R.I.P. H.M.

I heard on the radio today about the death of H.M., a man I first learned about in Psych 101 in college. His tale is fascinating and tragic, after having part of his brain removed in surgery, he was left unable to form new memories, and left behind in time, remembering nothing new since 1953. It's hard to fathom what that would be like, and he was subjected to endless tests which greatly increased knowledge of how our memory works. Of course, for him, each test was new, as he had no memory of any prior tests, so, in a way, his curse also benefited him in a situation most of us would have found intolerable.

CFU Wind Energy

Our local utility company, Cedar Falls Utilities, offers wind power for those who wish to use it. So, in an effort to be more green, I dug through the last year's energy bills, figured out our average monthly usage, and purchased enough wind energy to cover it. My wife ordered a Kill A Watt power meter, so we can figure out which devices in our house are using the most energy and replace them or reduce our usage of them. Is it more expensive? Sure, but it reduces the amount of pollution we're personally responsible for, encourages more development of clean energy alternatives (I'm a big fan of nuclear energy, too bad no one else is), and gives us more incentive to reduce our power use at home.

An Inconvenient Truth

Holly and I saw An Inconvenient Truth on Monday night, which was probably the most interesting presentation I've ever seen. While the theatre was pretty empty, I still heard a gasp a few times when Gore revealed his line graphs. No one ever gasps at my charts... My only gripe is that I'd have liked a little more footnoting in the film itself, and a little less "human interest" about Gore. Those are minor quibbles about a film that everyone should go see. If I was Al Gore, in a month, I'd release the film for free on the internet, allowing anyone with a broadband connection to watch it at their computer or download and burn a DVD. The message is that important.

I've also looked for some serious criticism of the film, and so far, I haven't found any that's very compelling. The basic conclusions are that all the data points to a warming of the planet and a decrease in the amount of ice. These changes could be very dangerous for humans, possibly even catastrophic, and unless action is taken soon to change some of our behaviors, we may doom the future of millions of others.

One gripe I have with all those that claim to debate "Global Warming" is that they never specify criteria that would indicate Global Warming. How much carbon dioxide would cause global warming? How much ice should there be in Greenland? It makes you wonder if they're all just counting on the rapture to whisk them away, so they don't have to worry about it...

In any case, go see the movie, as Roger Ebert says:

In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to.

Gore successfully frames the issue not as a political one, but as a moral choice. Do we have an obligation to reduce emissions causing global warming to preserve the planet for the future? If so, we need to start now. Those who choose to frame global warming as a "debate" rather than a fact are choosing greed over morality, in the same way that tobacco companies have tried to frame the link between cigarettes and cancer as a "debate" for the last 50 years, when the science has been overwhelmingly clear.

Bad Science

There are a lot of stories of bad scientific research and downright fraud in this story from The Guardian, but this was my favorite:

But the winner was a hair-straightening treatment by Bioionic, called Ionic Hair Retexturizing: "Water molecules are broken down to a fraction of their previous size ... diminutive enough to penetrate through the cuticle, and eventually into the core of each hair". Shrinking molecules caused some concern among the physicists at the ceremony, since IHR was available just 200 yards away, and the only other groups who have managed to create superdense quark-gluon plasma used a relativistic heavy ion collider. The prospect of such equipment being used by hairdressers was deemed worthy of further investigation.

Yeah, I'd really love to know how they can take two hydrogen atoms, one oxygen atom, and then shrink them into a smaller version of themselves...

[via Slashdot]

Bad Air

Oooh, now I have a new excuse for not going to church. Maybe they should switch to soy candles?

The air you breathe inside a church could be doing you more harm than the air beside a major congested road, say researchers. Church air seems to have alarming levels of polycyclic hydrocarbons, these are carcinogenic. In fact levels of polycyclic hydrocarbons in churches were found to be higher than busy roads (roads with more than 45,000 cars going through per day).