Men's Underwear AdvertisementThis morning I caught sight of an article entitled, “U.S. scientists design underpants that could save lives“. Actually, the article I saw pointed to this article and said something like “Military pays for Hi-Tech underpants”. It was the title that caught me but it’s the article that got me thinking.

Here’s a the information that got me:

Printed on the waistband and in constant contact with the skin is an electronic biosensor, designed to measure blood pressure, heart rate and other vital signs.

The technology, developed by nano-engineering professor Joseph Wang of University of California San Diego and his team, breaks new ground in the field of intelligent textiles and is part of shift in focus in healthcare from hospital-based treatment to home-based management.

Well, since the military is paying for this experimental underwear, I’m sure it will get a workout in the field. But the scientist seem to be on my wavelength. Many elderly want to live at home but most have health problems. My grandmother, for a while, had the service where she could call for help if something happened to her. She canceled it because they were always bothering her to find out if she was okay. I’m sure lots of people don’t like their routines upset — because we all know those phones calls only come after you’ve sat down with a good book and a cuppa, or settled in and are just dozing off for a well-earned nap.

But if you just get dressed in the morning and the waistband of your underwear sends biological information back to a central area that monitors — if something happens you’ll get the help you need even if you’re unconscious and can’t get to a cell phone or landline. More people could stay independent and in their homes. Sort of a person security system instead of a home security system.

Now if they also get these briefs to deliver medication or administer the required medications as a stroke or heat attack occurs — where minutes can mean the difference between paralysis and a quick (or relatively quick recovery) that would be even better. (And yes I’m way, way overgeneralizing.)

So, something that at first looked/sounded silly has on second thought and more reading turned into one of those things you wonder why no one thought of it before. Of course, before now the technology just wasn’t available to do the job.

Imagine smart underpants may be in all our futures as we live our lives in the forward direction that usually means growing older, wiser, and most likely a bit frailer.

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Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the bodyHave you ever sat down to read a new novel and found hours later that it’s after midnight and you need to work tomorrow but what the heck, you need to finish this story? Well, that’s getting lost in a good book. Some people get so wrapped up in the story and the world between the covers of the book that the world in which they live just disappears for a while.

I remember when I was around 11 or so, my mother had to go out and left the pot roast cooking, and I was to check it every now and then and, if I could see the roast, add a bit of water. I’d done that before lots of time with her there and she was only going next door. But I was reading a book about a jungle and the main character was hiding from the bad guys in the fog in the jungle. Mom came home to a house full of smoke and a burnt pot roast. I realized that there was smoke or fog, but it was part of the story, so I just thought it was really real, I could even smell the burning campfire. Mom never let me forget that and I could never make her understand that I didn’t know the pot roast was burning because I was in the jungle a gazillion miles away.

Well, evidently, some scientists wondered if people who read text actually had physical reactions as they read as if they were doing what they were reading about. An article in New Science written by Andrea Thompson called “Why We Get Lost in a Book” explains the research study and some of their results. Evidently, if you read about throwing a ball or moving to a new area, the parts of the brain that would be activated if you were doing it for real also get activated, but to a lesser degree, if you’re reading about it.

Of course the study group was fairly small (28 people) and the reading material as described was bland and boring. I’m surprised they got any results at all, especially since there were 20 women and 8 men and the reading material was from a book called One Boy’s Day. Just the title makes me think of the fascinating activity of watching paint dry — wonder why?

But, at least it’s a beginning. They also found that some people have stronger reactions to reading than others — no surprise there. I might suggest that those with stronger MRI reactions found the material more interesting than those who didn’t, but that’s just me.

Reading is an activity that we all hope people will participate in. In this day and age, everyone needs a basic reading skill level in order to function. For some that’s enough but others spend their free time reading. There are non-readers, people who read for work and necessity and those that also read for pleasure. I often think that reading for pleasure is a nerd activity in a lot of ways, or at least I was always told it was because I preferred a book to sports or watching TV or just hanging out.

Now that we have the first “proof” that reading effect the various centers of the brain as if the activity we’re reading about was happening — what makes some people react more than others. Why do some people go on and become readers and some become extreme-readers and some just give it up and become non-readers (meaning they can read but don’t).

And will definitions of reading change as more and more of our material goes online. I know many people (including teens/students) who read constantly online but seldom crack a book — instead reading books online or on their cell phones or Kindles. For some reason, some researchers don’t consider that reading because it’s not on paper.

To me, reading is reading no matter whether the words are on paper, cereal box, sides of buses and building, street signs, ipods, Kindles, laptop or desktops. However, it’s nice to know that some of us really do get lost in good books — but we usually find our way out with new ideas, new experiences, and new knowledge.

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Weighing the optionsOkay, I admit it. I’m overweight. I’m working on adding a lot more exercise into my daily life, well as much as I can with chronic pain and fibromyalgia. I do between 15-45 minutes on the Wii Fit each day. Lately, I’ve been also walking down to the mailbox (1/4 miles from the house) and a few times a week, depending on the temperature, Hyperion and I have been taking about a 1.5 to 2 mile walk in the early evening. So, I’m not a slouch with the exercise and I eat healthy and lite — mostly.

But I’m fairly comfortable with myself though if I lose some weight my knees would probably throw a big party with carrots and celery. But then I get the confusing messages from the “world”. Airlines want to charge extra for heavy people to fly because it bothers people to sit next to a fat person. You know what bothers me — people who douse themselves with perfume and fly, people who put their seats all the way back without even thinking about the person behind them who just lost 1/3 of their space and most likely can’t read unless they rest the book on the reclining person’s head, people who feel they must tell you their life story even when you get your book our and open it. Heck, I’ve sat next to skinny people who spread themselves all out over half my seat and their own and half the one next to them as they take off their shoes and pull their legs up into their seat with their knees on my seat arm and in my lap. No, I don’t think overweight people are the problem — I think seats designed for a 1920’s butt that hasn’t been updated since is the problem, but then there would be fewer seats per plane, flying would be more relaxing, and flight attendants would have an easier time dealing with passengers — hmmm….

But mostly, people in the news and in advertising seem to think heavy people are lazy and don’t do anything. Most of the people I know are overweight. Of course they also work 12-14 hours per day and are on call the rest of the day doing IT work of one sort or another. Add the long days to long commutes and there’s not a lot of time to eat responsibly — you grab meals when you can and take what you can get. Most run on caffeine and sugar — that’s the problem for most Americans. We work long hours with long commutes and very little free time. Of course, I work at home but I still work long hours and have health issues so ….

But, I found this gem of an article in the New York Times, Excess Pounds, but Not Too Many, May Lead to Longer Life.  Evidently, skinny people and very heavy people may have health problems from weight issues but moderately heavy and normal (whatever that means) people live longer. There was a similar article about the study, Can A Little Extra Weight Protect People From Early Death? Underweight, Extremely Obese Die Earlier Than People Of Normal Weight in Science Daily. Yeah, for this new study.

I’ve known some skinny people with really bad health problems and some normal people and some heavy people. I may agree that carrying added weight can put some strain on the organs, but then so can a lot of other factors. You just can’t generalize about people on simply one factor and expect it to be taken seriously. I doubt if there is a single factor you could use that starts with “All whatever people are ____” and have it be true for every case. It isn’t true when you use race as that whatever and it certainly isn’t true when you use eye color, hair color, weight, or religion. People are too diverse and unique to use sweeping statements like that.

But I like this study because it found evidence that goes totally against what people have been saying for ages and seems to have some numbers to back it up. We need more studies to see just what being overweight does effect and these studies will hopefully be devoid of blame and accusations.

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Focus! Organizing Your Time And Leading Your Life by David RendallTime is finite. There’s 24 hours per day or 1440 minutes or 86400 seconds. Of course we’re supposed to sleep at least 8 of those hours. So basically each day we have 16 hours or 960 minutes or 57600 seconds to do stuff. That stuff includes making meals, cleaning the house, taking care of hygiene issues, work hours, and leisure time.

Now it sort of sounds like that’s plenty of time to get things done. But of those 16 hours 8 are spent working (plus the commute time for most people). Of course, I work at home so I tend to work more like 10 hours a day. Since I’m here in the house, a trip to the bathroom or to get a cup of coffee means I can toss in a load of wash or put it in the dryer when I pass, and then back to work. So some multi-tasking gets done.

Somehow, I always feel there isn’t enough time for all the things I want to do. Sometimes it’s just my subconscious making me feel like I’m not working that messes up my schedule. For example, I often feel that the time I spend sitting and reading is not working and I should get back to work. But reading books, to then write reviews of them, is working. It’s just that old New England work ethic that makes it feel that if it’s also enjoyable and fun, it can’t be work. Often, I have to keep reminding myself that reading IS work and it’s okay to just sit and read. But when I’m sitting by the window listening to the birds and enjoying a cuppa and taking notes on a book, it’s just too much fun — can that really be work? Well, when the reviews aren’t written because I didn’t finish the books — that’s definitely not fun. But how do you convince yourself that an enjoyable activity is also work?

Then I want to do some knitting. I’ve got lots of started projects and I’m trying to finish some of them off because I want to start new ones. So, I’ve been committing one hour or so a day to knitting on a project to finish it. Again I feel like I’m wasting time…I’m not. I know I’m not — but, it somehow feels like I am. So, since a lot of my time is spent online reading emails, answering questions, and adding stuff to the databases, I’ve taken to keeping my knitting handy so that if the response time is slow, I knit in order to keep myself from hitting random keys trying to make the thing move faster….. I know it doesn’t do anything but lock up the entire keyboard, but I’m the impatient sort. So I’m starting to keep knitting handy (I used to play games but that eats up time beyond what the delay takes so I’m off that now).

Some people just seem to get so much done in the same amount of time. I wonder how they do it. Some people think I do an amazing amount of stuff in the time available to me. Unfortunately, I feel like I waste an awful lot of my allotted time.

Is time management really just a perception problem? I don’t know, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. How do people allocate their time to make sure the have a good mix of work, play, and sleep? Time for family. Time for fun. Time for themselves. Time for work. Time’s finite but we all use it differently. We all perceive it in a different manner. Time fleeting. Time dragging. Time passing us by. But is there a way to use it up wisely and to the best advantage without waste or regret?

Any tips on organizing your time that you want to share?

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Leonardo Da Vinci (Vitruvian Man) Art PosterSometimes when I read the results of a new scientific study, such as this one on “Loss of Height Linked to Breathlessness in the Elderly“, I wonder why they didn’t know that already. One researcher said:

“The results of the study were far more profound that we expected, given the relatively small number of subjects involved,” Tan said. “We postulate that this loss of height results in reduced lung volume which then results in shortness of breath.”

I’ve put Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man as the image for this post. His sketch shows that a person’s reach from side to side is approximately the same as that person’s height. As you grow older the bones in the spine often compress or lose mass and the height of a person decreases. The study found that as the ratio of width of arms (reach) to height increased, that the elderly person was losing height and often that loss of height was related to shortness of breath.

Let’s think about that a second. I’ve still got all my organs but I’ve got less height so those same organs are now compressed into less space — which means my lungs have less space to expand. Wouldn’t the logical deduction, without a study, be that as the elderly person loses height they’d lose lung capacity? I just don’t understand the surprise at the findings.

It seems to me a forest/tree problem (i.e. can’t see the forest for the trees) or you look so much as the individual items that you lose sight of the big picture.

Was the research necessary? In my opinion it probably was since they were so surprised by the outcome. It’s one of those cases where if they had stopped to think about it, they’d have known what the results would be without actually having to run a study. But, in the scientific community if you don’t run a study and get quantified/verified/certified/reproducible results then all you have is intuition, folk lore, or theory. A theory that’s unproven isn’t really accepted. So, while you’d think one could figure it out intuitively, it is necessary to run a study to verify the belief that’s this is what’s happening.

It seems that a lot of things lately look like simple concepts being verified that you’d think would have been, by now, accepted facts. If all your organs now have to fit in less space — some of them are going to have problems working correctly. Now that it’s been tested maybe we can move on to how to help those who have lost height to adapt or alleviate the symptoms that loss of height has caused.

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A reconstruction of a Neanderthal at the Neanderthalmuseum in Mettmann, western Germany.An article reports that scientists have mapped a first draft of the Neanderthal genome.

Highlights of the article:

Researchers used DNA fragments extracted from three Croatian fossils to map out more than 60 percent of the entire Neanderthal genome by sequencing three billion bases of DNA.

The analysis showed it is highly unlikely that much interbreeding occurred as there was “very little, if any” Neanderthal contribution to the human gene pool, said lead researcher Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute.

But it also revealed that our Neanderthal cousins may have been closer to us than we thought: they share a gene which plays a key function in speech and language.

I notice that no matter what they find out about Neanderthals, that it is continually stressed that Homo Sapiens are somehow much much better. I’ll grant that we’re different. I’ll even grant that our genetic makeup is different enough that there may have been little interbreeding. But that only means that they differ from us, not that we’re better, or they’re less because of it.
After all, it’s believed that we shared a common ancestor about 300,000 years ago. And, lets face it, genetically we’re not really all that different.

Look at the picture. If we put a tanned modern man next to him in the same clothing and with the same spear — would they really be that much difference between them other than the forehead?

We, as a species, are reaching out to the stars hoping to meet other sentient species out there. But what would we do if we had a first contact with another species? I don’t think we’d do very well, personally. Here on earth every time we find that a species meets our criteria for sentience, we change the criteria rather than admit that the species just might be intelligent. If we met aliens and they didn’t look like us would we just figure they were the intelligent species equivalent of a bird in a mining cave and ignore it, or try to kill it? I don’t know.

Watching my species over the last few decades, I have my doubts about our ability to logically think, find solutions to problems without resorting to violence, or even to act together for the good of our planet rather than the bottom line of a corporate spreadsheet. So, my opinion of our ability to actually make first contact and to correctly assess the intent or intelligence of the alien species — is not very high at the moment.

However, I’m excited by the new information that geneticists are making in finding our how our and other species genomes are put together and how they work.

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Coffee 2009 CalendarThere seems to be a lot of conflicting information being published about coffee and its effect on us. Of course that’s not new; some people have always said it’s bad for you to drink coffee and some have said it’s good. I remember as a child it was forbidden to have coffee unless, of course, it was one part coffee to about 6 parts milk. But now science has put its oar in the water and the boat is spinning…

First there’s the good.

Last April (2 April 2008), BBC News ran this article, Daily Caffeine ‘protects brain’. This study basically showed that caffeine helped protect the brain’s blood/brain barrier from decaying. Saying among other things:

The University of North Dakota study used the equivalent to just one daily cup of coffee in their experiments on rabbits.

After 12 weeks of a high-cholesterol diet, the blood brain barrier in those given caffeine was far more intact than in those given no caffeine.

Caffeine is a safe and readily available drug and its ability to stabilise the blood brain barrier means it could have an important part to play in therapies against neurological disorders.

Dr Jonathan Geiger, University of North Dakota

All well and good. Just one cup a day and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be looking at having full mental capacity into my golden years.

Then there was more good news.

On January 16th, 2009 there was a report of a new study in theage.com.au, Coffee reduces Alzheimer’s risk: study.

This was a longitudinal study, meaning it took a long time to gather the data — usually having quite a bit of time between the first set of interviews and the second (in this case about twenty years). They interviewed 1,409 people in Finland. The people were first interviewed when they were in their 50s about their coffee-drinking habits then their memory functions were tested. These same people were re-interviewed when they were between 65 and 79. Again they were asked about their coffee drinking habits and their memory functions tested. What they found was that:

A total of 61 people had by then developed dementia, 48 of whom had Alzheimer’s, the researchers said.

The overall results of the study from the lead research:

“Middle-aged people who drank between three and five cups of coffee a day lowered their risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by between 60 and 65 per cent later in life,” said lead researcher on the project, Miia Kivipelto, a professor at the University of Kuopio in Finland and at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm

“There are perhaps one or two other studies that have shown that coffee can improve some memory functions (but) this is the first study directed at dementia and Alzheimer’s (and) in which the subjects are followed for such a long time,”

Note the number of cups of coffee listed — “between three and five cups … a day”. Because here comes the bad…

The Telegraph.co.uk on 13 January 2009 published Three Cups of Brewed coffee a day ‘triples risk of hallucinations’. Researchers looked at the

[Researchers examined the] caffeine intake of about 200 students, some of whom had experienced seeing things that were not there, hearing voices or sensing the presence of the dead. The volunteers were questioned about their caffeine intake from products including coffee, tea, energy drinks, chocolate bars and caffeine tablets.

So what did they find out from this study. Well:

Researchers found that “high caffeine users”, those who had more than the equivalent of seven cups of instant coffee a day, were three times more likely to have had hallucinations than those who had less than the equivalent of one cup.

Those who have three cups of brewed coffee a day could be at the same risk, they warn, because of the drink’s higher caffeine content.

On average the volunteers had the equivalent of three cups of instant coffee a day, which could still cause an increased risk, according to the study.

Remember, three to five cups a day could possible help protect you from Alzheimer’s. On the other hand, three cups of coffee or more in a day could cause you to hallucinate.

Oh, joy. Conflicting reports. See the problem with science is also what is good about it. Depending on what hypothesis you are testing and what groups you study, you will find different results. The point is that while the good and the bad here are in conflict when you’re trying to decide whether coffee is good for you or not, you can’t make an educated decision based on three pieces of data. You also have to take into consideration your own health. Do you have high-blood pressure? Caffeine can cause it to be elevated. Has your doctor told you to avoid coffee? Why? Have you talked with the doctor about your lifestyle and health history? Are you at risk for Alzheimer’s?

The problem is that people pretty much do what they want no matter what the issue is about. If you want to drink coffee you’re going to like the protection against Alzheimer’s reports and ignore the report on increased hallucinations even if the music in your head is bothering your neighbors. Humans tend to find the facts that backup what we want to do and then feel all happy and righteous about our decisions.

Me. Well, I’ve reduced my coffee intake to no more than two cups a day. By the way did you notice that not one of the studies included a definition of “cup of coffee” in their reports. Perhaps they did in the actual paper presented to their respective scientific conferences but for the lay person well it’s sort of up in the air. My cups are pretty big so reducing my intake to two cups might be the equivalent of five cups in those pretty delicate china cups with saucers. But since I used to have four or five of these big mugs/cups of coffee a day my reduction is pretty drastic. Besides the only times I’ve ever hallucinated has been when I was ill with very high fevers — I called them fever dreams. So, I’ll take my chances with my two mugs a day until the next batch of reports come out and then I may rethink depending on what the results show.

What will you do?

[Hyperion here] This is really interesting … unless, of course, she’s only hallucinating that she read these reports.

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