Friday, July 29, 2011

Have a Green Summer

It has been 102°F (~39°C) here for a couple of weeks now and we are all trying to think of fun ways to stay cool and still enjoy our summer. These summer activities got me to thinking about great ways to keep summertime both fun and eco friendly.

I've broken today's post into a few categories to help make the reading a bit easier. There will be all kinds of in-text links that you can click to take you to a company's website followed by my typical link list at the end of the post where you can find companies that specialize in green products of all kinds.


Show off that summer style with some eco friendly clothes and accessories. Start with some glasses frames for over at Herrlicht that are made 100% from wood. Go over to Dragon Alliance for cool, edgy sunglasses and goggles made from 100% renewable origins. Clothes made from organic products are becoming increasingly popular with both the average wearer and the fashion forward. You know those comfy jeans that you love to wear? There are several organic options for denim that you will love. Among the companies offering eco friendly clothing are Mission Playground, Nau, Loomstate, Rawganique, Mar Y Sol, and many others. And ladies, check out these cute, simple summer dresses to keep you looking cool when the weather is hot. Pair them with cute shoes made from recycled materials from Faye, Melissa Shoes, ecosandles, Simple shoes, and El Naturalista.

Lawn and Garden

Outdoor furniture can be stylish, comfortable, and eco friendly. You can get a variety of chairs like this one from Room & Board. It is made from recycled high-density polyethylene (HDPE) which is a plastic made from petroleum. It comes in multiple colors and even has a bottle opener under the right arm.

Did you know that lawnmowers can be bad for the environment? It’s true. These engines contribute to more smog-forming emissions than cars on a gallon-for-gallon basis. What does that mean? A gasoline-powered lawnmower run for one hour puts out the same amount of emissions as 40 new automobiles run for one hour. Consider an alternative like a hand lawn mower or an electric lawn mower from companies you know such as Black & Decker and Bully.

Don’t have a yard? Use pots and planters instead. There are all kinds of containers made from recycled plastics like these from Rotoluxe. There are some very interesting options out there too, like these upside-down sky planters from Boskke.


Having a cookout, or BBQ, is one of my favorite summer pastimes. But it does generate a large amount of garbage: paper plates, plastic cups, napkins, plastic utensils, cans, bottles, etc. One of the easiest things you can do is set up easy to see and use recycle bins for those cans and bottles. Also, exchange those paper, plastic, and styrofoam plates, cups, and napkins for biodegradable and compostable alternatives. Some of these alternatives include the Disposable Bamboo Utensil set and Seventh Generation natural napkins and paper towels. The Jaya Biodegradable Utensil Combo Pack is microwave and freezer save, impermeable and non-toxic. Heavy duty dinner plates and bowls from Stalkmarket are made from sugar cane fiber, a waste product of the sugar refining process.

If you are on grill duty you can fill your grill with sustainably produced charcoal briquettes. There are a variety of brands out there including Wicked Good Charcoal which is made from industrial scrap wood. If you use propane then you already produce half the emissions of regular charcoal.

Food. Food. Food. Summer is the perfect time to get a garden going. Plant some native plants in your backyard to grow fruits and vegetables. They are inexpensive, plentiful, fresh, and oh-so-delicious. If you are like me and don’t have a yard then check out when your local Farmers’ Market is being held and go there to get some great in-season and local produce.

You can also use reusable containers to store that extra food. For everyday you can use items like Lunch Skins reusable sandwich pouches. These are made from thick cotton fabric coated with food-safe polyurethane liner. They are BPA and phthalate-free and are dishwasher safe. Carry your sandwiches and other yummy summer goodies in a tote bag like this one from Branch Home that even includes a picnic set.

Even the liquor in your fruity summer drink can be green. Vodka360 is the first green vodka. It is made using a unique distillation and filtering system using high quality, local grains. The bottles use 85% recycled glass and even the label is made of 100% recycled paper using water-based inks. They also come in more flavors like 360Cola and 360DoubleChocolate. Or you could try some great organic wines. Go over to Organic Wine Find to find the brand that suits you. But remember, kids, no underage drinking. And adults, hug your friendly neighborhood designated driver. And buy them lunch.


Consider public transportation. Buses, trolleys, light rail, trains, ferries, subways. There are so many options. They are usually inexpensive alternatives that save fuel, reduce city congestion, support your local economy, and reduce our carbon footprint.

Or you can run on your own steam. Or bike on it. I guarantee that there is a bike out there made just for you. There are even organic bikes like the Vestige from Schwinn, made from organic flax fiber. It was introduced at Eurobike 2010 and won its Gold Award. If you are looking for something truly original then take a look at the Shadow eBike from Daymak. This is a wireless electric bike that sports either a 250W or 350W electric motor and a 36V 10AH lithium-ion battery that can run for 12 to 25 miles just on motor power, 22 to 25 miles if you use the pedals. It can also charge your wireless devices on its own USB port.

Don’t want to put down the cash for your own bike? More and more bike rental programs are lauching in cities around the world. Companies like Bike and Roll have programs that allow people to rent bikes and return them to any of the company’s locations around the city. These bike sharing programs are popular with residents and tourists alike. Look to see if you have one in your city.

I’m not sure if this one counts as transportation but it sure looks fun. It is the AquaSkipper from Inventist, Inc. It is an ultra light watercraft that transforms a rider’s hopping motion into forward thrust. Fun!

Fun in the Sun

Fun in the sun is the name of summer. But a sunburn and irriating insects can ruin a good time. Try ditching the chemicals with toxin-free insect repellant from greenfeet and Bert's Bees and healthy sunscreens from companies like Nature’s Gate, Jason, and Soleo.

With all that heat, don’t forget to hydrate! For that you need a great, reliable and stylin’ water bottle. There are lots of 100% recycled, BPA-free bottles out there for you to choose from. Scroll through the options over at PrintGlobe, Sigg, and the Container Store.

I don’t go anywhere without my tunes. Imagine my surprise when I came across these electricity free bamboo iPod speakers. The iBamboo is a natural speaker made from, that’s right, bamboo. The natural resonance of bamboo acts like an echo chamber, amplifying the sound. And keep all your gadgets charged with the Freeloader Solar Multicharger that can power any hand held device. It can power an iPod for 18 hours and a cell phone for 44 hours!

If you play sports look for eco friendly sports equipment like this Eco Soccer Ball from Fair Trade Sports. This ball meets international ball standards in weight and size and is eco certified. You could also use a good pair of running shoes. There are some great green choices like the VivoBarefoot, Bare-Grip by Inov-8, Sir Isaac by Newton, the Kigo Edge, and the Columbia Amphibian by Sockwa.
Looking for something big and expensive and fancy to show off to your big and expensive and fancy friends? Then you need the Emax Excalibur solar hybrid luxury yacht. It is built from Kevlar and carbon, is covered in solar panels, and is completely carbon neutral. Ohhh yeah.

Here are some websites where you can order great green products you can enjoy all summer or anytime:

Eco Citizen Boutique
Nvey eco organic cosmetics
The Ultimate Green Store
Green Toys
Nature's Gate

(image from

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Google Goes Gregor

Have you been over to Google today? If so, then  you may have noticed their very neat "doodle" of peas. This Google doodle is honoring Gregor Mendel's 189th birthday. Happy Birthday Gregor!

Any genetics course starts with the basics: Peas. For thousands of years farmers and herders have been selectively breeding or crossbreeding their plants and animals to favor certain desirable traits. They knew that they could breed one animal to another and roughly what to expect the offspring to look like. What they didn't know were the mechanisms behind inheritance.

Enter Gregor Mendel. Now we call him the Father of Genetics, in 1856 when he was conducting his research he was simply a monk who liked pea plants. Gregor Johann Mendel was born in 1822 in Heinzendorf, formerly a town in Austrian Siberia, and from a young age had an interest in the natural sciences. After two years of study at the Philsophical Institute at Olmutz (now Olomouc, Czechoslovakia) he entered the Augustrian Monastery (now Brno, Czechoslovakia), and was ordained as a priest in 1847. As an Austrian Augustinian monk he started by teaching before being sent to the Abbot of the Monastery to the University of Vienna in 1851 where he studied zoology and botany. While at the Monastery he conducted his now famous pea experiments using an experimental garden where he could breed and crossbreed plants in specified combinations.

First, he chose the common pea plant (Pisum sativum) and identified various traits that he wanted to study: Plant height/stem length (long or short), pod shape (inflated or constricted), pod color (yellow or green), seed shape (round or wrinkled), seed color (yellow or green), flower position (axial or terminal), and flower color (purple or white). The beauty of the experiment is its simplicity. He chose an organism that was easy to rear, has male and female reproductive structures, can self-pollinate or cross-pollinate, and that has simple traits that can be categorized and quantified (notice how there are only 2 types of each trait?). From this experiment he developed his "First Law," the Law of Segregation. This law states that every individual has an allelic pair (pair of genes) for any particular trait and that during gamete formation each parent randomly passes on one of these genes to their offspring. Out of this passed on pair, the dominant gene will determine the expression of the trait. Up until this point Mendel has been following the expression of only one gene. Next he performed crosses where he followed the segregation of two genes. For example, both seed shape and seed color. These experiments were the basis for his "Second Law," the Law of Independent Assortment. This law states that separate alleles for separate traits are passed on independently of one another from the parents to the offspring. Simply, that the inheritance of one trait does not preclude or facilitate the inheritance of any other trait.

Obviously, we have expanded on Mendel's discoveries since then, but his concepts/laws still hold and are taught as the foundation of modern genetics. They are the basis for all those punnett squares you had to draw in high school biology class. In fact, even much of his terminology (dominant, recessive, allele, etc.) is still used today. That is amazing for a guy who never enjoyed recognition in his lifetime, his paper wasn't rediscovered until three decades later in 1900. Over the next hundred years or so scientists expanded on his ideas, added variations to his laws, and found and explored DNA itself.

If you aren't a scientist, or even if you are and need a good little refresher, I urge you to look back on Mendel's experiments. Especially since I only barely outlined his experiments. Here are some good places to start:
The Mendelian Genetics page from Intermediate Genetics at NDSU
Polomar College's Mendel's Genetics page
Deciphering the Genetic Code from the NIH (good for post-Mendel discoveries too)
Mendel's Profile from the Horticulture & Crop Science Department at The Ohio State University

You can read Mendel's original 1854 paper HERE

And some write-ups about Google's Mendel doodle from some popular news outlets:
"Google Doodle Honors Gregor Mendel, 'Father of Genetics'" from PC Magazine
"Google pays tribute to the father of genetics" from USA Today
"Google Doodle celebrates “father of genetics” Gregor Mendel’s 189th birthday" from

And just for fun...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Epic 3D Printing

I haven't posted anything techie in a while and this video really impressed me. I thought I knew what 3D printing was until I saw this.

"3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing technology where a three dimensional object is created by laying down successive layers of material. 3D printers are generally faster, more affordable and easier to use than other additive manufacturing technologies. 3D printers offer product developers the ability to print parts and assemblies made of several materials with different mechanical and physical properties in a single build process. Advanced 3D printing technologies yield models that can serve as product prototypes."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Atlantis Rises: The Last Launch of the Space Shuttle

I lived in Orlando, Florida for a while in the early 2000's. I remember sitting on the east-facing porch of my second floor apartment and even though we were 50 miles west of Cape Canaveral we could watch the space shuttle launch. And for hours afterwards you could see the plume trail it left behind in the atmosphere. Occasionally we would make the hour drive out to the coast and watch it up close. What I remember most is standing across the water and literally feeling the wave of sound rolling across the water towards us, like a freight train. It was awesome in its magnitude and inspiration.

The space shuttle Atlantis lifted off July 8 on the final flight of the shuttle program for the STS-135 mission. Unfortunately, I was not able to drive down to see it or sit on my porch like I used to and watch the shuttle go up and up as it curved out of our atmosphere. But, in the age of the Internet I could go online and watch it live as well as find any number of videos showing the launch. They don't quite get the awe-inspiring feeling across like seeing it live but they are still pretty good. Here are a couple that I found to be particularly good.

This is a video taken by David Gonzales, Kurt Johnson and Mike Deep from the Kennedy Space Center Press Site. They used multiple cameras along with a high definition stereo audio recording device to capture the sights and sounds of the launch. This is probably the closest you can get to with out actually being there.

This is a video of the launch from Atlantis' SRB camera. These are the cameras mounted on the shuttle's solid rocket boosters.

Story via UniverseToday

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Boom Boom Pow

First, I've gotta say, if spiders can be cute then jumping spiders are the cutest. For today's entry, I'm redoing an older video post about jumping spiders, expanding on it and including the papers that go along with it.

Jumping spiders belong are classified as Arachnida: Araneae: Salticidae. They are easily distinguished from other spiders by the four big eyes and four small eyes on the top of their head. They hunt by spotting prey from a distance, sneaking up on it, and then pouncing. Hence, there name. They are also known for their creative, and often entertaining, courtship dances. The males dance before the females, displaying their dancing talents, their coloration, and their overall sexiness. If the female likes the dance then she will choose that male to mate with. A good dance will also inhibit her predatory tendencies, meaning she won't eat her suitor.

Before we get to the actual study, first take a look at this short video of a male jumping spider (Habronattus tarsalis) performing a courtship dance (sorry, embedding has been disabled for this video so you'll have to click the link):   (or click HERE)

There are a probably few things that you noticed right away: (1) he moves his pedipalps throughout his dance, (2) he moves around a lot while quickly moving his front legs, (3) "touchdown!" arms, and (4) there is no sound on this video.

The article that is the focus of today's post takes a look at #4 as it relates to all the other numbers. It is known that many types of spiders use substrate-propagated vibration as a kind of signalling. A good example of this are the vibrations propagated through the webs of orb-weaving spiders. Other spiders use water, soil, leaf litter, or plants. There are three types of substrate-born vibration production mechanisms that have been described in spiders: percussion (drumming body parts against a substrate), stridulation (rubbing two rigid body structures together), and vibration (oscillation of body parts coupled to the substratum). Jumping spiders are unique in that they are "visual specialists." Their very good sight coupled with the vibration makes for a good display.

Before reading about the study, take a look at the courtship display, this time with sound:

Male and female Habronattus dossenus were the test subjects of this study. Females were anesthetized with CO2 and tethered to a wire with wax on a substrate of stretched nylon fabric. Then they dropped the males onto the nylon and allowed them to court the female freely. The courtship was video recorded, and they recorded the substrate vibrations with a system that allowed them to measure the velocity of the moving surface.A total of 20 different males were recorded, using the same tethered female. Then the researchers analyzed the videos frame by frame and created power spectra for the analysis of the vibratory signals. Next, they put together the signal manipulation experiments. For this the substrate floor for courtship was a sheet of graph paper attached to a square cardboard frame. Again, the females were tethered and the males allowed to dance. The courtship ritual was videotaped, and the males seismic signals were recorded by placing a piezo-electric sensor directly underneath the female. That way they could test exactly what she was "hearing."

From the video they were able to break down the courtship into four distinct phases:
Phase 1 -  Sidling movements where the male approaches in a "zigzag" visual display, waving his forelegs and spreading his pedipalps
Phase 2 -  The male comes to within one body length of the female and produces rapid "downbeat" gestures
Phase 3 - Multiple bouts of prolonged signalling
Phase 4 -  The male attempts to mount the female

Additionally, seismic displays were found to only occur in phases 2 to 4. These seismic displays were broken down into three broad categories: thumps, buzzes, and scrapes. Thumps occur when the forelegs are raised high above the body in a nearly vertical position and are then rapidly slapped down onto the substrate, producing a percussive impulse, and also producing an air-borne sound. Then the forelegs return to vertical and the abdomen is pulled back and then released, causing it to "ring," a brief, high intensity signal. Scrapes occur in groups, between thumps. They consist of up-and-down movements of the tips of the forelegs followed by dorso-ventral oscillation (rocking motion) of the abdomen. Buzzes occur alone in Phase 3 and are always preceded by 2 to 5 thumps. Here, the front legs come down in slow continuous movement while the abdomen produces a sustained, rapid, low-amplitude oscillation. These signals are last a long time and their frequencies are temperature dependent.

Overall, when the researchers combined the seismic and visual display data they found the courtship dances to be very complex. They found that the seismic signals produced by the male corresponded to the movements of his abdomen but not of his forelegs. If they prevented the abdominal movements they found that it effectively "silenced" the males with out affecting their visual or percussive displays. These abdominal signals match the frequency characteristics of the buzz but not the thump or the scrape. Therefore, there is no timed coordination of the visual and seismic signals. That means there is not a common production mechanism, seismic signals are produced independently of visual signals.

Why evolve multiple signals? The authors pose two "quality-based" hypotheses. Females are looking for strong, healthy males that carry good genes that they can pass along to their offspring. Because they can't see genes directly they must find another way to assess the males' condition. Signals. The first hypothesis is that of the "backup signal." This is when different signals provide the same information about the sender but allow for a more accurate assessment of the sender's condition. In the case of jumping spiders, this would mean that the visual and seismic signals are alternative media for the same signal information. If visual signals are obscured then seismic signals become very important. This would be more plausible if the spider were courting at night (which it does not), if the female were far away (which she is not), or if chemical cues were produced (which they are not). Perhaps the three seismic signals are backups for each other, if the substrate the spider is dancing on does not carry one form of signal it will carry the others. The second hypothesis is that of "multiple signals." This is where different signals code for different aspects of the sender's condition. This is, perhaps, the better hypothesis. Male jumping spiders are strikingly ornamented, especially the body parts they use for courtship. Coloration is something that females are often attracted to as well as predators. If a male can survive even when he is easy to see then he must have good genes right? In this case, the three different seismic signals could also be relaying multiple messages, especially since they are produced by different anatomical structures. Likely telling the female that these structures are working like they are supposed to.

See what I mean? Complicated.

This is the study:
Elias, Damian O. et al. (2003) Seismic signals in a courting male jumping spider (Araneae: Salticidae). The Journal of Experimental Biology: 206, 4029-4039. (DOI: 10.1006/anbe.2003.2245)

If you like this one here's another study with web building spiders:
Maklakov, Alexei A., Trine Bilde, and Yael Lubin (2003) Vibratory courtship in a web-building spider: Signalling quality or stimulating the female. Animal Behaviour: 66(4), 623-630. (DOI: 10.1006/anbe.2003.2245)

Some websites where you can learn more about jumping spiders:
Salticidae (Aranae) of the World and Monograph of the Salticidae (Araneae) of the World by Jercy Proszynski
Tree of Life page on jumping spiders by Wayne Maddison
Jumping Spiders of the World

Some movies of jumping spiders HERE (click on "videos" on the left side of the screen) and jumping spider courtship HERE

And a fun story about "Dirty Dancing" spiders from over at NPR:

(first image from the linked NPR story, credited to Thomas Shahan)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Lord of the Tree Rings

I've been analyzing a lot of tree cookies (cross sections of tree trunks) lately, measuring things like specific gravity, surface area, and tree rings. The latter is what makes me find videos like this one interesting, it is all about what you can find out from tree ring data. Also, I'm kind of digging these ScienceNation videos put out by NSF.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Science of Surviving Z-Day

I'm not sure why so many zombie survival guides are coming out lately. Perhaps it is due to their popularity in pop culture, or maybe just because we find them fascinating in a creeped-out kind of way. Regardless, I see little finds like this one as entertaining. I found this "The Science of Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse" over on the 2dayBlog, and as it is science related (if very tangentially so), informative (if it so applies), and funny (not so tangentially so) I decided to share it with you. Enjoy!

Click image for a large view
Like this, then take a look at this Flowchart: How Long Would You Survive a Campus-Wide Zombie Outbreak via CollegeHumor

On Warm Waves and Melting Ice

I'm usually pretty good about getting a couple of posts up by the end of the week. Instead, I spent my July 4th holiday weekend doing what most Americans do to celebrate Independence Day: Slept in late, went to a BBQ, swam in a lake, and blew up thinks that sparkle. I also applied copious amounts of sunscreen while roasting in the summer heat, which gave me the inspiration for today's post.

A new study in Nature Geoscience takes a look at the melting of the ice sheets in relation to increasing ocean temperatures. Now, if you Google "ocean warming" or "increasing ocean temperatures" you are likely to just confuse yourself with a myriad of websites on both sides of the climate change debate (however, if you feel you must, I recommend looking at .edu sites and reading the actual research). I'm not writing today to debate the this-says-that-says and he-says-she-says of ocean warming itself. Let's just start with the fact that the ocean is not only acidifying due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) but it is also warming. This warming is expected to cause changes in currents, changes in oxygen levels, shifts in plant and animal habitats, and sea level rise.

Since this study focuses on ice sheets let's jump right to that. The Greenland Ice Sheet (GIS...not to be confused with Geographic Information Systems) and the marine-based West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) have both recently undergone rapid mass loss that is not explainable by atmospheric warming only. So, well, why? First you need to picture what's going on here. Glaciers are like very very slow moving rivers of ice. Ice streams and outlet glaciers are channelized glaciers, they flow more rapidly than the surrounding body of ice, and they drain an ice sheet or ice cap. Tidewater glaciers are valley glaciers that flow far enough to reach out into the sea. The point at which a tidewater glacier floats free of its bed is called the grounding line. In Greenland the fjords are where outlet glaciers terminate and can reach several hundred meters depth at these grounding lines. Here is also where "warm and salty North Atlantic subtropical waters could penetrate from the shelf into the deep fjords, remain in the subsurface layer year-round and flush rapidly through local wind-driven circulation, thereby giving a ‘warm bath’ to the ice sheet." To date, most of the simulations and projections of melting polar ice have focused on the effects of atmospheric warming on the surface of the ice. This study focuses on this subsurface warming and how it is contributing to ice mass loss.

The scientists here used 19 state-of-the-art climate models to examine future ocean warming around the periphery of the ice sheets in response to increasing greenhouse-gas concentrations. Normally, the periphery of these ice sheets (GIS and WAIS) are kept cold by the currents that flow around them. In the Northern Hemisphere the East and West Greenland Current (EGC and WGC) keeps Greenland frozen, and in the Southern Hemisphere the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) combined with an upwelling of cold deep water keeps Antarctica frozen.

They found that, given a midlevel increase in greenhouse gasses, the ocean depths between 200 and 500 meters (650-1650 ft) will be warming 0.5 and 2°C, an average of 1°C (1.8°F), by 2100. However, the results for the two ice sheets studied were not the same. In Greenland the warming could be twice as much with the subsurface ocean temperatures increasing as much as 2°C (3.6°F). In Antarctica it could warm less, with only a 0.5°C (0.9°F) increase. Why such a difference? It is all due to those currents that I mentioned. Greenland receives warmer waters from the Gulf Stream. This warm water affects the exposed tidewater glaciers, melting them from underneath and causing the now unsupported tops to break off into the sea. Also, as the warm water melts the undersides of the glaciers the meltwater acts as a lubricant, speeding the glaciers' movement into the sea. Eventually, the glaciers will melt so much that they will not reach the sea. Antarctica has the ACC and the cold deep water upwellings to prevent, or at least slow, the warm water in the south. Unlike Greenland where the ice flows out into the sea, Antarctic ice is based on land that is already below sea level. This means that as the ice sheet melts the leading edge will continue to be underwater. Regardless of the differences between continents, the sea level is expected to rise by about 1 meter (~3ft) by the end of the century.

Looks like my inland Florida relatives will have beachfront property. Perhaps I should invest in a surfboard.

Here is the paper:
Jianjun Yin, et al. (2011) Different magnitudes of projected subsurface ocean warming around Greenland and Antarctica. Nature Geoscience: published online 03 July. (DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1189)

Learn more about glaciers here:

and on this study...
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