e. magill's                        

The Unapologetic Geek


Top 5 Heroes & Idiots of 2010

It's that time once again to list the best and worst the last year had to offer. I disclaim as always that this list only represents the people who were awesome or idiotic enough to retain my attention, that this list is in no way meant to represent the absolute best or worst.

Robot Nano-Spider
5. The Inventors of the Robot Nano-Spider

There were lots of cool science stories in 2010, including the LHC finally getting to smash some atoms, the finding of the first "Goldilocks Zone" exoplanet, and the discovery of lifeforms that can go their entire lives without oxygen. However, the one that really sticks with me is the story of the robot nano-spider. Developed by scientists throughout the country (and Columbia)--who are the true recipients of this award--the nano-spider is a tiny, molecular, DNA-based robot that can follow a track towards a specific goal. It doesn't sound all that interesting, aside from the awesome moniker, but this is a big step towards medical nanotechnology, one of those future technologies that could potentially change everything. Imagine if a doctor could inject a handful of specially programmed nano-spiders near a cancerous growth and that these nano-spiders could differentiate between cancer cells and regular cells and destroy the former while healing the latter. Or, better yet, imagine having a bunch of nano-spiders that could survive for extremely long periods of time travelling harmlessly throughout your system and killing diseased cells, unwelcome bacteria, or viruses long before you could ever know those bad things are there. I'm not saying that would be the end of all disease, but it sure sounds close, doesn't it?

5. James J. Lee
James J. Lee

For those who weren't paying attention to the news on or shortly after the afternoon of September 1, James J. Lee was an environmental protestor who was obsessed with the Discovery Channel, which he accused of popularizing the birth of "parasitic human infants" and helping the entire human race be responsible for basically everything wrong with everything. On the afternoon of September 1, he walked into the Discovery Communications headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, brandishing two starter pistols and bragging that he had an explosive device. He took hostages, demanded that the Discovery Channel stop certain programming immediately and begin producing programs that explained how evil human beings actually were, and was eventually shot and killed by the police. So yeah, an idiot.

Mark Twain
4. Mark Twain

Though he was kind-of a paranoid douchebag, his non-fiction is rambling and obtuse, and he spent far too many of his waning years trying to prove that Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare, you have to admire Mark Twain for inventing the modern celebrity. He theorized that, in a global world with mass media, you'd need a persona, something quirky but easily recognizable. It's no accident that his image is so iconic or that there is so much mystique surrounding the man (or that Mark Twain isn't actually his real name). But it's not just that he invented the modern celebrity; he also did it better than anyone else, as evidenced by the fact that he just published the first volume of his autobiography, one hundred years after his death, as instructed. Twain has been gone for a century, but he's still able to make headlines. His next volume isn't scheduled for publication for twenty-five more years and his third, twenty-five years after that. It doesn't even matter that his autobiography is total drivel, because the man lives on as one of the most famous writers of the modern era. He's still publishing his work and still getting critics to review it, and that's pretty damn impressive.

4. Pastor Terry Jones
Pastor Terry Jones

Terry Jones is a pastor who was kicked out of the German church he founded, because he wasn't practicing Christian principles and was "subverting all [church] activities to his will." Two years later, in Gainesville, Florida, Terry Jones, now with a congregation of merely 50 people, announced his intention to burn copies of the Qur'an on the ninth anniversary of 9/11 in protest against Islam, a religion he has repeatedly asserted is "of the Devil." Somehow, this nutjob and his congregation became national news, and even after he backed down from his plan, his inflammatory idea had spread to crazies across the nation and to other nations, where he helped fuel a negative impression of America as the land of reactionary bigots. I'm a believer in free speech and I am glad nobody tried to silence Jones through strongarm tactics. I am also not swayed by the argument that he was only wrong because it would lead to more violence. However, I am ashamed that such a person can get so much attention and can inspire followers. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with people?

Drew Karpyshyn
3. Drew Karpyshyn

Every year, I include at least one person on my list of heroes whose life I wouldn't mind leading. Drew Karpyshyn, creator of the Mass Effect universe and writer of the Mass Effect games and novels, is that person this year. I'm happy being a novelist, but if I ever had the chance to write a video game--a chance I would jump on without hesitation--I imagine I'd try to write something similar to Mass Effect, a deep sci-fi universe with interesting characters and tons upon tons of detail. Karpyshyn is a genius, and it's a shame that gaming still has that stigma of not quite being an artform. People like Ebert who refuse to acknowledge that video games have artistic merit have never played games like Mass Effect, but at least we can take comfort in that fact that, in fifty years at the most, video games will probably be treated the same way we currently treat film. Sure, it's a newish artform, but it's an artform nonetheless. Maybe then, more people will know that Drew Karpyshyn is a true artist, a man pushing the boundaries of what is possible in his medium.

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-e. magill 1/4/2011


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