The Download: Penn on the Web

baby elephant

IHere are some of the most interesting University online happenings from the far reaches of the internet.

Amy Ellsworth has wanted to pet an elephant since the eighth grade, and soon she’ll get her chance. As the digital media developer at the Penn Museum, Ellsworth is traveling to Kenya to document Museum scholar Kathleen Ryan’s excavation of Laikipia Plateau settlements dating back to 2000-3000 B.C.E. Ellsworth’s blog, “Digging Kenya,” will detail the team’s journey every step of the way, including stops in Maasailand, and even a visit to Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, where the team plans to sponsor an infant elephant. Check in at http://penn.museum/blog/kenya/ to chart their progress.

Gamers never dreamed that one day their controllers would be wireless. The question is, what comes next? Enter Saurabh Palan, a graduate student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, who was recently profiled on Wired.com for his work on the first tactile gaming vest. When synced with a game, the vest is able to register the impact of a virtual bullet in an online shootout and other in-game physics, causing the vest to vibrate. Palan says the vest could also be valuable to military personnel, who have long used cyber warfare as a means of training. Join the gaming revolution at http://tinyurl.com/yc6gt7k.

Are PG-13 movies getting increasingly risqué? It turns out the answer is more complicated than you might think. Daniel Romer and fellow researchers from the Annenberg School for Communication broke down potentially offensive content into two main categories—sex and violence—and found that violence, overwhelmingly, is considered the safer of the two when it comes to adult content. As chronicled by the Los Angeles Times, the team surveyed the most popular films of the past 50 years, hoping to better understand the entertainment industry’s effect on children. “When it comes to sex,” says study author Romer, “CARA (The Classification and Ratings Administration) seems at pains to reflect American parents’ values—largely to the exclusion of concern about violence.” To examine their findings, head to http://tinyurl.com/ydra38p.

What was a European woman doing in northwestern China 4,000 years ago? That was the question on scientists’ minds when a perfectly preserved mummy was unearthed. Richard Hodges, director of the Penn Museum, in an interview on NBC Nightly News, says it’s even further proof that silk road trading was alive and well thousands of years ago. “It was like being in a hub,” Hodges said, akin to “L.A. International.” The mummy, sporting wavy red hair, is so well-preserved that she looks as if she could have been buried 20 years ago, says Hodges. To see footage of the ancient trader, go to http://tinyurl.com/25qt37o.

You know that little padlock in the bottom corner of your web browser that protects your identity when you’re making online purchases? Who approves a website for that kind of security, and how hard is it to fake? These are the kinds of complex questions Matt Blaze of the School of Engineering and Applied Science asks on his blog, “Exhaustive Search.” Channeling the inner geek in all of us, Blaze tackles electronic cryptology and other obscure tech topics and applies them to current issues like airport security and stereo recording. Find out more at www.crypto.com/blog.

The Bloomers comedy troupe members might be all female, but don’t pigeonhole them. “Some of us are from big cities, some grew up in small farm towns. We wear sorority letters and tattoos,” says sophomore Yolanda Carney, a student in SAS. “But we’re bonded by a genuine love of comedy.” The group—named after the early feminist Amelia Jenks Bloomer—was profiled recently in the Philadelphia Inquirer on the eve of one of their effervescent shows. In addition to a theatrical performance, the group boasts musicians who play everything from the cowbell to the saxophone. See the Inquirer’s article at http://tinyurl.com/32rdcjk. To access pictures and video of the troupe, visit their web site, http://www.dolphin.upenn.edu/bloomers/newsite/gallery.html.

Originally published on May 6, 2010