Re-Blog: Are Zombies Real?


(Originally posted 10/3/2017 on Read With The Gringa)

Lovers of horror and science-fiction are most likely big fans of the Walking Dead series as well as any movie or book that is zombie-related. A visit to New Orleans will result in any number of Voodoo and zombie trinkets being purchased and brought back home. 


The first famous literary mention of zombies occurred in 1810. Robert Southey wrote of brain-eating monsters in his book History of Brazil. As the word morphed throughout the English reading world, zombies became known as once-dead humans that re-animate without intelligence or self-awareness. Their only purpose was to serve a master and survive upon human brains.


Are zombies real? Should a person have an after-death back-up plan? Should the dead be buried with emergency beacons to activate in case they inadvertently awaken? Should a trusted loved one be appointed to deliver a coup-de-grace if it turns out our brainless body recycles itself?  Before venturing into any such plans, let’s see what science has to say. Zombie believers might be surprised. The gringa certainly was.


Voodoo and santeria cultures believe that zombies are real. These religions, with origins in Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, take zombies seriously. Although details vary among different sects, the basics are the same. A practitioner of experience and power can re-animate the dead and sometimes control them. The purpose of creating a zombie was sometimes considered a means of punishment for the person that died. Another purpose was enslavement. 


For the most part, the subject of zombies has not been taken seriously by outsiders of Voodoo or santeria. In the 1980s, this outsider perspective changed when western scientist, Wade Davis, discovered a substance that could turn a living human into a zombie. 


Tetrodotoxin is a neurotoxin found in pufferfish. The good scientist found this toxin in a powder form being used by influential religious leaders in Voodoo sects throughout Haiti. This was the inspiration behind his own book that became a film, The Serpent and the Rainbow.


More recently, however, is something even more titillating. Although Davis’ zombie explanation does not actually involve re-animated corpses, only doped-up folks who were still among the living, this new discovery does, indeed, support more traditional zombie theory. And it may challenge many of today’s most popular religious beliefs about what happens after death.


Canadian medical professionals have released the findings of a recent study of the brains of critically ill patients and what happened within the brain right after death. The gringa says, “Hold on to your hats, folks.” Ya know that straight line across the machine followed by a steady whine instead of a series of rhythmic beeps that you see in movies when a patient dies? Yeah, that’s the movies. Not exactly what really happens.


Once the heart stopped beating and any sign of a pulse ceased, the Canadian doctors continued to see activity in the brain. The cerebral organ continued to produce the same kind of brain waves that occur when you sleep. So, for as long as 10 minutes after being declared dead, the dead were, evidently, still dreaming.


Now, this didn’t happen in every single individual the doctors studied. It occurred in about 25% of those who died. And the good docs don’t have a clue how to explain this. While most of their patients, 75%, had zero brain activity before their hearts even stopped beating, this 25% defies explanation according to medicine as the doctors know it.


Even after auditing the equipment, in the hopes they could attribute it to a mechanical mistake, the doctors were still left scratching their heads. Their equipment was operating perfectly.


And the mystery is heightened when it was discovered that in the first minute after the cessation of a heart beat (official death), for the 25%, there was actually a SURGE of brain activity. The gringa supposes those individuals were experiencing something like this, “Holy cow! Check this out! I’m floating! No more pain! This is amazing! Hey! Doc! Get in here! I’m cured! I’m flying! Oh, wait! I’m dead! Am I dead? Then how am I talking to myself? Do dead people still think? Maybe I’m not dead. I could just be dreaming.”


And the gringa thinks that maybe a zombie is just the pre-cursor for a ghost. And a ghost would be the consciousness of that 25% who seem to be very confused about what they are supposed to do when their heart stops beating. So, maybe the 25% are those considered rebels, those folks who never follow the rules. Maybe they are those with unfinished business. They could just be mean people who refuse to relieve the world of the pain and grief they cause. Who knows.


And, these 25%’ers are not the only ones confused. The Canadian doctors were further confused by other activity that continued after “official” death. Not only were delta brain waves active (the dream wave), but the genes of the 25%’ers were also active, doing whatever it is that genes do. Which means, while the heart is telling the body, “It’s all over”, the genes were still going about their business making the proteins necessary to regulate bodily functions. Seems like stubbornness may not be a learned trait but “in the genes”.


And, so far, no one knows why any of this is happening. So, for at least 25% of the world’s population, zombies and ghosts might be the real deal!


Happy Halloween Season!

To view a video on this discover, click the Independent’s video link here.

Sources:

Image Credit: Top Form Fitness

Video Credit: Independent

Re-Blog: Secret Codes, Medieval Medicine & Witches


(Originally posted 9/19/2017 on Read With The Gringa)

Who uses secret codes? Kids with secret hide-outs, spies, secret societies, lovers, criminals, etc. Was there a secret society during Medieval times who created a complex secret code, the size of a hefty novel, that has still not been cracked? Linguistics, cryptographic and translation experts say no. And the gringa wants to know why since they still haven’t “cracked the code” of a centuries old manuscript. How would they know what they don’t know?


The Voynich manuscript is really a book, like a huge paperback novel. Within those soft vellum covers are pages of astrological charts, 

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naked women bathing in mysterious green liquids, 

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and strange, unknown flora. 

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Describing all of these curiosities is a secret code that has yet to be solved. 


So what kind of information is being shared? Is it dangerous? Taboo? Subject to blackmail? Why would the author go to such trouble as to pen this tome in an unreadable language? Most authors know that it is publish or perish. To publish in a tongue that can never be known by the general public is the same as not publishing at all. What in the world is this book about? 


One literary expert suggests that, because of the illustrations of naked ladies taking baths, perhaps it was a health manual that challenged the medical trends of that era. The author might possibly have faced legal charges as serious as witchcraft for practicing questionable herbal remedies. Is that what is in the book? Recipes for herbal treatments of feminine ailments? 


This expert’s theory has been widely rejected by the literary community at large. A community, mind you, that has already committed much time and effort to decoding the manuscript. Is their reaction just sour grapes? Has Nicholas Gibbs, a professional researcher of history and war artist, hit upon the truth and spoiled their fun and shot at glory? 


In addition to his professional credentials he also has experience evaluating precious curiosities, having worked for the famed Christie’s auction house. But, even more compelling for the gringa, is his biological connection to his working theory. He is a descendant of one of England’s most famous ancient herbalists, Thomas Fromond. And it was the work of his famed ancestor that helped guide Gibbs in his theory.


So, despite the criticisms of his peers, and their claims that his theory is purely satire, their own findings actually seem to support the Gibbs’ theory. After much examination of the flora illustrations, astrological charts and naked ladies bathing depictions, Gibbs’ critics admit that these elements are health related.


These critics also accede that the Voynich manuscript is very similar to a medieval bathing guide, De Balneis Puteolanis. But their main point of criticism is his accomplishment where they otherwise failed. Gibbs actually decoded two lines of the manuscript. So what is the problem?


The critics claim that his translation into Latin is not grammatically correct. The gringa says, “Really?” I mean, dear reader, come on. When the gringa needs to keep on schedule, she might ask an English speaking friend, “What time is it?” If around Spanish speaking friends, the gringa would say, “Que hora es?” Guess what the literal translation of the Spanish is in English… What hour is. Which is NOT grammatically correct in English. So, the gringa doesn’t buy the grammatically incorrect translation complaint.


Then there’s the fact that the lines Gibbs decoded weren’t actually comprised of complete words. He was decoding characters that represented abbreviated words. Kind of like if the gringa used the “#” symbol to represent the “1/2 tbsp” abbreviation in my own secret code. The secret code was never intended to be grammatically correct. Come on, people. Stop being jealous because a rookie on the scene showed you up.


And what of the theory for why a ladies health manual would need to be written in a secret code to begin with? It is carbon-dated to a point of origin in Northern Italy around 1404-1438. What was going on that might make secret communications of controversial subjects necessary? Here are a few historical facts for perspective:


-During this time period there was no clear identity for physicians in Europe.

-When universities established medical studies during the Middle Ages, women were excluded.

-Women healers were forced to go underground to practice except when filling the role of midwife.

-Most women preferred to be attended by a trusted midwife for other feminine health issues, albeit secretly.

-Women training other women as healers had to be creatively covert in the materials used to pass along and preserve knowledge.

-Women healers caught practicing or teaching medicine were acting outside the law and subject to prosecution.

-Prosecution of a woman healer usually involved the woman being charged with the crime of witchcraft.

-The crime of witchcraft was a capital offense with a death sentence attached.


Understanding the environment in which the Voynich manuscript was crafted, the gringa is convinced that it is indeed, a ladies health guide. Despite bearing the surname of the Polish man who purchased the manuscript in 1912 after its discovery in an Italian monastery, the gringa believes the manuscript was most likely authored by a woman healer working outside the law. The code was the result of this female healer fearing for her life if caught. So vital was it for this woman healer to pass on her knowledge to another generation of female healers, she created a complex secret code that has puzzled linguistic experts for centuries. 


When you think about the witchcraft connection, the secret code for a ladies health manual makes perfect sense. Mystery solved. Thanks Gibbs.

Sources:

The Atlantic


Bushehr University of Medical Sciences


Image Credits:

Mitch Testone


Ellis Nelson


CthulhuTech


Daily Mail

Video Credit: The Science Channel

Death By Ice Melt


When fretting over the future effects of climate change, one may be worrying about just how hot it will get, how many coastal cities and islands will be lost to rising oceans or the massive loss of life through drought and famine. But what about mystery diseases? Yep. Add one more thing to your climate change related anxiety list. Mystery diseases.

You see, frozen in the Arctic and Antarctic tundra and ice sheets are pathogens that have been imprisoned for more than a millennia. And climate change is going to bring about the big thaw that will set them free. Many of them have never before been encountered by modern man. Remember what happened when Europeans introduced strange pathogens to indigenous peoples in their invasive travels? Yeah, without natural resistance, those native populations were decimated with disease.

So what exactly is lurking in the permafrost and ice?

–   Example:   August, 2016, remote Siberian tundra region of the Yamal Peninsula, a 12-year-old boy dies and 20 other people hospitalized with anthrax infections.

Now, a conspiracy theorist would point the finger at the Russian government, accusing it of using these poor folk as guinea pigs in bio-terror weapons research. The reality is, as determined by medical researchers, that the anthrax was a 75-year-old reindeer strain.

A quarter of a century ago the dead reindeer were covered with permafrost where they died. The heatwave that occurred in the area in 2016 exposed the contaminated corpses. The soil was then contaminated, thus the grassland being currently grazed upon was contaminated as well. The pathogens also washed into natural water supplies during periods of rainfall.

Final result? About 2,000 head of local reindeer grazed on the infected grassland. They, in turn, infected their human herds-people. This is the future of mystery disease due to climate change. Especially since there are more than a million reindeer carcasses infected with anthrax in Arctic regions that are buried close to the surface because you can’t dig deep graves in frozen ground.

In addition to anthrax, scientists also suspect strange varieties of influenza will be released. In Alaska, there have been discovered intact viruses of Spanish flu dating back to 1918. What else might be buried in shallow graves in frozen ground around the world? Corpses infected with active strains of smallpox and bubonic plague.

One Siberian town has a mass grave containing about 40% of its population that died in a smallpox epidemic in the 1890s. Already the permafrost layer is melting and washing away. Not only will this lead to contamination in the old town’s immediate area but any part of civilization the waters of the nearby Kolyma River contact will also be in danger of infection.

And pathogens can live longer than a couple of hundred years. Back in 2005 NASA researchers were successful in resurrecting bacteria removed from a frozen Alaskan pond. The microbes were 32,000 years old.

In 2007 scientists brought back to life bacteria that was 8 million years old and another sample that was 100,000 years old. They retrieved them from a glacier in Antarctica.
But do they have the strength to be virulent after a period of dormancy that long? For the answer, just refer to the findings of French evolutionary biologist Jean-Michel Claverie of Aix Marseille University. In 2014 Claverie resurrected two viruses from Siberia’s permafrost that were 30,000 years old. Once alive again, they quickly took on infectious status. Claverie’s conclusion:

“… these ancient layers could be exposed… If viable virions are still there, this could spell disaster.”

The most dangerous virions are called  “giant viruses”. These are the ones that can survive being buried in ice, dormant for eons, and become active again. It’s because, unlike a regular virus, a giant virus has a tough genetic make-up that can survive outside a host cell. Think of it like the virus having a protective shield around its DNA that prevents biochemical degradation.

And it gets worse. It’s not just ice melt we modern day humans have to worry about. Crystals, as old as 50,000 years, dug out of a Mexican mine were found to harbor microbial bacteria, a bacteria that has not seen the surface of the earth for over 4 million years. Studies have determined that this particular bacteria is resistant to 70% of current commonly used antibiotics. Great. The gringa says, “Stop all that digging!”

How does a super-bacteria like that come about? Well, there’s not much for it to eat in a cave, isolated from water, light, etc. To survive, an organism has to be ruthless in competition with other organisms for whatever means are available for nutrition.

What the heck is being done about this? Well, the gringa would like to provide some measure of relief. This all means that the diseases that riddled Neanderthals, our ancestors, may all come back to haunt us. But thanks to scientists like Claverie the diseases our ancient ancestors suffered from are being discovered and vaccines are being created.

Sources:

BBC

PNAS

Image Credit: BBC

Video Credit: Seeker

Who MADE That?


(Originally posted 3/14/17 on Read With The Gringa)


If the dear reader is anything like the gringa, you often take for granted amazing things, never wondering how they came about in the first place. Take lasers, for example. Most of us use lasers every day. There are laser toys for cats, laser printers and lasers used to heal people and to kill people. Although lasers are used for many purposes, they are all, essentially, the same thing: a focused beam of light or electromagnetic radiation. This beam is created by stimulating photon emissions from excited atoms. Next time you check out at the grocery store, just remember that bar code scanner is a very “excited” device!


Many years ago one of the gringa’s loved ones had eye surgery. It was a laser that sliced and diced those very dear orbs. It never occurred to the gringa at the time to even wonder who should be thanked for this amazing technology that saved and improved my mother-in-law’s vision. Well, now I know and I’m going to share this incredible woman’s story.


Dr. Patricia Bath has a lot of “firsts” on her resume. She was the first African American to complete an opthalmology residency. She was also the first female, African American doctor to have a medical patent. She got this for her invention that changed Mama’s eyes forever, the Laserphaco Probe. This device removed cataracts from the eyes of my caveman’s precious mother, enabling her to continue to see her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and do what she loves to do, sew, sew, sew.


What is most amazing about Dr. Bath’s achievements is when she did them. She was born in Harlem, New York in 1942. That means she grew up and received her primary education more than 20 years before the Civil Rights Act was passed in the U.S. In an environment like that, what might have occurred to capture the attention of a little girl from Harlem and inspire her to become a doctor? Dr. Bath credits Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s service to lepers in the Congo along with the powerful influence of loving parents who fueled her own, personal empowerment engine.


What kind of parents does it take to do this incredible service for their child? Were they superhuman? Educators? They were parents, period. Rupert Bath, Dr. Bath’s father, was a well-educated immigrant from Trinidad. He had a “first” to list in his own biography. He became the first black motorman employed by New York City’s subway system. He has an interesting background that includes writing newspaper columns and working as a merchant seaman which gave him the opportunity to travel all over the world. These experiences enabled a father to craft a legacy for his child that lasted a lifetime, the legacy of a broad mind.


Dr. Bath’s mother, Gladys, encouraged her daughter to read, read, read. Books were a priority as well as a gift that soon became a favorite, a chemistry set. Gladys was an American of African slave and Cherokee ancestry and she was determined that her children (Dr. Bath had a brother) would have the best education possible. She scrubbed the floors of affluent New Yorkers to fund her children’s college dreams.

Dr. Bath’s neighborhood was well-known for its poverty. However, for Bath, riches didn’t come in nickels and dimes, but in values, the love of family and the opportunity to grow through learning. And eventually, the medical world would become this little girl’s oyster through determination, belief in herself, and hours upon hours of dedication and hard work.


As a young teenager, she showed such promise at a summer science program that two medical professionals doing cancer research took her under their wings, becoming her mentors. Her own research earned her an invitation to present her research at an international nutrition conference in Washington DC. This earned her a 1960 Merit Award and a bit of celebrity status, her achievement being reported in magazine and newspaper articles.


It wouldn’t be until 1964 that Dr. Bath experienced studying under a black professor for the first time. It was a thrilling experience. She soon received a government fellowship which enabled her to participate in pediatrics medicine research in Yugoslavia. This was her first experience outside the U.S. and sparked a new interest in the medical needs of people throughout the world, especially the underprivileged. True to her principles, in 1968 she became coordinator for the Poor People’s Campaign that marched for economic rights in the nation’ capital. She would eventually shoulder the responsibility of the health and sanitary needs for the thousands who lived in the shantytown known as Resurrection City. 


Eventually, recognizing the vast differences in quality and accessibility of care between the “haves” and “have nots”, Dr. Bath convinced her professors to perform eye surgery on blind patients for free, she volunteering as assistant surgeon. Dr. Bath would continue her growth as a surgeon doing post-graduate work in cornea transplants. 


This would lead to the  1974 “first” previously mentioned, becoming the first female faculty member at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute. Despite this illustrious achievement, the office she was offered, in the basement with the lab animals, was seen as a slight. Dr. Bath stood up for herself and the institute quickly responded by giving her new office space more appropriate for her prestigious position.


Nearly a decade later, 1983, Dr. Bath achieved another “first”. She became chair of UCLA’s Opthalmology Residency Training Program. As an American woman, she was the first to hold this position.


Through Dr. Bath’s American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, Americans everywhere can receive basic eye care regardless of how poor they may be. Throughout the world newborns have their eyesight protected with medication provided by the institute that prevents common infections. Malnourished children in every country have access to vitamin A supplements to protect their eyes from damage caused by lack of proper nutrition. Vaccinations for infectious diseases known to cause blindness are also made available to vulnerable populations around the world. 


When Dr. Bath sought to create a device to make cataract removal surgery less invasive and more precise, her colleagues told her it couldn’t be done. But she showed them, didn’t she! Her scope was not just patented in the US, but also in Japan, Canada and five European countries. 


Even after Dr. Bath retired, she was still achieving historical “firsts”. In 1993 she became the first woman to be elected to UCLA Medical Center’s honorary medical staff. And throughout her retirement, her passion to prevent blindness has never ceased. Perhaps it is a fire that will never die, fueled by the amazing experience of restoring sight to a North African woman who had been blind for 30 years. 


Dr. Bath overcame amazing odds and obstacles. Although she was certainly ambitious, the gringa is most impressed with her motives and philosophy which drove her ambitions. She is quoted as saying:

“Eyesight is a basic human right.”

This was the philosophy behind her creation of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness in 1976. Ten years later she revealed to the world the goods on her philosophy, the Laserphaco Probe. Officially patented in 1988, Dr. Bath became the first African American female doctor to receive a medical patent. 


No matter what you think may stand in your way, Dr. Bath is proof positive that, with the right motives and inspiration behind your ambition, work hard and you can move mountains and achieve great things. Take to heart the words of encouraging wisdom from Dr. Bath:

“Believe in the power of the truth. Do not allow your mind to be imprisoned by majority thinking. Remember that the limits of science are not the limits of imagination.”

The world needs so many scientists to solve the problems facing the world today. Compassion driven science can change the world for the better, making every day a better day than the one before. The gringa says, “Thank you” to all the Dr. Bath’s in the world. We need more of you!



Sources: Biography

Invention


Image Credit: Biography


Video Credit: LemelsonCenter

Do You Know This Mad Scientist?


If you are a dear reader of the gringa’s musings, then you are probably a fan of science and technology. That would also mean it’s highly likely that you find “gadgets” and inventions interesting. Pretty much everyone knows that Benjamin Franklin gets credit for discovering electricity and Edison with inventing the light bulb. But what we think we know about inventors might just be all wrong or sorely lacking. Have you heard of any of these folks:

Garrett Morgan: Curly headed folk everywhere owe a word of thanks to Mr. Morgan for inventing the first hair-straightening product. Seamstresses may not be aware that he holds a patent on sewing machine upgrades. And if you are fond of avoiding fender benders, a round of applause to the inventor of our modern traffic signals. Survivors of WWII are probably very familiar with, perhaps, his greatest contribution to mankind, the gas mask. So, thanks, Garrett Morgan, a great American inventor!

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Mary Phelps Jacobs: The gringa’s not so sure she really wants to say thank you to good, ol’, clever Mary. On the one hand she did rescue women from having to wear torturous corsets by inventing the modern bra-contraption. But, as far as the gringa’s concerned, a bra only minimizes the torture, not really doing away with physical discomfort altogether. But, for the early 1900s, an uncomfortable bra was certainly a liberating invention. About the only thing the gringa is willing to stuff her girls into is a spandex sports bra. Anything else is just cruel and my motto is, “No pain, no pain!”

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Dr. Charles Drew: An African-American surgeon responded to the desperate need for plasma and blood to save the lives of soldiers during WWII. He is credited with inventing the technology of what we commonly call a “blood bank”.

Stephanie Kwolek: When you imagine soldiers or law enforcement officers donning their bullet-proof vests, it may never occur to you to wonder who came up with such an idea. And, if you did indulge your curiosity, chances are you wouldn’t guess that it was actually a woman who invented Kevlar. It would seem more likely that men within the military establishment would come up with this. But, back in 1965, a female chemist rolled out her formula that resulted in the invention of an essential piece of safety gear that protects soldiers and police officers everywhere.

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So, dear readers, no matter who you are or what your humble situation might be, keep cracking away in your labs. The world NEEDS amazing minds like yours and the gadgets and gizmos you create!

Sources, Image & Video Credits: 

Skin Trends

Amazing Women In History

Biography

Women Inventors

Zippity Doo Dah – It’s A Blood Delivery


What do you think of when you hear the word Rwanda? War? Genocide? Do you wonder if anything good ever happens in Rwanda? Well, the gringa is here to assure you that good things do happen in Rwanda despite its tragic history.

Thanks to drone technology a medical revolution is poised to kick off in this troubled African nation. Testing began at drone headquarters in Kabgayi hospital. If successful, remote Rwandan villagers will soon have access to medical supplies that are desperately needed.

Considering that Rwanda has the highest rate of death for women during childbirth, the gringa’s heart is especially gladdened to think of all of the mothers and babies who will benefit from something many of us take for granted, blood. Most of these mothers die simply because they do not have access to a blood transfusion. It is not uncommon for women to hemorrhage during childbirth. Although this sounds frightening, mothers in labor in developed countries routinely receive blood transfusion treatment. It is a procedure that Rwandan women living in remote villages rarely had access to until now, thanks to drone technology.

You may ask, “What about trucks that can drive the stuff from the hospital to the villagers?” The nickname of Rwanda is “the land of a thousand hills”. The geography, along with the economic trials the nation faces and a rainy season of intense rainfall, all add up to a country where roadways are unreliable. If needed supplies are for a life and death situation, trusting in automobile delivery may spell death for a patient in outlying regions far away from a hospital.

There is also the scarcity of the nation’s blood supply to consider. It is considered a precious commodity. That is why the bulk of the nation’s blood supply is secured at a state-of-the-art facility near the capital city of Kigali. Despite one location, the drones can actually deliver medical supplies virtually anywhere in the country quite rapidly. Maximum delivery time is about half an hour with many places receiving their deliveries in 15 minutes or less.

The drones have been nicknamed “Zips”. They have begun brisk trial delivery runs with drones capable of carrying a cargo of about 3 bags of blood. And these are not your backyard garden variety drones. Although many of the gringa’s dear readers may have a drone on their Christmas wishlist this season, you will probably not be receiving a Zip-quality drone. With a 6 foot wingspan you would have a tough time finding a place to park it around the house.

But a drone of this size is necessary in order to be powerful enough to deliver a payload of more than 3 pounds (1.5 kilos) over 90 miles (150 kilometers) away in only half an hour. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Now you know why they call them Zips. They travel almost 45 miles per hour (70 kph).

So although many of the gringa’s dear readers may be buzzing their neighbors with a bit of high-tech peeping Tom efforts with Christmas drones, Rwandan based geeks will be saving lives with theirs. And who knows, a child playing with a drone today could become a superhero saving lives around the world with drones tomorrow. So drone on young geeks! Take a peek at how drone superheroes in Rwanda do it and become inspired:

Sources:

flyzipline.com

www.gavi.org

Image credit: geoawesomeness.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Need A Hand?


Did you have any trick-or-treaters show up at your door this past weekend dressed as a skeleton? Chances are their costume wasn’t nearly as time-consuming to make as the skeletal hand created by artist Amy Karle. Talk about taking impressionist art to another level! Karle is just as much a scientist as she is a visual artist. She’s growing a fully-human lady’s hand in a laboratory jar for all our prying, curious eyes to see.

Much like Leonardo da Vinci and other masters of fine art who have gone before her, Karle is inspired by the symmetry of the human body. Her natural curiosity also brings her back to the human body not just as a muse but a medium. Growing a human body within her own during pregnancy was the most exquisite form of artistic expression she had ever experienced. Yet the work of creating another human was performed autonomously. She found that fascinating. Hence the inspiration to grow a human hand as a work of art.

First she scanned the bones of a female hand and created a 3D digital model. Using a medical computer aided detection (CAD) program she built a biodegradable scaffolding system to support the human stem cells until they grew to be self-supporting. Within two years Karle expects the scaffold to biologically degrade and disintegrate while the stem cells grow into tissue and mineralized bone.

The coolest thing about this intriguing project (and probably the coolest thing about Karle) is that the steps of how to do it yourself have been shared. Karle is not the type of artist or scientist to guard her secrets jealously. She wants everyone to have a chance to join the fun if they want to. Whether your perspective is art or scientific research, the gringa thinks that surely there is a dear reader out there who would love to give it a try. Just visit Karle’s post on Instructables.

Now, the gringa thinks this all sounds interesting but is there more to growing a skeletal hand than art or “just because”? Karle believes it will contribute to research and development of cell cultures that can be used in bone grafts, implants or transplants. That’s what the gringa’s talking about. Stuff that’s not just cool but also helps to make the world a better place.

And the gringa could always use another hand at getting things done. Which leads to the gringa’s next question. Is there a possible future with busy overachievers,or parents with half a dozen kids or more, growing and transplanting an extra hand or two to help them out in life? Could we transform humanity into a bi-pedal species that has, not two hands, but three, or four, or even more? Hmph. Stranger things have happened!

Yahoo News – Science

www.amykarle.com

www.popsci.com

Image Credit:  Instructables

 

 

 

Oh, Just Forget It


The mind is an amazing thing. Having dealt with the effects of epilepsy all of my life, the gringa finds the subject of memory particularly fascinating. Amnesia is a typical side effect of intense seizure activity. Not only have I experienced amnesia, but often I will have some limited recall which is like taking a memory and making  a meal of scrambled eggs. I get it all wrong.  Having a blank space of time may sound frightening but I have learned to live with it. I simply have to shrug and move on. It even comes in handy from time to time if I have behaved particularly bad because I can then always say, “Really? I had no idea. I’m terribly sorry. I was simply not myself at the time.” I’m not sure the caveman is buying that line after all these years but, at the very least, he usually goes along with it.

So, the gringa has experienced the effect of seizure related amnesia as a cause for my creating false memories. Fortunately the caveman is understanding and does not believe that his little wife is a big, fat liar but just sick and confused. I am happy to know that I am not alone. In fact, none of us are. According to research by Shari R. Berkowitz and Jennifer Sumner, both assistant professors at California State University, all humans create false memories. Their studies revealed that it is actually very easy to implant false memories through different suggestive methods:

  • People were given a list of words that had something in common: pillow, sheets, bed, nap. The common link, sleep, was not on the list. Once the list was removed, the word sleep was suggested as being on the list and subjects agreed that they remembered seeing the word sleep on the list.
  • Participants had a dream interpreted. Days later it was suggested that the events of the dream were a real occurrence. The dreamer would recall the event as something that actually happened.
  • Study participants listed 4 interesting events like football games, political speeches, etc. and then read corresponding news stories related to the events. Of the news stories offered, one was bogus yet the participants invariably remembered the event occurring. Having a strong interest in a particular subject actually increased the chances of creating a false memory. Consequently, because the person considers themselves well-versed in the subject, they are also less likely to accept they are believing a false memory.
  • Rich memory events are false memories of something fantastic happening like being possessed or kidnapped.

Now, for the gringa, this rich memory theory is of particular interest. When I was a little girl the earliest memory, or, at least, what I thought was a memory, was of being a toddler and playing on the back porch of our home with our cat. I distinctly remember a group of Native Americans crossing the creek beside our home, entering our backyard and shooting me with an arrow.

As a child I was convinced this was a real memory. It was not until I was a teenager that I would recall this “memory” and realize I was wrong. But what made me believe such a thing? And why did I have no fear or animosity toward Native Americans? In fact, it was quite the opposite. I was fascinated with their history and fantasized of a romantic alternative life as part of a tribe. This would seem contrary to the typical psychology that would have resulted from a trauma. So what the heck happened to the gringa?

I blame my father. He was always making up fantastic stories to drive my sisters and I crazy. For example, I was very freckled as a youngster. He told me they were bird spots. That, because I liked to play outside all the time as a little girl, I was always getting pooped on by birds and those were the stains left behind. He even had a favorite bird species to mention in this explanation of freckles, buzzards. Not very nice, I know, but in my Daddy’s warped mind he thought he was simply hysterical and clever.

So, as for getting shot with an arrow, the gringa’s dear readers must understand that my Daddy grew up in an era of zero political correctness many years before the passage of the Civil Rights Act. He grew up in an America where white supremacy was the law of the land. So, he thought nothing of it when accusing Native Americans of shooting his little girl to explain why I had a navel. As a lover of old western movies, of course he would tell such a tale. That fantastic story had such an impact on my young, impressionable mind, I actually believed that I had a memory of a Native American Indian tribe raiding the back yard of my family home during the era of the Vietnam War.

And that, my dear readers, is why such research is so very important. Not just to get history correct, but to recognize that eye-witness testimony in criminal cases is often very flawed. Often times young people who undergo therapy to re-capture memories are not remembering actual events. This could result in ruining the lives of not only the falsely accused but by creating a victim who is actually not a victim.  If we can rely on anything when it comes to memory, it is that it is simply not reliable.

Consider that the gringa can remember the telephone number of her childhood home and several childhood friends yet I cannot remember the caveman’s telephone number at work. I can list the titles of the first three novels I read from cover to cover as a little girl but I can’t remember to buy dog food if I leave my shopping list at home. I can recall the words to a song I have never performed and haven’t heard on the radio in over ten years but I can’t keep the birthdates of my children straight. What is up with that? Science says it is because there are different types of memory and they each have their own special mechanism that causes forgetting.

Doorway Memory

If you find that you walk from one room to another, forgetting why you made the trip, this is the problem of doorway memory. Walking through a doorway into another physical setting is like hitting a reset button in your memory bank.

Flashbulb Memory

Emotionally vivid events often cause people to create flashbulb memories. These accounts become so vivid that they believe they will never forget, like remembering where you were when you heard the news of 9/11 or that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. The gringa must inform you that although one would think these memories would be etched forever upon our minds, it simply ain’t so.  Although we will never forget that those events happened, we will, indeed, eventually forget where we were when we got the news. We may recall with effort where we were, but it won’t actually be a memory of the place and conditions surrounding us. It will be the remembrance of a fact we know to be historically true. Unless, of course, we were one of the victims. But traumatic memory is also tricky.

Traumatic Memory

If you were a victim of 9/11, or any other trauma, one of two things might happen with your memory. You will never forget anything, not even the smells or particular sounds. The other option is that you could forget absolutely everything, complete amnesia. If a trauma is so extreme that the brain determines that the person cannot emotionally bear the pain, the brain disposes of the memory with a deep burial process. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may very well be the result with certain events, words, colors, smells, sounds, etc. triggering an anxiety attack of dangerous and epic proportions where the person begins to relive the experience of the trauma.

Mind Erase

Certain activities can cause what is termed “transient global amnesia”.  This doesn’t mean that world travelers forget stuff. No, the gringa breaks it down like this: Transient (temporary) global (affecting a particular part of the brain) amnesia (forgetting). There is no telling who may be affected by this condition or why it happens. Basically, a person can have experience a temporary amnesia event, forgetting the entire previous day for a few hours after certain types of activity like: sex, migraines, mild head trauma, exposure to sudden temperature extremes.

Life After Access

It is not uncommon to have a memory recall event of something you believe never even happened. Something may happen to trigger the memory and suddenly a person remembers something that they didn’t even know that they knew. This can be disturbing and cause some people to believe they have been reincarnated as another person. Consider the case of a woman who suddenly remembered the words to songs she had no memory of learning. No, she was not an opera singer in a previous life. Neurologists explained that at some point in early childhood, before her brain was capable of remembering events (typically before the age of 4), she was exposed to the music and it imprinted on her mind. Later in life, something related to that event triggered the memory of the music.

Brain Injuries & Insults

This cause the gringa knows only too well. Most people think a brain injury is when a person hits their head and injures their brain. Actually, that could also be a brain insult. You see, an insult to the brain is not forgetting things because someone called you stupid. It is an injury that is so traumatic that brain matter is physically displaced.

A physical blow to the head is also not the only thing that can cause a brain to receive an insult. Certain diseases can cause swelling of the brain or fluid to fill the sinus cavities of the brain. Both events can cause physical displacement of brain matter, thus an insult to the brain.

Whereas the electrical storm of a seizure is a brain injury, it does not physically rearrange the structure of the brain like a catastrophic blow to the head. However, both injuries and insults will affect memory. And there can be seizures that have the potential to do just as much brain damage as a traumatic brain insult.

What’s The Point

So, then, what’s the point of knowing that memory cannot be relied upon? For the gringa, I have learned the importance of journaling. Not just to be able to remember the personal details of my life, but it has proven critical in managing important aspects of life, such as getting an insurance claim processed. The most common method of journaling performed today, and most people may not even realize that is what they are doing, is posting status updates to Facebook. The average American probably takes their memory for granted. Not the gringa. I post status updates frequently as well as keep an actual, personal journal.

In matters of law, it is entirely possible that there are people sitting in jail for crimes they did not commit because of flawed eye witness testimony. This is simply a travesty now that we understand the human mind better. Wherever possible, physical evidence should always supersede eyewitness accounts.

As for those poor souls that believe they have been abducted by aliens, the gringa can only point to her navel  and offer  a facial expression of raised eyebrows. Really? Abducted by aliens? If I could believe I had actually been shot by an arrow, a victim of a Native American raid in a small town in Texas in the 1970’s, I can assure alien abductees that they, too, have been duped by their memories. Chances are they had a Daddy like mine who enjoyed titillating their imagination with fantastical stories. Like me, their impressionable minds were imprinted with a fantasy story delivered by someone they absolutely trusted as faithful and true, so, in childlike innocence they never questioned the veracity of the story and grew up believing it to be true. Alien abductee? No. Victim of a fantastic storyteller? Most likely.

Sources:

www.livescience.com

www.csudhnews.com

www.mayoclinic.org

www.neuroskills.com

www.livescience.com

Image Credit: lymeinside.files.wordpress.com

 

The Power of a Few


Often, when the subject of climate change is discussed, people begin to feel highly motivated to take action. However, it is easy to get discouraged when it is soon realized that the change that is necessary to save our planet meets with heavy resistance from large and powerful corporations who are more concerned with profit margins than securing a viable home for future generations. After all, most of these high-salaried executives, board members and executives will be long dead by the time humankind is suffering the worst devastation of climate change. But the gringa says, “Don’t give up. You’re voice does matter.”

Much like how a drop of water slowly becomes, over time, a stalactite or stalagmite, or a river can, over eons, cut a gorge as impressive as the Grand Canyon,  community action, even if it’s only a handful of people, can also build something lasting and impressive. By keeping continued pressure upon the neck of a company, by consistently bringing your cause to their attention, by employing multiple calls to action such as petitions that accumulate the voices of all concerned citizens in the local community, a small collection of individuals who are persistent can either:

  • A. Wear down the opposition in a war of attrition; or
  • B. Eventually create so much local awareness that a company realizes it is in the company’s best interest to respond to their demands if they want to continue to enjoy profiting from the local community’s patronage; or
  • C. The best outcome, the company comes around to the same perspective, seeing the value not in the almighty dollar alone, but actually sees real value in the issue.

A perfect example of this can be seen in the videos below featuring a small group of young people representing the cause “Value the Meal” which is pushing for accountability by community leaders in their local pediatric medical community. Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, Texas specializes in the healthcare of our most vulnerable population, our children. In this place of health and healing is a McDonald’s restaurant which aggressively markets their brand of food which is famous for its low nutrition value.

Linked to chronic health conditions like diabetes and obesity, it is hard to understand why physicians, who are endowed with public trust with regard to health, would be so irresponsible as to seemingly advocate for this kind of food, especially for children who are in recovery and even more vulnerable to a diet that woefully lacks anything that can contribute to strengthening them and improving their healing abilities.

Value the Meal rally at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.

“Community health over corporate wealth”. Children’s hospitals shouldn’t have junk food brands like McDonald’s with contracted space in their facilities of health and healing.

No McDonald’s junk food poisoning recovering children patients at Texas Children’s Hospital.

They may not seem very powerful with numbers so small. But that is not where there power lies. There power lies in the “rightness” of their position, the persistence of their action, and the growing community support responding  as they continue to witness this same small group of committed activists maintain a voice and presence on one particular issue.

In your own community, whatever your noble cause, gather together whomever you can trust to remain committed and loyal, even if your numbers happen to be small. Because even one drop of water is powerful and you are much greater than a single drop of water.

Poopbots Running Amok In The Muck


Yes, dear reader, you read the gringa’s post title correctly, poopbots. And they are literally running amok in Boston’s subterranean muck. Mario and Luigi are pioneering waste miners delving the stinky depths of Boston’s sewers. They are gathering data from human effluence for epidemiologists so they can uncover even darker secrets of human health and behavior. So what does the future of poop collection and dissection look like?

MIT researchers involved in Senseable City Lab’s project, aptly named Underworlds, are on a mission to help scientists predict outbreaks of dangerous and deadly diseases. They also want to help discover some of the causes of chronic diseases whose origins in human health remain a mystery. And they believe clues to solving these mysteries lie deep in the sewers, secreted in what’s been excreted.

Project leader, Carlo Ratti, uses the example of influenza to explain. Before a widespread outbreak is evident in local hospitals, the virus could have already been detected in the human waste produced by those first afflicted. Once a city makes poop monitoring a regular thing, they can isolate and respond to any outbreak much more rapidly. Hopefully, future widespread epidemics can be prevented.

Mario and Luigi scan for industrial toxins, human biomarkers, and other chemicals related to contagious disease and chronic illnesses such as diabetes. It’s kind of like an urban poop census. The Environmental Protection Agency is completely on board with the idea of an urban poop census. They see this ambitious project as the latest advance in an inexpensive way to monitor public health in a timely manner that is relevant. The gringa believes that EPA agents are probably just glad to say good-bye to the days of scooping poop to fill their sample quotas.

Luigi and Mario are controlled remotely and use a GPS system to navigate. Within fifteen minutes of a flush, a fresh sample can be collected. By gathering samples so soon after a dump event scientists can determine the difference between chemicals a person is exposed to as opposed to chemicals a person ingested. The most common food products found in human waste thus far in the project are rice, wheat and beans. However, the occasional pomegranate seed collection makes for a nice surprise.

If the underworld of human poop analysis by robots interests you, Underworlds has its own website. Interested poop fans can gaze in wonder as data is disseminated to reveal what types of viruses are in the local water supply right alongside any bacteria or chemicals. If all goes well with Mario and Luigi, the state of Massachusetts may expand their poop inspection territory. The gringa suspects this will, indeed, be the case considering that even Kuwaiti poopers have been so impressed they have implemented their own poopbots in partnership with Underworlds.

Although MIT has long been heralded for the many scientists and engineers and mathematical geniuses who have graduated there, now, it will forever be remembered as the institute of poop pioneers. Better a pioneer than just a lowly pile, is what the gringa says!

Sources:

qz.com

underworlds.mit.edu

senseable.mit.edu

 

Image Credit: https://blog.adafruit.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/2368.jpg