Watch and See
I debated even talking about the new Apple product launch this week, because I’m unimpressed by the very idea (for reasons I’ll go into), but since it’s absolutely dominating the news cycle, I had to begin with it. So: there’s a new cellphone peripheral in town, it’s not really new, but it’s by apple, so more people care than they would otherwise. Maybe I’ll come off sounding curmudgeonly, like this Slate writer perhaps, but I just don’t see the point. My big question is one that others are asking too: what is it for? As Kyle Vanhemert writes over at Wired:
The Apple Watch is a fitness device, convincingly. It is a watch, convincingly. It is also…a way to send tiny disappearing drawings to friends? A thing for looking at next week’s lunar calendar? A beacon for alerting you when you walk by stuff you’ve pinned on Pinterest? The Apple Watch is so many things that Tim Cook didn’t even have time to list them all, though he did blurt out a few more as he was heading off stage: It’s a viewfinder for your iPhone camera. A remote for your Apple TV. A walkie-talkie.
For someone who wears a watch already, and additionally wears a fitness tracker that isn’t already a watch, and really hates taking their phone out of their pocket, and can’t feel their phone vibrate in their pants when they have a message, and likes talking to their wrist, it’s probably a useful multi-tool. But that’s a lot of ifs. Maybe I’ll change my mind when some great tiny-screened functionality shows up, but until then, it’s a solution without a problem. And not a cheap one at that.
In other news, while Apple was announcing both its watch and a payment system with less functionality and security than Bitcoin, Dell was releasing the thinnest, sexiest tablet ever. Seriously, check that gorgeous beast out.
Meanwhile Samsung has gone on the offensive with a series of mildly entertaining anti-apple “it doesn’t take a genius” ads. Click here to see them.
From the near future to the deep past, scientists recently announced the discovery of — let me get this right — the dinosaur with the “largest reliably calculable weight” of any dinosaur yet discovered. Called dreadnoughtus schrani, the Brontosaurus on steroids* measured 85 feet long and 65 tons. Now does that mean it was the biggest? The Argentinosaurus might have been larger, but because the skeleton we have is so incomplete, our estimates aren’t reliable. Argentinosaurus may have been as much as 115 feet long and 100 tons, but we can’t say for sure. We also can’t say that Dreadnoughtus wouldn’t have been bigger, because it wasn’t done growing when it died. What’s the solution? Keep digging. Come on guys, we’re waiting.
*yes, I know there’s no such thing as a Brontosaurus, and that Dreadnoughtus wasn’t related to it.
Hole in the Head
The internet lit up like a Christmas Tree this week when doctors in China announced they’d found a 24-year old woman missing her entire cerebellum — and in general doing fine without it. Apparently she went to the hospital complaining of dizziness and nausea, and the scans revealed the absence of what is generally considered a fairly important part of the brain. The fact that she’s doing so well is further evidence of the brain’s ability to reorganize itself to suit new conditions. IFLScience has more on the story.
At long last, NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity (she of the damaged wheels) has reached her primary destination: Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons), in the center of Gale Crater. Five and a half kilometres taller than the bottom of the crater, Mount Sharp seems to provide the rover team with direct access to the largest swath of Martian geological time (in exposed stratigraphic layers) ever examined. Now they’ve arrived, there’s going to be a lot less rolling and a lot more drilling, which means the data are just about to start pouring back from the red planet. I can’t wait to hear what’s coming. Check out space.com for more on the story.
In other related news, the largest trial testing the viability of extraterrestrial soils (Martian and Lunar regolith) for growing plants has come to an end, giving future space pioneers a window into what they might (and might not) be able to grow at a future colony. Planting 14 species in 840 pots of simulated Martian and Lunar soil, as well as depleted-nutrient Earth soil for a control, scientists found that many of the plants could grow in all three, and some even did better in Martian soil than in the control, but that Lunar regolith may not be the best option without some kind of treatment. Check out the article at PopSci, or the study itself at PLoS One for more.
Hawking, Higgs, and the Destruction of the Universe
If you glanced at the headlines this week at all, you probably noticed something like huffpo’s “Hawking Says Higgs Boson Could Destroy the Universe,” — though if you clicked through, you’d see the rest of the headline, “But Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry.” The story was reported as though the boson itself could do the damage, when that’s not really the case. Technically, the headline should have read “Universe Potentially ‘Metastable’ and Could End Anytime” with the clickthrough of “But You Have A Higher Chance of Dying in a Bath Tub,” because the energies required to cause this end were very prevalent at the beginning of the universe. Even Hawking says that we shouldn’t worry, because to reach these energies you’d need a version of the LHC that’s bigger than the planet Earth (which, he notes in a brilliant example of comic understatement, is unlikely “in the present economic climate”). Instead of reading all of the other versions then, why don’t you go read Bob Novella’s piece on the story over at TheSkepticsGuide.org and pour yourself a nice cold glass of rational thought.
Best of the Rest
Things that had nothing to do with Apple or the destruction of the universe also happened this week, things like: Rosetta taking a selfie; a Colorado high school student creating a handgun that’ll only work for someone with your fingerprint; a Seattle-based startup being about ready to market a fungus that helps plants become more drought-resistant; researchers inventing an ant-scale radio that runs on radio waves; and a disposable e-cig company (Blu) lobbying to ban all its competitors as “unsafe”. Oh, and as usual, Icelandic volanoes are trying to poison everyone again this week.
That’s all for now. Have a great week.