Saturday, May 23, 2009

Food Revolution - led by a "renegade lunch lady"

On Thursday I met Michael Pollan - author of In Defense of Food, the Omnivore's Dilemma and other works analyzing the evolving food philosophy in America. He spoke at the Unity church in Boulder, Colorado as part of the Boulder book store's speaker series. His entire talk was a large paraphrase of his most recent book in Defense of Food. Reiterating his dietary advice he makes the following three suggestions. "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." It is a very worthy read I highly recommend.

I had been thinking for weeks about what question might prove the most novel and useful in continuing my efforts to support his cause of reforming our collective American mentality on food. I thought about my own high school home economics class and how paltry the education was on growing your own food or how to shop for healthful food. I also thought about my father and his idea that we ought to have gardening and cooking classes taught in every grade starting in kindergarten. As Michael signed my books I asked him who he foresaw becoming the "Jamie Oliver" of the United States. He had a very prompt answer - Ann Cooper the renegade chef. And thus I share this revelation with you in hopes that you might watch the following video and perhaps write or call your local congress person to see if we can fuel the flames of food revolution in these United States. Big thinkers have big ideas and one of Ann Cooper's big ideas is this - to have the national lunch program oversight reallocated to the CDC rather than USDA where it currently lies. If we collectively think of the food our children eat as a health issue then this shift carries with it some clean logic.

The following clip from the Daily Show demonstrates with a hefty side of sarcasm the serious industrial forces we are up against in the food revolution.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ida - the Missing Link?

By Kristopher Hite

ResearchBlogging.orgThe fact that this bombshell of a fossil was unleashed in the pages of PLoS One says more than something about the future trends of scientific publication and the open access philosophy!

Dubbed Darwinius masillae this arboreal quadruped lived in the trees of an ancient rain forest now buried under present day Germany. Dr. Jørn Hurum of the University of Oslo in Norway was integral in bringing the two halves of Ida back together after years of roving on the international fossil market. Jørn nicknamed the primate 'Ida', after his daughter. This is the most complete early primate fossil ever unearthed.

Bora has more on this wonderful specimen over at the Blog Around the Clock. and PZ runs down the phylogenetic "tech-specs" over at Pharyngula.

The Guardian has also done a nice job fleshing out the skinny on Ida. They even have a one minute clip from the upcoming documentary "The Link" hosted by Sir David Attenborough. This bit of infotainment will air later this month.

In this classic clip from Cosmos Carl Sagan explains the theory of man evolving with illustrated examples. At 6 minutes and 7 seconds into this video we could replace the drawing of the lemur-like creature with the fossil unveiled above.

I will continue to add links to this post as the regular media catches up to this story. As I go along one article that jumped out was FOX covering this. Right off the bat they use a saying I despise when speaking of science. "The jury is still out" on whether this is the missing link. That is such a simplistic way of looking at this. Science does not take place in a court of law because ideas and theories themselves evolve! When new evidence is observed new conclusions are made. No one will ever say with absolute certainty that this one fossil IS the missing link. But we can still try to use logic to tell where along human lineage she falls. It is not as simple as a yes or no answer!

Surprisingly, the Wall Street Journal, of all sources, does an elegant and scientifically admirable job covering Ida's unveiling.

My favorite quote from the FOX article is the most relevant to Tom Paine's Ghost...

When asked if the publicity surrounding the fossil was overdone (the History Channel touts the discovery as "the most important find in 47 million years"), Hurum said he didn't think so.

"That's part of getting science out to the public to get attention," he said. "I don't think that's so wrong."
I can hear the ghost of Carl Sagan echoing in those words.

Franzen, J., Gingerich, P., Habersetzer, J., Hurum, J., von Koenigswald, W., & Smith, B. (2009). Complete Primate Skeleton from the Middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: Morphology and Paleobiology PLoS ONE, 4 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005723

Monday, May 18, 2009


Today I joined KIVA and initiated my first micro-loan. Hopefully I'm late to the party and most TPG readers have already joined KIVA. If you haven't heard, KIVA is a non-profit organization thats facilitates interest-free loans through micro-lending institutions around the world. "KIVA is the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs around the globe." Learn more about KIVA directly from their website. If you've heard about KIVA but haven't looked into it, please consider acting right now. It literally takes 2 minutes to set up your membership and make a deposit by PayPal or credit card. You can immediately browse profiles of entrepreneurs from around the world and learn about their stories and goals. Loans are given in $25 increments, while multiple KIVA members can pool their micro-loans to meet total loan requests. Many of the micro-lending institutions have excellent track records with very low delinquency rates (rates that certainly rival many US credit institutions these days). In the event your loan is repaid, your money is returned to your account so that you may withdraw it or make another loan.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Indeed, in many situations these micro-loans can be seeds that help people to empower themselves and their communities. Here are 11 discussion points proposed by KIVA. Please consider KIVA as a way to lend a helping, empowering hand to the less fortunate.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Obama Speaks at Notre Dame

He had the audacity to mention people with "no faith" and "humanists" - Amazing!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Pandora's Box

DNA Origami goes 3D

Imagine sitting down at your computer, typing out a message, and then having that message translated into a tiny self-assembling machine. In essence, this is what a group of Danish German and American researchers have done. Using short bits of DNA to link up distant regions throughout a very long single strand of DNA these folks were able to build six square walls and have them assemble, on their own, to form a sealed box. What's more, they were able to affix several molecular locks on each edge of the hollow cube. This allows the box to be opened at will when the right combination of molecular "keys" are introduced to the solution. Each cube is approximately 1/10,000th the width of a human hair. Billions of these boxes were assembled in a test tube and a few were imaged using an atomic force microscope.

Start listening to this Nature podcast at 11 minutes and 15 seconds in to hear a description of this project from Jørgen Kjems, the paper's last author.

This work literally expands the arsenal of a technique known as DNA origami. Paul Rothemund explains this technique in the first TED talk below.

The above talk was given in 2007. In the next talk (posted a year later) you can see a larger potential being realized for the application of DNA origami. The idea that DNA can be programmed by human beings to form circuits is more momentous than I think people realize. If this technology is pursued it might mean that self-assembling, self-replicating, molecular machines designed by humans may emerge and evolve in the not-so-distant future. The implication here is that humanity may in fact be creating a new form of life in which evolving neural networks could emerge without programmer input. This is by definition - artificial intelligence. Of course we don't have to get out our matrix survival kits quite yet. But these human-made DNA machines could help us colonize the moon, mars, or explore other potentially habitable planets. Imagine conjuring a self assembling, self replicating, thinking, adaptable machine capable of flying out of earth's orbit.

If images of the Borg immediately flood your mind you are not alone. This will indeed be a complex set of decisions we must face. How do we advance technology while preserving human moral integrity? It should not be up to the President's council of bioethics, but rather the citizens of the world that will have to live alongside these creations. In a case such as self replicating artificial intelligence we can not be afraid of the boggy men in deep space but rather be aware of the potentials for good and ill and voice our opinions accordingly.

Andersen, E., Dong, M., Nielsen, M., Jahn, K., Subramani, R., Mamdouh, W., Golas, M., Sander, B., Stark, H., Oliveira, C., Pedersen, J., Birkedal, V., Besenbacher, F., Gothelf, K., & Kjems, J. (2009). Self-assembly of a nanoscale DNA box with a controllable lid Nature, 459 (7243), 73-76 DOI: 10.1038/nature07971

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Viva el Cinco de Mayo!

Monday, May 4, 2009


Beyond Energy


By Kristopher Hite

Motion amongst molecules pushes us,
propels us,
perpetuates the people of the planet
through -

Generation through generation we generate.
The sun with its rays ripping through the vacuum
clashing with our atmosphere
and deep inside some clandestine chloroplasts the conception of energy transforming to matter
speckled this sphere with -

and green grabbed the ground
greedily grasped Gondwana
groped for more -

Terrestrial torrents took over.
Together teeming,
tying their tenuous tendrils
finally intertwining to tame the topography for -

Cacophonous was the Cambrian crescendo.
Archaic arthropods armed with ambition
their enormous exskeletons enriched with chitin
careening, crashing for

And now with a nascent nation notoriously needing -

And after the storms and the swarms take form

what will we be left wanting?

With the world's water wasted
will they wonder what wetness was?

Hope - here and now - is housed high in the heavens

if eventually Energy emerges
and equality exists in every extreme on earth
what then will the billions of brains be bound by?


a poem.