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Sunday Reads: Hedy Lamarr - Actress, Genius, Pioneer

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The most beautiful woman of her day, trapped in an abusive marriage in pre-war Austria, escapes to America with a headful of Nazi secrets and a trunkful of jewels. After charming her way into Hollywood, she becomes one of the biggest screen stars of her era. But not content to rest on her Tinseltown laurels, she sets herself to applying everything she knows about the Nazi war effort to the American one. In time, she invents a revolutionary new torpedo control system, and, in the process, the essence of Bluetooth - half a century before the technology gets that name.

And if that's not enough, she was a major part of Batman creator Bob Kane's inspiration for the character of Selina Kyle. 

If it weren't all true, it would be the stuff of bad fiction. But real-life badass Hedy Lamarr did all these things and more, fighting an uphill battle against her peers’ consistently low expectations of her, only to wait most of her long life to receive proper recognition for helping to spawn a revolution in wireless communication.

Hedy was born Hedwig Kiesler in 1913, the only child of Austrian Jewish parents. She thrived in the liberal, artistic Vienna of the '20s and '30s, and by age 19 had already achieved notoriety on screen for the (fairly scandalous) film Extase. That year, she married Fritz Mandl, the president of a major Austrian arms manufacturing company. The much older Mandl fell in love with Hedy after seeing her on the Vienna stage, and although initially put off by his unrelenting attempts to woo her, she eventually came to admire his intelligence and persistence, accepting a marriage proposal. Unfortunately, these more noble traits accompanied a domineering need for control, and in short order Mandl forced Hedy to abandon her acting career, virtually imprisoning her in his estates. He also set about buying up and destroying all the copies of Extase he could find in Europe.

Despite this, Mandl never underestimated Hedy's intelligence, and in private he routinely consulted her on matters of business, knowing that she was one of the only people in his orbit unafraid to speak her mind. She sat in on many of his meetings with potential clients as he played both the fascists and anti-fascists against each other in the uneasy Europe of the 1930s. Charged with being seen and not heard, she constantly absorbed the details of Mandl’s conversations with visiting military dignitaries, including representatives of Germany’s Third Reich.

Her marriage finally imploded when she attempted to return to the theater to Mandl’s outrage, and she quickly arranged an escape to London, making off with as many of her treasures as she could carry in a few steamer trunks and leaving divorce papers in her wake. From London she arranged passage to America on the same ship as MGM president Louis B. Mayer, and by the time she arrived in the United States, she’d negotiated an MGM contract on her own terms. Mayer, impressed with her beauty, recycled (or re-derived) and popularized a label she’d picked up during her European career: “the most beautiful woman in the world.” He also gave her the stage name Hedy Lamarr.

Following her breakout role in the 1938 film Algiers, she quickly gained a reputation as a starlet not much for the Hollywood party circuit. Although she made the required rounds, squired by the likes of Howard Hughes and his contemporaries, she far preferred to spend quiet evenings at home with a drafting table, creating inventions to solve problems that happened to capture her interest. Hughes, on occasion, even loaned her research assistants from his company to work under her direction.

Hedy continued to enjoying increasing notoriety for her film work, but she, along with the rest of the world, couldn’t escape the gloom gathering over her native Europe. Events came to a head in the summer of 1940, when Germany declared unrestricted submarine operations against Great Britain. German U-boats started attacking ships filled with refugees fleeing the air raid campaign against London, and the United States began to adopt a war footing for the conflict that seemed increasingly likely to come. 

Knowing she possessed considerable intelligence about Nazi technology, Hedy became determined to do everything she could to assist what would be the inevitable American war effort. Sensing that a Pentagon debrief of a Hollywood starlet was not likely to happen, she instead set her sights on submitting ideas for new technologies to the National Inventors Council. Patterned after a similar group created by Thomas Edison during the first World War, the NIC was established to solicit ideas with potential military applications from civilians, screen them for merit and forward them to the appropriate offices in the Pentagon.  

Likely motivated by the vicious U-boat attacks, Hedy set her sights on building a better torpedo. Torpedoes of the day were notoriously unreliable, often veering off course or failing to detonate when they reached their targets. By the beginning of the war, the state of the art had advanced enough to allow torpedoes to unspool control wires back to the launching ships, offering some degree of course correction en route to a target. But this was limited by the fragility of the wires, and it was not applicable to torpedoes launched by low-flying airplanes, which would be better able to guide torpedoes in from their higher vantage points.

German scientists, before the war, had been working on better ways to control both torpedoes and steerable aerial glide bombs. Wireless solutions were explored for both, and they were an obvious necessity with the glide bombs. Hedy likely knew of these proposed techniques from the endless client dinners she attended with Mandel, and she focused her efforts on improving wireless torpedo control. 

Wireless communication has a number of advantages over the wired alternative, but there’s one huge disadvantage: everybody gets to both use and listen in on the communication medium (the radio frequency, or RF, spectrum). This makes wireless a comparative free-for-all among contending users, and even worse, it allows for jamming by malicious users. Of course, jamming is a huge problem when it comes to controlling a torpedo heading toward a ship that may be blessed with a jammer. To build a truly useful wireless control system, Hedy had to figure out how to best deal with RF jamming. She hit on a concept that’s beautiful in its simplicity: if an enemy can’t figure out which wireless channel the torpedo and its controller are using, they can’t jam the control signal. And so, she settled on a scheme where the transmitter and receiver randomly hop among their available RF channels, always staying ahead of adversaries’ attempts to jam them. 

Hedy worked with avant garde composer (and self-proclaimed “bad boy of music”) George Antheuil to reduce the idea to practice - that is, to describe its implementation in terms that would allow it to be built. Antheuil had composed for multiple, synchronized player pianos in the past, so he had some idea how to ensure that both the sender and the receiver in Hedy’s scheme were able to synchronize their channel hopping patterns. They applied for and were granted a patent, and they patriotically transferred all patent rights through the NIC to the U.S. Navy... which proceeded to classify the technology and shelve it, unimplemented, for fifteen years.

The Navy resurrected Hedy’s patent in the 1950s, using it as a reference design for a sonar-equipped buoy to be deployed by submarine-hunting airplanes. Since Hedy didn’t use the “Hedy Lamarr” name on the patent, none of the engineers involved in the derivative work had any idea she’d been the original inventor. Over the course of the next two decades, Hedy’s frequency-hopping idea became part of a larger body of work called spread spectrum communication for its increasingly complicated use of broad sets of radio frequencies. By the 1970s, the techniques were declassified, and they entered the commercial world and enabled a wireless revolution. Years earlier, a number of junk frequencies had been set aside for industrial, scientific and medical equipment that generated too much RF noise to make the channels useful for communication. But since this kind of noise is just an unintentional version of Hedy’s original jamming problem, the availability of spread spectrum techniques opened these bands up for useful, unregulated commercial applications - including, by the late 1990s, Wi-Fi. 

Hedy’s ideas finally came full circle in the early 2000s. The proliferation of Wi-Fi and other spread spectrum systems in these unlicensed bands meant that new technologies had to contend with even more interferers than ever. In particular, low-power devices running on batteries had to be robust to RF interference without being overly complicated and power hungry. And so, the designers of Bluetooth turned back to Hedy’s original, elegant frequency hopping idea for the core of their standard. 

The classification of her original patent and decades of intervening sexism meant that Hedy didn’t receive proper recognition for her contribution until many, many years later. In fact, since all the derivative work was also classified, she herself had no idea that she’d helped to spawn such a revolution. By the 1990s, there was a growing movement on the Web to formalize the recognition of  Hedy’s contribution, spearheaded by retired U.S. Army Colonel and early rural Internet access champion Dave Hughes. In 1997, when Hedy was 82, Hughes arranged for her to receive an Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award. She was no longer able to appear in public to receive the award personally, but the recognition meant a great deal to her. Determined to live to see the new millennium, she enjoyed her resurgent fame for another three years before passing away in January, 2000.

The world was content to have Hedy Lamarr play the role of Hollywood glamour girl and do little else, but Hedy had other ideas. Never accepting dismissals of her gender, and not intimidated by her own lack of formal training, she devoted her non-acting life to finding and solving problems through invention. And in the process, she helped kick off a modern communications revolution. Hedy always knew she was more than the sum of her looks and screen presence, and she herself said it best:

"Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid."

*This article was originally published in 2013.  

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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Snowflake

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Click here to go see the bonus panel!

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Sweetie, the only things in creation that are always true to themselves are subatomic particles.

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The Avengers vs. The Justice League

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5 Popular Misconceptions That Stubbornly Persist

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Popular misconceptions and modern myths, from the five-second rule to Beam me up, Scotty!

Popular misconceptions, both localised and widespread, are a common aspect of modern life. There are some things we simply accept without questioning, taking as read what has been constantly reinforced within our belief system. The fact that hearing something enough times can lead us to no longer question it, turning myth into “fact”, is both fascinating and worrying at the same time. From an immortal pop culture catchphrase and the mundane maintenance of one’s automobile to darker modern myths, here are five popular misconceptions that have persisted over time.

“Beam Me Up, Scotty”

When James Doohan passed away in 2005, his Associated Press obituary read, “James Doohan, 85, the burly chief engineer of the Starship Enterprise in the original “Star Trek” TV series and movies who responded to the command “Beam me up, Scotty,” died July 20 at his home in Redmond, Wash.”

Only, he never actually answered to “Beam me up, Scotty”. It’s a popular misconception so persistent that it even appeared in the poor man’s obituary. So what’s the deal? TV Tropes dug deeper in a bid to find out where this particular phrase, popularly uttered by Captain Kirk, came from. It turns out the exact four-word catchphrase was never uttered either in the original television show or in Star Trek: The Animated Series. They found “Scotty, beam me up,” and even “Beam us up, Scotty”, but never that most famous line. According to the wiki, its first appearance was actually on a bumper sticker, and it wasn’t until 1995 that William Shatner finally recorded the line in an audiobook version of The Ashes of Eden.

There’s another footnote to this popular misconception, too. Since Scotty was the chief engineer, he was rarely the person sitting at the console pushing the buttons, anyway. The most common version of the line was, “Four to beam up,” directed at whoever was sitting there at the time.

Fan Death

Fan death, a popular misconception of South Korea.(Image: Infrogmation)

Fan death is a real fear in South Korea, where there’s a persistent belief that falling asleep in a closed room with a fan going is potentially deadly. The popular misconception is so widely believed that – according to The Atlantic – many fans have a timer that will automatically shut them off in the middle of the night. The Korean Herald calls it the country’s best-known urban legend. Even though people understand that its a myth, the story persists.

The Korean Consumer Protection Board issued an official advisory in 2006, warning that nighttime exposure to a fan can cause hypothermia and death by an “increase of carbon dioxide saturation concentration and decrease of oxygen concentration”. Snopes also looked into the myth of fan death, including claims that fans turn oxygen into carbon dioxide, and that their blades render air unbreathable.

Needless to say, it’s not true. Most nighttime deaths attributed to fans have been found to have other tragic causes, like undiagnosed heart conditions. No-one’s entirely sure how this popular misconception took root in the South Korean psyche. One theory posits that it was started by the government in an bid to get people to use less electricity.

Related: Sleep Paralysis: Evil Spirits & the Terrifying Night Hag

The Five-Second Rule

Popular misconceptions: the five-second rule for picking up dropped food.(Image: Rachel Glaves)

It’s unclear where this popular misconception originated, but we’ve all done it – especially when the tasty morsel we’ve just dropped is our favourite cookie or chocolate. The belief is that if you pick something up off the floor within five seconds (or sometimes, three seconds), it’s germ-free and safe to eat. It’s not that easy, of course, so let’s look at what the science says.

In 2016, National Geographic reported on a series of experiments published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, and to make a long report short, they found a few things. The longer an item of food was in contact with a surface, the more bacteria it accumulated – but there was also plenty of bacteria that transferred instantly. Researchers found that the type of food was important. The more moisture present in the environment, the more bacteria was transferred. So you may want to think twice about picking up that piece of watermelon you’ve just dropped.

On the flip side, you’ll also occasionally read news stories claiming that scientific research supports the five-second rule, like this March 2017 article in the Independent, quoting a germ expert at Aston University. Nevertheless, buried in that story is a caveat that picking up food is never 100 percent safe, so better to err on the side of caution.

The 3,000 Mile Myth

The 3,000 mile myth for changing your cars oil persists to this day despite negatively environmental consequences and wasted cost.(Image: Myke Waddy)

It’s probably one of the first things you learned about car care when you start driving, especially if you live in the USA. But the idea that you need to get your oil changed every 3,000 miles isn’t just a falsehood, it’s a popular misconception with serious unintended consequences.

In 2008, SF Gate reported that California’s waste management officials were kicking off a campaign to debunk the 3,000 mile myth and hopefully help the environment along the way. The site reported that 73 percent of California drivers were changing their oil far more often than necessary, meaning they were wasting money and damaging the environment also.

Just how often you really need an oil change depends on a range of factors, such as the age of your car and what kind of driving you can do, but a campaign website aimed at debunking the 3,000 mile myth stated that “automakers are regularly recommending oil changes at 5,000, 7,000 or even 10,000 miles based on driving conditions.”

Tornado Myths

Tornado myths(Image: Will Campbell)

Tornadoes – those vicious, twisting columns of air – are terrifying, but there are many popular misconceptions over the safest thing to do when one strikes. Let’s discuss a couple of them here. It might just save your life.

According to Popular Mechanics, one dangerous myth is that overpasses are safe places to head to if you’re caught out in the open. An overpass is actually highly dangerous in a tornado. The narrow space can create a wind tunnel with even faster winds, and you should never seek shelter there. Equally dangerous is the idea that you should open windows in your house to equalise the pressure. Doing so just isn’t necessary – finding somewhere safe and heading to the basement is more important.

There’s a plethora of non-safety related myths about tornadoes, too. Contrary to popular belief, they’re not just restricted to North America and have been seen on every continent except Antarctica. There’s also no kind of terrain that can prevent or stop a tornado, and twisters don’t gravitate toward sparsely populated or rural areas over urban ones, either. Another popular misconception? They can’t happen in winter. Yes, while it’s true they generally form in warm weather, it’s entirely possible for twisters to strike snow-covered areas during the winter.

Read Next: 8 Creepy Internet Characters Who Became Urban Legends

The post 5 Popular Misconceptions That Stubbornly Persist appeared first on Urban Ghosts Media.

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The phonetic alphabet. Try spelling your name!

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The phonetic alphabet. Try spelling your name!

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Honest Trailers - The Santa Clause

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From: screenjunkies
Duration: 04:19

WIth the holidays quickly approaching look back at this 90's classic that taught us the true meaning of Christmas: getting revenge on your ex-wife! It's "The Santa Clause"

http://www.screenjunkies.com/HonestTrailers2017
Click the link above to vote for what Honest Trailer you want to see us do in January for Fan Appreciation Month!

Watch the Honest Trailer Commentary to see the writers talk about the movie and the making of the latest HT!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D54jYQuhzs0

Got a tip? Email us ► feedback@screenjunkies.com
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Voiceover Narration by Jon Bailey: http://youtube.com/jon3pnt0
Title design by Robert Holtby

Producers - Dan Murrell, Spencer Gilbert, Joe Starr, and Max Dionne
Written by Spencer Gilbert, Joe Starr, and Dan Murrell
Edited by Kevin Williamsen and TJ Nordaker

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