Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday TED Talks XV

Astrolabe - a device for taking measurements of the altitude of the sun/stars for navigation.

Technology is a wonderful thing... watch Tom Wujec & his astrolabe

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Monster Tales to Entertain and Enjoy

*Sigh* I know, I should be studying, working on reports/labs/projects, spending time with my seedling, etc, etc, etc. instead of reading. Growing up, that was almost a 4 letter word (Obviously with funny spelling). My brother and I couldn't put down a book if we tried. Unfortunately, I am still trying to put down books. I need BRA (not a bra, geez... Book Readers Anonymous). I started reading Twilight (Book one of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series) on a lark because I had already watched the movie (thought it was OK... not Oscar material obviously), but was curious about the differences & I wanted to read the second book before seeing that movie (coming out tomorrow!)

Anyways, to make a long story short, I was surprised at how good it was in drawing in the reader. It wasn't a hard read (pretty much one book a day), and there was no intricate plot lines to follow, but it was enjoyable (in that "Oh my god I'm tired of reading technical papers, I like reading something I don't have to think hard about"). So enjoyable that I am now almost completely done the series (only a couple more chapters to go on Breaking Dawn.

Well, now that I'm almost completely done, there are two more books I think I would enjoy. I heard about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a long time ago, but have never gotten around to reading it. (Well, same with the Twilight... but I've been avoiding them)

Anyways, now there is Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and here is a video you may enjoy too...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Ted Talks XIV

Becky Blanton gives a good but disturbing talk on how easy it was to become homeless, both in her mind and *almost* every one else's. The discussion under the video is almost just as interesting as people debate what is homelessness, why don't people think that she was homeless, and ultimately other people's mindset.
Right now, there is a large homeless population in Canada that are invisible. Except when they get on the news because the government is closing "the Tent City". What are effective measures that the Canadian and provincial governments could use to stop the problem?

The scary thing was she was employed and she decided to do this. What happens to people forced into this position without help from friends and family?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Human Evolution

PBS had a great NOVA episode on last night. Part 1 of 3 on "Becoming Human". It was facinating, and interesting for the whole family. My little seedling even enjoyed watching it... although I've got to admit that some of her comments were along the lines of...

"mom, they're not wearing clothes. tee hee hee!"
"I can see her bum!"

which is always great for a pre-pre teen.

Part 2 and 3 are coming... can't miss!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday TED Talks XIII: Nullius in verba

Friday Ted talks returns!

David Deutsch talks about explaining explanations. Highly recommended... and he gives talks just like me! Watch this (especially if you want to know what nullius in verba means).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Good News Edmonton!

Alright, great news everyone! Jay Ingram from the Discovery Channel is going to be at the University of Alberta to give a speech on November 18th. The UofA alumnus will be recieving an honorary degree in the morning and giving a talk in the afternoon at the Myer Horowitz Theatre.

His talk will be about Charles Darwin and his findings in honor of Darwin's 200th Birthday Anniversary.

Tickets are on sale at Ticketmaster for $15.00 an adult.

The only thing better would be if he gave the speech with Adam & Jamie from the Mythbusters!

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Post in which I talk about Botany Porn

Aha! I knew that would get your attention.
I don't have much time (class starts in 10 minutes), but I just recieved my new edition of National Geographic....
and well...
mmmm..... how can I say this?

They have a centerfold in there that is beautiful. The limbs on it. The shape. Wow! I mean, it wasn't just a 2 fold centerfold. I think I had to flip that paper out 5 times! Anyways, its not the same as on the paper, but here is the internet link that you can read. They have a video on how they assembled that amazing picture. But, get a hold of the National Geographic and see what I'm talking about!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Mapping Land Use

So lately all I have time for is looking through other people's blogs and reading what is goin' on outside of the campus (which is definitely more fun than reading what is goin' on at the campus), but I read Highly Allochthonous today, and found this post by Ms. Jefferson.

Land use has been mapped globally and regionally and everywhere in between looking at different use practices to use types (and yes those are different). However, what caught my attention to this was the use of the word "biome". It is a word that is usually applied to natural ecosystems that share climatic characteristics that affects the biotic systems found in those areas. Consequently, those biomes would also affect the land use. This map plots the types of usage, but more interestingly these land use types roughly approximate the biomes that are found there as well.

Picture from "A Framework for Ecology & Earth Science in the 21st Century" by Erle C. Ellis and Navin Ramankutty

Picture from Wikipedia entry "Biomes" - Vegetation - No Legend

Pretty much the general trend is that humans will use whatever land they can (or plants can) survive in. I would like to see what they mean by each of the types of land use, such as the definitions of their use of "Rice Villages" and "Irrigated Villages". However, this is a great example of GIS and land use mapping. Now, to see if I have time to explore more of the Ecotope website...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday TED Talks XII

Cary Fowler talks about saving genetic diversity through cold storage of seeds.

He is the Executive Director of Global Crop Diversity Trust where their mission is to store their seeds in a safe remote place.

However good the message is (and I agree with keeping a seed bank to preserve genetic diversity for other reasons), I question the seeds' value if the temperature rises as "in many countries the coldest growing seasons are going to be hotter than anything those crops have seen in the past." If these crops have not seen these temperatures in the past, what good will they do if kept for the future because of systematic crop failure? They couldn't have evolved different mechanisms to live in the hotter climate.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I will be taking a "Small Hiatus"

"Ha! Another one of those" I sure you, my silent readership are saying. Yes, I know that a couple were not small, and another time I said I was not going to post a lot, I ended up posting at least 2 per day.

Anyways, I just started school again (my courses are OK, although I've only been to 2/4 yet), my little Seedling is going to 2 competitions this weekend (road trip!), and its the long weekend in Canada. So hopefully the weather cooperates and makes this a very nice week.

Those are my excuses, and so I will not be posting lots of material, although I will be updating you (whether you are the one who wants it or not) on how it goes. (It = school and road trip).

So hang in there and enjoy your labor day long weekend (and those other countries out there... nya nya nya!)

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!

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

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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.

Friday, June 26, 2009

High Speed Rail Coming to a Station Near You? Only in the States

As an update to a previous post about high speed rail between cities, Scientific American has looked at this with their 60 second podcast found here;

To reread the previous post go here;

Aparently the Obama Administration has dedicated money towards the development of high speed rail linking multiple cities around the United States. I think this is a good sign... now only if the Canadian Government would look at this too....

Friday Ted Talks V

And speaking of cults from last week....

Diane Benscoter

Wiki Checklist on Cults
1. A movement that separates itself from society, either geographically or socially;
2. Adherents who become increasingly dependent on the movement for their view on reality;
3. Important decisions in the lives of the adherents are made by others;
4. Making sharp distinctions between us and them, divine and Satanic, good and evil, etc. that are not open for discussion;
5. Leaders who claim divine authority for their deeds and for their orders to their followers;
6. Leaders and movements who are unequivocally focused on achieving a certain goal.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Autism is NOT caused by Vaccinations - A Review

A Broken Trust: Lessons from the Vaccine-Autism Wars
Author: Lisa Gross
Researcher: Sharon Kaufman (Professor of Medical Anthropology @ UofCalifornia)

A paper published in PLoS Biology in May reviews the actions and reactions regarding the anti-vaccination movement. More important, the author, Lisa Gross, has documented research that shows the consequences of propaganda and half-truths have upon the health of the population as a whole. And the surprising fact that it continues…
Now, more than ten years after unfounded doubts about vaccine safety first emerged, scientists and public health officials are still struggling to set the record straight. But as climate scientists know all too well, simply relating the facts of science isn't enough. No matter that the overwhelming weight of evidence shows that climate change is real, or that vaccines don't cause autism. When scientists find themselves just one more voice in a sea of “opinions” about a complex scientific issue, misinformation takes on a life of its own.
Despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines don't cause autism, one in four Americans still think they do [7]. Not surprisingly, the first half of 2008 saw the largest US outbreak of measles—one of the first infectious diseases to reappear after vaccination rates drop—since 2000, when the native disease was declared eliminated(see Figure 2). Mumps and whooping cough (pertussis) have also made a comeback. Last year in Minesota, five children contracted Hib, the most common cause of meningitis in young children before the vaccine was developed in 1993. Three of the children, including a 7-month-old who died, hadn't received Hib vaccines because their parents either refused or delayed vaccination.
Does this reluctance to believe trained professionals indicate a widespread “conspiracy theory”, or is it a horrible meme that has taken on viral traits? The evidence overwhelmingly states that this information is dangerous to the well being of humans, but it still persists, not unlike a cold or the flu. Now when H1N1 Influenza is gaining notoriety for being a pandemic, and also of being a relatively mild flu; most parents (remember one in four in America) believe an idea that is hurting them. Should not the WHO confirm this meme as an epidemic? It is now in other parts of the world as well as Canada…
The same trends have played out in Britain, where one in four parents told pollsters in 2002 that they believed “the weight of scientific evidence supports a link between MMR and autism” [8].
Though state law in the US requires that children be vaccinated to enter school or daycare (although parents may cite philosophical and religious reasons to claim exemptions), vaccination is not compulsory in Britain, and vaccination rates for MMR there dropped from 92% in 1998 to 80% by 2003. Although rates climbed back to 85% in 2006, England and Wales last year saw 1,000 measles cases before winter, breaking a ten-year record [9]. (Immunization rates for other childhood vaccines in Britain were largely unaffected by the MMR scare.)
Not only does this misinformation hurt the parents’ own children, but risks the population as a whole as well.

Had the discovery about thimerosal come at a different time, it might have gone unnoticed, suggests Jeffrey Baker, a pediatrician and the director of the Program in the History of Medicine at Duke University. He argues that rising autism rates, an expanded vaccine schedule, and contemporary attitudes toward environmental risk combined to create what he terms “a perfect storm” [15]. ....
In January, Baker appeared on an Oregon radio call-in show that featured several parents who shunned vaccination. While over 95% of Oregon parents vaccinate their children, only 70% did so last year in Ashland, a small town known for its Shakespeare festival. Nearly 60% of Ashland residents polled told the CDC, in town to hear parents' concerns, they “would expect serious consequences” from vaccines. Such low vaccination rates worry public health officials because they could signal the next epicenter of an epidemic: when vaccination rates drop below a critical percentage, called the “herd immunity threshold,” infection can swiftly spread among unprotected individuals. This threshold varies depending on the vaccine and target disease; for example, the target for measles, one of the most contagious human diseases, is 90% [16].
Celebrities and other non-professional people including parents with unrelated (or nonexistent) education are giving information with an air of professionalism exhorting the public to believe them instead of trained doctors and researchers. (As if those scientists went to school for over 8 years just to get student loans and the letters behind their name….) Personally, I will not let a high-school graduate design or build a bridge that I would use just because “they know better than those engineers because it’s just a big conspiracy to get more money out of the public, and of course the design does not flow with the Chi so it causes cancer!!1!!11!”

Because this problem is widespread, and not just in the United States it cannot only be a symptom of the education system or government as some people have stated. We have popular TV shows dedicated to Mythbusting* common Urban Myths, and they often find them not true. Is the anti-vaccination movement the same as these urban myths, but only because it causes deaths and widespread illness does it garner so much public attention? I believe people need to start their own experiments, collect information and think logically about the information. We need to trust people to do what they are trained to do… however some skepticism is needed as the public has been mislead before (DDT, BisphenolA, etc). So the reasonable solution would take into account both benefits and drawbacks and see which is better and provide research results to the public at no cost.

*among my favorite!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Thanks for the wonderful evening...

I just wanted to tell Flynn FX and ms. Flynn FX that I had a wonderful time at their "fire pit" on Sat. :)
I'll let you know when I'm gonna take the bar exam...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday TED Talks IV

More great Friday TED Talks... even one from a Mythbuster!
Adam Savage on his obsessions

And one on plants in the workplace although I think this guy is crazier than me!
Kamal Meattle

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

And they wonder why I'll never get married...

First of all, I will give you a brief history of what had occurred this past week. I attended a wedding of a [female] cousin, with whom I do not speak with often. I assume it’s because when she found “god”, I was not worthy of her esteem, or maybe I just got into too much trouble as a teen. Anyways, at the ceremony & reception the priest had quoted Carle Zimmerman, and I am not sure if it was in the intended way or not. Apparently C.C. Zimmerman was a ‘celebrated’ sociologist that specialized in family patterning and the specific quote was from his book Family and Civilization (1947) in their wedding ceremony. Zimmerman supposedly states in the book, the following are the reasons of societal break-down in past civilizations were always preceded by the following familial patterning:

“Marriage lost its sacredness [and] is frequently broken by divorce;
Traditional meaning of the marriage ceremony is lost;
There is increased public disrespect for parents and authority in general;
An acceleration of juvenile delinquency, promiscuity and rebellion occur;
There is refusal of people with traditional marriages to accept family responsibilities;
A growing desire for, and acceptance of adultery, is evident;
There is increasing interest in, and spread of sexual perversions
and sex-related crimes.

Not only did the preacher quote these general guidelines, he told the congregation, ahem, I mean those gathered to celebrate the joyous occasion what Zimmerman REALLY meant by those words and in fact went through each section and described what he had meant and what god had intended for his ‘children’. (I have doubt if that is really what Zimmerman said, but I refuse to buy the book).

He meant those people who divorce; those that don’t believe in the bonds of marriage, and who do not marry; wives who do not listen to their husbands; those that fornicate outside of the bounds of marriage, whether married or not; children who do not respect or follow what parents or authority say; people who rebel against morality; homosexuals and people that practice other sexual perversions are the cause of societal decay and this has been shown time after time in multiple civilizations and it all starts within the family.

Then in the course of 30 minutes there were 4 separate prayers, further preaching, etc, etc, etc. In which I think all of our family was offended by something or other (I have a couple of lesbian aunts, an aunt who refuses to get married to her boyfriend, half the family is atheist or agnostic and me who can't listen to authority if it bit me on the @$$). If we weren't offended over the whole judgemental nature of the wedding, it was by the reception and dinner where the family was so far back that we were almost outside the tent.
Anyways, I have been doing some research on the venerable CC Zimmerman, and I will report if I find anything of value.
I know what some of you are thinking “it was your COUSIN’S wedding after all, its up to her”, & I was prepared for the whole god & church thing (she is a missionary after all), but this was being talked at for 1 hour about how we all are going to hell, and we will take all of civilization down with us! That was going a bit far in my estimation & no way to win new converts. Other than praying that this marriage works out 4 times in less than an hour & not even counting the reception & dinner (Maybe the preacher doesn’t think it will, LOL).

Friday, June 12, 2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

To Papa Bill...

If had a flower everytime I thought of you, I could walk forever in my garden.

- Claudia Ghandi

I'll miss you Papa...

To my Leo (June 4, 2009)...

The House Dog's Grave (for Haig, an English Bulldog)
-Robinson Jeffers, 1941

I've changed my ways a little; I cannot now
Run with you in the evenings along the shore,
Except in a kind of dream; and you,
If you dream a moment,
You see me there.

So leave awhile the paw-marks on the front door
Where I used to scratch to go out or in,
And you'd soon open; leave on the kitchen floor
The marks of my drinking-pan.

I cannot lie by your fire as I used to do
On the warm stone,
Nor at the foot of your bed; no,
All the nights through I lie alone.

But your kind thought has laid me less than six feet
Outside your window where firelight so often plays,
And where you sit to read,
And I fear often grieving for me,
Every night your lamplight lies on my place.

You, man and woman, live so long, it is hard
To think of you ever dying.
A little dog would get tired, living so long.
I hope that when you are lying
Under the ground like me your lives will appear
As good and joyful as mine.

No, dears, that's too much hope:
You are not so well cared for as I have been.
And never have known the passionate undivided
Fidelities that I knew.
Your minds are perhaps too active, too many-sided...
But to me you were true.

You were never masters, but friends. I was your friend.
I loved you well, and was loved. Deep love endures
To the end and far past the end. If this is my end,
I am not lonely. I am not afraid. I am still yours.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Ted Talk May 29th

This week, I have found an inspirational TED Talk for us botanists.
Why we are saving billions of seeds by Jonathan Drori.

It is regarding the Millennium Seed Bank run by Kew Gardens.

Wonderful talk....

Friday, May 22, 2009

Flower Focus I: Crocus

Now that spring has sprung in our horribly cold climate, I do enjoy my little croci that pop up wherever they can & give a little colour to the beds in the spring.
The crocus is genus of flowers that were originally found in southern Europe and the Middle East. A few species are hardy to Canadian Zone 2, and most will naturalize (aka multiply year after year) so that they turn out to be a very good investment in your garden. A spring flower (although in Alberta we use the word “spring” lightly), it comes in a multitude of colours (blue, purple, pink, white) and sizes. In my garden I have 2 species of true croci.
The crocus belongs to the iris family. Included in the iris family are (obviously) irises, gladioli, and freesia.

Saffron (the bits you use in cooking to give taste and colour) comes from a section of the girly reproductive bits (stigmas) of a specific species of croci that is commercially grown in Iran, Spain, Kashmir, Greece, Azerbaijan, Morocco, and Italy. It is used in cooking all over the world (but well known in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking).

Saffron (Crocus sativus)

So the next time you are eating any meal with saffron, you now know what you are eating. BTW, saffron is one of the most expensive herbs/spices that are available on the market because each stigma is hand picked. There are millions that need to be picked to make a little bit of seasoning.

I will try and regularly spotlight different plants/flowers that I am growing currently (or would like to grow when more space is made available. People regularly believe that choices are limited waaaayyyy up here & growing plants is hard. It's not. I don't water ever & I only pick weeds when I remember :)

Great TED Talks

I've been a regular listener/viewer to TED Talks for a while now. I think as a regular Friday post, I'll post a couple of links to some talks that I think all people should watch.

Here are my two for today:

Sir Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity

Margaret Wertheim on the beautiful math of coral
(great talk & great fusion between art & science)

Au revoir!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bill 44: Good Idea Gone Bad or Giving Parents the Power to Make Kids Stupid?

Bill 44 is an amendment to the Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act in Alberta (which if passed will be renamed the Alberta Human Rights Act) which is aimed to include sexual orientation as a fundamental human right along with race, religious belief, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, maritial status, source of income or family status.
This has been a long time coming……
However, I am suspicious of a part of the wording in Section 11.1 which is the Notice to parent or guardian. I am assuming (big assumption though) that the intentions are good. However, by denying all children basic information about sexual health, sexuality, sexual orientation or religion we are ill-equipping them to deal with subject matter that will become more important as they get older, and information to deal with decisions in a logical and mature manner.
There is no such thing as too much information. Instead of picking and choosing what information we give children, cannot we teach them our values and morals while disseminating the information with them so that they are not afraid of information? If we refuse to teach children about other lifestyles, cultures, and practices they will be afraid of them and therefore discrimination will happen more frequently. (I’m trying not to use cliché’s here, but “Knowledge is Power” and “Your only afraid of what you don’t know” come to mind and are very appropriate I’m thinking)
I am an atheist. However, I want my seedling to learn about all of the other religions out there so that when she hears about them, she will be prepared with her decision & it will not be tricked out of her with half-truths and omissions.
I am heterosexual. However, I want her to learn about homosexual and bisexual people, and the fact that they are the same as heterosexual people. (There is no “gay lifestyle” per se as they lead normal lives just like everyone else) I want her to learn about what monogamy, polygamy, bigamy, and abstinence is. What is sexual intercourse and does fellatio count as sex? I want her to know about birth control for both men and women, abortion, sexually transmitted infections (diseases), child birth and child care.
Mostly, I want her to know that there are choices, so many choices and that no one has a right to chose for her (not even me). I want to instill my values and ethics in her, but the individual responses are up to her. And I do this because I TRUST HER! I trust her to make the right choices for her. I trust her to learn from mistakes that she makes. And most of all, I trust her to let her children choose as well. The only way that she can make choices for herself is if she learns about all of this.
There is another problem with this bill. With religion comes the controversy about evolution. Many fundamental religious people believe that Bill 44 is a way to deny their children learning about evolution. However, what they do not realize is that evolution is a cornerstone of all science. In an effort to refuse their children something that they are scared of, they will deny their children any hopes of being successful in science. But then again, maybe I’m thinking this is a good opportunity for the kids that do learn about evolution (survival of the fittest). Ironic.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Alternative Transportation ... ALL ABOARD!!

Just finished reading Plan B v. 3.0 by Lester R. Brown from the Earth Policy Institute. It was an interesting book, and he puts emphasis on certain points that are interesting to me. While taking a look at the usage of energy, consumption of consumer products, and transportation he also addresses ways that the States can change its ways to become more energy efficient, produce less consumer waste and use alternate energy in a fashion which will reduce reliance on oil & gas.
I especially was interested in the alternate transportation. In Alberta (aka. Canada’s Texas), we have a large reliance on automobiles. Our cities are designed around them and sprawl could be the alternate name for both Edmonton and Calgary. The true waste is using the best farmland in the world to put ugly homes upon. This is one of the oldest arguments in Edmonton and Calgary and the Michael Phair’s / Tooker Gomberg’s have used this argument time and time again, but big (housing) industry wins out all the time.
But I digress. Alternative transportation technology is here, and can be possible at this very minute, and while Europe and Asia is utilizing this technology, North America is lagging behind. So much for “west is best”.

High speed trains have the capability of running over 500km/hour speeds. Average speed time in Europe and Asia is roughly 250km/hour. This means that travel between Edmonton and Calgary could be accomplished in less than 1 ½ hours including embarking and disembarking. Existing tracks can be used AND a stop between in Red Deer is feasible. Next thing you know is high speed transit between Edmonton and Vancouver, and Vancouver to Ontario using existing track.

Map Between Edmonton & Calgary ... 298km of wasted time

View Larger Map

Often, the complaint is that people want to use their cars to get around once in the other city. However, if the train stations are set-up in a way to be accessible to city public transport in the same station, ease of getting around will be increased. This may have an added benefit of increased tourism, as people can relax and read the paper & have coffee on the train and then take the light rail transit or busses to their final destination. No longer would there be 3-5 hour long car trips and then the navigation of strange cities.

I can imagine it now….
A relaxing train trip from Edmonton to Calgary while reading a book to my little seedling. Getting there and taking the bus to the zoo. Visit family afterwards for supper and then taking the train back home in time to get seedling to bed and watching the new Criminal Minds on TV...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day Part Deux

Great Video....
Great Message. (And Bob Marley played on a sitar!)

More info go to

Earth Day!

OK, I'll make this quick, as in a couple of hours I have my last Final of this Semester. Woo hoo! *Insert Happy Dance Here*

I found a great meme for Earth Day.... Small Bigger Better
Found it at The Questionable Authority
(I know... studying)

Mine are:
Small: Rinsing out & recycling individual yoghurt cups instead of throwing them away (I know, but its hard to do when your at school)
Bigger: Walking or biking to work/school at least 2 times a week
Better: Grow more veggies in my garden and finding ways to a) keep them longer through winter and b) tasty recipies that I can cook & then freeze ahead.

Also, for the cynical I found this at Ed Braytons site. A company that is about to see the **** hit the fan.

Enjoy & Happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 6, 2009

In my dreams....

This is an awesome video...
If anyone asks this is why I wanted to become a Botanist (see if I can GM to make these)

Alberta - Rape and Pillage

On a road trip this last weekend, to one of the most beautiful places in the World (not just Canada, eh?), I saw the most disgusting view. Alberta sure knows how to welcome guests as we show how to rape and pillage the land that we are only borrowing from our future.
If I was smart enough, I would have gotten the camera out and taken pictures of these horrible sites, but I will next time to show what is truly there.

h.t. to

I've got to admit, the picture is not exactly what I saw, as we were travelling on the other side (on the road, not water, ha ha). Also, this picture looks better than what I saw, as Saturday morning there was smoke spewing out of the stacks. Before the actual plant came into site, I thought there was a brush fire as there was smoke everywhere.

So, now your thinking, oh what a whiny tree-hugger. Can't stand a little smoke, etc. But we also saw strip mining. It wasn't on the scale of Ft. McMurray's tar sands, and I have no clue what they were mining. But there was no other reason for these marks a large quantity of land. We also saw grasshoppers, and "urban" sprawl (if you can call Hinton or Edson urban...). Garbage found in the trees, on the snow, and on the road.

These would not bother me if these were anomolies, but they are symptomatic of the larger problem of massive extraction from the land and pollution of the air. Once in Jasper there were many animals seen as well as beautiful vistas. (I will post nicer pics tomorrow)
But you would think that the Albertan Government would want visitors to our Province to see pristine views and beautiful landscapes from Edmonton to Jasper instead of grasshoppers every 20 meters. Every time someone (National Geographic to name one) writes an article, tells an international panel about Alberta, the politician argue that it isn't true and we are taking it out of context (ie. it's only in Athabasca). However, it is time to understand that we cannot continue taking for granted what we have.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Girls just wanna go scuba diving...

I am looking for a place to a) learn to scuba dive, and b) relax. I will probably take my seedling, who unfortunately is not old enough to scuba dive (although I think she would make an excellent diver... inquisitive, responsible & active) because we are missing out on an extended-family vacation at the end of this month due to her extensive extracurricular activities.

An associate of mine from Search & Rescue is going to French Polynesia next Wed for 2 weeks. So when he gets back I'll quiz him on what the diving was like & how reputable the shops are. I've never been diving, so I've also been asking everybody what to look for in a shop and for equipment. And Bob no, I don't think that if they have undercoating on their boat, they will look after the rental equipment as well.

I've been told to go to Vancouver Island & dive off their shores (although ewwww. Feet in shoes is not my idea of "finding neat things").
Some great websites:

Dept of Education: Work Harder Not Smarter

I'm sure many feel this way about the school system in Canada or the US. Both systems are based on the same practices with few alterations. Core subjects (Math, Science, Language Arts, Social) with a few sprinklings of fun subjects thrown in to keep kids entertained. The problem I am seeing with this strategy is that children are taught to do what the teacher does and do it over & over & over, ad infinitum.
When that child who can recite or redo what the teacher has "taught" (because very few children actually understand the mechanics/reasons behind the theory), they graduate High School and go to university. This university now expects for the reasoning behind methods to be understood without reteaching the subjects.
A few of the children probably have twigged to the understanding of concepts that were not explicitly explained. But the majority of those children (and I have to admit that I am one when it comes to mathematics) recite and give back the teacher what they want, but if asked the same question in another way cannot work their way through and come up with an answer because they lack the underlying principles and/or theory that was implicit in the work but not stated.
And now that university expects them to know this stuff...

Luckily I have the ability to self-teach (or probably more likely avoid classes where there is material I do not understand), and this has not been a problem in acquiring my education so far. But I have seen it come up in a number of places. I have a nasty habit of forgetting most things taught in one semester by the next (unless pummelled into my head over & over & over), even if I DO understand the concepts. I usually pick up quicker the next time it is explained and have that "Oh yeah!" moment.
But how do you teach the underlying principles & to retain material that is absolutely critical in the future? And more importantly, teach this to a wide range of ages & learning abilities...

Monday, March 30, 2009

OK or Not? Bragging

Alright, I have to brag. Just a little.

My little Seedling had a hockey tournament over the weekend and did great on Sunday. Walked away with Gold in the Atom B division. Also scored 2 hattricks on Sunday (4 goals in one game, three goals & an assist in the other).

And I asked her if she would like to call Auntie & tell her (her Aunt also plays hockey), & Seedling said she did not want to brag, because no one likes to be around a bragger. I thought that was a little sad, as she worked hard in both games, and deserved those 7 goals & 1 assist.

When is it OK to brag?

I know these are not my accomplishments, but I am extremely proud to be her Mom. She works hard for these & deserves them (the amount of practice she puts into her sports is amazing, not school work though... mmmm). I want people we care about to be proud of her too!

But is she right? I know that when other people brag, it makes me uncomfortable (especially when it is nonstop!). Also, lots of other hockey moms post on Facebook and/or Twitter everything their child does, and it becomes a little much, like "Johnny Appleseed won a game" or "Johnny Appleseed made a friend!".
I guess these would be spectacular if he never wins any games or makes any friends, but I know that he does regularly...
And this is not unique. There are many other circumstances when people brag about themselves "I partied so hard on the weekend", or "I just kicked some butt on the green".

So is it different when you are bragging about yourself? Or your child? Do people REALLY want to know how many drinks you had before passing out?

Well, all I can say is I'm glad I let someone know about her weekend. It seems that no one else will if she has her way...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A gift for Selina - c'est tu!

For someone wishing it would be spring faster! Enjoy.... these are the first things to come up in my garden every year.

Recommended Songs

Well, through a little luck of mine, I am able to get some songs free over the internet (and legally). It is in exchange for my "opinion". Ha, if only they knew I give it for free!

Anyways, I have run out of songs to get. I picked 2: (re)education through labor (by Rise Against), and Walking after midnight by Patsy Cline. (The last song was not on my CD's of her. How could they miss that song?!)

Anyways, if any of you have songs you would recommend because you like them, are relatively rare, or are the only good song on a CD, please let me know. I think I have over 20 free to get in total so far.

The other problem is I have quite a few CD's, but thankfully I have an eclectic taste, so keep the ideas coming...


Monday, March 23, 2009

Phytoremediation as an alternative method in Reclamation Strategies

Phytoremediation is the use of plants to clean up toxic levels of heavy metals, organic contaminants or pesticides by the absorption within the plant body and either converting the compound or storing it in the plant material, or immobilizing the contaminant within the soil area. Phytoremediation processes include 1) Phytostabilization, 2) Phytodecontamination 3) Rhizosphere Degredation 4) Phytoaccumulation and 5) Phytoextraction. These processes can safely clean contaminated water, wetlands, soil and air pollutants. As shown above, plants can be used as a natural way to clean up polluted waterways, and can even safetly clean up effluent from sewage contamination.

In all of the processes, except for phytostabilization, plants actively take up the contaminant and process it in a variety of ways which depend on the nature of the contaminant and the plant species itself. Sunflowers have been used to remove arsenic compounds and brassicas to remove lead compounds. Each species has its own growth rate and bioaccumulation rate which are important factors for deciding how to remove contaminants. Seasonal removal of plant material thereby removes the contaminants from the area to be safely disposed or stored in an alternate location. This method requires several seasons for the complete removal, and in fact complete removal of the contaminant may not be possible.

Phytoremediation can even occur inside the home. Air pollution that occurs inside newly built homes, known as off-gassing of new products can affect the health of the residents. NASA had conducted a study in the 80's showing that plants are effective at removing formaldehyde and benzene and other off-gasses from the environment just by growing popular houseplants.

Phytoremediation is not the whole story of course; important microorganisms such as Bacteria and Archaea are invaluable for providing in-house cleaning for a fraction of the work plants require. Already used in all tailings ponds (in the Tar-Sands of Northern Alberta), multiple fermentation Bacterias and methanogenic Archaeas provide the cheap & easy way of converting organic contaminants into methane and carbon dioxide. Of course this takes years as well, but they do not need seasonal removal of organic material like plants do. However, when plants and bacteria/archaea work in concert with each other, it is the fastest method of reclamation and probably safer than most other methods.

Gratao, P.L, et al. (2005). Phytoremediation: green technology for the clean up of toxic metals in the environment. Braz. J. Plant Physiol. 17(1) 53-64.

Meagher, R.B. (2000). Phytoremediation of toxic elemental and organic pollutants. Current Opinion in Plant Biology. 3: 153-162

Meers, E., Hopgood, M., Lesage, E., Verv.aeke, P., Tack, F. M. G. and Verloo, M. G. (2004). Enhanced Phytoextraction: In Search of EDTA Alternatives',International Journal of Phytoremediation. 6(2): 95 — 109.

Van Aken, B. (2008). Transgenic plants for phytoremediation: helping nature to clean up environmental pollution. Trends in Biotechnology. 26(5) 225-227.

Wolverton, B.C., Johnson, A., and Bounds, K. (1989). Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement Final Report. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Stennis Space Center, MS.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Shark Attack! Just Kidding...

After Jaws (the movie), I'm sure more sharks were killed out of fear than food. This video is great at showing the overreaction to something that needs our respect and understanding, not fear.

Please sir... may I have spring? Warm weather?

The lowliest of the low... nothing is more overused (except Shakespeare) than Oliver Twist. I'm sure Dicken's is rolling in his grave to know the multiple ways people use his poor Oliver to affect a supplication for something they want.
.... But I'm desparate. For warm weather. For more than 6 months out of the year, there is snow crunching underneath my feet. I long for green things to see, and flowers to smell, and branches to prune. I'm sure that had Dicken's lived through a cold Canadian winter he would've written Oliver to say "Please sir... May I have some Gloves?", because who wants more... all you'll get is more snow.

What's that you say? Snow in the forecast? I should've seen it coming.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

They've found Anastasia and Alexi

Through the modern science of DNA analysis, they have finally solved a mystery that has been capturing the hearts of millions.
They have found Anastasia and Alexi Romanov which has been proved through DNA matching to their parents and siblings from a grave ~70m away. I've been assuming that the matching sister in Alexi's grave was Anastasia, but it could have been one of his other sisters. The important meaning from this is that all of the Romanov family has been found. This paper in PLOS One has the science behind it (and that the Russians and American's don't agree on which sister was missing).
The mystery that has inspired half a dozen movies can now be laid to rest.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Victory Gardening (Recession Gardening)

Victory Gardens are coming back. Originally to help sustain families during the war years (and the dirty-thirties in between), and also to reduce the pressure on food production and distribution during that time.

Apparently (I've yet to see full scale where I live) we are in a recession. Cut-backs and layoffs are the norm in Eastern Canada, as well as in the entire US. Western Canada is doing OK, but we will feel the pinch soon in Texas-of-the-North. How long the recession lasts is currently the favorite prediction guessing game of high-profile financiers and bankers (each trying to give a direr prediction than the others). People are finding ways of reducing bills in order to keep their homes (with VERY large mortgages).

In between Hardy Explorer Roses (from Morden, Manitoba), oriental lilies and ornamental grasses, you can plant small vegetables that can be sown and harvested throughout the year. There is no need to remove all of your ornamental flowering plants. Space for lettuce, beans, and carrots does not have to be large.

Also, raised beds can be arranged with vegetables to be attractive and/or easy to care for. Help is available on the web when you run into problems. Take 10-20 minutes a day for upkeep (minor hoeing, watering, etc), and you can grow your own food for the table too.

Now, I've been doing this for all my life (raised on a farm), and gardening is my passion (botany ...hello!), but you don't have to have a green thumb to do this. So things die. As long as its outside & you give a tiny bit of care, things may work out. It doesn't have to be perfect (no one is... look at Martha Stewart... I'm still laughing about the jail time :p )
Google about vegetable gardening... trust me its worth it!
(A link that you may find useful : UBC's Beginner Guide to Vegetable Gardening

DST Part Deux - Update

Aha! I have found other opinions and background on Daylight Savings Time to reflect upon...

Built on Facts: Savings Time?

Government of Canada: Time Zones & Daylight Savings Time

Consumer Energy Report: Does Daylight Savings Time Really Conserve Energy?

Me? I thought I handled Sunday with remarkable aplomb. My seedling had a hockey practice at 7:45am. She woke me up at 5:45am telling me it was time to go (I had forgotten to change my alarm clock so we would've been late had it not been for her!). I grumpily got out of bed, dressed/brushed teeth/hair, etc in 5 minutes & still had time for a Tim Hortons Roll Up To Win Coffee.
We just made it.

So anyways, I think the best idea out of the posts is that we should have permanent earlier hours. From now on (and no changes twice a year), have the clocks roll back a couple hours so that most of us take advantage of the early daylight. FOREVER. I think its the changes that bug me (and to quote a commenter on Built on Facts; it feels like jet lag twice a year.... without going anywhere).

Friday, March 6, 2009

My Favorite Open Laboratory Book 2008 Winners

Every year since before who knows when, there is an annual award for the best Science blogger IN THE WORLD!!! Mwah ha ha ha! Since I've just started I don't feel left out that they haven't picked me yet (and my writing leaves tonnes to be desired if my first sentence of this post is anything to go by). Anyways, I digress.
I've viewed the list and my top 5 favorites are:
A Rule of Thumb by Cabinet of Wonders
10 Things about GE Crops to Scratch from Your Worry List by Tomorrow's Table
*whose blog incidentally looks just like mine :)
The Evolutionary Biology Valentine's Day Poem by Digital Cuttlefish
The Igneous Petrology of Ice Cream by Green Gabbro
Even Blood Flukes Get Divorced by The Loom

The entire list is available at and they are all great. It's nice to know so many people are out there working at their everyday jobs, but are putting an effort to communicate with other people in different fields and backgrounds about their passions.

Now to work on my posts that will get me Open Laboratory 2009..... mwah ha ha ha!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Starting a petition to remove Daylight Savings Time

Alright, I know it seems futile, but I am going on a strike. Until I get spring around these parts, I, I..., I.... well, I don't know what I'll do. I'm done with the endless months of winter. Combine that with a bad haircut (no I won't post pics), my cranky seedling, and midterms that just won't end, I'm not real happy right now.
I figure that should be enough to at least petition all governments to remove Daylight Savings Time. It begins this Sunday early in the morning. So we lose an hour that I won't reclaim until the fall. And unfortunately, it is an hour of sleep.
Daylight savings time began in the early 20th century. Wikipedia has a very thorough background on the history and effects of this phenomenon.

Current Daylight Savings Time In World

Blue = Daylight Savings In Effect
Red = No Daylight Savings Ever
Orange = Had Daylight Savings but got smart and Removed it

There have been many reasons why this is a good idea. But to me, I'd rather drive to school/work in the sunshine instead of not seeing it until I leave at night. And look, it doesn't even have to be a whole province! The upper right corner of BC apparently has kicked this bad habit and no longer observes daylight savings time! I don't understand why it has to be so early in the year. Why not the end of April? That way, you only have to drive into the sun's glare in the morning only once a year. (Trust me, nothing like not being able to see where you are going). I dunno, I think I am being very reasonable. Either daylight savings goes, or spring comes early...