Monthly Archives: February 2013

Is Heading the Ball Dangerous?

There’s a new study that purports to show that heading the ball in soccer is equivalent to getting punched by an amateur boxer. The question that’s left unanswered, of course, is whether this causes a concussion, and/or does any lasting damage.

Unfortunately, a link to the original research paper isn’t yet available, so it’s hard to draw definitive conclusions about what the study results really mean. However, I play a lot of soccer, and I can tell you the following from direct personal experience:

Heading the ball can indeed cause concussions. I’ve had the distinct displeasure of ‘missing’ while heading a hard-kicked ball. In one particularly memorable instance, a cross-field zinger partly hit my left eye socket, I wasn’t positioned properly despite having plenty of time, and I was seeing stars and feeling woozy afterward. I’ve had enough concussions in my life (at least three that knocked me out entirely, as well as several others) to have a pretty good idea what they feel like, and this was it.

Good technique greatly moderates the effect of the impact. When I’ve headed the ball with proper technique, I’ve noticed a significant decrease in the ‘jarring’ sensation that inevitably accompanies heading a ball. Even under these ideal conditions, however, it’s currently impossible to know with certainty whether the brain is striking the inside of the skull. (Mythbusters – Are you paying attention?)

Good technique isn’t easy, and isn’t implemented effectively by everyone. To learn to head the ball correctly, you need to know what proper technique looks like, and practice it repeatedly under reasonably safe conditions. Most of us learned heading early in life from parent coaches, who may not know good technique, or who may not be able to teach it effectively. And some of us may not have the depth perception and sense of timing needed to head the ball well every time. (I certainly don’t.) This increases our odds of injury when we choose to head the ball.

With all that in mind, consider that…

It’s just a freakin’ game. I love soccer, and I’ve been seriously injured playing it, but unless you’re playing pro ball, it’s better to live with the dirty looks of your teammates than to take a chance on a poorly-executed header that might give you brain damage. And make sure you (and your soccer-loving kids) know proper heading technique.

Update 2013-3-8:  A new study shows even light soccer headers cause declines in cognitive function, at least in the short term. Long term effects are as yet unknown.

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Why Not Use Tracers in Fracking?

I know relatively little about fracking. I’m not a geologist, environmental activist, petroleum industry magnate (or employee), or hydrologist. However, I get the impression that there are a lot of people concerned that fracking is putting toxic chemicals into the water supply (among other things.) I’m still agnostic on this issue, but I would like to know with some degree of certainty why some people can ignite the water coming from their faucets, and how many wells are faulty. So why not use chemical tracers in fracking to attribute sources of pollution?

There are a number of companies that provide the needed technology. Consider for example Chemical Tracers Inc, Environmental Tracing Systems LTD, and others. If they can produce tracers that are A) uniquely identifiable, B) not naturally occurring, and C) compatible with fracking fluid mixes, they could be mixed into the fracking fluid at the well site. This would give each well a ‘fingerprint’ that would allow us to ‘see’ whether fluid from any particular well was getting into the water supply by simply looking for the chemical tracers in the water. Wallah! Instant attribution.

All of us should have a stake in implementing this idea. The oil companies want to show that their fracking wells aren’t polluting aquifers, and the rest of us want to know that fracking wells aren’t polluting aquifers. And many of us on either side of this issue are going to have grandkids living near fracking wells some day; I for one would like to know that they’re not going to get sick from one of the best national water systems on the planet.


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I’ll Take My Self-Driving Car Now, Please

I can’t wait to own a self-driving vehicle. I wish Google (and the competition coming a bit later to the game) would hurry their asses up and get them on the market. I know some people don’t like giving up the sense of control, or are worried about being involved in a massive pile-up due to getting BoD’d, but to my way of thinking, the ability to read the paper or burn through some email on the way into work is the ultimate in luxury living.


Consider for example the years I spent commuting to downtown DC on a train, the original self-driving car. Every day, I’d take Amtrak from the station in Laurel down to Union Station, right in the heart of the capitol, and I loved every minute of it. Wide, comfy seats with lots of legroom, and I didn’t have to worry about traffic conditions,  accidents, or getting there on time – In my experience, the trains were rarely off schedule. And the best part was being able to do a crossword, read the news, chat with the person next to me, or whatever else I felt like doing within the confines of the seat and public propriety. (I’d have done stuff on my iPad, but this was before they existed.)

As far as I’m concerned, the day I can relax and let a computer do the driving can’t come soon enough.

photo credit: MarkDoliner via photopin cc

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