Monday, 8 June 2015

07:54 – I’m getting very tired of this Bruce Jenner thing. Why should anyone care, let alone waste newsprint or electrons talking about it? The morning paper had a big article with a 20-point headline to tell readers that whoever created his new hairstyle is a former Charlotte resident. Geez.

As a scientist, I understand that there’s no ambiguity about a person’s sex. If you have one X and one Y chromosome, you’re male; if you have two X chromosomes, you’re female; if you have some other combination, such as XYY, you’re a monster, in the literal rather than the pejorative sense of that word. I don’t care if Jenner cuts off his genitals and self-identifies as a kumquat. He’s a male person, period. A pretty strange male person, but a male person nonetheless. DNA defines it.

As a male person, Jenner should have all of the rights of any other person, male or female, but he should be granted no special consideration just because he believes he’s a female kumquat. The guy is clearly mentally ill and it’s appropriate to pity him, but that’s as far as it goes.

10:15 – I’ve read literally scores of non-fiction prepping books, but one prepping item I’ve never seen mentioned is useful bacteria. We store shelf-stable containers of many useful microorganisms, but as far as I’m concerned the top two (other than yeast) are Rhizobia, a soil bacteria that helps legumes fix nitrogen, and ABE bacteria, which ferment starches to a 3:6:1 mixture of acetone, n-butanol, and ethanol.

Both types can be prepared for long-term storage either by lyophilizing (freeze-drying) them or by preparing a dilute mixed suspension of the bacteria in phosphate-buffered saline (PBS), where the bacteria remain in stasis (suspended animation) until conditions are again favorable for growth. You can reactivate them simply by adding a small amount of the culture to a suitable growth medium, such as dilute chicken or beef broth with some table sugar dissolved in it.

You want the Rhizobia to use as an inoculant when you plant legumes, such as beans. The inoculant hugely increases yields, typically doubling them but sometimes by an order of magnitude. The ABE bacteria allows you to ferment starches to provide liquid fuel. Yes, you can use ordinary yeast to ferment ethanol, but pure ethanol is problematic as a gasoline replacement, not least because it sucks moisture from the air. What you really want is the 6 parts of n-butanol, which can be separated by fractional distillation and is a drop-in replacement for gasoline. Any engine that can burn gasoline can without modification burn n-butanol. And I can think of a lot of long-term emergency situations where I’d be happy to trade 10 or 15 pounds of turnips for a gallon of gas.