MySci Round-Up, October 13: An Alarming Development

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On this day in 1953, New York inventor Samuel Bagno was issued a patent for the first ultrasonic motion detection alarm, which was manufactured by the Alertronic Corp. of Long Island City. As a 
1953 Time magazine article cheerily assured a fearful nation, the new invention “already [has] put a crimp in burglar business.” The Alertronic device generated sound waves with a frequency of 19,000 cycles a second, too high-pitched for human ears to detect. If something moved in the room, the sound waves reflected from it had a slightly different frequency, which the alarm was designed to detect. I then automatically alerted a local police station.

According to the Time article, one technical challenge that faced the inventor was keeping the alarm from going off whenever a mouse scampered into its sound field. That was solved by slightly turning down the sensitivity of the alarm’s receiver. Mice, however, had ears that could detect the alarm’s sound waves, “and the uproar frightens them so much that they die of a heart attack.” That may have been a bit of journalistic hyperbole–vermin are more likely to find the sound unpleasant than lethal. Nevertheless manufacturers eventually began to market ultrasonic pest control as well.

And now, for today’s science and technology headlines.

Those late-night TV and Internet sessions are making you fat, according to researchers. The additional nighttime light exposure disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm, throwing your metabolism out of whack. We suggest that they do a companion study to measure subjects’ tendency to consume Cheetos by the bagful when they think nobody’s looking.

“Phoenix Capsule” helps rescue Chilean miners. NASA engineers helped the Chilean navy custom dream up the device, which is 14 feet long but just 21.5 inches in diameter and designed to fit into a narrow bore-hole and haul the miners one by one to the surface.

Ancient animal urine provides insights into climate change. 
Generation after generation of the rock hyrax, a African animal that resembles a guinea pig, have been relieving themselves in the same spots for thousands of years, forming stratified crystalline formations that can be analyzed for biomarkers of plants eaten by the animals. That, in turn, yields a wealth of information about climate changes. But wow, does it smell.

Star turns into supernova but then is smothered by its own dust. 
The star emitted two dust clouds near the end of its lifetime, which apparently muffled its final explosion, Ohio State astronomers say.

Robot arm violates Asimov’s rule #1, punches humans in the arm. 
It’s okay, though. A Slovenian researcher is trying to figure out how to improve industrial robots’ design to make sure that they don’t accidentally injure workers.

Scientists propose “hidden” optical 3D data storage. 
If it’s hidden, though, how does anyone know that it’s 3D? We’re just saying.