Wise Guys on WHO Radio - July 13, 2013
Brian Gongol

Science and health

One lesson of the Asiana crash: Don't trust eyewitnesses
People form very strong opinions about what they saw, even when they're completely wrong. A BBC News article about the crash quotes a passenger who says "the plane appeared to be coming in too fast", and a witness who says that the plane "looked out of control" as it came in. But the very first conclusion shared by the NTSB is that the plane was "significantly below" standard approach speed. In other words, it wasn't "too fast" at all -- it was way, way too slow. And as for being "out of control", one can see quite clearly from a crash video shown on CNN that there was nothing visibly "out of control" about the approach. And early on, the Associated Press was quoting an eyewitness who said the plane cartwheeled, when it clearly did not. They have since revised the published version of the story to remove the cartwheeling reference, but it was clearly used in the original. The fact we have so many erroneous observations from eyewitnesses that contradict the evidence just goes to show that you cannot accept eyewitness testimony without corroborating evidence. It just isn't reliable.

Do not fall for the story that "psychic powers" found a murdered boy in California
A woman claims she had "visions" that told her where to find the body of a missing boy. But let's examine the evidence: The body was found on the property of his family's home, which was a highly likely place to search. And the body was actually located when her kids (10 and 12 years old, mind you) smelled the body and saw a mound in the dirt. None of this -- not one thing -- suggests anything other than a hunch (backed by a little use of Google Maps) that is convenient to back-fill with a good storyline about "visions" and a little dramatic license. ■ What reasonable person, legitimately believing him- or herself to discover a dead body, would bring along two pre-teen children for the search, undoubtedly leaving them with terrible memories for life? But, no...this story will be used to legitimize the role of self-appointed "psychics", who waste the precious resources of law enforcement and give worried families false hopes and fake reasons to grieve. ■ Everyone has intuition -- that's just the result of the subconscious mind assembling conclusions while the conscious mind isn't paying attention. And some people may be better than others at assembling those intuitions -- but there is still no evidence to prove that anyone has psychic powers of the type widely claimed in these cases. Purely by coincidence (and practice), "psychics" will occasionally get a call right, just like some people will win lotteries by choosing their children's birthdays. There is no magical power behind it -- and anyone who claims that there is must show the evidence to be believed. ■ A great way to lose an argument is to overstate your case. "Psychics" overstate their case, when they could be saying "I have a hunch, and I think my intuition is better than yours."

Smartphones as earthquake detectors
Earthquake shock waves travel quickly, but not so quickly that early detection couldn't help save lives. If a seismic wave travels at 1 kilometer per second, that means a place 20 miles away from an epicenter could have half a minute of warning before the shock arrived. Even just a few seconds could be enough to shut down industrial processes, bring trains to a stop, or close off bridges and tunnels to traffic.

HPV vaccines prove profoundly effective at preventing cervical cancer
In the HPV vaccine, we have -- literally -- a vaccine against cancer that proves so effective it lowers cancer rates by more than 50%. This is a remarkable breakthrough.

Always wash your fruits and vegetables
The parasite cyclospora (which causes the illness cyclosporasis) has been found on vegetables being sold in Iowa and Nebraska, and it's making people sick. According to the CDC, "This most commonly occurs when food or water contaminated with feces is consumed." And now you know why safe, reliable public systems for sewage disposal and clean drinking water are essential.

Laws and regulations

Lawsuit alleges over-broad Florida law makes computers and smartphones illegal
The law was intended to crack down on slot machines, but it's pretty hard to distinguish electronic slot machines from other computers, particularly when the legal definitions are imprecise.

The US Postal Service photographs every envelope
How long are the records kept, and on whom? It should also be noted that much of what is done online is also being tracked.

Public safety and transportation

Boeing 787 catches fire at Heathrow
Fortunately, the Ethiopian Airways jet had no passengers aboard at the time

Every system is perfectly designed to deliver the results that come from it
So, with that in mind, it should be no surprise that the Air Force pays a lot more attention to manned aircraft than unmanned. The system is designed to promote pilots. That doesn't make it right or wrong; it just makes the outcome predictable.

Consumer products

Google will push a brand-new Motorola phone
It's rumored to be called the Moto X, and Google's putting a whole lot of money (possibly $500 million) into marketing it for sale with all four major national carriers this fall.

Nokia unveils smartphone with 41-megapixel camera
The Lumia 1020 is a Windows-based phone, and with photographic resolution like that, users can actually make use of digital zoom. By comparison, the highly-regarded Samsung Galaxy S3 phone has an 8-megapixel camera. So you can essentially view the Lumia 1020's pictures to five times the granularity (or "zoom-in" factor) without losing picture quality.

Grand Theft Auto 5 game trailer released
(Video) The level of programming detail involved in creating this role-playing game devoted entirely to behaving like a sociopath is...well...a little disturbing. Impressive, but disturbing.

Patch Tuesday for July 2013
Microsoft is out to fix a half-dozen critical vulnerabilities in its products. The company is also introducing a new policy to require app developers for its Windows Store and other app sources to fix vulnerabilities in 180 days (or less, if it's actively being exploited).

Pebble "smart-watches" are for sale at Best Buy
The watch synchronizes with Android and Apple smartphones, because now it's too much work to reach into one's pocket to retrieve one's phone