A Small Victory for Orangutan Conservation

 A Small Victory for Orangutan Conservation

Orangutans are a critically endangered species which means that a great deal of news about them is less than optimistic. There are, however, moments of great hope due to committed conservationists, primatologists, and zoo programs. In May, one of those moments occurred when 16-year-old Mei at the Cameron Park Zoo gave birth to her first baby, a girl. Mei and Kerajaan (or KJ) are Bornean orangutans whose habitat is being devastated in their native country. The birth of their daughter is cause for great celebration because the number of orangutans in the world is decreasing, leading to extinction if action is not taken. The Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, Texas is taking great care to ensure that the new baby properly bonds to her mother and is cared for by her parents and zoo staff. The road to species recovery is long and difficult, but small victories like these make the hard work absolutely worth it.

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We’re Not the Only Species Who Feels Bad about Eating That

 Were Not the Only Species Who Feels Bad about Eating That

The Department of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota recently found that our brains are a lot more similar to those of mice than we thought. Regret is a cognitive behavior that humans express when they feel sorry about something they have done. Until recently, we believed that only humans felt that emotion. Scientists at the University of Minnesota have found some proof that rats, too, feel regret, evidenced by brain activity similar to humans’. When people realize that they have made a mistake and feel badly, the orbitofrontal cortex region of the brain is active. Because rats’ brains behaved the same way during the studies and tests, researchers were able to ascertain that rats were feeling regret like we do. This finding has undoubtedly left scientists worldwide wondering what other “human” characteristics we share with the rest of the animal kingdom, and will spur years of fascinating research and scientific growth.

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Printing Food

 Printing Food

Where does technology, food, and sustainability meet?

When you print your food.

That is right, using 3-D printing technology printing edible meals has jumped from the world of the “Jetsons” to our plates. 3-D printing has started a revolution over the past few years, it can be used to make anything from musical instruments to innovative prosthetics. It is changing how we assemble the objects in our world and bringing about an age where less and less is impossible. So how will this change food? Apparently a lot.

The particular 3-D printer that can generate meals, called Foodini, was unveiled in April. It will be available for home and professional kitchen use within the year (for $1,300).  To be honest it actually seems very convenient–even nostalgically futuristic. Want a cookie? Print it. Can’t get to the local pizza shop before it closes? Print yourself a slice.

So what does this technology mean for our world as a whole? Will the 3-D food printer usher in an age of food that doesn’t use up environmental resources? The possibilities point to yes. Given a chance there seems that there is a way to use this technology to help create a sustainable food market. “Imagine being able to grow, cook or prepare foods without the negative industrial impact – from fertilisers to packaging. The production chain for food would nearly be eliminated,” says Homaro Cantu, a chef who has used 3-D printers for his sushi production. Conventional production of course will not disappear overnight, but it does raise the idea of a new future for food production, packaging, and politics which has not changed much in a long time.

To add another question, what will happen as 3-D printers are introduced to a commercial market? We’ll just have to sit back and see.

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Ever-Changing Home Technology

Johannes Marliem7 Ever Changing Home Technology

I read a story recently in the St. Paul Pioneer Press describing how a man was alerted via phone that his home’s furnace was not functioning properly, and it was minus 14 degrees outside at the time. Thanks to an internet-connected temperature sensor on his thermostat, the man was able to replace the batteries in thermostat and restart his furnace in a timely manner.  Think of the damage that could have been done. Pipes could have burst leading to severe water damage in the home.

A Minneapolis tech startup is at the forefront of this technology. SmartThings made the sensor that detected the man’s furnace not working properly. It never ceases to amaze me that so many Minnesota-based companies are innovators in the technological world. Just another great reason to love this state.

Technology is evolving so rapidly, and in the process is making our everyday lives much easier. We are able to control the environments of our homes at the convenience of our fingertips using smart phones. We can lock our doors, open our garages, set the room temperature, turn on the lights and more all with the press of a button on our phones.

I wonder when the first all “smart home” will be built, if it hasn’t already.

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The California Orangutan Alliance

 The California Orangutan Alliance

In May a new cooperative project was announced that would bring together two amazing organizations that are committed to preserving orangutans. The California Orangutan Alliance is the partnership between two NGOs, The Orangutan Conservancy (OC)  and The Orang Utan Republik Foundation (OURF), that will strengthen conservation efforts in Indonesia. Both of these NGOs have many years of experience behind them, and years of work ahead of them, and have come together for their common goal. United, they will protect orangutans and their habitat through research, education, public awareness projects, and on-the-ground efforts. I’m overjoyed to see that even halfway around the world from Sumatra and Borneo, people are coming together to help those great apes.

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Is Bitcoin Becoming Legitimate Currency?

 Is Bitcoin Becoming Legitimate Currency?

Bitcoin is the perpetually controversial digital currency that is radically changing the way we think about banks, payments, and financial systems. The ability to make instant worldwide payments with little to no processing fees, as an open source service that functions collectively without a central authority, shakes the foundational ideology of the global financial system. Bitcoin is slowly catching on for peer to peer transactions, and has even been picked up by major retailers such as Tiger Direct, Overstock.com, and WordPress. This begs the question: is Bitcoin appropriate for all types of transactions?

Recently, the FEC (Federal Election Commission) approved the use of Bitcoin for political donations. This landmark decision was one of the first by a government agency regarding the use of the virtual currency. The advisory opinion, authorized by a 6-0 vote, said that Bitcoin can be accepted as donations and purchased by political committees, but cannot be used to acquire goods and services. The stipulation is that the digital currency must be converted into U.S. dollars before it can be deposited into an official campaign account.

The Libertarian party has already been accepting Bitcoin since last year, but since the ruling, the currency may become more popular in the political world. There are still a plethora of regulations and policies surrounding the acceptance of the new type of donation, such as a $100 cap, and many who see the decision as risky. The FEC Chairman Lee Goodman views the situation differently; he said, “I think it’s important for the FEC to embrace technology and innovation, and that’s what we did”.

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Once Contentious Green Line an Asset to Minnesota

The Twin Cities have been touted as some of the most accessible cities in the United States: they are walkable, bikeable, and now, even more connected for commuters and students alike.

  Once Contentious Green Line an Asset to Minnesota

The light rail’s new Green Line stretches between Union Depot in St. Paul and Target Field in Minneapolis with 23 stops over 11 miles. It is especially convenient for University of Minnesota students who can now easily access their classes without having to live on campus. The route that connects the Twin Cities’ downtowns also meshes seamlessly with existing transit lines, including the Blue Line and Northstar Commuter Rail.

The trains consist of three cars and can take you between St. Paul and Minneapolis in less than an hour, much better than the usual rush hour traffic. In addition to its use as a means to get between work, school, and home, the Green Line passes grocery stores, restaurants, the Government Plaza, and entertainment destinations. While lawsuits, negotiations, and litigation defined the light rail’s early stages of development, especially within the boundaries of the University of Minnesota, the Green Line is now becoming an asset to the Twin Cities. Students are expected to make up 25% of daily riders, making the light rail expansion both practical and advantageous to students, the City, and the University.

There will undoubtedly be issues with such a large public infrastructure project, in addition to those faced in the planning and building phases. However, the Green Line will contribute to climate change mitigation, open up the cities to those who rely on public transit, and ease traffic congestion between Minneapolis and St. Paul. I look forward to seeing how the major cities in Minnesota will continue to improve accessibility with the people, economy, and environment in mind.

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Keruak Corridor in Indonesia Saved

 Keruak Corridor in Indonesia Saved

It brings me immense joy to share the story of the Keruak Corridor in Indonesian Borneo with you. Critically endangered orangutans rely on lands that connect protected habitat areas in the Indonesian rainforests. The World Land Trust has played a vital role in conserving significant habitat for many endangered species, and in protecting the rainforest in Indonesia, they have made strides in preserving hundreds of species.

The Borneo Rainforest Appeal was a partnership between the World Land Trust and Hutan, an Indonesian NGO that does conservation work. Additionally, Rainforest Trust contributed by promoting the cause in the United States and donating enough to help the organizations reach their monetary goal. Together they raised £1 million ($1,694,400) to protect orangutans and a myriad of other endangered species in the Lower Kinabatangan floodplain of Sabah, Borneo. The land, named the Keruak Corridor, was bought in order to allow animals access to two forest reserves along the Kinabatangan River.

Habitat fragmentation is a large factor in the decreasing viability of many endangered species; strips of land that allow disconnected populations to interact can mitigate their decline. The Keruak Corridor will, hopefully, help species like the Bornean Orangutan, Pygmy Elephant, and Proboscis Monkey interact with isolated populations and increase their numbers. The destruction of endangered species’ habitats decreases the likelihood that they will survive long enough for children today to know that they ever existed. Purchasing strategic pieces of land in degraded rainforests may help save the orangutan today, but further habitat loss with ensure the extinction of so many important species. To learn more about the Borneo Rainforest Appeal and the amazing work that is being done by the World Land Trust for their 25th anniversary, please click here.

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Sustainability, Business, Good Food, and the Future of Burger Restaurants?

When you think of upscale dining, are touchscreen tables and environmentally-conscious operations the first things you imagine? Nick Bergelt, founder and CEO of Charbar Co. at the Hilton Head in South Carolina wants to change that. About ten years ago he set out to transform the restaurant industry by tackling inefficiency. He worked to decrease the amount of garbage sent to landfills, the overuse of electricity and water, and even to maximize the time of employees.

While in school at the University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business, Nick Bergelt opened his first sustainable restaurant. He made sure that local food was served, wind and solar energy powered the space, and waste was diverted from landfills. He used the model from that restaurant he sold to create a more technologically integrated, but still sustainable restaurant.

In 2012, Bergelt opened Charbar Co. in his hometown with features like computerized table ordering and sustainable business operations. In addition to the high-end technology, Bergelt makes sure that the food is high-end as well; he is not talking about the price, though, he is referring to “gourmet tastes that you may not associate with a burger”. Nick Bergelt has laid the foundation for a future of restaurants that integrate technology, sustainability, and gourmet food.

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The Second Generation off Light Field Photography, Available to You

 The Second Generation off Light Field Photography, Available to You

Do you remember Lytro’s first camera? It revolutionized the concept of a camera in both design and functionality and opened the world of light field photography to the masses. Two years ago, the commercial Lytro brand was represented by the rectangular prism that looked more like a toy than a professional camera. While the camera contained innovative and advanced hardware and software alike, bundled in a sleek, minimalist body, there were inherent issues with it, like any first generation product. Lytro has worked extremely hard to create a consumer camera with the technology and features of cameras used by professionals, and after two years, they have revolutionized the world of photography again.

The Lytro Illum looks like a camera. While this isn’t the biggest change from the first and second generations, it’s the one that has attracted most novice photographers to the world of light field photography. Functions like focusing a picture after it was taken, modeling its user interface after phone and tablet apps rather than the oft-confusing DSLR setup, and packing a technological punch like the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processing chip make the Lytro Illum a viable option for photographers at all stages and in all different fields. The Illum becomes available in July, and I cannot wait to see pictures taken with this amazing camera.

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