Tuesday, June 26, 2007

reader feedback re: high-speed train essay

My essay advocating for investment in high-speed rail is now available in the current issue of Wired. Readers are already writing with interesting feedback. One gentleman strongly objected to my statement that highways in the U.S. are awesome. A fair point when stuck in a particular traffic jam or construction zone, but looking at the country as a whole, and especially some of the mountainous terrain that the U.S. Highway System cuts through, I don't think my statement is inaccurate. Robert Pulliam of Houston, Texas wrote to say that I should take a look at so-called tubular rail. I had seen these mock ups somewhere previously, but I don't know of anyone who's giving the technology serious consideration. If you've heard otherwise, send me a note.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

geoengineering news and aussie mollydookers

Here's an interesting geoengineering story in the June 2 issue of the Economist. (I wrote this essay defending geoengineering research for the December '06 issue of Wired.) The latest piece is cool, although I would by lying if I claimed to fully understand how all that CO2 would get carried into space; something to do with the same atmospheric phenomenon that causes auroras in the night sky.

Bouncing over to some entertaining southpaw minutiae, my wife's colleague pointed us toward Mollydooker Wines in Edwardstown, South Australia. I'd heard that 'mollydooker' is an Aussie term for left-hander, but I didn't know there were special wines for southpaws other than Sinister Hand, produced by Owen Roe here in Oregon.

Monday, June 18, 2007

once cutting-edge and hermano

Writer Paul Collins recently pointed me toward the Modern Mechanix blog, which features pages from science magazines of yesteryear. Check out the diving canoe and the barrel-body chariot, the latter of which looks suspiciously like the Segway. Which of course makes me think of Gob.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

the power of a name

Speaking with an entomologist the other day, I learned that Bin Laden and/or Al Qaeda once held a stake in a honey factory in Yemen. Apparently honey was used to smuggle heroin. I haven't confirmed this just yet, but my interests at the moment are purely journo-linguistic. In my notes, I hastily typed "Bin Ladin" and "Al Qeda." I corrected the misspellings later, but doing so got me thinking about correct language.

I've seen a number of media commentaries about varying and variable use of 'terrorists,' 'insurgents,' 'revolutionaries,' 'extremists,' 'jihadists,' 'fundamentalists,' 'militants,' and the like. I don't think this is political-correctness wordplay. In the war of ideas, how could diction not matter? But a slipperier question might be: Are really bad people, or groups of people, worthy of attention to accuracy, spelling or otherwise? In a way, it feels like paying respect to something, anything, to double-check how to spell its name.

True, it's a courtesy first and foremost to readers to use words that are easily recognizable (read: read), and it sure would be clunky to refer to terrorist groups, however motley, as 'those psychopaths who call themselves 'Al Qeda' or some such.' Yet the great human enterprise of naming things, and doing so with care, inevitably shapes reality, and I can't help but wonder if naming in some small way legitimizes hodgepodge clusters of homicidal haters more than they deserve. Then again, I don't see much in the way of alternatives, short of the Harry Potter-ish 'he whose name must not be spoken,' which is totally impractical, silly, and wordy.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

korean edition & watson's left hand

The Korean edition of A Left-Hand Turn Around the World was just released by Minumsa Publishing Group. Also, a nice picture of James D. Watson, or at least of his left hand, appears in today's New York Times. The caption asks: "is there a gene for left-handedness?"