Boing Boing 

Unnecessary shark attack safety advice

Your chances of being killed by a shark are 1 in 3.8 million. But, you know, just in case, here's what you do to survive a shark attack.

Derren Brown show's unepxected finale: wife pushes husband off balcony

Mentalist and conjurer Derren Brown got a hell of a shock during his Saturday night show: a woman pushed her husband off a 45' balcony "for a joke," sending him over the edge. He caught hold of a light-rig about halfway down and was pulled to safety.

Derren Brown describes man's 'terrifying' fall from theatre balcony [Press Association/The Guardian]

(via Dan Hon)

777 from Korea crash-lands at SFO

An Asiana Airlines 777 from Seoul, Korea crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport last night. Two were killed, ten were critically injured, 181 others were taken to hospital.

David Eun, whose Twitter biography includes "frequent flier," was aboard the plane and tweeted a photo of the wreck as he was evacuated.

This Reddit thread contains a lot of great, breaking information, including audio from the SFO air traffic control during and after the crash, and eyewitness accounts from SFO and from diverted fliers who were landed elsewhere (SFO is closed until further notice).

It's not clear what caused the crash. Forbes has some early analysis of the debris field based on aerial photos. A prominent theory cited in several news reports is that the tail of the 777 caught the seawall and ripped free (this also suggests that the two fatalities were flight attendants in the rear jumpseats). Update: An Asiana Airlines rep has confirmed that the two dead were passengers; specifically, teenagers from China.

Drowning without a sound

Drowning, in real life, doesn't look or sound the way it does on TV. It's not loud. It's not thrashy. And it can happen just a few feet away from you without you even noticing. At Slate, Mario Vittone explains the Instinctive Drowning Response — a physiological knee-jerk reaction that pretty much prevents all the signs and signals most of us look for in order to identify a person in the water who needs help.

Your car is not a tornado shelter

Last Friday, a tornado near El Reno, Oklahoma killed scientist Tim Samaras, as well as his son and a colleague. The three were tracking the storm in a vehicle — storm chasing, if you will — as part of their ongoing efforts to deploy probes that could capture high-resolution video from inside a tornado. (Samaras' team was one of many practicing a type of science that can basically be described as Twister in real life.) Chasing storms was an important part of what Samaras did. National Geographic reports that tornadoes only developed in roughly two of every 10 storms Samaras tracked, and the probes were only useful in a fraction of the tornadoes they were deployed in.

Samaras' death is tragic, but he wasn't some untrained yahoo out running around on county roads in a tornado for fun. He was there to do a job; a job that would, eventually, help other people survive. That said, if a situation kills experts, you probably don't want to be that untrained person trying to navigate it on your own.

Which brings us to a key point. After a handful of people who survived the Moore tornado credited their survival to driving away from it, people in Oklahoma City apparently responded to Friday's storms by trying to do the same thing. For some, it worked. But others were killed or injured when traffic on highways in the tornado's path ground to a complete halt, clogged with cars full of people who were (either accidentally or intentionally) trying to flee the storm instead of hide from it.

Read the rest

Zombie work safety PSA made by high school students

Vincent sez, "Our high school film class from Oak Park High in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada made this zombie-themed PSA to spread the message about a worker's right to refuse unsafe work. It's a big issue. In Canada, in 2010, 1014 workplace deaths were recorded in Canada - that's almost three deaths every day! Between 1993 to 2010, 16,143 people lost their lives due to work-related causes in Canada. A 2003 survey showed that compared with other developed countries of the OECD, Canada isn't doing too well. Of the 29 developed nations 24 had significantly lower workplace death rates than Canada. Using the factor of deaths/100,000 workers, Canada was only safer on average than Korea (29 deaths), Turkey (20.6 deaths), Mexico (12.0 deaths), Portugal (8.7 deaths) and then Canada with 6.1 deaths per 100,000 workers.* Our class used humour because we thought it would be an effective way to create a memorable message. Our PSA won first place in the Manitoba Safe Work video contest, and it is now competing to be the top Canadian video. You may remember our school, which has made other popular videos that you have featured on Boing Boing, including 'Jedi High,' 'Anti-Racism Girl,' and 'The Pink Shirt.'"

Use_Your_Brains

What ouija boards and military contractors have in common

The power of suggestion, your own expectations, and even your emotions can cause your body to move without you actively telling it to. This weird phenomenon is called the ideomotor effect. It's what makes ouija boards work and it's the mechanism behind $60,000 bomb-detecting devices that an American company was recently caught selling to the Iraqi government. Needless to say, the devices did not actually detect bombs.

HOWTO die at Burning Man

M Otis Beard sez, "You don't often hear about the deaths that happen at Burning Man. Here is an overview that just might save your life." Be that as it may, Black Rock City has extraordinarily low mortality compared to comparably populated/sized areas in the USA.

Ammonium nitrate fertilizer isn't really a dangerous explosive (most of the time)

Fertilizer can explode*. We all know that. It was a key ingredient in the bomb that destroyed Oklahoma City’s Alfred P.

Read the rest

Get information on loved ones in Boston with Google's emergency Person Finder


If you're looking for loved ones in Boston and can't get through to them, try Google's Person Finder, a service designed to help produce good information in the wake of disasters (it's also one of Google's free/open source software projects, with code here for you to examine and/or improve). There's a good Reddit thread on it here.

Person Finder: Boston Marathon Explosions

Major Disneyland attractions shut over OSHA violations


California Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) has served notice on Disneyland over three attractions, which led to their shut-down yesterday. In 2006, Disney agreed to make changes to the staff areas at the park, and the OSHA notice apparently related to lack of progress on these promises.

The citations were related a 2006 agreement to make improvements and to inspections following recent accidents such as the man who was seriously injured while cleaning the outside of Space Mountain. The findings include simple failures like not having a charged fire extinguisher and more serious ones like failure to protect employees from unsafe ladders or lack of railings preventing a fall hazard. Serious fines of up to $70,000 for each infraction could be levied if Disneyland does not comply immediately with the requests (although appeal is also an option). Total penalties for just the Space Mountain citations could reach over $230,000.

These are the same sort of hazards that forced Disneyland to close Alice in Wonderland until temporary scaffolding could be erected with guardrails. The park still hasn’t made permanent fixes there.

There were a lot of violations listed in the citation, here are a few of those listed as Willful Serious:

“Disneyland Resort failed to correct the unsafe work practice of employees of both Disneyland Resort and HSG Inc. accessing upper exterior platform of a building (Space Mountain) to change lights, and perform other maintenance tasks without the protection of guardrails or personal fall protection...”

Disneyland forced to close attractions by OSHA [The Disney Blog/John Frost]

Space shuttle left astronauts vulnerable to Reaver attacks

It's been a good week for pedantry. In a guest blog post at Scientific American, Kyle Hill discusses the durability of spaceship windows — both in the real world, and in Joss Whedon's movie Serenity. Spaceship windows have to be incredibly tough, because even tiny chips of paint become dangerous projectiles in space. But how would they stand up to frontal attack by a spear? Physics has the answers.

Airplane collides with car

2012 was a terrifying year for Russian dashcam videos, but the badness reaches its peak on Dec 29, with this footage of a plane disintegrating crosswise to busy highway traffic.

How safe is safe?

The precautionary principle comes up a lot when you're talking about the side effects of technology in the real world. When you don't have evidence that something is dangerous — but you suspect it might be — you could cite the precautionary principle as a reason to ban or limit the use of that thing. It's a messy idea, though, and I'm still not sure what to think about it. On the one hand, technology is often available before data on the wide-ranging effects of that technology are available. Do you use it or not is a legitimate question. On the other hand, following the precautionary principle in a blind sort of way can lead to things like this.

It's time to start asking serious questions about the safety of lube

The stuff you use to make sex a little more smooth might have some serious drawbacks. Nothing has been proven yet — most of the data comes from disembodied cell cultures and animal testing, which doesn't necessarily give you an accurate picture of what's happening in humans — but several studies over the last few years have drawn connections between lubricant use and increased rates of STD transmission. (It also looks like some lubricants might kill off natural vaginal flora — the good bacteria that live "up there" and make the difference between a healthy vagina and, say, a raging yeast infection.)

Some of these studies have provided evidence suggesting that the ingredients in lubricants damage the cells lining the vagina and rectum — which would explain why those lubricants might facilitate STD transmission.

At Chemical and Engineering News, Lauren Wolf has a really well-researched, well-written story that will give you the low-down on this research without hype and without fear-mongering. Her story is easy to understand and explains what we know, what we don't know, and why this matters (besides the obvious, lubricants have been proposed as a possible means of applying topical anti-microbial STD preventatives).

Right now, the Food & Drug Administration doesn’t typically require testing of personal lubricants in humans. The agency classifies them as medical devices, so the sex aids have to be tested on animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs. Rectal use of lubricants is viewed by the agency as an “off-label” application—use at your own risk.

Questions about lubricant safety arose nearly a decade ago when micro­bicide developers were testing whether the detergent nonoxynol-9 could block HIV transmission. Manufacturers had been incorporating the compound into spermicidal lubricants for years because of its ability to punch holes in the cell membranes of sperm. In 2002, however, a Phase II/III clinical trial of a nonoxynol-9 vaginal gel failed to protect women from HIV infection. Not only that, but the detergent actually increased the risk of HIV infection in the sex workers tested—women living in countries such as South Africa and Thailand who used the product three or four times per day.

Lab work eventually revealed the reason for the paradoxical increase: Nonoxynol-9 is so good at punching holes in cell membranes that it not only bores into sperm but also into the cells lining the vagina and rectum. The mucosal lining of the vagina is a good barrier to infection all by itself, says Richard A. Cone, a biophysicist at Johns Hopkins University. But if that barrier gets compromised, all bets are off, he explains. After nonoxynol-9—still used on some condoms today—went from promising microbicide candidate to malevolent cell killer, scientists like Cone began to question the safety of other supposedly innocuous spermicide and personal lubricant ingredients.

Read the full story

Via David Kroll

Image: Beer Lube?, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 28096801@N05's photostream

What science says about gun control and violent crime

Does gun control mean fewer guns on the street and less violence? Does encouraging gun ownership mean better protected people and less violence?

I don't think it's too early to be asking questions like this. When you're faced with a tragedy like what happened today at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it's reasonable to start asking questions about violence prevention. It's part of the bargaining stage of grief — wondering if there's something we could have done that would have prevented all those needless deaths. And let's get one thing straight: Everybody wants to prevent what happened today.

So what can be done about it? And what does the science say?

I've been trying to get a handle on that for the last hour or so and here are three things it seems we can definitively say:

• It would be completely accurate for someone to tell you that studies in places like Australia and Austria found that implementing more stringent gun control laws reduced deaths from gun-related suicides and violent crime.

• It would also be accurate to say that a study of the effects of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in the United States showed no big reductions in gun-related deaths, except for suicides among people older than 55.

• And it's also true that a 2003 study of conceal-carry laws in Florida found that they seemed to make no difference one way or the other — neither increasing nor reducing rates of violent crime.

Read the rest

Be careful out there, bedbug warriors

Yes, bedbugs are gross. But before you go all Conan on any creepy creatures living in your mattress, please be aware that pesticides are both helpful and potentially dangerous. With bedbug infestations on the rise in many American cities, the Centers for Disease Control is trying to make people aware of the dangers of using too much pesticide, using the wrong types of pesticide, or not carefully following directions. Know what you're using on your home and know what any company you hire to spray is using, too. (Via Jen Gunter)

Ono to Cuomo: "Imagine there’s no fracking"

CBS Outdoor via Rolling Stone

Yoko Ono and Sean Ono Lennon launched "Artists Against Fracking" earlier this year, and have received no response from NY gov. Andrew Cuomo to their request to meet and talk about the idea of a ban of fracking in New York. Now, Ono and Lennon have launched a billboard campaign on a route where the governor often passes. “Governor Cuomo: Imagine there’s no fracking,” the sign reads.

Read the rest

Surviving a plane crash is surprisingly common

I'm a nervous flyer. But I'm a lot better at it then I used to be. That's because, a few years ago, I learned that it's actually pretty common to survive a plane crash. Like most people, I'd assumed that the safety in flying came from how seldom accidents happened. Once you were in a crash situation, though, I figured you were probably screwed. But that's not the case.

Looking at all the commercial airline accidents between 1983 and 2000, the National Transportation Safety Board found that 95.7% of the people involved survived. Even when they narrowed down to look at only the worst accidents, the overall survival rate was 76.6%. Yes, some plane crashes kill everyone on board. But those aren't the norm. So you're even safer than you think. Not only are crashes incredibly rare, you're more likely to survive a crash than not. In fact, out of 568 accidents during those 17 years, only 71 resulted in any fatalities at all.

I was talking about this fact with a pilot friend over the weekend, and he mentioned one crash in particular that is an excellent example of the statistics in action. On July 19, 1989, United Airlines Flight 232 lost all its hydraulic controls and landed in Sioux City, Iowa, going more than 100 mph faster than it should have been. You can see the plane breaking apart and bursting into flames in the video above. Turns out, that's what a 62% survival rate looks like. (All the pilots you can hear talking in the video survived, too.)

Read more about United Airlines 232 on Wikipedia

Read the full NTSB report from 2001

In 2007, Popular Mechanics examined 36 years of NTSB reports and found that the majority of surviving passengers were sitting in the back of the plane. But that seems to depend a lot on the specifics of the crash and may not be a reliable predictor of future results.

Thanks, Shav!

Anti-traffic-cam countermeasure


NoPhoto is Jonathan Dandrow's electronic countermeasure for traffic-cameras. It's a license-plate frame that uses sensors to detect traffic-cameras, and floods the plate with bright light that washes out the plate number when the cameras take the picture. It's presently a prototype, but he's seeking $80,000 through Indiegogo to get UL certification and go into production.

Dandrow believes that traffic cameras are unconstitutional, because "if you do commit a traffic violation, you should have your constitutionally guaranteed right to face your accuser – and that your accuser should not win by default just because it happens to be a camera that can’t talk in court."

His device is made in the USA, and (he says) it is legal to use in the US.

Here is how a typical traffic camera encounter would happen with the noPhoto installed on your car:

1 The traffic camera fires its flash to illuminate your car for a picture

2 The noPhoto detects the flash, analyzes it, and sends the proper firing sequence to its own xenon flashes

3 The noPhoto precisely times and fires the flash at the exact moment needed to overexpose the traffic camera

4 Since the traffic camera is not expecting the additional light from the noPhoto, all of its automated settings are incorrect and the image is completely overexposed. Your license plate cannot be seen you and you will not get a ticket in the mail.

Dandrow also says that traffic cams cause more accidents than they prevent, citing studies by the Federal Highway Administration and the Virginia Transportation Research Council, "The increase in rear-end collisions alone from people slamming on their brakes to avoid being ticketed is enough to increase accident rates overall."

(via Rawfile)

A menu for the intrepid space jumper

Step one: Skip the beans. On Sunday, Felix Baumgartner jumped out of a balloon capsule in the stratosphere, parachuting safely down to Earth. Today, The Guardian answers some interesting questions about the feat, including an inquiry into Baumgartner's pre-jump diet. "For at least a day before the jump, Baumgartner consumed a "low-residue, low-fibre" diet on the orders of his medical team. They wanted his food to pass quickly through his body without any build-up of gas. In a low-pressure environment, the gas might expand and cause him severe internal pain – a condition known as barotrauma." (Via GrrlScientist)

TRAMPOLARCHERY: loosing arrows whilst bouncing on a trampoline

Ryan is a University of Waterloo Engineering grad student who has invited the world to suggest damnfool stunts that he might perform for the youtubes. In this episode, he looses arrows from a powerful bow while bouncing on a trampoline. It's TRAMPOLARCHERY!

CREATIVE DISSONANCE EPISODE 4 – TRAMPOLARCHERY (via Skepchick)

Death on Mount Everest

Back in May, we linked you to the reporting of Outside's Grayson Schaffer, who was stationed in the base camps of Mount Everest, watching as the mountain's third deadliest spring in recorded history unfolded. Ten climbers died during April and May. But the question is, why?

From a technological standpoint, as Schaffer points out in a follow up piece, Everest ought to be safer these days. Since 1996 — the mountain's deadliest year, documented in John Krakauer's Into Thin Air — weather forecasts have improved (allowing climbers to avoid storms like the one responsible for many of the 1996 deaths), and new helicopters can reach stranded climbers at higher altitudes. But those things, Schaffer argues, are about reducing deaths related to disasters. This year, he writes, the deaths that happened on Everest weren't about freak occurrences of bad luck. It wasn't storms or avalanches that took those people down. It wasn't, in other words, about the random risks of nature.

This matters because it points to a new status quo on Everest: the routinization of high-altitude death. By and large, the people running the show these days on the south side of Everest—the professional guides, climbing Sherpas, and Nepali officials who control permits—do an excellent job of getting climbers to the top and down again. Indeed, a week after this year’s blowup, another hundred people summited on a single bluebird day, without a single death or serious injury.

But that doesn’t mean Everest is being run rationally. There are no prerequisites for how much experience would-be climbers must have and no rules to say who can be an outfitter. Many of the best alpinists in the world still show up in Base Camp every spring. But, increasingly, so do untrained, unfit people who’ve decided to try their hand at climbing and believe that Everest is the most exciting place to start. And while some of the more established outfitters might turn them away, novices are actively courted by cut-rate start-up companies that aren’t about to refuse the cash.

It’s a recipe that doesn’t require a storm to kill people. In this regard, things are much different now than in the past: they’re worse.

Read the rest at Outside

Image via Outside and photographer Rob Sobecki

How to build a better speed limit

Sometime in November, Texas will open a stretch of toll road south of Austin where the speed limit will be 85 miles per hour.It will be the highest speed limit in America.

Read the rest

How to talk about technology in education without losing your mind to fear

Dangerously Irrelevant's "26 Internet safety talking points" is just about the best essay I've read on creating a sane, evidence-led, pro-education, anti-fear Internet safety policy for a school. Given that schools are third in line to receive oppressive technology mandates (behind autocratic nations and prisons, ahead of corporate enterprise users and the general public), this is desperately needed.

B. The technology function of your school organization exists to serve the educational function, not the other way around. Corollary: your technology coordinator works for you, not vice versa.

C. Mobile phones, Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube, blogs, Wikispaces, Google, and whatever other technologies you’re blocking are not inherently evil. Stop demonizing them and focus on people’s behavior, not the tools, particularly when it comes to making policy. You don’t need special policies for specific tools. Just check that the policies you have are inclusive of electronic communication channels and then enforce the policies you already have on bullying, cheating, sexual harassment, inappropriate communication, illicit behavior, etc.

D. Why are you penalizing the 95% for the 5%? You don’t do this in other areas of discipline at school. Even though you know some students will use their voices or bodies inappropriately in school, you don’t ban everyone from speaking or moving. You know some students may show up drunk to the prom, yet you don’t cancel the prom because of a few rule breakers. Instead, you assume that most students will act appropriately most of the time and then you enforce reasonable expectations and policies for the occasional few that don’t. To use a historical analogy, it’s the difference between DUI-style policies and flat-out Prohibition (which, if you recall, failed miserably). Just as you don’t put entire schools on lockdown every time there’s a fight in the cafeteria, you need to stop penalizing entire student bodies because of statistically-infrequent, worst-case scenarios.

E. You never can promise 100% safety. For instance, you never would promise a parent that her child would never, ever be in a fight at school. So quit trying to guarantee 100% safety when it comes to technology. Provide reasonable supervision, implement reasonable procedures and policies, and move on.

It starts at A and goes all the way down to Z. Every one of 'em's a gem.

26 Internet safety talking points

Boots keeps selling quack remedies intended for babies, even after they are banned from US import over fears of broken glass

Boots, which styles itself a "pharmacy-led Health & Beauty retailer" has caught a lot of flack for selling homeopathic "remedies" that contain no active ingredients. One report actually found a Boots pharmacist referring customers who asked a five-year-old child with a three-day bout of diarrhoea to homeopathic sugar pills (advice that could potentially kill the patient by leaving the underlying condition untreated).

Just in case you couldn't imagine Boots being more profit-led (rather than "pharmacy-led") marvel at the fact that the company refuses to withdraw products from Nelsons, a homeopathic manufacturer, even after the US regulator banned Nelsons products over fears that their sugar pills (which include "teething remedies" that are meant for babies) contained fragments of broken glass.

Boots's answer to a concerned customer? "Don't worry, the broken glass isn't in the stuff they sell to us."

How could Boots know that the lax production standards applied only to shipments to the US? The products are made in Wimbledon. Do Nelsons have ‘lax Fridays’ where they all bunk off to the pub while the US export runs are made?

This response lacks any credibility.

I wrote to Boots when I received this to ask how they can be confident that these problems do not affect the UK. I have received no response.

Of course, we know Boots have a rather cynical attitude to the homeopathic products they sell. When giving evidence to parliament, Paul Bennett, professional standards director and superintendent pharmacist at Boots, admitted they have no evidence these products work, but sold them because they could.

One then might understand they were unconcerned about the homeopathic pills not being manufactured correctly – it does not matter one jot if the sugar pill receives a drop of magic ju-ju juice – it’s just water. But why would Boots be unconcerned that their products lack the quality control procedures to prevent glass entering products? To remind you, Boots sell homeopathic babies teething powders – a completely useless product, but may make the baby forget its teething pain if it crunches down on shards of glass.

Boots Unconcerned About Nelsons Production Problems.

What can we learn from the Colorado shooting?

Bruce Schneier asks what lessons we can learn from the shooting in a Colorado movie theater, and answers the question with admirable good sense:

The rarity of events such as the Aurora massacre doesn't mean we should ignore any lessons it might teach us. Because people overreact to rare events, they're useful catalysts for social introspection and policy change. The key here is to focus not on the details of the particular event but on the broader issues common to all similar events.

Installing metal detectors at movie theaters doesn't make sense -- there's no reason to think the next crazy gunman will choose a movie theater as his venue, and how effectively would a metal detector deter a lone gunman anyway? -- but understanding the reasons why the United States has so many gun deaths compared with other countries does. The particular motivations of alleged killer James Holmes aren't relevant -- the next gunman will have different motivations -- but the general state of mental health care in the United States is.

Even with this, the most important lesson of the Aurora massacre is how rare these events actually are. Our brains are primed to believe that movie theaters are more dangerous than they used to be, but they're not. The riskiest part of the evening is still the car ride to and from the movie theater, and even that's very safe.

Drawing the wrong lessons from horrific events (via Interesting People)

The end of cheap STD control?

More than 700,000 people in the United States probably get gonorrhea each year. I say "probably" because the Centers for Disease Control doesn't know for sure. It's an estimate, because a lot of those cases go untested, unreported, and untreated.

The good news is that, since the 1940s, getting people to get themselves tested has been the hard part. Once you know the gonorrhea is there, antibiotics have made it both easy and cheap to treat. The (more) bad news: That's changing.

At her Superbug blog, Maryn McKenna talks about the threat of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea—it's not just an issue of health, it's also an issue of how much health costs. So far, there's not been gonorrhea reported that's immune to all the drugs we can throw at it. Just the inexpensive drugs. Anticipating big problems when treating gonorrhea becomes a pricy proposition, the World Health Organization has put together a plan for improving treatment today.

The plan specifically calls out an aspect of the growing resistance problem that we highlighted at SciAm: Community control now depends on rapid molecular tests that identify the gonorrhea organism (Neisseria gonorrhaea) but cannot distinguish between drug-susceptible and antibiotic-resistant organisms. Hence, patients who were treated, and then went back to their doctors with the same symptoms, were assumed to have been cured and then reinfected. Physicians have not had the tools to identify ongoing infections that never responded to treatment — and patients who had those resistant, not-responding infections then went on to unknowingly infect others.

In order to address that problem, the plan calls specifically for improvements in lab capacity, diagnosis and surveillance, as well as asking for things that apply to the greater problem of antibiotic resistance: improved awareness, bigger efforts at prescribing antibiotics appropriately and better drugs. One thing that it particularly calls for — as the CDC did in the New England Journal last February — is for physicians to start applying a “test of cure,” actually checking microbiologically to see whether a patient who was prescribed an antibiotic for gonorrhea is clear of infection, or harboring a resistant strain.

Of course, that's expensive, too. The cheapest option is still to not get gonorrhea at all. Get tested. Make sure your partners are tested. And use protection. In the future, we're not going to be able to afford treating some STDs as "no big deal".

Read more about the WHO plan and antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea at the Superbug blog

Why lavatory ashtrays are mandatory on nonsmoking flights

Matt Simmons, who writes the Standalone Sysadmin blog, has been wondering why there are ashtrays in airplane toilets, even though you aren't allowed to smoke anywhere on or near an airplane, and you haven't been allowed to do so for quite some time. It turns out that airplane toilet ashtrays are mandatory: "Regardless of whether smoking is allowed in any other part of the airplane, lavatories must have self-contained, removable ashtrays located conspicuously on or near the entry side of each lavatory door, except that one ashtray may serve more than one lavatory door if the ashtray can be seen readily from the cabin side of each lavatory served." (Code of Federal Regulations for airworthiness). Simmons explains why:

The plane can not leave the terminal if the bathrooms don’t have ashtrays. They’re non-optional.

That’s an awfully strange stance to take for a vehicle with such a stringent “no smoking” policy, but it really does make a lot of sense. Back in 1973, a flight crashed and killed 123 people, and the reason for the crash was attributed to a cigarette that was improperly disposed of.

The FAA has decided that some people (despite the policies against smoking, the warning placards, the smoke detector, and the flight attendants) will smoke anyway, and when they do, there had better be a good place to put that cigarette butt.

Engineering Infrastructures For Humans (via Digg)

Armenian political rally ends in tragedy when political hydrogen balloons burst into flames

144 people were burned at a political rally in the Armenian capital of Yerevan last Friday when bunches of hydrogen balloons bearing political slogans burst into flames. An Agence France-Presse story without a byline reports:

“The balloons exploded and caught fire after people holding the bunches released them from their hands into the air,” a witness told AFP.

It was not immediately clear what caused the explosions although police said they were looking into various potential reasons including the “improper storage of flammable substances”.

...The promotional balloons were decorated with the governing party’s election slogan “Let’s believe in change”.

Hydrogen balloons? Really? Is this a thing?

Exploding hydrogen balloons at Armenian political rally injure many (via JWZ)