austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

When a lovely flame dies

It's worth talking about the air. The past week and change, the smoke from fires in Sumatra has been drifting equator-wards and making the sky sick with haze. It's a light gray haze, almost white, so the visual effect is like a heavy fog, except for the lingering smell of burnt wood. That had just been a distraction, as combined with the high humidity it gave the impression of being about to downpour, when the sky had no intention of raining.

The past few days it was getting worse. The PSI rating -- a measure of how high the PSI rating is -- climbed past the 100 mark where doing heavy work outdoors becomes a worse idea than it naturally is. Some schools cancelled outdoor recess. Saturday, the pollution rose, cutting visibility. Only tourists went to the outdoor sightseeing attractions like Duck Tour bus rides or the hot-air balloon. The PSI rating reached 150, the highest level in about nine years, which is where people with breathing disorders get into real trouble. (At 200, respirator masks are recommended for people spending two hours outside, or exerting themselves outdoors, and they recommend not going outdoors if you can help it.)

Channel 5 explained the health hazards of this, interviewing people who'd been buying masks or getting eye and throat liquids, and even added the current PSI rating to the top left corner of the screen. One of the news reporters last night explained that the three-hour PSI rating was found by taking the average of the PSI rating over the last three hours. For example, she continued, the 3:00 rating was found by taking the average of the 12:00, 1:00, and 2:00 ratings. (That's exactly what she said.) It resulted also in pictures of the haze which look much more frightening on screen than they do in person, even though it wasn't really pleasant to be in.

Anyway, last night, during the Saturday Late Night Movie (Caveman, with Ringo Starr and stop-motion animated doughy dinosaurs), someone at the National Environment Agency turned on the national air filters. By morning the three-hour PSI was down to 29 (though the 24-hour PSI was still above 100). The evening news reporter described this as a ``respite'' from the haze, putting the emphasis on the second syllable. My favorite comment so far was on Channel NewsAsia's web site, where one citizen complained that the fires and haze were ``un-neighbourly'', which shows how well Singaporeans have incorporated the British gene for humor.

Trivia: Spandex was invented by DuPont chemist William Hale Charch; it required about five years' work. Source: Life Science Library: Giant Molecules, Herman F Mark.

Currently Reading: Fortune's Formula, William Poundstone.


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