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).
Not @%#&?! likely! But this post is on a subject close to my heart, pain (must see a doctor about that).
Cartoon expletives aside, a bit of invective can do you the world of good, or so said scientists recently. A research team from from Keele University asked volunteers to hold their hand in freezing water for as long as they could manage while repeating either an innocuous word or the swear-word of their choice. The swearers held out for an average of two minutes, while non-swearers managed only 1 minute 15 seconds. But while Rohan Byrt of the Casual Swearing Appreciation Society claimed the study demonstrated the benefits of swearing, team leader Richard Stephens warned that everyday swearing would lessen its painkilling effects. "Swearing is emotional language" he explained, "but if you overuse it, it loses its emotional attachment" (BBC News).
From this week, pregnant women throughout Britain considering "letting it out" to help with the pain might also want to direct their curses towards Dr Denis Walsh, associate professor of midwifery at Nottingham University in England. In an article in the journal Evidence Based Midwifery, Dr Walsh claimed last week that the pain of childbirth was useful and a "timeless rite of passage", and women should not be trying to avoid it with epidural anaesthesia. Walsh based his statement on the fact that the use of epidurals has almost doubled in the past two decades, claiming that in 20% of cases, the procedure was unnecessary. While some, like Dr. Justin Clarke of the Birmingham Women's Hospital, rejected Walsh's data, saying it was wrong to characterise modern women as "less stoical", others supported him, such as Mary Newburn of the National Childbirth Trust who spoke of there being an "epidural culture" (Telegraph).
But perhaps women might be convinced to trade in the needle for a fancy rubber suit? Baltimore company Under Armour has developed a hi-tech, full length bodysuit that is said to allow athletes recover more quickly after strenuous activity. Under Armour's "Recharge" range gently squeezes the athlete's body forcing excess fluid out of the muscles and back into the bloodstream over a period of hours after a workout, reversing the "pumped" effect of the exercise. Research by the University of Connecticut showed that doing so resulted in subjects feeling less soreness and swelling of the muscles and recuperating faster (Journal Gazette).
A meteorite hit Gerrit Blank in the hand, leaving a three inch scar. He said "it knocked me flying" and then made a one foot crater in the earth. The blinding flash was his only warning, which was followed by "an enormous bang like a crash of thunder." The schoolboy said the noise made his ears ring for hours afterward.
The pea-sized meteorite has been found to be magnetic, and chemical tests verify it has fallen from space.
In this age of "You can't sue me because I'm suing you first!", the idea of a lawsuit against a theme park such as Sea World or Disney World is not so weird. However, the Orlando Sentinel was kind enough to prepare a website listing all of the lawsuits against all of the area's theme parks. Most of them are your basic slip-and-fall types, but some are completely off the wall. For instance, at Busch Gardens, "A woman said she concocted blood infections after a vulture at a bird show landed on her leg and clawed it." And at Epcot Center, "A woman said she suffered bleeding in her brain due to the G-forces and jerking movements on the Mission: Space ride." But I think my favorite is the woman from Wet and Wild who "said she was struck in the head and neck and injured by an umbrella that blew out of a mount in a storm."
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.