Bio-reactors: converting waste into food

Someone should make a game about this:

Autoclavable bench-top laboratory bioreactor used for fermentation and cell culturesSpace scientists propose technology which converts human waste into food:

… A Penn State research team has shown that it is possible to rapidly break down solid and liquid waste to grow food with a series of microbial reactors, while simultaneously minimizing pathogen growth.

“We envisioned and tested the concept of simultaneously treating astronauts’ waste with microbes while producing a biomass that is edible either directly or indirectly depending on safety concerns,” said Christopher House, professor of geosciences, Penn State. “It’s a little strange, but the concept would be a little bit like Marmite or Vegemite where you’re eating a smear of ‘microbial goo.'”

… They reported in Life Sciences in Space Research that they grew M. capsulatus that was 52 percent protein and 36 percent fats, making it a potential source of nutrition for astronauts.

… [The process is] “quite robust and fast and breaks down waste quickly,” said House. “That’s why this might have potential for future space flight. It’s faster than growing tomatoes or potatoes.”

[Source: Microbes may help astronauts transform human waste into food @ Pennsylvania State University]

I like the phrase “series of microbial reactors” — it suggests a series of challenges that the player must overcome — a microscopic Mario, jumping from microbe to microbe, rescuing wayward proteins, defeating evil pathogens, turning that waste into food so the astronauts can reach Mars (where they will continue to eat microbial goo).

[Image: Autoclavable bench-top laboratory bioreactor used for fermentation and cell cultures. By Miropiro, www.bioreactors.eu, www.bioreactor.ch, www.lambda-instruments.in – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29055211.]

The internal economics of a popular Minecraft server

Alice Maz Minecraft above cityAlice Maz writes about how she mastered the economics of Minecraft:

I started on my server with only a rudimentary knowledge of the game itself and ipso facto zero understanding of its economy. Within six months or so, I had perhaps as detailed a mental model of it as one could get. I knew the price ranges of most of the items in the game and everything that all of them were used for. I knew how common they were on the market, who the major sellers were, what their supply chains looked like. I knew how fast they sold through, whether the price was stable or tacking a certain way, and I had tons of theories on ways to play all this to get what I needed and turn a profit while doing it, and nearly all of them were sound. Most of it I didn’t even think about. I didn’t need to contemplate why, for instance, lumber was both cheaper and more common than it should be, such that I could buy it all and hold, force the price up, corner the market, and keep it that way. I just kind of… knew, and did it. It’s a wonderful feeling, weaving a system into your mind so tight that it’s hard to find the stitches after awhile. Highly recommended.

[minecraft]

Via Boing Boing:

Alice Maz was part of a small group of players who came to have near-total mastery over the internal economy of a popular Minecraft; Maz describes how her early fascination with the mechanics of complex multiplayer games carried over into an interest in economics and games, and that let her become a virtuoso player, and brilliant thinker, about games and economics.

Maz’s long, fascinating essay about her business ventures in Minecraft are a potted lesson in economics, one that shows where financial engineering actually does something useful (providing liquidity, matching supply and demand) and the places where it becomes nothing more than a predatory drag on the “real economy” of people making amazing things in Minecraft.

[The internal economics of a popular Minecraft server are an object lesson in everything great and terrible about markets]

Creating bacterial ‘fight clubs’ to discover new drugs

“Creating bacterial “fight clubs” is an effective way to find new drugs from natural sources.”

Bacteria Fight ClubThat is the conclusion of a team of Vanderbilt chemists who have been exploring ways to get bacteria to produce biologically active chemicals which they normally hold in reserve. These compounds are called secondary metabolites. They are designed to protect their bacterial host and attack its enemies, so they often have the right kind of activity to serve as the basis for effective new drugs.

… the “fight club” approach [analyzes] what happens when microbes compete.

… This procedure allowed the chemists to discover a new member of a class of biomolecules with broad-ranging activity ….

[Source]

Via Slashdot.

This could be modeled as a game, either for pure entertainment — fight, bacteria, fight! — or as an aid to research (with bacteria fights!).

Turn your screen into a playable Super Mario level

Desktop application Screentendo allows you to capture an image of your screen, and export the image as a playable Super Mario level.

Created by Aaron Randall.

It’s a Cocoa app, so Mac only unless you have a virtual machine to emulate OS X on your Windows or linux box.

The source code is available at GitHub.

Via BoingBoing.

This is cool. I like it. More like this, please.

I never got into Mario Brothers, haven’t touched it in many years. But I love the idea of making a level from a screenshot.

Zuckerberg on games and programming

In a recent online Q&A, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked about playing games as a kid, and growing up to be a computer programmer.

Zuckerberg suggested that a lifetime spent playing video games could prep kids and young adults for careers as programmers.

“I actually think giving people the opportunity to play around with different stuff is one of the best things you can do,” he told the audience.

“I definitely would not have gotten into programming if I hadn’t played games as a kid.”

“Most of the engineers I know, who are the best engineers, are self-taught,” Zuckerberg added at the Q&A. “It’s not because they took some classes.”

[Source: Are video games the gateway to programming?]

Via Slashdot.

Unreal Engine 4 Is Now Free

Epic Games recently announced a new business model:

Unreal Engine 4 is now available to everyone for free, and all future updates will be free!

You can download the engine and use it for everything from game development, education, architecture, and visualization to VR, film and animation. When you ship a game or application, you pay a 5% royalty on gross revenue after the first $3,000 per product, per quarter. It’s a simple arrangement in which we succeed only when you succeed.

This is the complete technology we use at Epic when building our own games. It scales from indie projects to high-end blockbusters; it supports all the major platforms; and it includes 100% of the C++ source code. Our goal is to give you absolutely everything, so that you can do anything and be in control of your schedule and your destiny. Whatever you require to build and ship your game, you can find it in UE4, source it in the Marketplace, or build it yourself – and then share it with others.

Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games

To download, register for your Epic Games account.

This is good news for developers. Hats off to Epic.

Via Slashdot.

Tetris and Software Testing

Jack Witham recently observed:

It’s hard to test software: even simple software!

He writes:

Tetris is one of the best-known computer games ever made. It’s easy to play but hard to master, and it’s based on a NP-hard problem.

But that’s not all that’s difficult about it. Though it’s a simple game that can be implemented in one line of BBC BASIC, it’s complex enough to be really hard to thoroughly test.

Ideally, a game tester has to try every possible action, in order to be sure that the game works correctly whatever the player does. But even in a simple game, there is so much to test!

Recently my employer Rapita Systems released a tool demo in the form of a modified game of Tetris. Unlike “normal” Tetris, the goal is not to get a high score by clearing blocks, but rather to get a high code coverage score. Tetris RapiCoverTo get the perfect score, you have to cause every part of the game’s source code to execute. When a statement or a function executes during a test, we say it is “covered” by that test.

I like it!

It’s a game and a tool.