Sometimes at night, scientists stare out at the vast universe, and they wonder whats out there. They wonder if its wondering about us. They wonder if whatever's out there is, at that very moment, looking down and marveling at the Great Wall of China or the glimmering lights of our magnificent cities. Or the giant faces of our fast-food mascots.
If you still haven't seen the Mentos-and-Diet-Coke-fountain video that came out earlier this year, congratulations. You are among the few, the proud—the ultimate YouTube luddites. Chances are, though, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Which makes what happened this week all the more interesting.
On Monday, Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz, the two backyard scientists behind the Diet Coke/Mentos experiment, released a sequel to their original phenomenon as the first Google “Sponsored Video”—a new program from our Internet overlords aimed at sharing ad revenue with marquee videographers. The new video (see below), in which the lab-coated duo initiate a domino-effect chain reaction with their famous two-liter Diet Coke fountains, features prominent linkage to coke.com and mentos.com, followed by a short message urging viewers to enter a coke.com-sponsored contest by submitting their own Mentos/Diet Coke–related footage.
The new Google program presents another potential solution to the challenge underlying the explosive popularity of online video: finding the best way to make money from the immense mishmash of user-generated clips. Grobe and Voltz made $35,000 on their first video’s massive viral success via Revver, a YouTube–like site that serves an ad at the end of each video and splits the revenue generated with you 50/50 based on how many times your clip is viewed. The financial details of their current deal with Google, Coke and Mentos are, so far, unavailable.
Unlike Google’s revolutionary AdSense service, which capitalizes on small amounts of targeted-ad revenue collected by millions of smaller sites across the Net, Google video sponsorship will be available only to large-scale content providers with more than 1,000 hours of content or broadcast exposure.
The question remains, though: Is this landmark arrangement a glimpse at the future of online video? Will the second video, with its unabashed commerciality, be as fun as the first one (which even without the obvious branding probably encouraged the sale of lots of Diet Coke and Mentos)? What do you think? Watch it below and let us know in the comments. —John Mahoney
The Navy´s next destroyer is
two football fields long, but on radar it looks like a fishing boat
By Gregory Mone
Posted 11.01.2006 at 3:00 am 2 Comments
For a closer look, click 'View Photos' at left to launch the photo gallery
It will be almost silent, nearly invisible to enemy radar-and capable of dropping six powerful missiles simultaneously on a single target up to 95 miles away. But the most important feature of the DDG1000 Zumwalt, the Navy's first new destroyer in 30years, could be its versatility. The 600-foot-long ship will be just as comfortable in the deep ocean as in the mine-infested shallows of the Persian Gulf.
Drought in England inspires a water-conserving car wash that´s part dishwasher, part balloon
By Billy Baker
Posted 11.01.2006 at 3:00 am 0 Comments
The British branch of the online automotive auctioneer eBay Motors is tackling one of the more curious potential problems of global warming: dirty cars. As England suffered through one of its hottest summers in more than a century-one in which draconian water-use restrictions went into place in drought-stricken areas-eBay decided to challenge a U.K.-based automotive think tank to find a way to keep cars squeaky-clean with less water.
Contrary to popular belief, child-rearing may make men smarter
By Gregory Mone
Posted 11.01.2006 at 3:00 am 0 Comments
Though men do seem to be getting better at playing stay-at-home dad, they still can´t claim to be the best fathers in the animal kingdom. Among primates, that honor may belong to marmosets, small tree-dwelling monkeys whose males spend 70 percent of their time caring for newborns. The result of all this baby time, according to new research, adds up to more than just a sensitive monkey. The nurturing actually boosts mental activity.
A man-made, pure-white compound called Oxycyte carries oxygen 50 times as effectively as our own blood. Researchers are betting that it´s the best way to treat America´s leading cause of accidental death: traumatic brain injury
By Nicole Davis
Posted 11.01.2006 at 3:00 am 4 Comments
Grace LeClair had just finished eating dinner with friends when she got the phone call every parent dreads. The chaplain at the Medical College of Virginia was on the other end. "Your daughter has been in a serious accident. You should come to Richmond right away." LeClair was in Virginia Beach at the time, a two-hour drive from 20-year-old Bess-Lyn, who was now lying in a coma in a Richmond hospital bed.
The friend who was with Bess-Lyn has since filled in the details of that day in March. The two women were bicycling down a steep hill, headed toward a busy intersection, when Bess-Lyn yelled that her brakes weren't working and she couldn't slow down. Her friend screamed for her to turn into an alley just before the intersection. But Bess-Lyn didn't turn sharply enough and crashed, headfirst, into a concrete wall. She wasn't wearing a helmet. By the time the ambulance reached the hospital, Bess-Lyn was officially counted among the 1.5 million Americans who will suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI) this year.
One summer a few years ago, I worked as a keeper at the Miami Metro Zoo. I may remember those halcyon days for the times that I spent scratching the belly of a tapir, petting bongo antelopes that made your hands look like you had eaten a bag of Cheetos, helping name a baby dama, or trying to quiet down a howler monkey that didnt like me much. But the fact is, most of my days were spent dealing with crap. Shoveling crap. Scooping crap. Raking crap. Spraying down crap. Wheelbarrowing crap. Lots and lots of—well, you get the idea.
So it comes as no surprise that crap was fresh in the minds of the folks at the Miami zoo when they rolled out their new exhibit, The Scoop on Poop. Based on a book of the same name and the self-proclaimed largest exhibition ever mounted about the science of scat, the exhibit explores the many ways that animals—and people—use poop in their everyday lives. Visitors can learn the names of poop types from around the world, find out how long it would take (down to the minute) for an elephant to excrete a humans body weight in poop, challenge each other to dung-beetle races, and even touch some fossilized dinosaur poop, all in the name of understanding a rarely talked about but important by-product of life.
One of the highlights of the exhibit is Dung Boots, in which visitors watch a rhinoceros kick and stomp its dung, marking its territory with a trail of smelly footprints. How do I know that the rhino is on to something? Its trail definitely wont be disappearing anytime soon—rhino crap is some hard stuff to clean up, let me tell you.
The Scoop on Poop runs through January 10 at the Miami Metro Zoo. —Dan Smith
Having trouble reconciling your love of IKEA furniture with your nostalgia for futuristic, self-reassembling T-1000-like robots? Well, don't fret. Your problem has been solved by a team of engineers and artists at Cornell University who have created the Robotic Chair, a deceptively simple-looking wooden chair that collapses into several pieces and then proceeds to put itself back together.
Described as "the culmination of a 20-year-long investigation into the engagement between the individual and the object," the Robotic Chair is a fine example of computer-assisted robot autonomy. After the chair collapses, the images from a camera mounted above the chair's platform are digitized by a computer with software that converts the location of the chair's pieces from the video into points on a grid. This information is then transmitted wirelessly to the processing unit in the chair's seat, which uses 14 motors and an array of sensors to find its pieces in the correct order and reassemble itself.
This isn't the first time the Cornell folks have dabbled in robotic furniture. Their previous piece, the Table: Childhood, was a table with a brain. The Table, fully mobile thanks to a mechanical set of wheels, could express emotions and even display preferences toward an individual in the room by either following or avoiding a person. Perhaps one day the Table or the Robotic Chair will be honored to join the ranks of the Ig Nobels along with a previous winner, an alarm clock that runs away from you when you try to turn it off.
Whether you appreciate the chair for its artistic value or the engineering skill that went into its creation, or file it away with the rest of the YouTube videos you've been forwarded, just be thankful it was created by people calling themselves the D'Andrea Group and not an organization as ominous or clearly evil as Cyberdyne. —Dan Smith
There are a lot of unappealing science jobs out there—carcass cleaner, anal-wart researcher, Kansas biology teacher—and we at Popular Science have written about a lot of them in our annual “Worst Jobs in Science” feature. [Check out last year’s here].
My personal favorite is the ballerina NASA hired last year to help demonstrate the abilities of a remarkable new robotic skin, developed to allow robots to sense the presence of astronauts in space and move out of their way. The only problem is, the demo ‘bot looks a bit, well, phallic.
The space administration apparently thought better of its demonstration methods (the video was taken down from its site not long after our 2005 honors were announced), but luckily, I’ve discovered a reemergence of the seductive duet on YouTube (see below).
It's hard to top, but we’re going to try. Know of someone with an absurd, dangerous, painful, disgusting or otherwise humiliating job? Let us know below in the comments. He or she may even show up in our next installment, coming in spring 2007. —Kalee Thompson
Even though theres war raging on several fronts and an election coming up, like many American males, Ive spent the past few weeks thinking mostly about the Major League Baseball playoffs. The draw of our national pastime was seemingly the same in 1921, when, despite World War I finally coming to an end and the first successful BCG vaccinations against tuberculosis, the question on everyones lips was: How the heck can Babe Ruth hit so many home runs?
In this piece from 1921, PopSci subjects the Sultan of Swat to a battery of scientific tests hoping to discover the secret behind his superhuman swing
By Hugh S. Fullerton (1921)
Posted 10.23.2006 at 2:00 am 3 Comments
As it turns out, our pre-war study might have been ahead of its time. For more on similar tests done with modern technology on Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, click here.
The game was over. Babe, who had made one of his famous drives that day, was tired and wanted to go home. "Not tonight, Babe," I said. "Tonight you go to college with me. You're going to take scientific tests which will reveal your secret."
Space elevators, lunar landers and X-Racers, oh my! The first day of the 2006 Wirefly X Prize Cup blasted into New Mexico with rocket launches, stealth-jet flyovers, and two multimillion-dollar engineering contests to encourage innovation in the field of space exploration.
Competitive highlights included a successful flight of Armadillo Aerospace’s lunar-lander prototype and the triumphant ascent of the University of Michigan’s robotic space elevator on a 200-foot tether.
Practically every school-aged kid in New Mexico was in attendance (missing-child announcements over the intercom were frequent, but our editor in chief’s nine-year-old son Rex managed not to get lost), and representation from aerospace firms both large and small was top-notch.
There was some schedule confusion and an occasional, unfortunate overlap of events, but that was predictable, since the agenda was executed at the whims of weather, team readiness and New Mexico timekeeping.
Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, NM governor Bill Richardson, and Rocket Racing League CEO Granger Whitelaw all gave speeches, but the standout was Anousheh Ansari, the first private female space explorer, who gave a moving address imploring kids to learn as much as possible and then dream beyond the boundaries of their education.
You really have to give X Prize founder Peter Diamandis, his crew and the enthusiastic participants in this nascent industry credit: that this visionary event exists at all is a tribute to their tenacity and dedication to making something—a privately funded space-exploration business—out of absolutely nothing.
Check out the following video for a tour of the day’s events with Future Girl Megan Miller.
In our October issue, we reported on the theoretical and practical work being done to make the fantasy of invisibility a reality [read the article online here]. Yesterday one of those teams of researchers—a Duke University group led by David Smith—announced that they had demonstrated the worlds first working invisibility cloak. And unlike other cloaks, which use images projected onto the surface of the item to be hidden, Smiths actually bends light around the object, making the light behave as if the object isnt even there.
The cloak, which is less than five inches long, is a synthetic structure composed of copper rings and wires placed onto sheets of fiberglass. Its applicability is limited: It works for only two dimensions and only against a microwave beam. The technology to create an invisibility cloak for regular light, which is made of many different wavelengths, is still decades away. See a video of the new cloak here. —Abby Seiff
Brilliant Photoshopping courtesy Philadelphia Will Do
Its comforting to know that our elected officials can really grasp a nuanced concept and break it down into terms we common folk can understand. Take global terrorism, for example: In comments made earlier this week, U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) equated terrorists to the Eye of Mordor trying to harass the hobbits scaling Mount Doom (no kidding—read it here) and went on to say that right now, the Eye of Mordor (ed.: Dont you mean the Eye of Sauron, Rick?) has been drawn away from the U.S. to Iraq. Hooray! Were safe! Mission accomplished!
First of all, if the terrorists are Sauron and the U.S. hobbits, then who the heck is Saruman? The Fighting Uruk-hai? Gollum? Where is Mount Doom? How does Gandalf fit in here, and what does Tom Bombadil really stand for?
And if this is the best analogy—the best thinking—a U.S. legislator can do on a subject, can we possibly trust his judgment when looking at such a nuanced and fraught issue as stem-cell research? I cant wait to hear the analogy he comes up with for that (Perhaps the evil chest creature from Alien exploding out of the great stomach that is America?).
If you have any other ideas as to who belongs where (Osama bin Laden? Tony Blair? Poland?) in the Santorum LotR mythos, please let us know. And frankly, Im dying to hear some more fantasy/sci-fi metaphors for the big issues of today. So we common folk can understand, see? —Martha Harbison
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.