Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Five More Thoughts - Even MORE Shtick Ed.

I always figured it a German sort of creole, but the spell-checker brings up "shtick" without the "c," and so who am I to argue? Eh spell-chequer wood knot lye two Mie. Whatever, the point is that the routine's still pretty much the same (wah wah wah wah, me me me me), and the alleged thoughts are too (perils of sarcasm, music inability, resentful foodie-ism, family follies, commuting--hating myself for doing it doesn't excuse constantly writing the same post). I'm going for more frivolity than last time, as I continue to avoid serious work, and to procrastinate a book review that requires an ounce or two of actual thinking. I don't even care what day of the week it is.

1. Not!
In age-old posts, I liked to speculate about language and culture. If Russian, say, is fabulously suited for sarcasm, Italian (by definition) for heated romance, then Yiddish is a great dialect for self-deprecating irony, or at least that is something years of consuming American humor has taught me. (I am not comfortable with this sort of generalization, but I needed a segue, you understand.) Even though life has any number of cruel built-in jokes, it's still not easy to go through it being only half-serious. Well, it does allow you to cut yourself a lot of slack when you make assertions, which is always handy in those cases when those assertions happen to be wrong, but unfortunately you can't ace living when all you ever go for is partial credit. But even if you must hedge constantly, it's better than being dead-ass wrong on everything without ever showing your work, right? I equivocate a lot, too. It drives me crazy, except when it doesn't.

The problem is that circumstances develop which require more confidence. When you sarcastically load every utterance with its own counterargument, savor every double entendre, then where does that leave you when you want to say something sincere, to someone you like or respect? I've been catching myself quipping all sorts of things that, if one were to fail to pick up the meaning I intend, then they'd be left with the exact opposite. "I like the dress, Sweetie. No, it's my honest opinion. No, really!" I don't always make good first impressions.

The fact that some people seem to understand what I mean, at the level I intend it, is a little unsettling. Either I'm a better communicator than I think I am, or one with fewer shades. Or else you're just as nuts as me.

2. I'm not dead yet.
When I was a kid, the Lego brand symbolized the quality sort of toy building bricks. Unlike the competitors that had been around forever--patriotically-themed frontier beams, the awful hub-and-spoke networks with the derogatory Romany name, or the metal screw-together bars that were vaguely Communist in their ugly, ill-fitting universality--the newfangled little snap-together plastic cuboids, with the bizarre product literature translated from the original Danish (and quickly-discarded pictorial instructions that were smart enough to avoid translation altogether), were awesome. The bricks were small enough, and fit together snugly enough that you could make anything out of them and have it stay together.

There were a small number of specialty pieces that could add angles, hinges, wheels, and a few other useful odds and ends--wings, 90o headlights, cones, cylinders, windshields, and little dudes that achieved a sort of happy minimalist humanity--that could let a kid really innovate. I came to the age-appropriate scene when they were working at bifurcating their product lines to sucker in the completists. How I begged my mom and dad for the space-themed Legos (rockets, antennas, clear yellow blocks). My brother was big on the castle set (had some wall blocks, lances, Lego trees). It didn't take long before they all ended up in the big box. [I got a kick out of the "expert builder" Legos too, which ended up in a different box.]

The pre-made horses for the Lego knights were probably a bad sign, and over 25 years, the trend seems to have grown entirely out of hand. Best I can tell, each set is now comprised of approximately three highly specific, complex pieces that only nominally interact with pieces from other sets. I thought I saw a Bionicle thingie that didn't have any of the Lego buds on it at all. Might as well buy action figures.

In grad school, I bought Lego Racers (the video game), which, while having nothing to do with snap-together proto-engineering, somehow caught that spark of honest fun that some artist once caught on a smiling plastic yellow face. And virtual Lego has only been improving, by the looks of it. Lego Rock Band looks like tons of fun, somehow a little more pure than the block-less version of the game. Legos are dead, but the idea of Lego lives triumphantly on.

3. I'm dancing! I'm happeeee!
I've gone on about Rock Band, which is like a whole-family karaoke-full of fun. I like that we can do it together while I wait for the kids to warm up to the idea of participating in the jug band, and it's fun to pretend to drum, but of all the hobbies...

In my non-musical musical family, we're singers least of all. To be fair, my father (who is also the only one of us alive that can keep time) can produce credible, ear-pleasing, Garfunkular harmonies, but the rest of us possess voices that have been known to send dogs whimpering inside during the full moon. The local minister canceled Christmas in 1979 to keep my grandfather away from the hymnal. Yoko Ono once threw an egg at my mom. My poor daughters both adore singing, and enjoy chorus greatly, emote the notes innocently and without shame. My darling little girl (who I'd love to see get a shot at acting) has had a hard time landing prominent roles in the school productions because they're musicals. And yet I'm all for it--what can make you happier than singing, after all?

So getting a compliment for my voice was something entirely unexpected (and I'm sure my wife regrets it deeply). Granted, it was in comparison to two pre-pubescent girls trying to sing male parts, but I'm taking it. Evidently, I'm at least occasionally capable of hitting the same two notes that John Fogerty, Steve Perry, and Pete Townshend sing most of the time. Sweet.

(As I write this, Stephen Colbert is singing along with Elvis Costello, and faking it pretty well. Fucking talented people.)

4. Peer Pressure.
Colbert completely justifies anything else Comedy Central might ever do. I still haven't figured out what I like about Food Network (as I've often complained). Okay, I like to ogle the food, which they sometimes highlight between the personality parade. I also get a kick out of how they dub Japanese-accented English over Masaharu Morimoto's broken English. (Lou Ferrigno is somewhere flexing his muscles in sympathy.) I might enjoy Alton Brown's Mr. Wizard schtick if he weren't so damned smarmy about it.

And what's the alternative? Both times I've watched America's Test Kitchen, I've wanted to strangle that bespectacled know-it-all who tells me that everything I know about cooking is wrong. The presence of some interesting facts and explanations in there is that much more annoying, somehow. Maybe it's the presentation, like I'm being addressed as a ten-year-old. Any good material scientist knows the importance of morphology; any chemical engineer who's been around the block knows how touchy biochemical processes are to shepherd. I don't feel I need the level of condescension they offer.

Yesterday, I got schooled in the use of a potato ricer, which all the TV chefs have been playing with lately, and which I deeply suspect is a useless trendy gadget. Glasses-guy accented his shopping guide with an after-school vintage cartoon telling me the viscoelastic spuds I grew up with just. aren't. cool. Now, I always thought "creamy" was the goal, and my trick, such as it is, has always been to put plenty of fat and milk in there, as I whip the living crap out of them, mm-mmmm. I admit they're a little gluey. But why not? I associate "fluffy" with the under-processed (and slightly under-seasoned) taters that frequented my grandmother's table, and were preferred in eastern European households (data set of one). I admit they weren't my favorite. My mom also had a ricer at one time, long ago, that she used to turn leftovers into baby food. So I'm thinking, you're shitting me, right?

Of course I bought one. I'll report back.

5. I hate driving, have I ever mentioned that?
First we tried the local cooking shops, but the ricer required a trip to the nearest big megamall (helping to confirm the suspicion that it's a high-class, food-porn sort of gizmo), which, I'm sorry to say, isn't really that near. I hate everything about these places. I hate the crowd, the parking, the forced festivity, the canned indoor air, the designed inefficiency of moving around, the frenetic sense of holiday consumer pressures, the time crunch that prevents me from looking around at the rare item that's interesting (such as anything in the bookstore).

It's not even officially Hell Month yet, but there was no parking spots at the mall today. I'm happy to walk, but don't care to be stared down by looming blinkering fatasses on even the parking outskirts. Nor do I appreciate the dangerous pedestrians who scoot in front of my car to cross the street. When I stupidly jump out in front of moving traffic, I'm sure to make eye contact (what driver doesn't appreciate a thank-you wave for being forced to yield?) at least enough to avoid getting run over. It's a simple question of weight ratios, after all.

There's a special place in hell for the drivers of little cars that park deep in the slots, making them look empty, or better, let's damn the drivers of the street behemoths who block the view. The whole American consumer culture is overdue for a reimagining (which may not be voluntary when and if it comes), but I've got to tell you, in a lot of ways I'm more motivated by personal, and largely irrational annoyances.

[I need to go to bed. I'll clean up the English tomorrow, if so motivated.]

Friday, November 13, 2009

Five More Thoughts - More Shtick! Ed.

I've heard that we need more shtick around here, and I figure I can share this thing where I ramble along five times longer about exactly as much nothing, kind of like if Seinfeld was verbose, unfunny, and had no audience. Since I don't really go in for topical news, I limit myself to extremes of scope, blathering about poorly-illustrated big-picture stuff, or else going after the trivial and banal (mostly about myself). Is there any doubt about which is more satisfying?

Also, I'm not genealogically qualified to use this many Yiddish-isms. Oy, the chutzpah. It's probably because I learned to read from a stack of old MADs.

1. "Seduced, shaggy Samson snored..."
I never really intended to become a shrill, embittered liberal, especially considering that my political views haven't really changed at all. We can trace this development to any number of things--studying too much how ideologies relate to practice, reading too many other cynical types, or suffering the continued indignity of working for a living--but the real answer is more insidiously obvious, staring right me. I grew a ponytail.

It took about a year and a half, and I still couldn't tell you why I did it at this age. It wasn't really laziness, and certainly not vanity. Maybe it was just cheaper than a Corvette.

A dreadful, ratty tangle of a thing. Let down, it looked like a Troy Polamalu style forehead-and-curls, although my wife thought "pro wrestler" was a better description of the wet, stringy strands (minus, of course, either sort of beefcake). My daughter thought I looked just like Slash, from Guns-n-Roses, which is actually why I kept it as long as Halloween. (I'm going to let y'all use your own imaginations as to my actual appearance.) Pulling it back allowed me to go to work.

If you're a professional nerd, then slacking on your appearance can actually be a keen career strategy, way to generate the illusion of competence. Who would you trust to think up an innovative techie solution on your behalf: the impeccable smug little douchebag in an immaculate suit, or the slovenly ponytailed grad-student-looking guy with the pens in his stained shirt pocket and old sneakers on his feet? I mean, really! As my hair proceeded through its Einstein and its Newton phases, lucrative contracts came forth like manna on my heretofore parched horizon. Speaking confidence grew, and the reports and marketing pitches grew more successful. There was even a result or two, if you can believe that.

I cut it yesterday, not as short as it's been all my life, but I think enough to save the shower plumbing. I declined to go all-in, for fear of losing my powers. I can stretch it into a tight nub if my career flounders again, or if I discover I'm insufficiently shrill.

I wonder what would have happened if I grew a Lenin goatee.

2. News you can use.
Hey, speaking of pecs, and what children can be led to believe, probably the funniest thing I ever taught my daughter was about chest anatomy. "Hi Grandma!" "Hi M--" "You have boobs!" "Um…" "Girls have boobs and boys have pectoral muscles!"

I was so proud. Only two or three years old, and she'd really game the reaction of adults with that line, always knew how to deliver it for a laugh. Ten years later, her personality is pretty much the same, witty and sincere and off-the-wall. She's awesome.

3. They Live!
So I've been watching the remake of V, less because it's good, and more out of some remembered appreciation of a halfway decent miniseries (not to mention a young boy's crush on a badass hottie alien commander, which hasn't warped me at all, no sir). The new version seems to have taken for granted the menace and conflicting sympathies that the old version took time to build up, but that's not the real problem. You could tell that the series was fucked as soon as they introduced the nerds.

There are very attractive, well-adjusted science fiction nerds, don't get me wrong, but I've got to tell you--even if he has the correspondingly unlikely hot FBI agent for a mom--there's no way that kid has spent any time reading books and watching Star Trek. He's got that smirky disarming grin honed to such an art form that it's impossible to imagine he's ever had to escape into his imagination or to waste time doing things like "thinking." The lucky bastard smiles like he's had the world on a string since he was ten. I could see him trying to score with the alien for the novelty, but I'm not just buying the sincere infatuation.

See, the Visitors have good reasons to look attractive, given that they have a desire to seduce the human population into subservience, with their smooth talk and gentle expressions. We can see how boys who've grown up jerking off to Milla Jovovich might gravitate needily to sexy ETs. And presuming those are well-integrated Terminator-style skin suits, complete with human-like nerves and veins and a limited set of plumbing, we can see how the aliens could sustain certain needs and desires with respect to the other species. It's also not inconceivable that they're just total interstellar pervs. But standards of attraction are pretty arbitrary, and I don't see why the aliens would be drawn to the same late-aughts American-style good looks that they're forced to inhabit for the purposes of conquest.
I'm not saying they'd prefer prettyboy's dorky fat friend (who is the show's only slightly convincing normal) but rather, they're lizards under there, and it stands to reason that they'd go in for humanity's more reptilian specimens (pictured). Failing that, I could see them being intrigued by our more scaly, well-preserved members. Lizard aliens chasing around wizened old grannies? Breaking the hearts of lonely psoriatics all over again? Now that would be great television.

4. "Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes…"
If V teaches anything, it's that you should be suspicious of authority, especially when they have something to gain from your complacency. Where is this better illustrated than highway police?

There's some actual service they provide, deterring reckless behavior and directing traffic around an accident, but these things are occasional. The real purpose of the highway patrol is revenue generation, to write enough tickets to keep these punitive fuckers in jackboots and donuts. Did you ever wonder why the streets get so thick with cops at the end of every quarter? When I was in D.C., they had just made a big deal about installing red light cameras (cutting out the middleman, a perfect cash spigot). If no human being is around to see you roll through a red light, then what exactly is wrong with rolling through a red light?

The traffic police could keep their emergency response function without being such colossal assholes. Yeah, we all know what it's like to be pulled over, but even the nature of their presence is dickish. Drivers naturally cower before police cruisers. They'll shrink as far as they can into the shoulder and freeze, even when the cop is going the other way, as they wait respectfully for Johnny Law to mosey on by. And no motorist alive will pass a cop on the highway. In fact, when a statie is spotted by drivers, the usual response is to slow down to 40 or so, and try to act nonchalant, as if the police are that dumb. (I feel it's respectful to drive past them at normal legal speeds.) Police presence can confuse drivers enough to make them less safe. Last week, I had one of these assholes parked on the median across from the entrance ramp, doing not a goddamn thing but causing misery. Drivers coming up the freeway were jamming on their brakes to feign innocence, and the ramp was stalled well up onto the connecting highway. I'm surprised it didn't cause an accident right there, and I'm sure that the subtle effects of road rage trickled on down the line. That police officer caused drivers to shout at each other, yell at their kids, have an extra drink when they got home. Preserving public order, my ass.

5. Insecurity Suite.
I pay six dollars a month for security software for my provider. What I need to keep secure are, I suppose, my ten or so yearly credit card purchases, and my blogger and email passwords. I'd like to keep the photo archives and checkbook register free from mischief too, but we back those up every once in a while. I think if my parents or the four other people in our address book got an email from us asking their checking account number, they'd probably call us about it. I don't know if the security service is keeping those things safe, really. Like most users, I'm taking my chances under half-informed faith.

I will say this, however. The primary service that the security suite provides is gumming up the hamster wheel in there. Inevitably, the program that freezes my computer when it starts up is the one called "Security Communication Facilitator." If it is doing such an obviously abysmal job of facilitating communications, I don't really expect much from its security services!

Of course, Microsoft is the undisputed king of useless services. I'm typing this out in Word right now, and I've already been gifted with automatic ellipses (no matter how many times I change the settings in autotype…), automatic whole-document formatting on the italicized headings (who could possibly want that?), and that fucking autosave that sits idle for the long minutes I think, but suddenly sparks to life the second I touch a goddamn key. And for god's sake, do not paste formatted text!. I copied it from another program, you assholes, but I intend it to look like this document I'm putting together. There's a special category in hell for the simp who dreamed up the PowerPoint bulleted auto-presentation, and for the innumerate retard who set the defaults on Excel's charts, with their signature awfulness for any kind of data presentation.

One thing I've learned as a blogger, is that it's a lot of work to keep things going at any kind of volume. It's why this form works best for people attuned to current events, or with a fine ear for minutiae and clever or funny gimmicks. It occurs to me that there is more than enough material in the annoying quirks and features that one accommodates in the day-to-day operation of human-designed electronics that a cranky person could obsess over, one bug at a time.

Just throwing it out there, if anyone wants readers, but doesn't want to go through the trouble of thinking up things to write about. You could get rich quick. Or alternatively, if such a blog exists, I think I'd like to read and champion it.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Alien Earth

It's almost funny that a molecule as simple and ubiquitous as water, which for obvious reasons has evolved as a standard compound for the all sorts of scientific reference, is actually one of the more defiant little buggers when it comes to high-level quantitation. Water is highly polar, meaning that a lot of partial electron charge huddles on the oxygen side of it, leaving the little Mickey Mouse ears of the hydrogens to wiggle around with their pants half down, showing a little proton as it were, and correspondingly getting all positively charged. In liquid water, these protons are attracted to their neighbors' oxygens and the whole crew is rather amorous. As they slosh and stir, it can be hard to tell who is with whom, those protons hugging their own oxygen, but stealing kisses from the one next door. It's that extensive hydrogen bonding that causes the unusual crystallization, necessitates fudge factors in the equations of state, requires fairly complicated descriptions of its solvating behavior--when water dissociates itself (or something else), does a bare proton end up floating around? A hydronium ion? H-O***H networks alternating themselves several layers deep until the effect of the charge fizzles out? It depends on how you need to look at it. How about polywater? Nah, let's not get carried away.

Each of the elements, especially as you go along the second row of the periodic table, loves hydrogen in its own special way. Oxygen, fluorine and nitrogen are the elements that really get into the hydrogen bonding game. You can make some good analogies with liquid ammonia, which like water, will autodissociate (now into ammonium and amide ions), and which will dissolve ionic species. Ammonia doesn't love itself quite as much and will stabilize (most) ions less aggressively. In the symphony of ionic transport, it plays a duller beat, but could ammonia be a viable solvent for some alien biology? I don't see any obvious reason why not.

I'm fond of these sorts of analogies--swapping media can offer windows onto the universalities of the chemistry and physics but make the whole thing look drastically alien. From another planet. The taken-for-granted chemical balance on earth--what with the free oxygen, water, and the oxidized carbon and silicon--is in a way arbitrary, some dynamic product of temperature and composition, evolved to some steady state. If we limit our speculation to the low-temperature, low-gravity conditions where "chemistry" matters, where life processes still could fit within the usual speculations, then a tour around the solar system shows familiar features carved out of exotic substances. Even on the small handful of dense, rocky balls within a rocket blast, atmospheric and geological dynamics are surprisingly familiar, even though they occur at forbidding temperatures and pressures, circulating toxic compounds.

The Surface of Venus by Venera 13

The surface of Venus evidently lacks plate tectonics, and a going theory is that the planet heats cyclically, the crust periodically weakens and floods with magma every few hundred million years. The atmosphere is denser than we're familiar with, reaching supercritical conditions for the predominant CO2, contributing to massive greenhouse heating like a great big heat shield. Most of the action is in the turbulent skies, precipitating sulfuric acid, with possible pockets of oxygen and moderate temperatures in the higher reaches. It's not like sulfuric acid is unusual or poorly understood--you could probably even distill it in the lab if you were so maniacally inclined--but looking at whole weather systems of the stuff is really something. The system is water-deficient, but may not have always been so. Presumably the lighter water long since boiled and buoyed itself to the upper atmosphere only to be beaten away by the solar wind.

Mars as photographed by the Spirit rover

The upper reaches of Venus may even be more hospitable than the darling neighbor Mars. We're familiar by now with images of dusty vistas of the red planet. That photo could almost be a back-porch view of a quiet Arizona evening, if you could only breathe. The planet has many intriguing features, but if Mars had a dynamic surface liquid layer, then it's also been scrubbed over the eons by the solar wind. (It helps to have a big magnet in the core of your planet, and just a little more gravity too.) After the landscapes and the sunrises, my favorite images of the Martian surface have shown the aggregate soil, small wind-eroded BBs and sand.

Europa's surface as photographed by the Galileo spacecraft

Unlike our planetary neighbors, Jupiter's moon Europa does exhibit plate tectonics, evidently with lateral spreading and subduction. The surface of the moon is smooth, and believed to be only a hundred million years young. The plates are ice, and the mantle is slush, which turgidly convects the plates along like a cold analogue of earth's silicate-based geological mechanics. Volcanoes occasionally cough up water and other cryogenic gases. In Europa's case, the driving energy for its geology* appears to come orbit-induced stresses, other bodies pulling it this way and that.

Titan's surface as seen by the Huygens probe

As hopeful celestial bodies go, Saturn's moon Titan is pretty great. It has a dense nitrogen atmosphere, with temperatures ranging from "dry ice" in the upper reaches to "liquid nitrogen" in its colder altitudes, which admittedly are worrisome conditions for any potential microbes, but on the other hand, there's tons of higher molecular weight organic material, for hypothetical organisms to compose themselves from. Titan is the only other well-known body (I believe) to be hydrologically* active at the surface, with surface systems of hydrocarbon rivers, lakes, and clouds that mimic our earth's water cycle. It's basically raining lighter fluid, but don't worry about lighting a match, there's no oxygen. Like Europa, Titan is believed to have a solid or slushy mantle of water, and possibly a liquid layer which would probably be stinking with ammonia, if it exists.

It's fascinating, but the truth is, I can only pore over this stuff for so long. After a while the images start to look like inanimate wastelands: cold, poisonous, and, as it comes down to the human experience, arbitrary. You could as easily be getting worked up over the deeper meaning of the ice deposits in your fridge, of the formations of schmutz that get caked on the bottom of a lab beaker or something, and I guess those things can be fascinating too, not so depressingly lonely. Ever since Schiaparelli believed he saw canals on Mars, the optimistic view of these hostile orbs--where nooks of biocompatibility exist or existed--has been the hopeful go-to narrative for scientists. Did oceans on Mars and Venus disappear, and could it happen to Earth? Are Europa and Titan teeming with cold, slow biological seas? It's the way we have always liked to tell our stories.

The lesson, really, is a sense of context. We're comfortable speculating on the geological* and climatological histories of other celestial bodies (there aren't too many consequences of this), and these scant data points to provide insight on How Things Work on planetary scales. If you go far enough back, earth was one of these sulfurous alien hellholes too. Our oxygen-rich atmosphere was a geological late-comer, and the older earth was smoking with nitrogen, methane, carbon dioxide and water, and metals just kind of hung around in their reduced forms. The change in the chemical environment on the surface was enormous and comprehensive. It precipitated out enormous quantities of iron from the ocean (providing handy concentrations of ore for the talking monkeys that'd inhabit the place two and a half billion years later), ate up the methane, and changed the temperature dynamics. The biology of the place completely changed at the same time, and it was all incredibly fast, in the scheme of these things.

The Great Oxidation Event may have been the most significant "moment" in the planet's history, enabling a whole lot of new surface weathering processes, including rampant biological diversification. There had been anaerobic bugs for a while on the planet, not doing much but metabolizing CO2 and pooping methane, and it is unclear just how many billions of years ago the small population of oxygenic organisms showed up. What is clear is that they eventually won out after a long period of peaceful coexistence. One theory has it that the earth's mantle eventually cooled enough to significantly reduce the geological production of nickel, which is vital in the methanogens' metabolism. In that scenario, the blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, won out because their competitors just weren't getting their vitamins, and O2 filled the seas and skies with all their constant breathing. Cyanobacteria is pond scum among other things, and it's still everywhere. Methanogens can still be found in the deep dark places.

Other authors have suggested that either a general decrease in the generation of chemical reducing agents (not just nickel) or an increase in photosynthetic oxygen production could sufficiently affect the global electrochemistry balance to a more oxygen-rich condition. They model the existence of two stable steady state oxygen concentrations for those chemical dynamics, and a perturbation of either of these factors could have sent the atmosphere into the high mode. No doubt it took time for the available iron (and nickel) to absorb it all, for the atmospheric and temperature equilibria to establish, and for the green bugs to really take over the place, but Goldblatt et al., believe the conditions were present to suddenly switch 2.4 Gyr ago, and the transition itself may have happened in as short as a few tens of thousands of years (from now to cave art days, by means of comparison).

They also suggested that the upper steady state of oxygen concentration was much less sensitive to perturbation, and had the switch downward been instigated in those days, it'd have taken a few million years to go anoxic again. Worrying about losing our atmosphere is about as wise as waiting for the sun to explode. On the other hand, it does illustrate a surprising sensitivity within the planetary system and its biosphere, and there are certainly other fluctuating phenomena (such as glaciation), which are faster, and which may also be bistable, with (relatively) rapid dynamics in between. Even there, there's a touch of hubris about suggesting where our activity will ultimately get the planet, and we should worry more about the perturbation than the million-year equilibrium. It's true that human beings are affecting the carbon cycle and the biosphere faster than has usually occurred, but big-time biology, in its general sense, has recovered even from big extinction events. I'm really thinking more of the context right now, what we think of as alien. Biological species have transformed the composition of the outer layers of the globe in a drastic way during the planet's long history. In the case of cyanobacteria and oxidation, it was probably driven by geology, and the bugs got the job done as a response, grew as they grow, a matter of cause and effect. For some reason, we don't think of people this way.

*wrong words, but "planetology" or "ethanological" or whatever sounds even dumber and more confusing.