Tuesday, February 27, 2007

When the Village Fails, Children Suffer

news you may not know

Is It

Soup Yet?

A recent report card issued by the U. N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) is awash with red. Red, as in the color of large "F's" representing significant failure. Surprisingly, the country that UNICEF singled out is an economic powerhouse.

India has been all the rage of late. The masters of "insourcing" all the high-tech services the rest of the world outsources, their economy has been brisk. Average GDP has exceeded 8 percent for several years running, the government is paying increased attention to technological infrastructure and opportunities abound for upwardly mobile Indians.

So, why are so many Indian children going hungry?

UNICEF reports an astonishing 46% of the children under the age of three are malnourished. This is a mere 1% improvement in this area in the past 7 years. India even falls behind Sub-Saharan Africa in this regard. In Ethiopia, for example, fewer than 40% of the children are malnourished.

India is not alone in its dilemma. The United States, though fabulously wealthy, still has ground to cover between the farm and the dinner table. Statistics for 2005 indicate over 10 million households experience hunger consistently. Additionally, over 35 million people live in houses where the availability of food is uncertain.

What's to be done? Well, the first step is simple. Take a look around. Is your neighbor hungry? If so, get out the skillet or throw some charcoal in the barbeque pit.

Then, take a wider look around - it's a new day and a new world. The village has gone global...

To read more, see this from Food Research and Action Center and this from Bread for the World.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Is Eating Chocolate Before an Exam Cheating?

tidbits that tantalize

The Gooey

Decimal System...

Harvard Law School. Wow. This was going to be your ticket. You worked for years to get here, sacrificed everything and, until yesterday, it all seemed to be well worth it. Then, in a moment of shear lunacy, you threw it all away. All for a measly leg up on an Environmental Law final - a final you spent so much time cramming for you could have aced it with your eyes closed.

But, apparently, the detectors are every bit as good as the rumors suggested. You'd never seen so many flashing lights, heard so many sirens, saw so many astonished faces staring in your direction. Now, here you sit. Waiting for the dean, facing academic suspension for possession of a controlled substance. Your career is over and you haven't even graduated yet.

All this over a secreted chocolate bar stashed in your backpack...

Scientists in Britain have found that a specially formulated cocoa increases the flow of blood to the brain. Does this mean chocolate makes people smarter? Actually, the research failed to demonstrate a direct link between the increase in blood flow and better performance on exams. Nonetheless, the findings are of significant interest to stroke victims and chocoholics worldwide.

While the chocolate may not unleash a new generation of geniuses, those suffering from strokes and vascular disease may find some benefit. The ability of the cocoa to increase the flow of blood may also eventually benefit individuals suffering from cognitive impairments and fatigue.

CocoaVia(r), a proprietary cocoa mixture developed by Mars, Inc., retains the flavanols that are found in cocoa beans. The flavanols, like those found in red wines and green teas, have previously been shown to be beneficial to cardiovascular health.

...As you ponder your fate, you wonder if future legal scholars will be the subjects of chocolate doping scandals? Then, snapping out of your malaise, you focus on the task at hand. The dean, the disciplinary board, the evidence... You slowly reach down and inch a chocolate bar out of your socks. After all, this is going to get tense and you want to be at your best...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuter's Health.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Do Liquid Calories Really Matter?

news you may not know

It's The New

Liquid Diet...

So, what good is a lifetime warranty if they won't even honor it after a measly two weeks? Two weeks!

Here's the scoop. You took your time, learned from past mistakes and false starts, and went into this with your eyes wide open. You picked a date - two weeks ago - and you got organized. This time around you were going to lose weight - no ifs ands or "butts!"

Now, after two weeks of rigorously faithful dieting, your entire plan is being sabotaged by a defective TurboSlim2000 (TS2) bathroom scale. It's unconscionable. According to the plan, and your own oft-repeated calculations, you should be down at least six pounds. If you had a scale with half a brain, probably closer to ten. But, the scale says you've actually gained two pounds!

You huff and puff into your lawyer's office, determined to teach the slackers who manufacture the TS2 a lesson or two about lifetime warranties. Two pounds! You take an angry swig from your 72 oz. cherry-vanilla soda with lime and plop down in a chair. The tears well, but you steady yourself and hit the soda again, relishing the sweet taste of cherry offset by the tart splash of lime. If it weren't for all the sodas you've been drinking the last two weeks you don't know how you would've made it...

Ah, yes, indeed - if it weren't for all the sodas...

A study recently released by the Milk Processor Education Program (MPEP) indicates that Americans pay little attention to the calories of what they drink. But, the report shows that an astounding 22% of the average American's caloric intake comes from liquids. 22%. It's a remarkable figure and may have much to do with the obesity epidemic plaguing the country.

While water is the most consumed beverage, sugar-sweetened beverages run a strong second. Teenagers are especially likely to consume large amounts of sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks, with teenage boys receiving 10% of all their calories from soft drinks. Sadly, it appears the phrase "The Pepsi Generation" may be more than a simple marketing slogan.

The Milk Processor Education Program has developed a website to highlight health and weight issues surrounding beverage choices. The full report referenced here may be downloaded and other resources and recommendations are also available at the site. Not surprisingly, the word M-I-L-K appears roughly 10 cajillion times per page - but, it may simply be coincidence...

To read more, visit the ThinkAboutYourDrink website.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Does Your Therapist Really Care?

tidbits that tantalize
Do You

Feel My Pain??


Here you go again. Every Tuesday at 10 a.m. you park your keister in the old, but fabulously comfortable, leather chair in your therapist's office and dive in. Oh, yes - there's also Wednesdays at 2, Fridays at 11 and the occasional "catch-up" session on Saturday mornings. And, the diving? This is no wade in the kiddie's pool. This is a flying leap off the high dive into the deep, deeper and deepest end of your fragile psyche.

Yes, indeed. The rigors of psychodynamic therapy are not for the timid. At least, that's what you've heard - and you hope it's true, because you're still working on the whole confidence issue.

There's been progress. Six years ago you felt overwhelmed by the daily complexities of life. Today, it's more like being moderately confused and, on your good days, you actually feel you've been issued a cheat-sheet to life's most pressing dilemmas. It's fabulous - but...

Lately, you've had your doubts about your therapist. Sure, she still says she "feels your pain." But, does she really? You've decided to find out.

Popping open your laptop, you launch the Therapeutic Empathy Detection (TED) software, hook up a couple of sensors to your therapist and sit back in the fabulously comfortable leather chair. Ah, it's the moment of truth. You dive in. The past flashes forward, old issues tumble forth, tears flow and... there it is! Your therapist leans forward, gives you an earnest look and whispers, "I feel your pain."

Tap. Tap - tap. Processing data... Then, the results roll across your laptop, and you have the answer you've been seeking. You are now the one to lean forward in your chair, gaze steadily at your therapist and whisper:

"TED says no - you feel nothing. And your Internet service is on the fritz."

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital report there is indeed a physiologic component to empathy. Using skin conductance recordings, they studied 20 pairs of patients and counselors to assess the similarity of their responses during times of high and low emotion. Their findings indicate that both participants experience similar levels of physiologic activity during times deemed to be filled with empathy.

Therapists exhibit physical responses similar to those of patients during times of high emotion within counseling sessions. And, the patients can "feel it." Patients rated therapist's levels of empathy at different times during counseling sessions. The times at which patients believed their therapists were most empathetic correlate with measurements indicating higher levels of physiologic response.

Well... It's sad, really. Six years is a long time and you've built quite a bond. But, TED doesn't lie and it looks like you'll have to find another therapist's springboard from which to launch. Still - you're going to miss the chair...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Do Vasectomies Mess With Your Mind?

news you may not know

Did You Say...


Montana - 2022

"Jimmy, get your heinie in here. Foods getting cold."

Why wouldn't it? It's 27 degrees below zero and the winds ripping out of the north without remorse. Who knew this is what "getting back to nature" was going to be all about? But, you really didn't have much choice. City life was tearing you up. Noisy and crowded, people pushing and shoving - and the cost! Year by year you fell further behind and that little apartment was bursting. Nope, this was the place to be. Wide open spaces, fresh air, plenty of room for you and the kids.

You close the door behind Jimmy and watch as he joins your brood at the table. He slides in next to Jenna and Jessie, across from Pete and James, Julie and Crystal, down from Johnny, Freddie, Sam, Lucy and Sarah, catty-corner from Arthur, Oscar, Sandy, Michelle, Lulu and... Hmm, probably a neighbor, but who's to say?

Yes, it seems like a big group, but, again, you really had no choice. After the news hit that vasectomies may cause dementia you had to make a choice. Or, in your case, more like 15 or so choices...

Do vasectomies really cause dementia? Well...

Researchers at Northwestern University believe they may. Their recent findings indicate a correlation between vasectomies and the early onset of Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA). PPA is a neurological condition that impacts a person's ability to recall and understand words. It's a complex disease in which other, even more complex, abilities may remain intact while language capabilities deteriorate.

The group surveyed 104 men, 47 of whom had PPA. Of the non-impaired men, those without PPA, 16 percent had undergone a vasectomy. Of those with PPA, 40 percent had received a vasectomy. That's a significant discrepancy and researchers are keen to understand this correlation more fully.

Additional forms of dementia may also be associated with vasectomies. A survey of a smaller group of men revealed a potential link to frontotemporal dementia (FTD). The onset of FTD is characterized by personality changes and a lack of judgment that often results in bizarre behavior.

On the positive side, the group found no association to the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

The howling wind rattles your windows as you pull up a chair at the head of the table and take in your many, many blessings. With shouts of, "Pass the potatoes!" and "That's my drumstick!" echoing about the room, you gaze out the window at the frozen tundra and let your mind wander. What might life be like, you wonder, with just a touch of dementia?

To read more about the study, see this from Biology News Net.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Exoskeletons, Injuries and a Walk in the Park

tidbits that tantalize

OK -

Here Comes


Wow, what a year. Last year at this time, just after the wreck, things looked pretty bleak. One minute you were on your way to a friend's and, the next thing you knew, it was two days later in the ICU. But, you were alive and your family was there with you.

The doctors said you "were lucky" - a phrase repeated rather routinely in the ICU by those standing on two legs. While your spinal cord had been severely damaged, it had not been severed. There was still hope.

Still, it would've been nice if you could have raised your legs, moved your ankles, wiggled your toes...

But, believe it or not, the doctors were right. You were lucky.

You finish stretching and join the others on the little path that winds through the park. No, you won't be setting any land-speed records, but when you throw the switch on your Exo-5000 RoboLeg you'll have no problem keeping up. As a matter of fact, you're feeling pretty good today and may even kick it into overdrive for a lap or two - it's always fun to watch the wide-eyed kids as you chugga-chugga-chug on past...

In developments befitting the Terminator, the University of Michigan's Human Neuromechanics Lab has developed a "lower limb robotic exoskeleton." The exotic device is controlled by the wearer's own nervous system and is intended for use by those suffering partial spinal cord injuries, strokes and muscle-weakening illnesses.

Similar devices have been used in the past to help rehabilitate patients. Those devices, however, were the drivers of the action, actively moving an injured limb in an attempt to retrain the body. The new device takes a somewhat contrarian approach to rehabilitation.

The new device is passive - it only acts after receiving signals from the wearer's brain via electrodes that monitor the body's electrical impulses. This allows both the mind and the body to participate in the rehabilitation process.

The device holds amazing promise for those with damaged or weakened limbs that are still functional. Utilizing pneumatics, the device assists the wearer in a manner that increases strength while allowing the user to maintain control and direct the activity in a natural manner. With practice, utilizing the device may seem no more unusual than slipping on a favorite pair of jeans.

Ah... What a great walk. You step off the path, grab your water bottle and head for home. A satisfied smile crosses your face as you consider how far you've come in the last year. You take a quick look over your shoulder at the path, chuckle and whisper your current favorite phrase, "I'll be back..."

To read more about the robotic exoskeleton, see this from ScienceDaily and the University of Michigan's Human Neuromechanics Lab.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Is Treating Restless Legs Syndrome a Gamble?

news you may not know

This Is

Going To Hurt...

How did this happen? You don't even like peanut butter, but here you are, munching away at your third grader's PB&J sandwich while she... Hmm, come to think of it, she's probably begging food from her friends at school right now. Why couldn't you just let it go? It was a long shot at best. Oh, well.

You just wanted the thrill, just had to gamble - even if it meant betting sweet little Sarah her bus would be at least three full minutes early. Like you said, what are the odds? The last time the bus was actually early had to do with the whole daylight savings fiasco of '04. But, like some bright yellow, rattling Phoenix, here it came, sputtering its way down your lonely little street - four-and-a-half minutes early.

The tears were hard to bear, but a bet's a bet. The PB&J sandwich settled the deal and little Sarah trudged sadly off to school. Watching her shuffle toward the bus, you try to remember when this all began. Then, it strikes you...

It was about the time you began taking those little pills to treat your Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). Hmm...

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic report in the medical journal Neurology that treatment for RLS may indeed have its darker side. RLS is a neurological disorder characterized by an uncontrollable urge to move one's legs. Sufferers often experience odd sensations, like burning and twitches. A class of medications known as "dopamine agonists," used in the treatment of Parkinson's, is often used to treat this disorder.

But, the scientists at Mayo report the treatment may lead to impulsive gambling. The same phenomenon has been found in Parkinson's patients treated with dopamine agonists. Though relatively rare, researchers believe the problem has been previously overlooked in RLS patients.

One woman with RLS reports having lost more than $140,000 after beginning treatment for RLS. After being switched to an alternative treatment, her compulsive gambling behavior disappeared.

Now you know. You pick up the phone, make a quick call to your doctor and schedule an appointment for next Tuesday. Ah, very good, that should settle it.

Just then the back door opens and in walks Sarah. She looks pretty good, considering. She drops her backpack on the table, unzips a pocket and pulls out a Snickers candy bar.

And you wonder to yourself, "What are the odds..."

To read more about the study, see this from Reuter's Health.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Helping Clogged Arteries Clean Up Their Act

news you may not know


He Went That Way...

The Cardiovascular Cavalry is on the way...

Sergeant Statin has combined forces with expert guide Nevada Niacin to track and tame the Pillaging Plaques. It's been a long time coming, as the Plaques have virtually had their way since they hitched up with the Trans-Fat gangs back in good 'ole Crisco days. But, law and order is sweeping into town and, before you know it, the filthy Arteries in this two-bit town will be singing a new tune.

That's right - Statin and Niacin are going to clean up this joint...

Researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine recently reported results of a study on cardiovascular health. The scientists found that a combination of statins and niacin not only protect against future cardiovascular complications, they may actually reverse the buildup of plaque in already damaged arteries. This is potentially huge news for the less-than-health-conscious majority of Americans.

Statin drugs, used by millions of Americans with high cholesterol, help to reduce LDL, the "bad" cholesterol. Niacin, which is Vitamin B3, helps to raise levels of HDL, the "good" cholesterol, which acts to dissolve the deposits of cholesterol that form on artery walls. Put the two together and you've got an artery-cleaning dynamo akin to a nano-sized Roto-Rooter operation.

The findings are among the first to indicate a potential reversal of damage; previous results had shown preventive capabilities only. Further research is necessary, but the initial results are promising.

A note of concern. Several study participants reported a disruption in sleep patterns early in the study. These disturbances, however, typically resolved after an average of 10 days. Scientists theorize it simply took participants a while to get used to the sounds of Sergeant Statin and Nevada Niacin galloping through their veins...

To read more about this study, see this from ScienceDaily.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

When No Face is Familiar

tidbits that tantalize

Through A

Glass Darkly...

The oft-quoted refrain of the innocent, "It happens to all of us," echoing about your brain brings not an ounce of comfort. Why should it? You really don't care about the humiliation of others at this point - honestly, there could be a million people simultaneously experiencing the same lapse of memory and it would not lessen your embarrassment one scintilla.

All you know is that your leisurely stroll through the mall has brought you face to face with someone whose face you can't begin to place. You stammer and stutter, hoping the extra few seconds you buy will somehow unlock the reinforced steel doors that safeguard your memories.

"Mom! I swear - sometimes I feel like an orphan!"

Ah - now you get it. It was your daughter all along. You should have known. Maybe it was the new haircut, or the new coat, or...


A fascinating neurological condition, those who suffer from prosopagnosia have an inability to recognize faces. Some cases develop following a head trauma or stroke, while others are congenital. In severe cases, people may not even recognize themselves in the mirror. So, in the above scenario, what may have played out differently in reality? Possibly, depending upon the noise level, very little.

Those suffering prosopagnosia learn to adopt compensatory strategies to help them identify others. Hairstyle, height and weight, glasses, tone of voice and other characteristics are used in much the same manner as sight. These are often sufficient to help them unravel enough clues to correctly guess identities. But, if the noise level is high, or the setting unfamiliar, even these clues may fall short and leave the person in the embarrassing situation of talking to an "intimate stranger."

What's to be done?

Research is ongoing, but no breakthroughs are forthcoming. In the interim, safety and social issues are best addressed with a combination of compensatory strategies and a strong circle of support from family, friends and community.

As to the issue of not recognizing your daughter in the mall? Well, considering the latest hairstyles and clothing trends, there are days you may consider that to be one of life's simple joys...

To read more about prosopagnosia, see this from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Will We Smoke Our Drugs in the Future?

news you may not know

Current Delivery

Methods Take Time...

Ah... A great day, to be sure.

First, a quick jog to get the blood pumping, then off to meet the gals for a lazy Saturday morning breakfast and chat. You've been anxious to try out the new southwestern style diner that opened a few months ago. You know, break out of the routine, spice it up a little. After all, who can eat oatmeal every morning without beginning to develop something of an attitude?

You pull into the diner's parking lot and find a spot. This is where it gets hard. You look around, considering getting out of the car, but your heart starts to race, the beads of sweat pop out on your forehead and dash across your face and your stomach jumps aboard its internal trampoline. Great - another panic attack in full swing! Your trembling hands fidget with your purse, you find a small pill and pop it in your mouth. Then, you wait...

If only there were a faster way to get relief.

If Alexza Pharmaceuticals is successful, there may indeed be a faster way to find relief from both panic and pain. The drug maker is developing a smokeable delivery system that may allow patients to reap the benefit of super fast acting medications. The first drug in their pipeline is intended for use by migraine headache sufferers, but many more applications appear to be feasible.

Alexza's Staccato(tm) System, utilizing a thermal aerosol technology, vaporizes medications and allows them to be inhaled. This mechanism of delivery results in rapid systemic absorption of the medications and peak plasma levels within minutes. The result is quicker relief, whether the problem is pain, headache or panic.

The Staccato(tm) System is a small inhaler device that houses a heating component coated with medication, a battery and a circuit board. When activated, the medication is rapidly heated, vaporized and inhaled. Alexza is developing both single dose and multi-dose devices.

Clinical trials are under way and the rapid-delivery mechanisms may reach the U.S. market in 3-5 years.

Imagine the difference this quick delivery system would make. The parking-lot-panic would play out significantly faster. At the first signs of panic, a simple puff would set you back on your feet. You'd be off to test the spicy southwestern breakfast everyone has been raving about. Then, after a fabulous breakfast, all you'd need is some equally fast-acting heartburn relief...

To read more about the Staccato(tm) System, see this from Alexza Pharmaceuticals.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Is it Serious When You See Flashes of Light and Zigzag Lines?

news you may not know


This Doesn't

Look Quite Right...

Life is good. You're cruising on down the road, your favorite music boosting your spirits and the whole weekend free to do, well... nothing. What could be better?

You and your husband have planned this for a while. A little get away to the hills. A roaring fire, maybe some snow, but mainly just a big dose of quiet. The city forgotten, you drop your bags, kick up the heat and take a look around.

That's when it hits.

A series of bright flashes races across your left eye. You blink to clear your vision, but the lights only intensify. Then, your heart pounding to the same intense beat, the flashes begin to organize themselves in a cruel visual protest, forming well defined zigzag patterns that float toward the outside of your visual field. You feel somewhat faint, possibly from the sudden panic, and that's when the final insult occurs. The zigzags recast themselves again, this time in the form of a medieval fort that bounces across your visual field.

Your quiet weekend explodes, as thoughts of brain tumors, strokes and debilitation flood your mind. You throw your bags back in the car and rush to the nearest emergency room...

Is your head really about to explode? Well...

The most likely explanation for your visual disturbances is what's known as Scintillating Scotoma. This most often occurs prior to the onset of a migraine headache, but may occur without the actual headache - a condition called acephalgic migraine or silent migraine. For those individuals not accustomed to migraines, the visual disturbances are significantly disturbing.

Though these types of visual phenomena may be the result of more serious medical conditions, in most cases they are the manifestation of a benign condition. The disturbances typically disappear after 20 to 30 minutes and, if you suffer no migraine, life is pretty much back to normal. Except, of course, for the lingering doubts about the impending explosion of your cranium.

What should you do?

First, educate yourself. A little time spent reading will most likely calm your immediate fears. However, if you experience persistent visual disturbances, or other more serious symptoms, consider a visit to your family physician or to a neurologist.

In the meantime, now that you're up to speed, turn your car around and enjoy the rest of the weekend. Oh, and stop all the hysterical screaming - the raccoons have filed a complaint...

To learn more about scintillating scotomas, see this from the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center. There is a hyperlink in the first section, titled "visual aura of migraine," that gives an excellent video presentation overview of scintillating scotomas.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Should Organic Food be Grounded?

tidbits that tantalize
Banana Flight

Ban Impacting


Bananas, apples and pineapple. It certainly seems simple enough. You grab your helmet, climb aboard your ten-speed, self-propelled cruiser and head for the organic market. Wow - sunshine, crisp spring air and the flowers almost leaping out at you... Saturday mornings just don't get any better.

Until you hit the market, that is.

Intent on a quick grab-and-go, you barely break stride as you speed walk through the familiar produce section. Bananas, apples and pineapple on board you ease into the express lane and check your watch. Ah, under three minutes - perfect! You'll be back on your way to the park in record time.

The lights and sirens erupt without warning - armed guards come dashing from the shadows and whisk you away to a small, dimly lit room. An odd little man enters, sits directly across the table and drops a large green folder onto the table, your picture clipped to its front.

It's your worst nightmare come true - you've been apprehended by the Organic Food Police.

If only you'd renewed your Organic Foods Carbon Offset License...

While not yet envisioning a police force charged with apprehending "organic offenders," Britain's Soil Association is studying the ramifications of shipping organic produce by air. Among the possible actions it may recommend is an outright ban on the import of organic food that is shipped by air.

The issue revolves around the now ubiquitous concern over greenhouse gases. While organic farming is more efficient, and releases fewer greenhouse gases than conventional growing methods, air transport produces larger amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas.

The issue is tricky, however, as restrictions are somewhat of a double-edged sword. While restricting air transport reduces greenhouse gas emissions, it also negatively impacts organic growers in developing countries. Pineapple growers in Ghana, for example, may find world markets closed to them and suffer a severe financial hardship as a result.

As an alternative to an outright ban on air transport, the Soil Association may recommend labeling food to indicate "food miles," thus allowing consumers to make informed purchases. A second possibility is to establish a system of "carbon offsetting," presumably allowing continued air transport of organic produce if the impact is offset by other environmentally favorable actions.

Until it's all sorted out, however, it's best to play it safe. Word is there's an organic farmer's market down on Ashland Avenue that could care less about Organic Foods Carbon Offset Licenses. Just bring cash - oh, and if you think about it, your own canvas shopping bag would be nice...

To read more about the Soil Association actions, see this from Food Production Daily.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Is Work Really The Right Place to Recuperate?

tidbits that tantalize

Take Me

Straight To The

Conference Room...

It started over the weekend. A bit of a scratchy throat, a mild fever. You barely slept with all the sniffling, coughing and wheezing. Thank goodness it's Monday and you can finally get back to work. Nothing like your comfy little cubicle and friendly coworkers to take your mind off your ills and chills.

Yes, it would seem that many - OK, the reports say most - workers continue to show up at work despite feeling sick.

Is that a problem?

Well, it depends on your perspective. Workers often see staying home as a detriment to both their pocketbooks and their egos. Recent studies show close to 50% of private sector workers have no annual sick leave benefits. No wonder these workers continue to drag themselves out of the goose down comfort zone and trudge wearily off to work.

And, really... Is it even necessary to delve into the indispensable responsibilities shouldered by the ranks of the sniffling, the hacking, the wheezing? Of course not...

Employers, however, express a growing concern about the habit, dubbed presenteeism, of showing up for work when ill. A recent survey revealed 56% of human resource executives voiced concerns over the trend. An additional 12% had severe sore throats and expressed their concern in writing.

Employers point to loss of productivity, prolonged illness and the potential of infecting coworkers as primary concerns.

What's to be done?

Well, there's always etiquette to consider. Business and Legal Reports gives some interesting workplace tips in Do You Know the Proper Way to be Sick at Work?


Here's a revolutionary idea. When you're sick, stay home. Your coworkers will thank you and, should the business actually fall of the face of the earth due to your absence, well... You may still be sick, but just think of how perversely satisfied you'll feel.

To read more about presenteeism, see this from Reuters Health.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Will Smart Homes be the Nurses of the Future?

news you may not know

Smart Homes May

Soon Pop Up...

Bags packed? Check. Passport? Check. Airline tickets? Check. OK, your long-planned trip to Norway seems to be coming together nicely.

There's just one more task you have to take care of - sit down and have a serious talk with mom's house before you leave.

Feeling a little odd, you look her house straight in the control panel and take out your list. You start with your itinerary, leaving contact phones numbers and dates. Then, you move on to the issue that concerns you the most - your mom's safety. You remind the house that mom's a little forgetful, so it will have to be sure to lock the doors at night. When visitors ring the bell, you tell the house to find your mother and show her a picture of who's at the door. Then, if your mom says it's all right, open the door for the guest.

You warn the house to be especially careful around the kitchen and at night. In the kitchen, the house is to monitor the stove and faucets. If your mom forgets to turn something off, the house is to see to it. At night, if your mom gets up, you tell the house to watch where she goes and turn on the lights as she moves from room to room.

Finally, you tell the house to wake up your mom each day by slowly opening the blinds and turning on her favorite radio station. Then, it is to play one of the daily recordings of your own voice you left for your mom.

Sound far-fetched? Researchers in England and Florida beg to differ.

The Bath Institute of Medical Engineering (BIME) at the University of Bath in England and the University of Florida (UF) are working on futuristic versions of "smart house" technology. The purpose of the technology is to allow the elderly, and those with dementia, to continue to reside at home and to avoid hospitalization or nursing home care. With the baby-boomer generation entering retirement years, the need to lessen the requirement for human caregivers is critical.

The smart-houses may be the key.

A central computer is connected to a series of monitors, switches, cameras and communication devices. As the resident of the smart-home moves about, the monitors respond by turning on lights and televisions. If the stove is left on for too long, sensors automatically turn it off. Voice prompts remind those with dementia to complete routine tasks, or to return to bed in the middle of the night. If the sensors detect unusual wandering, a motionless resident on a living room floor or other types of abnormal activity, an alert is sent to care staff who will then intervene.

Smart-home technology certainly seems to hold promise for the future. Still, it may take you a while to get used to talking with inanimate objects. You’ve certainly made no headway with your three teenage children...

To read more about smart-home technology see this from Science Daily about the BIME project and this about the University of Florida project.