Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pieceless Jigsaw Puzzle: no pieces to lose!

I don't know how hard the puzzles actually are, but I love the idea.

Check out the ad/video:

Or, just go to their website.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Great site for finding the cheapest photo prints

They are pretty extensive and have a simple, useful interface.

Simply enter the # of prints you want, the size of the print, the shipping method, and it does the rest. If you want multiple sizes of prints, you'll have to shop for those separately.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Aquadots, now with GHB, and being recalled

Aquadots are a cool toy that uses individual beads of different colors that fuse together with the application of water. Easier to use the perler beads, which you fuse together with an iron, these toys have gotten very popular recently.

Unfortunately for kids, they contain GHB (Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid), 'a powerful date rape drug', when eaten. From wikipedia: GHB is used as a general anesthetic, to treat conditions such as insomnia, clinical depression, narcolepsy, and alcoholism, and to improve athletic performance...GHB may induce nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, agitation, visual disturbances, depressed breathing, amnesia, unconsciousness, and death.

From FOX News:
Millions of Chinese-made toys for children have been pulled from shelves in North America and Australia after scientists found they contain a chemical that converts into a powerful date rape drug when ingested. Two children in the U.S. and three in Australia were hospitalized after swallowing the beads.
I hope teenagers don't start raiding their younger siblings' toyboxes trying to figure out the right dose of aquadots to take!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A few games, winding down for the holidays

Now that Halloween has come and gone, the holiday season has officially started. My blogging will be slowing down drastically, so I'd like to recommend a few favorite games that are free online to entertain you.

1. Coloretto

A great family card game for 3-5 players, this is a family favorite both at home and online. Even the five year old is getting proficient at it. Great for teaching strategy, since everyone's cards are face up, and there is no reading involved.

2. Set

A game for any number of players, this is a card matching game where you find a 'set' of 3 cards among the 12 on the table that fit certain characteristics. Try the Set Daily Puzzle.

3. Sudoku

It's a fad that's likely come and gone, but it is still a wonderful logical deduction puzzle. My favorite online version is at websudoku.

For more information about board and card games in general, I highly recommend BoardGameGeek. Not only do they rank thousands of games by user votes, they also have descriptions, photos, and shopping links to help you fill out your shopping/wish list.

Happy Holidays, whatever you may celebrate. Enjoy the time off work if you can!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Lithium and longevity?

Seems like a long shot since we still don't know how lithium works in the body, but according to Science Daily:

Nematode worms treated with lithium show a 46 percent increase in lifespan, raising the tantalizing question of whether humans taking the mood affecting drug are also taking an anti-aging medication.
Lithium is a medication that has been used to treat bipolar disorder for over 50 years. We still don't really know how it works, despite numerous studies and hypotheses.

The study above, by Buck Institute's Gordon J. Lithgow, PhD hypothesize that the process of normal aging in humans is intrinsically linked to the onset of neurodegenerative disease. They are studying hundreds of compounds for their anti-aging properties, and in the case of lithium, exploring the neuroprotective effects of lithium.

I hope they find their Fountain of Youth, but more importantly, there better be ethicists around who can wisely implement the use of it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Girl Genius Online

After a week of dense brain-related articles, it's time for something fun and light.

I highly recommend Girl Genius Online. It's a science fiction steampunk style series, available for free online, or you can buy it in comic book or .pdf format.

It's a comic book featuring the art of Phil Foglio, best known for his MythAdventures artwork, Magic: The Gathering cards, and other comics.

This series has been around for about five years, and he continues to release three pages a week (on M, W, F).
Thanks to Brad for the link.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A brain region for addiction?

From physorg:
An animal study released Thursday bolsters the notion that drug cravings can be "switched off" by shutting down a key part of the brain, a finding that could have implications for treating addicts. Researchers have previously shown that damage to the insula can dramatically extinguish a smoker's need for nicotine.
The obvious next step is to see if this holds true for other addictions, such as as alcohol, overeating, and other drugs. Surprisingly, what researchers found in rat studies is that anesthetizing the insula also decreased unwanted medication side effects.
Chilean researchers have shown that temporarily "silencing" the insula suppresses cravings in drug-addicted rats and insulates them from the unpleasant side effects of medication, according to the study published in Science.
They hypothesize that this may be the brain region responsible for drug cravings, and that future treatments for addiction should target the insula.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The brain area for optimism...

Is called the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC).

From physorg:
The more optimistic a person is, the brighter the [rACC] area showed up in brain scans, the scientists reported in a small study published online Thursday in the journal Nature. That same part of the brain, called the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), seems to malfunction in people suffering depression, said the study co-authors, Elizabeth Phelps of New York University and Tali Sharot of University College London.
Researchers gave 15 people functional magnetic resonance imaging scans while they thought about future possibilities. When the participants thought about good events both the rACC and amygdala, which is involved in emotional responses including fear, were activated. But the correlation with optimism was biggest with the cingulate cortex.
Makes me wonder what other personality characteristics may be hard wired, or are heavily based on brain chemistry. That, then also leads to deeper philosophical questions around the nature of free will, and how much of our hopes, fears, and choices are influenced by brain chemistry and various brain regions, and how much is due to conscious choice.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Brain waves found that sort real memories from false

From Science Daily:
For the first time, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are able to pinpoint brain waves that distinguish true from false memories, providing a better understanding of how memory works and creating a new strategy to help epilepsy patients retain cognitive function.
Researchers measured gamma waves and observed the following:
While patients performed the memory game, scientists observed electrical activity in their brains to determine whether specific brain waves were associated with successfully storing and retrieving memories. Researchers found that a fast brain wave, known as the gamma rhythm, increased when participants studied a word that they would later recall. The same gamma waves, whose voltage rises and fall between 50 and 100 times per second, also increased in the half-second prior to participants correctly recalling an item...
Gamma waves actually predicted whether or not an item that was about to be recalled was previously studied, said Michael Kahana, a professor of psychology
in Penns School of Arts and Sciences and lead investigator. In other words, one could see a difference in brain activity just prior to remembering something that had and had not actually happened.
I wonder how useful this could be as a lie detector?
The study will be published in November 2007's journal Psychological Science.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sleep deprivation mimics psychiatric disorders

From Science Daily:

In the first neural investigation into what happens to the emotional brain without sleep, results from a brain imaging study suggest that while a good night's rest can regulate your mood and help you cope with the next day's emotional challenges, sleep deprivation does the opposite by excessively boosting the part of the brain most closely connected to depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders.
Anyone who's experienced a sleepless night can tell you how much harder it is for them to concentrate on basic tasks the next day, not to mention emotional regulation. Researchers at UC Berkeley's Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory studied the following:

Using functioning Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), Walker and his team found that the amygdala, which is also a key to processing emotions, became hyperactive in response to negative visual stimuli - mutilated bodies, children with tumors and other gory images - in study participants who stayed awake for 35 hours straight. Conversely, brain scans of those who got a full night's sleep in their own beds showed normal activity in the amygdala. "The emotional centers of the brain were over 60 percent more reactive under conditions of sleep deprivation than in subjects who had obtained a normal night of sleep," Walker said.
I wonder if someday we'll give most people a prescription for a good night's rest before starting them on antidepressants? Hopefully we'll eventually have a test we can give to patients to determine whether their psychiatric illness will get better with sleep and a vacation, or whether we need psychotropic medicatons.
Either way, here's at least another study that supports my encouragement of a good night's sleep for everyone.

Reference: Yoo et al.: "The human emotional brain without sleep -- a prefrontal amygdale disconnect." Publishing in Current Biology, Vol. 17, No. 20, R877-R878, Oct. 23, 2007

Monday, October 22, 2007

Video: Domino Pool Final

Thanks to Hui for the link.
Not exactly a Rube Goldberg, but still very impressive.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Fentix cube: complete with accelerometers and multi-touch screen surfaces

Beautiful cube, loosely styled after the rubik's cube, but with so much more complexity and artistry! Designed by Andrew Fentem, this cube is just fun to watch. His website is full of other amazing electronic toys and art.

Small quantities of this cube will be available for purchase at the Kinetica Museum, but no word on price or availability yet.

Treat your hard drives like floppy disks!

Finally, someone's come up with a device that lets you quickly and easily connect up your hard drive to just about any computer.
For those of us who may have a small pile of internal hard drives lying around, having to swap them in and out of external hard drive enclosures gets to be a hassle.

This device, being sold at for $46.79 lets you just plug it in, much like inserting a floppy disk into its drive.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Online health records, brought to you by Google or Microsoft

The idea of online health records is not surprising, but definitely not reassuring.

From Computerworld:

Less than two weeks after Microsoft Corp. announced plans to support online personal health information records, Google unveiled plans to follow suit.

Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience, said Wednesday here at the Web 2.0 Summit that Google plans to support the "storage and movement" of people's health records.

...Google became interested in the personal health record market as it watched Hurricane Katrina take aim at the Gulf Coast and all the paper-based records stored in various medical offices and hospitals in the region. "In that moment, it was too late for us to mobilize," Mayer said. "It doesn't make sense to generate this volume of information on paper. It should be something that is digital. People should have control over their own records."

I'm definitely mixed about this. Your personal health records should be something you have access to, and probably even have copies of. Having a copy of x-rays, MRI images, and other objective data could be very useful information for your new health care provider. What worries me is the confidentiality of these records if they become hackable and findable on the internet, and all the fraud that this could propagate. Medicare fraud is already a pretty uncontrolled problem. NPR has a wonderful segment on this.

Here's what I found most striking about the article:

Medicare fraud has now become a favorite career path of many former drug dealers. The FBI has interviewed drug dealers and asked them why they're moving from cocaine to wheelchairs and walkers.

Why the Shift? Malcolm Sparrow of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government says former drug dealers give three reasons.

"There's more money, there's much less chance of being caught and if I do get caught, I'll be treated like a white-collar criminal, not like a drug dealer," Sparrow says. There's also a fourth reason: They're less likely to be killed in a drive-by shooting.

If there was some secure, untamperable way to have access to these records, it could definitely help the health care industry save money by not needing to run the same tests over and over every time a patient goes to a new provider. Of course, there would also need to be some way to guarantee this data does not get into the wrong hands, which is much harder to do. I hear about stolen laptops with employee or customer data almost daily. Fortunately, credit card numbers, bank accounts, and even social security numbers can be changed with effort. How much worse would it be if that laptop also contained your medical files?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

RIAA suing Usenet. Goodbye newsgroups?

Strange but apparently true.

According to cnet news:

The Recording Industry Association of America has found a new legal target for a copyright lawsuit: Usenet.

In a lawsuit filed on October 12, the RIAA says that Usenet newsgroups contain "millions of copyrighted sound recordings" in violation of federal law.

Only is named as a defendant for now, but the same logic would let the RIAA sue hundreds of universities, Internet service providers, and other newsgroup archives. AT&T offers Usenet, as does Verizon, Stanford University and other companies including Giganews.

That's what makes this lawsuit important. If the RIAA can win against, other Usenet providers are at legal risk, too.

One of the reasons Usenet was singled out in this lawsuit is because of some of their advertising language to potential subscribers: boasts that signing up for an account "gives you access to millions of MP3 files and also enables you to post your own files the same way and share them with the whole world."

The future's not looking too bright for Usenet right now. If the RIAA somehow does win, then their slippery slope puts everyone at risk. The big winner in all this will be the legal system, who will have enough lawsuits to sustain several generations of lawyers and bureaucrats.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Depression Report

Left: Summary table from the Depression Report

According to SAMHSA, 7% of full time workers have clinical depression. They interviewed 107,000, using questionnaires based on DSM-IV depression criteria to determine episodes of major depression in the last year.

Here's the study.


Combined data from 2004 to 2006 indicate ... highest rates of past year MDE among full-time workers aged 18 to 64 were found in the personal care and service occupations (10.8 percent) and the food preparation and serving related occupations (10.3 percent)
l The highest rates of past year MDE among female full-time workers aged 18 to 64 were found in the food preparation and serving related occupations (14.8 percent), and the highest rates among male full-time workers aged 18 to 64 were found in the arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupations (6.7 percent)
The study concludes that depression results in a loss of revenue estimated at $30-44 billion annually.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Celebrating the Rotary Engine

I've always had a soft spot for the Wankel rotary engine (cool toys as child help with that). As a competitor to our standard four cylinder engines, it has many features that are superior, but has a very small following.

The car manufacterer Mazda has been using rotary engines in their RX-7s (and now the new Rx-8) for decades, and is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the rotary engine.
They even have a video about it, which touts their new hydrogen burning rotary engine.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Surf the internet with your voice

Doctoral student Brandi House uses Vocal Joystick to control the movement of a robotic arm. The screen on the lower right shows how the software analyzes her vocalizations to create instructions for the arm's movement. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Washington)

From Science Daily:

Vocal Joystick detects sounds 100 times a second and instantaneously turns that sound into movement on the screen. Different vowel sounds dictate the direction:
"ah," "ee," "aw" and "oo" and other sounds move the cursor one of eight directions. Users can transition smoothly from one vowel to another, and louder sounds make the cursor move faster. The sounds "k" and "ch" simulate clicking and releasing the mouse buttons.

Versions of Vocal Joystick exist for browsing the Web, drawing on a screen, controlling a cursor and playing a video game. A version also exists for operating a robotic arm, and Bilmes believes the technology could be used to control an electronic wheelchair.

It's a great idea, using the musical/sounds quality of vowels rather than of actual words. I wonder if someday speech therapists could use this for kids as well?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

High tech mousetrap, complete with laser beams and text messaging!

Those poor mice don't have a chance!

Like something out of James Bond's Q's laboratory, the high-tech Rodent Activated Detention and Riddance Unit (Radar unit, for us civvies), uses infrared beams and carbon dioxide to catch, and then gas the mice dead within 45 seconds. That's not all though, as when the little critter has floated off to mouse-heaven, a text message is sent to the homeowner's mobile, alerting them to the corpse residing in the unit.
No information on price, though the website says these are available now, on a custom order basis.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Now your iPod can translate too?

It's called Vcommunicator Mobile, and it's a beefed up iPod with Arabic phrases.

You’re at a checkpoint and you need the Iraqi to get out of the vehicle and open the trunk. Scroll the iPod wheel over to “Vehicle Checkpoint” mission library and it’ll show a list of phrases: “peace be upon you;” “we need to search your vehicle;” “turn off your car;” “open the door;” etc. The iPod will show the words in phonetics and in Arabic so you can try the phrase yourself or show it to an Iraqi to read.
But click on the “Arabic script” and the phrase plays through a miniature speaker plugged into your iPod (Vcom salespeople had some nifty arm bands to attach both the iPod and speaker within reach). There’s even a primer on the right gestures to make when saying the phrase.
So far the Vcom software incorporates around 300 vocabulary words and 400 phrases in Arabic and Kurdish – with Pashto and Dari dictionaries on the way. The software includes a phrase and gesture-builder module so you can design your own specific mission phrases as needed.
I wonder how clunky this is in real life, or how hard it is to follow the gestures on such a tiny screen?

Friday, October 5, 2007

Better wearable sensors for athlete training and medical rehab

(Pic): A sensor worn behind the ear of an athlete can measure posture, stride length, step frequency, and acceleration using a triaxial accelerometer and activity-recognition software. The data is collected and wirelessly transmitted to a computer in real time. Credit: Imperial College London

Guang-Zhong Yang, Ph.D, and his colleagues at Imperial College in London have been developing a sensor worn behind the ear that tracks a variety of user information, and transfers it to a computer for real time analysis. They hope it may will mass-produced within 12 to 18 months. It's currently being tested in atheletes, and individuals recovering from surgery.

From MIT's Technology Review:

The sensor is about the size of a cuff link and measures the posture, stride length, step frequency, and acceleration of an individual. In addition to being used in applications for training athletes, the device could be employed to monitor a patient's recovery after surgery, such as orthopedic, or injury, such as a fracture. In those cases, an individual will often compensate for the affected area, which impinges movements, says Yang. The device could also be used to monitor an individual suffering from a progressive illness, such as a neurodegenerative disease: it could detect telltale changes in the person's movements.

The sensor uses an accelerometer that allows it to measure motion in three dimensions. For example, when a runner hits the ground, a shock wave is transmitted through his body from his foot. The accelerometer is able to pick up these waves and sense the balance of the body and the changes in the runner's gait, such as the length of strides and the frequency of steps.

This information is processed within the sensor and wirelessly transmitted to a computer...

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Computer controlled anti-snoring pillow

Designed by Daryoush Bazargani, professor of computer science at the University of Rostock (pic, left frame), this pillow has compartements that will inflate or deflate, depending on how loudly the user snores.

"The pillow is attached to a computer, which is the size of a book, rests on a bedside table, and analyses snoring noises," Bazargani told Reuters. "The computer then reduces or enlarges air compartments within the pillow to facilitate nasal airflow to minimize snoring as the user shifts during sleep," he said.
Another fringe benefit is that this pillow gives neck massages.
I wonder how effective it actually is?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Meth detecting gun

Designed by CDEX, this gun uses UV light to scan surfaces for methamphetamine.

Projected to cost around $600, it might be available as early as the end of 2007.

For more of the story and a video, go here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Mind reading computers?

It's a long way off, but the framework is beginning.

From Science Daily:
Tufts University researchers are developing techniques that could allow computers to respond to users' thoughts of frustration -- too much work -- or boredom--too little work. Applying non-invasive and easily portable imaging technology in new ways, they hope to gain real-time insight into the brain's more subtle emotional cues and help provide a more efficient way to get work done.
They are using:

functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) technology that uses light to monitor brain blood flow as a proxy for workload stress a user may experience when performing an increasingly difficult task...

The fNIRS device, which looks like a futuristic headband, uses laser diodes to send near-infrared light through the forehead at a relatively shallow depth--only two to three centimeters--to interact with the brain's frontal lobe. Light usually passes through the body's tissues, except when it encounters oxygenated or deoxygenated hemoglobin in the blood. Light waves are absorbed by the active, blood-filled areas of the brain and any remaining light is diffusely reflected to the fNIRS detectors. "fNIRS, like MRI, uses the idea that blood flow changes to compensate for the increased metabolic demands of the area of the brain that's being used," said Erin Solovey, a graduate researcher at the School of Engineering.

So far, all they have been able to measure reliably is no workload, low workload, or high workload. However, if they are able to fine tune this tool, it could someday be used to control workflow based on the user's brain patterns. It should at least make for a nice biofeedback tool.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Good cop, bad cop helpful for children's emotional development

Well, sorta.

From Science Daily:
A new University of Illinois study in the September/October issue of Child Development suggests that young children benefit when mothers and fathers differ in their reactions to their child's negative emotions.
The researchers found that when one parent provided little support in response to a child's feelings of anger or anxiety and the other parent provided a lot of support, the child had less conflict with friends and a better understanding of emotions.
It's important for parents to be supportive, but having one parent offer support and problem solving, while the other parent let the child sit with their feelings to learn to process them, seemed to let kids both build their own emotion modulation skills and maintain healthy egos.
When that happens, the child is more likely to gain experience in understanding and controlling his emotions. He may also benefit from seeing different types of reactions, realize that there are different ways of looking at things, and thus develop more complex thinking about and understanding of emotions, she said.
"We're hypothesizing that if both parents rush in to help the child, the child doesn't have a chance to experience negative feelings and learn how to manage them," she said.
The researcher emphasized that "hanging back" isn't the same as punishing a child for being upset or minimizing those feelings. The second parent should also be supportive, but quietly so, she said.
The article also talks about differences between boys and girls, and also smaller differences around whether the mother or the father plays the less supportive role.
Some of their closing conclusions:
Of the study's findings, McElwain said, "They're somewhat counterintuitive. You'd think the more support a child receives when she's upset, the better off she'd be. But the study shows that sometimes less is more."
She encourages couples to think about how they respond to a young child's anger, anxiety, or frustration as a parental unit, not as individuals. That's particularly important if a child has many negative episodes, she said.
"When you react to a negative emotion, I'd suggest that one parent step back a bit and let the other parent handle it," she said.
Makes sense to me.

Babel Fish photocopier?

From Digital World Tokyo:
The device, currently on show [Subscription link] only in Japan, can scan a printed sheet of Japanese text from a newspaper or magazine and churn out a translation of it in Chinese, English or Korean while retaining the original layout. Flip a switch and the linguistic parsing works in the opposite direction too.
Fuji Xerox’s secret lies in networking the unnamed copier to a dedicated translation server and combining this with algorithms that can distinguish between text, drawings and lines for maintaining page layouts.
Still gotta wonder how well is actually translates, though? It sounds like it's trying to do too much, being able to translate between four different languages interchangeably. I wonder how well it plays telephone? (ie. translating a paragraph through all the different languages it is capable of, and then translating it back into the original language?)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Video: Theremin played by a robot

From a Wired article about Handmade Music happening tonight in Brooklyn, NY.

Cute video of a theremin played by a robot. In this video, Lev the robot has been programmed to play Crazy, by Gnarls Barkley.

Drug companies shaping medical literature 'behind the scenes'

From Science Daily:
Drug companies control or shape multiple steps in the research, analysis, writing, and publication of a large proportion of the medical literature, and they do so behind the scenes, according to a policy paper recently published in PLoS Medicine.
The essay can be found at:
They talk about ghost writers, who in turn end up 'ghost managing' the studies that the prescribing population depend on for information about medications.
Drug companies hire medical education and communication companies (MECCs) to help produce and place company-funded articles in medical journals, says Dr Sismondo. These articles are "managed," he says, because those MECCs "shape the eventual message conveyed by the article or by a suite of articles."

To demonstrate this, he tracked studies of zoloft (sertaline), an antidepressant manufactured by Pfizer.
His analysis suggests that between 18% and 40% of the literature on this drug published between 1998 and 2000 was ghost managed by a single MECC acting on behalf of the drug's manufacturer. Ghost managed studies, says the author, "affect medical opinion, practice and ultimately, patients," says Dr. Sismondo. "I suspect that most researchers -- even those participating in the system -- don't have a good sense of the extent to which this happens."
Creepy to think that an unknown amount of information that we as clinicians rely on may have been secretly planted there by the drug companies.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bluetooth biofeedback sensor game system for stress reduction

The device is called a PIP, or personal input pod. You hold it in your fingers (see picture), and it measures galvanic skin response (electrical resistance of the skin, an indication of stress levels).

Since this is a bluetooth enabled biofeedback device, it is compatible with any platform that supports bluetooth, though their initial offering of 3 games is only for cell phones and PDAs.

I'm definitely looking forward to this becoming available. If it's effective, it could open up the door to the masses learning to self soothe and calm in many more activities of life.

Caffeinated potato chips

I wonder how this would go with a Red Bull, Jolt gum, or maybe even Penguin mints? There are so many caffeine added products out there today, that adding it to the definitive 'junk food' should be no surprise. Even better than olestra chips!

Apparently, has created a potato chip with numerous additives, such as caffeine, taurine, and b vitamins. You can buy them by the case here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Play Anti-Phishing Phil

Pic: A screen shot of the game. (Credit: Image courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University)

Carnegie Mellon University computer scientists have developed an interactive, online game featuring a little fish named Phil that can teach people how to better recognize and avoid email "phishing" and other Internet scams.
Researchers gave people pre and post tests after a 15 minute game session, and determined people learned more from the game than they did spending the time reading about, or taking other tutorials about the subject.

More information about Anti-Phishing Phil is at:

Or, go here to play the game. (They are also offering a raffle for a $100 gift card for participants who leave an email, and participate in a post test 1 week later.)

OLPC on sale starting November 12, 2007

In the spirit of the One Laptop Per Child program, when you buy 1, you will automagically be giving another one to a child in a developing nation. More about this at the Give 1 Get 1 Program.

Originally targeted to cost $100, these laptops are currently $188 each. A donation of $399 allows the first 25,000 consumers to participate in the above program, starting on November 12, 2007.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Heinlein Archives, now digitally available

Robert A. Heinlein is best known as one of the 'Big 3' of science fiction writers (along with Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke). More about his life can be found here.

His bibliography can be found here.

Located at, this collection:
...presents digital copies of the entire collections of Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein in downloadable form for research and academic purposes. Heinlein’s OPUS manuscripts is the first complete collection presented. These manuscript files include Heinlein’s files of all his published works with his notes, research, early drafts and edits of manuscripts, to the final published form. These files provide both a look at Heinlein’s creative process and add insights into his intent and the meaning in his stories.
It's like having access to the director's cut, to better grok the man and his stories. For a fee, of course. TANSTAAFL.

Quickly build your own light sabers

Our Halloween costume theme this year is Star Wars. I've started my hunt for simple, inexpensive, and glowy light sabers, and am proud to have found this recipe to make my own. Thanks finkbuilt!

From finkbuilt:

The tubes that we used are the cores that are left over when the plotter at work runs out of paper. If you don’t use large rolls of plotter paper yourself, try hitting up your local Kinko’s, they probably throw these away every day.

1 pair of red/blue 3D glasses
2 plastic tubes
2 flashlights
Some reflective material

Put them together.
Remove the red and blue filters from the 3D glasses, and tape one filter over the light-emitting end of each flashlight.
Insert the flashlights into the tubes and secure with several tight windings of tape.
Cap the other end of the tubes with a reflective cap of shiny material, with the shiny side facing inward (I used some scrap mylar duct insulation, taped over the end). This will illuminate the far end of the tube.

iPhone headphone modification, super easy

Yay, finally a simple solution to getting normal headphones to fit in the iphone jack.

From hackaday:

Apparently the iPhone jack isn't quite standard - it's a bit recessed to the point that third parties are offering adapters for it. [John] offers this simple method for modding...
(Just shave off the extra plastic housing at the base of the headphone jack. More pics from:

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Great ACLU ad

I actually heard this at the beginning of a medicine lecture, and had to laugh.
Since our medical charting system is totally computerized, the reality of this is closer than I'd like to admit.

The American Civil Liberties Union speculates about what this could be like for the average consumer.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Controlling brain messengers to someday rewire the brain?

From physorg:

Researchers at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory have found that tiny, spontaneous releases of the brain's primary chemical messengers can be regulated, potentially giving scientists unprecedented control over how the brain is wired...
J. Troy Littleton, Fred and Carole Middleton Associate Professor of Biology at MIT, and colleagues found that the miniscule events that follow a burst of electrical and chemical activity among neurons are far more important that previously thought. A breakdown in this molecular mechanism could be the culprit in schizophrenia and other neurological diseases, the authors reported.
Apparently, complexins play a key part in controlling the release of the brain's chemical messengers. To study this, the team genetically modified fruit flies who make no complexins whatsoever. They determined that complexins are the gatekeepers that prevent the neurotransmitters from releasing prematurely. Complexins prevent unchecked cell growth.

This spontaneous release in the brain is not only important for signaling, it can trigger synaptic growth," Littleton said. "What's really exciting is that complexin's activity may be regulated. If we can regulate this machinery, we may be able to promote synaptic growth and potentially allow targeted rewiring in areas of the brain affected in various neurological diseases."

Friday, September 14, 2007

Karnataka, India to ban cell phones for children under 16

Pic: courtesy of BBC
Strange but true. Makes me wonder about the political alliances in that country, and who controls the money/power.

According to yahoo news:
While cell phone [use] is banned in most schools in the state, the government plans to ban it outside the school zone and 'will consider whether to authorize police to enforce the ban,' Primary and Secondary Education Minister Basavaraj Horatti and Health Minister R Ashok said at a press conference in Bangalore Tuesday. 'The government is taking the decision to ban cell use by children less than 16 years on the basis of advice of medical experts. Prolonged use of cell by teenagers does affect their health,' they said.
They also plan on issuing guidelines to cell phone dealers to not sell phones to anyone under 16.

I'm glad that I don't live in a country that tries to control their people in so many ways. At least India's menses reporting requirement was withdrawn quickly, and I hope this will soon follow suit.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Generate energy from backpack straps

Pic: The energy harvesting backpack uses piezoelectric straps to generate electrical energy. Credit: Jonathan Granstrom, et al.

The wonders of nanotechnology.
From physorg:

All that rubbing of your backpack straps on your shoulders may be put to good use, now that researchers have designed a novel type of energy harvesting backpack. The pack has straps made of a piezoelectric material that can convert the mechanical strain on the straps into electrical energy that may power or recharge portable electronics.

When carrying a 100-pound load—a typical amount for a solider’s pack—and walking at 2-3 mph, simulations showed that the straps could generate 45.6 mW of power. The researchers said that this power output could either be used to power small electronics, or be accumulated over the duration of an excursion to be used as a weightless supplemental energy source instead of carrying extra batteries. “Some devices that could be powered include an LED headlamp (~38 mW), an Ipod Nano (~46mW), and a Motorola Razr cell phone, which in standby requires ~9 mW of continuous powering and ~360 mW during talk mode,” Sodano said. “In general, we want to accumulate the power before using it so that we could walk for 20 minutes then talk for 2.5 minutes. Or you could charge an LED headlamp while you walk in the day and use it at night while you camp. The energy could also go toward powering a handheld GPS system, which requires ~165-200 mW of continuous power.”

The researchers teamed up with a company in Blacksburg, Virginia called NanoSonic, Inc., that provided a self-assembled nanocomposite material called “Metal RubberTM” to tailor an advanced electrode. Using nanotechnology to control its macroscopic properties, the researchers fabricated a 100-nm-thick electrode that could undergo strains of 1000% while maintaining conductivity, and then return to its original shape when released.

Citation: Granstrom, Jonathan, Feenstra, Joel, Sodano, Henry A., and Farinholt, Kevin. “Energy harvesting from a backpack instrumented with piezoelectric shoulder straps. Smart Materials and Structures. 16 (2007) 1810-1820.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

To increase sales, first confuse then explain simply

From Science Daily:
The researchers found that by presenting a confusing sales pitch to consumers and then restating the pitch in a more familiar way, they were able to increase sales of a candy bar in a supermarket, increase students' willingness to pay to join a student interest group, and increase students' acceptance of a tuition increase.
Here's what they did, and their hypothesis.
Consumers in the study were confused with an unusual monetary request (e.g., 100 cents for a candy bar, 300 cents to join a student interest group, or 7500 cents for a tuition increase). However, the researchers found that a confusing sales pitch alone -- such as one utilizing technical jargon, confusing terminology, or large and confusing product assortments -- does not lead to greater consumer interest.
Rather, it increases the "need for cognitive closure"; consumers will grasp for easy-to-process or unambiguous information that has direct and obvious implications for judgment and behavior.
Furthermore, the researchers found that this need for cognitive closure will cause particularly susceptible consumers to "freeze" their judgments, that is, hold them with a high degree of confidence and refrain from considering additional evidence that could potentially threaten closure.
Reference: Frank R. Kardes, Bob M. Fennis, Edward R. Hirt, Zakary L. Tormala, and Brian Bullington, "The Role of the Need for Cognitive Closure in the Effectiveness of the Disrupt-the-Reframe Influence Technique." Journal of Consumer Research: October 2007.

I wonder how well this works on teenagers?

Balance enhancing ear implant

Pic: Della Santina holding multichannel vestibular prosthesis.

Scientists at the Vestibular Neuroengineering Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University are developing a vestibular prosthesis.

They have tested the concept on chincillas with some success. Usable human versions may still be years away, but the proof of concept is promising.

More from the John Hopkins University Gazette:
In its report in the June edition of the journal I.E.E.E. Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, the Johns Hopkins team showed that a matchbox-size prototype device, weighing less than three ounces, effectively mimics the workings of the inner ear's three semicircular canals by sensing head rotation and transmitting that information to the brain.
Adapting the design of cochlear implants...researchers constructed a circuit that could measure and transmit 3-D balance information to the brain through multiple electrodes connected to the vestibular nerve.
The device...consists of a head- mounted battery-operated box containing the sensors, which are positioned outside the head so that the sensors are parallel to the animal's actual semicircular canals, where head rotation is normally sensed. The sensors are connected to a microprocessor and up to eight electrodes surgically implanted in the inner ear and separately connected to nerve endings. Each electrode can act as one information channel.
Della Santina says that people disabled by loss of vestibular sensation often feel chronically off balance and lose the ability to keep the eyes steadily pointed at an object when they move their head, "seeing the world like the wobbly image on a shaky handheld video camera."
... this is the first implantable device made with multiple sensors and channels of processing that can measure and encode head rotation in all directions.
Each of the three sensors... can measure the speed of head rotation about one of three axes, or directional planes.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Political differences may reflect different cognitive mechanisms?

That's one hypothesis suggested by researchers at UCLA and New York University. Seems like an awfully charged statement, but a wonderful summary of the study described below.

Here's what they did (Science Daily):
NYU's David Amodio, a professor of psychology and the study's lead author, and his colleagues recorded electrical activity from the brain using electroencephalograms (EEGs) in people who rated themselves as either conservative or liberal. During these recordings, subjects had to press a button when they saw a cue, which was presented often enough that the button-press became habitual.
However, subjects occasionally saw another, infrequent cue signaling them to withhold their habitual button press. When such response inhibition was required, liberals had significantly greater neural activity originating in the anterior cingulate cortex, a portion of the brain known to be involved in conflict monitoring. Liberals were also more likely to withhold their habitual response when they saw the infrequent cue.
Previous studies have found that conservatives tend to be more persistent in their judgments and decision-making, while liberals are more likely to be open to new experiences. These differences are related to a process known as conflict monitoring-a mechanism for detecting when a habitual response is not appropriate for a new situation.

Nutritional supplement may help decrease addiction

From physorg:
In a recent eight-week trial, 27 people were given increasing doses of the amino acid, N-acetyl cysteine, which has an impact on the chemical glutamate – often associated with reward in the brain. At the end of the trial, 60 percent of the participants reported fewer urges to gamble. The research will be published in the Sept.15, 2007 issue of Biological Psychiatry.
Yet another over the counter miracle supplement, like SAM-e and tryptophan that may soon be a diet fad without substantial data, but with such promise of benefit that it could soon take on a life of its own.

Burning saltwater for fuel

Apparently, it's real. Discovered accidentally by John Kanzius while trying to desalinate seawater and find a cure for cancer, it has since been confirmed by chemist and water structure expert Dr. Rustum Roy of Penn State University.

From the post-gazette:

Dr. Roy said the salt water isn't burning per se, despite appearances. The radio frequency actually weakens bonds holding together the constituents of salt water -- sodium chloride, hydrogen and oxygen -- and releases the hydrogen, which, once ignited, burns continuously when exposed to the RF energy field. Mr. Kanzius said an independent source measured the flame's temperature, which exceeds 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, reflecting an enormous energy output...As such, Dr. Roy, a founding member of the Materials Research Laboratory and expert in water structure, said Mr. Kanzius' discovery represents "the most remarkable in water science in 100 years."

Hopefully this could break us of the dependence on oil, without depleting our oceans too much. You never know, this could be the solution to the rising sea levels from global warming!

Check out the TV segment to watch it burn.

Diagnosing genetic conditions by analyzing your face

From Science Daily:
The general public easily recognises the faces of people with Down’s syndrome, but there are over 700 genetic conditions where there are characteristic facial features: the eyes may be set further apart than usual, the nose shorter and the ears set lower down on the head along with many other possible permutations.
Clinical geneticists are using non-invasive 3D photography and novel analysis techniques are set to make the facial recognition easier.
Professor Peter Hammond from the UCL Institute of Child Health has developed new computer software that compares the faces of undiagnosed children with those with a diagnosed condition that also affects the development of their face, with a 90 per cent success rate...extensive collections of 3D face images of children and adults with the same genetic condition had to be gathered, as well as controls or individuals with no known genetic condition. Each image contains 25,000 or so points on a face surface capturing even the most subtle contours in 3D. The images are then converted to a compact form that requires only a 100 or so numeric values to represent each face in the subsequent analysis.
A great way to narrow down the number of different genetic screening tests to run: Once the software has narrowed down conditions with similar facial features, molecular testing can then be used to confirm the diagnosis.

Friday, September 7, 2007

'Wiki City Rome', real time dynamic map

In the 'Wiki City Rome' project an MIT team will obtain data anonymously from cell phones and other devices to map Rome in real time. (Credit: Image / Kristian Kloeckl)

Very cool! Developed by MIT's SENSEable City Laboratory.

From Science Daily:
The project will debut Sept. 8 during Rome's "Notte Bianca" or white night, an all-night festival of events across the capital city. During that night, anyone with an Internet connection will be able to see a unique map of the Italian capital that shows the movements of crowds, event locations, the whereabouts of well-known Roman personalities, and the real-time position of city buses and trains.

This is a wonderfully powerful tool for providing real time information to plan your perfect evening: According to researcher Francesco Calabrese of SENSEable City Lab, a person could consult the map to find the most crowded place in Rome to drink an aperitivo - and then identify the least congested route by which to reach it.

However, I do get a little paranoid about other aspects of it: the whereabouts of well-known Roman personalities, as if the paparazzi didn't already have enough to do! I guess this would depend on how closely they will pinpoint people.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Subscribe to comic books on your cell phone

Pic: Artist Steven Sanders holds a cell phone next to his computer screen at his office in Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007. Sanders' is working to format comics for cell phones. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Thunder Road, pictured on the right, is the first comic book in the U.S. to be released exclusively on the cell phone.

There are a handful of traditional comic books that are also being released on a subscription basis. From physorg:
For $4.49 a month on Verizon, or $3.99 a month for AT&T and Sprint, subscribers can view nearly a dozen different traditional comic books. There's also a separate subscription service for Japanese comics called manga. The comic books range from well-known names like "Bone" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," to up-and-coming books, such as crime noirish "Umbra" and Hindu folklore-inspired "Devi." The comics site adds new chapters or issues for each title every week.
To subscribe, check out:

Increased suicide rate coincides with decreased antidepressant use?

So goes the headline. It's very difficult to determine causality for this sort of thing (ie. we can't conclude that decreased antidepressant use caused increase in suicides, since there are many other factors that lead someone to suicide), but there definitely seems to be a correlation that has been measured from multiple studies.

I'm just relieved that the study data support the current practice standards of using antidepressants for the depressed and suicidal (bipolar disorder is separate, and antidepressants are NOT recommended is those cases).

From sfgate:
In 2003 and 2004, the FDA issued a series of warnings that clinical trials had detected an increase in suicidal thinking among children and adolescents taking a class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), compared with those given sugar pills. In late 2004, the agency called for a "black box" warning on the drugs to call attention to the potential risk, and expanded it last December to include young adults.
The warnings led to a broad decline in SSRI prescriptions for all patients younger than 60, Gibbons said. Prescription rates continued to rise among those older than 60, and this was the only group in which suicides dropped between 2003 and 2004, his study found.
The study included the Netherlands, which saw a 22 percent decrease in antidepressant use between 2003 and 2005. The suicide rate among youngsters there increased 49 percent in that period.

Previous studies have shown that U.S. suicide rates are lower in counties where antidepressant use is higher, and a study in July of more than 200,000 depressed veterans found that those taking an antidepressant had one-third the risk of suicide than those who were not.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A good breakfast can help control your blood sugar all day!

From Science Daily:
"It is known that a carbohydrate-rich breakfast with low GI [glycemic index] can moderate increases in blood sugar after lunch. But my results show that low GI in combination with the right amount of so-called indigestible carbohydrates, that is, dietary fiber and resistant starch, can keep the blood-sugar level low for up to ten hours, which means until after dinner," says Anne Nilsson, a doctoral student at the Unit for Applied Nutrition and Food Chemistry and author of the dissertation.
Experiments also showed that the blood sugar increase following breakfast can be moderated in a similar way by eating the right grain products the night before.
Additionally, eating the 'right' grains can help decrease metabolic syndrome. This researcher also studied mental acuity and blood sugar levels after meals.
It turned out that subjects who had eaten low GI breakfasts could concentrate better and had a better working memory (a type of short-term memory) than the other group. These experiments also showed that healthy individuals with low glucose tolerance, that is with high rises in blood sugar than average following a meal, generally performed less well. "The findings indicate that people with great fluctuations in their levels of blood sugar run a greater risk of having a generally lower cognitive ability," says Anne Nilsson.
Apparently, the indigestible carbohydrates are the key to feeding the bacteria in the large intestine. This in turn ferments the carbohydrates into usable compenents like short chain fatty acids:
Anne Nilsson's studies show that components produced in the process of fermentation can enter the blood and favorably affect the regulation of blood sugar and the feeling of satiety, and they can help alleviate inflammatory conditions in the body, which in turn can entail a reduced risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A treatment for dyslexia?

Using fMRI, researchers at UW's Learning Disabilities Center are studying brain connectivity timing for dyslexia.

Science Daily: "Some brain regions are too strongly connected functionally in children with dyslexia when they are deciding which sounds go with which letters," said Todd Richards, a UW neuroimaging scientist and lead author of a study published in the current issue of the Journal of Neurolinguistics. We had hints in previous studies that the ability to decode novel words improves when a specific brain region in the right hemisphere decreases in activation. This study suggests that the deactivation may result in a disconnection in time from the comparable region in the left hemisphere, which in turn leads to improved reading. Reading requires sequential as well as simultaneous processes."

So they studied a group of dyslexic kids, and a group of 'good readers'. Amazingly,

The children's brains were scanned and then those with dyslexia participated in a three-week program that taught the children the code for connecting letters and sounds with an emphasis on timing. Then the children's brains were scanned again.
Following the treatment, the fMRI scans showed that the patterns of temporal connectivity in brains of the dyslexic children had normalized and were similar to those of the good readers and spellers.

The study has shown these gains sustained for up to 2 years so far, but stresses this is not yet a cure for dyslexia. At least they're off to a good start.
How is this happening? They hypothesize:

"These results might mean that after special teaching the children with dyslexia activated letters in written words first and then switched to sounds in spoken words rather than simultaneously activating both letters and sounds," said Richards. "The overconnection between the language conductor and working memory at the same time may be a signal that working memory is overtaxed. When language processing is more efficient after treatment, working memory does not have to work as hard.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

afk, back next week. Qcard?

Off to Avenue Q, then Hawaii.

Back after Labor Day.

In the meantime, enjoy a Qcard (PG-13+).

GREENDIMES: junk mail reduction service

I wonder how well this actually works?

Sounds like a wonderful concept. Pay $15 for a kit with forms you fill out and send in, they do the rest.

Their FAQ claims that they can even stop mail addressed to 'Occupant', 'Resident', and the like.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Free online Database of U.S. Court Decisions

Yay! Welcome to the age of truly accessible knowledge, making law accessible to the masses.

From physorg:
Aiming to make federal case law fast and easy to search, more accessible to the public – and free – Columbia Law School and the University of Colorado Law School have launched a Web site called, which has the potential to transform the national landscape of case law resources.
Check it out at

Musical perception (take a test!) and tone deafness

Apparently, there are some measurable music 'areas' in the brain.

From Science Daily:
In a study comparing amusics to people with normal musical ability, researchers used a brain imaging and statistical technique to measure the density of the white matter (which consists of connecting nerve fibers) between the right frontal lobe, where higher thinking occurs, and the right temporal lobes, where basic processing of sound occurs. The white matter of the amusics was thinner, which suggests a weaker connection. Moreover, the worse the tone deafness, the thinner the white matter.

To participate in a music perception test study online, check out developed by researchers at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England.

This site also has tests for rhythm and adaptive pitch:

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Inducing Out of Body Experiences on Demand

Through the goggles, the volunteer is viewing the back of his body, as seen from behind by the camera. He is also watching a plastic rod moving toward a location just below the camera while his real chest is simultaneously touched in the corresponding spot. (Image courtesy of Henrik Ehrsson/Science)

From physorg:

Using virtual reality goggles to mix up the sensory signals reaching the brain, scientists have induced out-of-body-like experiences in healthy people, suggesting a scientific explanation for a phenomenon often thought to be a figment of the imagination.
What they did:

Both Ehrsson and another research team, led by Olaf Blanke of the Ecole Polytechique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the University Hospital in Geneva, Switzerland, used video cameras and virtual reality goggles to show volunteers images of their own bodies from the perspective of someone behind them...
Ehrsson had the volunteers watch a plastic rod moving toward a location just below the cameras while their real chests were simultaneously touched in the corresponding spot. Questionnaire responses afterwards indicated that the volunteers felt they were located back where the cameras were placed, watching a dummy or a body that belonged to someone else.
Ehrsson also had the volunteers watch a hammer swing down to a point below the camera, as though it were going to “hurt” an unseen portion of the virtual body. Measurements of skin conductance, which reflects emotional responses such as fear, indicated that the volunteers sensed their “selves” had left their physical bodies and moved to the virtual bodies.
And what did they conclude?

“multisensory conflict” is a key mechanism underlying out-of-body experiences...
“This experiment suggests that the first-person visual perspective is critically important for the in-body experience. In other words, we feel that our self is located where the eyes are,” Ehrsson said.
Very cool! This brings us another step closer to creating better virtual reality, where you will someday feel like you are somewhere your physical body is not.

GPS enabled platform shoes, marketed to sex workers

Strange but true.
According to gizmag:
With an inbuilt GPS, an audible alarm system and storage for your valuables the Platform 001 sandals could definitely be beneficial in protecting against muggings or to locate ladies in the case of emergency.
Specifically aimed at sex workers the shoes are the brainchild of the Aphrodite Project in response to an ever growing number of attacks against women in the industry. The shoe - aptly named The Platform 001 - was inspired by the prostitutes of ancient Greece and Rome, who enticed clients with their flutes and sandals that left ‘follow me’ footprints in the earth.
And some more features of these shoes:

Functionality of the Platform shoe includes a 3.5 inch LCD monitor with audio and text overlay for promotion to clients whilst safety features include an audible alarm, secure storage compartments and a panic button connected to monitored GPS tracking for use in case of an emergency. The design does raise some safety concerns since they are being promoted as a "safety shoe" with secret storage, potential attackers could become familiar with the design and specifically target those with the shoes thinking them to be carrying valuables. Further, the clumsiness of the shoe could pose a problem in a situation whereby the wearer needed to run at any great speed.
Building a GPS into a shoe seems like a great idea, especially for young children and other vulnerable populations. Having a 3.5 inch LCD monitor built into your shoe is just bizarre to me, but I guess it definitely draws attention to the bling. Who knows, maybe someday we'll all be covered in monitors, from our t-shirts down to our platform shoes.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Magnetic brain scans to diagnose common brain diseases in 60 seconds

From Science Daily:

By comparing the patterns of tiny magnetic charges in healthy brains to those afflicted with common diseases such as Alzheimer's, the team has been able to identify the patterns commonly associated with these debilitating diseases [multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's and schizophrenia].

A process called magnetoencephalography (MEG), a non-invasive measurement of magnetic fields in the brain, has been used to examine a total of 142 volunteers during tests which last between 45-60 seconds. The team first studied 52 volunteers to find patterns of neural activity that could identify all the different illnesses. They then tested a further 46 patients to see whether the patterns found from the first group could accurately diagnose disease within a second group. Here, many of the predictors found from the first set of participants also correctly diagnosed more than 90% of subjects in the second sample.

The theory?

All behavior and cognition in the brain involves networks of nerves continuously interacting--these interactions occur on a millisecond by millisecond basis. The MEG has 248 sensors that record the interactions in the brain on a millisecond by millisecond basis, much faster than current methods of evaluation such as the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which takes seconds to record. The measurements they recorded represent the workings of tens of thousands of brain cells.
Wow. I hope it works out, this would be an awesome tool for diagnosing, and thereby helping us choose treatments for some difficult to treat diseases.

Sky by Google Earth: Astronomy for the Masses

Sky adds additional functionality to the latest edition of Google Earth. You can go to any location on Google Earth, then 'look up at the sky' from there. You can also search for your favorite celestial objects, see Hubble Space telescope images, or view many layers of information about planets, constellations, and other objects.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Drug testing whole cities from a teaspoon of sewage waste water

From the AP, via physorg:
The test wouldn't be used to finger any single person as a drug user. But it would help federal law enforcement and other agencies track the spread of dangerous drugs, like methamphetamines, across the country...In the study presented Tuesday, one teaspoon of untreated sewage water from each of the cities was tested for 15 different drugs. Field said researchers can't calculate how many people in a town are using drugs...
Oregon State University scientists tested 10 unnamed American cities for remnants of drugs, both legal and illegal, from wastewater streams. They were able to show that they could get a good snapshot of what people are taking...
Some other entertaining tidbits:
One urban area with a gambling industry had meth levels more than five times higher than other cities. Yet methamphetamine levels were virtually nonexistent in some smaller Midwestern locales, said Jennifer Field, the lead researcher and a professor of environmental toxicology at Oregon State...
She said that one fairly affluent community scored low for illicit drugs except for cocaine. Cocaine and ecstasy tended to peak on weekends and drop on weekdays, she said, while methamphetamine and prescription drugs were steady throughout the week.

And the winner is?

The ingredient Americans consume and excrete the most was caffeine, Field said.
Fascinating to have such sensitive data while an individual's anonymity is protected. As long as they don't start collecting this information from people's toilets, homes, or workplaces, this could be a very useful public health tool. Makes me wonder what other information they can track from our waste water, and how all these chemicals are impacting our rivers, streams, and even oceans?

Gazing for password entry

From engadget:
[Researchers at Stanford University are] testing some systems that track your eyeballs in a variety of ways to perform PIN input, and while the resulting study shows that input times are slowed a little, the system does indeed make "eavesdropping by a malicious observer largely impractical."

They call it EyePassword, and the main purpose touted in the article is to prevent 'shoulder surfing', where unwanted nearby observers could watch and steal your ATM PIN, or other passwords.
Ideally though, this could someday be used by the physically impaired for operating computers or other electronic devices.

Handsfree Ipod controls, a jaw clenching feat!

From physorg:
Japanese researchers have developed head gear that uses infrared sensors and a microcomputer to let people operate music players by clenching their teeth...
The computer receives a command when the user clenches his or her teeth for about one second -- which differentiates the action from other activities such as chewing gum and talking...
In the laboratory, grinding right teeth can play and halt music on an iPod while clenching left teeth makes it skip to the next track, he said.

They are hopeful that this will have much broader applications than just listening to music. Ideally, it could be used to operate a cell phone, wheelchair, or other other devices for people who can chew, but may not have hands.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Tiny SMART cars coming to the US

These cars have been in Europe for years, and will become available in the United States next year.

Apparently, there were some available for test drives in San Francisco earlier this week, and people were already lined up to put down their $99 deposit to buy one when the come out next year.

Some specs from the sfgate article:

Smart cars, manufactured by Mercedes, have been drawing attention in crowded European cities for the past decade. More than 770,000 Fortwos have been sold in 36 countries. Starting in January, Smart USA will sell three versions of the Fortwo - ranging in price from $12,000 to $17,000 - at 50 to 75 American dealerships, including three to five in the Bay Area...

With a length of just 8.8 feet, the Smart Fortwo will be the smallest production car sold in the United States - more than 3 feet shorter than the Mini...

At that length, the Smart should be able to squeeze into just about any San Francisco parking space. Actually, because the typical parking space is between 18 and 20 feet long, a two-car household could park both of its Smart cars in one spot. Because it also promises mileage in excess of 40 miles per gallon, it's a sure bet to attract the attention of San Francisco drivers.

German scientists claim to have "broken the speed of light"

Dr Gunter Nimtz and Dr Alfons Stahlhofen, of the University of Koblenz...have conducted an experiment in which microwave photons - energetic packets of light - travelled "instantaneously" between a pair of prisms that had been moved up to 3ft apart.

The scientists were investigating a phenomenon called quantum tunnelling, which allows sub-atomic particles to break apparently unbreakable laws.

Hopefully more information will become available soon so that the rest of us can get a better idea of what's actually happenening here.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Idea Generator

Cute, simple, entertaining.

Spin the wheels, see what ideas it generates.

A flash app from The Director's Bureau.

Depressed brains are just wired differently

From Science Daily:
In what may be the first study to use brain imaging to look at the neural circuits involved in emotional control in patients with depression, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found that brains of people with clinical depression react very differently than those of healthy people when trying to cope with negative situations.
Apparently, non-depressed people were much better at regulating their negative emotions than depressed people. In depressed people, the harder they worked, the worse they got.
In their words:
In nondepressed individuals, high levels of regulatory activity correlated with low activity in the emotional response centers - in effect, the healthy subjects' efforts successfully quelled their emotional responses. In depressed patients, however, high levels of activity in the amygdala and other emotional centers persisted despite intense activity in the regulatory regions.
This finding suggests that healthy people are able to effectively regulate their negative emotions through conscious effort, but that the necessary neural circuits are dysfunctional in many patients with depression, the researchers say. The difference becomes even more pronounced the harder the patients try.
What does this mean? Some depressed people may not get better from cognitive therapy. If thinking about something gets someone too worked up, there will need to be other ways of helping them to get better.

I wonder how depressed people successfully managed on antidepressants would do in this study?