From the all-too-rare genre of mathematical-political satire: Using Metadata to find Paul Revere. Highlighting for the uninitiated just how much actual information is really contained in even a wee sliver of the so-called metadata we smear all over the digital universe in our wake. Applied to the Founding Fathers.
Refining metal ores is one of those things that’s really, really hard to do without emitting a huge amount of greenhouse gasses. The energy sources behind our material economies are not as easily substitutable with renewables, because what they often require is extreme heat, and sometimes the carbon itself (in the case of steelmaking and concrete). Researchers at MIT are looking at a way of directly refining molten iron oxide directly into pure iron electrolytically that results in very pure iron, and virtually no emissions, and it might work for other oxide refining processes as well.
A fairly exhaustive accounting of the water embodied in various crop products in a 2011 paper by Mekonnen and Hoekstra. For each kg of rice, 14,000 liters of water. For each kg of beans, 5000 liters of water. Wow.
A fun look at our transition to a Gattaca style future, through the lens of an evildoer, designing a customized pathogen meant to kill only the President, using the same tools that can be used to target a particular cancer with a viral drug delivery mechanism. How quickly will these tools be democratized? Is secrecy or transparency the better route to countermeasures? The Wikileaks cables revealed top-level diplomatic directives to collect the DNA of world leaders. For what purpose? Is it possible for anyone to keep their genome private?
A Love Story And A Clearance Sale, musings of an arctic sea ice researcher on the fact that he will probably outlive the object of his professional affections. A minimum of zero sea ice appears likely between 2015 and 2020, and models suggest that once you get to a minimum of zero, the ice-free season is likely to expand quickly, with significant impacts to northern hemisphere weather patterns.
It turns out that there’s a rare variant of a gene involved in Alzheimer’s Disease that protects the carriers against age-related cognitive decline. It even, apparently, protects against other known genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s. This is totally the kind of thing I can imagine parents paying big bucks to have inserted into their kids — rare genes that already exist in the broader population, that confer disease resistance or other advantages, but which haven’t had time to become prevalent under natural selection, or which confer an advantage that won’t have obvious reproductive consequences. We’re going to start accumulating a library of these potential genetic revisions and, I suspect, within a couple of decades, making sure that our descendants carry them disproportionately.
The wet side of Greenland. Apparently almost the entire Greenland ice sheet, including the summit, are experiencing above-freezing temperatures this year, with ice sheet albedos at an all time low, leading to a dramatic increase in meltwater flow, doubling previous flow records in some rivers. Yikes!
A short literature review on the connection between the present fires and heat, and climate change. No individual local weather event can be reliably pinned to climate change, but the probability of a winter and spring like the ones we’ve had in 2012 without climate change are very low. We are living in a different world now, and we don’t know how it’s going to work.
A reporter from Bloomberg joins the PGP, only to discover that he carries a rare and potentially pathogenic acquired mutation, found in people with blood disorders. He doesn’t know how to deal with it, and neither do the doctors, really. Which is half of what this study is all about. What do we need to learn as a society to deal with knowing our sequences? A lot, I’m guessing.