In her San Francisco dining room lab, for example, 31-year-old computer programmer Meredith L. Patterson is trying to develop genetically altered yogurt bacteria that will glow green to signal the presence of melamine, the chemical that turned Chinese-made baby formula and pet food deadly."Amateurs are trying genetic engineering at home"
"People can really work on projects for the good of humanity while learning about something they want to learn about in the process," she said...
In Cambridge, Mass., a group called DIYbio is setting up a community lab where the public could use chemicals and lab equipment, including a used freezer, scored for free off Craigslist, that drops to 80 degrees below zero, the temperature needed to keep many kinds of bacteria alive.
Co-founder Mackenzie Cowell, a 24-year-old who majored in biology in college, said amateurs will probably pursue serious work such as new vaccines and super-efficient biofuels, but they might also try, for example, to use squid genes to create tattoos that glow.
We’ve tried to give Mark F. credit for turning us on to The Octonauts, but he refuses to take it, going so far to insist that he’s never seen these books. OK, fine. The books in question are The Only Lonely Monster, The Sea of Shade, and the new release, The Frown Fish. All hold the attention of the grownups, the teenager, and the school-age tike in the house. Seriously, everyone should run out and get these.
But how to describe the books? They’re cute and creative. There’s a hip Japanese influence and engaging storylines. The 6-year-old says, “They live under the sea in a big Octopod. They’re cool. They have adventures.” Nuff said.
Continuing in our retrospective of favorite BBtv episodes from 2008, today's feature is an encore presentation of our three-part visit to the delicious, trippy, techy TCHO factory in San Francisco. The "chocolate for a new generation" startup was hacked together by a space shuttle technologist, Timothy Childs, and the founder of Wired, Louis Rosetto.
In part one of Boing Boing tv's multi-part exploration of Tcho, we begin in the lab, and learn about the origins of chocolate: it's a weird looking fruit with biological roots in faraway tropical lands. How this fruit is cultivated, harvested, and cured determines the flavor of the final product, and we learn about the hedonics -- the sensual nuances -- of this exotic and temperamental element.
Blog posts with more chocolicious background on all that we experienced there:
MIT researchers have built a tiny microhabitat to study the food chain of marine microbes. The microbial ecosystem is about the size of a piece of chewing gum, or microscope slide. From the MIT News Office:
The MIT study is one of the first detailed explorations of how sea creatures so small -- 500,000 can fit on the head of a pin -- find food in an ocean-size environment...Tiny ecosystem
Depending on the organism being studied, nutrients or prey are injected with a syringe-based pump into the device's microfluidic channel, which is 45 mm long, 3 mm wide and 50 micrometers deep. "While relying on different swimming strategies, all three organisms exhibited behaviors which permitted efficient and rapid exploitation of resource patches," (professor Roman) Stocker said. It took bacteria less than 30 seconds, for example, to congregate within a patch of organic nutrients.
This new laboratory tool creates a microhabitat where tiny sea creatures live, swim, assimilate chemicals and eat each other. It provides the first methodological, sub-millimeter scale examination of a food web that includes single-celled phytoplankton, bacteria and protozoan predators in action.
I know Lenore Skenazy’s terrific blog, Free-Range Kids, has been mentioned on BB before, but IMHO it’s relevant, especially when our kids are home from school for two weeks and we as parents have to choose between letting them zone out for hours with the new videogame Santa brought them, or giving them the opportunity to explore the world around them and perhaps push their abilities with a difficult project.
For Skenazy, Christmas Day included a call from the police about her son because he was trying to ride a commuter train by himself to visit a friend. The friend’s parents were waiting on the other end, but that apparently wasn’t good enough for the train conductor. She describes their experience:
He – Izzy – has ridden this route solo a dozen times before. It’s a straight shot on a commuter train and, as always, he was being met at the other end by his friend’s family. But today’s conductor was appalled to see a boy riding alone.
For some reason, the conductor wouldn’t talk to me, even though Izzy called from the train when the ordeal began. The man had no interest in hearing me state what Izzy had already been telling him: We believe a child of 10 is perfectly capable of taking a half hour journey by himself.
So instead the conductor and his superior got off at Izzy’s stop and then, as the train just sat there (I’m sure no one was a rush to get to their families on Christmas day), they awaited the police. I got a call from the friend’s dad who was waiting to take Izzy home. “We cannot leave the station,” he said.”
“The police have to decide what to do next.”
This is the sort of story that really chaps my ass. I’m firmly ensconced in the camp that believes today’s kids are being robbed of self-reliance and instead being instilled with fear and couch-potato health. Our own kids have to wear their helmets when biking or skating, but they get to go on adventurous bike rides; the 13-year-old frequently rides on his own or with friends. The 6-year-old doesn’t venture out on his bike without us, but he does explore the few acres of woods around us by himself and he’s so fond of sliding down the hill by our house that we bought him a long rope for Christmas so he can “rappel” back up the hill and slide down again.
And we understand that a small hamlet in the forested hills of Sonoma County isn’t the same as the wilds of NYC or Chicago, but we’re fairly secure in thinking that we’d lean toward the free-range side even in those environs. We make it a point to take our kids to big cities several times each year, and they’re allowed to wander a bit. Sometimes it’s scary – I once lost my then 10-year-old in the American Natural History Museum in NYC for about 20 minutes after he begged me to let him take the top route while I took the bottom. When we eventually found each other I scared him even more by yelling at him; this was my own fear actualized, which I later had to apologize for. But hey, he knows I care and that I’m not perfect, and hopefully I gave him an example of cleaning up your outbursts. And when we returned to the museum this year, he had a great story to tell his little brother.
Boing Boing partner and Federated Media founder John Battelle publishes a list of predictions every new year -- and at the end of that year (like, as in now) he revisits them, to see how he did. In short, he was pretty spot-on for 2008. His year-in-review posts are fascinating and insightful, and he's frank about even the parts that missed the mark. Snip:
Reading over my predictions for 2008, I was struck with one thing: It wasn't a list. It was more of a narrative, making decoding how I did that much more difficult. After the narrative, I focused on the biggies - Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, AOL, and Newscorp/FIM. I'll have to keep that in mind when I post my predictions for 2009 on Jan 1 next year.Excerpts from a few of the company-specific predictions, reviewed:
1. 2008 will be the year Wall Street gets frustrated with Google. Sometimes, a picture says it best [ Image above, at top of post - XJ ]. It's clear the bloom came off the Google Wall St. rose in 2008.
Predictions 08: How Did I Do? (Battellemedia)
2. Google will continue to struggle with its display advertising business, at least as it is traditionally understood, in part due to a culture conflict between its engineering-based roots and the thousands of media-saavy sales and marketing folks the company has hired in the past two years
I think this clearly occurred (note Armstrong's acknowledgement of this issue here, Comscore noted that Google had just 1.5% of the display market by June), but with the appointment of David Rosenblatt as President, Display, I expect the conflict to be resolved, at least temporarily. I do not believe, however, that this issue is anywhere near off the table. To do display right, you have to act like a publisher.
1. Yahoo, meanwhile, will spend most of 2008 trying to figure out what to do with what it bought in 2007, and attempting to articulate a strategy that is anything but "we have 500 million users, so we must be important." By mid year, it will have succeeded.
Well, I was right about the first part, and very, very wrong about the second. I guess I was just too optimistic that Yahoo would get its shit together by mid year. Both the bear hug that was the lost Microsoft deal, and then the goat rodeo that was the lost Google deal, killed any clarity at Yahoo. But I do believe there is a comeback story to be written there. It just won't be Jerry writing it.
The med... should be available by March from a doctor or with a prescription from one. Price tag: $120 for a month’s supply. According to manufacturer Allergan, the drug usually nets results two to four months after users start it. Potential side effects: Some 4 percent of users experience eye itching and redness, and it may also temporarily darken the skin of the eyelid, according to the company...New eyelash-lengthening drug approved
It's not clear exactly why Latisse promotes eyelash growth, but the company speculates that the drug may increase the length and amount of hair that sprouts during the growth cycle. It’s possible that the drug may also spur eyebrow and scalp hair growth, doctors told the Wall Street Journal. But Allergan spokesperson Heather Katt says the company hasn't explored using Latisse for those purposes.
The music selections are largely pop/rock, old and new, everything from Frankie Valli and the Beatles to John Cougar Mellencamp. “We have a little something for most,” says (founder Richard) Rudd. “We prefer to stay away from songs containing vulgarity, as we like to think of the station as family-orientated..."Tuning In
When he’s not running his business, Rudd is a flight simulation enthusiast, or “flight simmer.” As a virtual pilot, he favors the Boeing 737-700 for short hops and the 767-300 for longer hauls. He’s also a home-builder of simulated cockpits, with two projects in the works: cockpit replicas of the Aero Vodochody L29 and the Beechcraft 65A. With Sky Blue Radio, Rudd wants to entertain his fellow flight simmers with music, yes, but he also wants to keep his listeners informed about the latest trends in flight simulation. “As far as news is concerned, we tend to only look at things that are happening within the flight simulation community,” says Rudd. “We will not cover world topics. The belief is that people tuned in to Sky Blue Radio are carrying out their hobby, and so do not need or want to have ‘real life’ thrust on them during that time.”
Since Tuvan throat-singing seems to be a popular topic around here, I wanted to shine a little light on another throat-singing bluesman from the Bay Area, Seth Augustus. That's Seth on the right in the photo above, way out in the Tiaga in Tuva. Seth studied under Tuvan throat-singing master Paul Pena, and you can check out music from his latest CD on his music site (warning, flash-based interface ahead). From Seth's bio:
Soon after hearing Tuvan music, Augustus met the legendary Bluesman and self-taught throatsinger, Paul Pena (Ghenghis Blues), who mentored him in throatsinging, as well as vocals and Blues guitar. The two became close friends during the last 6 years of Paul's life. In 2000, Seth traveled to Tuva, began to study with throatsinging masters from the group Chirgilchin, and learned to play the Igil (Tuvan 2-stringed fiddle). All of this has colored and lodged itself into his sound.
Seth is playing a free gig this Friday in San Francisco, so if you live in the Bay Area and like this kind of music, head over to the Mission this Friday night. Here's the details from Seth:
I'm doing a free show in San Francisco this Friday, January 2nd at the Socha Cafe, 3225 Mission Street (@ Valencia), from 8 - 11 pm. It's usually pretty quiet there so we'd love it if you come out and help us fill up the place. They have great food/beer/wine and joining me will be Ricky Garrett on drums and possibly Lemon Degeorge on harmonica.
I think the Spider Robinson quote on Seth's site sums things up nicely: "This is the music God hears in His sleep when he has a high fever." (Thanks, Howard!)
As happens every year around this time, an editor of APOD will be reviewing the Best Astronomy Images of 2008 in New York City at the American Museum of Natural History. This year the lecture occurs on Friday, January 2. The lecture begins at 6:15 pm and runs roughly one hour. The lecture will be held in the Kaufmann Auditorium and will be free for all to attend.
Of course, you can pick your own favorites from their massive archive of the largest collection of annotated astronomical images on the Internet. The picture here is an x-ray image of the Crab Pulsar wind nebula. (Thanks, Howard!)
Amy Crehore found this sweet video of John King performing "the Maile Waltz" on ukulele.
Radley Balko of The Agitator is having fun by posting a news brief about "250 small earthquakes that have occurred in Yellowstone National Park since Friday," along with a link about the supervolcano sleeping under Yellowstone:
This last happened at the Yellowstone volcano approximately 650,000 years ago. The caldera that it left is 53 miles long and 28 miles wide. In the area surrounding Yellowstone, 3000 square miles were subjected to a flow of pyroclastic material composed of 240 cubic miles of hot ash and pumice. Ash was also thrown into the atmosphere and blanketed much of North America. It can still be identified in core samples from as far away as the Gulf of Mexico.Supervolcano at Yellowstone
Another catastrophic eruption is also possible. The effects of such a disaster are hard to even comprehend. Bill McGuire, professor of geohazards at the Benfield Greig Hazard Research Centre at the University College of London told the UK Daily Express, "Magma would be flung 50 kilometers into the atmosphere. Within a thousand kilometers virtually all life would be killed by falling ash, lava flows and the sheer explosive force of the eruption. One thousand cubic kilometers of lava would pour out of the volcano, enough to coat the whole USA with a layer 5 inches thick." He adds that it would once again bring "the bitter cold of Volcanic Winter to Planet Earth. Mankind may become extinct."