Monday, July 28, 2014


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Tasty Tech Eye Candy Of The Week (July 27)
By Tracy Staedter,
Discovery News, 27 July 2014.

This week's tech is wearable, floatable, vertical, musical, controllable and more able.

1. Bringing City Lighting To Life

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Buenos Aires is getting a light makeover. Thanks to a new system from Philips, 91,000 street lamps - more than 70 percent of the lights in the city - are being with replaced with LED lighting that can be controlled remotely. The CityTouch system allows managers to monitor each individual point in the network and dim or brighten levels, depending on need. The switch to LEDs is expected to reduce electricity usage by up to 50 percent.

2. Tilt Rotor for the Average Joe

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We're still waiting for our flying car. But while we wait, let's take a look at the Elytron 2S, the first civilian aircraft with vertical take-off and landing and wings that fly like a regular plane. Elytron will be showing off their craft this week at the annual EAA Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

3. Musical Swings

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Simply put, we can't resist art that lights up and plays music, especially if you can sit on it. Canadian design collective Daily Tous Les Jours recently showed off their musical Swings at the Green Box Arts Festival in Green Mountain Falls, Colo. See the video. Although the festival is over, the Swings are on tour, or you can request to have them brought to your home town. Click here.

4. Bunch O Balloons

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There's still plenty of summer left for a good old-fashioned water balloon fight. To get the upper hand, donate to the Bunch O Balloons Kickstarter, which has already far exceeded its goal. With this invention by Josh Malone, you can fill 100 water bombs in less than a minute. Each bunch of 37 balloons is bundled to a device that connects to a hose. Individual balloons are filled via tubes and already tied, so all you have to do is shake them to seal them and then fire away.

5. Flare Pan

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No one likes to watch water boil. Not especially University of Oxford Professor of Engineering Thomas Povey. So he came up with the Flare Pan, a cast aluminium pot with fins. The fins evenly channel heat up from the bottom to the sides in a manner so efficient, the pots heat up three minutes faster than conventional ones. You can order a set from Lakeland.

6. The Blue One

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This week, two different kind of electronic shoes showed up on our radar - one blue, one red. In both cases, it's not the shoe that's so smart; it's the insert.

In the case of the Boogio from Reflex Labs, the shoe comes with a paper-thin sole insert as well as a small Bluetooth device. The insert collects data about movement and force and then sends it to the wireless device that transmits it to a smartphone app. The information can be used to track fitness levels and performance.

Yeah, so what's new? This: REFLEX Labs says that Boogio will be so sensitive it will measure 60,000 layers of pressure and detect even the most minute 3-D movements in real time. That information could be used in gaming, perhaps paired with a virtual reality headset and translated into a virtual reality world.

7. The Red One

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The other smart shoe comes from Ducere Technologies and it looks about as futuristic as that tilt-rotor aircraft or maybe something The Flash would wear. Like Boogio, the Lechal smart shoe comes with two insoles that you can wear inside any pair just laying around the house. It also ties to a smartphone to track fitness information. It's expected to go on sale in September, and will cost about US$100.

8. Hive Inner City Vertical Farm

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With this concept proposed for New York City, vegetables will be moving on up. The Hive Inner City Vertical Farm from OVA Studio is a modular design that uses a framed structure to support shipping containers Jenga-style into a skyscraper garden. The containers can be swapped in and out with each one devoted to a particular crop or other purpose, such as generating energy or recycling waste and water. Although only a concept, OVA Studio is working to raise an initial round of funding to pay for a feasibility study and a prototype.

9. Fuel Currency

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Vending machines are not just for Kit-Kats anymore. These days, machine dispense beverage, pot, chocolate and pizza.

But this latest concept from an ad agency called Huge really takes the cupcake. The machine is meant for anyone wearing (and using) a Nike Fuelband fitness band. Use the Fuelband points earned during workouts to "purchase" Nike apparel. But the points can only be those earned in the last 24 hours. So the more you do in a day, the more you can buy.

10. Floating Village

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Just because the United States has its head in the beach sand as the global tide rises, doesn't mean everyone else does. The winner of the Royal Docks competition in London goes to dRMMM Architects, who have designed England’s first floating village.

The village will be made from prefabricated homes and span 15 acres of water just east of the Emirates Airline. The water view will go to those in need of affordable housing.

Top image: Hive Inner City Vertical Farm. Credit: OVA Studio.

[Source: Discovery News. Edited. Top image added.]


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Flight MH17 - What You're Not Being Told
SCG News, 27 July 2014.

Who was REALLY responsible for the downing of flight MH-17? Let's take a look at the facts.

On July 17th, 2014 two major events took place: Malaysian flight MH17 was downed over eastern Ukraine, presumably by a missile, and Israel began a ground invasion of Gaza. Israel's invasion was granted an almost complete media blackout. The MH17 tragedy, however, got full coverage, and was immediately propagandized. (This in spite of the fact that far more civilians have been killed by Israel's bombardment of Gaza over the past few weeks.)

The U.S. government and the western media pinned the responsibility for the MH17 tragedy on Russia within minutes, long before investigators had time to even arrive at the scene, much less provide any actual conclusions. Then came an all out information war, with lies, omissions and disinformation coming from all sides.

The geopolitical implications of this event should not be underestimated. If this was ever in doubt, the fact that Obama just sent military advisers to Ukraine to help Kiev in its assault against the east should make it very clear. Depending on how much mileage Washington can get out of it, the downing of flight MH17 could end up being extremely pivotal.

Anyone who knows their history, knows that media coverage of events like these often lay the psychological groundwork for war. Consider the sinking of the Lusitania for example on 5/7/1915 (or the murder archduke Ferdinand in 1914). These combined with the Zimmermann Telegram (which was dispatched on 1/16/1917) pushed US public opinion over the tipping point, and on 4/6/1917 the United States declared war on Germany.

It is worth noting that though the U.S. denied it at the time, later diving expeditions revealed that the Lusitania was indeed smuggling war munitions at the time that was sunk (as Germany had asserted from the beginning). Of course, by the time the truth was known it was far too late for the 116,000 Americans who were killed in that conflict.

So who was REALLY responsible for the downing of flight MH17?…

For more information/transcript and videos, read the full article at SCG News.

Top image via

[Source: SCG News. Edited. Top image added.]

See also: The Propaganda and Politics of MH17.


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Sunday, July 27, 2014


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One Stunning Stat Shows Just How Bad Worldwide Poverty Has Become
By Matt Connolly,
Policy Mic, 26 July 2014.

The world's 85 richest people have as much wealth as the world's 3.5 billion poorest.

This statistic was recently released in United Nations report that uses Oxfam figures. It's also a huge wake-up call for anyone who doesn't consider income inequality a major issue in global politics.

The Human Development Report goes deeper, saying that 1.2 billion people live on less than US$1.25 a day, and 1.5 billion people live in "multidimensional poverty," a measure that takes income into account, but also includes factors like health, education and standards of living.

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Country by country: The report includes rankings of countries via the human development index, which considers income, education and life expectancy. The U.S. makes the top 5 list, coming in after Norway, Australia, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

A modified ranking that includes income inequality in the equation, though, drops the U.S. all the way to number 28. This is mostly because the bottom 90% of Americans earn less than half the country's income.

Image Credit: Dorsey Shaw via Pew

Niger, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Chad and Sierra Leone make up the bottom five of both the human development index and the inequality-adjusted index.

What can be done: The United Nations uses the report to call for universal access to social programs, including health and education. The report also highlights unemployment insurance and pensions as ways to keep citizens afloat despite high unemployment rates.

"If you invest in people, if you upgrade your infrastructure and increase the choices available to all, you will have a more stable society," the lead author, Khalid Malik, told CBC News.

Employment security is also a big theme in the report, which notes that 1.5 billion workers - nearly half the world's total - take part in "informal or precarious employment." That's a contributing factor to the 842 million people worldwide who suffer from chronic hunger.

"People with limited core capabilities, such as in education and health, are less able to easily live lives they value," the report says. "And their choices may be restricted or held back by social barriers and other exclusionary practices. Together, limited capabilities and restricted choices prevent them from coping with threats."

[Source: Policy Mic. Edited.]


Watch water doing crazy stuff on hydrophobic surfaces
Watch water doing crazy stuff on hydrophobic surfaces
By James Baker,
Sploid, 25 July 2014.

There are a lot of great applications for materials being developed that display extreme water repelling properties, inspired by nature and particularly desert life. This video doesn't explain any of them and that's fine - I just like to watch all those crazy water droplets doing crazy stuff.

[Source: Sploid.]


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7 Big Ways Cities Have Transformed Themselves for Bikes
By Alissa Walker,
Gizmodo, 22 July 2014.

The number of bikes in our cities is increasing, and with that increase we're also seeing some major changes in the way cities are designed. Engineers are giving bikes their own bridges, tunnels, overpasses, even escalators!, making biking feel like it's an essential, permanent part of the city.

Last week, Copenhagen announced an elevated cycleway for the Øresund Bridge, an existing bridge which connects the city to Malmö, Sweden. It's the second longest bridge in Europe, and at about eight miles long, will likely be the longest dedicated bike bridge in the world. That's a serious commitment to the cyclists in the region, but also to the health and well-being for all residents. Customized bike infrastructure is more comfortable, convenient, and safe for those who choose to travel on two wheels, but it's also safer for pedestrians as well. As the biking movement gains momentum, we'll be seeing cities devoting more space and energy towards these awesome bike-only improvements that make streets safer for everyone.

1. Cykelslangen bridge - Copenhagen, Denmark

This elevated bike bridge over the city's harbour opened earlier this month as a two-lane, bikes-only connector for Copenhagen's extensive bike network. Cykelslangen, or "cycle snake" curves up and over the water with wide lanes, a gradual climb, and a lovely orange pavement that provides a nice contrast to moving cyclists.

2. Lugaritz-Morlans commuter tunnel - San Sebastian, Spain

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Photo by Juande Jiménez

In 2009 the city of San Sebastian converted an old railway tunnel into the world's longest bike commuter tunnel. A little over a half-mile long, the tunnel connects two neighbourhoods that were previously inaccessible to bikers on either side. Now cyclists can ride the route all the way to the neighbouring city of Bilbao.

3. Trampe CycloCable bike lift - Trondheim, Norway

7 Big Ways Cities Have Transformed Themselves for Bikes

For those calf-killing streets what could be better than a bike lift that gives cyclists a little boost to the top? This Norwegian lift dates to 1993 but was replaced last year with an updated design which is now being marketed to other cities. Incidentally, this is the bike infrastructure proposed for DC that spawned an angry op-ed - and subsequent protests - last week.

4. Bike escalators - Tokyo, Japan

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Photo via Shift

A similar concept to the bike lift are these bike escalators, found in Tokyo's parking garages and metro stations. A moving track for tires gives a little extra push to riders as they walk their bikes up the stairs. It's a nice gesture for commuters coming home from work, as the last thing they want to do at the end of the day is carry a bike up three flights of stairs - especially in heels.

5. Hovenring - Eindhoven, The Netherlands

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Not too many places have managed to integrate freeways and cyclists with success, but leave it to The Netherlands to find a solution. The Hovenring, which was finished in 2013, is a floating steel suspension deck that allows bikes to travel up and over the busy highway. The resulting structure is not only useful, but absolutely beautiful, too.

6. ECO Bicycle Parking - Tokyo, Japan

Like something out of a sci-fi movie, this bike garage by Giken mechanically parks hundreds of bikes underground, saving time for commuters and space for cities. Users load their bikes into a dock and swipe their membership cards, sending their bikes below ground for storage. Upon return, users swipe their cards again, and their bike surfaces in about eight seconds. Magic.

7. Cycle Superhighways - London, United Kingdom

There are plenty of bike highways across Europe, notably a large system in Copenhagen that allows bikers to move easily across the city. The same concept is currently being built out in London as part of the bike share program, connecting the suburbs with dedicated, numbered routes to the inner city.

Top image: Cykelslangen bridge via Classic Copenhagen, who also shot the video.

[Source: Gizmodo. Edited.]


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10 Technologies That Invade Your Privacy in Unique Ways
By Michael Allison,
Toptenz, 26 July 2014.

Modern technology has become more personal and a bit intrusive in our lives. Spending a few hours away from a smart device - not to mention TopTenz - is pretty hard for people. For better or worse, scientists are looking at your addiction and saying, “Hmm, we can top that.”

10. Intelligent Glasses Translate Foreign Text

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NTT Docomo (the AT&T of Japan) unveiled a pair of glasses which allow the wearer to read and translate foreign text in under five seconds. The device is reminiscent of a classic sci-fi universal translator, but for the eyes. According to the carrier, the glasses employ character recognition technology and are primarily aimed at users who travel abroad. Upon looking at a foreign language text, the glasses display a translation overlay to help translate the text to the language of your choice. In addition, you can also use these glasses to turn any flat surface  into a touchscreen, manipulating a virtual image visible only to yourself while looking like a bit of a knob in public. On the slightly creepier side the glasses can also call up the contact details of anyone who is in view, making stalking much more convenient for those of us who engage in that particular hobby.

9. Contact Lenses Detect Blood Sugar

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As Google Glass gains attention by being disliked by federal agents and traffic cops, Google continues to attempt to dominate the literal view, albeit in a more altruistic manner, with new contact lenses. These lenses are targeted towards diabetics who have to go through the inconvenience of sticking needles in their body and measuring their blood sugar levels for actions as simple and trivial to non-diabetics as eating a doughnut. Google’s contacts help remove some of that inconvenience by detecting your blood sugar through your tears and changing colour according to the amount detected. The lenses themselves are made up of two soft touch contacts with a chip embedded inside. In short, checking you blood sugar would be as easy as whipping out a compact mirror and checking your eye colour. Hopefully no ads are served during this process.

8. Wristband Pulses to Warm Or Cool Wearer

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Remember that time you wished you had a wrist mounted device that could heat or cool you and…no? Well that’s probably why you’re not an MIT engineer then. Dubbed the Wristify, a trio of MIT students created a device that monitors both external air temperature and body temperature and adjusts the latter accordingly. According to one of its creators, it’s constantly tricking the body into think it’s actually really cold, forcing the body to acclimate and change its temperature.

7. Bra That Sends Tweets

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Simplifying the process of tweeting for the ladies, a special edition bra exists that tweets whenever the bra is taken off. Nestle’s Fitness division teamed up with Twitter to create a single-edition bra to create awareness for breast cancer during breast cancer month in 2013. Worn by the Greek Oprah (Maria Bacodimou), the bra transmits a message through a remote sever to her mobile device, which in turn generates a tweet on the social network reminding women to self-examine themselves for breast cancer. As self-examination is cheaper than a mammogram and more effective than blissful ignorance, this is actually a pretty altruistic publicity stunt. Although we wish there was also a limited briefs and boxers edition. The more the merrier, right?

6. Skin Tattoo Takes Body Temperature

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Tattoos have a social stigma attached to them, stemming from the image they have as symbols of rebellion and misspent youth. But this tattoo is none of that. A team of researchers from China, the USA and Singapore have developed an extremely thin electronic patch that sticks to the skin just like a temporary tattoo. It can accurately measure the temperature of the person currently wearing it, as well as blood vessel dilation and constriction. It can also measure the health level of the heart, brain and other organs, and can also tell if that Pepsi you weren’t supposed to have finally tipped you into diabetes land. The downside is that the tattoo needs an external power source like a battery pack, although researchers are currently working on a way for it to function on bio energy.

5. Human to Human Mind Meld

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No you didn’t misread the entry title. There actually has been a successful example of one man controlling the brain of another man through his thoughts alone. Well, that and the power of electrodes.

In an experiment carried out in the University of Washington, one professor was able to manipulate the actions of a colleague on the other end of campus. Professor Rajesh Rao and his colleague Andrea Stocco both donned electroencephalography (EEG) caps and sat at opposite sides of the campus. Rao was playing a video game with his imagination, and imagined moving his right hand to fire a cannon. The EEG cap picked up the signal and sent it to Stocco, whose right hand reflexively moved to press the space bar of the keyboard in front of him. While not exactly puppetry scale control at the moment, the research could be advanced and used in the future to program much more complex devices.

4. False Memories Implanted in Mice

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Memories are sometimes as reliable as a sieve used to hold water. Using optical fibres, a team of researchers was able to manipulate mice into believing a benign area was dangerous by giving them false bad memories of it. They simply placed the mice in the harmless space, then used a flash of light to trigger the memory forming process. They then placed the mice in another area and triggered the flash again, only this time the mice were given a mild electric shock. When the animals were placed back in the first area they began to show signs of fear, simply because their brain now associated the first area with the pain.

Now, why is this significant? Both human and mice brains form memories by creating collections of cells which record those moments and are linked by various neurons. When scientists figure out how to manipulate these neurons on humans, we could have operations to get traumatic memories removed and pleasant ones implanted, and could also begin to fix illnesses like schizophrenia and amnesia. On the other hand, any new technological advance that involves playing with the brain brings out the tin foil hats, and this should be no exception.

3. Implants to Deliver Medication

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We all know that there are people with diseases that need to take daily medication. We also all know that daily medicines are a pain in the ass, and so to make this easier technology has stepped in. A Joint Harvard University and University of Toronto team were able to build several implants made of a hydrogel polymer that is compatible with living tissue. These hydrogel implants were then themselves implanted with photosensitive cells that react to light.

The implants, upon exposure to blue light, were able to simulate insulin protection through a synthetic protein. The test was carried out in mice, so it still needs modification for it to be usable in humans.

2. Emotion Triggered Ads

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Have you ever felt that ads were getting a bit too intrusive? Like that ad for Kleenex that popped up when you started getting teary-eyed, or the Shreddies commercial that started playing when you told your friend that you needed new cereal? Well, it may not be all in your head after all. New technology works in sync with computer web-cams to scan the face of the person viewing the screen at the moment. Using a combination of facial recognition software and an in-depth knowledge of people’s reactions, the software engine can use your web-cam to determine your mood and creepily, accurately guess at the emotional reactions you’re having, then serve up ads accordingly.

Big businesses like international retail chains buy this software and use it to manipulate your buying decisions. As one of the companies involved in development, Affectiva, pointed out, people are controlled by their emotions and gaining access to them is key to selling products. So, basically, we may all have to start wearing masks when reading the news.

1. Bra Sensors That Monitor Your Munchies

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Dealing with growing obesity is a lucrative market and can lead to some very off-beat technologies. Microsoft Research has recently created a special bra that, when combined with a smartphone app, can prevent you from overeating. It works by using a series of sensors embedded in the padding to measure the heart activity of the woman who is wearing it. As people are more likely to eat when stressed, the sensor would use heart rate, respiration rate, temperature and rate of movement to measure the stress level of the wearer. By recording several measurements a day, the bra can accurately tell the norm from the outlier and in turn help the wearer regulate stress eating. Unfortunately, as boxers are not typically worn close to the heart, stress eating men are still on their own for now.

Top image: Human Barcode, via Socio-Economics History Blog.

[Source: Toptenz. Edited. Top image added.]

Saturday, July 26, 2014


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10 Real Supervillain Plots From Governments Around The World
By Alex Hanton,
Listverse, 26 July 2014.

Deranged supervillainy is always fun - in fiction, that is. It’s a bit more worrying to discover that real governments can fall victim to the kind of deranged megalomania that would have Goldfinger pocket-dialling the mental health services. Yet, not only did the following schemes actually happen, but apparently nobody in power saw anything wrong with them.

10. New Zealand Developed An Unstoppable Tsunami Bomb

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During the Second World War, the Allied governments knew that it would take a weapon of unstoppable power to avoid a land invasion of the Japanese islands. But while the US worked on the mysterious Manhattan Project, the government of tiny New Zealand decided to throw their resources behind a somehow even more terrifying weapon. They were going to find a way to unleash the fury of nature itself on the enemy - via an apocalyptic tsunami machine. Even more terrifyingly, they came pretty close to succeeding.

The “Tsunami Bomb” they came up with was actually a series of bombs planted several miles offshore. When detonated simultaneously, the bombs would supposedly produce a hugely destructive tidal wave. The scheme received financial backing from the US, who regarded it as their backup plan in case the A-bomb didn’t work out.

The New Zealanders successfully tested much smaller versions off New Caledonia and around Auckland. In 1999, scientists at the University of Waikato suggested that, not only was the plan feasible, but a large-scale version of the bomb would have been capable of producing a 30-meter-high (100 ft) wave.

Not that there weren’t drawbacks. Planting a line of explosives along a coastline isn’t exactly easy when that coastline is full of enemy troops with heavy weaponry. The US lost interest after the A-bomb was successfully tested at Los Alamos and pulled funding. Astonishingly, New Zealand didn’t give up on the plan even after the end of the war - they continued producing reports on it well into the 1950s.

9. The Soviets Built An Orbiting Laser Battle Station

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In 1983, when Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative to protect America from an ICBM attack, the Soviets were alarmed - but not for the reason you’d think. The Soviet military had already thought the new American Space Shuttle was secretly intended to launch “large space-based weapons platforms,” or even that it would dive into the atmosphere and drop a bomb on Moscow. The Strategic Defense Initiative appeared to them to be a cover story for more space-to-ground weapons. And if the Americans were taking warfare to space, the USSR had to respond.

And respond they did, with every Bond villain’s fever dream - an orbiting, laser-equipped battle station known as Polyus-Skif. The powerful carbon-dioxide laser it carried would be capable of blasting enemy satellites out of orbit and, if necessary, reducing the manned Space Shuttle to a scattering of floating debris. It was even theoretically capable of intercepting enemy ICBMs, although technical limitations would soon render this possibility unlikely.

In fact, technical problems dogged the project from the start. A laser powerful enough to destroy a satellite was too heavy for most rockets - the Soviets had to build a brand-new launch pad to accommodate the weight of the rocket they used. They also had to design a complex control system capable of compensating for the laser’s exhaust gases. Yet all the difficulties were overcome and a test version was launched on May 15, 1987.

A “tiny software error” meant it ended up scattered in burning chunks across the Pacific Ocean. Gorbachev, desperate to cut down on military spending, vetoed building another one, killing the dream of a functional Death Star for the time being.

8. The US Army Pretended To Be Ghosts

During the Vietnam War, the US military found itself fighting a guerrilla war against an enemy who blended in with, and recruited from, the local peasantry. The US brass knew there was only one possible solution: ghosts.

Specifically, they decided to exploit an old Vietnamese folk tradition that the spirits of those who died far from home would be doomed to wander the Earth. Under the label “Operation Wandering Soul,” psyops teams created a recording of the ghost of a Viet Cong soldier mourning his poor choices. Sample dialogue included, “My friends, I come back to let you know that I am dead...I am dead. I am in Hell...just Hell.”

The genuinely unsettling tape was intended to be played at night to terrify the enemy into deserting. You can find a full translation here, but just listen to the recording above from the 2:00 mark. Imagine being a terrified 18-year-old Viet Cong peasant conscript, away from home for the first time, hearing it echoing through the dark jungle at night.

In practice, it’s not clear whether the tape had much direct effect on soldiers. Presumably, the North Vietnamese were familiar with the concept of a recording. The program might have been most useful in getting the enemy to give away their position by opening fire on loudspeakers.

Operation Wandering Soul wasn’t the first time the US had tried such a plan. While fighting communist guerrillas in the Philippines, CIA agent Edward Lansdale claimed to have recorded an enemy spy’s confession. After the man was executed, Lansdale hid broadcasting equipment in the cemetery and played the confession in the middle of the night. It sounded like the dead spy was warning others not to repeat his mistakes. The entire village fled their mountain town in fear, leaving the Huk guerrillas stationed there without food. The hungry Huks had to descend the mountain, where the American army quickly defeated them.

7. America Planned To Fake The Apocalypse

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Lansdale was a favourite of President Kennedy, who called him “America’s James Bond” and appointed him to lead the campaign to covertly overthrow Fidel Castro. Lansdale, true to form, immediately got weird with it. His proposed schemes included flooding the island with cheap marijuana and counterfeit currency, airdropping forged photos of an obese Castro surrounded by food, and announcing a “misfire” of a nuclear missile toward Cuba.

He was also the maniac behind Operation Northwoods, probably the most infamous plan in US military history, which proposed staging false flag attacks on American soil to whip up public sentiment against Cuba. There was even a plan to fake evidence that Cuba was to blame if John Glenn’s upcoming spaceflight failed fatally. Northwoods progressed alarmingly far before the civilian leadership rejected it.

However, Lansdale’s preferred plan was a possibly even crazier plot dubbed “Elimination by Illumination.” Lansdale wanted his agents in Havana to start a propaganda campaign to convince the locals that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ was imminent. They would fake portents and omens, stir up religious mania, and do whatever else necessary to convince the average Cuban that the End Times were at hand. The campaign would emphasize that Christ was furious at the atheist communists seeking to control the world - and would even hint that Castro might be the Antichrist.

Then, when the rumours reached a fever pitch, a secret American submarine would silently surface off the coast of Havana and fire incendiary shells to light up the night sky. Convinced that the world was ending, the panicked residents would riot and overthrow Castro before an angry Jesus turned up.

If you’re thinking that sounds like a ridiculous plan, you’re right, which is probably why it was never actually put into action. Sorry, Ed.

6. The Japanese Tried To Build A Death Ray

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Death rays have been a staple of science fiction for decades - but could they exist in the real world? Nikola Tesla certainly thought so, boasting that he could produce one capable of instantly annihilating an army of one million. Tesla never bothered to give any further details, but his reputation was enough to intrigue the Japanese military, who spent much of World War II trying to produce a ku-go (“death ray”) of their own.

By 1943, Japanese researchers at Shimada City, including future Nobel Prize laureate Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, had succeeded in developing a high-powered magnetron capable of generating an intense beam of radiation. The Japanese destroyed their research at the end of the war, but pieced-together accounts indicate that they were trying to turn this into a weapon.

They had some limited success. The weapon could kill a rabbit at a distance of 1,000 meters (3,250 ft) - but only if the rabbit stood perfectly still for at least five minutes. Since indecisive rabbits have traditionally been banned from joining most militaries, the project was scrapped.

5. The KGB Wrote Crazy Letters To Newspapers

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We’ve already mentioned how the KGB staged a massive disinformation campaign aimed at convincing people that the US was responsible for creating AIDS in a lab. But that was only the tip of the iceberg. All those crazy conspiracy theories that paranoid people are convinced the CIA is covering up? Odds are there was at least some Soviet involvement in publicizing them.

Highlights included the claim that JFK and Martin Luther King were killed by government operatives and the rumour that J. Edgar Hoover was a transvestite. Their MLK campaign was particularly disingenuous, since the KGB hated King while he was alive, spending most of his lifetime spreading the rumour that he was himself a government agent.

Since all those are still popular theories today, you would be forgiven for thinking the KGB was a well-oiled rumour machine. But the truth is that, in the US at least, the theories probably largely spread by themselves - the KGB’s efforts at understanding the American public were hilariously inept. Lacking any wide network of agents in the US itself, they were largely reduced to writing cranky letters to the news.

For example, in the ’70s, the agency assigned some of its best forgers to fake letters from the leadership of the Ku Klux Klan to major American newspapers. The letters alleged that J. Edgar Hoover had turned the FBI into a “den of faggots,” and that he was conspiring to infiltrate his homosexual buddies into the CIA as well. The forgeries were impeccable - a huge amount of work went into them - and nobody realized they weren’t really from the KKK until the KGB’s archives were opened in the ’90s. But they were also never published and had no effect at all because what kind of newspaper editor would take that letter from the Klan seriously enough to publish?

4. Machiavelli Tried To Steal A River

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In 1499, Niccolo Machiavelli had just been appointed to high office in the Italian city-state of Florence. The city was locked in a desperate struggle with its arch-rival Pisa, and Machiavelli was tasked with finding a way to break the deadlock. Pisa sat at the mouth of the Arno River, which also flowed through Florence. All the city had to do, Machiavelli reasoned, was steal the entire river, and Pisa would just wither away naturally.

Stealing a river isn’t exactly an easy undertaking, so Machiavelli turned to the one man who could pull it off - Leonardo da Vinci. The famous artist and inventor drew up plans for rerouting the course of the waterway that would move the Arno 32 kilometres (20 mi) from its usual course, devastating Pisa and giving Florence an unimpeded outlet to the sea. Sadly, like most of Leonardo’s designs, there were some fairly significant practical problems, and the plan had to be abandoned after the works collapsed.

The war with Pisa dragged on for another five years, and Machiavelli soon found that his niche lay more with political philosophy and less with practical plans.

3. America And Britain Collaborated On A Secret Island Lair

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Remember how in Skyfall, Javier Bardem’s villainous Silva has a creepy base on a deserted island that he forced all the inhabitants to abandon? America has one of those.

In 1965, the US decided that the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, then a British colony, would be the perfect place for a top-secret military base. The only problem was that it had thousands of residents. So the British government casually passed a law making it illegal for civilians to live there. They then rounded up the native islanders at gunpoint, forcing them to move hundreds of miles to Mauritius. As a bonus, they also rounded up and gassed the islanders’ beloved pet dogs.

Half a century later, the islanders are still trying to get their home back. In 2012, the island was declared part of a wildlife refuge, which the islanders claimed was just a legal excuse to prevent them from going home. Britain insisted it was nothing of the sort - until Wikileaks cables revealed that it very much was.

2. Britain Tested Chemical Weapons (On Its Own People)

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During the Cold War, the British government was concerned that Soviet germ warfare could devastate the country. Luckily, they found the perfect location to test the effects of dangerous germs on an island just like Britain: Britain.

Between 1945 and 1970, the UK military carried out a series of biological and chemical weapons tests on its own people. Many of these were largely benign, involving the release of harmless strains of bacteria to study how they spread throughout the country. But some of the tests involved genuinely dangerous substances.

For example, between 1955 and 1963, RAF planes dropped huge amounts of zinc cadmium sulphide across the country. The fluorescent substance was easy to track and provided a perfect example of how more dangerous chemical weapons might spread. The substance was not tested for toxicity before it was released.

On another occasion, E. coli bacteria were released from a ship anchored off the coast, potentially exposing up to one million people. Other tests have been accused of causing miscarriages in Dorset. The British government continues to insist that all the tests were safe, but either way, exposing your citizens to mysterious substances without telling them remains pretty creepy.

Not that the British were alone in this. In the 1950s, the US sprayed zinc cadmium sulphide across low-income African-American areas in St. Louis. Local officials were told that the government was testing a smokescreen that could protect the city from aerial observation. The real reason was that the military thought St. Louis resembled Russian cities that they might need to attack. Schools housed the motorized sprayers that distributed the chemical. It has been suggested, although not proven, that radioactive particles in the substance might be responsible for high cancer rates in the city.

1. The Air Force Wanted To Nuke The Moon

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When the US Air Force realized that the Soviet Union was pulling ahead in the nascent Space Race, they decided to respond in the craziest way possible - by nuking the moon itself.

According to Leonard Reiffel, the physicist who headed up the project, the Air Force leadership approached him about the matter in 1958. They wanted to know if it was possible to launch a ballistic missile at the lunar surface with a payload large enough to create a mushroom cloud visible from Earth. Reiffel’s research, blandly codenamed Project A119 or “A Study of Lunar Research Flights,” concluded that it would be possible, although the detonation would be “microscopic” to the naked eye. In fact, Reiffel calculated, an ICBM launched from an undisclosed location on Earth could hit a target on the moon with a 3.2-kilometre (2 mi) margin of error.

Although the main aim of Project A119 was to intimidate the Soviets (and presumably everyone else), the Air Force actually had a secret second goal. A nuclear detonation on the moon could help test the effects of space travel on atomic weapons. This was vital for a proposed Air Force plan to establish ICBM launch sites on the moon. If the Soviet Union somehow gained the upper hand in a nuclear war with the US, then the remaining US military could launch their secret moon missiles and rain space-based destruction down on the Russians.

Happily for Neil Armstrong’s future health, Project A119 was abandoned due to concerns over the effects of a nuke on “the natural radio activities of the moon.”

Top image: Project Seal (tsunami bomb). Source: The Final Report of Project Seal, via Geographical Imaginations.

[Source: Listverse. Edited. Top image added.]