Friday Four

Friday, March 25, 2016

1. From Forbes and HBL comes the following exciting news: Virgin Group has just inked a deal with Boom, an aviation company that hopes to build the world's fastest passenger jet:

... Virgin [hasn't] bought the planes -- it's a bit too early for that. They've signed a letter of intent, meaning that, having seen the nitty-gritty specs of the plane and the company's plans for moving forward, they intend to buy 10 planes if everything comes together as planned.

But it also looks like Virgin is going to help make that happen: Boom founder Blake Scholl tells me that Virgin Galactic's space division, The Spaceship Company, has committed to helping build and test the planes, including helping with the supersonic testing when the time comes.
Flight time from New York to London in the proposed planes would be three and a half hours, and they are being designed by a team whose members have had a hand in the design of more than thirty aircraft.

2. Readers with a biological bent may be interested to learn that scientists have found living examples of one of the plants, previously thought to be extinct, that hybridized to give us the modern peanut:
Although it has not been studied how old [Arachis] duranensis and A. ipaensis are, researchers think they could be species that have existed for more than a million years, so [David] Bertioli [of the University of Georgia] and his team consider them as plant relics. "Having found [A. ipaensis] alive and being now able to study it is almost like taking a look at the garden of these ancient communities. The hybrid peanut crop spread throughout South America in pre-Columbian times, reaching the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific and even into Central America and Mexico. After colonization it was carried to Africa, Asia, North America and Australia, sites where it became an important crop. It is a food that has lived during many interesting times," Bertioli says.
The article includes an image of the peanuts produced by each ancestral plant.

3. It is interesting to ponder whether the wild success of the original iMac would have occurred under its originally-proposed "MacMan" (snicker) badge:
We scratched our heads at these instructions, given that Steve [Jobs] had just professed love for the name "MacMan." That one name managed to violate both of these instructions simultaneously. "MacMan" sounded both game-like (Pac-Man) and portable (Walkman). But we'd save that argument for a time when we were equipped with better names. Potential disagreement aside, naming C1 was a terrifically cool opportunity, and the agency team leaped at the chance. A week later, we returned to Cupertino with a portfolio case containing our C1 naming recommendations. We'd gone through a long list of candidates, trimmed it down to five favorites, and created a single poster board for each. Each board presented a name in big, juicy type, along with a short list of bullet points that described its virtues.
Steve Jobs hated every name on the list, and it took a second look at "iMac" (which had been on that list) for him to warm up to it. Credit the ad men for perseverance and remember this story the next time you hear someone saying they don't fill a productive role.

4. From commentary about how living organisms might use the element arsenic comes a free "First Lesson in Toxicology:"
The arsenic/phosphorus pair is a bit like the sulfur/selenium one -- the lighter and more common element being an essential part of many biomolecules, and the heavier one showing up in small concentrations, but turning toxic in larger ones. Selenium is well-known to be an essential element for life, as well as toxic to it, which I've always regarded as an excellent First Lesson in Toxicology for people who just want to know if something is poisonous or not. About arsenic, the jury is still out. It's possible that it's an essential trace element for humans, but if so, it's going to be pretty far down there in the trace. But it really does seem to be essential in some smaller mammals, so it's not that crazy an idea.
Pharamcologist Derek Lowe also remarks on an "arsenic bacteria" controversy I recall hearing about, too.

-- CAV

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