links for 2008-09-17

The Big Chill

 Freeman and Ferguson in a tank

Football (OK, soccer) is pushing to the forefront of adopting interesting technologies. Here’s one I hadn’t heard from Bolton Wanderers, where players enter a chamber at minus 120 degrees Celsius to enhance muscle recovery after training. It’s called cryotherapy, according to the Daily Mail:

The technique was originated in Japan in 1978 to help arthritis sufferers and patients with joint conditions. In time, athletes claimed it enhanced muscle recovery and reduced muscle pain. [Bolton’s new head of sports science and medicine Richard] Freeman said: “It’s made from liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen mixed to the right proportion to become liquid synthetic air. It’s quite safe despite the temperatures.

“It’s still in its infancy but players benefit. It’s like stretching before a game. There’s little scientific evidence why it works but it clearly does. The players like it and feel they benefit. After a heavy training session, a weights session or an intense game, they feel better quicker and it has been shown to improve muscle structure and muscle function.

Cryotherapy, according to Wikipedia, stretches from applying an ice pack to this chamber approach, which is properly called cryogenic chamber therapy:

The chamber is cooled, typically with liquid nitrogen, to a temperature of –110 C. The patient is protected from acute frostbite with socks, gloves and mouth and ear protection, but in addition to that, wears nothing but a bathing suit. The patients spends a few minutes in the chamber. During treatment the average skin temperature drops 12 C, while the coldest skin temperature can be 5 C. The core body temperature remains unchanged during the treatment, while after it, it may drop slightly. Curiously enough, some patients compare the feeling to sauna at +110 C. Release of endorphins occurs, resulting in analgesia (immediate pain relief).

Want one of your own? Buy the CryoCabin CYRODOC from the Zwolle-based company of the same name:

Treatment in the CRYODOC CryoCabin takes only 3 minutes at a temperature of -130 Cº to -150 Cº , producing several important salutary effects throughout the body: energy boost, skin regeneration and rejuvenation, protection against fading skin, strengthening of the immune system, fighting stress and chronic fatigue, increased metabolic rate, weight reduction, fighting cellulite, pain reduction, and generally improving the overall state of health.

I’ll spare you some of the more graphic pictures on their website (think cellulite and elbow rash. But I like the way this lady’s earrings twinkle in her CryoCabin:

image
Come in, the air is lovely

Why giving players the cold shoulder – and everything else – is keeping Bolton Poles apart | the Daily Mail

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How To Remember Stuff

I long suspected this was the case, and now we’ve proof: Try too hard to remember something and you can almost feel yourself forgetting it. Stop trying to remember and it will come back. Of course, this could be extended to other mental activity: Your brain can only cope with so much stuff, so better to let it float and do what it wants to do. If it’s a good brain and has plenty to feed on, it should give you what you want in its own sweet time. Hey, a slacker’s manifesto.

clipped from scienceblogs.com

One explanation for this fascinating failure of memory is retrieval-induced forgetting, in which the retrieval of closely related concepts and words actually competes with the word or concept you intended to retrieve (discussed previously). The intended item becomes available only after the residual activity among the incorrectly retrieved items has decayed.

A Fatwa Against SMS Scams

Indonesia’s Islamic council of ulemas, MUI, has concluded their session with the issuance of the nineteen fatwas, or legal opinion concerning Islamic Law. Contrary to what the non-Muslim world thinks, a fatwa is not a sort of death sentence, although in certain circumstances and for some people they can be. Most are mere clarifications on where Islam, or that country, or sect, stands on a particular issue. The 19 fatwas in this case were about some controversial issues — a much debated anti-pornography law (a good thing, MUI says) — and the less controverial — such as “It is forbidden to recieve prizes via SMS.”

Now, on first blush this may seem somewhat odd. Why is such an august body troubling itself with pronouncing whether it’s OK to receive prizes via your cellphone? And as far as I know no further explanation is given for the reason, or why they’re discussing it. But actually, it’s a good thing, and here’s why. Indonesia is rife with scams — I think that’s why I love monitoring scams so much — and SMS is no exception. The most common one is a message that claims to be from a cellular operator saying that you’ve won a prize. All you need to do is to call a given number and register for your prize.

Of course, the number given to call doesn’t look anything like the cellular operator’s number — it’s often located in a remote suburb, where businesses rarely venture — and the source number doesn’t look very kosher either. Still, I’ve tried ringing a couple of these and they’re usually along the lines of either requesting your full bank details and PIN number plus faxing your ID card (presumably to empty your account instead of filling it) or else telling you, Nigerian scam-like, that you have to pay a registration fee before collecting your winnings. Similar scams have been discovered in China and Malaysia.

I somehow doubt that MUI had this in mind when they declared SMS prizes haram. But if it stops a few gullible folk falling for the scam, it’s probably a good thing.

Changing the Way We Drink

Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway has invented a device that lets him drinks his own urine:

Dean Kamen, famed inventor of the Segway vehicle, drank his own urine to the delight of a South Carolina audience. He was participating in a presentation of his latest gadget- a pee-purifying device that his company DEKA Research has developed.

He intends to solve the world’s water problem with this new invention– an energy efficient filtration system that can transform any water and convert it into drinkable H20. The device, still in prototype form, is ‘the size of a dorm-room fridge’.

Kamen owns one hundred and fifty patents and owns an island in the Long Island Sound. Bono is apparently interested in supporting this project and is being tapped for his high profile.

Actually sounds a great idea.

Don’t Turn the Poppy Into a Stick

Nothing to do with technology this, but it is to do with racism, multiculturalism, and my old country, Britain. A recent piece by Carol Gould of FrontPage magazine: The First Step to Britishness Is Your Poppy

The poppy is a symbol of the terrible loss of life in World War I in the fields of Flanders, where these blood-red flowers sprouted above the acres of corpses of fallen soldiers. As the decades have passed, the poppy has been worn to show one’s respect for the millions who have died in successive conflicts as recent as Iraq and Afghanistan. On British television, every presenter and anchor wears a poppy. In keeping with the motto of the British Legion—“Wear your poppy with pride”—every shopkeeper, publican, hotel manager and cabbie wears a poppy. This year I proudly bought mine at my local doctor’s office.

It was therefore all the more astonishing last week when I took a long walk along Edgware Road, the most densely Muslim section of London, and discovered that not one person was wearing a poppy. This all started because I was accosted on my corner, a few yards form where I have lived for twenty-eight years, by a young Arab man who began to get very aggressive with me. Was I, he demanded to know, “from the Jewish”?

The poppy is an institution in the UK, and reflecting that, its design hasn’t changed much since I was a kid. It’s one thing the Brits do quite well, and no PR firm has been allowed to jazz up what is one of the country’s key traditions. But reading the piece cited above made me realise, as an exile, how far the country still has to go in understanding that multiculturalism cuts both ways.

The poppy honours those men and women who have fallen in battle since the First World War. One would hope it includes all men and women who have fallen in all battles, but invitees are, as far as I know, those who have fought on the British side in British wars. I worry, though, that someone like Ms. Gould, despite her thoughtful and respectful attitude towards a British tradition, should be trying to turn poppy-wearing into compulsory activity. Not unless she’s willing to learn a little more history.

First off, let’s get the lunatic fringe out of the way. The man who accosted her was stupid, ignorant and offensive. I’m sorry for that. But don’t judge a whole community on that incident, any more than she should judge all white Britons by the racism of the taxi-driver who saved her:

The driver was enormously sympathetic but told me that I had been “asking for it” by walking in what he called “Little Beirut.” He then told me that we were in World War III. His white, working class anger at what he perceived as “the Islamic takeover” of Britain was palpable. He was not the first London cabbie who has told me he would gladly join the far-right British National Party if pushed.

(Little Beirut?) There are two different elements here. Apparent ignorance, or a lack of interest, in the poppy tradition among some sections of the British population, and whether or not this constitutes a lack of sensitivity to the country in which one is resident (or in which one was born):

As I walked along Edgware Road, crossing over from side to side of the long thoroughfare I began to get angry. If one lived in Damascus and there was an annual tradition of some sort similar to Poppy Day, one would show respect for the day and join in.

Well, yes, maybe. Show respect, certainly. Join in? I don’t know. Surely one should be asking deeper questions than simply

“Why do you British Asians (those from Pakistan) not wear a poppy?” He shrugged. “Are you not taught about the World Wars?” I asked.

This kind of questioning, to me, borders on interrogation. No one has suggested that everyone should wear a poppy; indeed, one could argue many of those who died fought for people’s freedom from having to wear something they don’t identify with. Then there’s the lack of historical understanding. Britain’s minorities have a long history, and their history is tightly bound with that of the country. Nearly 1 million Indians (India was then part of the Empire, and included present-day Pakistan, Burma and Bangladesh) fought in World War 1, 50,000 of whom died. Two and a half million Indians enlisted in the British-controlled Indian Army during the Second World War. It took 80 years for a special ceremony to acknowledge their role, as this BBC report from 1998 highlights:

Dr Kusoom Vadgama, who is campaigning for greater public recognition of India’s role, says that Indian soldiers paid a price for British freedom. “It’s about time that we were put into text books and children’s history books, so that we can live in the country with some degree of dignity,” she says from her surgery in north London.

Since then, it seems that more recognition is being offered such sacrifice: In 2000 changes were implemented in the Cenotaph service to “recognise the contribution of non-Christian men from the nations of the former British empire who fought for the Crown”. It’s unclear how much this has meant in practice: Last year, according to one observer, saw the first time Karen fighters from what is now Myanmar (Burma) take part, but not much else. One BBC report said it was only this year that

for the first time, on Remembrance Sunday national representatives of the Christian and Jewish communities will be joined at the Cenotaph by those representing the Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist faiths. The move signals an increasing awareness of the role that people from Commonwealth countries, especially those of other faiths, have played in war.

Perhaps the delay of nearly a century in recognising that contribution might explain why there was so little enthusiasm for poppy day among young and old on the Edgeware Road.

Podcast: Bacteria at Your Fingertips

Here’s another podcast from the BBC’s World Business Report: this one is on how to prevent the gunk in keyboards from killing you, and it derives from a Loose Wire piece I did for WSJ.com and The WSJ Asia on September 30. (Subscription only, I’m afraid.) Here’s a snippet:

The gunk in your keyboard could kill you. Really.

An exhaustive poll of my friends reveals that all sorts of stuff is being spilled over the average keyboard: biscuit crumbs, mango, fizzy beverage, the odd stray cornflake, nail varnish, rice, soy sauce, coffee, wine (red and white), hand cream. Under your keys lie a faithful record of every snack, lunch and beverage break you’ve had at your desk since you joined the company. It’s like typing on a pile of week-old dirty dishes.

This isn’t only somewhat gross (and likely to lead to the keyboard’s demise at some point) but it also makes your main data input device a Petri dish of bacteria and other microorganisms that could kill you before the job does. A study conducted by Charles Gerba, a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona, concluded that the computer keyboard was the fifth most germ-contaminated spot in an office. (Topped only by your phone, your desktop — home to an impressive 10 million bacteria — and the handles on the office water fountain and microwave door.) Out of 12 surfaces studied the toilet seat came in cleanest, in case you’re wondering where to have your next lunch break.

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Tamiflu and the Online Buying Epidemic

Sadly, this might be the way of the future: Selling prescription drugs that everyone wants in the middle of a pandemic to the highest bidder. The Register reports that people have been selling Tamiflu on eBay for up to four times its usual price:

Internet auctioneer eBay has shut down sales through it service of Tamiflu, which can help reduce the severity of avian flu, amid growing concern of a potential pandemic that could kill humans. An eBay spokesperson told The Register that the company had pulled a handful of listings from its UK web site, because the sales contravened eBay’s policy over the sale of controlled substances and prescription drugs.

eBay acted as packets of Tamiflu, which comprise 10 capsules, had reached £104 and attracted 84 bids. Tamiflu is usually available through prescription only, for between £25 and £30.

(I’m not quite sure who to credit for this story: A very similar account appears on ZDNet, quoting Reuters.)

Another story from AFP (via Singapore’s TODAYonline), highlights some of the dangers of this kind of thing. It quotes David Reddy, a senior executive at Tamiflu’s maker, Roche as saying he had heard heard of reports of Internet sales “of a drug that was purported to be Tamiflu but in fact was not.” He declined to give details until the matter had been investigated. A Taiwan newspaper, meanwhile, catalogues a Tamiflu buying frenzy since August.
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The Gum Lobby

Calvin, who subscribed to ‘Chewing’ Magazine and took his gum seriously, would approve: The leading producers of chewing gum from around the world have launched the International Chewing Gum Association (ICGA).

Sadly, it’s not what I thought it was: a gathering of folk who will share their experiences of gum chewing and bubble blowing, a forum to discuss preferred locations for used gum wads and the problems of simultaneous perambulation and mastication, and a lobby group for greater gum-chewing rights in places where users are discriminated against (Singapore springs to mind). Instead it’s an organisation of manufacturers and its objective is to “speak with one global voice and to seek harmonization of regulations between countries and continents.” Which sounds really dull.

For those of you still fascinated, the ICGA is actually a merging of the

  • EACGI (European Association of the Chewing Gum Industry) and the
  • NACGM (National Association of Chewing Gum Manufacturers)

Sadly I can’t find the strip online where Calvin goes into detail about his “dedication to developing a proper chewer’s jaw that ‘drives the girls wild’ through his Chewing magazine subscription”.

Calvin2

That’s what the ICGA should be talking about. Or how to remove chewing gum from carpets, clothes and furniture (somehow the name of that site made me think it was about removing gum from people’s mouths).

Whistling In The Dark

OK, this is not tech related but I’d like to know the answer. What exactly does ‘whistling in the dark’ mean? I found several different definitions (not including sexual ones. This is a family blog):

Can it be that the expression means different things in different places?