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The 2013 Edge Question: What *Should* We Be Worried About? Xeni's essay: "Cancer."

Photo: “Clematis 2013” Copyright © 2013 by Katinka Matson. View larger size.

Each year, literary über-agent and big idea wrangler John Brockman of Edge.org poses a new question to an assortment of scientists, writers, and creative minds, and publishes a selection of the responding essays.

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Mars: NASA gives up on attempts to contact Spirit rover

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Above, one of the last images taken by the Mars rover Spirit (NASA/JPL/Cornell).

NASA this week announced it will cease attempts to re-establish contact with the Mars Exploration Rover "Spirit," which last communicated on March 22, 2010. From an item on the Space Coalition website:

The stuck in the sand Mars rover reached a point where there was inadequate energy to run its survival heaters. That being the case, the rover likely experienced colder internal temperatures last year than in any of its prior six years on Mars. Many critical components and connections would have been susceptible to damage from the cold. Today, a transmission from Earth will be the last in a series of attempts to reawaken the robot.

From the NASA announcement:

Spirit drove 4.8 miles (7.73 kilometers), more than 12 times the goal set for the mission. The drives crossed a plain to reach a distant range of hills that appeared as mere bumps on the horizon from the landing site; climbed slopes up to 30 degrees as Spirit became the first robot to summit a hill on another planet; and covered more than half a mile (nearly a kilometer) after Spirit's right-front wheel became immobile in 2006. The rover returned more than 124,000 images. It ground the surfaces off 15 rock targets and scoured 92 targets with a brush to prepare the targets for inspection with spectrometers and a microscopic imager.

(Via Miles O'Brien)

Space Shuttle Endeavour readies for Monday launch

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In the photograph above by Robert Pearlman, space shuttle Endeavour emerges from behind the launch pad's rotating service structure. SpaceFlightNow has ongoing coverage (and live webcast of the launch), and SomaFM has a terrific ambient audio feed going. Godspeed!

Dalai Lama receives human rights award from Amnesty International


[iPhone snapshot above: Xeni Jardin; illustration inset, Shepard Fairey.]

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was in Long Beach, California this morning to accept the inaugural edition of a “Shine a Light on Human Rights” award from Amnesty International.

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EDGE World Question 2011: "What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?"

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Each year, über-big-think-literary-agent and EDGE founder John Brockman poses a question, and collects and publishes the answers. This year:

WHAT SCIENTIFIC CONCEPT WOULD IMPROVE EVERYBODY'S COGNITIVE TOOLKIT?
The term 'scientific"is to be understood in a broad sense as the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything, whether it be the human spirit, the role of great people in history, or the structure of DNA. A "scientific concept" may come from philosophy, logic, economics, jurisprudence, or other analytic enterprises, as long as it is a rigorous conceptual tool that may be summed up succinctly (or "in a phrase") but has broad application to understanding the world.
My response to the EDGE 2011 Question is here ("Ambient Memory And The Myth Of Neutral Observation").

Here is the index of all participants, more than 150 of them, including Brian Eno, J. Craig Venter, George Dyson, Kevin Kelly, Clay Shirky, Evgeny Morozov, Linda Stone, and Richard Dawkins (who will be returning soon as a Boing Boing guestblogger, I'm happy to report!).

News coverage so far includes: The Atlantic, Wired UK, New York Times, Sueddeutsche Zeitung , Newsweek, Die Welt, The Guardian , Publico.

(Image: RUDBECKIA, Katinka Matson)

Discussing Wikipedia's first decade on The Takeaway, 7:20am Eastern

For you early risers, I'll be discussing the tenth anniversary of Wikipedia with John Hockenberry on The Takeaway at 7:20 am Eastern time. Check your local listings or the live stream. Here's the show archive. The producers made a fun listener quiz for the occasion. Happy anniversary, Wikipedia!

State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky

Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky have once again produced a beginning-of-the-year "State of the World" conversation, their eleventh annual edition on The Well.

Tim Berners-Lee: Web's Not Dead

LONG LIVE THE WEB: Tim Berners-Lee's inspiring, call-to-arms essay on why the web matters now more than ever, and what we must do to defend the principles of openness and interoperability at its heart.

John Brockman's "Edge: Serpentine Map Marathon" (UPDATE: Now with more Boing!)

Image (click for large): The map of the genome of the first synthetic cell
J. Craig Venter: Genome Scientist, J. Craig Venter Institute; Author, A Life Decoded

From the Edge.org Serpentine Map Marathon. John Brockman writes:

Three years ago, Edge collaborated with The Serpentine Gallery in London in a program of "table-top experiments" as part of the Serpentine's Experiment Marathon . This live event was featured along with the Edge/Serpentine collaboration: "What Is Your Formula? Your Equation? Your Algorithm? Formulae For the 21st Century."

Hans Ulrich Obrist, curator of the Serpentine, has invited Edge to collaborate in his latest project, The Serpentine Map Marathon, Saturday and Sunday, 16 - 17 October, at Royal Geographical Society, 1 Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AR (Map).

The multi-dimensional Map Marathon features non-stop live presentations by over 50 artists, poets, writers, philosophers, scholars, musicians, architects, designers and scientists. The two-day event takes place in London during Frieze Art Fair week. The event features maps by Edge contributors, and an Edge panel of Lewis Wopert, Armand Leroi, and John Brockman, on Sunday (17 October) 1:15pm-2:15pm. The gallery is a work-in-progress. We are posting Edge Maps as they are received.Information Technology, Genetics, Neurobiology, Psychology, Engineering, Chemistry of Materials (yes, even the chemistry of materials. We are made of matter, and therefore any effect on what we are or we will also become the chemistry of the elements that we are made or not?). All these matters, pertaining to domains that are essential for understanding what "means" to be "human."

The whole collection is here, and more about the project here. Contributors whose works are included so far include Eduardo Salcedo-Albaran; Lewis Wolpert; Armand Leroi; Kai Krause; Tim Berners-Lee; Sean Carroll; Douglas Rushkoff; Marina Abramovic; Joan Chiao; Nicholas A. Christakis and James Fowler; Emanuel Derman; Jennifer Jacquet; Joel Gold; J. Craig Venter; Gino Segre; Bruce Sterling; Laurence C. Smith; Cesar Hildago; Bryan Hunt; George Dyson; Brian Knutson; Matthew Ritchie; Neri Oxman; George F. Smoot; James Croak; John Baldessari; Dimitar Sasselov; Dave McKean; Carlo Ratti; and Nicholas Humphrey.

Update: A Boing Boing map is now in the mix.

CycLAvia attracts over 100,000 cyclists to car-free Los Angeles streets

Beginning of CicLAvia

If you'd told me a year ago that the City of Los Angeles would close off almost 8 miles of primary city streets to let cyclists have free rein for a day I never would have believed it. If I hadn't seen it actually happen with my own eyes yesterday, I'd still be suspicious. But it's true: thanks to the amazing efforts of the die-hard volunteers behind the project, yesterday the first ever CycLAvia (a riff on the South American Ciclovía idea) took place and some 100,000 residents took to their bikes and got a glimpse of what the city might be like if at least some parts of it were car-free.

As an avid cyclist living in LA, I've long said this is an amazing city to bike in and that it takes on a whole new life when you see it from a bicycle. But most often the reaction I get from non-cyclists is that I must be crazy to ride a bike in LA. I'm not, and judging by the photos on flickr and reactions on twitter a ton of people now see the city a little differently. With any luck this is just the first of many upcoming bike-friendly events in the city. I know I can't wait to see where this leads! (Follow @Cyclavia for future details)
CicLAvia

Photos by Tara Brown and Jory Felice

Will the Duggars Inherit the Earth?

In which I am inspired by a snarky comment on another blog.

My normal routine involves a fair amount of procrastination, but I tell myself that’s OK (really), because sometimes it leads to work ideas.

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Collecting Solar Power, the Black Hole Way

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Not pictured: A convenient terrestrial solar panel. Image from thebadastronomer Flickr stream, via CC.

Light can't escape a black hole. Some people look at this fact and get the shudders. Others think, "Hey, that would make a really effective solar panel!"

Or, rather, it might if not for that whole "massive, crushing force of gravity" problem. MIT's Technology Review has a neat piece about scientists trying get around that minor hiccup. They're working with light-distorting metamaterials, the stuff you frequently see written up in stories about the coming of futuristic cloaking devices, alongside references to Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. But instead of bending light around the metamaterial, these researchers are focusing on a weirder--and, in my opinion, much cooler--goal.

...a metamaterial that distorts space so severely that light entering it (in this case microwaves) cannot escape.Their black hole consists of 60 layers of printed circuit board arranged in concentric circles (see picture below). The printed circuit boards are coated in a thin layer of copper from which Qiang and Tie have etched two types of pattern that either resonate at microwave frequency or do not. They've measured microwaves at 18 GHz going in and none coming out. And the circular symmetry of their metamaterial means that the microwaves are absorbed in all directions at once.

There you have it: The light-capturing power of a black hole, without the teeny inconvenience of being smooshed. Incorporate the material in solar collectors, and you could end up with a much more efficient way of harnessing the sun for energy.

What You Still Don't Know About You

After however many years of living, do you still have things about yourself, who you are and how your brain works that you don't entirely understand? To celebrate their 150th issue, the email version of The British Psychological Society's Research Digest asked 23 top psychologists to write 150 words on their nagging questions about themselves. From human consciousness, to death and forgiveness, to the dark Dalek-y corners of the mind, the answers are a great read--and an excellent place to jump into asking similar questions about ourselves.

I know. I know. That's awfully heavy for a Monday. So, for the excerpt here, we'll go with Richard Wiseman's answer, about the nature of humor:

I have no idea why I occasionally think funny things. For example, the other day I was watching the film "District 9", which is about an alien race known as "prawns", and thought "I wonder if the alien in charge is called a king prawn?". I would be the first to admit that it was not the world's greatest joke, but still, where did that moderately amusing idea come from? And why are some people so skilled at creating funny stuff, whilst others wouldn't recognise a proverbial custard pie, even if it hit them in the face? My guess is that the creation of comedy will remain a mystery for centuries, although at some point in the not too distant future, I suspect someone will carry out functional MRI scans of comedians creating jokes, and claim to have identified the part of the brain responsible for producing humour. Now, that will be funny.

Radio Free Africa

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"Freedom of expression and of thought was not invented by the West. It has existed in traditional societies -- even primitive ones -- for centuries. Human progress would not have been possible without it. I'm saying this as a black African from Ghana because today around the world, we have 'educated' barbarians who want to suppress this freedom by arresting and jailing dissidents, writers, journalists and those they disagree with."
-- George Ayittey on the BBC, September 20, 2009.

Ayittey, whose famed "cheetahs vs. hippos" TED speech I've blogged before, is co-founder of an inspired new project called Radio Free Africa. (thanks, Emeka Okafor)

Two Muslim guys photo-blog 30 NYC mosques in 30 days

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The "30 mosques in 30 days" blog documents Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq's "Ramadan journey through NYC's Muslim Community." It's a really neat project, and ends on September 19th (the last day in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan). Snip from one post, each one is about a different mosque, all are delightful.

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After the dhikr session, we broke our fast with dixie cups of water and prayed. The imam's recitation was incredible. This may sound hokey, but his voice sounded a lot like a perfect pitch violin, the way his voice glided seamlessly from letter to letter in his recitation. You couldn't help but close your eyes and take it all in. (...)

After a few minutes of breaking the ice, I mentioned the word "Call of Duty 4" and immediately a group of kids swarmed me. We had a blast during dinner cracking jokes. One thing I really love is seeing younger kids come to mosques because they genuinely enjoy being there, not because they are dragged by their parents. Its kids like these that make me feel good about where the Muslim community as a whole is headed in this country.

(via @ethanz via Global Voices)