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Friday, April 18, 2008

Chicago to test water for drugs

CHICAGO, April 18 (UPI) -- Chicago water officials said they're testing Lake Michigan drinking water for the presence of pharmaceutical drugs and other unregulated chemicals.

The announcement Thursday came on the heels of a Chicago Tribune report that found trace amounts of prescription drugs and other chemicals in local drinking water, the newspaper reported.

The Tribune, which hired an independent lab to test tap water, found very small amounts of a prescription anti-seizure drug, a common painkiller, a nicotine byproduct, caffeine and two chemicals used to make Teflon and Scotchgard.

Following publication of the story, Water Department Commissioner John Spatz said the city decided last month to conduct its own studies.

"This is an important environmental issue that has been brought to light," Spatz said. "We should be monitoring and making sure it isn't getting in the water. And we need the health agencies to figure out if there is anything to be worried about."

Original here

Cure for acne found, say scientists

Scientists believe they have found a breakthrough treatment for acne.

  • Drinking alcohol accelerates onset of Alzheimer’s
  • They claim that the drug, SMT D002, can reduce the flow of sebum - an oily substance produced by the skin and believed to be a significant cause - by 90 per cent.


    At present, the drug is in pill form and is used to treat a condition other than acne but a pharmaceutical company plans to turn it into a cream for easier use.

    Researchers believe it could become as effective a treatment as retinoic acid - a form of vitamin A - which is currently used to treat moderate to severe cases.

    However, Roaccutane, the most widely used formulation of retinoic acid, has been linked to suicides among acne sufferers.

    SMT D002 produced no significant side-effects when volunteers took it in pill form. Around three in every 10 patients taking retinoic acid do not respond to the drug, leaving many sufferers without an effective treatment.

    Richard Pye, of Summit Corporation, based in Oxford, said the company was turning the drug into a cream because it was likely to work more quickly.

    For commercial reasons Summit would not reveal the name of the existing drug form that they are developing their new acne treatment.

    Richard Storer, the company's chief scientist, said: "It is a major drug, but we cannot reveal its name or the condition it currently treats."

    Original here

    5 Proven Strategies to Simplify Your Life

    Align Your Life

    Look over your priorities and see what is really important to your work, your family, and your life. Pare down everything else.



    1. Dump the 24/7 Stuff. On call to managers, kids, husbands, neighbors, friends, and sometimes even complete strangers who break down on the road, most of us are on the move from the second we open our eyes. No wonder we can't sleep. Even if we manage to drop into bed for the six hours researchers claim most of us spend there, our minds are full of what-ifs, why-did-we's, and what's-on-the-agenda-tomorrows. This type of rumination and agitation ignites stress hormones that keep us in a state of perpetual arousal. So even if we do manage to fall asleep, chances are we'll wake later, wake early, or not be able to reach the deeper levels of restorative sleep we need. That's why most of us should make a serious attempt to simplify our lives, says Cecile Andrews, Ph.D., a pioneer in simple living and author of Slow Is Beautiful: New Visions of Community, Leisure, and Joie de Vivre. Draw up a list of what's important, then draw up a list of what you have to do the next day and compare the two. What's important to you -- the sense of purpose that guides you, the values that you use in making decisions, how you affect the world around you, and whether or not you actually do things you think are important -- will slowly become very clear. "It's really about aligning life with values," adds Rebecca Gould, Ph.D., an associate professor who studies simple-living practices at Middlebury College in Vermont. "There never is a perfect alignment. But to what extent can you bring your life and your values together?" That's the challenge. The second step is to take a big breath and start crossing things off your to-do list, says Dr. Andrews. It's a bit humbling to realize, but few of us are so unique that there isn't someone else out there who could perform the same tasks just as well.

    2. Put your Job in its Place. Sleep-stealing on-the-job stress has reached off-the-wall proportions, according to a Canadian health report. And it points a finger at the fact that the workplace no longer has any boundaries. More than half of all employees take work home, 69 percent check their work e-mail from home, 59 percent check voice mail after hours, 30 percent get work-related faxes, and 29 percent keep their cell phones on day and night. Not surprisingly, 46 percent feel this work-related intrusion is a stressor, and 44 percent report "negative spillover" onto their families. The problem, however, is not just the fact that work is intruding into familial life, it's also that it's actually interfering with the most effective buffer to workplace stress -- the family -- as well as active leisure activities, exercise, hobbies, and social activity. A joint study of 314 workers conducted by the University of South Australia and the University of Rotterdam found that workers with higher levels of these activities were able not only to bounce back from workplace stress better than their always-on-the-job coworkers but also that they slept significantly better.

    Cut the Stress

    3. Manage the Electronics. This is tough. Few of us can survive for more than 30 minutes without being hooked up to a cell or Black Berry at the very least. But the technological innovations that were supposed to give us more leisure time have instead made it easier for us to work all the time. The issue is that by their very nature, they create stress by forcing what Rockefeller University's Bruce McEwen, Ph.D., calls "a wholly artificial sense of urgency" on us. The minute your cell phone rings, you tense. And if your phone rings often, you never get to un-tense. That makes it difficult to wind down at night and get to sleep. The thing is, we don't have to do without our electronics to cut stress. All we have to do is control them. Answer e-mail three times a day instead of every 30 minutes, and turn off the instant notification feature. Moreover, turn off your cell after 6:00 P.M.

    4. Don't stay late at Work. The prevailing thought is that you have to stay late to get the job done, says Margaret Moline, Ph.D., former head of the sleep disorders center at Weill Cornell Medical College in White Plains, New York. But working right up until bedtime is bound to disrupt your sleep. So go home at a reasonable hour. The truth is that it's better to go home and go to sleep, then comeback and do more work in the morning. Studies show that after a good night's sleep, your increased ability to concentrate means that you can work faster -- and more accurately.

    5. Don't Check Your E-mail. At least, not before bed. Researchers at Stanford University have found that the light from your monitor right before bed is enough to reset your whole wake/sleep cycle -- and postpone the onset of sleepiness by three hours.

    Original here

    The delicate line between genius and madness

    Channel Seven executive Adam Boland, who has bipolar disorder: "When you are on a high, you feel you can do anything."
    Photo: Tim Bauer

    WHERE do you draw the fine line between brilliance and madness? That is the question raised by hotshot television producer Adam Boland, who has spoken for the first time about his diagnosis with bipolar disorder.

    Bipolar disorder is the mental illness characterised by huge swings in mood and energy levels.

    "When you're on a high, you feel you can do anything," says Boland, 32, director of morning television at the Seven Network. "Things that would normally take a week get done in an hour. There's no stopping you. It's an exciting state to be in."

    Boland has been a key player in propelling Seven to number one in the ratings and is widely regarded as Australia's most talented young TV executive. In an interview to be published in Good Weekend tomorrow, he talks not only about the disorder, formerly known as manic depression, but his decision to stop taking mood-stabilising drugs.

    "The question of medication is a really tricky one," he said yesterday. "It makes you normal, and while that shouldn't be seen as a bad thing, I have an issue with just being normal."

    Essentially, Boland believes the drugs blunt his creative edge.

    He now has counselling instead of taking tablets and accepts that, along with the highs, he is subject to bouts of debilitating depression. "You have to trade off the downside because the upside is so good."

    Boland's illness was diagnosed by Professor Gordon Parker, executive director of the Black Dog Institute, who estimates that about 600,000 Australians have bipolar disorder. According to Professor Parker, it is more common in high achievers than in the rest of the population.

    This week, both NSW Treasurer Michael Costa and rugby league star Tim Smith revealed that they have the disorder.

    For most people diagnosed with the condition, medication is the best option, Professor Parker says. "There will be a drug or drugs that will work for you. It's a suck-it-and-see process."

    Original here

    One Man's Hand-Built Supercar

    An Italian gearhead constructs a sportster of his own design entirely by himself over four years

    he Uragano Hand-Built Supercar:

    What's in Northern Italy's water that leads industrious people to spend great portions of their lives building race cars? Who knows. Maybe the FIA’s been pumping diolefin-rich racing fuel into Emilia-Romagna’s reservoirs, thereby insinuating Formula One into the local tortellini Bolognese.

    Whatever it is, Modena’s favorite son, the late Enzo Ferrari, had nothing on 47-year-old Filandri Moreno. He’s the guy who hand-built this Uragano (Hurricane) supercar. It took him four years; Moreno outsourced almost none of the job, fabricating the body, frame, suspension, brakes and steering systems entirely by hand da solo. One part he didn’t build was the engine (you think he had all decade?). For that he turned to his neighbors across the Brenner Pass. Moreno incorporated a 4.2-liter V8 from a ten-year-old Audi A8 sedan into the Uragano’s central engine compartment.

    Some carbuilders create such works as concept cars to attract backing for their dream of starting their own specialty marque. Moreno just did it because he wanted to. Now that’s Italian.

    Click here for more photos.

    Via Autoblog.it [translated]

    Original here


    Do Not Piss Off The Garbage Men

    We've got no context on this set of pictures, but whatever the owner of that VW Golf did, it must have been a fair to middling level of piss off the garbage man offense. Let's be honest here, boxing the car in with a set of dumpsters is probably the tamest thing a garbage man can do as revenge. We're imagining everything from a nights worth of Indian restaurant leftovers parked on top of the car to the remnants of a stomach flu out break at the daycare in the front seat. While this is amusing, we think the owner should probably reform their ways before something much, much worse happens.

    The Garbage Mans Vengence

    Thursday, April 17, 2008

    Researchers chart how new flu strains travel


    South Korean health officials walk to bury chickens at the infected chicken farm in Gimje, 162 miles south of Seoul on April 4, 2008. South Korea has started culling thousands of chickens after an outbreak of bird flu was confirmed to be the deadly H5N1 strain, officials said.
    They emerge in Asia and eventually disappear in South America. The findings should help improve vaccines.

    Solving a 60-year-old mystery, researchers have concluded that new flu strains emerge in eastern and southeastern Asia, move to Europe and North America six to nine months later, then travel to South America where they disappear forever.

    The new findings should help researchers pick the correct flu strains for each year's vaccine, a process that must be carried out a year ahead of time and that is now analogous to making a long-term weather forecast supported by only limited data.

    The group charged with making the decisions about vaccines has been right about 80% of the time, said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the new findings should lead to an even higher success rate.

    "If we have competing candidates, this will help to pick which virus should go in a vaccine," added Dr. Arnold S. Monto, an epidemiologist and flu specialist at the University of Michigan.

    Influenza strikes up to 15% of the world's population each year, killing, on average, about 250,000 to 500,000 people, according to the World Health Organization. About 300 million people annually are protected by an influenza vaccine, but producing the vaccine is something of a crapshoot because its ingredients are typically chosen nearly a year before the flu season to allow time for production.

    The problem is that the flu virus mutates rapidly, particularly the gene for a surface protein called hemagglutinin that plays a key role in interacting with the human immune system. Those mutations reduce the efficacy of the immune response to the virus, limiting vaccine protection.

    For more than a half a century, researchers have debated where these mutations occur. One idea, discredited only about a year ago, suggested that a background infection of the virus remained in each country outside the flu season, allowing mutations to occur.

    Other hypotheses were that the virus migrated back and forth between the northern and southern hemispheres following the seasons, that the viruses circulated continuously in the tropics, or that new mutations occurred in China and spread to the rest of the world from there.

    The new results, appearing today in the journal Nature and Friday in Science, suggest that there is a little bit of truth in each of those scenarios.

    In the Science paper, an international team led by geneticists Colin A. Russell and Derek J. Smith of the University of Cambridge studied more than 13,000 samples of influenza A virus collected on six continents between 2002 and 2007.

    They studied physical differences in the hemagglutinin molecules on the surfaces of the viruses by measuring how strongly each one bound to an antibody. They also determined the DNA sequence of the hemagglutinin gene for about 10% of the viruses.

    The team found that once the viruses leave Asia, they don't change much and rarely return. The areas outside Asia are "evolutionary graveyards," Russell said.

    In the Nature report, biologist Edward Holmes of Pennsylvania State University and his colleagues sequenced the entire genome of 1,302 influenza A viruses collected over a 12-year period.

    Holmes' results were very similar to Russell's findings. Holmes' team was able to conclude that the viral mutations originated in only one area in the tropics but could not pinpoint the area.

    Several factors contribute to Asia's role in the mutations. While flu season in the Western world typically occurs in winter, flu season in Asia generally is the rainy season. Because of the wide geographic variations in the region, there is generally a rainy season somewhere, allowing the viruses to propagate continuously.

    Add to that the high population density, and the conditions are ripe for a high transmission rate and accompanying mutations.

    The large rate of air travel from Asia to Europe and North America then carries the mutated viruses to a new environment where there is little resistance to them. Much less direct traffic occurs between Southeast Asia and South America, so the virus must travel via North America, delaying its passage.

    Some of the virus is undoubtedly carried back to Asia via air travel, Smith said, but by that time widespread immunity to it has built up in the population and it cannot gain a foothold.

    Although the new information will be useful in producing vaccines, Monto said, even more important is the proliferation of new influenza monitoring stations throughout Asia in response to fears of a bird flu pandemic.

    Too often, he said, researchers have known which strain should be included in a vaccine but have not been able to obtain a good isolate of the virus. The new monitoring stations should be able to provide those strains, he said.

    thomas.maugh@latimes.com

    Original here

    Peanut Butter and Deadly Taunts

    Late last spring, 14-year-old Sarah VanEssendelft of Mastic, N.Y., experienced bullying worthy of a teen movie.

    Peanut allergies
    The number of reported peanut allergies has doubled in recent years. Taunting kids with food now may turn into medical school yard problems.
    (iStock/ABC News)

    "There was a group of five girls ... and they decided they didn't want me sitting at their lunch table anymore," said VanEssendelft. To get her to leave, they all brought in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

    For VanEssendelft, it might as well have been arsenic.

    Two weeks later, a boy in the back of her class opened up a peanut butter cup. The smell was enough to trigger VanEssendelft's peanut allergy and send her to the emergency room with breathing problems.

    "My throat felt tight and my lips were getting really swollen, really fast," said VanEssendelft. "I looked like Angelina Jolie."

    On the one hand, mean tricks or sneaking candy looks like mild behavioral problems to school administrators. On the other hand, given VanEssendelft's serious peanut allergy, those sandwiches might very well have been weapons.

    Original here

    More airports to use 'whole body imaging' machines

    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Some travelers at key airports in New York and Los Angeles may be put through machines that see through clothing and provide a detailed image of a person's body beginning later this week.

    art.travelers.gi.jpg

    The TSA says the screener who reviews the images is in a booth, unable to see the travelers.

    It's the first expansion of the program since the machines were first put to the test in Phoenix, Arizona.

    The "whole body imaging" machines have sparked complaints from privacy advocates.

    But the Transportation Security Administration says that it has taken steps to protect individuals' privacy and that 90 percent of the travelers in Phoenix preferred the imaging machine to a pat-down.

    The millimeter wave machines will be rolled out at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Los Angeles International Airport in California later this week, TSA Administrator Kip Hawley told Congress on Tuesday.

    The TSA will be purchasing at least 30 more machines for use at other U.S. airports this year, he added.

    The TSA will use two different methods at JFK and LAX as they study the most effective way to use the machines.

    At JFK, passengers sent to secondary screening will be given the option of a pat-down or a trip through the body imager. To protect the traveler's privacy, the screener who reviews the image is in a booth, unable to see the traveler, according to the TSA. The traveler's face is pixilated and the image is not stored, the TSA said.

    At LAX, the millimeter wave machine will be located just beyond the checkpoint magnetometers.

    Travelers will continuously and randomly be selected to go through the machine. While signs will inform them of the pat-down option, screeners will not announce that choice. But passengers electing not to go through the millimeter wave machine will be given the option of the pat-down.

    A TSA spokesman said the agency is still exploring backscatter, another imaging technology in use at Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport.

    Millimeter wave machines are already in use at airports in Britain, Spain, Japan, Australia, Mexico, Thailand and the Netherlands, as well as at some court and corrections facilities in Virginia, Colorado, Pennsylvania, California and Illinois.

    Sky Harbor began using the machines last October.

    Hawley also announced Tuesday the TSA is purchasing another 580 multi-view X-ray machines that are used to screen passengers' carry-on bags, bringing the total to 830 machines. The machines give screeners a clearer, more detailed view. Some 600 machines will be deployed by year's end, he said.

    The technology is a "powerful platform" that can be adjusted to include software capable of detecting liquid explosives, he said.

    Original here

    HPV-related oral cancers rise among younger men

    Dr. Maura Gillison

    Dr. Maura Gillison, a Johns Hopkins oncologist, found that HPV causes some head and neck cancers, as well as cervical cancer. (Sun photo by Kim Hairston / April 11, 2008)

    The sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer in women has now been linked to an uptick of throat, tonsil and tongue cancers - in a younger and healthier group of patients than doctors have ever seen before.

    These head and neck cancers were once the scourge of older men - mostly the result of lifetimes of heavy smoking and drinking. The treatments often left victims disfigured.

    But with those cases on the decline, doctors are seeing a new group of victims. They're men in their 40s, and even 30s, whose cancer is brought on by the increasingly common human papillomavirus (HPV). It's an infection that more than half of Americans will encounter during their lifetimes. And researchers now believe that the increase in certain oral cancers can be traced to the spread of the virus through oral sex.

    New studies suggest that HPV-related oral cancer cases are on pace to eventually surpass cases of cervical cancer in the United States, which strikes about 11,000 women each year. And many doctors do not realize that they should be on the lookout for oral cancer in younger patients.

    Doctors are familiar with this progression because pre-cancerous lesions are often caught during Pap tests. But they don't know much about how progression occurs in the throat and mouth.

    Gillison and her colleagues say HPV-related oral cancers appear to be distinct from those not associated with the sexually transmitted infection and appear to respond differently to treatment.

    Two years after diagnosis, 95 percent of those with HPV-positive head and neck cancers were alive compared with 62 percent with HPV-negative cancers, research shows.

    Even so, the treatment can have serious and long-lasting side effects. Some patients end up disfigured; others have difficulty speaking or swallowing. Gillison said those with HPV-positive tumors might be able to survive with less-damaging treatments.

    Meanwhile, the HPV vaccine has been a financial boon for Merck & Co., the maker of Gardasil, the three-dose vaccine approved in the United States in 2006 for females ages 9 through 26. Doctors recommend vaccinating girls before they become sexually active and can be exposed to the virus.

    Merck sold $1.5 billion worth of Gardasil last year around the world. GlaxoSmithKline is seeking U.S. approval for a competing drug called Cervarix.

    Neither vaccine is approved for males. Both companies are studying whether it is safe in boys and whether it would prevent genital warts and rare cancers of the penis and anus. But neither has plans to study whether the vaccine would play any role in the prevention of HPV-linked oral cancers.

    "Cervical cancer is really the focus," said Liad Diamond, a GlaxoSmithKline spokeswoman.

    Experts said they think researchers will find the vaccine works on HPV throughout the body.

    "The way the vaccine works, there's no reason to think it wouldn't protect against oropharanyx [tonsil, tongue and throat] cancer as it does cervical cancer," Sturgis said.

    Dr. Aimee Kreimer, an epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, said that, theoretically, the vaccine should work on HPV anywhere in the body but such discussion is premature.

    "Before recommending the vaccine to men, it's crucial to determine if the vaccination works to prevent infection in men," she said.

    Original here

    Medicine's Secret Stat

    Researchers can gather all the hard-nosed evidence they want about the effectiveness of a particular drug or treatment. But there's one figure doctors don't much talk about despite its importance. It's called number needed to treat, or NNT, a new measure developed in the past 20 years that's one of the best-kept statistical secrets in medicine.

    The idea of NNT is simple enough. Most clinical trials look at how much better people do on a particular medicine compared with how they would do without it or whether they should be on a different medicine. Take statins, drugs that aim to reduce bad cholesterol. A typical trial might give one group of men a statin for, say, five years and give a second group a placebo, or fake pill.

    Generally, you will see fewer heart attacks in the statin group (about 30% fewer in one real-world trial). Reducing the risk by a third sounds like a lot, which is one reason many hundreds of thousands of men with no sign of heart disease take statins. But that number is meaningless unless you take into account the percentage of men in both groups who have heart attacks in the first place. If those people represent only a tiny fraction of the two populations, an improvement of 30% isn't much--maybe one heart attack fewer in a group of thousands.

    The effort to handicap those odds is where NNT comes in. It answers the question, How many people have to take this drug to avoid one heart attack? The same principle can be applied to avoiding one recurrence of cancer or stroke or whatever end point you choose to measure. In healthy men, the NNT for statins is about 50 (depending on which of dozens of statins is taken, age, family history, lifestyle and so on). So 50 men have to take these drugs in order to prevent a single--not necessarily fatal, heart attack.

    Presented that way, taking statins sounds like less of a no-brainer--especially given that the drugs cost hundreds of dollars a year, side effects could include liver and muscle damage and you have to take twice-yearly blood tests just in case. Still, factored out over the entire U.S. population, even a 1-in-50 figure means many thousands of heart attacks are avoided every year.

    Since public-health officials want to save lives, they focus on the thousands and avoid the NNT. Since pharmaceutical companies are in business to sell drugs, they do the same. Those two forces have kept NNT from being a big part of medical education. We could all help change that by doing nothing more than asking for the number up front the next time we're handed a prescription.

    Original here

    Vitamin supplements may increase risk of death

    Vitamin supplements taken by millions of people do not increase life expectancy and may raise the risk of a premature death , according to a review of 67 studies with more than 230,000 subjects.

    The review, by the Cochrane Collaboration which regularly pools data from trials to evaluate drugs and treatments, found supplements vitamin A, vitamin E and beta-carotene are detrimental to health. In 47 trials with 180,938 people and a low risk of bias, the "antioxidant supplements significantly increased mortality", the authors wrote. When the antioxidants were assessed separately and low risk of bias trials were included and selenium excluded, vitamin A was linked to a 16% increased risk of dying, beta-carotene to a 7% increased risk and vitamin E to a 4% increased risk.

    Evidence for vitamin C and selenium was more equivocal, suggesting there was no benefit to taking these pills compared with a placebo.

    "The bottom line is current evidence does not support the use of antioxidant supplements in the general healthy population or in patients with certain diseases," said Goran Bjelakovic, who performed the review at Copenhagen Universityhospital in Denmark. "There was no indication that vitamin C and selenium may have positive or negative effects. So regarding these we need more data from randomised trials."

    All the supplements are categorised as antioxidants; research has suggested these chemicals underlie some of the beneficial effects of eating fruit and vegetables because they soak up harmful byproducts of metabolism which can damage cells and cause aging.

    While the evidence of a beneficial effect of a diet rich in fruit and veg is solid, the Cochrane data suggest antioxidant supplements are either useless or detrimental.

    Bjelakovic's team evaluated 67 randomised clinical trials with 232,550 subjects; 21 of the trials were on healthy subjects, while the rest tested patients with a range of diseases. The evidence suggests it would be safer to obtain the chemicals not as supplements but by eating plenty of fruit and vegetables.

    Original here

    Why There Aren't More Googles

    Umair Haque wrote recently that the reason there aren't more Googles is that most startups get bought before they can change the world.

    Google, despite serious interest from Microsoft and Yahoo—what must have seemed like lucrative interest at the time—didn't sell out. Google might simply have been nothing but Yahoo's or MSN's search box.

    Why isn't it? Because Google had a deeply felt sense of purpose: a conviction to change the world for the better.
    This has a nice sound to it, but it isn't true. Google's founders were willing to sell early on. They just wanted more than acquirers were willing to pay.

    It was the same with Facebook. They would have sold, but Yahoo blew it by offering too little.

    Tip for acquirers: when a startup turns you down, consider raising your offer, because there's a good chance the outrageous price they want will later seem a bargain. [1]

    From the evidence I've seen so far, startups that turn down acquisition offers usually end up doing better. Not always, but usually there's a bigger offer coming, or perhaps even an IPO.

    Of course, the reason startups do better when they turn down acquisition offers is not necessarily that all such offers undervalue startups. More likely the reason is that the kind of founders who have the balls to turn down a big offer also tend to be very successful. That spirit is exactly what you want in a startup.

    While I'm sure Larry and Sergey do want to change the world, at least now, the reason Google survived to become a big, independent company is the same reason Facebook has so far remained independent: acquirers underestimated them.

    Corporate M&A is a strange business in that respect. They consistently lose the best deals, because turning down reasonable offers is the most reliable test you could invent for whether a startup will make it big.

    VCs

    So what's the real reason there aren't more Googles? Curiously enough, it's the same reason Google and Facebook have remained independent: money guys undervalue the most innovative startups.

    The reason there aren't more Googles is not that investors encourage innovative startups to sell out, but that they won't even fund them. I've learned a lot about VCs during the 3 years we've been doing Y Combinator, because we often have to work quite closely with them. The most surprising thing I've learned is how conservative they are. VC firms present an image of boldly encouraging innovation. Only a handful actually do, and even they are more conservative in reality than you'd guess from reading their sites.

    I used to think of VCs as piratical: bold but unscrupulous. On closer acquaintance they turn out to be more like bureaucrats. They're more upstanding than I used to think (the good ones, at least), but less bold. Maybe the VC industry has changed. Maybe they used to be bolder. But I suspect it's the startup world that has changed, not them. The low cost of starting a startup means the average good bet is a riskier one, but most existing VC firms still operate as if they were investing in hardware startups in 1985.

    Howard Aiken said "Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." I have a similar feeling when I'm trying to convince VCs to invest in startups Y Combinator has funded. They're terrified of really novel ideas, unless the founders are good enough salesmen to compensate.

    But it's the bold ideas that generate the biggest returns. Any really good new idea will seem bad to most people; otherwise someone would already be doing it. And yet most VCs are driven by consensus, not just within their firms, but within the VC community. The biggest factor determining how a VC will feel about your startup is how other VCs feel about it. I doubt they realize it, but this algorithm guarantees they'll miss all the very best ideas. The more people who have to like a new idea, the more outliers you lose.

    Whoever the next Google is, they're probably being told right now by VCs to come back when they have more "traction."

    Why are VCs so conservative? It's probably a combination of factors. The large size of their investments makes them conservative. Plus they're investing other people's money, which makes them worry they'll get in trouble if they do something risky and it fails. Plus most of them are money guys rather than technical guys, so they don't understand what the startups they're investing in do.

    What's Next

    The exciting thing about market economies is that stupidity equals opportunity. And so it is in this case. There is a huge, unexploited opportunity in startup investing. Y Combinator funds startups at the very beginning. VCs will fund them once they're already starting to succeed. But between the two there is a substantial gap.

    There are companies that will give $20k to a startup that has nothing more than the founders, and there are companies that will give $2 million to a startup that's already taking off, but there aren't enough investors who will give $200k to a startup that seems very promising but still has some things to figure out. This territory is occupied mostly by individual angel investors—people like Andy Bechtolsheim, who gave Google $100k when they seemed promising but still had some things to figure out. I like angels, but there just aren't enough of them, and investing is for most of them a part time job.

    And yet as it gets cheaper to start startups, this sparsely occupied territory is becoming more and more valuable. Nowadays a lot of startups don't want to raise multi-million dollar series A rounds. They don't need that much money, and they don't want the hassles that come with it. The median startup coming out of Y Combinator wants to raise $250-500k. When they go to VC firms they have to ask for more because they know VCs aren't interested in such small deals.

    VCs are money managers. They're looking for ways to put large sums to work. But the startup world is evolving away from their current model.

    Startups have gotten cheaper. That means they want less money, but also that there are more of them. So you can still get large returns on large amounts of money; you just have to spread it more broadly.

    I've tried to explain this to VC firms. Instead of making one $2 million investment, make five $400k investments. Would that mean sitting on too many boards? Don't sit on their boards. Would that mean too much due diligence? Do less. If you're investing at a tenth the valuation, you only have to be a tenth as sure.

    It seems obvious. But I've proposed to several VC firms that they set aside some money and designate one partner to make more, smaller bets, and they react as if I'd proposed the partners all get nose rings. It's remarkable how wedded they are to their standard m.o.

    But there is a big opportunity here, and one way or the other it's going to get filled. Either VCs will evolve down into this gap or, more likely, new investors will appear to fill it. That will be a good thing when it happens, because these new investors will be compelled by the structure of the investments they make to be ten times bolder than present day VCs. And that will get us a lot more Googles. At least, as long as acquirers remain stupid.

    Original here

    Road Safety: The Uncrashable Car?


    Look in your blind spot, too! The 'uncrashable car' is part of basic research undertaken by the largest research initiative into road safety ever undertaken in Europe. (Credit: PReVENT, Volvo)

    The largest road safety research project ever launched in Europe will usher in a series of powerful road-safety systems for European cars. But, in the long term, its basic, experimental research could lead to a car that is virtually uncrashable.

    A truck exits suddenly from a side road, directly into your lane only dozens of metres ahead. Suddenly, your car issues a warning, starts applying the brakes and attempts to take evasive action. Realising impact is unavoidable; in-car safety systems pre-tension the safety belts and arm the airbag, timing its release to the second before impact.

    Such is the promise of the uncrashable car, coming to a dealer near you in the perhaps not-too-distant future. The system is part of the basic research undertaken by the largest research initiative into road safety ever undertaken in Europe.

    PReVENT has a budget of over €50 million and 56 partners pursuing a broad, but highly complementary programme of research. A dozen sub-projects focus on specific road-safety issues, but all projects support and feed into each other in some way.

    PReVENT is studying relatively cheap, even simple, technologies – such as parking sensors and existing satellite navigation – that can be retooled to enhance driver safety. But as part of its broad and deep approach to car safety, it is also diving into more experimental and medium- to long-term systems, innovations that could appear in five-to-ten years.

    The uncrashable car is a theoretical construct that concerned a handful of PReVENT’s sub-projects. But it could become far more of a reality than anyone expected.

    Of course, it is impossible to stop all car collisions, but the technology could be pushed to make it increasingly unlikely and mitigate crashes when they do occur.

    For example, PReVENT project WILLWARN uses wireless communication with other vehicles to alert the driver about potentially dangerous situations ahead, while MAPS&ADAS reads sat-nav maps to track approaching hazards, like bends, dips or intersections. SASPENCE looks at safe driving distances and speed, while LATERALSAFE finally brings active sensing to the blind spot.

    All have their role in the uncrashable car, as do many others within the broader project. But two projects, APALACI and COMPOSE, take this a step further, actively tracking the speed and trajectories of surrounding vehicles and other road users in real time. If one vehicle suddenly stops, or a pedestrian suddenly steps onto the road, they swing into action to rapidly calculate the implications.

    Predictive collision detection

    APALACI is an advanced pre-crash mitigation system built round the registration of other motorists and cyclists. In the APALACI system, sensors monitor the street or road immediately around the vehicle and collect as much information about a collision as possible, before it even starts to take place.

    The system uses this data to decide on the ideal safety reaction strategy. Examples include controlled braking manoeuvres, controlled activation of the occupant restraint systems or pre-arming airbag systems. The car can react far faster than the driver, cutting speed by crucial amounts to ensure unavoidable accidents are less severe.

    APALACI also developed a so-called ‘Start Inhibit System’ for trucks. It surveys the blind spot immediately in front of a truck and protects pedestrians or cyclists by preventing dangerous manoeuvres.

    APALACI was tested in a series of vehicles like the Fiat Stilo, the Volvo FH12 truck, the Alfa Romeo 156 and Mercedes E350. It used laser sensors, radar, software decision assistance and a variety of other technologies to achieve the goal.

    Tiny changes have a huge impact

    COMPOSE, on the other hand, aims more specifically to keep others, as well as its driver, safe. It can apply the brakes if a pedestrian steps onto the road, or extend the bumper, and raise the bonnet to enhance occupant protection.

    Tiny differences have a huge impact on car safety. Dropping speed by 1km/h can reduce accidents with injury by 3 per cent, while braking fractions of a second sooner is enough to reduce the damage caused dramatically.

    The systems were tested in the BMW 545i and the Volvo FH12 truck, and they do appreciably enhance safety. But, for all their potential, these systems remain, for now, the preserve of the future.

    “The teams developed sophisticated algorithms to track all these elements in the landscape,” explains Matthias Schulze, coordinator of the EU-funded PReVENT project and Senior Manager for ITS & Services at Daimler AG. “But they require enormous computer power to keep track of all the various elements, so this work is aimed at basic research, establishing how it could be done. It will be a while before in-car computers are sophisticated enough to use these systems.”

    Nonetheless, they do provide tools that automakers can use to mitigate the potential for accidents, and they provide a clear research roadmap for the uncrashable car of the future.

    Original here


    Tuesday, April 15, 2008

    Welcome to the Hotel Relativity

    Scuba dive down to your hotel’s lobby; spend a luxurious night in a palace made of ice; have the concierge find you an astronomer for an evening of stargazing. All are part of the expanding universe of science and exploration travel. Restaurants and bars are in on this trend too, with chefs using the laws of chemistry to whip up great meals and engineering students getting drunk on Ein-Stein beer. We’ve turned up some places well worth a visit. So take a look. Near or far, chances are our paths will cross, and when they do, we’ll grab a drink to toast—what else?—science.

    Icehotel
    Village Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
    If your idea of comfort is to bundle up in thermal underwear and jump into a sleeping bag, then book a stay at this igloo hotel, which is kept at –5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit). Don’t worry, though; you won’t freeze. When you check in you receive a full set of winter clothes. And anyway, every bit of chilliness is worth it: The entire hotel—including the reception desk, chandeliers, chairs, sculptures, and rooms—is made of ice. Built from scratch each year, the resort requires 30,000 cubic meters (40,000 cubic yards) of snow and 2,000 tons of ice from the nearby, frozen Torne River. During the day, be sure to pull yourself away from dogsledding for a field trip to the Esrange Space Centre, where scientists study the northern lights. Later, look into the night sky and see the lights yourself, then end the evening with a drink in the hotel’s Absolut Icebar. The next morning, spend a quiet moment in the spectacular Ice Church.
    www.icehotel.com


    Astronomers Inn
    Benson, Arizona
    Is the cosmos your thing? Stay next door to Vega-Bray Observatory’s headquarters in the comfort of a hilltop bed-and-breakfast. Bring your telescope, set up on the patio, and hire an astronomer, if you like, for a guided journey into the night. Or go inside and use the observatory’s equipment. You can even buy time on the 20-inch f/10 Maksutov in the dome. Book a room that suits your mood—choices include the romantic Garden Room, the Egyptian Room, and the Galaxy Room with its Star Wars decor. There’s more to this place than sleeping and stargazing. After breakfast you can rummage through collections of dinosaur bones, go bird-watching, or hike in the hills. If you can’t wait until night to use a telescope, the hotel offers one that lets you safely view the sun.
    www.astronomersinn.com

    Jules Undersea Lodge
    Key Largo, Florida
    To reach the lobby of this small underwater hotel, you have to scuba dive 21 feet straight down. If you don’t know how, an instructor will teach you; then suddenly you’re in mangrove heaven. Formerly a research lab, this lodge is now available to anyone wanting to live out their underwater fantasy. The sea-bottom resort has two cozy bedrooms resembling cruise-ship cabins. If you feel claustrophobic, just look out of the 42-inch windows to watch the fish swim by. For those certified at scuba, the hotel offers unlimited diving. If it’s luxury you need, wait until the 2009 opening of the Hydropolis, a hotel 66 feet under the Persian Gulf off the coast of Dubai. It will feature plusher cabins, along with a marine biology lab. By the time you check out, you’ll feel like Jacques Cousteau.
    www.jul.com

    El Bulli
    Costa Brava, Spain
    Restaurant magazine calls this science-based restaurant the best in the world. But it’s open only six months each year, because chef Ferran Adrià Acosta spends the other half year traveling to research his innovative cuisine. Once home, he tests his concoctions in a Barcelona laboratory, because his vaunted epicurean magic is really no magic at all—it’s all science. He employs molecular gastronomy to play with temperature, texture, and taste. Without a doubt this renowned chef, who has written extensively about the philosophy of food and published a series of cookbooks, is challenging our concept of taste. El Bulli’s menu features dishes such as salty ice cream, liquid olive, and a pistachio truffle cooled with liquid nitrogen.
    www.elbulli.com

    uWink
    Woodland Hills, California
    Inside a Los Angeles mall, Nolan Bushnell, who founded Atari and Chuck E. Cheese, has opened the first “Chuck E. Cheese for adults”—and a prime dating spot for geeks. UWink revolutionizes the way we play and eat by bringing technology to the table. Each table has a computer with a touch screen on which you order your food, picking and choosing ingredients as you go. The computer is more than a menu; it’s called “iCandy” for diners, offering screen games you’ve probably played in bars when the conversation ran dry. Here, the games are interactive; you can even play against people at other tables. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get noticed by the real eye candy across the room.
    www.uwink.com

    Forty Six
    Kannapolis, North Carolina
    Named for the number of chromosomes in the human body, this restaurant carries the science theme to an extreme: Wall art includes chemical symbols for the likes of chocolate and caffeine, and lab beakers serve as vases. It’s no surprise that this upscale restaurant, located across from the North Carolina Research Campus, attracts scientists from the surrounding universities. Buy your date a Blinded Me With Science cocktail, and try the Peach-tri Dish Martini for yourself. And take note: The girls’ room is marked XX and the guys’ is XY.
    Image courtesy of Joshua Ellington/Croft Institute

    The Croft Institute
    Melbourne, Australia
    You may have to hold your nose to get here, if you find it at all. The bar is hidden in an alleyway that’s often littered with trash. Inside, this three-story hangout looks more like a laboratory than a pub, since it sports one of Melbourne’s largest private collections of equipment, including beakers, Bunsen burners, industrial sinks, and reaction vessels. The second floor resembles a hospital waiting room, complete with bathrooms labeled “The Departments of Male and Female Hygiene.” Tip for weary women: Take a rest on the hospital bed inside the Dept. of Female Hygiene.
    www.thecroftinstitute.com.au

    Miracle of Science Bar & Grill
    Boston, Massachusetts
    It’s as if you’ve walked into a small chemistry lab: The bar and tables are topped with lab-style fireslate, and patrons sit on uncomfortable stools surrounded by old microscopes, scientific equipment, and pictures of Albert Einstein. The best chemistry is on the menu, though, written as a periodic table on a chalkboard: It’s Cb for cheeseburger and Vb for veggie burger, and the prices are written where the atomic weights should be. Regulars include Nobel Prize winners, whose star power outshines that of Paris Hilton at her nightclub-hopping best. Be sure to try the UFO beer.

    Ein-Stein Café and Pub
    Toronto, Ontario, Canada
    There are two mottoes here: “Don’t drink and derive” and “Where great minds drink alike.” Just across from the University of Toronto, the Ein-Stein Café is the best place to enjoy an Ein-Stein lager and pick up engineers. Sometimes when the patrons have had a little too much, they write equations on the walls. For the mathematically talented, there’s a chance to win a free platter of wings and beer—all you have to do is map out the equation of special relativity.
    www.ein-stein.ca

    Original here

    Secret underground warehouse in Tokyo (video)

    In this video, a camera crew follows a city official to a trapdoor hidden in a Tokyo sidewalk, which opens to a narrow stairway leading to a giant underground warehouse stocked with emergency supplies. (Watch it.)

    Located 20 meters (65 ft) underground, the 1,480 square meter (16,000 sq ft) space contains emergency supplies to be distributed to the public in the event of a major earthquake. Items include 5,000 blankets, 8,000 rugs, 4,000 candles, 300 cooking pots, 200 t-shirts, and emergency medical supplies. A conveyor belt system is installed to help transport the supplies up to street level.

    The underground warehouse is connected to an unnamed station on the Oedo line, Tokyo’s deepest subway. Apparently, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government maintains more than one of these warehouses, but the locations are kept secret.

    Original here

    Mouth-to-mouth wild hyena feeding in Harar, Ethiopia

    There is an ancient tradition of wild hyena feeding in Harar, Ethiopia, which is still being practiced today. As far as I understand, this is a rite of peace-offering. The wild hyenas enter the city in great numbers during the night, and they are quite capable of snapping limbs from poor fellows sleeping on the streets. Those wild beasts are really strolling through the city in the dark, I saw them myself!

    Hyena Feeding in Harar, Ethiopia
    > large image <
    For several centuries the rite of hyena feeding has been performed by a single family. Fathers were passing the skill to their sons, and so on.
    The guy on the first photo carries a basket full of rotten meat outside the city wall and summons hyenas with scary inhuman shouts. The beasts come and get their portion of stinking meat. For the greater effect the feeding is done mouth-to-mouth style...

    Hyena Feeding in Harar, Ethiopia
    > large image <
    Don't know why, maybe because of the brutal expression on my face, but this guy called me from the crowd of onlookers and asked if I wanted to perform the rite together with him. Next day Ethiopian drivers who worked as our guides greeted me with extra warmth, friendly hugs and handshakes, invited me to their families, offered me the best women. They told me they never saw a white guy feeding hyenas.

    Ethiopia
    They took me to a back room in the market to a woman who sells khat leaves. We sat down around her and chew the leaves. All that day I was glowing from inside out. My brain was crystal clear. I felt so good I loved everything and everybody around...

    Well, enough about khat. Here is a couple of more images of hyenas:
    Hyena Feeding in Harar, Ethiopia
    > large image <

    Hyena Feeding in Harar, Ethiopia

    Original here

    Masturbation 'cuts cancer risk'

    Prostate scans
    Researchers were assessing prostate cancer risk
    Men could reduce their risk of developing prostate cancer through regular masturbation, researchers suggest.

    They say cancer-causing chemicals could build up in the prostate if men do not ejaculate regularly.

    And they say sexual intercourse may not have the same protective effect because of the possibility of contracting a sexually transmitted infection, which could increase men's cancer risk.

    Australian researchers questioned over 1,000 men who had developed prostate cancer and 1,250 who had not about their sexual habits.

    This is a plausible theory
    Dr Chris Hiley, Prostate Cancer Charity
    They found those who had ejaculated the most between the ages of 20 and 50 were the least likely to develop the cancer.

    The protective effect was greatest while the men were in their 20s.

    Men who ejaculated more than five times a week were a third less likely to develop prostate cancer later in life.

    Fluid

    Previous research has suggested that a high number of sexual partners or a high level of sexual activity increased a man's risk of developing prostate cancer by up to 40%.

    But the Australian researchers who carried out this study suggest the early work missed the protective effect of ejaculation because it focussed on sexual intercourse, with its associated risk of STIs.

    Graham Giles, of the Cancer Council Victoria in Melbourne, who led the research team, told New Scientist: "Had we been able to remove ejaculations associated with sexual intercourse, there should have been an even stronger protective effect of ejaculations."

    The researchers suggest that ejaculating may prevent carcinogens accumulating in the prostate gland.

    The prostate provides a fluid into semen during ejaculation that activates sperm and prevents them sticking together.

    The fluid has high concentrations of substances including potassium, zinc, fructose and citric acid, which are drawn from the bloodstream.

    But animal studies have shown carcinogens such as 3-methylchloranthrene, found in cigarette smoke, are also concentrated in the prostate.

    'Flushing out'

    Dr Giles said fewer ejaculations may mean the carcinogens build up.

    "It's a prostatic stagnation hypothesis. The more you flush the ducts out, the less there is to hang around and damage the cells that line them."

    A similar connection has been found between breast cancer and breastfeeding, where lactating appeared to "flush out" carcinogens, reduce a woman's risk of the disease, New Scientist reports.

    Another theory put forward by the researchers is that ejaculation may induce prostate glands to mature fully, making them less susceptible to carcinogens.

    Dr Chris Hiley, head of policy and research at the UK's Prostate Cancer Charity, told BBC News Online: "This is a plausible theory."

    She added: "In the same way the human papillomavirus has been linked to cervical cancer, there is a suggestion that bits of prostate cancer may be related to a sexually transmitted infection earlier in life."

    Anthony Smith, deputy director of the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University in Melbourne, said the research could affect the kind of lifestyle advice doctors give to patients.

    "Masturbation is part of people's sexual repertoire.

    "If these findings hold up, then it's perfectly reasonable that men should be encouraged to masturbate," he said.

    Original here

    The diet that can treat epilepsy

    Giving drugs to children with epilepsy is often ineffective and can have terrible side-effects. But there is an alternative - a high-fat food plan that dramatically reduces seizures
    The diet might have spared him 24,000 seizures' ... Emma Williams with her son Matthew. Photograph: Martin Godwin


    Emma Williams was told her son Matthew wouldn't make it to the age of 12 on account of his severe epilepsy, or if he did he would need to be placed in a care home. He was only six when Emma heard this from the doctors treating him at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH). But thanks to a specialised diet he is now a happy 14-year-old with a normal life expectancy. "Before the diet he was having a hundred seizures a week," says Emma. "I knew that every seizure longer than five minutes causes brain damage - sometimes his lasted for an hour. He was regressing, losing his speech and ability to walk. My child was slipping away and we were all powerless to stop it."
    Matthew was one of the few to be placed on a medical trial at GOSH studying the effects of the Ketogenic diet in the treatment of childhood epilepsy. It is similar to the Atkins diet, in that it is high fat, with some protein and very low carb. This puts the body into a fat-burning state called ketosis, during which it produces chemical compounds called ketones, which stop the seizures. The diet had been used to treat epilepsy for many years but, with the arrival of epileptic drugs, it was sidelined. Now, thanks to this randomised control trial by paediatric neurologist Professor Helen Cross, it is undergoing a resurgence.

    Epilepsy is a common neurological disorder characterised by recurrent seizures when the normal working of the brain is interrupted. It affects around 200,000 children in the UK, a third of whom will be resistant to medication. "There is no doubt that this diet works in a significant amount of children," says Cross. "If you fail with the first two drugs then the likelihood of any other drug succeeding is about 10%. In those cases parents should be offered the diet before proceeding with other medications. Our trial, where all the children had not responded to medication, showed that 50% got more than 50% improvement in seizures, which shows a significant benefit over drugs."

    Families such as Matthew's live with the daily trauma of seizures, drop attacks (when a child loses muscle tone and falls to the floor) and absences (where they appear conscious but are not aware of anything around them). Epilim, benzodiazepines and Keppra are all commonly prescribed for epilepsy but, in Matthew's case, they did little to stop the seizures. According to Emma, the "benzos", a tranquiliser, left him like a drooling zombie and the Keppra made him violent and highly disruptive. "I was desperate. We were running out of options. I knew I might lose him for good. I'd asked our neurologist, when Matthew was two, if we could try the diet but was told it was too difficult to implement and they had no resources.

    "Matthew was eight by the time he got to try the diet. His first MRI brain scan at two showed he had no brain damage and they couldn't detect where the epilepsy was coming from. When he had his second MRI scan, before going on the diet, it showed that his brain was badly scarred from the seizures, which caused further seizures as well as brain damage. It's due to the brain damage that Matthew now can't walk. If he had got the diet in the first place, I worked out he might have been spared over 24,000 seizures."

    Within two weeks of being on the diet Matthew's seizures had reduced by 90%, and his behaviour had completely calmed down. "For the first time ever, aged eight, he said 'Mama'," recalls Emma. "It was the most amazing feeling. I now have what's left of my boy back."

    Emma is not the only parent to have met with resistance when asking for the diet. According to Cross, this is more likely due to lack of dietetic resources than lack of confidence in the diet. "There is knowledge among paediatric neurologists that it works. The problem is, we don't have enough resources and we need to have dedicated dieticians to implement it. I have the resources to have 30 children on the diet at any one time but I've still got a huge waiting list."

    Paula and Ian Yates from Bedfordshire found they had a fight on their hands when they wanted to put their son Harry on the diet. He had been diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy at the age of three. At first he had a seizure every couple of weeks, but once he started on the medications, he had seizures daily. "It was as if the drugs made him worse," says Paula. "Every time they upped his dose his seizures became more severe. Harry was losing his speech and the ability to walk. Within a few months he was having up to 50 drop attacks a day, he'd knocked seven of his teeth out falling down and had black eyes and a lacerated chin.

    "I was told by Harry's neurologist that he would never walk or talk, and that I couldn't expect anything from his life. But I had been told by other parents that after using the diet their children got better. One father contacted me through a support network for parents of children with this type of epilepsy and told me that his son had gone seizure-free and drug-free from this diet."

    Harry's condition continued to deteriorate. He had up to 100 seizures a day and was either completely floppy or twitching constantly. Paula went back to the consultant, asked again for the diet, and this time refused to take no for an answer. "Within three weeks of being on the diet Harry was happier and became more verbal. Once he was weaned off the drugs we saw an even bigger improvement. His seizures are reduced by 80% and, contrary to his prognosis, he can walk, talk and, better still, play in the playground with the other kids.

    Original here


    Look, no scars: organs removed via the mouth

    THE minister charged with overhauling the NHS is testing a new form of scar-free surgery in which diseased organs are pulled out through the patient’s throat.

    Professor Lord Darzi, chair of surgery at Imperial College London, has conducted preliminary experiments with the technique in which robotically controlled instruments are lowered into the patient’s stomach.

    A hole is made in the lining of the stomach, then the organ - usually an appendix or gall bladder - is cut out and pulled up through the throat before the hole is stitched, leaving the patient with no external scars and a reduced risk of infection because the wounds are not exposed to the air.

    The technique, called natural orifice translumenal endoscopic surgery, has been successfully used on patients in America, France and India. Darzi, who became a health minister last year, is one of the first surgeons in Britain to use the technique in experiments on pigs, before the first human tests.

    While admitting it was still “early days”, Darzi believes the probe could eventually be used to remove cancers.

    The main after-effects include a sore throat and an unpleasant taste in the mouth from having a diseased organ pulled through it.

    Other orifices could be used but Darzi said he believed the mouth was the most promising. He said some aspects of the procedure needed perfecting.

    “If we are going to enter through the stomach we need to develop the appropriate tools to make sure we can close the hole properly,” he said.

    Darzi’s team are developing a new surgical robot called the iSnake, which they hope will assist in the new procedure and in keyhole surgery.

    Other research projects on the new procedure are under way at hospitals around Britain. The first operations on patients in Britain are expected in three to four years.

    Original here

    The daily pill that can stop you snoring

    Common complaint: Snorers, and their loved ones, could soon be saved by a pill which if taken daily can cure the sleep disorder

    It is the cause of marital strife in the bedroom and many a lost night's sleep.

    Now scientists claim that taking a daily pill can curb a common snoring disorder affecting thousands of Britons. Researchers have begun trialling a drug which helps manage obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSA).

    The condition causes people to stop breathing intermittently during sleep and often snore very heavily. It can also make sufferers excessively tired and moody.

    About one in 20 middle-aged men and one in 50 women lose sleep because of severe forms of OSA.

    Typically, when OSA takes place, the upper airway becomes narrow as the muscles relax during sleep.

    This reduces oxygen in the blood and impairs restful sleep.

    The pill, known only by the codename BGC20-0166, is a combination of two existing drugs that affect areas of the brain associated with muscles in the airway and airflow.

    In the trial of 39 OSA patients, participants were given a placebo, one of the two drugs that make up the new compound, or one or two doses of BGC20-0166 daily for 28 days.

    The apnoea-hypopnea index - a measure of the frequency and severity of breathing pauses through the night - was recorded in overnight studies after 14 days and again after 28 days.

    Those who were taking the new pill showed a 40 per cent reduction in symptoms - with patients suffering no side-effects.

    Three out of ten people on the new drug had a 50 per cent reduction in symptoms.

    The drug is being developed by BTG, a life sciences company based in London and Philadelphia.

    Thomas Roth, director of the Sleep Disorders and Research Centre at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and an advisor to the BTG, said: "The results from this trial demonstrate the potential of this drug to decrease sleep apnoea in some patients and normalise it in others.

    "Future research is needed to precisely define the role of the drug."

    Current treatments for the syndrome include breathing masks worn in sleep which have recently been approved for use on the NHS.

    Michael Polkey, a specialist in sleep and respiratory medicine at the Royal Brompton Hospital, in London, said the initial results from the trial were encouraging.

    He said: "This is the first drug therapy which may have an affect without changing sleep architecture."

    However Marianne Davey, director of the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association, issued a warning. She said: "At the moment, the consensus is that there is no drug therapy that would be completely successful in treating OSA."

    Original here

    Study: Boomers to Flood Med System

    Millions of baby boomers are about to enter a health care system for seniors that not only isn't ready for them, but may even discourage them from getting quality care.

    "We face an impending crisis as the growing number of older patients, who are living longer with more complex health needs, increasingly outpaces the number of health care providers with the knowledge and skills to care for them capably," said John W. Rowe, professor of health policy and management at Columbia University.

    Rowe headed an Institute of Medicine committee that released a report Monday on the health care outlook for the 78 million baby boomers about to begin turning 65.

    The report from the institute, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, said:

    •There aren't enough specialists in geriatric medicine.

    •Insufficient training is available.

    •The specialists that do exist are underpaid.

    •Medicare fails to provide for team care that many elderly patients need.

    The study said Medicare may even hinder seniors from getting the best care because of its low reimbursement rates, a focus on treating short-term health problems rather than managing chronic conditions and lack of coverage for preventive services or for health care providers' time spent collaborating with a patient's other providers.

    The American Medical Association responded that seniors' access to Medicare in coming years "is threatened by looming Medicare physician payment cuts."

    "This July, the government will begin steep cuts in Medicare physician payments, and 60 percent of physicians say this cut will force them to limit the number of new Medicare patients they can treat," the AMA said in a statement.

    The report found there are about 7,100 doctors certified in geriatrics in the United States, one per every 2,500 older Americans.

    Turnover among nurse aides averages 71 percent annually, and up to 90 percent of home health aides leave their jobs within the first two years, the report said.

    But while today's elderly tend to be healthier and live longer than previous generations, people over 65 to have more complex conditions and health care needs than younger folks.

    The report urged that all health care workers be trained in basic geriatric care and that schools increase training in the treatment of older patients.

    The federally required minimum number of hours of training for direct-care workers should be raised from 75 to at least 120, the report said, noting that more training is required for dog groomers and manicurists than direct-care workers in many parts of the country.

    And it said pay for geriatric specialists, doctors, nurses and care workers needs to be increased.

    A doctor specializing in elderly care earned $163,000 on average in 2005 compared with $175,000 for a general internist, even though the geriatric specialist required more training.

    Original here

    FOOD PRICES RISING AT FASTEST RATE IN 17 YEARS

    SQUEEZING POOR IN NEW YORK CITY

    Steve Tarpin
    Steve Tarpin
    Story Bottom


    NEW YORK -- Steve Tarpin can bake a graham cracker crust in his sleep, but explaining why the price for his Key lime pies went from $20 to $25 required mastering a thornier topic: global economics.

    He recently wrote a letter to his customers and posted it near the cash register listing the factors - dairy prices driven higher by conglomerates buying up milk supplies, heat waves in Europe and California, demand from emerging markets and the weak dollar.

    The owner of Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pies in Brooklyn said he didn't want customers thinking he was "jacking up prices because I have a unique product."

    "I have to justify it," he said.

    The U.S. is wrestling with the worst food inflation in 17 years, and analysts expect new data due on Wednesday to show it's getting worse. That's putting the squeeze on poor families and forcing bakeries, bagel shops and delis to explain price increases to their customers.

    U.S. food prices rose 4 percent in 2007, compared with an average 2.5 percent annual rise for the last 15 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And the agency says 2008 could be worse, with a rise of as much as 4.5 percent.

    Higher prices for food and energy are again expected to play a leading role in pushing the government's consumer price index higher for March.

    Analysts are forecasting that Wednesday's Department of Labor report will show the Consumer Price Index rose at a 4 percent annual rate in the first three months of the year, up from last year's overall rise of 2.8 percent.

    For the U.S. poor, any increase in food costs sets up an either-or equation: Give something up to pay for food.

    "I was talking to people who make $9 an hour, talking about how they might save $5 a week," said Kathleen DiChiara, president and CEO of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. "They really felt they couldn't. That was before. Now, they have to."

    For some, that means adding an extra cup of water to their soup, watering down their milk, or giving their children soda because it's cheaper than milk, DiChiara said.

    U.S. households still spend a smaller chunk of their expenses for foods than in any other country - 7.2 percent in 2006, according to the USDA. By contrast, the figure was 22 percent in Poland and more than 40 percent in Egypt and Vietnam.

    In Bangladesh, economists estimate 30 million of the country's 150 million people could be going hungry. Haiti's prime minister was ousted over the weekend following food riots there.

    Original here

    12 Tips to Improve the Quality of Your Free Time

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    Are you happier at your job, or during your free time? Unless you’ve followed the research of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi you would probably be surprised at the actual answer. He conducted studies which recorded peoples current levels of happiness at random points both during work and off-hours.

    The surprising conclusion? People felt happier on the job, even though they said they would rather be at home.

    Csikszentmihalyi believes that this is because, even if they dislike their job, work provides a constructive environment. It has rules, challenges and can be formatted to focus your otherwise wandering attention. Leisure, without any structure, can become to boredom and apathy.

    A good portion of lifehack.org is devoted towards productivity. That means improving the quality of your working hours, so you can work less, get more done and achieve more on the job. But, what is the use of freeing up extra time from work if it will make you less happy?

    Is Your Free Time Boring?

    If Csikszentmihalyi and his research on the state of flow is any indication, the quality of most peoples free time is pitifully low. Worse, you might not even realize that your time off needs a checkup. This problem made me wonder how I could improve the quality of my own free-time.

    The solution for some people is just to fill their entire time with work. By making themselves incredibly busy, they never have to face boredom or the possibility of an unstructured environment. However, the downside of this is that this often becomes a deathmarch as commitments overload the amount of time you have in each day.

    The Art of Laziness - How to Be Happily Unproductive

    My solution to Csikszentmihalyi’s dilemma was to become better at structuring my free-time so it can be engaging, but doesn’t become more work. Here were a few of the ideas I’ve found successful in trying to master the art of laziness:

    1. Get a Hobby - Pick up a creative activity that doesn’t have any goals attached. This is something that you enjoy doing, but doesn’t have the looming deadlines, schedule or to-do lists that is common to your workplace. I know corporate executives that manage to squeeze twenty minutes a day into their hobby and love it.
    2. Learn a Skill - Learning can be incredibly enjoyable when there is no GPA, performance evaluations or letter grades. Try learning a new language, take up martial arts or learn public speaking.
    3. Store Opportunities - How often do you see a flyer for an event or activity, but dismiss it because you don’t have the time? My suggestion is to save those interesting activities so that you can apply them when you do have time. Prepare opportunities for your time off in advance.
    4. Write Your Book - I’ve heard statistics that say 8 out of 10 people would like to write a book in their lifetime. Perhaps now is the time to start working on the first draft. I’ve found personal projects like these can be an enjoyable diversion from the externally imposed goals of work or school.
    5. Exercise - If you don’t like running or going to the gym, don’t force yourself. But there are many different interesting sports and activities that can move your body. Exercising can releases hormones in your brain which improve your mood.
    6. Always Have a Book - Unsatisfied with channel flipping? Having a book (not just reading blogs) requires you to use your brain. Light reading can be a great way to stay engaged without burning yourself out.
    7. Use Your Social Circle - Csikszentmihalyi noticed that flow didn’t only come from work and mental tasks, but socializing as well. Conversing with friends is actually a fairly complex mental task, requiring you to read signals and body language, think fast and respond to comments.
    8. Games - Games have been around long before Nintendo came around. The prevalence of games in most cultures is probably because playing games is a challenging mental task that produces a state of flow. Learning and playing a game can provide an engaging environment without the stress.
    9. Create Something - Creativity is often seen as having good ideas. But if you look at the root word of creativity, create, then creativity can be seen as simply building something new. Pick something small, but meaningful, to create. Spending an hour or two working building something can be incredibly rewarding and enjoyable.
    10. Appreciate - I’m sure I’m not alone in that I like listening to music to relax. Improving upon this would be trying to go deeper into the music you are listening or the art you are looking at. Try to appreciate how different elements work together and build on each other. This can be a more engaging experience than simply building off your first impression.
    11. Be in the Now - Focus on whatever you are experiencing in the moment. This sounds trivial at first, but it is actually incredibly difficult to sustain. Being in the now is what Eckhart Tolle believes to be the secret to happiness. Concentrating on your muscles, senses or the environment around you takes mental effort when buffeted by distracting thoughts.
    12. Work on Yourself - I’m sure few of us can claim that 100% of our time is used exactly how we would like it to be. Commitments with work, family and school can mean that a sizable portion of your time is working on goals that aren’t entirely your own. Spending your free time working on yourself, your habits, your goals and your projects can take more energy but can ultimately make your free time more rewarding.
    Original here

    Council uses criminal law to spy on school place applicants

    A council yesterday admitted using laws designed to track serious criminals to spy on a family for nearly three weeks to find out if they were lying about living in a school catchment area.

    The family are angry after Poole borough council, in Dorset, revealed it had followed them and watched them at home to check whether they lived in the correct area for one of their three children, a three-year-old girl, to be accepted at a local school.

    The council used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to draw up a list of the mother's movements from February 13 to March 3, showing the times and exact routes of school runs with her children. She told the Bournemouth Echo that the record, shown to her by a school admissions manager, included detailed notes such as "female and three children enter target vehicle and drive off" and "curtains open and all lights on in premises".

    The authority said it had used such "physical surveillance" on six occasions under RIPA, which allows councils to carry out surveillance only if they suspect serious crimes, including terrorism.

    The mother, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "I have had nothing to say how long the information will be kept for, who holds it and what the implications of having an RIPA order executed against you are. I'm absolutely incensed. To be following us around for nearly three weeks, apart from being very creepy, is a huge infringement of my liberty. They could have contacted us or come and knocked on the door rather than opting for surveillance, which is completely underhand." The woman, who lived in the Parkstone area of Poole, said her daughter was having trouble sleeping because she feared "a man outside watching us".

    The surveillance took place because the family put their house up for sale but lived in it until the end of January to ensure their youngest daughter would qualify for the school. They later moved to another area of the town and their daughter was accepted at the school.

    The civil rights group Liberty called the spying "disproportionate" and "intrusive", while Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne called for council powers to be reduced. He said: "Using criminal powers to spy on parents is ridiculously over the top. Poole council officials should lie down in a darkened room until the urge to play James Bond passes. These powers are all too easily abused by the 653 public authorities entitled to use them. Their use should be reined back and restricted to important cases only."

    Tim Martin, Poole council's head of legal and democratic services, said: "The use of RIPA procedures ensures that surveillance is properly authorised and provides protection for the subject of the investigation. The council is keen to ensure that the information given by parents who apply for school places is true. This protects the majority of honest parents against the small number of questionable applications.

    "An investigation may actually satisfy the council that the application is valid, as happened in this case." The council said that on the six occasions it had used surveillance, three had related to suspected fraudulent applications for school admissions and two offers of school places had been withdrawn.

    The Home Office said the RIPA legislation did not appear to have been used inappropriately.

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