James and the Giant Corn Rotating Header Image

May, 2009:

Story in Wired

My uncle is in wired for building his own CPU!

Hard Drive Expansion

It took giving up delivery food completely for a month, and slashing the beer budget, slashing it to the bone in fact, but I’ve increased my central server’s storage capacity to 7.5 terabytes: 5.5 in internal storage and another two in a myBook external. (Doubling internal storage and increasing total storage by 50%).

It’s really a ridiculous amount of storage for one man. But when you can catch 1.5 TB drives open box drives for $95 (6.3 cents per gig!), ridiculous things become a lot more practical.

Additionally this gave me a chance to use one of the new drives to replace my old 500 gig system drive. I’m seeing much faster and more consistant transfer speeds than I had with the old drive, which apparently was reaching the end of its useful lifespan. I’d already had to replace a drive of similar make and purchase date that gave up the ghost. So, faster speeds, greater reliably, and of course the upgrade from ubuntu hardy heron to the newest version jaunty jackalope.

TAMBI-TAM

There’s a new study out from some fellow California scientists that have calculated that it’s much more productive and better for the planet to use energy crops to produce electricity to run electric cars vs converting it to ethanol for fuel. If this finding becomes policy, a lot of the work devoted to fine tuning plants to be more efficiently digested into ethanol is going to be bypassed. (Optimizing cell wall structure and make up (cellulose is good, lignin is bad), engineering plants to produce the very enzymes needed to digest them into ethanol.) Now it isn’t certain that such a change will take place, but this report, like many others before it, reminds us that there is a significant argument for why a change in priorities could happen.

Changes in the methods pursued to create biofuels are likely to change a number of times as our nation attempts to scale back its dependence on fossil fuels. And it can really suck both emotionally and career wise to be invested in a branch of research that ends up appearing superfluous. So all things being equal, when deciding on an area of research to write a grant for, or what lab to join, or what projects to fund, remember TAMBITAM (Twice as much biomass is twice as much!). Meaning whatever method is deployed to convert plants into energy, the more biomass we can produce on the a given amount of land, with the same inputs, the more energy we’ll produce. If tomorrow I discover a mutation that makes switchgrass grow twice as big*, that’s a great discovery that doesn’t hinge on its applications to a single technological process.

 

*Realistically these are more likely to be genes that increase water or nitrogen use efficiency or that change the partitioning of resources between vegetative and reproductive growth. (Something we can already do with flowering time mutants or growing tropical lines at higher latitudes where the day length doesn’t trigger flowering until much later in the year.)

New Flickr Pictures

Updated with photos from my parent’s visit to the Bay Area last weekend. Mostly from the hills above Muir Woods and more pictures from Berkeley Botanical Gardens. <– the “Crops of the World” exhibit was very disappointing, but the rest of the garden is still cool.

This update returns visually attractive photos to the badge on the left, instead of the black on white graphs from discussion section that were previously occupying that screen real estate.