Month: October, 2018

10 Famous Human Oddities

There was a time when traveling circuses and freak shows were the preeminent form of entertainment of the day. Some people made a great living as human oddities, showing off their natural (and unnatural) bodies. Here are 10 of the most famous.

Turns Out Bubble Wrap Was Originally Meant To Be Wallpaper

Bubble Wrap is unparalleled in its ability to protect goods and is so satisfying to play with. Hell, people are even wearing it these days.

But before it was made famous for guarding packages and providing endless hours of fun, it was actually just a home decor experiment gone awry.

According to Joey Green, co-author of “The Bubble Wrap Book,” a book that is completely dedicated to the stuff, Bubble Wrap was created after a failed attempt by inventors Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes to make textured wallpaper in 1957.

The two men used two shower curtains pressed together to create textured wallpaper. Green said the two men “attempted to develop a machine to produce plastic wallpaper with a paper backing. Instead, their machine produced sheets of plastic filled with air bubbles.

A spokeswoman from Sealed Air, the company that manufactures Bubble Wrap, confirmed the same story.

The inventors didn’t admit defeat. They found a way to turn their creation into a whole new industry segment: packaging materials that cover, cushion, and protect,” she said.

So there you have it. We’re not sure we’d be able to resist popping and thus destroying Bubble Wrap wallpaper if it were actually a real thing — but there would definitely be loads of fun had in the process.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

eBay Wants To Help You Sell Your Old Phone Fast With Instant Selling

eBay will now let you sell your old phone in “a matter of minutes,” but there’s a small catch: You get paid in eBay vouchers.

Known as Instant Selling, the service could be useful if your previous phone is just gathering dust and you’re bidding on some big-ticket item.

The e-commerce site says it offers returns that are up to 40 percent higher than other trade-in providers, which it says offer 40 to 50 percent off the average market selling price.

To use the service, you need to enter your device info — including the model, color, condition, carrier and any accessories — and it’ll give you the trending price.

We found that a used, unlocked Apple iPhone 5S in perfect condition with all the accessories would be expected to go for $77 — not bad for a 5-year-old phone.

After listing it and accepting the conditions, you get your instant voucher and can ship your phone using a printable eBay shipping label.

Millions of Americans have unused phones in their homes and simply don’t realize how much their devices are worth, probably because trade-in values are typically so low,” Alyssa Steele, eBay’s vice president of hard goods, said in a statement.

With Instant Selling, people can find out exactly how much their phone is worth, and sell their phone within a matter of minutes to immediately help fund the holidays, or maybe something off their personal wish list.”

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Reading Past Climates From Ice Cores

Professor Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern in Switzerland is one of the principal investigators of EPICA (European Programme for Ice Coring in Antarctica.)

Stocker explains that EPICA, a joint ESF- European Commission (EC) effort funded by the Commission and 10 national agencies, has put Europe in a leading position in ice core research, in which specially designed drilling technology is used to obtain continuous ice sequences 3.8 thousands of metres in length.

A series of EPICA papers in journals such as Nature and Science are evidence of its world importance. The principle behind ice coring is straightforward.

Snow falls in Greenland and the Antarctic, but conditions there are too cold for it to melt. In most places it will eventually be carried away by glacial movement, but it is possible to find areas where the snow has piled up for hundreds of thousands of years, turning to ice as the weight of later snowfall builds up on top.

Drilling out a core of such ice reveals the past in a neat sequence of millennia. Better still, the ice contains information about the past.

It includes trapped air bubbles that can be analysed to reveal the composition of the ancient atmosphere. Layers of ash reveal ancient volcanic eruptions.

And the ratio of different isotopes of oxygen in the ice is a virtual thermometer that tells us past temperatures. The more of the lighter isotope, oxygen 16, there is, the colder it was.

Stocker says: “Ice-drilling is an area in which Europe has taken a decisive technological and scientific lead in the past decade. We now have a continuous record of 800,000 years of climate history, thanks to EPICA and other European initiatives.

These ice cores directly illuminate current climate debates. As Stocker points out, air bubbles allow us to measure how much methane and carbon dioxide there was in the air when the snow fell.

These — especially carbon dioxide — are the principal greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. It is clear that they are now at their most abundant for hundreds of thousands of years.

By contrast, the most-used direct measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide, made on Hawaii, only date back to 1958. So as Stocker says: “EPICA results form a cornerstone of the current climate debate.

While these cores still have plenty to tell us, Stocker and his colleagues are in little doubt about the overall message.

They think that climate “forcing” by greenhouse gases is a very real phenomenon: in other words, that rising greenhouse gas concentrations drive the Earth’s temperature upwards in a very direct way.

So the ice cores now deposited in cold “stores” around the world have a clear message for us all.

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Intel’s New Processors Spin Up High-End Performance For The Masses

For much of the last several years, when you thought of desktop PCs, you generally thought of conformist grey boxes.

Some were thinner than others, some more powerful, some came in gaudy colors, but all felt basically the same.

With the advent of inventive devices like of Microsoft’s Surface Studio, though, that perception has rightly started to shift.

Intel’s latest processor update, focused on on power and flexibility, hopes to advance that renaissance even further—and faster.

That’s no easy task. Moore’s Law has long since faded, with processor gains coming less from traditional means than from clever physics.

But while this year’s Intel desktop lineup doesn’t include a breakthrough on the order of last year’s whopping 18-core, 36-thread behemoths, it does show plenty of improvement, in the places you’d want them most.

That focus, at least in the context of Intel’s Core refresh, centers on three primary areas: gaming, creativity, and commercial-grade hardware.

Those first two are also, incidentally, largely the types of PCs that have driven the market’s recent resurgence, according to Patrick Moorhead, founder of Moor Insights & Strategy.

I feel like this announcement hits gaming and the creatives, who are doing a lot of video editing. And then obviously on the gaming side, a balanced performance is important..

That balance comes in the form of the new Core i9-9900K, Intel’s first high-volume 5Ghz speed processor, and its first mainstream desktop processor to squeeze in eight cores and 16 threads.

For its new Core lineup more broadly Intel’s claiming performance gains of up to 10 percent more frames per second over last year, and up to 37 percent gains over a three-year-old PC. The new chips are available to order today.

Gaming processor performance increasingly needs to be measured not just in power and speed, but in how well it multitasks.

Gameplay no longer happens in isolation; it gets streamed over Twitch, and edited and uploaded to YouTube.

That’s where those threads come in handy; the more a PC has to work with, the more dedicated tasks it can juggle simultaneously without choking up or slowing down.

Intel has revamped the X-Series as well, once again offering up to 18 cores and 36 threads.

These are strictly for professionals, which the other improvements reflect: up to 68 PCIe lanes, to accommodate multiple video cards and such, and the ability to dedicate the two fastest cores to your most critical workloads. It’ll be available in November.

And then, coming closer to the end of the year, there’s the Xeon W-3175X, a workstation CPU with 28 cores and 56 threads, and speeds up to 4.3 GHz.

In a presentation Monday, Intel claimed that on at least one benchmark, the Xeon W-3175X outperformed everything but multi-processor machines.

The background to all of this, of course, isn’t just the resurgent PC market, but Intel’s place within it.

Rival AMD has become increasingly competitive, Moorhead says, and has taken some marketshare in the very categories Intel has highlighted.

Meanwhile, the PC resurgence continues apace. And while Intel’s latest improvements may not include a blockbuster breakthrough, they do offer high-end performance, specific to your needs, in a relatively reasonable price and package.

It’s the kind of lineup that feels like a strong foundation, for a PC present—and future—that so many had written off years ago.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Facebook Launches New Video Chat Device, Fuelling Privacy Concerns

Facebook plans to put a camera that watches your every move in millions of homes worldwide with the launch of its Portal device.

The tablet-like system, featuring a 10-inch screen, allows users to make video calls over Facebook’s Messenger app and represents its first push into the hardware market.

However, as Facebook continues to grapple with the fallout from its data breach scandal, Portal’s recording abilities are likely to fuel privacy concerns and questions over whether consumers will want to install them in their living rooms.

Portal, and a larger 15-inch Portal+ model, are billed by Facebook as a smart home device designed to let users make calls to friends and family. Users activate the device by using the wake word “Portal” to make calls.

Facebook has also installed Amazon’s Alexa on Portal for smart home functions. Alexa will let users of Portal use voice commands for music on Spotify or asking questions.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Facebook’s head of VR and AR hardware Andrew Bosworth denied the launch of the product had been delayed following a scandal over data privacy.

Reports earlier this year suggested it had been held back. “We had always planned for a fall launch,” Bosworth said.

The devices will go on sale in the US in November. Facebook plans to release them elsewhere but has yet to reveal details.

Facebook has also been dealing with fallout from a hack of Facebook profiles that has seen the accounts of 50 million users compromised.

The launch of Portal comes less than a fortnight after the bug was discovered on the main Facebook app.

It added that all of Portal’s artificial intelligence capabilities were kept on the device, rather than relayed into the cloud.

While the device has a camera, Facebook said that a button to turn off the camera and microphone would cut power to them entirely. The Portal will also come with a camera cover to block out the webcam.

Facebook-owned Oculus recently revealed a new virtual reality headset, the Oculus Quest.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Peugeot’s E-Legend Concept Is A Muscle Car For The Electric Age

Rotating phlegmatically beneath an immodest #UnboringTheFuture banner at the Paris Motor Show, Peugeot’s e-Legend Concept might be my favorite of all the electric concept cars I’ve seen this week.

Its design is inspired by the classic Peugeot 504 coupe, with a more aggressive styling that reminds me of Ford’s latest Mustang GT.

But beneath that old-school muscular look is a fully autonomous, connected, all-electric vehicle. It’s a car that looks to the future without devaluing the brand’s past, and I love the result.

Peugeot’s premise with the e-Legend is that you shouldn’t have to compromise on anything. The car has four driving modes, with the two autonomous ones seeing the steering wheel retract into the dashboard and opening up access to a 49-inch curved widescreen display.

The Soft mode would reduce distractions and disturbances to a minimum, while the Sharp option would be a nightmare scenario of “maximum connection to your digital activity” like social networks.

When you do want to drive, Legend mode would be your default, with a Boost mode turning up the driving excitement.

Switching driving modes, opening and closing the electrical doors, and controlling music would be done with — you guessed it — a voice assistant tailored for autonomous driving.

A version of this assistant, Peugeot says, will be making its way to production vehicles from the company within the next two years.

Fellow French company Focal has partnered with Peugeot on the integrated sound system of the e-Legend Concept.

That includes neat audio zoning features like sending navigation instructions only to the driver and creating an “audio bubble” for each passenger.

So we can be aloof and distant even within the enclosed space of a car. In another patriotic collaboration, Peugeot has even had Parisian parfumerie Ex Nihilo develop two custom scents for the e-Legend Concept.

Alas, I wasn’t able to get inside the show car at the Paris Motor Show to be able to report on exactly how immersive those fragrances are.

In terms of road-going capabilities, the Peugeot e-Legend is built around a fully electric drivetrain that delivers 340kW to the four wheels and gets it from 0–100 km/h in under four seconds.

Peugeot promises a 370-mile (600km) range, and fast charging will let you top up more than 80 percent of that in 25 minutes. Inductive charging would also be an option.

For all of its technical promises, some of which are obviously still speculative, the thing that excites me most about the e-Legend is its exterior design.

Maybe it’s because it reminds me of the thrilling car chases I’ve seen in the movies, but the look of this electric vehicle definitely lives up to Peugeot’s bold claim that “boring” isn’t in its DNA.

Whether you take the wheel or let it drive itself, a car like this would look awesome under all circumstances. And that’s important.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

NASA’s Eagleworks Lab: Pushing The Boundaries Of Physics

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If we’re ever going to reach other star systems, we need a new type of revolutionary propulsion system. NASA’s Eagleworks Lab is exploring the fringes of physics to find exactly that.

This Robotic Finger Attachment For Your Smartphone Will Gently Caress Your Hand

Our smartphones are cold, passive devices that usually can’t move autonomously unless they’re falling onto our faces while we’re looking at them in bed.

A research team in France is exploring ways to change that by giving our smartphones the ability to interact with us more.

MobiLimb is a robotic finger attachment that plugs in through a smartphone’s Micro USB port, moves using five servo motors, and is powered by an Arduino microcontroller.

It can tap the user’s hand in response to phone notifications, be used as a joystick controller, or, with the addition of a little fuzzy sheath accessory, it can turn into a cat tail.

MobiLimb is a research project by PhD student Marc Teyssier and his team across from French universities. Teyssier shares more process photos on his website as well as a detailed explanation for the project.

In the spirit of human augmentation, which aims at overcoming human body limitations by using robotic devices, our approach aims at overcoming mobile device limitations (static, passive, motionless) by using a robotic limb,” he writes.

There’s definitely an unsettling, creepy way in how it moves. Maybe it’s the way it drags its lifeless phone-body across the table to let you know you have a new message.

Or maybe it’s the human flesh cover for the finger that turns it into a dismembered digit? I can’t quite place my MobiLimb on it.

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Pass it on: Popular Science