Thursday, September 30, 2010

Quotable Quotes

"I like thinking big. If you're going to be thinking anything, you might as well think big."

- Donald Trump

"When there is an original sound in the world, it makes a hundred echoes."

- John Shedd

"If you are never scared or embarrassed or hurt, it means you never take any chances."

- Julia Sorel

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sweaty Palms

Suzanne Gomes, a 19-year-old college student in Mumbai, India, suffered from hyperhidrois or sweaty palms. Her case was severe; and, she desperately wanted to rid her hands of their never-ending dampness. Minor surgery has cured her of the problem, she says. She went to a P D Hinduja Hospital; and, in a 30-minute procedure, her hyperactive sweat glands were operated on. The laparoscopic surgery involved inserting a tool through a keyhole into the chest cavity where the nerves are located. It left a tiny scar and dry hands for a thankful Gomes.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Did You Know That...

Horses have been a part of human culture for at least 10,000 years; but, it wasn't until 900 BC that soldiers started riding them. They rode horses bred for size and were helped by the invention of the bit which, along with reins, allowed the soldier to control their mounts while using a weapon.

The name of the popular beverage "7-Up" came from the fact that, when it was originally produced, it came in 7-ounce containers. The 'up' describes the direction the carbonated bubbles went in upon opening a can.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Odd Blog (I warned you about)

An unnamed man in Pittsburgh was such a heavy sleeper he didn't wake up, even when the house he was sleeping in caught on fire. The fire was bad enough to cause a portion of the house to collapse; but, the man continued to sleep. It was two hours later - after the fire had been put out and the firefighters were doing a walk-through - that they discovered the man, still asleep in his bed. Amazingly, he had escaped without injury and only required treatment for smoke inhalation. Fire marshal John Reubi said he was "flabbergasted" the man survived.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lucky Number?

In Islam, the number 786 is considered lucky. That explains why N. Krishnamoorthy, a South Indian man who is not Muslim; but, Hindu, collects anything and everything that carries the number. He's been doing so since 1994, when he pulled money out of his wallet and saw that the serial number began with 786. He has at least 300 currency notes and hundreds of rail way tickets with the number on it. The railway worker says his hobby has brought him luck because, despite a low salary, he has been able to buy a house and send his two sons to good schools.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Did You Know That...

There has been a discovery of a previously unknown dinosaur in Tanzania, East Africa. Called the Asilisaurus Kongwe, scientists say that it existed 10,000 years earlier than other known dinosaurs.

The rock and roll group, The Guess Who, originated in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; and, included Burton Cummings as lead singer. The Guess Who originally had a question mark at the end of its name; but, the group stopped using the question mark in 1968.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Turning Lemons Into Lemonade

HOWARD PROSNITZ/STAFF PHOTOS. Teaneck sculptor Anthony Santella sculpted a Red-tailed hawk out of a tree stump during the Teaneck Creek Conservancy’s EcoFair over the weekend.This sculpted turtle is an example of what Santella’s work looks like when completed. On Sunday, Oct. 24, the Grange Road resident sculpted a Red-tailed hawk from the tree stump at the Teaneck Creek Conservancy. A previously sculpted turtle from another part of the stump is almost complete. Photo courtesy:

It always wondrous when something magical is created out of what would normally be left to go to waste. When trees are felled for whatever reason there is usually a stump left. The stump is usually either pulled up or left in place to eventually return to nature.

A Teaneck, NJ sculptor has found a unique way to utilize the stumps and add a bit of whimsy to the local park.

The sculptor’s outdoor workshop work was part of the TCC’s first EcoArt Day, which included crafts vendors, music, storytelling and guided tours of the park.

"The day was meant to bring the community to the Creek so residents throughout the area could sample the excellent programs that we offer," said TCC Executive Director Devery Volpe.

Santella, a 1995 Teaneck High School graduate, is a frequent visitor to the park and walker of its trails. He noted that he reached out to Volpe with the proposal to create the permanent outdoor sculptures.

"When the locust tree came down in the storm, I began eyeing it, which I do with wood in general, as a potential project," Santella said.

Although he took a few life-sculpting courses at the Art Students League in New York, Santella is largely self-taught as a painter and sculptor.

Growing up on Queen Anne Road, he had always been involved in art and was a painter for many years before becoming involved with sculpting six years ago.

Photo courtesy:

However, art is Santella’s avocation. He earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from NYU and a Ph.D. from Rutgers, writing his dissertation on computer visualization theory. He works in image processing and visualization at Sloan Kettering Institute in New York.

"But I have always had art in the background since I was a kid. I was constantly drawing in middle school and I never gave it up," he said.

As a sculptor, Santella has worked exclusively with wood.

"Wood is a direct form of sculpture. The materials are very simple. It is just you and a block of wood," he said.

Sculpting in the woods of the TCC was a new experience, Santella said, noting that he has sometimes worked in his backyard or driveway. "But working under trees is very different. It is a relaxing environment to work in, which is something different for me."

The turtle and the Red-tailed hawk are located near the entrance to the park will become a permanent exhibit. While most of his studio work is sealed in oil or polyurethane, Santella said that the two sculptures will be left in natural state, turning grey, as wood does when it weathers.

"What I want people to get out of this project more than anything else is the idea of living in harmony with nature and using available materials in a respectful way," Santella said. "It is sustainable art in that it has no impact on the environment. It is a zero emission project. It is just me swinging a chisel."


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wild Dolphins Learn to Tail Walk from Released Dolphin

A dolphin that learned how to perform “tail walking” while in captivity at a marine amusement park was released back to the ocean, and has taught a group of wild dolphins the new trick! It is highly unusual to see this behavior in the wild, a “just for fun” behavior that marine experts liken to dancing.

This is reminiscent of the incident decades ago when a movie company released the sea gulls they had used in a locally-shot movie back into the wild. Trouble was the gulls had been taught to land on the heads of the actors; and, they would receive a treat for doing so. For the next three months or so, there were many reports from people who were near water about aggressive sea gulls landing on the heads and pecking them. The movie company never confessed to the "crime".

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Odd Blog (I warned you about)

Photo courtesy:

This is a case of what you see is what you get. The photo of the main floor of this condo was taken from the sleeping platform in the upper half of this truly breathtaking apartment.

This tiny city centre apartment is compact in every way - except its breathtaking €50,000 Euro ($70,080 USD) price tag.

The former porter's cupboard, which measures just 5 sq m (or 162.4 sq ft), was put on the market this week.

Described as a "compact bedsit" the property is in one of the city's smartest districts in Rome right next to the ancient Pantheon and with Italy's billionaire Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as one of your neighbours.

Mind you, all you can see from the one tiny window is an alley, and only after you have climbed up a ladder to get to the sleeping platform and then crawled across the bed to get there.

Downstairs is a standing-room only bathroom with a shower, sink and a loo behind a folding door.

According to the Austrian Times, local media commentators have been shocked by the price - even in the city's inflated property market.

The owner, however, refuses to budge on the price.

He claimed: "People seem to like it. I'm getting three or four calls a day about it."


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

Is the Earth Cracking Open Like an Egg?

Doug Salewsky and Eileen Heider look at a 200-yard long crack in the earth Tuesday on Birch Creek Road in Menominee County. The crack is 2 to 3 feet wide in some places. The trees in back are tipping about 30 degrees and the earth around the crack has rose about 5 feet with other little fissures spreading out from center. EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard. Photo courtesy:

One day the land was flat and filled with trees shooting straight into the air. Twenty-four hours later there's a 600-foot-long crack, 4-feet deep twisting its way through the woods - and those vertical trees are now pointed 30 degrees left and right where the earth has mounded 15 feet high. No, it's not a disaster movie; it's what happened Monday at the home of Eileen Heider on Bay de Noc Road in Birch Creek, WI, USA.

Heider was sitting in her recliner watching TV at about 8:30 that morning. "The chair shook for a few seconds and I thought the spring in the chair went," she said. Heider heard a noise at the same time. She checked her chair and around the house inside and out but couldn't find anything unusual.

Heider wasn't alone. A neighbor across the road told her she heard a boom while taking a shower and that her husband was leaning against the washing machine and said he felt it move, even though it wasn't running. Another neighbor said he heard a boom and closed his window thinking it was thunder but then noticed the sky was clear.

The next day Heider's friend, Doug Salewski, found a hole in the ground and a 200-yard crevasse a short ways away which wasn't there before. Heider went to investigate and said the crack was three-feet wide and about five-feet deep in spots.

"The trees on one side are kind of tilted and on the other side are tilted the opposite way," she said. The hole found by her friend was dry so she didn't think it was caused by rain, even though some members of her family did. "My kids and different ones that came over said maybe it was because of so much rain and there was a buildup of pressure underneath."

Heider call authorities and Michigan State Trooper Paul Anderson from the Stephenson Post came out to take a look.

"There's no gas line or anything, I have no answers to it," he said. "It heaved the ground 10 to 15 feet. I mean the ground used to be flat and now it's just heaved, it heaved the entire ground." Anderson said he'd follow up with phone calls to geologists at Michigan Tech.

EagleHerald photographer Rick Gebhard shared the photo you see in today's paper with several government agencies hoping to get a handle on what caused the earth to open up.

Steven Fleegel from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration took a crack solving the mystery. "Unfortunately, that is out of our area of expertise," he said. He recommended contacting the Department of Natural Resources or the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Menominee County Emergency Management Director Debra Wormwood was in Lansing, Mich., for a conference but was able to see the photo and share it with the State Police District Emergency Management Coordinator and a representative from the National Weather Service.

"It appears that what they had in the yard on Rangeline is a sinkhole and that is made by the amount of rain that we got recently," said Wormwood.

Officials also checked the USGS website and did not find any seismic activity in or near Michigan and said that if it was an earthquake more people would have felt it.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

40 Uses for Coca-Cola


Coca-Cola may be dark, sticky and sugary, but this highly acidic soda can fight stains, remove rust and clean some of the toughest surfaces under your roof.

1.Grease Remover
Remove grease stains on clothing and fabrics by pouring one can of Coca-Cola into laundry, add detergent and wash as normal. You can also use Coca-Cola on ovens, backsplashes, stoves and microwaves as a de-greaser.

2.Rust Remover
Coca-Cola is an excellent rust remover that can be used on everything from rusty patio furniture, rusty chrome car bumpers to rust stains on clothes. Apply Coca-Cola using a sponge or rag, and for tough surfaces, use a crumpled piece of aluminum foil dipped in Coca-Cola and some elbow grease.

3.Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Pour a can of Coke into your toilet bowl, let it sit for an hour or longer and use a toilet brush to wipe away stains with ease.

4.Windshield Cleaner
Debug and wipe away road haze on your car windshield by shaking up a Coca-Cola can or bottle and pouring it over the windshield to break down the gunk and rinse it away.

Get rid of lime deposits and stains in kettles and coffee machines by pouring one or more cans of Coca-Cola into the container and let it sit overnight for optimal results.

6.Engine Cleaner
For decades, Coca-Cola has been used to clean engines by removing rust and corrosion.

7.Tile Grout Cleaner
Get your tile grout sparkling clean by pouring Coca-Cola on stained areas, let it sit for a few minutes and wipe it up.

8.Oil Remover
Remove oil stains from your garage, driveway or sidewalk by pouring Coke on the stains, let it soak for a bit and hose it off.

9.Battery Cleaner
Clean your corroded car battery by pouring some Coca-Cola directly on the battery terminals.

10.Cookware Cleaner
For tough, caked-on messes and burnt pots or pans, pour a can of Coke into the dirty pan until it reaches the top of the stain line; bring to boil, let simmer for 15 minutes and wash grime off.


Coca-Cola's sugary-sweet ingredients, acidic bite and caramel flavoring make it the perfect ingredient for marinades, barbeque sauces and even desserts.

Soak steaks, pork, or chicken in a Coca-Cola marinade to tenderize the meat and add a sweet flavoring to any dish.

12.Barbeque Sauce
Whip up a delicious Coca-Cola barbeque sauce to spice up chicken, pork and ribs.

Coca-Cola can sweeten any type of dessert, like cakes, cookies, pie and Jell-O and be used in frostings or syrups.

Make a sweet Coca-Cola gravy to serve on meat by heating a mixture of Coke, flour and other seasonings in a small pan.

Baste a ham or chicken with Coca-Cola, and watch as the sugars caramelize and keep the meat moist.

16.Egg Peeler
Save time peeling a hardboiled egg, by adding a half-cup of Coca-Cola to water and bringing to a boil. The acid in the Coke will soften the shells, making it easier to peel the eggs when cool.

17.Specialty Drinks
Impress your friends with Coca-Cola specialty drinks, like a Coke float or a Coco Cola using Coke, lime juice and coconut milk.

Health & Beauty

Although Coca-Cola may not be good to drink on the regular, it does have some health and beauty benefits you'll want to try next time you have hiccups or need a tanning lotion.

18.Shiny Conditioner
To de-gunk your hair and boost its shine, use Coca-Cola as an alternative conditioner and rinse.

Turn empty Coke cans into awesome curlers that give your hair big, full curls and lots of bounce.

20.Gum Remover
When gum gets stuck in your hair, soak your strands in a bowl of Coca-Cola for a few minutes and pull the gum out.

21.Thin Clumpy Mascara
Thin out clumpy mascara with a drop of Coke to add a little bit of moisture and improve its consistency, without making it watery.

22.Color Fader
Give your color-treated hair a Coca-Cola rinse to make the dye fade quicker.

23.Tanning Lotion
Coca-Cola makes a killer tanning lotion that can be applied alone or over sunscreen to give you a non-sticky and deep tan.

24.Curly Hair Wash
Get frizz-free spirals by pouring a flat Coke onto long hair, let it sit for a few minutes and rinse.

Make your skin soft and silky by adding a spoonful of Coca-Cola to your regular lotion and apply.

Cure nausea by drinking small amounts of a carbonated Coke every hour to relax the stomach.

27.Hiccup Cure
Take a big gulp of ice-cold Coca-Cola and gargle for a few minutes to get rid of pesky hiccups.

Drinking a flat Coke can help soothe the stomach and relax muscles, while relieving diarrhea symptoms.

A glass of hot Coca-Cola can help with decongestion and phlegm, as well as soothe the throat and stomach when sick with a cold.

30.Jellyfish Sting Reliever
Hold your pee and pour Coca-Cola on jellyfish stings for instant pain relief.


Coca-Cola has so many uses that some just can't be categorized, like these less practical, but oh-so-cool ways to use Coca-Cola whenever, wherever.

31.Stain Photos and Documents
If you want antiqued stationary or sepia-tone pictures, then soak the documents in a little bit of Coke or brush it onto the photo and dry.

32.Make Floors Sticky
Getting floors intentionally sticky by mopping with Coca-Cola may seem odd, but it can prevent slipping and accidents on slippery floors.

33.Noise Makers
Empty Coke cans or bottles make great noise makers by dropping rocks or beads into the container and capping the bottle or sealing the can shut with duct tape to be used at sporting events.

34.Coin Polisher
Remove tarnish and dirt from coins by soaking them in a bowl of Coca-Cola and rubbing dry.

Make your compost pile that much better by adding some Coca-Cola to increase acidity, which helps break down the biodegradable products, and sugars to improve soil quality.

36.Odor Remover
Get rid of stinky scents, like fish or smoke, by pouring a can of Coke into your laundry wash.

Pour Coca-Cola on your windshield and other icy surfaces to defrost faster.

38.Loosen a Rusty Bolt
Coca-Cola can loosen a rusty bolt that's stuck, by removing the rust and making it pliable again.

39.Insect Attractor
Keep wasps and bees at a distance, by attracting them to a bowl of Coca-Cola away from your outdoor dining area.

40.Insect Killer
On the same token, pour Coke into a bowl and let snails and slugs get off your plants and into the acidic soda that will be the end of them.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Deodorant Cannons Used in Garbage Dumps

China has an immense problem with garbage. To be more exact, the problem lies with their inability to dispose of the massive amounts garbage generated every day by a consumer-oriented society. In short, the cities are ill-equipped to handle the garbage generated. With sanitation procedures woefully lacking, the general population has taken matters into their own hands; and, their disposal techniques are causing another huge problem - unhealthy conditions where various diseases breed unchecked.

The above video shows the measures being taken at a large garbage dump in Beijing; however, the following pictures and story show the real extent of the problem.

Xiaotangshan town, Changping district: Human excrement collected from planes, trains, and long-distance buses is dumped here in big plastic bags. Because there is no convenient way to get rid of the waste - aside from the small quantity that farmers take for fertilisers - large quantities are being dumped in landfill along with the rest of the garbage.

Beijing is to install 100 deodorant guns at a stinking landfill site on the edge of the city in a bid to dampen complaints about the capital's rubbish crisis.

The giant fragrance sprays will be put in place by May at the Asuwei dump site, one of several hundred tips that are the focus of growing public concerns about sanitation, environmental health and a runaway consumer culture.

Municipal authorities say they will also apply more plastic layers to cover the site in response to furious protests by local residents who have to put up with the stench when the wind blows in their direction.

The high-pressure guns, which can spray dozens of litres of fragrance per minute over a distance of up to 50m, are produced by several Chinese firms and based on German and Italian technology. They are already in use at several landfill sites, but they are merely a temporary fix.

Beijing's waste problem - and China's - is expanding as fast as its economy, at about 8% each year. With millions more people now able to afford Starbucks, McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken and other elements of a western, throwaway lifestyle, the landfill sites and illegal tips that ring the capital are close to overflowing.

According to the local government, the city of 17m people generates 18,000 tonnes of waste every day - 7,000 tonnes more than the capacity of municipal disposal plants.

"All landfill and treatment sites in Beijing will be full in four years. That's how long it takes to build a treatment plant. So we need to act right now to resolve the issue," said Wang Weiping, a waste expert in the city government. "It's necessary to restructure the current disposal system. We cannot rely on landfill anymore. It's a waste of space."

Less than 4% of Beijing's rubbish is recycled – the UK recycles 35% – but is still near the bottom of the EU recycling league. Two per cent of Beijing's rubbish is burned but the rest is dumped in landfill sites, which cover an area of 333,000 sq m. Cities throughout the country face a similar problem.

There are more than 200 legal and illegal sites around Beijing, according to Wang Jiuliang, a photographer who has spent the past year recording and plotting the wastelands using GPS systems and Google Earth.

Changxindian, Fengtai district: A shanty town for migrant workers built on a landfill. At its height, the site attracted more than 2,000 migrant workers from the most populous provinces including Sichuan, Henan and Anhui.

Together, they form what he calls "Beijing's seventh ring", where the city meets the countryside with smart new ring roads, expensive housing complexes and the detritus of consumer culture.

"People are forced to use these places for dumps and landfills. There is no better place," he says. "China has become a consumer society over the past 10 or 20 years. The authorities are working hard to solve the garbage problem, but it has emerged too quickly."

Environment authorities in cities throughout the country are struggling to keep pace with this burgeoning problem. According to the government, about 20m tonnes of urban garbage went unhandled in 2008.

They want to deal with the waste by burning it. But government plans to build 82 incinerators between 2006 and 2010 have encountered an increasingly hostile "not-in-my-backyard" movement.

According to Chinese media reports, at least six incinerator projects have been put on hold due to public opposition, including Panyu in Guangdong province, Jiangqiao in Shanghai, and Liulitun and Asuwei in Beijing.

The number of rubbish-related public complaints in Beijing increased by 57% last year, according to the Municipal Petition Office. Many residents have safety fears about incineration facilities despite reassurances by the government.

Yongshun town, Tongzhou district:
This landfill is located in between Chaoyang and Tongzhou districts of Beijing. In the distance: upscale condos and high-rises. In the foreground: human excrement dumped at the site.

In an attempt to win public confidence, the managers of a new 800m yuan ($1,198,053.56 USD)incinerator in Gao'antun set up a giant display screen earlier this month that contains real-time data on emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

But it continues to raise concerns because there are no figures for dioxins - the toxins released during the burning of plastic and other synthetic materials. The plant has had to scale back operations in the face of public opposition.

In the longer term, the government plans massive investment and new legislation to double the capacity of waste disposal facilities, increase the incineration rate to 40% and to cut the growth in the volume of rubbish to zero by 2015 through recycling.

There is a long way to go. Currently, even when waste is separated by schools and companies, it is often just crammed back together by refuse collectors. A Beijing News report last month noted that distribution and disposal plants are not designed to deal with separated waste.

"We just compress, pack and then bury everything directly," said staff from Mentougou district waste transfer station.

Efforts to promote recycling have a long way to go. Public litter bins offer two options - marked recyclable and non-recyclable - but few people are aware of the distinction because there has not been an adequate public education campaign.

"I am willing to take time and money to separate and recycle my rubbish, but there's just no such system here," said Beijing resident Cui Zheng.

Please visit this site for more pictures. The landfill sites circling Beijing have been documented by Wang Jiuliang in his photo essay, A City Beseiged by Waste. The photographer won the gold award for outstanding artist of the year at the 2009 Lianzhou International Photography Festival for this work.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Quotable Quotes

"If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man."

- Mark Twain, American author.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Landfill Mining - Reusing Old Garbage

If the UK keeps dumping rubbish at its current rate it will run out of landfill space by 2018. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images. Photo courtesy:

It might sound like a load of old rubbish, but landfill mining could be the next resources idea to sweep Britain and the rest of Europe. UK company Advanced Plasma Power (APP) has formed a joint venture to dig up a giant landfill site in Belgium, and will recycle half the rubbish and convert the rest into renewable electricity. The project, which will become operational by 2014, is thought to be the first of its kind in the world.

Other companies are also examining the viability of similar projects across the Continent to free up much needed landfill space and because the value of recycled metals which can be recovered has risen.

The 30-year project will reuse 16.5m tonnes of municipal waste dumped since the 1960s at the landfill site near Hasselt in eastern Belgium. APP will use its plasma technology to convert the methane produced by the rubbish, which is more than 20 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide, into usable gas. This will fuel a 60MW power plant capable of supplying 60,000 homes.

The idea of digging up old rubbish is not new. The chief executive of one British landfill operator told the Guardian he had considered it 15 years ago. But the increasing shortage of landfill space, a need to produce more electricity renewably and higher metal prices are now combining to make firms consider it more seriously.

If Britain keeps throwing away rubbish at current rates, it will run out of space by 2018. Landfill taxes will almost double in the next five years in an effort to delay this point. The costs of landfill mining are only likely to become economic on a large scale in Britain if companies can recoup this tax in return for emptying the site. But the process can be dangerous, particularly if asbestos or other hazardous waste is found on older sites, while trapped methane can ignite when released.

Paul Davies, an environmental law partner at City law firm Macfarlanes, said: "The greatest challenge aside from dealing with the cost-benefit of materials recovery is overcoming health and safety risks posed by boring down into sites where, in many cases, for older "mature" sites, there are inexact records of what lies below."


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Unknown Carnivore Discovered in Lake Madagascar

Researchers have identified a previously unknown species of carnivore lurking in one of the world's most endangered lakes.

Durrell's vontsira (Salanoia durrelli), named in honor of the late conservationist and writer Gerald Durrell, was first photographed swimming in Madagascar's Lake Alaotra in 2004. Subsequent surveys by scientists at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Natural History Museum, London, Nature Heritage, Jersey, and Conservation International confirmed the mongoose-like creature was indeed a new species.

"We have known for some time that a carnivore lives in the Lac Alaotra marshes, but we’ve always assumed it was a brown-tailed vontsira that is also found in the eastern rainforests," said Fidimalala Bruno Ralainasolo, a conservation biologist working for Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust who originally captured the new carnivore. "However, differences in its skull, teeth, and paws have shown that this animal is clearly a different species with adaptations to life in an aquatic environment."

Durrell’s vontsira (Salanoia durrelli) - The first new carnivorous mammal to be discovered for 24 years. It was discovered on the Island of Madagascar by a team from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (DWCT), the Natural History Museum, London, Nature Heritage, and Conservation International (CI). © Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Durrell's vontsira is the first new carnivorous mammal discovered in Madagascar in 24 years. Little is known about the species, which is roughly the size of a cat and is described in the latest issue of the taxonomic journal Systematics and Biodiversity.

"It is a very exciting discovery. However, the future of the species is very uncertain."

Durrell’s vontsira (Salanoia durrelli) - The first new carnivorous mammal to be discovered for 24 years. It was discovered on the Island of Madagascar by a team from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (DWCT), the Natural History Museum, London, Nature Heritage, and Conservation International (CI). © Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Lac Alaotra is Madagascar's largest, and most endangered lake. Sedimentation from deforested watersheds, pollution from pesticides and fertilizers, and burning and agricultural conversion of the lake's reed beds have left Lac Alaotra's ecosystem in dire straights.

"The Lac Alaotra marshes are extremely threatened by agricultural expansion, burning and invasive plants and fish," said Ralainasolo.

Habitat loss and introduction of alien plants have already driven at least well known species to extinction: the Alaotra grebe (Tachybaptus rufolavatus), which was last seen in 1985.

Scientists warn the same fate could befall Durrell's vontsira as well as the endemic Lac Alaotra Gentle Lemur (Hapalemur alaotrensis), which inhabits the lakes reed beds, if action isn't taken.

Lac Alaotra, Madagascar's largest lake, was the country's rice bowl, responsible for feeding a large part of the island's population. At one time the vast lake was surrounded by tropical forest, but today this has been cleared for agriculture, and the hills are now bare and riddled with "lavaka," deep, red, eroded gullies. With rain - the soil left unprotected without forest cover - tons of red earth bleed into the lake, leading it to disappear. Today the lake has a maximum dry season depth of only two feet (60 cm) and the region can no longer produce enough rice to supply the growing population. Photo © Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

"This species is probably the carnivore with one of the smallest ranges in the world, and likely to be one of the most threatened," said Frank Hawkins of Conservation International. "The Lac Alaotra wetlands are under considerable pressure, and only urgent conservation work to make this species a flagship for conservation will prevent its extinction."


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

20 Uses for an Old T-Shirt

Photo courtesy: webdesignschoolguide

Old t-shirts can be worn more ways than one. Your raggedy old t-shirt that once fit can be transformed into yarn, a wash rag, quilt or purse with little more than scissors and a needle and thread. Reusing t-shirts will help you save money and reduce your household waste, while giving your high school tees a second life. Here are 20 things you can do with old t-shirts:

From skirts, bathing suits, dresses to more shirts, you’d be amazed at how many clothing items you can make from an old t-shirt. Browse the Internet for inspiration and instructions on how to make your very own wardrobe from your old t-shirts.

Old t-shirts make excellent rags that can be used to clean, dust and polish just about everything. Whether you use the t-shirt as-is or cut into smaller pieces, t-shirt rags can be used on all surfaces, furniture, shoes, jewelry, appliances and will outlast any disposable paper towel. You can also use t-shirt rags for washing and drying the car for a streak-free clean.

3.T-Shirt Pillows
You can make t-shirt pillows from old t-shirts in multiple ways. One way is to cut the t-shirt into a block that can be sewn together, and add a pillow insert or stuffing in between the fabric. Then, add an invisible zipper or button closure to keep everything intact. You can find several how-to guides and instructions to make t-shirt pillows online.

4.T-Shirt Yarn
Turn your old t-shirts into yarn that can be used for knit or crochet projects. To start, cut your t-shirt into strips as wide or narrow as you want, making one continuous piece in the end. Then, hold 1 to 2 feet of the continuous strip in both hands and tug it to form a curl. Once the fabric is curled, roll it into a ball of yarn and you’re ready to go.

5.T-Shirt Tote Bag
Turn your old-shirt into a reusable tote bag, by cutting out two large squares and sewing the bottom and sides together, leaving the top open. To create handles, cut smaller strips of fabric from the discarded sleeves or another material and sew them onto the top of the bag. You can leave the bag open or secure it with a zipper, button or magnet.

You can make a memory quilt from your old t-shirts by cutting blocks that are the same size or various sizes, arranged in a grid pattern and sewn together with sashing between the blocks and a border for the perimeter of the quilt. You can also make a smaller quilt for children or pets, using the same process but smaller blocks.

7.Toy and Pillow Stuffing
An old t-shirt can be cut into small pieces or shredded to be used as stuffing for toys, pillows and other crafts.

8.Bean Bags
If you or someone you know likes to play bean bag games, you can make homemade bean bags using old t-shirts. You’ll start by cutting even squares of the fabric and sewing the bottom half and sides with a very sturdy stitch. Then, you can fill the bean bags with an even amount of sand or beans and sew the top closed. To personalize the bean bags, you can use college, holiday or event t-shirts that have a matching theme.

9.Project Cover
Lay down old t-shirts on the floor or table when you’re working on projects that may get a little messy. T-shirts will protect your furniture and floors from paint, glue, glitter and other potentially damaging products.

10.Baby Wipes
Make homemade baby wipes by cutting squares from old t-shirts and wetting them with a mixture of water, baby wash or shampoo and baby oil. These wipes will save you money and give you the satisfaction of knowing that your wipes don’t have harsh chemicals or drying chemicals found in many store-bought baby wipes.

You can make headbands, pins, bracelets, necklaces and other accessories from old t-shirts. You can cut from the arm holes for easy construction of head bands, bracelets, necklaces and other loop accessories. Secure the accessory by sewing, gluing or tying a knot to secure the accessory and wear it proudly.

Save money on tissues by making your own handkerchief from an old t-shirt. It can be as simple as a white square or more decorative with sewn edges or designs. T-shirt handkerchiefs can be disinfected in hot water and bleach and washed on a delicate cycle.

13.Dryer Sheet
Skip the disposable dryer sheets, by cutting an old t-shirt into small squares, placing a small amount of fabric softener to the sheet and throwing it into the dryer to freshen your clothes.

Use old t-shirts as decorative patches, by cutting a cool design, logo or color block from an old t-shirt. You can cut it into a square, circle, diamond or any other shape, and iron it onto a fabric stiffener and cut out to thicken the material and make it more durable. Then, sew the edges to keep it from fraying and sew the patch onto jeans, jackets, purses or pin it to a corkboard.

15.Shoe Bag
Make a shoe bag to protect your kicks when traveling or to keep them clean in your closet. In order to make a shoe bag, you’ll need to sew the arm openings and neck hole closed, and then you can insert your shoes and tie the bag closed with a ribbon or keep it open for easy access.

16.Wall Art
Make some wall art using an old t-shirt with a unique design or message. You can simply tack t-shirts to the wall in a collage-like way, or place a t-shirt inside a frame and hang the picture or whatever clever display comes to mind.

17.Packing Material
Old t-shirts are the perfect packing material because they are soft, cushioning and reusable. Too often are newspapers, plastic bags, packing peanuts thrown away after one use, but t-shirts can be reused again and again for packing dishes, pictures, trinkets and other breakables.

Old-t-shirts are the best thing to wear when you’re painting because you won’t mind if you get paint on it, and you can use the sleeves to wipe up dripping paint or correct small mistakes.

Old t-shirts can be made into an apron using a how-to guide, or serve as a cooking-only t-
shirt that you can spill on and you won’t care.

20.Scented Sachet
Freshen up your sock drawer or closet with a homemade scented sachet made from old t-shirts. After you make and cure a potpourri mix, you can cut squares from a t-shirt and fill the fabric with potpourri and secure it with a ribbon.

Via webdesignschoolguide

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mideast Nations Come Together Over Sandstorms

A sandstorm at the Haditha Dam in Iraq. Photo: James McCauley / Creative Commons. Photo courtesy: TreeHugger

Though conflicts over sparse water supplies have created rifts between Turkey and its neighbors, the sandstorms they exacerbate have brought countries in the region together, signing an agreement this week to tackle soil erosion, air pollution, and desertification within the next five years.

According to Agence France-Presse, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Qatar, and Turkey have signed an agreement at an environmental conference in Tehran to "establish a network of meteorological stations, regenerate vegetation to stabilize soil, and exchange expertise in these areas."

War-ravaged Iraq has been among the hardest-hit by sandstorms, which are worsened by the conflict-related loss of trees that stabilize the soil. Last summer, one particularly bad week-long sandstorm sent hundreds to the hospital with breathing difficulties, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty wrote at the time:
Iraq has long suffered blinding sandstorms, but several years of drought have aggravated the situation this year. The inadequate flow of water down its once-mighty rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, which are choked by dams in upstream countries like Turkey, has made things worse. Water shortages make the land dry out and become more dusty.
Disputes over water from the Tigris and Euphrates have long been a point of contention, but with the sandstorms spreading to Iran and Syria, traveling as far as 1,000 kilometers, Iraq's neighbors have apparently come to realize the fight is not one country's alone.

Via TreeHugger

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Can You Identify This Species of Grasshopper?

Photo courtesy:

Wildlife Extra News has a bit of a dilemma. They have the above photo of this magnificent grasshopper - the trouble is that no one can identify it. A new species? Maybe.

This grasshopper was photographed from a unspoiled hill forest (semi-evergreen) in Bangladesh in August 2010. The majestic insect was spotted by the crew of a TV series about the biodiversity of Bangladesh, "Prokriti O Jibon", "Life and the Living".

If anyone knows this species, please let Wildlife Extra know by email ( If anyone out there knows what it is, how about leaving a comment for me, too. Thanks in advance.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Russians Building Floating Nuclear Power Plants

Photo courtesy:

In political science, the acronym NIMBY stands for Not In My Back Yard. It's the sentiment expressed by a local community when a dangerous or undesirable facility – say, a nuclear power plant – is being planned nearby. In a curious turn of events, Santa and his reindeer friends will soon have reason to take up this mantra.

Last year, Russia began constructing a floating nuclear power plant. It is scheduled for deployment in the Arctic in 2012 and eleven additional units are currently planned. (Hat tip to Richard Galpin at BBC News.)

I know what you’re thinking: Might there be some remote risks associated with floating nukes in the Arctic? Well, relax, because there actually aren’t any risks whatsoever. Not one. At least not according to a Russian spokesman for the project: “We can absolutely guarantee the safety of our units one hundred percent, all risks are absolutely ruled out.”

Great news, folks, the Russians have unlocked the secret of zero-risk nuclear technology: remove solid land from the equation. Voila! Energy crisis solved.

Other than the obvious safety benefits of the Arctic Ocean (nothing ever sinks there…), you might be wondering why anyone wants a floating power plant. Well, for one, it does address NIMBY concerns. And on the technical side, there would be an ample supply of water to cool the plant (a recent report found that roughly half of the water America draws, more than 200 billion gallons per day, is used to cool power plants).

But there is a bigger draw. You may have heard that the Arctic is melting. Unsurprisingly, reshaping our planet’s poles will have broader geopolitical consequences than drowning polar bears.

America has been slow to act against climate change because our political system is literally indebted to wealthy fossil fuel lobbies. Yet Russia, another powerhouse climate obstructionist, has resisted action in part because a warming world could make them very rich.

The Arctic seafloor is estimated to hold vast supplies of mineral resources and large untapped reservoirs of oil and natural gas. Among the sizable yet unrecognized Russian claim beneath North Pole is a formation that could hold 75 billion barrels of oil.

Floating power plants would facilitate and accelerate efforts to reach these resources, which makes them well worth their $630 million-per-unit price tag. Russia is in a rush because the five Arctic nations (Russia, the U.S., Canada, Denmark, and Norway) have yet to decide what really belongs to whom. Extracting those resources first would anger other countries but make ownership a moot point.

Personally, I find it a little disturbing that a seaworthy Russian reactor costs a tiny fraction of the roughly $10 billion it currently takes to build a U.S. reactor on land.

So let us return to the now apparently obsolete notion that nuclear power is risky. To be fair, nuclear technology has advanced in the last few decades, and we have nuclear reactors at sea right now. Much of the modern U.S. Navy is nuclear-powered, and the Russian Navy is as well.

Yet there have been many accidents. The 2000 sinking of the Kursk was the most recent, but there have been dozens of other maritime nuclear accidents; the hulks of six nuclear-powered submarines (four Russian and two American) are already irradiating the ocean floor.

Without additional explanation, Russia has made the impossible claim that it has not only minimized the risks, but done away with them completely.

You can tell Rosatom, Russia's State Atomic Energy Agency, to slow or halt this project by signing this petition: Not in Santa's Backyard. And, an interesting follow up: Check out this 1976 AP article in the Palm Beach Post exploring the possibility of floating nukes in the U.S.


Friday, September 10, 2010

200,000 Acre Clear Cut Found in Tiger Reserve

Photo courtesy: Daily Times

The world's largest tiger reserve was recently put into place in the Kachin state in Burma, news which conservationists and champions of the fast-declining species cheered. But it looks like the cheering came too soon -- reports have surfaced that a Burmese real estate corporation is continuing to clear-cut the forests throughout the reserve anyway. It plans on using the land for harvesting crops in a gigantic 200,000 acre monoculture operation, regardless of the declaration by the government that the land was to be used as a reserve.

Such declarations from the 'government' of Burma -- truly a brutal ruling military junta -- are clearly not to be trusted. The real estate firm reportedly has close ties to the junta, and it seems doubtful that it will step in to halt the clear-cutting. Yale 360 has more:
A coalition of organizations promoting sustainable development, the Kachin Development Networking Group, says in its report that Yuzana Company is still bulldozing trees to establish sugar and tapioca plantations and plant jatropha to be used as biofuel. The chairman of Yuzana is U Htay Myint, a prominent businessman with close ties to the government of Burma, also known as Myanmar. "Today, a 200,000-acre mono-crop plantation project is making a mockery of the reserve's protected status," the report says. According to the report, local farmers are being forcibly removed from their land to make room for the plantations.

Here are some pictures of the operation:

Photo courtesy: TreeHugger

And this is all that's left of the forested land after clear cutting: An unironic sign that reads 'Tiger Reserve'.:

Photo courtesy: TreeHugger

Clearly, this is far from a healthy habitat for any tiger.

The military junta is renowned for ruling with an iron hand, driving its citizens into forced labor, and not allowing free press or assembly. That it would put the profits of a major corporation it has ties to before an endangered species or the local populace is par for the course.

Hopefully, further international attention to the issues -- both conservation-related and humanitarian -- will help to discourage this kind of behavior. It must be said, however, that so far it has not.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

White-Backed Vulture in Danger of Extinction

Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

In 1985, the Indian white-backed vulture was described as one of "the most abundant large bird of prey in the world." Since then, things have changed dramatically.

Since the 1990s, the population has dropped by more than 97% and conservationists believe that the species is reaching the point of unavoidable extinction. The culprit: Diclofenac, a bovine painkiller that poisons the birds. Diclofenac is also to help manage severe pain in humans from such maladies as arthritis. In spite of bans, bovine use of the drug is still common in South Asia — a practice that has been perpetuated by its effectiveness.

Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

The painkiller — which is safe for use in humans; but, has been banned for veterinary use in North America, Europe, and parts of South Asia — produces astonishing results in cattle. Often, cows crippled with pain are able to stand and walk minutes after a single injection. This, of course, makes the veterinarian look good and makes it a popular panacea.

While Diclofenac may make the cow feel better, it is lethal to the vultures who digest it when scavenging the meat of dead cattle that have received the drug.

Within days of eating Diclofenac-laced flesh, a vulture's organs are coated in a thick, white paste, eventually causing organ failure.

Fifteen vultures rest in tree in Serengeti Park. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

The test being proposed to identify diclofenac-tainted meat, which is simple enough for non-experts to administer, could quickly identify tainted carrion, helping conservationists select food for breeding centers and wildlife officials track veterinarians practicing in opposition to the ban.

Though trials have been promising, researchers were quick to add that more work had to be done to ensure the test was completely effective. "We can't afford," said Chris Bowden, the Vulture Program Manager at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, "to get it wrong even once."

Via TreeHugger

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Quotable Quotes

If only we all had the same outlook as Sir Edmund Burke. Even those who can only contribute a little can make a difference in someone's life.

"Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little."

- Sir Edmund Burke

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Lack of Insect Pollinators Causing Food Shortages in India

Falling vegetable yields could have a detrimental impact on people's diets, Indian researchers warn. Photo courtesy: bbcnews

A decline in pollinating insects in India is resulting in reduced vegetable yields and could limit people's access to a nutritional diet, a study warns.

Indian researchers said there was a "clear indication" that pollinator abundance was linked to productivity.

They added that the loss of the natural service could have a long-term impact on the farming sector, which accounts for almost a fifth of the nation's GDP.

Globally, pollination is estimated to be worth £141bn ($224bn) each year.

The findings were presented at a recent British Ecological Society meeting, held at the University of Leeds.

Each year, India produces about 7.5 million tonnes of vegetables. This accounts for about 14% of the global total, making the nation second only to China in the world's vegetable production league table.

Despite the concern, no study had been done to assess directly the scale of the decline in natural pollinators, explained Parthiba Basu, from the University of Calcutta's Ecology Research Unit.

"The ideal situation would have been if we were able to compare the overall pollinator abundance over the years, but that kind of data was just not available," he told BBC News.

Instead, his team compared the yields of pollinator-dependent crops with pollinator-independent crops.

"Data shows that the yields of pollinator-independent crops have continued to increase," Dr Basu said. "On the other hand, pollinator-dependent crops have levelled off."

He explained that certain crops did not depend on insects for pollination, including cereals. Instead, the plants used other mechanism - such as relying on the wind to carry the pollen.

However, many vegetables - such as pumpkin, squash, cucumber and gherkin - were reliant on insects, such as bees.

He added that the fall in yield per hectare was against the backdrop of a greater area being turned over to crop production each year.

The exact cause for the decline of pollinators, especially bees, still remains a mystery. Photo courtesy: bbcnews

In an attempt to identify an underlying cause for the pollinator decline, the team is carrying out a series of field experiments, comparing conventional agriculture with "ecological farming".

Defined as "a farming system that aims to develop an integrated, humane, environmentally and economically sustainable agricultural production system", ecological farming is almost a hybrid of conventional and organic farming, looking to capitalise on returns from modern farming methods as well as drawing on natural ecological services, such as pollination.

Dr Basu said: "There is an obvious indication that within the ecological farming setting, there is pollinator abundance. This method typically provides the habitats for natural pollinators - this is the way forward."

He added that if the team's findings were extrapolated, this would offer a "clear indication" that India was facing a decline in natural pollinators, as ecological farming was only practiced on about 10-20% of the country's arable land.

Figures show that agriculture accounts for almost one-fifth of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP), compared with the global average of just 6%. The sector also provides livelihoods for more than half of India's 1.2 billion population.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that of the slightly more than 100 crop species that provide 90% of food supplies for 146 countries, 71 are bee-pollinated, primarily by wild bees, and a number of others are pollinated by other insects.

In order to gain a clear insight into the scale of the global problem, the FAO has established the International Pollinators Initiative, which includes a project involving seven nations (India is among them) with the aim of identifying practices and building capacity in the management of pollination services.

In a 2007 assessment of the scientific data on the issue, the UN Environment Programme observed: "Any loss in biodiversity is a matter of public concern, but losses of pollinating insects may be particularly troublesome because of the potential effects on plant reproduction and hence on food supply security."

Dr Basu said food security was unlikely to be the main consequence facing India.

"There has been a debate within India about this, but most of the cereal crops are not pollinator dependent, so if there is a pollination crisis it is not going to affect food security as such.

"What is going to be affected is nutritional security."

The concept of food security was first established by a FAO committee in 1983. Nutritional security was soon added as a key pillar to ensure "access by all people at all times to enough food for an active and healthy life".

Dr Basu said that vegetables such as pumpkins, squash, cucumber, and gherkins were "quite substantial" in terms of delivering necessary nutrients to the population.

"But there are many other vegetable crops that are eaten by people who are around the poverty level, so-called minor vegetable crops like eggplant, for which is there is no or very little data," he explained.

About a quarter of India's population is believed to live below the poverty level, which - under the UN's Millennium Development Goals - refers to people who live on less than US$1 a day.

In industrialised nations, such as the US and in Europe, many farms employ the services of commercial hives to pollinate fruit trees and food crops, and ensure they harvest adequate yields.

But Dr Basu said the use of domesticated bees in this context was not widespread in South Asia.

"There are honey farmers, but using hives in the field to pollinate crops is not at all common in India," he said.

"That is why a lot of the political noise about a global pollination crisis came from the US and Europe, because their managed/domesticated bee population was declining."

In 2007, about one third of the US domesticated bee population was wiped out as a result of a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), with some commercial hive owners losing up to 90% of their bees.

The exact cause remains a mystery, and last year a number of UK agencies - including the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) - began a £10m project to help identify the main threat to bees and other insect pollinators.

A number of possible causes have been suggested, including the misuse of pesticides, habitat loss and fragmentation, and the spread of parasites and diseases.

Dr Basu said that as a result of his team's field experiments, it was clear that India too was experiencing a decline.

However, he cautioned: "There are many kinds of natural pollinators. As a result, we - not only in India, but in other parts of the world - do not really know what is happening to natural pollinator populations."

Via bbcnews

Monday, September 6, 2010

Check out the HumanCar - A Step Above the Flintmobile

Photo courtesy: dragoart

Everyone remembers the Flintmobile. The stone-age vehicle driven entirely by the foot power of Fred Flintstone. The HumanCar is a step above a very good way. The small electric engine is powered by the driver or passengers in the vehicle. The action needed to power the car is demonstrated in the video.

The plus sides to this car are many.

1. It doesn't pollute. The small electric engine is powered by muscle power. No emissions. No pollution.
2. Relaxing. If you are motoring on safe roads, it is a slower-paced ride that allows you to take in the sights.
3. When it needs "refueling", the driver (or passenger) can refuel as the car is moving or it can be pulled over to the side of the road for a quick recharge/refuel.
4. Safer. There would be far less accidents if everyone were in these vehicles.
5. Lowers dependence on oil products. 'Nuff said.

Check out the video and see what you think.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Opening Window Found That Predates 1066 AD

Builders working on a tiny Saxon church have unearthed Britain's oldest working window, dating back to pre-1066.

The wooden-framed window was built 1,000 years ago but lay buried in the wall of St Andrew's Church for about 150 years after it was covered up by Victorian renovations.
It has now been revealed after shocked workmen spotted the distinctive frame while renovating the Saxon building, in the village of Boxford, near Newbury, Berkshire.

Archaeologists and historians have studied the workmanship of the window and have found that it dates back to before the Norman Conquest.

The tiny wooden frame measures 2ft tall by 1ft wide and had been buried in the church's wall. Photo courtesy: mailonline

It is one of just a handful of windows in the country that pre-dates 1066 but is the only one that opens.

The opening was first uncovered in July this year as the small church underwent restoration.

Workmen carefully removed a concrete render, which had been placed on the outside of the north wall of the church in the Victorian era.

They unpeeled the concrete to reveal a rough-hewn oak frame of the 2ft by 1ft window, containing a wooden panel of the same material which would have been tied using hemp as a hinge.

Stunned church staff called in archaeologists and medieval specialists, who determined the method of building the window dated back to well before 1066.

Experts from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings have confirmed the findings and said the window is 'remarkable in its completeness.'

The window is now fully displayed at the church - one of just five specimens dating back to before the Norman Conquest, and believed to be the only one with a working shutter.

The small wooden frame on the side of the church is thought to have been used to allow a draft of fresh air through the building. Photo courtesy: mailonline

Andrew Plumridge, conservationist and church architect at St Andrew's, said: 'It's really very exciting - it is one of just three windows in the whole of Britain which pre-dates the Norman Conquest.

'It was discovered during a general restoration programme for the church.

'A concrete render had been placed outside over the window by the Victorians and was beginning to crack and let in water behind it.

'Part of the renovation was to take off the render, but when they took it away they noticed a small window filled with loose flint.

'We took the flint out to see what was underneath but we were not prepared for what we would find.

'It is a wooden frame made from oak, with an oak shutter on a string side hinge which probably would have been made from hemp. It has been described rather inelegantly as an ancient cat flap. Although it holds a working shutter, the window cannot open fully nowadays due to an enormous monument on the inside of the building.

Mr Plumridge said: 'We have decided not to reveal the inside of the window, because there is a huge monument in the way which is too important for us to move.

'We will leave this for future generations to discover and enjoy.' Julian Munby, archaeological advisor for the Oxford diocese, said: 'It's an interesting find and very exciting indeed.

'It is believed to be a Saxon window, dating back to pre-1066, and is therefore one of the oldest in Britain.

'The window is cut from a single timber and has a shutter, making it the oldest working window we are aware of.

'The Romans would have built some windows using glass, but none of these exist in Britain any more.

'It has been covered up for very many years and was only discovered during building work - it is a very important find.'

Matthew Slocombe, from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, said: 'We were hugely excited when Andrew told us of his discovery.

'This is such a rare and unusual find.

'It is a great privilege to be able to see the work of a Saxon craftsman who lived more than 1,000 years ago.

'It's a delight to see that a traditional, wooden, hand-crafted window can stand the test of time more than a millennia after its construction.'

Via mailonline

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Super Salmon Coming to a Plate Near You

A genetically modified salmon, rear, and a non-genetically modified salmon, foreground. Photograph: AP. Photo courtesy: guardian

Buried in a prospectus inviting investors to buy shares in a fledgling biotech company is an arresting claim attributed to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.

"Commercial aquaculture is the most rapidly growing segment of the agricultural industry, accounting for more than $60bn sales in 2003. While land-based agriculture is increasing between 2% to 3% per year, aquaculture has been growing at an average rate of approximately 9% per year since 1970."

And then the prospectus for the US company AquaBounty offers this observation to tantalise prospective investors: "The traditional fishery harvest from the ocean has stagnated since 1990."

So what is to be done to satisfy the world's seemingly insatiable appetite for fish? An appetite that will see the consumption of farmed fish outpace global beef consumption by nearly 10% within five years, according to the UN?

AquaBounty, whose shares are sold on London's Alternative Investment Market, thinks it has the answer. And if, as looks increasingly likely, the US government agrees, the implications for global food production will be enormous. Welcome to the new world heralded by the "GM salmon".

The company's dream of selling genetically modified salmon eggs that allow the fish to grow to maturity in half the normal time received a giant fillip last week when it announced that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was close to granting approval.

A positive FDA response would see salmon become the first GM-engineered animal marketed for human consumption. Dramatically speeding up the time it takes to harvest a mature salmon could stimulate a huge rise in production, making salmon plentiful and cheaper, GM enthusiasts say.

AquaBounty expects to receive the nod by the end of this year, meaning GM salmon could be on supermarket shelves within three years. The company's share price doubled on the strength of the announcement.

But the euphoria the company and its investors experienced following last week's announcement quickly evaporated amid a furious backlash from consumer groups.

"The furore over this fish puts paid once and for all to the myth that US consumers are content eating GM food," said Eve Mitchell, European food policy adviser at Food and Water Watch Europe, which opposes GM food. "Consumers are not, and in fact jammed up the White House telephone lines last week protesting any approval. Quite understandably the salmon industry is not happy either, as people will simply avoid all salmon rather than risk getting this stuff. Only those who stand to gain financially think this is a good idea."

Predictably, vested fishing interests have waded into the row. Local radio stations from Ireland to Canada carried interviews with angry fishermen who fear that initial reluctance to consume GM salmon will be overcome by simple economics. "Genetically modified food is just a bad deal," a commercial fisherman in Charleston, South Carolina, told his local station. "This will attack our marketplace. It'll come on the market so cheap that people will buy it, because we're all on a budget."

Ronald Stotish, AquaBounty's chief executive officer, is keen to play down these particular fears. His company is more interested in selling its technology to the burgeoning markets of Chile, China and Asia rather than competing with Atlantic fishermen. "The global salmon market is very, very large and the opportunity is in areas that cannot raise salmon," Stotish told the Observer. "We don't believe it need threaten any national markets, particularly for the high-value premium markets. We are hopeful that people don't regard us as an economic threat, but simply look to us as a technology that maybe can become part of the future."

If Stotish, a biochemist by training and an urbane advocate for his cause, succeeds, other companies are waiting in the wings to exploit similar GM technologies. AquaBounty itself is looking at GM trout, according to its prospectus, and has conducted trials on catfish. Up to six other species of fish – including tilapia and cod – are viewed by biotech companies as ripe for genetic modification, according to experts.

Not that Stotish enjoys being the vanguard of a GM food revolution. "It would be far easier to be the third or fourth or fifth [company to bring a GM animal to market]. If you are the first, you attract all of the attention and the burden of attention falls to you. It's a difficult position for a small firm like us."

AquaBounty is also battling dire warnings that its chief product threatens the natural food chain. The company's genetic technology ensures that more than 98% of its salmon cannot reproduce, Stotish says. In addition, the eggs it produces (which are all female thus ensuring the GM fish cannot reproduce among themselves) will be sold only to strictly monitored growers operating fish farms under licence from the FDA.

"This biological and physical containment almost certainly guarantees no interaction with wild salmon," Stotish pledged, pointing out that about 95% of the world's salmon is already produced in farms.

But Helen Wallace, of the anti-GM group GeneWatch, said she had serious concerns. "AquaBounty admit that they expect more than 1% of their fish to be able to reproduce," Wallace said. "If, as they intend, they end up producing large numbers of eggs, that's a large risk." Escaped GM salmon could "outcompete" its wild counterpart by reproducing earlier and threatening its food supply. Some researchers have suggested that even a small number of escaped GM salmon could cause extinction of wild populations in as little as 40 generations.

With potentially weak constitutions, the new salmon might then struggle to adapt to life outside captivity. Food and Water Watch goes as far as to suggest the GM salmon "may only last long enough in the wild to prevent natural populations from reproducing, leading to a total extinction of salmon in open waters".

Escapes are not uncommon. In March, nearly 100,000 farmed Atlantic salmon escaped into the wild from just one hole in a net at a UK fish farm.

Such concerns take place against the backdrop of a much wider battle between pro-GM groups and an increasingly vocal organic movement. GM crop production is promoted aggressively on the grounds that it can help eliminate global hunger and bring down food prices. Opponents claim the promised GM revolution that saw crops made resistant to potent herbicides – something that could dramatically reduce farmers' spraying time – has resulted in the rise of superweeds across vast tracts of US farmland.

Experts said they had been expecting the battle over GM food to move to fish for some time because they are easier to modify. Stotish said his company was focused purely on aquaculture. But GM pork already looks a real possibility. The Enviropig, a trademarked pig that has been genetically modified to excrete less polluting phosphorous in its faeces, has been developed by researchers in Canada. Genetically modified chickens capable of laying eggs containing proteins needed to make cancer-fighting drugs have been created by Scottish scientists.

A goat that produces a spider's web protein – paving the way for silk to be farmed – is under development. GM goats have also been raised to produce human breast milk and to deliver a special protein for people whose blood cannot flow smoothly. And then there is the GloFish, a genetically modified fluorescent zebrafish that, according to its sales blurb, would grace any aquarium and comes in three "striking colours" – starfire red, electric green and sunburst orange.

But amid the rush to spread GM's reach and scope, at least one government has recently had second thoughts. Muhyiddin Yassin, Malaysia's deputy prime minister, last week announced his government would not be releasing genetically modified male Aedes mosquitoes capable of sterilising female mosquitoes. "We must consider several aspects of the proposed release, including its impact on the environment," Yassin said. "In addition, the release of the mosquitoes must be endorsed by several international organisations."

For GM opponents, the U-turn was a cause for celebration, a sign that politicians still accept that the technology carries massive risks. But the ultimate victory in the argument about genetically modified food comes down to the invisible hand of the market. Both sides agree it is significant that none of the big GM technology companies such as Monsanto is attempting to create GM meat or fish, preferring to focus on more lucrative GM crop production.

"The process of genetically modifying animals has been a commercial failure," Wallace said. "Too many scientists and small biotech companies have engineered animals just because they can, without thinking through the technical, economic, marketing, animal welfare, environmental or social issues."

Yet Stotish senses opportunity for his fledgling industry. "Once the [GM] technology was adapted for plant systems, the size of that opportunity dwarfed the efforts on the animal side. We've lagged behind." If the FDA gives the green light to GM salmon, expect a frantic game of catch-up.


1980: First biotechnology patent granted: US researchers awarded a patent that allows them to make human insulin from genetically modified bacteria.

1982: US government approves tests to evaluate how genetically engineered bacteria can control frost damage in potatoes and strawberries.

1986: The US Environment Protection Authority approves the first GM crop - a virus-resistant tobacco plant.

1990: The first successful field trial of GM herbicide-tolerant cotton is conducted in the USA. In the same year the first GM dairy cow is created.

1994: The first genetically engineered food product, the Flavr Savr tomato, receives US Food and Drug Administration approval.

2002: Researchers sequence the DNA of rice, the first crop plant to have its genome decoded.

2003: UK approves a GM herbicide-resistant corn used for cattle feed.

2005: Cow genome sequence published.

2006: GM rice approved for human consumption in the US.

2007: Scottish researchers genetically modify chickens to lay eggs capable of producing drugs that fight cancer.

Via guardian

Friday, September 3, 2010

Laos Trades Environment for Cheap Electrical Power

Laos' proposed hydropower plant threatens the habitat of giant Mekong catfish, such as this one weighing in at 292kg. Photograph: Suthep Kritsanavarin/AFP/Getty Images. Photo courtesy: guardian

Despite the risks to the world's biggest freshwater fish, Laos has rejected calls for a dam moratorium on the lower reaches of the Mekong because it wants cheap power to develop its economy.

The south-east Asian nation moved this week to secure regional approval for the first major hydropower plant on its stretch of the river in the face of protests from international conservation groups.

Catfish the length of cars and stingrays that weigh more than tigers are threatened by the proposed 800m barrier, but the government said the economic benefits outweigh the environmental risks.

"We don't want to be poor any more," said Viraphone Viravong, director general of the country's energy and mines department. "If we want to grow, we need this dam."

In a submission to the Mekong River Commission (MRC), Laos said it wants to build a 1.26GW-hydropower plant at Sayabouly in northern Laos to generate foreign exchange income.

If approved, about 90% of the electricity would be sold to neighbours Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

It is part of a major plan to expand the economy through the utilisation of natural resources. According to Viravong, 20% of Laos' GDP will come from hydropower and mining by 2020, up from about 4% today.

Sayabouly is the first of 11 proposed dams on the lower reaches of the Mekong, a river that is already heavily dammed upstream in China.

The MMRC – made up of representatives from Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand – will now assess the environmental impact of the project, but conservation groups fear the procedure is flawed and have called for a 10-year moratorium on hydropower on the river.

"This dam is the greatest challenge the MRC has faced since it was formed. It is the most serious test of its usefulness and relevance," said Marc Goichot, of the WWF. "It is already very clear this dam would amplify and accelerate the negative impacts of Chinese dams to the Mekong delta. What are the other impacts?"

Concerns have been raised about sedimentation, fisheries and the migration patterns of endangered freshwater species.

Four of the world's 10 biggest freshwater fish migrate up the Mekong to spawn. Among them is the Mekong giant catfish, which is the size of a bull shark, and the Mekong stingray, which can weigh up to 600kg.

The dam – which is being designed by Swiss company Colencois and the Thai contractors Karnchang – is also likely to affect the flow of nutrients along a delta that sustains tens of millions of people.

The Laos authorities insist the dam will be designed to mitigate the impact on food security, ecosystems and wildlife, but officials acknowledge that no solution is ideal for the environment.

"It won't be 100% perfect, but we believe mitigation measures will be effective. We must balance out the costs and benefits," said Viravong.

He felt there was no alternative. "We have done studies on micro-energy and renewables, but they are expensive. I don't think the world can subsidise that. If we do it ourselves, only cheap energy from hydropower will do."
Laos' proposed hydropower plant threatens the habitat of giant Mekong catfish, such as this one weighing in at 292kg. Photograph: Suthep Kritsanavarin/AFP/Getty Images

Despite the risks to the world's biggest freshwater fish, Laos has rejected calls for a dam moratorium on the lower reaches of the Mekong because it wants cheap power to develop its economy.

The south-east Asian nation moved this week to secure regional approval for the first major hydropower plant on its stretch of the river in the face of protests from international conservation groups.

Catfish the length of cars and stingrays that weigh more than tigers are threatened by the proposed 800m barrier, but the government said the economic benefits outweigh the environmental risks.

"We don't want to be poor any more," said Viraphone Viravong, director general of the country's energy and mines department. "If we want to grow, we need this dam."

In a submission to the Mekong river commission (MRC) on Wednesday, Laos said it wants to build a 1.26GW-hydropower plant at Sayabouly in northern Laos to generate foreign exchange income.

If approved, about 90% of the electricity would be sold to neighbours Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

It is part of a major plan to expand the economy through the utilisation of natural resources. According to Viravong, 20% of Laos' GDP will come from hydropower and mining by 2020, up from about 4% today.

Sayabouly is the first of 11 proposed dams on the lower reaches of the Mekong, a river that is already heavily dammed upstream in China.

The MMRC – made up of representatives from Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand – will now assess the environmental impact of the project, but conservation groups fear the procedure is flawed and have called for a 10-year moratorium on hydropower on the river.

"This dam is the greatest challenge the MRC has faced since it was formed. It is the most serious test of its usefulness and relevance," said Marc Goichot, of the WWF. "It is already very clear this dam would amplify and accelerate the negative impacts of Chinese dams to the Mekong delta. What are the other impacts?"

Concerns have been raised about sedimentation, fisheries and the migration patterns of endangered freshwater species.

Four of the world's 10 biggest freshwater fish migrate up the Mekong to spawn. Among them is the Mekong giant catfish, which is the size of a bull shark, and the Mekong stingray, which can weigh up to 600kg.

The dam – which is being designed by Swiss company Colencois and the Thai contractors Karnchang – is also likely to affect the flow of nutrients along a delta that sustains tens of millions of people.

The Laos authorities insist the dam will be designed to mitigate the impact on food security, ecosystems and wildlife, but officials acknowledge that no solution is ideal for the environment.

"It won't be 100% perfect, but we believe mitigation measures will be effective. We must balance out the costs and benefits," said Viravong.

He felt there was no alternative. "We have done studies on micro-energy and renewables, but they are expensive. I don't think the world can subsidise that. If we do it ourselves, only cheap energy from hydropower will do."

Via guardian