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14 strange but true tech facts you (probably) don’t know

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Hardly trivial
Tech trivia

Image by Mahender G/Flickr

As computers grow ever more powerful, we humans have to figure out where we still remain superior. Here’s one suggestion: Although the Internet is full of endless reams of data, it takes a human mind to suss through it all and determine what qualifies as interesting to other humans. Thus, we at ITworld present you with the following anecdotes about technology and the Internet, guaranteed to have been selected by the human hand and eye to pique your interest. Hopefully, robots won’t take this job for another few years.

A classic Hollywood film star and an avante-garde composer helped invent Wi-Fi

Hedy Lamarr is a famous beauty of classic Hollywood. She was also mathematically gifted and had learned a lot about weapons systems from her first husband, an arms manufacturer. She was friends with George Antheil, an avante-garde composer with similarly broad interests (he wrote a book on endocrinology). Together, during World War II, the two of them patented a technology that would allow radio signals to torpedos to hop from frequency to frequency and avoid being jammed. The Navy rejected it at the time, but took it up 20 years later during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the patent figured into the development of numerous broadcast standards, including Wi-Fi.

A killer may have gone free because she used Firefox

The 2011 trial of of Casey Anthony was extremely high profile, and the police, as in virtually all murder cases, examined evidence on the computer Anthony shared with her parents, including its search history. But only after Anthony was acquitted did her defense attorney reveal that incriminating search terms involving poisoning and suffocation were present, but never brought up by prosecutors. It appears that prosecutors had carefully pored over the search history from Internet Explorer —but not from Firefox, Anthony’s preferred browser.

A programming error led to one of the largest losses of American lives in the Gulf War

One of the deadliest attacks on American soldiers during the 1991 Gulf War came when an Iraqi Scud missile hit a U.S. Army barracks near Dharan, Saudi Arabia, killing 28 people. The nearby Patriot missile battery failed to intercept the Scud, and it turns out that the Patriot had a software bug: one part of its internal calculations used a decimal representation of time, and one part used a binary representation. Since the error derived in part from the Patriot’s internal clock, itgot worse the longer the system went without a reboot — and during the war, the Patriots were always on alert and never rebooted. The missile that hit Dharan, it turns out, was the last one Iraq fired.

One of the first Computer Science Ph.D.’s was earned by a nun

Mary Kenneth Keller earned her place in computer science history. She helpeddevelop BASIC as a grad student, and received a Ph.D. from the Computer Sciences Department at the University of Wisconsin in June of 1965, which tied her for the first doctorate in computer science ever. Irving C. Tang received his D.Sc. at Washington University in St. Louis the same month, which means that, briefly, half of all holders of doctorates in computer science were female.

And, yes, to add the oddball twist to this story: Keller was a nun, a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an order dedicated to education. Keller went on to chair the Clarke College CS department for twenty years.

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