They don’t crash planes and now DEAF people can use them! – Good news for the New Year: One thing we’re all doing a lot of during this holiday season is talking on the phone. For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, cell phone use has largely been limited to text messaging. But the future is here: Researchers have created cell phones that allow deaf people to communicate in American Sign Language (ASL). And a new Danish study addresses the controversial topic of whether or not cells are dangerous, and pronounces them OK (and they’re probably OK to use in airplanes too!)

There has been no change in the number of adult brain tumors since cell phone usage sharply increased in the mid-1990s. BBC News quotes cancer researcher Alison Ross as saying, “Overall, the scientific evidence tells us that using mobile phones for less than 10 years does not increase the risk of cancer and this large study supports that conclusion. However, brain tumors often take a very long time to develop so we will need to look for any future changes in incidence rates to see if mobile phones could pose any longer-term risks.”

Engineer Sheila Hemami says, “We completely take cell phones for granted. Deaf people can text, but if texting were so fabulous, cell phones would never develop. There is a reason that we like to use our cell phones. People prefer to talk.” And she found that when two people are talking to each other, they spend almost the entire time focused on the other person’s face.

Her co-researcher Frank Ciaramello says, “The facial expressions are really important in ASL, because they add a lot of information.” They concluded that their cell phone video would have to be clearest in the face and hands, while they could spare some detail in the torso and in the background. Studies with deaf people who rated different videos on an intelligibility scale helped the researchers hone in on the best areas to focus in their video.

One final question: Why aren’t we allowed to use our cell phones on planes? It turns out that Federal agencies and airlines are erring on the side of caution, because researchers and aircraft companies have found almost NO direct evidence of cell phones or other electronic devices interfering with aircraft systems.

In, Jeremy Hsu reports that Boeing investigated several cases in the 1990s where aircraft crews reported that laptop computers or gaming devices caused autopilot disconnects, uncommanded airplane rolls or instrument display malfunctions. However, the aircraft manufacturer was never able to replicate the reported anomalies in lab tests.

At, we don’t talk on cell phones, we chat with each other on our computers! You can join our regular Wednesday evening chats, which will resume on January 6, if you subscribe today (it costs less than a latte a WEEK: Less than $12 gets you a 3-month subscription). It’s a chance to meet new friends and have fun in 2010.

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