Monday, April 30, 2007

Foods on this week's "Good for You" list

Perusing articles from the past weekend, there seem to be a large number of food/nutrition related claims.

Green Tea Compound, EGCG, May Be A Therapy For People With Rheumatoid Arthritis

A study where rats fed powdered tart cherries had "lower total cholesterol, lower blood sugar, less fat storage in the liver, lower oxidative stress and increased production of a molecule that helps the body handle fat and sugar" than control rats:

Fish Oil May Help Kidney Disease Sufferers

Macadamia Nuts Reduce Cardiovascular Disease Risks. "The Healthy Heart diet with macadamia nuts did reduce total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglyceride levels compared with the standard American diet. "

Pistachios Lower Cholesterol, Provide Antioxidants comparable to fruits and green leafy vegetables

Moderate coffee (3-5 cups a day), decreases risks of Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, kidney stones, gallstones, depression and even suicide.

Friday, April 27, 2007

New and improved prosthetic arm

Now, with even more maneuverability, sensory feedback, and even a virtual reality training program.

"An international team led by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., has developed a prototype of the first fully integrated prosthetic arm that can be controlled naturally, provide sensory feedback and allows for eight degrees of freedom—a level of control far beyond the current state of the art for prosthetic limbs. Proto 1, developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Revolutionizing Prosthetics Program, is a complete limb system that also includes a virtual environment used for patient training, clinical configuration, and to record limb movements and control signals during clinical investigations."

They use residual nerves to help control the arm, which helps it feel more intuitive and natural. Check out the full news release for more details.

Blow Light: Wind Powered LED Light

Cute, simple, $20.

From the website:
"Blow light is the world's smallest wind generator, making it a great environmentally friendly toy. To use it, you just blow on the rotor to light up the LEDs. When the rotor blade turns it creates electricity to power two blue and one green LED lights. "

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Prozac, now made especially for dogs

This seems pretty ridiculous. At least it comes in 'chewable, flavored tablets'. And since it's not for humans, they had to come up with a catchy new name: Reconcile (TM).

"Eli Lilly and Company (NYSE: LLY) announced today it has received approval from the FDA to market Reconcile(TM) (fluoxetine hydrochloride), the first selective erotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class of antidepressants approved by the FDA for treatment of canine separation anxiety in conjunction with behavior modification training. Reconcile(TM) is the first Lilly product approved by the FDA for dogs and is now available to U.S. veterinarians."
And why would we give prozac to dogs?

"Reconcile(TM) allows dogs to be more receptive to your training to help with anxiety. Canine separation anxiety is a prevalent and often misunderstood behavior problem, according to Connell. It amounts to undesirable behavior that occurs when the dog is left alone even for short periods of time. The resulting anxiety may cause the dog to engage in inappropriate behavior, such as destruction, excess vocalization and inappropriate elimination. Anorexia and depression also may be observed in some cases. "Your family veterinarian may recommend certain tests before diagnosing separation anxiety," Connell added. "Such tests are used to rule out other potential physiological causes of inappropriate behavior."For dogs affected by separation anxiety, Reconcile(TM) reduces inappropriate behaviors, minimizes the pet's distress and increases receptivity to a simple training plan called the BOND(TM) modification training plan."
That's right, the drug manufacturers have also bundled a doggie behavior modification program to go along with their prozac. I'm still in shock at the marketing genius/evilness.

Walkie Talkie Interactive Billboard, by Solo

"The interactive billboards each sport a larger-than-usual flip phone, which allows curious onlookers to mash an enlarged walkie talkie button and get on the horn with a faraway stranger. The active two-way radio setup was reportedly installed in transit shelters in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, and Calgary, and the system supposedly connects users in the different cities to one another when a conversation is initiated. "

Cool concept, but I must be getting too paranoid in my old age. How easy would it be for predators to chat anonymously with kids, for instance? Well, hopefully Canadians aren't as worried about these things.

Learn Braille with OtoTenji's Interactive Machine

Pretty cool. Touch the button combinations, and the machine tells you the corresponding letter/character.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Just one dose of morphine can permanently change the brain

Depressing, isn't it? Especially since heroin turns into morphine once it enters the body.

"A single dose of morphine may affect a brain region involved in addiction, making addiction more likely, scientists report in Nature. One dose of morphine blocked those nerve cell connections in the rats' brains. That created a surge in dopamine levels, throwing off the brain's chemical balance.
"It's as if a brake were removed," Kauer says in a Brown University news release.
The activity in the rats' brains after one shot of morphine "could increase vulnerability to addiction," Kauer says. "The brain may, in fact, be learning to crave drugs."

Definitely makes chemical dependency tough to treat, since people are causing irreversible neurochemical brain changes. Hopefully they'll eventually make better drugs to fix this someday.

Intelligence and financial wealth are not related

"Science Daily — It doesn't take a rocket scientist to make a lot of money, according to new research. A nationwide study found that people of below average intelligence were, overall, just about as wealthy as those in similar circumstances but with higher scores on an IQ test."
The study does clarify that those with higher IQ's tend to have higher incomes, but wealth has to do with planning for retirement, and having the ability to "help buffer life's storms".

"All participants were also surveyed about their income, total wealth, and three measures of financial difficulty: if they currently have any maxed-out credit cards, if over the past five years they had any instances where they missed paying bills, and whether they ever declared bankruptcy. "

They found that higher IQ does not protect against financial difficulties, and noted "those of slightly better than average intelligence are best off,” Zagorsky said. "

"For example, the percentage of people who have maxed out their credit cards rises from 7.7 percent in those with an IQ of 75 and below to a peak of 12.1 percent among those with an IQ of 90. Then the percentage falls in an irregular pattern to 5.4 percent among those with an IQ of 115 before rising again. "

This supports the idea that there are different types of intelligence, and that IQ is just one measure. Some of the smartest people I know lack common sense, others are socially awkward and miss social cues, while other 'normal' people may not be as quick to learn new games or rules, but have a guiding wisdom that is invaluable.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

TV Food Ads Increase Obese Children's Appetite By 134%

"Science Daily — Obese and overweight children increase their food intake by more than 100% after watching food advertisements on television; a study by the University of Liverpool psychologists has shown.

A group of 60 children of varying weights, aged between nine and eleven years was shown a series of both food television adverts and toy adverts, followed by a cartoon. Food intake following the food adverts was significantly higher compared with the toy adverts in all weight groups, with the obese children increasing their consumption by 134%; overweight children by 101% and normal weight children by 84%."

Also of note, the fattest kids chose the highest fat foods, whereas the merely obese group chose slightly less fattening fare. I wonder what would happen if you laced their snacks with leptin?

Yet another reason to either a) avoid TV altogether, or b) get a personal video recorder (PVR) . Makes me grateful yet again for my replaytv. And now we have even greater data to support that commericals really can be detrimental to your health.

Today's reason to exercise? Reduce your risk of Parkinson's disease

"Science Daily — The risk of developing Parkinson's disease may be reduced with moderate to vigorous exercise or other recreational activities, according to recent research presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 59th Annual Meeting in Boston, April 28 -- May 5, 2007."

Big study, 143,000 people over 63 years old, over a ten year period. Moderate to vigorous exercise is defined as at least 30 minutes of exercise daily. They found these people were 40% less likely to develop Parkinson's disease than the low to no activity group. No explanations for this yet.

Coming soon? Baby formula to keep your child forever slim

Wow. This feels like the 'slim' culture is going too far. However, they justify this as a way of preventing diabetes, and other obesity related health complications.

"Science Daily — Infant formula and other baby foods that provide permanent protection from obesity and diabetes into adulthood could be on shop shelves soon, reports Lisa Melton in Chemistry & Industry, the magazine of the SCI. "
They plan to do this by adding leptin, a hunger hormone to foods.

"Those who take the foods early in life should remain permanently slim. 'Like those people who are lean by nature even though they overeat ? like we all do -- they will tend to be inefficient in terms of using energy,' says Mike Cawthorne, who heads the Metabolic Research group at Clore."
Apparently, it does not work as well in adults because adjust and cancel out leptin's affects. But,

"Providing leptin earlier enough effectively hard-wires the body's energy balance. In fact, whether one is fat or thin may be determined before birth. Feeding the hormone to pregnant rats has been found to have a lifelong impact on their offspring's predisposition to obesity. Animals born of leptin-treated mothers remain lean even when fed a fat-laden diet, while those from untreated dams gained weight and developed diabetes."
We all had better hope that there's no famine any time soon, or all these 'permanently slim' inefficient energy users may starve and die out.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Solar explosions generate acoustic waves

Pic: Coronal loops are generated by the Sun's magnetic field

Whenever there are descriptions about the size and scope of energy generated by the sun, it's pretty awe inspiring. And now, sound waves too!
"Solar explosions called micro-flares generate sound booms which are then propagated along the coronal loops....The coronal loops arch hundreds of thousands of kilometres above the Sun's surface like huge fiery fountains, and are generated by the Sun's magnetic field...As solar plasma travels from the photosphere into the loops, it is heated from about 6,000 Kelvin (5,700C) to upwards of one million Kelvin.Solar explosions called micro-flares can release energy equivalent to millions of hydrogen bombs.These blasts can send immensely powerful acoustic waves hurtling through the loops at tens of kilometres per second, creating cosmic "organ music". "These loops can be up to 100 million kilometres long and guide waves and oscillations in a similar way to a pipe organ"

Friday, April 20, 2007

The key to understanding the big picture? Sleep

"Science Daily — Memorizing a series of facts is one thing, understanding the big picture is quite another. Now a new study demonstrates that relational memory -- the ability to make logical "big picture" inferences from disparate pieces of information -- is dependent on taking a break from studies and learning, and even more important, getting a good night's sleep. "
Researchers did a study where they had students learn a relationship pattern between objects. Students were then broken down into 4 groups: a group that took the test 2o minutes later, a group that took the test 12 hours later but without sleep, a group that took the test 12 hours later and got sleep, and a group that took the test 24 hours later with a full night's sleep. The students that took the test 20 minutes later did the worst.

The researchers speculate:
"This strongly implies that sleep is actively engaged in the cognitive processing of our memories," notes Ellenbogen. "Knowledge appears to expand both over time and with sleep...Concludes Walker, "These findings point to an important benefit [of sleep] that we had not previously considered. Sleep not only strengthens a person's individual memories, it appears to actually knit them together and help realize how they are associated with one another. And this may, in fact, turn out to be the primary goal of sleep: You go to bed with pieces of the memory puzzle, and awaken with the jigsaw completed."

Waldos for brain surgery

Pic:Dr. Garnette Sutherland, a neurosurgeon at the University of Calgary faculty of medicine, demonstrates how a new robot arm will do brain surgery in Calgary, Alberta April 17, 2007. REUTERS/Todd Korol

A Waldo, from Heinlein's short story of that name, is: "a device which, through electronic, hydraulic, or mechanical linkages, allows a hand-like mechanism to be controlled by a human operator in a different location. " I think I still have this story around, and it's definitely worth reading.
"Canadian scientists and engineers have developed a robot with a keen sense of touch that will let doctors perform microscopic operations on the brain using the most vivid visuals yet...A melding of brain surgery and rocket science, the neuroArm allows neurosurgeons to do their riskiest work on patients within a magnetic resonance imaging machine, or MRI, giving a clear 3-D picture of even the smallest nerves."

Your first dose is only $3: Getting developing countries hooked on Microsoft

From engadget:

"Microsoft will be selling a package containing full-fledged versions (well, kinda) of its OS and office software to eligible countries for a mere three-bucks-a-pop. Starting sometime in the second half of the year, less-developed nations that agree to provide free computers for their school systems will be able to participate in the latest effort in Microsoft's Unlimited Potential initiative, which nets them a bundle containing XP Starter Edition, Office Home and Student 2007, as well as various other educational titles..."
At least Microsoft is honest about it: "This is not a philanthropic effort: this is a business."

The computer market of developing countries is at stake, and Microsoft is hoping to dominate over OLPC and other competitors in this huge untapped market by mass distribution and a 'cheap' initial investment.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Senate blocks government from negotiating drug prices for Medicare participants

Totally ridiculous. Most private health insurance companies negotiate with drug manufacturers to get price breaks on prescription drugs to save us money. The Senate blocked a bill yesterday that would have allowed the government to do the same thing.

There are 40 million medicare participants in the US, and drug prices keep skyrocketing. "...prices for the top 15 prescription drugs used by seniors had a median increase of 9.2% over the last year." As expected, "The main trade group for brand-name drugmakers says it is pleased by today's outcome."

Subtitled movie glasses

From engadget:
"a research team at the University Carlos III of Madrid has unveiled an upgrade for the problematic rear-window captioning system currently used by the deaf: a glasses-mounted subtitle screen. Featuring a three hour battery life and a 50 meter range..."

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wow! 256GB and 512GB 3.5" Flash Hard Drives

The 256 GB version is available now, while the 512 GB version will be available in the 3rd quarter of 2007. No specifics on price yet, but they estimate it will drop to around$2 per GB by 2012.

Flash drive means that this is solid state, no moving parts, like the ipod nano (which has a current maximum storage of 8GB). Less to break, and not nearly as much resource consumption on power and cooling costs.

And, about 200 times faster than the average hard drive. "While hard drive access times are measured in milliseconds, access times for Zeus-IOPS are in microseconds, enabling a significant increase in server processor utilization. Additionally, Zeus-IOPS SSDs are more than 200 times faster at random transactional performance than a 15K RPM enterprise hard disk drive, providing lower cost per transaction and enabling higher performing systems with far less hardware costs."

Souped up recumbent bikes at NASA Ames: The Annual Human Powered Vehicle Challenge

Yay recumbents! Some cool fairings to help with efficiency, as well as efficient modifications to three wheelers to improve their turning ability without tipping over.

Cool pics.
Details from the article: "Of course, these weren't typical bikes, rather fast-moving recumbent racers, with sleek designs that can hit 60 mph thanks to nifty hacks like modded wheelbases and tilted windshields. Missing, though, were high tech latches: Most riders are sealed into their vehicles with duct tape.
This year, 26 teams of college engineering students gathered from around the country for the April 14 event, sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The goal? Time trials and a Grand-Prix-style race with a take-home prize of $500. "

Fast-food nutrition baffles consumers

The quiz is frightening. I got 2 right, out of sheer luck.

Here's the scoop: "The poll asked 523 registered voters to answer four seemingly simple questions: Pick out the dishes with the most calories, the fewest calories, the least salt and the most fat from among menu items from Denny's, Chili's, Romano's Macaroni Grill and McDonald's...By any measure, the respondents flunked. Two-thirds answered all four questions wrong. And no one -- not one single person -- got all four right."

Why: Public health advocates want a bill that requires chain restaurants to publish nutritional data on menus, so that we can make more informed choices.

Here's the quiz from the article:

Fast food nutrition quiz
A new poll by Field Research Corp. asked Californians to identify the low-calorie, low-salt, high-fat and high-calorie menu items from a list of four choices. Of the people surveyed, 68 percent failed every question, and no more than 11.2 percent got any one question correct.
Number in parentheses that follows each possible answer is the percentage of survey respondents who selected that food item:

1. Which of the following breakfast items that are served at Denny's do you think has the fewest calories?
A. Ham and cheddar omelet (36.2)
B. Country fried steak and eggs (11)
C. Three slices of French toast with syrup and margarine (14.7)
D. Three pancakes with syrup and margarine (28.5)

2. Which of the following items that are served at Chili's do you think has the least salt?
A. Cajun chicken sandwich (6.6)
B. Classic combo steak and chicken fajitas (7.6)
C. Guiltless chicken platter (24.9)
D. Smoked turkey sandwich (51.5)

3. Which of the following items that are served at Romano's Macaroni Grill do you think has the most fat?
A. Traditional lasagna (35)
B. Chicken Caesar salad (10.1)
C. Pasta classico with sausage and peppers (21.8)
D. Barbecue chicken pizza (26.2)

4. Which of the following items that are served at McDonald's do you think has the most calories?
A. Two Big Macs (53)
B. Two Egg McMuffins (8.4)
C. One large chocolate shake (11.2)
D. Four regular hamburgers (22.1)

Answers: 1 (B) Country fried steak and eggs (464 calories); 2 (A) Cajun chicken sandwich (2,220 mg. sodium); 3 (B) Chicken Caesar salad (69 grams fat); 4 (C) One large chocolate shake (1,160 calories)
Note: Results of telephone interviews completed March 20-31 among 523 registered voters in California, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
Numbers do not add up to 100 because "don't know" responses are not shown.
Source: California Center for Public Health Advocacy

THC in marijuana shown to inhibit lung tumor growth

"Science Daily — The active ingredient in marijuana cuts tumor growth in common lung cancer in half and significantly reduces the ability of the cancer to spread, say researchers at Harvard University who tested the chemical in both lab and mouse studies."
They don't know how this is working yet, but speculate that the THC might be turning off the cell cycle, or interfering with the growth of the cancer cell.
Now that there is some data supporting THC's anti-cancer properties, I wonder how this will impact the cannabis clubs. Terminally ill patients are already using medical marijuana for nausea, appetite stimulation, pain, and other issues.

Deep Brain Stimulation, A brain pacemaker implant for depression?

"Science Daily — A study at the University Clinics of Bonn and Cologne gives people with therapy-resistant depression reason for hope. The doctors treated two men and a woman with what is known as deep brain stimulation. All three patients have been suffering from very severe depression for several years which could neither be brought under control using medication nor by other therapies."
More specifically, they stimulated a particular brain area, the nucleus accumbens, or reward system of the brain.
"In the first few days of the DBS [deep brain stimulation] the symptoms of depression improved significantly in two of the three patients. Their condition remained constant for as long as they were undergoing treatment. However, as soon as the pulse generator was switched off, the depression recurred with full intensity."
Sounds like it works great as long as the brain is stimulated. Apparently, they have used 'brain pacemakers' in Parkinson's patients for years without problems. Who knows, someday this could be another treatment option. I wonder how it works going through airport security?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Chondroitin no better than placebo for arthritis pain

Too bad. Although, when reading the article, it sounds like both the initial claims of effectiveness as well as the current claims of ineffectiveness are to be taken with a grain of salt. Current claims say earlier studies were poorly designed. However, other researchers point out that current claims are based on analysis of only 3 of 19 studies.

Either way, experts seem to agree that chondroitin does no harm, and providers are not telling patients to change their chondroitin taking routines.

Cool transforming obelisk chairs

Too cool. Obelisk chairs from Janus et Cie, via MakeBlog.

Magnetic clothes hangers for your closet

Cute. Don't know how much weight they would support, but it does look pretty cool.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Male and female brains process differently

In this fMRI study, researchers study the firing patterns of men and women's brains when they are preparing to reach for an item.
"Typically, when a person uses his or her right hand to do something, an area or areas on the left side of the brain show activity. However, Sergio and Gorbet observed that in females, areas in both sides of the brain were lighting up during these eye-hand coordination experiments. That occurred in men only when they were planning their most complex task, in an experiment in which the joystick was adjusted to move the cursor in the opposite direction to the one expected."
"The research findings suggest that if someone has a stroke on one side of the brain, in one of the areas that differs between males and females, it may be important to take into account the sex of the patient.
“If the stroke is only on one side of the brain, a woman may have rehabilitation options that the man may have more trouble with,” said Sergio, “because the woman may be able to perform tasks using the other side of her brain, which is used to being fired up. We also need to recognize that men may have more trouble with rehabilitation, and may need to be checked more carefully before they resume everyday activities such as driving.”

Friday, April 13, 2007

India's Government Dropping Question About Menses

"The Indian civil service is dropping part of a new appraisal form requiring female employees to detail their menstrual cycles, a top official says. "

Yay! At least it didn't take them very long.
See previous post on 4/11/07 about this.

Scientists Have Created Sperm Cells From Human Bone Marrow

Pic: How Prof Nayernia and his team cultured from human bone marrow. (Credit: Newcastle University, England)

"Science Daily — Human bone marrow has been used to create early-stage sperm cells for the first time, a scientific step forward that will help researchers understand more about how sperm cells are created. "

Wow! Just think of the possibilities. Male infertility could potentially be circumvented, if they ever navigate the morass of ethical and moral issues involved.

This team has already created sperm cells from mouse embryonic stem cells that were used to fertilizie mice eggs, with seven live births in July of 2006.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Silicon Valley Electronics Flea Market is this Saturday

And every 2nd Saturday of the month at the De Anza Junior College parking lot.
Hours are a bit early, 5am till noon.

Excellent article on Neuromarketing

So, what exactly is it?

"Neuromarketing is an extension of peering inside people’s heads with devices."
"Neuromarketing is an applied extension of neuroscience. The application of brain-scan technology to marketing, especially the use of fMRI, gave rise to the term. "

We now have the technology to see what's happening in the brain when people are exposed to various products and advertisements.

"When Daimler Chrysler recently showed pictures of their cars while measuring brainwave activity with an fMRI scanner, they found that sports cars stimulated the reward centre of the brain, which is also the area stirred by drugs, alcohol and sex. The front view of the cars, with distinctive facade and headlight “eyes”, subjects showed brain activity in the facial recognition centre of the brain.

With so much knowledge, how are we ever going to escape subliminal advertising again?

The article talks about the history of this, reviewing pupilometers, galvanic skin response, (GSR), eye tracking, and EEG. Also a nice overview of memorable studies dating back to the 1960's.

Psychiatric nurses react differently to attacks on staff vs patients on inpatient units

"Psychiatric nurses have a one in ten chance of being physically injured by an aggressive patient over the course of a year and many more suffer emotional distress because of the verbal abuse they receive while working in these difficult and challenging environments."

Didn't realize my odds were that bad. When I was working in the psychiatric emergency room, we would regularly have people who came in totally out of control. However, part of the job is always being on your toes, and having security guards around to help out when we needed the extra muscle really helped too. The verbal abuse was totally unavoidable, and I just chalked that up to a job hazard. Luckily, in the 3 years that I worked there, I don't recall any physical injuries from attacks on my unit, though we definitely had patient assaults and crazy incidences in that time.

Sometimes I think that my risk is actually higher these days, since I'm in an outpatient clinic where security and other staff are not as readily available, and I'm behind a closed door alone with patients all day long. It's easier to get lulled into a sense of security when you don't have the constant adrenalin of emergencies wandering thru the door all the time. I have a panic button, but that's just not the same as having someone within line of sight. At least we still have annual safety trainings, and we get a couple days where we practice verbal de-escalation, and practice at physically getting out of holds and chokes.

More data from the study:

"Researchers from The City University, London, recorded 254 aggressive incidents on five acute inpatient psychiatric wards over a ten-month period. " "57 per cent of the aggressive incidents that took place at the inner city hospital were aimed at staff, 19 per cent involved other patients and 12 per cent resulted in self harm. Seclusion was used to resolve more than a quarter of all incidents, with a further 23 per cent resulting in the patient being held by force."

All this means is that nurses put patients in full seclusion and restratint more often when another staff member was attacked than when another patient was attacked. I guess this makes since, since

I guess this makes sense. People have a tendency to retaliate more when they perceive they are personally at risk.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Virus sized organically synthesized lights

Pic: Cornell researchers used the process of electrospinning, illustrated here, to create one of the smallest light-emitting devices to date. A voltage between a microfabricated tip and a substrate ejected a ruthenium-based solution from the tip, creating the thin fibers. (Credit: Craighead Research Group)

"Science Daily — To help light up the nanoworld, a Cornell interdisciplinary team of researchers has produced microscopic "nanolamps" -- light-emitting nanofibers about the size of a virus or the tiniest of bacteria."

This is done by electrospinning: "The technique, explained Moran-Mirabal, who works in Craighead's laboratory, can be compared with pouring syrup on a pancake on a rotating table. As the syrup is poured, it forms a spiraling pattern on the flat pancake, which in electrospinning is the substrate with micropatterned gold electrodes. The syrup would be the solution containing the metal complex-polymer mixture in solvent. A high voltage between a microfabricated tip and the substrate ejects the solution from the tip, Moran-Mirabal said, and forms a jet that is stretched and thinned. As the solvent evaporates, the fiber hardens, laying down a solid fiber on the substrate."

The hope is to make very small lights that can fit in tiny spaces that one would otherwise not be able to illuminate. Also, they hope to integrate light into flexible electronics.

New requirement in India: When was your last period?

Crazy but true, apparently.

"The questions at the root of the controversy are on page 58 of the new appraisal forms for the current year issued by the federal Ministry for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions. Women officers must write down their "detailed menstrual history and history of LMP [last menstrual period] including date of last confinement [maternity leave]," the form says. "
It supposedly started out as an extension to mandatory annual health check ups, but this is absolutely ridiculous on so many levels.

Should be interesting to see how it gets sorted out.

Hamster powered paper shredder

Cute and pointless. At least he makes his own cage confetti.

Lithium increases gray matter in bipolar brains

Lithium has been the gold standard for bipolar treatment for about 50 years. We still don't know exactly how it works, but it has been proven through many studies that it really does help to control mania, and decrease depression. It has also been shown to be protective against suicide, although it can be lethal in overdose.

Researchers at UCLA have "used a novel method of three-dimensional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to map the entire surface of the brain in people diagnosed with bipolar disorder."

Findings: "Bipolar patients who were taking lithium had a striking increase in gray matter in the cingulate and paralimbic regions of the brain," she said. "These regions regulate attention, motivation and emotion, which are profoundly affected in bipolar illness." They have measured up to a 15% increase in gray matter in these brain regions.

I find this reassuring, since lithium has had a bad reputation, and is somewhat mysterious in its workings. I do wonder how lithium would affect 'normal' brains though.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Want to eat less? Don't bus your table

"Science Daily — People watching the Super Bowl who saw how much they had already eaten -- in this case, leftover chicken-wing bones -- ate 27 percent less than people who had no such environmental cues, finds a new Cornell study."
Just think of all the money buffets would save if they bussed their tables more slowly. It also makes a very simple diet aid. Unfortunately, it was more effective for men than women.

Even more Linux! OLPC, Palm, Apple TV

One Laptop Per Child, the OLPC project, now has their Linux based SugarOS available for download here.

Palm plans to have a linux based OS available for release by the end of this year.

Hackers have installed Linux on the Apple TV, making it the cheapest Mac yet.

Coffee and Cigarettes associated with lower incidence of Parkinson's Disease

It was bound to happen eventually. Someone has finally found neuroprotective effects of two of the most common vices. They don't know why this is the case yet though.
"Science Daily — In families affected by Parkinson's disease, the people who smoked cigarettes and drank a lot of coffee were less likely to develop the disease, say researchers at Duke University Medical Center. "

Super Solar Cells

"The green dye Dr Campbell (pictured) is synthetic chlorophyll derived from the light-harvesting pigment plants use for photosynthesis. "

"Solar cell technology developed by the University’s Nanomaterials Research Centre will enable New Zealanders to generate electricity from sunlight at a 10th of the cost of current silicon-based photo-electric solar cells. "
It's also more environmentally friendly, and works well under low light.

They hope to incorporate the dyes into windows and other building materials to capture energy. Besides, that is an awesome shade of green.

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Sniff Magnitude Test, and what it might detect for you!

Pic: Psychology major Skyler Shollenbarger demonstrates the Sniff Magnitude Test. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Cincinnati)

"Science Daily A new medical device in development by University of Cincinnati researchers may sniff out olfactory disorders that could be an early warning of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other problems outside the typical sensory loss associated with aging."
"In humans, Frank says the sense of smell is one of our less robust senses. He says it’s more susceptible to harm because there is less neurological machinery in the brain devoted to processing the sense of smell. “So, that’s the reason it might be acting a little bit like the canary in the mineshaft. Because it’s more fragile, when you have insult to the brain, it may be sensitive to loss earlier in the disease process.”
This actually sounds pretty well thought out. It's a matter of detecting the smells, not necessarily recognizing or naming it. For the young, it's a method of detecting olfactory disorders or deficiencies. For the old, the hope is that it will also detect brain damage earlier. To determine whether you have really smelled the odor, it measures the size of your 'sniff'.
“For someone with normal sense of smell, the size of the sniff when detecting an odor is cut in half. For someone who cannot detect odor, the size of the sniff for just air and the size of the sniff for an odor are the same.”

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Using robotic fleas to create a distributed sensor network

Pic: Tiny micro electromechanical systems (MEMS) motors stretch a diminutive nine-micron-thick, two-millimeter-long rubber band in order to allow a microbot to catapult itself through the air like a flea. Credit: Sarah Bergbreiter, UC Berkeley.

There are two parts of this story that are pretty innovative.

1. Teeny tiny robots.
"The idea is that stretching a silicone rubber band just nine microns thick can enable these microrobotic devices to move by catapulting themselves into the air. Early tests show that the solar-powered bots can store enough energy to make a 7-millimeter robot jump 200 millimeters high. "

2. Using these robots as a 'mesh' sensor array network.

"...Berkeley Smart Dust Project, which was set up to build distributed-sensor networks that can communicate over long distances using mesh networks, Bergbreiter aimed to give these kinds of sensors useful mobility. She created a tiny solar-cell array to power the device, a microcontroller to govern its behavior, and a series of micro electromechanical systems (MEMS) motors on a silicon substrate. The last were used as part of a ratcheting mechanism called inchworm motors, which draw two hooks apart as a means of stretching the rubber band. "

Great article with lots more detail:

DARPA wants shape shifting robots

Terminator 2From DARPA's proposal at:

"...the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is seeking innovative proposals to develop Chemical Robots (ChemBots): soft, flexible, mobile objects that can identify and maneuver through openings smaller than their static structural dimensions; reconstitute size, shape, and functionality after traversal; carry meaningful payloads; and perform tasks. ChemBots represent the convergence of soft materials chemistry and robotics to create a fundamentally new class of soft meso-scale robots that can perform the following key unit operations in sequence:
1. Travel a distance;
2. Traverse an arbitrary-shaped opening much smaller than the largest characteristic dimension of the ChemBot;
3. Reconstitute size, shape, and functionality after traversing the opening;
4. Travel a distance; and
5. Perform a function using the embedded payload."

Liquid robots, here we come.

Calorie restriction, longevity, and other benefits

"Science Daily — Much research has shown that reduced calorie intake can increase health and longevity. Professor Stephen Spindler (University of California) and his collaborators have discovered that reducing calorie intake later in life can still induce many of the health and longevity benefits of life-long calorie reduction. Importantly, this also includes anti-cancer effects. "

They note with decreased caloric intake, the body does a better job of destroying cancerous and damaged cells, which keeps one healthier longer. They hypothesize that the body is using the damaged cells for energy, then replacing the cell once food is consumed.
"Previous research has show that mice can live up to 40% longer if they simply consume fewer calories, but a highly nutritious diet."

The hope is to figure out how this works, and someday create a pill to do this.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Home dipstick test for spoiled food

It may be 2 or 3 years till this hits the shelves. Strange that nobody has done this yet.
It takes 5 minutes to get results, and it is 90% accurate. Since it's a dipstick test, you can carry these things anywhere, including restaurants.

How it works: "The new test relies on the detection of a class of chemicals called nonvolatile biogenic amines. These compounds are generated during the bacterial decay of food proteins and are an indirect measurement of the extent of food spoilage. Lavigne and his associates developed special polymers that change color in the presence of these biogenic amines."

You've even got gradations of spoilage: "the polymers changed from dark purple to yellow in the presence of badly spoiled fish, while the change was from dark purple to a reddish hue in the presence of mildly spoiled fish".

Create your own evil online clone

I'm still wondering what the point of this one is. Makes me think of a warped Eliza.

You answer personality questions, then they generate a bot modeled after you that can pretend to be you online.
"Once it’s complete, a chat bot is created for that user, which has it’s own web page, can be embedded into mySpace or another website, or can log into Microsoft Messenger on your behalf and pretend to be you."

Your body is the joystick: Motivatrix's MX9 Workout Master

More cool toys to battle obesity in an electronically addicted age. Motivatrix MX 9 Workout.

This one is modeled after Dance Dance Revolution. Not only does it read your foot movements, it also picks up hand flailing and other body movements.

Serenity voted top SCI FI movie of all time

Ok, so there were only 3,000 voters, and it was a poll by SFX magazine, an UK publication.

What's your top 10, and why?

Here is their top 10:

1. Serenity
2. Star Wars
3. Blade Runner
4. Planet of the Apes
5. The Matrix
6. Alien
7. Forbidden Planet
8. 2001: A Space Odyssey
9. The Terminator
10. Back to the Future
Source: SFX magazine

Kids average 50 hours a year of junk food ads

Newsweek article about a study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

"...researchers looked at 1,638 hours of programming and analyzed nearly 9,000 food and beverage ads. They found that none of the food advertisements targeted to kids were for fruits or vegetables, and more than half the ads they saw were for candy, snacks or fast food...In compiling the report, Kaiser researchers looked at a week's worth of content from 6 a.m. to midnight between May and September of 2005. They collected data from the parents of more than 4,000 children to determine how much time kids watched TV and how much time they spent watching children's shows (where the amount of ads are limited by law, but where more ads, 50 percent of all ad time, are for food) as well as non-children's programming. "

And, it gets better.
"Thirty-four percent of the ads were for candy and snacks, 25 percent were for cereal and 10 percent were for fast foods."

It's just depressing.

Makes me relieved that I've trained my 5 year old to watch via replaytv, and to skip commercials. When she was younger, there were occasions when we watched live tv and she would pick up the remote control to fast forward when a commercial came on and disappointingly said, 'It's not working'. Wish I got that on video.

I know that ideally we're not supposed to let kids watch tv in the first place. But realistically, I'm hoping more kids will be increasingly accustomed to PVRs, and won't have to sit thru the obesity generators in the future.
But wait, there's more! :-)
I don't really care for Tivo, since I am a replaytv fan myself, but in the interest of more PVRs in the world, I saw this deal go by today:

"Meth kills", and cocaine too. Mostly by causing strokes

UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers have done an analysis of "more than 8,300 stroke patients — ranging in age from 18 to 44 — at more than 500 Texas hospitals in the years 2000 through 2003."

Their conclusion? “Using amphetamines or cocaine significantly increases an individual’s risk for a stroke,”

And more data: "The study focused on two kinds of strokes: hemorrhagic and ischemic. Most strokes — which involve a sudden interruption in the blood supply of the brain — are ischemic, caused by an abrupt blockage of arteries leading to the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes, on the other hand, result from bleeding into brain tissue when a blood vessel bursts.
An evaluation of patient study data from 2003, the first year that U.S. hospitals were required to make a distinction between the two types of strokes in their diagnoses of stroke victims, showed that young people who abuse amphetamines are five times more likely to have a hemorrhagic stroke than non-abusers. If cocaine is abused, the person’s likelihood of having either a hemorrhagic or an ischemic stroke more than doubles."

Well, Mr. Mackey was right, "Drugs are bad, m-kay?"

Monday, April 2, 2007

Converting blood to a universally usable type

Scientists at the University of Copenhagen have found a way to convert all blood to type O.

There are 2 possible antigens that may appear in blood, A and B. Blood types are thus either A, B, AB, or O, where O has no antigens on it.

Additionally, blood also has a rhesus (Rh) factor associated with it. The presence of Rh creates a +, and the absence creates a -.

All possible combinations of blood types are: A+, B+, AB+, O+, A-, B-, AB-, O-.

For blood transfusions, people cannot accept blood that has antigens that individual does not already have. For instance, a person with O+ blood can only accept transfusions of O+, or O-.
A person with AB- blood can accept: A-, B-, AB-, and O-, but no Rh+ blood. See also wikipedia's blood compatibility table. Blood type O is known as the universal donor, because their blood can be transfused to anyone.

Researchers discovered two bacteria: Elizabethkingia meningosepticum and Bacterioides fragilis, which can be used to strip away the A and B antigens from blood cells. As of yet, they have not found a way to remove the Rh factor yet, so that means that if you are Rh-, you will still need blood from and Rh- donor. The Rh+ can accept blood from both + and -.

If this pans out, it will drastically reduce blood supply problems, and greatly decrease risk of transfusion incompatibilities.

Build your own toy Hydrocar for $79

I wish we had science kits this cool when we were kids.

From gizmag:
"Watch as oxygen and hydrogen gases are formed in two transparent water containers in the back of the vehicle. The kit’s fuel cell unit combines water electrolysis and fuel cell functions into one device.
The car steers independently of the user once it hits a barrier, and blue LED lights flash from inside the cockpit.
It’s possible to order directly from Horizon with deliveries to begin next month (May)."

Even more reasons to get a good night's sleep

2 articles from WebMD that cite additional disadvantages of insufficient sleep.

Less sleep may mean less testosterone.
The study looked at older men, ages 64 to 74. Too bad they had such a small sample size (n=12), but they did manage to get published in the journal Sleep. The less they slept, the lower the concentration of testosterone in their systems.

Sleep disturbances heighten pain.
This study, also published in the journal Sleep, studied sleep patterns of 32 healthy women. Their findings:
"Our research shows that disrupted sleep, marked by multiple prolonged awakenings, impairs natural pain control mechanisms that are thought to play a key role in the development, maintenance, and exacerbation of chronic pain," says Smith."

In particular, new parents, shift workers, and especially insomniacs are at risk for lower pain thresholds, chronic pain, and less pain inhibition.
Makes me wonder if there are many studies on the relationship between pain and fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.