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 AltLaw.org, which has the potential to transform the national landscape of case law resources.
Check it out at http://altlaw.org/.

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 http://www.delosis.com/listening developed by researchers at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England.

This site also has tests for rhythm and adaptive pitch: http://tonometric.com/adaptivepitch/

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"

From Telegraph.co.uk:
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?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Another nicotine delivery system, now with more kick!

From medGadget:
Its drug-delivery device works similarly to a medical inhaler. The device injects tiny droplets of medication - or nicotine - into the air passage as the user inhales through a tube. The droplets are then absorbed through the lungs and into the bloodstream...
About 30 people were tested using the device earlier this month, the company said. According to the tests, the device delivers a smaller amount of nicotine to the body than cigarettes, but provides a stronger "kick" than smoking.

I wonder how something that has more of a 'kick' than smoking a cigarette will ever get approved for the public marketplace. Doesn't this mean it has even more addictive potential, just without the 'harmful' effects of cigarettes (ie the carcinogens). People would still be getting the nicotine, and all the harmful long term effects of chronic nicotine exposure. This will test society's committment to the harm reduction model of chemical dependency.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Learn about your brain: the Video Game

The video gives you an idea of the graphics, as well as the target audience (citations are annoyingly targeted at parents).

From Corante:
Neuromatrix is an NIH-funded video game developed to teach children about their brains.

In the game, you play a secret agent infiltrating a top-secret neuroscience research facility. Your mission: to track down and root out the Nanobots that have invaded the brains of the scientists there. If you fail, the Nanobots and the secret entity that spawned them will take over the Earth, reprogramming the human brain into docile submission.

The game was developed by Morphonix and is recommended for kids age 10-15.

Friday, August 10, 2007

LED messages from your rear window

Pic: Image collage from MAKE:.

Seems pretty silly, but could keep the kids (of all ages) entertained for a while.

Available for purchase from au-my.

LED face attaches to your back window, and the button controller for changing messages sits near the driver for easily accessible control.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Diet in the News

A few articles about diet in the news.

Kids raised on diet food may be more susceptible to obesity later in life.
From Science Daily:
A team of researchers contends that animals learn to connect the taste of food with the amount of caloric energy it provides, and children who consume low-calorie versions of foods that are normally high in calories may develop distorted connections between taste and calorie content, leading them to overeat as they grow up.


Choose milk for losing fat and gaining muscle.
From Science Daily:
Upon the study's conclusion, researchers found that the milk drinking group had lost nearly twice as much fat - two pounds - while the carbohydrate beverage group lost one pound of fat. Those drinking soy lost no fat. At the same time, the gain in muscle was much greater among the milk drinkers than either the soy or carbohydrate beverage study participants.

They studied young, healthy men who were put on a regimen of weight lifting x 5 days a week, then assigned to drink either two cups of skim milk, a soy beverage with equivalent amounts of protein and energy, or a carbohydrate beverage with an equivalent amount of energy, which was roughly the same as drinking 600 to 700 milliliters of a typical sports drink.


Picky eating is genetic?
From WebMD:
A study of 10,780 British twins shows food fear to be 78% inherited. Another 22% of food fear comes from environmental factors that affect one twin but not the other, report Lucy J. Cooke, MSc, of University College London and colleagues.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Vomit inducing LED flashlight

Pic: A flashlight contains layers of electronic control circuitry, multicolored LEDs, and special optics that together produce disorienting and nausea-inducing patterns of ultrabright flashing colors. (Song Lai, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital)

Another wacky idea from Homeland Security.

From ABC News:

The flashes incapacitate a person in two different ways, says Robert Lieberman, CEO of Intelligent Optical Systems, based in Torrance, CA, which is making the device. The flashes temporarily blind a person, as any bright light would, and the light pulses, which quickly change both in color and duration, also cause what Lieberman calls psychophysical effects. These effects, whose effectiveness depends on the person, range from disorientation to vertigo to nausea, and they wear off in a few minutes.

They are hoping this non-lethal weapon may be in use as early as 2010. I guess carrying a towel to wrap around your head (or for covering up your eyes) is getting to be a better idea every day.

Free online neuropsychopharmacology textbook

The American College of Neuropsychopharmacology has just released a free, online neuropharmacology textbook in .pdf format. At 134 chapters, it is broken up into 13 sections, and huge.


Friday, August 3, 2007

Neural damage by Ecstasy increased by higher ambient temperature

Image:MDMAanimate.gif Pic: Animated image of MDMA.

MDMA, or ecstasy is a popular 'party drug' with a fascinating history. Currently, it is most often associated with raves.

From Science Daily:
There exists a direct relationship between the consumption of MDMA, or Ecstasy, at a high ambient temperature and an increase in the neural damage which this drug provokes. This was the conclusion of the research carried out by Beatriz Goñi at the School of Pharmacy of the University of Navarra.
The study was done on rats who were given MDMA:

...at ambient temperatures of 15, 21 and 30 degrees centigrade. After performing the pertinent analyses, she demonstrated that metabolism of Ecstasy is accelerated by higher ambient temperatures at the time of administration. In addition, higher ambient temperatures also increase, in the same proportion, the neurochemical deficit that affects the brains of the users of this drug.
Unfortunately, MDMA is already documented to have several health risks. Especially of concern in in psychiatry is the long term damage to serotonin density and activity.

From wikipedia:

Serotonin is believed to play an important role in the regulation of anger, aggression, body temperature, mood, sleep, vomiting, sexuality, and appetite. Low levels of serotonin may be associated with several disorders, namely increase in aggressive and angry behaviors, clinical depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, tinnitus, fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders[citation needed] and intense religious experiences[1].
Tough to treat, too.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Amazing information from new fingerprinting technology

Even better than CSI, and up there near the amazing feats of Sherlock Holmes!

Imagine being able to determine race, sex, and other features of a person just from chemical residues from their fingerprint!

From Science Daily:
Professor Sergei Kazarian from Imperial College London's Department of hemical Engineering, has devised a technique which collects fingerprints along with their chemical residue and keeps them intact for future reference.
In many cases, this information is enough to determine valuable clues about a person beyond the fingerprint itself. It could potentially identify traces of items people came in contact with, such as gunpowder, narcotics and biological or chemical weapons.
Chemical clues could also highlight specific traits in a person. A strong trace of urea, a chemical found in urine, could indicate a male. Weak traces of urea in a chemical sample could indicate a female. Specific amino acids could potentially indicate whether the suspect was a vegetarian or meat-eater.
Reference: "Spectroscopic Imaging of Latent Fingermarks collected with the aid of gelatine tape" Journal of Analytical Chemistry, 1 August 2007. Anal. Chem. 2007, 79, 5771 -- 5776.

Another benefit of mental and physical exercise: Decreasing schizophrenia symptoms?

As if we didn't already have enough reasons to exerise our minds and bodies.

From physorg:
Dr Anthony Hannan, along with Dr Caitlin McOmish, Emma Burrows and colleagues, characterised a genetically altered mouse and discovered that it had schizophrenia-like behaviours, including learning and memory problems, the inability to process complex information, and abnormal responses to particular sensory stimuli.
The scientists found the mouse’s condition significantly improved by simply giving them enhanced mental and physical exercise – putting running wheels in their cages, plus interesting items to smell, see and touch.
Not only did the mouse’s schizophrenia-like symptoms ease through this environmental enrichment, but a specific chemical transmitter pathway found to be abnormal in the cerebral cortex of the mice was selectively rescued.
This makes sense, since we know that schizophrenia is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. For identical twins (twins with identical DNA), if one twin is schizophrenic, the other twin has a 50% chance of also becoming schizophrenic.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

'Stay awake' pill for treating bipolar depression?

Modafinil is a pill marketed for helping'alertness' and reducing 'excessive daytime sleepiness.' It is used for treating narcolepsy, and has off label uses in the treatment of ADHD.

From physorg:
A preliminary study of 85 patients with bipolar disorder shows that a drug used to treat patients with sleep disorders might also control the depressive symptoms associated with bipolar disorder. At least 44 percent of the participants in the study reported improved symptoms, a noteworthy improvement for a disorder in which new treatments are needed, according to the study’s author, Mark Frye, M.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Mood Disorders Clinic and Research Program.
Since there is a paucity of effective treatments for bipolar depression, anything that is clinically proven to be helpful would be very welcome.

Using classical music and fMRI to learn how the brain pays attention

Video: This 20-second clip of a subject's fMRI illustrates how cognitive activity increases in anticipation of the transition points between movements.

Fascinating study that opens up the door to many more studies in this area.

Researchers from Stanford's School of Medicine used fMRI, and classical baroque symphonies by William Boyce (1711-79) to study event segmentation.

Event segmentation is the brain's attempt to make sense of the continual flow of information the real world generates, and how the brain partitions information into meaningful chunks by extracting information about beginnings, endings and the boundaries between events (physorg).

From Stanford's News Release:
The research team showed that music engages the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating the event in memory. Peak brain activity occurred during a short period of silence between musical movements - when seemingly nothing was happening.
Here's what they observed:
An event change - the movement transition signaled by the termination of one movement, a brief pause, followed by the initiation of a new movement - activates the first network, called the ventral fronto-temporal network. Then a second network, the dorsal fronto-parietal network, turns the spotlight of attention to the change and, upon the next event beginning, updates working memory. "The study suggests one possible adaptive evolutionary purpose of music," said Jonathan Berger, PhD, professor of music and a musician who is another co-author of the study. Music engages the brain over a period of time, he said, and the process of listening to music could be a way that the brain sharpens its ability to anticipate events and sustain attention.
Makes for a great argument that people who like to sit and stare at the wall might actually be doing a whole lot of brain processing in those moments of silence and seeming inactivity.

Implantable biochips to relay vital health info

Pic: Implantable biochip, about the size of a grain of rice. (Credit: Image courtesy of Clemson University)

The Department of Defense has awarded $1.6 million to the Center for Bioelectronics, Biosensors and Biochips (C3B) at Clemson University for the development of an implantable biochip that could relay vital health information if a soldier is wounded in battle or a civilian is hurt in an accident.
This chip supposedly can measure lactate levels (an indication of bleeding), glucose levels, and vital signs.

Could be a great solution for diabetics to never have to do a fingerstick again, for fearful parents to know when their children are injured, for loved ones with frail elderly, and countless other uses.