Hunter of Planets, Mortal

5 Intriguing Things is a curated collection of links that help us think about the future. Subscribe to the daily newsletter.

1. Geoff Marcy, finder of planets around other suns, but a human like the rest of us

"With the next two years they found 10 more planets, generating headlines but also bruising controversy, as if Dr. Marcy had never gotten out of that shower. Some prominent astronomers argued that the Marcy-Butler team was confusing starspots or double stars for planets. The systems they were discovering were too unlike our solar system to be taken seriously. 'For three or four years, nobody believed us,' Dr. Marcy said. At one point he was invited to give a talk at a prominent meeting in Houston, home of the Lunar and Planetary Institute. But when he got there he was ushered into a small room where half a dozen scientists interrogated him. 'It sent me into a tailspin,' Dr. Marcy said. 'I was back to feeling stupid.'"


2. The Parrot Bebop looks like the ideal beginner drone: a one-pound flying computer with a 1080p camera (and autonomous flight control).

"Parrot Bebop Drone delivers the best performances without sacrificing battery life: 8x times more powerful than Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 onboard computer, Bebop Drone navigation computer features a Parrot P7 dual-core CPU, quad-core GPU and 8 GB of Flash Memory. All are fixed on a magnesium shelf that acts as electromagnetics shielding and as a radiator. Runs on Linux with SDK available for Developers."


3. Laser cleaning an Egyptian monument in Central Park.

"It’s at the atomic level that things get interesting. 'What happens is that layer absorbs the laser light,' he says. 'The atoms absorb the energy and they expand rapidly from the accumulation of energy, and by expanding so fast, they get blasted apart and they eject off the surface.' Imagine a beach ball inflating at the speed of an airbag, says Dajnowski. In other words, explosive. In the swirling atomic aftermath, dirt is obliterated leaving only Egyptian artwork in its place."


4. Prohibition pushed good scientists out of oenology, in effect jumpstarting food technology

"As Prohibition was coming on, I went into other work. I started a course in the preservation of fruits for making various nonfermented products. I studied also the production of canned fruit. That's how the food technology work was started... Out of that has come the large building at Davis for the study of unfermented food products fruit and vegetable products like preservation by freezing and canning... There was some work at the University of Oregon. That is, at the College of Agriculture in Corvallis. When Prohibition went into effect, they built up their research on various products like loganberry juice canning and so forth. Their work and ours were more or less simultaneous."


5. So what they're saying is that creating the Doritos Loco Taco is like inventing the lightbulb, or flash-frozen shrimp, or the Internet maybe.

"The team soon assembled for an all-day ideation session at Taco Bell headquarters, where 30 different product concepts were considered, Perdue says, including new forms of burritos, nachos, and taquitos. But one idea, from Doritos-maker Frito-Lay, stuck out: a Doritos-based taco shell pocketed with Taco Bell ingredients. 'It was basically an image [of this taco] on a piece of paper, with a written description. I don't know what technology they use. We didn't even taste it; it was just more of, 'Hey, this is what it could look like,' Perdue says. 'It was like, 'Holy crap!' Nobody had ever done this before: turning a Dorito into a taco shell. It was just mind-blowing at the idea stage.' Steve Gomez, Taco Bell's food innovation expert, recalls seeing the first mock-up. 'Every day I see a lot of concepts--sketches on paper, written words about products--and my job is to turn those products into reality,' he says. 'But in all my years as a product developer, I've never seen a concept like this. The product didn't even exist yet, and already people knew this idea was going to be huge.'"


Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip:

betide means happen, NOT betoken or presage, and is in modern usage only 3rd person sing. pres. subj.: woe betide you.


Subscribe to 5 Intriguing Things 

Basically an Image [of This Taco] on a Piece of Paper

Jump to comments
Presented by

Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of 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, 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 website 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.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

A Technicolor Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


What Do You Wish You Learned in College?

Ivy League academics reveal their undergrad regrets


Famous Movies, Reimagined

From Apocalypse Now to The Lord of the Rings, this clever video puts a new spin on Hollywood's greatest hits.


What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.


CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.



More in Technology

Just In