My Take on the Monsanto Madness

It seems like Wikipedia doesn’t have a dedicated article yet, which is strange because it’s being heard by the United States Supreme Court… But anyways here‘s the monsanto article. And here’s a quick summary:

1) monsanto develops & patents a herbicidal resistant strain of soybeans
2) they sell said soybeans to farmers as seed under the condition that the farmer not plant any future generations
3) farmer buys seed from grain elevator
4) farmer plants said seed & uses monsanto herbicide
5) some of the farmer’s soy plants grow, some are killed by herbicide
6) monsanto sues farmer for illegally using seed

Now in reality the farmer was almost certain that a reasonable fraction of the seed he purchased from the grain elevator would be resistant since monsanto crops compose about 80% of the total soybean yield in the United States. But, the farmer was employing a technique used frequently in biology to identify mutants. Organisms are grown in an environment which is hostile to normal growth, any individuals which have beneficial mutations allowing them to grow in these conditions proliferate wildly. It usually takes a few generations & some uv light to get something interesting, but at issue is you’re doing work to identify individuals with a certain trait, in this case herbicide resistance. Say he started with random seeds instead of monsanto seeds in order to do this sort of selective breeding and grow soybeans which are especially salt resistant. Would he be infringing on monsanto patents? What would the best source of seeds for this sort of an experiment be, maybe a mix of a bunch of different strains, something like what one might find in a grain elevator?

Of course, it’s kind of sad, because it does appear he’s going to lose. Which means gene patents galore, bad news bears.


Video Games Make You a Better Person?

According to this story we should all play more video games (except for those of us who already play too much). 21 hours a week (a whopping 3 hours a day) is the sweet spot. I’m certainly not going to hit that, but maybe I could shoot for a couple of hours a week. Apparently the effects are even better when playing with a teammate, so start picking teams.

An Interesting Story

Arstechnica, which is a site I seem to be running into more and more often, has posted an interesting article comparing the windows experience to the linux experience.  Needless to say they’re a little biased.  Nonetheless it’s cute.  I’m actually pretty excited for ubuntu 9.10 and 10.04 LTS.  Both promise to be steps in the right direction, making more stuff just work.  Additionally as linux becomes more popular more 3rd party software is working, for example skype seems to work great in linux at the moment.  I had tried it maybe every 6 months for the last few years and never been successful up until a few weeks ago.

I think it would actually be great for someone to build two similar machines and benchmark the tasks discussed in this article head to head.  In my personal experience updating microsoft it a complete nightmare which devolves into update-restart-update-restart-update-restart, and it seems for some reason windows is never able to apply all the updates once.  I mean linux has to restart for a new kernel, but for everything else it just keeps going.  Additionally updating windows updates only the os, whereas most popular linux distros will take care of all your installed programs.

Anyways ubuntu 9.10 promises:

– blazing fast boot times 10-25  seconds
– new gnome version, promises to be faster, prettier, and easier to use (not that I had many complaints), I also hope this doesn’t signify ubuntu is losing focus on being functional and replacing it with being pretty, a la apple
– new kernel, no worries about focus on prettiness here, I’m sure it’s stable and the performance is good, but that’s kind of what I expect, you get no points for this
hal is replaced with devicekit, this is a bit technical for me, but I think the real upshot is better (less) power usage for hardware, a real boon for laptop users
– ext4 by default, this is nice, I’ve been using ext4 from the alt install cd, makes all hard disk bound activities seem significantly faster
– grub2 bootloader by default, I’ve also been using this for a while (at least I think, the bootloader isn’t exactly a central focus), not exactly revolutionary

So in the end it looks like the big changes are boot time and a new gnome (ext4 if you’re not already using it).  I guess 10.04 will be more revolutionary, hopefully with a new gnome major release.