Category: Crime & Punishment

Breaking & Entering Code: How a Programmer Snuck Into the Apple HQ for Months to Finish a Project

By Veronique Greenwood | July 2, 2012 2:12 pm

graphing calculator
The ultimate nerdy crime scene

In the modern workplace, you’ve got to be prepared for disappointment. Make no mistake: Whether you’re a journalist or an entrepreneur or a scientist, your pet projects will sometimes be killed. But what if you were working on an awesome project that got canceled, and you had the time, money, and daring to sneak into the office to finish it anyway?

That’s the story of Ron Avitzur, an Apple programmer who was working on a graphing calculator that was to be loaded on a new generation of computers. Mental Floss has an engaging short feature explaining what happened when the project was canceled:

The young programmer knew the project had merit. Everyone he mentioned it to exclaimed, “I wish I’d had that in school!” If he could just get the program preinstalled on the new computer, teachers across the country could use the tool as an animated blackboard, providing visuals for abstract concepts. The program could simultaneously showcase the speed of the new machine and revolutionize math class. All he needed was access to Apple’s machines and some time.

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Is the Devil a Great Cop? Belief in Hell Associated With Low National Crime Rates

By Sophie Bushwick | June 25, 2012 12:44 pm

An illustration of hell from the 12th-century encyclopedia
Hortus Deliciarum

Religion takes a two-pronged approach to encouraging good behavior: breaking the rules warrants supernatural punishment, while positive actions can earn a blissful afterlife. To most effectively promote a moral lifestyle, however, religious leaders may want to scrap the heavenly reassurance and preach more fire and brimstone: While belief in hell is strongly associated with lower crime rates, belief in heaven is actually tied to more crime.

For 67 countries and more than 143,000 participants, psychologists compared three decades of data about belief in heaven, hell, and God to information about the rates of ten different crimes, including homicide and robbery. They found that religious beliefs were better predictors for five of the ten crimes than either poverty or income inequality.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Crime & Punishment
MORE ABOUT: belief, crime, heaven, hell, religion

Put Down the Gun: Bank Robberies Just Ain't Worth It

By Sophie Bushwick | June 19, 2012 8:58 am

James brothers
If only the James brothers had studied econometrics,
they would have realized that crime doesn’t pay.

Pondering a bank-robbing life of crime? Don’t start building the pool for swimming through your piles of money quite yet: Economists say that in a single raid in the United Kingdom, a robber doesn’t even earn enough to purchase a new car, while each theft increases his odds of being captured.

“The return on an average bank robbery is, frankly, rubbish. It is not unimaginable wealth. It is a very modest [$19,889.64] per person per raid,” write three British economics professors in their paper (titled “Robbing banks: Crime does pay—but not very much”) in the journal Significance. At that rate, to earn an average annual income in the UK, any would-be Butch Cassidy would have to hold up two banks a year, and by the time he completed three successful raids—and only 66 percent of bank robberies actually succeed—he would face a fifty-fifty chance of arrest.

In the United States, a bank robber’s gains are even more abysmal, with each hold-up pulling in a feeble $4,330. At least the American bank robbery can lord it over the average commercial raid (which nets an average of $1,589) and convenience store bust (only $769 on average).

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The Laws of Physics, Officer, Outrank the Laws of California

By Veronique Greenwood | April 18, 2012 9:38 am

I think this picture says it all, officer. Clear as day!

To all those police officers out there on traffic duty: Be real careful about ticketing physicists. You might be proven wrong in elaborate mathematical detail.

Dmitri Krioukov, a physicist at UC San Diego, was pulled over for running a stop sign. However, he had not in fact run it, and his sense of injustice was apparently so inflamed that he undertook a rigorous mathematical explanation of what had happened, eventually posting a paper on the ArXiv showing that the police officer had fallen prey to a perceptual illusion (although the paper was posted on April 1, if it’s a joke, Krioukov is sticking to his guns; he’s spoken to PhysicsCentral about the work). At the stop sign, he had seen Krioukov’s car, a Toyota Yaris, disappear on the far side of a station wagon in the lane closest to the officer and subsequently accelerate away, but he mistakenly concluded that Krioukov had not stopped during that moment, because—this is the clincher—he had been visually measuring not the linear but the angular speed of the car! To put it in Krioukov’s own words:

“Police officer O made a mistake, confusing the real spacetime trajectory of car C1—which moved at approximately constant linear deceleration, came to a complete stop at the stop sign, and then started moving again with the same acceleration, the blue solid line in Fig. 5—for a trajectory of a hypothetical object moving at approximately constant linear speed without stopping at the stop sign.”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Crime & Punishment

Dog Ate My Experiment—And Now Dog Is My Experiment

By Sarah Zhang | April 16, 2012 12:39 pm

spacing is important
Please don’t make me eat thallium.

If you’re an average normal person and your dog eats thallium-tainted agar plates from the trash, you’d probably take Rover to the vet. If you’re a vet and your dog eats thallium-tainted agar plates, you start taking notes—and blood and hair samples too.

That’s the backstory to a recent paper published in the Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation. A poor, overly curious one-year-old shepherd mix broke into the laboratory trash and gobbled up 15 agar plates containing thallium. The poisonous compound is used in labs to isolate Mycoplasma fungi because it pretty much kills everything else that could grow on agar. Known as “the poisoner’s poison,” thallium has also been implicated in a number of famous murders and was a favorite of Saddam Hussein. (So if you are a non-scientist with thallium in your trash, it is kind of suspect…)

The dog’s owner, a vet, knew immediately the thallium was bad news. At the onset, the dog refused to eat and lost weight. And then things only got worse over several weeks as she lost control of her muscles, seized, caught pneumonia twice, and lost a third of her fur. She had to be fed through a tube. It took 10 months for her to even bark again.

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MORE ABOUT: dogs, pets, poisoning, thallium

Go Ahead and Gossip—Science Says It's the Right Thing to Do

By Valerie Ross | January 18, 2012 1:58 pm

He did what? Innnnteresting…

Thorough scientific study has revealed that lots of supposed vices can have surprising upsides: alcoholsexcaffeine. Thanks to UC Berkeley researchers, we can now add another so-bad-but-oh-so-good habit to the list: Gossip, their new study suggests, can be a selfless act of public service.

Surreptitiously passing along the news that someone has behaved badly—what’s technically called “prosocial gossip”—can relieve stress, as well as warn others to regard the rule-breaker with a wary eye, the researchers say. (The study didn’t look directly at other forms of gossip—rumormongering, telling lies, anything said to a confessional cam on reality TV—so make of that what you will.)

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Say No to Chicken Pops—Buying Infected Lollipops Online Is Most Likely a Bad Idea

By Douglas Main | November 8, 2011 9:42 am

Don’t lie. Don’t steal. And don’t buy lollipops allegedly mouthed by infected children peddled over the internets. Apparently the third piece of advice doesn’t go without saying; parents who don’t want to give their kids vaccines in several states have turned to Facebook to find lollipops, spit, or rags from chickenpox-ridden youngsters, according to the Associated Press. Federal prosecutor Jerry Martin warns that the practice is dangerous and illegal—it’s a federal crime to ship known pathogens across state lines. It’s also likely to fail at spreading the virus since chicken pox needs to be inhaled to infect children, according to doctors, and is dangerous, since it could spread other diseases that more readily persist in saliva like hepatitis.

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Smartphone Apps Tell Your Friends You've Been Arrested, Help You Stay Calm in the Clink

By Douglas Main | October 26, 2011 2:40 pm

Hopefully this guy has the “I’m Getting Arrested” app.

Plan on going to #OccupyWallStreet and getting arrested? There’s an app for that! A Brooklyn programmer (abhorred by getting so much coverage in the “lame-stream” press, no doubt) has made a free android app that allows would-be arrestees to alert their friends. Beforehand, you can program in a message and recipients, who you can alert upon pushing a single button. The app is appropriately called “I’m Getting Arrested.”

Once you’re in jail, you may need help calming down (if you manage to smuggle in your phone). Look no farther than MyCalmBeat, a smartphone app that measures your heart rate and helps you establish an optimal breathing rate, or “resonant frequency.” It works by calculating the breathing rate at which your heart rate has the highest variability, which is correlated with how relaxed you feel. Stressed people, the app’s programmers say, have relatively constant rates of heart rate, which makes stress worse.

Now all we’re missing is an app that redistributes wealth and does our job for us.

Image: WarmSleepy / Flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Crime & Punishment

Your Bare Feet Betray You, Scientists Say. So Don't Take Off Your Shoes.

By Veronique Greenwood | September 19, 2011 12:34 pm

That’s walking dangerously—better slip on your flip-flops to avoid the cops.

Your walk is surprisingly distinctive, and it’s not just the way you waggle your fanny: it’s how your feet touch the ground. Just a few steps is enough for a program to recognize you 99% of the time, report scientists who had more than a hundred people leave their prints on sensors. The goal? Identifying people through carpet, of course. In case you can’t get to their fingerprints or retinas and so on.

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German Prostitutes Pay Streetwalking Fee at Parking Meter-Like Machine

By Veronique Greenwood | September 2, 2011 11:59 am

Get yer streetwalking permit here!

From 8:15 pm to 6:00 am each day, prostitution is legal in Germany, where working call girls staff brothels, sauna clubs, and other such establishments. In the city of Bonn, which, uh, “boasts” around 200 prostitutes, an average of 20 freelancers go cruising each night, picking up clients on the street and heading to garage-like structures called “consummation areas” the city put up especially for that purpose. They’ve thought of everything, those Germans!

Girls in the various brothel-like establishments have always been subject to a prostitution tax, but streetwalkers, apparently, haven’t being paying. Now, though, the city has a way to make things fair for everyone: a parking meter for prostitutes.

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