Monday, August 31, 2009

Ramming My Head Against A Brick Wall. Again.

Now I know that where I live is relatively cut off from the rest of the world (for various reasons), but frankly a lot people here have their heads stuck up their asses.

What is right with this picture? They are not watering mid-day.

There is a reason why Albertans are called the Texans of the North. A large number are uber-conservative &/or wackaloony religious (we have our own ‘creation’ museum by Big Valley), and are intolerant of ‘others’. Lots of Albertans also believe that both water & gas will continue to flow forever and that any claims to the contrary are conspiracies by the government to drive up prices. Many people were surprised when one of the refineries nearby was damaged in the huge storm in the middle of July and many PetroCan stations were without gas for weeks (Quel horror!).

However, there is one thing about them that I am absolutely pissed off about. I’m talking about watering their lawn in the middle of a 30 C day. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Just thinking about this makes my blood pressure rise to dangerous levels. First of all, I hate the thought of watering the lawn on the best of days. Xeriscaping is a great gardening method where planting drought resistant plants will decrease the amount of time you have to spend in the garden working and reduce water bills. Also, collecting rain water is another method of reducing water usage. (And here I feel as if I’m talking to a brick wall ‘cause I’m sure that most people have heard this ad nauseum.) But, I have seen over and over and over and over and over homeowners with their sprinklers going at 1:00 pm with over half the water being evaporated without even hitting the ground.

I’m at a loss at how to stop this (Other than posting a sign on their lawn in the middle of the night saying “Spank me. I’ve been very naughty. I water my lawn at noon”. Which probably won’t make them stop, but it sure will make me laugh as I bike/drive by.

Another way to stop this would be to use drought resistant grasses. Available now at Rona’s/Home Depots around Alberta are eco-grasses that are mixtures of drought resistant grasses that would be great alternatives to Kentucky Blue grass. Researchers have also been working on blue grass hybrids that will be drought tolerant, but retain the desirable texture of Kentucky blue grass. But whether these hybrids will be cold tolerant enough for Albertan users is another question altogether.
So please, please, please STOP watering your lawn during the day, and try not to at any other time. No more excuses or you could end up with that sign on your lawn.

USDA/Agricultural Research Service (2009, August 30). Creating The Ultimate Drought-Resistant Lawn/Pasture Grass. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 31, 2009, from­ /releases/2009/08/090830100514.htm

Friday, August 28, 2009

I Can't Get No BMI Satisfaction

from my seedling, but I try. Oh how I try...

First of all my disclaimer… I am not in the public health field, and nor will I ever be. However, I do (as most people should) have an interest in certain findings especially if they relate to me and my family. I have a “pre-teen” girl, so these findings are interesting as I am already aware that she is conscious of her body image. Sometimes she likes it and at other times she doesn’t. I just want to know if I’ll be paying for her therapy for years to come.

The study (soon to be) published regarding overweight children and their "happiness" regarding their self-image has interesting results. What was most surprising is that normal weight boys overall had a more negative image of themselves than girls did. However, girls’ satisfaction with themselves was reduced when their BMI increased.

Girls - Poor body satisfaction
Normal 5.7%
Overweight 10.4%
Obese 13.1 %

Boys - Poor body satisfaction
Normal 7.6%
Overweight 8.4%
Obese 8.1%

Now the reason why this is so interesting is that there have been previous studies that claim that poor body satisfaction can be indicative of their future health (namely eating disorders). The authors also claim that the satisfaction of body image can change over time. Are the children at risk for eating disorders always unhappy with their bodies or just sometimes? I can see that I have to read many more papers to see if someone answered that question. Also, these numbers seem relatively low. Only ~13% of obese girls feel that they have poor body satisfaction?! That is not a lot. Less than 10% of all of the boys in each of the 3 different groups felt they had poor body satisfaction. I am surprised because I expected that over 50% of the obese children would feel that they don't like their bodies from the girls and the boys. Very surprising. (And they took a relatively large sample size; over 2000 girls and boys each were analyzed).

Oh well... I will keep my little seedling active (with hockey, soccer, and dance) and save up some money for her therapy ('cause you know its gonna happen; if not this she will have to go because I kept her too active as a child and she missed lounging around and that ruined her for life). But she will keep questioning her image. I know I still do (and I’m relatively happy with my body… all the parts are in the right places, lol, oh my! how expectation lowers as you get older!)

And Open Access:

Austin, B.S., Haines, J., Veugelers, P.J. (2009). Body satisfaction and body weight: gender differences and sociodemographic determinants. BCM Public Health. (In Press) Accessed (August 28, 2009):

BioMed Central (2009, August 28). 10- And 11-year-olds Feel Pressure To Have A Perfect Body. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 28, 2009, from­ /releases/2009/08/090826191843.htm

Friday TED Talks XI

Snob, me???!!!

Listen/Watch/Read this fantastic TED Talk by Alain de Botton. Great speaker & very funny.

Also, what is true success by John Wooden.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wildlife in My Backyard

In my yard, we have a new visitor which is quite interesting to watch. The Goldenrod Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) was found preying upon innocent bumblebee's (not sure the exact sp. sorry...I try not to touch other things' lunch, lol) Try and see if you can see it in the picture on the left (click on pics for a closer view). Its in between the two petals in the front. That fuzzy black blob in the yellow centre is its lunch. A poor fuzzy little bee. (I know bee colonies are currently in trouble because of Colony Collapse Disorder, but I can't help it. Watching these spiders attack their prey is fascinating!) These spiders are found throughout Alberta, and due to its size (~7mm), I think that this was a female Goldenrod Crab Spider. (I say "was" because while researching on the type of spider, etc. I haven't seen it since taking the pictures). During my research, I found that these spiders can range in colour from yellow to white, but always has the darker red stripes down its abdomen which is visible in the fuzzy picture to the left. It is very good at blending into this Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum var. Alaska), but can be found anywhere waiting for its next snack. After I finished taking its picture, I sat with my little seedling and watched as it dragged the bee across the flower to nestle it between two rows of petals. The next day, it was gone!

Acorn, John and Sheldon, Ian. 2000. Bugs of Alberta. Pg.150. Lone Pine Publishing. Edmonton, AB.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Scientific Poetry

I LOVE this blog...
The Digital Cuttlefish

Check it out... you'll know why a couple of the posts have been featured in OpenLab...
my absolute favorite is The Evolutionary Biology's Valentines Day Poem :)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday TED Talks X

Biomimicry as a blueprint for design...

Janine Benyus talks about using nature as a muse and to take advantage of millions of years of trial and error (aka evolution).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wisdom from Unlikely Places

I just finished reading "The Wisdom Of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS" by Elizabeth Pisani. It was well written and the narrative format gave a natural progression through her experiences from a somewhat hopeful to a battle-worn epidemiologist. The collective struggle with politicians, religious leaders, and the bureaucratic nightmare that are individual countries and global programmes is nothing short of heroic.

As an inspirational epidemiologist, she does not hide behind organizational red-tape/policies, but truly tells the science and the reasoning behind each prevention method. Use condoms... have needle exchange programs... find ways to protect the people. It doesn't matter who the people are or what they do. They are still people.

If I could nominate her for a Nobel prize, I would. But I have a feeling that there are many people doing the same type of work just like her. However, I do want to hear her on TED Talks. She is truly inspirational and her book is a must-read. You may not agree with the methods or policies and you may not like who the "people most at risk" are, but it is important to know for preventative measures. This IS something that can be fought with good prevention policies, and there are some innocent victims.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

'Killer Spices' Provide Eco-friendly Pesticides For Organic Fruits And Veggies

Original Article at ScienceDaily
A new study from UBC about botanical pesticides. Great idea, but I'm not sure if these will be effective (enough) pesticides. The author notes that most of the essential oils are very volatile, and some cannot last longer than a couple hours.
This can create some problems:

- If researchers modify the oil structure or add other compounds to last longer, then "organic" farmers can't use them any longer.
- As well, will they be testing for food safety both before and after the modification? (Herbal remedies are not tested or regulated, and some can be extremely dangerous to your health)
- Will the oils alter the growth of the target plants at all? Some plants create the oils to inhibit growth of neighbouring plants as well as repelling insects.

I feel that this area would need a large amount of research before using, but also look at who is funding research (a botanical pesticide company)... I would be looking for similar research as well to be sure that they are not only publishing data that they like.

I do agree, however, with the concept. This is following the trend of looking to nature for ideas and concepts before starting from scratch (This is going to be this Friday's TED Talk), and using already-tested ideas.

Remember that everything that comes from nature is not necessarily better for you.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Mistakes were made....

And dammit, they were made by me!
I just finished the book "Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts" by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.
The book was a dissection of the reasons why and how people self-justify their actions (as the subtitle clearly states). I found the book very interesting, as well as thought provoking. But the whole time I was reading it, I'm thinking about large and small mistakes I have made and wondering if I have owned up to them....
A very telling point for me was how people would internalize good actions "I did that as I am (smart/good/nice, ect)", while rationalizing bad actions by externalizing the behavior "I did that because (they made me/they started it/they were bad)". And therefore, anyone (not just the evil people) could be made to do horrible things to another person. It is yet another exercise in critical thinking as I continue to make mistakes and justify bad things that I do (mmmm.... really I try not to, but it seems I am one of those people with a lead foot. I will try to change :) *promise!)
Tavris and Aronson also looked at instances in marriage, war, politics, and the american justice system for both self-justification of mistakes and admission of mistakes. Clarity and accountability are not the only things we should be looking for in politicians, but from every person we know.
And the next time you make a mistake remember:
1. apologise sincerely because you DID do it, and
2. don't excuse yourself... we all have choices and you made yours.

Friday TED Talks IX

So I apologise,
and yes, it will probably happen again (Soon, I think as my reg. classes start in 2 weeks!), but I took a little break while I was completing a summer course. Lets just say that cramming a 4 month class into 12 days is not fun.
Anyways, here is another installment of Friday Ted Talks. The video is a little old (gimme a break people!), but still and always relevant.

Micheal Pritchard invents a water filter...
(and he's got balls to drink it after too! Ewwwwww)

and a PRI podcast about science which also talks about water scarcity in parts of the world... Cambodia and the Middle East.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

All Botanists.... on your mark.... get set....

Go! Find the journal article that describes the new plant ...

** Hattip to Mr. Flynn for letting me know about this. I haven't looked at my RSS feeds in 3 weeks (because of my French class... which is done tomorrow... yay!) so I have missed all the up-and-coming news to share with everyone!

This story is one of the reasons why I wanted to become a botanist. It always seems that there is nowhere left to explore, and then surprisingly, people discover new plants in remote regions. I'm hoping that there will still be some left for me to find... (I'm still looking for someone to fund my trips around the world *hint, hint*)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Je suis tres desolee.

Pour 2 semaine dernier, j'ai etudie le langue francais a ma ecole, l'university d'Alberta. Je vais finis apres cette semaine, comme je suis tres desolee (also for the lack of accents... damn it!). Le vendredi "Ted Talks" will return after this as well.

La botaniste!