Boing Boing 

A scarf woven from Jay Lake's genome


Here's a scarf woven from data representing the genome of talented sf writer and good guy Jay Lake, who died of cancer this week. Last summer, Jay's friends raised funds to sequence his genome in the hopes of finding a targeted cure. Astrid Bear used the data to weave the scarf, focusing on the 143 pairs of chromosome 18, which was the identified culprit in Jay's cancer. The scarf itself is a thing of beauty, and Jay loved it.

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Four things you didn’t know about seasonal allergies

Maggie Koerth-Baker on the science of the snuffles of spring. Relief may not be at hand without drugs, but knowledge has its comforts.

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Amazon's illegal drug trade

At Slate.com, Ford Vox has an investigative piece on how Amazon.com will deliver steroids, muscle relaxants, and prescription antibiotics right to your door, despite the fact that the sale of various drugs without a pharmacy license or a doctor's prescription is against the law.

More in US die from prescription narcotics than car crashes, guns, suicide

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More than 100 Americans die each day from prescription drug overdoses, mostly painkillers. That's more daily deaths than from car accidents, gunshot wounds, or suicides. In California, two county District Attorneys are suing five of the biggest drug companies in the world, and the lawsuits include the same kind of arguments once used against big tobacco industry, demanding "public protection."

Warren Olney's "To the Point" radio show has a segment on the topic today:

The companies are accused of a "campaign of deception" to persuade doctors that narcotic painkillers are safer than they really are. But the narcotic painkillers involved have been approved by the FDA. Is a government agency helping create a "population of addicts?" What's the role of physicians who write the prescriptions? Are they ill-informed, poorly trained or trying to make money?
More on the case at advocacy group harmreduction.org, and there's a Los Angeles Times writeup here.

Could this simple sea creature hold the key to treating Parkinson's?

A comb jelly, via Whitney laboratory for Marine Biosciences, University of Florida.  REUTERS/Whitney laboratory for Marine Biosciences, University of Florida.


A comb jelly (University of Florida).

A scientist in Florida who studies simple sea animals known as comb jellies says he has discovered a path to a new form of brain development that may one day lead to treatments for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.

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True cost of war visible in our overwhelmed Veterans' Administration

Army Staff Sgt. Sam Shockley, who was injured in Afghanistan when he stepped on a buried bomb, prepares to work on his balance and on walking with prosthetic legs at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. Matt McClain/The Washington Post


Army Staff Sgt. Sam Shockley, who was injured in Afghanistan when he stepped on a buried bomb, prepares to work on his balance and on walking with prosthetic legs at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. Matt McClain/The Washington Post

From the sixth in a 6-part Washington Post series on war and disability: "The longest stretch of fighting in American history is producing disability claims at rates that surpass those of any of the country’s previous wars. Nearly half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are filing for these benefits when they leave the military — a flood of claims that has overwhelmed the VA and generated a backlog of 300,000 cases stuck in processing for more than 125 days. Some have languished for more than a year." The flood of claims peaked last year at 611,000.

The Atlantic's Olga Khazan (Gweek 147)

Our guest is The Atlantic associate editor Olga Khazan. We talk about cool smartphone apps, shin splint prevention, a groovy crime novel, and the best portable cell phone charger.

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What if we admitted to kids that most sex is for pleasure?

Alice Dreger works with intersex kids, and takes an admirably frank approach to talking about sex with her own kid. She's noticed lots of differences between her approach and that of other parents, but the biggest one is that she tells her son that people have sex for pleasure. Her piece about this, precipitated by her kid bringing home a notice that the class would be talking about sex and HIV/AIDS, is a kind of model of rational, sex-positive parenting that made me want to clip it out and stick it on the fridge for future reference.

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Half of all clinical trials never published: help do something about it

Victoria from Sense About Science writes, "International Clinical Trials Day is on Tuesday May 20th but half of all clinical trials have never been published and some have not even been registered. Help the AllTrials.net petition get to 100,000 signatures by International Clinical Trials Day and end the era of secrecy. Hundreds of thousands of people participated in these trials. If action is not taken urgently, information on what was done and what was found in trials could be lost forever, leading to bad treatment decisions, missed opportunities for good medicine and trials being repeated unnecessarily. Sign and share the petition at AllTrials.net. Tweet #AllTrials."

GDF11protein rejueventates aged brains and muscles in mice

"Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers have shown that a protein (GDF11) they previously demonstrated can make the failing hearts in aging mice appear more like those of young health mice, similarly improves brain and skeletal muscle function in aging mice."

(Novus Biologicals sells GDF11 for $349 per 0.1 mg.)

Obesity driven by overconsumption of protein-mimicking carbs and fats


In an editorial for Nature, Stephen J. Simpson (academic director of University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre) and David Raubenheimer (Leonard P. Ullman chair in nutritional ecology and nutrition theme leader at the Charles Perkins Centre) argue that the obesity epidemic isn't caused by sedentary lifestyles, but by overconsumption, because our appetite control systems are "fooled or subverted" by carbohydrates and fats that mimic proteins.

The ersatz proteins are much cheaper than the real thing, and have also made their way into the feed of livestock and pets. The authors state that "the range of processed food becoming available is evolving faster than our appetite control systems," and argue that the historic shortage of sugars caused us to evolve appetite systems that are bad at judging when we've had enough of them.

These arguments echo many of those raised in The End of Overeating (recently featured in a This Day in Blogging History post), in which former FDA commissioner and MD David A Kessler tries to understand how industrial food science has produced food that is exquisitely engineered to cause overeating and constant cravings.

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Hacking the hospital: medical devices have terrible default security


Scott Erven is head of information security for a healthcare provider called Essentia Health, and his Friday presentation at Chicago's Thotcon, "Just What The Doctor Ordered?" is a terrifying tour through the disastrous state of medical device security.

Wired's Kim Zetter summarizes Erven's research, which ranges from the security of implanted insulin pumps and defibrillators to surgical robots and MRIs. Erven and his team discovered that hospitals are full of fundamentally insecure devices, and that these insecurities are not the result of obscure bugs buried deep in their codebase (as was the case with the disastrous Heartbleed vulnerability), but rather these are incredibly stupid, incredibly easy to discover mistakes, such as hardcoded easy default passwords. For example: surgical robots have their own internal firewall. If you run a vulnerability scanner against that firewall, it just crashes, and leaves the robot wide open.

The backups for image repositories for X-rays and other scanning equipment have no passwords. Drug-pumps can be reprogrammed over the Internet with ease. Defibrillators can be made to deliver shocks -- or to withhold them when needed. Doctors' instructions to administer therapies can be intercepted and replayed, adding them to other patients' records. You can turn off the blood fridge, crash life-support equipment and reset it to factory defaults. The devices themselves are all available on the whole hospital network, so once you compromise an employee's laptop with a trojan, you can roam free. You can change CT scanner parameters and cause them to over-irradiate patients.

The one bright spot is that anaesthesia and ventilators are not generally networked and are more secure.

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3D printed tumors improve surgical outcomes

A team at Kobe university is improving tumor removal by 3D printing cancerous organs with their tumors, modelled on CT scans. The team use the models to visualize and plan their surgeries.

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Hobby Lobby, IUDs, and the facts

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide later this year whether a corporation can have religious beliefs. Maggie Koerth-Baker looks at the science of birth control, and how it might inform the debate.

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How we are dying

Bloomberg Visual Data reports on the ways people die, and how they have changed over time. The most interesting part of the report is about dementia and Alzheimer's:

The downside to living so long is that it dramatically increases the odds of getting dementia or Alzheimer's. That's why total deaths in the 75+ category has stayed constant despite impressive reductions in the propensity to die of heart disease.

The rise of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia has had a big impact on healthcare costs because these diseases kill the victim slowly.

About 40% of the total increase in Medicare spending since 2011 can be attributed to greater spending on Alzheimer's treatment.

How Americans Die

Anti-vaccine campaigner Jenny McCarthy says "I'm not anti-vaccine"

"Jenny McCarthy is claiming she is not anti-vaccine," writes Phil Plait. "Here’s the problem with that claim: Yes, she is. That’s patently obvious due to essentially everything she’s been saying about vaccines for years. Yet in an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times on April 12, 2014, she tries to ignore all that, and wipe the record clean."

The context of this change of heart? A lot of human suffering.

Celebrate World Homeopathy Awareness Week with homeopathyawarenessweek.org

It's World Homeopathy Awareness Week, so the Good Thinking Society (a nonprofit devoted to promoting rational thought) has put up a new site at homeopathyawarenessweek.org in which you will be made aware of a bunch of facts that homeopathy advocates are often slow to mention -- like adults and children who've died because they were treated with homeopathic sugar-pills, the tragic foolishness of Homeopaths Without Borders, who are memorably described as "well-meaning folk [who fly] into places of crisis in the developing world carrying suitcases full of homeopathic tablets that contain nothing but sugar. It is not so much Médecins Sans Frontières as Médecins Sans Medicine."

The more aware you are of homeopathy -- that is, the more you learn about all the ways in which homeopathy has been examined by independent, neutral researchers who've tested its claims and found them baseless -- the less there is to like about it. From ineffective homeopathy "vaccine alternatives" that leave your children -- and the children around them -- vulnerable to life-threatening illnesses that have been brought back from the brink of extinction by vaccine denial to the tragic story of Penelope Dingle, who suffered a horrific and lingering death due to treatable bowel-cancer because she followed her husband's homeopathic advice, being aware of homeopathy is a very good thing.

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Painting babies' medical helmets

Robbo sez, "Artist Paula Strawn paints the plain white medical helmets of babies and transforms them into super awesome designs. The flight helmets and droid designs are really cool - but so are the Van Gogh and Seurat paintings. And the wee tykes look like they love 'em too."

The kids have flat head syndrome and have to wear the helmets; Strawn's done 1,300 helmets in 12 years, through her business Lazardo Art.

Artist Turns Babies' Head-Shaping Helmets Into Impressive Works Of Art [Mandy Velez/Huffington Post]

(Thanks, Robbo!)

HOWTO make a chattering-teeth tooth-brushing timer

Here's a Make HOWTO for converting a set of wind-up novelty chattering teeth to an electronic tooth-brushing timer and toothbrush holder -- take your toothbrush out, start it running, and the teeth will chatter for two minutes (the recommended brushing time).

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Crowdfunding money to rebuild destroyed Montana family health clinic

Since 1976, Susan Cahill of All Families Healthcare has been in family practice in Montana, offering compassionate family/reproductive health services -- including abortion. It is for this reason that her clinic was all but destroyed by violent thugs, who even trashed her irreplaceable personal mementos. An Indiegogo fundraiser has brought in about $32K so far.

It's tough being a cop

The life of a police officer is medically and pscyhologically ruinous, writes Erika Hayasaki: "Brian had been a healthy and fit ex-airborne infantry soldier when he began his policing career. But he eventually developed hypertension, anxiety, peripheral neuropathy, hearing loss, arthritis, and post-traumatic stress disorder." [Atlantic]

How Disney movies gave an autistic boy his voice


In Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism , Pulitzer-winning writer Ron Suskind tells the incredible story of how his son Owen disappeared into "regressive autism" at the age of three, losing the ability to speak or understand speech and developmentally degenerating across a variety of metrics, only to reemerge a few years later, able to communicate through references and dialog from the Disney movies he obsessively watches.

A long excerpt in the New York Times, generously illustrated with Owen's expressive fan-art, hints at a book that is wrenching and inspirational by turns. It reminds me of 3500, Ron Miles's memoir of raising a son with autism who was able to engage with the world through thousands of re-rides of Snow White's Scary Adventures at Walt Disney World.

Suskind is a brilliant writer, and the excerpt is deeply moving. I've pre-ordered my copy.

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Humana screws Brandon Boyer for $100K worth of cancer bills - help him pay them


Our good pal Brandon "Offworld" Boyer has cancer. Lucky for Brandon, he signed up for medical insurance with Humana not long before he was diagnosed. Unlucky for him, Humana has decided unilaterally not to cover his cancer treatments and has stuck him with with a $100,000 bill. He's raising money from the Internet to help pay for his life-saving treatments. I'm in for $100. If you're thinking of getting insured, be warned: Humana will screw you and screw you and screw you.

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Bee diarrhea conference underway

An amusing headline, but a serious problem for beleaguered beekeepers in England: "According to committee member David McLarin, nosema is becoming more prevalent in the South West and that is not good news as bees with the problem hardly produce any honey." [Exeter Express via Fortean Times]

Working causes death, warns science

"Get a life," warns the Economist. "Or face the consequences."

Where did all that quack-cure radium end up?


Glenn Fleishman writes, "A responsible dealer of the radioactive element radium, a substance once pushed widely as a quack cure, tried to keep the genie in the bottle. Theresa Everline explains that in the first half of the 20th century, Frank Hartman, known as the Radium Hound, kept track of accidents and incompetence in handling radium. His diaries reveal that radium lingers in forgotten places."

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Silver Ring Splints: stylish custom jewelry/medical appliance for people with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome


Ask-a-Zebra has Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which makes her joints and muscles prone to painful dislocation. In a great post, she documents her experience with Silver Ring Splints, custom-made jewelry that stabilizes her hand and helps her write and type -- while looking absolutely awesome.

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BART riders may have been exposed to measles

FYI, Bay Area readers — if you rode BART between February 4 and February 7, you may have been exposed to measles by an unvaccinated student who picked up the disease on a trip to Asia. Symptoms are similar to those of a cold, plus a rash. If this matches anything you (even adults who have been vaccinated could probably use a booster) or your children have been experiencing, call a doctor.

State Department, Duluth hospital attempting to deport man in a coma

Three months ago, Pakistani exchange student Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa was injured in a car wreck. He's been in a coma ever since, in a hospital in Duluth, Minn. Now, his family fears he will be deported while comatose — stuck on a plane with little medical aide and delivered to an area of Pakistan that doesn't have the medical infrastructure he needs. What's more, this kind of thing apparently happens all the time. UPDATE: There seems to be a lot of miscommunication happening in this case between the hospital, the State Department, and the family of Muhammad Bajwa. Case in point, the State Department has since told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that they are not seeking to deport Bajwa, which seems to go counter to what the hospital understood and, possibly, what they told the Bajwas.

Fax Your GP: quick opt-out from insane NHS plan to sell your medical records


The UK National Health Service has initiated a plan to take the nation's private health records and sell them off to private companies in a process overseen by notorious multinational bumblewads ATOS. If you live in the UK England, your records -- mental health records, prescriptions, records of surgeries including abortions, and other sensitive personal information -- will be handed over to a wide-ranging group of companies all over the world.

Unless you opt out. And opting out isn't easy. There's no central place to opt out. Instead, you have to send a letter to your GP's surgery, which means you have to look up your GP's surgery's address, compose a legally sufficient letter, print it out, find an envelope and a stamp -- etc.

However! There's a better way. A group of volunteers whom I trust implicitly, including the astounding Stef Magdalinski (who made the Faxyourmp service that is the ancestor of Theyworkforyou) have created Fax Your GP, a dead-simple form that will look up your GP's fax number for you, create a form opt-out letter you can fill in in just a few easy steps, and then they'll fax that letter directly to your GP's surgery. I just opted out.

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