Friday, December 31, 2010

Brazilian Samba Baby


Awkward Silences: 4 Seconds Is All It Takes to Feel Rejected

It's the pause that doesn't refresh, the awkward moment that you relive over and over and over after you've realized that once again, you've put your foot in it.
New research from Holland suggests that good conversational flow has a powerful effect on people's feelings of self-esteem and belonging, and that even brief — just four seconds long — silences during a conversation are enough to, as Tom Jacobs puts it in Miller-McCune:

Read more:

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why gratitude isn’t for wimps

UC DAVIS (US) — A research team studying the positive effects of daily gratitude says it can change people’s lives—but it takes mental toughness and discipline.

“Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change people’s lives,” Robert Emmons writes in his book Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. The book outlines 10 strategies for cultivating a feeling of thanksgiving throughout the year.
Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, and Michael McCullough, a psychology professor at the University of Miami, are gathering a large body of novel scientific data on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its potential consequences for human health and well-being.
“Scientists are latecomers to the concept of gratitude,” Emmons says. “Religions and philosophies have long embraced gratitude as an indispensable manifestation of virtue, and an integral component of health, wholeness, and well-being.”
“Far from being a warm, fuzzy sentiment, gratitude is morally and intellectually demanding,” he says. “It requires contemplation, reflection, and discipline. It can be hard and painful work.”
Here are Emmons’ evidence-based prescriptions for becoming more grateful:link

Nintendo: Children Under 6 Shouldn't Play 3-D Games On 3DS

I find Nintendo's concerns hard to believe...

TOKYO—Nintendo Co. has issued a warning that children under the age of 6 shouldn't play three-dimensional games on its soon-to-be-released hand-held game machine, as looking at 3-D images for a long period of time can have a harmful effect on the growth of young children's eyes.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Long Finger Linked to Cancer Risk, Study Finds and Acupuncture as a treatment for Amblyopia

A new study found that men whose index finger is longer than their ring finger are at lower risk to develop prostate cancer, according to the British Journal of Cancer. 

While the above is interesting, I found the article below when it came out last month fascinating

Lazy Eye: Chinese acupuncture offers a promising treatment for amblyopia, or "lazy eye," in older children, according to a study in Archives of Ophthalmology

There are some more interesting studies at the WSJ link at the top..

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Video Games Boost Brain Power, Multitasking Skills

Parents, the next time you fret that your child is wasting too much time playing video games, consider new research suggesting that video gaming may have real-world benefits for your child's developing brain.
Daphne Bavelier is professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester. She studies young people playing action video games. Having now conducted more than 20 studies on the topic, Bavelier says, "It turns out that action video games are far from mindless.
Her studies show that video gamers show improved skills in vision, attention and certain aspects of cognition. And these skills are not just gaming skills, but real-world skills. They perform better than non-gamers on certain tests of attention, speed, accuracy, vision and multitasking, says Bavelier.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Plan to Make Homelessness History

This is a story about a plan to end chronic homelessness in the United States. It’s not an indeterminate “war on homelessness,” but a methodical approach to do away with a major social problem. 
Against this backdrop, the 100,000 Homes Campaign has set the goal of placing 100,000 chronically homeless people — pinpointing those who face the greatest risk of dying on the streets —  into permanent supportive housing by July 2013. It’s the human welfare equivalent of NASA’s race to put a man on the moon. Whether the goal is achieved or not, the campaign is shifting the way cities address a problem that has often been seen as more of a nuisance than a public health emergency.
Street to Home’s outreach used that index to prioritize the homeless around Times Square, and they managed to get every person they met — except one holdout known as “Heavy” — into housing. “We learned that the only way to get chronically homeless people into housing was to go out and beg them to let us help them,” explained Haggerty. Along the way, Common Ground developed the strategy that is now at the heart of the campaign: hit the streets and get to know the most vulnerable people, keep talking with them until they agree to enter housing (without pre-conditions), and then blanket them with supports to keep them there and help rebuild their lives.
Another thing that Common Ground discovered was that the homeless were an amalgam of many subgroups. They have now surveyed almost 14,000 chronically homeless people and found that roughly 20 percent are veterans, 10 percent are over the age of 60, 4 percent have H.I.V. or AIDS, 47 percent have a mental illness and 5 percent remain homeless because they can’t find housing with their pets.

You might imagine that it would be hard to get people to show up in the pre-dawn hours, venture into alleyways, and ask strangers personal questions about their health. Just the opposite. In Phoenix, 175 people turned out; in San Diego, 250; in Omaha, 75; and in Chicago over 150, including Mayor Daley. In Phoenix, after the surveys were complete, organizers asked volunteers if they would like to contribute money — at $1,000 a shot — to assist homeless people with furniture and move-in expenses. In 10 minutes, they raised $50,000. “This wasn’t a room of philanthropists,” Kanis added. “It was just volunteers. But you had people saying, ‘I’ll take the guy in the wheelchair.’ ‘We’ll take the two veterans.’ There was probably a five minute standing ovation.”
The other linchpin of the campaign is encouraging city partners — who participate in weekly webinars and monthly innovation sessions — to teach one another how to get around bottlenecks in government systems.

Breakthrough in TB Diagnostics

A rapid genetic test for tuberculosis could have a huge impact on global health.
The test directly detects genetic sequences associated with TB and drug-resistant TB. Although researchers have known about these sequences since the mid-1990s, incorporating the molecular technologies needed to detect them into tests for the developing world has been impractical until recently, says David Persing, the chief medical and technology officer at Cepheid, the California-based company that manufactures the test. 

Behind Census Figures Showing Boom in Nevada, a Story of Bust

HENDERSON, Nev. — By any measure, it should have been a cause for celebration in a place that surely needs one. The Census Bureau reported that Nevada grew by 35 percent over the last decade, making it the fastest-growing state in the nation.
Instead, it was another reminder of how bad things have become here, and how exhausting a decade this state has endured. This was the boom capital of the country — which explains the census report — until the economy collapsed in 2007. People started moving out, chasing jobs or escaping a house market with the highest foreclosure rate in the country. Unemployment here is now 14.3 percent, the highest in the country.
“People come for the good jobs and the good life, and if that’s no longer here, they are gone,” said David F. Damore, an associate professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“People are just moving out.

How to Channel Your Inner Oprah

Oprah is a full package of good ideals, strength over adversity, and imperfections turned into benefits. If you'd like to channel your inner Oprah, here are some suggestions.

Five Years In, Gauging Impact of Gates Grants

SEATTLE — Five years ago, Bill Gates made an extraordinary offer: he invited the world’s scientists to submit ideas for tackling the biggest problems in global health, including the lack of vaccines for AIDS and malaria, the fact that most vaccines must be kept refrigerated and be delivered by needles, the fact that many tropical crops like cassavas and bananas had little nutrition, and so on.

No idea was too radical, he said, and what he called the Grand Challenges in Global Health would pursue paths that the National Institutes of Health and other grant makers could not.
About 1,600 proposals came in, and the top 43 were so promising that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made $450 million in five-year grants — more than double what he originally planned to give.
Now the five years are up, and the foundation recently brought all the scientists to Seattle to assess the results and decide who will get further funding.

In an interview, Mr. Gates sounded somewhat chastened, saying several times, “We were naïve when we began.”

African Farmers Displaced as Investors Move In

Across Africa and the developing world, a new global land rush is gobbling up large expanses of arable land. Despite their ageless traditions, stunned villagers are discovering that African governments typically own their land and have been leasing it, often at bargain prices, to private investors and foreign governments for decades to come.
Organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank say the practice, if done equitably, could help feed the growing global population by introducing large-scale commercial farming to places without it.
But others condemn the deals as neocolonial land grabs that destroy villages, uproot tens of thousands of farmers and create a volatile mass of landless poor. Making matters worse, they contend, much of the food is bound for wealthier nations. 

The breathtaking scope of some deals galvanizes opponents. In Madagascar, a deal that would have handed over almost half the country’s arable land to a South Korean conglomerate helped crystallize opposition to an already unpopular president and contributed to his overthrow in 2009. 
Sekou Traoré, 69, a village elder, was dumbfoun
Publish Post
ded when government officials said last year that Libya now controlled his land and began measuring the fields. He had always considered it his own, passed down from grandfather to father to son.
“All we want before they break our houses and take our fields is for them to show us the new houses where we will live, and the new fields where we will work,” he said at the rally last month.
“We are all so afraid,” he said of the village’s 2,229 residents. “We will be the victims of this situation, we are sure of that.”

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Word Lens iPhone App Offers Real-Time Trans

Word Lens logo
A new iPhone app known as Word Lens will translate Spanish or English phrasesinstantly on the screen when you point your device's camera lens at the foreign language words.
It is currently the number nine app in Apple's top 10 free apps. Word Lens, from San Francisco-based Quest Visual, is free to download and includes two free features - reverse words and erase words. The Spanish to English function or English to Spanish feature, however, currently cost $4.99 each to download as part of a 50 percent off sale that ends December 31.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Think more, eat less

A new study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, published in Science, shows that when you imagine eating a certain food, it reduces your actual consumption of that food. The discovery changes the decades-old assumption that thinking about something desirable increases cravings for it and its consumption.

Drawing on research that shows that perception and mental imagery engages neural machinery in a similar fashion and similarly affect emotions, response tendencies and skilled motor behavior, researchers tested the effects of repeatedly imagining the consumption of a food on its actual consumption.

They found that simply imagining the consumption of a food decreases ones appetite for it.
A new study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, published in Science, shows that when you imagine eating a certain food, it reduces your actual consumption of that food. The discovery changes the decades-old assumption that thinking about something desirable increases cravings for it and its consumption.

Drawing on research that shows that perception and mental imagery engages neural machinery in a similar fashion and similarly affect emotions, response tendencies and skilled motor behavior, researchers tested the effects of repeatedly imagining the consumption of a food on its actual consumption.

They found that simply imagining the consumption of a food decreases ones appetite for it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Kung Fu for Philosophers

In a 2005 news report about the Shaolin Temple, the Buddhist monastery in China well-known for its martial arts, a monk addressed a common misunderstanding: “Many people have a misconception that martial arts is about fighting and killing,” the monk was quoted as saying, “It is actually about improving your wisdom and intelligence.”[1]
This broad understanding of kung fu is a key (though by no means the only key) through which we can begin to understand traditional Chinese philosophy and the places in which it meets and departs from philosophical traditions of the West. As many scholars have pointed out, the predominant orientation of traditional Chinese philosophy is the concern about how to live one’s life, rather than finding out the truth about reality.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Mountain Gorilla Makes a Comeback

The number of mountain gorillas at a crucial site in Central Africa has grown by more than 25 percent since 2003, reflecting a significant recovery for the highly endangered species, researchers reported in a new census this week.

Social Science Palooza

David Brooks has an interesting summary of recent social psychology research in his latest column..
such as more people doubt their own beliefs the more, paradoxically, they are inclined to proselytize in favor of them...

In this column, I’m going to try to summarize as many of these studies as space allows. No single study is dispositive, but I hope these summaries can spark some conversations:

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The $300 House: The Marketing Challenge

This is a great article  by Seth Godin!

Triple the U.S. population by three. That's how many people around the world live on about a dollar a day. Triple it again and now you have the number that lives on $2. About forty percent of the world lives on $2 or less a day.
What's that like? It's almost impossible for most of us to imagine. I mean, $2 is the rent on your apartment for about 45 minutes. It buys you one bite of lunch at a local restaurant. And yet, two billion people survive on that sort of income.
The key word is 'survive'. Subsistence income means that every penny is needed, is spent. It means you are on the edge at all times. It makes life itself an emergency. If every single thing goes perfectly, then you and your family will go to sleep tonight healthy, not too hungry and fairly safe. But of course, every single thing almost never goes perfectly. If you are bitten by a malaria-carrying mosquito, you need to buy medicine and so there's no money for food. If you need more water, you have to spend two hours walking to and from the nearest half-decent water spot, and those two hours are the two hours you were going to spend harvesting the food your kids need.
Into this world, we welcome the $300 House. Its success will depend on the ability to create a market for the idea. How do we do that?
Any entrepreneur or marketer can learn a lesson from how new systems create new markets, and how an infinite increase in income or productivity can change everything. Everything.
Now, here's the kicker: If you're a tenth-generation subsistence farmer, your point of view, about risk, about life, is different from someone working in an R&D lab in Palo Alto. The Moral Economy of the Peasant makes this argument clearly: Imagine standing in water up to your chin. The only thing you're prepared to focus on is whether or not the water is going to rise four more inches. Your penchant for risk is close to zero. One mistake and the game is over.
As a result, it's extremely difficult to sell innovation to this consumer. The line around the block to get into the Apple store for a gadget is an insane concept in this community. A promise from a marketer is meaningless, because the marketer isn't part of the town, the marketer will move away, the marketer is, of course, a liar.
So you see the paradox. A new product and approach and innovation could dramatically improve the life and income of a billion people, but those people have been conditioned to ignore the very tools that are a reflex of marketers that might sell it to them. Fear of loss is greater than fear of gain. Advertising is inefficient and ineffective. And the worldview of the shopper is that they're not a shopper. They're in search of refills. They are in water up to their chins.
So how can the $300 House be marketed effectively? The answer is in connecting and leading Tribes.
It lies in engaging directly and experientially with individuals, not getting distribution in front of markets. Figure out how to use direct selling in just one village, and then do it in ten, and then in a hundred. The broad, mass market approach of a Western marketer is foolish because there is no mass market in places where villages are the market. It has worked with other products. It can work with the $300 House.

Tracing the Spark of Creative Problem-Solving

In a just completed study, researchers at Northwestern University found that people were more likely to solve word puzzles with sudden insight when they were amused, having just seen a short comedy routine.
“What we think is happening,” said Mark Beeman, a neuroscientist who conducted the study with Karuna Subramaniam, a graduate student, “is that the humor, this positive mood, is lowering the brain’s threshold for detecting weaker or more remote connections” to solve puzzles. 
And that escape is all the more tantalizing for being incomplete. Unlike the cryptic social and professional mazes of real life, puzzles are reassuringly soluble; but like any serious problem, they require more than mere intellect to crack.
“It’s imagination, it’s inference, it’s guessing; and much of it is happening subconsciously,” said Marcel Danesi, a professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto and the author of “The Puzzle Instinct: The Meaning of Puzzles in Human Life.”
“It’s all about you, using your own mind, without any method or schema, to restore order from chaos,” Dr. Danesi said. 

Monday, December 06, 2010

In the eyes (and brains) of the beholder

It’s common knowledge that an individual’s thoughts and emotions differ from one person to another, but it has long been assumed that perception of the visual world is usually similar from person to person.
The primary visual cortex—the area at the back of the brain responsible for processing what is seen—is known to differ in size by up to three times from one individual to the next.

How a plumber charges more than a neurosurgeon

So there was a neurosurgeon who called a plumber for a house visit.
The plumber arrived and after spending an hour bestowed the neurosurgeon a bill of $500. The surgeon was stunned; he said, “Even I don’t charge this much after a surgery.” The plumber stood up, gave him a sly look and said, “well that is why I am a plumber now; I used to be a neurosurgeon.”
I mention this as I was talking to a cardiologist few days ago. He said we are one of the few professions where someone else comes in and informs you how much you will get paid, regardless of what you do. Next time when you have a plumber at your house. try telling him what you want to pay him but do not hold your breath. Unfortunately, every year with Medicare cuts we are seeing more and more doctors changing the way they run their practices.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Attention-Grabber for Sudan’s Cause

“I do human rights the way I played basketball,” John Prendergast said. We were sitting in the outdoor restaurant of an unfinished hotel in Juba, a boomtown of mud and shanties beside the White Nile in southern Sudan. It’s a restaurant where the South’s liberation leaders tend to gather, and these days they are in a buoyant mood. They have traded their fatigues for dress shirts and suits. A half-century of civil war seems to be culminating in independence. If a referendum on Jan. 9 goes as expected, the map of Africa will be redrawn — with a new nation around the size of Texas. But for the moment, Prendergast, who is America’s most influential activist in Africa’s most troubled regions and who huddled on a White House patio with President Barack Obama a few days earlier, talked about basketball guards.
“There are a lot of criticisms that it’s about me and not the cause,” he went on about his work in the field of human rights. He declared that he can’t be bothered by the complaints, some of which arise from his habit of dropping into conflict zones with actors like George Clooney and Angelina Jolie. At 47, he has devoted all of his adult life to Africa, especially the Horn and Congo, formerly known as Zaire. He’s been jailed in southern Sudan. He’s had militiamen’s assault rifles jammed into his stomach in Congo. While we sat in the Juba restaurant in October, he was fighting off a rare infection that is a precursor to elephantiasis, contracted in Sudan a week or two before. Swollen glands throughout his body made him wince as he walked across the restaurant.
“My father was a frozen-food salesman — he sold pork fritters out of his station wagon,” Prendergast said, remembering his growing up around the Midwest and outside Philadelphia. “He kept the samples in dry ice and his deep fryer in the back, and he would do demos at hospitals and schools.” Both his parents were devoted to volunteer work, and Prendergast, during college, volunteered at a homeless shelter. When he was 21, he took in three children — 7, 8 and 9 years old — from the shelter to live with him in his small apartment for the summer, so their mother could focus on her younger children. “Every day we tried to figure it out,” he told me, describing the way he managed this ad hoc big-brother program, caring for the three with the help of his friends and family. Over the years since, informally or through organizations, he has been a big brother to six more kids — reading with them, canoeing with them.

During an itinerant college career — he went to five universities before graduating from Temple — Prendergast was sure his lifework would be aiding the urban poor, but in 1984 he saw images of the Ethiopian famine one night on television. This was before the crisis became a cause sung about by pop stars, and the inert, skeletal figures stunned him. “Somehow for the first 21 years of my life, I’d missed the fact that such a level of human suffering could exist,” he said. “I was immediately obsessed.”

Overeating, Like Drug Use, Rewards And Alters Brain

If you've ever wondered why it's hard to stay on a diet, consider this observation from Ralph DiLeone, a brain scientist at Yale University: "The motivation to take cocaine in the case of a drug addict is probably engaging similar circuits that the motivation to eat is in a hungry person."
That's what brain scientists have concluded after comparing studies of overeating with studies of drug addiction, DiLeone says.
They've also found that, at least in animals, sweet or fatty foods can act a lot like a drug in the brain, he says. And there's growing evidence that eating too much of these foods can cause long-term changes in the brain circuits that control eating behavior.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Managing Risk for JPMorgan, and Blindness

LONDON — As a trader at JPMorgan Chase in London, Ashish Goyal helps manage billions of dollars of the bank’s exposure to risks like foreign exchange fluctuations. In his spare time, he takes tango lessons, plays cricket and goes clubbing with friends. Mr. Goyal is also blind.
Watching him in the middle of the trading floor as he switches back and forth between computer screens, that is not apparent at all. But to check his e-mail, read research reports and look at presentations, Mr. Goyal uses a screen-reading software whose speed is so high that it sounds like gibberish to the untrained ear. When he needs to read graphs, which the software cannot do, Mr. Goyal goes through the data and tries to imagine the graph in his head.
On his desk, two computer screens show the usual flashing Bloomberg messages and spreadsheets of constantly changing numbers. Two keyboards are linked to headsets through which the information and figures are read out to him at rapid speeds. The same technology reads out text messages he receives on his cellphone.
“My colleagues already complained that they can’t hear my phone speak, as it is too fast,” Mr. Goyal said jokingly. “I turn around and say, ‘Well, I can’t read your text messages, so it’s only fair.’ ”

His computers can read information to him rapidly through a headset.
Mr. Goyal was not born blind. Growing up in Mumbai, Mr. Goyal said he had a normal, happy childhood. But when he was about 9 years old, he noticed that he could not immediately recognize some people and could not see the lines in his notebooks at school. One night he walked into a ditch, later he crashed his bicycle, and then he started to miss the ball during his tennis lessons.
Mr. Goyal was told he had retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition that damages the retina, and would gradually become blind. By the time Mr. Goyal was 22, he had completely lost his eyesight.
“The worst thing was I didn’t know what was happening and what to do about it,” Mr. Goyal said. While other people his age were starting to date, he said, “I was struggling to deal with a disability. What was I to tell people? ‘Sometimes I can see you, sometimes not?’ ”
The loss of his eyesight left Mr. Goyal “scared and confused” and with fewer friends, he said. “I was ready to just give up and not take my final exam and just go and work for my dad,” a real estate developer, Mr. Goyal said. But his mother forced him to sit for the exam, and to his surprise he not only passed but received good grades.
Today, Mr. Goyal said he was proud that he did not need help from others on a daily basis and he had again become active in sports, as he was as a child. Last year, his team won a cricket tournament for the blind, which is played with a slightly bigger ball that has sound.
Despite his achievements, which this year also included a national award from India for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Mr. Goyal speaks modestly of himself.
“One challenge is that I don’t become a benchmark for other people,” he said. “I’ve done all these things but yes, it’s been a struggle. Not everyone is as fortunate to have the support of friends and family and it wouldn’t be fair. I’m mediocre at many things.”

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Haiti, Nearly a Year Later

An emergency cholera hospital is the grimmest kind of medical center, and it’s a symbol of the succession of horrors that have battered Haiti over the last year.
Already, more than 1,700 people have died of cholera in less than a month, and the Pan American Health Organization estimates that 400,000 Haitians may get cholera over the next year.
The earthquake in January caused some 250,000 deaths. The death toll was a result not only of seismic activity but also of poverty: shoddy construction and slow rescue efforts meant many more deaths than if the same quake had occurred in, say, California. Then came cholera, which is a disease of poverty — abysmal sanitation and lack of potable water can create an epidemic.
Ultimately what Haiti most needs isn’t so much aid, but trade. Aid accounts for half of Haiti’s economy, and remittances for another quarter — and that’s a path to nowhere.
The United States has approved trade preferences that have already created 6,000 jobs in the garment sector in Haiti, and several big South Korean companies are now planning to open their own factories, creating perhaps another 130,000 jobs.
“Sweatshops,” Americans may be thinking. “Jobs,” Haitians are thinking, and nothing would be more transformative for the country.
Let’s send in doctors to save people from cholera. Let’s send in aid workers to build sustainable sanitation and water systems to help people help themselves. Let’s help educate Haitian children and improve the port so that it can become an exporter. But, above all, let’s send in business investors to create jobs.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Review of the TSA xray Backscatter bodyscanner safety report: hide your kids, hide your wife

Nice review  from a biophysicist here.

Aging Ills Reversed in Mice

Scientists Tweak a Gene and Rejuvenate Cells, Raising Hopes for Uses in Humans

Scientists have partially reversed age-related degeneration in mice, an achievement that suggests a new approach for tackling similar disorders in people.
By tweaking a gene, the researchers reversed brain disease and restored the sense of smell and fertility in prematurely aged mice. Previous experiments with calorie restriction and other methods have shown that aspects of aging can be slowed. This appears to be the first time that some age-related problems in animals have actually been reversed.
The reversals of age-related decline seen in the animals "justify exploration of telomere rejuvenation strategies for age-associated diseases," the paper concludes.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

How To 'Thrive': Dan Buettner's Secrets Of Happiness

In terms of translating the lessons from the "blue zones" to daily life, Buettner recommends that people "set up permanent nudges and defaults" in order to maximize happiness.
"For example, in our financial lives, we know that financial security has a three-times greater impact on our happiness than just income alone," he says. "So setting up automatic savings plans, and buying insurance as opposed to buying a new thing. The newness effect of a new thing wears off in nine months to a year, but financial security can last a lifetime."
Buettner argues that relationships are really the key to lifelong happiness, noting that "the happiest people in America socialize about seven hours a day," and mentioning that "you're three times more likely to be happy if you are married ... and each new friend will boost your happiness about 10 percent."

Finally, Buettner says that he has learned that people are happiest when they spend their time and money on experiences, as opposed to objects. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

When the Software Is the Sportswriter

ONLY human writers can distill a heap of sports statistics into a compelling story. Or so we human writers like to think.
StatSheet, a Durham, N.C., company that serves up sports statistics in monster-size portions, thinks otherwise. The company, with nine employees, is working to endow software with the ability to turn game statistics into articles about college basketball games.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Exercise Combination Cuts Blood Sugar in Type 2 Diabetics

WASHINGTON—Combining aerobic exercise and resistance training lowered blood-sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes, a new study has found.
The same improvement in glycemic levels wasn't seen among patients who performed aerobic exercise or resistance training alone, according to the study, which will be published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.
Patients who walked and lifted weights also lost more fat and trimmed their waistlines more than people who did just one type of exercise even though the time devoted to exercising was similar—findings researchers said apply to everyone.
Although it's accepted that regular exercise provides big benefits for people with Type 2 diabetes and helps many reduce the use of diabetes medications, the exact exercise type has been unclear.

Flying Snakes, Caught on Camera

ScienceDaily (Nov. 23, 2010) Five related species of tree-dwelling snakes found in Southeast and South Asia may just be the worst nightmares of ophidiophobes (people who have abnormal fears of snakes). Not only are they snakes, but they can "fly" -- flinging themselves off their perches, flattening their bodies, and gliding from tree to tree or to the ground.

Environmental Toxin May Play Important Role in Multiple Sclerosis: Hypertension Drug Possible Treatment

ScienceDaily (Nov. 23, 2010) — Researchers have found evidence that an environmental pollutant may play an important role in causing multiple sclerosis and that a hypertension drug might be used to treat the disease.
The compound is an environmental toxin found in air pollutants including tobacco smoke and auto exhaust. Acrolein also is produced within the body after nerve cells are damaged. Previous studies by this research team found that neuronal death caused by acrolein can be prevented by administering the drug hydralazine, an FDA-approved medication used to treat hypertension.
The new findings show that hydralazine also delays onset of multiple sclerosis in mice and reduces the severity of symptoms by neutralizing acrolein.

Why EHRs aren’t meaningful to doctors and hospitals

Another good post on KevinMD blog which illustrates quite accurately the problem with Electronic Records implementation. In my view the excessive paper documentation required already decreases face to face time with patients. This will get worse as the data has to get inputted into computers. I have already seen many difficulties in this regard with the implementation of such records in our local hospital.

  • aren’t ready for prime time
  • slow productivity
  • decrease revenues,
  • show scant returns on investment
  • don’t talk to one another
  • distract from time spent with patients
  • are limited as communication tools

Quinine, artemisinin and our debt to traditional medical healers

Kevin MD blog always has great content, like the story below.

The history of two modern pharmaceuticals—quinine and artemisinin serve to illustrate our enormous debt to traditional medical healers.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

NKANDABBWE, Zambia — Hundreds of angry coal miners pushed toward the locked gate at Shaft 3, shouting and cursing as they neared the mine’s Chinese managers, who understood neither the English nor the Tonga words of the mob. As the workers butted up against the fence, the bosses grew more fearful and finally two fired their shotguns.
The Zambian miners scrambled in terror. Bodies pivoted, jounced and stumbled. Boston Munakazela did not know he was hit until he suddenly fell over and saw the blood on his chest and arms. Vincent Chenjele was knocked off his bicycle with a hole ripped in his belly. Wisborn Simutombo, bleeding from his arms, legs and stomach, pleaded with friends to pull him to safety across the coal-dusted road.
“We weren’t going to hurt them, but maybe the Chinese didn’t understand that,” Mr. Simutombo, 25, said recently, displaying scars left by the spray of shotgun pellets. “They were quick to shoot us though, and in Zambia the Chinese can get away with anything.”

As in many other African nations, the Chinese are an enormous economic presence in this impoverished but mineral-rich country, and their treatment of local workers has become an explosive political issue, presenting an awkward balancing act for governments desperate for foreign investment. “We’re an economy in transition, and we can’t afford to lose the cow that gives us milk today,” said Labor Minister Austin Liato.

Epilepsy’s Big, Fat Miracle

Evelyn, Sam’s twin sister Beatrice and I don’t eat this way. But Sam has epilepsy, and the food he eats is controlling most of his seizures (he used to have as many as 130 a day). The diet, which drastically reduces the amount of carbohydrates he takes in, tricks his body into a starvation state in which it burns fat, and not carbs, for fuel. Remarkably, and for reasons that are still unclear, this process — called ketosis — has an antiepileptic effect. He has been eating this way for almost two years.
But what we are doing is mainstream science. Elizabeth Thiele, the doctor who prescribed and oversees Sam’s diet, is the head of the pediatric epilepsy program at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School. In fact, the regimen, known as the ketogenic diet, is now offered at more than 100 hospitals in the United States, Canada and other countries. We’re not opposed to drugs; we tried many. But Sam’s seizures were drug-resistant, and keto, the universal shorthand, often provides seizure control when drugs do not.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

How to Make the Dollar Sound Again

BY disclosing a plan to conjure $600 billion to support the sagging economy, the Federal Reserve affirmed the interesting fact that dollars can be conjured. In the digital age, you don’t even need a printing press.


This was on Nov. 3. A general uproar ensued, with the dollar exchange rate weakening and the price of gold surging. And when, last Monday, the president of the World Bank suggested, almost diffidently, that there might be a place for gold in today’s international monetary arrangements, you could hear a pin drop.
This is why Mr. Bernanke has set out to materialize an additional $600 billion in the next eight months.
The intended consequences of this intervention include lower interest rates, higher stock prices, a perkier Consumer Price Index and more hiring. The unintended consequences remain to be seen. A partial list of unwanted possibilities includes an overvalued stock market (followed by a crash), a collapsing dollar, an unscripted surge in consumer prices (followed by higher interest rates), a populist revolt against zero-percent savings rates and wall-to-wall European tourists on the sidewalks of Manhattan.
As for interest rates, they are already low enough to coax another cycle of imprudent lending and borrowing. It gives one pause that the Fed, with all its massed brain power, failed to anticipate even a little of the troubles of 2007-09.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Seeing the Natural World With a Physicist’s Lens

Yet for all these apparent flaws, the basic building blocks of humaneyesight turn out to be practically perfect. Scientists have learned that the fundamental units of vision, the photoreceptor cells that carpet the retinal tissue of the eye and respond to light, are not just good or great or phabulous at their job. They are not merely exceptionally impressive by the standards of biology, with whatever slop and wiggle room the animate category implies. Photoreceptors operate at the outermost boundary allowed by the laws of physics, which means they are as good as they can be, period. Each one is designed to detect and respond to single photons of light — the smallest possible packages in which light comes wrapped.
“Light is quantized, and you can’t count half a photon,” said William Bialek, a professor of physics and integrative genomics at Princeton University. “This is as far as it goes.”
So while it can take a few minutes to adjust to the dark after being fooled by a flood of artificial light, our eyes can indeed seize the prize, and spot a dim salting of lone photons glittering on the horizon.

Chemicals in Fast Food Wrappers Show Up in Human Blood

TORONTO, Ontario, Canada, November 8, 2010 (ENS) - Chemicals used to keep grease from leaking through fast food wrappers and microwave popcorn bags are migrating into food, being ingested by people and showing up as contaminants in blood, according to new research at the University of Toronto. The contaminants are perfluoroalkyls, stable, synthetic chemicals that repel oil, grease, and water. They are used in surface protection products such as carpet and clothing treatments and coating for paper and cardboard packaging.
"In this study we clearly demonstrate that the current use of PAPs in food contact applications does result in human exposure to PFCAs, including PFOA," said Mabury, the lead researcher and a professor in the university's Department of Chemistry.
Elevated levels of PFOA in blood have been associated with changes in sex hormones and cholesterol, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances. Exposure to PFOA also has resulted in early death and delayed development in mice and rat pups, the agency says.
Rats that ingested PFOA for a long time developed tumors. However, based on differences between rats and humans, scientists have not determined for certain whether this could also occur in humans, the agency says.
"We found the concentrations of PFOA from PAP metabolism to be significant and concluded that the metabolism of PAPs could be a major source of human exposure to PFOA, as well as other PFCAs," said Mabury.

Don't Give This to Your Daughter - Despite What Your Doctor Says

It's been four years since Gardasil debuted as a blockbuster vaccine with sales that rocketed to over $1.1 billion in its first nine months. Touted as a wonder vaccine that would end cervical cancer, it was supposed to be the savior of both mankind and Merck's Vioxx-damaged bottom line. But now, according to CNN Money, it's a dud.
he real reason Gardasil is a flop is that people have become educated about this vaccine.
They've looked at the science and weighed the risks vs. the supposed benefits, and have made a choice not to get it for themselves or their children.
The word is out: despite what the CDC would have you believe, Gardasil's safety record is in serious question. As of September 28, 2010, the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) has more than 18,000 Gardasil-related adverse events listed in it, including at least 65 deaths.
As a vaccine used in the developed world, the science speaks for itself: Gardasil can't – and never will -- replace Pap smears, which are the reason that the incidence of cervical cancer is so low in the United States after decades of including pap smears in routine medical care for women.
Today, cervical cancer is not even in the top 10 cancers that kill American women every year.
As a vaccine for children, it doesn't make sense to vaccinate to try to prevent an infection that is cleared from your body without any negative effects within two years in most healthy persons, and is not transmitted in a school setting like other airborne diseases that are easily transmitted in crowded conditions.
Gardasil is designed to prevent only two of at least 15 strains of HPV that can lead to cervical cancer in those who do not clear the virus from their body within two years and become chronically infected.
There is also some evidence that Gardasil-induced immunity may wane after about five years. Pre-licensure clinical trials did not follow young girls or women for decades to find out if the vaccine does, in fact, prevent cervical cancer.
What went wrong with Gardasil is that this may be a vaccine that set many more health care consumers on a course of self-education that helped them make an informed decision about whether or not to take it – and there are several good reasons why many are deciding NOT to take it.

Valproic acid at half normal dose shows benefit in patients with retinitis pigmentosa

Results of a preliminary clinical analysis suggest that valproic acid may be an effective treatment for photoreceptor loss associated with retinitis pigmentosa.

Protecting Your Home From Afar With a Robot

When Robert Oschler, a programmer, leaves his home, he knows it is secure. And if he ever has cause for concern, he can open his laptop and survey the house through the eyes of his watchdogs.
His robot, a modified version of the Rovio from WowWee, has a camera, microphone and speakers atop a three-wheeled platform. From anywhere with a Net connection, he can send his robot zipping around the house, returning a video signal along the way.
“As creepy as it sounds, you could even talk to the guy and say, ‘Get out of there. There’s nothing valuable. I’m calling the police,’ ” he said.

AMA Warns of ‘Catastrophe’ Without 13-Month ‘Doc Fix’

Last June Congress passed a “doc fix” to hold off drastic cuts in Medicare payments to doctors — but only for six months.
Those six months are almost up, and now there’s a 23% reimbursement cut due to kick in Dec. 1 and a 25% cut on Jan. 1, according to the American Medical Association. Once again, the AMA is warning of the effects if Congress doesn’t come up with a longer-term solution.
If Congress doesn’t come up with a fix before it adjourns for the Thanksgiving holiday, it will be “catastrophic for seniors who rely on the Medicare program,” AMA President Cecil Wilson said at a press conference in San Diego, where the physicians’ group is holding a meeting. The AMA wants at least a 13-month patch for the payment problem.

Relying on these piecemeal fixes does nothing to address the larger problem: the payment formula being used now consists of automatic, across-the-board reimbursement cuts if spending reaches a certain level. No one likes that formula, but it would be very expensive to revamp permanently.

The Science Behind Why We Love Ice Cream

Why people prefer certain foods over others depends largely on a combination of taste and texture. While taste sensations are fairly well understood, scientists are just beginning to unravel the mystery of food texture.

Now, researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia have found that an enzyme in saliva called amylase, which breaks down starch into liquid, could play a key role in determining the appeal of various textures of food. A new genetic study shows that people produce strikingly different amounts of amylase, and that the more of the enzyme people have in their mouth the faster they can liquefy starchy foods.

Gallery: Military’s Freakiest Medical Projects

Some of the Pentagon's extreme medical innovations have already debuted in the war zone. And with myriad applications outside of combat, these advances in military medicine mean that revolutionary changes for civilian care aren't far behind

Study Says Drowsy Drivers Are Involved in 17% of Fatal Crashes

Study Says Drowsy Drivers Are Involved in 17% of Fatal Crashes

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Generosity Might Keep Us Health

Psychologist Liz Dunn spoke with us from the PopTech conference in Camden, Maine, about the link between greed and long-term health. Christie Nicholson reports

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Do Cortisone Shots Actually Make Things Worse?

But a major new review article, published last Friday in The Lancet, should revive and intensify the doubts about cortisone’s efficacy. The review examined the results of nearly four dozen randomized trials, which enrolled thousands of people with tendon injuries, particularly tennis elbow, but also shoulder and Achilles-tendon pain. The reviewers determined that, for most of those who suffered from tennis elbow, cortisone injections did, as promised, bring fast and significant pain relief, compared with doing nothing or following a regimen of physical therapy. The pain relief could last for weeks.
But when the patients were re-examined at 6 and 12 months, the results were substantially different. Overall, people who received cortisone shots had a much lower rate of full recovery than those who did nothing or who underwent physical therapy. They also had a 63 percent higher risk of relapse than people who adopted the time-honored wait-and-see approach. The evidence for cortisone as a treatment for other aching tendons, like sore shoulders and Achilles-tendon pain, was slight and conflicting, the review found. But in terms of tennis elbow, the shots seemed to actually be counterproductive. 
But in the decades since, numerous studies have shown, persuasively, that these overuse injuries do not involve inflammation. When animal or human tissues from these types of injuries are examined, they do not contain the usual biochemical markers of inflammation. Instead, the injury seems to be degenerative. The fibers within the tendons fray. Today the injuries usually are referred to as tendinopathies, or diseased tendons.

The Claim: Lying on Your Left Side Eases Heartburn

Big Insurance, Big Medicine

ObamaCare is already driving a wave of health-care consolidation—and higher costs. 

ObamaCare's once and future harms have been well chronicled, but the major effects so far are less obvious and arguably more important: A wave of consolidation is washing over the health markets, and the result is going to be higher costs.
The turn toward consolidation among insurance companies is not new, and neither is it among doctors, hospitals and other providers. Yet the health bill has accelerated these trends, as all sides race to anticipate and manage political risk and regulatory uncertainty. This dynamic is leading to much larger hospital systems and physician groups, and fewer insurers dominated by a handful of national conglomerates. ObamaCare was sold using the language of choice and competition, but it is actually reducing both.


Scenes from Thailand

The last time we focused on Thailand, the government crackdown on Red Shirt protesters was taking place in Bangkok. Since then, much of the damaged part of downtown Bangkok has been repaired, and the Red Shirts continue their protests both in the streets and online. Thailand has also been hit with severe flooding, struggled with terrorist attacks, and celebrated Queen Sirikit's 78th birthday. Collected here a a handful of recent photographs from around Thailand. (31 photos total)

Seeking Proof in Near-Death Claims

At 18 hospitals in the U.S. and U.K., researchers have suspended pictures, face up, from the ceilings in emergency-care areas. The reason: to test whether patients brought back to life after cardiac arrest can recall seeing the images during an out-of-body experience.
People who have these near-death experiences often describe leaving their bodies and watching themselves being resuscitated from above, but verifying such accounts is difficult. The images would be visible only to people who had done that.
"We've added these images as objective markers," says Sam Parnia, a critical-care physician and lead investigator of the study, which hopes to include 1,500 resuscitated patients. Dr. Parnia declined to say whether any have accurately described the images so far, but says he hopes to report preliminary results next year.

Yet the fundamental debate rages on: Are these glimpses of an afterlife, are they hallucinations or are they the random firings of an oxygen-starved brain?
"There are always skeptics, but there are millions of 'experiencers' who know what happened to them, and they don't care what anybody else says," says Diane Corcoran, president of the International Association for Near-Death Studies, a nonprofit group in Durham, N.C. The organization publishes the Journal of Near-Death Studies and maintains support groups in 47 states.

Several follow-up studies have found that people undergo profound personality changes after near-death experiences—becoming more altruistic, less materialistic, more intuitive and no longer fearing death. But some do suffer alienation from spouses or friends who don't understand their transformation.
Other relatives understand all too well.
Raymond Moody, who first coined the term near-death experience in his 1975 book "Life After Life," explores the even stranger phenomenon of "shared death experiences" in a new book, "Glimpses of Eternity." He recounts stories of friends, family and even medical personnel who say they also saw the light, the tunnel and accompanied the dying person partway on his or her journey.  "It's fairly common among physicians who are called to resuscitate someone they don't know—they say they've seen a spirit or apparition leave the body," says Dr. Moody.
Meanwhile, in his book, "Visions, Trips and Crowds," David Kessler, a veteran writer on grief and dying, reports that hospice patients frequently describe being visited by a deceased relative or having an out-of-body experience weeks before they actually die, a phenomenon called "near-death awareness."  While some skeptics dismiss such reports as hallucinations or wishful thinking, hospice workers generally report that the patients are otherwise perfectly lucid—and invariably less afraid of death afterward.
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