Monday, 31 December 2012


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The 10 Tech Terms to Know in 2013
By Rachel Z. Arndt,
Popular Mechanics, 31 December 2012.

In 2013 we will sequence DNA faster and cheaper than ever, design radios that intelligently find open spectrum amid the crowded airways, and charge EVs without plugging them in. Consider this your cheat sheet for the year in tech.

1. Nanopore Sequencing

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Back in 2008 it took four months and nearly US$1.5 million to sequence the complete genome of DNA co-discoverer James Watson. Now, with the commercialization of nanopore sequencing on the horizon, it should take only 15 minutes. Decoding a genome requires linking together several of Oxford Nanopore Technologies' US$30,000 sequencers. Each sequencer pulls a strand of DNA through a 1-nanometre - wide hole - about 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair - and monitors the distinctive changes in an electric current that reveal which of the four DNA bases is passing through the opening. Oxford Nanopore Technologies is also releasing a single-use sequencer that plugs into a computer like a USB key and costs less than US$900.

2. Cognitive Radio

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The airways are getting crowded, thanks to smartphone and tablet data transmission that doubles every year. One solution: cognitive radio devices, whose signals automatically jump back and forth between frequencies in a fraction of a second to find open spectrum. A prototype developed at Rutgers University can switch to a new frequency in less than 50 microseconds while sending eight times the data of a typical home wireless system, taking advantage of openings on the AM and FM radio, TV, and cellular frequency bands. And Florida-based xG Technology has already set up a demo network in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that uses cognitive radio for mobile broadband and VoIP links. Crucially, the FCC announced in September a pending rule change that will pave the way for spectrum-sharing technologies such as cognitive radio to use previously restricted frequencies.

3. Co-Robotics

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Old-school industrial robots work best alone - try to help an assembly-line welding bot and you'll probably get welded. But the next generation of robots will work closely with humans, augmenting our capabilities and compensating for our weaknesses. That's why the National Robotics Initiative is pouring up to US$50 million a year into co-robotics. The initiative is backed by agencies ranging from NASA (robots to help astronauts and to explore terrain where humans can't go) and the National Institutes of Health (robot surgery for everyone and home care for the elderly) to the Department of Agriculture (robots that can deworm animals and sense fruit ripeness). A key first step to robot-human interaction: full-size humanoids such as UPenn and Virginia Tech's SAFFiR (above), which will help fight fires.

4. Targeted Tweets

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Most everything you post online can be used by advertisers to judge what kind of consumer you might be. On Twitter, brands want their promoted tweets to show up only for specific target audiences. So they use what people post to sort users by demographics such as location, platform, and time - and likely, in the future, by tweets' subject matter. That way, companies can serve up ads only to those they think will listen.

5. Plug-and-Play Satellites

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CubeSats are tiny satellites 4 inches long and less than 3 pounds each. They're easy enough to build that amateurs and high school students have done it - and they've helped spark a total rethinking of what it takes to send a satellite into space. Researchers at the Air Force Research Laboratory and elsewhere have been working on a new plug-and-play approach that can be applied to satellites up to 1000 pounds. By standardizing the usual components and developing a common language for the parts to communicate with one another, designers can avoid rethinking the gyroscope for every new project. The result: A satellite can be designed and built in six days instead of six years. Northrop Grumman has adopted this approach for its Modular Space Vehicles (MSV), which will allow military commanders to order custom tactical satellites and receive them within weeks. The first MSV is expected to launch in 2013.

6. IGZO Display

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As the display-resolution arms race heats up, computer and mobile device makers need to look beyond silicon to get sharper images. By replacing the backplane of LCD displays' silicon with the semiconductor indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO), manufacturers can shrink pixel size, making screens sharper. That semiconductor swap also results in energy savings because electrons zip around more quickly than they do in the current amorphous silicon. Sharp's prototype crystalline IGZO display has a 6.1-inch screen and a resolution of 498 pixels per inch, far outstripping the iPhone 5's 326-ppi Retina display. (And yes, despite Apple's claims, you'll be able to see the difference.) IGZO can also be incorporated into organic LED displays, boosting resolution and efficiency. Sharp is already manufacturing first-generation IGZO displays and expects to ramp up production in 2013.

7. Cocrystallized Explosive

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Borrowing a technique from pharmaceutical researchers, military engineers are using co-crystallization to create a new generation of designer explosives. The method lets scientists merge two complex materials with different properties into a single co-crystal that combines the best properties of its two constituents. For example, a team funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency has succeeded in co-crystallizing the standard military explosive HMX with a powerful but dangerously unstable explosive called CL-20. The new explosive has a detonation velocity that is 225 miles per hour faster than standard HMX, producing a more powerful blast wave - but, crucially, in drop tests it's just as stable as HMX.

8. Single-Board Computer

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With credit-card-size computers, each made of a single circuit board, the Raspberry Pi Foundation aims to take science and technology to schools around the world. The Raspberry Pi computer - generically known as a single-board computer - costs just US$25, runs on Linux, and can be plugged directly into a TV or keyboard to play HD video and run software for word processing and games. To keep down costs, the unit has no Flash or hard drives and instead relies on SD cards for system information and storage.

9. Inductive EV Charging

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It's not terribly complicated: An electric current in one coil of wire generates an electromagnetic field, and that induces a voltage in another nearby coil of wire. Presto, you've just charged your battery with no wires! And it's not terribly new either. (Remember the Palm Pre's optional inductive charger back in 2009? Exactly.) But it's looking like 2013 could be the year when wireless inductive charging finally reaches critical mass. Infiniti plans to release a model in 2014 that charges from a coil embedded in the ground under your parking spot. The technology is also showing up in consumer electronics, including Nokia's new Lumia phones. The critical question: Will the Wireless Power Consortium, an organization that aims to impose standards so any wireless charger can work with any device, manage to get companies to cooperate so that everyone's parking spots and portable devices can play nice?

10. Space Fence

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Even the final frontier is getting crowded these days, as illustrated by the 2009 smashup of an American communications satellite with a Russian one. The U.S. is currently tracking space objects with an outmoded system commissioned in 1961. But that will start to change in September when crews on Kwajalein Island in the northern Pacific start construction of the first radar site in the new US$3.5 billion Space Fence network. The system uses high-frequency radar to detect objects as small as a softball at a distance of 1200 miles and can perform "uncued tracking," which means it can track objects it hasn't already registered. The result: Once it's up and running in 2017, the Space Fence will keep tabs on more than 200,000 objects in low- and medium-Earth orbit.

Related Links:

[Source: Popular Mechanics. Edited.]


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This is the year of strange designs, according to Treehugger, as he assembles 20 of the oddest, ugliest and most useless of them.

The top images show four of those designs: Aqua Tower (top left), Cutty Sark (top right), Solar-Powered Self-contained Human Waste Water Treatment System (bottom left), and Aquarium Bed (bottom right).

To see all of these strange designs…


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Winners and losers of 2012
By Hunter Skipworth,
Pocket-lint, 28 December 2012.

This has been quite a year in technology. This time last year our pockets were filled with the likes of the Galaxy Nexus and the iPhone 4S. Now it’s all about quad-cores and Instagram on Android. Crazy eh?

For consumer and company alike 2012 was mostly a good year, but there was plenty of fallout in the tech world. So who were the winners and losers of tech in 2012? Read on to find out.


1. Small form factor tablets

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Apple made a major backtrack in 2012 over the iPad mini. When it came up with a product it always swore it would never create, Cupertino seriously upped the competition with the iPad mini.

Throw in the launch of the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HD and you had plenty of small tablets to play with. The best bit? They were all cheap (well cheapish, if you count Apple).

2. Samsung

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Catapulting itself to the top of the tech tree was Samsung. With its launch of the Galaxy S III, the Note II, Nexus 10 and many others, it was hard to walk into any phone or tech shop without spying the Samsung name.

Samsung also took a bit of a win on the legal front, with Apple being forced to run ads saying the big S never infringed on iPad patents in the UK. Throw in the rumour mill already winding up for the likes of the Galaxy S IV and you have Samsung at the top of its game.

3. Windows 8

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Microsoft took a huge risk with Windows 8’s Live Tile UI. While it might not be to everyone's taste, we have to take our hats off to such a big company messing with its status quo.

For the first time in a long while, Windows felt exciting. The lack of a start button still irritates us, but all's forgiven the first time that slick-looking start screen boots up. Couple this with some innovation and design changes in laptops and tablets spurred on by Windows RT and Windows 8’s touch experience and we have a product with win written all over it.

4. Nikon

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Nikon was at the forefront of photography in 2012. At the professional level, it ticked so many boxes by getting the D4 out and ready before the Olympics. The company also managed to beat the the competition to the punch by getting its affordable full-frame model - the D600 - out the door first.

Then there was the D800 which was an absolutely fantastic DSLR, the first to bring near-medium-format resolution to a more consumer-level price point. Another trick up Nikon’s sleeve was also the inclusion of clean HDMI output for video, a huge bonus for professionals planning on using the D4 or D800 with an external recorder for video capture.

5. The Cloud

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It wasn’t until 2012 that the Cloud and all its niceties started to feel genuinely useful for the consumer. Everyone from Google to Amazon and Apple had some sort of cloud-based ecosystem set-up.

Now our media, photos and music can all be transferred and transported across desktop phone and laptop incredibly easily. Dropbox went from strength to strength and Google Music launched in the UK.

6. Laptop manufacturers

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Apart from our decision to smash up one of HP’s, the laptop became a genuinely interesting product again in 2012. The MacBook Pro with Retina Display in both its 13-inch and 15-inch form dazzled us with its beauty, while weird and wonderful Windows 8 creations started to appear left, right and centre.

Lenovo had its Yoga, Dell its big XPS One 27 touchscreen desktop all-in-one. The Ultrabook got a lot more ultra thanks to Windows 8 and Microsoft rollout off the Surface. The laptop really did get exciting once more in 2012.


1. BlackBerry

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No surprises really that BlackBerry falls well and truly into the losers category of 2012. Aside from a net loss of $114 million in its Q3 earning report, BlackBerry’s real failing for us was its lack of exciting products.

BlackBerry 10, the biggest change to the BlackBerry OS for years, still hasn’t been rolled out to the general public. Set for launch on January 30, it could be RIM’s last chance at turning things around.

2. Nokia PureView

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The Nokia 808 might not have been much of a phone, but as a camera it was unparalleled. So when Nokia announced that PureView would be coming to other devices, we hoped for a Windows Phone 8 device under a similar guise.

Sadly we were duped. The Lumia 920’s camera wasn’t disappointing, but it was miles off what the 808 managed. It also showed Nokia’s intentions for PureView, which rather than developing the exciting ultra-high megapixel standards of the 808, was more to turn it into sales jargon to promote its smartphone cameras.

3. Megaupload

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The Hong Kong-based Megaupload died in 2012, making it a fairly obvious loser. Adding to the drama of Megaupload’s end was the arrest of its founder, Kim Dotcom, in his New Zealand mega-mansion.

Assets worth $17 million have been seized and Dotcom’s Megaupload empire shutdown. A return to form is planned next year with Megabox and a clever twist on Spotify’s music-streaming set-up. For now though, Dotcom is stuck appearing in a play called MegaChristmas in Auckland. We aren’t joking.

4. Zynga

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Summer 2012 in app land was all about an application called Draw Something. Produced by Omgpop, it caught on incredibly quickly and was catapulted to the top of the App Store. Zynga saw dollar signs and promptly snapped up Omgpop for between $180 and $210 million.

Now Zynga is writing-off up to $95 million against the Omgpop buy. Quite an expensive miss. Zynga’s own earnings have also been well below expectations and stock prices have dropped as much as 40 per cent. Things aren’t looking great for Zynga.

5. Instagram

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Instagram’s big miss came right at the end of 2012. A revised set of terms and conditions saw users leaving Instagram after it looked as if their images would be used for advertising without their consent.

Instagram made a big u-turn on the whole thing and looked rather silly in the process. Now Instagram’s terms of service read the same as they did in 2010.


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Top 20 Strangest Stories of 2012: Photos
Discovery News, 30 December 2012.

With the last days of 2012 upon us, we're taking a look back at some strangest stories that stood out during the past year.

1. The 2012 doomsday phenomenon

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Although Dec. 21, 2012 was a perfectly ordinary day in most quarters, the 2012 doomsday phenomenon was among the most bizarre stories of the year.

The doomsday date was based on controversial interpretation of the Mayan calendar, even though living Mayans themselves publicly denied the supposed impending apocalypse.

We all know how it turned out: The world didn't end, and once again doomsayers will have to go back to the drawing board.

2. Human cannibal attacks

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Rudy Eugene, left, the perpetrator of the attack. Ronald Poppo, right, the victim.

Even though the apocalypse didn't occur in 2012, some stories in the news seemed to suggest that we were seeing signs of the end of days. This year, there were several high-profile cannibal attacks.

The most infamous occurred in Miami, Florida [USA], on May 26 when 31-year-old Rudy Eugene went on a naked rampage, attacking a homeless man and chewing off his face before being shot dead by police.

The grisly episode led to speculation about drug abuse, particularly emerging designer drugs called bath salts (though it was later found that Eugene only had marijuana in his system). It also drew parallels to zombie fiction, given the attacker's methods and mental state.

3. Beer and nuclear bombs

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If the world is on the brink of a nuclear apocalypse, don't waste your time seeking shelter in a brewery with the hopes that you can ride out the post-apocalyptic nightmare with an endless supply of beer.

Although a 1955 nuclear test suggest beer could survive a detonation, modern scientists have questioned that reasoning. Copper and other contaminants picked up during the brewing process are much more susceptible to holding radiation than pure water.

4. "Real-life Charlie's Angels" are self-proclaimed exorcists

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It's hard to take issue with young people trying to make a difference. But in the case of a teen trio dubbed by ABC News' Good Morning America as a "real-life Charlie's Angels," we'll make an exception.

All three girls are black belts in karate and expert horseback riders. (So far, so good.) They're also, however, self-proclaimed exorcists.

According to a piece on ABC News' website, the girls' father, who trained them to be exorcists, believes "50 percent of the population is probably affected by demons in some way and his girls are the front line of defense. Armed with crosses, Bibles and holy water, the girls summon the demon within the subject, and then the demon apparently takes over the person's body."

5. France feeds wine to its cows

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France is famous for its wine. Its people are also well known for maintaining a culinary tradition that turns food into an art form.

Bringing these two passions together, this year marks the occasion when the French have started to feed their wine to their food.

A French winemaker is experimenting with feeding wine to cattle in an attempt to create better beef. The cows get between two and three bottles of wine a day.

6. Tortoise couple 'divorces' after 115 years

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Sometimes, a relationship can go on for a long time before both partners realize they aren't meant for each other.

In the case of a tortoise couple residing in Reptilien Zoo Happ in Austria, the two apparently determined that the thrill was gone after a 115-year partnership. The tortoises had what is considered the oldest relationship ever recorded between two animals.

After the breakup, zoo officials had to keep the animals in separate pens. They tended to avoid each other, but confrontations would lead one to attack the other.

7. Boy hits jackpot with whale vomit

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2012 saw some of the biggest lottery prizes in history. But this year, a British boy hit the jackpot in a way that most wouldn't necessarily consider lucky at first sight.

The boy discovered a chunk of whale vomit weighing just over a pound and worth upwards of $60,000. The substance, called ambergris, is prized by the perfume industry.

8. Elephant imitating human speech, whale imitating human voice

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Two animals this year showed how entirely different species from us can seem a little more human.

An Asian elephant male named Koshik is able to imitate words spoken in Korean. As Discovery News' Jennifer Viegas explains, "the elephant's vocabulary at present consists of five words: annyong (hello), anja (sit down), aniya (no), nuo (lie down), and choah (good)."

A white whale named NOC, currently under the care of the National Marine Mammal Foundation, was able to imitate human voices, although individual words are harder to distinguish in this animal's case.

9. Dinosaur farts may have warmed ancient Earth

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Earth has gone through periods of warming and cooling throughout its history. During the time of the dinosaurs, the planet might have gotten a few degrees warmer for a reason you might not expect: dinosaur flatulence.

During the Mesozoic period, large, plant-eating dinosaurs known as sauropods produced about about 520 million tons of methane per year. These dinos were gassy due to their fibre-rich diet.

To put it in context, that figure is "on par with the total amount of methane currently produced by both natural and man-made sources," according to Live Science's Jennifer Walsh.

10. Dead candidates win election

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One of the biggest mainstream stories of the year was the 2012 election. While the media focused on candidates in the presidential, congressional and gubernatorial races (and rightly so), there were a few surprising election results that received less attention.

This year saw the election of two candidates who won the races they competed in, but were unable to assume office for one simple reason: They were both dead by Election Day.

As Discovery News' Tracy Staedter reported at the time: "Florida Democrat Earl K. Wood and Alabama Republican Charles Beasley won their respective elections but unfortunately, they won't be showing up for work. Wood, aged 96, died on October 15 and Beasley, age 77, died on October 12."

11. The Kim Dotcom story

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One of the most remarkable stories of the year was the stranger-than-fiction raid on the compound of Megaupload mega-millionaire Kim Dotcom in New Zealand.

The international raid seemed to come straight out of an action movie with Dotcom playing the role of a kind of real-life Bond villain who fashioned himself a lifestyle of some kind of cyber gangster.

Although the raid was heralded by American investigators as the kind of action they intend to take on all major copyright violators, the case against Dotcom has deteriorated as the U.S. position in the case has disintegrated over time.

Dotcom has since become a kind of online cause celebre. While waiting the outcome of his trial, Dotcom has since released a music album and promised a new site called Megabox based on Megaupload's success.

12. The microscopic algae-eater

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Looking at this microscopic algae-eater magnified to a visible level might not quite be like looking in the mirror.

But believe it or not, in 2012, scientists discovered that this organism, which lives in a lake in Norway, may be one of the world's oldest organisms and human's remotest relative.

13. Tapping natural gas reserves beneath grave sites

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With the world consuming an ever-increasing amount of energy to power the global economy, new energy resources are more vital than ever. But how far is too far when it comes to tapping into natural energy reserves?

Apparently, even cemeteries aren't off limits.

Energy companies have found a wealth of natural gas reserves beneath grave sites which can be exploited by using the controversial hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, technique.

Despite the potentially controversial practice, these organizations have begun to buy up cemetery land to tap into these reserves.

14. The perfume candy

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Perfume and candy make great gifts for that special someone you don't actually know anything about. So wouldn't the two combined into a single product be that much better?

Deo Perfume Candy are an edible treat that make your sweat smell as sweet as it tastes. Although the candy hasn't hit store shelves in the United States yet, the sweets are available online for around $10 per bag.

15. The robotic butt

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Making mechanical creations more human is the ambitions of many robotics engineers. Some work on artificial intelligence. Others focus on mimicking muscle motions.

But a team of Japanese scientists has, in a development that Discovery News' Nic Halverson describes as asstonishing [sic], perfected the robotic butt, which twitches, tenses up and responds to touch just like a real butt.

What an age we live in.

16. Couch potato fish on the rise

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Countless news stories have dedicated millions of words to the increasing trend toward sedentary lifestyles among Americans. This year, we discovered that we're not the only ones who are part of this alarming trend.

Couch potato fish are on the rise, according to Discovery News' Christy Reed. Some species of fish are getting soft and lazy as a result of humans overfishing.

17. Astronauts use toothbrush for space station fix

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NASA is responsible for the greatest technological feats ever accomplished by humankind. The space agency has a reputation for engineering excellence and employing the most cutting-edge tech in their missions.

That's why it was surprising this year when spacewalking astronauts had to improvise and resort to a toothbrush to fix a key power system aboard the International Space Station.

The incident seemed almost to come straight out of fiction. It's not quite an "inanimate carbon rod," but every Simpsons fan has seen this scene play out before. (Whether the toothbrush will get a ticker-tape parade remains to be seen.)

18. Technology erases fears

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Before 2012, the only way for humans to really deal with fears was to face them head on. Technology, thankfully, has made those character-building exercises a thing of the past.

Researchers from Uppsala University in Switzerland have devised a method to interrupt the formation of fearful memories during the critical stage they're being anchored in our brain by proteins.

The research currently could only be applied to newer memories, but future efforts might be able to tackle long-standing fears.

19. Cosmic reply to possible alien signal

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Anyone familiar with e-mail etiquette knows that it's rude to let a personal message go unanswered.

Thirty-five years might be a long time to write back, but scientists who believe a mysterious radio transmission detected in 1977 might be an alien broadcast are preparing a response.

Known as the "Wow!" signal based on the message printed by the astronomer who first detected it, the transmission has never been decoded.

20. Santino the chimp attacks visitors

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No slideshow of the strangest stories of 2012 would be complete without a public service message: Stay away from the chimp named "Santino" at the Furuvik Zoo in Sweden.

The chimp has been known to plan attacks on human visitors. Santino initially acts calm and cool, then suddenly hurls hidden rocks at humans in a surprise attack.

[Source: Discovery News. Edited. Some links added.]


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The Greatest Science Photos Of The Year
By Colin Lecher,
Popular Science, 28 December 2012.

From an explosion on the sun to creatures from the depths of the ocean, we assemble our favourite pics from 2012.

It's been a great year for science - Curiosity! The Higgs Boson! - and intrepid photographers have been there all along to document it. Narrowing our favourite photos down to just a dozen wasn't easy, but here they are. Until next year, everybody…

Top image: Ants magnified 2.5x (left) and Underwater Slug (right)


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10 Of The Greatest Aerospace Innovations Of 2012
Popular Science, 26 December 2012.

The latest inventions take to the skies.

From pilotless cargo copters to air pressure suits that can fly from the edge of space, these innovations represent the year's most important achievements in aerospace technology. See all 10 of them here…

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Left: Lockheed Martin/Kaman K-Max, Right: Red Bull Stratos Pressure Suit.

To learn more…

Top image: University of Pennsylvania Nano Quadrotor Robots