Archive for January, 2010

“Balloon Boy’s” Parents Sentenced in Court

It would be tough to not have heard about the now-famous “balloon boy” incident that captured the globe on October 15, 2009.  Now, the parents who started the hoax involving the giant, silver balloon flying over the landscape supposedly containing their young son will have to face jail time and a large fine.  

The father, Richard Heene, pled guilty to a felony charge of attempting to influence a public servant and will now be required to serve ninety days in jail.  Thirty of those days will be spent behind bars while the remaining sixty will be served on work leave.  He will be on probation for four years.  The mother, Mayumi, also implicated in this situation, will serve twenty days in jail.  Though, it will “be served through a program that allows her to perform jail-supervised community service a couple days a week and return home at night.”  She will also be on probation for four years. 

Coupled with jail time, the two are facing almost fifty thousand dollars in fines due to the fact that the incident gained attention from countless police and fire departments, as well as a rescue helicopter that was used to track the runaway balloon.  Further fines may arise from the FAA, as well, though there are no concrete details yet. 

All in all, the family who once had a taste of the limelight on ABC’s reality show “Wife Swap”, and yearned to be back in the public eye again, surely learned that some stunts to gain attention come with a heavy cost. 

For more details, please see the original article at   http://www.denverpost.com/ci_14055721

Cell Phone Radiation May Reduce Effects of Alzheimer’s Disease

Concern over cell phone usage causing health problems has been flying around for years.  However, scientists may have found one beneficial use for the radiation that our mobile phones emit. 

By using genetically engineered lab mice whose brains have been altered to exhibit the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, scientists have found that by exposing the mice to normal amounts of phone radiation, memory loss was almost entirely eliminated.  The study used 96 mice, most of which had received the genetic brain alteration, while the others remained as a control group for the experiment.  The mice were exposed to phone radiation for one hour periods, twice a day, for seven to nine months.  

What the scientists discovered is that if the mice were exposed to the radiation before the onset of any memory degeneration, their memory was protected, so to speak, by the radiation.  Moreover, mice that already exhibited diminished cognitive abilities experienced a significant improvement in memory retention after being exposed to the radiation.  In the end, both groups performed just as well in the tests following the experiment as mice that had no prior genetic brain alterations at all. 

After the experiment was finished, the mice were studied to see if there were any adverse effects from the radiation on their brain, such as the growth of tumors, or their organs.  All of the tested mice were fine. 

Further testing will need to be done so that researchers can experiment with signal strength and frequency, but they believe that this might one day become a drug-free treatment solution for people suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. 

To access the original article, please go to http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8443541.stm

Video Games for the Blind

Virtual reality video games are beginning to become a part of blindness research as well as entertainment for the blind.  Collaborative research being done by the University of Chile and Harvard Medical School involving three PC based video games is underway.  In the games, blind players rely on audio cues to navigate through a maze, a subway station, or real world buildings.  Sounds like footsteps and doors closing in the background of the game give the players information to interpret as they move through the virtual world.  The players use a keyboard to move throughout the three dimensional levels, eventually building a mental map of the virtual space.  

The initial goal of the study was to create a video game for blind children so that they would be able to develop spatial and cognitive skills, and to enforce social skills when played with other children.  The games can also be used as an orientation tool as well.  By creating a virtual environment, a blind person could familiarize themselves with an otherwise unfamiliar building before even stepping foot inside.  Researchers also hope that they will be able to work with players who are willing to have their brain activity monitored as they play.  In doing this, it might be possible to gain a better understanding of how the brain interprets audio cues in order to make a cognitive spatial layout of an area. 

There are roughly fifty video games that have been developed for blind players.  Some of them are similar to classic arcade games used by sighted players, like Space Invaders, while others rely on audio synthesizers to read text based adventures to them as the game progresses.  Some games, like Texas Hold ‘Em Poker and other card games are equally accessible for both sighted and blind players.  With video games being used as research tools, and as technology improves to make them more accessible, there might soon be a new market created for blind gamers. 

To read the original article, please go to http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE58G2N320090917

A Most Fascinating Mind

Kim Peek is probably a man that few have heard of before.  As obscure as his name may be, he was actually the inspiration for Dustin Hoffman’s autistic savant character in the award-winning1988 movie, Rain Man.  Mr. Peek recently passed away at the age of 58.  

Peek was truly an incredible man.  While he himself was not an autistic savant, his brain harbored abnormalities which made it function very similarly to someone with that mental condition.  Like many in his position, he possessed a fascinating mind, capable of operating at very high levels in certain fields.  In Mr. Peek’s case, his memory was other worldly.  

When he was nine months old, doctors felt that he was so mentally retarded that he would hardly be able to walk, let alone function in any normal capacity.  However, at just six years old, he had memorized the first eight volumes of a set of encyclopedias owned by his family.  At fourteen, he had completed a high school curriculum with the help of a private tutor. 

Peek was able to read a book two pages at a time, one with each eye.  With this skill, he reportedly read nearly twelve thousand volumes in his lifetime.  Even more amazing was that he could remember everything he read.  “Mr. Peek had memorized so many Shakespearean plays and musical compositions and was such a stickler for accuracy, his father said, that they had to stop attending performances because he would stand up and correct the actors or the musicians. “He’d stand up and say: ‘Wait a minute! The trombone is two notes off,’” Fran Peek said.” 

Peek also knew all of the area and zip codes in the United States and could recite all of the television stations serving those areas.  He would also memorize the maps in the front of phone books and was able to give directions in any major U.S. city with staggering detail.  He could also identify hundreds of classical music compositions and give details about the tonality in each, as well as delving into stunning detail regarding the biographical information of the composer. 

Kim Peek was the definition of amazing.  A man who doctors predicted would hardly walk ended up possessing one of the most amazing minds for facts and the arts that we’ve ever known.  He is truly an inspiration to anyone who was dealt a challenge from the start. 

To read the original article, please go to http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/27/us/27peek.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2

Subway in the Sky

As the Freedom Tower rises in place of the World Trade Center, the hardhat donning workers won’t have to go far for a bite to eat.  Nestled inside of a metal shipping container will be a fully-functioning Subway restaurant to serve everyone sandwiches high above the ground floor.  This unique project was started so that workers wouldn’t have to take the time to go all the way down the building to grab some food.  

The restaurant will be fixed to one of the tower cranes and will rise as the structure does.  Eventually, it will reach its pinnacle at the one hundred and fifth floor, which is roughly the height of the old Twin Towers. 

While the workers inside the suspended Subway container won’t be able to take in the breathtaking view from hundreds of feet in the air, the construction crews are sure to enjoy it as they eat in style up in the sky. 

To read the original article, please go to http://www.myfoxdc.com/dpp/news/offbeat/wtc-subway-restaurant-122809

The World’s Tallest Building

The Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, celebrated its inauguration on January fourth.  The building, now the tallest in the world, stands two thousand, seven hundred and seventeen feet tall, nearly one thousand feet taller than the north tower of the World Trade Center was, and views of up to sixty miles can be seen from the top.  Construction began on the building in September, 2004.  

The one hundred and sixty story building also boasts some other impressive records.  The building holds the world’s fastest elevator, which can reach speeds of forty miles per hour.  It also has the world’s tallest observation deck, located at the one hundred and twenty fourth floor, and the world’s highest swimming pool, located on the seventy fourth floor.  It is also the tallest building in the world to contain residential living space, all of which has already been spoken for. 

The building is adorned with twenty six thousand, three hundred and forty eight windows which are cleaned by a staff of thirty six workers and a group of automated machines for the highest points.  It will take this whole crew three to four months to clean the entire structure.  

The inaugural ceremony featured fireworks emanating from the building and a fantastic water show stemming from the technologically magnificent fountain system that lies at the foot of the building. 

For more information on the building, please go to its Wikipedia page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burj_dubai

Happy New Year!

A new year always provides us with the opportunity for a new beginning and the Ziegler Magazine is no different with the unveiling of its new format. 

Let me begin by addressing a common concern among our readers.  Despite what was previously mentioned, we will continue to offer general interest articles.  In fact, we’re branching out into a multitude of different topics like entertainment, sports, travel, lifestyle, cooking, crafts, and much more.  While we won’t be re-printing the original articles, we will offer a detailed editorialized summary of each topic with a link to the original content should you decide to reference it.  Our reasoning behind this is that while our site is optimized for screen readers for the blind, the majority of other websites are created with visually appealing pictures and advertisements, a feature that does not tend to get along well with screen reading software.  By eliminating the need to navigate outside of our site, we’ll be able to offer you the same information without the hassle.  We will also continue to have a reader’s forum and pen pal sections for those interested and a weekly e-mail edition of the magazine will be available to those who wish to subscribe.  The reader’s forum will exist as an extension of each entry in the comments section.  If we see that a certain topic has created a lot of conversation, that particular comments section will be re-printed in the weekly e-mail edition.  The pen pals section will only be available in the e-mail edition due to security concerns.  To sign up for the Pen Pal list, follow the link in the headline bar.  Many of you have also inquired about the addition of Newsline, and we plan on incorporating that service very soon, as well.

As always, we welcome your feedback on the magazine and its content.  This is a magazine for you, and we want to make sure that you enjoy it.  I feel privileged to be able to work with such a great audience and I look forward to writing for you all.  

Sincerely,

Ross Hammond

Editor