Mar 19, 2011

University of Illinois - Best Biological and Agricultural Engineering Programs | Top Engineering Schools | US News Best Graduate Schools

I am proud to have attended and graduated from The University of Illinois, Biological and Agricultural Engineering School. It's Graduate Program was ranked #1 ABE Graduate Program in the country for the second year in a row by the U.S. News!!

The rankings were made public March 15, 2011.

The University of Illinois Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE) graduate program has been named the best in its class – again.

This week U.S. News and World Report announced its 2011 ranking of the best engineering schools in the United States. The magazine surveys 198 programs to get the information used in the ranking. For the second consecutive year, ABE at Illinois was named the top-ranked graduate program in agricultural and biological engineering.

The University of Illinois program received the highest ranking tied with Purdue University, followed by Texas A&M University, Cornell University, and University of California Davis to fill the top five spots.

K.C. Ting, head of the department, expressed his appreciation for the recognition and said there are many factors that contribute to the overall quality of the department, including outstanding faculty and staff, as well as nationally recognized research programs that attract top students.

The department is affiliated with both the College of Engineering and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environment Sciences (ACES) and offers graduate programs at the master’s and doctorate levels.

Alumni of the department reacted to the news with an outpouring of congratulations:
William Rudolph ’67 AgE – “I am so proud of the University of Illinois Agricultural and Biological Engineering faculty and all that they have accomplished. I appreciate all the hard work and dedication it takes for this to happen with such consistency.”
John Eisenmenn ’05 AgE – “Congrats on this excellent achievement! I am proud to call myself a U of I ABE alum!”
Bill Teaford, MS ’65 AgE – “When I left Urbana….the story was Iowa State and Purdue had the best Ph.D. programs…all the others were like taking runner-up in a beauty contest. Thanks for the great news. Congratulations!”
Palaniappa Krishnan, Ph.D. ’75 AgE – “Thanks for sharing the great news. Please pass my heartiest congratulations to KC for a job well done.”

Congratulations to all faculty, staff and students who have made ABE at Illinois the best in the nation!

GO ILLINI!!! ...Monte

Illini Secular Student Alliance: 4 Last-Minute Lent Suggestions for the Catholic Church

A pad like this might be worth lifelong virginity...

For a week now, the Catholic world has been in the period of Lent between Mardi Gras and Easter Sunday. This means that all over the globe, upwards of a billion Catholics are reflecting on their faith and giving up vices in the name of piety. Now, knowing the Pope and his buddies, in the rush of trying to find a caterer for the midnight Mardi Gras bash in Saint Peter’s Square and organizing volunteers to staff the Ash Wednesday altar boy spelling bee, right about now they’re slapping themselves on the head at how they totally blanked on picking something to give up for Lent. As an outside observer, I thought it might be constructive to offer a few humble suggestions:

Protecting child molesters- While it is somewhat understandable that in a worldwide institution there are bound to be a few bad eggs on the payroll, it’s pretty unacceptable to actively seek to ensure that those who diddle children escape punishment. Especially when it seems to be corporate policy.

Holding massive wealth - The Pope and his posse live richly, adorned in finery unprecedented even amongst world leaders of the modern age, and Vatican City’s chambers would make an average episode of MTV’s “Cribs” look like it was filmed in one of the more poverty-stricken regions of Detroit. And then there are further church holdings the world over. All as individual Catholics struggle to pay the tithe under the weight of the global economic crisis. Who was it that said, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven"? And besides, the robe and pointy hat look is so 17th century.

Homophobia - Everyone has their personal prejudices, but few are as institutionalized as the religious world’s stance against homosexual relationships. Come on guys, we went through this with slavery and you just had to fess up later after everyone else had realized how backwards of a practice it was. You’re dangerously approaching the time past which it is no longer acceptable to claim you were shooting for being fashionably late to the gay love party.

Fear mongering against reproductive health - Though anti-scientific rhetoric has been kept on the down-low in the Western world (recently, if not historically), in Africa where the tide of the HIV/AIDS epidemic might be stemmed with the application of cheap latex, Church officials have sought to discredit the effectiveness of condoms. It's situations like this where the Church has to learn to differentiate between centuries-old superstitions and the moral good of saving lives which condoms represent.
If someone has Pope Benedict's Skype handle or maybe could whisper him on World of Warcraft about this list, I feel these changes might be beneficial to the Church's lifestyle, and perhaps if the Lenten trial period works out they could be put into practice on a more permanent basis.

Illini Secular Student Alliance: National Ask An Atheist Day

Last month, ISSA decided to organize our very own Ask An Atheist Day after hearing of Purdue University's success with a similar endeavor. The event was intended as an opportunity for the general public -- particularly people of faith -- to approach us and ask questions about secular life. We solicited volunteers from our membership to man a booth at which we prominently displayed an FAQ sheet clearing up some of the most common misconceptions about nonbelievers. We outfitted these members with stickers reading, "Atheist... Ask Away!" and distributed flyers with information about our group. The experience was generally rewarding, but perhaps the greatest gauge of its success came when one of our own found himself answering questions from campus cafeteria workers while standing in line for pizza later that evening. Encouraged by the experience, we were inspired to create National Ask An Atheist Day 2011 on Wednesday, April 13th -- a day on which secular student groups across the country can work together to defeat stereotypes about atheism and encourage courteous dialogue between believers and nonbelievers alike.

We're hoping that, by asking secular groups nationwide to join us in celebration, we can draw more attention to the event as a whole and increase awareness -- maybe even help Ask An Atheist catch on within the larger secular community!

Are you an officer or member of a secular group? Here's how you can get involved!
  1. Table during the day and hand out flyers, FAQ sheets, etc. Gather volunteers to answer questions for passersby.
  2. Print (or contact the SSA for) some of these snazzy "Atheist... Ask Away!" stickers and distribute them to your membership (and/or any willing members of the secular community) before the event. Ask them to wear the stickers Wednesday, April 13th as they go about daily routines.
You can download a PDF of the sticker design HERE.

The stickers are aligned for printing on Avery 5395 Name Badge Label Paper (or any label paper which explicitly states that it's equivalent to Avery 5395). We suggest Matte White. Please note that normal printing will offset the alignment -- you must select BORDERLESS printing. You can usually find this setting under [Print Properties].

RSVP via our Facebook event page, and help spread the word!

Together, we can work towards a more peaceful world, free of the prejudice that so often plagues nonbelievers. Join us in celebration, and there's a distinct possibility you'll be able to look back on this and say you participated in the first ever National Ask An Atheist Day -- the event that started it all!

Mar 18, 2011

What’s the Best Recipe for a Smooth Finish on Indoor Wood Furniture?

Q: How can I apply a smooth finish on indoor wood? I’m never satisfied with the quality of finish I manage to achieve on my indoor wood projects. Even when I use tack cloths to wipe down the surface, and take care to not overload the brush, I always (and I mean ALWAYS!) get these hard, little bumps on the surface when I’m done. I've tried many different brushes and brands of urethane, and have even considered using spray-on lacquer if that would accomplish anything. Is there any way I can get a decent finish on my furniture projects without setting up a professional spray booth?

A: I'm sorry you're having trouble, but you shouldn't feel badly. Most people have the same difficulties you do. Here's a finishing recipe that I know works perfectly.

Get some oil-based urethane (I prefer a satin sheen) and a natural bristle brush and smooth the bare wood parallel with the grain using a progression of sandpapers up to 220-grit.
Moisten the surface with a wet rag to raise the wood grain, then let dry for 2 days.
Sand again with 220-grit sandpaper only, then vacuum all the particles off your project and entire finishing area.

Brush on a coat of unthinned urethane and let it dry for a day. Brush on another coat, and after it's fully dry, sand the surface with 220-grit paper using a palm sander.
Vacuum again, coat again and sand again, for two more coats. That'll be four in all.
After all of the above you should find the surface is quite nice. Any remaining hardened dust particles can be removed by rubbing with 000 steel wool or a 3M rubbing pad. If you want a more refined finish, sand the area by hand with 400-grit wet/dry sandpaper, lubricated with plenty of water after the last coat. Finish by buffing the area with 0000 steel wool. You’ll get the best possible finish by using a random orbit sander over top of a super-fine 3M rubbing pad. It gives a spectacular result.

A word of caution: When sanding between coats, or with the wet/dry paper after all coats are down, be careful around corners. It's very easy to sand right through the finish in these places, exposing bare wood.

Steve Maxwell, Canada's Handiest Man, has shared his DIY tips, how-to videos and product reviews since 1988. Visit him at, Facebook or @Maxwells_Tips on Twitter.

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The Humble Beginnings of a Biochar Revolution | re:char

by JASON on MARCH 18, 2011 in BLOG

Jason Aramburu of re:char and Salim Mayeki Shaban of ACON

Bungoma, Kenya– Today re:char has officially joined forces with ACON, an East African non-profit committed to bringing biochar and organic farming techniques to farmers in Western Kenya. Led by Salim Mayeki Shaban, ACON has converted 750 farms across 30 villages to biochar and organic techniques. Through their efforts, ACON has nearly doubled the crop yield for these farmers, and sequestered thousands of tonnes of CO2. In addition, these farmers have saved over US$200/ year (nearly half their income) by not purchasing chemical fertilizers.

The local community setting up a biochar plot

To date, ACON has relied on charcoal dust and smoky, tin-can stoves to produce biochar. Unfortunately, the local demand has greatly exceeded the production capacity of these stoves. Through this partnership, re:char will act as ACON’s exclusive partner and equipment supplier. We will provide their local farmers with proprietary 30-gallon and 55-gallon, batch biochar reactors. These units will allow local farmers to cleanly and efficiently produce enough biochar for their needs and the needs of their community. By leveraging our expertise in manufacturing and mass production, we are able to offer these reactors to farmers at a price they can truly afford. We at re:char are thrilled to work with ACON, and truly feel this partnership represents the beginnings of a biochar revolution in Western Kenya. Our goal is to reach 1,500 farmers by the end of 2011, and we are well on our way.

Mar 17, 2011

Wisconsin Protests:Tony Schultz, Speaks up for farmers, March 12, 2011

Athens, WI farmer Tony Schultz addresess the crowd on March 12, 2011 at the Wisconsin State Capitol. Many commented afterwards how especially effective Tony was at conveying his message.

Mar 16, 2011

Permaculture Farming – For The Future | Permaculture Magazine

1timbecwilfweb.jpgTim Green & Rebecca Hosking | Wednesday, 9th March 2011

Ever wondered what happened to the BBC's 'A Farm For The Future' film makers, Rebecca Hosking and Tim Green? Well, they are testing out their research into permaculture on a farm scale. Permaculture magazine has persuaded them to keep us all regularly posted on their findings.

To call this just another blog about sustainable living and ecological food production would be essentially correct. What makes this slightly different is that we have 160 acres, a crumbling infrastructure, no money and, on a practical level, are inexperienced. What we do have are many theories, some wild ideas and a lot of ambition... in fact, some might say we're full of it.

Some are born into farming, some acquire farms and others have farming thrust upon them... between the two of us we cover all of those. So who are we? Well, as much as we'd like to remain anonymous, our lovely hosts at Permaculture magazine won't let us. So (in no particular order), we are Rebecca Hosking and Tim Green.

Pasture and ancient hedges on the farm

The move to fulltime farming is a fairly recent and major change in our lives but it was not one we undertook on a whim. As documentary film makers for the BBC we got to travel the world having grand adventures and were reasonably well paid for the privilege. Other than enduring the general stress and shallowness of media life, things were pretty good. So why the change?

Changing Our Lives

In 2007 we were planning a film about dolphins or something when someone sent us a link to a lecture by Prof. Albert Bartlett. An hour or so later our lives were heading in a very different direction. Before, the idea of watching an octogenarian academic explain the implications of the exponential function for over an hour would have seemed strange to us; but afterwards, the idea of changing our lives based on what he said seemed perfectly rational. That brilliant old codger had really shaken us awake with his simple arithmetic.

What we had been alerted to were essentially the limits to growth and the realization that they were coming in our lifetimes. Flying the globe and filming wildlife for pretty TV programs suddenly seemed to have a less than rosy future... so we planned our escape.

We figured that in a time of escalating energy costs - and resulting economic turmoil – society could survive without expensive nature documentaries. Food, on the other hand, is something that will always be in demand. For us the choice was simple – return to the family farm and learn how to be farmers.

Like most people who learn of peak oil et al, we had an overwhelming desire to tell everyone about it and warn all our friends. If you've felt the same, I'm sure you've also discovered you rapidly become unpopular at dinner parties. To avoid losing all our friends we decided the best thing was to make one last film for the BBC and hope that it could work as a basic introduction to the subject for anyone wanting to listen. 'A Farm for the Future' was a 'transitional' film in many respects; making it allowed us to spend a whole year looking at the challenges we would face in taking on an inefficient and oil-dependent farm.

Permaculture – 'unadulterated sensibleness '

When we started the production we were rather fixated on the scale of the problems ahead but as the filming went on we became progressively more optimistic about the potential solutions. We hadn't even heard of permaculture at the beginning but, by the end, its sheer unadulterated sensibleness had elevated permaculture (and it ecological friends) clearly into the 'most likely to succeed' position. The big problem as ever is how to get farming from where it is now to where it needs to be – that can't be done with a video camera.

So here we are; covered in mud and smelling faintly of dung.

When we left television, most of our colleagues thought we were mad (sad to say many of them have since lost their jobs), now we're on the farm with our new ideas of ecologically sound food production, most farmers think we're mad. Generally we can live with that but we do have one (or two) small problems; an ageing father and an ageing uncle who still hold full power of veto on any changes we want to make on the farm and – putting it very mildly – they don't like change!

Looking down towards the valley
We think the way the farm works requires a major rethink if it is to survive these interesting times but the Old Boys (as they will henceforth be called) disagree. They still think red diesel and synthetic fertilizer will be around forever, they're not interested in soil compaction, they think trees (although pretty) are the enemy of productivity and, to them, the hedge-flail is the best thing since sliced bread (curiously, sliced bread isn't something they agree with).

Farm scale permaculture is almost unheard of in the UK but we're convinced it will work. We'd love to throw ourselves into the challenge acre at a time but we clearly have a few years of frustration ahead of us as we scrabble around conducting experiments in field corners and hedgerows. That said, every new experiment will be exciting and hopefully as the results accumulate we will be building a master plan for the future.

What's next?

On the agenda this year are: pastured poultry, worm seeding, mycorrhizal pasture restoration, tree fodder, medicinal livestock herbage, big-time composting, honey, timber framing for the unskilled, compost teas, some weird trees, the dung beetle campaign, cobbing, primitive sheep breeding, wind-powered water management, sheepdog training, hedgerow booze, squabbing pigeons, hugel beds (thanks Sepp!), weed eating, building soil carbon, fox economics, a snail farm, the treebog, edible roofs, permasculpture, mushroom growing, lots of stuff made from bits of bicycles, learning to scavenge....etc etc. And, of course, a few ranting diatribes about the Old Boys.

How One Farm Plans to Survive Peak Oil

via internet food healthWhen film maker Rebecca Hosking and her partner Tim Green explored the implications of peak oil for her family farm, the resulting documentary called A Farm for the Future became a surprise hit on the BBC. Now they are following up with regular blog posts as they try to explore transitioning a traditional, working non-organic British farm into an age of rising oil prices through the applied use of permaculture. Looks like they could be in for a bumpy ride:

"When we left television, most of our colleagues thought we were mad (sad to say many of them have since lost their jobs), now we're on the farm with our new ideas of ecologically sound food production, most farmers think we're mad. Generally we can live with that but we do have one (or two) small problems; an ageing father and an ageing uncle who still hold full power of veto on any changes we want to make on the farm and - putting it very mildly - they don't like change!"

Newest Illini Basketball player - Sam Maniscalco

Maniscalco made it official March 15, 2001, announcing he will be transferring to Illinois to complete his college eligibility as a senior next season for the Fighting Illini. After spending time on the Illinois campus Monday, Maniscalco sat down and discussed all that Illinois had to offer--on the floor and academically towards his graduate degree--and pulled the trigger Tuesday afternoon. "I am very excited," Maniscalco said. "Illinois offers a lot for me both athletically and academically as far as the graduate programs available to me. I think I can fit in well there and it seemed like a natural fit."

Gov. Rick Snyder Betrays Seniors for Corporations

When you lose senior citizens and you claim to be a conservative, you might want to rethink your policies. 1500 senior citizens gathered in Lansing, Michigan to protest Governor Rick Snyder's plan totax their pensions as ordinary income.

“I’ve never been political, but this is a power grab,” said Jennifer Cherrette, 55, a Lansing-area retired state employee who said her pension is less than $20,000 a year. “And it’s not about the budget. It’s about our governor taking our money and giving it to big business. And now he wants those emergency managers. It’s wrong, and it’s not about the budget.”

She added, “This isn’t about old people, this about working America and killing the middle class.”

Retiree Bob Fox, 67, of Hartland, said the state should raise the tax on beer rather than tax his pension.

“It’s going to a tax cut for big business, that’s the problem,” he said.

Patricia Matlock, a retired Highland Park teacher, said she paid taxes on her pension savings and it would be unfair to tax her pension benefits.

The pension provision is part of the larger effort on the part of Michigan Republicans and Governor Snyder to cut corporate income taxes by 81% by increasing taxes on the poor, elderly and middle class by 36%.

As bad as Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is, Rick Snyder makes him look like Santa Claus, despite Snyder's efforts to paint himself as a non-partisan "problem-solver".

Michiganders have a response. They plan a peaceful takeover of the State Capitol in response to the ongoing efforts of Republicans to marginalize the people in favor of corporate "persons". It cannot happen soon enough. I wish them all good luck.

Mar 15, 2011

Safety of nuclear power and death of the nuclear renaissance

Yesterday I believe will go down in history as one of the most significant for mankind. Whilst most citizens of the developed and developing world do not realise this yet, the future course of the human global energy system has just changed course with potentially far reaching consequences for human civilisation.

A hydrogen explosion destroys the reactor building of the Fukashima #3 reactor, Japan on 14th March. The wisdom of venting hydrogen into the confines of the reactor building will be one of many questions asked in the weeks and months ahead. Picture courtesy of the BBC

With a breach of the containment system of the Fukashima #2 reactor and release of significant amounts of radiation, we now have the answer to whether or not nuclear power is safe. In the eyes of the public and politicians the answer will be no, even before the final tally of nuclear casualties is counted. Looking to the future, the question should boil down to whether or not the risks of nuclear accidents are outweighed by the benefits to society of nuclear electricity. But in the current environment, and for years to come the risks are going to dominate government thinking and the benefits, all too readily ignored at present will be forgotten completely until we begin to feel the consequences of growing reliance on expensive fossil fuel imports and intermittent renewable energy.

It often takes a disaster to test our systems and to bring into the public domain certain frailties that may exist. The Fukashima catastrophe has brought into the public eye frailties than most were not concerned about until Saturday 12th March 2011 when news of the reactor problems broke following the earthquake and tsunami of the previous day. Fukashima’s fate was sealed on the day the Japanese government gave approval for the reactors to be built on a coastline where there was a high probability of earthquake and tsunami in the plant’s lifetime. The risks were known and understood and the facility was engineered to a high specification to withstand such events. For three days, the fate of the global nuclear industry has hung in the balance. Had the Japanese engineers managed to contain the incident then it was possible that the nuclear industry could emerge strengthened with proof that well designed and maintained American reactors could withstand the worst that nature can throw. But alas, this is not the case.

In granting consent to build these reactors the Japanese government, with little to no supplies of indigenous primary energy such as coal, oil and natural gas, must have decided that benefits to Japan of providing over 30% of electricity from nuclear sources outweighed the risks of building nuclear plant in one of the seismically most active regions of the world. Not only did they consent to build, but they built 4 reactors in close proximity to each other, right on the coast where they would feel the maximum effect of any tsunami. The coastal location proves beneficial now since this provides ready access to cooling water, much of the radiation released will fall on the sea and not on land, and there is reduced risk of pollution of ground water. But had they been built on higher ground a short way inland then they would not have been hit by the tsunami in the first place. How such risks have been weighed will go under the microscope in the weeks and months ahead. Building a cluster like this is no doubt based on a shared defence system, but it has been surprising to watch hydrogen explosions in one reactor compromise neighbouring reactor buildings. Were these risks properly weighed?

It has also been instructive to learn that steel and concrete containment systems alone are not sufficient to guarantee safety. Maintaining the engineering ability to pump water through the core after emergency shutdown means that pumps, pipes and valves located outside of the armoured core defence systems must also continue to function, and as is the case with many disasters, damage inflicted by the disaster itself may compromise the safety systems and their backup. In the case of Fukashima, the plant survived the initial onslaught of earthquake and tsunami. Damage inflicted at that stage set in motion a sequence of events, starting with the venting of hydrogen gas and the explosions they caused, and further degraded the capability to contain an escalating crisis. In terms of reactor design, it strikes me as odd that hydrogen should be vented into the confines of the reactor building, effectively creating a bomb. Have these eventualities been anticipated by the engineers who designed the plant?

And so what will become of Fukashima and the future of the global nuclear industry? As I write the reactor site is being rendered uninhabitable by the release of radiation and I imagine in the days ahead we will see heroic Japanese engineers risking their lives in an extreme hostile environment as they continue to try and contain the situation. With three out of the four reactors at varying stages of melt down it is difficult to predict the outcome. This is already the worst civil nuclear power accident in recorded history - Chernobyl was a military reactor and the Windscale reactor fire in England in 1957 was never properly recorded. The social and economic costs I believe will already exceed Chernobyl given the location of this event close to the heart of the world’s third largest economy. There is still ample scope for this event to get considerably worse.

It is very telling that the German government acted yesterday to cancel license extensions for aging reactors even before the containment system of the Fukashima #2 reactor was breached. The nuclear renaissance in the west has always been lukewarm. In the UK for example, pro-nuclear Conservatives are in coalition government with Liberal Democrats who are instinctively anti-nuclear and who had to compromise on this long held policy stance to enter government. The Scottish minority government lead by The Scottish National Party (SNP) has adopted a no nuclear policy that is supported by Liberal Democrats and The Greens. The Conservatives alone are pro-nuclear with Scottish Labour hedging their bets on territory between the anti and pro camp. Most democracies will have tenuous alliances such as this and I think it is safe to now say that the nuclear renaissance is stone dead. I would anticipate a mass of safety audits to ensue with accelerated closure of aging nuclear plants and cancellation of plans to build new. A quick look at the stock prices of uranium miners and nuclear plant builders suggests I am not alone in holding this view.

OECD politicians believe their pro-nuclear stance was driven by a need to reduce CO2 emissions and still seem to be sublimely unaware that the real driving force is to replace supplies of cheap natural gas and coal that are likely now to become even more scarce on the international markets as countries scramble to replace lost nuclear capacity. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is reported as saying:

"Merkel added that she was not worried about Germany's electricity supply as the country was a net exporter of energy."

Presumably what is meant is a net exporter of electricity. What will become of countries dependent upon these German electricity exports?

It is time for cool heads in the OECD but, unfortunately with the energy debate driven by emotion, this will not happen. Decisions made now in the wake of an emergency in Japan may sow the seed of energy poverty in countries like the UK for decades to come. I have for a long while been pro-nuclear but must admit that my faith in nuclear planners is shaken by this sequence of events. Now is not the time for knee-jerk decisions. Governments must carefully weigh the benefits of stable supplies of nuclear electricity to society against the risks posed by nuclear power plants. This is not an easy task.


TinFoilHatGuy on March 15, 2011 - 11:10am
I grew in Alabama and we had a hippie neighbor we called Hippie John. He drove a '69 VW MicroBUS and I will never forget he had a Carter bumper sticker and a Split Wood Not Atoms sticker. Hippie John died two years later and it was not until his funeral that my drill sargeant dad found out Hippie John used to a Master Chief in the Navy, worked on nuke subs, and knew the President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. They gave him a 21 gun salute at his funeral. Apparently, some knew the whole time. When it comes down to the hippies tellling us, we should at least listened and remembered how bad things get when we do not listen. Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming.......

Will Williams: Years of Struggle Gone

"Too much has been spent on defense and killing at the expense of people, of working class people," Will Williams, of Veterans for Peace Madison, said to Laura. "And I say that because, when you look at the statistics, it costs one million dollars a year to keep one troop in Iraq. Yet we talk about we can't balance the budget unless we do it on the backs of working class people. And it's wrong." Williams spoke with Laura from the streets of Madison during this weekend's protests. He pointed to the widening wealth gap and excessive military spending as evidence that the middle class is being forgotten. "This governor we have has taken away everything that working people had, what was built throughout years of struggle," Williams said. "He took it in the stroke of a pen." Distributed by Tubemogul.

Environmental Film Fest documentary has roots in Illinois

Contributed photo Sandra Steingraber, 51, a biologist originally from the central Illinois city of Pekin has written a book titled “Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment.”

It probably would come as a surprise to most Americans to learn that it is legal for industry and agriculture to use chemicals that have been linked to cancer and release them into the environment: the air, water and soil.
But such is the case in America today, according to Sandra Steingraber, 51, a biologist originally from the central Illinois city of Pekin who has written a book titled "Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment."
Steingraber, who developed bladder cancer between her sophomore and junior years of college, has spent much of her life researching - and working to break what she says is the silence about - the link between cancer and chemicals that have seeped into the environment.
Her book has been made into a 55-minute documentary that will be shown Saturday, March 19, during the Environmental Film Fest at Augustana College in Rock Island, which is sponsored by the Quad-City chapter of the Sierra Club.
It is one of five feature-length films to be shown, and one that especially excites Sierra Club member Kathryn Allen because "it is about a place close to home ... and is so well-told." It also seeks to inspire viewers to action.
The film has two threads. One is Steingraber's personal battle with cancer, something that is never entirely behind her, and the other is the scientific side in which she interviews researchers in their laboratories.
In one scene, the researcher looks at breast cancer cells in animals caused by atrazine, one of the most commonly used herbicides in the world, with very heavy use in Iowa and Illinois, including by Steingraber's cousin John, who still farms in the Pekin area near Peoria.
(Elsewhere in Illinois, the city of Greenville has proposed to lead a federal class-action lawsuit over alleged water contamination in Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and other states against Syngenta Crop Protection and Syngenta AG, its Swiss parent company, the maker of atrazine.
Greenville alleges that atrazine runs off farm fields and contaminates drinking water supplies.
Syngenta has said that years of research have shown that atrazine, which has been on the market since 1958, is safe.)
Steingraber's own cancer may have links to perchloroethylene, a chemical used in dry-cleaning that is found in Pekin's drinking water.
"I will never know for certain if mine was caused by perchloroethylene, but what we can say is that somebody somewhere is going to get cancer because of it," Steingraber said in a telephone interview from her home in upstate New York, where she is a scholar-in-residence at Ithaca College.
"If not me, somebody else. And I think that is wrong.
"The disconnect between what we in the scientific community know about carcinogens and what cancer patients are told is huge."
Why doesn't everyone get cancer?
"Living Downstream," first published in 1997, was updated in 2010 with new, stronger information about the chemical-cancer link. The update also addresses the question of why everyone who is exposed to certain chemicals does not, in fact, get cancer.
The reason, Steingraber explained, is that to get cancer, one has to have a certain genetic makeup as well as exposure.
"What we didn't know the first time is that certain chemicals silence certain genes," she said. "They attach themselves to the genes and silence them, or turn them off, so they can't do their job. If one of their jobs is to stop runaway cell growth (which is what cancer is), then you get cancer. It is like a car that's lost its brakes."
Despite the stronger link, there still are no laws banning many cancer-causing chemicals, "and there are probably lots of other ones (chemicals) that we never tested," she said.
In telling her personal story, the camera follows Steingraber to her doctor's office, where she hears troubling news of abnormal lab results - bladder cancer is the most likely cancer to recur - and undergoes an examination. Viewers can see the inside of her bladder on the screen.
At present, Steingraber's health is good, but "it is never entirely behind you," she said of the disease. "There is the dread factor that you live with. It's miserable and it's lifelong."
‘We're all musicians in a great orchestra'
Despite that, Steingraber sees the film as hopeful. "It is not a grim documentary of death and destruction," she said.
It makes the connection between the health of our bodies and of our planet and challenges everyone to do his or her own part.
"Look, we're all musicians in a great orchestra, and it's time to play ‘Save the World,' " Steingraber said. "You don't have to do it alone, but you have to know what instrument you hold."

Related Stories


What: Sixth annual Environmental Film Fest, with five documentaries. In addition to "Living Downstream," the films look at plastics, the privatization of water, truck farming and green energy.

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 19

Where: Olin Auditorium, Augustana College, 733 35th St., Rock Island

How much: Free. Healthy snacks and beverages will be sold.

Sponsors: Eagle View Group Sierra Club, Augustana College and Radish Magazine

For more information: About the Sierra Club, go to: the films and directions to Olin Auditorium, go or contact Kathryn Allen at

Mar 14, 2011

Ryan Bingham: A Song for Wisconsin

"There's just no time for propaganda, or media filled with hate. No time for scripted messages that slither around like snakes in your brain," sang Ryan Bingham, of Ryan Bingham and The Dead Horses, as he performed "Direction of the Wind," which he dedicated to all the people on the streets of Madison, WI. Distributed by Tubemogul.

Solar Sector To Feel Aftershocks From Quake; Bullish Long Term?

The solar sector will experience aftershocks from the earthquake in Japan, including disruptions in polysilicon supplies and near-term impact on demand, Piper Jaffray analyst Ahmar Zaman writes in a research note this morning.

In response, Piper today reduced ratings on Canadian Solar (CSIQ), JA Solar (JASO), SunPower (SPWRA), Yingli Green Energy(YGE), Trina Solar (TSL) and Suntech (STP).

Zaman notes that Japan accounts for 2 GW of expected 2011 demand, over 19,000 metric tons of polysilicon capacity, 650 MW of wafer capacity, 2.2 GW of cell capacity and 2.5 GW of module capacity. Piper cuts its 2011 solar demand forecast to 1 GW from 2 GW, bringing its global estimate down to 17.5 GW.

“We believe lowered demand in Japan resulting in Japanese module suppliers looking to place more product in the rest of the world, will pressure ASPs in 2011,” he writes. “Also, the drop-off in poly production in Japan, will tighten global supply further, keeping ASPs north of $70/kg over the near-term. This will challenge downstream margins.” He goes to Underweight from Neutral on CSIQ and STP, and cuts SPWRA, JASO, TSL and YGE to Neutral from Overweight.

The Piper analyst also sees a major impact on the LED sector, where Japan provides about 40% of global supply, about half of that from Nichia.

“While the majority of the solar and LED supply chain was not directly impacted, we believe that rolling blackouts, electricity rationing, and infratructure issues will affect supply and demand in the near term,” he writes.

Earlier: Memory Chip Prices Spike After Quake On Tighter Supplies

Update: Looking at the situation another way, Barclays Capital analyst Vishal Shah notes that the earthquake improves the long term policy outlook for the sector even though it weakened the near-term outlook, as the company’s leaking nuclear plants poses new challenges for the nuclear sector. “We see the Japanese nuclear development as an incremental positive for the [solar] sector…The bull case for nuclear policy could now become weaker and this could indirectly benefit solar/wind policy development, in our view.”

Half A Billion Blog Posts Later, Google To Give Blogger A Revamp

Google’s blogging service Blogger has been used for over half a billion blog posts (with over half a trillion words in total) to date, writes product manager Chang Kim on the Blogger Buzz blog.

Those blog posts have been read by 400 million readers across the globe, Kim adds. And according to the video below, 75 percent of traffic comes from outside the United States (the service is available in 50 languages).

Now the product is getting an overhaul, the biggest change being a more modern user interface for both the editor and the dashboard (fi-na-lly), built with Google Web Toolkit.

Google says it will be showcasing the new design of the Blogger back-end at SXSW (ourcoverage of the event), as well as a new content discovery feature that lets users find new content to read based on the topics of the blog they’re visiting.

The new UI is shown extensively in the video below as well, in case you’re not in Austin.

Of note: Google says it will unveil more fresh Blogger features this year – they posit that these are only the ones they’re “allowed to talk about” at this point.

Let’s call a spade a spade: Blogger has been around for a long time, but has unequivocally been losing mindshare to the likes of Tumblr, WordPress, Posterous and even services like Facebook and Twitter for content creation purposes in the past few years.

Its audience is still enormous, though, so it’s nice to see Google hasn’t forgotten its many users around the globe.

We’re looking forward to seeing how the service evolves in the course of this year.