Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Yes, I miss manual typewriters

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Clickety-clickety-clickety-ding!

OK, this is really stupid and not worth $309, but I am sorely tempted to buy one: A Bluetooth-connected keyboard that looks like, and hopefully feels like, a manual typewriter.

A bonus: You don't have to return the carriage at the end of each line.

Here's the website. Christmas isn't far away, you know.

NSF suggests entrepreneur try crowd-funding - is that good or bad?

I'm doing a story about a local entrepreneur trying to develop and interesting technical system (let me finish the story and then I'll tell you about it). He received an small National Science Foundation grant but is looking for more funding, as are most entrepreneurs - and to my surprise says that one of the suggestions from NSF was to pursue crowd-funding!

There are several crowdfunding sites out there dedicated to science and technology research, as compared to indie films or tech geegaws, so I suppose this shouldn't be surprising. But having by the National Science Foundation, one of the major funding sources for science in this country, suggest you try crowd-funding is ... well, I'm not sure what. Maybe it's cool and forward-thinking on NSF's part, or maybe it's a sign of desperation born of continued cutbacks in R&D funding.

Half-full? Half-empty? Hmmm .....

Vermont Yankee nuclear plant begins ramping down  

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Courtesy photo
The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant, which uses the Connecticut River for cooling.

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station will cease operating by the end of the year; its owner says it doesn't make enough money to keep going. The Brattleboro Reformer reports that it has begun the slow march to shutdown.

If you want to keep an eye on the process, there's a citizen panel overseeing the process (very Vermont-ian, that) which will hold its first meeting on Thursday, Vermont Public Radio reports.

As always when mentioning Vermont Yankee, I tip my hat to the plant's domain name: SafeCleanReliable.com. An ad man's dream! I wonder who they'll sell it to?

New Jersey wants the source code from a MIT student who helped create a bitcoin miner

In a case that has legal, if not technical, similarities to the Aaron Swartz disaster, a zealous prosecutor is going after an MIT student because be helped create an interesting (or alarming, depending on your point of view) program - in this case, a bitcoin miner.

Wired has the entire story right here. From the story:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is representing 19-year-old MIT student Jeremy Rubin and three classmates in a remarkable case that stands out for the measure of aggression the state is using to obtain the code and identify anyone who might have tested the mining tool.

The mining tool, known as Tidbit, was developed in late 2013 by Rubin and his classmates for the Node Knockout hackathon ... The now defunct tool was designed to offer web site visitors an alternative way to support the sites they visited by using their computers to mine Bitcoins for them in exchange for having online ads removed.

The case marks a disturbing trend among authorities to go after researchers, innovators, tinkerers and others who try to do cutting-edge projects to help the tech community, says EFF staff attorney Hanni Fakhoury.

Automated ("robotic", if you will) milking parlors can free up dairy farmers

Vermont Public Radio has a story about an automated milking parlor at a large-for-New-England (450-head) dairy farm in Orford, N.H. The cool part is that the cows can be milked whenever they want, not on the usual twice-a-day schedule; they wander in at their own accord and get automatically milked; RFID tags let the computer know which cow is which, to make sure some greedy gal isn't coming in too often just for the feed. They wander into one of four parlors, which "look like red refrigerators", automated brushes clean their teats, then:

The laser spots the cow’s tag, so that the computer can identify her. Then four plastic tentacles with suction cups grope around and attach themselves to her udders. “This cow is in here on average about seven minutes and forty seconds, and she probably gives around 30 pounds each time in,” Tullar says.

The system cost abouty $125,000, plus various barn improvements. It frees up several people, and makes life more flexible, a big plus for keeping people working on dairy farms, and more frequent milking can increase production from cows.

It's made by a Vermont firm called Lely that also makes automated barn cleaners and feeders. I, for one, welcome our new robotic dairy-farm overlords!

A VGo 'telemedicine' robot (featured in Science Cafe in April) will be on Dartmouth football sidelines

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Courtesy photo

A "telepresence" robot from Nashua-based VGo will be on teh sidelines at home games for the Dartmouth College football team in 2014.

Nashua-based VGo will provide a “telemedicine” robot on the sidelines of Dartmouth College’s home football games, as part of a remote concussion assessment pilot project. The program started at the first home game on Saturday, Sept. 20.

This pilot is part of a Dartmouth Athletics initiative in which the Dartmouth-Hitchcok Center for Telehealth will provide real-time, emergency clinical support via virtual technologies to a variety of Dartmouth sports, said Drew Galbraith, senior associate athletics director for Dartmouth Peak Performance.

VGo was founded in 2007 by former executives of the company iRobot, including Tim Root, a Nashua native and 1984 graduate of Bishop Guertin High School. Ned Semonite, head of product development, brought one of them to the April Science Cafe in Nashua.

It is one of a number of companies making telepresence robots, which might be thought of as a wireless Skype connection atop a remote-controlled Roomba. This allows people to not only have real-time video connections but to roll around within an environment, creating a kind of “tele-presence.”

VGo has focused on the medical market, deploying the robots with visiting nurses and in hospital settings, to allow doctors better long-distance care. Several other companies, including Roomba-maker iRobot itself, offer similar devices.

Dr. Sarah Pletcher, director of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Center for Telehealth, said Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s section of neurosurgery will be providing remote assessments of Dartmouth players with suspected concussions. “In addition to a telemedicine robot, we will also integrate tablet and smartphone solutions that will offer reliability and flexibility as we expand the program to other Dartmouth sports in the very near future,” said Pletcher.

Physicians from the D-H emergency department will be participating in future clinical service offerings.

“Dartmouth College is an early adopter of this telemedicine robot technology, which was validated by the Mayo Clinic and Northern Arizona University’s football program in 2013,” said Dr. Robert J. Singer, one of the DHMC neurosurgeons who will be participating in the pilot program. “Our participation in the Big Ten-Ivy League collaboration studying the effects of head injuries in sports integrates nicely into this effort.”

More on the interesting (but illegal) phenomenon of Instagramming your own ballot

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This poster was supposed to have been displayed in all polling places on Tuesday.

I've reported several rtimes on "ballot selfies" - my term for taking a picture of your completed ballot and posting it online, which is illegal. Now the attorney general's office is looking into it, as I report in today's Telegraph.

Depending on your point of view, this is a silly waste of taxpayer money, an outrageous governmental overreach against personal freedom, an intriguing move to protect the sanctity of the polling booth, or an example of how technology interacts in unexpected ways with laws and mores. (You can choose more than one.)

By the way, the wording of the state law RSA 659:35, has not been updated in the online listing of state laws (here). It still shows the ambiguous wording that was changed by the Legislature as of Sept. 1.

Ig Nobels are tonight

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The Ig Nobel awards get handed out tonight at Harvard's stately Sanders Theatre. I didn't get a ticket before they sold out, so this will be only about the fifth one I've missed in more than two decades - but maybe I'll watch it online!

If so, I'll have to throw paper airplanes around the living room. Hope the cat doesn't mind.

Tech-Out finalists are from Manchester, Manchester, Manchester, Manchester and Hampton

Tech-Out, a three-year-old $100,000 contest for tech start-ups in New Hampshire, has announced the five finalists this year. There's a definite Queen City theme among them:

Attic Gem/gemr of Hampton, an online buying and selling platform where users post photos of collectibles to gain knowledge of their history and value from a community of experts and enthusiasts;

Apply Kit of Manchester, which helps students discover, apply to and get into their college while helping colleges attract applicants;

SwitchNote of Manchester, collaborative study platform that rewards students for uploading and sharing their notes with classmates;

UConnect of Manchester, a service for higher education career services to help college students transition to careers;

VidFall of Manchester, a competitive auction website where prices fall as users watch sponsored videos.

The competition is open to startups that have been in business for fewer than three years, raised less than $250,000 in funding and have less than $250,000 in revenue. First place receives $50,000, second place $30,000 and third place $20,000. At the public event on October 2, a panel of judges will select the first and second place winners, while the third place winner will be decided by the audience the night of the event.

TechOut is a partnership between the NH High Tech Counci and Alpha Loft (formerly abiHUB). The partnership represents a cohesive effort to grow the state’s tech ecosystem. The third annual finalist event will be held at 5:30 pm on Thursday, October 2 at Dyn, 200 Bedford Street in Manchester and includes live pitches from finalists, an announcement of the three winners, networking, food and beverages.

Does the government have a patent on medical marijuana research? No. But sort of yes

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An interesting assertion was made by an audience member at last night's Science Cafe NH in Nashua, which had two hours of absolutely superb discussion about the biology and chemistry and pharmacology of marijuana: He asserted that the U.S. government had a patent on medical marijuana. This, he said (as do several websites) reflects hypocrisy on the part of a government that battles against therapeutic use of marijuana, and might also get in the way of real research.

Neither of our panelists, both of whom have been doing marijuana-related research for many years, knew what he was talking about, so I assumed that he was mistaken. But that's not true: Not entirely, anyway.

Turns out, the patent in question is 6,630,507, taken out in 2003 by three scientists in the name of the federal Department of Health and Human Services. It's titled "Cannabinoids as antioxidats and neuroprotectants". It claims a patent on the use of certain chemicals in marijuana for "the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases."

As I said, neither of our panelists - Dr. Alan Budney of Dartmouth and Dr. Staci Gruber of Harvard - had heard of the patent, so it doesn't seem to be an obstacle in current research. On the other hand, they both said they knew of no research on marijuana compounds for treatment of Alzheimer's or similar diseases, so maybe this surprising patent has squelched some work.

On another matter - for those of you who were present last night, note that catnip is not the male marijuana plant as alleged by another audience member: It's actually part of the mint family. However, catnip is pharmacalogically similar to marijuana. But don't give marijuana to your cat - it could cause medical issues.


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About this blog

David Brooks has written a science column for the Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph since 1991 - yes, that long - and has overseen this blog since 2006.

He chats weekly with New Hampshire Public Radio about GraniteGeek topics, around 5:50 p.m. on Tuesdays. You can listen to old sessions here.

Contact:   E-mail or call 603-594-6531.

ggScienceCafeSidebar

Free, informal get-togethers at a bar that feature discussion among the audience (everybody is welcome) and experts in various fields. Check the website here.

NEXT CAFE: Wednesday, September 17 (we take the summer off)

TOPIC: Marijuana, the biology of what it does and doesn't do to us.

Location: Killarney's Irish Pub, 9 Northeastern Boulevard (Holiday Inn, just west of Exit 4 on the turnpike).

PAST TOPICS:

2014:
June:
Fluoridation in public water. May: Organic gardening. April: Tele-medicine, or doctoring from afar. March: Bitcoin - what is it? February: The science of allergies. January: Electric cars.

2013:
November:
Multiple sclerosis. October: Genetically modified organisms. September: Aquaponics. June: Flying robots (drones!) May: PTSD and brain tauma in veterans. April: Cats vs. wildlife in NH. March: Mosquito-borne disease. February: The science of brewing. January: 3-D printing, with MakeIt Labs.

2012:
November:
"Dark skies and light pollution" with Discovery Center. October: "The science of concussion." September: "The science of pain management." June: "Arsenic in our environment." May: "Invasive species in New Hampshire" April: "Nanotechnology in business and the lab". March: "Lyme disease in NH". Feb: "Seasonal Affective Disorder." Jan: "Biomass energy"

2011:
Nov.: "Science of Polling." Oct.: "Digital Privacy." Sept: "Vaccinations." June: "Future of Food." May 2011: "Climate Change"

ggScienceCafeSidebar

Alternative power map

Click here to see my alternative-power Google map showing large-scale solar, wind, hydro and nuclear plants in N.H., plus intriguing alternative-power items.

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