Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sociologist/Anthropologist Quote of the Year!LOL

Now that's dedication!

Sociologists send you surveys. Anthropologists go through your trash. One of those data sources won't lie. - Ryan via Skepchick

(Regarding the paper where they analyzed sewage water for traces of drugs)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Algae’s Strange Bedfellows

Currently, there is (a minor) debate as to whether algae is a plant or not. Most do not include them as plants because they lack complexity in the cell, and do not share a few (but key) characteristics with plants. (However, that does not stop my old Bot Prof from asking what the oldest plant is and the “correct” answer is a type of green algae…grrrr)
Anyways, I digress… a new exciting branch of research is experimenting with producing oils from algae to be used instead of traditional fossil fuels (which ironically enough is probably fossilized algae too!) Craig Venter (of the Human Genome Project fame) is one of the leading scientists engineering algae to create the biosynthetic oils. However, he is catching some bad PR because of his strange bedfellow, ExxonMobil. This company, alike most of the prominent gas & oil companies around, are not too concerned with their energy gathering and environmental use. So, let’s critically think about what they are trying to do and see if this is a good idea or not:

(Photo on Left is of the Kelp Forest at Monetery Bay, Calif)

Using Algae as a Biosynthetic Oil Producer

Renewable resource – Algae takes little to grow and will produce lots considering size
Use excess fertilizer – Can create a market for using excess fertilizer and maybe even creating fertilizer as a byproduct (making less ammonia using Haber-Boscht?)
Defer energy crisis – could also be considered a con because this will prevent people from reducing the amount of energy they are using with their lifestyles. Because most North Americans, Australians, and Europeans have a resource-rich lifestyle, and refuse to reduce the amount of resources they are using, this also creates a large inequality with other countries around the world. Most developing countries will expect to have the same benefits as the post-industrial countries.

Continuation of Bad Energy Sources – Using algae will make other renewable resource energy sources such as photovoltaics and wind less attractive because of fluctuation. If people are lazy and choose the easiest type of energy source, they will not change their habits and therefore, problems will still exist.
Bioengineering – Plants have a nasty history of becoming less efficient as they become more bioengineered. Also, it creates a possible bottle-neck of genetics which becomes a possible endangerment of the whole industry if a disease outbreak occurred. Remember the one great maxim that everyone learns in Intro Bio: Genetic Diversity is Important. (For numerous reasons, but that’s another post for the future)
No Net Carbon Sink – It cannot be considered a carbon sink because if creating oil & gas as an energy source, it will be released in the near future. However, if used for creating other petroleum products that will be a sink for a long time to come (plastics, etc), it may be considered a sink, but as a fuel its not. That is the problem we have now is too much carbon (and frankly a lot of other greenhouse gasses that everyone ignores like methane and NOx’s and SOx’s).

Also, another con would have to do with the prominent Oil & Gas company. Would they be willing to clean up after themselves? What happens when this bioengineered algae escapes (ooooh good plot line for a novel), and oil slicks cover the water and suffocate many organisms (less air-water interactions mean less O2 dissolved in the water), or create a huge algae bloom and creates more dead zones in the oceans. Mmmmm. I have great respect for Craig Venter, lets see what he'll do.

Borrell, Brendan. 60-Second Science Blog. “Clean dreams or pond scum? ExxonMobil and Craig Venter team up in quest for algae-based biofuels”.

The Wrong Garden in 2003

Oh Noes! Where was I? This garden totally passed me by the first time…
James Dyson created the “Wrong Garden” at the Chelsea 2003 Garden Show. This included the water-flowing-uphill water feature, inverted cone planters, non green plants and benches that do not look like they would hold weight. This is fantastic engineering!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Search & Rescue Insurance SNAFU

I volunteer for Search & Rescue. ERSARA to be exact.
And currently ERSARA is in discussion with SARA (Search and Rescue Alberta) and the Government of Alberta over insurance issues which has been brought to light because of a horrific event this past winter where two skiers went out of bounds and one died.

The Golden, BC Search and Rescue group has officially suspended their operations because they were unable to handle the claim of the remaining skier who is suing them for not rescuing him or his wife. I want to make clear that the reporting has been inaccurate. According to this CBC story back in February, Golden Search and Rescue refused to research the area after the first time they just “unreturned rental skis and missing persons reports at the resort”. Actually, that would be a first, search-wise. I think that would be the resorts job (esp. the unreturned rental ski bit. Mmmm…… I’ve never been trained to look through paper records before.) And then, according to the reporter, the SAR team told the RCMP the case had been looked into before, so they didn’t look again.

First of all, all Search and Rescue operation must be initiated by the police, and are usually coordinated by the police as to where to look, since they receive all information related to the missing persons, etc. They received all information regarding where the SOS’s were located and therefore were the only ones to task the Golden SAR to where to look. An assigned officer is usually always at the search base, and is always updated on where the teams have looked, which quadrant the teams are currently searching in and discussing with the search managers where the teams will look next.

This is a horrific event, I agree. However, the skiers went out of bounds (and they had to know they were going out of bounds, because there were multiple signs warning them) and not only that, they left SOS signs & then walked away!!!
Helicopters repeatedly found the SOS signs but couldn’t find any people. After 10 days they were found, and sadly the wife had passed away by then.

I know the husband is angry and probably is feeling some survivor guilt (why did she die and not me, etc.) but he needs counseling, NOT a lawsuit. Golden SAR just does not have that kind of power to search wherever and whenever they want. We are told (before being accepted into the SAR team) that we CANNOT search without prior go-ahead from the required authority. If we do, we are just any other civilian. No WCB (workers compensation board), no insurance (if our group is lucky enough to have this), no backup. Also there is no affiliation with any SAR, no equipment usage (if that equipment belongs to SAR, of course you can use your own) and no other help.

This is symptomatic of a deeper problem. Why are people that had no responsibility in the accident being punished & why are the very people who were solely responsible allowed to blame (and punish) everyone else?! What happens when a hikers or a child goes missing in the Golden area this summer? They cannot call SAR because of their inability to work because of this lawsuit.

I don’t believe fingers should be pointed at any one agency. Yes, there were communication problems, and yes, mistakes were made, but no one is perfect. Mistakes were made by the skiing couple, mistakes were made by the RCMP, and mistakes were made by SAR. But really, will a lawsuit help anything? No, it will punish volunteers who will no longer feel like volunteering and all of the good that they have accomplished in the past will be forgotten.

Now, I know mistakes will occur in the future (human nature & murphy’s law, ya know), so if you can, please contact your local MLA and MP and tell them that you want SAR Volunteers to be insured. Tell them that you want them in your community for when something goes wrong. We help when someone goes missing and when disasters happen (some ERSARA members helped with Hurricane Katrina, and lots helped with the Pine Lake Tornado). We are a valuable asset to any district and we need support.

Search and Rescue is a unique volunteering community. We are on call 24 hours a day, EVERY day of the year and sometimes we may risk our lives to save yours (we’re not supposed to though). We cannot choose who we help, and we cannot help at all unless we are called in by the police. So please, support your regional Search and Rescue teams, follow signs and use your freakin’ common sense!!!!

My little Seedling on the ERSARA Quad

Monday, July 20, 2009

Happy Anniversary!! & Tsunami Detection

Aha! It's my 50th Post & its only taken me 11 months! Ha Ha Ha Ha. Well I started this blog hoping to post more prolifically than this, but time & life usually gets in the way. So I'm glad I've gotten around to it at all.
I'm interested in GIS (Global Information Systems) and GPS (Global Positioning Systems) and I'm thinking that this is really what will give me a job after my school career is over. I enjoy new developments and the ingenious ways that people use the satellites in order to create knowledge and help mankind around the globe.
There is a great new paper out about how the researchers analyzed the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman tsunami to gain the ability to track tsunami's through the water by watching the colour differences from satellites in space. This monitoring with hopefully give scientists the ability to warn communities by the ocean with specificity with time and area. Also, this tracking will be able to detect the exact source of the tsunami with incredible accuracy.
Tsunami's are unique waves in that they are shallow water waves that have very low amplitude, and are therefore very difficult to track over open ocean. Usually a boat will have no indication that a tsunami has passed below it, and only when the wave gets closer to the shore will the symptomatic crest be visible rising out of the water.
Currently, there are only 2 methods used to detect tsunamis before they strike the coast. One is a network of sensors that detect pressure differences that are scattered around the oceans (predominantly in the Pacific), and the other is to use satellites to measure sea surface height which is extremely accurate, but there are only a couple of satellites that are used in this way and they are restricted to their orbits.
The new method can use standard satellite equipment to contrast the difference between rough water (darker) which is symptomatic of tsunamis and calm or smooth water (lighter), in order to find out direction and speed of the tsunami. The monitoring can happen world wide (however, maybe not so much in higher lattitudes, depends on the range of the orbits of satellites), and without restriction to governments and economy like the current sensors that are expensive to make, operate and are only in few locations world wide.
O. A. Godin, V. G. Irisov, R. R. Leben, B. D. Hamlington, and G. A. Wick. (2009) Variations in sea surface roughness induced by the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman tsunami. Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci. 9; 1135-1147.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Performance Feedback Revision

There is a great podcast through the Naked Scientists with the rapper Baba Brinkman from Vancouver!

Performed for Charles Darwin's birthday celebration in February. The podcast is a little long but its well worth it, and you might learn something too!

Friday Ted Talks VII

Psychology and Evil;
Here are two great talks about how anyone can commit evil acts and how damage to the brain can make a normal person more susceptible to being psychotic. Evil is a combination of genes, nurture and circumstance.

Great Talks....

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday TED Talks VI

OK, so I'll be posting Most Fridays...
Here is another installment of the ever-popular Friday TED Talks.

Tom Wujec from Autodesk has my interactive wall....
(I just don't think he knows it yet)

and from watching the great new show on TV last night (The Philanthropist)

and Katherine Fulton talks about philanthropy.

I enjoyed this talk about empowering everyone to become a philanthropist. I just don't think that I will be saving a poor African orphan, or a trafficked woman in the sex trade like the one on TV.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Canada's Ocean Observatory

Canada may now lead the world in sustained underwater ocean research through the NEPTUNE program and observatory through the University of Victoria.
Could this be like the hubble for the ocean? Notoriously, the ocean is the least known part of the entire world. Some parts of the universe are more explored than certain parts of the ocean.
Maybe Canada can do something to change this...

World's largest ocean observatory takes shape

Shared via AddThis

or straight from the horse's mouth

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Boycott Against the Most Evil Fiends There Are...

Soda Pop Companies!!!!I am starting my own boycott ASAP. After watching the 100 mile diet on TFN (The Food Network), I started feeling like I should do that as well. But.... frankly, there are things I just couldn't give up. (Coffee, chocolate... get my drift).
However, I AM going to pledge to stop drinking ALL pop. I refuse to buy it. I refuse to order it in a restaurant. I refuse to receive it (nicely though) at someone else's house. And I even (gasp!) refuse to use it as a liquor mixer.
I'm sure my little seedling will have some hard feelings about this, but the #1 thing given up even after the 100 days finished on the 100 miles was pop. The people felt healthier, lost more weight, and weren't wasting their money on useless "food".

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Prisons can Lead Environmental Change

Scientific American has a wonderful article today about inmates pitching in to help save the environment. I believe that this is a wonderful start, and that this idea should also be used in Canada.
All of the inmates in Canada have the ability to contribute something useful and because the environment is something that everyone shares, this may help them (and frankly, the general non-incarcerated population as well) to realize that this is a problem that is shared by a whole community.
I recently read a book, Deep Economy by Bill McKibben that explained that when people feel that they are in a community and inclusive group that they started acting less individually. The needs of the group were placed at an equal or higher value than the needs of an individual. Now, firstly I am all for individuality and individual choices. However, the two are not mutually exclusive of one another. Now, when people make decisions about family, work, environment, etc., never does community play a role in the outcome of those choices. This must change. You can have individuals making choices, but the community must be thought of within respect to those choices and how the choices reflect the needs and values of the community as well.
If we can get the general population of prisons helping outside communities, this will a) improve the environment and b) give the prisoners a sense of accomplishment and worth. I would rather these prisoners having the chance at operating large composts, manufacturing wind turbines, etc and using their skills instead of them watching TV and rioting. If they feel needed within the community (and for this it can be Canadian Community, Provincial Community, etc), it is a great way for them to reenter society and build skills in order to be a fully functioning member of society. Often prisons just teach prisoners how to be better criminals. Let us make them all tree-huggers instead.