The Light Side: Medieval Feline and Avian WMDs
March 14, 2014
Historical documents that recently came to light advised 16th century German military forces to turn back enemies from the Ottoman Empire by using cats and birds as weapons of mass destruction.
Illustrations from a circa-1530 instructional manuscript about siege warfare, artillery, and explosive weapons depict jet packs and incendiary devices strapped to the backs of cats and doves. The "rocket cats" images went viral on the web after they were digitized by Mitch Fraas
The c. 1530 text tells military leaders how to "use doves and cats loaded with flammable devices to set fire to enemy positions," according to Fraas' blog. He noted there was an entire section devoted to angry birds and thunder cats, translated loosely as, "To set fire to a castle or city which you can't get at otherwise." Fraas highlighted a particularly sinister passage:
Create a small sack like a fire-arrow ... if you would like to get at a town or castle, seek to obtain a cat from that place. And bind the sack to the back of the cat, ignite it, let it glow well and thereafter let the cat go, so it runs to the nearest castle or town, and out of fear it thinks to hide itself where it ends up in barn hay or straw it will be ignited.
Fraas was not the first person to come upon the "rocket cats." He was alerted by a friend/informant who discovered an Australian book blog had written about one of the images. This sent Fraas on a crowdsourced journey that led him to the Buch von den probierten Künsten treatise written by Franz Helm of Cologne, Germany. "I really didn't know what to make of it," said Fraas, according to an AP story
He found that Helm was an artillery master in the service of various German princes during the mid-16th century. Helm might have been believed to have taken part in battles against Turkish forces, but he was undoubtedly unencumbered by a PETA-like organization.
Fraas was unable to find evidence that Helm's war chiefs actually took up his idea but nevertheless didn't think it would have worked anyway, calling the strategy "harebrained."
"It seems like a really terrible idea, and very unlikely the animals would run back to where they came from," he told AP. "More likely they'd set your own camp on fire."
However, he did note on his blog that disparate regions around the world during that period had similar ideas for pyrotechnic warfare. Incendiary-bearing carrier pigeons could have been the game-changer Helm and the Germans were looking for.
Headband Clamps Down on Throbbing Migraines
What do you do when you have a screaming headache? You pop a couple of pain-relief pills, find a dark and quiet place, and lay yourself down for a while. But now, relief can come more quickly and as easily as putting on a headband that allows you to keep on working -- or doing whatever it was that you were doing.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved Cefaly, a neurostimulation device for migraine sufferers. Manufactured and already commercial in Belgium, the portable, battery-powered aid sends electric current through the skin to underlying body tissues in order to stimulate the branches of the trigeminal nerve.
This type of therapy, called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS (as opposed to TENSE), is thought to either block the trigeminal nerve from sending pain signals to the brain or cause increased production of endorphins, which are the body's own painkillers, according to LiveScience
The FDA said Cefaly is an alternative medication for those who cannot tolerate strong pain-relief pills due to their side effects. Before giving the device the green light, the agency looked at a clinical study conducted in Belgium of 67 individuals who had at least two migraines a month as well as a Cefaly patient-satisfaction study of users in Belgium and France. Those who used Cefaly suffered fewer migraines than those given placebo devices, and in the latter study, a little more than half of patients (53 percent) were satisfied and willing to buy it.
Cefaly's manufacturer, STX-Med, claims that there are more than 50,000 devices in use outside the United States. A how-to-use diagram featuring a woman who disarmingly looks like Angelina Jolie is available here
A Cefaly user puts the contraption across the forehead and above the ears using a self-adhesive electrode and then presses a button that cycles through three modes: "crisis" (no kidding), "prevention," and "antistress." A fourth push lowers the intensity of the electric impulses. No matter the mode, each session is 20 minutes, and the user is free to move about and do normal activities.
Now here is where it starts sounding like a pharmaceutical ad. The FDA noted that Cefaly should be limited to one session per day. Only those aged 18 years or older should use the device. Tolerance of the electric impulses increases with use, though STX-Med noted, "[Constantly increase the intensity and the sessions will become more and more effective."
Fortunately, there wasn't voluminous fine print about Cefaly's side effects, so if this were a TV commercial, there'd be no speed-talk at the end. The most common side effect was intolerance to the feeling of Cefaly on the forehead -- perhaps a lightweighting plastic is in order. The most severe side effect is allergic skin reaction to the electrode, followed by irritation of the skin on the forehead. Some users experienced a sensation of fatigue during and after a session.
Wear This Phone Charger on Your Wrist
You're on a camping trip and you need your daily dose of news, so every morning you read it using your smartphone. The articles are so interesting that you keep reading, lose track of time, and drain your phone's battery. There's not an outlet for miles. What to do? If the EnergyBionics Kickstarter campaign is successful, you might just reach for the solar-powered battery charger on your wrist!
The Carbon wearable charger contains a 650 mAh lithium polymer battery that can provide several hours of charge to your smartphone, camera, or other personal electronic device. Its output can deliver up to 5 W at 1 A -- enough to recharge a phone in about 30 minutes.Unlike many other "spare battery" gadgets, the Carbon recharges its own battery using a monocrystalline photovoltaic (PV) cell. EnergyBionics claims that in full sunlight, the on-board battery can be recharged in two to three hours. (I calculate closer to 10 hours*.) The PV cell also responds well to artificial light, so the Carbon can recharge indoors too. In order to maximize the solar energy conversion, the circuitry includes a low-power microcontroller that runs a maximum power point tracking (MPPT) algorithm. And if you're not too far from civilization, the Carbon can also be charged in about 30 minutes through a USB interface.
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