Posted by: CHIDI OMOLU | May 6, 2008

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Posted by: CHIDI OMOLU | April 25, 2008

Biogas – from your kitchen, in your backyard

Biogas – from your kitchen, in your backyard


Pune: Think twice before you dump that banana peel or spinach stem into the bin. That and more waste from your kitchen can be converted into biogas to supplement your energy needs — that too in your own backyard.

Anand Karve, director of the Pune-based Appropriate Rural Technology Institute (ARTI), tells you how.

All one needs for the kit is two 1,000 cubic litres of plastic tanks (equivalent to the common syntax tanks seen in most households) and a daily supply of kitchen waste. And homemade biogas, essentially a combination of methane and carbon dioxide, is ready to be used as fuel.

It took Karve almost three years to develop the compact biogas plant system and convince Indian scientists that kitchen waste was a more efficient source of methane than cow dung, the traditional source of biogas.

“One kg of kitchen waste in 24 hours can produce the same amount of biogas as 40 kg of cow dung in 40 days. That means more than 400 times efficiency can be achieved by using kitchen waste as compared to cow dung,” Karve told IANS.

Karve found that methane-producing bacteria belonged to a group called archebacteria or ancient bacteria, which evolved on earth when there was no oxygen. The only places where the bacteria can be found are in the intestines of animals and the bottom of the sea.

That set Karve thinking. “I realised that the bacteria eats what we eat and is thrown out along with the faecal matter. That is why I started using waste food as a source of biogas,” he said.

Karve’s kit has two air-sealed tanks, one on top of the other. The archebacteria that breaks down the waste will only work if it is completely airtight.

According to Karve, it is a myth that cow dung is the only source of biogas. In fact, he said, dung does not have methanogenic bacteria – some bacteria have to be added to the dung to produce biogas.

Karve recommends that the system be installed either on the terrace or in the backyard where there is ample sunshine, because the bacteria perform better when the temperature is higher.

He said it is ideal for restaurants and hostels where there is a large amount kitchen waste and also offers an efficient garbage disposal mechanism.

The costs are minimal and the kit can be installed within a budget of Rs.6, 000.

The invention has earned Karve global appreciation, he is a two-time winner of the prestigious Ashden Award, popularly known as the ‘Green Oscars’. He is also winner of the 2007 Jamnalal Bajaj Award for application of science and technology for rural development.

“Initially no one wanted to listen to me, but when the west recognises it people start looking at you.”

Now Karve and his team of 40 have successfully installed about 3,000 plants in India and 2,000 overseas.

In Pune, many hostels and restaurants have started using the system, thus considerably bringing down the use of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

According to Karve, 800 tonnes of agri-waste is generated in India annually; this can easily be converted into high-grade energy. “Methane can also be used to drive vehicles. Just like green revolution made us food sufficient, using agri waste to produce methane can make us energy sufficient.” IANS

Posted by: CHIDI OMOLU | March 24, 2008

10 Important Differences Between Brains and Computers

10 Important Differences Between Brains and Computers

Artificial IntelligenceCognitive NeuroscienceComputational Modeling ]
Posted on: March 27, 2007 12:38 PM, by Chris Chatham

“A good metaphor is something even the police should keep an eye on.” – G.C. Lichtenberg

Although the brain-computer metaphor has served cognitive psychology well, research in cognitive neuroscience has revealed many important differences between brains and computers. Appreciating these differences may be crucial to understanding the mechanisms of neural information processing, and ultimately for the creation of artificial intelligence. Below, I review the most important of these differences (and the consequences to cognitive psychology of failing to recognize them): similar ground is covered in this excellent (though lengthy) lecture.

Difference # 1: Brains are analogue; computers are digital

It’s easy to think that neurons are essentially binary, given that they fire an action potential if they reach a certain threshold, and otherwise do not fire. This superficial similarity to digital “1′s and 0′s” belies a wide variety of continuous and non-linear processes that directly influence neuronal processing.

For example, one of the primary mechanisms of information transmission appears to be the rate at which neurons fire – an essentially continuous variable. Similarly, networks of neurons can fire in relative synchrony or in relative disarray; this coherence affects the strength of the signals received by downstream neurons. Finally, inside each and every neuron is a leaky integrator circuit, composed of a variety of ion channels and continuously fluctuating membrane potentials.

Failure to recognize these important subtleties may have contributed to Minksy & Papert’s infamous mischaracterization of perceptrons, a neural network without an intermediate layer between input and output. In linear networks, any function computed by a 3-layer network can also be computed by a suitably rearranged 2-layer network. In other words, combinations of multiple linear functions can be modeled precisely by just a single linear function. Since their simple 2-layer networks could not solve many important problems, Minksy & Papert reasoned that that larger networks also could not. In contrast, the computations performed by more realistic (i.e., nonlinear) networks are highly dependent on the number of layers – thus, “perceptrons” grossly underestimate the computational power of neural networks.

Difference # 2: The brain uses content-addressable memory

In computers, information in memory is accessed by polling its precise memory address. This is known as byte-addressable memory. In contrast, the brain uses content-addressable memory, such that information can be accessed in memory through “spreading activation” from closely related concepts. For example, thinking of the word “fox” may automatically spread activation to memories related to other clever animals, fox-hunting horseback riders, or attractive members of the opposite sex.

The end result is that your brain has a kind of “built-in Google,” in which just a few cues (key words) are enough to cause a full memory to be retrieved. Of course, similar things can be done in computers, mostly by building massive indices of stored data, which then also need to be stored and searched through for the relevant information (incidentally, this is pretty much what Google does, with a few twists).

Although this may seem like a rather minor difference between computers and brains, it has profound effects on neural computation. For example, a lasting debate in cognitive psychology concerned whether information is lost from memory because of simply decay or because of interference from other information. In retrospect, this debate is partially based on the false asssumption that these two possibilities are dissociable, as they can be in computers. Many are now realizing that this debate represents a false dichotomy.

Difference # 3: The brain is a massively parallel machine; computers are modular and serial

An unfortunate legacy of the brain-computer metaphor is the tendency for cognitive psychologists to seek out modularity in the brain. For example, the idea that computers require memory has lead some to seek for the “memory area,” when in fact these distinctions are far more messy. One consequence of this over-simplification is that we are only now learning that “memory” regions (such as the hippocampus) are also important for imagination, the representation of novel goals, spatial navigation, and other diverse functions.

Similarly, one could imagine there being a “language module” in the brain, as there might be in computers with natural language processing programs. Cognitive psychologists even claimed to have found this module, based on patients with damage to a region of the brain known as Broca’s area. More recent evidence has shown that language too is computed by widely distributed and domain-general neural circuits, and Broca’s area may also be involved in other computations (see here for more on this).

Difference # 4: Processing speed is not fixed in the brain; there is no system clock

The speed of neural information processing is subject to a variety of constraints, including the time for electrochemical signals to traverse axons and dendrites, axonal myelination, the diffusion time of neurotransmitters across the synaptic cleft, differences in synaptic efficacy, the coherence of neural firing, the current availability of neurotransmitters, and the prior history of neuronal firing. Although there are individual differences in something psychometricians call “processing speed,” this does not reflect a monolithic or unitary construct, and certainly nothing as concrete as the speed of a microprocessor. Instead, psychometric “processing speed” probably indexes a heterogenous combination of all the speed constraints mentioned above.

Similarly, there does not appear to be any central clock in the brain, and there is debate as to how clock-like the brain’s time-keeping devices actually are. To use just one example, the cerebellum is often thought to calculate information involving precise timing, as required for delicate motor movements; however, recent evidence suggests that time-keeping in the brain bears more similarity to ripples on a pond than to a standard digital clock.

Difference # 5 – Short-term memory is not like RAM

Although the apparent similarities between RAM and short-term or “working” memory emboldened many early cognitive psychologists, a closer examination reveals strikingly important differences. Although RAM and short-term memory both seem to require power (sustained neuronal firing in the case of short-term memory, and electricity in the case of RAM), short-term memory seems to hold only “pointers” to long term memory whereas RAM holds data that is isomorphic to that being held on the hard disk. (See here for more about “attentional pointers” in short term memory).

Unlike RAM, the capacity limit of short-term memory is not fixed; the capacity of short-term memory seems to fluctuate with differences in “processing speed” (see Difference #4) as well as with expertise and familiarity.

Difference # 6: No hardware/software distinction can be made with respect to the brain or mind

For years it was tempting to imagine that the brain was the hardware on which a “mind program” or “mind software” is executing. This gave rise to a variety of abstract program-like models of cognition, in which the details of how the brain actually executed those programs was considered irrelevant, in the same way that a Java program can accomplish the same function as a C++ program.

Unfortunately, this appealing hardware/software distinction obscures an important fact: the mind emerges directly from the brain, and changes in the mind are always accompanied by changes in the brain. Any abstract information processing account of cognition will always need to specify how neuronal architecture can implement those processes – otherwise, cognitive modeling is grossly underconstrained. Some blame this misunderstanding for the infamous failure of “symbolic AI.”

Difference # 7: Synapses are far more complex than electrical logic gates

Another pernicious feature of the brain-computer metaphor is that it seems to suggest that brains might also operate on the basis of electrical signals (action potentials) traveling along individual logical gates. Unfortunately, this is only half true. The signals which are propagated along axons are actually electrochemical in nature, meaning that they travel much more slowly than electrical signals in a computer, and that they can be modulated in myriad ways. For example, signal transmission is dependent not only on the putative “logical gates” of synaptic architecture but also by the presence of a variety of chemicals in the synaptic cleft, the relative distance between synapse and dendrites, and many other factors. This adds to the complexity of the processing taking place at each synapse – and it is therefore profoundly wrong to think that neurons function merely as transistors.

Difference #8: Unlike computers, processing and memory are performed by the same components in the brain

Computers process information from memory using CPUs, and then write the results of that processing back to memory. No such distinction exists in the brain. As neurons process information they are also modifying their synapses – which are themselves the substrate of memory. As a result, retrieval from memory always slightly alters those memories (usually making them stronger, but sometimes making them less accurate – see here for more on this).

Difference # 9: The brain is a self-organizing system

This point follows naturally from the previous point – experience profoundly and directly shapes the nature of neural information processing in a way that simply does not happen in traditional microprocessors. For example, the brain is a self-repairing circuit – something known as “trauma-induced plasticity” kicks in after injury. This can lead to a variety of interesting changes, including some that seem to unlock unused potential in the brain (known as acquired savantism), and others that can result in profound cognitive dysfunction (as is unfortunately far more typical in traumatic brain injury and developmental disorders).

One consequence of failing to recognize this difference has been in the field of neuropsychology, where the cognitive performance of brain-damaged patients is examined to determine the computational function of the damaged region. Unfortunately, because of the poorly-understood nature of trauma-induced plasticity, the logic cannot be so straightforward. Similar problems underlie work on developmental disorders and the emerging field of “cognitive genetics”, in which the consequences of neural self-organization are frequently neglected .

Difference # 10: Brains have bodies

This is not as trivial as it might seem: it turns out that the brain takes surprising advantage of the fact that it has a body at its disposal. For example, despite your intuitive feeling that you could close your eyes and know the locations of objects around you, a series of experiments in the field of change blindness has shown that our visual memories are actually quite sparse. In this case, the brain is “offloading” its memory requirements to the environment in which it exists: why bother remembering the location of objects when a quick glance will suffice? A surprising set of experiments by Jeremy Wolfe has shown that even after being asked hundreds of times which simple geometrical shapes are displayed on a computer screen, human subjects continue to answer those questions by gaze rather than rote memory. A wide variety of evidence from other domains suggests that we are only beginning to understand the importance of embodiment in information processing.

Bonus Difference: The brain is much, much bigger than any [current] computer

Accurate biological models of the brain would have to include some 225,000,000,000,000,000 (225 million billion) interactions between cell types, neurotransmitters, neuromodulators, axonal branches and dendritic spines, and that doesn’t include the influences of dendritic geometry, or the approximately 1 trillion glial cells which may or may not be important for neural information processing. Because the brain is nonlinear, and because it is so much larger than all current computers, it seems likely that it functions in a completely different fashion. (See here for more on this.) The brain-computer metaphor obscures this important, though perhaps obvious, difference in raw computational power.

Posted by: CHIDI OMOLU | February 23, 2008

Scientist Experiments With Healing Doctor’s Prayers

Scientist Experiments With Healing Doctor’s Prayers

NASA Researcher To Prove Nemeh’s Spiritual Prayer Is Science

POSTED: 3:39 pm EST February 21, 2008
UPDATED: 6:58 pm EST February 21, 2008
CLEVELAND — Dr. Issam Nemeh is the medical doctor who is said to heal spiritually, by praying over those who are ill. NewsChannel5 anchor Ted Henry reported about his healing prayer sessions in Cleveland over the years, and now he’s working with a NASA scientist to prove that spiritual prayer is, in fact, science. Henry said that spontaneous healing prayer cannot only reach its mark in human healing, but that it can also be measured. “Dr. Nemeh is the key here. With him, we have just a tremendous opportunity to advance this type of research,” said George Szatowski, NASA Electromagnetic Specialist. Szatowski is a NASA researcher from Virginia who believes Nemeh’s healing prayers can be measured remotely, over long distances in a closed metal box used to measure electromagnetic images. “What I think is going on is the electromagnetic signal is creating resonances at a molecular level and time sequence correctly that is causing these physical healings,” Szatowski said. “In our three-dimensional world, that is the true physical healing is taking place from the electromagnetic radiation.” Under controlled conditions when Nemeh prays in Cleveland for a healing, the energy from that prayer can be registered scientifically, Szatowski said at his office in Virgina. “If you have a closed metal electric box, there is no electromagnetic energy in there unless you put it in there,” Szatowski said. “How is it getting in there?” Henry asked? “It’s coming from the field, from prayer,” Szatowski said. “We are measuring the artifact of prayer, artifact meaning we are detecting and measuring the electromagnetic signature as a result of prayer.” Scientists and skeptics put little stock in words, Henry reported. They want to see proof, results of comparative studies and double-blind tests that prayer is science. “I’ve done some homework. Though in terms of researching what the critics would say and what I’ve found was, if you are really changing the way science is understood, you need to have 10,000 repeatable experiments that can be validated. We can do that in two days,” Szatowski said. The NASA scientist working with Nemeh knows that going public with his research invites strong questions and criticism. For many people, the idea of spiritual healing is best left strictly as a matter of faith, not science. You can e-mail Ted Henry your questions, comments and criticisms at henry@newsnet5.com.
Posted by: CHIDI OMOLU | February 21, 2008

A world united on water

A world united on water

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Klaus Schwab and Peter Brabeck-Letmathe | January 21, 2008

THE world is on the verge of a water crisis. As the global economy and the world’s population continue to expand, we are becoming a much thirstier planet. It is important to realise just how much water we need to make the various aspects of our economy work.

Every litre of petrol requires up to 2.5litres of water to produce it. On average, crops grown for their bio-energy need at least 1000 litres of water to make one litre of biofuel. It takes about 2700 litres of water to make one cotton T-shirt, up to 4000litres of water to produce 1kg of wheat and up to 16,000 litres to produce 1kg of beef.

The statistics are equally surprising for hundreds of other products that we all take for granted, such as milk, juice, coffee, fruit, pizza, detergents, carpets, paint, electrical appliances, cosmetics and so on. On average, wealthier people consume upwards of 3000 litres of water every day. Even to produce the much more basic things our economy needs, such as cement, steel, chemicals, mining or power generation, requires tonnes of water.

We have seen how a combination of crop switch for biofuels and drought can have an inflationary impact on food. Water is the bigger problem behind this issue. It has the potential for a much more profound impact on consumers and voters. In the breadbasket areas of the world, which help feed our fast-growing urban populations, we are heading for painful trade-offs or even conflict.

Along the Colorado, the Indus, the Murray Darling, the Mekong, the Nile or within the North China Plain, for example, do we use the scarce water for food, for fuel, for people and cities, or for industrial growth? How much of the upstream river can we really dam? How do we figure out ways for every actor in the economy to get the water they need to meet their human, economic and cultural aspirations? And can we ensure that the environment is not wrecked but can flourish in the process?

These are tough questions. And unlike carbon reduction, there is no alternative, no substitute to promote. Nor is there a global solution to negotiate. Turning off your tap in Vancouver or Berlin will not ease the drought in Rajasthan or Australia.

Water is local. Water basins will become the flashpoints. These are the large areas that drain into the world’s major rivers and eventually into the sea. They contain millions of people, farmland, forests, cities, industry and coastline, and often straddle multiple political boundaries. The sector that will get the most attention will be the water used by agriculture for food and textile production: 70 per cent of all our freshwater withdrawals are in this sector. Savings made here can help elsewhere in the water basin.

The International Water Management Institute had 500 scientists examine the water we use for agriculture.

Their report took five years to complete. It found that we will not have enough water to supply global demand for food during the next few decades unless urgent and substantial reforms in water and agriculture are undertaken.

Climate change will create this situation more quickly and make it worse. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report says that if global average temperature rises by 3C, hundreds of millions of people will be exposed to increased water stress. It provides the wake-up call we all need to start acting on water.

We can see this crisis unfolding during the next few years. A perfect storm is approaching. And all this sits on top of today’s morally indefensible situation where 20 per cent of the world’s population is without access to improved water supply.

But it is not a catastrophe yet. It lies within our collective grasp to find the solutions. Business can improve its water efficiency, and in many cases it has raised the bar. There are many success stories. But it will take everyone in the water basin working together to change the overall game.

This is what makes the challenge complicated. We are ahead of the curve for now. Addressed smartly, innovatively and with new forms of collaboration between government, business and industry, we believe the coming crisis can be averted.

It is against this backdrop that we will come together at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting to raise the economic and political profile of water: to raise awareness among our business colleagues, our politicians and society at large about adapting to this urgent challenge. How can we start moving to ensure we organise a water-secure world for everyone, including businesses, by 2020?

Our aim is to catalyse at this year’s Davos meeting in Switzerland an unprecedented, high-impact public-private coalition to find ways to manage our future water needs before the crisis hits.

Klaus Schwab is founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe is chairman and chief executive of Nestle.

Posted by: CHIDI OMOLU | February 16, 2008

Consumer Tips for Salt Use

Besides making foods delicious, it’s believed there are more than 14,000 uses of salt, and our grandmothers were probably familiar with most of them. Many of these uses were for simple things around the home before the advent of modern chemicals and cleaners. However, many uses are still valid today and a lot cheaper than using more sophisticated products.

We thought you might like to share some of these fascinating applications of salt.

We make no guarantee about the results if you try any of them, but there must be something to them since they have been handed down over the years in many households. Most of these uses have stood the test of time.

The most familiar use of salt undoubtedly is in the kitchen and on the dining table. Salt accents the flavor of meat, brings out individuality of vegetables, puts “oomph” into bland starches, deepens the flavor of delicate desserts and develops flavor of melons and certain other fruits. No other seasoning has yet been found that can satisfactorily take the place of salt. But there are other uses around the home, too.

Salt is an excellent cleaning agent, by itself or in combination with other substances. A solution of salt and turpentine restores the whiteness to yellowed enameled bathtubs and lavatories. A paste of salt and vinegar cleans tarnished brass or copper. a strong brine poured down the kitchen sink prevents grease from collecting and eliminates odors.

Salt helps destroy moths and drives away ants. A dash of salt in laundry starch keeps the iron from sticking and gives linen and fine cottons a glossy, like-new finish. A thin paste of salt and salad oil removes white marks caused by hot dishes or water from wooden tables.

A box of salt is an important item in many bathrooms. In mild solutions, it makes an excellent mouthwash, throat gargle or eye-wash; it is an effective dentifrice; it is an effective antiseptic; and it can be extremely helpful as a massage element to improve complexion.

We offer these other tips:

Kitchen (and, of course, don’t forget salt IS used for food too!  See our recipes)

Boiling Water – Salt added to water makes the water boil at a higher temperature, thus reducing cooking time. (It does not make the water boil faster.)

Peeling eggs – Boiling eggs in salted water will make eggs peel easily.

Poaching eggs – Poaching eggs over salted water helps set the egg whites.

Testing egg freshness – Place the egg in a cup of water to which two teaspoonfuls of salt has been added. A fresh egg sinks; a doubter will float.

Preventing browning – Apples, pears and potatoes dropped in cold, lightly salted water as they are peeled will retain their color.

Shelling pecans – Soaking pecans in salt water for several hours before shelling will make nut meats easier to remove.

Washing spinach – If spinach is washed in salted water, repeated cleanings will not be necessary.

Preventing sugaring – A little salt added to cake icings prevents them from sugaring.

Crisping salads – Salting salads immediately before serving will keep them crisp.

Improving boiled potatoes – Boiled potatoes will be given a fine, mealy texture by sprinkling with salt after draining, then returning them to the pan and shaking them back and forth quickly to get rid of the excess moisture.

Cleaning greasy pans – The greasiest iron pan will wash easily if you put a little salt in it and wipe with paper.

Cleaning stained cups – Rubbing with salt will remove stubborn tea or coffee stains from cups.

Cleaning ovens – Salt and cinnamon take the “burned food” odor away from ovens and stove burners. Sprinkle spills while oven and burners are still hot; when dry, remove the salted spots with a stiff brush or cloth.

Cleaning refrigerators – Salt and soda water will clean and sweeten the inside of your refrigerator. It won’t scratch enamel either.

Extinguishing grease fires – Salt tossed on a grease fire on the stove or in the oven will smother flames. Never use water; it will only spatter the burning grease.

Improving coffee - A pinch of salt in coffee will enhance the flavor and remove the bitterness of over-cooked coffee.

Improving poultry – To improve the flavor of poultry, rub the fowl inside and out with salt before roasting.

Removing pinfeathers – To remove pinfeathers easily from a chicken, rub the chicken skin with salt first.

Cleaning tarnished silverware – Rub tarnish with salt before washing.

Cleaning copper pans - Remove stains on copper pans by salting area and scouring with a cloth soaked in vinegar.

Cleaning coffee pots – Remove bitterness from percolators and other coffee pots by filling with water, adding four tablespoons of salt and percolating or boiling as usual.

Removing onion odors from hands – Rub fingers with salt moistened with vinegar.

“Sweetening” containers – Salt can “sweeten” and deodorize thermos bottles and jugs, decanters and other closed containers.

Cleaning sink drains – Pour a strong salt brine down the kitchen sink drain regularly to eliminate odors and keep grease from building up.

Brightening cutting boards – After washing them with soap and water, rub bread and cutting boards with a damp cloth dipped in salt; the boards will be lighter and brighter.  There are antiseptic reasons to use salt as well.

Fixing oversalted soups - If soup has been oversalted, cut up a raw potato or two and drop into the soup. The potato will absorb the salt.

Cleaning dried-on egg – Salt not only makes eggs taste better, but it makes “eggy” dishes clean easier. Sprinkle salt on dishes right after breakfast; it makes them a whiz to clean when you have time.

Preventing food from sticking - Rub a pancake griddle with a small bag of salt to prevent sticking and smoking. Sprinkle a little salt in the skillet before frying fish to prevent the fish from sticking. Sprinkle salt on washed skillets, waffle iron plates or griddles, heat in a warm oven, dust off salt; when they are next used, foods will not stick.

Preventing mold - To prevent mold on cheese, wrap it in a cloth dampened with saltwater before refrigerating.

Whipping cream and beating egg whites - By adding a pinch of salt, cream will whip better and egg whites will beat faster and higher.

Keeping milk fresh - Adding a pinch of salt to milk will keep it fresh longer.

Setting gelatin - To set gelatin salads and desserts quickly, place over ice that has been sprinkled with salt.

Cleaning

Cleaning brass - Mix equal parts of salt, flour and vinegar to make a paste, rub the paste on the brass item, leave on for an hour or so, then clean with a soft cloth or brush and buff with a dry cloth.

Cleaning wicker - To prevent yellowing, scrub wicker furniture with a stiff brush moistened with warm saltwater and allow to dry in the sun.

Cleaning grease spots on rugs - Some grease spots can be removed with a solution of one part salt and four parts alcohol and rubbing hard but carefully to avoid damage to the nap.

Extending broom life - New brooms will wear longer if soaked in hot saltwater before they are first used.

Removing wine stains - If wine is spilled on a tablecloth or rug, blot up as much as possible and immediately cover the wine with salt, which will absorb the remaining wine. Later rinse the tablecloth with cold water; scrape up the salt from the rug and then vacuum the spot.

Removing rings from tables - White rings left on tables from wet or hot dishes or glasses can be removed by rubbing a thin paste of salad oil and salt on the spot with your fingers, letting it stand an hour or two, then wiping it off.

Restoring sponges - Give sponges new life by soaking them in cold saltwater after they are washed.

Settling suds – If a washing machine bubbles over from too many suds, sprinkle salt on the suds to reduce them.

Brightening colors - Wash colored curtains or washable fiber rugs in a saltwater solution to brighten the colors. Brighten faded rugs and carpets by rubbing them briskly with a cloth that has been dipped in a strong saltwater solution and wrung out.

Removing perspiration stains – Add four tablespoons of salt to one quart of hot water and sponge the fabric with the solution until stains disappear.

Brightening yellowed cottons or linens - Boil the yellowed items for one hour in a salt and baking soda solution

Removing blood stains - Soak the stained clothing or other cloth item in cold saltwater, then launder in warm, soapy water and boil after the wash. (Use only on cotton, linen or other natural fibers that can take high heat.)

Removing mildew or rust stains - Moisten stained spots with a mixture of lemon juice and salt, then spread the item in the sun for bleaching; and finally, rinse and dry.

Color-matching nylons - Good nylons that don’t have a match can be made the same color by boiling them a few minutes in a pan of lightly salted water.

Fixing sticking iron - Sprinkle a little salt on a piece of paper and run the hot iron over it to remove rough, sticky spots.

Removing “salt stains” from carpets“Salt” stains are usually caused by calcium chloride and magnesium chloride, not sodium chloride, caccording to the Carpet and Rug Institute.  Rock salt has small amounts of both of these salts imbedded in it.  The problem comes with solubility.  Patience and lots of rinse cycles are the key and sometimes calcium carbonate forms and this is fairly insoluble.  Try to vacuum most of the dry residue off before using cool to warm water and a very small amount of carpet shampoo.  Once the cleaning solution has been applied, allow time for it to dissolve the deposit.  Blot, do not scrub, the spot.  Sodium chloride is more soluble at lower temps than at higher ones.  Then rinse with clear lukewarm water, blotting up the excess moisture and follow with another water rinse and blot dry.  This should work.  If not, try a cleaning mixture of 1/2 white vinegar to 1/2 lukewarm water, allow to stand 15 minutes and rinse with clear water.

Health & Beauty

Gargling - Stir 1/2 teaspoon salt in an 8-ounce glass of warm water for use as a gargle for sore throats.

Cleaning teeth – Mix one part salt to two parts baking soda after pulverizing the salt in a blender or rolling it on a kitchen board with a tumbler before mixing. It whitens teeth, helps remove plaque and it is healthy for the gums.

Washing mouth - Mix equal parts of salt and baking soda as a mouth wash that sweetens the breath.

Bathing eyes - Mix 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a pint of water and use the solution to bathe tired eyes.

Reducing eye puffiness - Mix one teaspoon of salt in a pint of hot water and apply pads soaked in the solution on the puffy areas.

Relieving tired feet - Soak aching feet in warm water to which a handful of salt has been added. Rinse in cool water.

Relieving bee stings - If stung, immediately wet the spot and cover with salt to relieve the pain.

Treating mosquito and chigger bites – Soak in saltwater, then apply a mixture of lard and salt.

Treating poison ivy – Soaking the exposed part in hot saltwater helps hasten the end to poison ivy irritation.

Relieving fatigue - Soak relaxed for at least ten minutes in a tub of water into which several handfuls of salt has been placed.  Or try this recipe for “aches and itches”

Removing dry skin – After bathing and while still wet give yourself a massage with dry salt. It removes dead skin particles and aids the circulation.

Making a salt glow scrub – See this recipe

Applying facial - For a stimulating facial, mix equal parts of salt and olive oil and gently massage the face and throat with long upward and inward strokes. Remove mixture after five minutes and wash face.

Removing tattoos -CAUTION-This is a medical procedure that can be done only by a physician. It is called salabrasion and requires several treatments by rubbing salt on the tattoo. Healing is required between treatments, but there is virtually no scarring.

Treating varicose veins – CAUTION-This is another medical procedure called sclerotheraphy and is done by injecting a saline solution into the vein.

Many commercial sites sell specialty bath salts designed for health and beauty, for example.

Other Uses

Extinguishing grease fires - Keep a box of salt handy at your stove and oven and if a grease fire flares up, cover the flames with salt. Do not use water on grease fires; it will splatter the burning grease. Also a handful of salt thrown on flames from meat dripping in barbecue grills will reduce the flames and deaden the smoke without cooling the coals as water does.

Drip-proofing candles - Soak new candles in a strong salt solution for a few hours, then dry them well. When burned they will not drip.

Removing soot - Occasionally throw a handful of salt on the flames in your fireplace; it will help loosen soot from the chimney and salt makes a bright yellow flame.

Cleaning fish tanks - Rub the inside of fish tanks with salt to remove hard water deposits, then rinse well before returning the fish to the tank. Use only plain, not iodized, salt.

Invigorating goldfish - Occasionally add one teaspoon of salt to a quart of fresh water at room temperature and put your goldfish in for about 15 minutes. Then return them to their tank. The salt swim makes them healthier.  For more information.

Cleaning flower vases - To remove deposits caused by flowers and water, rub with salt; if you cannot reach the deposits to rub them, put a strong salt solution in the vase and shake, then wash the vase with soap and water.

Keeping cut flowers fresh - A dash of salt added to the water in a flower vase will keep cut flowers fresh longer.

Holding artificial flowers - Artificial flowers can be held in an artistic arrangement by pouring salt into the container, adding a little cold water and then arranging the flowers. The salt will solidify as it dries and hold the flowers in place.

Keeping patios weed-free - If weeds or unwanted grass come up between patio bricks or blocks, carefully spread salt between the bricks and blocks, then sprinkle with water or wait for rain to wet it down.

Killing poison ivy - Mix three pounds of salt with a gallon of soapy water and apply to leaves and stems with a sprayer.

Keeping windows frost-free - Rub the inside of windows with a sponge dipped in a saltwater solution and rub dry; the windows will not frost up in sub-freezing weather. Rubbing a small cloth bag containing salt that has been moistened on your car’s windshield will keep snow and ice from collecting.

Deicing sidewalks and driveways - Lightly sprinkling rock salt on walks and driveways will keep snow and ice from bonding to the pavement and allow for easy removal. Don’t overdo it; use the salt sensibly to avoid damage to grass and ornamentals.

Deodorizing shoes - Sprinkling a little salt in canvas shoes occasionally will take up the moisture and help remove odors.

Have fun with salt- Salt can be converted easily into an inexpensive dough for children’s creative artworks.  Or make a mini-volcano from salt.  And, salt dough isn’t just for kids; it can be worked into clever home decorations too (we have no commercial interest nor even familiarity with this site.  We offer it to illustrate what can be done with salt dough).

Serious artists ( 1    2 ) use salt as a medium too (or use saltworks as an object to paint).  Salt can be used to illustrate principles of science.

Consumer uses of salt are virtually unlimited.  There are other websites, blogs ( 1    2   3 ) and even entire books on the subject.

If you’d like salt-related information delivered automatically via a newsreader, you can subscribe to our Salt Institute NewsCentral service or add any of our feeds to your newsreader.

Posted by: CHIDI OMOLU | February 16, 2008

In Gaza, cars are cooking with gas

 Enterprising mechanics convert autos because Israeli sanctions have choked off gasoline supply
Feb 11, 2008 04:30 AM


Middle East Bureau
GAZA CITY–At least one line of business still seems to be booming in this benighted land, and it does not involve firing rockets.

It involves tinkering with cars.

“We are under siege,” says Ali Awad, 48, an automobile mechanic who is especially adept at a certain procedure ideally suited to the strapped circumstances that nowadays prevail in the Gaza Strip, where punitive sanctions imposed by Israel have crippled an already stumbling economy.

“We have to survive. We cannot just go out and steal.”

Instead, Awad and tradespeople like him are performing a kind of modern-day alchemy, somehow keeping cars on the road in a territory where just about every gasoline station has been closed for weeks, owing to an acute and persistent shortage of fuel supplies.

Gasoline for automobiles has been especially hard hit, and not by accident.

“As far as I’m concerned, the residents of Gaza can walk,” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said last month, “and they will not get gasoline because they have a murderous, terrorist regime that does not allow the residents of southern Israel to live in peace.”

Olmert was referring to Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and condones the almost daily firing of mortars and improvised rockets, known as Qassams, toward Israel. For that reason, and also because Hamas refuses to formally recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state, Israel imposes a severe economic blockade on the territory, limiting the entry of most goods and sharply restricting the supply of fuel, especially gas for automobiles.

As a result, almost all of Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants should probably have blisters on their feet by now from so much walking.

But they have been at least partly spared that particular hardship, thanks in no small measure to mechanics like Awad, men who have mastered the trick of converting cars to run on a pressurized and flammable concoction that still manages to find its way into Gaza, albeit in diminished quantities.

It is called cooking gas.

For 1,000 shekels – about $275 – Awad can convert an automobile to operate on a combustible source of energy better known for its role in the preparation of dinner. He does an average of one conversion a day.

The job takes about eight hours to complete and involves running a fuel line from the trunk or back seat to the engine, where a specially designed pump is installed near the radiator. When the job is done, the vehicle’s operator can choose to burn conventional gasoline or the cooking stuff by flicking a switch on the dashboard.

“For me, as a mechanic, it’s easy,” says the grizzled owner of Our Carburetor Shop, a concrete-block structure with a corrugated zinc roof tucked amid an array of similar enterprises on Salahadin Road.

“Older cars are easier to convert. Newer ones are really difficult.”

Fortunately for Awad, the automobiles that ply Gaza’s dusty, rutted boulevards, weaving in and out among the donkey carts and sway-backed horses, tend to be machines of a certain age.

Despite Awad’s best efforts, there has been a noticeable reduction in the volume of automobile traffic in Gaza in recent weeks, especially now that local fuel distributors are on strike – a paradoxical protest against the Israeli-imposed shortages. But the territory’s streets are nonetheless surprisingly busy when you consider the almost complete absence of gasoline here.

Apart from trucks and taxis, which mostly run on diesel fuel – still sporadically available – it’s probably a safe bet that most of the cars still seeing action in the gas wars of Gaza have a canister of cooking gas hooked up in the back seat or trunk.

The conversion of cars to run on cooking gas is by no means unique to Gaza. It is popular in India and many other countries because it offers improved fuel economy and a cleaner-burning engine.

The difference in Gaza is that, here, the procedure is being used to help circumvent a hostile blockade.

In other words, it’s tantamount to an act of war, albeit a peaceful one.

This is the way Awad looks at it.

“You can steal,” he says, “or you can work with honour.”

And drive with cooking gas.

Posted by: CHIDI OMOLU | February 16, 2008

Banana Waste to Produce Fuel in Australia

Written By: Dustin P. Walsh

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Growcom, an Australian horticulture/biofuel organization, has started the pre-construction process of a commercial biomethane plant. The plant will produce biomethane from banana waste to provide fuel to vehicles that run on natural gas.

The process consists in the use of an anaerobic digester to break down the banana’s microorganisms, much like the ones used at landfills to reduce methane emissions. The two-week process is said to produce large quantities of methane – efficiency will depend on new digester technology to reduce the cost in order to produce mass quantities of methane.

+ AutoblogGreen: Banana methane will power cars in Australia (via Jalopnik)

Posted by: CHIDI OMOLU | February 9, 2008

10 Trailblazing Scientists About to Change Your Future

the mag

10 Trailblazing Scientists About to Change Your Future
by the mag – February 3, 2008 – 3:10 PM

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by Eric Furman

1. Erich Jarvis, Neurobiologist

jarvis.jpgWhen Duke professor Erich Jarvis wanted to find the key to human communication, he turned to birds. Strange, but true. Jarvis has been studying songbirds’ brains for insight into human linguistics, and his research has led to a startling discovery: Birds use two distinct neural pathways to learn songs—one in the front of the brain and one in the back. Guess what? Humans learn to speak in the same way. Jarvis believes this is an evolutionary clue suggesting that, when we shared an ancestor 300 million years ago, our brains were hardwired for language. Theoretically, once Jarvis and other neuroscientists fully understand this genetic blueprint, they can alter it and, in the process, make it easier to learn new languages and possibly even repair brain damage.

2. Nathan Wolfe, Epidemiologist

Nathan_Wolfe1.jpgInstead of spending his days in a lab, UCLA professor Nathan Wolfe has thrown himself into the heart of the jungle. Trekking right along with hunters in Cameroon, he’s attempting to learn how they’re exposed to diseases by asking them to donate blood samples (their own and their prey’s). Wolfe’s method is difficult, but his idea is simple: HIV, Ebola, and other human viruses originated from human-animal contact, so it’s possible that these hunters—who come in close contact with their catch—are the ones inadvertently triggering the outbreaks. Wolfe’s work will go a long way toward predicting where emerging diseases could occur and stopping the next HIV or Ebola epidemic before it starts.

3. Emily Oster, Economist

emily_oster.jpgA few years ago, as an economics PhD student at Harvard, Emily Oster chose to focus her attention on the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Traditionally, that was the turf of sociologists, anthropologists, and public health officials. But the 26-year-old Oster wasn’t afraid to hop the scientific fence and join the other side. She also hasn’t been afraid to suggest things we haven’t heard before—namely, that treating herpes and other STDs (instead of AIDS) can significantly reduce HIV transmissions. Oster also believes that while the HIV numbers commonly used by the UN, popular press, and researchers are about three times too high, the disease is spreading faster than ever in Africa. By casting her economist’s eyes on the issue, Oster has forced the old turf-guarders to reevaluate their approaches to AIDS in Africa and come up with new solutions.

4. Hiroshi Ishiguro, Roboticist

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Most robots look like, well, robots, but Ishiguro’s robots look remarkably human. To many people, this is discomforting—creepy even. To Ishiguro, it’s essential. As director of Osaka University’s Intelligent Robotics Lab, Ishiguro believes robots’ main role in our future will be to interact naturally with people—to pitch in as the workforce shrinks or to do necessary, unpleasant tasks. And because Ishiguro contends that people respond better to his humanlike robots (aka, androids) than other machine-like ones, he’s taken a no-holds-barred approach to studying cognitive behavior and human activity. In addition to nearly perfecting his silicone molds and metal skeletons, he’s figured out how to mimic even the most minute human movements, such as breathing, blinking, and even fidgeting. The result is “android science.” The idea is that by using robots that are indistinguishable from humans in scientific experiments, researchers can still elicit natural responses from their subjects but also have more control over the environment. So far, Ishiguro has already learned plenty about his students using the Geminoid HI-1, an android version of himself, which he operates via remote control to teach class.

5. Jeffrey H. Schwartz, Forensic Anthropologist

schwartz_72.jpgJeffrey Schwartz became the first modern man to lay eyes on a young George Washington. Yes, that George Washington. Although he normally works on forensic cases reconstructing faces from bones, Schwartz re-created Washington by working from the outside in. Using only clues from statues, portraits, dentures, and clothing, Schwartz plugged his “evidence” into a three-dimensional computer program, which allowed him to combine and manipulate the clues to arrive at his reproduction. Schwartz created renderings of the founding father at ages 19, 45, and 57, and from the looks of it, George Washington might have been the George Clooney of his day. The lasting ramifications of Schwartz’s applications and research will be seen almost immediately, as other forensic anthropologists follow his method to see what distant past heroes (and villains) really looked like.

6. Pardis Sabeti, Biological Anthropologist

dr_sabet.jpgPulling a typical all-nighter in med school, Pardis Sabeti achieved a not-so-typical feat—she confirmed the effects of genetics on the evolution of human diseases. By inputting different DNA sequences into an algorithm she created, Sabeti was able to find genes still linked to their neighbors—suggesting that their success within the gene pool is due to natural selection, not pure chance.

Sabeti now plans on using her algorithm to deconstruct the malaria parasite. By seeing how the parasite has evolved to develop drug resistances, she hopes to detect genetic vulnerabilities in malaria’s makeup. If she’s successful, future cures will be designed to attack those weaknesses. Meanwhile, Sabeti isn’t your typical lab rat. She’s the lead singer of the alt-rock band Thousand Days and sounds more than a little like Liz Phair. And did we mention that she’s a Rhodes Scholar who just graduated summa cum laude from Harvard Medical School in 2006?

7. Thomas A. Jackson, Aerospace Engineer

Piloting a real-life Luke Skywalker X-wing fighter is every aeronautical engineer’s fantasy, and Thomas Jackson is helping make it a reality. A scientist for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, Jackson is setting the direction for the supersonic combustion ramjet—aka, the scramjet. By scooping up oxygen from the atmosphere as it ascends, the scramjet eliminates the need for the heavy liquid oxygen and solid oxidizer used by a typical space shuttle. And once it catches on, it will revolutionize air travel. How does a 2-hour flight from New York to Sydney sound? Or a layover on the Moon? And the best thing is, it’ll all happen sooner than you think. In April 2007, NASA successfully test-powered a hydrocarbon-fueled scramjet engine to Mach 5.

8. , Probabilistic Roboticist

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Sebastian Thrun is a Stanford professor who drives a Volkswagen—but not just any Volkswagen. Thrun’s Touareg is autonomous, and its name is Stanley. The VW drives itself thanks to state-of-the-art road-finding and obstacle-avoidance software, along with radar systems, video screens, and laser range finders. Like every driver, Stanley makes mistakes, and Thrun programmed him with that in mind. Stanley’s decisions are based not on absolutes, but on probabilities, which results in more natural and realistic driver reactions. But Thrun isn’t so sure people will immediately hand over the keys to a bunch of Stanleys. It may take up to 30 years, he says, “simply because we don’t know how to insure a car where no one is at the wheel.”

9. Nima Arkani-Hamed, Particle Physicist and Applied String Theorist

NimaArkani-Hamed.jpgNima Arkani-Hamed thinks big. He has a theory that our universe is one of an infinite number of universes—meaning the largest thing we can wrap our minds around is actually pretty tiny. He didn’t pull the “multiverse” out of thin air, though. After becoming a Harvard professor at age 30, Arkani-Hamed first made a name for himself by suggesting that our universe is five-dimensional. Then he moved on to the multiverse, theorizing that our own universe has a hidden feature called “split supersymmetry,” which means that half of all particles have partner particles. The theory will be tested soon in Switzerland’s brand-new Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and if the LHC finds Arkani-Hamed’s partner particles, it could prove that the multiverse is real—and that our place in it is that much smaller.

10. Margaret Turnbull, Astrobiologist

MargaretTurnbull.jpgHunting for aliens isn’t necessarily the most respected academic endeavor in the world, but Margaret Turnbull pursued it anyway. More precisely, she set out to catalog the stars most likely to develop intelligent alien civilizations. Turnbull’s system was painstakingly tedious. She started with the 120,000 cataloged stars, narrowed down her list to 17,129 (excluding the ones that were too hot, too close together, or too erratic), and then parsed that list down to 100 candidates. Her final criteria? An ideal star would be at least 3 billion years old and have a high iron content (the better to spin off life-yielding planets with).

Turnbull’s mind-blowing patience has paid off. In 2015, NASA will be launching its Terrestrial Planet Finder, which will use space telescopes to look for planets beyond our solar system, and it’ll start with the stars on Turnbull’s short list. In other words, nobody’s laughing at Turnbull’s search for aliens now.

This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Care to subscribe?

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Posted by: CHIDI OMOLU | January 25, 2008

WATER AS FUEL

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