Monday, January 18, 2010

will you help?

The Boston Globe did a photojournal of the 2009 Sumatra earthquake. I've been holding on to this image for a while, and debating whether or not to post it. The picture below usually would make me laugh (since ducks are hilarious), if it wasn't so sad (salvaging what he can from the destruction).

Events like these in Sumatra, and most recently in Haiti, remind us of the power of nature, as well as the good fortune so many of us enjoy.

If you haven't already, please consider making a donation to the Red Cross. You can text "HAITI" to 90999 and make a $10 donation to support the American Red Cross Haiti relief efforts. The donation will be debited from your cell phone bill.

A 48-hour-old fundraising campaign to help Haiti earthquake victims, done solely through text messages, was already stunning Red Cross officials on Thursday when it hit $3 million. By Friday morning, the tally had more than doubled.

The campaign, made viral on networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, had raised $8 million by Friday, according to a Twitter message from the White House that was reposted on the Red Cross account. - CNN 1.14.10

UPDATED: Harman said the campaign, which raised more than $3 million in its first 24 hours last week, had topped the $21 million mark by 11 p.m. on Sunday. - CNN 1.18.10

Update 5:20pm: I have been alerted to the fact that these mobile donations can take up to 90 days to reach the Red Cross (CNN, Gigaom). Jonathan Aiken, spokesman for the Red Cross, says "The Red Cross already has cash on hand, so it's putting that money to work now and will replenish its coffers once the mobile donations are officially processed... That's how it's always worked," Aiken said. "So in a way it doesn't matter which exact date the money officially comes in. And in any case, we're still going to be in Haiti 90 days from now -- this is not going away anytime soon."

The Better Business Bureau recommends that consumers give to charity online, by phone or mail if they want the funds deposited immediately.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

barack equals cool

Baby names are always interesting. Parents "gravitate toward the popular, wanting their child to fit in. But many also want their child's name to be unique, so they don't have to share it with four other kids in class at school." (SF Gate) Normally, the same names appear on the list each year, with a few moving up, a few dropping down, and some dropping off. However, last year, "Barack" (meaning "blessed" in Arabic) moved up a record 10,126 places IN ONE YEAR to become the 2,409th most popular baby name.

Obama's popularity doesn't stop with his name, as most of us realize. According to a 4.24.09 Politico article,

It’s so hip that school kids in Albany, N.Y., coined a term for it: “Baracking.” And it doesn’t stop there. Those in the know at Albany High greet each other by saying: “What’s up, my Obama?” and they respond to a sneeze with “Barack you.” Misbehavior is peer-corrected with the admonition, “Barack’s in the White House,” which translates, “Show some respect.”

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

presidential vegetable garden

The Obamas are planting a garden!

Promoting healthy eating for American families has become a part of the Michelle Obama's agenda. She said she was inspired by her own experience as a working mom feeding her girls convenient, but less healthy, meals. She has vowed to raise awareness of the difference a healthy diet can make.

The entire Obama family will be involved - even President Barack Obama will help with weeding!

To start the project, twenty-three fifth graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington helped break ground on the 1100 sq. ft. garden. (see diagram below). These students will be invited back to help plant, harvest and cook with the vegetables and herbs.

There are 55 varieties of vegetables, as requested by the White House kitchen staff. Some of the vegetables include: spinach, chard, collards, black kale, arugula, cilantro, tomatilloes, broccoli, various lettuces, assorted herbs and blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. But no beets. The President doesn't like them. There will also be a beehive and Michelle Obama hopes to be able to make their own honey.

Some White House garden history: In 1800 John Adams, the first president to live in the White House, planted a garden. Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden during the World War II (read FDR's statment). The Clintons had a small rooftop garden where they grew vegetables and herbs in pots.

Alice Waters (you may recognize her as the head chef at Chez Panisse!) has been lobbying the White House to plant such a garden for more than a decade. (She also designed the Edible Schoolyard program at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley.)

The White House chefs will use the the produce to feed the Obama family and for official events. And in the spirit of service, some crops also will be donated to Miriam's Kitchen, a soup kitchen near the White House where Michelle Obama has recently volunteered.

Read more about the garden:

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Monday, February 16, 2009

more space junk

On Tuesday, February 10th, two satellites - one Russian and one American - crashed into each other nearly 500 miles over Siberia. This was the first "high-speed impact between two intact spacecraft", NASA officials said. The collision released an undetermined amount of debris into space. This adds to the already impressive collection of junk left in space over the last 45 years....
The collision involved an Iridium commercial satellite, which was launched in 1997, and a Russian satellite launched in 1993 and believed to be nonfunctioning. The Russian satellite was out of control, Matney said.

The article goes on to explain that at the beginning of 2009 there were roughly 17,000 pieces of man-made debris orbiting Earth. The items, at least 4 inches in size, are being tracked by the U.S. Space Surveillance Network, which is operated by the military. (Read more about space junk here.)

Want to learn more about space junk? You can play Space Junk - the game!

There's lots of junk floating in orbit about the Earth! 11 examples can be found in this game. See if you can capture them all by clicking on them as they pass by, but be careful not to capture too many things that aren't junk--if you get three strikes, you'll have to start over!

The game uses actual reported junk. For example, in 1984, a screwdriver was dropped during an American spacewalk and it became space junk for a while, until it was burned up in earth's atmosphere!


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Congratulations, world.
The arrival of a new U.S. president triggered jubilation Tuesday in a world made weary by warfare, recession and fear. Bulls and goats were slaughtered for feasts in Kenya, toasts were offered at black-tie balls in Europe, and shamans in Latin America chanted Barack Obama's name with reverence." (read article or view slideshow)
Everywhere I look, I see smiling faces. For the first time I can remember, the press is choosing flattering pictures of our President. My school even has a life size cardboard cut-out of Obama in the music room. (OK, so that's a little over the top.) I look forward to seeing what a strong leadership and, more importantly, a positive attitude can do for this country.

(a window a few blocks from my apartment in San Francisco.)


Friday, January 2, 2009

the elephant diet = no more jelly beans

According to A San Diego newspaper, Elephants at the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park have lost a combined total of 11,314 pounds ever since zookeepers began a nutrition and exercise program for them in 2000. The article points out "that's nearly 5.7 tons among seven animals. "

Apparently, zoo keepers started to feed the elephants a number of smaller meals throughout the day, instead of three big meals. They also hid the food so that the animals would "work for it" and trained the animals to walk laps. And they cut out the elephants snacks, including jellybeans.

Mary, one of the Wild Animal Park's Asian elephants, lost weight but couldn't keep it off. Zookeepers didn't understand – until they discovered Mary was stealing food from her pachyderm pals.

Nature is cruel, it seems, even to elephants. The other pachyderms at the Wild Animal Park probably hate the aptly named Cha Cha. Like a supermodel, her trouble is keeping the weight on.

Zookeepers also changed the main ingredient of their elephant pellets to soy.

At the Wild Animal Park, the elephants do the equivalent of line drills in basketball. They've been trained to walk from Point A to Point B across the 3-acre enclosure, then back again.

For an added element of difficulty, zoo workers rake the packed soil so it requires more effort to walk. It's like running in the soft sand at the beach instead of at the waterline.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

bad idea for show and tell

So, apparently a kindergartner in Akron, Ohio made a bad decision in choosing his show and tell item. Teachers at Seiberling Elementary say children have to guess what classmates bring in. The boy gave a clue Friday that his item was something that blows things up.

The teacher looked in his book bag and wasn't sure if what she was a real grenade or a toy. Apparently the school called an emergency "fire drill" while the bomb squad arrived and discovered it was a "dummy" grenade.



Saturday, October 4, 2008

$700 billion bailout

As you have heard, President Bush recently signed the bailout plan in hopes of bolstering the economy. I enjoyed the SF Chronicle "article" putting it all into perspective...

For $700 billion, you could...
  • hire approximately 9,226,551 San Francisco police officers (based on $75,868, the lowest entry-level salary listed on the city's Website)
  • hire approximately 16,062,414 U.S. teachers (based on $43,580, the lowest number in the range of median annual earnings of kindergarten, elementary, middle and secondary school teachers in May 2006, listed on the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Website)
  • build approximately 1,434 new California Academy of Science buildings (based on the $488 million price tag listed in a Chronicle story)
  • buy approximately 3,467,063 homes based on $201,900, the median price of a single family home in the United States in August, according to the National Association of Realtors.
  • buy 70 Hubble-type space telescopes, or about 7 international space stations.
That's a lot of money. Seven hundred billion dollars is a lot of dollars.

In a great book by David M. Schwartz, How much is a million?, he says:

How big is a billion? If a billion kids made a human tower, they would stand up past the moon. If you sat down to count from one to one billion, you would be counting for 95 years. If you found a goldfish bowl large enough hold a billion goldfish, it would be as big as a stadium.
One website proclaims,

A billion seconds ago it was 1959.

A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive.

A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age

A billion dollars ago was only 8 hours and 20 minutes, at the rate Washington spends.

Oh, yeah, and the U.S. already has a national debt of 10 TRILLION dollars. The site links to a number of news articles concerning the national debt, including one that claims the bailout will increase the national debt ceiling to $11.315 trillion to cover the $700 billion the Treasury Department needs in order to buy bad loans.

That's a lot of money. Eleven trillion dollars is a lot of dollars.

More statistics show just how big these numbers are:

A million seconds is 12 days.
A billion seconds is 31 years.
A trillion seconds is 31,688 years.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Talk about losing your cookies...

No, I refuse to title my blog post "Got Milk?" Although it is tempting. This morning, a tractor trailer loaded with 14 tons of double-stuffed Oreos slammed into the median and overturned. The driver was driving down Interstate 80 around 4 am from Chicago to Morris and may have fallen asleep at the wheel. I can relate. That is one long, boring drive.

Though I'd like to image otherwise, the video shows a rather tame scene. Apparently, all of the cookies stayed inside their plastic wrappers.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

chicago and san francisco go dark for earth hour

The Chicago Tribune reports that there will be dark spots in the Chicago skyline for an hour Saturday night when more than 160 downtown buildings switch off their lights. The Sears Tower, John Hancock Center, the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, 485 area McDonald's and Chicago's theaters (Oriental Theatre, Cadillac Palace and the LaSalle Bank Theatre) all plan on participating by switching off as many "non-essential" lights as possible as part of the Earth Hour global campaign to raise awareness about climate change. The Allerton Hotel will even be turning off its historic "Tip-Top-Tap" sign during the night-time hours for the first time since the 1940s.

The World Wildlife Fund
’s (WWF) Earth Hour climate change campaign is largely symbolic in an effort to get the word out about reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Although it can be a little more than symbolic. At the first Earth Hour in Sydney, Australia, on March 31. 2007, the site claims, "Over 2.2 million Sydney residents and over 2,100 businesses switched off, leading to a 10.2% energy reduction across the city." But organizers stress that Earth Hour is more than cutting back for one hour. It's about "taking a stand and thinking ahead about what you, your neighbors and your city can do to slow climate change."
Chicago will serve as the U.S. flagship city for Earth Hour in 2008, with Atlanta, Phoenix and San Francisco joining as leading partner cities. But everyone throughout the US and around the world is invited and encouraged to turn off their lights for an hour on March 29 at 8 p.m. local time--whether at home or at work, with friends and family or solo, in a big city or a small town. (main site)
Interstingly enough, San Francisco was so inspired by last year's Sydney event, that they created Lights Out San Francisco and held a citywide energy conservation event on October 20, 2007. For that hour, such icons as the TransAmerica Building, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate and Bay bridges and City Hall turned off their lights. To promote long-lasting energy saving, organizers distributed free compact fluorescent light bulbs throughout the city. They were planning the second Lights Out event for March 29, 2008, but out of solidarity, Lights Out has chosen to support the Earth Hour campaign instead.

Both of my favorite cities offer suggestions to promote energy consciousnes after the event - check out both San Francisco's and Chicago's energy saving tips.

According to NBC News, Earth Hour will "literally be a worldwide event. It will start in Christchurch, New Zealand, and then roll through 14 time zones and 25 cities in 10 countries, including Brisbane, Bangkok, Tel Aviv, Copenhagen, Dublin and Toronto. It will be the largest worldwide voluntary power down in history, according to WWF officials." Pretty good for an event that only happened in Sydney last year!

Some of the international cities choosing to participate in the 2008 event include Atlanta, San Francisco, Phoenix, Bangkok, Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal, Dublin, Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide, Copenhagen, Aarhus, Aalborg, Odense, Manila, Suva, Chicago, Tel Aviv, Toronto and Christchurch.

Will you participate?

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

itch mite in chicago

I have been hearing from a number of folks back home that there is an outbreak of itching in the Chicagoland area. Of course, I am always in the mood for a good arthropod story, so I looked into it. (Ends up the bites are caused by arachnids, though, and not insects!)
"We don't have positive identification on the type of mite that it is. We do know that it is a mite," said Kitty Loewy, spokeswoman for the Cook County Department of Public Health. (Tribune)

Monday night, authorities left glue traps in forest preserves and other wooded areas. On Tuesday, they still didn't catch any; they think because the mites are "too small." But anyone bit by these insects are showing the telltale rash that develops 10 - 12 hours after being bitten. (The rash is a reaction to toxins in the mite's saliva as they gnaw on you as they look for larvae that aren't there. The toxin is potent (for insects at least). One mite’s bite can kill an insect larva 170,000 times its own weight.)

In the suburbs, Dr. George Tsoutsias said "Patients were actually comparing their lesions out in the waiting room," said. He saw 32 cases this weekend in the Adventist La Grange Memorial Emergency Department.

Investigators think this outbreak may be caused by an itch mite from Europe—the oak leaf gall mite, Pyemotes herfsi, a relative of the straw itch mite (which farmers have dealt with for years). It feeds on midge larvae in oak trees, falling when it runs out of food, often right onto people passing below. Scientists say these European arthropods may have hitched a ride here due to increased worldwide shipping and transportation that moves new species around the world. Kansas knows all about this, since they dealt with an outbreak in 2004. (The Pittsburg State University has a site with plenty of pictures and Quicktime videos of both the bites and the bugs.)
Information provided by entomologists indicated that these mites were associated with a gall-forming insect (a small fly called a "midge") that causes swellings along veins of oak leaves.

The female midges lay eggs on the leaf surface, and the young midges crawl to the edge of the leaf or along a vein where they secrete chemicals that cause the leaf tissue to curl up into a cylinder-like gall protecting the midge larvae inside.

The itch mites prey on these midges, invading the galls, where they feed on the midge larvae and begin to reproduce. Each female mite can produce up to 250 adult offspring, most of which are females. Each generation requires only seven days, which helps explain the large population numbers that have been encountered where the problem has been serious. (like Chicago right now)

Kansas State University describes the mites' bizarre life cycle as they researched the 2004 Kansas outbreak:

The mite’s life cycle is unusual. A mated female searches for a host on which to feed. She is small enough to be carried by the wind. If she finds a rolled leaf (gall) on an oak tree, she enters the gall. If she finds midge larva, she inserts her mouthparts into the larva. Within minutes, a potent neurotoxin in her saliva paralyzes the midge larva, who will die of starvation.

Once the female starts to feed, she can develop as many as 250 offspring. In seven days, her “abdomen” is fully distended, and her young -- of which only 5 to 10% are males -- are ready to emerge as fully developed adults. Males emerge ahead of the females, and mate with the females as they emerge from the mother and die shortly after. The females complete the cycle by dispersing in search of new hosts.

Luckily, the bites are not medically dangerous, just annoying (see video), unless people scratch enough to damage their skin, allowing bacteria to get in and cause a secondary infection. Unfortunately, bites can continue to itch for 10 - 14 days. To prevent the bites, scientists suggest wearing long clothing and insect repellent with DEET while outside, and washing clothes immediately after coming indoors. To treat them, doctors recommend using hydrocortisone cream and antihistamine.

At first, some people were hypothesizing that the outbreak had something to do with the cicada emergence earlier this summer (maybe the cicada larvae are a food source since they hatch 6-10 weeks after being deposited in the branches, and fall to the ground? Gross.). But, according to NBC, seven other states are dealing with similar outbreaks. They are Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio and Kentucky, so this is probably not the case. (The cicadas were mostly in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.)

UPDATE (Chicago Tribune 12/15): I guess sometimes these mites COULD munch on cicada larvae. Field Museum entomologist Daniel Summers says the mite also finds immature members of the Homoptera family to be delectable, he said.

That family includes the periodic cicadas, the noisy bugs that flooded the Chicago area to mate earlier in the summer. The next generation of nymphs are emerging now, presenting an irresistible food source to any Pyemotes mite looking for something to eat.

"They're hatching out right now in the forest preserves by the countless zillions," Summers said. "It would be an endless feast for them. That would be my best guess right now."

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Monday, August 6, 2007

mccarrots taste better?

Now, you may have already heard this one on the news, but it's pretty incredible. The August issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine published an article demonstrating the power of advertising to small children. (You can read more about this study in Forbes or the Associated Press)
By the early age of 3 to 5 years, low-income preschool children preferred the tastes of foods and drinks if they thought they were from McDonald’s, demonstrating that brand identity can influence young children's taste perceptions. - Pediatr Adolesc Med.

I was a little surprised the
San Mateo County, CA experiment was limited to low-income kids, but the study author, Dr. Tom Robinson, allegedly believes the results would be similar for children from wealthier families.

Five foods were tested. The chicken nuggets, hamburger and french fries were all from McDonald's; the carrots and milk were from a grocery store. Kids sat behind a white screen, and were handed two identical samples of food, one coming out of a plain paper bag, wrapped in plain paper, while the other came out of a McDonald's bag, wrapped in similarily-labeled paper. If kids did not immediately recognize the symbol (around 25% of the time), a researcher would tell them which one was from McDonald's.

The independent variable in this case was the packaging for the food, while the dependent variable was the kid's preference of food. (Kids also had the option of saying the two samples tasted the same.) The researchers made great efforts to control their experiment,
I recommend reading the methods section of the study to read the details. In fact, the whole study is pretty intense. For such a simple-sounding experiment, there is still a lot of serious scientific method involved. The write-up includes statements such as, "The 63 children performed a total of 304 individual tasting comparisons. Three, 2, 3, 1, and 1 child were not allowed to eat hamburger, chicken nuggets, french fries, milk, and carrots, respectively, and 1 child was unable to bite the carrots. "

The results?
  • 77 percent said the labeled fries tasted best while only 13 percent preferred the others
  • 54 percent preferred McDonald’s-wrapped carrots versus 23 percent who liked the plain-wrapped sample
  • The only results that were not overwhelmingly clear involved the hamburgers, with 29 kids choosing McDonald’s-wrapped burgers and 22 choosing the unmarked ones.
  • Less than 25% of the children said both samples of all foods tasted the same.
As with any science experiment, the results inspire more questions and opportunities for further experimentation. Pradeep Chintagunta, a University of Chicago marketing professor, makes an excellent point when he said a more fair comparison might have compared kids’ preferences for the McDonald’s label versus another familiar brand, such as Mickey Mouse. It would be interesting to see if it is specifically the lure of McDonalds, or the power of any advertising that yields these results. And of course, I would be interested in the author's presumption that the results would be similar with middle- to upper-class children. Would early exposure to Whole Foods and fine dining make a kid less susceptible to McDonald's advertising?

Finally, the whole things makes me consider the power of advertising in older kids (and adults). All I have to do is consider fads like Ugg boots....

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Friday, July 20, 2007

my first earthquake

This morning, at 4:42 am (PT), the U.S. Geological Survey reported that a 4.2-magnitude earthquake shook the San Francisco area. (read article) The quake originated about two miles east-northeast of Oakland, at a depth of 3.6 miles. Oakland is just east of San Francisco, across San Francisco Bay. I remember feeling my bed shake, waking up, and wondering if it was an earthquake. However, when I saw the clock said 4:44 am, I decided leave the investigating until the morning.

According to the USGS, "Each year the southern California area has about 10,000 earthquakes. Most of them are so small that they are not felt. Only several hundred are greater than magnitude 3.0, and only about 15-20 are greater than magnitude 4.0. " Although San Francisco is not exactly southern California, the general idea is the same. There are many microquakes each day, but this morning's quake was an unusual one. (In fact, according to the USGS site right now, in the 12.5 hours since this morning's quake, there already have been 11 more earthquakes in California today!)

Earthquakes, as most of you know, are a consequence of moving tectonic plates and are measured using the Richter scale.
The Richter scale is a standard scale used to compare earthquakes. It is a logarithmic scale, meaning that the numbers on the scale measure factors of 10. So, for example, an earthquake that measures 4.0 on the Richter scale is 10 times larger than one that measures 3.0. On the Richter scale, anything below 2.0 is undetectable to a normal person and is called a microquake. Microquakes occur constantly. Moderate earthquakes measure less than 6.0 or so on the Richter scale. Earthquakes measuring more than 6.0 can cause significant damage. The maximum quake rating ever measured is about 8.9. - HowStuffWorks

(image borrowed from some guy's blog)

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

moving giant marine animals

When I read that two new whale sharks arrived at the Georgia Aquarium on Friday, June 1st, while the recently-born beluga whale is making plans to leave the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago some time this summer, I couldn't help but wonder - how do you transport these giant animals?

Well, the two whale sharks were flown 8,000 miles from Taipei, Taiwan on a specially-designed cargo plane with 20-foot-long fiberglass tanks with oxygen machines and other equipment to keep them healthy on their trip. When they arrived in Atlanta, Georgia, their tanks were transferred to two flatbed trucks and driven to the aquarium surrounded by an escort of Atlanta police cars with their blue lights flashing. (video) They will join three other whale sharks in their new home in a 6 million gallon tank.

Qannik, the male Beluga whale born back in August, 2000, is leaving Chicago and heading for Tacoma, Washington's Point Defiance Zoo. Qannik's mother, Mauyak, is pregnant again and expecting the new calf this fall. The mother/son bond between Qannik and Mauyak has all but disappeared as he grows into a sexual mature adult, and he must leave the facility to avoid interbreeding between him and his mother. Qannik is now 11 feet long and weighs about 1,000 pounds. In his new home, he will live in a whale pool with Beethoven, a 14-year-old 1,600-pound male beluga.

Qannik will travel in a specially-designed freight plane, riding in a "custom-made, fleece-lined sling suspended in a shallow tank of ice water." Trainers at the Shedd have been putting Qannik in and out of the sling repeatedly this year, using it for check-ups and exams, which will help Qannik be more comfortable with the device during his trip.

UPDATE (6.11.07) Qannik has arrived at the Tacoma zoo!
The aquarium kept the timing of Qannik's move under wraps to stave off protests, officials told The News Tribune of Tacoma for a story posted on the paper's Web site Sunday.

The whale
traveled inside an "enormous, foam-padded plastic tank in the DC-8 plane for a flight that cost $84,000." The zoo website has posted photos of Qannik's adventures!

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

bad day at the fish farm

If I ever think I'm having a bad day at work, I will think of this story. Four workers in Turners Falls, Massachusetts fell into a 18-foot filtration tank filled with a mixture of sandy fish feces. The workers were standing on a pad, attached to the tank by a bracket, when the bracket broke, plunging them into the vat of fish waste. The men were rescued, treated and expected to be fine.

Turners Falls Fire Capt. David Dion comments, "It was very slimy and it was heavy," he said. "Never seen anything like it in my life."

The Australis Aquaculture fish farm in Turners Falls farms barramundi, a replacement for grouper. While we're on the topic, did you ever think of where your fish comes from? There are two types, wild and farm-raised. While fishing fish in the wild can quickly destroy ecosystems (think Happy Feet), farm-raised fish can cause similar havoc.

According to a 2002 article in Time Magazine, aquaculture (as opposed to agriculture) is already the world's fastest-growing food industry, with production increasing more than 10% a year. This is good because "about half the world's wild fisheries have been exhausted by overfishing. In the North Atlantic, one of the most depleted oceans, populations of popular fish are just one-sixth of what they were a century ago." Theoretically, when you eat farm-raised fish, you are saving a wild fish from being removed from the wild.

In fact, ecologists and economists warn that, at the current rate without any changes, the world will run out of seafood by 2048. According to the Washington Post, "the journal Science, concludes that overfishing, pollution and other environmental factors are wiping out important species around the globe, hampering the ocean's ability to produce seafood, filter nutrients and resist the spread of disease."

However, there are many critics of fish farming. According to that same Time article, Otto Langer, a biologist who worked 30 years for Canada's Department of Fisheries, says "a large salmon farm may pour as much liquid waste into the sea as a small city." Not only can fish farms contribute to polluting the waters, but they deplete the supply of wild fish in order to feed their farm-raised counterparts. This leads to some pretty unnatural stuff.

Because salmon are voracious eaters of smaller species, it takes several pounds of wild fish, ground up into meal, to yield 1 lb. of farmed salmon — an exchange that depletes the world supply of protein. The diet of farmed salmon lacks the small, pink-colored krill that their wild cousins eat, so the flesh of farmed fish is gray; a synthetic version of astaxanthin, a naturally occurring pigment, is added to the feed.
Also consider the effects of disease, parasites, severe overcrowding of fish, and the antibiotics (farmers give to protect their fish) leaking into the waters.. Also there are potential problems when farm-raised fish escape into the wild, interfering with the natural ecological balance of the area.

Shrimp are particularly damaging to the environment. Shrimp farms can actually raise the salinity of surrounding waters, and the waste run off can kill trees in area. Interestingly enough, Time has some praise for particular invertebrate farms.

On an eco-friendly scale, bivalves generally rate highest among the more than 220 species of fish and shellfish that are cultivated commercially. Mussels and oysters are filter-feeders that make the surrounding water cleaner, so small-scale farming of them is not usually harmful to the ecosystem.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

the cicadas are coming

Brace yourselves, Chicagoland, because the cicadas are back! The Chicago Tribune recently published an article about the upcoming infestation of cicadas (which happen to be in the Arthropod phylum).

Cicadas are often mistaken for locusts, but they're actually they are related to leafhoppers or aphids. (Watch a video of actual locusts here.) Locusts are grasshoppers that often travel in vast swarms. Because periodical cicadas appear in such large numbers, early European settlers in North America connected cicadas to the plague of locusts mentioned in the Bible. Cicadas are not locusts.

There are some great articles to help you learn how cicadas work. Basically, they work on a 17 or 13 year life cycle. They won't hurt you. Cicadas do not sting or bite, and their diet consists of the sap from plants. The very loud sound you will hear (mostly during the heat of the day) is actually the mating call of the male cicadas. The sound is not produced by vocal chords, but rather by the buckling of the ribs, the vibration of a membrane and amplification in the cavities of the cicada's abdomen. (You can visit the University of Michigan zoology site to find audio files from various types of cicadas.)

(click image to enlarge)
After they sing, the cicadas mate. Afterwards, adult female cicada lay eggs by piercing plant stems and inserting the eggs into the slit created in the stem. The eggs eventually hatch into small, wingless cicadas known as nymphs. The nymphs eventually fall to the ground and dig below the surface. Here they stay for 17 years, slowly growing into adults. The nymphs live on the sap from plant roots while they grow. When the nymphs reach full size, they dig their way to the surface with specially adapted front legs that act as tiny shovels. The nymphs then climb to higher ground and shed their skin for the last time. (see YouTube video) Now they are fully-winged adult cicadas. - How Stuff Works
Watch an amazing movie on the life cycle of cicadas.
(click image to enlarge)

There are two main types of cicadas: "annual" cicadas, which are around in small numbers each year, and "periodical" cicadas, which come out in a giant, synchronized mass every 13 or 17 years. I learned that there are believed to be 13 broods of 17-year cicadas in North America. (I also learned you won't find periodical cicadas on any other continent!) The respective 17 and 13 year broods of any one species only overlap once every 221 years, i.e. broods V and XXII emerged synchronously in 1897 and will not do so again until 2118." (source: Gordon's Cicada Page) Check out this great interactive map to learn more about broods and when they might be in your area!

The last brood to emerge was Brood X (brood #10), which came up in the spring of 2004 in the eastern US. The group of cicadas that will be seen in Chicago this May are named Brood XIII (or brood #13). The last time they surfaced (if you do a little mental math) was in 1990, when I was a freshman in high school! Hey, to celebrate this historic moment in your middle school lives, you may want to order your Brood XIII T-shirts now!

They will surface when the ground temperature reaches about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. With any luck, they will be here just in time for all those Memorial Day picnics....

More information on Brood XII (and local cicada events) can be found on the following sites:

Great presentation from Indiana University

The Lake County Forest Preserve
The University of Illinois Cicada Page
ABC News (with video)
Cicada Mania

And, it's not very nice, but you can play Swat the Cicada on your computer.

The University of Maryland even provides cicada recipes for your dining pleasure. It is said they taste like asparagus or clam-flavoured potato.NPR posts just one of their many recipes: (whoa - read the "before you begin")

Disclaimer: the University of Maryland does not advocate eating cicadas without first consulting with your doctor. While many people do eat cicadas, there is no guarantee that they are safe for every person to eat. As with all foods, it is possible that certain individuals will have allergic reactions to substances within the cicada.

Soft-Shelled Cicadas


1 cup Worcestershire sauce

60 freshly emerged 17-year cicadas

4 eggs, beaten

3 cups flour

Salt and pepper to season the flour

1 cup corn oil or slightly salted butter


Marinate cicadas alive in a sealed container in Worcestershire sauce for several hours. (Note: You can skip this step and go directly to the egg step instead.)

Dip them in the beaten egg, roll them in the seasoned flour and then gently sauté until they are golden brown.

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Thursday, April 5, 2007

$25 million global warming prize

A British billionaire Richard Branson teamed up with Al Gore to offer a $25 million prize to anyone who can develop a way to remove carbon dioxide gas from our atmosphere.

Gore and Branson said that although scientists are working on technologies to capture carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases at power plants and other industrial sources, no one has developed a strategy to remove gases already released into the atmosphere.

The winner of the contest must devise a plan to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere without creating adverse effects. The first $5 million would be paid upfront, and the remainder of the money would be paid only after the program had worked successfully for 10 years.

Another article tells that "Scientists have been looking into removing the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere and storing it in oil and gas fields, injecting it deep into the ocean, or chemically transforming it into solids or liquids that are thermodynamically stable."

So what exactly is up with all this talk about "greenhouse gases" like carbon dioxide?

The greenhouse effect is responsible for the Earth being warm and for us being able to live there. Gases in the atmosphere surround the earth and trap heat, just like the glass in a greenhouse traps heat for plants and flowers. The Earth is about 60° F warmer than it would be without these protective gases.

The sun sends light and radiation toward Earth. When the sun's rays reach the atmosphere, some of the radiation bounces off the layer of gases and back into space. Some of the sun’s rays pass through the atmosphere and are absorbed by the land and water. The Earth changes this radiation to heat.

“Greenhouse gases” take in any extra radiation and release more heat, which also raises the temperature of the Earth's surface. This is how greenhouse gases “trap” heat to warm our planet.

Or, if you prefer, watch this animated guide to the greenhouse effect.

Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, water vapor and ozone. Carbon dioxide makes up almost 84% of all the greenhouse gases we produce. And guess how we produce it?

➢ burning gasoline to drive cars and trucks
➢ burning oil, coal or wood to produce electricity for heating, cooling, and other purposes
➢ burning forests to clear land

Since I do not foresee us not driving cars, building buildings or heating and cooling our homes, maybe Branson has a good idea. If getting people to stop producing carbon dioxide is a daunting task, why not develop ways to get rid of it once we produce it? NASA/World Book has great information about alternative energy sources (not creating so much carbon dioxide) and carbon sequestration (getting rid of it once we produce it).

Anyone looking for $25 million can get more information here.

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Friday, March 9, 2007

the five-second rule

In the Ohio State - Wisconsin game on February 25, the most memorable moment of the game wasn't a three-pointer or the final score. Coach Tad Matta's actions were the big news when he picked up his recently-ejected gum from the floor and popped it back into his mouth.

According to a Chicago Tribune article, Matta said,
I have two daughters and they taught me a three-second rule. I have three seconds to pick it up off the floor and it’s still OK. I picked it up quick...

Not surprisingly, the incident found its way to YouTube.

With all this media attention, you might want to consider just how scientifically accurate is five- (or three-) second rule really is.

Jillian Clarke of Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences tested the theory in 2003. She performed tests by dropping Gummi Bears and fudge-striped cookies onto ceramic tiles. Some of those tiles had been treated with E. Coli (a bacteria present in our intestines, but when ingested in large quantities, can give us symptoms of food poisoning). She discovered the following: (as quoted in the Tribune)
  • Seventy percent of women and 56 percent of men are familiar with the five-second rule, and most use it to make decisions about tasty treats that slip through their fingers.
  • Women are more likely than men to eat food that has been on the floor.
  • Cookies and candy are much more likely to be picked up and eaten than cauliflower or broccoli.
  • And, if you drop your food on a floor that does contain micro-organisms, the food can be contaminated in 5 seconds or less.
A University of Arizona researcher Charles Gerba points out that surfaces can be misleading. The average office desk, for example, harbors 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat. And teachers’ work spaces have more bacteria than most other professions. (Great.)

A article explains simply, "Unlike baseball, when food hits the floor, it's out."

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

organic clothes not just for hippies anymore

I must admit, when I think of "organic clothes," I think of those scratchy, free-flowing pants and tops, in muted browns and greens, that are sold in stores next to the hacky sacks, incense holders and tarot cards. However, a recent AP article in the Chicago Tribune article (.pdf) made me think about "organic" in a whole new light. (I borrowed its title for my post, catchy, isn't it?)

The Tribune explains,
Whether shoppers are buying eco-friendly because it's trendy or because they hope to preserve Mother Earth, they no longer have to sacrifice fashion for philosophy. With major retailers like Target, Victoria's Secret, H&M and Nike joining the green trend, there's something for fashionistas of every price range in 2007.

Target, which carries a select number of organic baby clothes, is expanding its line this year. (Sam's Club and Wal-Mart are among the top five brands who use the most organic cotton globally, according to Organic Exchange.)

Victoria's Secret will also add organic cotton to its collection this year, Klein said.
People have been embracing organic food and health and beauty products for years, why the interest in organic clothes, seemingly all of sudden ?
With celebrities endorsing hybrid cars, vegetarian diets and launching their own eco-friendly clothing lines, experts say it was only a matter of time before the Hollywood trend caught on with fashion.

"It clearly has gotten more attention now because .... It's a global phenomenon," said Marshal Cohen, chief analyst for the NPD Group, a market-research firm. "We're seeing it in cars, we're seeing it in homes products, apparel, food."
Organic clothes used to mean only help, which was, for the most part, brown and scratchy. Now, you will find cotton, hemp, bamboo, wool, soy, corn and other natural fibers being used to manufacture natural and healthy fabrics. But, like many responsible ecological choices, it is not only about the product. The process is also better for the environment.

It takes about a third a pound of pesticides to produce one cotton T-shirt. About 180 to 300 pounds of chemical fertilizer is used on one acre of cotton in the U.S. About 90 percent of the fertilizer doesn't stay on the plant, but washes off, ending up in water supplies and habitat, says Klein.

Retailers say it's not just about buying organic, it's about the entire process. Under The Canopy uses a dye factory fueled by rice husks instead of fossil fuels. Growing organic also requires crop rotation, meaning a field that this year is used for cotton could be used for food the next.

With all these benefits, who wouldn't buy organic? Well, it's back to those two staples of American life: convenience and price. While organic clothing is becoming more widespread, it is generally easier to find non-organic clothing. Any organic clothing will cost you more. According the the Tribune, "A men's vintage-style organic cotton T-shirt at Wal-Mart is $9.83, while a similar regular cotton T sells for $8.83. Levi Strauss & Co. started offering organic denim jeans in select stores in November -- $68 for their Red Tab jean compared to $40 for non-organic. "

A blogging couple explains why organic clothing costs so much. (Plus, you can learn a lot more about the topic, on their blog, Organic Clothing!) They basically explain that organic seeds are more expensive to plant and harvest. The cotton or other fiber is also harder to manufacture and advertise, due to the relatively small market and lack of the mass-buying power that large chains have. Also, many organic vendors recoil from using "sweat shops," instead choosing to keep the labor in the US, paying fair wages. All of these factors contribute to the higher price.

An inconvenient truth is that organic and all-natural clothing will always be more expensive than conventional, chemical clothing. The good news is that the price gap will continue to shrink as the market size of organic clothing grows and the economies of scale improve. Doing what is right is not always easy … or cheap...

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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

chicago's global warming art

You may have read the recent reports (BBC, CNN) that humans are mainly responsible for global warming. (duh.) Mayor Daley and the City of Chicago has heard it too. And the city has responded with an idea of its own.

Similar to the fiberglass "Cows on Parade" from 1999, one hundred 5-foot-wide globes will be featured this summer in areas along the lakefront. Each globe will feature an artist's design to help "
bring awareness to the need for solutions to reduce global warming." (Chicago Tribune article)

Mayor Daley announced his plans today and plans to call the exhibit "Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet."

"We all share responsibility for global warming," Daley said. "We can all be a part of the solution."

Now, here's the even cooler part. After the globes hang out at the lakefront for the summer, they will be auctioned off. The money raised from the auction will be used to expand environmental programs and conservation clubs in the Chicago public schools. Now, that is a great way to give back.

Art teacher Turtel Onli, from Kenwood Academy High School sponsors such an environmental club. He says, "We want to help children make the transition from consumers to committed, passionate citizens." Very cool.


Thursday, February 1, 2007

don't drink the hand sanitizer

After an entry in the The New England Journal of Medicine, U.S. doctors are warning against drinking hand sanitizer. While this may seem like common sense to many of you, apparently two men drank the substance in an effort to get drunk. One man, when questioned, said he drank the substance because the label read "Active ingredient 63% v/v isopropyl alcohol."

Now, it is important to note that there are many kinds of alcohol. The kind of alcohol that most people think of is ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, the type of alcohol found in beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages. When described in Encyclopedia Brittanica, ethanol doesn't sound like something you would want to drink!
Ethyl alcohol is toxic, affecting the central nervous system. Moderate amounts relax the muscles and produce an apparent stimulating effect by depressing the inhibitory activities of the brain, but larger amounts impair coordination and judgment, finally producing coma and death. It is an addictive drug for some persons, leading to the disease alcoholism.

However, many people choose to drink it. But, it is important to realize that not all ethanol is safe to drink. As many students know, ethanol is used in schools as burner fuel. It can also be found in many other products, such as hand sanitizers and mouthwashes. However, most of this ethanol has been denatured, which means a poison (usually methanol) has been added to make you very sick if you drink it. But some people, like the men in these articles, are so desperate, they will take their chances. As you can read, it was not a very good idea.

UPDATE: Hand sanitizers, while effective in reducing germ transmission, can also cause intoxication in small children.

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

face transplant

The first partial face transplant was performed in 2005. The patient was severely disfigured in a dog attack. The surgery allowed this woman to eat and speak again. Scientists are now planning for the world's first full face transplant.

While many people have expressed interest in the transplant, doctors must carefully select their patients. The patients must have damage that is untreatable with current techniques. Patients must also be willing to take immunosuppressants (to stop their immune system from attacking the donor face) in order to prevent rejection. And, in the case that the face is rejected, donors must have enough of their own (undamaged) skin that doctors could replace the donor face with the person's own skin, if necessary. Choosing an appropriate candidate for the operation is almost as difficult as the procedure itself.

Many people ask if the person receiving the transplant will look like the person who donated the face. The answer is no. They will look like a combination of the two faces. It is not only the skin itself, but the bone structure of the skull underneath that determines what your face will look like.

Any comments?

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