Strange Substances of Many Sorts

Hot buttons, hard gels, and more

Szechuan Button

Phyzome

What could be more fun than eating pop rocks, and tastier than licking a 9-volt battery? Eating a "Szechuan button," a plant used widely in South America, Africa and Asia, proving once again that other cuisines really have more fun.

Quotes of the day, from today's links: "Clean coal harnesses the awesome power of the word 'clean'!" and "Oh, I'm producing massive amounts of saliva."

  • Will the Kindle 2 make books obsolete? Or will books give Kindle 2 a good ass-whupping? (Look, even if you're sick of reading reviews of the e-reader, this animated smackdown is the best.)
  • Hopes for electric cars powered by lithium-ion batteries could mean a change for the auto industry, and for Bolivia, which has about half of the planet's known lithium reserves. Politicians hope that they'll also be able to develop battery-production facilities in Bolivia, but some industry insiders are skeptical that would happen.
  • Speaking of smackdowns, in the debate over clean coal, an unlikely set of players have entered the ring: the Coen brothers, filmmakers best known for death by wood-chipper, who've directed a TV ad advocating against the coal industry.
  • The British Ministry of Defence hopes that a gel that hardens on impact can be used in soldiers' helmets to slow the impact of bullets or shrapnel. The gel, which becomes flexible again once the pressure is removed, is already used in shin guards, ballet shoes and other athletic gear.