Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall, we still don't know if Russia's doomsday weapon is still operational. It's a bit of a worry, because the weapon, code name The Dead Hand, is 50,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima:
As far as anyone knows, the Dead Hand remains operational. What is truly worrying, even today, is the secrecy that continues to surround the whole subject. Thompson has found that neither George Schultz nor former CIA director James Woolsey had heard of the Dead Hand system. Former Soviet era officials will still not discuss it. One who dared to talk died in mysterious circumstances. Such secrecy is, as Dr Strangelove realised, disastrous: ‘Yes, but the...whole point of the doomsday machine...is lost...if you keep it a secret! Why didn’t you tell the world, eh?’
The doomsday machine is supposed to be the ultimate deterrent. But if no one knows that the deterrent exists... Well, you've all seen the final scenes of Dr Strangelove.
WebMD recently consulted with experts to determine the most important drugs from throughout history. They were looking for drugs that changed the medical landscape by either treating a large number of people with a range of problems or by showing that it is possible to treat a disease.
You might be able to guess that penicillin or the smallpox vaccine are included in the list, but others such as aspirin might surprise you. The link below includes a graphic that shows the drugs that made the list and provide information on the hottest selling drugs today and the likely hot one of tomorrow. The original WebMD story discusses the rationale behind choosing each drug.
following is a Neatorama
Shop Story, a narrative starring the products carried in this blog’s
very own online store.
I Once Had a Chum from Nantucket
Summer, 1975. Quint, Dreyfuss and I had just boarded the Queequeg, a
bigger boat sailing out of Nantucket. As the lithe, long torsoed teen
temptresses and the shoreline that was their spawning ground grew smaller,
the salty sea spread herself avast before us, forcing us to feel the magnitude
of our own smallness whilst we succumbed to her every swell. Three sailors
bobbing alone at sea, chummy in demeanor and aroma, comparing conquests,
cutoffs and scars.
As per our manly agreement, we each brought one piece of personal swag.
Ever the practical one, I had stowed the largest and most atmospheric
jug of rum my summer sundries stipend could secure. Quint’s contribution
was a family-sized stick of Old Spice for our mutual use upon disembarkation.
As the sun set on the darkened sea, Dreyfuss, whose method, it is widely
known today, requires that he never break character from “creepy
annoying guy who smells even worse than you’d think,” finally
revealed his trade secret, a strict diet of Chum
Bucket: green candies, the color of sea sickness itself. Wafting up
from the hinged tin came a bouquet of the gutted remains of the day’s
catch sloshed overboard and washed ashore, decaying in tide pools for
a fortnight until the slurry has congealed into a concentrated algae-crusted
outcropping that just might make you sick if you lick it, captured in
an after-dinner mint. If you have ever wondered what a gentleman from
Nantucket tastes like, but due to geographic limitations have been unable
to sample one, now is your chance. (Disclaimer: unlike in an actual close
encounter with Dreyfuss or Quint, crabs are not included).
Chum Bucket is canned with artificial seafood flavor, so it just might
be safe for vegans. Probably better not to take the risk, since the charming
graphics on the tin imply that pureed pirate may be the actual source
of the synthesized swill seasoning and octopussy scent. These candies
cast the distinct smell and aftertaste of canine glucosamine supplements
(waste not, want not), so if you savor the aroma of seaspray-dampened
elderly arthritic Portuguese Water Dog, then this is the perfect people
treat for you. It is an appropriate gift for fishermen, briny sea hags,
and anyone who has ever wished for a candy that looks, smells and tastes
like sweetened sea scum. It is the must-have goodie bag item for your
next pirate party.
The story above is written by the dynamic duo Drs. Ernest and Convalescence
Bidet-Wellville (hey, I didn’t name ‘em) of the University
of Self-Conscious Consumerism in Olde Busytowne, Connecticut. I suspect
they write cover stories for the CIA, so if I’m inexplicably missing
the next few days, you know what happened.
Sandeep Ravindran writes in Popular Science that a Swiss violin maker treated a new violin with a unique fungus. The result was that the new violin beat a Stradivarius in a listening test:
A jury of experts, as well as the conference attendees, judged the tone quality of the violins, and the ultimate winner was "Opus 58" -- one of the fungus-infected violins. 90 of the 180 attendees voted for it, with the Stradivarius coming in second with 39 votes. 113 members guessed that "Opus 58" was actually the Strad.
The wood in "Opus 58" was treated with a fungus for the longest time: 9 months. Fungal infections are generally thought to damage wood, but results published by Francis Schwarze last year suggested that some types of soft rot fungi reduced the density of the wood, making it lighter and improving its tonal quality, without impairing its firmness. Fungi may thus help artificially replicate the unusually low density of wood that is thought to have occurred in Stradivarius' time. The "Little Ice Age" that occurred at this time brought about long winters and cool summers in Central Europe, causing trees to grow slowly and uniformly and creating wood with great tonal qualities.
Michael Tennesen writes in Scientific American that biologists suspect that robins, baby chicks, rhesus monkeys, and parrots may have the ability to count. Although they may not have fixed numerals, they have have concepts of relative quantities:
Elizabeth Brannon of Duke University has conducted similar experiments with rhesus monkeys, getting them to match the number of sounds they hear to the number of shapes they see, proving they can do math across different senses. She also tested the monkeys’ ability to do subtraction by covering a number of objects and then removing some of them. In all cases, the monkeys picked the correct remainder at a rate greater than chance. And although they might not grasp the deeper concept of zero as a number, the monkeys knew it was less than two or one, conclude Brannon and her colleagues in the May Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.
Although Brannon feels that animals do not have a linguistic sense of numbers—they aren’t counting “one, two, three” in their heads—they can do a rough sort of math by summing sets of objects without actually using numbers, and she believes that ability is innate. Brannon thinks that it might have evolved from the need for territorial animals “to access the different sizes of competing groups and for foraging animals to determine whether it is good to stay in one area given the amount of food retrieved versus the amount of time invested.”
The Bloodbot is a robot that drains you of your blood, thus replacing nursing assistants who previously did that task. It's a project by the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College, UK. It's been around for years now, but as people are waking up the a potential Robopocalypse, the Bloodbot only recently been getting attention in the blogosphere:
The Bloodbot has three powered (linear motion) axes and one unpowered (rotational) axis. All the motors are inexpensive stepper types.
The first axis moves a carriage up and down, so that it goes towards and away from the arm that is strapped in under it. This carriage is used to hold either a blunt probe (for finding a vein) or a syringe and needle. A piezo-resistive force sensor is mounted on the carriage to measure the force on the probe or needle.
The second axis moves the carriage across the width of the arm. This enables the probe to press in a series of places along the width of the arm.
The third axis, which is unpowered, enables a human operator to tilt the robot. This is so that, once a vein has been found, the needle can be inserted into the arm at the correct angle.
The fourth axis moves the whole robot along the length of the arm. This was designed to compensate for the slight difference between where the probe has identified a vein, and where the needle enters the skin, once the robot has been tilted.
Don't worry about safety -- it's accurate 78% of the time.
I'm a big fan of papercraft artist Yumiko Matsui (featured before on Neatorama here) - so it was a pleasant surprise to hear from her about this Neatoramabot papercraft sculpture. Ain't he cute?
If you haven't seen Yumiko's artwork before, you owe it to yourself to check it out: she sculpts fantastic and colorful dioramas as well as miniature characters out of paper. The level of details is simply superb (for example, in her Summer Festival series, check out the Japanese pancake stand)
Best of all, I hear she's coming to the United States! Here's Yumiko's online art gallery: Link
Julian Hakes designed shoes that have no sole. The support is there, though, for the heel and ball of the foot, which forms a natural bridge between the two. In the course of designing, he had tracing paper and masking tape on his foot, drew the patterns, and then used a scalpel to cut it off.
One late summer night in the studio I was thinking about the design of shoes in general. I wondered why there was the need for a foot plate in shoes such as high heels...With a high heel providing the heel is supported, even by standing on a wooden block the foot naturally ’spans’ the gap...with bones and tendons.
This week marks the 25th anniversary of an historic tennis match. At a Virginia Slims tournament in 1984, Vicki Nelson and Jean Hepner exchanged 643 shots; it remains the longest single rally in the history of professional tennis.
The 6-hour-31-minute marathon was itself the longest match in tennis history for nearly 20 years and remains the longest match completed on a single day.
The rally that put Nelson-Dunbar and Hepner in the record books came at set point for Hepner, who was ahead, 11-10, in the second-set tie breaker, which lasted 1:47 on its own...
Hugh Waters, a former tennis coach and the owner of the Raintree club, remembered: “I had a lot of people coming up to me at the tournament saying the match was ridiculous, but I always jumped on them. It takes guts to do what they did. “People don’t understand the mental aspect of the game: this was a battle of wills and real tennis fans like me could appreciate it.”
Among the astonishing elements to the match was this: If Hepner had won the epic rally, she would have forced a third set, and who knows how long the match might have lasted.
A few months ago, photographer and environmentalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand
and his non-profit organization GoodPlanet
released the movie HOME,
a documentary about life on Earth and the current environmental challenges
of our planet (Arthus-Bertrand is famous for his aerial photography, and
the movie is quite wonderfully shot - if you haven't seen it before, it's
worth a look: HOME is available in
full, free on YouTube).
As a companion to the movie, Arthus-Bertrand released a companion book
A Hymn to the Planet and Humanity.
The book is composed of nearly 200 short segments on the various environmental,
political, and sociological aspects of the problems facing the world.
From poverty to pollution, coal to carbon dioxide, the book is full of
(alarming) facts that Arthus-Bertrand hope will inspire people to act.
It was hard to pick just a few segments from the book to excerpt - the
whole book is interesting. And yes, undoubtedly there are many oversimplifications
that is inherent in presenting complex problems in short vignettes - but
Home: A Hymn to the Planet and Humanity is a good starting point
for many of us in understanding the environmental problems of today.
Here are 5 short segments from the book, published on Neatorama with
SIX BILLION SOULS
Blocks of flats on Seoul's south bank, South Korea
The world’s population quadrupled over the course of the 20th century
and now stands at 6.7 billion. Since 2000 it has increased by 700 million,
which is equivalent to the entire population rise in the 19th century.
In the 18th century, it rose by a mere 200 million. As their numbers have
grown, human beings have gravitated increasingly toward cities, which
have also grown as a result. Since 2007, more than one in two of us live
in a town or city.
There are more people in some of the bigger cities – such as Tokyo,
with its population of 35 million – than in some countries as a
whole. In developing countries, urban growth can occur at a rate that
is simply mind-boggling. Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, had a population
of 300,000 in 1950, whereas today the figure stands at more than 15 million:
a fiftyfold increase in fifty years. Boom towns such as Dhaka face immense
problems in terms of infrastructure including electricity, drinking water,
and waste disposal.
Nevertheless, this demographic explosion and the urbanization linked
to it seem also to hold part of the solution. Birth rates have been shown
to be decreasing over a great many parts of the globe, particularly in
urban areas. The current average stands at 2.6, with significant regional
disparities. In many Western countries, it has even fallen below 2.1,
the threshold for population increase. The world population is shrinking
and ageing. Whereas earlier projections for the coming decades envisaged
a global population of 12 billion, the estimate has fallen and it is now
thought that the population should stabilize at around 9 billion by 2050.
This seems to be due to the fact that city-dwellers generally have better
access to education. For many women, in particular, this signifies access
to information and to methods of contraception. It also means that these
women are often able to work in addition to having a family. Having children
becomes a choice, to be balanced against a career, for example. Urban
life, moreover, changes people’s behavior and living requirements:
couples have fewer children than those living in the country since they
no longer need help in the fields. This reduction in the birth rate responds
to one of the major challenges of the century: that of population control
as a means of successfully feeding the world and saving the planet.
THE END OF OIL
Oil fields near Bakersfield, California, USA
Oil will not run out suddenly. It will be a slow, agonizing decline.
As oil becomes scarcer its price will rise, and what used to be very cheap
will become expensive. Society will be wholly transformed.
The reason for this is simple: a finite planet has finite resources.
Once we have consumed all of our oil and other primary materials, there
will be nothing left. Oil is not a renewable resource on any timescale
comparable to its rate of consumption. The chemical reactions which led
to its formation occurred over millions of years.
There are, undoubtedly, oil deposits that remain to be discovered. But
the easiest have already been found and exploited. Each year, we consume
more oil than we find. This is clearly going to cause problems.
It is not only a question of when oil will run out, but how society will
change as it does. A world in which oil is much rarer – and therefore
costlier – will be different from our own. The modern petrochemical
industry will have to change dramatically: everything from lipsticks to
fertilizers and plastics of all types will either be made differently
or not at all. Transport will obviously become more expensive. This will
spell the end of the West’s huge retail and supermarket networks,
since these rely on road transportation and economies of scale. The price
of imported products will rise, and international tourism will return
to what it used to be in previous centuries: a luxury for the privileged
few. Competition for access to the last remaining oil deposits will increase,
and may lead to conflict.
These developments are inevitable, and will only be temporarily delayed
by the current recession which is slowing down the global economy. Developing
renewable forms of energy and reducing consumption are the two most basic
measures we can take to prepare ourselves.
FISHERIES: AN OVEREXPLOITED RESOURCE
What is the current state of world fisheries?
How important is fish to the average diet?
Moshav (co-operative village) farm at Nahalal, Jezrael plain, Israel
Today a third of humanity is suffering from water scarcity. Specialists
use the term “water stress” when the demand for water exceeds
the available freshwater supply by 10%. Although 10% of renewable resource
may not seem like much, we should not forget that before mankind’s
invention, 100% of this water was used by ecosystems. This extra demand
is enough to dry a water course, drain a spring, or prevent the replenishment
While the population of Canada and the Amazon or Congo basin have a plentiful
water supply, the people of the Mediterranean basin, Central Asia and
Mexico are at greater risk of scarcity. The particular problem with water
is that it is difficult to transport in large quantities over great distances.
One solution is to use the same water several times. An increasing number
of industries are reusing water, retreating it up to 30 times in some
cases. Domestic washwater, known as “greywater,” can be reused
to water a garden or flush a toilet, reserving drinkable water for human
consumption, cooking, or washing. In countries where water is scarce,
wastewater from cities is retreated for use in agriculture. In Israel,
for example, where the average rainfall is 1 inch (25 mm) a year, 70%
of wastewater is recycled, allowing 49,000 acres (20,000 hectares) of
land to be watered.
There are many other ways of saving water, especially by being aware
of how much of it we consume. Some of this water is invisible: it is used
to make a product, but is not present in the product itself. This is called
virtual water. One pound of grain means hundreds of gallons of irrigation
water; a pair of cotton jeans require 2,860 gallons (10,850 liters) of
water; a cup of coffee 9 gallons (35 liters); a sheet of paper 2.5 gallons
(10 liters). A single tomato contains 3.5 gallons (13 liters) of virtual
water, which is more than many people use in a day. Paradoxically, some
countries that face water scarcity are actually exporting some of their
limited water resources in the form of agricultural or manufactured products.
THE COLLAPSE OF SOCIETIES
Volcano of Rano Kau, Easter Island, Chile
Sooner or later, societies disappear and are replaced by new ones. As
our own society enters a critical phase, what lessons can be learned from
those that preceded us? One example that has been extensively studied
is Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean. The island was once home to a flourishing
civilization, which reached its peak in around 1500, but it subsequently
experienced a rapid decline, losing four fifths of its population in just
one century. According to the American expert Jared Diamond, the explanation
lies principally in the fact that the people deforested their entire land.
Without trees, they were no longer able to build fishing boats, and crucially
the soil was eroded. As the situation worsened, the people began fighting
among themselves, and developed bizarre religious practices. In an effort
to erect increasingly gigantic statutes, they cut down more and more trees,
accelerating their demise.
Diamond also studied a number of other civilizations that vanished largely
as a result of environmental factors, such as the Maya and Babylonians,
who exhausted their land, and the Greenland Vikings, who could not adapt
to the cooler climate. While these societies did not vanish because of
environmental damage alone, it certainly weakened their economic and social
structures and created vicious cycles that ultimately proved fatal. The
same pattern could easily be applied to modern society.
In Diamond’s analysis, the factors leading to a society’s
collapse seem to be quite clearly set out every time. But for political,
religious, or social reasons, the society is incapable of reacting and
taking adequate measures to ensure its survival. What would the Easter
Islander who cut down the last tree have been thinking? Another expert
in the history of civilizations, the British historian Arnold Toynbee,
wrote that “civilizations die from suicide, not by murder”
– in other words, from their inability to resolve their internal
Today most people agree that we are facing an environmental catastrophe.
We need to change the course in which our society is heading, and remove
the obstacles to that change. It is too late to bury our heads in the
sand. It is also too late to be pessimistic.
Arthus-Bertrand published more than 40 books, including the multimillion-copy
international bestseller Earth from Above. Home, released in
conjunction with a film of the same name, is a stunning visual odyssey
across 50 countries combining Arthus-Bertrand's images and text by the
editorial team of Good Planet.
To get a little perspective, this is what the Burj Dubai (previously at Neatorama) would look like if it were built in downtown Manhattan. Gizmodo has a chart comparing some of the world’s tallest buildings if you’d like to envision others. Link -via YesButNoButYes
Sometimes the stories of what might have been are just as fascinating as what really happened. Kara Kovalchik of mental_floss dug up actors and actresses that turned down TV roles that may have turned out quite different. Michael Richards as Adrian Monk? Paul Shaffer as George Costanza? Or Jayne Mansfield as Ginger? That may have put a whole different face on the "Ginger or Mary Anne?" debate! Link
It looks like a new volcano is growing in Nola, Italy, near Mt. Vesuvius! The Vulcano Buono (good volcano) is a commercial center designed by Renzo Piano. The interior space is bigger than it looks due to the sloping grass roof, which insulates the building. Inside you’ll find a forest and an amphitheater, plus shops, a hotel, a supermarket, and a movie theater. See more pictures at Inhabitat. Link -via Metafilter
You may be familiar with Scrat, the “saber-toothed squirrel” from the Ice Age movies, but a real one lives in Niagara Falls, New York. This squirrel has an unusual tusk growing out of its lower jaw! Mary Jo Sutter has been feeding the squirrel since it was young. Watch the video of the squirrel who has no fear of humans or cats. Link
The three graphs above show that women who give birth in winter months (blue dots) tend to be younger, less educated, and less likely to be married compared to mothers who give birth during the summer months (green dots). The data displayed some trends for the time period shown (1996-2001), but the summer/winter discrepancy remained surprisingly constant.
These data, reported by economists Kasey Buckles and Daniel Hungerman at the University of Notre Dame, may offer an explanation for the observation that, compared to "summer babies," those born in winter months tend to do more poorly in school, are less healthy, earn less, and have shorter lifespans.
The mechanism behind these relationships, alternative explanations, and a long comment thread are available at the primary link.
Image: Artist's conception of LRLL 31 system, courtesty of NASA/JPL-CatlTech
NASA's Spitzer Telescope spent five months observing LRLL 31, a young star with a ring of materials orbiting it. Astronomers believe that it is in an early stage of planetary formation and that a sizeable lump in the ring system may be a protoplanet:
One theory of planet formation suggests that planets start out as dusty grains swirling around a star in a disk. They slowly bulk up in size, collecting more and more mass like sticky snow. As the planets get bigger and bigger, they carve out gaps in the dust, until a so-called transitional disk takes shape with a large doughnut-like hole at its center. Over time, this disk fades and a new type of disk emerges, made up of debris from collisions between planets, asteroids and comets. Ultimately, a more settled, mature solar system like our own forms.[...]
Muzerolle and his team say that a companion to the star, circling in a gap in the system's disk, could explain the data. "A companion in the gap of an almost edge-on disk would periodically change the height of the inner disk rim as it circles around the star: a higher rim would emit more light at shorter wavelengths because it is larger and hot, but at the same time, the high rim would shadow the cool material of the outer disk, causing a decrease in the longer-wavelength light. A low rim would do the opposite. This is exactly what we observe in our data," said Elise Furlan, a co-author from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Tina Law writes in New Zealand's Stuff magazine about one man who wanted to own a den that looked the interior of a submarine. Wayne Eyre of Spencerville, NZ hired special effects artist Dean Johnstone to design it. These were the results:
Customwood has been sprayed with concrete and painted to resemble rusting steel beams, while plastic sheets have been melted to give the impression of bent steel ripped apart when the submarine hit an island. Speakers emit sonar and ocean sounds throughout the 12-metre by 5.5m room.
At one end of the room, a bar has been created from materials likely to be found on a deserted island. Shelves have been made out of halved tree trunks, while there is a washed-up surfboard.
The bar top is engraved with the random writings of a shipwrecked soul, while vines work their way through the submarine and smoke seeps out of interior walls.
Los Angeles Times' Your Scene gallery user pablo uploaded this photo of a "lost in translation" sign (yes, made popular by Engrish.com) warning us that playing and jumping are dangerous. A quick Googlin' pinpoints the sign near Powell St. and Sacramento St. in San Francisco's Chinatown.
Whoever those two people are, they look like they had fun playing and jumping around before taking the photo. Check out more user-submitted Weird Warnings gallery over at the LA Times: Link
Ken Morrish of Colaton Raleigh, Devon, England picked a bizarre Red Delicious apple off his tree. It looks as if someone stuck together half of a green apple and half of a red apple, but these colors are natural.
John Breach, chairman of the British Independent Fruit Growers Association, said: 'I've never seen this happen before to a Golden Delicious. It is extremely rare. It is an extreme mutation.
'There has been the occasional case of this type reported. If there was a whole branch of apples with the same colouring then fruit experts would get even more excited.'
Jim Arbury, fruit superintendent at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, said it was probably the 'result of a random genetic mutation'.
'This is known as a chimera where one of the first two cells has developed differently giving rise to one half of the apple being different,' he said.
Morrish is keeping the apple in his refrigerator because so many people want to see it. Link -via J-Walk Blog
The United Nations is in session, with leaders and representatives from all over the world meeting to exchange ideas. Just how can they do that, when they speak so many different languages?
The United Nations hires about 120 interpreters—not to be confused with translators, who translate text—who are considered the best in their profession. No education is required, but roughly 70 percent of the members of the American Translators Association have college degrees. Interpreters slot the languages they know into three categories: A, B, and C.
Interpreters work under strict protocols, which you can read about at Slate Magazine. Link