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. — Maggie
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.
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
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
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]
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. — Maggie
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
. — Maggie
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
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
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) — Maggie
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
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.
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."
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
) — Maggie