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December 16, 2004

'Who's Your Daddy?'


Title of a new TV show scheduled to premiere on Fox on January 3 of next year.

It's a reality show that asks a woman adopted years earlier to determine which of eight men is her father.

I am not making this up.

Here's how it works: the contestant (above, on the right), at this point known only by her initials, "T.J.", uses a series of questions and answers to determine her paternity.

If she's right she receives $100,000.

If one of the seven fake fathers survives three elimination rounds, he wins the money.

In a statement calling on Fox to abandon the program, Adam Pertman, executive director of the New York-based Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, said, "The very idea of taking such a deeply personal, complex situation and turning it into a money-grubbing game show is perverse, destructive, insensitive, and offensive."

Kevin Healy, executive producer of the show, said, "The first response is that the people who have come on our show have come on willingly. Both the children and the birth parents are excited to play this game and to meet each other. Even the child's adoptive parents were supportive of them appearing on the program. And at the end of the day, everybody who participated has told us we've changed their lives forever in a positive way."

The show's hosted by Finola Hughes (above, on the left), formerly a star of "All My Children" (!) and currently host of the Style Network's "How Do I Look?"

So far Fox has shot six episodes but only scheduled the first.

[via Lawrence Van Gelder and the New York Times]

December 16, 2004 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Garmont Icebug


When I was a boy growing up in Wisconsin, the tire companies came out with these steel-studded tires for winter driving.

They worked great - until the snow melted in the spring.

That's when the roads were seen to have been destroyed by the studs.

The tires were then banned in Wisconsin, though they continue to be used - with strict seasonal limits - in some Western states.

But the studs have returned, on the soles of Garmont's Icebug running shoe.

Ultra-hard retractable carbide studs give you a sure grip while all around you are slipping and flailing, just trying to stand up.

Bonus: the studs retract on hard surfaces so you don't end up crashing on some terrazzo floor.

Bill Pennington wrote in today's New York Times that the shoes "are good on ice, crud, and concrete."

Sounds like a winner.

$124.95 here.

December 16, 2004 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Why being overweight increases your cancer risk


Sandra Boodman wrote an excellent article for this past Tuesday's Washington Post Health section headlined "Obese and Opaque."

It was about the tremendous difficulty that current x-ray, ultrasound, and other imaging methods have with obese people.

Long story short: they're simply too dense, tissue-wise.

So all you see on the x-ray, for example, is a field of white.

Hidden in that white-out might be all manner of potentially treatable masses and lesions.

There's no way to see them without turning up the x-ray intensity to a level high enough to increase the risk of cancer.

Heavy people are an absolute nightmare for me as an anesthesiologist.

Everything's more difficult: placing lines, positioning, measuring blood pressure, managing the airway and tracheal intubation, oxygenation and ventilation, muscle relaxation and recovery, endless problems.

Here's the Post article.

    Obese and Opaque

    Another Downside of Obesity: Standard X-Rays, Ultrasound and Other Imaging Methods Can't 'See' Through Excessive Fat, Inhibiting Diagnosis, Treatment

    It's a daily occurrence in the radiology department at Georgetown University Hospital, says Susan M. Ascher, director of abdominal imaging: An obese patient with belly pain on the lower right side is sent for an ultrasound.

    The ER doctor and radiologist suspect appendicitis, a diagnosis the scan could confirm.

    But when the radiologist moves the transducer around on the patient's abdomen, all that's visible is, in Ascher's words, "a snowstorm."

    The problem is a matter of simple physics: The beam cannot penetrate the layers of fat to obtain a crisp image of its target.

    Instead, after a few minutes of vainly repositioning the instrument, the radiologist sends the patient back to the emergency room to await the next step, a CT scan, which it is hoped will provide a picture clear enough to make a diagnosis.

    The obesity epidemic, radiologists around the country say, increasingly is reducing their ability to diagnose and treat patients using the imaging technologies that have become a cornerstone of modern medicine: X-rays, CT scans, ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

    Radiologists have their own term for inconclusive tests due to obesity: "limited by body habitus" abbreviated as LBBH. (Habitus refers to body build.)

    Too much fat, they say, makes it difficult or impossible to tell whether a patient has a kidney obstruction, to distinguish a benign fibroid tumor from ovarian cancer or to see whether a fetal heart is developing properly.

    "There's a lot of attention paid to the health effects of being obese, but what the general public doesn't understand is how much it makes proper diagnosis difficult," said Levon N. Nazarian, professor of radiology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.

    "Every stage of an obese person's medical care is compromised because of their size, and that includes diagnosis and treatment."

    Statistics show that about one-third of American adults are overweight, while another third are obese, weighing about 30 pounds more than their ideal weight.

    And one in 50 adults is morbidly obese, defined as at least 100 pounds overweight.

    Elmar Merkle, an associate professor of radiology at Duke University, said the problem of inconclusive imaging tests resulting from obesity "has just exploded in the past 10 years."

    Ironically, Merkle said, while imaging technology has never been better, doctors are sometimes faced with the stark choice that is a throwback to an earlier era: Observe to see if the patient gets worse, or operate to find the source of the problem.

    Both options have potentially significant risks, doctors say.

    Although the impact of obesity on imaging tests is a frequent topic of discussion among radiologists, few studies have examined the problem.

    A report by researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine published earlier this year in the Archives of Internal Medicine examined findings from 100,000 mammograms.

    It found that obese women had a 20% greater risk than women who were normal weight or thin of a false-positive reading.

    Two weeks ago at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, Raul N. Uppot, a fellow in abdominal imaging and interventional radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, presented a study documenting the impact of obesity at the Harvard teaching hospital.

    Uppot and his colleagues examined 15 years of tests and found that between 1989 and 2003, the number deemed inconclusive because of obesity doubled, from 0.10% to 0.19%.

    That correlates to the increase in obesity in Massachusetts, which rose from 9% in 1991 to 16% in 2001, he said.

    Equipment manufacturers, he said, need to consider design changes to cope with "America's fattening population."

    Medical device companies say they are doing just that to cope with the projected tsunami of obese patients in the next decade.

    By 2010, if present trends continue, 50% of Americans could be classified as obese.

    Siemens Medical Solutions has recently rolled out a new MRI with a wider opening and has devised an ultrasound system capable of greater depth penetration for what it delicately deems "the technically difficult patient."

    Each imaging technology has its own obesity-related limitations, Uppot noted.

    In the Mass General study, the test most frequently compromised by excess flab was abdominal ultrasound, which is used to diagnose appendicitis, gallbladder disease and kidney problems.

    Because it does not involve radiation, as do X-rays and CT scans, ultrasound also is widely used in obstetrics.

    Conventional X-rays such as chest X-rays, which are used to detect tuberculosis, pneumonia and lung cancer, may be unable to penetrate layers of fat well enough to get a picture, Uppot said.

    In other cases the large surface area that must be scanned distorts the image.

    The picture can be sharpened by increasing the amount of radiation, according to Murat Gungor, an official in Siemens's CT division, but that is not regarded as an acceptable trade-off because of the cancer risk posed by radiation.

    "We need the best quality image at the lowest possible dose," he said.

    CT scans are similarly affected because layers of tissue scatter the focus of the beam, Uppot said.

    Officials at Inova Health System in suburban Virginia said that Fair Oaks Hospital, which performs gastric bypass surgery for morbid obesity, has recently bought a specially designed CT scanner that will accommodate patients weighing up to 500 pounds.

    The chief obesity-related problem with MRI systems is the inability of some patients to fit into the opening of the machine, called the bore.

    Siemens's new "Espree" system is an open MRI with a larger diameter of 70 centimeters (27.5 inches) and a shorter tunnel.

    So far only two hospitals in the country have the system; neither is located in the Washington area.

    Thomas Jefferson's Nazarian said that he encounters at least five patients per week whose imaging tests are deemed inconclusive because they are obese.

    Last week, he said, he tried to perform a routine ultrasound on a pregnant woman who weighed about 300 pounds.

    "I couldn't even see the number of chambers of the heart or the structure of the brain or the baby's sex, which she wanted to know," Nazarian said.

    "She wanted reassurance and I couldn't give it to her, and that was difficult."

    "I didn't want to make her feel worse, so I didn't tell her what the problem was," he added.

    "I just said, 'The way the baby's lying, we're not getting a very good look.'"

December 16, 2004 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Acupuncture Man


He's here.

Standing 20" high, this rubber statue is covered with markings guiding you to specific acupuncture points all over the human body.

In conjunction with the enclosed manual, entitled "Body Model for Both Meridian and Extraordinary Points of China," you can learn how to ease your pain, and that of others, in no time.

Only $29.95 here. (needles not included - sorry)

December 16, 2004 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Is there a God?


Professor Antony Flew, an emeritus philosophy professor at Reading University, who for the past 50 years had been among the intellectual world's leading proponents of atheism, has done a volte face.

He now says, considering "... the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life, that intelligence must have been involved."

He goes further, and now believes Darwin's theory of evolution does not explain the origin and development of life.

"I have been persuaded that it is simply out of the question that the first living matter evolved out of dead matter and then developed into an extraordinarily complicated creature."

He finds the conventional scientific explanation that life arose out of a complex chemical brew or primordial soup "improbable."

His British colleague, Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees, recently caused a major uproar when he said in a Channel 4 television documentary that the universe might be no more than a computer simulation, with humans simply bits of software.


Sir Martin said, "This raises the philosophical question: could we ourselves be in such a simulation and could what we think is the universe be some sort of vault of heaven rather than the real thing?"

What, I ask, is going on over there in England?

Do the British know something we don't?

December 16, 2004 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

'Highway 61 Revisited' - revisited


So I figured better late than never, and bought this CD earlier this week.

I mean, when you consider that Rolling Stone magazine said that "Like A Rolling Stone" is the greatest rock song of all time, and that the redoubtable Greil Marcus said this album is one of the two or three best albums ever, $13.99 didn't seem all that out of line.

So yowza, it's really good.

What's truly great for those of us who first this music on crummy AM radio when it came out is that it's like getting to, as they say, "hear it again for the very first time."

Trust me on this - and you know why... but I digress - when I originally listened to "Like A Rolling Stone," all I heard was Dylan's scratchy voice over a background of noise, not one instrument distinguishable.

Who knew then, as I know now, that there's beautiful guitar work in there by none other than THE Mike Bloomfield?

And that there are all those other wonderful rhythms hidden in what was a Phil Spector-like "wall of sound" back in the day?

But wait - there's more.

I always liked a Dylan song I thought was entitled "Mr. Jones."

That's because the only words I could ever make out on AM radio were,

    Because something is happening here,
    But you don't know what it is
    Do you, Mister Jones?

Now I find that the name of this song is "Ballad of a Thin Man," and that it's got great lyrics and instrumentals.

I've been listening to it over and over today.

No wonder those who knew and appreciated how great Dylan was gnashed their teeth so when he sold out to Victoria's Secret.

    Title: Ballad of a Thin Man

    by Bob Dylan

    You walk into the room
    With your pencil in your hand
    You see somebody naked
    And you say, "Who is that man?"
    You try so hard
    But you don't understand
    Just what you'll say
    When you get home

    Because something is happening here
    But you don't know what it is
    Do you, Mister Jones?

    You raise up your head
    And you ask, "Is this where it is?"
    And somebody points to you and says
    "It's his"
    And you say, "What's mine?"
    And somebody else says, "Where what is?"
    And you say, "Oh my God
    Am I here all alone?"

    Because something is happening here
    But you don't know what it is
    Do you, Mister Jones?

    You hand in your ticket
    And you go watch the geek
    Who immediately walks up to you
    When he hears you speak
    And says, "How does it feel
    To be such a freak?"
    And you say, "Impossible"
    As he hands you a bone

    Because something is happening here
    But you don't know what it is
    Do you, Mister Jones?

    You have many contacts
    Among the lumberjacks
    To get you facts
    When someone attacks your imagination
    But nobody has any respect
    Anyway they already expect you
    To just give a check
    To tax-deductible charity organizations

    You've been with the professors
    And they've all liked your looks
    With great lawyers you have
    Discussed lepers and crooks
    You've been through all of
    F. Scott Fitzgerald's books
    You're very well read
    It's well known

    Because something is happening here
    But you don't know what it is
    Do you, Mister Jones?

    Well, the sword swallower, he comes up to you
    And then he kneels
    He crosses himself
    And then he clicks his high heels
    And without further notice
    He asks you how it feels
    And he says, "Here is your throat back
    Thanks for the loan"

    Because something is happening here
    But you don't know what it is
    Do you, Mister Jones?

    Now you see this one-eyed midget
    Shouting the word "NOW"
    And you say, "For what reason?"
    And he says, "How?"
    And you say, "What does this mean?"
    And he screams back, "You're a cow
    Give me some milk
    Or else go home"

    Because something is happening here
    But you don't know what it is
    Do you, Mister Jones?

    Well, you walk into the room
    Like a camel and then you frown
    You put your eyes in your pocket
    And your nose on the ground
    There ought to be a law
    Against you comin' around
    You should be made
    To wear earphones

    Because something is happening here
    But you don't know what it is
    Do you, Mister Jones?

December 16, 2004 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Reindeer Sled


This 21st-century reinvention of the sled looks promising.

Jeff Jordan, 31, trained as a naval architect.

A couple years ago he was watching snow fall and started thinking back to when he was a kid and how much fun sledding was.

He remembered how big and heavy and clunky the sleds were then, and how difficult they were to steer.

It dawned on him that the very same principles he relied on for building boats could be applied to sled design.


He started imagining the ultimate sled, then started fiddling around with scraps of wood and PVC pipe.

Next thing he knew, the Reindeer Sled had been born.

$79 here.

I like his company's slogan:


Innocent Happiness

[via Kelly DiNardo and the Washington Post]

December 16, 2004 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Mind over matter


Ray Kurzweil prophetically titled his forthcoming book "The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology."

No longer sci-fi, the machines are, at long last, ready to join us and make us more than we are, all that we can - and will - be.

Time to shed the limitations of a meat case and fly.

Those who tut-tut and splutter that it's inhuman are like those who initially laughed at the railroad and the automobile.

Never happen, they said.

They were first on board once the clue-train picked up steam.

Read Rick Weiss's story from last Monday's Washington Post about the rapidly evolving science of non-invasive mind control - from the inside-out.

Instead of having to breach the skull and enter the brain to place electrodes that a person then learns to control, rapidly improving computer processing power enables surface electrodes to translate brain waves into directional control of a computer cursor.

Perhaps those who've scoffed at E.S.P. and psychokinesis will take a second look.

Probably not yet - to have one's basic belief system threatened is, for most people, deeply disturbing and unpleasant.

Only borderline types like myself find it exhilarating and exciting.

Here's the article.

Make sure to click on the graphic up top and spend a moment with it: it's superb.

There's also a link to an online movie of a mind-training session.


    Mind Over Matter: Brain Waves Guide a Cursor's Path

    Biomedical Engineers Create Devices That Turn Thoughts Into Action and Could Help the Paralyzed Move Their Limbs

    Scott Hamel is a tough guy.

    In the gym, people stare in awe as he bench-presses more than 250 pounds.

    On the race track, he thinks nothing of taking his customized Corvette up toward the 200 mph mark.

    Yet twice a week or so, Hamel puts on an adorable red bonnet decorated with white polka dots and fastens its strap under his chin.

    He does so to exercise what has become the most powerful muscle in his body: his mind.

    With the help of that bonnet - actually a high-tech piece of headgear that is wired to equipment developed by scientists in Albany, N.Y. - Hamel has learned how to move a cursor around on a computer screen just by thinking about it.

    Hamel is one of four people whose techno-telepathic powers were highlighted last week in a scientific report that broke new ground in the rapidly advancing field of "brain-computer interfaces."

    Neuroscientists and biomedical engineers in that specialty have become increasingly adept at making devices that translate people's thoughts into actions - a potential boon for paralyzed patients.

    But the newest and reputedly most promising of those systems have been dependent on wire electrodes implanted directly into the brain, presenting risks of infection and other complications.

    By contrast, the cap that Hamel has been test-driving picks up on brain waves emanating from his skull.

    With it, he can send computer cursors on various trajectories and zap targets as they appear on a screen, using nothing more than a series of mental impulses.

    "People have assumed you'd have to put electrodes in the brain to get this level of control," said lead researcher Jonathan Wolpaw, chief of the nervous system disorders lab at the state health department's Wadsworth Center.

    "But noninvasive methods can be a lot better than people have given them credit for."

    Wolpaw's "thinking cap" sports 64 sensors (the polka dots) that detect electroencephalographic (EEG) signals generated by neurons.

    With a software program analogous to those used in voice-recognition programs, which "learn" people's verbal quirks over time, people can gain control over a cursor's movement in two dimensions by modulating signal intensities in certain regions of the brain, Wolpaw and co-worker Dennis McFarland reported in last week's early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Hamel, for example, makes a cursor move up by getting his brain to generate strong 24 cycles-per-second signals in two areas of the sensorimotor cortex, the region that normally controls limb movements.

    Weakening that signal moves the cursor down.

    He pumps up a 12 cycles-per-second signal on the right side of his brain and weakens the equivalent signal on the left to move the cursor right, and does the reverse to move it left.

    Of course, he is not thinking about brain-wave patterns any more than he does when brushing his teeth.

    He just tries to connect with the cursor.

    "It's like when a basketball player is in the zone," said Hamel, 43, who lives in Averill Park near Albany.

    "It's him and the ball and the basket, and there's no one else there. That's what it's like."

    After a few months of 30-minute training sessions four or five times a week, he and the three other volunteers were able to zap targets within a couple of seconds after they appeared at random spots on the screen.

    That suggests the technology may prove invaluable for quadriplegics and others lacking the ability to use their hands or voices.


    Hamel can empathize with them.

    He has been paralyzed below the chest since he was in a car crash at age 16 (one ironically unrelated to drag racing, which he was already dabbling in at the time).

    With his nervous system intact from the chest up, he does not need special technology to communicate or to use a computer.

    But out of personal interest and a desire to help others, he has worked with Wolpaw for years, since answering a call for volunteers posted at the gym.

    The degree of control that Hamel and others have attained impresses many scientists, but many suspect the technology will never match the results being obtained with electric leads in the brain.

    "EEG is fine if you only want to move a cursor," said Miguel Nicolelis, a Duke University researcher who has been implanting hundreds of electrodes into monkeys' brains, allowing them to operate robotic arms with their thoughts.

    "But to really restore motor function, to give mobility to a patient's own limbs, you need more control than that. You need to get into the brain."

    Dawn Taylor, a biomedical engineer at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland VA Medical Center, agrees.

    "The deeper you go into the brain, the better the recording quality and the more signal you can get out," Taylor said.

    She is developing a system to send brain signals to stimulators wired to paralyzed people's muscles, perhaps allowing them to use their limbs again by making those muscles twitch in coordinated fashion.

    Still, Taylor said, some people who might benefit from more invasive systems may settle for cruder EEG control.

    "A lot of people are just not going to agree to have stuff put in their head, and that's understandable. Different people have different tolerances for being the next cyborg," she said.

    "And for those who just want to communicate with a caregiver and work the computer, [EEG] is a good step forward."

    Implanted electrodes are already being tested in a few people.

    A device that packs 100 wire sensors in a pellet the size of a baby aspirin has been implanted in one patient and will soon go into four others under a Food and Drug Administration-approved study led by John Donoghue of Brown University and Cyberkinetics of Foxborough, Massachusetts.

    That device is expected to allow disabled people to operate a computer and a robotic limb.

    Others, including neurobiologist Andrew Schwartz of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, are focusing on translating brain patterns into seamless three-dimensional actions.

    "My goal is to get a prosthetic to work so it doesn't look like a robot moving but like a person moving, with all the agility of the human arm."

    If new computer programs can tell what a brain wants a cursor to do, can mind-reading technology be far behind?

    Don't hold your breath, Taylor advised.

    Fleeting thoughts are much more difficult to analyze than focused commands such as "Go up!" or "Go down!"

    Today's programs may detect brute-force commands, Taylor said, "but it's not like we're reading your deepest secrets here."

    Maybe not.


    But here is an EEG signal for any machine that might be trying: "MYOB!"

December 16, 2004 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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