Saturday, June 26, 2010

2 questions from Dinner

My wife and I were eating our Taco Bell this evening and two key questions arose.

1. Why is it called a Spork and not a Foon?

2. What is Xanthum gum?

Well, here's the answer about Xanthum Gum. In this case it's probably a thickener in the Mild Sauce packets from the restaurant - but it's a little disturbing that it's named for the bacteria that "form a slimy substance which acts as a natural stabilizer or thickener."

As to the first question, it turns out there's a Facebook page dedicated to the question. There's a long history on the Spork going back to the 1800s when it was a popular multifunction utensil. Old Sporks are collectible on ebay

Monday, June 21, 2010

Aurora from Space Station

Check out this awesome photo of an Aurora from the space station.

Here's the story.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tree Wall to halt the Sahara

I read about this ambitious project to try to stop the southward advance of the Sahara desert the other day and thought it was worth a post if for no other reason than the bigh-thinking scale of the project.

Push for 'Great Green Wall of Africa' to halt Sahara

It sounds like it's nothing more than a big idea at this point and there's not alot of support for the effort, I'm inspired by the thinking that drives it - kindof like trying to control mother nature on a continental scale.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Quietly Not Going - On freezing and resuscitation

This article about reviving people from clinical death after "freezing to death" is very interesting. It talks about an experiment with both yeast and worms that shows extreme cold combined with oxygen depravation creates conditions necessary for a high likelihood of resuscitation. If the oxygen is present while freezing though - not so good.

here's a quote from the story:

When subjected to literally freezing temperatures, the embryos of yeast and garden worms do not live, researchers found. A full 99 percent of those in the experiment died after 24 hours of exposure to temperatures just above freezing.

But, when first deprived of oxygen in the manner described above, 66 percent of the yeast and 97 percent of the garden worms survived. Upon re-warming and reintroduction of oxygen, the "two widely divergent organisms" reanimated and showed normal life spans, said scientists in a statement.

Which brings me around to thinking about the cases of people who are able to be revived after disappearing under frozen lakes, or the skier who had a skiing accident and "drowned" trapped with their head underwater in a very cold stream. There are other cases the article mentions where drowning is not central - but people just being exposed to extreme cold to rapidly induce a state of suspended animation as they'd say in Star Trek.

So where's it lead? the article mentions handling of donor organs as an example, but what if somebody is way far away from medical care and is going to die unless these conditions (extreme cold/oxygen deprevation) are induced? Sounds scary, but if it's your only way to have a chance of survival do you do it? I think I recall doctors already using lowering the body temperature as part of the proceedure to improve results in some types of surgery.

Anyhow, thought that was very interesting

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Oil dependency

Here's a good op-ed by Thomas Friedman today on how our oil dependency is creating many of the problems we face today, and that we each need to understand our individual role in the problem: This Time is Different.

It'll take a long time, but efforts to move to oil alternatives need to move forward. The problem is that the payoff may not be for 30-50 years. But then I tell myself we had an opportunity back in the 70s to change the course of things, but didn't change then either. Instead we became more dependent. It may not be clear where alternative efforts will lead us, but I think it's pretty clear where the current structure of oil dependency leads.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


I saw the word Confusopoly today for the first time. It's a brilliant concept and word coined by Douglas Adams of Dilbert Fame.

Confusopoly "a group of companies with similar products who intentionally confuse customers instead of competing on price."

Here's a little more info.

We were talking at lunch about how confusing cell phone plans are and that it's nearly impossible to compare what should be a fairly similar product across carriers given all the differences in plans. Our thought was it's intentional complexity designed to confuse shoppers. Confusopoly sums up this business strategy perfectly.

BTW, the term is said also to apply to insurance - the business I'm in too - so don't trust a word I say. And don't pay attention to any new financial products which bundle:
- life insurance,
- an accident benefit,
- savings plan,
- investment plan,
- annuity,
- cash return at retirement,
- free airline miles, and
- a free 12 month subscription to your favorite magazine
in a single product that you couldn't possibly hope to understand without taking a night class.

Tip to the Blog of Diminishing Returns for the reference.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Corn chips a vegetable?

I was contemplating supper tonight wondering whether I had had any vegetables yet today. I had corn chips at the Mexican place today and thought maybe they were a vegetable? Corn on the cob seems like a vegetable so maybe?

Anyhow, at least this website from University of Missouri says corn chips are not a vegetable but instead a are a grain.

I guess that makes sense in the context that corn decended from grasses like a post a short while ago discusses.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Life on Titan?

Here's an interesting article about some intriguing atmospheric chemistry uncovered during NASA's Callisto mission around Saturn. The moon Titan has some atmospheric characteristics that some scientists intepret as compatible with some type of methane based alien life.

Here's the story on the new research from Science News: Life on Titan? New Clues to What's Consuming Hydrogen, Acetylene on Saturn's Moon

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Limits of motivators

Here's an interesting speech from TED that discusses the limits of traditional motivational techniques. The basic argument is that studies are showing that for a range of tasks that are ill-defined and require creativity carrot/stick type motivators can actually reduce productivity.

This video is long (18+min), worth a listen though: