Vol. 2.35 | 09.13.19

Read time: 3 minutes
What Are Words, Really?

You might think that the substance of words is the ideas they convey, and that to copyright those words is to protect ownership/authorship of those ideas. I know I thought that. But, according to a recent lawsuit filed by a guild of book publishers against Audible, Amazon’s audiobook division, things aren’t that straightforward. The publishers claim that while Audible has the license to distribute the sounds of the words of their books, displaying the shapes of the words through closed captioning in an impermissible act of copyright infringement. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The Lake That Killed 1,700 People

Not drowned by overflooding its banks, mind you. Asphyxiated. In 1986, thousands of cattle and 1,746 people were found all dead in the central African country of Cameroon. Apart from being dead, they all appeared peaceful, with no outward signs of trauma or distress. What the local villagers described as the work of evil spirits turned out to be the result of a huge limnic eruption from nearby Lake Nyos, in which a massive amount of carbon dioxide was suddenly released. Because concentrated CO2 is more dense than air, the toxic gas settled into the surrounding low-lying areas, stealing the breath of those in the area. In a biblical twist, the lake’s waters turned from blue to red as the high iron content of the lake’s bed was stirred up in the process and rose to the surface.

The Indestructible Tardigrades

I’m sure there is *some* way to kill the microscopic creatures known as “water bears,” but if they can survive in the frozen vacuum of space on the moon without artificial means, that counts as indestructible in my book.

Computing, Teleportation, and Qutrits

I’m pretty proficient when it comes to computing, even though I really don’t understand how the machinery itself works, turning 0’s and 1’s represented by miniscule circuits opening and closing into these words and cat gifs on the internet. Which means I’m no more capable of understanding what’s coming down the tech road soon in the form of quantum computing than you are. But it is coming, and it sounds like quantum mechanics may be the key that unlocks instant transmission of ultra-secure data without wires or radio waves through teleportation.

Oh yes.

Total Recall As Idea Pitch

There are lots of concepts within sci-fi movies and such that would be cool if brought to fruition, like teleportation. But not all of them. Take, for example, the idea from the 1990 classic, Total Recall: implanting artificially created, false memories inside the mind of a person, such that they can’t tell the difference between what they really experienced and what they didn’t. A group of researchers are investigating how to do just that, using mice and the memory of being shocked with electricity at the smell of cherry blossoms. In short, the scientists mapped what that memory looks like, neuron-connection wise, from the brain of Mouse A — who actually had the experience — and then implanted that memory connection map into the brain of Mouse B, which never had the experience. After, Mouse B reacted to the smell of cherry blossoms as if he had been shocked in the past.

Scientific progress and hilarity ensues, or something. (And no, we don’t speak of the 2012 remake of Total Recall, as it did not happen.)