Friday, August 9

Case studies: A hard look at GM crops


Two topics specifically raise more heat than light, global warming and Genetically Modified crops ( if you excuse the inadvertent pun). 

So what we have to do is not to get into debates but listen carefully to the arguments. 

Climate change is happening and we need food productivity. Between these two conceptual positions and the public debate, there is too much noise. 



Case studies: A hard look at GM crops : Nature News & Comment

Palmer amaranth has taken root as a herbicide-resistant ‘superweed’ in many US cotton fields.


In the pitched debate over genetically modified (GM) foods and crops, it can be hard to see where scientific evidence ends and dogma and speculation begin. In the nearly 20 years since they were first commercialized, GM crop technologies have seen dramatic uptake. Advocates say that they have increased agricultural production by more than US$98 billion and saved an estimated 473 million kilograms of pesticides from being sprayed. But critics question their environmental, social and economic impacts.

Researchers, farmers, activists and GM seed companies all stridently promote their views, but the scientific data are often inconclusive or contradictory. Complicated truths have long been obscured by the fierce rhetoric. “I find it frustrating that the debate has not moved on,” says Dominic Glover, an agricultural socioeconomist at Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands. “The two sides speak different languages and have different opinions on what evidence and issues matter,” he says.

Here, Nature takes a look at three pressing questions: are GM crops fuelling the rise of herbicide-resistant ‘superweeds’? Are they driving farmers in India to suicide? And are the foreign transgenes in GM crops spreading into other plants? These controversial case studies show how blame shifts, myths are spread and cultural insensitivities can inflame debate.

GM crops have bred superweeds: True

Jay Holder, a farming consultant in Ashburn, Georgia, first noticed Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri) in a client’s transgenic cotton fields about five years ago. Palmer amaranth is a particular pain for farmers in the southeastern United States, where it outcompetes cotton for moisture, light and soil nutrients and can quickly take over fields.

Thursday, August 8

Mystery Solved? A New Theory About Why Egypt Stopped Building Pyramids

Quite an interesting theory son. When I first saw the bent pyramid, I felt so sorry for it. It looks crooked, old, etc etc. specially after seeing the great pyramids and then the stepped pyramid, this one looks sad...





Mystery Solved? A New Theory About Why Egypt Stopped Building Pyramids - Rebecca J. Rosen - The Atlantic

Continue to the


Is it possible they were too perfect?

Rebecca J. Rosen May 10 2013, 9:58 AM ET



When structural engineer Peter James arrived at the Bent Pyramid, 25 miles south* of Cairo, his task was to secure the structure’s remaining “cladding” — its smooth exterior envelope. But why was it crumbling in the first place?

The foundation seemed completely stable. The prevailing theory — that “the missing cladding was removed by local opportunist thieves” — didn’t inspire confidence: That could explain the destruction at the lower levels, but the damage extended far up the pyramid and “in an apparently random manner, with no signs of indentations from temporary scaffolding or of any symmetrical cutting of the blocks to aid removal,” James writes in STRUCTURE, a structural engineering trade publication. The damage just did not look like the result of thieves. Rather, as James puts it, it “appears to be caused by a giant whose hand has swept across the face of the pyramid with enormous energy, sucking out the facing and leaving the ragged empty sockets.

So what was causing the crumbling? James presents a new explanation: thermal movement — that is to say the expansion and contraction of the limestone with temperature fluctuations — has ground down the rocks and shifted their positions.

During the day, the temperature rises to 40°C (104°F) across the face of the outer casing, then at night cools to 3⁰C (37⁰F) because of the lack of cover and exposure to the prevailing winds. This gives an average daily temperature fluctuation of 37°C (67°F). The photographs of the Bent Pyramid show how thermal expansion has caused the blocks to move to the edges, where they have detached. It also shows how individual stones, unsupported, can cantilever and snap off and subsequently fall to the ground.

He estimates that the motion can amount to 1¼ inches per 328 feet. As the stones move, dust and sand would fall from the stones and fill in the spaces between them. The spaces into which they could contract at night would shrink, and over time they would be pushed out of position. “Multiply this endless movement by the number of days that the pyramid has been erected and you have the reason why all the outer casing has moved to the extremities, where it has buckled or displaced against blocks moving in the opposite direction and then fallen off,” James writes. “It may then have been picked up by opportunists and removed from the site.

The Bent Pyramid is one of the best preserved and, as a result, it provides a unique opportunity for studying how the crumbling is happening. James theorizes that the reason the Bent Pyramid retains its casing, while the Red Pyramid and the Great Pyramid “have virtually none” is that, ironically, the Bent Pyramid had worse construction to begin with. As the Egyptians became more skilled, and developed more accurate construction techniques, the voids between the stones disappeared, and the structures were less able to absorb the ebbs and flows of the limestone. The other, more perfect pyramids may have developed exterior cracks rather quickly, and, James hypothesizes, may be why eventually the Egyptians moved their burial grounds to the Valley of the Kings. The pyramids’ perfection became their imperfection; their smooth facades broken by the precision of their construction.

Wednesday, August 7

How The London Boroughs Got Their Names


You may like these horrible histories behind the names of London boroughs. Fascinating. We live in deep historical places kids. We have had Saxons, Celts, Vikings, Romans, Normans and some Picts as well. This was a violent place. Harrow and Stanmore. Absolutely full of warfare but also long periods of peace. Fascinating. 

You have been to the museum of London. Remember this? 



How The London Boroughs Got Their Names


Fifty years ago today, the London Government Act 1963 received Royal Assent. It paved the way, two years later, for radical changes in London’s political boundaries. The 32 boroughs that we still know, love and pay our council tax to, were created. (The tiny City of London — also known as the Square Mile — holds different political status to the 32 boroughs, and carried on as normal after the Act.)

Many former boroughs (Finsbury and St Pancras, for example) disappeared overnight, though you can still see their names on old street signs around town. The new, bigger, amalgamated boroughs needed new names. In most cases, ancient appellations were chosen. So here’s our guide to the etymology of London’s boroughs. Find out which areas are named after sheep, chalk, crocuses…and a hill in Yorkshire.

Barking and Dagenham

Barking is an ancient, Anglo-Saxon phrase, first recorded as Berecingas. The name either derives from a local chieftan called Bereca or means “the settlement by the birch trees”. Dagenham is also ancient, first recorded as Dæccanhaam in 666 AD. ‘Haam’ means ‘home’ or ‘homestead’ and Dæcca was presumably a local land-owner or leader.

Tuesday, August 6

The Major Pipeline

this was fascinating, how does your university major link up with your eventual career?


This is just a cropped version of the graph, see the site for a better picturisation, fascinating where people end up with..Funny thing was on the managers, pretty much everybody is ending up in there, heh.

Monday, August 5

Tax Farming and the Origins of State Capacity in England and France

Fascinating comparison.

How did modern and centralized fiscal institutions emerge? We develop a model that explains (i) why pre-industrial states relied on private individuals to collect taxes; (ii) why after 1600 both England and France moved from competitive methods for collecting revenues to allocating the right to collect taxes to a small group of financiers—an intermediate institution that we call cabal tax farming— and (iii) why this centralization led to investments in fiscal capacity and increased Fiscal standardization. We provide detailed historical evidence that supports our prediction that rulers abandoned the competitive allocation of tax rights in favor of cabal tax farming in order to gain access to inside credit, and that this transition was accompanied by investments in standardization. Finally (iv) we show why this intermediate institution proved to be self-undermining in England, where it was quickly replaced by direct collection, but lasted in France until the French Revolution.

You know something, whenever I hear people fulminating about bankers and credit and and and, I just feel sad. More life changes, more it remains the same. The situations we are going through has been seen before, quite a lot of times. People forget that once taxation goes through the roof, people do tend to revolt. Typically, its the rulers (governments in today’s parlance) who usually bugger up the economy and then go for the tax take to try to make up for those stupid policy decisions. But the British were better at this, one of the reasons why we are still celebrating the birth of Prince George while the French are, well, French.