The Zombie Diseases of Climate Change

The Arctic permafrost was once an area full of vegetation. But it’s been freezing for 35,000 years or so. Every summer it thaws slightly, and every winter it refreezes.

As climate change sets in, the summers have got longer and the winters are warmer. This means more of the permafrost melts, and the remnants of that vegetation—protected from decomposition by the freezing temperatures—is exposed.

As it melts, microbes and other forms of life will reawaken. What forgotten pathogens lie beneath?

And then, as they watched, a virus appeared in their viewfinder: Pithovirus sibericum, a massive ovular virion that had survived 30,000 years frozen in the ice core. It was also the largest virion ever discovered.

“We tried to isolate amoeba viruses without knowing they were going to be giant viruses—and a totally different type of virus than we already know appeared,” Claverie said. “It turns out the viruses we are getting [in the permafrost] are extremely abnormal, extremely fancy.”

Claverie and Abergel’s viruses aren’t a threat to humanity—yet. But human pathogens have also survived freezing and thawing in the permafrost. Last summer, an outbreak of anthrax in Siberia infected dozens of people and killed one child. The vector of disease is thought to be the thawing and decaying carcass of a reindeer killed in 1941.

And a team of Canadian scientists recently found a strain of bacteria, Paenibacillus, in a cave in New Mexico that had been closed off for more than 4 million years. Though harmless to humans, the ancient bacteria was resistant to most clinical antibiotics, including most of the newest and most aggressive. The discovery suggested that bacteria can survive the most exotic and remote environments.

The problem is compounded by our desire to access precious metals, rare earths, petrol, gas and gold throughout the arctic. If, say, Russia wants to access them, millions of tonnes of permafrost needs to be moved for the first time in millions of years.

Even more worrisome are the microbes we don’t know. “No one really understands why Neanderthals went extinct,” Claverie said. Sometimes, he catches himself when talking about these possible permafrost-locked diseases—they may have threatened humans or human relatives in the past, he’ll say. Then, he’ll change tense, emphasizing that they could do so again.

Source: The Zombie Diseases of Climate Change – The Atlantic

All the city’s flotsam and jetsam

1: Cancer and climate change

I’m a climate scientist who has just been told I have Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

This diagnosis puts me in an interesting position. I’ve spent much of my professional life thinking about the science of climate change, which is best viewed through a multidecadal lens. At some level I was sure that, even at my present age of 60, I would live to see the most critical part of the problem, and its possible solutions, play out in my lifetime. Now that my personal horizon has been steeply foreshortened, I was forced to decide how to spend my remaining time. Was continuing to think about climate change worth the bother?

2: Ten thousand years of the mortar and pestle

3: Vader’s Redemption: The Imperial March in a Major Key

4: The tube at a standstill: why TfL stopped people walking up the escalators

It’s British lore: on escalators, you stand on the right and walk on the left. So why did the London Underground ask grumpy commuters to stand on both sides? And could it help avert a looming congestion crisis?

5: Google Earth fractals

The following is a “photographic” gallery of fractal patterns found while exploring the planet with Google Earth. Each is provided with a KMZ file so the reader can explore the region for themselves. Readers are encouraged to submit their own discoveries for inclusion, credits will be included. Besides being examples of self similar fractals, they are often very beautiful structures … not an uncommon characteristic of fractal geometry.

6: The digital materiality of GIFs

The history, present and future of GIFs.

7: A collection of Bat-labels

Collecting the explanatory labels on everything in the 1966-1968 Batman TV series.

8: Michael Wolf captures abstract, accidental sculptures in Hong Kong alleyways

For over 20 years Michael Wolf has been photographing Hong Kong. During that time he has captured the towering pastel facades of its high rise architecture in a vein similar to Thomas Struth or Andreas Gursky, but perhaps more interestingly he has delved into the hidden maze of the city’s back alleys. What he found and has faithfully documented, are the innumerable abstract urban still lifes seen throughout. All the city’s flotsam and jetsam, from clusters of gloves and clothes hangers, to networks of pipes and a full colour spectrum of plastic bags, are photographed in strange, but entirely happenstance arrangements.

9: A list of the 100 oldest rockstars still living

10: ‘Shocking celebrity nip slips’: Secrets I learned writing clickbait journalism

I spent six months writing traffic-baiting articles about ‘nearly naked’ red carpet dresses and Hollywood bikini shots. Here is my dispatch from the dark side of online celeb journalism.

11: Poachers using science papers to target newly discovered species

Academic journals have begun withholding the geographical locations of newly discovered species after poachers used the information in peer-reviewed papers to collect previously unknown lizards, frogs and snakes from the wild, the Guardian has learned.

12: Why I ignore the daily news and read The Economist instead (and how you can too)

But there’s one big downside to the The Economist: it’s a bear to read every week. Not because of the writing, which is crisp and engaging, but because of the volume. Each issue contains about 90 pages of densely packed 9-point type and few photos.

Here’s my 7-step system for reading The Economist every week.

Let’s see what the dog will do

12 weird, excellent Twitter bots chosen by Twitter’s best bot-makers

This includes several of my favourites. (A reminder that I have an ebooks bot (also created by Brett), @cold_ebrains. If you follow it it might talk to you.

Noel Gallagher talks to GQ

I’m not quite sure it deserves its own subdomain, but it’s typically good value from Gallagher. A typical quote:

And I hate pop stars who are just… neh. Just nothing, you know? “Oh, yeah, my last selfie got 47-thousand-million likes on Instagram.” Yeah, why don’t you go fuck off and get a drug habit, you penis?

How we became the heaviest drinkers in a century

Everyone in alcohol research knows the graph. It plots the change in annual consumption of alcohol in the UK, calculated in litres of pure alcohol per person. (None of us drinks pure alcohol, thankfully; one litre of pure alcohol is equivalent to 35 pints of strong beer.) In 1950, Brits drank an average of 3.9 litres per person. Look to the right and at first the line barely rises. Then, in 1960, it begins to creep upward. The climb becomes more steady during the 1970s. The upward trajectory ends in 1980, but that turns out to be temporary. By the late 1990s consumption is rising rapidly again. Come Peak Booze, in 2004, we were drinking 9.5 litres of alcohol per person – the equivalent of more than 100 bottles of wine.

Why is English so weirdly different from other languages

Nevertheless, the Latinate invasion did leave genuine peculiarities in our language. For instance, it was here that the idea that ‘big words’ are more sophisticated got started. In most languages of the world, there is less of a sense that longer words are ‘higher’ or more specific. In Swahili, Tumtazame mbwa atakavyofanya simply means ‘Let’s see what the dog will do.’ If formal concepts required even longer words, then speaking Swahili would require superhuman feats of breath control. The English notion that big words are fancier is due to the fact that French and especially Latin words tend to be longer than Old English ones – end versus conclusion, walk versus ambulate.

Alvin and the Chipmunks played at 16 RPM

Super sludgy and very listenable.

What can a technologist do about climate change?

A hugely comprehensive look at what Silicon Valley’s best could do to tackle a rather bigger problem.

This is a “personal view”, biased by my experiences and idiosyncrasies. I’ve followed the climate situation for some time, including working on Al Gore’s book Our Choice, but I can’t hope to convey the full picture — just a sliver that’s visible from where I’m standing. I urge you to talk to many scientists and engineers involved in climate analysis and energy, and see for yourself what the needs are and how you can contribute.

This is aimed at people in the tech industry, and is more about what you can do with your career than at a hackathon. I’m not going to discuss policy and regulation, although they’re no less important than technological innovation. A good way to think about it, via Saul Griffith, is that it’s the role of technologists to create options for policy-makers.

The archive of eating

One 84-year-old librarian has spent more than half her life building a comprehensive database of cookbooks throughout history. […] From ladyfingers to latkes is a prose poem suggestive of whole worlds. The list runs on and on, from aal (German for eel) to zucchini, seeming to contain the promise of a universal cookbook of European and American cuisine, pieced together from all the recipes ever written — a Borgesian feat of quixotic and fantastical taxonomy.

The new New York skyline

This is beautifully presented.

Manhattan is in the midst of an unprecedented boom in tall buildings. Before 2004, Manhattan was home to 28 skyscrapers 700 feet and taller. Since then, an additional 13 have been built, 15 are under construction, and 19 are proposed—47 more in all. These additions are rapidly—and radically—changing the skyline.

Quiz: The pieces everything is made of

A quiz about the elements of the periodic table by Randall Munroe.

Several years ago, Munroe, the creator of the Web comic “xkcd,” published his own blueprint of a Saturn V rocket, the launch vehicle that sent the Apollo astronauts to the moon. He called it “Up Goer Five.” The blueprint, he explained in a parenthetical note, was annotated “using only the ten hundred words people use the most often”—that is, the thousand most common words in English. It was aerospace engineering made simple. The rocket’s tower-jettison motor became the “thing to help people escape really fast if there’s a problem and everything is on fire so they decide not to go to space.” The Apollo command module became the “people box.”

Buster Keaton – The art of the gag

Before Edgar Wright and Wes Anderson, before Chuck Jones and Jackie Chan, there was Buster Keaton, one of the founding fathers of visual comedy. And nearly 100 years after he first appeared onscreen, we’re still learning from him. Today, i’d like to talk about the artistry (and the thinking) behind his gags.

Brown acid black leather: The story Of The Jesus And Mary Chain’s Psychocandy

We couldn’t understand why people couldn’t love both things and that combination of melody and extreme noise was so obvious to us. And they were equally as important. And so was Motown. Take ‘Just My Imagination’ – that’s three chords with really strange reverb on it. Everybody talks about The Velvets but we were more than that. Nobody really mentions the Motown influences or glam rock. You know, stuff like Gary Glitter and that were a huge thing in our life when we were young. The first thing we bought was T-Rex.