Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Link List: Robo Roach to the Rescue! Secret Dungeons, Taking Care of Your Zombie Problems, and Other Wonders from the Web

1) Scientists actually have found blood in a mosquito fossil (found in shale, not amber, too bad!). It's not quite the quality needed to make even one dinosaur from, much less a whole park, but it's still a nifty find.

According to Dale Greenwalt, a volunteer research collaborator at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History and the lead author of the study on the mosquito, it might be in the genus Culiseta, which means it might be full of ancient bird blood.

No one has looked directly at the blood, finding it by "detecting heme—a pigment in red blood cells—via a special method of nondestructive x-ray spectrometry." I suppose cutting open one-of-a-kind fossil open to look directly really is a no-no.

2) Cyborg insects exist, and they may be more than curiosities. It's possible that a large number of "biobots" (The ScienceWorld Report article calls them a swarm. Are large collections of cockroaches really called swarms?) could be sent in to crawl randomly around an enclosed areas--places where GPS would not work. Each insect would signal when it met another insect, however, scientists could use this intermittent signal to "map" the environment as the insects are instructed to find unbroken areas to run along, thus defining walls and blocked territory.

No one has ever done this yet, but it's theoretically possible and would save humans time, trouble, and risk.

While you're waiting for folks to figure out the Rescue Roach, you can start steering your own RoboRoach (and maybe helping to figure out the whole mapping problem) next month Robo Roaches courtesy of Backyard Brains, which sells a "backpack" that you surgically attache to your selected roach; after that, you can control the roach via smart phone signals that make it think it's being touched on the right or the left side. It then turns away from the touch.

This only lasts for "a few minutes" at a stretch before the roach figures out something's up and has to be "reset" through a twenty minute rest, so I guess the "swarm mapping" is going to have to be done pretty quickly.

Also, after two to seven days (depending on what, I wonder?) the roach quits paying attention to the signals all together, after which "you can clip the wires and retire the cockroach to your breeder colony to spend the rest of its days making more cockroaches for you and eating your lettuce." It's sweet of Backyard Brains to suggest treating your cyborg subjects well after they retire, even if they are cockroaches.

I find the roaches ability to learn impressive. They are being told by their senses that they have to turn because something is in the way and yet, after only a few days, they somehow figure out how to sort false signals from true--at least, the article doesn't mention them becoming permanently disoriented. That's pretty impressive!

The above drawn from Science World Report, NPR.org, and Backyard Brains.

Speaking of which: Does anyone know what became of the cyborg rats folks were talking about a while ago? The ones who could be steered through small places in search of disaster survivors. Did they end up being useful? Or are they still hypothetically so if the hypothetical rescuees can be persuaded not to be scared of rats wearing backpacks as they pick through the rubble?

3) On another note (though I think he, or at least Calvin, might like robo roaches), Bill Watterson has decided to put the entire Calvin and Hobbes archive online, for free! Read more about the whys and wherefores here, in this Galleycat article, or go straight here to read the strip online.

4)Take a look at this map which shows what each country is leads the world in. The U. S. leads in Nobel Laureates and lawnmower deaths; Russia in raspberries and nuclear warheads; Canada in maple syrup and asteroid impacts, and so on.
Doghous Diaries via Io9.

5) Here's a series of images by Nickolay Lamm approximating the way cats see the world in contrast to the way humans see it, with explanations of how and why in the article below. It's one thing to read that cats have a wider field of vision, or see fewer colors, than humans, it's another to see it for oneself.

from Wired

6) Just under two weeks ago, a man in an unnamed part of the UK rented a small, studio apartment, only to discover a spacious dungeon underneath. Seems unreal as well as both fun and creepy, but there's nary a hint of anyone saying "Nope! Not true!" so I'm thinking that somewhere out there, there really is someone who's found the perfect space for "a dungeon party."

Images on Imagur.com found via The Geek Girl Project.

7) Forget about dungeons, for a minute; let's talk about zombies. This is just the time of year for the shambling undead to come out and terrorize the town--unless, that is the wild animals get to them first!. National Wildlife Federation naturalist David Mizejewski has an article on BoingBoing explaining that the standard zombie is really just so much self-propelled food as far as many of our local animals are concerned. He breaks things down by category, starting with "Birds: Winged Zombie Annihilators" and moving on through "Mammals: Zombie Dismemberment Crew," "Reptiles: Scaly Zombie Clean-Up Committee," and down to the "Decomposers: Masters of the Zombie Buffet."

He explains that many of the meat-eating animals have no problem with carrion, and even the non meat-eaters can be ferocious, if threatened. Among the birds, for example,
The two vulture species native to North America, the turkey vulture and the black vulture, flock up to make short work of any corpses they find. Both vulture species are dwarfed by the massive California condor, whose wingspan can reach 10 feet and which relish carrion. A sluggish zombie wouldn't stand a change against one of these giants or a flock of vultures.
Alligators and crocodiles are
are stealth hunters, and can burst from the water at surprising speeds to pluck large prey from the shoreline. They are quite capable of tearing a human-sized meal into bite sized chunks of meat with their toothy, vice-like mouths. Soft zombie flesh would melt in their mouths like butter.

What's more, Mizejewski explains, both American crocodiles and California condors are endangered and would benefit from regular, tasty carrion self-delivery. When you put it that way, a zombie invasion almost sounds like a good idea.

It probably wouldn't be a very long-lasting invasion, though. Not only would the big eaters move in for lunch, various microbes, beetles, maggots, and other small but active decomposers would settle in for a fleshy feast, finishing the decay of the undead in record time.

Head on over to the article for more of Mizejewski's explanations plus pictures and video demonstrations of just how quickly a determined animal can tuck in.

from BoingBoing found via a whole bunch of friends who thought I should see this and were right.

8) Sisters Jill and Lorna Watt yarn bombed a magnolia tree in San Mateo nd turned it into a squid. It's truly a work of art, very silly, and took over four miles of yarn and a lot of planning.

Book News

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh is really real, and it is coming out October 29, 2013. Yay!

The publisher's description:
Named one of the Funniest Sites on the Web by PC World and winner of the 2011 Bloggies Awards for Most Humorous Weblog and Best Writing, the creator of the immensely popular “Hyperbole and a Half” blog presents an illustrated collection of her hilarious stories with fifty percent new content.In a four-color, illustrated collection of stories and essays, Allie Brosh’s debut Hyperbole and a Half chronicles the many “learning experiences” Brosh has endured as a result of her own character flaws, and the horrible experiences that other people have had to endure because she was such a terrible child. Possibly the worst child. For example, one time she ate an entire cake just to spite her mother.

Brosh’s website receives millions of unique visitors a month and hundreds of thousands of visitors a day. This amalgamation of new material and reader favorites from Brosh's blog includes stories about her rambunctious childhood; the highs and mostly lows of owning a smart, neurotic dog and a mentally challenged one; and moving, honest, and darkly comic essays tackling her struggles with depression and anxiety, among other anecdotes from Brosh's life. Artful, poignant, and uproarious, Brosh’s self-reflections have already captured the hearts of countless readers and her book is one that fans and newcomers alike will treasure.

Other useful information:
Paperback, 384 pages (there are other versions, including ebook)
Expected publication: October 29th 2013 by Touchstone
ISBN 1451666179 (ISBN13: 9781451666175)

As a long-time follower of Brosh's blog, Hyperbole and a Half, I am delighted! Her work unpredictable, quirky, funny, sad, and original. Also--after her struggles with depression, it's good to see that she was able to finish this. The Publisher's Weekly review is up here.

Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow will be out in the US next month. It's already out in Canada. The publisher sent a review copy to The Geek Girl Project, which I reviewed. Read about the book that gave me the best/worst book-hangover in a long time by following the link.

Psst: Plain Kate, Erin Bow's first book, is also very, very good. I snagged a copy from the library for review purposes some time ago.

Clips & Bits

If you haven't watched it already, you definitely need to see this music video featuring Rick Astley's “Never Gonna Give You Up” in Klingon. The amount of energy, creativity, and sheer fun that went into this is inspiring.

I've embedded the video for your viewing convenience, but it's worth visiting Youtube to read their notes. For one thing, that's how I found that, "All performers are part of the cast and company of "A Klingon Christmas Carol" (2013) in Chicago, Illinois by Commedia Beauregard"

That is, they are performing The Christmas Carol, in Klingon.
Scrooge has no honor, nor any courage. Can three ghosts help him to become the true warrior he ought to be in time to save Tiny Tim from a horrible fate? Performed in the Original Klingon with English Supertitles, and narrative analysis from The Vulcan Institute of Cultural Anthropology.

The Dickens classic tale of ghosts and redemption adapted to reflect the Warrior Code of Honor and then translated into tlhIngan Hol (That's the Klingon Language).

This is the first time I've ever wished to be in Chicago in the winter (or ever).

2) Improv Everywhere is continuing their Movies in Real Life series. Last week, they recreated Gandalf the Grey's "You shall not pass!" scene from The Lord of the Rings in New York's Central Park.

Tourists are harder to impress than balrogs.

On the other hand, no one shoved him of the bridge.

Trailers and Such
The trailer for the upcoming Day of the Doctor is a really cool series of images of past Doctors. I'm pretty sure long-time fans of Old Who are having a great time picking it apart and that there are probably a lot of clues about the upcoming episode in there. I like Old Who, but am not conversant enough to do anything other than nod and say "Yep. Looks good."

Did I miss something I should've included? Contact me or let me know in the comments!


  1. The robot bugs sound amazing! Amazing and scary. I need there to be an excellent science fiction movie thing that happens. Or, oh, they could occur on Agents of SHIELD, that would be a perfect SHIELD thing.

    1. Yep. Fitz-Simmonds should have a working swarm.

      Though, for $99 you can buy the supplies needed to control up to 3 roaches over at Backyard Brains, which is pretty stunning & makes it one of those times when I think "I *am* living in the future after all."

      Lola's still a good few years off, though.