Stories tagged birthday

Stephen J. Gould

by Anonymous on Sep. 10th, 2010

Stephen J. Gould
Stephen J. GouldCourtesy Kathy Chapman via Wikipedia
This is a late post but today is the birthday of Stephen J. Gould, born 1941 in New York City. Gould was a well-known paleontologist, evolutionist and prolific writer. He wrote monthly essays for Natural History magazine, and was author of several books (many of which were compilations of his essays) including such titles as Bully for Brontosaurus, Mismeasure for Man, and one of my favorites, Wonderful Life, a reassessment of the fossils found in the Burgess Shale. Gould (along with paleontologist Niles Eldredge) developed the evolution theory of punctuated equilibrium. Read more.

Apr
21
2009

WWGD?: Control the population of Procambarus clarkii, the often-invasive vector for fungal crayfish plague, crayfish virus vibrosis, and several parasitic worms.
WWGD?: Control the population of Procambarus clarkii, the often-invasive vector for fungal crayfish plague, crayfish virus vibrosis, and several parasitic worms.Courtesy MGordon
Ahoy, Buzzketeers. Tomorrow is Earth Day, and today it is my brother MGordon’s birthday. And while the following letter is addressed to him, I think we can all take a little something from these Earth Day/Birthday suggestions. Pretend that today is your birthday, and ask yourself, “Besides holding hearings on the safety of oral contraceptive pills, what would Gaylord Nelson do today?” Think about it.

Dear MGordon, my only sibling, today it is your birthday.

Today marks the passing of another year in which you have somehow managed to evade the desperate grasp of Death’s horrible, snatching, skeletal paws. One more year above ground, one more year of breathing, another year of cells metabolizing nutrients, of DNA replicating, of tooth-brushing and nose-blowing.

One more year to be grateful that you have not yet been interred in the soggy, polluted ground of Biloxi, where what organisms can survive in the toxic soil will wriggle through your flesh, carefully avoiding the waxy and rank layers of adipose tissue that have already saponified in the basic, low oxygen environment. Another year delaying the cessation of all living bodily functions—an event no doubt distant, but as certain and inevitable as tomorrow’s sunrise.

Speaking of tomorrow; tomorrow is the day we call Earth Day! And while you should party this night like it’s your last, on the offhand chance that you do survive until tomorrow you might consider partying in such a way that won’t fill you with crippling, nay, fatal Earth Day guilt.

Many of us over the appropriate age enjoy special occasions with one or two refreshing cans of malt beverage. It’s a fine tradition! Sadly, according to this graph in the Economist, it takes about 300 gallons of water to brew just one gallon of beer. Obviously beer isn’t like super-concentrated water—I expect this figure includes water for growing ingredients, cleaning equipment, hosing rat parts off the brewery floor, etc. Nonetheless, beer flaunts itself in the face of global fresh water shortages. What’s a good birthday alternative, then? Certainly not coffee, apple juice or orange juice! They’re all far worse than beer! No, I recommend warm tap water with 190 proof neutral grain spirits. It won’t reduce your “water footprint” to zero, but it’s better than beer, and it’s good enough for the planet that I want you to have an extra one… for me!

One of the best parts about this Earth Day Martini (Earthtini?) is its low reliance on packaging! Even better than recycling cans is not using cans at all! And if you want to be particularly green (you do, as a birthday present to yourself), try drinking them from your own cupped palms.

A birthday is a special day, and we all like to be treated special on special days. So it’s okay to expect your friends to drive you around on your birthday! (Especially if you’ve been drinking Earthtinis all night.) On any normal day, I’d recommend that you ride, as our parents would say, “buck” over the crossbars of a friend’s bicycle. However, on Earth Day, I think we should pay special attention to the fact that a significant portion of our bicycles and bicycle parts are manufactured in countries that don’t necessarily have very good environmental protection laws. So a relatively comfortable evening of riding buck might be emissions-free, but only at the expense of the air quality in China. Accordingly, I suggest that you have your friends carry you around piggyback (riding Buck, if you will).

Should midnight find you alive and conscious, perhaps that would be a good time to give props to the man Himself. I am, of course, referring to Governor Gaylord Nelson, the father of Earth Day. Simply chanting “Gaylord! Gaylord! Gaylord!” as you’re carried through town should let people know that you’re all about Earth Day.

What else? Be sure that none of the hip-hop consumed on your birthday is too highly produced. All that extra studio time means more hours with the lights on, and more power for mixing boards. The coal-fired power plants that produce that electricity are responsible for about one third of the USA’s carbon emissions, as well as decent handful of other nasty pollutants. And here’s a little known fact: for every 10 seconds that autotune is used in a song, one humpback whale dies. (Ironically, so called “dirty rap” is generally quite Earth-friendly, so go nuts.)

This is all just the tip of the iceberg, really, but hopefully it can get you into the right pre-Earth Day mindset. Have fun, but always ask yourself, “What would Gaylord do?” (WWGD). Use lead-free ammunition (likewise avoid tungsten based ammo), dispose of needles properly, be sure that all adult entertainers wear biodegradable clothing (or pick up after themselves)… you get the idea!

This could be the best Bearthday ever.

May
23
2008

Linnaeus at 68
Linnaeus at 68Courtesy Alexander Roslin; Royal Science Academy of Sweden
The Writer's Almanac reminds us that Carl Linnaeus was born 301 years ago today. Carl Linnaeus established the practice of using a unique set of two Latin terms to name a species, which became the common scientific naming system that we still use today.

The Almanac writes:

He was a botanist. He taught at universities. At a time when Sweden was one of the poorest countries in Europe, Linnaeus set out to import exotic plants and animals, hoping they could be raised for profit in Sweden. He hoped to raise tea and coffee, ginger, coconuts, silkworms.
......
His botanical experiments failed. The tea plants died. The coffee didn't make it in Sweden, and neither did ginger or coconuts or cotton. Rhubarb did though, and Linnaeus, late in his life, said the introduction of rhubarb to Sweden was his proudest achievement. But today we remember him for his contribution to taxonomy.

Oddly enough, I ate a rhubarb tart in celebration of a friend's birthday last night. I like to think it was in honor of good ol' Linné as well.

via Erin

A tower of entertainment: Although I notice that both Hanafuda and theVirtual Boy are conspicuously absent.  (image courtesy of Wikimedia commons)
A tower of entertainment: Although I notice that both Hanafuda and theVirtual Boy are conspicuously absent. (image courtesy of Wikimedia commons)
I never had a Nintendo as a child, actually, I just thought about it all the time.

Anyway, today (or technically yesterday - it's late) is Nintendo's 118th birthday! On September 23, 1889, Japanese businessman Fusajiro Yamauchi formed the Nintendo Koppia company to produce the Hanafuda card game. It wouldn't be until July of 1983, just a few days after I myself was born, that the company released the Famicom, aka the Family Computer system, aka the Nintendo Entertainment System, home some of our generation's greatest heroes: the Mario brothers, galactic bounty hunter Samus, elfin androgene Link, and the Bionic Commando himself.

Thanks so much, Nintendo, and happy birfday.

May
27
2007

Rachel Carson, inspiration for the modern environmental movement: Photo from US Fish & Wildlife Service
Rachel Carson, inspiration for the modern environmental movement: Photo from US Fish & Wildlife Service

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Rachel Carson, whom many credit as the inspiration for the modern environmental movement. Her 1962 book Silent Spring warned the world of the dangers of environmental degradation, especially due to the overuse of chemical pesticides. The book stirred millions of people worldwide to take action. In the United States, we saw the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency – all the result of the movement Carson inspired.

Today, our air and water are cleaner thanks to these actions, and dangerous chemicals are more closely regulated. But some people are re-evaluating Carson’s legacy, especially with regards to the pesticide DDT. Carson explained how insects absorbed the poisonous chemical. Birds which ate enough insects often died themselves, or would have trouble hatching eggs. Carson promoted restricting the use of DDT.

However, some of her followers went further, pushing for a total ban of DDT in many countries. Unfortunately, DDT is extremely effective at killing mosquitoes that spread malaria – a disease that kills some one million people each year. Responsible, limited use of DDT could save millions of lives.

(Science Buzz has discussed malaria here and here,and the possible effects of preventative measures such as mosquito nets, drugs, and genetic engineering.)

Carson’s legacy reminds us not only of the importance of protecting our environment, but also that one person can have a tremendous impact. It also reminds us that even the best ideas can have unintended consequences, and any major changes need to be undertaken in a balanced, rational and flexible manner.

May
25
2007

Plastic is a ball: Look how far plastic technology has come. We wouldn't have these cool balls without its invention 100 years ago. (Photo by Liethwalker)
Plastic is a ball: Look how far plastic technology has come. We wouldn't have these cool balls without its invention 100 years ago. (Photo by Liethwalker)
Benjamin Braddock, Dustin Hoffman’s character in the film “The Graduate,” should have listened to that sage piece of advice…that the wave of the future was plastics.

It’s proven to be quite a resilient substance. This year marks 100th anniversary of the creation of the plastic. Can you think of a day in your life that plastic hasn’t played some important part of?

Inventor of the process of making plastic – Leo Baekeland – created the process of developing phenol-formaldehyde polymer resin in 1907. The new material found new uses over the quickly as rayon, cellophane, PVC and polyethylene, to name just a few.

Sticking around: New and new uses are being found for plastic, even in its 100th year. These hay bales in Ireland are wrapped in plastic to keep the moisture out. (Photo by bigeoino)
Sticking around: New and new uses are being found for plastic, even in its 100th year. These hay bales in Ireland are wrapped in plastic to keep the moisture out. (Photo by bigeoino)
And it’s probably going to be around for a while longer. New coming uses for plastic, things that are still in the development stages, include plastic hemoglobin-like material that can be used in human blood and airplane parts that can change shape depending on the weather and air conditions that a plane is flying through.

With all that development, however, there are still some big challenges. Only about 10 percent of all plastic is recycled, which means a growing supply of plastic wastes that have to be dealt with in a reasonable fashion.

So if you’re looking for a reason to have a party, why not celebrate plastic’s 100th birthday!