Thursday, July 28, 2005

Fossils, Old and New

In 1978, road construction in South Africa resulted up an unexpected find.  Several fossilized dinosaur eggs were found.  Recently, scientists have been studying them.  This provides the first opportunity to study the embryonic development of a dinosaur.

From National Geographic (click)

In modern times, similar troves are being established all across the USA.  Smithsonian Magazine reports that we dispose of 100 million electronic gadgets per year.  In the next five years, 136,000 computers will become obsolete every day.  We can be hopeful that some of them will find their way to developing nations, elementary schools, and the like.  Eventually, though, they all will end up as trash.

Better yet, some programs are springing up around the country to recycle those once-beloved machines.  Computertakeback.com offers an easy way to find recyclers for your old electronic stuff.  

Geeks, of course, will reuse the various parts of their computers for as long as possible.  In some instances, manufacturers facilitate this process.  For some computers, especially the low-end ones, most of the essentials (processor, logic chips, sound, and video) are integrated onto the motherboard.  What that means is that many of these machines can be brought up to date with a "simple" motherboard swap, and some new RAM, and possibly a new hard drive.  Today's hard drives are so big, though, that most people won't come close to filling them up.  

What many people don't realize is that, if paleontological or archeological remains are found during the course of construction, the construction has to stop while the scientifically valuable material is preserved.  So the more gadgets we dump into landfills today, the slower new construction projects will be in the future.  

So let's not slow down our progeny's road construction projects.  Instead, let's hang on to those machines as long as possible, upgrade instead of replace, and recycle when there's no other choice.

In related news, American Scientist has released a report about postdoctoral students: Doctors Without Orders (1.8MB PDF).  It seems that many of them end up consigned to various fates, similar to those of the fossilized dinosaur eggs.