Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Put a cow in your tank!

Methane produced by livestock waste is a serious greenhouse gas--much stronger than CO2--that makes a big contribution to global warming. Cattle-rearing alone creates more greenhouse gas than cars!

But methane is great fuel. Hm [scratches head]. What to do?

Apparently, it's really easy to capture biogas & put it to immediate use on very small scales--you don't need massive plants & storage facilities...just a rubber inner tube.

And while you're at it, why stop with animals? I once suggested this self-supplied fuel source to an arctic explorer, but he didn't seem too enthused.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The "String Revolution".

Nothing like a fresh pair of eyes to bore through groundless stereotypes. In this case, it's another example of interdisciplinary crossover providing a radically different perspective: Dr. Olga Soffer was in the fashion business before becoming an archaeologist.

"One of the most common reactions we heard was, 'How could we have missed that stuff all these years?'"

Take a look at this guy. He represents our standard story about what early humans were like. But apparently, we're projecting again.

"Because many of the items that have endured over the millennia are things like arrowheads and spear points, archaeologists studying the Paleolithic era have generally focused on the ways and means of that noble savage, a-k-a Man the Hunter, to the exclusion of other members of the tribe."

"To this day, in Paleolithic studies we hear about Man the Hunter doing such bloody wonderful things as thrusting spears into woolly mammoths, or battling it out with other men," Dr. Adovasio said. "We've emphasized the activities of a small segment of the population—-healthy young men—-at the total absence of females, old people of either sex and children. We've glorified one aspect of Paleolithic life ways at the expense of all the other things that made that life way successful."

"We're reconstructing the past based on 5 percent of what was used."

So, it turns out that the invention of string was arguably more important to human development than stone tools, & truly a remarkable leap of imaginative spatial reasoning.

Think about it: with string, suddenly you are mobile since you can carry a baby or quantities of food & tools. You can make nets & snares to catch fish & game remotely, build a raft, constrain livestock, link varied materials into compound tools, twist a bow string for driving fire drills or arrows, magnify human physical power output by harnessing mechanical advantage...and weave elaborate clothing with targeted functional AND symbolic import.

Or would you rather have a sharp rock?

So how did they figure it out? Take a look at this girl's hat--ever noticed it before?...It's not an abstraction. It's a "radially sewn piece of headgear with vertical stem stitches" carved by someone who was very familiar with weaving.

There are also rare confirmations of this idea of paleolithic textiles in ice-age fabric samples & clay impressions, as well as recent DNA work that determined that clothing-dependent lice evolved from head lice roughly 70,000 years ago when clothing must have come on the scene as a new habitat.


Dandelion rubber.

Wow! Rubber from pesky lawn weeds.

"Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and the Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center (OBIC) recently received a $3 million grant to design and build a processing plant that would turn sticky white dandelion root sap into quality rubber for less money than current methods."

And apparently, it isn't new. It started it in World War II, when the Americans, Germans and Soviets made [dandelion]-based tires.

More info.

Here's another interesting tire.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Kitchen microwave science!

Have fun learning about science while creating opportunities for lucrative insurance claims!

Ever wonder what would happen if you put a __ in the microwave? This site will help you find out without even pissing off your domestic companions or lighting the kitchen on fire.

More of a hands-on kind of guy? Why not measure the speed of light in your microwave?

And who says you need the heat & pressure of a star to create the 4th state of matter?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Digital animations prefer peace.

In the epic motion pictures "Lord of the Rings", the programmer/animators used cellular automata in the crowd scenes to make things look more real. Basically, they allowed each character to make its own decisions.

And guess what? "For the first two years, the biggest problem we had was soldiers fleeing the field of battle".

"We could not make their computers stupid enough to not run away."

Evolution of head lice leads to clothing date.

I love clever people!

Mark Stoneking, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig has figured out a way to determine when humans began wearing clothing using "subtle genetic differences between human body lice that depend on clothing for their survival, and human head lice, which do not". Since body lice are adapted to clothing & can't live on hair, the point that their DNA diverged from head lice should yield a pretty close date for the invention of clothing.

Since most materials rot away after a few ten-thousands of years, it's hard to put a date on many cultural developments. So anthropologists are beginning to turn to indirect measurements like this, but interpreting the results is still controversial.

Neandertals, too, missed the obvious.

There are many remains of the Neanderthals, since they performed primitive burials that prevented scavenging & destruction of the bodies.

So, we know that a lot of the Neanderthals carried "Rodeo lesion" skeletal injuries [scary adjective], suggesting "frequent close encounters with large ungulates unkindly disposed to the humans involved."

Combined with their burly stature & the fact that Neanderthal hunting tools are jab-style rather than projectile, this tells us that our closest relatives liked to stab pointy sticks into large animals, then hang on for the violent ride. They never figured out how to chuck a spear or arrow, then get out of the way.

This seems so simple & obvious that it boggles my mind to consider what absolutely critical information we humans have access to, yet utterly fail to process.

Thomas D. Berger and Erik Trinkaus
Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico