Greetings, fellow media consumers. it's been one long, hot summer. Crazy hot. The new normal? Man, I hope not. But, one upside of the heat wave that has shriveled many of our garden plants is that it forces us to be indoors, which means we get a lot more reading done. At least I have. My kids seem to prefer screens over books, no matter how hard I push to get them to read more. Sneaky little ones, they are.
Preston wrote one of my favorite science books of all time: Dinosaurs in the Attic, which tells the backstory of several artifacts found in New York City's American Museum of Natural History. The AMNH is probably my favorite place in all of New York City. I lived in NYC for 15 years, and have probably been to the AMNH 50 times.
Preston's new book is a gripping account of a dangerous expedition to internal Honduras, where scientists discovered a "lost" city built by a little-known civilization,similar to the Maya. Called the White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God, rumors of its existence have been around since the time of Cortes, but no one has properly explored it.
The scientists found it using LIDAR, a form of radar that uses lasers, which had not been used in the area before. Dangers lurk everywhere for the explorers, including Preston himself. Snakes, torrential rains, tropical diseases and more lurk at every turn of the adventure. In the end, the whole group is afflicted with a mysterious disease. The "Curse of the White City"?
It's really well told and endlessly exciting. I finished it in a day.
So many new media outlets are sprouting up (and also dying) that it's hard to keep track of all the great stories being published. I was recently turned on to Topic, a fabulous online magazine that has been doing some amazing work lately.
This story, called The Ice Patrol, is about the small band of scientists and pilots who fly over iceberg alley, where the Titanic sank, to scout for icebergs and to alert shippers. There are thousands of these "rogue skyscrapers of ice" floating down from Greenland every year that threaten to sink ships. I'd never heard of these guys before, who risk their lives to document a rapidly changing, dangerous environment.
Ever since I can remember, the story of how the dinosaurs died off has struck me as a completely logical and fascinating theory. The story goes that about 66 million years ago, an asteroid smacked into the earth, heaving millions of tons of ash and debris into the sky, causing a kind of nuclear winter that lasted for years. Only the smallest, shrewdest, luckiest creatures managed to survive (including timid, hairy creatures that eventually became us).
The scientific evidence for the so-called KT Event, seems very solid. In 1980, Luis Alvarez and three colleagues from UC Berkeley announced that they had found iridium, a silvery element found on asteroids, in a very thin layer at precisely (well, sort of) the era in the layers of rock that the dinosaurs died off. Case closed, right?
This piece in The Atlantic tells the story of a scientist who thinks that whole tale is hogwash. Her theory? That a series of colossal volcanic eruptions killed them off instead. I have to admit, I am not entirely persuaded by her argument, but the story is definitely worth a read. It's always interesting to hear credible scientists' arguments when they take on scientific orthodoxy. For example, the idea of plate tectonics was mocked for decades after Alfred Wegener outlined his theory of Continental Drift. But now, it all seems so obvious.
This is kind of a two-fer, with both video and print telling two different stories about test pilots, true heroes of aviation. The video comes from Red Bull and follows pilot Elliot Seguin, who has built his own experimental aircraft. The Quickie looks fragile and, well, kind of crazy dangerous to fly. And just as plans are coming together, Seguin learns he's going to be a father, which calls into question the whole enterprise. It's a bit long, but powerfully emotional, well-shot/edited and intense.
Interestingly, The New Yorker also has a wonderful (and also too long) story about the test pilots behind Richard Branson's space tourism company Virgin Galactic. Mark Stucky is tasked with testing SpaceShipTwo, which Branson and company hope will, within just a few years, carry well-heeled customers to the edge of space. But being a test pilot, by definition, comes with the risk of death or grave injury. And if you follow news reports about the current private company space age, then you know several people have already died in the effort to make personal space travel possible.