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Motherboard's Favorite Things of 2012

Mars touchdown, Bjork, gauge symmetry, Occupy reborn. 2012 really happened.

See? It wasn't so bad.

Curiosity touches down

Of all the things that happened this year in space, nothing made the world collectively stop and hold its breath like Curiosity's August landing on Mars. The daring Sky Crane system, with its dozens of moving parts and failure points, worked like a charm. But the best part? Curiosity took pictures throughout the landing. Put them together and we get rover landing cam, an incredible view of what it looks like to land on Mars. Amy Teitel


But science needs wrong answers

A group of Italian scientists were charged with manslaughter convictions this year for failing to warn the public of a 6.3 magnitude earthquake.  Questionable ethics arise for both risk-assessment professionals and the scientific illiterate courts that can convict them. Kurt Poropatich

Double-header reality check

Remember how the This American Life / Foxconn episode scandal arrived right after the whole Kony 2012 controversy? No one-two punch was as good at teaching us how our compassion can be plucked and manipulated as was this slow-motion viral train wreck of fact, fiction, humanitarianism, embarrassment, and confusion. Now, the complaints about Foxconn continue, despite a raft of changes ordered by Apple. Joseph Kony and his Lord Resistance Army are still out there in Central Africa Republic, unstoppable apparently even by an Obama-ordered contingent of special forces, MI8 transport helicopters, and assorted U.S. equipment, intelligence, and logistics. And Mike Daisey? He's got a critically-acclaimed new play out called "Fcking Fcking Fcking Ayn Rand," a title that can be read two very different ways, and which one must assume--or hope--is not a work of journalism.

Also see: Jim Fingal, author of The Lifespan of a Fact, on the vicissitudes of riding the wave between fiction and fact checking. Alex Pasternack

The Higgs boson

Just shy of the 50 years after the particle was first theorized by five different physicists (Peter Higgs being one of them), at a machine costing around $9 billion, researchers announced that there's a pretty good chance that they've observed the Higgs boson. The Higgs boson, if you'll recall, is the particle physicists think endows other particles with mass and allows existence to be anything more than pure light. Far from the thrilling conclusion suggested by most media coverage, the discovery is just the beginning. First, the Higgs hunting teams need more, better data to say with more certainty that this is in fact the Higgs boson, if there are other varieties of the particle, if it even fits correctly into our current schemes of particle physics, and what it all means for new, even weirder particles we haven't even thought of yet, in addition to other physics Big Mysteries like dark matter, dark energy, and gravity.  Michael Byrne

Matmos, the Ganzfeld EP

It's been kind of a long time since Matmos released The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of the Beast, the conceptual opus of musique concrete pop that made great, more accessible than you'd imagine music out of such items as a cow vagina and dried roses. That was 2006, actually. With the Ganzfeld EP and its forthcoming full-length successor, the duo is using experiments in psychic transmission performed on their Baltimore buds as source material and Matmos is Matmos once again, perfectly. MB


Fuck poaching … still 

Poached tusks intercepted by Kenya Wildlife Services

While 2012 was the worst year on record for rhino poaching while African militants picked up ivory poaching as a new source of revenue, and saw the entire wildlife trade become increasingly run by organized crime, there was one bright spot: Awareness of the trade is up more than ever, and reporting on the trade has never been better or more widespread. It's a key first step to stemming the tide. Derek Mead

Winter songs

Bill Callahan just as himself backed by spare, fragmented Americana is a strange variety of hypnosis. Yet an ambient electronic record of Callahan's songs reimagined can't help but be surprising, especially because it's sort of perfect. Vocals cribbed from a selection of the songwriter's classics are rearranged only subtly, recast as mantras over suspended, uneasy tone-scapes. This is Palimpsest, by ambient/post-classical brains Sylvain Chauveau and Stephan Mathieu. It's still as "American" as Callahan's originals, but now it's America frozen into unbroken winter. MB

Winter aliens

In 2012 Russian scientists breached the liquid surface of Lake Vostok in Antartica. It's estimated that the freshwater lake, which is located underneath thousands of feet of ice, has been completely isolated for 15 to 25 million years. There is currently a search underway for any unusual forms of life that could have developed in this unique environment. A setting that is highly comparable to the ice covered oceans found on Jupiter's moon Europa. KP


New Occupation

"You could say we are occupying the debt-system—we are tactically entering it and turning it against itself to a degree," Yates McKee, an organizer of Strike Debt, told Miriam Simun in November. The plan: to pool together a bunch of money to buy some awful debt, which can be had at great discounts, and then throw it away. It was a brilliant, tangible move, especially given all of those "yeah but what did they actually do" complaints that have dogged Occupy from the start. Like Occupy Sandy, New York's surprise superhero army in the wake of the super storm, this debt-killing Kickstarter was also a neat elaboration of what Occupy was always about. "We operate at a loss in economic terms, but we create a bounty of collective relief and good will. This in turn relates to the principle of mutual aid that was so crucial to Zuccotti Park—think of the free kitchen or the energy-bikes. Those were not acts of charity, they were ways of supporting one another without relying on external authorities." In a week the campaign (which was fronted by master pencil sharpener David Rees) raised 350,000 dollars—enough to abolish 6.5 million dollars in medical debt. AP


Reddit can be a mysterious beast, but every now and then the insanity coalesces into something brilliant. Nothing exemplifies that better than the insane, contextless infomercial GIFs in r/wheredidthesodago, which remains my favorite subreddit and was recently Reddit's subreddit of the day. DM


Elon Musk

Elon Musk first made a name and a fortune for himself by allowing us to send dollars and cents through ones and zeros with Paypal. Today, he's sending rockets to the International Space Station with SpaceX and ushering in the era of electric cars with Tesla. It's why his friends call him Steve Jobs, John D. Rockefeller, and Howard Hughes all wrapped in one and was the real-life inspiration for Hollywood's Tony Stark. Tomorrow, he'd like to bring us to Mars. Alec Liu

Kim Jong-un

Kim Jong-un had some enormous shoes to fill in replacing his father as the leader of North Korea. But after launching a rocket that's pissed off the world, continuing work on the Ryugyong Hotel, and continuing his father's tradition of looking at things, I'd say that for better or worse, he's fulfilling his dad's legacy rather fittingly. DM

Maker-fixer thing that is not a gadget

Sugru is silly putty that dries into a silicone so strong you can use it to hang things on the wall and mend things that broke. But it's also so soft, even after its dried, and so damn neat-looking, that you can put it on practically anything, adding little soft/hard corners to your cell phone or tiny doo-dads to your computer, your mug, your axe, but not your face. AP

Sounding talking-thing

It's not the best sounding speaker ever, but the Jambox is the best sounding beautiful little box that makes very good sound. And it talks. I love the shake and sound it gives when you turn it on (bloop!), and even if I don't particularly look forward to the time when my electronics talk to me, admonish me to "recharge battery now," I'm grateful for this bizarre introduction, especially when I get to play a new Dan Deacon track on it, or even when I get to turn it off. It makes a sound like a robot being shut down. Dewwwww. AP



Bjork's new video (Andrew Huang) and remix album (Omar Souleyman, Death Grips) are life-affirming artifacts of post-apocalyptic / prehistoric times. AP


Neutrinos going faster than light? Some measurements at Italy's underground Gran Sasso labratory thought so and everyone, including myself, got pretty excited because the idea of big cosmic rules like "nothing goes faster than light" being broken is fantastic. Also: time travel. As revealed by new experiments in 2012, those results were wrong, as expected, and hopefully a lesson was at least learned about science's relentless quest to question itself. MB


The game. There's no way of explaining the Kickstarter-funded FTL (raking in some $200 K on a $10 K goal0 and making it sound way awesome and exciting: it's sort of space chess, with your task being the defense of a ship travelling across the cosmos in a long series of faster-then-light jumps. You materialize somewhere, get attacked, and you're tasked with delegating different attack, defense, and repair tasks, while gradually building up your ship, the Kestral, with better defenses and weapons. The graphics/animation are from about 20 years ago, but don't need to be any better. The soundtrack makes up for it anyway. I think this cost around $10 when I got it a few months ago. MB

Rap song / bass line

Flying Lotus, "Between Friends" feat. Captain Murphy (who is, in fact, Flying Lotus). A mad and libidinous mad lib of a song that sounds like Madlib.

Super-weirdest music video about strawberries

Hot Chip, "Look at Where We Are," directed by Danny Perez


Song about strawberries

WHY?, "Strawberries" directed by  Scott Fredette & Alex Parks (read an interview with WHY?)

Albums panned by Pitchfork that were actually great

Yeasayer, Fragrant World

Grizzly Bear, Shields

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