'shrooms are aliens?

From today’s TED,

Mycologist Paul Stamets believes that mushrooms could be an intergalactic colonizing species. Well, almost.

He believes that fungi, and particularly the mycelium (the vegetative part of mushrooms) contains solutions for some of the Earth’s environmental and health-related problems. For instance, fungi produce strong antibiotics; they can be used against flu viruses; mycelium can be used to naturally “clean up” petroleum-saturated soils; revamp pesticides; and generate ethanol (he has patented many of these mushroom-related technologies). Preserving the genome of fungi is absolutely crucial for human health.

The Jones of Biofuels

Musing during a commute in the future, he heard himself thinking:

“Here I am driving along on the biodiesel from about 100 million pigs, 35 million cattle, 1.6 billion turkeys, and 8 billion chickens and the ethanol in that ugly car in the lane next to me is just from dirty ol’ bushels of corn!”

Traditional corn ethanol processes convert each bushel of corn, which weighs about 54 pounds, into about 18 pounds of ethanol, 18 pounds of carbon dioxide, and 18 pounds of distillers grain of which 2 pounds is fat.

Flaky bugs cause snow

At the center of a snowflake, unromantically, is bacteria. Ice in the atmosphere is formed around a nuclei and 85% are bacteria. Bacteria are by far the most active ice nuclei in nature.

Bugs in the sky? Believe it.

[AP story] Brent C. Christner at Louisiana State University studies snow and ice from Antarctica, France, Montana and the Yukon and found that Pseudomonas cause moisture in a cloud to condense. Killed bacteria are used as an additive in snow making at ski resorts.

Bio-precipitation could affect many things, from agriculture and water availability to local climate and even global warming. For example, a reduced amount of bacteria on crops could affect the climate. Because of the bio-precipitation cycle, overgrazing in a dry year could actually decrease rainfall, which could then make the next year dryer.

Heavy Snow

Clipping found in Parker Huang‘s wallet.

Parker, I am a poet

A bank of whiteness

Is all I see. Have I

tossed away the world

or the world me? Or

is it just a single

moment that I stand on

a sheer precipice

with clouds passing

through me?

Some mists sweep the

sky. Some stars elicit

serenity. I feel that

I am gathering the

reflections of a flower

in the water and that of

the moon in the mirror—

no scent, no motion,

yet I sense eternity.

I stop breathing lest

I wake myself. From

where, of what world,

have I come here? I

turn my head and see

there are only footprints

that follow me.

Reporting merely opinion

It’s been difficult for me to put into words what I’ve noticed is failing in our media. This better and British arrangement of words says that we are seeing media’s “growing, industry-wide failure to be sufficiently interested in reality … the papers have succumbed to their own internal celebrity culture of columnists, most of whom make no attempt to report on the world, in favour of sermonising about it….” And it goes on.

Today is best

Doomsayers are not my thing. Fear is faith opposed. Both are feelings and orientation rather than ideas and activity. Neither are firm.

What can I say?

There is a footprint sculpt in sand I am.
I could not ask for sturdier things.

War, and in the meantime

Somewhere in your community during this hour a woman will be battered by a tyrannous husband, father, boyfriend, girlfriend, or even son or daughter. In her realm she is consumed by war, a refugee from her own home, completely ignored by world leaders who see no glory in coming to her rescue. You, however, can go to your local shelter for battered women and offer your love, your compassion, your resources. For these women who are bruised, bloodied, demoralized as any exotic refugee, there will be no American relief packages miraculously falling from the sky, parcels filled with candy bars and pamphlets urging her to overthrow her government, to choose freedom over oppression.

All around you, in your neighborhood are people who need your energy, your time, your love – an elderly invalid, a young boy struggling to learn his multiplication tables, workers who have lost their jobs, families, living in poverty. (If you happen to be a committed misanthrope, there are libraries, animal shelters and city parks that also need attention.) The war will go how the war will go and certainly we must be mindful of our leaders’ assumptions that we are stupid enough to forego our deepest beliefs in freedom in order for them to climb to ever higher power and glory. Yet we are no better than they if we remain unwilling to reach out to those in our midst, both neighbors and strangers, in order to make our communities – especially those who have been abandoned by the same government intent on saving communities elsewhere around the world – better places to live, so that when the war does end, in a week or a decade, our own neighborhoods will be safer, cleaner, and friendlier, less burdened by oppression.

Tipped by Kaila Colbin, from “Living, Loving and Other Heresies”, by Zsolt, 2003, Conundrum Press. At Amazon Bill Moyers left his comment, “If this is heresy, we need more of it! A timeless book of compelling prose and poetry.”

My plants are calling!

Botanicalls, twitter or cell phone plant monitorWhen your plant needs water, it will post to Twitter or call you!

Nails function as the soil moisture probes, but the rest of the unit requires greater skills because it’s a Make project that combines a number of parts, a small breadboard, power supply, ethernet and USB cables, downloading code… but what’s a little soldering when your plant will be twittering away for many years to come?

Botanicalls, via Webware.

Magnetized bacteria improve biofuel

No! Bacteria are not fitted with New Age bracelets? Say it’s not true!

A major cost of biofuel is the bacteria used in fermenting alcohol. A new technique to manipulate the behavior of bacteria in the reactor can double biogas output.

By introducing magnetic particles in the fermenter, the bacteria spontaneously flocculate around the particles and are far easier to recycle. The new technique keeps using the same bacteria at the height of their productive capacity and concentration:

Large amounts of active bacteria are washed away in batch systems, and new communities have to be built from scratch and take a long time to grow into productive communities. By reusing bacteria at the point when they’re still active, overall biogas yields are improved dramatically.

The magnetic particles attract the bacteria, which can then be recycled simply by applying a permanent magnet.

Small amounts of ferrite do the trick. Yield increases of 200% have been achieved. [link to BioPact]

Combinations kill

Nat Scholz, a fishery biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that salmon died when exposed to combinations of pesticides that were not deadly when tested individually in lab trials.

Will combinations of pesticides found on fruits and vegetables be affecting humans? [story]

Another intriguing study in five regions around the world by Ford and Myers found wild salmon populations that merely migrate near salmon farms suffer a reduction in survival or abundance of more than 50%. [story]

Suffer a reduction in survival or abundance?

What’s that say?

Half the wild salmon near farmed salmon die or are not born.

Another failure in the Bush

An article in School Library Journal reports bad news about the No Child Left Behind program.

“Here’s a new and significant research finding that won’t surprise many of No Child Left Behind’s school-based critics: high-stakes, test-based accountability—exactly what the law promotes—has a direct, negative impact on graduation rates.”

read more

Is there enough biofuel?

Biopact reports

According to scientific projections, the planet has a very large sustainable bioenergy potential, estimated to be around 1550 Exajoules per annum by 2050 (the world’s total current energy consumption from all sources – coal, oil, gas, nuclear, renewables – is approximately 450Ej).

Theoretically, this much bioenergy can be produced after [emphasis added] meeting all food, feed, fiber and forest products needs for growing populations and without deforestation (previous post).

But this massive potential can only be tapped on the condition that agriculture in the developing world – where most of it can be found – improves by adopting modern farming techniques.