Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for March 19, 2020
Ultrasonic attack can break into cell phones through a solid surface; Monkeys develop immunity to SARS-CoV-2 after first infection; Hiker finds two bombs from 1935 in a Hawaiian volcano; Commentary arguing that once a medical treatment comes into common practice, it persists long after it's found to be useless, or even harmful; and a Steem essay describing a dive to the USS Oriskany aka The Great Carrier Reef
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Links and micro-summaries from my 1000+ daily headlines. I filter them so you don't have to.
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- Ultrasonic Attack Device Hacks Phones through Solid Objects - In a paper for the 2020 Network and Distributed System Security Symposium (NDSS), researchers described their success at attacking a cell phone lying flat on a table by transmitting sound waves through the table. To accomplish this, the researchers fixed a remote controllable device to the underside of the table, and used it to send ultrasonic commands through the material to a cell phone that was laying flat on the table's surface. Researchers have known for several years that ultrasonic commands that are inaudible to humans could be sent through the air to trick a device into doing things like making calls, forwarding messages and extracting passcodes, but this is the first time it has been accomplished by sending the "silent" commands through a physical medium other than the air.
- Monkeys Develop Protective Antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 - Whether humans can develop the COVID-19 disease twice remains an open question, so researchers are conducting experiments in monkeys. In a preliminary study, researchers observed that monkeys who were exposed to the novel coronavirus again after developing the disease and recovering did not develop the disease a second time. Because the study is preliminary and conducted in animals, it doesn't lead to certainty about humans, but it lends credence to the idea that blood plasma from a person who has been infected and recovered can be used to boost recovery in patients with severe cases of the disease. -h/t Real Clear Science
- Found: Two Bombs From 1935 Stuck in Hawai’i Volcano - In February, a hiker who was exploring some lava tubes in Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano came across two unexploded bombs that were fixed in the tube's ceiling. He took some photos and left the site with haste. It turns out that the bombs were laid in the aftermath of a November, 1935 eruption that sent a stream of lava to the nearby town of Hilo. In order to divert the flow away from the town, the US Army Air Corps dropped 40 bombs on December 27, 1935. By January 2, 1936, the flow was declared dead. The tactic was proposed by Thomas A. Jaggar, who founded the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, and he was convinced that the bombing was the reason why the flow stopped. Researchers in the 1970s, however, concluded that there was no evidence to conclude that the bombing had any effect at all on the flow. Today, the concept of trying to route a lava flow is controversial. It seems that a lava flow can sometimes be redirected, but only with great effort and expense and sometimes with unintended consequences like redirecting the flow from one vulnerable location to another. The state's Department of Land and Natural Resources now intends to remove the bombs and dispose of them. -h/t RealClear Science
- When Evidence Says No, But Doctors Say Yes - Subtitle: Years after research contradicts common practices, patients continue to demand them and doctors continue to deliver. The result is an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatment. - The article opens by discussing two patients who experienced chest pain and received advice to have a stent inserted, despite the fact that evidence shows that stents prevent zero heart attacks and prolong zero lives. In the first case, the patient declined, improved his diet, lost weight, and continued to thrive. In the second case, the patient was a lymphoma patient and had undergone a course of treatment that caused lung scarring. However, this history was ignored and the patient died in the hospital from undiagnosed lung scarring while awaiting a procedure to insert a stent. The article goes on to argue that these are not isolated incidents, but part of a larger trends where unnecessary and ineffective treatments are often prescribed, despite evidence that they can be ineffective or even harmful. In addition to the example of stents, the article also cites the example of beta blockers, which can lower a patient's blood pressure but may not actually improve overall outcomes. In fact, some beta blockers may actually increase the chances of stroke in older patients. Another example is the frequency of a form of knee surgery known as arthroscopic partial meniscectomy (APM). About half-a-million APM surgeries are performed each year for a cost of about $4 billion. However, a comparison of the surgery against a "sham surgery" - where an incision was made but nothing was actually done - found no difference in outcomes, except that the real surgery may increase risk of osteoarthritis. This sort of mismatch between evidence and treatment may be explained by the notion that doctors don't necessarily keep up with the latest research when they get out of medical school, so change happens at a "generational pace".
- Steem @liquidtravel: Ever Walked on an Aircraft Carrier Underwater? - Diving the USS Oriskany - In this post, the author, an underwater archaelogist, gives us a first-hand account of a dive experience to the USS Oriskany, a decommissioned aircraft carrier that was sunk in 2006 and now serves as underwater reef, also known as The Great Carrier Reef. Over the course of two days, the author dove with as many as 15 other divers, all using H2O Below, chartered through MBT Divers, in Pensacola, FL. In addition to the details of the experience, the author also points out two factors that can limit the enjoyment of wreck diving. First, the post recommends avoiding so-called cattle boats, which are stuffed so full of people that it resembles an amusement park instead of an exploration, and second it notes that the number of other boats all diving at the same time also influences the quality of the experience. Click through for a detailed description of the dive.
Here is an embedded video of the USS Oriskany from 2016:
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