Friday, May 29, 2009

Ok, one last post for today ...

... this is a truly awesome story.
By the 1980s, nearly one in three turtles that nested on Matura Beach were killed. When the government asked for volunteers to help protect the endangered creatures, Baptiste and several others answered the call. In 1990, they started Nature Seekers, one of Trinidad's first environmental groups.
What effect did they have?
Gradually, her message of conservation turned the tide of public opinion, and after nearly two decades under Baptiste's leadership, Nature Seekers has largely won its battle. Today, the leatherbacks' survival rate on Matura Beach is virtually 100 percent.
Over 5000 leatherbacks nest on Matura Beach a year now.

Here is their website: Nature Seekers.

Busy ...

... have two manuscript reviews I really need to finish today. Also need to finish the revisions on my own manuscript I hope to send out the beginning of next week. All the while I'm waiting for the peer-review to return on my last submission (110 days and counting ... WTF!). Busy times ahead, but I really will try to get my ASM overview (can I really call it a blog diary at this point?) done next week as well. At least it'll start me off with my May blogging on the right foot. Until then ... everyone enjoy their weekend.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Wii and Netflix

I love Netflix, the Wii looks interesting. I already have Netflix and I'm probably going to get a Wii this weekend. Yay! My dream has always been to have a computer in my living room, hooked up to a nice big large screen LCD "monitor" and use it as a total home entertainment system. Part of the appeal of that would have been because I could then use the NetFlix "Watch Now" feature without having to sit in the office and gaze at the 17" monitor that my home computer is attached to (plus the current NetFlix software and need to use IE sucks).

The Wii has some very nice, rudimentary features (including WiFi capability that allows internet access) and I thought it would be great if I could access NetFlix and watch movies. If that were possible, I'd probably give up, at least for the near term, my desire to get a multimedia computer for the living room and focus on acquiring the LCD television.

Currently the Wii has no such feature, but that may change. So if anyone from Nintendo reads this blog ... allow the Wii to stream movies directly from Netflix, sooner rather than later. Please!

North Korea is on crack

North Korea's 150 Day Battle. I'm not exactly sure who they're fighting, but they seem to be really excited about it (or at least trying to muster some excitement ... though one can only imagine how much verve one can wrestle up on an embargo-related empty stomach). I like the poster that's quoted in the story (at the very end).
"Let's run like a storm, riding on a flying horse," one street poster said. "Let's all become winners in the 150-day battle."
Eh? What the hell does that mean? North Korea has pegasi? Or is it pegasuses?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I didn't get tagged with the meme, but damn it ...

... I'm going to do it anyways.

My vote is for Nirvana’s cover of Lead Belly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night? (aka: In the Pines).

Currently ...

Listening ToBleed It Out
Yeah here we go for the hundredth time
Hand grenade pins in every line
Throw 'em up and let something shine
Going out of my f--king mind

Filthy mouth, no excuse
Find a new place to hang this noose
String me up from atop these roofs
Knot it tight so I won't get loose

Truth is you can stop and stare
Run myself out and no one cares
Dug a trench out, laid down there
With a shovel up out of reach somewhere

Yeah someone pour it in
Make it a dirt dance floor again
Say your prayers and stomp it out
When they bring that chorus in

I bleed it out, digging deeper just to throw it away
I bleed it out, digging deeper just to throw it away
I bleed it out, digging deeper just to throw it away
Just to throw it away, just to throw it away

I bleed it out, go, stop the show
Choppy words in a sloppy flow
Shotgun, I pull, lock and load
Cock it back and then watch it go

Mama help me I've been cursed
Death is rolling in every verse
Candy paint on his brand new Hearse
Can't contain him he knows he works

F--k this hurts, I won't lie
Doesn't matter how hard I try
Half the words don't mean a thing
And I know that I won't be satisfied

So why try ignoring him?
Make it a dirt dance floor again
Say your prayers and stomp it out
When they bring that chorus in

I bleed it out, digging deeper just to throw it away
I bleed it out, digging deeper just to throw it away
I bleed it out, digging deeper just to throw it away
Just to throw it away, just to throw it away

I bleed it out
I've opened up these scars
I'll make you face this
I pulled myself so far
I'll make you face this now


I have to do another GenBank submission using Sequin. I hate Sequin.


It. Burns. My. Brain.

Those Kooky Ruskies

Russian scientist thinks alien ship saved the planet Earth.
Dr. Yuri Labvin, president of the Tunguska Spatial Phenomenon Foundation, insists that an alien spacecraft sacrificed itself to prevent a gigantic meteor from slamming into the planet above Siberia on June 30, 1908.

The result was was the Tunguska event ...
His evidence?
Labvin thinks quartz slabs with strange markings found at the site are remnants of an alien control panel, which fell to the ground after the UFO slammed into the giant rock.

"We don't have any technologies that can print such kind of drawings on crystals," Labvin told the Macedonian International News Agency.
Okay. Anything else?
"We also found ferrum silicate that can not be produced anywhere, except in space."
Someone can correct me if I am wrong but ... don't meteors come from outer space?

As an aside ...

... watched Kung Fu Panda this weekend. It's hilarious!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Yah, I know ...

... I didn't exactly blog "real time" about the ASM General Meeting. Honestly, from all the walking I did, I was dog tired every single day I was in Philly. By the time dinner was over and I brought my butt back to the hotel, I was zonked and out until the next morning.

With that said, I will talk about the highlights of the entire meeting (as I determined them to be) over the next couple of days. If you are really interested in the meeting, you can buy all the symposia (audio with slides) from Sound Images here. It's $299 for the entire conference.

For now, I have a review I need to do, as well as some patent work.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Tribute

Prayer of a Soldier in France
by: Joyce Kilmer

My shoulders ache beneath my pack
(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back).

I march with feet that burn and smart
(Tread, Holy Feet, upon my heart).

Men shout at me who may not speak
(They scourged Thy back and smote Thy cheek).

I may not lift a hand to clear
My eyes of salty drops that sear.

(Then shall my fickle soul forget
Thy agony of Bloody Sweat?)

My rifle hand is stiff and numb
(From Thy pierced palm red rivers come).

Lord, Thou didst suffer more for me
Than all the hosts of land and sea.

So let me render back again
This millionth of Thy gift. Amen.

A Soldier of France to His Mother: Letters from the Trenches on the Western Front.
by: Eugène Emmanuel Lemercier
translated by: Theodore Stanton

"March 21

Dear Grandmother,
As the hour of trial approaches I seize the occasion to send thee my whole love it is all that I can do The situation is going to demand sacrifices in the presence of which we must forget all that binds us elsewhere But let us pray that the certitude of the Beautiful and the Good does not abandon us in the midst of our sufferings."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

ASM General Meeting Blog Diary - Day Two

ASM "officially" opened on Sunday at 5 pm with the opening lecture. There were three presentations, all of which were stellar and revolved around the celebration of Charles Darwin. Unfortunately I didn't bring my notebook with me for the opening lecture, so I have very little notes other than the ones I put into my cellphone. of course all three lecturers have a multitude of publications so finding and reading their work won't be much of an issue.

The first talk was given by Nancy Moran of the University of Arizona. Her talk revolved around microbial obligate symbiosis with their insect hosts. She presented some fascinating research conducted in her lab (visit the link above for a glimpse). Next up was W. Ian Lipkin of Columbia University. His talk was entitled "Microbe Hunting in the 21st Century". Aside from the technical hiccup which meant that the last quarter of the right side of each slide was off the screen, his talk was also fascinating. He spoke about the various techniques his lab has employed for detecting a variety of existing and emerging pathogens. What I found particularly interesting was his mentioning of seasonal effects of schizophrenia and how it ties in with influenza season. Essentially there appears to be a correlation between the immune response and influenza infection in the womb.

The ASM Lecturer for 2009 was A.H. Knoll of Harvard who gave a bio-geo-paleontology lecture examining microbial life throughout the lifespan of the Earth. Simply put, there is evidence of microbial life for roughly 3.5 billion years. Of course, as a fan of astrobiology, this was very intriguing, and he hinted at performing such work. I'm jealous!

Overall, it was a wonderful opening session, the best I've attended.

Food-wise, it was also a great day. Went over to the Reading Terminal Market and visited Carmen's. Had my first cheese steak and it lived up to expectations. Got it with provolone cheese and roasted hot peppers. Good stuff! Prior to the session I took a short tour of Philly and went to the Academy of Sciences Museum. They have some great dinosaur exhibits (I got pictures on my cell phone so they're not the best quality) and the price to get in wasn't bad ($10). Not a bad day at all!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

ASM General Meeting Blog Diary - Day One

Before I talk about the Workshop that I attended today, let me say one thing. Oh, and I hope that people who were responsible for setting the workshops up read this. Whoever had the brilliant idea of housing the workshops at Temple, and then thought it was a good idea to not have shuttles on Saturday to and from the workshops ... is an idiot. This was by far, one of the dumbest things that they could have done. Temple University IS NOT, IS NOT, IS NOT in a good part of town. Telling people they needed to take public transportation, or a taxi, to and from these workshops was a supremely dumb idea. Add to this the fact that a majority of the people who attended these workshops were not Philly natives, and you had a lot of lost people wandering those streets. That was inviting disaster, and if no one got mugged, it was a miracle.

Me? I walked from my hotel to the workshop. It was a two mile walk and I didn't have to go to far to remember that I hate large cities. One block from my hotel, passed the first individual passed out on the sidewalk, three blocks from my hotel, passed a puddle of slowly drying vomit. And the smell ... it was humid so the stink hung in the air. It smelled like your typical large city, like wet trash, and not just any trash ... if you;ve ever worked in a restaurant, and went near the dumpster ... that sort of smell. Bleh. When people talk about the sights and sounds of big cities, I don't know where they're looking at, or smelling.

Having grown up in NYC (Brooklyn and Queens), I know the rules of engagement. At all times, act like you know where you're going. If you're lost, act like you know where you're going. Do not act like a tourist, do not make eye contact with people on the street, do not respond to cars which pass by ... go directly from Point A to Point B. So when I approach Temple and I see cabbies dropping clearly lost people out on Broad Street, I thought "What a freaking mess." and tried to point out to people where they needed to go.

There was breakfast prior to the workshops in the morning, in the student center, but no signs pointing the way. Oy! Basic fare for breakfast, fruit, juice, danishes ... nothing to get excited over.

Then off to the workshop. I was in WS-04: DNA Sequence-Based Identification of Bacteria: Generation, Analysis of Data, and Interpretation of Results. Dag Harmsen of the University of Münster was the organizer. It was a good overview of sequencing, and phylogeny, and if you're new to sequencing, it's worth a looksee if they offer it next year. Most of it I already knew, but it was good to get some review and since we're encouraged to review and place such stuff on our IPP (Individual Performance Plan) and I was going to be at ASM anyways, I figured what the hey. It was geared primarily towards the clinical lab, though they did talk about phylogenetic analysis, and discussed matters purely from a direct sequencing approach (assuming pure samples, which means no talk of cloning and chimeras). Nothing really exciting or out of the ordinary, except for the one dude asking about dominant and recessive genes (eh?), and the dude from NCBI getting his knickers in a twist when it was mentioned that in a lot of cases, GenBank is a mess. He tried to cover NCBI's ass by talking about their new RefSeq project ... yah dude, but for a lot of 16S stuff, Genbank still sucks. Anyways.

Oh, the other annoying thing was that even though they said there would be WIFI available, there wasn't. Highly annoying, and when it was pointed out to the staff, they acted like they didn't know anything at all. Also highly annoying. That was however, the only hiccup in the entire day. Boxed lunch, and then finished out the workshop and walked back to the hotel. Hopefully no one died getting back to their own hotels.

After that, freshened up and set about the town. Took in more of Chinatown, and ate dinner at Ly Michaels which was a nice modern Asian cuisine restaurant. It was a bit pricier than the place I ate the night before ($12.95 for the main course, as opposed to the $6.95 Pho) but still reasonable and excellent. Had the summer rolls with hoisin sauce and the curry chicken. Both excellent! A good way to end the day.

Tomorrow, more sight seeing and dining. Going to make it to the Reading Terminal Market for a cheesesteak!

Friday, May 15, 2009

ASM General Meeting Blog Diary - Day Zero

Nothing doing with the American Society of Microbiology General Meeting today, but I did have to travel to Philadelphia. Man, what a trip. First, let me say that I hate Mapquest. I didn't pay attention when I printed out the directions, so I get half way and then I notice that every major city I have to go through, Mapquest has directed me around. So I have to get off one highway, get onto another, get off that one, get back onto the main one. And I have to do this three or four times. That is a pain in the tookus, especially when I'm traveling alone, the roads are crowded, and I have to now read directions and drive?

Ain't gonna happen.

Fortunately for me, I was just recently handed my BlackBerry, and it has an application called TeleNav on it.

TeleNav sucks.


So I figure that there is no way I'm going to read directions while driving through major cities, so I pull into a rest stop, I pull out my BlackBerry, open up TeleNav and punch in the address to my hotel. TeleNav tells me to get back on the road and all is good for the first 30 miles or so. Then, as I'm approaching the first major city on my route, it directs me to a highway that I've never heard of. I figure it knows what it's doing, so I follow it. About 10 minutes later and I'm freaking downtown! I'm not on the highway, I'm on the side streets of a major city, and it's freaking packed. Kids are graduating from college and there are tons of people in the streets, which means there are a ton of cars ... and my GPS is navigating me through this crap ... constantly telling me of accidents 5 miles up the road and that I may encounter some congestion. Whiskey! Tango! Foxtrot! What are the hundred cap-n-gown wearing kiddos walking on the curb, if not congestion?!?!?!!!!11!!!

So, I finally get back to the main highway (why it needed to take me downtown to get back on the major highway I have no freaking idea), and everything proceeds smoothly until I hit the next major city, and before I know it ... I'm downtown again! Jimminy Crunchy Fishsticks! So I spend another hour and a half navigating another downtown traffic mess.

I finally make it to Philly, and I'm about 10 miles away from the hotel. What should TeleNav do? Oh, and I expected this would happen ... it freezes up on me. Now I'm on the last stretch of I-95 and I have no idea where the heck I'm going. Oy vey! The hate, it burns my brain!

Despite TeleNav's best efforts to kill me I eventually make it to my hotel, to find out that they don't have a parking garage (Yah, I guess I should have checked that ... grr). And I also find out that I left all my forms at work on my desk! Call work, the secretary faxes them to the hotel (so I can hand in my tax exemption form), and I have to pay $24/day for valet parking (I better get reimbursed for that!).

Get my crap up to the hotel room and inquire about dinner. Fortunately there was stuff down the block, and I came across a nice little Thai/Vietnamese place. Ordered some Pho (it's pronounced "Fuh" as if you're about to tell someone to do something really nasty to themselves) and it was just like I remembered it, which was excellent*. I hadn't had Pho since graduate school (some five odd years ago at this point). Reminded me of some of the not-so-good 'ol days. Heck, the best part of those days was the section of town called "Little Vietnam" with the excellent restaurants, shopping markets, and bubble tea shops.

So, while the day sucked it ended on a good note. I just might have Pho tomorrow night too. So, that was Day Zero. Tomorrow, ASM Workshop day, where I have to wake up at the buttcrack of dawn to get a bus to get to Temple University for the class, because ASM isn't offering shuttle service tomorrow to the workshops. Grrr!

*If you've never had Pho, start simple ... flank steak and brisket. You can eventually move up to the tendon and tripe.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Yeah Carrie Prejean ...

... you should do what Shanna Moakler did. Pose for racy pictures* AFTER you do your stint as Miss Cali**.
"I want to be a role model for young [women] with high hopes of pageantry, but now feel it more important to be a role model for my children."
Yah, because allowing Playboy to objectify you for millions of men is really setting a sterling example for young girls across the country. Oh please. Besides, what a senseless bit of stupid drama***, but that's what you get when anything involves Perez Hilton. Drama. Does anyone even really care about the Miss America pageant anyways? Anyone? Anyone? Oh, and Donald, you don't count.

* According to WIKI, she was December 2001's Playmate of the Month.

** SARCASM for the humor impaired.

*** The question Perez Hilton asked was a valid one, and Carrie Prejean should have responded in a much better fashion, but the resultant outcry from people like Perez Hilton and Shanna Moakler, milking it for all that it was worth for their 16th minute of fame, was pathetic.

They're back ...

I haven't blogged about them, but they've been back for at least a couple of weeks now. My chimney swifts have returned. I assume they're in the process of building a nest, laying eggs, and adding to their numbers. I'm fine with that.

If you want to play a small role in wildlife conservation, it is as simple as removing the chimney cap off the top of your chimney. If your chimney isn't made of metal, you may wind up having a chimney swift family take up residence. They eat a third of their own weight, a day, in flying insects ... so they're a boon to your backyard.

Chimney Swift Information (PDF, 4 pages).

The Origin of Life: RNA?

ResearchBlogging.orgSo says John D. Sutherland, chemist at the University of Manchester.
Scientists have long suspected that the first forms of life carried their biological information not in DNA but in RNA, its close chemical cousin. Though DNA is better known because of its storage of genetic information, RNA performs many of the trickiest operations in living cells. RNA seems to have delegated the chore of data storage to the chemically more stable DNA eons ago. If the first forms of life were based on RNA, then the issue is to explain how the first RNA molecules were formed.
So how did they (Matthew W. Powner (lead author) and Beatrice Gerland co-author)) do it?
Instead of making the starting chemicals form a sugar and a base, they mixed them in a different order, in which the chemicals naturally formed a compound that is half-sugar and half-base. When another half-sugar and half-base are added, the RNA nucleotide called ribocytidine phosphate emerges.

A second nucleotide is created if ultraviolet light is shined on the mixture. Dr. Sutherland said he had not yet found natural ways to generate the other two types of nucleotides found in RNA molecules, but synthesis of the first two was thought to be harder to achieve.
Article is here. (PDF, 4 pages, Subscription Required). The abstract:
At some stage in the origin of life, an informational polymer must have arisen by purely chemical means. According to one version of the ‘RNA world’ hypothesis this polymer was RNA, but attempts to provide experimental support for this have failed. In particular, although there has been some success demonstrating that ‘activated’ ribonucleotides can polymerize to form RNA it is far from obvious how such ribonucleotides could have formedfrom their constituent parts (ribose and nucleobases). Ribose is difficult to form selectively and the addition of nucleobases to ribose is inefficient in the case of purines and does not occur at all in the case of the canonical pyrimidines. Here we show that activated pyrimidine ribonucleotides can be formed in a short sequence that bypasses free ribose and the nucleobases, and instead proceeds through arabinose amino-oxazoline and anhydronucleoside intermediates. The starting materials for the synthesis—cyanamide, cyanoacetylene, glycolaldehyde, glyceraldehyde and inorganic phosphate—are plausible prebiotic feedstock molecules, and the conditions of the synthesis are consistent with potential early-Earth geochemical models. Although inorganic phosphate is only incorporated into the nucleotides at a late stage of the sequence, its presence fromthe start is essential as it controls three reactions in the earlier stages by acting as a general acid/base catalyst, a nucleophilic catalyst, a pH buffer and a chemical buffer. For prebiotic reaction sequences, our results highlight the importance of working with mixed chemical systems in which reactants for a particular reaction step can also control other steps.
Cool work. As the Times article states, a lot of people figured that RNA was the first organic molecule formed that started the "chain reaction" called "life", there just was very little evidence that it was possible. This article changes all that.

I smell a Nobel.

Powner, M., Gerland, B., & Sutherland, J. (2009). Synthesis of activated pyrimidine ribonucleotides in prebiotically plausible conditions Nature, 459 (7244), 239-242 DOI: 10.1038/nature08013

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pay those in the minority no mind ...

The Notre Dame and Obama fiasco.
Gibbs also cautioned the press to recognize that those who are against the Obama's visit are in the minority. "I think it's important to understand it appears as if the vast majority of students and the majority of Catholics are supportive of the invitation the president accepted," he said. "And I know he's greatly looking forward to -- to seeing them."
Is this the message the Democrats want to send? "You don't hold the popular opinion, therefore we shall pay you no mind. Better yet, just go away"

Social Security ...

... to go belly-up sooner than expected?
A year ago, the trustees projected that the Social Security trust fund would start paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes in 2017 and that the trust fund would be depleted in 2041.
Yah, right around the I was set to retire, go figure. But hey ... guess what?
But many analysts said the worst recession in decades will produce a bleaker forecast for both Social Security and Medicare in the new trustees' report. The downturn has resulted in a loss of 5.7 million payroll jobs since it began in December 2007 and an unemployment rate that hit a 25-year high of 8.9 percent in April.
Ah yes ... by the time I retire Social Security won't be around any longer. Fun stuff! Let's see if we can spend our way out of this one!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sonofa ...

... frak! Isn't this the way things always go? First you drop a hundred and change on a new set of front tires. A day later you notice a slightly sweet smell coming from your vents. You turn the car off, return an hour or so later to find a mysterious, huge puddle underneath your car, and it's definitely not water. The liquid, whatever it is is slick, clear, and odorless. Oh, and you check your radiator fluid and there isn't a single drop in the reservoir. Oddly enough, you had the water heater replaced about two months ago to the tune of ~$400 because you own a Pontiac and they built the thing such that to replace the water pump, they need to take the timing belt off, and that's one hell of an expensive repair.

So, could I be so lucky as to have a simple burst hose? Doubt it. If the new water pump is defective, that means that while I may not have to pay for the part, I'll get stuck with an ~$300 labor charge repair.

At this point, is this damn car (12 years old, 120K miles) worth it?

A sobering reminder ...

... to those of us who work (and more importantly supervise those who work) in the lab. It's not child's play, people can get hurt and sometimes killed.
Among the findings of the October lab inspection was that PPE was not fully used in the lab in which the 23-year-old Sangji worked. She was not wearing a lab coat in December when pyrophoric material she was handling splashed and ignited her clothing.

The Cal/OSHA report says that, when the incident occurred, Sangji was drawing approximately 20 mL of 1.7 mol/L tert-butyllithium in pentane into a 60-mL syringe when the syringe plunger was either ejected or pulled out of the syringe. An undetermined amount of the liquid splashed onto her hands, arms, and torso. The ensuing fire burned more than 40% of her body. One of the postdoctoral researchers used his lab coat to extinguish the flames and called for help. Sangji died of her injuries on Jan. 16 (C&EN Online Latest News, Jan. 22).
Safety standards, and safety issues are not something to be brushed aside as trivial. Sometimes, it is the difference between life and death.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The New Star Trek Movie ...

... was awesome! The special effects are wicked cool, the acting is pretty good (better than the original, which isn't saying that much), and the plot is pretty interesting as well. Suffice it to say, I predict there will be at least one sequel, and they came up with a pretty interesting way to ensure that it doesn't hinder the established Star Trek canon. I promise not to post any spoilers! The only thing I'll say is that Kirk does manage to get his ass kicked a lot in this movie.

Anyways, while I enjoyed the movie for the action, it got me thinking on the way home. Not because there is any deeply moral question posed by the movie, but because it painted a future Earth that looked believable, and I was envious. I do not believe that for a single minute that we, as a species, have reached our pinnacle. I believe there is a lot more maturation our species can do and an equally large amount of technological advances we can make. I also don't believe I'll see these advances in my life time, but boy do I wish I could see them. It's not that I'd want to live forever, but I contend that life is simply too short to fit in everything that one could do. At least, this is the way I feel.

So, unless they manage to build a warp drive spaceship within the next few years, I'll only be able to dream of the future, instead of live it.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Hi ho, hi ho, off to ...

... make an ASM poster I go.

Super busy this week, so very little blogging. I hope to, however, blog about the goings on at ASM's 109th General Meeting in Philadelphia from May 16th through the 21st however.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Why should we care what the White House has to say ...

... about baseball? I mean really? Hey Gibbs, you ever heard of the response: "We're more focused on -- and concerned about -- the economy, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the piracy issues plaguing the Gulf of Aden. Baseball isn't really on our radar right now."? I gather not. Sheesh.
Gibbs said any case where an athlete is using a drug to get ahead is a tragedy, a shame and a great embarrassment to MLB.
No duh Gibbs, but it looks like Manny wasn't doing it to "get ahead". You stupid fool.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Interesting blog entry ...

... over at Science Cheerleader about Twitter.

Her entry is about a student at U. Wisconsin-Madison, Adam Wilson, who twittered using only his mind. Neat.

h/t Science Cheerleader.

Monday, May 04, 2009

White House Task Force on the Middle Class

Green Jobs and the Middle Class (Feb 27th, 2009), viewable at C-Span here. I'd skip the first 37 minutes (most of it's VP Biden and other politicos blathering on and on), and focus on the middle 35-40 minutes where the invited speakers discuss green jobs. The best part of the discussion starts around 47:30 (and lasts for about 10 minutes) with Van Jones, Founder of Green for All.

The White House LiveBlogged the event, so you can use that as a time frame for choosing what you want to view.

Journal of Negative Results

Currently I've been able to find two such journals.

Journal of Negative Results

Biomedical Sciences
Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine

Anyone know of any others? I'm sorely tempted to submit something to the first one, if I come up with a study that doesn't prove useful in any other way. Though I'm not sure that my research leader would allow it.

Scientia Pro Publica - Carnival Issue #3

The Scientia Pro Publica Blog Carnival (Issue #3) is up. This time it's being hosted by Bob O'Hara of Deep Thoughts and Silliness, and yours truly has a blurb in it based on this post. Check it out, and thank Bob O'Hara for hosting it.

New Continent Discovered in Pacific Ocean

Only problem is, it's made entirely of plastic.
A high-seas mission departs from San Francisco next month to map and explore a sinister and shifting 21st-century continent: one twice the size of Texas and created from six million tonnes of discarded plastic.
Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

Coolness abounds though, thanks to the efforts of Scripps and Brita:
With a crew of 30, the expedition, supported by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Brita, the water company, will use unmanned aircraft and robotic surface explorers to map the extent and depth of the plastic continent while collecting 40 tonnes of the refuse for trial recycling.
If that recycling proves to profitable it could be a boon! There are six million tonnes (at least) of plastic there, and we could tap into it all. Remember my post about limited resources? Bringing those resources back to the United States, and converting them for use by our country (and then keeping them here) would be great. These are, I believe, the technologies we need to work on if we're to stay relevant in the world economy of the future.


I tried to think of reasons why I would want to visit China. The Great Wall is obviously one reason. The Terracotta Army is another. However, none of these sights are worth risking my entire vacation (and all the money I would spend on it) and my rights as an individual, on the whims of the Chinese government.
"In many cases we have gotten reports that they were being quarantined for the sole fact that they had a Mexican passport, whether or not they came from Mexico, whether or not they had been in Mexico, whether or not they had been in contact with someone else from Mexico," Guajardo said.

Hello Mercury ...

NASA's MESSENGER makes another pass by Mercury. Click here for MESSENGER's Mission page.
Combining observations of Martian crust recorded by MESSENGER and those recorded by Mariner 10 in the 1970s reveals that at least 15 percent of the planet’s surface is covered by a relatively blue, dim compound. Most of it is concentrated in craters and adjacent regions splattered with material excavated from craters. Solomon says the most likely candidate is a titanium-rich oxide that originated one to 10 kilometers below the surface and was exposed when space debris bombarded the planet.

The presence of titanium oxide would suggest that during Mercury’s first 100 million years or so, while the planet was still forming, it was hot enough to generate a magma ocean, with much of the surface and the interior liquid, comments Linda Elkins-Tanton of MIT. Titanium oxide would have been one of the last compounds to solidify, and it might have remained just beneath the surface.
MESSENGER is slated to make another pass of Mercury in September.

Just cut it in half ...

Halving carbon dioxide emissions by half by 2050 could stabilize global warming.
To contain global warming, and its risks and consequences, warming compared to pre-industrial times (pre 1900) should not exceed two degrees Celsius. Although, according to the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there is no specific temperature threshold for dangerous climate changes, and the negative effects are gradually increasing, over one hundred countries have adopted this “2°C target”. Scientists have used a new probability model to calculate how much CO2 our atmosphere tolerates under these target specifications. This and another study, recently published in Nature, produced similar results: From 2000 to 2050, a maximum of 1000 billion tonnes of CO2 may be emitted into the atmosphere. Roughly speaking, today, around one third of this wad has already been shot.
One third of this wad has already been shot? WTF kind of reporting is this?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Agricultural Research

I'm all for increased spending for medical research, however I don't think it should come at the expense of, or the ignoring of, agricultural research. Why should we continue to invest in agricultural research? According to the Research for Development (UK) website:
Agricultural research is a particularly good way to spend aid money. The Surr Report cites research showing that the cost of lifting one person out of poverty through agricultural research is US$180-190 per person compared with the US$2,304 per person for lifting one person out of poverty through aid spending in general. According to the World Development Report 2008, investment in agriculture research has "paid off handsomely," delivering an average rate of return of 43 percent in 700 development projects evaluated in developing countries.
Those are some pretty good returns. Nevermind that no amount of medical research is going to save a person from starving to death.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Ethanols impact on food and greenhouse gases

A report from the Congressional Budget Office was released in April, 2009 with the title "The Impact of Ethanol Use on Food Prices and Greenhouse-Gas Emissions" (PDF, 26 pages). Here are a few exerpts:
Rising demand for corn also increased the demand for cropland and the price of animal feed.

Those effects in turn raised the price of many farm commodities (such as soybeans, meat, poultry, and dairy products) and, consequently, the retail price of food. Pushed up in part by those effects and by surges in the price of energy, food prices rose by almost 2½ percent in 2006, by 4 percent in 2007, and by more than 5 percent in 2008. That those increases coincided with higher prices for corn raises questions about the link between ethanol production, the demand for corn, and food prices.
Changes in food prices affect spending for federal food assistance. The federal government administers several assistance programs that are operated at the local level by state agencies and other providers. The largest of those programs are SNAP and the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Federal reimbursements and benefits for those programs are adjusted automatically each year according to the change in various food price indexes. The change in food prices from 2007 to 2008, the period covered by this analysis, determines the benefits for those programs for fiscal year 2009. As a result, the rise in food prices attributable to increased production of ethanol will lead to higher federal spending for those programs: specifically, an estimated $600 million to $900 million of the more than $5 billion increase in spending projected for fiscal year 2009 as a result of the rising price of food.
... and ...
Although WIC assistance is funded through a different mechanism than are SNAP and the school programs (WIC is not an entitlement program but instead receives an annual appropriation), ethanol’s effects on the cost of the basket of goods available through WIC could be similar to the impact that its production has had on food prices in the other federal nutrition assistance programs.
So not only did we see an increase in food prices, something I've been arguing for awhile now, but it's also impacting government programs. That increase in prices (totally up to a billion dollars) will do one of two things: either more money will need to be diverted into those programs (at the tax payers expense, in a time of already bloated budgets), or people who benefit from these programs will see a cut in services as there will not be enough money to go around. To me, neither option seems particularly appealing, but I see no other options.

So, despite the bad news, is there anything good coming from this?
Research conducted by the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and used by federal agencies suggests that in the short run, the production, distribution, and consumption of ethanol will create about 20 percent fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than the equivalent processes for gasoline. For 2008, such a finding translates into a reduction of about 14 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and equivalent gases (a standard measure of greenhouse-gas emissions), or CO2.
But, don't celebrate just yet ...
In the long run, the result is less clear. If increases in the production of ethanol led to a large amount of forests or grasslands being converted into new cropland, those changes in land use could more than offset any reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions— because forests and grasslands naturally absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than cropland absorbs.
So, in the short run we're benefiting from the use of corn-based EtOH from a climate change aspect, but that could easily be erased. They do go on to discuss the potential for cellulosic ethanol, which is the preferred route to go (it could replace corn-based EtOH) and uses waste which would otherwise rot and be converted to carbon dioxide and methane by biological processes.

The report then goes on to discuss the viability of the EtOH-as-Fuel market.
The Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO’s) analysis of current technologies and prices suggests that, without subsidies for producing ethanol, the “break-even ratio” of the price per gallon of retail gasoline to the price per bushel of corn is currently about 0.9. In other words, when the price of a gallon of gasoline is more than 90 percent of the price of a bushel of corn, it is profitable to produce ethanol. At that point, revenues from the sale of ethanol would be sufficient to cover the fixed and variable costs of producing it.
It is unlikely that, on average, ethanol producers over the past several decades would have turned a profit if they had not received production subsidies. The average ratio of a gallon of gasoline to the price of a bushel of corn fluctuates substantially from year to year and has exceeded 0.9 only once, in 2005
Click on the attached figure below.So currently, EtOH is only viable thanks to government subsidy.
At the current subsidy of 45 cents per gallon of ethanol produced, the break-even ratio that would allow producers to cover their fixed and variable costs falls to 0.7.
So, what do we have? We have a fuel which increases demands on our food supply which increases prices on food and government programs. It is also currently only profitable given government subsidies. Lastly, it has so far shown benefits in terms of climate change, but those could easily be wiped out with massive land clearing for more corn production.

I'll leave it to you, reader, to judge for yourself whether or not EtOH is the fuel of the future.

Jerk of the Week

This award goes to two individuals:

1. Thomas O'Donnell
2. Aaron Reich

Both formerly of the California Highway Patrol. Why? Sending accident scene photos (showing a dead 17 year old girl) to friends and family. What a pair of insensitive losers. I also highly doubt that they did so as a "cautionary tale" to their friends and family.

Jerks. Losers. Shame on both of them.