The Royal Mail’s ambitious move into three dimensions

Josie Ford

A high bar

Breaking news in the world of post. Raffi Katz writes perplexed at the UK Royal Mail’s announcement that it will be withdrawing all parcel products that “do not carry a 2D barcoded label”. Further mystifying those who assumed that labels were by their nature 2D, it goes on to say that this includes not only unbarcoded parcels, but also “1D barcoded product variants… (that use the multi-peel flash labels)”.

We can imagine the 1D labels are a bit fiddly to work with, so it is probably not before time. But of course, it is barcodes with bars that are, to a first approximation, 1D that are to be done away with. A 2D barcode is a blobby affair akin to a QR code that can be read in two directions. A barcode without bars, then. That this is now called a 2D barcode strikes Feedback as a prime example of the human tendency, noted by researchers recently, of finding fixes by adding complexity, rather than taking it away (17 April, p 19).

More examples of such linguistic redundancy through technological progress gratefully received. Meanwhile, Raffi notes that the Royal Mail doesn’t mention any timescale for the change, this presumably being a dimension or three more than they are used to working in.

Head in the clouds

“They said money doesn’t grow on trees. We’re here to tell you, THEY were wrong.” So begins an email sent to Jeff Hecht, introducing what its subject line claims to be the “First EVER game to grow digital weed NFTs + earn crypto — influencer and celeb backed”.

“What if, by playing a game akin to Farmville and Roblox, users could use the power of Cannabis to build virtual farms, grow weed and make money?”, it asks. What if, indeed. Having confronted the uniquely self-important confluence of the cryptocurrency and art worlds a few weeks ago (1 May), we now find ourselves forced to consider this new fusion, “created by industry veterans in the Blockchain and Cannabis space, inspired by the future where users can all live, play, and make a living in the metaverse”.

At least the question of what they are smoking answers itself. But does virtual weed have the same effect? Possibly in the metaverse. All in all, our understanding of what this amounts to is a little hazy. But we are unpersuaded that it equates to a proof that THEY were wrong about the money and trees thing. Ah well, at least when the bubble bursts, it will help to be high.

Unforeseen circs

In evidence that reality sometimes doesn’t shy away from validating the best — that is, oldest — jokes, word comes from New South Wales that, having been postponed last year due to the south coast fires, Braidwood’s Good Earth Psychic Fair has been cancelled this year, apparently due to lack of interest. Thanks to Ken McLeod for that one.

A great fall

Dear readers, you rightly demand that every element of New Scientist’s output should be subject to the highest standards of accuracy and rigour. So we are grateful — truly grateful — to the many of you who wrote in querying our cartoonist Tom Gauld’s formula for the difficulty of putting Humpty Dumpty together again (22 May, p 55).

This was D = G/(xy), where G is the greatness of the fall, x the number of king’s men and ythe number of king’s horses. The literary purists among you pointed out that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men who couldn’t put Humpty together again were involved in the rescue effort, so surely the denominator should be (x+y). Others accepted the equation’s implication that the presence of horses would probably hinder the rescue effort, but critiqued that the difficulty tends to infinity in the likely condition x = y, where each of the king’s men has exactly one horse.

Confused, perplexed and surrounded by pieces of paper covered in scribbled-out graphs and equations, we think this might be just the point, given that Humpty Dumpty remained, in the end, scrambled. But we are tempted to give credence to the behavioural science approach championed by Steve Powell and Helen Percy. Too many cooks spoil the broth, after all: perhaps “the general shape of this formula should be for the difficulty to decrease rapidly as the number of men increases from one to some optimum number and thereafter to increase slowly as more men are involved”.

We recall C. Northcote Parkinson’s contention — he of Parkinson’s law fame, that work expands to fill the time available for its completion — that more than about 20 people working on a single task would never agree or achieve anything, and subsequent academic work that backs this up. How Tom’s equation might adequately reflect that is an exercise left for the reader. To quote another pair of great humourists, do not on any account attempt to write on both sides of the paper at once.

Friendly wave

A special shout-out to Joseph Thomas at the International and Alumni Relations Office at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras for writing in on that last topic. This is purely because Joseph says he has been angling for a mention ever since starting to read New Scientist as a junior researcher in 1982. A request we can’t Chennai. Ahem.

Got a story for Feedback?
Send it to or New Scientist, 25 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ES Consideration of items sent in the post will be delayed

Source: Humans -

Changing the shape of soft matter using logic circuits made from DNA

Shadow figment technology foils cyberattacks