Archive for the 'Accidents' Category

Dec 09 2008

Rock On!

Once again, I feel like a mosquito at a nudist colony — I have so many options, I just don’t know where to begin!  Auto maker bailouts!  Corruptocratic politicians in Illinois!  International intrigue!

So of course, I’m going to talk a little bit about floating rocks.

I guess it’s a sign of either our sophistication or utter ignorance that we seem to be indifferent to the fact that the universe is filled with huge flippin’ rocks, many of them mountain-sized, just randomly floating around above our heads, with the occasional one just taking it into its rock-hard head to plunge to Earth in a roaring fireball, hopefully only taking out an abandoned mud-hut in Siberia, but every once in a while triggering a mass extinction event.

For some reason, I’ve witnessed three visible meteor strikes in my lifetime (which might explain my super powers), and even though these were insignificant little measured-in-pounds meteor runts, they’re still damn impressive to a hairless ape looking up at the display, mouth agape, from the ground.  Events like this make you start thinking about how very wrong it would be if you were taken out, utterly at random, by one of those suckers (Well, maybe for some of us — “Hey!  You hear about Mind Scalpel?” “What?  What???”  “Killed by a meteor strike!” . . . “Really?  Somehow that makes a strange sort of sense….”).

Anyway, good ol’ Ron Reagan famously speculated that the only way humanity would unite for the common good was if we were faced with a common enemy, like invading space aliens.  His critics had a field day twisting this, of course, but fundamentally he was right on — there’s nothing we’re quite so up for as a good rabble-rousing focused on demonized “others.”  Especially when we don’t have to scare up the torches and pitchforks ourselves — we’ve already funded the military with our tax dollars, after all.

But we only seem to get all het up when we’re able to put some face on the enemy.  If we were told an actual alien intelligence had malevolently set a bunch of mountains floating around, with one of them scheduled to hit Earth cataclysmically every few millenia, we’d come boiling up out of our gravity well in fleets of nuclear-powered space warships like army ants looking for honey.

But since they’re just randomly floating around for no apparent reason, well, hell, someone else can deal with it.  Maybe we’ll make a really crappy movie out of the potential for a world-ending meteor hitting us, but the production of that really crappy movie and the money thrown away on it will far exceed the money we’ll spend dealing with this potential problem.

“What’s the big deal?” you ask?  “The odds of a huge asteroid destroying the human race are minimal, like a fraction of a percent.”

First, I’d point out that they’re asteroids when they’re just floating around in space, minding their own airless business — they only become meteors when they enter our atmosphere intent on whacking us.  Second, quick lesson in risk management!  One has to consider both the probability of a particular adverse event happening, and the magnitude of the event if it happens.  Otherwise, you’re just dealing with one-half of the equation.

So someone hears that the frequency of a meteor strike with an explosive force of 10 megatons (roughly equivalent to 70 Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs) is about once every 1000 years, and figures “hey, no big deal” — because he’s just focusing on frequency.  Let’s say there’s only about a 1 in 20 chance of that strike encompassing a major population center (let’s say Los Angeles).  Even better, right?  Oversimplifying the math, we can call it a 1 in 20,000 chance in any particular year that such an event will occur.

But…Los Angeles has about 10 million people in it.  Let’s assume they’d all be vaporized by such a strike.

So every year there’s a 1 in 20,000 possibility that 10 million people will be vaporized by Big Pappy Meteor.  Working the averages, that means that on average, we’ll lose about 500 people per year to such meteor strikes.

And this does not factor in the secondary effects of such an enormous event — disruptions in the economy, food supplies, distribution, shipping and communications networks.  Such an event could potentially end a nation the size of the United States.  If the credit default swap market doesn’t finish the job first, that is.

And by the way, meteors with an explosive force of 1 megaton (a mere 7 times a Hiroshima-killer) enter our atmosphere every 100 years.  Let’s say there’s only a 1 in 50 chance that one of these will hit an L.A.-sized target (smaller blast radius).  That still works out to 2000 people per year, on average, killed by meteors (yeah, yeah, all you probability and statistics people — I know the exact number’s a bit different — lighten up!  When you’re dealing with nukes you don’t need pinpoint accuracy!).

And if we’re talking about a world-ender, well, even if something like that only happens every million years, there are maybe 6.75 billion people on Earth, so that translates into about 6,750 people annually being killed by such an event (on average, not factoring in population growth).

So maybe a little prevention’s worth it.

Then again, I do believe in the wisdom of crowds.  Maybe there’s a hidden reason people might be willing to risk a meteor strike without any means of defense.

I know!  They figure the possibility that a medium-sized meteor will take out Washington, D.C., however slim, makes it a gamble worth taking….

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May 20 2008

Osama bin Laden: A Cappella Geek

I knew we hadn’t fully plumbed the depths of this evil man’s depravity and hatred of all humankind. In addition to his advocacy of mass murder against innocent civilians, this cave-hiding nutjob, according to Newsweek, was an a cappella aficionado:

According to “Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory,” by author Mickey Rapkin, the teenage bin Laden—who opposed the use of instruments—organized a group with his pals. That discovery “was pretty weird,” says Rapkin. “It just shows that a cappella is everywhere.”

My God. Is there no limit to this fiend’s degeneracy? The sooner we MOAB this squirrel, the better.

As an aside, it makes a lunatic kind of sense — I believe certain fundamentalist Muslims oppose the use of musical instruments, so what’s left is a cappella (which is Latin for “without cappella”). No wonder they’re all flagellating themselves! How are they supposed to rock without guitars? Sheesh. Of course, we could always use loudly-played bad a cappella as a stress tactic at Guantanamo. But then the ACLU would be all over us like ugly on a moose.

Now, before all you a cappella fans start coming at me with your feeble little girl-slaps, be aware that I happen to be a fan as well. As those select few who know me know. Shout out to CASA! And check out Pandaemonium, the winner of this year’s Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards. Bin Laden never got a CARA award, I’ll tell you that!

Come to think of it, that could be what pushed him over the edge….

Update: You can now buy the book that was the original source of Newsweek’s revelation through — choose Amazon or Barnes & Noble, below…

Amazon Barnes & Noble

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Apr 14 2008

Rules of the Road Rage II — Shun Politeness

Published by under Accidents

And another thing!

Look, people, if you’re on the road and you decide to do something really rude, like cut someone off or shove in front of someone, the worst, the absolute worst, thing you can then do is get an attack of the guilts and decide to be randomly polite.

Why? Because it screws everyone else up, that’s why.

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Apr 13 2008

Commuters — Choose Your Enemy

Published by under Accidents

Sorry about the hiatus, all. I have a few other projects in beta, though none is the labor of love that is

In addition to the coding, I have been focused on traffic. Not the tasty revenue-generating high-volume internet traffic kind of traffic, but rather the paint-drying, teeth-gnashing automobile traffic kind of traffic. And I realized that since an increasing number of us are spending an increasing amount of time sitting in our 0-to-60-in-4.0-seconds sports cars (which, ironically, we never really get to test, since we’re always — that’s right — SITTING IN TRAFFIC), we all need to realize that pretty much every single one of us chooses at least two other people to hate — hate with the hot, hot hate of a thousand burning suns — for the duration of our daily commutes.

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Feb 27 2008

Terrorism: The Cure for What Ails You

Apparently the threat of terrorism is like cumin, or chili powder: sprinkle it on an epic screw-up and it makes everything taste a lot better.

Witness what happened recently in Florida, which was plunged briefly back into the Stone Age by rolling power outages. In practically every article about that event, there was a statement that the blackouts did not appear to be caused by terrorism.

Wow! That makes me feel so much better! It’s very comforting to know that, through no intentional act, an entire slice of United States civilization was taken off-line, just by completely random events. We can all rest much easier now.

One gets the feeling that we’ll start seeing news squibs like the following:

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Feb 08 2008

Product Reviews You Can Use #1 — Uncomfortable Global Positioning

Some blogs and web sites review consumer products by giving you useless and irrelevant information like price, ease of use, feature sets and quality.

Not this one! Here, we’re just concerned with the things that really matter about products – the social problems they solve, or introduce, in real life, not some ridiculously objective findings derived from some comprehensive, carefully-considered, long-term test.

Take, for example, those fancy GPS navigation units that everyone is getting in their cars (and, concomitantly, getting stolen from their cars, which, in my opinion, is just about the height of irony – “Hey, what happened to your highly-precise satellite-linked geolocation unit?” “I don’t know! I have no idea where it is!”).

It’s true, I finally got one as a gift, and I’ve been using it with some success, but mostly with catastrophic failure. So, to save some of you GPS novices out there from some traps for the unwary, I have put together a few pointers from bitter personal experience:

  • Your GPS unit cannot be used as a substitute for visibility out of your windshield! So, no driving in total fog, white-out conditions, or while waiting for your windshield to defrost by referencing only your GPS screen. Turns out that in spite of its resemblance to a “heads-up display” there’s a slight mismatch between where your GPS is showing you to be on that steep mountainside road and where you actually are on the steep mountainside road. So scrape that windshield!
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Jan 21 2008

World’s Most Horrific Piano Chord…

I know you’ve heard the commercials — you’re driving along, listening to the radio, and suddenly some guy says in an incredibly matter-of-fact voice “Hello, my name is Stan O’Hanlahan…”.

And then the hushed, minor-key Piano Chord from Hell plays: “*PLING*”

Stan O’Hanlahan then, incredibly matter-of-factly, spends the next thirty seconds describing an escalating odyssey into Disease Hell that begins with him talking about how he was a normal guy, just driving along listening to the radio, and segueing rapidly (but still incredibly matter-of-factly) into a series of health disasters, most always involving some form of cancer, and usually tossing in a tidbit of soul-crushing detail (“and then my eyes exploded” or “I tried to hug my daughter but my arms fell off”) that is clearly designed to freak you out, finally moving on to how the drug company selflessly developed a life-saving cure that brought him back to normal (with a realistic and lawyer-inspired note of caution, like “of course, this doesn’t work for everyone, and I still have no eyes/arms, but…”) while the music changes from the minor key to a major key, the joyous oboe kicks in, and some soothing woman comes on and breathes the drug company’s name gently into your ear a few times.
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Jan 18 2008

“You Brought It On Yourself, Buddy…”

Published by under Accidents,Darwinism,WTF?

Substantially lowering the bar for the degree of care zoos owe their visitors, most recent news reports about the three guys who were attacked and/or eaten by a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo seem to focus on whether the three guys were taunting the tiger.

Can someone explain to me exactly how this is relevant to anything?

I mean, if the Zoo is trying to defend itself against accusations of negligence by saying “heck, they would have been perfectly safe if they hadn’t pissed off the tiger,” isn’t that kind of overwhelmed by the fact that these guys were attacked and/or eaten by the freaking tiger?

I feel that this relatively important point is being lost in the chattering inquiry about whether the guys had smoked marijuana, were drunk, or had stood on the railing outside the tiger pit making faces and yelling at it.

If I had known that the various moats, pits, chains, fences and cages in zoos were just for show and the psychological comfort of human visitors — you know, maybe gentle suggestions to the animals that they might want to consider avoiding mauling the human visitors, rather than, say, things that actually prevented them from mauling the human visitors I can tell you that my zoo-visiting procedures would have been substantially different.

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