14 April 2008

Nanoscale art

Scientific American has a interesting article and slideshow about the art of Paul Rothemund that's currently part of New York City MoMA's "Design and the Elastic Mind" exhibit.

"Rothemund refers to his brew of art, biology and technology as 'DNA origami,' because it is created by using hundreds of short DNA strands (which Rothemund refers to as 'staples') to fold much longer genetic ribbons into nanoscale shapes and patterns." --SciAm


08 April 2008

Seeing Green

Anytime I turn on the TV these days, it seems every other commercial is another company touting how "green" (environmentally friendly) they are. I'm all about taking steps to becoming more green, and think this is an important movement (The Daily Green has this to say on 5 easy steps you can take to become more green). So, here's a mash up of comments on various commericals I've been seeing lately about green products.

I like that the green initiative is gaining awareness, yet at the same time, it seem a little wrong to have companies make green product claims just to change consumers' images of their product(s). Right now Wal-Mart is airing several commercials about how by buying certain products you can become more environmentally friendly. I think the ultimate messages are good ones, like stop buying individual bottled waters and instead just refill containers or that one should buy concentrated laundry detergent to save on packaging waste, but in the long run it's really just about increasing sales (the blog Wake-up Wal-Mart has this to say about the CEO's ultimate motives). Sears is also advertising extensively the peddle energy efficient appliances.

Home and Garden Television (HGTV) has yearly "dream home" giveaways and this year they've changed it to the Green Home Giveaway. Basically, these homes are designed to feature and entice us to buy certain sponsors' products, and that's really all the Green Home is doing too. I went to their website hoping to see what environmentally friendly products they were using and why they are good for the environment. However, this educational aspect requires some hunting to find on their site, but they do have this article addressing the various green aspects of the home, and a page full of videos about creating a green home.

I've been using plant-based, non-toxic Method cleaning products for a couple years now. But even Clorox (the company that advertises that I should put my children's toys into large buckets of bleach - don't get me started on this one) is getting into the act and has developed a line of green cleaning products, called Green Works, that "must come from renewable resources, be biodegradable and free of petrochemicals." What I don't see on the Green Works website is any mention of the packaging, if it is recyclable or made from recycled products. Having just scrubbed my toilet this morning with toxic smelling cleaner, I think buying either Method's or Green Works' new toilet bowl cleaner is definitely in order (while using my reusable shopping bags to carry them home of course). I can also stop having to buy rubber gloves to protect my skin.


05 April 2008

Leaves in clay

Browsing on Etsy, I found these clay pieces that are imprinted with leaves from plants growing in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina where the artist, leavesofclay, lives. The descriptions list the common names of the leaves used on each piece.


01 April 2008

Evolution board games

I like board games, so out of curiosity I tried to find board games about evolution last night.

Well, I must have missed the controversy over this one, the Intelligent Design vs. Evolution Board Game that aims to "reveal the insanity of perhaps the greatest hoax of our times -- the unscientific 'theory of evolution'". This was developed by evangelical christians (one of which is Kirk Cameron of Growing Pains acting fame). They even boast on the product description page about how much evolutionists hate it. While I think this would be quite hilarious to play, I wouldn't dream of ordering it and ending up on some scary mailing lists.

Sadly, the game "Evolution" (published in 1986) is out of print. However, there is a game on the market that I do want to get, American Megafauna by Sierra Madre Games. The product summary at boardgamegeek.com read as such:

"A quarter of a billion years ago, an unknown catastrophe engulfs the Earth. The swamps and ice caps of the Permian are replaced by the blistering deserts of the Triassic. On both land and sea, 96% of the animal species die.

In the corner of Pangea that will be known as America, small survivors cautiously sniff the post-holocaust air at the dawn of the Mesozoic Era. Some of these unspecialized quadrupeds have sloppy ever-replacing reptile teeth, these will be the dinosaurs. Others have sculpted 'one-shot' teeth, these will be the mammals. The victor in this titanic ecological struggle will determine the masters of the planet.

Clearly, the ruling reptiles triumphed since that day, 248 million years ago, and dominated for 170 million years. Only to be overthrown, in what must be the upset of the eon, by the mammals. Yet the contest is not over.

American Megafauna pits dinosaurs against mammals in ancient America. The game is designed for two to four players, from ages 9 to adult, or can be played solitaire. It recreates the titanic contest of these two types of prehistoric beasts from the Triassic to the present.

This is a game of ecology, evolution, and DNA. Players start as one of four nondescript archetypes, but can branch out to new species from this basic type by bidding on genotype and DNA cards as they are revealed. For auction 'currency,' players use gene coins from a 'gene pool.' DNA cards allow players to create strange animals, from cud-chewing crocodiles with antlers, to saber-tooth meat-eating camels.

In the the advanced version, the continent of Laurentia is occasionally flooded or glaciated; greenhouse levels change; and the three Milankovich cycles are handled by cards that occur with historical probabilities. Biome cards, including cycad prairies, mountains, ice sheets, and mangrove swamps, appear on the map in succession according to 'climax' ratings."

The designer of this game is Phil Eklund, a rocket scientist by day, and a board game developer by night (Sierra Madre Games is his independent game publisher). I like his attention to detail and how each turn represents a few million years, the correct time frame for large evolutionary changes. I'm all about supporting independent companies, and at $40 for the game (and $15 for the expansion pack) I think that's well worth the cost of several nights of fun. Might as well use my upcoming economic stimulus payment to promote science games.