IN PICTURES: 20 of the weirdest, wackiest and stupidest sci/tech stories of 2011 (so far!)

From IT geeks winning millions to Google mush-brain syndrome, 2011 is shaping up to be one wacky year

  • NASA looks fires-up jet fuel that tastes like chicken: It may never make it into everyday jet-fighter use but NASA is checking out biofuel made from chicken and beef fat. The chicken fat fuel, known as Hydrotreated Renewable Jet Fuel, was burned in the engine of a DC-8 at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center as part of its Alternative Aviation Fuels Experiment that is looking at developing all manner of biofuel alternatives to traditional Jet Propellant 8, or JP-8. The DC-8 is used as a test vehicle because its engine operations are well-documented and well-understood, NASA says.

  • This year is shaping up to be one of the weirdest and wackiest in recent memory. We have everything from US intelligence agencies looking to collect the world's metaphors in a database, cool food porn from none other than an ex-Microsoft exec and a vengeful programmer. With the year half over we take a look at some of the stories that have caused us a double take so far in 2011.

  • Sex doll-based robot helps dentists learn realistic, sensitive healing: Bordering on obscene and a little bit scary, Japanese researchers created a dentistry-training robot that can flinch, gag, blink and try to carry on a conversation with cotton stuffed in its mouth - effectively mimicking a real human visit to the dentist. The thing is that the all-to-realistic robot is one of Japan's top sex doll makers, Orient Industry, was brought in to help design and craft realistic skin, tongue and mouth areas.

  • White Castle's hamburger cult of craving goes viral: In a move Harold & Kumar would approve, the famed White Castle fast-food restaurant has moved online with an Internet-based ordering system for cities in New York and New Jersey to Illinois. White Castle's online ordering system requires free registration and then lets the user direct an order to their closest restaurant via an interactive map. Customers are then prompted to the virtual menu, where they can build their order and pay online or when they pick up their order, the company said. The company said the online service will be particularly useful for those who order its Crave Cases which feature 30 to 100 of the little burgers.

  • Your brain on Google: Search engines such as Google and IMDb can make your memory mush. That's what Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow said of the use of such sites. "Since the advent of search engines, we are reorganizing the way we remember things," said Sparrow. "Our brains rely on the Internet for memory in much the same way they rely on the memory of a friend, family member or co-worker. We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found." From Columbia's Research magazine: Sparrow's research reveals that we forget things we are confident we can find on the Internet. We are more likely to remember things we think are not available online. And we are better able to remember where to find something on the Internet than we are at remembering the information itself.

  • Yeah but can it play Stairway to Heaven ... Scientists with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have demonstrated an electromechanical micro drum that can vibrate an astounding 11 million times per second. The scientists said the drum looks like an Irish percussion instrument called a bodhrán, the NIST drum is a round aluminum membrane 100 nanometers thick and 15 micrometers wide.

  • Digitally altered broadcast of fireworks sparks debate in Boston: Form the What Were They Thinking department we give you this one. CBS decided to digitally enhance some of its coverage of Boston's Fourth of July fireworks, showing vistas that were physically impossible. The broadcast's executive producer, David Mugar, justified the deception by contending that the broadcast of this live event was an entertainment program and not news.

  • China's Great Firewall 'father' pelted with egg, shoes: Somewhere George W. Bush was laughing earlier this year when reports emerged that China officials were looking for a man who allegedly threw an egg and shoes at the designer of the country's Great Firewall technology. According the BBC, the man known as the Father of the Great Firewall, Fang Binxing was giving a lecture at Wuhan University, Hubei province, when the alleged incident took place. The egg missed the target. The first shoe hit but the second shoe was blocked by a man and a woman, the BBC stated.

  • Pummeling PowerPoint: In Switzerland, the fledgling Anti-PowerPoint Party has thrown down the gauntlet on PowerPoint presentations. From an IDG News Service story: According to the APPP, the use of presentation software costs the Swiss economy ($2.5 billion) annually, while across the whole of Europe, presentation software causes an economic loss of ($160 billion). Switzerland's democratic system is famously participative, with citizens able to call for a nationwide referendum on almost any subject if they can obtain the signatures of 100,000 voters. The APPP is seeking support for a national referendum to ban the use of PowerPoint and other presentation software in presentations throughout Switzerland. It also plans to present candidates for national elections in October.

  • Um, really? She's not going to be happy: OK, It's not A Boy Named Sue of Johnny Cash fame, but it's close. CNN reported earlier this year that a man in Egypt named his newborn daughter "Facebook" in honor of the role the social media network played in bringing about a revolution, according to a news report. Form CNN: Gamal Ibrahim, a 20-something, gave his daughter the name "to express his joy at the achievements made by the January 25 youth," according to a report in Al-Ahram, one of Egypt's most popular newspapers.

  • #$@%*@#^ computer! From Buzzblog: A troubling 61% of computer users have apparently deluded themselves into believing that they have never - not even once -- cursed or yelled out loud at a malfunctioning machine. That's not exactly the spin being put on survey results by security vendor Avira, which credulously passes along in a press release that 39% of 14,284 persons surveyed in December admitted to having "cursed or yelled at the computer out loud".

  • IT pro's perfect game puts him in Putt-Putt record book: Have to love this gem from Paul McNamara's Buzzblog earlier this year. Rick Baird, a 53-year-old IT manager at Brady Distributing in Charlotte, N.C., recently accomplished a feat seen only twice in 52 years (and not once since 1979): a perfect round of Putt-Putt golf -- 18 holes, 18 shots. Baird oversees network and computing issues for Brady, which sells video games, pool tables, vending machines and jukeboxes. He's been a member of the Professional Putters Association since 1971 and won the PPA national championship in 2007. His perfect game was noted in the May 9 issue of Sports Illustrated.

  • Vengeful programmer gets two years in prison for botnet attack: Putting a finishing punch on what was a nasty online retribution attack, a federal court in New Jersey has sentenced a former programmer to two years in prison, plus three years of supervised release for building a botnet-based virus that infected about 100,000 PCs and attacked a number of media outlets such as Rolling Stone and Radar. The programmer, Bruce Raisley was convicted of launching a malicious computer program designed to attack computers and Internet websites, causing damages last September.

  • The metaphors have it: Researchers with the US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity want to build a repository of metaphors. You read that right. Not just American/English metaphors mind you but those of Iranian Farsi, Mexican Spanish and Russian speakers. Why metaphors? "Metaphors have been known since Aristotle as poetic or rhetorical devices that are unique, creative instances of language artistry (for example: The world is a stage; Time is money). Over the last 30 years, metaphors have been shown to be pervasive in everyday language and to reveal how people in a culture define and understand the world around them," IARPA says.

  • Speaking of food: Food porn' at its best: Ex-Microsoft CTO publishes groundbreaking cookbook ... Network World's Ann Bednarz wrote in March that Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft's first CTO, made his mark in the tech world but now he has cemented his place in the world of cooking and food science with the publication of a groundbreaking six-volume, 2,438-page cookbook. The nearly 50-pound tome comes with an equally hefty price tag: $625 (Amazon made it available for pre-order for $462). Titled "Modernist Cuisine", it's laden with spectacular photography that captures not only plated dishes but also graphic stills of cooking techniques and awesome chemical reactions such as the Leidenfrost effect (which occurs when a liquid comes in contact with a mass significantly hotter than the liquid's boiling point, and the liquid produces an insulating vapor layer that keeps it from boiling rapidly).

  • What constitutes defamation on Twitter? Rocker Courtney Love has an idea: Rocker Courtney Love has never been known for her shy, refined ways but she went over the top with a rant she posted on Twitter will cost her $US430,000. The case stemmed from a rant Love posted in 2009 against Dawn Simorangkir the designer of a fancy clothing line. Love allegedly owed her money and much online nastiness ensued. According to the Hollywood Reporter: "Love argued that her rantings were merely an expression of opinion and that Simorangkir could not prove how they damaged her. The fashion designer, on the other hand, pointed to Love's influence as an entertainer and the power of social media to disseminate damaging comments."

  • Building the Borg: US intelligence agency wants to know how your overtaxed brain works ... A US intelligence agency wants to develop applications based on the way the human brain makes sense of large amounts of haphazard, partial information. Raytheon BBN Technologies was awarded $3 million by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) group to explore new methods of modeling what it calls the brain's sensemaking ability. The research could have commercial and military benefits, such as helping the intelligence community analyze fast-moving battlefield video, audio, and text data quickly and accurately, IARPA stated.

  • 18 IT "geek squad" wins $319 million Mega Millions lottery: In March, seven IT workers from the state of New York split $319 million Mega Million lottery winnings. Reports say the self-described "geek squad," which ranges in age from 29 to 63 years old will be taking one-time payments of $19.1 million each - not a bad days work in the data center. From local ABC7News: " They said they have not decided whether they will quit their jobs. But some say they will be spending their mega millions money on a dishwasher, tires and college educations for their children."

  • Unabomber Ted Kaczynski's creepy online auction raises $232,000: The US Marshals said the online auction of the personal effects of Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, raised $232,000 and will be divvied up among to Kaczynski's victims. The Marshals office said the most expensive lot, which sold for $40,676 consisted of approximately 20 personal journals, which describe in diary fashion Kaczynski's thoughts and feelings about himself, society and living in the wilderness. They also include admissions to specific bombings and other crimes.

  • Researcher blows $15K by reporting bug to Google: Computer World reported that a security researcher lost a sure $US15,000 at the Pwn2Own hacking contest in March because he had earlier reported the bug to Google, which has patched the vulnerability in its Android Market. "I missed out money wise," said Jon Oberheide, co-founder and CTO of Duo Security, a developer of two-factor authentication software. "But it was good that Google is rewarding researchers. And now I have my first Android vulnerability that qualified for a bounty." Google, which pays bounties for bugs reported in its software, cut a check to Oberheide for $US1337.

  • 25 years on: Captain Midnight ... Another Buzzblog installment revisited Captain Midnight who jammed HBO's signals in 1986. John MacDougall, then 25, was the lonely pamphleteer of lore, only instead of paper and ink he was armed with a 30-foot transmission dish, an electronic keyboard, and a burning objection to HBO's decision in 1986 to begin scrambling its satellite signal and charging viewers $12.95 a month. At 12:32 a.m. on Sunday, April 27, he transformed himself into Captain Midnight by commandeering HBO's satellite transmission signal - interrupting a showing of The Falcon and the Snowman - and putting in its place the above protest message that aired for four-and-a-half minutes. The rest is history.

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