Tape, Teflon, Velcro, Virility and Mastercard – WIF Simple

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Simple Technologies

That Changed

the World

There are numerous examples of breakthroughs that humans have used or discovered in their existence that have catapulted us to the top of the food chain. The wheel, the steam engine, the printing press, etc. These advances are known to most people, and we realize that without those things existing, we’re still in the dark ages.

But there are also lots of little blips on the timeline throughout human history of simpler things between the lines. These technologies may not have the same lustre as the heavy hitters, but if you tried to imagine your daily life without these things being developed and perfected, you would quickly see that they’re every bit as important. Here are some simple technologies that changed the world in profound ways.

10. Duct Tape

That sticky grey tape that seems to hold most of the world together these days draws its history back to the Second World War. The military used the tape to keep their ammunition boxes sealed, but quickly found that there were tons of other uses for it. What began as medical tape was found to have incredibly adhesive qualities as well as inherent waterproofing, which led to soldiers calling it “duck tape,” referring to a duck’s wicking feathers.

Once the war ended, soldiers returned home and began buying houses en masse. They also took lots of jobs with construction companies, and told their bosses about this incredibly sticky tape they used during the war. The tape was used for all sorts of HVAC applications, but mostly for holding ductwork together. So “duck tape” became “duct tape,” but in 1998, a test of common HVAC sealing materials was conducted. Duct tape came in dead last. Quack.

9. Teflon Pans

When scientists in the 1930s developed a new kind of polymer that was superbly heat resistant and uber-slippery. They used it in war, because that’s just what was going on at the time. But it took until the ‘60s when they decided that it would be great for keeping food from sticking to pans.

And it wasn’t just pans–the non-stick coating known as Teflon changed the home kitchen for good by also being applied to muffin and cake tins as well as cookie sheets. Clean up was a breeze. The coating could handle high heat. The only thing they were kind of bad at was not killing people. The workers that produced Teflon were basically poisoned by the material, and that sickness was passed on to lord knows how many consumers. One of the components in Teflon that was responsible wasn’t banned until 2014.

8. Smoke Detectors

Think of all the things you probably take for granted in our homes in the present day, and smoke detectors are likely near the top of the list. Those little gadgets have saved countless lives, yet you hardly notice them until their batteries run low. They’ve become standard and required in homes these days, so it’s hard to imagine a time when they weren’t around. And they happened by accident.

In the 1930s, a scientist in Switzerland was trying to make a device that detected poison gas in the air. While it failed to pick up the presence of the tested poison, when he lit a cigarette, the smoke did trip the alarm. It took until the late 1960s before they found their way into homes, and have now cut fire-related deaths by half.

7. Viagra

A little blue pill that’s only been around for twenty years shouldn’t have such an impact on the world that it’s had, especially since it’s not cured any major disease, instead letting men experience the wonder of full erections. But Viagra has basically changed sex around the world.

In 1991, testing began on what would become Viagra, but it was developed with the intention of lowering blood pressure. But during the studies, there was a certain side effect that the men involved could not ignore. The development of the drug headed in the direction of restoring sexual health to men, and within ten years, 200,000 prescriptions a week were being filled. It changed the way men confronted diminishing sex drives. It also helped unknown diseases related to erectile dysfunction become treated when men came to the doctor seeking Viagra.

6. Credit Cards

A fixture of every wallet known to man, the credit card is simultaneously boosting the economy and bankrupting countless people with no financial acumen. The concept of “pay us later, we’re sure you’re good for it,” and then tacking on insane interest amounts is a fairly new concept. At least in card form. But they’re ubiquitous now, with around 18 billion in use.

In 1949, businessman Frank McNamarawas at a restaurant and realized he had forgotten his wallet. This made him envision a kind of card that could be used at multiple businesses. He started Diners Club the next year, and within the next decade, more and more banks started making their own credit cards. Fast forward to present day, and Americans alone possess over a trillion dollars in credit card debt. So in less than a hundred years, we’ve done some damage, haven’t we?

5. UPC Codes

You’ve seen that little box of black lines on the side of every product you buy, even more so when you’re struggling to find them in the self-checkout line. The UPC code (Bar Code) gets scanned, the price shows up, and it’s a pretty expedient process. But how did that get to become the norm?

In 1948, Joseph Woodland (who had actually worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the first nuclear bomb) was responding to a query from a local store owner about how to speed up the process of buying products in his store. Woodland thought about Morse Code and its simple way of giving lots of information with dots and lines, so he made that his inspiration. His innovation could describe an item and its price all at once, instead of the snail’s pace of non-automated operations that most stores suffered through. The only thing that held back progress was the lack of computers readily available to read the code, so it took until 1974 when the technology began to roll out to stores nationwide.

4. Barbed Wire

Two problems faced the American West as it grew and expanded: cattle were getting loose and trampling precious crops, and there wasn’t enough wood in those regions to build fences. The Homestead Act of 1862 made it so many people could get vast tracts of land for next to nothing, so it was important that they be able to work that land and have secure properties.

Enter Joseph Glidden of Illinois, who patented barbed wire in 1874. It wasn’t without its growing pains, as the wire trapped dumb cows by the thousands, and cowboys hated their herds being restricted by the artificial borders. And those very borders that marked a person’s property also screwed over Native Americans, as these practices left them with even fewer claims to their ancestral lands. The Homestead Act required that a person build a home and work the land for five years before it would become theirs to own. The barbed wire was a metaphorical and physical realization that their way of life was over.

3. Velcro

Zippers were still very much the rage in 1941, when Swiss engineer George de Mestral came upon an idea while walking his dog in the woods one day. He noticed how his clothing and his dog were covered in sticky burrs, the pointy little things that always prick your fingers are you’re removing them. Under a microscope, he saw how the curved hooks of the burrs met with his clothing in an almost perfect marriage. Zippers were no longer the only game in town.

Zippers tended to jam all the time. Velcro, as it would come to be in 1955 (from the French words “velour” and “crochet”) didn’t have that problem. Though originally implemented in clothing, it’s now used in everything from sporting equipment to NASA craft. And whoever began using it in little kids’ clothing should eventually get their own medal.

2. Daylight saving time

Ok, so maybe not exactly a technology, but the advent of daylight saving (it’s not “savings”, by the way) time has changed a lot about our modern world. First started in Germany in 1916 as a way to enjoy the sunshine and to conserve electricity, it began to catch on in other countries around the world soon after.

In the United States, it was started in 1918 as a wartime practice. It was repealed the next year after farmers protested; the next few decades saw back and forth fighting and different start times for daylight saving across the country. Finally in 1966, the Uniform Time Act made time, uh, uniform across the country. The central concept, energy conservation, doesn’t really seem to be a benefit though. The stuff that uses the most electricity in our homes are things that get used the more we are home, if that makes sense. It seems that the money that gets boosted into the economy by people enjoying more leisure “daytime” in the evening is enough to keep the practice in use.

1. Transistors

Think of the devices that power your everyday life: smartphones, computers, tablets, etc. They all have one thing in common at their very core, and that’s the very simple transistor. The development of the transistor signaled the developmental shift from hardware to software, and it’s why technology has surged light years ahead since its inception.

A transistor is merely a type of semiconductor that either amplifies signals or switches them. Invented in 1947, it was a device far ahead of its time, and as computing devices grew and became more efficient, so too did the transistor. Computers got smaller and became household items, while transistors shrunk down to the size of a few nanometers. Those tiny transistors are one of the only unchanged (aside from size) building blocks of the entire digital age.


Tape, Teflon, Velcro, Virility and Mastercard –

WIF Simple

FYI NSA BTW – WIF Invasion of Privacy

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Intrusive Programs

Run by

the NSA

Before Edward Snowden revealed us an unprecedented amount of the National Security Agency’s activities in 2013, most of us were only vaguely familiar with the shadowy organization and its information-gathering ways. The NSA has its tendrils in virtually every digital aspect of our daily life, to the point that one of their automated information-collecting programs is probably reading this right now (Hi!) and trying to figure out whether we’re a threat to national security (We really aren’t!).

While reports of their current activities are understandably few and far between, thanks to Mr. Snowden and his leaked documents we do have some insight into the things the NSA were up to in 2013 and before that … and it’s not pretty. Here’s a look at some of the agency’s strangest antics.

10. Angry Birds

No, it’s not just a fun code name, or, for that matter, even code name. It’s that Angry Birds.

In 2014, the Guardian reported that the NSA, along with its significantly less catchy British counterpart GCHQ, were looking into various techniques where they can sneak all up the “leaks” of your favorite phone apps, up to and very much including the world’s premier “Birds Vs. Pigs” game. The idea was to slip through the security cracks of the apps in order to reach the users’ personal data, which would provide the agencies with a number of significant advantages. They would gain access to a huge amount of the kind of data that would allow them to exploit people’s phone information on a mass scale, instead of just having to hack their way into our phones one by one like some commoner. Location, as well: When you use Google Maps to find a place, the NSA can use it to find you.

The NSA seems to put great value on such technology, to the point where one 2010 presentation called it a “Golden Nugget” before rattling off a long list of information the agency could gather from just a single picture uploaded on social media. Fortunately, this plan was among the documents Edward Snowden leaked in 2013, so at least we’re aware that some of America’s taxpayer dollars go towards surreptitiously scrolling through your contact lists as you play Candy Crush or whatever.

9. Boundless Informant

Congress has occasionally challenged the NSA about what they do with all the data they collect from American citizens. One of the agency’s go-to defenses has been that they have no way of keeping track of the waves of information crashing on their shores, but in 2013, it turned out that a secretive agency might, in fact, have been lying about its methods. It’s shocking, we know.

Congress has occasionally challenged the NSA about what they do with all the data they collect from American citizens. One of the agency’s go-to defenses has been that they have no way of keeping track of the waves of information crashing on their shores, but in 2013, it turned out that a secretive agency might, in fact, have been lying about its methods. It’s shocking, we know.

Boundless Informant is a highly sophisticated data mining tool the NSA uses to analyze and record its surveillance information. It’s essentially a hyper-competent archivist that sifts through the sea of data and arranges it to neat folders. However, it doesn’t appear to do it by user — unless they decide to take a personal interest in you, Boundless Informant probably doesn’t have a folder of your most embarrassing emails and IMs. Instead, the system sifts through the incoming information by “counting and categorizing” the communications records metadata (sets of data that describe other data). However, the level of detail it goes to even includes individual IP addresses … which, as you may know, can totally be tracked down to the countries they’re from.

8. Dishfire

SMS texting is slowly but steadily going the way of the dodo as instant messaging platforms are taking over, but the NSA has been collecting them like they were coming back in fashion. According to the 2013 data leak, the Dishfire program performs a daily, global and supposedly untargeted sweep of SMS messages, and took them to a second program called Prefer, which automatically analyzed them for assorted red flags.

The agency was head over heels about this particular avenue of information collection, to the point where a 2011 presentation was titled “SMS Text Messages: A Goldmine to Exploit.” They weren’t exactly wrong, either: automated messages, international roaming charge texts, missed call alerts, electronic business cards and text-to-text payments gave them access to unprecedentedly clear metadata in ridiculous droves.

To put the scale of the operations in context, at the time of the leaks the NSA was able to collect over five million missed-call alerts (for contact chaining analysis), Around 800,000 money transactions, 1.6 million border crossings, over 110,000 names, 76,000 people’s real-time locations, and a total of nearly 200 million SMS messages. Per day. 

7. Egoistical Goat and its friends

The anonymous Tor network is obviously a bit of a problem for an information-gathering entity like the NSA, but it appears the agency had already made some progress to lift the veil of secrecy as early as in 2013.

To crack down Tor’s information safe, the agency created a number of programs with increasingly stupid names, all lovingly crafted to compromise Tor user anonymity. There was Egoistical Goat and its sister programs Egoistical Giraffe and Erroneous Identity, which tried to worm their way in the Firefox parts of the Tor Bundles in order to identify users. Before them, the NSA had Mjoliner, which was meant to divert Tor users to insecure channels, and a marking operation called Mullenize, which was the online equivalent of a surveillance helicopter trying to shoot a tracking device in a car before it drives in a hidden tunnel. Meanwhile, NSA’s British version, GCHQ, did its level best to outdo its American counterpart’s ridiculous code names by trying to crack Tor with operations called Epicfail and Onionbreath.

Despite all their antics, the NSA’s success rate at identifying Tor users was spotty at best — but really, who knows what they have come up with since 2013?

6. GILGAMESH

It’s one thing for the NSA to want to know about people’s information, and completely another to use that information to find out your location and giving it to the Joint Security Operations Command in case they need to bomb someone. This explosive application of NSA tracking technology is called GILGAMESH, and it’s essentially what would happen if a bunch of NSA’s geolocation tracking technologies married a Predator drone.

Thanks to the vast array of online information available to them, the NSA has taken to recommending drone targets with complex metadata analysis instead of relying on human intelligence. However, the Intercept points out that while the tactic has had some success it has by no means been particularly accurate and reliable. One drone pilot operating with NSA-dictated targets has admitted it “absolutely” has resulted in innocent people getting killed.

5. Optic Nerve

To be fair, Optic Nerve was technically a brainchild of the British GCHQ, but since they NSA happily assisted in it, we’ll let it slide. It was a code-name for a surveillance program that surreptitiously collected a bunch of images from Yahoo’s webcam chats from all over the world by the million, with little to no regard whether the people they were collecting them from were persons of interest or not.  This might be pretty creepy in and of itself, but becomes doubly so when you remember the sort of stuff that tends to go on in webcam chats. Yes, we’re talking about nudity, and judging by the scale of the operation, there must have been plenty of it, too. In fact, leaked documents reveal that the GCHQ actually had some trouble keeping all the naked pictures away from the interested eyes of its employees, which in a way is even scarier than just stealing images in bulk.

Understandably, Yahoo was less than thrilled to find out about the situation, which they say happened only when the British media reached out to ask some questions. The company called Optic Nerve a “whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy,” and really, it’s hard to argue with them.

4. PRISM

PRISM is massive surveillance program that started in 2007 and came into light when the Washington Post and the Guardian whipped out a pile of leaked documents in 2013. Technically, PRISM was/is a system for monitoring foreign communication passing through American servers. However, in practice, they monitored everything they humanly could, and gathered their data from “providers” that you might be familiar with.

As of 2013, tiny little companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, Skype and the like had to hand the NSA remarkable access to their servers, and the vast buckets of data from their users that lays within. NSA can use this giant pool of information to a terrifying accuracy, to the point where they could just directly access your — yes, specifically your — information and spy on every little thing you do online. The only caveat is that some analyst in their machinery has to vouch that they’re, like, 51% sure that you’re probably foreign, maybe.

3. Upstream

If you thought the NSA was happy just spying what you do on the internet, worry not — there’s more to come. Upstream is basically the same deal as PRISM, only with telecommunications companies such as Verizon and AT&T … and in a much more classic “spying” capacity. Where PRISM relies on intangible tech shenanigans of the “access to big company servers” variety, project Upstream has physically installed a host of surveillance equipment to the internet’s physical “backbone”: the routers, cables and other gear that carry all the online traffic.

The NSA uses this infiltration to track down specific keywords related to potential foreign intelligence activity, though even this noble-ish intent is rendered moot by the fact that they also often target the media, legal attorneys and human rights people instead of just supposed spies and suspected terrorists. The American Civil Rights Union has called the practice “unprecedented and unlawful.”

2. Bullrun

What good is stealing data from countless unwary people if you don’t know what to do with it? The NSA answered this question with code-name Bullrun, a state-of-the-art decryption program that can straight up decode the encryption used by several prominent providers, which means they can read your emails with the greatest of ease should the need arise. This powerful Sigint (signals intelligence) weapon is built by stealthily working with large tech companies to install weaknesses in their products, and then exploiting these openings with their own decryption tools. This way, the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ are able to browse through not only their targets’ emails, but banking accounts and medical history as well. Essentially, if you have personal information online, Bullrun can find out how to decrypt it.

Bullrun’s importance to the NSA can easily be seen by looking at its budget: When Edward Snowden brought the system out in the open in 2013, PRISM’s operating costs were around $20 million a year. Bullrun? Over $250 million.

1. FASCIA

The FASCIA database was among the more interesting documents Edwards Snowden leaked. It was a massive collection of metadata, consisting of all sorts of call information, IP addresses and suchlike. What made the project so impressive(ly scary) was its sheer scale: Though the document dates back to January 2004, it said that FASCIA II had over 85 billion metadata records, and an estimated 125 million were added on a daily basis. Leaked graphs (like the one above) indicate that the system has since evolved, and in 2012, FASCIA already received five billion device-location records every day. There’s no telling what that number is now, but smart money would probably say that it’s significantly larger.

The NSA started getting hold of all this metadata during the War on Terror by straight up forcing phone companies to hand it over to the agency. Originally, this data included pretty intimate stuff, such as the numbers you called and the duration of said calls, though not the actual content. In 2015, the process was slightly changed so that the NSA could only collect bulk metadata and looking at an individual person’s records would require a court order. Even so, the NSA has been known to call this system one of their “most useful tools,” and they say it has even helped them capture multiple terror suspects.


FYI NSA BTW –

WIF Invasion of Privacy

Kitchen Hacks = Good | Computer Hacking = Get a Life!

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The Most Egregious

Hack(er)s

of All-Time

Image result for computer hacking gif

We are fortunate to live in an incredibly advanced age, where we can buy things on Amazon and have them at our doorstep within a day or two, instantly communicate with anyone around the globe, and have access to precisely all of the “crying Michael Jordan” memes ever created.

But with that massive power at our fingertips comes immense responsibility and an even greater need for security. Hackers have wormed their way into the very fabric of our lives. Sometimes the damage can be fixed with a simple virus protection program. Other times it can bring a country to its knees. These are some of the most egregious  hacks ever unleashed upon the world.

10. The Bitcoin hack

Cryptocurrency is a concept that not a lot of people understand, let alone use. But the people that use it, really use it. Basically, it’s a digital currency that uses encryption security measures, and is independent of a normal bank. There’s no physical, tangible money. You might ask, “but that doesn’t seem like it’s real,” and we would probably agree.

Nonetheless, many people online have fallen for adopted cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, though those numbers may have dipped since a major hack in 2018 by cyberthieves. A major Bitcoin company in South Korea lost about 30 percent of its virtual money holdings, which led to about a 30 billion dollars loss for cryptocurrency overall in just seven hours of trading. It caused the price of Bitcoin itself to drop around 7 percent almost instantly. This is all interesting, in that the very idea of cryptocurrency is its inherent safety, which is paramount online. The fact that an encrypted digital currency can be undone in a day of hacking raises strong concerns about its longevity.

9. The Conficker worm

2008 may not seem very long ago, but in the digital age, that’s like decades. Whole hardware and operating systems that were ubiquitous at the time have been rendered obsolete. So it’s strange to hear that a simple computer virus that was prevalent at the time is still loitering around the digital wasteland.

The Conficker worm was discovered in 2008, when it infected around 15 million computers due to its ability to be shared easily, and spread through software and removable media devices. This virus is different, though. Conficker doesn’t even steal data — it’s method is to spread to as many computers as possible and disrupt things that way. And even as recently as 2017, there were several million successful infections of computers. That’s some serious service time for a bug. One of the most common ways it happens are unpatched computers on a network. Word to the wise: those annoying software updates are your friends.

8. The Iran nuke hack

The 1983 Matthew Broderick movie WarGames dealt with the vulnerabilities of military systems to motivated hackers. In the film, he toyed with the defense department and eventually scared the pants off everyone, making it seem like a Russian nuke launch was imminent. You would think the systems in place to make a nuclear winter possible would be secure enough to not be susceptible to computer shenanigans, right?

Well, the country of Iran would tell you it’s not that absurd. In 2010, a virus named Stuxnet invaded their nuclear systems, a product of Israeli-American computer wizardry. The virus targeted Iran’s centrifuges, which helped to enrich uranium that would be used for nuclear weapons. The bug would spin those centrifuges until they busted, all while reporting everything was normal. Eventually, up to 20 percent of the country’s centrifuges were useless. And this was over the course of a couple of years. Everything was going fine until Israel ramped up the program to be more aggressive, and Iran became wise to the plan. It has since set off a rash of hacked public services and secret government programs around the globe. All hailing from a tiny virus no bigger than 500 kilobytes.

7. Spamhaus

The Spamhaus Project is an organization whose entire purpose is the tracking and fighting of spam. They hate spam. The group scours the internet to find the worst of the spammers and compile them into a list. Some estimates put their success rate at 80 percent. 80 percent…of all the spam that gets blocked, like, ever.

One group that drew the ire of Spamhaus was CyberBunker. CyberBunker stores the data and content of literally almost anyone except for “child porn and anything related to terrorism.” Their words. Spamhaus blacklisted CyberBunker, claiming they allow themselves to be used as a host for megaspammers. CyberBunker didn’t react well to being ostracized, and though they claim they had nothing to do with it, someone likely took their side and initiated the largest cyber attack in history. In what’s called a DDoS attack, where a website is flooded with requests to the point of crashing, Spamhaus was knocked offline and Internet around the globe was slowed down. A reported 100,000 servers were used to inundate the site, and more bandwidth was taken up than any other attack ever attempted. That is a serious overreaction to wanting less ads for genital enhancement in peoples’ inboxes.

6. The Melissa virus

Ah, the growing pains of the early Internet Age. It seems so innocent, but even as your AOL connection page starting screeching its demonic language, there could have been one of the early Net viruses worming its way into your prehistoric computers.

The Melissa virus of 1999 was a document widely shared online, in which there were promises of all sorts of passwords to get into paid porn sites. The document attachment to the emails were opened, a bum Microsoft Word doc opened, and the Melissa virus took over from there. It would then hack into the user’s email program and mass-send itself to fifty of the recipient’s contacts. There wasn’t much those days that was sensitive on peoples’ computers, but it did wreak havoc on the business world, shutting down servers at companies as big as Microsoft. All told, the virus hit up more than a million computers and affected 20 percent of North American businesses, while racking up $80 million in computer damages.

5. The Fappening

Surely it’s not surprising that in the digital age, people are taking advantage of apps like Snapchat and other texting options to send each other photos of their nether bits. It becomes an even bigger deal when we find out celebrities are doing the same things we are. Going back to leaked sex tapes of Kim Kardashian and Pam and Tommy Lee, the spectre of celebrity genitalia sets the world on fire. But nothing on the level of 2014’s mass image dump of hacked iCloud photos, lovably known as “The Fappening.”

Almost 500 photos were leaked to the notorious 4chan site of celebrities in the buff, stolen from private iCloud accounts. Apple itself has seemingly had the reputation of being a closed system that is much more difficult to hack, but those responsible were well-versed in a technique called “spear phishing”, which involves gathering all the personal info on a target possible to hack their sensitive material. The FBI was quick on the case, eventually tracking the work to a few hackers spread throughout the United States, and they earned varying prison stints for their actions.

4. 2016 FBI hack

One Justice Department employee’s email account. That’s all it took for a hacker to become privy to every single person who works for the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. From that compromised account, he was able to download roughly 200 GB of incredibly sensitive info, like a real version of the Mission: Impossible NOC list. He then tricked a DOJ rep into giving him access to the database itself.

The names, rank, and personal information of nearly 30,000 employees who work in a very guarded profession immediately had their cover blown. Phone numbers and email addresses were made public, and the hacker stated he had credit card numbers as well. The hacks were apparently done by someone with pro-Palestine sympathies. That someone, it turns out, was a 16-year-old teenager living in England.

3. One writer at Wired has his whole life erased and all his gadgets frozen in minutes

Mat Honan was a tech writer for the Wired site in 2012. When hackers wormed their way into his Google account, he became a nobody. In the space of an hour.

At first, the hackers made eight years of email correspondences vanish. They took to Twitter next to issue homophobic slurs and racist rants, before deleting photos off of his Apple devices. They invaded every corner of his digital life. Think of every interaction or post or photo you’ve been a part of in your existence on the Internet. They thought of that too, and made him basically disappear, digitally speaking. Once his Apple ID was compromised, they remotely erased every single thing throughout all of his devices.

He could have stopped the hackers in their tracks early if he had utilized the extra layer of security Google offers (his fault), but once they started exploiting security lapses within Amazon and Apple, they were able to unleash much more damage (not his fault). Through it all, the hacker, known as Phobia, was in constant contact. Phobia still hasn’t had to pay for his actions, though investigators may be getting closer to finding out his identity.

2. OPM hack

We mentioned earlier how FBI and Department of Homeland Security personnel information was severely compromised in 2016. Well, just a year before that, another government agency found that they had been hacked. This time, it was the Office of Personnel Management, which is in charge of all the civilians working for the U.S. government.

The OPM’s IT department came across the hack first, when they noticed a bunch of forms used for background checks for their employees had been whisked away. And by a bunch, we mean millions. Oh, and they fingerprint records, too. The hack itself had been in progress for the previous two years, and the OPM was actually onto them by 2014, but allowed them to keep working to gain intelligence on them. Unfortunately for millions and millions of civilian government employees, this extra time just allowed the hackers to gain more and more clearance into the OPM’s systems. The attacks were blamed on China-backed hackers, and in 2017, a Chinese man was arrested for reasons related to the OPM hack, even though it wasn’t directly stated.

1. DNC and election hack

There has been a veritable storm of crap related to Russia and just how far they got influencing the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It’s such an all-encompassing story and the tentacles spread so far that it’s almost impossible to wrap one’s head around the main crux of it all: that election systems in every state and the Democratic National Committee itself were hacked in 2016, and that Russian hackers were likely behind it all.

DNC servers had Russian digital fingerprints all over it, it was discovered in June that year, and had likely been compromised for almost a year. Using malware, they published documents clearly meant to turn the elections in the Republicans’ favor. It went further. Other hackers went after the election cyber infrastructure located in each state, attacking them and pulling voter registrations and sample ballots. And while it’s not clear if they were able to actually change votes, we may never know just how far the hackers made it into one of America’s most revered institutions.


Kitchen Hack = Good

Computer Hacking = Get a Life

SETI, Bicycles, Gravity, Placebos and Baghdad – WIF Scientific Mysteries

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Science Still

Hasn’t Solved

These Mysteries

The science community has granted us a wealth of knowledge that can never be overstated. Things that used to mystify our ancestors can now be understood and more appreciated. It’s shaped our view of the world, the universe, the animal kingdom, human psychology — literally everything you know has been helped along by science and the men and women who dedicate their lives to finding out the whos, whats, whens, whys, and hows of stuff. We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.

But with science having that intrinsic aspect of being ever-evolving, it’s never foolproof or absolute. Built right into the scientific method are allowances for screw-ups or just plain not knowing something. And you might be surprised that some very basic parts of life here on our planet totally baffle some of our best and brightest smarties. Here are some examples of mysteries that science has yet to crack.

10. Why do we sleep?

Now here is one you think we’d have nailed down by now. Almost every single person in the world sleeps daily (unless you’re a Rolling Stones guitarist). And the answer probably seems obvious to most of us: we sleep to rest our bodies after the day. We can hold off on food, water, even sex for days on end, but when it’s sleepytime, nature takes over and our bodies ask for the check.

Except it’s not as simple as just needing rest. Science has educated guesses which include all sorts of reasons for sleep, like making time for our brains to get things in order after a long day, to reinforce memories, or to replenish fuel lost while awake. But then you throw in examples of plants and other organisms that don’t have any brains at all like we do, yet still have “sleep” patterns similar to ours, and people who have gene mutations which let them function without much sleep at all, and we begin to see our very limited understanding of why we sleep.

9. How does gravity work?

Gravity, as we learn in school, is very simple… right? There are forces within our planet that pull things toward the center. So if you throw something in the air, it comes back down. Gravity keeps you on the ground. It’s also what keeps the planets orbiting around the sun. This is all very simple, and we’ve known it since we were able to learn information. So why does science have so much difficulty explaining it?

Basically, gravity is one of four forces in our universe, which also include electromagnetism, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear. Gravity is the weakest of the four, and while we seem to grasp the concept of gravity with earthly examples, when things get too small or too big, like black holes and atoms, that’s when science and Newton’s principles don’t really make sense. And a simple science experiment you’ve seen before, where a balloon rubbed on your shirt creates enough electromagnetism to negate gravity and lift your hair or a piece of paper, shows just how easily gravity can sometimes, well, disappear.

8. Why are most people right handed?

People seem to take notice when someone uses their left hand for something, as if it’s some kind of freak mutation that’s just manifested itself. And while it’s rare for someone to be a natural southpaw (about 10 percent of the world’s population), it’s not quite the same as running across someone who, say, has horns growing out of their head.

So why do people deviate from the norm, in terms of handedness? Is it a genetic mutation? The environment they’re brought up in? Is it hereditary? Science doesn’t really know, and it doesn’t even really have an empirically-established way to measure handedness. Science does lean toward genetics, but there are even problems with that, as some teachers in school force children to become right handed when learning to write, and there is some data as to cultural and societal factors influencing which hand becomes dominant. Weirdly enough, we’ve learned why people become right-handed, but not why right is the “right” way. If that makes sense.

7. Why does anesthesia work?

It’s the divine gas that makes people not have to be acutely aware of their leg being amputated, among other things. The introduction of anesthesia granted patients the ability to snooze through all sorts of medical procedures, and it’s been a godsend since the mid-1800s — not only for the patients, but for doctors who had to deal with squirrely, wide-awake amputee victims. What started as an inhaled ether on its inception has become a more refined chemical blend that renders the recipient unconscious.

But we don’t really know how it does that. Think about it. When you’re asleep, you’re unconscious, right? But you would sure feel a scalpel opening you up, wouldn’t you? So why is the anesthesia unconsciousness different? And it’s an even bigger mystery as to how the diverse chemicals in the anesthetic, ranging from steroids to inert gases, can work together to achieve such a deep unconscious level that takes you about as close to death’s door as is possible. It seems that under anesthesia, different parts of the brain are affected much like a coma patient’s brain would be. All in all, it’s a wonderful tool in medicine and we don’t really know why.

6. Why do cats purr?

“Awwww, it’s because he/she LOVES ME!,” you likely think to yourself, ignoring the fact that if that cat was a little bigger, it would probably try to rip your face off. But it’s not a stupid assumption — most people probably associate the low rumbly purr of the kitty-cat to a feeling of happiness or contentedness. Science as a whole shrugs and meekly mumbles, “I dunno.”

See, cats also have a tendency to purr when they’re scared or hungry. Purring probably isn’t a form of communication, as it’s too low and local to be really effective. Also, in the realm of just pure weirdness, science has discovered that purring has been linked to bone regeneration. So there are many theories we have for why kittens just sit there and gently hum their bodies, but most likely it’s just a way for them to soothe themselves. Kind of like how we laugh for several different reasons.

5. Why was there a mysterious hum in New Mexico?

New Mexico has had a weird history of everything from nuclear bomb testings to Walter White standing on a dirt road in his tighty-whities. But the residents of the northern town of Taos have their own strange tale to tell, and it’s in reference to a local phenomenon called the “Taos Hum.”

Since the early ’90s, people in the town have described some kind of tangible audio event. Some call it a whirring kind of noise, or a buzz, or a humming in the air around Taos. A professor of engineering at the University of New Mexico studied the sounds around Taos, and noticed that around 2 percent of the population was susceptible to the strange hum. That doesn’t mean that they picked up any unusual sounds while conducting their research. Quite the opposite. Their very sensitive audio recording equipment and vibration sensors picked up nothing out of the ordinary. The fact that the townsfolk heard differing kinds of sounds is also of less scientific value than if they had all heard one low, persistent hum. And that’s why science is more keen to dismiss the Taos Hum as being part of the onslaught of background noise humans live in these days, mixed with subjective hearing experiences from the people themselves. The residents of Taos, however, stand firm in their belief of a weirder explanation. It is New Mexico, after all.

4. The ancient Baghdad batteries

Now, hear us out here. What if we told you that researchers working in Iraq in the 1930s found what totally appeared to be some kind of crude battery that may have been used to produce electrical charges, and that it likely dated from around 200 BC? Of course, that would predate that kind of technology by a couple thousand years.

What archaeologists originally thought were some kind of clay storage pots turned out upon closer inspection to contain copper rods within them. This led the scientists to strongly believe the pots would have held some kind of substance that would react to the copper rods and produce electricity. But why? Theories range from using the charge to shock people as punishment (those were stricter days), to using that electricity to electroplate things with gold. Another school of thought is that they found a way to make electricity long before knowing what the heck it was good for, kind of like the Chinese with gunpowder. Our turbulent history with Iraq doesn’t help us figure much of anything out, either.

3. Why does the placebo effect work?

You’ve all heard the basics of the placebo effect: it’s a treatment that isn’t “real,” but the very act of a patient believing in its effectiveness creates its own beneficial properties. If you expect a pill or drug to do something, it’s likely to work in some way. It seems mean, but science uses placebos especially when testing a new medication’s effectiveness. Which, maddeningly, is skewed because sometimes these placebos work. But why?

Beats us! The point of a placebo is you don’t know you’re taking it. But that opens up a whole host of problems because placebos can often work even when you know you’re taking one. That clearly goes against its entire purpose. In 2009, researchers testing treatments for irritable bowel syndrome found many subjects who knowingly took placebos got better at higher rates than those who received no treatment at all. That’s absolutely insane. And it seems that a person’s personality is tied to whether the placebo effect will work or not. But that’s just a guess so far. If that’s not enough stuff that science doesn’t get, there’s also potentially an inverse nocebo effect, where if you don’t believe a treatment will work, your symptoms will get worse. Our brains are weird, man.

2. Why are we getting repeating radio bursts from space?

Cue the History Channel “alien guy,” because this is clearly some extraterrestrial stuff, right? Slow down there, Captain SETI. Let’s lay out the basics first. A fast repeating signal burst from space, called FRB 121102, was first discovered in 2012. While we’ve come across some of these before, this one has repeated itself, though sporadically.

The bursts usually last about a millisecond, and we don’t yet know where they originate from. We know it’s from a galaxy 3 billion light-years away that was recently discovered, but that’s about all. The radio bursts, though short, are massive, containing as much energy as the sun produces in a day. The fact that it’s persistent and repeating makes scientists think the location could be near a black hole or a nebula. And the source itself has earned science’s best guess of a pulsar or neutron star. But that doesn’t mean the fantastical minds of scientists are ruling out extraterrestrial origins. What fun would it be to ruin those hopes?

1. How bicycles really work

What?? If science is really going to tell us they can’t figure out how a two-wheeled vehicle works, are we supposed to trust them about anything? And yet, the humble bicycle contains so much scientific mystery within.

Much of the mystery concerns the bicycle without a rider perched on it. If a bike is going fast enough, it’s going to want to balance itself so it doesn’t fall over. It even does with when someone is riding it, to a degree. That self-stability and why it occurs has eluded scientists since the 19th century. The commonly-held idea that the gyroscopic effect of the rotating front wheel keeps the bike stable has fallen apart under recent analysis. An alternate theory likens the wheel on a bicycle to the wheels on a shopping cart, in that they align themselves automatically in the direction being traveled. That also fell apart. It seems science does have a point where they just give up and break for lunch.


SETI, Bicycles, Gravity, Placebos and Baghdad –

WIF Scientific Mysteries

You Are Missing These Things – WIF Simple Pleasures

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The Modern World

Has Robbed You

of These

Simple Pleasures

There are a lot of great things about the modern world, including instant communication, a wealth of amazing entertainment options, access (depending on your part of the world) to some of the best healthcare in history, and the ability to travel all over the world at incredible speeds that our ancestors would have found mind-boggling. However, all good things also have their downsides, and there are some negatives to our modern conveniences that we often don’t think too much about, sometimes because the modern convenience has hidden some past joys entirely from our view. In today’s article, we will go over 10 examples of this phenomenon.

10. An Unobstructed View Of The Night Sky

It used to be that most people could look up at the night sky and see an absolutely stunning vista. You could see a multitude of colored stars, and you could certainly imagine how your ancient ancestors could have once gazed up at that same sky, and imagined all the various powers that have been attributed to them in the past. Now, however, the modern world has largely taken that joy away from us. Due to light pollution, you often have to travel a good days drive from what some would call “civilization” in order to get a proper view of the night sky. Sometimes 50 miles or so can get you a decent view in one direction, but it is rarely going to get you a fully proper 360 degree view, unless you already live in an an area that’s relatively remote.

And even if you can get all the way to those few spots left, you will still have satellites, planes and other flying objects drifting through your view, and polluting the once pristine view of the night sky. While planes and all the city lights give us great convenience, there is an absolutely stunning view hiding right in plain sight, that most of us will live our entire lives never getting to see.

9. Leisurely, Peaceful Meals, With Time To Talk And Digest Our Food

Now, while some countries still take time to linger over meals for the sake of tradition (such as France and Greece), many other major powers such as the UK and the USA eat much quicker. An International Economic Study by the OECD Think Tank found that the United States spent about one hour total on average per day on meals, the UK only about one hour and 19 minutes, and the French, on average, spent two hours and 13 minutes on combined mealtimes, making them the most leisurely with their meals. The industrial revolution has made the world move incredibly fast, and people in many countries just find themselves spending less and less time eating food as the world becomes faster paced and they have to keep going quickly to survive.

It has been well established for some time that there is a strong link between weight gain and eating far too quickly, which is what makes this modern trend alarming. As people eat quicker and quicker in order to keep up with the fast paced modern world, they don’t take the time to properly digest their food, which makes it far easier to overeat. And of course, overeating is a huge contributor to obesity, and other serious weight gain related health problems.

8. Seeing A Phone Number We Don’t Recognize, And Not Being Afraid To Answer 

Phone calls have certainly gotten more advanced over the years, and even most of the older generation tends to agree that advances like caller ID, voicemail, and the like were really good ideas that made things a lot better. However, all the same, it used to be a lot more normal to answer a phone call from a number you didn’t recognize, without actually expecting some kind of devilry. Unfortunately, telephone scams are numerous and make up a staggering percentage of calls, so much that the telecoms and the FCC are trying to work to find a way to bring an end to it, or at least cut it down in a large way in the short term.

Elderly people often get fooled by scam calls the most, but the scammers, trying to find someone to steal from, will target anyone they can get to answer the phone for a little while, and will try to trick important financial details out of people. Now, no one really wants to answer a number they don’t recognize, as they are almost expecting it to be a scam caller of some kind, and with text, Facebook messenger and Snapchat, people tend to just communicate through those mediums in some way or another, and don’t bother to talk for more than a few minutes. The days of people simply calling and having a chat, or being able to answer an unknown number without paranoia, are mostly gone.

7. The Ability To “Go Offline” For A While Without Severe Anxiety

It used to be that before the internet and smartphones changed the world, people had to talk to each other, read a book or engage their hands in something perhaps a little more productive. At the very least, when spending time with someone else, they generally had to do something with them and make conversation. Now, however, people will spend hours hanging out staring at their phones, occasionally showing the other person a funny meme and making sure their phone is charged at all times.

And it is certainly a useful tool to have, but it has become an entertainment crutch for many people for any sort of boredom, and has become such a part of us that many people now get anxious and upset if they don’t have their phone on them or have it charged. According to a study by researchers from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences at the Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, roughly three quarters of young adults suffered anxiety like twitching, or even scratching when observed for research purposes without their smartphones.

6. Delayed Gratification Is Something A Lot Of Even Older People Are Forgetting 

It used to be that you had to wait for certain times for your TV shows to be on, but now anyone can typically just binge their favorite shows without bothering to even wait for commercial breaks, which means even many of the older generation are forgetting the joy of delayed gratification. Across all generations, whether it is a self-scan at the grocery store or a second drive thru lane at McDonald’s, we are all being trained to hate waiting for more than a few seconds.

No matter what the generation, people in developed countries seem to have become less and less willing to wait for anything, and this likely isn’t good for any of us overall. The evidence for this goes back to the famous Marshmallow study, conducted by Stanford professor Walter Mischel in the 1960s. He offered children a marshmallow, but told them if they could wait while the researchers were out of the room, they would get a second marshmallow. As you can imagine, some of the children went ahead and just ate the marshmallow, while others resisted the temptation. After following them for 40 years, the numbers showed better success at SATs and the like, and less issues with stress and substance abuse, among those who had waited to gain that second marshmallow. This suggests that delayed gratification is a very useful tool for success in life.

5. Learning A New Hobby (And Impressing Our Friends And Feeling Super Cool About It)

While this isn’t something we have lost entirely, there is a certain magic that is definitely gone, due to the ubiquity of the internet. Before the ability for everyone in the world to instantly record and upload anything they do, it actually took some exploring and discovering to get the information you needed for a brand new hobby, and then, once you actually figured it all out — or at least the basics of it — you were usually the only one any of your friends knew who could do something quite like that, at least at first (if it doesn’t catch on with others around you).

However, now we really have lost that simple happiness, as people have become so incredibly jaded. It isn’t as hard to get into a new hobby anymore, as you can find a billion tips on the internet, easy starter kits for everything, and a ton of people who can do it a lot better than you. And of course, it’s right at the fingertips of your friends, too. While they may still be somewhat impressed to see someone do it live, and encourage you as their friend, it certainly won’t wow them as much when they can go online and immediately find someone who can do it a million times better than you can, who has been doing it for years. It also can make it hard to keep up with your hobby when it’s so easy to compare yourself to actual experts, and feel discouraged at how long it takes you to reach that level. The internet has sort of ruined us. (Except this site, of course — keep reading this site, guys!)

4. Being Able To Relax Away From Unnatural Or Industrial Noises 

It really wasn’t that long ago, back before the industrial revolution, when we had a much more peaceful world (with regard to noise pollution and, well, regular pollution). There were no big factories belching smoke. You go back a little longer and we didn’t even have trains. No WiFi, constant radio communication, internet, or satellites, and no planes constantly flying overhead. All the sound pollution, both audible to the human ear and not, was almost entirely non-existent just a few hundred years ago, but now there is almost no escape from it. And while you have to go out of the way, you can get a mostly unobstructed view of the night sky if you travel far enough (although you will still see planes and such), but it is a much more difficult issue when it comes to noise.

Researchers who have tried to find any quiet spots on earth have only found spots that are temporarily quiet from unnatural sounds. No matter how far you go, at the very least, the occasional airplane will fly by and ruin the natural soundscape you were trying to enjoy. Planes may be convenient, but there are tens of thousands of flights every day, and the sound from them constantly soaring through the sky has made every corner of the globe a site for intermittent noise pollution.

3. Waking Up To Natural Circadian Rhythms Is An Almost Non-Existent Privilege 

It used to be we just kind of went to bed and got up based on our natural alarm clock, but electronic aids now wake the world up. This is also kind of necessary now, because almost no one goes to bed shortly after sundown, or gets up at sunrise anymore. The privilege of simply going to bed like everyone else does, and knowing the whole world has pretty much the same schedule and will be waiting for you when you get up, is gone.

Now we go to bed at all sorts of weird hours, sometimes for only brief snatches, and many types of workers have schedules where shifts change throughout the week, leaving their poor bodies even more confused. On top of that, many are so trapped by social media, that even waking up for a brief moment, they have to check their feed — this kind of behavior is not good for our sleep patterns.

2. There Is Now No Escape From Shocking, Horrible And Grotesquely Sensational News 

With the ubiquity of the internet and the 24-hour news cycle, we now have access to news from any corner of the world at all times and a corresponding need to fill air space. While you’ll see the occasional positive human interest story, the news is mostly dominated by the worst of the worst, and because of such instant, worldwide, mass communication, no editor has any trouble filling their entire news block with a stream of horrific goings on.

No longer are the days when the news could simply only find so much negative to give you, and wasn’t going to be on 24 hours a day regardless, so at least you got a break. For some people this puts them in a quandary, as they feel as a responsible person they should keep up with the news, but it can be hard to filter out the important things from the constant horror. No matter how important you think it is to keep up with it, you may want to be careful about your consumption. Multiple replicated studies have found that people who viewed negative news broadcasts have more anxiety afterwards, and are more likely to start talking at length about things that worry them, and make them out in their heads to be something far bigger than they are.

1. The Constant Fear Of A Lawsuit Over Everything Has Left Us All On Edge 

In the news over the past several years, we’ve seen a steady stream of stories about little kid’s lemonade stands getting shut down by city authorities, with the police sometimes literally coming in and tearing them down. And just recently, the State of Texas passed a law specifically aimed to not make it so impossible for children to run a simple lemonade stand. However, we have to understand that the reason behind the police taking down lemonade stands is not to be mean to children, but due to the way our modern world works. Today, it is not just the US legal system, but also American culture that has become extremely sue-happy.

State laws regarding licenses and permits, which these lemonade stands obviously don’t have, because they are run by children, require you to be inspected and get licensed, because it both protects the public safety, and protects the proprietor from lawsuits. Now of course some may consider it silly to sue a child, because if you get sick drinking lemonade from a child’s stand obviously you understand that you took the risk in your hands. However, if someone got sick, it could potentially open the child’s parent up to a lawsuit, and perhaps the city as well if it could be proven they were negligent in their duty to make sure roadside food stands are properly licensed and inspected for food safety. Whether it is a lemonade stand being smashed to bits by the police, or a parent freaking out at a neighborhood kid climbing their tree (over fear of them potentially falling), the lawsuit-happy culture of the modern world has left America on edge.


You Are Missing These Things –

WIF Simple Pleasures

When Bad Goes Happen – WIF Engineering Boo Boos

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Tragic Engineering

Miscalculations

In Space and Terra Firma

Engineers are one of the most important behind-the-scenes groups of people, and most of us just take them and their work for granted. The truth is that there can only be so many designers, and the vast majority of engineers do the un-glamorous, but no less important work, of building, testing, and improving things for safety to make sure nobody gets hurt and no one has to pay for large amounts of property damages. However, when you don’t hire enough skilled engineers to properly focus on safety, and do that all-important work that they do, you can end up with examples like the 10 tragic events in today’s list.

10. The Deepwater Horizon Disaster Gushed 130 Million Tons Of Oil Into The Ocean

Back in 2010, BP’s Deepwater oil rig, operated by the Switzerland based company Transocean Ltd., suffered a massive blowout, and the world watched in shock and horror. Eleven people died and 17 were injured in the initial blowout, and immediately people wanted to know how it had happened. But soon, something even more important became apparent: Due to the fact that the well was 35,055 feet under water, which was far deeper than any well in existence (and the only one that was in truly deep water), the oil that started leaking out quickly became a huge concern.

For years BP and Transocean had contended to regulators that their oil rig was fine because they were prepared for cleanup, but all they had were the same techniques that worked in shallow water. No company, BP or otherwise, had any real plan for how to stop a gushing oil leak coming out of the ocean floor in actually deep water. BP took 87 days before they managed to plug the leak, and during that time an estimated 130 million gallons of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, with the Audubon Society estimating a good one million birds and other marine life were killed by the spill. As for how it all occurred, it turned out there wasn’t a single reason the oil rig suffered a blowout. It was caused by multiple failures that could have been prevented in time if not for lax regulators, and a lax company culture from both BP and Transocean Ltd.

9. Earthquakes May Have Damaged The Fukushima Reactors Long Before The Tsunami

Most people know that that there was a meltdown at the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant after a tsunami several years back, but many don’t know the official story — or at least what some suspect is the true cause. The official story is that an earthquake knocked out the power to the plant, but apart from that it left the plant largely unharmed and functioning just fine. In fact, according to this official story, the plant only failed when the tsunami came along and destroyed their backup generators, after which the plant’s cooling system stopped working and the meltdown occurred.

However, investigative reporters who interviewed workers that had been at the plant when the earthquake occurred offer a version of events that differs a bit from that of the Japanese government. Many of them claim they saw significant damage to pipes, some of which led to cooling systems for the reactors. Others saw serious structural damage or other issues and claim they were already told to evacuate because of oxygen tanks exploding and pipes bursting well before the tsunami hit. Then, as they were leaving, the tsunami warning came and they had to go to the top of the building to wait to be rescued. While the government version of the events calls into question the safety of a reactor near the coast (due to the possibility of a tsunami), the second version of events calls into question any reactor of a similar design that is in any kind of earthquake zone at all.

8. The Challenger Disaster Was Caused By An O-Ring, But Only Because Of Poor Decisions

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger was set to launch and it was going to be a truly epic affair. A schoolteacher had been chosen to join the six astronauts, in order to show that even normal civilians could go into space, and children around the country were watching the launch from their classrooms on that cold Tuesday morning. Unfortunately, the festive atmosphere soon turned tragic as the shuttle exploded before reaching the upper atmosphere, killing all seven people aboard. The Secretary of the State at the time, William P. Rogers, formed a commission to find the root cause.

They quickly found that the technical cause was a faulty o-ring. This small piece of plastic helped form seals in between the parts of the rocket boosters, and doesn’t operate well in cold — it tends to lose its elasticity. In fact, the commission found that despite knowing the o-ring didn’t function well below 53 degrees, they went ahead with the launch despite it being 36 degrees outside that morning. The commission found that there were concerns about the o-ring, but that they never reached the top of the chain of command. This is believed to have been due to incredibly poor communication, and that the top brass was desperate to get the launch done in time for Reagan’s State of the Union, so they weren’t particularly interested in learning about potential last minute problems that would delay the launch.

7. The Columbia Disaster Could Potentially Have Been Avoided As Well

The Columbia was a storied space shuttle that had been flying for decades and was set for its final mission. After many delays, it took off with a crew of seven on January 16, 2003. As the shuttle was launching, a piece of foam insulation broke off from the propellant tank and hit the left wing. Engineers at NASA tried to look at it with every camera angle they could and see how bad the damage was, but it was hard to make out. Now, NASA’s top management was not particularly concerned, as foam insulation had broken off at three launches in the past and hadn’t caused any critical damage. However, some felt that this time it might be critical, and pushed to use satellites to get a closer look.

Unfortunately, no one took that look during the Columbia’s two week mission, partly because some of the top brass felt there would be nothing they could do at that point even if critical damage had occurred. Then, on February 1, 2003, the space shuttle reentered Earth’s atmosphere and broke apart, killing all aboard and scattering debris far into the distance. The damage to the wing allowed the heat from reentry — along with the wind — to basically tear it apart, and after that the rest of the shuttle wasn’t far behind. While those in charge had decided to do nothing while the crew was in space, thinking nothing could be done, they were wrong. Later studies found that rescue, or even a possible repair by spacewalk, could have been done — NASA’s top management just didn’t take the danger that seriously.

6. The Apollo One Fire Almost Put An Early End To US Ambitions To Fly To The Moon

On January 27, 1967, NASA was testing their Apollo One command module, in advance of attempting a potential flight to the moon. There were three astronauts aboard: Roger Chaffee, Ed White, and Gus Grissom, and they were bolted into the pressurized compartment to begin the launch tests. While the tests were not proceeding particularly well and they were having technical issues, things were not anything beyond frustrating until the call of “Flames!” came over the communications equipment from inside the command module. The workers outside did everything they could to get the door open, but by the time they had, it was too late and all three astronauts were dead — the Apollo program was then shelved for 18 months while the situation was investigated.

The United States lost three pioneering astronauts that day, but at least NASA did learn something from the situation. It turns out that a single spark from a faulty piece of equipment had spread like wildfire in the all-oxygen environment of the cabin, and to make matters worse, most of the material they were sitting on and around was highly flammable. On top of that, the highly secured door usually took a good minute and a half to open at the best of times, and with the extra pressure in the air from the fire, they just really didn’t have a chance. While this should have been something NASA accounted for to begin with, they made future doors much quicker to open, replaced the flammable materials, and made the air an oxygen and nitrogen mix that would not so easily spread fire all over the place.

5. The Boeing 737 Max Crashes And Subsequent Scandal Are Harming Boeing’s Reputation

On October 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 went down over the Java Sea carrying a full load of passengers — 181 passengers and eight crew members all perished. Then, on March 10, 2019, Ethiopia Airlines Flight 302 crashed and took 149 passengers and eight crew members with it. While plane crashes are always alarming, experts noticed that there were similarities between the two crashes, and that both involved the new Boeing 737 Max Jet.

The system that allegedly caused all the trouble was called Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation Systems, or MCAS for short. The system used two sensors to determine the nose of the planes’ so called “angle of attack” and adjust it if it thinks it is necessary, even if the pilot disagrees. On the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, the black box showed that the plane was dangerously changing the angle of attack, and despite the pilot and copilot’s constant and best efforts, they could not prevent an uncontrollable nosedive.

Boeing has been under fire because regulators around the world allege the system did not have enough redundancy to spot malfunctions, that pilots were not given proper knowledge of it (or proper training for it), and that the limited information they did give on how to deal with a malfunction was used by the pilot and copilot in the Ethiopian Airlines crash and that it did not save them. Due to the loss in reputation, Boeing has had to scale back production to 42 jets from 52 and the 737 Max remains grounded worldwide until Boeing satisfies people’s fears.

4. The Chernobyl Disaster Was Caused By A Poorly Done Safety Test And Inadequate Design

The Chernobyl disaster occurred on April 26, 1986, when Soviet engineers were doing a test on the number 4 reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in order to ascertain if the emergency water pumps could be run on inertial power. In order to prepare for their test, they actually disabled the emergency safety systems of the reactor the night before. They also removed quite a few of the control rods for the reactor as well, which are used to control power output. When their experiment didn’t work and they started to worry about meltdown, they reinserted all 200 control rods at once, which turned out to be a fatal mistake. The rods had graphite tips, which when inserted under already volatile circumstances caused a chemical reaction that blew the concrete and steel roof right off the reactor.

The disaster killed two people immediately, and at least 28 workers later succumbed to radiation poisoning. The fallout is said to have poisoned thousands and it led the entire world to put a lot more thought and effort into nuclear safety. The disaster was such a gigantic blow to the Soviet Union that Mikhail Gorbachev later lamented that it may have been Chernobyl that truly led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

3. The Grenfell Tower Fire Highlighted The Possibility Of Future, Similar Tragedies

On June 14, 2017, a fire rapidly spread through Grenfell Tower in West London. By the time the smoke had cleared, upwards of 80 people had died and dozens more were injured. The tragedy became global news and the entire world looked on in horror, as we all watched the building burn before our eyes. It was quickly discovered that the reason the fire was able to spread so rapidly was due to a cladding on the outside of the building, which was there both to spruce up the design and also slightly increase energy efficiency. Now, this cladding is usually aluminium, and has some kind of filler inside, and those fillers can be fire retardant. Unfortunately, the filler in the cladding at Grenfell tower was highly flammable, and the fire quickly raced all around the building.

After the tragedy, authorities in London have now inspected a lot of buildings that have cladding, and found that most of them failed safety tests. This highlights a serious public safety concern, as it means there are many, many more buildings at risk of simple fires raging out of control.

2. The Hyatt Regency Hotel Walkway Collapse Killed 114 People And Injured Another 216

On July 17, 1981, there was a Tea Dance at the Hyatt Regency Hotel In Kansas City, and the ballroom was hosting about 1,600 people. The hotel had four floors, and upper walkways that extended across the main lobby area. The fourth floor walkway was positioned above the second floor walkway, and a couple dozen or so people were watching the dance from the walkways above the lobby. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the fourth floor walkway collapsed on top of the second floor walkway, which then collapsed the whole pile onto the dancing couples below.

The aftermath was utterly appalling and rescue workers likened it to a war zone. 114 people were killed and 216 were injured. Many of them were crushed in half, and others were suffocated or dealt with other awful injuries. Unsurprisingly, an inquest into the matter occurred as people wanted to know why such a catastrophic failure would happen. The issue was the second floor walkway had originally been intended to be suspended from the stronger ceiling supports, but was instead suspended from the fourth floor walkway. As for how such a bad decision could be made, the change was actually approved over the phone.

1. The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 Killed 21 People And Injured 150 More

If you haven’t heard of this tragic story before, it’ll likely sound too bizarre to be true. On January 15, 1919, a tank filled with 2.3 million gallons of molasses ruptured in Boston’s North End. The stories say that its initial speed was 35 miles-per-hour, and that it reached a wave of 25 feet high and 160 feet wide; 21 people were killed and at least 150 more were injured by the time all the molasses had settled. Many who were close to the explosion were simply pulverized, and others drowned in the goop as the kinetic forces dissipated and it turned back into its highly viscous consistency.

Back in the day they were never really sure what happened, but recent investigations have discovered that the tank was almost certainly just not adequate for the job. It was too thin, and while built to hold 2.5 million gallons of liquids, it wasn’t designed for a thicker liquid that might weigh more — like molasses — and had even shown signs of cracks that were ignored by the owners and operators of the tank. Some reports even say it was leaking so badly before it burst that children would come with cups to fill up from the cracks. It just goes to show that sometimes, on rare occasions, molasses actually flows quickly in January.


When Bad Goes Happen –

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Mars Without Matt Damon – WIF Far-off Travel

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Things to Know

About Visiting

Mars

Space travel has made exceptional progress over the years. It was only in July 1969 that man first walked on the moon, and now just 50 years later there are plans to send humans to Mars in the not-so-distant future. According to NASA, they plan to send humans to Mars by the year 2033.

There have been several spacecrafts that have landed on Mars – the United States has successfully landed eight on the Red Planet, including Opportunity and InSight. While the spacecrafts have conducted exceptional research on the planet, it’s not the same as having humans exploring the area.

Although it’s exciting to think about humans landing on Mars, they will encounter numerous problems during their exploration of our planetary neighbor. From long-lasting dust storms and exceptionally high radiation levels, to worrying about their food supply and their overall health, they will have several obstacles to overcome — not to mention to extremely long trip there and back. Let’s take a look at 10 of the most challenging obstacles the astronauts will face on their journey.

10. Mars May Still Be Volcanically Active

In a new study, it appears as though Mars may still be volcanically active. Located under solid ice at the South Pole, there is a lake of liquid water measuring 20 kilometers wide. While it was originally thought that the water stayed in liquid format because of dissolved salt as well as pressure from above the lake, new research provides a much different theory.

The new study concluded that the salt and pressure couldn’t have stopped the water from becoming frozen and that volcanic activity (more specifically a magma chamber that was created in the previous few hundred years) was the only way that it could have remained in liquid format.

Mars was definitely volcanically active in the past, as Olympus Mons is the biggest volcano in our entire solar system. Located near Olympus Mons are three other shield volcanoes called Tharsis Montes, and there are several more volcanoes on the Red Planet.

According to the study, magma from the planet’s interior came up to the surface around 300,000 years ago. Instead of breaking through the surface of the planet and creating a new volcano, it remained in a magma chamber located beneath the South Pole. When the magma chamber cooled down, it would have released a sufficient amount of heat in order to melt the water underneath the polar ice sheet. They believe that the heat is still being slowly released even to this day. The authors of the study suggest that if there was volcanic activity 300,000 years ago, there is a definite possibility that it’s still active today which could cause an issue for eventual visitors to the planet.

9. Scarce Food Sources

Astronauts need to eat and growing food on Mars would be a very difficult task. In fact, it would take several hundred years before farming could be conducted without protective greenhouses since the soil there contains perchlorates, which are harsh chemicals that would need to be removed before any plants could be grown.

In addition to the chemicals, gravity would also pose a problem as the planet only has around one-third of the gravity that’s here on Earth. Although some experiments have proved some plants can grow in the microgravity located on the International Space Station, that doesn’t mean that they’ll grow on Mars.

There is some hope, as revealed in a 2014 study that tomatoes, wheat, cress and mustard leaves were able to grow in simulated Martian soil without fertilizers for 50 days. But transforming Mars into a planet capable of growing plants would take hundreds of years for its thin atmosphere to contain enough oxygen.

Let’s say, for example, that humans could quickly transform the atmosphere in order to grow plants, the winters pose another huge problem as the temperatures can dip as low as -207 degrees Fahrenheit.

8. They’d Have To Wear Permanent Space Suits

Astronauts visiting Mars would have to wear permanent space suits during their trip as the planet is not suitable for humans. The suits would have to be flexible enough for the astronauts to work with construction materials as well as for using different machines. Plus, they have to be comfortable enough for them to essentially live in.

As for the atmosphere there, it’s comparable to being at an altitude of 25 kilometers on Earth, which means that the air would be much too thin for humans to breathe. In addition to the thin air, there is way too much carbon dioxide and not enough oxygen. And since the winter temperatures can get as low as -207 degrees Fahrenheit, the astronauts need warm space suits to keep their blood circulating throughout their bodies. These spacesuits will be their life-line, so they need to be made perfectly for the astronauts to survive their exploration trip to our planetary neighbor.

7. Creating A Human Civilization May Not Be So Easy

Obviously, the astronauts exploring the Red Planet wouldn’t be there to create Martian families, but there is much talk about one day humans colonizing there permanently. That may not be as easy as it sounds. Just the lack of gravitational pull and the high amount of radiation are enough to severely damage a fetus. While there have been several experiments involving mice, rats, frogs, salamanders, fish, and plants to see if they could successfully reproduce in space, results have been inconclusive.

While mice and humans are obviously different, based on the experiments conducted, as of right now it’s not looking good for humans to successfully reproduce on Mars.

6. Landing And Returning

Landing on Mars will not be a smooth ride. For example, when NASA’s InSight spacecraft entered into the atmosphere on Mars, it was moving at a whopping 12,300 MPH. While it was descending through the atmosphere, it had to slow down to just 5 MPH before landing on the surface. The deceleration happened in less than seven minutes, which NASA engineers referred to as “seven minutes of terror.”

Since we know how to land on the Red Planet – although it will most likely be one rough landing – leaving Mars may not be so easy. The Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) will be powered by liquid oxygen and methane, with all of the ingredients (hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen) being available on Mars. The atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide, so that would be relatively easy to get; however, drilling for water would be much more challenging as they wouldn’t be 100% certain that water lies underneath them. Assuming they would get the necessary ingredients for the fuel, taking off from the harsh environment and atmosphere on Mars may not be an easy lift-off.

5. Long-Lasting Dust Storms

Mars is definitely known for their massive dust storms – some of which are so huge that they can be seen from Earth-bound telescopes. As a matter of fact, some dust storms cover the same area as an entire continent, lasting for several weeks. And approximately every three Mars years (or five and a half Earth years), a gigantic dust storm covers the entire Red Planet which are known as “global dust storms.” The good thing about the dust storms is that the strongest winds only reach approximately 60 miles per hour, so it’s very unlikely that they would damage any spacecrafts.

On the other hand, the small dust particles tend to stick to surfaces and even mechanical gears. One specific problem would be the solar panels and if enough dust would cover them, they wouldn’t be able to absorb as much sunlight in order to get the energy to power the equipment.

4. Extremely Rough Terrain And Chilling Weather

The very rough and rocky terrain on Mars could cause problems for the spacecraft as well as the astronauts who are trying to walk around on the surface. The planet is covered with rocks, canyons, volcanoes, craters, and dry lake beds, as well as red dust covering the majority of the surface. The Curiosity rover experienced such problems when, in 2013, it came upon an area with sharp rocks that looked similar to spikes. The sharp rocks – that looked like 3 to 4 inch teeth from a shark – were most likely created by the wind. These sharp rocks could dent and even puncture wheels, not to mention how impossible they’d be to walk on.

Astronauts visiting the Red Planet will certainly not be accustomed to its extremely freezing cold temperatures. The average temperature on the planet is a frigid -80 degrees Fahrenheit and can get as low as -207 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter. They would need special spacesuits that would keep them warm from the chilling temperatures.

3. High Levels Of Radiation And Very Little Gravity

Since Mars has a much thinner atmosphere than Earth, humans visiting the Red Planet will have very little protection against the high levels of radiation. In fact, they have to worry about two dangerous sources of radiation. The first are the dangerous solar flares that come from our sun, for which they’ll need proper protection. The second are particles from galactic cosmic rays that pass through the solar system almost at the speed of light and can damage anything they hit, such as the spacecraft or even the astronauts themselves. The spacesuits, as well as the spacecrafts, will need to be made from materials that will shield them from the high levels of radiation.

Another major problem is that the gravity on Mars is only a fraction of what it is on Earth. In fact, the gravity on the Red Planet is 62% lower than it is here on our planet. To better understand, if a person weighs 220 pounds on Earth, they would weigh just 84 pounds on Mars. There are several factors that contribute to its lower gravity, such as density, mass, and radius of the planet. While both planets have nearly the same land surface, Mars has just 15% of our planet’s volume and only 11% of our mass.

While it’s still uncertain what long-term effects the change in gravity would have on the astronauts’ health, research indicates that the effects of microgravity would cause loss of bone density, muscle mass, organ function, and eyesight.

2. The Long Journey To Mars

Before the astronauts even get to Mars, they would have to endure an exceptionally long journey just to get there. As for how long the trip would actually take, there are several factors to take into consideration, such as where the planets are positioned in the solar system at the time of the launch, since the distance between them is always changing as they go around the sun.

While the average distance between Mars and Earth is 140 million miles, they do get much closer to each other depending on their position around the sun. The two planets would be closest to each other when Mars is located at its closest position to the sun and the Earth is at its farthest position. At that point, the two planets would be 33.9 million miles away from each other. When the planets are located on opposite sides of the sun, they are at a distance of 250 million miles from each other.

According to NASA, the ideal launch to Mars would take approximately nine months. And that’s just how long it would take to get there. It would take another nine months or so to return back to Earth, along with however long they end up staying on the Red Planet.

1. Mental And Physical Health Issues

In addition to the rough terrain, freezing temperatures, and dust storms, astronauts would also have to worry about the mental and physical health issues that they could develop. The process of going from two highly different gravitational fields would affect their spatial orientation, balance, mobility, motion sickness, hand-eye and head-eye coordination.

Being confined to a small space on an unpopulated planet away from family and friends for several months or years would be mentally hard on them. They could develop a drop in their mood, morale, cognition, or a decline in their daily interactions (misunderstandings and impaired communication). In addition, they could develop sleep disorders, fatigue, or even depression.

Being in an enclosed area makes it very easy for one person to transfer germs to the others, which could cause illnesses, allergies, or diseases.

The biggest health factor is the high levels of radiation on Mars, which could increase their chances of developing cancer. Radiation can damage their central nervous system, causing changes to their cognitive function, their behavior, and reducing their motor function. It could also cause nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and anorexia. Cardiac and circulatory diseases, as well as cataracts, could additionally develop.


Mars Without Matt Damon –

WIF Far-off Travel