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Tiny brain-computer used to help paralyzed patients

ScienceDaily has a fascinating article about research being done to help paralyzed patients.

A multi-institutional team of researchers has found that people with long-standing, severe paralysis can generate signals in the area of the brain responsible for voluntary movement and these signals can be detected, recorded, routed out of the brain to a computer and converted into actions -- enabling a paralyzed patient to perform basic tasks.

Some of the first results of the clinical trial have just been published and they focus on the progress with a device called the BrainGate Neural Interface System. The BrainGate is a small device, about the size of a baby aspirin, and contains 100 tiny electrodes. When implanted, it's placed on the motor cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for voluntary movement.

The first patient, Matthew Nagle, a 25-year-old Massachusetts man with a severe spinal cord injury, has been paralyzed from the neck down since 2001. After having the BrainGate sensor implanted on the surface of his brain at Rhode Island Hospital in June 2004, he learned to control a computer cursor simply by thinking about moving it.

During 57 sessions, from July 2004 to April 2005, at New England Sinai Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, Nagle learned to open simulated e-mail, draw circular shapes using a paint program on the computer and play a simple video game, "neural Pong," using only his thoughts. He could change the channel and adjust the volume on a television, even while conversing. He was ultimately able to open and close the fingers of a prosthetic hand and use a robotic limb to grasp and move objects.

Other patients have not seen quite such positive results but it's still amazing to consider where this research is headed. The researchers hope that an improved device will one day be able to give paralyzed individuals the ability to control their limb muscles. That would certainly be a huge step in returning some of their freedom.

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History
The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

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holidays
Custom-Design the Ugly Christmas Sweater of Your Dreams (or Nightmares)
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For those of you aspiring to be the worst dressed person at your family's holiday dinner, UglyChristmasSweater.com sells—you guessed it—ugly Christmas sweaters to seasonal revelers possessing a sense of irony. But the Michigan-based online retailer has elevated kitsch to new heights by offering a create-your-own-sweater tool on its website.

Simply visit the site's homepage, and click on the Sweater Customizer link. There, you'll be provided with a basic sweater template, which you can decorate with festive snowflakes, reindeer, and other designs in five different colors. If you're feeling really creative, you can even upload photos, logos, hand-drawn pictures, and/or text. After you approve and purchase a mock-up of the final design, you can purchase the final result (prices start at under $70). But you'd better act quickly: due to high demand, orders will take about two weeks plus shipping time to arrive.

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