Sunday, December 30, 2012

Why Do We Keep Burning Our Food When People Are Starving?

There is no question that we need to get off of oil. It is a dirty fuel, responsible for a great deal of our air pollution and global warming. It’s expensive and getting worse all of the time which puts added strain on our already fragile economic system. And, oil is a limited resource, once it’s gone, it’s gone. It has even been speculated that oil has been the basis for a few of our wars. Other countries have called us war mongers, claiming that Americans are eager to go to war with any country that produces a significant amount of oil.
Ethanol has made its way into the global markets and has been adopted my automobile makers. Being ethanol has the advantage of having a partial acceptance by consumers and the auto industry it does make sense to continue to develop that technology.
The biggest issue with ethanol in America is the source used to make it. As far as the amount of gallons per acre that can be produced by a plant, corn is very inefficient. This directly causes farm land prices to go up. Other plants like hemp, switch grass, and sugar cane are far more efficient than corn. In addition, corn requires a lot more fertilizers to grow which can pollute out lakes, streams, and ground waters. Plus, using corn, which is a primary food source for people, raises food costs and lowers humanitarian aid. Mother Jones has an interesting flow chart that shows the effect of using corn as a fuel source.
Why do we, as a country, use corn for ethanol production when there are so many better sources out there? Sugar ethanol burns over twice as clean as corn ethanol, and cellulosic ethanol from sources like switch grass, hemp, and forestry waste, burns over 4 ½ times cleaner. Right now, we could import ethanol made from sugar cane directly from Brazil for much cheaper than we could produce ethanol from corn. Our government, however, chooses to tax those ethanol imports so much that they no longer make good economic sense. Some scholarly discussions have implied that this taxation is being done to keep the prices of corn in America artificially high.
I came across another blog article by Ali Sakhtur, entitled Brazilian ethanol is the best hope for replacing oil, says BP’s Bob Dudley. In this article Sakhtur says that “

Ethanol derived from Brazilian sugar-cane offers the best hope of replacing oil as the world’s main source of fuel when it runs out, according to Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive. […] The alcohol extracted from sugar cane is cheaper, less polluting and more efficient than that from corn, for example, produced in the US. […] Brazil also has a huge advantage in relation to its competitors. The climate and soil are ideal and the sugarcane crop does not have to compete for areas with food crops, as happens in the case of America. […] BP is channelling its research into renewable fuels accordingly, with 40pc of its $1bn (£625m) annual spend in this area targeted at Brazilian ethanol, Mr Dudley told the weekly Brazilian news magazine Veja.

Below is a chart that the EPA put out. It shows the difference of greenhouse gases that are emitted when creating an equivalent amount of energy, compared to gasoline.

As you can see in the chart, switching to an ethanol made from corn does create 21.8% less greenhouse gases which is great. Ethanol made from sugar reduces the amount of greenhouse gases by more than twice that of corn, at a rate of 56% reduction. However, using ethanol that was made from a cellulosic plant source (such as hemp, switch grass and forestry waste) has the biggest effect and reduces the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by 90.9%.
Switch grass is another excellent cellulosic source for making ethanol, much like hemp is. I’ve scoured the internet and cannot find any good reason why we are not using switch grass for making ethanol. It seems to have been dismissed as a crop all together.
According to Biello, “[switchgrass] ethanol delivers 540 percent of the energy used to produce it, compared with just roughly 25 percent more energy returned by corn-based ethanol according to the most optimistic studies. […] Vogel and his team report this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that switchgrass will store enough carbon in its relatively permanent root system to offset 94 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted both to cultivate it and from the derived ethanol burned by vehicles. Of course, this estimate also relies on using the leftover parts of the grass itself as fuel for the biorefinery”.
Switchgrass doesn’t need prime farm land to grow either, so it doesn’t compete with food crops for land. Biello states that we could use the “[more] than 35 million acres (14.2 million hectares) of marginal land that farmers are currently paid not to plant under the terms of USDA's Conservation Reserve Program”.
Hemp would be a great option for cellulosic ethanol production because it grows really fast, it burns much cleaner than corn, and it produces a lot more gallons per acre than corn. Unfortunately though, industrial hemp is classified as an illegal drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency, despite its very low THC levels. You couldn’t get high off of industrial hemp if you tried. This forces us to import hemp, in which case it gets taxed at a much higher rate than it would if it was grown right here in the U.S.
I agree that we need to move off of fossil fuels and onto renewable fuel sources. Ethanol is a great start to this and has a lot of potential. I just don't agree with using our food sources for fuels. We could start importing ethanol derived from sugar right now, and then start moving to a cellulosic ethanol source like switch grass or industrial hemp. 

Works Cited:
 Mad Money: The Best Trade on Ethanol. CNBC. 28 Jul 2010. Edit. Tom Brennan, Perf. Jim Cramer. 9 Apr. 2011. < >
Shakhtur, Ali. “Brazilian ethanol is the best hope for replacing oil, says BP’s Bob Dudley”. 16 Feb 2011. 9 Apr. 2011. < >

Biello, David. “Grass Makes Better Ethanol than Corn Does”. 8 Jan 2008. Scientific American. 9 Apr. 2011. < >
“Greenhouse Gas Impacts of Expanded Renewable and Alternative Fuels Use”. Apr 2007. Environmental Protection Agency. 9 Apr. 2011. < >

Jones, Mother. “The Corn Ethanol Effect”. Diminishing Marginal Utility. 6 Nov. 2007. 9 Apr. 2011. < >


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Grid Computing Can Solve The Problem!

Did you know you can download a screensaver for your computer that will search for a cure for cancer, aids, malaria and a bunch of other deadly diseases whenever it’s running? You can!
Most college students have a computer these days, and a good portion your computers life is wasted on idle processes. Basically, your computer is sitting there and doing nothing. That idle CPU time could be doing something productive to benefit humanity.

I’ve been a computer geek for many years, and even I was surprised at what can be done with grid computing.

Grid computing projects are a great way to donate your computer’s idle CPU time to finding solutions to huge problems.

I’m going to tell you a little about what grid computing is, what you can do with it, and what has already been accomplished with past grid computing projects.

Grid computing, otherwise known as distributed computing, is where a bunch of independent users just like you can join their computers to giant network where they work together towards a common goal. These computers form a virtual super computer with a monstrous amount of resources. Each computer checks out a work packet like we would check out a book from a library. That computer does it’s analysis of that work packet during the computer’s idle time, then uploads the results and downloads a new work packet and it starts all over again. This concept of using your processor when your computer is idle has been termed “CPU scavenging”.

According to Wikipedia, Grid computing was developed in the early 90’s by Ian Foster of the University of Chicago and Carl Kesselman of the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute. Volunteer computing and CPU scavenging started to become popular in the late 90’s.

Now that you know a little about what grid computing is, let me tell you about what you can do with it.

There are all kinds of projects that you can participate in with grid computing. You can donate your CPU time to projects that are searching for cures to today’s deadly diseases. There are projects to search the skies for extra-terrestrials, finding better ways to produce clean energy, and even reverse engineering the human brain for the development of artificial intelligence.

The truth is, there a hundreds of projects out there that you can participate in if you want. The biggest list of projects I’ve found so far is on If you Google “grid computing projects”, it returns over 2 million results. So, if you want to help a cause, chances are there is a grid computing project out there that you can participate in.

The work you can do with it is great, but I want to show you some things that have already been accomplished with grid computing.
It’s very difficult to find out exactly how much time has been volunteered to grid computing projects because there are so many independent projects out there. The grid computing network that I use the most is World Community Grid. I’ve been working their projects since 2006. According to their site, they have close to 600,000 members who have loaded their client on over 2 million devices. These devices have contributed almost 600,000 years of run time to their projects.

Past projects have solved some of life’s big mysteries including identifying possible drugs to fight anthrax. They solved a bunch of complex math problems, evolved robotics technologies, marked and classified craters on Mars for NASA, and improved chess playing programs. The lists go on and on.

As I’ve just shown you, grid computing projects are a great way to donate your computer’s idle CPU time to finding answers to today’s big questions. I have talked about what grid computing is, what you can do with it, and what has already been accomplished.

I hope everyone learned something new today about grid computing, and maybe some of you will even consider donating some of your computer’s resources to a cause that you believe in. Thanks


Now you can use your Android Phone too!

Braverman, A. (April, 2004).  Father of the Grid.  University of Chicago Magazine, 96.  April 1, 2012.

Global Statistic.  World Community Grid.  April 1, 2012.
Grid Computing.  Wikipedia.  April 1, 2012.

Pearson, K. (April 2, 2012).  Active Distributed Computing Projects.  April 1, 2012.

We Need to Save the Bees!

            The world’s bee population is disappearing at such an alarming rate, that the world’s food supply potentially could collapse entirely.

We all eat some sort of fruits and vegetables, but what we are eating might not be as good for us, or the environment, as we believe.

I never really gave much thought to the fruits and vegetables I ate until I saw the documentary “The Vanishing Bees”. And then, a few months later I took a Nutrition class that took the subject to yet another level.

Pesticides are literally destroying the world, but there are some things we can do to avoid this dark fate.

I’m going to tell you about the cause of these problems, it’s effects, and what we can do differently to avoid the problem.

             First, I’m going to tell you about what is causing all of this to happen. Broad-spectrum pesticides damage all living cells, not just the pests that they are being used to control. Systemic pesticides are put on the seeds of plants, or used to treat the soil before planting. This causes the pesticide to become part of the plant for its entire life. You cannot wash it off. France, Italy, Germany and Slovenia have already banned the use of these. Topical pesticides build up in soil over time and are susceptible to runoff which poisons surrounding soils and waterways.

Now that I’ve told you a little about the cause of the problem, I’m going to tell you a little about the effects. Bees all around the world are disappearing by the millions due to colony collapse disorder, otherwise known as “mad bee disease” according to the documentary “Vanishing of the Bees”. When this happens, only the queen and some young bees are left in the hive. All of the other bees simply disappear. This phenomenon was later found to be caused by pesticides. If this continues the costs of foods would increase exponentially until there just isn’t anything left to sell.

In addition, pesticide and fertilizer runoff makes its way into our waterways. Time Magazine says that “[they work their way into the]  Mississippi River and down into the Gulf of Mexico, where they will help kill fish for miles and miles around”. These pesticides aren’t just bad for the environment. They are really bad for us too. Time Magazine goes on to say “Food is increasingly bad for us, even dangerous”. Frances Sizer and Ellie Whitney say “High doses cause birth defects, sterility, tumors, organ damage, and central nervous system [impairment]. Children and the elderly have lower tolerances.” in their text book “Nutrition: Concepts and Controversies”

Now that you know the problem, and the effects, I’m going to tell you about a couple solutions. What can we do differently? It’s actually pretty easy. Eat Organic. Nutrition: Concepts and Controversies says that organic foods are fertilized with composted animal manure or vegetable matter instead of synthetic fertilizers. Crop rotation, predatory insects, natural bacterial peptide toxin is used for pest management.

The British Columbian Ministry of Agriculture offers another solution called Integrated Pest Control (IPC). In this method, you only use chemicals when there is no other option and sufficient damages are unavoidable without it. They should only be used if the costs of the pesticides are more than offset by the amount of damages you avoid. Instead they say you should use cultural methods like crop rotation, use resistant plant strains, practice good sanitation, and use mechanical controls to fight pests.

The fact is that pesticides are very destructive, and there are safer ways of growing our food. I have told you about the pesticides causing these problems, the effects they have on us and the environment, and that we can choose to eat organic or use Integrated Pest Control to minimize the problem. I hope you will take this information into consideration when you are buying groceries or working in your garden. Thank you for your time.


Environmental Fate of Pesticides. British Columbia’s Ministry of Agriculture. Retrieved April 18th, 2012, from

Langworthy, G., Henein, M. (Producers) Langworthy, G. (Director). (2009). Vanishing of the Bees [Motion Picture]. UK: True Mind Studios.

Sizer, F.S., & Whitney, E.N. (2011). Nutrition: Concepts & Controversies. Mason, Ohio: Cengage Learning.

Walsh, B. (Aug. 21, 2009). Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food. Time Magazine. Retrieved April 15, 2012, from,9171,1917726,00.html

Is it harmful for children to be in day-care centers all day?

            Daycares are often depicted as these horrible places where children are neglected all day in a Petri dish of disease infestation. There are always advantages and disadvantages to everything, but people need to weigh their options objectively when making these important decisions. I think the advantages to a child’s future should be the deciding factor when choosing whether or not to put a child in daycare. says, “Staff members at good centers are usually trained in early childhood education so they know what to expect from your child developmentally and are able to nurture his growing skills accordingly” ( They go on to say, “Good daycare centers include a nice mix of activities during the day to teach different skills, such as singing, dancing, and storytelling”. Children that attend quality daycare centers typically have and academic edge over other children as well as advanced social skills for their age.

It’s true that daycare babies get sick more than other kids, but that isn’t the whole story. Denise Mann says “Babies who attend large-group child-care centers before they are 2 1/2 years of age do get more respiratory and ear infections than those cared for at home, but they are less likely to come down with these ailments once they start elementary [school]” ( They continue to say “There may exist a window of opportunity for toddlers to build up their immunity early. Those who attended large day-care centers after age 2 1/2 did not receive the same protection against illness during their elementary school years as their counterparts who started group day care at younger [ages]” (

            Daycares can be very advantageous to a child’s future and should be considered a great opportunity when raising a child. In my opinion, people need to put the minor disadvantages aside, and act in the interest of their child.
Work Cited

Mann, Denise. “Day-Care Babies Have More Infections Now, Fewer Later”. 10 Dec. 2011. 26 Feb. 2011 < >

Should prison inmates be allowed to take college courses?

Some people might think it is a bad idea, or even a waste of money, to educate prisoners. Really, in order to truly rehabilitate a prisoner and give them a real opportunity to succeed once they are released we should consider it. Or else, they will be more likely to continue down the same path. I, personally, think it would be a better option to educate our prisoners than to pay for them to sit in our prisons.

If you look at the general population of state prisons in the United States, only 12.7% of them have any college education at all, according to The Bureau of Justice Statistics. In the population of free people in America, 48% of those have at least some college education. It is very apparent that the people that are filling our prisons are under-educated. If they had some education, their chances of building a productive life and staying out of the prison systems would be significantly higher.
What’s worse? If you look at the education levels of the prison population that was on death row in 2005, only 9.2% of them had any college what so ever. Of the same population, 65% of them had prior felony convictions. This means that 65% of them have gone through America’s criminal rehabilitation system and it didn’t work for them.  That 65% was released, and later ended up back in prison and on death row.
I understand that people sacrifice a lot of time and money for their education. But in the end, it would be cheaper to educate these people than to keep throwing them back in prison. According to, “On average state invest as much as ($24,000) supporting their students’ public school earned baccalaureates as they spend annually ($25,000) incarcerating their prisoners”. Also, if they are incarcerated multiple times that price of incarceration multiplies exponentially.
To me, it would be a much better option to educate our prisoners than to pay for them to occupy our prisons. Save the state money by educating prisoners. In turn, they might not kill you and end up on death row for doing so.

Works Cited:

The Bureau of Justice Statistics.               1/19/2011
Taylor, Jon Marc. Pell Grants for Prisoners. 1/19/2011

Coral Reefs in Peril

     Coral reefs are in peril around the world. Hard-coral beaching, and coral decline has long term damaging effects on the marine ecosystems. We need to take action now to prevent a complete collapse. I am going to share with you why the reefs are important to all of all, what is endangering the reefs, and what we can do to prevent this disaster, as well as conserve and restore our reefs.

     Reefs are very important for marine life to prosper, which provides food for the whole planet. A study was done on the lagging effects of reef destruction and unfortunately it showed that several years later the juvenile fish populations declined dramatically (Graham, N. et al, 2007, p. 6-7).

     Now, let’s look at what’s causing these problems. The most commonly acknowledged factor, and probably the biggest threat to the world’s reefs, is global climate change. Kenneth R. N. Anthony et al. (2009) said in his peer reviewed journal article entitled Energetics approach to predicting mortality risk from environmental stress: a case study of coral bleaching that “Over the past decade, most coral reefs around the world have been affected by mass bleaching events.”  He goes on to say, “Even under the most conservative climate change scenarios, predictions for the coming decades suggest that coral reefs could eventually undergo bleaching annually” (p. 1).

     Solar radiation is another big culprit promoting this coral degradation. Coral exposed to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) “[may] be subject to photooxidative stress due to excessive UVR exposure, resulting in coral bleaching” (Liñán-Cabello, M. A, 2010, p. 1-2). This is the same radiation that gives us sunburns and promotes skin cancer.

     Another factor that is not as widely known to cause coral degradation is sunscreen. According to Sunscreens Cause Coral Bleaching by Promoting Viral Infections, 10% of the world’s reefs are threatened by hard-coral bleaching as a direct result of sunscreens containing benzophenones, parabens, cinnamates, and camphor derivatives. This study shows that 4,000 – 6,000 tons of sunscreen are released into reef area waters each year (Danovaro, R. et al, 2008, p. 4-5).

     Finally, we need to look as what we can do to protect, conserve, and restore our reefs. Because climate change is the biggest factor in coral degradation, doing whatever we can to slow global warming would definitely help. Choosing to recycle, plant a tree, drive fuel efficient vehicles, or ride a bike instead of driving, are all great places to start. Google “reduce my carbon footprint” for more great ideas.

     Along those same lines, protecting our ozone layer helps protect our reefs, and ourselves from ultraviolet radiation. The easiest thing you can do to protect the ozone is to avoid buying anything that is made with or utilizes chlorofluorocarbon (CFC). CFCs are commonly found in aerosols, air conditioners, refrigerators and fire extinguishers.

     We can do other things to protect us from the sun besides the use of sunscreen, like using sun umbrellas at the beach, and wearing hats and clothes that protect you from the sun. When you do need to wear sunscreen, choose one that doesn’t contain benzophenones, parabens, cinnamates, and camphor derivatives (Danovaro, R. et al, 2008, p. 4-5).

     A lot of reef damage has already been done however, and we need to take action to aid in its restoration as well. No-take marine protected areas (MPAs) can help promote reef recovery and provide special resilience after a coral destructing event (Graham, N. et al, 2007, p. 2).

     Some other methods of reef restoration include “securing fragments in place stemming from injured colonies, rearing fragmented coral pieces in mid-water nurseries for outplanting on reefs, as ‘rescuing’ colonies from the threatened inshore habitats by outplanting them to offshore sites” (Baums, 2008, p. 3).

     Now that I’ve shared with you why the reefs are important, what is endangering them, and what we can do to prevent this disaster, I think we can agree that we need to take action now to prevent the destruction of our coral reefs and the complete collapse of our marine ecosystems.


Anthonyl, K. R. N., Hoogenboom, M. O., Maynard, J. A., Grottoli, A. G., Middlebrook, R. (2009). Energetics approach to predicting mortality risk from environmental stress: a case study of coral bleaching. Functional Ecology, 23, 539–550. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2435.2008.01531.x

Baums, I. B. (2008). A restoration genetics guide for coral reef conservation. Molecular Ecology, 17, 2796–2811. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2008.03787.x

Danovaro, R., Bongiorni, L., Corinaldesi, C., Giovannelli, D., Damiani, E.,  Astolfi, P., Greci, L., Pusceddu, A. (2008). Sunscreens cause coral bleaching by promoting viral infections. Environmental Health Perspectives, 116(4), 441-447. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Graham, N. A. J., Wilson, S. K., Jennings, S., Polunin, N. V. C., Robinson, J., Bijoux, J. P., Daw, T. M. (2007). Lag effects in the impacts of mass coral bleaching on coral reef fish, fisheries, and ecosystems. Conservation Biology, 21(5) , 1291–1300. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2007.00754.x

Liñán-Cabello, M. A., Flores-Ramírez, L. A., Cobo-Díaz, J. F., Zenteno-Savin, T., Olguín-Monroy, N. O.,  Olivos-Ortiz, A., Tintos-Gómez, A. (2010). Response to short term ultraviolet stress in the reef-building coral Pocillopora capitata (Anthozoa: Scleractinia).  Revista de Biología Tropical, 58(1), 103-118. Retreived from Academic Search Premier database.