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September 13, 2010

BehindTheMedspeak — Replacement Fingers: The Human Terminator

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Anne Eisenberg's April 10, 2010 New York Times story focused on the rise of humanoid prosthetics, and follows.

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Eric Jones [above] sat in a middle seat on a recent flight from the New York area to Florida, but he wasn’t complaining. Instead, he was quietly enjoying actions that many other people might take for granted, like taking a cup of coffee from the flight attendant or changing the channel on his video monitor.

These simple movements were lost to Mr. Jones when the fingers and thumb on his right hand were amputated three years ago. But now he has a prosthetic replacement: a set of motorized digits that can clasp cans, flimsy plastic water bottles or even thin slips of paper.

“Pouring a can of soda into a cup — that is a mundane daily action for most people, but to me it is a very big deal,” said Mr. Jones, who lives with his family in Mamaroneck, N.Y. “I slip my bionic fingers on like a glove, and then I have five moveable fingers to grasp things. It’s wonderful to have regained these functions.”

Mr. Jones’s prosthesis, called ProDigits, is made by Touch Bionics in Livingston, Scotland. The device can replace any or all fingers on a hand; each replacement digit has a tiny motor and gear box mounted at the base. Movement is controlled by a computer chip in the prosthesis.

ProDigits was released commercially last December, said Stuart Mead, the chief executive of Touch Bionics. About 60 patients have been fitted worldwide, he said, and some have been wearing it for three or four years. The cost is $60,000 to $75,000, including fitting and occupational therapy.

The technology used by Touch Bionics is based on prostheses that the National Health Service in Scotland developed for children there who suffered effects of the drug thalidomide, he said. The company, founded in 2003 as a spin-off from the health service, adapted the technology from custom prostheses into ones that could be produced commercially. It had funding from investors including Archangel Informal Investment and the Scottish Co-Investment Fund.

The company’s first product, released two and a half years ago, was the i-Limb Hand, an entire hand that opens and closes and can grasp objects. It has been a success, Mr. Mead said, with more than 1,200 patients fitted with it in 40 countries.

The company then turned to creating ProDigits. “We decided to develop the technology to mechanize not just a hand, but individual fingers,” he said. “We always knew that it would be the bigger market — more people lose individual digits than lose entire hands — but also the most challenging technically."

The individual, motorized fingers are a new and promising development in the field, made possible in part by miniaturization of components, said John Miguelez, founder and president of Advanced Arm Dynamics of Redondo Beach, Calif. The company specializes in prosthetics for hands and arms for, among others, soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington. “More voltage and current can be applied to the motors,” he said, “creating increased speed and force.”

Dr. Douglas G. Smith, a professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Washington and Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, agreed. “Motors are getting stronger and smaller, and the batteries are thinner and smaller, too,” he said, making it possible to fit mechanical components into the space formerly occupied by a finger.

Eric Jones has been wearing a ProDigits prosthetic for 18 months. The artificial fingers are slightly larger than the originals, but that is not a problem, he said. “The fingers look cool,” he said. A switch on the side turns the power on and off, and he charges the digits overnight, as he would a cellphone.

Mr. Jones starts the action by flexing or relaxing a muscle in the palm of his hand. Sensors built into the prosthesis pick up the signals sent by the muscles and send the message to the computer chip that controls the motor. The artificial fingers stop closing when they detect resistance, said Karl Lindborg, professional services director for Touch Bionics.

A single, outstretched prosthetic finger can operate a microwave oven or a cellphone; a finger and a thumb can hold a chess piece; three or more fingers can grasp a sphere. Mr. Jones said the fingers also provided a touch of class. “I can grasp a wine glass with my bionic fingers,” he said. “My pinkie and ring finger curve under the bowl very elegantly.”

ProDigits may be opened and closed not only by sensors that pick up muscle contractions, but also by dime-size pads put at the base of the fingers to detect pressure exerted by remnant bone. “If you can wiggle the bones in your palm, Mr. Miguelez explained, “that wiggle can be translated into controls to open and close the fingers.”

Robert J. Green of Bel Air, Md., who lost the fingers and thumb on his dominant left hand last year, operates his ProDigits in just that way. He uses his prosthetic fingers, for example, to write with a pen or a pencil. The artificial digits have actually improved his handwriting, he said, and he likes their appearance, too. “I look something like Arnold Schwarzennger in ‘The Terminator,’ ” he said.

September 13, 2010 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Free french fries at McDonald's today for bookofjoe readers*

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Click here , then print out your Twitter coupon (above).

"Offer expires on 9-13-10 [that's today] at 11:59 p.m. Valid only at participating Metro and Southern Hudson River Valley, NY area; Northern and Central NJ; and Fairfield County, CT McDonald's."

But here's the rub: the fine print says, "Coupon may not be transferred, auctioned, sold, copied or duplicated in any way or transmitted via electronic media (my italics).

Well, I'm sure someone will let me know if it worked out — or not.

About time I offered something concrete instead of bookofjoeTV pie in the sky and its ilk.

*Not limited to bookofjoe readers though they're certainly included

[via Mark Hall]

September 13, 2010 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

corrections@nytimes.com

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Today marks the debut of a new feature, in which I spotlight errors in the newspapers and magazines I read that go unremarked and uncorrected even after repeated corrections by me to the responsible parties.

The way I see it, these will serve as published corrections even if the media sources choose to ignore their own errors and let them stand.

Bonus: boj posts automatically appear on Facebook so that'll be yet more amplification, and for the heck of it I'll probably tweet them too.

But enough babble, let's cut to the chase.

Michael Kimmelman authored a superb August 29, 2010 cover story for the New York Times about the rise of the power game in women's tennis.

In it is the following on page 26: "With Henin suffering a partial ligament fracture to her right elbow..."

As I noted in my emailed corrections (above, to the Times' corrections department and below, again to the corrections department along with the magazine itself and the Times ombudsman, Art Brisbane), 

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first on August 29 and again on September 5, "Ligaments stretch or tear but do not fracture: they are soft tissue, not bone."

As of this writing, I have heard the sound of silence from the Times.

nuf sed.

September 13, 2010 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Self Stirring Spoonless Mug

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From the website:

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With the press of a button, a little whirring disc at the bottom spins and froths your drink, blending sweetener and/or cream into your coffee, tea or cocoa.

To clean, simply pour in soap and press button to stir.

Requires 2 AAA batteries (not included).

Mug comes with drink-through top.

Measures 4.4"H x 3.8"Ø.

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$18.99.

September 13, 2010 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

How often should you change your car's oil?

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In a September 11, 2011 New York Times storyAlina Tugend dove into the murky world of how often you should change your car's oil. 

Excerpts follow.

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What actually happens if you don’t change your oil? Well, it doesn’t run out, it simply gets dirtier and dirtier. It’s like mopping the floor with a bucket of water and detergent. The water starts out clean, but the more you use it, the filthier it gets. Eventually, you’re making the floor dirtier if you don’t change the water.

Some people remain attached to the 3,000-mile oil change and have a hard time trusting the recommendations in the owner’s manual. If you’re one of those skeptics, you can send your engine oil out to be analyzed. Blackstone Laboratories in Fort Wayne, Ind., one of the best-known places for engine oil analysis, will send you a free kit.

You send back an oil sample and for $25, they’ll tell you all sorts of things about your car.

“We would compare what your oil looks like compared to the average Mazda5 of that year,” said Kristen Huff, a vice president at Blackstone. If there is a lot more lead in my oil than in a typical Mazda5, for example, it means I have a bearing problem, she said.

Her lab runs about 150 samples a day and a fair percentage of those are consumers looking to find out how often they need to change their oil, Ms. Huff said.

“Very often, it is the case that they’re changing their oil too often,” she said. “They do what their dad did with his ’55 Chevy.”

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I like how Blackstone is up front about what they charge and how they structure their fee, to wit: "Attention! While the kit is free, the oil analysis costs $25. Many labs will charge for the kit when you order it. We let you keep your money until you send in your oil for analysis."

There are a lot of businesses which could take a leaf from Blackstone's approach.

September 13, 2010 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Mmmm, Bacon... Soda? Pizza too.

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From Jones Soda — whose Turkey & Gravy and Green Bean Casserole have become legendary — comes their latest pair of bizarro flavors.

[via Geekologie]

September 13, 2010 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

How to fix the wacky iTunes 10 vertical close buttons

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Rob Pegoraro's Washington Post tutorial appeared in yesterday's paper, and helped me fix a problem I didn't even know I had.

Here's the scoop.

Q. What's up with the close buttons in iTunes 10 for Mac OS X, and how do I make it look like a normal Mac program again?

A. Apple's just-updated media program has its issues. But on a Mac, none stand out like its bizarre placement of the red, yellow and green buttons that close, minimize or zoom iTunes -- Apple stacked them vertically [top] instead of in the normal horizontal lineup.

That is an inexplicable move for a company so focused on correct interface design and making developers follow those rules. (The Windows version of iTunes is no paragon of proper Windows coding, but its maximize, minimize and close buttons are in the right spot.)

Apple declined to comment.

Fortunately, Mac users quickly found a fix for Apple's mistake. Quit iTunes, then open the Terminal application from the Utilities sub-folder of your Applications folder. At Terminal's command line, type "defaults write com.apple.iTunes full-window -1" and hit Enter. Restart iTunes, and it should now feature a row of close, minimize and zoom buttons.

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Good news, bad news.

The good news: Pegoraro's instructions worked the first time I tried them; witness the look post-fix:

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The bad news: Pegoraro assumes far too much computer knowledge by the user of his intructions.

Even though I succeeded the first time, it's much like how a blind, anosmic pig (did you know pigs have an exquisitely sensitive sense of smell? You didn't? You don't care? Oh, sorry.) will find an acorn every now and then.

Here are TechnoDolt™-friendly additions to the directions up top, to make certain you succeed with this fix.

1. "Terminal's command line": most of us haven't a clue what a command line is, much less where to find it. I just started typing and quickly realized that little dark grey rectangular box after "Joseph-Stirts-27-iMac:~ stirt$" was the start of the command line.

2. It's not obvious that you're not supposed to put quotation marks before and after the command you're supposed to type in; omit the quotation marks.

3. Pegoraro doesn't make it crystal clear where spaces go in the gibberish you're supposed to type in. In fact, they go where they look like they go, including before the -1. Not obvious.

4. If you're like me and use an Apple aluminum keyboard, you will not notice the "Enter" button at first glance but instead will see "Return." When you look again you'll see "Enter" in very small characters above "Return."

September 13, 2010 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Limited-Edition Christian Dior Chiffre Rouge T01

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Satellite dial orbits around the face and performs two functions: acts as an hour hand for local time and, on a nest of interlocking circles, displays the time in eight locations around the world.

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100 pieces.

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€5,700 at Dior boutiques everywhere.

September 13, 2010 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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