Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Warming the Ocean One Teapot at a Time.

Yeah, I know, we're supposed to be cooling it off, but whatever...

Most of the time, as I surf the net, I feel like this guy trying to warm the ocean with a teapot of boiling water. In other words, I'm accomplishing nothing, and many times this is true. But every once in a while, the boiling water I pour, travels an infinitesimally short distance, before assimilating itself, and either provides warmth for - or death, more than likely - a one-celled, planktonic marine organism. The most recently discovered is something called a choanoflagellate.

Yep, that's what I discovered today, the choanoflagellate. It doesn't sound all that interesting, but it most certainly is, as incredible organism is "already telling scientists about the evolutionary changes that accompanied the jump from one-celled life forms to multicellular animals like ourselves." What could possibly be more important?

"Choanoflagellates are the closest living unicellular relatives of animals and, as such, can help us learn about our history and the history of life on Earth, which has been dominated by one-celled organisms." -- Nicole King, Biologist at University of California, Berkeley
Here's the thing: Yes, I could have used the time it took to discover this fascinating knowledge, to, let's say, get off my ass and add a few more greenbacks to my 401K, however, talk about warming up the ocean with a teapot...

Anyway, this new fact cannot be taken away from me. Yes, of course I will forget all about choanoflagellates in the next few minutes. If someone were to approach me today, and ask me about choanoflagellates (ko AN oh FLA je let) called Monosiga brevicollis, and their first comparisons with the genes of multicellular animals, the so-called metazoans...more than likely, I will stare at him as if he were speaking Chinese. That is, until, he says - "Yeah, I discovered this important food source for krill, which are the main source of food for baleen whales, and that by consuming large quantities of bacteria, they, choanoflagellates, play a major role in the carbon cycle of the oceans," on this blog, Smoke and Mirrors - and then, I will, no doubt, retrieve that information as if it were never lost.

Of course, then this guy, whoever he is, will tell me that the link that he discovered - on my blog - will most definitely provide the catalyst needed for him to go on and discover a cure for cancer. This sort of thing happens to me all the time.

So, you see, taking time to surf the net is not so wasteful, after all.

Another problem with the net is that it’s still ‘technology’, and ‘technology’, as the computer scientist Bran Ferren memorably defined it, is ‘stuff that doesn’t work yet.’ We no longer think of chairs as technology, we just think of them as chairs. But there was a time when we hadn’t worked out how many legs chairs should have, how tall they should be, and they would often ‘crash’ when we tried to use them. Before long, computers will be as trivial and plentiful as chairs (and a couple of decades or so after that, as sheets of paper or grains of sand) and we will cease to be aware of the things. In fact I’m sure we will look back on this last decade and wonder how we could ever have mistaken what we were doing with them for ‘productivity.’ -- Douglas Adams, How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet


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