Friday, August 18, 2006

Interesting things I've learned this week.

* Empty beer cases are apparently an excellent way to transport books from house to house without breaking your back. They're high capacity, sturdy, and have handles. The downside however, is that you look like an alcoholic. Unless you are one already, in which case, never mind.

* Don't sit with your feet on the dashboard, no matter how cool you think it makes you look. The odds are you're popping your dogs on an airbag, and in the event of an accident, when that airbag shoots out at 200mph to counter the sudden impact, it will also take your foolish legs off at the same time. Feet off!

A terrible, terrible way to go.

* For that matter, don't keep drinking glasses or sharp objects in your car passenger area. Upon impact, all of those things go flying up in the air and people tend to get killed by these things flying around inside at dozens of miles per hour, as much as by the impact itself. Ouch!

They're pretty, but deadly. Ouch!

* A Moschata or Musk Strawberry is the holy grail of strawberry breeders in the know right now. Without sounding too zen buddhist on this one, if you see one, for heaven's sake, eat it, and savor it.


Interestingly, most domestic American strawberries are grown by Hmong farmers in California according to some sources. And so are Amish quilts. But that's a long story and a different post.

* After reading this Smithsonian article, I have to say, I hope I never 'go Haber'.

Apparently, Fritz Haber revolutionized modern agriculture by inventing synthetic nitrogen. He even won a Nobel for that.

In the book Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch and the Transformation of World Food Production, it's pointed out that "there is no way to grow crops and human bodies without nitrogen."

Until Haber came along, however, we were in a bit of rut: Unless a way was found to augment the naturally occurring nitrogen cycle, the growth of the human population would soon grind to a very painful halt during the early 1900s.

I'll spare you the Poindexter details, because you can get them in the article, but the take-away was that Haber found an interesting cure for the solution and many of the people alive today owe it to Haber.

The author of Enriching the Earth argues that 2 out of 5 humans wouldn't be here without the Haber-Bosch process.

There IS a downshot however, as Haber may have unwittingly doomed the earth with his invention as well. That's still a lot of conjecture, mind you, but the article makes a pretty good argument for it.

But the main reason Haber's not a household name is that during the wars in Germany, he was also responsible for research into poisonous gasses, particularly ammonia and chlorine, at which he was very, very good.

Haber was even responsible for Zyklon B, the primary gas used in the Nazi concentration camps to exterminate Jews during the Holocaust.

Nice legacy.

Nobel Prize Winner. Pioneer. Patriot. Thinker. Monster.

* On a somewhat gruesome note: Apparently morticians hate silicone implants in people they're cremating. It really gums up the works and is a mess to scrape off after they've melted.

* A more positive closing note, however is that researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz, investigating side-blotched lizards discovered that altruism can be passed on.

Leaping lizards! From the fine minds at UCSC.

In yet another fun Smithsonian article (what can I say, it was a doctor's office...) it seem these creatures pass on altruism by recognizing the selfless trait in others and coming to help only those that share it.

"Some blue-throated members of the species defend other, unrelated blues against orange- or yellow-throated rivals. But they somehow know not to team up with selfish blue-throated males. As a result, self-sacrifice helps those that can pass along altruistic genes."

Well, if a lizard can do that, surely humans can do no less! And perhaps even better!

1 comment:

sume said...

I'm thinking stacking the beer cases on a dolly would simplify the process. Then again, maybe I'm over-complicating things in more ways than one.

Funny you should mention altruism and genetics. I've just finished the third book of a series by Nick Sagan titled Everfree. In it, one of the main characters discovers a way to "bottle" altruism and administer it via virus. The result is a eutopic society in which everyone thrives and is happy while maintaining individual free will...or do they?

Thanks for sharing!