Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ah, Spring

Happy Vernal Equinox to all!

Over the past week, I've had some actual spring weather, and the snow mound outside my door has almost completely melted away. Today is mid-40's and windy, which is pretty normal around here. Much warmer forecast for the next few days.

Also, Happy Nowruz to any Iranian/Persian readers.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Seven Years

Seven years ago today, shrub embarked on the worst mistake in United States history: the invasion of Iraq began. The litany of lies that lead up to the invasion is now well documented, but the real basic fact was always clear to many of us: invading Iraq was a really bad idea. Here's some basic numbers:

American War Dead in Iraq: 4385

American War Injured: 40,000+

Iraqi War Dead: 2,000,000

Iraqi War Wounded: Millions

Iraqi War Displaced: Millions

Add at least a trillion dollars spent, and for what? Iraq has a marginal semblance of a democracy, but nothing close to stability. Withdrawing from Iraq is progressing slowly and painfully, and it may be many years before the last American troops actually leave. Getting out has always been much more difficult than getting in.

The atrocities of the war will continue to tarnish America's global image for at least a generation. Sadly, it's doubtful that the perpetrators behind the illegal invasion and ensuing crimes against humanity will ever face justice for their actions, and that is itself a crime. The past cannot be changed, but it would go a long way toward repairing the damage to hold those responsible accountable.

More here:

Seven Years (March 19, 2003)

Added: of course, no one may notice this because today is also World Sleep Day.

A Boobie in the Branches

It's Friday, so here's a Red-Footed Boobie on a branch.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Baseball Memories

On a sports blog that I frequent, the question was "your first baseball memory?", so here's mine:
My Father came and took me out of school, telling my teacher that I had a dentist appointment (I knew I didn’t), and we went to the ‘stick. We got cheap bleacher seats (we were pretty low income at that time) because Dad insisted that I watch “the greatest baseball player ever”, center fielder Willie Mays. I was 5 years old, but I was impressed. Sadly, the Giants lost to the Cubs (Ferguson Jenkins pitched a great game), but Mays made a terrific catch to rob Ron Santo of what looked like a sure double. And I became hooked on baseball for life.
On the way home Dad said "we don’t need to tell your mother about this little trip" which was rather silly. My Mother was a very perceptive woman, and an avid baseball fan herself. She assumed that we’d gone to the game, and was rather jealous that she’d missed it.
Dad and I shared many, many more games, right up to a few months before his passing in ‘92, but it’s that very first one that is firmly etched into my memory.

So, in honor of spring, what is your first baseball memory?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Safety First

After an illustrious 183-year run, the annual Whitsun cheese-rolling event on Cooper’s Hill in Gloucester has been canceled, partly for safety reasons. Add “chasing cheese wheels down a steep hill” to the list of things that England has deemed unsafe.

There are dozens of injuries every year among the men and women who hurl themselves down the hill in a bid to catch the cheese, but these are mainly minor.

However, the sheer number of people flooding in to watch the event has led to increasing concern from the police and councils.

This year's cheese-rolling was due to take place on May 31. But Richard Jefferies, of the event's organising committee, said: 'We have had to cancel on the advice of the police and local authorities.

'Last year 15,000 spectators tried to come to the event, by far the most we have ever seen, and we just could not cope.

'As well as concerns about the safety of the crowd and the competitors, landowners were worried by the amount of damage done by people climbing over fences and that sort of thing.'

Yes, running down a hill chasing a 7 lb. wheel of cheese might be dangerous, but it was the size of the audience that prompted the most concern. The event became too popular for it's own health.
Kind of sad, really. If you can't watch a bunch of fools chase cheese down a hill, what can you watch?
(yeah, I've been avoiding serious politics in the past few days)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Synthetic Photosynthesis?

This is another of the scientific breakthroughs that could lead to some great innovations:

For decades, farmers have been trying to find ways to get more energy out of the sun.

In natural photosynthesis, plants take in solar energy and carbon dioxide and then convert it to oxygen and sugars. The oxygen is released to the air and the sugars are dispersed throughout the plant — like that sweet corn we look for in the summer. Unfortunately, the allocation of light energy into products we use is not as efficient as we would like. Now engineering researchers at the University of Cincinnati are doing something about that.

The researchers are finding ways to take energy from the sun and carbon from the air to create new forms of biofuels, thanks to a semi-tropical frog species. Their results have just been published online in “Artificial Photosynthesis in Ranaspumin-2 Based Foam” (March 5, 2010) in the journal “Nano Letters.” (It will be a cover story for the print edition in the fall.)

Research Assistant Professor David Wendell, student Jacob Todd and College of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Carlo Montemagno co-authored the paper, based on research in Montemagno’s lab in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Their work focused on making a new artificial photosynthetic material which uses plant, bacterial, frog and fungal enzymes, trapped within a foam housing, to produce sugars from sunlight and carbon dioxide.

“The advantage for our system compared to plants and algae is that all of the captured solar energy is converted to sugars, whereas these organisms must divert a great deal of energy to other functions to maintain life and reproduce,” says Wendell. “Our foam also uses no soil, so food production would not be interrupted, and it can be used in highly enriched carbon dioxide environments, like the exhaust from coal-burning power plants, unlike many natural photosynthetic systems.”

He adds, “In natural plant systems, too much carbon dioxide shuts down photosynthesis, but ours does not have this limitation due to the bacterial-based photo-capture strategy.”

“This new technology establishes an economical way of harnessing the physiology of living systems by creating a new generation of functional materials that intrinsically incorporates life processes into its structure,” says Dean Montemagno. “Specifically in this work it presents a new pathway of harvesting solar energy to produce either oil or food with efficiencies that exceed other biosolar production methodologies. More broadly it establishes a mechanism for incorporating the functionality found in living systems into systems that we engineer and build.”

The next step for the team will be to try to make the technology feasible for large-scale applications like carbon capture at coal-burning power plants.

I love posting new technologies that could change our energy systems. Photosynthesis is the root source of life as we know it; the 'energy' that runs the planet. If we can develop this further, it could help solve climate change and generate fuel or food in the future.

One Way To Get Your Name In The Paper

Happened to pick up yesterday's local newspaper, and there on the front page:
is a picture of an old friend and river running buddy. He's one of the people who I first learned white water rafting from, and an avid back country skier. Thankfully, he was rescued quickly. His description:

"It was like swimming Grand Canyon-sized whitewater without a life jacket,"

All I can say is "buddy, try to avoid either avalanches or swimming the Grand Canyon without a life jacket." Glad he's safe.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Time Shift

Most of you should have changed your clocks last night, but those of us in Arizona didn't. We changed out time zone. I'm now back in the Pacific time zone, and I feel much better.