Children have a knack for finding themselves in non-lethal peril. They eat things they shouldn’t, insert things that don’t belong in their nose into their nose, and sometimes fall inexplicably off beds. Rarely, they will get their tongues stuck in bottles, a potentially serious condition.
Doctors haven't had many options for removing stuck tongues safely and effectively. Common methods include cutting or breaking the bottle to release the presumed vacuum pressure, greasing both tongue and bottle to smooth the release, or sedating patients for a painful pull. Thanks to a paper just published in the European Journal of Anaesthesiology, however, we now know there may be a better way.
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Describing the case of a 7-year-old boy who arrived at Auf der Bult Children’s Hospital in Hannover, Germany with his tongue trapped in a juice container, the paper details an innovative treatment method. Physicians first attempted to insert a narrow cannula—a thin flexible tube—between the tongue and neck of the bottle to release the vacuum pressure. When this didn’t work, one of the physicians, Christopher Eich, remembered how he had once opened a bottle of wine without a corkscrew—by adding, not removing, air to create positive air pressure inside the bottle. Thinking this might have the same effect, the doctor injected 60 milliliters of air through the cannula, which pushed the tongue out of the bottle. The boy made a full recovery.
Having your tongue lodged in a bottle can invite a host of problems, from edema and capillary damage to possible airway obstruction. Positive air pressure would seem to be a viable first-line treatment for patients, offering swift resolution and no need for heavy sedation.
No word yet on whether the technique would help cats that have a tendency to get their heads stuck in jars, but perhaps veterinarians should look into it.
It’s Black Friday, and you are entering the battlefield: a mall parking lot. You’re determined to nail that doorbuster deal, and quantities are limited. The field is already full of other combatants. You must find the perfect parking spot.
Do you grab the first one you see, or drive as close to the mall as you can and hover? Or, do you choose a tactic that lies somewhere between?
Parking at the mall has long frustrated drivers and taxed the minds of traffic engineers—but after working on the problem for three years, physicists Sidney Redner of the Santa Fe Institute and Paul Krapivsky of Boston University have gotten closer to a winning strategy. “There are lots of studies of parking lots, but it’s just that they’re so complicated, you don’t get any insight into what’s actually happening,” Redner tells Mental Floss.
Redner and Krapivsky, whose work employs statistical physics to make sense of large systems, simplified the messy dynamics of a parking lot by modeling it with a one-dimensional grid of cells, each representing a parking space. They tested three simple, yet realistic, parking strategies using basic probability theory. Their model tested the following strategies to see which one resulted in least time spent walking and driving in the parking lot:
Meek Strategy: Meek drivers park in the first open space they see, however distant it is from the mall. As a result, they often spend the most time walking to and from the mall.
Prudent Strategy: Prudent drivers look for the first open spot but then keep driving toward the mall. They continue to drive until they see a parked car and then park in the best open spot between that first open spot and that first parked car. There may be a block of open spaces between the first open space and the first parked car. From that block of open spaces, they choose the one closest to the mall.
Optimistic Strategy: Optimistic drivers drive as close to the mall as possible and look for a parking space close to the entrance. If they see one, they grab it. If there are none, they backtrack and choose the first open space they see. Optimistic drivers probably spend the most time driving and the least time walking. In the worst-case scenario, they end up parking back where a meek driver would have parked.
Naturally cautious drivers are more likely to default to the meek mode, while aggressive drivers often use the optimistic strategy, well, aggressively. And most drivers have tried something like the prudent method.
So, which is your best bet in a crowded mall parking lot this holiday season?
In the experiments, the prudent strategy fared best, followed closely by the optimistic strategy. The meek strategy finished a distant third (“It’s hard to comprehend just how bad it is,” says Krapivsky, a self-described meek driver).
And even better: The more crowded the lot, the better the prudent strategy works, he adds.
One clear takeaway from the study is that meek drivers may want to ramp up their parking skills before going to the mall. “You don't want to park on the very outskirts of the lot, like a mile away from the stores. You want to go to the first place there’s an open spot and park somewhere in that first open area,” Redner says. They published their findings in the Journal of Statistical Mechanics [PDF].
The researchers say this is the best of the strategies they tested, but it has its limitations. It does not take into consideration competition among a sea of drivers all looking for parking spaces at the same time, and it doesn’t include (perhaps optimistically) the psychological aspects of operating a vehicle. “We are not rational when we are driving,” Krapivsky tells Mental Floss.
The researchers’ one-dimensional grid model also assumed that there would be one car at a time entering the lot through one entrance, unlike messier lots in the real world, where many cars enter from a multitude of entrances.
The optimal parking strategy, one that would best all others every time, has yet to be found. In their research, though, Redner and Krapivsky are homing in on one that integrates the more complicated aspects of parking.
For now, science says prudence is a virtue in the parking lot. And while the meek might inherit the Earth, they certainly won’t find the best parking space at the mall.
The silver-backed chevrotain, also called the Vietnamese mouse-deer, is elusive. It's so elusive that scientists had feared it was extinct after none had been photographed for decades. But as The Washington Post reports, the first images taken of the mammal in nearly 30 years prove that the species is still alive in the woods of Vietnam.
No larger than small dogs, chevrotains are the tiniest ungulates, or hoofed animals, on Earth. They have vampire-like fangs and skinny legs that support their bodies. Silver-backed chevrotains are characterized by the silver sheen of their tawny coat.
The tiny population native to Vietnam has been devastated by poachers in recent decades. That, and the animal's natural shyness, make it incredibly difficult to study. Before this most recent sighting, the last time scientists had recorded one was in 1990.
Global Wildlife Conservation, the Southern Institute of Ecology, and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research teamed up in hopes of documenting the lost species. Researchers interviewed residents and government forest rangers in the Vietnamese city of Nha Trang about the silver-backed chevrotain, looking for tips on where to find one. Residents said that while populations had been hit hard by hunting, the animals were still around.
Based on this local ecological knowledge, scientists set up three camera traps in the Vietnamese woods. In just five months, they captured 275 photographs of the little mouse-deer. They then installed 29 additional cameras and snapped 1881 new images in that same length of time.
“For so long this species has seemingly only existed as part of our imagination," Global Wildlife Conservation associate conservation scientist An Nguyen said in a statement. "Discovering that it is, indeed, still out there, is the first step in ensuring we don’t lose it again, and we’re moving quickly now to figure out how best to protect it.”
Now that a silver-backed chevrotain population has been located, researchers plan to conduct the first-ever comprehensive survey of the species. Once the data is collected, it will be used to build a plan for the species' survival.