Later On

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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Why businesses hate drones

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Businesses really like to keep their environmental degradations (for which they have no intention of paying) a secret, since otherwise they would have to acknowledge responsibility for what they’ve done. It’s the same imperative to secrecy that drives criminal enterprises, corruption in politics, CIA criminal behavior, police misconduct, and so on: if the offense is kept secret, then the offender cannot be held to account. (And in fact, we’re seeing more and more of society becoming secret—a very bad sign.)

This interesting article by Brian Merchant in Motherboard shows how people are using drones to look at what industrial farms do:

Since 2012, Mark Devries has been ​flying drones over A​merica’s largest factory farms. In just-released aerial footage, he reveals the sheer size of the massive, toxic, feces-filled “lagoons” that they create.

Those lagoons you’re looking at belong to Smithfield Foods, which bills itself as is “the largest pork producer and processor in the United States.” They are often hundreds of feet long, and are fetid cesspools of waste—they are the result of pig excrement being sprayed out of the compounds where the animals are packed in like dirt-encrusted, antibiotics-loaded sardines.

“These factory farms make it exceedingly difficult to see the giant, open-air cesspools of toxic waste on their property,” Devries tells me in an email. “They are surrounded by trees, and often barbed-wire fences. With drones, I can bypass the trees and barbed wire, and see close-up what is being hidden.”

What he did end up seeing repulsed him, he said.

“Even though I knew what to expect in the abstract, I was shocked by the sheer size of these open-air pits of toxic waste—they can stretch on for the surface area of several football fields.

​Factory farms are quickly becoming one of the hardest places to photograph in the nation. The sprawling operations—which cram an enormous number of pigs, chickens, and cows into cramped quarters for harvesting—have responded to animal rights critics by pushing for state-level “ag-gag” bills that prevent journalists and activists from photographing their grounds.

It’s brazen, patently absurd, and one of the most egregious free speech violations that hardly anyone is talking about. Devries took care not to film any farms in states that have ag-gag bills, but hopes his footage will offer viewers an idea of the practices of operations of those that do.

“I was also particularly struck by how close they are to the houses of neighbors, who are forced to deal with the dangerous chemicals and stench in their own homes.”

The segment is part of Devries’ full-length documentary Speciesism​learn m​ore about the film here.

Needless to say, big agriculture is lobbying aggressively to make it illegal to take pictures and videos what they are doing because they understand that if people know what they are doing, they’ll have to stop  doing it. And there’s money to be made, so who cares about the environment?

Written by LeisureGuy

18 December 2014 at 9:24 am

Cute animated video on the question “What is life?”

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 December 2014 at 6:52 pm

Posted in Evolution, Science, Video

A Copper Bedrail Could Cut Back On Infections For Hospital Patients

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Hannah Block reports for NPR:

Checking into a hospital can boost your chances of infection. That’s a disturbing paradox of modern medical care.

And it doesn’t matter where in the world you’re hospitalized. From the finest to the most rudimentary medical facilities, patients are vulnerable to new infections that have nothing to do with their original medical problem. These are referred to as healthcare-acquired infections, healthcare-associated infections or hospital-acquired infections. Many of them, like pneumonia or methicillin-resistantStaphylococcus aureus (MRSA), can be deadly.

The World Health Organization estimates that “each year, hundreds of millions of patients around the world are affected” by healthcare-acquired infections. In the United States, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in the Health and Human Services Department estimates that 1 in 25 inpatients has a hospital-related infection. In developing countries, estimates run higher.

Hospital bed safety railings are a major source of these infections. That’s what Constanza Correa, 33, and her colleagues have found in their research in Santiago, Chile. They’ve taken on the problem by replacing them, since 2013, with railings made of copper, an anti-microbial element.

Copper definitely wipes out microbes. “Bacteria, yeasts and viruses are rapidly killed on metallic copper surfaces, and the term “contact killing” has been coined for this process,” wrote the authors of an article on copper in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. That knowledge has been around a very long time. The journal article cites an Egyptian medical text, written around 2600-2000 B.C., that cites the use of copper to sterilize chest wounds and drinking water.

Correa’s startup, Copper BioHealth, has not yet assessed the railings’ impact in Chilean hospitals. But a study of the effects of copper-alloy surfaces in U.S. hospitals’ intensive care units, published last year in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, showed promising results: Their presence reduced the number of healthcare-acquired infections from 8.1 percent in regular rooms to 3.4 percent in the copper rooms.

Correa spoke with Goats and Soda a few hours before she presented her work at a Latin America innovation conference earlier this month, hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, D.C.

You have a simple strategy to combat hospital-associated infections. Tell me what it involves. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 December 2014 at 10:37 am

Earth’s Deep Oil Reserves Are Teeming With Ancient Life

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Interesting: those ancient little microbes, working away and continuing to evolve for millions of years underground. Maddie Stone writes in Motherboard:

Earth’s “deep biosphere”—the vast, subterranean world that’s home to as many single-celled organisms as our planet’s surface—has a rep for being a stark and lonely place. But a new study finds that deep oil reservoirs, miles beneath the ocean floor, are anything but solitary. Here, bacteria are social critters that have been swapping genetic material back and forth for eons.

What’s more, rapid DNA swapping between oil-dwelling bacteria could hold clues to how life survived on early Earth—and, perhaps, on extraterrestrial worlds.

Oil reservoirs, formed over millions of years as carbon-rich sediments are compressed and cooked, are scattered like islands across Earth’s subsurface. Like other deep biosphere habitats, we know they harbor life, but we aren’t really sure how or when life got there.

“There’s a hypothesis that these bacteria were buried, then continued to live on in complete isolation,” study author Olga Zhaxybayeva told me.

To test that hypothesis, the team of researchers, hailing from Dartmouth College, the University of Alberta, and the University of Oslo, analyzed 11 genomes of the heat-loving bacterium Thermotoga. The bacteria was taken from oil reservoirs in the North Sea and Japan, and marine sites near the Kuril Islands, Italy and the Azores. They compared their results with publicly available Thermotoga genomes from North America and Australia.

Their analysis revealed . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 December 2014 at 8:33 am

Posted in Evolution, Science

Innovation recapitulates evolution

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In reading Jim Russell’s interesting article about why some locales (Silicon Valley) thrive while others (Boston’s Route 128) withered, I was struck by the way successful areas offer a rich environment to support the evolution of business by facilitating the exchange of information and personnel. Innovation seems stimulated by the way information quickly percolates through many small-company environments, rather than being locked within a large, vertically integrated company. Russell writes:

Writing for the Urban Land Institute in 2013, Richard Florida posed a rhetorical question, “If cities, as Jane Jacobs so memorably argued, are nonpareil engines of innovation, how is it that high tech—the most innovative of industries—has mostly thrived outside them?” Given that young adult talent prefers to live in cities, Florida dispenses with the query as “moot.” Retorting to Jesse Jackson on Saturday Night Live, the question is not moot.

If suburbs are nonpareil engines of innovation, then how did Silicon Valley eat the lunch of Route 128 (suburban ring around Boston)? For scholar AnnaLee Saxenian, the question wasn’t moot but a dissertation. Why did innovation boom in suburban Silicon Valley but not suburban Boston (Route 128)? History provided Saxenian with a great natural experiment. The geography of innovation didn’t matter. It was controlled. Both places were suburban. Better yet, Saxenian has a null hypothesis. Around 1980, she predicted that San Jose would crumble. It didn’t. Turns out that Boston’s innovation corridor was cursed with a Rust Belt malaise:

The Boston area was organized around these big, vertically integrated minicomputer companies — DEC, Data General. They were classic postwar American companies, with vertical hierarchies and career ladders. Planning and research happened at the top of the organization and then funneled down. Whereas in Silicon Valley you had, really by chance not design, a series of flat companies, with project-based teams that moved around. People moved between companies much more fluidly. At a time that technology and know-how were sort of trapped within the vertically integrated companies of Route 128, they were being continually recombined in Silicon Valley. That gave them a real edge in innovation.

Putting my own spin on Saxenian’s observation, the where of innovation took a backseat to the structure of the company and labor mobility (in the economic sense of the term). When research and development is locked up in a large multinational firm, it is supposed to stay there for the sake of shareholder value and corporate profit. If companies couldn’t protect intellectual property, so the trope goes, they wouldn’t invest in innovation. Silicon Valley proved that such fears were unfounded.

Regarding innovation, the paths of Route 128 and Silicon Valley were divergent. I yield the floor to the words of Harvard economist Edward Glaeser about the work of another economist, when New York City ate Pittsburgh’s lunch: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2014 at 8:35 am

Looking at the currents in the ocean of air we inhabit

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Extremely interesting post by James Fallows. You’ll be glad you clicked the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 December 2014 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Science, Technology

The Case for Allowing the Homeless to Drink

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Very interesting article by Scott Keyes at Pacific Standard:

Living on the cold streets of Seattle—decades after a war left his body 70 percent disabled—John would have never thought of himself as a role model.

He wasn’t just an alcoholic. He was the type who was so committed that he’d earned a reputation around town. After drinking for 25 years on the Seattle streets, alcohol had consumed his life. He’d survived Vietnam, but it seemed that he might wind up losing his life to the bottle.

In 2005, a new kind of housing unit for homeless people opened up in downtown Seattle. John was one of the first people to move in. The building, named for its address 1811 Eastlake, specifically targets homeless individuals who are dependent on alcohol. Unlike most shelters, however, 1811 Eastlake permits residents to continue drinking, even in their rooms, if they so desire.

So John kept drinking. Why wouldn’t he? There was no rule prohibiting it. And just because he had a bed and a roof didn’t mean he craved alcohol any less. But over the next 12 months, John’s life gradually improved. He no longer had to worry about violence or finding a place to sleep. He met with a counselor who encouraged him to drink less. By his second year at 1811 Eastlake, John decided he was going to stop drinking, and he did.

“He became a role model,” says Bill Hobson, the executive director of Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Service Center, which runs 1811 Eastlake. After all, John had been drinking on the streets for decades. Most other residents knew him and had likely shared drinks with him. “He could tell people they looked like shit today, and that he didn’t want to see them that way,” Hobson says. After more than six years, John moved out and got his own apartment. 1811 Eastlake had saved his life.

MOST SHELTERS AND HOMELESS housing units would have turned John away, though, employing the same reasoning with alcohol that conservatives use to block sexual education: abstinence-only. In 1997, when the idea for 1811 Eastlake first arose from a meeting of Seattle and King County officials, “everyone was still locked into the idea that the way you cure an addict is to demand they stop doing drugs/alcohol,” Hobson says. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 December 2014 at 11:38 am


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