The Light Side

Light Friday: Laser-Equipped 747s, Annoy your Coworkers, Scariest Tech of 2006...

Nov 03, 2006

...Top Gun to Upgrade Hubble, Pink Flamingos Go the Way of the Dodo, Killer Robots and MORE!

747s with Frickin' Laser Beams on Them

Last Friday, Boeing and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency unveiled its heavily modified — and…wait for it…laser-equipped — 747-400F, "the latest development in a missile-defense system that was once ridiculed as a Star Wars-style fantasy," according to The Independent.

The airborne laser (ABL) aircraft was officially introduced at a ceremony in the firm's integrated defense systems facility in Wichita, and it was announced that all systems were go for "testing."

Notes Engadget:

Even the branch's director, General Henry Obering III, threw in a Skywalker reference as he insinuated that the forthcoming plane represented 'the forces of good,' and unleashing it was akin to 'giving the American people their first light saber.'

747s with friggin laser beams on them!.jpg

Hall-of-Fame-worthy Ranch Dressing

In other fantastic news, this month the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio, will recognize Hidden Valley dressing.

Owned by the Clorox Company, the donated recipe dates back to the 1950s at the Hidden Valley Guest Ranch in California and resulted from mixing dry seasoning with buttermilk and mayonnaise, reports The Associated Press (Last Item). It will be placed in the museum's archives with the 1955 recipe for Campbell's green bean casserole.

Pink Flamingo Extinct?

In either-fantastic-or-horrible-depending-on-who-you-ask news, the factory that makes the kitsch lawn icon the pink flamingo is shutting down after 49 years.

Union Products Inc. stopped producing flamingos and other lawn ornaments at its Leominster, Massachusetts, factory in June, and went out of business this week — a victim of rising expenses for plastic resin and electricity, as well as financing problems.

The small privately held firm has been in talks with a pair of rival lawn ornament makers interested in buying the molds and resuming production of the flamingos, designed in 1957 by local son Don Featherstone, says AP.

Top 10 Ways to Annoy Your Coworkers

From "Career Planning":

1) Talk Loudly on Your Cell Phone...Especially in the Bathroom**

2) Take Credit for Your Coworkers' Contributions to a Project

3) Come to Work Sick

4) Share Everything With Your Coworkers

5) Talk to Your Coworkers About Religion and Politics

6) Tell Your Coworkers Dirty Jokes

7) Spam Your Coworkers with Chain Letters, Jokes and Petitions

8) Chew Your Gum Loudly

9) Don't Carry Your Own Weight

10) Talk Down to Your Coworkers

** We'd like to add to the list: Talk to a Coworker WHILE Going to the Bathroom…because there is nothing more comfortable in the workplace than standing (or squatting, respectively) next to a colleague who is trying to carry a conversation with you as you try to concentrate on hitting the target. (Especially if one of these is the target…)

Splitting Water Creates Alloy

X-rays cause ice under pressure to form an H2-O2 solid, reports a multi-institutional team of researchers.

Courtesy of Wendy Mao, via Chemical & Engineering News.gif

Zapping ice VII-a crystalline form of water that occurs at high pressure and ambient temperature with X-rays cleaves the O-H bonds and creates a novel crystalline solid composed of molecular hydrogen and oxygen.

Wendy L. Mao, a postdoctoral fellow at New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory, and her team — including her father, Ho-kwang Mao, and Russell J. Hemley of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, as well as Peter J. Eng of the University of Chicago — made the unexpected discovery while trying out a new high-pressure synchrotron X-ray technique that irradiates substances with moderately high-energy X-rays for long periods of time.

The new alloy exhibits surprising stability, so long as it is kept at high pressure. Six months after the original experiments, the material hasn't reverted to ice VII, Mao says, even after heating it to 700 K and blitzing it with lasers and X-rays.

The finding opens up new avenues for high-pressure radiation chemistry.

You Mean It's Not a Gas Station?

A highly intoxicated man faces several charges after driving up to the Braidwood nuclear power plant, about 60 miles southwest of Chicago, in search of gasoline last weekend.

Around 12:30 a.m. Saturday, a 51-year-old man steered his 2000 Ford Explorer past a "No Trespassing" — and 10-foot-wide "Braidwood Generating Station" — sign, stopping only when he reached a security checkpoint, reports Chicago Sun-Times.

"He thought it was a gas station," said Will County sheriff's spokesman Pat Barry. "I guess he wanted to pay for gas."

Oddly enough, it was the second time in two weeks that a drunken motorist mistakenly pulled up to a security checkpoint at the Braidwood Generating Station. In the incident earlier in October, the inebriate thought he was at an interstate toll plaza.

Highway to the Danger Zone to Upgrade Hubble

NASA chief Michael Griffin has announced that seven astronauts would be sent to repair the $1.5 billion telescope, which has been responsible for solving some of the greatest mysteries of the cosmos.

Hubble telescope needs an upgrade.jpg"While there is an inherent risk in all space-flight activities, the desire to preserve a truly international asset like the Hubble space telescope makes doing this mission the right course of action," he said.

Without new batteries and an instrument upgrade, the 16-year-old deep-space observatory will go into meltdown within two to three years, reports The Australian.

A former Top Gun stunt pilot is to lead the mission, which should launch in 2008 using the shuttle Discovery, 515 km above Earth to rescue the Hubble space telescope.

Internet Summit without the Internet

The organizers of a four-day United Nations summit on the Internet, held at a luxury resort hotel on the Athenian Riveria not far from the city center, couldn't even provide a working Internet connection, notes Declan McCullagh at CNet.

The wireless connection in the main conference hall on Monday appeared briefly before dying and leaving attendees of the Internet summit without Internet. Trying to connect to the base station yielded only a "could not connect to the network" error.

Reports CNet:

It was no better on Tuesday — by that time, the conference organizers apparently gave up and took the connection offline completely.

We're not sure what's more embarrassing: an Internet summit without Internet or an Internet company (temporarily) without Internet.

No "P" for the Bee-er

Amarillo, Texas, officials, welcomed home eighth-place national spelling bee finisher Caitlin Campbell in June with a billboard, says GovPro.

The billboard misspelled her name as "Cambell."

Opposites Attract…BIG Time

After 10 years of work, Los Alamos National Laboratory officials announced Tuesday that "the world's most powerful pulsed, non-destructive magnet is ready for use at 85 tesla."

The magnet is the most powerful of its kind in the world, having already achieved 87.8 tesla and expected to reach 100 tesla in time.

According to the laboratory:

A generator which came from an abandoned nuclear power project in Tennessee supplies 1.4 billion watts of power and is itself the largest magnetic power source, with enough power to supply all of New Mexico for a couple of minutes.

Lab officials expect researchers from around the world to use its new facility for high magnetic field science. Researchers can combine very low temperatures with a powerful magnetic field to examine materials at a nanometer scale, a billionth of a meter. Expected applications include studying large organic molecules such as drugs.

Some of the Scariest Tech of 2006

Five of Fortune magazine's 12 picks:

Sony lithium-ion batteries can overheat and burst into flames.jpg

Sony lithium-ion batteries

PC makers have recalled 9.6 million Sony-made notebook and laptop batteries so far this year for a rare but spectacular tendency to overheat and burst into flames. In money terms, the recalls cost Sony about US$433 million. Unbox

Quoting's review of's new movie download service: "It's slower than a trip to Blockbuster, more expensive than buying the physical DVD, absurdly restrictive on how the consumer uses the movie he or she pays for, delivers lower resolution than a DVD, and requires running a cable from the PC to the TV if you want to watch the movie on something larger than a PC monitor."

Hewlett Packard ethics

The world's leading PC company, maker of machines that store all of your most important files and communications, a legend in Silicon Valley for making good products and doing good, philanthropic work. Behind closed doors, however, the top executives will stop at nothing to keep their secrets.

Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD

Once again, the standards nightmare returns to haunt consumers. You can spend $50 today for a progressive-scan standard DVD player, and find thousands of DVD discs at retail stores and online that will play on it. Or you can spend $500 to $2,000 for a high-definition DVD player — Blu-ray or HD-DVD, one of which may be obsolete in a year or two — and take your pick of a few dozen movies available for that particular hi-def format.

Paperless voting machines

After the fiasco of 2000, governments recognized the need for a more reliable system of collecting and counting votes. Thus, we now have the direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machine. Without a paper trail or a reliable way to audit the results, and compounded by the refusal by manufacturers to allow independent software security experts to assess the reliability of the machines, doubts about the fairness of local and national elections will persist.

The scariest thing? If people keep losing faith in the electoral system, causing them not to go to the polls at all.

Increasing the Slinging

The latest research shows that negative ads account for 80 percent of the political commercials being in this campaign season, compared with two years ago, when negative ads accounted for 60 percent of political commercials, reports Ad Age.

A report issued late last week by the Annenberg Political Fact Check, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, said the increase in negative advertising is a result of a spike in advertising by party committees: since Labor Day, 91 percent of the ads from the National Republican Congressional Committee for House candidates have been negative, while 81 percent of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ads have been negative.

These Robots are Killer.

Well, we started this week's Light Friday with heavy-duty, high-tech weaponry, so let's end it that way.

Samsung has partnered with Korea University to develop a machine-gun equipped sentry robot, according to TechEBlog. The robot consists of "two cameras: one for day-time and one for infrared night vision, zooming capabilities, a speaker for notifying the intruder, sophisticated pattern recognition to detect the difference between humans/trees, and a 5.5mm machine-gun."


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