Monday, June 27, 2011

BisPhenol A Makes Boys More Girly - Literally

Bis-phenol A feminizes mice.
Bis-phenol A BPA is back in the news.

Depth of Processing fans know that bis-phenol A is common industrial chemical used in packaging materials that happens to be a weak synthetic estrogen, and that it feminizes males including male mice. BPA reduces sperm counts, shrinks male parts, and produces early onset of puberty in girls.

What does that mean? This has shown up a variety of ways, and in a recent study, BPA fed to a pregnant mouse made her male offspring less attractive to females. Presumably by changing their secondary male mouse characteristics -- probably pheromones. This is interesting because the baby mouse got normal food. It was his mom that got the BPA.

Cheryl Rosenfeld at U-Missouri - Columbia showed that feeding BPA affects  the unborn male mouse fetuses to make them less likely to mate. This fits the pattern that BPA feminizes as described above. Rosenfeld specializes in sexual differentiation en utero with other related studies.

BPA used to be in re-usable clear plastic bottles, but that has stopped now that polycarbonate is no longer used for baby bottles, pitchers, and water bottles in the US and Canada.

All this is worrisome because BPA is still used in most soda can liners. I would not worry too much because BPA is bound pretty tightly in these liners, but this is more evidence that will eventually lead to an industry-wide shift away from BPA based can liners.

Read my previous post on BPA, and the one before that.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Sponginess of Corporate Culture

I have worked lots of places.  Different companies, even different departments have widely different feels. I can only imagine that trucking, logging and brain surgery would be more different.

The jargon is these are different corporate cultures. What exactly is a corporate culture?  Two guys, researched 164 different definitions of culture back in 1952, so sixty years ago it was muddled and vague.  It only got more confused when "culture" made its way from anthropology to business in the late eighties and early nineties.

Bjorn Bjerke says about corporate culture that "every concept which has gradually come to contain more and more, sooner or later will become cumbersome and even meaningless. And he says this is happening to "corporate culture."

One culture consultant said culture is transmitted through telling stories. This is self-serving for him because he can give a day of training, and never say clearly what corporate culture is or what to do about it. Stories teach something, but we skip a vocabulary to talk about it.  The academic literature on organizational culture spans disciplines from Anthropology to Psychology to Sociology to Business, and each brings their own spin, metrics and vocabulary.

Nonetheless, corporate culture has something to do with the way people relate to each other or the networks they are in. Second it has to do with their sense of right and wrong behavior in the group also called norms and values.

 This looks like a corporate culture
ritual! Actually it is a corporate culture retreat: link.
Anthropologists say there are rituals and symbols in every culture. I am sure that budget planning meetings are rituals. How about business dinners and sales meetings?  A company promotion letter and organizational chart is a symbol. How corporations handle these events says a lot about their cultures.

Authors and consultants tell leaders that they can change the culture. No leader will know if s/he succeeded because what culture means varies so widely.

Corporate culture is important. Different outfits have differing productivity because of their norms and values. If we could tailor the corporate culture  -- that would be great. I think we need to advance beyond the pop business literature to do that.

Look for a flow up posting on how.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Cracking Knuckles

A cracking finger knuckle at right. A resting knuckle at left. 
In fifth grade I was in line to go to gym class, and someone in line cracked his knuckles which I thought was strange. Naturally I had to crack my knuckles too. It took me years to quit.

It is annoying when other people crack knuckles, but it was satisfying when I did it myself.

Cavitation causes the knuckle cracking sound. Cavitation is a fluid dynamics term that means bubbles form in a fluid. Research is pretty clear that the bubble formation and popping is the cause of the sound. It does not sound like bubbles breaking -- it seems like it should have to do with the bones or the tendons -- but it doesn't.

The joint fluid is approximately at atmospheric pressure of course, but pulling the joint causes instantaneous low pressure and bubbles form. Measurements show resting joint fluid is at about 5% lower pressure than atmospheric pressure, that is -4 torr (500 pascal) depending on the joint.  This is a little surprising, but if the pressure were higher than atmospheric it would try to leak out. Clearly the joint fluid is well-contained since it stays there.

Physiologists say the joint fluid is "viscous", but measurements show the viscosity is only 100-300 centipoise (0.1-0.3 Pa-s), which is like pancake syrup,  way thinner than road-tar or Vaseline. Normal fluid is a saline solution with about 3% protein. It can have a little 0.04% glucose, and should not have  blood or lactic acid, which are signs of disease.

For a second or so, the joint is 15%  to 25% larger than before, and this means the joint fluid is foamy. The bubbles are almost all carbon dioxide, which means it comes from respiration of the adjacent cells. Once the cracking occurs the joint becomes more extensible, and the joint stretches. Usually it stretches to the limits of the surrounding muscle, and this can cause muscle damage -- and muscle damage lowers strength. People, who crack their hands, have weaker hands.  The joint cannot crack again until the gas is reabsorbed in to the joint fluid.

I was leaving work Friday, and my jaw joint made a cracking noise -- something that never happens to me. I thought, this joint cracking is a really odd phenomena, and knowing how it works does not make it  less odd.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bionic Eyes

Simulated bionic eye image. See link.
Did you know you could implant a microchip on your retina, and have it talk to your optic nerve? It works so well that blind people can see, kind of.

The nerve/implant interface is pretty simple, platinum electrodes embedded in silicone. Workers say it is important that the silicone be conformable around the surface of the nerve. An improvement is a polymer coating that is compatible with the cells neighboring the implant.

People say the optical chip is like a solar cell where it generates a current. This is unlike a  CCD chip in the back of a digital camera that needs a battery. There is no room for a battery on the back of the eye.  A problem with the solar cell approach is that it is less efficient than a natural eye, and the light needs to be brighter.

In the diagram below, a camera is used to create bright secondary image for the optical chip to detect.
 Notice that the camera outputs to a display mounted in front of the blind person, as if on their glasses. There are other systems; see also.

The coolest thing about bionic eyes is that they work at all.

This sounds like the start of a science fiction story, but let me direct you to a very different post on Borg eyes.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Marshmallow Mellow

One of the most notorious drug commercials is the Zoloft marshmallow commercial because it uses cute marshmallow people to coax people into using psycho-tropic drugs.

Feeling a little down? What to feel better? Take Zoloft.

Of course everyone feels bad sometimes (exhausted, hopeless, lonely.)  Like the commercial says: You shouldn't have to feel this way anymore!

Here is the original TV commercial.

The ads were designed by Patrick Smith from NYC. Smith directed many commercials and several MTV cartoons including Daria, which was a favorite of mine.

Below is the print ad. Arn't the little blobby people cute?

I tried to get Zazzle to make me a Zoloft marshmallow-person coffee cup, but they wouldn't because of the copyright.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

WHO Says Cell Phones Cause Cancer?

It was a sad day for the UN when the World Health Organization WHO and its International Agency for Research on Cancer IARC drank the Kool-Aid and irresponsibly declared that cell phones are "possibly carcinogenic to humans."  See my original post on this topic from October 2010.

The primary way to tell cell phones don't cause cancer is by thinking about it. Cell phones use radio waves, and radio waves cannot break chemical bonds. At worst they can make molecules rotate faster which makes your ear warmer. The photos below illustrate this.  Here is a scientific article biologically showing your head is reacting like it is warm, because it is warm. See also.

At left is before the cell phone, and at right is after. This is 
an infrared image showing the cell phone made the head
warmer. This is the only possible effect of radio waves. 
Your head gets warmer. You get the same effect from 
wearing a hat.   Do hats cause cancer?

There are 2,400,000,000 cell phone users in the world. Do you think that it cell phones caused cancer that the rare cancer glioma would still be rare? (Glioma is alleged to be caused by cell phones.) This is not like some never-tested new lab chemical; we have 2,400,000,000 "lab rats" out in the world proving that cell phones don't cause cancer.

I defend the United Nations against global trade opponents and paranoid conspiracy-theorists, but then the UN comes out with a crack-pot report like this. My previous post was based on UN data on energy generation.

Why did IARC make this declaration? It appears to be a self-propagating momentum. Rather than thinking about it, IARC is going to confuse billions of people. 

The worst part is that people are going to spend time worrying about cell phones instead of quitting smoking or using sunscreen. Click here to learn about preventable cancers.