Octopuses on Ecstasy, Weight-Loss Scams, and Neutron Stars: Best Gizmodo Stories of the Week

Illustration: Gizmodo Staff / Photo: Shutterstock/Getty Images

The tech and science world has had a very interesting week: Researchers have discovered what happens when you give our favorite tentacled, ocean-dwelling friends MDMA, landed rovers on asteroids, confirmed the oldest known animal fossil on the planet, and found something very weird going on with a distant neutron star. At the same time, the president is apparently considering an order to have regulators punish the tech industry for a perceived lack of fealty, Amazon is trying to force as much Alexa down our throats as possible, and officials are still assessing how bad freak storm Florence was. Finally, Marvel Studios might finally give Rob Liefeld the chance to discover how to draw feet.

If this sounds like a lot to handle, don’t worry: We’ve got your cheat sheet ready. Score an A+ with all your nerdy friends at the water cooler chat, starting now.


Scientists Gave MDMA to Octopuses—and What Happened Was Profound

Gif: Jim Cooke ( Gizmodo)

When humans take the drug MDMA, versions of which are known as molly or ecstasy, they commonly feel very happy, extraverted, and particularly interested in physical touch. A group of scientists recently wondered whether this drug might have a similar effect on other species—specifically, octopuses, which are seemingly as different from humans as an animal can be. The results of their experiment, in which seven octopuses took MDMA, were “unbelievable.”

Just think about an octopus—other than their impressive intelligence, they have little in common with humans. We’ve been heading along different branches of the evolutionary tree for 500 million years. Rather than one localized brain with a cortex, or a highly folded outer layer like our brains have, an octopus’s decentralized nervous system includes control centers for each arm in addition to a brain.


The Bizarre Scheme Using Viral Abuse Stories and Stolen Pics to Sell Diet Pills on Twitter

Illustration: Angelica Alzona ( Gizmodo)

This weekend, a Twitter user shared a disturbing story that verged on the surreal. In a 32-tweet thread, Ashley recounted an abusive relationship with a boyfriend who forced her to eat until it caused her pain—seemingly for his own sexual pleasure.

“he didn’t let me talk to anyone, never let me leave the house w/o him and he had this really weird obsession with watching me eat,” wrote Ashley. “it got to a point where he started forcing me and sometimes it even made me feel sick to my stomach! apparently he was into a sexual fetish called ‘feederism’ and it aroused him.”


Ashley’s story soon went viral, racking up more than 80,000 retweets and 300,000 likes. It was also completely fake.

Remember the Delightful Messenger-Only Gadgets That Failed to Conquer the World?

Illustration: Elena Scotti (Gizmodo)

Once upon a time, instant messaging was king. Before social media apps and smartphones rose to prominence, these free-to-use services ruled. AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo! Instant Messenger, ICQ, you name it—everyone had their drug of choice. There was just one problem with these revolutionary methods of communication: Using them meant you needed an internet connection.

That was a problem since for many people “going online” often meant stationing oneself at a desktop computer, connecting via dial-up, and tying up the phone line. As such, chat sessions had to come to a swift halt when it was time to leave the house. Today, it’s hard to imagine a world in which you can’t dash of hundreds of text messages a day, but in the late nineties and early aughts, texting technology was still new; it was expensive and rudimentary. In this milieu, instant messaging gadgets seemed like the future—imagine if you could fire off messages as you did on your computer, except on the go.


Glacier Named After Prominent Geologist Renamed Following Sexual Harassment Scandal

Victoria Land, Antarctica.
Photo: Francisco Ardini / ©PNRA ( Wikimedia)

The Me Too movement has toppled Hollywood executives, pundits, and bureaucrats since it burst onto the scene last year. Prompting a government agency to rename a geologic landform, however, may be a first.

Last week, the United States’ Board on Geographic Names quietly decided that Antarctica’s Marchant Glacier would now be called Matataua. A 7 mile-long ice stream located in eastern Antarctica’s Victoria Land, the glacier was originally named after Boston University geologist David Marchant in 1994. The change comes nearly a year after a BU-led investigation concluded that Marchant sexually harassed former graduate student Jane Willenbring in 1999 and 2000 while the two were doing fieldwork in Antarctica.


Is Breakfast Cereal Any Good for You?

Illustration: Elena Scotti (Photos: Getty Images, Shutterstock

Wrangle up the right studies and you can make anything look deadly. Breakfast cereal—at least, the kind without cartoon mascots—might seem innocuous, and might be marketed as healthy, but that’s no reason to think that every naturally-flavored bite isn’t speeding you towards the grave. Nothing, in this world, is above suspicion—not even tasteless health-store bran flakes.

Which brings us to this week’s Giz Asks: an investigation into whether breakfast cereal is good for you, conducted with the help of number of nutritionists and health experts. We already pretty much assumed that Frosted Flakes and its ilk are poison, and were heartily confirmed in this assumption by our experts, but we had no idea how great the grain stuff can really be for you; if your usual breakfast consists of a couple of eggs, or burnt Keurig coffee and despair, you really might want to consider giving (non-poisonous) cereal a shot.


You Have No Excuse for Shitty Passwords Anymore

Photo: Alex Cranz ( Gizmodo)

The password itself is shitty. It’s a fundamentally flawed mechanism for securing our accounts and data that should have died long ago. That means poorly crafted passwords are doubly bad. But with the release of iOS 12 and recent updates to Android, truly terrible passwords—your 123456, facebookpassw0rd, or dEadP3tsnAme—have lost all reason to exist.

Apple on Monday released its latest mobile OS update, which includes what may ultimately be its most consequential feature: Password Autofill. With the feature enabled, you can automatically enter passwords across your apps and the web using FaceID, TouchID, or your pin. This feature expanded beyond the confines of Safari in iOS 11, allowing you to autofill passwords stored in your iCloud Keychain across apps and websites. But the updated feature is vastly improved in iOS 12. It now works with third-party password managers, which have helped make strong personal security easier for years. And from my brief time using the feature, it just works better overall—I’ve only had to copy-paste a few updated passwords on apps that are slow to get with the program.


Amazon Is Going to Drown Us in Alexa Crap


The digital assistant wars are in full swing, and with Google just recently notching the latest victory by finishing Q2 with the top-selling smart speaker in the world, Amazon is revamping its Alexa-powered roster in a very big way.

At the start of its presentation, Amazon’s devices head David Limp set the tone by saying the company had around 70 new devices to talk about, and only an hour to do it. Limp then launched into talking about Amazon’s recent upgrades to Alexa, which in the U.S. includes making Alexa both more opinionated and more approachable for children and adults.


Samsung’s New Galaxy Watch Comes So Close to Delivering the Modern Wearable Dream

Photo: Sam Rutherford ( Gizmodo)

Divorce yourself from the far out scifi depictions and crazy nerd dreams of what a smartwatch is supposed to be for just a second, and instead think about what makes sense for a wrist-mounted device in 2018. You’ll quickly realize there’s a huge gap between reality and expectation, because while the idea of playing games or watching videos on a watch might sound neat, actually doing so on a screen that’s measures less than two inches across is simply miserable.

That’s where Samsung’s new Galaxy Watch comes in. On top of being able to do standard smartwatch stuff like relay notifications, count steps, and reply to texts, the Galaxy Watch looks to expand on the true purpose of modern smartwatch: tracking your health and fitness.


The 20 Wildest, Coolest, and Most Unique Films We Can’t Wait to See at Fantastic Fest 2018

A still from the film Girls With Balls. Yup, it’s that kind of fest.
Photo: All Images ( Fantastic Fest)

One of the premiere genre film festivals in the world is the annual Fantastic Fest. It starts this Thursday, and io9 will be there. That means a week of non-stop sci-fi, fantasy, animation, horror, supernatural, and otherwise weird, wacky, and wonderful movies.

Well over 100 feature films will screen at the festival. Some are titles you will have already heard of, but there are some you haven’t, too—and really, odds are the best films will come out of nowhere. In preparation, we’ve read about them all and picked out the 20 we are most excited to see, based solely on their descriptions.


Astronomers Spot Unprecedented Glow Around Neutron Star, and Whatever It Is, It’s Important

Artist’s concept of the neutron star
Illustration: NASA, ESA, and N. Tr’Ehnl (Pennsylvania State University

Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have glimpsed a neutron star unlike any seen before.

Neutron stars, which contain more mass than the Sun but have a radius of only a few miles, continue to be the subject of intense observation. Now, scientists have spotted one of these ultra-dense objects emitting infrared radiation far brighter than they’d expect, over a seemingly wide swath of space—larger than our Solar System. They have several ideas as to what they’re looking at, and any of these ideas, if verified, would be important discoveries.


Extraordinary Evidence Suggests 558-Million-Year-Old Fossil Is the Oldest Known Animal on the Planet

A Dickinsonia fossil.
Image: The Australian National University ANU

An international team of researchers is claiming to have discovered traces of cholesterol on a fossil of Dickinsonia—a mysterious creature that lived during the primordial Ediacaran Period. This evidence, the researchers say, makes Dickinsonia the oldest known animal in the fossil record. But the discovery is not without its critics, who say the new work is unconvincing.

Is it or is it not an animal?

This is the question that scientists have been asking for decades about Dickinsonia. Measuring as much as 4 feet long (1.4 meters) and featuring rib-like segments that ran along its oval-shaped body, this enigmatic organism dates back to the Ediacaran (571 million to 541 million years ago), a period that immediately preceded the Cambrian—a time when animal life “exploded” in terms of diversity and number.


Concrete Hits Heavy at the Heart Without Ever Throwing a Punch

A gorgeous image from Concrete: Think Like a Mountain.
Image: Paul Chadwick ( Dark Horse Comics)

When Concrete first appeared in the mid-1980s, the discourse around comics’ artistic merit was undergoing a profound shift. Excitement around works like The Dark Knight Returns, Maus, and Watchmen expanded the public’s ideas about what comics could achieve. Concrete never became part of the shorthand list for “mature comics.” That’s a shame, because writer-artist Paul Chadwick’s signature creation is one of the best examples of what a fully rounded aesthetic looks like.

Concrete debuted in Dark Horse Presents #1, an anthology series from the Oregon-based publisher. Years later, Chadwick retold Concrete’s origin story in a 1997 miniseries called Strange Armor, which beautifully distills the pathos and tenderness that make the character special.


All the Cosmic Secrets We Uncovered in the Stunning Captain Marvel Trailer

A hero rises in our first stellar look at Captain Marvel.
Gif: Captain Marvel ( All Images via Marvel Studios)

It’s here! Captain Marvel has finally landed, before immediately blasting off again with a fantastic looking first trailer. Aside from looking great, the trailer also gives us our first good look at both the cosmic and earthly lives of Carol Danvers, and a hint of the threat’s she’s going to face. Here’s what we could find.

Hawaii’s National Park Is Re-Opening After the Eruption of a Lifetime

Photo: Janice Web/National Park Service (AP)

Kilauea volcano has quieted down considerably since August, and recovery efforts are now in full swing. That includes a major milestone coming up on September 22, when the National Park Service (NPS) is set to re-openparts of the colossal Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which has been closed since shortly after the multi-month eruption began in May.

Unprecedented damage to the infrastructure and landscape, however, means that this will be anything but a walk in the park for the authorities.


Situated in the southeastern section of Hawaii’s Big Island, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, comprises 330,000 acres of volcanic land and viridian wilderness, including the ginormous Mauna Loa volcano and the continuously active Kilauea. It was recognized in 1980 by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Site, and as a World Heritage Site in 1987. This dynamic environment has seen its share of natural disasters over the years, but 2018 has been an especially wild ride. In addition to Kiluaea’s eruption, the park has had to deal with two hurricanes, a tropical storm and a prolific wildfire that engulfed 3,700 acres of land.

Recovery efforts have been, and continue to be, multidisciplinary and comprehensive. From geomorphologists to landscape architects, NPS staff are making careful decisions day by day about what parts of the park can be re-opened, and what cannot.


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Tom McKay

"... An upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online." - Washington Post