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Story Tools

Date of Issue: July 29, 2005

Sandscript

SciFi tales to curl your hair - or at least make you cough

First, Africa provides the genesis for some of our more brutal hurricanes. Now, we're getting its dust.

A huge dust cloud has risen off the Sahara Desert and is moving west toward the United States. Florida is well within the path, if the sandstorm doesn't dissipate, and we could get some red tide-like symptoms of scratchy throats and tickling noses.

The dust should also add enough particulates in the atmosphere that sunrise and sunsets should be exceptionally beautiful.

Thanks, Scotty

As all Trekkies know by now, Mr. Scott - James Doohan - died July 20 at age 85, although his ageless performances on "Star Trek" will live on forever.

As the New York Times described it, "When Captain Kirk said, 'Beam me up, Scotty,' or its many variants, he was talking to Mr. Doohan's character, an irascible engineer. His cries of 'Captain! The engines canna take nae more!' and references to warp speed and dilithium crystals have resonated through popular culture since 1966, when the original 'Star Trek' began its three seasons."

The following, also from the Times obituary, is pretty good in explaining how Scotty was able to appear in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" 75 years after the first show supposedly took place: "The time gap was explained by Scotty's having jury-rigged a form of suspended animation, sending himself into a pattern buffer in the transporter and keeping his matter circulating in the unit through a continuous diagnostic loop. Like all 'Star Trek' explanations, it sounds good if you say it fast."

One of the editorials in one of the newspapers that comes out every day had a keen observation about the relationship between Kirk and Scott. When the Captain told Scotty to beam him up, it meant that it was time to go home, to go back to where things were safe and the bad guys weren't trying to blast everybody to bits. Scotty was the gatekeeper, in other words.

Fittingly, Scotty's remains will be sent into space.

As if we don't have enough to worry about

Although it is true that it's not paranoia if they really are all out to get you, the following seems a bit much.

Anthony Greenbank has written "The Book of Survival," which includes, among other chapters, how to get out of an alien attack on Earth.

"It's a textbook for non-heroes," according to a press release, "presenting a practical program for survival under any circumstances. It is a manual to read, re-read, and remember - and to give to your loved ones. It is truly everyone's guide to staying alive and handling emergencies, in the city, the suburbs, and the wild lands beyond. You can even use these strategies on other planets, in case aliens decide to take you with them!"

Specifically, Greenbank does admit that although "there is no scientific evidence that aliens exist in the neighborhood of earth, there are tens and thousands of unidentified flying objects. So far, not one has been identified as a flying saucer. Whether or not sighting aliens disembarking is merely a hallucination (the most likely explanation), the safest course is to get away."

Running away is always a good survival tool, especially when they're coming after you.

... and in light of the above, 'manure happens'

Ya gotta love those wacky folks at the University of Florida. Not only do they have the first laboratory dedicated to the study of manure, they talk about their findings in a newsletter they have christened the "Poop Scoop."

"We try to take a light-hearted rear view of the problem, but managing all that waste to protect the environment is no easy task," says Cliff Starling, coordinator of nutrient management programs at UF's Suwannee Valley Livestock Waste Testing Laboratory in Live Oak.

According to the university, the lab is the first of its kind in the nation and serves livestock producers throughout the state.

With the cost of fertilizer increasing, using something more local and plentiful - and free - is a good thing. "The cow manure and chicken litter, which contain valuable plant nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, can help farmers save money by reusing and recycling nutrients," the researchers proclaim.

There's an added benefit to the poop as fertilizer in North Florida, too - protection of groundwater supplies and the myriad streams, creeks, rivers and springs.

"Nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients in waste can degrade water quality in rivers and springs, causing algae blooms that consume oxygen needed by fish and other aquatic animals," the UF scientists note. "High nitrogen levels can also affect human health."

"In order to apply manure to crops at the proper rate, farmers need to know what levels of nutrients are present in the waste, and our lab can provide them with that information," according to researchers.

Sharkskin boat-bottom paint?

Speaking of the University of Florida, engineers there are experimenting with a special antifouling paint for boats that is based on properties found in shark skin.

"UF materials engineers tapped elements of sharks' unique scales to design the new coating, which prevents the growth of a notoriously aggressive marine algae and may also impede barnacles," according to Sea Grant Marine Extension Agent John Stevely in "The Marine Scene" newsletter.

"If more extensive testing and development bear out the results," the report continues, "the shark-inspired coating, composed of tiny scale-like elements that can actually flex in and out to impede growth, could replace conventional antifouling coatings. These coatings prevent marine growth, but also leach poisonous copper into the ocean."

Anthony Brennan is the lead researcher on the project. "Copper paints are wonderful in terms of keeping the ship surface clean," he said, "but they are poisonous and they accumulate at substantial rates in harbors, threatening marine life. By contrast, there are no toxins associated with our surface" based on shark skin.

So what's the big deal about having a clean bottom?

Algae and barnacles increase drag on a ship, requiring more power to move it through the water. According to U.S. Navy figures, about $600 million is spent annually to power its submarines and surface craft. About $50 million of that amount is attributed to fouled bottoms.

Sandscript factoid

According to the University of Florida, the Suwannee River basin of North Florida has about 25,000 dairy cows and 38 million chickens. Statewide, there are about 142,000 dairy cows.

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