June 26, 2007
Experts' Expert: Which iPod should you take when you climb Mount Everest?
There's a question I bet doesn't keep you up nights, what?
The envelope, please: The iPod Shuffle.
How do I know this to be so?
Because it's buried deep within Noam Cohen's interesting June 18, 2007 New York Times article about what happens when state-of-the-art technology intersects with the world's highest peak.
- The relevant paragraphs:
The main information-technology specialist on the team, Mark Kahrl, rattled off the technological challenges of managing a Web site from the Himalayas.
"Hardware doesn’t work well in this environment," Mr. Kahrl said from the base camp. Hard drives, for example, fail because of the thin air, although "we’ve only gone through three." Knowing this, the team brought extras, and made sure to take iPod Shuffles, which use a memory system that is not affected by the altitude, he said.
I suspect the climbers chose the Shuffle over the similarly Flash-based Nano because there's less that can go wrong — i.e., no screen to crack or pop out.
MorphWorld: Danny Moder into Kevin Bacon
BehindTheMedspeak: Mal de Débarquement (Reverse Seasickness)
I'd never heard of this condition until I read Elizabeth Svoboda's excellent article about it in the June 12, 2007 New York Times Science section; it follows.
- When Seasickness Persists After a Return to Solid Ground
When 71-year-old Marilyn Josselyn finished a weeklong cruise on the Volga River in Russia with her husband, Roger, in 1998, she expected to feel like a bobbing buoy for a little while after returning to land. “I felt a rocking sensation, but I thought it was just the usual kind of thing,” she said. But when the feeling persisted for weeks, then months, she began to realize something in her brain was truly off kilter.
A smorgasbord of doctor-recommended treatments followed, including medication and vestibular therapy for patients with dizziness. “They’d have me stand in front of a chair, turn around as fast as I could, and then sit down,” she said. “But it made me feel worse instead of better.” Nine years of pitching and rolling have forced Mrs. Josselyn to quit her job as a court reporter and forgo the exotic trips she used to enjoy, and she wants nothing more than to get off the boat.
“Landsickness” or “reverse seasickness” is familiar to many people who have taken long cruises — once the body has become accustomed to constant motion, the vestibular system, which controls balance, usually takes a few hours or days to acclimate to being on land again. But in patients like Mrs. Josselyn, who suffer from what is known as mal de débarquement, or debarkation sickness, the brain never seems to readapt.
Their symptoms, which include dizziness, nausea and a persistent feeling of rocking from side to side, can continue for decades after the fateful voyage that initiates them. “Have you ever seen those wave machines at amusement parks?” said Mary Richards, 37, a psychotherapist in Palo Alto, Calif., who has the condition. “That’s what my body feels like all the time.”
When Timothy C. Hain, a neurologist at Northwestern University, published the first survey study on mal de débarquement several years ago, the disease was so little known that he had trouble scraping together a group of 26 sufferers to investigate. The vast majority of them, for reasons he was unable to determine, were middle-aged women. “Most of them had tried many different medicines, and almost nothing seemed to work,” he said — including drugs and therapies designed to treat other types of balance disturbances, such as motion sickness and dizziness.
After years of treating patients and mulling over individual case histories, Dr. Hain has formulated a broad theory of what causes the condition, with the help of Charles Oman, an aeronautics engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and head of the motion-sickness program at NASA.
“A very sophisticated way of dealing with your environment is to form an internal model of it in your brain,” Dr. Hain said. “A boat is a perfect place for this kind of internal model to form. It’s rocking back and forth, and it gets into a rhythm that you start to be able to predict.”
Sufferers of mal de débarquement, Dr. Hain theorizes, form internal models of the boat that are very accurate — so accurate, in fact, that they typically suffer very little seasickness or uneasiness while on board. “They’re the ones who are walking around the boat and having a great time,” he said. “But when they get off, they don’t give up their internal models very easily.” The disconnect between the entrenched internal model and the person’s actual surroundings, he believes, is what spawns the disease’s disorienting symptoms.
One observation supporting this theory is that many sufferers immediately feel better when they enter the kind of moving environment that touched off the disorder in the first place — a boat, car or plane. “When I get in the car, I feel better,” Mrs. Josselyn said, “but when I get back out, it gets worse again.” According to Dr. Hain’s theory, this is because their internal models are once again consistent with what is actually happening around them.
But not every doctor who has worked with mal de débarquement patients agrees with Dr. Hain and Dr. Oman’s take on the condition. Carlos Gordon, a neurologist at Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba, Israel, is not convinced there is a direct connection between long cruises and the persistent symptoms typically associated with the disease. “There’s no proof that exposure to the abnormal environment is the cause,” Dr. Gordon said. “There are many patients that have the same symptoms following head trauma or a viral infection without previous exposure to sailing.”
He pointed out that since there is no laboratory examination to confirm the presence or absence of the condition — sufferers typically perform normally on standard tests of balance and coordination — there is no clear-cut reason to believe the disease has a defined physical cause.
Robert Baloh, a neurologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, hopes to resolve this dispute by taking a closer look at how the patients’ minds actually work. He is seeking approval to perform M.R.I. studies that would compare the neural activity of mal de débarquement patients with that of normal subjects and patients who are “in remission,” experiencing temporary relief from their symptoms.
“The condition may be related to the brain areas that sense movement, the temporal and parietal lobes,” Dr. Baloh said. “We want to see if there are differences in the way people process visual motion.”
Zohar Nachum, a neurologist at the Israel Naval Medical Institute in Haifa, has performed one of the only studies to date that lends insight into specific abnormalities in patients’ brain activity. Dr. Nachum recruited 17 subjects who were prone to short-term bouts of mal de débarquement and 17 others who were not, sent them on a short sailing voyage, and performed neurological tests on them before and after the trip.
The sailors susceptible to mal de débarquement used less input from their vestibular and visual systems to maintain balance, and also had delayed motor responses to unexpected perturbations, such as when a boat rolls over a breaker. These findings suggest that sufferers’ brains may not rely enough on certain types of changing information from the environment for orientation.
Though the mechanism underlying the disease remains largely a mystery, many patients have found through trial and error that Valium and related drugs, like Klonopin (clonazepam), mute their symptoms.
“These drugs don’t work on the inner ear, they work on the brain pathways that control dizziness,” Dr. Hain said. “They seem to be able to help people turn off their sensations of spinning.”
Another potential therapy involves a device called BrainPort, being developed by a Wisconsin-based company, Wicab Inc. Still being tested, and not yet submitted for federal approval, it would supply the brain with spatial information via tiny buzzes through electrodes attached to the tongue. The idea is to facilitate balance orientation by overriding internal models in the brain that give rise to feeling off kilter.
While some sufferers are holding out hope for a cure, Marilyn Josselyn has chosen, instead, to redefine her life within the constraints the disease has imposed on her. With her husband’s help, she has thrown her energy into creating an online support group for patients with the condition. She has to ration the time she spends on the site because her head whirls with vertigo if she sits in front of the computer for more than 15 minutes.
“I’m resigned to the fact that there’s not going to be a cure in my lifetime, but I’m happy I’ve been able to help others who are suffering,” she said. “A lot of people have had this for years and they don’t know what’s wrong with them. When they find the Web site, they say, ‘Thank God, I’m not crazy after all.’”
Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje: Cheap at $1,250?
You can buy a brand-new copy of the novel, published in 2000, at Amazon for $10.40 and the 212 used copies available there start at one cent, so why the huge markup?
Read the fine print above: it turns out the high-priced version is used.
joe, that makes no sense: since when does a used book cost more than a new one?
Since the used one in question happens to be John Updike's heavily annotated advance copy, which he employed while preparing his New Yorker magazine review.
Dwight Garner noted this fact in his June 17, 2007 "TRB" column in the New York Times Sunday Book Review; the piece follows.
Reviews of Michael Ondaatje’s new novel, “Divisadero,” have been mixed to positive. But even critics who’ve admired it — see Erica Wagner’s review this week — have found it to be, at times, a slog. (In The Los Angeles Times, Thomas Meaney wrote about the novel’s narrator: “Ondaatje has left us in the hands of an English Ph.D., one whose literary pretensions are on full display.”)
“Divisadero” is Ondaatje’s first novel since “Anil’s Ghost,” published in 2000. I haven’t read “Anil’s Ghost.” But if I do get around to it, the copy I want is the one advertised by Manchester by the Book, a Massachusetts bookseller. This advance edition of “Anil’s Ghost” once belonged to John Updike — who, according to an online ad, covered it with “notes, marginalia, jottings, writings on over 115 pages in pencil” while preparing a review for The New Yorker. Someday a young scholar will concoct a not-uninteresting dissertaton on Updike’s marginalia. (Note to young scholar: Manchester by the Book sells plenty of other titles he’s marked up.) The notes in Updike’s edition of “Anil’s Ghost” are said to include “skips around, frustrates us, building suspense” on Page 33, and “what about his wound?” on Page 101. Once Updike writes in a book, alas, its price is out of my league. This edition of “Anil’s Ghost” sells for $1,250. Ondaatje’s new novel is No. 18 on the hardcover fiction extended list.
Meet Bryan Ferry
Tomorrow, Wednesday, June 27, 2007 at J&R Music World, 23 Park Row, New York City.
"Autograph signing starts at 12:30 p.m. [ET]."
If you're in Gotham you've got no excuse — none — for not wandering over to meet a living treasure.
Get over yourself.
MorphWorld: Cook's Illustrated into... bookofjoe?
For a second there I thought my eyes must be closed 'cause I was still dreaming but no — the latest issue (July//August 2007) of Cook's Illustrated features the Official Onion Goggles of bookofjoe™.
You could look it up.
Not bad for MSM — less than a year behind the bleeding edge.
Bonus: They've just added Pink
to the Black or White color options.
Now what's your excuse?
Rio de Janeiro is the most helpful city in the world
Kuala Lumpur — followed by New York.
These are among the nuggets to be found in a 2001 paper by California State University at Fresno psychology professor Robert V. Levine, published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology.
Long story short: In general, poorer cities tend to be kinder places than rich ones.
Levine's oft-cited 2003 American Scientist article, "The Kindness of Strangers," is available as a free printable download here.
[via Michael Skapinker and the Financial Times]
Back-Up Alert — Episode 2: Better than advertised
So impressed was I by this nifty device that I ordered a second one so that I'd have twice the alert power.
For those who scoffed upon reading Episode 1 back on April 27, 2007 that it's just one more irritating thing in the soundscape, I would point out that it's not superloud like a commercial truck or vehicle's backup warning but rather a chirp that's audible within about a 15 foot radius of the car.
Above and below, my newly tricked-out vehicle (it's a 1988 in case you were wondering, purchased new in 1988 and currently valued for tax purposes by Albemarle County at $2,700).
Well worth the $9.98 ($18.50 for two if you really wanna be like moi) cost.