Monday, September 5, 2011

Stem Cells to treat Baldness?

In case there weren't enough uses for Stem Cells already, what from giving religious fanatics a reason to detest science, or giving cancer patients hope, there is a new reason to praise the pinnacle of modern bioscience. Stem cells are revealing new secrets to the human body seemingly every day. Today, I came across a science article on using Stem Cells to treat baldness. While it seems silly at first, the mechanism is quite simple: Find stem cells, tell them to grow hair, and they obey. Somewhat like engineered growth, the stem cells can actually work to grow hair in men whose follicles have gone dormant and stopped growing hair. Right now the research is in the early stages. Scientists have only right now found the signal to trigger hair regrowth, and it hasn't been tested fully in the lab yet, although it gives hope, and maybe in the next year or two we can see a proof of concept. I'm quite sure there won't be any shortage of willing patients for a test trial. Thankfully, I still have all MY hair, but if my genes serve me right, I should be worrying soon. No bother! by that time, I can just get a nice injection of stem cells into my scalp and be right as rain!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Being a newly minted college graduate, I have been on the hunt for a good job for a long while now. I just received an e-mail today from my advisor that I've been accepted onto a project working with the Natural Resource Conservation Service. I can't really say what I'm researching but it involves taking soil samples and integrating them into an ongoing mapping project for the service. I've always been fascinated by the inner workings of the Earth and how different ecosystems process nutrients, energy, and minerals. I'm so glad to be finding success already in my field of Ecology and Forestry. It's a welcome relief. The pay is meh but I've known the people I'm going to be working for for over a year now and theyre such great folks. I urge anyone reading this who is currently out of work to never give up and always keep trying.

In other news, I stumbled across an interesting article from CBS news today on the dangers of introduced species. I've done extensive field work in invasive species monitoring, and know first hand the havoc they wreak on ecosystems, but the actual long-term damage has never been fully calculated.

This article explains in detail how introduction of a fish species to a lake not normally used to large fish species collapsed wholly in just a few years. Its surprising how quickly an ecosystem, something that takes decades to establish even in the most fertile environments, can be destroyed by a simple occurrence, such as dropping a few largemouth bass into a lake. It should teach us all a lesson to be mindful of our natural surroundings, and to be wary of what sort of pollutants we dump into our waters, as well as how our actions can affect the ecology of any environment in the long term. Give it a read, and learn a little!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

It Turns out Apple isn't so Green After All...

You may remember how apple has branded itself many times in the past with its clean, green, energy efficient image of long battery lives, smart production, and environmentally-conscious computers. The new macbook pro was advertised with images of green grass, blue skies, and bright sunshine in every Apple store, and they vowed to help recycle old computers. Well... they didn't quite cover all their bases on their green front; it turns out much of this effort was simply Greenwashing.

A report issued today by Greenpeace ranks tech companies by how "green" they are, based on an index that takes into account the kind of energy they use to power their data centers, manufacturing plants, and other facilities. Most of their energy use went into the data centers used to feed though all internet traffic used by Apple and its products, such as iTunes. As it turns out, a whopping two thirds of the energy for these data centers is provided by coal, arguably the dirtiest fuel used worldwide. The cleanest marks went to Google and Yahoo, who have made huge strides in making their data centers and operations more efficient.

We need companies to be smarter about their energy use. When you upload a video to Youtube, do you wanna feel guilty for adding more carbon emissions to the environment? Apple should take Facebook's lead, and disclose the information about their data centers, and start using more renewable energy, such as Solar Power, Wind, and Geothermal, to feed their huge hunger for energy. It's the responsible and smart thing to do, for the company that paints themselves as responsible, user-friendly, and efficient.

Monday, April 18, 2011

What the Frack?

You may have heard about it on the news recently: Fracking. The long term for it is Hydraulic Fracturing. Its a process by which millions of gallons of chemicals and water are pumped deep into gas-containing shale rock to fracture it and let the gas seep to the surface for collection. Its the biggest boon to the Natural Gas industry in decades, and is helping to drive down energy prices across the USA, which happens to be one of the largest sources of natural gas energy in the world. Heres a neat diagram showing how fracking works

On the surface, the process seems innovative and safe, but deep below the ground the chemicals, such as Methanol, are seeping into water tables and contaminating important aquifers in the northeast and Rocky Mountain west states, where the largest reserves of natural gas lie. Many gas companies claim the water stays deep underground, but natural capillary forces move the chemicals and contaminated water upward into looser surface layers where aquifers lie. Such chemicals are often highly poisonous and toxic to both the environment and to us Humans. These normally shouldn't be used in these instances, but thanks to a loophole in an energy bill passed by the Bush Administration and hurried through congress by Dick Cheney and Halliburton, these chemicals are not monitored by the E.P.A. and thus can be used without regulation, polluting the environment without any liability to the natural gas companies.

To make matters worse, since the recession hit 3 years ago, gas companies have been baiting landowners with high-paying contracts to use their land for fracking. A one-time installation of a fracking well can pay off in a short amount of time to the company while leaving the landowner with slowly degrading well water and hazardous chemicals. In the popular documentary Gasland, one homeowner in Pennsylvania is able to light his faucet tap water on fire simply due to the high concentration of gas and methanol seeping into his wellwater. Its disgusting, and people don't yet know how hazardous fracking really is. We urgently need to spread awareness of this problem and combat this situation before it gets out of hand and we're left with poisoned citizens and degraded watersheds across the U.S., simply because we wanted cheap gas.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Solar Magnets: How do they Work?

Time for a short post on a new breakthrough to brighten up your Saturday morning: Today I'm talking about magnets!

Most modern solar power systems use sunlight to trigger electrical reactions within semiconductors, also known as a photovoltaic reaction, which in turn produces electricity. These systems are often cost-heavy as many of the materials require high-precision manufacturing with semi-rare minerals such as Cadmium Telluride and Copper Indium alloys. These drive up the costs of solar panels to hundreds of dollars per square meter, or upwards of $5-10,000 for a household installation. These are prohibitive costs to investors, as a gallon of gas still costs about $3.75, and the same goes for the equivalent amount of natural gas. However, a recent breakthrough in physics is pointing researchers towards a new form of energy that can be harnessed from the sun: Magnetism.
I'm not saying we use magnets to harness the sun, and as the oft-quoted Insane Clown Posse cavalierly states in one of their songs, many people don't understand how magnets work, but all you need to know is that when sunlight hits the Earth's surface, it produces a weak magnetic field, much like the pull of a weak magnet thats meant for your kitchen refrigerator. For years, scientists have ignored the magnetic field within sunlight for it was too weak. However, recently, a team of physicists have discovered that focusing the sunlight to 10 million times its normal strength produces a massive amount of energy in the magnetic field that can be turned into electricity. It seems like a tall order, but it can be accomplished using inexpensive glass lenses and fiber optic wires that can focus light into intense beams of energy. What this means for the future is that solar power plants no longer need massive fields of blue panels, but may only need a bunch of lenses focusing light into high-capacity fiber optic cables to be harnessed as energy using magnetism. Its complicated, very scientific, but may herald an era of cheap solar power in the decades to come.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Our Food Supply is in Trouble, but You can Help

Its time for another post, and sadly schoolwork has gotten the better of me and i haven't been able to post since this past weekend. Nonetheless, today I'm delving into the current drought and state of the nation's agricultural landscape. Thanks to the active La Nina winter, most of the northern U.S. experienced much above normal rain and snowfall, building up plenty of groundwater and filling rivers to their banks coming into this year's growing season. however, the southern half of the country has been suffering. From Arizona to North Carolina, an extensive and severe drought continues, and will only get worse as we move into summer, when once again the storm tracks edge north and the hot and heavy summer sun bats down on the landscape. Heres the current drought map and forecast, courtesy of the Climate Prediction Center
As you can see, the widest extent of the drought is across the great plains and high country of the lower Rockies Mountains. This is bad news for our wheat, cattle, and corn crops, which rely on warm thunderstorms and plenty of grass and groundwater for growing, but all this is in danger. With no rainfall, the water table drops, and irrigation becomes more costly. Aquifer levels which are already dropping at unsustainable rates will only deplete faster, and less net crop output will come out of the lower plains if this drought indeed continues. 

This problem is also running into another issue: Oil Prices. With a barrel of crude oil sitting between $105 and $115 as i write this, it has become very expensive to work the land, especially with the size of industrial equipment and petrochemical inputs to our modern form of agriculture. This is all bad news, but with hardship comes opportunity...

This could be our chance to localize our food sources. If we keep putting pressure on the great expanses of the plains to produce our food for us all the way out on the coastline, we will only do more damage to the land. We whould rely on farms and pastures closer to home, and let the residents of the plains grow their food for themselves first, lowering demand for their land and thus helping reduce some of the adverse effects of the drought. In turn, this can also lower food prices, which are rising globally. Theres different ways of taking action: 

Participate in CSA: Community-Supported Agriculture. For a yearly or seasonal fee, you can ensure fresh produce and meats get delivered or provided for you from your local farms, while you help support them. That way, the distance your food has to travel from field to your fridge is much less, cutting back on the use of fossil fuels (which lowers oil prices) as well as reducing carbon emissions into the environment.

Ask your local grocer for local or organic foods: often organic foods are sourced much closer to your supermarket due to their shorter shelf lives, and they use less petrochemical fertilizer and inputs than typical industrially-grown crops. Many large supermarkets have their own organic in-house brands which are comparable in price to brand name non-organic foods

Eat In-Season foods: Keep a list of what produce are in season and where they come from. That way, you dont have to waste all of the fossil fuels shipping strawberries up from chile in january. Lowering food miles (miles traveled between the field and your fridge), helps lower oil demand and food prices overall. 

It's worth the minor sacrifices to do your small part to help ensure that you get low-cost healthy food without doing damage to the environment.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

GE is Taking the Lead in Solar

Once again, its good to see a big corporation take a stand in the world of alternative energy. I just found out today that GE, along with PrimeStar, has developed the world's most efficient thin-film photovoltaic solar panel. at almost 12% efficiency, it takes almost a 2% leap over previous thin-film arrays, and can boost energy savings by up to 20%. This is big news, considering the money going into this operation is astronomical. GE has decided to invest $600 million in a brand new solar facility that can produce enough solar panels to power 80,000 more homes every year, or roughly 400Megawatts. On top of this, they are filling orders for another 100Megawatts. This is huge news for solar power, which as I've written on my blog before is in my opinion the true green energy of the future. Below is an image of a thin-film solar array. In my opinion, they are more aesthetically pleasing and economical than standard solar arrays.

 I believe that we can invent solar panels that may one day power an entire house off a single panel and power cities off of a single square mile of panels. The power is there, its bountiful, and we almost have a solid grasp on it. One day we won't have to peer up at buzzing wiggling high tension towers stretching across the landscape, or watch worriedly as we blast apart mountains for coal and pollute the rivers and ecosystems, such as we are doing now at increasingly destructive rates. I may be a green liberal, but I still have faith in our capitalist system to switch our demands to that of green energy and sustainable infrastructure. It's up to us as consumers to move forward with the transition to renewable energy


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Data Centers: Hidden Behemoths of the Internet

When you type a search into google, it scans billions of pages, delivering your results totalling possibly in the millions, or in the dozens, in a fraction of a second. How does it do that? Data centers. Information hosted on the internet has to have a place to stay both when being used and for simple storage. The more information a website hosts and indexes, the more data is produced in these centers, and are archived in massive arrays of servers. When you host a website, often your information gets stored on a server somewhere in your webhost's data center. With the huge influx of information into the internet rising exponentially, how we are storing this data is becoming a huge problem, both online and offline. Data centers for huge websites are massive energy sinks, using up large amounts of electricity to cool the servers as they heat up from running through so much information on a second-by-second basis. It's quickly becoming one of the major sources of energy use in our country. There is a huge need for sustainability in data centers. Many web hosts these days are offering green solutions: a small surcharge to ensure that the carbon emitted into the environment for your website's information storage in their data center is offset. Its different though for huge web corporations that use up so much energy they can't just offset their carbon.

This is what a typical server array in a Data Center looks like.

Take Facebook, a website with over 500 million users, who upload millions of images a day, posting almost 20,000 comments every second. Each bit of info uploaded to facebook goes into their data center's dedicated servers, and they are running out of space. Now, facebook is planning on building a new data center, one that uses passive heating and cooling to lower energy use, as well as relying on fewer batteries for backup power in case of a blackout. Not only that, but theyre planning everything in an open environment, posting images of the blueprints, details, as well as providing information on their new data center. This will hopefully raise awareness of the hidden energy being wasted by our fiddling on the internet.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The New Generation of Space Exploration

You may have heard recently that SpaceX has unveiled their latest rocket, the Falcon Heavy, to much praise by the press. It's brand-spanking-new thruster technology and payload ability makes it by far the cheapest orbital transport craft yet to be made. At a staggering $1,000 per pound to lift into orbit, it is changing the young game of commercialized space exploration. If the average human weighs 150 pounds, then it would only cost $150,000 to send a man to space, compared to the millions for NASA and other space missions. This may seem like a lot of money to the layman, but in space terms, its dirt cheap. This means that the new Falcon Heavy rocket can carry huge payloads; twice as much as the closest competitor the Delta IV heavy, for a third of its price. Good news for the mega-rich who hope to one day sail to the International Space Station for the price of a well-optioned Porsche 911. Heres the rocket up close:

All this excitement brings me to some good news: Companies like SpaceX and Virgin galactic represent the first examples of sustainable business dealing with space travel, and now that such corporations are taking it upon themselves to push the limits of space travel, this has changed the economy of space. Along with Obama's plan to take money away from traveling to the moon, and allowing private business to develop orbital space stations and transport vehicles, NASA now has more room in their budget to refresh aging technology, improve the space infrastructure, develop new technologies for Solar Power to provide energy to space stations, and invent newer, more efficient means of moving our society into space and opening up a new frontier. When the news came down that we weren't going back to the moon, it was taken as a bad omen, but more and more we are realizing that it is not just closing a door to the moon, but opening another door to the rest of the Universe.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A New Ozone Hole over the Arctic?

Yes, but also no.

Recently the World Meteorological Organization sent out a warning to Scandanavian countries, warning of increased UV exposure. This is due to a recent discovery of a shallow ozone layer hole over the North Sea and Scandanavia. The ozone hole is as a result of the unusually cold winter, which caused a very cold stable high pressure to form over Scandanavia, sending frigid air into europe, and stabilizing the stratosphere, preventing ozone from forming in the typically unstable environment found in the ozone layer. Long story short: The cold winter in europe has led to a minor ozone hole. Its nowhere near the strength or size of the antarctic ozone hole, but then again, nobody really lives in the Antarctic, while tens of millions live in Scandanavia, Great Britain, and the rest of northern Europe. It's important to be aware of this, especially with the looming threat of climate change.
One of the biggest threats of climate change isn't just increased temepratures, but increased volatility in the atmosphere. This means that much colder-than-normal winters are quite possible, and may already be happening. It'll be another decade before we can be sure of this, but if the pattern of cold winters continues over northern Europe, we may be looking at an ozone issue far greater than the Antarctic ozone hole.

There is good news though! The hole is minor, and highly anomalous, and with spring rapidly approaching, the stratosphere is once again mixing up and the hole is dissipating, so don't worry; though it is still something to watch in the coming years.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Gas Prices are on the Rise

Heres an article for my buddies in the US. Some of you reading this may call it Petrol, but here we call it Gasoline, and in the U.S., we're starting to understand what it feels like to pay out the nose for the most precious fuel that we use every day. Recently, the price for a barrel of light sweet crude oil (The main oil used for automotive gasoline), has started to rise after spending a couple months between $80 and $100 per barrel with the price of a gallon rising to over 3.70 (close to $1 US per liter). Heres the past 3 months gasoline price chart, along with the price of a barrel of crude oil, courtesy of

Many people are up in arms over the gas prices, blaming everything from the President to greedy businessmen. However, the truth makes a lot more sense. Theres three main factors at play here

1: The Middle East: Uprisings and revolutions over the last 4 months have put pressure on many governments in northern Africa and Arabia that regulate the drilling and shipping of oil around Europe, Africa, and Asia, as well as much of the oil exported to the US. This tension has caused insecurity in the prospect of receiving oil, forcing a higher demand to claim oil contracts at lower prices, which in turn drives up the price. When a commodity is threatened, it costs more to secure the shipment of it.

2: Inflation: The value of the U.S. dollar is slowly falling in global markets. Seeing as much of the oil shipped around the world is traded on the U.S. dollar, when its value falls, it costs more for each barrel of oil, pushing prices up. With wages being outpaced by inflationary growth, people aren't going to be making enough money to catch up to price increases, placing pressure on our wallets every time we pull into the gas station.

3: Supply and Demand: more and more economists are becoming smart to the idea of Peak Oil: The idea, nay the fact, that world oil production is or will be peaking soon, and that after this peak, we will no longer be producing enough oil to keep up with its rise in demand. As oil becomes more and more scarce over the coming decades, it will be valued higher and higher, until its either unaffordable, or completely gone. While this  factor is the least considered in day to day trading of oil, its certainly the most certain.

What can we do? Conserve. Drive less often when you don't need to. Walk to the store or to pick your kids up from school. If you have a car that gets less than 20mpg and is over 5 years old, consider upgrading to a newer, more fuel efficient car. The money you spend on increased efficiency can be saved over the long term when you will be thanking yourself for not having to stop so often for gas when the price reaches $4-5 per gallon. Also, try driving 55. Unless you are in a hurry to work and willing to burn the gas, you don't need to rush everywhere. Every increase of 5mph above 55 you drive can chop a mile or two per gallon off your fuel mileage. After all, the EPA mileage estimate for your car is measured at 55mph, so if you drive 65 in a car that is rated for 30mpg you can really only be getting 26mpg, and that can make quite a difference. If we work collectively to lower the demand for gasoline, we can bring the demand down in the markets and hopefully slow the rise of oil prices and not break the bank.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Destructive Palm Oil Plantations are Ruining Tropical Ecosystems

Many people are getting behind the idea of biofuels: oils and alcohols coming from plants grown in tropical and continental regions around the world. It helps stave off our addiction on limited fossil fuels that pollute more when used, and are growing more and more expensive every day. However, the way we grow biofuels is very low-tech, and often removes more resources from the earth than by simply drilling for oil or natural gas. In the tropical rainforests of southeast Asia, old-growth forests that support rare and endangered tropical species are being torn down in order to grow palm trees. While they bill it as sustainable reforestation of deforested lands, and a way for the poor to make money, these plantations do not support any of the native species that the ocne thriving rainforests once held. Heres an image of a palm oil plantation in Indonesia. You tell me that this looks like a rebuilt rainforest
Now, it is true that millions of poor people in developing countries are relying on palm oil plantations for newfound income. The World bank instituted a moratorium in 2009 on loans for new plantations, in order to look at the pros and cons, but on Friday they lifted this ban, and reinstated loans for new palm oil operations. This is cause for alarm. There are better ways of supporting the World's poor. Join investment programs in small merchants, sustainability programs promoting native exports rather than imported foreign palm trees, and smart city growth in order to build businesses and grow to become more developed countries. If these developing nations rely solely on foreign investment for a single source of income, they may end up mistreated, run by cartels, and abused in the world economy for their cheap labor.

We need to become more aware of the destruction of rainforests and look more closely at the "remedial" programs that may really be hiding the ugly truth: Palm oil plantations are doing no good to our tropical ecosystems.

What you can do to help: look for products that use palm oil. The most common are health and beauty products such as shaving gel/foam and liquid soap, as well as cooking oils. Peanut and sunflower oils are the ecological choice, they can be grown in the US locally without environmentally expensive transport costs. Do your part!

Source Article

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wind Energy may be Losing Steam

Recently, two wind farms have been halted in Wisconsin, a state that has been in the spotlight for the past couple months thanks to a raging inferno of union protests and backhanded politics. Away from the petty politics however is an issue about Wind Energy. Two farms to be built by Midwest Wind have been put on hold due to an unstable political and regulatory atmosphere. Apparently, the laws regarding placement of wind turbines near private property are seen as "too lax" by lawmakers, who claim that placing wind turbines near houses lowers property value. This flies in the face of recent findings that wind farms as a whole do not lower home values, no matter how close they are to development. Additionally, republican lawmakers are making the bunk argument that wind turbines cause unpleasant noise and are an eyesore, despite no real evidence of raised noise levels outside of the wind farm properties themselves. All of the evidence against wind farms are purely anecdotal, but the fighting about whether or not wind turbines may not even matter.

The thing is, Wind power is ephemeral. When the wind blows, power is generated. When it stops, that power goes away. Without adequate power storage, the total energy available for the electric grid drops, and if too many houses rely on wind energy, rolling blackouts can occur. Wisconsin is a continental state, far from any open ocean where the wind blows almost constantly. In the Netherlands, a never-ending wind off the north sea provides bountiful power to residents, but in the central US, its hard to find locations that can benefit from wind power. Many farms are being proposed simply as business ventures, buying into green and renewable energy sources. I think that we should give wind power a backseat though. Solar power is dramatically increasing in its technological capabilities. While wind power has been around for centuries, solar is really just starting to take off. With new polymers and materials able to collect and harness more of the Sun's energy, we can gain more power from less space, and have a reliable source of renewable, perfectly clean, and stable energy. With the promise of new technology, I believe we could accept wind power as an alternative, but only where it is highly reliable, such as coastal areas, while the big expanses of the midwest and western U.S. could  benefit from large-scale solar farms using newly developed photovoltaic materials. New inventions in solar power are raising money, and fast, and providing an open market for new innovation. Long story short: Solar Power is the Future.

High Electricity Bill? It's Probably due to your Gadgets!

Recently, the United States Energy Information Administration conducted a survey of American homes to find out  how and where Americans use their energy, comparing energy use to data from 1978. Unsurprisingly, the amount of energy used by personal electronics (computers, phones, video games, televisions) has jumped, but what IS surprising is that space heating energy use has dropped by 39%, and that Energy consumption by electronics  DOUBLED!
Article Source: Fast Company

Now, when you read the news, you often hear about high oil prices straining home energy budgets, but the real problem we should be worrying about is how much energy is being converted into electricity for our gadgets, devices, and appliances. Many people still aren't aware that phone chargers, computers, televisions, and appliances suck up power constantly as long as they're plugged in, often drawing more power per day when idling then when being used! Luckily, there are successful awareness campaigns going on educating people on the high cost of appliances in our homes, but it doesn't seem to be sinking in. Not enough people are unplugging their devices at night, powering down their computers, or running their refrigerators at 39 degrees, instead of 33. I think we should all take an hour or two out of our hectic lives to go through our homes, surveying where electricity is being sucked up, especially when our electronics aren't being used. If you are done playing xbox, unplug the power brick, and if you're done checking our e-mail at night, shut down your computer and unplug the cord. Its that simple. Not to mention, it could help pay for higher energy prices, which are certainly in our future.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Landslides in California Should Serve as a Warning

We may be pushing the limits of how we develop the land. It seems to be that land developers may be getting too greedy and neglecting the dangers of shaping the land to meet their desires for building houses and collecting money from homeowners. Recently in Hercules, CA on the east side of the SF Bay, 8 homes have been condemned due to a waterlogged hill sliding down and destroying retaining walls abutting the properties. We see this all too often: Homes in California, built against steep hillsides, taken down and demolished after the rainy season slickens the soil and causes land and mudslides. Who can't recall seeing pictures on the news of multi-million dollar hoems in Malibu falling into the sea, and landslides covering hillside developments?

I think its time we take a look at how little we care about the land we are building on and using, and be mindful of where we develop. Building homes should be about the environment you are entering, not how much money a young professional couple is willing to plunk down in turn for a cookie cutter box on a steep hillside. Maybe we should look at more responsible, denser development. Clean, green apartment buildings that use less energy per square foot than massive homes that suck up Air Conditioning expenses every single day. Look at the city of Vancouver: often ranked in the top 5 best cities to live in, most of its residents live in high-rise apartment buildings with gleaming blue reflective glass, passive heating systems, and short, simple commutes.

Where would you rather live?

It's become so bad in the states that now China, who is fast on track to overtake the US in economic development, is building massive American-style subdevelopments made of multi-thousand square foot homes that suck up almost as much energy as American homes. We shouldnt be leading by this example. I say we should make an effort to ditch the suburban sprawl and create a more energy-efficient city-based society. That way, we can return the once sprawling farmland back to its original status, and bring people closer together, cut down on driving, increase productivity, and create a better energy society. Thats what i want.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Computers Replacing Doctors?

A computer program that predicts and tells you whether or not you're sick:

How do you feel about that? Telling a very complex computer algorithm (think of it as a very smart "I'm Feeling Lucky" Google search) your symptoms, and in return it tells you what you may have and whether or not you require hospitalization. Its the aim of the Heritage Provider Network. The aim of this is to cut costs of hospitalization, which i agree is a big point of the healthcare issue in our country, but I feel like it may stray from its focus. Using a scientific program can't really be substituted for a real doctor's opinion, and although doctor's may be and are wrong at times, often they can do a better job at diagnosing and treating a patient than an artificial intelligence. Also, why spend so much money developing a computer program that may or may not cut costs for hospitalization when we can simply rework the existing healthcare system that overpays doctors and sinks so much of our money into malpractice insurance and pharmaceutical fees.

Tell me what you think: Good idea, or bad science?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Fake Leaves, Real Energy

This is just exciting: Scientists led by a physicist at MIT have created an artificial leaf that converts sunlight into hydrogen and oxygen to be used for electric power.

While it doesn't in any way LOOK like a leaf, it performs the same basic functions, and can be produced cost-effectively to be applied in developing countries to power households. At first i thought it was a way to create photosynthetic cellulose in a laboratory, but this is even better. Thanks to funding from Obama's Recovery Act, they have been able to produce a stable artificial leaf using silicon and cobalt catalysts that can be placed in a jug of water and in direct sunlight to provide electricity. Its a high-tech device with low-tech implementation, making it ideal for aiding those without power. One more reason to love science every day.

Heres a brief video explaining the technology

Putting out the Fire with Ray Guns!

I'd like to geek out for just a second:

We can extinguish fires with RAY GUNS NOW!

And now to be more serious:

A team of scientists recently announced that they were able to manipulate electric fields within open-burning fires using a 600-watt (about the same as a good sized car stereo) "ray gun" device (although i highly doubt it did look like a ray gun). In the article I found on this, the scientists claim it can be used to manipulate the shape of the flames, blowing a pathway through the middle of the fire allowing firefighters or victims to escape through, and that such devices can be installed in ceilings, on ships, and cause minimal damage. All of this without using water or hazardous foam...

But wait, wouldn't there still be some water to contend with? And wouldn't that water in some way give a certain danger of electrocution? Also, I see no evidence of proper experimentation, just an italian physicist at Harvard University talking about his dreams of manipulating fire like he was Moses. I think its a neat idea, but until I see some sort of demonstration of its safety and practicality, I won't believe it. On a side note, I just hit 100 followers! Thanks guys!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The End of Nuclear Power?

I really hope that those in charge of our energy supply make the right decision, and STAY with nuclear power. Ever since the catastrophe at the Fukishima-Dai Ichi plant in Japan, the main focus of news coverage has been how dangerous nuclear power can be. However, I think we should look at this differently. This plant has 6 very large nuclear reactors, housed in a facility that is over 40 years old, on the coast with little protection, and has withstood a THIRTY FOOT tsunami that has knocked out all 3 backup power supplies. Even through all of this, nobody has died from radiation sickness, and the highest levels of radiation measured outside the evacuated zone has been minor fractions below the federal limit for caution, let alone danger. Think about it this way: if you had a Coal Power Plant hit by such a force of water, you would wash thousands of tons of coal, tillings, and hazardous chemicals into the water supply, causing untold amounts of sickness and environmental damage. The same goes for Oil. Its almost as if we've forgotten about the Deepwater Horizon spill last year: a loose security door caused a massive explosion and the release of over a hundred million gallons of oil, covering beaches and leaving behind environmental damage that still hasn't been fully accounted for. I think we should do the right thing and choose the safer option for energy, one that emits zero greenhouse gases, provides cheap and long-lasting energy, and becomes safer every day with research.

New video from the Japanese Tsunami

Its been over 2 weeks since the horrific event, and now that we are all wrapped up around the nuclear pseudo-disaster (no radiation deaths or sicknesses reported yet), we seem to be forgetting the real disaster that has struck Japan: The tsunami. new video released today shows an overhead view as water rushes in through a river and pours into a once-vibrant coastal city. As the user who posted the video puts it: "Its the most daunting Tsunami vid I've seen", and I agree with him. All we can hope is that enough people evacuated or got to high ground before this hit. keep your thoughts with the people of Japan until they can recover and rebuild.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Earth Hour

So tonight is Earth Hour. its a widely publicized event thats been gaining popularity over the past few years. At first, I loved the idea of this: turning everyones lights off for an hour and enjoying an hour of a much darker sky, maybe even some more stars! Its like that episode of Hey Arnold! when arnold wanted to see halleys comet, but all the lights in the city made it too bright, so he got everyone to turn off their lights so they could see the comet. In truth though, earth hour is barely a blip. Even the most optimistic estimates of energy savings during the one hour blackout puts it at the level of stopping China's carbon output for a total of 45 seconds. Not really much at all. However, it does send a message: light pollution is changing our environment. Animals aren't able to sleep at night near lit roadways and high-density development, and some lights stay on for nobody, wasting electricity through the night. I hope people take earth hour and bring it into their own lives, turning their lights off more often then theyre not being used, and being conscious of energy usage. Together, we can make the world brighter by turning off the lights :)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Go Figure...

So it just so happens that going to church is linked to obesity. we all know that correlation does not equal causation, but its certainly something I've observed. Maybe they should preach more about eating healthy and staying fit rather than allowing people to pray their fat away, lol

Business is Scary

Following the buzz over AT&T announcing talks to buy T-Mobile, the FCC is stepping in, raising questions over anti-trust worries, but their reaction is lukewarm and nonconfrontational. The scary thing about this isnt just the fact that it will create a company larger than that of Verizon, but that it will offer phones and connections on both networks, essentially removing any competition between rival networks or accessibility options. Unless verizon comes up with some magic new technology to beat the new goliath, we may be looking at a national megacorporation of mobile communication. Verizon, you best be shaking in your boots.;txt

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

iPad issues

It seems to be that the more widespread a product becomes, the more sensitive it is to small issues. Every company knows that their product will not be 100% perfect, but when something is as hyped and well-sold as the iPad 2, one small error for 1% of owners can turn into a news-worthy story. Computers freeze all the time, its part of owning a computer. I myself consider the iPad a computer in itself, so when one of the programs designed for it encounters a small error, you restart it, apologize to whomever you were chatting to, and go on. No need to whine

Winter aint over yet!

Its been nice and warm the past few weeks here in Jersey, but winter decided to make a return this morning. It may be raining now, but I woke up to a surprise 2 inches of snow on the ground. not bad for the end of march.

First Post!

Welcome to the blog. Its dedicated to putting a pragmatic spin on news stories, questioning  dodgy reporting, and looking at the Zeitgeist from my perspective.

First things first: This huge scare over the nuclear leak in Japan. While yes, it is important to be wary of any nuclear problem, given the intense technology, money, and engineering, it also means that all that money which has been poured into the nuclear plant has probably gone to SOMETHING meant to keep it safe. Think about this: 3 of the 6 reactor building have been destroyed, yet the max level of radiation detected in humans was 3.6 milliseiverts. In laymans terms, thats slightly more than a mammogram, and slightly less than a CT scan, a routine procedure performed every day on thousands of patients in hospitals worldwide. You don't see them complaining about radiation and popping potassium iodide supplements every day. Its time to look at everything in perspective and realize that now that the authorities seem to have stabilized the situation at Fukushima Dai-Ichi, we probably wont be seeing any catastrophic meltdowns or radiation sickness.

Heres some brave footage of the firefighters working to cool down the reactors inside the plant.