Thursday, July 30, 2009

An Easy Way to Increase Creativity

Creativity is commonly thought of as a personality trait that resides within the individual. We count on creative people to produce the songs, movies, and books we love; to invent the new gadgets that can change our lives; and to discover the new scientific theories and philosophies that can change the way we view the world. Over the past several years, however, social psychologists have discovered that creativity is not only a characteristic of the individual, but may also change depending on the situation and context. The question, of course, is what those situations are: what makes us more creative at times and less creative at others?

One answer is psychological distance.

This research has important practical implications. It suggests that there are several simple steps we can all take to increase creativity, such as traveling to faraway places (or even just thinking about such places), thinking about the distant future, communicating with people who are dissimilar to us, and considering unlikely alternatives to reality. Perhaps the modern environment, with its increased access to people, sights, music, and food from faraway places, helps us become more creative not only by exposing us to a variety of styles and ideas, but also by allowing us to think more abstractly. So the next time you’re stuck on a problem that seems impossible don’t give up. Instead, try to gain a little psychological distance, and pretend the problem came from somewhere very far away.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Rural Medical Camp Tackles Health Care Gaps

It was a Third World scene with an American setting. Hundreds of tired and desperate people crowded around an aid worker with a bullhorn, straining to hear the instructions and worried they might be left out.

Some had arrived at the Wise County Fairgrounds in Wise, Va., two days before. They slept in cars, tents and the beds of pickup trucks, hoping to be among the first in line when the gate opened Friday before dawn. They drove in from 16 states, anxious to relieve pain, diagnose aches and see and hear better.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

ORBIS 2009 Nairobi Program

Professional photographer, Kelvin Young, has nicely captured the spirit of the Orbis trip to Kenya in June here. It is worth checking out the original version on youtube as you can watch it in high-def.

On Assignment: Afghanistan

The photography here from Mr. Guttenfelder, 40, the chief Asia photographer for The Associated Presis incredible.

Here is one letter writer (from speaking of the images:

"There are so many remarkable images here, I don’t know which one will stay with me longest. The guy bent over from the weight of his pack, in a photo made just before Independence Day, should be humbling for any American; we owe these guys so much, and we will never be able to repay their sacrifice. The momentarily deceptive shot of the young men asleep in holes in the ground is at first frightening, then humorous, and, finally tender. Thank you, David Guttenfelder, for bringing these moments to us."

“For photographers, there’s really no other way to tell the story but in the micro way, the intimate level,” he (Guttenfelder) said. “The closer you can get to the company or platoon or squad level, to a few individuals out in the field, the better the work will end up. They allow you in. That’s the only way for a photographer to get down and as close to the ground as possible.”

Not a Victim, but a Hero

After being kidnapped at the age of 16 by a group of thugs and enduring a year of rapes and beatings, Assiya Rafiq was delivered to the police and thought her problems were over.

Then, she said, four police officers took turns raping her.

The next step for Assiya was obvious: She should commit suicide. That’s the customary escape in rural Pakistan for a raped woman, as the only way to cleanse the disgrace to her entire family.

Instead, Assiya summoned the unimaginable courage to go public and fight back. She is seeking to prosecute both her kidnappers and the police, despite threats against her and her younger sisters. This is a kid who left me awed and biting my lip; this isn’t a tale of victimization but of valor, empowerment and uncommon heroism.

“I decided to prosecute because I don’t want the same thing to happen to anybody else,” she said firmly.

Top 10 Travel Gadgets Under $50

Here is a list of the 10 gadgets, all under $50, that I either own or have been lusting after.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

An Amazon Culture Withers as Food Dries Up

XINGU NATIONAL PARK, Brazil — As the naked, painted young men of the Kamayurá tribe prepare for the ritualized war games of a festival, they end their haunting fireside chant with a blowing sound — “whoosh, whoosh” — a symbolic attempt to eliminate the scent of fish so they will not be detected by enemies. For centuries, fish from jungle lakes and rivers have been a staple of the Kamayurá diet, the tribe’s primary source of protein.

But fish smells are not a problem for the warriors anymore. Deforestation and, some scientists contend, global climate change are making the Amazon region drier and hotter, decimating fish stocks in this area and imperiling the Kamayurá’s very existence. Like other small indigenous cultures around the world with little money or capacity to move, they are struggling to adapt to the changes.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Stories Behind 29 U2 Songs

The name didn't last, but more than 30 years and 22 Grammys later, the band, which would eventually be called U2, has proven it has what it takes to stay on top.

The keys to U2's longevity include respect for each other and their fans; the ability to continuously reinvent themselves and their musical style; and powerful music with a message.

But the meanings of most U2 songs are subject to interpretation. Bono is a genius at writing ambiguous lyrics, allowing listeners to decide what each song means to them. Read on to take a musical journey with the band that Time magazine once named "Rock's Hottest Ticket."

Strange Eye-Shaped Galaxy Has Black-Hole Iris

Coiled Creature of the Night

Not to be outdone by the 10th anniversary of its sibling, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope delivered this crazy looking eye-shaped galaxy image.

The iris of the eye is actually a ring of stars surrounding the area around an enormous, invisible black hole that is around 100 million times the mass of the sun and far larger than our galaxy’s central black hole. The stars show up white and the space around the black hole is blue in this color-coded infrared image.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Human echolocation and blind mountain biking

Another cool post from

Psychologist Lawrence Rosenblum has written an excellent short article about a remarkable group of blind mountain bikers who apparently use echolocation to avoid obstacles by making loud click sounds as they ride.

Vision shift glasses alter time perception:

There's an intriguing study about to be published in Psychological Science finding that people wearing prism glasses that shift everything to the right overestimate the passage of time, while people wearing left-shift glasses underestimate it.

A Death in Burundi

Burundi is a small, ancient, landlocked, mountainous nation that exports excellent tea and coffee and not much else, a country with a rich and, in modern times, a tragic history, tragic in large part because of European colonialism. It is a history intimately connected with the history of Rwanda, its neighbor to the north. In the post-colonial era, Rwanda and Burundi accentuated each other’s path toward mass violence. Most Americans surely remember hearing news of Rwanda’s infamous genocide, which began in 1994. But many know little or nothing of Burundi’s related catastrophe, an ethnic civil war that began in October 1993, lasted 13 long years and killed, it is estimated, about 300,000 Burundians.

The country now has a democratically elected government, but it receives considerably less aid than Rwanda, and is in desperate shape.

Faber: Next Stimulus Will Be Worse

I subscribe to Mark's Faber newsletter and recommend it...there is a good video interview at the link...

Some economists think that another bubble is what’s needed to get the economy moving again.

Gloom, Boom and Doom publisher Marc Faber said this is ridiculous, and that the Federal Reserve — which he holds responsible for creating the housing bubble — wants to do it all over again.

Microbes ‘R’ Us

The typical human is home to a vast array of microbes. If you were to count them, you’d find that microbial cells outnumber your own by a factor of 10. On a cell-by-cell basis, then, you are only 10 percent human. For the rest, you are microbial.
Even on your skin, the diversity of bacteria is prodigious. If you were to have your hands sampled, you’d probably find that each fingertip has a distinct set of residents; your palms probably also differ markedly from each other, each home to more than 150 species, but with fewer than 20 percent of the species the same. And if you’re a woman, odds are you’ll have more species than the man next to you. Why should this be? So far, no one knows.

But it’s the bacteria in the digestive tract, especially the gut, that intrigue me most.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Jason Becker: The Amazing Musician with ALS Who Composes with His Eyes

By the age of 20, Jason Becker was already a guitar legend—but after being diagnosed with ALS, he lost his mobility and was told he would have just several year to live. 20 years after that awful diagnosis, this inspiring man is still going strong and creating beautiful music.
Although Becker still has extremely limited motor function, he has long since surpassed his estimated death date, and plans to keep on going for many years to come. His positive spirit, relationship with his friends and family, his spirituality, and his love of music all keep him from giving up on his life. “I guess I still have a point or a purpose for being here,” he said. “I don’t really know why, but I am grateful.”

Becker knows that even though it’s become far more difficult for him to express himself, he can still send messages through his music, and is determined to make a difference in the world.

“Not being able to play guitar anymore has made me focus more on beautiful melodies and soul stirring stuff,” he told Guitar World. “Now I want people to feel something so deep that they can’t help but reflect and make positive changes in themselves.”

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Better Vision, With a Telescope Inside the Eye

A TINY glass telescope, the size of a pea, has been successfully implanted in the eyes of people with severely damaged retinas, helping them to read, watch television and better see familiar faces.

The new device is for people with an irreversible, advanced form of macular degeneration in which a blind spot develops in the central vision of both eyes.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A New View, After Diagnosis

Experimental Group Therapy Aims to Help Cancer Patients Find Meaning in Face of Mortality.

Dr. Breitbart based his program in part on the writings of Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz with the conviction that people can endure any suffering if they know their life has meaning. The eight-week program helps patients with Stage 3 or 4 cancer reconnect with the many sources of meaning in life—love, work, history, family relationships—and teaches them that when cancer produces an obstacle in one, they can find meaning in another.

“We help cancer patients understand that they are not dead yet,” says Dr. Breitbart. “The months or years of life that remain can be times of extraordinary growth.”

In fact, anyone can benefit from reflecting on what’s most meaningful in life, he says. “Every human being wrestles with the question: How can you live knowing that you’re going to die? “Most of us are too distracted to think about it. But ask yourself, ‘What accomplishments are you most proud of? What do you want your legacy to be?’ It’s never too late,” he says.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Catching The Gold Bug

A quick primer on gold investment...

More and more investors are acquiring physical gold, or bullion, in the form of small bars the size of iPhones or coins like American Eagles and South African Krugerrands. Individuals’ bullion purchases almost doubled last year, amid apocalyptic panic over the financial system, to 862 metric tons.

Lately, that panic-driven demand has given way to a more subdued, yet still potent, fear that stocks will suffer as the recession grinds on for a long time, so gold makes sense. At the same time, there’s a rising anxiety about inflation among people like Dr. Van Steyn, resulting from the Obama administration’s massive stimulus spending.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Clean, Sexy Water

So many people in poor countries desperately need assistance. So many people in rich countries would like to help but fear their donations would line the pocket of a corrupt official or be lost in an aid bureaucracy. The result is a short circuit, leaving both sides unfulfilled.

That’s where Scott Harrison comes in.

Five years ago, Mr. Harrison was a nightclub promoter in Manhattan who spent his nights surrounded by friends in a blur of alcohol, cocaine and marijuana. He lived in a luxurious apartment and drove a BMW — but then on a vacation in South America he underwent a spiritual crisis.

“I realized I was the most selfish, sycophantic and miserable human being,” he recalled. “I was the worst person I knew.”

Mr. Harrison, now 33, found an aid organization that would accept him as a volunteer photographer — if he paid $500 a month to cover expenses. And so he did. The organization was Mercy Ships, a Christian aid group that performs surgeries in poor countries with volunteer doctors.
Mercy Ships transformed Mr. Harrison as much as it did Alfred. Mr. Harrison returned to New York two years later with a plan: he would form a charity to provide clean water to save lives in poor countries. But by then, he was broke and sleeping on a friend’s couch.

Armed with nothing but a natural gift for promotion, and for wheedling donations from people, Mr. Harrison started his group, called charity: water — and it has been stunningly successful. In three years, he says, his group has raised $10 million (most of that last year alone) from 50,000 individual donors, providing clean water to nearly one million people in Africa and Asia.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Let Sleeping Hypertensives Lie

From Doc Gurley's blog, aptly entitled "Posts from an Insane Healthcare System"...

A well-designed recent study showed just how important sleep is to your blood pressure. Other studies in the past have revealed an association between time-spent-sleeping, and high blood pressure, but none of those studies actually measured a person’s sleep (they were, instead, based on self-report) and almost none looked at blood pressure over time

This recent study did both – and found some eye-opening (so to speak) results:

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Saving a Kashmiri Village After Remaking His Life

This Mr. Shea is quite an inspirational person, "being the change that he wants to see in the world..."

CHIKAR, Pakistan — The lone hospital in this Kashmiri mountain town was on the eve of hosting one of the year’s biggest social gatherings, a health fair for several hundred villagers, and Todd Shea was not happy.

The hospital’s founder, Mr. Shea, an American who resembles a football coach more than a health worker, was outraged because one of the employees had failed to purchase enough hygiene kits — freebies the villagers had come to expect at the fair.

If Mr. Shea, 42, had a résumé, it would by his own admission reveal far more experience as a cocaine addict than as a medical professional. But with his take-charge demeanor, he has transformed primary health care here in this mountain town in Kashmir, where government services are mostly invisible.

“Others are more qualified, but I’m the one who’s here,” he said.
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