WickedLasers.com will sell you a 50 mW laser for $274. For $411 you can get two. (Props to the company for making the price of the second laser $137. Nerds. ) I can think of a couple of people for whom I might have purchased such objects as wedding presents, were I wealthier. Perhaps luckily for all of us, I'm not that wealthy. It's a ludicrous amount of optical power to have in a pointer, and you sure as hell better never point that thing at me. "This laser is strong enough to burn holes through black trash bags. You'll also be able to pick up beautiful women (or men) when they come up to ask you about your super powerful laser. Professional use only." Well then! Maybe I should get one after all. I punch a lot of holes in black trash bags. Considering the importance of garbage bags to disaster preparation, maybe every family should stock one of these puppies.
I am reminded of the video we had to watch in lab class in college before we got to do experiments with the more powerful lasers. A scientist in a lab coat, with a truly stereotypical set of glasses and a neutrally nonchalant voice narrated all the possible dangers of lasers on eyes. Then a laser was aimed at the (removed) eye ball of some unfortunate beast. Said eye-ball hissed and crackled and burned. There was a pause. The neutrally voiced man: "That was impressive. Let's watch it again." And so we did. I'm pretty sure this thing qualifies as a Class IIIb laser. According to this 1999 era pdf, while few states have (had?) laser regulation, many of the ones that did regulated Class IIIb lasers. I also didn't know that laser pointer safety is a big concern of the Food and Drug Administration. Yes, that's right, Food and Drug. Mmmm. Lasers. Mmmmm.
Or maybe that's because they were anticipating Chef Homaro Canto's desire to use a Class IV laser for cooking.
National Security geeks might remember the uproar over the New Jersey guy accused of pointing lasers into an airplane cockpit--the guy who originally tried to blame his daughter. (Daily Show write up.) Apparently the set of national security geeks intersects strongly with the set of laser jocks: See all the skeptics who wrote to the UK's Register. I was sent the original wicked link by Dr. Colin F. McCormick, who is also in the intersection between laser jocks and national security geeks. He pointed out that green beams are more dangerous than red beams because they don't spread as much, so the photons are more concentrated. I also recall being told that since our eyes are very sensitive to green light, it's easier to burn out rods and cones with them. And actually, dark red and infra red lasers can be very dangerous because a) they heat up water, the principle component of eyeballs, really well and b) you can't see them very well or at all, so by the time you feel the beam, it's probably too late. Here's a link to the OSHA safety standards. If you buy these lasers, please play and work safely with them. Eyeballs are a precious commodity.
Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area.
*Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks!
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Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com
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A note on permalinks
I find that a lot of people don't know about permalinks. When you want to have someone read a
specific blog entry, then you should find that blog entry's permalink, click on that, and send
them the resulting browser address. Otherwise they will just be sent to the blog in general, and
between your reading the blog entry and your correspondent's or audience's getting to it, a whole
slew of material may have pushed the entry off the front page. In this blog, the permalinks are
the timestamp at the end of the entry. (Feel free to frequently send your friends and
family permalinks from my blog!)