What If? Rejects #10.1: Knife Wounds

File:Damascus Bowie.jpg

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Next post in this series: Stunt Bike

Q: What is the probability that if I am stabbed by a knife in my torso that it won’t hit anything vital and I’ll live?

Randall’s response: A guy with a knife says, “…Asking for a friend. Former friend, I mean.”

My response: Surprisingly high—that you’ll live, that is, not precisely that it won’t hit anything vital.

At first glance, this question should be easy to answer because lots of studies have been done on the survival rate for various types of injuries, but on closer inspection, we have to extrapolate a bit. You see, these studies usually only study victims who made it to the hospital alive. And they also differentiate between chest wounds and abdominal wounds, both of which are covered under “stabbed in the torso”. Or they don’t differentiate between types of stab wounds at all. But we can look at the statistics and get a good idea.

Overall mortality rate of stab wounds is 7.7%.

Survival rate for stab wounds to the heart is 32.6%.

Overall mortality rate for penetrating injuries to the chest is 2.5%.

Stab wounds to the chest where the knife is left in to slow the bleeding have a survival rate approaching 70%.

For people stabbed by terrorists in Israel: 19% had only superficial injuries (probably the closest to the literal interpretation of the question, while 25% died.

And finally, Wikipedia cites an overall death rate of less than 4% for all stab wounds.

So on the whole, getting stabbed is a really bad day, but your odds of surviving are actually fairly good—at least for a situation where someone is trying to kill you.

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Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok

Thor Ragnarok poster.jpg

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had its ups and down, but lately, it’s hit its stride, turning out one hit after another, and Thor: Ragnarok is no exception. Indeed, even though the franchise hasn’t had a true flop since Avengers 2, this film is a massive hit for a trilogy that has had a mediocre showing for the first two Thor movies. (Although all three of the films I just mentioned still have worryingly high critical reviews.) Either way, Thor: Ragnarok was briefly Rotten Tomatoes’ highest-rated Marvel movie of all time, and while it has now slipped below Iron Man 1, it’s still some of their best work, and a great setup for the upcoming Infinity War.

Thor: Ragnarok follows on the second Thor movie, in which Loki took over Asgard by impersonating his father, Odin, and exiling the real Odin to Earth. Unfortunately, separated from the power of Asgard, Odin is dying, thus releasing his firstborn from her own exile: Hela, the goddess of death. And having the woman whom Hell is literally named after come to town is bad news. Thor’s hammer is destroyed, Thor is knocked to the far end of the universe, and Hela soon conquers Asgard, and that’s all in the first 30 minutes! And only Thor has the power to find his way back and stop his sister from bringing about the Norse apocalypse of Ragnarok.

If I had to make a criticism of this movie, it would be that it’s a bit rushed—trying to do too much in too short a time. Hela’s curb-stomp of the defenders of Asgard, including some notable secondary characters, just felt too fast to have the desired impact. But even with that, the movie is very-well produced. It’s fun, humorous without being campy, and manages to pack in great character arcs for all the major players.

Really, I think that’s the best part, for all the silly antics, we really get to see Thor, 142, Banner, Loki, and even Hela’s henchman go through real growth as characters, all in the space of two hours. And of course, we get to see Hulk beat up Thor. Basically, it’s a pretty great time all around, one of Marvel’s best, and definitely worth the ticket price.

My rating: 5 out of 5.

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What If? Rejects #9.2: Everyone Knows It’s Slinky

Previous post in this series: Tidal Waves

Next post in this series: Knife Wounds

Q: If you are in free fall and your parachute fails, but you have a Slinky with extremely convenient mass, tension, etc., would it be possible to save yourself by throwing the Slinky upward while holding on to one end of it?

Randall’s response: A picture of someone attempting the experiment, without explanation.

My response: Um…no. There’s a little something called conservation of momentum. If you throw the Slinky upward, you’ll be pushing yourself downward even faster by Newton’s Third Law, which kind of defeats the purpose. Even if the Slinky started pulling you back up by its spring force, it would lose energy, and it wouldn’t be able to slow you down any more than if you tried to bleed off your momentum by throwing it downward in the first place. To do that, however, you would have to cancel out your momentum of falling—in other words, apply the same force as throwing your own weight at your terminal velocity of about 120 miles per hour. Unless you’re a superhero, that’s not going to work so well, and if you are strong enough to do that, you’re probably also strong enough to withstand the landing anyway.

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Heavy Metals in the Cosmos

The recent discovery of gravitational waves from the neutron star merger designated GW170817 is said to prove that heavy metals like gold are produced in this extreme environment and not in supernovae, as was long thought. The teams that discovered GW170817 put out an astonishing 76 papers all at once, including 5 on the subject of nucleosynthesis, all pointing to this conclusion. But how did it come about?

There are a number of different nuclear processes which create most of the elements of the period table, nearly all of which occur in different types of dying stars. In fact, out of all the elements, only carbon and nitrogen are predominantly created by the classical, orderly core fusion you’ll see in introductory textbooks. Elements lighter than carbon are created by various cosmic processes, while all of the other elements are predominantly created by stars in their death throes. Here is a handy guide from Jennifer Johnson of The Ohio State University.

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LIGO Discovers Colliding Neutron Stars and Cosmic Gold

(Virgo doesn’t, but that’s still a good thing.)

Artist’s rendition of merging neutron stars.

The two LIGO observatories and Virgo are the world’s three operational gravitational wave observatories. These observatories use incredibly precise lasers to detect the ripples in spacetime caused by colliding massive objects like black holes. First predicted by Albert Einstein, gravitational waves were first detected in 2015, as I wrote about here. LIGO and Virgo have detected a total of four merging pairs of black holes since then. Recently, the Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics to Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Barry C. Barish, the brains behind gravitational wave observation.

Today, LIGO and NASA announced a joint campaign that detected the first instance of a new type of gravitational waves: waves created by colliding neutron stars, which also explains the origins of the universe’s heavy elements. Neutron stars are lighter than black holes, so LIGO can only detect them if they’re much closer, but it can detect them for much longer before the final merger—over a minute instead of a few seconds. How they did it is a cosmic detective story much more complex and interesting than their earlier detections. Here’s how it happened.

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Web Serial Review: 17776

A barrel-like space probe with several antennae floats through red-black space.

Pioneer 9

17776 is kind of a weird one. It’s all online, so you can click to the beginning right here if you want. The Wikipedia page is here. It was posted in July, and I first saw it in August, but I haven’t have time to review it until now. This is a type of story that’s way outside of my usual fare: a sports story. But it’s also a science fiction story in which the main characters are sentient spacecraft drifting through deep space.

This is also one of the most unusual story formats I’ve ever seen. It’s told in a mix of long, scrolling web pages that are mostly transcripts of conversations, full-screen GIF animations, and embedded YouTube videos. The only descriptor broad enough to really cover all it entails is a “web serial,” but it’s not the more traditional kind that is basically a serial novel on the web.

17776: What Football Will Look Like in the Future is a surrealist, existential science-fiction/sports mash-up written by Jon Bois of the SBNation blog. The premise is that human beings stopped being born, aging, and dying for reasons unknown in 2026. Over 15,000 years later, a mostly-unchanged humanity is struggling to stave off perpetual boredom, and many people turn to increasingly absurd versions of football. It starts with a game where the field is the entire state of Nebraska and only gets weirder from there.

The story is mostly told through the eyes of three spacecraft adrift in the cosmos, who have become self-aware through the sheer passage of time and who talk to each other with quantum communication: the newly awakened Pioneer 9, his “sister”, Pioneer 10, and the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE), yet to be launched in the present. The three probes look down on Earth as Nine tries to process the bizarre world that he only “remembers” from his construction in the 1960s and come to terms with it.

And that’s really all there is to it. We get a couple other recurring characters, like Nancy McGunnell, who is trying to evade her pursuers and score the winning touchdown for Wyoming in the Nebraska game, and Jason Durabo, who is trying to win a game by tracking down a long-lost football autographed by Koy Detmer (not to be confused with his brother, Ty Detmer). But mostly, it’s about the weird football games that immortal people come up with and existential reflections on the nature of life.

17776 is hilarious, but it also has depth to it. There are hints scattered throughout that a really bleak world is hidden under the surface layer of surrealism. Most obviously, New York City is underwater due to melting ice caps, but there’s more to it than that: the fact that technology has stagnated, Ten’s discourses on boredom and play and the end of exploration, and a couple of very poignant moments where we see that a world that has gone 15,000 years with no children on it is a pretty sad place all peak through.

So there’s not much plot—or at least not much plot movement—but it’s a fun romp that also makes you think and leaves you wanting to see more of this bizarre world, and that’s pretty good sci-fi in my book.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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What If? Rejects #9.1: Tidal Waves

Previous post in this series: The Little Shop of Horrors

Next post in this series: Everyone Knows It’s Slinky

Q: Could you survive a tidal wave by submerging yourself in an in-ground pool?

Randall’s response: A chart demonstrating that this idea both sounds dumber than and is actually dumber than “Invading Russia in winter” and “Plugging a power strip into itself to get free energy”.

My response: There are two main ways a “tidal wave” or tsunami can kill you. One is drowning, and the other is being hit by debris or swept along and slammed into a solid object.

Submerging yourself in an in-ground pool would only make the danger of drowning worse. You’d have to swim through more water to get back to the surface.

Being swept along and hit by debris, however, could possibly be prevented by jumping in the pool and getting underneath the wave, especially if you press yourself up against the side where the wave is coming from. Water waves involve a lot of horizontal motion with the surface of the water being pushed into swells and troughs. There isn’t a lot of vertical motion*, so when the wave washes over the pool, it might not disturb you if you’re fully under the surface.

Or maybe not. That much water being dumped in one end of the pool might just displace everything out of the pool as it sweeps across. Even if it doesn’t, the danger of heavy objects dropping into the pool and hitting you is very real. And worst of all, I suspect you wouldn’t be able to hold your breath long enough to wait for the fast-rushing water above you to stop, which would defeat the whole purpose.

In the case of a tsunami, the best advice is always to run to high ground. If there is no ground high enough to get above the wave, run anyway. Given the choice between running and jumping in an in-ground pool, I’d do my best to run somewhere I’d be less likely to get thrown against a solid object like, say, a street running parallel to the direction of the wave. That’s probably your best chance in such a dire situation.

*Note that “tidal wave” is a meaningless term that can be used for a number of phenomena, none of which precisely fit the popular conception of a very large wind-driven wave. Tsunamis involve movement of the whole body of the water, but the water in the pool is not included in this movement, so it doesn’t matter in this situation.

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