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USPS Irradiation Damages Electronics 341

Posted by michael
from the enduring-freedom dept.
meehawl writes: "Bummer. Turns out the USPS's new Electron Beams anthrax zappers can erase and sometimes permanently damage CompactFlash cards. I wonder what other sensitive electronics will get wiped, not to mention seeds, film, some plastics, and so on. I guess it's more reason to use Fedex and UPS, at least unless and until they deploy these beam weapons as well. All this disruption for a campaign that killed five people? Some people think using the beams will lead to more deaths and injuries among operators. Meanwhile, electron beam makers, SureBeam, just got an analyst upgrade." Err, and be careful what you irradiate.
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USPS Irradiation Damages Electronics

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  • by Cpyder (57655)
    "All this disruption for a campaign that killed five people? " What's next? "All this security measures for this 4 planes a year that get hijacked?" "All this bombs for this really small percentage of women that are being tortured?"
    • This could kill a lot more than five people, depending on your definition of "mail-order bride". :/
    • by xdroop (4039) on Saturday January 12, 2002 @10:18AM (#2828336) Homepage Journal
      ...and yet, the number of people slaughtered on the highways due to drunk-driving is somehow acceptable.


      Can anyone find out how many federal workers have been killed in traffic "accidents" since September 11? I bet it's more than five.

      • Can anyone find out how many federal workers have been killed in traffic "accidents" since September 11? I bet it's more than five.

        (powers up the good ol' HP)
        Lesseee.. there are 4E4 highway deaths a year, in a population of 2.8E8 .. assuming Federal payroll at 5E5 excluding the military (just a number, sire), this works out to about 70 deaths per year, or about 6 per month. The answer to your question would be about 24.

        sniff... I love my calculator.... sniff...
  • It isn't widely publicized, but a person known as Bruce Banner was involved in the development of the electron beam. During testing, he and the photographer that the Daily Bugle sent over to cover the event, Peter Parker, were caught inside the test chamber of the electron. Peter Parker also had the misfortune of having his pet spider with him at the time, which unfortunately did not survive being irradiated.

    This can only lead us to one conclusion; Bruce Banner and Peter Parker are Batman and Robin.

  • All this disruption for a campaign that killed five people?

    That's an interesting question - what price a human life. Is 100 man years of inconvenience to everyone else worth say, one human life? Has anybody considered the thousands of man years invested in the WTC's construction. In some ways, those lost years might be considered part of the death toll. They have to now be re-spent for reconstruction. Time that people could have spent living or with their families.

    • The price of a human life is valued all the time.
      That is why we are allowed to drive faster than 3mph in our cars. If we limited the speed limit to a crawl, we could avoid people getting kill by cars, inside and outside it. But the impact of such a limit would be to much on any speed limit, even more than the people killed on the roads. So there we have already put a value on it.
    • Oh I love this argument. The "value" of a single human life... how "noble" of you to feel that way.

      First of all, we still don't know why we are here. Don't get religious on me now. We can't and don't really know anything about ourselves, just that we are typically afraid to die. That's all. Nothing more.

      Who was it commenting on the "Sanctity of Life." Some comedian guy. More of a standup philosopher than a comedian. Well, I happen to agree with him on that issue. The ideal of the sanctity of life is all skewed. ...because we happen to be alive! You don't hear dead people commenting on the sanctity of life do you?

      Finally, and more seriously, if we valued human life, we wouldn't smoke. We wouldn't drink and drive. We wouldn't drive for that matter. The notion here is "acceptable risk."

      Again, the motivation for all this "protecting human life" crap isn't about protecting lives as much as it is about protecting asses. They want to avoid being sued.

      So get off your high horse and have a look at reality. We do not value life as much as you might think. We value the lives of foreign and faceless people even less. More people die on the freeways than did in the WTC. Okay, maybe not all at once but still!

      And besides that, we die anyway. Nothing can stop that from happening.

      ...oh it's too early in the morning for this...
      • First of all, we still don't know why we are here.

        I'm here to read Slashdot. Why are you here?
  • stop whining (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lightray (215185) <tobin@splorg.org> on Saturday January 12, 2002 @09:22AM (#2828238) Homepage
    ``All this disruption for a campaign that killed five people''

    What a short-sighted thing to say. You're whining that protections against the launch of a biological attack might erase your digital camera pictures? Firstly, it is the postal service's precautions that have limited the death toll to five; and secondly, if you mean to imply that a mere five deaths doesn't warrant this astounding level of inconvenience, then what death toll would be needed to justify these measures? ie, how long would you wait? This isn't like holding secret military tribunals or any of the other civil-liberty-violating measures that have been discussed -- this is a simple, safe, effective, and prudent thing to do. I'm sure that the first time a UPS package or FedEx package is found to contain Anthrax or anything similar, then the private couriers will immediately begin irradiating their packages too. In fact, it might even become required by law.

    If you're sending something by mail that could perhaps be damaged by certain handling in the mail, you can write a message on the outside of the package requesting special handling. ``Photographs: do not bend.'' ``Perishable: do not freeze.'' Sensitive materials ranging from high speed film to live queen bees are routinely sent through the mail, and it works just fine. I'm sure ``Sensitive: Do not irradiate'' or something of that nature would work just fine. Your mail might be ever so slightly delayed due to the alternate handling, but you'll live.

    • You're whining that protections against the launch of a biological attack might erase your digital camera pictures?
      No. We're whining that the compactflash card that we pay $250 for online could show up damaged at our homes and never work right in the first place, because the postal service chose to do interesting things to its package en route. We're whining that our prescription-by-mail medicine may have been altered in unknown ways and may no longer make us well or may in fact be toxic.

      I haven't been to a post office in a couple of weeks. Have they posted large safety orange "WARNING, WE IRRADIATE YOUR MAIL, YOUR FILM AND ELECTRONICS WILL BE DAMAGED AND YOUR MEDICINE WILL BECOME TOXIC" signs everywhere yet?
      if you mean to imply that a mere five deaths doesn't warrant this astounding level of inconvenience, then what death toll would be needed to justify these measures? ie, how long would you wait?
      How many dozens or hundreds of people die in the United States every year from slipping in the bathtub? what death toll are you waiting for to justify the banning of bathtubs?

      You can't legislate away death. Living has risks.
      this is a simple, safe, effective, and prudent thing to do.
      Tell the folks at the commerce department whose paper gave off toxic gas because it was irradiated that it's safe.
      I'm sure ``Sensitive: Do not irradiate'' or something of that nature would work just fine.
      I'm sure that'll be very comforting to the terrorists who have been mailing anthrax, to know that they can just write "do not irradiate" on their envelopes full of death. Look, if this is such a wonderful thing like you say it should be done to everything. If it can't be safely done to everything, maybe it shouldn't be done at all: creating a false sense of security is much worse than being insecure and knowing it.
    • by sharkey (16670)
      "Bioweapon: Do not irradiate or expose to antiboitics"
  • Wrong. (Score:2, Informative)

    by k98sven (324383)
    There is cause for concern; true, anyone worried about their mail turning radioactive is misguided:
    things don't become radioactive by being irradiated.
    (except if it's fast neutron radiation, in which case radioactivity may be induced)

    On the other hand there is cause for concern when it comes to the chemistry.
    When organic compounds get hit by gamma radiation, radicals are formed,
    chemical bonds are broken, etc. It's a big mess,
    and given the huge diversity of substances being irradiated, it's far to early to tell if
    dangerous compounds are formed or not. (probably mostly:not)

    One example is that gamma radiation can cause oxygen to form ozone, which is poisonous.
  • by Wakko Warner (324) on Saturday January 12, 2002 @09:35AM (#2828255) Homepage Journal
    ...is what is going to happen when someone smuggles C4 onto a plane in his ass, and gets caught. Full-body-cavity searches for all passengers!

    This is rapidly getting ridiculous. And I feel no safer.

    - A.P.
    • Check out the January 4, 2002 goats comic [goats.com].

      "Our right to shop for housewares in a safe environment outweighs his right to anal sovereignty. This is America, dammit."

  • I think what we're seeing is the first of many "oopses" that show that strong irradiation of mail may be approaching this problem in the wrong fashion. As I implied in the subject line, they're driving a finishing nail with a sledge hammer.

    Rather than focus on irradication of what most probably is not there (anthrax), we'd do well to focus on methods that allow us to detect its presence in a non-destructive and non-damaging fashion to the contents of the mail. Once detected, we can use the irradication method, or perhaps we'd choose isolation and chemical testing in order to find the source of the moron that was putting anthrax in the mail.

    For instance, we've come a long way in x-raying luggage, adding expert systems that attempt to assist the operator in identifying potentially hazardous items. Something similar is needed that can identify chemical compounds behind barriers such as paper, plastic, and perhaps even metal.

    If I'm correct, what this method would need to look for (where anthrax is concerned) is a chemical residue or trace, in powder form. I like the idea of using a beam of radiation, since it can pass through a sealed package and its contents without causing us to become a society that searches people's mail by hand.

    What I think would be optimum is a very low intensity radiation at just the right frequency to excite the structure of the Anthrax such that it immediately shows up as a "hot spot" on the detector circuitry, yet with the beam kept at a low enough power that flash memory cards don't get erased or damaged, film doesn't get fogged, paper doesn't release noxious fumes, etc...

    Do I know how to accomplish this? Sorry, not my field... But I'm hoping someone whose field this is sees my comments. Perhaps it'll trigger an idea in the right direction.
    • Or maybe a low-tech solution that already has a track record: sniffer dogs. A good dog's nose IS up to the task, no matter how well-wrapped and sealed the package is. If there are so much as half a dozen identifiable molecules worth of leakage (which there is with every sort of packaging one could reasonably send thru the mail) the dog can find it. This is as good or better than the most sophisticated test equipment can manage.

      And the dog, if trained for it, is also going to find things like explosives in the mail.

    • What I think would be optimum is a very low intensity radiation at just the right frequency to excite the structure of the Anthrax such that it immediately shows up as a "hot spot" on the detector circuitry, yet with the beam kept at a low enough power that flash memory cards don't get erased or damaged, film doesn't get fogged, paper doesn't release noxious fumes, etc...

      This sort of thing can be done to detect explosives [pentacore.com], by measuring the ratios of certain chemical elements (e.g. explosives often contain high amounts of nitrogen). A neutron beam is directed at the target, and when a nucleus absorbs a neutron it emits a gamma ray at a distinctive energy level. By looking at the gamma spectrum, it's possible to tell what the target's made of.

      However, this method can only measure bulk chemical properties. It would be hard for such a system to tell the difference between Anthrax and other benign organic substances like paper.


  • Oh dear..

    I'm afraid your thinking is just a touch flawed. Yeah, Americans had their head in the anthrax bucket for a month straight, and it only killed a handful of people. By your logic, we should just dismiss what happened on 9/11 because only 3000 people died, and only a handful of buildings collapsed. We should go after Boeing because after all, they manufacture FLYING DEATH WEAPONS that PERMANENTLY DAMAGE stuff.

    Don't be so dramatic. The same technology used to irradiate your Compact Flash at the post office is the same technology used to heat your damn burrito at CIrcle K. Take your tinfoil hat off and relax.

    Cheers,
    • Don't be so dramatic. The same technology used to irradiate your Compact Flash at the post office is the same technology used to heat your damn burrito at CIrcle K. Take your tinfoil hat off and relax.

      Yeah, but you don't see me putting CF cards in the microwave, do you?

    • To a certain point we *should* ignore the events of September 11, in terms of changing our daily lives.

      This particular tactic has been thwarted. It was thwarted on the fourth plane when passengers elected to stop the hijackers or die trying. We're now making the cockpit entry-proof. Publicize the fact regardless of any number of people killed, bullets fired, bombs threatened that the cockpit door will NOT open, and the problem's solved.

      Yes, new tactics will be developed in attempts to take over airplanes. But it has become substantially harder to do, and even last time only two of four caused horrific damage (the Pentagon loss, on the ground and in the plane, was roughly the same as if a fully-loaded 747 had crashed).

      As far as antrax goes ... the FBI formally contends that they believe the source is domestic, from one of our biological weapons facilities. Surely this suggests more effective ways of dealing with the threat than trying to sanitize each and every piece of mail or parcel shipped by the USPS?
    • Electromagnetic radation (nonionizing) like the microwave is different than particle beams (ionizing).

      The microwave oven basically shakes the burrito. The electron beam pummels it with electrons, which can change the nature of the atoms. Somebody who's studied this stuff should explain the differences.

      • Electromagnetic radation (nonionizing) like the microwave is different than particle beams (ionizing).

        You're basically correct, although the situation is little more interesting than that. For example, anyone who's ever put a light bulb or an AOL CD into a microwave oven will have seen a fair bit of ionization. There are even industrial ultraviolet lamps [fusionuv.com] that use microwaves to ionize mercury vapor inside a sealed bulb. However, in these cases electrons are being accelerated to high energies by the electric field of the microwave radiation, so it's not really the microwave radiation itself that is doing the ionizing.

        Also, red light can be considered "ionizing radiation" if it happens to land on a molecule of chlorophyll [mit.edu]. However, this is a special case. Normally electromagnetic radiation has to be in the ultraviolet or above before it is considered ionizing.

        Quick review: gamma rays, x-rays, ultraviolet, visible light, infrared, microwaves, and radio waves are all the same thing - electromagnetic radiation. Each "type" above refers to a particular range of frequencies. The energy per photon is directly proportional to the frequency. Microwaves therefore have less energy per photon than visible light, and much less energy per photon than x-rays or gamma rays.

        The energy of an electron beam can range from something comparable to an x-ray photon (e.g. 25keV in a television) up to several GeV in nuclear physics research labs [jlab.org].

        Some types of radiation, like positrons and neutrons, can affect matter even at near-zero kinetic energy. Positrons will combine with electrons, converting their mass into gamma radiation. Neutrons can be absorbed by an atomic nucleus, causing it to release other radiation or (in some cases, like uranium) fission.
  • by Raul654 (453029)
    I thought you needed a ton of permits to work with ionizing radiation, and it would stand to reason that to get them you would have to prove what you are doing is safe. How did they manage to get the permits and get this started so suddenly?
  • by b1t r0t (216468) on Saturday January 12, 2002 @09:58AM (#2828304)
    So what happens when someone puts some kind of explosive into a package that detonates when hit by an electron beam?

    It's the old "import an animal to destroy a local pest" problem all over again.

    • by mmontour (2208) <mail@mmontour.net> on Saturday January 12, 2002 @03:45PM (#2829482)
      So what happens when someone puts some kind of explosive into a package that detonates when hit by an electron beam?

      In that case, it would explode inside the e-beam machine (possibly injuring nearby workers, depending on the size of the explosive and how well shielded the machine was). Then the investigators would attempt identify the source of the package, and prosecute the sender. It wouldn't be too hard to have a camera taking pictures of each package as it went into the e-beam machine so they'd know exactly which package went boom.

      I don't really see the point of this question. Anyone could send an explosive designed to go off at some point in the mail-delivery chain. E-beam treatment doesn't really add to this risk, and it does reduce the risk of people receiving biological agents through the mail. Conceptually, it's a pretty good idea. However, as these stories show, the actual implementation leaves something to be desired.

      If it turns out that "normal" mail (paper, common plastics, ink, etc) will survive a radiation level that's high enough to be useful in killing the biological agents, then all that has to be added is a new "do not irradiate" option for the sensitive packages. Mail in this category would be screened more heavily, hand-inspected, require a verified return address, etc.

      However, if it turns out that the level of irradiation needed to be useful against biological agents is so high that "normal" mail will always be toasted, then the whole idea is dead in the water.
  • All this disruption for a campaign that killed five people?

    I was glad to see so many more people completely pissed off at that comment. The poster must not have heard that the last anthrax sent to DC was potent enough to kill "hundreds of thousands of people". When the government was too scared to open it thinking they couldn't contain it, I took notice.

    It doesn't help much that I live about 15 minutes from West Trenton, NJ -- the source of all that Anthrax going to NYC and Washington.
    • by graxrmelg (71438) on Saturday January 12, 2002 @11:00AM (#2828426)

      The poster must not have heard that the last anthrax sent to DC was potent enough to kill "hundreds of thousands of people".

      I hate it when I see statistics like that in the media. Sure, it was enough to kill hundreds of thousands if you lined them up and administered a minuscule bit to each, but it's not likely that that would happen. You might as well say that a terrorist had enough knives (one) to kill hundreds of thousands of people.

      • A bucket of water can drown a dozen people if adminstered properly as well. So which should we ban, buckets or water?
      • You might as well say that a terrorist had enough knives (one) to kill hundreds of thousands of people

        You can't kill thousands of people just by removing a knife from it's sheath. Unless you expect thousands of people to line up and slit their own throats by walking past the knife tied to a tree.

        Yet, you can kill that many people with anthrax by spraying it into the air with a leaf blower upwind from a small city. How about feeding a supply into the ventilation system of the next domed stadium hosting a playoff game? That's not "hundreds of thousands" but its a heluva lot worse than 5, which wasn't quite enough for the original poster.
  • by zerocool^ (112121) on Saturday January 12, 2002 @10:15AM (#2828330) Homepage Journal

    I wonder if the irradiation process degrades latex?
    We could be blameing the government for a rash of unwitting pregnancies.

    Course, it won't affect the slashdot crowd. Slashdotters don't have sex, they fsck.

    ~z
  • A package irradiated as part of the government's anti-anthrax screening gave off a noxious gas Thursday when it was opened at the Commerce Department, sickening at least 11 workers, a fire official said [...] a package of copy paper tightly wrapped in plastic gave off a noxious gas when it was opened. He said health officials believe the irradiation process can cause paper to give off hydrocarbons that are harmful when concentrated.

    In this cases it was not the workers that were irradiated. It was just the package. But I guess it cooked something, accounting for the fumes.

  • Even if you think some unknown number of destroyed compact flash cards is an acceptable price for killing bacterial spores, that will rarely be present, what about other things that can be damaged or destroyed? What about blood, stool and tissue samples that are mailed to medical labs for testing? How many people will die because the sample was degraded or destroyed, and the test result was incorrect? What about prescription medicines that are damaged by the radiation? Sure, the packages can be labelled. We all know how delivery services take careful note of labels on packages.
    • Sure, the packages can be labelled. We all know how delivery services take careful note of labels on packages

      What? You mean we are only trying to defend against criminals "smart" enough to get anthrax, but dumb enough not to stamp "FLASH Card, do not Zap" on the envelope?

      This isn't going to work if we let some of the packages escape (unless we let them go at random, then we still may eliminate the anthrax threat, but we will then destroy film/flash/medical samples/stuff).

  • AOL CDs (Score:3, Funny)

    by paulywog (114255) on Saturday January 12, 2002 @11:03AM (#2828435)
    Maybe that's what happened to my latest free "NEW AOL 7.0" CD [apo49.org]?

    There's good and bad in everything, I guess.

  • No duh (Score:2, Informative)

    They've been saying this since the process started. In fact, the plastic bad that my irradiated mail arrived in had the following note on it:

    November 2001


    Dear Postal Customer:

    The mail that is being delivered in this bag has been irradiated at a facility in Bridgeport, New Jersey. The irridiation process used at the Bridgeport facility was tested and found to be effective in destroying anthrax by an interagency team of scientific experts that recommended release of this mail for delivery. While the irradiation process is safe, it can affect some products that might be contained in this mail. The products on this list, if contained in a package or envelope that has been irridiated, should not be used. You should discard them and obtain replacements.
    • Any biological sample, such as blood, fecal samples, etc., could be rendered useless.
    • Diagnostic kits, such as those used to monitor blood sugar levels, could be adversely affected.
    • Photographic film will be fully exposed.
    • Food will be adversely affected.
    • Drugs and medicines may not be effective and their safety could be affected.
    • Eyeglasses and contact lenses could be adversely affected.
    • Electronic devices would likely be inoperable.

    While the irradiation process sucessfully kills anthrax, if your mail contains any suspicious substances we urge you to set it aside and contact local law enforcement authorities. This can help in the investigation.

    The group of experts that tested the irradiation process was organized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and included the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute, the Food an Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

    We apologize for the delay in delivery of this mail and for any inconvienience that may have resulted. Our primary interest is to assure that this mail is safe before being delivered to you. More information is available at 1-800-ASK-USPS.

    Thank you for your understanding.

    Sincerely,

    Thomas G. Day
    Vice President, Engineering

    The letter was yellow and fell apart to some extent when I opened the envelope.

    • The products on this list, if contained in a package or envelope that has been irridiated, should not be used. You should discard them and obtain replacements.

      And preferably find another carrier that tells you this before you send your items through the system. It's a bit-fucking-late when your film/urgent-stool-sample/human kidney arrives all irradiated to hell.

      They might as well have said "Do not use us to send anything other than plain paper, it'll be nuked"
  • Only five deaths... (Score:5, Informative)

    by fmaxwell (249001) on Saturday January 12, 2002 @11:53AM (#2828609) Homepage Journal
    All this disruption for a campaign that killed five people?

    Although the self-righteous amoung us have pounced on this statement, it's not out of line. We can't substantially change our way of life every time someone dies.

    Look at automobiles. A 1981 VW Rabbit (Golf in Europe) weighed about 1,800lbs. A modern Golf weighs in at about 2,800lbs. Most of that weight gain is because of safety regulations requiring everything from stronger bumpers to airbags to bracing in the doors. In another 50 years, will economy cars weigh as much as Chevy Suburbans due to ever-increasing safety regulation?

    What if it could be shown that taking people's guns away wuld prevent deaths? In the U.S. in 1998, there were 30,708 deaths from firearms: Suicide 17,424; Homicide 12,102; Accident 866; Undetermined 316. And no rational person could possibly claim that self-defense uses of firearms saved anywhere near that many lives. So does that death toll justify repealing the Second Amendment (right to bear arms)?

    We are slowly paralyzing ourselves as a country. We need to realize that we can't legislate or regulate death out of existence. People are going to die, sometimes tragically before their time, no matter how many laws, procedures, rules, and regulations we put into place.
    • In the U.S. in 1998, there were 30,708 deaths from firearms: Suicide 17,424; Homicide 12,102; Accident 866; Undetermined 316. And no rational person could possibly claim that self-defense uses of firearms saved anywhere near that many lives.

      Any person so determined could commit suicide without a gun. The same goes for homicide. The only deaths clearly attributable to guns here are accidental deaths. You could also include some of the indeterminate deaths and homicides, as some no doubt would not have happened without the immediacy and "convenience" of a gun.

      Still, that it no argument that none of those 30,708 deaths would not have happened witout firearems. In fact, I'd venture a guess most of those would still have happened - with a different weapon.
      • Still, that it no argument that none of those 30,708 deaths would not have happened witout firearems. In fact, I'd venture a guess most of those would still have happened - with a different weapon.

        I'm not saying that none of those deaths would have happened, but most would not have.

        Guns make suicide easy and private. Most suicides would not happen if the person had to poison themselves, jump to their death, etc. That's why we have such a high suicide rate in the U.S.

        Many of the people that use guns to commit murder would be far too cowardly to try to kill with a knife or their bare hands. Ever heard of a drive-by knifing? Ever hear of some kid showing up at school with poison to try to kill all of his classmates? How about family arguments that end in gunshots? You are, statistically speaking, three times as likely to die in a domestic dispute if there is a gun in the home.
        • Guns make suicide easy and private. Most suicides would not happen if the person had to poison themselves, jump to their death, etc. That's why we have such a high suicide rate in the U.S

          Rather questionable, where does this idea come from? It's rather difficult to interview successful suicides...

          Many of the people that use guns to commit murder would be far too cowardly to try to kill with a knife or their bare hands. Ever heard of a drive-by knifing?

          Well just this weekend there was a murder at a London train station using a knife and last September some people armed with knives enguaged in mass murder.
          Also one important thing to consider is that someone intendeding murder isn't going to be concrened with if they might be changed with having an illegaly held firearm. Private firarms arn't legal in Belfast, but that didn't stop a postman being shot dead on Saturday morning.
        • Guns make suicide easy and private. Most suicides would not happen if the person had to poison themselves, jump to their death, etc. That's why we have such a high suicide rate in the U.S.
          The US has a relatively low suicide rate. See this page [who.int] for a map depicting different countries' rates.
          If guns weren't used, less people would succeed commiting suicide, but the number of attempts probably wouldn't change. According to this [nih.gov], 4 times more men die of suicide than women, while 3 times more women attempt suicide. That's because 79% of firearm suicide deaths were men, while women usually try less lethal methods.
  • What if you mother, father, wife or kids got anthrax from the mail? Would it be worth it then?
    • No.

      Nearly everbody who dies leaves behind close relatives and friends who would do anything to save them. This is very moving, but not a basis for rational decision making.

      In the end, we're all going to die. Nothing we do can prevent that. The only thing we can do is use our limited resources to make our life worth living. Part of this life is taking risks. If you don't want your wife or kids to die, don't have a wife or kids. Yet, in pursuit of their happiness, many people face the risks, and have a wife and kids.

      They will let their kids smoke, drink, drive a car, cross a street.

      I'll let mine handle mail.
    • What if your mother, farther, wife, or kids dies because their diabetes testing materials, or insulin, was irradiated by the USPS in transit to the pharmacy where you bought it and you didn't know about it, and their blood sugar test results are incorrect and they consequently eat too much, or too little, sugar?

      What if their prescription medicine has been irradiated and has become toxic (due to chemical breakdown) and it kills them? Or if it just doesn't work any more and they die of what it was supposed to cure them of?

      What if your grandmother's medicine arrives in the mail and they DID stick a warning label on it but she can't afford to get it replaced so she takes it anyway, it doesn't work, and she dies?

      What would it be worth then?

      The point is that they clearly haven't thought out all the consequences of this. They're so eager to prevent any further anthrax cases that they're not considering potential adverse consequences of their concept of a solution.
  • Problem Solved (Score:5, Insightful)

    by clark625 (308380) <.clark625. .at. .yahoo.com.> on Saturday January 12, 2002 @12:21PM (#2828725) Homepage

    Please. Most of the threads here are just (forgive me for saying) moronic. "All this for just 5 deaths", "This is the last nail being hammered into our coffin", "Oh dear me... my rights have been violated". Please.

    How many people buy a hard drive and expect it to be shipped in an envelope without padding or an anti-static bag? None. You ship me a drive like that, I'll send it right back without testing it. Sure, it might work; but that's not the point. It may or may not work very long. Not worth the risk.

    Similarly, now when you ship a compact flash card, you'll have to protect it properly. Duh. A hard drive isn't susceptible to this beam because it is surrounded by the plastic case... which is covered on both sides with about 2 or maybe 3 mil of aluminum. So, from now on, ship compact flash cards wrapped in aluminum foil or, once "professional" baggies are available, use those.

    An electron beam needn't be harmful, folks. I can't remember the exact equation of how far the electrons will penetrate, but in my work with Auger Electron Spectroscopy, a 3keV beam only gets me about a nanometer into the surface of a material. Going to higher energy proportionally increases the depth--but really this isn't something that's difficult to shield against. This isn't nearly as big a deal as people are making it out to be.

    • Re:Problem Solved (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ronys (166557)
      Er, if it isn't difficult to shield against, than the same shielding will work for anthrax, no? Back to square one...
    • Problem changed. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TheMCP (121589) on Saturday January 12, 2002 @03:13PM (#2829351) Homepage
      So what you're saying is, this electron beam will kill anthrax, but it's easily blocked... so we all start using electron-beam-proof wrapping... and so does whoever has been mailing anthrax.

      Gee, now I feel safe.

      If what you're saying is right, what this means is that we're all just going to have to pay for more expensive wrapping for our mail, particularly for film, medicine, or electronics, for no actual benefit.
    • Similarly, now when you ship a compact flash card, you'll have to protect it properly.

      So what's to keep the crazies from protecting their anthrax 'properly' when they mail it?

  • The radiation level that the USPS is testing now (and maybe has in production already) is so high that even radiation-hardened microchips (for space and defense systems) cannot withstand it. Also, some packages have been reportedly catching on fire because of the high radiation levels.
  • I use thermal labels to address my business mail and I've had several returned with "Address Unreadable". The label turns jet black after irradiation.

    It was lucky that I didn't use a thermal label for the return address as well or I never would have known that this was happening.
  • The field of risk management is perhaps where society is at it's stupidest. If you calculate the dollars spent per saved life for supposed life saving actions, there is a span of 9 magnitudes, IIRC.

    It's next to impossible to put forward such arguments, especially in the very emotional times after great losses of lives when safety decisions are made. Still, it's an undisputable fact that there is a limited amount of resources, and if you choose to put it where you can save one life for $100M, rather than where it can be done for $1k, you're not really saving lifes, even if you think you do.

    About 6500 people die every day in the US. I haven't done the math, but I feel pretty safe saying that if we spent as much per life saved on other dangers than mailed anthrax, we would be bankrupt many times over.

    So why does this happen? Because of the intense media coverage, anthrax is on everybodys mind, and the government has to "do something". Thus, it's really not about "saving lifes", but about PR and saving face.
  • I was under the impression that they were just doing letters. What point is it to do packages?

    Why don't I just line my box with lead or aluminum foil (obviously if I know how to make anthrax, I can calculate how thick the foil needs to be). Then put my anthrax in it.

    People get all kinds of letters from strange sources. But hardly ever strange packages, right? Except of course for public figures, but perhaps their mail should be treated differently.

    It's just more SNAKE OIL designed to make everybody feel good. Like checking for nail clippers at the airport.

    As for the five lives comment, well I guess in the USA we value whatever life is broadcast on the evening news. But I agree with the poster's sentiment, there's a balance to be made between the illusion of safety and the day-to-day functioning of society.

  • I don't even have to repeat the quote from the title, you all know what it is. It is tasteless, uncaring, and selfish in a disturbing way.

    It is even further disturbing to see the discussions about it here... how everyone who argues against such emotion gets even more selfish, uncaring responses, and how some people are relating this to deaths from drunk driving or careless eating.

    This is a PUBLIC HEALTH SAFETY MATTER. French fries don't kill you the same way anthrax does. Drunk driving is a result of irresponsible behavior and is not tolerated much at all in this country, and our society has gone to great lengths to prevent needless deaths from auto accidents in general... why could we not apply this to eliminating anthrax and other biological threats from our postal mail system?

    Because you want to send a compact flash card unwrapped in a 34 cent envelope? Shame on you.

    But it's not even that. It's that you think that your needs for freedom and convienience are more powerful and weighty than the public's need for safety and security. And on top of that, you implicitly and coldheartedly suggest that if those 5 people hadn't died yet, but they would if they stopped irradiation, you'd still consider stopping it because you don't want to risk damaging improperly marked electronic equipment.

    It's not all of you. Some of you are actually appalled by this, as am I. But the rest of you... that's just sick. And, sadly, this kind of stuff happens all the time on here. And it's Michael who usually posts it, too. He does a poor job of weeding out such bad taste from what might be an interesting discussion. Rather than say "All because 5 people died...", we could ask "How can we eliminate the public health threat AND ensure the safety of our equipment?" The fact that it isn't appalling to you to say the former is appalling to the people among us who value human life, no matter how sick and fucked up it can be at times.

    Ah, who's listening to me anyway? Go back to your coffee, games, and coding.
    • Although the article wasn't worded elegantly, the point is well taken when understood rationally. The point is this certain level of safety is futile, and won't actually save any lives. It's not practical to build cars with huge aluminum safety cages (read: $60K "budget" cars for starters) to prevent the much more then five lives per day that are lost. So, because car accidents don't make the big news, and the USPS does, we are investing millions in some silly beam instead. This beam will probably become useless once a non-detectable bacteria is used or once special packaging is developed to effectively "hide" the bacteria.
      Trying to secure ourselves from specific acts of terrorism is like trying to secure audio on a CD so that it can't be copied.
      • Your pissed because the beam might kill some electronics.

        The beam is applied to a significant amount of mail, it isn't tested first. It is just done. And no, you won't be able to ship something through such a system and have it NOT get irradiated if it goes through the equipment.

        For the moment this procedure will deal with the current threat, in the future it could be applied again at a moments notice to prevent a major outbreak.

        Think of this whole thing as a computer virus. Th only reason more people weren't effected is because something WAS done. Mail was stopped. High-risk mail was then treated and moved on.

        If nothing were done the numbers would likely be a hell of a lot higher than 5.

        And somebody would try something even more effective than anthrax. Maybe even somethinbg contagious.
      • You have a good point. And I agree about the article not being worded elegantly.

        I suppose my point was lost in this, though: the submission itself was appalingly careless about human life. The issues of irradiating mail and/or sending electronics in the mail are certainly worth some discussion, and this is a perfect forum to do so. However, such issues are not quite as urgent as the safety of Postal Service employees as well as the mail sending/receiving public in general. I'm not trying to be melodramatic, but I personally find that attitude intolerable and harmful to society. It's even scarier to consider that supposedly intelligent people think that way. What good is anything you do in life if you don't give a shit about anyone else?

        Some people forget that non-postal workers died from the anthrax contamination, including some lady who lived out in the boondocks in CT. Scary stuff. It could have been one of you who read this site.

        I personally find it inconvienent that I can't depend on the mail system to ship electronics if I needed to without some sort of irradiation protection... but who gives a shit if that's what it takes to solve the anthrax problem at the moment? I don't question it one bit, and if it's a reliable, inexpensive, and safe method of decontaminating mail, then I'm all for it. I also support research that would find any other reliable, inexpensive, and safe method of decontaminating mail that would not risk damaging anything being sent through the mail, too. For the time being, though, irradiation is fine with me.

        And as for the fact that you can't stop terrorism... well, you can try to contain it. And I'm willing to try hard. I've been willing to try hard to contain terrorism for years, and that emotion only grew stronger in me as I watched, with my own eyes, the collapse of the World Trade Center from 4 miles away.

        This is why I also don't complain about being thoroughly searched by airport security and having to wait in a long line for it. If it's effective, and it's what we got for now, I've got nothing to say about it... and anyone who complains about it too much really doesn't deserve the benefits we have from our (relatively) free society. If they don't like it, they can move to Afghanistan.
        • I suppose my point was lost in this, though: the submission itself was appalingly careless about human life.

          Bullshit. Sorry, but five lives out of two hundred and fifty million over the course of 3 months are nothing. Yes, they were human beings. Yes, they loved and were loved in return. But more people die from falling airplane toilet-flushings! Five lives are experimental error. That's the cold hard truth.

          And to inconvenience and endanger millions because of five deaths is careless disregard for the living. Did you see the official notice on things which are effected by irradiation? Medical samples, testing kits, contact lenses, food? How many lives have been lost because the right medicine wasn't available, because the testing kit lied, because the fellow's contact lenses were screwy and he crashed into a tree?

          That's careless disregard. Pointing out the lunacy of even bothering to trouble oneself over fewer deaths than are due to sharks isn't.

  • All this disruption for a campaign that killed five people?

    I'm sorry, but if one of those people were a close family member, then you'd care more about personal safety than some damn compact flash cards. I can't believe I actually had to read that.

  • Manufacturers of ant farms used for science education are starting to release a new product: cockroach farms. We've always known that after a nuclear war, all that would be left would be radiation resistant cockroaches. These enterprising entrepreneurs aren't going to wait until WWIII to use that characteristing to their advantage. The new procedures at the post office will ensure that the new product is a market success.
  • What about these fucking government beams on MY HERB, man!? Tha fuck's up with that shit?

"Irrationality is the square root of all evil" -- Douglas Hofstadter

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