Sunday, April 27, 2008

Beet Pulp For Pet Food To Be Used For Bioplastics Instead

This Dog Says, "No Way."

Despite healthy suspicions that we in the developed world are robbing global food resources for the manufacture of "sustainable" bioplastics and biofuels, our research communities soldier on.

Chemists Victoria Finkenstadt and LinShu Liu of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service have been working since 2004 on a method for transforming beet pulp into what Science Daily describes as a "specialized filler material for polylactic-acid-based plastics [PLA]"—and they seem to have had a breakthrough.

Unfortunately, the beet pulp, which is traditionally only marketable as a component in livestock feed or pet food, would be going to make exactly the bioplastic that releases methane (a potent greenhouse gas) while rotting in landfills, according to this report in the London Guardian. The PLA-based plastic containers further don't appear to decompose quite the way people expect them to in that, to fully biodegrade (a primary benefit they have over traditional petrol plastics), they have to be composted in anaerobic digesters of which there are precious few (in Britain) and which traditionally don't accept plastic containers.

SO: Without a better alternative (going back to regular plastics isn't exactly productive), maybe just getting more municipal anaerobic digesters is the solution. (How expensive are they, anyway?) With the beat pulp filler lowering the cost of PLA-based bioplastics, maybe it's worth still considering these. I feel slightly inhuman asking this, but why are we blaming food shortages on biofuels and bioplastics, when climate change-induced drought and exponentially increasing population growth deserve their fair share of the blame? This goes out to our domesticated pet populations too: Don't hate the bioplastic, dog. Hate the game.

[Link to the Science Daily article; Proposal for the USDA's research project "Valuable Polysaccharide-Based Products from Sugar Beet Pulp and Citrus Peel"]

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The Magic That Is Brian Fellows

It's pretty obvious to me that unless "Zippy Video" has some serious scheme up it's sleeve, it isn't going to make it past "Zippy Video BETA"—though I am glad this scrappy upstart is here to provide all the "Brian Fellows Safari Planet" skits that SNL isn't putting on Hulu yet.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

McCain Courts Youth Vote With Petty Cash

IRVINE, California — Speaking to a group of students today at the University of California in Irvine, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain sought to sway college aged voters with petty cash, proposing innovative tax incentives for the purchase of movies, music and pizza. McCain also alluded to a charitable trust established by his wife Cindy, an executive with the Anheuser-Busch beer wholesaler and distributor Hensley & Co., calling the fund, "Real beer money that can also be spent on video games or designer jeans." [Link]

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Depressing Alert: Worldwide Food Shortage Leads To Riots

Australia's ABC (like the BBC) reports that in "the past week alone there have been violent, food-related riots in Haiti, Indonesia, the Philippines and Cameroon." Frankly, I've already read Cormac McCarthy's The Road, so I'd like to be exempt from this upcoming apocalypse. [Link]

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9/11 Was A Job

The Los Angeles Times reports on documents that depict Al Qaeda as "an organization obsessed with paperwork and penny-pinching and afflicted with a damaging propensity for feuds." Memos, budgetary woes, staffing problems, man keeps biting dog in this chortle-fest until there's no dog left ... cuz is bean al eated!!1!

MORE IMPORTANTLY: I am left wanting to know more about this quoted terrorism expert, Rohan Gunaratna. What's his story? Does something out-of-the-ordinary (like him biting a dog) happen in it? [Link; Photo from The Onion]

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Study: Blue M&Ms Not As Tough As Red Or Brown Ones

From the Best of Craigslist:
Whenever I get a package of plain M&Ms, I make it my duty to continue the strength and robustness of the candy as a species. To this end, I hold M&M duels.

Taking two candies between my thumb and forefinger, I apply pressure, squeezing them together until one of them cracks and splinters. That is the "loser," and I eat the inferior one immediately. The winner gets to go another round.

I have found that, in general, the brown and red M&Ms are tougher, and the newer blue ones are genetically inferior. I have hypothesized that the blue M&Ms as a race cannot survive long in the intense theater of competition that is the modern candy and snack-food world.
[Link, Thanks to my housemate Jess]

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Protestifying From the Rooftops, Sometimes

  • The Daily Record reports that Plane Stupid protesters crept onto the roof of Scottish Parliament to protest expansions of Glasgow and Edinburgh Airports — a sequel to their recent protest of a third runway at Heathrow whilst atop the Palace of Westminster. With their mole outed, enemies of Plane Stupid are probably asking, "Which government building will these two 23-year-old ferrets climb next!?"
  • Also in Scotland, vandals armed with heavily-symbolic mung beans are deflating the tires of gas-guzzlers by placing the legume on the tire valve and screwing the cap back on. According to the Edinburgh Evening News, commenters on IndymediaScotland "point out that their actions lead to rescue vehicles going to the cars affected and owners using engine-powered pumps to re-inflate tyres."
  • Japanese anti-nuclear protesters hassled French Prime Minister Francois Fillon's tour of a new nuclear power plant that was jointly built by Japan Nuclear Fuel and French nuclear giant Areva. According to AFP, "critics charge that it poses an environmental safety risk and could also be vulnerable to an earthquake." The critics did not climb a government building.
  • Police arrest a 73-year-old nun and a 47-year-old college instructor for protesting nuclear weapons development outside the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, TN. No government buildings were scaled in the incident. [via Knoxnews]

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Monday, April 14, 2008

I Miss The Buggles

Here Comes Everybody, (to Protest'n'stuffs or whatevs)

  • According to the Los Angeles Times, the Sierra Club is getting all Clay Shirky up in this piece, organizing hyper-local protests against new coal-firing power plants "every time" a new one is proposed "anywhere in the United States." The project is so cleverly decentralized that some industry lawyers have suggested "bringing conspiracy charges against the environmentalists if they can find instances in which the national groups recruited locals to allow them to file legal papers that they couldn't have filed otherwise."
  • Dubai-level development hubris in Calverton, NY as creepy-looking Suffolk County legislator, William J. Lindsay, pleads with the new state governor to consider the positive “social, political and economic impacts” of the proposed $1.5 billion indoor snow center; not just the plight of the short-eared owl, local protests and living with moral culpability for expediting the arrival of a Road Warrior-style postapocalypse. [via skirebel, for some reason]

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Band Names You Can Only Mention Once in a PG-13 Movie

With acts like Fuck Buttons, Holy Fuck, and Fuck and event's like the L.A.-based Fuck Yeah! fest, it's my sincere belief that the eff word is making a run to replace the definite article as the most common word in indie music names.

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The G.O.A.T. "McCain is Old" Joke

"McCain Fact: He lost his virginity in the Big Bang."Wonkette commenter Neilist

Can we now focus on how his political career is indebted to divorcing his first wife once he got back from Vietnam and marrying a beer heiress? Or that his weird and creepy "Barbara Anne"/"Bomb Iran" joke is even worse in context? Or, maybe, we can all discuss who he is totally confused on foreign policy, housing and the environment?

I'd also like a few reporters to take their cues from what former Nixon legal counsel John Dean has to say about the McCain/Iseman story in the Times:

Months ago, when the Times was doing its investigation, McCain hired Washington attorney Bob Bennett to deal with this story. Bennett stated on "Hardball" that he has not talked to his client about taking legal action, but that he would counsel against it because McCain is a public figure, making such a lawsuit difficult to win. Bennett also said that McCain must keep focused on his presidential campaign, rather than be diverted by a difficult lawsuit.

This answer was strikingly hasty, however, for this savvy lawyer. While any lawyer might give similar advice, a lawyer convinced of his client's innocence might have added that he was placing the New York Times on notice, and that he would demand a retraction. He might also have said that if the Times failed to retract the story, then his client would take appropriate legal action at the appropriate time. This is precisely what Senator Goldwater did when he was defamed during the 1964 presidential race, when he filed a lawsuit (that he eventually won).

If Ms. Iseman is sincere in her denial, moreover, then she does not have the same problems as McCain. She is not a public figure and she is not running for president. This surely is not a story that will help her career as a lobbyist. To the contrary, she might find her job has been made impossible because of this adverse publicity. In fact, it strikes me that in many ways she has been damaged more than McCain. Yet there is no indication she plans to take any action against the Times.

In sum, it seems that both parties' denials to the Times story are even weaker than the story itself, which give the story added credibility. Unless the Times or another news organization drops another shoe, or McCain and Iseman take no action to protect their reputations, then this highly suggestive story and these weaker responses will no doubt soon vanish. I can understand McCain's taking that route, but I cannot understand Iseman's current position (as I write this, she is hiding from the news media), if she has in fact been falsely charged. Or perhaps she is talking to a lawyer right now.

My knee-jerk response after considering who Wikipedia says Bennett has represented in the past — President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky investigation; Caspar Weinberger, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, during the Iran-Contra scandal; Clark Clifford in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) scandal; Paul Wolfowitz in the World Bank Scandal; the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops during the child molestation debacle and Judith Miller in the Valerie Plame case — is that McCain and Iseman have a three kids and a house in Fairfax, Va.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Fey Grim. Or Why I Am So Pissed About This Looming Baby Moma Disaster

I think we can all agree that a poor trailer is not the issue here.

Baby Moma
is going to be unfortunate —€” and the worst part is that this movie could have been salvageable if Amy Poehler and Tina Fey had switched roles. Forced to be serious, Amy Poehler does really hilarious "thinly-veiled anxiety"; and allowed to be a total slob (think Liz Lemon wanting that stranger at a bar to buy her mozzarella sticks instead of a drink) Tina Fey is very endearing and funny.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

EPA Administrator Bucking the Wax Attack

God Damn, I will miss this House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

As Kurt Davies of Greenpeace said to me the other day, "You really don't want Henry Waxman (D-CA) as your enemy." The 17-term (!!!) congressman's absence of further political ambitions and unflinchingly liberal base (his district includes West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica) have afforded him the opportunity to investigate all the dirt he sees fit. And currently, the man who the Nation once called the "Eliot Ness of the Democrats" sees fit to drop three subpoenas on Bush's EPA in three months ("Boo Yah!!!")—all in a pitched battle for the internal documents pertaining to the agency's refusal to accept California's petition to set its own standards on automotive greenhouse gas emissions.

But EPA administrator Stephen Johnson will not budge. In the two weeks between the Uncanny Waxman's second and third subpoenas, the agency head has:
  1. requested that Special H's Oversight Committee instead give him their documents detailing the closed-door interviews with seven senior EPA officials, heavily referenced in Wax's first subpoena
  2. shelved his agency's findings that greenhouse gases are a danger to the public, telling Congress that he will initiate a lengthy public comment period about whether such emissions are a risk
  3. initiated preparations for a two-week trip to Australia for the purposes of discussing "shared environmental goals and challenges with our global partners" — leaving him unable to testify before Senator Barbara Boxer's environmental committee until he gets back, and
  4. released a lot of heavily redacted bullcrap.
It's no secret that Wax—an ardent Israel supporter who keeps kosher—has been practicing his own style of reform Judaism all up and down the politicized science of Bush's EPA. The Beverly Hills Cop has fired off a letter questioning them for excessive legal fees spent in the name of avoiding "action that differs from the Administration's policy preferences"; he's uncovered a clear attempt on EPA administrator Stephen Johnson's part to avoid compliance with the Supreme Court's ruling that it must regulate CO2; and he's on the hunt for any documents related to Johnson's rejection of expert recommendations for new limits on ozone pollution.

I still haven't gotten someone from the Oversight Committee to tell me what they plan on doing if the administration tries to just ride this out until next January, but I expect it's gonna be a fun ride. Heads will role when you drop the Wax!

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Things That Make Real Life Seem Like Anime: Microscopic Bugs Next to Microscopic Gears

This super creepy photo is of a less-than-1-mm-long mite on a Microelectromechanical system (MEMS). According to Wikipedia:
MEMS is the technology of the very small, and merges at the nano-scale into nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) and nanotechnology. MEMS are also referred to as micromachines (in Japan), or Micro Systems Technology - MST (in Europe) [...] At these size scales, the standard constructs of classical physics do not always hold true. Due to MEMS' large surface area to volume ratio, surface effects such as electrostatics and wetting dominate volume effects such as inertia or thermal mass.
To quote Sam Jackson in JP1, "Hold onto your butts."

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I'm Out for Justice, Steven Seagal!

Steven Seagal must think he is Above the Law. Anthony Pellicano—the private investigator on trial for wiretapping and racketeering charges that stem from duties he reportedly performed for clients like Seagal—has been accused of threatening journalists. And yet the direct-to-DVD action star and friend of mystical dogs remains Out of Reach.

Pellicano is alleged to have had Anita M. Busch (a reporter who was working on an article about Mr. Seagal for The Los Angeles Times) Marked for Death—placing a fish and a rose in her car along with a bullet-size hole in the windshield. (It's unclear whether Pellicano made the threat of Attack Force personally or via a hired Shadow Man.) Bernard Weinraub, a journalist for the The New York Times who has worked with Busch, was reportedly Under Siege by associates of Mr. Pellicano, as well, but the Flight of Fury doesn't stop there. Two months after the Busch incident, Ned Zeman, a reporter working on another article about Mr. Seagal, this one for Vanity Fair, found himself Under Siege too, Dark Territory for any journalist. According to The New York Times, while Zeman was driving, a man pulled up, aimed a gun at him, said, “Stop,” and pulled the trigger. Not Out for a Kill, the man's gun was empty, but he did say, “Bang," suggesting Zeman would not be Hard to Kill.

Mr. Pellicano has not been charged in connection with the Zeman incident, leading me to suspect that Seagal may be the crazy idiot responsible for all these threats. Shame on you, Steven Seagal!

ALSO. One particularly strange footnote to the whole proceeding, as reported by the Times, is that Pellicano's former audio technician and close associate, Wayne Reynolds, told the court he now works for Vanity Fair publishers Condé Nast. The NYT's David Carr writes:

I later checked and, indeed, Mr. Reynolds has a Condé Nast phone number in New York (he did not return my call) and is listed in the company directory. Now, Mr. Reynolds may be a whiz with technology — he testified with a great deal of specificity about the black boxes used to record intercepted calls — but his testimony raised a troubling question: why would Condé Nast hire him?

This one is duh: To protect themselves from Steven Seagal!

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Each Penny Cost 1.67 Cents To Mint, Report Pun-Loving Journalists

The Seattle Times, The New York Times, The Oakland Tribune, The San Diego Union-Tribune, this blogging guy ... they all love employing "Stop Making Cents" when describing the current status of the penny. Namely, that it's so expensive to make one relative to its value that the U.S. Mint has lost over $115 million in under a year making them and that there is now a Federal ban on melting pennies, nickels and dimes down for scrap.

Other annoying pun options for discussing this situation include: "The Penny Stops Here" from The Washington Post, "Common Cents" from Time magazine and most recently (and tolerably) "Penny Dreadful" from The New Yorker.

If only there were someone with a good idea about what to do, who was also capable of something funny ... someone like Obama's wonky economics advisor Austan Goolsbee! "Now That a Penny Isn’t Worth Much, It’s Time to Make It Worth 5 Cents"!? Now, that's a funny title! (And it also happens to be a good way around the Lincoln-penny loving sentiment as covertly supported by the nefarious zinc lobby. It's really too bad that some monied weirdo will just rally all the Thomas Jefferson enthusiasts who love those 2006 forward-facing nickels. Sorry, Goolsbee.)

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Coming this Thursday, whoops Wednesday: Muqtada al-Sadr's Forces Will Stage a Massive Anti-Occupation Protest in Iraq

It will be interesting to see how it's covered in the West.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

"Solar Cells Via Inkjet Printing!? Like My Epson Stylus Pro 4880!"

It can be hard to stomach pop science journalism sometimes, especially when it thinks it has a catchy hook for the public. Take, for example, this Popular Mechanics headline: Startup Makes Cheap Solar Film Cells ... With an Inkjet Printer

"Zoinks! I just printed out Google Maps directions to Kevin's house on one of those. I could have a start-up! (This story really speaks to me.)"

To be fair there are some similarities between the FUJIFILM Dimatix materials deposition printer and your average home and office printer. Both have the ability to deposit biological fluids including cell patterning, DNA arrays, and proteomics; both restrict the printing process to a temperature-controlled vacuum theta platen; and both have "drop-watch" fiducial camera systems that allow "manipulation of the electronic pulses to the piezo-jetting device for optimization of the drop characteristics as it is ejected from the nozzle." No? Oh, yeah. Sorry that's only the Dimatix.

[Link to FUJIFILM's press release celebrating Konarka's use of their printer for organic solar cells. Note: Organic solar cells are grown without pesticides by farmers who respect Nature's bounty.]

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