Fox Bytes 13 – the wild idea issue

Sometimes Mother does know best

Exciting leaps in technology can be possible by imitating evolution in the wild. It’s called biomimicry. Let’s take potential developments in cellphone technology as an example. And insects.

Researchers in the US have developed a renewable and biodegradable ‘biobattery’ that mimics the way some insects store glycogen as energy. It could provide 10 times as much energy as a standard cellphone battery.

Water is a cellphone’s greatest enemy. Butterflies have specially-textured wings that repel water. So, engineers in Ohio State University have used nanotechnology to recreate the surface of a butterfly wing. The result is a material that could make cellphones waterproof.

Insects have developed a light but strong protective film that covers their bodies. It’s called cuticle, and it’s the inspiration for Shrilk, a man-made plastic-like laminate that mimics cuticle microarchitecture. It’s also biodegradable.

A camera lens is like an eye, and fire ants have compound eyes with multiple lenses, giving them a wide-angle view. Researchers in Illinois have developed a cellphone camera lens that contains 180 microlenses (see image). On a cellphone this could provide 160° angle of view.

Humans like to think technology will give them mastery of the universe, but, in some respects, they’re still playing catch-up with insects.


Abiymania hits Africa

Here’s a wild idea for a country’s leader: do the complete opposite to your predecessors. That is exactly what Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s new prime minister is doing, and at breakneck speed. 

In his inaugural address, he apologised for the brutal government crackdown that preceded him. He then invited home all exiled opponents, opened up his country to media outlets, some of whom had been highly critical of his predecessor, Hailemariam Desalegn; and he has dropped all terrorism charges against dozens of activists.

And then he went big. In June he turned to neighbouring Eritrea and offered to implement a UN peace agreement. The countries fought a brutal war between 1998 and 2000 over a small, dusty and unremarkable stretch of land on their border. A peace agreement in 2000 stalled, and the two countries remained on a war footing. Prime Minister Ahmed agreed to the terms without preconditions.

That was met at home with two reactions: unrestrained adulation by his people – nicknamed Abiymania – and suspicion and anger by political players yearning for a return to the previous status quo. 

There has already been one assassination attempt on him.

Africa has a new player, and he’s upending the African dictator archetype. 


What a lot I got

Spot the wild claim in this sentence: many politicians like to bend the truth to suit their purposes. 

If you’re battling to find fault with the statement, don’t be surprised. It certainly sounds right – ‘bending the truth’ is the kind of thing you’d expect politicians to do.

One word makes it a wild claim – ‘many’. The concept of ‘many’ – meaning ‘a large number’ – depends on two things – context and perception. Example: if you have five Smarties, and three of them are yellow, then you could say ‘many’ of your Smarties are yellow. There are only three of them – hardly a large number – but statistically, they are the majority. That’s context.

Similarly, if you have nine Smarties – three yellow, three brown, and three blue, statistically the yellow ones make up exactly a third; but if, for some reason, you hate yellow Smarties, you may think ‘many’ of your Smarties are yellow. That’s perception.

The problem with claiming ‘many’ of something, especially when claiming ‘many people say that’, or ‘many women’ or ‘many Americans’ or ‘many politicians’, is that it casually suggests proof of numerical dominance without requiring statistical evidence.

So, if you hear anyone claiming ‘many’ something in an argument, ask for context, and demand the evidence.


[These articles originally appeared in Issue 13 of Fox Bytes (you can view it here) in the week of 20 August 2018. Growing Foxes is a school strategic intelligence programme designed by mindofafox. It is being piloted in a number of leading schools in the UK and South Africa. Fox Bytes is published weekly to support those students currently engaging with the programme. Click on the logo to find out more]