Alt-week 08.31.13: We're all Martians, Mega Drive music and reinventing the ruler

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James Trew
August 31st, 2013
In this article: alt week, alt-week, AltWeek, science, space, video
Alt-week 08.31.13: We're all Martians, Mega Drive music and reinventing the ruler

Alt-week takes a look at the best science and alternative tech stories from the last seven days.

Some things become obsolete, some things rise to live again. Two of our stories over the fold demonstrate new tricks from old dogs. The third? Just, y'know, suggests that we're all actually from Mars. No biggie. This is alt-week.

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"It's yet another piece of evidence which makes it more likely life came to Earth on a Martian meteorite, rather than starting on this planet." Let that sentence linger in the room for a moment. Those are the words of Prof Steven Benner, speaking at a conference in Florence this week. The question of how life was seeded on our planet is one of the biggest science has yes to fully answer, but new research suggests that martian meteorites containing vital minerals (at the time not available on Earth) may have completed the recipe needed to kickstart life: RNA, DNA and proteins. Molybdenum is crucial in the formation ribose, a precursor or RNA (ribonucleic acid,) but three billion years ago, the surface of Earth wouldn't have had enough oxygen to create the chemical in the correct form. Benner asserts that while conditions on Earth weren't suitable at the time, they were on Mars, going on to suggest this is even more evidence our true origins are, in fact, Marian.

Repurposing old hardware to make music has become something of a niche of its own. Polybius, a collaboration between artists James Houston and Julian Corrie, however, is one of the most expressive examples we've seen to date. Hardware spotters will have plenty to keep them busy when watching Corrie "play" a selection of vintage gear via his guitar. The main "instruments" include a Mega Drive, Commodore 64 and, naturally, floppy drives. Of course, it's MIDI keeping things together, but the collaboration confirms our insistence that all that gear in our loft might still be of some use. In the right hands at least.

Sometimes, the onward march of technology can leave older tools redundant. Sometimes, however, it can breathe more life into them, as is the case with "Glassified," an intelligent ruler developed by MIT's Fluid Interfaces group. The redesigned ruler houses a transparent display that can interact with lines you've drawn on the page (with the ruler, naturally). A digitizer interprets your strokes, which can then be overlaid with graphics from the screen. In the video above, we see a ball rolling down the lines as if platforms, or the angles of a triangle being shown. This fusion of paper and technology, it couldn't get out of hand, could it?

[Image credits: James Houston / Creative applications, Lightmare studio]

Seen any other far-out articles that you'd like considered for Alt-week? Working on a project or research that's too cool to keep to yourself? Drop us a line at alt [at] engadget [dot] com.

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