50 great innovations
Why did it take so long to invent the wheelbarrow? Have we hit peak innovation? questions James Fallow,writing about the 50 greatest breakthroughs since the wheel. The Atlantic recently assembled a panel of 12 scientists,entrepreneurs,engineers,historians of technology,and others to assess the innovations that have done the most to shape the nature of modern life. Some emphasised the importance not of specific breakthroughs but of broad categories of achievement. For instance,Joel Mokyr,an economic historian at Northwestern,nominated in his top 10 modularity. By that he meant the refinements in industrial processes that allowed high-volume output of functionally identical parts. The printing press holds the top spot in this list of crucial innovations. It also includes paper,the Internet,personal computer,electricity,cement,optical lenses,telephone,television,compass,Gregorian calendar and even pasteurisation. Penicillin holds the number three spot,followed closely by the vaccination and the pill. Fallow writes that with this list,we learn,finally,why technology breeds optimism,which may be the most significant part of this exercise.
NBCs series The Blacklist,starring James Spader,follows a brilliant criminal mastermind (Reddington) who begins to help the FBI apprehend serious evildoers. Willa Paskin writes about how the show has learnt its lessons from The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. In this golden age of the anti-hero,the show makes you like the bad guy without feeling bad about it. She describes Spaders character as a strange,alluring mixture of clipped line readings,freaky sexual bravado,and deranged self-possession,similar to other characters hes played (Boston Legal). His Reddington is a man of refined tastes,the amoral aesthete who appreciates poetry,a good tumbler of scotch,and beautiful women. Paskin points out how the show lifts procedural plots from other TV shows such as Breaking Bad and Homeland but not from sheer laziness. Thats part of The Blacklists bravado,its brazen willingness to cadge from the best.
Lydia OConnor writes about a parasitic fly which is creating what San Francisco State University researchers are calling zombie bees. Professor John Hafernik has been observing the peculiar behaviour of these aptly named zombees. The zombees come from the parasitic Phorid fly,when it injects its eggs into the abdomen of the honey bee,where they hatch and begin to eat the bee alive from the inside. To expand his research on the decline of honey bees,Hafernik launched ZomBee Watch,a website he calls a citizen science project that enlists anyone to become a zombee hunter by collecting bees they find and uploading information about their sample to the website. The bees that get parasitised essentially get bee insomnia which makes them leave their hives at night. Bees that fly away at night basically are on a flight of the living dead. Theyre not coming back.