I learned some things this week.
Brain scientists in Australia put embryonic mouse brain cells on top of a “microelectrode array” — whatever that is — and called it “DishBrain.” That sounds like a delicious plate of scrumptiousness, but is definitely not for eating: It’s for teaching the resulting ensemble to play Pong.
The trick turned out to be finding the right incentive for the embryonic mouse brain cells to combine forces to direct the paddle to correctly deflect a virtual Pong “ball” back in the virtual direction from whence it came. For reasons I couldn’t figure out, DishBrain doesn’t have a pleasure center the scientists could exploit. There was nothing they could use like embryonic mouse brain cell treats.
So, what they did was disturb the cells’ virtual environment whenever the paddle wasn’t used correctly, subjecting them to some annoying chaos while letting the proper use of the paddle preserve a happy, predictable equilibrium. Embryonic mouse brain cells like things to be predictable. It worked.
Thrilled by their success, the brain scientists taking care of DishBrain are now planning to get DishBrain drunk to see how that affects DishBrain’s Pong ability. They will be standing by in lab coats, taking notes on clipboards.
It reminds me a lot of that year I lived on coffee and lemon meringue pies in graduate school while learning to play Pong and Asteroids, occasionally rewarding myself with a trip to the tavern up the street. Other students took turns dropping quarters in the Pong and Asteroids machines, and there were inevitable contests to see who could out-Pong the other. Now I find it easy to picture us all as arrangements of embryonic mouse brains.
Speaking of Asteroids, in other science-y news, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft collided with the asteroid it was targeting, altering the asteroid’s orbital period around its larger mate by 32 minutes. So NASA is chuffed and going on about how it’s going to someday save Earth from an asteroid, just like in the movies, and then the NASA people all rewarded themselves with a round of beer, presumably.
Another thing I learned, thanks to The Stranger, was that those sheltered sidewalk dining booths popping up all over the place are called “streateries.” My immediate, reflexive reaction was to gag, but I’m slowly warming up to it. It looks awful in print, but it doesn’t sound so bad if you use it over and over again.
These facilities were originally designed as a measure so people could dine more safely during the pandemic because the outdoors would, I guess, blow the viruses away? But now people are deciding the streateries improve neighborhoods, so they want to keep them as permanent additions to our local color. I’d like to see restaurants pump warm air into these things so we can eat in them in February.
I learned Nancy Pelosi promised she would punch out Trump if he showed up at the Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021. The Jan. 6 hearing saw the film of her saying so last Thursday. Then, the committee voted unanimously to subpoena Trump to come before the committee, in the Capitol Building, and answer questions under oath.
I don’t see how an appearance by Trump before the committee would work. First, he’ll argue the date and time. Then when that’s set, he’ll show up three hours late. Then, they’ll order him to appear the next day to make up the time. He’ll say he can’t do it: He’s got an important appointment to play golf with his doctor. Then what? Will they arrange for federal marshals to arrest him on the golf course and drag him to the hearing in shackles? So he can take the Fifth for six hours straight?
Of course, he’s very unlikely to honor the subpoena because to go before the committee because of the subpoena would be to bow to its power. So, he’ll try to argue in court the subpoena isn’t valid. This will go to the Supreme Court, which will have no choice but rule in favor of the committee. To do otherwise would overplay their hand. Then, Trump will try to stonewall the committee, and the committee will have to get federal marshals after all to fetch Trump and drag him to them. And THEN he’ll take the Fifth endlessly.
About as useless as mouse brain cells playing Pong. n
Read more of the Oct. 19-25, 2022 issue.