Tagged : nature

Tornado Alley

My summer holiday of 2012 was a 3000 mile road trip in the United States. It was one of my best holidays ever. So, how come I never wrote about it here? The answer is simple. Since I arrived back in the Netherlands, I’ve been quite busy creating something. Surprisingly, I finally found some time to write about the USA trip… Today, it’s time for part ten; “Tornado Alley”.

From Bourbon Missouri we drove right into Tornado Alley, an area hit by tornado’s every year. One of the cities we passed by was Joplin. About a year earlier, this city was hit by a massive tornado. About 8000 houses were destroyed, a whopping 25% of the city was wiped off the earth.

Because of past year’s events, I wanted to see Joplin for myself. How does a city look after such disaster? The answer: Not good.

Tornado Joplin 1Above you see one of the neighborhoods. There’re almost no houses left and look at that tree…

Tornado Joplin 2

I’ve never been in Pompeii, but I guess both cities are remarkably the same these days. For example, this is what’s used to be a house. The devastation of this house en the entire neighborhood was so complete, it hard to imagine how Joplin looked before the disaster happened.

Speaking of disaster, the next (and final) stop of our USA trip was Norman Oklahoma. Since I’m a huge IMAX fan, I watched a movie in the brand-new Moore IMAX theater. This building is amazing, the screen is huge and the sound system is massive. However, less than a year after I visited this IMAX theater, a tornado hit this building and the surrounding neighborhood. Oklahoma truly is Tornado Alley.

Moore IMAX before and after tornado

My final stop: Oklahoma

Previous posts

Part 1: Exceeded expectations
Part 2: Google vs. Apple
Part 3: Look left! … No, look right!
Part 4: Johnny Depp
Part 5: Big, bigger, biggest
Part 6: The most beautiful road of the world
Part 7: The color of luck
Part 8: Willow Creek Church
Part 9: Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

My summer holiday of 2012 was a 3000 mile road trip in the United States. It was one of my best holidays ever. So, how come I never wrote about it here? The answer is simple. Since I arrived back in the Netherlands, I’ve been quite busy creating something (more on that in the future). Surprisingly, I finally found some time to write about the USA trip… Today, it’s time for part nine; “Bald Eagle”.

My next stop is St. Louis, gateway to the west. The city is well known for it’s Gateway Arch, a monument I had to visit while being in the city (see photo below). But St. Louis wasn’t my reason for visiting Missouri. Instead, I headed for Bourbon, a (very) small town located about an hour’s drive south-west of the city.

And in Bourbon, it happened. A dear friend took us to his family farm which was located somewhere in the middle of nowhere. We had kayaks, huge quads, a BBQ and we went clay pigeon shooting. It was awesome! At one moment, I took one of the kayaks and went off alone. After a while, I rested my paddle, leaned back and enjoyed the scenery.

From behind, I saw something big getting closer… a bird, a huge bird. It flew less then ten meters above the water surface and came closer and closer. It didn’t take too long to recognize the bird, it’s a bald eagle. A real bald eagle!

Unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera so you have to take my word for it. However, I did find a photo (by Bill Thompson) who looks quite similar to what I saw. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen!

My next stop: Tornado Alley

Previous posts

Part 1: Exceeded expectations
Part 2: Google vs. Apple
Part 3: Look left! … No, look right!
Part 4: Johnny Depp
Part 5: Big, bigger, biggest
Part 6: The most beautiful road of the world
Part 7: The color of luck
Part 8: Willow Creek Church

Crazy weather records

The Dutch are experiencing the coldest spring since 1984. In fact, this years spring might be one of the coldest since 1901. This weather fact is reported as hard news by De Telegraaf, the largest newspaper of the Netherlands. Although this news fact might be true, it’s not news. At least, not to me.

It’s not the coldest spring ever. It’s just the coldest since 1984, which feels like a random number to me. It’s not 1983 nor 1985. Nope, it’s exactly 1984? What if temperatures would be a bit higher, would this change the headline to “coldest spring since 1985”?

Who cares?!

Okay, why bother, you might think. Who cares?! Well, I don’t actually. But I think it shows the craziness of our 24-hour news cycle. News organizations seem to do anything to fill their websites with nice big headlines and since we like to talk about the weather…

Back in March, I started to collect some of these crazy weather records. Most of them were served as big news, including large images and big headlines on the homepage.

March 5: “Hottest March 5th ever”

Temperatures in De Bilt (a Dutch town) rose to 15,9 degrees Celsius, which make it the hottest March 5th ever. My question is simple… what makes March 5 so significant? Why not talk about March 4? Or February 23? Or January 12? Is this just a random day and random record which allows De Telegraaf to make a nice headline?

Luckily the Netherlands has De Volkskrant, arguably thé best Dutch newspaper. They brought us the following record…

March 10: “Incessant rain in De Bilt allows for new weather record”

First of all, this is not a national weather record. After all, it’s De Bilt, the same town which also experienced the hottest March 5 ever. So, why are the Dutch so focussed on De Bilt? Well, it’s not just any town. It’s a small town (10.500 people) which happens to house the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, which makes it important for weather facts. But… why should we be interested in their rain-record? And why read about it in a Dutch quality newspaper?

March 12: “It’s the coldest March 11 since 1928”

Nice, another random day and year. Why March 11? Why ‘1928’? But this random fact allows De Telegraaf to give this ‘news article’ the biggest headline and most prominent spot on their website for almost a full day.

Let’s see what happens the day after. This time, we’ll check Dutch news organization NOS.

March 13: “It’s never been so cold in this period of March”

In March 2005, temperatures were down to -14,5 degrees Celsius. This March, temperatures ‘only’ dropped to -13,3. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to make it a weather record. But journalists at NOS are creative. The record in 2005 happened in early March. So, forget 2005… it’s never been so cold in this period of March, which means -13,3 degrees counts as a record as well. It’s a job well done.

March 21: “Coldest March in 25 years”

Again, NOS knows no weather records are broken. Still, they wrote quite a big news article about the extreme cold temperatures. “This weekend promises to be one of the coldest weekends in this time of the year”, according to NOS. This ain’t news. “This weekend promises to be…”? Come on, this is more like a weather preview, similar to how pundits talk about major sports events or politics.

Luckily, there’s De Telegraaf. Their headline reads “Coldest March in 25 years”. Great! They obviously found some hard facts, something the NOS article lacked. Let’s read on. “This month will probably be one of the coldest months of the past 25 years…”. Wait! Probably? … One of the? … This doesn’t match with their headline at all!

This wakes up AD, another newspaper. They finally realize news doesn’t have to be news these days. Instead, just bring it big, use quotation marks in combination with the words “possibly” and “one of the” and you’re done.

March 24: “Sunday possibly coldest March 24 ever”

Ah, AD used both quotation marks and the word “possibly” for the article above. Need I say more? However, it makes me wonder… is it true? Did we in fact experience the coldest March 24 ever? Let’s check Dutch weather website Weeronline.

March 24: “A tenth of a degree too warm for a cold record”

Yep, AD was wrong. On March 24 1916, temperatures dropped to 2,9 degrees. This year, we briefly tipped 3,0 degrees which is not enough to justify a new weather record. But who cares. AD smartly filled their newspaper and many people, including me, had something to talk about.

Oh, before I forget, Weeronline did point out it’s the coldest March 24 since 1916. Let’s just assume 1916 is a very significant year for Dutch weather…

March 29: “Coldest Easter since 1964”

Ah, again a random year. This time it’s used by NOS. Why 1964? And more importantly, Easter is still two days away (March 31). So, how do they know it’s the coldest Easter since 1964? As it turns out, the answer lies in the first paragraph. “Probably, it’s…”, do I need to say more? But is it true? AD was wrong about March 24, so how did NOS do?

March 31: “Coldest Easter since 1964”

Yep, it’s true. On Easter morning, NOS proudly reports their predictions were correct… For which they used another big headline… smart…

This all happened in the past. Let’s focus on what matters most… which seems to be the future nowadays (why live in the present when you can also predict the future?).

May 28: “Coldest summer in 200 years”

According to De Telegraaf, this summer could be the coldest in 200 years. Could be? … 200 years? … Yep, we’ve seen this before. This ain’t news, instead it’s speculation. Something to fill the newspaper with. According to the article, June and July won’t be that sunny. And August… well, prepare for some heavy storms. Hmmm, I guess this is thé moment to book a summer holiday to Spain, Italy or somewhere else sunny. Or… no, wait. The second paragraph mentions the cold summer applies to southern European countries only. Which means…

… I wasted another minute of my life by reading speculation about the weather, which was presented as hard news, but instead doesn’t even apply to my own country… Poor me.

The most beautiful road of the world

My summer holiday of 2012 was a 3000 mile road trip in the United States. It was one of my best holidays ever. So, how come I never wrote about it here? The answer is simple. Since I arrived back in the Netherlands, I’ve been quite busy creating something (more on that in the future). Surprisingly, I finally found some time to write about the USA trip… Today, it’s time for part six; “The most beautiful road of the world”.

Highway nr. 1 in California is a beautiful road… In fact, it’s a very beautiful road. But it’s not the most beautiful road. Based on my ‘experience’, that honor goes to a road which runs through Death Valley“Which road exactly?”, you might ask? Well, pick any small road which runs from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, as long as you avoid taking the highway, the I-15.

The next question probably will be: “Benjamin, why is this road so beautiful?” I’m glad you ask. I guess it has something to do with the expectations game. I didn’t know what to expect (how beautiful is a desert?), which made it easy to meet and even exceed this expectation. In addition, the scenery was incredible and completely different from anything I’ve ever seen before. The views were simply breathtaking.

“So, what about the road itself? After all, it’s the most beautiful road of the world.” Well, that’s easy to answer. The roads are the best I ever drove on. This is something car companies figured out a long time ago. They use the exact same road for car tests. I know this because we saw some super-secret-test-cars ourselves.

“And… what about the X-factor?” Ah, I see where you’re going. Everything that’s ‘the most’, has something special. An X-factor. This is also true for Death Valley. Besides incredible scenery, breathtaking views, magnificent rock formations, awesome roads and even a ghost town (see photo below), Death Valley has something else. It’s the hottest place on earth. Several times, we left our car to experience the heat ourselves. One time, it was 49 degrees celsius (120 degrees fahrenheit)… that’s what I call an X-factor.

But even without an X-factor, Death Valley is one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen.

My next stop: Las Vegas

Previous posts

Part 1: Exceeded expectations
Part 2: Google vs. Apple
Part 3: Look left! … No, look right!
Part 4: Johnny Depp
Part 5: Big, bigger, biggest

Juan Enriquez - Ted lecture - Genomics

Mr. Gene: Juan Enriquez

What happens when we’re capable of copying nature and create life ourselves? Or what if we can fix everything that’s wrong with us, thus create the perfect human being? And what if all food we eat would be perfect? These questions, and some more, popped into my mind after yesterday’s lecture by Harvard fellow Juan Enriquez, which I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.

Juan Enriquez is recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on the economic and political impacts of life sciences (yep, that’s a mouthful). In short, he knows a lot about economy and genes. And he’s quite famous. I mean, this guy teaches at Harvard and spoke at TED four times, his talks have been watched by millions of people… Nonetheless, I didn’t know this guy at all. Until today.

Animals, tomatoes, car fuel

Juan Enriquez spoke about how bio-science begins to affect the way we live, work and do business. As an example, I already knew scientists are able to clone animals and genetically enhance food like tomatoes. But did you know scientists are already capable of growing their own liquid car fuel by using gene-technology?

In short, you’d buy a single bag of liquid gen-enhanced fuel. Then, this liquid multiplies and multiplies again, which goes on and on for ever. There’s no need to buy fuel anymore. Anyone can grow their own unlimited supply of fuel, which will dramatically change the entire oil industry (thus the world economic and political stability) in a single day. Do we still need the Persian Gulf? What happens to Russia’s economy? What are the (positive?) impacts for the environment? What happens when millions of oil-related jobs disappear?

This example makes it obvious that gene-technology could have a huge impact on our lives.

Grow your own teeth

Something unrelated to car fuel, but still a game changer; Juan Enriquez told us about growing teeth. We’re not born with teeth (which our mothers should be grateful to). Instead, while being a child, somehow teeth grow. Then, they fall out and grow again. But why can our teeth only grow two times? What if, by using gene-technology, we can grow our teeth a third and perhaps even fourth time? No more false teeth, but instead we all have the ‘real’ deal. This will change the entire dental industry for sure.

Juan told us another interesting development. As it turns out, scientists found a way to store digital data in living cells. I really don’t know how this works. But it’s fascinating for sure.

Should we try to copy nature?

After Juan Enriquez’ lecture, I wonder… Should we try to copy nature? Should we cure every incurable disease we know? Do we really need perfect teeth? Is the gen-perfected tomato that much better compared to an old fashioned tomato? And, what if everything else we eat would be perfect as well? Would that really increase our happiness and improve our way of life? Or is this just a way to make things more perfect, which enables us to control even more aspects of our own lives? After all, humans love to be in full control (and I’m no exception). On the other hand, no more diseases and an unlimited supply of car fuel. How cool is that?!

Truth to be told, I don’t know what to think of this gene-development. For now, let’s just say I had a fascinating lecture and lots to think about.