Indistinguishable From Magic: Your Friday Sci-Blog On Saturday


Hola Wonkerados! It's time once again for another bizarre and nauseating Wonkette Sci-Blog! Grab a Bag and come on in.

Many of you will recognize the gentleman pictured as noted writer, inventor and futurist Arthur C. Clarke. One of the "Big Three" classical Science Fiction authors, along with Asimov and Heinlein, he's most famous for collaborating with Stanley Kubrick on the incredible 1968 film  2001: A Space Odyssey.   He wrote prolifically  from the post World War two era up until his 2008 death, in his adopted country of Sri Lanka, at the age of 90.  Much of Clarke's work reflected his optimistic view that science and technological progress could lift humanity out of superstitious darkness, though a utopian age of exploration of the seas and space, eventually evolving into beings like unto gods. Only maybe without the hubris, the cackling, and the insane plans for world domination, because this is Arthur C. Clarke.

An engineer and mathematician by training, Arthur's writing was solidly rooted in the hard sciences and he was uncannily accurate in predicting the future.  In 1945 he published a paper describing geosynchronous communications satellites at a time when the primary use of rocketry was to destroy tanks and attack cities. Here he is in a 1974 Australian Broadcasting interview, giving a spot-on description of the near future of household computers linked to a world wide information system and how that would transform society. In his 1975 novel "Imperial Earth" he accurately describes a combination handheld computer and telephone device linked to a global communication and information system (iPhone, anyone?) along with mapping out the logistics and economics of an interplanetary energy mining and trade cartel  based, not on oil, but on Hydrogen.

Arthur C. Clarke left an extensive, capable network of friends and followers when he passed away. Many of them have undertaken projects intended to carry on his legacy.  The Arthur C. Clarke Foundation " regards Sir Arthur’s work as an unparalleled synthesis of science, literature, and social concern" and works to communicate science and technological concepts for the betterment of humanity. Sri Lanka's Arthur C. Clark Institute for Modern Technologies is both a basic research center and is heavily involved in science education and professional development.

The latest institution to bear Clarke's' name launched just this May in San Diego: the University of San Diego's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, an academic center  established to explore human imagination.  The idea originated 12 years ago in a discussion between Clarke Foundation chairman Tedson Meyers and Clarke  about the best way to commemorate his legacy. Imagination was the consensus. Part of the institutes Mission Statement:

"We will bring together thinkers and doers in the arts and information technology, in neuroscience, cognitive science and the physical sciences to help us understand the nature of imagination and to build tools and develop methods that will extend imagination."

One of the first events was the Starship Century symposium, that brought together writers Gregory Benford and David Brin with Scientists Freeman Dyson and Paul Davies for a deep discussion of long term space travel. A discussion on The Literary Imagination was next, followed by a symposium on Visions of the Future. These events all look wonderfully interesting and forward looking. An institution dedicated to hosting them is a good thing to see.

I've grown up reading all the works that I could find by Arthur C. Clarke. Seeing 2001 in the theater as a child was quite literally a life changing experience. I have come back to his works again over the years when I needed an antidote to the relentlessly grim, dystopian and apocalyptic visions of futurity so much in vogue lately. Clarke may have written of catastrophes, wars and human stupidity but his futures were intelligently constructed and in general ones I wouldn't mind living in. I can't say the same about much of what we see marketed as Science Fiction today.

There's certainly a place for futurist Cautionary Tales: John Brunner's (sadly out of print again) 1972 novel of environmental horrors The Sheep Look Up frightened, angered and motivated a generation of readers and undoubtedly helped boost the international Ecology movement, to the betterment of everyone's environment.

There is a place for visions of a better future, too and it's an important place. How many kids' have become scientists engineers, writers and artists because their imaginations have been fired by novels where those people were the heroes and did amazing things? More or less than the ones motivated by Evil Aliens, Civilization Ending pandemic Plague and Zombie killing movies?

Prophesies can too easily become self-fulfilling. If the all the children of the Cold War had accepted their fiery Apocalypse none of us would be here now. What happens to a society that decides, en masse that there can be no better Future? That's something I don't want to know.

Jupiter's moon Europa is covered with frigid water and carbon dioxide ice, far away from the energy of the Sun and blasted by the radiation belts of the giant planed it orbits. In spite of all that, it's an excellent candidate for life, as it's been found to have a sea of warm water several miles under the ice. The question is, how could we tell? Now, NASA's JPL researchers have come up with a miniaturized submersible that could be dropped down a borehole in the ice. Plans are to test in in Antarctia's Lake Vostok after one is constructed. Art would have loved this.

The Spitzer Space Telescope has some new awesome photos of Baby stars blowing bubbles. Oh how cute.

One more step on the way towards Clarke's Space Elevator: Finnish lift maker Kone Corporation has come up with a carbon-fiber tape elevator cable that's far lighter than steel cable and allows for some incredibly high elevator trips.

The University of Otago's New Zealand Marine Studies Center aquarium staff thought it would be a neat idea to commission the university's scientific glassblowing unit to make glass shells for their hermit crabs.

So you don't have any idea what to get him for Father's day? how about a decorative kitchen pod where you can breed, grow,harvest, kill and process all the edible insects you'll ever want. Yes, it's just like you've seen on TV! Yum! Eh...the divorce rate isn't all that high. Is it?

Of course, that article was only yet another shameless lead in to our Cicada Recipe of the Week:

Cicada Dumplings


20 Chinese black mushrooms, soaked and destemmed 6 egg whites 4 oz cicadas, wings removed and pre-boiled for 5 minutes 1/2 oz cooked Chinese ham, cut into 1"-long, 1/16"-thickstrips 1/2 tsp cornstarch 1 tsp salt 3/4 tsp MSG (optional) 2 cups chicken broth


1. Mince 2 oz cicadas and 1 oz fat pork separately, then mix in bowl. Add 1/8 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp MSG. Stir until firm. Divide into 10 portions for mushroom stuffing.

2. Squeeze excess water from mushrooms. Put in bowl, add a little broth and steam for 30 minutes. Remove and squeeze out excess liquid. Place in dish, stem sides up, and sprinkle with cornstarch. Place one portion cicada stuffing in middle of a mushroom and cover with another mushroom, black side up, to make a stuffed mushroom pouch. Repeat until 10 pouches are done.

3. Mince remaining pork and cicadas separately, then mix in a bowl. Add 1/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp MSG. Stir until firm. Make 20 balls in the shape of a cicada. Beat egg whites. Grease pan. Make a thin small round pancake with one tbsp egg white. Place a cicada ball in the middle and wrap pancake around. Pinch ball to form head and body of the cicada. Fry for 1/2 minute and remove. Put two strips ham in head. Repeat until 20 “cicadas” are made. Put mushroom pouches and shrimp cicadas on plate. Steam for one minute over high heat. Remove and place separately in tureen. Bring stock to boil and add remaining salt.

Pour stock slowly into tureen and serve.


Serve 4 to 6.

Here is an interesting, excellent article on the results of a recently completed global assessment of Biotech Crops vs. Pests: Successes, Failures From the First Billion Acres. Hint: pests developed pesticide resistance far less when organic farming's planted refuge system was used. Thanks BlueB4sinrise, for the tip!

Here is a gorgeous, hypnotic time lapse video of a Supercell storm forming in Texas. Enjoy.

Hot Pink Slugs! Cannibal Snails! This has to be on a mountain in Australia, doesn't it now?

And here is your Video Cephalopod Break for the day:

Lastly, you will probably want to play for hours with the NPZ Machine, a Phyo- and Zooplankton modeling tool developed by Neil Banas in 2011 with a grant from the National Science Foundation and NOAA.

Have fun, Everybody!


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