Termite Guts Could Solve Energy Crisis

The way termite guts process food could teach scientists how to produce pollution-free energy and help solve the world's imminent energy crisis. Speaking at the Institute of Physics conference Physics 2005 in Warwick today, Nobel laureate Steven Chu urged scientists to turn their attention to finding an environmentally friendly form of fuel. In an impassioned plea to some of the world's brightest minds, he explained how he's leading by example, and encouraged others to join the effort which "may already be too late." Chu, who shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997, has begun studying termite guts – one place in nature where a key hurdle for carbon-neutral energy supply has already been solved. Termite guts take indigestible cellulose, which makes up the bulk of all plant material grown on earth, and convert it to ethanol, which even today is a versatile and popular fuel.

Chu described how he decided to leave the richly-funded precincts of Stanford University to become Director of the Lawrence Berkeley Labs to kick-start the effort. He has been cajoling his new colleagues, including 56 members of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, to realise the gravity of the problem and shift the focus of their research. And, he says, it's beginning to work.

The US already subsidises farmers to grow corn to turn into ethanol, but $7bn in the past decade has been wasted because the process isn't carbon-neutral. "From the point of view of the environment," explains Chu, "it would be better if we just burnt oil."

"But carbon-neutral energy sources are achievable. A world population of 9 billion, the predicted peak in population, could be fed with less than one third of the planet's cultivable land area. Some of the rest could be dedicated to growing crops for energy. But the majority of all plant matter is cellulose – a solid, low-grade fuel about as futuristic as burning wood. If scientists can convert cellulose into liquid fuels like ethanol, the world's energy supply and storage problems could both be solved at a stroke."

This is where the termite guts come in. A billion years of evolution have produced a highly efficient factory for turning cellulose into ethanol, unlike anything which humans can yet design. By exploiting these tricks, says Chu, we can use biology as a solution to a pressing world problem.

Nuclear fission may be the holy grail, but in the 50 years since it was first proposed, the predicted time-to-market has grown ever more distant. Solar and wind power look appealing, but mankind has not yet discovered how to store electricity on a large scale. Ethanol – a chemical fuel which would release no more carbon than it took to produce, would be the solution.

Immense funding is made available to cure the "diseases of rich people" such as cancer and heart disease, says Chu. "If we can't cure cancer in 50 years," he says, "it will be tragic but life will go on. But if we can't develop carbon-neutral fuel sources, life will change for everyone."


Open Access Scientific Journals

This is a really cool idea. The importance of creating a more autonomous scientific community has been overlooked through the years by many (at least to my knowledge), and this effort is not only very worhwhile, but could be potentially very powerful.

Via Mind Hacks:

The development of science needs the free flow of information, so scientists can both build on and test the work of others, and so the public can make informed democratic decisions about the role of science in society.

Most scientific journals are run by publishing companies that own the articles they publish. In fact, the results from the majority of publically funded science appears in these journals.

Why is so much science owned by private companies ? Part of the reason is that scientists jobs often depend on how many publications they produce, and there is a hierarchy of journals, so publishing in some journals (typically the more established and privately owned ones) counts for more in a scientist's career.

Many scientists would like to publish in open access journals but don't want their careers to suffer or to be out of a job.

The following suggests some ways in which you can support open access journals to boost their value in the science community, prevent career dilemmas, and help open up scientific research for the benefit of all.

More of this article

Directory of Open Access Journals


more sillyness

I don't quite know what to say about this.



Whats This?

CDL Presents: MapHub

I just got this email from the Hactivist Newslist. The project sounds really cool. I wish I lived in Pittsburgh (for the moment, anyway).
Wednesday, February 9th, 8pm at the Quiet Storm Coffeehouse (5420 Penn Ave) the Carbon Defense League will introduce its new project MapHub. MapHub is a web-based, multi-user interactive map. By contributing information about people, places, events, and notes you can help document the unseen narrative and history around Pittsburgh.

We want to solicit your feedback on the system and to brainstorm about how MapHub might be used by various communities and organizations around Pittsburgh.

We also need your help to contribute to the first MapHub project entitled "HEARD: a sonic landscape of Pittsburgh." Using a cell phone, individuals can call in and record audio from around the city. These audio recordings are then placed on an interactive online map that anyone can access to playback the sounds. This sonic landscape of Pittsburgh will be included as part of an installation in an international exhibition entitled "Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy" in Karlsruhe, Germany from March through July 2005.

Please join us at 8pm on Wednesday, February 9th, at the Quiet Storm Coffee House (5420 Penn Ave). We will conduct a demo and workshop for using the MapHub system to collect field recordings for contribution to the sonic landscape of Pittsburgh.

Visit the MapHub website


Apes tolerate injustice if they are close to the beneficiary

"Chimpanzees will tolerate unfair treatment, as long as it benefits someone they know well, say US researchers. This is the first time such behaviour has been demonstrated outside the human race.

Sarah Brosnan and Frans de Waal, primatologists at Emory University in Atlanta, gave chimpanzees a piece of plastic and rewarded them for giving it back. If a subject is given a paltry payoff, such as a cucumber slice or celery stick, and it can see another getting a grape, the short-changed ape refuses to cooperate.

But the strength of each chimpanzee's response depends on its social life. Those that had lived together for more than 30 years ignored the unequal treatment; whereas animals from a group formed eight years ago and pairs of chimpanzees reacted strongly, the researchers report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B1."


Behold: TV Carnage

TV Carnage is an amazing series of tapes full of nonsense, wonder, bad 80s commercials and Fabio being attacked by geese. Essentially, these guys compile the most rediculous TV footage they can find for your amusement. I can only imagine how many hours they had to watch just to make these things. Some content includes:
*Don Johnson and Mean Joe Green talking seatbelts.
*News reports on a child actor that broke into drugstores for pills.
*Steven Seagal on etiquette
*A local news report featuring an elderly citizen flipping out and taking on the cops
*Performances by unknowns that will inspire you to reconsider living
*80’s infomercials
*80’s action that will have you pumping your mesh-gloved fist in the air

Very highly recommended.



Three Storms to Converge and Wreak Havoc in Mid. US

Via DarkPlanet
The "Pineapple Express," a series of warm wet storms heading east from Hawaii, drenching Southern California and the far Southwest, which already are beset with heavy rain and snow. It could cause flooding, avalanches and mudslides.

An "Arctic Express," a mass of cold air chugging south from Alaska and Canada, bringing frigid air and potentially heavy snow and ice to the usually mild-wintered Pacific Northwest.

An unnamed warm, moist storm system from the Gulf of Mexico drenching the already saturated Ohio, Tennessee and Mississippi valleys. Expect heavy river flooding and springlike tornadoes.

All three are likely to meet somewhere in the nation's midsection and cause even more problems, sparing only areas east of the Appalachian Mountains.

"You're talking a two- or three-times-a-century type of thing," said prediction center senior meteorologist James Wagner, who's been forecasting storms since 1965. "It's a pattern that has a little bit of everything."

Also, an amusing bit about the Meteorologist conventions:

The American Meteorological Society will meet next week in usually tranquil San Diego, which should be hit with the predicted storms and accompanying flooding in time for the group's gathering.

In 1987,when the meteorologists met in San Antonio for their convention, the city had ice storms. In 1993, when they gathered in Anaheim, Calif., it rained for 4.5 out of five days and triggered mudslides. Atlanta got rare snow during the meteorologists' 1996 convention. And in 2003 in Long Beach, Calif., heavy rain greeted them.



Meat House

I have no idea what this means. The website associated with it is down, and I don't speak russian(?), which aside from the words "Meat House" is all over the sign. Notice the Mcdonald's golden arches. And what is that diagram trying to convey? Is this a prank? Is it an anti-Mcdonald's flier? I may never know...


Designer Ecosystems

via EurekAlert!

Just read this interesting article over at Eurekalert about the birth of a new feild of Ecology: the study of Designer Ecosystems, or the study of man-made habitats on an ecological level. It seems to me that many feilds of science have needed to adopt this way of thinking in order to really understand how humans effect their environment. In turn, this new feild of science has the potential not only to analyze our impact on our surroundings, but also to find new and specific ways to tailor our way of life to both ourselves and our environment. Think of the possibilities...

Also, it is good to see that there are yet more people in the scientific world that are challenging the notion that humans and their creations are not natural. Its difficult to understand anything about ourselves if we refuse to see that we are, in every manifestation, a part of nature. The study of Designer Ecosystems may open up a channel in which we can analyze our part in nature, and potentially find innovative ways to change some of our more destructive natural tendencies into those more beneficial to the entirety of the ecosystem.

"It's not what people generally think – they think there's either nature or there are cities," said Charles Redman, director of ASU's Center for Environmental Studies, and one of the project's principal investigators. "That's what this is all about – there is nature in the city. The city is part of nature."...

While the team's interest is in doing fundamental ecology research, there are also some important applied science issues behind the project. "What we really want to know is whether we can have a sustainable urban ecosystem in this kind of environment and setting. What are the elements of it that are warning signs of vulnerability, of some kind of event that could cause collapse? How do our institutions and the systems we have set up stand up against various kinds of stress? Is the urban ecosystem resilient?" Grimm asked.

"People in ecology are beginning to talk about designer ecosystems – systems that have been heavily influenced by humans. What we're doing is pioneering this," Grimm said.



Complexification is an extraordinary website of the algorithmic artwork of Jared Tarbell. The image on the left is just one of the many amazing peices on the site to be seen.

"Happy Place (the image to the left) renders the resulting configuration of a system of nodes connected together at random. Connections between nodes are considered friendships.

Nodes move about the stage with only two goals in mind:
A. Move close to friends but not closer than some minimum distance.
B. Distance self from non-friends as much as possible."

While you're there, be sure to check out the series entitled "offspring" (image to the right). Conceptually, I think this peice is one of my favorites. In case you're too lazy to check it, here's a little blurb about it:

"Offspring is a visualization of the pair bonding process of a theoretical robot colony.

Each robot is assembled, ages through youth, comes into a reproductive stage, and eventually dies of fatigue. If a robot is lucky enough to find a mate during it's reproductive stage, baby robots may be assembled.

Visually, the Offspring image is a historic graph of robot colony size and distribution. Males of the population are represented by single horizontal lines while Females are shown as double lines. The vertical position of the line indicates the robot's time of assembly, and the horizontal position of the line shows it's location in an abstract physical space. Faint diagonal lines connect parent and child. In this manner, older generations of robots are shown on the bottom of the image while their descendents are supported above them."


Survival Research Laboratories: Ten Years of Robotic Mayhem

It's hard to find words to describe this awesome compilation of SRL footage from through the years. All I can say, really, is that you should see it. Really.

Buy it at Amazon...

More on SRL...


Look What I Got For Christmas!!!

From Maybe Logic Academy:

Crowley 101
Taught by Robert Anton Wilson

An inquiry into the ideas and theories of Aleister Crowley - RAW style. This course will not practice or discuss at length any rituals, spells, invocations etc. It is a exploration of the psychology and philosophy of Crowley's work with some modern perspective on what's behind all the Crowley hubbub.

Course will include instructor-led forum discussions, additional readings, weekly study questions and instructor-led group online-chat sessions.

Thanks Agatha!

More courses from Maybe Logic Academy