The Light Side: TSA’s 2013 Collection of Confiscated Items

A Fish Precursor to Hugh Jackman’s Boxing Robot
Fire Ants Are Being Dispatched Mercilessly
Oxytocin Brings Everlasting Love


We at ThomasNet News annually cover many year-end reports published by industry groups, business organizations, and government agencies tracking industrial production, employment, etc etc. Not to be outdone, the Transportation Security Administration blog has posted its 2013 Year in Review, a recap predominantly about the firearms, ordnance, weapons, and generally unsafe items the agency confiscated throughout last year.

We couldn’t help but notice that many of the objects TSA agents caught at airport security checkpoints across the United States can be described as more than unusual. But first, let’s get the important statistics out of the way: TSA had a busy year in 2013, wrote agency bloghead Bob Burns, screening 638.7 million passengers, which were 1.1 million more than the previous year and averages to about 1.7 million fliers per day.

Firearm discoveries by the TSA went up 16.5 percent last year, from 2012′s 1,556 to 1,813. Eighty-one percent of those firearms were loaded (1,477). And here are your top five airports for “gun catches” in 2013:

Atlanta – 111, Dallas-Fort Worth – 96, Houston – 68, Phoenix – 66, Denver – 51. There were 136 inert/novelty/replica grenades surrendered nationwide, as well. Plenty of cane swords, too.

Following is a sample from TSA’s compilation of odd contraband that passengers unwisely attempted to bring aboard aircraft. Black powder was a favorite item of fliers, including one instance where it was stashed in a drinking flask. One explosives instructor tried to get past a security checkpoint with an inert suicide vest that served as a training aid. Another passenger flying out of San Francisco was too cheap to buy a canister of camping stove fuel at his destination and thus got stopped carrying one.

Then, there were the throwing stars of 2013, shining brightly:

Some Of The Throwing Knives and Stars Discovered in 2013

While inspecting some carry-on clay pots (odd in themselves), TSA officers at Fort Lauderdale uncovered a human skull. The travelers — amateur archaeologists? — said they did not know about it.

Human Skull (FLL)

Some travelers, in their nefarious ways, wanted to carry on clandestine items, such as stun guns that look like lipstick holders, cigarette cartons, and cell phones (the unsmart kind), as well as a comb that opened up to become a dagger:

Left to Right / Top to Bottom: Cigarette Pack Stun Gun (MCO), Brush Dagger(OGG), Knives Concealed in Air Filter (IAH), Credit Card Knife (ABQ), Lipstick Knife (SAT), Comb Knife (DTW), Knife in Shoe (IAD), Belt Buckle Knife (EWR), Stun Gun Cell Phone (JAN), Comb Knife (CHS), Lip Stick Stun Gun (LAS), Key Knife (IAD), Razor Concealed in Cell Phone (TPA), Credit Card Knife (BWI), Lipstick Stun Gun (STL), Stun Gun Cell Phone (LAX), Knife in Shoe (SAN), Cell Phone Stun Gun (DEN)

The TSA also posted a photo of a knife disguised as a gun, commenting that it was “the perfect knife to bring to a gunfight.” Who knew TSA has a sense of humor?

Besides the year-end picture show at the TSA blog, the security agency documented on its Instagram last year various strange finds as it collected them. The blog and online picture account are two ways TSA is attempting to communicate and engage with the public and portray itself as something other than a collection of soulless agents.

A Fish Precursor to Hugh Jackman’s Boxing Robot

The designers at Studio diip put together a webcam, an arduino board, a small DC motor, and a battery pack to create a robot for their fish to drive. The movement of the fish in the aquarium is tracked by the webcam, sending signals to the microcontroller to direct the vehicle. (See diagram and link to video below.)

The obvious question here is why, and then the obvious answer is that it’s a really awesome application for a vision imaging studio to produce. Studio diip — for Designing Intelligent Imaging Products — is receiving a lot of attention for the fishbot, the kind of attention and web traffic that crashes a modest design studio’s website.

Photo credit: Studio diip

This application is another step closer to the boxing robots from the movie Real Steel and an increment past the wave of Kinect makers who have completed sensor-driven bot projects. Combining the vision with robotics and a living creature conjures up images of small cats, dogs, hamsters, and lizards all piloting their own vehicles on a cross-country road race. A more practical application might be allowing mobility access to a human who has lost use of arms or legs.

Previously the company built applications to suggest menus based on the vegetables placed upon a table, take image data from films and allow viewers to order a similar product, and a card reader for bridge tournaments. All of its vision products and concepts involve short video demonstrations with background music and English subtitles explaining the systems.

Mobile aquariums might be the subject of a Kickstarter campaign in the next year — to this point, the company has been long on concept work but only pushed the Bridge Card Reader into the marketplace.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbNmL6hSNKw

This article by Tom Spendlove was originally published on Engineering.com and is adapted in its entirety with permission. For more stories like this please visit Engineering.com.

Fire Ants Are Being Dispatched Mercilessly

A bunch of undersized ants are wiping out the formidable fire ants of southeastern United States? Well, that’s just crazy.

Three researchers at the University of Texas at Austin this week reported in the journal Science Express that they have discovered an invasive species of “crazy ants” from northern Argentina and southern Brazil — same as where the fire ants originated — that can neutralize the venom of their mortal enemies. And, apparently, the crazy ants have taken their fight stateside. They are quickly displacing the fire ants and other insects and arthropods in the Southeast.

In “an evolutionary arms race,” a UT Austin news release surmised, these ants possess a detoxification ability that enables them to be 98 percent combat-effective with the fire ants. As they battle, they secrete formic acid, a “chemical counter-weapon,” from a specialized abdomen gland and rub the substance on themselves for protection from the normally toxic fire ant venom, a bug-killer three times more powerful than man-made DDT. In skirmishes with fire ants over food resources and nesting sites, only 2 percent of crazy ants perish, UT Austin wrote.

Whereas other ants and animals stay clear of the red-colored killers, crazy ants, in all their craziness, “charged into the fire ants,” Ed LeBrun, one of the researchers, was quoted as saying. The crazy ants are described as the first known example of an insect with the ability to detoxify another insect’s venom. He said the formic acid’s analgesic mechanism has yet to be reasoned, however.

The crazy ants bring a good news/bad news scenario for humans. On one hand, we can expect fewer cases of painful fire ant stings as crazy ants take over. They also expand their colonies less rapidly in nature than fire ants; people just have to be careful not to inadvertently transport them via potted plants and vehicles.

On the other, southeastern U.S. ecosystems will be impacted, with ripple effects on the bird and reptile food chain. Crazy ants also nest in homes and damage electrical equipment.

“As this plays out, unless something new and different happens, crazy ants are going to displace fire ants from much of the southeastern U.S. and become the new ecologically dominant invasive ant species,” LeBrun said.

Oxytocin Brings Everlasting Love

Today is Valentine’s Day, and if Cupid hasn’t been helpful, take our relationship advice — scientific style.

To capture the attention of your muse, you will need to inspire the release of oxytocin, as well as vasopressin, in him or her. Stronger than the hormones testosterone and estrogen and the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin ensure long-term commitment from your love.

It’s why oxytocin is known as the “trust hormone.” It plays a crucial part in enabling us to not just forge and strengthen our social relations, but in helping us to stave off a number of psychological and physiological problems, as well.

Synthetic oxytocin, administered via injection or nasal spray, exists as a medication. We do not condone its non-medical use as a real-life Love Potion No. 9, though, so you’ll have to figure out another way to get your love’s hormones going. Good luck!

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