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Monthly Archives: July 2009

They are big red signs to prevent this kind of tragedy. They warn all drivers in foot-tall letters “Wrong Way,” practically screaming at those behind the wheel to enter at the risk of possible death. Apparently a 36-year-old mother and aunt didn’t notice this sign as she turned onto the Taconic State Parkway just north of New York Sunday afternoon.

After driving down the road for a ways, the van the mother was driving collided with another vehicle, killing eight people in a wreck suited for Hollywood.

Why did this mom not pay attention to the sign? That is the question the police and family members are asking right now. While I don’t know the majority of the facts, like whether drugs or alcohol were involved, but I do have a theory.

I think the mom just didn’t see the sign. Researchers define this as “inattentional blindness.”

“We perceive and remember only those objects and details that receive focused attention,” said Daniel Simons, a psychology professor.

If the mother was not focused on the task at hand, driving, the there is a good possiblity that the sign didn’t even register in her brain. With a van full of children, it would of been easy for the mom to be distracted by an argument about a toy or a brother pinching a sister.

As the mother turned the wrong way onto the road, she could of had no idea that she was hurtling towards an unpleasant death. So stop reading this blog on your phone and start paying attention to the road!

roar!

roar!

Your palms start to sweat, checks become ashen as your blood is redirected to your skeletal muscles, pupils become as big as marbles. Your heartbeat quickens along with your breath. All of this is happening because a cocktail of chemicals are coursing through your veins. Cortisol and epinephrine are the main ingredients, along with a dash of norepinephrine for good measure.

No, you haven’t been drugged, at least not by anyone besides yourself. These chemicals are the human brain’s response to stressful situations, commonly referred to as the fight-or-flight response. Evolved over several millenia, this physiological reaction helped our ancestors out-run predators and gave (and still give us) them the ability to preform superhuman feats of strength.

Anytime you hear about a mom lifting a car to save her baby, or a climber throwing a boulder off a buddy and then carrying him to safety, it is possible because of the fight-or-flight response. But that doesn’t mean everything about this brain chemical cocktail is positive. It also makes you dumb.

Your vision and hearing are narrowed. Most likely your hearing will be almost completely gone and your peripheral vision will cease to exist. And your reasoning, your executive thoughts, what sets us humans apart from our chimpanzee relatives, shuts down. Without this higher level of thinking, people can make dumb mistakes that us living look back on and wonder ‘what were they thinking?’

The answer is, they weren’t.

Circumnavigating the earth in a sailboat is a dangerous proposition, even for those who have done it before. Look at the example of Quen Cultra. He had done the Ferdinand Magellan dance before. But on his latest attempt, the boat was capsized and only one of the three men on board survived.

Unfortunate as that is, it makes what Zac Sunderland is doing that more impressive. Sunderland is expected to complete his circumnavigation of the globe in is 36′ sailboat, the Intrepid, this morning. It took Sunderland 13 months to complete the journey, and he did it all before his 18th birthday.

This has to make you ask, what have I done with my life in the past 13 months?

Sunderland’s Web site can be found here.

Predicting the future is usually best left to the sages and mathematicians, both who come to their answers in equally mysterious ways. The sages of the scientific community have been foretelling of a giant earthquake in California’s immediate future. So far nature has yet to deliver on this promise, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be taking preventative measures.

Today the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation will be shaking a 6-story wooden condo at a force equal to a 6 on the Richter scale. This building has been undergoing ramped up test in Miki, Japan for the past several weeks. So far it has survived with minimal damage.

THIS IS A PREVIOUS TEST

“Basically, what happens during an earthquake in multiple-story building is something called a ’soft story,’” John van de Lindt of Colorado State University, the condo designer, told Wired. “It’s not as stiff as the story above it, and the earthquake demands more stiffness from the lower story. This can develop into a pancake collapse, which damages the building and can kill people.”

There will be an update today after the live Webcast of the test.

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There have been two major plane crashes with only one survivor since the first of June. The planes’ destination, France, wasn’t the only thing they had in common: both planes were Airbuses. A third Airbus plane almost joined this trend on June 9, 2009.

Flying from San Fransisco to Tokyo, the Northwest flight reported an engine failure shortly after takeoff. It was able to return to San Fransisco safely and there were no casualties reported for the 194 on board.

Despite the safe landing, the question needs to be asked, are Airbus planes safe? I don’t have the definitive answer but think someone should be looking into it.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about decision making recently in an effort to figure out why people do the things they do. Now this is obviously a daunting task and I don’t expect to find a definitive answer. Much smarter people have been trying to figure this out since Plato.

The death of five people in Detroit is a prime example of why I am curious about the subject. A young man, 19-years-old, was driving a Ford Fusion when he came to a railroad crossing. The warning signals were going off and a sports utility vehicle was stopped in front of him.

Despite all these warning signs, the man swerved around the white SUV, attempted to cross the tracks was was struck by the train, killing himself and the four other people in his car. So far, there is no indication of drugs or alcohol, but obviously his judgment was impaired by something.

Had he faced a similar situation and escaped without harm? If so, then that model would be imprinted in his memory and maybe he was just following the pattern of success. Maybe he had somewhere important to be and weighed his options and thought the risk would be worth the reward. We don’t know, and I doubt we ever will. But just by examining what could have been going on in his head, I think we can learn from the tragedy and avoid a similar situation ourselves.

Video of the incident can be seen here.