Thursday, July 28, 2011

Growing Brains, Gardens, and Vines (Link Round-Up 7/28/11)


Thinking Cap
In a paper being published online July 28 in the scientific journal Cell Stem Cell, Sheng Ding, PhD, reveals efficient and robust methods for transforming adult skin cells into neurons that are capable of transmitting brain signals, marking one of the first documented experiments for transforming an adult human's skin cells into functioning brain cells.
Free(falling) Market
US corporate leaders now see the idea of making things as a cost of doing business, one best left to others. What has happened as a result is that much of the production for critical products and services that make our economy run is constructed by a patchwork global network of suppliers all over the world in unstable regions, over which we have very little control. An accident or political problem in any number of countries may deny us not just iPhones but food, medicine or critical machinery.
Perma-what now?
"I just trained the Oklahoma National Guard," Mr. Pittman said. "If that's any kind of benchmark." The troops, he said, plan to apply permaculture to farming and infrastructure projects in rural Afghanistan.

It's a system, permaculturists contend, that can work anywhere. In Park Slope, Brooklyn, Claudia Joseph, 53, has used the precepts of permaculture to develop new food gardens at the Old Stone House. (Its original 1699 Dutch edifice was a locus of the Battle of Brooklyn in the Revolutionary War.) "It's a huge breakthrough," she said. "To go from a swatch of grass to 1,000 blueberry bushes."
Global Lukewarming
New NASA analysis shows planet warming slower than computer model predictions*
The new NASA Terra satellite data are consistent with long-term NOAA and NASA data indicating atmospheric humidity and cirrus clouds are not increasing in the manner predicted by alarmist computer models. The Terra satellite data also support data collected by NASA's ERBS satellite showing far more longwave radiation (and thus, heat) escaped into space between 1985 and 1999 than alarmist computer models had predicted. Together, the NASA ERBS and Terra satellite data show that for 25 years and counting, carbon dioxide emissions have directly and indirectly trapped far less heat than alarmist computer models have predicted.
*Update: this is not a NASA study - it's a study using NASA data by this professor. Also note the number of times the word "alarmist" is used in this Forbes article.

Deleted Scenes From Avatar
The rainforest vine that evolved to pollinate with bat echo-location
The Cuban rainforest vine Marcgravia evenia has developed a distinctively shaped concave leaf next to its flowers which, the researchers noticed, is reminiscent of a dish reflector. By analyzing the leaf's acoustic reflection properties, they found that it acts as an ideal echo beacon, sending back strong, multidirectional echoes with an easily recognizable, and unvarying acoustic signature – perfect for making the flower obvious to echolocating bats.
They then trained nectar-feeding bats (Glossophaga soricina) to search for a single small feeder hidden within an artificial foliage background, varying the feeder's position and measuring the time the bats took to find it. The feeder was presented on its own or with a replica of either a foliage leaf or the distinctive dish-shaped leaf. Each feeder type was randomly tested once at each of the 64 positions within the artificial foliage background.
Sophisticated Detective Work
FBI training PowerPoint describes Muslims and their "7th-cenutry Arabian ways"
All this is revealed in a PowerPoint presentation by the FBI's Law Enforcement Communications Unit (.pdf), which trains new Bureau recruits. Among the 62 slides in the presentation, designed to teach techniques for "successful interviews/interrogations with individuals from the M.E. [Middle East]," is an instruction that the "Arabic mind" is "swayed more by words than ideas and more by ideas than facts."
Stimulus Plans
We need to stimulate the prospects for employment, but we also need to make it easier for people to just work in ways that may not show up in the official unemployment stats. You can think of this as tearing down barriers to "self-employment", if you must. Clearly, decoupling health benefits from employment would help a lot. Less obviously, but at least as importantly, we need to eliminate the insane patchwork of regulations that keep folks from legally cutting hair for money in a kitchen, or legally making a few bucks every now and then taxiing people around town in a 1988 Ford Escort.
Paradigm Shifts
"Most people...still cling to what I call the rearview-mirror view of their world. By this I mean to say that because of the invisibility of any environment during the period of its innovation, man is only consciously aware of the environment that has preceded it; in other words, an environment becomes fully visible only when it has been superseded by a new environment; thus we are always one step behind in our view of the world."

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