Vol. 1 / No. 3 — Breathing, Smiling, and Singing to the Stars…

Breathing Easier?

“About half of Americans have evidence of allergic sensitization, which increases the risk of allergic disease. But judging from skin-prick tests, just 7.2 percent of the 138 Amish children who Dr. Holbreich tested were sensitized to tree pollens and other allergens. That yawning difference positions the Indiana Amish among the least allergic populations ever described in the developed world.”

Every year (but some years more than others), I end up sniffling and sneezing in the springtime. Over at the New York Times, Moises Velasquez-Manoff discusses why people on farms have fewer allergies than city folks, and what that might mean for how we could prevent allergies in the future. Maybe then we’ll all be able to breathe a little easier.

Speaking of breathing, it’s becoming pretty clear that the health of Beijing’s residents is being affected by the perpetual haze of smog that shrouds the city. Over at The Atlantic: Cities, Mike Riggs shows that something else is suffering too: China’s surveillance network. Maybe that’ll get someone up top interested in fixing things.

Plus over at the New York Times Health blog, Deborah Blum discusses new studies that show that smog isn’t just bad for your lungs — it’s bad for your heart, too.

The Day the Earth Smiled


This past July 19, whether you knew it or not, there’s a good chance you were a part of one of the more imaginative group photos ever taken. The project, called The Day The Earth Smiled, involved turning around the Cassini spacecraft, currently in orbit around Saturn, to take a shot of the planet eclipsing the sun, in the process capturing one of the most distant images of Earth ever taken. This week, NASA released some spectacular new photos from the event. I think they really caught my good side. See if you can spot yourself. (Here’s one with hints to help you out.)

Humanity’s Message to the Stars: “oops”?

“…by including “Moikoi” instead of “Devil Bird” we inadvertently sent a different message to the stars than the one we intended. According to Ferris in Murmurs of Earth, “Devil Bird” represented fate’s dangers. But that may not have gone to space. What did go, “Moikoi,” is about “malicious spirits who try to entice newly deceased souls away from their clan country,” according to Gorman.”

When we sent out the Voyager spacecraft, we sent them each with a copy of the “golden record,” with possibly the most high-profile mix-tape of all time. Unfortunately, we might have sent a different song than we meant to. We sent a message of shared humanity to the stars; how better to represent humanity than to get the details of a non-white culture wrong?

Also in space news, the GOCE satellite fell back to Earth as scheduled this week, somewhere near the southern tip of South America. Someone snapped a shot of it from the Falkland Islands, and it turns out it went out quite prettily.

But When Can I Hook It Up To My FitBit?

One of the bigger problems in medicine is our limited ability to see how things work while they’re actually running, and for no part of the body is this truer than the brain. We’ve made some advances with fMRI technology, but now a team of researchers led by Kendall Lee, a neurosurgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, are working on a variant of the Deep Brain Stimulation technology used to treat everything from Parkinsons tremors to severe depression to look under the hood while the brain is actually running. The end goal would be a self-adjusting DBS system that responds to the activity of the brain in real time. Now if it could only figure out where I left my keys for me.

And from plumbing the depths of real brains to working with artificial ones, doctors are now collaborating with “Watson”-style supercomputers. Jealous? You too can work with Watson, now for a new low price.

Oh and speaking of the future of healthcare:

How’s that ACA website coming along?

“Honestly, my impression was that congress has certainly lobotomized itself when it comes to these technology issues. It was very much like watching people who could neither read nor write discuss a book: they had no grasp of the issues, and so it degraded into talking points, with no serious outcome wanted by either side.”

Over at NPR’s technology podcast for November 6, 2013, Clay Johnson, the man who built President Obama’s 2008 campaign website and who is now CEO of the non-profit The Department of Better Technology, discusses the farcical congressional hearings on the matter, as well as the deeper problem at hand with IT in the nation’s capital.

Plus, how do you get a medicaid expansion to pass when you’re in a Republican state that requires a 75% majority to pass it? Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe found out.  (Hint: it involves public money for private plans. We’ll see how this turns out.)


Fill ‘er Up?

This week the EPA proposed lowering the amount of ethanol that’s required in gasoline for the first time, confusing some, and pleasing others.

As electric cars become more viable, more manufacturers are getting in on the action. More electric cars means more charging stations, and as Matthew Wald reports at the New York Times, companies are struggling to provide them. In some cases, the electricity costs more per mile than gasoline.

Maybe what we need is a third option. This robot runs on… uh.. the runs?

Another Superconducting Supercollider

(this one probably won’t get built either)

In the pie-in-the-sky department, scientists are now hoping to build an even bigger particle accelerator than CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, responsible this year for confirming the existence (almost totally) of at least one Higgs Boson. The new device would have to be 80-100km in circumference — dwarfing the LHC’s 27km loop. I’m not holding my breath. Just in case you don’t remember what happened to the last attempt to build a bigger one, here’s a link to what’s left of the Superconducting Supercollider.

And In Other News

Electrons are round, evolution is steered by women, and Nobel laureate Rita Levi-Montalcini kicked some serious ass.

Have a great week.