Wednesday, 30 April 2014


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10 Fascinating Vehicle Graveyards From Around The World
By Will,
Listverse, 30 April 2014.

Vehicle graveyards are just that - places where vehicles go to die, slowly succumbing to rust until they are saved or scrapped. The decaying vehicles can often be an eerie sight, and many of the largest vehicle graveyards boast some fairly strange stories.

10. Bolivia’s Train Graveyard

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High in the Andes, in the southwest of Bolivia, lies the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt plain. In 1888, as the local mining industry boomed, British engineers were invited to build a railway network that stretched down to the Pacific. Despite constant sabotage from the local Aymara indigenous people who saw the railway as a threat to their way of life, the lines were completed in 1892.

However, by the 1940s the mining economy had collapsed as mineral deposits became exhausted. As the railway fell into disuse, many of the steam trains were simply abandoned on the salt flats. Even today, it makes for a strange sight: lines of rusting steam engines, many of them manufactured in the UK, baking under the desert sun. Since there are no fences or guards, most of the trains have had metal components stolen from them - some of the gutted parts litter the surrounding area. There are plans to turn the graveyard into a museum, but until then the trains are at the mercy of the locals and the environment.

9. Chatillon Forest Car Graveyard

Until recently, the deep woods around the small Belgian town of Chatillon concealed four car graveyards, containing over 500 vehicles slowly being claimed by moss and rust. There is some disagreement over the origin of the vehicles. The most frequently repeated story is that the graveyards began at the end of World War II, when American soldiers unable to afford to ship their cars back home simply left them in the forest, with more being added over the years. Another, less interesting story holds that they were simply the remains of an abandoned junkyard.

Most of the cars were produced in the 1950s and ’60s, and many were highly collectible. As such, a large number were missing parts, either salvaged by collectors or taken by souvenir hunters looking for trinkets. The last of the graveyards was cleared in 2010 amid environmental concerns, but plenty of eerie photos remain.

8. Oranjemund Diamond Vehicle Scrapyard

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Oranjemund, Namibia is a small town entirely owned by a company called Namdeb, a joint venture between the Namibian government and the De Beers diamond cartel. Located close to the mouth of the Orange River, it is home to large diamond reserves - the town was built to house the mineworkers. The area is incredibly restricted - armed guards patrol the perimeter and you’re not even allowed through the airport turnstiles without a permit. Anyone found in unauthorized possession of a diamond faces up to 15 years in prison and workers have been known to try and smuggle the gems out hidden up their noses or shoot them over the fences with homemade crossbows. On one occasion, a homing pigeon was discovered wearing a tiny jacket stuffed full of diamonds.

Oranjemund is also home to one of the world’s largest earth-moving fleets, second only to the US Army. Once a vehicle enters the mine compound, it is never allowed to leave, apparently to stop them from being used to smuggle out diamonds. Some of the rusting machinery dates back to the 1920s and includes World War II tanks formerly used to bulldoze sand. Company executives used to proudly show off the collection, but now, conscious of their public image, have begun refusing to let photographs be taken of the graveyard.

7. Nouadhibou Ship Graveyard

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Photo credit: Sebastian Losada

With a population of almost 100,000, Nouadhibou is the second-largest city in Mauritania - one of the poorest nations in the world. The city’s port, located on a wide bay, offers excellent protection for ships to shelter from the Atlantic and is the gateway to some of the best fishing grounds in the world. Iron ore extracted nearby is exported through the port, making it a minor trade hub.

In the 1980s, locals began abandoning out-dated and unwanted vessels in the shallow waters of the bay. Before long, ships started to come from all over the world to be dumped in Nouadhibou, facilitated by local authorities only too happy to take a bribe to look the other way. From fishing trawlers to naval cruisers, a huge variety of ships now rust away in the shallow waters. One of the largest is the United Malika, which ran aground in 2003 while carrying a load of fish (the 17 crew members were rescued by the Mauritanian navy). Since then it hasn’t been moved.

Despite measures to prevent further dumping, the number of abandoned ships continues to rise, albeit at a slower pace than before. As a major iron ore exporter, there has been limited incentive for locals to cut the ships apart for scrap. It isn’t all bad however - the half-sunk ships act as a breeding ground for fish and local fishermen often stretch nets between the boats. The government’s current plan is to use the ships to form an artificial reef in deeper waters, but little has been done since the plan was announced in 2001.

6. Soviet Submarines On The Kola Peninsula

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In Nezametnaya Cove, located inside the Arctic Circle in the far north of Russia, lies a Soviet submarine graveyard. Starting in the ’70s, military submarines, many of them nuclear powered, were simply abandoned in the cove on the isolated Kola Peninsula. The Soviet shipyards were apparently too busy filling orders for new submarines to care about disassembling the old ones.

Access to the area is forbidden without a permit, so information on the graveyard remains limited. It is known that some of the subs were finally scrapped in the ’90s amid concerns over water pollution, but Google Earth images, pictured above, seem to indicate that there are at least seven remaining.

5. Barry Scrapyard

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Photo credit: Clive Warneford

In 1955, the newly nationalized British Railways announced a plan to scrap a wide swath of its aging fleet. The newly redundant stock included around 650,000 wagons and 16,000 steam locomotives. Due to the large amount of rolling stock to scrap, British Railways’ yards were unable to cope and many of the trains were sold to private scrapyards. Among them was Woodham Brothers scrapyard in Barry, South Wales. At first, the steam locomotives were cut up shortly after arriving, but by the autumn of 1965 owner Dai Woodham had decided to concentrate on the easier job of scrapping the large numbers of wagons that were rolling into the yard.

The rusting steam locomotives were left out in the open, where they quickly became a popular tourist attraction in Barry. Enthusiasts of steam trains soon realized that Woodham Brothers offered a chance to obtain rare locomotives for the preserved lines that had started to open up around the country - many of the models in Dai’s yard were impossible to find elsewhere. In September 1968, the first “rescued” steam locomotive left the yard, and the pace increased throughout the ’70s. In the end, 213 steam engines were rescued for preservation, much to Dai’s surprise. The last one left Barry in March 2013.

Dai, who died in 1994, was said to have been immensely proud of his part in saving the engines for future generations. Today, many of the steam locomotives from his yard can be found running on preserved lines around Britain.

4. A Motorcycle Graveyard In Upstate New York

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Beside the Erie Canal, in Lockport, New York, there was an aging warehouse that became legendary in the motorcycle community. The warehouse was once owned by a man named Kohl, who supposedly owned a number of motorbike dealerships over his lifetime. Buying cheap Japanese bikes and defunct dealers’ stock, he soon amassed a staggering number of the vehicles. He bought the building in the 1970s to store the vast collection before selling it off, contents included, in 1997. Mr. Kohl died in 2002, aged 80.

The buyer, known only as Frank, intended to use the warehouse to start a company selling motorcycle parts. However, the building had fallen into a state of disrepair and Frank was unable to justify the cost of fixing the damage. Eventually, the warehouse was condemned by the local authorities, barring anyone from viewing the collection. By November 2010, the bikes had all been cleared out, with many seemingly going to scrap.

Pictures of the graveyard first surfaced in April 2010 on Flickr, causing motorbike enthusiasts to seek out the graveyard, with some buying rare bikes and spare parts just in time. Photographer Chris Seward sums it up well: “It is definitely one of the most eerie, strangest places I have ever been.”

3. RAF Folkingham

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RAF Folkingham, in Lincolnshire, UK, was originally opened in 1940 as a decoy airfield for RAF Spitalgate - complete with fake planes and personnel - before being handed over to US control in early 1944. Douglas C-47 Dakotas stationed at the airfield were used during the D-Day landings.

The base was handed back to RAF control in April 1945 and closed in 1947, after which British Racing Motors, a Formula One team, used the runways as a test track. It was re-opened by the RAF in 1959 and used as a site for Thor thermonuclear missiles until its second closure in 1963, when it was sold off for agricultural land.

Today the site is owned by Nelson M. Green & Sons Ltd., which uses the old airfield to store hundreds of vehicles used to source spare parts. Among the vehicles are old Caterpillar bulldozers, fuel bowsers, cranes, and tractors, as well as ex-military lorries and armoured vehicles dating back to World War II. There is even a DUKW amphibious vehicle, pictured above, which was used in the D-Day landings. Also on site are three pads that housed the aforementioned Thor missiles. Today, the vehicles are still lined up, awaiting their eventual fate.

2. Chernobyl Disaster Vehicles

After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, it wasn’t just people and buildings that were affected by the radiation - so were the vast number of vehicles used in the fire-fighting and subsequent clean-up operation. Since the disaster, the majority of the vehicles have been sitting in huge graveyards, the largest being at Rassokha, awaiting their fate. However, not all of the vehicles are in the graveyards. The fire trucks that got to the disaster area first had to be buried deep underground.

In the middle of most of the graveyards are the fire-fighting helicopters whose pilots and crew were among the most badly affected by the radiation. Scarily, locals have been caught attempting to salvage metal from the vehicles, despite the huge risks. The Ukrainian police have arrested a number of people for attempting to salvage one of the Mi-8 helicopters deployed in the operation, which they intended to use as a cafe.

1. The Arizona Boneyard

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Officially known as the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and home to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), the Boneyard is a huge aircraft storage ground located in the middle of the Arizona desert. The size of 1,430 soccer pitches, the Boneyard is home to more than 4,200 aircraft, worth around US$35 billion, and is easily the world’s largest military aircraft cemetery.

The Boneyard’s aircraft are divided into four categories: Category 1000 refers to those preserved and able to fly again if needed, Category 2000 are used for spare parts, Category 3000 contains planes in good condition and likely to eventually be redeployed, and Category 4000 refers to out-dated aircraft likely to become museum pieces or be scrapped. Among the fourth category were many of the iconic B-52 bombers, scrapped after a 1991 arms reduction treaty with Russia.

Arizona is perfect for the facility since its dry climate helps prevent decay. Unsurprisingly, AMARG works hard to prove that, rather than wasting government money, it in fact earns money through the sale of parts. Such is the fame of the Boneyard that you can even take a guided tour around the site.

[Source: Listverse. Edited.]


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5 Best Fitness Trackers For Summer 2014 (And One Free Alternative)
By Nicholas Greene,
The Coolist, 29 April 2014.

The greatest disadvantage of modern technology lies in the fact that it discourages physical activity. You sit in front of a computer, hammering on a keyboard at work. You sit on the train while going home. You sit in front of the television during your leisure time. Then you repeat the process - day after day, week after week; month after month, year after year. As a result, getting in shape becomes more than difficult - it becomes nearly impossible. It’s not surprising, then, that so many fitness trackers have started to pop up. In our ridiculously busy world, it’s only natural that we’d need to turn to technology in order to keep ourselves fit (we use it for everything else). If you’re looking to get in shape yourself this summer, here’s our selection of the best fitness trackers currently on the market:

1. The Basis B1

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Marketed as a tool to help people incorporate fitness into their crowded, busy schedules, the Basis B1 is a stainless steel beauty that comes with a built-in heart monitor. It’s designed like a watch, with a screen to show users their current activity level and progress. It’s also connected to a smartphone and web app which makes getting in shape feel like something of a game; users are given a series of gradually-escalating goals (“Habits”) to complete, earning points for each one.

The B1 has two primary weaknesses. The first of these is its bulk. As you can see, it’s not exactly a small tool, and could have a tendency to get caught in clothes and the like. Second is that it doesn’t track information about caloric intake - that’s something you’ll need to track on your own if you decide to use this device. Despite the cons, the design and feature set of the Basis B1 makes it an easy choice to list amongst the best fitness trackers of the moment. The Basis B1 sells for US$199.

2. The Razer Nabu

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Although I’m a huge fan of Razer’s gaming peripherals (I’m writing this article on a Razer keyboard right now, actually), I was nevertheless a little surprised to see them expand into the fitness tracking industry. But then, I suppose it shouldn’t be that shocking: video games are kind of a notoriously huge obstacle to getting in shape, so there’s likely all sorts of gamers out there looking to shed a few pounds. It makes sense - they make some of the best gaming peripherals available, so couldn’t a device by Razer join some of the best fitness trackers on the market?

Okay, maybe it’s not technically designed exclusively as a fitness tracker, but the Razer Nabu still got the functionality. It’s not like the Nabu is a poorly-made band by any stretch, either. Along with the regular features (sleep tracking, step counting, etc.), the Nabu features smartphone integration (updating you on missed calls and texts), and gesture control. Plus, it’s probably one of the best looking tools here. (It’s not available just yet).

3. The Nike Fuelband SE

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An update to the original Nike Fuelband, the Fuelband SE brings to the table a whole host of new features, including algorithms designed to prevent users from “cheating the system. Why you’d buy a fitness tracker only to fudge your numbers is honestly beyond me, though perhaps it has something to do with Fuel Points - a built-in feature of the watch designed to get users competing against friends. Basically, as you exercise, you can set goals and issue challenges to your friends through the device’s built-in mobile or desktop application. Completing these challenges will earn you points, which offer little save for bragging rights…but I guess some people really like to brag.

Anyway, it’s a smartly-designed, water-resistant fitness tracker with a bunch of awesome new features (though it doesn’t go as in-depth as some other watches). Be warned though, while Nike has made some of the best fitness trackers created to date, including some of the first ever released, they’ve ceased the development of future devices. That could bring the Fuelband SE to you at a discount, but it might also mean that you may need to crossgrade to a competitor in the future. With that, you’d lose your fitness history in the process.

4. Jawbone UP24

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Without a doubt the most advanced fitness tracker on this list, the Jawbone UP24 is also one of the most ergonomic. Although it isn’t waterproof, its simple and elegant design means you’ll be able to wear it nearly anywhere you want to go with absolutely no fuss. Bluetooth 4.0 support means that fitness data can be synced in real-time to an Android or iOS device, at which point everything can be analyzed, picked apart, and optimized. Using this app (or the desktop app), fitness junkies can also log both food consumption and workouts.

The most intriguing aspect of the Jawbone, however, is the Insight Engine. Designed by a data science team, the engine analyzes your personal data and make recommendations to improve your step count and sleep time. You’ll also receive an email each Monday summarizing your progress.

5. Misfit Shine

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My poison of choice when it comes to exercise is the pool - which is why the Misfit Shine is absolutely perfect for me. Not only is it fully waterproof, but when it comes to battery life, it is one of the best fitness trackers ever made. Wearable around the wrist, as a necklace, or on the pants, the Shine is waterproof up to 50 meters and includes a plethora of optional accessories. Although there’s no altimeter, the Shine still does an admirable job of tracking one’s exercise routine, with an interface that requires only a few simple taps to activate. Like many of the other watches on the list, it also supports Bluetooth 4.0 Smart syncing (compatible with both iOS and Android). Pick up your own for US$119.95.

Free Alternative: MyFitnessPal

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Not sure you want to spend the money for one of the five best fitness trackers we’ve highlighted? A free alternative like this one will get you on the route to fitness just fine. I was debating whether I should mention MyFitnessPal or RunKeeper here, but after some consideration, I decided to go with the former - the latter’s switch from Google Maps to Open Maps has made it all but unusable. MyFitnessPal is thus the superior alternative. It’s one of the simplest calorie counter and exercise tracking apps on the web, and includes on the website a list of recommendations for a bunch of different mobile apps to help you keep fit.

We’re living in a world where getting in shape - and staying that way - often requires a herculean effort (or the assistance of a personal trainer). Thankfully, plenty of technology exists to make the process simpler. Hopefully at least one of the five best fitness trackers here resonated with you; if so, it’s time to get in shape. There’s really no excuse for doing anything but.

Top image: Jawbone UP24, via Press Start.

[Source: The Coolist. Edited. Top image and some links added.]


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Top 10 World-Changing Inventions Created By Young People
By David Goodwin,
Toptenz, 30 April 2014.

The world we live in today is a technological marvel. Super-computers mine endless possible equations, particles smash into each other miles underground, glinting cables of information stretch under vast oceans, and many global diseases have been snuffed out, greatly improving quality of life for billions of people all over the globe. All of this has been made possible by inventors and their fabulous creations - Thomas Edison and his light globe, Henry Ford and his Model T, and Nikola Tesla, with the laser, radio, and alternating current, just to name a few.

But how about those who changed the world before college? Here are ten kids who did just that, creating world-altering inventions before they could legally drink. And here we thought we were hot stuff because we made it to the end of Super Mario without getting hit once that one time.

10. Trampoline

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In 1930, 16-year-old Iowan gymnast George Nissen got a brainwave after attending the local circus, where he saw trapeze artists finish their routines by dropping into a massive safety net held up off the ground. Nissen wondered what would happen if they could bounce straight back up into the air, and in 1934, after a few years of hard work in his parent’s shed, he produced an iron frame attached to a stretched canvas he called “the Bouncing Rig.”

Thankfully, he soon thought of a better name, by adding an “e” to the Spanish trampolin (meaning “diving board” or “springboard”) and quickly trademarked it. Using his bachelor’s degree in business and his unerring passion for jumping up and down, he spread his idea until it became a craze that spread to backyards all over the world. In his efforts to promote the trampoline even further, Nissen once rented a kangaroo, and by studying it and learning (the hard way) how not to get kicked, Nissen found he could eventually hop on the trampoline and jump in tandem with the kangaroo.

In the year 2000, George witnessed a lifelong dream of his fulfilled, when trampolining was made an actual Olympic sport.

9. Television

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What would we do if TV wasn’t a thing? Well, if we were anything like Philo Farnsworth, we’d just make one ourselves. When Farnsworth’s family moved from a log cabin in Utah to a brand new house in Idaho with an attic full of Popular Science magazines, ideas started going off in young Phil’s head. Before long, he had converted most of the family’s household appliances to electrical power.

But it was when a 14-year-old Phil was ploughing one of the fields on his family’s farm that an even bigger idea came to him. Looking at the straight rows of dirt he was making in the ground, he suddenly saw how he could invent a television - by breaking down images into parallel lines of light, capturing them and transmitting them as electrons, then reassembling them on a screen for people to view.

In 1921, the 15-year-old had the sketches, diagrams, and notes to make an electronic television system. By 21, Farnsworth transmitted his first electronic image and held the earliest public demonstration of a working TV. By the time of his death in 1971 (long before Big Brother, luckily for him) the average television set included about 100 items that he originally patented.

8. Grain Reaper

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Laboring away on his family’s Virginia farm at the start of the 19th century was never going to stop Cyrus McCormick from changing the world. His father had for many years tried to build a mechanized reaper that would massively cut down on the work required at harvest time, but had given up, saying it was impossible. Then 15-year-old Cyrus tried, soon inventing a lightweight cradle for carting harvested grain, followed by the first-ever reaper, a crude cast iron machine with triangle-shaped knives attached to a bar that harvested up to fifteen acres of wheat, compared to only three acres before.

He then spread the word to neighbouring farms, winning them over by massively lowering labour costs and increasing harvest yields as the harvester exploded in popularity, winning international awards and bringing about an era of industrialized agriculture that continues to help feed our massive population to this day.

7. Thermoelectric Flashlight

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Inspired by the story of her friend in the Philippines, who failed at school because she had no light to study with once it got dark, fifteen-year-old Ann Makosinski from Canada designed and built a thermoelectric flashlight that transforms the heat from your hand into a source of energy, without the need for any batteries or electricity. Her device, which she calls the Hollow Flashlight, uses Peltier tiles - a device that produces energy when one side is heated and another side is cooled - to help the light last for over 20 minutes.

Having since given several TED talks, Makosinski has a refreshingly decisive view of our world and how to make it better: “You can’t just sit around waiting for new technologies to evolve and for the Earth to save itself! We all have different but important roles to play in this world!”

6. New Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis

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Jack Andraka is a pretty ordinary kid who enjoys mountain biking, rafting, Family Guy, and Beavis and Butthead. And in between those pretty standard pursuits, he also invented a new diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer. Not bad for a 15-year-old, especially when that test is 28 times faster, 26,000 times less expensive, and over 100 times more sensitive than any other diagnostic test in existence.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal cancers in existence, with a horrifying five-year survival rate of 6 percent. Some 40,000 people die of it each year, partly because the diagnosis is often delivered late, after the cancer has spread.

Jack invented a small dipstick probe that uses just a sixth of a drop of blood and senses a protein called mesothelin produced by the cancer, taking just five minutes to complete a test. With over 85% of pancreatic cancer diagnoses made late, Jack Andraka’s might just be responsible for saving untold numbers of lives. As an added bonus, it even works for ovarian and lung cancer.

5. Solar Death Ray

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While the following invention may also change the world, it may possibly not be for the better. Possible future evil villain Eric Jacqmain created a solar death ray using a normal satellite dish and pasting onto it 5,800 small mirrors. It took him only 24 hours to build from start to finish, and purportedly has the intensity of 5,000 suns.

He says the ray generates enough power to melt steel, vaporize aluminium, boil concrete, turn dirt into lava, and obliterate any organic material in an instant. In his YouTube video, he comments (in a rather blasé fashion): “’I have vaporized before carbon, which occurs above 6,500 Fahrenheit.” It could also, if properly harnessed, power the world and rid of the need for fossil fuels in some kind of hand-held utopia, but Eric doesn’t seem to be all that interested in that. While the death ray ultimately destroyed itself, in a fire that torched the shed it was held in, Eric plans to build another soon, this time with over five times the power.

4. Ocean Sweeper

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Out in the vast glittering Pacific Ocean, about halfway between Japan and the west coast of the US, floats what used to be one our dirtiest secrets: a bobbling mass of plastic, junk and refuse named the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” Over the past 40 years it has multiplied one hundred fold and is slowly killing ocean life by breaking into tiny fragments and filling their stomachs, starving millions of them to death. While most people prefer to brush such facts back under the rug of their subconscious, 19-year-old Boyan Slat instead decided to help save the world.

Slat is convinced that the trash - all twenty billion tons of it - can be removed from not just the Pacific, but all the world’s oceans within five years. In his first TED talk, he explained that by implementing his invention of floating booms - based on the ocean’s design of a manta ray, powered by the sun and the waves to capture the plastic - that we would not only make millions of dollars in recycled materials but even massively clean up the quality of the world’s air. Much of the oxygen we breathe comes from marine phytoplankton that is being decimated by our trash and the CO2 it creates, and it’ll stay that way unless we help this young man clean it all up.

3. Exhaust Filter

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Inspiration struck 15-year-old Param Jaggi in 2008, while he sat at a stop sign behind the wheel of a car in Plano, Texas. Watching the exhaust from the car in front of him slowly waft ever more pollution up into the atmosphere, he figured, why not just turn that into oxygen? He did so by utilizing the one resource every teen knows all too well: “Being self-driven and using that great resource which is Google, I went online and figured out most of what I wanted to learn,” says Jaggi.

Jaggi ended up designing a small device that plugs into a muffler and removes almost 89% of the carbon dioxide from a car’s exhaust through a live colony of algae that sucks in the CO2 from the exhaust, applies photosynthesis, and then releases both oxygen and sugar back into the air.

Jaggi applied for a patent in 2009 and has been trying to better the filter’s design since then, while busy scooping up endless awards from the likes of the Environmental Protection Agency and Forbes, not to mention starting his own company, Evoviate.

2. Braille

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Blind since he was three, Louis Braille received a scholarship at age ten to attend France’s National Institute for the Blind. The school taught its students to read by touch, with specially-made books. However, the books were large and expensive to make, and almost impossible to read, with some weighing over 100 pounds.

In 1821, a French soldier visited the school to introduce sonography, a code language read by fingertip to help soldiers communicate at night without light or making noise. Braille, when he should have been focusing on learning how to properly function without sight, chose to study sonography very closely. In 1824, when he was just 15 years old, he invented a simple system of small raised dots that were read by touch. Students learned and read Braille’s system much faster than sonography, so it quickly became the standard language at the school, and for blind people all over the world. The new language gave them access to the same information as their sighted peers and helped them to live a far more fulfilling life. All of this earned Louie the posthumous title of “Messiah for the Blind”.

1. Calculator

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In 1642, after having already composed a treatise on the communication of sounds at the age of twelve, child prodigy Blaise Pascall designed and built the first ever calculator for his father, a tax collector. In a slight fit of ego, he named it the Pascaline. The size of a shoebox, it could add, subtract and (indirectly) divide and multiply, using a series of toothed wheels turned by hand. It could handle all numbers up to 999,999.999. Collecting taxes over a million dollars would simply have to wait for the upgrade.

Pascall then went and invented probability theory, the hydraulic press, the syringe, and roulette, while also becoming one of France’s most beloved and masterful writers, pretty much because he could.

Top image credit: Paul and Lindamarie Ambrose/Taxi/Getty Images, via Time.

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


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10 Unsolved Airplane Mysteries
By Patrick J. Kiger,
How Stuff Works, 22 April 2014.

The case of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 fixated people all over the world in early 2014. The plane mysteriously veered off course on a flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing and vanished over the Indian Ocean, along with its 239 passengers and crew [source: Associated Press].

As this article was being completed, searchers were faced with scouring an area of more than 22,000 square miles (57,000 square kilometres) in the Indian Ocean. Finding the plane seems like a long shot, let alone solving the mystery of why it disappeared in the first place [source: Associated Press].

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A handout image released by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in Canberra, Australia, shows the
search area in the Indian Ocean, west of Australia, where 14 planes and 13 ships were looking for
wreckage of Flight MH370 on 10 April 2014. See pictures of great moments in flight.

It's hard to grasp that a plane could go missing nowadays with all the technology we have at our disposal. Over land, for example, air traffic controllers can use two different types of radar to track planes.

When an aircraft is over the ocean, out of the reach of ground radar, it uses yet another system, Automatic Dependent Surveillance, which transmits a signal to satellites to indicate position. Aircraft are also designed to notify the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, if they develop mechanical failures. Investigators believe that in the case of MH 370, those systems were turned off, perhaps deliberately by saboteurs [source: Topham].

But while the Malaysia Airlines case is deeply puzzling, it is far from unprecedented. Since 1948, more than 100 other aircraft have gone missing while aloft and have never been found, according to records compiled by the Aviation Safety Network, an international organization that tracks airliner accidents, hijackings and safety issues [sources: Topham, ASN]. Still other planes have crashed under circumstances that have not been fully explained. Here's a look at 10 of the most puzzling aviation mysteries ever.

10. Amelia Earhart Disappears

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Amelia Earhart prepares for the All-Women's Air Derby in Long Beach, California, in 1929.

In June 1937, celebrated aviator Amelia Earhart set out to become the first woman to fly around the world, a trip of 29,000 miles (46,671 kilometres). She'd completed all but the final 7,000 miles (11,265 kilometres) by July 2, when she and her navigator Fred Noonan took off from Lae in Papua New Guinea, for a 2,556-mile (4,114-kilometre) flight to Howland Island, a small island in the Pacific.

A U.S. Coast Guard cutter, the Itasca, was stationed just off shore, and two other ships were positioned along the flight route as markers for Earhart's plane. Nevertheless, the plane ran into overcast skies and intermittent rain showers that made celestial navigation, Noonan's favourite method, difficult. The next morning at 7:42, the Itasca picked up this radio transmission from Earhart: "We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low." About an hour later, Earhart radioed, "We are running north and south" [source:].

That was her last transmission, and her plane never arrived. Rescuers mounted, what was at the time, the most massive search in aviation history, searching 250,000 square miles (647,497 square kilometres) of ocean in a fruitless attempt to find her. Some believe the plane crashed in the ocean and the passengers were killed; others, that they survived the crash but died of thirst on a remote island, or else that they were taken alive as hostages by the Japanese who though they were spies [source: Roach and Than]. To this day, Earhart and Noonan's fate remains a mystery.

9. What Does STENDEC Mean?

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The aftermath of an airplane crash in 1947.

In August 1947, a British airliner containing 11 people took off from Buenos Aires on a flight to Santiago, Chile, and vanished, apparently just a few minutes before landing. The only clue it left was a puzzling Morse code message, "STENDEC," which was the final transmission from the plane. The word was transmitted three times.

Fifty-three years later in 2000, an expedition of searchers finally found the missing plane, which had crashed into a mountain about 31 miles (50 kilometres) from its destination. A glacier had entombed it in ice. Examination of the engines showed no mechanical failure, but accident investigators hit upon another possible explanation. They decided that the plane probably had flown high to avoid bad weather and run into a jet stream, a high-speed wind whose existence had not yet been discovered. That wind would have slowed down the aircraft, so that when it started descending it was not as close to the airport as the pilot thought and so headed toward the mountain. But even so, nobody has ever figured out the meaning of the last message sent by the plane, which for years has defied myriad efforts to decipher it [sources: BBC News, BBC News].

8. Was It an Alien Spacecraft?

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Did Capt. Mantell really see a UFO? No one knows for sure.

In January 1948, Capt. Thomas Mantell, a Kentucky Air National Guard pilot, and some other pilots took off in P-51 Mustang fighters from the airfield at Fort Knox, pursuing a rapidly moving, westbound, circular object. The other pilots called off the chase when the large, metallic object elevated to 22,500 feet (6,858 meters) in altitude, and they returned safely. (The danger zone for flying without oxygen begins at 14,000 feet, or 4,267 meters.) But Mantell kept following this strange aircraft. His plane tumbled from the sky and crashed in Kentucky.

The official explanation was that he lost consciousness from a lack of oxygen, but questions remain about why he kept going and what he was following so intently. Air Force officials initially said Mantell had mistakenly followed planet Venus, but some witnesses thought he had seen a spaceship or some other UFO. The object is now believed to be a Skyhook weather balloon used to measure radiation levels that was part of a secret project [sources: National Guard History eMuseum, Randle].

7. The Missing H-bomb

New Picture 162
No wonder the Air Force pilot was concerned; this island in the Marshalls was destroyed when an
H-bomb exploded there in the fall of 1952.

During a routine training mission off the coast of Georgia in February 1958, a B-47 bomber accidentally collided with an F-86 fighter jet whose pilot didn't see the bomber on his radar. The crash tore the left wing off the fighter and severely damaged the bomber's fuel tanks. The bomber pilot, Air Force Col. Howard Richardson, was confronted with an agonizing dilemma. His aircraft happened to be carrying a 7,000-pound (3,175-kilogram) H-bomb, and Richardson was worried that the bomb would break loose from his damaged plane when he tried to land.

To avoid that situation, he went with his only other option, and dumped the bomb into the waters off Tybee Island, Georgia, before landing at Hunter Air Force Base outside Savannah. The Navy searched for the lost bomb for more than two months, without success, and for decades, its location has remained a mystery. The Air Force says the bomb presents little hazard if left undisturbed [source: NPR].

6. The Vietnam War Casualties Who Never Got to Vietnam

New Picture 163
Split seconds after a U.S. Caribou transport plane had been hit by American artillery, UPI photographer
Miromichi Mine recorded this remarkable picture as the plane plummeted to earth at Ha Phan, Vietnam.
The three crew members were killed.

These lost men have never had their names added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. Even more oddly, no government agency - not the Army, Air Force, Pentagon, State Department, National Archives or CIA - admits to possessing any records about the mission. Yet in March 1962, Flying Tiger Line Flight 739, containing 93 U.S. military advisers, three South Vietnamese officers and 11 crew members, vanished between Guam and the Philippines on the way to Vietnam. No wreckage was ever found, though some witnesses reported seeing a vapour trail and explosion in the sky on the night it disappeared [source: Burke].

Some speculate that the aircraft was downed by Viet Cong sabotage, which would make the passengers among the first casualties of the Vietnam War. Others believe it was brought down by friendly fire. Eerily, at least three soldiers told their family members they had a premonition that they would not return from this mission alive [source: Burke].

5. An Artistic Disappearance

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A Varig plane like this one took off from Tokyo in 1979 and was never seen again.

A Boeing 707 cargo plane containing 153 paintings by famed Brazilian-Japanese painter Manabu Mabe worth about US$1.2 million, took off from Narita International Airport in Tokyo in January 1979. The plane, operated by Varig Airlines, was scheduled to stop in Los Angeles and continue on to Rio de Janeiro.

But it never got there. Instead, when the plane was north of Tokyo, about 30 minutes after take-off, air traffic controllers lost contact with the pilot. No trace of the plane, the cargo or its six-person crew has ever been found [sources: ASN, Hastings].

4. Mechanical Failure or Suicide?

New Picture 165
This graph of the EgyptAir Boeing 767 flight drawn up by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board
shows some key moments before the plane crash.

This one sparked an international controversy. On Oct. 30, 1999, EgyptAir Flight 990 took off from Kennedy Airport in New York bound for Cairo with 217 people aboard. A senior pilot named Ahmad al-Habashi was in command of the Boeing 767 jetliner, and a veteran co-pilot, Gameel al-Batouti, was assisting him.

The plane climbed to 33,000 feet (10 kilometres) and flew normally for 30 minutes, before plummeting into the Atlantic Ocean 60 miles (97 kilometres) south of Nantucket, Massachusetts, killing everyone aboard [source: Langewiesche].

So what caused the accident? Egyptian officials believed that mechanical failure was to blame, stating that suicide is against Islam. But the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the co-pilot had deliberately caused the crash, citing that the autopilot was off, the plane was in a wings-level dive and the co-pilot muttered calmly to himself, "I rely on God" many times. The final report said that the crash was due to the co-pilot's "manipulation of the airplane controls," a claim Egypt still disputes [source: Wald].

However, one EgyptAir pilot told the FBI that Batouti had just been demoted because of accusations of sexual misconduct, and might have crashed the plane to commit suicide or to take revenge against his supervisor, who was a passenger on the flight [source: Wald].

3. The Stolen Airliner

New Picture 166
A former UNITA fighter covers his ears as a plane arrives to transport families displaced in Angola's
brutal 27-year civil war which ended the year before in 2002.

In May 2003, a Boeing 727 owned by a Florida-based leasing company, was undergoing repairs at an airport in Luanda, Angola. Suddenly, it rolled onto a runway without getting permission from the tower and took off to the southwest in an erratic fashion, with lights off and no transponder signalling.

On board were Ben Charles Padilla, an experienced mechanic and flight engineer who was supervising the repairs, and his recently hired Congolese assistant, John Mikel Mutantu. Neither was trained to fly a 727 - Padilla had only a private pilot's license, and Mutantu had nothing. But both men and the plane disappeared and were never seen again.

Authorities initially suspected that terrorists might be responsible, or else it was an insurance scam. Now they seem to lean toward some sort of hijacking for profit [source: Wright].

2. The Ghost Plane

New Picture 167
In 2007, 4-year-old Vassilis Koutsoftas held a large frame containing photos of his parents and sister,
who were killed in the Helios air crash north of Athens two years earlier.

This was one of the most horrifying incidents in aviation history. In August 2005, Helio Airways Flight 522 was on a short trip from Cyprus to Greece, when it veered slightly off course. Nineteen radio requests were sent for an explanation but there was no response.

Finally, two F-16s caught up with the plane to see what was going on, and their pilots saw that the captain's chair was empty and the co-pilot appeared to be unconscious, with his oxygen mask dangling from the ceiling. All the passengers were frozen to their seats, at temperatures of minus 58 F (minus 50 C).

The fighters followed the "ghost plane" as it flew on autopilot until it ran out of fuel and crashed into a hillside. The official report by Greek authorities concluded that the pilots had somehow incompetently left the plane's pressurization system in manual mode after take-off, so the plane didn't automatically repressurize when cabin pressure was lost. Further, the pilots failed to recognize the warning signs that the cabin was losing pressure - and oxygen - until it was too late. But that explanation fails to satisfy those who suspect that the aircraft was haunted [sources: Daily Mail, Krisch].

1. Was a Sleepy Pilot to Blame?

New Picture 168
Brazilian Navy divers recover a huge part of the rudder of the Air France Airbus A330 out of the Atlantic
Ocean, some 745 miles (1,200 km) northeast of Recife in 2009.

In an accident reminiscent of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Air France Flight 447 disappeared over a stretch of the ocean where there was no radar coverage. In June 2009, this Airbus A330-200 airliner carrying 216 passengers and 12 crew members disappeared over the Atlantic en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.

For several days, no one knew what had happened. But even after wreckage was spotted and recovered, the circumstances remained murky. The state-of-the-art jet was equipped with the latest tracking and communication equipment, yet it hadn't emitted a distress signal at any point. Two years later, the plane's black boxes were finally recovered from the ocean [source: Smith].

French air safety investigators concluded in a 2012 report that the tragedy likely had been caused by an odd cascade of errors. Ice crystals accumulated on a probe, causing it to give incorrect speed readings and the autopilot system to disengage. The aircraft's two co-pilots, who were in charge at the time because the captain was taking a break, apparently became confused by the malfunction. By the time the captain re-joined them 90 seconds later, the airplane already was in a stall that he could not avert. The plane crashed two minutes and thirty seconds later [source: BEA].

Why it took the captain so long to respond to the co-pilots' frantic calls for help has never been explained. News media reported that the captain was accompanied on the flight by a female companion, and that he'd only slept one hour the night before [sources: Battiste, Smith].

Author's Note: I've long been fascinated with the Amelia Earhart case, ever since I read a book as a boy that argued that she had been captured by the Japanese and possibly executed as a spy. I was surprised to discover, however, that so many aircraft had disappeared over the decades.

Related Articles:
Article Sources:
1. Amelia Earhart Official Website. "Biography." (April 13, 2014).
2. Associated Press. "A look at some passengers on Flight 370." USA Today. March 29, 2014. (April 13,2014)
3. Associated Press. "Missing plane's black box batteries may have died." Washington Post. April 12, 2014. (April 13, 2014)
4. Aviation Safety Network. "About ASN." (April 13, 2014)
5. Battiste, Nikki. "Was Air France Captain With a Woman When Flight 447 Was in Trouble?" ABC News. June 6, 2012. (April 13, 2014)
6. BBC. "'STENDEC' - Stardust's final mysterious message." BBC. Nov. 2, 2000. (April 13, 2014)
7. BBC. "Vanished: The Plane That Disappeared." BBC. Nov. 2, 2000. (April 13, 2014)
8. Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses. "Final Report On the accident on 1st June 2009 to the Airbus A330-203 registered F-GZCP operated by Air France flight AF 447 Rio de Janeiro – Paris." July 2012. (April 13, 2014)
9. Burke, Matthew M. "Listing on Vietnam Wall sought for troops killed in 1962 plane crash." July 24, 2013. (April 13, 2014)
10. Daily Mail. "'Ghost flight' horror crash blamed on pilots." Daily Mail. Oct. 10, 2006. (April 13, 2014)
11. Hastings, Deborah. "Malaysia Airlines flight is latest entry to list of mysteriously missing aircraft." New York Daily News. March 15, 2014. (April 14, 2014)
12. Krisch, Joshua A. "10 Unsolved Aviation Mysteries." (April 14, 2014)
13. Langewiesche, William. "The Crash of EgyptAir 990." The Atlantic. Nov. 1, 2001. (April 13, 2014)
14. National Guard History eMuseum. "Captain Thomas Francis Mantell Jr." May 29, 2008. (April 14, 2014)
15. National Public Radio. "For 50 Years, Nuclear Bomb Lost in Watery Grave." Feb. 3, 2008. (April 13, 2014)
16. Randle, Kevin. "An Analysis of the Thomas Mantell UFO Case." (April 14, 2014)
17. Roach, John and Than, Ker. "Where is Amelia Earhart?" National Geographic, July 24, 2012. (April 14, 2014).
18. Smith, Oliver. "Malaysia Airlines MH370: 10 more aviation mysteries." The Telegraph. March 17, 2014. (April 13, 2014)
19. Topham, Gwynn. "Malaysian Airlines plane mystery: how can a flight disappear off radar?" The Guardian. March 10, 2014. (April 13, 2014)
20. Topham, Gwyn. "Plane disappearances - a brief history." The Guardian. March 13, 2014. (April 13, 2014)
21. Wald, Matthew. "Report Finds Co-Pilot at Fault In Fatal Crash of EgyptAir 990." The New York Times. March 22, 2002. (April 14, 2014)
22. Wright, Tim. "The 727 that Vanished." Air & Space Magazine. Sept 2010. (April 13, 2014)

Top image credit: Julian Stratenschulte/EPA, via The Guardian.

[Post Source: How Stuff Works. Edited. Top image added.]