The Incredible Hulk

January 8, 2011

This may come as a surprise, but I skated Logger’s Loop today. I tend to avoid Logger’s Loop while skating because it is a long (3 km!) uphill that is just steep enough that I can’t V2 more than a couple strokes so it becomes a V1 slogfest. Adding to the misery that comes with anything termed a slogfest, I know that I could V2 many sections if I were just a little stronger so I end up feeling utterly frustrated with myself along with really really tired.

Luckily for me, the hurt that I felt while I was in muscle-fatigue-land could improve future skis.  Generally, when a muscle is exercised to its limits, it is actually slightly injured. Satellite cells flock to the injured area and adhere to the muscle proteins. Some then morph into new muscle fiber strands so the muscle grows. Some satellite cells also add nuclei to the muscle fiber which allows the muscle to process more proteins and create more contractile cells.

However, generally endurance athletes don’t grow huge Incredible Hulk muscles. Aerobic exercise doesn’t always damage muscles like weight lifting. Instead, endurance exercise enlarges the vascular system causing more oxygen-rich blood to flow to the working muscles. It also can improve the ability of lung cells to pick up oxygen and strengthens the muscles associated with respiration including your diaphragm and that little thumper, your heart.

So hopefully my ski today, along with the dose of protein I got with my salmon dinner tonight, will make the next skate up Logger’s slightly more pleasant. Maybe I will even V2 more than twice. If not, I always know that I will have a super sweet downhill at the end of the climb and my striding skis waiting for me back at the lodge. I really do love striding up Logger’s.

And here are some examples of skiers who can probably V2 up Logger’s!

 

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Sverige

December 15, 2010

They have freaking awesome skiers, fun knitting, happy people and delicious meatballs and they don’t even need fossil fuels.

Kristianstad, a town of 80,000 in southern Sweden, no longer uses fossil fuels for heating. Spurred on by rising fuel costs, taxes on carbon and a rival neighbor getting rich quick off oil, town planners initiated a project to wean the town off fossil fuel consumption. They implemented efficient district heating which uses a large central boiler to heat multiple homes rather than individual boilers for each home. New York City does this too, but they use the stinky sticky stuff. The Swedes use wood pellets.

They also use manure, pig intestines and food scraps, which are also stinky, to create gas for electricity and some transportation. Kristianstad is located in southern Sweden, which is highly agricultural, so this waste is locally sourced. In a large electrical plant, the bacteria ferments the scraps and shit and turns them to methane and then methane is burned to create electricity.

The basic chemical equation is:

C6H12O6 → 3CO2 + 3CH4

Or, the bacteria break down the complex organic molecules of pig poop into simple sugars then into carbon dioxide and methane. The methane is then burned in a electrical facility. When burned, methane produces heat, along with more carbon dioxide and water. Methane is a a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide – reducing one ton of methane is equivalent to reducing 25 tons of carbon dioxide. Therefore burning the methane is actually reducing its effect on the climate and producing electricity.

Obviously, through this whole process greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere so it is not a carbon-free solution. However, the cool things are as follows:

1. The process uses local material that would otherwise be wasted and emit greenhouse gases.

2. The process also reduces overall emissions compare to using fossil fuels by more than a handful.

3. The town decided to find options other than fossil fuels and ACTUALLY FOLLOWED THROUGH.

4. They don’t need any oil from stinking Norway

Hurra Sverige!

 

Knock Knock!

December 9, 2010

What do you call a sheep with no legs?

A cloud.

Okay, now you are ready for some creative problem-solving. According to researchers at Drexel and Northwestern, the thoughts that occur before a problem is solved can shape how our brain creates the insight. For example, if you watch a humorous video, you are more likely to quickly problem-solve, using what  scientists call ‘sudden insight or as Oprah calls an ‘aha moment,’ afterward than if you watch a depressing video. Scientists think that this is because a positive state of mind leads to the rest of your brain being more open to ideas that would otherwise seem far fetched.

So if we want to solve global warming, the financial crisis and human bigotry we should start by telling more jokes. This is obviously simplifying the complexities of these global problems, but why not try it a little more? There is nothing to lose but your dignity when you accidentally let out a snort instead of a laugh. Can’t you see it now?

Obama: What does the fish say when it hits a wall?

Ahmadinejad: I dunno

Obama: DAM!

or

Abbas: What is invisible and smells like carrots?

Netanyahu: Oh I know this one – rabbit farts!

And last one because I just can’t help it:

Why do gorillas have big nostrils?

Because they have big fingers!

I am still laughing at this picture almost 5 years after the fact.

A Whole New World

December 6, 2010

A new fantastic point of view, brought to us by poison.

study by NASA scientists recently revealed that the bacteria GFAJ-1 in arsenic-laden Mono Lake, California exhibit such high levels of arsenic that they may actually be incorporating the arsenic into their DNA in the place of phosphorus. Thats a pretty big deal. Our and everyone else’s cells use phosphorus in the structural support of RNA and DNA and in our cell membranes. Arsenic is  is very structurally similar to phosphorus, which mean it acts like a KGB operative that can sneak undercover into the areas of the cell that use phosphorus and mess everything up, kill the cell and the owner of the cell, and emerge victorious in the cold war. In other words, it is highly and famously poisonous (I will never forgot this Roald Dahl story I read freshman year of high school. Eeby Jeebies!).

But these bacteria in Mono Lake have a much higher concentration of arsenic that would generally be possible in a living organism, so scientists have extrapolated that the bacteria have turned the arsenic into a double-agent. They think the bacteria may actually successfully using the arsenic in their RNA and DNA. Notice the word, extrapolated. They actually haven’t proved this yet, which is why a bunch of people have poopooed the study.

I still think it is cool. Even if the bacteria are not using the arsenic in their DNA, they still have super high concentrations. Maybe they can help us understand how we might treat arsenic poisoning, which often occurs around mines. Or maybe the study will just lead to a whole slew of new science fiction, which isn’t so bad either.

Either way it’ll be a thrilling chase in a whole new (hypothetical) place for scientists.

Today I read a study (Kloppers et al 2005) entitled

Predator-resembling aversive conditioning for managing habituated elk.

It seems that the authors had difficulties choosing words less than 8 letters long in their title, beside their subject species of course. Ignoring the XL words, the study was interesting because I pretty much thought it would be a freaking sweet study to work on as a field tech. The idea was to induce the flight reflex in elk that were hanging around the Banff townsite eating ornamental shrubs and playing a round or two on the golf course in winter. In doing so, the researchers hoped to lessen the impacts that hundreds of almost tame, but fairly worthless elk (I don’t think you get oxytocin by attempting to pet an elk) have on a small town.

The researchers collared 24 elk and put them into three categories. Eight elk were in the control group and the researchers just stood about 50 m away from them periodically throughout the winter. The next eight were in the human treatment, and this is where is gets fun, and field techs periodically chased them with firecrackers in hand for about a kilometer (remember this is Canada and they believe in the metric system). The third group was treated with dogs. Border collies (apparently other dogs barked too much and elk reacted by fighting rather than flighting) herded the elk away from the town on command from their handler.

In the latter part of the winter, the scientists measured the distance at which the elk would run away from approaching humans, the amount of time the elk were vigilant or actively assessing the surrounding area and the proximity of the elk to the town site and compared the data to measurements from the period prior to treatment. They found that the treatments did seem to work in that the treated elk ran from approaching humans sooner and spent more time away from the town than the control group. They also found that the elk didn’t run as fast or as far when wolves were more abundant in the area, which makes sense since wolves actually kill elk while field techs and border collies get their jollies from just chasing them.

Therefore, the researchers recommended that managers sporadically run after elk as though their pants are on fire and that efforts should be stepped up in areas where wolves are present.

This is good news for me. Wolves generally live in cool places and someday, some wildlife agency in one of those cool places is going to need elk chasers. I think that is a job at which I could excel.

This guy doesn't need firecrackers. He has canines. Maybe he is using them to chomp some habituated elk near Mammoth Hot Springs.