Archive for May, 2010

Reader-Submitted Joke

A man discovers that he has a talking dog. He decides to take the dog to Hollywood to be discovered. They get in front of a Hollywood mogul.

The owner asks the dog, “What’s on top of a house?” The dog says, “roof.”

The owner asks the dog, “What do dogs say?” The dog says, “ruff.”

The owner asks the dog, “Who’s the best New York Yankees baseball player?” The dog says, “Ruth.”

The Hollywood mogul gets mad and throws them out.

Then, the dog asks the owner, “Should I have said DiMaggio?”

Recipe of the Week

Cheesy Salmon Quick-fix – Submitted by Marilyn Brandt Smith

Makes four to six servings. 

Ingredients:

Six tablespoons butter or margarine

Six tablespoons flour

Three cups milk

One fourth cup chopped onions

Three tablespoons chopped pimiento

One and one third cup shredded Swiss or Colby cheese

One cup grated parmesan cheese

One half cup (small can) mushroom pieces, drained

One cup flaked salmon, drained.

 Directions:

In a saucepan, melt butter and blend in flour until smooth.

Gradually add milk, and stir constantly until sauce thickens.

Add onion, pimiento, and cheeses.

Stir until cheeses are melted.

Add mushrooms and salmon.

Serve hot on toast or English muffins.

“Free Bees! Get Your Free Bees Here!”

A Vancouver man recently took advantage of Craigslist during a very unique situation.

Nick Jennings was at home when he heard an awful lot of honking coming from a car in his driveway.  He noticed it was coming from his wife’s car and wondered if she needed help with something.  As he went outside, he could see why she was making such a racket: thousands of bees had surrounded her car.

She called him on the phone, asking what she should do.  After taking a careful look at what kind of bees they were dealing with, Nick saw that they were honey bees, not wasps, and told her to get out of the car and calmly walk inside.

He immediately went on Craigslist and posted an ad advertising free bees and asking for advice from anyone willing to give it regarding how to get rid of them.  Within an hour 50 people had responded, some recommending a local bee keeper, so Nick contacted him.

The bee keeper thinks that someone owns bee hives locally and that this is an offshoot colony that was looking for a place to spread its wings.  The queen and the rest of the bees took temporary shelter in a bush to hide from the rain and when the weather improves, the scout bees will go out and look for a more permanent dwelling.

The bee keeper eventually removed all of the bees.  By grabbing the queen, it forces the others to follow in her path.

To read the original article, please go to http://www.vancouversun.com/story_print.html?id=3053074&sponsor=

How Millions Turned into Twenty Dollars

Of course, gambling was involved.

But it didn’t go down like you think.  Louise Chavez was playing the slot machines when she hit the jackpot and saw on her machine that she has won nearly 43 million dollars.  Immediately, there was someone there to verify her winnings, but they told her that there was a mistake.

According to Colorado gambling regulators, there was a software error in the machine that caused it to report a jackpot total that wasn’t even possible for that particular game.  The game was only designed to pay out a maximum of 251,000 dollars, a far cry from 43 million.  They informed her that she was only entitled to twenty dollars and eighteen cents. 

The gambling regulators went on to say that the machines are all about random number generators disguised with a bunch of bells and whistles.  this particular machine got all the bells and whistles confused and created an error, revealing an impossible winning amount.

The Chavez family has apparently retained a lawyer, so it would not be surprising if a case was built and brought to court.  With the testimony of the gambling regulators against them, it might be a tough case to win.

What do you think?  Should someone be penalized for a broken machine?  It did, after all, tell her she won the money.

To read the original article, please go to http://www.9news.com/cleanprint/?1274473044905

Fuel Cells Fueled by You

Scientists have developed a glucose-powered fuel cell that can be implanted into the human body and create power using nothing more than elements present within the person.

By using compressed graphite treated with an enzyme that oxidizes glucose, the developers were able to make the fuel cell create energy.  They also utilize a plastic membrane that only allows glucose and oxygen to pass and wire up the entire device with platinum wiring.  Like a mad scientist’s lab recipe, they created the first fuel cell that gets everything it needs to operate from inside the living organism.

Currently the device produces 6.5 microwatts of power which, while small, is just shy of the 10 microwatts needed to power a pacemaker.  The developers are confident that they can work on the design and boost power to reach that mark. 

Aside from pacemakers, this device may be able to be used in the future for insulin pumps and possibly artificial hearts, making this fuel cell an incredibly important device with far-reaching implications as it is improved to produce more power.

To read the original article, please go to http://www.fastcompany.com/node/1649666/print

Storing Our Data for the Future

Buried in the mountains of Switzerland, an underground fortress known as the Swiss Fort Knox has been created to house a massive collection of digital data.  The idea behind this project is to preserve the data, as well as the tools used to view the data, for future generations so that they will be able to look back and research our world as it exists right now.

In the future, DVD’s will be laughed at, our current hard drive capacities will be seen as embarrassingly minuscule, and the tools used to view our data will be so outdated that futuristic interfaces will be far too advanced to view whatever data is discovered.  So scientists are thinking ahead.

“Einstein’s notebooks you can take down off the shelf and read them today. Roll forward 50 years and most of Stephen Hawking’s notes will likely only be stored digitally and we might not be able to access them all,” said the British Library’s Adam Farquhar.  It’s true, paper is going away and the digital age is taking over very quickly.  With every new digital breakthrough, there is another succession, another data format change, and another device to interpret and deliver the new forms of data.  This project serves as a way to salvage, catalog, and store the important data that floats through our worldwide culture so that future generations know more about us than the leftover rusty remains of old cars that were mysteriously fueled with liquefied dinosaur goop.

Unlike Egyptian stones that can still be seen and touched today, digital monoliths are fickle, with a shelf-life of only years.  Without creating an adequate preservation program, untold amounts of data could be lost that will never be able to be retrieved again.  Data like medical research and technological studies that had never been implemented could be very useful in the future.

When I first read this article, I understood that the ever-changing technological world has created short-lived devices that are replaced within months, but I didn’t think that we were really at risk of losing anything.  Then I put things in perspective and wondered what it would be like if in the 1980s a vast amount of data was stored on VHS tapes, and that I had no clue where I could find a working VCR.  More than that, in the next couple years, I doubt a TV would have the back-dated ports needed to even hook a VCR up. 

Then I understood this project entirely.

To read the original article, please go to http://www.pcmag.com/print_article2/0,1217,a=250983,00.asp?hidPrint=true

Augmented Reality used to Fight Fears

Augmented reality is a technology that utilizes software and cameras to superimpose images on normal pictures and video.  Essentially, by including an object or element into the view of a camera that the software understands, the viewer will see something entirely different on the video screen in place of that object.  For instance, if I was taking a video of my hand holding a green cube, but the software knew to convert that image of a green cube into the image of a baseball instead, that’s what I would see in my hand when I looked at the video screen.

While augmented reality can be used as a hokey entertainment tool, it is also being used as a therapeutic way to alleviate people’s fears of things like insects.  By using augmented reality, therapists can put a helmet on the head of a person that contains a screen in the front that displays a live video of a table in front of them.  If the person is afraid of spiders, the therapist will engage a program that makes it look like there are spiders all over the table, even crawling across their hands.

Now, while this might seem like a form of digital torture, studies show that the people who are involved in these exercises eventually experience a reduction in their fear of bugs.  While they may initially be uncomfortable, knowing that the bugs are no where near them while seemingly being able to interact with them allows them to have a mental safety net of sorts.

Personally, I’m curious how I would react if someone digitally superimposed a giant tarantula making its way up my arm.  I’m sure that it would be an odd sensation to see something that looks so real, yet have no touch sensation whatsoever.  I imagine it’s very similar to how my cat feels when I put the laser pointer on his paws.  He can see it’s there, but I can tell that he’s got no idea why he can’t feel the dot moving on him.

To read the original article, please go to http://neoacademic.com/2010/05/15/fight-your-fear-of-cockroaches-with-augmented-reality/

No Link Between Mobile Phones and Cancer

In the largest study of its kind, researchers gathered data from ten thousand participants to see if there was any discernible connection between cell phone usage and cancer. Their findings reveal that there is no known biological reaction between human tissue and cell phone radiation that would cause cancer.
While this study should ease the worries of those who were concerned that they were zapping their brains with the phone pressed up against their ear, there were some quirks within the results that researchers needed to point out.  Even though there are no concrete connections between cell phones and brain tumors, there does seem to be a higher risk for developing brain tumors among people who use their phone for abnormally long periods of time–in this case they cited as much as 1,640 cumulative hours of cell phone use over a short period of time.  At the other end of the spectrum, they also found that people who engage in normal cell phone usage are actually less likely to have a brain tumor than people who don’t use cell phones at all.  

Those vastly different numbers tied to cell phone use are perplexing the researchers.  Some feel that it may be invalid data given to them by the test subjects, resulting in the numbers becoming outliers in the test and being generally disregarded when compared to the normal data distribution that they were seeing.

Whatever the case, the point still stands that after years of research done on ten thousand people, scientists were unable to find anything that would lead them to believe there was a sinister connection between cell phones and cancer.  At this point, researchers are saying that there isn’t much else that they can study about cell phones that they don’t know already, and that the millions of dollars that go into these kinds of exercises would be better spent on other medical research where the results might be more beneficial for mankind.

I suppose that now society needs to be the judge and decide whether or not these results are satisfactory or not, because as far as the researchers are concerned, this case is all but closed at this point.

To read the original article, please go to http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/mpapps/pagetools/print/news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8685839.stm?ad=1

Op Ed Writer Bob Branco – Website Accessibility Issues

Although there has been tremendous progress in making the internet accessible for blind people, there are several things that we, as blind computer users, can’t do. I know several blind individuals who use Craig’s List, Face Book, and other related sites in order to network. The one problem we have is that we can’t see the authentication verification code that pops up on the monitor when we log out. As you probably know, this authentication verification code, a random list of letters and numbers that are sometimes viewed upside down, is designed to prevent hackers from remembering it, and that’s why it changes with every attempt to log out.

The problem is that a blind person can’t verify it because the speech software can’t translate it. A sighted person has to be on hand at all times to dictate every new authentication verification code that comes up on the monitor in order for a blind person to verify it. Under these circumstances, how do the blind manage to maneuver through these sites where you have to post information by logging in and out? I would like to be able to post ads on Craig’s List without having a sighted person come here every time I log out, just so that he can read an authentication verification code that changes on the fly and is not understood by speech software. Do any of you have any solutions, and if you are a blind user, how do you log out?

Generally speaking, there have been attempts made by some web site designers to include fewer graphics on their sites, making it a lot easier for the blind user to read them. More often than not, speech software has difficulty reading a web site if it has too many pictures on it. I know that in the world of vision, people like to look at the pretty designs on a web site, because it looks attractive. No matter how nice the site looks, the design doesn’t help the blind. Most, if not all, speech programs stop reading when they come across a picture. If the picture is too large, Jaws will be interrupted while reading the important material.

I don’t think that legislation is necessary, because most of us don’t like the government telling private industry what to do, so I feel we should just have more faith that web site designers will cut back on all the graphics in order for everyone to read what’s on the site.

Feature Writer Ann Chiappetta – Reflections on Becoming a First Time Handler

I just heard from a friend via email about how her guide dog kept her out of harm’s way. The emotions it provoked as I read the message were the kind the Yiddish word “verklempt” describe. My throat tightened and my eyes stung. How awesome, I thought, that this yellow Labrador retriever named Renny pulled her handler back from a potential catastrophe.

“Renny and I had are biggest traffic check we have ever had,” writes Amanda, a young woman who trained the same time as me and is also a new handler. “We were about two blocks from home at a completely controlled traffic light…we were about a quarter of the way across.  Renny stopped and started to back up and in that split second there was a squealing of tires and a black car in front of us, if we had moved any farther across the street the car would have hit us. I was so stunned that I just stood there until I could get my bearings.  I told her “forward,” by the time I got to the curb I was in tears because I was realizing what just happened. I kind of slipped to my knees and praised her and of course gave her a food reward.  So if it were not for Renny I would be pretty messed up, in the hospital, or worse right now. I am so thankful for my guide; she is the best dog ever.”

Renny saved her handler from serious injury because of two things: it’s what she is trained to do, and it’s what she wanted to do to keep both of them safe. Amanda and Renny are a prime example of a successful team, a partnership built on love, trust, practice, and discipline. It is a relationship, and like any other, it takes time and hard work to foster it.  

Although the general public remains largely unaware of the rewarding partnership a dog and handler share, there isn’t an adequate way of expressing the intricacies of it. Admittedly, I knew very little about it until I experienced it personally.

Since graduating from training six months ago, my own guide dog has proven her mettle and intelligence almost every day. She’s kept me from falling down stairs, in holes, and being struck in the head by a low-hanging sign.

It is because of Verona and dogs like her that we can retain our independence and, in some instances, improve it. As a late-onset vision loss survivor, I experienced not only a progressive loss of sight but also a progressive loss of mobility. As my vision decreased, my ability and willingness to go out on my own decreased. It was this deficit that prompted me to apply for a guide dog.

I wasn’t thinking that I wanted to climb any mountains, but I was missing not being able to walk a few miles independently and safely without great effort or anxiety.  I was a long time white cane user but it just wasn’t suitable for me in certain situations. I wanted more freedom.

Research and interviewing other handlers convinced me that I was destined to obtain a dog and finally regain not only my independence but also rebuild my lost confidence.  Each day I trained at guide dog school, my confidence grew. To me, the build up of my eroding self-confidence was the inspiration to become the best handler possible. The transformation that occurred at training tested my ability to meet the challenges of taking on new skills and responsibilities.

I can recall my first major training dilemma; Verona wasn’t turning left.  I’d stepped on her so many times before that she refused to do it. The trainer had me retry our left turn three times and each time Verona jumped off to the side when I turned and stepped. After the third try I put down the harness handle and cried. I thought, “I can’t do this, what was I thinking? My dog is afraid of me and I’m going to fail.”

It was below freezing out and my tears burned my cheeks. The trainer took my hand and said, “I know this is frustrating but don’t give up. We’ll work it out as long as you don’t give up.” Then she gave me a big hug and I kept going.

Later that night I realized that I almost did give up. What stopped me was the trainer’s support and my desire to do my best for my dog because she was doing her best for me. She knew how to turn; it was me who didn’t know how to do it. Not only was I unable to grasp the dexterity needed to properly manage the leash and harness, I wasn’t ready for the demands of learning how to follow my dog.

What a humbling thought: my dog knew more than I did.

The next day and the days following it, I practiced my turns; in my room while watching TV. I practiced every night with the harness, the trainer supervising my sessions. I worked hard to do whatever the training staff instructed me to do and soon our turns were beautiful. Verona was still a bit shy but she no longer jumped away whenever I moved left.

My friend Amanda went through similar challenges while we were in class, too. Now, however, she and Renny are a great team. Her close call also accurately describes the emotional intensity provoked by such a situation. When our dog keeps us from catastrophe, it is overwhelming, and not just at traffic checks. Our dogs become part of us and the partnership is akin to a symbiosis.  They share our hearts and expertly interpret our every need, and in turn, we learn to provide for them and love them unconditionally. We are interdependent in order to maintain independence.

If I could focus on expressing just one aspect of the meaning behind a dog guide team, for the benefit of first-time handlers, it would be the necessity of fostering the interdependent relationship that makes a guide so worthwhile.

It takes patience, perseverance, and practice to perform the dance. One has to put away the white cane in both a symbolic and physical sense in order to develop mutual trust.

For example, the first time I went on a training route alone with Verona she took me out of harm’s way and I didn’t even know it, but I went with her, backing away as a car crept up onto the ramp leading to the street.  When I realized she prevented me from being hit, I cried.  I followed her and she kept me safe. This is what the other handlers were talking about.  

Now that I’ve had the opportunity to work with Verona, my desire to take travel related chances, like going to new locations, is far less hampered by anxiety and self doubt. Maybe it’s just me, but I still get an immense sense of satisfaction whenever I grab Verona’s harness and say, “Let’s Go.”