Ice to See You

Scientists have been taking core sample of permafrost for some time, so you would be forgiven for thinking that there was nothing that could surprise them. The latest revelations by Professor Todd Smotheby of Dorchester, Analytical Scientist and Project Lead for Rockwell Climate Studies, have opened up a can of worms.

“It’s not something that I would have thought possible, but the evidence is pretty compelling,” he says, taking out his slides, “We performed a photonic fractioning analysis on a sample taken from a location close to Alaska, known to be inhabited quite some time ago by various tribes.”

He says that the analysis is a method of ‘walking back through time, layer by layer’ in order to see what environmental conditions were when the ice was formed. Using an increasing set of electromagentic waves, from radio through to x-rays, the typical analysis reveals different structures of ice, particulates and inclusions.

“But look at this!” he says proudly, holding up a set of photographs, “Using two beams crossed at close to seventy degrees, the resulting diffraction pattern actually forms what appears to be a tribe standing around a fire, might like a negative of a photograph!”

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Unconvinced, he repeated his experiment at various fractions, corresponding to dates in history.

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“On each date, I painstakingly adjusted the angle – sometimes for hours at a time – until I got another image. Here you can see the family, if we can assume that it is a family, perhaps a tribe, has grown in number. Here it is declining. This last slide, here, shows a single figure next to the fire, quite possibly the last of the nomads to remain before the frost settled,” he says, “After this point in time, no layers have any discernible images. I would speculate that no fire meant no intense light, and therefore no image could be formed.”

The ice, when cored, must be kept at sub-zero temperatures to maintain the images. It is a stroke of luck, he stresses, that the core cut happened to include the images within the ice as a few inches one way or the other would have a corrupt or incomplete image.

“And then we would never have found it. I’ll be going over the rest of our samples. We have requested funding to make to process automated, but in the meantime I am more than happy to continue my work manually.”

Todd says that the estimated date of the last image corresponds to 1856, which coincides closely with the last official record of the tribe in the area, a diary from a traveling missionary, which was 1858.

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The Sweet Smell of Silence

Sufferers of parcopresis, the inability to defecate for fear of privacy, can now budge their issues easier. Hotoa Industries of Quebec have released a new design of toilet bowl that will muffle the sound of falling faeces and the resulting sonics of the splash.

The bowl uses a patented design involving a sophisticated set of baffles designed to disperse, muffle and reflect the sound of all goings-on within the bowl, resulting in a more private poop.

“This is ground-breaking,” says Marius Ferrare, Senior Engineer and designer of the Shhpoop Toilet Bowl, “This invention will reduce the rates of constipation and subsequently save industry many millions of dollars in time off and time wasted waiting for others to vacate a shared toilet area.”

Statistics show that more than one in ten people suffer from “toilet shyness”, a condition that can be exacerbated by echoing cubicles and toilets located close to high foot-traffic areas. As a result, Marius explains, people who have parcopresis often take a long time to finish their business, or hold on until they can return to the privacy of their own home.

“It’s a real concern. We toyed with introducing a sound reduction system inside the cubicle but this was both ineffective and hard to standardise. Since most cubicles are open at the top and bottom, there was no way to ensure the sound would not propagate. The bowl, however, presents an almost entirely closed and much more predictable system,” he says, “Based on this, we focused our attentions on redesigning the bowl.”

The resulting product, looking similar to a toilet with turbo-chargers attached, costs only a tenth more than a standard ceramic issue and can reduce the overall noise by thirteen decibels on average, depending on the posture of the patron.

“This is a significant reduction. It’s like the difference between someone talking and someone mumbling. Combined with ambient background noise, this device would eliminate the need to cough to cover up tell-tale signs,” he says, “We shall see that the Shpoop will become the new normal for offices and shopping malls.”

The company is expected to release the bowl to the market later this year and is already making plans to design a similar device that would retrofit existing bowls.

Good Robot!

Digital emotions aren’t new. Tamagochi, a children’s craze back in the 90’s, gave us a virtual pet that came with emotions, and responded to stylised pleasure and punishment.

Now engineers are looking to put that concept into the next advance in robotic control.

“Fuzzy logic is great for washing machines, and determinate, adaptive algorithms work for menial tasks. If you look to the animal world, the higher orders of animals are trainable not through direct logic and signals, but through pleasure and pain,” says Doctor Gerard Jung, lead roboticist in Germany’s Klein-Bach Laboratories.

“The beauty of pleasure and pain receptors means that the robot is trained not by a set of pre-calculated goals, rather the various environmental factors, including and especially humans, determine what is right and wrong,” he explains, “This way we let the robot ‘figure out’ what it is meant to do, create its own goals and boundaries. It’s very much like training a small dog or a young child. It’s not quite ‘right and wrong’ in a moralistic sense, it’s physically based at this stage.”

He says that the technology will ease the pathway of getting robots into the household and would lead to eventual robot ‘buddies’, one that could listen and actively sympathise with their owners.ChesterLogoSmall