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Around the web XXXIX

*puff of smoke* Two posts in less than a fortnight? For sure. Anyway, today marks the first issue of paper money in the United States (in 1690) and the death of Buddy Holly and two other famous rock & roll musicians in a plane crash (AKA “The Day the Music Died”). Speaking of anniversaries, id Software celebrated their 21st birthday two days ago.

Sci/tech;

  • Graphene has demonstrated yet more miraculous properties - this time, it appears that it acts (in one particular derivative form) as a super-filter that will block anything,except water. Applications may exist in filtration and industrial processes - amongst other things, the researchers used it to distil super-strong vodka. See Gizmag article.
  • Scientists have managed to decipher words that people are thinking about, via brain scanning. Mind reading ftw; see BBC report. This could lead to better means of communicating with comatose and “locked-in” patients, amongst other applications.
  • NASA and others have come up with a variety of design concepts for space stations over the years; Wired round up a gallery of some interesting examples.
  • This very cool video shows small robot quadrotors (helicopters) flying in formation and performing coordinated manoeuvres. Very impressive work from researchers at the GRASP Lab in Pennsylvania - worth a look through the site, they have a lot of other interesting robotics research going on.
  • Conspiracy folks have some lurid and ludicrous theories about the world ending in 2012, but there are various rather more scientifically plausible ways life on Earth could come to an end (and in fact will, eventually). Wired gather up a selection, from the standard asteroids (possible, but unlikely for now) and super-plagues (not actually very likely) to less well-known scenarios like supernovae (anyone’s guess) and the eventual expansion of the sun as it ages (inevitable, though very very far off). At that point, we’ll either have to stick an outboard motor on the planet, or find a new one.
  • You know those cool but improbable-looking scenes in the likes of James Bond films and the recent Batman epic, where characters make their escape by being hauled up into aircraft in mid-air, using a “skyhook” contraption? Well, such things actually exist and have been used in the field (occasionally) since the 50’s, by the CIA amongst other folks. See Wikipedia article.
  • A paper ball may not look very impressive, but the shape and behaviour of crumpled paper balls actually involves some very complex maths and physics mysteries, as New Scientist discuss. For instance, seeing how a ball of paper is structured internally is very difficult - computer simulations haven’t been able to model such a structure, and paper is transparent to X-rays and most other scanning technologies. Crumpled paper balls also exhibit a lot more strength than you might expect - e.g. in their use in packaging material and for tossing around the place.
Gaming;
  • Eagle Dynamics have announced the next entry in their state-of-the-art DCS series of study sims (following titles featuring the Russian Ka-50 Black Shark attack chopper and the US A-10C CAS aircraft). They’re switching to historical aircraft for this one, featuring the iconic P-51 Mustang of WWII fame. See Rock, Paper Shotgun article.
  • Valve launched the final release of a Steam app for iOS and Android a few days ago. This (free) app will let you chat with Steam friends, browse and buy from the store and keep up with news, achievements, etc. Handy for jumping on Steam sales in particular.
  • Classic gaming site GOG.com has a few notable new entries in their catalogue. Iconic additions include Syndicate, Thief, Deus Ex and, just added, Trilobyte’s seminal early CD-ROM adventure game The 7th Guest (and sequel The 11th Hour). They also have a half-price weekend sale on classic early adventure series Police Quest, King’s Quest and Space Quest.
  • Speaking of classics brought back from the past, here’s a bunch of screenshots and combat commentary from the new X-COM strategy game.
  • CD Projekt (creators of critically-acclaimed The Witcher 2) sure do a fine line in trailers. Here’s a new one to accompany the announcement of The Witcher 2 for XBox.
Dev;
  • Microsoft have just released Kinect for Windows, along with SDK; see blog post. Channel 9’s Coding4Fun site has plenty of articles on the topic too (along with lots of other Microsoft-based hardware and hacker projects).
  • How do Facebook manage to scale MySQL to run their systems? This Gigaom article from a Facebook TechTalk gives some insight - amongst other crazy stats, they handle 60 million DB queries a second.
Misc;
  • A chap in Leicestershire in the UK built himself a Star Trek themed apartment a while back. I’m not sure whether to be impressed or feel sorry for the chap, but he certainly packed in the work. See Telegraph gallery, and BBC article on how he unfortunately looks set to lose the flat.
  • On a similar note, an Irish artist built a house with millions of Euros - literally; it’s made of (€50k) bricks of shredded notes. See BBC article.
  • Also on the art front, artist Brian Dettmer produces amazing 3D sculpture by cutting layers into the interior of books, revealing different words and images from the pages inside - see pictures. Beautiful.
  • There are a variety of popular myths and msiconceptions around medieval arms and armour - that knights could barely move around in full armour (actually it was probably less cumbersome than modern body armour), that Vikings wore horned helmets (they don’t appear to have ever gone in for that fashion), etc. The Metropolitan Museum of Art discusses some of these myths in an educational article.

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