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 — by design — dull. Kolbert doesn’t think it’s dull, but 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.

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.

Summer 2021: Favorite Reads

Self set a 2021 reading challenge of 35 books. So far, she’s read 30. She’s back, people. Self is back. She used to average 60 books a year. That sank to just 4 in 2014. But every year since 2014, her reading rate’s been inching back up.

Her favorite summer reads have been:

  • Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West, by Lauren Redniss
  • The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943, by Keith Lowe

She’s currently reading Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, by Keith Lowe. Hope it’s as good as Inferno.

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

Hunting

The hunting scenes in this book are some of the best. They remind self somewhat of the scenes in Eddie’s Boy where the hit man main character stalks his targets. Anyhoo, Ice Walker: A Polar Bear’s Journey Through the Fragile Arctic has been a very exciting read.

It’s been particularly exciting since Nanu has become a mother. So now she’s hunting, not just for herself, but for her two cubs.

Nanu glides to a small pressure ridge in the ice, out of direct sight of the seals, and lies down to nurse. When the cubs have had their fill, they bundle in beside her, one on top of the other, and nod off to sleep. Effortlessly, Nanu slips into the lead. She surfaces silently like a slow-moving ice floe and begins closing the distance between herself and the sleeping prey.

When Nanu is within one hundred yards of the seal, he lifts his head. Nanu stops. All that shows in the water is a white forehead with black eyes and nose, and a line of dry fur along her back, all of which could easily be patterns in the ice itself.

Ice Walker: A Polar Bear’s Journey Through the Fragile Arctic, by James Raffan, Chapter 6 (“Learning”)

Suspense!

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Sentence of the Day: Ice Walker

So that the author does not have to keep repeating Ice Walker ad infinitum, he has given the subject of this book a name: Nanu.

Nice! Has echoes of Nanook of the North, the groundbreaking 1922 documentary by Robert Flaherty.

Without further ado, the Sentence:

  • Nanu jams her feet onto the floor of the aglu, snatches the seal and flings it out onto the surface of the ice, where blood belches into the new snow. (Chapter 1: Circling)

This is a very vivid book.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Ice Walker!

The beginning of Ice Walker: A Polar Bear’s Journey Through the Fragile Arctic is so captivating, just as The Butterfly Effect‘s opening chapters were. Hope author James Raffan is able to keep the focus on polar bears, not drift into a depiction of human activity — all self wants is nature, all the time.

What she loved so much about Eddie’s Boy, which she blazed through a few days ago, was how relentless it was. The book was about a hitman, and he stayed hitman to the very end, no apologies. She appreciates Thomas Perry’s singular focus. You would think a reader would find all the killing pretty rote by the end — but no, it stayed fresh. Again, kudos to Thomas Perry.

Chapter One of Ice Walkers (“Circling”) is gripping:

  • She stops and sniffs the frigid air, with almost no vapor trail from her mouth or nose. In a frozen world where liquid freshwater for drinking is absent, she draws on metabolic water created by the burning of seal fat, her main food source. The outside air is desert dry, but the air in her lungs is humid. Somehow she is able to conserve moisture and stay sufficiently hydrated, even when running or exerting herself physically in the hunt, when a human would soon die from winter dehydration. Every one of these adaptations is a marvel that has taken untold generations to evolve. These are not physiological changes that can respond to seasonal or even annual environmental shifts.

Self Learns New Things Every Day!

from the Introduction to The Butterfly Effect: Insects and the Making of the Modern World:

  • The father of chaos theory — “small causes can have large, wide-ranging effects” — was “Edward N. Lorenz, who addressed the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston on Dec. 29, 1972. Lorenz’s talk: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas.”
  • “In 2017, scientists Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael W. Young won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for using Drosophila to understand the molecular gene responsible for controlling circadian rhythm, the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle.” (Drosophila is the humble fruit fly)

Onward!

Eddie’s Boy was a very satisfying read. So fleet of foot! No anguished moralizing! Only kill, kill, kill!

Next: Ice Walker: A Polar Bear’s Journey Through the Fragile Arctic, by James Raffan.

Opening Sentence:

  • “Imagine you are in the International Space Station, curving over North America.

Love it!

But oh no, coming from behind is a book about insects, The Butterfly Effect: Insects and the Making of the Modern World, by Edward D. Melillo.

Self may wind up going for the insect book.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Hellooo, February! (Tweaking the Reading List)

Since High as the Waters Rise turned out to be a novel about the environment (who knew!), self decided to continue the theme with her next book, Ice Walker: A Polar Bear’s Journey Through the Fragile Arctic, by James Raffan.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

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