September 28, 2011

Beatrice at the Movies: Contagion

Disease armageddon (diseasageddon?) movies strike a nerve with me. Unlike aliens, ghosts, the undead, and crazed serial killers, novel disease pandemics could actually happen.

Contagion did a fabulous job of interweaving multiple stories from varying perspectives to paint a whole picture of the crisis, representing the human experience and scientific process simultaneously. Emotionally, the experience was sort of like this:

Contagion and I had a "you had me at hello" sort of courtship, I was so deeply impressed by this billboard concept.

It is a bit confusing, however, that the billboard is a giant petri dish full of bacteria, while the disease in the movie is a virus. But I'll let that slide.

Contagion wasn't just about a new, very deadly virus. A great deal of the movie explored the human experience of a global health crisis, with all the very realistic facets of it: World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control and Prevention workers risking their lives to cure and control the disease, people who hope to profit from the situation, and crowds who become rabid animals from crippling fear and uncertainty. Truly, I'm far more worried about people's reactions to a future pandemic than the disease agent itself.

So when the world seems to be ending, please remember that it probably won't, so you mustn't do anything you'll regret later when the world returns to normal. Spare yourself that awkward apology.

September 21, 2011

Life Without Sun

Hey, Sun.

How you been?

Cool. Listen, I know we haven't talked in a while. Just wanted to say that I totes appreciate what you do.

You okay, sun? You seem kinda down.

Oh, sun! Don't be sad! You're the awesomest! You know what you need? You need an It's a Wonderful Life Moment.

An It's a Wonderful Life Moment. A glimpse of what life would be like if you didn't exist.

Yeah, that's how this works. Cue the dream sequence!

So you feel better now?

Well, except the archaea (ancient bacteria-ish microbes) that live at the bottom of the ocean and support a whole ecosystem on deep sea thermal vents by harnessing chemical energy from them. They do just fine without you. It's actually pretty amazing.

Sorry. Forget about that part. There's only like 4 of those or something. I swear everything else totally needs you.

September 14, 2011

Element Recycling

Apart from the stray asteroid here and there, the elements we have on earth have been here since the beginning and haven't left. Obviously, a lot has changed since the formation of our planet, but the elements are pretty much the same; they're just being used in different ways.

Oh, my apologies. You and Logical Sea Cucumber haven't been properly introduced.

Now that we've taken care of that, I'll continue.

Let's consider just one element: carbon. The carbon atoms I have in my body weren't always mine, and they won't be mine for very long after I die. Some of my carbon may have at one point belonged to a dinosaur, or a mushroom, or the first photosynthesizing cell on the planet.

We don't own our atoms. We borrow them from the earth's supply and give them back for others to use when we're done.

My carbon most definitely belonged to an animal or plant during my lifetime, as that is where I got it in the first place.

If the carbon I'm using right now has been here since the beginning of life on earth, they've seen things I can't even imagine. One of the carbon atoms in my nose might have once been part of an ancient life form that left no fossils. We'll never know that it existed. Ever.

If only I could talk to my atoms to ask them where they've been.

Maybe I should get a psychic to tell me where my atoms have been.

That'd be pretty cool, right?

I'll take that as a no.

Instead, just think about the gajillions of atoms you have and where they might have been 1, 10, 100, 1,000... or even a billion years ago. Interconnectedness at its finest.

September 09, 2011

Colombia Pictures

My awesome younger brother woks at an environmental consulting firm, and he recently went to Colombia to do site inspections for future mining operations. He came home with crazy stories and some fantastic photos of Colombian wildlife. I had to share:

This is a so-called gusano pollo, which means "chicken worm." Its fancy scientific name is Megalopyge opercularis.  It's a caterpillar that is deceivingly cute and fuzzy looking, but don't be fooled: it's quite venomous. Touching its furriness will cause you intense pain, swelling, headache, dizziness, chest pain, and the dire need to go to the hospital. Sigh, cute caterpillars bearing neurotoxins. They getcha every time.

Gusano pollo on a stick

Another gusano pollo on the ground, curled up after being touched with a stick.

This tarantula got stabbed to death by a wasp. Rough day.

 Gloves come in handy when dealing with leeches!

Stick bug! They are so friendly.

Pretty moth!

Vulture hates you, also would like to eat you.

Falcon hates you too.

Jump over the snake.

Brother's-hand-sized spider. He looks... nice...

Yay, Brother!