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Monday, January 21, 2008

What happens to your poop when you go on a cruise ship?

Some topics make us queasy. And for that reason, we try not to think about them. Like: what happens to all of the waste that a cruise ship generates? The average ship has hundreds of bathrooms, and, according to Women's Health magazine, produces 210,000 gallons of sewage per week. But they can't just dump that waste out, right?

...Think again. Laws state that ships must be at least three nautical miles from land to dump treated sewage, or 12 nautical miles for untreated sewage and pulped food waste. Some ships do hold the waste until they get to land, but by 2010, all cruise ships will be required to have a sewage treatment plant or a sewage holding tank for their waste.

And there's more: ships spew gallons of diesel exhaust (see: sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide) into the air while they're plowing through our bright blue seas. They are also harming coral reefs, and marine life. According to the Surfrider Foundation, here's what your typical 3,000-passenger ship produces on a week-long journey:

  • 1 million gallons of "gray water" (from sinks, showers, and laundries)
  • 25,000 gallons of oily bilge water
  • Over 100 gallons of hazardous or toxic waste (perchloroethylene from dry-cleaning, photo-processing chemicals, paint and solvents, print shop chemicals, light bulbs, and batteries)
  • 50 tons of garbage and solid wastes
You're horrified, right? Thought so. So what should you do to make yourself more aware of these issues and help to offset destructive cruise ship practices?

Websites to visit before you cruise:

Cruise Junkie lists documented egregious offenses by cruise ships, and lets you know how much the ship was fined (in all too many cases, they weren't).

Surfrider Foundation explains cruise ship pollution simply and effectively.

Cruises to consider:

Royal Caribbean International has invested funds into improving its green practices.

Lindblad Expeditions makes its message part of its trips by marketing the company as one that cares about the environment and helps to conserve its natural resources. (Interestingly, you have to look hard to find a photo of a ship, car, or plane on the website; the photos are of majestic bodies of water, humans frolicking with sea turtles, and sweeping landscapes).

Princess Cruises reduces its diesel emissions by "cold ironing" in U.S. and Alaskan ports, meaning it plugs into shore power while docked (one average-sized cruise ship can produce more diesel exhaust in a day than 1,000 trucks).

Crystal Cruises details its attention to environmental practices, including educating its staff and customers on eco-friendly living. The company even reimbursed employees' movie tickets to An Inconvenient Truth!

While you're on the cruise:

If you are on a cruise ship and see dumping of plastic or hazardous materials, call the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802.

After you return from the cruise:

Purchase carbon offset credits.

If you live in Seattle, buy a percentage of your energy as renewable power helping to offset the emissions caused to cruise ships that dock at the city's Terminal 30 by allowing them to use electricity from the city, not from diesel gas. (One of the ships is Princess Cruises, which, as you read above, has continued this 'cold ironing' practice in other cities.) If you don't live in the area, find out if your city has a similar program, or start paying for wind-powered electricity.

In the future, try to find ships that were manufactured with gas turbines, which reduces emissions up to 90%, as well as ships that compact, shred, dehydrate, and pulverize their solid waste (both systems are being installed in newer ships).

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CompUSA Refuses To Accept Cash

A CompUSA cashier summoned her manager and a security guard when Bud tried to pay for his purchases with cash. The promise of 40% discounts drew Bud to the Boisie, Idaho store, but he settled for a 10% discount on an iMac and several accessories.

I start counting out hundred dollar bills and the clerk goes nuts! "Sir, we don't accept cash for this kind of purchase! You must use a credit card!" she says at the top of her lungs. (I see her also hit a button on the phone at the same time.)

Instantly a man shows up, clearly the manager from his nametag and the rent-a-cop security guy. Both tell me the same thing, "NO CASH! You have to pay with a credit card!"

CompUSA's corporate office defended the manager, saying that each store is free to set its own policies.

The manager's actions are legal. 31 U.S.C. 5103 says that cash is legal tender for all debts, public and private. Creditors can't refuse cash. CompUSA can.

Of course, that doesn't mean they should.

I got a call back from a guy at CompUSA corporate, apologizing for what happened. He said that he would make sure that I was taken care of properly and that cash would be no problem. I told him I would think about it and call him back.

So I called the store to see if the items I wanted were in stock, after I asked the guy about them he said, "I know who you are, your the guy that wanted to pay cash. My district manager & corporate called me and read me the riot act over this. Thanks for getting me in trouble!"

He then hung up on me!

And you wondered why they were going out of business.

No Cash At Compusa????? [Sprint Users]
Legal Tender Status [Department of the Treasury]
(Photo: Tyler Durden's Imaginary Friend)

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Is Lipstick Giving Women Bigger Boobs?

Whether concealed in lace or held firmly under wraps in no - nonsense Lycra, the fact that can no longer be hidden is that British breasts are getting bigger. In less than ten years the average bra size has grown from a 34B to 36C.

Marks & Spencer say a quarter of all its bras sold are a D cup or above - a figure which has doubled in three years. And, in response to customer demand, its range, which used to end with a G cup, now goes up to a J. Lingerie company Bravissimo has even introduced three different K cup bras.

It would be easy to blame this on an increase in cosmetic surgery; breast implants remain the most popular procedure and about 10,000 British women underwent the operation in 2007.

Yet, according to experts, from dieticians to gynaecologists, the reasons why our breasts are getting bigger are complex and range from obesity to hormones, and alcohol to environmental factors.

And that in this instance size does matter because there is a direct connection with the health of our breasts and of our bodies as a whole.

Nutritionist Marilyn Glenville admits seeing clients who have gone up a cup size after being put on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) by their GPs to help them cope with the menopause.

This, she believes, is because breast tissue is being encouraged to grow by the 'injection' of unusually high levels of oestrogen into the body from the HRT. A harmless side-effect of beating the menopause? Probably not.

The female breast contains cells called oestrogen receptors which are stimulated by the presence of oestrogen into producing more mammary tissue.

While this could mean a simple increase in size, it is also possible that stimulating these cells artificially after the menopause - when natural oestrogen levels drop - could contribute towards breast cancer.

"Putting women on HRT is giving the body oestrogen at a stage when it would not normally have it," says Glenville. "The more exposure we have, the more likely we are to get breast cancer."

According to Cancer Research UK, approximately 70 per cent of breast cancers are oestrogen-driven. And according to its website: "The bottom line is that HRT does increase breast cancer risk."

Glenville points to other major lifestyle changes that also increase how much oestrogen is flooding the body, leading to larger breasts and also an increased risk of cancer.

"Our daughters are reaching puberty earlier - sometimes as young as eight. This means they will have much more exposure to oestrogen in their lifetimes.

"Women are also having fewer children so the body is exposed to higher levels of oestrogen in the long term, as during pregnancy and breastfeeding oestrogen levels in the body are lower."

Consultant gynaecologist Peter Bowen-Simpkins, medical director of the London Women's Clinic and spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, agrees that theoretically hormones could be involved in this change in the female shape.

"If men took oestrogen as they used to in the early days of treating prostate cancer, they developed noticeably larger breasts."

Yet he does not think the levels of artificial hormones that women take now are enough to make a significant contribution to breast size.

So if it is not all down to deliberately consuming hormones as part of a medical regime, could it be 'false' hormones affecting our body via the environment?

Xeno-oestrogens are chemicals from pesticides or plastics that mimic the effect of oestrogen and are fat-soluble so store themselves in the body. In our highly processed society, xeno-oestrogens are found everywhere from food to cosmetics and scientists are unsure how dangerous they are.

According to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), there are serious environmental concerns about the way these artificial hormones are affecting our health, wildlife and the food chain as a whole.

But it is not just a case of banning every chemical that comes along. A spokesperson for Defra says: "Many substances, including common ones such as water, salt and alcohol, can cause changes to hormone systems. A ban on the basis that something has this property could deprive society of many useful chemicals."

Marilyn Glenville says: "We are talking about a cocktail of toxins so it's hard to pinpoint what is going wrong. But many products, from lipsticks to tampons to spermicides, contain xeno-oestrogens - and we are applying them directly to our bodies.

"We know these chemicals will be having some impact on men, but on women it is more physically obvious."

Scroll down for more...

Bond-style bikini: Myleene Klass is renowned for her curves

While science debates the effect of these toxic chemicals, there is one reason for increased breast size which is undeniable. Obesity is a major problem in the UK; according to the Medical Research Council, 50 per cent of adults are overweight, with 20 per cent classified as obese.

Professor Michael Baum, an expert in breast cancer, thinks this is the main reason for the increase in bust size. "Fat is laid down on breasts as much as thighs or bottoms," he says, "and we are in an epidemic of obesity. It isn't surprising women's measurements have increased."

Before you go on a diet, though, Glenville recommends you look at your body-fat percentage. "Are you over-fat or over-weight?" she asks. "Breast tissue is adipose or fatty, that's why weight gain shows up so quickly there. To lose weight from your bust you need to lower your sugar intake and eat less processed food as this will keep your blood sugar level stable so you can burn fat."

Conversely, high sugar foods force the body to increase its insulin output. Too much insulin helps your body to store energy as fat and makes it more difficult for your body to break down those fat stores when you try to lose weight.

This gives us another clue to increasing bra size: alcohol. "We are raising a generation of ladettes who don't care about how many units they consume," says Glenville.

"Alcohol is full of sugars that will elevate your blood sugars and cause them to release unstable levels of insulin. It also has a toxic effect on liver function. This means oestrogen and other hormones can end up being recirculated around the body and perhaps reabsorbed instead of being broken down in the liver, if that organ has been damaged by too much alcohol."

But there are two more positive reasons why the British breast size has increased. "More women are taking up aerobic exercise and building up their pectoral muscles, which can affect cup size," says a Marks & Spencer spokesman.

And, reassuringly, having larger breasts could be the key to a longer life as it is a sign of improving nutrition levels in children. We have bigger breasts, it seems, than our forebears simply because we are healthier and stronger.

So before you feel envious about those dainty B cups, remember your J cup - as long as it is not overshadowed by a super-sized tummy - could be due to your own good health.

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Portable Device Quickly Detects Early Alzheimer's

ATLANTA (January 16, 2008) — The latest medications can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, but none are able to reverse its devastating effects. This limitation often makes early detection the key to Alzheimer’s patients maintaining a good quality of life for as long as possible.

Click here to see a video about DETECT
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Now, a new device developed by the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University may allow patients to take a brief, inexpensive test that could be administered as part of a routine yearly checkup at a doctor’s office to detect mild cognitive impairment (MCI) — often the earliest stage of Alzheimer’s. The device is expected to be commercialized later this year.

Current assessment tests capable of detecting early Alzheimer’s typically are taken with a pen and paper or at a computer terminal and last about an hour and a half. They must be given by a trained technician in a quiet environment, because any distractions can influence the patient’s score and reduce the test’s effectiveness. Because of their length and expense, the tests are not used as regular screening tools and typically are given only after there is obvious cognitive impairment such as forgetfulness or unsafe behavior.

“Families usually wait until their mom or dad does something somewhat dangerous, like forgetting to take their medications or getting lost, before bringing them in for testing. At that point, the patient has already lost a significant portion of their cognitive function,” said David Wright, MD, who helped develop the device. Wright is assistant professor of emergency medicine at Emory University School of Medicine and co-director of the Emory Emergency Medicine Research Center. “With this device, we might be able to pick up impairment well before those serious symptoms occur and start patients on medications that could delay those symptoms.”

The Georgia Tech and Emory device, called DETECT, gives individuals a roughly ten-minute test designed to gauge reaction time and memory — functions that, when impaired, are associated with the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The test is a specially modified, shortened version of the traditional pen and paper test and could be given repeatedly by doctors to evaluate any changes in cognitive functions.

“We really envision this to be part of the normal preventative care a patient receives from a general practitioner,” said Michelle LaPlaca, Ph.D., one of the creators of the device and an associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. “It would be part of a regular preventative medicine exam much like a PSA test or EKG (electrocardiogram), serving as a cognitive impairment vital sign of sorts.”

The DETECT system includes an LCD display in a visor with an onboard dedicated computer, noise reduction headphones and an input device (controller). The display projects the visual aspect of the test and the headphones provide the verbal instructions.
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The portable test runs patients through a battery of visual and auditory stimuli such as pictures and words that assess cognitive abilities relative to age, gauging reaction time and memory capabilities. Its software can track cognitive capabilities — and decline — year to year during annual appointments. And because the device blocks outside sound and light from the patient’s environment, it can be administered in virtually any setting, providing more consistent results.

Preliminary analysis of the first 100 patients of a 400-person clinical study being conducted at Emory’s Wesley Woods Center has shown that the 10-minute DETECT test has similar accuracy to the 90-minute “Gold Standard” pen and paper test.

With millions of baby boomers easing into late adulthood, the number of patients with Alzheimer’s is expected to skyrocket over the next few decades. More than 24 million people worldwide are currently thought to have Alzheimer’s disease and by 2040, an estimated 81 million people worldwide are expected to develop the disease.

To give these millions of potential Alzheimer’s sufferers a chance to slow the disease’s advance before serious symptoms set in, doctors need an inexpensive and easy-to- administer test to detect and track the cognitive decline associated with the early stages of the disease.

The DETECT device is designed to be administered while a patient is still healthy, tracking any abnormal decreases in the patient’s cognitive performance over time. If a patient’s performance declines outside the normal range, the patient would then undergo additional testing and care from a neurologist, neuropsychologist or other specialist.

The DETECT system includes an LCD display in a visor with an onboard dedicated computer, noise reduction headphones and an input device (controller). The display projects the visual aspect of the test, the headphones provide the verbal instructions and the controller records the wearer’s response.

DETECT’s creators have formed a company, called Zenda Technologies, to commercialize the device for MCI, as well as other conditions. Georgia Tech and Emory researchers are exploring other types of cognitive impairment such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) that could be picked up by DETECT. A version of the system designed to detect mild concussions on the sidelines of a football game, during other high-impact sports or on a battlefield is still being tested.

The research was funded with a grant from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation and support from the Georgia Research Alliance through Georgia Tech’s VentureLab.

Dr. Wright and Dr. LaPlaca have an equity interest in Zenda Technologies. In addition, Dr. Wright and Dr. LaPlaca are inventors on a patent application covering the DETECT technology, and may receive royalties or fees through the license agreement. Emory, Georgia Tech, Dr. Wright, and Dr. LaPlaca may benefit financially if Zenda Technologies is successful in marketing the DETECT device. Dr. Wright’s relationship with Zenda Technologies has been reviewed and approved by Emory in accordance with its policies on conflicts of interest.

MEDIA CONTACTS: Megan McRainey, Georgia Institute of Technology, 404-894-6016 and Jennifer Johnson, Emory University, 404-727-5696,

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