Generating electricity by peeing in your socks


Peeing in one’s socks may not be everyone’s first choice for powering their mobile devices, but apparently it could be an option. A team of researchers from the Bristol BioEnergy Centre at the University of the West of England is experimenting with a pair of socks that use urine to generate electricity via miniaturized microbial fuel cells. Results have already started to trickle in, with the system used to run a transmitter to send wireless signals to a desktop computer…

The key to this rather unorthodox style of footwear is the MFC, which converts organic matter directly into electricity. Inside the MFC there is a mixture of ordinary anaerobic microorganisms that release electrons as they feed – in this case, on the urine. The technology has been under development for 30 years, but because of problems in scaling up the technology to provide significant amounts of power, it has yet to find widespread commercial application. However, it is possible to attain practical levels of power when several small MFCs are stacked and wired together.

In the case of the socks, soft MFCs were embedded into a sort of support anklet, while a pump modeled after a primitive fish heart was embedded in the heel of the sock. The reason for this is that the microbes need to circulate through the MFC to remain alive and reproduce and metabolize efficiently. As the wearer walked about, the push-pull motion circulated the urine through the MFCs, which, according to the team, generated enough electricity to send a signal every two minutes to a receiver module controlled by a PC.

Best useful suggestion so far:

Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos suggests, “…it should be possible to develop a system based on wearable MFC technology to transmit a person’s coordinates in an emergency situation. At the same time this would indicate proof of life since the device will only work if the operator’s urine fuels the MFCs.”

News of the World journalists arrested in phone hacking probe – UPDATED

Most Americans probably aren’t aware of the growing scandal involving one of the leading UK newspapers owned by that idol of journalism, Rupert Murdoch. It’s called illegal wiretapping.

Ian Edmondson, left, and Neville Thurlbeck

The former news editor and current chief reporter from the News of the World are in police custody after being arrested on suspicion of unlawfully intercepting mobile phone voicemail messages…

“They remain in custody for questioning after being arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications, contrary to Section 1(1) Criminal Law Act 1977, and unlawful interception of voicemail messages, contrary to Section 1 Ripa [Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act] 2000,” the briefing added…

The arrests are the first salvo in Operation Weeting, whose tasks include establishing whether there are grounds for bringing further prosecutions in the phone-hacking scandal.

Edmondson and Thurlbeck will probably be released later this afternoon after the search of their homes is complete.

The two men have been implicated in the long-running scandal through documents seized from Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator employed by the newspaper…

Only one reporter, the former royal editor Clive Goodman, has been convicted of a crime as part of the scandal. He and Mulcaire were sentenced to jail terms in January 2007.

No other reporters or executives were questioned by the initial police investigation. It was only after a series of high court cases brought by the actor Sienna Miller, the football pundit Andy Gray and others that the Metropolitan police were forced to reveal material found on Mulcaire’s computer, during a 2006 raid of his home.

Last Friday, a high court judge ordered NoW to make available Mulcaire’s notes to the growing list of people suing the paper. Justice Geoffrey Vos, who is in charge of the hacking cases, ordered “rolling disclosure” to all claimants.

Hundreds of thousands of emails will now be handed over to alleged victims.

Rupert’s NewsCorp says they’re cooperating willingly with the police investigation. Five years after the initial arrests and denials that anyone remaining at the newspaper could possibly have been involved in the illegal electronic snooping on celebrity mobile phones.

UPDATE: Senior Journalist James Weatherup is a 3rd arrest in this case.

Yes, that’s an ad in the restroom mirror, It moves. WTF?

The idea is this:

When a traveler walks into an airport restroom, he or she will see, over the sinks, where the mirrors are expected to be, big, vertical display ads for products. Some of the ads are still images; some are moving videos.

When the traveler walks to the sink to wash his or her hands, the ads become mirrors — except that in front of the traveler’s eyes the advertisements grow smaller, and move up to a corner of the mirrors.

Thus, the traveler is looking at his or her own face in the mirror, and also at the advertisement.

We have chosen to be in bathrooms,” said Brian Reid, the founder and president of Mirrus, the Huntersville, North Carolina, company that manufactures and markets the mirrors. “Bathrooms are often the last places people stop before they board an airplane, and the first places they visit when they get off an airplane…”

While the traveler is looking both at himself or herself, and at the ad in the corner of the mirror, “We track in real time how long [the traveler] is standing there,” to determine how long the ad is being seen.

There is no camera inside the mirrors, he said, so no one at a remote location is looking at the person in the restroom. The sensors track only which advertisements are being seen, how many times, and for how long.

Extra creepy!

Tests match NHTSA results – no electronic flaws in Toyota brakes

Not much to do with the topic – but, it rocks!

After dissecting Toyota’s engine control software and bathing its microchips in every type of radiation engineers could think of, federal investigators found no evidence that the company’s cars are susceptible to sudden acceleration from electronic failures.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood walked to the podium to deliver the results of a report released Tuesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which found no electronic flaws to explain reports of sudden, unintentional acceleration in Toyota vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded the sudden acceleration was caused by mechanical problems in some Toyota models — sticking accelerator pedals and floor mat interference — that it had previously identified as causes…

Toyota eventually recalled more than 11 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles globally because of floor mats and sticky accelerator pedals. It also paid three fines totaling $48.8 million, because, the Transportation Department said, Toyota had not reacted appropriately to reports of problems.

The jury is back,” said Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary. “The verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas. Period…”

In a statement, Steve St. Angelo, Toyota’s chief quality officer for North America, said the automaker hoped the study would help put to rest questions about the reliability of Toyota’s electronic systems…

The government said it was considering new research, on “the placement and design of accelerator and brake pedals, as well as driver usage of pedals, to determine whether design and placement can be improved to reduce pedal misapplication.”

Please don’t let them do that. Can you imagine every driver in the United States having to learn where to put their feet all over again? Bad enough we have a certain percentage who can’t deal with the pattern they grew up with.

The one addition that I know will warm the cockles of insurance company hearts [do they have hearts?] is black box recorders which will retain the last few seconds of vehicle actions before a crash. That could be useful to providing crash info for design – as well dissuade some frivolous lawsuits – and help prove legit lawsuits.

The usual disclaimer. I make enough from the few shares of Toyota I own to buy me some sushi in downtown Santa Fe.

Darwin Award candidate from Florida

Her neck aching after a night of wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve, Dr. Michelle Ferrari-Gegerson used an electronic massager to relieve the pain.

What happened next is unclear, but Broward Sheriff’s Office detectives and the Medical Examiner suspect the electronic massager became ensnared with a necklace Ferrari-Gegerson was wearing, and strangled her…

Police are withholding the brand and other details of the electronic massager while the investigation continues…

Ferrari-Gegerson’s apparent accident is not the first incident where an electronic massager has reportedly strangled someone.

In December 2008, the Matoba Electric Manufacturing Company based in Saitama, Japan recalled an electronic foot massager after three reported cases in that country of women strangling themselves accidentally while using the machine as a neck massager.

In all the cases, the women removed a cloth cover from the Arubi Shape-Up roller, and the collar of their shirts ended up getting caught in the machine’s rollers.

Uh, OK.

The easiest massage for me – when my wife isn’t around – is trying to get the dog to walk on my back.

People are consuming more news

Circulation declines and falling revenue for newspapers and magazines have fueled concern that Americans are replacing traditional offline news sources with online sources. However, a new study by the Pew Center for People and the Press that looked at time spent with different sources of news found that growth in online news consumption hasn’t come at the expense of traditional media such as newspapers and television, but rather has added to it. In fact, people are spending more time with the news than they have at almost any point over the last 15 years, according to the Center’s research.

While it’s true there’s been a gradual decline in the number of people who say they get their daily news from newspapers, magazines and television (with newspapers suffering the biggest decline in consumption), the Pew study found that some of this decline was being compensated for by the increase in numbers of people who were finding their news online, and many people were also adding online consumption to their existing news habits. This has caused the amount of time spent on news to actually increase over the past few years, the center’s research shows, to the point where overall time spent is as high as it was 15 years ago…

More than a third of those surveyed said that they got news from both digital and traditional sources, which the Pew Center said suggests that “instead of replacing traditional news platforms, Americans are increasingly integrating new technologies into their news consumption habits.”

I’d call this good news.

Wonder what sort of ideologue, pundit or pipsqueak would say otherwise?

Electronic prescribing reduces medication errors by seven-fold

Medication errors are cut by seven-fold when doctors use an electronic system to write prescriptions, compared with scrawling prescriptions by hand, reports a new study by physician-scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC), published online recently in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

We found nearly two in five handwritten prescriptions in these community practices had errors,” says Dr. Rainu Kaushal, the study’s lead author… “Examples of the types of errors we found included incomplete directions and prescribing a medication but omitting the quantity. A small number of errors were more serious, such as prescribing incorrect dosages…”

“Although most of the errors we found would not cause serious harm to patients, they could result in callbacks from pharmacies and loss of time for doctors, patients and pharmacists,” says senior author Dr. Erika Abramson, assistant professor of pediatrics at WCMC. “On the plus side, we found that by writing prescriptions electronically, doctors can dramatically reduce these errors and therefore these inefficiencies…”

The study noted that, without extensive technical support, it is difficult for physician practices to achieve high rates of use of electronic prescribing and subsequent improvements in medication safety.

In total, the authors reviewed 3,684 paper-based prescriptions at the start of the study and 3,848 paper-based and electronic prescriptions written one year later. After one year, the percentage of errors dropped to 7 percent from 43 percent for the providers using the electronic system; for those writing prescriptions by hand, the percentage of errors increased slightly to 38 percent from 37 percent. Illegibility problems were completely eliminated by e-prescribing.

Timing couldn’t be better for me. This is doctor-day for me and my first stop is with a friend and physician who has resisted putting a computer in his office for 25 years.

When his office manager called yesterday to remind me of the appointment – she couldn’t wait to tell me that Paul has finally computerized his practice.

After we finish our usual discussion of worldly affairs – like Ferrari vs. McLaren – I will try to nudge him along in his entry into the digital age.

The electronic cigarette: a cleaner, safer way to inhale nicotine?

Hon Lik used to light up first thing in the morning. He smoked between lectures at the university where he studied Oriental medicine, between bites at lunch, in the lab where he researched ginseng health products. He’d usually burn through two packs by dusk and smoke a third over dinner and drinks with colleagues.

One of the strangest gizmos to come out of China in recent years, Hon’s invention, the electronic cigarette, turns the adage “where there’s smoke there’s fire” on its head.

It doesn’t burn at all. Instead, it uses a small lithium battery that atomizes a liquid solution of nicotine. What you inhale looks like smoke, but it’s a vapor similar to stage fog. (Take that, smoke-free bars!) It even has a red light at the tip that lights up with each drag.

“It’s a much cleaner, safer way to inhale nicotine,” said Hon, blowing curlicues of e-smoke as he showed off the cigarette in his Beijing office. (He says he doesn’t smoke anymore, except for such demonstrations.)

Hon got his first patent on the e-cigarette in 2003 and introduced it to the Chinese market the next year….

This year, it’s planning a big push in the United States. A disposable e-cigarette called the Jazz ($24.95 for the equivalent of five packs) is due to hit 7-Elevens in the Dallas-Fort Worth area shortly. Many rival versions, all made in China, are making their way to the U.S., sold mostly over the Internet by small marketing firms….

Buyer beware.

On the other hand, I am somewhat bemused by countries barring these products until they are demonstrated to be safe… like traditional cigarettes, one supposes.

Feds ask for input on voting machine standards

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today opened for public comment detailed new methods for testing future electronic voting systems’ compliance with voluntary federal standards. Touch screens, optical scanners and other kinds of electronic voting systems now appear at polls across the nation.

The new draft tests can be viewed here.

“These new tests will ensure that everyone is on the same page for testing electronic voting systems,” said Lynne Rosenthal, manager of the NIST voting project. “This will not only benefit the general public and the government, but also they will help manufacturers build voting systems that meet federal standards.”

NIST requests public comments on the draft by July 1. Once the EAC finalizes the VVSG-NI, the test suites are expected to become required for testing future generations of electronic voting systems.

Any suggestions?

Will “iNews” bring newspaper readers back?

A big newspaper company wants to give you news the way Burger King makes hamburgers: your way. MediaNews Group, the nation’s fourth-largest newspaper chain, said it would test a customized newspaper service this summer at The Los Angeles Daily News, one of the 54 dailies owned by the company.

The service, which allows readers to pick and choose only the stories that interest them, is among the many maneuvers that newspapers across the country are making to respond to the changes the Internet has wrought on their businesses…

But MediaNews’s experiment, which it has named “individuated news” — it has trademarked the phrase — or “I-news,” for short, has an old media twist: dead trees and a new piece of hardware for your home.

“I-News is really about choice,” said Peter Vandevanter, vice president for targeted products at MediaNews. “We’ll let the reader decide what they want to read and on what platform.”

MediaNews has been working with a technology company — Vandevanter would not say which one — to develop a proprietary printer for a reader’s home. It would receive and print a subscriber’s customized newspaper — with targeted advertising.

It is unclear if subscribers will pay extra for the printer, or if it will be part of the subscription fee. “The business model doesn’t have the finishing touches on it,” Vandevanter said.

On the Web, at various journalism blogs and news sites, the idea was greeted with skepticism and even ridicule.

I would be excited – if I was witnessing this, say, at the NY World’s Fair in 1939.