Second Sight Medical Products Delivers a Kick to the Giftbag for Retinitis Pigmentosa

This is very exciting news for the realm of artificial vision.  I have someone I look up to that suffers from Retinitis Pigmentosa, and it sucks to see this degenerative disease affect this man’s sight.

But:  advances are being made in “bionic” tech all the time that tries to bridge the gap between natural vision and artificially enhanced vision – and since we don’t understand that much about how the brain translates sight into information for the brain, every time there is a breakthrough in technology in this arena, it’s a big deal!

First, what is Retinitis Pigmentosa?  It sounds like something that is not very good, and in fact it is not.  From Wikipedia and the NIH:

Fundus of patient with retinitis pigmentosa, mid stage (Bone spicule-shaped pigment deposits are present in the mid periphery along with retinal atrophy, while the macula is preserved although with a peripheral ring of depigmentation. Retinal vessels are attenuated.) Hamel Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases 2006

Fundus of patient with retinitis pigmentosa, mid stage (Bone spicule-shaped pigment deposits are present in the mid periphery along with retinal atrophy, while the macula is preserved although with a peripheral ring of depigmentation. Retinal vessels are attenuated.) Hamel Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases 2006

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is an inherited, degenerative eye disease that causes severe vision impairment and often blindness.[1] Sufferers will experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Night blindness or nyctalopia;
  • Tunnel vision (no peripheral vision);
  • Peripheral vision (no central vision);
  • Latticework vision;
  • Aversion to glare;
  • Slow adjustment from dark to light environments and vice versa;
  • Blurring of vision;
  • Poor color separation; and
  • Extreme tiredness.

The progress of RP is not consistent. Some people will exhibit symptoms from infancy, others may not notice symptoms until later in life.[2] Generally, the later the onset, the more rapid is the deterioration in sight. Also notice that people who do not have RP have 90 degree peripheral vision, while some people that have RP have less than 90 degree.

A form of retinal dystrophy, RP is caused by abnormalities of the photoreceptors (rods and cones) or the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) of the retina leading to progressive sight loss. Affected individuals may experience defective light to dark, dark to light adaptation or nyctalopia (night blindness), as the result of the degeneration of the peripheral visual field (known as tunnel vision). Sometimes, central vision is lost first causing the person to look sidelong at objects.

The effect of RP is best illustrated by comparison to a television or computer screen. The pixels of light that form the image on the screen equate to the millions of light receptors on the retina of the eye. The fewer pixels on a screen, the less distinct will be the images it will display. Fewer than 10 percent of the light receptors in the eye receive the colored, high intensity light seen in bright light or daylight conditions. These receptors are located in the center of the circular retina. The remaining 90 percent of light receptors receive gray-scale, low intensity light used for low light and night vision and are located around the periphery of the retina. RP destroys light receptors from the outside inward, from the center outward, or in sporadic patches with a corresponding reduction in the efficiency of the eye to detect light. This degeneration is progressive and has no known cure as of June 2012.

That sucks so much.  However, now you have to meet Second Sight Medical Products’ Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System, which just got FDA approval for patent this week:

All I can say about this is holy crap.

argus-2-system-overview

From the MedGadget article on the Argus II system:

The bionic eye works by replacing the disease-damaged photoreceptors of the eye with tiny chips that translate light into electrical signals, which in turn stimulate the optic nerve. The normal retina is really not a camera, and the optic nerve does not send pixels, per say, to the brain, but rather a highly processed and optimally encoded representation of the visual scene. The fact that bionic eyes like the Argus II can work at all — and indeed so well — is due more to the brain’s ability to make sense out of whatever relevant signals it receives, than to current understanding of how the retina actually works. As researchers advance their understanding of  the retina, bionic eye technology will continue to advance hand-in-hand to provide new vision to the blind at ever higher resolution.

This is amazing technology.  I hope that the Argus II system can restore vision in those who have lost it due to terrible degenerative diseases like RP.

To my buddy:  hang in there, big man.  I’m always on the lookout.

Side note:  under the Did You Know? section of the Argus II System website:

The Latin word “Argus” refers to a giant in Greek mythology with 100 eyes, Argus Panoptes, who was considered all-seeing. Argus was the servant of Hera, goddess of women and marriage as well as the wife of Zeus. Zeus seduced the nymph Io who was also the priestess of Hera.  In order to hide her from Zeus, Hera transformed her into a white heifer and asked Argus to watch over Io and protect her from Zeus.

Too cool, Second Sight.

Bionic Eye Man Wirelessly Records His World

rob-spence

This is an awesome quick minute of video of a man who lost his eye in a shooting accident.  He had his eye socket fitted with a wirelessly transmitting video recorder.  Now this is an idea that I can totally get behind, especially if we give it to Howard Stern or Mancow…

I kid about the Howard Stern thing.  Misogyny stopped being funny when I was 5 or 6.  Meet Rob Spence, the man behind the “Bionic Eye” he’s created to go in the empty eye socket.  Here’s Rob with version 2.0 of the Bionic Eye:

Eyeborg Phase II from eyeborg on Vimeo.

LED eye bionic jumping, teaser footage of experimenting with eye-camera prototype, action!  Rob Spence is a filmmaker who lost his eye and decided to replace it with a wireless video camera.  Check out Kosta Grammatis glancing about nervously as Fox News guffaws about our bionic lab.

An article from IEEE Spectrum talks about Spence’s internal eye equipment:

The bionic eye is simply designed, and components are constantly changing. It basically contains a 1.5mm-square, low-res video camera, a small round printed circuit board, video transmitter, and a 3-volt rechargeable Varta microbattery. The components are contained in resealable clear acrylic used in false eyes, but it has two holes for wires to recharge the battery.

“I can recharge my eye via USB off my laptop,” says Spence.

The Eyeborg prototype in the video, the third, can only work for an hour an a half on a fully charged battery. Its transmitter is quite weak, so Spence has to hold a receiving antenna to his cheek to get a clear signal. He muses that he should build a Seven of Nine-style eyepiece to house it. He’s experimenting with a new prototype that has a stronger transmitter, other frequencies and a booster on the receiver.

This is an example of sacrifice for the good of all mankind.  Rob, we salute you.

What Exactly are Eye Floaters?

“I’ll look over there!”

“I’ll move over HERE!”

“You got an answer for everything.”

So.  Have you ever been looking at a book, the sky, or anything really, and seen what most people call “eye floaters?”  You know, the really weird almost chromosome-looking things that seem to just effortlessly and painlessly dance across our vision whenever the hell they want?  Like so:

These little buggers are the product of eye aging and the disintegration of the goo inside the eyeball itself.  If you’ve ever spent any time at all staring at eye floaters, you know that they can be fairly entertaining!

Inside of the eye ball, there is a liquid that gives the eye its shape and acts as a light medium (consequently with a Refractive Index of 1.336) to get light to the retina.  This liquid isn’t quite a liquid and isn’t quite a gel, but the consistency of it is sort of like that of Jell-O.  it’s called the Vitreous Humor, or the Vitreous body, or simply just the Vitreous.  This stuff is pretty neat, as it’s completely transparent as we’re born through teen-hood.  The vitreous is made of about 99% water, along with some sugars, some salts, some collagen fibers, and these pretty cool cells called phagocytes.  The phagocytes’ main purpose is to hunt down and kill foreign bodies in the eye’s vitreous body and visual field.  Pretty cool, eh?

The vitreous body is a stagnant body of fluid; it does not have a regeneration process either, which means if you sustain some damage to an eye or both, they’re gone, as once the vitreous is gone, it is gone forever.  This is a great reason to ALWAYS wear safety goggles and eye protection whenever you’re doing something that could impact the eye ball.  I had a pretty scary experience one summer when I was still in undergraduate study, away on an opera tour.  I was building the set we were touring, and a piece of a table saw blade sheared away and shot itself right into my eyeball.  I spent several hours at the hospital as the doc tried to grab that piece of metal and dislodge it from my eyeball, about 3 millimeters from the edge of my pupil.  I got lucky.  I did have safety glasses on, too – which goes to show you that you can never be too careful.  After the ER doc dug that piece of blade out of my eye, they inserted a plastic lens attached to a bag of saline that drained around my eyeball to clean out any extra debris.  The resulting pic was pretty hilarious, and I was in good spirits, making jokes.  Ann Davis, thingmaker extraordinaire, took the photo, circa 1998:

As we get older, parts of the Vitreous degenerate and clump, creating the little eye floaters we’re so fond of seeing.  These things remain in the eye for as long as we are old, until we either A) die, or B) have them surgically removed.  For most people these things aren’t a problem at all, we just deal with them.  For some, however, they become so numerous and so vision-impairing that surgery IS required for removal of all of the clumped bits of whatever matter the eye floaters are made from — old proteins, bits of clumped collagen cell bundles, foreign bodies, retinal cells, etcetera.

Eye floaters do have some different types — from Wikipedia’s entry on floaters:

The common type of floater, which is present in most people’s eyes, is due to degenerative changes of the vitreous humour. The perception of floaters is known as myodesopsia, or less commonly as myiodeopsiamyiodesopsia, or myodeopsia.  They are also called Muscae volitantes (from the Latin, meaning “flying flies”), or mouches volantes (from the French). Floaters are visible because of the shadows they cast on the retina or their refraction of the light that passes through them, and can appear alone or together with several others in one’s field of vision. They may appear as spots, threads, or fragments of cobwebs, which float slowly before the observer’s eyes.  Since these objects exist within the eye itself, they are not optical illusions but are entoptic phenomena.

What I find cool about eye floaters is that you’re actually seeing the shadow of the floaters on your retina, like a Linnebach projector.  Remember those?  As the light passes through the iris, it blows through the vitreous body and the floaters get in the way, causing shadows on the retina that your brain decodes as the floaters’ shape and size.

Now let me say this — most times, eye floaters are harmless bits of entertainment that all people have in some form or another.  However, sometimes eye floaters can be indications of a larger problem, like eye disease brought around by diabetes, carotid artery disease, or even as an indicator of a stroke or heart attack that may be imminent.  Sometimes eye floaters might be accompanied by flashes of light; this is a certain time to hit the doctor’s office.  A lesser known ailment, one that keeps on giving, per se, is ocular herpes.  As scary as that sounds, it is!  The vitreous can also become detached, too — as you age, the vitreous body sort of liquefies and detaches from the retina, which also causes eye floaters.  I’m certainly not a doctor, and you should use your own judgement when it comes to your health.  But if you have lots and lots and lots of floaters, perhaps it’s time to visit your doc.

A detailed article about determining when your eye floaters might indicate a larger problem is here – check it out.

Some fun facts on eye floaters, from Today I Found Out:

  • Interestingly, if the eye floaters would just stay still instead of floating around, your brain would automatically tune them out and you’d never consciously see them.  Your brain does this all the time with things both in and outside of your eyes.  One example of this inside your eye are blood vessels in the eye which obstruct light; because they are fixed in location, relative to the retina, your brain tunes them out completely and you don’t consciously perceive them.
  • The reason you can see floaters better when looking at, for instance, a bright blue sky, is because your pupils contract to a very small size, thus reducing the aperture, which in turn makes floaters more apparent and focused.
  • Individual floaters often won’t change much throughout your lifetime, typically retaining their basic shape and size.
  • The perception of eye floaters is known as myodesopsia.
  • The reason the floating specs never seem to stay still is because floaters, being suspended in the vitreous humor,  move when your eye moves.  So as you try to look at them, they will appear to drift with your eye movement.
  • Eye floaters are examples of entoptic phenomena.  Entoptic phenomena are things we see where the source is within the eye itself.
  • If you ever see a ton of floaters appear out of no where, possibly with some light flashes, you should get to an eye doctor immediately.  There is a chance (1 in 7) that your retina is about to detach from the back of your eye.  If that happens, you have very little time to get it fixed before it effectively dies and you go blind from that eye.
  • Floaters can damage the retina by tugging on it, sometimes producing a tear.  When a tear happens, vitreous can invade the opening in the tear, which will ultimately widen the gap and in 50% of these cases will result in the retina eventually becoming fully detached if not repaired via surgery.
  • “Light flashes” not caused by actual light, also known as photopsia, will often occur when the photoreceptors in the retina receive stimulation from being touched or from being torn.  This produces an electrical impulse to your brain, which your brain more or less interprets as a light flash.  This physical stimulation is often caused when traction is being applied while the vitreous detachment is taking place.  The flashes should subside when the vitreous finally detaches.
  • These flashes will also often temporarily occur when you get a sharp blow to the head.  The sudden jarring causes pressure on the retina; this in turn creates an electrical impulse to the brain which the brain interprets as a flash.

Thanks to About, Earth Clinic, eHow, WiseGeek, All About Vision, WikiDoc, LoveEyeFloaters, and TheBrain!

Interactive Light at Miami-Dade Government Center

Ivan Toth Depeña has made some pretty incredible displays in his career thus far.  One beautiful and fun example would be the Miami-Dade Art in Public Places commission that Ivan did for the Miami0Dade Government Center.  Check this out:

From Ivan’s Vimeo page on the installation:

MIAMI, FL – Ivan Toth Depeña’s light-based installation “Reflect” was permanently installed in the Stephen Clark Government Center Lobby in Miami on November 18, 2011. Commissioned by the Miami-Dade Art in Public Places initiative, the work illuminates the dynamism of the lobby space and encourages a sense of discovery in the visitors.

This dynamic art work is designed by the artist with the idea of welcoming visitors and employees to Government Center in a fun and interactive way,” said Michael Spring, Director of the Department of Cultural Affairs. “It will energize the lobby and symbolize the County’s commitment to be informative and responsive to our citizens.”

As a main stop in Miami’s MetroRail system, the space serves as a hub for commuters; incorporating the notion of daily circulation into his piece, Depeña uses sensors and light to focus on the communal nature and circulatory qualities of the lobby. The project engages the building’s visitors and references the idea of community through various means of reflection, group interactivity and high-tech playfulness.

For more information please visit: ivandepena.com

Commissioned by: Miami-Dade Art in Public Places:

Additional Project Support:

Lighting Consultant and Programming Support: Focus Lighting

With generous support by: Color Kinetics

Music: Duster

Isn’t it amazing that this kind of art can be made in the same place that bands of neo-Nazis are patrolling the streets?  Blows the mind.

Pay As You Go Solar in South Kenya

I saw an interesting article this weekend from CNN World’s website.  A company called Eight19 has created a pay-as-you-go solar technology called IndiGo that is being deployed right now in Kenya.  Check this out, this is Simon Bransfield Garth, the CEO of Eight19.  I knew I would like this company as soon as I realized what “Eight19″ meant – it’s the time that a ray of light from the sun reaches Earth.  Here’s Simon:

Here now is a quick video of a man named Samuel talking about the benefits of his Pay-As-You-Go Solar installation:

This is some pretty cool stuff.  The solar technology that Eight19 prides themselves on is a low-manufacturing-cost solar cell printed on a plastic film.  The reason that they can have products that are so low cost is that the printing method benefits from being able to use the high-speed roll printing technology that exists in the solar printing industry.  From the Eight19 website on the benefits of printed solar technology:

So, when the customer purchases the IndiGo package for installation, they get an Eight19 solar panel that connects into the IndiGo device.  The gist of the system is this:  without the customer “topping up” their IndiGo device via their cell phone, the device doesn’t charge the battery inside the device.  From the IndiGo website:

IndiGo is an affordable solar lighting and battery charging system that brings low cost energy to off-grid communities. With IndiGo, users put credit on their solar cell, just as they would on a mobile phone. Power from the cell then charges the  battery in the IndiGo box, making electricity available for lighting or charging other devices, such as mobile phones. The top-up codes are sent securely to owners’ mobile phones as text messages. Without the codes, the system does not generate electricity.  The IndiGo 2.5W solar home lighting and charging system includes: A solar panel and IndiGo box with a charge controller and battery; an LED lamp; an adapter lead for most popular mobile phones; connecting cables; and two, one-day top-up cards.

For most Americans who haven’t been overseas or in Canada, with pre-paid cell phones, you buy minutes on what’s commonly called a Top-Up card.  No different than the ones in the USA, they’re based on minutes, all that.

So the idea here is that people in South Kenya will not have to use kerosene lamps inside their places at night to do what they have to do needing illumination.  This is a tremendous thing; one of the biggest increases of our technological development has been increasing the CRI of the light we use to do things like read and develop.  With this implementation, the people in South Kenya will be getting  some seriously higher CRI than kerosene-powered sources.  This cannot be a bad thing, right?  Hell no.  People that live in kenya are no different than people who go to Yale.  They have the same potential as all of the rest of us, especially when given the opportunity to grow with the rest of the world.  No matter where you grow up, as long as you are given the opportunity to develop, you will succeed, especially if you apply yourself.

Something that I found interesting was found in the comments of the excellent CleanTechnica article on the IndiGo system.  A user named Bob_Wallace (THE Bob Wallace? Or the Shareware guy? I kid, I have no idea) posted some email exchanges he had with Simon from Eight19.  The bolded markings are things I’d like you to pay close attention to in the paragraph:

“The cost and payoff time varies a little by country as you would expect (for example there are variations in transport costs, distribution costs and local taxes between locations). In Kenya the weekly fee is 100KSH (approx $1.10) for our “duo” product with 2 lights and phone charging.

After a period of time, the product is deemed to be paid up and the customer has the option to buy the product out for a small fee or upgrade to a larger system. Again, this period varies a little between country but is normally between 18 and 24 months.

Our initial estimates suggest that typical users save in excess of $2/week with the kerosene and phone charging costs they save, with some users saving much more than this.”

In reply to a question about how upgrades work…

“People return the old system and get a new one (with the exception of the lights/wiring unless it needs replacement, as it is pointless to take down old one only to put the same thing back). We then refurbish and reintroduce the old systems. The weekly fee for the new larger systems takes into account the fact that we have recovered some value from the old system so they pay less than if we had to cover the full cost of the new system.”

Rough math says that Eight19 is able to get people in ownership of a basic lighting/phone charging system for somewhere just above $100US.

($1.10 x 52 weeks x 2 years = $114.40)

After two years they should have free power for a few years. The battery will need to be replaced after a few years and the LEDs after several. The panel should last a lifetime or more.

This is something to check out – basically a person using the IndiGo system uses it for about two years before they’ve paid it off, at the tune of about $114.40 USD.  The figure is for their “duo” product with two lights and a phone charger that has several charger tips for different phones.  After two years they have a few years of free solar electricity conversion.  Now granted it’s only at about two watts, but it’s free where before they’d have to pay to get kerosene to charge their stuff and see in the dark.  I think this is a pretty cool idea, as does the organization SolarAid, who has partnered with Eight19 to do this project in South Kenya.  From the SolarAid press release on the subject:

Thanks to the work of SolarAid and other players in the sector over the last few years, solar lights and phone chargers have been available for some time across Africa, but the initial cost is beyond the reach of many potential customers. By offering solar power as a service, without high purchase costs, these customers can now access clean electricity for less than their current spend on kerosene. But more than this, the availability of affordable electricity stimulates social and economic development too.

I think this is a pretty cool thing that’s happening.  When you think of the costs though, I think you should just remember that the Kenyans aren’t paying in USD.  One Kenyan Shilling (KES) is worth about 1.2 pennies USD.  Consider that when you consider the cost.  For example, right now a watt of solar if you just buy the photovoltaic panel is between $2.19 USD/W (for a 60W panel) up to $5.44 USD/W (for a 130W panel).  With the rest of the gear you’ll have to buy (cables, batteries, control), you’re looking at about $8.00 USD per watt of generated electricity.  I mean, come on though – after about the first six months, collecting solar using a device and a PV panel rather than taking it from a grid situation is going to pay for itself.  The sun is free, kids.  When some company or some government starts saying hey dummies!  we’re going to charge you for solar power by making you pay us for collecting it, then I am going to freak out and be really loud about it to the world, and then the world needs to kick some corporate or government tail.  Right now, no matter where you are, you’re paying for the devices that help you collect and store electricity, not for the solar energy itself  A lot of people make cracks online about how “solar should be free,” and they are totally right.  There is nothing that stops you from inventing your own solar collecting system for your own usage; money perhaps, but as long as we’re Capitalists, money will always be an issue.  Eight19 is a company, and they’re doing what a company does, and their particular skill is making and selling solar power collecting systems.  The power companies have done the same thing essentially, you’re just paying for them to make the power, and using their lines for them to get it to you.  In the US, we pay for this power from them by the kilowatt-hour, at an average of $0.118 per 1000W/h.

What do you think?  Do the costs add up?  The prices in Kenya are about comparable to American prices according to Numbeo, if not maybe a bit cheaper overall on average.

Thanks to USEIA, IndiGo Off-the-Grid, The Times, Triple Pundit, and Numbeo!

Tanya Vlach Wants to Grow A Bionic Eye

Tanya Vlach is looking for someone to help her invent a “bionic” eye that has a camera inside.  Watch this:

Tanya is looking for donors and engineers to help her create an experimental project featuring her prosthetic eye and a camera.  It sucks that she had to experience such tragedy in order to have this opportunity, but I have to say that I am inspired and excited to see how her project comes out.  If you’re interested in helping Tanya make her project come to life, please help her out over at Kickstarter.

Details from her Kickstarter page:

Before we get into the nitty gritty details of the eye camera, let’s back up a few years. In 2005, I was in a near death car accident. Centimeters away from death, I managed to pull through. Although grateful to be alive, I lost my left eye in the tumble and suffered frontal lobe minor brain injury and severe depression.

I entered the vast world of the Internet and chronicled my experiences on my blog, One-Eyed. I posted about new developments in technology that would help me regain sight. Soon I began envisioning a sci-fi plot twist to my predicament. I pitched my idea to Wired Founder Kevin Kelly. Intrigued, he posted my call out to engineers to help build an implant of a miniature camera inside my prosthetic eye. Immediately the idea went viral and I received hundreds of international engineering proposals, support from my  one-eyed community, and thousands of media inquiries. I became the media haven for transhumanism and the subject of controversy around engineering the body. Since then, I’ve been plotting new strategies to tell my story, both my personal one and the one of my sci-fi alter ego, into a transmedia platform, which will include: a graphic novel, an experimental documentary, a web series, a game, and a live performance. Grow a new eye – is about engineering a new bionic camera eye. 

This is an awesome story.  You need to go check out Tonya’s blog page, Eye, Tanya.  Let me know if you end up supporting the project in any way, leave a comment of support here for Tanya.  I really hope that this technology advances in a direction that helps for everyone.

My God, It’s Full of Stars! What You See When Your Eyes are Closed – Phosphenes

As much as I love light, I love to close my eyes and stare at the back of my eyelids.  Have you ever noticed how amazing, how beautiful the events that occur are when you rub your eyes and notice the instant star and explosion show that occurs in your vision?  I always imagine it as I’m looking into the birth of a universe – each time I stare at my eyelids I see little exploding stars that each take about 2-3 seconds to fully ignite, explode, and become part of the other stars waiting for me to focus my gaze on them.  Try it, it’s a lot of fun!  It is for me, at least.  Perhaps I’m nutso.  Still, AWESOME!

These little events are called entopic phenomena, meaning that they come directly from the eye itself.  I’m pretty sure everyone’s experienced the most common form of entopic phenomena, eye floaters.  Right?

 

Eye floaters, whether or not they have a sarcastic retort like the ones in Family Guy, are entopic phenomena.

The light that you see when you don’t see any light – whether it’s the random star birth and death that I see when I close my eyes, or if I rub my eyes, or any of a few things that trigger it for me – are called phosphenes.  That word is from two greek words, phos (light) and phainein (to show), and goes to explain most of the “hey there is light in my vision but there’s no source” mysteries.  The phrase “seeing stars,” like from getting whacked in the head or from being dizzy is phosphenic.  When people are deprived of light for long periods of time, phosphenes occur in the person’s vision as well – this is referred to as “the prisoner’s cinema.”  Isn’t that just creepy and horrible?  Apparently phosphenes can occur through several methods, from strong magnetic fiends, to just rubbing your eyes, to reports of astronauts seeing them when exposed to radiation in space.

Here’s a good account of the Prisoner’s Cinema, which also happens apparently to truck drivers, pilots, and other folk who have to concentrate on something for very long periods of time:

It has been widely reported that prisoners confined to dark cells often see brilliant light displays, which is sometimes called the “prisoner’s cinema.” Truck drivers also see such displays after staring at snow-covered roads for long periods, and pilots may experience phosphenes, especially when they are flying alone at high altitudes with a cloudless sky. In fact, whenever there is a lack of external stimuli, these displays can appear. They can also be made at will by simply pressing your fingertips against closed eyelids. In addition, they can also be produced by an electrical shock. In fact, reportedly, it was high fashion in the eighteenth century to have a phosphene party. It is noted that Benjamin Franklin once took part in such an encounter where a circle of people holding hands would be shocked by a high-voltage electrostatic generator, so that phosphenes were created each time the circuit was completed or broken.

The earliest account of phosphenes is given by the Bohemian physiologist Johannes Purkinje in 1819. These subjective images are called phosphenes (from the Greek phos, light, and phainein, to show). Oster (1970) suggests that, because phosphenes originate within the eye and the brain, they are a perceptual phenomenon common to all mankind. The visual areas of the brain at the back of the head (occipital lobe) can also be stimulated to produce phosphenes.

I find these very fascinating, these entropic events.  Do you have them?  How would you describe them?  Please, leave a message in the comments, I am very interested in your phosphene experiences!

Check out this beautiful video representation of phosphene events portrayed artistically.  So pretty!

Thanks to Wikipedia, and again, and Multiple Sclerosis Info, WiseGeek, MadSci, and MotiFake!   

What? Someone Thought It Would Be A Good Idea for Police to Have Laser Dazzlers

What?

Hmm.

Here’s what I know:  a large majority of police offers are good people.  What is “a large majority?”  50%?  60%?  75%?  I have no idea.  What I also know is that there are a large majority of videos of police personnel misusing their Taser weapons on civilians, let alone people who are actually guilty of a crime.  I guess a Taser is better than a bullet in the back, right?

Perhaps people need to be reminded of the BART shooting back on New Years’ Day, 2009.  This was the case when the defense argued that BART officer Johannes Mehserle thought he was reaching for his Taser weapon when he shot Oscar Grant in the back, inevitably leading to Grant’s death.  The officer claimed that he was pulling his Taser, a non-lethal method of defense, instead of his Sig .40.  I’m calling BS on that, as many have already – a loaded .40 weighs about twice to three times as much as a Taser.

Do a search anywhere on the web for Taser abuse of power articles.  What you’ll find is a very ridiculously large list of articles of police officers accused of misusing their Tasers in situations that did not call for it.  For example:

I don’t need to go on, right?  You get the point?

This post is not about Tasers.  It is about this new “non-lethal” device for Police and Military, this laser confusion device called the Dazer Lazer.  However, the Taser device is not supposed to be a weapon that police use in order to force the public into compliance, like a whip or a stick.  IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE USED AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO THEIR FIREARM, not A CONTROL DEVICE.  So, in the case of the Dazer Laser, which would render someone being lased in the FACE and EYES, how would its use be ANY DIFFERENT?  If our law officers cannot handle a taser, why would we give them a device that creates total incapacitation and confusion made of light that can damage their eyes permanently?

People do die when tased by police.  Also, maybe without a slice of irony, taser manufacturers have started suing coroners who have called out death by taser.  It’s amazing to hear stories about a police officer tasing someone for 30-55 seconds, especially since their training says five second bursts.  What on Earth causes a human being to inflict that kind of pain onto another person?  Also, if it’s happening with Tasers, what’s stopping angry law officers to hold a Dazer Laser a foot in front of someone’s face and burn the vision out of their eyes for 30-55 seconds?

I worry about this topic.  Look, I’m not naive, I understand that someone being lased or tased is most likely better than handing their family a death letter.  Also, it could be worse, I understand, it could be a baseball bat or a club or something.  But this is light.  I know light.  I also know lasers, and you shouldn’t point them into a person’s eyes, ever, unless it’s an eye doctor who is trained and certified and using them for medical purposes.

I’m not singling out any one company – I’m sure I’d love to have one of these, but I wouldn’t be shining it into someone’s eyes.  I just believe that we should be using light for better ends.  What do you think?

Scanning for Explosives in Body Cavities

I wrote about some body scanning technology (backscatter and millimeter wave) that is being implemented in airports around the world a little while ago, and I just read about some new technology that is being touted as the new frontier in the area of detecting explosives…

…in the body cavities.

Oh yeah.  I cannot wait until Jon Stewart reports on this – “now there’s a scanning technology that can detect the explosive power of Semtex in your anal cavity and differentiate it from the explosive power of Taco Bell in your anal cavity.”  Le sigh.  Now we have to worry about would-be terrorists hiding explosives in their anal cavities?!  Wasn’t it bad enough that we had to be concerned about the Underpants Bomber trying to light his junk on fire to blow up a plane?

Believe it or not, there has been one reported attempt of a d-bag terrorist trying to kill somebody by hiding explosives in that place – a Saudi prince – who was attacked by some idiot called Abdullah Hassan Al Aseeri.  Aseeri stuffed an IED in the rear and went after the Saudi prince.  The prince survived, but as you can imagine, Aseeri was blown into little chunks.

Well, regardless of the situation, there’s this new tech out now called DEXI – diffraction-enhanced X-ray imaging.  Instead of just analyzing the x-rays that pass through the body or that are reflected off of the body, this new DEXI technology analyzes the x-rays that get scattered by soft tissue or other low-density material.  This technology comes to the market from a company in Crown Point, Indiana called Nesch.

From an article at Danger Room:

“Our patented technology can detect substances such as explosive materials, narcotics, and low-density plastics hidden inside or outside of the human body,” company CEO Ivan Nesch claims. DEXI allows explosives to create contrast, he adds, so it would be able to detect both the underpants bomber and the shoe bomber before they boarded.

The image above shows how a conventional radiograph does not detect two packets of “illegal materials” concealed in soft tissue, while they are plainly visible in when DEXI technology is used.

The process of taking the images, analyzing them, and then recognizing substances of interest — such as explosives — can be automated. Alerts issued can be computer-generated. Security staff would simply have to get passengers in and out of the imaging unit.

“The initial expected throughput is approximately one to two passengers a minute,” according to Nesch. “Once installed and tested in real applications, the throughput will be increased.”

One or two people per minute? Holy moly. As if we didn’t have long enough to stand in line through security now.

Why exactly does this technology work so well?  Again, Ivan Nesch – from an article at Purdue University:

“X-ray absorption is the basis of conventional radiography, but carbon, nitrogen and oxygen do not absorb X-rays well. Explosives and narcotics are typically made of these elements. Conventional radiography detects these objects poorly due to its exclusive reliance on absorption,” said Ivan Nesch, CEO. “DEXI is different because it uses X-ray refraction and scattering to construct images, along with absorption. It can detect explosives and narcotics because they noticeably refract and scatter X-rays.”

DEXI’s claim to safety fame is their corporate slogan:  “Less radiation, more information.”  Nesch claims that passengers scanned by NEXI technology are exposed to 50 times less radiation than those scanned by a conventional radiograph.  Well, at least there’s something.  I guess I’d rather have TSA looking in my behind than be dead.

An image scanned with a conventional radiograph vs. a DEXI scan:

On a lighter note, this technology makes me want to have a nice large meal of Taco Bell, KFC, and Burger King ten hours before heading to the airport so I can give the pleasant and friendly TSA employees something interesting to look at while they get to check out all kinds of my personal space.  Make sure to eat some corn.

Philips LivingColors, V2.0 – LED Love for the Home

I wrote about the Philips LivingColors fixture in its initial form quite a while ago – and I had the pleasure of meeting the designer of the LivingColors fixture when I was in Sweden, Willem van der Sluis.  Willem is one cool dude.  We got to hear a lot about the original story of the initial ideas surrounding the LivingColor lamp – did you know that when Philips first proposed this idea, they wanted to use three incandescent (halogen) lamps inside this thing?!  That goodness that they decided to repel that decision – otherwise it might have been the Philips LivingCrapIBurnedDownMyHouse.

There is now a new release of the LivingColor wash – Philips claims that it is 50% brighter than the original, which, if you bought version 1, sucks for you.  Right now the fixture retails for between $230 and $350, and includes seven LEDs, a choice between a wall lamp and floor lamp, and comes with a multi-parameter color and intensity control.

I still think it’s cool, and I still want one.  Amazon has the Philips LivingColors full size for $190 and a mini version with the remote built-in to the case (which comes in glossy black and glossy white) for $107.  My birthday just passed, anyone need a belated gift idea?  :)

Here’s a picture of the mini version, in glossy black:

Thanks, Geek and Hype!