Thursday, 19 October 2017


Real-Life 'Replicants': 6 Humanoid Robots Used for Space Exploration
By Elizabeth Howell,, 16 October 2017.

"Blade Runner 2049" features biorobotic androids called "replicants" that closely resemble humans. But the replicants are stronger, faster, and possibly more resilient and intelligent.

Some of these replicants even work in space. In the original "Blade Runner" (1982), a replicant named Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) briefly talks about his experiences working off of planet Earth. The 1968 Philip K. Dick novel on which the movie was based, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", also mentions androids being used for space labor.

While replicants are still far in the future, NASA and other space agencies already use humanoid robots to help do work in space. (Japanese officials hoped to put a humanoid on the moon in 2015, but that hasn't happened yet.) There are many other versions of space robots exploring our solar system - including rovers, satellites and space probes - but here are some examples of the humanoid robots that are doing work in space.

1. Robonaut (NASA)

Photo credit: NASA

Although Robonaut 1 was never meant to fly in space, NASA tested the technology on the ground before launching its successor, Robonaut 2, in 2011. Robonaut was created in collaboration with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a branch of the U.S. military that invests in far-flung technology projects.

Robonaut 2 has been on the International Space Station since 2011. Its goal is to take over some of the tedious tasks that astronauts do on the station, such as flipping switches and turning levers. It has even tested out telemedicine, clinical health care from a distance via telecommunication. An upgraded version of the robot could also be used for spacewalking in the future.

The Robonaut 2 currently at the space station has special climbing manipulators (legs) to cling on to surfaces, and has been upgraded with better processors and sensors than those on Robonaut 1. While Robonaut 2 undergoes testing in space, ground crews at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston are working on another project called the Active Response Gravity Offload System, which is developing a robust robotics research platform for space by working with similar robots on Earth.

2. Valkyrie (NASA)

Photo credit: NASA

Valkyrie (also known as R5), which was developed in just nine months, was originally a competitor in the DARPA Robotics Challenge in 2011. The robot had to perform functions such as picking up debris, operating a vehicle or cutting through a wall. The initial goal of the project was to assist with disaster response and search-and-rescue operations.

In 2015, NASA awarded one robot each to Northeastern University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where collegiate robotics teams would research ways to use the humanoid robots for space exploration.

The robot remains Earth-bound but has shown amazing dexterity and flexibility. In 2015, Valkyrie was filmed dancing to techno music. Its "moves" included standing on one foot while leaning in different directions, and moving from foot to foot. Its technology could be used for missions to Mars someday. [NASA's Valkyrie R5 Space Robot in Pictures]

3. RoboSimian (NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

RoboSimian is more like an ape than a human, but however you classify it, it's a powerful machine. The robot can map its environment in 3D using lidar technology. It's extremely flexible, and can go over tough terrain and undertake tasks that require dexterity. RoboSimian competed in the finals of the DARPA Robotics Challenge in 2015.

RoboSimian's extreme dexterity could also be useful in disaster recovery efforts, NASA said at the time. With four limbs, the robot can support itself easily on uneven surfaces and climb on ladders, stair treads or railings. The robot's ability to see in 3D, coupled with its enhanced mobility, reduces its risk of falling over - a common problem for two-legged robots. [NASA JPL's RoboSimian Robot in Images]

4. Kirobo (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)

Photo credit: Video screenshot Kibo Robot Project/YouTube

Japan's Kirobo was an adorable mini-astronaut robot that launched to the International Space Station in 2013 aboard the HTV-4 cargo ship. Standing only 13 inches (34 centimeters) tall, the robot was used to test human-robot interaction in space as a part of the Kibo Robot Project.

On Dec. 6, 2013, Kirobo carried on its first conversation in space, with Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata. The robot speaks only Japanese.

Kirobo and its Earth-bound twin, Mirata, were built at the University of Tokyo's Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology. In addition to talking, they could recognize voices, faces and emotions. [Photos: Meet Kirobo, Japan's 1st Talking Space Robot]

5. Dextre (Canadian Space Agency)

Photo credit: NASA Johnson Space Center/Flickr

Admittedly, Dextre doesn't really look all that human - it's a little gangly with limbs bent at odd angles. But the robot does a lot of valuable work on the exterior of the International Space Station. The two-armed robot is also known as the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator.

Since its launch in 2008, Dextre has participated in robotic satellite refueling tests, which could help extend the lifespan of satellites in the future. The robot is also "on call" for routine maintenance on the orbiting complex, such as replacing cameras or batteries, according to the Canadian Space Agency.

The long-term goal of Dextre is to reduce the need for astronauts to do spacewalks, which are some of the riskiest activities astronauts undertake. Having Dextre on board also reduces the time astronauts spend on repairs, since operators on the ground can control it remotely.

6. AILA (German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence)


Germany's Aila robot is intended to improve artificial intelligence in space. Controllers can move Aila using a custom mouse or Microsoft Kinect technology (which was used for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One video game consoles.)

The robot can mimic human motions by recording what humans do, analyzing the movements in small segments and then building upon the library of information to make new moves. This type of learning might be useful for future robotic work inside and outside the space station, on the moon and even on Mars.

Aila was unveiled in 2010 and has received funding through multiple projects since then. The German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence maintains a page about Aila on its website.

Top image: Robonaut 2. Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann.

[Source: Some images added.]


A Stanford University study in 2001 demonstrated an "impressive" relationship between weather and home infestation. The study found that the majority of Argentine ant invasions of homes and apartments in the greater San Francisco Bay Area occur during winter rainstorms and summer droughts. It has also been well-documented in the UK that unusually damp and humid summer offer a perfect breeding ground for a wide-range of insects and other creatures in homes. It's found that bad, unusual or unseasonal weather has a knock-on effect on the local wildlife resulting in some very unusual home infestations on a grand scale. These home infestations occurs all over world, as shown in the following infographic by Twinkle Clean.

[Post Source: Twinkle Clean.]

Wednesday, 18 October 2017


10 uniquely shaped islands
By Josh Lew,
Mother Nature Network, 16 October 2017.

Islands are alluring for a variety of reasons. Some are attractive because of their white sand beaches, while others stand out due to their palm-fringed tropical landscapes or clear, warm water. Then there are those that have earned fame because of the stories, factual and fictional, that surround them.

More recently, previously ignored islands have been noted for what they look like from the sky. It wasn’t until the era of space travel, satellites and drones that people began discovering that a surprisingly high number of islands are shaped like well-known objects, such as hearts.

A few of these require a little imagination and the right angle to see the resemblance. But some are much more obvious. Here are 10 oddly shaped islands and the stories behind them.

1. Manukan, Mamutik and Sulug Islands

Photo: Jason Thien/Flickr

Manukan, Mamutik and Sulug are three islands near the coast of Kota Kinabalu, which is the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah. All three of these landmasses are part of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. Best known to Sabah locals for their protected status and idyllic landscapes, Manukan and its peers have become popular on photo sharing sites because together they resemble the two eyes and upturned mouth of a smiley face.

The face is visible on satellite images, but passengers arriving and departing from Kota Kinabalu International Airport can see the islands, too. The three are located adjacent to Gaya Island, the largest landmass in the park. Manukan, the “mouth,” has well-developed tourist facilities, including a dive center and vacation villas. The “eyes” are quieter, with Mamutik featuring picnic and swimming facilities and Sulug best known for its peaceful, undeveloped atmosphere. All these islands are only a short distance from the city.

2. Isabela Island, Galapagos


The Galapagos Islands are famous for their endemic animal species, some of which inspired the now-famous works of Charles Darwin. Even among the teeming islands that make up the Galapagos, Isabela stands out. It has a large population of birds, turtles, iguanas and penguins (among other types of fauna). Dolphins and whales are commonly seen offshore.

With a population of about 2,000 people (as opposed to 12,000 on neighboring Santa Cruz), Isabela is dominated by nature. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that Isabela is shaped like a marine animal. When seen on satellite images, the island resembles a seahorse. Because it is four times larger than any other island in the chain, the seahorse shape is quite distinct and unmistakable.

3. Gaz Island, Brijuni Islands

Photo: Video screenshot World of Traveling/YouTube

Brijuni consists of 14 small islands in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Istria, which is part of Croatia. One of southeastern Europe’s most interesting destinations, Brijuni features ancient Roman and Byzantine ruins and 200 ancient imprints that are thought to be dinosaur footprints. In addition to beaches and warm water, the islands' submerged archeological sites and marine life draw snorkelers and divers.

Gaz Island, one of the smallest and westernmost landmasses in Brijuni, looks like a fish when seen from above. It does not resemble any particular species, but it is shaped very much like a Goldfish Cracker.

4. Molokini, Hawaii

Photo: Bossfrog/Wikimedia Commons

Despite appearing quite craggy when viewed up close, the islet of Molokini resembles a crescent moon when seen from above. The landmass near Maui is a partially submerged volcanic crater that is designated as a Marine Life Conservation District and a State Seabird Sanctuary. The “moon” rises about 160 feet above the ocean.

Molokini’s shape makes it an attraction, but not simply for Instagrammers who want to snap it from above. The crescent protects reefs and creates ideal diving and snorkeling conditions. The water inside the crescent is protected from powerful ocean currents that would otherwise make diving difficult (though experienced scuba divers can explore the outside of the crater).

5. Gallo Lungo, Li Galli Islands

Photo: Video screenshot gianfranco capodilupo/YouTube

There are three Li Galli Islands. These small landmasses off of Italy’s famously picturesque Amalfi Coast are also known as the Sirenusas, after mythical sirens who were said to live there and seduce sailors into wrecking their boats on the rocky shores with beautiful songs.

In addition to their deadly history, the islands have a glamorous side. Private villas on Li Galli have hosted the likes of Greta Garbo, Sophia Loren and Jacqueline Kennedy. A few years before he succumbed to AIDS, dance icon Rudolf Nureyev bought and restored the villas on the islands.

The longest of Li Galli’s islands is Gallo Lungo. Sometimes described as crescent shaped, the island looks like a dolphin when seen at certain angles. A flat, wide rock formation juts out from the bottom of the island, forming the tail, while a thinner point has formed on the opposite end, mimicking the shape of a dolphin's nose.

6. Chicken Island, Thailand

Photo: McKay Savage/Wikimedia Commons

Chicken Island is a little different from most of the other entries on the list because its unique shape is best appreciated at water level instead of from above. On one end of this island in Krabi Province, visitors see a towering rock formation that resembles the head and outstretched neck of a chicken.

Ferries leave from the mainland at Ao Nang, and because the island is protected as part of a national park, visitors have to pay an entrance fee in addition to the ferry fare. The chicken rock is only one of the reasons to sail from the mainland. The island is a popular site for snorkeling because of its warm water and coral reefs. It also has pristine beaches. There are no accommodations, but vendors sell food and beverages near the shore of Koh Gai.

7. Palm Jumeirah, Dubai

Photo: Richard Schneider/Wikimedia Commons

The Palm Jumeirah is the first of several artificial island development projects in Dubai. This project is completed, and it indeed resembles a palm tree when seen from above. Anyone can visit the “trunk” of the palm, which is covered with malls and entertainment facilities. Private villas were built on the “branches,” and the Middle East’s first monorail connects the different areas.

The Palm is certainly impressive, but it has not been immune to controversy. According to Conde Nast Traveler, the project took years longer than expected, and the villas offer less privacy than advertised. The publication also pointed out that the dredging required to get sand for the island may have changed wave patterns, water temperature and sped up erosion in the Gulf.

8. Tavarua, Fiji


From above, the tiny Fijian island of Tavarua is shaped exactly like a heart (the Valentine's Day version, not a human heart). You might think that this place would be overrun by honeymooners and couples. While some do come to Tavarua, most of the people who travel here are surfers, not romance-seekers.

There are a number of world class waves in the area. One spot, dubbed Cloudbreak, is arguably one of the world’s most famous surfing areas. It regularly hosts professional contests, including a stop on the world championship surfing tour. The popular resort on Tavarua is a for-profit enterprise, but it gives financial support to local development projects that bring services, education and infrastructure to remote parts of Fiji.

9. Saint Kitts and Nevis

Photo: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

From above, the shape of Saint Kitts could be likened to several different things. It could be described as a whale or a lute. When you add round-shaped Nevis into the picture, however, the island nation appears to resemble a ball and baseball bat. Actually, since cricket is the dominant sport on the islands, a cricket bat and ball might be a more accepted comparison.

These islands have a very interesting past. Alexander Hamilton, of US$10 bill fame, was born on Nevis, and Christopher Columbus landed there in 1493, accidentally naming the island because he mistook the clouds above the inland mountains for snow. (Nieve is snow in Spanish).

The island nation, whose shore areas are threatened by rising sea levels, is one of the most eco-friendly in the Caribbean. Nevis is on track to be the region’s first inhabited carbon neutral island.

10. Turtle Island, Philippines

Photo: elaine ross baylon/Flickr

Turtle Island, shaped like its namesake animal, is part of a larger archipelago of limestone landmasses in Pangasinan, a province on the west coast of Luzon (the largest island in the Philippines) that features a variety of different-shaped islands. One is said to resemble a crocodile, while others look like mushrooms or umbrellas.

One of the most obvious shape comparisons is Turtle Island. When viewed from the right angle, it takes very little imagination to see a sea turtle floating on the top of the water. This is a popular destination thanks not only to the whimsical tree-covered limestone formations, but also because the archipelago has a lot of wildlife, swimming and snorkeling opportunities, and easily accessible caves.

Top image: Gaz Island, the fish-shaped island in Brijuni, Croatia. Credit: Video screenshot World of Traveling/YouTube.

[Source: Mother Nature Network. Some images and links added.]


10 Things That Are Much More Dangerous Than You Probably Thought
By Gregory Myers,
Listverse, 17 October 2017.

Many people are afraid of things like lightning striking them dead-on and frying them to a crisp, being a passenger on an airplane when it goes down, being eaten by a shark while swimming, having a tornado rip right through their home, and so on. The fortunate thing is that most of these fears are entirely irrational.

Many things that people commonly fear rarely cause fatalities or injuries and shouldn’t be thought about with nearly so much anxiety. However, there are many other things lurking much closer within reach that are much more dangerous than you would imagine at first. Some of the items on this list can kill you before you realize that you’ve already made a big mistake.

10. Rabies Will Sneak Up On You When You Least Expect It


Rabies can be really sneaky and should be taken very, very seriously. The reason all pets have to get shots for it is because the disease can kill very suddenly, and it can be hard to spot. Many wild animals such as coyotes and bats, or even some stray dogs or cats, can have rabies, and if you get bit, you should be vaccinated immediately, even if you don’t show symptoms. Oftentimes with rabies, you won’t feel ill for a while, but then you’ll start to feel the symptoms of a cold and then a fever. After that, when you start to get to the worse stages, you will experience hydrophobia, a fear of water where you find it difficult to swallow, thinking you will choke if you do.

At this advanced stage, a person suffering from rabies will generally have extreme mental confusion and hallucinations and will often die not long after. It is very important to vaccinate early if you think you may have been bitten by something with rabies because it can hide for a while and then crop up suddenly, making it hard for a doctor to realize where the problem is coming from. Hydrophobia is one of the only symptoms that is more unique to rabies, but it is often too late by that stage. Those who don’t get vaccinated early often die of the disease.

9. Amusement Park Rides Are Much More Deadly Than You Might Imagine


Amusement parks are usually seen as a fun place to take the kids for a day or to partake in some insane roller coasters and enjoy the feeling of adrenaline surging through through the veins. Most people tend to think of amusement parks as a great place to have a good time because they think of them as relatively safe. You’d think that a park full of attractions that lift people into the air, throw them all over the place, and strap them into train-like contraptions that travel as fast as some cars would have pretty strict government safety regulations. However, because of a loophole, there hasn’t been any federal oversight of amusement parks in the United States of America since the 1980s, which leaves everything up to the states.

Some states have no regulations at all, and some leave it entirely up to the counties. Many states don’t require amusement parks to properly record how many injuries or incidents they have, and one of those is Florida - which has some of the biggest and most visited amusement parks in the world. The annual voluntary survey of injuries and accidents is completely ignored by at least half of parks, which makes it even harder to quantify the dangers at all.

Unless someone records an incident on their phone, like at the Ohio State Fair in 2017, where one man died and several were injured when a swinging gondola broke loose, people almost never hear about it. Amusement parks go to great lengths to keep accidents out of the media and settle out of court when possible to avoid publicity. Even with all the accident underreporting (or non-reporting), the numbers are still at over 1,000 injuries per year.

8. Box Jellyfish Kill Way More Often Than Sharks

Photo credit: Guido Gautsch

We tend to be most scared of the animals that look like huge monsters, and when it comes to the ocean, sharks are the scariest beasts around in the eyes of most people. Hardly even needing the influence of Jaws to make them terrifying, some sharks are gigantic carnivores with rows of sharp teeth and have been known on occasion to take a bite or two out of human beings. However, if you really look at the cold, hard statistics, there are only a handful of fatal shark attacks around the world every year, and there aren’t that many shark-related incidents to begin with. Sharks simply don’t have that much interest in hunting people.

However, while shark attacks are incredibly rare, there is something in the ocean you should be increasingly concerned about. We are talking, of course, about the jellyfish. Most people think of jellyfish as a mostly harmless nuisance. Their sting is something joked about in popular culture, with many different shows doing a gag where people urinate on the sting to decrease the power of the venom. (This doesn’t work and may actually make it worse.) However, it is no joking matter if you get stung by almost any species of box jellyfish. Their sting can easily be fatal if not treated quickly, and some people still die despite quick treatment. In just the Philippines alone, box jellies account for 20 to 40 deaths a year and countless hospital visits, but experts believe the actual death toll may be underreported because the deaths are often attributed to general causes.

7. Escalators


When most people think of a potentially dangerous way to quickly move up or down a building, elevators tend to come to mind. Think of all the movies and TV shows where a cable snaps, and the elevator plunges to the ground, leaving everyone hoping that the hero will find a way to arrest their fall at the last minute. This has become so ingrained in popular culture that a lot of people think this is a reasonable fear in an elevator. However, the only known case of a cable actually snapping and causing an elevator to free-fall happened when a plane crashed into the Empire State Building, and the woman within survived. The vast majority of elevator accidents and fatalities happen to repairmen working on them, doing the most dangerous tasks.

However, while the elevator isn’t the killer many would suspect, the humble escalator is far deadlier than you might imagine. Although some people fear escalators, most don’t really think simple moving stairs could really be that dangerous. Unfortunately, the design has serious flaws. If someone gets something snagged within the mechanism, it doesn’t really have a way to detect this and automatically shut off; it just keeps moving. This has caused people to lose their limbs or fingers, and in one recent high-profile case, a man was strangled to death by an escalator when his sweatshirt got caught.

Escalators can also be a magnet for slowly building up lint and other fire-causing materials in their workings. Back in 1987, this was the cause of a great tragedy in the London Underground. An escalator exploded because of various grime accumulated in the machine over years of use. 31 people died due to this single incident.

6. Body Spray


Body sprays, due to the heavy advertising of brands like Axe, have become associated with the bro culture and sometimes aren’t particularly respected. However, most teenagers and young people who are using body sprays aren’t trying to put forth some arrogant persona; most of them just want to smell nice. One teenager from Manchester lost his life in 1998 because he wanted to smell nice for everyone around him, as many self-conscious teenagers do. He used body sprays excessively, and his family warned him that he was using too much - not so much for his health, as they didn’t understand the risks, but simply because they thought it was excessive.

The reports say that the teen was known for thickly covering his entire body in the spray at least a couple times a day, in enclosed areas, and that he did it so much that his family couldn’t just smell it from rooms away with the doors closed but could actually taste it sometimes. The coroner believed that his overuse over the course of months had caused chemicals to build up in his body, eventually causing a heart attack. It seems possible he may have even built up a tolerance over time with his habit, as the amount of butane and propane in his body was ten times a lethal dose. The coroner didn’t believe the teen had any idea what he was doing to himself and ruled the case a death by accidental propane inhalation.

5. Headphones


Sitting at home and listening to music with your headphones on, rocking out to your favorite tunes, seems like the safest thing to do in the world. You can’t possibly have anyone hurt you or get into any trouble that way, or so you would think. The problem is that headphones give people an easy way to damage their hearing without knowing it, and the fact that so many people are unaware of this danger makes it easier to suffer its effects. Permanent hearing loss can happen gradually, to the point you only start to notice after truly serious damage has been done, and you start to hear - or not hear - a noticeable difference.

The problem is that the sound is so contained, making it very easy for headphones to play music or other sounds at incredibly loud levels. Many headphones can reach 120 decibels, which is unfortunate for people who like to play their headphones at max, because sounds of 110 decibels are already enough to cause permanent damage to your hearing. For reference, chainsaws and other various power tools don’t reach the decibel levels that your headphones can reach, and it is strongly recommended to use hearing protection while using most heavy power tools. Even crazier, most concerts don’t go above 105 decibels for the average person in the crowd, which still doesn’t come close to the kind of damage your headphones can do to your hearing.

4. Cat Scratches


You’ve probably heard the song “Cat Scratch Fever,” which is a pretty upbeat rock tune, but it is no fun to those who actually get this disease. As we know, cats can get into almost everything; they lick and paw themselves all over their bodies in order to get clean, and they have very sharp claws. This creates a situation where a cat can easily build up bacteria in its mouth and claws, which can be potentially very dangerous to humans. And when they come into contact with fleas, cats can build up a nasty cocktail that can kill a human, especially if the person is immunocompromised or doesn’t get proper medical treatment in time.

This means that particularly if your cat has recently had fleas and scratches you and breaks the skin, you may want to seek medical attention just to be safe. If you start getting a fever, you should certainly get checked out. In rarer cases, cat scratches can spread an infection to the heart or cause the brain to swell dangerously and kill the scratched individual. The best avoidance is to keep your cat and its environment clean and keep both your cat’s shots and your own up-to-date.

3. Nicotine Overdose


Cigarettes are pretty much universally considered to be unhealthy, but they don’t immediately kill you, or there wouldn’t be so many people using them. Some people can smoke cigarettes and live well into their eighties or nineties without seeing too many adverse health effects at all; many others aren’t nearly so lucky, of course. Some people will claim that just a couple packs of cigarettes are enough to kill a person of about 150 pounds, but this has never really been proven. In many documented cases, people have overdosed on nicotine and survived - although these people usually tend to be smokers, who have built up a tolerance.

Even then, the real danger is rarely from smoking itself. Cigarettes have much less bioavailability of nicotine when smoked as compared to when you use chewing tobacco or a patch. A novice smoker without much of a nicotine tolerance would have to smoke a lot of cigarettes, something they aren’t at all used to doing, in order to overdose, making it extremely unlikely. However, such a beginner, especially someone younger, could potentially seriously or fatally overdose by using chewing tobacco or using patches. The patches in particular can release a lot of nicotine at once if abused, and even seasoned smokers should heed the warning on the label and take care not to use too much at once.

2. Bluetooth-Enabled Fidget Spinners Burst Into Flames While Charging

Photo credit: WBRC

Fidget spinners are the toy that just about everyone has heard of, and even a number of adults have one or two of around for novelty’s sake, if nothing else. Teachers hate them because they’re a distraction in class, and parents love them for a similar reason. However, the reason kids love them is because they often come in bright colors and have flashing lights and sometimes other capabilities, like Bluetooth and a charger so that you can sync it up with your phone and your music.

These high-tech fidget spinners are really cool, but they come at a dangerous cost. There have already been multiple reports of this variety of fidget spinner bursting into flames while recharging, and there’s really no way to track down the manufacturer to hold anyone at all responsible, not to mention very little regulation for this product in general. The problem is that the patent for the fidget spinner ran out before it became popular, so now an untold number of companies are releasing their versions of the product with whatever features they want, and almost no one is inspecting for any kind of proper safety standards. Fidget spinners don’t really come with branding, and most people can only get as far as knowing that it was made in China before they run into a wall. While a fidget spinner with no electronic capabilities is not dangerous, you should always be wary of electronic products with unknown or unverifiable origins.

1. Hail Is A Far Bigger Threat Than People Think


When most people think of dangerous weather events, they think of a giant hurricane bringing in a storm surge to flood everything or tornado-force winds ripping their house to matchsticks. However, some of the biggest weather dangers often go unheeded in the popular mind, even though they’re far worse than most of the other things we worry about. While severe thunderstorms can certainly include tornadoes and flooding, hail still manages to account for an entire half of all related damage.

Hailstorms are no joking matter and can injure hundreds of people at a time, with dozens seriously so, when one comes up on a group of partiers who don’t have enough time to get inside. In addition to causing bodily harm, hail can tear up homes, cars, and agriculture horribly. Even if you don’t get hit by a direct pass from a tornado, the ensuing hail damage can still easily ruin your day. When a really bad hailstorm occurs, it usually causes billions of dollars in damages. However, you can consider yourselves at least partially lucky when it comes to hail. While it causes a lot of injuries and property damage, actual death by hail is very rare, as a large piece generally has to whack you right on the noggin.

Top image: Hailstorm. Credit: NOAA Photo Library/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Listverse. Top image added.]

Tuesday, 17 October 2017


10 Strange Ways Social Conditioning Influences You
By Gregory Myers,
Toptenz, 17 October 2017.

Most people are certain that their fears, habits, or other beliefs are something innate to them, their upbringing, or in the case of the aforementioned beliefs, are simply facts. However, social conditioning from popular culture, confusing consumer education, and urban legends that have existed for thousands of years have created false ideas and strange, illogical habits in even the most reasonable people. The more people buy into a false idea, the greater the social effect, and the quicker and easier the entire idea spreads, as you can see in the examples below.

10. Fear Of Clowns Has Less To Do With Uncanny Valley And More To Do With Scary Movies


Today, clowns have become almost synonymous with other horror monsters like vampires or werewolves to the point that those in the profession of clowning are starting to seriously wonder about the future of their chosen careers. If nothing else, they may have to rebrand themselves into showing up for horror-themed events, instead of being funny and silly. In fact, the fear of clowns has gotten so bad recently that McDonald’s pulled Ronald McDonald from most advertising until (if and when) clowns become a whimsical thing again.

Now, when you look at the vast amount of people who now claim to be afraid of or freaked out by clowns, some will point you to all sorts theories, but most of them miss the point. The most popular of these theories is that people are afraid of clowns because of the uncanny valley effect - the fact that they look mostly human, but not quite, and you cannot really make out what specific human they might be. However, this is sort of trying to justify people’s fear of clowns as something innate after the fact. Some people will point to clowns sometimes being more grim, satirical figures, but they were never meant to be scary and up until recently, that wasn’t really a popular perception.

The truth is that people are afraid of clowns because popular culture has conditioned them to be afraid. Both IT movies were truly terrifying, and the clown serial killer John Wayne Gacy has forever besmirched the name of clowning, but fearing those things does not mean we think clowns themselves are scary. What those fears mean are that we think that trans-dimensional, shape-shifting, child-murdering clowns (and real life serial killer clowns) are scary - which, as you might notice, are things that have nothing to do with clowns themselves.

9. Modern Ghost Hunting Is Basically Just One Big Mess Of Confirmation Bias And Theatrics

Ghosts are a topic that will always be a subject of heated debate. Some people are convinced that there is a scientific explanation to everything, and others are firmly in the camp that there are supernatural beings who are somehow communicating with us and sometimes science doesn’t always explain everything so neatly. However, some choose a third option wherein they believe that ghost activity exists, but despite being partially supernatural, since it’s communicating with our world, they could quantify its existence with scientific measurements.

Before long, TV shows started showing up with “ghost hunters” who would perform stakeouts in allegedly haunted locations at night, with the lights out. These ghost hunters would bring along all sorts of ridiculous equipment, to listen for sounds inaudible to the human ear, or look for spots of extreme cold, or magnetic activity, and other such things. These “ghost hunters” have claimed to be all about the scientific approach, but really what they are doing is nothing more than bad theater. While it sounds very scientific on the TV shows, the problem is that there is no quantifiable evidence of any kind that these measurements have anything to do with ghosts, or that ghosts even exist in the first place.

Because these special instruments may not mean anything at all, the most effective way to observe is truly our own senses, and regular video and audio equipment. Turning off all the lights is also dramatic, but as some who have tried to take the paranormal field more seriously have explained, if there really were ghost activity most of it tends to be a shadow or something similar seen on the wall - with the lights out, you aren’t going to be getting any shadows, and activity may be harder to notice if there is anything at all.

8. The Full Moon Hysteria Is Totally Baseless, But Social Expectations Cause People To Believe It


One of the most common myths held among any kind of emergency worker is that people are just crazy on full moon nights, as if something truly otherworldly was actually going on. In fact, this myth has been ingrained in the human imagination for so long that the word lunacy actually has roots in the world lunar (for moon) - this dates at least as far back as the Ancient Greeks. Today, every nurse who has ever worked at an emergency room will absolutely insist that it is true, but despite thousands of years of belief, the evidence just does not hold up. Countless studies have been done, and then those studies have been reviewed en masse multiple times. The conclusion has been that if you account for the days of the week, there is no evidence whatsoever that full moon days lead people to behave statistically any stranger than normal.

Some people can be presented with studies about this, but still believe it because their social conditioning is so strong, and they have personally trained themselves to believe it is true. Because they believe so strongly, they remember all the strangest things on full moon days, or think of the craziest things that happened when they were told a day was a full moon - the human brain loves to confirm things it already thinks are true. The truth is that anyone who works in an ER likely has crazy stories they could tell you almost any day of the week - the full moon just seems more significant, so they remember anecdotes from that day better.

7. In Many Countries, Schizophrenic Hallucinations Are Seen As Friendly Because Of The Culture


In the United States and some Western cultures, schizophrenic hallucinations are seen as overwhelmingly negative. In many situations people will report the voices being evil, or trying to get them to hurt themselves or others. There have been many sad cases where schizophrenic people have gone insane and hurt others, because they were driven mad by these voices. However, not every culture is upset by schizophrenia in quite the same way, because some more communal cultures tend to look at hallucinations in a more positive light.

Test subjects from Africa and India, as opposed to those from the USA, did sometimes hear hissing or other unpleasant sounds, but overall they had a much more positive view of the situation. Some of them even thought of the voices as a friend they could talk to without having to leave their house to interact with others, and for some people the voices manifest as long dead relatives giving them advice. In a strange way, this cultural difference actually seems to soften the blow of schizophrenia. People are not seen as crazy for talking about hearing from dead relatives, and most schizophrenics from these cultures don’t really see themselves as mentally ill at all. They integrate well with society, and are used to a wide group of social connections - the voices are just another person to talk to.

6. Only Certain Cultures Expect Women To Be Rage Monsters On Their Period


Before we get started, we should be clear about a couple important things here. We are not saying there are not physical symptoms that women experience while on their periods, which can be unpleasant or cause the fatigue. There is certainly evidence that there are non-psychosomatic symptoms that women can experience during their period. However, in a way that is really quite insulting to women, popular culture has been pushing the trope for decades that because women have some physical discomfort during their period, they turn into nasty, angry people who everyone just wants to stay clear of.

The entire invention of women being uncontrollably angry during their period is only a relatively recent invention, and has its roots in the made up disease of female “hysteria” which was often diagnosed with women who had any kind of spirit, instead of simply being docile and meek all the time. This new version of the hysteria theory back in the 1930s was just another patronizing way to claim that women simply couldn’t control their emotions, and it has taken hold rather strongly in the culture since then. Women should still be given consideration when they are going through their periods, but it is disrespectful to expect them to be unable to control their emotions because of some period cramps.

5. Slenderman Was Wholly Manufactured As An “Ancient” Monster To Scare Teens, And It Worked


Slenderman is the new horror kid on the block, but the people who still make memes and stories about him would like you to believe he’s truly ancient. The monster started out as a project on the Something Awful forums by a user named Victor Surge, who posted all kinds of creepy content that made it look like Slenderman was an ancient horror being who had been creeping around the world for thousands of years - or perhaps even longer. With creepy newspaper clippings and videos and photoshopped old drawings that made it look like ol’ Slendy was hiding in the background of very old photos, he quickly captured people’s imaginations.

Before long others were joining in creating other creepy content to add to the story, and a viral sensation was born that spread all over the internet. For those in the meme generation, this was a monster that was truly horrific. You see him, or read about him in memes, internet videos and creepy pastas, and after that, he telepathically can link with you, hypnotize you so you walk out of your house, and into his domain deep in the woods where you will never come back. He especially loves to target children, and once he’s taken notice of you there’s no escaping him. While it sounds creepy, most people accept at the end of the day that despite being genuinely well done, it’s just a story. Unfortunately, this wasn’t so for a couple of young teen girls from Waukesha, Wisconsin who are being tried as adults for a very horrible crime.

Their lawyer believes they are not properly mentally fit, and it is easy to understand why. The two girls believed that Slenderman really was real, despite all the non-believers, and that he had gotten to them telepathically. He had threatened to harm their families if they didn’t take their friend into the woods and kill her for him. They stabbed her 12 times, and somehow she miraculously survived. Despite attempts to make them see reason, the girls still insist that Slenderman is real.

4. No Evidence For Wind Farm Syndrome Exists, But Social Influences Cause Many To Insist They Have It


Wind farms are becoming much more popular as the world races to use as much renewable energy as possible, but they have been dealing with some considerable blockades. To begin with, even finding an appropriate area that is big enough and has enough wind regularly can be difficult, but then to make matters worse the locals will sometimes be against it simply because of how it obstructs their view. Once you get past these challenges, some communities have now complained that the nearby wind farms, despite not making any audible noise that the local community can hear, are causing them headaches, insomnia, nausea and other symptoms so general that they could be caused by literally anything (except Slenderman, of course, because - say it with us - he’s not real).

And this is really the problem with all of the claims. Multiple studies have been done on claims of Wind Farm Syndrome, or WFS, but have found no evidence whatsoever that the wind farms are causing any actual medical effect at all. It is also interesting to note that the communities that have recently had advocacy groups in the area speaking out against wind farms tend to have by far the highest amount of people claiming to have this fake syndrome. In other words, people are being taken in by mass hysteria and basically making themselves think they are sick with the reverse of the placebo effect. While wind farms may not be perfect, there is still no reason to believe that Wind Farm Syndrome exists.

3. Confusing Expiration And Best By Dates Cause Mountains Of Good Food To Be Thrown Away


According to a Harvard study, roughly 40% of food in the United States is uneaten, and much of this is because people are throwing it away early due to misinterpreting labeling. The current system we have is not designed to be malicious, nor are food companies trying to mislead anyone; in fact their own labeling system makes sense, if you understand it. The problem is that people have been conditioned over the years by force of habit and sheer cultural osmosis to throw away foods when you see it reach the date on the label, and this is incredibly wasteful.

The problem is that most labels actually don’t indicate a real “expiration date” at all. Even products like meat, eggs, or milk will often last longer than the labels tell you, as long as you keep them stored properly. And when it comes to products that aren’t so perishable, the labels mean way less than you think. Most people at least assume that when you reach the date, the product is at least getting fairly close to spoilage, but many products do not spoil that easily. Labels like “use by” or “best by” just indicate how long the companies’ food scientists thought it would be before the food started to lose its peak flavor and quality - it doesn’t mean it has gone bad. And labels like “sell by” are actually for the stores themselves, and aren’t even meant for the consumer at all. If we had a much more consistent and easy to understand food labeling system, food waste in the United States would drop dramatically.

2. Many People Still Believe Drug Dealers Are Pushing Candy Drugs On Children - Due To Mass Hysteria


Every year or two, especially around Halloween, people will share on social media the pictures of drugs like MDMA in a form that looks like candy, sometimes even in colorful bear shapes. The pictures will be accompanied with hysterical captions shouting about how you had better watch out to make sure your child does not get a pillowcase full of molly this Halloween, courtesy their local drug dealer - lest they become an addict at age 12 and spend the rest of their teen years sneaking out of the house to attend raves and wave glow sticks around. However, while people will share this nonsense far and wide every year because their worry about children temporarily overrides their common sense, the whole thing breaks down pretty quickly when you apply logic to it.

To begin with, children are not the only ones who like candy or the association of candy. Dealers have long made MDMA in colorful candy shapes to give to their adult clients, who find it extremely amusing - this is a very common practice. Furthermore, no dealer is going to take an expensive drug like that and randomly give it to school children. He would be needlessly risking getting caught by the police, for no gain whatsoever. He would almost certainly already have adult clients, and school children don’t exactly have a lot of money to spend on drugs. While it is a good rule to go by on Halloween to throw away anything handmade or that looks broken or tampered with, you don’t need to fear molly being slipped into your child’s candy bag.

1. Because Of Movies And Popular Culture, People Are Totally Unaware Of The Real Threat Of Artificial Intelligence


Due to Star Trek, Star Wars, and just so much popular culture, most people’s idea of artificial intelligence is often humanoid-shaped entities that seemed to have gained a level of sentience and self awareness. Many stories in science fiction have gone over the scenario of hyper intelligent AI gaining sentience en masse and taking over the world, wiping out humans or reducing us to slaves. And many people have been especially scared of all of this lately, because Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and others have come out recently cautioning against the rise of AI and how dangerous it is to use it the way we are planning.

However, as far as we know from current science, there is no plausible way for a machine to gain actual sentience or self awareness. Now, this doesn’t mean that the fears of these tech geniuses are unwarranted, just that most people don’t understand what they are actually afraid of. While AI is not going to gain awareness, the problem is that as we put more and more important systems, especially self driving cars, into the hands of artificial intelligence, the greater the chance of great damage if the AI learns the wrong thing and makes the wrong decision. In other words, the real problem is not that the machines will be too smart, but that we will give them automatic control over too many things, and they’ll be too dumb to handle it properly. While many people think we are on the verge of thinking robots, the truth is that we are actually much nearer the beginnings of our understanding of the concept than many people think.

Top image: Artwork depicting the Slender Man. Credit: LuxAmber/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Toptenz. Top image added.]