Monday, December 31, 2007

Junk Mail Claims 100 Million Trees

Few things annoy me more than junk mail. It comes in piles that I throw directly into the trash, which makes me feel guilty. When I get back from a few days on the road, it’s overflowing and spilling onto my porch, which sucks. And the clincher: there doesn’t seem to be any way to stop it.

At least I thought that until happening upon the latest edition of the
Vegetarian Times.

In the magazine there’s a short clip, “Say NO to Junk Mail” which describes how damaging junk mail is for the environment and what you can do to stop it. (Sorry, no hyperlink to the piece, I couldn’t find the piece online.)

As it turns out, 100 million trees are chopped down each year to fuel the junk mail beast. According to
41pounds.org, that equates to, well, 41 pounds per adult annually. The group also claims that “junk mail produces more CO2 than 2.8 million cars.” Though they don’t explain how that CO2 comes about. (Is it the manufacturing of the junk mail, the delivery of it or a combination of both?)

Via the Vegetarian Times, I learned that 41pounds.org can stop 80 to 95 percent of junk mail by doing the dirty work of contacting junk mailers and trade groups like the Direct Marketing Association (which maintains a sort of
do-not-mail list).

Friday, December 28, 2007

Scientists Convinced Mars Had Oceans

While thumbing through Space.com’s “Best Space Discoveries of 2007,” I stumbled upon a gem that I missed this year: “Mystery Solved: Mars Had Large Oceans.”

The idea has been around since 1991 when scientists observed “lips of rock” on Mars that looked an awful lot like shorelines. But there was a catch: the “lips” weren’t smooth enough. They almost resemble mountain ranges. But a new theory explains how the smooth shorelines would have gotten so jagged.

After careful study, planetary scientists at UC Berkley found evidence that Mars “toppled over” millions of year ago. They don’t know why, but one theory is that “a massive change in the distribution of mantle” caused the toppling. However it happened, the event would have caused the once smooth shorelines to warp and bunch up, reports Space.com.

Thus far, scientists have identified two ancient shorelines stretching thousands of miles. Their size suggest oceans big enough to contain up to three-times the volume of ice in Antarctica. I’m not sure why they chose that comparison.

Where did the oceans go? Planetary scientists doubt it all evaporated into space, so they suspect “subterranean reservoirs” remain. What were the oceans made of? The article suggests water, but not whether or not it was salty.

Scientists believe the oceans disappeared about 2 billion years ago.

Astonishing Find in Mexico City: 800-Year-Old Pyramid

What’s so astonishing about this story is that a pyramid could go unnoticed in one of the world’s biggest cities. With a population of nine million, Mexico City ranks tenth among the world’s biggest. But nobody noticed an 800-year-old Aztec pyramid “in the heart of the Mexican capital,” until archeologists uncovered it this year, reported Reuters.

After destroying the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan in 1325, the Spanish conquistadors build Mexico City in its place. To this day, many Aztec ruins remain, but it amazes Pound360 that a pyramid was simply lost in the shuffle. It’s not like it was buried underground or out in the sticks. According to the Reuters piece, the pyramid ruins “are about 36 feet high” and located in the central neighborhood of Tlatelolco.

Tests may reveal the pyramid was built between 1100 and 1200. If so, that pushes the establishment of the Aztec capital back about 100 years. According to one archaeologist, “the (Aztec) timeline is going to need to be revised."

Does this mean we need to revise the date
ancient calendars predict the end of the world? If so, does this give us an extra 100 years, or was the world supposed to be wiped out a hundred years ago?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Is Cooking the Key to Human Evolution?

“Our hominid ancestors could never have eaten enough raw food to support our large, calorie-hungry brains,” according to a new feature at Scientific American. The column looks at biologist Richard Wrangham’s theory that cooking -- which allowed creatures to consume more energy-dense, softer food -- spurred human evolution.

The theory easily explains why we have smaller stomachs, less menacing teeth and larger brains than our tree-swinging cousins. Brain tissue requires a lot of energy, 22-times as much as skeletal muscle tissue.

The problem with this theory is the timing. Wrangham’s theory requires one tricky ingredient: fire. For the theory to work, Homo erectus would have had to be cooking, with fire, 1.6 to 1.9 million years ago. But there’s little evidence that human ancestors were cooking more than 500,000 years ago.

So how could human brains evolve? Some scientist suggest early hominids ate “energy-dense animal-derived foods” like bone marrow and brain tissue to fuel their own growing brains. Brains to grow brains? It’s macabre, but it makes sense.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Fight! Soy Milk vs. Cow’s Milk

What’s better for you and the environment, soy milk or cow’s milk? Let’s look at it from a nutritional and environmental standpoint.

Nutritionally speaking, it’s pretty much a toss up, according to
an article I found at a random website (sorry I couldn’t do better, but there’s very little out there on this subject). Cow has an edge in protein (3.34g per cup compared to soy’s 1.91g), but soy milk is lower in calories (33 compared to 61 calories). Soy has no cholesterol compared to cow’s 14mg, and it has 1.3g of fiber whereas cow has none. But milk has slightly more (.2g) essential amino acids. Milk also has (a little) more calcium.

At “GoAskAlice.com,” (Alice, I presume)
suggests that, “Fortified soy milk provides almost the same dietary value as cow milk.” So where nature makes soy and cow milk different, man has evened the score (to compete in the marketplace, of course).

Speaking of markets, profit and all that, Newstarget.com’s Mike Adams
doesn’t like soy milk because it’s gotten too commercial. Adams blames “profit-seeking corporations” for loading supermarket-grade soy milk with sugar leaving it “nutritionally inferior.” He also gripes about farmers using genetically modified soy beans (Why is that bad? Seriously?) and the clearing of rainforests to plant crops.

For the record, consider that cows have to eat and drink something to make milk. And
from what I understand, it takes ten plant calories (which may very well come from clear-cut rainforests) to make one animal calorie. In other words, a cow needs to eat 610 calories of plants to make one 61-calorie serving of milk. Thus, compared to soy, it would take ten-times the crop land to get the same amount of cow milk.

Considering that, it’s not hard to believe
it takes more than a thousand gallons of water to yield one gallon of milk.

Back to our friend Mike Adams, he doesn’t like cow’s milk either. Aside from being “alarmingly high in pus,” pasteurization destroys “beneficial microorganisms” and alters its fat in a way that “ultimately harms the human cardiovascular system.”

What does Mikey like? Fermented raw milk (high in probiotics) and raw almond milk (rich in cancer-fighting phytonutrients).

One other thing, from that random article referenced earlier, Pound360 learned that soy milk appears to have an edge in certain amino acids (arginine for boosting the immune system, alanine for breaking down sugar and aspartic for boosting stamina) and it has more thiamin, niacin, magnesium (for absorbing calcium), copper (for bone formation) and manganese (for storing iron, neural transmission and protein metabolism).

Water, Turkey and Brain Myths Challenged Again

The NY Times “Well” blog is taking on “Medical Myths Even Doctors Believe.” Among them, we find that you don’t need eight glasses of water per day (you get enough water through the foods you eat and drinks like coffee, orange juice), dim light doesn’t ruin your eyesight (it just makes eyes tired) and shaving doesn’t cause hair to grow back more vigorously (we’ve actually known that since studies on the subject in 1928).

So why do these myths persist? The Times doesn’t get into that, but I’d guess they nag on because they seem to make so much sense. And often times, there’s a kernel of truth in there that buoys the nonsense.

For example, the Times tackles the myth of turkey making you drowsy (
which we’ve discussed in this blog previously). Sure, you get tired after eating turkey. But think of the times you normally eat it. Holiday meals, right? It’s not the turkey it’s the tremendous amount of energy your body needs to focus on digestion that’s making you tired.

In the Times article, they explain there’s just as much tryptophan in turkey as beef or chicken. Also, there’s more of the amino acid in cheese and pork.

Is Chocolate Really a Health Food?

You’ve no doubt heard of studies showing the health benefits of chocolate. It can make you smarter, reduces blood pressure, and more. But a recent editorial at the Lancet tries to keep chocolate off the health food shelf at the supermarket.

I would link directly to the article, but you have to have a subscription or something to see it, so you can
read about the article at the NY Times.

At the Times, we learn that the Lancet points out, “the very thing that makes chocolate good for you -- the antioxidants called flavanols -- also make chocolate taste bitter.” Therefore, candy makers pull most of the flavanols out of milk chocolate and all of them out of white chocolate.

But where in any of the recent studies has anyone said anything about eating a regular Hershey’s milk chocolate bar to lower blood pressure? It’s always been about eating dark chocolate. And in moderation, of course. We get that chocolate is high in calories and fat. And it’s not a substitute for doing some sit-ups and taking a jog.

Also described in the NY Times piece, a new study shows “measurable improvements in blood flow and vascular function and less clotting” among heart patients taking dark chocolate.

Pound360 isn’t pulling dark chocolate from the menu anytime soon.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Sustainable Bio-fuel Source Slowly Emerges: Algae

My skepticism of biofuels as an answer to the globe’s fossil fuel dependency is pretty well documented in this blog. But I’m bullish on the potential of a (kind of) new candidate. Not switch grass, sugar beets or sugarcane: it’s algae. Yes, green, cold, slimy algae.

In a recent National Geographic feature, “
Green Dreams,” I found that algae devours CO2 from smokestacks and cranks out 5,000 gallons of biofuel per acre annually. That compares to 300 gallons of biofuel from an acre of corn each year.

Algae’s not really a new biofuel candidate. The government was researching the slime as a fuel source back in the 90s, but abandoned it because it was so expensive,
reports New Scientist.

But with oil around $100 a barrel, cost is suddenly not so much an issue. In fact, according to New Scientist, a good ol’ fashion fossil fuel company, Shell, is set to begin production of diesel from algae.

Controversy Sparks Over Whale Lineage

What’s the missing link between sea-faring mammals, called cataceans (like whales, dolphins) and land mammals? Conventional wisdom suggests its hippo-like creatures. But recent fossil findings recommend that a “deer-like animal roughly the size of a fox or raccoon,” is the link. This according to a widely reported study by the Ohio Universities College of Medicine and Pharmacy (this blog posting draws quotes, sources a report at Scientific American.)

The long extinct “deer-like” animal, dubbed “Indohyus,” shares a number of unique skeletal characteristics with cataceans. For example, particularly dense limb bones (which could serve as ballast) and a specialized inner ear structure that helps cataceans hear underwater.

Why would these adaptations evolve in a terrestrial creature? Some researchers suggest they took to the water to escape predators.

But the theory isn’t without skeptics. Referring to the indohyus fossils, one expert said, “To suggest that this fossil somehow is closer than hippos, that's a big deal -- I'm just not convinced.” According to critics, the data so far is “incomplete.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

‘Death Star Galaxy’ Attacks Neighbor

In a rare discovery, astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics “witnessed a supermassive black hole blasting its galactic neighbor with a deadly beam of energy,” reports Space.com.

It’s not unusual for a black hole to spew massive, high-energy beams with nasty radiation in the form of Gamma and X-Rays traveling at the speed of light. But it’s incredibly rare for that beam to spray a galaxy.

On the dark side, the beam may be vaporizing the radiation-blocking ozone layer of Earth-like planets, thus wiping out all surface life. However, the beam may be compressing otherwise inert interstellar gases, the first step in creating stars, which ultimately give life.

The otherwise unnamed “death star galaxy” is part of the 3C321 system, and it’s only been shooting its deadly beam for about 1 million years (merely a few minutes in cosmological time). Experts estimate the beam will continue to fire for another 10 to 100 million years.

Is recycling a scam?

A story brought to my attention by a friend of mine has me question what happens to my sack of recyclables after I dump it in the blue recycling bin behind my apartment.

According to
a piece in the LA Times, “recycling” firm Mission Fiber seems to be sitting on recyclables rather than actually recycling it. So much of it has piled up that some spontaneously erupts in flames, and the locals affectionately refer to the mounds of recyclables as “rat piles.” Rather than being converted back into newsprint or water bottles, the recyclable material is “moldering” and turning to “soggy compost,” reports the LA Times.

Of course, Mission Fiber is one recycling firm. And the problem could simply be that the company is mismanaged. But what if there’s a bigger issue at work? What if there simply isn’t enough demand for recyclable material? Instead of hustling to sort and recycle their recyclables, Mission Fiber is instead trucking some of the material to landfills.

What if consumers aren’t willing to pay premium prices for goods made of, or packaged in, recyclables? If that’s the case, then all the recycling in the world won’t change how much material ends up in landfills.

I tried to find an article online that investigates how much of the material in a recycling bin makes it back to store shelves, but I couldn’t find anything.

I did find
a piece at NPR essay explaining about half of Los Angeles’ recyclables go to local sorting facilities, while the other half goes to sorters overseas (mostly in the Philippines and China). From these facilities, “they sell it to companies who make new stuff out of old.” All of it? Not if it goes to Mission Fiber.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

‘Grisly’ Pig Slaughter Technique Suspect in Rare Illness Mystery

At least eleven slaughterhouse workers have fallen ill this year with a rare immune disorder called “chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy” (CIDP) in Minnesota, reports Wired (by way of AP). One possible cause: inhaling the vaporized brains of slaughtered pigs. Yeah. Seriously.

All of the victims worked at the “head table” of the Quality Pork Processors plant in Austin, Minnesota. The head table is not where the executives plot company strategy. Instead, it’s the spot where pig’s severed heads are sliced, hacked and chopped (at a rate of 1,100 per hour) before a shot of compressed air to the front of the skull sends brain matter spilling out the back.

The “grisly practice” may “turn some brain matter into a mist that could be inhaled by workers,” reports Wired. This could trigger an acute, persistent immune response that eventually leads to CIDP.

Shocking New Stats Show ‘Arctic is Screaming’

The latest numbers suggest we’re approaching the point of no return on global warming. This according to a new piece at the Indianapolis Times.

In the arctic this summer, we lost 552 billion tons of ice. That’s 15 percent more than normal, the worst ever recorded and 12 percent more than the previous record. Enough water melted in Antarctica to cover Washington DC in water a half-mile deep.

The rapid melting has prompted some scientists to darken their predictions for an ice-free arctic. One group suggests ice-free summers by 2012. Another says ice will be gone entirely by 2040.

So what?

For one, an ice-free arctic will probably weaken Arctic blasts that bring moisture to the United States. Also, sea ice reflects 80 percent of the sun’s heat, thereby cooling the arctic. Water on the other hand absorbs 90 percent of the heat. “Warmer oceans then lead to more melting.”

Another way climate change eventually starts driving itself is when the permafrost just beyond the arctic (especially in Russia and Canada) starts to melt. “As the Earth warms, greenhouse gases once stuck in the long-frozen soil are bubbling into the atmosphere,”
reported USA Today last year.

Fasting Shown to Slash Heart Disease

People who fast once a month have a 40 percent reduced risk of clogged arteries according to a University of Utah Study (reported here by Wired).

One of two things could be going on here. On the one hand, it could be that fasting triggers some type of beneficial activity in the body. The other, people that fast could simply be more health conscious and take better care of themselves. Then again, it could be a combination of the two.

The Wired piece doesn’t really go into the physiological benefits of fasting.

However, it does mention that, “fasting may provide brief rests that resensitize [insulin-producing] cells and make them work better.” But I’m not sure what that has to do with clogged arteries.

We at Pound360 have been fascinated with fasting since NPR did a feature
on the benefits of a one-day fast last month (just in time for the holidays). It turns out fasting may be a good way to “retune” the body.

But don’t think of fasting as a way to lose weight. One expert told Wired, “fasting resets the metabolic rate,” thus triggering the body to store calories (as fat) when eating begins.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Homosexuality Abounds in Animal Kingdom

You never hear about this on the nightly news or in science classrooms, but “homosexuality has been observed in more than 1,500 species,” said the project coordinator for a museum exhibit on the subject, “Against Nature?,” that launched in Oslo last year. This according to a report at LiveScience.

This issue seems to be the most taboo of taboo scientific issues, the third rail of science. One scientist who openly studies animal homosexuality told LiveScience, “I've had primatologists offer to give me their data on homosexual behavior because they didn't want to publish it.”

Aside from the obvious social implications (critics condemn homosexual lifestyles as “unnatural,” “a choice”), animal homosexuality does not have immediately clear benefits for furthering a species. And some researchers close to the subject maintain animal homosexuality is simply for pleasure.

But others suggest there are evolutionary benefits to homosexual coupling, advantages that would have furthered this behavior through the ages. One benefit is power. “Copulation could be used for alliance and protection among animals of the same sex,” reads the LiveScience piece. In bisexual species, like Bonobos, homosexuality is simply the way to “join a pack.”

Among
species where homosexual behavior is common are primates like bonobo chimps and Japanese macaques. Also, homosexuality is common among Kob antelope, giraffes, bottlenose dolphins and buffalo where “homosexual mounting between males tends to be more common than heterosexual female-male copulation.”

For black swans, 20 percent of all families are headed by gay couples.

I originally heard this story covered on the usually funny, always disturbing
Bill Handle Show podcast. The article at LiveScience was originally published a year ago. Why this issue is just being described now I have no idea.

Does Time Slow In Times of Crisis?

A few years ago, I read an article in Discover magazine referencing an experiment suggesting the brain perceives time more slowly during a shocking event (something many of us suspect). To show this, the experimenters set up a device that very quickly flashed numbers, and had volunteers watch it as they fell backwards from a tower (they had a bungee cord attached to their ankles or something). Normally, you wouldn’t be able to read the numbers because they flashed so quickly. But when falling, subjects could actually describe the numbers they saw.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find this article online. And that’s too bad because I just
read a piece at LiveScience.com that contradicts it.

In the LiveScience article, they reference the falling experiment described above, but contest that none of the volunteers could read the numbers on the device, called a perceptual chronometer. However, I did find
an article at the BBC where someone in freefall made out a 98 on a perceptual chronometer when the real number was 96. Close enough to call? Not really. We need more data!

Another possible reason that time seems to slow during times of crisis is explained in the LiveScience piece. According to researchers, when an emergency breaks out, the part of your brain known as the amygdale kicks into high gear. When this happens, “an extra set of memories” causes “richer and denser memories.” And according to the experts, “the more memory you have of an event, the longer you believe it took."

So why does the last hour of work seem to drag on for four or five hours? That’s a mystery for another post.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Human Evoloution Kicks Into Overdrive

Human genes have been changing 100 times faster over the past 5,000 years than “at any previous period of human evolution,” according to research from the University of Wisconsin (reported by Reuters).

No, we’re not talking about evolving wings or X-Ray vision. The evolutionary developments involve resistance to malaria (among Africans), efficient digestion of milk (Europeans) and drier ear wax (Asians).

Ten thousand years ago, agriculture accelerated evolution. But it’s really fired up as humans have migrated from Africa to the four corners where we had to adapt to new environments.

Evolution has occurred the fastest in Africa, Asia and Europe (sorry, my fellow Americans). But interestingly enough, evolutionary changes “have been unique to their corner of the world.” Does that mean humans with X-Ray vision could go to war with humans with wings in the year 10,000? Of course.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Booo! Underground ‘Ocean’ Not Really an Ocean

When I saw this headline at LiveScience, “Huge 'Ocean' Discovered Inside Earth,” my imagination took off. First, I saw the scene at the start of “The Two Towers” where Gandalf rides the flaming balrog into a massive underground cavern with a lake at the bottom. Then I thought of a vast underwater civilization like that in the Abyss or Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

But alas, what they’re calling an “ocean” is actually just a huge region of water-logged rock. Indeed, rock (porous as it often is) can absorb a fair amount of water. For example, “some ocean floor rocks is up to 15 percent water.”

So what they found is actually a bunch of wet rock. A lot of wet rock. So much that it contains “at least the volume of the Arctic Ocean.” Somehow, I’m still not impressed.

Look for this reservoir, known as the “Beijing anomaly” under Asia.

Scientists believe movement of the earth’s crust is forcing water-rich rock under Asia. As the rock descends into the earth’s hot mantle, the water evaporates, rises, and steadily saturates the region now known as the “Beijing anomaly.”

On a more impressive note, the LiveScience article points out that water plays a key role in plate tectonics. “One of [water’s] many functions is to act like a lubricant for the movement of continental plates.” According to one scientists, lack of water may be one reason that Venus has no plate movement. “The system is locked up, like a rusty Tin Man with no oil,” said seismologist Michael Wysession of Washington University in St. Louis. Wysession discovered the Beijing anomaly along with a grad student, Jesse Lawrence.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Nine-Foot, Spitting Snake Discovered

Imagine your walking through the wild when a reptile’s head pokes out from behind a waist-high bush, it unfurls a dreadful hood. You’re a few yards away so you should be safe. But it fires a bolt of venom that hits you right in the eyes before you have time to turn and run.

No, this isn’t a scene from Jurassic Park. It’s an encounter that may play out for visitors in the dry lowlands of Africa, in parts of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia where a species of giant cobra was recently “discovered.”

“Ashe’s spitting cobra” had previously been classified as a “black-necked spitting cobra.” But after analysis of blood and tissue samples, it was split off into its own species,
reported National Geographic this week.

The Ashe can grow to nine feet in length, spit venom “several yards” and “is believed to deliver more venom with a single bite than any other cobra on the planet.”

Scientists believe other snake species have been inaccurately grouped together. Could this type of classification error be common in other animals as well? If so, it makes you wonder how many species are actually being wiped out when it’s reported that a single one is lost.

I’m sure paleontologists visiting from another star system will sort it out in a few hundred million years.

The Mysterious Birth & Death of Gas Giants

A couple of pieces on gas giants (like Saturn and Jupiter) caught my eye today.

The first, by Space.com (via MSNBC), investigates the mystery of gas giants dying slow deaths as they spiral towards their host stars. While beautiful (these planets appear like shooting stars as their atmospheres are obliterated by a star’s energy), it’s a mystery how they end up so close (a fraction of an Astronomical Unit) to a star.

In our solar system, gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn are a few Astronomical Units (AUs) from the sun. (One Astronomical Unit is equal to the distance from the sun to the Earth.) And according to our best guesses on how gas giants form, it should be that way.

According to another article from Space.com, we used to believe gas giants formed the same way as other planets, by a process called “core accretion.” This process begins when dense matter (ice and rock, for example) smash and grind into a small protoplanet. Over time, the protoplanet may attract more dense matter and become a rocky planet like Earth; or, the theory went, it could attract gas and become a gas giant. Either way, the protoplanet would become a planet as it developed enough mass to carve out a stable orbit around the host star.

The problem was, computer models suggested it would take too long for a gas giant to form (or establish enough mass) before the fledgling protoplanet was sucked into the host star (or another planet).

While other theories have been developed, the birth of gas giants and how they end up in a death spiral so close to some stars remains a mystery.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Meet the Mother of All Greenhouse Gasses

A recent article at Slate looks at “Other Greenhouse Gases,” and it turns out CO2 is the weakest of the bunch. It’s so weak, the EPA uses CO2’s heat-trapping power (if you can call it that) to measure the real monsters of the greenhouse gas bunch.

The measurement is called “Global Warming Potential” (GWP). A molecule of CO2 has a GWP of 1. Methane, which accounts for 8 percent of the greenhouse gas America spews annually, has a GWP of 21. But it doesn’t last in the atmosphere as CO2. A methane molecule floats around for 12 years. CO2 on the other hand, sticks around for 50 to 200 years.

But its lifespan isn’t the only reason CO2 “gets most of the doomsday ink,” according to Slate. “In terms of sheer weight, it accounts for around 85 percent of America's greenhouse gas emissions, which amounted to 7.074 billion metric tons in 2004.” I don’t even know what a metric ton is but I’m pretty depressed by that number. (A metric ton is 1,000 kilograms or 2,204 pounds).

Methane is still a factor to beware of. While CO2 levels have jumped 35 percent since the mid-1700s, methane is up 150 percent. And as the so-called permafrost melts in the north as global temperatures rise, expect that to significantly boost methane levels.

(By the way, I haven’t gotten to the mother of all greenhouse gasses yet.)

What can we do about methane levels? Since reversing global warming (pretty much) isn’t an option, and the permafrost is (almost) sure to thaw (to some degree), anything we do is pretty much futile. But you could capture methane from landfills (the number one source of methane in this country) and recycle it as an energy source. Or you could mix cottonseed oil into cattle feed, which reduces their methane output (the number two source in this country) by 30 percent. (For more on how and why grazing animals like cows create methane,
check out this post.)

Of course, methane and CO2 aren’t the only greenhouse gasses. There’s also nitrous oxide, the stuff your dentist uses to mellow you out for an operation. The leading source of nitrous oxide is agricultural fertilizer. This stuff has a GWP of 310, stays in the atmosphere for 120 years, and accounts for 5 percent of all greenhouse gasses.

(Nope, nitrous oxide isn’t the mother of all greenhouse gasses either.)

Don’t let the fact that nitrous oxide comes third in this posting, and that less of it is produced than methane, fool you. Since its GPW is so high (15-times that of methane), it’s a bigger problem than methane.

But the biggest greenhouse monster of them all? A little something called sulfer hexafluoride (SF6), which is used for “preventing molten magnesium from oxidizing and for etching semiconductor wafers.” The Slate piece didn’t say how much of this we send quietly into the sky each year, but it’s bad stuff. SF6 carries a GWP of 23,900, “making it the most brutally effective greenhouse gas known to man.” Hoping for a short atmospheric lifespan on this stuff? Sorry. It lasts 3,200 years in the air.


Don't miss this terrific video of how much fun you can have with a tank of SF6...



Thanks to an anonymous friend of Pound360's for passing that vid along.

The Benefits of a 1-Day Fast

In the past Pound360 has detailed the benefits of super-low calorie diets (as in, cutting your daily calories down to 1000). In fact, we covered it twice. Unlike your standard fad diet (South Beach, Scarsdale, Atkins), we like calorie restriction because, as we said earlier, it has a nice, hard-ass ring to that makes us believe it can do some good.

But it’s really hard to do. Real hard. We tried. We failed. But
Pound360 learned at NPR of something that may be a good middle ground between our current, miserable diet and the CR promise land: one-day fasting.

When you fast, the body burns through its stored sugars (glycogen), so insulin production is slowed. This reduces your craving for sugar and lets the pancreas rest.

Also, when fasting, your body gets a break from the harmful byproducts of energy conversion (like free radicals). According to one scientist, free radicals “attack proteins, DNA, the nucleus of cells, the membranes of cells.” They won’t kill those molecules, but they can damage them.

When your body gets used to regular fasting, cells may be trained to conserve and use energy more efficiently, extending lifespan.

You don’t want to overdue it, however. When fasting for long periods of time, your body starts to break down muscle. Not only does this make you into a puny weakling, but the breakdown of muscle releases “potentially toxic proteins” that can harm the kidneys and liver.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Happiness is People Failing Around You?

A new study reported by Time finds, “reward mechanisms in the brain depend on how well you think other people are doing.” In other words, no matter how well you’re doing at something, as long as you’re getting more than the next guy, you’re happy.

Deny it all you want. But the reasoning here goes “back to Aristotle,” said one researcher; and scientific evidence is piling up in his corner.

In the latest study, the Univeristy of Bonn in Germany hooked people to a brain scanner and had them participate in a series of tasks. For succeeding in the tasks, participants were given varying cash prizes. They were also told how others did on the tasks and how much they received for their performances.

Sure enough, “Players on average were more pleased with a 60 euro prize when the other player got just 30 euros, for example, than they were if both players earned 60 euros.”

The new findings help explain why, despite material gains, people on balance aren’t any happier than they were 50 years ago.

The research also challenges conventional economic principles. Modern economics is based on self-interest driving the market. But it appears as though beating thy neighbor is the true catalyst for drive and innovation.

Pound360 Archive

About Me

My photo
I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.