Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Friday, May 08, 2021

I have to admit, when the late H1N1 virus/swine flu scare briefly set off worldwide socioeconomic disruption, what came to my mind was not so much the antecedent 1918 flu crisis, but rather an alternate history scenario that played the idea of a ruthless pandemic to the hilt.

That scenario consisted of nothing more than a brief quip from a late-1980s comic book feature called “Saks & Violet”, by Stu Shiffman. There’s nary a trace of this obscure work on the Web today, aside from brief mentions within entries for Captain Confederacy, the comic book title that hosted it. I myself am going by memory, since my old copies of the title are either long-ago lost or else buried deep in storage. But basically, “Saks” was set in a modern-day Free Port of New York, an independent city-state founded during, or in the aftermath of, a Southern victory in the War of Secession and presumably modeled after contemporary mayor Fernando Wood’s real-world proposal for a Manhattan-Staten-Long Island amalgamation into “Tri-Insula”.

Against that backdrop, a capsule history of that world’s Great War (not “World War I”, because a second edition would never arise) was included in one issue. I don’t remember it in detail, but I recall this part, more or less:

THE GREAT WAR: 1914-1923

1919 - “Influenza Ceasefire” prompted by epidemic on both sides
1920 - Resumption of active hostilities
1923 - Treaty of Berlin: sheer exhaustion

Many alternate history scenarios containing an independent Confederate States of America generally leave the wider world history unaffected until the 1914 European war, when the absence of a hegemonic United States would alter the balance. A prolonging of the Great War beyond the factual 1918 end is one possibility; with that, the prospect of the flu bug becoming a direct military factor is enticing, along with a subsequent stalemate that grinds to a depleted halt years later. Speculatively inline with the absurdity that dictated policy in that era, actually.

Back in the real-world here-and-now, the H1N1 has turned out to be less lethal than feared. A good thing overall, although I wouldn’t have complained if it had mustered up enough strength to sideline a war or two before fading.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 05/08/2021 04:24pm
Category: Creative, History, Science, Society
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The end of the Cold War and its nuclear-arms buildups was good news for life on planet Earth, but not so good news for the exploration of life outside of Earth: NASA is running out the plutonium byproducts that serve as radioactive fuel for deep-space probes.

According to Ralph McNutt, a space scientist at Johns Hopkins University and co-chairman of the committee that produced the report, the United States stopped making Pu-238 about 20 years ago, with the end of the Cold War. Although Pu-238 is not weapons-grade material, it is a byproduct of making the more dangerous Pu-239, he said.

NASA uses about 11 pounds of Pu-238 each year. In recent years, it has purchased some of the material from Russia, but unless it makes new Pu-238, McNutt said, NASA will run out by the end of the next decade. That will leave enough fuel to power only the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory and outer planet missions, he said.

The good news is that the Energy Department has agreed to restart the atom-smasher and crank out more plutonium. That is, if you consider the production of deadly radioactive sludge as “good news”. I suppose it’ll have to do until someone invents the inevitable warp drive.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 05/08/2021 02:02pm
Category: Political, Science, Tech
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If you’ve noticed a more widespread use of unconventionally-styled typeface in mainstream media and advertising lately, it’s because the hand-lettered look has become an aesthetic design trend:

In recent years there has been a veering away from the exclusive use of traditional typefaces (or fonts) to an increase in hand or custom lettering for advertisements, magazines, children’s books, adult book jackets and covers, film title sequences and package designs. Hand lettering is not just used, as it once was, for D.I.Y. youth-cult concert posters and T-shirts. Calvin Klein, IBM, Microsoft, even the Episcopal New Church Center have run ad campaigns using what might be viewed as sloppily scrawled, sketchily rendered, untutored lettering.

Of course, this look is really faux-handcrafting — like any other font set, the original design is computer-encoded and thus standardized from there, leading to the ease of replication far and wide. What used to be unconventional thereby becomes conventional.

Actually, despite this spread, I think the quirky lettering still works only when applied to youth-centric messaging. One of the hokiest examples of its use is in the above example from HP’s “The Computer Is Personal Again” branding. Intended to embody a human quality, this custom heavy-serifed lettering instead evokes Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas more than anything else. Every time I see one of HP’s ads, I subconsciously think it’s a Halloween promotion.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 05/08/2021 10:44am
Category: Advert./Mktg., Creative, Media
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