Learning From The Strangest Creatures On Earth

Tardigrades are extremely weird, extremely small creatures — but it looks like they’ve got a lot to teach us.

tardigrade_imagelargeTardigrades are eight-legged microscopic creatures that were first discovered about 450 years ago.  They are undeniably ancient, having diverged from precursor animal species more than 600 million years ago.  That makes them one of the oldest species on Earth.  In close-up photos, they look like manufactured animals . . . or perhaps characters in a video game.  They’re also called water bears, and some people curiously describe them as “adorable.”

But here’s the most interesting part:  tardigrades are the ultimate survivors.  In fact, they might be the hardiest species in the world.  Recently, scientists successfully revived a tardigrade that had been frozen solid for more than 30 years — that’s since the Reagan Administration, in case you’re counting — and the species also can withstand dehydration and a total vacuum.  Of particular interest to scientists, tardigrades also can survive radiation levels that are lethal to most organisms.

Scientists studying one of the toughest tardigrades learned that the little guys have a special protein that provides protection against radiation.  Dubbed “damage suppression” or “Dsup” by researchers, the protein envelops tardigrade DNA and protects it from radiation injury while allowing it to maintain all of its normal functions.  Even more intriguing, scientists think “Dsup” could be developed in human beings, and provide protection for humans engaged in space travel or that need extreme radiation therapy.  It may be that, in the future, humans are thanking our little water bear friends for providing us with a method that allows us to safely explore the far reaches of our solar system and the galaxy beyond.

Well . . . maybe they are kind of cute and cuddly after all.

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An Elf Gets Into The Game

I’m not a gamer, and I’ve never played the Madden NFL football game, but I still got a laugh out of the glitch in the latest version of the game, called Madden NFL 15.

The height of one player, for the Tennessee Titans, was mistakenly listed at 1 foot, 2 inches.  That means that when he shows up in the game, he’s about at calf height compared to the other players.  However, he still has all of the mannerisms of a fully grown player, like the swagger and the “you didn’t convert on third down” signal.  The results are hysterical.  It’s as if an elf — and not one the size of Will Ferrell — entered the game and then tried to play it straight.

When you see the footage with the tiny player, which is shown on the link above, you can also imagine him talking to the other players in a squeaky, high-pitched voice:  “Hey, I’m down here!  Look at me!  C’mon, pass the ball to me.  Wait up!  Hey, wait up!”  They ignore him, of course.

Perhaps it’s the non-gamer in me, but playing the game with the little sprite seems a lot more interesting than playing the game with regular-sized players.

The Return Of Super Mario And Donkey Kong

Nintendo has announced that Super Mario and Donkey Kong will return to the new gaming world.  Super Mario will be featured on Wii U in Mario Kart 8, and Donkey Kong will be available on Wii U in Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze.

Interesting, isn’t it?  Nintendo decides to bring back some old characters . . . and by gaming standards, Donkey Kong and Mario are truly ancient.  Both were first featured in the Donkey Kong game that was released in the early ’80s.  Most gamers weren’t even born when Donkey Kong hurled his first barrel.

So why bring them back?  Because Donkey Kong and Mario are established characters who have fans.  You don’t need to invent a back story for them.  I remember Richard and Russell playing Mario Kart and Super Mario Three and God knows what else in the ’90s.  I remember sitting with the kids and watching, vacant-eyed, as Mario raced a princess and somebody with a mushroom head and Donkey Kong and a turtle.  Gah!  The things parents will endure to spend some time with their kids!

Many of those early ’90s are still interested in gaming.  So why not bring back characters they know, and allow them to experience a bit of the nostalgia that grips every generation of Americans at some point or another?  Who knows?  They might ask Mom and Dad to sit and watch them as a 3D Mario races upside down and tries to beat Donkey Kong to the finish line.

 

A Proud Day For Columbus, And For Parents Everywhere

Columbus has a lot to be proud about.  It’s the state capital, it’s the home to one of the nation’s largest, and finest, universities as well as a number of Fortune 500 companies, and it is one of the few growing cities in the Midwest.  Now we can also proudly say that we are home to a kid who played video games for at least four straight days and had to be hospitalized for dehydration as a result.

What a tribute to the family values, careful parenting, and common sense that have made our city such a fine place to live!  Fifteen-year-old Tyler Rigby locked himself into his room for four days to engage in a Modern Warfare 3 marathon, leaving his room only to use the bathroom and eat.  Eventually he left his room and collapsed due to dehydration.  His mother — who apparently didn’t do anything to stop Tyler’s ludicrous video game marathon — said she was worried he was going to die.  Fortunately, he’s been filled with fluids and is expected to be okay.

Yes, it’s a proud day for Columbus, and for attentive parents everywhere.

“Toilet Gaming” And The March Of Human Progress

Just when you think we’ve reached the nadir in the arc of human social development, you read a story about “toilet gaming” — and you realize there are entirely new depths waiting to be plumbed by modern homo sapiens.

You read it right:  “toilet gaming.”  Or, to be precise, urinal gaming.  Apparently modern men simply can’t abide the 50 seconds or so of down time that usually accompanies the basic human function of bladder evacuation.  It’s just so damn tedious, standing there on the sticky floor of a public restroom, staring at the wall a few inches ahead while you answer nature’s call!  So, some enterprising British business has developed devices that allow the bored urinal user to play a video game that uses urine flow as a kind of hands-free joystick.  A good aim at inner urinal sensors that hits various targets allows you to get a top score in a skiing game or to correctly answer trivia questions, and your score shows up on a video screen directly ahead.  The developers think they’ll be able to sell advertising — presumably, for beer — on part of the video screen.

Have we really reached the point where men can’t even relieve themselves without playing a video game?  Can’t public restrooms just be devoted exclusively to their intended purpose?  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the guy using the next urinal over to be focused on directing the stream in order to score well on a video game rather than paying careful attention to successful and prompt completion of the task at hand.

Inscrutable

The BBC reports that some Japanese guy has married his “virtual bride,” a character in a video game.  It’s one of those stories that makes you wonder if it is a hoax.

The story about “Sal 9000” (as the guy supposedly likes to be called) is weird, but the really amazing information in the story is that many Japanese guys play a “dating” video game called “Love Plus.”  What, no shooting of zombies or terrorists?

The Video Game Revolution

Those of us who are old enough to have grown up with a black and white television sets often struggle to keep up with the latest cultural and social developments in the modern world. Particularly when the kids move out, and we aren’t given daily exposure to the latest fad or entertainment device, we tend to lose touch.

I therefore found this story about the unprecedented success of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 both interesting and surprising. I had no idea that video games were selling for more than $70 a pop, or that a game could sell 4.7 million copies on the day of its release, generating about $300 million in sales revenue. These kinds of figures show that video games are a heavyweight form of entertainment that competes with movies, television, and other popular media. They’ve come a long way from the days of Pong and Ms. Pac Man, and even a long way since the kids used to play Super Mario Cart on their Nintendo.

What does it all mean, when younger people spend so much time playing games that involve blasting zombies or gunning down members of an invading army, sitting alone in a room and communicating with other players via the internet? Does it mean that people are becoming more insular, or does it mean that people are just finding different ways of communicating that allows them to share a common experience with someone hundreds of miles away? I don’t know the answer to such questions, but I think they should be considered — and in any case, the fact of the change in how people spend their time is worthy of note.