April 17th, 2009

krazy koati

When the men on the chess board get up and tell you where to go

I bet before you got out of bed you thought something like, ``it's oddly comforting that mushroom-root-like fibers are probably not capable of withstanding a heat of up to 800 degrees Celsius''. It takes many assurances to get out of bed and assuming the flammability of mushroom roots helps. Now they've gone and taken that away. It's not even worth saying who. It was Ecovative Design.

They didn't set out to be mean. They wanted to use fungal growths to replace Styrofoam, naturally. Styrofoam has many problems and must take a note home to its parents. It doesn't decompose in landfills, nor out of them; it expands inside cardboard boxes so you can't get your purchase out without breaking something or filling your apartment complex with unpleasant-tasting peanuts to a depth of four feet, two toes and an ankle; and it attracts pedants who point out that ``Styrofoam'' is a registered trademark of the Trademark Registration Corporation and should not be carelessly used to describe all injected-foam products out of a sincere belief that they are somehow helping. By replacing Styrofoam pedants would be able to move on to harassing people who are not fastidious about the differences between ``heat'' and ``temperature''.

Instead of being make like Styrofoam, which among its other environmental sins requires taunting puppies and young children until they have impaired self-esteems, this is made by mixing some fungi with lignin. Lignin is an organic polymer found in plants such as buckwheat and rice and rice-buckwheat and rice-buckwheat-rice, so if you've been finding your rice-by-half-buckwheat suspiciously short on lignin perhaps some in the kitchen has been packaging things without your knowledge. Since you now know, however, it follows logically they cannot be packaging things, so the only sustainable conclusion is that you have no rice.

But once they take lignin and put fungi in, somehow out of this comes packing, and I hope you remembered to put the thing you were going to pack in the middle before it's too late. So it's still in a prototype stage, I guess. It may have trouble getting out of prototype, too, since once they've grown the fungi they have to pour it into a mold, and you know people they talk to about this are going to point out that isn't the fungi a mold, and the company probably found that kind of amusing the first three hundred times and now it brings seething bitterness and storming out of meetings. If talking about it wasn't so hard maybe work would go swifter.

What's left is something like mushroom roots, which is one of the best applications of mushrooms since comic strip artists applied them to representing bad odors in teenagers' sneakers. And that's the alarming thing: what are mushroom roots doing withstanding a blowtorch and surviving combustion tests of up to 800 degrees Celsius, which is a heat or temperature almost as intense as one 802 degrees Celsius? It makes one doubt the ability of mushrooms in general to catch on fire.

Each year dozens of mushrooms are used as an efficient yet anchovy-free way to set off arguments about what belongs on a pizza. And all this time they've laid there acting as if they were getting cooked. What are they doing in the ovens if they aren't cooking? They better not be taking notes and transmitting them secretly back to Mushroom Master Command because whatever they would be noting would hardly be complimentary to us or to the sliced onions, fierce rivals considering how rarely onions are used as packing materials. We can't guess what the mushrooms would decide to do after the mycogenic revolution except use us as packaging, and I bet they'd skimp on our lignin too.

Oh, hey, but the packing material doesn't have spores. So it's really impossible that some packaging you had might, left in a warm, dark spot, grow the containers for new consumer electronics all on its own. It'll be nothing but specialty kitchen implements. Maybe we can use that as the necessary waking-up comforting reassurance since the whole mushroom-root-heat thing is lost.

Trivia: The Apollo 13 astronauts were recovered from the Command Module 45 minutes after splashdown. The Command Module itself was recovered 43 minutes later. Source: Apollo By The Numbers: A Statistical Reference, Richard W Orloff. NASA SP-2000-4029.

Currently Reading: Wall Street: How It Works And For Whom, Doug Henwood.