Our Seed Heritage is Our Food Supply

March 8, 2017 at 6:13 pm | Posted in Economoney, Health, Justice, Movies, Science | Leave a comment
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Recently I saw the film Seed: The Untold Story. While I was familiar with the presented issues, I wasn’t aware of just how extensive they were.

For example, did you know that 94% of seed diversity was lost in the last century? Some countries have made it illegal to collect heritage seeds, saying they need to “maintain the quality” (monopoly) of commercial stocks. And yet history has repeatedly shown us the hazards of widespread use of the same crop. Mono-crops can be compromised or wiped out by easily spread disease.

A more recent development is seed patents. Make a few small changes and you can own the seed stock. Farmers are not allowed to collect seeds or the seeds produce only one crop, obliging them to buy seeds again every year. Those seeds are often dependent on chemical sprays and again encourage mono-crops.

Thousands of farmers in India were convinced to borrow to buy seed they formerly harvested themselves. They got a crop they couldn’t renew and often failed, bankrupting them and causing over 250,000 suicides.

Thousands of small seed companies have been bought up by chemical companies which now control 2/3 of the global market. In other words, our food supply has become very dependent on international chemical corporations. The same ones who are patenting seeds.

The “small changes” that allow patenting seeds often take the form of genetic modification. Unlike our long history of culturing plant qualities through selective breeding, Genetically Modified (GMO) foods have directly altered DNA, often by adding features from other species. They’ve added fish DNA into tomatoes, for example. Those foods are then put on the market, untested. Some crops like corn and soy are almost all GMO, both of which are widely used in packaged food.

Scientific research is beginning to show correlations between GMO food consumption, cancer, and other health issues. Our dinner tables have become a laboratory for testing GMO. Unlike the also present pesticide residues, GMO cannot be washed off.

As pollination doesn’t recognize farm boundaries, nearby fields get contaminated. The seed owners can successfully sue farmers for using patented plants they didn’t plant. And the supply of non-GMO seeds gets further compromised, again moving towards mono-crops.

Yet the film is not dominated by a doomsday message. They also cover solutions and highlight people who are saving seed diversity for future generations. And happily, governments are slowly legislating GMO labeling so consumers can make informed choices.

Western Canada has a well-developed seed-sharing community.
David

Web Bias

November 14, 2016 at 6:59 pm | Posted in Computers, Economoney, Internet, Online services, Web Apps | 1 Comment
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As people shift more and more to getting news and information from the web, there’s an important detail we might overlook. While we may know a paper is conservative or a station is alternative, the web behaves differently. Many of the larger sites automatically filter content to favour our apparent interests. For example, you’ve probably noticed that if you watch a cat video on YouTube, it will automatically “recommend” more of the same. Many large sites do much the same.

While this may be convenient and help keep us on the site (and seeing ads), it narrows our view of the world by creating a bubble of information. A few years back, I posted a TED talk on the subject.

The recent US election has brought the subject to the fore, along with issues of “fake” news. Facebook is denying it’s news feed had an influence on the election. But the Wall Street Journal has done an interesting mock-up that illustrates the issue in action. You can see how very different the 2 feeds are for a subject. Keep in mind this is not just true of Facebook.

Friends have tested search engines similarly. Test the same search on 2 different computers – one in the financial district and the other in a poor part of town. Completely different results. Multiply this across many sites and it can affect your sense of the world.

The key – diversify your sources and pay attention to reputable international news sites that bring an out-of-country perspective. You can also use a tool like DuckDuckGo to search Google while reducing some of the tracking.

To take this further, what we see of the world will reinforce Cognitive Bias. If you’re unfamiliar, here’s a summary of 12 types. And Facebook has their own page on “Managing Bias“.
David

Changing Profit

August 29, 2016 at 9:04 pm | Posted in Books, Economoney | Leave a comment
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A standard corporation is structured to be bottom-line driven. Ethics or environmental concern can only be engaged if it can be showed to improve profit. Often, they are purely marketing efforts. But if consumers demand healthier products, the corporations will comply. If consumers demand cheapest, that drives out most all other concerns. Some markets become a race to the bottom.

As corporate businesses have grown larger and become more ubiquitous, they’re having a disastrous effect on local economies, the environment, ethics, employment, and the long-term viability of social structures. Civilizations have not historically lasted when the income ratio (highest to lowest) becomes as great as it is now.

Add in the effects of technological revolution and you lose the need for full employment. Without work in our culture, you loose your role in society. This is especially difficult for youths if they cannot get established. They can become alienated and without motivation to support the community. Other social forms like gangs and protest become prominent.

But more recently, new models for business have arisen. One is B-Corps, corporations that can have built-in ethical or environmental principles. Business that can act in the interests of society along with profit generation.

A Canadian variation is the Community Contribution Company (C3) which caps profits and channels the surplus into social causes.

But what about designing a business that is not for profit at all? Non-profits have been around for as long as for-profits, but the not-for-profit style of enterprise is distinct from charities.

As the authors of a new book on the subject (How on Earth: Flourishing in a Not-for-Profit World by 2050) note “A successful not-for-profit enterprise includes paying employees, managers and CEOs fair salaries. This idea is not a sacrificial business model.

why don’t you just advocate for social enterprise or for Benefit (B) corps? We think those business terms don’t tell us about what happens to the profit, and they don’t tell us about the ownership of the company.

Not-for-profits can be purely purpose driven, and not distracted by any need to maximize profit.

Many of us may not be fully aware of how these pressures of profit generation guide our lives. The ubiquitous marketing and the culture of consumerism are core pieces of the for-profit system because for-profit companies have to grow every year.

This pressure leads industries to always work at creating new markets and new needs. We see a broader trend of “manufacturing needs” through marketing, convincing us that we’re not good enough and that we need to buy more. In a world of mostly not-for-profit companies, all businesses would be purpose driven and wouldn’t have the same pressure to constantly expand their bottom line to compensate for extracted value.

It’s a fascinating idea – companies and thus jobs driven by meaning and purpose. Business that supports community rather than preying on it. A massive reduction in junk. A winding down of massive companies that have more influence than elected governments.

We’ll see.
David

Kiva’s History

June 12, 2016 at 12:26 pm | Posted in Economoney, History, Internet, Online services | Leave a comment
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I began micro-loaning with Kiva in 2008 and have written various articles on the subject. I’ve now given 24 loans in 17 countries. In one case, the local lending organization failed, impacting the loan repayment. In another, there was a small loss due to currency exchange values. But the rest of the loans have been doing fine – farmers, students, grocers, groups, and more. A small infusion has kept the process going and slightly expanded the number of loans I can make. The cost for me has been tiny compared to the impact. As the funds are repaid, I reloan them.

Kiva has recently released a video showing their history. It also gives a sense of it’s impact. This is a better repayment rate than in the west.

On YouTube

Really Free Android Games

April 4, 2016 at 5:43 pm | Posted in Computers, Economoney, Games, Internet, Software | 2 Comments

I’ve been a fan of the Android smartphone platform, partly because of it’s roots in Linux. But I have to say that Google’s behaviour has me questioning that, treating their users as a commodity to be monetized. Not that the other platforms are above this. Some of the worst aspects of the modern Internet have become concentrated on the cell platform. The “swiss army knife” of telephones becomes a Truman Show experiment.

Google is in a major conflict of interest around advertising. Junk web sites have proliferated with their ad model and they highlight them in search results. Ads get more hits but search results get much less useful. Witness the growth of services like DuckDuckGo that allow you to use Google with less of the manipulation.

But on Android, you’re in Google world so it’s everywhere. When you browse apps in the Play store, the “Recommended” free ones can be some of the worst offenders and there’s no way to filter them out. Reviews are almost useless and some are gamed.

I’ve found myself adding apps like QuickPic (photo gallery) and AIMP (music) to avoid the pushy Google apps you can’t remove.

In the history of computer games, there has been a long record of shareware, trialware and freeware. The last became almost ubiquitous on Linux. But in the Android variant, it’s all about advertising. On the PC platform, it would be called Adware, considered by some to be malware.

This became highlighted for me when I installed a paid anti-malware app on my cell phone, the mobile ESET. ESET includes a review of app security. I was surprised by some of what I’d OKed. One of the worst turned out to be a flashlight app – evidently many of them are rife with user tracking. For a high-rated flashlight?

Apparently, as a way to promote development on the Android platform, Google has been promoting advertising for income. It is certainly fair for developers to earn money for their work. But the implementation has often been at the expense of the user and their experience. A great program spoiled by pop-ups and appalling ads. Part of the game becomes where to click to close the latest interruption. Not to mention reporting your cell phone activity.

On the web, I don’t mind advertising such as you see in magazines and print (aside from “native advertising“). But they didn’t leave it there – many sites went over the top with pop-ups, pop-unders, flashing text, video, and sound. The ads are often obnoxious or inappropriate and they load tracking beacons. I was obliged to turn the deluge off with Adblock Plus and related browser plug-ins. But turning down the volume is not so straightforward when it’s built into the platform.

To add insult, all of this cell advertising is using your paid data. When the ads include video, they can soak up an amazing amount of bandwidth. If you’re using a basic plan, you really DON’T want your apps using up your data.

Sure, some (but not all) will use wireless if available. But generally, I’m using games during a commute, in a waiting room or some such where wireless is not an option. And if it is, do I want to go to the trouble of connecting to a public hot spot just for the ads? And further, you’re now sharing user information on a public network.

This kind of activity also uses your battery charge up much faster than simply playing the game. Pretty lame to have your phone die over ads.

In summary – some of the motivation against using ad-supported free games:
– low quality ads: obnoxious and inappropriate ads the feature nudity, violence and fake warnings. It surprises me legitimate companies put themselves into this mix.
– heavy data usage by ads, especially video
– heavy power usage by ads
– gamed reviews – app reviews are largely useless and some apps game them by asking you to recommend them after a few levels, then they turn on all the crap.
– Play Store “recommended” apps are some of the worst offenders
– tracking of user activity, data, and calls – just watch those permissions when you install. Does this app need access to your call records, etc? Just say no.
– hidden payware where you have to pay to continue the “free” game
I’m sure many of you have experienced other tricks too

If you’re looking for high quality games to play as a pastime, I’d suggest looking for real reviews and buying them. But if you’re looking for a few apps to amuse you while waiting somewhere, you want simple and ad free.

Here is a list of free games I’ve found that are currently free of ads and obnoxious permissions. Quality is a little mixed but I enjoy a few of them. You can find them in the Play store.

Frozen Bubble (bubble matching)
OpenSudoku (you can download other games free)
Instant Sudoku
Trap!
Mastermind
Mines (Minesweeper)
ShokoRocket (maze game)
Vexed
Simple Missile Defense
Scrabble free

There was a great Solitaire game I used to use but they went advertising badly. Not aware of one now.
If you have any of your own suggestions, let us know in comments. No promotions, please.
David

A Vegan Challenge

December 10, 2015 at 4:36 pm | Posted in Economoney, Health | Leave a comment
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Recently, I’ve talked about the CHIP program and a shift to a more whole foods, plant based diet, otherwise known as a Vegan diet.

I’ve concluded that this body isn’t going to go that far but I will favour a mostly vegetarian approach. I learned a great deal from the CHIP program to support good lifestyle choices.

When I watched the film Cowspiracy, I discovered their web site had an offer for a free 30-Day Vegan Challenge by vegan author Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. There are a lot of reasons to make dietary changes but the motivation on the site was to reduce meat consumption so we reduce our impact on climate change*. Even eating one less hamburger makes a surprising difference. Colleen also speaks about the compassionate treatment of animals, something modern factory farms have left by the wayside.

I decided to take her program – not to become vegan but to enhance my healthy choices and options.

I quite enjoyed the program and have picked up some great tips. Much like the CHIP program, she broke through some myths and went into some detail on key nutrients. She even covered a few details CHIP had not.

The program is designed for those with a typical North American diet, so there was a lot of recommendations for what I’d call “faux food” – foods designed to mimic meat and dairy products. That is – replacing one processed food with another possibly even more processed. Now I certainly enjoy a good veggie burger but am more interested in yummy dishes than eating foods pretending to be something else. I can see where such products might have a transitional role until we have more menu diversity but long-term use of heavily processed foods is not a great idea, vegan or not.

I also cringed when she got into calorie counting for weight loss. It’s very true that weight changes come by shifting the balance of intake and output in calories but tracking that is not something I’ll ever do well.

But the program is full of recipes and healthy food choices, shopping tips, and food knowledge. Leaning veggie is not as difficult as it might seem. Many of the foods we already eat are vegan and there are many very tasty options. We just need a little knowledge and a few new habits and choices.

I would describe the CHIP program as superior but it’s not available everywhere and is not cheap. This program is free and can serve as a good introduction to making some healthy changes. Healthy for all of us. And she can help you save money too.
David

*research indicates meat production produces vastly more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined. See the article with links.

Eating for Life

December 10, 2015 at 4:27 pm | Posted in Economoney, Health, Science | 1 Comment
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Eating based on beliefs or special diets that are not designed for your specific body can have unintended consequences. Variety is what makes food interesting and ensures we get the diversity of nutrients required.

Readers of this blog know I did a series on the CHIP program. This included some of the science for shifting to a more plant-based diet, minimizing cancer risk, and overall self care. The program was originally designed for heart patients but was expanded to the whole population.

I quite liked the approach as it looked at how and what we eat, fitness, emotional health, and more. CHIP recommends a primarily plant-based diet but suggests you move in that direction rather than mandating anything.

The weakness however is not differentiating recommendations by body type. For myself I’ve found Ayurveda adds some useful extras. For a start, they begin with your body type and make dietary recommendations accordingly. They recognize that not all of us will respond to the same vegetables or other foods in the same way. Each of us needs a certain emphasis or balance of food types.

Ayurveda favours a vegetarian diet that includes dairy, but they allow for the full range and can recommend some occasional fish or white meat. They have a food as medicine approach. Dairy is also prepared in specific ways. Clarified butter, soft cheeses, and boiled milk, for example.

Ideally, we begin with initial recommendations and then experiment. Pay attention to how foods make you feel afterwards. But be very careful where sugar is involved. Sugar confuses the bodies intelligence so it messes up the signals and creates craving. Also, you may find dietary needs change with age and life, so we may need to tune up choices periodically.

But if we can learn to take the bodies lead in our eating choices rather than some dietary rules or beliefs, we’ll do much better and enjoy life more.

Science is beginning to catch on to this. Programs are being developed (as yet far too expensive) that make science-based diet and exercise recommendations that are specific to your body. By combining DNA, blood, and other tests, we’ll soon be offered more personalized recommendations.

Meantime, enjoy the experiment.
David

Cowspiracy – The Sustainability Secret

November 8, 2015 at 6:42 pm | Posted in Economoney, Health, Media, Movies, Science | 4 Comments
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Gumby
I’ve written several articles on this blog on the CHIP program and the many health benefits of shifting to a more plant-based diet – including reduced cancer risks. Recently, the World Health Organization announced that processed meats are carcinogenic and red meat probably also is. This is based on hundreds of studies.

A friend recommended the film Cowspiracy, a surprising documentary about the meat industry. Not only is excess meat a health issue but it’s also the number one cause of global warming. Simply because of volume, cows and their processing produce well over twice the greenhouses gases than all forms of transportation. Really?

“Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.”
Goodland, R Anhang, J. “Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change were pigs, chickens and cows?”

“Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years.”
“Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options.” 2006.

“Even without fossil fuels, we will exceed our 565 gigatonnes CO2e limit by 2030, all from raising animals.”
Oppenlander, Richard A.

“Agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of US water consumption.”
US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, 2013.  54% is for growing feed crops.

Conservatively, 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef. Eating a single hamburger will negate any individual efforts you can make to conserve water.

“Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction.”
World Bank, 2003

“Today, humans and the animals that we raise as food make up 98% of the zoomass.” (animal biomass on earth)
Vaclav Smil, Harvesting the Biosphere, 2011

“We are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people.” But half of it goes to feed animals, even in countries with starving children.

much more, with references      An infographic

Meat production is the largest cause of deforestation, water consumption, ocean pollution, and desertification. A third of the planet is now desert. And yet the film-maker found that most environmental organizations refused to talk about it. His primary funder suddenly backed out over the “controversy”.

Turns out it’s illegal in the US to speak against the meat production industry. There is now an “Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act”. In other words, speaking about this in the US can be considered a terrorist act. In South America, people are shot for protesting against agribusiness.

Yet – on a given land area, we can produce 15x the protein with plants rather than animals.

“A person who follows a vegan diet produces the equivalent of 50% less carbon dioxide, uses 1/11th oil, 1/13th water, and 1/18th land compared to a meat-lover.” Just with diet.

A little more effective than a low-flow shower head, biking to work, and turning out a few lights. And if we’re actually serious about addressing climate change, we need to address the elephant in the room…
David

Bladeless Wind Turbine

May 24, 2015 at 12:59 pm | Posted in Economoney, Hardware, Technology | Leave a comment

A wind turbine that has no blades?? One that is much cheaper to make, basically silent, safe even for birds, has no mechanics to maintain, and actually looks like art?

They have a working prototype and are coming up on crowdfunding. Here they present at MIT:

Vortex Bladeless web site

New Banking

December 15, 2014 at 11:55 am | Posted in Economoney, Internet, Online services, Security, Software, Technology, Web Apps | 1 Comment

There is a new service developing in Canada called Koho. They’re a “technology company delivering a banking experience” rather than being a bank. Yet the money is deposited with a credit union, so is secured and insured in the usual way.

They use a debit-style prepaid credit card, processed through a credit union. But unlike cards like the BMO one I discussed here, this one will have no fees. (other than for things like cheque processing) They’ll use the standard merchant transaction fees to support the business, much as Interac does.

They’ll also donate to chosen causes from your transaction activity automatically. It’s targeting young people with web and mobile apps for saving and managing money. They describe it like Mint, but with the functionality built into your account.

If you’re used to a full-service bank, it may not be your style. But if you have an active life that is technology-supported, it may be a big improvement. They suggest they’ll be the most affordable banking in Canada.

Check out the FAQ page for details. Pretty interesting.

The only downside I can see is it means signing for transactions, unlike a true debit card. In fact, it cuts the non-profit Interac (debit) system out of the loop. But I’ve certainly found using a travel card much simplifies those kinds of transactions.
David

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