Archive for the ‘Extinction’ category

Too Dumb To Live: Meet The Pre-Darwin Award Contenders

July 7, 2014

I actually caught this phenomenon a couple of days ago (and was twitted on Twitter for being so late to the party), but the phenomenon of “Coal Rolling” is now an object of wonder and bemusement at a number of the usual suspects.

For those of you who have managed to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to this point without suffering the knowledge of this particular stupidity, here’s David Weigel to explain it to you:

Forty-five second YouTube clips don’t come any more American than “Prius Repellent.” It starts with a camera angled from the passenger side window of a truck, pointed at the namesake Japanese hybrid car. After 12 establishing seconds, the cameraman moves and points out the back window, where viewers can read the ominous decals:

←PRIUS REPELLENT→

At 23 seconds, the engine revs and the viewer finally learns what the arrows were pointing at. Smoke pours out of dual stacks, right in the path of the Prius, which retreats into the rear view. The truck’s passengers share a well-earned chortle.

That’s right.  These Real Americans™ pay good money to modify their vehicles so that they can run less efficiently and pollute more, because, you know, that’s how Hydrocarbon Jesus wants it.

I know, I know.  The good Lord must have loved assholes because he made so many of them.  But these folks are double-secret-probation cute that way:

There are videos of “hot babes” getting rolled on, and a mega-popular video (more than 3 million views) of an annoying Prius driver complaining about diesel. “She makes me want to do a John Force style burn out right in front of her,” observed one critic on DieselBurners.com.

The derp is deep here.  Let’s say you want to roll some of your own coal.  There are sites to help you do that.  Here’s one — complete with a bit of pure weasel DNA up front:

 

Disclaimer: This article has been published for entertainment/educational purposes only. We do not recommend you modify your truck in any manner for the sole purpose of soot/smoke production. Not only may excessively high EGTs cause engine damage, but these acts are having detrimental repercussions on our industry. Consider reading the article “Smoke Responsibly” for further information, including how you can help. There is a time and a place to roll some coal – don’t give the tree huggers any ammunition to support further emissions restrictions.

I’m trying to imagine the time and place…and too late re the tree huggers.  TPM reports today that this is (obviously) illegal as hell anyway.  But never mind, it turns out that there’s a way to roll coal the “right way”:

The best way to blow some serious black smoke is to go all out. Larger injectors combined with aggressive custom tuning will let you lay down some massive clouds of black smoke – the ultimate coal roll. Injectors increase the amount of fuel that can be dumped into your engine per injection cycle, while the tuning keeps the engine thinking it needs more diesel. Throw in a larger injection pump to keep fuel pressures high and add a water-methanol injection system to keep EGTs down and you have the perfect combination. With the flip of a switch, leave your challengers in a stream of thick black soot and then clean up the exhaust stream to keep the authorities happy.

I don’t know what’s most pathetic.  The idea of some strangers just trying to get from here to there as “competitors” — think of the terror hidden in that statement, the sheer gut-churning fear of the unknown — or the urge to spend the most possible money to spend more money doing nothing but half-burn all that $4-and-up diesel.

A lot of us liberals pointing and laughing at these assholes have noted that the whole idea is a way for the carbon-industrial-complex to screw more cash out of the credulous, but a lot of folks seem to have missed the other point.

Black_Country_–_Borinage

Partially combusted diesel is…no way to put this gently…not good for you.  Not at all:

Exposures have been linked with acute short-term symptoms such as headache, dizziness, light-headedness, nausea, coughing, difficult or labored breathing, tightness of chest, and irritation of the eyes and nose and throat[citation needed]. Long-term exposures could lead to chronic, more serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, cardiopulmonary disease, and lung cancer.[11][7][8] The NERC-HPA funded ‘Traffic Pollution and Health in London‘ project at King’s College London is currently seeking to refine our understanding of the health effects of traffic pollution. Ambient traffic-related air pollution was associated with decreased cognitive function in older men.[10]

Mortality from diesel soot exposure in 2001 was at least 14,400 out of the German population of 82 million, according to the official report 2352 of the Umweltbundesamt Berlin (Federal Environmental Agency of Germany).

Since the study of the detrimental health effects of nanoparticles (nanotoxicology) is still in its infancy, and the nature and extent of negative health impacts from diesel exhaust continues to be discovered.

Obviously, the goal of the hardcore coal roller is to give angst and maybe a whiff of the nasties to the fearsome folks who presume to traverse America’s roads in a Prius.  But as videos like this one show — the most likely consumers of soot and other particulates produced by the deep need to f**k up one’s own nest are the folks who want to show the world how much smoke they can blow.

The wheels of Darwin grind slow…but very sure.

By the way — all of this can be considered a distant early preview of my conversation on Wednesday.  In this month’s edition of my rotating gig as host of  Virtually Speaking Science, I’ll be speaking (again!) with Naomi Oreskes, now a professor of the history of science at Harvard.  Naomi was my first guest on the show, back in 2011.

That’s when we talked about the lessons of her book (written with Erik M. Conway) Merchants of Doubt, on the ways a handful of Cold War anti-Communist scientists figured out how to sell lies wholesale, leading to the implausible success of a tiny handful of people in casting enormous doubt on the reality of climate change.

Now she and Larsen have followed that work up with a novella, The Collapse of Western CivilizationThis little work — it’s just fifty pages, not counting notes and such — imagines a future historian analyzing how 21st societies allowed them to fall victim to climate catastrophes that they/we knew/know are in prospect.

It’s a depressing work, and speculative, and the more important for all of that.  If we do go down the road of catastrophe as Oreskes and Conway lay it out, folks like our coal rollers will be a (small but exemplary) part of the reason why.

Tune in.  It should be a useful downer — and funny too.  Naomi is a hoot, the more so given the pathologies she studies

Image:  Constantin Meunier, Black Country–Borinage, before 1905.

For A Good Time On The Intertubes Today (And Forever): Annalee Newitz Takes Survival To Extremes

April 23, 2014

Very short notice this time, folks, but once again, I’m doing the funny intertube-radio thingee.  Today’s broad/podcast brings io9 founding editor Annalee Newitz in to talk about her book Scatter, Adapt, And Remember.*

We’ll be talking at 5ET, 2PT (about an hour and half from now).  Listen live or later on Virtually Speaking Science, or join us in the virtually live studio audience at the Exploratorium’s joint in Second Life, where an implausibly tall and fit Levenson avatar will interrogate Annalee’s robot self.

The focus of our chat — death, destruction, and the possibility of slipping the noose.  Annalee’s book looks at what it will take for the human species to survive another million years — avoiding the threat of mass extinction along the way.  Her book really does two things.  For one, it provides a very good short introduction to the science of mass extinction, what we know and how we’ve figured out about the five times in Earth’s history that ~75% or more of all species on the planet went caput.  Then in the second half, Annalee examines the threats humankind have already confronted, looks at what that history tells us about current dangers, and writes about the ways we can now think about near and long term escapes from the worst outcomes.  It’s a combination (as you’d expect from the mind behind the “We Come From The Future” brigade over at io9) of bravura science writing — imaginative and rigorously grounded accounts of current inquiry — and plausible, exciting speculation.

David_Teniers_(II)_-_Apes_in_the_Kitchen_-_WGA22060

To emphasize:  this isn’t a work of speculative writing, fiction or non-fiction.  It’s an argument that includes speculation, given its weight through the third element of  Annalee’s title:  “Remember.”   There’s a beautiful section in the middle of the book in which Annalee discusses the science fiction of Octavia Butler.  There, she grapples with the nub of the book.  Whatever actual path(s) we take, should descendents of 21st century humans persist for geologically noticeable swathes of time, they will do so as one or many species increasingly divergent from our own.  What will be human about them, Annalee argues, will turn on the power and persistence of memory.  That sounds exactly right to me.

Come join us for the chat.  Should be fun…and more than that too, I hope.

*You can take up that title’s Oxford comma-hood in the comments, if you’re that kind of person.  Me, I’m an agnostic.

Image:  David Teniers the Younger, Apes in the Kitchen, c. 1645.

The Future of Media 2

May 5, 2009

This from the NY Times, perhaps.

I think there is something here, but the appropriate metaphor here seems to me the one I heard Andy Knoll use to describe the situation at the point of the Cambrian Explosion.

That is:  the Ediacaran/Cambrian boundary is marked by a mass extinction that eliminate the rich and diverse Ediacaran fauna.* That extinction cleared out a lot of space for organisms to try out new patterns, new evolutionary ideas.  It was, to use Knoll’s phrase, a relatively brief moment in geological time when life could take advantage of a “permissive ecology.”  That’s bio-speak for the occasion when it works to throw everything against the wall and see what sticks.

The connection to a claim that a given device or class of devices is “the” saviour of newspapers and the print media in general should be obvious, I think.   I don’t doubt that a large format e-ink reader will be a very tasty bit of tech.  I think an Apple media tablet is a cool idea, as well, and I am in fact holding off on my desperately desired moment of purchase of an iPhone until the annual June Apple iPhone tease comes round.

But the issue of course is not what combination of plastic and circuits we’ll each use to read our copy of The New York Times.  It is what form the content of such publications will take as journalism — and not what shape of physical paper, or of any Kindle 3.1414 or whatever that journalism reaches us.

The permissive ecology of the modern media will affect both, of course:  the way we encounter news and the way news gets made.  The question is which media organizations — and see this post for a defense of big media, if not MSM as it currently exists — will be able to exploit which devices most effectively.  And if I knew, I’d be rich.

One last note:  it is characteristic of a permissive ecology (a) that lots of short-lived wild experiments appear and vanish; and (b) that an ecology with most of its niches filled in a semi-stable state is not necessarily any kind of an optimum.  Remember:  the phrase “the survival of the fittest” is perhaps better rendered “the survival of the least unfit” — and at that one moment, in that one place in time.  Which is what gets us the (hopefully temporary) apparent success of media scavengers like Fox News.

*This is itself a fascinating story; the older image of a Cambrian explosion in which all the diversity of body plan emerged from a more or less monotonous simpler fauna has been challenged by much work by, among many others, Knoll himself, along with old friend and former neighbor John Grotzinger, and my MIT colleague Sam Bowring.  These and other investigators found Ediacaran microfossils with a range of body forms in a period that, among much else, is marked by the emergence of bilateral symmetry — one of the key steps in producing folks with heads and tails….aka us.)

Image: Water colour on vellum parchment by Nicolas Marechal (1753 -1802), painted at Paris in 1793 and illustrates the Quagga stallion of Louis XVI menagerie at Versailles.