The Power of Nitrogen

Just wanted to say that I loved this Slate piece about how the technological innovation to capture nitrogen and turn it into fertilizer was absolutely essential for the modern world we know (and love).   Certainly one of the most important (and under-appreciated) inventions ever.

Consider Carl Bosch our leading candidate for a modern Prometheus. This year marks a century since Bosch, a chemist, opened the Oppau, Germany-based Stickstoffwerke (“nitrogen works”)—the first factory to produce synthetic ammonia, the main ingredient of chemical fertilizers.

It was an impressive technical feat that helped earn Bosch the Nobel Prize in 1931. His fellow chemist Fritz Haber had pioneered and patented the process for “fixing” inert nitrogen (the gas that makes up 78 percent of the atmosphere) into a usable, reactive form. Bosch figured out how to do it economically and on a large scale.

Modern agriculture was born when an abundant supply of synthetic nitrogen started flowing at Oppau.

Consider Carl Bosch our leading candidate for a modern Prometheus. This year marks a century since Bosch, a chemist, opened the Oppau, Germany-based Stickstoffwerke (“nitrogen works”)—the first factory to produce synthetic ammonia, the main ingredient of chemical fertilizers.

It was an impressive technical feat that helped earn Bosch the Nobel Prize in 1931. His fellow chemist Fritz Haber had pioneered and patented the process for “fixing” inert nitrogen (the gas that makes up 78 percent of the atmosphere) into a usable, reactive form. Bosch figured out how to do it economically and on a large scale…

The Oppau Stickstoffwerke was a kind of existential hinge. In 1913, there were about 1.7 billion people in the world, and the factory fixed about 7,300 tons of nitrogen in its first year. Today there are 7 billion of us and more than 120 million tons of nitrogen are produced every year using techniques that haven’t changed all that much

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Best, Steve

That’s how I typically sign off many of my emails.  Or just an “s” for intimates.  But, this piece in Slate makes a pretty good case for eschewing the sign-off completely in emails:

Think about it. Email signoffs are holdovers from a bygone era when letter writing—the kind that required ink and paper—was a major means of communication. The handwritten letters people sent included information of great import and sometimes functioned as the only communication with family members and other loved ones for months. In that case, it made sense to go to town, to get flowery with it. Then, a formal signoff was entirely called for. If you were, say, a Boston resident writing to his mother back home in Ireland in the late 19th century, then ending a correspondence with “I remain your ever fond son in Christ Our Lord J.C.,” as James Chamberlain did in 1891, was entirely reasonable and appropriate…

These messages do not contain the stuff of old-timey letters. They’re about the pizza I had for lunch (horrendous) and must-see videos of corgis dressed in sweaters (delightful). I’m trading thoughts on various work-related matters with people who know me and don’t need to be “Best”-ed. Emails, over time, have become more like text messages than handwritten letters. And no one in their right mind uses signoffs in text messages…

I realize that, at first, this new, message-minimalist fashion may feel unnatural. But we can do this—together. You see, all those holiday “regards” prompted yours truly to take a good, hard look in the mirror. And what I saw was someone who could not begrudge anyone on the signoff front. Up until this point, I have been far worse than your average offender when it comes to sign off stupidity…

What a nightmare. But that’s all over now. Things will be different for me from here on out—especially if you join me in slaying the email signoff.

I didn’t sign-of on any of my emails yesterday.  It felt radical.  Though, I think, harmless.  I’ll have to experiment with this more.

Money vs. the Constitution

There are good Constitutional arguments for the 2nd Amendment as an individual right.  There are, however, plenty of good ones (and I think better ones) for it not being an individual right.  Until the 1970’s or so, this latter view was essentially un-challenged.  I knew that DC v. Heller was based upon a long and gradual intellectual shift among many about the 2nd Amendment.  What I had never realized is that this intellectual shift in how to interpret the 2nd Amendment was basically funded by the NRA.  Now, that, I find plenty disturbing.  Now, admittedly this could not have happened if there were no intellectual merit to the case, but it also seems quite fair to see this would not have happened had the NRA not invested quite heavily in making it so.  It’s one thing for interest groups to buy laws– but to buy the Constitution.  Just, wow.  It’s all nicely laid out in the Post.

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