Of hoverboards, erasing memories, and a record for records…

October 23rd, 2014 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

It’s been the dream of people for years - ever since our eyes first caught a glimpse of it in Back to the Future II - but the hoverboard Michael J Fox scoots about town on when playing Marty McFly is now, it seems, a reality. Californian-based company Hendo has created what it has billed as the “world’s first real hoverboard” and is running a campaign on crowd-funding website Kickstarter to develop the technology (it had already raised more than $US250,000 it was seeking when we looked this week - a pledge of $10,000 will get you your own board). The board apparently hovers about an inch off the ground thanks to four “hover engines” which create a magnetic field capable of lifting it above surfaces which are non-ferromagnetic conductors (such as copper). This means, of course, there’s a lot of surfaces it won’t work over so don’t expect to be racing down the footpath but that said the makers are working on their own “hoverpark”, designed specifically to accommodate the board. A project to make Doc Emmett proud.

While we’re talking tech, scientists in the US have apparently used light to erase specific memories from the minds of mice in what some say could be a big step towards the creation of the ‘Neuralyzers’ used to erase memories in the Men in Black movies. Researchers at the UC Davis Center for Neuroscience and the Department of Psychology announced their findings earlier this month in the journal Neuron. Researcher Brian Wiltgen said their findings have supported a long-held theory that retrieving memories about specific places and events involves coordinated activity between the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus, a small structure deep in the brain. “The cortex can’t do it alone, it needs input from the hippocampus. This has been a fundamental assumption in our field for a long time and Kazu’s (his colleague Kazumasa Tanaka’s) data provides the first direct evidence that it is true.” So, if Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones pull up in a car…

US man Ashrita Furman holds the most official world records (currently 203) - and has set a new world record in doing so. Records currently held by the 60-year-old - who has set as many as 569 official Guinness World Records since 1979 - include throwing the most shaving cream pies in one minute (71), opening the most drink cans in one minute (66), setting the fastest time over 10 kilometres in a sack race (1 hour, 22 minutes, two seconds), and performing the most skips in a minute with a skipping rope while wearing clogs (127). Makes us tired just reading the list!

Flying kites to be legal in India; selling the house - and cat; and, big pumpkins…

October 15th, 2014 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

• Flying kites and balloons, driving with dirty teeth, and failing to give the 10 rupees you found to the long dead British Queen Victoria will no longer be illegal in India as the world’s most populous democracy looks to clean its statute books of outdated and obsolete laws, some of which date back to the period of the British Raj. Among other laws reportedly due to be axed by the Indian parliament next month are one banning people suffering from “pigeon chest”, “knock knees”, or “hammer toes” from driving and an 1838 law which says an area of the former Imperial capital of Calcutta (now Kolkata) can only be sold to the long defunct East India Company.

Looking to close on the sale of your house? Try adding your pet to the deal. That, at least, was the case in Melbourne recently when, after a Glen Iris home was passed in for a reported $2.06 million at auction, one of the bidders offered to pay $2.2 million - $140,000 more - for the home but only if the vendor’s cat Tiffany, which the buyer’s child had apparently fallen in love during an inspection of the property, was included in the deal. The vendors, who also own numerous other animals, said parting with the cat would be “difficult”.

To giant vegetables and a pumpkin in the UK has earned the title of the country’s heaviest, reportedly weighing in at massive 854 kilograms (1,884 pounds). The pumpkin was well above the previous record of 689 kilograms (1,520 pounds) but it’s still some way behind the world’s biggest pumpkin, a title which in late September was reportedly won by a Swiss grower with a pumpkin weighing a massive 1,054 kilograms (2,323 pounds). Meanwhile in North America, a pumpkin grown in the Napa Valley in the US reportedly recently broke the record there, weighing in at 933 kilograms or 2,058 pounds.

Of waking up; Einstein the dog; and, other strange animal goings-on…

October 8th, 2014 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

Move over ice bucket challenge. UNICEF UK ambassador Jemima Khan has launched a new campaign to “wake people up” to the crisis facing Syrian children. #wakeupcall involves celebrities posting a selfie of themselves waking up and then donating money to UNICEF’s appeal (www.wakeupcall.org.uk) for its work with children in Syria. As with the ice bucket challenge, those who take part also nominate others to do so. As well as Ms Khan, celebrities including Stephen Fry, Nigella Lawson and Daisy Lowe have all posted images.

• Einstein is running for mayor of the city of Oakland in California. Einstein is a dog. Einstein, reportedly backed by a group of Occupy Oakland veterans, officially announced his candidacy last week in what is being called commentary about how difficult it is to hold one person accountable. But alas for Einstein, his bid for the mayoral hot seat doesn’t look like it will come to pass when voting takes place next month. According to news outlet CBS, dogs can’t hold public office in Oakland.

And so to more strange, animal-related goings-on. First up, there were the two boxing kangaroos who traded blows on a suburban street on the NSW Central Coast. Then there’s the news that, let’s be honest, we probably already knew - our cats just love being left alone. New research from UK charity Cat Protection found that more than half of cat owners said they would cuddle their cat to help it overcome stress when, in fact, “space and peace is often what they need”.

Dylan’s lyrics get new life in scientists’ bet; a cooler bike; and, ‘Potatostock’ 2014…

October 2nd, 2014 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

• A group of five Swedish scientists have reportedly admitted they’ve been sneaking lyrics from Bob Dylan songs into articles as part of a long-running bet to see who could get in the most references before retirement. Professor Eddie Weitzberg, Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, told Swedish publication The Local the articles involved weren’t scientific papers but “rather articles we have written about research by others, book introductions, editorials and things like that”. The winner will be taken to a special lunch.

Ever wished your motorised bike came with an integrated cooler? Then your wish is granted thanks to the creation of the Kreweser, a “chopper-style” motorised bike which features a cooler capable of holding up to 96 cans. The battery-powered bike - which can reach speeds of up to 18mph - can be detached from the cooler when you reach your destination and the bike comes with upgrades including a Bluetooth stereo system. The company are trying to raise $US90,000 on crowd funding site Kickstarter to pay for engineering and manufacturing costs so they can take it to market.

In a new take on the Woodstock music festival of 1969, the US city of Columbus recently celebrated the first ever ‘PotatoStock’, a public party that came with “peace, love and potato salad”. The party reportedly came about after Zack Brown jokingly put up a request on the Kickstarter website for $10 so he could buy the ingredients to make a potato salad. But when his campaign raised $US55,000, he decided instead to throw the party in an effort to support local charities that fight hunger and homelessness.

Time to honor the dim sim?; the Ig Nobels; a latte…or a beer?; and, green alien eggs…

September 24th, 2014 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

Does the dim sim deserve a special place of honour among Australia’s home-grown tasty treats? That was the question facing Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle recently after a group of uni students cooked up the idea of honouring the meaty treat with a bronze statue in the bayside city - after all, it was in Melbourne that Chinese chef William Wing Young invented the dim sim around 1945. However, in a response to student Dan Lewry, co-founder of Dim Sim Salute, the mayor has reportedly hosed down the idea of a statue, saying that people would “revolt” were the dim sim to be honoured above the spring roll, samosa or Chiko Roll. Despite the cold water being poured on the idea, Mr Lewry has vowed to press ahead with his bid for a statue.

Time for our annual look at the Ig Nobel Awards - given to honour some of the oddest research projects around the world - and among this year’s winners are Japanese researchers who measured the friction involved when someone steps on a banana skin, a group from China and Canada who tried to understand what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus in a piece of toast, and multinational researchers who investigated whether it is mentally hazardous for a human to own a cat. Announced last week, other awards were given for a project looking at whether people who habitually stay up late are more self-admiring, manipulative and psychopathic than early risers; another looking at the pain people suffer when looking at an ugly painting, and, one of our favourites, a test of how reindeer react to seeing humans disguised as polar bears. For full details, head to www.improbable.com/ig/.

Beer and coffee sound like a good combination? Starbucks in the US are reportedly testing a “dark barrel latte” which doesn’t contain any alcohol but has the flavour of a stout like Guinness. The drink, which is topped with whipped cream and a dark caramel sauce, has apparently been developed in response to the rising popularity of craft beers.

A series of odd green balls recently washed up on Sydney’s Dee Why beach, prompting speculation they were “alien eggs”. Turns out that they’re not quite so exciting but rather are a spongey type of seaweed which forms balls as part of its defence against predators. Associate Professor Alistair Poore, from the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of NSW, told The Manly Daily the balls were probably living green algae.

A sizeable gift for a patriarch; deliveries on wheels; and organising pedestrians…

September 17th, 2014 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church was reportedly given a gift with a difference following a tour of a Russian factory this week - a fighter jet. Patriarch Kirill was reportedly presented with the Sukhoi SU-35 after he presented workers with religious icons. Certainly beats the ‘pope mobile’.

We’re used to delivery people and posties using vans or motorbikes but UK-based delivery company Whistl, formerly known as TNT Post, has launched a new way for its staff to get around - motorised unicycles.The ecofriendly AirWheel unicycles have been “rolled out” in a number of UK cities as the company trials the electric transporters which come with an in-built stabiliser, a top speed of 12mph and which recharge when they go downhill.

The world’s first pedestrian lane for smart phone users has been unveiled in China. Authorities in Chongqing City divided the pedestrian lane in two - designating sections for phone users and non-users - following frustrations about people walking slowly as they used their mobiles. The 50 metre long lane has already brought some new traffic problems as tourists stop to take photos. Meanwhile, walkers in the US city of Fort Lauderdale have been told to wave an orange flag when using a pedestrian crossing. Buckets containing flags have been placed at Las Olas Boulevard in the safety trial to be carried by walkers as they cross the road. Similar trials have reportedly previously been conducted in other US cities but the trend doesn’t seem to have taken off yet.

It’s records time and the world’s longest tongue is just the start; Willy Wonka’s extra room; and, of bridge runaways and narrow houses…

September 10th, 2014 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

A 24-year-old American has been officially credited as the human with the world’s longest tongue - all 10.1 centimetres of it. Nick Stoebel’s amazing tongue - which beats the previous record of 9.8 centimetres - is one of the latest records featured in the Guinness World Records 2015 book, the 60th edition of the famous tome. Other recent records featured in the book include the world’s biggest collection of James Bond memorabilia (Nick Bennett from Lancashire in the UK with 12,463 items), the world’s longest usable golf club (owned by Dane Karsten Maas, it measures 4.37 metres in length), and the world’s fastest dog on two hind legs over 10 metres and front legs over five metres (Jiff, a Pomeranian from LA who can do the first in 6.56 seconds and the second in 7.76 seconds - well done, Jiff!). For more, see www.guinnessworldrecords.com.

A hitherto largely unknown part of Willy Wonka’s famous chocolate factory has come to light with publication late last month of a ‘lost’ fifth chapter of Roald Dahl’s book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The chapter features Charlie Bucket and his tour companions being shown by Wonka into a ‘Vanilla Fudge Room’ where, of course, two boys, Timmy Troutbeck and Wilbur Rice, decide to ignore Wonka’s warnings and end up disappearing into a hole headed for the ‘Pounding and Cutting Room’. The chapter was apparently deemed unsuitable for children and was cut from the book when it was published in the US in 1964 and the UK in 1967. Contained in earlier drafts, the chapter was found among Dahl’s papers after his death. To read the chapter (and see the accompanying illustration by Sir Quentin Blake), head here.

We’ve seen traffic come to a halt on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge thanks to rampaging apes in the 2011 release Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But now comes the real life version - except this time it’s deer and they weren’t rampaging, just using the bridge to get to the other side. Police were called but didn’t get to the scene before the deer had cleared the bridge.

One of the narrowest houses in the UK has reportedly gone on the market in London. The two bedroom terrace home in Harringay measures slightly more than two metres wide and is believed to have been built on what was originally a driveway between two neighbouring homes. As well as the two bedrooms, it comes with a reception room, kitchen and bathroom as well as a roof-top terrace. It goes up for auction on 1st October with expectations of a price of £235,000.

Buried treasure in the UK; Hello Kitty not a cat; and the ‘Ginger Discount Card’…

September 3rd, 2014 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

Crowds have been flocking to a beach near the UK town of Folkestone, Kent, after an artist said he has hidden 30 pieces of 24 carat gold under the sand. Berlin-based Michael Sailstorfer said people can keep any gold that they find with the pieces, about the size of a dog tag, worth £500 each (and a combined total of £10,000). The project is part of the Folkestone Triennial arts festival.

Japan’s Hello Kitty is not a cat but a little girl, according to the creators of the global icon. A US-based academic, Dr Christine Yano, was fact-checking captions for an upcoming exhibition marking the 40th anniversary of Hello Kitty when she was reportedly told “very firmly” by Japanese company Sanrio that Kitty was not a cat but a “little girl” and a friend who is never depicted walking on all fours. A Sanrio spokesperson said Kitty (full name: Kitty White) was born in southern England on 1st November, 1974, and lives in London with her parents and twin sister.

• A red-haired Scotsman reckons he’s saved a couple of hundred pounds over the years using his ‘Ginger Discount Card’. Richard Macrae from Aberdeen said he received the card for his birthday four years ago and has reportedly since used it successfully in restaurants, cinemas and for paying taxi fares.

Talking statues; roadworks gone wrong; and, burning down the White House…

August 27th, 2014 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

Would you like to talk to a statue of Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln or Dick Whittington’s cat? A new project, Talking Statues, launched across London and Manchester earlier this month sees up to 35 statues across the two cities talk to passers by keen to have a chat. Simply scan a tag near the statue with your smart phone and you’ll receive a call back from the statue in question. The project is the initiative of a group called Sing London which asked some leading writers, media personalities and actors, including Patrick Stewart, to take part in the project.

‘Bus’ isn’t the hardest word to spell but workers in Bristol in the UK were clearly having a bad day when they wrote the word ‘BUP STOP’ in large yellow letters at an inner city bus stop. A spokesman for the local council reportedly said that while the sign did become something of a “temporary tourist attraction”, the contractor has since corrected the sign at no additional cost. Meanwhile, still talking about roads let’s head across the Atlantic to the US where a series of wobbly lines painted on Interstate 66 in Virginia apparently created traffic havoc as cars tried to follow them. The lines were apparently a temporary stick-on fix which had peeled off the road and moved. The lines were quickly replaced and an investigation into why the lines had moved launched.

Officials at the UK embassy in Washington, DC, had to issue an apology earlier this week after tweeting a picture of a cake marking the 200th anniversary of the burning of the White House by British troops. The photo, posted on the embassy’s official Twitter account, came with the caption, “Commemorating the 200th anniversary of burning the White House. Only sparklers this time!” It reportedly provoked a sharp reaction among some readers with one saying the tweet was in extremely poor taste and others questioning why it was posted. The subsequent apology said the tweet was issued “to mark an event in history & celebrate our strong friendship today”. British troops set fire to the White House on 24th August, 1814, during what is known as the War of 1812.

A robot hitch-hiker; ‘air punch’ and ‘bingewatch’ added to dictionary - WDYT?; and, getting cold for a cause…

August 20th, 2014 by www.sightmagazine.com.au

A robot has hitch-hiked its way across Canada in a 6,000 kilometre experiment exploring human-robot interaction and artificial intelligence technologies. HitchBOT is the creation of a group of Toronto researchers and features a torso made from a beer cooler bucket with foam swimming pool noodles for limbs, Wellington boots for feet and rubber gloves for hands. It has a computerised brain, solar panels for power and uses GPS technology to send its creators details of its location. The robot left Halifax in Nova Scotia on 27th July and reached Victoria on the west coast on 16th August. For more on the robot’s journey, see www.hitchbot.me.

Air punch (thrusting a clenched fist into the air in triumph), binge-watch (watching multiple episodes of a TV series in succession) and amazeballs (impressive) are among the host of words added to the Oxford Dictionaries’ online dictionary in its latest quarterly update. Other words added include humblebrag (what appears a modest statement but actually has the purpose of drawing attention to something the speaker is proud of), coach (to spend time relaxing or stay/sleep somewhere temporarily), and
acronyms like SMH (”shaking my head”), YOLO (”you only live once”) and WDYT (”what do you think?”). For more words, see http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2014/08/oxford-dictionaries-update-august-2014/

It’s the latest bizarre celebrity trend - tip a bucket of icy water over oneself and then post the results to social media, all in a bid to raise money for charity. The Ice Bucket Challenge was launched in the US to raise money for research into neurodegenerative disease ALS but has since expanded to other countries (including Australia) and other charities. Those who have taken part include Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg, actor Chris Pratt and Oprah take the challenge before nominating others to do so within 24 hours or make a donation to charity instead. Chills.