life

Facing death

I was in a pretty bad car accident last night. I should say from the start that nobody was seriously injured. The two girls in the front (driver and passenger) are fine. I was in the back, all I have now are a few bruises caused by the seatbelt, and my shoulder and my thorax hurt like hell, but fortunately nothing is broken. What's interesting - to me - is what went through my head right before the moment of impact and what I experienced afterward.

First, the crash against a light pole was unexpected. The driver wasn't drunk and there was no one else on the street beside us. When she lost control of the vehicle (she got distracted by something, I don't know what), and I saw the car moving towards that pole at considerable speed, I experienced what many refer to as perceived time dilation. It felt like the whole world had stopped for a moment, and everything was in slow motion. Of course, this is a subjective experience, a rush of dopamine and norepinephrine was released into my bloodstream and I could have many different clear thoughts and perceptions compressed in a short amount of time - this is know as tachypsychia. It's a survival mechanism that we humans have evolved in order to escape from predators and to respond quickly in life threatening situation. I knew this, but one thing is reading about it, and a completely different one is actually experiencing it.

These are some of the thoughts that went through my head during that fraction of a second, roughly in the same order that have emerged:

  • What the fuck is going on?
  • Wait, we are going to crash. What? Seriously?
  • OK, don't panic.
  • Shit, not like this. Not now.
  • I will not die in such a stupid way.

There is something you should know about facing death, when you see it right in front of your eyes. That image, the last image just before the crash, remains in your head like a permanent mark. It is as clear are the meaning of the word itself. Something that you will carry with you for a long, long time.

Right after the crash, everything shuts down and all you can think of is to breath. You rib cage feels like is about to explode, and you can't catch your breath. Nothing else exists - the car, the pole, other people, even yourself - nothing exists, there is only one thing in your mind. Breath. Just fucking breath!

When I caught breath again, probably about 15 seconds later (which felt much, much longer), other thoughts started to arise. "OK? Are you OK?" - I shouted. "Yeah, we're OK. You OK?". "Yeah". No I wasn't. I couldn't move my head, my ribcage felt crushed, I couldn't breath, and I started to feel the bruises burn from the impact with the seatbelt. THE SEATBELT (one of the many technologies remediating human errors). Thank you seatbelt! Everyone was wearing it. And fuck you to everyone who pissed me off in the past for wearing a seatbelt all the time, even when I was in the back seat. Oh, you wear a seatbelt in the back? Like the children? - Yes, I do wear a fucking seatbelt all the time, like the children, who are probably much smarter than you.

I was just coming out from a lecture I gave in Brazil for my book tour, where I presented the case for automated vehicles, and how computer don't fall asleep, don't get tired, don't get drunk, don't get distracted, nor do they check the GPS or text while driving; but instead they follow every street rule, never cause accidents, and could potentially save hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives and prevent many more injuries every year.

After this accident, the case for automation could not possibly be clearer in my mind.

Made Easy Series

A few months ago I stumbled across a rare and pleasant event.

YouTuber potholer54 created a series of videos explaining the history of our universe, the origin of life, the Earth, the scientific method and much more, all with a clarity and intelligence that is as appreciated as rare in these days. A truly remarkable piece of work that I think everybody should see.

The material is released under a Creative Commons License (CC-BY-NC-SA) and anyone is encouraged to use it under those conditions.

The original series was uploaded at a very poor video quality, so after a brief exchange of messages with Peter (AKA potholer54), he uploaded the whole series at 720p on a dedicated YouTube channel, and I offered this space to manage the subtitling process.

You are welcome to participate, we use the Free and Open Source platform Universal Subtitles. If you wish to download the episodes, use one of the many Chrome and Firefox extensions or one of the many sites that exists with that purpose.

Guidelines for transcribers

  • Try to keep the subs under ~70 characters, so the the languages that use more characters for a sentence can keep their subs in two lines in the screen.
  • Partition the subs in semantically sensible places in the sentences (i.e.: in final periods; in commas; before an 'and'
  • Try to keep subs longer than 1.5 seconds (minimum comfortable level used in TV show's subs

Have fun! :D

1 - The History of Our Universe (Part 1)

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COP15, bigger than life

I'm getting a little confused. Just when you thought things would eventually get better for the COP15, there it comes. First Obama warns that there will be no deal: we're out of time. Then John Prescott encourages us explaining why the Copenhagen conference will be 10 times more difficult than Kyoto, finally the consideration that the US is a dead weight on Copenhagen talks, pulling down ambition ever lower. All of this just in the last three days.

Magic of Life / Magia de la Vida

Magic of Life by victor_nuno (CC-BY-NC).

Now, we come to know that the US and China, the world's two biggest polluters with over 40% of the emissions, today said they aimed to set targets for easing greenhouse gas emissions next month, potentially breathing new life into the flagging Copenhagen climate negotiations 1.

This continuous ping pong, while expected, is making me very suspicious, as well as frustrated. But I can understand that their position is not as easy one. On my side, it's all pretty simple. Identify the problem, look for solutions, apply them. Unfortunately, when you are in politics, things are far from being this easy. Obama and Jintao had a lot to talk about: Tibet, human rights in China, internet censorship, trade, Iran. And then, of course, climate change.

Being a politician, especially at this level, is very much like being a juggler: you need to keep things in balance, you have may balls in your hands, each of which plays a role in the success of the performance, and if you don't pay enough attention, they will fall to the ground. However, there is a catch: the balls are connected with a wire. That means, if you let one down, they all fall.

We all play a role in this big game: the outraged blogger, the "evil corporation", the corrupt politician, the environmental activist... but in the end, we are all people. We all have the same final goal: preserve life on this planet, especially ours. If you have any notion of biology, however, you would know that species are inter-connected, and that we can't live by ourselves. In the face of the obliteration of the species, economic growth, profit, class, the old appeals to racial, sexual and religious chauvinism, to rabid nationalist fervor, seem utterly irrelevant. Some of us just seem to forget what's most important.

p.s. This article was crossposted on the TH!NK ABOUT IT - Climate Change blogging competition.

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