The rise of ‘experiential items’ which can be unattainable to know

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Suggestions is our weekly column of weird tales, implausible promoting claims, complicated directions and extra

24 March 2021

Josie Ford

Items of expertise

“Think about an grownup African male elephant suspended from a rope that’s the identical diameter as a desk tennis ball.” Sure, we’re making an attempt very onerous to think about this state of affairs as we learn this passage from an article in The Wall Road Journal despatched in by Peabody Bradford. Sadly, the hassle is failing to assist us grasp a lot which means from what follows, that the “pressure in that imaginary rope is about equal to the strain on the heart of a typical piece of tempered glass”. Our psychological imaging software program is busy elsewhere. How precisely is the elephant suspended? Is he solely glad? Ought to we be nervous?

Suggestions has had a lot trigger in current weeks to muse on the enduring reputation of measurement items such because the Burj Khalifa (20 March) or the massed ranks of the northern hemisphere blue whale (30 January). Now, what we’d time period “experiential” items appear to be rising as a definite journalistic sub-genre.

The important thing to a great experiential unit is that it must be rooted in an expertise that nobody may ever be moderately assumed to have had. Ideally, an extra of element ought to make it a really precise unrelatable expertise: not for nothing are the intercourse and life stage of the elephant clearly said.


As highlighted by lots of you, varied UK media had clearly acquired the memo after they reported {that a} fatberg “with the identical weight as a small bungalow” had been cleared from a sewer within the east of London. Clearly, this can be a hefty weight – though for these of us who’ve felt the crushing load of a medium-sized semi-detached bearing down on us, it’s not fairly as a lot as that.

Or there’s the “Watch out for the Rhino” marketing campaign run by Newcastle Transport in New South Wales, Australia, despatched in by Ian Dawes. A short rootle in our piling system reveals that that is an iteration of comparable campaigns run lately in Australian cities blessed with gentle rail transit methods, however not essentially rhinocerotids.

“Do you know a Newcastle tram is as onerous to cease as a herd of thirty rhino?”, it asks. By no means – 20 on the most! Additional examples of items from exterior your personal expertise to the same old deal with.

Rhinos on rails

Barely puzzlingly, Newcastle Transport’s web site additionally states that “[S]imilar to a herd of charging rhinos, trams can’t divert from the tracks to keep away from an impediment”.

We recall this esteemed journal asking “Why don’t wildebeest have wheels?” not too way back (19/26 December 2020). The higher, maybe, to dart out of the trail of the fearsome steel-wheeled rhino-tram hybrids our thoughts’s eye now sees careering throughout the savannah of New South Wales – an impressive and awe-inspiring sight certainly.

Deer oh deer

By no means thoughts the rhinos, “How Can Suburbs Management Deer Populations?”, Smithsonian Journal asks on behalf of its readers (“You’ve acquired questions. We’ve acquired specialists”). We agree with our reader Jane Monroe from Arcata, California – which seems superbly non-suburban on Route 101 – that the reply “Scientists have developed contraceptive darts for areas densely populated with people” doesn’t make it as clear as we’d like who the darts are being geared toward. Beware folks lurking behind hedges with clipboards and tranquiliser weapons when subsequent out within the ‘burbs.

Convention clumping

“‘Blastoids’ – Scientists kind human cell clumps that act like early-stage embryos”, learn a headline on The Guardian web site, in an extra entry to the suboptimal phrasing of the week competitors. (You can find our write up of this research on web page 19 of this very problem.) Reader David Marsh asks whether or not that is referring to “the half-forgotten days after we may collect at conferences”.

It won’t be fairly what you had in thoughts, David, however Suggestions was privileged as soon as within the Earlier than Occasions to have attended a convention of the American Bodily Society when, due to a triumphant miscalculation, it was held in New Orleans throughout Spring Break. Some type of clumping mechanism was very a lot in proof as laptop-clutching physicists braved the mass of hula-hooping humanity within the streets of the French Quarter.

Relatively than blastoids, it reminded us of the sardine run, when massed migrating fish leaving their spawning waters off the coasts of South Africa kind tight defensive bait balls as they run the gamut of their predators. Nature very a lot within the uncooked.

Crab bytes

Of which, Twitter has not too long ago been crawling with the rediscovery of a paper from unconventional computing researchers Yukio-Pegio Gunji, Yuta Nishiyama and Andrew Adamatzky. In “Strong Soldier Crab Ball Gate” from 2012, the group confirmed that, in a constrained setting, swarms of soldier crabs shaped compact propagating teams that, guided by “intimidation plates” mimicking the shadows of aerial predators, might be made to function mechanical logic circuits.

From the start line of 80 soldier crabs to function a logic gate, eight logic gate operations per byte and a mean information consumption of a couple of kilobyte, Twitter consumer Ethan Mollick now calculates it could take a military of about 640,000 crabs to curate one tweet.

Spectacular, if barely unnerving, stuff. We’d wish to know what number of clumping physicists it takes to function a logic gate.

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