Posts Tagged ‘Rome’
From The New Yorker, The Hundred Best Lists of All Time.
As we rankle at the rankings, we might note that this was the Feast Day of the Ass in ancient Rome. The festival honored Vesta, the daughter of Chronos (Time) and Rhea (Earth), and legendary founder of the Vestal Virgins, a cult of six virginal women priestesses who were charged with keeping alive the flame burning in their temple at the center of Rome. The celebration was named as it was in honor of the donkey that saved Vesta’s honor: As told by Propertius, the young Vesta was being sought by the “horned” Priapus, who approached one night as she lay sleeping. Her ass’s loud braying awakened her in time to defend herself from his advances.
From Technology Review:
A computer chip that performs calculations using probabilities, instead of binary logic, could accelerate everything from online banking systems to the flash memory in smart phones and other gadgets.
Rewriting some fundamental features of computer chips, Lyric Semiconductor has unveiled its first “probability processor,” a silicon chip that computes with electrical signals that represent chances, not digital 1s and 0s.
“We’ve essentially started from scratch,” says Ben Vigoda, CEO and founder of the Boston-based startup. Vigoda’s PhD thesis underpins the company’s technology. Starting from scratch makes it possible to implement statistical calculations in a simpler, more power efficient way, he says…
Read the full story here.
As we remind ourselves that dealing with our banks was already a crap-shoot, we might recall that it was on this date in 79 CE, the feast day of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire, that Mount Vesuvius began to stir– in preparation for the eruption that, two days later, destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Fresco of Bacchus and Agathodaemon with Mount Vesuvius, as seen in Pompeii’s House of the Centenary (source)
Captured by high-resolution cameras aboard a robotic submersible, mineral-rich water spews from hydrothermal vents in this June 30 picture of Kawio Barat, a massive undersea volcano off Indonesia.
During the past few weeks, the submerged volcano– one of the world’s largest– was mapped and explored in detail for the first time by a joint Indonesian-U.S. expedition north of the island of Sulawesi (map).
Read the whole story, and see fascinating video, at National Geographic.
As we batten down the hatches, we might recall that it was on this date in 64 CE that the Great Fire of Rome began, ultimately destroying much of the Imperial City. The fire began in the slums of a district south of the Palatine Hill. The area’s homes burned very quickly and the fire spread north, fueled by high winds; it raged out of control for three days. Three of Rome’s 14 districts were completely razed; only four were untouched by the conflagration. Hundreds of people died in the fire and many thousands were left homeless.
Legend has it that the Emperor Nero fiddled while the city burned. Aside from the facts that the fiddle did not even exist at the time (Nero was an adept of the lyre) and that he was actually 35 miles away in Antium when the fire broke out, there could be something to it.
The shortwave radio station UVB-76 is known to DXers (serious shortwave listeners) as “The Buzzer” because it has been broadcasting a short, monotonous buzz tone (hear it here), repeating at a rate of approximately 25 tones per minute, 24 hours per day, since 1982… that is, until this past weekend, when it stopped.
Satellite photo of the UVB-76 transmitter near Povarovo, Russia
Many believe that UVB-76 was being used to transmit encoded messages to spies, as is generally assumed for the many numbers stations that populate shortwave frequencies…. though no nation’s government will confirm or deny the existence of the stations or their purpose. Or the constant transmission of its characteristic sound may have been signaling the availability or readiness of some kind of installation– a kind of “dead man’s switch” of a military or other installation– possibly for the infamous Dead Hand system.
But a more benign explanation is that the constant buzz was a High-Frequency Doppler used for ionosphere research of the sort described in the Russian Journal of Earth Sciences, in which radio waves are reflected from ionosphere inhomogeneities. (This method involves comparing a continuous radio transmission which is reflected by the ionosphere with a stable basic generator.) As it happens, the continuously-transmitted carrier frequency currently used for this research is the same as that of the UVB-76 (4.625 MHz).
Rest in peace (and quiet).
TotH to Above Top Secret.
As we keep our ears to the ground, we might note that this date, June 9, was a big one for the fifth and final Roman emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Nero: On this date in 53 CE, he married his step-sister, Claudia Octavia. Then on their anniversary in 62 CE, he had her executed. And on this date in 68 CE, Nero committed suicide, after quoting Homer’s Iliad. (On hearing the approach of horsemen who’d been dispatched by the Senate, which had declared Nero a public enemy, the deposed Emperor declared “Hark, now strikes on my ear the trampling of swift-footed coursers!”)
They sell popcorn, justify the “reach-around hug,” and just generally make an audience’s hearts beat faster– screams are a critical element in the motion picture formula. But screams aren’t easy. As Science News reports, it’s all about chaos theory…
Filmmakers use chaotic, unpredictable sounds to evoke particular emotions, say researchers who have assessed screams and other outbursts from more than 100 movies. The new findings, reported May 25 in Biology Letters, come as no surprise, but they do highlight an emerging if little-known area of study…
By exploring the use of such dissonant, harsh sounds in film, scientists hope to get a better understanding of how fear is expressed, says study coauthor Daniel Blumstein of the University of California, Los Angeles.
“Potentially, there are universal rules of arousal and ways to communicate fear,” says Blumstein, who typically studies screams in marmots, not starlets.
Blumstein and his coauthors acoustically analyzed 30-second cuts from more than 100 movies representing a broad array of genres. The movies included titles such as Aliens, Goldfinger, Annie Hall, The Green Mile, Slumdog Millionaire, Titanic, Carrie, The Shining and Black Hawk Down.
Not unexpectedly, the horror films had a lot of harsh and atonal screams. Dramatic films had sound tracks with fewer screams but a lot of abrupt changes in frequency. And adventure films, it turns out, had a surprising number of harsh male screams.
“Screams are basically chaos,” Fitch says…
A true, harsh scream “is not a trivial thing to do,” Fitch says. In fact, capturing a realistic, blood-curdling cry is so difficult that filmmakers have used the very same one, now found on many websites, in more than 200 movies. Known as the Wilhelm scream, it is named for the character who unleashed it in the 1953 western The Charge at Feather River.
By way of illustration, this YouTube video: three minutes of the Wilhelm scream through the years…
As we put our hands over our ears, we might recall that there was lots of screaming on this date in 455, as the Vandals entered Rome, which they plundered for the next two weeks.