dragonfly

The CIA's 1970s-era "Insectothopter" spy drone

In the 1970s, the CIA created a dragonfly-shaped drone that carried a microphone, with the goal of using it to snoop on remote targets. It was a pretty ingenious piece of engineering: propelled by a liquid fuel and guided by a laser, it actually achieved flight in a few tests. The CIA has released footage of one here:

The drone didn't maneuver very well, though, as IEEE Spectrum notes:

Unfortunately, even the gentlest breeze blew the 1-gram Insectothopter off course. It’s unclear if the laser guidance and data link were ever implemented. In any event, the UAV never flew an actual spy mission.

Why fashion it after that particular insect?

Dragonflies are nimble aerialists, able to hover, glide, and even fly backward. They can turn 180 degrees in three wingbeats. The Insectothopter’s 6-⁠centimeter-long body and 9-cm wingspan were well within the range of an actual dragonfly’s dimensions. Plus, dragonflies are native to every continent except Antarctica, so their presence would be unremarkable, at least in the appropriate season.

Me, I wonder if the CIA designers had another influence: The sci-fi YA novel Danny Dunn, Invisible Boy. It came out in 1974 -- right around the time that the CIA was making that invention -- and it's the story of an inventor who creates a dragonfly-shaped drone that contains a tiny camera and microphone, and is piloted by a user who wears a VR-style headset.

I wrote about the novel a few years ago, because it was amazingly prescient about the civil dangers of omnipresent high-tech governmental spying ... Read the rest

Unknown hackers have gained near-total control over some US power generation companies

Hacker takeovers of power infrastructure have been seen in Ukraine (where they are reliably attributed to Russian state actors), but now the US power-grid has been compromised by hackers of unknown origin, who have "switch-flipping" control -- that is, they can just turn it all off. Read the rest

Gorgeous metallic insects and skulls with engraved patterns

UK-based artist Billy Bogiatzoglou creates intricate images of engraved insects and skulls. The Engraved Entomology series has especially detailed beetles, dragonflies, and arachnids. Read the rest

Crowdfunded robot dragonfly project in trouble

In another high-profile failure of a successfully-crowdfunded gadget, it turns out that TechJect's robot dragonflies won't be flying their way to pledgers' pockets any time soon. Read the rest

The "Medieval Monsters" of England's ancient forests

Beautiful footage, perfectly narrated by Phil Reynolds, of the billions of beasties underfoot—and underground—in the New Forest. Beetles, bugs, dragonflies, and the law of an unseen landscape, all shot on a Super35 digital movie camera and a Canon 7D.

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Driver turns up music and starts dancing after 2am traffic stop

"A dancing driver has been banned from the roads," report police in England, "after parking his car on a roundabout and claiming he was on his way to Stonehenge." Read the rest

Fluffiest galaxies discovered

The adorably-named Dragonfly 44 is 70,000 light years across—about twice that of the Milky Way—and one of the most diffuse galaxies yet observed.

“If the Milky Way is a sea of stars, then these newly discovered galaxies are like wisps of clouds”, said van Dokkum. “We are beginning to form some ideas about how they were born and it’s remarkable they have survived at all. They are found in a dense, violent region of space filled with dark matter and galaxies whizzing around, so we think they must be cloaked in their own invisible dark matter ‘shields’ that are protecting them from this intergalactic assault.”

The fluffy galaxies, captured by Keck Observatory, are about 300 million light years away and something of a cosmic mystery. Read the rest

Fruit fly and zebrafish brains may help unlock secrets of our human minds

At a facility considered a Nirvana for scientists, researchers pursue greater understanding of biomedical processes, using test subjects like dragonflies and zebrafish

Dragonflies outfitted with brain sensor backpacks

Neuroscientist have attached an electronic "backpack" to dragonflies that jack into the insect's brain and wirelessly transmit the data back to a base station. Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher Anthony Leonardo and his collaborators hope the telemetry will deepen our understanding of how dragonflies target and catch their pray. (via Wired) Read the rest

"By His Things Will You Know Him," a short story

“My father kept things. I mean, he didn’t like to throw things away. Nothing.” I looked into his eyes as I said these words. I’d said them before, to explain my spotless desk...

A list of disgusting non-food things found in hot dogs

Happy Labor Day cookout, everyone! Maggots, worms, metal, plastic, a razor, and semen are but some of the many non-food substances callers claimed were in their hot dogs, in complaints lodged with the U.S. Department of Agriculture between 2007 and 2009.

More from Stephen Rex Brown, writing for The Local East Village, a NYT blog:

Back in 2009, this reporter filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking the U.S.D.A. to give up its dirty-dog logs. The 64 case files finally came in this week, just in time for the holiday! Consider them food for thought if you’re planning to grill during these last dog days of summer.

(...) One report told of a “winged insect that resembled a dragonfly inside the package of hot dogs,” and noted that the insect’s “head, eyes, and wings are visible. Insect is black in color, over 1-inch long.”

Of course, some of us are grossed out by the actual stuff that goes into hot dogs on purpose—random flesh and leftover critter parts. Veggie dogs for me, please.

More hot dog horror stories here, and view the actual documents here. If. You. Dare.

Image above: shards of glass were found in this package of hot dogs, according to a USDA complaint.

(thanks, Daniel Maurer and Jason Wishnow!) Read the rest

Poignant short film about the death of a dragonfly

When filmmaker Paul Kroeker found a dragonfly dying on his deck, he turned the animal's final moments into a beautiful and haunting short movie. Who says insects can't be charismatic fauna?

(Via John Pavlus)

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Float: ultralight rubber-band-powered duration model planes

Float Documentary Trailer from Phil Kibbe on Vimeo.

These beautiful dragonfly-like model planes can float for up to half an hour under the power of one single-wound rubber band. Check out the trailer for Float posted by Phil Kibbe. Amazing craftsmanship and techniques! Video link. (via devour.com) Read the rest

How to REALLY save your favorite sci-fi show from cancelation

How to really save a sci-fi TV show from being canceled.

Handmade mechanical dragonfly

Etsy seller JesseDanger's $15,000 "Anax Imperator Machina" is a hand-made, precision clockwork dragonfly whose wings flap -- made from gold and silver.

Modeled after the largest modern species of dragonfly, this is a functioning creation whose wings flutter up and down when the very tip of the tail (really the abdomen, but tail sounds cooler) is turned. The inspiration for this complex mechanical insect originated from many of the fantasized gadgets of Leonardo da Vinci and other mechanical creations once thought futuristic in times long before our own. Inspired by these designs I set out to recreate nature using classical engineering and an elegant form. My intentions are to develop and continue making more of these mechanical insects.

The internal mechanisms, gears and moving parts were painstakingly hand-milled and hand-calibrated with absolute precision from 14k gold. The body, mechanical frame and wings were handcrafted from Argentium Silver, far superior to Sterling or fine silver. The body opens up to reveal the intricate inner movements, and fine details that just could not be left forever covered up! The eyes are each large 10 carat Swiss Blue Topaz cabochons and the 14k gold bezel on the tail contains a 4mm Amethyst bullet shaped cabochon.

Link Read the rest

Fossilized scorpion was bigger than a human

Paleontologists discovered a giant fossilized claw that once belonged to an 2.5 meter (8 foot) long sea scorpion. The University of Bristol scientists uncovered the claw near Prum, Germany. It's approximately 400 million years old. From the Associated Press:

"We have known for some time that the fossil record yields monster millipedes, super-sized scorpions, colossal cockroaches, and jumbo dragonflies. But we never realized until now just how big some of these ancient creepy-crawlies were," (paleontologist Simon Braddy) said...

Braddy said the sea scorpions also were cannibals that fought and ate one other, so it helped to be as big as they could be.

"The competition between this scorpion and its prey was probably like a nuclear standoff, an effort to have the biggest weapon," he said. "Hundreds of millions of years ago, these sea scorpions had the upper hand over vertebrates -- backboned animals like ourselves."

Link Read the rest

Blue Man nursery school

Two of the three founders of Blue Man Group have started a nursery school. The Blue Man Creativity Center opened last week with 43 enrollees aged two to four. It sounds like a cross between a Reggio Emilia school and an acid trip. From The New Yorker:

Every day at the center will end with a ritual called Glow Time, during which the shades are lowered, the regular lights are turned off, and black lights are turned on, illuminating the parts of the room (including work created by the students) that have been painted with special UV paint. The collection of Blue Man-inspired educational gewgaws on hand is a far cry from flash cards and Play-Doh. There’s a hypnotic Bubble Machine, with kid-controlled colored lights; a futuristic Water Machine, with a mini-whirlpool; and a trippy installation, left over from the B.M.G.’s 2003 tour, of giant computer-animated dragonflies that can be made to light up, flap their wings, and fly. The Tree House, whose slide deposits kids in the Texture Pit, looks like fun. So does the OMi-Beam machine, a computerized rig made up of eight ceiling-mounted halogen lamps, loudspeakers, and a video monitor (there is only one other OMi-Beam machine in the country, at Madame Tussaud’s). Colored beams create pools of light on the floor, and by waving a reflective wand through the beams kids can produce any number of sounds, from musical instruments to the calls of barnyard animals and samples of pop hits from the nineteen-eighties (one is Fatboy Slim’s “Rockafeller Skank”).

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