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Mr. Wizard Explains the Laserdisc

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The Laserdisc format first hit the market in 1978, using massive 12" discs crammed full of shiny analog video to deliver awesome movies to your 80s-tastic home theater. The players were beastly -- large, heavy machines with complex laser systems and enough oomph to rotate the disc at up to 1,800 rpm. I have still have mine, along with a few movies on Laserdisc that were never released on DVD (for years, my copy of Koyaanisqatsi on Laserdisc was a prized possession, before DVD and Blu-ray versions finally appeared).

Today, the Laserdisc format feels positively retro, and a little clunky. For one thing, depending on the format of the disc, you had to get up and flip it over every 30 or 60 minutes -- unless you had a super-fancy player that could move its laser to the underside and continue playing automatically. There were also single-sided discs (these were less susceptible to laser rot, and were often used for Criterion Collection releases) that were unflippable, so you'd have to eject the big-ass platter and put in the next. In any case, there was no way you could sit through a feature film on Laserdisc without some fiddling; I recall seeing some films in college that required four or five disc swaps.

But despite its compromises and vague clunkiness, Laserdisc was a remarkable invention. It had special features (explained in the video below) sometimes called "trick play" that allowed for high-quality slow motion, full-fidelity still frames, and even individually addressable frames (some educational software allowed the user to pull up individual photographs by selecting a single frame on the disc -- this was how my high school biology class learned about a real condition called "black hairy tongue"). Laserdisc was clearly the best format for film buffs in the 70s and 80s, and some (like me) even held onto the format well into the 90s, even as DVDs came on the scene. I recall having a few geeky arguments about analog Laserdisc video quality versus the compressed MPEG-2 digital video you'd get from DVDs -- while the Laserdisc was truly better quality in some ways, it was hard to beat DVD for convenience (one tiny disc, dude!), and eventually formats like dual-layer DVD made the argument pointless. Laserdiscs were relegated to the bargain bin of history.

If you're curious about how Laserdiscs worked, here's Don Herbert (known to most of us as Mr. Wizard) explaining the Pioneer Laserdisc system in 1980. It's great stuff -- lots of Mr. Wizard-style props to explain the system, and bits of fun trivia. (For example, Herbert starts his presentation by pointing out that LASER is an acronym, and spelling it out.) Set aside ten minutes for some LASER FACTS:

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Courtesy of Nature
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science
Scientists Create Three Puppy Clones of 'Snuppy,' the World's First Cloned Dog
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Courtesy of Nature

Snuppy, the world's first cloned dog, died in 2015, but his genetic legacy lives on. As the National Post reports, South Korean scientists recently described in the journal Scientific Reports the birth of three clone puppies, all of which are identical replicas of the famous Afghan hound.

Those who lived through the 1990s might remember Dolly, the Scottish sheep that gained fame for being the very first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell. Following Dolly's 1996 cloning, scientists managed to replicate other animals, including cats, mice, cows, and horses. But dog cloning initially stymied scientists, Time reports, as their breeding period is limited and their eggs are also hard to extract.

Ultimately, researchers ended up using somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) to clone a dog, the same method that was used to make Dolly. In the early 2000s, a team of South Korean scientists inserted DNA harvested from an Afghan hound's skin cells into a dog egg from which the DNA had been removed. The egg divided, which produced multiple cloned embryos.

The scientists implanted 1095 of these embryos in 123 dogs, an exhaustive initiative that yielded just three pregnancies, according to NPR. Of these, Snuppy—whose name is a combination of "puppy" and Seoul National University's initials—was the only survivor.

Snuppy died from cancer in April 2015, just shortly after his 10th birthday. To celebrate his successful life, the same South Korean researchers decided to re-clone him using mesenchymal stem cells from the dog's belly fat, which were taken when he was five. This time around, they transferred 94 reconstructed embryos to seven dogs. Four clones were later born, although one ended up dying shortly after birth.

The tiny Snuppy clones are now more than a year old, and researchers say that they don't think that the pups face the risk of accelerated aging, nor are they more disease-prone than other dogs. (Dolly died when she was just six years old, while cloned mice have also experienced shorter lifespans.) Snuppy's somatic cell donor, Tai, lived just two years longer than Snuppy, dying at age 12, the average lifespan of an Afghan hound.

Researchers say that this new generation of Snuppys will yield new insights into the health and longevity of cloned animals. Meanwhile, in other animal cloning news, a Texas-based company called ViaGen Pets is now offering to clone people's beloved pets, according to CBS Pittsburgh—a service that costs a cool $50,000 for dogs.

[h/t National Post]

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History
Hole Punch History: 131 Years Ago Today, a German Inventor Patented the Essential Office Product
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iStock

The next time you walk into a Staples, give thanks to Friedrich Soennecken. During the late 1800s, the German inventor patented inventions for both a ring binder and the two-hole punch, thus paving the way for modern-day school and office supplies. Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the 131st anniversary of Soennecken’s hole puncher—so in lieu of a shower of loose-leaf confetti, let’s look back at his legacy, and the industrial device that remains a mainstay in supply rooms to this day.

If Soennecken’s name sounds familiar, that’s because in 1875 he founded the international German office products manufacturer of the same name. (It went bankrupt in 1973, and was acquired by BRANION EG, which still releases products under the original Soennecken label.) Not only was Soennecken an entrepreneur, he was also a calligraphy enthusiast who pioneered the widely used “round writing” style of script. But he’s perhaps best remembered as an inventor, thanks to his now-ubiquitous office equipment.

As The Independent reports, Soennecken likely wasn’t the first to dream up a paper hole-punching device. In fact, the first known patent for such an invention belongs to an American man named Benjamin Smith. In 1885, Smith created a hole puncher, dubbed the “conductor’s punch,” that contained a spring-loaded receptacle to collect paper remnants. Later on an inventor named Charles Brooks improved on Smith’s device by finessing the receptacle, and he called it a “ticket punch.”

For unclear reasons, Soennecken was the one who ended up being remembered for the device: On November 14, 1886, he filed his patent for a Papierlocher fur Sammelmappen (paper hole maker for binding), and the rest was history.

“Today we celebrate 131 years of the hole puncher, an understated—but essential—artifact of German engineering,” Google said in its description of the Doodle. “As modern workplaces trek further into the digital frontier, this centuries-old tool remains largely, wonderfully, the same.”

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