Category Archives: Science & Technology

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Thirsty Thursdays: exploring the wave–particle duality of writing

They say it’s a bad idea to apologize to your  readers for not writing.

“Never apologize.” That’s my motto. I mean, it’s not like I’m getting paid to write, after all!

So I make it a point not to mention it.

We know that sometimes writing does get put on the back burner for other pursuits – home repair and restoration, playing video games, binge-watching Arrow on Netflix, heavy drinking, etc. But that doesn’t mean that writing isn’t important. It’s HUGE, big enough to threaten the structural integrity of the cast iron grate on that back burner. It’s boiling over, and my tendency of late is to hope that it stays that way while I’m attending to other, somewhat less meaningful pursuits.

When I’m writing my mind is this closet that I’m always dipping into, and when I write, what I take out of the closet goes back in when I’m done with it. From time to time I would get an idea and try to find a nice spot for it in the closet. But when seasons change you might forget what’s even inside the closet; you just throw your ideas in there and shut the door again. Then one day you open the door out of some morbid curiosity and this is what greets you:

picture of a messy closet
Not my closet, but if I weren’t tidy that’s what it might look like. (Photo credit: Scott Rubin)

And yeah, there’s a whole shelf of haiku buried in that morass.

Sometimes writing acts like a wave. That’s what you went out there looking for in the first place, to just have this great big idea splash out of you onto the world. What you got, however, was much more than you expected. But that’s why we ride, isn’t it? It bears down on you with crashing, primal strength. You catch it so it can lift you up and carry you forward. You ride it out, a symbiotic force of nature. You come away from it exhilarated, and you can’t wait to catch the next one.

Sometimes writing acts like a particle. it’s just this little thing that by itself is hardly worth mentioning. But if you pump yourself up you can watch the spontaneous particle spring forth from a single atom in the gas-filled tube of your imagination, watch it bounce back and forth between the mirrored ends. You’ll see it coax other gas atoms to sacrifice just a bit of energy to release other particles to run with it, and each particle added to the run multiplies the effect until eventually that one particle has become a powerfully concentrated beam of inspiration, capable of cutting through writers’ block like nobody’s business.

Writing is a perpetual task. When you’re a writer you write for life. Even when I’m not writing, I’m writing. That’s why I never make promises when it comes to my writing: that promise would have to be delivered in perpetuity. I couldn’t do that because eventually I’d be forced to break my promise through one means or another, if you get my drift. So for me to call this post Thirsty Thursdays might invite one to infer an implicit promise that next Thursday will bring you another post called Thirsty Thursdays. I assure you that to make this assumption would be a mistake; there are no guarantees in life.

That being said, I think I’m going to try to tackle this closet.

“Help Not Wanted” — Rob’s Sunday Soliloquy

Have you ever considered that a robot might be doing your job some day?

How about your spouse’s job, or your parent’s job? What if only 1 in 100 were employed? Or 1 in 1000?

This morning I woke up to find a Planet Money podcast waiting for me on my phone. It’s called This is the End. Planet Money tends to clock in around fifteen minutes, so I cranked it up and set about making coffee. They’re talking about how jobs are going away in successive recessions and not coming back, because at the end of that recession the businesses that had to downsize for the recession is able to recover their lost productivity through automation. They begin to explore the idea of what a jobless future will look like.

I listen, I process – jobless automatically means poor, right? Because you need a job to earn money and buy at least the stuff you need to survive.

I imagine.

I can’t imagine, however, a future of widespread, abject poverty. There must be, I thought, some way for people to make money. For one thing, there’s no way a person would allow all of their friends and family to starve, or to go homeless and be beaten to death by the elements. In a way, it reminds me of my mother’s response back before the year 2000, when I told her about the government’s program to phase out analog television in favor of digital, and how we’re going to have to purchase a box for every old-style television we have that we want to watch our shows on: she said, “there’s no way they’re going to do that. They can’t do that. There would be riots in the street.”

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But there were no riots; digital TV took over without much fanfare. Sure, there might be a few analog channels yet, but the technology phased us away from the old paradigm, and now we find ourselves in this future where we really aren’t all that worried about it. We watch our shows – perhaps some of us not as obsessively as we used to, but I like to think of that as “growing up and getting in step with the real world” – and the idea of rioting doesn’t even enter my mind.

I do, however, remember a certain amount of disgust over my inability to pick up digital signals no matter where I was. The television industry had failed to provide a viable replacement for analog TV, but at that point I felt like the point was moot anyway; I already had access to much better content, because guess what? Netflix had started this streaming video service that actually worked pretty well. In seamless fashion, our “revolutionary” snail-mail DVD rental service stepped in right when a lot of us needed them, and we haven’t looked back since.

So who or what is going to step in for employment?

One of Planet Money’s guests for today’s show is Andrew McAfee. He’s an associate director at MIT who studies how information technology affects business. They asked him how this jobless future might work, and what it would look like, and guess what?

He said it makes his head hurts to think about it.

No kidding, right?

Forty years out in this “ridiculously abundant economy” McAfee says that “[w]e’re going to be freed from want and from privation. . . . However, in that economy do we have prices? Do we have money? If so, how do you get that money, because you don’t really have a job in that economy; there aren’t very many of what we used to consider jobs, and that was the way we distributed the money you could use to buy things, and that system . . . works really, really, well.”

That’s when it hit me: we’re all going to be Muppets.

Bear with me for a moment here.

When you strip it down to the studs the only way to “make” money is to create value for someone else, or by extension, for society at large. When we create value, the money seems to roll in all by itself because we’re used to performing and they’re used to paying for it . . . so what’s left when a massive paradigm shift has taken that assumption and turned it on its head?

I have an idea – how about we go wherever we want and do something we enjoy?

I know it all sounds kind of pie-in-the-sky, but this seems like it could be the Star Trek future coming at us fairly fast: an abundant economy, no want or privation, i.e. no real need for money. So why worry about money?

Ding!

It’s like the old TV, we don’t need it anymore so just let it go.

Money? Psht! What’s that?

So what do you do?

The answer to that is, you live your life the way you want. In a future where the work is taken care of and there’s no need to provide the basic needs for yourself or your family, you’re free to pursue the things that interest you. Every person will find their talent and fit in where they can do the most good, not because they’re forced to by the economic model of the day, but because they want to, and eventually because that’s what they love to do. This transcends doing right by the family, and instead places the individual in a position of responsibility to the society as a whole.

(Image credit: Wikipedia)

Because of this, people will probably still entertain. People will probably still write and create art, and they will certainly explore worlds without and within. They’ll research, study, and innovate. They will push the boundaries of science and philosophy ever outward, because we love to do that. We were made for that. We’re insatiable for it. The people of the future will, in fact, create value by being good and happy citizens who have the leisure to make society a better place by just . . . having fun.

I know it’s hard to imagine, but it’s a lot easier to believe than thinking that in a world where robots do all of our work, we’re left out in the cold to suffer with scant means; because that would be a world torn apart by war – a neo-luddite war against the machines and the corporate oligarchy that use them to displace the masses: those who will stop at nothing to tear the whole system apart and build a new world where they will be free to do it all over again.

That might make an interesting movie, however.

Of course the world of the future will look alien and outlandish to us – do you think our parents at our age even dreamed that we would have the things we have today – the cell phones, the Internet, driverless cars? In that light, some skepticism on the part of pretty much everyone is understandable when someone says that someday we will be largely unemployed and yet everyone will be happy and money will truly be no object.

It’s like saying we’ll have tigers for pets and they won’t eat us alive.

But then again, why should they?


This is the End | Planet Money

If you like audio drama, I also highly recommend listening to The Last Job, an audio play by the PRX podcast The Truth, in collaboration with Planet Money.

Hold the Crickets?

It’s been a busy weekend!

I had Friday off, and I managed to get quite a bit done! I helped move new couches into our house; orchestrate a fiasco that caused Mme. Ross to realize that we were never going to get the old couch into the upstairs den; then I helped get rid of the old couches. They went to a nice couple who just moved here from Montana, who thought fee couches were pretty cool. I got all the carpeting and padding that Mme. Ross tore up from the first floor and stairs of our house picked up from the side of the house where she had put it and staged it in one of the garage doors to be dragged out the night before garbage day on our upcoming Spring cleaning week. Today, we worked together to get the windows in our living room to open for the first time since we moved in; I even got to go running both Friday and Saturday, and I did all of this while listening to podcasts.

🙂  <– This smiley face means I’m happy.

Some of my to-dos got moved, however. Taking down the DirecTV dish on our roof? I’m pretty sure I can pay someone else to do that and not risk falling to my untimely demise. Cutting back the lilac by the lamppost? Well . . . it turns out Mme. Ross agrees that it doesn’t need to be so big. Next week, I’m buying a chainsaw and taking that f***er down a few notches.

We think of Spring as a time to organize, rearrange, open the curtains and let the sunlight do some disinfecting for us; but also it’s a time to take out the old and bring in the new. For example, our new couches were someone’s old couches. Even though they were beautiful, they could not have gone to waste and we were glad to buy them for a song. We passed down our booger-encrusted couches to someone who was glad to take them for free.

But what happens when something hits the end of the line?

That’s what they made Spring cleanup week for, isn’t it? We put everything on the curb that we’re not allowed to put out during the rest of the year (even if some of us do) and it gets carried off to the dump. Our carpet is a great example of that. I hate carpet with a passion — although it feels great on the toes — because it’s got a way of trapping dirt, dust, and allergens over time. If you wanted proof of that then you should have seen the amount of dirt, dust, and sand that was built up underneath those carpets when Mme. Ross tore them out; the sheer volume of it could have choked an elephant.

So of course it’s getting thrown out. Part of me feels guilty about that because energy was put into making the carpet, and now it’s going to be buried for who knows how long, until natural geological forces can return it to the Earth (arguably, the padding was breaking down at a faster rate.)

Remember when our carbon footprint was a big deal? It’s something that picked up less than a decade ago — they talked about how much energy it took to create this, that, and the other thing, and how our lives would be measured in that — how the costs we paid would be measured in that. Back then, UPS started charging their customers a surcharge to offset their carbon footprint because of that, but today I’m suddenly wondering where all that hubbub went because of a podcast I had been listening to.

It was Science Friday, PRI’s weekly rundown of science news, hosted by Ira Flatow. If you’ve seen that episode of The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon makes an ass of himself on public radio, this is the show I’m referring to. Ira ends the second hour of this week’s episode with this little idea to chew on:

. . . the California drought is forcing . . . all of us who enjoy their produce to think about how our eating habits might affect the water situation out west, because that hamburger you’re having tonight? It costs about 1,700 gallons of water per pound of protein. You’d rather switch to a porkchop? 700 gallons a pound. “Ah, but I’m going to go with a chicken, that’s gotta be better.” Well, a little bit: 250 gallons a pound. And if you think vegetarian sources of protein are much better, those chickpeas used to make your falafel and hummus? They suck up 1,200 gallons of water per pound of protein. . . . I want to propose a much more water-friendly option . . crickets, checking in at just one gallon of water per pound.

As it turns out, there’s a new concept on the horizon. One that’s already being formulated and that will soon be foisted upon us as the new metric that we should be watching closely. It’s the new conservation: forget turning your lights off when you leave, since you have LED light bulbs. Forget turning off your computer or your TV, since they will automatically go to sleep. Now, we have to be concerned about our use of water.

I’m not making fun of this issue: it takes a lot of water for one person to live a modern life, and if you were to see how much water you actually use, you might question how it is that you use so much more than that. Do you let the water run while you’re lathering your hands with soap? Does every opening of the commode invite a flush at the end? Do you wash out your recyclables? (Yes, you should!) Our days are punctuated with brief hits of water use, and they add up. But the water footprint also incorporates the hidden water costs of our consumption.

Here’s one question: is this sensationalized? I mean sure, it’s a public radio show and it’s science news. But consider the number that Ira gave us for a hamburger: 1,700 gallons per pound of protein. Let’s consider that the typical burger that any American wants to eat (except me, because I tend to eat twice as much) is a quarter-pound, that should be more like 425 gallons. Right?
English: Hamburger.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, consider this: a quarter pound of hamburger is around 30 grams of protein.  When you consider the words “per pound of protein”, then you might be encouraged to do the math: 30 grams is about .064 pounds, times 1,700 gallons is more like 109 gallons of water.

What a relief, right? That’s only enough water to fill two bath tubs!

Let’s just say that the more processing a product requires, the more water it uses, and if you’re the end user then it’s on you. But meat and dairy are special, because they come from living organisms that require water the same way that we do. This is not to put you off your steak, of course, but it’s estimated that on the planetary scale, consuming animal products makes up around 25% of our water footprint. Most of that is actually used to make the feed for those animals.

Insects food stall in Bangkok, Thailand
Insects food stall in Bangkok, Thailand (Image credit: Wikiped

But hey, if we turn to entomophagy, we could save a whole bunch of water!

Where did I get robbed? Was it being brought up in a steak-and-chicken culture? Was it being taught that insects were disgusting and unclean? I ask, because it turns out that around 80% of the world’s population eats over a thousand species of insects!

Consider this a fair warning: they’ve been talking about eating insects for years. This really isn’t anything new. Heck, some of you may have tried some, even if it’s just chocolate-covered grasshoppers or something. But now it looks like they plan to ramp it up. If it came down to paying something like fifty dollars for a steak, would you turn to a diet of scorpions and cockroaches?

Personally, I’d go vegetarian.


The hidden water resource use behind meat and dairy | Arjen Y. Hoekstra

Insects could be the key to meeting food needs of growing global population | Damian Carrington

Daily Haiku 2014.09.11 —

(Image credit: Abaconda Management Group)

flocking sheep
seek out Apple stores
upgrade time

 


 

Well. It’s that time of year again. I find myself wrapped up in thought about the inevitable consequences of the new round of “Device Wars”. I’m taking a serious look at everything I believe, and I’m asking myself the hard questions. I have the opportunity to upgrade my phone in a month and a half, and now there’s this new iPhone that’s about to hit the stores. I told myself that I really wanted to see a bigger iPhone. The new iPhone 6 comes in two sizes, both bigger than the iPhone 5. I wanted a faster processor and better specs that I know could have been delivered with my current phone. Sure, the next iPhone 6 has them.

In fact, the iPhone 6 has stuff that will wrap people around the corners of Apple stores for weeks, congesting the most popular blocks of big cities all over the country, while each employee in the Microsoft Store next door plans his or her disguise for when they get into line after work. Because honestly, we don’t know jack about Windows Phones, and that’s typical.

I was a Zune user back in the day. I had a regular Zune, and then I had a Zune HD. I loved them both because they were fabulous devices, and yet they never seemed to be able to crawl out of Apple’s shadow. Neither, I fear, shall the Windows Phone ever see the light beyond the iPhone’s penumbral cast.

With this new iPhone, I could have it all. I could shoot HDR video at 60 frames per second. I can make videos in stop-motion and slow motion. I can make secure payments with my phone (finally!) and that one has not just customers, but vendors from Wells Fargo to McDonald’s lining up as well.

The whole gamut of improvements, as well as the feature fragmentation between the two models, rightfully warrants an upgrade from my current device, but to what — another iPhone?

Maybe. Android users like to make fun of many iPhone 6 specs, quoting similar specs that were available with the Nexus 4 phone from 2012, while ignoring those things the new iPhone is either bringing to the table or doing to keep up with the mass of Android competitors. Apple is Julius Caesar in an Android senate, but it manages to hold its own, and while I know that this discussion has me looking a little hypocritical in light of my “surveillance device in every pocket” rant, but I do think it’s time I ask myself the tough question: do I want to stick with an iPhone, or do I want to make another switch to Android? My phone is nearly two years old now. It’s dinged, and dented. It’s been nearly shut in a car door and it’s been dropped in the ocean. I’m almost certain it would kill me if it could.

Coincidentally, there’s been no mention of iPhone 6 being water-resistant, let alone waterproof. Meanwhile, there are several Android phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S5, that are both water-resistant and dust-proof. That sounds like a perfect fit for an outdoor enthusiast who works in an industrial environment, but is that good enough to make a switch I’ll be in bed with for two years?

And while part of me knows that I don’t have to upgrade at all, the rest of me says I’d be stupid to think that I could possibly resist . . .

This is America, after all.

Oh, the places I’d go!

If you could go anywhere in a moment, how cool would that be?

Continue reading Oh, the places I’d go!

Daily Haiku 2014.05.03 —

(Image credit: Kainet @ Flickr)

as lighthouses,
the passions we chase
lead us home.

 



One of the things that interest me most in life is finding the ideas that create harmony between disparate ideas and people, and while it might not always seem that way, even things I put forth that seem contentious follow in that vein; take, for example, the question of “extinct” technologies — of all the technological goodies that have been lost to the past over the course of my life, which one do I miss the most? The question seems innocuous, but it’s loaded with all sorts of connotations that prompt further questioning and definition.

First: obsolescence is one thing, while extinction is another. I have two portable typewriters in my office, a light blue and white model from the 50’s or 60’s, and a black one from 1944.

Obsolete? Yes.

Extinct?

I have other things too; I’m a casual collector of the retro useful, the forgotten flotsam of old ways in faded days. Some things are tchotchkes, like three pair of old brass binoculars — two of which were added to the lot when we found them in our new house. We have a three-foot stack of vinyl records and a record player. I like to save these things because they’re links to the past, and they have a retro appeal to my senses.

In point of fact, they inspire me with their very existence.

Rather than talk about technologies that are “extinct”, maybe it’s more useful to put them in the context of their function in our lives: to play music — surely a most ubiquitous function in the modern world — we use our phones; phones that supplanted digital music players, which competed with CDs, which squeezed out cassette tapes, which trumped 8-track cassettes, which had a short run alongside vinyl records, which are just an improved vehicle over Victrola and gramophone records, which came after cylinders, and before that . . . well heck, we just sang and played instruments. If anything out of that lineup is more or less extinct, it happened to be made in the 1940’s or earlier.

Here’s the point: when I try to think of technologies in my time that have gone the way of the dodo, I think of things like VHS and cassette tapes, boomboxes, landline telephones with corded handsets, pocket calculators, laserdiscs, minidiscs, microcassettes, 5 1/4-inch floppy disks, 3 1/2 inch floppies (which weren’t floppy on the outside, you might know), cathode ray tubes (CRTs), electric typewriters, pencils, et cetera. But the thing is, what’s to miss when nothing is gone?

Think about it: all of these technologies represent things we are still doing: watching videos and movies, listening to music, communicating by voice over distance, storing data, writing essays, making music . . . anything we could call “extinct” has merely had its functions migrated to something whose function is improved in some way. In the case of vinyl records, they’re not extinct at all, but live on as a niche product for professional DJs and audiophiles. In many cases, we have seen the consolidation of these functions onto single devices: computers and mobile phones, which really shouldn’t be called phones anymore. This is a good thing, yes?

Well . . . maybe what we miss about the old things are the memories and associations we have attached to them; we grew up with them and learned with them — made them our friends in a very real and tactile way. As we progress toward a more ethereal future, with software taking up much of the work for what has previously required something physical, something real — I think we miss the touch, the smells, the sounds, and even the familiar curves, colors, and colloquial styles of the golden oldies. That’s why I like to rescue and adopt old things: they speak to me, give me ideas and familiar feelings of comfort . . . like the lighthouse in the picture above, they guide me to a safe place; back to a time when nothing was all that pressing; when you hung out and nobody’s attention was stolen by a sounding or vibrating device; when you had dozens of telephone numbers memorized, and you could pick up the phone and dial someone without even thinking about which numbers to press; when you would sit down and write a letter by hand, put in in an envelope whose flap would stick firmly down, lick the stamp and stick it to the envelope and put it in a tall blue box (not that blue box!) for the mailman to pick up . . .

Basically, a time when doing something was still a matter of craft. 

We used to be so crafty!

Putting all of these functions into a flat, rectangular chunk of matter that has just a few buttons pushes their importance into a grey area where even the very question of their existence becomes somewhat foggy. Hell, its an insult to call our old technologies extinct considering I can touch them and use them any time I want to. I refuse to call them extinct; I’ll rationalize them into something valid if I have to —

You know what I really miss? Peglegs and monacles. What the heck happened to those?

🙂

Daily Haiku 2014.05.02 —

Lone tree in lava #2
(Image credit: Ed Suominen @ Flickr)

dauntless tree —
a pioneer
breaking new ground

 


Today has been a good day. I got up and exercised, went to work, and got off at 12:00. That’s 45 hours, a nice respectable workweek, in my opinion. I came home, took a good 45-minute run in intervals of 4 minute run, 1 minute walk, then took a shower. Now it’s the weekend.

I put a little Moroccan argan oil in my hair, then some of the coconut oil hair balm my friend Zach makes at home, and worked it in real good and watched as it magically formed the comb-over I love to sport when I’m just relaxing. Now that’s good stuff. I worked some tea tree oil into the scalp on the sides and back where my hair was shorn a couple weeks ago, to keep it from drying out.

Now I’m blogging. So what could possibly go wrong now? I’m home for the weekend, and I’ve got everything under control.

Or, almost everything. Tomorrow I’m somehow under obligation to walk around a large hall when it’s probably decent outside for the sake of the March of Dimes, which I know helps raise money for prematurely born babies, only I don’t see how my presence contributes. But that’s one little fly in the ointment. On the other hand, tomorrow is free comic book day, and I’m looking forward to free comic books . . . I might even purchase a new graphic novel, we will see.

I suppose there’s something that could go wrong. The worst possible thing.

The entire Universe might explode.

That could put a little damper on things — on the other hand, what if that’s not the worst possible thing that could happen?

Coincidentally, I was listening to a podcast today while on my run: Stuff to Blow Your Mind — The Habitable Epoch. The show’s hosts (Robert and Julie) were talking about the big bang, and the mind-blowing thought of all of time and space being compressed into a singularity. Robert said something to the effect of, “there is nothing before the Big Bang.”

Then I thought, what if there was? What if there’s something outside of our Universe that we can’t observe because of the expansion of space? In the first thirty seconds after the Big Bang, the Universe expanded faster than the speed of light. Got that? Faster.

Therefore it turns out that the Universe has already exploded, and it’s going to be some time before it slows down enough — and we speed up enough — that we are able to send a probe beyond the limits of space and time.

Worst-case scenario: debunked —

and thus the adventure continues.  🙂

 

Who’s Afraid of Google?

English: Google Logo officially released on Ma...

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past fifteen years, I think you may have heard of Google. The Silicon Valley tech giant that started out with a single page and a few ideas on how to deliver better Internet search results seems to have its hands in everything these days; not just search, email, mapping, and the whole catalog, but also self-driving cars — and as it turns out, flying drones.

Yes. Google means to purchase a drone manufacturer called Titan Aerospace.

But wait – put those worst-case scenarios out of your mind; Google plans to use these drones to provide Internet service, power, and improved real-time aerial mapping — or so they say. But hey, my experience with the company over the past fifteen years and my gut tell me I can trust them more than the United States government with this technology.

This past weekend I was listening to the Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know audio podcast, wherein host Ben Bowlin suggested that a possible future of governance might rest with corporations — not in a shadowy overlord kind of way, but in a future in which we might actually want to live.

Luxembourg: powered by Google.” I thought it a little funny, but it made me wonder whether that wouldn’t be better than the system we have – the one that keeps progressing through ever more sticky pools of stagnant party-driven rhetoric instead of administering policy that benefits the nation and its people in a fair and just manner. Could Google run the federal government?

Should it? Is it possible that a well-meaning mega-
corporation, with its resource and talent pools – not to mention a single style of leadership across the board – could outperform the doddering party politics of today? Fix the federal budget and Social Security? Find a solution to address the size of our military that will satisfy people on both sides of that fence?

Could you imagine that? Creative brainstorming over foreign policy. How to deal with this country’s transgressions or that one’s dangerous pollution levels? Let’s pin a bunch of ideas and talk about it — find a synergistic solution together, something we can realistically do. Domestic policy? Hey, let’s do a round table, I’m buying the protein smoothies!

To be honest, I’m at least a little interested in hearing more about the idea. After all, who’s afraid of Google? I bet they could do a lot to help this country move forward . . . a lot more than our current President, who for all his effort can get nothing done while having to deal with the barrel of moneys that is the Senate.

What do you think? Is there a way to evolve beyond the current system of government? Do corporations seem like the logical way (whether we like it or not?) Would you vote for Google, or do you have some other corporation in mind? (Please, no United States of Wal-Mart!) Let us know in the comments!

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It’s Not Magic: Mushrooms Can Change Our Experience

In case you ever thought a haiku was something I tossed off in a moment after looking at a picture — something I composed and posted in just a few minutes, consider this:

It took me two and a half hours to write today’s haiku. Do you want to know what I learned about mushrooms while writing this haiku? Because they’re fairly amazing.

(Image credit: Didier, a.k.a. didier.bier @ Flickr)

The mushrooms growing on this cone are simply fruit — the outgrowth of a significantly less apparent organism. Like the shadowy few that stand behind the play of world politics, this organism stands in the background and performs the unseen transactions, deals with the silent partners, hides all of the secrets . . .

and the potential of its power, boy, is really what impresses me.

See the little white hairs growing at the base of the mushroom? They call that mycelium. Sometimes it’s visible, and sometimes it’s too small to see; but this is the powerhouse behind the more apparent fungus that is sometimes eaten, sometimes toxic, and often the bane of picky horticulturalists. It turns out that getting rid of mushrooms is just like plucking an apple from a tree, though, because they’re growing from mycelium that suffuses the surrounding earth. And although some find them annoying, very few mushroom varieties are parasitic, in effect feeding from live organisms; most are saprophytic, which means they live on dead or decaying material. They are the forest’s recycling system, transforming old carbon-rich organic material into fresh soil.

And oh, they get extensive. In Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, author and mushroom expert Paul Stamets describes a 2,400-acre site in Oregon that

“had a contiguous growth of mycelium before logging roads cut through it. Estimated at 1,665 football fields in size and 2,200 years old, this one fungus has killed the forest above it several times over, and in so doing has built deeper soil layers that allow the growth of ever-larger stands of trees.”

There’s a case against deforestation, am I right? Point one, nature does it for us; point two, why not just grow natural plastic and take some of that wood out of the equation?

Oh wait, did you know about the plastic?

It’s no secret that plastic is made from oil and it takes a bajillion years to break down. Everyone knows that’s a problem. Enter bioplastics: technically not plastics, but similar in behavior and function, they are newer materials that could replace plastics across entire industries. They’re environmentally friendly; they’re grown, they’re biodegradable, they’re recyclable, and they’re made from mycelium, those mats of tendrils that transport nutrients from decaying organic matter to their fungal fruit. According to Marc Gunther’s article in The Guardian Can Mushrooms Replace Plastic?

“They can produce packaging, home insulation, fiberboard for furniture, even a surfboard.”

Mushroom surfboards? Sign me up, dude!

So here’s the simple list — the upshot of why making plastics from mushrooms is an awesome idea:

  • The base material is plentiful and inexpensive — crop waste, like corn stalks, are bought from American farmers, giving them additional revenue and saving buckets of ducats over the precious oil used to make traditional plastics. Could this bring down fuel prices as well?
  • Because it’s grown and not drilled, it’s renewable.
  • Because it’s organic it can break down naturally, in effect biodegradable.
  • Because it’s biodegradable, it can help alleviate waste issues — specifically, burgeoning landfills and the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.

In addition, mycelium can be used to:

  • break down soil contaminants, such as oil and chemical spills, in a process known as mycoremediation;
  • remove contaminants like chemicals, bacteria, and heavy metals from water in a process called mycofiltration;
  • prevent soil erosion due to water runoff, which is another application of mycofiltration;
  • enhance crop yields and forest sustainability — mycoforestry;  and
  • control insect populations — mycopesticides.

I get excited about stuff like this – essentially, we could use the Earth to restore, renew, and rescue the Earth. Everything we need is right here, homegrown. And the following videos also got me excited:

Yes, I’m excited to live in a magical world where every day we move toward improving our symbiotic relationship with it. This is stewardship;

and thus your adventure may continue. Go live it.

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Eyes in the Sky

Gerald steadied the gun with both hands —
pulled the trigger —
nothing.
Again.

What the hell?
He’d just gotten it off the charger!

That’s when the toy he was trying to scan turned on, lifted straight off the table and zipped out through the door, taking that barcode with it.

“What?”

More motors started; the remainder lifted in unison, swarming out of the shop.

“Stop!” Gerald chased them out the door in time to watch the cloud of wireless video drones disappear from sight.

He swore. “Mr. Raditsch is gonna be pissed!” He stormed back, making sure to shut the door.


This flash fiction in 100 words was crafted for the M3 blog’s Flash in the Pan (gun).