(Roughly) Daily

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

“You cannot store them To warm the winter’s cold, The lad that hopes for heaven shall fill his mouth with mould”*…

[Earlier this month] craving sweets, Colin Purrington remembered the Twinkies.

He’d purchased them back in 2012 for sentimental reasons when he heard that Hostess Brands was going bankrupt and Twinkies might disappear forever.

“When there’s no desserts in the house, you get desperate,” says Purrington, who went down to the basement and retrieved the old box of snack cakes, fully intending to enjoy several…

Like many people, Purrington believed Twinkies are basically immortal, although the official shelf life is 45 days. He removed a Twinkie from the box, unwrapped it — it looked fine — and took a bite. Then he retched. “It tasted like old sock,” Purrington says. “Not that I’ve ever eaten old sock.”

That’s when he examined the other Twinkies. Two looked weird. One had a dark-colored blemish the size of a quarter. The other Twinkie was completely transformed — it was gray, shrunken and wrinkly, like a dried morel mushroom.

He posted photos on Twitter, and they caught the attention of two scientists: Brian Lovett and Matt Kasson, who study fungi at West Virginia University in Morgantown. “Matt is going to want that Twinkie,” thought Lovett, the instant he saw the mummified one.

That’s because, in the past, their lab has tested how well molds grow in Peeps, the classic Easter treat. Fungi actually found it difficult to survive on Peeps, because of the food’s low water content. “In a way, they are kind of like an extreme environment, right?” Kasson notes. “The food industry has crafted the ability to make foods that have a long shelf life.

Still, Kasson says, fungi are everywhere and have an amazing set of chemical tools that let them break down all kinds of substances. “You find fungi growing on jet fuel,” he says…

They reached out to Purrington, who was only too happy to mail them the Twinkies immediately. “Science is a collaborative sport,” he says. “If someone can take this and figure out what was actually growing, I’m all in. I really want to know what species exactly was eating my Twinkies.”

The Twinkies arrived at the lab, and the researchers got to work…

The illuminating (if not appetizing) tale of “A Disturbing Twinkie That Has, So Far, Defied Science.”

* A.E. Housman

###

As we stop stockpiling snacks, we might send variously-well preserved birthday greetings to William A. Mitchell; he was born on this date in 1911.  A chemist who spent most of his career at General Foods, he was the inventor of Pop Rocks, Tang, quick-set Jell-O, Cool Whip, and powdered egg whites; over his career, he received over 70 patents almost all of them for processed food items or preparation procedures.

MITCHELL

source

Written by LW

October 21, 2020 at 1:01 am

“The forces which displace continents are the same as those which produce great fold-mountain ranges”*…

Some 240 million years ago, the patch of land that would one day become the National Mall was part of an enormous supercontinent known as Pangea. Encompassing nearly all of Earth’s extant land mass, Pangea bore little resemblance to our contemporary planet. Thanks to a recently released interactive map, however, interested parties can now superimpose the political boundaries of today onto the geographic formations of yesteryear—at least dating back to 750 million years ago.

The results are intriguing: During the Early Triassic Epoch, the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for example, was wedged almost directly adjacent to Mauritania, yet to be separated from the Northwest African country by the vast waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Ancient Earth, the tool behind this millennia-spanning visualization, is the brainchild of Ian Webster, curator of the world’s largest digital dinosaur database [an old friend of (Roughly) Daily]…

Visualize the changes between the Cryogenian Period and the present: “This Map Lets You Plug in Your Address to See How It’s Changed Over the Past 750 Million Years.”

* Alfred Wegener, the originator of theory of continental drift

###

As we go with the flow, we might send rocky birthday greeting to Maurice-Irénée-Marie Gignoux; he was born on this date in 1881. A geologist, he helped chart the stratigraphy of the Mediterranean during the Pliocene Epoch (5.3 to 2.6 million years ago) and the Quaternary Period (from 2.6 million years ago to the present). His work with “fold models” (that allowed playing out the tectonic forces at work in continental drift and in the formation of mountains) led to a deeper understanding of the structure of the Alps.

source

Written by LW

October 20, 2020 at 1:01 am

“If we pollute the air, water and soil that keep us alive and well, and destroy the biodiversity that allows natural systems to function, no amount of money will save us”*…

Countries around the world depend on a range of vital natural services to help maintain the health and stability of their communities and economies. Better known as biodiversity and ecosystem services, these include food provision, water security and regulation of local air quality among others.

These services underpin all economic activity in our societies globally. Assessing biodiversity risks is complex, however, as there is a massive underlying collection of risks. To build understanding of this global issue and foster dialogue around biodiversity, Swiss Re Institute has developed a new Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (BES) Index.

Swiss Re Institute’s BES Index reveals that over half (55%) of global GDP is dependent on biodiversity and ecosystem services. It also shows that in a fifth of all countries, ecosystems are in a fragile state for more than 30% of the entire country area…

From SwissRe (the second-largest reinsurance company in the world): “Habitat, water security and air quality: New index reveals which sectors and countries are at risk from biodiversity loss.”

Pair with “The Library at the End of the World,” a bracing and important essay from Australia, one of the “front lines” in the fight against the devastating effects of climate change.

* David Suzuki

###

As we recall that this is the only earth we get, we might spare a thought for Margaret Thomas “Mardy” Murie; she died on this date in 2003. Called the “Grandmother of the Conservation Movement” by both the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society, she helped in the passage of the Wilderness Act, and was instrumental in creating the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She was the recipient of the Audubon Medal, the John Muir Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest civilian honor awarded by the United States.

source

“I did not deceive you, mon ami. At most, I permitted you to deceive yourself.”*…

Agatha Christie was in her mid-20s when, in 1916, she took up what seemed the improbable endeavor of penning her first detective novel. It was so unlikely, in fact, that her elder sister, Madge, with whom she had always competed, dared Agatha to accomplish the feat, certain of her sibling’s eventual failure.

At the time, Christie was married to an officer in Britain’s Royal Flying Corps and working at a hospital in Torquay, England, first as a nurse and subsequently in the dispensary, preparing and providing medicines. It was in the latter job that she developed a fascination with poisons that would endure over the next six decades, supplying murderous means in many of her best-known books, including that very first one, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which was published 100 years ago this month.

Styles was an early and influential contribution to what’s now called the Golden Age of detective fiction, a period that stretched arguably from the 1920s through the 1940s…

Christie’s debut novel was famously rejected by a host of publishers. Many, many editions later, it’s an iconic mystery: “The Agatha Christie Centennial- 100 years of The Mysterious Affair at Styles.”

* Hercule Poirot, The Mysterious Affair at Styles

###

As we muse on mysteries, we might send powerfully-composed birthday greetings to another prolific author, Abbott Joseph “A. J.” Liebling; he was born on this date in 1904. A journalist and essayist, he is considered a patron saint of New Journalism for his World War II coverage and work like the essays in The Sweet Science (named by Sports Illustrated, in 2002, the best sports book of all time).

His longest association (from 1935 until his death in 1963) was with the New Yorker. Current editor David Remnick writes:

Joy, pure and immediate, is a rare literary experience. Liebling provides it. And, from everything we know, joy is what he felt in the creating. No matter what else he may have been facing in his life—misery in marriage, persistent debt, the obesity and sickness that were the price of his appetites—he revelled in his work. Liebling so enjoyed himself at the offices of The New Yorker, where he worked for twenty-eight years, that he could be heard humming and snorting with laughter as he pulled the sheets from his typewriter and read them over. He knocked himself out, if he did say so himself. Reticence was not his way. Like Trollope polishing off several thousand words before leaving for his day job as surveyor general of Waltham Cross, Liebling wrote at a blinding rate, publishing hundreds of pieces, of all lengths, colors, and moods. He was occasionally seen in the magazine’s bathroom stripped to the waist, washing up after a night’s exertion at his Remington.

Reporting It All

Oh, and it was Liebling who coined the epithet “Second City” for Chicago.

source

“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying”*…

Humans claim to be intelligent, but what exactly is intelligence? Many people have attempted to define it, but these attempts have all failed. So I propose a new definition: intelligence is whatever humans do.

I will attempt to prove this new definition is superior to all previous attempts to define intelligence. First, consider humans’ history. It is a story of repeated failures. First humans thought the Earth was flat. Then they thought the Sun went around the Earth. Then they thought the Earth was the center of the universe. Then they thought the universe was static and unchanging. Then they thought the universe was infinite and expanding. Humans were wrong about alchemy, phrenology, bloodletting, creationism, astrology, numerology, and homeopathy. They were also wrong about the best way to harvest crops, the best way to govern, the best way to punish criminals, and the best way to cure the sick.

I will not go into the many ways humans have been wrong about morality. The list is long and depressing. If humans are so smart, how come they keep being wrong about everything?

So, what does it mean to be intelligent?…

Arram Sabeti (@arram) gave a prompt to GPT-3, a machine-learning language model; it wrote: “Are Humans Intelligent?- a Salty AI Op-Ed.”

(image above: source)

* Oscar Wilde

###

As we hail our new robot overlords, we might recall that it was on this date in 1814 that London suffered “The Great Beer Flood Disaster” when the metal bands on an immense vat at Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery snapped, releasing a tidal wave of 3,555 barrels of Porter (571 tons– more than 1 million pints), which swept away the brewery walls, flooded nearby basements, and collapsed several adjacent tenements. While there were reports of over twenty fatalities resulting from poisoning by the porter fumes or alcohol coma, it appears that the death toll was 8, and those from the destruction caused by the huge wave of beer in the structures surrounding the brewery.

(The U.S. had its own vat mishap in 1919, when a Boston molasses plant suffered similarly-burst bands, creating a heavy wave of molasses moving at a speed of an estimated 35 mph; it killed 21 and injured 150.)

Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery

source

%d bloggers like this: