Taking Orders from the Slime

Slime has been on earth a lot longer than us – perhaps up to a billion years. Certain types (if you want to be formal, P. Polycephalum) might also be a lot smarter that we thought. Slime can have a sense of time, it can work its way through mazes and – in a recent discovery – it can be used to design efficient railway systems.

The single-celled brainless amoebae did not grow living branches between pieces of food in a random manner; rather, they behaved like a team of human engineers, growing the most efficient networks possible. Just as engineers design railways to get people from one city to another as quickly as possible, given the terrain—only laying down the building materials that are needed—the slime molds hit upon the most economical routes from one morsel to another, conserving energy.

Researchers created a mini petri-dish Japan, with food for all the major cities, and slime-like obstacles where human engineers might find them. In a matter of hours they had recreated something very similar to the complex Japanese railway system.

Andrew Adamatzky of the University of the West of England Bristol and other researchers were so impressed with the protists’ behaviors that they have proposed using slime molds to help plan future roadway construction.

Via Scientific American

The Devil’s Wearing a Lot More Prada

A neat article on the rise, rise and rise of product placement – from the Lumière brothers using Lever Brothers’ Sunlight soap in “Washing Day in Switzerland” (1896), to films not out yet. I don’t know about you, but I like knowing how much brands paid ($100,000 to several million dollars) and all about the side deals done. It’s kind of the opposite of glamorous (more ‘cheap and desperate’) when they do appear. More here.

Charlie Sheen is Ferris Bueller’s Dark Brother

Bret Easton Ellis writes about Charlie Sheen less as a personal meltdown, and more as a redefinition between the attitudes to fame ‘Post-Empire’ and ‘Empire’. Some celebrities get it (The Kardashians, Lady Gaga, Ricky Gervais, Mark Zuckerberg and Robert De Niro get it. Muhammad Ali, Andy Warhol, Norman Mailer and Bob Dylan, even if in a previous era, got it. Madonna, Michael Jackson, Tiger Woods or Tom Cruise never got it).

Tom Cruise is still that altar boy from Syracuse who believes in the glamour of Empire earnestness, and this is ultimately his limitation as a movie star and as an actor.

Which Ellis sees as the key to understanding the media coverage of Sheen.

Do we really want manners? Civility? Empire courtesy? Hell, no. We want reality, no matter how crazy. And this is what drives the Empire to distraction: Sheen doesn’t care what you think of him anymore, and he scoffs at the idea of PR. “Hey, suits, I don’t give a shit.” That’s his only commandment.

You can read the article here, there is a ‘hard’ version coming out Wednesday.

8 Bit Cities

Brett Camper has turned New York into an 8-Bit computer game, using publicly available maps. Zoom in or out for more detail.


Brett Camper is the guy who also made the great iPhone app Trees Near You. For its part, 8-Bit has an interesting use also of kickstarter for it’s funding. Seems the future is becoming one big game. Check it out (and other cities) here.

Darkness is a Kind of Light

At the risk of painting a happy face on everything, The New York Times had an interesting story about the Upside of Depression. Charles Darwin once lamented about the disease that saw him incapacitated “one day in three”, and that resulted in him thinking that “I shall probably do little more but be content to admire the strides others made in Science.”

Darwin was wrong because of various upsides to depression, including social seclusion (which allows you to get lots of work done), and the motivating force withing the need to find personal solutions. He concluded that sadness is useful as it “leads an animal to pursue that course of action which is most beneficial…the darkness (is) a kind of light.”

Just Happy

An update to the earlier story about liberalism being connected to higher intelligence. It seems the same can go for vegetarianism, atheism and also, unexpectedly, fidelity in men. All of these traits are ‘unnatural’, in that they might be counterproductive in early societies, but have become more important as we have progressed. I must be dumb. Read the full article on CNN.

Liberals v Conservatives, Encore

An interesting study that shows that liberals are smarter than conservatives – but less likely to know what it means to be a liberal (huh?). Also, that conservatives are more likely to be pretty (if female) or strong (if male) – due perhaps to the fact that they enjoy greater advantages to others in a world with less rules. There’s more to it than that, and much of it is here.