Hey. Hi. Yeah… it’s me. Look, I know it’s been a while, but that’s why my bio doesn’t include “responsible adult” in it anywhere. But I’m back now. Oh, and Dave is here, too. Say hi, Dave. Dave? Hmm, must be his nap time. Well, that’s all right. I’m here. And today, I’d like to talk to you about villains.
Villains can be some of the most fun characters to read and write about. A proper villain is as compelling—and occasionally more so—as the protagonist. When writing, often so much focus is put on the protagonist that the villain can fall by the wayside. A villain just can’t be a villain if he (or she) is underdeveloped. A good way to fully render a villain to completion it to loosely base the character on someone real. Want an example? I’ve got the perfect one.
The Personification of Hate and Rage
On September 5, 1930, Carl Panzram was hanged by the neck until dead at U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas. To say the very least, Panzram was not a good man.
In my life I have murdered 21 human beings, I have committed thousands of burglaries, robberies, larcenies, arsons and last but not least I have committed sodomy on more than 1,000 male human beings. For all of these things I am not the least bit sorry […] I hate the whole damned human race including myself.
That excerpt is penned by none other than the man himself and published in Panzram: A Journal of Murder. All quotes included in this entry are credited to that book. I highly recommend you read it. However, if you want an alternative, look no further than Last Podcast on the Left’s three-part series on Panzram.
So, what makes Panzram so appealing in terms of creating a villain? Everything. But I’m going to try to keep this short…ish. Panzram is simultaneously like and unlike the average serial killer. Well, maybe average isn’t the right word, but you catch my meaning. Of the unholy serial killer trifecta—bed wetting, animal cruelty, and arson—Panzram is known to have at least dabbled in two: arson and animal cruelty. However, Panzram regretted his cruelty toward animals. A bit unusual for a serial killer. Furthermore, he specifically used arson as a form of punishment. Arson wasn’t about pleasure or destruction, rather it was about revenge against someone who’d done him harm.
The Blissful Formative Years
Looking at Panzram’s childhood and encounters with authority—he was in and out of lock-up since age 11—it’s not hard to understand how his mentality could be so dark. So fucking angry. At 11, Panzram was sent to a reform school for stealing apples, a piece of cake, and a pistol from a neighbor. At this school, they would use punishment in the form torture:
They used to have a large wooden block which we were bent over and tied face downward after first being stripped naked. Then a large towel was soaked in salt water and spread on our backs from the shoulders to the knees. Then the man who was doing the whipping took a large strap about ¼ of an inch thick by 4 inches and about two feet long. This strap had a lot of little round holes punched through it. Every time that whip came down on the body the skin would come up through these little holes in the strap and after 25 or 30 times of this, little blisters would form and then burst, and right there and then, hell began. The salt water would do the rest.
That was happening to 11-year-olds by reformers trying to beat religion into them. But it gets worse. After his release, around age 13-14, Panzram was gangraped by hobos on a train. He says:
I told them no. But my wishes didn’t make any difference to them. What they couldn’t get by moral persuasion the proceeded to get by force. I cried, begged and pleaded for mercy, pity and sympathy, but nothing I could say or do could sway them from their purpose. I left that box car a sadder, sicker but wiser boy than I was when I entered it.
And that shit happened again not too long after! Panzram’s only education was in the form of the strong physical brutalizing the weak. Through his encounters with everyone from hobos to law enforcement, he learned that “might makes right.” From his early encounters with men, Panzram learned that sodomy was a display of strength. It wasn’t about pleasure, it was about power.
During one particularly lengthy prison stay—he was constantly breaking out early—Panzram had to carry the 50-lb iron ball shackled to him three miles to the rock quarry, work eight and a half hours busting rocks, then carry the ball the three miles back to prison. This lasted for six months. You better believe that motha’ fucker was jacked after that.
So began Panzram’s reign of terror.
Writing a Villain
By looking at Panzram’s own account of his life, we get to see a great deal of his thinking, his beliefs, his motivations, and so on. Combine that with others’ view of the man—many of whom stated that his very presence was larger than life—and we start to get a complete picture. This man, whose motto was “rob them all, rape them all, and kill them all” is definitely not one-dimensional. And neither should fictional villains be.
When creating a villain, start from the beginning. Look at the formative years of some of the world’s most prolific serial killers and use that psychology to help you form a background for your character. Think of how you want your villain to be seen by other characters, and by readers. I picked Panzram as an example because he’s both charismatic and terrifying, manipulative and driven by unadulterated hate, uneducated and intelligent. He’s the basis from which you could create the sociopathic villain that everyone likes and trusts until it’s too late or the seeming monster who seeks power and revenge. Either of those choices could build a striking, engaging villain that captivates readers.
Over the course of the next few days, I’ll be posting a four-part fiction series focusing on a villain. This particular series came about in a creative writing class from years ago, and sees a Disney villain going on a blind date. My villain is Chernabog. I’ve revisited the original series to incorporate elements of Panzram. I look forward to sharing it with you.
This “one-a-week” posting makes me feel as though I’m neglecting you. But, needs must when you have bills to pay. Today, we’re going to talk about fitness and well being. This isn’t a “tips,” “tricks,” or “diet” post. Perish the thought. This is sharing what works for me and how I found it. Think of this post as motivation to find what will work for you. I hate to tell you this, but not everyone is the same. Yes, Dave, people do think that.
Pause for slow blink or over-dramatic eye roll. Go ahead, I’ll wait…
Done? Okay, cool. Let’s get to it!
The Struggle is Real
When I was trying to lose weight years ago, my mom would always tell me, “Don’t go on a diet. Change your diet.” I didn’t really take that to heart at the time, because I was a young, fat girl and that is a sin in this society and I had to lose weight now, no, not now, right now! I was 262 lbs. at my heaviest. By the way, I’m 6’ and built like a linebacker and yes, when I was young, some people thought I was a boy. I had short hair at the time. Don’t judge me.
Anyway, I did the whole Jenny Craig thing. That worked pretty well—I got down to about 220 lbs. Then I joined an MMA-gym for five months and got down to about 190 lbs. Then I became super poor for several months and subsisted on discontinued M&M’s I bought from work for $.11/pack. That got me down to 175 lbs. I don’t recommend that. I also ate cheap Ramen noodles for a week and I was pretty sure my veins were turning to cardboard. Definitely don’t recommend that. Finally, my finances smoothed out—and I often shopped at the grocery store that is “mom and dad’s fridge”—and I could eat normal people food. I maintained 180 lbs. for about a year and a half. For me, that’s a good weight.
Then, about a year and a half ago, I blew the fuck up! I got back up to about 215 lbs. I couldn’t go to the gym. I was at the doctor—a lot of doctors—a lot of the time for a back injury. It was a rough time. I went to physical therapy for a third time and hit the jackpot with the all-star team at Eskridge and White. I got better. A lot better. Two months ago, I got back into the gym. And God, is it good.
So, this little intro might not help everyone, but I wanted to include it because “fitness” does not come easily for many people.
Putting in the Work
When I started back at the gym during my physical therapy, I was pretty limited. I started easy with PT-approved exercises and spent time on the rowing machine and stationary bike. I started to jog, then got bursitis in my left knee and had to take two weeks off. When I got back to the gym after those two weeks, I had new PT exercises to incorporate for knee strength. About three weeks ago, I finally got to the point where I could mix in non-PT exercises. So, I started hitting the weights hard and doing a mix of full-body and isolation moves. It was two weeks ago that I found my favorite thing to do at the gym: supersets with supersets in between, working from top to bottom throughout the week. That sounds kind of weird, so I’ll break it down:
- Monday: Three shoulder/chest supersets with three core supersets between
- Tuesday: Three bicep/tricep supersets with three core supersets between
- Wednesday: Three back supersets with three core supersets between
- Thursday: Three hip/glute supersets with three core supersets between
- Friday: Three leg supersets with three core supersets between
I never do the same core work twice in a week, and all the core work I do incorporates elements of the muscle group/s I’m working that day. The reason I combine two different types of supersets is because it works for me. There is little to no rest time, which keeps my heart rate up. When I’m dripping sweat less than half way through the workout, I know I’m on the right track. Once I started this specific workout regimen, sleep came so much easier. I’m the kind of person who has to take sleep aids—NuQuil—so this is a big step up for me. I’m getting more, and better quality, sleep. I’m also less tired during the day and in a much better mood.
So, here’s the thing: Before I found this regimen, I had a lot of misses. I tried a bunch of different workouts I’d found online and nothing stuck. Nothing felt right. It was only when I mashed a bunch of things together that I started seeing and feeling results. And, a lot of what I mashed together stemmed from PT exercises. My advice? Try as many things as you can until you can build a routine that works for you. Mix it up, mash it together, and if something doesn’t work, toss it.
Back to that diet thing, huh? Yes, Dave, back to the diet thing. Around the time I was figuring out my fitness regimen, I was changing my diet. That includes when to eat as much as what. The “what” to eat part wasn’t hard. Having an Aldi near my house makes it even easier—because it’s affordable. This change was more accidental than anything else. One week, I only had about $10 to spend on groceries to last me the week. So, I bought a bag of white rice, a cucumber, guacamole, and a dozen eggs. Mix all that together and chill it, and that was my lunch and dinner for the week. I’ll get to the lack of breakfast—the “when” to eat— thing in a moment.
I built my dietary change around those four staples. From there, I added smoked salmon and imitation crab—because I started making a lot of poke—as well as onions, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, strawberries, blueberries, and yogurt. That doesn’t sound like much of a variety, but I can tell you that when you get creative, you can make many dishes out of those few ingredients.
I stuck with this ingredient combination because it met my taste bud needs as well as my cravings. Yes, I will totally have a bag of Sour Cream & Onion chips and Jack Link’s beef jerky on cheat days—which happen once per week and only last for one meal. By cravings, I don’t mean “Man, I really want some ice cream.” By cravings, I mean when you’ve gone without a fruit or vegetable for “x” about of time and your body goes into need mode. I don’t know if that happens to everyone. If I go without broccoli for a certain amount of time, it’s like going without heroin—come on, man, mama needs her broccoli, just one stalk is all, come on.
Here we go. I’m going to give you my advice again. Find your staples. Find your main carb source, main fat source, main protein source, and main vegetable (or fruit) and build from there. No, Dave, pasta, butter, beef, and mashed potatoes are not the right path. Think healthy thoughts.
This will probably be my favorite talking point, as it calls back to another article/blog I wrote, which you can find here or here. The article talks about caloric restriction (CR), which is all kinds of good for your brain. You love your brain, right? It’s no secret that CR is a good tool in weight loss, but in terms of brain health, it’s the spacing out of meals that’s the kicker. There’s an eating schedule that capitalizes on the brain and body benefits of CR—intermittent fasting (IF). There are multiple variations of IF, one of the most common of which is 16/8. The 16/8 eating schedule—sometimes called Leangains—has you fasting for 16 hours and eating during the other eight.
I’ve tried doing the 16/8 before, eating from 7:00a to 3:00p, but it didn’t last. Part of this is because breakfast is a hassle and I’m a night eater. I have always eaten more toward the last half of the day. This schedule was never going to work for me. I picked this eight-hour eating window because I work out in the mornings, and everything you read talks about making sure to get in a post-workout meal (unless you’ve eaten pre-workout). Damn you, Google! I thought I could trust you!
Here’s the thing. For me, IF is not only not impossible, it’s easy. It even comes naturally. I just had the wrong eating window. For the past two weeks, I’ve been back on IF with my eating window from noon to 8:00p. That means exercising fasted, then continuing to fast for another five hours. In the hard-core fitness world, this is frowned upon for all kinds of reasons: you’ll lose muscle mass, you won’t see any gains, you’ll be sore longer, blah blah blah. Is that true for some people? Well, sure, but not for me.
Since combining my me-designed exercise regimen with my me-designed change of diet and IF schedule, things have happened:
- Better, longer sleep
- Better mood
- Slimming and toning
- Increase in strength
My scale says the same thing it said two weeks ago. My clothes fit a bit looser as my thighs, waist, back, and arms have slimmed. My arms and thighs feel much more solid—not that I go around occasionally poking them or anything. I’m lifting 10-15 lbs. heavier depending on the workout. I don’t get as sore or for as long, even after I’ve worked to failure and can barely get my coffee mug close enough to my mouth to drink—or lift my arms high enough to wash my hair. When these things combine—don’t make a Captain Planet joke, don’t make a Captain Planet joke—they tell me that the post-workout meal isn’t necessary. At least, currently, not for me.
Find What Works for You
You probably hear/read this a lot. It’s great advice. I’ve gotten more results from the past two weeks of doing what’s right for me than I did during two months of personal training and one-on-one Pilates. I’m not saying either of those things are bad. I loved my Pilates trainer and would happily go back. Many people can—and do—benefit from personal training. That combination, at that time, didn’t work for me. What does work is physical therapy-based workouts, a dietary change revolving around frugality, and an eating schedule that is convenient. That creates a sustainable lifestyle change.
So, wash your hands—and eyes—of all the absolutes you find in fitness articles and only focus on the bit that says, “Find what’s right for you.”
Hello there! I’ve been meaning to bring you some fun new something or other, but my time and attention have been elsewhere. Also, I couldn’t really decide what I wanted to bring to your attention. Then, I came across Body Labs. According to its website, the Manhattan-based company was founded in 2013 with the goal of digitizing and organizing “data and information related to human body shape, pose, and motion.” The company’s mission is to “transform the human body into a digital platform upon and around which goods and services can be designed, produced, bought, and sold.”
Body Labs has gotten quite a bit of press in recent years, the most abundant of which falls into specific categories, such as…
Body Labs is hitting the right commercial buttons using all the right trending tech. Take online clothing purchases, for instance. Unless you’re pretty intimate with the brand, ordering clothes online is a gamble. It’s hard to find the right size when you can’t try something on. It’s also hard to know if it’ll look as good on you as it does on the person modeling it. According to Judy Frankel, “Of the $1.2 trillion in worldwide footwear and apparel sales, $62.4 billion were returned for improper fit in 2015.”
But, the avatars made by Body Labs could potentially cut that number way down. Creating an avatar takes your height, weight, and detailed measurements into account utilizing full body profile, frontal, and backside images. Just using the images gets the avatar pretty damn close to right, but if the measurements are off a bit, you can easily go in and tweak them.
While that’s all well and good—and it really is—even better is the future potential of this tech in this same consumerism capacity. Think about going into a clothing store and using these avatars (with a store-linked system) to eliminate the necessity of trying anything on. Bliss. Or, going a step further, using these avatars to get bespoke clothing, made in-store, just for you via 3D printer. Double bliss. Manufacturing something like clothing would be more economical this way as well, seeing as there wouldn’t be a surplus of unsold merchandise or unused materials.
Most of the current press on Body Labs in the “medical” section pertains to body weight. Specifically, creating a better way to consider an individual’s health spectrum than using BMI numbers. While BMI takes weight and height into account, the measurement doesn’t consider musculature, body structure, or where excess fat is located. That means healthy, fit individuals (like pro athletes) can slip into the obese category of BMI. Not taking into consideration the location of excess fat—around the thighs and upper arms versus around the torso—means that a healthy, average size person can fall into the same category as an individual with increased heart health risks. Body Labs’ body modeling can help individualize the body mass spectrum, taking you out of the wrong category and more precisely determining health risks.
Body Labs’ body modeling is also good for helping to properly fit a prosthetic to an individual. In his article, “The Future of 3D-printed Prosthetics,” Jonathan Schwartz discusses how some companies are making the manufacture and availability of personalized prosthetics easier and cheaper. I can definitely see 3D-printed prosthetics as the way of the future. And, with Body Labs’ body modeling, this process can boast a natural fitting prosthetic.
There’s also the chance that body modeling could help in recovery. Think about this scenario: You have an avatar with full movement tracking. It’s all the rage, so of course you do. It’s the new Instatwitterbook—VR style! One day, you have a car accident after which your mobility is limited. Let’s say your back was hurt. A new, full movement body model is made of you after the accident and is played beside the pre-accident model. The pre-accident model is now the standard—it’s the level of mobility to which you want to get back. So, over the course of physical therapy new body models are made to compare progress. That’s cool, but how does it help? By comparing progressing body models to the standard, you can better target exact problems areas to make recovery faster, more effective, and longer lasting.
Don’t be afraid of the future
It’s true that body modeling isn’t only for the good of fashion and niche medical industries. Not only can immersive VR improve, but the ability to predict movements without using body markers opens up the door for expansive VR game play. Want to play D&D at the park without having to build your own costume so people won’t stare or try to beat you up, not that that’s happened to me or anyone I know, shut up don’t ask questions!
Sorry, got a bit sidetracked. The point is, this type of tech has the potential to improve commercial markets, niche medical industries, and—and—entertainment!
Hello there, guys and dolls! We’re about to get into a topic I really didn’t want to get into. Or, maybe it’s a topic I thought I’d never have to get into. Either way, here we are, about to discuss vaccines. And anti-vaxxers, of course. And how the anti-vaccination movement is contributing to an upswing in preventable infectious diseases. This is a topic I’m pretty passionate about—as in, it tends to make me angry when I think about it.
Here’s the thing: A parent’s job is to protect their children. That includes taking necessary steps to protect them from infectious diseases when possible. Likewise, it is each individual’s job—or at least it should be their motivation—to protect others from infectious diseases. Not even Dave would breath in your face if he had Mono. Anyway, those “protect” instincts are essentially the reasons behind having vaccines in the first place—not just because scientists like people to do science on. See here:
- Infectious disease “A” is devastating to human health.
- Infectious disease “A” is preventable.
- Therefore, let’s do what we can to prevent infectious disease “A.”
When this formula happens, we get the results we saw with Polio which, in case you were unaware, was wiped out in the US. We’ve seen similar results with other infection diseases, as well. We’ll look at those later when I throw a bunch of statistics at you like a dodgeball champ.
The Spark that Caused a Movement
The problem is less of a problem and more of a shit-storm of problems—pardon my dirty mouth—starting with a theory. At a press conference in 1998, Andrew Wakefield voiced concerns that the MMR vaccine might be linked to autism via gastrointestinal issues. Susan Dominus explains:
[Wakefield’s] belief, based on a paper he wrote about 12 children, is that the three vaccines, given together, can alter a child’s immune system, allowing the measles virus in the vaccine to infiltrate the intestines; certain proteins, escaping from the intestines, could then reach and harm neurons in the brain.
Subsequent peer reviews found Wakefield’s theory unable to hold up to scrutiny. The theory was debunked. According to Dominus, the General Medical Council in Britain, “after a lengthy hearing, citing numerous ethical violations that tainted his work,” revoked Wakefield’s medical license. His funding was unethical and his research was fraudulent. Still, the damage had been done and Wakefield’s theory became the clinging dingleberry that sparked the anti-vaccination movement.
Fanning the Flames
Oh, my sweet, sweet internet. It’s just the best, right? It gives us kittens, Cracked.com, porn, recipes, and innumerable other awesome things. Yes, Dave, I included porn. Can’t you read? But, the internet is also the number one tool used to exacerbate fear, hate, misinformation, stupidity, porn. I mean, there’s the news of course, but really… is it even a contest?
By now I think I can confidently say that we are all familiar with the phrase, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The internet is a powerful tool and, as with any tool, the wielder decides how it’s used. That’s unfortunate when it comes to things like research, where you really have to work to weed out the mostly true from the moderately true and the moderately true from the questionable and the questionable from the modern day equivalent of “signs your neighbor is a witch.”
The internet is a plethora of misinformation and the platform on which anti-vaxxers can “learn” and spread the word—spread the fear—of the dangers of vaccines. Lena H. Sun explains, “One part of the anti-vaccine movement’s message is that vaccine-preventable diseases aren’t dangerous if people get modern medical care. But that’s a myth, and the failure to vaccinate can be catastrophic.”
And did I mention that anti-vaxxers are not only endangering their own children, they’re endangering the children of others? The wee humans too young for their first round of vaccinations are no longer protected by the vaccinated population around them. Now, they are subject to getting infectious diseases from non-vaccinated children. And it’s costing them their lives.
Texas health data shows a steady uptick in diseases such as pertussis and mumps in recent years. A recent mumps outbreak in Johnson County, southwest of Dallas, sickened at least 167 people, mostly students. In 2013, Texas experienced the largest outbreak of whooping cough, or pertussis, since 1959: nearly 4,000 cases. Five newborns who were too young to be vaccinated died.
What’s the World Coming to?
The uptick in preventable infectious diseases since the anti-vaccination movement kicked into high gear is ridiculous. Minnesota is going through its worst measles outbreak in three decades. The 2014-15 measles outbreak in California led to the state passing one of the US’s strictest requirement laws, according to Sun. Lianna Matt with Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) explains:
Measles was declared eradicated from the United States in 2000 but has recently resurged, with 667 cases in 2014 and 189 in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Pertussis dropped to fewer than 2,000 US cases for several years in the 1970s and ’80s before roaring back to more than 48,000 cases in 2012, a 60-year high, according to the CDC.
Outbreaks are not exclusively linked to anti-vaxxer population pockets. I’ll put that admission out there right now. Densely populated areas are higher risks for outbreaks, for example. Also a potential factor is waning vaccine immunity, which tends to happen when an individual waits too long between vaccination rounds. The CDC backs this information as well.
And yet… Highly vaccinated communities are more easily able to be rid of an outbreak. That’s a huge deal not just for individuals, but also for the economy. Outbreak intervention is extremely expensive in both dollars and man-hours. So, the elephant in the room has been addressed. The spike in preventable infectious diseases is not only due to the anti-vaccination movement. That doesn’t negate anything you read earlier. Non-vaccinated children—and yes, also adults—risk higher rates of contracting a preventable infectious disease, they risk more severe damage caused by the disease, and they risk having the disease longer. That last part is a detriment to those around them.
The longer you have an infectious disease, the farther you can spread it. And it will keep spreading until it has no more hosts or until it meets enough vaccinated individuals that it burns out. Along the way, there may be casualties.
Look at us! All together again, chatting about things and stuff. Well, one-way chatting. Which is actually less chatting than—What? Oh, ok. Dave says I’m rambling.
Today, we’re going to talk about Star Trek—sort of. We’re going to talk about a piece of tech on Star Trek called the Tricorder.
You do remember the Tricorder, right?
If you don’t know, Star Trek was created in the 1960s by a fella named Gene Roddenberry. According to his son, Rod (actual name Eugene), Gene was highly influenced by “the next big thing” in science to develop the tech for the show. Rod explained that his father would reach out to the scientific community, find out what the newest thing was, and ask, “What’s next?” It’s likely for this reason that many of the show’s gadgets are believable and, now, are replicable. You know, like the Tricorder, by way of the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE competition.
The competition was comprised of teams from all over the world, including finalists Basil Leaf Technologies (US), Dynamical Biomarkers Group (Taiwan), Cloud DX (Canada), Aezon (US), Danvantri (India), DMI (US)—DMX was busy in rehab—and Intelesens Responsive Healthcare (UK). The competition officially launched in 2012. The teams were tasked with creating something consumers could use at home to accurately monitor health:
The devices are expected to accurately diagnose 13 health conditions (12 diseases and the absence of conditions)—10 required core conditions and a choice of three elective conditions—in addition to capturing five real-time health vital signs, independent of a health care worker or facility, and in a way that provides a compelling consumer experience.
- Required Core Health Conditions (10): Anemia, Atrial Fibrillation (AFib), Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Diabetes, Leukocytosis, Pneumonia, Otitis Media, Sleep Apnea, Urinary Tract Infection, Absence of condition
- Elective Health Conditions (Choice of 3): Cholesterol Screen, Food-borne Illness, HIV Screen, Hypertension, Hypothyroidism/Hyperthyroidism, Melanoma, Mononucleosis, Pertussis (Whooping Cough), Shingles, Strep Throat
- Required Health Vital Signs (5): Blood Pressure, Heart Rate, Oxygen Saturation, Respiratory Rate, Temperature
The Tricorder had no strict aesthetic parameters, but could not be over five lbs. Hand-held and all that. Earlier this year, the winners were awarded. Final Frontier Medical Devices—the Basil Leaf Technologies team—took home first prize, with Dynamical Biomarkers Group coming in second. And, while the competition is over, the work doesn’t stop there.
Tricorder: Coming to a Store Near You
Qualcomm Foundation, which sponsored the competition, developed a post-prize fund in order to continue product development, consumer testing, industry adoption, retail commercialization, and more. According to XPRIZE, “Along with several strategic partners including the Roddenberry Foundation, XPRIZE and the Qualcomm Foundation will implement a series of initiatives to assist and support the teams in the further realization of their innovations.”
The initiative to bring the Tricorder to life—and to your fingertips—stems from the need to improve personal health in the US. The Tricorder will be able to help monitor existing/recurring health problems, as well as diagnose new illnesses. While the scope of diagnosis might seem relatively small, what the Tricorder—is scans the right word? ‘Cause I’m going to use it—scans for are the more prolific ailments in the US today. That means saving money on co-pays. It means saving money on extensive tests—some of which you don’t need. It means saving yourself the misery and frustration of going to the doctor in the first place.
Sponsors continuing support of the Tricorder are looking to educate citizens on the future of mobile health in the consumer industry. They are working on business plans for commercialization. They’re even working toward getting the Tricorder in stores, including Lowes—in the aisle between first-aid kits and soldering tools. In the years to come, and with a far less than perfect healthcare system, having the Tricorder commercially available will be a benefit we can’t afford not to have.
I know, I know. It’s been days. But, you can relax now. I’m here. Oh, and Dave, of course. Dave is always here. Today we (but mostly I) are going to discuss the fun, exciting, and controversial topic of genetic manipulation! I’ll hold for applause. Specifically, we’re talking about genome editing. The first quarter of this year (that’s 2017, in case you’re reading this in the future or are a time traveler) has seen exciting news coming from the genetics field and with the help of CRISPR (that’s clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) gene editing, advancements are being made pretty swiftly.
So, CRISPR jumped on the scene as a more affordable, more precise, and quicker way to manipulate genes. CRISPR is made up of an enzyme (that’s the Cas9 part, which is often dropped from the acronym) and a bit of guide RNA. I’m going to share with you my favorite description of the CRISPR process, which was written by Sarah Zhang in this article:
Cas9 is an enzyme that snips DNA, and CRISPR is a collection of DNA sequences that tells Cas9 exactly where to snip. All biologists have to do is feed Cas9 the right sequence, called a guide RNA, and boom, you can cut and paste bits of DNA sequence into the genome wherever you want. [… ] Cas9 can recognize a sequence about 20 bases long, so it can be better tailored to a specific gene. All you have to do is design a target sequence using an online tool and order the guide RNA to match. It takes no longer than few days for the guide sequence to arrive by mail.
The benefits of using CRISPR gene editing extend from the agricultural side of things to health and wellness in humans, our pets, and potentially our future children. According to this article in New Science, “David Ishee, a dog breeder from Mississippi, told the US Food and Drug Administration that he planned to use CRISPR gene editing to fix a mutation that makes Dalmatians prone to kidney disease.” Want more? In a Wired article by Amy Maxmen, we can see a bigger run down of the goings on with CRISPR:
Using the three-year-old technique, researchers have already reversed mutations that cause blindness, stopped cancer cells from multiplying, and made cells impervious to the virus that causes AIDS. Agronomists have rendered wheat invulnerable to killer fungi like powdery mildew, hinting at engineered staple crops that can feed a population of 9 billion on an ever-warmer planet. Bioengineers have used CRISPR to alter the DNA of yeast so that it consumes plant matter and excretes ethanol, promising an end to reliance on petrochemicals.
A lot of good could come from the ongoing study and use of CRISPR, but I know the one thing you’re all wondering…
The Question of Designer Babies
Will this breakthrough lead to the ability to produce designer babies? This is the $64,000 question, right? And, also… Is it ethical? When will it be possible? What are the consequences? Let’s start with the ethics aspect.
Previous studies utilizing CRISPR gene editing in human embryos have been done using only abnormal embryos—as in, embryos that couldn’t actually become children. But, this route was ineffective. The embryos’ genetic abnormalities don’t give an accurate look at what might be achievable in healthy embryos. So, when all else fails, there must be a compromise.
At the Third Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou Medical University, a team has switched from abnormal embryos to “normal embryos derived from immature eggs donated by people undergoing IVF,” according to Michael Le Page. “Immature eggs like these are usually discarded by IVF clinics, as the success rate is much lower than with mature eggs. However, children have been born from such immature eggs.”
Toeing the ethics line? Maybe. But, as is the case with a deceased organ donor’s organs, if one person isn’t using it, someone else can.
While utilizing CRISPR gene editing could lead to designer baby manufacturing, we’re a long way from that. Which means we’re a ways off from discussing the consequences. For the most part, current embryonic studies are focused on isolating and editing genetic disorders. The aforementioned team at Third Affiliated Hospital, for instance, is focused on the genetic disorders causing favism and betathalassemia, both of which affect the blood.
At the current stage, these types of studies are running into their own problems—primarily mosaicism. Mosaicism is when, during cell division, both repaired and unrepaired DNA is present.
While progress is being made in the genome editing arena, there is still quite a road that needs to be traveled. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your outlook) science in traveling that road on a high-speed rail instead of a horse-drawn carriage.
Welcome back! Good to see ya, nice to meet’cha, let’s dive right in! Today’s topic is solely focused on suspicion and how it can affect your social life and mental processes. Of course, it’s only reasonable that I explain how this topic popped into my head.
You see, kiddies, I get extremely suspicious when certain people ask me questions. Whether it’s a stranger or an acquaintance, there are just some people I feel should not be asking me things—no matter how innocent the question. Take this conversation, for instance:
I’m in the kitchen area at work, heating up my lunch in a microwave.
Co-worker: Heating up your lunch?
Co-worker: What are you having?
Co-worker: What kind of soup?
Me: Homemade soup.
Co-worker: Well, what’s in it?
Me: ::shrugs:: Vegetables and broth.
Yes, I knew what she wanted when asking what kind of soup. And, yes, I knew exactly what was in it. Yes, Dave, seriously. I can put edible things together in a bowl and pour broth over it. Anyway, the problem was this: I didn’t want to answer. Similarly, I don’t want to answer when asked about my prior weekend or my plans for the upcoming weekend. I don’t know why. My only reasoning is: It’s none of this person’s business. The next minute, I’ll turn around and tell the withheld information to a different co-worker. And, I’m not the only one who does this.
For the most part, we all encounter people who rub us the wrong way, people we instantly don’t like without even a word exchanged. I believe the type of guarded suspicion some of us have when asked questions by certain people is a symptom of this. So, why are some people suspicious in this way, and why do certain people seem to rub us the wrong way?
Looking at the Science Behind Suspicion
Understanding suspicion through science is a good where to start with our conundrum. In order to figure out how people assess the credibility of others, scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute (VTC) investigated the parts of the brain that function in suspicion: the amygdala and the parahippocampal gyrus. The amygdala “plays a central role in processing fear and emotional memories and the parahippocampal gyrus […] is associated with declarative memory and the recognition of scenes,” according to an article featured on VTC’s website. The study went like this:
76 pairs of players, each with a buyer and a seller, competed in 60 rounds of a simple bargaining game while having their brains scanned [using an fMRI]. At the beginning of each round, the buyer would learn the value of a hypothetical widget and suggest a price to the seller. The seller would then set the price. If the seller’s price fell below the widget’s given value, the trade would go through, with the seller receiving the selling price and the buyer receiving any difference between the selling price and the actual value. If the seller’s price exceeded the value, though, the trade would not execute, and neither party would receive cash.
The outcome? According to Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and the Computational Psychiatry Unit at VTC, and the leader of the study, “The more uncertain a seller was about a buyer’s credibility […] the more active his or her parahippocampal gyrus became.”
Knowing what parts of the brain are most active during a state of suspicion is the first step in understanding the emotion, as well as where the suspicion is based. Heightened activity in the amygdala would, theoretically, signify fear-based suspicion, while heightened activity in the parahippocampal gyrus would signify suspicion based on mistrust. Montague suggest the parahypocampal gyrus acts “like an inborn lie detector.”
“So, what?” you demand. “How is this actionable information and why should I care?” Good question! It just so happens that…
Suspicion can Cost You Profit… and Worse
First of all, not everything is about you, my precious snowflakes. So, let’s look at the bigger picture. Like most things, suspicion in moderation can be quite good. There is a line, though. Being overly suspicious—either from fear or mistrust—can have negative consequences on financial success. According to Meghana Bhatt, one of the study’s authors:
People [taking part in the study] with a high baseline suspicion were often interacting with fairly trustworthy buyers, so in ignoring the information those buyers provided, they were giving up potential profits. The ability to recognize credible information in a competitive environment can be just as important as detecting untrustworthy behavior.
Not only can individuals with high baseline suspicion have a harder time achieving financial success, they can have a harder time achieving success in their careers. This can lead to a host of new problems, including an increase in stress and anxiety, as well as depression.
Speaking of the mental aspects, studies in suspicion can have implications for psychiatric disorders. “The fact that increased amygdala activation corresponds with an inability to detect trustworthy behavior may provide insight into the social interactions of people with anxiety disorders, who often have increased activity in this area of the brain,” explains Montague.
In short, studies such as these can help pinpoint sources of certain psychiatric disorders, which can better help scientists nail down proper treatments. But, these types of studies could also help to create a treatment or healthy way in which to promote balance for those with high baseline suspicion. Perhaps a better question is: When my internal lie detector goes off, who should I trust?
I’ve previously written a couple of blog posts on tech advancements aimed at aiding movement inhibited individuals. This is another one of those, focused singularly on Brain-Machine Interface (BMI, also called Brain-Computer Interface, BCI), which we’ve touched on before. The reason I’m putting a good deal of focus on these types of topics—aside from the badassness of it—is because of my own physical issues.
You see kiddies, when I was the tender age of 16, I had a horseback riding accident that left me with a rotated hip. That one injury has since plagued me with low-back movement issues that are painful, sometimes debilitating, and decrease quality of life. On top of that, I have pretty bad knee issues—which also stem from the original rotated hip problem. I’ve had three epidurals, two cortisone shots at the knee joint, and so much physical therapy I count it as my second job. The one thing I want to do, physically, compounds all the wounds.
I just want to run. I love to run. I love the way it makes me feel before, during, and after. But, even jogging ¼ mile kills my knees and stresses my back. So, what must it be like for someone who just wants to walk, or even just stand? Life is a lot of things, but movement plays such a significant role in life that it’s something we think about lightly. You know, until we can’t do it anymore.
So, while robotics, neuroscience, and advancements in technology are blow-your-mind-like-a-big-league-hotdog awesome, combining the three to improve quality of life for thousands—millions?—of people is blow-your-mind-in-the-archaic-sense-of-the-word awesome. So, without further ado, let’s dig into the real meat of this blog.
Allowing Locked-In ALS Patients to Communicate
I know what ALS is, but I had never previously heard of the “Locked-In” ALS condition. Thanks to my ignorance, you’ll all get a bit of definition time. You’re welcome. ALS patients suffering from the Locked-In condition are considered to be in the severe stage of ALS, wherein they are conscious and have brain function, but are unable to move. At all.
Science is working toward giving such patients as these a way to communicate again. According to the article Locked-In ALS Patients Answer Yes or No Questions with Wearable fNIRS Device, published earlier this month in Neuroscience News:
Using a wearable system developed by SUNY Downstate Medical Center researcher Dr. Randall Barbour, a team of investigators led by Professor Niels Birbaumer at the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Switzerland and University of Tübingen in Germany were able to measure the brain’s hemodynamic response to a series of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions, thus allowing these patients to communicate.
While other tech has been used for this goal—EEG, fMRI, etc.—fNIRS (that’s functional near infrared spectroscopic) imaging has proved to be the breakthrough tech needed. But, what does this mean? Well, this is potentially the first step in bettering quality of life for Locked-In ALS patients. Communication, like movement, is a substantial part of life. It’s why we have language areas in the brain, Dave! But, this isn’t the only advance being made with BMI. Next up…
BMI Opens Doors to Paralysis Patients
In Bruce Goldman’s article, Brain-Computer Interface Advance Allows Fast, Accurate Typing by People with Paralysis, published by Stanford Medicine, we get another look into BMI advancement. I fully anticipate all the readers here will visit the original article, which means I’m not listing all the scientists involved. Instead, I’m going to refer to them as “The Team.” You’re welcome. Again.
In this study, The Team worked with three paralysis patients, using an intracordical BMI (or in the case of this study, the term BCI is preferred) to send brain signals to a computer. Goldman explains that:
The investigational system used in the study, an intracortical brain-computer interface called the BrainGate Neural Interface System, represents the newest generation of BCIs […] An intracortical BCI uses a tiny silicon chip, just over one-sixth of an inch square, from which protrude 100 electrodes that penetrate the brain to about the thickness of a quarter and tap into the electrical activity of individual nerve cells in the motor cortex.
These are the nerve cells that send the signals the brain would give off during specific movement tasks (the right hand moving and clicking a computer mouse, for instance). The signals are decoded and converted in real time by a special algorithm, which then allows the patients to control a cursor on the screen in front of them to type out words at a higher speed and accuracy than seen in previous methods. According to Chethan Pandarinath, one of the lead authors of the research report, “We’re achieving communication rates that many people with arm and hand paralysis would find useful. That’s a critical step for making devices that could be suitable for real-world use.”
This is not only exciting, it’s groundbreaking for movement inhibited individuals. Going forward, this tech could help with general household tasks we take for granted—opening doors, changing the thermostat, controlling the TV—and who knows what else?—just by using your mind. This gives movement inhibited individuals access to and a modicum of control over their surroundings. That’s seriously impressive.
Krishna Shenoy, an integral part of The Team—and whose lab pioneered the algorithm for the BMI interface—expects that around five years from now, they may be looking at a “self-calibrating, fully-implanted wireless system [that] can be used without caregiver assistance, has no cosmetic impact, and can be used around the clock.”
Improving on the Improvements
Now, we head over to San Diego State University (SDSU) to learn about new electrodes with increased durability that last longer and transmit clearer signals than current electrodes. This news comes to us from the article Big Improvement to Brain-Computer Interface, published by ScienceDaily with source material provided by SDSU. Here’s a rundown of the study:
The Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE)—a collaboration of San Diego State University with the University of Washington and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—is working on an implantable brain chip that can record neural electrical signals and transmit them to receivers in the limb, bypassing [spinal cord] damage and restoring movement.
The improvement here is the material out of which the chip is made. Current “state-of-the-art” electrodes are made from thin-film platinum, but researchers with CSNE are utilizing glassy carbon. According to the article, “This material is about 10 times smoother than granular thin-film platinum, meaning it corrodes less easily under electrical stimulation and lasts much longer than platinum or other metal electrodes.” These electrodes are being used both along the surface of and inside the brain for more complete—single neuron and cluster—data.
A doctoral grad student in the lab is even taking things one step further. According to the article:
Mieko Hirabayashi is exploring a slightly different application of this technology. She’s working with rats to find out whether precisely calibrated electrical stimulation can cause new neural growth within the spinal cord. The hope is that this stimulation could encourage new neural cells to grow and replace damaged spinal cord tissue in humans. The new glassy carbon electrodes will allow her to stimulate, read the electrical signals of, and detect the presence of neurotransmitters in the spinal cord better than ever before.
Every year, new advances in tech are being made. But, seeing tech advancements geared toward improving quality of life for movement inhibited individuals is… well… awesome.
I am concerned.
Well, I’ll back up a moment and talk you through that. There are a couple of issues that ebb and flow as “hot topics” and neither has anything to do with the other. The First Amendment is one. Eating disorders—specifically anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN)—is the other. I say “eating” disorders, but I think they are more aptly put into the category of “anxiety” disorders. But, that’s not really the topic right now. The topic, what has me concerned, is this: There are websites—quite a number of them, in fact—that glorify these disorders.
Pro-Ana (anorexia) and Pro-Mia (bulimia) websites have message boards where tips and advice are shared, not on how to overcome the disorder, but how to hide it better and be more efficient at it.
For obvious reasons, I won’t be linking to any of these sites, as I normally would.
Why do these sites exist?
Let’s turn to our friends over at ANAD, the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc. (what a mouthful), to get a little insight into this. According to ANAD:
- ~ 30 million people regardless of age or gender suffer from an eating disorder in the US
- Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness (within the subset of eating disorders, AN has the highest mortality rate)
- In a study following active duty military personnel over time, 5.5 percent of women and four percent of men had an eating disorder at the beginning of the study, and within just a few years of continued service, 3.3 percent more women and 2.6 percent more men developed an eating disorder
- Nine percent of American women suffer from AN in their lifetime
- One in five AN deaths is by suicide
- Five percent of American women suffer from BN in their lifetime
This is maybe one third of the stats you can find on ANAD’s site. 30 million people in the US. That’s 9.2 percent of the US population. That’s 2,925,000 women suffering from AN and 4,875,000 from BN. If 26 percent of females and (according to ANRED.com) 10 percent of males suffer from AN or BN, a businessman would tell you that you’re looking at a ripe market. That’s one reason these sites exist. The market is so ripe, in fact, that one company has struck proverbial oil.
So, we know there is an audience for sites like these, but is that enough? Yes, and no. Sufferers of AN and BN are stigmatized, and none more so than men. To whom do you turn if you have a problem—and you know you have a problem—but you know you’ll be made to feel as though you’re worth less (if not exactly worthless) if you seek help. What will people think of you? That you’re weak? That you’re self-centered? That you value too greatly how others view you? That you can be manipulated by the media, or criticism of your appearance, or whatever the case may be? These feelings of worthlessness, of loneliness, of weakness, of anxiety only increase at the thought of saying something about your problem to someone.
With Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia sites, these individuals have a community. And it’s a community reinforcing the behavior of the disorders.
Why are these sites allowed?
This is my real question. I realize closely monitoring the Internet is like toilet training a cat—possible, maybe worth it, but definitely time, energy, and sanity consuming. Still, you would think websites that aid people in harming themselves, and which could potentially be considered aiding in suicide, would be… you know… not legal. In the same way starving someone is not legal. In the same way assisted suicide is not legal.
I know, I just know, that if Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia sites started to be monitored and subsequently shut down, someone would cry, “You’re violating my First Amendment rights!” Is this true? According to First Amendment Center and Newseum Institute, there are essentially nine categories not protected by the First Amendment:
- Fighting words
- Defamation (including libel and slander)
- Child pornography
- Incitement to imminent lawless action
- True threats
- Solicitations to commit crimes
According to Deb McAlister-Holland, “Chat room conversations that [encourage] suicide [have been] denied First Amendment protection.” That, and also perhaps a bit of common sense, leads me to believe that Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia sites—including forums and chats on such sites—wouldn’t be protected. So, why are they still around, and why are there so many?
While rhetoric on such sites may not be the same as, “Go kill yourself,” in some instances, it’s very close.
Want more info on what is and isn’t covered under the First Amendment? Check out Sam Cook’s article, “The First Amendment and What it Means for Free Speech Online.”
There’s little doubt that illnesses, diseases, disorders, and the like can be scary. Moreover, they can be quite terrifying when little is widely known about them. The parasomnia (sleep disorder) known as Night Terrors (NTs) (sometimes, Sleep Terrors) is one of these misunderstood disorders. I first heard about NTs in a grossly misleading psychology class in college. The class, Motivation and Behavior Psych, was much more closely related to neurobiology or neurochemistry—it’s the class that sparked my deep love of neuroscience.
Right. Back to the topic. NTs are often confused with nightmares. It’s pretty widely known that nightmares suck donkey testicles; they’re vivid, scary, uncomfortable, and usually leave lasting impressions upon waking. In my worst nightmare, I awoke to someone standing over me while I slept. It was so real that, when I actually woke up, I thought the person was there. I couldn’t move, I was scared to open my eyes. It was only when I realized my dogs were calmly sleeping that I knew no one else was in the room.
Vivid? Check. Terrifying? Check! Seared into my memory? Super check. Gargling on the sack of a donkey? You bet! The nightmare, Dave, not me. Seriously. NT? Absolutely not.
So, what’s the difference between NTs and nightmares, and why is it important to know? I’m glad you asked!
Differences between nightmares and NTs range from when during sleep they occur to electroencephalography (EEG) activity. The point here is, the two are fundamentally different. Nightmares, and even nightmare disorder, are “different from NT [and consist of] a lowered motor activity […] the person is not confused on waking up, remembers the nightmares in detail, and the disordered orientation immediately recovers”.² The authors of the article, “Treatment Approach to Sleep Terror: Two Case Reports,” give a robust definition of NT:
NT is classified under parasomnias characterized with sudden attacks of fear associated with the increase in autonomic signs following crying and loud shouting during the first few hours of sleep during the delta stage (associated with the NREM period). Clinically, the person wakes up screaming, scaring, or performing sudden and self-destructive acts (like jumping, running, crashing into something, harming the person beside). The person is non-responsive to the external stimulus during this period […] The person may predominantly experience cognitive impairment signs, such as disordered orientation and memory problems, confusion, and fear on waking up. In addition to these mental symptoms, somatic symptoms associated with the overstimulation of the autonomic system, such as palpitation, sweating, shaking, skin rubor, pupillary response, may appear. While adults generally cannot remember what they experienced the previous night, children can indistinctly remember their fear.²
I think that about sums it up. So, while nightmares generally occur during REM, NTs occur prior to REM, during NREM—or non-rapid eye movement. The result of two independent sleep studies stated that NT episodes “begin exclusively during [NREM] sleep, most frequently during slow-wave sleep (SWS), and should not be considered an acting-out of a dream” and that “consciousness is altered during sleepwalking/sleep terror episodes.”¹ NT is most common in children, with a prevalence of ~3-15 percent, and decreases significantly with age, although, “it seems probable that the notion of sleep terrors is largely unknown to people, therefore different types of nocturnal attacks can be reported as sleep terrors.”¹
Difficulty in obtaining more concrete statistics pertaining to NT is a big indication that NT is a misunderstood parasomnia.
What Triggers NT?
Another great question! Both genetics and environmental stimuli play a role in NT:
It is well known that sleepwalking and night terrors run in families. Based on the study of familial incidence of sleepwalking and sleep terrors proposed that sleepwalking and night terrors share a common genetic predisposition, although the clinical expression of symptoms of these parasomnias may be influenced by environmental factors.”¹
The authors of “Treatment and Approach…” explain that “the risk of occurrence [of NT] among the first-degree relatives is ten folds more compared with those with no family history of NT.”²
Cases of NT have also been reported after stressful and/or significant life events, including divorce—personal or parental—death of a loved one, changing jobs or getting let go, changing schools, etc.
Why Does This Matter?
Part of why this matters is because additional research in NT could point to treatments aside from “making bedrooms safe” for NT sufferers or being prescribed benzodiazepine, which can cause rebounds or addiction. There is, of course, another reason it would be good to be knowledgeable about NT: “NT is highly associated with schizoid, borderline and dependent personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, [and] generalized anxiety disorder.”²
Which is not to say NT sufferers have those disorders. In fact, when comparing individuals with NT to individuals who only demonstrate somnambulism (sleepwalking), only a percentage of sleepwalkers had been diagnosed as psychotic:
In contrast to sleepwalkers, [individuals with NT] demonstrate higher levels of anxiety, obsessive-compulsive traits, phobias, and depression. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) profile suggests an inhibition of outward expression of aggression. A psychiatric diagnosis was established in 85 percent of patients with current night terrors. Although their psychopathology was more severe than in patients with sleepwalking, none of them was diagnosed as psychotic.”¹
Knowing the difference between NT, other arousal parasomnia, and regular ole nightmares can make a difference to the individual suffering from NT. Because a significant symptom of NT is sleepwalking, and because NT sufferers have increased mobility, they could cause damage to self or others.
Personally, I feel it’s important—if you know someone who sleepwalks—to be able to distinguish between and individual with NT and one with somnambulism, you know, on account of those regular ole sleepwalks could be psychotic.
¹Szelenberger, Waldemar, Szymon Niemcewicz, and Anna Justyna Dąbrowska.
“Sleepwalking and Night Terrors: Psychopathological and Psychophysiological
Correlates.” International Review of Psychiatry 17.4 (2005): 263-70.
²Turan, Hatice Sodan, Nermin Gunduz, Aslihan Polat, and Umit Tural. “Treatment
Approach to Sleep Terror: Two Case Reports.” Noro Psikiyatri Arsivi 52.2 (2015):