Soft and fuzzy? Not us (November 2010 issue)

Soft and fuzzy? Not us (November 2010 issue)
Date:22 October 2010 Tags:, , ,

Our choice of cover picture this month is likely to prompt a few puzzled questions. Has Popular Mechanics abandoned the hard-edged milieu of science and technology in favour of soft and fuzzy visuals? Can readers now look forward to scholarly art critiques or, worse still, articles on the anomalies of nano-scale galleries?

Short answers: no, no, and don’t be silly.

In reality, it’s about daring ideas and the relentless pursuit of dreams. In “Still life aquatic”, we introduce the hauntingly beautiful and occasionally startling work of Jason deCaires Taylor, a multi-talented artist, scuba diver, conservationist and adventurer who exhibits his sculptures in the world’s most unusual gallery – the sea. It doesn’t stop there. Taylor’s underwater sculptures put a new spin on the relationship between art and the environment, highlighting natural processes beneath the sea while offering the (appropriately equipped) observer a unique take on his work.

Months or years after being placed on the sea bed, Taylor’s works are shrouded (and in some cases, almost obscured) by myriad marine organisms in vivid colours. As he tells it: “I love the way the sea provides a whole new way to experience art; totally different from the four white walls of an ordinary art gallery.”

Moving on to another sea-related article, this one distinctly less appetising, we introduce “How the blowout happened” – a full and detailed account of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. We describe why it happened, how it happened, and what came next. As writer Carl Hoffman explains, it wasn’t a single bad decision that caused the worst offshore oil spill in US history; in reality, the sinking of the oil rig resulted from a long chain of errors.

One of the more off-beat titles in November’s line-up is “Wake me up when men get pregnant”. It deals with transhumanism, a philosophy that writer Tim Cavanaugh finds somewhat flawed: “I’ve always been less excited about what human enhancement can do for me than about what it can do for the future: manipulation of human genetic material to produce lasting, reproducible new breeds of people. This idea has the added benefit of being plausible: unlike airy notions of frozen brains or cyborg implants, biological enhancement has thousands of years of history behind it, in the form of agricultural hybridisation and animal husbandry.”

On the subject of pregnant males… there’s a well-documented condition known as Couvade’s Syndrome, which apparently comes in two forms – one a cultural ritual associated with the expectant father’s actions and the other a psychosomatic condition related to emotional factors. In extreme cases, the man takes to his bed while his partner is doing her thing and actually mimics the birth process, feigning contractions and appearing to experience birth pains. (Hey, you have to be there.)

Still in the realm of the weird, we travel to Soweto for the Red Bull Box Cart Race, a very strange event that requires otherwise rational adults to build outrageous vehicles, dress in silly clothes, perform embarrassing acts in public, and hurtle (or in some cases, waddle) down a narrow track in pursuit of glory. PM was there, naturally.

Our box cart, dubbed Doobie Brothers, was a sort of VW Beetle convertible decorated with flowers, peace symbols and giant mock-ups of er… herbal cigarettes. Although we have yet to fully understand the rationale behind a hippie-era car in deepest Soweto, adsales executive and team leader Patrick Kennedy assures us the link is authentic.

Due to circumstances entirely beyond our control, we didn’t win. However, we did manage to record a creditable time down the hill, and the spectators seemed quite taken with our team’s portrayal of four stoned hippies in search of enlightenment. To check out the pictures on our Facebook Fan page, click here

– Alan Duggan (

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