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The silent-film star who laid the foundation for cellular networks

If you're a hard-core nerd, you probably already know this, but for those who don't, it's a fascinating story: In 1941, Hedy Lamarr, a famous silent-film star, patented the spread-spectrum, frequency-hopping technology that became the underpinnings of cellular telecommunications and WiFi. She got the idea by combining her knowledge of radio-guided torpedoes (which she learned about from her husband, a German arms dealer) with an art project that a musician friend was working on, using player-piano rolls. Lamarr put the two together and came up with a way of sending secure radio signals by skipping from channel to channel in a pre-programmed sequence that could be secretly encoded (like a player-piano roll). Much more than just a pretty face!

Jim Henson's twisted commercials for a Washington coffee company

Muppet creator Jim Henson is known for his family-friendly puppet TV shows, but before he created the Muppets or joined Sesame Street, he used a very Kermit-like puppet to create some hilariously dark TV spots for a Baltimore/Washington-based company called Wilkins Coffee. The local stations only had ten seconds for station identification, so the Muppet commercials had to be lightning-fast — essentially, eight seconds for the commercial pitch and a two-second shot of the product.” Within those eight seconds, a coffee enthusiast named Wilkins (who bears a resemblance to Kermit the frog) manages to shoot, stab, bludgeon or otherwise do grave bodily harm to a coffee holdout named Wontkins. Henson provided the voices of both characters.

What it's like to freeze to death

There is no precise core temperature at which the human body perishes from cold. At Dachau’s cold-water immersion baths, Nazi doctors calculated death to arrive at around 77 degrees Fahrenheit. The lowest recorded core temperature in a surviving adult is 60.8 degrees. For a child it’s lower: In 1994, a two-year-old girl in Saskatchewan wandered out of her house into a minus-40 night. She was found near her doorstep the next morning, limbs frozen solid, her core temperature 57 degrees. She lived. Others are less fortunate, even in much milder conditions. One of Europe’s worst weather disasters occurred during a 1964 competitive walk on a windy, rainy English moor; three of the racers died from hypothermia, though temperatures never fell below freezing and ranged as high as 45.

The curator of a famous Paris cemetery and the missing Sphinx testicles

Benoît Gallot, curator of Paris’s Père-Lachaise cemetery, would like to lay a particular urban myth to rest: no, he is not using the testicles from the sphinx on Oscar Wilde’s tomb as a paperweight. The stone genitals, allegedly removed from the mythical creature by two puritanical English women shocked by their size and prominence, were long reported to have been saved and put to office use by successive cemetery staff. According to Gallot, the story is utter balls. “Numerous articles about Père-Lachaise explain that the sphinx’s attributes were recovered by one of the cemetery workers and have been used as a paperweight by successive curators. When I took up the job, of course I searched the office, went through all the cupboards … I found nothing; no trace of this relic.”

Man who lived in Charles de Gaulle airport for 18 years dies there

An Iranian man who lived for 18 years in Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport and inspired the 2004 Steven Spielberg film The Terminal died on Saturday in the airport, officials said. Mehran Karimi Nasseri died after a heart attack in the airport’s Terminal 2F around midday, according to an official with the Paris airport authority. Karimi Nasseri, who claimed to be British but is believed to have been born in 1945 in the Iranian province of Khuzestan, lived in the airport’s Terminal 1 from 1988 until 2006, first in legal limbo because he lacked residency papers and later by choice. After spending some time at a hospital for an operation, then a hotel near the airport, and then a shelter for homeless people, he had returned to living at the airport again in recent weeks.

Seeing the true colours of ancient statues

A new show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art entitled “Chroma: Ancient Sculpture in Color,” showcases the work done by a pair of German archaeologists, Vinzenz Brinkmann and Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann, who have worked on recreating sculptures from antiquity for four decades and have exhibited them worldwide since 2008. Their team collaborates with museums that own sculptures with traces of ancient polychromy to reconstruct them in their original colors. The archaeologists use material analysis to hunt down specks of pigment, filling in the gaps by way of art-historical comparison to similar sculptures. Their methods include such techniques as ultra-violet visible absorption spectroscopy and photomicrography to determine a sculpture’s chromatic composition.

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