The Final Frontier

http://cargocollective.com/nickacosta/Star-Trek-in-Cinerama

The original Star Trek was presented in the rather boxy aspect ratio of 1960s television. Now San Francisco illustrator Nick Acosta has stitched together screenshots to see how it would have appeared in a widescreen format:

I created this project of what the show would have looked like in Cinerama widescreen. As a kid the show always felt bigger and more epic than it appears to me as an adult. I was able to create these shots by waiting for the camera to pan and then I stitched the separate shots together. The result is pretty epic. It reminds me of the classic science fiction movies of the 50’s and 60’s. Suddenly the show has a ‘Forbidden Planet’ vibe. Other shots remind me of how director Robert Wise would use a camera technique to keep the foreground and background elements in focus.

More at his website. (Via Cliff Pickover.)

Brave New World

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Outside_StGeorges_Hospital.jpg

Only a few years back those who carried Umbrellas were held to be legitimate butts. They were old fogies, careful of their health, and so on; but now-a-days we are wiser. Everybody has his Umbrella. It is both cheaper and better made than of old; who, then, so poor he cannot afford one? To see a man going out in the rain umbrella-less excites as much mirth as ever did the sight of those who first — wiser than their generation — availed themselves of this now universal shelter.

— William Sangster, Umbrellas and Their History, 1855

In 1899 Notes & Queries reprinted an account, now thought to be apocryphal, of “the first silk hat in London”:

It was in evidence that Mr. Hetherington, who is well connected, appeared upon the public highway wearing upon his head what he called a silk hat (which was offered in evidence), a tall structure, having a shiny lustre, and calculated to frighten timid people. As a matter of fact, the officers of the Crown stated that several women fainted at the unusual sight, while children screamed, dogs yelped, and a young son of Cordwainer Thomas, who was returning from a chandler’s shop, was thrown down by the crowd which had collected and had his right arm broken.

Supposedly Hetherington argued that he’d broken no law, and the Times backed him up: “In these days of enlightenment it must be considered an advance in dress reform, and one which is bound, sooner or later, to stamp its character upon the entire community.”

The Tunnel of Eupalinos

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eupalinian_aqueduct.JPG

When the Greek engineer Eupalinos contrived a tunnel in the 6th century B.C. to carry water through Mount Kastro to Samos, he started digging simultaneously from the north and south, hoping that the two tunnels would meet in the heart of the mountain. He arranged this through some timely doglegs: When the two teams could hear one another (meaning they were about 12 meters apart), each deviated from its course in both the horizontal (left) and vertical (right) planes:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eupalinos_horizontal.svg
Images: Wikimedia Commons

This ensured that they wouldn’t tunnel on hopelessly past one another on parallel courses.

This worked amazingly well: In fact the vertical alignment, established using levels at the start, had been maintained so faithfully that the two tunnels differed by only a few millimeters, though they’d traversed a combined distance of more than a thousand meters.

This is only the second known tunnel to be excavated successfully simultaneously from both ends, and the first to accomplish this feat using geometric principles, which Euclid would codify only centuries later.

The Safety Scoop

Two Sheffield engineers introduced this brainstorm in 1939 — when a motorist realizes he’s about to hit a pedestrian he can pull an emergency lever and the bumper deploys a life-saving “scoop.”

A similar device had appeared in Berlin in 1927 (below). I don’t know whether either was put to practical use.

A New Lease

Brazilian pianist João Carlos Martins won worldwide acclaim but had to retire in March 2019 after 24 surgeries could not relieve the pain caused by a degenerative disease and a series of accidents.

But designer Ubiratã Bizarro Costa proposed making some neoprene-covered bionic gloves that lift Martins’ fingers after they depress the keys, and by December they had perfected them.

“I might not recover the speed of the past,” Martins told the Associated Press. “I don’t know what result I will get. I’m starting over as though I were an 8-year-old learning.”

But his goal now is to play an entire Bach concert perfectly. “It could take one, two years. I will keep pushing until that happens. I won’t give up.”

The AVE Mizar

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AVE-Mizar-1973-N68X-XL.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1971, two aeronautical engineering students set out to make an aircraft by mating the wings, engine, and airframe of a Cessna Skymaster to a modified Ford Pinto. In principle you could drive to the airport, attach the wings in two minutes, and get quickly into the air under the combined power of two engines. At your destination you’d land, stop quickly using the car’s four-wheel brakes, detach the wings, and drive off.

By 1973, two prototypes had been built and the FAA was considering certification, but on two testing flights a wing strut detached from the car. One pilot had to land in a bean field, and another died when the wing folded. The project was dropped.

Outreach

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bugged-great-seal-closed.jpg
Images: Wikimedia Commons

In August 1945, a few weeks before the end of World War II, a Soviet delegation presented a replica of the Great Seal of the United States as a gift to American ambassador W. Averell Harriman, who hung it in the study of his Moscow residence.

In 1951, a radio operator at the British embassy overheard American voices on an open radio traffic channel used by the Russian air force. An investigation showed that they’d been beaming radio waves at the ambassador’s office: The gift had contained a passive listening device that could be activated by a radio signal. The Soviets had been listening in on the ambassador’s residence for six years.

When a U-2 spy plane was shot down over Soviet territory in 1960, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. displayed the device to show that both sides had been guilty of spying.

The Incentive Trap

https://www.pxfuel.com/en/free-photo-qagmf

Suppose you build a ship that can take you to Barnard’s Star. Should you depart today? Perhaps not: Our civilization might create a faster ship tomorrow that will overtake you on the journey. But clearly if you wait too long then you’ll simply lose out to an earlier ship. There must be some optimal waiting time that will deliver you to the star before any other pilot.

What is that time? “It has been shown that taking reasonable estimates for growth, an interstellar journey of 6 light years can best be made in about 635 years from now if growth continues at about 1.4% per annum,” writes researcher Andrew Kennedy. “At this point, the journey could be made in 145 years.”

(Andrew Kennedy, “Interstellar Travel: The Wait Calculation and the Incentive Trap of Progress,” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 59:7 [2006], 239-246.)

No Waiting

https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4221398
Image: Helmut Zozmann

Designed in 1804, the Grand Shaft, at the Western Heights of Dover, is a triple helix, the only such staircase in Britain. As with Vatican City’s Bramante Staircase, this design accommodates a large number of passengers while minimizing interference among them — using it, a large number of troops might quickly descend the 140 feet from the heights to the town below, while others might even ascend at the same time, using a different spiral.

In 1812 a Mr. Leith of Walmer rode his horse up the stair for a bet, and local legend has it that during Victorian times the separate spirals were assigned to “officers and their ladies,” “sergeants and their wives,” and “soldiers and their women.”

(Thanks, Dave.)

Early Warning

In 2010, as the Colombian government was preparing to rescue 16 soldiers held by armed FARC guerrillas, it looked in vain for a way to alert the soldiers without tipping off their captors. Finally Colonel Jose Espejo arranged to have local radio stations broadcast a pop song that contained a message in Morse code, which the soldiers had learned in basic training but that the guerrillas likely wouldn’t recognize.

The lyrics run, “In the middle of the night / Thinking about what I love the most / I feel the need to sing … About how much I miss them.” And hidden at three points in the song (1:30, 2:30, 3:30), in Morse code, is the message “19 people rescued. You are next. Don’t lose hope.”

“The hostages were listening to our own stations, so we made sure the song was played,” Espejo told The Verge. “The code message said, ‘you’re next’ because the hostages thought if they ran away, they would die in the jungle. We let them know that our troops were nearby.”

It worked. “We know of hostages who heard the message,” Espejo said, “and were able to escape and provide information that led to the release of more hostages.”