Friday, May 04, 2007

Friday Hope Blogging

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by Philip K. Dick’s story “The Preserving Machine,” in which musical scores were converted into animals so that they’d survive the collapse of civilization. Now, an article in Genome Biology describes the conversion of genome-encoded protein sequences into music:

Biologists have converted protein sequences into classical music in an attempt to help vision-impaired scientists and boost the popularity of genomic biology.
You can learn more by clicking here, and you can submit code sequences, and receive a music file in return, by clicking here.

There's good news in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but you might want to swallow anything you're eating before reading about it:
University of Manchester researchers are ridding diabetic patients of the superbug MRSA - by treating their foot ulcers with maggots.

Professor Andrew Boulton and his team used green bottle fly larvae to treat 13 diabetic patients whose foot ulcers were contaminated with MRSA and found all but one were cured within a mean period of three weeks, much quicker than the 28-week duration for the conventional treatment.
Hooray for the Great Chain of Being! There’s also talk of fighting MRSA with a compound secreted by bullfrogs:
Researchers at St Andrews University have developed a novel treatment which kills the infection. One of its key ingredients is ranalexin, a protein secreted by the Rana species of bullfrogs.

When scientists combined it with the enzyme lysostaphin they found had a "potent and significant" inhibitory effect on MRSA.
Granted, amphibian populations are plummeting. But there’s hope that part of the problem can be addressed with probiotics:
[A]t least one of these bacterial species — Pedobacter cryoconitis — can help amphibians to survive. The team allowed red-backed salamanders to swim in a bath of this bacteria for two hours, and then infected them with the lethal fungus.

When tested 18 days later, the salamanders given the bacterial bath were nearly 30% more likely to have rid themselves of the fungal infection than were the untreated animals.
There’s an interesting new wound treatment for pediatric patients:
Negative pressure wound therapy is a new innovation in treating severe and complex wounds in children that decreases the need for frequent and stressful dressing changes. A new study in Wound Repair and Regeneration shows that this technique has a wide range of applications with children, and can be life-saving….Ninety-three percent of the children given the treatment showed decreased wound volume, and the average amount of wound closure was 80 percent. “This is very good news for children with large and complex wounds, such as abdominal wall defects or disrupted surgical wounds,” says Dr. Olutoye. “Not only is the therapy very effective, but it eliminates the need for dozens of painful and frightening gauze dressing changes.”
In other medical news, a new drug for MS looks promising:
The Phase I and Phase II studies involved people in Canada and the USA with relapsing-remitting MS, in which symptoms flare up and then subside. Treatment with the drug rituximab significantly reduced the number of new brain lesions and the frequency of relapses, times when symptoms of MS flare up.
And scientists claim to have inoculated mice against brain-destroying prion diseases:
Researchers have developed a way to vaccinate mice against deadly prion diseases, which include scrapie, kuru, mad cow disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The findings, presented today at the annual American Academy of Neurology meeting in Boston, suggest that these degenerative brain diseases can be stopped if caught early enough.
Here’s an obvious idea for wind-turbine design, via Inhabitat:

Why didn’t you think of that? Or this?

For that matter, why didn't you think of lunar-resonant streetlights?
The lamp dims itself depending on how much light the moon is putting out, saving energy and providing a consistent amount of light. If the moon is beaming, it'll hold back, but if it is a new moon, or cloudy then the lights will be on full blast.
There’s allegedly been some sort of breakthrough in solar-powered scooters. Unfortunately, the article is a bit stingy with details. Still, now you know!

In related news, Australian researchers are claiming a breakthrough in solar panel efficiency:
[R]esearchers at UNSW’s ARC Photovoltaics Centre of Excellence, led by PhD student Supriya Pillai have reported a 16-fold enhancement in light absorption in 1.25-micron thin-film cells for light with a wavelength of 1050 nm. They have also reported a seven-fold enhancement in light absorption in the more expensive wafer type cells light wavelengths of 1200 nm.
Also in Australia, Foster's Brewery has partnered with the University of Queensland to produce a beer battery:
The beer battery works by feeding the waste sugar, starch and alcohol to microbes which, in turn, get excited and produce electricity....While the hundred thousand dollar, 2 kilowatt project isn't the most economically viable method of creating renewable energy. But project planners are quick to note that it's "primarily a waste water treatment that has the added benefit of creating electricity."
Scientists at Rice University hope to use quantum dots to improve solar technology:
The research, by scientists at Rice's Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN), appears this week in the journal Small. It describes a new chemical method for making four-legged cadmium selenide quantum dots, which previous research has shown to be particularly effective at converting sunlight into electrical energy.

"Our work knocks down a big barrier in developing quantum-dot-based photovoltaics as an alternative to the conventional, more expensive silicon-based solar cells," said paper co-author and principal investigator Michael Wong, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.
Self-powered display screens could make cellphone batteries last longer:
Nokia has already built a working 200-pixel-square prototype of its monochrome self-powering display, according to its inventor Zoran Radivojevic. The key to this device is the use of titanium dioxide nanoparticles both to generate the image and to harvest power from light.

The cells that make up the display are packed with these particles, which can be switched from a colourless to a black form by applying a voltage to them. When the particles are in the colourless state, they generate a voltage when struck by light, and this can be used to drive a current to charge a battery. To turn the pixel black, the screen's control electronics reverse the current and apply a voltage from the battery to the nanoparticles.
Speaking of nanoparticles, here’s this week’s obligatory “breakthrough” in hydrogen cell technology:
Engineers at Washington University in St. Louis have developed a unique photocatalytic cell that splits water to produce hydrogen and oxygen in water using sunlight and the power of a nanostructured catalyst.
In New York, young people are increasingly getting involved in preservation efforts:
Preservationist Seri Worden, 30, grew up in Brandon, Fla., shopping at big-box stores such as Target and eating at strip mall chains like Bennigan's. Now, as the executive director of the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, she is fighting to save the Upper East Side's low- and mid-rise landscape, and to extend the neighborhood's landmark districts. Ms. Worden is part of a cadre of under-40 professionals who came of age during a time of tremendous suburban sprawl, but grew up to lead some of this city's most high-profile preservation groups.
There’s an ongoing trend to ban automobiles from public places:
One mile of road in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park will be closed to cars every Saturday this summer, just one of many examples of car-free zones that are being proposed in the U.S. The auto's demotion at Golden Gate Park follows dozens of similar moves in at least 20 American cities in the past three years. It's a trend that is gaining ground rapidly in the US, say urban planners. Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago, and El Paso, Texas, are planning events to promote car-free days in public parks, most in the hope that the idea will become permanent or extend for months.
One of the neo-Lysenkoists tasked by BushCo with keeping science ideologically pure has resigned in disgrace:
Julie MacDonald, a deputy assistant secretary, today submitted her resignation just weeks after an Interior Department Inspector General (IG) report criticized her for overriding recommendations of Fish and Wildlife Service scientists about how to protect endangered species.
Good riddance! In related news, POGO reports that a number of contractors working on Iraqi reconstruction projects have been suspended or disbarred:
The big news is that the Army has asked the Parsons Global Services Company (a subsidiary of Parsons Corporation) to show cause why the firm should not be proposed for debarment….Parsons ranks outside the Top 100 contractors on OMB Watch's, but the government's action is a positive sign that it wants to work with responsible contractors.
POGO has also joined with Congresspedia to produce a wiki page on oil and gas royalties, which you can check out by clicking here.

A California hotel offers copies of An Inconvenient Truth in place of the Gideon Bible. More important, it has some interesting features, like waterless urinals and solar lighting, and seems to be starting a trend:
Wen-I Chang opened the 132-room Gaia in the town of American Canyon last year. He's building other green hotels in Anderson and Merced and said he hopes to develop at least six more within three years….

Chang said 43 cities have asked him to build green hotels. Some offer incentives to help cover construction costs, which were about 15 percent more for the Gaia. Chang said it's saving 25 percent on electricity and almost 50 percent on water, which may enable the hotel to turn profitable next month.
David Roberts discusses Stamford, CT’s attempt to build a microgrid:
Stamford's immediate motivation is escaping reliance on a shaky electricity grid that's causing more and more blackouts, to the city's great detriment. After all, corporations don't want to locate in your town if they can't rely on the power.

However, I suspect once these things start spreading, other benefits will manifest -- at both the town and state level -- and soon the demand for a smarter, more flexible grid will become universal.
And Tom Philpott discusses a remarkable bipartisan farm bill:
This is epochal. For 35 years, the U.S. government has spent billions of dollars every year paying farmers to produce inputs for industry at rock-bottom prices. The dividends on that policy have included public health and environmental calamities as well as a rural economic meltdown; and a windfall for a few agribusiness giants.

DeLauro/Gilchrest would end that policy, and instead leverage the efforts of small-scale farmers and food activists to rebuild health-giving food-production networks nationwide.
Meanwhile, WNYC reports on an interesting barge-based greenhouse:
The crops thrive on rain water, which is collected off the slanted rooftop and re-circulated through a series of pipes. There’s no soil. The plants are kept in pots filled with a crunchy blend of rocks and straw that soaks up the water and passes along the nutrients….

The greenhouse is on a 50-foot long barge that’s completely sustainable: powered by solar panels, wind turbines and bio-fuels including used cooking oil. So it doesn’t emit any carbon dioxide.
And a federal judge has ruled that the USDA broke the law when it approved the planting of GE alfalfa without conducting the proper environmental review:
In what will likely be a precedent-setting ruling, US District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer of the Northern District of California decided in favor of farmers, consumers, and environmentalists who filed a suit calling the USDA’s approval of genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa a threat to farmers’ livelihoods and a risk to the environment.
Afrigadget has a nice feature on toys invented by African children, such as this scooter:

The waterwheel photo at the top of this post is from the Fife Slide Collection of Western U.S. Vernacular Architecture, courtesy of Things. It's well worth browsing by subject; by the time I got to "Root and Potato Cellars," I was starting to hyperventilate.

If you'd like a soundtrack for your browsing, try Excavated Shellac, which compiles ethnographic recordings on 78rpm discs. Or, via ES's blogroll, Shortwavemusic.

Planetizen has posted an audio interview with Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG. Haven't had time to listen to it yet, but I have no qualms about recommending it; he's always interesting.

You probably ought to look at this exhibit of radiator emblems. And, via Coudal, the Worldwide Labyrinth Locator, complete with Labyrinth Typology. If that's not mystifying enough for you, take a gander at Charles Huguenot van der Linden's Interlude by Candlelight (1959).

Be advised, however, that nothing beats BibliOdyssey's survey of ephemera from The Antikamnia Chemical Company.

Wait, there's more! Moon River has dredged up this amazing map of New York:

You can find other old NYC maps here.

I liked the collodion photographs of landscapes at Studio Q.

If you have a fast connection, or a fair amount of patience, you should also look at the collodion work of William Dunniway. Otherwise, you may as well ponder this image of the orbital coverage of NASA's Lunar Mapping Camera:

Last, but certainly not least, CKR’s roadrunner has returned.

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