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11 Things Germier Than Toilet Seats

People are understandably squeamish about public restrooms. But the same people are probably regularly interacting with surfaces that have far more germs and overall icky-ness than your average public toilet seat. For example...

1. Hotel/Motel Bedspread

Unlike the sheets, hotels and motels do not change or launder the bedspreads on a daily basis. It's actually more of an annual thing. And if you don't think there are various bodily fluids lingering in those coverings, let us remind you that when the bedspread from an internationally ranked five-star hotel was introduced as evidence in boxer Mike Tyson's rape trial, investigators found it coated with the DNA of so many different men that it took some significant time to finally isolate traces of Tyson's contribution.

2. Purse Bottoms

Many women who fear the germs of public toilet seats don't think twice about placing their purses down on the floor of the bathroom stall. Not only that, they also set them on the floor while riding the bus, or while dining at a restaurant, or while dancing at a nightclub, or on the bedspread at a hotel (see above). And then, when they get home, they set that same purse on the kitchen counter or the dining room table while they rifle through the daily mail or check their phone messages.

Nelson Laboratories of Salt Lake City tested a random selection of ladies' purses: those belonging to moms, executive types, and swinging singles. What did they find? Pseudomonas, staphylococcus aurous, salmonella, and e-coli. Many of the handbags had fecal contamination, and those belonging to the women that frequented dance clubs also had traces of vomit. In layman's terms, the pocketbooks were infested with harmful bacteria, the types that can cause all sorts of infections.

3. ATM Keypad

Studies have shown that the various keys on your average ATM serve as a cozy nesting place for Bacillus Cereus, a bacterium that can cause symptoms in humans similar to those of food poisoning. Yet folks casually punch those buttons and then go about their business without a second thought, touching their eye area to assuage an itch or holding the Egg McMuffin that they're munching during their morning commute.

4. Office Telephone

Have you ever used a corporate telephone other than the one on your desk? Who knows what evils lurk on that communal device... other than the 25,127 germs found in a square inch on the average telephone receiver as discovered in a 2004 University of Arizona study. Think about it... the person who used that phone before you might not have the same fastidious hand-washing habits as you, and he/she may have answered a call immediately upon exiting the bathroom...

5. Restaurant Menu

Servers barely have enough time to take an order from table 11 and then rush to tables 14 and 17 to deliver that extra side of Ranch dressing and a round of beverages, respectively. Do we really expect them to wipe down the restaurant's oft-handled menus with anti-bacterial wipes in their "spare" time? The Journal of Medical Virology has reported that flu viruses can survive on a hard surface for as long as 18 hours. Think of how many hands have touched that bill of fare before you browsed over it and then immediately used your fingers to transport dinner rolls or breadsticks directly to your mouth.

6. Condiment Containers

Speaking of restaurants and germs living on hard surfaces, how many of you disinfect your hands in between handling the ketchup bottle or salt/pepper shakers and your food?

7. Grocery Carts

So you're afraid to set your naked hindquarters on a toilet seat that is routinely cleaned with bleach-infused products, but you push a grocery cart through your local supermarket bare-handed? The handle of which has been touched by folks who've coughed or sneezed into their hands and have also handled packages of raw meat? And those of you who place items in the fold-out children's seat – does it not occur to you that many a child's diapered bottom has previously occupied that space? A four-year study conducted by the University of Arizona at supermarkets in Tucson, San Francisco, Chicago, and Tampa revealed that shopping buggies were rife with such bacteria and viruses as E. coli, salmonella, and Staphylococcus.

8. Steering Wheel

As mentioned above, public toilet seats are washed on a regular basis, but when is the last time you scrubbed down the steering wheel of your vehicle? During a typical day you might touch things such as a gas pump dispenser, cash from the bank drive-thru window, and your crying child's runny nose in the back seat, and then use those same hands to grip the steering wheel after every transaction without any disinfecting in between. Oh, did I mention that some of us also eat food and apply eye makeup while driving with those same hands that are gripping the germ-laden (mainly with bacillus cereus and arthrobacter) steering wheel?

9. Kitchen Faucet Handle(s)

Dr. Charles Gerba, an environmental biologist at the University of Arizona, once declared that if an alien from another planet landed in an average Earth household, he would determine (after a careful bacterial count) that he should wash his hands in the toilet and use the kitchen sink as a commode. Yep, our kitchen sponges and faucet handles are that contaminated with nasties, mainly because we tend to touch these items many times in the midst of handling raw meat, eggs, and poultry while preparing a meal.

10. Gym Equipment

How many of you who work out regularly at a gym grip the handrails on the treadmill or the handlebars on the stationary bike without a second thought? Or perhaps you grasp a series of different free weights during your strength-building workout. Odds are that at sometime during your workout you'll swipe a sweaty fist across your eyes or scratch an itch some place on your person (an innocent, unconscious activity that might break the skin and unintentionally place a virtual welcome mat inviting infection). You might be interested to know that the nasty "superbug" methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (better known as MRSA), which can survive on non-host surfaces for up to a month, has been found on various gym machines in studies done across the U.S. That's in addition to the sarcinia, candida specie, and staphylococcus epi that was also harvested from the various standard gym apparatus. And don't get us started on what was found on the floors of the showers...

11. Swings and Monkey Bars and Such

OK, this particular hotbed of germs might affect your offspring more than you, but it's certainly worth a mention, especially if you allow your child to munch on snacks while they romp. If your child ever frolics on the monkey bars, jungle gym, swings, ball pit, etc., of a communal play area, then his hands are a virtual Petri dish of disgustingness after each and every play date. Besides the traces of human fecal material found on such equipment in many studies, there is also the fact that kids with runny noses tend to use their hands as handkerchiefs while playing, and various birds in the area use playground equipment as their personal comfort station.

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Look Up! The Lyrid Meteor Shower Arrives Saturday Night
Scott Butner, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Scott Butner, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

There is a thin line between Saturday night and Sunday morning, but this weekend, look up and you might see several of them. Between 11:59 p.m. on April 21 and dawn on Sunday, April 22, the Lyrid meteor shower will peak over the Northern Hemisphere. Make some time for the celestial show and you'll see a shooting star streaking across the night sky every few minutes. Here is everything you need to know.

WHAT IS THE LYRID METEOR SHOWER?

Every 415.5 years, the comet Thatcher circles the Sun in a highly eccentric orbit shaped almost like a cat's eye. At its farthest from the Sun, it's billions of miles from Pluto; at its nearest, it swings between the Earth and Mars. (The last time it was near the Earth was in 1861, and it won't be that close again until 2280.) That's quite a journey, and more pressingly, quite a variation in temperature. The closer it gets to the Sun, the more debris it sheds. That debris is what you're seeing when you see a meteor shower: dust-sized particles slamming into the Earth's atmosphere at tens of thousands of miles per hour. In a competition between the two, the Earth is going to win, and "shooting stars" are the result of energy released as the particles are vaporized.

The comet was spotted on April 4, 1861 by A.E. Thatcher, an amateur skywatcher in New York City, earning him kudos from the noted astronomer Sir John Herschel. Clues to the comet's discovery are in its astronomical designation, C/1861 G1. The "C" means it's a long-period comet with an orbit of more than 200 years; "G" stands for the first half of April, and the "1" indicates it was the first comet discovered in that timeframe.

Sightings of the Lyrid meteor shower—named after Lyra, the constellation it appears to originate from—are much older; the first record dates to 7th-century BCE China.

HOW CAN I SEE IT?

Saturday night marks a first quarter Moon (visually half the Moon), which by midnight will have set below the horizon, so it won't wash out the night sky. That's great news—you can expect to see 20 meteors per hour. You're going to need to get away from local light pollution and find truly dark skies, and to completely avoid smartphones, flashlights, car headlights, or dome lights. The goal is to let your eyes adjust totally to the darkness: Find your viewing area, lay out your blanket, lay down, look up, and wait. In an hour, you'll be able to see the night sky with great—and if you've never done this before, surprising—clarity. Don't touch the smartphone or you'll undo all your hard ocular work.

Where is the nearest dark sky to where you live? You can find out on the Dark Site Finder map. And because the shower peaks on a Saturday night, your local astronomy club is very likely going to have an event to celebrate the Lyrids. Looking for a local club? Sky & Telescope has you covered.

WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON UP THERE?

You don't need a telescope to see a meteor shower, but if you bring one, aim it south to find Jupiter. It's the bright, unblinking spot in the sky. With a telescope, you should be able to make out its stripes. Those five stars surrounding it are the constellation Libra. You'll notice also four tiny points of light nearby. Those are the Galilean moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. When Galileo discovered those moons in 1610, he was able to prove the Copernican model of heliocentricity: that the Earth goes around the Sun.

THERE'S BAD WEATHER HERE! WHAT DO I DO?

First: Don't panic. The shower peaks on the early morning of the 22nd. But it doesn't end that day. You can try again on the 23rd and 24th, though the numbers of meteors will likely diminish. The Lyrids will be back next year, and the year after, and so on. But if you are eager for another show, on May 6, the Eta Aquariids will be at their strongest. The night sky always delivers.

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Can You 'Hear' These Silent GIFs?
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iStock

GIFs are silent—otherwise they wouldn't be GIFs. But some people claim to hear distinct noises accompanying certain clips. Check out the GIF below as an example: Do you hear a boom every time the structure hits the ground? If so, you may belong to the 20 to 30 percent of people who experience "visual-evoked auditory response," also known as vEAR.

Researchers from City University London recently published a paper online on the phenomenon in the journal Cortex, the British Psychological Society's Research Digest reports. For their study, they recruited more than 4000 volunteers and 126 paid participants and showed them 24 five-second video clips. Each clip lacked audio, but when asked how they rated the auditory sensation for each video on a scale of 0 to 5, 20 percent of the paid participants rated at least half the videos a 3 or more. The percentage was even higher for the volunteer group.

You can try out the researchers' survey yourself. It takes about 10 minutes.

The likelihood of visual-evoked auditory response, according to the researchers, directly relates to what the subject is looking at. "Some people hear what they see: Car indicator lights, flashing neon shop signs, and people's movements as they walk may all trigger an auditory sensation," they write in the study.

Images packed with meaning, like two cars colliding, are more likely to trigger the auditory illusion. But even more abstract images can produce the effect if they have high levels of something called "motion energy." Motion energy is what you see in the video above when the structure bounces and the camera shakes. It's why a video of a race car driving straight down a road might have less of an auditory impact than a clip of a flickering abstract pattern.

The researchers categorize vEAR as a type of synesthesia, a brain condition in which people's senses are combined. Those with synesthesia might "see" patterns when music plays or "taste" certain colors. Most synesthesia is rare, affecting just 4 percent of the population, but this new study suggests that "hearing motion synesthesia" is much more prevalent.

[h/t BPS Research Digest]

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