The Fascination of Simulations

Elizabeth Kolbert is very fascinated by simulations of fragile ecological environments, the ones where scientists test out various doomsday scenarios. Under a White Sky is full of such sims.They cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build and maintain.

What must it be like to work in one of those? Self would love it. But Kolbert is a straight arrow: she describes the scientific work in such a way that it appears dull. She doesn’t think it’s dull, it’s just that the scientists are so self-deprecating.

On p. 109, Kolbert is interviewing Paul Hardity, the Director of SeaSim, a simulation of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

She has him saying this:

  • “We come from this planet. Anyway, I’m getting a little philosophical. I’m going to have to go home and watch a hockey game.”

HAR HAR HAR!!!!

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

Such a Scream

After a whole day spent with scientists trying to save pupfish from extinction, a tired Elizabeth Kolbert kicks back at “the local swimming pool.” The pool’s only other occupant is “a bearded man.” As the man exits the pool, she sees “two large swastikas tattooed on his back.”

LOOOOLLLL!!!

Can you just hear self silent-screaming all the way to the Bay.

All hail, Elizabeth Kolbert.

Stay hydrated, dear blog readers. Stay hydrated.

Sentence of the Day: Still Elizabeth Kolbert

Self is on Section 2 of Kolbert’s Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future.

The future of life, Kolbert says, is Extinction.

And no one writes Extinction with a capital ‘E’ like Elizabeth Kolbert.

Kolbert is scary good when she writes about soon-to-be-extinct animal species.

In section 2, Into the Wild, she focuses her tremendous laser-like intelligence on pupfish, whose only known habitat is Devils Hole in Death Valley National Park.

She makes passing reference to Edward Abbey, whose Desert Solitaire made quite an impression on self when she read it, decades ago.

p. 78:

  • Though the book chronicles Abbey’s stint as a ranger in Arches National Park, in Utah, he wrote most of it sitting at a bar in a brothel just a few miles from Devils Hole.

A brothel? Really?

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

Sentence of the Day: Elizabeth Kolbert

Self keeps wanting to spell the author’s name as “Colbert” because she loves Stephen Colbert.

Anyhoo, this author is FUNNY. Considering she’s writing about how we are all DOOMED because of our own stupidity, that’s quite a feat.

Essay # 1 of Under a White Sky did not slay self (Loved The Sixth Extinction, so Kolbert had big shoes to fill), but then Kolbert began discussing carp. Yes, you read that right: carp as in everyone’s Favorite Aquarium Fish. Apparently they have eyes affixed to the bottom of their skulls, meaning they are grazers like cows are grazers, only instead of grazing for grass the carp are grazing for algae or snails. After that, self became completely hooked. Anyhoo, someone had the genius idea of introducing carp to the Chicago River and they are destroying shellfish. Basically, the Chicago River is turning into one giant aquarium, there are probably more carp there than there are in China. They breed like crazy and it’s no use trying to make carp a popular food because they are so bony.

Essay # 2 is where self found the sentence of the day:

  • I was anxious, too, though only a little, since the Mississipi we were looking at was about five inches wide.

The author sets up all these challenges for herself, such as trying to reach the Gulf by WALKING from New Orleans and running into a little problem of wet socks. A paragraph later, she introduces us to an engineer who is keeping a close eye on a simulation of the Mississippi Delta while sitting in a folding chair in the Center for River Studies at Louisiana State. This model simulation must be really ACE because the engineer, Kolbert noticed, also “had wet socks.” The model was so accurate that it kept flooding, and the engineer couldn’t move from the folding chair because it was his job to document everything. At least, I think, Kolbert got her wet socks while actually WALKING.

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

Sentence of the Day: The Reason Why, p. 238

After 238 pages of the most excruciating build-up, the moment for the charge of the light brigade at Balaclava is at hand. Here it comes. The order is given by the Mutt & and Jeff of the British Army, Lord Cardigan and Lord Raglan. And the men are off!

While there’s no suspense about the events, the manner of telling is truly incredible. There were “watchers on the heights,” and what they saw was this: The lines of British horsemen in the plain below were “expanding and contracting with strange mechanical precision.”

This is how author Cecil Woodham-Smith explains it, in a sentence that is more than fitting for the honor of being the Sentence of the Day:

  • “Death was coming fast, and the Light Brigade was meeting death in perfect order; as a man or horse dropped, the riders on each side of him opened out; as soon as they had ridden clear, the ranks closed again.”

A moment of silence, please, for the fallen.

The Russians were so incredulous at what the British cavalry had just done that, instead of pressing their advantage (and finishing off some seventy-odd survivors), they began to hesitate. Which is the only reason there were any survivors at all.

The Reason Why, pp. 183 – 184

Under terrific fire — forty guns were trained on the river, and the bullets whipped the surface of the water into a bloody foam — the first British troops began to struggle across the Alma, the men so parched with thirst that even at this moment they stopped to drink. Everything was confusion: the advance on the two-mile front was obscured by dense clouds of smoke, the Russians had fired a village on the British left after stuffing it with straw, and on the slopes before the Great Redoubt piles of brushwood were set alight. Men could not see each other, could not see their officers . . . It seemed impossible that the slender, straggling line could survive — huge columns of Russian infantry raked it with fire, heavy guns in the Great Redoubt poured round shot, grape, and canister into it at a distance of a few hundred yards. Again and again large gaps were torn in the line, the slopes became littered with bodies and sloppy with blood, but the survivors closed up and pressed on, their officers urging, swearing, yelling like demons.

Oh, good job, Cecil Woodham-Smith. The battle is so vividly described that self almost felt sure you were a man.

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

July #TreeSquare Challenge # 10: Annaghmakerrig Again

I did a post last week about Annaghmakerrig Lake. These are from the same visit (March 2017), but taken of the trees outside my cottege at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig.

For a blissful month each year, I journeyed to this beautiful corner of Ireland, with one purpose only: to write. I was supposed to go in 2020, but of course COVID. My hope is to return, perhaps in 2023?

Thank you to Becky of The Life of B. If not for her #TreeSquare Challenge, I would not have thought to post these pictures.

July #TreeSquare Challenge #7: Annaghmakerrig

Beginning in 2014, I spent part of every year in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig.

How lucky I was to have this peaceful, beautiful place in which to write and feel my spirit nourished. There is a stillness to the lake, and to the surroundings. It’s like a clear glass bowl has been inverted over the landscape, cutting (dampening?) all sound.

Was supposed to return in 2020, but COVID.

This is Annaghmakerrig Lake. Thanks so much to Becky of The Life of B for hosting this challenge.

The Thursday Murder Club, by Richard Osman: p. 11

You will thank self later, dear blog readers, for spending only two days on Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II. Keith Lowe is one of her favorite new history writers, but the pile-up of atrocities in Savage Continent were too much after a while. Inferno was a fantastic book.

The Thursday Murder Club is a mystery, and so far it is very delicious and entertaining. It’s set in Coopers Chase Retirement Village, an upscale senior citizens home in the “heart of the Kentish Weald”, the kind of retirement home where people still dress for meals. If you don’t think that sounds very exciting, well neither did self. But she found herself being unexpectedly charmed, from page one.

On p. 11, a (very) junior police officer named Donna De Freitas is giving a talk on cybersecurity. An octogenarian named Elizabeth says:

  • “That really was wonderful, Donna,” says Elizabeth. “We enjoyed it tremendously.” Elizabeth looks to Donna like the sort of teacher who terrifies you all year but then gives you a grade A and cries when you leave.

After, another octogenarian (Probably all the MCs are octogenarian!) named Ibrahim asks Donna to guess his age, and when she gets it right on the first try (“Eighty?”), looks quite deflated. But continues to flirt.

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

Photographing Public Art Challenge (PPAC) # 2

For her second post on the PPAC Photo Challenge, co-hosted by Cee Neuner and Marsha Ingrao, self would like to focus on metal outdoor sculptures.

Here are three examples, from three different places:

  • Outside the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in Dublin.
  • On the Stanford campus:
  • Outside the brand new Stanford Medical Center, in Redwood City:

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