For Nearly Blind Readers, a Can-Do Camera

By Scott LaFee

June 8, 2016 6 min read

Nearly 2 million Americans over the age of 50 have age-related macular degeneration serious enough to impair their ability to read. A tiny camera tested by ophthalmologists at the UC Davis Eye Center might provide resolution.

The camera affixes to the glasses of patients with a small-wired earpiece and a portable control box. When the user looks at something and presses a button on the control box, the camera takes a picture of what's in front and an optical scanner converts any captured text into vocalized words the wearer hears in the earpiece.

Researchers tested the device with 12 participants, average age 62, all with impaired vision and acuity in their better eye of 20/200 or worse. The participants used the devices for a week and all reported their ability to read off a tablet, smartphone or book significantly improved.

Body of Knowledge

In chemical terms, the substance human blood most resembles is seawater.

Life in Big Macs

One hour of playing the violin burns 170 calories (based on a 150-pound person) or the equivalent of 0.2 Big Macs.

Counts

$55 million: Amount a U.S. jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a woman who said using the company's talc-powder products for feminine hygiene caused her to develop cancer. (Talc is associated with possible cancer risks, which the woman's lawyers said J&J hadn't properly disclosed to consumers.)

$72 million: Jury award in a February case against J&J for a similar talc-product lawsuit in which the plaintiff died from ovarian cancer.

1,200: Number of cases still pending against J&J, all accusing company of not adequately warning consumers about cancer risks associated with its talc-based products

Sources: STAT, Reuters

Stories for the Waiting Room

Donald Trump notwithstanding, a study in Psychological Science found that persons of a more conservative ideology tend to prefer established national brands, rather than generics or new names, when it came to ordinary purchases.

For example, they more often opt for Kleenex tissue rather than store brands. Likewise, for coffee, mayonnaise, laundry detergent and toothpaste. Researchers said the behavior was consistent with traits typically associated with conservatism, such as aversion to risk, skepticism about new experiences and a general preference for tradition, convention and the status quo.

The study was published in 2013 so there's no explanation for Trump.

Doc Talk

Hemiparesis: paralysis or weakness on one side of the body

Phobia of the Week

Scopophobia: fear of being looked at or stared at

Never Say Diet

The Major League Eating records for baked beans and Maine lobster are 8.4 pounds in 2 minutes, 47 seconds and 11.3 pounds in 12 minutes, respectively, both held by Sonya Thomas. Thomas won the bean contest with an explosive finish, but needed to claw out the lobster victory.

Hypochondriac's Guide

Aquagenic urticaria is sometimes called the water allergy, though it's not a true histamine-releasing allergic reaction like other urticarial (hives) conditions. The very rare condition results in persons experiencing a painful skin reaction to contact with water of any temperature.

A 2011 study described two cases in which a 19-year-old man and 4-year-old boy both experienced rashes 10-20 minutes after showering or being exposed to water. The rashes then disappeared 30 to 60 minutes later. Both were successfully treated with an antihistamine medication.

Observation

"I was going to have cosmetic surgery until I noticed that the doctor's office was full of portraits by Picasso." —American comedienne Rita Rudner

Medical History

This week in 1877, the state of New York passed a law to tax "oleomargarine." When the law was overturned in court, dairy farmers — intent upon protecting their product, butter — went to Congress, which passed the Margarine Act of 1886. Margarine had been invented in 1870 by a Frenchman at the request of Emperor Louis Napoleon III, who was looking for a butter substitute suitable for use by the military and lower classes. The Margarine Act, which imposed taxes well above those of butter, did not slow the popularity of the non-butter alternative. The act itself was not repealed by Congress until 1950. Wisconsin didn't repeal its anti-margarine regulations until 1967.

Med School

Q: What percentage of people are colorblind?

a) 1 percent

b) 5 percent

c) 8 percent

d) 15 percent

A: One in 12 men are colorblind (or just over 8 percent), which explains a lot about their clothing choices. Among women, the ratio is much lower: one in 200.

Epitaphs

"3.14159265358979323846264338327950"

—Dutch mathematician Ludolph van Ceulen (1540-1610), who was the first to calculate the value of pi (the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter) to 35 digits, a feat for which he was enormously proud. Since then, pi has been calculated to more than 13.3 trillion decimal digits and memorized to more than 70,000.

To find out more about Scott LaFee and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: Arturo Pardavila III

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