Tips on clean energy from the victims themselves

Image from Biowave

How Nature is Making Us Smarter
by Randy Rieland (original blog post here)

Ever since my wife and I bought a cottage near the Shenandoah Mountains in Virginia I’ve noticed that when I’m out in the country, I’m much more likely to (a) bring up snakes in conversation and (b) spend a great deal of time staring at butterflies and spider webs.

While so many things said to be awesome aren’t even close, much of what I see out there on a daily basis actually is. Or as the scientist Janine Benyus put it in her popular TED talk, it’s like being “surrounded by genius.”

Benyus was referring to nature, the world’s greatest headline act. She went on to talk about biomimicry, the burgeoning science of learning from nature to develop technology. Most people know that burrs on a dog’s coat was the inspiration for Velcro and that the swimsuits worn by Michael Phelps and others at the Beijing Olympics were modeled after shark’s skin. (The suits basically turned swimmers into human fish, which wasn’t quite what the ancient Greeks had in mind. Scorned as “technology doping,” the outfits have been banned in future Olympics.)

Truth is, biomimicry is driving innovation just about anywhere you can imagine—medicine (spider webs), construction (termite mounds), bullet trains (kingfishers), self-cleaning fabrics (lotus plants).

Impressive. Yet nature could end up giving us the biggest boost where we need it most. These days we yammer on about “sustainability,” but something that’s been around a million years … now you’re talking sustainable. And we can conjure up all kinds of notions about energy efficiency, but why not steal from creatures that have been thousands of years in the making?

Here are a half dozen ways where taking our cues from nature is making us smarter about energy.

  • Bump it up: By copying the little bumps on the fins of humpback whales, engineers have been able to reduce drag on wind turbine blades by 32 percent, making them more efficient and quieter.
  • Motion slickness: An underwater system called bioWave generates power through blades that mimic the swaying motion of coral and kelp.
  • Clear the air: Two Columbia University scientists have developed a plastic “tree” that sucks way more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than the real thing.
  • Old school: By imitating schools of fish, engineers have found more efficient ways to design wind farms.
  • A wind win: Dutch engineers have designed wind turbines that look like trees and would feel right at home in a city park.
  • Jelly on a roll: A California Institute of Technology scientist has found smarter ways to capture wind and wave power by studying how jellyfish move.

Of course, nature can sometimes cause people to dream too big. Most of us would look at a dragonfly’s wing and say, “That’s some wing.” Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut looked at it and imagined a towering urban farm on New York’s Roosevelt Islandthat would make the Statue of Liberty look like a hood ornament.

And here’s today’s bonus video, watch robot flowers come to life.

Questions from the blog:
What else do you think we can copy from nature?  Where else can it make us smarter?


Chemical Castration

A South Korean law allowing the use of ‘chemical castration’ will come into effect today after it was passed in parliament a year ago.  The procedure, which involves the administration of testosterone-suppressing hormones to reduce or inhibit libido and sexual activity, is often introduced in the hope of preventing rapists and sexual offenders from repeating their crimes. Impetus for this new form of punishment came after the South Korea was beset with waves of sexual assault cases in the years leading up to 2008.

Of course, the law is not without its detractors. From the Associated Press report a year ago:

Some critics of the procedure have argued that while it may stop sex crimes, it doesn’t necessarily prevent other violent crimes. Civil liberties advocates have also called the procedure barbaric, and some papers in South Korea raised ethical concerns […]

David Benjamin, a Ph.D who is a clinical pharmacologist and forensic toxicologist at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in Boston, said hindering physically arousal may not deter mental arousal.

“Arousal is in the brain,” he said. “It transfers to a bodily function when you become aroused, but I don’t know whether there has been enough scientific research to prove that hindering a bodily function can keep you from being aroused.”

Here’s a balanced entry discussing the benefits and disadvantages of the implementing the procedure of sexual offenders but ultimately recommending it as a better alternative than a prison sentence with little effective rehabilitation.

What are your own takes regarding the procedure? Will it be an effective solution to prevent repeated sexual offences or will it backfire? Does it violate any moral or ethical concern? 

Deep Brain Stimulation

According to this ABC news report, surgeons recently carried out a deep brain stimulation surgery on musician Roger Frisch–diagnosed with essential tremorswhile he was playing the chords on the violin. The surgeons basically required Frisch to play several long notes during the procedure so that they could pinpoint the exact positions on the brain sending abnormal signals and implant the electrodes.
This might be medical technological breakthrough but would it serve as a precedent for further surgeries of a similar nature to not only correct but improve one’s brain stimulation to enhance his/her skills in some other field? Would this be ethical?

Happiness is genetic?

The video above and articles such as this Guardian (2004) and WebMD (2008) report seem to suggest that one’s mood is dependent on one’s genetic makeup to some extent.  The opening line of the article from the Guardian states how “some people are more prone than others to debilitating psychiatric disorders” simply because of variation in their brain serotonin levels.

A response from Natural News criticized such headlines as lazy journalism that thrives conveniently on sensationalism rather than the rigorous and objective pursuit of the truth.  Cheryl from 1T31 writes:

Media disinformation is widespread in the mass media. This is due to journalist only being interested in creating an impact on the public rather than publishing the truth…

[Such article publications] could lead to adverse consequences…people would stop making healthy choices…or blame their parents for giving them ‘bad’ genes.

What other forms of media disinformation can you think of and what were the implications or consequences?

Why does media disinformation occur then? What are the driving forces? How can we protect ourselves?