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"Extinction"

NOVA ScienceNOW

If there's one thing I don't need, it's another reason to worry. Which is why I'm watching a NOVA episode about mass extinction, deadly flu pandemics, robots programmed with human emotions, and ancient papyruses with food stains all over them.

I typed this while I was watching so forgive me if it suddenly makes no sense at all, that's just me FREAKING OUT about some NOVA fact that will inevitably be featured in one of my 4 a.m. disaster scenarios where my family and I struggle for survival, perhaps in the midst of a papyrus-borne flu epidemic that was started by the creepy
smiling robots!

PART ONE

Whoa! Animated dying dinosaurs! I have to make my five-year-old son watch this later.

Okay, maybe that's kind of a perverse impulse on my part, but why should I be the only one awake at 4 a.m.?

Nothing goes better with bones and dirt than a spaghetti western soundtrack. Sergio Leone taught us that.

There have been five major extinctions in the last 600 million years, did you know that? Man, all I heard about was that last one when all the dinosaurs went kablooie.

That was in the Cretaceous Era, thank you, narrator.

I love watching huge chunks of space rock hurtle toward earth.

It's not just an archeological dig, it's a crime scene! NOVA reframes my perspective once again.

The Siberian Traps = enormous field of evil Permian-era (250 million years ago) volcanoes that oozed lava for a million years and smothered an area the size of the U.S. in an ocean of lava a mile deep.

OOZED LAVA FOR A MILLION YEARS AND SMOTHERED AN AREA THE SIZE OF THE U.S. IN AN OCEAN OF LAVA A MILE DEEP.

I don't think it can get any worse than that.

Snack time!

Okay, I'm back. Science, science, science...greenhouse gases warmed the earth, heated the ocean, warm water can't hold onto oxygen...

Basically, the end of the Permian Era smelled of rotten eggs.

Groucho Marx sends us out with "Hello I Must Be Going" and I need a hug.

PART TWO: AVIAN FLU

The nightmare continues.

The pandemic of 1918 killed 50 million people worldwide. My grandfather had that flu but he got over it, obviously, or you wouldn't be reading this, duh.

Preserved tissue samples of World War I soldiers -- what the hell? Who decided to store old soldier bits in a bunch of shoeboxes at the CDC?

So they take the WWI tissue samples, reverse-engineer the deadly 1918 flu virus, give it to some mice, and watch them die three days later.

Keep your hazmat suits on, ladies!

Most flu viruses attack the upper respiratory organs and stay high in the lungs. Good to know. But the 1918 flu virus went down deep in the lungs, effectively suffocating the victims.

Avian flu does the same thing.

Does that hazmat suit come in a size 12?

Look at that fuzzy little flu particle! It's way too cute to kill anyone, and it only has eight genes.

Oh, he's going to eat a cloud.

QUIT MUTATING! AIIEEEEEEE!

What's with the old-timey fake Chinese font on the "Hong Kong" title? I thought we as a people had grown beyond racist font usage.

Look at all the pretty test tubes and look at all the smart people sitting around making lethal flu viruses. Look out! I bet Klaus Maria Brandauer and his henchman are already on their way.

PART THREE

Robots that learn the way people do? I am not sure I want the robot with human teeth, furry donkey ears, anime eyeballs, and black lipstick offering me that hug.

Oh, okay, the babylike features were intended "to draw people into a social relationship" with it. It then analyzes the emotional intent of those speaking to it and comes up with the appropriate response on its little Gremlin face.

Okay, it's genius, but this is one of those things that I can't imagine have any practical application in my own life. Which means someone will find a way to make it indispensable.

Yes, as a companion for children in hospitals, they're on it already.

This other one has skin that's sensitive to touch and temperature and understands the difference between being bounced and being shaken.

God, the woman who invented these things is so smart, I hope her life's work doesn't end up as a loss-leader at Toys R Us.

PART FOUR

Salvaging bits of ancient papyrus, reading them. A 2,000-year-old bit of Homer's "Odyssey" found in a city dump in Egypt.

AWESOME.

Fresh papyrus plants are very green!

Cut it into strips, layer them over each other, pound them down, and voila.

Man, some of those ancient people had gorgeous penmanship.

What are they digging up? Marriage contracts, divorce contracts, hate mail, dinner invitations, letters home.

Now it's all covered in food scraps and mummy paint.

MUMMY PAINT!

Multi-spectral imaging, developed by NASA to see through clouds of gas in space, then a scholar at JPL decided to apply the process to reading semi-destroyed ancient texts.

I like when a man can pull off wearing a bow tie.

Ye olde ink was made of soot.

Five hundred thousand papyrus fragments stored at Oxford University -- they can't read them but they can't throw them away.

Good lord, it looks like the last scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," all those boxes piled up and being ignored. There could be another gospel in there, just crumbling to bits.

A gospel that foresees how the world ends: by crumbling to bits. After the robot-engineered flu epidemic.

FIN

Comments

Mrs. Kennedy is very funny. Great thingy you wrote here. I have similar experiences when watching Nova specials.

M. Kennedy, this is fabulous. Emotionally responsive robots = freaky. As always, you've taken something dry and horrifying and made it hilarious. And still kind of horrifying.

I have similar experiences while watching NOVA specials. It's not so much the content that freaks me out, but my husband making me watch it HD and then commenting on how much better the [insert disturbing images] would look if only our TV was bigger.

I watched a special on how the sun is going to blow up. It would be worrisome except that this will apparently happen so many years into the future, I'm pretty sure it isn't going to affect me.

It does occur though how fragile our little system is here... if anything happened to our orbit, our moon's orbit, the sun... any little thing at all, our ability to continue living on this planet will be eliminated Armageddon-style. The clock of the Long Now won't matter and that bums me out.

i think that you make everything on nova that is kinda boring really funny! i will always come to you when im doing my sience homework!

Oh, geez. This is a gem of a column. "I thought we as people had grown beyond racist font usage." That's the line that grabbed me.

Good job! I'll watch the next NOVA special with a whole new perspective.

Gremlin face? Quite literally. Is it me or was that robot totally modeled after Mogwai in the movie Gremlins? Maybe PBS can pull some strings, give Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates a call and get an official response from the cast.

Anyone who can successfully and entertainingly live-blog a NOVA episode should be invited back again and again. Just my opinion.

Especially since those &*$%(@#$!s at my local PBS affiliate won't give permission for me to receive a decent PBS network feed from an alternate source via satellite (the signal I can get where I live is so messed up it looks like really scary scrambled porn), which results in me not having PBS. You don't know how much you miss "Frontline" 'til it's gone.

Ghost Rider Pictures
ROCKEY IN THE NEWS TODAY, January 17, 2007:

Today Rockey Vaccarella was on Fox News Network with Neil Cavuto to discuss the current situation in the New Orleans region in respect to the progress of the rebuilding effort. Rocky's interview was live on FOX NEWS across America today at 3:30pm CST from the WVUE Television studios in New Orleans, Louisiana. Rockey told Cavuto that he is concerned that the rebuilding is moving slowly and that his mission is to continue to remind America that the job is not finished and not to forget the people of the New Orleans area and Gulf Coast region. Rockey also told the FOX News Anchor that President Bush and him discussed the 110 billion dollars that was sent to help the people in need during their August meeting in the Oval Office. The President told Rockey that the money sent to the region was the largest sum of money ever spent on American soil to help people affected by a natural disaster. Rockey's new documentary film FORGOTTEN ON THE BAYOU: Rockey's Mission to the White House is complete and takes the audience behind the scenes of his struggle to survive Katrina and his personal mission to deliver his message of hope to the President of the United States and the American people. The film's producers are now seeking distribution. The film is represented by David Garber of Lantern Lane Entertainment in Calabasas, California. For more information visit www.ThePeoplesStory.com .

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my name is chris r ledet and I have a good
idea on now to fight h.i.v as we all new
when a cell devides it's DNA is changed
slightly so with this in mined if we cause
T cells to devide rapidly one T cell should
develop a dafent to fight off h.i.v
the T cells that can not fight off h.i.v
will die but the ones that can will live
we can do this by using a chamical that
can stemulate cell devition

Wow, scary stuff. Maybe we'll become immortal through androids though. Don't steal my screenplay idea. My proposed title is Land of the Homemade Aviary

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