Inventing drugs is a tradition that dates back to Homer. From the Odyssey and its lotus-eaters to the psychotropic inventions of the substance-addled Philip K. Dick, from the ambrosia and manna of mythology to the psychedelic Spice of the desert planet Arrakis, fake drugs populate the literary canon in all kinds of unlikely places.
Why create fake drugs when there are so many varieties of existing substances in the world? Well, sometimes it’s a plot conceit: how else are those babies going to be born with telekinetic mutations, or those interstellar captains going to see safe paths through space-time? Most of the time, however, a fake drug in literature or film plays a very specific metaphorical role.
Consider it this way: science fiction is like chaos theory. It alters small, key variables about the world, just to see which butterflies cause thunderstorms 10, 50, or 100 years into the future. When we read even the basest genre fiction, we acknowledge that the continuum of reality can persist, in a more-or-less recognizable manner, even when an author has deliberately removed (or added) something vital. Science fiction asks us to imagine all manner of things: flying cars, interstellar travel, cosmic war, and advanced weaponry. We find ourselves in a radically altered landscape–the unchecked globalized sprawl of William Gibson, say, or the shiny planetary colonies of Robert Heinlein–and immediately set about, as in a children’s game, spotting the differences.
The fun is in examining the disconnects, and drawing our conclusions back to the present. In short, when we consider the flying car, what we’re really wrapping our heads around is the significance of their road-bound cousins. But the examples I’ve cited here are only modifications of the physical world. Humanity, despite its space-age digs, is usually the same old dog; an astronaut is just a space cowboy, after all, with a snazzy outer-space backdrop. What about when science fiction wants to be about inner space, not outer space? Never mind those astronauts’ first steps on an alien planet––what about their first thoughts? Just as we imagine leaving the solar system, we must also imagine new ways of getting outside the head.
That’s where the drugs come in. As a literary conceit, they’re a one-stop shop for the critical exploration of the human mind. Drugs change our behavior, sometimes laying bare hidden impulses, urges, and ideas; if some folks experiment with drugs to know themselves better, then a writer workshopping fictional drugs seeks to know humanity better. Change something about the human mind, after all, and you mainline straight into some big questions. To wit, fake drugs have served as the basis for some memorable examinations of the human experience, from A Clockwork Orange‘s milk-spurred ultraviolence to Brave New World’s state-controlled internal bliss. I gathered up some of our favorite fictional mind-benders.
Results from a NASA survey released in 2012 suggest there are roughly 4,700 potentially hazardous asteroids in our solar system. The results reveal new information about their total numbers, origins and the possible dangers they may pose. Potentially hazardous asteroids, or PHAs, are a subset of the larger group of near-Earth asteroids. The PHAs have the closest orbits to Earth’s, coming within five million miles (about eight million kilometers), and they are big enough to survive passing through Earth’s atmosphere and cause damage on a regional, or greater, scale.
The new results come from the asteroid-hunting portion of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission, called NEOWISE. The project sampled 107 PHAs to make predictions about the entire population as a whole. Findings indicate there are roughly 4,700 PHAs, plus or minus 1,500, with diameters larger than 330 feet (about 100 meters). So far, an estimated 20 to 30 percent of these objects have been found.
The new analysis also suggests that about twice as many PHAs as previously thought are likely to reside in “lower-inclination” orbits, which are more aligned with the plane of Earth’s orbit. In addition, these lower-inclination objects appear to be somewhat brighter and smaller than the other near-Earth asteroids that spend more time far away from Earth. A possible explanation is that many of the PHAs may have originated from a collision between two asteroids in the main belt lying between Mars and Jupiter. A larger body with a low-inclination orbit may have broken up in the main belt, causing some of the fragments to drift into orbits closer to Earth and eventually become PHAs. Asteroids with lower-inclination orbits would be more likely to encounter Earth and would be easier to reach. The results therefore suggest more near-Earth objects might be available for future robotic or human missions.
The WISE spacecraft scanned the sky twice in infrared light before entering hibernation mode in early 2011. It catalogued hundreds of millions of objects, including super-luminous galaxies, stellar nurseries and closer-to-home asteroids. The NEOWISE project snapped images of about 600 near-Earth asteroids, about 135 of which were new discoveries.
A TED Global en juin 2012 (vidéo), Clay Shirky (@cshirky), faisait une stimulante présentation sur ce que la programmation open source pouvait enseigner à la démocratie. Clay Shirky y rappelle d’abord la valeur de la contribution, comme il l’a fait dans ses deux livres. Il prend pour exemple le blog de la jeune Écossaise Martha Payne qui documentait chaque jour d’une photo et de quelques commentaires ce qu’elle mangeait à l’école… Jusqu’à ce que son professeur lui demande d’arrêter… et que le tollé de cette censure fit reculer l’école et la municipalité.
Questions nearly always abound about what Human Factors Engineering (HFE) or User Experience (UX) departments do within an organization. The combination of art and science within these teams baffles the traditional engineers working in disciplines that have predictable algorithms that solidified decades ago. Having a frame of reference that provides simple analogies to pop culture builds an understanding of the basics without overwhelming.
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