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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Define "Phenomenal"

You know what's phenomenal?

Revolutionizing the way people go about saving historic buildings from the wrecking ball. That was what Lee Adler, who died on Sunday at age 88, spent his life doing. The method he pioneered in his hometown of Savannah, Georgia, was that preservation groups would buy historic buildings slated for demolition and then resell them to people who would pledge to restore them. Not only did it prove to be repeatable nationwide, it got a lot of groups to think beyond saving one building at a time and on to thinking about saving entire blocks and neighborhoods.

You know what's phenomenal?

Discovering a type of fungus that eats plastic. That's what some students from Yale managed on a trip to Ecuador last year, finding one previously undiscovered type of mushroom- Pestalotiopsis microspora- that can not only eat plastic, but survive on nothing but. Given that plastic doesn't decompose, this is potentially huge, especially because it can do so in an anaerobic environment, meaning without the presence of oxygen. Or to put it another way, the kind of environment you'd find at the bottom of a landfill. The detailed findings have been published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, viewable here if you've got $20 to burn.

You know what's NOT phenomenal?

Thinking "I'm no spring chicken anymore and I really haven’t done anything phenomenal"... and responding to this by getting 107 of your online friends- or really, three of them, because most of the others got sick of it- and setting a Guinness world record for most comments on a Facebook item. Especially if most of your share of the 1,001,152 comments consist of "go". Not only is this spectacularly useless on its face, the Guinness record will very likely attract challengers now that it's out there and announced. That's what most records that get into the book are these days: something referred to as 'Guinnessport'. Beating a Guinness record for the sole purpose of beating a Guinness record, no matter what the category. Or, alternatively, creating a record. That's where all the records for things like 'most eggs smashed on forehead' and 'longest distance traveled doing The Worm' reside, as well as, of course, the record for the most Guinness records. People wouldn't be doing them if Guinness didn't give them a platform. I guarantee you that all across Facebook, groups are forming right now just to try and beat that mark even if they don't know the mark exists (how many times have you seen 'I bet this group can get a million likes'?), and sooner or later, one of them is going to do it.

That's not phenomenal, unless you count phenomenal wastes of time.

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