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The new Martian chronicles

The new Martian chronicles

(Copyright: Nasa)

Our pick of the week’s science and tech stories, including the search for life on Mars, how Bitcoin works, a cure for bedbugs and the social implications of Google Glass.

Martian chroniclers
Burkhard Bilger | New Yorker | 15 April 2013

The search for life on Mars enters its sixth decade. Forty spacecraft have gone there without finding one living thing or fossil. Yet we keep on searching, partly because Mars is all that we have to search, at least within reasonable distance. It has sunlight, water, carbon, nitrogen, the building blocks of life. A few billion years ago Mars and Earth had similar prospects for development. Why the difference now? Why us, and not them?

Closing remarks at SXSW 2013
Bruce Sterling | Wired | 13 April 2013

If you know Bruce Sterling you know what to expect: a torrent of words, a flotsam of ideas, all of it smart and tremendous fun. Main themes: the cultural history of Austin, the ascension of Sergey Brin, the transience of all technology: “It’s always the electronic frontier. Nobody ever goes back to look at the electronic forests that were cut down with chainsaws and tossed into the rivers.”

Medical progress, social progress, legal regression
Andrew Solomon | New Yorker | 13 April 2013
 
Reflections on North Dakota’s move to criminalise “selective” abortion in case of foetal abnormality. A law that calls attention to difficult moral and practical questions. Advances in medicine and childcare, changing social attitudes, give an abnormal child a much better chance of leading a happy and fulfilling life. “It will get harder to select against people in these categories because we see so much more joy in their lives.”

Science, magic and madness
Adam Gopnik | BBC | 12 April 2013
Nobody likes to be told that they are wrong. But that’s how science advances: through proof and disproof, the experimental method. Galileo learned more from throwing things off towers than John Dee learned from sacred books. “The glory of modern science is that, while only a very few can understand its particular theories, anyone can understand its peculiar approach – it is simply the perpetual assertion of experience over authority, and of debate over dogma.”

You lookin’ at me? Reflections on Google Glass
Jan Chipchase | All Things D | 12 April 2013

Intelligent, nuanced essay on the social implications of Google Glass. To many of us this innovation feels at the same time threatening but inevitable: We are going to be spied on and recorded all the time, and we must adjust our behaviour accordingly. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Remember, in 19C, people felt similarly about cameras. Social rules and codes evolve around the acceptable uses of new technology

How does Bitcoin work?
Tom Standage | The Economist | 11 April 2013

You want Bitcoin explained in four paragraphs? The Economist is equal to the task: “It is underpinned by a peer-to-peer computer network made up of its users’ machines … The entire network is used to monitor and verify both the creation of new Bitcoins through mining, and the transfer of Bitcoins between users. A log is collectively maintained of all transactions, with every new transaction broadcast across the Bitcoin network.”

A cure for bedbugs
Rachel Nuwer | Smithsonian | 9 April 2013

New York’s long nightmare is over. “For years, people in Eastern Europe’s Balkan region have known that kidney bean leaves trap bedbugs, like a natural fly paper … In 1943, a group of researchers studied this phenomenon and attributed it to microscopic plant hairs that grow on the leaves’ surface, entangling bed bug legs.” Knowledge lost in World War II. The method works. Now scientists are developing synthetics with the same properties.

Jeremy Grantham on population growth, China and climate sceptics
Leo Hickman | Guardian | 15 April 2013

Verbatim extracts from interview. “Every time we see a bubble, we see an army of people screaming, ‘No, no, it’s not a bubble, everything is fine.’ We see the climate, and scores of people screaming the same, that everything is fine, or that it’s a plot. It’s par for the course. The general public don’t want to hear it and will choose to listen to the optimistic interpretation. You don’t stop the bubble until the damage is done.”

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