K Computer and Exascale Computing: The New Wave

you brain on k computer

The vast distance between the processing power of the human brain and that of super computers is slowly shrinking. Researchers used K computer, a Japanese petascale computer, to simulate the equivalent of a single second of the brain activity. K computer took 40 minutes to accomplish the feat of simulating approximately 1 percent of the brain’s neural network.

With 705,024 processor cores and 1.4 million GB of RAM at its disposal, the K computer took 40 minutes to model the data in a project designed to test the ability of the supercomputer and gauge the limits of brain simulation.

While computing on this scale is extremely impressive, the abilities of supercomputers are still inadequate in comparison to the insane complexity of the human brain. K computer  is the fourth largest super computer in the world and costs about $10 million dollars to operate annually. The Japanese K computer consumes 12.7 megawatts per hour. According to Fujitsu that’s enough energy to power approximately 30,000 homes.

Related Article: Sweden is Running Out of Trash

The new japanese K computer

860 of these cabinets, working at near full capacity for forty minutes, is equal to 1% of your brains capacity in one second. K computer awe http://www.fujitsu.com/global/about/tech/k/whatis/project/

Your brain, on the other hand, needs only three meals a day, weighs only 3.086 lbs (1.4 kgs), and consumes only 20 watts of electricity. That is a third of the energy used to power your 60 watt light bulb! The goal of large scale computing has always been to create a computer with processing power comparable to that of the human brain. In order to achieve this feat, computer engineers will need to think of the universe as something that never had a box. From Brain-Like Chip May Solve Computers Big Problem: Energy by Douglas Fox:
It is impressive that our computers are so accurate—but that accuracy is a house of cards. A single transistor accidentally flipping can crash a computer or shift a decimal point in your bank account. Engineers ensure that the millions of transistors on a chip behave reliably by slamming them with high voltages—essentially, pumping up the difference between a 1 and a 0 so that random variations in voltage are less likely to make one look like the other. That is a big reason why computers are such power hogs.

The Neurogrid computer, developed by Kwabena Boahen of Stanford University, aims much smaller than the K computer and by virtue, much larger. While the traditional computer is strict and rigid, the Neurogrid computer is designed to accommodate for the organic nature of the brain. Instead of utilizing the efficient methods of other computer engineers, Boahen attempts to hone in on the organized chaos of the human brain.

Related Article: Electronic Brain Implants Increase Intelligence

The Neurogrid and other computational innovations such as the K computer are likely to usher in a new wave of high level processing where emphasis on power is transferred to an emphasis on the delicate balance between information, energy, and noise. Perhaps by blending the two schools of thought- Large, impressive and small, noisy– we will be able to power machines capable of processing on a similar plane as the human brain. Incorporating efficient practices will also aid in the removal of moral obstructions. Should we power this mega-rad pc or provide the homes of an entire suburb or small village with electricity? Well with efficiency-not to be confused with that dreaded bureaucracy- we may be able to do both!
The dreams of computer engineers are likely to come to fruition very, very soon.
If petascale computers like the K computer are capable of representing one per cent of the network of a human brain today, then we know that simulating the whole brain at the level of the individual nerve cell and its synapses will be possible with exascale computers – hopefully available within the next decade.
For a better understanding of the difference between mega, giga, peta, exa, etc. just remember that each one is 1000 times more than the last.  So, an exascale computer is 1,000 times more powerful than a petascale computer (like the K computer), 1,000,000 times more powerful than a terascale computer, and 1,000,000,000 (billion) times more powerful than a gigascale computer (the computers that you and I have).

Related Article: The Singularity is Nigh Upon Us: The Merging of Humans with Technology

 

Sources:

Climate Change Caused by 90 Companies Since Industrial Revolution

climate change factory

Land of beauty, prosperity, and climate change… vimeo.com

A recent analysis on climate change has revealed that just 90 companies are responsible for 63% of all greenhouse gas emissions since 1854, the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. The companies range from private corporations such as BP and Exxon to government-run companies. 83 of the 90 companies are oil, gas, and coal based energy companies, with the remaining 7 companies being cement manufacturers. Information from the climate change analysis comes from public records and data from the US Department of Energy’s Carbon Dioxide Information and Analysis Center.

Related Article: A Cheaper Alternative to Pollution

The author of the analysis, Richard Heede, from the Climate Accountability Institute of Colorado concluded in the study that

There are thousands of oil, gas and coal producers in the world, but the decision makers, the CEOs, or the ministers of coal and oil if you narrow it down to just one person, they could all fit on a Greyhound bus or two.

Heede exhibited concern over the fact that many of the companies, besides being the presiding polluters of history, are also sitting on huge reserves of fossil fuel which represent a potential for an even more daunting future afflicted by climate change.

Related Article: Sweden is Running Out of Trash

Former US President Al Gore was very excited about the study as it is one of the most major efforts to hold individual carbon producers accountable for climate change rather than governmental policy. Gore stated that:

This study is a crucial step forward in our understanding of the evolution of the climate crisis. The public and private sectors alike must do what is necessary to stop global warming. Those who are historically responsible for polluting our atmosphere have a clear obligation to be part of the solution.

The actual solution itself is tough to set in stone. Global industrial emissions since 1751 stand at 1,450 gigatonnes. If we are to slow down and eventually halt extreme climate change, a necessary step is to understand who is producing greenhouse gases and who should be held ultimately responsible.  Unfortunately, it is difficult to decide who we should be pointing the finger at regarding climate change. According to Naomi Oreskes, professor of the history of science at Harvard,

There are all kinds of countries that have produced a tremendous amount of historical emissions that we do not normally talk about. We do not normally talk about Mexico or Poland or Venezuela. So then it’s not just rich v poor, it is also producers v consumers, and resource rich v resource poor.

Another aspect of the issue that clouds facts is the climate denial movement.  Oreskes has already shown in the past that several of the top companies from the study are some of the major sources of funds used in the global campaign of climate denial. Despite evolution not being able to keep up with climate change, marine life being destroyed, and weather becoming increasingly more extreme across the planet, companies and governments around the world maintain a stance of cold apathy to the problem or at worse vehement denial.

Related Article: Costly Climate Changes

How about some highlights from Heede’s study? Sure thing:

  • Government run companies in the former Soviet Union produced more greenhouse gases than anyone else at approximately 8.8% of the total.
  • Chinese run companies came in a close second at 8.6% of total emissions.
  • ChevronTexaco was the leading emission producer among private companies at 3.5% total emissions, followed by Exxon, and BP.

Operations of the companies currently span the globe, which is very disconcerting for those of us concerned about climate change because

These entities extract resources from every oil, natural gas and coal province in the world, and process the fuels into marketable products that are sold to consumers on every nation on Earth.

climate change action

There is hope after all! http://www.myseek.org/

This is where Heede hits upon the most important point in the study: consumers. Despite the profundity of this study, why point fingers at the producers when we are just as much, if not more at fault for climate change as consumers. Although there are countries like Germany paving the way for a green world, most countries aren’t, and we are still enjoying the life that greenhouse emissions have provided.  Our daily purchases are the reason these companies exist, and the reason they continue to influence climate change.  Despite income inequality, we are all living like kings and queens relative to our ancestors, due in major part to harmful greenhouse emissions.

Related Article: The Ugly Face of Overpopulation

If we are to live in harmony with the environment, we must also live in harmony with ourselves and make decisions that reflect our true values.  Don’t waste your money, but instead use your buying power as a consumer to influence the world in a more positive way. If we don’t start making dramatic changes soon (some climate change scientists have already said it is far too late), the future may not be as grand as we all hope for.

 

Sources:

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-013-0986-y

http://sploid.gizmodo.com/the-actual-probability-of-earth-going-to-hell-in-the-ne-1467435315/@kcampbelldollaghan

 

https://wondergressive.com/news/income-inequality-in-america-whats-the-big-deal/

https://wondergressive.com/news/20-biggest-wastes-money/

https://wondergressive.com/news/the-ugly-face-of-overpopulation/

https://wondergressive.com/news/germany-sets-example-for-global-climate-battle/

https://wondergressive.com/news/cheaper-alternative-pollution/

https://wondergressive.com/news/solution-smog-vacuum/

https://wondergressive.com/news/warning-weather-hazards-ahead/

https://wondergressive.com/news/climate-change-too-fast-for-evolution/

https://wondergressive.com/news/costly-climate-changes/

https://wondergressive.com/news/ask-an-astrobiologist-global-warming-and-what-to-expect/

https://wondergressive.com/news/indiana-blue-laws-exemplify-crony-capitalism-time-to-punish-politicians/

https://wondergressive.com/news/refuse-reduce-reuse-recycle-rot/

https://wondergressive.com/news/fresh-air-turned-into-gasoline/

https://wondergressive.com/news/unprecedented-changes-and-extinctions-occurring-in-marine-life/

WWOOF and HelpX: Seeing the World One Farm at a Time

The light filters through the branches of the plum tree, each leaf outlined in a brilliant yellow from the just risen sun. We are reaching up, stretching to pluck the abundant purple plums above us.

In about an hour, we’ll all join together for our first meal of the day; muesli, homemade yogurt, and fresh fruit salad, made with fruit we picked earlier in the week.

I’m on an organic stone fruit orchard in Australia, volunteering with five other travelers from around the world. After breakfast, we gather in a shed for our next job. We laugh and tell stories around a table as we carefully slice fruit for the solar drier. Once our four hours of volunteering are over, we convene with the farmers and share a big communal lunch.

Related Article: The Power of Hempseeds: Behold Powerful Nutrition

The rest of the day we have free to explorewe can borrow bikes, go for a walk around the neighboring orchards, relax and read books, or talk and play games with our new friends. At dinnertime we reconvene for a group meal, which we take turns each night cooking. Tonight, the Japanese travelers are trying their hand at a quiche, and I overhear them asking the older couple from Switzerland for advice about how to make the perfect crust.

DSC_1300Every day, I am learning new, practical skills for free. More importantly, though, I’m meeting like-minded travelers intent on learning from each other and giving back to the world. We are WWOOFers – Willing Workers on Organic Farms.

The minimum day requirement varies depending on the hosts. Most ask for at least one or two weeks, although its possible to arrange a shorter or longer stay. Some hosts will allow language learners or people interested in starting their own farm to stay for a long time, from 3 months to a year to forever! As a WWOOFer, though, if I really disliked or felt uncomfortable at a farm for any reason, I would be free to leave the next day.

Related Article: The Effect of Agriculture on the Planet

WWOOFing for the past two years in Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia has changed my whole outlook on life. Before, I assumed that my life would be linear; I would go to graduate school, get a job, buy a house, and raise a family, like most people I have known. After WWOOFing, I have experienced first-hand the many alternatives there are to that path.

WWOOF was the first organized program of its kind, created in 1971 by a London secretary named Sue Coppard. Her aim was to bring busy city folk back to nature with weekend trips to farms in the country. More than 40 years later, there are now thousands of places to WWDSC_3157OOF in 99 countries all over the world. In Australia alone, there were 2287 host farmers looking for volunteers in 2010.

Since its creation, WWOOFing has evolved to keep up with the growing demand from both travelers and farmers. Other voluntourism programs have also sprung up to embrace this new form of travel, such as HelpX. This websiteexpands far beyond organic farms to hundreds of other volunteer opportunities. Through the HelpX program, I’ve painted the outside of a bed and breakfast in New Zealand and taught English to kids in Bali. Volunteer projects are rarely boring.

Related Article: Volunteering is Good for Your Health

Case in point, one of my projects involved building teepees and adobe houses in Australia. Don and Sue live in a straw bale house they made with their own hands on their 10 acre property outside of a small town in South Australia. Even though they are Australian, the couple is fascinated with Native American spirituality and lifestyle.

Inspired by the Lakota tribe, they lovingly create custom-built teepees of all sizes. One overwhelmed mother wanted a private retreat to escape from her boisterous children, while another man wanted a space where he could safely barbecuDSC_0853e in the backyard of his high-fire risk neighborhood. Sue and Don also have teepees with beds and firepits set up on their property for “glamping,” or glamorous camping.

When I first accompanied Don to the forest, he knelt on the ground and thanked the trees for their contribution to his art. Then we sawed down trees and stacked them on top of his old Honda, taking them back to his property to strip off the bark, and sand smooth. A few days later, after he had measured and sewn the canvas cover, we drove to a customer’s house and set up the 25-foot-wide teepee in the moonlight. It was a magical experience.

On that same trip, I spent my mornings chopping down thistles, feeling like a warrior from Lord of the Rings. With other WWOOFers from Canada and Finland I built a spiral herb garden. We also spread a sandy clay on the walls of a new straw-bale structure they were building. Sue and Don don’t count hours, they just told us what projects they needed help with on their expansive property nestled in a eucalyptus forest, where platypus swim in the stream and kangaroos gather in the pasture at sunset. I stayed in a straw-bale cabin there for two weeks.

Related Article: Permaculture Connection

Not all voluntourism experiences have been as ideal, though. I remember working for a commercial organic vegetable farmer who needed 3-8 WWOOFers to weed for 5 hours a day just to keep his business running. I only stayed there for a few days because I was unhappy with the way he treated us. He had been hosting WWOOFers for more than 10 years and was disillusioned by the whole scheme, not bothering to learn anyone’s names.DSC_0810

Paul Kretchner’s biodynamic stone fruit orchard has a completely different take. Thanks to a roster updated daily, I knew exactly what my duties were to be, hour for hour, every day I was there. I found this comforting, since I knew that I was giving exactly what they expected.

Over the past 13 years, Paul has happily hosted 315 volunteers on his orchard.

WWOOFers add a diversity and interest to our lives, which we would otherwise not have,

he says. After traveling for 3 years in the USA, Canada, and South America, Paul also knows the importance of having a safe respite from travel for a week or more.

WWOOFing gives volunteers a place to stay for a while in a family setting, and to have some ‘home life‘. It’s an opportunity to experience this part of Australia, and to learn new skills working on a fruit property. For non-English speakers, it’s a great opportunity to improve their English.

Related Article: Edible Landscapes

There are no age limits or requirements to volunteering. Many farms, including Paul’s, accept families with small children, and enjoy having older WWOOFers.

The oldest volunteer we had was 70, from Switzerland, and he did a fantastic job,

said Paul. Likewise, the minimum stay varies from host to host. Most ask for at least one or two weeks, although its possible to arrange a shorter or longer stay. Some hosts will allow language learners

or people interested in starting their own farm to stay for a long time, from 3 months to a year to indefinitely. However, if WWOOFers felt uncomfortable a farm for any reason, they are free to leave the next day.

On the merits of voluntourism, James Nolting, a Californian who has volunteered on ten farms around Australia and New Zealand says:

Volunteering is the purest form of cultural exchange. There is no money changing hands, only the goodwill of travelers and hosts. I WWOOF because it’s a great way to get in touch with a new place. I get to meet the locals and dive into a different culture. It makes me feel more connected, less like a tourist and more like a member of the community.

Related Article: Biggest Wastes of Money (Part 5) Gadgets, Dining Out, Luxury Hotels, Gyms

DSC_0648

For me, WWOOFing has exposed me to new ways of life I never would have dreamed of. I am realizing that there are many other ways to live than those I have seen in my own country. These ongoing discoveries challenge me to redefine my life plan. Now, there are so many more options to choose from.

When I volunteer, my travel experience has a deeper meaning, transcending sightseeing and tourism. I feel fulfilled and powerful when I know that I’m helping someone.

Sources:

Whereisamber.com

Youngslug.blogspot.com

http://whereisamber.com/2013/02/22/taralee-orchard/

http://whereisamber.com/2013/02/26/gentle-earth-walking/

https://wondergressive.com/2012/11/14/skipping-breakfast-leads-to-unhealthy-food-consumption/

http://www.helpx.net/

http://www.wwoof.net/

http://wwoofinternational.org/history-of-wwoof/

www.wwoof.net/fileadmin/documents/Press_kit_stats.pdf

http://www.eslcafe.com/

https://wondergressive.com/2013/07/16/the-friends-of-the-indian-and-how-they-treated-their-friends/

http://www.amazon.com/Lord-Rings-J-R-R-Tolkien/dp/0544003411/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1379583667&sr=1-3&keywords=lord+of+the+rings

http://youngslug.blogspot.com/2012/02/on-farm.html

 

Check If You Are Burning Fat on Your Phone

I want to know if I am burning fat. Is there an app for that? Most likely yes! A new gadget has been revealed that allows you to check if you are burning fat and sends the data to your phone. A group of researchers from Japan’s NTT DOCOMO Research Laboratories have conducted a study and built a prototype gadget that will soon hit the market.

The gadget works similarly to a breathalyzer. You breathe into it and it checks for one specific compound called acetone. This compound has been used to indicate whether a person is burning fat. When fat breaks down in your body during exercise or lack of other energy sources, acetone is produced in the blood. Eventually it gets expelled to the lungs and is exhaled.  This device measures the level of acetone in your breath and is fairly compact; It is about 4 inches long and weighs about a quarter of a pound.

Once you exhale, the device calculates the concentration levels of acetone (the more acetone you have the more fat you are burning) and sends it to the smartphone either via Bluetooth or a cable. This is all achieved within ten seconds.

(Burn more fat by not sitting down. Sitting could be lethal)

The study lasted 14 days and used 17 adults of which 11 were men and 6 were women. All of their BMIs were above Japan’s average. The volunteers were split into three groups:

  • (Group 1) Carried on normal life, no calorie restrictions, no exercise requirement
  • (Group 2) No calorie restrictions, partook in light exercise 30-60 mins a day
  • (Group 3) Calorie restricted, partook in light exercise same as group 2

Every day before breakfast, they were required to note down their body weight, fat percentage and breath acetone concentrations. Upon concluding the study, results show that the first two groups were not burning fat in significant amounts. Their acetone level also remained unchanged. The third group, however, experienced a significant increase in acetone concentration as well as the rate of burning fat.

(Start burning fat and lose weight with a seven minute workout!)

Implications

With the world population becoming more and more obese, fat acceptance is becoming the norm, as well as dangerous. The main investigator of the study, Satoshi Hiyama, had this to say:

Because obesity increases the risk of lifestyle-related illnesses, enabling users to monitor the state of fat burning could play a pivotal role in daily diet management. Current standard methods, however, are still not practically suitable for point-of-care instrumentation for diet-conscious people who wish to monitor their own fat metabolism at home or outside.

However if this device allows us to monitor how our dieting affects our fat burning, this might alter the way we think about food and exercise altogether. We may start to alter our diets ourselves more frequently.

The prevailing issue is still the fact that this was conducted with only 17 individuals. A small sample pool such as that could bring down the credibility and accuracy of this gadget. But even if the accuracy and consistency of the device is proven to be solid, the challenges that still remain are the acceptance of the new technology and whether it will achieve its main goal: to alter people’s dieting habits for a permanent improvement.

Sources:

http://www.iop.org/news/13/jul/page_60652.html

https://wondergressive.com/2013/02/09/the-dangers-of-fat-acceptance/

Conservation Efforts of Earth’s Seven Continents

Captain-Planet-Cartoon-Wallpaper Captain Planet conservation

Captain Planet and the Planeteers by Ted Turner

‘Mostly Harmless.’ The only entry in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy used to read just ‘harmless,’ but after much careful deliberation and much intensive high-level editing, writer Ford Prefect was able to attach “Mostly” to Earth’s entry.

Since then segue writers (probably just me) of the world have attempted to relate the science fiction musings of the Great Wizard Douglas Adams to articles about global conservationism.

Speaking about global conservationism – funny you should even be thinking about that, I’ve compiled a list of conservation programs and projects from around the globe. You know, because when the NSA is watching you or your money is being spent on the military it’s nice to sit back, relax, use some comma splices, and learn about some good old-fashioned-down-to-earth wholesome people.

Related Article: The 5 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot

 

Africa

Oh sweet Africa! The continent of origin. A place both filled with beautiful landscapes and plagued by poverty, war and oppression. Despite the evils that happen there, there is quite a lot of good-natured conservation going on.

For example, I present the KAZA project. This project aims to connect portions of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe in an effort to co-facilitate human and wildlife-life.

It’s the size of a European country. The inhabitants include 2.5 million people, a quarter of a million elephants, 3,000 species and some of the last hopes that Africa’s wildlife will endure the 21st century in substantial numbers.

writes Michael J. Coren. But despite all of the good that this project will likely achieve, some critics are a bit skeptical.

Some question whether or not the focus is in the right place

Critics are also concerned that the project may end up enriching foreign tourism companies rather than local communities.

But whether or not this can save the declining African wildlife, it is wonderful to see these nations working together to bring balance to the force. Lets just hope that their efforts are for good.

Related Article: The 5 R’s Follow Up 1: Refuse

 

Asia

In Indonesia, there are many many many forests. Ask two of our writers, editors, and big cheeses in chief. I’m sure that they could tell you all about it. But where there are forests there are paper mills, tooth pick factories, and beavers. Lots and lots of beavers.

In this case the beavers are corporate and have decided that the woods might be a bit more precious than they previously had thought.

After recieving a lot of flack- and rightfully so- for their destructively belligerent deforestation practices (dbdp for short), Asia Pulp & and Paper has put a hold on their farming of national forests. The company, which holds a substantial amount of private land, has decided to focus on farming renewable trees that they’ve grown. This comes as a significantly awesome change of pace from the fern gully-eske practices which they so loved.

Related Article: The Profound Intelligence and Intuition of Elephants

 

North America

Oh to be a cowboy crossing the Great Plains of the United States. As you load your riffle, the rail car (built by slaves, and migrant workers) bumps a bit in protest and some of your precious gun powder spills to the floor. No worries, though, this hunt is easy. You load your riffle, take aim, and fire a round. You believe that you’ve missed your target but in all actuality the bison has been downed.

This sort of reckless behavior is exactly what caused the decline of the North American Bison population. Manifest Destiny-ers(?) took the land and it’s bounty as theirs and theirs alone.

As cattle ranching and fenced-in farming became more and more popular so too did it become popular for the bison to die. The  pre-columbian Americas boasted a bison population of more than 60 million. In 1890 the population almost entirely died out. There were only 750 left. Now, with much effort, the population is stably rising with approximately 360,000 bison roaming the Americas.

Bison conservation efforts by organizations such as The American Bison Society have dramatically aided bison, buffalo and many other species in an attempt to rejuvenate endangered populations.

Related Article: GMO Labeling Going In Right Direction In The US

 

South America

Ahh sweet Guyana, the Caribbean nation of South America. Now, you’re about to witness a rare quoting of wikipedia and if this were a dos X meme it’d read something like this: I don’t always quote Wikipedia but when I do It’s about the biodiversity of the only English-speaking non-island Caribbean Nation in South America.

The following habitats have been categorised for Guyana: coastal, marine, littoral, estuarine palustrine, mangrove, riverine, lacustrine, swamp, savanna, white sand forest, brown sand forest, montane, cloud forest, moist lowland and dry evergreen scrub forests (NBAP, 1999). About 14 areas of biological interest have been identified as possible hotspots for a National Protected Area System.

Basically, Guyana is a wonderful paradise for nature’s plants and wildlife. It turns out nature thrives here for one simple reason: There aren’t very many humans living there. The population density of Guyana is 3.8 humans per square mile. That is single digits. To put that into perspective, The population density of Rio de Janeiro is 16,100 humans per square mile.

So not only does Guyana boast an incredibly low impact, the people that do live there want to keep it beautiful. The government is actively working to set conservation guidelines for when people find out about Guyana

The Government of Guyana, under the leadership of President Jagdeo, is taking major steps to protect its natural resources. In 2002, the government granted Conservation International (CI) the world’s first “conservation concession” to protect 81,000 hectares (200,000 acres) of primary rain forest in the Upper Essequibo watershed.

Related Article: Your Old Android Phone Can Save the Rainforest

 

Antarctica

In 1961 Japan, the U.S., the former Soviet Union, the U.K., France and several other countries agreed to “not do anything stupid in Antarctica“. The cleverly named Antarctic Treaty aims to:

to utilize the area for peaceful purposes only and prohibit to establish military bases and to carry out of the maneuvers, to promote the freedom of scientific investigation and cooperation in the area, not to assert, support or deny a claim to sovereignty or create any rights of sovereignty, and to prohibit any nuclear explosion and the disposing of radioactive materials.

Since that time, 36 other nations have signed onto the Antarctic Treaty.

Related Article: 2800 Year Old Lake Life Survives in Complete Isolation

 

Europe

Europe, the land of the conquerors, gypsies, and well-to-do aristocrats has much need for conservation. Because of its relatively high population density the types of conservation projects that go on here are a bit different. It seems that those wishing to do some good work have to really try hard to find areas to protect.

The EOCA is a conservation project base for those planeteers looking to help out in their own way. One project, focusing on the Alps, was successful in removing tons of unused metal from old ski lifts.

 From an abandoned ski re[s]ort, they took away about 50 tonnes of different waste materials. These included the remnants of ski lifts and a pile of concrete blocks – left from winter sport activities in the 1960’s and 70’s.  The slopes of the Montagne de Lure have been returned to a wild state, for the rare Orsini’s Viper, to allow the wild tulips and fritillaries to spread, and for the pleasure of its visitors.

Even in densely-packed Europe there are ways to protect the environment.

Related Article: Sweden is Running Out of Trash

 

Australia

And before I go on, I must take a second to marvel at how awesome it is that Australia is: an island, a continent, a nation and pretty bad-ass.

Down under, there are many conservation projects. The Tasmanian forests are dwindling. It’s a shame as they are a beautiful place. When you have a forest, you have people who would like nothing more than to chop it down to pulp for paper. The conservation of the Tasmanian Forests  comes amid

Growing concerns about the negative public perceptions of the logging of these forests and changes in the market have contributed to this decline and a loss of opportunity. The forest agreement is an attempt to break this downward spiral. It attempts to find a way to protect forests and protect people whose livelihoods are tied up with the forestry industry.  It seeks to open opportunity for the industry to move onto a more sustainable higher value path.

So many there is a way for both companies and people to work together to not completely destroy the world as we know it.

Related Article: The Effect of Agriculture on the Planet

Our Powers Combined…

 

Sources:

http://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-Hitchhikers-Guide-Galaxy/dp/0345453743/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1371569115&sr=1-1&keywords=ultimate+hitchhiker%27s+guide+to+the+galaxy

http://e360.yale.edu/feature/kaza_ambitious_africa_experiment_to_preserve_threatened_wildlife/2527/

http://www.fastcoexist.com/1680000/african-nations-team-up-to-create-a-nature-preserve-the-size-of-sweden

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Africa

http://www.kavangozambezi.org/index.php

http://www.greenbiz.com/news/2013/03/22/how-asia-pulp-paper-learned-put-down-chainsaw

http://www.wcs.org/saving-wildlife/hoofed-mammals/bison/the-american-bison-society.aspx

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_bison

http://www.newgeography.com/content/003438-the-evolving-urban-form-rio-de-janeiro

http://www.tradingeconomics.com/guyana/population-density-people-per-sq-km-wb-data.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guyana

http://www.conservation.org/where/south_america/guyana/Pages/guyana.aspx

http://www.env.go.jp/nature/nankyoku/kankyohogo_en/kankyo_en/hogo/kokusai/

http://www.ats.aq/e/ats.htm

http://www.acfonline.org.au/news-media/acf-opinion/forests-deal-only-solution

Kim Jong-il’s Personal Chef Recounts Life in the Hermit Kingdom

I’ve been living in South Korea for about the last three years, and naturally I’ve taken quite an interest in most everything Korean. Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Adam Johnson has a supremely interesting piece up in GQ that helps illuminate the mindset of deceased dictator Kim Jong-il and the Hermit Kingdom he inherited.

Johnson had six interviews with Kenji Fujimoto (an alias), a man who was Kim Jong-il’s personal sushi chef for thirteen years. The man’s story is powerful and informative, although one gets the distinct impression that Fujimoto isn’t the best of company himself. According to the chef, this was one of the reasons that he was trusted enough by Jong-il to be a member of his entourage for over a decade. The Johnson account recalls several instances in which Fujimoto had the courage or reckless audacity to oppose the will-be Dear Leader. He was the only person who stood up to the diminutive despot.

Knowing almost nothing about North Korea and the horrors it perpetrated, Fujimoto agreed to move there for one year in 1982 to train Pyongyang chefs in the art of preparing sushi. Soon after he met Kim Jong-il, although he initially had no idea that he was speaking to the the son of Kim Il-sung, who ruled the nation from 1948 to his death in 1994.

He and Kim Jong-il became something akin to friends, with the pair often playing traditional Korean board games together. He learned that Jong-il loved movies, particularly Arnold Schwarzenegger flicks, and was interested in foods that could increase his sexual vitality.

Related Article: North Korean Propoganda About Western World is Sadly Accurate

Fujimoto then returned to Japan after fulfilling his contract. However, he was contacted four years later with another job offer to be Kim Jong-il’s personal chef for three years. He was promised a high salary, an apartment in Pyongyang and a black Mercedes. Tempted by promises of wealth, he returned to North Korea in 1988.

In addition to cooking carefully coordinated meals for the heir to the North Korean throne, Johnson describes the sushi chef’s worldwide culinary wheeling-and-dealings as well as describing his relationship with Kim Jong-il:

For special occasions, Fujimoto traveled great distances to procure ingredients for elaborate banquets. He would take a North Korean Air Koryo plane to Beijing, then a commercial airliner to either Moscow or Prague, places Kim stored a private jet. From there, it was off to France for wine or Denmark for ham. Mostly he flew to Japan to buy fish, where the first stop was always a ramen stand at Tsukiji run by Fujimoto’s old friend Inoue. Fujimoto brought many officials to eat Inoue’s noodles, including Kim Jong-un’s brother Kim Jong-chul.

 

 

Fujimoto became part of Kim’s entourage, joining him for pheasant hunts and tours on Kim’s bulletproof train. The two went horseback riding, bowling, roller-skating, and swimming. In Wonsan, Kim had an underground bombproof Olympic swimming pool constructed with his image emblazoned in gold tiles on the bottom. North Korean engineers had even built him a motorized boogie board.”

Not long after arriving for his second tour of duty, Kim made it known that he wanted Fujimoto to stay in North Korea for ten more years. Incredibly, the chef agreed to the terms. Kim paid for the expensive separation and even arranged for him to be married to a well-known singer in Korea. The couple had two children, the youngest of which was named Jong-un. Although Fujimoto claims it’s a coincidence that one of his children’s names is the same as Kim Jong-il’s youngest son and current North Korean despot, that seems unlikely. According to Fujimoto and Johnson, the sushi chef was handpicked to be a nanny and playmate of the Kim children; naming his child after Kim’s seems like a safe bit of political patronage.

Fujimoto’s account also details some of the events after Kim Il-sung’s death in 1994 when Kim Jong-il wielded his considerable and Machiavellian political acumen to secure his ascension to power.

Soon after becoming Supreme Leader, a large famine struck the nation. Before its onset, crop production of North Korea was steadily rising, a rare and slight success story for the Kim dynasty. The agricultural minister then in charge, supposedly the architect for this success, was honored for his efforts by being interred in the Patriots’ Cemetery upon his death.

Johnson recounts Kim’s reaction to the initial agricultural success and later the subsequent insanity at its ultimate failure:

Kim Jong-il wanted more. He ordered the new agricultural minister to improve crop production by cutting down trees on hillsides to make room for terrace farming. Come the next rainy season, that deforestation would cause the flash floods that would destroy the crops that would cause the famine that would slowly kill 2 million people.

As the famine unfolded, according to Bradley K. Martin, a preeminent North Korea expert, Kim Jong-il had his new agricultural minister executed by firing squad. As the famine became devastating, Kim Jong-il had the former agricultural minister’s body exhumed from the Patriots’ Cemetery and subjected to a posthumous execution by firing squad.”

Fujimoto was arrested in Tokyo in 1996 on a trip to the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. He was repeatedly questioned by authorities over a period of 18 months. After understanding Fujimoto’s position and importance, officials moved him to the south of Japan to work at a sushi bar. They also provided him with books describing North Korean gulags and the myriad other atrocities committed in the Hermit Kingdom.

Johnson details Fujimoto’s encounter with a would-be assassin:

One night, a Korean man came to see Fujimoto at the sushi bar. By his accent, Fujimoto could tell he was from the North. He said, “Someone sent me here, and after you finish your work, we’re going to talk about something.”

Fujimoto knew a killer when he saw one. But after work, the man didn’t return. In fact, Fujimoto never saw him again. For the first time during all his escapades in North Korea, Fujimoto became afraid. He was also depressed. He couldn’t get the torture books out of his head. He was drinking a lot. He was lonely and wanted to return to Pyongyang, to his wife and children. On July 9, 1998, the Japanese agreed to release him. But first they extracted a promise: If he ever left North Korea again, he was to call them and report in.”

Fujimoto honored his promise with the Japanese officials. He called them on a trip to China while shopping for exotic foods for Kim. However, his hotel was bugged and a suspicious Kim put the chef on house arrest for 18-months. This provided the impetus for his desperate desire to escape back to Japan.

The sushi chef’s full account is well-worth the longish read. He goes on to detail how he ultimately escaped from North Korea in 2001 by enticing Kim Jong-il with sea urchin roe, a delicacy the Dear Leader had never experienced. On a trip to Japan to procure the roe he slipped away from his handlers and went into hiding.

The perils of being close to dictators, the loyalty they demand and the propaganda the exude seem to have had an effect on Fujimoto. During his interview he states:

“If Kim Jong-il were here right now,” Fujimoto said, “I would kneel down and apologize. I’d admit that I left North Korea and I disclosed secrets about North Korea. I am a traitor, an absolute traitor.”

Fujimoto was invited back to North Korea by Kim Jong-un in June 2012. He describes his reunion with the leader:

I jumped up to hug him, shouting ‘Comrade General’ and instantly burst into tears … He hugged me back, the first hug in 11 years. I said, ‘Fujimoto the betrayer is back now,’ and I apologized for all I did and all I disclosed about him. He said, ‘OK, don’t worry anymore.”

He also describes how different Pyongyang looks compared to just ten years ago:

“I went window shopping from the third day. There are plenty of goods in shops. That’s already a big difference. There was nothing there 10 years ago … I guess it changed drastically since the Kim Jong Un era started.”

There are reasons to be skeptical of some of Fujimoto’s claims. His wife and children still live in the North and it’s entirely understandable that some of his lavish praise for Kim Jong-un is designed to protect them. He has written several books detailing his experiences as Kim Jong-il’s personal chef, and it’s possible he’s sensationalizing their relationship to boost sales. He could also be a man turned by the despotic and luxurious charm of the Kim dynasty. Or he could be a man who is genuinely ashamed of his betrayal.

Who knows? Maybe he’s all of things at once, with layers of deceit and honestly carefully wrapped like the sushi rolls he was paid to delicately craft. At any rate, it’s a rare glimpse into the most secretive and tyrannical nation in the world. 

Sources:

http://www.gq.com/news-politics/newsmakers/201306/kim-jong-il-sushi-chef-kenji-fujimoto-adam-johnson-2013

http://edition.cnn.com/2012/09/19/world/asia/north-korea-chef/index.html?hpt=hp_c1

Japanese Diet Secret: Kurozu (Black Vinegar)

 

Black vinegar, also known as kurozu (黒酢) is a very popular weight loss product among the Japanese. Men and women alike are awed by the health benefits, especially the ones concerning their diet.

Black vinegar is believed to have originated in China and spread out to the rest of East Asia.. Kurozu is a light but traditional black vinegar produced from unpolished rice and has been widely used in Japan as a seasoning and as a health supplement. Currently in the states, a one liter bottle of this could cost you up to $35 dollars!

 

Kurozu Benefits

 

Kurozu and Weight Loss

Now the real interesting part about kurozu is that it can help people shed fat without any drastic changes to their diet (not that adding kurozu to a salad as opposed to ranch dressing would hurt though). According to a study performed by a Kyushu professor, kurozu reduced the size of fat cells, called adipocytes, in mice. The study used kurozu liquid concentrate (KLC). The findings were as such:

In the KCL group, the average adipocyte size in subcutaneous and perirenal adipose tissues was significantly reduced. The KCL-administered rats displayed greater numbers of small adipocytes in the subcutaneous, perirenal and mesenteric adipose tissues than did rats from the other groups. In the KCL group, the DNA content in subcutaneous adipose tissue was significantly increased. The rate of fatty acid excretion was significantly increased in the KCL group.

In plain English, fat cells shrunk in the presence of the constituents that make up kurozu. Fat cells are made up of fatty acids that, when secreted by fat cells, get used up as a form of energy, leaving you with smaller fat cells, less fat tissue, and a leaner look. The great part about kurozu is that it is rich in amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Ingesting enough amino acids also promotes the growth of lean tissue such as muscle, since muscle needs protein.

Another way to increase the rate of fatty acid excretion is through fasting for short periods of time, such as 16-36 hour periods.

Get your own bottle of Black Vinegar over at Amazon!

 

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_vinegar

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citric_acid_cycle

http://www.livestrong.com/article/269937-natural-health-benefits-of-black-vinegar/

http://www.lipidworld.com/content/9/1/134

Wondergressive: The Health Benefits of Fasting

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3128363/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15149153

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1081754/human-digestive-system/45315/Salivary-glands

Tattoo Quest (Part 1): Tattoos of Southeast Asia

As I’m considering getting a tattoo myself (sorry mom and grandma), I’ve decided to do a series of articles based on the various tattoo traditions of the world. This is the first article of a three article series on tattoos. I hope to inklighten you, our Wondergressive readers, as well as myself, in my attempt to understand the various meanings behind this ancient art and fulfill my quest of understanding why exactly people, myself and others, are drawn to display these potentially permanent designs on our bodies.

Related Read: Tattoo Quest (Part 2): The Spread of Tattoos
Related Read: Tattoo Quest (Part 3): Significance of Tattoos in the 20th and 21st Century

People get tattoos for many-a-reason. These reasons vary from ceremonial rites of passage to proclamations such as “I really like to shop at 7/11 and this is the ONLY way that the world will know.” These days it seems that the reasons are unfortunately more inline with the latter though there are still a few traditions that hold the art of tattooing as sacred.

Traumatic tattoos are unintentional tattoos that happen as a result of injury. These are generally a colored scarring that happens when an outside element is introduced to open wounds. These tattoos are mostly unwanted and rarely resemble anything more than a painful event.

Historically, tattoos have been viewed both as a taboo and as an art form. The Ainu indigenous people of japan view tattoos as a matriarchal tradition where only the woman get inked.

“Until very recently (the last fully tattooed Ainu woman died in 1998), Ainu women retained a tradition of facial tattooing lending support to the argument that the ancient Jomon employed the custom in the distant past. For the Ainu, tattooing was exclusive to females, as was the profession of tattooist. According to mythological accounts, tattoo was brought to earth by the “ancestral mother” of the Ainu Okikurumi Turesh Machi who was the younger sister of the creator god Okikurumi.”

This tradition has been subject to much controversy in japan.

“As early as 1799, during the Edo Period, the Ezo Shogunate issued a ban on tattoos: “Regarding the rumored tattoos, those already done cannot be helped, but those still unborn are prohibited from being tattooed””

Looking at it now it seems awfully mean towards the woman in their culture. Go figure, subjecting women to various pains in order to get married. I am both irked by Japan’s deculturization of the Ainu people and accepting of it. On one had they are stripping an indigenous culture of their practices and beliefs. This is similar to the Romans outcasting pagan beliefs, the United State-ians completely degrading and embarrassing the Native Americans and every other instance of pseudo-westernization.

On the other hand- the left if you will, though it is not important- this practice of subjecting women to pain and permanent staining is both creepy and belittling. Through knife point art they are prepared to be wed.

Tattoos have rooted themselves into the dermis layer of many other southeast Asian cultures as well.  In Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand Yantra tattooing (Sak Yant) is considered to be sacred and… magical!

Traditionally, a Yant is tattooed using a long bamboo stick with a split sharpened point like a quill called a Mai Sak or alternatively a long metal spike known as a Khem Sak. There are many designs of Yant available, each chosen to give either protective powers or good luck in business or in love. Many of the designs are universal but the Mantras may differ according to the Tattooer.

 

Sak Yant is an art done by Buddhist monks. Different powers are associated with different scripts. Many people believe that these tattoos have magical abilities. Ink seekers from all over the world travel to receive these magical works of body art. Unfortunately there are many people who get scammed out of a lot of money in search for the real thing. So if you’re about to start some crazy vision quest in search of magic, I’d tread lightly-as if on eggshells or spaghetti noodles- when dealing with some of these shady so-called “monks.”

Stay tuned for Part 2: The Spread of Tattoos and Part 3: Significance of Tattoos in the 20th and 21st Century!

 

Additional Information:

Ainu Tattoos
Yantra Tattooing

Video: The Process of Sak Yant

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A Breakthrough Futuristic Material: Silk
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Belly Buttons: Bacteria Wonderland!

bacteria of the belly button

Petri dishes of belly button bacteria
Photo Credit: Neil McCoy

A recent study published in PLOS ONE has guided us to a greater knowledge of which bacteria are commonly found in belly buttons. The Smithsonian article on the study sums it up pretty well, saying:

A team of researchers dug into 60 different people’s belly buttons and turned up bacterial diversity and microbial mystery. All in all, they identified more than 2,000 species of bacteria as well as two species of archaea, the ancient predecessors of bacteria. Some of the species frequently occurred in multiple belly buttons, while others were confined to just a few participants.

Microbe World, a website dedicated to promoting awareness and understanding of key microbiological issues, gives a little insight as to where archaea are normally found stating that:

Archaea comes from the Greek word meaning “ancient.” An appropriate name, because many archaea thrive in conditions mimicking those found more than 3.5 billion years ago. Back then, the earth was still covered by oceans that regularly reached the boiling point — an extreme condition not unlike the hydrothermal vents and sulfuric waters where archaea are found today.

Some scientists consider archaea living fossils that may provide hints about what the earliest life forms on Earth were like, and how life evolved on our planet.

So, various bacteria, including previously unknown bacteria, and two archaea were found in a small range of North American belly buttons.  But the researchers aren’t finished yet.  In a guest blog on Scientific American, Rob Dunn, the study’s lead author, talks of a future research plan saying:

Instead of the 66 samples we included in our first paper, or the 300 we have now, we will soon have over 600 samples of people processed, people from all over North America. With this variety, we may well begin to explain the differences among people in terms of the intimate forests of their umbilicus. On the other hand, we may still be unable to account for our differences; it may be that part of what determines who lives on you is stochastic, a fancy scientific word for what happens when fate and the universe’s contingencies come together in your navel.

Carl Zimmer, another scientist working with the project talks of his results in a blog post on the Discover website. He had a very diverse spread of bacteria in his belly button and 17 bacteria that were not found in any of the other subjects.

I know that diversity can make ecosystems work better. One of the most important services that our microbial ecosystem performs for us is protecting us from pathogens. They can outcompete invaders, kill them with poisons, and otherwise ward them off. Scientists have run experiments to test the effect of diversity on infections. They manipulated mice so that some had no resident bacteria, and others had low levels of diversity. The researchers found that pathogens did a better job of invading low-diversity mice than high-diversity ones.

Several of the bacteria found in people’s navels had never been found on humans before and Zimmer discusses some of the bacteria found in his navel in his blog post saying:

Several species I’ve got, such as Marimonas, have only been found in the ocean before. I am particular baffled that I carry a species called Georgenia. Before me, scientists had only found it living in the soil.

 

In Japan.

Belly buttons aren’t the only place where thriving biomes are being discovered. Scientists have discovered a mobile ecosystem that lives in freezing temperatures. The world is so intriguing! Life is everywhere!

 

Sources and Extra Reading for the Curious:

PLOS ONE- A Jungle in There: Bacteria in Belly Buttons are Highly Diverse, but Predictable

The Smithsonian- A Flourishing Microbial Community Dwells Within Your Belly Button

The Scientist- Navel Bugs

Microbe World- Archaea 

Scientific American – After 2 Years Scientists Still Can’t Solve Belly Button Mystery, Continue Navel-Gazing

Discover- Discovering my microbiome: “You, my friend, are a wonderland”

Wondergressive- The Secret World of Bacteria

Wondergressive- New Ecosystem Discovered: Glacier Mice

Wondergressive- Life, It’s All Over the Place

Wondergressive- 2800 Year Old Lake Life Survives in Complete Isolation

United States’ Taxes, Spending, Graphs, and No Pie Charts

April 15th, the IRS’ tax filling deadline, is right around the corner regardless of whether or not you straight up love taxation. With the looming government-sponsored-khaki-bag-with-a-superimposed-$-on-it (©Wondergressive 2013), one cannot help but wonder what all of our money is spent on? Or better yet: Where does the United States’ government say that it goes?

Lets begin, continue, finish, and be confused with the numbers. As 2013 taxes have yet to be collected, I’ll be examining the collected tax statistics for 2011. From the 2011 IRS Data Book:

So after tax collections and refunds, the US government scored a wicked  haul just over $2.4 trillion. Sounds like a lot of money? Well that is primarily allocated to the fact that that it is a lot of money. You could buy so many flapjacks with $2.4 trillion, it is ridiculous. Unfortunately, there has been no fiscal policy, to date, which allows for such lumberjackian-breakfast style accommodations(©Wondergressive 2013).

Aside from selling treasury shares which collect huge amounts of interest, tax revenues are the only way in which our government gets money. So every paycheck you give money to the government in exchange for a service. Do you like the results that you’re getting?

Now that we know how much money the great tax vacuum inhales every year lets examine the federal budget spending (outlays in billions of dollars) for that same year:

As you can see, the majority of spending is divided between discretionary programs and mandatory programs. Social security, medicare, medicaid, and other programs received approximately $2 trillion dollars in government spending. Great, we’ve got around $400 billion left! Lets spend it on some cool stuff that will make us all happier.

Right away we’ve got a problem: The defense budget is allocated almost $700 billion. That’s 30% of 2011 total collected tax revenue.

The non defense budget consists of another $600 billion dollars. According to an article from americanprogress.org, nondefense discretionary programs include

…nearly all of the federal government’s investments in primary and secondary education, in transportation infrastructure, and in scientific, technological, and health care research and development. It also includes nearly all of the federal government’s law enforcement resources, as well as essentially all federal efforts to keep our air, water, food, pharmaceuticals, consumer products, workplaces, highways, airports, coasts, and borders safe. It includes veterans’ health care services and some nutritional, housing, and child care assistance to low-income families. It even includes the funding for such national treasures as the Smithsonian Institution, our national parks system, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA.

In lay speak that means: all of the neat stuff.

Next on the list comes the net interest. $230 billion dollars of interest was accrued by previous treasury bonds. In the unlikely case that you are completely unaware of debt and its practice; interest accrued is a compounding tax on borrowed money. It acts as incentive for borrowers, giving them a payout for “helping” a country in need. As the U.S. general public holds $11,855,687,948,374.48 in debt, I’ll spare you any more ironic explanations of debt.

Wait a second. Wait just one second. In 2011 the U.S. Government spent approximately $3.6 trillion. The tax revenue accounts for approximately 67% of that money spent. So, as I stated earlier, the other 32% must come from treasury shares. That means that almost a third of our 2011 spending was covered by a pseudo-credit card.
So who all helped finance our deficit? The chart to the left shows the amount of money, in billions of dollars, that the united states owes to various countries and companies.

China and Japan rake in the most with a combined $2.1 trillion. To put that into perspective that’s almost the entire collected tax revenue for 2011. An entire year of hardworking laborers would just barely be able to pay off these two debts. This is assuming that the United States spends absolutely nothing on anything else.

So, when you hear about congress and the president running around every year trying to figure out a budget, you now have a better understanding of what the heck they are actually doing. Every person has a different idea of what the United States budget should be and when there are outside interests holding gigantic stakes there is absolutely no easy way to get out of this.

The best way to fix anything is to start small. A billion dollars here a billion dollars there. It might be an idea to start turning off the white house bowling alley an hour earlier each night.

Sources:
Treasury Securities
N
ondefense Discretionary Programs
National Public Debt
2011 IRS Data Book
2011 Budget Summary Tables

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Open Access Journals Suddenly Open to the Public
ObamaCare and the 49-Employee Company