getty images
getty images

Did the Pentagon Really Ban Furbys?

getty images
getty images

Furbys were all the rage in the late nineties—1998 alone saw the sale of a whopping 27 million units—and remain popular to this day. But did you know that they’ve actually been cited as a national security threat?

The key to the dolls’ success lay in their robotic anatomy. Sophisticated programming enabled them to interact with toy owners and each other at an essentially unprecedented degree, which you can see on full display in this retro commercial:

However, one thing these talkative toys couldn’t do, despite rumors to the contrary, was imitate things they’d heard their owners saying. “[Although] Furby is a clever toy,” said a spokesman, “it does not record or mimic voices.”

Apparently, no one bothered to tell the U.S. intelligence community. In 1999, Furbys were officially banned by the NSA, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and the Pentagon. Administrators allegedly worried that an employee might bring one into work wherein it could eavesdrop on a top-secret conversation and “start talking classified.”

Tiger Electronics—a division of the Hasbro toy company—was quick to issue a statement clearing their product’s good name. TE President Roger Shiffman said that the government’s misgivings were based on “funny yet incorrect rumors” and added, “The NSA did not do their homework. Furby is not a spy.

Other wildly-inaccurate anti-Furby allegations Shiffman’s team has had to dispel include several claims that “the current Furby has the technology to launch the space shuttle. We [also] have one woman who is absolutely insistent that her Furby sings Italian operas.” 

Furby was also denounced for supposedly interfering with electronic medical equipment, a myth that was busted by Canadian health scientists in 2000. Dr. Kok-Swang Tan, who helped conduct the research, recalled getting “some strange looks from colleagues who wondered why I was playing with a Furby in front of medical devices.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
What’s the Difference Between Prison and Jail?
iStock
iStock

Many people use the terms jail and prison interchangeably, and while both terms refer to areas where people are held, there's a substantial difference between the two methods of incarceration. Where a person who is accused of a crime is held, and for how long, is a factor in determining the difference between the two—and whether a person is held in a jail or a prison is largely determined by the severity of the crime they have committed.

A jail (or, for our British friends, a gaol) refers to a small, temporary holding facility—run by local governments and supervised by county sheriff departments—that is designed to detain recently arrested people who have committed a minor offense or misdemeanor. A person can also be held in jail for an extended period of time if the sentence for their offense is less than a year. There are currently 3163 local jail facilities in the United States.

A jail is different from the similarly temporary “lockup”—sort of like “pre-jail”—which is located in local police departments and holds offenders unable to post bail, people arrested for public drunkenness who are kept until they are sober, or, most importantly, offenders waiting to be processed into the jail system.

A prison, on the other hand, is usually a large state- or federal-run facility meant to house people convicted of a serious crime or felony, and whose sentences for those crimes surpass 365 days. A prison could also be called a “penitentiary,” among other names.

To be put in a state prison, a person must be convicted of breaking a state law. To be put in a federal prison, a person must be convicted of breaking federal law. Basic amenities in a prison are more extensive than in a jail because, obviously, an inmate is likely to spend more than a year of his or her life confined inside a prison. As of 2012, there were 4575 operating prisons in the U.S.—the most in the world. The country with the second highest number of operating prisons is Russia, which has just 1029 facilities.

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

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
What Do Morticians Do With the Blood They Take Out of Dead Bodies?
iStock
iStock

Zoe-Anne Barcellos:

The blood goes down the sink drain, into the sewer system.

I am not a mortician, but I work for a medical examiner/coroner. During an autopsy, most blood is drained from the decedent. This is not on purpose, but a result of gravity. Later a mortician may or may not embalm, depending on the wishes of the family.

Autopsies are done on a table that has a drain at one end; this drain is placed over a sink—a regular sink, with a garbage disposal in it. The blood and bodily fluids just drain down the table, into the sink, and down the drain. This goes into the sewer, like every other sink and toilet, and (usually) goes to a water treatment plant.

You may be thinking that this is biohazardous waste and needs to be treated differently. [If] we can’t put oil, or chemicals (like formalin) down the drains due to regulations, why is blood not treated similarly? I would assume because it is effectively handled by the water treatment plants. If it wasn’t, I am sure the regulations would be changed.

Now any items that are soiled with blood—those cannot be thrown away in the regular trash. Most clothing worn by the decedent is either retained for evidence or released with the decedent to the funeral home—even if they were bloody.

But any gauze, medical tubing, papers, etc. that have blood or bodily fluids on them must be thrown away into a biohazardous trash. These are lined with bright red trash liners, and these are placed in a specially marked box and taped closed. These boxes are stacked up in the garage until they are picked up by a specialty garbage company. I am not sure, but I am pretty sure they are incinerated.

Additionally anything sharp or pointy—like needles, scalpels, etc.—must go into a rigid “sharps” container. When they are 2/3 full we just toss these into one of the biotrash containers.

The biotrash is treated differently, as, if it went to a landfill, then the blood (and therefore the bloodborne pathogens like Hepatitis and HIV) could be exposed to people or animals. Rain could wash it into untreated water systems.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios