Sunday :: Mar 20, 2005

Living Dark In A Jetsons World


by pessimist

The future is now. Be Afraid. Be VERY Afraid.

We might soon be facing a situation that one could once only find in science fiction novels - that of our machines taking on human characteristics, and maybe even replacing us. We've seen that theme in the movie Number Five Is Alive, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and in Der Governator's Terminator series, among many others.

Robots would be the ideal employees, for example. Robot employees wouldn't need time off for a sick child, and wouldn't 'need' a vacation or a retirement - at least until completely amortized! Training would be as simple as dumping in the latest programming, and let the profit race begin!

Robots - unlike humans - would never complain about having too much work:


US study reveals one in three Americans chronically overworked

A new US study by Families and Work Institute, Overwork in America: When the Way We Work Becomes Too Much [PDF], reports that one in three American employees are chronically overworked, while 54 percent have felt overwhelmed at some time in the past month by how much work they had to complete.

In a culture where being overworked is seen as both a "red badge of courage" as well as a source of anxiety, being overworked should be taken seriously by employers. Employees who are more overworked are more likely to make mistakes at work, to be angry with their employers for expecting them to do so much and to resent coworkers who don’t work as hard as they do. In addition, nearly half of employees who feel overworked report that their health is poor. For example, only 8 percent of employees who are not overworked experience symptoms of clinical depression compared with 21 percent of those who are highly overworked.

You don't have to be crazy to work here - but it helps?

The study of more than 1,000 wage and salaried employees identifies for the first time why being overworked and feeling overwhelmed have become so pervasive in the American workplace.

"Ironically, the very same skills that are essential to survival and success in this fast-paced global economy, such as multi-tasking, have also become the triggers for feeling overworked," reports Ellen Galinsky , president of Families and Work Institute and a lead author of the study. "Being interrupted frequently during work time and working during non-work times, such as while on vacation, are also contributing factors for feeling overworked."

Employees’ priorities have an effect on their state of being overworked as well. Employees who are work-centric are more likely to be overworked than those who maintain a dual-centric lifestyle, giving equivalent priority to their lives on and off the job. Possibly contrary to expectation, employees with greater family responsibilities were no more likely to be overworked than those without these responsibilities, except for elder care.


Vacation! Have To Get Away!


Because there is a great deal of interest in vacations in relation to reducing work stress, the study explored this issue in depth. Researchers found that 79 percent of employees had access to paid vacations in 2004 and that more than one-third of employees (36 percent) had not and were not planning to take their full vacation.

On average, American workers take 14.6 vacation days annually with more than one-third (37 percent) taking fewer than seven days. Only 14 percent of employees take vacations of two weeks or more. In addition, while employees report that it takes three days on average to begin to relax, the data shows that the longer employees take off at any one time, the more likely they are to return to work feeling more relaxed and energized. For example, among employees who take one to three days off (including weekends), 68 percent return feeling relaxed compared with 85 percent who take seven or more days (including weekends).

"Perhaps the most important finding from the study related to vacations is that the more one works during vacations, the more overworked one is. Although one might hypothesize that employees who work during vacations are doing themselves a favor in avoiding a pile-up of work when they return," says Terry Bond , Vice President of Families and Work Institute and an author of the study, "the opposite seems to be true. Sometimes being truly away from work helps employees return less overwhelmed and more able to engage energetically in work."

Key Study Data

* One in three American employees are chronically overworked.

* 54 percent of American employees have felt overwhelmed at some time in the past month by how much work they had to complete.

* 29 percent of employees spend a lot of time doing work that they consider a waste of time. These employees are more likely to be overworked.

* 79 percent of employees had access to paid vacations in 2004.

* More than one-third of employees (36 percent) had not and were not planning to take their full vacation.

* On average, American workers take 14.6 vacation days annually.

* Most employees take short vacations, with 37 percent taking fewer than seven days.

* Only 14 percent of employees take vacations of two weeks or more.

* Among employees who take one to three days off (including weekends), 68 percent return feeling relaxed compared with 85 percent who take seven or more days (including weekends).

* Only 8 percent of employees who are not overworked experience symptoms of clinical depression compared with 21 percent of those who are highly overworked.


We Gotta Get Out Of This Place


Feeling Overworked? Study Says You're Not Alone

Employees’ priorities have an effect on their state of being overworked as well. Employees who are work-centric are more likely to be overworked than those who maintain a dual-centric lifestyle, giving equivalent priority to their lives on and off the job. Possibly contrary to expectation, employees with greater family responsibilities were no more likely to be overworked than those without these responsibilities, except for elder care.

Because there is a great deal of interest in vacations in relation to reducing work stress, the study explored this issue in depth. Researchers found that 79 percent of employees had access to paid vacations in 2004 and that more than one-third of employees (36 percent) had not and were not planning to take their full vacation. On average, American workers take 14.6 vacation days annually with 37 percent taking fewer than seven days. Only 14 percent of employees take vacations of two weeks or more. In addition, while employees report that it takes three days on average to begin to relax, the data shows that the longer employees take off at any one time, the more likely they are to return to work feeling more relaxed and energized. For example, among employees who take one to three days off (including weekends), 68 percent return feeling relaxed compared with 85 percent who take seven or more days (including weekends).

"Perhaps the most important finding from the study related to vacations is that the more one works during vacations, the more overworked one is," says Terry Bond, vice president of Families & Work Institute and author of the study. "Although one might hypothesize that employees who work during vacations are doing themselves a favor in avoiding a pile-up of work when they return, the opposite seems to be true. Sometimes being truly away from work helps employees return less overwhelmed and more able to engage energetically in work."


Goin' Up The Country, Heard That You Want To Go


Workers can't skip vacations

Start planning your vacation. Do it now. Summer is approaching, and results of yet another study scream the importance of taking time off to productivity and general well-being. More than half said they have felt overwhelmed by work at some time in the past month, yet 29 percent reported spending a lot of time doing work they consider a waste of time. One source of the problem is clear, says Ellen Galinsky, the institute's president. "The very same skills that are essential to survival in this fast-paced global economy, such as multitasking, have also become triggers for feeling overworked," she says. Frequent workplace interruptions and an expectation that employees will do work outside the office also are factors. What makes it worse is that despite the fact that nearly 80 percent of workers have access to paid vacations, 36 percent don't use all their allotted vacation time.

The study shows those who do take vacations often make them short (37 percent take fewer than seven days), and many vacation without ever truly getting away because they check e-mail and do other work-related tasks. "The more one works during vacations, the more overworked one is," says Terry Bond, a study co-author.

Such findings only validate what we have known for years.
* Overworked employees are unhappy. They make more mistakes, harbor anger toward their employers and resent colleagues who work less.

* Their health also suffers. The Work Life Institute study found 8 percent of employees who do not work too much report symptoms of clinical depression compared with 21 percent of those who characterize themselves as overworked.

* No company writes policies requiring employees to drive themselves into the ground, yet many harbor unspoken expectations that workers must toil into the night and forgo time off to excel.

Those kinds of expectations are bad management because they are bad for business.
Competitive sports is a useful analogy, according to the study, because it is "well known that periods of recovery need to be interspersed within periods of 'pushing hard'."

Employers only stand to benefit by encouraging workers to take their vacations and to leave in longer stretches if possible.

So show this research to the boss and make plans now. Memorial Day is just 71 days away.


Sixteen Tons, And What Do You Get?


Third of Workers Say They Are Overworked

The institute's researchers found that employees who performed work often while on vacation were more likely to feel overworked. Fifty-five percent of respondents who said they often or very often work on vacation said they feel highly overworked, compared with 31 percent of respondents who said they rarely or never work during vacation.

Of workers who are in contact with the office once a week or more outside of normal work hours, 44 percent reported that they felt overworked, compared with 26 percent of workers who have little or no contact outside of normal business hours, according to the survey. The researchers said that employees who are work-centric are more likely to feel overworked than those who give equivalent priority to their lives on and off the job.

That sort of worker is an endangered species!


Either no vacation, or take a BlackBerry

"We are tethered to our jobs," said Galinsky. In cities like Charlotte with high numbers of white-collar professionals and corporate climbers, the problem is even more acute, she said. "You see BlackBerrys (hand-held communication devices) at parties and at church" because people are responding to work e-mails, Galinsky said.

Overworking has become so common that advertisers have noticed. Universal Orlando Resort is running ads that mock workers it says are fattening corporate profits at the expense of their health and vacation time. The ads have 'struck a nerve', said Courtney Huff, spokeswoman for the Florida theme park. "People watch and say `that's me.' They have written us to say thank you for bringing up the issue."

Yamani Anderson says she knows exactly why she feels happier and less stressed now than she did three years ago. She quit her job. Anderson says she is no longer among the ranks of American employees who report that they are overworked and don't take vacation because they can't escape the office. In 2002, Anderson left her job as a customer service representative at a telecommunications company because she had to endure 50-hour work weeks and was called into work during her vacations. "I just didn't have any control (over my hours)," said Anderson, who now works part time at a public library and attends college in Charlotte. "It was so stressful."

The result of longer work hours, the survey says, is that employees show higher levels of stress, exhibit signs of depression and have poorer overall health. But many look past that because the economy and corporate downsizing have made them fear for their jobs, Galinsky said. Most rank-and-file workers don't have a say over their hours. But nowadays even their bosses are overworked, experts say.

Patricia Pollard puts in 70 hours a week at the public relations firm she owns in Charlotte. Even though she takes four weeks of vacation each year, she never stops working. When Pollard and her husband went to Australia to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, she took her laptop and worked at least two hours everyday. She regrets not spending more time with friends and family, but says business success is worth it. "It's a way of life," Pollard said.

A way of life??? Not for everyone! - and employers used to be aware of the importance of allowing for this. This study suggests that they should relearn this:


Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?


A third of all workers feel overworked, survey finds

"In some sense, things are getting worse. People are working longer hours and their jobs are becoming more demanding," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit research group. "On the other hand, employers have become more flexible, and that tends to lessen being overworked, and also, people's priorities have changed." At companies who give employees flexibility in balancing home and job responsibilities, just 26 percent report being chronically overworked. But at companies without such flexibility, 56 percent are overworked.

The latest survey on overworked Americans reports that workers with children are, generally, no more likely to be severely overworked than those without. But employees with teenagers do appear under more pressure, with 40 percent reporting high stress levels. In addition, 37 percent of workers who care for their own parents or older relatives are chronically overworked, compared to 28 percent of those without such responsibilities. More than half of the 1,003 workers surveyed said they are often handling too many tasks at the same time, or are frequently interrupted during the workday or both.

About 37 percent of baby boomers, those between 40 and 59 years old, report being chronically overworked. But just 28 percent of Generation Y workers (ages 18 to 25) and 29 percent of Generation X workers (ages 26 to 39) fall into that category. The numbers reflects the fact that, unlike many boomers, younger workers often divide their focus between jobs and life outside work, Galinsky said.


'Jetson!' 'Yes, Mr. Spacely!'


Overworked Employees Can Be Bad for Business
Technology advancements have made it extremely easy for employees to log those extra hours, but a recent survey reveals that more hours doesn't always benefit the company.

Thanks to cell phones, wireless Internet, and BlackBerries, Americans are among the most productive workers in the world. These same advancements, however, are the bane of many workers existence, since they've allowed work to invade their personal time, found a recent survey. As many as one in three workers are in contact with their bosses, coworkers and customers outside of normal work hours. Of these persons, 44% considered themselves highly overworked, an 11% increase from the entire 1,000 person sample.

Overworked employees can have tremendous repercussions on the employer, said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute and a lead author of the study. "Not only do mistakes cost money, but stress related illnesses--like depression--account for the highest behavioral healthcare costs," said Galinsky.

To alleviate this problem, Galinsky suggests that employers treat their workers more like athletes than automatons. "You can't keep lifting weights or playing tennis--the body needs a break. Well, it should be the same thing at work. But instead it's push, push, push," Galinsky said.

The study also found that 29% of workers feel like they waste time on meaningless tasks. Streamline the workload, said Galinsky, and the number of people claiming to be overworked will fall. "There is a constant pressure to multitask, and workers are constantly getting interrupted--all of which harms productivity," said Galinsky.

To rebuild the wall between personal and work hours that technology tore down, some companies have increased the size of their work teams, said Bill Starbuck, a professor of management at New York University. "With large teams, companies have been able to spread responsibility, so when something happens several people--as opposed to one--know what to do," Starbuck said. This approach, however, can be costly. "Larger teams incur 'coordination costs' because more people have to know what each other are doing," Starbuck added.

Increased labor costs is the number one complaint of employers. As this problem spreads, they band together and force changes favorable only to them onto their employees.


The Gold In Rule


Bush and the Cheap Labor Conservatives

There is an old saying that states, "He who has the gold makes the rules." If that is true, we are a government "Of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the wealthy."

The 'cheap labor conservatives' are now running this nation, and the middle class is shrinking fast. Organized capital (Corporations) have defeated organized labor (Unions). Wealth and income distribution is being skewed heavily toward the top .05 percent. Upward economic mobility has become nearly impossible. Ordinary people have as much chance of repeating Horatio Alger as they have of winning the lottery.

Maybe less!

You can look at any social or political situation with regard to how it affects the compensation and treatment of labor, and predict with one hundred percent accuracy where the Bush Administration will stand on it. If a policy is favorable to the working class, Bush and his cheap labor conservative allies oppose it, and vice versa. Bush and his 'cheap labor conservatives' are against programs like social security, overtime, universal health care, unemployment insurance, minimum wage, unions, fair trade, or any government program that protects workers and gives them physical and economic security. The 'New Deal' economic mechanisms that built that great American economic engine, the middle class, are being systematically dismantled. Freedom and democracy are only illusions.

Red State Roulette

Without a propagandized and uninformed citizenry, the cheap labor conservatives would be sent packing, but they know how to play the shell game that keeps the working class under control. What happened before the 'New Deal', can, and very likely will, happen again. Even bad history has a way of repeating itself.

Jerry Sneirson
Durham, NH

[BuzzFlash Note: And those who hope to pull themselves up by the bootstraps will be bootless.]

We just hope you're wearing thick socks!


Rebooting The Bootless

The only way an employee can be sure of not having a boss to keep one overworked is to become your own boss - and overwork yourself!

Before the Industrial Revolution, most manufacturing was done in the home. It was an economic decision to aggregate home industries into one centralized (and more easily controlled) location. But as employers wish to rid themselves of employee costs like health care and Social Security taxes, then the 'ownership society' that King George likes to crow about would benefit them if they could reverse this historic process and return manufacturing to its original location - the home.

Luckily for you future self-bosses, technology is making it possible for you to do that very thing!


Towards Self-Replicating Rapid Prototypers

Researchers at the University of Bath are developing a rapid prototyping machine capable of making copies of itself and other products, reminiscent of the Universal Constructor proposed by von Neumann. The so-called Replicating Rapid-Prototyper (or RepRap) would produce items from raw materials and small components like microchips. If successful, this could make rapid prototyping cheap enough for regular in-home usage, especially since the project's lead, Dr. Adrian Bowyer, will be releasing his project's designs under the GNU GPL. It's previously been proposed that a similar system would be useful for space exploration and industrialization."


Takin' Care Of Bus'ness


Rapid prototyping machines could be the next household appliance
UK academics are developing self-replicating machines.

UK engineers are developing a self-replicating rapid prototyping machine, which could be in homes within the next few years. The machine would be about the size of a refrigerator, and would copy itself part-by-part. The parts would then be assembled manually.

Dr Adrian Bowyer, from the University of Bath, intends to develop a rapid prototyping machine and then publish its design, associated software and documentation for free on the internet. Dr Bowyer said the machines could be in people’s homes within four to twenty years. He said: "The first thing to say is it’s academic research – so the answer may be never." However, if the technology does take off the machines could be used to make everything from a cup to clarinet.

The first stage of the project – to incorporate electrical conductors into conventional rapid prototyping – is complete. The following stage is to design and build cartesian robot axes, and finally to build the material deposition system for the machine. Dr Bowyer told PRW.com that the initial design for the axes could be available by this summer.

All documentation and designs created by the research group so far are available on its website.


Welcome To The Machine


Reprap Machines Would Turn Homes into Factories

A revolutionary British development could one day change the face of manufacturing by turning every home into a factory. Engineers are working on a machine capable of churning out a host of household items and gadgets, including kitchenware, cameras and even small musical instruments. Not only would the machine make things out of plastic and metal, it would also fabricate its own component parts.

The "self-replicating rapid prototyper", or RepRap, will be about the size of a refrigerator. It could become a reality within four years – and the aim is to make it a universal feature of the home.

RepRap machines could in future render many forms of traditional manufacturing obsolete, according to project leader Dr Adrian Bowyer. Computer controlled machines already exist which mass-produce plastic components for industry, such as vehicle parts. These conventional machines cost about £25,000 (about $48,000, $1.92=L1 as of publication date). Dr Bowyer’s idea is initially to use these machines to make the component parts for his RepRap machine. These machines can then be programmed to make further copies of themselves. People buying them would then be able to make more copies to sell on. As the number of RepRap machines grows, their cost is expected to tumble to only a few hundred pounds or less (Approximately $576).

"At the moment an industrial company consists of hundreds of people building and making things. If these machines take off, it will give individual people the chance to do this themselves. And we are talking about making a lot of our consumer goods. The effect this has on industry and society could be dramatic.

"Four hundred years ago almost every human being was employed in agriculture, and now it’s only a couple of per cent," said Dr Bowyer, from the University of Bath’s Centre for Biomimetics. "I suspect the same thing is going to happen to manufacturing." Transforming the whole basis of manufacturing might take as long as 20 years, if it ever happened, said Dr Bowyer.

Dr Bowyer is not taking out a patent and will not charge a licence fee. "The most interesting part of this is that we’re going to give it away," he said.

Rapid prototype machines work by fusing together layers of plastic according to a blueprint fed into the computer. Glass items, complex parts such as microchips, and anything exposed to intense heat – such as a toaster – could not be directly assembled. Components the machine is unable to make could easily be added. A basic digital camera could be made with the lens and computer chip bought separately and slotted in later.

Dr Bowyer’s machine would also be able to incorporate simple metal components and circuits out of an alloy that melts at low temperatures. The machines could, for instance, make complete sets of coloured and decorated plastic plates, dishes and bowels. The objects they produce would measure no more than 12 inches in length, width and height. But larger items could be made by simply clipping together smaller manufactured parts.

Dr Bowyer and colleague Ed Sells have already built a simple demonstration robot with an electrical circuit using the technology. They are now looking for funding for the next stages of development, leading to a programme for making the component parts of a RepRap machine in about four years.

He admitted there was an anarchistic element to what he was doing. "Employment will increase, because it’s not employment that creates wealth, it’s wealth that creates employment," he said.

Employment for - servants??? Ain't gonna happen - not with this news. Humans would be even further employment challenged than they already are:


Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto!


U.N.: Domestic Robot Use to Surge Sevenfold by 2007

Colin Angle, Chief Executive of iRobot Corp. of Burlington, Massachusetts, said many consumers had been introduced to the idea of household robots 40 years ago with Rosie, the mechanical housekeeper for the futuristic cartoon family The Jetsons. But until now robots have failed to live up to their promise. "Our biggest hurdle right now is skepticism," Angle said. But "we are just at a point where robots are becoming affordable ... and some of them can actually do real work."

The report, issued by the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe and the International Federation of Robotics, said that 607,000 automated domestic helpers were in use at the end of 2003, two-thirds of them purchased that year. Most of them -- 570,000 -- were robot vacuum cleaners. Sales of lawn mowing robots reached 37,000.

The use of robots around the home to mow lawns, vacuum floors and manage other chores is set to surge sevenfold by 2007 as more consumers snap up smart machines, the United Nations said. That boom coincides with record orders for industrial robots, said the U.N.'s annual World Robotics Survey, released Wednesday. In the first half of 2004, business orders for robots were up 18 percent on the same period a year earlier, mostly in Asia and North America.

By the end of 2007, some 4.1 million domestic robots will likely be in use, the study said. Vacuum cleaners will still make up the majority, but sales of window-washing and pool-cleaning robots are also set to take off, it predicted. Sales of robot toys, like Sony's canine AIBO, also have risen. The study said there are now about 692,000 "entertainment robots" around the world.

UNECE said household robots could soon edge their industrial counterparts, which have dominated the figures since the U.N. body first began counting in 1990. Industrial robots have nonetheless continued to recover from the slump recorded in the 2001 study. "Falling or stable robot prices, increasing labor costs and continuously improving technology are major driving forces which speak for continued massive robot investment in industry," said Jan Karlsson, author of the 414-page study.

Japan still remains the most robotized economy, home to around half the current 800,000 industrial robots. After several years in the doldrums, demand there jumped 25 percent in 2003. But Europe and North America are fast catching up, the study said. European Union countries were in second place, with 250,000 robots in operation by the end of last year, mostly in Germany, Italy and France. Demand from North American businesses rose 28 percent, with some 112,000 robots in service by the end of last year.

The machines are also taking off in richer developing countries, including Brazil, China and Mexico, spurred by plummeting prices. Taking the global average, a robot sold in 2003 cost a quarter of what a robot with the same performance cost in 1990, the study found. It said that by 2007, world industrial robot numbers will likely reach at least 1 million.

The term "robot" covers any machine that operates automatically to perform tasks in a human-like way, often replacing the human workers who did the job previously. In most cases, robots move under their own propulsion and do not need to be controlled by a human operator after they have been programmed. Most industrial robots are used on assembly lines, chiefly in the auto industry. But increasingly, companies are using them for other tasks, the study said.

There are now some 21,000 "service robots" in use, carrying out tasks such as milking cows, handling toxic waste and even assisting in operating theaters. The number is set to reach a total of 75,000 by 2007, the study said. By the end of the decade, the study said, robots will "not only clean our floors, mow our lawns and guard our homes but also assist old and handicapped people with sophisticated interactive equipment, carry out surgery, inspect pipes and sites that are hazardous to people, fight fire and bombs."

And be the government? That would explain Arnold, Unca Dick, and that bulge under King George's suitcoat!

All those futuristic movies don't seem so futuristic anymore!


Reprogramming The Toaster


Make-it-all Machine for Do-it-yourself Homeowners

Adrian Bowyer envisions a common manufacturing device that could make Wal-Mart practically obsolete. Instead of running out to buy a set of goblets or plates, you'd simply design them on your make-it-all machine and push a button. Poof! Whatever you want comes out.

A countertop manufacturing device might make dishes and bowls out of plastic with personalized designs. Fine. But everyone knows what we really could use is the ability to replace temperamental toasters. Won't happen. Special alloys that melt at low temperatures might be employed to allow construction of electronics, Bowyer says, but toasters are out because of the intense heat they must withstand.

But can it make instant chicken soup like on Star Trek?


You Can Get Anything you Want ...


New machines could turn homes into small factories

A revolutionary machine which can make everything from a cup to a clarinet quickly and cheaply could be in all our homes in the next few years.

A machine could, for instance, make a complete set of plates, dishes and bowls out of plastic, coloured and decorated to a design. It could also make metal objects out of a special alloy that melts at low temperatures, making it suitable for use in printed circuit boards for electronics. The machines would not be able to produce glass items or complex parts such as microchips, or objects that would work under intense heat, such as toasters. But a digital camera could be made for a few pounds, and a lens and computer chip bought separately and added later. The rapid prototype machines would be useful for producing items that are now expensive, such as small musical instruments. The items produced could be from a few millimetres (0.25 inches) to 300 millimetres (12 inches) in length, width and height. Larger items could be made simply by clipping together parts of this size.

Dr Bowyer is working on creating the 3D models needed for a rapid prototype machine to make a copy of itself. When this is complete, he will put these on a website so that all owners of an existing conventional machine can download them for free and begin making copies of his machine. The new copies can then be sold to other people, who can in turn copy the machine and sell on. These can be used to make further copies of themselves until there are so many machines that they become cheap enough for people to buy and use in their homes.

"At the moment an industrial company consists of hundreds of people building and making things. If these machines take off, it will give individual people the chance to do this themselves, and we are talking about making a lot of our consumer goods – the effect this has on industry and society could be dramatic."

Dr Bowyer said all that would be needed for a machine owner would be to buy the plastic and low-temperature alloy for a few pounds, and items could then be created in a few minutes or a few hours depending on their size. Designs for items could be bought – or downloaded free – from the web. Alternatively, people could create them for themselves on their own PCs. He said that he would publish the 3D designs and computer code for the machine to replicate itself on the web over the next four years as they are developed, until the entire machine could be copied. He said that he has not taken out a patent and will not charge for creating the design for the machine. "The most interesting part of this is that we’re going to give it away," he said.

"People have been talking for years about the cost of these machines dropping to be about the same as a computer printer," said Dr Bowyer. "But it hasn’t happened. Maybe my idea will allow this to occur."

Funny you should mention printers, Dr. Bowyer! Look what they might be doing soon:


Tattoo You


Printable Skin: 'Inkjet' Breakthrough Makes Human Tissue

By manufacturing human skin cells using a printer similar to an inkjet, scientists have taken a significant first step toward generating new skin. The process, which could revolutionize the treatment of major skin wounds, could be ready for clinical trials in five years. While much research needs to be done, the technique is promising, according to an expert not involved in the breakthrough.

Scientists expect to eventually build commercial skin printers for hospital use. Doctors would take cells from a patient’s body, multiply them, and suspend them in a nutrient-rich liquid similar to ink. "The cells are the patient’s own cells and the object is to reincorporate them into the body," project leader Brian Derby told LiveScience.

Derby heads the Ink-Jet Printing of Human Cells Project at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. He said that using a person's own cells is ideal because it will reduce scarring, and patients will not need to take immunosuppressant drugs, as they do with some current skin transplant procedures.

A technician would enter measurements of a patient’s wound into a computer and feed the suspended cells into the printer. The cells would then be seeded on a plastic tissue scaffold, which provides shape and stability to the new piece of skin as it develops. The scaffold would also anchor the perfectly shaped piece of skin over the wound, once applied, keeping the graft in place until it takes hold. The scaffold would dissolve naturally over time, just as some stitches do.

The technology would allow printing more than one type of cell at a time and, overcoming a current limitation, allow control over the shape of whatever is grown. The shape of the scaffold determines the shape of the end product. "It would be possible to build up a structure using different cell types mimicking the structure of actual skin," Derby said. "You can print as many cells as you have print heads. Our machine could print up to eight different ‘inks’ where the inks are cell suspensions, scaffold materials or biochemicals."

Perhaps bones and organs, too

Such a printer could possibly generate bone for bone grafts, or even whole organs, although these goals are farther down the research road. "In theory, you could print the scaffolding to create an organ in a day, but we are not quite there yet," Derby said.

'Significant achievement'

Ioannis Yannas, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the co-developer of the Dermis Regeneration Template (DRT), the first "artificial skin" scaffold developed. It was given federal approval in 1991 for use in plastic surgery and in 1996 to treat burns. DRT has been used with more than 13,000 burn victims.

Derby’s research is a "significant achievement," Yannas said in an email interview. "Dr. Derby’s process promises to greatly simplify cell-seeding of scaffolds that are used to induce organ regeneration."

It's not yet clear, however, whether the technology will go beyond production of skin. "It remains to be seen whether the process can be used to seed scaffolds that have been shown capable of inducing regeneration leading to restoration of organ shape and physiological function," Yannas said.

Yannas' DRT process involves a mesh consisting mostly of collagen fibers that is placed on a wound to provide a structure for new dermis (sub-layer of skin) and its structures to grow on. Once that is complete, a very thin layer of epidermis (top-layer of skin) is harvested from the patient’s body and is placed over the new dermis. The DRT prevents contraction and scar formation, and helps the body grow new, pliable skin, typically in 30 days.

Teams in the United States and Japan are also working on systems similar to the new inkjet technology, but Derby’s team is the first to produce cells without destroying them during the printing process. The scaffolds are very small -- on the scale of millimeters, but Derby expects to create 3D scaffolds on the scale of centimeters by November. A centimeter is 0.4 inches.

Derby hopes to move to clinical trials soon. "There is a fighting chance something could come of this in five years," he said.

Something? Like instant tattoos, maybe?

It would make putting the Mark of the Beast on all of us easier for Bu$hCo!


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OVERWORKED? TAKE THIS QUIZ

In an effort to educate the workforce on the prevalence of overwork and stress, the Families & Work Institute offers the following quiz to find out if you're overworked. Click the link below to take the quiz and visit www.familiesandwork.org for more information.

Quiz: How Overworked Are You?

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