Archive for: February, 2012

Indoor Wildlife

Feb 07 2012 Published by under [Biology&Environment]

My betta, the iFish, and I have shared office space for two years, including a major relocation. Last week I finally got the stuff together and cleaned his tank after about 6 months. I run a filter, so that duration works just fine. However, I left a sustained release feeder for Science Online. Then I forgot and left the light on one weekend. By Monday, we had algae.

Happy iFish

Today he demonstrated his utter happiness by spending the morning building a bubble nest. He has done this before, but never one so large!

I began to worry about his intentions, so I decided to read a bit about this behavior. Did he have ulterior motives toward me? He does occasionally puff up and "threaten" those who enter my office. According to the folks at NippyFish:

This nest building behavior is instinctual for male bettas and it is not necessary to have a female present to observe your betta building his nest. Most males will blow bubbles but the rate and size of the nest seems to depend on the individual male and possibly, other factors like age, health and water parameters.

Some males will frequently blow bubbles and you may find new nests on a weekly or even daily basis. Others may only blow a few nests a year. Healthy males tend to blow nests more often so if you see one consider it a good sign that your betta is happy and healthy.

The NippyFish link also includes some higher quality bubble nest photos. I also find it fun that the male betta is so integral to child-rearing. He builds the nest, gathers eggs into it after spawning, guards it, and returns any eggs that fall out. Turns out the fierce Siamese fighting fish is a gentle parent, at least until the fry mature.

Of course, we all get that urge to kill our teenagers.

No responses yet

What I Am Reading: #scio12 swag, Before the Lights Go Out

Feb 06 2012 Published by under [Science in Society]

One of the joys of attending Science Online can be a  pain as well. With all of those authors in the group, dragging home books can result in excess baggage fees. This year a lottery book distribution limited the problem. As I took my tickets down the rows of books and advance proofs, I picked some that looked delightful for me and some that family members would enjoy.

Available April 10, 2012

I won one of the latter, one I chose because my son is a first-year engineering student at Minnesota with a vague interest in green, clean energy:

Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the energy crisis before it conquers us.

Maggie Koerth-Baker, currently affiliated with, explores our relationship with energy in the US. Early on, she points out that energy can be viewed through many lenses. Some people wish to end out dependency on foreign resources. Others are concerned about climate changes. Most people hope to save a few bucks along the way, even if that is not the primary motive.

Unfortunately, individual actions cannot achieve the changes we must make to preserve our way of life. Even if we all immediately change our light bulbs and buy electric vehicles, the same issues continue since generation of electricity constitutes our major consumption of energy and our major source of pollution. Why not build more renewable generators, like windmills, solar panels, and hydroelectric plants? We can; but electricity must enter the grid in the correct amount at the correct time. We simply cannot generate energy from these sources until we can store it for when and where we use it.

She examines each alternate source of energy in its turn, as well as many conservation options. Ultimately, our energy infrastructure built up to support our current lifestyle, and changing our relationship with energy will require big, expensive changes to infrastructure before anything of real significance can happen.

Does that observation mean that Maggie Koerth-Baker does not believe we should be changing light bulbs and buying more efficient vehicles? Absolutely not! Conservation remains part of the strategy - it just cannot be the sole approach.

The book ends with descriptions of some projects involving decentralization of energy generation. Local biofuel generation in Madelia, MN, particularly fascinated me. An environmentalist became concerned about topsoil loss in the area. Wanting to prevent erosion by encouraging farmers to plant "Third Crops (native grasses that take less toll on the soil but have little economic benefit), Linda Meschke needed to find a way to make these plants profitable. The solution came in collaboration with the University of Minnesota. They towed in  a microwave pyrolysis system to convert those cellulosic stalks into energy.

Pyrolysis involves heating organic material in an oxygen-free environment to just under 950 degrees Farenheit, a process that releases a bunch of volatile gases that can be condensed into liquid fuel. The solids that remain are biochar, a charcoal-like substance that traps carbon in ring structures for a long, long time. This energy generation is carbon neutral, and the biochar can bind nitrogen, perhaps making it a good fertilizer.

Wonderful! Why don't we go cut kudzu and crank out these microwave pyrolyzers?

First, the liquid fuel can be used as home heating oil or in place of industrial petroleum, but its acidic pH will not let it substitute for gasoline. Second, the data about biochar is preliminary; only long-term field tests will confirm its use as fertilizer. Finally, the system is not yet ready to be scaled up. While it is allowing farmers around Madelia to save a few bucks and profit from "Third Crops," it has not taken the town off the grid or closed the local gas station. It is a tantalizing first step, though.

The bottom line is that solving the energy/pollution/climate change crisis will depend on a lot of smaller experiments, novel technology, and infrastructure changes. No single solution will provide "The Answer" for the entire problem. Ultimately, some big, costly, large-group changes will be needed.

I hope we can find our way to make them happen.


5 responses so far

Where Are They Now?

Feb 05 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

I just read yet another interview with a celebrity who remembers junior high as a horrible time when the popular kids hated them because they were nerdy/dorky/chubby/scrawny/unattractive/weird.

So all these successful people, even glittering celebrities, claim to have been unpopular geeks in their early teen years. What happened to the popular kids? Is there anyone out there who admits to being a cool kid?

We know the Marcia Bradys of the world are out there. Where are they?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

5 responses so far

Happy Groundhog Day

Feb 02 2012 Published by under Wackaloonacy

Somewhere back east, a long-suffering groundhog has been dragged out to assess the state of his shadow in a completely useless weather prediction. In OKC, the predicted high today is 70. If we have 6 more weeks of this winter, I am all for it.

As I have mused about this holiday, a number of random thoughts crossed in my brain, leading to this post.

First, I have always dreamed of winning an Oscar. Never mind that I came out of the womb with a scientific bent, or that I never pursued the dramatic arts or anything vaguely related to film (unless you count that Star Trek spoof a bunch of us filmed with a super 8 camera when we were 10 or 11 years old). I have long dreamed of standing on that stage thanking the many who made my triumph possible. I would be impeccably dressed and accessorized. They would let me keep the shoes.

Click for source

If I ever get around to making that movie, I have decided that this holiday, Groundhog Day, will feature prominently in it.

To understand why, I will point you to the Vanity Fair post from one  year ago, The Top 10 Groundhog Day Movies.

Breaking into that list looks possible, even probable. Sometimes you have to aim low.


4 responses so far

« Newer posts