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We especially enjoyed the Twitter wit who reported that the United States Geological Survey rated the earthquake in Washington, DC,  as a magnitude 5.8, but Standard & Poor’s rating agency downgraded it to a 4.0.

Sexual Failure & the Social Network

Two social scientists have made an astonishing discovery. Or maybe Phrenological head. Jealousy must be in there someplace.not. Benjamin Cornwell at Cornell and Edward Laumann at the University of Chicago have published a study of erectile dysfunction and the social network. Or, as the title of the study says, “Network Position and Sexual Dysfunction: Implications of Partner Betweenness for Men.” (You probably never knew betweenness was a word; it probably wasn’t a word before these researches got to work.)

Their study showed that when a wife had more contact with her husband’s friends than he did, the chance that her husband would have trouble making love to her increased. Or as the researchers put it: “Men who experience partner betweenness in their joint relationships are more likely to have trouble getting or maintaining an erection and are also more likely to experience difficulty achieving orgasm during sex.”

Isn’t this called jealousy? Did this come as a surprise to the researchers? And isn’t that line in quotes a rather weird sentence? And do people ever achieve orgasm not during sex?

The two scientists also discovered that while this effect was most apparent for men in their 50s and early 60s, it just sort of disappeared for men in their 70s and 80s. Want to guess why? Don’t even try. Here’s the answer: “Older men’s greater focus on close, kin-oriented relationships increases their likelihood of adopting new definitions of masculinity that emphasize conveying experience and mentoring rather than independence and autonomy, and under these circumstances partner betweenness is less likely to trigger erectile dysfunction.” Now you know.

Hacking Your Cell Phone

It doesn’t take much to hack a cell phone. The British tabloid News of the World hacked a lot of cell phones in Great Britain, and phone users in the US are equally vulnerable. Hacking cell phones often relies on nothing more sophisticated than the laziness of the phone user.

Cell phone circuit board
Cell Phone Circuit Board

Most of us, when we acquire a cell phone, say, or a router for our computer or even a combination lock for a strong box — most of us don’t bother to change the PIN for the phone or the alphanumeric password for the router or the combination for the lock. Generally, people accept the default settings that manufacturers put on the gadgets we buy. The snoops at the News of the World simply used the default setting for the victim’s cell phones, and that gained them entry to the phone’s voice mail.

Even when the phone user has chosen a unique alphanumeric pass code,  some phone carriers allow the user the option of turning off the requirement to enter the code. That used to be considered reasonably  safe, because the phone carrier would permit access to voice mail messages only to calls coming from the user’s phone. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before hackers learned to “spoof”— in other words, learned to make it appear that the request came from the user’s phone.  The moral to this story is a familiar one: make up a good pass code and use it.

Just some flowers, damnit!We’re putting these flowers here just because we need a break from this all this heavy thinking. Besides, we like the way they look. The flower is called called foxglove and it belongs to a larger family called digitalis. You may have heard of digitalis as a medication for certain heart problems, specifically atrial fibrillation, a rapid and irregular heartbeat.  An extract from the foxglove plant was used as a remedy that disorder as far back as the late 18th century.  The name digitalis is appropriate, for the elongated bell shaped flower do fit neatly, glove like, over your finger tips — over your digits.  Get it? As for the name foxglove; well, there are lots of theories about that name but no one theory is agreed upon. And, anyway, we said we were posting this photo to escape heavy thinking.

DARPA Wants to Put Out Fires

DARPA is the acronym for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Flames You never heard of it? It’s the central research and development organization for the United States Department of Defense. The internet is probably the best known product to come from DARPA and, in fact, what you’re using at this moment was called darpanet before it was called internet.

DARPA sponsors research in many fields, some of them scary, many of them not known to the public, even though the agency itself is not remarkably or unnecessarily secretive. One of their not-so-secretive projects is fire suppression. As it says on their web site “Fire in a combat vehicle or other confined space puts warfighters at risk.  DARPA’s Instant Fire Suppression (IFS) program seeks to establish the feasibility of a novel flame-suppression system based on destabilization of flame plasma with electromagnetic fields, acoustics, ion injection, or other novel approaches.”

In other words, they’re interested in learning how to put out fires instantly with a blast of electro-magnetism or sound. And, in fact, in response to DARPA’s challenge, scientists have had some success. In Professor George Whiteside’s lab at Harvard University this year scientists were able to snuff out a flame a foot and a half tall by directing a strong electric field at it. When you have a fire, some of the fuel is separated into positively and negatively charged particles swirling in the gas that makes up the flame. And it’s been known for a long time that a static electric field could bend flames. Instead of using a static field, Whitesides’ group used an oscillating field. They pointed a wire wand, which had a high-voltage field flowing from its tip, at a flame and the flame was shoved so far from it’s source of fuel that it instantly went out. Extinguishing a flame in a laboratory isn’t the same as putting out an uncontrolled fire in the outside world, but it’s a start. If you’d like to read more, here’s a link to an article about the experiment in Harvard Magazine.

More Notes

The World Happiness Report, released by the United Nations, ranks countries on six key variables that support well-being: income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity. This year, Finland is first, followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland, followed by Netherlands, Canada,New Zealand, Sweden, Australia. The United States, which has never been in the top ten, silpped down four places from last year and is now 18th. President Trump may make American Great Again, but apparently not happier.