The Case Against Mars

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

1. The case against going to Mars

"The uncomfortable truth is that, despite the technical tour-de-force of our robotic reconnaissance, looking for water on Mars has become one of the most humdrum pursuits imaginable in all of 21st-century space science... Indeed, scientists who specialise in Mars have been forced to dial down their dreams, hypothesising ever-smaller windows of opportunity for past life on the red planet, and ever more inaccessible refuges for anything now living there. Native Martians, if they exist at all, are most probably microbes clinging to life almost unreachably deep beneath the surface. This does not diminish the importance of exploring our neighbouring planet, but it must be admitted that there might well be more promising places to seek alien life. Indeed, if following the water is the prime directive in the search for extraterrestrial life, it increasingly appears that we should look beyond Mars to an icy moon of Jupiter called Europa."

2. Small-scale counterfeiting is pretty easy. Just ask this mother of six.

"First, the 34-year-old hairstylist and janitor took $5 bills with a specific watermark and soaked them with “Purple Power” degreaser. Next, she scrubbed off the ink with a toothbrush. After drying the now-blank notes with a hair dryer, she fed them through a Hewlett-Packard Co. 3-in-1 inkjet printer that emblazoned them with scanned images of $50 or $100 bills. The counterfeits looked and felt real and could pass any rudimentary test by a retail clerk. Brice, who pleaded guilty to counterfeiting last month in federal court, admits she produced between $10,000 and $20,000 in fake bills over two years before her scam unraveled in September."

3. A U-2 spy plane accidentally brought down LAX's computers.

"A Federal Aviation Administration computer system interpreted the U-2's flight path at a very high altitude as if it were flying in a much lower and more crowded airspace. The computer—which anticipates the flight path and looks for possible conflicts such as other aircraft or restricted airspace—was overtaxed by the many flight changes the U-2 had plotted, officials said. That work used much of the computer's memory and interrupted its other flight-processing functions, FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said in a statement."

4. Boing Boing is twenty-five years old — and still uniquely wonderful (not to mention a direct inspiration for 5IT). Here's an anthology from the print zine that began it all

"Long before Boing Boing the Web site, bOING bOING was a print zine that my wife Carla and I started in 1988. The first issue came out in 1989. Many things inspired us to publish bOING bOING: The Realist, the Discordian Bible, the writings of Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary, Love and Rockets (the comic book), Howard Rheingold’s book Excursions to the Far Side of the Mind, The Church of the SubGenius, Spy, cyberpunk science fiction, National Lampoon, MAD, Factsheet Five, Squa Tront, and probably most profoundly, the Winter 1987 issue of The Whole Earth Review (edited by Kevin Kelly), which had an article about the world of zines – self published magazines produced mainly by individuals using personal computers and the ubiquitous Kinko’s copy shops."

5. A 900-page book entitled, Making Noise: From Babel to the Big Bang and Beyond.

"When did the 'silent deeps' become cacophonous and galaxies begin to swim in a sea of cosmic noise? Why do we think that noises have colors and that colors can be loud? How loud is too loud, and says who? Attending, as ears do, to a surround of sounds at once physical and political, Hillel Schwartz listens across millennia for changes in the Western experience and understanding of noise. From the uproarious junior gods of Babylonian epics to crying infants heard over baby monitors, from doubly mythic Echo to amplifier feedback, from shouts frozen in Rabelaisian air to the squawk of loudspeakers and the static of shortwave radio, Making Noise follows 'unwanted sound"'on its surprisingly revealing path through terrains domestic and industrial, urban and rural, legal and religious, musical and medical, poetic and scientific... Drawing upon such diverse sources as the archives of antinoise activists and radio advertisers, catalogs of fireworks and dental drills, letters and daybooks of physicists and physicians, military manuals and training films, travel diaries and civil defense pamphlets, as well as museum collections of bells, ear trumpets, megaphones, sirens, stethoscopes, and street organs, Schwartz traces the process by which noise today has become as powerfully metaphorical as the original Babel."

Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip

beseech. Besought is the established past & p.p., though beseeched, on which the OED comment is merely 'now regarded as incorrect,' still occurs, probably by inadvertence, & Milton has beseecht.

Just in case you ever needed to talk about all the beseeching you've been doing.

Fireworks and Dental Drills, Letters and Daybooks