7 Quick Takes (8/10/12)

— 1 —

Just a housekeeping reminder: This coming week, I’ll be talking about Company for our Sondheim watch-along party and having some guest posts/featured comments/etc.  So check it out on Netflix and let me know if you’d like to link up.

— 2 —

Last week’s links were all Olympic-themed, and I’ve got one more to add in that vein: Flowing Data has links to all of the NYT‘s best visualizations of track and field history at the Olympics.  One of my favorites: looking at the fasted recorded times by kids in the 100m and seeing how far back in history you would have to go for that kid’s time to put him or her in medal contention.

— 3 —

This next video is not from an Olympic sport, but it seems at least as lovely as dyad synchronized swimming.

— 4 —

Not physically punishing enough for an Olympic sport, you say?  Well, I’d read Scientific American’s excerpt from Francis Slakey’s To the Last Breath: A Memoir of Going to Extremes before you’re so quick to make a virtue out of enduring awfulness.  He’s a physicist who climbed Everest, so he can describe the misery very precisely.

As a climber goes up even higher in altitude, into the so-called death zone, the dangerously thin air above 26,000 feet, there is so little oxygen available that the body makes a desperate decision: it cuts off the digestive system. The body can no longer afford to direct oxygen to the stomach to help digest food because that would divert what precious little oxygen is available away from the brain. The body will retch back up anything the climber tries to eat, even if it’s as small as an M&M.

The consequence of shutting down the digestive system is, of course, that the body can no longer take in any calories. Lacking an external fuel source, the body has no choice but to turn on itself. It now fuels itself by burning its own muscle—the very muscle needed to climb the mountain—at a rate of about two pounds per hour.

The climber’s body is now in total collapse. The respiratory system is working way beyond its tolerance at roughly four times above normal; the circulatory system is pumping at only 30 percent capacity; the digestive system has completely shut down; and the muscular system is eating away at itself. In short, the body is dying. Rapidly.

I still think you’d have to be crazy to do this.  You should read the whole article, btw, and probably the book.  (I’ve got it on hold at the library).  In the excerpt, he has a terrifying bit about trying to convince his guide not to lie down and die on the mountain.

— 5 —

Ok, the connection to the next piece is just that it involves physical exertion and is terrifying (though I would argue also beautiful).  From io9, a nature video about a spider that weaves nets and drops them on bugs.

— 6 —

I wouldn’t let the Curiosity landing go by without an interesting space link, don’t worry.  Gizmodo has a story on how the Apollo program computers stored some data in rope loops, which had to be carefully woven.  Check out the video below:

— 7 —

Oh, I think I’m pretty much required to link to this photo of what TYWKIWDBI describes as a “travelling ‘preacher-scientist.'”

You can find out what on earth is going on at the link.


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  • Olympic track&fielders generally are mid-20s or so, not quite “kids.” The visualization is neat, though.

    • leahlibresco

      I’m referring to the bit where they show the fastest time for modern 10, 12, 14 year olds, etc and see what decade those times would have won a medal.

  • deiseach

    Olympic comment: Ireland’s first gold of the 2012 games!

    Spider comment: Ha! And they try to persuade us that it’s irrational to be afraid of these beasts! Yeah, tell me how harmless these poor little arachnids are, when they’re weaving nets to hunt and trap their prey. Go ahead, tell me!

    • leahlibresco

      My fear was really outweighed by my feelings of vindication on that spider one.

      • deiseach

        Console yourself with that when you’re being wrapped in cobwebs and dragged off to be eaten by the hordes of spiderlings (why no, I never recovered from the spider jumping off the ceiling straight down onto my face while I was in bed, how could you tell?)

        • TheresaL

          Too bad the Hobbit movie is still 4 months away!
          I love spiders and got over my fear by studying them, although it sometimes creeps back when I find them hiding in my home. It’s mostly irrational – have you ever known anyone to suffer death by spider?
          One thing I found fascinating while doing a study of spiders was how much more numerous they are than people realize. I could usually collect over a hundred (mostly juveniles) from any given tree branch.

          • deiseach

            Where spiders are involved, there is no paranoia, there is just prudent vigilance.

  • Passerby

    The rope memory is really amazing. It’s strange to think how far things have come since then. Still, I won’t be entirely satisfied until we have a colony on Mars.

    I wonder why athletes keep getting better. Better shoes? Improved nutrition? More potential candidates because of increased funding?

    Count me as another one who’s not fond of spiders. Thank goodness gravity is too strong for them to grow big enough to hunt us. I’d hate to be that bug!
    I saw another terrifying spider story today as well:

    The book about Everest sounds good and I love the picture of that Preacher-Scientist. I wonder what his sermons were like. Hair-raising, maybe.

    • deiseach

      I wonder if increased sensitivity of measurement has also got something to do with improvements in athletics records; when it comes down to shaving thousandths of a second off to be the new world record, I do wonder if the difference between some old records and newer ones simply was that old watches or however they measured them weren’t that accurate down to these levels in the first place, so that a better measuring instrument might have been a quarter of a second more accurate, for instance, and that changed the result.

      But yes, when we’re talking these kinds of massive improvements (e.g. marathons being the hardest, toughest race and the province of specialist runners and nowadays every fund-raising event anywhere often involves ordinary people running them, never mind the professional athletes who regularly run multiple ones), then it must be down to better diet, better training, better knowledge of how to do the optimum for victory the best.