Plants eat light, grow almost everywhere on Earth, and make up 99% of the planet’s biomass. But do what extent do plants think? Or feel? Michael Pollan tackles the question of plant intelligence in a thought-provoking article for the New Yorker (sadly behind their paywall).
Indeed, many of the most impressive capabilities of plants can be traced to their unique existential predicament as beings rooted to the ground and therefore unable to pick up and move when they need something or when conditions turn unfavorable. The “sessile life style” as plant biologists term it, calls for an extensive and nuanced understanding of one’s immediate environment, since the plant has to find everything it needs, and has to defend itself, while remaining fixed in place. A highly developed sensory apparatus is required to locate food and identify threats. Plants have evolved between fifteen and twenty different senses, including analogues of our five: smell and taste (they sense and respond to chemicals in the air or on their bodies); sight (they react differently to various wavelengths of light as well as to shadow); touch (a vine or root “knows” when it encounters a solid object); and, it has been discovered, sound.
In a recent experiment, Heidi Appel, a chemical ecologist at the University of Missouri, found that, when she played a recording of a caterpillar chomping a leaf for a plant that hadn’t been touched, the sound primed the the plant’s genetic machinery to produce defense chemicals. Another experiment, dome in Mancuso’s lab and not yet published, found that plant roots would seek out a buried pipe through which water was flowing even if the exterior of the pipe was dry, which suggested that plants somehow “hear” the sound of flowing water.
One of the researchers featured in the article, Stefano Mancuso, has a TED talk available in which he outlines his case for plant intelligence:
The article also discusses if plants have feelings. If so, should we feel bad that our wifi routers might kill plants?
Update: Mancuso and Alessandra Viola have collaborated on a new book about the intelligence of plants, Brilliant Green: The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence.
In an effort to entice their wifi freeloaders to buy more coffee, a chain of coffee shops in Holland integrated menu items into the name of their wireless network. Some network names included:
I wonder if this tactic worked. (via swissmiss)
Starbucks is switching from T-Mobile to AT&T as their wireless provider. Access will be cheaper and Starbucks Card holders will get a couple hours of free wifi a day. (via fimoculous)
ThinkGeek is selling a WiFi alarm clock that donates money to an organization you hate every time you hit the snooze bar. I believe this is some sort of joke, but what an idea! (via magnetbox)
David Pogue has been keeping a list of questions that he doesn’t have answers for; some of them are pretty interesting.
* Why is Wi-Fi free at cheap hotels, but $14 a night at expensive ones?
* Do P.R. people really expect anyone to believe that the standard, stilted, second-paragraph C.E.O. quote was really uttered by a human being?
* Why doesn’t someone start a cellphone company that bills you only for what you use? That model works O.K. for the electricity, gas and water companies — and people would beat a path to its door.
* Why doesn’t everyone have lights that turn off automatically when the room is empty?
Q. Is it possible to use a wireless Internet connection on a plane?
A. Yes, if you happen to be flying on an airline that offers the service. International carriers like Korean Air, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines already have wireless broadband service on many routes; fees for using it vary. Check with your airline to see if it offers in-flight Internet.
So says the NY Times. While it may not be possible to use wireless Internet connections on the plane, it is possible to use wireless connections. Apple laptops can create networks which other computers with wireless capability can join. Bluetooth capable devices like laptops and cellphones can communicate with each other over smaller distances.
Since 9/11, I’ve often thought that this would be an effective way for a group of people to coordinate some nefarious action on a plane without attracting any attention. Five or six people scattered about the plane on laptops, iChatting plans to one another, wouldn’t be unusual at all. Of course, a properly trained group wouldn’t need to communicate with each other at all after boarding the plane. Nor, says Bruce Schneier, should we ban things like cellphones and Internet access on airplanes for security reasons.
Free wifi in Central Park? Hopefully by June.
Update: The free wifi in Central Park thing was supposed have been in place last September. (thx, amy)
Back when I wrote about how a WebOS might work (basically XHTML/JS web apps that run on the desktop as well), I got a lot of responses along the lines of: with internet access becoming more ubiquitous (broadband, wifi, wireless broadband, WiMax, etc.), there will be less and less need for applications that don’t need a connection to the network to function. When you can literally get a fast, cheap internet connection anywhere, you don’t need a version of Gmail that works offline and so that’s not going to drive the development of this WebOS thing you’re talking about.
I’ve been thinking for several weeks about why I think that’s wrong and I’ve come up with a couple ideas.
1. Fast, cheap internet everywhere? Hoo boy, wake me when that happens…you’ll likely find me driving my hydrogen-powered hovercar with ESP to my paperless office.
2. For many people, the more you get used to having access to your applications/data/etc., the more important that access becomes. Let’s say 98% of the applications you use are entirely on the web (with no offline capabilities) and you’re online almost all the time wherever you go. Then the network winks out for 1/2 an hour. Or Salesforce.com is down for a couple hours. That last little inch is going to be painful. And no use telling me that sounds insane because I’ve seen the madness and fear in people’s eyes while they clutch their Crackberries, furiously reading email mere minutes away from the office and the full-speed, full-screen experience.
3. The offline thing is a good way for companies to bootstrap the WebOS. I think most people have a sense that the apps they use in their browser are more alive, more social, more connected, even if they can’t articulate that feeling. And whether it’s true or not (Gmail isn’t actually more “connected” than Outlook), companies can market the “aliveness” of their web apps (even when they run offline) versus the “deadness” of desktop apps.
If public parks (like NYC’s Bryant Park) offer free wifi, why don’t expensive hotels? I can’t find the link right now, but I remember reading something awhile ago (possibly on Boing Boing) arguing that free wifi was easier and cheaper for businesses to offer than a paid option because you don’t need the ecommerce bit (sort of like a free grocery store not needing cashiers, etc.) and the free internet will bring people in.
Update: Here’s that Boing Boing post: “Operating a WiFi hotspot that you charge money for costs $30 a day. Operating a free WiFi hotspot costs $6.” (thx alex)
Nikon is releasing a pair of digital cameras with built-in wifi. The cameras will only send photos via wifi to a designated Nikon application, but I wonder how long it will be before someone hacks the firmware to send those photos anywhere…like to Flickr on the fly.