Geek Month in Review: February 2012

By JB Sanders

Is winter over yet?

Nightingales and Bombers
BBC sound technicians were doing an outdoor recording of nightingales in 1942, when they noticed a slight drone noise. It gradually got louder. Then 197 bombers flew overhead on their way to Mannheim, Germany. Oops. Hear the recording.

Also, if you’re into old stuff, the site where that recording can be found has a truckload of other interesting items:

A Past That Never Was
Lithographs from a history that isn’t ours.

Everything You Know About Learning is Wrong
According to this renown professor guy, who studies memory for a living. So he might know what he’s talking about.

First Science Fiction Film, Now In Color
The French are restoring a copy of Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip To the Moon) by director Georges Melies. This is a film from 1902. Although you might have seen it before, or at least clips of it, the version where the director hand-colored every frame has never been widely released, certainly not in decades. Now they’re not only restoring the rare color version, but they got the French duo Air to do an all-new soundtrack for it. It’s all very surreal. It looks like a vaudeville act, with no sound other than the very modern music playing over it. Neat!

A Swarm of Nano Quadrotors
Look upon the robot future and despair! Or, you know, cackle gleefully. Quadrotors flying in swarm formation, in and around obstacles.

Plastic-Eating Fungus Found
Which is either a lead-in for a scifi disaster flick of epic proportions, or the headline in an eco-green newspaper. However, the fungus just eats polyurethane, not every plastic out there.

Next Generation Space Suits
Or how to get all Forbidden Planet.

Great Science Visualizations of 2011
Some really cool shots in here — carbon nanotubes, cucumber skin at 800-times magnification, and more.

Antarctic Scientists Lose Contact
I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about. Russian scientists drilling into a lake buried beneath 2 miles of antarctic ice haven’t been in contact with their American colleagues in over 5 days. And it’s going from the comparatively warm summer season in Antarctica to the “cold” season there (temperatures dropping to -40 C). I’m sure it’s all fine, and not the prologue scene to:

1. A remake of The Thing.
2. A Dr Who episode.
3. An armageddon flick where some Super Disease locked for millions of years below the ice shoots around the globe and kills 99% of humans.

UPDATE: Ok, the Russians finally called back. Apparently they broke through into the lake, but because of the approaching “cold season”, they’re flying away, and will return to do the analysis when the weather is better.

Ten-year-old Discovers Energy-Storing Molecule by Accident
Yeah, the bar keeps going up on these grade-school geniuses. Last time it was a teenager who used the Fibonacci sequence to create a more efficient photovoltaic array.

North Brother Island Photos & History
You might not have heard of it, but this island in the East River near Manhattan has been basically abandoned since 1963 (the same year that Alcatraz was closed). It once housed Typhoid Mary, a small leper colony, a rehab center, a tuberculosis asylum and housing for GIs right after WWII. Now it’s one of the few wilderness areas close to the 20 Million people in the greater NYC area, and one of the few truly forbidden bits of real estate in the US. Tons of creepy photos included in the article.

Rasputin Was My Neighbor, and Other Stories
Sometimes, if people live long enough, history can seem to compress. Civil war widows, people who met Rasputin, this article has all sorts.

32 Megajoule Railgun Delivered to Navy
For testing! Yes, the US Navy now has a railgun. Projected muzzle velocities are estimated to be 4,500 mph to 5,700 mph. I wonder what the waiting period is for one of those?

The Future is Closer: Transparent Aluminum
You heard that right: transparent aluminum, just like in Star Trek IV (subtitle: space whales OR one of the good ones). It’s not metallic aluminum, more of an aluminum / ceramic hybrid, but I think that just makes it cooler.

The Man Who Hears Colors
And not because he has some sort of aphasia. Nope, he has a rare vision disorder which means he can’t see any colors at all — completely color blind. So he made a machine which let him hear the color spectrum.

LED Snowboarder
This is geeky AND weird AND fashion-related (yeah, I know). They put together an LED-embedded snowsuit, put a world-class snowboarder in it and then filmed him at night, using only the light the suit provides. It’s surreal.

Acoustic Stonehenge
A researcher named Waller thinks that Stonehenge might have been constructed based on the interference pattern created from two pipers playing in a field. Yeah, seriously, and he’s got a really intriguing theory to back it up, too. Oh, and get this: “Mr Waller is an expert in “archaeoacoustics””.

Imaginary Nukes
Historian and scholar Alex Wellerstein has created a utility online which lets you pick a spot on the map, and a size of bomb, and then see what the resulting damage would be in lovely concentric circles of nastiness.

DYI Village
I’ve linked to this project before, but it’s so cool I’m linking to it again. The article goes into more detail about the guy who is helping create a foundation with a simple goal: provide free, online instructions for building all the machines that a village would need to be built and survive. Everything. From tractors to windmills, circuit boards to bricks. Oh, and a 3D printer, of course.

Snooper Drones — Not Just for Kids Anymore!
So this animal rights group is trying to breakup an illegal live pigeon shoot. In order to catch the perpetrators in the act, they fly a spy drone over the private land where the shoot is going on — and the hunters shoot down the drone. (You know, allegedly.) Yes, we’re now in a world where we have spy drones and people shooting them down themselves.

Hackerspace Global Grid
On the subject of technology that used to be military-only, a group of hackers are putting together the technology to setup their own satellite GPS system.

Seeds from 30,000-year-old Plant Regenerated
Russian scientists resurrected seeds found buried in a squirrel’s hide-away some 30,000 years ago. The plant flowered! Next on their agenda, pre-historic squirrels and eventually the wooly mammoth.

Is There a Prize for Being Multilingual? Then This Guy Wins
The guy in question is 20, and knows 11 languages. He won a national competition in the UK for the 16 to 22-year-old who knew the most. Yeah, 11 languages. Don’t believe me? See him demonstrate all of them:

The Future is Closer: Space Elevator 2050
A Japanese construction firm has plans to build a space elevator circa 2050.

Blue People
File this under Medical Geeky. Some folks in Kentucky (Appalachia area) had a recessive genetic disorder that made their skin blue. Not kidding. It has to do with blood and hemoglobin and oxygen.

Ocean Depths
Neat info graphic showing the various depths of the ocean, the deepest points and the various inhabitants along the way.

The City of Samba Time-Lapse
Beautiful time-lapse video of Rio around the time of Mardi Gras. I’m not sure why, but whatever they did with the camera makes a lot of this look like (at first glance) some sort of giant model version of Rio with Super Tiny People. It’s not, though, it just looks like that. Highly recommend you use full-screen on this. Come for the samba, stay for the animatronic King Kong (life-sized), the dancing Darth Vader and his many Stormtroopers, the transformers costumes (that REALLY transform) and the velocoraptors (costumes, not animatronics).

Why Do Objects Have Mass? This Guy
Ok, well, “this guy” is Professor Peter Higgs, and it’s not like he’s responsible for objects having mass. However the particle he postulated should exist, the Higgs boson, most certainly (if it exists!) is. And Higgs figured out it should be there — in 1964 (without a computer or even a hand calculator).

About John:
John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).

Geek Credentials:
RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee.
Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape
Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993
Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983
His Blog: