Kodak Zi8 Love-Hate Relationship

Kodak Zi8.jpg
Purty, innit? I got the raspberry one pictured above.
Disclaimer: This is not a corporate product review. I purchased my Kodak Zi8 for full retail price two months ago for $179.95. However, you can get it now for $129.95 at Kodak and everywhere else on the web. It was a fantastic deal at the old price – an incredible deal at the new price. It allows one to take fantastic quality, image-stabilized, 1080p HD movies that you can then watch on the TV.
Editing the movies for posting on the blog is pissing me off no end.
I have a 24-minute interview with University of Pennsylvania professor, Marybeth Gasman, on historically-Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other aspects of academia such as dual-academic couples, being a good Mom and scholar, etc. Gasman is a national leader in the study of African-American higher education, philanthropy, the history of the United Negro College Fund, minority and gender issues in STEM fields, and is an active blogger at higher ed sites.
But as engaging and energizing as Marybeth Gasman is, I don’t think that a whole 24-minute video is going to get readers to pay attention to the tremendous gems she has to share with us.
I especially was hoping to get the video segments up over the holiday weekend because the symposium at which I met Dr. Gasman is featured as a cover story on the July 2 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.
But, alas, you are reading this post instead.

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Attention Evil Geniuses and Kids: MakerFaireNC today!

MakerFaireNC banner 04.25.10.png
So you ran any number of 5K charity races yesterday or went on the Piedmont Farm Tour. But it’s a rainy Sunday in the Southeast and you’re wondering what to do with a house full of cooped-up kids, especially if it’s too soggy to do day two of the farm tour.
Let me suggest that you get to Durham, NC, to MakerFaire:NC.

Maker Faire is an annual event organized by the people who bring us MAKE Magazine. Maker Faire:NC is a fully sanctioned event but is being planned and coordinated by Raleigh/Durham locals. Our goal is to bring together Makers, Crafters, Inventors, Evil Geniuses, Scientists, Artists, and anyone else interested in learning from NC, SC, VA, DC, and beyond.
Maker Faire:NC is FREE to attend thanks to our generous sponsors and commercial exhibitors.
Just like the bigger Left-Coast version, Maker Faire:NC celebrates things people create themselves — from James Bond-worthy electronic gizmos to Martha Stewart-quality “slow made” foods and homemade clothes. Inspiration is ubiquitous at the festival and there are surprises around every corner for people of all ages.

Regular readers who follow the creative activities of Toaster Sunshine at Mad Scientist, Jr. will know a little more about what these life and tech hackers do.
Here’s the Quick FAQ but the details are:
Where: Indoors at Loehmann’s Plaza, 1821 Hillandale Rd, Durham, NC 27705
When: Today, Sunday, April 25 – 9 am to 9 pm
Cost: $0.00
There will be wi-fi available for two bucks if you need it.
Here’s a list of the exhibitors to get a flavor of the stuff that will be there.
MakerFaireNC is run by a professional events company under the local guidance of Jonathan Danforth, an audio/video/artist/multi-tech guy I first learned of from his expertise in daguerreotypes.
The PharmKid and I will be rummaging about. Follow us on Twitter @AbelPharmboy.

Orange juice a better source for potassium than Gatorade®

Florida Track Club.jpgWho knew?
As I am stuttering through recovery from LungMutiny2010, I am paying more attention to my diet. So, as I try to go out for my 10 min walk everyday, I still drink some sports drink – usually Gatorade made from the massive vat of powder you can buy here at Costco.
We tend to get plenty of sodium in our diet – far too much in the US, actually – but I always worry about potassium when I am sweating (Disclaimer: I am not an exercise physiologist or a cardiovascular or nephrology physician.).
I always thought that the widely-sold sports drinks were the best sources of potassium outside of eating bananas or some dried fruits.
So, I was surprised to learn that an 8-ounce serving of orange juice contains 18-fold more potassium than an 8-ounce serving of Gatorade® (450 mg vs. 25 mg).
I suspect that this is a Good Thing when exercising but perhaps a concern for hypertensive patients who must monitor their potassium levels.
Is there anyone with more practical knowledge about potassium and physiology willing to weigh in?
Is a dilute, no-pulp orange juice (maybe 1:1 with water) a good adjunct to a sports drink when carrying multiple bottles of beverages on a bike ride or trail run?

Former date rape drug reincarnated as answer to unmet medical needs

Just a quick post on an article that caught my eye: Jazz Pharmaceuticals of Palo Alto, CA, has announced that the US FDA has accepted their new drug application (NDA) filing for JZP-6, or sodium oxybate, for the treatment of pain and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia.
The NDA was based on positive outcomes of two, Phase III clinical trials – those randomized, placebo-controlled double-blind trials that serve as the gold standard for drug efficacy. The company expects an approval decision from FDA by October 2010.
Jazz has already garnered approval for sodium oxybate under the brand name Xyrem® for the treatment of daytime sleepiness in patients with narcolepsy. The company stresses, however, that the drug has not yet been approved for symptoms associated with fibromyalgia.
200px-4-hydroxybutanoic-acid.pngThe item of note here is that sodium oxybate is another name for the sodium salt of gamma-hydroxybutyrate or GHB, a sedative that resembles the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA but also has its own receptors in the central nervous system. GHB was implicated as far back as the early 1990s on college campuses where young men who lacked any other redeeming qualities to attract women used it to dope the drinks of their dates.
But here we see the study of a drug of abuse giving rise to a useful pharmaceutical, first in narcolepsy and, soon perhaps, for fibromyalgia.
It is a paradox of pharmacology that a sedative like GHB would prevent excessive sleepiness or fatigue. But a similar paradox exists with the use of the stimulant methyphenidate in hyperactivity conditions.
Now that I’ve seen the business reports, I’ll turn to some of my CNS pharmacology colleagues to help explain the neurobiology.
However, this compound demonstrates to me the unanticipated benefits of funding research that aims to investigate drugs of abuse.
Beneficial therapeutic agents come when and where you may least expect them.

Did the patient fail the treatment or did we fail the patient?

While the coffee wasn’t quite ready this morning, I ventured to the Wall Street Journal health page at the Wall Street Journal, one of my frequent first-reads.
I was immediately intrigued by a short article from the excellent Jennifer Corbett Dooren about Roche-Genentech gaining US FDA approval for a new rheumatoid arthritis drug, Actemra.
Actemra (tocilizumab) is a monoclonal antibody that works via a novel mechanism of blocking the receptor for interleukin-6, a pro-inflammatory molecule called a cytokine. What is most important is that Actemra appears to work in patients who have not been helped by other existing drugs such as those like Remicade (infliximab), Enbrel (etanercept), Humira (adalimumab) that block the effects of another cytokine called TNF-alpha.
Rheumatoid arthritis is not just joint aches and pains. It is a very serious disease that can cause not just pain but deformity and progressive disability. Rheumatoid arthritis afflicts 1.3 million people in the US.
But what caught my eye and generated my pre-caffeine ire was in the opening sentence, terminology used in clinical pharmacology and therapeutics, words that I admit to have even uttered myself:

WASHINGTON–The Food and Drug Administration Friday approved a new type of drug by Roche Holding AG’s Genentech unit to treat rheumatoid arthritis in patients who have failed other treatments. [emphasis mine]

I know that we use that phrase because it is seems less cumbersome than saying, “in patients whose disease has not responded to existing drugs.”
But saying that the patient failed the treatment makes it seems that the patient somehow bears responsibility for the lack of their disease to respond to the tools we currently have available. Yes, yes, I know – disease is essentially a patient’s own pathophysiology, where their own homeostatic mechanisms are awry or respond inappropriately to environmental changes or invading organisms.
But jeez, have you ever thought what it sounds like to a patient to hear that they failed the therapy? Could we possibly take any less responsibility for our failure to treat disease? Even if physicians want to use the word “fail” couldn’t they at least shift the blame to us basic scientists who’ve failed to come up with an alternative drug?
As I’m writing this and searching for literature on the medical psychology of using this term, I just realized why I am bothered. If we accept that medicine says, “the patient failed the treatment,” that’s one thing. What troubles me is that I just read the statement in the opening sentence of an article in a highly-regarded business publication crafted by a health and medicine writer whom I respect.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for personal responsibility in health. All of us could do a better job of watching what we eat, exercising more, not smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation – the big four factors that could make a greater impact on human disease than the next new wonder drug.
But just because a $10,000/year drug doesn’t work for me and my rheumatoid arthritis, does that really mean that “I failed the treatment?”
I know we’ve got some medical sociologists and psychologists out there reading – I’d be grateful for any commentary or direction to scholarly literature on why we continue to use the term, “the patient failed the treatment.”
One final note
As an amorphous descriptor, Big Pharma has certainly lost a lot of trust of the general public and the scientific community over the past several years from data cover-ups on drug-related deaths to ghostwriting of peer-reviewed journal articles, the latter of which was eloquently addressed by Orac last year. These practices are inexcusable and deserve strong punishment, especially where it is clear that loss of lives was a result of deceptive clinical data submission.
I’ve had the pleasure of training with many outstanding scientists who now work in the industry and, particularly in the field of pharmacology, have come to respect and learn from new colleagues who’ve chosen industrial careers. Several of these people are among the most ethical I know and, as with any other industry, are pained equally if not more by the scandalous cases.
So when good things happen, such as the approval of a new drug that has the potential to help people in pain for whom no other agent has helped, I like to acknowledge the efforts of those folks behind the work.
Let me offer my heartiest congratulations to colleagues at Roche and Genentech on this nail biter after having been asked for more data last year. Addressing these kinds of scientific and regulatory challenges gives me great respect for my colleagues at the bench and in the clinic who have worked to relieve human suffering from this debilitating disease.

Barry Yeoman’s “Green-Collar Work Plan” excerpted in new issue of Utne Reader

Sitting back today looking at news and webcams in my former home of Colorado had me also reflecting on the events that conspired to put me in North Carolina. This unexpected turn in my life also opened me up to a local community of remarkably creative people with national and international reputations in their respective fields.
One of these people whom I am fortunate to call a local hero is journalist Barry Yeoman. Barry was described in the Columbia Journalism Review as, “(One of) the best unsung investigative journalists working in print in the United States…. Yeoman specializes in becoming a part of his subjects’ lives; he works hard to dispel the image of the parachute journalist who drops in, grabs the story, and runs.”
Utne Jan-Feb 2010.jpgConsistent with that description, Barry recently wrote an article for Audubon magazine on the real-life potential for economic and workforce revitalization by expansion of the green industry. “Green-Collar Work Plan” has now been picked up in excerpted form for the January-February 2010 issue of Utne Reader. Barry’s article is one of four focusing on the cover theme: how to benefit financially in the green economy.
The article describes the turnaround in Newton, Iowa, from loss of laundry appliance maker Maytag then expands to a cross-country assessment of reharnessing manufacturing and other blue-collar expertise for the renewable energy industry. For all the warm fuzzies many of us get about solar energy, windfarms, and biodiesel, folks with the big bucks are only going to invest in an industry that is economically viable. Yeoman tells an engaging story, with several cases where it is working, and weaves in facts of which I was previously unaware.

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Toaster Sunshine channels Jack White for science and technology outreach

At the recent U2 Academic Conference, I had the opportunity to be at the local premiere of It Might Get Loud, a much-more-than documentary of the electric guitar as told through the careers of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, U2’s The Edge, and Jack White of The White Stripes and Raconteurs. For the record, I thought that White was going to be totally out of his league – while I wouldn’t call him a “legend” as billed by the producers, I left being incredibly impressed with his background and breadth of abilities.
Related to the movie trailer below, I had an exchange with Toaster Sunshine, a musician and scientist who writes the blog, Mad Scientist, Jr. (Tagline: “Sticking stuff that wasn’t made to be stuck to stuff to stuff that wasn’t made to have stuff stuck to it.”) The trailer opens and closes with Jack White constructing a primitive electric guitar with a weathered wood plank, a bottle, and some wires and such – Toaster knew exactly what it was and told me how to do it myself.

However, as a microcosm of our respective lives (Toaster is still in the lab and I am primarily at my computer), Toaster actually made the instrument yesterday.

For the hackerspace, I send out a lot of emails. Most of them get ignored, but some of them stick. One of the ones that got a reply was a request to tour a museum collection of rare and antique musical instruments that the university’s music school owns. In one of the conversations we had with the outreach director of the collection, we decided that co-hosting an educational event that melds technology and music into a workshop for kids and their parents. This is what is referred to as a Make and Take, participants register, pay a fee for parts, come and get taught how to make stuff, and then get to take it home with them afterwards.

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Why do expensive hotels charge for Internet while less-expensive ones don’t?

Before you tell me to go do this, I did – and I still don’t have a good answer.
I was reminded of this issue when I learned that a couple of friends were off this weekend to the snowy Rocky Mountain West attending the 2009 Carnivore Conference: Carnivore Conservation in a Changing World sponsored by Defenders of Wildlife at the Grand Hyatt Denver. Some of these folks are graduate students and freelance writers who are on tight budgets.
The most recent article I found on this issue was by Barbara E. Hernandez at BNET. She asked the same question as I, made some observations, and asked rhetorically why high-end hotels don’t seize on such a low-cost, good-will amenity instead of aggravating us all with yet another charge.
I suspect that the answer is, “because they can.”
I suspect that marketing studies show that people who can afford to stay at expensive hotels (or, more likely, who are doing so on a business’s dime) don’t really care about another $9.95-$12.95/day Wi-Fi charge whereas someone staying in a $40/night hotel isn’t going to pay another 25% for internet when they can go down the street and get it for free at another budget hotel.
So, why do we tolerate it when we go to a big scientific conference?

Gary Taubes (Good Calories, Bad Calories) to speak at Duke

If you are in the area, this looks really good:

Award-winning author Gary Taubes will speak at next week’s Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI) Research Conference:
“Why We Get Fat: Adiposity 101 and the Alternative Hypothesis of Obesity”
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
12:00 noon to 1:00 pm
North Pavilion
Lower Level Lecture Hall

good_bad_070926_mn_cropped.jpgGary Taubes is the author of Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control and Disease (Knopf, 2007). He studied applied physics as an undergraduate at Harvard and has an MS degree in engineering from Stanford University and in journalism from Columbia. He is a contributing correspondent for the journal Science and has written as a freelance journalist for the New York Times Magazine, the Atlantic, Esquire, and a host of other publications. He has won numerous awards for his reporting, including the International Health Reporting Award from the Pan American Health Organization and the National Association of Science Writers Science in Society Journalism Award, which he won in 1996, 1999, and 2001. Taubes is the only print journalist to win this award three times. Taubes is also the author of Nobel Dreams (Random House, 1987) and Bad Science (Random House, 1993), which was a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Awards.

The book is entitled The Diet Delusion in the United Kingdom – boy, they have a different spelling for everything over there.
ABC News has a lengthy excerpt of the book here.
I don’t work in this field but obesity and obesity-associated diseases have a major impact on each of us, directly and indirectly.
(Hmmm – I’ll have to ask him about there being nothing at garytaubes.com but the domain is taken.)

Please re-write this sentence. Thank you.

I have privately received grief about the poor quality of a sentence I wrote yesterday while spouting off about my being quoted by ABC News on the first round of drugs reported used by the late Michael Jackson. (I suspect that the number of prepositions I just used here will elicit a response as well).
While I’m a half-decent pharmacologist, it seems an English major I am not.
Therefore, may I request that someone amongst this learned gathering kindly assist me in rewording the following statement:

I also enjoyed that fact, however, that my quote was missing from the responses of other experts to the reporters’ queries for impressions on the list of drugs found at the Jackson home as cited by The Sun:

For your efforts, the winning entry will receive a hat-tip on the post (and hyperlink of your choice) and the satisfaction of setting me straight.
Kindly leave your suggestions in the comments.