Saturday, March 24, 2012

Frozen by Frozen Planet?

Certain people of your acquaintance will tell you they can't watch movies that portray violence. They can't watch gangster movies, war movies, even movies about marriage or family life that involve rape or physical abuse. That sort of thing.
    I would never tell you that about what I watch; I'd watch anything portraying those things if its dramatic/artistic/cinematic quality were up to a certain standard (which I won't attempt to define, but which is implicit in my list of rated "Last 100 Films & TV Programs Watched").
    But in watching the first episode of Frozen Planet off our DVR Monday evening (To the Ends of the Earth1), I learned (or was reminded) that the type of violence I do have a hard time watching is the violence of Nature's food chain. In that first episode, for example, a surfing penguin struggles valiantly (but unsuccessfully) to escape a hungry sea-lion, and a team of orcas create giant waves to (successfully) wash a seal off an ice floe. The doomed seal does manage to scramble back onto the floe, but it is so exhausted that moments later it can't resist when an orca grabs its tail and pulls it off the floe. The sadness of that seal's slow descent into the water to be made a meal of was almost unbearable to me.
    I think that's why I've watched nothing but episodes of Hack since then, rather than watch the second episode of Frozen Planet (Spring2).
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  1. From the Internet Movie Database:
    David Attenborough travels to the end of the earth, taking viewers on an extraordinary journey across the polar regions of our planet, North and South. The Arctic and Antarctic are the greatest and least known wildernesses of all—magical ice worlds inhabited by the most bizarre and hardy creatures on earth. Our journey begins with David at the North Pole, as the sun returns after six months of darkness. We follow a pair of courting polar bears, which reveal a surprisingly tender side. Next stop is the giant Greenland ice cap, where waterfalls plunge into the heart of the ice and a colossal iceberg carves into the sea. Humpback whales join the largest gathering of seabirds on earth to feast in rich Alaskan waters. Further south, the tree line marks the start of the Taiga forest, containing one third of all trees on earth. Here, 25 of the world's largest wolves take on formidable bison prey. At the other end of our planet, the Antarctic begins in the Southern Ocean where surfing penguins struggle to escape a hungry sea-lion and teams of orcas create giant waves to wash seals from ice floes -a filming first. Diving below the ice, we discover prehistoric giants, including terrifying sea spiders and woodlice the size of dinner plates. Above ground, crystal caverns ring the summit of Erebus, the most southerly volcano on earth. From here we retrace the routes of early explorers across the formidable Antarctic ice-cap—the largest expanse of ice on our planet. Finally, we rejoin David at the South Pole, exactly one hundred years after Amundsen then Scott were the first humans to stand there.
  2. Ibid:
    Each spring, massive sweet water thawing rapidly transforms the polar regions and the surrounding seas, where broken-off ice floats to. This is crucial in the life cycle of many species, sometimes extremely elaborate. Many colonies (re)unite to mate, hatch and/or start raising offspring, especially in 'temperate' parts, such as South Georgia island.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Nature programming to look forward to (tonight)

Television programming not to miss tonight comes as Frozen Planet on the Discovery channel, according to the Associated Press article, "Frozen Planet thrills with its shots, stories," by Frazier Moore.
    The seven-part series's producer is Alastair Fothergill, who also produced the documentaries The Blue Planet (2001) and Planet Earth (2006). Moore writes that the series
takes a fresh look at Antarctica as well as its north-end counterpart, the Arctic, in seven gorgeous episodes premiering tonight on Discovery. And while you may not be ready to dismiss filmdom's stars and screenplay writers as unnecessary, Frozen Planet makes a strong case that Nature—captured in the wild—can equal Hollywood for epic sweep and drama.
    The version of this AP article that I read in a morning paper includes the information that
The many up-close-and-personal scenes they bagged say as much about Frozen Planet as the vast scope of the enterprise, which can be expressed in remarkable statistics: four years in production; 38 camera persons; 2,356 combined days in the field; 1-1/2 years at sea; 840 hours trapped in blizzards.
Apparently a work of love, and a work we can look forward to loving. David Attenborough was heavily involved; he does the narration.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

In awe of Nature's four billion years on Earth

Where does the inorganic realm of non-life end and life begin?

From Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Evolution from Our Microbial Ancestors (1986), by Lynn Margulis (1938-2011) and Dorion Sagan (born 1959):

Cyanobacteria
The tasks undertaken by bacterial teams amounts to no less than the conditioning of the entire planet. It is they that prevent all once-living matter from becoming dust. They turn us into food and energy for others. They keep the organic and inorganic elements of the biosphere cycling. Bacteria purify the earth's water and make soil fertile. They perpetuate the chemical anomaly that is our atmosphere, constantly producing fresh supplies of reactive gases.
    The British atmospheric chemist James Lovelock [born 1919] suggests that certain microbially produced gases act as a control system to stabilize the living environment.  Methane, for example, may act as an oxygen regulation mechanism and ventilator of the anaerobic (oxygenless) zone, whereas ammonia—another gas that reacts strongly with oxygen and therefore must be continually resupplied by microbes—possibly plays a major role in determining the alkalinity of lakes and oceans. A so-called greenhouse gas (like carbon dioxide) that lets in more radiation than it lets out, thereby increasing the temperature of the planet, ammonia also may have been important in the control of the ancient climate.
    Methyl chloride, a trace gas in the earth's atmosphere, may regulate the ozone concentration of the upper atmosphere, which in turn has an effect on the amount of radiation which reaches the surface. This influences the further growth of gas-producing microbes. The list goes on and on. The environment is so interwoven with bacteria, and their influence is so pervasive, that there is no really convincing way to point your finger and say this is where life ends and this is where the inorganic realm of nonlife begins.
    ...For tens of millions of years excess oxygen was absorbed by live organisms, metal compounds, reduced atmospheric gases, and minerals in rocks. It began to accumulate in the atmosphere only by fits and starts. Many local populations were killed off, and many adaptations and protective devices evolved. From blue-green cyanobacteria that produced oxygen part-time emerged grass-green bacteria that emitted it continually. Thousands of species of aerobic photosynthesizers arose adapted to rocks, hot water locales, and scums. But by about 2,000 million years ago, the available passive reactants in the world had been used up and oxygen accumulated rapidly in the air, precipitating a catastrophe of global magnitude.
    People are gravely worried today about an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide from 0.032 to 0.033 percent caused by our massive burning of fossil fuels...The Archeo-Proterozoic world saw an absolutely amazing increase in atmospheric oxygen from one part in a million to one part in five, from 0.0001 to 21 percent. This was by far the greatest pollution crisis the earth has ever endured. [pp. 92-93, 107-108]

Thursday, March 15, 2012

47 Days to Retirement

Today I told a professional colleague in South Florida (whom I've never met but with whom I've had a pleasant relationship working via email) that I had 47 days left until retirement. He kindly sent me best wishes and three wry quotations about the uncertain advantages of retiring:
"A retired husband is often a wife's full-time job." –Ella Harris
"Don't play too much golf. Two rounds a day are plenty." –Harry Vardon
"The trouble with retirement is that you never get a day off." –Abe Lemons
    Yes, even though most retired people I've talked with put a positive spin on retirement, there are two sides to it. I'll be exploring them soon.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Coming back on Monday

A colleague at work often thanks me for my "hard work" on our projects. I told her this morning that I could say the same thing about her work. "I'm sure that you work at least as hard as I do," I said.
    I added, however, that I didn't consider it hard work. "It's fun," I said, "it's entertainment."
    Not to be outdone, she said, "That's why you're so good."

A little later, another friend said he was motorcycling down to Myrtle Beach tomorrow. I said that was great, "Maybe you'll have such a good time at the beach you won't even want to come back on Monday."
    "I never want to come back on Monday," he said.

It occurred to me that the "it's fun" philosophy might be expressed in terms of always wanting to come back on Monday.
    Life is a bowl of fruit, isn't it?

Photo taken with my Motorola Droid (cropped and "negativized" there too)