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vendredi 29 mai 2015

Animals that don't Exist

The Electronic Ant

The electronic ant, Formica electronica, is not, in the classical sense of the term, a living being. Although it reproduces, evolves, conquers new habitats, feeds and fights, it is an entirely new lifeform that has appeared in the XXIst century, and could not have done so sooner. The electronic ant is not a biological organism. It is a digital lifeform.
First discovered by researchers at Kaspersky labs in december 2014, it has since gained much renown among IT-professionals. The code composing the ants is being analyzed in great details by both cyber-security experts and academics, and, more recently, biologists (although the research done by the latter group has been in most cases restricted to a conceptual approach).
The electronic ants feed on data, and tend to colonize servers, and clog up internet connections. Just like their biological counterparts, there are worker ants, whose task consists mainly of bringing data home to their nest, and fighter ants, who try to disrupt security technology in order to protect their nest and the workers. Every nest has a queen, who is the only one that reproduces, and they conquer new habitats by having an equivalent to the nuptial flight, where males and females mate. Afterwards, the females disperse through cyberspace, and, when they find an appropriate breeding ground, rich in data and well connected, they start their own colony.
At first, researchers thought that this peculiar mode of dispersion was a simple whimsy of the author(s) of the code (who remain(s) unknown to this date), and served no practical purpose whatsoever. Computer viruses can easily reproduce without the hassle of sexual intercourse or foraging for food. And they need free memory, and not memory already occupied by data, to increase their numbers. However, recent studies by Prof. Hubert O. F. Threestorm, of the Digital Life Lab at MIT, Cambridge, has discovered that this peculiar behavior does not exist purely by fancy.
By ingesting data from around them, the queen ant can change the digital signature of its descendents, and thus make them much harder to detect by anti-virus programms and other security technology, in addition to providing randomness to the evolutionary algorithm of the ants. In addition, the data foraging done by the worker ants creates empty memory space where the ants can now put copies of themselves. Although many specialists remain convinced that easier means do exist to achieve these same goals, it is clear that the author(s) of the code did not include these particularities purely out of fancy.
The biologists that have started studying the ants have found new behaviors (for example, worker ants starting to reproduce if the queen is 'killed', or leaving 'pheromone' trails to data-rich environments) that show a deeper similarity to 'real' ants than was suspected before, and a comprehensive analysis of the source code and the ants' capabilities has yet to be completed.
In the meantime, the costs the ants have caused by destroying data, slowing down servers and clogging connections is believed to be in the billions of dollars already. As of yet, no security firm has found an effective measure to destroy the ants, or stop them from penetrating a network, since their rapid evolution makes both their technics and digital signatures hard to predict, and hard to stop.

mercredi 27 mai 2015

Politics that didn't Happen

In the 2015 general elections in Switzerland, the Pink Umbrella Party, who was a new arrival on the swiss political scene, scored a surprise victory and took a majority of seats in the parliament. Showing a commitment to their campaign promises rarely seen before, they soon started drafting legislation that would realize their ambition: force everybody to carry on him a pink umbrella at all times.
When the law first passed, Switzerland was ridiculed by the international community, and much jokes were made at it's expense. But the laughter soon died down.
Not only did the new law make Switzerland a must-see tourist attraction, and provided a fresh breath to the waning umbrella industry, it also had a profound impact on the social and emotional life of its citizens. The pink umbrellas, it seems, made people feel lighter of heart, and more tolerant of the world around them. As a consequence, unemployment, and  wage gaps between managers and employees, as well as men and women, shrank drastically in only a few years. In addition, the number of suicides, and mental illnesses in general, fell sharply in the wake of the 2015 election.
Today Switzerland is considered a model in what is now called "modern" politics, and the Pink Umbrella Party is gaining grounds in a number of countries around the world.

lundi 25 mai 2015

Citations that weren't Made

"Monday is the new Sunday."

    - The Holy Spirit, talking to the apostles in 0 AD.

vendredi 22 mai 2015

Animals that don't Exist

The Midnight Owl

The midnight owl, Bubo medianox, is a little-known member of the Strigidae family. Commonly found in most of Eurasia, it is rarely spotted, and most sightings have been reported by amateurs, which delayed its aknowledgement as a seperate species by the scientific community.
The midnight owl owns its name to both its jet-black plumage, as well as its strange behavior. As mentioned above, the midnight owl is rarely seen. However, each sighting happened during the one hour smack in the middle of the night (between the setting and rising of the sun). Most observers said that they were in a state of intense reflection about philosophical matters when they felt something watching them. Looking out of the window, they would see two bright orbs staring at them, followed by the silent swooshing of wings unfloding, and a dark shadow gliding away into the night.
Scientists are at a loss as to how the owl might discern the state of mind of those it shows itself to, or how that behavior might hold any benefits for it in terms of natural selection. Some have speculated that the owl might simply have passed by coincidentally. However, given that midnight owls have never been sighted by people who were not in this particular state of mind at that particular time, this seems unlikely.
Dr. John Burner, of the American Institute for the Study of Huge Birds (AISHB), was one of the first scientists to have seen a midnight owl, and has since developed his own theory in regards to its behavior. Dr. Burner believes that the owls feed on the brainwaves we emit when in intense reflection, which would explain why most people who have seen the owl say that they felt somehow relieved afterwards, and stopped thinking about what was preoccupying them. He is convinced that the owls are hugely benefcial to humans, stopping us from dwelling for too long on any one subject, and allowing us to avoid massive mental stress.
Others, however, do not share his positive view of the bird. Some people even believe that the owls are spying on us, especially in those moments of high brain activity, so that they may be able to attack and eradicate us later on.
The debate has begun to spread in the ornithology community, and people spend more and more time pondering the mystery that is the midnight owl. Although it has to be said that quite a few of them only do so in hopes of seeing the rare bird with their own eyes.

mercredi 20 mai 2015

Politics that didn't Happen

In december 2015, in Paris, global world leaders agreed on radical policies to curb CO2 emissions and minimize global warming and climate change. Not only were norms for factories tightened considerably, and taxes on airfares tripled, but there was also a large-scale campaign to change consumer mentality, and encourage people to repair instead of replace their broken appliances.
This caused a drastic reduction in emissions, as well as overall polution. The economy wobbled for a few years, before it stablized again, mainly due to switching from physical, pollution-heavy products to software and data as its main currency.
During the next couple of decades, nothing much happened. Which was the whole point, really.

lundi 18 mai 2015

Citations that weren't Made

"This might not be how the world works. But then again, right now, we decide how the world works."
   - Che Guevara, shortly after announcing the nationalization of Cuba's sugar industry.

vendredi 15 mai 2015

Animals that don't Exist

The Strom Flapper

The storm flapper, Papilio procella, is at first glance a rather unremarkable butterfly. Compared to other species that are commonly found in the tropics, he looks rather tern, with wings of dirty grey and a modest size. But recent scientific studies have shown that the storm flapper is one of the most exciting species of our millenia.
The storm flapper got its name because it would always flap its wings frantically before big storms. Indigenous people throughout the tropics have considered the species to be messengers of a benevolent god, who gave them warnings so they could take shelter before the storm came. Later on, western scientists concluded that the butterfly was reacting to the change in air pressure and humidity preceeding a great storm, although they could not determine the evolutionary benefits of such a behavior. As it turns out, they are both wrong. The storm flapper does not, as was thought, react to the coming of the storm. He is the cause of the storm.
The storm flapper has one of the most complex nervous systems ever seen in any living being, having more neuronal connections than even the human brain in its small body. However, unlike our, and other, brains, the complex part of its nervous system is not able to learn. It is “hard-coded”, so to speak, to allow it to read air currents in an extremely precise manner, and, through a mere flapping of its wings in the right places, at the right time, create the conditions necessary for a tropical storm.
Whenever environments get unfavorable for the survival of the storm flapper, the animals automatically start trying to create a storm. When enough of them join in, they succeed, and, shortly before the weather becomes too harsh, they lay there eggs. The heavy rainfall and partial destruction of the existing biosphere creates and extremely productive environment, in which the larvae of the flapper can thrive. When they grow into adults, they start producing eggs, and store them in their abdomen until the conditions to create another storm are met.
Ecologists today believe that the storm flapper was one of the key components of the biodiversity seen in tropical regions. The frequent storms “level the playing-field” in terms of evolutionary competition, and have allowed species that would otherwise have gone extinct to thrive and diversify. However, as climate change, as well as direct destruction of their habitat, is endangering the storm flappers more and more, they resort to storm creation more often, causing huge damage not only to humans and their infrastructure, but also to their habitat, as well as themselves. Which, in turn, makes them cause more storms.
There seems to be no easy solutions to end this vicious cycle, and scientists have urged conservation efforts to be stepped up in tropical regions, for the benefit of both human and animal populations.

mercredi 13 mai 2015

Politics that didn't Happen

Shortly afte winning the referendum on EU membership, and thus exiting the European Union, David Cameron made good on his promess to ban encryption in the UK. This caused the collapse of the UK economy, followed by massive social unrest, and large-scale migration towards the mainland.
The EU, now facing illegal migrants not only from the mediterranean, but the channel as well, decided to employ deadly force to "stop the tide", as Angela Merkel put it. The fact that she smiled at her own bad pun was later considered one of the major reasons she lost the subsequent election.
The German government took control of the American bases of Ramstein and Bad Aibling, and redirected US drones to sink the ships used by migrants to cross the seas and reach the EU, while other member states sent ground troops and destroyers. The heavy militarisation of the seas, and bad coordination between allied states, have conspired to make the mediterranean one of the deadliest places on Earth, and put a radical stop to any boating activity in those seas.
Meanwhile, the US, without its German bases, was forced to halt its military operations in the Middle East, which, only a few years later, saw an end of the deadly conflicts that had ravaged it during the past decades.
Today, David Cameron is remembered not only as the man who sank England, but also as the person responsible for the current peace in the Middle East. Which, he claims, was his goal all along.

lundi 11 mai 2015

Citations that weren't Made

"There is a fine line between being a dick and being an asshole. So fine, in fact, that nobody found it yet."

   - John Kerry, on the subtleties of American politics.

vendredi 8 mai 2015

Animals that don't Exist

The Shadow Bird

The shadow bird, Passer Umbra, is one of the lesser known representative of the finch genus. Due to its subtle camouflage, it has only been discovered recently, and a comprehensive study of its life-cycle and behavior has yet to be completed.
The shadow bird, as its name inidicates, is black in color, varying from light to dark depending on its surroundings. During cloudy days, it mostly stays hidden, coming out only when the sun is strong enough to cast the shadows in wich it can hide.
In addition to its color, the shadow bird can compress its own body, making it flat, and has special feathers on the left side that allow it to cling on to surfaces without moving, thus effectively apearing to be a shadow.
Although science has only recently discovered the animal, it is present in a lot of folklore, from Europe to Asia and Africa, and has inspired a number of popular stories. However, due to its furtive nature, it has always been considered more fairy-tale than reality. Until, in 1999, Dr. Anita Ombress, of the Institute of the Strange and Wonderful (ISW), managed to indisputably proove its existence by capturing one in her light-lab.
Papers have since abunded, but few have been published in peer-reviewed journals, because, no one knowing much about the bird, and it being very difficult to capture, few felt confident enough to be able to judge whether or not the papers had any real value, and experiments were in general not repeatable due to lack of subjects to experiment on.

mercredi 6 mai 2015

Politics that didn't Happen

In 2009, Switzerland voted against a law forbidding the construction of minarets. At that time, there where four minarets in Switzerland. Since then, no new minarets have been built in the country, prompting the original members of the initiative that brought about the vote to restart their efforts.
“They are obviously not building any new minarets anyway, so why would anybody be against the law?”, said one of the founders of the new initiative.

lundi 4 mai 2015

Citations that weren't Made

"Sure, sure, it's a start. But it would have been a start if he'd scored, too."

    - Zlatan Ibrahimovic, after his son's near-miss in his first soccer game.