SpaceX does it again

First private spacecraft from ISS splashes down

Another round of congratulations to Elon Musk and his team.  One success in visiting the ISS doesn't prove long-term viability of this system for human transport, but it's a huge first step,  great achievement, a feat previous unmanned capsules (which are discarded after one use) have never reached.  I know SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell slightly, and I sent her a congrats with the note that "It must be a unique experience to realize you'll be in every space history book written from now on." 

Steve Gleason, Scott Fujita to speak at Social Innovation Summit at UN on Thursday

Former Saints players Steve Gleason and Scott Fujita are scheduled to speak the Social Innovation Summit at the United Nations on Thursday in New York.

More than 200 executives and deep-pocketed philanthropists are expected to attend the two-day private forum, which focuses on building partnerships and identifying potential solutions to the world's largest social challenges.
The title of the Gleason-Fujita session is "Awesome Ain't Easy: Technology as a Cure." Former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber will moderate the session, which will identify and discuss ways technology can enhance the lives of people who have been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Gleason was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, in January, 2011. Fujita is in his third season with the Cleveland Browns

What's Batman doing under the sea?

Another mystery invertebrate

Comb jelly and ctenophore are the guesses... but it sure looks like Batman dropped in to visit Aquaman. 

The fourlegged fish


"Alive" after 360M years - at least on computer model - the long-extinct icthyostega shows how it became one of the first vertebrates to leave the sea and conquer the land. 
Clumsily, as it turns out.  It seems icthyostega didn't lumber along like a reptile or an amphibian.  It was sort of a giant mudskipper, half-dragging itself in the new environment.  Oh, well, Neil Armstrong didn't exactly look at home on the Moon, either....

Veterans Affairs launches iPad pilot program

The department is handing out 1,000 devices to veterans’ families to see how care coordination improves with mobile connectivity.

The Dept. of Veterans Affairs is launching an initiative aimed at studying the benefits of using mobile technology to coordinate care among physicians, veterans and their caregivers.

The VA is launching the “Clinic-in-Hand” pilot program as part of the mobile health initiative. One thousand family caregivers of veterans will be given Apple iPads loaded with apps to help them provide care and communicate with the veterans’ physicians. The caregivers will test the usability and utility of VA-developed mobile apps.

Josephine Schuda, spokeswoman for the VA, said the iPads and their loaded apps are “designed to increase the convenience of health care management and strengthen communication among veterans, family caregivers and clinicians.” The technology will include secure, two-way exchange of health data among all three parties as well as health care management tools to facilitate administrative needs and patient education.

Schuda said subsequent programs will pilot other devices and operating systems.

Apps developed as part of the pilot program, as well as additional apps that are not part of it, will be made available at the VA’s app store for download on any smartphone or tablet.

Apps also will be developed and launched during a phase of the program that will give physicians mobile access to some of the same functions available to them on the VA’s electronic health record system. Schuda said that although non-VA physicians will not be a part of the mobile health program, veterans can share their information with any physician from their mobile devices regardless of affiliation.

The VA awarded a 12-month, $350,000 contract to District Communications Group, a veterans-owned communications consulting firm based in Washington, to carry out the mobile health initiative.

Journey to the (real) center of the Earth

Using seismic data to probe mysteries

We know the Earth's core is not the jungle realm of Edgar Rice Burroughs or the bizarre rockspace of The Core (an indescribably terrible movie that manages, among other crimes, to  waste Hilary Swank.) But what is it?  Why and how does the core rotate faster than the rest of the planet? How is it losing heat to the surrounding rocks at 2-3 times the rate we thought it was (and that fits with current geological theory)? It's extremely weird down there to begin with. At 35 million atmospheres of pressure, terms like "liquid iron" lose their meaning: as geologist Bruce Buffet puts it, “If you could put on your safety gloves and stick your hands into the outer core, it would run through your fingers like water."  The core houses currents and even, in a sense, weather, all occurring in this spinning, Mars-sized sphere.
In other words, there are major scientific mysteries about our own planet, as well as the distant ones.

Zoos: Who Makes it Onto the Ark?

Changing role, hard decisions

Zoos - the good ones, anyway - have moved to embrace their pivotal role in conservation and the breeding of endangered species and prioritize that over the old idea of having examples of as many species as possible. In my home of Colorado Springs, this means the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo keeps a breeding colony of black-footed ferrets and a family of Amur leopards, among other things.  But for all zoos, it means making hard choices. Given that budgets have ceilings, zoos housing endangered species have to choose. Some species are not going to be chosen, and their captive populations will die out. Also, there is no getting around the fact that zoos have to attract the public, a point the St. Louis Zoo makes about keeping its non-endangered camels (who don't mind being outdoors and thus visible all year round) and spending $18M on a new pool for sea lions (not endangered in the wild, but wildly popular with visitors).  I don't envy zookeepers who are trying to walk this tightrope. 

How To Turn on Parental Controls on an iOS Device

The iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch are great resources for many children and adults alike. If you want more control over what your child is doing while using their iOS device restrictions is the place to go. To enable restrictions go to settings then general and then restrictions. From there you will have to set a password so no one else can change the settings. You will want to make sure that you remember the password. Once you have typed in your password you can block access to different features such as the internet, downloading apps, deleting app, FaceTime, camera and more. These built in options are great for parents and educators who want more control over what children are doing on their iOS device.

To learn more and see step by step instructions watch the video above.  

More new species from New Zealand

What's down under in Fiorldland

I've reported on new species from New Zealand and it surrounding waters before - there's still an air of mystery around the land of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings.  The latest story comes courtesy of a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) probing an area called Fiordland.  It found thriving fish populations (no word yet on whether any are new species), endangered red coral, and a host of invertebrates, some of which do look new to science.  This is in an area just off shore, frequented by cruise ships, and yet never properly investigated.  Environmental protections are being discussed.
COMMENT: Another example of two adages: 1) There's always more life than we knew, and 2) You can't protect something until you know it's there. 

History: Radar Women of the RAF

Seeking operators of the Dowding System

One of the key technologies of WWII was radar. In the early days of the war, the Americans, Germans, Japanese, and others had radar projects, but the first nation to really put it to widespread use was Great Britain: and it was critical. The Dowding System, a net of radars, other sensors, and communications gear, gave the outnumbered RAF a vital edge over the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. The Association of Royal Air Force Fighter Control Officers is now seeking the operators, largely women, who made all this work.  Without them, England might well have lost the battle as fighters guided only by visual sightings chased German formations all over the country rather than so often being in the right place at the right time for an ambush.

"Yertle the Turtle was king of the pond...."

With apologies to Dr. Seuss, this turtle was definitely king of its pond

Largest freshwater turtle fossil

Researchers compare this exintct beast to a Smart Car in size... smaller than the great oceangoing Archelon, but still darn impressive. 

More on that jellyfish/blob/thing...

What was it?

It seems that Deepstaria enigmatica is not the only candidate.

"We've got us a Dragon by the tail."

OK, that's not quite "One small step for man," but it's a very big step forward in the commercial use of space.

ISS Captures Dragon

Four hundred kilometers over Australia, the International Space Station's robot arm snagged SpaceX's Dragon capsule and brought it in to dock.  After unloading 500kg of supplies, the astronauts on the 6-person ISS crew will load in experiments, trash, and other "downmass" and next Tuesday they will release the Dragon to reenter and spashdown.

Congratulations to Elon, Gwynne, and the crew at SpaceX.  Welcome to the history books.

Northeastern University students develop eye controlled robotic arm that's happy to feed you

By posted May 24th 2012 2:48PM
Northeastern University students develop eye controlled robotic arm that's happy to feed you
As an alternative to receiving brain implants for robotic arm dominance assistance, check out this surprisingly cheap eye-tracking solution developed by six electrical engineering students at Northeastern University. Labeled iCRAFT, for eye Con­trolled Robotic Arm Feeding Tech­nology, the award-winning senior project drew its inspiration from one team member's difficulty syncing spoonfuls with the eating pace of elderly and disabled patients. Simply gaze at the on-screen box that corresponds to your food or beverage choice and the robotic arm will swing your way with grub in its grip. Ambitious DIY-ers can chase down the open-sourced software behind iCRAFT, and construct a contraption of their own for about $900 -- considerably less than self-​​feeding rigs living in the neighborhood of $3,500. You can catch a video of the robot arm serving up some fine Wendy's cuisine after the break.

Best short article ever for those wanting to publish books

I rarely diverge from sci/tech news in this blog, but I am a writer, and lots of people with an interest in this topic would like to publish their own thoughts. Herewith a great article demystifying pulishing of all types.

Mysteries in Lake Iliamna

Of seals and monsters
Lake Iliamna has a seal population estimated at 280.  Where do they go when the lake freezes over? Alaska Natives think they must have a cave somewhere. Others think they swim out via the Kvichak River.  This naturally leads to speculating about the lake's other large inhabitant - the "Lake Iliamna monster." Probably an undocumented species of sturgeon, but we don't know, and one man is even planning a deepwater camera experiment to find out whether it might be a sleeper shark instead (my opinion: No).  If I had to bet money, though, I  would say that some large fish exists here behind the monster legends and sightings. 

Oxford will test "yeti" DNA

This one is so unique I'll put the press release in here in its entirety.  These folks are going to be deluged with tissue samples. Wil lthey find anything? They are testing hair from Sumatra's orang-pendek, which I think has a very good chance of being a real primate.  But yeti? Sasquatch?  It's a fascinating project.  I hope they find something, but negative results would also be scientifically important... if not very exciting. 

ADDED: Before we get to the press release, he're's some good background: Ben Radford's article on why unknown-primate DNA and hair samples have not panned out.  Two lessons he hits on: some experts can be wrong; and "unidentified" does not necessarily mean "new species."
Radford on the evidence

Now, back to England

Oxford-Lausanne Collateral Hominid Project

As part of a larger enquiry into the genetic relationship between our own species Homo sapiens and other hominids, we invite submissions of organic material from formally undescribed species, or “cryptids”, for the purpose of their species identification by genetic means.
The project is divided into three phases.
DNA ANALYSIS PHASE September – November 2012
PUBLICATION PHASE November – December 2012
SAMPLE SUBMISSION  Sample submissions are invited from institutions and individuals. In the first instance, please send details of the material you would like to submit to one of the Principal Investigators. These should include:
· Your name, institutional affiliation (if any), postal and email addresses and other contact details.
· A physical description of the specimen: (Hair, tooth etc). Photographs welcome.
· Its provenance: A short account of the origin of the sample, when and where (with coordinates if known) it was collected and how it came to be in your possession.
· Identification: Your opinion of its likely species identification, and your reasons.
· Authority: A statement that you are entitled to send the specimen for analysis and that we have permission to publish the results.
In order to avoid misidentification of samples due to contamination, our preferred material is hair, although tissues will be considered.
After reviewing your submission, we will send you a sampling kit with instructions. Please do not send any materials without first hearing from us. They will not be analysed nor returned.
You may choose whether to be identified as the donor of the sample, or to remain anonymous.
At the end of the submission phase, the most promising samples will be selected for DNA analysis. You will not be charged for the analysis. Unselected samples will be returned.
The process of DNA analysis is destructive. Any unused material from selected samples will be returned or, if you prefer, will be submitted for curation as part of the Bernard Heuvelmans Cryptozoology archive in Lausanne.
Results from DNA analysis will be prepared for publication in a peer-reviewed science journal. No results will be released until any embargoes on publication have passed.
Prof. Bryan Sykes
Professor of Human Genetics
Wolfson College
University of Oxford
Oxford OX2 6UD
United Kingdom

Dr. Michel Sartori
Musee de Zoologie
Palais de Rumine
Place de Riponne 6
CH-1014 Lausanne

Aaron Winborn (a person with ALS) and his Eye Writer Experience

This is Aaron Winborn, a person with ALS.  He learned about the eye writer project last summer and convinced his father to build one for him.  Aaron has it now, and is planning to demonstrate it at the Hershey PA ALS support group next month.

Aaron writes to me about his experience in building the Eye Writer:

I am attaching a photograph of the device, worn by my father on the right. As you can see from it, our design is slightly different than the original that was built for the artist. In particular, during testing, we realized that the weight of the camera caused the whole thing to slide down your nose when it was attached to an eyeglass frame. Thus, we attached it to a visor instead.

This is an early iteration; my father is working on a new version with some planned improvements to the design based on his experience building it.

In general, after using it, I believe that it will be easier to use when/if I am in a locked in state, because it easily loses its calibration if I move my head just a little. That is why that if you take into the site where the project was 1st developed, you will see that during the original development, they strapped their volunteers' heads down:
Pictured:  Aaron (in middle) Aaron's Father (on right) Victor Winborn, and his daughter Ashlin Phifer-Winborn (on left)

Power Wheelchair Care--Tips for Power W/C Users

Used with permission from my friend and colleague, Antoinette Verdone.  As always, I give my thanks to her for letting me share this informative newsletter.

Power Wheelchair Care
Is this email not displaying correctly?
View it in your browser.

Inspired Solutions

Assistive Technology Newsletter from Antoinette Verdone, MSBME, ATP

Picture of Antoinette Verdone
Power Wheelchair Care
Tips for Power Wheelchair Users

Picture of Power Wheelchair
Power wheelchairs are complicated devices. Using a power wheelchair can be overwhelming at first. Here are some tips to keep your chair in good condition and working for you!

Picture of road with the word slow written on the road.

If you are a new power wheelchair user, take your time to familiarize yourself with the chair and how it operates. A power wheelchair has very powerful motors, and thus the power of the chair should be respected. Make sure you always drive the chair on smooth, even surfaces. Any bump over ½” can cause the chair to lose control easily. Also be aware of inclines as the chair could tip over if you do not navigate inclines carefully. When going down steep inclines, you may find tilting the seat back (if you have that feature) slightly will make the ride more comfortable. Be aware that some chairs may “lock out” if tilted too far. Power wheelchair users should be particularly careful with cross slopes - slopes from left to right when facing the slope - as power wheelchairs are not designed to navigate much cross slope. If it looks steep to the eye - be aware!

Picture of diamond shaped safety sign.

When transferring in/out of the wheelchair, turn the power off.

Footplates and armrests are not designed to be weight-bearing surfaces and should not be used to take your weight when transferring. This can cause damage to the chair and possibly severely injure you.

Power wheelchair joysticks are “proportional.” This means that the farther you push the joystick the faster it will go. Once you push the joystick all the way, it will not go any faster – do not put extra force on the joystick. Most chairs have some sort of speed control to limit the top speed that the chair will go. The speed and other features of the chair can be programmed to suit your needs. Contact your wheelchair provider for assistance in adjusting the speed.

When the chair is stopped, the breaks automatically come on. The breaks will prevent the wheels from turning, even when the power is off. You cannot manually push a power wheelchair unless you release the motors. Releasing the motors should only be done in the case of an emergency. A power wheelchair is very heavy, and you can quickly lose control of the chair if you are pushing it manually. If you look at the bottom of the chair, you will see release levers. Some chairs have one on each side, and some only have one. If you are not sure how to disengage the motors, call your wheelchair provider.

Picture of cartoon of a battery.

As you use the chair, you will have a regular charging routine. The chair should be charged when the battery indicator goes below 50% charge. If you leave the chair unused and not charging for an extended period of time, it will completely lose its charge. If this happens, the only option is to replace the batteries, which can be costly. (When in doubt, connect the chair to the charger!)
· You cannot over charge the chair. The charger will turn itself on and off as long as it is plugged in.
· The typical life expectancy of power wheelchair batteries is about three years. This is very dependent on how you use the chair. Some people will be able to get much longer use, others much shorter. If your batteries are not lasting for one day of typical use, call your wheelchair provider.


A power wheelchair should always be kept in a climate-controlled environment. Extreme heat or cold will damage the batteries and the electronics of the chair. A power wheelchair should not be stored out of doors or in a garage (or other non-climate controlled space.)

picture of water faucet crossed out

A power wheelchair has electronics and batteries that can malfunction if they get wet. Avoid crossing puddles in the chair that may splash water onto the chair. Wrap a clear plastic bag over the joystick and controller if you must drive in light rain. DO NOT OPERATE A POWER WHEELCHAIR IN HEAVY RAIN.

picture of man with a wrench
Listen to the chair and become familiar with the sounds that it makes. If you notice that the chair is making any unusual noises, contact your wheelchair provider.

On a regular basis keep the chair clean by wiping surfaces with a damp towel, using mild detergent when needed. Do not immerse any part of the chair in water. Special attention should be made to keep wheels and the bottom portion of the chair clean to avoid debris from damaging the wheels or motors.

Do regular checks to make sure all wires and connections are securely connected and free of fraying. Notify your wheelchair provider if you notice anything out of the ordinary.

picture of light bulb

I would love to hear your ideas on this topic, please go to my blog - to leave your comments and/or suggestions about power wheelchair care.

Have a question about power wheelchairs or other assistive technology click here to send me your questions.

Space Race: Enter the Dragon

SpaceX's Falcon 9 lifts off.

Instant Opinion Polls in the Classroom

For a long time now I have been looking for a tool that enables instant polling in the classroom or in the lecture room. I specifically wanted something that:
  •  doesn't require registration (especially from the people I'm polling)
  • updates very quickly
  • works on any platform from computers to mobile devices
It looks like I have finally found what I've been looking for and best of all it's free. The tool that I have found is Mentimeter and it does all of the above.

Creating the poll was really quick and easy I just went to and typed in my question, then I clicked on 'Create Question',

I then entered my selection of answer choices, chose a theme and clicked on 'Save and Start Presenting'.

The poll is then ready to use. There are a number of ways of sharing it.

You can get a URL with a code to restrict entry or to make it quick and easy to share in presentations (Here's one on the flipped classroom. The URL is always then you have a specific code for the poll, which in this case is 23512 ) anyone with this code can then vote. By all means give it a try.

You can click on share after you create your poll and get a direct web link which you can share through social media, such as Twitter or Facebook etc.

By clicking on 'Share' on your poll page you can also get an embed code or a link to to a public results page. I've embded the poll below to show you how it looks.

So what's so great about creating live polls?
  • Well they are great if you are lecturing or presenting at a conference with a wireless network as you can get instant feedback and responses that everyone can share in and so involve more people.
  • You can use them in class as a quick test to see if students have understood your material.
  • You can get students to create them and test each other.
  • You can use them for opinion polls in class, both before and after discussions to see if there is any shift in opinion.
  • The responses are anonymous, so it's a good tool to use to get honest feedback if you are doing action research in class, especially if it is related to a sensitive issue, such as your own teaching style or methods.
What's not to like?
  • Well there isn't much I can say that I don't like about this tool.
  • I'd like to have polls with more than one question though.
  • You have to be careful about using polls like this on mobile phones if your students are having to pay a connection charge, so it really helps to be able to get them on the wireless network if you are using it in class.
I hope you find useful and enjoy using it with your students.

Related links:


Nik Peachey

Saving the elusive Saola

A great discovery now on the edge

The most striking land mammal find since the 1930s was the 100kg saola - hard to classify (it needed a new genus) but very beautiful.  The text of the WWF's latest (scary) report on it follows. 

WWF: 20 Years After Its Discovery, Mysterious Mammal Continues to Elude Scientists  PRWeb -
Critically endangered saola face extinction in Vietnam without increased protection

Two decades after the discovery of the saola – one of the most spectacular species discoveries of the 20th century – the rare large mammal remains as mysterious as ever. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warns that the species, found in the mountains of Vietnam, faces extinction unless protection efforts are intensified. The saola is a primitive member of the Bovidae family, which includes antelopes, buffalo, bison, cattle, goats and sheep. The species is recognized by two parallel horns with sharp ends, which can reach 20 inches in length. They have striking white markings on the face and large maxillary glands on the muzzle that may be used to mark territory or attract mates. The greatest threat facing the saola comes from illegal hunting. Saola are caught in wire snares set by hunters to catch other animals, such as deer and civets, which are destined for the lucrative wildlife trade, largely for sale in urban restaurants. "We need to take urgent action to ensure that saola don’t vanish as the result of poaching,” said Dr. Barney Long, WWF’s Asian species expert. 
The saola was discovered in 1992 by a joint team from Vietnam’s Ministry of Forestry and WWF surveying the forests near Vietnam's border with Laos.The team found a skull with long, straight horns in a hunter's home that they identified as a new species.The find proved to be the first large mammal discovery to science in more than 50 years, and one of the most spectacular zoological discoveries of the 20th century.
“Saola are incredibly elusive animals, and combined with their low number are nearly impossible to find,” added Dr. Long. “Even though we know the general area where they live, we’ve still never seen one in the wild – and the handful that have been caught by locals have not survived for any length of time.”
Twenty years later, little is still known about the saola’s ecology or behavior. In 2010, villagers in the central Laos province of Bolikhamxay captured a saola, but the animal died several days later. Prior to that, the last confirmed record of a saola in the wild was in 1999 from camera-trap photos in the same province. The difficulty in detecting the animal has prevented scientists from making a precise population estimate.  “If things are good, there may be a couple of hundred saola out there,” said William Robichaud, Coordinator of the Saola Working Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. “If things are bad, the population could now be down in the tens.”  Since the discovery of the saola, Vietnam and Laos have established a network of protected areas in the animal’s core range, and some reserves are pursuing innovative solutions to tackle rampant poaching, with support from WWF. A new approach involving community forest guards in the Saola Nature Reserve in Vietnam’s Thua Thien Hue Province is delivering positive results. Since February 2011, the newly established team of forest guards patrolling the reserve has removed more than 12,500 snares and close to 200 illegal hunting and logging camps.  Efforts to save the saola have reached a greater level of urgency since another of Vietnam's iconic species, the Vietnamese Javan rhino, was confirmed extinct in 2011 due to poaching for its horn.  “The lack of significant demand for saola in the wildlife trade gives great hope for its conservation,” said Robichaud. “But we still need to act. One of the rarest and most distinctive large animals in the world has been quietly slipping toward extinction through complacency.” 
WWF is the world’s leading conservation organization, working in 100 countries for nearly half a century. With the support of almost 5 million members worldwide, WWF is dedicated to delivering science-based solutions to preserve the diversity and abundance of life on Earth, halt the degradation of the environment and combat climate change. Visit to learn more.

Dragons are Go!

Another page in space history was turned today.  In the first private ISS mission, Falcon 9 rocket, with an unmanned Dragon resupply capsule for the International Spacre Station roared perfectly off its pad at Kennedy Space Center.

Oddly, at this writing, doesn't have an update yet.  Guess everyone is still waiting for the adrenalin to come down a bit. 

Mission timeline from here:
Day 1/Launch Day: SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches a Dragon spacecraft into orbit from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

- Day 2: Dragon orbits Earth as it travels toward the International Space Station.

- Day 3: Dragon's sensors and flight systems are subject to a series of complicated tests to determine if the vehicle is ready to berth with the space station; these tests include maneuvers and systems checks that see the vehicle come within 1.5 miles of the station.

- Day 4: NASA decides if Dragon is allowed to attempt to berth with the station. If so, Dragon approaches; it is captured by station's robotic arm and attached to the station. This requires extreme precision even as both Dragon and station orbit the earth every 90 minutes.

- Day 5 - TBD: Astronauts open Dragon's hatch, unload supplies and fill Dragon with return cargo.

Nine days or so later, station will be inthe best location to give Dragon an accurate return trajectory, and off it will go - home to Earth.

Mapua students build new wheelchair

Photo is loading...
Mapua’s computer engineering students with their voice-activated wheelchair.| Zoom
Manila, Philippines - Five graduating computer engineering students from Mapúa Institute of Technology have developed a voice-activated wheelchair for the benefit of physically disabled individuals.

Darryll Jade Arias, Francis Mark Luna, Aljon Santillan, Lloyd Edwinson Arellano and Jonathan Temeña built a prototype of the wheelchair, distinguished by its unique safety features.

This new wheelchair has the ability to stop automatically and detect objects with the help of the infrared sensors installed at the front and back. It also has three pairs of LED lights located at the back that will light up when the infrared sensors detect obstacles on its path, preventing users from colliding with the objects blocking their way.

The group also placed a pair of sensors beneath the wheelchair to give it the capability to halt its movement once the sensors detect the lack of surface underneath, a feature that will prevent users from falling down stairs.

The wheelchair can also be elevated to a height of eight inches at most, high enough to steer clear of sidewalk gutters.

“We wanted to help people with walking disability, especially those who have lost the ability to use their arms. They are our main inspiration. We want to boost their morale by allowing them to go to places with the slightest help possible from other people,” said Arias, the group’s leader.
It took the team nine months to complete the model under the guidance of their adviser Ayra Panganiban, and with the help of design consultant Analyn Yumang.

The team conducted several tests to assure the wheelchair fs safety and functionality, keeping in mind that the protection of the user is the utmost priority.

“With these new features installed, we offer users easier control and more security. The added elevation function of the wheelchair makes it more mobile and dependable. As of now, this project would be very helpful but still not perfect. We are subjecting this design to further improvement, h the group said.

According to Panganiban, they plan to enhance the prototype based on the recommendations of the panel members during the final design presentation. Panganiban previously worked with another team of students who designed the award-winning dual-purpose device for the blind.

“The design of innovative inventions is based on the outcomes-based education initiatives of Mapúa since it promotes lifelong learning activities.

“The students are encouraged to create high-impact designs or researches,” she said.

Phoenix councilman rides in wheelchair for a day-"hardest thing I ever did"

At 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Councilman Tom Simplot started his day as usual, at the Metro light rail stop in front of his home in central Phoenix.
But on this particular morning, there was something out of the ordinary.

Simplot, a healthy, able-bodied person, was in a wheelchair.

He wasn't hurt.

He didn't get into an accident.

On this day, Simplot was taking part of the Wheelchair Challenge to learn more about the challenges people with disabilities face, and to raise awareness on civil rights issues for the disabled.
Jennifer Longdon, chairwoman of the Mayor's Commission on Disability Issues, presented the challenge to several elected officials via Facebook. Simplot was the first to bite.

"As a person who makes policy, you need to know what others go through," Simplot said.
In just a day using the wheelchair, Simplot said he realized several challenges.

First, when getting on board the light rail, he had to make sure his wheels were perfectly perpendicular to the entrance, otherwise the chair would get caught in a groove in the door.
Also, he forgot to turn on the breaks when he got on board. So when the light rail took off, so did Simplot.

Simplot also realized how hard being in a wheelchair was.

His mid-back started to ache and he soon realized how difficult it was to open and go through doors without standing up.

"I've jumped off of airplanes, I've rappelled down buildings and I've spelunked to the bottom of Kartchner Caverns," Simplot said. "This is, by far, the most challenging thing I've done."

Mayor Greg Stanton is expected to take the Wheelchair Challenge at a later date.
Stanton, a huge basketball fan, likely will shoot some hoops in a wheelchair as part of his challenge.

Read more:

RESNA History Pilot Project Opportunity at the Annual Conference

The RESNA History Committee is charged with the collection and website display of artifacts relating to the history of assistive technology, especially those relating to RESNA or its members.
In addition to physical objects, history also includes stories, recollections, and reflections. In an effort to capture these elements, a participatory history project will be piloted at the annual conference in Baltimore.
All those attending the conference are invited to contribute to this effort by providing verbal descriptions of significant RESNA-related assistive technology events and experiences. This could include stories about colleagues, on-the-job situations, special occasions, or personal memories. A list of sample questions and topics can be found below.
To participate, just bring your memories along with any props you might have to the conference and plan to spend no more than 5 minutes describing them. Participation by small groups as well as individuals is welcomed. A camcorder will be set up in the Computer Tech Lab to record your history contribution. (No video material collected at the conference this year will be made public.)
After the conference, the History Committee will evaluate the success of this trial effort by reviewing the videos and reading your comments and then consider strategies to employ to enhance this process at next year’s conference.
Your suggestions about this pilot effort are most welcomed. Please let me know if you would like to participate.
See you in Baltimore,
Dave Jaffe
RESNA History Committee Chair
RESNA History Website

Bacteria live long by slowing to a crawl

Barely alive, but doing well

We've learned in the last few decades that life can push into environments we thought impossible.  But recent finds 30 m below the Pacific floor showed that we also have to think about time scale as an environment.  The bacteria being studied now slow life down far more than we thought possible - as if they were "in suspended animation," as one scientists put it, except they live - just barely.  The previous generation of scientists, with less sophisticated tests, might well have found these creatures and decided they were merely corpses. We have no idea how old the individual cells are - a thousand years, ten thousand, more? Endlessly fascinating.

SpaceX almost makes it

SpaceX's Falcon 9, the first private rocket slated to take supplies to the ISS, has been delayed several times, mostly by software issues. Elon Musk and his people wanted to leave nothing to chance, to make sure failure was not an option. 
They haven't failed, but they must feel a bit snake-bit after getting to within one-half of a second of launch before a sensor in one of nine first-stage engines reported an overpressure. The rocket was shut down.  It will be May 22 before they can try again.  (The Falcon 9 was designed to survive the loss of an engine - engine-out capability is one of its selling points - but this is an important flight and there was no wish to take risks. Also, an engine pressure being too high is particularly worrisome - if the engine actually explodes, shrapnel can take out other engines.)
So to  Elon and Gwynn and the rest of the gang- hang in there.  Make it work.  I think you will. 

Can a blow to the head change the brain in a good way?

Savants are not always born

I have no background in medicine, but it fascinates me as much as it does most people. This article is more interesting - and more baffling - than most. It cites examples of people who get hit on the head and then have talents they didn't have before.  Are we tapping into some kind of genetic memory (which shouldn't be possible), or what is happening here? The weirdest case concerns a pianist who handles complex pieces beautifully (there's a clip here) with no training.  Think how many years go into training that - keeping in mind it's not just knowledge, but physical skills, the ability of fingers to act in perfect coordination.
It makes no sense, really.  But some things don't, despite all our advances. 

Ginger Extension for Chrome Adds Contextual Spelling And Grammar Correction

Ginger, the contextual spelling and grammar correction software is now available as a free Chrome Extension. If you are not familiar with Ginger click here. The software can correct spelling and grammar for any written text in the Chrome web browser. Ginger is great for people that struggle with spelling or people who are learning English. To download Ginger for Chrome click here.

Phineas Gage: New light on a baffling injury case

Man survived iron rod through brain

In 1898, Phineas Gage was stuffing gunpowder into a drill hole with an iron rod to help blast rock clear for a railway.  A premature explosion thrust the 6-kg rod clean through his skull and out the other side.  Instant death, right? Well, no.  Gage survived - but he was a different man, his personality changed from affable to irascible. Now a neuroscience team led by Jack Van Horn of UCLA has figured it out. The rod destroyed about 4% of the brain tissue but ten percent of the "white matter" that links the major lobes together.  While it remains amazing - doctors at the time understandably called it a miracle - that Gage lived another 12 years, the case sheds some light on modern research about what damage in a given location does to the functioning of the whole brain - and being. 

Flipboard Updated to Support VoiceOver

Today, Flipboard was updated to support iOS VoiceOver. The update finally allows people who are blind, visually impaired or have print disabilities to access Flipboard. For those who are unfamiliar Flipboard is a popular news and social app for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Click here to download Flipboard for free.

Rare new monkey species spotted in China

New type of snub-nosed monkey

From the Nu river along the border between China and Myanmar comes a new report on the fifth known species of snub-nosed monkey. It's not "new new" - that is, the species Rhinopithecus strykeri was announced in late 2010 - but it represents a population of 50-100 animals previously unknown, a major boost to a species thought to number under 300 individuals. A Chinese primatologist, Dr. Long Yongcheng, hoped the find will lead to better cross-border cooperation in conservation. He argues the species must be protected, saying, "Any species extinction will affect the ecological balance and imbalance of a system, as well as impact all living organisms, including humans."
Amen, Doc.

What Accessibility Features will iOS 6 Include?

Apple's WWDC developer conference is a month away. Last year at WWDC Apple announced iOS 5 and  if rumors are correct Apple is planing to announced iOS 6 in about a month. iOS is the software that runs the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad. iOS 5 brought many accessibility improvements including, Speak Selection, AssistiveTouch, custom vibration and VoiceOver improvements. In the above I discuss accessibility features that I would like to see included in iOS 6. Hopefully iOS 6 continues the trend of accessibility improvements that benefit people with disabilities.
What accessibility features are you hoping to see in iOS 6? Let us know in the comments.

Thumb Typing

From: Technology Review - 07/2002

As computers blend into our environment and even our clothing, entering data
into them gets tricky. Carsten Mehring, a mechanical engineer at the
University of California, Irvine, has come up with a device that turns your
hands into a qwerty-style keyboard. Mehring's device uses six conductive
contacts on each thumb-three on the front and three on the back-to represent
a keyboard's three lettered rows. Contacts on the tips of the remaining eight
fingers represent its columns. Touching the right index finger to the middle
contact on the front of the right thumb, for instance, generates a j. The top
contact on the thumb yields a u, while the middle contact on the back of the
thumb would produce an h. Mehring says the similarity to typing makes his
input device easier to master than others that require an entirely different
set of motions. He has applied for a patent and hopes to market a product by


Carsten Mehring

Kitty Project

Upcoming AAC Webinars

Patricia Ourand brings you two new webinars, both focusing on aspects surrounding Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC). is Celebrating Better Speech & Hearing Month!
Howdy Friend,
We are thrilled to present Patricia Ourand, MS, CCC-SLP, this week as she brings two brand-new webinar continuing education opportunities, each focusing on aspects surrounding Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Pat is a speech/language pathologist who operates a private practice and consulting business, known as Associated Speech & Language Services, Inc., in the Baltimore/Washington area. She holds a Master’s degree in Speech Language Pathology from Loyola College, as well as a Master’s degree in Technology for Rehabilitation & Education from the Johns Hopkins University.

Please help us welcome Pat during our month long celebration of Better Hearing & Speech Month!

Featured Upcoming Live Webinars

The "C" in AAC - Communication

Pat OurandThis live online seminar presented by Patricia Ourand, MS, CCC-SLP, focuses on the “Communication” in Augmentative and Alternative Communication. The course will begin by exploring the basic principles of ASHA’s definition of the AAC and identifying communication partners, behaviors and critical topics for partner training. Pat will then delve deeper into the subject and instruct therapists on communicative competence and tools that can be used for overcoming communication barriers in emergency situations. Learn More >
Friday, May 18th
4pm - 7pm EST

(3 Contact Hours)
Reserve Your Seat for The "C" in AAC - Communication
Intended Audience: SLPs, OTs

Documentation & Funding Issues Concerning Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Pat OurandThis live online seminar presented by Patricia Ourand, MS, CCC-SLP, focuses on funding and documentation challenges related to AAC. Pat instructs therapists how to recognize issues, providers, documentation specifics and basic demographics. Topics that are also covered include the process for acquiring AAC services, methods for communicating with staff of insurance programs and ways to differentiate between Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance, and the ADA of 1990. Learn More >
Saturday, May 19th
9am - 1pm EST

(4 Contact Hours)
Reserve Your Seat for Documentation and Funding Issues Concerning Augmentative and Alternative Communication
Intended Audience: SLPs, OTs

Can't make it this week? Join us next week for:

Perfecting Bedside Pharyngeal Swallow Assessment

Ann KulichickAnn Kulichik, MS, CCC-SLP, BRS-S, presents this live webinar, which aims to increase the specificity of your clinical observations and your confidence with assessment techniques requiring no special materials. The dysphagia clinician has some basic tools to draw from when making clinical decisions, but perhaps the most neglected ones are right at his/her fingertips. Palpation can unravel mysteries of the swallow that have previously been attributed only to instrumental testing. In this course, we will cover what the literature has to say about structures and motions that can be perceived bedside, the most effective hand placement, pressure, inferring swallow status, tracking changes, goals that arise naturally from this assessment, and a couple of ways to influence swallow performance. Bring your hands, your hyoids and your thyroids! Learn More >
Saturday, May 26th
9am - 12pm EST

(3 Contact Hours)
Reserve Your Seat for Perfecting Bedside Pharyngeal Swallow Assessment
Intended Audience: SLPs

Biodiversity news - it's not good

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has issued its 2012 Living Planet Report, and it's bleak. The report is a broad one, but its biodiversity section says the the average Earth environment has lost 30 percent of its diversity of animals, plants, etc. The decline is acute in  tropical species, with tropical biodiversity down by 60 percent since the 1970s.  (As to the overall report, Jim Leape, WWF International director general, summed it up by saying, "We are living as if we have an extra planet at our disposal." ) Some  13 million hectares of forest are lost each year: much of this land is is still plant-covered, bu the diversity of any forest replace with agriculture or tree farms is clearly going to drop off a cliff.
COMMENT: This doesn't mean we've lost 30% of our species: it means the diversity in any given area is down, which is bad enough.  Documented species extinctions average one species a year, although we're doubtless losing many more given the still-uncounted number of tropical insects occupying very small ranges. The WWF report recommends the usual - have rich countries reduce their footprints - but someone needs to take note of the fact that this has been recommended for decades, never adopted, and thus never going to be adopted, at least not as a stand-alone measure.  There's not enough attention given here to the need for specific technologies that let people make the best use of the resources they have  - Dean Kamen's combination Stirling-cycle heat engine/evaporator for producing electricity and water from cattle manure is an example.  (I was at a speech a couple months ago where Kamen described how he's planting these in developing nations using the infrastructure developed by Coca-Cola bottlers.  )
As C.P. Snow states in Two Cultures:

"The only weapon we have to oppose the bad effects of technology is technology itself. There is no other. We can't retreat into a nontechnological Eden which never existed... It is only by the rational use of technology -- to control and guide what technology is doing --that we can keep any hopes of a social life more desirable than our own; or in face of a social life which is not appalling to imagine." - C.P. Snow

Scientist films rare sight

Extreme weather has always been a human fascination. Even in the age of weather satellites, it's not completely predictable, and it's certainly untameable. NOAA scientist Tim Osbon caught a very rare sight off Louisiana when he filmed two waterspouts being born.  One hopes he ducked for cover after that.... Speaking of Wild weather, I'm reading the book Halsey's Typhoon, but Bob Drury and Tom Clavin.  Gripping stuff....Admiral Halsey thought his modern ships could ride out anything.  In 1944, he was proven dead wrong. 

Review: Demon Fish, by Juliet Eilperin

Great book on the fish people love to hate

Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks
Pantheon; 2011

The human relationship with sharks is complex. Dangerous? Yes.  At war with the human race? If so, it's a one-sided war, and we're wiping them out.  Juliet Eilperin's book doesn't go deeply into the types and taxonomy of sharks. She's more interested in how humans relate to the 300+ species belonging to this enigmatic group. (She does relate that no fewer than 46 species have been proposed based on results of an 18-month DNA study.)  From ecotourists to shark hunters, the species Homo sapiens is the focus here.  There's a lot to learn here, and not all of it is bad.  Sport fishermen are at least aware of the issues,  scientists are pushing further in the quest to understand sharks, and tour guides have learned to make money while leaving the sharks alone. She also examines the seemingly mystical relationship of some Pacfic Islanders to their dangerous neighbors. 
The good news, though, is still outweighed by the wholesale destruction of sharks worldwide.  There are many accounts of the fishing - legal and illegal - for sharks, along with bizarre episodes such as members of the Unification Church poaching thousands of baby sharks from San Francisco Bay.  Before I read this book, I knew about the trade in shark fins, but I had no idea how damned wasteful it is: only a single rod of cartilage from the fin is even used in shark fin soup.  Her exploration of this trade, and how deeply it is ingrained in Asian cultures, is the most memorable feature of a superb, multi-faceted book that takes an original view of a long and problematic interspecies relationship. 

Are there still big cats out there?

Naish's take in 2007

I came across this while while reading Dr. Darren Naish's blog on an African maneating lion of stunning proportions: the cat, now in Chicago's Field Museum, weighed an estimated 249kg.  (A normal adult male averages around 180 kg).  Since I've wandered onto that fascinating subject, see here.

Now, back to unknown big cats.  I didn't reference Darren's 2007 column just because it cites me.  I thought it a good jumping off point to mentioning that not much has happened in the big cat area of cryptozoology since then.  We have some reclassifications, including debates on whether particular tigers are subspecies or full species, and the discussion of whether there are introduced American pumas living in Australia (I think there are) or surviving U.S. Eastern pumas (again, I think yes) has benefited from new reports and other evidence.  But wholly new big cats might have reached a dead end with Peter Hocking's still-unresolved Peruvian cat skulls, which he reported came from new species but others have suggested came from oddball jaguars, perhaps with previously undocumented coat patterns.
Marc van Roosmalen's belief in a solid black, white-throated jaguar is interesting: I think it more likely than not that we'll get a specimen some day.  But I fear the search for wholly new species of big cats may have petered out. 
Hopefully, I'm wrong again.

AIP Report: NASA legislation is not good news

Tight budgets ahead

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) produces reports on legislation affecting science and technology.  They've now released a report on NASA legislation so far in the quest for an FY13 budget. 

Overall, the Administration asked for a cut in the NASA topline to $17.1 billion (B).  The House has recommended $17.6.  The Senate recommended $19.4, although the apparent increase is caused by the transfer of weather satellite programs from NOAA to NASA.  Looking across the budgets so far, Space Technology and Science do OK, while Education, Exploration, and Space Operations, and Aeronautics will likely be funded at or below the President's request in the upcoming conference committee. 
One item of special interest is that the Senate bill "allows for the transfer of up to $14,500,000 to the Department of Energy to re-establish facilities capable of producing fuel needed to enable future missions" - in other words, plutonium oxide (not the form used in weapons) for radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs).  Despite the controversy that attends anything labeled "nuclear," anything out past Mars inescapably requires an RTG: solar panels are just inadequate that far out, and the nation has almost none of it left.
NASA is being blasted by space scientists and advocates for cutting Mars missions.  The Senate tries to mend this by adding $110M for Mars exploration.  We'll see how this holds up. I hope it does.

Monsters of the Imagination

 From the magical mind and ahead-of-his-time talents of Ray Harryhausen....  (Have to log in to Facebook to see this 4.5 minute assemply of classic clips, but it's worth the effort.)

In the desert, a ghostly piece of history


I like history almost as much as science and technology, so this blog branches out on occasion... On this occasion, searchers came across a P-40 in plain sight but overlooked for 70 years. The hot, dry environment preserved the plane.  Royal Air Force flight sergeant Dennis Copping landed successfully, created a shelter with his parachute... and vanished.  Searchers have found no trace of him.  The shifting desert sands have presumably hidden his body, and it's surprising they didn't hide the plane.  New discoveries of relatively intact WWII aircraft are very rare today - not surprisingly after governments and amaturs have been looking for so long. 

A real mystery creature filmed

What is this invertebrate?

Ben Radford did a good overview here, so we'll start with that.  As he notes, marine biologists generally think this is Deeperstaria enigmatica, but it looks bigger than that weird creature's known 60cm size. 
Here's the species

But how much bigger? Hard to tell.  There is still some mystery about this beast, and it's a good reminder of how little we know about the depths.

Lobsters remind us of the wacky world of genetics

Blue, orange, and calico!

On extremely rare occasions, a lobster will turn out some color other than "bottom camouflage." This article shows us three: the blue lobster (a brilliant, lovely blue), the orange lobster (orange before being cooked!), and, one I definitely never heard of, the calico lobster with yellow and orange spots.
The genetic card deck is dealt out in very strange ways.....

2500 Posts in the Sci/Tech Blog!

We passed 2,500 posts the other day.  I know I don't have many followers, but I appreciate evey one of you.  I hope I do a little bit to remind everyone how much of the universe, from Manhattan to Mars, remains for us to explore.  Press on! 

Gardner's Inivisible Gardener Thought Experiment

The late skeptical intellect Martin Gardner once posed this conundrum: one that, being a Christian, I ponder from time to time. 
Essentially: "We find a lovely, organized garden in the woods.  We can't see the gardener nor observe him in action. We employ every sensor, test, and alarm possible, and we still can't detect him. We can't see any action like weeds being pulling out of the ground by a visible or invisible force. How is such an insubstantial gardener different from no gardener at all?" 
Gardner's preferred conclusion that there was no gardener, however, is based on the preconception that we should be able, in some way, to catch the gardener at work.  There are actually two possible solutions:
1) a gardener who is so different from us no test can spot him or directly observe his work and
2) No gardener at all.
Possibility 1 is one we cannot test, but neither can we say as a fact that there is no such gardener. Possibility 2 is unsatisfying because we have not solved the problem: we still have to come up with an explanation for the garden, one that does not require a gardener.  A) Maybe we can.  B) Maybe there is one, but our science is not yet advanced enough to find it (possible but unprovable).  C) Maybe we can't find it at all.  In cases B or C we are still at a loss - we still have to explain the garden. 
Martin's thought experiment is certainly thought-provoking. But the answer to it is not as simple as be believed.

Text to 911 Will Benefit the Deaf

This weekend Verizon announced its plans to make a nationwide system allowing cell phone users to text message 911. The system will be in place as early as 2013. This service will be helpful for the deaf or hard of hearing who find voice calls difficult if not impossible. Verizon says the following about text to 911's benefit for the deaf or hard of hearing,
"While consumers should always first try to contact a 911 center by making a voice call, this enhanced SMS service, when deployed, will offer an alternative for customers on the Verizon Wireless network who are deaf or hard of hearing and cannot make voice calls or who could be placed in additional danger by speaking."
To be clear if you are able to make voice calls to 911 it remains the preferred method. Text to 911 service has not been deployed so texts to 911 will not be answered. Click read more below to read the Verizon's press release.

The following is copied from Verizon's press release.
Verizon Selects TeleCommunication Systems to Provide Text to 911 National Gateway Solution
New Service Will Enable Customers to Send 911 Short-Code Messages to Emergency Response Centers
BASKING RIDGE, N.J., May 3, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Demonstrating its continued commitment to advancing public safety, Verizon Wireless is taking steps toward offering many of its customers a new way to communicate with 911 call centers run by public safety officials. The company announced today that it has selected TeleCommunication Systems Inc., of Annapolis, Md., to participate in an initiative that will enable customers to send 911 SMS (Short Message Service) texts to the call centers, which are known as public-service answering points, or PSAPs.
While consumers should always first try to contact a 911 center by making a voice call, this enhanced SMS service, when deployed, will offer an alternative for customers on the Verizon Wireless network who are deaf or hard of hearing and cannot make voice calls or who could be placed in additional danger by speaking.
"Verizon is at the forefront of 911 public-safety innovations, and today's announcement is another step in making SMS-to-911 service available to those who cannot make a voice call to 911," said Marjorie Hsu, Verizon Wireless vice president of technology. "Our company is continuing its long-standing commitment to address the needs of public safety and our customers by offering another way to get help in an emergency by using wireless technology."
The company is working on plans to make the new capabilities available to select PSAPs by early 2013. Verizon plans to use its existing CDMA SMS network for 911 text notifications. The new service will be offered to Verizon Wireless customers who have a text-capable phone and a service plan that includes text messaging.
"TeleCommunication Systems has worked closely with the FCC over the past two years to develop its innovative technology for SMS to 911," said Maurice B. Tose, president and CEO of TCS. "As the preeminent U.S. supplier of SMS and pioneer in wireless E911, TCS is well positioned to enable Verizon in advancing its public safety commitment."
Verizon is working with others in the communications industry, PSAPs, the Federal Communications Commission and other federal and state agencies in the eventual deployment of this new service aimed at giving consumers new ways to communicate with designated public safety agencies.