Archive for July, 2010


Posted by on Thursday, 29 July, 2010



My brother-in-law’s still a handsome guy in his mid seventies. He’s fiercely loyal to my sister and his kids, a “drivin’ fool” who runs his magnificent RV across country at the drop of a beanie, and he’s the “go to guy” in the family when it comes to automotive questions.

But for several years, he’s been battling cancers acquired (probably) during his military service.

R’s been in remission for seven years thanks to the remarkable work of Dr. Shimon Slavin (International Center for Cell Therapy & Cancer),  a pioneer in immunological therapy. Recently, however,  a mass was discovered on one of R’s kidneys.

The kidney has to go.


R had to decide between an open incision or laparoscopy, the new “modern” approach, which involves manipulating tiny tools inside the abdominal cavity while observing with a tiny video camera. Laparoscopy is all done through small holes in the abdomen rather than through a large incision and can mean faster recovery and less scarring.

“You’re the science guy, R said.  What do you think? Should I take a chance on laparoscopy?”

“Well, the recovery’s easier with laparoscopy,” I said. “What’s not to like?”

“Here’s the thing,” he said. “I’m afraid they’ll have to chop up the kidney to remove it. I wouldn’t want all that cancer juice sloshing around in me.  Who knows what other organs could be affected.”

R’s fears certainly seemed reasonable. In fact, surgeons do worry about “spills”, cells that drip from an instrument during surgery.  So I called Angelo Tortola (Venture Technologies) who designs the tools used in these procedures. He also makes the training simulators that surgeons use to perfect their techniques.

After explaining a little about my brother-in-law’s background and describing the problem, I asked him if he could help.

“You called the right guy,” he said. “I had to give up one of my own kidneys about two years ago.”

Since Angelo had never mentioned this to me, I was very surprised.

“You’re OK now, right?”

“Completely. The cancer was fully contained. But I have a story.”

“Don’t let me stop you.”

“My doctor was ‘old school’. He was determined to go with an open incision.  Even after I asked about laparoscopy, he stuck to his position. Safer. Best result.

“But the more I read, the more I wondered.  Finally, I set up an appointment at Mass General Hospital in Boston with a leading surgeon – one who I happened to know did a lot of laparoscopic procedures.

“After reviewing my situation, he said I would be a good candidate for laparoscopy but I could choose an open procedure if I wished.

“I asked him about the relative advantages. He said that laparoscopic removal of a kidney was just as safe as an open procedure with lower risk of certain complications during recovery.

“So, I asked, how do I decide?

“Well, he said, with the open procedure it’ll take you longer to get back on your feet.

“How much longer? I asked.

“With the open procedure, it could be up to a year till you are fully normal, he said. With laproscopy, you should be functional within a few days.”

“Now THAT,” Angelo said, “is an amazing difference. And, you know what? He was right.  A couple of weeks later, I was on an airplane, on the way to a meeting.”

I asked Angelo about R’s concern. Does the kidney get chopped up before it is removed?

“Not to worry,” Angelo said. “That’s not how they do it. The organ is removed in one piece. And everything’s placed in a plastic bag before removal.

“You tell your brother-in-law that either choice is safe. It’s up to him.”


Posted by on Friday, 23 July, 2010



The guy in the next cubicle grabs his chest and passes out.  Five long minutes later, the paramedics show up. On goes the oxygen mask. That should help, right?

Not exactly.

An article in the Cochrane Systematic Review lays it out.  387 patients. 14 deaths. The ones on oxygen? Three times as likely to croak.

Dr. Juan Cabello, says it’s amazing that emergency medical personnel have been routinely administering oxygen without proof that it works.


Much more data is needed before the profession changes a “gold standard”. But this information will get ’em thinking.

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 6 .

Startling and intriguing. Larger study needed.


According to Paul Sanberg (Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair) blood keeps circulating in the umbilical cord for a little while after delivery. And that blood contains pluripotent stem cells.

Waiting at least an extra 30 seconds is good. Less intraventricular hemorrhage, sepsis,  and anemia. Less need for  for blood transfusions too.

So, OBVIOUSLY, we should wait, right?  Except those durn stem cells are mighty valuable. If you wait, you may lose them.

What’s the right thing to do?


ScienceAintSoBadRating = GBTYOTO (Get Back To You On This One)

How come everything’s so durn complicated?


Neuropsychopharmacology Journal: A study about coffee habituation . Do you get the same buzz, the same “wake up” effect, from a cup of coffe if you’re a heavy coffee drinker?

Wanna guess?

Of COURSE not! It’s like anything else. You build up tolerance. You even get a little hooked. Try going  “cold caffeine” sometime.


Coal, gas, and oil are hydrocarbons. They start out as living things.  Old reptiles, fish, leaves.

Even poop.

Which gets buried, compressed, and “cooked”.

That’s how it works.  Living things are the raw material. Geological processes take over from there.  That’s where most of our energy comes from.

That’s the official story, anyway.

But there may be a d-e-e-p-e-r explanation. Maybe way down in the earth’s mantle, nature manufactures hydrocarbons direct from the raw materials without requiring the intermediate steps that rely on dead life forms.

Would that mean there’s enough oil for a billion trillion years if we can figure out how to get down to it? Could we, mayhaps, have enough black stuff to TOTALLY cook the atmosphere?

It’s a theory.

We, obviously, know some GREAT ways to drill a couple of miles under the Gulf Of Mexico, but sampling the hydrocarbons 40, 50,  60 miles down’s an awful crimp for the budget of most research labs.

Researchers at Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory described (Nature Geoscience) a more convenient way to figure out if there’s anything to this idea.

They had a diamond anvil cell lying around. And a laser. So they thought, “Well, wouldn’t it be fun to see what happens to methane at, say, 20 thousand times atmospheric pressure and at 2240 degrees Fahrenheit?” The same conditions that exist miles and miles down below your feet.

So they did.

The result? According to the article, ethane, propane, butane, hydrogen, and graphite. The process appears to be somewhat reversible too. Ethane to methane.

What’s this got to do with anything?

If deep sources of hydrocarbons migrate, gradually, to the surface of the earth, this may suggest that our nonrenewable  energy sources are likely to endure far longer.

That’s a good thing.

I guess.


Well it does. Alcoholic drinks have histamine in them. That’s the stuff that gets your allergies going.  Anahad O’connor (New York Times) explains.

Twice as bad for women.


Kids don’t have high cholesterol.

Well, hold on; they might (article in the Journal of Pediatrics). In fact, 1 in 3 kids have high levels of “bad” cholesterol.

Which is scary.

But what do you do? You gonna put a kid on cholesterol drugs?  Could be forever.

Would this give them healthier, better, longer lives?

Unless we do put kids on cholesterol reducing drugs, we’ll never know. Should kids be guinea pigs?

Should guinea pigs be guinea pigs?

ScienceAintsoBad‘ll be sure and let you know when they clear this up. For now, the American Academy of Pediatrics has some new guidelines which seem reasonable.

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Droid X. Android Ambushes IPad.

Posted by on Friday, 16 July, 2010



Mister ScienceAintSoBad tried out the Droid X, Verizon’s very latest Android phone.

Which isn’t easy. They’re gone.

Sold out.


Cause customers got the idea right away.

Terrific app phone.

ALMOST too large.


Makes yer pocket look funny.

It’s so large (and fast and easy to see) that you can pretty much do all that stuff you wanna do WITHOUT having to cart around a “computer”.

Which, keyboard or no, the IPad is.

You want funny looking pockets, put an IPAD into your pocket.


At 4.3 inches, the “X” pushes the size of an app phone right up to the envelope. But it’s still pocketable. It’s still a phone.

LITTLE awkward.

So is love. So is parasailing. So is paying yer phone bill.

It’s a compromise. A MUCH better one than a tablet computer. The soft  keyboard’s big enough to make for near touch typing (in landscape mode). Videos engulf you.  Enough room to stuff in plenty of battery.  Plenty of speaker. This isn’t resonant, wall pounding base but, for a phone? Wow!

There’s even room for a functional (and hand insensitive) antenna. (Insensitive to hands as far as I could tell.  Look for testing lab results on reception, not reviewer impressions, OK?)

I’m keeping a point on ice. I may need it for Samsung’s Galaxy S .

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 9.

Do I Have Alzheimers?

Posted by on Wednesday, 14 July, 2010

Don't Ask. Don't Tell



A shelling.

It takes the you out of you.

Would you know if it was happening? Till now it’s been hard to be sure. The standard test is kinda wishy washy. You’re supposed to know it when you see it. Is it really Alzheimer’s disease? Is it depression? Hearing loss? Transient stroke?

How many liberals do you suppose are mistakenly diagnosed as demented? Happens all the time.

Avid Radiopharmaceuticals Inc just announced a test that’s startlingly accurate. 22% developed the disease within a year.  The study (Reisa A. Sperling et al) used a brain dye with a “PET” scan.

That’s not all. There’s other work at Rowan, Penn, and Drexel Universities using EEGs, skin tests, brain scans.

The standard test, itself,  is under review. First update in 26 years. It’ll include “biomarkers” and it’ll reflect advances in the understanding of the underlying pathology.


Lucky us.

Soon we will be able to find out if the lights are going out.

Would you do it?

Kinda depends what you would do with the information, doesn’t it? Any hope of stopping it? Any chance of a cure?

At the least, you can get enough of a warning to prepare yourself and others.

And, who knows, maybe the news’ll be good. You DON’T have dementia.

You’re just a liberal.

(Don’t get mad. I made fun of conservatives LAST time!)


Posted by on Saturday, 3 July, 2010


MRSASB: You’re breaking my heart, man! Don’t Do this! You’re straying into political stuff where a real science guy has no business. Why is it YOUR concern which out-of-work losers get paid what? I wanna hear about which robots are smarter. Which robots are better dancers. Not INTERESTED in crying for society’s cast outs. That another blog. OK? FlintHeart00001

Yer TOUGH, FlintHeart. Even Einstein strayed into the dirty, dirty world of politics from time-to-time. Carl Sagan too.

It won’t happen again. :)


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Where The Jobs Are: Robot Technicians, Robot Handlers..

Posted by on Thursday, 1 July, 2010

No Humans?

Technology CREATES jobs, right?

Unemployment’s kinda high.

Slow economy.

To get through the rough spot, employers have been p-r-e-t-t-y creative. Every possible trick. Technology aplenty.

Not that I’m worried. In Business Week, I read that robots create more jobs than they destroy. Robots, kiosks, voice recognition system. All fruits of the labor of human designers, manufacturers, implementers of all kinds.

If anything, technology means more jobs and more interesting work.


Jeff Burnstein, the author of the Biz Week article I quote above,  is head of the Robotic Industries Association.



Here’s the thing. Some things’re true till they aren’t anymore.

Then, they’re not so true.

Robots have been around. We’re used to them. Nobody died. (I could research this. Maybe a robot ate somebody.)  And, at times, employment’s been just fine while “machine heads” were welding away at car companies.

In bad times, we target our rage at giant job sucking winds wafting Mexican spices our way. But technology is our friend. More jobs than it eliminates.

This is CERTAINLY what MISTERScienceAintSoBad likes to think. He is a HUGE proponent of techology and science (‘case you haven’t noticed). Huge.

But I got this day job, too. Where I’m sposed to be objective. Look at evidence. Scientific approach. (Science is an elaborate way of being honest with ourselves. You can quote me.)


What’s WITH this sticky, sticky unemployment number that’s spooking investors? Maybe something new is happening. Maybe we’re slipping into the “robotic age” – the one where all our work’s done by machines? Where we live lives of leisure, living on I don’t know what?

Matthew Bleicher’s (Robots FTW) unsure. His “bet” is that us human’ll still get to flip a burger or two. But he admits he could be wrong.  Rosemary Black (NY Daily News)  describes the way that robots are now being deployed in the work place “side by side with humans”. She describes a hospital in Silicon Valley where “..Tug robots deliver meds, take out the trash and even speak politely to human workers and patients. Leasing the robots costs the hospital about $350,000 annually, while hiring that many people would have cost more than $1 million a year.”

Katharine Gammon (Wired Magazine) is less nuanced. She says robots are “stealing” American jobs in warehousing.


Where’s  this leading?


The punch line? Marshall Brain, founder of How Stuff Works, talks about ordering food at a MacDonald’s kiosk.

Too good. Too easy. The kiosk was fun. Got him thinking. He sees a “seismic shift” in the American work force for which we aren’t prepared. He points to  five million jobs lost from the retail sector already. Just the beginning, he says. You wait.

MisterScienceAintSoBad has to let you down. Can’t give you the definitive answer here. Can’t boil down the evidence. There ISN’T “evidence” for future events. We don’t yet KNOW if technology’s starting to truly destroy the base of employment).  We DO know that vigilance is the price of living in this century. Can’t live yer life by cliches . Real estate CAN go down.  So can skyscrapers. So can economies.

Things change. Expect the unexpected.

In the past, technology HAS created more jobs than it has taken away. A truism.

We hope.

Note to investors. If, by some chance, we ARE in the middle of “the big one” where  technology crowds humans out of the workplace, this has implications. High unemployment may NOT mean recession anymore.  The “salaries” of the unhired workers wind up in balance sheets as “retained earnings”. Which isn’t very fair, is it?


In the interest of fairness, social justice, and, most important of all, social order, gotta figure out a proper way to get those resources back to the new leisure classes before they get too bony.

Should be a mere exercise in Democracy, right?

What do YOU think?