Murder, IT security and other mysteries: The stories of Layer 8 in 2011

We take a look at what you liked to read about over the past year

Today we take a short look back at the most popular stories posted in my Layer 8 column in the past year.  The FBI story looking for help from the public was by far the most popular of the year.  Read on:

FBI wants public help solving encrypted notes from murder mystery

The FBI went looking for the public's help in breaking an encrypted code found in two notes discovered on the body of a murdered man in 1999. The FBI says that officers in St. Louis, Missouri discovered the body of 41-year-old Ricky McCormick on June 30, 1999 in a field and the clues regarding the homicide were two encrypted notes found in the victim's pants pockets.  The story generated a ton of interest and emails to the FBI but as of this writing nothing has solved the case.

More cool stuff: 15 cool energy projects of 2011

Driver using two cell phones gets 12 month driving ban

This guy is the poster boy for why cell phone usage in cars should be banned in more places and ultimately might be in the US. According to press out of the United Kingdom, a man who was driving at 70MPH while texting on one phone and talking on the other has been banned from driving for a year.  Initial reports said that the driver, David Secker was apparently using his knees to steer the car, an accusation he refuted in court. 

Gartner: 10 key IT trends for 2012

If you had to pick 10 technology-related trends that will impact your enterprise infrastructure in the coming year, Gartner says you'd do well to start with virtualization and move to other issues such as social media influence, energy issues and flat networks to name just a few.

Even more cool stuff: The weirdest, wackiest and coolest sci/tech stories of 2011

NASA satellite snaps rare cloud-free emerald Ireland

NASA's Aqua satellite early this year snapped a cloud-free shot of Ireland. The cloud-free view is extremely rare as the country is almost entirely cloud covered 50% of the time according to the Irish Meteorological Service, Met Éireann.   There are more clouds during the day than at night, and fog is common. According to NASA, Ireland owes its greenness to moderate temperatures and moist air. The Atlantic Ocean, particularly the warm currents in the North Atlantic Drift, gives the country a more temperate climate than most others at the same latitude.

US Dept. of Energy devises security system to thwart rampant copper thefts

The US Department of Energy and its Oak Ridge National Laboratory this year built a security system that is aimed at thwarting at least some of the copper thefts that plague utilities and other large facilities. Specifically, "ORNL, DOE, the utility and several subcontractors installed a comprehensive perimeter security system consisting of energy efficient lighting, surveillance cameras that operate in a high voltage environment and an anti-cut, anti-climb fence system with integral intrusion detection cable. The complete system protects a perimeter area of 3600 linear feet."

Billion-pixel camera set to snap Milky Way shots

The European Space Agency said it completed what it calls the largest digital camera ever built for a space mission - a one billion pixel array camera that will help create a three-dimensional picture of the Milky Way Galaxy.  Set to be launched onboard the ESA's galaxy-mapping Gaia mission in 2013, the digital camera was "mosaicked together from 106 separate electronic detectors."  ESA says that Gaia's measurements will be so accurate that, if it were on Earth, it could measure the thumbnails of a person on the Moon.

Read on: 25 tech touchstones of the past 25 years

NASA warns of geomagnetic storm after behemoth solar flare

NASA a few of  times this year warned of strong-to-severe geomagnetic storms following a number of massive solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CME).   CMEs are a solar phenomenon that can send solar particles into space and affect electronic systems in satellites and on Earth.  Though there haven't been reports of damage, geosynchronous satellites could at some point be directly exposed to solar wind plasma and magnetic fields.

NASA shoots down comet Elenin doom and gloom predictions

The comet Elenin which passed by Earth October 16 generated such an inordinate amount of doomsday reports from a number of different sources that NASA issued a release meant to address a variety of them. Don Yeomans of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory offered:  There have been incorrect speculations on the Internet that alignments of comet Elenin with other celestial bodies could cause consequences for Earth and external forces could cause comet Elenin to come closer. "Any approximate alignments of comet Elenin with other celestial bodies are meaningless, and the comet will not encounter any dark bodies that could perturb its orbit, nor will it influence us in any way here on Earth," said Yeomans.  "Comet Elenin will not only be far away, it is also on the small side for comets," said Yeomans. "And comets are not the most densely-packed objects out there. They usually have the density of something akin to loosely packed icy dirt. "So you've got a modest-sized icy dirtball that is getting no closer than 35 million kilometers [about 22 million miles)," said Yeomans. "It will have an immeasurably miniscule influence on our planet. By comparison, my subcompact automobile exerts a greater influence on the ocean's tides than comet Elenin ever will."

Free DARPA software lets gamers hunt submarines

If you have ever wanted to go torpedo-to-torpedo with a submariner, now is your chance. The crowdsource-minded folks at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency rolled out an online game that lets players try to catch elusive, quiet enemy submarines. According to DARPA the Sonalysts Combat Simulations Dangerous Waters software was been written to simulate actual evasion techniques used by submarines, challenging each player to track them successfully. "Your tracking vessel is not the only ship at sea, so you'll need to safely navigate among commercial shipping traffic as you attempt to track the submarine, whose driver has some tricks up his sleeve. You will earn points as you complete mission objectives, and will have the opportunity to see how you rank against the competition."

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  and on Facebook

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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