Archive for November, 2006

In search of the non-obvious

On Tuesday the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments on what should be considered obvious when older inventions are combined for a patent application. Lining up on the side of loosening standards are Microsoft, Intel and other companies that have sprung up more recently. Opposing them are companies like General Electric that hold strong patent positions. See detail on this case — KSR versus Telefex — at CNET news. All of you scientists and engineers working in the USA had better keep an eye out on this war in court. It may cause quite a shakeup in the aims of R&D.

Meanwhile, at a more personal level, many of us will be looking for that perfect gift for the person who already owns everything. Obviously it must be something that is not obvious. For example, how about Smittens — specialty mittens that allow you to hold hands while walking or sitting? I saw this featured in one of humorist Dave Barry’s gift guides. His 2006 recommendations came out today in the Miami Herald column “What’s behind Santa’s Ho-Ho-Ho”. If I had season tickets to a team that supported tailgaters, I’d ask Santa for a Cruzin Cooler. How about two coolers for your favorite couple, one for him and the other for her, along with a set of Smittens for them to cruise hand-in-hand around the parking lot?

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Exercise reduces fatigue — a counter-intuitive effect

My RSS feed from the Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog alerted me to news from ScienceDaily about overwhelming evidence that regular exercise increases energy levels. Professor Patrick O’Connor, co-director of the University of Georgia laboratory that analyzed 70 randomized trials on 6,807 subjects, said:

When people are fatigued the last thing they want to do is exercise.

However, the positive effect of exercise on energy was very consistent — seen in over 90 percent of the trials studied by the UGA researchers. 

I feel sure this is true to some extent. I certainly feel charged up after doing a half-hour cardio-workout on my Endurance E4 elliptical. This machine features nothing very fancy for display. It only provides exercise — pure and simple at low impact. 

For less anecdotal support for the hypothesis that exercise reduces fatigue, see this report from the University of Oslo. If you feel otherwise — drained by exercise, consider stocking up on a supply of jelly beans. Possibly these ‘sports beans’ ward off fatigue. I advise some skepticism if the findings prove positive, because according to ScienceDaily the study is funded in part by The Jelly Belly Candy Company. See their tasty-looking product at ZombieRunner.

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Mercury — a transitory mote in the eye of the sun

On Wednesday residents of my hemisphere saw (?) the planet Mercury transit the sun. This happens only about every decade. One really couldn’t see Mercury because it is so small relative to the sun, which burns far too brightly for the naked eye to withstand. I watched the transit live from an astronomer’s view (Kitt Peak, Arizona*) via the webcast by San Francisco’s Exploratorium. The funny thing is that a speck in their Meade 16 inch reflector’s optics showed up more prominently than Mercury itself. For a perspective on how small this planet appears from earth (only 1/200th the diameter of the sun) see this photograph from VisualUniverse.org. Nevertheless, when Mercury first hit the edge of the sun, the astronomer directing the webcast said the he and his colleague were doing a little “happy dance”! :) By virtue of owning an 8-inch Meade reflector, I am a very amateurish astronomer myself. Seeing Mercury was a rare treat worth savoring. Here’s something really rare that’s reported at Wikipedia: On July 5, 6757 residents in Eastern Siberia can watch the simultaneous occurrence of a solar eclipse and a transit of Mercury. If you want to see this, I advise you go there now, drink a barrel of vodka, set your atomic-powered alarm clock 4751 years ahead and, finally, bury yourself in the snow. Good luck and mind the mastodons!

*Located by red star on map showing zones of visibility. For great views of the telescopes, background narration and the transit itself, click the RealVideo link to the saved webcast.

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