LibraryLink will go on hiatus for a while. Today’s posts are the last ones until the New Year. The Blogging Grouch wishes all faithful readers a merry, happy and safe holiday, with the desire that those blessed conditions continue, as our much put-upon Mother Earth begins her next tour around the sun. Check back in a few weeks.
The Blogging Grouch.
Here’s your Christmas present. The Grouch stumbled on a book review in the Times Literary Supplement which seems to fit the need to end our year on the right note of wonder and whimsy. Hollow Earth: The long and curious history of imagining strange lands, fantastical creatures, advanced civilizations, and marvellous machines below the Earthâ€™s surface. The author is David Standish, and he seems to have put heart and soul into his work. The TLS reviewer picks one of the Hollow Earth theory’s proponents, Cyrus Teed, as generally typical of the breed. But there were many, many others. Teed and another interesting Hollow-Earther John Cleves Symmes, were Americans, but this country was not the only land blessed with devotees of the notion that the something very odd is going on inside the earth. It would take a platoon of cultural anthropologists to explain how and why ideas such as these get started, and how they are maintained over time in the face of very considerable evidence to the contrary. The “pure” hollow earth doctrine was contaminated by admixtures of other alternative beliefs. Some adherents are convinced that the Fuehrer is down there someplace, waiting to emerge and found a Fourth Reich. The Internet has made it possible for “alternative thinkers” such as the Hollow Earth fraternity to find one another. Maybe there’s another book in this for Mr. Standish to write. In a way, it’s rather sad to think of so many people committed to or even flirting with such ideas, but there has to be something in it for them. We just don’t know what it is. The book sounds like a good way to spend some winter evenings, close by the f ire, feet well slippered, kids in bed, animals seen to, and Cheering Glass in hand.
Hollow Earth, by David Standish
304pp. Oxford (US $24.95).
0 306 81373 4
If you want to scare yourself, start reading about the energy demands imposed by the “cool” new technologies based on the Internet and Web. Some estimates claim that computer and computer-based activities account for one tenth of all electricity generated in the USA. And the online data center or server farm, in the jargon, is the key element in this upswing in demand, especially now that such demand is round the clock, rather than being localized to certain predictably high-use periods, such as the normal workday. A team at the Lawrence Berkely National Library studied ways to reduce power demands in it own server farm. They were shooting for an 80 percent improvement, but after ten years of tests settled for 4o, which ain’t bad. Their strategies involve approaches such as reducing energy wasted as heat, and boosting efficiency through cooler operation. A major source of inefficiency is found in the rectification of AC current to DC and back again. The LBNL team proposes redesign of server farm computers to a DC only power status. Other suggestions involve circulationg cooling fluids through server racks in data centers, and then recycling the liberated heat…as is being done in one application where the heat is released into a local swimming pool, to warm it. Another approach centers on processor design, to break the lockstep of inevitable power demand increases with each generation. Here too there has been progress. It’s not something we usually think about as an environmental problem, but society is using computers in new ways and on a scale not envisioned when the APPLE II and the IBM PC hit the streets in the Reagan years. But, there’s always the unexpected, as Major Worden said.
The New Scientist has the story, by Phil McKenna in its Dec. 16 issue, on pages 24-5.
We haven’t visited with the good people of LabLit for a while, and a turn around the park there is always rewarding. For instance, in today’s promenade we run across George Elliot and Robert Brown. No need to panic….yes, it’s the same George Elliot. The one who wasn’t George at all, but Mary Ann. Silas Marner, Middlemarch, come from her hand. And Robert Brown? Well, me boyos, he’s an interesting case. First, he was a Scot, one of that smart, canny breed who spread out from the chilly Caledonian highlands to find some place in the world in which to exercise their gifts. Second, he was without scientific qualifications, as we understand them today. He studied medicine, but never completed the courses (so did Darwin). His curiosity drew him to botany, which he learned by doing botany. Somehow, he got down to the Antipodes, Australia in fact, and served as the official naturalist on the first voyage round that continent, 1801-05. Back in Britain, he founded what would become London’s Natural History Museum. He was awarded a doctorate honoris causa at the same convocation honoring Faraday and Dalton, who were similarly “undocumented” but didn’t let that stop them. The LabLit post suggests that the link between Elliot and Brown, who were rough contemporaries, is curiosity. It was a curious age, with people running all over everywhere, asking questions. Noticing is part of the novelist’s job and the scientist’s too.
PS.Before anybody asks, yes, this is the same Brown from which Brownian motion takes its name.
Lawrence K. Altman, M.D. is the health/medicine editor for the New York Times. In the issue for Dec.12, he talks about the peculiar institution known as Grand Rounds. He remarks that the history of Grand Rounds is a little murky…nobody can say for sure when and where the practice originated. Altman laments what he reagards as the decline of Grand Rounds into a set-piece presentation, strong on PowerPoint, but weak on direct patient care. He contrasts this situation with the Rounds he recalls from his early days as a student and young physician. Patients were selected to illustrate unusual aspects of common diseases or simply unusual diseases. The diagnostic acumen of the presenting physician and of those in attendance was put to the test. Often, things got pretty heated as colleagues disagreed and tempers rose. It was, in all, a very stimulating and not unentertaining event. Not infrequently, younger doctors deliberately tried to stump their seniors by slipping in a patient who was way outside the parameters, just to see if the Old Guys could cope. A battle of wits, all the way round. The Times piece has a photo dated from 1920 or so but that seems way too late for the BG’s estimate. 1900 would be closer to it. By the twenties, all those walrus mustacheos were horribly out of style, or so I remember. The pic is also credited to the National Library of Congress, an institution that does not exist. You have the Library of Congress, and you have the National Library of Medicine. Pick.
Yeah, me too. I did the proverbial double-take when I saw that one. A great deal of marketing push is being devoted to the creation of “paperless” information environments. So it was a shock to see somebody forecasting that paper could turn out to be a very capacious, indeed almost ideal medium for the storage of very large amounts of information, if it’s recorded in certain geometrical patterns using a new color-based technology. The first story was so blue-sky that it attracted a lot of critical attention from industry experts. And it turns out that there is a lot more to the matter than the earlier report let on. While the almost absurdly high densities originally claimed might not in fact be possible, research is in progress to explore different approaches to storing information in highly compressed form on media such as sheet plastic, and yes, paper. Toshiba is working on a re-writeable paper that can be re-used up to fifty times. Xerox has managed to improve the storage density of bar codes so that they can store large amounts of digital information in small spaces. It’s all early days yet, but don’t count paper out.
Every high school kid knows, or at least should know, about HMS BEAGLE and her voyage carrying the perpetually seasick Mr. Darwin and his smelly samples and specimens. BEAGLE didn’t take up much room, at not even 100′ in length and at about 250 tons displacement. She was built as a warship, with real guns (ten, originally, reduced to six for the Darwin trip) but spent her useful life as a survey vessel ( three voyages all told), smuggler chaser and in other routine roles. Considering the impact of the ship’s cruise with Mr. D, one might think that BEAGLE would be put up some place in a nautical museum, like Old Ironsides, or HMS Victory, but the tough little ship seems to have disappeared into historical obscurity the way she did many a time into Patagonian fog, rain and mist. Yet, it seems that this might not be the end of the story. There are some physical remains which may be part of BEAGLE and some contemporary records seem to support the identification. Probably not much is left of the old girl, but it would be nice if all the clues really do lead to the ship’s last rest. Raising and restoring what is there would be a great project, but is not on the books yet.