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.