Sunday, July 24, 2011

Amy Winehouse and the Forever 27 Club

Now, I'm not a avid fan of Amy Winehouse myself but her death yesterday (23 July 2011) has given me reasons to pause. For one, I'm also 27 this year. Two, there is something about the age of 27 that claims the life of of musicians.

For those unfamiliar with the Forever 27 Club:
Between 1969 and 1971, four famous artists died at the age of 27, Brian Jones of the rolling stones (3 July 1969), Jimi Hendrix (18 September 1970), Janis Joplin (4 October 1970), and Jim Morrison of The Doors (3 July, 1971). The coincidence of their deaths lead to the creation of the Forever 27 Club. Years later, Kurt Cobain killed himself and joined the club also (5 April, 1994). One thing all these member have in common is rock & roll and drugs. With the exception of Morrison, all the members were known heavy drug users. Some speculate that even Morrison was under the influence of drugs during his death - no autopsy was preformed in his case but some conflicting reports suggest he was using at the time of death.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cloning a Trachea

In the news there is a story about a man from Eritrea going to school in Iceland recovering from surgery in Sweden where a surgeon born in Italy recently gave him a new trachea grown in a bioreactor from the United States composed of synthetic scaffold designed in the United Kingdom and the man's own stem cells! The world is certainly getting smaller and the smaller it gets the more specialists like surgeon Paolo Macchiarini and others can collaborate to make stories like this possible. I'm posting this because it's a relevant update to a blog entry I made recently on Cloning.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Water Conservation in the Home

The story of water in Brazil is a tale of contrasts. On one side, Brazil holds 12% of the world’s fresh surface waters, is home to the largest natural rainforest and second longest river in the world, the Amazon. The Amazon discharges an average 200 million liters of water per second, one fifth of the entire global river output (learn more). On the other side, 25% of Brazil's population lives in the state of São Paulo where less than 2% of that water is found. Sadly, not everyone in living in Brazil can afford clean water supply and sanitation. The good news is that the Brazilian government has been making a lot of progress on this issue.
I recently came across a very interesting TV ad that aired in Brazil advocating water conservation (shown below). This commercial put out by SOS Mata Atlantica urges viewers to pee in the shower. To most people, this might seem like a crazy idea just to save a little extra water but, as the ad points out one flush can use up to 12 liters of drinking water (4380 liters per year). As pointed out above, certain parts of Brazil could benefit greatly from this kind of conservation.

Monday, July 4, 2011


I recently read about a survey that shows Americans are more accepting of cloned food than Europeans. Right now we are on the cusp of a new era. Today, the practice of cloning is limited to a small number of labs around the world. Tomorrow, cloning of livestock, pets, and even people could be commonplace.
There are several advantages and disadvantages of cloned livestock. Most obviously, farmers can clone the most desirable animals for leanness, milk production, taste, and so on. Farmers could also select clones that are resistant to certain strains of disease. However, this lack of genetic diversity could leave the industry open to other diseases (read here for more). There is also evidence that cloned animals suffer more liver and kidney aliments, die younger, and reach puberty later (RSPCA).

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Rise and Fall of the Electric Street Car Part II: The Beginning of the End

The success of the electric street car was short-lived. The Great Depression forced many routes in United States to close. There was a brief life-line for the electric trolley during the Second World War when rubber and gas were rationed and factory workers turned to mass transit. Production of wartime materials limited the possible of growth (from 1942-1943 there was little change in the total number of cities with electric street cars). However, the end of the war brought and increase in automobile use and a decline in street car use to the already struggling street car lines. By the 1960s the electric street car could only be found in a hand full of cities across North America.Growth and decline of the Electric Streetcar. Solid red area is number of cities with an electric streetcar in operation; transparent red area represents possible cities (for lack of complete records) that may have been in operation.

Service provided by the electric street car was most often replaced by buses which were seen as more flexible and requiring less infrastructure than the electric rail counterpart. This shift from electric trolley to bus has led many to believe that a union of automobile, oil, and tire companies was responsible for the dismantling of what otherwise appeared to be a productive public utility.

The possibility of a conspiracy against the electric streetcar is at least likely given the circumstances publicly known. In 1949, General Motors together with Standard Oil (now Cheveron) and Firestone were convicted of conspiring to monopolize the sale of buses and related products to local transit authorities. The goals of this group were to promote the use and sale of buses, tires and gasoline: three things not needed in cites with electric streetcars. Therefore the use of such a transit system often came at the cost of reduced or complete dismantling of electric street car routes.

< Part 1

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Trading with Bitcoins Part II

Yesterday, I shared some of my experiences in Bitcoin trading. Since then, a few more important details have come to my attention. I mentioned that MtGox was the primary way of trading BTC for USD. So much so that the public activity on MtGox generally controls the trade value of BTC outside of MtGox. By talking to some people in the IRC channel I found out that MtGox is either frequently targeted by Denial of Service attacks or other mischievous which brings trading to a standstill.

Fortunately, there is a rising star in the Bitcoin trade industry, TradeHill. The volume of trades is low compared to MtGox but growing and the price is usually close to MtGox. I have yet to try out TradeHill myself (transferring from MtGox is down). Most people who have tried it like the interface and the lower trading fees on TradeHill. Speaking of which: using the referral code TH-R12942 will get you an additional life-time 10% discount on trading fees.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Trading with Bitcoins

Amidst the global economic collapse a new digital "coin" has emerged as the next big thing in virtual currency. Bitcoin has been touted for its advantages over conventional currencies - advantages I will let someone else explain in more detail. Basically, all you need to know is that the Bitcoin system is decentralized, anonymous, and therefore not government controlled. Unlike the US Dollar that can be printed by the government or taxed, there is virtually no way governments can take away your money. If you still want to know more go here.

With not much effort you can easily find that the mainstream (if anything related to Bitcoins can be called mainstream) way to convert your USD into BTC is this place called MtGox. Here you quickly create an account and upload funds (either in USD or BTC). The process of trading will cost you .65% for both buying and selling.

The trouble comes when you try to add funds: because Bitcoin transactions are irreversible, people giving up bitcoins want to make sure they will not have their USD taken back after the transaction. For now at least, there is no instant method of payment that guards against possible charge-backs. So before you can trade on MtGox you must wait a number of days before your USD "clear" and you can begin buying BTC and all along the way you'll rack up fees from various thrid parties you dealt with.

The solution? Trade directly with others in the Bitcoin IRC channel. (If you don't know what IRC is you should just give up now; even if you do you may still want to give up.)
Before you logon to either #bitcoin-otc or #bitcoin-pit you'll need to learn a little about the etiquette, how trades are done in bitcoin-otc, and most of all, how to avoid scam-artists. If this doesn't scare you away you might be ready to read the wiki guide to otc.

The first thing I learned by trying to trade with people is that you can buy or sell anything as an anonymous user: everyone doing business in otc has something called GPG. GNU Privacy Guard is a package encryption software that the people running the Bitcoin channels use to keep track of trusted traders. My first time in the channel I just asked how to go about getting GPG set up and someone pointed me to a lengthy but straight-forward guide.

After getting my GPG configured you won't be ready to trade just yet because you have to build up your reputation. It may sound like a catch-22 but there is no way to avoid it. People wont trade without unless they know you are honest. Fortunately for me, I know someone personally that has a good reputation in the pit that got me my first trade. For your first trade you should be prepared to pay in some form that cant be charged back after the fact. Most reputable people will not trade if you are using PayPal because with PayPal you can file a claim and reverse the charge. The best option for someone breaking into the scene is with MoneyPak, a prepaid card you can buy in local stores and that can be transferred to the PayPal account of the seller.

So assuming you've found someone who will trust you, you have to make sure you can trust them. If you use a form of payment that is irreversible you could end up with just another sob story for Bitcoin court (yes there is a Bitcoin court). The best way around this is to find the most reputable and willing person to hold the BTC before sending payment.

After you successfully make a trade you can then begin using your Bitcoins.

Read more.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Rise and Fall of the Electric Street Car Part I: The Beginning

The modern electric street car evolved from horse-drawn omnibuses which lasted from 1820s-1880s. Before long, bus operators started running horse cars on rails to reduce rolling resistance and increase speed (this began in 1830s-40s) compared the unpaved surfaces used until then. In 1860s-1890s other forms of motive power (often steam or cable) became more common. Making the switch from horse-drawn trolleys to electric was an obvious choice for most cities wishing to be rid of the care and maintenance horses required.

1882 was the birth of the first electric street car in America in South Bend Indiana. In little more than a decade the electric street car had transformed the urban and suburban landscape of almost 900 U.S. cities. Scranton Pennsylvania was an early adopter of the Electric street car and earned the nickname “The Electric City”. Electricity provided a major advancement in transportation but the use of rail was becoming obsolete; city streets were no longer dirt and the investment of track meant routes could not change to accommodate an evolving city.

Part II >