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Brief Notices XIII

The Morning Post has a funny and fascinating list of insider tips from various trades. It runs the gamut from mechanic ("If you have to change a light bulb where the glass is broken, you can press a potato into the metal base to unscrew the remains of the bulb from the fixture") to piano salesman ("If you see a potential customer eyeing a piano, estimate their age and calculate what year it was when they were 18 years old. Play a big hit from that year on the piano they’re looking at") and Lounge Singer ("Never agree to Christmas sing-alongs if there is alcohol involved.")

One occupation the list doesn't have is the kind of doctor that can grow a new jaw for a man from material in his back. The German patient enjoyed a bratwurst sandwich for the first time since his face was disfigured by cancer nine years ago. "He eats steak now, but complains to his doctor that because he has no teeth he has to cut it into such small pieces that by the time he gets to the end of the steak, it's cold."

From Karl Zimmer's The Loom I learn all about bacteriophages -- the true masters of the earth.

There are about 10 million phages in every milliliter of coastal sea water. All told, scientists put the total number of bacteriophages at a million trillion trillion (10 to the 30th power). Bacteriophages not only make up the majority of life forms, but they are believed to have existed just about since life itself began. Since then, they have been evolving along with their hosts, and even making much of their hosts' evolution possible by shuttling genes from one host to another. Thanks in large part to bacteriophages, more and more bacteria are acquiring the genes they need to defeat antibiotics. Bacteriophages also kill off a huge portion of ocean bacteria that consume greenhouse gases. If you suddenly rid the world of all bacteriophages, the global climate would lurch out of whack.
One can only suspect that the bacteriophages have taken power in Serbia. This is a failed country with more problems that most. To this they have decided to add ignorance by ordering teachers to instruct their pupils in creationism alongside evolution. Sad.

China has problems of a different sort -- a shortage of water in the northern half of the country. The government is planning to deal with the situation with another of thier huge mega-projects; this time the South-North Water Diversion first conceived by Mao fifty years ago. It is "a $25 billion public works project to transfer 50 billion cubic meters of water a year from the Yangtze River and its tributaries in the south to the drying Yellow, Huai and Hai rivers in the north." This article from SFGate is a good introduction to the issues.

September 12, 2004 in Brief Notices | Permalink


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