Saturday, 29 June 2019


We live on a water planet. From millions of miles away, Earth shines blue, with almost 70% of its surface covered in water. But most of that water is in the oceans, and it's salty. On earth, only about 3% of water is fresh - the stuff we drink and use to feed our crops - and it's constantly moving and changing. Watch this video to see Earth's changing freshwater as tracked by a fleet of NASA satellites.

Top image: Screenshot from the video.

[Source: NASA Goddard/YouTube.]

Friday, 28 June 2019


The Embarrassing Product Recalls Businesses Want You to Forget
By Pauli Poisuo,
Toptenz, 27 June 2019.

When a product malfunctions, its buyer complains. When enough products malfunction and customers complain, the manufacturer may be prompted to issue a recall. Product recalls are rarely good news, but there’s a world of difference between your average “there were 0.2% more bugs in this sausage than FDA regulations allow” recall and the ones we’re talking about today. These are companies panickedly realizing that they have been manufacturing products that can explode, catch fire, emit poison or even kill people, and the unfortunate aftermath of those exact things happening. Let’s take a look at some of the worst product recall cases of all time.

10. Dell notebook batteries

Mobile devices are everywhere, which means they need reliable batteries. However, every once in a while the occasional defective one manages to make it through the production line, leading to all those stories about exploding or otherwise malfunctioning batteries you occasionally read about in the news.

Between 2004 and 2006, Dell had a slightly less than lucky run with said defective batteries, when Sony delivered more than a few for their Inspiron, Latitude and Precision laptops and XPS units. Soon, reports of Dell notebooks catching fire or even exploding started surfacing, and the company was facing one of the largest recalls in the history of the electronics industry when it realized that the faulty batch was a whopping 4.1 million batteries that were a fire risk - almost 20% of Dell’s computer sales during that time period.

After some high-profile scandals such as a Dell laptop bursting into flames at a conference, Dell and Sony ended up issuing a recall for all 4.1 million batteries.

9. Westland/Hallmark beef

February 2008 was a bad time for Westland/Hallmark Meat Packing Company in Chino, California. Not only was the company drawing accusations for treating its cows badly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was also on their tail. They had slaughtered cows that had lost the ability to walk after they had already passed pre-processing inspections without having them examined for chronic illness, which was a bad move during a time when bovine spongiform encephalopathy - the Mad Cow Disease - was creating panic all over the Western world.

Westland/Hallmark paid a hefty price for their neglect when the Department of Agriculture forced them to recall the meat that had been potentially contaminated. All 143 million pounds of it. If you have a hard time wrapping your head around that number, it’s enough to make two delicious burgers for every single man, woman and child living in the U.S. at the time.

8. Mattel toys

As the maker of iconic toys such as Hot Wheels and Barbie dolls, it’s easy to assume that Mattel would pay pretty close attention to keeping its products safe for children. Unfortunately, not all of the company’s business partners bother with such trivialities; In 2007, Mattel announced a recall of no less than 967,000 toys after finding out that they were covered in poisonous lead paint.

The toy giant managed to stop roughly two thirds of the batch, which had been made by a Chinese contract manufacturer. However, an estimated 300,000 toys still made it to the shelves of American toy stores. These weren’t display action figures or over-12-years-old stuff, either - the 83 types of tainted products featured Nickelodeon and Sesame Street characters that were specifically aimed for toddlers.

The incident was particularly hurtful for Mattel because the Chinese company that had betrayed them was no cost-cutting spring chicken that had just started working for them. This was a manufacturer they had been working with for 15 years, which means they were in full knowledge of all the rules and regulations of safe toy-making…and yet, something went awry.

7. Ace Bayou bean bag chairs

Ace Bayou bean bag chairs were a popular and affordable piece of furniture that was sold widely by many popular retail stores and sites such as Walmart and Amazon. However, as you can probably guess by their presence on this list, their design had one serious safety flaw: The zipper. The Ace Bayou bean bag chairs were equipped with a zipper that was so easy to open that even small children could do it. Unfortunately, this exact thing happened more than once, and because an opened bean bag seems like an inviting miniature ball pit, kids climbed right in…and some of them closed the zipper behind them. We’re not going to go into the depressing specifics, so let’s just say that an airtight sack full of choking hazards is not the safest environment for a small child.

After two tragic deaths, Ace Bayou promptly issued a voluntary recall for its bean bags, and started to provide free repair kits that disabled the zipper.

6. The Hasbro Easy-Bake Oven

Hasbro’s Easy-Bake Oven seems like a fairly simple toy…that is, until you remember that it’s quite literally a miniature oven that young children can easily stick their fingers in. For everyone who has ever seen a toddler, let alone witnessed its parents frantically baby-proof the electrical outlets of the house, this seems like a pretty massive safety risk. After all, small children love nothing more than sticking their hands in every possible place, regardless of their danger factor.

With that in mind, please pretend to look surprised when we tell you that when Hasbro started using a genuine heating element (instead of the traditional light bulb) in the ovens in 2006, it took them less than a year to voluntarily issue a recall for a million easy-bake ovens, as toddlers kept sticking their hands inside the easy-bakey part of the toy, resulting in (occasionally serious) burns when their baby sausage fingers connected with the brand new heating element. Later in 2007, Hasbro repeated the process for another million toy ovens.

Between those two recalls, the toy company and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission had been bombarded with a total of 249 complaints about kids getting their hands stuck in the oven, 77 of which reported burns. One 5-year-old received such bad burns that her finger had to be partially amputated.

5. Tylenol

Tylenol is a popular pain reliever that can nevertheless lead to massive complications - up to and including liver failure - when taken in large doses. It has also been the subject of several large-scale recalls over the years.

In 2009, the manufacturer had to recall several Tylenol brands because a wood-treating chemical had somehow made its way into the medicine and was causing diarrhea, vomiting and nausea to people who ingested the medicine. Another disaster struck in 2011, tens of thousands of Tylenol products had to be recalled over issues with quality control, and the problem became so large-scale that they had to close one of their manufacturing plants. In 2012, yet another 600,000 bottles of Tylenol for infants had to be recalled because dosing issues had turned the pill into a crapshoot of either too little or too much medicine. There have also been other, less significant recalls over mislabeling, development issues or a strange, uncharacteristically moldy odor.

However, the most infamous Tylenol product recall was no fault of the manufacturer. In 1984, someone in Chicago started tampering with bottles of Extra-Strength Tylenol, lacing them with poisonous cyanide. The poison killed seven people before Johnson & Johnson (the manufacturer) had time to send warnings to distributors and hospitals, but they were quick to stop both advertisements and production of the drug and swiftly recalled an estimated 31 million bottles.

The Chicago Tylenol Murders remain unsolved to this day.

4. Jensen Farms

Cantaloupe may or may not be your favorite fruit, but even if you hate it from the bottom of your heart, eating it is unlikely to kill you…that is, unless you bought Jensen Farms’ sweet Rocky Ford cantaloupes in 2011. A batch of the farm’s product was contaminated with listeria, but nevertheless made it to the stores, where the tainted cantaloupes proceeded to kill 33 people and making 147 people violently ill in an outbreak that spanned 28 states. The listeria-laced melons were also linked to at least one miscarriage.

After a hasty recall, the two brothers who owned of the farm were arrested (and later filed for bankruptcy). An investigation found that they had neglected to use a system that sprayed the melons with an antibacterial solution before packaging, despite the fact that they knew perfectly well this could mean that their product was contaminated. Unsurprisingly, federal charges followed, and the Jensens’ farming career ended with six counts of adulteration of food and aiding and abetting.

In 2014, the brothers were each sentenced to five years probation and six months home detention, complete with 100 hours of community service and $150,000 of restitution payments. While this might seem like a slap on the wrist for men who were responsible for so many deaths, there were some mitigating factors at play. The case managed to prompt stricter food safety laws and liabilities on producers, and many of the victims’ family members also agreed that the apologetic Jensens should face no prison time. It’s also fairly uncommon to actually charge food producers for food safety issues, and the FDA made it clear the Jensens’ case was specifically meant to send a message to other food producers out there.

3. The Ford-Firestone tire recall

When hundreds of people die because of a defective product, you know that someone somewhere has messed up in a serious way. Unfortunately, Ford and tire manufacturer Firestone had a hard time agreeing on which one of them was the true culprit in 2000-2001, when Firestone’s 15-inch Wilderness AT, radial ATX and ATX II tire treads started separating from the tires’ cores, which led to many nasty and movie-worthy roll-overs and crashes…and, of course, countless human tragedies.

Most of the defective tires were custom equipment for the Ford Explorer, which happened to be the world’s best-selling SUV at the time. Firestone immediately (and apparently genuinely) believed they had managed to sort the problem out and acted accordingly, but more and more accidents kept piling up, and Ford wasn’t happy - especially when Firestone started claiming that the problem wasn’t just the tires, but the design flaws in the Explorer itself. The back-and-forth between the two companies was a bitter one and reached epic levels that involved congressional hearings and the recall of 6.5 million tires. The situation came to a head in 2001, when the exasperated Ford promised to replace all 13 million Firestone Wilderness AT tires out there at their own expense. Firestone wasn’t having any of it and severed their nearly 100-year-old business relationship.

The defective tires caused 200+ deaths and over 800 injuries and countless lawsuits. Executives resigned, new laws were forged, and in a development that shocked absolutely no one, the tire company’s market value was cut in half.

2. Toyota’s faulty floor mats

Cars have tons of parts that can cause a massive disaster if they don’t function properly, but you wouldn’t necessarily expect the floor mat to be one of them. As Toyota proved to the world in 2009, you’d be wrong to assume so when they announced the recall of almost four million Toyota and Lexus cars, including 2005-2009 editions of the popular hybrid model Prius. The problem was, as you can probably guess, the cars’ floor mats, which thanks to a design flaw could become dislodged in multiple ways and get stuck under the accelerator, which could lead to every driver’s worst nightmare: unintended, uncontrolled and dangerous acceleration. This ended up happening in the most dramatic way imaginable, when a Highway Patrolman and his family found to their horror that the doormat of their Lexus sent them speeding uncontrollably at over 100 miles per hour. The patrolman was able to call 911 and explain the terrifying situation, and was still on the phone when the fatal crash came.

As accidents started piling up, the FBI started to become interested. The ensuing investigation revealed that Toyota had downplayed the unintended acceleration problem, which also included issues with sticky pedals and plenty of allegations that they kept making cars despite being well aware of their potentially lethal issues. In 2014, the manufacturer agreed to pay a massive $1.2 billion in order to avoid prosecution for its safety issues. The agreement also forced Toyota to “admit” misleading American consumers and making deceptive statements about serious safety issues. By then, the car company’s long-standing acceleration troubles had killed 89 people and injured a further 57, and the company had recalled over eight million vehicles.

1. Ford Pinto

Yes, it’s Ford again, and if you know anything about bad cars, you might actually have seen this one coming. Ford Pinto was one of the best-selling cars of the 1970s right up until the moment it turned out that the car was basically a fireball waiting to happen. A massive and tragic flaw in the Pinto’s design made the vehicle’s gas tank vulnerable to rear-end collisions, which could create an explosion and turn the car into a fiery death trap. Unfortunately, many of the owners found this out in the worst possible way. Faulty Ford Pintos caused around 500 deaths and hundreds of injuries before 1978, when Ford agreed to recall 1.5 million of the vehicles, along with 30,000 Mercury Bobcats with similar design issues.

The product scandal left Ford’s reputation in tatters, especially when it emerged that the fatal design flaw was the result of a very cynical cost-benefit analysis. Auto industry superstar Lee Iaocca, who had presided over Pinto’s creation, was unceremoniously fired, and Ford’s lawyers had to put in some serious overtime dealing with the 117 lawsuits by disgruntled customers. The recall also prompted a 1979 landmark case, “Indiana vs. Ford Motor Co.,” which marked Ford as the first American corporation that was indicted and prosecuted for criminal homicide.

Top image: Toyota’s faulty floor mats. Credit: Associated Press/YouTube.

[Source: Toptenz. Top image added.]

Wednesday, 26 June 2019


Top 10 Most Dangerous Chemicals in the World
By  Christopher McFadden,
Interesting Engineering, 22 June 2019.

Chemicals are literally everywhere you look. While most are completely benign, or even vital to life, others will quickly relieve you of yours.

We'll explore some of the most dangerous chemicals you'll, hopefully, never cross paths with during your life.

What's the most deadly substance?

There a quite a few candidates for the most deadly substance. But one of the most potent poisons on the planet is the Botulinum toxin.

Naturally produced by the Clostridium botulinum bacterium, it is also used for cosmetic surgery in very small doses. But more on this later.

There are some other seriously dangerous chemicals out there.

These include things like:
  • Substance N - Developed by the National Socialists during WW2.
  • Chlorine trifluoride - Another nasty Nazi development. It can actually make asbestos burn apparently - more on this later.
  • Azidoazide Azide - This is the most explosive compound ever created by man. It also has a pretty cool name.
  • Dimethyl Cadmium - This could be considered the most toxic chemical in the world. It's pretty nasty all in all.
  • Fluoroantimonic Acid - This is the most powerful acid every devised by mankind, apparently. Not something to be messed with!
What is the most dangerous gas in the world?

Much like the previous question, there are a lot of very dangerous gases in the world. Some of the most hazardous include the following:
  • Hydrogen sulfide - In high enough concentrations, inhaling this gas results in a coma and death.
  • Arsine - This gas attacks the hemoglobin in your red blood cells. At concentrations of 250 ppm, Arsine is fatal.
  • Chlorine - Inhalation of chlorine at concentrations in excess of 1000 ppm is usually fatal.
There are, of course, many more nasty gases out there.

What are the ten of the most dangerous chemicals?

There are many chemicals out there that can potentially cause serious harm or even death. Here are but 10 of them.

1. Batrachotoxin isn't very good for you

Credit: jonathanstegemann/Pixabay

Batrachotoxin is the most potent non-peptide based poison known to man. It is commonly used in poison darts from, funnily enough, poison-dart frogs [pictured above].

It is a highly potent cardiotoxic and neurotoxic steroidal alkaloid. To date, no antidote has been developed.

Interestingly, the frogs are unable to synthesize the chemical themselves, but rather acquire and secrete it from the Melyrid beetles they consume.

2. Chlorine Trifluoride is highly corrosive

Chlorine Trifluoride is famous for its ability to actually corrode glass. It is a so-called interhalogen compound that is colorless, highly-corrosive and an extremely reactive chemical.

It is mainly used as a component of rocket fuel and can only really be stored in fluorine-treated metal containers. When this nasty chemical meets water, it results in a highly explosive reaction.

3. Potassium Cyanide has killed some notable people in the past

Potassium Cyanide is a highly poisonous chemical that kills in minutes. For this reason, it has historically been used as a suicide pill by many prominent people in history.

Victims include the likes of Eva Braun (Hitler's long-time partner), Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, Alan Turing and many more. It is also used by professional entomologists as a killing agent in collecting jars for, particularly fragile insect specimens.

4. VX is used in chemical weapons

Credit: U.S. Army/Wikimedia Commons

VX, or Venomous Agent X, is a nasty nerve agent specifically designed for use in war. It was created by British military researchers and is deadly in doses as low as 10 mg.

VX can enter the body through the skin and doesn't easily break down in the environment. Exposure to VX kills by constantly activating glands and muscles. Death comes when the respiratory system fails.

5. Botulinum toxin A is also called Botox

Credit: Melies The Bunny/Flickr

Botox, or Botulinum Toxin A, is a very common cosmetic chemical that also happens to be one of the most toxic things in nature. This neurotoxic protein is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum and other related species.

It is so toxic that just 1.3-2.1 ng/kg of it would be enough to kill someone if injected. So you might well ask, why is it used in cosmetic surgery?

Because of its ability to paralyze muscles, it is ideally suited for treating things like wrinkles, and muscle spasms in extremely small doses.

6. Ricin is pretty nasty

Credit: FBI/Wikimedia Commons

Ricin is widely known as a highly dangerous chemical. Yet it can be readily found in the seeds of castor oil plants.

It is a highly potent toxin and a dose the size of just a few grains of table salt will kill a human outright. Ricin was investigated for a time for its potential applications in war, but interest was ultimately turned to the weaponization of sarin.

7. Sarin will kill you in minutes

Credit: Seeker/YouTube

Sarin is a highly potent nerve agent that will kill exposed victims in less than ten minutes. It kills you through suffocation as your lung muscles become paralyzed as a result of inhaling it.

According to Wikipedia, "Sarin is generally considered a weapon of mass destruction. Production and stockpiling of sarin was outlawed as of April 1997 by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, and it is classified as a Schedule 1 substance."

8. Strychnine has been rumored to have killed Alexander the Great

Credit: Rillke/Wikimedia Commons

Strychnine is an old favorite for assassins and murderers throughout history. While it is usually employed to dispatch unwanted pests it can be used on humans too.

It has been rumored in the past that it might have been used to kill historical figures like Alexander the Great and Robert Johnson, the famous Blues musician.

9. Nicotine is actually pretty potent

Credit: Jamesvilliam/Wikimedia Commons

Nicotine was developed by plants as a defense mechanism against pests. For this reason, it happens to be one of the most potent toxins in the world.

For humans, apart from being highly addictive in low doses, if you exposed yourself to enough of it - it would actually be fatal. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), exposure to 5 mg/m3 of nicotine is "immediately dangerous to life and health."

10. Sodium Cyanide will kill you in seconds

Credit: L26/Wikimedia Commons

Sodium Cyanide is routinely used as an industrial reactant. But exposure to it will result in the smell of almonds followed by death within seconds.

Cyanide binds to cytochrome c oxidase, a protein in the mitochondria, and stops the cells from using oxygen.

Top image: Dangerous chemicals. Credit: scheidegger0/Pixabay.

[Source: Interesting Engineering. Some images and videos added.]


Space Photos: The Most Amazing Images This Week!
By Doris Elin Salazar,, 22 June 2019.

An astronaut spots a beautiful sunrise with a guest appearance from Venus, a photographer catches the moon's blue glow through barren tree branches, and NASA celebrates 10 years of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission. These are just some of the top photos this week from

1. Earthrise and Venus

Image credit: NASA

This ethereal blue curve is sunlight refracting in Earth's atmosphere at sunrise. NASA astronaut Christina Koch took this beautiful photo from the International Space Station. The planet Venus also makes an appearance as a glimmering spot at the bottom of the image.

2. Mars 2020 Team Selfie

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Engineers of NASA's next rover to the Red Planet, called Mars 2020, took a moment for a selfie after attaching the robot’s remote sensing mast on June 5, 2019, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The team also installed a suspension system and wheels; while the former will be a permanent feature of the mission, the wheels will eventually come off.

3. Blue Lunar Corona

Image credit: Miguel Claro

A lunar corona peeks through barren tree branches in this night-sky photo. When the water droplets in thin clouds drift in front of the moon's face, the moonlight is diffracted, causing this optical phenomenon. Photographer Miguel Claro captured this image from Évora, a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Portugal's Dark Sky Alqueva Reserve.

4. Wargo Crater

Image credit: NASA

This week marks the 10th anniversary of NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) launch to the moon on June 18, 2009. The orbiter uses seven instruments to examine the lunar surface, and among its most notable achievements is finding extensive evidence of water ice on the lunar surface. This is an LRO view of Wargo Crater, an impact crater on the northwest edge of the moon's Joule T crater.

5. A Falcon in the Clouds

Image credit: SpaceX

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket pierces through a layer of clouds after lifting off in the thick morning fog at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Wednesday (June 12). The rocket successfully delivered three Earth-observing satellites into Earth orbit for the Canadian Space Agency before returning to Earth to stick a landing. - Hanneke Weitering

6. Milky Way Sparkles Over ALMA

Image credit: P. Horálek/ESO

The arc of the Milky Way galaxy stretches over the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in northern Chile in this panoramic shot by European Southern Observatory photo ambassador Petr Horálek. Also visible in the night sky here are the Crux constellation (also known as the Southern Cross), located above and to the right of the nearest antenna, and the Carina Nebula, a reddish-pink emission nebula to the right of the Southern Cross. - Hanneke Weitering

7. Hubble's 'Hidden Treasure'

Countless stars fill the cosmic void around the irregular galaxy IC 10 in this deep-space image from the Hubble Space Telescope. Located 2.2 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia, IC 10 is the closest known starburst galaxy, or a galaxy that is undergoing rampant formation of new stars. It is a member of the Local Group, a collection of more than 50 galaxies that includes the Milky Way. This image won 10th place in the Hubble Hidden Treasures competition, which called on the public to help sift through Hubble's enormous collection of images to find the most beautiful ones that did not receive the fanfare they deserved. - Hanneke Weitering

8. Happy Anniversary, LRO!

Ten years ago today, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) soared into space atop an Atlas 5 rocket, together with the agency's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS). The rocket with the two spacecraft lifted off from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 18, 2009, at 5:32 p.m. EDT (2132 GMT). LCROSS intentionally crashed into the moon a few months later, but LRO is still going strong today. - Hanneke Weitering

9. 'The Boot' Spotted from Space

Image credit: NASA

A new photo of Earth from space offers a clear view of southern Italy, a peninsula commonly referred to as "the boot," and the island of Sicily. The northern part of the country is obstructed by a blanket of clouds that stretches as far as the eye can see. An astronaut at the International Space Station captured this view of Italy as it was passing over the Mediterranean Sea on June 9. At the time, the space station was orbiting at an altitude of 255 miles (410 kilometers), which is more than high enough to be able to see the curvature of the Earth. - Hanneke Weitering

Top image: Wargo crater. Credit: NASA/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Top image and some links added.]