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Can a Foil Hat Keep People From Reading Your Thoughts?

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Let’s say that the conspiracy theorists are right. Let’s say some malevolent group—the government, powerful corporations, extraterrestrials—really is trying to read and/or control the thoughts of the Average Joe with radio waves. Would the preferred headgear of the paranoid, a foil helmet, really keep The Man and alien overlords out of our brains?

The scientific reasoning behind the foil helmet is that it acts as a Faraday cage, an enclosure made up of a conducting material that shields its interior from external electrostatic charges and electromagnetic radiation by distributing them around its exterior and dissipating them. While sometimes these enclosures are actual cages, they come in many forms, and most of us have probably dealt with one type or another. Elevators, the scan rooms that MRI machines sit in, “booster bags” that shoplifters sometimes use to circumvent electronic security tags, cables like USB or TV coaxial cables, and even the typical household microwave all provide shielding as Faraday cages.

While the underlying concept is good, the typical foil helmet fails in design and execution. An effective Faraday cage fully encloses whatever it's shielding, but a helmet that doesn’t fully cover the head doesn’t fully protect it. If the helmet is designed or worn with a loose fit, radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation can still get up underneath the brim from below and reveal your innermost thoughts to the reptilian humanoids or the Bilderberg Group.

Opposite Effect

In 2005, a group of MIT students, prodded by "a desire to play with some expensive equipment,” tested the effectiveness of foil helmets at blocking various radio frequencies. Using two layers of Reynolds aluminum foil, they constructed three helmet designs, dubbed the Classical, the Fez, and the Centurion, and then looked at the strength of the transmissions between a radio-frequency signal generator and a receiver antenna placed on various parts of their subjects’ bare and helmet-covered heads.

The helmets shielded their wearers from radio waves over most of the tested spectrum (YouTube user Mrfixitrick likewise demonstrates the blocking power of his foil toque against his wireless modem) but, surprisingly, amplified certain frequencies: those in the 2.6 Ghz (allocated for mobile communications and broadcast satellites) and 1.2 Ghz (allocated for aeronautical radionavigation and space-to-Earth and space-to-space satellites) bands.

While the MIT guys’ tongue-in-cheek conclusion—“the current helmet craze is likely to have been propagated by the Government, possibly with the involvement of the FCC”—maybe goes a few steps too far, their study at least shows that foil helmets fail at, and even counteract, their intended purpose. That, or the students are aliens or government agents who fabricated these results in an effort to get you to take your perfectly functional helmet off…

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
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Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Who Was Chuck Taylor?
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From Betty Crocker to Tommy Bahama, plenty of popular labels are "named" after fake people. But one product with a bona fide backstory to its moniker is Converse's Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers. The durable gym shoes are beloved by everyone from jocks to hipsters. But who's the man behind the cursive signature on the trademark circular ankle patch?

As journalist Abraham Aamidor recounted in his 2006 book Chuck Taylor, All Star: The True Story of the Man behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History, Chuck Taylor was a former pro basketball player-turned-Converse salesman whose personal brand and tireless salesmanship were instrumental to the shoes' success.

Charles Hollis Taylor was born on July 24, 1901, and raised in southern Indiana. Basketball—the brand-new sport invented by James Naismith in 1891—was beginning to take the Hoosier State by storm. Taylor joined his high school team, the Columbus High School Bull Dogs, and was named captain.

After graduation, instead of heading off to college, Taylor launched his semi-pro career playing basketball with the Columbus Commercials. He’d go on to play for a handful of other teams across the Midwest, including the the Akron Firestone Non-Skids in Ohio, before finally moving to Chicago in 1922 to work as a sales representative for the Converse Rubber Shoe Co. (The company's name was eventually shortened to Converse, Inc.)

Founded in Malden, Massachusetts, in 1908 as a rubber shoe manufacturer, Converse first began producing canvas shoes in 1915, since there wasn't a year-round market for galoshes. They introduced their All-Star canvas sports shoes two years later, in 1917. It’s unclear whether Chuck was initially recruited to also play ball for Converse (by 1926, the brand was sponsoring a traveling team) or if he was simply employed to work in sales. However, we do know that he quickly proved himself to be indispensable to the company.

Taylor listened carefully to customer feedback, and passed on suggestions for shoe improvements—including more padding under the ball of the foot, a different rubber compound in the sole to avoid scuffs, and a patch to protect the ankle—to his regional office. He also relied on his basketball skills to impress prospective clients, hosting free Chuck Taylor basketball clinics around the country to teach high school and college players his signature moves on the court.

In addition to his myriad other job duties, Taylor played for and managed the All-Stars, a traveling team sponsored by Converse to promote their new All Star shoes, and launched and helped publish the Converse Basketball Yearbook, which covered the game of basketball on an annual basis.

After leaving the All-Stars, Taylor continued to publicize his shoe—and own personal brand—by hobnobbing with customers at small-town sporting goods stores and making “special appearances” at local basketball games. There, he’d be included in the starting lineup of a local team during a pivotal game.

Taylor’s star grew so bright that in 1932, Converse added his signature to the ankle patch of the All Star shoes. From that point on, they were known as Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Still, Taylor—who reportedly took shameless advantage of his expense account and earned a good salary—is believed to have never received royalties for the use of his name.

In 1969, Taylor was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The same year, he died from a heart attack on June 23, at the age of 67. Around this time, athletic shoes manufactured by companies like Adidas and Nike began replacing Converse on the court, and soon both Taylor and his namesake kicks were beloved by a different sort of customer.

Still, even though Taylor's star has faded over the decades, fans of his shoe continue to carry on his legacy: Today, Converse sells more than 270,000 pairs of Chuck Taylors a day, 365 days a year, to retro-loving customers who can't get enough of the athlete's looping cursive signature.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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