Sunday, November 18, 2012

Osborne Reef

Disposing of tires in the ocean is creating new habitat.  Nothing is living in these tires!  This 3 million tire “reef” is off Fort Lauderdale, but there are many more, basically wherever cars are used and refuse is dumped: NE US coast, Gulf of Mexico, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, and Africa.  Each person, on average, contributes 1 tire per year to the heap.  


Creating products that are not recycled is no way to run a planet.  At first they were burned.  Desperation has led to a low energy pyroletic process that recycles the rubber portion of the tires.   But …

How do they recover all these tires from the ocean?  Got a scuba tank?  It is fairly easy to do- place them on a cable, float them to the surface, and haul them aboard a ship with a winch.  But it is easier to dump, than it is to undump, and there are miles and miles of these.

Meanwhile we are creating untold amts of electronic refuse, and radioactive waste.  Some of this has also found its way into the oceans.  We could employ lots of people to retrieve this junk.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Repay Society in Ten to Twenty

President Clinton tells us we are fortunate to have twenty years to repay our student loans ( link ).  With so long to repay, faculty salaries and student tuition do not have to be controlled.  Goody goody.  But what about affordable education within a vibrant economy?

We need a game change- not the same old recipe.  Boston is encouraging moves in this direction with classes offered over the Internet, as educational costs are soaring beyond sensibility.  Who wants to wear that albatross over your graduate gown, and around your neck forever?  Who wants to teach ABC’s?

Solution:  Model of the Open University.  In England, you can enroll (no restrictions) in the Open University, and take courses from home, either by television, internet, or DVD.  You can do this as a foreign citizen also.  For someone in the UK, the average cost of a OU bachelors degree was #4,500.  These degrees are recognized here in the US as valid degrees.

There is a downside- the Lincoln log cabin effect.  The positive:  no rent gouging, no government bashing, no impossible to check out periodicals, no absentee instructors, and no having to hoof it between classes.  The negative: there are also no interesting girls or guys in the class,  no teacher that thinks you are special, no one to correct your idiosyncrasies, and few social activities,   Instead of working out in a Zumba class, it is more like working outwith a tape of a Zumba class.  Students who are outgoing and engaging may fare better in the OU style.   They do not need a environment for social elements.  With a little bit of luck you might be president and wonder what in the world you have gotten yourself into- basing your thinking mostly on the bible, largely unadulterated by outside thinking.  Lets see- the world is black and white, right?

The initial alienation of the public educational  caste (PEC).  would result because fewer instructors would be needed.  The PEC may fail to recognize the value in a low cost degree, and discriminate against these students as graduates.  A degree honestly earned ought, though, be a valid degree.  People currently in PEC could expand the economy outside the public sector, but  many are complaisant, like regular pay increases disconnected from quality measures,  and are disturbed by changes.  Many have never lived outside the system.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Subglacial DNA in Antarctica

The chemical half-life of DNA makes Jurassic Park appear impossible, and actually, I am glad for that. However, recent studies show the possibility of finding intact DNA possibly going back several millions of years; and it is quite likely to find an entire DNA genome for creatures going back just 300,000 years. It depends on the pressure and temperature, and their variation. A cool, stable temperature preserves DNA- so a place like Europa or Mars may have DNA preserved, and indeed, some primitive life can simply come out of the freeze and get on with whatever they do.

A full set of mitochondrial DNA has been recovered from a Alaskan mastodon tooth, found in deposits 130,000 years old (link).  In southern Greenland, a sampling of ancient biosphere from southern Greenland obtained from muddy cores from beneath 2 km. of ice (link)  DNA from flies, spiders, beetles, and plants were found and are believed to be half a million years old.

The unexplored subglacial realm of Antarctica is a good place to look for old DNA.  Life from S America and Africa roamed the Antarctic continent, and buried just below the ice, undoubtedly there is lots of  DNA. Many large animals have gone extinct in the last 300,000 years, like Homotherium, a saber-toothed tiger.  Even pre-humans might be found, such as Homo habilis, and Homo erectus.