Here are 9 developments of interest to fans.
Like out of some B-grade sci fi movie, a robot sent into the [Chernobyl] reactor discovered a thick coat of black slime growing on the walls. Since it is highly radioactive in there, scientists didn’t expect to find anything living, let alone thriving. The robot was instructed to obtain samples of the slime, which it did, and upon examination…the slime was even more amazing than was thought at first glance.
This slime, a collection of several fungi actually, was more than just surviving in a radioactive environment, it was actually using gamma radiation as a food source. Samples of these fungi grew significantly faster when exposed to gamma radiation at 500 times the normal background radiation level. The fungi appear to use melanin, a chemical found in human skin as well, in the same fashion as plants use chlorophyll. That is to say, the melanin molecule gets struck by a gamma ray and its chemistry is altered. This is an amazing discovery, no one had even suspected that something like this was possible.
(2) And it seems only appropriate to follow that lead-in with the revelation that the genuine, commercially-available product named Soylent is neither green (it’s beige) nor made of people.
Every morning, Rob Rhinehart prepares a wholesome breakfast, lunch, and dinner—in about a minute. He mixes cold water (plus a splash of vanilla extract or a pinch of cinnamon) with 4.2 cups of a flavorless beige powder in a few 32-ounce bottles—and that’s it. The 24-year-old Bay Area engineer subsists mostly by sipping on a cocktail of 31 nutrients until he hits 2,000 to 2,500 calories. He believes the powder, which he playfully named Soylent after the food rations in the seventies sci-fi flick Soylent Green (his product is not made of people), could one day solve world hunger. And Rhinehart isn’t the only one drinking the Soylent Kool-Aid: Earlier this year, during a crowdhoster.com campaign to make the product widely available, fans pledged $100,000 in three hours—and within three weeks, 4,000 backers had put up more than half a million dollars. A one-month supply of Soylent is available for $230 at campaign.soylent.me.
(3) In Africa, only one in six rural inhabitants has access to electricity but Scientific American reports that could change through the creative marketing of solar energy on a pay-as-you-go basis:
…Across the U.S. and U.K. electricity from a utility costs between 10 to 15 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). A villager in rural Kenya or Rwanda, however, pays an equivalent cost of $8 per kWh for kerosene lighting. Often 30 percent or more a family’s income is spent on kerosene. Charging a mobile phone is even more expensive. That same villager would pay nearly 400 times more to charge a mobile phone in rural Kenya than in the U.S. Solar-powered charger kits are a promising alternative, but many rural families cannot afford the up-front cost of these systems, which start at $50.
With a Pay-As-You-Go model (PAYG) for solar kits, on the other hand, customers can instead pay an up-front fee of around $10 for a solar charger kit that includes a two- to five-watt solar panel and a control unit that powers LED lights and charges devices like mobile phones. Then they pay for energy when they need it—frequently in advance each week—or when they can (say, after a successful harvest). In practice, kits are paid off after about 18 months and subsequent electricity is free to the new owner. PAYG customers are finding that instead of paying $2 to $3 a week for kerosene, they pay less than half that for solar energy. The PAYG concept is a familiar one for hundreds of millions of Africans who purchase mobile phone minutes and kerosene fuel incrementally
“This story is truly kind of thrilling (replete with echoes of some dreams of Arthur C. Clarke and others)!” says James H. Burns. “But it also raises an interesting question: If a member of a third world nation dials customer support, does he get a phone bank in Dubuque?”
(4) Burns also requests:
If anyone has any video copies of the local Manhattan cable show Comics Quiz, one of the area’s first fantasy/sf/comics cable “talk shows,” please get in touch! I have none of the series’ first batch of episodes, the ones I was involved with, and the producer says he wiped out the master tapes, to save money and use for blanks/rerecording!
(5) Here’s something you didn’t know about me and Stephen Hawking – we each went out for our universvity’s rowing team. I lasted only a few weeks. I was the right height but too heavy. Hawking, on the other hand, was the perfect size to be a successful coxwain –
Biographer Kristine Larsen writes about how Hawking faced isolation and unhappiness during his first year or so at Oxford. The thing that seems to have drawn him out of this funk was joining the rowing team.
Even before being diagnosed with a physically disabling illness, Hawking didn’t have what one would call a large or athletic build. However, row teams recruited smaller men like Hawking to be coxswains — a position that does not row, but rather controls steering and stroke rate.
Because rowing was so important and competitive at Oxford, Hawking’s role on the team made him very popular.
(6) Sixty years ago Alice Kober, a classics professor at Brooklyn College, played a key role in deciphering Linear B, the 3,400-year-old script on tablets unearthed amid the ruins of the Minoan civilization of Crete. While most of these turned out to be tax records, they were not without charm.
Thanks to the decoded script, we are introduced to an island where people worshiped familiar gods like Poseidon alongside intriguing ones like the Mistress of the Labyrinth, and where folks were walking around with names like Gladly Welcome, Snub-Nosed and — here’s the guy who must have been the life of Knossos back in the day — Having the Bottom Bare.
(7) I was tempted to steal this line from a Grantland story on Devious Maids and paraphrase it in a book review if somebody ever really pissed me off –
The show, which is based on the Mexican telenovela Ellas son la Alegria del Hogar, was created by Marc Cherry, a longtime Hollywood person most famous for holding Satan’s butt cheeks apart while Desperate Housewives fell out.
(8) I don’t think this is an absurd concern at all. It’s something that might have been used in an sf story if the National Security Agency wasn’t already doing it for real:
Not limiting their activities to the earthly realm, American and British spies have infiltrated the fantasy worlds of World of Warcraft and Second Life, conducting surveillance and scooping up data in the online games played by millions of people across the globe, according to newly disclosed classified documents.
Fearing that terrorist or criminal networks could use the games to communicate secretly, move money or plot attacks, the documents show, intelligence operatives have entered terrain populated by digital avatars that include elves, gnomes and supermodels.
The spies have created make-believe characters to snoop and to try to recruit informers, while also collecting data and contents of communications between players, according to the documents, disclosed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. Because militants often rely on features common to video games — fake identities, voice and text chats, a way to conduct financial transactions — American and British intelligence agencies worried that they might be operating there, according to the papers.
[Thanks for these links goes out to James H. Burns, Andrew Porter and John King Tarpinian.]