MySci Round-Up, October 28: "Can You Hear Me Now?" …in 1928?

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There’s rumors on the Internets about a YouTube video of verite sidewalk footage shot in 1928 at the Premiere of a Charlie Chaplin movie, which shows a woman walking down the street and holding something to her ear, as if she’s having a cell phone conversation. The clip was extracted and posted by George Clarke, a Belfast-based indie film director and film festival impresario who spotted the woman in bonus footage included in the DVD edition of Chaplin’s film “The Circus.” 

As Clarke blogs on the web site of his company, Yellow Fever Productions: “Played over

100 times, slowed down, zoomed up, frame by frame – the scene in question features a pretty large woman (to which I am now convinced is a man in drag) strolling past the camera while talking on a mobile phone! …oh yeah, and its 1928!!!… You

won’t believe your eyes – and if you do, and can give me some sort of explanation, please.”

The clip quickly went viral on YouTube, attracting 1.4 million views in a week, and garnered global media attention. But what is it? The notion of someone possessing a 21st Century-sized mobile phone in 1928 is a bit bizarre. As we noted recently in this 
blog post, the first wireless communications device was developed back in 1879, and by the mid-1910s, vacuum tubes made it possible to transmit wireless voice calls with clarity across the Atlantic. But bulky equipment needed to make a wireless call in 1928 wouldn’t have fit into someone’s hand. 
As this PC World article notes, the first wireless telephone capable of making calls from an automobile didn’t come along until after World War II, and it weighed a hefty 80 pounds. Additionally, in 1928, there were no mobile networks transmitting calls, so all wireless communication had to be directly from transmitter-to-receiver. (Here’s a 1936 article from Popular Science, envisioning a future in which people would be able to receive wireless calls and information from radio transmitters placed on every city block—a system similar in concept to today’s mobile networks.)

New York Daily News writer Michael Sheridan writes: “while this fantastical theory is fun to ponder, in all likelihood the woman is actually using a hearing aid. The device was invented in the 1920s, and by 1928 there were a few small devices available, such as ones manufactured by Acousticon, that could explain the device in her hand.”

Of course, there’s one other possibility: The woman with her hand is actually the cleverly-disguised young time-traveling protagonist of the Molly Moon children’s novels. And while you’re scouring that video footage for a glimpse of Molly’s loyal pet pug Petula, here are the stories of the day.

China claims fastest supercomputer crown from the U.S. Wow. We predict that someday, most of our laptops, mobile phones, flat-panel TVs, and other gadgets will be made in China instead of the U.S. What’s that you say—they’re doing that already? Oh, our bad.

Study shows that on Facebook, race is trumped by ethnic, geographical and social factors in friendships. The most significant factor, as it turns out, is simply the desire to reciprocate when someone else “friends” you. Doesn’t that make you want to lock arms around a campfire and sing “kumbaya”?

UK government blasts Google over Street View privacy issues. Meanwhile, somewhere in Scotland, Horse Boy is not amused.

Research shows blind people perceive touch faster than sighted ones. The brain apparently adapts in this fashion to compensate for lack fo visual information.

“Superhero Suit” will strengthen astronauts’ bones in space. If this works, we may want to put Sally Field in orbit in one of these outfits, too.