Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bunkers, cellulose, get thee behind me Internet

Ben Goldacre of Bad Science fame is frittering away his time on Twitter instead of doing the decent thing, i.e. posting on his blog. SHAME, Ben, SHAME.

With the unsurprising result that the hardcore fan ends up following Dr Goldacre on Twitter.

Thereby discovering, for example, a link to a fabulous post on Churchill, bunkers and the chemical composition of wood, of which this is a sample:

Wood is made principally of cellulose, which is the same stuff from which cotton clothes and paper are constructed. Cellulose is difficult to break down, as the individual molecular strands are tightly packed together by hydrogen bonding, making a near-crystalline material that is very impermeable to water, and even more impermeable to digestive enzymes. Most herbivorous animals subcontract out the work of breaking-down cellulose to the bacteria and fungi that live in their guts.
Cellulose [CC-BY-SA-3.0 Steve Cook]
Cellulose consists of thousands of glucose molecules chained together.
Although cellulose is difficult to break down, the other main component of wood, lignin, makes cellulose look positively fragile. Plants make lignin by secreting phenolic alcohols into their cell walls, and then semi-randomly polymerising these alcohols together using free-radicals. The mechanisms of lignin synthesis and its global structure are still areas of active research (or furious argument, depending on your point of view). From the plant’s perspective, lignin is a marvellous glue: it creates a substance that cannot be broken down by conventional enzymes, as you’d need hundreds of them, one for each of the many kinds of linkage found in the lignin.

(Note that it would be impossible to quote this splendid post, with diagram of cellulose, on Twitter. SHAME, Ben, SHAME.)

The rest, anyway,  here.  (Yes, I know the font has changed. And if I went into HTML I could fix this. But I am catching a plane at 7 am, so sloth prevails.)

I have now sublet my apartment in Berlin and am going back to the States for a while. I will be spending 2 months in Vermont in a place with no Internet access, with the faint frail hope of finishing a book. After that, who knows? As Bialystok says in The Producers, in the months to come you will hear little of me.  But I leave you with a link to an excellent blog, and those who have hitherto sneered at Twitter may like to follow the feckless Dr Goldacre, @bengoldacre.


leah said...

Fantastic news! Fall in Vermont will be lovely. If you need anything as you pass through the Boston area do not hesitate to call on us.

languagehat said...

Enjoy your break, but do come back to us internet denizens!

leoboiko said...

Come back to us, but do enjoy the longer, distraction-free days for as long as you need/feel like!