The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Nov 2013

Watch: Crash-Proof Flying Rescue Robot

Inspired by insect flight, Swiss scientists from the Ecole Polytechnique Federerale de Lausanne (EPFL) created a flying rescue robot called Gimball that is resistant to crashes thanks to a protective spherical roll-cage. The robot can safely bump into obstacles while being piloted remotely through disaster areas, such as burning forests.

Typically, search and rescue robots are put out of commission by major collisions, says co-creator Adrien Briod. Thanks to Gimball's rotating flexible frame, it can return from chaotic environments with its pieces intact—which include a motion sensor, a camera, an altimeter, a magnetic compass, and a micro-controller processor.

The drone is remotely controlled, but Briod told BBC News that the the EPFL aims to incorporate artificial intelligence capabilities into Gimball so it can perform complex tasks by itself.

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80-Year-Old Fights and Escapes Bear

When Russian shepherd Yusuf Alchagirov wandered out to a field in Kabardino-Balkaria last week, his intent was to pick raspberries. Instead, the 80-year-old ended up brawling with a bear.

According to the Guardian, the animal behaved aggressively, but the old man fought back, kicking and headbutting with enough force to knock it off balance—which, of course, irritated the bear. So much so, in fact, that the animal “tossed him off a cliff and sauntered away,” according to a television interview.

The shepherd, who sustained bruises, bite wounds, and four broken ribs, was hospitalized briefly.

"I got off easy," he says. "It would have killed me if I'd chickened out." Alchagirov celebrated his recovery with three traditional pies. 

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Ski Slopes Split on Marijuana Use

Two weeks into ski season, Colorado's 22 ski resorts leasing land from the federal government are split over whether or not to allow marijuana consumption on the slopes. While the state's voters legalized the drug last year, the Forest Service does not tolerate marijuana in ski areas. While some resorts are enforcing a zero-tolerance policy regarding toking on the slopes, others will accept it.

On opening week, Arapahoe Basin began enforcing a zero-tolerance policy.

"Already I have kicked several people out of here and taken their ski passes for smoking in public," Chief Operating Officer Alen Henceroth wrote on A-Basin's blog. "Those passes will be gone for a very long time."

But not all slopes are enforcing federal substance prohibition laws. Last year Wolf Creek Ski Area decided to overlook marijuana use among patrons as long as it did not pose a safety hazard; that policy returns this year.

As Wolf Creek CEO Davey Pitcher put it to the Denver Post: "Our patrol's job is not to bird-dog everybody when they smell marijuana."

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America's Top Contender at the 2013 New York Marathon

Popular veteran Meb Keflezighi will be America’s best hope to do something special in the 2013 New York City Marathon on Sunday. The race will be his 18th marathon, and his first since he placed fourth at the London Olympics. But a partially torn soleus muscle in his right calf this September left the 2004 Olympic silver medalist doing much of his recent training in a pool, on a bike, and—like the star of a late-night informercial—conspicuously rolling around his San Diego home town on an ElliptiGO. The 5'-5", 125-lb. American star spoke to Outside on Friday, the anniversary of his 2009 victory in New York City.

Outside: At 38, you’re Mr. Longevity in this sport. How do you endure?
Keflezighi: Do the small things that make a big difference. Stretch, eat right, sleep, and have a very, very supportive wife.

Keflezighi: You left the finish of the 2013 Boston Marathon minutes before the bombing. Does it impact the way you think about an open-road race?
You have to have it in the back of your head. It’s so fresh. If you ask me in two years, three years, maybe less.

How did you tear your calf muscle?
Running tempo intervals, maybe landing on an uneven spot. It wasn’t like: Ooh, what happened? It wasn’t that drastic.  The first time it happened was probably September 9.

At least it wasn’t another dog incident like those that kept you out of the 2013 Boston Marathon, 2005 London Marathon, nearly derailed your Olympic performance in Athens, and killed your chances at the 2011 New York City Half. Are you more conscious of dogs or potential terrorism on the course?
I’ll be honest. More dogs than danger on the course.

You’ve only DNF’d once, in London in 2007. Given your recent injury, any chance that could happen on Sunday?
My intention is to finish the race as strong as I can. The body’s ready to go, it’s just: can I last 26.2 at that pace? I don’t know. The foundation is there, it’s just: Can I retrieve it?  That’s the mystery. I still got it in me, I think. My goal is to run to win.

In 2002, you made your marathon debut in New York. Have you decided where your last hurrah will be?
Honestly, we thought New York 2013 would be my last one. I think I’ve got a couple more years. But most likely, in New York.

Do you see any young Americans coming up who might be able to match your accomplishments?
I definitely see people at the collegiate level running faster than I ever did, but are they willing to commit? Many people could take my place, but are they willing to sacrifice? It’s not easy.

Are your three young daughters running yet?
No, but they like to race each other. And they like to hula dance.

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Is Any Amount of Sugar Safe?

It's official. Sugar is killing us—and our economy. With the average American eating 40 teaspoons of the sweet stuff a day, the related health care costs have reached a startling number: $1 trillion. And it's not just limited to the sedentary among us. High-energy lifestyles may not be enough to burn through all this excess carbohydrate.  

Exercise is Protective
There’s an old saying that if the furnace is hot enough, anything will burn, even Big Macs. And for dedicated athletes, there’s truth to the idea. With enough exercise, you can probably prevent almost all of the negative health consequences of sugar.  There are a limited number of studies on the topic, but fit people appear to be generally protected from junk food diets. Even in people who are otherwise overweight, exercise reduces the quantity of liver and visceral fat stored around organs that is associated with the worst health outcomes. 

In a recent study, investigators in the UK asked a group of fit young males to stop training and be as inactive as possible while they intentionally overfed them  with 50 percent extra calories for seven days. Half of the subjects were then assigned to 45 minutes of vigorous treadmill running per day and got additional food to make up for the calories spent exercising 

The inactive overeaters eaters saw their lipids, glucose, and blood pressure all get measurably worse. But these changes were not seen in the group that exercised. The results related to blood sugar regulation were especially striking:

In summary, our study shows that short-term overfeeding combined with reduced physical activity induced a reduction in insulin sensitivity, hyperinsulinemia and altered expression of several key genes within adipose tissue. The addition of daily vigorous-intensity exercise mostly prevented these changes independent of any net effect on energy imbalance. Whether this is facilitated by regular glycogen turnover or some other consequence of muscle contraction per se remains to be explored. These results demonstrate that exercise has a profound effect on physiological function even in the face of a considerable energy surplus.

Exercise is clearly protective. But the interactions aren’t always as clear in the real world as in the lab. A series of new studies have shown that  at least some people may not respond positively to exercise in the way most of us do. For these non-responders to exercise, too much sugar and too many calories may still pose a legitimate threat to health. 

What About Peak Performance?
Exercise may protect your body from some of sugar’s nastiest effects, but when it comes to peak performance, your bodyweight is a key factor. So while the athlete’s furnace may burn hot enough to avoid the medical problems associated with a bad diet, it’s just not hot enough to let us totally ignore what we eat if we want to go fast. 

That said, most of us live in the real world and don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to eat a pristine farm-to-table diet with minimal processed food and no added sugar. And we don’t need to. Sugar consumption has gone up 25 percent since 1980 as it’s insidiously entered everyday foods. You can cut down to mid-20th century levels out without reinventing your diet:

  1. Avoid routine consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. And avoid drinking sports drinks on training rides or runs shorter than an hour and a half.  Water works fine.
  2. Replace the high sugar snacks at your workplace with fruit.
  3. Read labels. You will be amazed at how much hidden sugar and high fructose corn sweetener there can be in the snacks you munch on. Your morning muffin from Dunkin’ Donuts may pack 49 grams of sugar. And your afternoon granola bar can easily have upwards of 20 grams of sugar. 
  4. Your swell Frappuccino Blended can pack 52 grams of sugar. Go black or ask to see the nutritional information before you order. 
  5. During the holidays or when on vacation, don’t overthink things. Get regular vigorous exercise and you can afford to overeat. 

Michael J. Joyner, M.D., is a physiologist and anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic and a leading voice in the world of exercise physiology. Over the past 25-plus years, he's published hundreds of studies, many of which have focused on how humans respond to exercise. Dr. Joyner also writes at Human Limits. The views expressed in his posts are his own and do not reflect those of his employer.

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