Bobby's Blog

Scratch That Itch?

October 31, 2014

Remember when you were a kid and you got bitten by insects or worse, you got the measles, mumps or chicken pox or some other childhood pox that made your skin break out and itch like crazy? Remember how your mom would always say, "Don't scratch, you'll make it worse!" But as soon as you were out of her sight, you'd scratch and scratch until you got that "ahhh" feeling of relief.

But it turns out your mom was right, even if she didn't know why. Scientists have discovered that the neurochemical serotonin is probably responsible for the itch-scratch cycle. It works like this: when you scratch an itch, it actually causes you a small amount of pain, which is a distraction that numbs your brain to the itch sensation. Meanwhile, that little bit of pain triggers the release of serotonin in your brain. Now here's the interesting Thing: serotonin dulls pain, but it also helps carry the itch signal to the brain. So when the pain of the scratch dies away, the itch comes back with a vengeance. And so on and so on.

Researchers figured out how to interrupt the itchy nerve cells that react to serotonin, so it's possible that their work could lead to some relief in the future. Meanwhile, we just have to keep scratching!

See you next week,

3 Things You Should Know About Airfares

October 24, 2014

Ready for your holiday travel season? Me either, but here it comes anyway. This year, I'm going to be a little more prepared. Instead of overpaying for my plane tickets, I did a little research and dug up some Things to help save a little of my hard-earned money. Since all of us can use a little extra cash for stocking stuffers and such, I thought I'd share what I learned with you:

  1. Plane ticket prices can change as often as three times a day. As crazy as it sounds, it's true. But you can track fares with web sites like Yapta, which will alert you when a fare you're watching drops.
  2. The best time to buy is 6-8 weeks out and discounted tickets are usually offered at the beginning of the week. So don't wait until Friday to book your flight.
  3. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the cheapest days to buy and the cheapest days to fly. Saturday is cheaper than Sunday, which is the most expensive day to fly.

If you shop smart for your holiday tickets, you can save some dough for more important Things. Like a book, a blanket and some earbuds to make the flight as easy on you as it is on your wallet.

See you next week,

Easy-To-Wear Halloween Things

October 17, 2014

Have you chosen your Halloween costume yet? I'm still on the fence. I'm thinking I'll ditch the elaborate costume for someThing a little easier to wear. I mean, a full-head zombie mask is great -- until you want a drink. And a gorilla suit is fine -- until you need to go to the bathroom. So, if you also want someThing a little on the less-is-more side, we here at Things can fix you up right for Halloween.

My first pick? This hat. Our sturdy plastic and felt hat goes with everyThing, it's funny and it's one of the easiest costumes to wear. You just pair it with your street clothes and go as "the one with the bright idea." You can even remove the light bulb if you find you've suddenly run out of ideas.

Another great Thing that pairs well with clothes you might have in your closet is a great big beard. Perfect with a suit or an old pair of overalls, the cascading facial hair even comes with a big bushy moustache. At about four feet long, it's a full costume unto itself.

My last pick is the simplest Thing of all: a t-shirt. If you're just not into costumes this year, pull on this tee-shirt that shows you're a good sport about it and shows off your unique sense of humor. Remember: whatever costume you choose, have fun, be safe and watch for the kiddies on Halloween.

See you next week,

Do We Really Need to Build a Better Snake?

October 10, 2014

I'm not sure the world really needs more snakes, but the science teams at Georgia Tech have invented a new and possibly improved version of the deadly sidewinder. Why? Because they can, for one. But also to help them understand how snakes, legless creatures that they are, can move so efficiently across so many different types of terrain.

Sidewinders get their name from their peculiar way of moving, particularly across sandy and uneven ground. Scientists are studying the movement they call "sidewinding locomotion" to help them design robots that won't get stuck in the sand. They're hoping their newfound insights into the venomous pit snake's abilities will help them build better, faster and more efficient rescue robots.

I don't know about you, but if I saw a robotic snake coming, I don't know if I'd let it anywhere near me. But I guess that depends on how bad I needed rescuing. Watch this video of the robotic rattlesnake and decide for yourself. It's creepy to watch, but at least it doesn't bite!

See you next week,

Five Things You Probably Didn't Know About Disney

October 03, 2014

Who doesn't love a Disney theme park? There are so many Things to see and do. So many rides to ride and thrills to seek and Things to make you go "ooooh" and "ahhhh" no matter how old you are. Would it surprise you to find out the parks are engineered that way? It's true, Disney parks have some very cool, some very dark and some very silly Things going on both behind and in front of the scenes that you probably didn't know about.

  1. Disney uses someThing called a Smellitizer to emit different scents all over the park to match the immediate surroundings.
  2. None of the shops at Disney World sell gum - that way you never have to find a piece stuck to the bottom of a table or step in a glob of the sticky stuff.
  3. The lawn at the "The Haunted Mansion" is the only lawn in the park that isn't meticulously maintained. They let it grow wild to match the spooky mood of the ride.
  4. There is actually a human skull at "The Pirates of the Caribbean" ride. A real one.
  5. There are thousands of "hidden" Mickey Mouse heads throughout Disney World - and the surrounding resorts!

Disney parks are engineered down to the very last detail. Nothing is overlooked and no expense is spared making sure no one gets out of a Disney park without having a great time. Not even Darth Vader.

See you next week,


September 26, 2014

A Happy Horrific Haunted Halloween takes a lot more planning than other holidays. There's decorating to be done and lights to be hung and you probably want a new outfit. And don't forget the delicious candies. It's like all Christmas, Easter and Valentine's Day all rolled into one -- with the addition of ghosts and ghouls, skeletons and spiders, bats and blood...

I'm not even close to choosing a costume yet, but I did find some animated spooky Things to use in my annual haunted house. Not a costume person? Or don't know what to wear? Check out this high-tech creepy animated eyeball t-shirt. A secret pocket in the shirt and a downloadable app for your phone makes this sinister shirt one of the spookiest Things I've seen for Halloween this year.

And how about this crawling zombie? When it's activated, the rotting undead Thing will crawl toward your guests with red eyes flashing. It's the perfect prop for your front yard cemetery or a haunted room. He's always hungry for brains so when it comes to scaring people, he never disappoints.

There's nothing like an evil clown to unnerve your guests. He hangs around innocently enough until a sound activates him and then he goes nuts, kicking and laughing maniacally while his eyes flash red. He's so scary, I've actually seen grown men run from him. Very effective. I guess it's a clown Thing.

Happy Halloween! See you next week,

Magic Millionaire

September 19, 2014

Did you see the America's Got Talent finale last night? In what most consider a stunning upset, 25 year-old magician Mat Franco took home the million dollar prize, beating out Howard Stern's favorite, singer Emily West, in the final heat.

Myself, I was torn. On the one hand, Emily West was born to sing. On the other hand, Mat Franco is a born magician. So who has more talent? It's an unanswerable question. You just have to go with which act had the best show, was the most entertaining and -- perhaps the downfall of Acro Army -- made the fewest mistakes. When the final votes were tallied, it seems America thought West was great, but thought Franco was magical.

To me, the winners and losers matter very little in talent contest shows. The Thing that matters most is inspiration. Because of the six finalists in this year's AGT competition, kids all over the country now want to sing, become acrobats and, of course, do magic. But maybe inspiration isn't just for kids. Watching Franco's extraordinary sleight of hand made me want to break out the old bag of tricks and give magic another whirl. I mean why not? I could be the next millionaire magician, couldn't I? Stranger Things have happened!

See you next week,

Things To Secure Your Security

September 12, 2014

A number of large retailers, banks and online services have recently been victims of online security breaches. And you might be a victim by extension if you use those banks or shop at those retailers. The latest reported breach comes from the widely-used Google service, Gmail.

Though Google claims there's nothing to worry about in the last hacker attack in which over 5 million email logins and passwords were leaked, it's in our best interest to protect ourselves from online hackers by developing long, hard-to-hack passwords and changing them often. Experts have long recommended creating a unique password for each web site you use, but most of us don't do it. If you're like me, you can barely remember the one password you use almost everywhere. To remember multiple passwords, you could store your passwords in a protected document on your computer. But, of course, then you have to remember that password!

A password vault might be a better choice. You can also use your bank's website or app to put other security measures in place -- like setting up text alerts that warn you immediately about unexpected activity in your bank accounts. And RFID protectors can prevent your credit card information from being stolen right out of your pocket.

Protecting yourself online and off is a daily Thing. And with all the recent hacking activity, I think it's time to start taking some of that expert security advice. I think we can all be safer with a little diligence, some expert advice and, of course, a cool gadget or two to help us out.

See you next week,

Your Morning Joe

September 05, 2014

According to the New York Times, "caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world." Americans love their morning coffee, but, believe it or not, we aren't the heaviest coffee drinkers. In fact, we're #25 in global coffee consumption. Finland and its Nordic neighbors occupy the top five slots for the most caffeinated countries. Maybe that's not so surprising since nothing beats a steaming cup of coffee to get you going on a frozen day.

What is surprising is a new study released by the journal Science. The study shows how coffee plants "gained the biochemical equipment necessary to make caffeine" as a result of millions of years of evolution. Even more shocking is that the plants appear to have evolved this biochemical equipment in order to control the behavior of mammals. Yes, mammals. Like you and me.

Coffee plants have long been known to contaminate the ground with caffeine as their leaves wither and fall off, making it difficult for other plants to germinate in the poisoned soil and thus killing off the competition. Scientists are also familiar with its toxicity to insects, which have evolved taste receptors that help them avoid ingesting the caffeine. But it seems that coffee and other caffeinated plants also deliver caffeine through their nectar, which feeds insects and other animals, who then spread the plants' pollen. And when the helpful critters feed on caffeinated nectar, it stimulates their brains so they're more likely to remember the scent of the plant, return to it and spread its pollen even further. Caffeine producing plants have a similar effect on humans: it's toxic if we take too much, but at lower doses, it enhances our brains.

Neurobiologist Julie A. Mustard says, "It's a very cool fact that you can use one molecule to do a negative thing and a positive one." And that positive/negative relationship might be the key to why caffeine evolved in plants the way it did. According to Dr. Mustard, caffeine producing plants are "manipulating all of us."

Now there's someThing to think about with your morning "cuppa Joe!"

See you next week,

Trek Tech

August 29, 2014

Have you heard about the Tricorder XPrize? If not, you know what a tricorder is: the gadget that Star Trek doctors used to diagnose any ailment with just a sweep over the patient's body. No needles or x-rays needed, with this handy Thing, Star Trek docs could figure out what was wrong with you in just a couple of seconds. Now someone has gone and invented one.

India's team "Danvantri" is one of the 10 finalists in the XPrize competition, developing a "tricorder that can diagnose some 15 diseases and measure 5 vital signs," according to the XPrize Foundation. Four U.S. teams are also in the competition, which is expected to conclude at the end of next year, with a $10 million prize going to the winning team.

But team Danvantri might be ahead of the game. They've already commercialized something similar. Their commercial device can check blood pressure, blood oxygen level and temperature with the use of a mobile app. Now they're integrating other technologies into the Thing, including a high-def camera and testing strips (like those in pregnancy tests, for example) in hopes of winning the XPrize. Hoping to diagnose kidney and liver problems, among other ailments, the camera takes a picture of the strip color and the mobile app analyzes the image to identify the medical problem. The team also developed probes for their device, which can check for ear infections and even do an EEG!

Now, I hope I never need to see one of these Things in action, but if I ever develop a mysterious ailment, it will be good to know my doctors will have some Star Trek Tech on their side!

Stay well. See you next week,