Jan 232011

Just when you thought slime molds, which alternate between individual and collective organisms, couldn’t get any weirder.

If amoebas can grow their own food, you have even less of an excuse for not doing so yourself. And no, Farmville doesn’t count.

Slime Molds Are Earth’s Smallest, Oldest Farmers http://feeds.wired.com/~r/wired/index/~3/7UzmakhSZzY/ via Byline Colonies of a bizarre microbial goo have been found practicing agriculture at a scale tinier than any seen before….

When food is short, hundreds of thousands of amoebas come together, fusing into a single entity. It may crawl off as a slug in search of richer pastures, then form a stalk topped by a “fruiting body” that bursts to disperse a few lucky amoebas-turned-spores. Or it may form the stalk right away, without crawling.

It’s been thought that slime molds simply scavenge, eating bacteria they like and oozing out the rest. In laboratories, researchers “cure” slime molds of their bacteria by allowing them to purge themselves on Petri dishes. But Brock, who studies how slime-mold cells communicate and self-organize, kept finding bacteria in the fruiting bodies of some slime molds and not others….

They found that some strains didn’t gorge themselves and “lick the plate clean” of bacteria, but instead saved some inside of the colony. They were farmers, and fared better in some soils than their nonfarming counterparts.

From the original article:

“The behavior falls short of the kind of ‘farming’ that more advanced animals do; ants, for example, nurture a single fungus species that no longer exists in the wild. But the idea that an amoeba that spends much of its life as a single-celled organism could hold short of consuming a food supply before decamping is an astonishing one. More than just a snack for the journey of dispersal, the idea is that the bacteria that travel with the spores can ‘seed’ a new bacterial colony, and thus a food source in case the new locale should be lacking in bacteria.”

Nov 182010

UMaine New Media graduate Chris Bagley stepped outside of the box in 2009 when he switched from a Web-based capstone to start a local business premised on building environmentally responsible skis. The do-it-yourselfer built his own ski press in his garage and began turning out prototypes–and turning heads on the slopes. As the Bangor Daily News reports, this will be the first season his skis will be available to the general public, custom-built for both East Coast skiing conditions and to customer specifications.

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Oct 142010

350.org has launched a glocal event–locally engaged, globally networked–to send a message to our political leaders that we want to work for positive life-affirming goals for our communities and families.

You can see two local Orono events as well as nearby events on the map
9 October 2010 – 10:00am – 2:00pm
Learn sheet mulching techniques for both Apple Orchard guilds, and raised beds.
Oct 102010

You gotta feel for corporate polluters like BP. First people stop buying their stuff. Now banks aren’t giving them loans. But not to worry: the Department of Homeland Security has them covered.

http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=4a789757de0e1bd810cb25cebc71312b via Byline Monsanto, the giant of agricultural biotechnology, has been buffeted by setbacks this year that have prompted analysts to question whether its winning streak is coming to an end.

Even banks are smelling a change in attitude:

http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=4bace2ca10b06640e129403b82716628 via Byline Some lenders are taking a stand on practices like mining and deforestation that may be risky to their reputations.

But don’t worry, Homeland Security to the rescue! (At least Nixon had the decency to keep his blacklists to himself.)

http://yro.slashdot.org/story/10/09/14/2254235/PAs-Dept-of-Homeland-Security-Shared-Oil-Shale-Protester-Info-With-Companies?from=rss via Byline Western Pennsylvania’s shale oil deposits have lately attracted interest not only from companies who have been extracting some of that oil, but from locals who object to what they perceive as sharp dealing by the companies involved, favorable treatment by the state government, and environmental degradation as a result of the extraction. Some of the most visible of those protesters, it turns out, have been tracked (including “Web traffic”) by Pennsylvania’s own Homeland Security department, and that information about them has been shared not only within the department, but with the oil companies themselves. Homeland Security director James Powers defended the information shared with the oil companies as part of a triweekly bulletin, saying “We want to continue providing this support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against those same companies.”

Oct 022010

Your next gourmet meal, waiting in a fishtank near you.


Farm Fountain is a system for growing edible and ornamental fish and plants in a constructed, indoor ecosystem. Based on the concept of aquaponics, this hanging garden fountain uses a simple pond pump, along with gravity to flow the nutrients from fish waste through the plant roots. The plants and bacteria in the system serve to cleanse and purify the water for the fish.

This project is an experiment in local, sustainable agriculture and recycling. It utilizes 2-liter plastic soda bottles as planters and continuously recycles the water in the system to create a symbiotic relationship between edible plants, fish and humans. The work creates an indoor healthy environment that also provides oxygen and light to the humans working and moving through the space. The sound of water trickling through the plant containers creates a peaceful, relaxing waterfall. The Koi and Tilapia fish that are part of this project also provide a focus for relaxed viewing.

The plants we are currently growing include lettuces, cilantro, mint, basil, tomatoes, chives, parsley, mizuna, watercress and tatsoi. The Tilapia fish in this work are also edible and are a variety that have been farmed for thousands of years in the Nile delta.

Sep 252010

I say release a swarm of rogue phospholipids on the Deepwater Horizon and let ‘em barnacle it over. And let some loose on Tony Hayward while you’re at it.

http://tech.slashdot.org/story/10/09/19/232255/Self-Assembling-Photovoltaic-Cells dhj writes “MIT scientists have developed a self-assembling photovoltaic cell in a petri dish. Phospholipids (think cell membranes) form disks which act as the structural support for light responsive molecules. Carbon nanotubes help to align the disks and conduct electricity generated by the system with 40% efficiency. The assembly process is reversible using surfactants to break up the phospholipids. When filters are used to remove the surfactants the system reassembles with no loss of efficiency even over multiple assembly/disassembly cycles. The results were published September 5th in Nature Chemistry.”

Sep 142010

In an age when the Canadian government is muzzling scientists, religious groups are using special search engines like Jewogle to filter out unwanted results, and one in five Americans believes the earth is at the center of the solar system…you might just want to hear Randy Olson speak.

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Sep 132010

Your dorm room can be contributing to a greener planet. Just don’t tell your RA.

http://science.slashdot.org/story/10/09/12/2213217/Is-DIY-Algae-Farming-the-Future?from=rss via Byline hex0D points to this “interview with Aaron Baum explaining why people growing algae at home for food can help the environment and their health, and what he’s doing to facilitate this. ‘We’d like to create an international network of people growing all kinds of algae in their homes in a small community scale, sharing information, doing it all in an open source way. We’d be like the Linux of algae – do-it-yourself with low-cost materials and shared information.’ And one of the low-cost materials is your household urine.”

Sep 072010

At least according to Bruce Sterling (and Radical Simplicity author Jim Merkal, among others). Sterling was among many commenters to note how Kelly Sutton’s choice to do more with less was not some freakish counterculture choice but an increasingly desirable mainstream lifestyle.

http://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond/2010/08/cult-of-less/ via Byline *I enjoy watching people freak out over the cognitive dissonance provoked by this guy’s contemporary lifestyle.

*Just for the record, this is the avant-garde. Corny notions of dollar-savings and/or materialist minimalism have never worked and are never going to work against consumerism. However in short order, there will be big favela-chic smart-mobs of real-life people living like he does.

*Why? Because he’s enjoying it.


Meanwhile the US Centers for Disease Control all but declared car overuse a disease.

http://feeds.wired.com/~r/wired/index/~3/N-CBiwnxFm8/ via Byline The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is on a mission to promote walking, cycling and mass transit in an effort to build healthier communities….

The agency, which promotes and protects public health and safety, is pushing active transportation systems in a big way, and it’s fitting in light of the undeniable fact that the United States is getting ever fatter. The number of states with an obesity rate of 30 percent or more tripled, to nine, between 2007 and 2009.

Active transportation systems promote pedestrian mobility, bicycle usage, connectivity to mass transit and so-called complete streets that make room for all modes of transport. The CDC outlines the ambitious goals in its Transportation Recommendations. The focus is on developing more efficient transportation systems while improving Americans’ quality of life and health.

Sep 072010

Touched by the expression of a dying baby Orangutan, Willie Smits and the Orangutan Survival Foundation regrew a destroyed rainforest in Borneo using satellite imagery and permaculture (though he doesn’t use the word in his TED talk). Why was the project so successful and long-lived (still going after twenty years)? The key, according to Smits, is not to swoop in like an environmental missionary with no regard for the economic plight of local people, but to factor human economic activity in the complex ecological solution.

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Aug 272010

Stop landfill odor with your own perfume-spraying truck. Kudos to New Jersey for thinking up this “innovation.”

Terry Gilliam is kicking himself for deleting this scene from the movie Brazil.

http://idle.slashdot.org/story/10/08/25/1623210/New-Jersey-County-Fights-Landfill-Odors-Using-Fragrant-Spray-Trucks?from=rss via Byline Not to be outdone by the Chinese and their deodorant guns, Middlesex County, New Jersey has unveiled their secret weapon against landfill stink, a perfume spraying truck. The flatbed truck equipped with special nozzles now drives around the 200-plus acre landfill spraying hundreds of gallons of a soapy, slightly citrus-scented liquid. From the article: “‘It has a pleasant, showery smell,’ said Richard Fitamant, executive director of the Middlesex County Utilities Authority, which runs the landfill. ‘It’s not offensive and it’s not overpowering. It’s a light scent.’ Faced with a competing mandate to handle the loads of trash while curbing the stench, officials have turned to the roving, over-sized air freshener to control the smells wafting from the 200-plus acre landfill.”

Aug 212010

http://feeds.wired.com/~r/wired/index/~3/Sz72MmtSvMQ/ via Byline This New York bike sharing startup uses GPS and wireless technology to make finding and reserving a bicycle as easy as using a smartphone….

SoBi doesn’t use cycle stations; the bikes are parked throughout the city (starting in New York) at regular racks. Bikes could, in fact, be anywhere at any given time, not just at a designated station that could be blocks away. Users can grab any bike that isn’t already reserved and drop it off anywhere. No need to search for a drop-off station.

Like a Zipcar, each SoBi bike has its own “lockbox” (shown above) that communicates wirelessly with SoBi servers via GPS and a cellular receiver (an H-24 module from Motorola). When you make a reservation online or via smartphone, a map displays all the bikes in the area and gives you the option of unlocking a specific bike by clicking on it.

Aug 112010

This “Dung Beetle” sounds farfetched until you realize that farming cooperatives are starting to compete for Hannaford’s food scraps.

The other good news is that drivers low on gas will now be happy that little Timmy “didn’t think about that before he got in the car.”

http://idle.slashdot.org/story/10/08/06/1545207/Volkswagen-Creates-Sewage-Powered-Beetle?from=rss via Byline Hugh Pickens writes “The Telegraph reports that Volkswagen is giving new meaning to the term ‘Dung Beetle’ with a prototype able to cover 10,000 miles annually on the waste from 70 households. The Bio-Bug was launched by Wessex Water, which is generating methane from human waste at a sewage treatment works near Bristol. ‘Our site has been producing biogas for many years, which we use to generate electricity to power the site and export to the National Grid,’ says one company official. ‘We decided to power a vehicle on the gas, offering a sustainable alternative to using fossil fuels which we so heavily rely on in the UK.’ The Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association says the launch of the Bio-Bug proves that biomethane from sewage sludge can be used as fuel. ‘This is a very exciting and forward-thinking project demonstrating the myriad benefits of anaerobic digestion (releasing energy from waste). Biomethane cars could be just as important as electric cars.’”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Aug 112010

Thoreau’s simple economic calculus shows we sometimes get less out of technology than we put in.

http://feeds.wired.com/~r/wired/index/~3/lbgq5LWy2d4/ via Byline Henry David Thoreau ['s ] distillation of a year living in relative seclusion offers deep insights not just into the natural world and humanity’s place in it, but how that relationship was being impacted — and degraded — by the Industrial Revolution. It remains to this day a trenchant criticism of the excesses of technology….

A railroad ran along Walden Pond about one-third of a mile from Thoreau’s cabin, and he could hear the rattle of the trains. But he thought a trip by rail was a bad bargain:

One says to me, “I wonder that you do not lay up money; you love to travel; you might take the cars and go to Fitchburg today and see the country.” But I am wiser than that. I have learned that the swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot. I say to my friend, Suppose we try who will get there first. The distance is thirty miles; the fare ninety cents. That is almost a day’s wages. I remember when wages were sixty cents a day for laborers on this very road. Well, I start now on foot, and get there before night; I have travelled at that rate by the week together. You will in the meanwhile have earned your fare, and arrive there some time tomorrow, or possibly this evening, if you are lucky enough to get a job in season. Instead of going to Fitchburg, you will be working here the greater part of the day. And so, if the railroad reached round the world, I think that I should keep ahead of you.