Fifty shades of red, green, and blue: Black and white TV was banished 50 years ago this month


Two short years before mankind set foot on the Moon for the very first time, the world of terrestrial television enjoyed its own quantum leap forward.

1967 became a very significant year indeed, as thousands of people across the European continent
watched in awe at the color images displayed on their TV sets.

And just like that, the black and white images of yesteryear were about to be banished forever.

A monochrome vision of the world

If you are of a certain vintage, the viewing habits of your childhood (misspent or not, that’s a story for another day) were likely dominated by a lumbering hulk of metal and plastic, featuring a gigantic cathode ray tube (CRT), a phosphorescent screen, and buttons and dials the size of oven controls.

This totemic item and the arcane arts that made it work often became the center of family life during dark winter evenings. Yet, for all its merits, the trusty TV set would sit ugly atop a robust table and cast its magic in untrue-to-life black and white tones.

Funny thing was, though Europe still lived in a monochrome vision of the world circa 1966, the technology to broadcast color images had existed for quite some time. The first tentative proposals date back to the previous century, in fact. Early attempts at patenting color TVs happened in the early 1900s, but it would still be some decades before technological advances enabled the development of the first monochrome TV sets, circa 1936, right at the threshold of World War 2. That year, Germany used fifteen rudimentary transmitters sited across Berlin to broadcast the Olympic Games to a few selected receivers across Berlin and Hamburg.

The advent of war would put a halt to any further development of civilian technology, as all efforts were diverted into the war machine. It would take another three decades for color transmissions to become the norm across Europe.

Let there be color: The advent of a new era

The first practical demonstration of color TV would take place in 1940 in the United States. The concept was shown to work, with a few caveats. The cost was astronomical, and thus not yet financially viable at a mass scale. And the quality of the images was questionable, to say the least. The hue, while undeniably there, was too dim. Technology still had some way to go.

Regular color broadcast would begin in the United States during the mid-50s. Yet, the first color-enabled TV sets would set you back a whopping $1,300, the equivalent of about $11,000 in 2016 money. Thus, most people would stick to black and white for another while, until units became more affordable.

Color TV would not arrive in Europe until 1967. July 1, 1967, to be precise, when BBC2 began broadcasting color images with PAL encoding, making history in the process. The BBC actually beat West Germany by a whisker. West Germans (remember, this was the height of the Cold War) would get their first color transmission just a month later.

Viewers enjoying 1967’s Wimbledon Tournament on BBC2 were certainly in for a visual treat. They were pioneers of sorts. Witnesses of history in motion, inside their very own living rooms.

Color TV had arrived, and like a bachelor cousin overstaying his Christmas day pass, was there to stay.

Put your faith in new technological terrors: The future is in 4k, and multiples of that

CRTs gave way to flat screens. Soon, flat screens turned to plasma and HD. HD evolved into 4k, and 4k will soon bestow the throne unto 8k UHD. Technology moves fast these days. Gone are the pioneering days of those first transmissions in dodgy colors and dim pictures. The future of TV is digital, and digital is good.

4k, also known as Ultra HD, defines the image resolution, and it’s fast becoming the de facto standard. 4K features a screen resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. That’s way up from the 1,920 x 1,080 pixels found on a HD TV.

In layman terms, 4k images look really cool and life-like. And the bigger the screen, the bigger the awe factor. Watch The Force Awakens on a 4k, 65-incher, and you are in for a treat indeed .

And the TV gurus out there are already conjuring up plans for 8k overkill. That is a fair amount of pixels packed on a screen. It is already technologically possible, though much like those first color monstrosities shown in 1940, the cost is currently prohibitive. You’d want to have a deep pocket, and frankly, a TV fetish, to have an 8k demigod reigning inside your living room.

Still, we might all be pioneers again one day, when the next quantum leap in TV viewing occurs. But I bet it won’t be as significant as it was back in 1967.

Mission: Impossible actor Martin Landau dies aged 89


Well known Mission: Impossible actor Martin Landau has sadly passed away, aged 89.

Landau played master of disguise Rollin Hand in the original TV series Mission: Impossible, a role that required him to play many types of characters, perfectly showcasing his versatility. He would become one of the show’s most recognized stars.

Soon after leaving Mission over contractual disagreements, Landau portrayed Commander John Koenig in the short-lived British sci-fi TV series Space: 1999.

Taking a break from acting, Landau returned to form as New York financier Abe Karatz in 1988’s Tucker: A man and his dream, opposite Jeff Bridges. Karatz’s role would earn Landau his first Oscar nomination, which he lost to Kevin Kline for A Fish Called Wanda.

He would also lose a second nomination for Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), before finally winning the prized golden statue for portraying Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood (1994).

Notably, Landau turned down the part of Dr. Spock in Star Trek, as he thought his acting talent would be wasted in an emotionless character.

Martin Landau passed away on Saturday at a Los Angeles hospital. He had just celebrated his 89th birthday.

Legendary film-maker George Romero, the creative mind behind the zombie genre, passes away aged 77


George Romero, the man who single-handedly created an entire sub-genre of horror film, has sadly passed away aged 77.

Romero was the creative force behind the seminal Night of the Living Dead (1968), an independently-made film that not only earned its creator a well-deserved lifelong reputation and a lot of money, but also heralded the arrival of the zombie genre.

Night… spawned several ‘official’ sequels, including Dawn of the Dead (1978) -re-made in 2004 by Zack Snyder-, and Day of the Dead (1985). These movies were gory, unforgiving, and savagely critical of a decaying American society obsessed with consumerism.

Romero’s credits include Martin (1971), an oddly intriguing vampire movie, and the Stephen King adaptation Creepshow (1982).

The film-maker’s legacy continues today, and contemporary films like 28 Days Later (2002) or World War Z (2013) would probably not exist without the precedent of Night of the Living Dead.

Tributes have been pouring for the legendary Romero, who has left us way too soon.

Two American M4-Sherman tanks salvaged from the Barents Sea


A team of specialist divers deployed with Russia’s Northern Fleet have salvaged two World War 2-era American M4 Sherman tanks from the bottom of the Barents Sea.

The tanks were inside the Thomas Donaldson, a steam-propelled Liberty EC2-S-C1 class cargo ship sunk near Kildin Islan by U-968 on March 20, 1945, shortly before the official end of the war.

The Sherman tank was mass-produced by the American war machine from 1942 onwards. Though technically inferior than the German heavy tanks such as the Panther and Tiger, the Sherman was manufactured in great numbers (some 50,000 were produced, as opposed to just under 500 German heavy tanks), allowing the allies to easily replace losses, something that the German army could not ever hope to achieve.

The Thomas Donaldson was part of convoy JW-65 at the time of her demise. Nowadays, divers attached to the Russian Navy use the ship’s wreckage as a training facility to simulate emergency situations for submarine crews.

Attack of the brain-eating Praying Mantis: Experts stunned to discover that mantises have added small birds to their feeding habits

It is well known that the Praying Mantis is a very effective killer indeed, and a voracious feeder as well. Mantises are known to feed mainly on arthropods (invertebrate animals), frogs, and small lizards.

But zoologists are now stunned after discovering that these amazing insects do not balk at killing small birds to eat their brains, if given half the chance.

Mantises are rapacious, if largely opportunistic predators. They lay in wait and hunt by catching prey that is unfortunate enough to wander close to their ambush site. The mantis grabs its prey and holds onto it with its strong, serrated forelegs. Then, it feeds, slowly and methodically, until there’s nothing left.

Now, a recent zoological study has revealed that larger mantises are bold enough to kill small birds and devour their brains, usually while the victim is still alive, a la Hannibal Lecter.

Such behavior has been detected worldwide, and zoologists have observed that hummingbirds are the prey of choice, though 24 different aviary species have been documented to be on the mantises’ menu.

The insects have learned to ambush hummingbirds coming to hanging feeders. The mantis will perch itself on the feeder and simply wait until a hummingbird gets within striking range. Then, it leaps forward, grabs the bird, and eats its brain, usually gaining access to the juicy stuff through the eye cavity.

This behavior, while seemingly cruel, it’s just another facet in the short but intense life of a Praying Mantis. They live for about a year in the wild, and while they do, they engage in sexual cannibalism, eat birds’ brains, and scare the hell out of people.

A full life indeed.

Mars’ surface is covered in UV-activated chemicals that inhibit the development of living organisms -Exomars rover will target subsoil in search for extraterrestrial life

Terraforming Mars may have to wait yet a while longer.

The Martian surface is covered in UV-activated chemicals that inhibit the development of any lifeforms, as recent tests of the topsoil have shown.

ESA’s Exomars rover will now begin digging under Mars’ toxic surface, searching for any proof of current or past life on the planet.

Recent tests conducted on Martial soil have confirmed that oxidant compounds known as perchlorates permeate the the Red Planet’s surface.

Perchlorates are highly oxidized forms of chlorine, a chemical commonly used in household cleaning products and also as a disinfectant in swimming pools. The downside of it is that at high concentrations, chlorine is extremely toxic. It was weaponised and used as a chemical warfare agent during the First World War, for example.

Perchlorates were first thought to be present on the Martian soil as far back as 1976, when the Viking probes landed there. The compounds were detected again by the Curiosity rover, which is still marauding around Mars today.

The bad news is that when perchlorates are hit by UV radiation, which occurs on Mars pretty much all the time, the compounds become activated and turn into a particularly effective bactericide, killing off most microbial life.

This effect is a double edge sword. While the chemicals present on the Martial soil will destroy any microbe brought from Earth, thus preventing the contamination of Mars with exogenous bacteria, it also means that life on the surface is all but impossible at this point in time.

Scientists will now have to dig deep into the Martian subsoil to try and find any trace of life, past or present.

Roswell: The truth may still be out there



It’s been seven decades since a small, nondescript town out in the New Mexico desert entered history books and popular culture for the most peculiar of reasons.

Half myth, half cover-up, it is one hell of a story.

Welcome to Roswell.

A rancher’s tale of strange objects in the desert

Temperatures in New Mexico hover around the 80F (26F) mark in early July, with little to no precipitation. It is hot out there.

Seventy years ago today, a local rancher named William Brazel returned from the blazing desert heat and contacted County Sheriff George Wilcox to report something rather unusual.

The 48-year-old rancher claimed that he had found some strange-looking debris out in the arid, wild terrain. An aircraft of some kind, he said. But an odd one, if it was an aircraft at all. The site, Brazel said, was located far out into the wasteland, about 40m from the town of Corona in the neighbouring state of Texas. By some accounts, Brazel had already collected some pieces of debris -including a ‘flying disc’- from the site and brought them back to his ranch.

Intrigued by the rancher’s claims, Sheriff Wilcox contacted army officials at the local airfield. Major Jesse Marcel, a military intelligence officer based at Roswell Air Force Base, headed out to the’crash’ site to investigate.

Things get a bit murky as to exactly what happened from there on. Whatever the truth may be, Major Marcel and other personnel showed up at Brazel’s home to retrieve the items found in the desert.

The local press picked up on the story. Brazel told a local newspaper about what he had found, saying it was some kind of ‘bright wreckage’.

The army released an official statement on July 9 to say that the military had recovered a ‘flying disc’ from a site north of Roswell, New Mexico. The statement deemed this disc to be a ‘weather balloon.’

The Roswell Incident: Half-truths, conspiracy theories, and an alien autopsy that never happened

The weather balloon story had the desired effect. By trivializing the find, the Government effectively suppressed interest, and the Roswell Incident went largely forgotten for about thirty years.

Everyone got on with their lives around Roswell and elsewhere, but the secret hidden outside that little town out in the desert simmered just beneath the public’s attention.

The 70s brought about a marked social shift. Issues like the Watergate, and particularly the deeply unpopular Vietnam war, created an atmosphere of distrust in the Government.

Fuelled by this new anti-Government trend, rumours and stories began to circulate about what really happened at Roswell. The ‘weather balloon’ was in fact an alien craft that had crashed out there, some said. Conspiracy theorists even postulated that the ship’s crew had been found to be dead inside it, and that the bodies had been taken to a place that’s also not supposed to exist, Area 51. The weather balloon story was simply a smoke screen concocted by the scheming US Government, many claimed.

As the buzz around Roswell’s UFO story grew, so did the efforts to refute it. Hundreds of ‘witnesses’ were interviewed by a multitude of magazines, newspapers, radio stations, and other media outlets, national and international. All of a sudden, townfolk recalled seeing ‘aliens’ around Roswell, some saying that ‘rescue UFOs’ had been seen flying around the area of the original crash site, presumably searching for the missing crew.

The Government stuck to its guns, saying that it was nothing more than a weather balloon. Later, military officials admitted that the object was in fact a device for monitoring nuclear explosions. Remember, this was back in 1947. Hiroshima and Nagasaki had happened less than 24 months prior. People’s resolve to find aliens in their backyard only grew stronger.

Then, in 1995, footage surfaced of an ‘alien autopsy’ being performed on some of the dead bodies of the Roswell UFO crew. TV networks around the world showed it with great fanfare, taking a huge boost in their ratings.

The footage was provided by a London-based videographer and entrepeneur by the name of Ray Santilli, who claimed that the footage was original and had been given to him by a military cameraman who was present when the autopsy supposedly took place, circa summer of 1947.

The program ‘Alien autopsy’ aired worldwide on August 28, 1995.

Soon debunked as a hoax, Santilli made admissions that his footage was a ‘reconstruction’ and that only a ‘few frames’ of the original autopsy actually remained. The whole thing had been shot in an improvised set inside an empty London apartment, as it turned out. Still, a version of the documentary was released on DVD in 2006.

The (financial) truth is out there: Alien business is big

Whoever’s truth you choose to believe, the UFO story was the best thing that could ever happen to a small desert town like Roswell.

Back in 1947, Roswell was little more than a tiny geographical point on ordnance maps. Sparsely dotted with ranches and a couple of diners for transient farmhands to get greasy food in, Roswell grew to a current population of around 50,000. Today, the town’s economy is largely based on two very disparate things: agriculture to feed people, and alien lore to attract tourism.

And the latter it does, very efficiently, too. Ufologists, conspiracy theorists, or simply curious tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of an alien creature wandering around the desert flock to Roswell year after year. The town’s UFO Museum recorded a bumper year in terms of numbers in 2016, for example, with 200,000 unique visitors recorded.

Roswell’s tourism industry is a thriving one, largely due to an event that happened 70 years ago. Local business have embraced the alien gig much like the Irish Government has taken to the trough: With quasi-religious fervor. You can even get Alien Burgers and most local diners, and stickers and balloons in the shape of the Little Green Men are only a convenience store away. Or why not drop by the Alien Zone, where you can get your picture taken next to aliens in just about every setting you can think of.

The town’s tourist centerpiece is the UFO Festival, which takes place the first weekend in July every year.

2017 marks the 70th anniversary of Roswell’s notorious UFO incident, and the locals are in for a bumper alien-themed spending spree. This year’s festival is expected to be worth in the region of $6m.

Conspiracy theories and stories circulate to this day. Some say that the Government bought Brazel’s silence, going as far as threatening his life if he ever revealed the ‘truth’. The rancher died in 1963, coincidentally the same year as the Kennedy assassination.

Be it as it may, the Roswell legacy lives on, and for some shopkeepers around town, it’s big alien business as usual.