A legend that Atari dumped excess copies of E.T. for the Atari 2600 at the height of its troubles has finally been proven true.
According to Bit-Tech an excavation of a New Mexico rubbish dump has finally put the urban legends surrounding the 80s video game crash and Atari’s part in it to rest,.
The Atari 2600 game E.T. is infamous. It was part of a multi-million dollar licensing agreement with filmmaker Steven Spielberg, the game was authorised in late July to be ready for a Christmas launch.
Howard Scott Warshaw, completed the game in just five and a half weeks – compared to the nine months that Raiders of the Lost Ark had taken and it should have been great.
But Atari was already struggling and the game cost it $21 million. It also decided to mass-produce the E.T. cartridges in volumes that exceeded the number of Atari 2600 consoles in the market.
It hoped that the game would sell hardware, but it did not. Atari shut its factories and apparently, the existing unsold stock was sent to a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The dumping was seen as a sign that the industry was buggered.
But the thing was Atari denied all this. They claimed that the material was merely faulty hardware from the plant’s repair work, dumped at a fee of between $300 and $500 per truckload.
However, the story of thousands of cartridges representing a range of titles became 3.5 million cartridges of E.T. alone.
Microsoft teamed up with film company Fuel to excavate the Alamogordo landfill in an attempt to prove or disprove the myth. The dig took place this weekend, with the public invited. Apparently, after 30-years, despite claims to the contrary by historians, it would appear that the rumours surrounding the Alamogordo tip were indeed mostly true.
A team of scientists has looked to the heavens for a way to double the energy produced by microbial fuel cells (MFCs), using bacteria usually found 30km from the Earth’s surface.
If sci-fi B-movies are anything to go by, then life-forms from outer space are not usually the benevolent type. However, researchers reckon that Bacillus stratosphericus could in fact be used to help save the planet by generating electricity, like another famous extraterrestrial.
The bacteria is usually found to be in high concentrations way up in the stratosphere in the realm of satellites. Having found the microbe down here on terrafirma in the Wear Estuary, County Durham, the researchers at Newcastle University were able to engineer a biofilm that could generate a lot more energy than is usually possible with an MFC.
Previously it has been possible to generate around 105 Watts per cubic metre, the biofilm has been able to reach 200 Watts per cubic metre.
This may not be a massive amount but the environmentally sound method of energy production is enough for small applications, such as providing a light source. The researchers reckon that this could mean it would be very useful in developing countries where there is little electricity grid infrastructure, and little access to basics such as light.
The microbe is thought to have reached the bed of the River Wear after dropping down to earth due to atmospheric cycle processes. This allowed it to be processed and isolated from the numerous other microbes found, presumably separating from the other junk such as disused trollies, broken tellies, or David Walliams’ that accumulate in rivers these days.
By manipulating the microbial mix the team was able to engineer a biofilm. While this is not new in itself, the ability to generate much more power was innovative, using the usual MFC process of converting organic compounds into electricity via bio-catalytic oxidation.
This works by coating the electrodes of the MFC in the stratospheric microbial ooze, with the bacteria producing electrons as they feed, generating electricity.
In addition to B. Stratosphericus the team were able to add more names to TechEye’s list of favourite electricity producing microbes, with Bacillus altitudinis – another space-bound microbe – and Bacteroidetes also used.
Scientists at the Arizona State University have programmed their computers to scan millions of snaps of the lunar surface to look for signs that aliens might have landed there.
After all, if you have defeated the problems of speed of light travel and come all that way to see the Earth the first place you are going to put your landing gear down is going to be an orbiting lump of cold rock . The next thing you will do is go and scare some brain dead American farmer by giving him an anal probe.
But Professor Paul Davies and Robert Wagner at Arizona State University claim that passing extraterrestrials might have left messages, scientific instruments, heaps of rubbish or evidence of mining on the dusty lunar surface that could be spotted by human telescopes and orbiting spacecraft.
According to the journal Acta Astronautica, which we get for the Spot the Quark competition the pair admit that there is only a tiny probability that alien technology would have left traces on the moon, but since it is closer we might as well have a look.
It is also cheaper to scan lots of pictures rather than use expensive radio telescopes.
The scientists are using Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which has mapped a quarter of the moon’s surface in high resolution since mid-2009. These images have also spotted the Apollo landing sites and all of the Nasa and Soviet unmanned probes.
They have developed software to search for strange-looking features, such as the sharp lines of solar panels, or the dust-covered contours of quarries or domed buildings. Because the moon is geologically inactive they might be visible millions of years after they were built.
Alien life might once have set up a lunar base in the underground networks of lava tubes beneath the moon’s dark, basaltic plains, and perhaps have left rubbish when they departed. “The same factors that make lava tubes attractive as a habitat imply that any artefacts left behind would endure almost indefinitely, undamaged and unburied,” the scientists write.
Quite why any alien civilisation would bother is not a question Wagner and Davies have answered.
A radio telescope which was set up to look for radio transmissions from ET is celebrating 50 years of not finding anything.
Frank Drake sat at the controls of an 85-foot radio telescope at an observatory in Green Bank look for a signal from an alien civilization.
It was hellishly advanced thinking for the time and he only had been on line for an hour before he got a burst of transmissions from Epsilon Eridani. It turned out that it was a signal from a secret military radar and one of the many false positives the system has had.
The work sparked the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence project but after five decades of patient listening, funded by HP, and Intel all there has been is a silence full of space tumbleweed.
Paul Davies is author of “The Eerie Silence.” He is director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University has penned a piece for the Wall Street Journal where he thinks that biological intelligence might be a brief phase in the evolution of the universe.
“Even in our own young species, computers now outperform people in arithmetic and chess, and Google is smarter than any human being on the planet. Soon, most of the mental heavy lifting will be done by designed and distributed systems, and over time those systems will themselves design better systems,” he said.
He pointed out that given a long period of development, information and knowledge processing, networks could merge and in principle expand to cover the entire surface of a moon or planet. “If we ever do make contact with ET, it is unlikely to be a flesh-and-blood being with a big head, but a gigantic throbbing artificial brain. Whether such an entity, inhabiting the highest reaches of the intellectual universe, would have the slightest interest in us is moot,” he said.
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute has opened up its data to all and sundry.
It’s also publishing its signal-detection algorithm, hoping techies everywhere can make it even better and pick up a few of the aliens’ missed calls.
“If you are knowledgeable about digital signal processing and pulling signals out of noise – we need you,” says the website.
“If you are eager to use your eyes, ears, and mind to help us find anomalies in the data streaming from the Allen Telescope Array – we need you.”
In particular, they’re after software developers, data parsing and gaming geeks and amateur radio astronomers.
We suspect that what they’ll actually get… well, you can work it out for yourselves.
Dr Frank Drake, the boffin who started SETI (Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence) five decades ago, said our planet is slowly, yet gradually becoming invisible to extraterrestrial long-range sensors.
Dr Drake frets that the advent of digital broadcasting equipment, which is replacing its analog ancestors, will result in far less radiation being beamed out into space. This will make earth nigh imperceptible, English snoozepaper The Telegraph cited Dr Drake as saying. Dr Drake is currently attending a discussion meeting on “The detection of extra-terrestrial life and the consequences for science and society”, which is being hosted by the Royal Society. Nonetheless, mmankind has fed itself and the universe enough radiation as not to go undiscovered, Dr Drake said some time ago when the stars were not yet right.
Dr Drake has not yet described which car aliens will drive, when they arrive. Will they have chauffeurs?
Signal deterioration will rekindle the fiery, flaming discussions SETI researchers keep on having about whether it’s a good idea to broadcast signals into space to show aliens we’re here, or not. Some say attracting aliens will lead to the eradication and/ or enslavement and so forth of the human species, whilst others believe ET will be a benevolent, kind, enlightened and loving being, similar to the Dalai Lama.
One might suppose a benevolent entity were to wipe out the more civilised parts of the human race entirely in order to save the planet, feed the world (sans Bono and Bob Geldof) and putting an end to cultural achievements such as Tokio Hotel, however boffins are mostly nerds and will most probably show a tendency to think in terms of 80ies movies, instead of growing up and sharing the view of an average Lovecraft reader, which boils down to aliens giving as much a poo about humanity as humanity does to bed bugs, rendering all discussion pointless and futile.
A top boffin has warned that aliens visiting earth will have all the same personality flaws that humans suffer.
Simon Conway Morris, professor of evolutionary paleobiology at Cambridge University, told the Royal Society that ET is less likely to want to phone home than call his broker to work out a way to shaft the earth for its resources.
He said extra-terrestrials are likely to possess human foibles such as greed, violence and a tendency to exploit others’ resources, and are likely to show up to try and buy Manhattan with a chest of iPhones.
He said that Governments should prepare for the worst if aliens visit Earth because beings from outer space are likely to be just like humans.
While aliens could come in peace they are quite as likely to be searching for somewhere to live, and to help themselves to water, minerals and fuel, Conway Morris will tell a conference at the Royal Society, in London today.
He said that extra-terrestrials won’t be splodges of goo … they could be disturbingly like us, and that might not be a good thing – we don’t have a great record.
We guess he is talking about the record Let’s Talk About Love by Céline Dion which breaks the Shadow Proclamation as a weapon war.
Conway Morris said that alien life is most likely to occur on a planet similar to our own, with organisms made from the same biochemicals. The process of evolution will even shape alien life in a similar way.