.   In the Philippine flag, the three stars represent the three main geographic divisions of the archipelago, the red color symbolizing the blood of the revolutionaries who signed their membership to the Katipunan, a Masonic secret society, in blood; and, the blue representing peace.   

    Among all national flags, the Philippine flag is unique because it can show a state of war by simply flying the red field on top or on the left of the observer when mounted vertically.  In times of peace, the blue side is on top.  The war flag was first flown in 1899 during the Philippine-American War, then again during World War II when American and Filipino troops fought and died side by side against the Japanese and during the EDSA Revolution that toppled the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, from power.  The recent diplomatic issue of the United States not being familiar with the protocol by presenting the flag on its war stance during the ASEAN summit ceremony in New York City attended by President Barack Obama last September 26th  was an understandable faux pax.   

Now, take this idea with grain of salt…

     Look closely at the sun and 8 rays in the Philippine flag and then compare with the animation frame in Shrek.  The portion of the narrative was when Fiona retired into the cave to hide from the evening darkness, Shrek and Donkey was talking about the starry night by the fireside.  There were eight boulders that make up the fire pit and in one frame eight rays where radiating from the fire.  In this animation frame are both characters lying down looking at the stars, with the shadows made by the rocks framing a likeness to the Philippine flag’s emblem of the sun and 8 rays.  If you watch the previous scenes closely, variations of similar images appeared in different frames making this less of a chance imagery, but a more thoughful, conscious action.

     It could very well be just accidental and I might be simply reading too much out of this.  And, I will be the first to admit that this might very well be just a happy coincidence.  Or, I need more sleep and less coffee. 

But, consider this:

     Dreamworks SKG (the creator of Shrek), like all of the major US animated movie companies (Disney, Marvel, Hanna Barbera, Cartoon Network, Warner Brothers) all outsource their animation overseas.  Over 90% of such animation companies are located in Asia.  The Philippines is the dominant outsourcing location for 2D animation because for the last three decades the US animation industry has been using Filipino artists.  This is because of a closer understanding by Filipinos of the American mindset, the numerous pools of talent and the lower cost compared to US animators.   

     That those embedded Philippine emblems are attempts to merge the creative talent with national pride in a cryptic way seems plausible considering possible Filipino artist involvement in the creative process of Shrek’s animation. 

     This is just a hypothesis and waiting for someone to prove or disprove it.  Maybe Dreamworks can tell me later.

     Nevertheless, it is heartwarming to know that some nationalistic pride still shines out of all of this dreary work.  Who knows, maybe since the animation business is moving in the direction of India and China too, perhaps there will be more artistic, cryptic and irreverent images embedded within future movies as well.  Only Indian or Chinese descendants may likely spot them next time. 

Maybe go get your Chinese friend to check out “Kung Fu Panda” for hidden imagery.

Jonathan R. Matias

Poseidon Sciences Group

New York, NY

www.poseidonsciences.com

Additional reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persistence_of_vision

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animation

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lascaux

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoetrope

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_the_Philippines

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0126029/synopsis

On outsourcing and insourcing in the animation industry

http://www.druid.dk/conferences/summer2004/papers/ds2004-92.pdf