Rereading “Shattered Sidewalks of the Human Heart” by Sam J. Miller

I’m a big fan of Sam J. Miller’s work, particularly his short stories. They’re always poignant and something I find myself coming back to read more than once.

One story I really love is “Making Us Monsters”, which Miller co-wrote with Lara Elena Donnelly for Uncanny Magazine in 2017. It’s a heart-wrenching novelette about Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon during WWI, and is definitely worth a read.

However, a story I’ve come back to more than a few times is “Shattered Sidewalks of the Human Heart” which appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine in 2019. And I’d like to try and uncover why.

Some Context

“Shattered Sidewalks of the Human Heart” made its appearance in Clarkesworld Magazine’s 154 issue, and was later included in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror.

The story takes place in New York City in the 1930s, and in this reality, King Kong is real. Or, was real.

The events and characters of the 1933 film King Kong are all factual and real in this world, running alongside the actual history of German aggression in Poland and the Great Depression in the US.

Aside from the fact that Kong was real—having climbed the Empire State Building, been shot, fallen, and died—the rest of the world is very similar to our own. The story revolves around the change in mindset of the American people after Kong’s death, and Miller contrasts that with the horrible history of the Third Reich across the Atlantic.

Why the Story Is So Compelling

The story starts with Solomon the taxi driver picking up Ann Darrow on a Friday night in downtown New York. This is the same Ann Darrow that ventures to Skull Island and befriends Kong. The same Ann Darrow who was in Kong’s grasp as he climbed the Empire State building.

We quickly become acquainted with the two characters. Solomon is a liminal space, as a Jew and a homosexual in the 1930s, and Darrow is disillusioned by all that surrounds her.

And right out of the gate, Miller makes it clear that there’s a connection between the American collective, Kong’s death, and the rise of fascism in Europe, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Part of the reason I like this story so much is because it’s complex. On the surface, it’s might seem like it’s just a new take on a movie from a long time ago. But underneath, Miller really hints at the American mindset and succeeds in characterizing New York City in a way I’ve never seen done before.

Sure, we’ve all seen the movies where the gruff New Yorkers come together to defend their city or something like that, but in the wake of Kong’s demise, Miller’s New Yorkers release a collective wail.

At one point, Solomon thinks, “Which one of us wasn’t Kong, a king among ants even as they destroyed us?” Living in the Depression, embedded in a broken system, really solidified the togetherness of these people, and when an event like Kong took place, it solidified the community.

But in the same sense, Kong’s death and the subsequent events solidified both Solomon and Darrow’s hatred for the city.

1933 king kong movie

A Love/Hate Relationship

There’s a lot of polarizing emotions going on in this story. Solomon pinpoints the feeling when he agrees with Darrow about hating New York, but follows up by saying “even if I also love it.”

On the one side of the spectrum, people changed their ways after Kong’s death. A large portion of the population became vegetarians after Kong’s death and animal abuse legislation was fast-tracked. But at the same time, people “changed in bad ways too.” City officials refused to reimburse anyone for property damage caused by Kong and the new wave of vegetarianism put slaughterhouse employees out of work.

Toss that on top of the Depression era suffering, the whole scenario was a wash in emotions. Kong’s plight was in many ways representative of the millions of people who felt cheated and forgotten by the powers that be. And Kong’s death was yet another example of how the “rich men fucked up.”

But, in classic Miller style, it’s more than just a love/hate relationship with the city. Solomon and Darrow both run through the gamut of emotions.

Darrow, a once popular actress, was no longer able to put up with the glitz, glamour, or shallow nature of the New York elite. And Solomon, shunned in so many ways, sees himself as a monster and an outcast without a voice. His three grandparents are still in Poland, hiding from Hitler’s Nazi invasion while America stands by and watches.

I’m not really sure how I can express what all these things do when they’re pulled together on the same page. The parallelism between Kong, the city, and the dynamic between Solomon and Darrow all work together in a unique way. It’s eerie, and I’m still going to keep reading this story until I can pinpoint exactly what it is that makes it so interesting.

Conclusion

But what I do know is that today, more than ever, this story speaks out.

The fact that New Yorkers—well, most of them—can come together over this “act of God”, and see Kong as more than just a giant monster seems almost shallow compared to the genuine plea for help from Jews in Poland.

What does it take for Americans to join together and make a difference? Sure, animal rights are important, but why couldn’t they recognize that there were more important things to deal with across the ocean?

And the same goes for today. I look at the news and I think about the situation in Ukraine. What must happen for us to stand up and demand action? Must another King Kong climb the Empire State Building and be shot out of the sky for us to do something?

This is not so much a political question as it is a question over American ideals. What compels us to fight for certain things over others that seem far more pressing? Perhaps reading “Shattered Sidewalks of the Human Heart” again will give me a better idea.

Will Near Future Sci Fi Lose Its Luster?

Recently, I’ve been reading Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke, and I was struck by how old it seems. For me, at least, the true measure of an older science fiction novel is if it manages to maintain a certain level of credibility within the logical timeline I have running in my head.

Like, I read Empire Star by Samuel R. Delany, and yeah, it was published 60 years ago, but it never succeeds in placing itself anywhere in a coherent time or space I’m familiar with. There’s no bending of history to accommodate this novella, everything Delany writes could have happened, or still could happen in the future.

But with books like Childhood’s End, I can’t help but think about how it’s lost that security of time and special awareness. The book, published in 1953, starts out with US and Russian engineers in a race to put a military spacecraft into orbit. The way Clarke spins this, he makes it seem like it’s a big deal. The first craft in space! And he probably succeeded in hyping up his audience in 1953, because at that time the US and the USSR were in the middle of their Cold War rivalries.

As readers in 2022, however, we know that in 1957, Sputnik becomes the first space satellite to orbit the Earth. When Clarke’s timeline in Childhood’s End jumps forward, we present-day readers have to suspend our beliefs in order to keep going.

Dispelling any knowledge of the future as we know it after 1953 is sort of the antithesis of Coleridge’s willing suspension of disbelief. We have to erase our minds and our beliefs to read Childhood’s End as a science fiction novel, not as an outdated alternate history.

And it got me thinking about near future sci fi books in general. In how many years will we look back at science fiction books and movies that speculated on our near future and say “nah, that’s just not it”?

Or, will we engage in the active purging of our memories when reading these books to accommodate the timeline and scenarios that may have already come to pass, whether true or not?

How Near Is the Near Future?

Obviously, science fiction spans across multiple different subgenres and niches, some of which specialize in far future scenarios, thousands of years after humanity will be dead and gone. Others hit closer to home, waxing clairvoyant about ten, twenty, or fifty years into the future.

Some sci fi concept novels or movies make a point of clearly specifying a time and place of the story, so much so that the time has become part of the story’s identity.

Blade Runner: 2049, for example, or even Cyberpunk 2077. These works make the time in which they’re situated part of the premise. Just thinking about the future will get people to consider these works as the blueprints for the years 2049 or 2077.

Other works get even closer to our current time in space. The Martian predicts colonization efforts on Mars by 2035, while Constance brings human cloning to the forefront in 2030.

As these authors get closer and closer to our present day, the likelihood of their speculations coming to fruition gets smaller and smaller.

Near future sci fi books act as a kind of playful challenge to the science community. “Do you think you can perfect human cloning and commercialize it by 2030? I bet you can’t.”

But here we have to dive a bit deeper, look directly into the face of the question: what’s the purpose of near future sci fi, anyways?

The Art of False Predictions

Cory Doctorow talks about how sci fi authors predict the future in an essay that was published as part the Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds. An excerpt was published on Slate.com, where he notes that:

“When it comes to predicting the future, science-fiction writers are Texas marksmen: They fire a shotgun into the side of a barn, draw a target around the place where the pellets hit, and proclaim their deadly accuracy to anyone who’ll listen.”

And he’s right. Sometimes a sci fi author will get wildly lucky and hit the nail on the head, winning the million-dollar prize and fame forever.

But most times, predicted, imagined futures will pass us by every day without any grand hoorah, ending up in a catalogue of unfulfilled timelines.

And then there’s the in between-realm. The few science fiction legends who had enough common sense and foresight to predict what our future would be like in the next 50 to 100 years. Arthur C. Clarke predicted 3D printing, Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick predicted something like the internet that would connect the whole world.

But, here’s the fun part. These guys, they’re still shooting that double-barrel shotgun from the hip with a Sharpie in their teeth.

It’s easy to make a broad speculation about the future based on events in the past and the current state of science.

For the Golden Age sci fi writers, looking back at the technology of their childhood, and then looking at the world they were living in, it must have been fairly easy to assume what was coming next. Radio, telephones, television—those things were shaping the world in sci fi’s heyday. To look forward and think about a more advanced transfer of information from person to person, a method that’s faster, is only natural.

Does that mean Clarke, Asimov, and Dick predicted Facebook? Absolutely not.

And I think that’s where we find the answer to our titular question: Will near future sci fi books lose their luster?

The Devil’s In The Details

The reason I started thinking about this question of longevity of sci fi books is because Childhood’s End made me recondition my knowledge of history to read it without skepticism. The future for Clarke is distant history for me.

near future sci fi childhood's end

And I assume people in the year 2060 will look back at Blade Runner: 2049 and laugh, knowing that their lives are either much better or much worse than they were imagined to be back in 2017.

Films and books like that, in this regard, made the mistake of being too specific. The first rule of sci fi predictions is to never timestamp anything. Had the film been named Blade Runner 2, perhaps people might have been able to extend the possibility of a near future where Replicants and Blade Runners walk the streets.

The Golden Age crew thought up something like the Internet, but they didn’t specify when it would be created, who was going to do it, what it would be called, etc. So, in many ways, they were right.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that near future science fiction books will always make predictions about a time and place and a technology. When we come across a book like Childhood’s End where we as the reader are required to willfully ignore recent history for the sake of the story, just know that that author fell prey to the camp of specificity.

And we can’t wholly discount these once-could-have-been-futures, either. In 2060, we’ll probably look back at The Martian, Constance, Blade Runner, all of them and take something from them. It won’t be a slice of science history, rather a note about the human experience, something we can relate to even though we might be living in a world none of our sci fi authors could have imagined.

NFT Digital Art Is a Currency Right Out of Science Fiction

Right now, there’s a lot of talk about NFTs, non-fungible tokens, and NFT digital art; they’ve kind of taken the world by storm.

As someone who is mildly up-to-date in the cryptocurrency scene, the popularity of NFTs came as a bit of a surprise. And it sparked my imagination, too. Watching pieces of digital art being sold at exorbitant prices for clout made me think about the future of our currencies, physical and digital.

Before money, barter and trade was the primary means for getting the goods you needed to survive. A bushel of apples for a flank of meat. It was simple, and a system soon appeared, where certain items would be valued higher than others, based on abundance, time and labor investment, etc.

I originally thought that NFTs might be a futuristic barter and trade system years from now, if we ever came to a global currency fallout. But I soon realized that possibility wasn’t feasible for NFTs in their current state, and I’ll explain why.

But first, let’s break down how NFTs and NFT digital art works.

How Do NFTs Work?

An NFT is a digital asset that operates on blockchain technology, the same infrastructure used for cryptocurrencies.

Many creators create digital art and sell them as NFTs. There are all kinds of NFTs on marketplaces like OpenSea: graphic design art, music, trading cards, video game skins, etc.

As I mentioned, NFTs are non-fungible tokens, which essentially means that one NFT is not equal to another.

A fungible currency is where a single amount is exactly the same as another amount. Like a $1 bill. It’s $1, and no matter how many times you trade that $1 bill for other $1 bills, you’ll always have $1.

Cryptocurrencies are fungible tokens. A single Bitcoin is the same price as any other single Bitcoin.

NFTs are different because they cannot be exchanged for other NFTs. Each NFT has a unique digital signature, making it a one-of-a-kind asset.

Is There Money in NFT Digital Art?

The idea of the NFT baffled me when I first learned about it, and to be honest, it still does. Why would people pay exorbitant amounts of cryptocurrency to buy a piece of art, like a song or a collage, when they could view that art online for free?

Well, the blockchain NFTs are built on provides a traceable ID and transaction history, which essentially means when you buy an NFT, you obtain ownership of it. As opposed to paying a streaming service like Spotify, which you a license to listen to music, buying music as an NFT solidifies you as the owner of it.

Like if you were to buy a famous painting at an auction, but gone digital.

Initially, this practice seemed like nothing more than a flex, a show of wealth. After all, NFTs aren’t tradeable, meaning you either own it for life, or have to find someone willing to pay you for it, sometimes less than what you got it for.

So how is it the NFT market is so big, and yet, seemingly have no clear purpose? Apparently, NFT trading is quickly becoming a popular means of making money, and creators are benefiting.

NFTs, the New, Dystopian Currency?

The concept of NFTs has been around since about 2014, but it experienced a large uptick in popularity in 2021. People are trading NFTs—buying highly sought-after pieces and reselling them at a premium.

The problem with NFT digital art trading, though, is that it’s not driven by any economic principles. It’s purely market-dependent. So, if you spent $2.9 million on an NFT of Jack Dorsey’s first tweet, you better hope someone out there wants it more than you do, or you’re down $3 mil.

But creators are reaping the benefits of NFT trading.

Every time an NFT they created is sold, they receive a kickback from that sale. So if a gif they made as an NFT gets traded around multiple times, they’ll make a percentage of that on top of however much they sold it for in the first place.

No one knows how long NFT trading will be around – the demand for them might die out in a few months, or they could become the future of traceable, authenticated currency.

When I think of a dystopian, cyberpunk worlds, I usually think of cityscapes ruled by tech moguls. The industrialists that sell the tech the world is built on, getting filthy rich at everyone’s expense.

But with a few modifications to the NFT idea, it could become the barter and trade currency of the future. And the richest people of all would be the artists.

How to Make NFTs a Viable Currency

For NFTs to be a viable currency of the future, they’d have to be able to be traded for other NFTs. Smaller NFT tokens could be used for goods or services, and then could be traded on a digital marketplace for more expensive NFTs.

A good example of this concept in action is the Counterstrike: Global Offensive marketplace on Steam. CS:GO is a first person shooter, originating back in the 1990s and early 2000s. In-game weapon skins have a real-life value, a dollar amount.

You can buy skins online directly from the Steam marketplace, and they often retain their value or increase in price as they become more desirable. You can trade skins with other players, increase the value of your skins by adding expensive in-game stickers, trade lesser-grade skins for more high-quality ones, etc. etc.

If NFTs operated like the existing CS:GO marketplace, then they would become much more viable as a currency. Just like the bushel of apples for a flank of steak example, a handful of smaller NFT tokens for a more valuable, larger token. You could trade a small gif NFT for apples, and a Snoop Dogg album NFT for a flank of meat.

It’s a really weird concept, that art could essentially become the lifeblood of a society. Because people always say, ‘oh, the art and culture are what makes a society great’ but in this case, art is literally the means of survival.

Problems with NFTs

One of the primary problems with using NFT digital art as currency in the cyperpunk future is the environmental impact.

Most NFTs run on the Ethereum or Bitcoin blockchain, and those cryptocurrencies use a lot of power. So much so that cryptocurrencies are causing a serious problem for the environment.

A recent report from CNBC found that Bitcoin mining creates 35.95 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. More than half of the world’s cryptocurrency mining takes place in China, a country that still largely uses coal as a source of electricity.

Bitcoin uses about 707 kWh of electricity, whereas Ethereum uses about 62 kWh. And the output of emissions from Ethereum mining should decrease with the implementation of Ethereum 2.0, which will decrease power consumption to about 1/10,000th of the current rate.

The widespread use of NFTs or crypto on a societal level would be catastrophic for the environment. Without significant improvements to the blockchain and hardware technology, digital currencies could bring about a dystopian future. And not the cool kind, either (pun intended).

For now, NFTs stand as a neat method for digital art, and if you’re lucky, some profit too. But there needs to be significant change for it to become a popular, futuristic barter and trade.

Lightning is the Coolest Way to Decrease Greenhouse Gas

We have seen many different ways to prevent and reduce greenhouse gas, such as recycling, using sustainable energy, switching to electric cars and even changing our diets.

And although we have our sustainable ways, somehow, nature always has its own ways of beating us to the point, in almost every aspect.

Maybe you’ve already heard about its capacity to regenerate the ozone layer, which is a cool enough fact, but in this article, we’re going to talk about how lightning bolts can decrease greenhouse gas.

The Nature of Lightning

Lightning bolts have sparked (pun intended) a lot of myths and legends over the years. Thor, Zeus, the thunderbird, etc. Overall, lightning bolts are usually associated with ethereal beings, and were a thing of mystery.

But, as science progressed, we made progress decoding what lightning actually is. For starters, Ben Franklin flew his kite with a pointed wire attached to the apex near a thunderstorm. Although it was a very dangerous experiment, it helped us discover electricity and how it can be conducted.

Fast forward to present day, William H. Brune, a meteorology professor at Penn State University, attached an instrument to a plane flying from Colorado to Oklahoma during a thunderstorm to study lightning. What did it prove? Well, it showed that lightning is beneficial to the health of the atmosphere.

Initially, Brune thought something was wrong with the instrument, since it was receiving a massive amount of signals found in the clouds. So he removed the signals from the dataset and shelved them for over 5 years, planning to study them later.

A few years ago, he took out the data and with the help of an undergraduate intern and a research associate, they realized that the signals received were actually chemical radicals such as hydroxyl (OH) and hydroperoxyl (OH2), and then linked these signals to lightning measurements made from the ground.

And that’s where it gets weird.

Cleaning with Lightning

Lightning occurs when the heavy mix of warm clouds and cold clouds meet. Water droplets in warm clouds collide and “rub” against frozen particles present in cold clouds, forming an electric discharge. This linear discharge can descend to the earth, as lightning, or remain in the clouds, often called heat lightning.

That was basically the information we had until now. Today, we know that this electric discharge is responsible for producing nitric oxide (NO) due to its rapid ‘hot n’ cold’ activity.

When combined with the oxygen of the atmosphere, it creates nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which later on decomposes into hydroxyl radicals (HO2) and ozone (O3) in sunlight. A strange, yet unique form of cleaning out air pollution.

So to sum up this chemical dilemma, each lightning bolt concentrates a heavy amount of air pollutants in their electric discharges, so that they can be released and later on transformed into air oxidizers.

Lightning, Greenhouse Gas, and Climate Change

Okay, maybe lightning itself isn’t the pancrea for global warming, but it’s definitely working against it.

Most greenhouses gasses are created naturally and have been around since the beginning of time. However, fluorinated gasses are what we should worry about, which are all gasses that are synthetic, byproducts of humanity. These gasses create a layer of heat in the atmosphere called the greenhouse effect. This greenhouse effect is what leads to global warming. Here are some of the greenhouse gas components:

  • Carbon dioxide
  • Methane
  • Water vapor
  • Nitrous oxide

Some studies point out that climate change directly affects the frequency and rate of lightning bolts. Global warming has shown to increase the activity of thunderstorms, producing more potent and more frequent lightning.

Is nature somehow trying to “alleviate” itself or even defend itself from a massive atmospheric breakdown?

Hydroxyl radicals and ozone are primary oxidation components that help clean the atmosphere and eliminate greenhouse gases. And as we now know, lightning creates these radicals.

While lightning won’t solve all of our global warming problems, perhaps this discovery will lend itself to other ways to decrease greenhouse gasses.

Lightning factories like in Legend of Korra? Creating raw electricity with renewable energy? Imagine finding a way to shoot bolts of lightning into the atmosphere, powered by wind and solar power.

How else could the lightning discovery help us combat global warming? Let us know in the comments!

Interested in other interesting science news? Check out our blogs about intestinal breathing apparatuses and atomic bomb testing sites!

Origins of Meteorites & Atomic Bomb Testing Sites? A Connection?

Science fiction literature is so packed full of super-sophisticated weapons and doomsday devices, it’s become the norm for our favored protagonists to make it their mission to disable them.

Most of these weapons of mass destruction are the design of hyper-advanced species or devious alien races, but many of the weapons are based off real life events. For instance, the development of the atom bomb.

But now, there might actually be a connection between the tests done during the Manhattan Project and the origins of meteorites, and possibly, the same WMDs so prevalent in science fiction.

It all started when Paul Steinhardt, one of the pioneers of quasicrystal research, found samples of quasicrystal among the debris of the Trinity bomb test site.

Quasicrystal Formations Found in A-Bomb Test Sites

Researchers have been studying the aftermath the atom bomb left on the landscape of the New Mexico test site in 1945.

The detonation of the atom bomb created extremely high temperatures and intense pressure, which fused sand and debris from the bomb tower—like copper—into a field of trinitite.

What’s trinitite, you ask?

Well, it’s a unique crystalline glass formed during nuclear events. Trinitite got its name from Trinity, the first atom bomb tested in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Trinitite comes in two different compositions based on its refraction index. Plus, trinitite comes in a few colors:

  • ‘Normal’ trinitite – usually a greenish hue, very low levels of metallic compounds
  • Red trinitite – gains its color from copper, iron and lead
  • Black trinitite – a very rare form of trinitite that contains high levels of iron

Trinitite has been a well-known substance since the 1940s, but researchers were shocked when they found samples of quasicrystals in a piece of red trinitite from New Mexico.

Breaking Down Man-made Quasicrystals and Natural Quasicrystals

So, quasicrystals. Sounds fancy, right?

Turns out, they are fairly common, but not at the bottom of a radioactive crater.

A quasicrystal refers to any crystalline structure that has a unique pattern that doesn’t repeat. In other common crystals, the atomic structure forms a lattice that repeats itself with perfect symmetry.

Quasicrystals have been sort of a physicist’s taboo since the 1980s, and were largely consider to be a joke. However, in 2011, Dr. Dan Shechtman won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of the first quasicrystal, a diffraction pattern of an aluminum and manganese alloy.

Many more manmade quasicrystals have been discovered since 2011, but the hunt still continues for more natural quasicrystals. Paul Steinhardt, a theoretical physicist at Princeton, led a team to scour a remote volcanic region in Russia in search of natural quasicrystals.

And that’s where the trinitite comes in.

In a rare piece of red trinitite from New Mexico, Steinhardt discovered a quasicrystal that was actually formed because of the Trinity test. The heat, pressure, and violent impact of falling from the sky created the unique structure.

That unique structure of quasicrystal just so happens to also be found in meteorites.

Do Quasicrystals Give Us a Hint to the Origins of Meteorites?

As a science fiction enthusiast, this is where my brain started to spitball ideas before I even did any research.

If an atomic bomb created enough heat and pressure to form quasicrystals, what else had that kind of power?

Since the A-bomb is perhaps the most powerful weapon known to humankind, was it possible there was something even more lethal out there in the wide cosmos that could have the same effect?

Maybe the planet-destroying ray of the Death Star blew chunks of Alderaan deep into space with tiny quasicrystals on the debris. Or maybe a planet’s core exploded because its residents experimented on the core.

While much remains a mystery, researchers who studied the quasicrystals of the Khatyrka meteorite found in Russia suggest that the quasicrystals were formed during a collision between two asteroids. But there’s no concrete evidence that rules out other, more fanciful, possibilities. 

Tests on trinitite allow scientists to determine the type of nuclear event that occurred and approximate a location for the origin of the glassy substance. Is it only a matter of time before similar tests can tell us where in the universe these natural quasicrystals come from? Perhaps we’ll also learn about the origins of meteorites, even if they come from deep space.

For now, let your imagination roam. And please, don’t build a doomsday ray to try to make quasicrystals.

The Beauty of Why English Is Hard To Learn

Why is the English language hard to learn? Well. English is is acknowledged as being one of the most complicated languages to translate into other languages, along with Hindi, Korean, Icelandic and a host of others (depending on which particular set of statistics you look at). English incorporates multitudes of words from other languages, like the word robot for example. The robot definition actually came from a Slavonic word, and was popularized by Czech playwright Karel Capek.

But did you know there are some weird and wonderful words that are unable to be translated at all?

No? Well, even more interesting is the reason why these words can’t be translated. No solo word in any other language represents the scope of the original word. Each of these words can usually only be translated using multiple words or a phrase.

A notable English word that fits the bill is Serendipity, which literally means fortunate accident, and has no direct translation in any other language. But there are some really fascinating words in other languages, too, that helps us realize how emotion-driven verbal and written forms of communication can be.

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What if those precious nameless moments between a couple actually did have a word to describe them?

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Who would think there was a word for the specific type of bad luck you can experience?

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There are many untranslatable words that seem to focus on someone’s sense of being. While Litost in Czech describes the torment that is gained by being aware of how miserable your life is, there are other single words our their to describe a positive feeling. Hygge is that cozy feeling you get while you are sitting around a cozy fire with your loved ones, but my favorite, all-encompassing, untranslatable word is Gezellig.

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Has this given you some insight as to why is English hard to learn? There are many, many more examples of untranslatable words (the Italian even have a word for people addicted to the UV glow of tanning salons: Slampadato!), but one thing they all have in common is they show us that not matter who we are, we all have the same experiences over our lifetimes, and it behooves us to learn more about the fascinating languages around us that connect us to each other.

How Fossils Are Created & Used In Our Daily Routines

We’ve all heard about the cycle of life before, but have you ever wondered what happens to Earth’s creatures after they’re gone? I’m not talking about their spiritual journey (the theories and multiple beliefs on that alone could generate a year worth of blogs) but rather, what happens to their bodies? How are fossils created?

The simple answer is our planet re-absorbs them. In most cases, they even get turned into something else as time passes. Something we can often use in the modern world.

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How Fossils Are Turned Into Chalk

Yes, you read that correctly. We use the converted remains of once-living organisms in day to day life. In fact, there are many products we use that were derived out of once-living beings, in one form or another. One of the biggest examples of this is fossil fuel (petroleum, coal, and natural gas), but a more fascinating exampleat least for meis chalk. Remarkably, those little white sticks your teacher used to write math and grammar lessons on the blackboard were formed out of compressed skeleton debris from the large numbers of plants that floated in the tropical sea 130-65 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period.

If you could look at the composition of chalk under a magnification of about a thousand, you can see the dried out skeletal carcasses known as coccoliths. They were made out of calcium carbonate (giving the fossil rock its signature white color), which used to be extracted out of the sea water by the then-living plants. When they died, the skeletons fell to the sea bed and was compacted over millions of years to form the chalk rock we see and use today .

old-harry-rocks-dorset

Most known as coming from the White Cliffs of Dover, in England, chalk can also be found on the Islands of Mon (Denmark) and Rugen (Germany), as well as along cliffs in Northern Ireland and France. Despite the rarity of the locations it can be found, chalk is still used for a variety of purposes, not the least for writing on blackboards. It was once used to draw those white lines that separated court boundaries in racket sports, such as badminton or tennis. You can find tailors using chalk to outline their designs on fabrics, and its being used in agriculture to treat soils that are too acidic. Mountain climbers or gymnasts still use it to remove perspiration from their hands, and even your toothpaste can have a small amount of chalk in it….

Yes, I know you are stuck on the fact that you brush your teeth with toothpaste that potentially contains the fossilized remains of a prehistoric creaturea very many fossilized creaturesbut I will leave you with something else that is food for thought. The name “Cretaceous” is partly derived from the Latin “creta” for chalk, meaning that one of the most significant features of the Cretaceous era was the formation of chalk. What will be the fossil deposits that will define our era? How will the remains of humans be used in millions of years, by the newest inhabitants of Earth?

I’m sure just the thought of that makes you shudder to think about it, yet who ever hesitates to use a piece of chalk? It’s the perfect example of the cycle of life, no matter what belief system you adhere to. Perspective will no doubt be different again in another million or so years.

If you liked this blog post, check out one of our other science articles.