• Amazon is making a Ring Camera TV show

    From Deadline:

    Wanda Sykes is knocking on the door of syndication with a new series that features videos taken from Ring doorbells.

    The comedian is to host Ring Nation, a new twist on the popular clip show genre, from MGM Television, Live PD producer Big Fish Entertainment and Ring.

    The series, which will launch on September 26, will feature viral videos shared by people from their video doorbells and smart home cameras.

    Not sure why they're not just calling it America's Funniest Home Surveillance Capitalism.

    To be fair, Ring has made some improvements to their privacy policies in recent years; I suppose it's also worth noting that many other home security cameras have similar policies (even if they don't have as cozy relationships with law enforcement).

    All that being said: I hate this.

    But here's the real kicker, courtesy of Kevin Purdy at Ars Technica:

    Ring Nation producer Big Fish is also, incidentally, the producer of Live PD, the police ride-along series canceled after the George Floyd killing and resulting protests, but the show was recently revived.

    Wanda Sykes To Host Syndicated Viral Video Show Featuring Ring Doorbell Technology From MGM [Peter White / Deadline]

    Amazon studio plans lighthearted show of Ring surveillance footage [Kevin Purdy / Ars Technica]

    Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

    (Full disclosure: I've linked above to a few different Wirecutter articles, written by Rachel Cericola; I also write for Wirecutter, which is part of the New York Times Company.)

  • Heavy Metal magazine is taking another crack at movie making

    The 1981 Heavy Metal anthology film, based on the popular science fiction / fantasy magazine of the same name, was the stuff of legends amongst my friend group growing in the late 90s. It had the edginess of underground comix, with all the nerdy goodness you could hope for, plus scintillating women and a sick soundtrack.

    During the 2022 San Diego Comic-Con, the publishing company revealed the sizzle reel above to announce their new plans to launch a whole "Metalverse" of film and TV products based on their extensive IP catalog. From the press release:

    At the panel, attendees were also treated to a sneak peek of the upcoming Heavy Metal animated television series Moon Lake, created by award-winning actor-writer Dan Fogler and based on his anthology graphic novel series. The horror comedy television series, currently in development and seeking distribution, is being co-produced by Heavy Metal, Fogler, Emmy and Peabody-winning Executive Producer Daniel Powell, and Emmy Award-winning animation studio Bardel Entertainment, the studio behind hit shows like Rick and Morty and Teen Titans Go!. Moon Lake is a thirty-minute animated TV show hosted by the Man in the Moon, a farcical character reminiscent of iconic TV anthology hosts of the past who has been held captive by "moon-men" since childhood. He prevents these aliens from attacking Earth by keeping them endlessly entertained with shocking tales of gruesome horror and hilarity

    "Just as Heavy Metal Magazine changed the way the world looked at comic books, and how the '81 animated film Heavy Metal changed animation forever, Heavy Metal Studios is about to take the reins on live action content and push it far past its current stagnation and into new heights. Things will never be the same again, again," said Tommy Coriale, Heavy Metal's President and Head of Studio.

    The company also announced some web3 crypto promotional stuff to help build the hype but, uhhh, I don't think BoingBoing readers will be as excited about that aspect of it.

    Heavy Metal announces 'Metalverse' TV and movies coming soon [David Brooke / AIPT Comics]

  • Can polygraph tests weed out bad cops?

    The Boston Globe recently printed an op-ed by former Ithaca, NY mayor Svante Myrick, who talks about his own city's approach to police reform. Myrick was originally elected when he was just 24 years old, and served in his position for 10 years, during which he dealt with a number of complications involving the police department in that 32,000-person city. I lived in Ithaca for two years during which Myrick was mayor; I thought he was generally a pretty good mayor, and while I personally had no negative police encounters during my time there, I'd heard plenty of horror stories — though none of them could quite compare to the various corruptions of the Boston Police Department.

    The part of Myrick's op-ed that caught my eye, however, was his insistence that subjecting police force applications to a polygraph test helped to improve hiring:

    Our goal was not to get applicants to confess to crimes. The test is for psychological characteristics with a focus on authoritarian tendencies, because we believe these, even more than other problematic factors such as racism or implicit bias, are both easier to detect and ultimately the most predictive of violent behavior down the road.

    Authoritarian individuals are those who feel they must be obeyed. They are bullies who demand subordination from others and display aggressive, impulsive traits. When we administered our combined polygraph and psychological screening, we found a sharp contrast between these unsuitable applicants' statements in their earlier job interviews and their answers during the final screening process.

    […]

    Once we added this step to our application process five years ago, it helped us eliminate a full 75 percent of applicants we otherwise would have hired. We were disturbed when we saw many of those applicants hired in other departments. Meanwhile in Ithaca, we reaped the benefits. The metrics are still coming in, but it quickly became evident that the officers whose conduct caused the city to be embroiled in lawsuits were hired before we instituted the new screening.

    On one hand, I'm well aware that lie detector tests are generally bullshit. On the other hand, I'm intrigued by the idea that even the threat of a lie detector test might be enough to make some authoritarian bastards reveal their more authoritarian tendencies. The fact that these tests helped to eliminate 75 percent of potential job candidates is both wild … and, given the kind of people who tend to apply for policing jobs, not actually that surprising. While I'm certainly not convinced that the world needs more BS polygraph tests, I am still intrigued by these results, and Myrick makes some valid arguments. (Myrick notes that the Ithaca police union didn't oppose the test, but I suspect that would be some pushback in other places, not to mention some potential legal/discrimination claims.)

    The city of Boston recently hired a new police commissioner named Michael Cox. Back in 1995, Cox, a Black man, was working on-duty as a plain-clothes officer, when a group of his colleagues on the Boston Police Department allegedly mistook him for a gang member, and assaulted him, beating him so bad that he was hospitalized for months. Cox stayed with the force, and diligently pursed a civil rights case against the officers who assaulted him; he ultimately won, and several of the officers involved in the attack were "disciplined," though none of them ever faced charges. As a result, Cox is vocally of reform — though obviously not defunding, as he's clearly stuck with his policing career — and it'll be interesting to see what kinds of changes he tries, and/or succeeds, to make.

    To transform Boston policing, test for authoritarianism [Svante Myrick / Boston Globe]

    Boston gets Police Commissioner who bad cops likely loathe. Let's see how this goes. [Chris Faraone / Dig Boston]

    In the pre-dawn darkness of 1995, Officer Michael Cox became a crime victim — at the hands of fellow Boston police officers [John R. Ellement and Ivy Scott / Boston Globe]

    Image: Lorie Shaull / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

  • This "Gen Z Translation" of HARRY POTTER is a total vibe

    Some ambitious Harry Potter fans have begun to translate the series into Gen Z talk. Yes really. Just take a look at the infamous opening page:

    What would happen if we just … updated the vibe a little bit … ahh there we go —

    So far, you can read the first four chapters of Harry Potter and the Smart-Ass Stones, but the rest of the book is supposedly forthcoming. In the same directory, you can find the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Ratios and Harry Potter and the Chug Jug of Fiya, too.

    I will admit that Dumbledore's first appearance is pretty dank:

    An ancient man appeared on the corner the cat had been protec on Privet Drive. He was tall, thin, and very old with a boss beard long enough to tuck into his belt. He was slaying in his long robes, a purple cloak that swept the ground, and high-heeled, buckled boots. His blu eyes were light, bright, and sparkling behind half-moon spectacles and his honker was long and crooked as though he had been punched in the face before. This ya boi, Albus Dumbledore.

    Albus Dumbledore was super chill about the fact that he wasn't wanted on this street. He was busy doing a self body cavity search until he felt the gaze of the catto. He chuckled and muttered, "I should have known."

    He found his query, a silver cigarette lighter, flicked it open and clicked it. RIP the nearest street lamp. Ya boi got click happy and plunged the street into darkness. Now the nosy Nancy neighbors could see nothing on the block. The old man waltzed down the street to chill with the cat.

    "Sup, Prof McGonagall?"

    Prof McG shot Dumbledore a sharp look and said, "The birbs are nothing next to this tea they be sipping. Legit what they say has me shook."

    Harry Potter and the Smart-Ass Stones

  • What if Rob Liefeld had drawn Watchmen?

    Sure, Watchmen might be generally revered as the greatest graphic novel of all time. But I'm sure one or two people have wondered: how much better could it have been if Dave Gibbons' art had more pouches and big guns and fewer feet? In other words: what if Alan Moore's script had been illustrated by Rob Liefeld instead?!

    Wonder no more, intrepid reader, for the Liefeldian Twitter Shitpost Artist known only as Positively Liefeldian has turned this monstrosity into a reality — and it's ever bit as gloriously awful as I hoped it would be.

  • The Badlands podcast looks into the lurid life of Armie Hammer, the "Cannibal Lover"

    Badlands is "a true crime podcast that dives deep into the real stories of the famous at their most infamous," spinning off from the immensely popular Disgraceland podcast (which I believe is the most downloaded music podcast ever?) I've been doing some writing for them, including the fourth season finale, which focused on the darker side of Robin Williams' life. I obviously had to approach that episode with a lot of sensitivity — you can embrace the scandal without the slander, ya know? — and I'm really, really proud of the work I did on that one.

    I also had the privilege of writing the fifth season premiere, which also required some very delicate linguistic tweaking … but in a way that could not have been more different from writing about Robin Williams. Because this time, the episode explores the billionaire erotic cannibal texter Armie Hammer — ya know, that guy who played that boringly handsome guy in a bunch of great movies, but no one ever remembered him until he turned out to be really into BDSM, except then it turned out he had a cannibal fetish, too?

    …Yeahhhhh…

    Anyway here's the official synopsis:

    With his chiseled jawline and matinee idol good looks, Armie Hammer could have been another leading man like Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt. But Armie Hammer was not most movie stars. He wasn't even most people. On the surface, his life was perfectly curated and appeared picture-perfect, with no major public scandals or dirt-digging by the press. But his increasingly bizarre appearances in interviews and on social media, not to mention leaked videos and texts, led to shocking revelations about what was really going on behind closed doors. And what was going on was more wild than the untamed dreams of a Hollywood screenwriter.

    Fair warning: this one gets pretty graphic. I wish I had a video of my wife's face when I read the script out loud and I got to that part (you'll know it when you hear it). And no, I did not make any of that up.

    You can find this episode on any podcast platform; new episodes are out every week, but you can listen to the full fifth season right now exclusively through Amazon Music. This batch of episodes includes Charlie Sheen, Lucille Ball, Danny Trejo, Charlie Chaplin, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (whose time spent playing high school baseball with my cousin was sadly cut for time, and also for being a boring detail that no one cared about).

    Armie Hammer: Dirty Texts, Bloodthirsty Fetishes, and a Cannibal Kink [Thom Dunn / Badlands]

    Image: Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

  • New groups of Spiders from Earth named after David Bowie

    From the Natural History Museum:

    Rising from the ashes of the wastebasket taxon, 49 Bowie spiders have been reclassified from Ctenus. Other species, meanwhile, have had previously unknown sex morphs described for the first time.

    In addition, Peter has described 55 entirely new species, whose names draw on David Bowie's musical catalogue.

    Species from the most northerly areas where the Bowie spiders live, such as Nepal, are named after songs from earlier in the musician's career such as B. ziggystardust and B. majortom

    Those from the central range represent songs from later in his career, such as B. letsdance and B. magicdance, while those from the most southerly areas, such as Papua New Guinea, are named after more recent songs such as B. blackstar

    And yes, there is a B. heroes and a B. aladdinsane and a B. rebelrebel as well. Because I know you were worried about that. I assume the B. magicdance can only be found in goblin labyrinths, but I can't find any information to confirm or deny that.

    Researcher Peter Jäger had previously named some other spiders after Bowie as well, including the huntsman spider Heteropoda davidbowie — but this new genus is a whole family of spiders, not just one individual.

    New group of spiders named after David Bowie and his back catalogue [James Ashworth / Natural History Museum]

    Bowie gen. nov., a diverse lineage of ground-dwelling spiders occurring from the Himalayas to Papua New Guinea and northern Australia (Araneae: Ctenidae: Cteninae) [Peter Jäger / Zootaxa]

    Image: Zleng / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

  • REVIEW: second volume of Dune graphic novel heads deep into Sietch Tabr

    Abrams ComicArts has just released the second volume of its Dune graphic novel adaptation, with art by Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín, and text adapted by Frank Herbert's son, Brian, and frequent collaborator Kevin J. Anderson.

    The first volume of Abrams' Dune adaptation brought the story (for those familiar) up to the end of the Harkonnen / Sardaukar assault on Arrakeen, with Paul and Lady Jessica escaping into the desert. In my review of that book, I speculated that the then-upcoming Villeneuve film adaptation of Dune would break at a similar point. This turned out to be wrong — but, having now read the second graphic novel, I think Abrams ComicArts' made the better decision. (Also worth noting that there is a separate graphic novel adaptation of the Dune film adaptation, which has nothing to do with the Abrams ComicArts adaptation of the novel that I'm talking about here.)

    Whereas volume 1 felt like a highly accurate but highly streamlined adaptation of the first half of the novel, this second volume feels much more intimate and richly lived in. Perhaps that's because there are fewer characters to deal with, and much less backstory to hurriedly cram in between the panels. The story contained in volume two essentially follows Paul and Jessica as they traverse the desert — first by themselves, and then in the company of the Fremen of Sietch Tabr, who eventually come to adopt the surviving Atreides into their tribe. By the end of this graphic novel — mild spoilers, though not for the original book — Paul has adopted the name of "Maud'dib," and Lady Jessica has drank the water of life, becoming the new Reverend Mother of the Fremen (and also hyper-evolving the fetus in her womb in the process, oops).

    These moments in particular are crucial to the overall story of Dune, and, like the infamous Gom Jabbar scene, are typically given a lot of weight in adaptations (and in fandom memories). But where the clumsily-titled DUNE: The Graphic Novel, Book 2: Muad'Dib truly succeeds is in the moments in-between these iconic instances of transformation. I've read Dune at least 4 times, and sure, I could technically explain to you what happens after Paul and Jessica go into the desert and meet the Fremen. But with a few exceptions (like the Maud'dib moment and the Water of Life), this section always felt like exposition to me — not necessarily spinning the wheels, but a quiet part of the book where we learn a lot of things that are crucial for the final showdown at the end of the book. Thanks to the visual nature of this graphic novel adaptation, however, this part of the story feels so much more real. There is something so much more visceral in seeing the impact of — for example — Paul taking his first human life, or the revelation of the Sietch's water cache. These quiet, obligatory moments take on new resonance. There's almost an air of a slow-burning thriller percolating between the panels, too. The artwork drips with the ominous tension — at first, a misplaced fear of the Fremen, and then, a very valid fear of the awful acts that Paul sees in his prophecies. Even the value of water and the promise of terraforming resonated with me in different ways after seeing a visual depiction on the page (although admittedly, some of that may be because of the ongoing drought and the fact that it's been over 90 degrees almost every day for the last month).

    If you're going to serialize Dune, this is the way to do it. While I criticized the first graphic novel adaptation for being too sprawling, I also recognized how that was also a necessary evil, given the way the story is structured. But this second volume lets you get close to a limited number of characters, and truly feel for them. This is true even with the few quick scenes in the Harkonnen home on Giedi Prime. It's a different experience when you can see The Beast Rabban's jealousy towards his younger brother, Feyd-Rautha. Even Thufir Hawat's reluctant cooperation reeks of tragedy. Hell, I even cared about Count Fenring for the first time ever — remember him? The Emperor's BFF, who was also a failed Kwisatz Haderach because he was a "genetic eunuch?" In the original novel, he seems like yet another piece of rich world building, whose existence I can understand, but can't connect with; here, I'm actually interested in the little weasel-faced assassin.

    I liked the first volume of Abrams ComicArts' Dune adaptation, but I loved DUNE: The Graphic Novel, Book 2: Muad'Dib.

  • You can now explore the world of Jim Henson's Labyrinth with virtual reality mini-golf

    From Mighty Coconut:

    The Jim Henson Company has signed a deal with Mighty Coconut—the entertainment studio behind the best-rated multiplayer game on the MetaQuest: Walkabout Mini Golf—to develop a 36-hole VR course set in the world of Jim Henson's 1986 classic fantasy film LABYRINTH. The course will be available on MetaQuest, Steam, and forthcoming VR platforms Summer of 2022 and will feature family-friendly gameplay with realistic physics, and beloved creatures from the film. Labyrinth is especially suited to VR, allowing the game's creators to transport fans right into the world of creatures, faeries and goblins so memorably brought to life by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. 

    I will certainly be the first to admit that "virtual reality mini-golf" seems like one step too far for me. Explore the Labyrinth world with a VR headset? Dope. Labyrinth-themed mini-golf in real life? Hell yeah, I'm there. But I'm willing to suspend my cynicism here, because Mighty Coconut seems to have put a lot of effort into this transmedia experience — including plenty of in-game Easter eggs, Henson-designed creatures, and yes, even Labyrinth-themed cocktails (not the VR kind).

    Walkabout Mini-Golf — Labyrinth is available for just $3 on Steam (unless you also want to splurge for all the fancy DLC).

  • New scientific paper shows the Mandela Effect is real

    The "Mandela Effect" is a term used to describe the phenomenon (read: conspiracy theory) wherein groups of people collectively mis-remember things, but continue to insist that their (incorrect) memories are in fact true, which may or may not be an indication that someone is messing with our reality (check out my not-yet published novel How To Build A Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart for more information!). Consider the case of the Berenstain Bears, which were never ever called the Berenstein Bears; or Jiffy peanut butter, which never existed (although JIF is real); or the mis-quotation of "Luke, I am your father," when the actual quote was "NO, I am your father."

    Now that we've covered basics, let's get to the main attraction: a pre-print research paper from the University of Chicago titled "The Visual Mandela Effect as evidence for shared and specific false memories across people," which takes a sincere scientific approach to understanding the phenomenon.

    The researchers brought in 100 participants and presented them with a variety of pop culture-related images — the majority of which were altered, so as not to match the actual, demonstrable memories that people should have. The researchers then asked people to identify which images were the "real" (original, un-altered) ones, and rate how confident they were in their choice. Later, they pointed out the correct images to the participants, and asked them to study and memorize.

    And both times, most of the participants chose the altered or non-canonical images. Even when they specifically studied and memorized the correct images, they still insisted that they witnessed the image being manipulated … even though they didn't. Even more bizarre is that people tended to share the same false memories.

    Here's what the researchers found:

    The occurrence of VME-errors during both short-term and long-term recall suggests that people do spontaneously generate these specific errors; VME is not a recognition-only phenomenon. Given the variability of the error frequency, it also suggests that the ease of spontaneously generating these errors may depend on the specific VME-apparent image. Furthermore, the fact that VME-errors can occur during short-term recall, despite limited familiarity with the image, could suggest that there is something intrinsic to these stimuli that encourages these errors.

    […]

    While we showed that these errors are unlikely to be explained by attentional or low-level visual differences, the VME may be driven by schema-based perceptual knowledge for some icons and driven by visual experience with the non-canonical version for others.

    The untested explanation for the VME relied solely on the schema theory of false memory: people are more likely to misremember details when they align with expectations of the image. While this explanation is limited, as it fails to fully explain the consistency and specificity of the VME, it may play a role in driving VME errors resulting from an incomplete perceptual experience.

    […]

    The VME cannot be universally explained by a single account. Instead, perhaps different images cause a VME for different reasons — some related to schema, some related to visual experience, and some related to something entirely different about the images themselves.

    And the real kicker, from the press release:

    "This effect is really fascinating because it reveals that there are these consistencies across people in false memories that they have for images they've actually never seen," said Asst. Prof. Wilma Bainbridge, a neuroscientist and principal investigator at the Brain Bridge Lab in UChicago's Department of Psychology.

    […]

    "You would think that because all of us have our own individual experiences throughout our lives that we'd all have these idiosyncratic differences in our memories," Bainbridge said. "But surprisingly, we find that we tend to remember the same faces and pictures as each other. This consistency in our memories is really powerful, because this means that I can know how memorable certain pictures are, I could quantify it. I could even manipulate the memorability of an image."

    In other words, the Mandela Effect exists, and there's no discernible reason why — except that someone is manipulating reality and altering our collective cultural memories.

    The Visual Mandela Effect as evidence for shared and specific false memories across people [Deepasri Prasad and Wilma Bainbridge / Psychological Science]

    Study finds widespread false memories of logos and characters, including Mr. Monopoly and Pikachu [Sarah Steimer / University of Chicago]

  • 99-year-old woman gets her dying wish: a giant penis on her grave

    From Vice:

    Before her death, 99-year-old Catarina Orduña Pérez had one final wish: a giant statue of a dick on top of her grave.

    Her family unveiled the completed monument — a 5-and-a-half-foot-tall cock and balls weighing nearly 600 pounds — mounted on her tomb at a cemetery in Mexico this past weekend as a "recognition of her love and joy for life."

    "She wanted to break the paradigm of everything Mexican, where things are sometimes hidden because of not having an open mind," her grandson Álvaro Mota Limón told VICE World News in an interview. "She was always very avant-garde, very forward-thinking about things."

    Doña Cata, as she was lovingly known throughout the small town of Misantla in the eastern state of Veracruz, had a particular affinity for penises, and what she believed they represented.

    This Grandma's Dying Wish Was a Giant Dick on Her Grave [Nathaniel Janowitz / Vice]

  • Amazon carbon emissions up 40% but somehow still on track for "net zero" by 2040

    Amazon just released its 2021 Sustainability Report, in which Kara Hurst, the company's VP of Worldwide Sustainability, boasts:

    As part of our efforts to decarbonize our business, we became the world's largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in 2020, and last year, we reached 85% renewable energy across our business. We continue to expand our use of zero-emission transportation such as electric delivery vans, cargo bikes, and on-foot deliveries, and in 2021, more than 100 million packages were delivered to our customers' doorsteps globally using zero-emission vehicles. We are also investing in nature-based solutions, and last year, we helped to create the Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest finance (LEAF) Coalition—a global initiative of governments and leading companies that has already mobilized $1 billion to protect the world's tropical rainforests. We will continue to act boldly to address climate change and to invest in solutions to help meet our commitment to reach net-zero carbon across our operations by 2040.

    Amazon had announced its Climate Pledge in 2019, which included plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2040. Based on Hurst's opening letter, the company is well on track and looking good to do some good for the planet! Throughout the Sustainability Report, the company reiterates that they are "on path" towards their 2025 targets, and have reduced emissions from deforestation, and all kinds of other nice-sounding accolades. On page 10, however, the company also acknowledges that:

    With all of our growth in 2021, our absolute carbon emissions increased by 18% in 2021.

    From 2020 to 2021, the company also increased their absolute carbon emissions— with a total growth of 40 percent over just two years.

    Of course, upon printing this news, the company report immediately downplayed it as well (emphasis added):

    Importantly, our carbon intensity decreased by 1.9%—this is the third year in a row we've seen our carbon intensity decrease. This measurement quantifies total carbon emissions, in grams of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), per dollar of gross merchandise sales (GMS). As companies invest in new products and services, and their businesses grow substantially, the focus should not be solely on a company's carbon footprint in terms of absolute carbon emissions, but also on whether it's lowering its carbon intensity. Over time, continued decreases in carbon intensity can lead to lower absolute emissions.

    In other words, their carbon emissions decreased if you compare their carbon emissions to their gross profits. Even if you ignore the fact that most carbon offsets are actually bullshit anyway, that still means that — by the company's own accounting metrics — Amazon could arguably achieve "net zero" carbon intensity while still cranking out millions and millions tons of non-offset carbon ever year. Neat!!1

    (There's also the fact that Amazon's carbon accounting doesn't factor in the emissions resulting from the manufacturing process, not even for its own house-branded products, but that's a topic for another time.)

    Amazon's climate pollution is getting way worse [Justine Calma / The Verge]

    Delivering progress every day: Amazon's 2021 sustainability report [Amazon]

  • Wounded veteran gets first DOD-approved penis transplant

    The MIT Technology Review has a surprisingly fascinating piece about a US Navy veteran who lost his everything below the waist when he stopped on a landmine during a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan in 2010. Over the years, he'd gotten used to his shiny new prosthetic legs, and even came to display them proudly for the everyone to see. But the loss of his penis was a shame that haunted him for eight years — until he became the fourth-known person in the world to undergo a fully functioning penis transplant, and the first military veteran to do so.

    A total of 1,367 American infantrymen sustained significant genital injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2013. Such hidden wounds of war represent a relatively new problem. Bombs from below used to be a death sentence, but better body armor and modern casualty care ensure that more wounded soldiers survive—and more of them with devastating genital-urinary trauma. In a report last year, military urologists wrote that groin injuries have increased "to a level never before reported in the history of war."

    The US Department of Defense recognized the problem as long ago as 2008, when it set up an institute to research various reconstructive transplants. Eventually, the TOUGH Project—Trauma Outcomes and Urogenital Health—placed a figure on it: among infantrymen with genital urinary injuries from Iraq and Afghanistan, 502 were injured so severely that a penis transplant might be their only recourse.

    Quantifying the number of such injuries is easy. Outlining the psychological toll they take on guys in their 20s and 30s is much harder.

    Meet the wounded veteran who got a penis transplant [Andrew Zaleski / MIT Technology Review]

    Image: Public Domain via PxHere

  • Scientists use DNA Typewriter to encode K-pop lyrics into human genomes

    In a recent study published in the journal Nature titled "A time-resolved, multi-symbol molecular recorder via sequential genome editing," a group of researchers from the University of Washington describe their recent experiments with recording information directly onto living cells with a "DNA Typewriter." From the abstract:

    DNA is naturally well suited to serve as a digital medium for in vivo molecular recording. However, contemporary DNA-based memory devices are constrained in terms of the number of distinct 'symbols' that can be concurrently recorded and/or by a failure to capture the order in which events occur1. Here we describe DNA Typewriter, a general system for in vivo molecular recording that overcomes these and other limitations. 

    With the itself DNA functioning as the "tape" or blank recording medium, the researchers used CRISPR-Cas9 to insert the information into a specific segment of the DNA. Or, as phys.org explained it:

    The idea to use DNA to encode information piggybacks on the molecule's natural function. Just as computer software is written in 1s and 0s, the DNA molecule uses a four-letter code for the instructions for living things.

    The DNA typewriter isn't the first of its kind, however, it has a combination of attributes that make it particularly promising for illuminating the biology of cells. Namely, it can capture a large number of events while documenting them in chronological order.

    Put another way, it's like Morse code — but instead of dots and dashes, you insert combinations of Cs, Gs, Ts, and As into the DNA strand.

    To demonstrate their proof of concept, the researchers thought long and hard about exactly what information to encode into the model DNA strand. What should be the first thing that other people see when they read the information on this historic strip of DNA? A Biblical reference? A tip of the hat to Alexander Graham Bell's first telephone call? Nah — they decided to pay homage to lead author Junhong Choi's Korean heritage by referencing a lyric from K-pop sensations BTS: "Bound forever, DNA."

    A time-resolved, multi-symbol molecular recorder via sequential genome editing [Junhong Choi, Wei Chen, Anna Minkina, Florence M. Chardon, Chase C. Suiter, Samuel G. Regalado, Silvia Domcke, Nobuhiko Hamazaki, Choli Lee, Beth Martin, Riza M. Daza & Jay Shendure / Nature]

    DNA typewriter taps out messages inside cells [Howard Hughes Medical Institute / Phys.org]

  • Are emus actually just emo ostriches? This children's book asks the question.

    Here's a children's book I did roughly a decade ago with my friend Dana Nacer, about a broken-hearted ostrich who becomes so emo that he turns into an emu.

    I was never able to find an agent or publisher who was interested in it — apparently emo jokes about emus are too niche? who knew? — so I thought I'd share it here. Maybe we'll print up a short book run on our own some day. It's all there already!

    Anyway — enjoy Emo: A Tale Of Two Emus!

  • This NFT of a destroyed diamond is the perfect microcosm for all NFTs

    I stumbled across this Twitter thread the other day, of some web3 profiteer pitching ideas for how to extract value from existing brands, using blockchain tokens. Most of them are monetized loyalty programs operating under the assumption that the loyalty rewards would have an exchangeable value as currency on their own; or else, they're just another way for the businesses to shift costs to consumers by gamifying their externalities.

    Naturally, I clicked the person's profile, in which she boasts that she is the creator of the "world's 1st destroyed diamond NFT," which began as another Twitter thread that … honestly, explains it all pretty perfectly:

    If I make an NFT of 1980 Lando Calrissian action figure, and it gets destroyed in a fire, I still have the same asset … right?

    …right…

    To prove her point, Tasha labs did indeed buy a diamond, destroy the diamond, and then mint an NFT of the diamond on OpenSea. From the listing:

    I went and bought a real diamond for $5k—> destroyed it—> minted a NFT for the diamond. I wanted to see how much value the NFT retains.

    Many don't understand why this exercise would work, including my mother who is a savvy investor and an accountant for 30 years. I had a long debate with her, which I wrote about here (https://taschalabs.com/nft-is-better-than-diamond-heres-why/).

    But my basic idea is that a physical asset like a diamond has value because of two functions:

    1/ physical utilities function 2/ asset function as a store-of-value (SoV)

    When you destroy a diamond and create a NFT in its place, you transfer function #2 to the NFT. Since by destroying the diamond, the 1-to-1 mapping between diamond and NFT is cemented, the NFT should retain the SoV part of the diamond's value.

    A NFT can serve the role as a SoV, because it's able to satisfy 3 basic criteria for something to qualify as an "asset":

    1/ durability 2/ limit on supply 3/ social agreement

    I also think overtime NFTs will replace physical assets like diamond and real estates, because NFTs are a much more user-friendly asset class for holding and transacting, compared to physical assets.

    Sure enough, Tascha did eventually transfer her destroyed diamond NFT to someone else, for 5.5 ETH — which, at the time of sale, was roughly equivalent to $16,500, though it's currently closer to half that value. And to be fair, that is a value increase from her initial investment! So maybe I'm the idiot. Or maybe this just further cements my belief that this is all just a value extraction scam that upholds the inherent valuelessness of government-derived currencies. But hey, I guess it's a cool idea to skirt around the system?

    Tascha's Destroyed Diamond [OpenSea]

  • Japanese police crack down on aggressive monkeys, killing one of them

    Following attacks on at least 42 people in Japan's Yamaguchi prefecture, police have taken up arms in a bid to quell the insurrection of macaques. One among them has already been put to death, though tranquilizer darts are still the weapon of choice for tackling the roaming "gangs".

    Officials in Japan have put down a monkey they say was part of a gang of macaques terrorising the city of Yamaguchi for weeks, according to reports. The Japanese macaque, which is sometimes referred to as a snow monkey, was euthanised on Tuesday after specially commissioned hunters used a tranquilliser gun to sedate it, The Guardian newspaper reported.The monkey, believed to be four years old, was identified as responsible for at least one of the many attacks

    None of the injured humans have been killed or seriously maimed. Yet.

    One local took a photo of a macaque peering through their window.

    The macaque can be seen clutching onto a railing of a door as it observes the interior of a house for about 10 seconds before walking away.

    Image: Public Domain via PxHere

  • Scientists convert dead spiders into cybernetic grabbers

    What's worse than cyborg spiders? Dead cyborg spiders!

    …Unless you're part of the "necrobotics" (yes really) lab at Rice University, in which case, dead cyborg spiders can actually be a handy tool for creating a set of mechanical grippers that can pick up objects while blending into natural environments. From the press release:

    "It happens to be the case that the spider, after it's deceased, is the perfect architecture for small scale, naturally derived grippers," said Daniel Preston of Rice's George R. Brown School of Engineering

    […]

    "We were moving stuff around in the lab and we noticed a curled up spider at the edge of the hallway," [graduate student Faye Yap] said. "We were really curious as to why spiders curl up after they die."

    A quick search found the answer: "Spiders do not have antagonistic muscle pairs, like biceps and triceps in humans," Yap said. "They only have flexor muscles, which allow their legs to curl in, and they extend them outward by hydraulic pressure. When they die, they lose the ability to actively pressurize their bodies. That's why they curl up. 

    "At the time, we were thinking, 'Oh, this is super interesting.' We wanted to find a way to leverage this mechanism," she said.

    In addition to their unique gripping mechanism — unlike most muscle-reliant creatures, spiders actually have hydraulic systems built into their bodies — spiders are also known to have the proportionate strength of a Spider-Man, which means they can easily lift more than 130% of their body weight. This makes them particularly useful for grabbing things!

    Who knew zombie cyborg spiders could be so handy?

    Rice engineers get a grip with 'necrobotic' spiders [Mike Williams / Rice University]

  • Chuck Tingle to go mainstream with new books published by Tor / Nightfire

    World's greatest author Chuck Tingle has made the leap to the "Big Five," according to a recent release in Publishers Marketplace:

    Here's the full official description of Camp Damascus, straight from the Tor website:

    Camp Damascus is a queer deconstruction of the demonic possession subgenre. It's about the power of the historical institutions who shape us, and the terrifying things we discover when these traditions and stories begin to unravel. Ultimately, however, Camp Damascus is about the power of curiosity, and the strength of love. Kelly Lonesome and the whole Tor Nightfire team are the perfect fit for helping Chuck on this journey, overflowing with kindness and sincerity, and allowing Chuck all the creative space I could ever hope for. I can't wait for readers to trot along with us and continue proving love is real.

    In other words: it sounds like a perfectly tingler horror novel!

    Camp Damascus is out next summer. To celebrate the well-deserved news, Tingle has written a new Tingler titled Not Pounded By The Physical Manifestation Of Chuck Tingle's Traditional Publishing Deal Because He Writes About More Than Just Pounding However If This Book Was About Pounding That Would Be Okay Too Because There's Nothing Wrong With Sexuality In Art, which you can read for free via Patreon.

    Congrats on the big deal, Chuck! Now the rest of the world might finally learn what all true buckaroos already know: that love is real.

    Nightfire Proves Love is Real With Chuck Tingle's Horror Novel, Camp Damascus [Tor.com]

  • Area emu stops drunk driver from fleeing the scene of a crash

    Dean Wade had only started his job as a chef at the Old Bell Hetal in Malmesbury, England two weeks before he saw the car crash through the empty shop across the street. The woman in the passenger seat fled immediately, he told the Washington Post, but the intoxicated driver was a little slow and clumsy on his feet.

    And then this happened:

    Wearing his slip-resistant rubber kitchen clogs and chef's overalls, Wade chased the driver for 15 to 20 minutes, through bushes, allotments and gardens before the pair ended up at an animal sanctuary.

    This was when the real confrontation began.

    "I could see this massive emu," Wade said. "I'm six foot tall and it was bigger than me."

    Wade said he could tell the bird, which was surrounded by its offspring, was likely to spring into defense if anyone intruded its enclosure.

    "Mate, don't go in there," Wade warned the man, who he said ignored his advice, replying: "I can fight emus" before heading into the animal's pen — where he was repeatedly pecked.

    "It was stabbing his body all over," Wade said, causing the man to curse and unsuccessfully attempt to "kung-fu-kick" the animal away.

    The bird kept stabbing at the driver, who eventually gave up, fled the pen and headed toward a river — while Wade took the opportunity to flag down a nearby police car.

    According to the BBC, the emu lived at the nearby Malmesbury Animal Sanctuary, and is now the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

    Emu and chef help stop driver fleeing crash site [Jennifer Hassan / Washington Post]

    Man fleeing Wiltshire crash scene attacked by emus [BBC]

    Image: Public Domain via PxHere