Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Planet Made of Diamond?

The NGC 1365 galaxy, also known as the Great Barred Spiral Galaxy, is seen in an image that combines observations performed through three different filters with the 1.5-metre Danish telescope at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile. Photo courtesy: Reuters

Astronomers have spotted an exotic planet that seems to be made of diamond racing around a tiny star in our galactic backyard.

The new planet is far denser than any other known so far and consists largely of carbon. Because it is so dense, scientists calculate the carbon must be crystalline, so a large part of this strange world will effectively be diamond.

"The evolutionary history and amazing density of the planet all suggest it is comprised of carbon -- i.e. a massive diamond orbiting a neutron star every two hours in an orbit so tight it would fit inside our own Sun," said Matthew Bailes of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne.

Lying 4,000 light years away, or around an eighth of the way towards the centre of the Milky Way from the Earth, the planet is probably the remnant of a once-massive star that has lost its outer layers to the so-called pulsar star it orbits.

Pulsars are tiny, dead neutron stars that are only around 20 kilometres (12.4 miles) in diameter and spin hundreds of times a second, emitting beams of radiation.

In the case of pulsar J1719-1438, the beams regularly sweep the Earth and have been monitored by telescopes in Australia, Britain and Hawaii, allowing astronomers to detect modulations due to the gravitational pull of its unseen companion planet.

The measurements suggest the planet, which orbits its star every two hours and 10 minutes, has slightly more mass than Jupiter but is 20 times as dense, Bailes and colleagues reported in the journal Science on Thursday.

In addition to carbon, the new planet is also likely to contain oxygen, which may be more prevalent at the surface and is probably increasingly rare towards the carbon-rich centre.

Its high density suggests the lighter elements of hydrogen and helium, which are the main constituents of gas giants like Jupiter, are not present.

Just what this weird diamond world is actually like close up, however, is a mystery.

"In terms of what it would look like, I don't know I could even speculate," said Ben Stappers of the University of Manchester. "I don't imagine that a picture of a very shiny object is what we're looking at here."

Monday, May 30, 2011

New River Discovered Underneath Amazon River

An overview of an area in the Amazon rain forest in northern Brazil, in 2005. Brazilian scientists have discovered an underground river some 4,000 meters (13,000) feet deep, which flows from west to east like the country's famous waterway. Photo courtesy: physorg.com

A huge underground river appears to be flowing thousands of feet beneath the Amazon River, Brazilian scientists said Thursday.

Valiya Hamza of Brazil's National Observatory said researchers found indications the subterranean river is 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers) long, about the same length as the Amazon on the surface.

Hamza said the discovery of the possible underground river came from studying temperature variations at 241 inactive oil wells drilled in the 1970s and 1980s by Brazil's state-run oil company, Petrobras.

He said the "thermal information" provided by Petrobras allowed his team of researchers to identify the movement of water 13,100 feet (4,000 meters) under the Amazon River.

Their findings were presented in Rio de Janeiro at a meeting of the Brazilian Geophysical Society.

The apparent underground river has been named after Hamza, honoring him as the head of the research team that found the signs of the flowing water.

He said the existence of an underground river that also flows west to east would mean that the Amazon rain forest has two drainage systems - the Amazon and Hamza rivers.

Hamza stressed that the studies indicating the underground river were still in their preliminary stage but added that he expected to confirm the subterranean flow by the end of 2014.

He declined to comment on the economic and environmental impact of an underground river in the Amazon rain forest.

Via Seattletimes

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Museum of London Gets a New Green Roof

Part of the preparation of the old roof to make way for the new green roof. ALL photos courtesy: B. Alter

It's always a tonic for me when I see news such as this. What better way to show everyone that being environmentally responsible can be done anywhere on any scale. It also shows that environmental responsibility can result in truly tangible benefits to the people in nearest proximity to it. Now, all anyone working in this building need do for a breath of nature is to go to the roof, sit, look, breathe; and, enjoy.

I'm thrilled that an institution such as the Museum of London, a world leader on many levels, has chosen to do such a project which should inspire others to follow suit.

As part of the Museum of London's massive refurbishment, they have begun to install an ambitious green roof on the top of the building. This will be a long-term research and demonstration project, rather than the sexy public spaces that we have seen on other buildings.

By having a number of different habitats, it will show the diversity that green roofs can have. There are plans for wildflower meadows, wetland areas, bluebell wood and planted walls. All using recycled materials from the existing roof.

The job is massive; but, the benefits outweigh the effort by a very large margin.

By planting the green roof, the Museum reckoned that they could extend the life of the roof, avoid flash flooding and provide a valuable demonstration project for other buildings. An energy savings of 10% a year was assumed, as well, it would increase the green space in the City of London (the financial district).

It has been a massive job. All of the pavers and insulation from the old roof are being removed and being replaced with the Bauder waterproofing and green roof system.

One of my favourite parts of nature - the wildflowers.

One of the volunteers who helped out has written of the experience. The blog is definitely worth a look. You'll find more information on the refurbishment and more photos as well.

The landscaped wildflower habitat on the roof area was planted in low banks to provide a sheltered area for the flowers. A mixture of Bauder green roof substrate and sharp sand was used, along with the existing shingle ballast from the old roof covering. It is hoped that the sand banks will encourage ground dwelling solitary bees. More than ten varieties of wild flowers were manually plug-planted into the banks.

Hedges are a typically British thing to do.

Hedges are being planted along the elevated sides of the roof. These will act as wind breakers as well as insect habitats. In England, the majority of farmers divide their fields and lands with either hedges or tree breaks. Very few fences are used in the countryside.

For many years, the favourite hedge of choice was hazelnut (otherwise known as a filbert). Hazelnut plants remain low growing so they don't block the view from one field to another; and, when their edible nuts are ripe, they fall to ground and wait to be collected. There are many old hazelnut hedgerows in the countryside of Britain.

What a fragrant part of the gardens.

There are new herb plantings, just put in this summer, which are already flourishing. Imagine a culinary and medicinal garden right on the roof of your place of work. An area for alpine plantings is also being installed.

This is were you will find me. I love decorative grasses; cool, shaded areas; and the smell of moist earth.

This is the site of the future bluebell wood. The shady area will have grasses and ground covers. Optimism is a necessity in this business.

Another aspect that is being examined is planning for flash floods. These happen during the summer when there is a sudden rainfall. Studies of rainwater run-off from different green roofs are being researched. Retaining rainwater helps reduce flash flooding, which has been a big problem in central London in recent years, causing several tube stations to flood.

Britain has a very active plan to encourage the return of bees. This hive and the other ones planned for the roof will provide a significant boost to this project.

The courtyard that is open to the public has also been refurbished and turned into a little green garden of Eden. There is a thriving hive which is part of a City of London wide project to install more hives on roofs in that area. As anyone who knows me or reads my blog knows, I am very high on saving winged pollinators; and, personally, do everything I can to make a change. If for no other reason than their hives, I am totally delighted with this refurbishment and wish others would follow in the Museum of London's "green" footsteps.

New plants in the courtyard such as Verbena and a wild flower meadow and potted herbs are bee-friendly. Indeed, the first honey was just bottled last month and was delicious. The courtyard is rather sterile; but, designed to be flexible and easily changed, to fit in with exhibitions in the galleries.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

10 Health-Boosting Spices (spices #6-10)

6. Ginger: Used as a medicinal for centuries, ginger is kind of a cure-all, treating everything from headaches and stomach aches to nausea and colds. It's a great addition to marinades for fish or as a sushi topper.

Ginger has been revered for its medicinal and culinary benefits for centuries. The underground stem known as the rhizome contains the most medicinal benefits of the plant. The volatile oils of the ginger plant gives ginger its characteristic odor and taste. Ginger is used as a common spice to add flavoring to many dishes as well as baked goods such as the famous gingerbread cookies. It is best to use ginger in its fresh form to obtain the most health benefits from its use.

Ginger can help alleviate diarrhea, aid digestion and reduce flatulence. It also helps relieve the nausea associated with morning sickness and motion sickness. Ginger also helps to neutralize stomach acid that can cause upset and diarrhea.

Ginger has natural anti-inflammatory properties. It helps reduce the inflammation associated with arthritis. A study conducted by the University of Miami on osteoarthritis patients showed a marked decrease in pain in the group given ginger over a six-week period.

Ginger is a natural decongestant and antihistamine. It helps to relieve the congestion of colds, and reduces fever as well. Sipping ginger tea sweetened with raw, unpasteurized honey is an excellent aid to reducing symptoms of cold or flu.

Ginger may help prevent the formation of blood clots by relaxing the muscles around blood vessels. Ginger is also a natural blood thinner.

Ginger can help lower cholesterol and prevent blood platelets from clumping together. It also stimulate the circulatory system.

Ginger may also be beneficial in the prevention of heart disease and cancer, as well as in the treatment of diabetes. Research continues to determine the effectiveness of ginger in these areas as well as other health conditions.

7. Oregano: With as much antioxidant power as broccoli, this spice can stave off ageing and diseases like cancer. It adds a flavourful kick to pizza, pasta and salad dressings.

Hippocrates, the great Greek philosopher and scholar, used oregano for medicinal purposes. He used it as both an anesthetic and for digestive problems. Oregano’s key chemical components are Acetate, Borneol, Bisabolene , Carvacrol, Caryophyllene, Cymene, Geranyl, Linalool, Linalyl Acetate, Pinene, Terpinene and Thymol. All of these chemicals are present in the leaves and in the oils, so they have both topical and internal benefits.

It has been thought to be an effective treatment for bacteria and parasite infestation in the colon and intestines. In fact, Mexican researchers have found it effective in combating giardia, a bacterial amoeba.

Because of its anti-parasitical affect, its oil has been used in head lice treatments. Herbalists recommend it for the treatment of E-coli.

Oregano also has anti-inflammatory benefits. Some people rub the oil on inflamed joints and muscles. Topically, it can also be used as an antiseptic and anti-bacterial spread to relieve acne, cold sores, and minor cuts and scrapes.

It has been used in the treatment of allergies and even to regulate menstrual periods. Some cultures use it as a powerful pain killer. A few drops of the oil in juice consumed for 3-5 days may help clear up a sinus infection.

Oregano also has a large amount of antioxidants in its oil and leaves. It has 42 times the antioxidants as a medium sized apple, 30 times more than a white potato and 12 times more than an orange.

Warning: women who are pregnant should not eat oregano during the pregnancy. While oregano has very definite health benefits; it is one of those herbs that should not be ingested in large quantities.

8. Rosemary: Delicious on pizza or in potatoes, this spice is known to improve the health of the heart and may reduce inflammation. I have a pot of rosemary growing on my balcony. It is a hardy plant and very easy to grow.

Rosemary leaves contain certain phyto-chemical (plant derived) compounds that are known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties.

The herb parts especially flower tops contain phenolic anti-oxidant rosmarinic acid as well as numerous health benefiting volatile essential oils such as cineol, camphene, borneol, bornyl acetate, α-pinene etc. These compounds are known to have rubefacient (counter irritant), anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-fungal and anti-septic properties.

Rosemary leaves provide just 131 calories per 100 g and contains no cholesterol. Apart from nutrients this humble herb contains many noteworthy non-nutrient components such as dietary fiber (37% of RDA).

The herb is exceptionally rich in many B-complex group of vitamin, such as folic acid, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, riboflavin. It is one of the herbs contain high levels of folates; providing about 109 mcg per 100 g (about 27% of RDA). Folates are important in DNA synthesis and when given during peri-conception period can help prevent neural tube defects in the new-born babies.

Rosemary herb contains very good amounts of vitamin A, 2924 IU per 100 g; about 97% of RDA. Vitamin A is known to have antioxidant properties and is essential for vision. It is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural foods rich in vitamin A is known to help body protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.

Fresh rosemary leaves are good source of antioxidant vitamin; vitamin-C. Contains about 22 mg per 100 g, about 37% of RDA. It is required for the collagen synthesis in the body. Collagen is the main structural protein in the body required for maintaining the integrity of blood vessels, skin, organs, and bones. Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps body protect from scurvy; develop resistance against infectious agents (boosts immunity) and help scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals fro the body.

Rosemary herb parts, whether fresh or dried, are rich source of minerals like potassium, calcium, iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids which helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase.

This herb is an excellent source of iron, contains 6.65 mg/100 g of fresh leaves (about 83% of RDA). Iron, being a component of hemoglobin inside the red blood cells, determines the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood.

9. Thyme: Looking for a respiratory system boost? Adding thyme to stir-frys or dips can help -- the powerful spice has compounds that promote lung health.

Thyme contains an essential oil that is rich in thymol, a powerful antiseptic, antibacterial, and a strong antioxidant. The oil of thyme is used in mouthwashes to treat inflammations of the mouth, and throat infections. It is a common component of cough drops.

Because of its essential oil, thyme possesses expectorant and bronchial antispasmodic properties, making it useful in the treatment of acute and chronic bronchitis, whooping cough, and inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. Thyme enhances the action of the cilia in the bronchi and directly acts on the bronchial mucosa. The terpenoids are responsible for the expectorant activity of thyme while a variety of flavonoids are responsible for the spasmolytic effect of thyme on the bronchioles.

All the members of the mint family, including thyme, possess terpenoids which are recognized for their cancer preventive properties. Rosmarinic and ursolic acids are major terpenoids in thyme that possess anti-cancer properties.

A tea can be made by adding one teaspoon of crushed thyme in half cup of boiling water, letting it steep for 10 mins and then straining. The tea can be drunk 3 to 4 times a day for the treatment of coughs. The tea may be sweetened with honey, which also acts as a demulcent, thereby increasing the tea's effectiveness.

10. Turmeric: A popular spice in India (it's used in curries), this spice contains curcumin, a spice that promotes liver health and fights infection as well as respiratory ailments. It may also stave off brain degeneration.

It is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent, useful in disinfecting cuts and burns.

When combined with cauliflower, it has shown to prevent prostate cancer and stop the growth of existing prostate cancer.

Prevented breast cancer from spreading to the lungs in mice.

May prevent melanoma and cause existing melanoma cells to commit suicide.

Reduces the risk of childhood leukemia.

Is a natural liver detoxifier.

May prevent and slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease by removing amyloyd plaque buildup in the brain.

May prevent metastases from occurring in many different forms of cancer.

It is a potent natural anti-inflammatory that works as well as many anti-inflammatory drugs but without the side effects.

Has shown promise in slowing the progression of multiple sclerosis in mice.

Is a natural painkiller and cox-2 inhibitor.

May aid in fat metabolism and help in weight management.

Has long been used in Chinese medicine as a treatment for depression.

Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it is a natural treatment for arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Boosts the effects of chemo drug paclitaxel and reduces its side effects.

Promising studies are underway on the effects of turmeric on pancreatic cancer.

Studies are ongoing in the positive effects of turmeric on multiple myeloma.

Has been shown to stop the growth of new blood vessels in tumors.

Speeds up wound healing and assists in remodeling of damaged skin.

May help in the treatment of psoriasis and other inflammatory skin conditions.

IF you don't want to add the actual spices to your cooking; but, you still want the health benefits, remember most health food stores sell empty gel caps. That way, you can save by buying the ground spices in bulk; storing them in a cool, dry place; and, making up a couple gel caps when you won't be eating the spice that day.

Friday, May 27, 2011

10 Health-Boosting Spices (spices #1-5)

A glimpse of some of the array of spices available worldwide. Photo courtesy: houseofnubian

Forget diamonds, spices are a girl's real best friend. Not only will adding them to most of your meals help stave off disease, they can also prevent aging (the wrinkles, weight gain!) and age-related conditions. Of all the spices out there, here are 10 you should add to your diet immediately.

1. Cardamom: Use this ground-up spice to add flavour to exotic Asian dishes -- it's known to detoxify the liver and boost the immune system.

According to traditional wisdom, cardamom is effective in improving digestion, relieving nausea and stomach cramps. It is a good stimulant and beneficial for those suffering from flatulence and gas.

Cardamom also helps in cleansing the body as it has detoxifying properties. It improves blood circulation to the lungs and can be helpful in prevention of spasms or convulsions. Hence, cardamom in small quantities is beneficial for those suffering from asthma or bronchitis.

Cardamom enhances appetite and provides relief from acidity in the stomach. It is used in the cure of halitosis. It is chewed after a meal in India, not only to help with the digestion of the meal; but, to freshen the breath. It is beneficial for those suffering from various kinds of respiratory allergies. When you have a sore throat, you can try out a little quantity of this medicinal spice.

2. Cayenne or Dried Chili Flakes: These fiery spices may enhance your metabolism while also making you feel fuller longer. Use them in salsa, guacamole, pasta sauces, etc.

Cayenne has the ability to ease stomach upset, ulcers, sore throats, spasmodic and irritating coughs as well as diarrhea.

When you have a cold or flu, cayenne pepper helps break up congested mucus and gets it moving. Once the mucus starts to leave your body, you will get some relief from many of the flu symptoms you may be experiencing.

The results of one study indicated that cayenne pepper could effectively prevent the formation of the fungal pathogens phomopsis and collectotrichum.

Many naturopaths have known of the health benefits of cayenne pepper, especially for migraine symptoms. This may be related to the pepper’s ability to stimulate a pain response in a different area of the body, thus reverting the brain’s attention to the new site. Following this initial pain reaction, the nerve fibers have a depleted substance P (the nerve’s pain chemical), and the perception of pain is lessened.

Cayenne is a wonderful anti-inflammatory agent and may even help relieve allergies.

This spice is a well-known digestive aid. It stimulates the digestive tract, increasing the flow of enzyme production and gastric juices. This, in turn, aids the body’s ability to metabolize the food (and toxins) we take into the system. Cayenne pepper is also a wonderful medicinal herb for relieving intestinal gas. It stimulates intestinal peristaltic motion, aiding in both assimilation and elimination.

Cayenne’s anti-inflammatory properties make it a great herb for arthritis, diabetes, psoriasis and herpes-related nerve damage.

Cayenne stimulates the production of saliva, an important key to excellent digestion and maintaining optimal oral health.

Cayenne pepper also helps reduce atherosclerosis, encourages fibrinolytic activity and prevents the formation of blood clots, all of which can help reduce the chances of a heart attack or stroke.

Cayenne is a known circulatory stimulant. It also increases the pulse of our lymphatic and digestive rhythms. By heating the body, the natural process of detoxification is streamlined. Cayenne also causes us to sweat, another important process of detoxification.

Extremely high in a substance called capsaicin, cayenne pepper acts to cause temporary pain on the skin, which in turn sends chemical messengers from the skin into the joint, offering relief for joint pain.

Cayenne is an excellent food-preserver and has been used traditionally to prevent food contamination from bacteria.

Studies done at the Loma Linda University in California found that cayenne pepper can prevent lung cancer in smokers. This may be again related to cayenne’s high quantity of capsaicin, a substance that can stop the formation of tobacco-induced lung tumors. Other studies have also shown a similar reaction in cayenne’s ability to inhibit liver tumors.

Scientists at the Laval University in Quebec found that participants who took cayenne pepper for breakfast were found to have less appetite, leading to less caloric intake throughout the day. Cayenne is also a great metabolic-booster, aiding the body in burning excess amounts of fats.

Cayenne helps to keep blood pressure levels normalized. It also rids the body of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

Cayenne is an excellent agent against tooth and gum diseases.

As a poultice, cayenne has been used to treat snakebites, rheumatism, inflammation, sores, wounds and lumbago.

On a personal level, I take 120,000 heat units a day in capsule form.

3. Cinnamon: This sweet spice is loaded with antioxidants and may regulate blood sugar and lower cholesterol. Add a pinch to your yogurt or baked goods. Remember cinnamon toast as a child? One of my favourite treats; and, I had no idea it was so good for me.

Studies have shown that just 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon per day can lower LDL cholesterol.

Several studies suggest that cinnamon may have a regulatory effect on blood sugar, making it especially beneficial for people with Type 2 diabetes.

In some studies, cinnamon has shown an amazing ability to stop medication-resistant yeast infections.

In a study published by researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Maryland, cinnamon reduced the proliferation of leukemia and lymphoma cancer cells.

It has an anti-clotting effect on the blood.

In a study at Copenhagen University, patients given half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder combined with one tablespoon of honey every morning before breakfast had significant relief in arthritis pain after one week and could walk without pain within one month.

When added to food, it inhibits bacterial growth and food spoilage, making it a natural food preservative.

One study found that smelling cinnamon boosts cognitive function and memory.

Researchers at Kansas State University found that cinnamon fights the E. coli bacteria in unpasteurized juices.

It is a great source of manganese, fiber, iron, and calcium.

4. Cloves: Rich in powerful antioxidants, cloves can help treat inflammation and infection and may work as an all-natural painkiller. For superior oral health: add 2 drops of clove oil to 1/2 glass of warm water. Rinse your mouth thoroughly several times with this making sure to vigorously swish water around mouth for 1 minute each rinse. You should be able to rinse your mouth three times with this clove water.

Eugenol is a chemical compound extracted from the essential oil of cloves and other spices. Eugenol has been shown to be an effective natural anti fungal against the T. mentagrophytes and M. canis dermatophytes (tinia or ringworm), and although tea tree oil is a more effective anti fungal, a combination of tea tree oil and eugenol was found to be more effective. Tests have also demonstrated that essential oil of cloves to be effective against Candida albicans.

The fungicidal potency of clove oil compares very well with that of the commercial antifungal drug nystatin, while providing for a less toxic, safe, and inexpensive alternative to commercial drugs without the risk of ever-increasing resistance shown by the target pathogens, toxicity problems at the increasing required doses, and problematic side-effects.

Eugenol is the principal chemical component of clove oil and is used in dentistry due to its analgesic, local anesthetic, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial effects. It is used in the form of a paste or mixture as dental cement, filler, and restorative material.

Beta-caryophyllene, another component of clove oil, has also been shown to exhibit local anesthetic activity.

Cloves can be used in relieving a toothache by placing a single clove on the aching tooth. Clove oil can also be used by soaking in some cotton wool and then placing the cotton wool on the aching tooth.

USDA’s Richard Anderson reports that bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves, and turmeric all can treble insulin activity, hinting that as little as 500 mg might be enough to have some effect. A tea of 500 mg each of these spices, with coriander and cumin, should be enough to treble insulin activity, possibly helping in late-onset diabetes.

Extract of clove has been shown to enhance the sexual behavior of male mice. The results of the study resulted in a significant and sustained increase in the sexual activity of normal male rats, without any adverse effects. The results seem to support the claims for its traditional usage as an aphrodisiac.

The natural oil of clove is a natural mosquito repellent and can give protection against mosquitoes for 4-5 hours.

Preliminary studies have suggested the chemopreventive potential of clove for lung cancer, and to delay and reduce the formation of skin cancer.

The compound eugenol from cloves has been found to be a potent platelet inhibitor (prevents blood clots).

Allergic reactions to clove and eugenol have been reported.

Clove supplements should be avoided in children and pregnant or nursing women.

5. Garlic: Potentially the most powerful of spices, garlic has been shown to cure almost all that ails you -- from heart disease to arthritis and cancer. The root veggie (used as an herb) can be added to almost anything for a touch of flavour and spice.

Garlic contains natural antibiotic and antimicrobial properties that can help treat a variety of health issues. Throughout history, people have used garlic for many conditions such as infection, high blood pressure and even snake bites. Garlic is commonly used in modern times for lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart disease.

For regular immune-boosting usage, eat one to two cloves of garlic each day. If you prefer not to eat the garlic raw, use this amount to cook with instead.

Studies have shown that eating garlic can help alleviate some of the symptoms caused by gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

Garlic's natural antimicrobial properties make it a good treatment for athlete's foot, warts and Candida yeast.

Some studies have indicated that eating garlic can help repel ticks and mosquitoes, resulting in fewer bites.

Preliminary studies have suggested that eating garlic regularly can reduce the risk of some types of cancer.

Multiple studies have shown that eating garlic on a regular basis can help to reduce total blood cholesterol.

Taking a daily garlic supplement can reduce your risk of getting a cold and cut down on the length of time you have a cold.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Quotable Quotes

"Self-reliance is the only road to true freedom; and, being one's own person is its ultimate reward."

- Patricia Sampson

"If people destroy something replaceable made by mankind, they are called vandals; if they destroy something irreplaceable made by God, they are called developers."

- Joseph Wood Krutch

"Take a course in good water and air; and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own. Go quietly, alone; no harm will befall you."

- John Muir

"When we realize we can make a buck cleaning up the environment, it will be done!"

- Dennis Weaver

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Did You Know That...

On a clear day in New York City, NY, a person standing atop the Empire State Building can enjoy a spectacular view up to 200 miles in any direction. The building was built between 1930 and 1931 and is 102 stories high. Unfortunately, people, such as myself, will never be able to enjoy it. Having a very healthy fear of heights, 102 stories high is about 98 stories too high for me!

A typical healthy beehive can produce 45 to 100 pounds of honey per year. Yummy! The colour and flavour of the honey extracted from the hive depends on the type of flowers the honeybees visit. There is a huge variety of flavours and colours in honey bought at specialty honey stores. Many stores will even allow you to taste the various honeys before purchase. Grocery-store-purchased honey is usually a mixture of different honeys blended specifically to achieve that taste most people have come to associate with honey. And remember...natural, raw, unpasteurized honey is the best!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

30 Facts About Boreal Forests

Boreal forest and lake. Photo courtesy: Olga Oslina via Flickr CC

The Boreal forest is the world's largest land-based biome. Spreading over continents and covering many countries, the Boreal plays a significant role in the planet's biodiversity and even its climate. Here are 30 facts you want to know about this incredible space.

1. The Boreal Forest is named after Boreas, the Greek god of the North wind.

2. The biome is known as boreal in Canada, but is also known as taiga, a Russian word. Taiga is most commonly used to refer to the biome's more barren northern locations while boreal is used for the more temperate, southern area (we're just using boreal for ease).

Image courtesy: BU Land Cover and Land Cover Dynamics

3. The boreal covers most of inland Canada and Alaska, most of Sweden, Finland and inland Norway, much of Russia, and the northern parts of Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Japan.

4. The boreal represents 29% of the world's forest cover.

5. While typically low on biodiversity, the boreal around the globe supports a range of animals. Canada's boreal forest is home to 85 species of mammals, 130 species of fish, some 32,000 species of insects, and 300 species of birds.

6. Of the 300 bird species that call Canada's boreal forest home during the summer, only 30 stay through the winter.

"The taiga in the river valley near Verkhoyansk, Russia, at 67°N, must deal with the coldest winter temperatures in the northern hemisphere, but the extreme continentality of the climate gives an average daily high of 22 °C in July." Photo courtesy: Wikipedia CC

7. The boreal is COLD. The lowest recorded temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere were recorded in the boreal (or taiga) of northeastern Russia. It can easily get as cold as -65°F in the northern areas during winter.

8. The zone of latitude occupied by the boreal forest has seen some of the most dramatic temperature increases, especially in winter and especially during the last quarter of the 20th century.

9. The warming trend threatens to transform the boreal forest area into grassland, parkland or temperate forest, introducing a significant shift in species of both plants and animals.

10. The boreal forest stores enormous quantities of carbon, possibly more than the temperate and tropical forests combined, much of it in peatland.

11. To date, only 12% of boreal forest is protected around the globe -- and over 30% has already been designated for logging, energy and other development.

12. The Canadian boreal emerged with the end of the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago, with coniferous tree species migrating north. The forest as we know it today in terms of biodiversity took shape about 5,000 years ago -- a very short time ago in geological time scale.

Siberian Tiger. Photo courtesy: Daisyree Bakker via Flickr CC

13. Threatened and endangered wildlife within the Canadian boreal forest includes such iconic species as the woodland caribou, grizzly bear, and wolverine. Habitat loss from logging is a primary reason for the decline of these species.

14. Many animal and plant species inhabit both Asia's and North America's boreal forest, thanks to the Bering land bridge that once connected the two continents.

15. While some of the iconic animals living in boreal forests are very familiar, including wolves, bears, Arctic fox and muskox, it might be surprising to remember that the Siberian Tiger also calls the Taiga home.

16. The great gray owl, North America's largest owl, is a year-round resident of Canada's boreal. What would a cold, coniferous forest be without a big, grey owl?

Fires in Eastern Siberia; Photo courtesy: NASA via Flickr CC

17. Wildfires are an important part of the reproductive cycle for some species. Depending on the area, large fires occur in a cycle repeating anywhere from 70 to 200 years.

18. The trees of the boreal forest tend to have shallow roots, due to the thin soils.

19. The soils of the boreal forest are often acidic, due to falling pine needles, and low on nutrients since the cold temperatures do not allow much foliage to rot and turn into dirt.

20. There is little rainfall in the boreal biome. Precipitation comes in the form of fog and snow, with a little rain during the summer months.

Dead lodgepole pines show what damage bark beetles can do. Photo courtesy: vsmoothe via Flickr CC

21. Outbreaks forest-destroying plagues have come in the form of spruce-bark beetles, aspen-leaf miners, larch sawflies, spruce budworms, and spruce coneworms -- all of which have been worsening in recent years due in large part to the warming of the average temperature.

22. There are two major types of boreal forest -- the closed canopy forest in the South which has the longest, warmest growing season of the biome, and the high boreal forest with farther-spaced trees and lichen groundcover.

Photo courtesy: Greenpeace Finland via Flickr CC

23. Logging has played its role on the boreal forest, with large swaths of Siberia's taiga harvested for lumber after the fall of the Soviet Union. Meanwhile in Canada, logging companies are under constraints, yet many still practice clearcutting, a strategy that is harsh on the forest ecosystem.

24. Most companies harvesting timber in Canada are certified by third parties, such as the Forest Stewardship Council. You will often see "FSC certified" on products made from sustainably harvested wood.

25. Last year, an historic agreement among 20 major timber companies and 9 environmental groups brought about a plan to protect 170 million acres of boreal forest in Canada. It was named the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement.

26. Canada still has 91% of the forest cover that existed at the beginning of European settlement. Conversely, only 5% of the boreal in Scandinavia remains.

27. The largest area of wetlands in any ecosystem of the world is found in the Canadian boreal region, containing more lakes and rivers than any similarly sized landmass on earth!

Aurora Borealis. Photo courtesy: heatherbuckly.co.uk via Flickr CC

28. The word "boreal" might be most familiar because of the phenomenon aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, which is a natural light display seen in high latitudes.

29. The aurora borealis was named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas, by Pierre Gassendi in 1621. However, the Cree call this phenomenon the "Dance of the Spirits".

30. While the aurora borealis can cause changes in temperature and wind inside and near the aurora, none of these disturbances reach down to where the weather takes place and so it does not impact any of the boreal, or taiga, over which it occurs.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Royal Dutch Shell Confirms Another Oil Leak

Shell have confirmed a leak in a pipeline serving one of their North Sea platforms. Photo courtesy: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Who would have guessed it? Yet another oil leak from a company which has made no significant changes to its drilling policies since the last catastrophe. And shame on the government officials who don't demand that changes are made and stricter safety precautions are put in place before issuing one more drilling permit.

Royal Dutch Shell has said it is working to contain an oil leak at its Gannet Alpha platform in the North Sea; but, in true CYA (cover your ass) fashion declined to specify the size of the leak. (If we don't tell them anything, maybe they won't notice the extent of the pollution.)

"We can confirm we are managing an oil leak in a flow line that serves the Gannet Alpha platform. We deployed a remote-operated vehicle to check for a subsea leak after a light sheen was noticed in the area," a Shell spokesman said.

"We have stemmed the leak significantly and we are taking further measures to isolate it. The subsea well has been shut in, and the flow line is being depressurised."

Asked about the size of the leak, a Shell spokeswoman declined to say.

One of the wells at the oilfield 112 miles east of Aberdeen has been closed, but Shell did not specify whether output was reduced.

According to Argus Media, the Gannet field produced about 13,500 barrels of oil between January and April. The field is co-owned with US firm Exxon and operated by Shell.

A document available on Shell's website says the Gannet facilities have capacity to export 88,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

Shell also said it had restarted its North Sea Brent Alpha and Bravo fields on Thursday after a seven-month shutdown, while two other fields remained shut.

The company shut all four of its Brent platforms, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta, in January for repairs.

"Brent Alpha and Brent Bravo are producing gas for export via the Flags(far north liquids and gas line) to the St Fergus gas plant," Shell said.

"It is anticipated that Brent Delta will resume export in the near future and Brent Charlie will restart in early 2012."

The statement said that the work at the Brent fields was technically challenging and depended on the weather in the area.

Green party co-leader Patrick Harvie said: "It's too early to tell how serious this spill is, but it is imperative now that Shell act both urgently and efficiently.

"They must also keep the public and the authorities properly informed about progress, something BP failed to do during the Gulf of Mexico disaster last year.

"Whatever the outcome of this incident, it certainly underlines the need for the oil industry to publish proper response plans, as Greenpeace have been asking them to do. If they refuse to do so, ministers should act to make it a condition of their licences."

Before the shut-in, the four Brent fields produced about 4.5 million cubic metres a day of gas, less than 2 percent of current UK gas demand, and just 20,000 barrels per day of oil.

Brent was once Britain's largest oilfield, and still has global significance as one of the four key North Sea crude streams along with Forties, Oseberg and Ekofisk.

Via guardian

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Skin Grafting with Spider Silk?

Photo courtesy: I'll Never Grow Up via Flickr/cc

Researchers have been looking for better alternatives for providing skin grafts to wounds, and it turns out they need look no further than the animal kingdom. Spider silk is legendary for its strength, as well as its possible healing properties. Tissue engineer Hanna Wendt at Medical School Hannover in Germany honed in on this and found that by creating an artificial skin spun from spider silk, we could have an ideal answer for helping heal wounds.

The authors write that reconstructive surgeons want a biomaterial that can promote the attachment, proliferation and growth of cells. Essentially, they want a bandaid that can make skin grow again. In looking for this solution, the researchers wove silk harvested from Golden Orb web spiders on steel frames. They found that human skin cells placed on the woven mesh and given the right warmth, air and nutrients will flourish within just a week's time. They were able to harvest from the mesh two types of skin cells that resemble the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin) and the dermis (the next layer of skin under the epidermis).

The team concludes that their use of spider silk as a biomaterial for regrowing skin could be, quite literally, just what the doctor ordered.

A mesh layer of the spider silk could potentially be used instead of skin grafts on victims with burns, bed sores, and other wounds, creating an artificial skin that can be replaced with real human skin as cells regenerate.

TechNewsDaily reports "Spider silk is the toughest known natural material. Moreover, there is a body of folklore dating back at least 2,000 years regarding the potential medical value of webs -- for instance, in fighting infections, stemming bleeding, healing wounds and serving as artificial ligaments. The extraordinary strength and stretchiness of spider silk "are important factors for easy handling and transfer of many kinds of implants," Wendt said. In addition, unlike silk from silkworms, that from spiders apparently does not trigger the body's rejection reactions."

While it seems to be a great solution, it is not practical on a commercial scale. Harvesting spider silk for this type of use would be too time consuming and expensive. The researchers figure that finding a synthetic alternative to the silk fibers from spiders would be more practical. However, we know that researchers have been searching for that holy grail for decades. It just goes to show that nature provides some miracle solutions that humans just can't seem to duplicate.

Via TreeHugger

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Giant Poplar Tree Becomes Giant Swing Set and Concession Stand

Completed project. All photos courtesy: visiondivision

Sometimes something comes along that makes us all go "Wow!" Chop Stick is such a project. If we all used our resources as thoughtfully and thoroughly as these Swedish architects used their poplar tree, the world would not be in the state it is now.

Swedish architects Anders Berensson and Ulf Mejergren of VisionDivision have been commissioned to design Chop Stick, a concession stand for 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. They "sacrificed" a beautiful 100 foot poplar, to demonstrate how to make something new efficiently and respectfully.

Schematic of project.

The architects write:
The design is based on the universal notion that you need to sacrifice something in order to make something new. Every product is a compound of different pieces of nature, whether it is a cell phone, a car, a stone floor or a wood board; they have all been harvested in one way or another. Our project is about trying to harvest something as gently as possible so that the source of what we harvest is displayed in a pure, pedagogic and respectful way--respectful to both the source itself and to everyone visiting the building.

Debarking poplar.
The raw material we selected is a 100-foot yellow poplar tree, the state tree of Indiana, known for its beauty, respectable size, and good properties as hardwood. We found a great specimen standing in a patch of forest outside of Anderson, Indiana. Our goal is to make the best out of this specific poplar tree, from taking it down and through the whole process of transforming it into a useful building that will be part of one of the finest art parks in the United States. As the project proceeds, we continue to be surprised by all of the magical features that are revealed in refining a tree into a building; both in the level of craftsmanship and knowledge of woodworkers and arborists, and also of the tree itself.

Tree in transport to final destination.

They are using every part of it; the bark is removed to make shingles, flowers and smaller limbs are saved "for later use." Wood is "extracted" to build the concession stand.
The roots have many edible features, such as root bark used to make tea and tonics that could be sold in the kiosk, for example. Pressed leaves and flowers taken from the tree will be ornaments in the front glass of the kiosk. There is also the possibility of extracting honey from poplar tree flowers, which could be something for sale on site. The branches that are less than five inches in diameter are cut away to prevent eventual rotting, and those can be used for details such as legs for the chairs and tables, or ground down into sawdust for use as insulation.

Tree set in place for finishing.

From the sacrifice of a single tree, they create tables, chairs, swings, the shingled concession stand and even root tea to sell in it. As they used to say about pigs, they use everything but the squeal.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Glowing Ghost Mushrooms Rediscovered in Brazil After 170 Years

Panellus stipticus, one species of glowing mushrooms. Photo courtesy: Wiki Commons

If you think glowing mushrooms are the figment of some trippy imagination, think again. After its initial discovery back in 1840, one of the most bioluminescent species of mushroom known to humans was not seen again until a pair of primatologists recently stumbled upon it in the Brazilian forests.

Known as Neonothopanus gardneri, it's one of the 71 recognized species of bioluminescent mushrooms -- out of 100,000 identified fungi species -- and can grow up to three inches in diameter. Sometimes called "ghost mushrooms" due to their eerie appearance, they are also poisonous to humans, and glow so bright that one can use their green light to read a newspaper in a dark room.

According to ScienceDaily, glowing mushrooms were first 'discovered' by British botanist George Gardner, who chanced across a group of boys playing with a glowing object in the streets of Vila de Natividade, Brazil. He sent some specimens back to England's Kew Herbarium, where it was named Agaricus gardneri. It has since been reclassified and renamed Neonothopanus gardneri.

It was not until 2005 that the species was found again, this time by two primatologists, Patricia Izar of São Paulo University and Dorothy Fragaszy of the University of Georgia in Athens, who chanced upon it growing at the base of some rotting trees.

Apparently, the locals already knew of the existence of these amazing mushrooms, calling them flor-de-coco, or flower of the coconut, since it grew at the decaying parts of the pindoba, or the dwarf palm tree.

After contacting Brazilian chemist Cassius Stevani, the two scientists returned the next year to collect more specimens. Stevani, in collaboration with San Francisco State University professor of ecology and evolution Dennis Desjardin, published their findings in Mycologia on the mysterious mechanics behind these mushrooms' glow.

As ScienceDaily explains:
Researchers believe that the fungi make light in the same way that a firefly does, through a chemical mix of a luciferin compound and a luciferase. Luciferase is an enzyme that aids the interaction among luciferin, oxygen and water to produce a new compound that emits light. But scientists haven't yet identified the luciferin and luciferase in fungi.

"They glow 24 hours a day, as long as water and oxygen are available," Desjardin explained. "But animals only produce this light in spurts. This tells us that the chemical that is acted upon by the enzyme in mushrooms has to be readily available and abundant."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Drug Traffickers Threaten Uncontacted Amazon Tribe

Picture of an uncontacted Amazon tribe. Photo courtesy: Survival International

Little is known about the Amazon's few remaining uncontacted tribes, who for centuries have practiced their traditional ways of life in the remotest regions of the world's largest rainforest -- but many fear that they may be learning the worst about us.

According to Brazil's National Indian Foundation (Funai), a gang of heavily-armed, Peruvian drug traffickers are believed to have recently ransacked an isolated indian outpost, driving away or killing the numerous indigenous peoples there, now considered 'missing'. The events highlight yet another threat facing a region hard-hit by lawlessness, with humanity's last practitioners of traditional culture taking the brunt.

Funai first identified the uncontacted tribe in 2008, when a flyover survey in a remote corner of the Brazilian Amazon yielded startling images of a mysterious indigenous group aiming their traditional weapons at the passing plane. Late last month, however, officials discovered that a nearby outpost had been "invaded and looted late July by Peruvian drug traffickers" -- evidenced by a backpack left behind by the gang which contained cocaine, and an artifact which suggests they had a violent encounter with tribespeople: an arrow.

"Arrows are like the identity card of uncontacted Indians. We think the Peruvians made the Indians flee. Now we have good proof. We are more worried than ever. This situation could be one of the biggest blows we have ever seen in the protection of uncontacted Indians in recent decades. It's a catastrophe," the head of the Brazilian government's isolated Indians department, Carlos Travassos, tells Survival International, an indigenous rights organization.

Officials from Funai are currently in the region investigating the scene, but so far, the fate of the indigenous tribe is unknown. The drug traffickers are known to be armed, but that would likely not have prevented indians from defending themselves -- leading many to fear that the tribe was massacred, or driven deeper into the forest for protection. In either case, the action marks one of the most disruptive crimes against indigenous groups in recent memory. And sadly, it may not be an isolated event.

"This is extremely distressing news. There is no knowing how many tribal peoples the drugs trade has wiped out in the past, but all possible measures should be taken to stop it happening again," says Survival International's Stephen Corry, as reported by The Telegraph. "The world's attention should be on these uncontracted Indians, just as it was at the beginning of this year when they were first captured on film."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

10,000 Year-Old Village Found on British Columbia Coast

Photo courtesy: University of Northern British Columbia

An anthropologist and his students from the University of Northern British Columbia believe they have discovered a 10,000-year-old village on the B.C. coast.

Farid Fahemtulla, a professor at the university, knew he would find clam and mussel shells when he began digging into the forest floor on Calvert Island, but he ended up finding evidence of human life dating back thousands of years.

It is believed to be an ancient village of Luxvbalis, which was told in the oral history of the Heiltsuk First Nations people. Much of the story was lost after a smallpox epidemic in the late 1800s left too few people to tell the story.

"Based on the oral tradition and how old it was, we think this might be that village - but we need to work with the elders of the Heiltsuk nation to conclusively establish this," told Fahemtulla to the Vancouver Sun.

The group found fishing tools including harpoons, bone points, fishing hooks and weights made from deer bone and antler. Similar bone tools have been found at the oldest village discovered in B.C., Namu, which dates back an estimated 10,000 to 11,000 years.

"We won't know for sure until we are able to get some radio carbon dates back," Fahemtulla was quoted in the Globe and Mail.

"We found some stone tools (of a type) which I know were dated at another site between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. That doesn't give us a positive date . . . but it certainly indicates there is an older component to the site that we didn't get to this year."

Fahemtulla said his team was only able to dig down about 1.5 metres since beginning this spring, but estimates the site is three to four metres deep. This would "suggest a very, very ancient time period."

He also estimates the site spreads over 150 metres, meaning it must have been created by a large number of people.

He told the Globe and Mail, "We were amazed at how big this site really is and we barely touched the surface."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

One Woman's Wildflowers are a City's Weed

The garden that is causing all the controversy. Photo courtesy: Yahoo!News

Flowers may seem like a strange thing to get up in arms about, but the City of Calgary is not happy with what one resident is growing in her garden.

Helen Amber's garden of wildflowers are a threat to local flora, according to city bylaw officers. In a Calgary Sun article, the 65-year-old said the city's actions were not just silly, she felt harassed over the issue.

"I feel that I'm being walked upon and not listened to and talked to properly," said Amber in the story. "I feel like I am being harassed by the City of Calgary."

Alberta's Weed Control Act states certain plants - or weeds, as they're called in the act - are prohibited. Amber's garden contains Canada thistles, scentless chamomile, oxeye daisies and blue weeds, all of which are banned by the Weed Act.

Plants listed under the Weed Act are there because alien species are "the second most significant threat to biodiversity, after habitat loss," according to Alberta's Invasive Plants Council.

Amber was given a prelimary notice and summons to remove the "weeds" from her yard. The situation has now escalated. Amber has now received a 24-hour notice that if she doesn't get rid of the plants, the city will do it for her.

Amber is currently away from her garden, instead residing in Sicamous, B.C. She's there to study the medicinal value of wildflowers.

While she's absent, her son Eric (pictured above) has been dealing with the persistent bylaw enforcement officers.

"All little old ladies in the world love flowers," said Eric to the Calgary Sun. "Why the war on flowers?"

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Police Just Reeled Him In

Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

An inebriated thief who stole angling equipment from a store in northern Germany was caught near the scene of the crime with several fish hooks embedded in his backside, police in the town of Cloppenburg said.

"He couldn't run because he was in a lot of pain and was drunk," Gunda Dreesmann a spokeswoman for the Cloppenburg police, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

The 21-year-old man had smashed in the window of a store for fishing and hunting equipment and had stolen a number of items including knives. "An unmistakeable sign that he had been inside the store was the presence of several fish hooks in his backside," police said. "Price tags from the damaged store were still attached to them."

One of the hooks later had to be removed in hospital.

"He lost his balance and fell on the hooks by accident after he smashed the window," said Dreesmann. "It was the third time he's broken into that store. He seems to have an affinity for the place although we don't know if he's an angling enthusiast."

The repeat offender was remanded in custody.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Did You Know That...

Until 1870, American baseball players didn't wear gloves when they played ball. That year, Cincinnati Red Stockings catcher, Doug Allison, decided his hands were too sore; so, he fashioned half-fingered, buckskin mittens to wear - the first baseball glove used in a game. Necessity is the mother of invention.

The first electronic computer, which was introduced to the world over 50 years ago, was named ENIAC. It was 80' (24.4 m) long. A personal computer in today's world can store a million times more information than this earliest model.

The Eiffel Tower, the famous landmark in Paris, is 1,063' (324 m) high and consists of an iron framework supported on four masonry piers. Every seven years, the structure is repainted with dark brown paint - 50 tons of it! What's that in gallons?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fungi May be Responsible for Extinction of Some Forests

Photo courtesy: Dominic/CC

Pandas and tigers make better poster children for human impacts on biodiversity. But in the face of news like the massive recall of turkey meat with antibiotic resistant salmonella, it is worth remembering that altering the biodiversity at the smallest levels may have the largest impacts on our quality of life. A new study from the University of California Berkeley points to a fungi thriving after global warming as culprits in a massive extinction of trees.

The trees died off in the Permian extinction, which was probably triggered by massive volcanic activity. The gas and dust ejected into the atmosphere by volcanoes changed the global climate. Approximately 95% of marine organisms and 70% of life on land went extinct.

The scientists behind the report, published online in Geology, have re-evaluated filamentous (thread-like) microfossils preserved in Permian rock. Previous interpretations have suggested that these fossils derived from algae, or represent species that lived off of the decaying plants widespread in the Permian extinction.

The breakthrough came in comparing the Reduviasporonite fossils to a dormant or resting structure of the genus Rhizoctonia, which attacks the roots of modern-day plants and trees. The scientists suggest that the fungi spread widely, attacking and killing trees, which led to the erosion of topsoil and resulted in the fungal structures being washed into the sea and fossilized.

While the scientists acknowledge that many other forces cooperated as drivers of the massive Permian extinctions, Cindy Looy, UC Berkeley assistant professor of integrative biology, and her colleagues - Henk Visscher of the Laboratory of Palaeobotany and Palynology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and Mark Sephton of the Impacts and Astromaterials Research Centre at Imperial College, London - believe that the fossil record demonstrates an aggressive soil-borne fungus contributed a key role in worldwide decline of forests in the Permian period. The researchers caution that "today's changing climate could also lead to increased activity of pathogenic soil microbes that could accelerate the death of trees already stressed by higher temperatures and drought."

Friday, May 13, 2011

Putting Some Fun in Commuting in the Netherlands

Photo courtesy: screenshot from NOS Nieuws video.

Every single man, woman, and child on the face of the planet can use more laughter and play injected into each and every day of their lives. More lives are lost to stress-related diseases than any other reason. A good sense of humour and the ability to laugh have eased many a burden, cemented many a friendship, cured many a disease; and, uplifts the spirit of all those who share in it.

So how do we laugh and play more? We can all take a lead from this subway station in the Netherlands. You can enter one of two ways - the conventional way (stairs) or the fun way (slide).

Let's face it: Even on the nicest, newest subway or bus system, commuting is typically a bit of a grind. One metro station in the Netherlands, though, has sought to liven up the experience -- by installing a slide that riders can zip down instead of taking the stairs. Sounds silly? It is. But it also looks awfully fun.

The slide -- officially called a "transfer accelerator" -- is part of an overall renovation of the aging Overvecht Station in Utrecht, and the brainchild of the local design firm HIK Ontwerpers. According to the U.K. commuter paper Metro:
The designers explained the slide is a gift to the rail commuters and hope it will create a playful urban area that could generate positive energy in a disadvantaged neighborhood.
It's not the first whimsical addition HIK Ontwerpers has made to Overvecht Station: Previous projects included an installation of poetry written out in lights and a fully equipped outdoor kitchen with seating area that people were encouraged to use for picnics and other social gatherings. Works for me! And, I'm willing to bet that it works for a lot of other people too.

Dutch blogger Simon de Wilde, who has posted an image gallery and a video of the slide, gives it a thumbs up: "The slide is in use for a few days now and so far I think it is a great success. It makes people smile."

I would only request that they make a soft, comfy landing for those of us who are not as young as we used to be physically.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Sheriff Joe Offends Again

Sheriff Joe poses holding the pink underwear he forced 700 male convicts to wear while parading from their old jail to their new one. Photo courtesy: reason

If you are thrown in the slammer by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio; and, you are female, be prepared for some rough treatment. The Arizona lawman is known for giving inmates a hard time; and, his latest punishment is making the female convicts pedal stationary bicycles equipped with generators to create the electricity they need to watch TV.

An hour of pedalling equals one hour of television viewing. Arpaio is also the guy who made 700 male convicts parade from their old jail to their new one wearing pink underwear and sandals while chained together with pink handcuffs.

"I'm not a social worker. I'm here to punish," he says.

Sheriff Joe is also the sheriff who brought in his "tent city". Tent city is located in a yard next to a more permanent structure containing toilets, showers, and an area for meals. It has become notable particularly because of Phoenix's extreme temperatures.

On July 2, 2011, when the temperature in Phoenix hit 118°F (48°C), Arpaio measured the temperature inside Tent City at 145°F (63°C). Some inmates complained that fans near their beds were not working, and that their shoes were melting from the heat. During the summer of 2003, when outside temperatures exceeded 110°F (43°C), Arpaio said to complaining inmates, "It's 120 degrees in Iraq and the soldiers are living in tents, have to wear full body armor, and they didn't commit any crimes, so shut your mouths." Unlike the Korean War surplus tents used in Tent City, tents housing U.S. Army Soldiers in Iraq are air conditioned.

Do you have an opinion on Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his methods?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Shoes, Shoes and More Shoes

Anyone else remember Imelda Marcos and HER shoes? It has been said that you can never have too many shoes; but, you can have more shoes than anyone else in the world. Now, I'm not sure whether having a collection this size says about your personality; but, Darlene Flynn has taken shoe collecting to a new high.

Darlene Flynn has been recognized as a Guinness World Record holder for the largest collection of shoe-related items with 7,765 pieces of shoe memorabilia. Flynn, 51, began collecting everything and anything shoe-related six years ago when she borrowed the idea from a relative. It would appear; however, that the relative never mentioned how much is enough.

It all started with 28 shoe figurines.

Both Photos courtesy: darsshoeheaven

"I don't know why it had to be shoes," she said. "I just love them and it kind of got out of control." Yup!

Her collection includes the 100 pairs of shoes she wears herself, plus wooden shoes, cloth shoes, antique shoes and even shoes made from ash from Mount St. Helens.

Her goal: To live in a shoe-shaped house....wait..wasn't that the old lady with all those kids.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Zoe the Joey Acts As Bridemail

The hoppy couple: John and Gilly Hughes on their wedding day with pet kangaroo and bridesmaid Zoe in Deans Marsh, Victoria, Australia. Photo courtesy: dailymail

When Gilly Richardson and John Hughes took the big leap into marriage, it was but a simple hop for the couple’s bridesmaid – their pet kangaroo, Zoe.

Gilly and John, who tied the knot on their farm in Victoria’s rural Deans Marsh earlier this year, adopted Zoe a year ago after finding her on a track near her dead mum.

All together: The pair with daughters Brooke, five, and Holly, four, and the latest addition to their family. Photo courtesy: dailymail

When they took the tiny joey home to care for her, they had no idea she would become such an integral member of the family. Or that she’d serve as a bridesmaid at their wedding along with their daughters Brooke, 5, and Holly, 4.

“She really is our third child, so it didn’t even occur to us that it might seem bizarre to have her as a bridesmaid,” says Gilly.

“We had the wedding at home, so she was free to join in as much or as little as she liked. But she must have enjoyed herself as she even posed for pictures with us. Everyone thought it was hilarious."

The third daughter: Zoe was rescued by the family after being found next to her dead mother's body on a dirt track following the Black Saturday bushfire last year. Photo courtesy: dailymail

“Luckily I didn’t mind being upstaged by my three gorgeous bridesmaids – even if one of them was a kangaroo!”

Bridesmaid duties aside, Zoe is like a sister to Brooke and Holly.

“Our eldest used to feed her a lot and they bonded like any siblings would,” Gilly says.

“If Brooke and Holly played in the sandpit, Zoe would join them, sit by their side and eat grass.”

Monday, May 9, 2011

Toxins in Baby Car Seats? Apparently, Yes!

Photo courtesy: Healthy Stuff/Press Photos via TreeHugger

We can't breathe the air, drink the water, or eat the food without being exposed to toxins beyond our wildest dreams. Just when we thought we might be getting a handle on childraising, along comes toxic baby car seats!

Don't get me wrong. I'm not making light of this situation. On the contrary, I find it quite despicable that companies can get away with putting toxic substances on infant and toddler car seats AND get away with it. Quite unbelievable to me.

Ask any parent - our most precious possessions are our children; and, we would not knowingly put them in harm's way no matter how small the risk.

So, why is now we find out that our car seats (that are supposed to keep our little ones safe) contain toxic materials?

Healthy Stuff has released their test results for 2011 on child car seats. The organization has been testing car safety seats since 2008. The bad news in 2011: over half of child car seats still have elements detected suggesting the use of chemicals with known or suspected deleterious health effects. The good news: since Healthy Stuff started testing child seats in 2008, the average rankings have improved by 64%. Isn't it amazing what a little public scrutiny can do.

Healthy Stuff tests for bromine to indicate the presence of brominated flame retardants (but their tests will not indicate some other flame retardants, such as TPP, also suspected of effects that might harm a child's development). They also check chlorine (indicative of PVC), lead (a bioaccumulating neurotoxin) and other heavy metals (antimony, arsenic, chromium, cobalt, copper, mercury, nickel and tin). According to Healthy Stuff's newest report:

Most Toxic 2011 Car Seats:
- Infant Seat: Graco Snugride 35 in Edgemont Red/Black & Graco SnugRide 30 in Asprey
- Convertible Seat: Britax Marathon 70 in Jet Set & Britax Marathon in Platinum
- Booster Seat: Recaro Pro Booster in Blue Opal & Recaro ProSPORT Toddler in Mist

Least Toxic 2011 Car Seats:
- Infant Seat: Chicco KeyFit 30 in Limonata, Graco Snugride 35 in Laguna Bay & Combi Shuttle 33 in Cranberry Noche
- Convertible Carseat: Graco Comfort Sport in Caleo, Graco MyRide 65 in Chandler and Streamer, Safety 1st OnSide Air in Clearwater, and Graco Nautilus Elite 3-in-1 in Gabe
- Booster Seat: Graco Turbo Booster in Anders

Check out the complete ratings on the Healthy Stuff website or add your name to the petition for safer products. Healthy Stuff has entered a partnership with The Alliance for Toxic-Free Fire Safety to pressure the "largest car seat retailers, Graco and Evenflo, to take leadership to disclose and phase out hazardous chemical flame retardant additives".

It is important to emphasize: car seats save lives, and prevent disabling, lifelong injuries. The risk of an accident without a safety seat is far worse than the risk of chemicals in the seat to your child's health.

Good on Healthy Stuff.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Did You Know That...

Parrots do not imitate sounds in the wild. It is not until they are caught and live in captivity with humans that they begin to imitate the sounds around them.

Here's something we can all feel good about. Every ton of recycled office paper saves 380 gallons of oil.

Shouldn't we all be screaming about this? Already a train system has been developed (back in 1987) which is based on magnetic levitation and causes minimal pollution. Versions of this train are already in use in several countries. Why are these trains not being installed globally?

In Peru a single bush may contain more ant species than in the British Isles.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Brainy Birds Use Tools in Different Ways

This is the parrot Kea using a ball shaped tool at the Multi Access Box. (Alice Auersperg). Photo courtesy: The Epoch Times

Scientists have been testing the problem-solving skills of members of two of the smartest bird families - crows and parrots - with fascinating results.

Researchers at the University of Vienna in conjunction with the University of Oxford studied the New Caledonian crow, and the kea, a New Zealand parrot.

The New Caledonian crow, found in islands in the southwest Pacific, makes tools out of sticks and leaves in nature when exploring the forest.

"It shows great innovative skills when it comes to technical problems involving tool use," says study author Ludwig Huber, head of the Department of Cognitive Biology in Vienna, in a press release.

Kea, though not having been documented as using tools in the wild, are likewise known for their intelligence.

The team set up a box with transparent walls around a food reward on a platform, with a different mechanism in each wall to enable the bird to obtain the reward.

"The animals could choose between pulling a string which was tied around the reward, pulling a hook-shaped lever to open a window, inserting a marble (compact tool) into a curved ball-path leading towards the reward or inserting a rod-shaped stick-tool into an opening and maneuver[ing] it over a gap towards the food in order to push the reward off its platform," explains lead author Alice Auersperg in the release.

The New Caledonian crow Uek uses the window entrance at the Multi Access Box. (Alice Auersperg). Photo courtesy: The Epoch Times

Each bird was left to choose a solution to obtain the food. After the bird had used the mechanism a certain number of times, the investigators blocked it, forcing the bird to choose another.

"This way we could observe not only the differences in the order of solutions that the animals established but also how quickly they were able to switch," says co-author Gyula Gajdon at the University of Vienna in the release.

Of the six kea and five New Caledonian crows studied, only one individual of each species managed to successfully execute all four mechanisms.

The kea faced the biggest challenge with the stick-tool, which the authors reasoned is difficult to manipulate with a curved beak.

"It is therefore all the more impressive that Kermit [the one kea that had managed all four mechanisms] succeeded to overcome this handicap. The strategy he used gives the strong impression that he acted in a goal directed manner," says Huber.

The crow's most difficult task was opening the window with a lever, since in the wild they tend to examine unknown objects by pecking with their beaks or poking with sticks, rather than pulling them.

"After Uek [the one crow that had accomplished all four solutions] succeeded to open the window, she would not stick her head through the entrance to directly reach for the food like the kea did but instead used the stick to poke it off its platform," says Auersperg.

In the second study, the scientists let the kea observe Kermit use a stick to reach a food reward through a wall. Three birds then used the stick-tool successfully.

"This is to our knowledge the first evidence of a bird species, lacking a socio-ecological predisposition for using stick-like objects, designating the direction of a stick-tool as a functional extension of a body part (beak)," the authors wrote.

The following video contains parts of the experiments: