Monkeys and Computers...

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Monkeys and Computers

If monkeys are given typewriters will they eventually produce the works of Shakespeare? This notion is often attributed to Thomas Huxley, a 19th-century scientist and staunched supporter of Charles Darwin's theories of evolution. Mathematicians have likewise used it to illustrate concepts of chance. Researchers at Plymouth University in England, eager to find out what primates would do with a computer, recently left one in the monkey enclosure at Paignton Zoo in southwest England, where there were six Sulawesi crested macaques. They found out that the monkeys pressed a lot of S's, did not type a single word, and attacked the machine. They produced five pages of texts, made up mostly of the letter S, some A, J, L and an occasional M. The lead male bashed the computer with a stone, and all of them urinated and defecated all over the keyboard. Don't we all feel like doing the exact same thing to our computers, sometimes?

Cellphones and Gas Station Fires

The Petroleum Equipment Institute reported that in January 2000, it began process of documenting automotive refueling fires. This was prompted by a sharp increase in incidents that could not be attributed to a running engine or cigarette smoking, the two leading known causes of such fires. As of the fall of 2002, over 150 refueling fires have been documented that appear to be caused by a discharge of static electricity. There were erroneous information being circulated thru email that implicated cellphone use as source of the static electricity. PEI denied "any cases of cellular phones causing fires at gas stations."

The following questions have been prepared and answered by PEI for public information and education:

Why does my car shock me?

Most static buildup is due to movement between yourself and the car seat. Your car also builds up static electricity as it moves through the air. There is also evidence the materials used in "high mileage" tires contributes to the problem.

Am I safe because I have gloves or leather upholstery?

No. Certain materials can reduce the buildup and/or disperse the discharge of static electricity. But they do not eliminate it entirely.

Why can't I get back in my car?

Don't get back in while you're gassing up. This can create a static buildup that will cause a spark when you touch the gas pump. Most of the incidents we have investigated involved the driver starting the pump, getting back into their car, and when the driver gets back out of the car to remove the nozzle, static is generated when they slide across the seat and a spark may occur when they reach for the nozzle.

Is it safe for passengers to stay in the car?

Assuming you don't get back in the car, that's probably the safest place for passengers to be. If one of your passengers does need to get out of the car while you are refueling they should avoid touching the gas pump nozzle. In the event they need to operate the pump we recommend they touch a metal portion of your car before touching the nozzle.

What if I need to get back in my car while refueling?

Before reaching for the nozzle touch a metal part of your car that is NOT near the fuel tank area. Touching a metal portion of your car will dissipate any static charge that you may have built up while filling up.

Why not just ground the pump/hose/nozzle?

They should be. Standards call for continuity between the dispenser and nozzle. The issue here is an electrical difference of potential between the person refueling and the vehicle. They have created a static charge between their body and their car, which may not be discharged by touching another grounded object.

Why is it dangerous to leave your car running?

Many people believe this safety warning only applies to older cars. That is not true. A running car presents a number of "ignition sources" for fuel vapor. The exhaust components of a modern car can literally glow red hot during normal operation. The typical ignition system creates voltages above 40,000 volts. But turning off your engine while refueling isn't just to prevent your car from starting a fire. There is also a safety issue in the event of fire, regardless of the source. In case a fire does occur in a gas station a running car is a danger. Imagine that fire burns through one of the rubber fuel hoses under your running car. Most fuel pumps deliver gasoline at about 15 to 40 pounds per square inch (PSI). Your fuel pump is now spraying a tremendous amount of gasoline at an open flame.

Why not remove the hold-open latches?

Some states and countries do not allow the automatic nozzle latch that clicks off when your tank is full. This is intended to eliminate unattended refueling. Unfortunately, accidents occur when consumers attempt to fabricate their own makeshift latches. Placing an object, such as a gas cap, under the nozzle lever can make the cure more dangerous than the symptom. The most severe case was the victim who jammed the nozzle open with his disposable lighter.

Can this happen to motorcycles?

Probably not. We have not documented any incidents involving motorcycles and static-related ignition. However, owners of vehicles with plastic fuel tanks such as ATVs, boats, snowmobiles and off-road bikes, may want to read PEI's Exploding Gas Can article.

What should I do if there is a fire?

If a fire does occur, don't panic. Do not remove the nozzle from the gas tank. Back away from the car and immediately tell the station attendant so they can operate the emergency shut-off and a fire extinguisher.

Are plastic gas cans safe?

Yes, but they should always be placed on the ground when filling. Never fill any portable container (regardless of material) while it is inside your car or pickup bed.

Remember, when you gas up (1) Do not smoke or use your lighter; (2) Stop the engine; (3) the one who will pump the gas must first touch a metal part of the car away from the nozzle (door, trunk or roof) BEFORE reaching for and touching the nozzle. If it is the gas station attendant, firmly ask him to touch the metal part of the car first before handling the nozzle; and, (4) Never re-enter your vehicle while filling up. Gasoline station fire or explosion could be deadly.

©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.