Monday, 30 November 2015


10 Incredible Good News Stories Nobody Is Talking About
By Morris M.,
Listverse, 30 November 2015.

Cast your eyes over the news, and it can seem like the world is in a pretty bad place: attacks in Paris, bombings in Lebanon, Turkey nearly starting World War III by shooting down a Russian fighter jet. Sometimes, it can seem like nothing will penetrate the gloom.

But that’s not exactly the case. Look behind the headlines about fear, carnage, and death and you’ll find another, less reported world of hope, peace, and human courage. We’re not saying the world in winter 2015 is all happy fairies and pixie dust. We are saying that maybe it’s time we gave the good news a chance.

10. We’ve Halved Child Mortality Since 1990


In many ways, 1990 seems remarkably close to our own time. For one thing, there’s a good chance that the next election will repeat 1992’s Clinton/Bush face-off. In other ways, 1990 seems far away. That year, figures showed that 12.7 million children under age five died throughout the world. Fast-forward to 2015, and we’ve reduced that number to less than six million for the first time in recorded history.

That’s a 53 percent drop in 25 years, an impressive achievement by any measure. In some countries, the scale of achievement has been even higher. In Bangladesh, the infant mortality rate fell a staggering 72 percent between 1990 and 2012. In East Timor, it fell a slightly lower but still impressive 67 percent. In case those dry statistics aren’t doing anything for you, we’ll put it in more emotional terms: Thanks to our efforts as a species, millions upon millions of children are alive today who would otherwise be dead.

Still, some may consider this a failure. The UN’s goal was to cut child mortality by 67 percent by 2015, which is far below what we achieved. But that shouldn’t detract from what is still a phenomenal win for mankind and an even bigger win for children in the developing world.

9. We’ve Lifted Over A Billion People Out Of Extreme Poverty


The UN’s definition of “extreme poverty” is about as extreme as it gets. To qualify, you have to be living on the equivalent of less than US$1.25 a day - an amount that’s pitiful even in countries with unimaginably low costs of living. In 1990, nearly two billion people were caught in this extreme poverty trap, accounting for nearly half of the world’s population. Today, that number has dropped to 836 million, or less than 15 percent of the world’s humans.

This is important because life in extreme poverty really sucks. Time recently had a moving photo essay that followed children trying to live on US$1 a day. One eight-year-old girl had to spend every day digging through a toxic dump collecting scrap metal, all while crying from the unbearable pain of living with malaria. A two-year-old in India was deliberately starved into malnutrition by her parents to elicit sympathy (and thus more cash) while they were begging. All of them lived lives of deprivation that even the poorest among us couldn’t imagine.

Thanks to some awesome global teamwork, there are now nearly two billion fewer people being forced to experience such hardships on a daily basis. Those who remain are largely concentrated in five countries: India, Nigeria, China, Bangladesh, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

8. We’re Getting Closer To Achieving Universal Education


If you want to get ahead in life, get an education. It really is as simple as that. Weekly earnings over the age of 25 rise almost perfectly in line with your level of educational attainment, which is why the recent news about education is so good. As of 2015, we’re well on our way to achieving nearly universal education.

Back in 1990, 20 percent of children in developing regions weren’t receiving any education at all. They couldn’t read, write, or even conceive of going to somewhere as exotic as a school. Today, that number stands at only 10 percent, meaning that 9 out of 10 kids in the developing world are getting the chance to drastically improve their chances in life. In some cases, the improvements have been extreme. Northern Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, East Asia, Southeast Asia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia now have around 99 percent of their children in primary education.

In 2015, we potentially have the highest-educated global population in history. As a result, these kids are growing up to be innovators in their home countries, shaking up moribund economies, generating fistfuls of cash, and lifting many others out of poverty with them.

7. Cuba Recently Made A Major HIV Breakthrough


Despite the recently lifted US economic blockade, Cuba has always had world-class healthcare. In summer 2015, the island country demonstrated the awesome prowess of its doctors by becoming the first nation on Earth to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

This is a breakthrough that earns the description “major.” Like syphilis, HIV has a nasty habit of infecting children in the womb. An untreated pregnant woman has a 15–45 percent chance of passing the virus on to her unborn child. When you realize that 1.4 million HIV-positive women get pregnant each year, you begin to appreciate what a problem this really is.

Since 2009, a global effort has been launched to lower these statistics. With the right antiretroviral medicines, the chances of HIV being passed on from mother to child drop to a mere 1 percent. Thanks to Cuba’s awesome doctors, that number has now fallen to literally zero.

Unfortunately, Cuba’s achievement rests on its universal, high-quality healthcare. In other words, it can’t be replicated immediately elsewhere. But the World Health Organization (WHO) still thinks that Cuba can serve as a model for other developing nations. With a bit of luck and some hard work, we may soon be living in a world where no child has to be born with this life-threatening illness.

6. The Carter Centre Is About To Wipe Out Guinea Worm Disease

Photo credit: CDC

In the whole of human history, we’ve only eradicated a single disease: smallpox. That was thanks to an expensive 14-year global immunization program by the WHO. Now another disease is about to join its lonely ranks. Thanks to the Carter Centre, we’re on the verge of eradicating guinea worm disease.

Found mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, guinea worm disease is a nasty infection. Like a tapeworm, a guinea worm grows inside you into a 1-meter (3 ft) monster. Unlike a tapeworm, the guinea worm then decides to exit your body by burrowing out of your skin. The creature’s exit takes an average of 30 days, causing massive swelling and infection in the affected area. It can emerge from just about anywhere: the roof of your mouth, your nipple, your scrotum, your butt.

Did we mention that it causes excruciating pain the entire time? If you try to ease your suffering by bathing the wound in water, the worm will lay a ton of eggs in you.

Back in 1986, 3.5 million people were infected in 21 countries. By summer 2015, that number had dropped to 126 cases in 30 villages. That’s not a typo. Barely over 100 people now suffer from guinea worm disease. The Carter Centre claims that their work will completely wipe out the disease in the next few years. Even better, they’re already planning to turn their attention to the next disease once guinea worm is finally eradicated.

5. Boko Haram Is Getting Its Ass Kicked

Photo credit: VOA

If it weren’t for ISIS, Boko Haram would have dominated news stories of Islamic extremism in 2015. The Nigerian terror group recently held a territory roughly the size of Costa Rica and spent their time massacring entire villages. Today, they’re still setting off deadly bombs in the capital and generally acting like murderous monsters. But all this fury is masking a positive development. The members of Boko Haram are getting their asses kicked.

Since incompetent President Goodluck Jonathon was replaced by Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria has been stepping up its efforts to coordinate with Chad, Cameroon, and the US. The result has been a series of devastating strikes against the insurgent group that have crippled Boko Haram and taken back large swaths of their territory.

The Nigerian military are now saying they may totally defeat the group within a year, and for once, local officials and foreign observers agree with them. In a single raid in October 2015, 338 hostages were freed from the group’s northeastern stronghold - a far cry from April 2014 when they kidnapped 276 schoolgirls.

That’s not to say that Boko Haram is a spent force. The group is expected to continue launching attacks for a long time. But they are getting much weaker. Any chance they had of becoming another Islamic State seems to have vanished for now.

4. Islamic State Is Losing Ground

As we’ve mentioned before, November 13, 2015, the day of the Paris attacks, was an incredibly bad day for ISIS. While the world’s media was focused on France, the extremist group lost the key city of Sinjar to Kurdish and Yazidi forces, shattering the ISIS supply line between Syria and Iraq. This isn’t the only setback the group is experiencing.

Although ISIS is still a major threat and remains extremely deadly, things aren’t going as well for them as they want you to believe. In September 2015, Newsweek reported that the caliphate’s economy had been badly hit by the oil price crash. This forced the group to hit those under their control with excessive taxes, leading to a mass exodus of professionals and skilled workers - the same refugees who are now entering Europe.

As a result, ISIS’s economy is now like a rattling old car from which the engine could fall out at any moment. Public anger in cities like Mosul is growing, and the group has exhausted one of their major sources of cash - robbing Iraqi banks.

On a military level, ISIS is also in trouble. The intelligence chief of Iraqi Kurdistan recently estimated that they could be defeated in months or even weeks if Western powers engaged fully. Doubtful as that may seem, Kurdish troops are already reporting that their enemy seems significantly weaker on the battlefield. Hopefully, 2016 will be the year we consign these scumbags to the dustbin of history.

3. World Hunger Is Declining


So far in the 21st century, around 600,000 people have died from “great famines,” which are devastating famines that kill 100,000 people or more. That’s a shocking number, but we mainly mention it as a comparison point with the turn of the last century. Between 1900–1909, great famines killed nearly 27 million people.

This isn’t cherry-picking data. This is representative of how far we’ve come with tackling global hunger. Since about 1970, the number of great famines has been in terminal decline, to the point that experts now say that they’re “almost obsolete.” Famines haven’t killed more than five million people a year since the 1960s. In the first 15 years of the 21st century, they’ve only led to an average of 40,000 deaths a year.

Obviously, that’s still a shocking number. But it represents one heck of an improvement. In 1990, the International Food Policy Research Institute ranked 16 countries as “extremely alarming” on their annual Global Hunger Index (GHI). In 2015, not a single nation was featured on the GHI. Since 2000, only one country - Kuwait - has seen its level of hunger rise, and that was by a tiny margin. Globally, the level of hunger has fallen by about 27 percent in developing countries.

There is still a long way to go. For example, nearly half the population of the Central African Republic is undernourished. But we’re slowly beating global hunger, just as we are extreme poverty. In doing so, we’re saving literally millions of lives.

2. Women’s Lives Are Improving Dramatically


Living in the equality-loving West, it’s easy to forget that gender discrimination is a terrifyingly real thing in some countries. Globally, about one-third of all women still experience physical or sexual violence, and honour killings remain a depressing fact of life. Yet these sad facts mask an undeniable truth. On a global scale, life for women is improving dramatically.

Between 1990 and 2013, maternal deaths worldwide fell by 45 percent. At the same time, female life expectancy soared to a global average of 72 years. More women entered the workforce. More girls stayed in school. The age of marriage rose as child brides started to become a thing of the past. Even in the US, there have been noticeable improvements. Between 1994 and 2012, the rate of nonfatal domestic violence fell by a staggering 63 percent.

Again, there is still a long way to go. But it’s clear that the general trend is in a positive direction. It might not always feel like it when you’re reading about the latest tragic honour killing, but the world’s Neanderthals are finally starting to realize that it’s not cool to treat women as punching bags.

1. The Global Murder Rate Is Dropping Fast


With war brewing and atrocities being carried out across the globe, it can seem like we’re about to enter a new dark age of genocide and murder. However, the data doesn’t back this up. Across the globe, the chances of another human being murdering you are falling fast.

In a recent article for Slate, Steven Pinker crunched the numbers for most major forms of intentional killing. He found nearly all of them were dropping dramatically. You’ve probably heard that the homicide rate in the US and UK is falling to near historic lows, but did you know the same is true of the entire world? Although data only exists from 2000 onward and requires what Pinker calls “heroic guesstimates” for some regions, the trend appears to be downward.

Importantly, this includes countries we might think of as “scary violent.” Mexico has seen a massive uptick in its murder rate since 2006, but even this is now falling. At its recent peak, the number of homicides in Mexico still fell wildly short of the country’s past statistics. If you jumped in a time machine and went back to 1955, you’d be far more likely to be murdered than at the height of the drug war. Same deal with places like Colombia, Russia, and Brazil.

Other forms of murder are declining, too. Mass killings of civilians rose from 1945–1992 and then suddenly dropped sharply. Although this statistic has spiked again in recent years due to ISIS, the rate is still so historically low that we’re not even back to 2005 levels. Data on genocides seems to show a general decline, as does the rate of battle deaths in armed conflicts. In Pinker’s words: “The world’s civilians are several thousand times less likely to be targeted today than they were 70 years ago.”

All of this needs a disclaimer. We’re not saying that the world is all happy and safe and no one is suffering. Life in Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, and parts of Nigeria and Ukraine is difficult and often short. We’re also not saying that things couldn’t be better. But we are saying that they’re improving massively and on a global scale. Believe it or not, the world is slowly getting better. Even if it doesn’t always feel that way.

Top image: Feeding hungry children in Northern Kenya. Credit: Feed My Starving Children (FMSC)/Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0.

[Source: Listverse. Edited. Top image added.]


Video demonstration of HeLi-on rolling in and pulling out
Tasty Tech Eye Candy Of The Week (Nov 29)
By Tracy Staedter,
Discovery News, 29 November 2015.

Gold foam, wired roses, 3-D art for the blind and a beautiful way to recycle plastic garbage are highlights from this week's Tasty Tech gallery.

1. Lightweight Gold


Scientists have created an incredibly lightweight gold by mixing milk protein fibres with a solution of gold salt. The fibres formed a kind of lattice to which the gold salt crystalized to. The resulting gold foam is 98 parts air and only two parts of solid material, but in total is 20-carat gold. Developer Raffaele Mezzenga, professor of food and soft materials at ETH Zurich, said the material could be used in jewellery, as a chemical catalysis and in applications where light is absorbed or reflected.

2. 3-D Art for the Blind


Most museums have guards to keep you away from the art. No touching! But a new Indiegogo project from UnSeen Art wants to bring touchable art to the blind. By donating to the crowd-funding campaign, backers can get a 3-D representation of the Mona Lisa, which can be kept or donated. The money raised overall will help develop a way for others to download files that can be printed by anyone with a 3-D printer.

3. Desalinate Water


A new way to remove salt from water could deliver more fresh water for everyone. Scientists from the University of Illinois used a supercomputer to test different materials and found that a membrane made from molybdenum and sulphur was able to filter up to 70 percent more water than the more popular graphene membranes. The illustration here shows a cross-section of a membrane. The molybdenum is in blue and the sulphur in yellow. It filters salt from the water on the left, leaving fresh water on the other side.

4. Burying Nuclear Waste


Finland just got the go-ahead to build a nuclear storage facility 1,300 feet underground on Olkiluoto Island. The facility is designed to last 100,000 years and will hold Finland's and Sweden's projected nuclear waste. [Video]

5. Calming Hoodie


Having a hard day at work? Sure, you could meditate or do some yoga but why not shut out the world in this stress-reducing hoodie? Zip up the Baker Miller Pink Hoodie from Vollebak and a soft, pink glow fills your field of view. The colour naturally calms you, helping you to slow down your breathing and heart rate.

6. Roll-Up Phone Charger


The company infinityPV is on their way to printing solar cell panels as thin as paper that can be rolled up in a compact device and then unrolled under the sun to charge your phone. Their Kickstarter project for the HeLi-on is already fully funded, but there's still time to get in on the action.

7. Recycle Plastic Garbage


This beautiful material comprised of swirling colours and patterns is made from milk containers, tupperware, plastic bottles, and grocery bags. It's called Müll and it comes from industrial designer Carter Zufelt, who after months of trial error found a way to use the right amount of heat and pressure to bake, twist and compress plastic garbage into a marbled material suitable for a range of applications.

8. Net Zero Home


This prefabricated home from Unity Homes was on display at the 2015 Greenbuild conference. It's a 1,620-square-foot, net-zero house that can be built in three days. Currently priced at about US$150 per square foot, the well-insulated house is designed to generate all its own energy. Watch a video here.

9. Urban Trike


The Urbis Trike from Vedran Martinek is a concept for urban mobility. It folds up into a compact package to be carried onto public transportation. When the commuter reaches her last stop, the trike can be opened up and ridden the last few blocks or miles to the final destination. An electric motor means no pollution and a built-in GPS system helps the rider navigate.

10. Wired Roses


When wired with bioelectric molecules, this garden rose conducts electricity. It was developed by scientists at Linköping University in Sweden who think that in the future, these cyberplants could be programmed to bloom on demand or generate special hormones that help it survive extreme weather conditions, such as frost or drought.

Top image: HeLi-on, the pocketable roll-up solar phone charger. Credit: Kickstarter.

[Source: Discovery News. Edited. Top image and some links added.]

Sunday, 29 November 2015


Top 10 Things More Likely to Kill You Than a Terrorist Attack (Probably)
By Edgar Wilson,
Toptenz, 29 November 2015.

While shark attacks, sinkholes, plane crashes, and other “Act of God” insurance nightmares get all the glory of media coverage, there are plenty of other events that account for at least as much - if not more - a share of injuries and deaths. They may not be glamorous or worthy of silver screen treatment, but as causes of hospitalization (and sometimes mortality), the numbers these health threats put up annually certainly qualify them for at least a second thought. So read on and learn about the top ways people wind up in the ER or the morgue, that somehow never get their moment in the spotlight.

10. Biting


Sadly, zombie enthusiasts watching the news for advanced signs of an impending apocalypse are mistaken if they think human-on-human biting attacks are prime suspects. Even without the involvement of undead hordes, American hospitals record more than 40,000 ER admissions for victims of human bites every year.

A UK study of the phenomenon estimated that one person goes to the emergency department every three days to treat bite wounds inflicted by another person; other studies estimate that a person bites another person once every twelve minutes.

While it may be easy to write off this statistic as a subset of assault victims requiring hospitalization, keep in mind that most - but far from all - bites result from a fight. The rest (of those that are actually reported and recorded) occur from other such zesty activities as athletics or intercourse. Not all such incidents get reported, but when the bounty of bacteria and general nastiness of the human mouth results in infection, it is harder to hide the fact that someone got a little too toothy during any activity.

9. Cute Animals


Some strange combination of Saturday morning cartoons and Beanie Babies has given people a false sense of security when dealing with seemingly cute animals. Man’s Best Friend alone manages to send up to 13,000 puppy-lovers to the hospital annually.

Of course, humans have a tragically long track record of mistaking “adorable” with “harmless” when it comes to the animal kingdom. Hippos, bison, and other such lovable lugs are so darned endearing, that thousands of human idiots manage to push them to the point of violence every year, with hippos killing more people than sharks, spiders, snakes, wolves, and jellyfish combined.

National Parks like Yellowstone are particularly prone to incidents involving visitors who think all they need to know about wild animals is the difference between herbivores and carnivores, and then proceed to get maimed while trying to take selfies with the resident bison. And it wouldn’t be a true American Thanksgiving without a parade of Elmer Fudd wannabes becoming prey to wild turkeys.

Fact is, people are no better at living with other species than they are at getting along with other humans.

8. Vacuums


People have come up with a variety of novel uses for vacuums, with the natural result that they’ve found a host of ways to hurt or kill themselves using the appliance. There is, of course, the regrettable trend of curious young men who, absent any prominent social messaging warning them of the perils of amorous relations with cleaning appliances, “were driven to new lengths by the novelty of the experience and came to grief,” to quote a foundational study on the subject.

But the travails of vacuums are not limited to or even dominated by hapless males; in both traditional deliveries and C-sections, vacuums have replaced forceps as the tool of choice in assisting in the delivery of infants, which has been shown to frequently cause serious damage to the new-born's intracranial tissue. That officially makes vacuums a bigger threat than zombies where brains are concerned.

Making it out of the maternity ward still doesn’t provide safe harbour, as children are prone to friction burns and related injury resulting from close encounters with their household vacuums.

7. Toilets


Human bodies were designed to squat during defecation, yet the pretense of dumping out in a “civilized” manner led to the development of toilets requiring an upright posture. This increased dignity is accompanied by straining, increased rates of fissures, incomplete evacuation (resulting in build-up of residual waste and bacteria), elevated risks of chronic inflammation and internal bleeding, and possibly even colon cancer.

Take that, third-world residents who have no alternative to squatting!

Nations of the world who invested in a more regal platform for bowel movements got a lot more than a porcelain throne as a result: haemorrhoids afflict fully half of all Americans by the time they hit 50, and the added time and labour involved in forcing the dookie out when your posture is holding it in increases the amount of pressure and time required (hence the popularity of reading on the toilet), further compounding the health hazards all over again.

It is common knowledge that sitting at a desk all day is bad for your health. But while the hazards of prolonged sitting have attracted all manner of attention and helpful tips, people somehow remain much more receptive to doing office calisthenics and investing in standing desks than in renovating their bathrooms to incorporate squat toilets.

6. Work


It isn’t just our desks that are wrecking our bodies. According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), unintentional overexertion, otherwise known as working too damn hard, is the third leading cause of injury in the United States. Among those aged 24-65, i.e., the standard working age, it is the second most common cause for non-fatal hospitalization.

Far from being a problem associated with highly physical jobs like construction or Jimmy John’s delivery, traumatic overexertion can be brought on by repetitive motions common to desk jobs, as well as the odd incident of trying to lift too much, or simply failing to drink enough water.

And before we applaud ourselves for simply being martyred workaholics, bear in mind that hobbyists like gardeners and marathon runners are also incapable of recognizing their own limits. So while hospitals overflow with patients who don’t get enough exercise, the sedentary can plan on sharing a room with fitness freaks who just don’t know when to quit. That ought to be a fun stay for everyone.

5. The Million-Dollar Fart


People routinely turn up at the hospital convinced that an alien is about to burst from their chests, only to discover that the foreign body they are hosting is actually just a cloud of hydrogen tinged with sulphur making its way down and out.

Abdominal pain (the detested tummy ache) accounts for eight million ER admissions per year - the leading cause of hospitalization in America. That is due in part to the huge variety of things that can go wrong in the human abdomen, but it also includes less-than-deadly complaints like gas. Of the eight million admissions, only about 17% turn out to be serious - a conclusion only reached after ordering anything from an ultrasound or CT scan to exploratory surgery, all elements of the standard regimen that could quickly turn one person’s *poot* into a seriously expensive punch line, not to mention how all the diagnostic imaging typically increases cumulative exposure to radiation, potentially leading to further health issues down the line.

But that isn’t the only way people have found to emit million-dollar farts.

Pyroflatulence, better known as the elusive-but-spectacular “blue dart,” has delighted and destroyed in equal measure. While it is impossible to burn inside-out from igniting one’s own gaseous emissions, doing so in proximity to other flammable substances is, predictably, explosive, and can compound the cost (financial and personal) of a single fart by orders of magnitude.

4. July


This documented phenomenon is known as the July Effect: when all the baby-docs get to swap their med school scrubs for white coats and stethoscopes, hospitals are temporarily at higher risk of the sort of silly slip-ups and hijinks that made Scrubs such a beloved sitcom - as well as making hospitals the third leading killer of Americans each year.

The coincidence of med school graduations in the month has been directly linked to a 10% spike in hospital errors, involving everything from mixing up medications to not knowing how to work a defibrillator. Experts agree that if at all possible, it is best to avoid hospitals throughout the summer and try to aim for a time when the ER is more likely to be staffed with more experienced doctors.

Of course, if you are planning on celebrating Independence Day at all, you stand a pretty high chance of failing to follow that advice…

3. Holidays


Major holidays are a bit of a triple threat for hospitals. Firstly, surveys have shown that nearly 1 in 5 holiday travellers hit the road to avoid family, rather than to visit them; meanwhile, impatient travellers will exaggerate or even fabricate symptoms in order to get select (elderly) family members hospitalized for non-critical conditions, if only to ensure travel and other holiday plans have one less obstacle to going smoothly.

On the other hand, lonely seniors without company during the most wonderful time of the year will check themselves into hospitals just to have company.

And finally, of course, there are the perils of drinking. Responsible revellers who drink at home, thoughtfully staying off the roads, often end up trading a traffic accident for a domestic one. So while DUIs are to Christmas what candy is to Halloween, celebratory day-drinking still manages to net more than 15,000 holiday decorators, along with over a thousand burn victims, and 1,500 cases of back strain (or lifting injuries) - all without so much as a car leaving the driveway. Even on July 4th, America’s pyrotechnics are no match for its thirst for alcohol as a root cause of ER admissions and injury.

2. Removing Hair…Down There


Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to stop grooming your naughty bits.

From lasers to razors, eliminating all the hair of the swimsuit places has gone from being a fad to fully in the mainstream. The shave-and-wax trend over the period from 2002 - 2010 produced just over 11,000 ER visits, but by the end of 2010 the annual rate had climbed over 2,500. Disturbingly, the overwhelming cause of serious injury involves the use of razors, but other hair removal techniques including waxing have also been implicated.

And while injuries during the baldening process are alarming, experts point out that removing pubic hair also eliminates an important biological defense to disease and infection, leaving bare nether-regions prone to staph infections, STIs, and even run of the mill blunt force trauma. Though this trend is exponentially on the rise, it is only one of the ways we truly suffer for beauty…

1. Fashion


It is time to admit that our clothes are killing us. From high-heeled shoes to too-tight…well, everything, modern wardrobes are little more than glorified murder chambers we carry with and on us. The desperate squeezing-in ritual that accompanies so many daily clothing routines the world over has been responsible for blood clots, chronic pain, nerve damage, and disfigurement.

And that laundry list of physical health problems doesn’t even consider the countless psychological side-effects of having a culture that celebrates sartorial masochism, making it effectively impossible for anyone to meet the standards of beauty and shape without compromising health and comfort. So even those who forego “fitting in” through skin-tight apparel often adorn an underlying depression with looser, more forgiving outfits.

The compounding effect of the one size fits none standardization as the most horrible fixture of contemporary fashion is hard to track, but experts attribute much of the staggering rate of suicides and cases of self-harm requiring hospitalization, in part, to a void of self-esteem. And while many high-performing ancient cultures (and pragmatic modern ones) manage to embrace functional, practical, gender-neutral garb, the pinnacles of high fashion insist on preserving monstrous mutations of gendered apparel. Almost daily accusations of misogyny, hyper-sexualization, perpetuation of rape culture, and a generally regressive view of identity all point back to the fashion and beauty industry.

Directly and indirectly, health and beauty have become opposing forces.

Top image: Caricatures of corsets. Credit: Sigmund von Wagner/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Toptenz. Edited. Top image added.]


11 Outlandish Attempts To Build The Next Concorde
By Chris Clarke,
Popular Mechanics, 24 November 2015.

Every few months or so, the internet becomes abuzz with some gleaming new scheme to resurrect passenger air travel that exceeds the speed of sound. Some of these designs go viral as "the next Concorde" before disappearing into vapourware. But there are also legitimate patents from established enterprises like Airbus, and next-generation aerospace concepts from NASA and Boeing for supersonic planes we might actually see in this lifetime.

As we look back on the final Concorde flight that graced the skies 12 years ago this month, we have to question why there isn't something new and better. Why has every other attempt failed where the Concorde succeeded nearly 40 years ago?

Why Supersonic Is So Hard


Throughout aviation history, only two aircraft have entered commercial service as supersonic transportations (SST). The first was the Soviet built Tupolev Tu-144. The Tu-144 made only 55 passenger flights in only one year of service, but continued hauling cargo through 1983, totalling just 102 flights. Concorde found much more success during its 27 years of commercial service, although only 20 were ever built, at a tremendous cost and with large government subsidies. Concorde eventually became profitable for a while when it found an elite customer base that was willing to pay a premium for the novelty of traveling on the world's fastest airliner. The economic downturn in the late 1990's combined with the Concrode's only crash in 2000 and rising maintenance cost on the aging fleet, finally led to its retirement following the very last flight in November of 2003.

Here are the top four problems for companies trying to revive supersonic transport:

  • Sonic Boom: One of the most obvious by-products of supersonic flight is the loud boom. The shockwave that creates it is like an invisible boat wake that sounds like a loud clap to those on the ground and can even rattle and crack window panes. This has led to strict regulations governing allowable levels of sonic boom, and in 1973, supersonic flight over land in the United States was officially prohibited. Many people have tried to invent a wing or fuselage design that creates a "quiet" sonic boom. Another tactic to reduce how much the boom is heard on the ground is to fly at much higher altitudes. Unfortunately this solution leads to the next obstacle.

  • Propulsion: Most modern aircraft propulsion systems are air breathing, meaning they burn oxygen from the ambient air mixed with fuel. At the extreme altitudes required for practical supersonic flight, the air density would not be adequate to feed such an engine and still produce sufficient thrust to accelerate the aircraft beyond the speed of sound. This has lead many designers to look elsewhere for non-conventional propulsion like rocket engines and ramjets.

  • Aerodynamics: Supersonic planes would need to use the same airports as other aircraft. But a supersonic jet's need to be as slippery as possible often results in poor stability at slower speeds. SSTs need very fast take-offs and landings that require an unusually long runway. This can severely limit where a supersonic plane can operate.

  • Costs: This all costs an extreme amount of money not only to develop but also to operate. Fewer routes due to sonic boom restrictions and airport runway limitation reduces the potential customer base. Add the exorbitant fuel costs and increased maintenance needed due to the extreme conditions, all of which make supersonic transportation cost prohibitive.

1. Zero Emissions Hypersonic Transport


Airbus designed a hypothetical supersonic plane that some are calling the Concorde 2. The aircraft would be a long-haul commercial transport flying at altitudes of 100,000 feet. The study calls for advanced smart materials able to withstand the extreme temperature changes associated with such high altitudes and a planned maximum speed of Mach 4.

The concept is anything but simple, with a radical three-tier propulsion system. The power required for take-off would be created by a typical turbo jet engine that would accelerate the craft near the speed of sound. Rocket boosters would then take over, propelling the aircraft in excess of Mach 2, after which supersonic ramjets would continue the acceleration to Mach 4.

If that sounds crazy, just imagine a proposed fuel source made from a combination of seaweed and hydrogen/oxygen resulting in the emission of zero pollutants. Airbus recently filed patents confirming plans to develop such an aircraft, but don't expect to see anything like this rolling up to your gate at the airport anytime soon. The first take-off isn't scheduled until something like 2050.

2. Aerion AS2


Aerion Corporation's plane for a possible flying supersonic passenger aircraft has a lot going for it. Supersonic and transonic airflow across the natural laminar flow wing has been proven in wind tunnel test and has also been tested in conjunction with NASA's F-15 flying testbed. The company has partnered with Airbus Defence and Space to collaborate on certification issues. Airbus most likely would produce the major airframe components in Europe, which would be shipped to a final assembly site somewhere in the United States.

Of course, there are setbacks. The first flight has already been delayed to 2021, two years beyond the original projected date. A few key decisions have yet to be made, like where the final assembly plant will be located and which manufacturer will build the three jet engines needed to propel the craft beyond the speed of sound. Aerion expects to be the first to bring a supersonic business jet to the market with a recent announcement of 20 firm fleet orders to their launch customer Flexjet.

3. HyperMach SonicStar


Expected to travel at speed in excess of Mach 3, the SonicStar is the brainchild of Sonicblue Aerospace CEO Richard Luggs. At the heart of the outlandish business class jet are two (theoretical) SonicBlue Supersonic-Magnetic Advanced Generation Jet electric turbine hybrid supersonic engines. If all those buzzwords have your head spinning, you'll be even more befuddled when you try to understand how it's actually supposed to work.

Traditionally on a jet engine, a bypass fan at the front is connected to a free-spinning turbine that is spun by hot exhaust gasses exiting the rear. The electric hybrid design proposed for the SonicStar would use electricity generated from burning fuel to rotate the bypass fan. The fan speed could then be varied to the optimal speed for maximum efficiency.

The SonicStar would need extreme tech to reduce the high temperatures caused by friction between the air and the skin of the aircraft. The plans include carbon composite structural skins and panels with alloy leading edges wrapped around titanium structure wings to reduce weight.

None of this is cheap. And some of these technologies can't be bought because they haven't been invented yet. To eliminate the sonic boom, for instance, the SonicStar would use electromagnetic drag reduction technology (currently not in existence). If all goes according to plan, first test flights will begin in 2021.

4. Tupolev Tu-444


If any company can succeed in creating the next supersonic transport, it's Russian firm Tupolev, since they invented supersonic passenger transport. Unfortunately little information is known about the development of their supersonic business jet and official details are no longer available. This raises the question as to whether this secretive project is still in the works or has been cancelled altogether.

5. Reaction Engines A2


British aerospace firm Reaction Engines Ltd (REL), as part of a European Union program to examine advanced propulsion systems, has created a unique design study. It's intended to imagine environmentally friendly, long-range, high-capacity commercial transportation with a top speed in excess of Mach 5. The term "design study" could be taken to mean it's vapourware, but REL claims they would move toward commercial development of the LAPCAT A2 within 25 years - if and when a market for such an aircraft demanded it.

The engines on the A2 would be fuelled by liquid hydrogen, which would make it nearly twice as efficient as a typical kerosene-fuelled turbojet engine. The hydrogen would also play a secondary role by pre-cooling the highly compressed air entering the engine. The cooler air will burn more even at high speeds and allow engine construction to be made of lighter materials that would normally be vulnerable to extreme heat.

Reducing the extreme heat generated by hypersonic airflow on the surface of the aircraft presents a challenge. In order to minimize this effect, the A2 is designed without windows. Flat panel displays would be installed to show passengers scenes from outside.

6. Spike S-512


Spike Aerospace is a start-up with ambitious plans to create a supersonic business jet that will fly from New York City to London in under three hours. Few details about the design have been released other than a cruise speed of Mach 1.6 and the capacity to haul 18 passengers. Like the Reaction Engines A2, the Spike will be without passenger windows, relegating occupants to viewing the outside world through curved displays.

While this project is in its infancy, the team includes engineers experienced at Gulfstream Aerospace, Boeing, NASA, and Airbus. They're hopeful that the plane's smaller size and unique wing design will reduce the supersonic shockwave. Those on the ground should hear just a soft muffled clap as the airplane passes overhead.

7. SAI Quiet Supersonic Transport


Michael Paulson, son of Gulfstream Aerospace founder Allen Paulson, had big dreams of building a virtually boomless supersonic aircraft. His design would use a curved gull-wing, an inverted V-tail, and a curvilinear fuselage. Supersonic Aerospace International (SAI) was formed and even commissioned Lockheed Skunkworks to develop the business jet-sized QSST, but progress stalled in 2010 over patent disputes.

The first test flights were anticipated to take place in 2011 while the first passengers were to board in 2013. But as 2013 came and went without QSST taking to the skies, Paulson resurrected the idea on a grander scale. He envisioned a Boeing 737-sized transport aircraft that would carry up to 30 passengers in an all-first-class cabin. But SAI seems never to have found investors, and further progress is unlikely.

8. Boeing 2707


In response the British/French Concorde and the Russian Tu-144, the United States in 1963 raced to build an airplane to rival the European competition. The ambitious goal was to build a commercial aircraft with a capacity for 250 passengers (twice as many as Concorde), with speeds of Mach 3 and a transatlantic range of 4,000 miles.

The 2707 was originally envisioned with variable sweeping wings using design cues gleaned from the XB-70 Valkyrie and a droop nose similar to Concorde. But after three prototypes and millions of dollars in research, the government cancelled the program. Public opposition to noise pollution and potential damage to the ozone layer raised serious concerns about the plane. The government also got itself entangled in the Vietnam War and decided to cut funding.

Some good came out of the program, which lead to the High Speed Civil Transport project. As a key part in NASA's High-Speed Research program, this project ran throughout the 1990s and was supported by a team of aerospace companies from the United States.

9. Sukhoi-Gulfstream S-21


Gulfstream Aerospace got serious about supersonic research in the 1980s and 90, partnering with Russian Sukhoi Design Bureau to develop a supersonic small business jet. The S-21 would be capable of sustained cruise at speeds above Mach 2, and the team put a lot of research and development into managing the troublesome transonic effects associated with air speeds in excess of Mach 1.

But in the early 90's, market demand for a commercial supersonic transport was wavering, which resulted in Gulfstream questioning their commitment to the project. The partnership dissolved, but Sukhoi continued work on the S-21. Sukhoi sought cooperation from the French aircraft manufacturer Dassault as well as the Chinese government to build a supersonic business jet, but the design has never moved passed the research stage.

10. Next Generation Supersonic Transport


The Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) has also expressed interest in joining the supersonic aircraft development race. Their design is expected to carry three times as many passengers as Concorde at roughly the same speed, but with twice the range. The goal is to create a supersonic passenger plane with a ticket price rivalling that of ordinary jets.

A scale model was successfully flown to Mach 2 in 2005, and plans called for a full-scale prototype to fly this year. That hasn't happened yet, but development is still in progress.

11. Skreemr


A new twist on supersonic transport is the Skreemr. Much like the Airbus design, Skreemr would use multiple propulsion systems to work its way to peak altitude and, ultimately, four times the speed of sound. Unlike the Airbus design, Skreemr will not use traditional turbine jet engines as the initial source of thrust. Instead, designer Charles Bombardier has envisioned a jet that is launched from a magnetic railgun. A similar electromagnetic launch system is in development by the United States Navy as a means to catapult military airplanes from the deck of aircraft carriers.

Once airborne, the Skreemr would light liquid-fuelled rocket motors that would increase speed and altitude up to the point where scramjet engines would come online. These scramjets would use highly compressed air gathered from the aircraft's forward momentum, combined with burning hydrogen gas, to propel the airplane to theoretical speeds of Mach 10.

At this time, the Skreemr is no more than a concept, and no work has begun on construction. If feasibility studies ever determine a way to overcome the huge technological barriers to achieve a practical method of supersonic transportation, it might prove that creativity is more important than precedent.

Top image: Spike S-512 Supersonic Jet. Credit: Spike Aerospace.

[Source: Popular Mechanics. Edited. Some images and links added.]