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We Are All Connected: My DNA Journey

UPDATE 5/11/2014
Saw this article today and did some investigation.
A variant of the gene KLOTHO (KL) is known for its anti-aging effects in people fortunate enough to carry one copy. Now researchers find that it also has benefits when it comes to brain function. The variant appears to lend beneficial cognitive effects by increasing overall levels of klotho in the bloodstream and brain.” Also, Klotho (KL) is generally considered to be a tumor suppressor gene in breast and pancreatic cancers.

Turns out I have the variant. I would never had known that had I not been able to login to 23andMe and discover that I had it. Cool, heh?

Three years or so ago National Geographic produced a fascinating show called The Human Family Tree as part of its Genographic Project. If you haven’t seen it I don’t want to introduce any spoilers, but it was the first show like this I’d watched that told real stories about the amazing connectedness of humans. It also had surprises in it that obviously changed the worldview of some of its partcipants!

That show was a big deal to me since it was the first spark of my internal fire to learn more about DNA and my own family tree.

23andme-kitAfter this show I became very intrigued by the work going on at 23andMe. At the time, the ‘swab’ kit (for sending in your DNA) cost $499 so I decided against it at the moment. In the fall of 2011 they dropped the price to $99 so I signed up.

It was fun to see the results but the key with 23andMe is that the participants have to answer survey questions…over-and-over-and-over again. I’m willing to do it since I benefit from other people doing the same, but it did become a daunting task after awhile. Still, I was able to see what others in my maternal/paternal haplogroups suffered from so I have at least an idea of what sorts of illnesses I’m prone to having.

I’ve also connected with 3rd, 4th, and 5th cousins. One woman who is a 3rd cousin, for example, connected with me and she lives in California. I looked at her profile and, in a long list of surnames she was connected to, was the surname of my maternal grandmother’s parents! So my great grandfather’s family in Norway had a male who, um, ‘connected’ with a woman in her lineage and passed on that familial DNA. Cool.  Read More

Is it Time to Buy LEDs?

cree-bulbQuite often I’ll get in to debates with friends and family about energy and we end up in conversations about why we choose to be a three Prius family and why I’m so hot on the Internet of Things and my investment in SmartThings‘ technologies. Where it gets tough, however, is justifying why we are replacing our incandescent light bulbs (and even compact fluorescents (CFLs)) with LED light bulbs since the costs of LEDs are still a bit high.

That LED bulb cost makes the return on investment (ROI) a little tougher to justify for purely economic reasons, except when you consider that one LED will last for ~25,000 hours and an incandescent for only 750-2,000 hours.

LED costs are coming down but, like my friend Eric said to me just last Friday, trying to time the purchase of doing a wholesale incandescent lightbulb replacement in your home is like “catching a falling knife.” Buy too early and you get hurt since the break-even will take too many years, though I’ll argue that the time is now to begin replacing incandescents (and CFLs) with LED bulbs.

For my wife and I it’s not just about cost, however. We strive to do our bit to minimize our energy footprint and try to positively impact human’s effect on the climate in a myriad of ways such as recycling more than anyone in our neighborhood. Our lightbulb replacement adventure is just starting but will add to our objectives of minimization. Every little bit helps.

So let’s take a look two examples of bulb replacement in my own home to give you a sense of what I’ve already done and what the results have been so far. Hopefully this will help you determine whether or not the time is right for you to “catch the knife” and replace your incandescent bulbs with LEDs.

Read More

Is Thorium Our Energy Answer?

nuclear-plant

Nuclear power plant in Cattenom, France – Photo by Stefan Kühn

Slowly but surely I’ve become a believer in thorium reactors as one potential energy source that is abundant, cheap and an element that is naturally present everywhere in the world. 

We will need it and Bill Gates is on board and investing in thorium so you know there has to be something world-changing about this element to get him involved.

To give you an idea of why we need more major energy sources — and we won’t be able to satisfy demand with solar, wind or other renewables since the demand is so great globally — let me share with you one sentence that starts off the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s International Energy Outlook 2013:

“The International Energy Outlook 2013 (IEO2013) projects that
world energy consumption will grow by 56 percent between 2010 and 2040.”

Holy shit. A 56% increase in the next 37 years? Yep.

If you want to know more about thorium — and I’d hope you would at least ask your elected representatives about what the U.S. is doing with thorium research to make sure energy is top-of-mind for them — here is a link to a Wikipedia article on thorium and the video from that Bill Gates page here is about 28 minutes long, but is a great overview and I encourage you to watch it.

Don’t Believe in Climate Change?

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Source: NOAA)

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Source: NOAA)

Must admit I’m still stunned when I talk to an actual human being (one who seems intelligent) and they tell me that they do not believe in climate change. Anyone with an 8th grade education who can read should be able to figure out that the evidence is overwhelming.

NASA has this Global Climate Change website and the graphic above comes straight from their page entitled “Evidence.” With all of that extra CO2 in the air — a gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and is a concept even an 8th grader who has been in a hot car could understand — the evidence goes beyond what we can see and experience ourselves. Seeing, analyzing and cataloguing the data from space and satellites is an amazing set of tools to collect it all and prove climate change is real. 

From NASA’s Evidence page:

  • normPage-3Sea level rise: Global sea level rose about 17 centimeters (6.7 inches) in the last century. The rate in the last decade, however, is nearly double that of the last century.
  • Global temperature rise: All three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880. Most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years.6 Even though the 2000s witnessed a solar output decline resulting in an unusually deep solar minimum in 2007-2009, surface temperatures continue to increase.
  • Warming oceans: The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.
  • Shrinking ice sheets: The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometers (36 to 60 cubic miles) of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, while Antarctica lost about 152 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of ice between 2002 and 2005.
  • Declining Arctic sea ice: Both the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly over the last several decades.
  • Glacial retreat: Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world — including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa.
  • Extreme events: The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since 1950. The U.S. has also witnessed increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.
  • Ocean acidification: Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent.12,13 This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and hence more being absorbed into the oceans. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year.

It might be too late to stop the acceleration in global CO2 levels. When it comes to climate deniers, maybe they will wake up when their crops whither and die due to abnormal heat and little rain, or when the oceans rise and either they’re inundated with water or millions of refugees flood their towns and neighborhoods. 

North Dakota’s 7.5 Billion Barrels of Oil Means We Have All We Need, Right?

bakkenWhat if reducing our dependence on foreign oil wasn’t just about renewable and alternative energy sources—wind, solar, battery-powered electric vehicles—but also meant harvesting our own fossil fuel sources here at home?

N.D. oil is more plentiful than previously thought in this morning’s Minneapolis StarTribune also pointed out that, “The government has sharply increased its estimate, and some think it is still too conservative.” Though the U.S. Geological Survey estimates 7.5 billion barrels, “Continental Resources, the largest acreage-holder in the North Dakota oil patch, estimated in December that the basin contains 20 billion barrels of oil and 4 billion barrels of liquid natural gas.” 

Wow. That’s a lot of energy. There is no question that there is a huge oil boom in that region of the country and my family is benefiting from it, even though my own personal focus is on being ‘green’ and finding ways to optimize my own energy use.

My grandfather, Martin Wolla

Martin Wolla

As a young man my maternal grandfather and his pals acquired mineral rights to areas around Tioga, ND, right in the heart of the Bakken Formation. These rights were split between my mom and her brother and, after mom passed in 1994, they went to my dad and ultimately will be split between my three sisters and me. While the royalties are laughingly diluted by the time they’ve made their way to us (now worth a couple of decent meals at a restaurant each month) the amounts are rising little-by-little and it will be interesting to see if they become even remotely meaningful to our incomes at some point.

My biggest concern, however, is that the government, automakers, oil producers and others will take their eye off the ball when it comes to developing alternative energy sources. Why? That StarTribune article said it best when discussing the new 7.5 billion barrel estimates and whether or not companies could safely ‘invest’ in the region: “The new estimates should give potential investors confidence that the oil boom could have decades to run. At the current rate of production — 22.5 million barrels in January — it would take 27 years to remove 7.5 billion barrels from the ground.

27 years. Seems like a long time, right? The point is that even this new, substantial source of energy will run out

We Just *Cannot* Be Alone

The more I learn about the vastness of the universe, the deeper is my belief that we simply cannot be alone in the universe. Watch this animated flight through the universe made by Miguel Aragon of Johns Hopkins University with Mark Subbarao of the Adler Planetarium and Alex Szalay of Johns Hopkins. There are close to 400,000 galaxies in the animation, with images of the actual galaxies. The images and data came from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS).

When you figure that our Milky Way galaxy contains an estimated 200-400 billion stars our own home galaxy is incredibly likely to harbor life. Astronomer Carl Sagan‘s once said, “The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, it sure seems like an awful waste of space

Sagan also continually described the universe’s potential for life being due to the “billions and billions” of planets out there. Though I’ve been watching the Mars Curiosity landing and the first pictures that have returned from that barren planet like this amazing 360 degree panorama, I do so with the knowing (and a tinge of sadness) that it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever leave this planet and explore another world. 

Don’t even bother to do the math on 200 billion+ stars times 400,000 galaxies and the planets and the possibilities and…

…just watch the video. It’s cool:

Fox News Lies about Greenland’s Ice Melt

Extent of surface melt over Greenland’s ice sheet on July 8 (left) and July 12 (right). Measurements from three satellites showed that on July 8, about 40 percent of the ice sheet had undergone thawing at or near the surface. In just a few days, the melting had dramatically accelerated and an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet surface had thawed by July 12. Image courtesy NASA (click for larger view)

Amazing how Fox News — you know, the ‘Fair and Balanced’ one — seemingly takes just about any news story and twists, spins and mangles it to fit some conservative agenda. This time they’ve taken this week’s NASA announcement of the ‘unprecedented’ Greenland ice melt and ignored the gist of it so their counterview could be used as an anti-global warming article entitled, Skeptics put the freeze on NASA ‘hot air’ about Greenland ice

But them trying to position this in that way is bullshit.

Let me illustrate why Fox News using this one quote they pulled out of the press release, positioning it as a glaciologist’s comment that was pooh-poohing the magnitude of the event:  Read More

Is the Prius a Polluter?

Just saw a cousin’s Facebook post about her new (actually slightly used) Toyota Prius. She had talked to me earlier about my Prius, how I liked it and so forth, so I was intrigued that she and her fiancee purchased one. She looks pretty happy in the photo, doesn’t she?

Then a friend of hers commented, “Yay the “green” that is the most damaging to the environment to build.” Someone then asked what he meant and he went on with, “Prius pollutes more is based on the production and transport of nickel for the on-board rechargeable battery pack. The nickel is actually mined and smelted in Sudbury, Ontario (Canada) by Inco. The nickel is then shipped to a refinery in Europe. From there, the nickel goes to China to produce nickel foam. Then, it goes to Japan. In Japan Panasonic manufactures the battery itself, then it’s off to the Toyota plant for final vehicle assembly. Lastly the cars are shipped to the United States, completing the world tour required for a Prius battery.

That was certainly a bit of cold water thrown on her excitement! I’ve had exactly the same reaction from many who pooh-pooh driving a hybrid or electric car, think those of us who do are “greenies” or goofballs,  all while they climb in to their car or truck that, on a good day, gets 18mpg and costs them $100 a week to drive.

So I took a moment to refute and minimize what this kid had said and also thought this entire discussion would make a great post:  Read More

Our 2011 Family Trip

We had an amazing trip to Germany, Austria and Poland and yes, if the internet access had been easy to obtain and ubiquitous, it would’ve made the trip A LOT easier and more enjoyable. Click the photo below to open the Flickr album with pics of our adventure:

Our Family Trip to Germany, Austria & Poland, Summer 2011

Louis C.K. on Why Appreciate ‘the Amazing’

Comedian Louis C.K.  has this very funny rant on how people don’t appreciate technology, flying, Wifi on those flying planes and more. This is EXACTLY what I’d love to say to people when they complain about their smartphone while they’re riding in a car (“it, like, is totally slower than my home internet“) but you’re in a CAR going down the HIGHWAY AT 75MPH! Or those who complain about the nearly 13 hours it takes to fly from Minneapolis, MN to Narita, Japan (“oh my butt is so sore“), a trip that took weeks by train and then ship less than 75 years ago!

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