STRANGEBUTTRUE- Ice scream: Remembering the most famous 'berg

Q. What's the most famous chunk of ice in the history of the world? –J. Cameron

A. The iceberg that sank the steamship Titanic on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic on April 14, 1912, says Mariana Gosnell in Ice: The Nature, the History and the Uses of an Astonishing Substance. 

That very day, six other ships had telegraphed warnings of ice in the area. Shortly before midnight, one of the Titanic's lookouts banged a warning bell and phoned to the bridge, "Iceberg right ahead." The rest is history– oft-told history. 

Actually, this was not a particularly large berg. One lookout estimated it at maybe 50 feet high, another said 100. "After it disappeared, it was never seen again, or at least not that anyone knew for sure," Gosnell writes.

Nevertheless, it took on a certain celebrity, a spooky, menacing persona as the ocean beast that sank an "unsinkable" ship! In his book, Voyage of the Iceberg, Richard Brown traces its history from birth to death, which he was able to do because most North Atlantic icebergs have a similar history:

"Composed of snow that fell a thousand years before Christ onto the Greenland ice cap, the i   ceberg broke away from the Jakobshaven glacier... which was moving toward the sea at the rate of 65 feet a day, producing an iceberg a minute and 20 to 30 million tons of ice a day," he says.


Q. Why have scientists dubbed the giant glyptodont "the Babe Ruth of ancient armored tail-swinging mammals"? –M. Mantle

A. Relatives of modern-day armadillos, glyptodonts arose in South America some 20 million years ago and lived until about 10,000 years ago, says Science magazine. They sported a turtle-like shell and heavy armor on their heads and tails, and may have reached speeds of about 15 meters per second (33 mph). The largest species were massive, about the size of an old Volkswagen Beetle. 

New evidence suggests that just like the homerun-hitting baseball Babe, glyptodonts knew how to take advantage of the "sweet spot," swinging their hefty tails like baseball bats and landing powerful blows, yet minimizing potential kickback injury. 

The "sweet spot" is at the center of percussion, a point where a person can transfer momentum effectively with a baseball bat, tennis racket, sword, an axe or any hand-held implement while the forces against the hands are almost zero, says the Discovery Channel.


Q. What's the very latest in technology to help the hard-of-hearing and the deaf? –H. Keller

A. With proper software, cell phone sign language over smartphones connects the individual to the worldwide interactive loop, says Erica Westly in IEEE Spectrum magazine. E-mail and text messaging via cell phone are also available, but "if texting were so fabulous, cell phones would never have developed," says Cornell University electrical and computer engineer Sheila Hemani. "The reason we like using them is that people prefer to talk." 

Researchers from Cornell and the University of Washington, Seattle, have named this "mobile ASL," for mobile American Sign Language, which employs two-way real-time video. 

The low bandwidth available forced engineers to balance speed and quality. So to enhance video clarity, the team uses software that emphasizes resolution in key areas around the signers' hands and faces. To prolong battery life, the system switches between high and low video frame rates, depending on whether the user is actually signing or receiving. 

Next up, says Westly, is "to get mobile ASL software into the hands of the people who want it."


Q. Does lightning ever strike twice in the same place in the sense of successive holes-in-one struck by the same golfer? How about thrice? –J. Frost

A. Most remarkable was the performance of Norman Manley, who holed the seventh (330 yards) and eighth (290 yards) at California's Del Valle Country Club in 1964, says John Wesson in The Science of Golf. The thrice was achieved by Bob Taylor in 1974 on the Hunstanton Links course at Norfolk, England. He holed the 188-yard 16th-hole from the tee on the practice day of the competition, then did the same on both day 1 and day 2 of the competition proper– three successive holes-in-one on the same hole! 

Record for the longest hole-in-one is tougher to assign, due to different conditions such as dog-legs and favorable slopes. 

But longest success on a straight hole was in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1965 when Bob Mitera holed a 447- yard drive—helped, however, by a downhill slope. This record held until 2007 when Bret Melson aced the 448-yard, par 4 at the Ko'olau Golf Club in Oahu, Hawaii, "edging out Mitera by a massive one yard"!

Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@cs.com.

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