‘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.

Attoseconds and the Quantum Stroboscope

What were you doing today?

Oh, performing basic research in a very exciting field at the border between atomic and molecular physics and advanced optics, nonlinear optics and laser physics: high-order harmonic generation in gaseous media exposed to intense laser fields and its applications.

Anything interesting lately?

Yeh, we made the world’s first movie of an electron.

[via Science blog]

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.

Illegal to help?

Chronic pain among seniors in private households was more common than diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. [story]

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.

Food Safety Problems

Game Theory in government, relying on obtuse statistical systems to run a nation, has wrecked dozens and hundreds of important programs and restraints in the USA. Some people need eye to eye contact. After almost 30 years of so-called lesser government, our Executive Branch Agencies are a mess; a greater burden than big government. Food contamination and increased recalls are another canary.

Sick animals in our food supply indicate not merely a risk to health but a dilution of pride in our production and inspection system. Weak, fallen and ill cattle is the tip of the iceberg. The vast majority of our ranchers and plants are ‘competent’ and strive to exceed industry benchmarks, but cracks in the system are too common.

In the latest 143 million pound recall – two hamburgers for every American – only beef is in the headlines, but there are no laws or government agency policies that currently prevent downed pigs, sheep, goats or other livestock from going to slaughter for human consumption.

To toil for rules

A tremendous and complex burden has fallen on us. Shortages are again accelerating costs and we’re damaging our home. The portents of our future are scaring people.

Perhaps the horizon will always provoke fear, but I’m worried too about our too common and modern urge to hoist rule making to guide us forward.

Why? For two reasons. I’m not impressed with current agencies and I’m less impressed with their leadership. The former are populated by both strong hearts and wicked guile, ineffectual by not confronting each other, and our leadership is either nuts or inadequate.

Mask of FearI don’t look to toothless bureaucrats for new directions in living. Instead I watch analysts and innovators, and I re-invent living with greater attention to the parity of my resources. I steer toward new solutions and I’m not alone. Many of us are using our conscience and choosing new if not pleasantly elegant ways of living. Less is indeed more and I know we’re not rolling rocks uphill.

Fear can easily become fashion and we’re vulnerable to error. I’m worried about a new intelligentsia joining a libertine and moneyed wealth to penetrate our policy making with new but similarly self-serving ideology. On one side hidden incentives and on the other tight restraints, there’s an emerging tailored agenda parading to save our earth that may raise its green flag but also a rigid technocracy.

There’s steam behind this movement too, not only because our industrial landscape crumbles, but also because the new left is strong after decades of momentum flailing against corporate reactionaries, that’s what they are, and fundamentalists seduced by power, that’s what they are. Corn fuels some of them, sugarcane others. Desperate for electricity for a plug-in hi-way, many are now promoting easing rules for nuclear power. Hello. Soy candles might be legal in the bedroom; paraffin soon illegal in the kitchen too.

Will the former anarchists of environmentalism become the next authoritarians of State?

The Soil Bleeds Black: May The Blood Of Many Valiant Knights Be AvengedI mistrust our recent past. With the blood of many, we’ve argued false issues propelled by bantam minds.

If we’re lucky to see it, Mike Bowden says it, “When you see real leadership in action, you’re left in awe. Real leaders are active, engaged and motivating. They create an atmosphere that’s electric – both fun and productive.” This is very different than Pennsylvania Avenue’s pandering to cronies and populism.

Our task isn’t easy. Australia’s government worries that cutting greenhouse gases 60% by 2050, a terrific task, will be inadequate. Here in America, while creationists spoil one federal agenda and greed corrupts others, the growth rate in the world’s carbon dioxide emissions has trebled between 2000 and 2006.

Europe has exhibited a relative sensibility over these years, establishing policy that points to greater efficiency as well as greater sensitivity to all of their people, rich or poor. But Europe has shown their highly praised targets for renewable energy are already distorting food markets in Africa and south Asia similar to our corn belt getting fat on Bush’s Beltway ethanol subsidies.

Ireland is hoping to loft a new division of government to regulate green options to be known as the Risk Management Agency. Here’s their early comments about their mission:

We tend to treat the future as if it will be a continuation of the present but with more of everything. This is in spite of historical evidence that major changes of direction inevitably disturb well-established trajectories. We even know what those major changes are likely to be – fossil fuel peak, global warming, water and soil degradation, irreversible biodiversity loss, new diseases against which we have few defenses and increasing financial global interdependence and instability (in no particular order). The first thing to do is to name the problem – Future Risk – then pass enabling legislation to appoint a dedicated powerful agency, the Risk Management Agency.

It’s been my lifelong experience that where there’s Agency Management that’s the Risk, thus I’m worried.

But I’m not recommending libertarian or additional laissez-faire politics. I’m recommending two different ideas. One, we shun authoritarian rhetoric and easy rule making in favor of a robust infrastructure of experiment and alternatives, a more likely boost to both our sustenance and our prosperity.

pollinating changeFor example, water and soil do not exist in hallways of new agencies but here, under us, where we live. Our best resources for living have been created from the ground up by pollinating, by selecting, by improving choices.

We must support diverse innovation, locally and within the larger economies. Please, let’s not wait for oil oligopolies to sell us the sun!

Congress and legislatures and local initiative can help by redirecting funds toward a system of assertive curiosity and eager demonstrations. A new layer of rules, however green, will again inhibit us, precisely why we must restrain new executive branch agencies and dedicated but petty regional committees.

Favoring markets is positive, favoring investment is better. And my second point, directly helping innovators is best. Too many languish starved for assistance and already stunned under rules. Closed after his 1980 defeat, poor Jimmy Carter erected a half dozen regional Innovation Centers to help bring ideas to fruition. We can use these now and many more. We can increase our support for tangible efforts in labs, workshops, factories and farms; for each other, our private research and personal effort. We can become alert, demand repair of damaging methods, and sponsor innovation as we find it.

I think we should scorn abstraction and rhetoric in favor of activity and novelty, a very different infrastructure to tackle a very different era.

Travels of StrategyTo improve our quality of life and sustain our world, our best policy is to invigorate understanding – that’s a rule worth following – and fuel new teams in every sector until our lattice of change emerges as our future.

Lately I’ve not given my attention to green government except while it steps away from its hideous inertia or offers measurable support.

Warning about the error of government, Thomas Jefferson said it best, “Reason and free inquiry are the effectual agents against error. They are the natural enemies of error and error only.”

Another nut in the White House!

A Chat With George W. Bush’s Conscience, Leon Kass.

The Chief against stem cell research, hiding in an office near Lynne Cheney and perhaps from Lynne Cheney, he calls “children of unwed parents bastards” and is against “the loss of female modesty” and tells White House cronies, “I do not come from a school of thought, nor do I have an ideology.” Exactly.

As high as he’s become, another of his dart board concerns is euphoria. What? Not rapture?

The Nude City

Urban heat island effect, Terra satelliteThere’s a strong case to be made for trees in the city because air conditioning is one of our chief demands for new power plants.

The urban heat island is a serious challenge. There so much excess heat in our cities that the Terra satellite found the growing season is at least two weeks longer than farmland.

Cooling Los Angeles by 4 degrees by planting trees over 5 percent of a city and re-coloring black rooftops would have the same effect as turning all our vehicles into electric cars!

This is so huge, nothing else compares.

The University of Manchester calculated that a mere 10% increase of green space reduces temperature by as much as 4°C – the predicted rise from global warming!!

Our cities are being planned for greater density, favoring a reduction in commute distances, but increasing demand for lighting and air conditioning while stripping trees from parks, residential lots and open space.

Circles of burps

Livestock – predominantly cattle – are responsible for an astonishing proportion of global warming gases – 18 per cent of the total to be precise:

  • a fifth of all emissions which is more greenhouse gas emissions than all the transport on earth
  • seventy per cent of all agricultural land is used to raise animals – that’s a third of the land surface of the entire planet
  • over a third of all cereal production goes to feed those animals
  • animal methane is more destructive than industrial CO2
  • 296 times the global warming power of carbon dioxide, sixty five per cent of human related emissions of nitrous oxide are from the nitrogen in animal manure.

[post at the BBC]

The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) staff jointly with University of Melbourne scientists have made a breakthrough in reducing bovine emissions by feeding an extract from the bark of black wattle (Acacia mollisima ).

The scientists found that feeding the crystallised powder not only reduced methans but also nitrogen emissions, and increased milk production.

DPI “Greenhouse in Agriculture” team leader Dr Richard Eckard said in an interview “A tannin in the bark combined with nitrogen in the rumen making it easier to digest and giving more benefit to the animal. The nitrogen goes out in the dung and then released slowly into the environment. The tannin stopped the nitrogen going into the bloodstream, where the animal had to work hard to process it.

The cattle might spend the energy equivalent of one litre to 1½ litres of milk to excrete the nitrogen in their urine. There is evidence that tannins reduced methane and it was now necessary to develop a method easily to feed the supplement to the cattle. [via AllAboutFeed]

before condemning meats and becoming a vegan, consider these points from Ben Smith:

A critical point that is being missed is where this carbon comes from.

Cars, ships, etc.:
This carbon comes from carbon that has been buried deep underground. It is unearthed, burned, and then released into the atmosphere. Therefore, any carbon released is added to carbon already present in the atmosphere = global warming.

Cows, agriculture:
This carbon comes from the atmosphere. The plants take up the carbon dioxide. Livestock then eat the plants and release the carbon back into the atmosphere. Therefore, any carbon released by the cows was already in the atmosphere to begin with (carbon neutral) = no global warming.

The problem isn’t the re-releasing of carbon that was already in the atmosphere (livestock, agriculture), but the unearthing of new carbon sources (gas and coal) and then adding these to the atmosphere.

The Guardian reports on a new pill to trap some of the energy from the methane, which is naturally produced in the fermentation process when a cow digests grass and is later mostly burped out through their mouths.Cut down on flying, sell the car and recycle your bottles. But if you really want to tackle global warming, you should stop your cow from burping.According to scientific estimates, the methane gas produced by cows is responsible for 4% of greenhouse gas emissions. [previous post]

Before it’s fixed


After 15 years, I think that I can now see the outline of an unexpected answer to this question. In order to solve our toughest problems peacefully, in order to address our most complex social problem situations, we have to learn to be bilingual. We have to learn to speak fluently two paradoxically different languages: the language of power and the language of love. By power I mean the drive to act, to achieve purpose, to effect real change in the real world. And by love I mean the drive to re-connect, with each other and with our world and what it needs of us. What I have learned from my experiences is that until we are able to exercise power and love together – to exercise power with love – we will never be able together to create new realities.

Listening to the bird

Many of us fail to notice we can be devastated merely failing to change lanes on the way downtown. We fail to notice we can be hammered each day merely by glances and comments. We manage tiny details and fret about ourselves to build a bit of confidence. We are not so strong.

Hemingway said,
If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that it will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

So it is a cruel place here. To stand with children reconciling death and diluting death in the cup of your heart? We are not built for this. It is an imperfect world we make better in our good ways. You have been this courage.

Graham Greene said,
‘Oh,’ the priest said, ‘that’s another thing altogether—God is love. I don’t say the heart doesn’t feel a taste of it, but what a taste. The smallest glass of love mixed with a pint pot of ditch-water. We wouldn’t recognize that love. It might even look like hate. It would be enough to scare us—God’s love. It set fire to a bush in the desert, didn’t it, and smashed open graves and set the dead walking in the dark. Oh, a man like me would run a mile to get away if he felt that love around.’

We are tender things, flying inside a nuclear star, shielded by little. You are this courage.

Fine Art Friday - Listening to the Bird, RedClayIt is a simple world too. Great complex things may not happen here. It might be that only ordinary things can exist under this cosmic storm pressed to dirt by gravity!

A glimpse says we are honored. Another says we have touched a heart. A friend is tender or we are tender with a friend. A spring warmth begins us again. We were brave and did not notice winter.

There is another thing. Love. Oh why is this omitted from every Constitution? There’s nothing in us but love. It is our cellular engine, some say, and burst the Universe days ago, some believe, and is our quest under the onion’s peel. We haven’t said much of it. Oh why is our love not the entire curricula? It is what we know too little of and what we most require. We are all siblings here, with you; not one of us is finished in this schooling.

What can be said? “Grant me the abandon to be a fool in this loving moment! I demand to revel in this loving moment! Do not dare to take this loving moment!” Our next day a necklace of these stubborn jewels, some pearls on the floor, and some links broken, and some love to never be… to have loved and lost and a’ that…. We’re fools for it, nuts for it, lost in it, breathing bliss and blues….

Hillel says,
If I am for myself only, what am I?
If I am for others only, who am I?
If not now, when?

I’m saying we will always be nervous, incapable, foolish…. And so what? They say the difference between a good dancer and a bad dancer is the good dancer isn’t paying attention to themselves but to dancing.

The Canvas Crisis

I don’t know what provoked me to pause and read this story except I’m concerned about the poor economic news recently as we all are.

I do know why I’ve taken the time to post this story.

The headline warns,

Ontario’s homeless enclave becomes regional haven“.

The newspaper reports,

ONTARIO – Nobody knows the exact population of Tent City, but the area has swelled beyond expectations.

The dusty, undeveloped city-owned parcel at Cucamonga Avenue and Jefferson Street is filled with tents, campers and makeshift shelters.

Mayor Paul Leon moans, “It took on a life of its own. It didn’t occur to us it would grow to this size this fast, which reflects the need.”

The city provides water and bathrooms, and picks up trash. Churches regularly provide food. Councilman Jason Anderson said the property was always considered a temporary refuge for the homeless….

[but this] “…population explosion is evidence that people are streaming in from all over the region.”

County Supervisor Gary Ovitt plans to have a meeting with other mayors to find a solution.

“We’ve pledged to help in any way we can when the city figures out how it will handle things. It is an unfair burden to Ontario.”

The article points out that police would typically harass homeless sleeping on the streets. A resident points out,

“I understand something needs to be done for these people, but I don’t think the answer is Tent City. You’re just asking for sickness, violence or other problems.”

Toward the end of the article in the San Bernadino area newspaper The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, the burden on the city is summarized as

“…the city can’t go it alone when it comes to the homeless.”

I’m now expecting to see 100s of acres of huddled homeless!! What on earth can be causing such alarm in this city of more than 200,000 and for

Tent City for homeless, Daily Bulletinthe Mayor,
the City Council,
County officials,
elected officials,
other Mayors,
nearby officials,
parole officers,
regional police,
church members,
food banks and
the city’s residents?

Will we ever be confident our society is capable of managing the incredible burden of such an “alarming Tent City” with so many leaders and officials helpless about the homeless?

Policing cyberspace

Analysis of privacy vs. security, rather dignity vs. excess:

Bush’s Director of National Intelligence is proposing to monitor all — that’s right, *all* — Internet communications for security purposes.

Bruce Schneier replies that this is “an idea so extreme that the word ‘Orwellian’ feels too mild”.