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October 2012 Archive for Growing Technology

RSS By: Ben Potter,

Technology editor Ben Potter brings you the latest in technology news, and how you can apply it to farming.


Don’t Get Tricked With These Terrible Passwords

Oct 31, 2012

What do "ninja," "monkey" and "dragon" all have in common? No, they’re not popular Halloween costumes. According to SplashData, an online security company, they are all "scary passwords" that are especially prone to hacking. The company has just released its list of the top 25 most-hacked passwords.


"At this time of year, people enjoy focusing on scary costumes, movies and decorations, but those who have been through it can tell you how terrifying it is to have your identity stolen because of a hacked password," says Morgan Slain, SplashData CEO. "We're hoping that with more publicity about how risky it is to use weak passwords, more people will start taking simple steps to protect themselves by using stronger passwords and using different passwords for different websites."

So be forewarned, and consider changing your password if it’s on this list:

Most Hacked Passwords

1. password
2. 123456
3. 12345678
4. abc123
5. qwerty
6. monkey
7. letmein
8. dragon
9. 111111
10. baseball
11. Iloveyou
12. trustno1
13. 1234567
14. sunshine
15. master
16. 123123
17. welcome
18. shadow
19. ashley
20. football
21. jesus
22. michael
23. ninja
24. mustang
25. password1

SplashData offers some tips for strengthening passwords. For example, avoid using the same username/password combination for multiple websites. Your passwords should be eight characters or more with mixed types of characters. Consider using short words with spaces or other characters separating them, such as "eat cake at 8!" or "car_far_war?"

"It just takes a few extra moments to make a password better," Slain says. "If you get started now and make it a resolution to keep it up, your life online will be safer and more secure in 2013."

I Can't Believe This Is See-Through!

Oct 23, 2012

 It’s challenging to study precisely how plant roots grow – they are obscured by the soil, after all. So Scottish scientists came up with an innovative solution by developing see-through soil.

Researchers at Abertay University in Scotland spent two years creating a compound that could replicate soil. The result was a synthetic composite called Nafion. It is not especially transparent by itself, but it becomes translucent when saturated with a special water-based solution. More importantly, it resembles real soil in its ability to retain water, hold nutrients and sustain plant growth.

The researchers have already imagined multiple uses for the composite.

"There are many different scientific disciplines that could benefit from this research," says Dr. Lionel Dupuy, a theoretical biologist in the Ecological Sciences group at the James Hutton Institute. "Transparent soils could be used to study the spread and transmission of soil-borne pathogens. In crop genetics, transparent soils could be used to screen the root systems of a range of genotypes. This would help breed crops with more efficient root systems so that agriculture can rely less on fertilizers."

The team is now working on an expanded range of chemical and physical properties. They also hope to lower the overall cost of the technique to allow large-scale use.

seethru soil

More visible roots means more accurate root research.

Fuel from Thin Air

Oct 22, 2012

You can’t just make valuable resources such as fertilizer and fuel out of thin air. Or can you? Several companies are looking into innovative solutions that sound like they were ripped from the pages of a sci-fi novel.

For example, Massachusetts-based Angstrom Advanced has a project in late-stage development that produces liquid ammonia by pulling from resources readily available in the atmosphere.

"We manufacture hydrogen electrolyzers that are optimized for running on the intermittent electricity produced by wind turbines," says business developer Sam Sterling with Angstrom Advanced. "Hydrogen is the primary component in ammonia, so we can pair this product with a small ammonia converter so farmers or communities with wind turbines can create their own fertilizer at minimal expense."

Users also need a nitrogen pressure swing absorption device, a small piece of equipment that sits next to the ammonia reactor. This device pulls nitrogen straight from the surrounding air. The size of each batch depends on several factors, but Sterling says a production rate of 1,000 to 10,000 tons of compressed liquid fertilizer per year is possible.

Meanwhile, a British company is testing a device it says can create synthetic petrol by pulling carbon dioxide out of the air, purifying it and mixing it with hydrogen to produce methanol. This mixture is passed through a gasoline fuel reactor, and presto changeo – you have petrol.

These projects would dramatically affect the global fuel landscape if they are proven to work on a large scale and not just in these small-batch scenarios. So consider it a compliment when I say I hope their projects are full of a lot of hot air.

Getting Educated about Drought

Oct 16, 2012

When life gives you lemons, you’re supposed to make lemonade. So when Mother Nature handed the U.S. the worst drought in a generation, GreenLeaders DC (GLDC) created a learning opportunity—literally. The group has developed an online course about risk and sustainability for its GLDC Teacher website, which provides free content targeted for teachers and others interested in learning more about sustainability issues.

"We thought that agriculture and the insurance industry were great illustrations on how natural events can pose substantial risks because agriculture is so directly affected by national processes, and how businesses and societies are producing innovative policies and frameworks to manage that risk," says GLDC managing director Loren Hurst.

GLDC serves schools and businesses throughout the country by providing these types of resources, Hurst says. While the unit will be particularly useful for introductory corporate training programs and college courses centered around sustainability, he says, risk and sustainability are "community-wide" challenges that affect everyone.

"Clearly, I think farmers understand sustainability risk more than most people," he says. "This unit presents sustainability in a risk-management context. We think the information presented is very important for just about everyone because uncertain weather events can have such big impacts."

Hurst hopes to compile seven total units for the GLDC Teacher content library. Next up are units about workforce development and ecosystem services. For more information about GLDC, visit

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