WTF Fun Fact 13468 – The Streisand Effect

The term “Streisand Effect” may sound like it’s tied to some groundbreaking scientific discovery, but it’s actually named after the famous American singer and actress, Barbra Streisand. The term was coined in 2005 and refers to an unexpected and counter-intuitive social phenomenon where efforts to suppress or censor information backfire, leading to the unintended consequence of the information being widely publicized and shared even more than before.

2. The Origin Story

The Streisand Effect was named after an incident involving Barbra Streisand in 2003. A photographer named Kenneth Adelman had taken aerial shots of the California coastline for the California Coastal Records Project. He intended to document coastal erosion. One of these photographs included Streisand’s Malibu home. Despite the image being among 12,000 others and not specifically identifying her home, Streisand sued Adelman and the associated website for $50 million. She asserted that the photo violated her privacy rights.

However, Streisand’s efforts to maintain her privacy unintentionally drew more attention to the photograph. Prior to the lawsuit, the picture had only been downloaded from Adelman’s website six times; two of those downloads were by Streisand’s lawyers. After the lawsuit became public, the photograph gained widespread attention, receiving over 420,000 views in the following month.

3. Examples of The Streisand Effect in Action

Since the original incident, the Streisand Effect has occurred multiple times, especially in the digital age where information spreads quickly.

In 2008, a blog post detailing weaknesses in the Church of Scientology’s operations resulted in a takedown notice from the Church. Instead of disappearing, the information proliferated across other sites, leading to more awareness and criticism of the Church.

In 2009, the UK law firm Carter-Ruck tried to suppress a report about its client Trafigura, a commodity trading company involved in a toxic waste scandal. A gag order initially prevented The Guardian from reporting on the issue. A judge lifted the order after intense public outcry and online sharing of the information.

The Power of the Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect highlights the immense power of the internet and social media in the spread of information. It also illustrates the backlash that can result from attempts to suppress it. The digital age has shifted control over information from those with traditional power (like celebrities, corporations, governments) to the broader public.

This phenomenon raises important considerations for public figures, companies, and institutions in how they handle potentially damaging information. Attempting to suppress such information can often make matters worse. It can even cause more harm to a reputation than ignoring it or addressed it openly.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “How Barbra Streisand Inspired the ‘Streisand Effect'” — Mental Floss

WTF Fun Fact 13467 – The Baghdad Battery

When we think about the birth of electricity, names like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla might come to mind. But if we venture even further back in time, we stumble upon a curious artifact known as the Baghdad Battery.

This ancient piece, found in the vicinity of modern-day Iraq and believed to date back to the Parthian or Sassanid era (between 225 BC and AD 650), challenges our understanding of technological development. It’s a story that connects the ancient world with our modern one in a fascinating tale of science and history.

Discovery of the Baghdad Battery

The story of the Baghdad Battery begins in 1936. German archaeologist Wilhelm König discovered a set of 12 peculiar artifacts in the basement of the National Museum of Iraq. The artifacts, assumed to be about 2,000 years old, consisted of terracotta pots with a copper cylinder and a single iron rod inside.

Each “battery” was about 14 cm high, with a one-inch-wide mouth. The copper cylinder, carefully soldered with a 60-40 lead-tin alloy, encapsulated the iron rod. Evidence of an acidic residue such as vinegar or wine in some of the pots led König to propose that these were ancient electric cells.

The theory suggests that when the jars were filled with an electrolytic solution (like vinegar or lemon juice), they produced a potential difference between the copper and the iron — about 1.1 volts. This setup is remarkably similar to a basic school experiment to create a simple voltaic cell.

The primary controversy lies in the purpose of these devices. Some researchers propose that these ancient cells powered electroplating objects with gold. Others suggest a more spiritual role, possibly linked to pain relief. The sensation of a mild electric shock could have been interpreted as a divine intervention or magical experience.

Debates and Controversies

The theory of the Baghdad Battery as a tool for electroplating or electrotherapy is not without its critics. Skeptics argue that there’s no recorded evidence that ancient people had knowledge of electricity. Furthermore, there is no evidence of wires, conductors, or additional devices that could demonstrate a practical application for this alleged ancient technology.

Another point of contention lies in the design. If the intent was to generate an electric current, the iron rod would have quickly corroded due to the acidic solution. However, some of the recovered artifacts still have uncorroded iron rods, suggesting they might never have been used as proposed.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Was the Baghdad Battery really a battery?” — BBC Science Focus

WTF Fun Fact 13459 – Sausage Vending Machine

How would you feel about grabbing your lunch out of a sausage vending machine? It sounds dubious, but convenient!

The Sausage Vending Machine in Germany

You can find all sorts of oddities in vending machines around the world: cupcakes, pizza, even live crabs. However, in Germany, a new trend has emerged that satisfies late-night cravings in a distinctly German way: vending machines that sell sausages and other barbecue meats.

According to a survey by the German Press Agency, these machines are booming outside German cities where shops tend to keep shorter business hours. The convenience of 24/7 access to traditional German cuisine is proving popular, particularly in rural areas.

Satisfying Off-Hour Cravings

“Hearty German fare at the drop of a coin. There is a strong development towards the vending machine, which is used to deliver meat, milk, eggs, and other products to customers outside of core opening times,” says industry spokesperson Heike Richter.

From bratwurst to bockwurst, sausage varieties fill these innovative machines alongside punnets of potato salad for a full, traditional German meal. But the culinary offerings don’t stop at sausages. Some vending machines also stock eggs, milk, butter, and even fruits and vegetables, ensuring that all kitchen essentials are available at any time.

Vending Machine Convenience

With over 570,000 vending machines in Germany, this mode of selling has become a familiar sight. Yet, despite their popularity and convenience, vending machines are not expected to replace traditional brick-and-mortar stores.

“Vending machines will play a complementary role in brick-and-mortar retailing,” Wolfgang Kampmeier of the Berlin-Brandenburg trade association tells the Berliner Zeitung newspaper.

The machines’ real advantage lies in their ability to operate in areas where maintaining a full-service shop may not be economically viable. This way, they ensure that even in structurally weak, rural areas, residents can have access to fresh, wholesome food around the clock.

International Inspiration

Germany’s innovative use of the sausage vending machine may remind some of Japan, where vending machines have long been part of the landscape, selling everything from sake to underwear. Germany, however, has tailored this idea to its own culinary tradition, providing an on-demand service that satisfies its citizens’ penchant for hearty, homestyle cooking.

The German sausage vending machine trend illustrates how traditional cuisine can merge with modern technology, offering an unusual yet effective solution for late-night cravings and daily necessities alike. Whether it’s a bockwurst at midnight or a quick breakfast on the go, Germans have discovered an innovative way to keep their favorite foods at their fingertips 24/7.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Sausage vending machines booming in Germany

WTF Fun Fact 13458 – Taxidermied Bird Drones

Researchers often look to nature for inspiration when designing machines and devices – now scientists from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology are taking this concept a step further, building taxidermied bird drones.

Why use taxidermy bird drones?

The idea might seem disturbing or bizarre at first. A decade ago, a Dutch artist, Bart Jansen, had stirred conversation by turning a deceased, taxidermied cat into a furry quadcopter. However, the researchers from New Mexico Tech have a practical reason for their unique approach to creating ornithopters—drones that fly by flapping their wings like a bird.

Their aim is to harness the flight capabilities of birds whose lightweight bodies and flexible feathers give them remarkable maneuverability that outmatches the most sophisticated aircraft we’ve built.

According to a study presented at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SciTech 2023 Forum, using actual bird parts can offer significant advantages over artificial materials engineered to mimic bird behavior.

The researchers believe that their bird-built drones can effectively camouflage in the air, being more likely to be ignored due to their realistic appearance. These drones may not excel in performing complex aerial maneuvers like a living bird, but they could become an essential tool in espionage or wildlife study.

From stealth to espionage

One unique advantage of using bird feathers in these taxidermied bird drones is the stealth capabilities they offer. Unlike the noticeable hum of an electric motor propelling a typical drone, a bird drone with flapping feathered wings could potentially sneak up on targets quietly without alarming them. This would be particularly useful in studying and observing wildlife in their natural habitats, without disturbing their normal behaviors. Military applications could also benefit from the stealth properties of these feathered drones, providing an innovative approach to surveillance and reconnaissance.

The current bird-built drones, however, have limitations. Unlike real birds that use their muscles to flex and shape their wings for executing intricate aerial maneuvers, these drones can only flap their stiff wings up and down to stay airborne. The challenge for the researchers lies in advancing the technology to imbue their bird drones with greater agility in flight.

The research from New Mexico Tech presents an intriguing intersection of biology and technology, pushing the boundaries of how we perceive and utilize drones. As they continue to refine their design, these bird-built drones could revolutionize areas from espionage to wildlife observation. Yet, ethical considerations, including the use of taxidermied birds, will undoubtedly be part of the ongoing discourse as this technology evolves.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Researchers Are Turning Taxidermied Birds Into Drones” — Gizmodo

WTF Fun Fact 13451 – Shape-Shifting Robot

You’ve seen robotic dogs, humanoid robots that can do backflips, etc. – but have you seen the new shape-shifting robots? Just what the world needs, right? Well…maybe!

Do shape-shifting robots really exist?

They do exist, but they’re small – and they’re certainly not a threat. Although we don’t exactly love the headline from EurekAlert “Watch this person-shaped robot liquify and escape jail, all with the power of magnets.” But whatever. Like all robots, they’re pretty cool, aside from their (granted, far-fetched) potential to destroy us all.

This robot can indeed transform, liquefy itself, slip into the smallest crevices, and then reassemble with absolute precision. The shape-shifting robot creators drew inspiration from a sea cucumber.

What do a sea cucumber and a shape-shifting robot have in common?

Sea cucumbers have a unique ability—they can alter their stiffness rapidly and reversibly. This is the fascinating biological phenomenon that the researchers hoped to replicate in their robotic system.

Traditional robots, with their rigid bodies, lack the flexibility to navigate small spaces. There are “softer” robots, but while they’re more pliable, are often weaker and harder to control. So, to overcome these challenges, the team aimed to create a robot that could oscillate between being a solid and a liquid.

The new breed of robot is an alloy of gallium—a metal with a low melting point—and includes embedded magnetic particles. The particles allow the robot to respond to magnetic fields, which scientists can use to control its movement and induce changes in its state—from solid to liquid and vice versa.

The team from Carnegie Mellon University christened their groundbreaking creation the “magnetoactive solid-liquid phase transitional machine.” Catchy!

The power of transformation

In a magnetic field, the robot can jump, stretch, climb walls, and even solder a circuit board. Its most impressive trick? The ability to liquefy and squeeze itself out of a mock prison—only to solidify once again on the outside. When in solid state, this robot can bear weights 30 times its own, demonstrating remarkable strength and flexibility.

Interestingly, the shapeshifting robot might have potential applications in the medical field. In a proof-of-concept experiment, the robot successfully removed a ball from a model of a human stomach. It quickly moved to the ball, melted around it, reformed, and exited the model stomach—ball in tow.

Although gallium was the metal of choice in these experiments, other metals could be introduced to adjust the melting point for real-life applications.

Future applications

Looking ahead, the gallium robots could serve a variety of purposes. From assembling and repairing hard-to-reach circuits to acting as a universal screw that melts and reforms to fit any socket, the possibilities seem endless.

The technology might have significant biomedical applications as well. For instance, these robots could deliver drugs inside a patient’s body or remove foreign objects. However, before any in-human application, tracking the robot’s position within a patient’s body is a hurdle scientists need to overcome.

Who knows, maybe a doctor will ask you to swallow a shape-shifting robot someday. What a thing to look forward to!

Wanna see the robot melt and reconstitute? Someone set it to some soothing music on YouTube:

 WTF fun facts

Source: “This Shape-Shifting Robot Can Liquefy Itself and Reform” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 13449 – How Google reCAPTCHA works

Do you know how Google reCAPTCHA works? Maybe you’ve thought about it if you’ve ever been annoyed at having to prove to a machine that you’re human.

How Google reCAPTCHA works?

Google’s reCAPTCHA is a type of CAPTCHA, an acronym that stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. By serving as a litmus test for human-like interaction, CAPTCHAs are designed to protect websites against spam and online fraud. However, the “I am not a robot” prompt is far more than your run-of-the-mill CAPTCHA.

This advanced version does not solely rely on deciphering distorted text or identifying objects within images. When you click on that “I am not a robot” box, a risk analysis engine kicks into gear. It considers numerous factors that distinguish humans from bots.

This system notes the time it takes to interact with the checkbox and your IP address. It even tracks the peculiarities of your mouse movements. The mechanics of how you type, known as keystroke dynamics, is another vital piece of data used in this process.

All these factors collaborate to create a risk profile, allowing reCAPTCHA to make an informed decision about your human-ness.

Why clicking the box doesn’t prove you’re human

However, it’s worth addressing a common myth here. Some believe that when they engage with the “I am not a robot” checkbox, reCAPTCHA goes through their browsing history. It’s true that reCAPTCHA collects certain user data like cookies for abuse detection and prevention. However, it doesn’t comb through your individual browsing history. Google, the provider of reCAPTCHA, has robust privacy measures to ensure user data isn’t misused.

But that’s not to say that reCAPTCHA doesn’t consider your past interactions. As part of Google’s services, it can use cookies and session data to understand if you’ve frequently interacted with CAPTCHAs in the past. This information can influence the risk analysis engine’s decision-making (but it’s a far cry from inspecting your browsing history).

As we’ve uncovered, the “I am not a robot” checkbox is more than a simple statement. It’s a potent piece of technology.

As we continue to use the internet , it’s vital to understand these unseen mechanisms.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “People Are Just Now Learning How The “I Am Not A Robot” Captcha Test Actually Works” — IFL Science

WTF Fun Fact 13446 – Danish AI Political Party

The Synthetic Party is a Danish AI political party led by an AI chatbot named Leader Lars.

How does an AI political party work?

Denmark’s political landscape is making an intriguing pivot towards artificial intelligence. Leader Lars was brought to life by artist collective Computer Lars and the non-profit art and tech organization MindFuture Foundation. Is this a new era in political representation?

The Synthetic Party, established in May 2022, aspires to represent the values of the 20% of Danes who do not vote. This AI chatbot is not just a figurehead. It’s equipped with policies drawn from Danish fringe parties since 1970. And its human members are committed to executing these AI-derived platforms.

Why involve an AI in politics?

The Synthetic Party seeks to represent data from all fringe parties striving for a parliamentary seat. It’s a novel concept that allows individual political visions, usually limited by financial and logistical constraints, to gain representation. The unique aspect of this political approach is the interaction between citizens and Leader Lars on Discord, a platform where people can speak directly to the AI. This feature fosters a unique form of democratic engagement.

The party’s AI-led political approach raises questions about the viability and accountability of machine learning in government. For instance, can an AI truly grasp and represent human needs and values? How do we hold an AI accountable for its decisions? The Synthetic Party’s response to these questions lies in the transparency and auditability of AI decision-making processes.

Party policy

The Synthetic Party’s policies are bold, to say the least. From establishing a universal basic income of 100,000 Danish kroner per month (equivalent to $13,700, and over double the Danish average salary) to creating a jointly-owned internet and IT sector within the government, the party seeks to innovate and challenge the status quo.

Crucially, the Synthetic Party is not about putting a chatbot in charge. Instead, it’s about exploring the democratic potential of AI and machine learning. The party sees AI as a tool to amplify and understand a wide range of opinions, even if those opinions sometimes contradict each other.

In addition to offering fresh political perspectives, the Synthetic Party aims to raise awareness about the role of AI in our lives and the importance of AI accountability. For example, it advocates for the addition of an 18th Sustainable Development Goal. This would focus on the relationship between humans and AI to the United Nations’ SDGs.

The Synthetic Party seeks to promote a more democratic, accountable, and transparent use of AI in politics. The party needs 20,000 signatures to run in the 2023 November general election. If it gets those, it could introduce a novel form of political representation in Denmark. It would be one that goes beyond a simple figurehead and instead uses AI as a tool for political change.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “This Danish Political Party Is Led by an AI” — VICE

WTF Fun Fact 13445 – The Shortlife Clock

Life is short – and the shortlife clock is here to remind you of that grim fact every morning. It was designed to make you question your perception of time and mortality – which is obviously the first thing you want to do when the alarm goes off. Right?

This fascinating gadget is the brainchild of artist Dries Depoorter. And it does add an extra layer of thought-provoking contemplation to the mundane act of timekeeping.

What exactly is the Shortlife Clock?

The Shortlife clock isn’t just your run-of-the-mill timekeeper. At first glance, it seems to be a standard digital clock. But wait, there’s a catch! This unique gadget counts down the estimated time left in your life, based on statistics from the World Health Organization. Talk about a reality check! The clock gives an entirely new perspective on the value of each second, minute, and hour.

How does it work? The clock requires the user to input their age and gender. Then, it uses this information, along with WHO data, to estimate the user’s life expectancy. The countdown starts ticking from that point forward, offering a thought-provoking and somewhat confronting reminder of our mortality.

With every tick, the Shortlife clock gently nudges you to seize the day. At the very least, you get a humbling reminder that time is a finite resource. So make the most of every moment!

A $180 reminder of your mortality

The clock isn’t just about morbid fascination. Or at least it doesn’t have to be. Think of it as a heartfelt call to action to appreciate the time you have.

Though the Shortlife clock might seem a bit macabre to some, its concept has fascinated many. And it’s sparked some meaningful conversations about life, death, and how we choose to spend our time.

More than just a quirky gadget, it’s a tool for introspection. It can help you to reflect on how you spend your days. Or it can be a (subtle?) reminder to get on with life and make the most of the time you have left.

To some, the Shortlife clock serves as an invitation to live more intentionally, to appreciate the fleeting beauty of existence. To others, it serves as a conversation starter, a unique piece of decor that sparks curiosity and in-depth discussions about life and time.

The Shortlife clock’s popularity is a testament to its thought-provoking nature. It seems that people are drawn to the idea of visualizing the impermanence of life. The Shortlife clock caters to this interest, allowing people to confront their mortality in a tangible way.

So, if you’re in the mood for a little existential contemplation, or if you’re looking for a conversation starter that goes beyond the usual small talk, the Shortlife clock might just be what you need. After all, it’s not every day you come across a gadget that makes you contemplate life’s biggest questions. It is, however, $180.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Shortlife Click, V2” — Tindie

WTF Fun Fact 13431 – Ford’s Self-Repossessing Truck

In a move that could revolutionize the automotive industry, Ford has patented a system enabling self-repossessing trucks. Through connectivity and automation, these vehicles could potentially drive themselves back to the dealer in the event of missed payments.

This idea of autonomous repossession is a powerful example of how technology is reshaping our world.

Self-repossessing trucks in the patent stage

The patent, as reported by The Verge, illustrates a system in which a vehicle can determine if it’s subject to repossession based on data received from a remote source. It’s not yet a reality.

However, in the future, a car could disable its own engine or even navigate itself back to the lender, provided it’s safe and legal to do so.

While this might sound dystopian to some, it’s essential to consider the problem this solution aims to address. Traditional repossession methods are far from perfect. They can lead to conflicts, damages, or, in some cases, even legal issues. Autonomous repossession could potentially eliminate these complications, making the process smoother for all parties involved.

But wait, there’s more!

But, Ford’s self-repossessing trucks patent doesn’t stop there. The documentation suggests that these vehicles could also potentially find and connect with a tow truck for assistance if self-driving to the dealer isn’t possible. The vehicle’s systems could even schedule a convenient pick-up time with the towing company, streamlining the entire process.

However, such a concept isn’t without its concerns. Critics argue that autonomous repossession could pose privacy risks. After all, the technology requires tracking and controlling vehicles remotely, raising questions about data security and personal privacy. Ford, along with all automakers pursuing such technologies, will need to address these concerns as development progresses.

Will it really work?

Furthermore, the actual implementation of this system in real-world conditions is another challenge. Various laws regulate vehicle repossession, which differ from state to state, and the legality of a self-repossessing car is still untested. Therefore, while the patent is granted, the road to seeing self-repossessing cars in action might be long and winding.

Ford’s self-repossessing car patent is a clear reflection of our changing times. It encapsulates both the remarkable potential of automation and connectivity, and the complex challenges that come along. It’s a compelling narrative of how technology continues to reimagine our world and how we must navigate the balance between innovation and privacy, efficiency and legality.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Ford’s self-repossessing car patent is a nightmare of the connected-car future” — The Verge