Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Slate

March 26, 2013

Slate: Your laser pointer is probably illegal

For all the whining everyone's always doing about jetpacks and other tech of the future, you'd think we'd be more impressed with the teeming abundance and affordability of lasers. In fact, we're so over Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, we've relegated the technology to kitschy beach-shop key chains and board games for nerds.

And yet a new study shows a majority of the dinky laser pointers on the market exceed the power level limits set by the Code of Federal Regulations, which means a whole lot of twerps out there wield far more retina-burning power than they should.

That laser pointers are potentially dangerous shouldn't come as any big surprise. However, ubiquity has a way of breeding a lack of respect. And lack of respect leads people to point electromagnetic radiation at the eye holes of rival soccer clubs or helicopter and airplane pilots.

"The human eye is a fantastic optical instrument capable of concentrating light a 100,000 times onto the retina," explains Joshua Hadler, physicist and laser safety officer for the National Institute of Standards and Technology Laser Radiometry Project. "More than a few milliwatts at the cornea can be focused to a spot so small that the power density on the retina can become greater than that generated when staring into the sun."

Power limits put in place by the CFR cap laser pointers at 5 milliwatts. Anything more powerful than that is technically not a "laser pointer" — that is, a handheld laser intended to trick an audience into thinking your PowerPoint slides are even vaguely interesting. Which is why it's concerning that Hadler and his co-authors Marla Dowell and Edna Tobares found some of the laser pointers they tested to be well above the 5 milliwatt output advertised on the labels. One showoff laser pointer clocked in at an absurd 66.5 milliwatts.

Text Only
Slate
  • The case for separate beds

    The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
    It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.

    April 18, 2014

  • Allergies are the real midlife crisis

    One of the biggest mysteries is why the disease comes and goes, and then comes and goes again. People tend to experience intense allergies between the ages of 5 and 16, then get a couple of decades off before the symptoms return in the 30s, only to diminish around retirement age.

    April 16, 2014

  • treadmill-very-fast.jpg Tax deduction for a gym membership?

    April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. So why shouldn't the tax code be revised to reward preventive health?

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Boston doctors can now prescribe you a bike

    The City of Boston this week is rolling out a new program that's whimsically known as "Prescribe-a-Bike." Part medicine, part welfare, the initiative allows doctors at Boston Medical Center to write "prescriptions" for low-income patients to get yearlong memberships to Hubway, the city's bike-share system, for only $5.

    April 11, 2014

  • A man with amnesia taught us how memories become personal

    Although not as celebrated as the late American amnesiac H.M., for my money K.C. taught us more important and poignant things about how memory works. He showed how we make memories personal and personally meaningful. He also had a heck of a life story.

    April 7, 2014

  • Investing more money in tornado research would be a disaster

    This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would require National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funding to focus on improving forecasts of "high impact weather events" like tornadoes and hurricanes "for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy."

    April 3, 2014

  • Hate With Friends, the fun new Facebook tool

    Hating movies, earworms, conventions of grammar, clothing brands, diet fads - you get the twinkle of pleasure without the glob of guilt, or the cold brush of fear. A Coldplay song doesn't know you hate it.

    April 2, 2014

  • dog-sunglasses.jpg Do animals have a sense of humor?

    Right now, in a high-security research lab at Northwestern University's Falk Center for Molecular Therapeutics, scientists are tickling rats. Their goal? To develop a pharmaceutical-grade happiness pill. But their efforts might also produce some of the best evidence yet that humor isn't something experienced exclusively by human beings.

    March 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_zuckerberg.jpg The logic of Facebook's multibillion-dollar shopping spree

    Yet again, Facebook has spent a gaudy sum of money to buy a hot startup. This time, it's virtual reality pioneer Oculus VR, at a purchase price of $2 billion. And don't be surprised if Mark Zuckerberg continues on his buying spree.

    March 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140325-AMX-BARISTA251.jpg Coffee's third wave? The Apple to Starbucks' Microsoft

    Do you remember when Starbucks was cool? It opened in Seattle in the 1970s as a local specialty roaster, a trendy alternative to the prevailing generic swill. But the price of conquest is cachet. What was once novel — the warm décor, the gentle music, the faux-Italian lingo — has become banal. Today's coffee snobs would rather snort Sanka than set foot inside a Starbucks

    March 26, 2014 2 Photos