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Scary soundtracks, insecure museums, and students who prefer books Add to ...

Satellite massacre looms?

"Trash in space may bring commerce and communications on Earth to a halt, unless policymakers and executives take steps to prevent satellite collisions with orbiting junk, according to a Pentagon report," The Washington Post says. "Potential crashes between satellites and debris - refuse from old rockets, abandoned satellites and missile shrapnel - are threatening the $250-billion (U.S.) space-services market providing financial communication, global-positioning navigation, international phone connections, Google Earth pictures, television signals and weather forecasts, the report says. … Scientists are warning that space collisions could set off an uncontrolled chain reaction that might make some orbits unusable for commercial or military satellites because they are too littered with debris. The February, 2009, crash between a Russian Cosmos satellite and an Iridium Communications satellite left 1,500 pieces of junk, each whizzing around the Earth at 4.8 miles (7.7 kilometres) a second and each capable of destroying more satellites. 'This is almost the tipping point,' Bharath Gopalaswamy, an Indian rocket scientist researching space debris at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said in an e-mail response to questions. 'No satellite can be reliably shielded against this type of destructive force.' "

Students prefer books

"A new study of 19 U.S. college campuses reveals that students still like good old textbooks," the Huffington Post reports. "The study, conducted by OnCampus Research, found that almost 75 per cent of students prefer the printed academic word to its digital counterpart. More than half the students surveyed said they wouldn't purchase electronic textbooks.

Scary soundtracks

"Researchers say that the score for popular movies tap into our basic animalistic brain to evoke all kinds of feelings from sadness, to fear, to excitement," The Daily Telegraph reports. "They believe that 'non-linear vocal attributes,' the rasping and distortion of voices used by mammals in times of duress, are used by film soundtrack composers. The technique included the overblowing of brass and wind instruments and the metallic rasp of a French horn when a hand is placed in the bell. They also employed feedback loops from electric guitars and the crash and bang of drums and cymbals. Prof. Daniel Blumstein, the lead author at the University of California, compared a number of soundtracks from Hollywood blockbusters to the distress calls of marmots. He found that the deliberate distortion of sound and sudden pitch and harmony changes at times of dramatic tension … mimicked the alarm calls given out by marmots at times of duress."

Insecure museums

Last week's art theft in Paris "has been described as the art heist of the century," writes Ulich Boser in The Wall Street Journal. "But no criminal mastermind was required here. It turns out that the museum had been about as secure as a woodshed. The alarm system had been malfunctioning for almost two months, and while the museum had ordered replacement parts, they had not yet arrived. It also appears that the museum's guards may have been napping - or at least were remarkably inattentive. … While paintings have become some of the most valuable items on the planet, many museums have not done enough to protect their collections, and art crime has developed into one of the world's largest criminal enterprises. The trafficking of looted paintings and sculptures is estimated to be a $6-billion (U.S.) industry - with more than 50,000 heists occurring annually - and organized crime syndicates now regularly trade in stolen art."

Infected scientist

A British scientist says he is the first man in the world to become infected with a computer virus, BBC News reports. "Dr. Mark Gasson from the University of Reading, England, contaminated a computer chip which was then inserted into his hand. The device, which enables him to pass through security doors and activate his mobile phone, is a sophisticated version of ID chips used to tag pets. In trials, Dr. Gasson showed that the chip was able to pass on the computer virus to external control systems. If other implanted chips had then connected to the system, they too would have been corrupted, he said."

The shoplifter's profile

A new study has identified dimensions of personality seen in persons prone to shoplifting, reports Psych Central News. Psychologists at the University of Leicester, England, found three personality characteristics stood out: Being male; unpleasant and anti-social; and disorganized and unreliable. The study also found that younger and outgoing people are more likely to steal from stores or commit minor fraud.

A fat cat weaned

"A BBC executive whose salary of more than ₤100,000 ($150,000) was disclosed in a list of the corporation's top earners has been disinherited," The Sunday Times of London reports.

Shaken, not stirred?

"When I was 12 years old," writes W. Bruce Cameron in The Denver Post, my father sat me down to warn me of the dangers of alcohol. 'Son,' he said gravely, 'never make a martini with too much vermouth.' "

Thought du jour

"Art is the only way to run away without leaving home." - Twyla Tharp

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