Outside it is not much to look at, little more than a discoloured rock dredged up from the sea floor. But an x-ray scan of the object, actually a pocket watch recovered from a 17th century shipwreck, has revealed that the internal mechanism has been perfectly preserved. The computer aided tomography system used was sensitive enough to pick out the tiniest details, included the engraved name of the master watchmaker, one Niccholas Higginson of Westminster, London (Gizmodo
As if more proof were needed that they don’t build them like they used to, a UK group has started collecting donations to build the first fully working version of Babbage’s “Analytical Engine”. The original design, dating from 1837, was never completed, possibly due to a combination of the strict engineering tolerances needed and Babbage’s notoriously prickly temperament. If the final machine works as advertised, it will be very strong confirmation of the claim that Babbage designed the first general purpose, programmable computer (BBC News
Meanwhile, in Slovenia, Borut Povse and his team are busy teaching a modern descendant of Babbage’s design to hit people. Somehow Povse has convinced six volunteers to let an industrial robot hit them on the arm with various sharp or blunt implements in an effort to determine how much pain each blow causes. Obviously this has a beneficial use in that robots can be programmed not to exceed certain levels of force near a human obstacle, but will also be of immense interest to the machines during any future robot uprising (New Scientist
Another robot out to supplant humans is HRP-4, a gynoid (female android), that has learnt to sing by copying the inflection and expressions of a human performer, right down to the breathing. The hope is to make robots behave in a more convincingly natural way, and so overcome the so called ‘uncanny valley
’. From the video, it looks like they’ve still got a way to go (Daily Mail
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If you're into ghost stories, this one seems fairly tame. In 1891, a passenger train derailed on a bridge near Statesville, North Carolina, killing approximately thirty people. The story claims that on the anniversary of the wreck, the sound of the crash and screaming passengers can be heard. A number of people come to the bridge for a chance to prove the legend each year. But this year, the story took an even more tragic turn when one of the "ghost hunters" was killed... by a train. You can read the details here.
There was an article in my local paper recently about a man who was loaning his unique car to film-makers. The article didn't include any pictures, however, so I went online to see what made the car so original. I admit that I am not much into cars, even though I love the television show Top Gear. But I know weirdness when I see it, and this car definitely qualifies. This is the 1969 Checker Aerobus (pictured). As you can see, it has four doors on each side. Back then they called it a station wagon, but it is now classified as a limousine. The Checker Motors Corporation is more famously known for manufacturing the iconic taxi cab. The Wikipedia article can tell you more
(and it's worth reading).
It’s an election year in the UK, and politicians there are suddenly more image conscious than ever. None more so than incumbent Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who - at his wife’s suggestion - has swapped his regular Kit-Kat munching habit for a diet of bananas in an effort to slim down a bit. While it’s nice to know that the British PM’s wife is perhaps a reader this blog
, she’s obviously not a regular one, or she’d have known that portly politicos are more trusted
. Now if only he’d show the common touch by going on a bacon binge (Orange News
Mind you, Mr. Brown is not the only statesman trying to avert a bleak future this week, an unnamed Arab ambassador got the shock of his life when he finally lifted his new bride’s niqab, only to find she had cross-eyes and a beard. The groom immediately went to court to have the marriage annulled, claiming he had been tricked into the marriage and that the bride’s parents had used pictures of her attractive older sister to deceive him. The court found for the groom and dissolved the marriage, but turned down his demand for $150000 compensation (Daily Mail
But perhaps he’s been a bit quick to judge by appearances. Two Chinese men certainly were when the found a hoard of 20 clay artefacts in an old tomb they discovered in a field near their home, only to later sell the whole lot to a collector for less than $2000. Unfortunately for the pair, theirs were rare finds from the Sui-Tang Dynasty, making the collection over 1000 years old. One item alone, a pottery figurine, recently reached $150,000 at auction (Daily Times
More fortunate was Wendy Jones of Aberglasney in Wales, who took the old plate she’d had perched on her sideboard for years – except on those odd occasions it had fallen off it - to a TV antiques show, in a plastic carrier bag, only to be told it was part of a rare, Prussian royal service worth over £100000 (Telegraph
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[From The Saturday Evening Post
for October 10 1953. Two scans, top and bottom.]
Nothing like aligning your product with a civilization that practiced human sacrifice. The Incas weren't the Aztecs, but as Wikipedia reminds us: "There is [sic] archaeological discoveries supporting the presence of sacrifice within Inca society according to Reinhard and Ceruti: 'Archaeological evidence found on distant mountain summits has established that the burial of offerings was a common practice among the Incas and that human sacrifice took place at several of the sites.The excellent preservation of the bodies and other material in the cold and dry environment of the high Andes provides revealing details about the rituals that were performed at these ceremonial complexes.'"
And did they actually make the best ink ever? I can't find any reference to such an accomplishment.
Swiss chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut
, who supply such companies as Cadburys and Nestlé, think they may be on to a winner after secretly developing a type of chocolate with 10% of the calories of the ordinary kind, and which melts at nearly twice its temperature. The company hopes the new chocolate, codenamed "Vulcano", will appeal both to health-conscious Western markets and to Asian and African consumers who have traditionally shunned chocolate because it melts too readily in the local climate. The new recipe stays hard up to 55°C (130°F) and has crispy, light texture according to Barry Callebaut
food engineer Simone Cantz (The Guardian
Chocolate was, as everyone knows, invented/discovered by the Aztecs. But what is less well known is that they did so at least 3000 years ago, and were probably trying to make beer. Anthropologists John Henderson, of Cornell University, and Rosemary Joyce, of University of California, discovered cacao residues on pottery vessels dating back to 1000 BCE that are believed to be from a drink formed by fermenting the pulp and seeds (PNAS
(Image by Wikipedia.)
Just some un-themed oddities that caught my eye:
Plans to chop down a tree to make way for a roundabout in Jaslo, Poland have revealed that the oak was in fact planted to commemorate Hitler's birthday when the town was occupied during World War 2. The town's mayor, Maria Kurowska, called the choice between traffic improvements and the living memorial "simple," but not everyone agrees. "It's a historic curiosity," said local Kazimierz Polak, who was present at the planting ceremony as a child 67 years ago, adding, "It's not the tree's fault" (Reuters
Two Bengal white tigers in a zoo in South Africa have given birth to a tiger cub that's not only white, but stripe-less (London Paper
). Surely that's just called a lion?
A spiritual "healer" in Puerto Rico may want to re-read the manual today, after accidentally dropping a lit candle into the bath of alcohol he had instructed he lady patient lie in. The victim, who was suffering financial and marriage issues, can now add 50% burns to her list of problems (Metro
The Swiss state of Appenzell went the whole of the second world war without a single German invader, so was perhaps unprepared to come under sustained assault by German hikers dressed in nothing but their socks and boots. Naked hiking, which has become a popular Alpine pastime apparently, has generated a stream of complaints from Swiss locals, and the authorities of the Outer and Inner Rhodes provinces of Appenzell have responded by imposing stiff fines of 200CHF ($175) on anyone caught without clothes, though where they expect the hikers to produce the money from is not explained (Cape News
). To publicise the ban, the Swiss officials have ordered signs banning nude hiking, to the surprise of designer Dan Walter, who originally drew the sign as a joke (Metro