Peculiar Science 2

     The May/June issue of Popular Science continues the magazine’s pattern of astonishing revelations in the guise of reporting on innovative trends. Rather than allow unsupported statements to go unchallenged, yours truly will comment on each claim that floors cruelly.

A GIF is touted as the future’s most effective communication tool, which comes as a surprise to those who thought it was what particular mothers selected as the best way to get their children to eat peanut butter. Readers are told that in “a busy world, where even tweeting takes too much time, the highlight clip has become our go-to lexicon.” Tweeting “Our team #1–Yea!” and similar bits of nothingness takes too long? Does it distract gamers from the six hours a day they spend chasing blinking lights with their fingers?

The otherworldly opening statement in the Manual section is way, way out: “In the 1980s a talking bear called Teddy Ruxpin took the world by storm.” What planet was the author on during that decade or was he even alive during the Reagan years? One wonders how many of the bears were sold in parts of the world other than North America. Madonna took more countries by storm at that time by telling papa not to preach to her than any automated Ruxy.

“Holy Cow!” might be the reaction to a page devoted to synthesizing substances normally derived from cows by using bovine cells in the lab. So far, attempts to pass off cultured meatballs have two disadvantages: too much chewy, chewy, chewy and more moola. Getting milk from inserting 3D-printed cow DNA into yeast cells, harvesting the resulting protein, and adding potassium and calcium to the concoction seems utterly more involved and expensive than the udder method.

The Invention Award section calls attention to such vitally-needed gadgets as a self-powered camera and a “robot companion you’ll want to hang with.” Hanging should be reserved for the editors who chose to honor such time-wasters as a hoverboard that flies. Taking a clue from the one-to-five maturity scale indicating how soon these gems will be available to the public, readers should feel free to let the editors have it a rating of five stars for immaturity.

Scientists planning their summer vacations need look no farther than North Dakota, now called Drone-Kota, the “Silicon Valley of drones.” Repeated graphics of quadcopters hovering over bison suggest that the thundering herd should have no trouble getting speedy pizza delivery by air.

“Can Your Genes Make You Kill?” will likely be required reading by all defense attorneys searching for excuses for the violent behavior of their clients. Four pages are devoted to contradictory arguments about genetic disorders with no definite conclusions. The question “Would genetic testing have stopped killers Ted Bundy…and Adam Lanza?” is answered in the negative and reinforced with “And researchers are skeptical that it ever could.” The concluding paragraph quotes a neuroscientist: “Everyone’s genome has a different level of risk for different disorders. Everyone’s got something.” Memo to those defense attorneys: Just use the headline in court. Don’t let the jurors or the judge read the fine print.

The Rube Goldberg Award goes to the way to reinvent breakfast with a helmet-mounted crane for pouring milk on and scooping up cereal illustrated on page 82. That is topped by a bizarre mixture of old and new titled “Pipe Up the Volume” which tells readers how to improve the intensity of sound on their Smartphone by cutting a hunk of PVC to act as el cheapo speakers. In a coming issue we can no doubt expect a piece of steampunk detailing how to modify ear trumpets to improve moshing at rock concerts.

“Ask Us Anything” provides a short copout to the query “Why hasn’t the U.S. adopted the metric system?” in the form of “It’s complicated.” The president of the U.S. Metric Association claims that “It’s going to happen, but at the rate we’re going, it will take a while.” Considering that the USMA has been around since 1916 and has shown little progress in its mission, expect any action to peter out before getting the meter out.

The final page, titled Terminus, should be called “The Last Straw” with a painting of a laid-back traveler waiting for a train powered by the tides. The tidal forces should cause any gentle reader to pronounce this “rich, technologically plausible universe” as very implausible. Like most of the magazine, the far-fetched concept is all wet.






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