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Monday, September 19, 2011

In the News: September 19, 2011

Nothing really important to report, but here's a bunch of miscellaneous (slightly odd) stories.

Unofficial 'Angry Birds' Theme Park in China

I want to go to there.

"Fans of the hugely popular game Angry Birds can now enjoy some real-life bird-flinging at a theme park in central China.

The attraction, which is not licensed by gamemaker Rovio, opened on September 1 at Window of The World amusement park in Changsha, reports CNN Go. "It's fun because it's physically real. I can actually feel the bird shooting out," said one player (via Dailymotion). 

China has made headlines recently for unabashed knockoffs of Apple Stores as well as Ikea, Disney, McDonald's and others."
(via Business Insider)

Obama uncle Onyango Obama arrested for 'drink-driving'

"US President Barack Obama's uncle has been arrested on suspicion of drinking and driving, authorities have said.

Onyango Obama, 67, said he would call the White House to arrange bail, after being stopped on Friday in the US state of Massachusetts, says a police report.

A half-brother of the president's late father, he is being held without bail, subject to an immigration order.

Police said the Kenya native was arrested after driving through a stop sign and nearly hitting a police car.

Mr Obama was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, negligent operation of a motor vehicle and failure to yield the right of way."

"According to the report, when taken to a police station and asked whether he wanted to make a telephone call to arrange bail, Mr Obama said: "I think I will call the White House.""
(via BBC)


Not really news, but this is an awesome picture:

(via BBC)

Google Releases its Energy Consumption Numbers, Revealing a 260 Million Watt Continuous Suck
Totally worth it.

"After years of playing such numbers extremely close to the vest, Google today released figures spelling out exactly how much electricity the company’s massive computing resources consume. Its data centers continuously draw 260 million watts--roughly a quarter the output of a nuclear power plant, says the NYT--to keep services like Gmail, search, Google Ads, and YouTube up and running around the clock and around the globe.

How does that translate? Google also estimated that its total carbon emissions for 2010 were just below 1.5 million metric tons. Not all of Google’s electricity comes from carbon resources--a quarter comes from renewable fuels like wind, thanks to some deals the company has made with utilities--but that’s still some decent tonnage.

Still, Google argues that its consumption really isn’t so bad. Its data centers carry out billions of operations--a billion searches per day alone--and many of those save fuel. Google searches save trips to the library or the travel agent, for instance, offsetting the power consumed by its processing farms. And when you break it down it’s not so bad, considering the vast numbers of people using Google’s services. The company said an average user consumes just 180-watt hours per month, which roughly equates to running a 60-watt light bulb for three hours.

And how does that power usage break down? Google apparently didn’t detail every last watt, but it did say that search queries only burn 12.5 million of those 260 million watts. As for the other quarter billion, it’s probably a pretty even split between Gchat and Rebecca Black."
(via PopSci)

Dutch woman 'called boyfriend 65,000 times'

"A Dutch woman who called a man 65,000 times in the past year - an average of 178 calls a day - is to face charges of stalking.

The man told police he had been bombarded with calls, texts and emails from the woman.

Lawyers say the 42-year-old woman claimed to be in a relationship with the man and denied that her actions were excessive.

The 62-year-old man denies that they were in a relationship.

The police raided the woman's home in Rotterdam and seized a number of mobile phones and several computers.

The BBC's Anna Holligan in The Hague says a judge at a preliminary hearing granted the woman bail on the condition that she leave the man alone.

But just a couple of hours after being released, she allegedly called him again, says our correspondent."
(via BBC)

This one is actually significant:
Obama Signs 1st Major Patent Law Change Since 1952

"President Barack Obama signed into law Friday a major overhaul of the nation's patent system to ease the way for inventors to bring their products to market. "We can't afford to drag our feet any longer," he said.

Passed in a rare display of congressional bipartisanship, the America Invents Act is the first significant change in patent law since 1952. It has been hailed as a milestone that will spur innovation and create jobs.

The bill is meant to ensure that the patent office, now facing a backlog of 1.2 million pending patents, has the money to expedite the application process. It now takes an average of three years to get a patent approved. More than 700,000 applications have yet to be reviewed.

"Somewhere in that stack of applications could be the next technological breakthrough, the next miracle drug," Obama said. "We should be making it easier and faster to turn new ideas into jobs.""

"The law aims to streamline the patent process and reduce costly legal battles. It was backed by companies including Google and Apple as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Small-scale inventors are divided, with some arguing that the law will give the edge to big corporations."
(via PDDNet)

Tests show fastest way to board passenger planes

"The most common way of boarding passenger planes is among the least efficient, tests have shown.

The best method has been the subject of study for years but now various approaches have been put to the test.

Boarding those in window seats first followed by middle and aisle seats results in a 40% gain in efficiency.

However, an approach called the Steffen method, alternating rows in the window-middle-aisle strategy, nearly doubles boarding speed.

The approach is named after Jason Steffen, an astrophysicist at Fermi National Laboratory in Illinois, US. Dr Steffen first considered the thorny problem of plane boarding in 2008, when he found himself in a long boarding queue.

He carried out a number of computer simulations to determine a better method than the typical "rear of the plane forwards" approach, publishing the results in the Journal of Air Transport Management.

Several authors had already proposed an order in which those seated in window seats boarded first, followed by middle seats and then aisle seats - dubbed the Wilma method. But Dr Steffen's best results suggested a variant of this.

He suggested boarding in alternate rows, window seats first, progressing from the rear forward: seats 12A, for example, followed by 10A, 8A and so on, then returning for 9A, 7A, 5A and so on, and then filling the middle and aisle seats in the same way.

The approach avoids a situation in which passengers are struggling to use the same physical space at the same time."

How about creating a method that is actually practical?
I'd like to see them try to line everyone up like that for boarding...

(via BBC)

Amazing Cat Goes Missing in Colorado, Found Five Years Later in New York City, Alive and Well

"Cat of the week, you guys. Cat of the year. Willow, an adorable calico, went missing from her Colorado home five years ago during some construction. In the years since, her family's kids have grown up, and the family moved some ten miles away. But somehow, Willow made her way a whopping 1,800 miles from the Rocky Mountains to the rat-infested streets (for her, that's probably nice) of Manhattan. This improbable story has a happy, techie ending: Willow was implanted with a microchip as a kitten, and was able to be reunited with her family this week.

It's a hazardous trip, those 1,800 miles, filled with coyotes, foxes, owls, and all kinds of other large animals that prey on cats. We may never know what Willow saw on her journey east, or why she came at all (certainly many New Yorkers would love to make the exact reverse trip, ending up in beautiful Boulder, CO). Maybe she wanted to see The Book of Mormon, or parade her calico self around Fashion Week.

Willow was found on East 20th street, a mere few blocks from PopSci headquarters (home of several avowed cat-lovers) and taken to a shelter run by Animal Care and Control. Luckily, her family, the Squireses of Colorado, implant microchips in all their pets, and ACC was able to scan her chip and locate her family. One of the Squires children was not even born when Willow began her long, strange journey, and only remarked "That's a pretty cat!" when shown a photograph. But her older siblings and her parents all knew Willow immediately, and were understandably stunned.
(via PopSci)

More importantly...
Apple drops 'Jew or not Jew' app in France

I know someone who would have found this helpful...

"US computer firm Apple has withdrawn a mobile phone application called Jewish or Not Jewish from its online store in France.

The application allowed users to find out whether celebrities and public figures were Jewish or not.

Anti-racism group SOS Racisme said it was illegal because French law did not allow the compilation of personal data without the individual's consent.

Developer Johann Levy, who is Jewish, said the app was "recreational".

Mr Levy said there was nothing sinister about his application, which is still available outside France.

"I'm not a spokesman for all Jews, but as a Jew myself, I know that in our community we often ask whether such and such celebrity is Jewish or not," the 35-year-old Franco-British engineer told Le Parisien newspaper on Wednesday.

"For me, there's nothing pejorative about saying that someone is Jewish or not," he said. "On the contrary, it's about being proud."

He said he compiled information about some 3,500 people listed in his app by using various online sources.

French laws enacted after World War II ban the compilation of information about religious affiliation without permission. Doing so is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of 300,000 euros (£260,000)."
(via BBC)

Finally (kinda):
The Mystery of Wrinkly-When-Wet Fingers, Solved

"Mystery of the century, you guys. No, the millenium. All times. A new paper in the journal Brain, Behavior and Evolution has a new answer to the eternal question: why do our fingers and toes get all wrinkly after bathtime? The answer: traction.

The old solution is that wrinkling is simply the result of your fingers and toes absorbing water after a long period of being submerged. But there are problems with this! First: why is it only our fingers and toes that get wrinkly? Second: why is this such an unusual trait among mammals (only humans and macaques get wrinkly)? Third: why, if this is a simple tale of osmosis, do our fingers and toes cease to wrinkle when nerves to them are cut?

The paper, which you can read here, suggests that wrinkled fingers actually provide drainage for water so as to ensure greater traction, just like tires on a car. By examining the soaked fingers of 28 subjects, the scientists discovered that each finger showed a similar pattern of wrinkles: as the New York Times puts it, "unconnected channels diverging away from one another as they got more distant from the fingertips." That allows water to drain away more efficiently from the fingers as they are pressed against an object, giving more surface area and a firmer grip.

Of course, this is all just a theory, and the scientists still have to study whether these precise rivulets actually do provide a better grip, as well as why the trait is found only in these few species. Still, it's a major step to answering the question we all asked as children (or as privileged adults with hot tubs)."
(via PopSci)

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