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Documenting madness: Female patients of the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum
07:29 am



Among the early pioneers of photography in the 1800s was a middle-aged English doctor called Hugh Welch Diamond, who believed photography could be used in the diagnosis and treatment of the mentally ill. Diamond first established his medical career with a private practice in Soho, London, before specializing in psychiatry and becoming Resident Superintendent of the Female Department at the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum in 1848—a position he held until 1858. Diamond was an early adopter of photography, taking his first portraits just three months after Henry Fox Talbot licensed his “salt print” process for producing “photogenic drawings.” As a follower of “physiognomics”—a popular science based on the theory that disease (and character) could be discerned from an individual’s features or physiognomy—Diamond believed photography could be used as a curative therapy.

In documenting madness, Diamond was following on from his predecessor at Surrey County, Sir Alexander Morison who had produced a book of illustrations by various artists depicting patients at the asylum called The Physiognomy of Mental Diseases in 1838. Diamond believed the book was not scientific as the drawings were mainly illustrative interpretations of what the artist saw and could therefore veer towards caricature. He believed that the camera was the only way in which doctors could document illness without taint of prejudice:

The Metaphysician and Moralist, the Physician and Physiologist will approach such an inquiry with their peculiar views, definitions and classifications—The Photographer needs in many cases no aid from any language of his own, but prefers to listen, with the picture before him, to the silent but telling language of nature.

Between 1848-58, Diamond photographed the women patients at Surrey County, taking their portraits against a curtained wall or canvas screen. He became convinced he was able to diagnose a patient’s mental illness from their photographic portrait and then use the image as a therapeutic cure to sanity—the idea being the patient would be able to recognize the sickness in their features. As evidence of this, he cited his success with one patient who he had used the process on:

Her subsequent amusement in seeing the portraits and her frequent conversation about them was the first decided step in her gradual improvement, and about four months ago she was discharged perfectly cured, and laughed heartily at her former imaginations…

Convinced he had found a possible cure to mental illness, Diamond presented a paper “On the Application of Photography to the Physiognomic and Mental Phenomena of Insanity” to the Royal Society of Medicine in May 1856, in which he explained his theories. While many scientists and doctors saw the merit in Diamond’s propositions, they were eventually dismissed as “pseudo-science,” “snake oil” and “quackery.” However, the belief in physiognomy as a form of scientific empiricism was developed by police detective, biometrics researcher and inventor of the mugshot, Alphonse Bertillon, who devised a system of anthropometry for classifying criminals. This was later dropped in favor of fingerprinting and later DNA.

Diamond’s ideas on the diagnostic and curative nature of photography have long been discredited, however, he is now best remembered as a pioneer of psychiatric photography.

During his time at Surrey County, Diamond was able to document most of the female patients as the asylum was a public institution, which meant the patients had no rights to privacy. It’s interesting to note that when he left Surrey for a privately run asylum in Twickenham, Diamond was not permitted to take patients’ portraits. The following is a selection of Diamond’s portraits of the patients at Surrey County Asylum, more can be seen here. Alas, I was unable to find details to the identities of the sitters or their illnesses.
More portraits after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Microscopic footage of a needle moving across the grooves of a record
09:42 am



You would think that if you have an electron microscope and a record player, you’re most of the way there to being able to record close-up footage of a needle traversing the grooves of a long-player record.

Well, you would be wrong. It was actually quite a challenge, as the Applied Science YouTube channel recently demonstrated in vivid and mind-blowing detail.

Among the difficulties that Ben Krasnow, the man behind the Applied Science channel, had to overcome were that a small square of the vinyl LP had to be carved out in order to fit it into the microscope chamber, and the LP had to be coated in a conductive material (evaporated silver) to avoid a circumstance whereby the electrons fired at its surface by the microscope would be absorbed, trapped, and eventually repelled.

I don’t really understand any of this, but the video explains it very well. Also a new stylus also had to be constructed, because the magnets in the original cartridge would have deflected the incoming electrons. And guess what, they needed to make a custom tonearm as well.

Even more astonishingly, the little movie that resulted isn’t a regular movie at all, it’s pretty much stop-motion animation on a microscopic scale. You see, the video image generated by the microscope has is of a low resolution, so Krasnow painstakingly saved individual images at a higher resolution, moving the LP piece 50 microns at a time until he had amassed 60 frames. Then the frames were put together in PhotoShop to make an animated GIF, which plays about 1/400th of actual speed.

The result is some fantastic footage for those audiophiles who’ve always wondered…. just how the heck does this work, exactly?

via What Hi-Fi?

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Find out if you are going to die in the next five years
07:33 am



When we’re young, we think we’re immortal. It’s only after middle age that the aches, pains and slow erosion of the senses confirm there’s something bad coming down the line, but we just don’t know when it’s going to hit.

Well now for those inquisitive enough to want to know when they might die, two boffins from Sweden and a British health charity have come together to create a five-minute online test for those aged between 40-70 that can estimate your time of final departure.

The UK Longevity Explorer or UbbLE is claimed to be “the most accurate indicator of five-year mortality ever created.” The test is based on data taken from 500,000 volunteers, who were each tracked for nearly five years and assessed according to 655 health, lifestyle and demographic measurements. The researchers then used complex algorithms to determine which of the measurements were most closely linked to the participants’ mortality. Amazingly the researchers were able to whittle these 655 measurements down to roughly twelve factors that could determine an individual’s chance of surviving the next five years.

The questions asked vary for women and men—with women having eleven questions, men thirteen. The results from this test are claimed to be 80% accurate—based on further tests of 35,000 people.
The set of questions asked by the test.
The questions are more first world problems than anything realistic. For example, owning a car or several cars is good, while owning none suggests you are poor and therefore living off a poor diet and no doubt a slob.

Being married or living with a partner and having kids is good for you, while being single and living on your own is sending out a handwritten invite to the Grim Reaper.

Smoking basically means you’re dead and if you’re not dead, well, hell you ought to be. Having cancer or having suffered any kind of serious illness or loss of a relative will also dramatically whittle down your life expectancy.

As a single man who lives on his own, smokes, doesn’t drive, doesn’t have a car or a van, and is a cancer survivor, I was given an UbbLE estimated age of 77-81 years (okay….) and have a 75% chance of getting through the next five years—which as a betting man is not bad odds.

One of the co-authors of the test Dr. Andrea Ganna, from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, is quoted in the press as saying:

‘The fact that the score can be measured online in a brief questionnaire, without any need for lab tests or physical examination, is an exciting development.

‘We hope that our score might eventually enable doctors to quickly and easily identify their highest risk patients.’

Some scientists and academics are intrigued by the findings but doubt the online test can seriously determine how long a person will live based on a set of questions. Kevin McConway, a professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said:

‘This is a good study that tells us some things we didn’t already know, and points the way to future use of a large and important data set. But it certainly isn’t some sort of oracle that you can use to predict exactly when you will shuffle off this mortal coil.’

While Professor David Coggon, of the University of Southampton, said:

’I have doubts about the practical value of such scores. Most of the predictive factors do not directly cause disease, and even where they do, few are under the control of the individual. The authors suggest that knowing one is at higher risk may be an incentive to changes in lifestyle, but experience with smoking and obesity suggests that knowledge of increased risk has only limited impact on most people’s behaviours.’


If you want to try the test youself click here, otherwise just keep reading your horoscope, it’s probably just as accurate and far more entertaining.
H/T Daily Mail

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Japanese plans for toilets in elevators not as weird as it sounds
05:38 am



The damage caused by earthquakes has led the Japanese government to consider installing toilets and providing drinking water in elevators. The suggestion comes after dozens of people were trapped in elevators across Tokyo after a 7.8 magnitude quake hit the city on Saturday.

Normally elevators will automatically stop at the nearest floor when earthquakes strike—the doors will open allowing passengers to escape. But after Saturday’s quake, fourteen elevators became stuck between floors trapping some passengers for over an hour.

A meeting between officials from the infrastructure ministry and elevator industry members agreed to consider providing toilets for such emergencies. Suggestions include collapsible cardboard toilets with a waterproof bag or absorbent material inside.

As many of Japan’s latest elevators include seating areas for the elderly, intstalling such emergency facilities underneath seats is a possibility. Japan has about 620,000 elevators in its buildings, of which 20% are in Tokyo.

Nicholas White knows exactly what it’s like to be caught short in such an extreme situation. On 15th October 1999, Mr. White popped out of his office at the McGraw-Hill Building, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, for a cigarette break. On his return, he became trapped in an elevator after a power dip caused the elevator to stop between the 13th and 14th floors. Despite signaling his distress to the onboard surveillance camera, security staff did not notice Mr. White’s predicament until the afternoon of the 17th, almost 41 hours later. (And these eagle-eyed guys were in charge of security?) During his accidental incarceration, Mr. White relieved himself by urinating through the elevator doors—he hoped someone might notice the stream of fluid running down the elevator shaft—apparently no one did.

So, Japan’s neat idea for bringing relief to a nightmare situation is not as strange as it sounds, though one hopes it won’t be misused as the following comic video suggests…

H/T Guardian and Metro

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Hippies from Hell’: The Dutch hacker collective who helped bring us the Internet
09:23 am



Hippies from Hell is a 53-minute documentary on the pre-World Wide Web generation of hackers in Holland directed by journalist Ine Poppe. The documentary shows Poppe learning about hacker culture from her 15-year-old son Zoro. The movie covers the group’s ideals and interest in subverting the official corporate computing ideology of the 1980s.

At the center of the group was a magazine called Hack-Tic, whose heyday was about 1989-1993; after that the action drifted to online message boards and listservs. It was kind of a Dutch version of 2600; both magazines identified old-school hacking of telephone systems as part of their origin stories. According to the movie, these Dutch hackers were instrumental in wresting control of the Internet out of the hands of large institutions who wanted to keep it for themselves.

The documentary focuses on “Net activists, hardware artists, security experts, puzzlers, and the members of TOOOL, the Dutch lockpicking foundation.” Among the prominent hackers in the group are Zoro, Carla van Rijsbergen, Patrice Riemens, RGB, Walter Belgers, Sharon Vlaming. To a surprising extent, given the well-documented sexism in Silicon Valley that has been making headlines recently, a high percentage of the innovative computer experts depicted in the movie are women. As someone says, “There’s a remarkable amount of women [in the scene].... some of them are good programmers, some of them have nothing to do with IT and aren’t regarded with contempt.”

To an unusual extent, the Hippies from Hell were and are interested in analog solutions to some extent. One fellow boasts about the strip of green plastic that restores the authentic look to an old arcade version of Space Invaders. Mathilde Mupe once contrived a kind of nature computer; her idea was to “take a terminal and rebuild a keyboard from pebbles” and “built a little altar with plants and grass ... by hitting the stones you could get on the Net.” Viewers will also be treated to riveting lockpicking competitions and “Powerpong,” an attempt to create a semi-analog version of Pong in which the power is generated through pedaling and the handlebars control the Pong paddles.

Probably the most striking and memorable sequence involves—I swear to God this is true—a nudist lockpicking workshop run by Germans.

More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘SEVERE TACO WARNING’ issued for California and several other western US states
04:51 am



I can’t remember the last time I was able to muster a level of passion and excitement over any particular thing or activity that would compare to the love that Nova Scotia native, Frankie MacDonald, feels for all things weather-related. Frankie is an Internet enigma and superstar, having dedicated his life to monitoring weather systems worldwide and then uploading amateur forecasts, updates, and warnings—based on his analysis of those weather systems—to a personal YouTube channel called dogsandwolves.

That sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. Frankie’s videos are like no weather report you’ve ever seen before. In most of them, he barks rapid-fire instructions on how to stay safe in a staccato cadence like a jovial Marine Corps drill sergeant charged with the giddy task of relaying apocalyptic warnings about impending cataclysmic meteorological events—regardless of whether or not the dreaded threats are actually threats that need to be dreaded (or something that’s even real).

For example, it’s not unusual to hear Frankie warning everyone to brace themselves for the onslaught of milder temperatures in Minnesota, or to hear him predict a date for (and issue a “warning” about) the occurrence of some specific surrealistic meteorological event like “severe tacos” in California.

Frankie’s motto is “be prepared,” and he takes it very seriously. Here was his advice concerning a snowstorm that was approaching the Baltimore area in 2014:

People in Baltimore, Maryland: Be Prepared—have your winter boots, winter jackets, hats, gloves, scarfs and ski pants ready and order your pizzas and Chinese food and buy cases of Pepsi and Coke and do your grocery shopping! Don’t wait until the last minute—Do it right now!

By way of contrast, here is Frankie’s recent dire warning on how to survive “severe tacos,” which are predicted to hit California and several Western states in October of 2015:

People in California: Be prepared! Have your lettuce, taco sauce, tomatoes, and hamburgers ready—and it will be a lot of tacos! Especially in California in the Southern California, including the Los Angeles area and the surrounding areas, and the severe tacos will hit Oregon, Washington State and Vancouver, British Columbia and the surrounding areas! Best of luck to ya, people in California—be prepared for a lot of tacos in October, 2015! Take care and stay safe and don’t get caught in a lot of tacos—Stay safe!


Frankie’s forecasts tend to involve either actual changes in the weather or some type of food falling from the sky. Nevertheless, his YouTube channel has received over 10 million hits, and he was recently honored in the House of Commons with these words: 

We, as Cape Bretoners, are very proud of Frankie the Weatherman and wish him all the best as he continues to keep us safe from Mother Nature.

Someone has even inked a tattoo of Frankie on his leg:

The bottom line is that Frankie the Weatherman just wants you to be prepared and stay safe. Any other utility that can be attributed to his fantastic weather updates may be a bonus, but if he has helped you to be prepared for inclement weather in any way, then his job is done. And as far as today’s forecast is concerned, there’s a 100% probability that Frankie MacDonald will be having more fun than you.

Meanwhile, beware West Coasters—The SEVERE TACOS are headed your way!


Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
Meet ‘Patrick’: The robotic proctology-simulation ass
09:22 am



This week Medical Daily reported on “Patrick,” a “simulated patient that talks to medical students while offering real-time feedback about the virtual prostate exam he’s receiving.”

Patrick is connected to a mock prostate in a robotic ass.

From Medical Daily:

Patrick serves a dual purpose: personal and professional. Personally, he comes equipped with software that enables him to interact emotionally with the student and voice any concerns he has about the procedure. Dr. Benjamin Lok, one of the program’s designers, says the interpersonal relationship Patrick helps foster is invaluable from a practicing perspective. “This virtual human patient can talk to the learner, expresses fears and concerns about the prostate exam, and presents a realistic patient encounter,” Lok told Geekosystem.

The other purpose he serves is functional. Patrick is endowed with force sensors, which can alert the student when he or she is being too aggressive, and can report how thorough the student was in his or her examination.

“Consider this,” Lok said, “how would a medical student know if they are doing a good prostate exam? Currently it is impossible for the educator to gauge performance. This simulation provides performance, feedback, and an opportunity to learn and lower anxiety.”

The image of “Patrick” in action looks to us like the very worst video game peripheral imaginable. Let’s hope he’s not the butt of too many jokes. We’d all rather our new doctors get some simulator practice in before going to town on the rest of us.

Via Medical Daily

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
In the very near future there will be ‘home-brewed’ drug beer made from yeast
07:04 am



Well, here’s a thing: soon you may be able to brew your own drugs—that’s according to an article in the New Scientist which points out that:

Genetically engineered yeasts could make it easy to produce opiates such as morphine anywhere, cutting out the international drug smugglers and making such drugs cheap and more readily available.

This also means the Taliban-supporting Afghanistan poppy trade would no longer flourish and junkies could fix themselves a homegrown brew of smack, without even having to score. Or leave the house for that matter. This is gonna be HUGE.

However, there is one fairly major stumbling block: the genetically engineered yeasts capable of doing this do not as yet exist. That’s kind of a big one. But researchers hope to change this as they point to the “number of drugs, scents and flavours once obtainable only from plants can now be made using genetically modified organisms.”

Now they want to add opiates to that list because “they are part of a family of molecules that may have useful medicinal properties”:

Plant yields of many of these molecules are vanishingly small, and the chemicals are difficult and expensive to make in the lab. Getting yeast to pump them out would be far cheaper.

And about as easy as tending to a Kombucha SCOBY, something even a junkie could manage.

Of all the relevant researchers questioned by the New Scientist none doubted that brewing drugs would eventually happen.

“The field is moving much faster than we had previous realised,” says John Dueber of the University of California, Berkeley, whose team has just created a yeast that produces the main precursor of opiates. Until recently, Dueber had thought the creation of, say, a morphine-making yeast was 10 years away. He now thinks a low-yielding strain could be made in two or three years.

It might take many more years to produce a high-yielding strain. But once it exists, in theory anyone who got hold of it could make morphine in their kitchen using only a home-brewing kit. Merely drinking tiny quantities of the resulting brew – perhaps as little as a few millilitres - would get you high. “It probably is as simple as that,” says Dueber. “The beer would have morphine in it.”

We need to start thinking about the implications now, before such strains – or the recipes for genetically engineering them – become available, he says.

Other teams are working on producing tropane alkaloids – a family of compounds that include drugs such as cocaine. Cocaine-making yeasts are further off, as we still don’t understand certain critical steps that coca plants use to make cocaine. But there’s no reason we cannot engineer yeast to produce any substance that plants produce, once we understand the machinery, says biochemist Peter Facchini of the University of Calgary in Canada. “So indeed someone could potentially produce cocaine in yeast.”

Mead homebrew, but one day it maybe possible to brew heroin or cocaine beer.
Brewing drugs would certainly “democratize” drug production and give bearded hipsters an, er, addictive new hobby. It would also be difficult to police, and as the law currently stands difficult to prosecute (Good luck outlawing a yeast!). Unlike crystal meth labs,  brewing does not create a toxic mess: waste products are just brackish water and some very mild chemicals like acetate.

The main concern is that such brewing techniques fall into “the wrong hands,” which is believed to be a major possibility.


Read the whole article here.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
New study finds that smoking weed DOES NOT cause psychotic episodes in teens
02:42 pm



Well, whaddya know…a new study conducted by researchers from the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Department of Psychological Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London, the University of Oxford and the University of Leeds runs counter to arguments put forward by drug prohibitionists by concluding that cannabis use in adolescents does not cause psychotic episodes.

Published in the Psychiatric Research Journal, the report “Psychotic experiences are linked to cannabis use in adolescents in the community because of common underlying environmental risk factors” questioned 4,830 16-year-old twins—to rule out genetic factors—asking whether they had ever tried cannabis? Respondents answered “Yes” or “No.”

The researchers then examined whether the respondents had ever had any psychotic episodes (PE) which were divided into five self-report subscales:

...paranoia (15 items), hallucinations (9 items), cognitive disorganisation (11 items), grandiosity (8 items), anhedonia [the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable] (10 items) and one parent-rated subscale: parent-rated negative symptoms (10 items)....Response scales related to frequency of experiences for paranoia and hallucinations (“Not at all” (0),“Rarely” (1), “Once a month” (2),“Once a week” (3), “Several times a week” (4), “Daily” (5)).

The end result found that both cannabis use and psychotic episodes were triggered by environmental factors—ranging from being poor to bullying (“peer victimization”).

The report revealed how children who are under stress for other reasons tend to smoke cannabis, and are also at higher risk of psychotic episodes. The researchers found:

Cannabis use and psychotic experience co-occur due to environmental factors.

Focus on specific environments may reveal why adolescent cannabis use and psychotic experiences tend to ‘travel together’.

Exposure to socioeconomic disadvantage may induce stress that triggers the development of psychotic episodes and cannabis use.

However, the report “investigated the association between cannabis use and PEs and not clinical psychosis. Findings should therefore be interpreted with the view of PEs as trait based phenotypes, and not clinical psychosis.”

The whole report can be read here.

It’s not just teenagers who enjoy a smoke… here’s some grandmas trying weed for the first time….

H/T Metro, via Psychiatric Research Journal

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Introducing Typedrummer: Forget work, for the next hour or so, you’ll be producing phat beatz
06:57 am



Web developer Kyle Stetz has come up with a completely badass gizmo called “Typedrummer” that allows you to create “ascii beats.” Essentially, it’s the easiest drum sequencer in the world. Drum sounds are assigned to the letter keys of the keyboard. You start typing, and all at once you’re “making beats” effortlessly.

The first thing I typed in was “bad beat,” and I gotta say, it actually wasn’t bad. Try it!

As you learn what sounds are assigned to what keys, you can get creative and do some complex and interesting beats—at least for such a simple tool. I mean, it’s not going to put any drum-machine makers out of business, but it’s certainly a toy that has actual practical real-world uses. For now, you are somewhat limited in what you can do tempo-wise. Adding a parenthesis allows you to do a triplet—hopefully we’ll see the addition of more special features soon!

One unintentional “special feature” is that—at least in Chrome—if you have a beat going and you switch to a different window, the beat goes a bit wonky—which is actually a cool end-result. You can switch windows to create glitchy breakdowns!

One user at “hacker news” at published this list of “guesses” as to what each key represented on the sound palette:

a: click with a slight rattle, like rattan brushes
b: closed hihat
c: distored synth bass with rattle, like tambourine
d: distored synth bass higher pitch and muted
e: muted synth bass
f: sizzle ride hit like crash
g: maracas
h: muted maracas
i: afuche-cabasa
j: synth snare
k: deeper snare
l: castanets
m/n: tap on closed hihat - maybe striking the hardware?
o: booming tonal bass
p: half muted tonal bass
q: muted bass
r: very muted, blockish bass
s: synth splash
t: agogo bell
u: guiro upstroke
v: guiro downstroke
w: tambourine
x: snare
y: synth snare
z: concert bass
non-alpha: rest
(): beat = 1/3 - note: triplets will begin on the letter before the first open paren, it modifies the space before, not after, each note


Thanks Kyle Stetz, of the Internet, for giving the world the thing we’ll be doing for the next hour: Typedrummer!

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
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