Wednesday, 27 February 2019


7 Scary Internet of Things Hacks and Exploits That Really Happened
By Bertel King, Jr.,
Make Use Of, 26 February 2019.

The Internet of Things (IoT for short) offers up an interconnected world of wireless devices. Manufacturers and retailers are quick to tout the convenience of controlling your home, your car, medical devices, and toys from a smartphone or computer.

But they’re less keen on disclosing the side effects. Here’s a rundown of several frightening incidents that were made possible by internet-connected devices.

1. Camera Delivers False Nuclear Missile Alert

One minute you’re watching football. The next, an emergency broadcast warns of intercontinental ballistics missiles heading to three different parts of the country. The TV never stops showing the game, and according to the news, nothing is going on. Your kid hides under the rug, terrified, while you and your spouse try to figure out what’s going on.

This happened to a family living in Orinda, California. The culprit? The Nest security camera sitting above their TV. Someone gained access to the device’s login credentials and decided to play a prank. Laura Lyons described the incident as “five minutes of sheer terror” to the Mercury News.

Reported incidents of such pranks have grown as people purchase Wi-Fi-enabled cameras from Nest and other companies. A Houston couple reportedly heard a voice in their infant’s room threaten to kidnap their child.

2. IoT-Powered Botnet Takes Down the Web

Credit: DownDetector/Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes when you can’t access a website, it’s because someone screwed up somewhere. Other times, it’s because the site is suffering from a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. A powerful device, or a network of devices, is hitting the site with more traffic than it can handle.

Toward the end of 2016, a massive DDoS attack targeted systems operated by the Domain Network System provider Dyn [pictured above]. Dyn’s job was to connect the web address you enter into your web browser with the IP address that points to a website.

With DNS functionality blocked, users couldn’t access dozens of high profile sites such as Amazon, GitHub, Netflix, Twitter, and Zillow. Wanted to know what was going on? You couldn’t visit the BBC, CNN, or Fox News sites either.

At the time, this was the largest DDoS on record. The culprit was a giant botnet of IoT devices that were infected with the Mirai malware. That’s right, you don’t have to own a single IoT device for their poor security to cause you problems.

3. Light Bulb Shares Your Wi-Fi Password

IoT devices seem simple. That’s part of their selling point: simplify your life by purchasing a product that’s easier to manage. But in order to connect to the internet, these products must have all the necessary code, just like a regular computer.

The thing is, while your laptop operating system goes through some effort to protect your data, the code on most IoT devices does not.

As Limited Results discovered, a white LIFX Mini light bulb doesn’t make any effort to shield the Wi-Fi network and password you provided during setup. Instead, it saves the data in plaintext (the format a text editor uses, such as Microsoft Notepad).

Anyone who finds the bulb in the trash or steals one from an outdoor light fixture can gain access to your home network.

4. Thermometer Shares Casino’s Customer Data

A smart thermometer app (illustration). Credit: Google Play.

When you run a business, you not only have to protect your own data, you have to safeguard your customers’ data as well.

In 2018, a casino suffered a database breach from an unexpected location. According to a Business Insider report,  hackers managed to gain access to the casino’s network via a smart thermometer that monitored the water of an aquarium in the lobby.

Once the hackers gained access to the network, they found the high-roller database and uploaded the data back out via the thermometer’s cloud connection. This database showed who were the biggest spenders and other private details.

5. Smart Speaker Records Private Conversation

A few years ago, smart speakers were a novel concept. Now Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomePod devices sit on shelves in homes all over the world.

These devices provide similar functionality. They give owners the ability to get weather reports, seek out factual information, play music, and control parts of their home. You interact with these gadgets using your voice.

To detect your voice, these devices have to listen constantly. Companies promise privacy, but there have been multiple instances of speakers recording and uploading private conversations.

In one such instance, a Seattle-area news station covered a woman in Portland who received a phone call from a random phone contact who was being sent a recording from her Amazon Echo.

6. Implanted Cardiac Devices Could Have Been Hacked

St Jude medical pacemaker. Credit: Steven Fruitsmaak/Wikimedia Commons.

This one is frightening not for what happened, but what could have happened. In 2017 the FDA confirmed that St. Jude’s implantable cardiac devices had vulnerabilities that could have been hacked. As CNN reported, the problem resided in the transmitter that remotely shared the device’s data with physicians.

If a hacker exploited the vulnerability and gained access to the device, they could deplete the battery, change the pacing, or administer shocks. Devices intended to prevent heart attacks could make matters worse.

Fortunately St. Jude released a patch. Still, as long as devices remain connected to a network, the risk exists. When it comes to heart-related devices, the stakes are particularly high.

7. Hackers Take Control of a Jeep

When you buy a new car, internet connectivity is often one of the touted features. Your car can download maps, stream music, or serve as a hotspot for the other devices in your vehicle.

Unfortunately, car companies either don’t know how to secure their vehicles or or don’t care enough to invest the necessary funds. Either way, your life is left at risk.

Hackers showed a Wired reporter how it was possible to take control of parts of a Jeep remotely. They weren’t limited to the obvious internet-related functionality, either. From the comfort of their computers, they could disable the vehicle’s brakes.

This is just one case - here are some more terrifying dangers of self-driving cars.

More IoT Hacks Are Likely in the Future

In the coming years, the number of internet connected devices is expected to grow by the billions. As more devices with poor security enter the wild, you can expect more people to take advantage of them.

The situation has gotten so bad that the Japanese government is willing to hack its own citizens to alert them to the gravity of the situation. In February 2019, the country began probing 200 million IP addresses in search for devices in the country with little to no security.

Topics like the Internet of Things can be tough to wrap your head around. The easiest way to stay safe is to avoid gadgets that call themselves “smart” and learn more about what the Internet of Things actually is.

Top image credit: geralt/Pixabay.

[Source: Make Use Of. Some images added.]

Tuesday, 26 February 2019


10 Real-Life People With Real Superpowers
By Ward Hazell,
Listverse, 26 February 2019.

There are times when we would all like to have superpowers. For most of us, this has to remain an idle daydream. However, there are people walking among us who already have totally legitimate and totally cool superhuman powers.

And who knows, perhaps these are the tip of the iceberg. There may be lots of them, living in the shadows or hiding in plain sight, waiting for their chance to save (or destroy) the planet! Here are ten real-life people with honest-to-goodness superpowers.

10. The Real-Life Batman

As a baby, Daniel Kish developed retinoblastoma, a cancer which affects the eyes. He had to have both eyes removed before he reached his first birthday. In order to navigate his environment, Kish developed his own echolocation system, using the same techniques that bats use to fly in the dark. In fact, he has been referred to as “the real-life Batman.”

As he moved around, Kish would make clicking noises with his tongue. He realized that every surface had its own sound. He could recognize a tree, for example, because the trunk produces a different echo than the branches and the leaves.[1]

By listening to the echoes from his clicking, Daniel Kish is able to build a 3-D image in his mind of the objects around him. It is thought that the clicking noises activate the visual functions of the brain, which enhance spatial and depth perceptions. Kish says that he can often find his way out of a concert hall quicker than a sighted person because he can identify the exit from a long distance away. If he is in a noisy place, he just increases the volume of his clicking sounds.

9. The Real-Life Mr. Freeze

Photo credit: Rolling Stone

Like all good superheroes, Wim Hof discovered his superpowers by accident. When he was 17, he was walking along a frozen canal in his home city of Amsterdam when he felt a powerful urge to jump in. So he did. He soon discovered that he has superhuman ability to withstand the cold, which has led him to claim 26 world records.

He tried to climb Everest in a pair of shorts. Although he made it through the Death Zone unharmed, he was forced to turn back, not by the temperature but by a foot injury. Hof has run barefoot marathons in the snow and broken his own record for ice submergence four times.

Researchers studying Wim Hof’s remarkable abilities have discovered that he is able to override the stress responses in his brain through breathing and meditation techniques. When he is exposed to extreme cold, his brain releases opioids and cannabinoids into his body, inhibiting the signals that register cold and pain. What is not yet clear is how this breathing affects other physical and biological processes, such as Hof’s superhuman ability to resist frostbite, which should be unaffected by his breathing technique.[2]

8. The Real-Life Flash

Photo credit: US Department of State

Dean Karnazes can run forever. He is one of the most remarkable endurance athletes on the planet. He once ran nonstop for 563 kilometers (350 mi) over three days. He ran nonstop across Death Valley and even ran to the South Pole. Even among ultra-endurance athletes, Dean Karnazes is a superhuman.

Most runners are limited by their body’s lactate threshold. The body breaks down glucose for energy, producing lactate as a by-product. When you reach your lactate threshold, the body is no longer able to convert the lactate quickly enough, leading to an acid buildup in the muscles and a burning pain runners call “hitting the wall.” Running beyond your lactate threshold will lead to muscle fatigue, breathlessness, and a racing heart, until eventually you collapse in a sweating, gasping heap.

Dean Karnazes does not have a lactate threshold, which means that, theoretically, he can run forever.

Karnazes has never experienced any form of cramp or muscle ache, even during runs that last more than 160 kilometers (100 mi). The only thing that stops him is his need for sleep, and he has even sometimes experienced bouts of “sleep running,” where he was able to keep on moving while nodding off.[3]

7. The Real-Life Spider-Man

Photo credit: Dennis B. Mallari

Nicknamed the “French Spiderman,” Alain Robert is one of the best climbers on Earth. He is famous for his free solo-climbing exploits up skyscrapers, without the use of ropes or safety harness. The only “equipment” that he carries is a bag of chalk dust. Robert has climbed over 160 skyscrapers, including the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Taipei 101 in Taiwan, and the Lloyd’s building in London.[4]

Robert was arrested in October 2018 after scaling the Salesforce Tower in London. He climbed the 202-meter (662 ft) tower without safety equipment, while a crowd gathered below to watch him. Though he reached the top safely, he was soon arrested “on suspicion of causing public nuisance.”

Following a court hearing after the stunt, which only took around 45 minutes to complete, Robert was banned from climbing any building in the UK, which seems a shame. But, then again, the world is full of friendly neighborhoods with tall buildings.

6. The Real-Life Professor X

Photo credit: Jeff Katz

The actress Marilu Henner has superhuman mental powers. She has Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM), an extremely rare condition which allows her total recall of basically every single moment of her life. Fewer than 100 people with the condition have been documented worldwide. Though HSAM would make life easier in many ways (imagine never having to wonder where you put your car keys), there are some disadvantages, too. People with HSAM are more likely to have anxiety disorders and suffer from depression or OCD.

Marilu Henner can recall the month, day, and time of every event that has happened in her life and can also recall things that were on the news or happened to other people. She first became aware of her ability at the age of six.

MRI tests have revealed that people with HSAM have larger temporal lobes and caudate nuclei than normal, but researchers are not sure whether this is the cause or the result of living with the condition. Whatever the cause, Henner has found living with HSAM pretty useful at times, particularly when learning lines.[5]

5. The Real-Life Elastigirl

Photo credit: The Hollywood Reporter

Javier Botet is a Spanish actor with a peculiar gift. His extremely long limbs and lean body give him the look of a human skeleton. When he made a screen test in 2013, many people assumed that they were watching a puppet because Botet was able to move his limbs in very unexpected and disturbing ways. Botet suffers from Marfan syndrome, which results in hyperflexibility.

His condition has allowed him to carve out a career in horror movies, where he has appeared as aliens, lepers, monsters, and mummies, as well as the urban folklore-inspired Slender Man. He first noticed the condition as a child and liked to fold his arms and legs into unusual shapes.[6] (Well, we all need a hobby.)

Marfan syndrome is a rare genetic disorder, resulting in extreme height and slenderness as well as hyperflexibility. It can also cause heart defects and blindness. For the moment, however, Javier Botet is using this elastic powers to conquer Hollywood.

4. The Real-Life Overseer

An unnamed family from Connecticut has been the center of much study by genetic scientists due to their unusually high bone density. Just like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable, the family has a genetic mutation that means their bones never break.

No one in the family has ever had a fracture, and it is thought that they have the strongest bones on the planet, which is impressive. It appears that the condition is genetic. Scientists tested 20 members of the family, with just under half of them being found to have extra dense bones. It is hoped that by studying the DNA of those family members with the condition, researchers will be able to more fully understand the factors affecting bone density, which could lead to treatments for osteoporosis.[7]

The condition means that the Connecticut family will never need a plaster cast, though they may find themselves spending a lot of money on plastic ponchos. (That’s an Unbreakable joke.)

3. The Real-Life Invisible Woman

Photo credit: SBS

It is a universally accepted truth that we all have a unique set of fingerprints. Even identical twins differ when it comes to the minute whorls and loops on a set of dabs. Modern technology has made use of this unique property when it comes to things like cybersecurity, which must make Cheryl Maynard feel pretty invisible.[8]

Fingerprints are usually fully formed even before we are born. People with adermatoglyphia, however, are born with no fingerprints. (In the picture above, Cheryl’s finger is compared with a normal one.) It is believed that there are only four extended families in the world with this condition, caused by a genetic mutation.

The condition has left Cheryl Maynard feeling pretty invisible. Having no fingerprints has even made it difficult for her to get jobs. However, if she fancied a career as a criminal, she would have a head start.

2. The Real-Life Vision

In 1972, when Veronica Seider claimed to be able to see small objects 1.6 kilometers (1 mi) away, no one believed her. However, eyesight is pretty easy to test, so it soon became clear that Seider’s vision was truly exceptional. She was soon listed by Guinness World Records with eyesight 20 times more powerful than normal human beings.

Not only is she able to distinguish people and objects from 1.6 kilometers (1 mi) away, but she is also able to judge distance and position, which can be useful. And she can distinguish the individual colors that make up the color on a television set. Not so useful.[9]

1. The Real-Life Deadpool

Okay, well maybe this isn’t exactly like Deadpool, but a woman identified only as “SM” has a condition known as Urbach-Wiethe, which has damaged parts of her brain. As a result, she feels no fear. At all. Totally fearless.

The condition manifested first as a complete lack of fear from all external stimuli - such as the large, venomous spiders and snakes she picked up as a child. Once, when she was being held up at knifepoint, her attacker was so unnerved by her lack of fear that he let her go.

Like all superheroes, however, SM does have one weakness. After a barrage of tests where she had shown no fear responses, she was exposed to carbon dioxide and suddenly had a panic attack. Neurologists studying her brain hypothesized that impending suffocation finally produced a fear response where no other stimuli could. However, when the test was repeated, SM did not show any anxiety until the gas started to take effect, proving that her response had been a physical reaction to suffocation rather than a psychological manifestation of fear.[10]

It could be worse. She could be afraid of cows.

Top image: The “French Spiderman" Alain Robert's ascend of the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong in 2008. Credit: graeme.deuchars/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Listverse. Top image added.]

Sunday, 24 February 2019


10 Behavioral Experiments That Went Terribly Wrong
By Pauli Poisuo,
Toptenz, 23 February 2019.

Behavioral experiments are not evil by default. They’re just science doing what science does best: To better understand how we behave, researchers sometimes have to conduct a test or two. However, every once in a while, those tests go so badly wrong that the end result seems more like a horror movie than a well thought-out scientific experiment. Let’s take a look at some of the most terrifying cases.

10. The Mouse Utopia

From the 1950s to 1970s, animal behavior researcher John Calhoun built artificial environments for rodents to study their behavior. In 1972, he attempted to create heaven for eight mice…who promptly went and turned it into hell in a self-destructive pattern called “the behavioral sink.”

Calhoun designed the structure as an ultimate utopia for a mouse: There were beautiful buildings, communal spaces, ample personal quarters and an unlimited supply of food. He called his creation “Universe 25,” and because it was indeed the 25th environment he had created, he had a pretty good idea that things might not stay heavenly for too long. His hunch was correct, as the mice used their paradise to procreate as rapidly as they could. By Day 560 of the experiment, the population of Universe 25 reached a whopping 2,200 rodents, who proceeded to prove that even for animals, hell is other people. Most mice spent every second of their lives surrounded by hundreds of their kin. Apathy and annoyance were the prevailing moods, as the mice hunched in the main squares, waiting to be fed and occasionally attacking each other. Very few pregnancies were carried to term, and females treated their litters as afterthoughts that were soon forgotten.

The reason most of the mice were hunched up in the common spaces was even creepier than their bored apathy. It was because the limited secluded spaces were taken up by “The Beautiful Ones” - an elite class that formed within the mouse society of Universe 25. Guarded by wildly territorial males that prevented the rest of the population from entering the premises, these largely female populations spent their entire existence grooming themselves, eating, and sleeping. The “common” mice seemed to accept this state of affairs, to the point that when the inevitable violence started eating away the population, the Beautiful Ones were spared from the massacre. However, at that point, they were so out of touch with reality that they could not procreate, or care for their young, or even understand basic social behavior. The whole population was doomed beyond the point of restoration.

9. Operation Midnight Climax

Between 1953 and 1964, the CIA dabbled with a particularly unsavory behavioral project called Operation Midnight Climax. It was a top secret operation known only to the highest command of the agency and its Technical Support Division, and its aim was simple: Find out how to influence unwary people with drugs and induce mind control. The experiment was helmed by a multi-agency veteran named George Hunter White, who decided to accomplish his goal by establishing CIA-sponsored brothels in New York and San Francisco. There, government-funded prostitutes lured thousands of unwitting men to nights of sordid sessions filled with sex, drugs, and booze, while CIA operatives observed through two-way mirrors and recorded the mind-altering sessions.

The absurd experiment was already so insane that Time magazine would later note that the CIA “appeared to be experiencing its own form of madness,” but it soon devolved into sheer lunacy, as they started accomplishing the “mind control” part of their goal by…just using the compromising material they gathered to blackmail the unsuspecting test subjects to do their bidding. All along, George Hunter White loomed over everything like a strange, government-sponsored supervillain. He would watch the drugged-out sex sessions while downing martinis, and heavily abused alcohol and drugs himself to get through his mission.

Despite all the mind-bending insanity involved in the process, it appears that Operation Midnight Climax may have been a success in its own, strange way. In 2013, a psychiatrist who had been examining some old CIA documents discovered a hidden purpose for the experiment: They were also experimenting on the prostitutes. By putting them under conditions that mimicked field operations, the agency was testing them to see whether they’d make good field agents or spies.

8. The Facial Expressions Experiment

Before psychology got around to establishing some basic ground rules about things like traumatizing people for the sake of science and killing animals to see how people would react, we had researchers like Carney Landis. In 1924, he wanted to see if all humans make the same facial expressions as a response to the same stimulus. Because he didn’t trust people to make their expressions voluntarily in a “What face do you make when you’re happy” way, he decided to induce those emotions for real.

This would have been all well and good for his test subjects when it came to things like physical pleasure, curiosity, happy anticipation and laughter. Unfortunately, Landis wasn’t interested in happiness. The emotions he wanted to research were pain, disgust, fear, sadness and other negative ones, so his subjects found themselves sticking their hands in buckets full of frogs, and receiving electrical shocks. As a final coup de grace, Landis took a mouse, and told the subject that they now had to behead the poor rodent. Shockingly, quite a few people complied: Roughly a third of the people who Landis presented with the task grabbed the rodent, and removed its head as best they could. The others had to watch while Landis beheaded the animal himself. Ultimately, all of those poor creatures had to die in vain: All Landis found out was that different people express the same feelings with a vast array of different facial expressions, which…kind of seems like a pretty obvious discovery that probably didn’t require a bunch of people to tear the heads off animals.

7. The LSD Elephant

In 1962, doctor Louis Jolyon West and his colleagues at the University of Oklahoma wanted to see whether the then fairly new drug LSD can induce violent behavior…on elephants. Why they were interested in this is anyone’s guess, though it must be noted that West probably had ties with the CIA’s shady MKUltra program. The experiment’s subject was Tusko, the prized bull elephant of the Oklahoma City Zoo. The intended goal was to see whether the drug could cause “musth” - a condition where the animal’s testosterone production increases and it becomes markedly aggressive. Unfortunately, no one involved thought to do the math on precisely how much LSD an elephant could take, so they just settled on “a lot.” The three-ton Tusko was injected with a ridiculous 297 milligrams of the drug, which is over 30 times more than a human of the same weight could safely receive.

They say that an elephant never forgets, but if Tusko’s first drug trip was a memorable one, he didn’t have the opportunity to remember it for too long. After only five minutes, he trumpeted, fell over, emptied his bowels and went into violent convulsions. The researchers tried to fix his massive overdose by overdosing him again, this time with antipsychotics. When this didn’t help, West pumped poor Tusko full of tranquilizers, which finally killed the animal. The whole process took one hour and 40 minutes.

The study remains highly controversial, and a great deal of it can probably be explained by the persistent rumors that Dr. West himself was tripping on acid throughout the process. Although he attributed the elephant’s death to LSD, others believe that the absurd chemical cocktail he pumped into Tusko was the real culprit. In 1984, a psychologist named Ronald K. Siegel actually proved this by repeating the experiment on two different elephants, using only LSD this time. Both animals survived.

6. The UCLA Schizophrenia Experiment

In the late 1980s, psychologists at the UCLA set up a federally funded experiment that treated and monitored a group of schizophrenics in order to better understand their condition. The problem was that their methods were slightly less than ethical: First, they treated the patients as best they could, but in 1989, the doctors wanted to see how patients would respond if they took them off their medication.

The result was an unmitigated disaster. By 1990, one patient went from a well-adjusted individual with a 3.8 college GPA to an emotional wreck who threatened his mother with a butcher knife and attempted to hitchhike to Washington to assassinate the President Bush, who he perceived as an alien spy. The next year, another subject committed suicide by jumping off a UCLA building.

The study was bombarded with lawsuits from the subjects’ families and criticism from the government and mental health organizations. The Citizens for Responsible Care in Psychiatry and Research organization described it as an experiment in cold-turkey withdrawal in medication. A common complaint was that the consent forms provided by the researchers were unclear and didn’t bother to mention that the vast majority of schizophrenics relapse when taken off their medication, and that once the researchers noticed that a patient’s mental health was deteriorating, it took them far too long to put the subject back on medication. The doctors, on the other hand, complained that they were literally unable to give their part of the story: Although the patients could freely discuss the experiment, confidentiality laws prevented the researchers themselves from doing so in detail.

5. Hofling hospital experiment

The Hofling hospital experiment was a 1966 study that involved a fake doctor, a fake drug and 22 very real, unwitting nurses. The “doctor” would call each nurse during their night shift at a hospital, and ask them to check if they had a certain drug. After the nurse found the drug (in actuality, just sugar pills in a bottle) and replied affirmatively, the doctor would ask them to administer a gross, dangerous overdose to a patient called “Mr. Jones.” Although this would require the doctor to sign an authorization form, the doctor said he was in a terrible hurry, so he’d drop by later and sign the paperwork.

Everything about the experiment was rigged for the drug not to be administered. If the nurse would inject it to a patient, she’d have to break no less than three hospital rules: Nurses were not allowed to accept instructions over the phone. The amount of drug the doctor ordered was double the maximum limit stated in the instructions of the box. Also, the medicine itself was unauthorized and not on the ward stock list. Despite all of these rules and precautions, the results were chilling: 21 out of the 22 test subjects were easily goaded into carrying out the instructions and “overdosing” the patient at the orders of a random voice on the phone.

4. Sigmund Freud’s nose treatment

Emma Eckstein was one of Sigmund Freud’s early patients, who came to him to seek treatment for her anxiety. Unfortunately, among her assorted symptoms was a tendency to get nosebleeds, and unknown to her, Freud had a massive fixation about noses, which he closely associated with genitalia. There are many versions of the story between Eckstein and Freud, and some aspects of it were strange enough that Freud’s descendants prefer to keep some of their correspondence hidden from the public. Here’s the part of the story most people seem to agree on: Though Freud considered Eckstein’s nasal issues entirely psychogenic in nature, he nevertheless decided to experiment a bit and fixated his attentions on the nose.

Freud took his patient to Wilhelm Fliess, an otolaryngologist who had operated on his own nose in the past, and had Fliess operate on Eckstein’s nose. The operation was a dramatic failure that nearly killed the patient. Eckstein’s nose (and eventually, mouth) hemorrhaged even worse than before, and eventually started smelling and went septic. The frightened Freud called in surgeons from Vienna, who eventually managed to clean out the nose…and discovered a 20-inch piece of infected gauze that had been left inside the nasal cavity.

Eckstein took the whole situation surprisingly well, even gently mocking the shocked Freud when he escaped the operating room to recharge with a stiff shot of cognac. On the other hand, Freud’s coping mechanisms were less than refined. In a textbook example of what he himself would later define as “denial,” he convinced himself that the whole situation was an honest accident that could have happened to anyone.

3. The Stimoceiver experiment

Jose Manuel Rodriguez Delgado was a Yale professor in the 1960s, and his subject of expertise was as crazy as it gets. He was all about mind control, but unlike some others on this list, he didn’t resort to drugs. Instead, he preferred brain chips. A peer-reviewed pioneer of the brain implant technology, Delgado plied his trade at an age where ethical regulations were still largely nonexistent, which enabled him to go full mad scientist in ways that rival (and occasionally even surpass) modern technology. In 1965, he famously managed to stop a charging bull mid-attack with a radio signal to an implant in its brain. He also created the “stimoceiver,” an electrode device that could manipulate the brain to experience and display various emotions on animals and humans alike.

Unfortunately, when he actually tested it on human subjects, said manipulation sometimes proved to be less than accurate. Over the years, Delgado installed his stimoceivers on an estimated 25 subjects, mostly schizophrenics and epileptics at the State Hospital for Mental Diseases in Howard, Rhode Island. He was as ethical about it as the circumstances allowed, as everyone who received the chip took it willingly, and it was only used as a last resort that he described as little more than a more humane alternative to lobotomy. However, the stimoceiver turned out to be an unreliable tool for the human brain. Although Delgado could influence the patients’ level of aggression and even induce some uncontrolled movement in their limbs, he was (perhaps fortunately) unable to play the human brain like a violin. Some otherwise prim and proper patients became clearly aroused and started flirting with the researchers. Others became happy and chatty, but the results could not necessarily be replicated. In one instance, a perfectly calm patient suddenly became furious when her temporal lobe was stimulated.

2. The “Monster Study”

The “Monster study” of 1939 was not originally called as such. In fact, its only aim was to study stuttering and other speech issues, but the brutal methods of Dr. Wendell Johnson and his staff gained the experiment its nickname once the world found out about it in 2001. Dr. Johnson had a theory that stuttering was a learned behavior that can be induced in children, and set out to test this by taking 22 orphans and dividing them into two groups.

The control group were treated as regular children. The 11 kids in the other group, on the other hand, had it bad. For six months, Johnson and his staff constantly harassed, belittled and baited them about their speech impediment, despite the fact that only half of them showed any sign of stuttering. This negative therapy didn’t actually cause any of the “stutterer” children to start stuttering, but many of them became extremely sensitive about their speech, experienced loss of self-esteem, and developed lifelong psychological problems. Perhaps recognizing the vast ethics issues with the experiment, the University of Iowa kept it secret for decades until one of Johnson’s underlings revealed the story to newspapers in 2001. The university has since issued an apology, and the state settled the inevitable lawsuit by the surviving test subjects and their estates by paying a compensation of $925,000 per plaintiff.

1. The Third Wave experiment

What does it take for a regular person to become a Nazi? In 1967, a 25-year-old social studies teacher in Palo Alto, California conducted an experiment to figure out the answer, and found out to his terror that it was, “Not a lot, really.” In an attempt to teach his 10th grade students about the various events that led up to the Holocaust, Ron James decided to show his class just how easy it was to be swept up by charismatic leaders and alluring ideologies. As a well-liked teacher, Jones decided to make himself the figurehead of his demonstration. After informing the students that they were about to do an improvised “non-threatening experiment”; he started to act more stern than usual, and created a hardline set of rules that was to be obeyed in his classroom. He had meant it to be just a one-day thing, but when he arrived in the classroom the next day, all the students were sitting neatly at their desks and saluting him in unison. The bewildered, yet intrigued Jones decided to continue the experiment a little longer. He informed the students that the ones willing to participate would get an automatic ‘A’, but any attempts to overthrow him would be awarded with an ‘F’. Those who would not play along would be banished to  the school library.

Over the next couple of days, the class conformed to Jones’ new system, which he called the Third Wave. He introduced Nazi-like hand salutes, even more rigid discipline than before, and a strange project that aimed to “eliminate democracy.” The students constructed banners bearing the movement’s logo and unity-inducing slogans such as “Strength Through Discipline.” Jones prohibited his students from gathering in groups larger than two or three, and even declared that the rules of the Third Wave also applied outside of school - and even at home.

By Day 4, Jones understood that he’d lost control of the experiment. The Third Wave had spread like wildfire within school and now featured more members than he had students in the first place. Informants were snitching on other students who had broken the movement’s rules, and the ensuing atmosphere of fear and uncertainty had broken down all lines of communication within the student body. There was even an active resistance movement.

Jones decided that the experiment had to end, but wanted it to go out with a bang. He announced that the Third Wave was in fact part of a larger national movement that was about to announce its presidential candidate, and asked everyone to attend a rally at the auditorium. When the newly-fascist students were all seated, Jones unveiled a screen that only played static. After a few minutes of extremely uncomfortable silence, Jones stated that the whole thing had been an experiment in planting the seeds of fascism. Then, he made everyone watch a film about Nazism.

Top image: Schizophrenia. Credit: geralt/Pixabay.

[Source: Toptenz. Top image added.]


7 Innovative Architectural Ideas With World-Changing Potential
By Kristance Harlow,
Mental Floss, 18 February 2019.

Our ancient relatives, Homo heidelbergensis, were constructing shelters at least 400,000 years ago, and architectural innovation has been a defining feature of societies since then, changing to suit the needs and desires of the builders and occupants as they evolved. From energy-efficient designs to community-based spaces, these seven designs could help shape the future.

1. Silver Architecture

Credit: Richard Schatzberger/Flickr

As the population ages, society is faced with a challenge: How to help people who require special care. The current way that many buildings are designed - and even the way hospitals are set up - makes it difficult for older people to get around and be independent. This is a big problem, because older people are a huge part of the population. As of 2015, there were nearly 50 million people in the United States over the age of 65. By 2030, the Census projects that 20 percent of Americans will be older than 65. “By 2035, there will be 78.0 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.7 million...under the age of 18," Jonathan Vespa, a demographer with the U.S. Census Bureau, stated in a 2018 press release.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over a quarter of people aged 65 or older fall every year. In fact, falling is the leading cause of injuries classified as critical or fatal, which is one of the reasons people who would otherwise live independently are forced into care-based facilities.

Silver architecture aims to change this with building designs that are sustainable, modern, and most importantly - accommodating. Specialized design keeps age-related impairments from becoming debilitating disabilities. The best silver architecture integrates space planning, clear directional layouts, stress-reducing lighting, acoustical innovations to reduce ambient noise, comfortable and accessible furniture, safe flooring, colors that aid psychological well-being, and interactive, health focused interior design (such as plants and artwork) that stimulate and engage residents.

In a 2014 opinion piece for The New York Times, geriatrician Dr. Louise Aronson wrote that "These and other strategies are already in use in many long-term care facilities and in specialized areas of hospitals, such as geriatric emergency departments or acute care of the elderly units. But they aren’t nearly as prevalent as they should be." She proposed "prizes for excellence in silver design, just as there are awards for green buildings," adding, "silver architecture and design aren’t about indulging a special interest group. They’re about maximizing quality of life and independence for a life stage most of us will reach. Green architecture is good for the environment; silver architecture is good for humans. The best new buildings will be both."

2. Wounded Warrior Homes

According to the United States Army, 92 percent of soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan survive, compared to a rate of 75 percent in Vietnam.

Navigating even a typical accessible home can be a challenge for soldiers who return from war zones after suffering debilitating injuries. The architects behind The Wounded Warrior Home Project took on some of those challenges in two homes built at Virginia's Fort Belvoir, and unveiled in 2011. The residences, designed by and with input from veterans (as well as their loved ones), have a universal focus on accommodation to cater to the diverse needs of injured soldiers. Wide doors and adjustable stovetops are just some of the ways the homes are adapted for physical disabilities. To help with trauma recovery, the houses are designed with large windows and dedicated therapy rooms to help alleviate symptoms.

The homes are geared toward helping soldiers return to duty. "The thing I see now, as I talk to the wounded warriors on this project, they want to know, 'When can I get back to my unit?'" David Haygood, a Vietnam War vet and a partner in one of the design firms behind the homes, told NPR in 2012. Fort Belvoir's then-battalion operations officer, Major John Votovich, told NPR, "We have more of a wounded population today that probably wouldn't have survived in earlier generations. They're still productive members of the military. And they will continue to be so."

3. Dementia Village

According to the World Health Organization, around 50 million people worldwide suffer from dementia, and that number is projected to increase: WHO projects that by 2030, 82 million people will have dementia (and 152 million by 2050). There are 10 million new cases each year, making it "one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide." But dementia doesn't just affect the people who suffer from it; as WHO notes, it's also overwhelming for the families and loved ones of people with dementia: "There is often a lack of awareness and understanding of dementia, resulting in stigmatization and barriers to diagnosis and care. The impact of dementia on careers, family, and societies can be physical, psychological, social, and economic."

The small community of Hogewey, 10 miles outside of Amsterdam, aims to raise the quality of life for those suffering from dementia and ease the burden for their families. All the residents at Hogeway - also known as Dementia Village - have severe dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and they go about their lives within the confines of this thoughtfully designed town. Nurses and other caretakers act as fellow townsfolk, there to keep the patients healthy and safe. As of 2014, monthly rent was never more than $3600 and often lower because of its sliding scale.

Traditional clinical settings foster isolation and reinforce medicalization of these memory-related illnesses. Hogewey’s approach to dementia de-stigmatizes the condition and creates an environment that people can live in where they require less medication and less medical intervention. According to Yvonne van Amerongen - who had the idea for Hogewey after her father suddenly passed away - "We have Dutch design, Dutch cultures, Dutch lifestyles, but the concept is to value the person, the support them to live their life as usual, and you can do that anywhere."

4. Zootopia

Zoos serve important research and conservation purposes, but unfortunately, sometimes their design leaves a lot to be desired: The cages and concrete enclosures don't even come close to mimicking the resident animals' natural habitats, which raises several ethical concerns.

Enter Zootopia. (It's not just a Disney film; the name was first trademarked by Denmark's Givskud Zoo in 2010.) Slated to open in 2020, this zoo’s design is a reimagining of the caged zoo and a departure from safari parks. Instead of caging in the animals, it's the visitors who will be in enclosed areas. These viewing locations will be disguised to minimize human interaction with the animals. Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), the architectural firm behind the plans, says one of their main goals is to hide humans from the animals to provide as natural of an environment as possible for the zoo’s residents. For the animals, everything from their feeding stations to their shelters have been designed to look and feel as natural as possible.

"It is our dream - with Givskud - to create the best possible and freest possible environment for the animals’ lives and relationships with each other and visitors," BIG said in a press release. "We are pleased to embark on an exciting journey of discovery with the Givskud staff and population of animals - and hope that we could both enhance the quality of life for the animals as well as the keepers and guests."

5. Eco-Friendly Concrete

Credit: Peter Trimble/YouTube

Concrete is the most common material used by humankind, and from 1992 to 2012, the demand for cement (the key ingredient in concrete) more than tripled worldwide. As the demand and use of concrete rises, so does its environmental impact: In 2018, the International Energy Agency said that "The cement sector is the third-largest industrial energy consumer in the world, responsible for 7 percent of industrial energy use, and the second industrial emitter of carbon dioxide, with about 7 percent of global emissions."

Which is perhaps why many are turning their attention to developing better concrete. Rutgers University materials science and engineering professor Richard E. Riman developed a technology to make concrete that stores CO2. Riman then founded Solidia Technologies Inc. in 2008; according to, "Solidia Concrete products...combined with Solidia Cement, can reduce the carbon footprint of cement and concrete by up to 70 percent and can save as much as 528.3 billion gallons a year."

In 2014, Peter Trimble, then a student at the University of Edinburgh, developed what he calls "biostone," which combines sand, bacteria, and urine; he built a machine [pictured above] to create a seat with the material. In 2013, the Structural Technology Group of Universitat Polit├Ęcnica de Catalunya - BarcelonaTech developed "biological concrete" that grows vertical gardens. According to ArchDaily, "The system’s advantages are numerous. The plants capture CO2 from the air and release oxygen. The layer also acts as insulation as a thermal mass. It helps regulate temperatures within the building by absorbing heat and preventing it from entering the building in hot weather or escaping the building in cold weather."

6. Reclaiming Vacant Lots for Gardens

Credit: City Farm Chicago/Facebook

By 2050, two-thirds of the world's population is expected to live in urban areas. Urbanization has its positives - according to National Geographic, people are concentrated in a small space in cities, which makes schools and stores more easily accessed than in rural areas, and also "allows the government and others to provide services such as water, electricity, and transportation to a larger number of people." But it also has its negatives, including crime and pollution, and some studies have indicated that living in a city can affect a person's mental health.

Turning vacant lots into gardens in urban areas brings much needed greenery to cities. Studies have shown that greenery is good for cardiovascular health, boosting concentration, and lower stress levels. A 2018 study found that the greening of vacant land significantly decreased self-reported feelings of depression. Urban gardens can also be a source of locally-sourced, fresh foods.

To see the potential of the urban garden, look no further than Cuba. When Havana's residents found themselves isolated and facing food scarcity following the collapse of the Soviet Union and embargoes against them, they began growing gardens of all sizes on balconies, in windowsills, and on roofs. To assist, the government launched new agriculture initiatives that included organic farming and urban gardening development. Instead of vacant lots going to waste, they became the sites of community agriculture.

7. Turning Shipping Containers Into Urban Farms

Credit: Local Roots Farms/YouTube

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, as much as "70 percent of all the world's freshwater withdrawals go towards irrigation uses." Critics say many irrigation techniques are incredibly wasteful. But there might be a way to farm that uses much less water: Creating gardens in shipping containers.

Founded in 2013, Local Roots Farms creates what it calls "the world’s most productive indoor modular farming solutions," and their model has been hailed as "the farm of the future." Co-founder Daniel Kuenzi told Smithsonian in 2014 that each farm is capable of growing "the equivalent yield of five acres of conventional outdoor farming each year." Each uses hydroponics to cut water use by 80 percent or more, and the controlled environment also means the vegetables produced are pest- and pesticide-free. In addition, because the farms are inside, weather and climate aren't an issue; food can be grown year-round. "Whether it’s snowing, raining or 100 degrees outside, the 'weather' inside is just right for growing healthy plants," Kuenzi said. The contained farms can bring fresh, local food to "urban food deserts."

In addition, the farms are built in readily-available shipping containers (there are 700,000 unused containers languishing in the United States at any given time). "Shipping containers are durable, easy to modify, stackable and can be shipped anywhere," Kuenzi told Smithsonian. "Additionally, there is an abundant surplus of unused shipping containers in the United States that can be recycled and refurbished at low cost. This allows us the flexibility to have a farm on the ground and growing for our customers within weeks, rather than the months or even years required for traditional greenhouse construction."

Top image: Herb garden on the rooftop of the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo. Credit: Momotarou2012/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Mental Floss. Images added.]