Publicly Owned Internet Service

The Case for Publicly Owned Internet Service:

Right now, state legislatures – where the incumbents wield great power – are keeping towns and cities in the U.S. from making their own choices about their communications networks. Meanwhile, municipalities, cooperatives and small independent companies are practically the only entities building globally competitive networks these days. Both AT&T and Verizon have ceased the expansion of next-generation fiber installations across the U.S., and the cable companies’ services greatly favor downloads over uploads.

Such a shame there is almost no real competition in broadband service. I’ve often wondered if one solution to the lack of investment by the big players would be for communities to own their own networks. This column paints an ugly picture of the efforts these players will go to to keep that from happening.

The power of Keynote

A leading design firm uses Apple’s Keynote application for a lot of design work:

One of the most powerful features of Keynote is that is will take virtually any file that you throw at it. Images, vectors, video, audio, etc. can all be simply be dragged or pasted into your work area. Once in the work area, they can be resized nondestructively.

They use it in the idea-creation and mock-up stage of design, and they find it to be a nearly perfect tool for that purpose. My students and I have been using it to lay out large format scientific posters for years, and they find it much easier and more powerful than PowerPoint. The alignment guides that pop up and prompt you make a huge difference.

Memory of past insults

Memory of past insults:

In this sea of unknowns, there is at least one take-home message: epigenetic factors appear to be the vehicle by which plants transfer defense memories to offspring. Further evidence for this comes from the finding that the “grandchildren” of exposed plants inherit the defense memory, but the fourth generation does not. “The observation that inherited resistance reverts after three generations suggests the underlying mechanism is not a mutation or another stable genetic change,” says Georg Jander, a biologist at the Boyce Thompson Institute in Ithaca, NY who partnered with Rasmann.

Designing the Perfect Fruit

Designing the Perfect Fruit

I’m really looking forward to this series on Design Decoded:

We’ll look at decades of experimentation in plant genetics geared toward improving the user interface of the mandarin; the novelty of marketing fresh fruits and vegetables; the rise, fall, and comeback of graphic design in the produce aisle; and growers’ ongoing battle to keep bees from trespassing and pollinating their seedless crops. Nature may be the original designer, but much human ingenuity is responsible for optimizing the mandarin.

I’ve got something rolling around in my head about this idea of ‘human ingenuity’ and the foods we eat, maybe this series will help crystallize it for me.

32,000 year-old plants

New Life, From an Arctic Flower That Died 32,000 Years Ago

By taking advantage of a property of most plant cells, a Russian research group may have revived a 32,000 year-old plant:

They then took cells from the placenta, the organ in the fruit that produces the seeds. They thawed out the cells and grew them in culture dishes into whole plants.

As the article goes on to point out, if this can be confirmed this represents a unique opportunity to study recent evolution in this species. But just think about this for a second: these cells that were revived were in a squirrel hole for 32,000 years. Whoa.

Plant Defense uses the Clock

Plants Use Body Clocks to Prepare for Battle

Lest I gave the impression that the animal immune system was using the circadian clock but the plant defense system was not, we have this:

Some of the circadian-regulated genes are linked to wounding or healing responses, meaning that they can anticipate an attack from insects just as they anticipate the sunrise.

This is really cool work, showing that plants use circadian regulation of defense compounds to provide maximum protection at the most likely time of insect feeding.

E-books can’t be burned

I love this article about ebooks and the nature of literature by Tim Parks:

The literary experience does not lie in any one moment of perception, or any physical contact with a material object (even less in the “possession” of handsome masterpieces lined up on our bookshelves), but in the movement of the mind through a sequence of words from beginning to end. More than any other art form it is pure mental material, as close as one can get to thought itself.

I continue to grow less and less inhibited about buying ebooks, I know that much.

Infinite possibilities

Interesting bit of research picked up by the mainstream press (albeit with no link to the article) in this week’s US News. In this case it’s a review article on the state of engineering plant secondary metabolism to create novel or high-value compounds:

Møller envisions a future where plants’ internal systems are re-engineered to create rare chemicals, such as artemisinin, a powerful anti-malarial drug that is found in trace amounts in only one plant worldwide. The plant would be rewired so that instead of making trace amounts of the drug, it would make lots of it.

Now that all the molecular tools are in place to even propose such an undertaking, the possibilities start to seem infinite.

Academic Publishers Enemies of Science

The academic publishing system has bothered me for some time, seems like it’s only getting worse:

The Research Works Act, introduced in the US Congress on 16 December, amounts to a declaration of war by the publishers.

Sounds like the act is basically an end-run around the NIH rules requiring open access. Nice. I’m pleased to see my society is not part of the Association of American Publishers, which fully supports the legislation.