63 Essential Things To Learn Before You Start 2013

We learned a lot last year — and we shared a lot of it with you. Here's the complete collection of everything we explained, defined, spelled out and broke down in 2012.

What Really Happens When You Get Sucked Out of an Airlock

Smooth move, Dave. You've done pissed off the ship's Nav-com enough to warrant bailing out of an airlock. Now, find yourself in the cold embrace of interstellar space sans helmet. Here's what you have to look forward to during your last few moments alive. [More]

Why There Are 24 Hours in a Day

We live in a base-10 world. The decimal system governs everything from the binary functions of computers to the amount of change you get when you buy a Mashed Potato Slurpee. So why isn't the standard Earth day just 10 hours long? Credit the Egyptians for that one. [More]

How Do Computers Understand Speech?

More and more, we can get computers to do things for us by talking to them. A computer can call your mother when you tell it to, find you a pizza place when you ask for one, or write out an email that you dictate. Sometimes the computer gets it wrong, but a lot of the time it gets it right, which is amazing when you think about what a computer has to do to turn human speech into written words: turn tiny changes in air pressure into language. [More]

Batteries: The Absolute Definitive Guide

Nobody thinks about batteries — until they've run out of juice, of course. But this humble and surprisingly ancient technology has done far more for human civilisation than most people realise. [More]

What Nuclear Radiation Does To Your Body Say some maniacal world leader finally hits the big red button. Or maybe a terrorist takes out the local nuclear reactor. You survive the initial attack, and you're left to endure a world poisoned by nuclear radiation. How's that gonna feel? [More]

Why Toilets Are Still Made of Porcelain We've been sitting on the same kind of crapper for centuries. Sure, the plumbing has gotten more tucked away and seats are now fashioned out of all sorts of materials and styles (including plush vinyl embroidered with cats), but as far as the toilets themselves go, hundreds of years after they were invented, they're still largely porcelain. But why? [More]

How To Use Android

Android is awesome and powerful, but it has, shall we say, a learning curve. That scares some people away. After all, iOS is so intuitive that babies can use it. Literally. But you're not a baby. [More]

Why We Yawn — And Why Yawning Is So Contagious

Your grandmother says it's because you watch too much TV. Your teacher thinks it's because you're bored. And that creepy guy on the bus just slapped you with a phonebook in an attempt to exorcise the devil living in your molars. All because you're yawning. [More]

Why Printers Suck (And What You Can Do About It)

Some say that printers were sent from hell to make us miserable. We cowtow to a machine's anodyne griping about paper jams and ink levels, and still, after reloading the sheets and replacing the blue cartridge, the obstinate piece of machinery refuses to carry out its orders. [More]

What Exactly Is That New Car Smell?

The smell of a new car is intoxicating. It reminds us of money and shiny objects. It evokes that golden period before repeat coffee stains, moldy Tupperware, and our trunk's transformation into a Good Will depository change the way we feel about our car. [More]

Why Are There So Many Tornadoes This Year?

The US is the most tornado-friendly landmass on Earth. They've got just the right mix of moisture, instability, lift, and wind shear to provoke more than 1,000 of the dangerous storms annually. [More]

Spicy Food, Oils, and Sex: The Myth and Science of WHERE THE HELL IS MY BABY

My wife and I were expecting our first baby to be born on Sunday. Kid, you're late! In the past few days, we've received numerous suggestions on ways to jump start the contractions. The tips haven't worked for us — yet — and a closer look at the methods has revealed a mix of valid science and old wives' tales. [More]

What the Strange Symbols on Your Gadgets Mean

On the back side of most gadgets, there's a string of hieroglyphs that look like the bottom line on the eye chart from hell. But this mishmash of symbols and letters is actually essential to international trade. Here's what each one means and why it's on there. [More]

Could an Explosion Really Knock You Over Like in the Movies?

Sure, explosions in cinema are great — they propel cars over otherwise impassable chasms and give heroes something to resolutely walk away from. In real life, explosions of any appreciable size are terrifyingly deadly. This is what really happens when you're too close to the blast. [More]

Paper or Plastic? Try Neither

San Francisco recently instituted a citywide ban on plastic bags, then started charging a ten-cent fee for the paper bags you have to use instead. The idea is to promote reusable bags, but the law is also designed to rid the city of plastic litter — this would benefit the environment, because paper bags are considered more ecologically friendly. Right? Not quite. [More]

How Induction Cooktops Make Meals with Magnets

It's a disgrace — 98 per cent of US households still cook food over crude heat like a bunch of cave-dwelling heathens. Well, the 21st century is no place for such pyromantic parlor tricks. We've harnessed the power of electricity, and adapted it for the next wave of culinary hardware — induction ranges. Here's how they can drag our sorry kitchens into the modern era. [More]

Why Salt Water in the Subway Is So Extremely Dangerous

Hurricane Sandy's storm surge, which bulged into New York Harbor on Monday night, inundated much of lower Manhattan, parts of Brooklyn, and the barrier islands like the Rockaways in Queens. The water got into some of the city's subway, automobile, and electrical tunnels, and pumping the water out and bringing those tunnels back into working order is going to be a tall order-we're talking many days or weeks to complete. [More]

What It Takes to Restore Cellular Service After a Hurricane

Hurricane Sandy and left an estimated eight million people without power. Plenty more have spotty cellular service-if they have any at all. But why do some people get a signal when others don't? And what does it take to get a wireless service back online? [More]

How Hurricane Sandy Might Become a Snowpocalyptic Frankenstorm

Meteorologists are forecasting what could be the worst storm to hit the eastern United States in more than 70 years. Dubbed the "Frankenstorm" by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the system could potentially pummel the Mid-Atlantic and northeast with gale-force winds and snow at the same time. Yes, that sounds like a scene from the Biblical rapture. But the Frankenstorm isn't just possible — by the end of this weekend, it could be likely. [More]

What Happens When You Flush a Toilet on an Airplane?

Aircraft lavatories have come a long way since the early days of commercial air travel. Early flyers used slop buckets, and WWII pilots tossed piss-filled bottles out of unpressurised windows (seriously). [More]

Why the Snooze Button Is Ruining Your Sleep

The snooze button is one of life's little luxuries, and it's easy to kid yourself into thinking that all you need is an extra 10, 20 — hell, let's make it 30 — minutes in the sack. [More]

The Crazy Journey of an MMS from Your Phone to Your Friends

Any message transmitted from one phone to another — whether it's a cute video of your kid or a celebrity sighting — appears almost instantly on the recipient's screen. Amazing! Now, how did it actually get there? [more]

Why You Have Bad Breath in the Morning

You brush. You floss. You swish some burning mint-laced liquid around in your mouth until it hurts. You go to bed with an oral hygiene gold star, and you wake up with white gloop connecting your lips and some vile odor emanating from it. Wtf happens in our mouths while we sleep? [More]

How NASA Prevents a Space Plague Outbreak

In the early days of space exploration, NASA basically made up procedure on the fly. With little knowledge of the world outside our atmosphere, agency physicians worried what humans might encounter out there. Maybe John Glenn would go Space Blind. Maybe the Apollo 11 crew would track an Andromeda Strain through the Lunar Command Module, unleashing a deadly moon virus on a defenseless earth. [More]

How 4K TV Works

Imagine 80-inch screens with quadruple the image quality of Full HD, plus passive 3D content that you'd consider actually watchable. That's 4K TV technology. It could deliver a stunning home theatre experience — just as soon as 4K-enabled TV's like Sony's latest begin to cost less than a Kia. [More]

How Duct Tape Fixes the World

Duct tape solves just about any problem (for a little while, at least). Busted truck bumpers, cracked trash cans, an endless list of other household fractures — if two things are better off stuck together, duct tape is the answer. But how did we come up with this miracle on a spool? And what makes one product so good at so much home improvement? [More]

Music's Wild Ride: From Sound Waves to Digital Files and Back Again

Digital audio is everywhere in the modern world — telephones, television, sonar, and Spotify. For all the ways it has revolutionised the way we hear, converting the waves to ones and zeros is a surprisingly straightforward process. Here's the science of sound. [More]

What Happens When You Get Struck By Lightning

The human body simply isn't built to conduct 300kV of electricity. So when things backfire while you're fishing in a thunderstorm, and you find yourself doing an impromptu rendition of Powder, here's what you can expect. [More]

What Happens When You Stare Directly at the Sun

Snow blindness, arc eye, welder's flash, bake eyes — these all describe the common effects of staring at an intensely bright light source. But what actually happens to your eyes when you try to hold a staring contest with our closest star? It's not pleasant, that's for sure. Here's a look at what you shouldn't see for yourself. [More]

What Is Big Data?

The human race produces 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day — far too much to crunch using conventional desktop applications. Mining this mountain of data for nuggets usable information is one of the biggest challenges facing modern society. But a new generation of analytic tools are helping us control the phenomenon that's becoming commonly known as Big Data. [More]

What Is an Atmospheric River?

A gigantic storm is set to hit the West Coast later today, bringing with it over a foot of rain. It's what meteorologists call an Atmospheric River — but what is that, exactly? [More]

What Is Israel's Iron Dome?

Israel got itself into a little mini-war in Gaza, and Hamas is firing off an extra dose of rockets into the Holy Land. What's (maybe) stopping them? Something called the "Iron Dome" — and what exactly is an Iron Dome? [More]

What Is Anodizing?

The lustrous patina that protects the backside of Apple's new iPad Mini isn't just some cheap shellac or sealant coat — it's actually "grown" on the metal itself in an electrochemical process known as anodisation. Here's how. [More]

What Is Friction-Stir Welding?

To create the new iMac, Apple's thinnest desktop yet, the designers used friction-stir welding to join the aluminium body. Unlike arc welding, the more standard way to fuse metal plates, a friction stir just needs a good rubbing — and a few thousand pounds of pressure — to stick together. [More]

What Is Apple Fusion Drive?

While introducing the new ridiculously thin iMac, Apple also revealed its new Fusion Drive. What is it? It's a new storage system that supposedly combines the best of SSD and HDD. Basically, the speed of a SSD with the storage space of a big spinning HDD. [More]

What Is Pheed?

Pheed is the latest social network start up to roll off the factory line, promising to change our internet lives (or something). It combines aspects of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr (among others), and coats itself in a celebrity-endorsed sheen. So what is Pheed? Long story short, it's a shitshow. [More]

Can You Work Out What This Thing Was Used For?

This thing looks like a cross between a gun, some weird cooking utensil, and an elaborate medical instrument. It is of course none of those things: but can your work out what it was used for? [More]

What Is Intel Clover Trail?

Intel Clover Trail. Sounds like a JJ Abrams movie about camping, right? But Clover Trail is actually the next generation Intel Atom chip that'll power both Windows 8 tablets and laptops. Which means you'll probably run into this chip pretty darn soon, so get familiar. [More]

What Is Miracast?

Everyone really likes AirPlay, Apple's Wi-Fi streaming standard that lets you send movies and music from, say, your iPhone to your speakers or Apple TV. Now there's a new standard out to do pretty much the same thing for everyone else. But how is it different from previous attempts? [More]

What Is a Frontlit Display?

The new Kindle Paperwhite has a frontlit screen. We knew it probably would. But the term "frontlit" is actually a little misleading, and the simplicity of what it does belies the considerable engineering required to pull it off. [More]

What Is MIMO?

At today's Kindle Fire HD unveiling, Jeff Bezos claimed the Fire HD will download content up to 40 per cent faster than either the iPad or the Nexus 7. Neat trick. But how will it pull it off? [More]

What Is Medium?

There is no shortage of platforms to post your ideas, photos, videos — whatever — online, but today we got another high-profile one. Medium announced itself with a lofty manifesto about publishing and media. But, um, what makes it different and why should anybody use it? [More]

What Is an App Launcher?

You wouldn't initially think it, but your phone's home screen is itself an app. It's an app that launches other apps — an app launcher, if you will. But if the app launcher native to your mobile isn't up to snuff, you can always replace it. [More]

What Is Intel Turbo Boost?

Lots of exciting new computers today! And no matter what, we still get jazzed about processor speeds. But what's this Turbo Boost business Apple mentioned? Why do CPUs have two different speeds? It's actually pretty simple. [More]

What Is Cocaine Psychosis?

By now you've likely heard the horrifying tale of the naked Florida man who was shot by police while eating another man's face. What possessed Rudy Eugene to consume 75-percent of a homeless man's face? Drugs, obviously. It's not totally clear which drugs Eugene was on, but police have speculated that the attack was prompted by cocaine psychosis. That sounds like a serious condition. But what exactly is it? [More]

Why Poison Oak Is the F&%*ing Worst

My mortal enemy is not a man. Nor is it a beast, a virus, an addiction, or a female secret agent. It's a plant. A stupid, fucking, plant. Poison oak, poison ivy, and/or poison sumac (depending on where you live) is pure, insidious evil. Oh, and it's going to be extra bad this year. [More]

What Is CISPA?

Remember SOPA and PIPA, the terrible "anti-piracy" bills the internet raged into nonexistence? There's a new one, and it's maybe worse: the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. CISPA. Here's everything you need to know about the worst privacy disaster our internet has ever faced. [More]

What Is 4/20?

4/20 is the high stoner holiday fer sure but where does it come from? Like, what are its origins, where's it comin' from, what's its back story man? Luckily, the day has nothing to do with the Nazis. [More]

What Is The New Aesthetic?

At this year's SXSW Interactive, there was a panel titled The New Aesthetic: Seeing Like Digital Devices. It was about technology, and how it relates to art and design. Since SXSW, there have been many discussions, including a sprawling, 5,000 word essay on Wired, about the New Aesthetic's shortcomings, its potential, and its significance. [More]

What Is Temporal Noise Reduction?

One of the new iPad's video features — along with 1080p recording and video stabilisation — is temporal noise reduction. Apple claims it will improve the quality of footage in low-light conditions. OK, but what the hell is it? [More]

What Is an Earthquake?

Who isn't afraid of being waken abruptly by a shaking building whose roof is caving in? Or a huge tsunami sweeping though your town? Earthquakes are terrifying. But what exactly are they? Why do earthquakes happen? [More]

What Are Steroids?

You might have a friend who has to take them for asthma. You might know someone else who denies taking them but has gotten crazy ripped really fast and angers easily. Famous athletes are denying or being caught with them in their blood stream seemingly every day — just yesterday, MLB slugger Ryan Braun successfully appealed a positive test for them. [More]

What Comes After 4G?

Wait wait wait, we're talking about 5G mobile data now?! Ugh, but we just got 4G squared away. In any case, the ball is already rolling on the next generation of cellular technology, so we might as well figure out what in the hell IMT-Advanced is. [More]

What Is SOPA?

If you hadn't heard of SOPA before, you probably have by now: Some of the internet's most influential sites — Reddit and Wikipedia among them — are going dark to protest the much-maligned anti-piracy bill. But other than being a very bad thing, what is SOPA? And what will it mean for you if it passes? [More]

What Is MHL?

Between the Roku Streaming Stick and these Samsung displays we've seen a few recent products equipped with a new audio/visual connection called MHL. It is not a new way to view hockey. [More]

What Is a Hangover?

Yippee! Let's poison ourselves with beverages that will make us violently ill! It was your battle cry last night, and today you're paying the price. But what is that hangover you're experiencing, exactly? [More]

What Is Carrier IQ? (Updated)

Holy data privacy scandal! Over the last week the news that Carrier IQ has been tracking millions of smartphone users without their knowledge has ballooned into a full-blown clusternut. Carrier IQ, huh? Sounds nefarious. But what exactly does it do? And why should you care? [More]

What Is Distortion?

We all know what distortion sounds like. We've heard it in heavy metal tunes, cheap iPod docks and the crummy speakers at Taco Bell drive-thrus. And we've all read distortion specs on things like receivers and subwoofers. But other than a general understanding that distortion isn't something we want in home audio gear, most people really don't know what it is. [More]

What Is Coil Embolization?

You're healthy, active and life is good. Then, you start having pain behind your eyes, frequent killer headaches and difficulty with your vision and balance. You shake it off as nothing, but you shouldn't. You may have a brain aneurysm. [More]

What Is A Gustnado? (Hint: It May Have Collapsed The Indiana State Fair Stage)

Last weekend, a deadly tragedy struck the Indiana State Fair when the main performance stage collapsed during a freak storm. A witness to the event captured this terrifying moment on video. [More]

What Is a Hurricane?

Every year, about six tropical storms graduate to hurricane status, pummelling the Carribean and Eastern United States. Yes it's a beast of a rain storm, but how does it get that way, and how do weather folks decide when it should be crowned "hurricane?" [More]

What Is an RPG?

The Diplomatic District of Kabul, Afghanistan is under attack right now. Reports are that the area — including the US Embassy — is taking heavy RPG fire. But what is an RPG, exactly? [More]

What Is the LRAD Sound Cannon?

The Occupy movement has become of the longest large-scale protests in US history, and all that protesting had pitted the activists against police departments and their crowd-control weapons. One of the more controversial of those is the LRAD Sound Cannon. So what's the harm in a little noise? Well, a lot, actually. [More]

Top image credit: Fedorov Oleksiy / Shutterstock.

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