Larval Debridement Therapy

If you’re looking for new ideas for medical therapies, it’s generally a bad idea to seek inspiration in the therapeutic practices of eighteenth century medicine. Bleeding was prescribed for almost any ailment (including bleeding-induced weakness), and compounds laced with mercury were commonly used in diuretics and antisyphilitics. And how about the practice of placing maggots in festering wounds? Surprisingly, this last techique is seeing a revival.

In the blog Bitesize Bio I came across a press release (PDF) from Monarch Labs on their Larval Debridement Therapy, also known as maggot therapy. To their credit, Monarch doesn’t shrink from using the word “maggot”. No hiding behind fancy latinate euphemisms for them… they spell it right out for you on their home page.

Medical Maggots™ are used to clean (“debride”) and manage wounds in a procedure known as “maggot therapy.” Sometimes wound debridement using maggots is also called “maggot debridement therapy,” “MDT,” “larva therapy,” “larval therapy,” “larva debridement therapy,” or “biodebridement.”

For people prone to slow-healing or non-healing wounds and ulcers, maggots can be a godsend. The real problem is convincing doctors to use them. If you believe the press release, “about 600,000 diabetics get foot ulcers every year nationwide, and traditional medical practices can cost up to $8,000 to treat such wounds,” whereas “… a single course of maggot therapy costs about $100.” What’s more, antibiotics can lose efficacy over time. Green bottle fly larvae, on the other hand, are in no danger of losing their appetite for gleaming pearls of necrotic flesh. Om nom nom.

Welcome to the new frontier of medical science: how’s about a nice whipworm smoothie to go with your maggoty salve? It’s only a matter of time before we rediscover the charms of iatrogenic bloodletting.

For the record, I advise that you not do a Google image search for the words “larval debridement.”

Local Twitter trends with Trendsmap

What are people talking about? That used to be a speculative question, but since the advent of blogs and now Twitter, it’s become a more tractable problem. You don’t have the time to read and distill a million Twitter messages, but your computer does. Algorithmically it’s getting to be pretty straightforward.

Trendsmap caught my eye tonight, partly because of two weather related events dominating local weather in two different parts of the world. Trendsmap uses Twitter to show you what the buzz is both globally and locally, and the design is so attractive that you can easily waste a lot of time on it.

Okay, here’s your quiz. What are people talking about in the greater Atlanta metropolitan area these days?


That one didn’t surprise me, since I had been following that story on the news. But I didn’t know about the dust storms in Australia.


Crikey! It’s pretty apparent that dust is not only dominating local brainwaves, but that the massive storm has an end-of-the-world feel to it. Watch this video from Broken Hill, New South Wales and see if you can see why.

Train wrecks and momentum in the movies

When it comes to big things, it’s hard to get momentum right. We don’t have much experience with truly massive things moving quickly and unpredictably. Airplanes, trucks, and trains in normal circumstances aren’t surprising. But here’s a video of a train wreck during a tornado (nobody gets hurt). Watch through to the end to see Old Man Momentum get his due.

In old movies, they had to substitute small models for the real thing, so the physics were all wrong. Watch this video of the steamboat in the African Queen going over a waterfall. It’s clear the boat in the waterfall is about two feet long. With computer simulations and graphics, they can do much better these days. Here’s a clip from The Incredibles that involves a van speeding through traffic. Since they aren’t using a mechanical model, they can get the physics right, or close enough for a cartoon fantasy world.

Möbius music

Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach is one of my all-time favorite books. As the name implies, there are many references to Bach’s music, particularly his fugues and canons. When I was reading the book back in high school, it was hard to track down and listen to all the music that came up in the book, let alone their musical scores. The world is different now, though. Take Bach’s Crab Canon, for example. Now you can find sites aplenty that describe it, show you the music, and play it. It’s called a crab because it is played against itself forward and backwards simultaneously. Don’t believe me? Look at this MIDI roll visualization (it looks like a crab!), and then listen to the audio file played backwards. You can’t do that to too many pieces of music and still have something worth hearing.

But wait! Why not look at how Bach’s canons resemble functions, and our friend the crab is g(t) = f(18-t). And if you print the piece out on a Möbius strip, you and a friend can play it together, assuming you’re on the same differentiable manifold (ha ha! you knew that). But don’t take my word for it. Watch the video.

Curiously, when it comes to Möbius music, Bach is not the only game in town. I was thoroughly charmed by this video of Vi Hart playing her comparatively recent composition, the Harry Potter Septet on a Möbiola. I like how the variable crank speed is part of the performance.

PLEASE NOTE: I don’t know if it’s really called Möbiola, but that’s what I would call it if I were king.

The electrification of motoring

The Economist gives a surprisingly upbeat assessment of the future of electric cars in this week’s article The electrification of motoring. I hope they’re right. It seems clear enough that if the battery cost comes down, then a lot can be simplified out of a car. This is looking pretty far down the road, but consider this scenario. If you put the motor into the wheel itself (something that is possible with an electric motor), then you can remove the engine under the hood, the transmission, the drive shaft, the gas tank, and the emissions controls, muffler, and exhaust. Not only does that free up a lot of space, but, as the article points out, it changes the car so drastically that the competitive advantage of existing car companies is much diminished. As a result, we’re likely to see some new players in the automobile industry.

Michelin has already built such an in-wheel motor, dubbed the Active Wheel. It may be a while before it goes mainstream, but it already works in the lab. Check it out.

The warehouse is the robot

Everybody likes humanoid robots (especially the Japanese, for some reason), but even nontechnical folks these days realize they’re not useful for much more than entertainment. Too tippy, too breaky, too expensive. Instead, we’re accustomed to things like robot arms bolted onto the factory floor. Much simpler. Simpler still is the Roomba, the ultimate in workaday non-tippy robots. Boring, but useful.

We’re so used to seeing robots as individuals that it’s hard to visualize the next leap: swarms of robots acting as a single entity. Kiva Systems (which I learned about from the ever interesting BotJunkie) has developed a warehouse robotics system that orchestrates the entire warehouse floor. In effect, the building is the robot. And it appears to be a genuine breakthrough.

I’m mesmerized by these images of little orange worker-blobs doing logistical origami. They’re like the fingertips of an enormous unseen brain. It reminds me once again of the ascendancy of software in all things. The warehouse effectively becomes a large physical version of computer memory. You’re seeing what amount to memory management algorithms in fully embodied glory: adaptive caching, clustering, batching.

The interviews with the smiling human workers are almost poignant. They’re talking about what an improvement this system is. Makes their job so much easier. Reduces it to almost robotic simplicity. I bet your job gets even easier when version 2 comes out.

If you’re as interested as I am in this stuff, you’ll want to watch this demo and read this article.

Seeing is believing, the really small edition

When I was a lad and my brother was on the medical school track in college, I remember he had these plastic models that he used for his organic chemistry class. I remember remarking that, since he got to play with cool little plastic models, it must be a fun class. He tried to persuade me otherwise.


I always had a soft spot for those molecular modeling kits. But still, it’s hard to escape the feeling that maybe it’s all a big humbug. In chemistry class they tell us what these things look like, but honestly, what do they REALLY look like?

CHEMISTRY PROF: You can’t “look” at molecules.

STUDENT: So why am I fumbling with these expensive goddamned plastic noodles?

The message is, trust us, they look like this, but you’ll never see them.

Except for the fact that now you can. Starting with the scanning tunneling microscope, we’ve been able to resolve shapes down to the atomic level (note that I am going to sidestep any philosophical concerns about whether using an atomic force microscope constitutes seeing). It’s very satisfying to see what Democritus dreamed of.

Recently the level of detail has gone way up. Look at this image of pentacene, which is a kind of stretch-limo version of benzene. Here’s the ball and stick model of the same thing. By god, it REALLY looks like that plastic model. I am going to sleep well tonight.