Wh … What does Wikipedia think I am capable of doing?

From the essay https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supercontinent:

Wikipedia Header: 'Supercontinents through geologic history [edit]'; text: 'The following table names reconstructed ancient supercontinents, using a general definition, with an approximate timeline of millions of years ago (Ma).' The funny part: the boilerplate link 'This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.'
I know how long it takes me at the beach to just pile together enough sand to make a little one-foot-across round island right at the shoreline. Extrapolating from that, a supercontinent would take me more than a full week.

I … mean I’m flattered but … how?

Also I would like to say I was looking up Supercontinents because did you know that Pangaea was not the only time that all the land in the world was huddled together in one continent? That the continents have been breaking apart and coming back together over and over again? That this cycle of all the world’s land reuniting and then splitting up again has happened something like ten times that we know of? Doesn’t that give you the same awesome thrill of “being five and knowing dinosaurs were a thing”? Yeah, I wanted to share that with someone. Not because I thought anyone was going to expect me to make a supercontinent for them.

Also I have this silly thing moved up to today because I wasn’t able to write my Mary Worth plot recap on time. Stuff, you know? And things? There has been too much of all of that lately.

In The Long Term

It’s about time for some long-range planning, considering how well we’re doing with the short-range stuff. If you don’t agree, come back in about ten minutes and see if it’s time then. I’m thinking of really long term, not like those geology folks who think 1,625 million years is a fair stretch. I want something big.

As you go out long enough, the Sun is going to continue shining. This might sound controversial, but remember that we’ve almost completely amortized the costs of constructing the Sun. All we’re responsible for now is basic maintenance and upkeep. Even if we wanted to replace it with a more modern design it’d hardly be economical. And besides, the contemporary zoning regulations would make it really annoying to build the necessary falsework for a replacement to the Sun.

Now the thing about the Sun shining is that all that light falling down exerts pressure on the ground. Light hasn’t got any mass, being possessed of low self-esteem as a child when it might have formed some. But it does carry momentum, being unable by temperament to say no when asked to carry some momentum somewhere. When the light hits the ground and is absorbed or bounces off it pushes the ground down as surely as hitting it with tennis balls would, only without line judges. This is never a lot of push, but it is there all across the daylight half of the globe, and that adds up to a fair-sized push.

Imagine the Earth to be made of Play-Doh. This is a metaphor: it is actually made of peanut butter. But if you take a gob of Play-Doh out of its can you can lose all focus while you absorb that strange plymer smell. Please try to be productive through that. While enjoying the smell roll the Play-Doh into a ball and then set it down. It will not stay a round ball forever. Even before other people in the house take it to build their own projects, the continual pull of gravity will spread it out. This takes time, but we have that time. There’s probably billions of years of time you haven’t scheduled anything for yet, but still won’t be able to get around to writing that novel you have in mind.

Earth isn’t sitting inactively on a table. This is a good thing as the temptation to hit it with a giant pool cue would be nearly irresistible. Nor is it sitting in a giant chicken nest, again good for everyone who worries about stuff hatching from underneath them. But while the pressure of sunlight is flattening the Earth, the Earth is also rotating. This implies all that sunlight has the same effect of rolling a ball of Play-Doh on the ground: it’s going to roll out into a long, thin pole.

There’s no denying this is a long-term fate, but I warned you about that four hundred words ago. As the rolling effect will continue eventually the Earth with be a pole world. Long enough at this and the Earth will just a few inches wide and enormously long swinging around the solar system like a baton. Imagine the size of the matching cheerleader.

What can we expect life on this Pole World Earth to be like? Narrower, for one. There will be evolutionary pressures towards plants with very shallow roots, which means we may at last be free of those impossible-to-remove lawn weeds. It will be difficult for trees to grow tall, but those which manage will find to their photosynthetic delight that spreading their branches even a couple inches to either side means they get sunlight all day long. Probably that’s good for plants. You can’t imagine them getting worn out from too much sunlight and sneaking off to a corner, exhausted and panting from all that sugar-making.

While burrowing life forms will find life difficult, those which are comfortable living on vines or branches will be in good shape. Two- and three-fingered sloths may find the climate most comfortable except when someone wants to pass.

Humans will need to adjust as well. Those with long experience in grabbing poles, as they may have on buses or subways, will have an advantage, of course. Thus we see in large-city mass transit systems as evolutionary pre-adaptations to the future Pole World Earth. Subtle foreknowledge of this fate and the privileged position city-dwellers will have may account for the smugness often held against the urbanized.

Yet subways will have long since ceased to run by then, probably by the time the world is a pretty long rod only about fifty feet in diameter since trains need more clearance than you would have guessed. Not a lot more, just like another two feet or so more. But that’s still more. Without subways we can expect the economy to be radically different and generally much more cylindrical. Strong but lightweight straps could reasonably be in demand, but on the other hand people may just grow steeper arches in their feet. This is why it is so hard to predict the distant future.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index continued to rise as traders discussed how they could adjust their lifestyles to be more like a capybara’s, and word that it involved a lot of staying in comfortably warm pools of water really worked for people.


Statistics Saturday: Twenty Books About Things That Changed The World

  • Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, Mark Kurlansky.
  • Banana: the Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World, Dan Koeppel.
  • Symbols of Power: Ten Coins that Changed the World, Robert Bracey, Thomas Hockenhull.
  • In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations that Changed the World, Ian Stewart.
  • Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, Margaret MacMillan.
  • Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World, Gillian D’Arcy Wood.
  • Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company that Changed the World, Chris Lowney.
  • Legends, Icons, and Rebels: Music that Changed the World, Robbie Robertson, Jim Guerinot.
  • Indigo: The Color that Changed the World, Catherine Legrand.
  • Island on Fire: The Extraordinary Story of a Forgotten Volcano that Changed the World, Alexandra Witze, Jeff Kanipe.
  • Tea: A History of the Drink that Changed the World, John C Griffiths.
  • Moment of Battle: The Twenty Clashes that Changed the World, Jim Lacey, Williamson Murra.
  • Franklin and Winston: A Christmas that Changed the World, Douglas Wood, Barry Moser.
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony: A Friendship that Changed the World, Penny Colman.
  • Mauve: How one Man Invented a Color that Changed the World, Simon Garfield.
  • Napoleon’s Hemorrhoids: And Other Small Events that Changed the World, Phil Mason.
  • Gunpowder: Alchemy, Bombards, and Pyrotechnics: The History of the Explosive that Changed the World, Jack Kelly.
  • The Beatles: Six Days that Changed the World, Bill Eppridge, Adrienne Aurichio.
  • Tea: The Drink that Changed the World, Laura C Martin.
  • Nasdaq: A History of the Market that Changed the World, Mark Ingebretsen.

Not listed: The Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology, Simon Winchester.

Also counting the Winchester I’ve read at least seven of these. That Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe volcano book wasn’t about Tambora, don’t be silly.

Statistics Saturday: What We Found In The New 2015 Penny

'You won't believe what we found inside the new 2015 penny', it claims. This picture is from 2015.
Clickbait artists are poor judges of what I find believable. Warning: do not click!

I admit the clickbait ad above made me curious. So I checked. Here’s what was inside the new 2015 penny:

2004 Penny Struggling To Escape Capture; Merengue; Trilithium Resin; Poise, Gallantry; Wood Pulp. Also some fan fiction and some chocolate 2-Euro coin wedges. And a kind heart.
Oh, yeah, and there’s something about zinc.

What I Retained From Fifth Grade

I learned a number of things in fifth grade. The number’s surely no smaller than 28, just based on how many days I went and that it was a pretty respectable school and all. But to summarize what I’ve most retained from fifth grade I must say it’s: glacial moraines.

Glacial moraines are this feature of fifth-grade education which, at least back in my day, appeared prominently in the form of little silent filmstrips which we were supposed to look at during our personal learning times in science class, which they had these little Bakelite individual projectors you could slide a filmstrip through and look at without bothering anyone. I especially liked the part where you didn’t bother anyone. I think my happiest moments even today are the ones where I don’t bother anyone, and I can pretty much tell my day is going downhill when I realize there’s a person in it and that I’ll have to be a bother, like by interacting with this person in some way. Oh, people may smile and say they’re it’s nice to see me and they hope I enjoy my day, but I know what they really mean: “Oh, I suppose it’s marginally less revoltingly unpleasant to have you buying a Boston creme and diet Vernor’s from me than it is to be trapped in an earthquake that sends me hurtling between walls of exposed, jagged shards of broken glass and rusty knife blades, but only as long as you aren’t paying for this with a twenty — oh, you are, then? Too bad.”

Science filmstrips on a tiny Bakelite individual projector don’t bother anyone, except, I suppose, whoever it was actually did the inventing of Bakelite and surely got ripped off when he tried to patent it. But he was probably dead by then anyway, what with me not being all that old, considering, and his bother would be more directed at the mighty Science Filmstrips Corporation than me particularly. Of course that left me participant in a corrupt system, but come on, I was ten. I couldn’t very well promote moral capitalism at an age when I was still working out kickball.

Anyway, what I’ve retained from glacial moraines is, first of all, that this is just one of the most beautiful phrases in the English language. Let its syllables wash over you: glacial moraines. All the tension the world might inflict on you, by having people who have to be interacted with, washes away in consideration of these words. I don’t even care how you pronounce the “glacial” part of this, because put it in two syllables, three, even go a little fancy and stick a fourth syllable in there, and you still have a heavenly music going on.

Ah, but what are glacial moraines? As I remember glacial moraines involve a process of four or maybe even five pictures of those nice 60s-style science book illustrations. In them, nearly all the color drains from the world, leaving behind that red that looks like when you stretch the last dust in a Kool-Aid jar for a whole glass, plus some blue. In the early stages there are fields of snow and I’m pretty sure they come from Wisconsin, or at least they come from the same era when there were glaciers in Wisconsin, or at least one of the ages when there were. The glaciers get formed where there’s a preexisting moraine that gets to be more glacial, or maybe it’s the glaciers getting together that forms a moraine. I believe the moraine is checked against the master reference glacial moraine found somewhere in Wisconsin, but I don’t believe the Science Filmstrips Corporation mentioned what town when we were in the fifth grade. So it can’t be from Madison, because we’d know what that was, because we did state capitals in fourth grade. Maybe it’s Eau Clair. I know it’s not Menominee, because that’s in Michigan. In the end, the glaciers leave, and the moraines remain.

I’m pretty sure there were no glacial moraines in New Jersey, where I was in fifth grade, because I’m sure I would have insisted we go to see one. And now as a grown-up I could go to any moraines I wanted, glacial or otherwise, but I’ve never dared risk it. What if they aren’t as fabulous as fifth grade taught me they were? No, I’m satisfied with what I know of them, which is, that there is a thing called a glacial moraine, and as long as there is, some of the world is going to be just fine.

The Shrinking Mountain of New Zealand

I’d like to start out with a proof that I haven’t been to New Zealand. I feel like if I’m going to bring stuff like this to people’s attention I should have a ready alibi. Unfortunately, the fact is that I haven’t ever been to New Zealand — the closest I’ve ever been to New Zealand has been some emotional closeness with imaginary squirrels based out of there — and it is sadly impossible to prove a negative. At least, I think it’s impossible to prove a negative, although I don’t suppose I have seen that demonstrated. Well, it’s probably true enough.

What’s got me on this is that apparently New Zealand’s tallest mountain has come up about a hundred feet shorter than everyone thought it was. I didn’t have anything to do with it, but I also don’t want the hassle of being suspected by New Zealand police or, worse, angry geologists. They’re people who are very skilled with rocks, and I’m very bad at flinching, so all I can do if they’re going to be riled up is not be the person they’re riled at. But according to a survey by the University of Otago in November 2013, Mount Cook, also called Aoraki, comes in at 3,724 meters tall, whereas it used to be figured at 3,754 meters tall, and they’re using the same old meters both cases so don’t go thinking that’s the problem.

So if we’re all agreed that I’m not to blame for shrinking any mountains anywhere near New Zealand, and if we’re not then I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to have a civil conversation and must face the prospect that we’ll learn how well we can flinch from rocks, we can get to wondering where the mountain height went. I guess the first thing to check is if maybe they shrank the typeface they’re using to label the thing “Mount Cook, also called Aoraki”. Maybe someone figured instead of mixed case it should be put up on the mountain in small caps instead, and that makes the whole name just run out too long and they had to make the letters less tall to compensate. You might ask how this could possibly make a difference; I say, don’t underestimate typeface enthusiasts. They’ve got to have been looking at that “r” in Aoraki and thinking how magnificent it would look in capitals, even small capitals. There are some lovely things to be done with a “k” as well, if it’s balanced right. I wouldn’t be surprised if they slipped a “W” into the name, regardless of what it does to the ordering of New Zealand mountain heights.

And apparently it hasn’t done anything about New Zealand mountain height orderings, if I understand right. The second-tallest mountain, Mount Second Tallest Mountain Or Something, is still second-tallest and doesn’t seem to be gaining any. This, of course, rules out a couple possibilities for how Mount Cook, Also Called Aoraki, might have shrunk. Apparently people weren’t swiping height from the first to boost other mountains that anybody’s caught, for example. I guess we can rule out that everyone’s just standing a little bit taller so the mountains appear to be shorter, since that would affect all the other mountains just as much and we’d be seeing widespread reports of New Zealanders discovering stuff they forgot was on top of the refrigerator.

Of course, wouldn’t it be something if someone were swiping height from Mount Cook, Also Called Aoraki, and were turning it into extra width or depth of other mountains by the simple process of rotating it in three-dimensional space? Has anyone done a careful measurement of just how fat the mountains of New Zealand are lately? If they haven’t, can we be positive this isn’t what’s going on? And before you go chuckling that of course the people responsible for mountain checking would notice and report on any mountain fatness before announcing the mysterious loss of height, consider that these same mountain-checkers didn’t notice exactly when their tallest mountain went and shrunk some. There’s obviously plenty of chances for mischief.

It just struck me I shouldn’t say the mountain has come up a hundred feet shorter. I should probably do something about that.