Détente or Destruction: Our Changing Relationship With Bacteria

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1. It's hard to overstate how profoundly our cultural relationship with bacteria has changed in the last five years

"For most of my life, if I’ve thought at all about the bacteria living on my skin, it has been while trying to scrub them away. But recently I spent four weeks rubbing them in. I was Subject 26 in testing a living bacterial skin tonic, developed by AOBiome, a biotech start-up in Cambridge, Mass. The tonic looks, feels and tastes like water, but each spray bottle of AO+ Refreshing Cosmetic Mist contains billions of cultivated Nitrosomonas eutropha, an ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) that is most commonly found in dirt and untreated water. AOBiome scientists hypothesize that it once lived happily on us too — before we started washing it away with soap and shampoo — acting as a built-in cleanser, deodorant, anti-inflammatory and immune booster by feeding on the ammonia in our sweat and converting it into nitrite and nitric oxide."

+ I grew up calling all bacteria germs

 

2. A historical argument that the Internet didn't spread "openness" but slowly ingested the idea from other systems like UNIX.

"As the fate of the 'open Internet' remains unresolved, the core tensions from networking history remain stubbornly in the present. A new generation of idealistic coders and engineers now has the opportunity to move beyond the rhetoric of openness, and to build new networking technologies and tools for network management that advance human rights and social justice. Fundamental questions remain in front of the FCC and the American public: will we choose to define and regulate today’s 'open Internet' more tightly? Or will we find another way to ensure that the digital networks of the future serve the public interest?"

 

3. On Being the Right Size, by JBS Haldane, March 1926.

"Divide an animal's length, breadth, and height each by ten; its weight is reduced to a thousandth, but its surface only a hundredth. So the resistance to falling in the case of the small animal is relatively ten times greater than the driving force. An insect, therefore, is not afraid of gravity; it can fall without danger, and can cling to the ceiling with remarkably little trouble. It can go in for elegant and fantastic forms of support like that of the daddy-longlegs. But there is a force which is as formidable to an insect as gravitation to a mammal. This is surface tension. A man coming out of a bath carries with him a film of water about one-fiftieth of an inch in thickness. This weighs roughly a pound. A wet mouse has to carry about its own weight of water. A wet fly has to lift many times its own weight and, as everyone knows, a fly once wetted by water or any other liquid is in a very serious position indeed. An insect going for a drink is in a great danger as man leaning out over a precipice in search of food. If it once falls into the grip of the surface tension of the water—that is to say, gets wet—it is likely to remain so until it downs."

 

4. How Harvard's library does cold storage of materials: a new documentary.

"Out at the Harvard Depository in Southborough, Massachusetts there are many stories to tell. How do the books come to and from campus nearly an hour away? What is the best way to store a library collection whose offsite holdings alone are mounting to ten million? What does it take to keep books at cold preserving temperatures and film reels at even colder ones? Our upcoming documentary, Cold Storage, uncovers an ecosystem of laser scanners, UV fly zappers, cherry pickers and a mezzanine of machinery. It shows a place where books are sorted not by the methods of Dewey or those of the Library of Congress but by size."

 

5. Roland Barthes reviews Pac-Man, sort of.

"In the video arcades of Paris’ young quarter, one realizes a contradiction: the rear projection that naturalizes itself with an appearance of frontality—the exposed 'full frontal' view that tells us, mistakenly, that we are the voyeurs of the birth of a New France. The Fourth Republic projects an image of the traditional family over the Fifth: Ms. Pac-Man assumes her husband’s phantoms, and Jr. Pac-Man in turn inherits the burden. Jr. Pac-Man is born fractured, his fears and self-doubts already manifest in the apparitions that haunted his parents. One is informed by way of allusion that the holistic identity he seeks is, in fact, a spectre in itself."

 

Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip

board. Traditionally, you board a ship; to board a train is unjustifiable but (US?) established.

That US? is more like WTF? 

 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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