Tag Archives: time

180. Space Invaders Versus The Japanese Mint

Image courtesy of Gil De Los Santos

From a slow start in 1978 Space Invaders experienced a meteoric ascension to become a true icon as it is today. The mere image of one of the ‘aliens’ instantly brings to mind video games as a whole. Its sudden rise in popularity after its initial 2 months was on a scale never seen before. In Japan, the home of video games, it became so popular that it managed to cause a thankfully temporary 100 yen shortage, a feat so notable that it was recorded in the 2008 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. It also forced the Japanese to further increase the amount of 100 yen coins they were producing each year.

Within 2 years of release the game was making some serious ground. Arcades with nothing but Space Invaders machines opened up, and it was seen by many as the first case where games came even close to competing with major forms of entertainment such as Film. Video games were much more marginalised in the 1980’s, but Space Invaders came to the fore, its success was a precursor to the position video games now occupy in the 21st Century, the largest of all the entertainment forms.

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Posted by on August 19, 2011 in Articles, Trivia


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174. Neptune’s One Year Anniversary

In 1846 the planet Neptune was discovered; since then one year has passed. Now we celebrate the one year anniversary of its discovery. As you may have gathered, that is one Neptune year, something much longer than the human year.

Neptune is the coldest and most remote planet in our solar system (pluto does not count). BEing so far away it has an orbit that is 30 times larger than earth. One year of  Neptune, one full orbit of the sun, lasts 164.79 earth years. Making 12th June 2011 the one year anniversary.

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Posted by on July 13, 2011 in Articles, Trivia


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169. Flying Back in Time

A small shock awaits anyone who flies from Tonga to Samoa these days.

The flight takes two hours in the air, but crosses the international date line. Meaning you arrive before you left. Therefore the flight takes a total of negative 22 hours were you to trust the watches.

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Posted by on July 8, 2011 in Trivia


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167. Kryptos – The Unsolvable Sculpture

Kryptos is a sculpture outside of the CIA headquarters in Virginia, America. It consists of four copper panels each of which is covered in code. Letters which spell out nonsense, until you figure out the encryption. Each of the four panels is encrypted in a different way. Since its installation in 1990 three of the four panels have been decoded. Part remains unsolved after these 20 years despite the efforts put in by the employees of the CIA and thousands of cryptanalysts. This fourth and final panel of Kryptos is now one of the most famous unsolved codes in the world.

The sculpture was a $250,000 piece by Jim Sanborn. Around the CIA site he placed many other, smaller but similar copper panels with messages in morse code engraved in their surfaces; for Kryptos another level was required. A message was created, split into four panels then each encoded with the help of the chief of the CIA Cryptographic Center. Each panel using a more complex combination of complex ciphers.

The fourth panel has remained elusive for a reason. It is greatly more complex than the others, to solve it, you both need to find the keys for it, what ciphers were used, and you also need to use the answers from the previous three panels as well. Without the first three answers perfect, the fourth remains impossible.

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Posted by on July 6, 2011 in Articles


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165. The Pitch Drop Experiment

Pitch is a very tough substance, used to waterproof boats and traditional burning torches. At room temperature you can shatter it with a hammer. The black substance, so dark that it is the source of the term ‘pitch-black’, seemed to be a solid at room temperature; Professor Thomas Parnell disagreed, and set up one of the longest science experiments ever, to prove his point. This became known a the ‘Pitch Drop Experiment.’

The preparation itself took years, in 1927 he prepared a sample in a sealed funnel, then heated it. Three years later it had cooled and settled down. In 1930 the bottom of the funnel was cut, giving the pitch free sway to plummet downwards under the effects of gravity. So began one of the slowest drips the world has ever witnessed. Each drop takes between eight and nine years to form, but form and fall they did. Professor Thomas Parnell only ever lived past two drops of pitch before his death in 1948. The experiment continued without him.

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Posted by on July 4, 2011 in Articles, Trivia


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161. Planet In a Bottle

Biosphere 2 was ambitious, and the first of its kind. The aim was to create a second, slightly more portable earth, a closed system you could put anywhere which would allow people to survive, growing their own food and living off of it even the oxygen was recycled. A totally closed experiment to test whether or not we could live on another planet.

The site is spread over 3 hermetically sealed acres with double airlocks for assured safety. Inside were replicated all the world’s necessary environments. A small ocean with a wave machine and beach,  grassland savannah, tropical rainforest, farm and an additional mangrove wetland. Plants were chosen to remove carbon dioxide from the air and replace it with oxygen.

All 14 before the final selection

A group of fourteen people initially held a practice run. Each sported a fetching red jumpsuit made by the former maker of Marilyn Monroe’s dresses. Out of the group, eight were chosen for the full thing. A two-year stint in a completely closed system, just themselves and the farm, in a giant glass structure in the Arizona Desert.

8:15 am, 26 September 1991 all eight of the red-clad ‘bionauts’ climbed through the airlock, leaving behind them their recently consumed breakfasts and waving crowds. Behind them the airlocks closed and so began the $150 million experiment. Over the next two years the groups would survive together and be self-sufficient, exit only came for the ill. It was a bizarre affair.

Initially it was a media frenzy, Biosphere 2 was the first of its kind and tourists came by the busload to serve their voyeuristic needs, staring through the glass walls at the toiling human specimens held within. This activity itself went on to inspire a small cultural revolution, leading directly to the creation of Big Brother, an extremely popular Reality Show which let viewers in on the lives of ‘housemates’ who were people chosen to live in a house together and perform tasks. It is easy to see the similarities.

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Posted by on June 30, 2011 in Articles, Trivia


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154. Jumping From Space

In 1959 and 1960 the United States Air Force ran Project Excelsior, a series of 3 extreme altitude parachute jumps. These 3 jumps were undertaken by Captain Joseph Kittinger and set the record for the fastest speed reached by a human without a vehicle  and the worlds highest parachute jump at 31 kilometres above sea level. Both records still stand.

In the 1950’s, military jets were reaching ever higher into the atmosphere and there were concerns about safety when ejecting at high altitudes. Tests with dummies showed that pilots at high altitudes would uncontrollably spin with a potentially fatal speed. A new special multi-stage parachute was designed to stop the spinning. Then there was another problem, the chill.

At higher altitudes temperatures reach as low as -70°C, this was less than healthy for anyone; so a special pressure suit was designed to combat both the extreme pressure changes and the low temperatures. It was a bit on the bulky side, combined with the new parachutes the whole ensemble weighed as much as Captain Kittinger. Then came the first extreme altitude jump, Excelsior I.

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Posted by on June 23, 2011 in Articles


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138. Why 5 Doesn’t Make Sense

Sight, Taste, Hearing, Touch, Smell. Those 5 things are significant. They are the traditional senses. Put “Sense of …” in front of any single one of them and it makes sense, if you’ll pardon the pun. This view was proposed first by Aristotle, a great Greek philosopher of some note. However great he may be though this is very untrue. We have 5 senses yes, but we also happen to have at least 4 more, depending on what you think constitutes a sense. Most experts in the field think we have at least 21.

What is a sense though? – A system with specialised cells which respond to a specific physical phenomenon and correspond to specific regions of the brain where they are received and interpreted. So with that out-of-the-way, what are the other senses?

Thermoception – Sense of heat. Feel cold? That’s thanks to thermoception. This sense depends upon specialised nerves in the skin. It also links into the sense of pain, which is useful, unless you happen to want to boil or freeze parts of your body.

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Posted by on June 7, 2011 in Articles, Misconceptions


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133. Cherrapunji Root Bridges

In Northeast India amongst the jungle lies Cherrapunji.Cherrapunji is just about the wettest place on earth, the southern Kasi and Jaintia hills are extremely warm and humid, covered in a fine network of streams and fast flowing river. As such it is often best to have a bridge over these troubled waters; in Cherrapunji though, they are not built, instead they are grown.

The Ficus Elastica is a special type of rubber plant which thrives in the humid hills, producing rich root networks which were both extensive and sturdy. Long ago the War-Khasis tribe noticed that they had a second root network, higher up in the trunks a second set of roots would dangle down, the humidity so great that these roots could suck minerals from the airborne moisture. The War-Khasis weren’t so big on being amazed at extreme humidity and capillary action, instead they saw an opportunity. These trees grew near everywhere, so whenever they wanted a bridge, they found these trees and grew them. With a little direction of course.

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Posted by on June 2, 2011 in Articles


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123. Skeletons At Roopkund

1942, India; A group of British Forest guards patrolled 16,000 feet above sea level in the area around Roopkund, all was orderly and calm until they made a most disturbing find. They were passing a small valley, at the bottom of it was a frozen lake. In the relative summer heat it was melting. Releasing its contents slowly. The small lake was filled with bodies, the further the ice melted the more bodies which appeared. 200 bodies were found in all, something horrible had happened there and many people tried to find out exactly what it was.

1942 was of course during World War II so the first logical leap was to assume the bodies to be those of Japanese soldiers. This was not the case. The bodies were preserved down to a few stray pieces of hair, flesh and of course a plethora of bones. They were too decomposed, and the bones not fresh enough. With them also were rings, spears, bamboo staves and leather sandals. These were much older than the war. How old though?

That question took a great deal of time to answer. In the intervening time theories emerged as to what could possibly cause 200 people to die at the same time. These theories ranged from an Epidemic to ritual suicide. The answer was not to be revealed until after an expedition 62 years later, in 2004.

DNA samples from some of the 200 bodies showed them all to date to approximately 850 AD, whilst the DNA evidence showed two groups of people, one was a family or group of closely related people, whilst the other groups DNA much more closely resembled the DNA of locals, suggesting that the second group had been hired as guides and porters. The most likely story suggests that the closely related group were on a pilgrimage and were traveling with the help of locals, they were passing by the frozen Roopkund Lake when the incident occurred.

Figuring out exactly what the incident was the next part. Closer examination of the bodies showed that they all died in the same way. All 200 from damage to their skulls, but not from any weapon, the short cracks in their skulls suggested something much rounder. In fact none of the injuries occurred beneath shoulder level, as if some terrific blows had been rained down from up high.

Researchers struggled with the problem until they heard a single folk song. An ancient and traditional Himalayan song which spoke of a goddess and intruders who trespassed upon her lands. So enraged was the goddess that she rained death upon them by flinging hailstones as hard as iron. The evidence was considered and the song carefully studied. Then consensus was reached, the song was correct.

About the hailstones, not the angry goddess. The 200 died a bizarre and sudden death. Whilst at the bottom of the valley a freak hailstorm emerged above, raining down hailstones that must have been the size of cricket-balls. Stuck in the bottom of the valley there was no shelter to which they could all flee. So they died, 200 in quick succession, each struck a swift blow on the head by the cruel hand of nature. Their remains surrounded the lake and eventually were swallowed by it until they were rediscovered 1,200 years later. A bizarre blizzard massacre.

Sandal and Skeleton on the shore

Of course there may have been a survivor, a sole survivor or many. Someone to crawl out of that valley and tell the story of the angry goddess and the hailstones of iron which did so dangerously fall.

Someone to give rise to the songs. Someone who unwittingly would help solve one of the oldest murder mysteries of all time, the mystery of the frozen skeleton lake. Without them we would only have skeletons, speculation and 1,200 year old leather sandals.

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Posted by on May 23, 2011 in Articles


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