RIP Ralph McQuarrie, Star Wars Visionary

Geekdom lost an important figure over the weekend – Ralph McQuarrie died at the age of 82. Many people won't know the name, but they will undoubtedly know his work as a concept artist on everything from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Cocoon to the original Battlestar Galactica. But what he will always be remembered for is his work on the original Star Wars trilogy. In fact, were it not for McQuarrie, Star Wars might never have existed at all.

George Lucas commissioned McQuarrie to create concept art based on scenes from an early draft of the Star Wars script, and Lucas used these visuals to help sell the film to 20th Century Fox. After the movie got the green light, McQuarrie stayed on to help develop the look of everything from iconic characters to vehicles to buildings and landscapes, and even worked on marketing materials, like posters and promotional artwork.

As a tribute to McQuarrie and his impressive body of work, we present a gallery of some of his concept and production art for Star Wars. I think you'll agree that his vision helped define a generation and quite possibly changed cinema forever.

Concept art for the scene when Darth Vader reveals to Luke that he's...well, you know.

Early concept art of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker.

Early versions of R2-D2 and C3PO that helped convince 20th Century Fox to make Star Wars.

Early Snowspeeders take down an AT-AT while Snowtroopers run past.

Concept art of an AT-AT preparing to step on Luke Skywalker and his Snowspeeder.

The Ewoks carry their golden deity through the forest of Endor.

Production art for the cloud city of Bespin.

Stormtroopers carrying lightsabers and shields as they intercept our heroes on the Death Star.

An early concept for the Jawa Sandcrawler, as well as a Jawa settlement.

Production art of a squadron of B-Wings taking out a Star Destroyer.

Luke evading the Empire on his Speederbike on the forest moon of Endor.

A Tusken Raider gathering in the cold night of Tatooine.

Production art for Sy Snootles and the Max Rebo Band.

All images copyright Lucasfilm


Cockroach DNA Shows Why They're Basically Indestructible

Most people are all too aware that cockroaches are horrifyingly resilient beings. Yes, they can and have survived nuclear blasts, and surely stand to inherit the Earth after we all succumb to the apocalypse. Why is this creature able to thrive in the face of pesticides, the loss of limbs, disgusting conditions, a range of climates, and even nuclear fallout, in urban kitchens across the world? As Inside Science reports, a new study on the genome of the American cockroach shows that certain genes are key to its wild evolutionary success.

In an article published in Nature Communications, researchers from South China Normal University in Guangzhou, China report that they sequenced and analyzed the genome of Periplaneta americana, and in the process they discovered just how indestructible this scourge is. They found that the cockroach (native to Africa, despite its American moniker) has more DNA than any other insect whose DNA has been sequenced except the migratory locust. The size of its genome—3.3 billion base pairs—is comparable to that of humans.

They have a huge number of gene families (several times the number other insects have) related to sensory reception, including 154 smell receptors and 522 taste receptors, including 329 taste receptors specifically related to bitter tastes. These extra smell and taste receptors may help cockroaches avoid toxic food (say, your household pesticide) and give them the ability to adapt to a multitude of different diets in different environments.

They also have killer immune systems able to withstand pathogens they might pick up from the rotting food they eat and the filth they like to live in. They have many more genes related to immunity compared to other insects.

The genome analysis might give us more than just a newfound respect for this revolting pest. The researchers hope to find a way to harness this new knowledge of cockroach immunity to control vermin populations—and create an eradication method slightly more effective than just stomping on them.

[h/t Inside Science]

Live Smarter
Your Dresser is a Serious Tipping Hazard. Here's How to Fix It

When it comes to household safety, we’re used to potentially hazardous items being clearly labeled. Hair dryers come with warnings not to use them in the shower; volatile cleaning products implore us not to drink them. But some of the most significant items carrying actual mortality rates are largely ignored: common living room or bedroom furniture.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 30,000 people were treated in emergency rooms from 2014 to 2016 as a result of furniture tipping over on them. Children are at particular risk of being injured or worse when they attempt to climb a dresser or TV stand. As Consumer Reports points out, these items do not have to conform to any universal manufacturing standard and can easily become unstable regardless of their weight, the child’s weight, cost, or other variables. Injuries are also seen when children tug on the furniture or attempt to climb inside the drawers. Since dressers are often in their bedroom where they can play unsupervised, the potential for an accident is high.

In testing performed by Consumer Reports, no one brand or style stood out as being inherently safer than the others. So what can consumers do?

An illustration of a child climbing a dresser

One easy solution is to avoid putting televisions on top of these dressers, since they pose a high risk of falling on top of a child when the dresser is moved. More importantly, child safety advocacy groups advise that adults use anchoring systems for furniture in danger of tipping over. These kits are available via mail order or in retail stores and come with straps that are connected between the furniture and two wall brackets. If weight is applied to the front of the dresser, the straps will keep it from falling over.

Some furniture comes with these kits, or with L-shaped angle brackets. Both are effective, but included straps can often be plastic that degrades over time--they should be nylon or steel. If not, you should opt for a third-party kit.

Advocacy groups have found that a lot of consumers are either unaware these kits exist or find them difficult to install. But it's a relatively easy procedure so long as you secure the anchor into a wall stud and not into drywall, where it will be too loose to stand up to a weight-bearing load. For brick or masonry walls, it’s best to hire a professional. If you’re renting and have been told not to drill into the wall, consult your landlord—it’s likely they’ll agree to waive any restrictions to make for a safer living space.

[h/t NPR]


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