16 May 2011

Meet the fire ant that pulled a groovy break-dancing pose | Mail Online

Is he listening to Adam Ant? Jungle insect shows amazing balance on one leg

By Daily Mail Reporter

Last updated at 8:11 AM on 13th May 2011

It's like an audition for Insect's Got Talent - marvel at the amazing photograph of a fire ant performing a break-dancing move.
Robertus Agung Sudiatmoko captured the pose when a trail of fire ants passed near him in the small village of Cibinong, Indonesia.
He took lots of incredible snaps, but the most spectacular was undoubtedly the dancing ant, which unexpectedly hoisted itself up onto one of its right-hand legs for a staggering 30 seconds.
Amazing dancing ant picture
Talent: It's a safe bet that if this was an audition, this ant is through to the next round
In another of Robertus' shots, one ant stands on top of a mini mountain, crossing his arms in prayer.

American Idle - Compass

Traffic cops were required for the opening of a new In-N-Out burger restaurant in Texas this week. The video is pretty incredible. Watching it prompted me to dig out an old column by Mr. Green, Sierra magazine's answer man:

In drive-throughs or anyplace, idling is, to summon the old saying, the devil's workshop. Every hour you idle, you waste up to 0.7 gallons of gas (depending on your engine type) going nowhere. So it pays to turn your engine off if you're going to be still for more than 30 seconds.

In a given year, U.S. cars burn some 1.4 billion gallons of fuel just idling. Not to mention idling trucks, which waste another 1.5 billion gallons. Collectively, we emit about 58 million tons of carbon dioxide while we're essentially doing nothing.

Taking the fast-food industry as an example, and taking into account that the average McDonald's drive-through wait is 159 seconds, we can calculate that the company's consumers burn some 7.25 million gallons of gas each year. The figure for the entire U.S. fast-food industry? Roughly 50 million gallons.

It's safe to say the drivers in this video are waiting a tad more than 159 seconds for their burger and fries.

(video via consumerist.)

-- Brian Foley

US$200,000,000 a year just to wait in line for tacos/fried chicken/burgers? Someone tell the Conservatives we've got a place for them to start cutting. While they're at it, how about the US $12 BILLION each YEAR we spend sitting in traffic jams?

Now that's a justification for mass transit if I've ever seen one!

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Dalhousie biologists interpret the language of sperm whales

Whales have accents and regional dialects

When they dive together, sperm whales make patterns of clicks to each other known as "codas". Recent findings suggest that, not only do different codas mean different things, but that whales can also tell which member of their community is speaking based on the sound properties of the codas. Just as we can tell our friends apart by the sounds of their voices and the way they pronounce their words, different sperm whales make the same pattern of clicks, but with different accents.

Caribbean and Pacific whales have different repertoires of codas, like a regional dialect, but the "Five Regular" call—a pattern of five evenly spaced clicks— is thought to have the universal function of individual identity because it is used by sperm whales worldwide.

These discoveries were recently published in the journal Animal Behaviour, in an article authored by University of St. Andrews PhD student Ricardo Antunes, Dal alumnus Tyler Schulz, Mr. Gero, Dal professor Dr. Hal Whitehead, and St. Andrews faculty members Dr. Jonathan Gordon and Dr. Luke Rendell.

Mr. Gero and Dr. Whitehead explain that the sperm whale's biggest threat is human pollution. Not only do humans introduce toxins into the ocean, but they also generate harmful sound pollution. Increased shipping traffic, underwater explosions caused by searching for oil, and military sonar all contribute to ocean noise that masks communication between whales. "No one wants to live in a rock concert," says Mr. Gero, adding that noise pollution is especially troublesome in the ocean because "it is a totally different sensory world." The sperm whales can dive to depths of over 1000 metres and depend on sound for communication and navigation in the pitch black of the deep water.

The Dominica Sperm Whale Project hopes to understand more about sperm whale society because, as Mr. Gero says, "it is infuriating that we know more about the moon than the oceans." He hopes to communicate a better understanding of life in the oceans to people by using these beautiful whales as examples, and by placing an emphasis on "how similar their lives actually are to ours."

The whales live in matriarchal social units composed of mothers, daughters, and grandmothers. Once males reach adolescence, they are ostracized from the group and travel towards the poles until they are ready to breed. Consequently, little is known about the males, but the roles of females in relation to their young have been studied extensively by Mr. Gero and Dr. Whitehead. Female whales will baby-sit each other's offspring while mothers are diving, forming a strong community that revolves around the upbringing of calves. "They are nomadic," explains Dr. Whitehead, "so the most important things in their lives are each other."

Dr. Whitehead enjoys researching sperm whales because of their "fascinating and complex social lives." He hopes the Dominica Sperm Whale Project will be able to trace how whale communities change through time.

Part of Mr. Gero's PhD includes studying how calves acquire their dialect. Baby sperm whales babble at first, and Mr. Gero is interested in discovering how the babies' diversity of calls gets narrowed down to the family repertoire.

"One of the most exciting parts [of returning to Dominica] is to go down and see who's around," says Mr. Gero, admitting that he has "become attached to the individual whales." For the first time, sperm whales can be studied as individuals within families, with such lovable nicknames as "Pinchy" and "Fingers". The family that includes these two whales is recognized as "the best studied social unit of sperm whales in the world."

Mr. Gero would like to continue working with the same groups of whales because a long-term project will offer a better understanding of their social developments. He "feels a responsibility to speak on [the whales'] behalf" and hopes to move toward conservation, while still remaining in the field of biology.

###

Incredible!

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Why Mississippi floods were expected : Nature News

Published online 13 May 2011 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2011.289

News: Explainer

Why Mississippi floods were expected

A combination of bad weather, ocean conditions and land development conspired to produce high waters.

Richard A. Lovett

floodsFloodwater engulfs a farm after the Army Corps of Engineers blew a massive hole in a levee at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers near Wyatt, Missouri, to divert water from the town of Cairo, Illinois.Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Last year, it was Pakistan and Russia. This spring, all talk of disasters attributable to freak weather conditions turns eyes to the United States.

First, it was snowfalls that never seemed to end. After that came tornadoes. Now, a massive slug of water is working its way down the Mississippi River, forcing the US Army Corps of Engineers to deliberately flood farmland to spare riverside towns such as Cairo in Illinois, and threatening near-record water levels all the way to New Orleans. Nature looks at the underlying causes of these extreme events, and how the surge might have been predicted.

Why did it happen?

The simple answer is because it rained. A lot. Parts of the US Midwest reported rainfalls up to four times the norm in April. And that came on top of a winter that saw some regions receiving unusually high snowfalls.

But that's only part of the answer. For decades, people have been building shopping malls and parking lots that cause water to flow quickly into rivers, rather than soak into the ground. They've built levees that constrict the flow of rivers, forcing water to travel downstream faster. In places, this has been referred to as a 'levee war', whereby one town's levees funnels water downstream to become the next town's crisis.

"People don't realize how dramatically humans have altered many of these river systems," says Len Shabman, an economist at Resources for the Future, a think tank in Washington DC.

But the much-publicized diversion of water into Missouri farmlands to spare Cairo was actually a success, Shabman adds. "That was always part of the plan," he says. The federal government long ago purchased easements — the right to flood the land — from the farmers who own it, precisely for this purpose. "The farmers may not have remembered they had an easement," Shabman says. "But they were there."

Has anything like this happened before in the United States?

Yes. The greatest flood of the twentieth century occurred in 1927, but there were also large floods in 1937, 1973, 1993 and 2008, although only the 1927 flood compared to this year's.

"This is the blessing and curse of farmers in the American Midwest," says Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "They're blessed with rich farmland and the rivers that irrigate it. The downside is that sometimes they overflow."

Could this have been predicted?

Of course. Large snowfalls and heavy spring rains are a classic formula for flooding. All of the water has to go somewhere.

"By January or February, everybody should have known we were going to have May floods," Patzert says. "To be shocked and awed by these kinds of events is disingenuous. It means you haven't read your history."

But that's only after the snow and rains hit. Forecasting the weather patterns that produced them is still a science of the future.

It may not be so very far away, however. Even before the storms hit, a research group led by Upmanu Lall at Columbia University in New York had been trying to correlate a century's worth of floods in the Midwest to continent-wide weather patterns.

What they found, Lall says, is a surprisingly consistent pattern whereby a pair of high-pressure systems — one over western Texas and another off the US Atlantic coast — conspire to force moisture inland from the Gulf of Mexico "like a funnel".

It is possible, he adds, that these persistent high-pressure zones may be produced by two well-known oceanographic patterns: La Nina and El Nino in the Pacific Ocean (which mark alterations in warmer and cooler conditions between that ocean's eastern and western equatorial waters) and the North Atlantic Oscillation (which results from weather patterns between Iceland and the Azores).

If so, he says, it may someday be possible to predict weather patterns likely to produce flooding in the Midwest, perhaps 30–90 days in advance.

So why were people taken by surprise?

Partly because conditions have changed since 1927. The population has soared and urban development has encroached onto many areas that were once farmland. There are simply a lot more people, and a lot more infrastructure, in harm's way.

Nicholas Pinter, a geologist at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, who works on flood hydrology, has a word for this: "hydro-amnesia". It causes people to build in places that were flooded a generation ago and will be flooded again a generation hence.

"In 1927, everyone had a boat," Patzert adds. "They knew it was coming. One thing I noticed about this particular flood was that all these people living in harm's way didn't have boats in their backyards."

Did global warming play a part?

Maybe, but not a big one. In Northern Europe, Pinter says, it's clear that global warming is producing bigger floods. But in the Midwestern United States, the impact is less clear.

Not that this lets us off the hook. A much bigger factor is the degree to which we have altered the rivers. "The river dynamics in no way resembles what it did 200 years ago," Pinter says.

In The Netherlands, Shabman adds, there is an official policy of leaving room for rivers. "In the US, we've done the opposite," he says. "Then we're horrified when the inevitable occurs." 

Well balanced reporting. I grew up on the banks of the Mississippi. Everyone knew there was gonna be a flood this year, it was just hard to gauge how big it was gonna be. We all knew it wasn't going to be small.

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15 May 2011

City of Bryan Installs Cooper Lighting LED Streetlights to Reduce Energy Costs and Increase Light Quality on Environmental Expert

YAY! Hooray! OOOOORAH! Energy efficient AND Dark Sky compliant!!!! YESSSS!

PEACHTREE CITY, Ga., May 13, 2011 /PR Newswire/ -- When an engineering study of the city of Bryan, Ohio, indicated that there was a need—and opportunity—for more energy-efficient street lighting, city officials began to research the best alternative to meet the city's needs. After an extensive evaluation process, the city chose two LED luminaires from Cooper Lighting, a division of Cooper Industries plc (NYSE: CBE), to replace its 150-watt high-pressure sodium (HPS) street lighting fixtures. Expecting to see a savings of 25 to 30 percent in energy costs by installing Cooper's Streetworks™ OVH LED Cobraheads (80W) and CLB Generation LED Decorative Post Top Luminaires (70W), officials are achieving an actual energy savings of 30 to 35 percent, and meeting the city's sustainability goals.



Bryan Municipal Utilities applied for and was awarded a $540,000 matching grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) to install approximately 1,400 energy-efficient streetlights. With the goal of choosing light fixtures that would provide the same light coverage at a lower wattage and with a quality light color, officials organized a selection process in which four manufacturers participated. Engineers metered and captured various luminaires' actual energy usage and solicited feedback from the community. Community members preferred the warm white light (4000K correlated color temperature) that Cooper Lighting's LED fixtures provided, and after a complete evaluation, Bryan officials made the selection to install 329 Cooper Lighting luminaires in their streets.

'Bryan Municipal Utilities has provided street lighting for the community for more than a century. The municipal electric plant first illuminated the streets at night with 63 arc lights powered by DC current in 1897. The transition to LED streetlights comes from a long history of lighting Bryan's streets with the best fixtures of the time,' says Steve Casebere, Director of Utilities. 'Many of our existing streetlights were Cooper Lighting fixtures and we believe that Cooper is an industry leader in testing and warranties of LEDs, so we were confident that we could rely on the company to provide superior luminaires to meet our goals in lighting and energy savings.'

The Streetworks OVH LED Cobraheads are designed to provide superior optical performance and outstanding versatility for area and roadway applications. Cooper's patent pending modular LightBAR™ technology delivers uniform illumination to walkways, parking lots, and roadways, and offers energy savings from 30-75% over standard H.I.D. sources found in most of these applications today. The CLB LED Generation Series was designed to bridge the gap between aesthetic ambiance and modern lighting performance. The decorative post top series offers modular fixture design flexibility to achieve hundreds of different looks and styles in both traditional and contemporary forms. The fixture's optical performance provides even and uniform illumination and when paired with available control options, the Generation Series can reduce energy consumption by as much as 75 percent.

'As an electric power utility, we wanted to reduce our carbon footprint and light pollution. Cooper's LED products helped us achieve those goals as the products are Dark Sky compliant and use less energy,' continued Casebere. 'Ultimately, this helped us deliver on our business goal of keeping energy rates low since using less power means we purchase less power.  Most importantly, we are able to keep customer rates stable.'

Cooper Lighting offers a range of indoor and outdoor LED lighting products and corresponding accessories, all of which are specifically designed to maximize energy and cost savings.  For additional information, visit www.cooperlighting.com/led.

Now here's the smart way to cut City Budgets!

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03 May 2011

Why Is Damning New Evidence About Monsanto's Most Widely Used Herbicide Being Silenced? | Food | AlterNet


Dr. Don Huber did not seek fame when he quietly penned a confidential letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in January of this year, warning Vilsack of preliminary evidence of a microscopic organism that appears in high concentrations in genetically modified Roundup Ready corn and soybeans and "appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals and probably human beings." Huber, a retired Purdue University professor of plant pathology and U.S. Army colonel, requested the USDA's help in researching the matter and suggested Vilsack wait until the research was concluded before deregulating Roundup Ready alfalfa. But about a month after it was sent, the letter was leaked, soon becoming an internet phenomenon.
Huber was unavailable to respond to media inquiries in the weeks following the leak, and thus unable to defend himself when several colleagues from Purdue publicly claiming to refute his accusations about Monsanto's widely used herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) and Roundup Ready crops. When his letter was finally acknowledged by the mainstream media, it was with titles like "Scientists Question Claims in Biotech Letter," noting that the letter's popularity on the internet "has raised concern among scientists that the public will believe his unsupported claim is true."
Now, Huber has finally spoken out, both in a second letter, sent to "a wide number of individuals worldwide" to explain and back up his claims from his first letter, and in interviews. While his first letter described research that was not yet complete or published, his second letter cited much more evidence about glyphosate and genetically engineered crops based on studies that have already been published in peer-reviewed journals.
The basis of both letters and much of the research is the herbicide glyphosate. First commercialized in 1974, glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world and has been for some time. Glyphosate has long been considered a relatively benign product, because it was thought to break down quickly in the environment and harm little other than the weeds it was supposed to kill.
According to the National Pesticide Information Center, glyphosate prevents plants from making a certain enzyme. Without the enzyme, they are unable to make three essential amino acids, and thus, unable to survive. Once applied, glyphosate either binds to soil particles (and is thus immobilized so it can no longer harm plants) or microorganisms break it down into ammonium and carbon dioxide. Very little glyphosate runs off into waterways. For these reasons, glyphosate has been thought of as more or less harmless: you spray the weeds, they die, the glyphosate goes away, and nothing else in the environment is harmed.
But Huber says this is not true. First of all, he points out, evidence began to emerge in the 1980s that "what glyphosate does is, essentially, give a plant AIDS." Just like AIDS, which cripples a human's immune system, glyphosate makes plants unable to mount a defense against pathogens in the soil. Without its defense mechanisms functioning, the plants succumb to pathogens in the soil and die. Furthermore, glyphosate has an impact on microorganisms in the soil, helping some and hurting others. This is potentially problematic for farmers, as the last thing one would want is a buildup of pathogens in the soil where they grow crops.
The fate of glyphosate in the environment is also not as benign as once thought. It's true that glyphosate either binds to soil or is broken down quickly by microbes. Glyphosate binds to any positively charged ion in the soil, with the consequence of making many nutrients (such as iron and manganese) less available to plants. Also, glyphosate stays in the soil bound to particles for a long time and can be released later by normal agricultural practices like phosphorus fertilization. "It's not uncommon to find one to three pounds of glyphosate per acre in agricultural soils in the Midwest," says Huber, noting that this represents one to three times the typical amount of glyphosate applied to a field in a year.
Huber says these facts about glyphosate are very well known scientifically but rarely cited. When asked why, he replied that it would be harder for a company to get glyphosate approved for widespread use if it were known that the product could increase the severity of diseases on normal crop plants as well as the weeds it was intended to kill. Here in the U.S., many academic journals are not even interested in publishing studies that suggest this about glyphosate; a large number of the studies Huber cites were published in the European Journal of Agronomy.
If Huber's claims are true, then it follows that there must be problems with disease in crops where glyphosate is used. Huber's second letter verifies this, saying, "we are experiencing a large number of problems in production agriculture in the U.S. that appear to be intensified and sometimes directly related to genetically engineered (GMO) crops, and/or the products they were engineered to tolerate -- especially those related to glyphosate (the active chemical in Roundup® herbicide and generic versions of this herbicide)."
He continues, saying, "We have witnessed a deterioration in the plant health of corn, soybean, wheat and other crops recently with unexplained epidemics of sudden death syndrome of soybean (SDS), Goss' wilt of corn, and take-all of small grain crops the last two years. At the same time, there has been an increasing frequency of previously unexplained animal (cattle, pig, horse, poultry) infertility and [miscarriages]. These situations are threatening the economic viability of both crop and animal producers."
Some of the crops Huber named, corn and soy, are genetically engineered to survive being sprayed with glyphosate. Others, like wheat and barley, are not. In those cases, a farmer would apply glyphosate to kill weeds about a week before planting his or her crop, but would not spray the crop itself. In the case of corn, as Huber points out, most corn varieties in the U.S. are bred using conventional breeding techniques to resist the disease Goss' wilt. However, recent preliminary research showed that when GE corn is sprayed with glyphosate, the corn becomes susceptible to Goss' wilt. Huber says in his letter that "This disease was commonly observed in many Midwestern U.S. fields planted to [Roundup Ready] corn in 2009 and 2010, while adjacent non-GMO corn had very light to no infections." In 2010, Goss' wilt was a "major contributor" to an estimated one billion bushels of corn lost in the U.S. "in spite of generally good harvest conditions," says Huber.
The subject of Huber's initial letter is a newly identified organism that appears to be the cause of infertility and miscarriages in animals. Scientists have a process to verify whether an organism is the cause of a disease: they isolate the organism, culture it, and reintroduce it to the animal to verify that it reproduces the symptoms of the disease, and then re-isolate the organism from the animal's tissue. This has already been completed for the organism in question. The organism appears in high concentrations in Roundup Ready crops. However, more research is needed to understand what this organism is and what its relationship is to glyphosate and/or Roundup Ready crops.
In order to secure the additional research needed, Huber wrote to Secretary Vilsack. Huber says he wrote his initial letter to Secretary Vilsack with the expectation that it would be forwarded to the appropriate agency within the USDA for follow-up, which it was. When the USDA contacted Huber for more information, he provided it, but he does not know how they have followed up on that information. The letter was "a private letter appealing for [the USDA's] personnel and funding," says Huber. Given recent problems with plant disease and livestock infertility and miscarriages, he says that "many producers can't wait an additional three to 10 years for someone to find the funds and neutral environment" to complete the research on this organism.
If the link between the newly discovered organism and livestock infertility and miscarriages proves true, it will be a major story. But there is already a major story here: the lack of independent research on GMOs, the reluctance of U.S. journals to publish studies critical of glyphosate and GMOs, and the near total silence from the media on Huber's leaked letter.

Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It..
The Professor's request does not seem to have been answered, or if they are working on this, it's about time they let us know what their results look like. Current indications are that we will seen net decrease in food production around the world, worse than it is at the moment. Inflicting what amounts to AIDS onto our food sources is close to suicidal.
Professor Huber acted as a concerned, informed citizen, as well as a respected member of academia. His request was for additional focus and assistance on a subject that is vital to every human being on the planet. Food.
Empirical evidence has been collected, it should be validated.
Any results the USDA has to date should be published.
Open discussion should be had in the scientific journals to ensure that all sides of this issue are represented.
Policy makers should become aware of the possible consequences and formulate reponse plans.
A reasonable question of risk to health and welfare of the people has been raised, and should be addressed by our representatives. The FUD generated against “…those interested in treating the issue as an objective problem in risk assessment and management are labeled ‘alarmists’, a particularly infantile smear considering what is at stake.” Vested interests are involved, our representatives need to represent us, not their campaign financiers.