Category Archives: my ninjas please!

GM Virus Solar Cells?

MIT reported on Monday that researchers have a used genetically modified virus to produce structures that improve solar-cell efficiency by about one-third.

MIT researchers said they have found a way to make significant improvements to the power-conversion efficiency of solar cells by using a tiny virus to perform detailed assembly work at the microscopic level.

Sunlight hits a light-harvesting material in a solar cell, which releases electrons that can produce an electric current.

The research of this new study is based on findings that carbon nanotubes can enhance the efficiency of electron collection from a solar cell’s surface.>

North Atlantic Trash Gyre aka TRASH EVERYWHERE!

So before I start I’ll say that I realize that GreenMNP has sat mostly dormant for a few months.  There are a few elements that have contributed to this.  Our Main Ninja, Jessie, has had her hands full pursuing her various real-life interests.  Also, our new format for the site in general is aimed at slower more content-rich material – a slight change from the furious ninja pace you may be used to.

Approximately the Speed of Light

A few months back we brought you a post about the supposed “North Pacific Trash Gyre.”  Basically, what this refers to is a swirling mass of trash in our ocean that is definitely not beneficial for marine life – or non-marine life, for that matter.

In a dramatic second round of the petroleum wars,  the same organization that discovered the NPTG has found another site of destruction: the North Atlantic.  This news was broken by Anna Cummings and Marcus Eriksen, both researchers for the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.

Of course, skeptics will immediately argue (and could be right) that you don’t see this garbage and therefore it doesn’t exist.  The problem, according to the researchers, is that most of the trash is located below the surface.  Before we get into the specifics of the Gyre, we’ll show you some random pics of trash in the ocean to get you riled up:

Garbage in the North Pacific (subject matter of our last post)

Researches originally found the trash gyres by doing what’s called “trawling.”  This, more or less, involves dragging giant nets that collect water and particulate matter and later analyzing what comes up.  The researchers in question were quite horrified when they found that PPM (parts per million) levels of plastic were particularly elevated.

an example of trawling

Clearly it’s a ridiculous proposition that there’s no trash in the ocean, especially given that we live on a planet where so many people use products that incorporate non bio-degradable elements every day.  Plastic, which is an oil-based substance, may be the most ubiquitous, if not the most nefarious of all of these pollutants.  While chemicals like mercury cause immediate and measurable damage to biological organisms, plastic tends to break down into particulates that could be harmful to living things in the long run (if you use your common sense).

The SEA Organization, which sponsors semesters at SEA, allowing undergraduates to participate in marine research, has also carried out several studies that seem to confirm the high abundance of the plastic contaminant in our water:

For more than 20 years SEA has been carefully measuring the abundance of plastic marine debris in the North Atlantic and Caribbean Sea on the sailing oceanographic research vessels SSVs Westward and Corwith Cramer, and also in the North and South Pacific since the arrival of the SSV Robert C. Seamans in 2001.

More than 6150 surface net tows have been carried out from Nova Scotia to the Caribbean Islands, collecting 64,000+ plastic pieces that have been handpicked from net samples. On cruises from Hawaii to the west coast of the U.S. samples have been collected in the much-popularized “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.

a fish with a piece of plastic embedded in stomach

The effects the buildup of plastic in our oceans, in the bodies of marine animals, and ultimately the larger mammals (read: humans) that ingest them are still largely unknown.  Additionally, like so many of the last century’s environmental hot topics, how concerned one should be could depend on who you ask.  Left wing environmental organizations put out studies that are frequently contradicted by studies funded by the businesses with the most stake in the matter.  Though the results of these contradictory studies may often be correct, because of the political push and pull and the nature of science itself, we will most likely remain in a dubious position of indecision until the effects are rampant or the threat disappears.  I know I don’t sound like an optimist right now, but reality bites.

WTF is a Gyre??

A “gyre“, in oceanographic terms, is a rotating set of currents that basically swirl in a circle.  The currents are caused by such factors as wind currents, the shapes of land masses, ocean temperatures, the shape of the sea floor,  um, and God.  The trash gyres came to be known as such because of the currents that swirl in a circular fashion and tend to cause trash (and other solids) to concentrate in certain places.  While out trawling the oceans for plastic, researchers noticed that the concentrations of plastic are higher in certain areas than in others.

the five major ocean gyres

Like I said before, it can be hard to see these gyres because the plastic being measured is often times in the form of particles that are super-small.  That is not to say that there’s not blatantly tons of junk floating around in these very same places.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right spot.

What do you guys think of this situation?  As of right now there exists no reliable method in which to clean the ocean, and there’s a fat chance there ever will be.  In my opinion, this is a much more tangible problem than carbon in the atmosphere.  Maybe the government should try regulating product packaging to reduce this problem, given that a great many alternatives exist to plastic.

the trash has invaded

If you’ve ever seen the Industry commercials, you know that plastic is a wonderful substance that has greatly advanced our society.  Its subsequent breakdown in our oceans, however, may be our downfall.

SOC Surfrider Foundation Commercial: “Plastic Has No Place Here” from Ryan Fitzgerald on Vimeo.

Here’s a video from Algalita:


MNP is well aware that “gyre” is also, amongst other things, what slithy toves do in the wabe.

Everyday Life as Climate Protest

The front lines of Copenhagen from the artists of The Canary Project via GOOD climate culture/counter culture:


Three vignettes from Copenhagen show that personal responses to the conference might be the greatest cultural happenings around.

This is part two of a GOOD mini-series by the Canary Project‘s Ed Morris on the cultural happenings surrounding COP15.


I am running through the crowd with the French artist Thierry Geoffroy. He is saying (in a deep French accent): “Zee, it is getting dark. They are closing in. They are going to kill us all. This is the plan. But then we keep going and we move around a corner and Geoffroy is saying. Ah, but you see, now it is more calm. We have come to a different part. All that has past.”

Such was my experience of the mass protest in Copenhagen this past Saturday. Estimates vary widely as to how many marched. Fox News says 25,000; the organizers say 100,000; and the police say 60,000. There were arrests of 968 (this number appears exact).

In the media centers and on the street, more intense interest has been paid to the possibility of violence than any particular detail of the negotiations. This is understandable. In addition to our seemingly innate tendency to be fascinated and compelled by images of violence, there is the fact that the expression of violence is the one real thing happening here.

“Violence, when not in the hands of the law, threatens [the state] not by the ends that [the violence] may pursue but by its mere existence outside the law,” writes Walter Benjamin. “By what function violence can with reason seem so threatening to law and be so feared by it, must be especially evident where its application, even in the present legal system, is still permissible.”


The example that Benjamin gives to illustrate this point in “A Critique of Violence” is the worker’s strike – the state allows it to happen, despite its violent nature, because the power of the massed workers is sufficiently dangerous. The strike, like the protest, is violent regardless of whether it employs overt violence as a particular technique because it opposes order and the interests that constitute the state. Of course, even protests and strikes can go too far in the eyes of the state and claim a level of violence that the state cannot abide without losing authority. Protest, in both its permitted and non-permitted forms (both of which, by Benjamin’s definition, are essentially violent) is the most available and most direct negotiating tool for the 6 billion people not inside the Bella Center.


Four people from different parts of the world arrive at Lykkesholms Alle 7C. They are greeted by a Danish family: husband, wife, and three boys, the youngest a baby. Also in the home are three women from Peru – two dressed in traditional highland clothing, one in jeans?and a camera crew of two people. After some small talk and a little getting to know each other, people take seats around a coffee table, others on the floor, some on chairs and a sofa. The camera crew remains standing. The children come in and out. The older of the Peruvian women asks for a photo from each person. She places the photos (given in the form of IDs) on some yellow flowers in the middle of the table, then gives each person a yellow candle. Each person writes his or her name and also his or her wishes for the next year directly onto the candle. The woman then lights each candle, muttering various incantations. She sprinkles sugar over the flowers and the photos and the candles. And then we sit and wait for each flame to burn down the wax entirely. Where we were rushing before, we are not rushing now. It is just the 14 of us in the room and the early northern darkness that presses against the window becomes a hypnotic abyss.



A dinner of about 25 people in a home near the center of town: home-cooked food, arrangements of dried flowers on the table, and several bottles of wine. Many at the dinner are involved in one form or another with a labor-intensive intervention project that is calculated to have an effect on the media coverage of COP15. The dinner is a break in the preparatory work for this intervention. Again there is a camera crew filming the event. At some point, people start giving speeches. This has been planned, which surprises me, because everything leading up to it has seemed so casual. The first speech is by a scientist, who gives a long hymn to Tycho Brahe and the scientific process (truth above ideology, and so forth). He is followed by an art student talking about the power of images, who in turn is followed by a business professor on the topic of learning not to be frightened by the facts of a new world, who is followed by an artist and activist on the need to avoid the grips of institutions. Then the planned speeches end and one woman stands up and proposes that the fundamental problem with comprehending climate change is our inability to come to terms with death. She then speaks about a friend, Brad Will, who was recently shot dead during a protest. She gathers herself and sings a song the she and Will used to sing together. ??My karma is to good for you to worry ’bout the crazies / I love everybody and there’s nothing that I own??

I almost didn’t stay for the dinner. I said that I needed to go get some work done, that I was writing a blog about cultural response to the conference. The host said, “This is culture.”

ROBL = Rolling On a Bike Laughing, PSA

And yes, due to “disrobed bikers.” Read on… The following is quoted from

get nekkid

get nekkid

Naked bikers needed for Flaming Lips music video to be shot in Portland next week

The World Naked Bike Ride doesn’t roll around again til June, but Portlanders will have a chance next week to ride naked around Mt Tabor as part of an upcoming Flaming Lips music video.

I spoke about the shoot, set for Wednesday, with Flaming Lips lead singer Wayne Coyne during a break in preparing for the band’s appearance tonight on the Colbert Report.

Coyne was enthused about his plan. He said he got the idea from the scene at the end of the musical Hair: “You know how it’s a bunch of freaked out naked people climbing some mountain with blood and fire and finding some new civilization there� so I thought of Portland, right?” [Read the Rest Here]

Pear Tree Worms – Let’s Try This Again

An adventure in vermicomposting…round two.

It has been just over a year since the unfortunate death of our Savage Worms and the mourning period is over.  Now that our apartment has begun to thaw from the winter chill, I have had a hankering for a new herd of worms.  I know that Pear Tree Worms does not have quite the same ring to it as Savage Worms, but I feel like calling the project Savage Worms II is a little like naming a new pet after a recently deceased one.  Fido II?  Sad!  Besides which, Andrea, founder of the original vermicomposting adventure, has moved across the globe to Papua New Guinea (and has also been on a mission to find a Melanesian breed of food-loving worms!).  Feeding the worms will not be quite the same with out A though.  Remember this?

So anyway, here we go again with the worms!

First things first, I had to gather the equipment.  I couldn’t find a bin quite as good as our original (A, where the heck did you find that bin?), but I settled for a standard Rubermaid.  I spent a couple frustrating hours drilling holes – lots on the top and upper sides, fewer and smaller on the lower sides and bottom.  Several stuck-in-plastic drill bits and one snapped-in-two drill bit later, I finished (obviously, I am a novice with the power drill).

Next, order worms!  After perusing a couple vermicomposting sites and not feeling strongly about any of them, I remembered having read and referenced Red Worm Composting several times during the Savage Worms days.  Vermiculture enthusiast & blogger Bentley has oodles of great vermicomposting advice on his site, so I figured I might find some worm-buying recommendations.  Well, as it turns out, Bentley actually sells worms!  And at a cheaper rate than the other two sites I was considering!  So that made my choice easy.  So far, the choice has proven to be an excellent one – great customer attention and a nice full sack of healthy worms.



Step 3, food & bedding.  I started collecting food scraps & setting up the worm bin about a week and a half before the worms were to arrive.  For bedding I used a mix of shredded newspaper, egg carton and trimmings off one dead & one dying branch from one of our palm plants.  I mixed the materials together and wet them so they were damp but not dripping.  By the time I got all of that in order it was Tuesday.  Then I waited for the post!  The worms arrived, as promised, on Thursday.  I was a little concerned that I had not given the bin enough time to equilibrate, and i wanted to give the worms some time to settle after their cross-border journey (Red Worm is located in Canada), so i left the worms in their sack, left the sack in the opened box, and left the box sitting in the worm bin over night.  Overcautious, perhaps, but so far there have been no casualties.  I had wondered if any of the worms might crawl out of the sack during the night – it was tightly sealed, but there were a few worms peeking out when I opened the box.  Sure enough, Friday morning as I parted some bedding to leave a pile of food, there was a lone worm squirming around in the bedding.  Anyway, I opened the sack and burrowed it into the bedding, with the opening facing a nice pile of ripe food scraps so that the worms could venture out at their leisure.

Can you spot the adventuresome wiggler?

So far, so good.  I have checked on the worms a couple times, trying not to be over-disruptive.  They seem to be adjusting well and have a healthy appetite.  Not one left in the sack, a few wanderers crawling up the sides, but no escapees.  I’ll do a full-on check up and feeding later this week, so stay tuned.