When reading the news, it's fun to see stories that reach back into the past mixed with articles that look into the future. This combination is what makes newspapers so interesting and valuable. 


One example of reaching back was just done by 24/7 Wall Street and has to do with the year you were born. “Exactly how the coronavirus pandemic will affect the U.S. birth rate remains to be seen...24/7 Wall St. reviewed data to determine how many people were born every year since 1933. Should the birth rate dip as a result of the pandemic, it would be the continuation of a long-term trend. The birth rate has fallen in the U.S. in 10 of the last 11 years — and the birth rate in 2018 of 12 births for every 1,000 people was the lowest on record since at least the early 1930s.”


You can review the statistics for the year in which you were born. For the year I was born (1947) I found that the total population was 144,126,07, the birth rate was 26 births per 1,000 people, and (naturally because it's so cool) the most popular boy name was James. See your year at:


Sometimes something old surfaces that has an amazing value. “An unusual pair of eyeglasses believed to be nearly 300 years old were rescued from a New Zealand landfill and auctioned online for $5,282.” 


What makes these specs so special is the design. “Martin's Margins were designed by optician Benjamin Martin in 1756. The unusual thick-framed look of the glasses results from Martin's belief that exposure to sunlight would cause damage to eyeglass lenses.” (


These glasses would come in handy right now if you want to see something unique in the Northern Michigan sky. “A record cold layer of air in the mesosphere could lead to noctilucent clouds farther south than usual. The mesosphere is between 30 miles and 50 miles above Earth’s surface. The mesosphere is the third layer of the atmosphere, above the troposphere and stratosphere.” The mesosphere contains moisture and tiny pieces of broken up meteoroids. “With more condensation than usual in the mesosphere, noctilucent clouds may be seen over Michigan.” 


How and when could you see these noctilucent clouds? “These shimmering clouds appear after sunset and just a few minutes before total darkness. So look to the west just after sunset sometime between 9:45 p.m. and 10:15 p.m.” (


If you look beyond the clouds don't be surprised that someone may be looking back at you. Researchers have revealed a study that calculates there could be more than 30 active communicating intelligent civilizations throughout our Galaxy. The average distance to these civilizations would be 17,000 light-years away. 


These calculations offer both good news and bad news. “Our new research suggests that searches for extraterrestrial intelligent civilizations not only reveals the existence of how life forms, but also gives us clues for how long our own civilization will last. If we find that intelligent life is common then this would reveal that our civilization could exist for much longer than a few hundred years, alternatively if we find that there are no active civilizations in our Galaxy it is a bad sign for our own long-term existence.” (


Okay, so that's a bit “out there” for most of us, but there are a couple of recent developments that are more down to earth. One such discovery is that it's possible to record conversations using only a common light bulb. “Scientists have discovered it's possible to recover full conversations from the vibration patterns in a light bulb. The hanging bulb acts as both a diaphragm (sound waves cascade across its surface) and transducer (it converts air pressure from sound to small changes in light), which means it could be a useful gadget for secret agents and nosy people everywhere.” 


Not only is this possible, but it's cheap. “You can get your hands on everything required to pull off the lamphone feat, including a laptop, telescope, microphone, and remote electro-optical sensor—which coverts light into an electrical signal—for under $1,000.” To test this scientists recovered a Donald Trump speech and the song "Let It Be" by the Beatles.” 

If this makes you nervous, there is an easy defense. “While the lamphone attack could enable some new espionage methods, you can also foil it quite easily. Just turn the lights off.” (


On a less intrusive note, and a something that could benefit mankind, a nonprofit called Project Vesta will soon begin testing a radical new way to fight climate change. “It involves spreading ground-up olivine—a cheap green mineral—over the sand, where ocean waves will break down the mineral, which in turn will pull CO2 from the air.”


If this works, it could be monumental. “The idea is to speed up a natural process that normally takes place very slowly, over geological time. The nonprofit plans to begin testing the process at a cove on an undisclosed Caribbean island.” If successful and the hope is to “...spread olivine over 2 percent of the world’s shelf sea, enough to capture 100 percent of human emissions.” (


Finally, if you're in search of something to exercise your brain, check out Popular Mechanics magazine's riddle of the week. You'll find all sorts of mind benders to occupy your cranium or drive you crazy, which ever comes first. It's at:


Here's a starter. “The question: Can you make 100 by interspersing any number of pluses and minuses within the string of digits 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1? You can’t change the order of the digits! So what’s the least number of pluses and minuses needed to make 100?”


There are more than a dozen solutions, but only one that uses the least amount of pluses and minuses. The explanation for all the solutions is at: Oh, by the way, the final answer is four (4). 



J9im Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at and