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October 13, 2004

Sharp Water Oven


"A seven ounce steak cooked in the water oven has 13% fewer calories than if it were fried."

From Phred Dvorak's Wall Street Journal story on this new "lean machine," from the company from whose "... Sharp minds come sharp products."

I always liked that slogan; I don't understand why they dropped it. But I digress.

I must say that reading about this product made my eyes glaze over; I think I'll stick to my microwave.

I mean, one passage through organic chemistry lab back in my pre-med days was more than enough for this man's lifetime.

Sharp's website says, "The Electric Superheated Steam Oven series will be introduced not only in Japan, but also in stages in Asia, the US and in Europe, and will create a new market as the new "must have" product for this century of health.

I have my doubts.


Here's the article.

Sharp Renders Fat Into a Puff of Steam

People outside Japan may not realize it, but Sharp Corp. - the world's No. 1 seller of liquid-crystal display televisions - is also an avid maker of high-tech kitchen appliances.

That lesser-known part of Sharp last month released an electric oven in Japan that the company claims can help people lose weight, by driving more fat out of food.

The secret of Sharp's new "water oven," as the company has dubbed it, is super-heated steam.

The cook puts water in a compartment to the left of the oven door.


The oven boils the water, then shoots the steam through an intricate heating coil that raises the temperature to around 300 degrees Celsius.

The super-heated steam is then sprayed over a pot roast or chicken nuggets inside, raising the temperature of the food so fast that the fat literally sweats out - then drips off with the water that condenses on the surface of the meat.

In a regular oven, it takes a lot longer to reach the same temperature, and the meat might be burned by that time, says Takashi Tanaka, who heads Sharp's water-oven team.

Sharp says the new oven delivers eight times more heat energy than the company's older convection-type model.

Preliminary tests showed the water oven roasted out 59% of the fat in a piece of pork, compared with 44% when the meat was cooked in an ordinary oven.

Sharp isn't the only company experimenting with high-tech ovens.

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., the maker of Panasonic brand equipment, this month is starting Tokyo sales of an oven you can hook up to the Internet to download recipes.

Toshiba Corp. already has a similar model on the market.

In Japan, a country with more grills than ovens, Sharp is advertising that a 200-gram piece of steak cooked in the water oven produces meat that's 13% lower in calories than it would be if it were fried on a pan or griddle.

The calories saved, Sharp boasts, are a bit more than you'd work off with 20 minutes of walking.

Although super-heated steam ovens have been around for years, they're rare and used mainly in restaurants and cafeterias.

Sharp's oven, which is selling in Japan for around 120,000 yen, or about $1,100, is one of the first available for the retail market.

Sharp hopes to start selling the oven in the U.S. and other markets within the next few years.

Cooking with super-heated steam has other health benefits, too, says Sharp, which has been researching the process with professors from Japan's Osaka Prefecture University.

When the steam condenses on the surface of the food, it draws out some of the salt - a plus for people who are watching their sodium intake.


And when the inside of the oven fills with super-heated steam, much of the oxygen is driven out, a process that helps preserve Vitamin C in foods like squash or broccoli.

Vitamin C tends to get broken down in the cooking process when it combines with oxygen.

The steam also keeps food from drying out or getting tough, despite the intense heat.

Sharp demonstrated by roasting breaded chicken pieces, which ended up cooking in the oil they exuded, for a taste like deep-fried chicken.

To be sure, because the oven uses electric heat, it's bound to be pricier to run than one that uses a cheaper energy source like natural gas.

And with a cooking compartment that measures about 34 centimeters by 31 centimeters by 24 centimeters, it's a squeeze for something big, like a turkey.

Users set temperature and time by twirling a button on the bottom right of the oven, with the choices displayed on a little panel above.

For fancier cooking, Sharp has preprogrammed the oven with cooking instructions for 126 dishes ranging from pizza to baguettes to tempura - all of which are controlled by computer, which decides when to spray steam and when to roast.

Sharp's Mr. Tanaka says the cooking process was meticulously programmed to suit the Japanese palate, and was one of the hardest parts of the development process.


Sharp is planning to adapt those instructions to American tastes before they launch the oven in the U.S.

October 13, 2004 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Cellphone privacy screen


I just read about this clever device in the October Wired magazine.

It's a lenticular plastic sticker you put on your cellphone screen.

When you look at it directly, you see right through it.

When anyone else tries to catch a glimpse from the side, they see some predetermined superimposed image.

I suppose we'll be seeing these in a year or two.

In Japan, the unbelievable sardine-like packing of people in trains and buses means there are always eyes everywhere.

I remember back when I was in Tokyo in college: I was fascinated by the subway "pushers" - white-gloved, uniformed men whose job was to cram a couple extra riders into already-jammed train cars before departure.

Inhale, please.

I can't even imagine how much denser and more crowded things have gotten there since.

October 13, 2004 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack



This website started up back in 1997, when Marek D. Rzonca of Niskayuna, New York made a trip to New Hampshire in October to view the beautiful fall colors.

He asked the innkeepers there why he and his wife were the only ones there.

He learned that "... an article had appeared in a number of very large newspapers that said much of New Hampshire was past peak. In reality, they had not yet reached that stage."

And so Rzonca, whose background is in meteorology and computer science, got to work on his site.

It's now grown to where he has 500 spotters in 19 states giving up-to-the-minute reports on leaf conditions.

"I then compile the data and create the maps indicating the status of the foliage," said Rzonca.

Don't leave home for your fall foliage viewing expedition without [checking] it.

[via Lisa Napoli in yesterday's New York Times]

October 13, 2004 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Free at last'


"The great firewall of China"

"School cell phone bans topple"

"Visitors will have camera phones seized"

Each of the headlines above casts a different light on the same rising force: the inevitable, oncoming end of man's tyranny over his fellows.

Information is the driving force, and it can no more be stopped than King Canute the Great could hold back the tide.

I am reminded of the powerful ending of Arthur C. Clarke's prophetic 1953 novel, "Childhood's End."

Only it's humanity's childhood that's ending now, the time of war and hatred and the power and need to hurt another.

Not much longer, to be sure.

Free at last.

Thank God almighty, free at last.

October 13, 2004 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Klingon Language Institute



They've very graciously established this website so that Earthlings can learn how to communicate properly in the lingua franca of most intelligent life in the universe.

The site offers everything for the aspiring Klingon, from study resources and pronunciation guides to an email discussion group and eGreeting cards.

"Happy birthday," by the the way, translates to "qoSILj DatLujaj."

[via Lisa Napoli in yesterday's New York Times]

October 13, 2004 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Potty Reef - or, 'Waiter, there's an oyster in my toilet!'


"That's correct, sir. Would you care for another dozen?"

The results of the experiment by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission are in, and things are looking good for toilet-bred oysters.

Artificial reefs made of smashed-up old toilets have proved to be ideal spawning beds for Virginia's newest product, the Potty-Reef oyster.


Doesn't have quite the ring of Belon or Kumamoto, does it?

Maybe it just takes a little getting used to.

Here's Scott Harper's story, which appeared in Sunday's Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot.

A Commode is an OK Place for an Oyster Abode

Can oysters live and breed on toilets?

This unusual question was posed two years ago when state and local officials undertook experiments in which unwanted toilets, sinks and other porcelain products were smashed to bits and shaped into two artificial oyster reefs.

One such potty-reef was constructed in the Back River, near the runway at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton; the other – a single, small mound – was set in the Lafayette River in Norfolk.

Now the results are in: Yes, toilets are a good habitat.

In fact, they may last even longer in the wild than oyster shell.

That’s the material that Virginia has used for building dozens of reefs as part of its attempts to revive native oyster stocks in the lower Chesapeake Bay, devastated by decades of disease, pollution and lost natural reefs.

One catch, however.

Even when the porcelain goods are donated by contractors and developers, as they were in 2002, the cost of moving and placing these tons of white, shiny scraps into public waterways is more than for shell, said Jim Wesson, director of oyster restoration with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

The same is true, he said, of other alternative reef-making substrates the state has tried in recent years, including chunks of coal ash and ground-up concrete.

Does this mean there’s no future for toilets in the Bay? For now, yes.

But if Virginia experiences a new shortage of oyster shells – under a state contract, millions of them are dug up from the bottom of the James River – porcelain potties again may rise, Wesson said.

"Really, anything that’s made into the size of a shell, is hard, and doesn’t float, oysters will find it and grow there just fine," he said.

Wesson and a team of scientists, aides and divers recently inspected the reefs, bringing mud-covered samples aboard a research boat and checking them for baby oysters and overall health.

On Wednesday , they arrived at the Lafayette River site, near the Norfolk International Terminals at the mouth of the Elizabeth River.

The water was muddy green, the air cool and breezy.

“And one more thing,” Wesson told his diving partner, Mark Sommer, just before they flopped into the river, “we’re looking for one or two humps made of toilet.”

"What?" Sommer shot back.

"Toilets," Wesson repeated.

"Yeah, and don’t be scared if you find one," added Vernon Rowe , an oyster-restoration aide, a smile spreading across his face.

Several minutes passed, bubbles the only sign that the divers were at work under the water.

Suddenly, Wesson emerged. "I found the toilets!" he declared.

Rowe cheered.

Wesson handed Rowe a bucket of oyster shells mixed with pieces of moss- and sponge-covered porcelain, a sloppy stew of green, orange and black.

Rowe dumped the contents onto a metal sorting board. Then he and Melissa Southworth , an oyster expert with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, began taking notes and recording findings.

There were plenty of baby oysters, or spat, taking root on the surface of the toilet shards – just as many as on the real shells, Wesson and Southworth said.

The results were the same a few days before, when the team surveyed the Back River reef, they said.

The city of Hampton spent nearly two years collecting and storing porcelain goods in anticipation of the project.

One environmental volunteer donated her grandmother’s china to the reef.

It quickly became a popular cause among local media, the city, and local companies wanting to do something positive and public for the environment.

Cheryl Copper, a spokeswoman for the Hampton Public Works Department and the organizer of the potty-reef project, said one Ohio company offered to send a trainload of flawed toilets to Virginia if more reefs were planned.

Local contractors, plumbers and waste handlers said they, too, would give away sinks, kitchen tops and toilets, she said in an e-mail last week.

"The program fired up imaginations," she added, "and I have no doubt that if the science proves the project worthwhile as an ongoing endeavor, Virginia and other states would have an unlimited supply of porcelain."

October 13, 2004 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Cosmetic Neurology


Sharon Begley, the Wall Street Journal's superb science writer, featured this emerging discipline in her column of October 1.

I like the term a lot though my best friend, a Houston neurologist, thinks it's terrible.

He says it implies that neurologists give Botox and the like, whereas Begley's emphasis is on pharmacologic augmentation/enhancement of cognitive function.

You see, it's kind of a slippery slope: as soon as you improve mood with SSRIs, you're already sliding down it.

Musicians have been using propanolol - a Beta-blocker - for decades to decrease performance anxiety.

Air Force bomber pilots - and yours truly, the world's only blogging anesthesiologist - use Provigil to enhance completion of their missions.

Wait a minute, what'd you say was my mission?

Oh, yeah, I'm the bombardier.

"Help the bombardier," cried Yossarian. Wait a minute, he thought: I'm the bombardier!

But I digress.

The key thing is to distinguish between therapy and enhancement when the notion of "disease" lacks clear boundaries.

As Peter Kramer put it so memorably in "Listening to Prozac," what does it mean to be "better than well?"


Here's the Journal story.

New Ethical Minefield: Drugs to Boost Memory And Sharpen Attention

Move over, Botox.

Although injections of the most potent natural toxin known to science are marketed as knife-free plastic surgery to reduce wrinkles, Botox treatment is actually a neurological intervention.

The toxin blocks the release of a neurochemical, acetylcholine, from neurons.

That makes it the opening act in what promises - or threatens - to be a significant new drama.

Welcome to "cosmetic neurology."

Sure, there have been reports over the years of, shall we say, recreational use of prescription pharmaceuticals.

Some musicians and nervous public speakers take beta blockers (a heart drug) to vanquish stage fright.

Modafinil (aka Provigil) is a stimulant approved for narcolepsy, but it has an underground following among those who want to feel as alert and rested after five hours of sleep as after eight.

Ritalin, for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, improves concentration and the ability to plan, making it popular among healthy adults who simply want an edge in multitasking.

A string of recent discoveries, many of them from small studies that have flown under the radar, suggest that this is only the beginning.

Ritalin, for instance, specifically boosts spatial working memory, or the ability to remember layouts and locations.

Just the thing for back-country hikers, perhaps, or architects mentally juggling blueprints?

Compounds called cholinesterase inhibitors boost levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which lets neurons communicate with each other. One, donepezil (sold as Aricept), is approved for Alzheimer's disease.

But that may be only one of its talents. In a 2002 study, scientists gave donepezil to one group of healthy, middle-age pilots and dummy pills to another.

The donepezil group did markedly better learning maneuvers in a Cessna 172 simulator, particularly those used in flight emergencies.

Some drugs that affect memory work very selectively.

So-called CREB inhibitors (CREB is a protein essential for incising memories in the brain) "seem to selectively erase only disturbing memories," says neurologist Anjan Chatterjee of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

And propanolol, a beta blocker, enhances the memory of events that are emotionally charged and that the brain otherwise suppresses.

It also seems to erase the negative emotions associated with bad memories.

Healthy people given the drug recall disturbing stories as if they were no more emotionally charged than a grocery list.

It's not that neuroscientists are deliberately looking for drugs that might be used for cosmetic neurology.

Rather, these more frivolous uses are being discovered serendipitously, often in research on serious neurological diseases such as stroke.

For instance, scientists find that small doses of amphetamines help stroke patients undergoing physical therapy relearn motor skills, such as tying shoes and using utensils, better and more quickly than with therapy alone.

Taken half an hour before a therapy session, amphetamines seem to promote what's called neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to form new connections or strengthen existing ones between its neurons.

Those connections underlie both simple and complex sequences of movement.

"With amphetamines, the effects of therapy are more pronounced," says Dr. Chatterjee. "And animal studies suggest that pairing amphetamines with motor training leads to greater brain plasticity."

The day may be coming when perfectly healthy people will pop speed before a tennis lesson or piano instruction, knowing it may stimulate the brain rewiring that underlies a perfect backhand or a flawless "Für Elise."

Botox, after all, originally received government approval to treat two serious eye-muscle disorders, and now aging boomers regard a quick fix as no more momentous than a swipe of mascara.

Cosmetic neurology could well follow the same arc, which means that the time for neurologists to weigh in on the ethical implications of all this is now.

Those implications are profound.

If drugs can improve learning, make painful memories fade and sharpen attention, should physicians prescribe them?

Must physicians prescribe them?

Must patients - perhaps pilots compelled by an employer - take them?


Might one airline distinguish itself from competitors by advertising its donepezil-taking crews?

Dr. Chatterjee captures the dilemma in a paper he wrote for the current issue of Neurology: "The distinction between therapy and enhancement can be vague, particularly when the notion of 'disease' lacks clear boundaries. ... If one purpose of medicine is to improve the quality of life of individuals who happen to be sick, then should medical knowledge be applied to those who happen to be healthy," lifting patients from normal functioning to enhanced functioning?

We can wring our hands all we want about pills that make learning more effective without greater effort, offending the belief that gains should be hard-earned, or about drugs that selectively erase painful memories, evoking a Brave New World of the happily drugged - and less-than-fully human.

I have a feeling it won't make much difference.


"Patient" has become synonymous with "consumer," someone unlikely to take kindly to physicians, let alone ethicists, blocking his or her pursuit of self-improvement and happiness.

October 13, 2004 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Quantum Physics Network?


William Arntz, a former computer programmer, spent $5 million on his film, "What the #$*! Do We Know?," starring Marlee Matlin as a depressed wedding photographer who learns to control her reality through meditation and spirituality.

He was given one week to lure an audience by a local cineplex owner in Yelm, Washington, about 15 miles south of Olympia.

The movie ended up playing for nearly two months, and since then has broken out nationwide to over 100 theaters and is expected to bring in $30 million.

The first sentence of Scott Bowles' review of the film in last month's USA Today was, "Consider it a user's manual to 'The Matrix.'"

Arntz is negotiating with TV executives about a new quantum physics network.


If he calls, I may have to say yes.

Bet you'll miss me when I'm gone.

October 13, 2004 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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