All posts by Rob

Basket Stinkhorn, Stone Man Syndrome, Island Paternalism


The whole unfurling happens in about 15 minutes according to Taylor Lockwood. Phallus indusiatus or the “basket stinkhorn” is an edible, cultivated delicacy in parts of Asia. The brown tip includes a sticky mass of spores or gleba that smells like carrion in order to attract flies for spore dispersal.

Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva is a rare genetic disorder that causes soft tissue to become ossified or transform into bone. Sometimes called “Stone Man Syndrome”, the ossification is typically induced by trauma so removal of the excess bone worsens the condition. The rate of misdiagnosis is estimated at 80% and there is currently no treatment.

Niihau is a private Hawaiian island also home to 130 native Hawaiians. A European purchased the island in 1864 and passed private ownership down to family. The owners limited contact to the outside world for 150 years, hence its nickname “The Forbidden Isle.” Recently, limited tourism has been allowed to the island but the economy remains strictly controlled by the owners.

A Tennis Court in Your Lungs, New China Islands, Omega 3 Conversion

Surface area in the lungs roughly equivalent to a tennis court is required to provide sufficient oxygenation to sustain the human body. 300 million alveoli (0.3 mm diameter “bubbles”) provide this function together with lipoprotein-based surfactants to prevent all those little bubbles from collapsing. Only mammals have pulmonary alveoli.

A small study of young adult males concluded they convert ALA to DHA and EPA omega 3s at 8% and 4% efficiency. A similar study in young women found 21% and 9% conversion rates. The difference is possibly due to estrogen.

The government of China is building new islands in the South China Sea. One site named Johnson South Reef is also claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam. In 1988, China and Vietnam fought a skirmish over the reef that left 77 Vietnamese soldiers dead.

Crypto, Germans & Spanish in Britain, Fenestrae

In the spirit of Today I Learned on reddit, here are some interesting things I learned today:

Cryptosporidium spp. are a genus of common parasitic protozoa that cause intestinal, tracheal, or pulmonary cryptosporidiosis or “crypto.” It is so common the FDA estimates 80% of the US population has been infected at least once in their lifetime. The most common symptom in healthy adults is watery diarrhea lasting 2 – 4 days. There is no known effective treatment. Immunocompromised individuals may have crypto for life and it may contribute to death. Crytpo is not to be confused with cryptococcosis, a different fungal parasitic disease more common in the tropics. Cryptosporidium spp. exhibit a similar life cycle to the Plasmodium spp. that cause malaria, called the Apicomplexan life cycle.

Germans and Spanish in Britain
A German ascended the British throne in 1714. His reign led to the birth of the modern cabinet system with the first Prime Minister of Great Britain. Also during his reign, Spain briefly invaded Scotland.

Source: Filtration Membrane
Source: Filtration Membrane

Fenestrae is Latin for windows. In histology it is used to describe small pores in endothelial cells of capillaries that allow for rapid exchange of molecules. Fenestrated capillaries are notable for the functioning of the glomerulus that performs the first step in filtering of the blood and intestinal villi that absorb nutrients.

Enable Multiwindow in Android

I was disappointed to find Android only natively supports one full screen window at a time. The Nexus 10 can handle multitasking yet Google has stubbornly refused to add it. Some Samsung devices and the Paranoid ROM (recently dropped apparently) feature their own implementations of multi-window support as well as some builds of OmniROM (but not the Nexus 10 builds). Luckily a few developers have created Xposed modules that allow for running multiple windows at once for any ROM or Android device. Unfortunately, it’s not a very straightforward process but after a bit of tinkering I was able to get it up and running. Root is required to install the Xposed framework but this will work on any ROM including stock. If you need to root I recommend the Nexus Root Toolkit, which will do it safely with a few clicks.

Setup multi-window mode in Android:

  1. Install the Xposed framework apk, which allows system modification without rebuilding your ROM (root required as well as “allow install from unknown sources” option)
  2. Load Xposed framework up, select Setup then Install
  3. Reboot
  4. Load the Xposed framework app, select Download up top, search for the XHaloFloatingWindow module, select Versions up top then the Download button for the latest version of the module
  5. Repeat above procedure to download the FixVisibilityOfMultipleNonFullscreenActivities module in Xposed (required for most but not all devices to fix an Android bug that prevents multiple windows on screen at once, Nexus 10 requires it)
  6. While still in Xposed, select the Modules tab up top then enable both modules
  7. If you installed the SwipeBack Xposed module be sure to uninstall it by long pressing it in the Modules tab of Xposed (for some reason it’s incompatible with multi-window)
  8. Open your web browser and get the MultiWindowSidebar apk (look at bottom attachment of that forum post) then install
  9. Reboot one final time
  10. Enjoy your new multitasking powers!

America Aflame

Billed as the “first new interpretation of the Civil War era in a generation,” David Goldfield’s America Aflame certainly takes a more critical and nuanced look at the war than my high school textbooks did. I was basically taught the war was a necessary evil to end slavery because whites in the South just weren’t educated enough to understand that slavery was wrong. During Reconstruction the government did everything it could to help former slaves and rebuild the south. Mistreatment of African Americans persisted in the South until Martin Luther King Jr. came along and educated us all.

Goldfield begins with the question: why was the United States the only country in the world that needed a war to end slavery? The answer is of course complex. But Goldfield’s novel contribution is exploring the influence of the rise of evangelical Christianity on the radicalization of the political sphere required for fellow citizens to go to war against each other. He goes in depth on the role this new breed of Christianity played with its all or nothing thinking and active “redeeming” of this world. Using a plethora of primary sources (almost 100 pages of just endnotes), Goldfield is critical of the extremism of both abolitionists and pro-slavery whites for making nonviolent political solutions unfeasible and cheering on the march to an utterly horrific war that many of them later regretted. Goldfield’s brings a breath of fresh air by not taking sides in his historical accounts.

But America Aflame is not just about the Civil War. It’s a window into the seminal period that created the United States we know today. Rather than a mere listing of chronological events related to the war, the book is more a story telling of the 19th century. This is the era of westward expansion, Indian wars, gold rushes, oil booms, transcontinental communication and transport, industrial monopolies, explosive growth of federal power, Irish and German immigration, nativist politics, and the rise of the middle class. Goldfield’s narrative style kept me engaged through all 533 pages with diary entries, newspaper articles, literature (particularly Walt Wiltman’s poetry), as well as excerpts from other primary sources. I truly felt as if I were there, receiving an excellent picture of the personal sentiments as well as overall trends of 19th century America. Thank you David Goldfield!

The future is still unwritten

As 2013 arrives, I recently had a speculative discussion with some friends about what lies ahead. Will it be business as usual? What changes might we see? My thoughts are these are interesting times to be alive!

Productivity increases yet wages decline when adjusted for inflation.

For the past 30 years we’ve seen some underlying economic trends that I think will continue, namely decreasing real wages for goods-producing workers (i.e. the real economy that produces things like food not pseudo goods like improving search time for pornography), increasing inequality, and increasing cost of energy as well as other necessities. As greed increases and debt can no longer finance social benefits, the boomers are the last generation to be more materially well off from their parents. Pension? What’s that? I would expect increased political instability with a breakdown in the social contract and ruling consensus among elites.

Increasing cost of consumer goods and services.

There could be many diversions like the massive debt bubble of the 90s and 00s or the current boom in unconventional oil, which is the reason North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. The IEA, who said conventional oil production peaked in 2006, now says the US will return to the foremost hydrocarbon producer by 2020 due to previously unrecoverable gas and shale deposits. The caveat the likes of the WSJ forgot to report is the same IEA report predicts by 2036 we’ll be back to 2012 production levels.

Innovations can only delay the inevitable: that we will eventually have to transition from a fossil fuel based economy and culture. As a whole the boomers and Gen Xers seem to have made it clear they will not give up their God given right to transfer all the ancient underground carbon to the atmosphere as soon as technically possible. The fact no one has a good plan B after the stuff becomes scarce is incredible to me. I don’t see how the American Empire can survive this, as it was our oil wealth and geographic isolation from WWII that initially created American global hegemony. The writing is on the wall but who knows exactly when the empire will fall. As with Rome, I doubt it can be traced to a single date. But within my lifetime I see a fundamental shift in business as usual.

It looks like my generation will mainly be the ones forced to deal with 200 years of kicking various cans down the road. Increased ecological education seems to have paid off somewhat with my peers (I was taught about global warming and recycling in grade school). At least there seems to be more awareness and support on average for experimenting with “costly” alternative energies. But of course it’s all framed in the same manner of continuing extractive relationships and current levels of consumption.

The outlook for biodiversity is so grim I don’t even want to think about it. I am very disheartened as one who loves natural beauty and believes in the intrinsic value of all living organisms. When will the Holocene Extinction cease? Meager set-asides for conservation seems hardly a sufficient response.

Map of the known universe
Map of the universe

On the bright side there is an amazing amount of innovations, interesting art and experimentation in new culture going on right now. Every year we learn more about our planet, solar system, galaxy, and universe. Our current scientific models began to show their limits as we discover 84% of the matter in the observable universe is dark matter, of unexplainable composition. Perhaps it is the multiverse? Further shattering previous beliefs, NASA now estimates 500 million planets outside our solar system reside in a habitable zone where carbon-based life could theoretically evolve. Discovering life on one of these exoplanets appears to be highly probable, with some saying a mathematical certainty. And the constant shifting of our assumptions continues…

We are born into a world already made and carry the baggage of our ancestors. However, I ultimately believe the future is more like an ongoing yet unfinished play. We are given a role and thrown into a scene. How we play this is up to us.

Fungi to dye for

I’ve been lucky enough to attend the Fall 2012 Plants and Fungi at ASHH. I’m learning much with this great intro class and was thrilled to expand my horizons with natural dyeing last week. I found DIY dyeing a great way to re-purpose stained clothing as well as a totally new use/relationship with plants I never previously considered.

Word is going around that the gracious Arleen Bessette will soon do a dyeing with mushrooms workshop. In the meantime, she sent along this list of species to look out for:

Phaeolus schweinitzii, dyer’s polypore
Phaeolus schweinitzii, dyer’s polypore
Cortinarius semisanguineus
Cortinarius semisanguineus
Tapinella atrotomentosa, velvet roll-rim or velvet-footed pax
Tapinella atrotomentosa, velvet roll-rim or velvet-footed pax
Hydnellum spp., tooth fungi
Hapalopilus nidulans, cinnamon bracket – particularly good dyer

To preserve for dyeing, thoroughly dry, place in zip-lock bags, and put into the freezer for 2 weeks minimum. Old, very mature specimens are good.

Sumac, goldenrod, and iron from rusty nails = green