Thursday, July 31, 2008

Algae starts to look ...

... real promising. Especially if it has nothing to do with ExxonMobil.
Exxon (XOM) both produces oil and refines it to make gasoline, and profit margins for gasoline were weak during the quarter, holding back earnings slightly.

Another Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment ...

... SUV's are not passenger vehicles.

Ha ha ha ... yeah right.

Hey Uncle Sam ...

... can we go with CNG already?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ted Stevens - Crook

All that pork paid off, eh?

It's a bio-fuel road trip!

CNN producer Cody McCloy is taking his 1978 diesel Scout for a cross country trip using biodiesel. He's also going to be blogging about it the entire way.

Cool. And Hot!

Bacteria adapt to sun irradiation by altering cell membranes.
'Evolution Canyons' I and II are in Israel. They are similar, each with a hot south-facing slope and a cooler north-facing slope. The sun-exposed 'African' south-facing slopes get eight times more solar radiation than the shady, green, lush 'European' north-facing slopes. Scientists studied 131 strains of Bacillus simplex and found that bacteria on different slopes have evolved differently, forming different 'ecotypes' of the same species.
How did they do it?
"Bacteria respond to temperature by altering their fatty acid composition in a constitutive, long-term fashion," said Dr Sikorski. We found that 'African' ecotypes from the hot slopes had more heat-tolerant fatty acids and 'European' ecotypes from the cool slopes had more cold-tolerant fatty acids in their membranes."

Poo makes the world go round ...

Animal waste essential for ecosystem survival.
Take, for instance, salmon. Born in rivers, they head out to sea to fatten up as adults. A couple of years later, they head back inland en masse to mate and die. Their decaying carcasses enrich the rivers and feed, among others, the next generation of salmon. "Salmon fry are literally sustained by their parents," say Wilcove and Wikelski.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008



Quack or Croak?

The poor duckies who reside at the Reflecting Pool in Washington D.C. are dying of avian botulism. That's a bit of a bummer. When my wife and I went to D.C. in April I snapped a few pictures of the ducks in the pool (see one of them below). It's surprising the number of ducks I've seen in that city. They're at the pool, I've seen them at the Museum of the Native American (who had their own accident with ducklings recently).

Unfortunately, the Reflecting Pool is the perfect place for this to happen. There is no circulation or aeration into the pools, they're dirty beyond belief and the rotting hay bales don't help much either. Essentially, it's stagnant water with plenty of nutrients in it. This of course leads to ideal growth condition for Clostridium botulinum the causative agent of avian botulsim.

What needs to be done? The damn things need to be cleaned for starts. Then, they need to model the Reflecting Pool in D.C. to the one at the Oklahoma City Memorial. It is constantly circulated, which should drastically reduce (if not eliminate entirely) the occurrences of botulism poisoning.


Desktopography - A cool site with lots of desktop images. From their "About" page ...
At their best, desktop wallpapers bring animation to often lifeless computer screens, reflecting the personality of the user and acting as a calling card for creative talent. The desktopography project arrived in 2005 as a place to download nature / topological themed wallpapers with edits from selected designers.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Yay ...

... Bush projected to attain record budget deficit. I wish I could run up half a trillion in debt and get to walk away from it with nary a scratch.

Rip currents are bad.

Rip Current article at Live Science.


Pronounced "cool".

It's supposedly the worlds biggest search engine. Brought to you by the inventor of Google's own search engine, Anna Patterson.

Here we go!

So the wife and I sat down to get my birthday present. I'm geeked. Here it is. Yep, I'm serious about giving this astronomy hobby a try, and these binocs are very highly rated. And they're well priced IMO, especially when one is simply desiring to test the waters without getting in over their head. Went to the local Astronomy Club meeting last week, the topic was on Galactic Collisions. There are some awesome examples, taken by the Hubble telescope. Sort of like this one of the Antennae Galaxy.

Of course, I've already caught the technology bug, and I'm fixated on this parrallelogram-style mount/tripod. It's a tad pricey though. I wonder if I can make one myself.

Friday, July 25, 2008

You know what ...

... throw them all in jail (including the grandmother). Damn, bat-shit crazy family. Hopefully they'll find this child alive, and then find a family who can really take of her. Neither the mother, nor the grandmother appear fit to do so.

Don't knock it ...

... until you know all the details. If I told you that I did research on snow fleas, would you be impressed? Probably not. If I told you that this work was paid for by your tax paying dollars, would you be upset? Probably so.

Why? Because I doubt you would make the connection as to why work on snow fleas would be of use to you and me.

This is the problem with "sound bytes". If someone told you "Hey, the NIH is funding work on snow fleas." you'd be annoyed. That's keeping money from important work on Alzheimer's, cancer, heart disease, infection diseases, etc. But, while you may be annoyed/upset/pissed, it still doesn't explain/answer why the NIH would be funding such work (if it was ... I don't know if this work is funded by the NIH, NSF, or any other group).

So, instead of being outraged ... ask questions. Like "If this is being funded by the National Institutes of Health, where is the connection?" If you ask questions like that, you'd most likely find a suitable answer.

In this case, certain proteins in the snow flea may be useful for preserving organs prior to transplantation. This research will save lives, and as far as I am concerned (and you should be too) it'll be money well spent.

Anecdotal != Objective

Anecdotal evidence can undermine scientific inquiry.
The recent medical controversy over whether vaccinations cause autism reveals a habit of human cognition—thinking anecdotally comes naturally, whereas thinking scientifically does not.

On the one side are scientists who have been unable to find any causal link between the symptoms of autism and the vaccine preservative thimerosal, which in the body breaks down into ethylmercury, the culprit du jour for autism’s cause. On the other side are parents who noticed that shortly after having their children vaccinated autistic symptoms began to appear. These anecdotal associations are so powerful that they cause people to ignore contrary evidence: ethylmercury is expelled from the body quickly (unlike its chemical cousin methylmercury) and therefore cannot accumulate in the brain long enough to cause damage. And in any case, autism continues to be diagnosed in children born after thimerosal was removed from most vaccines in 1999; today trace amounts exist in only a few.

The reason for this cognitive disconnect is that we have evolved brains that pay attention to anecdotes because false positives (believing there is a connection between A and B when there is not) are usually harmless, whereas false negatives (believing there is no connection between A and B when there is) may take you out of the gene pool. Our brains are belief engines that employ association learning to seek and find patterns. Superstition and belief in magic are millions of years old, whereas science, with its methods of controlling for intervening variables to circumvent false positives, is only a few hundred years old. So it is that any medical huckster promising that A will cure B has only to advertise a handful of successful anecdotes in the form of testimonials.

RIP Randy

"Last Lecture" Professor dies at age 47.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Break out the ARP 2500 ...

NASA Astronaut claims aliens exist.
Dr Mitchell, 77, said during a radio interview that sources at the space agency who had had contact with aliens described the beings as 'little people who look strange to us.'

You can do whatever you want in this life ...

... if you put your mind to it. This man did.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Currently ...

Listening To

Poor Chris Mooney ...

Chris Mooney posted a slightly histeric blog entry over at the Intersection to which I responded. I don't have the exact text of what I wrote, but basically I told him that I hoped that n = 1 was not a part of his statistical model. You know, that he sampled a bit more outside the year 2005. And that if he didn't, wasn't he being a bit alarmist?

My comment obviously was not worth publishing. Which makes Mooney, IMNSHO, a whiny little twit. Can't take a little criticism, Chris?

Ocean power

Article on CNN.

The article makes mention of the Anaconda, which I've already blogged on here.

Interview with Pickens (Lou Dobbs)

Lou Dobbs interviews T. Boone Pickens.

Once again, in a nuthshell. Natural Gas makes up 20% of our electricity. Pickens suggests freeing up that 20% to move into transportation fuel (as LNG or CNG) and replacing it with wind (though any other energy source would work as well. That would reduce our oil imports by roughly 40%. We currently import 70% of our oil.

The use of [SPOILER ALERT] tags ...

... sonofagun, if you're going to blurb* an INTEGRAL PART OF A MOVIE (in my particular case, The Dark Knight) ... let people know you're going to do it! Idjits!

*It happened over at Mark Shea's site by a poster named Athos (I'm not going to link to Athos' website cause he's a moron). Be careful if you read the comments in Mark Shea's Dark Knight blog entry.

Think you can tell if you've got food poisoning?

Most of the time, definitely. You're hanging over the can from one of two ends (hopefully it's not both ... or if so, you're bath tub is within range of your projectile vomiting).

Here are some descriptions and symptoms from some of the most common food poisoning culprits.

Escherichia coli
This guy can contaminate all sorts of food. Why? Because transmission is via the fecal-oral route, and that's as disgusting as it sounds. Either food comes in close contact with animal or human waste, or someone preparing your food hasn't washed their hands properly. Yummy, huh? Food poisoning from E. coli isn't felt immediately. The organism needs time (24 to 72 hours typically) to produce the toxins which are going to eventually make you sick. When it does hit though ... expect lots of diarrhea and stomach cramps. Some strains are worse than others, and if the diarrhea turns bloody, you better go seek help.

Salmonella, another nasty little critter. This guy can get into you via the fecal-oral route, but is also a frequent contaminant of chicken. Uncooked eggs, improperly cooked chicken ... can all lead to food poisoning. If you're a lover of reptiles, you better also beware. Salmonella colonizes these guys too, and their poop is loaded with potentially sickening organisms. If you're infected you'll start to feel the effects between 8 to 72 hours after ingestion. Expect stomach cramping and some good old diarrhea. An additional benefits are vomiting and fever.

Staphylococcus aureus
The way I describe food poisoning with S. aureus? A total bitch. If you go out to eat, and get food poisoning with this guy, you might not even make it out of the restaurant before you start hurling. Onset of symptoms can be anywhere from one to six hours. Expect vomiting and severe abdominal cramps. As quickly as it arrives, it'll go just as quickly, usually between an additional one to six hours (if you're particularly lucky, it'll last for 24 hours). Then it's gone. Yay!

Listeria monocytogenes
Try to avoid this guy. It doesn't take many of him to get you sick in the first place (100 cells is often enough to do the job), and when you do get sick you'll probably not remember what you ate that did it. He is also adept at growing in/on refrigerated foods, which means your "ready to eat" foods are great vectors for him to infect. This is why there is a "Zero Tolerance" policy for foods with this guy. Even one organism cultured is enough to send that food into the trash. Soft cheese has a soft spot in this guys heart as well. If you're pregnant, avoid them! In terms of infection/symptoms, this organisms isn't in any sort of rush. Incubation periods can range from 8 days to 8 weeks. When it hits, expect a fever, fatigue/muscle aches, nausea and diarrhea. If, after those symptoms appear, you start getting headaches, stiff neck, start feeling disoriented and confused ... get to a doctor! Listeria can also cause meningitis. It also is fond of causing miscarriages in pregnant women (and 1/3rd of Listeria infections occur in pregnanct women).

Well, those are four common food poisoning organisms. Maybe I'll post more as time permits.

Atlantic Ocean bigger carbon sink ...

... than previously expected.
Moreover, much of this carbon ends up in long-term storage instead of being recycled quickly like most carbon in the ocean. That's because the main photosynthesisers are diatoms, single-celled algae that build a heavy silica shell around their bodies.

This glassy shell makes diatoms sink rapidly after they die, removing 20 million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere each year, the researchers estimate.

That's not much compared to the amount emitted by human activity each year but it represents a major shift in our knowledge of the oceans' carbon balance, says Subramanian. And although the Amazon is the largest of the world's rivers, other major tropical rivers such as the Congo and the Orinoco may have similar effects, he says – a conjecture he is now aiming to test.
Now, time to use this to our advantage.

Monday, July 21, 2008

FDA says: Jalapenos are bad.

At least until they find a better candidate for the continuing Salmonella outbreak issue.

No word yet as to whether Solanum lycopersicum (i.e., the tomato) is going to sue the FDA for libel.

Wetland destruction = GHG emissions

Destroying wetlands leads to release of green house gases.
Some 60% of wetlands worldwide -- and up to 90% in Europe -- have been destroyed in the past 100 years, principally due to drainage for agriculture but also through pollution, dams, canals, groundwater pumping, urban development and peat extraction.
These waterlogged (either seasonally or year-round) areas contain an estimated 771 gigatonnes (771 billion tonnes) of greenhouse gases -- both CO2 and more potent methane -- an amount in CO2 equivalent comparable to the carbon content of today's atmosphere.

A tale of the moose and the wolf

On Isle Royale. I visited the island back when I was a teenager (a couple of decades ago ... sheesh), and it's a lovely place. I intend on getting back there eventually. Maybe I can find the pictures of that trip and post a couple ... especially the one of the moose that I met face-to-face (less than 10 yards separated us).

The Isle Royale Wolf/Moose Study website.

GPS has gone to the dogs ...

At $199 for a unit, it's a bit pricey, but ... it's probably worth it. Of course, there is the monthly service contract too.

Then of course there are the other GPS-for-your-dog systems:
1. GlobalPetFinder, which you can supposedly buy for $289.99 (which I cannot confirm since their webstore it broken).

2. RoamEO Pet Location System, but the damn thing is almost $500 and only has a 1 mile range. Nevermind the battery-life is about 8 hours, so if your dog goes on a nightlong jaunt ... you're both screwed.

You will go to the moon ...

You will go to the moon
You'll probably be heading there soon
Someday flowers will grow there
But first you've got to go there
Oh, You will go to the moon
- Moxy Fruvous
Send Your Name To The Moon.

h/t: Sheril @ The Intersection.

About those algal blooms in China ...

... you know, the ones threatening the Olympic sailing venue. Earlier I wondered if they'd use it for energy. The answer is: Nope. Though it may find a use as fertilizer. Eventually. Maybe.

How the animal kingdom is ...

... reacting to global warming. And before people get their panties in a wad I'm not saying, anything either way (in this blog entry at least), about whether it's man-made or not. It's just how some species have been observed behaving differently than they have in the past.
Penguins in Peril: A rapid population decline among penguins because, in addition to a warming planet, they face the triple whammy of oil pollution, depletion of fisheries and aggressive coastline development.

"Penguins are among those species that show us that we are making fundamental changes to our world," said Dee Boersma, a University of Washington biology professor who has studied the flightless birds for more than 25 years. "The fate of all species is to go extinct, but there are some species that go extinct before their time and we are facing that possibility with some penguins."


The Pickens Plan - T. Boone Picken's website where he touts his new plan. Essentially to make a move into wind power. This move into wind power will also free up the natural gas used to generate electricity and allow it to be shuttled into the liquid fuel (as compressed natural gas [CNG]) market, thereby reducing our dependency on foreign oil. This dependency currently plays to the tune of ~700 billion dollars annually.

Bentham Open Access Journals - These all look to be relatively new journals, and they don't appear to be indexed by two of the major indexing sources (MedLine/Pubmed and Scopus). However, you've got to start somewhere, right?

Friday, July 18, 2008


A h/t goes to Illusory Tenant who cites an article which hammers the nail square on the head. Pelosi has no room to talk when she levels her criticism at G.W. Bush. They. Both. Suck. Hard.

My opinion? Anyone who wants the most powerful positions in the land (i.e., the Presidency, Speaker of the House, etc etc) ... shouldn't have them!

Bicycles and cars ...

... do not mix!
There are no nationwide statistics on bicycle-related injuries and deaths for the first half of 2008. But authorities across the country say they are seeing a sharp rise in the number of accidents involving bicyclists.
I like this part ...
Fischer said that “in almost every case, the bicycle was doing something that put them at significant risk.”
Yeah, the "something" was that they were on a bicycle. Sorry, but I've been down this road before, and I think a majority of these issues come down to crappy drivers. I'm not alone in this line of thought either.
“Most of the crashes that we’ve seen are a result of inattentive driving,” said Rob Sadowsky, executive director of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation.
There is going to be a learning curve for both sides ... the problem is, the learning for the driver often goes ignored IMO because ... well ... because they're in a ton plus vehicle and they're not in any physical danger when confronted with a bicyclist.

So what does that mean? I think it means that local authorities need to be proactive about making their areas more bicyclist-friendly. All new roads with wide shoulders would be an excellent start.

How fat is your state?

Huh? Huh?

The following are the states, listed according to percentage of the population regarded to as obese.
1. Mississippi: 32%
2. Alabama: 30.3%
3. Tennessee: 30.1%
4. Louisiana: 29.8%
5. Arkansas: 28.7%
6. West Virginia: 29.5%
7. South Carolina: 28.4%
8. Georgia: 28.2%
9. Oklahoma and Texas: 28.1%
10. North Carolina: 28%
11. Michigan: 27.7%
12. Alaska, Missouri, and Ohio: 27.5%
13. Delaware and Kentucky: 27.4%
14. Pennsylvania: 27.1%
15. Iowa and Kansas: 26.9%
16. Indiana: 26.8%
17. North Dakota: 26.5%
18. South Dakota: 26.2%
19. Nebraska: 26%
20. Minnesota: 25.6%
21. Oregon: 25.5%
22. Arizona and Maryland: 25.4%
23. Washington: 25.3%
24. New York: 25%
25. Illinois: 24.9%
26. Maine: 24.8%
27. Wisconsin: 24.7%
28. Idaho: 24.5%
29. New Hampshire: 24.4%
30. Virginia: 24.3%
31. Nevada: 24.1%
32. New Mexico: 24%
33. Wyoming: 23.7%
34. New Jersey: 23.5%
35. California: 22.6%
36. Montana, Utah, and Washington, D.C.: 21.8%
37. Hawaii and Rhode Island: 21.4%
38. Massachusetts and Vermont: 21.3%
39. Connecticut: 21.2%
40. Colorado: 18.7%
There appears to be something wrong with West Virginia (no surprise there). Either they need to move up a spot, ahead of Arkansas, or the 29.5% is actually 28.5%. If I really wanted to, I suppose I could figure it out by looking at the actual report issued by the CDC.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Currently ...


Listening To


A few months ago my wife and I were discussing several matters. One of those matters had to do with how we spent our free time. Mostly, this free time was spent sitting in front of the television, doing essentially ... nothing. Well, we both decided that nothing was not a very Good Thing. So, we decided that we needed to do something, anything. We needed to find some hobbies.

It's not as easy, finding this hobby, as some might expect. Or perhaps, I'm not very adept at it. I had to search high and low, and long and hard to find something that captured my interest. Now, I play softball when the season comes around, and I play racquetball every other day with some friends of mine at the local gym (it's forcing me to wake up around 5:30 am, which has taken some getting used to) ... but I don't consider those "hobbies". Those are activities, and healthy ones at that, that I enjoy doing ... but they don't quite have hobby status to me. For me, a hobby is something that you can do with friends or alone, and you'd be fine either way.

I think I finally settled on my first hobby: Astronomy*. I remember the few times growing up that I was able to really view the night sky; when we escaped the light pollution of NYC when we went on vacation into upstate NY. I'd track satellites, gaze at the moon, try to find as many constellations as I could. I thought it was cool, but never really pursued it. Well, I want to pursue it now. But, I'm trying to be practical about it. As much as I'd love to jump in feet first and buy myself a nice telescope in the $1-2K range, I think that's a bit over the top. Especially if after a couple of tries, I find out it's not for me. So, I'm starting out small. Fortunately, a local college has an observatory and a couple of assistant/associate professors who teach astronomy there. In talking to one of them, they confirmed my thoughts that I should start out with a pair of good binoculars. That was the recommendation from Sky & Telescope. A good pair seems like it'll run me close to $100. I have a tripod so the price will be reduced somewhat. Then with a good field guide, I'll be ready to go. The local college also has an astronomy club, so I should be able to supplement my star gazing with the telescopes that others bring. That'll also allow me to gather data on what telescope, should I continue on with this hobby, that I would like to buy as well.

In the meantime however, if anyone is an amateur (or professional) astronomer, any and all comments/suggestions are more than welcome.

*I'm fascinated with the idea of being able to view the rings of Saturn (see picture below), and the Space Station from where I stand. Maybe even the Space Shuttle. The picture at the top of the blog entry was taken by an amateur astronomer. It's a truly inspiring photo.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mark Shea - For the Win!

Over at Catholic and Enjoying It! Mark Shea summarizes the problem with PZ Myers as succinctly as anyone ever could. Kudos to Mark.

No basis?

Murderer Denied Release Because of Brain Cancer.

According to her lawyer (bold emphasis mine):
"Obviously, it was too hot of a potato for them to handle," said one of Atkins' attorney, Eric P. Lampel. "Of course we're disappointed. There's no basis for denying this."

These sound like good enough reasons (once again bold emphasis mine):
Atkins told the grand jury that she stabbed Frykowski in the legs and that she held Tate down while Watson stabbed her. She also testified that Tate had pleaded for her life and that of her unborn child, to which Atkins replied, "Woman, I have no mercy for you."
Writing the word "Pig" in the Polanski/Tate house with Tate's blood also isn't exactly worthy of praise.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Two in the hand ...

... only in Texass.

I probably won't ...

... be blogging for the rest of today and tomorrow. Meetings and a manuscript have forced me to give myself a short leash, which means I'll be restricting my science reading (other than material for my manuscript). Ergo, my reporting on my reading will be limited as well. Hopefully I'll get this manuscript wrapped up sooner, as opposed to later.

Currently ...

Listening To

Primum Non Nocere - Part IV (Scientists and the Media)

ResearchBlogging.orgScientists Generally Happy With Their Media Interaction. (Title compliments of Science Daily).

The article cited is based on a report in Science, entitled Interactions with the mass media (see Reference).
Key findings of the survey included:

1. Increasing the public's perception of science was the most important benefit mentioned by scientists as an incentive to interact with the media, with 93% indicating that achieving 'a more positive public attitude towards research' was an important motivator;

2.However, lack of control of media outcomes remains an issue for many scientists, with nine in 10 respondents identifying the 'risk of incorrect quotation' as an important disincentive.
The survey was sent to over 1,300 (1,354 to be exact) researchers over a two year period (2005-2006). They had a response rate of 43%, so a little over 580 of them responded.

Perceived impact of media contacts on career by country. Distribution of answers to the question: "Consider the totality of your media contacts over your career. How great has their positive or negative impact been on you professionally?" Only respondents reporting media contact(s) in the past 3 years are included in the graph.
So, what does this all mean? I think it's clear that this begins to eliminate the stereotype that scientists simply hole up the lab and don't speak to anyone from the outside. I think it means that scientists are comfortable with working with the media, and see the interactions as generally pleasant. Scientists do care about how the public perceives them and their research, and they will go to great lengths to get the word out accurately. I think this reflects positively and runs true to my comments about the obligation of scientists to do nothing to harm the reputation of science as being a very beneficial tool (see my Primum Non Nocere series). Scientists are concerned with people taking their science seriously, and I think they know that in this day and age, they need to keep the public well informed if they're going to generate interest for their research. Interest does equate to dollars. The scientist that can put their research into easily understandable terms, and can point out the importance of their work, is IMNSHO, bound to have a better chance of generating the interest that will allow them to receive funding. It's all about communication folks.

Peters, H.P., Brossard, D., de Cheveigne, S., Dunwoody, S., Kallfass, M., Miller, S., Tsuchida, S. (2008). SCIENCE COMMUNICATION: Interactions with the Mass Media. Science, 321(5886), 204-205. DOI: 10.1126/science.1157780

Friday, July 11, 2008

Kudos to Bill Donohue and the Catholic League

This whole deal with the student from the University of Central Florida and the Catholic Eucharist is a mess. The responses from some people against the misguided student are even worse. The follow up by P.Z. Myers was profoundly stupid. I'm not even going to provide a link to his nonsense. He gets tons of traffic anyways.

As such, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League has fired off a letter to the President of the University of Minnesota Morris in protest. I say excellent.

Here is why. As Mr. Donohue states, P.Z. Myers blog was accessible from his departmental webpage. I say was, because as of yesterday it was ... it's not today.

To which Mr. Donohue stated:
The Myers blog can be accessed from the university’s website. The university has a policy statement on this issue which says that the ‘Contents of all electronic pages must be consistent with University of Minnesota policies, local, state and federal laws.’ One of the school’s policies, ‘Code of Conduct,’ says that ‘When dealing with others,’ faculty et al. must be ‘respectful, fair and civil.’ Accordingly, we are contacting the President and the Board of Regents to see what they are going to do about this matter. Because the university is a state institution, we are also contacting the Minnesota legislature.
Imagine being a Catholic in P.Z. Myers class. Think you might feel entirely comfortable sitting there, knowing what he thinks about your beliefs and knowing that they're a simple click away on the university-run and sanctioned webpage? Simply put, the link must go.

If anything, it was a supremely stupid move on Myers part. It's not the first, I doubt it'll be the last.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Currently ...

Listening To

Little Green Army Men

Do you have any of these guys floating around your house? Think about donating them.

Donations of plastic army men or pictures of fallen personnel may be sent to:
Mrs. Mimi Graves
C/0 Flagler Palm Coast High School
5500 E. Hwy. 100
Palm Coast, FL 32164

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Celebrity Death Match - Biodiesel vs Bioethanol (Part II)

ResearchBlogging.orgWhen I first came up with the title "Celebrity Death Match" for this series, I was actually referring to a spat in the pages of Trends in Biotechnology, rather than biodiesel versus bioethanol. Specifically, I was speaking about the exchange between Lucas Reijnders and Yusuf Chisti, which I will cover in this blog entry. But hey, the shoe fits, so I'll take credit for the double entendre.

I love these sorts of exchanges. Perhaps the romantic in me believes this is how science discuss was handled in days long gone. Scientists would converge at their respective Academies of Science and debate the pertinent issues of the day. You don't really see that nowadays. Occasionally you'll see a jab or two in a manuscript, but you hardly ever see two scientists butting heads publically. Or, maybe I'm not reading enough of the literature. Given the topic however, this shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Everyone is trying to fill the much needed "new fuel source" niche, so people are going to enter their horse into the fray when they can.

After Yusuf Chisti published the opinion piece mentioned earlier, Lucas Reijnders shot back a letter entitled "Do biofuels from microalgae beat biofuels from terrestrial plants?" to Trends in Biotechnology, the conclusion of which said basically that Chisti was wrong (see Reference #1).


According to Reijnders, Chisti forgot to consider some "hidden expenses". Reijnders writes:
However, Chisti did not consider fossil fuel inputs during the biofuel life cycle. Fossil fuels are currently used for building the facilities (bioreactor, pond) and for operational activities such as supplying nutrients, maintenance, mixing, the collection of microalgae and biomass processing.
The letter goes on to say that while algae do produce more biomass, they take more fossil fuels to process ...
Empirical data show that, in practie, sugarcane and oil palm yield less biomass than the 100 Mg per hectare per year (dry weight) for Spirulina ... but these terrestrial plants are characterized by lower fossil fuel inputs into the biofuel life cycle for a specified amount of biofuel energy than in the case of the microalgal biofuels studies mentioned before.
Doubt is also raised as to whether reported yields of microalgal biomass will be achievable in practice, and a citation is provided to support the fact that when compared to current commercial facilities, the reported values are well over what has currently been achieved.

Not so fast buddy

To Reijnders comments, Chisti responds back in the same issue in the letter entitled "Response to Reijnders: Do biofuels from microalgae beat biofuels from terrestrial plants?" (see Reference #2).

Chisti takes issue with the two algal reports cited by Reijnders, saying ...
However, both these studies show little understanding of large-scale algae culture and grossly overestimate the fossil energy required in producing algal biofuels.
Chisti in the next couple of paragraphs cites a couple of instances of where the Hirano and Sawayama studies went wrong.

Chisti then takes a moment to point out that ~45% of the fossil energy input into algal biomass is linked to fertilizer. It is then pointed out that most of the added fertilizer re-emerges in the liquid effluent of the anaerobic digesters, which will be reused (remember the figure from Part I). This cuts down on the fertilizer costs by a third.

To close, if microalgal systems were in place, ~11% of cropping land would be needed to supply all US transport fuel needs. For bioethanol to do something similar, ~70% of all US cropping area will be needed.

While the discussion between Chisti and Reijnders may be over for now, this is probably not the end of the issue entirely. We still haven't picked another basket to put some, or all, of our eggs into. Meanwhile the price of food and fuel continue to rise.


1. REIJNDERS, L. (2008). Do biofuels from microalgae beat biofuels from terrestrial plants?. Trends in Biotechnology, 26(7), 349-350. DOI: 10.1016/j.tibtech.2008.04.001

2. CHISTI, Y. (2008). Response to Reijnders: Do biofuels from microalgae beat biofuels from terrestrial plants?. Trends in Biotechnology, 26(7), 351-352. DOI: 10.1016/j.tibtech.2008.04.002

Celebrity Death Match - Biodiesel vs. Bioethanol (Part I)

ResearchBlogging.orgA fight for the ages, and it's being waged through the pages of Trends in Biotechnology!

In 2007, Yusuf Chisti published an opinion piece in Trends in Biotechnology with the title "Biodiesel from microalgae beats bioethanol" (see reference, below). In this article, Dr. Chisti laid out the rationale as to why we should seriously look at biodiesel from microalgae. In the abstract, Chisti states ...
Biodiesel from microalgae seems to be the only renewable biofuel that has the potential to completely displace petroleum-derived transport fuels without adversely affecting supply of food and other crop products.
Say it ain't so! You mean to say, that if we rely on food crops to develop ethanol ... we're going to adversely affect our supply of food? Who would've seen that coming?!?

Let's score it:
Yusuf Chisti: 1
Ethanol Lobby: 0

Figure 1 of the opinion piece lays out a conceptual system (see image below) for producing this microalgal oil for biodiesel. As you can see, not only does the algae have use as an oil source, the remaining byproducts can be used for anaerobic digestion. If you recall my earlier talks, anaerobic digestion produces methane. When this methane is cleansed of contaminants, it is indistinguishable from the natural gas (which is methane) which we use daily to heat our homes, produce electricity, cook our food ... and even some vehicles use as fuel.

And it doesn't stop there. If you use the methane/biogas for power generation (for sale on the grid, and to run the algae production process), you wind up with carbon dioxide. That carbon dioxide can be shuttled back to the algae biomass production area for re-use by the algae in photosynthesis. Very little carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere, and very little fossil fuel will be used to run the process. In essence making the system "carbon neutral, as Chisti states:
Ideally, the microalgal biodiesel can be carbon neutral, because all the power needed for producing and processing the algae could potentially come from biodiesel itself and from methane produced by anaerobic digestion of the biomass residue left behind after the oil has been extracted.
Biodiesel kicks bioethanols ass

This section of the opinion piece starts off looking at the algal biodiesel compared to sugarcane bioethanol because "sugarcane bioethanol can be produced at a price comparable to that of gasoline". Simply put, when considering similar levels of energy recovery, sugarcane ethanol produces less than half that recoverable from algal biodiesel (75 metric tons of biomass per hectare for sugarcane versus 158 tons per hectare for microalgal biomass).

So what's stopping us?

In short: economics. The technology, while there in part, is not there in force. However, if the demand were there for microalgal processing equipment, the costs in machinery would eventually come down. Another issue is that of drying technology. Drying (removal of water) is a huge energy cost and additional research into processes which can dry the algae cheaply are needed. Thirdly, further research into the genetics of algae is needed. Increases in production of algal oil metabolism would result in greater yields of oil, resulting in lower production costs per barrel of algal oil.

As Chisti explains:
At this price [$100/barrel], microalgal biomass with an oil content of 55% will need to be produced at less than ~$340/ton to be competitive with petroleum diesel. Literature suggests that, currently, microalgal biomass can be produced for around $3000/ton.
But don't lose heart! Chisti goes on to say:
This analysis disregards possible income from biomass residues. In addition, converting M tons of algal biomass to biodiesel is likely to prove less expensive than converting a barrel of crude petroleum to various fuels. Nevertheless, the assessment given here provides an indication of what needs to be achieved for making algal biodiesel competitive with petrodiesel. A high threshold is placed on competitiveness of microalgal biodiesel by comparing it with petrodiesel: none of the biodiesel being produced commercially from soybean oil in the US and canola oil in Europe can compete with petroleum-derived diesel without the tax credits, carbon credits and other similar subsidies that it receives.
So, we need to get the costs down. I don't think this is an obstacle that cannot be overcome. With the proper infrastructure put in place, to produce and then process large loads of algal biomass, the costs will come down. Further advances in technology will likewise increase oil yields and reduce costs even more. It's not as if the petroleum market dropped into our laps as a full-grown adult, did it? It didn't, and while it currently remains "cheap" and I say "cheap" in comparison to other technologies ... it won't always remain the most economically viable commodity. And that doesn't even begin to address the fact that oil is a matter of national security. The point is ... we need to get these other technologies online NOW, so when the petroleum bubble DOES burst, we have a suitable alternative. Chisti demonstrates that biodiesel from algal biomass can be a basket we can put our eggs into.

Or ... maybe not? [cliffhanger - See Part II)


CHISTI, Y. (2008). Biodiesel from microalgae beats bioethanol. Trends in Biotechnology, 26(3), 126-131. DOI: 10.1016/j.tibtech.2007.12.002

Aerosols: Friend or Foe?

Cleaner skies equals rise in temperatures.
Since 1980, average air temperatures in Europe have risen 1 °C: much more than expected from greenhouse-gas warming alone.
"The decrease in aerosols probably accounts for at least half of the warming over Europe in the last 30 years," says Rolf Philipona, a co-author of the study at MeteoSwiss, Switzerland's national weather service.

The latest climate models are built on the assumption that aerosols have their biggest influence by seeding natural clouds, which reflect sunlight. However, the team found that radiation dropped only slightly on cloudy days, suggesting that the main impact of aerosols is to block sunlight directly.

Quote of the Day

I was never afraid of failure, for I would sooner fail than not be among the best. - John Keats

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Pickens Picks Wind and Natural Gas

"The Pickens Plan."
"The Pickens Plan" calls for investing in domestic renewable resources such as wind, and switching from oil to natural gas as a transportation fuel.
On the wind side of things:
Pickens' company, Mesa Power, recently announced a $2 billion investment as the first step in a multibillion-dollar plan to build the world's largest wind farm in Pampa, Texas.

Pickens said Tuesday that if the United States takes advantage of the so-called "wind corridor," stretching from the Canadian border to West Texas, energy from wind turbines built there could supply 20 percent or more of the nation's power. He suggested the project could be funded by private investors.
And on the natural gas side of things:
Fueling these plants with wind power would then free up the natural gas historically used to power them, and would mean that natural gas could replace foreign oil as fuel for motor vehicles, he said.

Using natural gas for transportation needs could replace one-third of the United States' imported oil and would save more than $230 billion a year, Pickens said.
So how long until we can see the effect of these changes?
His energy plan could be implemented within 10 years if both Congress and the White House treat the current energy situation as a "national emergency and take immediate action," he predicted.
We better get started.


Q. Of what use is FEMA?
A. None.
Last month, CNN revealed that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had stored $85 million worth of household items in warehouses for two years. Instead of giving the supplies to victims of the 2005 hurricane, FEMA declared them surplus and gave them all away to federal agencies and 16 states in February.
Whiskey! Tango! Foxtrot!

This is, yet another display of the ineptitude of this Administration. They cannot leave soon enough. Literally anything, will be better than what we have now.
FEMA said it was costing more than $1 million a year to store the supplies, but officials have not been able to answer why the agency didn't get the supplies to Katrina victims. Both FEMA and the General Services Administration said the items originally were purchased or donated for victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

In the wake of the CNN investigation, a FEMA official said the agency was launching an internal probe into the storage of the household supplies.
Will any heads roll? Probably a couple of low level folks, but no one major. And I think I'd be surprised to see even that scapegoat brought forth for public flogging.

Honestly, I think FEMA has well established that they're worthless. Perhaps it's time to deep six them, for deep sixing all the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

An interesting read ...

From Time magazine, entitled The Bright Side of the End of the World. I especially like the following quote ...
Even the worst-case scenarios say that climate change will happen gradually, at least on a human scale. (For climate history, it will occur in the blink of an eye.) Climate crusaders risk being seen as crying wolf should they forecast Armageddon, only to be met instead with a world that remains mostly the same in the short term, especially for the rich — but one that gets inexorably worse, especially for the poor.
How true.

Monday, July 07, 2008

ASM General Meeting

The 109th American Society of Microbiology General Meeting will be held in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. Dates: May 17th through the 21st, 2009. See some of you there!

The doctor ...

... delves yet again into the realm of things unscientific on his science blog.

I don't know what the fuss is though. Honestly, South Carolina has been offering a "religious themed" license plate for years. It's the "In God We Trust" license plate. You can see it here. Just search for "God".

You know you've hit rock bottom when ...

... your 12 year old child tells your radio audience to come out and watch you "drink like a pig". At least, I hope that's rock bottom.

I should have been ...

... a dental hygienist.

According to their median annual wage is $64,740/year. Not bad for a two-year degree.

Ceftobiprole To The Rescue

ResearchBlogging.orgBack when I was a Medical Technologist, and doing my microbiology clinical rotations, the lab director who was supervising me sat me down several times a week. During these sit downs, we went over various microbiological topics. One such topic was antibiotic resistance. I remember him quite clearly when he told me that if vancomycin-resistant organisms ever arose, we'd all be in deep poop. Well, there are organisms out there which are now vancomycin resistant. Why is this such a problem? Vancomycin is literally the last line of defense. It is the antibiotic which is given when no others are left to treat a bacterial infection. If this drug doesn't work ... there are no other alternatives.

Or at least there were no other options, until Ceftobiprole (BPR) came along. I honestly can't believe this hasn't made as big a splash in the science blogging community as it should have. Science Daily does have an article on it though. So far in lab tests, Ceftobiprole has an excellent kill-rate. More importantly, it is very effective against organisms which are multiple-drug resistant.
In an ominous new "move" in this chess game, S. aureus strains with resistance to vancomycin (VRSA), a different class of antibiotics, also began to appear in hospitals in the United States. Ceftobiprole was also able to kill these new resistant VRSA strains.
This is excellent news.

So how does it work? It binds to the penicillin-binding protein PBP2a, product of the antibiotic resistance gene mecA. Studies examining penicillin-resistant strains of S. aureus treated with non-lethal (for the bacteria) doses of BPR revealed that these organisms displayed profiles which were similar to non-penicillin-resistant strains of S. aureus which were treated with penicillin. Beta-lactams are a class of antibiotics which inhibit cell-wall synthesis.
Bacteria grown in the presence of sub-MIC concentrations of BPR produced an HPLC profile characteristic of β-lactam-treated staphylococci ...
At least for me, this is an exciting development. This potentially adds an additional drug into the arsenal of infectious disease doctors who have to treat multiple-drug resistance bacteria. It also opens up a whole new line of targets for future antibiotics.

Chung, M., Antignac, A., Kim, C., Tomasz, A. (2008). Comparative study of the susceptibility of major epidemic clones of MRSA to oxacillin and to the new broad spectrum cephalosporin ceftobiprole. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy DOI: 10.1128/AAC.00266-08

Introducing ...

... the Anaconda.

A wave hitting the end squeezes it and causes a 'bulge wave'* to form inside the tube. As the bulge wave runs through the tube, the initial sea wave that caused it runs along the outside of the tube at the same speed, squeezing the tube more and more and causing the bulge wave to get bigger and bigger. The bulge wave then turns a turbine fitted at the far end of the device and the power produced is fed to shore via a cable.
Exciting, but don't expect it to come online anytime soon as ...
The Anaconda is, however, still at an early stage of development. The concept has only been proven at very small laboratory-scale, so important questions about its potential performance still need to be answered.
If their website is any indication (I do believe it's their website), they're really in the early stages of development.

They claim they may be able to start field trials by next year. Here's to hoping for their success.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Workout Motivation

Since the softball season is over, I'm trying to keep the workouts going so I don't gain several additional pounds. I've started playing racquetball with some friends, but it's only a couple of days a week. The rest of the time the motivation to workout has to come from me, and after 8 years of running XC and track in high school and college, my motivation is all but long gone.

So I lean heavily on music. Currently however, the only song I know I want on my MP3 player is my cool down song.

This Time (I'm Gonna Try It My Way) - DJ Shadow

Anyone have any ideas?

Uhhh ...

... after reading this article, I'm not so sure I'm as fond of my chimney swifts as I was prior to reading it.

Worried about Nuclear Power?

You shouldn't be ... or at least, you should be more worried about coal-burning power plants.

Seems as if the coal-burning process concentrates the radioactive elements naturally found in coal. In some places, the ash (the waste from coal-burning) contains up to 100x the amount of radioactivity than a similar amount of nuclear waste.
At issue is coal's content of uranium and thorium, both radioactive elements. They occur in such trace amounts in natural, or "whole," coal that they aren't a problem. But when coal is burned into fly ash, uranium and thorium are concentrated at up to 10 times their original levels.
It's not really much of an issue though. Researchers long ago figured out that being within close proximity of a coal-burning power plant raised your yearly exposure by about half a percentage point (0.5%).
McBride and his co-authors estimated that individuals living near coal-fired installations are exposed to a maximum of 1.9 millirems of fly ash radiation yearly. To put these numbers in perspective, the average person encounters 360 millirems of annual "background radiation" from natural and man-made sources, including substances in Earth's crust, cosmic rays, residue from nuclear tests and smoke detectors.
So, the moral of the story? Of all the things to worry about, nuclear and coal based energy aren't worth the effort.

Can Hydrogen Replace Gasoline?

Q&A at the Scientific American.

Teachers and Self-Esteem

A bit of background: My wife is currently attending a 4 year school, going for her B.S. in Nursing. This summer, she's in the process of taking Chemistry (101 and 102), as she finishes up her pre-req's before going into the Nursing program.

The Chem 101 professor was a total ass. To say he was a chauvinist pig, a bigot, and a racist would be putting it mildly. He constantly railed against the department secretary, calling her "worthless" and saying that a man could more adequately handle her job. He constantly belittled students in the classroom and the laboratory. He said that women should not be found in difficult and demanding jobs because they were not cut out for it. He told one woman of African-American descent that, after scolding her publicly, he could not tell if she was blushing or not. He made ghastly inappropriate racial stereotypic comments, such as "I don't know why the Asians in this class aren't doing better ... they usually excel in math and the sciences."

Whiskey! Tango! Foxtrot!

The complaints didn't stop there. The wife was furious. I went ballistic. All ready to march into the office of the President of the University, I deferred to my better half's wishes that neither one of us do anything until after the grades were posted for the semester (they post today). As my wife was turning in her lab key, the teacher pulled her aside and apologized for the rude comments he directed towards her. Being the epitome of grace that she is, she accepted his apology. She also noticed that his office was extremely barren. Reason? He was forced to resign due to years of horrible behavior.

My question is: Why did it take so long?

How many dreams did this man crush? How many people did he turn away from pursuing careers in the sciences because he was a total ass-hat? How many potential discoveries did he delay/destroy because people were turned off by his attitude and as a consequence didn't pursue a particular line of work? How many people spent years of their life working diligently, pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps, only to reach the summit (in this case a college education) and have him kick them down again with his racist remarks?

As a teacher in an introductory class, he is the first face these students saw of a particular subject/discipline. If this was his standard operating procedure, I can guarantee it was not a pleasant first impression, and as they say ... the first impression is always the most important.


These are the things that I think about now, especially as I'm becoming a member of a school board. How are teachers behaving with their students? Are they building them up? Or rather, are they knocking them down?

It reminds me of a situation I experienced as a child. In 3rd grade, I had a teacher who was extremely rude to me. She would make fun of me in front of the entire class. She would administer harsher penalties to me than other students, for similar acts. She showed me no encouragement, she offered no praise, she offered no consolation when things were tough. Her excuse when my parents confronted her? I reminded her of a sibling that she didn't get along with. What sort of excuse is that? I can honestly say her treatment of me was something I carried with me for a long time. I can still feel my face flush with anger when I think about her. She was a horrible teacher. People like her, should not be allowed to teach. Anyone. At all. Ever. There was a time when I would have considered her a waste product. Sometimes I still do. It's something I'm trying, very hard, to move past.

You know, we say the responsibility of teaching our youth lies first and foremost with the parents. That's true, and I believe it. But I also believe that despite the parents best efforts, they can be undermined by teachers who do a thoroughly crappy job. I don't know if Mrs. Vincent of P.S. 108 Capt Vincent G Fowler, in South Ozone Park, NY still teaches, but if she does (and hopefully she does not) I hope she reads this and realizes that her actions will impact children for years to come, and if she's still an ass-hat, she matures.

The same goes for the rest of us.

Do you think the Chinese ...

... will use all this algae for biodiesel production?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Desperate times ...

... call for desperate measures. Though, I don't think I'd go this particular route to cut down on my fuel expenses. (For those not wanting to click on the link, one woman in Kentucky was selling her body for gas cards).

I don't get this part of the article though:
Angela Eversole, 34, of Fort Wright is charged with prostitution and doing business without an occupational license.
As if, in Kentucky, they give prostitutes "occupational licenses"?

Another kicker is this comment:
Kenton County prosecutor Ken Easterling said it's sad when people are selling their bodies for gas.
I hope when he is talking about it being "sad" that he's referring to the pathetic economic position our current administration has put us into.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Oh noe!

Amy Winehouse hates Kanye West!

And who gives a rats patooie? *crickets chirp*