July 18, 2011
BehindTheMedspeak: Unlocking locked-in syndrome — by sniffing
Noam Sobel of the Weizmann Institute, in Israel, may, however, have come up with a way to make this fate slightly more bearable.
He starts from the observation that even those who are otherwise paralyzed can sniff. Sniffing is regulated by the soft palate, a flap of tissue in the back of the throat that directs the flow of air through the mouth and nose. The soft palate is controlled by cranial nerves—in other words, nerves that do not pass through the spinal cord. So spinal damage, a common cause of paralysis, does not affect these nerves. Nor does brain damage, unless to the exact part of the brain that controls the soft palate.
Dr Sobel and his team thus developed a system for measuring changes in air flow caused by sniffing. It consists of a narrow tube that rests on the operator’s nose. This is connected to a sensor that picks up changes in pressure and translates them into electrical signals. These signals can then be used to get machines to do what the operator wants them to do. All that is required is for the operator to work out how to sniff appropriately.
The first test Dr Sobel put the system to was allowing people who suffer from locked-in syndrome to communicate. Dr Sobel’s team has built a device that lets people dictate text onto a computer screen using coded patterns of sniffing. Their first volunteer, a 51-year-old woman, had been locked in for seven months. Within three weeks, she was able to write a letter to her family.
The second device to use the system is an electrically powered wheelchair. This could be a boon to many paralysed people. As little as 15 minutes of practice is enough to give an individual complete control of the machine. Two inward sniffs move it forward. Two outward ones put it into reverse. An outward followed by an inward turns it right, and an inward followed by an outward turns it left.
Oak iPad Stand
By Shanghai-based O.WW.
Apply to: email@example.com
HDTV Model Decoder
Wonder what those crazy combinations of letters and numbers in HDTV model numbers mean?
All is revealed here.
[via Richard Kashdan]
Code38 Stealth Wine Knife
From the website:
The Code38 Stealth is our flagship Code38 model and is a complete blend of blasted textures and vaporized titanium-based finishes.
The final result is very understated but highly distinctive. In the hand, the blasted titanium finish exhibits a high degree of tactile appeal and grippyness.
The Stealth is fitted with a grooved precision spiral and is for individuals looking for that unique distinctive style in a product.
The Code38 is a high performance wine knife and the choice of many hospitality professionals, managers and owners working within the premium end of the industry.
"The Beginning of Infinity" — by David Deutsch
A magnificent and inspiring book, which I cannot in good conscience recommend to you.
Because it's exceedingly difficult, so much so that only after two false starts earlier this year was I able to buckle down and make my way through Deutsch's formidable verbal pyrotechnics.
Yet it was worth the effort.
Without further ado, excerpts.
There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.
And yet, gold can be created only by stars and by intelligent beings. If you find a nugget of gold anywhere in the universe, you can be sure that in its history was either a supernova or an intelligent being with an explanation. And if you find an explanation anywhere in the universe, you know that there must have been an intelligent being. A supernova alone would not suffice.
But — so what? Gold is important to us, but in the cosmic scheme of things it has little significance. Explanations are important to us: we need them to survive. But is there anything significant, in the cosmic scheme of things, about explanation, that apparently puny physical process that happens inside brains?
Some people become depressed at the scale of the universe, because it makes them feel insignficant. Other people are relieved to feel insignificant, which is even worse. But, in any case, those are mistakes. Feeling insignificant because the universe is large has exactly the same logic as feeling inadequate for not being a cow. Or a herd of cows. The universe is not there to overwhelm us; it is our home, and our resource. The bigger the better.
Good [genetic] adaptations, like good explanations, are distinguished by being hard to vary while still fulfilling their functions.
Without error-correction all information processing, and hence all knowledge-creation, is necessarily bounded. Error-correction is the beginning of infinity.
Because error-correction is essential in processes of potentially unlimited length, the jump to universality only ever happens in digital systems.
Information that cannot be reliably retrieved is not really being stored.
Unfortunately it is very rare for practical solutions to fundamental problems to be discovered without any explanation of why they work.
Becoming better at pretending to think is not the same as coming closer to be able to think.
The best explanation of ourselves in real science is that we are embedded in multiversal objects. Whenever we observe anything — a scientific instrument or a galaxy or a human being — what we are actually seeing is a single-universe perspective on a larger object that extends some way into other universes. In some of those universes, the object looks exactly as it does to us, in others it looks different, or is absent altogether.
We are channels of information flow. So are histories, and so are all relatively autonomous objects within histories; but we sentient beings are extremely unusual channels, along which (sometimes) knowledge grows. This can have dramatic effects, not only within a history (where it can, for instance, have effects that do not diminish with distance), but also across the multiverse. Since the growth of knowledge is a process of error-correction, and since there are many more ways of being wrong than right, knowledge-creating entities rapidly become more alike in different histories than other entities.
To be a meme, an idea has to contain quite sophisticated knowledge of how to cause humans to do at least two independent things: assimilate the meme faithfully, and enact it. That some memes can replicate themselves with great fidelity for many generations is a token of how much knowledge they contain.
A few exceptional [meme] variants, once they appear in one mind, tend to spread throughout the culture with very little change in meaning (as expressed in the behaviors that they cause). Such memes are familiar to us because long-lived cultures are composed of them; but, nevertheless, in another sense they are a very unusual type of idea, for most ideas are short-lived. A human mind considers many ideas for every one that it ever acts upon, and only a small proportion of those cause behavior that anyone else notices — and, of those, only a small proportion are ever replicated by anyone else. So the overwhelming majority of ideas disappear within a lifetime or less. The behavior of people in a long-lived culture is therefore determined partly by recent ideas that will soon become extinct, and partly by long-lived memes: exceptional ideas that have been accurately replicated many times in succession.
Hey, don't take my word for it.
Read the introduction and view the table of contents here.
Peruse the opening paragraphs here.
Find a glossary — words and ideas discussed in the book — here.
See what other readers and reviewers thought of the book, along with a list of people who have influenced the author, here.
Partake — see, I'd already used "read", "peruse", "find" and "see" so I had to reach a bit for a fifth word that would serve — of an interview with the author here.
Drum Machine Watch
Digital watch with built-in drum machine.
Can your watch play drums?
Didn't think so.
From einestages: "Schlagzeug für Unterwegs: Das Modell 'Drum' der Firma Seiko verfügte über einen eingebauten Drumcomputer. Leider erschien die Trommeluhr nie auf dem europäischen Markt."
In English via Google Translate: "Drums for the Road: The model 'drum' of Seiko had a built-in drum machine. Unfortunately, the Trommeluhr never appeared on the European market."
I can't speak for you but me, I'm impressed with how good the machine translation is.
Far better than I recall it being even a year ago.
Hats off to Google Translate engineers.
Helpful Hints from joeeze: How to unlock an airplane lavatory door — from the outside
"All you have to do is flip up the lavatory sign on the door and slide open the lock."
Why would you want to?
Well, perhaps you really, really have to go and the lavatory is locked because it's not working properly.
That's one example.
Or maybe your kid has locked herself in and panicked and can't figure out how to unlock the door.
Billon (Exploded Log)
A 2007 sculpture by Lausanne-based Vincent Kohler.
110 x 100 x 300 cm (43" x 39" x 118").
Poystyrene and resin.