Thursday, March 22, 2007

new stroke treatment technique

Ah, finally some GOOD news for a change.   Clever lads and lassies at MIT have come up with a robotic assist for stroke patients.

The wearable, portable, lightweight robotic brace slides onto the arm. By sensing the patient's electrical muscle activity through electromyography (EMG)--which detects muscle cells' electrical activity when they contract--and sending that data to a motor, it allows stroke patients to control their affected limbs.

When used under the supervision of an occupational or physical therapist, the device can be used to help patients progress from basic motor training, such as lifting boxes or reaching for a light switch, to more complex tasks such as carrying a laundry basket or flipping a light on and off while holding an object with the unaffected limb.

According to the study researchers--Dr. Joel Stein, Kathryn Krebs and Richard Hughes of Harvard Medical School and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and MIT graduates Kailas Narendran and John McBean--even people who have experienced a stroke years ago may be able to use the device to regain mobility.

In my experience, and more importantly according to previous studies of NDT assisted movement techniques, this should work really, really well.  The problem with NDT and all the other manual therapies for stroke is not that they don't work.  The problem is expense.  You need a highly trained therapist doing the treatment, whose time is worth about $100 bucks an hour.  This device can continue the treatment when the therapist is not there, at a huge cost reduction to the patient.

Friggin awesome.  I want one!

The Phantom

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

No, you are NOT paranoid enough.

My last two missives relate to sneaky things you can do with computers that amount to tech toys for boys.  Here's what the Big Kids have been doing.

Quite a few people have by now read about AOL’s new Skyhook “Near Me” buddy plugin. That’s the plug-in for the service which lets you know if any of your buddies are geographically near to you, and puts them in a “Near Me” buddies group.

But what far fewer people realize is exactly how it works. How does it know when you are geographically near one of your buddies?

The answer may surprise - and concern - you.

The underlying technology is provided by Skyhook Wireless. According to news sources, Skyhook has spent the past several years “driving a fleet of 200 trucks up and down the streets of 2,500 cities and towns across the United States and Canada,” mapping every single wireless router. Not just commercial hotspot routers. They openly admit that their trucks “scan for the pulse given off at least once a second by every home wireless router or commercial hotspot, recording the unique identifying code for that piece of Wi-Fi equipment.”

Then, that code - of your home wireless router “is correlated with the exact physical location where it was captured using GPS in the trucks, which cruise the streets at 15 to 50 miles (24 to 80 kilometers) per hour as they collect this information.”

Yes my friends, these guys have done something that even the East German Stazi couldn't dream up.  They made a map of every wi-fi router in North America.  Yes, including yours.  But not including mine.  Being the nasty suspicious type that I am, I don't use one.  I don't like the idea of a router that broadcasts to the great outdoors.  Looks like I was right to be a little concerned.

This isn't even the government, its just a small private company.  I can't imagine what the real Big Brother guys are doing.

The Phantom

Monday, March 19, 2007

Fighting Little Brother on the cheap.

We saw in the previous post that Big Brother's annoying sibling is getting pretty capable.  But all is not lost, kids!  Uncle Phantom found some keen-o neat-o Linux stuff you can run on that cheapo wireless router collecting dust in the back of your closet.

Check out the OpenWRT project. OpenWRT is a Linux distribution for embedded devices, and it brings a lot of exciting possibilities to your humble wireless router. Although still in its release candidate stage (currently at RC6), OpenWRT is very usable and feature-rich right out of the box. Be warned, you could void your manufacturer warranty by installing OpenWRT on your wireless routers.

So what can you do with an embedded Linux device running on limited RAM and very small storage? As it turns out, quite a lot actually. You can install asterisk, and have your personal, customizable PBX (private branch exchange). If you already have a SIP phone or some kind of VoIP phone interface (such as the Cisco ATA 186 adapter), you can have your very own VoIP system at home, all running out of your low power-consumption embedded hardware.

Put your router/firewall on steroids by installing packages like nmap (network security scanner), snort (intrusion detection), and tcpdump (packet sniffer). Together with iptables (which comes with the Linux kernel), you can turn your OpenWRT box into a powerful security tool. Install openvpn, and you have a very affordable VPN device. And if it strikes your fancy, you can install quagga and turn your dusty little Linksys into an OSPF and BGP-capable router.

Want to provide your own wireless hotspot? No problem. Install chillispot, and you are ready to go. You can even install FreeRADIUS on the OpenWRT for the authentication back-end, and WPA (wifi protected access) for the added security.

You can turn it into an all purpose office server by installing DHCP, cups (print server), lighthttpd (web server), NTP (time server) and OpenSSH or dropbear (secure remote administration). If your router has a USB port, you can also turn it into a file server by hooking it up with a USB hard drive and installing NFS.

And don’t forget that this is a wireless router. It has a wireless card, so take advantage of it! Install kismet on it, and you have a wireless sniffer. This can prove to be invaluable if you ever need to analyze the airwaves at a remote location, but don’t want to leave your expensive laptop on-site. Drop in place a $50 OpenWRT box loaded with kismet instead.

You can use this stuff to secure your home network like Fort Knox.  It won't keep Big Brother out (because he will kick in your front door at 3AM if he REALLY wants something), but it will certainly make Little Brother's life difficult.

The Phantom

How secure is your Bluetooth gizmo?

How secure is your Bluetooth enabled whatchamacallit?  Good question eh?  That Bluetooth phone has lots of stuff in it, so does your PDA, laptop, all kindsa stuff.

The answer, unfortunately, is not very.  Nope, not at all really.

The above links are to an article that describes how some kids built a Bluetooth "sniper rifle" style sniffer that can detect, and fiddle with, Bluetooth devices at a mile or more away.  The guts of it is a large antenna (which one could make pretty quick out of a wok) and a Gumstix computer the size of a pack of, you guessed it, gum.  Stir in some solder and a bit of time and shazam! you've got a big ear on the world.  Did I mention these are kids?

We've been aware for quite a while now that Big Brother is listening and watching ever closer.  There's nothing the government can't crack or find out about on line, given time.  If its on a computer, its theirs.  Big Brother sees all.

This thing here is different.  This is what I'm going to call Little Brother.  Big Brother's annoying younger sibling.  Little Brother is getting pretty sneaky these days, so just take care what you put on your wireless devices.

The Phantom