Monday, November 30, 2009

Best Visual Illusions of the Year

The Top Three Winners of the 2009 Best Visual Illusion of the Year Contest were:

We May Be Born With an Urge to Help

What is the essence of human nature? Flawed, say many theologians. Vicious and addicted to warfare, wrote Hobbes. Selfish and in need of considerable improvement, think many parents.

But biologists are beginning to form a generally sunnier view of humankind. Their conclusions are derived in part from testing very young children, and partly from comparing human children with those of chimpanzees, hoping that the differences will point to what is distinctively human.
An interesting bodily reflection of humans’ shared intentionality is the sclera, or whites, of the eyes. All 200 or so species of primates have dark eyes and a barely visible sclera. All, that is, except humans, whose sclera is three times as large, a feature that makes it much easier to follow the direction of someone else’s gaze. Chimps will follow a person’s gaze, but by looking at his head, even if his eyes are closed. Babies follow a person’s eyes, even if the experimenter keeps his head still.

People Hear With Skin as Well as Their Ears

We hear with our ears, right? Yes, but scientists have known for years that we also hear with our eyes. In a landmark study published in 1976, researchers found that people integrated both auditory cues and visual ones, like mouth and face movements, when they heard speech.

Food Stamp Use Soars, and Stigma Fades

MARTINSVILLE, Ohio — With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children.
From the ailing resorts of the Florida Keys to Alaskan villages along the Bering Sea, the program is now expanding at a pace of about 20,000 people a day.
Nationwide, food stamps reach about two-thirds of those eligible, with rates ranging from an estimated 50 percent in California to 98 percent in Missouri. Mr. Concannon urged lagging states to do more to enroll the needy, citing a recent government report that found a sharp rise in Americans with inconsistent access to adequate food.

“This is the most urgent time for our feeding programs in our lifetime, with the exception of the Depression,” he said. “It’s time for us to face up to the fact that in this country of plenty, there are hungry people.”
A recent study by Mark R. Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, startled some policy makers in finding that half of Americans receive food stamps, at least briefly, by the time they turn 20. Among black children, the figure was 90 percent.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Join the Campaign to End Blindness

To: The International Community

Sponsored by: Sight Savers USA

More than 40 million people in the developing world can’t see their children, parents, and friends because they are blind, yet most blindness can be prevented or cured with inexpensive medicine or operations. With our partners we have the medicines and medical know-how to give millions of people the gift of sight. But do you and I have the will?

Many cures for blindness are tragically simple. Trachoma infection causes horrible pain, scarring and eventually blindness… and it affects millions of children around the world. But a simple $8 operation can fix these problems, sparing a child years of infections resulting in a lifetime time in the dark. Cataract surgery, to replace the eye’s cloudy lens and restore sight, costs $28 for an adult, $121 for a child.

We have the power to stop the tragedy of needless blindness by urging the international community to increase assistance for medicine and medical care that can cure or prevent blindness, and by creating opportunities for blind people who can’t be enabled to see.

Join the call now to help put an end to preventable blindness.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Last Lion in Kenya

The lion cub pictured above is named Gabriella and lives at an animal orphanage in Nairobi. The Pride of Kenya website reports she lives there because she was left parentless due to a human-lion conflict. (Presumably this explanation means her mother was killed by humans). The post about her goes on to say that her life expectancy in captivity is about 22 years.
In 20 years, according to one estimate, wild lions could be extinct in Kenya. So it is reasonable to wonder if she could be the last, or one of the few lions left in that country in two decades. If she still is alive then, and all the wild lions have been killed via poisonings and habitat loss, there will be no lions left in the wild there - but is a lion living in a cage that has been reared in captivity still a wild animal?

Congo's 'Mother Lode' of Gorillas Remains Vulnerable

A new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society says that western lowland gorillas living in a large swamp in the Republic of Congo -- part of the "mother lode" of more than 125,000 gorillas discovered last year -- are becoming increasingly threatened by growing humans activity in the region.

Factors from Common Human Bacteria May Trigger Multiple Sclerosis

Current research suggests that a common oral bacterium may exacerbate autoimmune disease. Multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease where the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord, affects nearly 1 in 700 people in the United States. Patients with multiple sclerosis have a variety of neurological symptoms, including muscle weakness, difficulty in moving, and difficulty in speech.

One in Four Borrowers Is Underwater

The proportion of U.S. homeowners who owe more on their mortgages than the properties are worth has swelled to about 23%, threatening prospects for a sustained housing recovery.

Nearly 10.7 million households had negative equity in their homes in the third quarter, according to First American CoreLogic, a real-estate information company based in Santa Ana, Calif.
Mortgage troubles are not limited to the unemployed. About 588,000 borrowers defaulted on mortgages last year even though they could afford to pay -- more than double the number in 2007, according to a study by Experian and consulting firm Oliver Wyman. "The American consumer has had a long-held taboo against walking away from the home, and this crisis seems to be eroding that," the study said.
Borrowers with negative equity are more likely to default if they live in a state where the bank can't pursue their assets in court, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

But borrowers who are less than 20% under water are likely to maintain their mortgage if their loan is modified and the payments reduced, said Sanjiv Das, head of Citigroup's mortgage unit. "Beyond 120%, the most effective modification is a complete loan restructuring, including a principal reduction."

Mortgage companies have been reluctant to reduce mortgage principal over worries about "moral contagion, with people not paying their mortgage or redefaulting because they believed the bank would reduce their principal," Mr. Das said.

Wave of Debt Payments Facing U.S. Government

WASHINGTON — The United States government is financing its more than trillion-dollar-a-year borrowing with i.o.u.’s on terms that seem too good to be true.

But that happy situation, aided by ultralow interest rates, may not last much longer.

Treasury officials now face a trifecta of headaches: a mountain of new debt, a balloon of short-term borrowings that come due in the months ahead, and interest rates that are sure to climb back to normal as soon as the Federal Reserve decides that the emergency has passed.

Even as Treasury officials are racing to lock in today’s low rates by exchanging short-term borrowings for long-term bonds, the government faces a payment shock similar to those that sent legions of overstretched homeowners into default on their mortgages.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Non-profit organization Nuru utilizes Macs to end extreme poverty

There are quite a few non-profit organizations that help impoverished nations, but none seem to have the grassroots approach of Nuru. This one-year old non-profit is using education to help communities, help themselves and they’re using technology to do it.

Nuru was formed by Jake Harriman, a platoon commander in the Infantry and an elite unit of Marines called Force Recon. Harriman served two tours of duty in Iraq where he realized that the key to ending terrorism was to end extreme poverty.

Harriman’s thoughts can be seen in a video called “The End.” In his words, “terrorists rely on an endless supply of people living in extreme poverty, with no other options in life. The only chance we have to see the end of terrorism, is to end extreme poverty.”

Here is the link to his video story...

Ron Dhindsa speaking about the Maryland Leadership Workshop

The Maryland Leadership Workshop (MLW) has been positively impacting lives for decades. Hear Brother Ron's speech about MLW at the link below...

Malaria Gaining Resistance to Best Available Treatment

WASHINGTON — Malaria that is resistant to the best available drug is more widespread in Southeast Asia than previously reported, new research shows. The worrisome finding poses a risk that travelers could carry this strain of the malaria parasite to other parts of the globe and unwittingly spread it, scientists reported November 19 at a meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

sciencenewsThe frontline drug in question is called artemisinin, the most potent medication currently in use against malaria. Signs of malarial resistance to artemisinin have surfaced over the past several years in Cambodia. The new findings confirm that resistant malaria has now cropped up beyond a spot on the border of Thailand and Cambodia where it was initially detected. Now it has appeared in Vietnam and in two spots along the Burma border with Thailand and China.

Cat licked, now computers tackle human brain

Supercomputers complex enough to think like human beings may be only a decade away, researchers at IBM have said.

Scientists in pursuit of machines that mimic a brain — a staple of science fiction but in practice a supremely difficult technological feat — have used a huge supercomputer to simulate the processes carried out by a cat’s cerebral cortex.

The computer simulated the flow of data through more than one billion neurons and ten trillion synapses, exceeding the activity inside a cat’s brain, according to researchers.

IBM scientists also said that they have created an algorithm called BlueMatter aimed at mapping the vast number of connections inside a human brain. Researchers hope that the ability to map the human brain will lead to a proper understanding of how it processes information.

Nothing to Sneeze At: Doctors' Neckties Seen as Flu Risk

I have, with some reluctance, decreased my use of neckties since 2006 when the evidence came out of Britain that ties may be significant fomites. The difficulty is maintaining a professional dress code without a tie...

The list of things to avoid during flu season includes crowded buses, hospitals and handshakes. Consider adding this: your doctor's necktie.

Neckties are rarely, if ever, cleaned. When a patient is seated on the examining table, doctors' ties often dangle perilously close to sneeze level. In recent years, a debate has emerged in the medical community over whether they harbor dangerous germs.

In June, the American Medical Association considered Resolution 720, which advocates a new dress code for doctors "due to evidence that neckties, long sleeves and other clothing items and accessories have been implicated in the spread of infections in hospitals." An AMA committee is seeking solid scientific evidence before it brings the matter to a vote.

The British Medical Association already decided the issue. It recommended in 2006 that physicians jettison "functionless" articles of clothing, including neckties, "as superbugs can be carried on them."
A search of the literature turned up ample evidence that patients don't pay much attention to how doctors dress. In one study, patients who were quizzed after clinic visits were mistaken 30% to 50% of the time about whether the doctor had been wearing a tie.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nobel Funk Off: Nelson Mandela and Friends Jamming

EyeWriter Lets Paralyzed People Draw and Write with Their Eyes

Intel Makes Leap in Device to Aid Impaired Readers

Despite all of the advances in digital technology, too few high-tech products have emerged to help the blind read books or other paper documents, or to make reading such texts easier for people with impaired vision or language-related learning disabilities.

A few years back, a breakthrough was made with text-to-speech software that could be installed on a specific mobile phone, but with limitations due to the phone's small screen and buttons, and restricted processor power.

Now, Intel, the giant chip maker, is attacking this problem with a new product: the Intel Reader. It's a chunky, book-size device with a computer-grade processor and a large, forward-facing screen that can be viewed easily while its downward-facing camera is shooting text for translation into audio and giant text. It also has raised buttons that are easy to find via touch.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Video: Arm Chair Reaches 98,268 Feet in New Toshiba Commercial

Some amazing things happen in the Black Rock Desert...uvealblues
From Gizmodo

The latest object to shoot high-def video from the edge of space is…an arm chair. To promote its REGZA SV LCD TVs (LED backlight, local dimming), Toshiba trekked into the Black Rock Desert with a helium balloon. Watch the result:

7 Healthy Foods That Will Fill You Up and Prevent Overeating

...So let's boil this down. There are nutrient-filled foods that will keep you full for a long time and quite easy to find at any local grocery store. If you eat these better quality foods, you won’t need to overeat and frankly, you may not be as tempted by the glazed donuts that Marcy brought into the office.

Here are a handful of the foods that we are talking about.
Where are these in your diet today? Are any of them included? Is anyone snacking on all of these each week?

Algae and Light Help Injured Mice Walk Again

Interesting article on optogenetics...

Then the light went off, and the mouse stopped. Sniffed. Stood up on its hind legs and looked directly at the students as if to ask, “Why the hell did I just do that?” And the students whooped and cheered like this was the most important thing they’d ever seen.
Because it was the most important thing they’d ever seen. They’d shown that a beam of light could control brain activity with great precision. The mouse didn’t lose its memory, have a seizure, or die. It ran in a circle. Specifically, a counterclockwise circle.

Precision, that was the coup. Drugs and implanted electrodes can influence the brain, but they are terribly imprecise: Drugs flood the brain and affect many types of neurons indiscriminately. Electrodes activate every neuron around them.

Treating Parkinson’s and other brain diseases could be just the beginning. Optogenetics has amazing potential, not just for sending information into the brain but also for extracting it. And it turns out that Tsien’s Nobel-winning work — the research he took up when he abandoned the hunt for channelrhodopsin — is the key to doing this. By injecting mice neurons with yet another gene, one that makes cells glow green when they fire, researchers are monitoring neural activity through the same fiber-optic cable that delivers the light. The cable becomes a lens. It makes it possible to “write” to an area of the brain and “read” from it at the same time: two-way traffic.

Monday, November 16, 2009

In House, Many Spoke With One Voice: Lobbyists’

Appalling, yet not surprising...uvealblues

WASHINGTON — In the official record of the historic House debate on overhauling health care, the speeches of many lawmakers echo with similarities. Often, that was no accident.

Statements by more than a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies.
E-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that the lobbyists drafted one statement for Democrats and another for Republicans.
The lobbyists, employed by Genentech and by two Washington law firms, were remarkably successful in getting the statements printed in the Congressional Record under the names of different members of Congress.

Members of Congress submit statements for publication in the Congressional Record all the time, often with a decorous request to “revise and extend my remarks.” It is unusual for so many revisions and extensions to match up word for word. It is even more unusual to find clear evidence that the statements originated with lobbyists.
The e-mail messages and their attached documents indicate that the statements were based on information supplied by Genentech employees to one of its lobbyists, Matthew L. Berzok, a lawyer at Ryan, MacKinnon, Vasapoli & Berzok who is identified as the “author” of the documents. The statements were disseminated by lobbyists at a big law firm, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal.

Triumph of a Dreamer

This Nicholas Kristof written testimony to human courage and determination is a worthwile read...

Any time anyone tells you that a dream is impossible, any time you’re discouraged by impossible challenges, just mutter this mantra:Tererai Trent.

Of all the people earning university degrees this year, perhaps the most remarkable story belongs to Tererai (pronounced TEH-reh-rye), a middle-aged woman who is one of my heroes. She is celebrating a personal triumph, but she’s also a monument to the aid organizations and individuals who helped her. When you hear that foreign-aid groups just squander money or build dependency, remember that by all odds Tererai should be an illiterate, battered cattle-herd in Zimbabwe and instead — ah, but I’m getting ahead of my story.
Tererai was born in a village in rural Zimbabwe, probably sometime in 1965, and attended elementary school for less than one year. Her father married her off when she was about 11 to a man who beat her regularly. She seemed destined to be one more squandered African asset.
(Read on)

Friday, November 13, 2009

How to Escape Materialism and Find Happiness

Money can’t buy you love. It can’t buy you happiness either. Today’s materialistic world often urges us to buy the coolest gadgets, the trendiest clothes, bigger and better things, but research shows that possessions and purchases don’t buy us happiness. According to an article on CNN, "by and large, money buys happiness only for those who lack the basic needs. Once you pass an income of $50,000, more money doesn’t buy much more happiness [according to happiness studies]." So while we are being pushed towards materialism, it’s for monetary gain by corporations, not for our own happiness.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to escape the trap of materialism, and find happiness in ways other than buying stuff online or finding joy in the mall. But it’s possible.
Here’s a guide to finding a materialism-free life and discovering true happiness.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Far From a Lab? Turn a Cellphone Into a Microscope

Now an engineer, using software that he developed and about $10 worth of off-the-shelf hardware, has adapted cellphones to substitute for microscopes.
“We convert cellphones into devices that diagnose diseases,” said Aydogan Ozcan, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and member of the California NanoSystems Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, who created the devices. He has formed a company, Microskia, to commercialize the technology.
ls on the slide digitally at the same time,” he said, so that it’s possible, for example, to see immediately the pathogens among a vast population of healthy cells. “It’s a way of looking quickly for a needle in a haystack,” he said.
THE cellphone systems may be particularly helpful in screening for malaria, said Yvonne Bryson, a professor and chief of the pediatric infectious diseases division at the David Geffen School of Medicine at U.C.L.A. She has collaborated with Dr. Ozcan on several grants. “Right now you need a microscope, and you need trained people,” Dr. Bryson said. “But this device would allow you to work without either in a remote area.”
M. Fatih Yanik, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said, “This makes it possible for ordinary people to gather medical information in the field just by
using a cellphone adapted with cheap parts.”

Sunday, November 08, 2009

How a Blind Teen "Sees" with Sound

A Coffee a Day Keeps Liver Disease at Bay

WASHINGTON Researchers in the United States have found another good reason to go to the local espresso bar: several cups of coffee a day could halt the progression of liver disease, a study showed Wednesday.

Sufferers of chronic hepatitis C and advanced liver disease who drank three or more cups of coffee per day slashed their risk of the disease progressing by 53 percent compared to patients who drank no coffee, the study led by Neal Freedman of the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) showed.

For the study, 766 participants enrolled in the Hepatitis C Antiviral Long-Term Treatment against Cirrhosis (HALT-C) trial -- all of whom had hepatitis C which had not responded to treatment with anti-viral drugs -- were asked to report how many cups of coffee they drank every day.

The patients were seen every three months during the 3.8-year study and liver biopsies were taken at 1.5 and 3.5 five years to determine the progression of liver disease.

"We observed an inverse association between coffee intake and liver disease progression," meaning patients who drank three or more cups of java were less likely to see their liver disease worsen than non-drinkers, wrote the authors of the study, which will be published in the November issue of Hepatology.

Phys Ed: Why Doesn’t Exercise Lead to Weight Loss?

For some time, researchers have been finding that people who exercise don’t necessarily lose weight. A study published online in September in The British Journal of Sports Medicine was the latest to report apparently disappointing slimming results. In the study, 58 obese people completed 12 weeks of supervised aerobic training without changing their diets. The group lost an average of a little more than seven pounds, and many lost barely half that.
How can that be? Exercise, it seems, should make you thin. Activity burns calories. No one doubts that.

Chemicals in Our Food, and Bodies

Your body is probably home to a chemical called bisphenol A, or BPA. It’s a synthetic estrogen that United States factories now use in everything from plastics to epoxies — to the tune of six pounds per American per year. That’s a lot of estrogen.

More than 92 percent of Americans have BPA in their urine, and scientists have linked it — though not conclusively — to everything from breast cancer to obesity, from attention deficit disorder to genital abnormalities in boys and girls alike.
Now it turns out it’s in our food.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Guinea-Bissau, the World's First Narco State

The volume of drugs passing through the tiny coastal nation has multiplied many times over since the cartels arrived. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that a quarter of all cocaine consumed in Western Europe — worth $18 billion on the streets — passes through West Africa, most of it via Guinea-Bissau. In this photo, men affiliated with the cartels prepare capsules containing cocaine that will be swallowed and then smuggled into Europe.

After Setbacks, Small Successes for Gene Therapy

Not long ago, gene therapy seemed troubled by insurmountable difficulties. After decades of hype and dashed hopes, many who once embraced the idea of correcting genetic disorders by giving people new genes all but gave up the idea.

Dr. Patrick Aubourg
The red areas of four cells got the added gene and are using it to fight a brain disorder.

But scientists say gene therapy may be on the edge of a resurgence. There were three recent, though small, successes — one involving children with a fatal brain disease, one with an eye disease that causes blindness and one with children who have a disease that destroys the immune system

Sunday, November 01, 2009

New Life for the Pariahs

Perhaps the most wretched people on this planet are those suffering obstetric fistulas.
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Nicholas D. Kristof
On the Ground
Nicholas Kristof addresses reader feedback and posts short takes from his travels.
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This is a childbirth injury, often suffered by a teenager in Africa or Asia whose pelvis is not fully grown. She suffers obstructed labor, has no access to a C-section, and endures internal injuries that leave her incontinent — steadily trickling urine and sometimes feces through her vagina.
She stinks. She becomes a pariah. She is typically abandoned by her husband and forced to live by herself on the edge of her village. She is scorned, bewildered, humiliated and desolate, often feeling cursed by God.
I’ve met many of these women — or, often, girls of 13, 14, 15 — in half a dozen countries, for there are three million or four million of them around the world. They are the lepers of the 21st century.
Just about the happiest thing that can happen to such a woman is an encounter with Dr. Lewis Wall, an ob-gyn at Washington University in St. Louis. A quiet, self-effacing but relentless man of 59, Dr. Wall has devoted his life to helping these most voiceless of the voiceless, promoting the $300 surgeries that repair fistulas and typically return the patients to full health.
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