June 17, 2019

What is it?

Ha ha ha

Answer here this time tomorrow.

Hint: smaller than a bread box.

Another: Made in Japan.

June 17, 2019 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 16, 2019

Gray Cat takes a Sunday siesta — through Google Glass

Blast from a Sunday past: on September 15, 2013, Gray Cat took advantage of a quiet Sunday afternoon to catch forty winks.

Watch and learn from a master.

June 16, 2019 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Your name in lights (or the internet equivalent)

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First-time commenters: Welcome, campers!

FunFact: You can instantly see your name or handle on my homepage above the fold at the top of the Comments section.

It's not gonna get any better than that.

Lagniappe: it might remain there for 15 minutes, 15 hours, or 15 days, depending on how Typepad's behaving.

Free, the way we like it.

Just since the beginning of May of this year, 10 (ten) new readers have seen their names festooned up top.

How about a shout-out to:

jim Butler

Kamal

Brett Kling

Paul

Liz

CBRetriever

M ane

Gerard Van der Leun

Rick S

big al

FunFact #2: Almost all websites have either eliminated comments or instituted a review/filtering system before allowing them to appear.

Not me: every comment gets posted immediately (unless Typepad's on the fritz); I never see comments till after they're up.

And I never, ever, delete them, no matter how hateful or nasty.

Typepad occasionally does, though, resulting in hissy fits from commenters who thought I trashed their input:

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Never gonna happen.

Because that's how we roll.

June 16, 2019 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Candy Bar Power Rankings

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[via the Los Angeles Times]

June 16, 2019 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Where former Theranos employees work now

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From Quartz: "These are the companies that currently employ the most Theranos alumni, according to our analysis of LinkedIn profiles."

June 16, 2019 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mini-Funnels — Where were these when my amphetamine dealer roommate needed them at UCLA in 1967?

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He would sit at his built-in desk opposite my side of our little Rieber Hall dorm room all night long, fueled by his own wares, his lamp directed down at his scales, bags, tweezers, labels, calculator, and ledger, measuring and weighing and bagging his wares.

Me, I had zero interest, though he offered me whatever I wanted free, 100% pure.

Diff'rent strokes.

But I digress.

From the funnel website:

Funnel Set Sized Just Right for Smaller Tasks

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Ordinary funnels just won't fit the necks of bottles, spice jars, or other containers with narrow openings.

You’ll be glad to have these handy helpers when it's time to fill containers with seasonings, oil, vinegar, salad dressing, and more.

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Set of 3 nesting stainless steel funnels with handles.

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$10.59.

June 16, 2019 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 15, 2019

Museum of Fruit Stickers

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From Atlas Obscura: "London graphic designer Kelly Angood started collecting them in the 1990s and never stopped."

Above and below,

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a few exemplars from her extensive online museum, which now numbers nearly 900 stickers.

More?

In-depth interview with Kelly Angood here.

June 15, 2019 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

More and more, I have to read about books and movies I read/watched to find out what they were really about

Most recently, the first episode of Season 5 of "Black Mirror," "Striking Vipers."

Only when I read the plot summary in Wikipedia did I understand what just happened.

A couple weeks ago, it was Susan Choi's superb new novel, "Trust Exercise."

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Again, I had to find a review to understand what happened.

But — in both cases, I enjoyed what I saw and read, regardless of the fact that I didn't "get" it.

I'm not one to try to understand movies or books when I get confused: I just keep on keeping on.

I'm confounded by people who seem to understand all the twists and turns of a plot as they unfold.

June 15, 2019 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Chronicles of the Rings: What Trees Tell Us

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[above, a sample from Siberia, with the core dating from 1637 and the outer ring from 2011]

From the New York Times:

From the early 1700s until the 1960s, the fast moving river of wind known as the North Atlantic Jet Stream, which drives weather extremes over Europe, was pretty steady on its course.

Then it became less predictable.

But instrument data alone can’t tell the jet stream's movements for comparison over the centuries, given that scientists began keeping records of weather events via instruments only in the late 19th century.

The rings of trees, however, offer a far more complete historical picture of climate variations.

As they age, trees form new distinctive rings, outward from the center, and each year a new, distinct circle of dead wood is created around the trunk of most trees.

In that ring, one can find information about precipitation, temperature and other data about that year.

A team led by Valerie Trouet, a dendrochronologist, sampled 400 trees from the Balkans and 200 in Scotland — including what might be the oldest known tree in Europe, a Bosnian pine in Greece named Adonis, which is 1,075 years old.

The jet stream flows between these two regions, and trees revealed the range of temperatures in their rings and the frequency of fires over time, an expansive chronicling of jet stream behavior.

"More extreme positions create more extreme climate events, especially heat waves and storms," in Europe, Dr. Trouet said. And the tree rings show "big fires happen in the Balkans when the jet is in its southerly position."

The fact that the stream has become more variable only in recent decades suggests that the shift is the result of humans' effects on climate, Dr. Trouet said. "The recent rise in variance is unprecedented in 300 years," she said.

More analysis is underway to look back to even earlier centuries.

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Reading the climate stories these trees tell will help with forecasting.

"One of the big questions in the field is what's going to happen to the jet stream," said Dr. Trouet. "This data helps the modeling of climate change become more reliable."

Trees, it seems, are giant organic recording devices that contain information about past climate, civilizations, ecosystems and even galactic events, much of it many thousands of years old.

In recent years, the techniques for extracting information from tree rings has been honed and expanded.

New technologies and techniques are able to pry a much deeper and wider range of information out of trees.

The field "has exploded," Edward Cook, director of the tree ring lab at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said.

The Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research here at the University of Arizona was founded in the 1930s by A.E. Douglass, an astronomer who turned to trees to better understand the connection between sunspots and climate.

The lab has helped establish other labs around the world, which in turn has rapidly increased the number of studied trees.

There are now roughly a dozen large labs globally and data from 4,000 sites on all continents except Antarctica.

The information is stored in the International Tree Ring Data Bank, a library open to all researchers.

As more tree data becomes available, a much richer picture forms of the nexus of past climate, ecosystems and human civilization.

For its first 80 years, the lab was located in much smaller — and noisier — quarters under the University of Arizona football stadium.

"If you worked on Saturdays you could hear people in the bleachers stamping their feet," said Russell K. Monson, who studies plant physiology here.

In 2012, the lab moved into a larger building to accommodate its growing mission and number of researchers — now some 70 or so — and to unpack its vast collection of tree rings and core samples.

There are now more than a half-million samples, from slivers to an enormous slice of giant sequoia in the lobby, a large enough table top, perhaps, to seat all of King Arthur's knights. The building houses the world's largest collection of tree ring samples.

The basement storage area resembles a coffee table wood shop, infused with the fragrant perfume of cut wood.

Hundreds of two-inch-thick slices of large trees, their rich grains sanded and polished, are stacked on their sides.

The lab also houses a slice of the bristlecone pine that was cut down in the 1960s by a graduate student named Donald Rusk Currey from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

It wasn't until after he felled the tree and counted the rings that he realized, to his horror, that he had, with permission from the United States Forest Service, unceremoniously sawed down the oldest known tree in the world — a stately gnarled pine called Prometheus.

Research involving tree rings is divided into three main categories — dendroclimatology, the analysis of tree rings for past climate data; dendroarchaeology, the study of tree rings to understand how past climate affected human societies; and dendroecology, which reconstructs past forest ecosystems.

The most common tree rings studied come from bristlecone pine, fir, and spruce.

At this particular time, the most essential role for tree rings is probably their use in reconstructing past climate and providing much greater context.

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"The instrumental period provides a snapshot," of past climate, said David Meko, a researcher here, "but the tree rings are a panorama."

This window into the deep climate past has become vital in a rapidly warming world, to show how the climate of the last half-century is far outside the historical norms going back thousands of years.

Living bristlecone pine trees, for example, are several thousand years old and their information is added to by those that died thousands of years ago, but remained intact in their cold, dry high-altitude environment.

It's hard to argue with tree rings that huge environmental changes are not occurring.

Climate change seen in the past six or seven decades has few, if any, comparisons in the far past, researchers say.

The current two-decade-long drought on the Colorado River, for instance, is the longest since medieval times when a drought lasted for 62 years — with no very wet years in between dry years.

An occasional very wet year can make a long drought more bearable.

Moreover, conditions in some recent years are the hottest and driest in many centuries.

"We keep breaking records year after year," Dr. Meko said. "It's a little worrisome to see the most extreme years right near the present."

Unprecedented hot droughts, like the current one, make a decline in precipitation even worse, by causing more evaporation.

Officials along the Colorado River are deeply worried about the trend toward warmer temperatures and less precipitation and are preparing for a grim future without or with less river water — unthinkable just 20 years ago. (This year though, was an El Niño year, and the snowpack in the Colorado Rockies was well above average.)

To make matters worse, tree rings show that water in the Colorado River was apportioned to states based on flow from 1905 to 1922, some of the wettest years in the last 12 centuries, an era known as a pluvial period.

Researchers can also look at snowpack in tree ring records.

In 2015, in the Sierras the snowpack was the lowest in 500 years.

This year may be one of the highest snowpacks in decades, a testament perhaps to climate whiplash.

Researchers here are reconstructing snowpack data by examining tree ring records across the entire western United States for the last 2,000 years.

Trees hold other valuable information as well.

Oxygen isotope analysis, for example, has unlocked the source of the water that a tree took up centuries ago and can determine whether it was from a hurricane or a severe thunderstorm.

Tree rings also provide a glimpse into the possible global impacts of geoengineering — a proposal to scatter aluminum sulfate into the atmosphere to block the sun and cool the planet, which some scientists have proposed as a solution to climate change.

"Volcanic eruptions are the best proxy of geoengineering," Dr. Trouet said.

Rings analyzed from trees in five locations around the world show that after a volcano erupted in 1568, the global climate cooled considerably for two years — evidenced in narrow tree rings — and the northern edge of the tropics receded as the planet cooled.

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Those tree rings also showed that during six decades, from 1568 until 1634, there was, because of natural climate variation, six decades of expansion of the subtropics, which pushed desert climates north. 

Because of expanding zones of hot and dry weather, the Ottoman Empire began to decline, the Ming dynasty collapsed, and the Jamestown colony in Virginia was abandoned, suggesting, Dr. Trouet said, they were in part at least, climate-related.

"The way society handles a drought politically is also part of the picture," she said.

Other sources — lake sediments; ice core samples; coral; the otolith, or ear bone, of fish; and even the shells from living and long dead geoducks, a large bivalve with a snakelike appendage — add to the broader picture.

"We have divers sucking up ancient geoducks off the ocean floor," said Bryan Black, a professor of dendrochronology who also specializes in marine organisms.

Combined with long dead geoduck shells, data could go back many thousands of years.

Shells from the coast of Iceland already go back 1,000 years.

"They show that the last century is unprecedentedly warm," Dr. Black said.

Experts are using the shell ring information, combined with tree ring data, to understand how climate drives ocean productivity and the species mix of fish, to assist fisheries managers.

"The bottom line is to be aware of climate whiplash and what that means for fisheries," Dr. Black said.

Even the stars give up some of their secrets to trees.

The sun and other stars emit radiation called Galactic Cosmic Rays, or G.C.R.s, that react in the atmosphere with nitrogen and change the levels of carbon 14, which is taken up by every living thing and becomes a tracer for cosmic ray levels.

Past spikes in G.C.R.s from solar flares or other sources are largely a mystery, but have attracted keen interest from researchers, because if they occur now they could wipe out communication satellites and other technology.

An event in 774-775, first found in Japanese cedar trees and since found globally, is the strongest cosmic ray event in the tree ring record, a magnitude larger than the Carrington event, a solar storm in 1859, and apparently noted by people alive at the time.

"This year also appeared in the heavens a red crucifix, after sunset," was how the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles reported the event in the mid-eighth century.

It was most likely a huge solar flare.

"It is unprecedented, there's nothing else like it," said Charlotte Pearson, a professor at the tree ring lab. "We're trying to work out what it is and what caused it but we're still not sure."

June 15, 2019 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Force of Nature Natalia"

Must-see when it arrives in the U.S.

The documentary, focused on prima ballerina Natalia Osipova, opened last week in the U.K.

June 15, 2019 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Raid-the-refrigerator hat

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Finally, someone figured out how to light a path to the goods and illuminate inside cabinets and drawers hands-free.

What took so long?

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Features and Details:

• 120 lumens

• 1 button controls all lights

• Illuminates up to 30 feet away

• 1 size fits all unisex knitted cap

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• Standard USB battery charging port

• 1 white light, 1 red light, 1 blue light

• 8 built-in and removable rechargeable battery-powered LEDs

• Up to 4 hours of continuous use or 68 hours of "realistic intermittent use"

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$7.99.

June 15, 2019 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

June 14, 2019

A note on "fair use"

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In the early days of boj, some fifteen years ago, I was scrupulous about never republishing an article without editing it significantly.

I still occasionally got irate or threatening emails telling me to take stuff down: done and dusted. 

As time has passed and the web has shaken off its early growing pains, more likely than not publishers are happy to have you copy things intact, as long as you credit them and link back directly to the original source.

One thing about the doctrine of "fair use" remains a philosophical conundrum to me, regardless.

Consider the previous post, on Japanese scissors. 

The entire text — and photos — of an article in Nikkei Asian Review appear in my post.

But — my Crack Research Team©® spent some time and energy chasing down photos of some of the scissors cited whose images did not appear in the original article.

The original story featured six photos of scissors, whereas mine uses those six along with six more I added — a total of twelve.

Does my post thus differ sufficiently from the Nikkei Asian Review piece that it qualifies as original, and thus not a violation of the standard of "fair use?"

As I've always interpreted "fair use," it includes taking the original and then modifying it in some significant way.

The arguments center on the meaning of the word "significant."

Here is the back story to the image that appears at the top of this post, about a legal dispute over "fair use" in the realm of the art world.

June 14, 2019 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

How Japanese scissors have evolved

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From Nikkei Asian Review:

Inside Tokyo stationery stores, scissors are undergoing a quiet evolution.

The familiar tool has become smaller, easier to cut with and multi-functional.

Scissors go back millennia.

An ancient mural in Egypt depicts a pair and, in Greece, some have been excavated from ruins dating back to around 1000 B.C.E. 

The first stationery-use scissors are believed to have been created around 1880 by Finnish manufacturer Fiskars.

But these Scandinavian scissors would not take the form we know today until 1967.

It was the same company that then came up with the iconic orange plastic-handled scissors that are light in weight and easy to use.

They went on to become one of the company's best-known products.

By the 1960s, scissors had evolved into designs specific to dressmaking, gardening, surgery, and other purposes as manufacturers sought durability and ways to make the tool better cut through various materials.

In the meantime, general-use scissors, those typically found at stationery shops, did not evolve much.

But in the early 2000s, Japanese companies started to produce scissors with distinct features, like compactness.

Because of their uneven shape, scissors tend to be bulky.

Unlike pencils, they do not easily fit into cases, and their presence on desks can be awkward.

If this is a design problem, it cannot be solved by making smaller scissors; this would merely compromise the tool's utilitarian nature.

Pencut (top) is a pair of scissors that resembles a pen when not in use.

It's made by Tokyo-based Raymay Fujii, which gave the Pencut retractable loops of a soft elastic on each gripping end.

A tightly fitting cap covers the blades.

When the tool needs to be tucked away, it can fit into a pencil case.

The Pencut has relatively long blades for its size and good cutting performance.

This last trait made it an instant hit.

Smaller products had come along before but took the typical scissors shape and never earned an "easy to use" reputation.

The Pencut changed all this, touching off a wave of new compact products from other producers.

Tokyo's Sun-Star Stationery took the concept of pen-shaped scissors a step further and created the Stickyle Scissors (below).

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Kokuyo took a different approach to pairing compactness with usability. The handle loops on the Osaka-based company's Hosomi scissors (below)

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are staggered so that they align on one side along the length of the tool when closed, achieving a narrower profile compared to traditional scissors.

Raymay Fujii then responded to all the competition it kicked off by introducing the Pencut Mini (below).

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The trend toward compactness remains apparent in stationery shops.

There is another trend in Japan's scissors world, one in which new ideas are being applied to cutting performance.

Cutting ability is not determined by sharp edges alone.

Blade shape, the angle at which the blades come together, and how the blades move against each other also significantly impact performance.

This renewed pursuit of better-cutting scissors was touched off by the Fitcut Curve (below),

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hatched by Plus, a Tokyo stationery and office equipment maker.

The scissors have blades that curve away from each other in a way that makes them always meet at a 30° angle along the entire length of the blades.

The feature makes it easier for the Fitcut Curve to cut through hard or thicker objects at the part near the tip of the blades.

The superior performance is apparent to anyone who picks up a pair and cuts with it.

The Fitcut Curve made rival companies realize that scissor performance can be improved by means other than sharpening the edges and prompted them to come up with enhancements of their own.

Nakabayashi did this with the Hikigiri (below),

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whose design was guided by artists in Seki.

The town, in the middle of Japan, has a long history of producing high-quality blades.

The Hikigiri's flat lower blade and curved upper blade give the scissors a longer cutting edge.

Thus, in the process of closing the blades, the upper edge travels longer than the lower blade, causing more friction at the cutting point and thus enhancing cutting performance.

Seki natives are now calling this the hikigiri, or pull-cut, effect.

The scissors require as little as one-fourth the force to cut the same material compared to regular scissors, according to Nakabayashi.

The same principle — each blade edge traveling a different distance — is employed in Raymay Fujii's Swingcut (below),

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which, instead of having a curved blade, has a pivot deliberately located away from the axis so that one edge travels longer than the other.

Kokuyo's Aerofit Saxa (below)

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has blades that both curve away from each other so that the angle they form at the cutting point is wider than if they were straight.

This strategy improves performance, especially near the tip.

Multiple other features also enhance performance.

The blades, for example, are shaped in a way that makes them less prone to attract sticky stuff when slicing through duct tape.

The gripping ends, meanwhile, extend deep into the plastic handle, ensuring maximum clamping force.

These performance-focused products are all easy to operate, comfortable to hold and do their one job well.

Having long ago ushered in the compact and cutting-performance era, Japanese scissor makers recently embarked on a quest for multifunctionality.

Plus' Fitcut Curve Twiggy (below),

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with its blades closed and a cap on, is compact enough to fit in a pencil case.

But the product also features the same curved blade design of its Fitcut Curve sibling for enhanced performance.

The Midori Portable Multi Scissors (below)

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measure 10cm in length.

Tokyo-based Designphil created the scissors to slice through credit cards, iron wiring, and other rugged materials.

And, one of the scissors' blades has a serrated back so it can be used to cut open boxes being held closed by duct tape.

Similarly, Kokuyo's Hakoake (below)

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is specifically designed to perform multiple functions associated with opening items that arrive inside cardboard boxes.

The scissors can slide through duct tape, cut tough plastic bands or plastic ties attached to tags and open any envelopes that show up with the order.

Perhaps the ultimate cutting product to come forth from the recent two-bladed boom is a product called Xscissors (below),

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made by Tokyo's Carl Manufacturing.

Artisans were hired to sharpen the edges of these general-use scissors' 3mm thick blades.

The more muscular blades add durability, and the rear ends of the blades extend right through to the ends of the handles to maximize gripping force.

Carl's new tool is so good and so straightforward that the model could be a harbinger of yet another round in the Japanese scissor industry's game of one-upmanship.

June 14, 2019 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Flash Mob Singing Opera Breaks Out in London Food Shop

Wrote reader Joe Peach: "Routine shopping in an Italian grocery store in London was interrupted by a flash mob of five opera singers who burst into 'Finiculi Finicula' for unsuspecting customers."

Bravo!

[via Big Geek Daddy]

June 14, 2019 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

New algorithm tells you how much caffeine you need to stay alert

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From Interesting Engineering:

Ah, caffeine!

It is the perfect morning stimulant but too much can make you jittery and on edge.

Have you ever wondered just how much you need to stay alert but not suffer any of the negative consequences?

Now, a new web-based caffeine optimization tool, called 2B-Alert Web, can tell you.

The algorithm created using multiple sleep-deprivation and shift-work scenarios was compared to the results found within U.S. Army guidelines.

The creators' analysis found that its solutions required on average 40% less caffeine to stay alert or improved alertness by an additional 40%.

"Our 2B-Alert web tool allows an individual, in our case our service members, to optimize the beneficial effects of caffeine while minimizing its consumption," said principal investigator Jaques Reifman, Ph.D., a Department of the Army Senior Research Scientist for Advanced Medical Technology, serving at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

Reifman had already presented the algorithm at SLEEP 2018 in Baltimore, the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC (APSS), and had compared it to four previously published experimental studies of sleep loss.

But, he then decided to take the algorithm even further.

The algorithm is now incorporated in an open-access tool that allows users to input several other factors such as the "desirable peak-alertness periods within a sleep/wake schedule, the minimum desirable level of alertness, and the maximum tolerable daily caffeine intake."

This means the 2B-Alert Web 2.0 tool can now predict the alertness of a person as a function of his or her sleep/wake schedule and caffeine schedule.

The freely available tool then also allows users to get ideal caffeine timing and doses to achieve peak alertness.

"For example, if you pull an all-nighter, need to be at peak alertness between, say, 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., and desire to consume as little caffeine as possible, when and how much caffeine should you consume?" he said. "This is the type of question 2B-Alert was designed to answer."

The research abstract was published recently in an online supplement of the journal Sleep and will be presented at SLEEP 2019.

June 14, 2019 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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