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.

Save the Pupfish!

With just thirty-five Devils Hole pupfish left on the planet, the National Park Service refused to risk a single breeding pair. It was reluctant even to surrender any eggs. After months of argument and analysis, it finally allowed the Fish and Wildlife Service to gather eggs in the off-season, when the chances of their surviving in the cavern were, in any case, low. The first summer, a single egg was collected; it died. The following winter, forty-two eggs were gathered; twenty-nine of these were successfully reared to adulthood.

— Under a White Sky, p. 81

“This is a good sign,” Gumm said.

Love how phlegmatic the scientist is. In truth, “she tries to spend some part of every day by the edge of the tank, just looking at the fish.”

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.

July #TreeSquares Challenge #11: Last Year, During the Fires of September

Self was looking over the pictures in her archives. She was shocked to come upon the pictures of the backyard in September 2020. There were wildfires raging up and down the state. The Lightning Complex Fires in Santa Clara County, Santa Cruz County, and San Mataeo County began in August and raged through the first half of September. The air quality was so bad, and there were days she could distinctly smell smoke.

For today’s #TreeSquares Challenge, she’s posting these pictures as a reminder. She heard on the news that the fires raging now in California (there are quite a few) have burned four times as much acreage as the fires this time last year. Can you imagine if we get to September with worse air quality than what’s in these pictures. The heat so far this summer is so intense. Cross your fingers and pray.

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.

There Is No Other Word for It

STUPEFYING.

Self is on p. 176 of The Reason Why. She sincerely hopes battle will be joined soon, because so far the book’s been about a bunch of squabbling lords.

Anyhoo, four squadrons of British cavalry form “line with beautiful precision” in “the little valley of the Bulganek.” Above them, on the slopes, “a body of Russian cavalry about two thousand strong.”

On the ridge opposite, Lord Raglan and General Airey see what no British commanders “in the valley below could see, that the four squadrons were confronted with a far more formidable force than two thousand cavalry: on the plateau above was waiting an overwhelming body of troops, afterwards learned to consist of sixty-thousand infantry, two batteries of artillery, a brigade of cavalry, and nine troops of Cossacks.”

The 2000-strong squadrons of British cavalry are about TO CHARGE AN ENEMY FORCE OF SIXTY-THOUSAND.

HOLY HELL.

To be fair, Lord Raglan was not completely stupid. He was trying to extricate his cavalry, while providing them with the means for an orderly retreat. Providing rearguard support were “two divisions of infantry, two regiments of cavalry, and two batteries of artillery; and, inexplicably, the Russians allowed these supports to come into place. They were, it seemed, confused by the extraordinary steadiness, the ceremoniously exact formation, of the small force confronting them.”

To be continued.

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.

The Incredible Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava

We are not there yet, dear blog readers.

In fact, up to this point in The Reason Why — self is at p. 142, a little over halfway — self has read pages and pages about the English class sytem and the Irish potato famine, but precious little about battles.

She read the backstory of stupid Lord Brudenelle. And now is reading the backstory of (marginally less stupid) Lord Lucan.

. . . he was leading his staff “a terrible life,” rising every morning at four, never pausing for a moment during the day or allowing anyone else to pause. Kinglake, who accompanied the Army, found it impossible to believe that “this tall, lithe, slender, young-looking officer was fifty-four years of age. He enjoyed perfect health, saw like a hawk, and pursued his duties as commander with a fierce, tearing energy and a dramatic intensity rare among English men. When issuing orders, his face would all at once light up with a glittering, panther-like aspect, resulting from the sudden fire of the eyes, and the sudden disclosure of the teeth, white, even and clenched. Orders poured from him in a stream; no detail was too small to escape his all-seeing eye, no trifle too insignificant to receive his meticulous attention.

The Reason Why, by Cecil Woodham-Smith

Cee’s Midweek Madness Challenge (CMMC): July is BROWN

At first, self didn’t think she’d find anything that fit this challenge, but suddenly, her eyes landed on one brown thing in her living room. Then another. And another. Pretty soon, she had a whole series of possibilities, just from the living room! Thank you to Cee Neuner for always finding a way to get self’s creative juices flowing.

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