Exit, pursuing a bear: Farewell Troy Hurtubise

June 23rd, 2018

We have just heard the sad news that Troy Hurtubise died in a car-truck crash near his home town, North Bay, Ontario. We got to know Troy in 1998 when he was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize in the field of safety engineering, for developing, and personally testing a suit of armor that is impervious to grizzly bears. Troy was an almost-Shakespearean character, with an added dash of Don Quixote. Troy’s bear quest, once begun, became lifelong. Now that Troy has exited life’s grand stage, one is almost compelled to say that, temperamentally, he exited, pursuing a bear.

Troy returned to the Ig Nobel ceremony the year after he won his prize, where he led a chorus of opera singers in paying tribute to his bear suit. Click here to see video of that stirring moment.

We stayed in touch, on and off, over the years as Troy pursued not just grizzly bears, but also a stream of sometimes overly-clever ideas involving electronic equipment, chemical substances, heavy construction machinery, spies, and the British Royal Family. We documented many of Troy’s adventures here, on the Improbable Research web site. Recent reports elsewhere tell of his adventures with coffee, hair, particles of dark matter, and life in general:

The first seven years or so of Troy’s grizzly bear adventures are still on display in a documentary film called “Project Grizzly“, directed by Peter Lynch and produced by the National Film Board of Canada. Here is that film:

Here are some news reports about Troy’s death:

Troy was a most unusual person. When he heard a colorful, even fanciful, idea emerge from his mouth, he seemed to feel honor-bound to make that idea come true, no matter what. He was, until this unfortunate highway crash, a willfully mythical creature—often bound in a strange and wondrous suit of titanium, duct tape, hockey pads, and his own imagination—walking, running, and occasionally toppling over, amongst mortals.

We, and the world, will miss him.

Distracted drivers of automobiles, then and now…

June 22nd, 2018

The problem of distracted drivers—a problem honored years ago by two Ig Nobel prizes—continues to worsen, suggests Jonathan Gitlin, writing in Ars Technica:

Multiple studies show no improvement in distracted driving
Distracted driving is worst in the Northeast, best in the Midwest

Many people have tried to attacked the problem, some for better, some for worse. Two of those efforts have been rewarded with Ig Nobel Prizes.

Driving While a Flap Repeatedly Covers the Driver’s Eyes

The 2011 Ig Nobel Prize for public safety was awarded to John Senders of the University of Toronto, for conducting a series of safety experiments in which a person drives an automobile on a major highway while a visor repeatedly flaps down over his face, blinding him. Details are in this publication and in the video below: “The Attentional Demand of Automobile Driving,” John W. Senders, et al., Highway Research Record, vol. 195, 1967, pp. 15-33.

Driving While Watching Television

The 1993 Ig Nobel Prize for visionary technology was awarded jointly to Jay Schiffman of Farmington Hills, Michigan, crack inventor of AutoVision, an image projection device that makes it possible to drive a car and watch television at the same time, and to the Michigan state legislature, for making it legal to do so. Schiffman documented his work, in US patent #5061996A.

Camphor poisoning following ingestion of mothballs ‘for headache’

June 21st, 2018

If you are suffering from a persistent headache, don’t be tempted to eat mothballs. In 2011, a 34-year old patient was admitted (unconscious) to a hospital emergency department in Amsterdam “following the ingestion of camphor mothballs for persisting headaches”.

Fortunately, after a week or so of intensive clinical care she recovered and was discharged in good clinical condition (apart from some apparent memory loss). See: Kamferintoxicatie na inname van mottenballen ‘wegens hoofdpijn’ (in Dutch) in: Nederlands Tijdschrift Voor Geneeskunde [01 Jan 2011, 155(39):A3676]. An extended extract of the study can be found here (in English).

Note: Mothballs, which can contain camphor, naphthalene, 1,4-dichlorobenzene and other highly toxic chemicals should never be ingested for any reason.

Article 15—“Débrouillez-vous”

June 20th, 2018

A jaunty passage from Ed Yong’s essay “The Next Plague Is Coming. Is America Ready?” in The Atlantic magazine:

If [the disease outbreak does return], is there any protective equipment at the hospital? “No,” she tells me.

Mikolo laughs. “Article 15,” he says.

Article 15 is something of a Congolese catchphrase, referring to a fictional but universally recognized 15th article of the country’s constitution, “Débrouillez-vous”—“figure it out yourself.” I hear it everywhere. It is simultaneously a testament to the Congolese love for droll humor, a weary acknowledgment of hardship, a screw-you to the establishment, and a motivational mantra. No one’s going to fix your problems. You must make do with what you’ve got.

The sub-headline on that essay says:”The epidemics of the early 21st century revealed a world unprepared, even as the risks continue to multiply. Much worse is coming.”

BONUS (related): Catch-22

The numbers 15 and 22 will be among those explored in the special NUMBERS issue (vol. 24, no. 4) of the Annals of Improbable Research, coming later this year.

Experimental Evidence That Stripes Do Not Cool Zebras, by Ig Nobel Winners

June 19th, 2018

The prize-winning researchers who discovered why white-haired horses are the most horsefly-proof horses has now probed a classic mystery about zebra stripes. They published this report: “Experimental Evidence That Stripes Do Not Cool Zebras,” Gábor Horváth, Ádám Pereszlényi, Dénes Száz, András Barta, Imre M. Jánosi, Balázs Gerics, and Susanne Åkesson, Scentific Reports, vol. 8, no. 9351, 2018. The authors explain what they did, and what they reasoned from it:

“There are as many as 18 theories for the possible functions of the stripes of zebras, one of which is to cool the animal. We performed field experiments and thermographic measurements to investigate whether thermoregulation might work for zebra-striped bodies.

“A zebra body was modeled by water-filled metal barrels covered with horse, cattle and zebra hides and with various black, white, grey and striped patterns. The barrels were installed in the open air for four months while their core temperature was measured continuously. Using thermography, the temperature distributions of the barrel surfaces were compared to those of living zebras. The sunlit zebra-striped barrels reproduced well the surface temperature characteristics of sunlit zebras. We found that there were no significant core temperature differences between the striped and grey barrels, even on many hot days, independent of the air temperature and wind speed. The average core temperature of the barrels increased as follows: white cattle, grey cattle, real zebra, artificial zebra, grey horse, black cattle. Consequently, we demonstrate that zebra-striped coats do not keep the body cooler than grey coats challenging the hypothesis of a thermoregulatory role of zebra stripes.”

Here’s a video news report about the zebra-stripe research:

The 2016 Ig Nobel Prize for physics was awarded to Gábor Horváth, Miklós Blahó, György Kriska, Ramón Hegedüs, Balázs Gerics, Róbert Farkas, Susanne Åkesson, Péter Malik, and Hansruedi Wildermuth, for discovering why white-haired horses are the most horsefly-proof horses, and for discovering why dragonflies are fatally attracted to black tombstones.

REFERENCE: “An Unexpected Advantage of Whiteness in Horses: The Most Horsefly-Proof Horse Has a Depolarizing White Coat,” Gábor Horváth, Miklós Blahó, György Kriska, Ramón Hegedüs, Balázs Gerics, Róbert Farkas and Susanne Åkesson, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, vol. 277 no. 1688, pp. June 2010, pp. 1643-1650.

REFERENCE: “Ecological Traps for Dragonflies in a Cemetery: The Attraction of Sympetrum species (Odonata: Libellulidae) by Horizontally Polarizing Black Grave-Stones,” Gábor Horváth, Péter Malik, György Kriska, Hansruedi Wildermuth, Freshwater Biology, vol. 52, vol. 9, September 2007, pp. 1700–9.

BONUS: RICHÁRD HEGYESHALMI gives the news study a quick study, writing in the Hungarian journal Index: “What Are the Zebra’s Stripes Good For?