Monday, November 30, 2009

Climate Change Is Inevitable — It’s Time to Adapt

Wired – at least the online version – it’s always great reading.

The global war on carbon has not gone well for the atmosphere. The really inconvenient truth: We’re toast. Fried. Steamed. Poached.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the planet we inhabit has always been fundamentally out of control, driven by fantastically complex, chaotic systems we scarcely understand. With or without our help, dear Mother Earth is capable of producing circumstances highly inimical to human life. Pick whatever black swan you like—how about the next asteroid or an avian superplague or that Yellowstone volcano? Climate change could end up being just a side note.

There are lots of reasons to avoid shifting the focus to adaptation. For starters, “We’re toast” is nobody’s idea of a call to arms. But in fact, an honest accounting of where we stand ought to be the jumping-off place for a more important (and way more interesting) discussion. The real question is not how we can keep things the way they are but how we’ll survive, and maybe even thrive, on a hotter planet. Yes, we should still work on cutting carbon. But we need to be realistic about what that can accomplish and what it can’t.

At the risk of sounding horrifically flip, change is good. Really. Without the challenges inflicted by our volatile environment, starting with some nasty 80 percent-plus species extinctions, Earth would still be the planet of the trilobites. We just need to find a way to do what we’ve always done: adapt and—dare I say—evolve. And then start getting ready for the next ice age.

Mathematical Notation Gets an Upgrade

For 70 years, mathematicians have been stuck on the Halting Problem: Computers occasionally hang on one line of code and fail to move on to the next, and no one can reliably predict when that will happen. (The result is the unending hourglass or pinwheel of death.) But a few years ago, Microsoft researcher Byron Cook and his colleagues did the unthinkable — they hacked a fix. When Cook tried to describe the workaround, however, he found it impossible to explain with existing mathematical symbols.

His only option, he decided, was to invent new ones. Cook phoned a friend, artist Tauba Auerbach, and after several months of brainstorming, the duo sketched out nine symbols, each of which indicates a function not easily describable with existing notation. Cook is applying the signs in a book on the Halting Problem and plans to submit them for inclusion in LaTeX, the typesetting program mathematicians use to publish their work. “Symbols change over time,” Cook says. “Some really convey what they’re after, and some don’t. Those that do stick.” Hopefully, Cook’s signs will stick around long enough to ensure a glitch-free future.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009

Jungle and Rio de Janeiro

The jungle is always very close in Rio de Janeiro