New food news is no news for food

The Inst. of Food Technologists [story published by Blackwell] has issued this Scientific Status Summary to update readers on the organic foods industry.

Persistent chemicals:

…residues encountered in all of the sample pools represented environmentally persistent chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides that have been banned for use for several decades but are still present in small amounts in many agricultural fields and can result in food residues.

Persistent change:

The popularity of organic foods continues to grow dramatically: organic foods now constitute more than 2% of all food sales, and sales of organic foods in the United States surpassed $13.8 billion in 2005.

Persistent conclusion:

While many studies demonstrate these qualitative differences between organic and conventional foods, it is premature to conclude that either food system is superior to the other with respect to safety or nutritional composition. Pesticide residues, naturally occurring toxins, nitrates, and polyphenolic compounds exert their health risks or benefits on a dose-related basis, and data do not yet exist to ascertain whether the differences in the levels of such chemicals between organic foods and conventional foods are of biological significance.

Unapproved transgenic material in food

A note on the Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology.

Mulling an email subscription from Agnet delivered from Canada, I stopped a few moments in a report from the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology about the USDA’s Biotechnology Regulatory Services negotiating position on low-level (adventitious) presence of unapproved transgenic material in food. These strings captured my attention:

In a draft position statement distributed at the meeting, the U.S. delegation supported language clarifying that the guideline addresses food safety and nutritional issues only, excluding animal welfare; ethical, moral and socio-economical aspects; risks related to the environmental release of transgenic animals used in food production; and the safety of transgenic animals used as feed, or the safety of animals fed with feed derived from transgenic animals, plants or microorganisms.

How can we have food safety while excluding animal welfare?

[USA seeks to include] food safety and nutritional issues only, excluding animal welfare

How can we remain proud negotiators with language such as this?

[USA seeks to exclude] ethical, moral and socio-economical aspects…

Why would we seek to repress dialogue and law on this issue?

[USA seeks to exclude] release of transgenic animals used in food production…

This string hit me between the eyes!

[USA seeks to exclude] the safety of transgenic animals used as feed…

What are “transgenic animals used as feed?
Why would the USA seek to exclude such animals from regulation?

One month’s internet usage

Globally, 736 million people used the Internet during November.

501.7 million to Microsoft.
475.5 million to Google websites.
475.2 million to Yahoo sites.

YouTube placed 10th at 107.9 million visits, not included with Google.

eBay was fourth with 250.8 million.
Time Warner 222.1 million.
Wikipedia more than doubled to 171.9 million.
Amazon 143.9 million visitors.
MySpaceup four times to 130.4 million, eighth in November.
Ask Network, 110.9 million.

Story at Physorg

Advertisers currently direct 96 percent of their spending for online display ads to pages that represent just 30 percent of overall Web traffic. McKinley Quarterly reports, “…advertisers will spend $9 billion to $12 billion on paid search in 2007, up from around $5 billion in 2005. Video ads expect to reach from $1.4 billion to $3.2 billion in 2007. more at this article at Rising Demand For Online Advertising Could Surpass Supply

…advertisers probably won’t be interested in much of what’s available. The complex task of spreading media spending across thousands of small Web sites, many with different ad formats, means that advertisers tend to return to heavily trafficked sites, where supply is at a premium. Even on the big portals, marketers are leery of having their ads placed near consumer-generated content that might be objectionable.

Your personal pee-print

contents of urine wate waterNew Scientist asks, “So how do standard sewage systems deal with urine?

The problem with urine is that it is the main source of some of the chemical nutrients that have to be removed in sewage treatment plants if they are not to wreck ecosystems downstream.

Despite making up only 1 per cent of the volume of waste water, urine contributes about 80 per cent of the nitrogen and 45 per cent of all the phosphate.

Peeing into the pan immediately dilutes these chemicals with vast quantities of water, making the removal process unnecessarily inefficient.

What do we do?
The first step is to filter the sewage to remove large objects such as condoms, tampons and a random assortment of dead goldfish and false teeth. What remains flows into settlement tanks, to allow the faeces to sink to the bottom. This solid sludge is separated off and stored in oxygen-free tanks, which are gently warmed for about two weeks. Bacteria break it down, generating methane gas that can be burned to produce electricity. The end product is an inert solid that is usually burned or dumped in landfill.

Sewage sludge is a biomass fuel that contains about as much heat as lower grade coal. Increasingly, municipal wastewater treatment plants are drying sewage sludge to use as a green energy source, reducing operating costs and keeping sludge off the ground.

To govern the social internet

Recently, the folks behind confessed that a backup copy of their database had been stolen. Reddit developers confirmed their data contained user passwords. Reddit admits the information was stored as plain, unprotected text.

Reddit’s response seems poor:

what a week…
Again, we’re sorry about yesterday’s outage — the DNS troubles were entirely our fault.

On a separate note, we want to make you aware that media of ours that contained a backup of a portion of the reddit database was stolen recently.

Although the media did not contain any personally identifiable information about our users and we have no reason to believe that reddit data was the target of the theft, we wanted to alert you to the possibility that your username, password, and — in some cases — e-mail address may have been compromised.

Puts an entirely new meaning to ‘fire in the theatre’.

Darn. Perhaps you see an annoying light on the film screen?
Sorry. We’ve opened the doors.

We’re quite sure you’re not the target of the arsonist,
but there’s a good chance you’ll burn if you fail to notice the fire.

If sites using our property fail as poorly as Reddit in this case,
we WILL need law to govern errors, omissions and disclosure.

A universal mammal ‘language’

Humans may be able to understand a dog’s bark
because all mammals speak a universal language.

All appear to communicate basic emotions, such as fear, aggression and submission in somewhat the same acoustic way, according to a new study in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

The find suggests a primitive communication system may unite virtually all mammals.

The theory could help explain why previous research has found that many mammals, including humans, understand the vocalisations of different species.

…the researchers suspect dogs and humans share a unique ability to communicate with one another that goes beyond the proposed universal mammal ‘language’.

The scientists believe years of domestication have improved the way that dogs, versus their wolf ancestors, can communicate with us. They point out that such communication isn’t limited to vocalisations. It also includes visual signals, such as changes in looks.

Common house cats also appear to have evolved improved means of communicating with humans, according to a study conducted by Cornell University researcher Nicholas Nicastro. Cats, however, seem more intent on manipulating us. “Though they lack language, cats have become very skilled at managing humans to get what they want – basically food, shelter and a little human affection,” …

story at

Web2.0 is a sharecropping system

Nicholas Carr posits in “Sharecropping the long tail

…by putting the means of production into the hands of the masses but withholding from those same masses any ownership over the product of their work, provides an incredibly efficient mechanism to harvest the economic value of the free labor provided by the very many and concentrate it into the hands of the very few.

Richard MacManus’s new analysis of web traffic patterns helps illustrate the point. Despite the explosion of web content, spurred in large part by the reduction in the cost of producing and consuming that content, web traffic appears to be growing more concentrated in a few sites, not less.

Domesticated animals face extinction

Over the past five years alone, some 60 breeds of cattle, goats, pigs, horses and poultry have become extinct, the Rome-based UN agency said in a draft document, blaming globalization as the “biggest single factor” in the erosion of livestock biodiversity.

“Of the more than 7,600 breeds in FAO’s global database of farm animal genetic resources, 190 have become extinct in the past 15 years and a further 1,500 are considered at risk of extinction,” the draft says.

Some 150 experts from 90 countries met in Rome this week to review the findings, the first of their kind on a global scale.

Rearing livestock contributes to the livelihoods of one billion people in the world.

link to Yahoo News

A virus may cause breast cancer

A researcher has found the same virus that causes cervical cancer in cells of breast cancer tumors.

It’s the first study of its kind in Australia, although other international studies have also found cervical cancer-related HPV in breast cancer cells.

He says while the evidence is far from conclusive, “it’s possible and totally worthy of investigation” to suspect that HPV could also cause breast cancer.

Lawson says it’s possible that HPV is spread by sexual activity or during showers or baths, when the virus could be transferred from the genital area to the breasts via the nipple ducts.

Story at

Miles of myelin in your body

What makes the human brain unique? Of the many explanations that can be offered, one that doesn’t come readily to mind is — myelin.

Myelin may also be the cause of “our unique vulnerability to highly prevalent neuropsychiatric disorders.”

Conventional wisdom holds that myelin, the sheet of fat that coats a neuron’s axon — a long fiber that conducts the neuron’s electrical impulses — is akin to the wrapping around an electrical wire, protecting and fostering efficient signaling.

But the research of UCLA neurology professor George Bartzokis, M.D., has already shown that myelin problems are implicated in diseases that afflict both young and old — from schizophrenia to Alzheimer’s. Story at scienceBlog

What does schizophrenia feel like?

The Times publishes a terrifyingly wonderfully concise piece on schizophrenia , helping us understand:

Schizophrenia may not directly cause one’s death but it does take one’s life.

The introduction:

Our writer had her first bout of suicidal depression at the age of 7. In the past 18 years she has suffered a range of mental illness. With words and paint she creates a unique and moving insight into her breakdown.

Deprecating designers describing difference

comic about choosing a font
Selecting a font is a big deal,
often requiring hours and hours
of exploration and careful thought.

But in the end,
the effort pays off
in a readable and effective design.

We all know that.

Number Seventeen
enjoys the process
and publishes a witty comic to show it.

And Joho the Blog says, “…taste enables us to see the beauty that’s there, ideally in ways we can articulate and discuss. It may not be convincing the way a test for gold flecks is, but it is defensible. What we need to learn to see frequently is precisely the particulars that time has obscured. Taste, as the discussion of the beauty that’s there, thus is always unearthing more beauty.

Taste doesn’t just respond to beauty. It makes beauty.”

The control of fuel & transportation

Edwin Black has produced an explosive, eye-opening exposé of the corporate forces that have for more than a century sabotaged the creation of alternative energies and vehicles in order to keep us dependent on oil.

Since the beginning of history, there has never been a time when fuel and transportation has not been controlled by monopolists…

“Since the first fuel was wood and since depleted trees took years to replace, the control of wood is the first cause of the conquering of new territory…”

“Edwin Black takes off the gloves and reveals the people whose invisible hands have been shaping and controlling energy markets. Internal Combustion describes forces that have brought us to the brink of disaster, and raises a call for a green revolution to restore sanity and regain control over our destiny.”

Here’s snippets about the first uses of coal and the continuing aggressive efforts to control our fuel.

Coal use began not with the well-known ore extracted from subterranean seams, but with a similar substance called “sea coal” that washed up along the coast near Durham in England’s northeast. Later, the more familiar rock was also discovered inland, exposed in the hillsides and the banks of the nearby River Tyne. The Romans certainly employed it in the early centuries of the Common Era. The combustible nuggets produced the fuel to forge Roman military metal and operate Caesar’s war fortifications. By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the peasant class, especially those without access to peat, was compelled to rediscover coal as a substitute for wood.

The royal wood monopolies and hoarding regimens had made the repugnant sea coal a necessity for the average man’s survival, as well as for industrial and commercial growth. In the last four decades of the thirteenth century, the cost of wood increased about 70 percent, while sea coal only increased only 23 percent. Coal became affordable.

The glissando of coal cartels began in the Church, which owned the original northeastern coastal lands that contained the ore deposits, especially around Durham. In the late eleven hundreds and throughout the twelve hundreds, the Prince Bishops of Durham controlled much of northeast England’s best coal. The holy men of the Durham diocese were called “Prince Bishops” because they enjoyed the independent power to convene their own parliament, raise armies, levy taxes, and control the woods and mines of Durham County. A steward to Anthony Bek, a Prince Bishop from 1284 to 1311, openly declared: “There are two kings in England, namely the Lord King of England, wearing a crown in sign of his regality and the Lord Bishop of Durham wearing a miter in place of a crown, in sign of his regality in the diocese of Durham.”

For many years, the ecclesiastic monopoly was able to manipulate coal prices by restricting its supply. After a bitter feud with the Prince Bishops, the merchants of Newcastle wrested the monopoly from the church, and built their own powerful coal cartel.

The successor cartel, not controlled by any church or crown, was a combine of private merchants known as the “Hostmen of Newcastle””

Don’t trust your conscious brain

Complex decisions are best left to your unconscious mind to work out, according to a new study, and over-thinking a problem could lead to expensive mistakes.

The research suggests the conscious mind should be trusted only with simple decisions, such as selecting a brand of oven glove. Sleeping on a big decision, such as buying a car or house, is more likely to produce a result people remain happy with than consciously weighing up the pros and cons of the problem, the researchers say.

Thinking hard about a complex decision that rests on multiple factors appears to bamboozle the conscious mind so that people only consider a subset of information, which they weight inappropriately, resulting in an unsatisfactory choice. In contrast, the unconscious mind appears able to ponder over all the information and produce a decision that most people remain satisfied with

2007 Digital Future Report

The Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School is pleased to present the results of the sixth year of our project, “Surveying the Digital Future.” The six years of longitudinal research comprise an absolutely unique data base that completely captures broadband at home, the wireless Internet, on-line media, user-generated content and, now, social networking.

This year’s report contains a large module looking at on-line communities and social networking in great detail. Readers can compare the social networking data and correlate it to six years of attitudes and behaviors on-line.

The highlights of the report are available here:

Pixel wave water fonts

AMOEBA water font writerResearchers at Akishima Laboratories , working in conjunction with professor Shigeru Naito of Osaka University, have developed a device that uses waves to draw text and pictures on the surface of water.

The wave generators move up and down in controlled motions to simultaneously produce a number of cylindrical waves that act as pixels. The pixels, which measure 10 cm in diameter and 4 cm in height, are combined to form lines and shapes.

AMOEBA is capable of spelling out the entire roman alphabet, as well as some simple kanji characters. Each letter or picture remains on the water surface only for a moment, but they can be produced in succession on the surface every 3 seconds.


Who’s thin outside and fat inside?

TOFI MRI scan thin outside, fat insideYou can look healthy and thin, but have a lot of fat inside.

Even slim people can have internal fat collected inside or around the liver, gut, heart and pancreas, or streaked through under-used muscles.

Images from MRI scanners suggest that up to four out of 10 people could be a “Tofi” — thin outside, fat inside.

Professor Jimmy Bell, head of the molecular imaging group at the Medical Research Council’s centre at Imperial College, London, said this hidden fat could trigger heart conditions and diabetes.

The findings are raising questions about the BMI (Body Mass Index), the indicator of obesity used by doctors and public health campaigners.

The BMI is a relatively crude measure which takes into account a person’s height and weight. Some doctors believe the BMI is flawed because it pays no attention to the nature of the weight. story at the Telegraph UK

Deposits of fat (ectopic fat) in a lean body such as in the liver, muscle, heart, pancreas and kidneys may shed light on the development of insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes. A short abstract is online at the International Journal of Body Composition Research.

MSNBC reports an AP story:

According to Professor Bell, people who are fat on the inside are essentially on the threshold of being obese. They eat too many fatty, sugary foods — and exercise too little to work it off — but they are not eating enough to actually be fat.

“If you just want to look thin, then maybe dieting is enough,” Bell said. “But if you want to actually be healthy, then exercise has to be an important component of your lifestyle.”

Early warning of deep belly fat
Measuring levels of a chemical found in blood offers the best indicator yet of the amount of fat surrounding abdominal organs, according to a new study of lean and obese individuals reported in the July issue of Cell Metabolism, a publication of Cell Press. The buildup of such “visceral fat” is of particular health concern as it has been linked to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease risk.

The researchers, including Barbara Kahn and Timothy Graham of Harvard Medical School and Matthias Blüher of the University of Leipzig in Germany, showed that “retinol-binding protein 4” (RBP4) is produced in much greater amounts by visceral fat compared to the subcutaneous fat that lies just beneath the skin. Moreover, they report that blood serum levels of RBP4 jump in people who are obese, who have double or even triple the concentrations found in individuals of normal weight.

“We believe that in the near future, measurements of RBP4 serum concentrations might serve as a novel biomarker for visceral obesity and increased risk for type 2 diabetes and other adverse outcomes of visceral obesity.” [story]

The U.S. obesity prevalence increased from 13 percent to 32 percent between the 1960s and 2004, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Human Nutrition.

The prevalence of obesity and overweight has increased at an average rate of 0.3–0.8 percentage points across different sociodemographic groups over the past three decades. Some minority and low socioeconomic status groups—such as non-Hispanic black women and children, Mexican-American women and children, low socioeconomic status black men and white women and children, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders—are disproportionately affected. The meta-analysis was published online on May 17, 2007, in advance of the 2007 issue of the journal Epidemiologic Reviews. [story]

A win for Land Trusts

Jon Christensen, a research fellow for the Center for Environmental Science and Policy at Stanford University says, “There’s good news about the power of conservation in the West.”

Christensen compared the study to Agriculture Department data on land lost to development. Across the country, some 2.2 million acres were developed between 2000 and 2005. Conservation efforts protected about 2.6 million acres during the same years.

Full story at New West