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The best of the Missing Links

From robot lobsters and brain downloads to scientific cow-tipping and a rat on the run, takes a look back at some of the stories that made us chuckle in 2005.

Into everyone's life a little humor must fall. As 2005 comes to a close, is recapping our 20 best Missing Links, which are the quirky stories that appear at the end of our newsletters. The stories comprise the odd, the techie, the strange and the mundane. All out there on the World Wide Web.

Good times, bad times

• A British collector found himself $10,000 richer following an eBay auction. Intel sought a copy of the April 1965 issue of Electronics Magazine in which Gordon Moore introduced his famous law. Apparently the value of yellowed magazines is inversely proportional to the cost of computer chips. (NewsFactor)

• A down-on-his-luck programmer who lost his job after eating leftover pizza from the company kitchen got the last laugh when he won a trip to the Caribbean from The Web site dubbed his job dismissal story the most outrageous one it received in a recent contest. Some would say revenge, like pizza, is best served cold. (The Register)

• If you name's Pete, Peter Trainor wants to meet you. The Briton aims to organize a June 2006 gathering of 2,000 Petes in London. So far, more than 1,100 Petes have signed on, though it's unclear how many plan to call it a business trip. (The Register)

• Your horoscope will only take you so far. A Moscow court ruled against a Russian astrologer who accused NASA of upsetting the natural state of the universe by conducting an experiment that involved a probe hitting a comet. The woman's lawsuit, which sought $300 million for psychological damages, stated that she "believes that NASA's actions interfere with [her] spiritual and life values system, as well as with the elemental life of the cosmos, thus upsetting the balance of forces in the universe." (

The mother of invention

• Researchers at Cornell University have reportedly built a self-replicating device using small mechanical building blocks that can swivel and attach themselves to one another using electromagnets. The cubes are 10 cm across, so it's only a matter of time before they can leap tall buildings in a single bound. (New Scientist)

• Using gears and a turbine, Peter Ash, a 16-year-old Briton, harnessed the energy of his pet hamster to charge his mobile phone. Two minutes on the exercise wheel for Elvis the hamster was enough to give the phone 30 minutes of talk time. Great thinking, Peter, but just imagine the kinetic energy if Mum lets you get a hyperactive puppy. (The Register)

• A student at Brunel University in the U.K. has come up with a weather-predicting clothes pin he hopes could solve the issue of wet clothes on the line. The system can sense changes in air pressure, and if rain is forecast within the next half hour, the peg will lock itself so users cannot put up the clothes to dry. The student's next project: pins that iron, fold and sort. (BBC)

• British firm PG Tips wants to ensure that no on ever misses tea time ever again. With ReadyWhenUR, a kettle that will debut next year, users can send a text message to the kettle's phone number and it will begin to boil. In addition to the obvious tea-drinking benefit, just think what hilarity will ensue when an aluminum siding salesman calls your tea pot. (The Register)

• Scientists at Rice University in Texas have created the world's smallest car, thousands of times thinner than a human hair. The Nanocar has a chassis with pivoting suspension and freely rotating axles. The wheels are 'buckyballs,' spheres of pure carbon containing 60 atoms apiece. Nano-mechanics not included. (VNUnet)

• A Northeastern University engineer and inventor debuted robo-lobsters at this year's Wired Magazine NextFest exposition. Designed to roam the sea floor and find undersea mines, these robots are equipped with "neurons" that allow them to work their way around clutter much as real lobsters would. Just don't try throwing one in a pot of boiling water. (The story from is no longer online, so make do with the Wired NextFest entry about the lobster.)

Weird science

• When scientists released a rat on a desert island off New Zealand to find out why rats are so difficult to eradicate, they got more than they bargained for. The Norway rat evaded traps, baits and sniffer dogs for four months before finally being caught on a neighboring island. The rat now works for Interpol. (WTOP News)

• On the other end of the spectrum, TV broadcast waves, WiFi and other technologies have been suggested as useful means for supplementing GPS data for pinpointing people in urban settings. The Central Intelligence Agency is funding research into several approaches. It's not yet clear whether folks need to carry rabbit-ear antennas and bits of aluminum foil in order to improve reception. (Christian Science Monitor)

• British researchers now estimate five sozzled pranksters are needed to tip a cow. The white-smocked labsters conclude: "A cow of 1.45 metres in height pushed at an angle of 23.4 degrees relative to the ground would require 2,910 Newtons of force, equivalent to 4.43 people." Let's hope, now that science has spoken, that the sozzled few can try for their "personal bests" in other arenas, like karaoke. (The Register)

• By the middle of the century it will be possible to download your brain to a supercomputer, according to a leading thinker on the future. Seer Ian Pearson said downloads would be used first by the rich and famous. "If you're rich enough, then by 2050 it's feasible," he said. "If you're poor you'll probably have to wait until 2075 or 2080, when it's routine." What about crazed doctors holed up in medieval castles waiting for the next lightning strike? (CNN)

• Scientists at Star Technology and Research have described a means to combat global warming via an artificial Saturn-like ring of small particles or spacecrafts circling Earth to shade the tropics and moderate climate extremes. Reflective particles might come from the mining of Earth, the Moon or asteroids, and they would orbit around the equator. If that doesn't work, tiny micro-spacecraft could be deployed with reflective umbrellas -- thus depriving frozen tropical beverages of their allure. (

World Wide What?

• Blogging is so Q1 2005. Turns out the newest craze is vlogging, or giving life to blogs with video entries. Apparently the world needed another bandwidth-hogging source of mindless drivel. (

• Careful what you search for. Earlier this year, a Google search for brothels in the UK brought up some interesting results, such as a record shop, a police headquarters and a Christian publishing house. The search was not a total loss, though, as a few actual brothels popped up, too. (VNUnet)

• A farmer in southwest England has set up a webcam that lets visitors to his Web site check in on his chickens. Unlike the inhabitants of Mr. Jones' farm, these chickens appear content and unwilling to stage a coup. (The Register)

Spammers are getting lazy. E-mails purportedly coming from the Ivory Coast eschew the usual sob story of the dead prime minister and his millions and instead, in a three-word message, tell recipients, "I need help." I bet the pill-peddling spammers can recommend a remedy. (The Register)

• And we end with a story that should surprise no one:Americans waste more than two hours at work every day, with mindless Internet surfing and e-mail serving as the top distractions. (CNN/Money)

Are any of your favorite Missing Links absent from this list? Have you encountered a silly story that merits a spot? Let us know and we will share it with our readers. And remember to stay in touch as 2005 gives way to 2006.

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