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Archive for August, 2010

Journey to Triton

I wish I could post the video directly, but click the image below to watch a movie of Voyager 2’s fly-over of Triton 21 years ago, based on reconstructed data:

For a space-program junkie like me*, this is incredibly cool.

I’m just surprised they missed the lost city of the Neptune Men, again…

*(Who remembers when we had an actual space program.)

via Voyager 2. Yes, really.

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Sometimes, Nature is more bizarre than we can imagine. And sometimes those bizarre moments are downright horrifying, as in a Lovecraftian, sanity-blasting, leave you gibbering in the padded cell kind of way.

This is one of those moments.

‘Zombie ants’ controlled by parasitic fungus for 48m years

The oldest evidence of a fungus that turns ants into zombies and makes them stagger to their death has been uncovered by scientists.

The gruesome hallmark of the fungus’s handiwork was found on the leaves of plants that grew in Messel, near Darmstadt in Germany, 48m years ago.

The finding shows that parasitic fungi evolved the ability to control the creatures they infect in the distant past, even before the rise of the Himalayas.

The fungus, which is alive and well in forests today, latches on to carpenter ants as they cross the forest floor before returning to their nests high in the canopy.

The fungus grows inside the ants and releases chemicals that affect their behaviour. Some ants leave the colony and wander off to find fresh leaves on their own, while others fall from their tree-top havens on to leaves nearer the ground.

The final stage of the parasitic death sentence is the most macabre. In their last hours, infected ants move towards the underside of the leaf they are on and lock their mandibles in a “death grip” around the central vein, immobilising themselves and locking the fungus in position.

“This can happen en masse. You can find whole graveyards with 20 or 30 ants in a square metre. Each time, they are on leaves that are a particular height off the ground and they have bitten into the main vein before dying,” said David Hughes at Harvard University.

The fungus cannot grow high up in the canopy or on the forest floor, but infected ants often die on leaves midway between the two, where the humidity and temperature suit the fungus. Once an ant has died, the fungus sprouts from its head and produces a pod of spores, which are fired at night on to the forest floor, where they can infect other ants.

So, we have a fungus tens of millions of years old that kills those it infests, takes over their bodies and turns them into mindless robots, then grows inside them until it’s ready to burst forth to infect more.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we’ve just found the explanation for Congress.

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Lovecraft on the Love Boat? Gopher meets a Great Old One on the high seas where hilarity ensues?

Or is this the true, sanity-blasting face of the 70s?

(via Moe Lane)

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Okay, I’ve heard of stores and producers tracking purchases to see who’s buying what (What do you think those grocery store member’s cards are for?), but to plant a GPS tracking device in detergent so the manufacturer’s ad agency can follow you home is going a bit far:

Unilever’s Omo detergent is adding an unusual ingredient to its two-pound detergent box in Brazil: a GPS device that allows its promotions agency Bullet to track shoppers and follow them to their front doors.

Starting next week, consumers who buy one of the GPS-implanted detergent boxes will be surprised at home, given a pocket video camera as a prize and invited to bring their families to enjoy a day of Unilever-sponsored outdoor fun. The promotion, called Try Something New With Omo, is in keeping with the brand’s international “Dirt is Good” positioning that encourages parents to let their kids have a good time even if they get dirty.

(…)

Fernando Figueiredo, Bullet’s president, said the GPS device is activated when a shopper removes the detergent carton from the supermarket shelf. Fifty Omo boxes implanted with GPS devices have been scattered around Brazil, and Mr. Figueiredo has teams in 35 Brazilian cities ready to leap into action when a box is activated. The nearest team can reach the shopper’s home “within hours or days,” and if they’re really close by, “they may get to your house as soon as you do,” he said.

Once there, the teams have portable equipment that lets them go floor by floor in apartment buildings until they find the correct unit, he said.

Brazil has a very high crime rate; can you imagine how a woman going home from the market will feel if she notices she’s being followed, or there’s an unexpected knock at the door from someone claiming to be there to give her a prize?

Why do I have a feeling this will end in tears?

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Three shows I follow have been renewed, and it’s a case of “two out of three ain’t bad, but that third one…”

First, TNT’s The Closer was renewed for season seven. While I think the show’s sixth season has been weak so far (three episodes in), I like it overall, the cast is very good, and it’s produced some great dramedy in the past. It was worth renewing.

In Plain Sight is one of my favorite shows, with great characters, stories, and dialog. Another dramedy*, I just think it’s one of the best-written programs on television, but doesn’t get the attention it deserves. In fact, season 3, which I haven’t seen yet, since I follow the series on DVD, revealed declining ratings and the danger of cancellation. So, I was happy and surprised to see it renewed not just for one, but two seasons. Let’s hope it regains its audience and justifies USA’s faith.

Here’s an earlier review I did of In Plain Sight.

Meanwhile, the “huh?” of the subject comes from the announcement of TNT’s renewal, after only three episodes, of Rizzoli & Isles, which I reviewed a little over a week ago. Since writing that, I watched the third episode, “Sympathy for the Devil;”  while it was an improvement, that’s only because the abysmal second episode set such a low bar. I can only think that TNT has great faith in the show in spite of its declining ratings, or the stars must have compromising photos of the network execs.

*(I’m detecting a pattern in my tastes… 🙂 )

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