Computer Wins on ‘Jeopardy!’: Our Computer Overlords Are Here…

February 19th, 2011 by Wythe

“I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords,” he wrote on his video screen, borrowing a line from a “Simpsons” episode.

Read the New York Times on the win.

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Why Aren’t G.M.O. Foods Labeled?

February 17th, 2011 by Wythe

Great question.  Read Mark Bittman on some possible answers. He also has ideas on what to do about it (read his other blog posts, and his books).  Personally, do I think all GMO foods are evil?  Not necessarily.  But should they at least be labeled? I mean, come on, guys.  This is Ethics 101.  Big fail from the FDA on this one.

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Uncommon Animal Awesomeness Of The Day: Tool Crows

February 1st, 2011 by Wythe

Check out this great NYTimes article on New Caledonian crows, “renowned for their toolmaking skills:”

In the complexity, fluidity and sophistication of their tool use, their ability to manipulate and bird-handle sticks, leaves, wires, strings and any other natural or artificial object they can find into the perfect device for fishing out food, or fishing out second-, third- or higher-order tools, the crows have no peers in the nonhuman vivarium, and that includes such textbook dexterous smarties as elephants, macaques and chimpanzees.

Also definitely worth checking out—Josh Klein on the intelligence of corvids at TED:

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Today’s Uncommon Animal: The Honey Badger

January 25th, 2011 by Wythe

Nature’s psychotic drunk guy. I mean, wow: This three-foot-long, thirty-pound desert skunk routinely takes on monitor lizards, cobras, lions, and hyenas. If you see one in your local pet store, run for safety…

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RETROFUTUROLOGY Opening At Observatory!

January 18th, 2011 by Wythe


How the Past Saw the Present // How the Present Sees the Future


Steam Piano image courtesy Adrian Agredo.

OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, January 28, 8 PM
ON VIEW: Friday, January 28 – Friday, March 5, 2011
HOURS: Thursdays & Fridays 3–6 PM, Saturdays & Sundays 12–6 PM

Observatory is pleased to announce our new exhibition, RETROFUTUROLOGY, a group show of visual art, curated by the Hollow Earth Society (Ethan Gould & Wythe Marschall, Founding Colonels).

Join us for the opening, Friday, January 28, at 8 PM.

About the show: To have an imagined future, you must simultaneously have an imagined present and an imagined past…

A DeLorean decked out in flashing lights and wires: A modest-budget promise that, yes, the technologies of our age can puncture the time barrier! Where to go? A rowdy 1950s? A steampunk 1890s?

Our visions of the future are nested. Our conception of time is hyperreal.

This is the process on which the present runs.

Come see contemporary art that investigates futures-past, futures-possible, and other nestings.

Featuring paintings, sculptures, and other works by many artists, including: Adrian Agredo, Tracey Atkinson, Emi Brady, Bunny M, Jon Burgerman, Chiezo, Devon Clapp, Jesse Corinella, Rachel Debuque, Derrick Dent, Matt Duffin, Ethan Gould, Andrea Hendrickson, Richard Herzog, Andy Hunter, Patti Jordan, John Lee, Haydex Li, Benjamin Mayock, Marianne McCarthy, Megan Murtha, George Pfau, Nick Raynolds, Matthew Robinson, Sean Star Wars, Tom Sarno, Rachel Schragis, Joelle Shallon, Greg Shelnutt, Niko Silvester, Melissa Stern, Lisa Temple-Cox, and Robin Treadwell.

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Giant Crunchy Ant Queens: Taste Like Mint

January 6th, 2011 by Wythe

Of course, leave it to the humans, we’re killing them, with pesticides.  Read all about it >

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Copper Bullets: Ethics Of Gutpiles

December 18th, 2010 by Wythe

Hunters should use copper bullets instead of lead bullets, according to some hunters. That way, animals who eat the “gutpiles” of other, hunted animals will not have to face lead poisoning. Sayeth the ethical hunter:

I’ve seen X-rays of shot game showing dust-sized lead particles spread throughout the meat, far away from the bullet hole.

The guy is so serious he started “Project Gutpile,” which—however appealing its name is to us Surrealists and anatomists—may fare better in the mainstream media as, say, “Project Copper Bullets.” Regardless, clean hunting sounds better better than poison dust-strewing hunting. Best of luck.

Copper ore (which can be used to make bullets? who knew…):

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Uncommon Animal Of The Day: MUSK OX

December 17th, 2010 by Wythe

Sweet NYTimes article on them a few days back. Also sweet:

…Musk oxen grow a second fur layer each winter, an undercoat called qiviut that is said to be many times warmer than wool and softer than cashmere—and how obliging of the animals to shed that qiviut in spring for use in scarves.

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The Amazing Mirroring Of Life: Will It Save Us Or Kill Us (Or Not Even Work)?

December 16th, 2010 by Wythe

Check out this freaky/philosophical tidbit from Wired: Scientists led by Dmitri Sasselov, including Nobel Prize-winner Jack Szostak, are at work trying to reverse the chirality, or handedness, of DNA and RNA, in order to produce mirror life. What does that mean?

Well, it means:

If it worked, those new cells… could answer one of the deepest questions about the origin of life, not just here on Earth but everywhere in the universe. They might also open up new avenues of discovery in materials science, fuel synthesis, and pharmaceutical research. On the down side, though, mirror life wouldn’t have any predators or diseases to limit its reproduction. They would have to keep an eye on that…

All of us earthlings, from algae to elephants, have proteins made of left-handed amino acids and a genome of right-handed nucleic acids…

Theoretically, a cell could be based on “wrong-handed” molecules. Its biochemistry would work just like ours—DNA to RNA to proteins—but it would be completely incompatible with earthly life, its chiral twin. And now, thanks to recent advances in genomics, cell membrane science, and synthetic biology, an ambitious researcher could go beyond theory and build it from the ground up. The tools are here (well, almost here) to make mirror life from scratch…

Some of the most valuable drugs are actually tiny proteins that include wrong-handed amino acids—like the immunosuppressant cyclosporine. To manufacture it, pharmaceutical companies have to rely on an inefficient and expensive fungus. A hacked ribosome modified to handle both normal and mirror amino acids could crank out the stuff on an industrial scale. And why stop at what we already know? Being able to produce unnatural proteins cheaply means you could synthesize billions of them and then test them in parallel for antitumor and antibiotic properties. Once you got a hit, Szostak says, you could generate trillions of variations on that molecule, “figure out which are the good ones, and evolve them.”

Church thinks even bigger. A manufacturing ribosome would be great, but a fully domesticated mirror cell—able to synthesize more-complicated stuff—would change everything. “All production will be biological,” he says. In that science fiction future, vats of virus-proof mirror cells could pump out biofuel, lay down nano-size organic circuitry, and even extrude organic cement foundations for skyscrapers…

On the other hand, if mirror cells somehow evolved—or were engineered—to consume normal fats, sugars, and proteins, we might have a problem. If a mirror cell got the right set of isomerases to break down these nutrients, that would be a mess. Mirror cells would slowly convert edible matter into more of themselves. Anything that ate them wouldn’t be able to digest the mirrored molecules—they’d pass right through predators’ guts. And as the mirror cells excreted waste and died, the accumulating material would be like a self-generating oil spill with nothing to clean it up…

There you have it! SCIENCE! Building skyscrapers to order with microbes, only to watch helplessly as they learn from their masters how to digest our doughnuts and pecan logs, leading to hilarious hijinks, wacky antics… and a deadly ice age. Oh well, can’t win em all.



Recombining The Brain And The World

December 13th, 2010 by Wythe

Philosopher Andy Clark writes today in the New York Times about the question of cognitive prosthesis: If we use hearing aids and prosthetic legs and accept them as part of our physiological “network” or “circuit” (for hearing, for moving), then why don’t we think of iPhones and other mobile devices that effectively “extend” consciousness as simply prosthetics for the brain?

The issue is where does the self begin. As I wrote about for Pomp & Circumstance, the answer is less clear than you may suspect. Is the self your consciousness, or your whole mind? Your mind, or your brain? Your brain, or your body? Clark extends the problem into the tools the body uses. Why not extend it into the world affected by the brain and its tools?

Where is your mind, and how do you know it isn’t elsewhere—in its extensions, its constant low-level activities accomplished via other neurons, “silicon neurons” (Clark) such as those in computers and phones?

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Portraits Of The Mind

December 3rd, 2010 by Wythe

Carl Schoonover’s Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain From Antiquity to the 21st Century is beautiful.

You should check it out.

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“White Coat, Black Hat” Author Talks At Observatory

November 29th, 2010 by Wythe

We’re very excited about hosting this event. Check it out:

The Dark Side of Medicine: An Illustrated Lecture and Discussion With Carl Elliott, Author of “White Coat, Black Hat”


Date: Tuesday, November 30
Time: 8 PM
Admission: $5
Presented by the Hollow Earth Society

As American medicine has transformed itself from profession to a business, it has come to resemble a seedy carnival sideshow, filled with scam artists, propagandists, grifters and pitchmen—and professional guinea pigs who test-pilot potentially dangerous new drugs for cash…

In White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine, Carl Elliott takes us on a guided tour of medicine’s dark underbelly, from the cheap hustle to the Big Con.

Head-turning stories and a rogue’s gallery of colorful characters become Elliott’s springboard for exploring larger ethical issues surrounding money. Are there certain things that should not be bought and sold? In what ways do the ethics of business clash with the ethics of medical care? And what is wrong with medical consumerism anyway?

Carl Elliott prefers to write about himself in the third person in order to give the impression that he is too important to submit his own biography. A native South Carolinian, Elliott originally trained as a doctor before coming to his senses. He currently teaches philosophy and bioethics at the University of Minnesota and writes occasionally for magazines such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and

His estranged younger brother ridicules him periodically at the unfortunate website, His attorneys are addressing the situation.

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Suspicious Animal Of The Day: The Tuatara

November 24th, 2010 by Wythe

Read all about this living fossil of New Zealand in The New York Times. Highlights include:

  • Has a third eye
  • Eats crickets the size of cats
  • Lives 200 years; doesn’t reach sexual maturity until age 20; remains fertile into the 100s
  • The male has no penis, but does have an inflatable crest
  • Can operate at much cooler temperatures than other reptiles
  • Has incredibly quick-changing filler DNA, but hasn’t faced major changes to morphology since before the dinosaurs

You are a true weirdo, tuatara. America welcomes you.

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