April 25, 2013 3:10 pm
As of October 8, a new $100 bill will be in circulation in the U.S. In an attempt to cut down on counterfeits, the Federal Reserve will add features such as a blue 3D security ribbon composed of thousands of tiny lenses and a disappearing Liberty Bell in an inkwell, USA Today reports.
The new bill is a bit late to arrive in Americans wallets. Originally, it was scheduled to be released in February 2011. But the Feds discovered an issue with unwanted wrinkles appearing in many of the notes, so they postponed its release indefinitely.
As for that blue security ribbon and its tiny lenses, the technology works by magnifying the objects underneath. When the bill is moved one way, whatever is underneath seems to move the opposite way. Though the $100 is the note most frequently targeted by counterfeiters, USA Today points out, it’s the last bill to undergo an upgrade to try and deter those fakes.
But as the Wall Street Journal points out, even with fancy new technology, the counterfeiters will likely find a way around the security measures. They always do. Ben Franklin himself lost sleep over this issue. He designed the country’s first bills, which immediately triggered a wealth of counterfeits despite his adding a “mysterious anticounterfeiting device.”
This was the so-called nature print, which consisted of an image of a leaf or leaves. It was extraordinarily lifelike, and with good reason. Franklin had devised a way of taking a plaster cast of the surface of a leaf. That in turn could be used to cast a lead plate that would be used to print the notes. Because every leaf was unique—with a complex web of veins of varying thickness—the notes were very difficult to counterfeit.
No surprise, though, the strategy didn’t work for very long. The British actually used counterfeits of Franklin’s bills as a means of undermining the impending war. While we’ve moved beyond Red Coat plots to crash the U.S. economy, as the Wall Street Journal writes, however many fancy security tactics are crammed onto a small slip of green paper, counterfeiters will eventually and inevitably crack that code.
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April 25, 2013 11:57 am
We’re guessing that most people have seen the original Star Wars and that, if not, you probably still know half of the quotable lines anyway. But have you seen the movie in your native tongue? If you speak English or French or Spanish or German or one of the other massive world languages, then you probably have. But what if you speak Diné bizaad, the traditional language of North America’s Navajo?
Until now, you’ve been out of luck. But the Daily Times from Farmington, New Mexico, says that the Navajo Nation is teaming up with Lucasfilm and a Hollywood production company to re-release A New Hope in Diné bizaad, a language spoken by around 210,000 people. PBS:
Of all the major tribes, the Navajo language seems to be the most robust. According to the U.S. Census, almost 70 percent of Navajos speak their tribal language in the home, and 25 per cent do not know English very well. For many Navajo, English has been a second language.
But, among younger generations, the traditional tongue is on its way out. Translating Star Wars could bring the tale to those who’ve yet to experience it, but also offer a fun way to get young people to dust off some potentially underused language skills. Star Wars, says the Daily Times, will be the first movie ever translated and re-cut in Diné.
The Dine version is scheduled to debut July 4 at the Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock, and the tribe is hoping to show it in area theaters later in the year.
According to the Daily Times, the tribe said that they “could not release any of the translated script” before the showing. You wouldn’t want any spoilers.
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April 10, 2013 9:00 am
At the Scripps National Spelling Bee this year, whiz kids will not only have to correctly spell the curve-ball words thrown at them but also to define them. Contestants will be able to chose definitions from a multiple choice vocabulary test, AP reports, which the organizers think will help make it easier to weed out 12 finalists. This has proven a challenge in years past due to the limited amount of television broadcast time available.
Executive Director Paige Kimble said the changes were driven by the desire to reinforce the competition’s purpose — to encourage students to improve their spelling and broaden their knowledge of the language.
Over the spelling bee’s 87 year history, AP writes, participants could ask for definitions of words in order to help them arrive at the correct spelling, but this is the first time they’ll have to define those words themselves. Past competitions indicate, however, that most winners focus on both spelling and vocabulary, anyway, so the most legitimate competitors should welcome the opportunity to flaunt their vocabulary prowess in addition to spelling skills.
The initial vocabulary portion of the spelling bee will not appear on broadcasts and won’t come into play in the finals, either. Viewers will be able to see vocabulary put to the test in the semifinals, though, which have shifted in format a bit from past years. The AP:
While the finals format remains unchanged, the televised semifinals will have a different payoff. Spellers will continue to be eliminated if they misspell on stage, but there will be only two semifinal rounds. The results of those rounds will be combined with the computerized spelling and vocabulary tests to select the finalists.
This year’s spelling bee will take place May 28-30, so competitors have a few weeks to get even cozier with their dictionaries and flashcards.
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April 9, 2013 9:06 am
A picture is worth a thousand words, but how sweet is its sound? That might sound like a nonsensical question: pictures in books usually don’t make sounds. But, actually, it’s possible to take a printed picture and extract music from it.
How is this possible? Indiana University’s Media Preservation blog explains that, first, the historian takes a high resolution scan of the print, then warps the circle into a series of parallel lines. The next step is to fill the black and white parallel lines with a solid color. When the historian runs that files through a program called ImageToSound, music comes out.
These sorts of printed records aren’t uncommon, they write:
Some other very old gramophone recordings have come down to us only in the form of prints made on paper, like the one on the fourth floor of Wells Library. This isn’t a unique situation. Many important early motion pictures that didn’t survive in the form of actual films were nevertheless preserved as paper prints deposited for copyright registration purposes with the Library of Congress and later retransferred to film for projection and preservation. Similarly, I’ve found that paper prints of “lost” gramophone recordings can be digitally converted back into playable, audible form.
It’s really worth listening to these records at the Media Preservation blog—both for the sounds and for the images that show how they make these recordings.
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April 8, 2013 10:34 am
Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, died today at the age of 87. Thatcher, the first woman to lead a Western power, pushed back against socialism in Britain and ushered in a new era of partnerships with Russia.
Thatcher wasn’t exactly an uncontroversial figure. She was fiercely conservative, tough and unwavering in her commitment to her own ideas, earning her the nickname the Iron Lady. “I am not a consensus politician,” she would say. “I am a conviction politician.” Later, she said to her internally warring party “Turn if you like, the lady’s not for turning.”
Some think that this hard-working, hard-headed ethic came from her working class background. Thatcher was born above a shop in Grantham, to a grocer. Early in her career, Thatcher underwent an image overhaul that included changing her voice to be lower. She worked with a speech therapist to lower her register. In Vanity Fair, her biographer chronicles the episode saying, “soon the hectoring tones of the housewife gave way to softer notes and a smoothness that seldom cracked except under extreme provocation on the floor of the House of Commons.”
This sort of commitment and work wasn’t uncommon for Thatcher: if she set out to do something, she did it. And it is that resolve that made Thatcher successful, according to the New York Times:
At home, Lady Thatcher’s political successes were decisive. She broke the power of the labor unions and forced the Labour Party to abandon its commitment to nationalized industry, redefine the role of the welfare state and accept the importance of the free market.
Abroad, she won new esteem for a country that had been in decline since its costly victory in World War II. After leaving office, she was honored as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven.
Thatcher was one of first Western leaders to work with Mikhail Gorbachev, spurring a slow turn towards working with the former Soviet Union. Thatcher pushed British Petroleum to explore oil deals in Kazakhstan to help Gorbachev, eventually creating a giant oil production facility in Azerbaijan that has pumped thousands of barrels of oil a day for the last seven years.
Of course, these policies weren’t universally praised. During her time, inequality in the U.K. rose, and her own former university, Oxford, refused to grant her an honorary degree, making her the first prime minister educated at Oxford to be denied the honor. Here’s the BBC on the internal Oxford debate:
The principal of Mrs Thatcher’s old college, also supported her nomination. Daphne Park said: “You don’t stop someone becoming a fellow of an academic body because you dislike them.”
But Professor Peter Pulzer, of All Souls, who led the opposition, said: “This is not a radical university, it is not an ideologically motivated university.
“I think we have sent a message to show our very great concern, our very great worry about the way in which educational policy and educational funding are going in this country.
Thatcher didn’t comment on the snub, but her spokesperson said, “If they do not wish to confer the honour, the prime minister is the last person to wish to receive it.”
Eventually, however, Thatcher’s political enemies caught up with her. She fought over poll taxes and over water privatization. She called Nelson Mandela a terrorist. And then, in 1990, she left office.
Here is her last speech to Parliament, made on November 22, 1990.
Of course, no one with such sway stays quiet once officially out of politics. Thatcher is thought to have greatly influenced George H.W. Bush in his decisions about the first Gulf War, telling him it was “no time to go wobbly.” She retired from public life in 2002, after a stroke, and it was another stroke that ultimately claimed her life on Monday.
Thatcher was divisive; she was tough; and she was intense. The New York Times closes its obituary of the Iron Lady with this quote:
“Margaret Thatcher evoked extreme feelings,” wrote Ronald Millar, a playwright and speechwriter for the prime minister. “To some she could do no right, to others no wrong. Indifference was not an option. She could stir almost physical hostility in normally rational people, while she inspired deathless devotion in others.”
And while many disagreed with her policies, most agree that her resolve was admirable and her precedent as a woman in charge opened doors for generations after her.
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