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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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178. Bat Bombs

–This Article comes courtesy of my good friend Jack Evans.–

In 1942,  American dental surgeon Lytle S. Adams was contemplating bats. As World War II raged on around him he looked into bats as a possible weapon, some kind of animal attack that could no doubt be harnessed in the fight, specifically the Empire of Japan. Four potentially useful biological features of bats were noted, each of which was essential to producing one of the least known, yet most deadly products of the war.

Firstly, they could be found in huge numbers in Texas. This would mean they could easily be ‘mass produced’ as a weapon. Secondly, they could carry more than their own weight in-flight – females can even fly whilst carrying twins. Thirdly, bats can hibernate and during this do not need food or indeed any kind of sustenance or maintenance. If this could be harnessed, they could be made dormant and stored for large lengths of time, then awakened and unleashed on an unsuspecting enemy. Lastly, they fly in darkness and seek out buildings in the day time, meaning that they are both a stealth weapon and would home in on vulnerable buildings. Along with this, bats held other natural advantages. They could defy conventional detection systems. They were difficult to destroy using existing air defences and could easily navigate the confines of cities. With these advantages, he came up with the perfect way to weaponise bats; and so he created the bat-bomb.

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Posted by on August 5, 2011 in Articles

 

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173. The Great Rolling Hotel and the Sahara

Subsaharan Africa is an inhospitable place at best, life maintains a tenuous grasp on that hot and arid landscape. It has long presented a great challenge to travelers, expeditionaries and nomads alike. Crossing  the Sahara even today is quite an undertaking. In 1969 humanity first set its footprints into the lunar dust, in the Shara another frontier was being broken. Overshadowed by the moon landing but still deserving of its own plaudits. For in 1969, humanity also first crossed the Sahara, in a bus. Well I say bus, really it is more than that. Not so technically advanced as the space shuttle but something equally as novel. It was ROTEL.

ROTEL is a simple concept from Germany, a hotel on wheels. Check in, tour the world then check out. To this day ROTEL still runs, operating tens of buses visiting over 150 countries. Touring from Baghdad, Bali, Scandinavia, the Arctic circle to just about any other country. For over 40 years ROTEL has provided the lazy explorer with the world. All in relative comfort, not decadence but at least from a position most unique. Where else after all, does the room itself take you to your destination?

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Posted by on July 12, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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171. So Many Flags

The 15 stripes flag

For the majority of its life, the United States flag has had far less than 50 stars. In fact the number tends to move a lot, since its inception the United States flag has changed 26 times.

The original was only 13 stars and 13 stripes, that lasted for 18 years. The Vermont and Kentucky joined, the flag was changed, increasing the number of stripes to its maximum. 1975 to 1818 America managed to have 15 stars and 15 stripes. then more states joined and someone, namely President James Monroe, decided to take away the two extra stripes and just add a new star for each state.

Thanks to the rapidly increasing number of states, the United States did run through flags very quickly, in fact there have been nine flags in total which have only been in use for a year before being phased out. Unlike Denmark which has had the same flag for at least 500 years.

In this vein, one can praise the United States for being prepared; in case some new states are suddenly added the United States Army Institute of Heraldry has ready-designed flags with up to 56 stars. The current American one has lasted 50 years, nothing compared to Denmark, but a long time for the U.S. In fact it is their flag with the longest ‘lifespan’ so to speak. Maybe it’s time to change it. Possibly add a state here, or take one away, the possibilities are endless.

Bonus Fact : There are 6 U.S. flags on the moon, that’s more flags than any other nation – for the moment at least.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2011 in Articles, Misconceptions, 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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162. Fear and Feet

According to a widespread survey into bathroom behaviour: 8% of Americans are so afraid of germs from Lavatories that they attempt, or actually do, flush the toilet with their feet. Research  has not highlighted any use for this as of yet.

I think there may be a pattern of useless bathroom studies.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2011 in 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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159. Toilet Money

Over $100,000 was spent on a study which aimed to find out which way people arranged their toiler paper; with the flap in front or behind. the final conclusion was that 75% of US citizens arrange toilet rolls with the flap hanging down in front.

No news yet as to the actual use of this study.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2011 in Trivia

 

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158. The Boston Molasses Flood of 1919

Molasses is not the most pleasant substance, a thick and dark brown sugary syrup which clings on to anything it touches. On the hottest days in Boston, locals claim that the streets bleed it. This local folklore is descended from local fact. For at the edge of living memory, a good 90 years ago there was a catastrophic and bizarre flood. A flood of molasses, a thick brown sugary flood which devastated a small area of Boston, killing several horses, 21 people and at least one cat.

January 15, 1919 – a more than sizeable storage tank 25 metres in height was brimming, holding near its full complement of two-and-a-half million gallons of molasses. During the day there was a sudden rise in temperature of approximately 2°C, this caused fermentation in the molasses. The substances produced increased the pressure inside the tank. To add to the strain, the ethyl-alcohol produced was a potent substance used in both rum and munitions at that time. This all led to a reaction slightly less sedate than fermentation.

The sound was described afterwards as a muffled roar; rivets popped with sounds akin to those pf machine gun fire. Then the pressure became too much. The explosion tore apart the half-inch-thick iron surrounds, splitting it into three pieces which were launched through the air.

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Posted by on June 27, 2011 in Articles

 

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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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