How do you run a bus on poop?

The UK’s first bus powered entirely by human and food waste has gone into service between Bristol and Bath…The 40-seat “Bio-Bus” runs on biomethane gas generated through the treatment of sewage and food waste.

The eco-friendly vehicle can travel up to 300km (186 miles) on one tank of gas, which takes the annual waste of about five people to produce.

It is run by tour operator Bath Bus Company and will shuttle people between Bristol Airport and Bath city centre.

The biomethane gas is generated at Bristol sewage treatment works in Avonmouth, which is run by GENeco, a subsidiary of Wessex Water.

GENeco general manager Mohammed Saddiq said: “Gas-powered vehicles have an important role to play in improving air quality in UK cities but the Bio-Bus goes further than that and is actually powered by people living in the local area, including quite possibly those on the bus itself…”

Har! Hold that thought.

Bath Bus Company’s Collin Field, said: “With so much attention being directed towards improving air quality generally, the public reaction to the appearance of this bus on a service between a world heritage city and an airport will further focus on the potential for this particular fuel…”

Bristol sewage treatment works processes around 75 million cubic metres of sewage waste and 35,000 tonnes of food waste each year.

A total of 17 million cubic metres of biomethane, enough to power 8,300 homes, is generated annually at the plant through a process known as anaerobic digestion.

Yes, it gives me the idea to harass the pols in town – in Santa Fe. The city was the first in the United States to institute buses running on compressed natural gas. Seems to me the easy bit would be conversion to bio-gas. OTOH, the city’s wastewater and sewage treatment facility seems incredibly inefficient. Might be an occasion for doing something bright with the process?

About these ads

Insect-resistant maize can increase yields/decrease pesticide use in Mexico


Fall Armyworm

Although maize was originally domesticated in Mexico, the country’s average yield per hectare is 38% below the world’s average. In fact, Mexico imports 30% of its maize from foreign sources to keep up with internal demand.

To combat insect pests, Mexican farmers rely primarily on chemical insecticides. Approximately 3,000 tons of active ingredient are used each year just to manage the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), in addition to even more chemicals used to control other pests such as the corn earworm (Helicoverpa zea) and the black cutworm (Agrotis ipsilon). Because of the severity of these pests and the reliance on chemical insecticides, Mexico uses the highest quantity of pesticides per hectare of arable land in North America.

While integrated pest management (IPM) programs — which aim to minimize economic damage and lower environmental and health risks — are widely used in crops such as tomatoes, broccoli, and peppers, IPM is highly uncommon in Mexican maize crops…

The authors found the diversity of growing conditions to be the greatest obstacle for implementing IPM programs for Mexico’s 2 million growers, many of whose fields are only two hectares or less.

Another obstacle, according to the authors, is the lack of insect-resistant maize varieties, such as Bt hybrids. These varieties, which are genetically modified to express proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, are grown on 90 percent of maize fields in the U.S., whose yields per hectare are nearly three times greater than Mexican yields.

“According to our estimates, 3,000 tons of organophosphate active ingredient is sold in Mexico each year to control ONLY fall armyworm, ONLY on corn,” said Professor Urbano Nava-Camberos of the Universidad Juárez del Estado de Durango, and one of the co-authors. “In addition, applications are also made to cutworms, corn rootworms, borers, and corn earworms that do not necessarily coincide with the fall armyworm applications. However, all of these insect pests can be effectively controlled with Bt corn and integrated pest management programs.”

“There are a few solutions that can be immediately implemented to diminish the environmental impact of corn pests, including the use of Bt corn,” added another co-author, crop consultant Guadalupe Pellegaud. “Unfortunately, people who oppose the introduction of this technology in Mexico do not seem to realize that a far greater environmental impact is done by applying more than 3,000 tons of insecticide active ingredient each year.”

The full open-access article, “Maize Pests in Mexico and Challenges for the Adoption of Integrated Pest Management Programs“, is available as a freebie. If you can find your way through a website designed by entomologists.

Thanks, Mike

FANTASTIC VOYAGE is closer to reality — with scallop microbots

In the 1960s science fiction film Fantastic Voyage, audiences thrilled to the idea of shrinking a submarine and the people inside it to microscopic dimensions and injecting it into a person’s bloodstream. At the time it was just fantasy and as fantastic an idea as its title suggested. Today, however, micro-miniature travelers in your body have come one step closer to reality. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute have been experimenting with real micro-sized robots that literally swim through your bodily fluids and could be used to deliver drugs or other medical relief in a highly-targeted way…

The microrobots being designed by the team literally are swimmers; they are scallop-like devices designed to paddle through non-Newtonian fluids like blood and plasma (even water behaves in this way at a microscopic level). This means that, unlike swimming in water at a macro-level, these microbots need to move through fluid that has a changing viscosity depending on how much force is exerted upon it.

To do this, the microbots need a method of propulsion that can fit in their tiny bodies as well as take advantage of the non-Newtonian fluid in which they are moving. Importantly, the team is using a reciprocal method of movement to propel their microscallops; but generally this doesn’t work in such fluids, which is why organisms that move around in a biological system use non-reciprocating devices like flagella or cilia to get about.

However these robotic microswimmers actually take advantage of this property and use a scallop swimming motion to move around. The researchers call this process “modulation of the fluid viscosity upon varying the shear rate.” In simple terms, the micro scallops open and close their “shells” to compress the fluid and force it out behind them, which then propels them along.

The fact that the microrobot scallop has no motor to drag around contributes to its exceptionally small size – around 800 microns. This makes it miniscule enough to make its way through your bloodstream, around your lymphatic system, or across the slippery goo on the surface of your eyeballs…

The first and most obvious use would be delivery of medication. The authors are otherwise laid back about suggestions for the future. They’re confident today’s medical researchers are technically hip enough that there will be more potential uses for these microbots than any one team might ever invent.

Autoblog’s Technology of the Year is the BMW i8

No one’s pretending this is a car for everyone – even if you can afford one. But, it’s proof of concept that a production vehicle can have dynamic levels of performance in combination with better than average fuel consumption.

i8 small
Click to enlarge

The winner of Autoblog’s 2014 Technology of the Year award was given this year for not just one technology, but for how a suite of technologies worked together to make one impressive vehicle.

The BMW i8 was named the winner Wednesday night at the Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles, just outside the Los Angeles Auto Show. Autoblog’s editorial staff agreed that the i8, which drew crowds of attention during our testing days, represents a future of driving that we can’t wait to see happen…

Ultimately, we picked the car that excited us the most. The BMW i8 has a throaty exhaust note when accelerating. It’s got carbon fiber, and a plug-in hybrid system that uses a small 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine and an electric motor. It has through-the-road all-wheel drive, and in Europe it’ll come with laser beams for headlights.

All that, and it’s a massive eye catcher. People stop and stare when they see this car, for good reason. It’s simply gorgeous. For a more in-depth look at the Car and Driver test, click here.

An engine governor holds top speed down to 155mph. 0-60 times are under 4 seconds. Yet, through the C&D testing cycle and track testing they averaged 24mpg. With an electric-only range of 22 miles, this critter can match the mileage of a Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid IMHO.

Of course, the Ford ain’t $136K.

A year in the life of Earth’s CO2

Concentrations of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere continue to increase. On Monday, NASA released a striking video that visualizes the invisible gas as it travels around the planet over one year.

The simulation shows plumes of carbon dioxide “swirl and shift as winds disperse the greenhouse gas away from its sources,” according to NASA. The video also shows differences in carbon dioxide levels in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, as well as the change in concentrations of carbon dioxide that come with changes in season due to the growth cycle of plants and trees.

Created with an ultra-high-resolution computer model, the visualization is called “Nature Run,” simulating May 2005 to June 2007.

The Nature Run ingests real data on atmospheric conditions and the emission of greenhouse gases and both natural and man-made particulates,” NASA wrote. “The model is then is left to run on its own and simulate the natural behavior of the Earth’s atmosphere.”

Computational analysis is fundamental to growing and understanding modern science. I admit it. I love it.

What a fascinating tool.

Thanks, Mike

Examining public perceptions of privacy and security in the post-Snowden era

Summary of Findings

Privacy evokes a constellation of concepts for Americans—some of them tied to traditional notions of civil liberties and some of them driven by concerns about the surveillance of digital communications and the coming era of “big data.” While Americans’ associations with the topic of privacy are varied, the majority of adults in a new survey by the Pew Research Center feel that their privacy is being challenged along such core dimensions as the security of their personal information and their ability to retain confidentiality.

When Americans are asked what comes to mind when they hear the word “privacy,” there are patterns to their answers. As the above word cloud illustrates, they give important weight to the idea that privacy applies to personal material—their space, their “stuff,” their solitude, and, importantly, their “rights.” Beyond the frequency of individual words, when responses are grouped into themes, the largest block of answers ties to concepts of security, safety, and protection. For many others, notions of secrecy and keeping things “hidden” are top of mind when thinking about privacy.

More than a year after contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents about widespread government surveillance by the NSA, the cascade of news stories about the revelations continue to register widely among the public. Some 43% of adults have heard “a lot” about “the government collecting information about telephone calls, emails, and other online communications as part of efforts to monitor terrorist activity,” and another 44% have heard “a little.” Just 5% of adults in our panel said they have heard “nothing at all” about these programs.

Perhaps most striking is Americans’ lack of confidence that they have control over their personal information. That pervasive concern applies to everyday communications channels and to the collectors of their information—both in the government and in corporations.

RTFA for details and conclusions.

The folks at Pew recently asked me why I use their studies, surveys and analysis. Prime – from my perspective – is integrity. They consider the standards inherent in our Constitution inviolable. A group of ideals advanced not only for their time; but, for today. And they would wish, I believe, to carry the standards forward into the future we must all fight for.

I admit to being blasé about the questions we confront in this study. I haven’t had the privacy Pew strives to address as a standard since the very first days I stood up against oppression and racism in this the land of my birth.

On the way to my first sit-in in the civil rights movement, crammed into a VW Kombi owned by the college student driving our very mixed bag of black and white, town and gown, to Virginia – hoping to survive sharing a Coke at some drugstore soda fountain – we were spotted and tailed by the Virginia State Police the instant we crossed their border. Which meant local coppers, FBI, had recorded our departure from New Haven and passed the word along.

Before the 1950′s were out I had my first confrontation with FBI agents who waited outside the factory where I worked. I was the chairman of the union’s COPE committee. The Committee On Political Education – which mostly concentrated on issues and platform questions in local and national elections.

Nothing much to say about it. A standard intimidation tactic back then. It never matters what they say they want to talk to you about. They usually try to sound like they’re really concerned about helping you. Which is a crock. The point they’re making is that they know who you are and what you say.

I told them to stick it where the sun don’t shine and walked away. That all happened before I made it to 1963. Ain’t much changed since as far as privacy in my life is concerned. Laws change. Politicians change a very little. Establishment, government lies about protecting the people haven’t changed a jot.

Grandmas smoking pot for the first time

Smoking dope for the first time? Mid-1950′s with a fellow poet in the ghetto where his cousin lived. Of course, the weed was mellower, less powerful than even homegrown, nowadays – decades later. First offense, back then, caught with a joint was seven years hard time.

Daniel and I would bake some cornbread and play chess till dawn. I haven’t the slightest recollection who won – or how.

Only a few years later, I quit smoking anything; so, the odd toke at a party seemed stronger every year. And sometimes it would be a dozen years in between.

The last time was still in the 20th Century. At the wet opening of a one-man show here in New Mexico. The artist wanted to sell one of his paintings to a bud of mine who’d invited me to the opening. He trotted out his best local homegrown weed and we each had a couple of tokes. At least that was all I had. It knocked me for a loop and I had to leave before I ended up paralyzed on a couch.

I think it took me three weeks to drive home. :)

Congressional Republicans reflect their ideology — “Old White Guys”

Old White Guys

The secretive Republican Steering Committee announced its recommendations late Tuesday after an all-day meeting to pick the heads of 17 committees, with all of those slots going to white men. Rep. Candice Miller, who was previously reappointed by Speaker John Boehner to lead the House Administration Committee, will remain the only woman to wield a gavel.

As Rachel explained last night, “This is your Republican Party in Washington in all its glory. It should be noted, this is the cross-section of America they’re offering to the American people now that they’ve taken power.”

RTFA. The blog post goes into some brief detail; but, you know exactly what it’s all about.

I wasn’t kidding when I started this personal blog and noted in “What this blog is all about” that people generally stop learning anything new at the age of 26. Beaucoup scientific studies have confirmed that statement. Google some scientific sources if that gives you a problem.

The point remains – why I joke about having a 26-year-old mindset with a much older brain. I learn new things daily, weekly, every waking moment of my life. Some conclusions haven’t changed; but, knowledge, understanding a broader approach to conclusions is happening all the time.

Then there are people like this crew that Congressional Republicans are placing in charge of committees. Some of them were old farts when they were eighteen years old. We’ve all known people like that. It’s not limited to conservative politics either. Just more prevalent. So, here we are, once again. A useless Congress controlled by clowns less productive than their predecessors.

Sculptor, jeweler, Bonneville record holder with 1952 Buick


Click for larger

Like many properties in Española, Jeff Brock’s yard is filled with old, beat-up cars, many of which haven’t run in decades…But a few do, like Bombshell Betty, a 1952 Buick Super Riviera that holds several U.S. land speed records.

Brock has pushed the souped-up vehicle to an average of 165.7 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, a record for its class.

A jeweler and sculptor, Brock was successful at racing from the start, even though Bombshell Betty was his first car modified for racing.

He hails from Flint, Mich., and ran an electrical contracting business there that he sold to spend a year traveling the country on a motorcycle. During his travels, he found Northern New Mexico and made his home here 12 years ago…

Brock, a tall man with a solid build and tattoo-covered arms, speaks with a faint Midwestern accent. He says he’s funding his racing through the sales of his artwork…He sees racing as an extension of his art. “It’s about the satisfaction of the creation and the ability to power it under extreme speed,” he says…

In late 2008, he decided to build a car. He bought the shell of what would be become Bombshell Betty…The car had been side-swiped and was a crumpled mess, but today the sleek, silver Buick in his garage bears none of its old scars.

It’s also clear from the lack of headlights, lowered chassis and the air-swoop that resembles a rocket that Betty wasn’t built for regular roadways.

The salt flats are hot and unrelentingly bright. Brock had no idea what to expect. He hadn’t yet driven the car and just hoped it would be able to complete some runs without causing serious bodily harm. But in his first race, he broke a land speed record in his division — 129 mph…

Since then, he’s been back almost every year, tweaking Betty’s design every time and breaking more records in the process. He’s pushed Betty to speeds more than 36 mph faster in the intervening years and thinks she still has more in her. Most recently, he installed a back fin that helps reduce the air drag. Brock never knows if his engineering tweaks will work until he gets to Bonneville.

RTFA. More interesting stuff about the car. And about Jeff Brock. A Renaissance man, New Mexico-style.

Got Triclosan? Have any idea what else you may get?

Using some antibacterial soaps may promote tumor growth, according to a study just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The findings add to a body of concerns about triclosan, one of the most common antimicrobial chemicals in consumer products from detergents to cosmetics, including links to allergy development in children, and potentially to breast cancer via disruption of hormone signals that may also cause thyroid dysfunction and weight gain.

Triclosan is regulated in many countries, but the U.S. isn’t among them. In 1974 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a ruling on the safety of triclosan; but, four years later, the agency said that was not possible due to insufficient evidence. In 2010, still with no FDA ruling, the National Resources Defense Council sued the FDA over the matter. Still today there’s no ruling, but the FDA has said that it will commit to something by 2016. The chemical is in an estimated 75 percent of antimicrobial soaps and body washes, though some companies have begun voluntarily phasing it out due to health concerns. Products like Johnson’s baby shampoo and Palmolive no longer contain triclosan.

Still a study in August from the University of California, San Francisco, found that about three-fourths of doctors and nurses had triclosan in their urine, and another study earlier this year found triclosan in the urine of 100 percent of pregnant women tested in Brooklyn. Because triclosan-infused products have been so widely used for many years, exposure to the chemical entirely is unavoidable. It is among the most common chemicals to be detected in streams.

“The result that it led to liver fibrosis was startling to us,” lead researcher Robert Tukey said. The researchers also noted a similar effect in kidneys. Their findings suggest that triclosan does not cause liver tumors by itself, in that it does not mutate DNA. But it does promote tumor formation once a mutation has occurred. Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma, specifically) is the world’s number-three cause of cancer death.

If non-triclosan-containing soaps are available, use the alternative,” said Paul Blanc, a professor of medicine at UCSF, earlier this year in a press statement. “This is based on the precautionary principle–that is, if you don’t know for certain that something is unsafe, it’s better to err on the side of caution.”

No one is saying triclosan causes cancer. It just promotes an environment that aids the growth of tumors. Whoop-de-doo! Not a big difference for ordinary folks who acquire liver cancer.

Americans have a lifetime exposure to propaganda – called commercials – that say there always is a magic ingredient that cures everything wrong in your life. It may be soap, it may be beer. It may be where you bank, it may be which old white guy will guarantee to keep your political life all snug and unchanging. And it’s mostly bullshit!

There are plenty of reasonable if dull sources for information about health. If you can, try to stay away from the quacks. Try to avoid the folks selling you snake oil. I sometimes feel that any solution that sounds extra easy has to be wrong – or at least less reliable. Anti-bacterial soap is one of those.

Designed to kill off critters instead of the awesome labor of scrubbing them away with soap and hot water – doctors and nurses are as guilty of being misled as the rest of us. The medical-industrial complex – predictably – uses their success at selling crap products to the medical community to sell them to us. We get to see pictures of folks in white starched coats smiling while they endorse mutation-enhancing products.

Keep on rocking in the Free World.

Thanks, Mike