The weirdest, wackiest and coolest sci/tech stories of 2012 (so far!)

From Apple to NASA and Stuxnet to robots, it's been a busy year

wacky tech

As we look at the first half of the year we see just a ton of science stories, what with all of the solar activities, NASA’s Mars mission and the first private space launch to the International Space Station. But there has been some extreme wackiness to – everything from they guy who attached the ipod to his arm and the Angry T-Mobile guy who ripped up a T-Mobile store as well as a Simpsons episode that took a look at robotics. Take a look.

FOR MORE: The weirdest, wackiest and coolest sci/tech stories of 2011 

The weirdest, wackiest and coolest sci/tech stories of 2010


The lack of key IT security protection is hurting NASA but nowhere was that more evident this year when a report issued by NASA Inspector General Paul Martin, found that security problems have gotten so bad that the March 2011 theft of an unencrypted NASA notebook computer resulted in the loss of the algorithms used to command and control the International Space Station.


NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (L), and SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk view the historic Dragon capsule that returned to Earth on May 31 following the first successful mission by a private company to carry supplies to the International Space Station.

stolen ipad
Sukree Sukplang / Reuters

In March, the iOnApple blog wrote that Police in Palo Alto were hot on the trail of a stolen iPad using the "Find my iPad" feature in iOS. Now there are certainly no shortage of stories involving authorities, and sometimes enterprising iOS owners, using the feature to track down their stolen/missing iPhone or iPad. After tracking down the iPad to an apartment complex in San Jose, the Palo Alto Police entered the apartment and were stunned to find, in addition to the iPad, one of the largest methamphetamine stashes ever seized in the U.S.

ipod nano
Keith Bedford / Reuters

Tattoo artist Dave Hurban displays an iPod Nano which he has attached to his wrists through magnetic piercings in his wrist.


Is it possible to develop an aircraft that can fly - and survive -- at over 20-times the speed of sound? The scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency still believes it can and announced a new program called Integrated Hypersonics "to develop, mature, and test next- generation technologies needed for global-range, maneuverable, hypersonic flight at Mach 20 and above for missions ranging from space access to survivable, time-critical transport to conventional prompt global air strikes.


How do you keep a robot from getting tired? Sounds like the set-up line for a joke, but the scientists at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have put out a call for technology that significantly bolsters robot energy efficiency while increasing its range and endurance. Within what it calls the Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program DARPA said it wants to develop and demonstrate high efficiency "actuation technology" that will let robots similar to the DARPA Robotics Challenge have 20 times longer endurance.

air force test vehicle

In June the Air Force said it had landed its mysterious Boeing X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle which had been orbiting the planet for more than a year. Officially the X-37B is demonstrating a reliable, reusable unmanned space test platform for the Air Force. Its objectives include space experimentation, risk reduction, and concept-of-operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies that could become key enablers for future space missions. Who knows what it’s really doing.

phone booth
Nacho Doce / Reuters

Here man takes a picture a public telephone booth painted by Brazilian artist Carla Pires during the Call Parade art exhibition in Sao Paulo July 7, 2012. The Call Parade is a street art exhibition involving 100 artists who decorated and painted 100 public telephone booths, which are falling into disuse as mobile phones become cheaper.

Related: The cool art of vintage phone booths


NASA is calling the event "the Spirit of 76 Pyrotechnics" - that is the amount of explosive devices that need to fire off to make sure the Mars Science Laboratory lands safely and successfully on the red planet's surface. From NASA: "Some Mars Science Laboratory pyrotechnics will be as small as the energy released by a box of matches. One packs the same oomph as a stick of TNT. Whether they are large or small, on the evening of August 5th (Pacific time), all 76 must work on cue as NASA's next Mars rover, Curiosity, carried by the Mars Science Laboratory, streaks through the Red Planet's atmosphere on its way to a landing at Gale Crater."

Doppler radar

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) researchers said recently that a Navy very high-resolution Doppler radar can actually spot individual raindrops in a cloudburst, possibly paving the way for new weather monitoring applications that could better track or monitor weather and severe storms.

paper airplane
Joshua Lott / Reuters

Here a 45-foot paper airplane from the Pima Air and Space Museum is raised by a helicopter before it is launched over the desert in Eloy, Ariz., in March. One of the world's largest paper airplanes, designed by renowned engineer Art Thompson, was launched to encourage youth interest in aviation.

Apple 1 computer

It's not one of a kind but pretty darn close. Sotheby's in June auctioned off a rare working Apple 1 computer for $374,500 to an unnamed bidder. The price was more than double the expected price listed on the Sotheby's web site. The Sotheby's notes about the Apple 1 say it is one of six thought to be operational boxes and one of about 50 known to exist.

voyager 1

In June NASA said its remarkable 34-year old Voyager 1 spacecraft may be getting close to breaking out of our solar system and into interstellar space. The reason NASA says the spacecraft may be getting close to that historic breakthrough is that the ship has "encountered a region in space where the intensity of charged particles from beyond our solar system has markedly increased."


When it comes to stirring the brains of genius, a good competition can bring forward some really great ideas. That's the driving notion behind myriad public competitions, or challenges as they are often labeled, that will take place in the near future sponsored by your U.S. government. A report issued in April by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy said that while the seven or so challenges that have been held in the first eight months under the auspices of the Competes act have resulted in some pretty cool applications, they are only the tip of the innovation iceberg.

Simpsons do robotics

The Simpsons do robotics. Form the TVFanatic blog: “After all the other employees were fired because their health becomes a legal liability for Mr. Burns, the power plant is run by a bunch of highly-advanced machines. A perfectly timed final word to Mr. Burns gets Homer the only human job left (leaving poor Smithers to teach elementary school). However, Homer gets a bad case of loneliness and decides to do a little reprogramming.”

space fence

Lockheed Martin in March said the prototype system it is developing to track all manner of space debris is now tracking actual orbiting space objects. The Space Fence prototype includes new ground-based radars and other technologies to enhance the way the U.S. detects, tracks, measures and catalogs orbiting objects and space debris with improved accuracy, better timeliness and increased surveillance coverage.

fast robot

In March, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency showed off what it said is the fastest legged robot. The "Cheetah" robot is capable of galloping at speeds of up to 18 miles per hour (mph), which set a new land speed record for legged robots. The previous record was 13.1 mph, set in 1989, DARPA stated.

radio telescope

The world's biggest planned radio telescope will need the world's most massive supercomputer to crunch its data - think more than 15 million iPods worth of power and storage according to one of the group's developing systems for the ambitious project. The International Center for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), a joint venture between Curtin University and The University of Western Australia -- is working with the Canadian Astronomical Data Centre (CADC) to possibly build the systems that will work with the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) radio telescope venture.

solar flare

Seems not a week goes by without a big solar flare erupts sending the Earth a massive shot of solar wind, radiation and electromagnetic pulses capable of damaging satellites, GPS and electronics - but one blast in January was the largest since 1995, NASA said.

complex passwords

Developers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency want to build information technology security that goes beyond simply recognizing complex passwords but rather gets in your head to confirm your identity before you get access or continue to have access to important information. Specifically, the agency's Active Authentication program looks to develop what DARPA calls "novel ways of validating the identity of the person at the console that focus on the unique aspects of the individual through the use of software-based biometrics."


In January astronomers said our Milky Way galaxy holds at least 100 billion planets -- a minimum of one planet for every star on average. The finding means that there could be a minimum of 1,500 planets within 50 light-years of Earth. The results are based on observations taken over six years by the Probing Lensing Anomalies NETwork (PLANET) collaboration. The study concludes that there are far more Earth-sized planets than big Jupiter-sized worlds.


Scientists at DARPA say there are some 1,300 satellites worth over $300 billion sitting out in Earth's geostationary orbit (GEO) that could be retrofitted or harvested for new communications roles. And it is now looking for a way to do just that herculean task. The agency said it expected to award about $36 million worth of contracts to companies interested in building system components for its Phoenix program which would use a squadron of what DARPA calls "satlets" and a larger tender craft to retrofit or retrieve old satellites and parts for reuse.

ibm mainframe

It's somewhat hard to imagine that NASA doesn't need the computing power of an IBM mainframe any more but NASA's CIO posted on her blog in February that by March, the Big Iron would be no more at the space agency. NASA CIO Linda Cureton wrote: “This month marks the end of an era in NASA computing. Marshall Space Flight Center powered down NASA's last mainframe, the IBM Z9 Mainframe. [A] mainframe is a big computer that is known for being reliable, highly available, secure, and powerful. They are best suited for applications that are more transaction oriented and require a lot of input/output - that is, writing or reading from data storage devices.”

Steve Jobs

The FBI in February released a background check it did on Apple's founder Steve Jobs founder when he was being considered for a position on George H.W. Bush to the President's Export Council in 1991. The 191-page document, released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), includes documents related to a 1985 investigation of a bomb threat against Apple and a host of other observations, many of them not surprising - he was driven, strong-willed and some not so flattering - he could twist the truth.

navy railgun

Go big or go home. The U.S. Navy wants to develop the power system necessary to get its prototype electromagnetic railgun to fire hundreds of rounds per minute rather than the single shot it is capable of today. The electromagnetic railgun is a long-range, high-energy gun launch system that uses electronic pulses to launch projectiles at targets more than 200 nautical miles away.

Active Denial System

It has an innocent enough sounding name -- Active Denial System -- that belies what it is actually doing: firing electromagnetic radiation at a frequency of 95 GHz toward a crowd making individuals feel an intense painful burning sensation on their skin but without actually burning it. People just want to run away.

Autonomous Dynamic Analysis of Metaphor and Analogy

An innovative project, called Autonomous Dynamic Analysis of Metaphor and Analogy, or ADAMA, aims to build a software system that can automatically analyze metaphorical speech in five different languages by analyzing huge quantities of online data got off the ground this year when the U.S. Army Research Laboratory awarded a $1.4 million contract to the team conducting the research. ADAMA could have immediate applications in forensics, intelligence analysis, business intelligence, sociological research and communication studies, researchers stated.

T-mobile rampage

Angry T-Mobile Guy goes on a subdued rampage in T-Mobile store in Europe after the company refused to give him a refund. Angry Guy video of course went viral.

stealth ship

Developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for the Navy in 1984 and pretty much kept secret until 1993, the experimental stealth ship found itself on the auction block this year. The nearly 500-ton $195 million Sea Shadow built by Lockheed looks like something straight out of a James Bond film and in fact was said to be the inspiration behind the ship in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. In real life the ship was designed to test out what the Navy called "advanced hull forms and structures, automation for reduced manning [it only had 12 sleeping births], sea keeping and ship signature control."

flying cat

News out of the KunstRAI art festival in Amsterdam in June was decidedly bizarre and more than a little disturbing. Seems artist Bart Jansen decided to honor -- or desecrate depending on your point of view -- the memory of his dead cat by stuffing him and making him into a flying drone of sorts. Perhaps more precisely, a radio controlled helicopter.

quantum computing

Information security systems based on quantum computing techniques are one of the Holy Grails of the industry but the scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency want to change that with a program called Quiness that could develop such a system in three years. The main goal of the new program is to demonstrate that quantum communications can generate secure keys at sustainable rates of 1G to 10Gbps at distances of 1,000 to 10,000 km.


The Smoking Gun wrote about Michael Alan Skopec, 48 who repeatedly dialed 911 to complain about his malfunctioning iPhone in May pleaded guilty to a criminal charge stemming from those ill-advised calls to police emergency operator. Last November he called police five times to pose questions like “Why is my iPhone not working?” and “Why can’t I dial the numbers I used to be able to dial?”


Taiwanese business ASUS was forced to issue an apology in June, via Twitter, regarding a sexist tweet issued from its official @ASUS account that sparked a torrent of negative comments across social media sites.

mit gallery of hacks

In April, MIT students exposed a colorful 21-story hack of the Green Building (Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Science Department) on campus, which was converted into a giant Tetris game via various colored lights in the building's windows. The MIT Gallery of Hacks website reported that "a console allowed players to move, rotate, and drop blocks" and wrote that "MIT hackers have long considered 'Tetris on the Green Building' to be the Holy Grail of hacks." (Thanks to Alpha Dogs)

Internet Cat Video Film Festival

All of those YouTube cat videos have a show of their own. No kidding. The Internet Cat Video Film Festival is set to take place on Aug. 30 in Minneapolis.


Robots on camels. What else needs to be said? (Thanks to Buzzblog).

A New York Times article confirmed what has long been suspected by many: that the United States and Israel were responsible for the Stuxnet cyber-attack against Iranian nuclear facilities. Among the story's key points: The cyber-attack against Iran was a years-long undertaking - oddly code-named Olympic Games -- that began in 2006 under President Bush, who urged President Obama to continue the effort. (Thanks to Buzzblog)

Steve Jobs

If all you want to see is Steve Jobs playfully portraying Franklin Delano Roosevelt - right down to the cigarette holder - here's that short clip before we get to the longer version of the film that it's taken from and an explanation: Entitled "1944," the almost 9-minute full version was Apple's in-house takeoff on "1984," the iconic first Macintosh TV ad that caused a sensation during that year's Super Bowl. (Thanks to Buzzblog)


Yves Rossy, known as the Jetman, flies over Rio de Janiero during a successful flight in May. The Swiss aviator dropped from a helicopter and deployed the jet-powered carbon-kevlar "Jetwing" and uses his body to steer as he flew over the city.