December 21st grows nigh. Are you worried about the Maya apocalypse? Don't be. As we already told you, the Maya didn't give a shit about your dumb apocalypse. But you already knew that, right? Good. That means you've freed up a bunch of time and energy that you can now devote to panicking about other stuff. There are plenty of things that are way more worthy of your worried hand-wringing. Here are a few of them.
And please, feel free to share your rational concerns, irrational neuroses, and obsessive fears in the comments.
That funny looking mole on your head/neck/ear/back/hip/inner thigh/etc.
Shut up, you know exactly what we're talking about. Quit putting it off and get that misshapen blotch/red patch/bump looked at. By a professional. Not your girlfriend or boyfriend. Not your hypochondriac classmate with the brimming WebMD bookmark folder. Get it done by a doctor — someone who can do a biopsy if need be. According to the American Cancer Society and the New England Journal of Medicine, skin cancer is the most common cancer, and accounts for roughly half of all cancers in the United States. Of the more than 1 million cases of skin cancer diagnosed in the U.S. this year, ~80% of them will be basal-cell carcinomas. These are straightforward enough to diagnose and treat, but you need professional medical evaluation. Do it.
Sickness on a Plane
Have you heard the one about planes recirculating cabin air, so that everyone on the flight is breathing one another's germ-ridden air? Turns out that's a myth. In fact, the air you breathe on a typical plane flight is incredibly sanitary. The rest of the plane? Not so much. Basically not at all.
We've talked to microbiologists about this; most surfaces on a plane — tray tables, seatbacks, arm rests are absolutely wriggling with infectious material. Aisle seats are especially egregious in this regard. And it probably goes without saying, but airplane bathrooms, in particularly, are outstandingly bad. "Most people have probably never counted," said microbiologist Charles Gerba in an interview with io9, "but your average plane flight will have just one toilet per fifty people; and [on some flights], that number is closer to 75."
"And remember," Gerba reminds me, "these planes see hundreds of passengers a day." When you mix a lot of people with not a lot of restrooms, you get higher rates of bacteria and viruses — everything from norovirus, to seasonal flu, to the common cold, to Escherichia coli. Read this explainer for tips on how to stay healthy for your next flight.
There are lots of reason to lose sleep over your lack of sleep. People today sleep 15-25 minutes less per night than they did at the turn of the century, an hour less per night compared to fifty years ago, and two hours less per night than back in the 19th century. Lack of sleep has been linked to sexual disfunction, obesity and poor academic performance. And because humans are absolutely terrible judges of how tired they really are, you probably have no idea just how much your lack of sleep is impacting your daily life.
Sitting. It's killing us all.
The deadliest things in life are never as sexy as a Roland Emmerich style 2012 Maya apocalypse. The latest thing that science has claimed is killing us all? Sitting. Even if you exercise regularly, sitting at your desk all day is hastening your inexorable march toward death. The solution, some claim, is a standing desk — or even a treadmill desk. Maybe.
Because there are problems with standing and treaddesking, too. a recent review, published by Cornell's Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Group, suggests the former can increase the risk of carotid atherosclerosis by almost ten-fold, and that the latter can sap your productivity. Their solution? Move. Just move:
Sit to do computer work. Sit using a height-adjustable, downward titling keyboard tray for the best work posture, then every 20 minutes stand for 2 minutes AND MOVE. The absolute time isn't critical but about every 20-30 minutes take a posture break and move for a couple of minutes. Simply standing is insufficient. Movement is important to get blood circulation through the muscles. And movement [unlike a standing/treadmill desk] is FREE!
Sorry. We know this one comes of as ham-fisted and politically charged, but it's really not. Climate change actually is relevant to the Maya, and the end of their world as they knew and experienced it; a growing body of evidence suggests that a shifting climate, playing puppeteer to sociopolitical marionettes, had a devastating hand in the Maya's downfall.
"The connections between climate and war and societal instability are ones that we think are important," explains environmental anthropologist Doug Kennett, author of a recent paper that uses unprecedentedly detailed climate data to explore what might have become of the Maya. Kennett says if there's anything for people today to take away from his team's research, it's the relevancy it holds to contemporary issues. Obviously people are worried about global climate change, he explains, but often there's undue emphasis placed on abrupt changes - a sudden drought, perhaps, or a record-setting hurricane. "What we try to highlight in our paper," he explains, "is how climatic events can unfold on very long time scales," and that the way society responds to those changes can be crucial.
This one's been on our minds all morning. You can break a penis. Urologist and surgeon Andrew Kramer describes the process thusly, emphasis ours:
The unusual event of penile fracture occurs when there is a disruption of the tunica albuginea surrounding engorged erectile tissue during aggressive sexual behavior. There is often an audible crack and rapid detumescence with subcutaneous hemorrhage that follows.
And while a recent study on the nature and frequency of genital injury in the U.S. shows that men account for over two-thirds of the roughly 16,000 annual nether-region-related E.R. visits, ladyparts were far from safe. According to the data, infections and lacerations related to trimming and shaving increased by a factor of five between 2002 and 2010. PROTECT YOUR NAUGHTY BITS, PEOPLE.
Because, hello, they're SHARKS. They never sleep, rarely get sick, and possess sensory organs all over their bodies that basically let them smell electricity and see vibrations. (They do, however, contrary to common belief, get cancer.) They also just look terrifying.
Of course, the only shark-related trivia more widely known than their various killing abilities is the fact that shark attacks are actually pretty rare. According to National Geographic, the U.S. averages around 16 shark attacks each year, and less than one shark-attack fatality every two years. Not exactly common, but still way more likely than a Maya-predicted apocalypse. Like, times-infinity more likely.
New Year's Eve Plans
There will be a December 22, remember? And a December 31st. And a January 1st, 2013. Don't suck and be the one asking your friends what's going down on New Year's eve, because you were too busy laying in supplies for the end of days to plan ahead. Like an idiot.
Winning the Lottery
A Mad Cow Disease Epidemic
AGAIN WITH THE CATTLE. Aren't we about due for one of these?