As 2019 slowly winds to a close (where has the time gone?!), I’m keeping my eyes peeled for a fascinating invention that its creator hopes will help people with dementia by the end of the year. Pattinson’s Jelly Drops are brightly coloured, deliciously flavoured pods of “edible water” — 90% liquid water in fact, with gelling agents and electrolytes making up the rest. They are made specifically to appeal to the eyes and palates of people with dementia, as well as address a dangerous problem they face: dehydration.
Creator Lewis Hornby threw himself into finding a solution when his grandmother Pat, who has Alzheimer’s, was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with severe dehydration. In his research, Hornby discovered that drinking water can be difficult for folks battling dementia: they may not feel thirsty, might have trouble swallowing, or even be on medications that dry them out. In order to improve his grandmother’s quality of life, as well as those of others with similar conditions, he had to think… inside the box. (Candy box, that is.)
“For people with dementia, these solid shapes can be much easier to hold and ingest than a regular glass of water. They also take longer for the body to break down, which increases how much the body can absorb. They really are a pretty simple solution to a harrowing problem.
And most importantly, they were a total hit with Lewis’ grandmother. ‘When first offered, grandma ate seven Jelly Drops in 10 minutes,’ Lewis said, ‘the equivalent to a cup full of water, something that would usually take hours and require much more assistance.’
Lewis noticed when visiting his grandmother that the dementia patients often struggled to eat if they were just handed a plate of food. But they had a much easier time if they knew they could eat with their hands. For example, when he gave them a box of chocolates, they instinctively knew to pick up the individual chocolates and put them in their mouths.’
Hornby’s close relationship with his grandmother (he’s named the drops after her!) not only inspired him but also served as a testing ground for boxes of his drops, as he trialled them extensively with her and her fellow nursing home residents. The Jelly Drops project formed part of his Innovation Design Engineering degree from the Royal College of Art, and now Hornby and his team are working hard to roll the product out to the wider market. (You can keep track of their efforts here.)
As the saying goes, “growing old is not for the faint of heart.” Having spent some time in assisted living myself after my dog-inflicted leg injury, I’ve seen first-hand how rough the latter part of our lives can be. So, I’m a giant fan of this invention: it not only promises to empower people with dementia to hydrate and make themselves comfortable but to do so in a delicious and fun way. I look forward to seeing Pattinson’s Jelly Drops (hi, Pat!) on the market soon!
If you’re reading this newsletter, you probably know DFC as your friendly neighbourhood boutique IT and business solutions company. But perceptive readers are also aware that we sell barbecue sauces (developed from David’s legendary from-scratch recipe) too! Our sauce business has taken us all kinds of places; from barbecues to country fairs to the shelves of fabulous local grocers. But no matter how deeply involved we get in our side gig, our first love — technology — always finds a way in!
Most recently, I was struck by the powerful little gadget that is the Square credit card reader. This little reader plugs into a smartphone’s headphone jack, and, when paired with the proprietary app, processes in-person debit and credit orders when we’re out in the (sometimes literal) field.
I was intrigued by how this 21st Century doodad worked, so I dug a little deeper. Turns out, it’s distantly related to some very 1990s technology: the dial-up modem. When it detects a swiped credit card, the Square converts the information on the magnetic strip (owner, number, expiry, and CVV) to an UNHOLY sound, which it then sends through the headphone jack. This sound is “decoded” by the app back into a recognizable credit card number, and the transaction is completed.
“All credit card readers basically function this way, although their noise is much harder to eavesdrop in on compared to the Square reader since they aren’t hooked up to a headphone plug. The screeching of a dial-up modem also functions somewhat similarly, in that they transmit data via noise, then send it over phone lines. The initial noise when your modem attempted to connect is called a ‘handshake’ […] The modem had a little speaker to play the handshake, so that users would know if something went wrong, like a clueless parental figure picking up the phone in the other room when you were halfway through downloading a mislabeled bluegrass cover of ‘Gin and Juice.’”
If you’re intrigued, The Outline, quoted above, pointed me towards this handy primer that breaks down the language of a dial-up modem’s “conversation” with a personal computer. I knew that the screeches that greeted my attempts to get online in the last century served this purpose, but I was fascinated to learn such a discreet, speedy, and small bit of modern tech was based on this same principle. Much like natural evolution — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Build on it!
As frequent readers of this newsletter know, DFC HQ is located deep in the country. As such, our team has had their workday interrupted by fishers, porcupines, cows, donkeys, and any number of gorgeous local and migrating birds.
One bird I’d love to see is the magnificent barn owl, which is regrettably endangered. We’re just barely in its habitat range, and I would die happy if I spotted one! My birding appetite is only whetted by some fascinating tech news just out of Penn State. Researchers there have studied the barn owl’s prodigious sense of hearing and turned around a cool new invention: a circuit that mimics the way a barn owl triangulates the location of its prey. This circuit could revolutionize wayfinding technology — all thanks to the greatest designer of all, Mother Nature.
“The ability to use sound to locate relies on the distance between the ears. In barn owls, that distance is quite small, but the brain’s circuitry has adapted to be able to discriminate this small difference. If the owl is facing the sound source, then both ears receive the sound simultaneously. If the sound is off to the right, the right ear registers the sound slightly before the left.
However, locating objects by sound is not that simple. The speed of sound is faster than the owl’s nerves can function so after the owl brain converts the sound to an electrical pulse, the pulse is slowed down. Then the brain’s circuitry uses a lattice of nerves of different lengths with inputs from two ends, to determine which length is where the two signals coincide or arrive at the same time. This provides the direction.”
The team has created a complicated proof-of-concept circuit, involving split gate transistors and a time-delay mechanism. This translates the barn owl’s brain into electronic terms, that can be applied anywhere there’s power to run it. Check out the Penn State press release for a fabulously detailed explanation here.
Evolution is an incredibly efficient design process, and the creators have acknowledged the time and energy saved by piggy-backing their invention off an already tried-and-true natural blueprint. We owe so much to our natural world — and remixing it may be the sincerest form of flattery!
I’ve long been fascinated by cryptids: It would be so cool to see a Sasquatch sashay across my backyard, pat Jill on the head, and keep going into the trees! Unfortunately, as a scientist, I must temper my enthusiasm with evidence. Which is why I loved digging into this tale of an international team of researchers, who unleashed science on the waters of Loch Ness.
For centuries, humans have been trying to figure out what — if any — large, snakelike mystery animal purportedly lives in Loch Ness. Guesses have ranged from a plesiosaur, to, um, a wooden and plastic head attached to a toy submarine. But scientists have now banded together to test the environmental DNA of the loch. Environmental DNA refers to, in short, the genetic traces of animals that exist in a habitat due to waste excretion, or shed skin, scales, or hair, that can be collected, assembled into a profile, and identified. From Popular Mechanics:
“‘There is a very significant amount of eel DNA,’ lead researcher Neil Gemmell, a geneticist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, said in a press release […] After he and his fellow scientists from the U.K., Denmark, the U.S., Australia, and France analyzed around 500 million sequences from 250 water samples, they couldn’t find any traces of shark, catfish, or sturgeon DNA—or, crucially, long-dead, Jurassic-era dinos.
‘We can’t find any evidence of a creature that’s remotely related to that in our environmental-DNA sequence data,’ Gemmell said.”
But they did find DNA pointing to the presence of lots and lots of eels… Potentially GIANT EELS. Which could have been the source for the original myth, if spotted by folks without the biology know-how to correctly identify them. According to the Popular Mechanics report, divers in Loch Ness have surfaced with tales of spotting eels up to 13 feet long since at least the 1930s. I will swallow my disappointment that Nessie is still a myth — because it’s actually cooler that nature has cooked up an amazing real behemoth!
At the DFC ranch, we are endlessly fascinated by reports of animal intelligence — not least because we share our workspace with two remarkably smart canine co-workers (link: pic of Samson and Jill). So when I read news of an unusual kind of intelligence showing up in a representative of a really unusual species, I was just about as thrilled as he seems to be!
Snowball the Eleanora Cockatoo has long delighted the viral video viewers by bopping along to human bangers like “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Backstreet’s Back”. Tufts neuroscientist Ani Patel, while watching one of these early videos, immediately became interested in where this behaviour came from — was it spontaneous, and what did it mean for our understanding of bird intelligence?
In a recent paper in Current Biology, Patel and team recount how they filmed the bird dancing to his favourite songs, then analyzed each frame and categorized the distinct moves Snowball exhibited. They found fourteen of them, with clear favourites being the “Vogue” and the “Headbang with Lifted Foot”. Snowball’s complex choreography pointed the team towards a theory of cognitive flexibility that, in short, might mean birds respond to music and choose dance moves much as humans do.
“In the paper, Patel and his team list the five traits they believe are required for an animal to be able to spontaneously dance to music: vocal learning; the ability to imitate; a propensity to form long-term social bonds; the ability to learn a complex sequence of movement; and an attentiveness to communicative movements. Humans and parrots share all five. […]
‘If he is actually coming up with some of this stuff by himself, it’s an incredible example of animal creativity,’ said Patel, ‘because he’s not doing this to get food; he’s not doing this to get a mating opportunity, both of which are often motivations in examples of creative behavior in other species.’”
Absent these standard animal motivations, Snowball’s sole drive to dance seems to be… because it’s fun! As a science buff, I’m eager to dig further into what this means for birds and humans. But, as someone who also loves to bust a move, it almost doesn’t matter — like Kevin Bacon, Snowball’s fate is to dance, no matter what the science says.