Archive for February, 2011


Posted by on Sunday, 27 February, 2011



In November of 2009, I wrote an article (first one of this blog series) about “app phones”. (Smartphones.) At the time, the IPhone was blazing brilliantly through the firmament as Android (Google’s then new Iphone competitor) sat on a rock, watching  wistfully.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad‘s article was about Google’s (turned out to be successful) Droid app phone. Which has a physical keyboard.

I liked the phone. (Good job, me). For the wrong reason.

My article was about physical keyboards on phones – those  compromis-y fingers-don’t-fit-things that slide under.

In my article,  I clarified, nicely, the concept that I, and only I, “get it” where keyboards are concerned. I explained that physical keyboards mean you don’t have to use up precious screen space which I (not too originally) termed “real estate”. The “soft” (simulated) keyboards that show up on those teeny screens subtract from space you need to SEE what you are editing or writing (said I).

Why nobody ELSE observed this silly mistake on the part of phone innovators, I can’t say. But MISTER ScienceAintSoBad has, as mom used to say, “a real head on his shoulders”.

Doesn’t he?

Strangely, though, for all their supposed advantages, I don’t have a physical keyboard on my own phone.

Isn’t that curious?

Well my mom (same one) used to say (about real estate) that they’re not making any more of it.

Which is true of the ground-y kinda real estate but not so true of the touch – screen-y kind. After all, phones ARE getting bigger. Some of the newer models come with handles on each end so your buddies can help you portage them through the weeds.

Which does make screen “real estate” less of a big deal. Doesn’t it?.

Still. MISTER SASB, at the moment, has a modest screen on his modest Android phone (a Droid Eris) and, yet, even I, feel no need for a clumsy sliding keyboard with clicky keys. So where was I wrong?


Here’s where.

First of all, having gotten around to trying them, I gotta say that even the best of those miniaturized keyboards are kinda tough. OK for texting, I suppose, but you won’t be doing your thesis on one.

Bear in mind, I’ve seen teenagers use these things at jet speed without even looking.

But that’s teenagers. I’m not even gonna GO there.  I’m talking about NORMAL people. OK?

Anyway, my real problem is that I was still thinking INSIDE that notorious “box” everyone talks about. I’m a touch typer and I’m used to a physical keyboard on my own PCs. And isn’t an app phone/smartphone a smallish PC?


Not really. See. That was my mistake.

It isn’t.

Because, with an app phone (and unlike a PC)  you can hold it up to your ear. Or put it in your pocket. Or walk into a sink hole, holding it in front of yer face.

As computers go, app phones are so personal that they’re INTIMATE. They go where you go. And that’s different, isn’t it? So you might use it in the doctor’s office.. Or propped up in bed. Or at the PO-lice station.

Handy indeed.

So popular “apps” tend to emphasize mobility. GPS and maps. Store payments. Casual entertainment and games.

Fart apps are popular.

So why sit straight up on your butt while your writing?

No reason.


I use mine standing, slouching, reclining, and upside down (me, that is). In other words, at times, and in ways, that call for a more innovative approach to inputing information.

And thus (and, at last)  my point.

“Soft” keyboards? More than you can count. There are dozens and dozens – hundreds, actually – available as free and paid apps on the various smartphones. Big keys and small keys. All kinds of key arrangements and even new approaches to typing, itself. One that’s  catching on, involves sliding the finger from key to key. The technique’s hard to describe. Swipe and Slide-It are two keyboards that use this strange but effective approach. At first, it’s seems ridiculous. But, you learn the keyboard, and the keyboard learns you. Gradually, your own vocabulary drains into the thing and your typing speed gets faster and faster. I AM still faster at a full sized keyboard, but I’m surprisingly good, glissading around that Slide-It thing . There’s also a peculiar side benefit. It’s kinda fun.

And do the pop up keyboards REALLY get in the way of what you’re editing, as I claimed in my first review? Well sure. Kind of. But it’s like anything, you get good at making it go away. You can flip yer ‘board up to type and down to look. Up to type and down to look.

It works. It really does.


Why type if you can slide? And why slide if you can dictate?

Seriously. I’ve been using my phone to, for example, to right this article.

right? Did I say right? Well. Not perfect, I admit.

But, like the sliding keyboards, the dictation software which is basic  to the Android phones (but certainly available on other phones) is adaptive. As I have, tentatively, used it more and more for serious writing, I am starting to appreciate the speed advantages of the voice input cycle. You speak a bit, correct the boo boos, and speak some more. You get good at this.It’s faster and easier than it sounds.

(It would have to be.)


I tried out the “soft” keyboard on the new XOOM tablet  computer . Sliding? Voice recognition? Why would you do that? This is a keyboard that fits your fingers and works great. I haven’t tried the equivalent trick with an IPad but, surely, that’s nice too.

The benefits of ultra-portable, ultra-smart devices are already becoming clear but the best way to talk back at them is  still evolving.


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Posted by on Friday, 18 February, 2011



Dear Mister ScienceAintsoBad,
Was Dr. Spock a Vegan? – GetItAllWrong

A Vegan? From the planet Vega?

Good GRIEF, GetItAllWrong. Spock was a Vulcan, not a Vegan. Very serious. Pure logic. Big ears. Mind-melds. Telepathy. His planet was nipped by a black hole before its  population had a chance to switch to a more enlightened diet.

Vegans currently live on OUR planet. Earth. Not the planet Vega. Most Vegans are very serious and logical. They have big ears and they’re kinda empathetic, if not telepathic. The difference, my dear GetItallWrong, is meat.

Not having any of it.

At all.

No milk, no pig’s knuckles. No seafood. No poultry. No eggs. No dairy products.

Pretty extreme, you may say. But, you know what? Healthy as pineapples. (Was gonna say “pigs” but some vegans do read this blog, after all.)

Here’s the thing.

An article in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (Duo Li), reviews lots and lots of studies about Vegans here on earth over about 30 years.

The conclusion?

They can do better.

Cutting out the animal products is a very, very good thing. However, Vegans tend to be a little light on iron, zinc, B-12 and Omega 3 fatty acids.

Not good, since that can lead to atherosclerosis, heart problems, and stroke. But tweaking things a bit with fish oils and nuts should do the trick here.

This is a worthwhile report.

Scientifically sound.

But this is a “may increase the risk” thing. I don’t see any “Vegans Keeling Over In Large Numbers” data.

Could be next.

Take yer supplements.




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URI Group Gains Against Ulcers, Gastritis

Posted by on Thursday, 10 February, 2011



Helicobacter pylori. Ever hear of it? It’s a bug that eats your gut.

I guess you could say it dines where you dine.

It wasn’t THAT long ago (1982) that two Australians, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, discovered that these little helicobacter pylori were involved with ulcers. An amazing, amazing thing, really, since everyone KNEW that ulcers were caused by stress. Bacteria couldn’t live in the stomach where it’s so acid.

That’s where we were wrong.

We now know that there are bugs (I’m being terminally cute here, I mean, microorganisms) which can live in places you wouldn’t believe. Hot, dry, cold, acidic, basic, radioactive. We call them “extremeophiles”. If they can live in yer gut, what next? Could they live on Mars?

In New York, even?


In fact, helicobacter pylori do inhabit the intestinal tract where they are associated with ulcers, gastritis, and cancer. The obvious question: if this stuff can be caused by microbes, can antibiotics help?


Which means that some people are getting cured.

If everything goes right.

Not so fast, though. Ever hear about antibiotic resistance? Every time we get our hopes up, there always seems to be a new disappointment. Finding out about helicobacter pylori was a great step. But efficiently rousting MISTER pylori from the gut?  Currently that means using several antibiotics as well as strong anti-acids.

Sometimes it works.

Sometimes it doesn’t.

Where to turn? How about the University of Rhode Island?


LAB ON A CHIP ( Mohammad Faghri, Dept Of Mechanical Engineering, URI )

Ever heard of the University of Rhode Island? It’s a public university in a state the size of a  parking lot.

URI seems to be having its own “Sputnik moment”, something ABC’s Christiane Amanpour (a URI graduate) calls ” a whole new era of technological, scientific.. progress”. Stanford and MIT have nothing to apologize for. Excellent centers of science and engineering. But they’re looking over their shoulders at “Rhody Tek”

A group of URI’s scientists have reduced the functionality of a medical testing lab onto a single chip. Drop of blood. Instant results. This technology  may wind up in apps for the iPhone. Android phones, too.

Another group’s figured out how to use saliva (instead of blood) to monitor immunosuppressive drugs. (Don’t see the big deal? I’m happy for you. I hope you never do.) And another group’s working on a patch for anti-tick vaccines. (I said the STATE’S small. I didn’t say the insects were.)

URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography, which had a research vessel on station monitoring the BP oil spill,  has hundreds of projects cooking.

(My wife? Maybe she works at this fine institution, maybe she doesn’t. I would NEVER let something like that influence my objectivity!!!!)

What’s URI got to do with h pylori?

A group headed by Dr. Steven Moss is  developing a vaccine against helicobactoer pylori. The vaccine is delivered nasally, by the way. Yet another “sniffer”. (The work’s in the Journal Vaccine.) In addition to the researchers from URI,  Moss is working with scientists from Brown University, Rhode Island Hospital, and Epivax, Inc..  In the  careful way that researchers talk, he calls this work “encouraging” but “preliminary”.

Which it is.

If everything works out, there’ll be a lot less miserable digestive tracts on this planet.


Image credit: Wikipedia commons.

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Posted by on Tuesday, 8 February, 2011



Terrorists run circles around supposedly advanced societies by being good at hiding explosives in fence posts, vehicles, trash cans, intense human beings.. almost anything. They (explosives) have even been stuck in wet cement during a construction project and set off after the building was complete.

Countries spend billions to protect themselves whereas terrorists work on the cheap. Probably you’ve heard about this. It’s called  asymmetric warfare. One side’s POWERFUL. The other side’s  cunning.

If we weren’t so easy to fool – if it were simple and safe to find these explosives instead of hard and dangerous –  at least one protracted war might come to an end,  we  could slide onto airplanes the way we used to in the old days (remember?),  and we could get back to our more comfortable role as a well meaning but bumbling democracy.

Well, last November, I wrote about a bomb sniffer that sounded pretty good. Now along comes one that’s  designed from the ground up as a remote detector. The head of the research team is Dr. Richard Myles of Princeton University (the work is published in the journal Science). Dr. Myles’ “Air Laser” uses a laser beam to probe the air near  a possible explosive  so that the user can stand a good safe distance away, aim the device at whatever made the hair on his.her neck stand up, and, voila!, let’s move on to the next bomb.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad’s been hoping something like this would turn up. If it really works out (so far, it’s only been demonstrated for short distances – still an experimental device) warfare won’t be so asymmetric, explosives will be much tougher to hide, there will be far less injuries and deaths, bombers will get crap instead of praise, and so on.

These sound like good things.

If you happen to be on our side.

(I should mention that the invention’s uses extend beyond “mere” detection of explosives at a distance. Atmospheric chemistry, another important use, is cited in the article. )

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 10 . Terrific.


I’ve been a little slow to update the blog this time. I hope you understand. Six feet of snow in my state this year.




Photo Credit: My own.