Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast that’s cooler than your uncle.
I’m your host this week, Shea, and with me are my two favorite people, Steve and Aaron
I’m Aaron, and this week I learned that all moms are, technically, bodybuilders…
I’m Steve, and yesterday I learned about Wordle and it’s a damn good thing you can only do one puzzle a day.
HL1: Burning Ring of Fire!
Good news everybody! The leader of Turkmenistan, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov — you may remember him as the guy who was too mean to a puppy, for Putin — has urged the lawmaker to finally close the Gates of Hell now that he’s done doing donuts on Satan’s lawn.
Look at your phones now for a pic.
Gurbanguly, in 2019, shot his shot for YouTube fame by doing donuts next to the Gates in a bid to disprove rumors he was dead.
The Gates of Hell opened in 1971 during a Soviet drilling operation looking for natural gas. Uninterested in a skylight, Satan just collapsed the whole damn operation, drilling equipment and all, leaving a 230 foot wide, gaping hell-mouth that’s been burning ever since.
The Gates of Hell, or as they’re less Biblically known, the Darvaza gas crater, is a roughly 65-foot-deep crater. The collapse of the drilling equipment left all that gas they were after venting into the atmosphere. Fearing the noxious methane leak geologists at the time decided to fix the problem by adding fire. They expected it to burn out in a day or two… it’s still burning.
Of course, it smells like a burning Hell pit so living nearby is not ideal, but the pit is Turkmenistan’s largest tourist sight. The president is betting that putting out the flame and collecting the gas is worth more than the foot traffic so… we’re finally going to do something about the environmental mess that is, essentially, a man-made eternal flame-hole.
3 Centuries Later…
I’ve often said of the Catholic Church that if you put something in their complaint box today, they’ll get to it in a few short centuries…
Turns out I was right.
In 1730 the church was made aware of a grave injustice — no, not the kiddie diddling, we’ll have to wait until 2312 for them to do anything about that if this timeline holds — I’m referring to that most evil of topics, most sinful of events, Vivaldi’s “Il Farnace.”
The Opera was banned in the northern-Italian city of Ferrara in 1739 by Cardinal Tommaso Ruffo because Vivaldi, a conscripted Priest, had stopped going to Mass and was said to be in a relationship with those most vexing and depraved of creatures, a woman, called Anna Grio.
This effectively ended Vivaldi, leaving one of, if not the, most influential Baroque composers to die in exile a pauper.
Now, some 300 years later, Ferrara Archbishop Giancarlo Perego attended the opening of “Il Farnace” in Ferrara — which is as close to a mea culpa as you’re going to get from the Catholic Church.
The Grass Is Greener in the Matrix
Shea has been playing the hell out of his new Oculus Rift, but it’s time to answer the hard questions: has it made you produce more milk?
That’s the going theory within Turkey where cattle breeder and rancher, Izzet Kocak, is using Moscow-vet approved VR headsets to trick his cattle into thinking they’re happy.
The basic idea is, you get some cheap VR goggles from Russia, program them to show the Windows XP wallpaper, and then strap them to cows. The cows, which are locked in a barn, see green fields and open skies, helping with what appears to be massive cow depression.
Currently being tested on two very lucky bovines, their milk production increased from roughly 22 liters to 27 liters. “They are watching a green pasture and it gives them an emotional boost,” explained Izzet.
According to Russia’s Ministry of Agriculture in Moscow, the OG VR cow tests helped decrease the cow’s anxiety… Also, how in 2022 is it that even our cows have anxiety disorders now?
For his part, I guess Turkish milk is valuable as Izzet plans to buy 10 more devices for his other cows.
Jab before buzz
Want more evidence that the people who are against getting the jab are full of it when they say they have a moral objection? Just look to Quebec for a prime example. On January 6th, the Quebec Health Minister, Christian Dubé, announced that after January 18th, all Quebecers will have to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination to enter establishments that sell alcohol or cannabis. How’s that for using the stick on the unvaxxed. You can remain unprotected if you’d like, but you’ll have to do it sober. Well, heaven forbid, as a result, appointments for the first jab rose sharply from about 1500 per day to over 6000. That’s not all either. In the coming weeks, it’s been announced that proof of vaccination will be necessary to access other non-essential services. The real good news is that in Quebec the currently unvaccinated only account for about 10% of the population. If only we could get anywhere near that number anywhere in the states.
Headshot for Science!
What would happen if you stuck your body inside a particle accelerator? The scenario seems like the start of a villain origin story. Particle accelerators are machines that propel charged particles at incredible speeds, generally to collide with other particles, not the human body. When used in research, the beam hits the target and scientists gather information about atoms, molecules, and the laws of physics. In addition to research, accelerators are used for commercial purposes like medicine, manufacturing, and food safety.
As far back as 2008, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), operated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), was charged with creating microscopic black holes that would allow physicists to detect extra dimensions. To many, this sounds like the plot of a disastrous science-fiction movie or just a better setup for our future villain… It came as no surprise when two people filed a lawsuit to stop the LHC from operating, lest it produce a black hole powerful enough to destroy the world. But physicists argued that the idea was absurd and the lawsuit was rejected.
Then, in 2012, the LHC detected the long-sought Higgs boson, a particle needed to explain how particles acquire mass. With that major accomplishment, the LHC entered popular culture; it was featured on the album cover of Super Collider (2013) by the heavy metal band Megadeth and was a plot point in the US television series The Flash (2014-). For the uninitiated, Flash was powered up by a lightning strike, not an atom traveling at light speed.
Now our story doesn’t start with the Large Hadron Collider, which is the gold standard for colliders and only the one at Cern exists, but with a smaller collider. Interestingly there are more than 30,000 colliders in the world, I don’t know how many I thought existed but it was a lot less than 30,000. Holy shit. Another cool fact, the LHC at Cern is more than 5 miles where the first collider was shorter than 5 inches. In 1930, inspired by the ideas of Norwegian engineer Rolf Widerøe, 27-year-old physicist Ernest Lawrence created the first circular particle accelerator at the University of California, Berkeley, with graduate student M. Stanley Livingston. It accelerated hydrogen ions up to energies of 80,000 electronvolts within a chamber less than 5 inches across.
Anyway, back to our Villain origins, what happens when a beam of subatomic particles traveling at nearly the speed of light meets the flesh of the human body?
In a 2010 YouTube interview with members of the physics and astronomy faculty at the University of Nottingham, several academic experts admitted that they had little idea what would happen if one were to stick a hand inside the proton beam at the LHC. Professor Michael Merrifield put it succinctly: “That’s a good question. I don’t know what is the answer. Probably be very bad for you.” Professor Laurence Eaves was also cautious about drawing conclusions. “[B]y the scales of energy we notice, it wouldn’t be that noticeable,” he said, likely with a bit of British understatement. “Would I put my hand in the beam? I’m not sure about that.”
Though if you’re Anatoli Bugorski, you shrug it off and complete your Ph.D. Yeah, you heard correctly, someone got caught in one.
The particle accelerator, a U-70 synchrotron—the largest particle accelerator in the Soviet Union, he was working with at the Institute for High Energy Physics in Protvino, near Serpukhov, Russia, developed a problem. To see what’s wrong, Bugorski put his head inside the channel through which an intensely powerful beam of proton shoots through. Unknown to Bugorski, the accelerator was still running, and the warning lights that would have alerted Bugorski of the hazard had been switched off during a previous experiment and had not been turned back on. As soon as his head crossed the invisible beam of protons, his brain was zapped. Bugorski felt no pain, but he reportedly saw a flash “brighter than a thousand suns.”
Bugorsky knew that he had struck the proton beam, but he did not tell anyone. Instead, he calmly completed his work, wrote down in a journal about his visit to the accelerator channel, and then waited for the symptoms to arrive with alarming foreboding. That night, the left side of his face began to swell beyond recognition and after an uncomfortable, sleepless night, Bugorsky decided to present himself to the doctors. I’m pretty sure he waited to see if he developed any awesome superpowers, and no death isn’t a superpower, we can all do it. Typically only once though.
Bugorsky was rushed to Moscow and admitted to a special clinic that treated victims of radiation poisoning, though largely so that his death could be observed rather than for any expectation that his life could be saved.
The next few days saw his skin peel off around the entry and exit wounds, showing a clean path burned right through his skin, skull, and brain.
Sources seem to disagree on exactly how much ionizing radiation Bugorski absorbed, but some say it was as high as 200,000 to 300,000 rads. No other human being had ever experienced such a focused beam of radiation at such high energy. Usually, a dose of 400 to 1,000 rads is enough to kill a person. But Bugorski survived because it was a focused beam. Unlike Chernobyl or Hiroshima where victims were bathed with high-energy gamma rays from head to toe, Bugorski took the hit to a small area with minimal scattering. The beam had entered through the back of his head and exited through his nose. It burned a hole through his brain, destroying tissues and nerves and leaving one side of his face paralyzed, but his vital organs, such as bone marrow and the gastrointestinal tract, were spared. Although the scarring on the back of his head and his face healed with time, the left side of his face was left paralyzed, and he lost hearing in his left ear. There was virtually no damage to his intellectual capacity and he went to complete his Ph.D. and continued working as a particle physicist. Weirder, as he aged the right side of his head showed signs of aging, while the left side did not.
For the decade after his accident, he was unable to tell anyone about it, given the notorious secrecy of the Soviet Union. He survived well beyond the end of the USSR, however. The man who put his head in a particle accelerator and lived to tell the tale remains alive to this day currently living in Protvino, Russia.
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Though Bugorski’s accident did have any earth-shattering scientific breakthroughs it did teach us what would happen if you got shot in the head with a sublight particle. That can’t be said about these other scientific mishaps that led to some pretty great discoveries.
Nitrous oxide was discovered in 1772, but for decades the gas was considered no more than a party toy. They would throw parties and use NO2 and ether. People knew that inhaling a little of it would make you laugh and that inhaling a little more of it would knock you unconscious. But for some reason, it hadn’t occurred to anyone that such a property might be useful in, say, surgical operations.
Finally, in 1844, a dentist in Hartford, Conn., named Horace Wells came upon the idea after witnessing a nitrous mishap at a party. High on the gas, a friend of Wells fell and suffered a deep gash in his leg, but he didn’t feel a thing. He didn’t know he’d been seriously injured until someone pointed out the blood pooling at his feet.
To test his theory, Wells arranged an experiment with himself as the guinea pig. He knocked himself out by inhaling a large dose of nitrous oxide and then had a dentist extract a rotten tooth from his mouth. When Wells came to, his tooth had been pulled painlessly.
To share his discovery with the scientific world, he arranged to perform a similar demonstration with a willing patient in the amphitheater of the Massachusetts General Hospital. But things didn’t exactly go as planned. Not yet knowing enough about the time it took for the gas to kick in, Wells pulled out the man’s tooth a little prematurely, and the patient screamed in pain. Wells was disgraced and soon left the profession. Later, after being jailed while high on chloroform, he committed suicide. It wasn’t until 1864 that the American Dental Association formally recognized him for his discovery.
In 1934, researchers at DuPont were charged with developing synthetic silk. But after months of hard work, they still hadn’t found what they were looking for, and the head of the project, Wallace Hume Carothers, was considering calling it quits. The closest they had come was creating a liquid polymer that seemed chemically similar to silk, but in its liquid form wasn’t very useful. Deterred, the researchers began testing other, seemingly more promising substances called polyesters.
One day, a young (and apparently bored) scientist in the group noticed that if he gathered a small glob of polyester on a glass stirring rod, he could use it to pull thin strands of the material from the beaker. And for some reason (prolonged exposure to polyester fumes, perhaps?) he found this hilarious. So on a day when boss-man Carothers was out of the lab, the young researcher and his co-workers started horsing around and decided to have a competition to see who could draw the longest threads from the beaker. As they raced down the hallway with the stirring rods, it dawned on them: By stretching the substance into strands, they were re-orienting the molecules and making the liquid material solid.
Ultimately, they determined that the polyesters they were playing with couldn’t be used in textiles as DuPont wanted, so they turned to their previously unsuccessful silk-like polymer. Unlike polyester, it could be drawn into solid strands that were strong enough to be woven. This was the first completely synthetic fiber, and they named the material Nylon.
Play-Doh has been one of the most enjoyed and widely used children’s toys/art supplies for as long as most people living today can remember. However, this creative clay that helps children to express themselves started as an agent designed to eliminate rather than to create.
In the 1930s, Noah McVicker, the owner of a Cincinnati-based soap company, was commissioned to develop a putty that would be capable of removing coal stains from wallpaper. At the time, most homes still employed wood-burning stoves for heat as well as a more primitive form of wallpaper that was relatively difficult to maintain. Due to this, the prospect of a product that could easily remove black smudges from household walls was met with great enthusiasm. McVicker made good on this by creating a putty made from a simple, non-toxic solution of water, flour, mineral oil, boric acid, and salt.
For a while, this putty was a big hit and all was well. However, by the end of the Second World War, more and more homes were employing oil furnaces and newer, easier-to-clean wallpaper was being produced. The result was the obsolescence of McVicker’s putty and the near demise of his business. By this time, Joseph McVicker, Noah’s nephew, was working for the company. As luck would have it, Joseph happened to have a sister-in-law by the name of Kay Zufall who was a nursery school teacher. To be more specific, she was a nursery school teacher who had recently read an article about the viability of non-toxic putties as motor-skill building art supplies for young children. Shortly after, she had requested some of McVicker’s putty for use in her classroom, and it proved to be a big hit.
Seeing how much fun the little tykes were having with this non-toxic putty pulled the McVickers out of their sadness as they realized their flagship product could be reborn as a best-selling children’s toy. All that was needed was a name. Noah and Joseph proposed “Modeling Compound”, while Kay conceived the much more catchy “Play-Doh”. The trio soon began publicly demonstrating Play-Doh and it caught on like wildfire. By the 1960s, it was heavily advertised and sold at a rate beyond their wildest dreams. In 1965, they sold the rights to Play-Doh to General Mills for $3 million. To put it into proper context, this was a sale that would be equivalent to $23,506,571.43 today. Not bad for a product that was at one time killed by fancy new wallpaper.
So even if you think you’re useless there might be a use for you somewhere out there just keep looking, and don’t put your head in a collider.
I’m Shea, and this week I learned that most homophobes are secretly gay. However, most arachnophobes are not secretly spiders. Before we go I’d like to thank all our listeners, supporters, and my co-hosts.
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Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.
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