"History is just people doing things"
THE ABQ CORRESPONDENT
ISSN 1087-2302 Online Edition Number 310......October 2021
Published since 1985 for clients and contacts
GLOWING IN THE DARK AGAIN
Browsing the literature over the years, we’ve found constant, and what seems to be increasing, interest in living organisms that glow in the dark.* Recently, researchers have been coming up with somewhat surprising twists on the basic theme. For example, a team at MIT has demonstrated a technique in which they infuse a variety of living plants such as basil, watercress, and tobacco with nanoparticles of something called strontium aluminate, which becomes distributed across the leaves. The material doesn’t naturally generate light, but, like the “luminous paint” that fascinated us as kids, it absorbs energy from exposure to the sun or other sources, then releases it as light over a period of time (in this case about an hour after brief input from a LED), dimming gradually. It seems to be brighter than the stars we used to stick on ceilings in the kid’s rooms…but doesn’t yet seem to be bright enough to light hallways through the night. Interestingly, they can recover the strontium aluminate from the dead plant, and re-use it.
A twist less related to the plants has been developed by a team at RMIT University in Melbourne. In this case, they’re treating wounds by wrapping them in bandages infused with antibacterial/antifungal magnesium hydroxide. When the infection in the wound is active, the area is slightly alkaline, so that when the bandage containing magnesium hydroxide is exposed to UV light, it glows brightly. When the wound heals, that environment becomes slightly acidic, and does not glow under UV illumination. The big payoff is that it’s unnecessary to peel off the bandage (OUCH!) to see how things are going. Researchers are looking into all sorts of stuff like this.
*Back in the ‘80s Microbics Corp developed a water toxicity test using luminescent bacteria.
The bugs released about 10% of their energy as light at one end point of their metabolism. If
something interfered with their metabolism (which is the definition of toxicity) their light
output diminished proportionally. The level of toxicity was determined by before-and-after
measurements of light output…and yes, the key to the process was figuring out how to
produce consistent, linear data from the messy biology.
Microbics even approached Mattel with a proposal for an “ecology kit” for kids, so Dad’s
breath could be tested after he stopped off at a bar on the way home, or toxics Mom was
dumping down the drain could be detected. For the demo, the fellows prepared maybe
twenty different petri dishes with bugs glowing on the surface of the agar in different
colors. When our chief scientist blew smoke across the dishes in a darkened room, we could
see the light dim as the smoke reached them, then recover after it passed. Mattel loved it,
but was put off by the fact that the microorganisms were bacteria. They’d had more bacteria
than they could bear in their Incredible Edibles, thank you.
And the bugs could be astonishingly bright. I took several dishes with me to a conference
in San Francisco…we’d written the conference name on the agar in bugs so they’d be
glowing at their brightest on the day of their display. The night before the meeting I had the
dishes laid on a table in an embarrassingly expensive hotel room just off Union Square. I woke
up about 2 am to find the room brightly lit…at least to my dark-adapted eyes. I could almost
read by the light. A pleasantly exotic experience.
Gizmodo has reported work by a team at Northwestern University that has created a way to spread huge numbers of sensors over large areas by emulating Nature’s method for distributing wind-blown seeds. They’ve planted very tiny electronic chips in carriers resembling maple keys, for example, that whirl gracefully to the ground after release from the trees. The electronics they are carrying can measure various things of environmental interest, and communicate with researchers, or even among themselves. They’re cheap in quantity, offering opportunity for new kinds of monitoring and experimentation.
The basic notion isn’t entirely new. Back in the ’60s, when the Viet Nam affair was in full swing, some people were extremely interested in finding out what was going on along the Ho Chi Minh trail under cover of the trees. Dr. Browning suggested an approach with which we experimented. The idea was this: if you shine a light into a retro-reflector, that light will be reflected back toward its source. High refractive index glass beads are retro-reflective, for example. (3M’s Scotchlite uses beads) So is a “corner reflector.” To make one, cut the corner off a cardboard box. You’ll have a triangular object with three interior surfaces. Stick some aluminum foil on those surfaces, shiny side out, and shine your cellphone flashlight into it. Light will reflect strongly back at your cellphone. That’s a corner reflector. Now, make a little one, maybe a couple of inches on a side, out of paper with quarter-mil reflective mylar bonded to one side of the paper inside the corner reflector. Make an additional modification: on one of the reflective sides, remove the paper (leaving the mylar) from a half-inch circle. This creates a diaphragm of the mylar over that circle that will vibrate in response to sound. Stick a pin through the vertex where the mirrors meet, and put some maple-key-like wings around the long edges of the mirrored sides. If you drop this from a few feet, it will flutter to the floor, pin-side down, and stick in the carpet…or your shoe or whatever…with the mirrors pointing up. The rest is fairly obvious.
Make a gazillion green fluttering corner reflectors with diaphragms for a penny apiece, fly over some area of interest, scattering these things generously. A large number of them will land in a good orientation, stuck in leaves or whatever. Fly over later with a laser pointed down. Laser light will be reflected back to the plane, containing sound information from the diaphragms…even fragments of speech…that can be deciphered. The idea was received with some enthusiasm, but the penny-apiece corner reflector was converted to a $900 electronic device that might provide clearer information. Dunno what, if anything, reached the field. We had a lot of fun fluttering sharp pins all over the lab.
Lots of things happen so fast that we don’t perceive their complexity. For example, geckos and other critters jump across long distances…from one branch to another…an activity involving lots of physical dynamics. Some folks have not only recorded a gecko crash landing in slow motion, but have built a robot that works the same way.
Just a recollection: David Bunnell died five years ago in October 2016. A handful of us realize the great influence he had as the aggressive publisher of a series of magazines aiding the dramatically fast penetration of every aspect of our society by microcomputers.
After staging the first personal computing conference in 1976, about which I wrote a newspaper article, he called me to ask in a whisper if I could write articles for a new magazine he was starting. “Can you pay money?” I asked. “Yes.” “Then, sure…and why are we whispering?” “I’m in my office at MITS,” he said, “and I haven’t yet told them I’m leaving.”
Personal Computing Magazine’s first issue was released in January 1976, David was publisher, and I was its first editor. The magazine did well, filling a niche that was of interest to neither Byte nor Creative Computing. I left in a couple of years when people talked about moving editorial to Boston, and David left not long after. Picked up by Hayden Publishing, Personal Computing did well for some years.
Soon David was publishing PC Magazine, which was hugely successful. “I thought the hardest part would be generating material to fill the pages,” he said, “ but that wasn’t hard. I thought the second hardest part would be selling advertising, but all we had to do was answer the phone. The really hard part was distributing a hundred tons of printed magazines all over the world every month.”
He moved on from PC Magazine (which faded without him) to publish PC World and MacWorld, also notably successful. By the time they had run their course, microcomputers …no longer novel in being “personal”…were fundamental to society, and the internet was upon us. David was a prominent figure who experimented with a number of ideas…even published a newsletter via fax. He had his prickly aspects, but his early perceptions of what was happening and his drive largely shaped our current world.
A year or so before he died, he emailed me to ask if I’d seen us on 60 Minutes. I hadn’t, and he steered me to the online recording of it with detailed instructions on finding us.
They were interviewing Paul Allen about a book he’d written in which he was not wholly complimentary about Bill Gates. Behind Paul as he talked they ran ancient footage of the early days of the personal computing revolution. As a camera panned along a table (in some place on some occasion I do not remember at all), sure enough, there was David talking to somebody, and farther down the line, there was I, improbably seated at an Apple II. We agreed that this was very satisfactory; we had made the Big Time…Wow! 60 Minutes!...but there was no penalty to pay because nobody knew it but us.
David Bunnell was important and interesting. A tip of the hat to him.
This item from 2006, a mere fifteen years ago,
comes to mind because of current complaints
in the news that Facebook has not been
censoring postings appropriately.
Spam has really broken the Internet,” says Mark Costlow, proprietor of our much-esteemed Internet Service Provider, Southwest Cyberport, “we now spend an enormous percentage of our daily resources (time, money, time, time, time) dealing with spam in one form or another.” This subject came up, because another ISP’s spam filter decided that our notice, announcing that The ABQ Correspondent had been posted, was spam. They not only bounced the notice, but have blocked all mail from our address to anyone on their system...an inconvenience, because my brother is a subscriber to their system along with another Correspo subscriber. Their rep even said they’d blacklist Southwest Cyberport if they persist in sending this rubbish. The “other reader” protested to that ISP, but finds himself dealing with a service rep whose primary argument seems to be that the Correspo notice is completely unintelligible, and makes no sense. (Well, gosh, we’ve had stern literary criticism before, but never from a critic with the power to cut off our mail.) Intrigued by the rep’s concern with assuring intelligibility and sense in communication through their facilities, we used another email address to send this message to our reader:
Inkly tinky pobblebockle able-squabs?
FloskyBeebul trimble flosky! Okul scratch
abibblebongibo, viddle squibble tog-a-tog
ferry moyassity amsky flamsky crocklefether
Flinky wisty pomm,
This classic, handsomely crafted 19th century nonsense by Edward Lear went through their system without a hiccup. Nevertheless, the offended ISP has so far proved intransigent. One must be somewhat sympathetic; spam is surely consuming their time and resources as it is those of Southwest Cyberport, and the stress drives them to goofy action. Mark, who has been on the Correspo mailing list for years, says he’ll try to break the logjam, but he’s pessimistic. Do our schools these days teach students how to cope with non-governmental censorship? A fascinating impact of new technology on Society, what?
It’s not clear what happened, but that ISP
hasn’t been protecting their customers from
us in recent years. One dassn’t mention their
name for fear of offending them again to our
Back in the day if somebody phoned in a
threat to an institution or recited lewd
limericks to randomly selected strangers
or made aggressive sales calls, nobody
scolded Ma Bell for allowing it.
One recalls a time when Stalin was the only
arbiter of communication disputes who
really mattered in a large part of the world,
and he could do more than cut off
Technology has brought about some changes
and may bring more. We shall see.
Everybody is Somebody.
years of working and reworking, this has become a real book, via Lulu
Publishing. The blurb on the back (under a picture of the author looking
unnaturally cheerful) says:
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