There was an error in this gadget

Followers

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mona Lisa’s Identity, Solved for Good?






Score another one for Occam’s razor: the sitter for the Mona Lisa was indeed named Lisa, according to German researchers. Lisa del Giocondo, to be exact. From Reuters:

Experts at the Heidelberg University library say dated notes scribbled in the margins of a book by its owner in October 1503 confirm once and for all that Lisa del Giocondo was indeed the model for one of the most famous portraits in the world.

“All doubts about the identity of the Mona Lisa have been eliminated by a discovery by Dr. Armin Schlechter,” a manuscript expert, the library said in a statement on Monday.

Mrs. Giocondo, whose maiden name was Gherardini, was married to a wealthy silk merchant in Florence and was first linked to the painting in 1550, about 50 years after it was finished. But doubts persisted and theories multiplied, including one about Mona Lisa being a man and another that she was Leonardo’s version of the ideal female, not a real person.

For all of those authors offering their theories, one expert had little sympathy after hearing the latest news. “One could even say that books written about all this in the past few years were unnecessary, had we known,” Frank Zoellner of Leipzig University told Reuters.

Among the unsurprised will be the staff of the Louvre, where the painting hangs. The museum doesn’t even have to change the masterpiece’s label — “Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo” — though it may decide to delete one line from the description of the painting on its web site: “Among the aspects which remain unclear are the exact identity of the sitter.”

If it is indeed time to move on from the Mona Who? identity mystery, many other conundrums about the portrait persist. Millions of annual visitors who will now have less need to check her ID can instead puzzle over her inscrutable, seemingly mutable gaze.

That particular mystery was explored in a 2000 Times article by Sandra Blakeslee, who asked, “What is with this lady’s face? How did the great painter capture such a mysterious expression?”

The answer she received from a Harvard neuroscientist: It isn’t the painting, it’s you. Or rather, the quirky way your brain processes images.

read more | digg story

Free LAX shuttle to In-In-Out Burgers


Stuck at LAX for a few hours on a layover and hankering for one of the best burgers in all of California? Well, you're in luck.

There's an In-N-Out Burger just around the corner from the airport, and Gadling knows a little trick to get you there for free.

An In-N-Out is located on nearby Sepulveda Boulevard right next to the Parking Spot--a parking structure that conveniently provides free shuttle service. All you have to do is wait under the red "Hotel and Courtesy Shuttle" sign outside of any airport terminal, and when the yellow and black polka-dotted Parking Spot shuttle swings by, jump on board. It will take you literally next door to In-N-Out. Follow your nose through the back door, across the parking lot, and right inside where you need to order a double-double and fries to enjoy the best layover of your life.

There are a few things to be very careful about, however.

First off, you need to make sure that you get on the Sepulveda Parking Spot shuttle; otherwise you will end up at the Parking Spot's Century location. Additionally, you should allow yourself at least two hours to be extra safe. The shuttles come pretty regularly and the drive is only five to ten minutes, but the line at In-N-Out can be as long as 20-30 minutes during peak hours. And then you've got to get back to the airport and through security once again.

Since we are unfairly exploiting the generosity of the Parking Spot here, I'd like to take a moment to recommend their services. I actually use them any time I am flying out of town for a few days. They are the one of the closest parking lots to the airport without actually being on airport grounds (and charging airport rates). They a little more expensive than some of the nearby lots, but the structure is clean, has security and friendly staff, and will even valet park your car if you are running late. And, most importantly, after a long flight you can enjoy an In-N-Burger before jumping in your car and driving home. Yum!

read more | digg story

America's Most Wired Cities


Pop quiz: What's America's most wired city? You might guess someplace in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles or San Diego. East Coast fans might bet on New York or even Chicago.

But you've got to head south.

For the second year in a row, Atlanta tops Forbes.com's survey of America's most wired cities in the U.S.

In Pictures: America's Most Wired Cities

A variety of factors boost the Big Peach's techno quotient. As the communications hub for the Southeast, Atlanta boasts regional headquarters for AT&T (nyse: T - news - people ) and Verizon (nyse: VZ - news - people ) and a bustling community of Internet-related start-ups. It's also home to BellSouth and EarthLink (nasdaq: ELNK - news - people )--a major promoter of citywide wireless networks until recent months--as well as cable giant Cox Communications. And it got an early jump on cutting-edge technology after spending millions to wire its downtown area for the 1996 Olympics.

Still, its leading status mystifies some. "It's a dynamic area with a lot of young people, but exactly why it's No. 1 is a mystery to me," notes telecom analyst Jeff Kagan, who coincidentally is a long-time resident of Atlanta.

Here are some clues. To calculate our list, we looked at the percentage of Internet users with high-speed access, the range of service providers within a city and the availability of public wireless hot spots. Atlanta ranks highest in broadband adoption, access options and fourth in wi-fi availability. According to Nielsen Online, 97.2% of the city's home Internet users accessed the Web via a high-speed connection in November.

Some obvious choices finished high on the list. Techie Seattle, home to Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ), came in second, one notch above last year. San Francisco, the closest major city to Silicon Valley, was fourth for the second time. Though rich in hot spots, both lagged behind other cities in broadband adoption. (It works the other way, as well: Boston ranks second in broadband but poorer showings in the other categories dragged it down to 13th overall.) Two other major metropolises, Chicago and New York, improved their standings from 17th to 8th and 12th to 9th, respectively, to make the top 10, driven by more widespread adoption of high-speed Internet.

Other top-10 finishers were more surprising, such as third-place Raleigh, N.C. Raleigh Chief Information Officer Gail M. Roper attributes the city's strong showing to its thriving entrepreneurial culture, technology initiatives, major universities and fast-growing, highly-educated population. As CIO of Kansas City, Mo., (No. 22) from 1996 to 2006, Roper focused on digital-divide issues, working to improve youth and student access to the Internet. In Raleigh, she is considering building a citywide wi-fi network to expedite public services, cut telecom costs and deliver tourism information.

Fifth-place Orlando, Fla., and Baltimore also aren't top-of-mind when it comes to Internet initiatives. But Orlando, home to tourist-magnet Disney World, has "people coming in from all over--it has to be wired," explains Kagan. Baltimore vaulted to a 16th-place finish as the number of broadband providers and the adoption of those services rose dramatically last year.

Los Angeles wasn't as lucky. The entertainment capital suffered the biggest drop, plummeting from No. 11 to No. 27, based on lackluster results in all three categories, particularly in the number of broadband access providers. Close competition makes the tumble look worse than it is. First-place Atlanta is home to 17 broadband providers, while Los Angeles, with only 11, now ranks 25th in access options this year. Houston, Cleveland and Detroit dropped off the list completely, allowing newcomers Denver (No. 17), Indianapolis (No. 24) and Milwaukee (No. 28) to make their debut.

Measuring a city's "wired-ness" is an imperfect science. New York's less-wired outer boroughs weigh down its overall ranking. Some new initiatives aren't yet reflected in the data we used. Several lower-ranked cities, like Philadelphia (No. 26), are building wireless networks that provide wi-fi to downtown areas. In New York, CBS (nyse: CBS - news - people ) is constructing hot spots in midtown Manhattan (See "NYC's Biggest Hot Spot.")

Start-up Meraki recently announced it would offer free high-speed wireless Internet throughout San Francisco by the end of 2008. Top-ranked Atlanta, meanwhile, has seen plans for such a system fizzle in recent months. The ubiquity of such wi-fi networks is difficult to quantify and not measured in our wireless hot spot data.

Longer term, the outcome of the Federal Communications Commission spectrum auction, which is pitting traditional telecom companies against newcomers, including Internet titan Google (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people ), will also have a major impact on the availability of wireless service throughout the U.S. (For more on the auctions, see “Phoning In Wireless Dreams” and “Google’s Wireless World.”)

Though hot spots are sprouting across the country, as major wi-fi provider Wayport powers more than 10,000 in hotel chains, airports and McDonald's (nyse: MCD - news - people ), most Americans still rely on phone and cable firms for their Web access. Nearly half (47%) of adult Americans had a broadband connection at home in March 2007, representing 12% year-over-year growth, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Of those users, 70% had a broadband connection, while 23% used dial-up. A separate Pew study done in December 2006 found that 19% of Internet users have wireless networks in their homes.

Those figures may be upended soon. "Broadband adoption is starting to plateau," says Bruce McGregor, senior analyst of Digital Home Services for market researcher Current Analysis. Telephone companies have traditionally offered digital subscriber lines (DSL) at lower prices while cable firms charged premiums for faster connections. But these days, the broadband industry's focus is bundling services, such as voice, data and TV together for a reduced price.

The new model is pitting telcos against cable providers. AT&T and Verizon have spent the past two years or so upgrading to super-speedy, fiber-optic networks. Verizon's FiOS has had a significant impact in the areas where it is offered, says McGregor, with the company selling service to 6.5 million households by the end of September 2007. AT&T says it will aggressively expand its competing service, U-verse, to 30 million homes by 2010. Meanwhile, Sprint Nextel (nyse: S - news - people ) still appears committed to roll out a nationwide high-speed wireless network using its WiMAX technology sometime this year.

To compile our list, we began with top markets in broadband adoption as determined by Internet market research firm Nielsen Online. Utilizing Nielsen market data eliminated some large, tech-savvy cities, such as San Jose, Calif. (Nielsen aggregates San Jose data with the San Francisco market area, and so San Jose's broadband can't be accessed separately.) We also dropped cities that didn't make the U.S. Census Bureau's top 100 list, including Salt Lake City and Hartford, Conn. We then calculated the number of service providers per city using statistics from the FCC and wi-fi hot spots per capita via public hot spot directory JiWire.

More accurate data may be on its way. A "broadband census" bill proposed by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and passed by the House of Representatives in November asks the FCC to collect more detailed information on the price and speed of broadband service and the number of subscribers in a particular zip code. That could mean a radically different list in 2009.

read more | digg story

Airline Industry trying to kill new Passenger Rights law

AIRLINE PASSENGERS going through New York now have something other put-upon travelers around the country don't have: a bill of rights. The airline industry wants to kill this first-in-the-nation law. It has only itself to blame for being in this position.

The New York law sprang from the horrendous events of last Valentine's Day. That's when a freak ice storm wreaked havoc on New York-area airports, and some passengers were trapped on airplanes for up to 10 hours with no water, food or working bathrooms. Airlines canceled flights by the hundreds and stranded thousands of people. What made matters worse was the lack of information from the carriers.

Congress was indignant and promised action that has yet to come. Just before Thanksgiving, the White House called on the airlines "to adopt legally binding contingency plans for lengthy tarmac delays." JetBlue, which failed miserably on that frosty February day, and some other airlines have done so. But not all of them have. Enter the Empire State.

If a flight is delayed three hours or more at John F. Kennedy or LaGuardia airports, the law requires the airlines to make fresh air, lights, functioning restrooms and "adequate food and drinking water" available. The law creates an airline consumer advocate office, which would investigate complaints. The state attorney general can slap the airlines with a penalty of up to $1,000 for every violation verified by the new watchdog. The Air Transport Association, whose membership hauls 90 percent of the passenger and cargo traffic in the country, has sued, arguing -- not illogically -- that airline regulation is a federal job.

The airlines find themselves facing regulation because they have not lived up to their promises to hold themselves accountable. Flight delays last year were the worst since records started being kept in 1995. The numbers of lost, damaged, stolen or delayed bags were at record levels also. Complaints from the public were up almost 40 percent between November 2006 and November 2007. Government micromanagement of airline operations is far from ideal. But it's hard to drum up much sympathy for the industry.

read more | digg story

Smithsonian: 28 Places To See Before You Die


"We are all of us resigned to death: it's life we aren't resigned to," novelist Graham Greene once wrote. A growing number of Americans of all ages are embracing that idea by renewing a resolve to live life to its fullest.

Exhibit A is the recent popularity of "life lists"—itineraries of things to do and places to go before taking the ultimate trip to the Great Beyond. Bookstores brim with titles such as 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die and—for the high-minded—Fifty Places to Go Birding Before You Die. A cottage industry of Web sites has also popped up, enabling life list enthusiasts to exchange ideas ranging from learning Japanese to getting a tattoo. Now even Hollywood has gotten into the act, with the release this month of the film The Bucket List, in which two cancer patients, played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, break out of their medical ward and embark on a life list road trip that includes dining on expensive caviar and gambling in Monte Carlo.

Life list experts (yes, there are such beings) advise people not to set themselves up for disappointment by trying to accomplish too much. (When's the last time you completed your daily to-do list?) With the entire world to choose from, the maxim "so much to do, so little time" takes on added meaning.

To that end, the staff of Smithsonian—as diverse a group of travelers as you're likely to meet—put their heads together to come up with an exclusive list of 28 places the Smithsonian reader might wish to visit before ...it's too late. Some of the sites are portals into the past—ancient cities so well preserved that visiting them is like stepping into a previous century. Others feature feats of engineering or sublime works of art—or, in the cases of the Taj Mahal and Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, both. Travelers can visit temples and churches so breathtaking they must have been built with divine inspiration. For the more adventurous, we offer rewards beyond mere sightseeing—from a three-day hike across the Grand Canyon to a ride along China's Yangtze River.

While all of these destinations beckon year-round, there are places where timing matters: many travelers are at a loss for words after witnessing the sun rise over Machu Picchu or seeing Iguazu Falls by the light of a full moon. And, appropriately, some of our sites now confront their own mortality—endangered by pollution or just worn down, like a few of us, by the passage of time.

Whether you visit only a couple of these destinations or all 28, your life will be enriched by the experience. And if along the way you want to gorge on caviar or get a tattoo, that's entirely up to you.

read more | digg story

Break the Arugment Cycle Once and for All


After a big fight with your spouse, co-worker, family member, or house-mate, you swear to yourself that you're not going to let anger get the best of you again. But then what happens the next time? You bump into this person somewhere and immediately your physiology and your mindset to change. You can feel your mood begin to sour like lemon juice being poured into milk. Your face transforms to stone, your body tenses, and your mind braces for the expected aggravation. Where does this leave you? Primed for your next argument!

Why does this happen? The biggest factor is our expectations:
  • We expect this person to do things that will bother us.
  • We replay the last argument in our mind and expect a repeat.
  • We want and expect that the person should change the behaviors that get under our skin.
We know they won't, so we envision the next fight without even realizing it. In fact we're gunning for it and part of us, if we're completely honest with ourselves, we would actually be a bit disappointed if we were wrong. So we cling onto any little shred that proves our expectations right, and then we launch into fight mode for which we have prepared so well. We set ourselves up for failure.


Breaking the Cycle
So, how can we break the argument cycle? It's really quite simple. Change your expectations. Is it easy? No, but you can do it. How? Write down what the person does that bothers you. Why does it bother you? How can you re-frame these experiences so that they don't set you off? Try to understand why the other person does the things that they do and figure out how you can melt your irritation. Let's look at an example.

Let's say that every evening when you come home from work, your spouse launches into a tirade of complaints, negative comments, and problems she needs solved. After years of this, you now have a very low set-point for starting an argument when this happens. You feel she should greet you with a smile, some positive energy, and save the problem requests for after dinner. You've worked hard all day, fought your way home through traffic, and the last thing you want to be greeted with is more problems. You get mad because you've asked her not to do this many times. She thinks you don't care. The scenario keeps repeating. So how can you make the situation better without her changing?

Change your expectations. Expect that your spouse will not be changing. Put yourself in your spouse's shoes. Why does she complain and discuss problems as soon as you get home? Maybe it's because she is tired and frustrated and is looking for support. Stop expecting your wife to change this habit. Instead, find a way to understand it and change how you view it. Ask yourself how you could use this opportunity to love and support her. Once you change how you see the situation, you will be able to stop the automatic anger response. It's a choice inside of you.

Obviously, you could also discuss together ways to change this pattern, and that might help too. But there will always be things about people that we don't like and that most likely we can't change.
  • Why does Joe always make projects bigger than they need to be?
  • Why does Karen always buy more things than she needs?
  • Why can't Louis stop working so hard?
  • Why is Mary always late?
Instead of being irritated by these things, accept them. Try to focus your thoughts on all the good things about that person. Don't try to change them. If they ask for help, go ahead and help, but if they don't, just accept who they are. If there is a behavior that is unacceptable to you then you may need to move on from the relationship. But if it's something that only irritates you, try to see if you can shift your focus and simply enjoy that person instead, like you did when you first knew them.

Other Helpful Tips

1. Become aware of your triggers. Here are some common ones that may be affecting you: exhaustion, pain, worry, too much caffeine, sugar, alcohol, hormonal changes, and stress. Do you experience any of these before an argument? What are the precursors that lead up to an argument for you?

2. Establish ways to handle those triggers ahead of time. Once you are in touch with what sets you off, you can establish a plan to head off those triggers before they cause you to lose emotional control. So, for instance, if you know that you are more likely to get into an argument when you arrive home from work exhausted, you might want to change something in your routine. Maybe you meditate in your office or your car before you go home. Maybe you ask your spouse for 20 minutes of quiet time alone before greeting each other. Or maybe you get more sleep. The key with whatever plan you design is to come up with a solution to quell your triggers before they can get the best of you.

3. Walk away if your emotions are in the red zone. You probably know the difference between being mildly irritated and being flaming mad. If your emotions are really hot, then walk away to release that energy in a way that won't cause harm. Maybe you go for a walk. Maybe you call a confidant who is good at listening and helping you to return to a reasonable state of mind. Maybe you write things down so you can clearly understand what caused you to get angry in the first place. That's when solutions for moving forward in a positive manner will become evident.

4. Discuss solutions later when your emotions have cooled. Keep in mind that the person may not be able or willing to change. The solution may need to be a change in you and how you perceive the situation.

Here are a couple reference articles that may also be helpful:
Do you have a success story about how you were able to break an argument cycle? How did you do it? We'd love to hear from you!

read more | digg story

3 Basic Steps to Get Your Desire with the Least Effort


How can we get what we want? The book Simpleology contains five laws to help you get what you want:

  1. The Law of Straight Lines: The shortest path between two points is a straight line. If you want to get a particular result, take the fastest and most direct route. Don’t add any extra steps.
  2. The Law of Clear Vision: In order to hit a target, you need to see it clearly. You must have a clear vision of exactly what you want in order to get it.
  3. The Law of Focused Attention: In order to hit a target, you must focus sufficient attention on it until you hit it.
  4. The Law of Focused Energy: In order to accomplish something you must focus sufficient energy on it until you have done so.
  5. The Inescapability of Action/Reaction: There are two things from which you can never escape: action and reaction.

All these laws are useful. After spending some time to ponder them, I think we can summarize them into three basic steps you should do to get your desire with the least effort:

1. Know exactly what you want

While I’m sure most of us have an idea about what we want, I don’t think many of us know exactly what we want. For instance, if you want to have your own business, do you know what kind of business you want to build? How will it look - in detail - several years from now?

To know exactly what we want, a helpful practice is visualization. We should visualize the situation we want to achieve. Imagine how it looks, how it sounds, and how people’s life is changed by it.

Knowing exactly what you want will help you determine whether or not something you encounter could help you. If you don’t know what you want, it is much easier to get distracted by irrelevant things along the way. But if you know exactly what you want, you will see clearly whether or not something is relevant.

2. Always follow a straight line

Do only the things that bring you closer to your destination. Do not waste your time to do extra things which will make it longer to reach your goal.

There might be things you do, perhaps even daily, that take you away from your goal

This, unfortunately, is easier said than done. Without realizing it, you might have some habits which do not bring you closer to your goal. There might be things you do, perhaps even daily, that take you away from your goal. They make you follow a curved line instead of a straight one.

For instance, maybe your goal is increasing the amount of your saving by, say, 100%. However, you still spend $5 daily to get your favorite coffee and snack. If we assume that there are 30 days a month, $5 daily will become $150 a month and $1800 a year, a substantial amount. As you can see, this habit doesn’t help you reach your goal.

So, in whatever you do, it is wise to ask: "Is it a straight line?" And when the answer is no, you should stop doing it.

3. Sharpen your saw

While doing things which brings you closer to your goal is important, you will waste a lot of time and energy if you do not do them with a "sharp saw". It’s dangerous to be busy; we may work too hard trying to make things happen without realizing that our saw has become blunt. In such situation we could work very hard but accomplish very little. You might then be surprised when someone else - who seem to work less than you do - surpass your achievements.

A good way to know whether or not you have a sharp saw is by watching yourself. Can you accomplish much in a given amount of time? Does your creativity flow well? Are you now in - or close to - your peak performance?

If the answer is no, then you need to sharpen your saw. The action you should take depends on your situation. Perhaps you need to take some time away from your work, or perhaps you need to learn a new tool. Examine your situation, and do what it takes to bring you back to peak performance. The time investment to sharpen your saw is well worth it. With a sharp saw, you will be able to achieve more with less time and energy.

read more | digg story

Columbus Carried Syphilis From New World to Europe


But in a new wrinkle, the research suggests the disease may not have been transmitted through sex until it adapted to the environment in Europe.

"It evolved this whole new transmission mode, and it didn't take very many genetic changes," said study lead author Kristin Harper, a graduate student at Emory University. "What this tells us is that new transmission modes may evolve pretty rapidly. This is important to us today, because we're worried about things like avian influenza going from human to human."

Syphilis is usually easily treated today, typically with antibiotics such as penicillin. But U.S. health officials have failed in their efforts to eliminate it; minorities and gay men have been among those most likely to be infected.

Then there's the long-running controversy over how syphilis found its way to Europe, where it spread havoc for centuries. One theory holds that the disease was already in Europe before the explorer Columbus returned, but people didn't diagnose it correctly, Harper said.

The most familiar theory suggests that syphilis came to the Europe via frisky sailors on the Columbus expedition, and historical records suggest the disease did appear on the continent in 1495, three years after Columbus set sail for what proved to be the New World.

Harper and her colleagues tried to track the evolution of syphilis by examining genes from it and other diseases related to the pathogen known as Treponema.

The researchers looked at 21 genetic regions in strains of the pathogen from 26 parts of the world. Treponema causes syphilis and a disease known as yaws, a "flesh-eating" infection of the joints, bones and skin found in tropical regions.

According to the study authors, the results of their genetic research reveal that the syphilis strains appeared most recently and are most closely related to strains that cause yaws in South America.

But in a twist, the study results also suggested that yaws first appeared not in the New World but in the Old World, Harper said.

In essence, she said, the theory goes something like this: Yaws appeared in Africa and eventually made its way to South America and the New World as humans migrated. Then the germs made their way to Europe with the help of sailors and may have evolved into the venereal disease known as syphilis, perhaps because of different environmental conditions.

"It's especially neat when I think about contacts between Europeans and Native Americans," Harper said. "As far as diseases go, it seemed like a one-way street: Europeans brought measles and smallpox (to the Indians). But this is an example of disease going the other way. That seems kind of fair."

The findings are published in the Jan. 15 issue of the Public Library of Science Neglected Tropical Diseases.

The new research makes sense to Dr. Bruce Rothschild, professor of medicine at the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, who's studied the evolution of syphilis by examining skeletal remains.

"It confirms everything we've done," he said. "When you've got two sets of totally different diagnostic techniques that come up with the same answer, that really increases the power of the technique."

read more | digg story

12 Scientifically-Proven Fitness Tricks to Up 'Burn Rate'


Up your burn with these scientifically proven fitness tricks.

Tired of plugging away at the gym without seeing the pounds disappear? We found simple tricks that will transform your usual regimen into the ultimate fat-blasting routine. Whether you use just two of these strategies or all seven, our insider tips will help you get the calorie-burn you deserve.

Know this: “You’ll be able to comfortably work out longer and harder if you’re cool,” says Len Kravitz, PhD, coordinator of exercise science at the University of New Mexico. “Being too hot stresses your body out, so you don’t perform as well.” Translation: You burn less fat.

Do this: When exercising at home, put a fan in front of your workout area. Hitting the gym? Wait to use the treadmill that has a fan built into the console.

Know this: “Wearing a heart-rate monitor makes it easier to burn more body fat by showing just how hard you’re really working,” Kravitz says. “Keeping your heart rate in the right zone prevents you from slacking off, so you make the most of every minute.”

Do this: Invest in a heart-rate monitor and wear it every time you exercise. We love Life Fitness’s new Dual Watch and Heart Rate Monitor ($60; at CVS stores nationwide). It’s simple to program and use. It doesn’t require an uncomfortable chest strap—just touch the face with your fingertips. And it comes in a variety of sizes, too.

Know this: “Warming up for five minutes before each workout helps you lose more weight,” says Heather Dillinger, an IDEA Health and Fitness Association elite-level personal-fitness trainer. “It not only makes your muscles more pliable but also increases their range of motion, so you end up using more muscle fibers as you exercise.”

Do this: Choose a warm-up routine that hits all of your muscles, not just your legs. The easiest option: Do three to five minutes of low-intensity walking while pumping your arms back and forth.

Know this: “Saving your energy for the end of your cardio workout may prevent you from losing as much weight as you can,” says metabolism expert Dixie Stanforth of the department of kinesiology and health education at the University of Texas at Austin.

Do this: Instead of starting out slow and then finishing up strong, do your high-intensity cardio early in your workout. After doing your warm-up, try exercising at a high intensity for 15 minutes before slowing down to a more moderate pace for the last 15 minutes.

Know this: “Two smaller workouts can be more effective than one,” Stanforth reveals. That’s because every time you do high-intensity exercise, your metabolism stays revved for an hour or more afterward. Splitting up your workout boosts your metabolism twice, giving you additional calorie-burning time from the exact same routine.

Do this: Divide your workout into two smaller, high-intensity sessions—preferably, doing one in the morning and one at night.

Know this: If you’re convinced that you’re melting fat while exercising, you’ll make a mind-body connection that will actually help you lose fat faster, Dillinger explains. In a 2007 Harvard study, participants who believed they were getting a good workout showed greater reductions in body fat than subjects who performed the same activities but didn’t feel like they were really exercising.

Do this: The next time you do anything active, remind yourself every few minutes that you’re giving it your all. This little mental move may moti-vate you to push yourself harder, leading to even greater fat loss.

Know this: “The less time you rest between sets when strength training, the more calories you’re likely to burn,” Dillinger notes. “Keeping rest periods short keeps your heart rate at a higher rate, which naturally increases the number of calories you’re using.”

Do this: The best rule of thumb is to take only a 30-second break between sets (meaning you’ll need a watch with a second hand).

read more | digg story

Train Your Eyes to See Color, Again



focus-color.jpg
Photo: Marina Burity

There are many reasons why we don’t always get what we want. One of these reasons is because we focus on the opposite of what we want. Sometimes, we just can’t help it. But, if we are conscious of our thoughts, we can intercept these thoughts and shift our frame of mind towards our desired goals.

Have you ever been particularly annoyed by a person or situation? The more we complain about it, the more we notice it. The more we notice it, the worse it becomes. The next time we interact with that person or situation, we almost expect to be annoyed and thus subconsciously look for those small triggers that’ll make us annoyed.

In a similar example of an opposite scenario: Have you ever shopped for a particular kind of car which you’ve never noticed before? For example, a black SmartCar or a silver Toyota Prius. And suddenly, you see them everywhere? Similarly, have you shopped for a particular piece of clothing, let’s say a blazer style jacket for the spring, and suddenly you notice them everywhere?

Whether we focus on things we want or do not want, the truth is that What we focus on expands.

From my experience, dreams do come true, for the sole reason that the more you focus on something, the more of it you’ll notice and you’ll be particularly sensitive to opportunities that’ll come your way which will allow your dreams to become your reality.

Try It For Yourself! A Simple Exercise

Not convinced of what I’m saying? That’s cool. I still like you. :) But before you throw your hands up, try this simple yet powerful exercise. It’s so simple, you could do it anywhere.

1. Next time you are walking or driving somewhere, or sitting on the bus or a car. Remember to do this.

2. Pick a color and focus on it. Look for that color in your field of vision as you’re moving about. For example, focus on the color red.

3. Do this for several minutes. Do you notice this color in so many places?

4. Pick another color and focus on it. Forget about the first color, just focus on the second. For example, try the color green.

5. Continue for several minutes. Scan your surroundings. Do you suddenly notice your second color popping up everywhere?

6. Repeat several times using different colors each time.

Pretty cool huh? As simple or as silly this may sound, it’s a powerful exercise that I like to play around with. Each time we shift our focus on a new color, it feels like a shift in vision, or putting on special glasses that only filters this color.

I first learned about this cute technique from my mother. We were in the car and I was particularly annoyed about something and I started acting like an unreasonable child. She used this exercise to remind me that focusing on thoughts of frustration will only makes our frustrations stronger. I was deeply touched by the experience. I learned that we can proactively shift our thoughts by shifting our focus. A shift in our thoughts will shift our emotions, almost instantly.

Practices in Real Life

So, how can I put this into practice? Great question! There are many situations where you can benefit by putting your power of focus into practice. The following are some practical suggestions.

  • Annoying People - It’s inevitable that we will interact with people who frustrate us. Instead of focusing on why they are frustrating us or the feelings of frustration, focus on things we admire about them. It might take some practice, but start it the next time you are in their presence. Look for things you like about them and what you admire about them. Perhaps they have nice shoes, or a nice smile, or their work ethic is admirable. Focus on that and look for more to focus on.
  • Frustrating Situations - When situations do not favor our expectations, it can be super frustrating. But, the more we think about how annoyed we are, the more red-eyed and anger-consumed we become, which is not helping the situation or your health. Focus on the positives of a situation. Make an effort to pick them out. I know this can be tough to do, but just start. Look for things that you learned or enjoyed about the situation.

    A personal story: More than a year ago, I traveled from Tibet to Nepal with my friends Jonathan and his wife Soyan. What should have been an easy 4 hour cab ride into the capital turned into a 10 hour ordeal resulting in 6 separate rides that got us into the city safely. It was a deeply frustrating and stressful situation, but amongst it all, we got to see the warmth of people from rural Nepal, and had a unique and enriching cultural experience.

  • Feeling Sick - When we don’t feel physically well, do you notice that we like to tell ourselves that we’re not feeling well? We like to tell anyone at any opportunity that “I’m sick”. While you are entitled to saying anything you like, what will actually help you get better is by focusing on being healthy. Enjoy this time as your body rests and recovers. Focus on the image of you in perfect health.
  • ‘I Hate My Job’ - I’ve heard of this from many others and have repeated it myself when the moments get rough. The result is always the same: as I find more reasons to dislike my job, I feel even more discontent. In these moments, I have a tendency to forget just how lucky and privileged I am to have such a job. My focus on the pain puts into a negative downward spiral.

    Start to pick out and focus on things you enjoy about your job and all the wonderful opportunities you are afforded through it. Create a list of personal benefits from your job, and then focus on each point. For example: financial security, time flexibility, creative expression, feeling of empowerment when completing a project, inspirational co-workers, learning opportunities, chances to help others, health insurance, stock options, etc.

  • Jealousy of Other People - When we judge other people as better off than we are, it becomes easy to get caught up in feelings of jealousy, which are self-destructive. Instead of focusing on why others are undeserving, choose to understand what makes them deserving. Highlight what they’ve done well and reasons why they have been successful. Now use these insights as a source of inspiration to help yourself excel.
  • Stuck at the Airport, Missing a Flight or Losing Your Luggage - Most problems with traveling are frustrating experiences, especially when leaving home already puts us outside of our comfort zone. Focusing on how frustrating it is will only make us feel worse, and only for yourself. Focus on qualities that are empowering about the experience. How can you make the experience a positive one? For example, you can perhaps focus on:
    • “I have an extra few hours to catch up on reading.”
    • This has become a really great opportunity to meet a new friend.
    • “At least I’m still alive. I’m breathing and all. The flight delay is to ensure my safety and I am thankful for that.”
    • “Yes, delaying my luggage is inconvenient, but at least they’ll deliver it for free and I don’t have to wait at the airport for them.”
  • ‘I don’t have enough time for…” - Have you heard of yourself start a sentence like this? And then waste time on unproductive tasks like browsing the web, chatting with a friend, writing verbose emails, channel surfing on the TV. I’ve been there! You and I both know it is an excuse to avoid doing something we don’t want to do. (*wink*) If something was important enough, we can create time to make it happen. Instead of saying “I don’t have enough time for X” and then brushing it off, practice saying “How can I create time to do X?”, “How can I make this a reality? How can I free some time from my schedule?”.
  • Fear of Failure - The more we focus on the object of our fear, the more powerful the feeling is. Life rarely turns out as bad as we anticipate. Focusing on the worst possible outcome is extremely stressful. Whether it’s asking someone out on a date, or giving a presentation to an audience, it does not help to tell yourself that “I’m afraid I’m going to fail” or “What if I’ll look stupid? I might as well not try.” Instead, focus on what it is that you do want. Focus, by repeating what you want in a present tense statement. Example, “I am confident and knowledgeable about this topic and I can give a kick ass presentation. It’s a breeze!”
read more | digg story

He was bad, so they put an ice pick in his brain...

At the age of 12, Howard Dully was given a lobotomy, one of thousands performed by the notorious Dr Walter Freeman in the 1940s and 1950s. Now Dully has written a forceful account of his survival and sheds light on the man who subjected him to one of the most brutal surgical procedures in medical history

Elizabeth Day
Sunday January 13, 2008
The Observer


When Howard Dully met the man who was to change his life for ever, he was not sure what to make of him. He was 11 at the time and paid little attention to the mysterious adult world that surrounded him, to the decisions taken without his knowledge or to the profound impact that Dr Walter Freeman would have on his pre-adolescent existence. Instead, with a child's eye, he noticed the small physical quirks - the round-rimmed glasses, the dapper suit, the well-trimmed goatee. 'It made him look a little like a beatnik,' Dully says. 'He was warm, personable and easy to get along with. Was I fearful? No. I had no idea what he was going to do with me.'

Dully was a withdrawn boy who liked riding his bicycle and playing chess. He occasionally fought with his brother, disobeyed his parents and stole sweets from the kitchen cupboards. He had a weekly paper round and was saving up to buy a record player. According to Dr Freeman's meticulous records, Dully was 62 inches tall and weighed 6½ stone. He was an average child, perhaps a little unruly but nothing that would strike one as exceptional for a boy of his age.

But Howard Dully would soon become exceptional for all the wrong reasons. Barely two months after this first meeting, his father and stepmother had him admitted to a private hospital in his home town of San Jose, California. At 1.30pm on 16 December 1960, he was wheeled into an operating theatre and given a series of electric shocks to sedate him. That much he remembers. The rest is murky.

When Dully woke the next day, his eyes were swollen and bruised and he was running a high fever. He recalls a severe pain in his head and the discomfort of his hospital gown, which gaped open at the back. He had no idea what had happened. 'I was in a mental fog,' Dully says. 'I was like a zombie; I had no awareness of what Freeman had done.'

What he didn't know was that he had been subjected to one of the most brutal surgical procedures in medical history. He had undergone a lobotomy and no one, not his parents, not the medical community or the state authorities, had intervened to stop it. More disturbingly, there seemed to have been no obvious necessity for the operation.

If Dully appeared superficially vacant or mildly aggressive, there were some obvious explanations. His mother died of cancer when he was five and his father, Rodney, later remarried to a 'cold and demanding' woman called Lou, who found her new stepson's natural ebullience and physical strength almost impossible to control. Relations between the two deteriorated so that Dully grew up in an atmosphere of emotional abuse and casual neglect. He was given regular beatings and forced to eat meals on his own. Increasingly convinced that there was something emotionally wrong with her stepson, Lou started consulting psychiatrists and mental health experts before eventually being referred to Dr Freeman, a renegade physician disowned by the mainstream establishment, who ran a private practice in Los Altos, just outside San Francisco. Freeman diagnosed Dully as a schizophrenic.

'He is clever at stealing, but always leaves something behind to show what he's done,' Freeman recorded in his notes from October 1960. 'If it's a banana, he throws the peel at the window; if it's a candy bar, he leaves the wrapper around some place... he does a good deal of daydreaming and when asked about it he says, "I don't know." He is defiant at times - "You tell me to do this and I'll do that." He has a vicious expression on his face some of the time.'

Discarded sweet wrappers, daydreaming spells and the odd glimpse of youthful defiance - it would appear to be a relatively innocuous list, but it was enough for Freeman. Eight weeks after the doctor first saw him, Dully came round from his operation in a state of numbed confusion. The hospital report stated that he had been given a 'transorbital lobotomy. A sharp instrument was thrust through the orbital roof on both sides and moved so as to sever the brain pathways in the frontal lobes'. Dr Freeman's bill came to $200. Dully was his youngest-ever patient; extraordinarily, he survived.

'People freak out when they realise the person they are talking to had a lobotomy,' he says now, 47 years later, sitting under the corrugated iron awning outside his trailer home on the outskirts of San Jose. 'They expect me to be drooling.'

Over the years, the lobotomy has become almost a caricature of itself, a cultural shorthand that immediately conjures up images of zombies or dribbling madmen. Even the word itself sounds freakish and unwieldy, like an ill-judged verbal joke. For most people, it remains indelibly associated with dramatic invention: with the dazed, incoherent character of Catherine in Tennessee Williams's Suddenly Last Summer or with Jack Nicholson's Oscar-winning performance as a deranged asylum inmate in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

But for a time in the 1930s and Forties, the procedure was at the forefront of neurosurgery, viewed by the medical establishment as a cutting-edge treatment for mental illness. Before the introduction of antipsychotic drugs or the popularisation of psychotherapy, the lobotomy was touted as a miracle cure for anything from schizophrenia to postnatal depression - and not just in the United States. Neurologists in the UK are estimated to have carried out 50,000 variants of the operation, until the late 1970s.

Derek Hutchinson, a 62-year-old grandfather, underwent a lobotomy in 1974 - without his consent, he says - at the hands of surgeon Arthur E Wall while a patient at the High Royds Asylum near Leeds. Unlike Dully, Hutchinson was awake throughout his operation, which a psychiatrist had insisted would curb his aggressive tendencies.

'What did it feel like?' he says from his home in Leeds. There is a long exhalation of breath on the end of the phone, halfway between a gasp and a sigh. 'It's a situation you should only go through once in your life and that's when you're dying. It felt like a broom handle was being pushed in my brain and my head was splitting apart.'

Originally developed by Portuguese physician Antonio Egas Moniz in 1936, the lobotomy involved drilling two small holes in either side of the forehead and severing the connecting tissue around the frontal lobes. The hope was to dull the symptoms of psychiatric illness by reducing the strength of emotional signals produced by the brain. Although Moniz won the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in 1949, he insisted that it should only be used as a last resort, in cases where every other form of treatment had been unsuccessfully tried.

Dr Walter Freeman, a neurologist and Yale graduate, brought the procedure to America in the late 1930s. Freeman's first job after medical school was as head of laboratories at St Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington DC, a sprawling mental institution that housed 5,000 inmates in near-Victorian conditions. At the time, the state legislature paid a pitiful $2 a day per patient to cover their upkeep, a sum that included staff salaries, catering, accommodation and treatment.

Spurred on by his first-hand experience of the horrors of state-run mental institutions and determined to make his name as a medical pioneer, Freeman developed a version of Moniz's procedure that reached the frontal lobe tissue through the tear ducts. His transorbital lobotomy involved taking a kitchen ice pick, later refined into a more proficient instrument called a leucotome, and hammering it through the thin layer of skull in the corner of each eye socket. The pick would then be scrambled from side to side in order to damage the frontal lobe. The process took about 10 minutes and could be performed anywhere, without the assistance of a surgeon.

Over the years, Freeman developed a reckless enthusiasm for the operation, driving several thousand miles across the country to carry out demonstrations at asylums and hospitals. An instinctive showman, he sometimes ice-picked both eye sockets simultaneously, one with each hand. He had a buccaneering disregard for the usual medical formalities - he chewed gum while he operated and displayed impatience with what he called 'all that germ crap', routinely failing to sterilise his hands or wear rubber gloves. Despite a 14 per cent fatality rate, Freeman performed 3,439 lobotomies in his lifetime.

For the survivors, the outcomes varied wildly: some were crippled for life, others lived in a persistent vegetative state. Rose, John F Kennedy's sister, was operated on by Dr Freeman in 1941 at the request of her father. Born with mild learning difficulties, she was left incapacitated by the procedure and spent the rest of her life in various institutions, dying in 2005 at the age of 86. Yet occasionally, the operation appeared to have a calming, desensitising effect on the mentally ill. The lobotomy's mixed success rate was a symptom of its imprecision: it was a hit-and-miss procedure developed at a time when little was known about the very specific nature of the brain's structure.

Dully's almost total recovery is thus an anomaly. To look at him, you would never guess that he underwent such brutal surgery. There is no slowness of speech, no telltale squinting of the eyes, none of the lack of social inhibition that characterises most lobotomy survivors. Now 58, he has a full-time job training school bus drivers and has been married to Barbara for 12 years. He has a son, Rodney, 27, and a stepson, Justin, 30, and a tabby cat called Princess who prowls on a parched flowerbed while we talk. His autobiography, My Lobotomy, co-written with journalist Charles Fleming, was published in the US last autumn and will be published in the UK in March.

'I don't feel physically different from anyone else,' he says. 'I get eye infections because I think they destroyed my tear ducts. About the most unusual thing you would notice about me is my size.'

Dully is a broad, bulky man and 6ft 7in tall. When he turns on his laptop to show me photographs of his operation, his hand completely covers the computer mouse. The pictures are disturbing in their very matter-of-factness. Freeman was a fastidious archivist and insisted on recording each stage of the operation on camera. In one black-and-white image, Dully lies unconscious, his mouth lolling open. The tip of a 12cm long leucotome has been pushed deep into his eye socket. How does he feel when he sees these photographs?

'I would describe it as a feeling of loss, like you've lost a whole part of your life.' As he speaks, he gulps intermittently on a mug of milky instant coffee. 'I like hazelnut-flavoured cream in my coffee - it makes life worth living,' he says, grinning through an enormous walrus moustache. On the surface, at least, his life is settled, but it has taken Dully the best part of four decades to be able to speak with such ease about his past.

'It was something I didn't talk about for years. I felt that I was the secret, the skeleton in the closet, the dirty laundry.' That changed in 2003 when he was tracked down by an American radio production company and asked to make a documentary about his life. It was the first time he had seen his medical files and the first time he had found the courage to confront his past and speak to his father.

'Lou [his stepmother] had died in 2001, so a lot of what happened died with her. I asked my dad about it and I don't think he meant any harm. He said he got manipulated by Lou. She threatened him with divorce if he didn't go ahead with it. My dad said he only met Freeman once.'

Dully breaks off and leans back in his chair, arms folded across his black polo shirt. 'You meet a guy once and you're going to let him drive spikes in your son's head?' he asks, incredulously.

His father, now 83, has never apologised, but Dully remains astonishingly sanguine about the operation and the chequered legacy it left him. For years after the lobotomy, he was in and out of mental institutions, jails and halfway houses. He was homeless, drug-addicted and alcoholic, a petty criminal with little concept of how to live a normal life.

'I think I was angry at society for a long time, but I went through that and now I don't think there's any point in dwelling on it. I blame everyone for what happened including myself. I was a mean little ruffian. Lou was looking for a way to get me out of the house, for a solution to the problem, and Freeman was looking for a subject. Both of them came together... and whoopa-dee-doo.

'I don't think Freeman was evil. I think he was misguided. He tried to do what he thought was right, then he just couldn't give it up. That was the problem.'

In many ways, Walter Freeman was shaped as much by human frailty as his patients. Born in Philadelphia in 1895, he was driven from a young age to be exemplary, growing up in the long shadow cast by his grandfather, William Keen, an exceptional surgeon who was the first American successfully to remove a brain tumour. 'He was motivated partly by interest in the well-being of his patients and then also by this very urgent need to feel like he was someone who was accomplishing great things,' explains Jack El-Hai, author of The Lobotomist, a biography of Freeman. 'As he grew more personally attached to the lobotomy, he became more irrational.'

The more the mainstream medical establishment derided Freeman's methods - with the advent of Freudian psychoanalysis and antipsychotic drugs such as Thorazine in the mid-1950s the lobotomy fell out of favour - the more defensive Freeman became. He took pride in what he called 'shrink-baiting' and wrote disobliging limericks about his professional enemies, once saying he would 'rather be wrong than be boring'. By the time Freeman operated on Dully in 1960, he was working exclusively from a private practice - no state hospital would touch him.

Freeman's home life unravelled alongside his professional reputation. His wife, Marjorie, was an alcoholic and Freeman had numerous affairs. In 1946, Freeman had witnessed the horrific death of his 11-year-old son Keen on a camping holiday in Yosemite national park. Keen was bending down at the top of waterfall to fill up his flask when he lost his footing and was swept over the brink. It was an experience that must have affected Freeman greatly, although he made sparse mention of it in later life. But perhaps it was telling that, 14 years after the event, when he first met 11-year-old Howard Dully, Freeman suggested that the two of them should go hiking.

'My sense with Howard is that Freeman thought he was treating a family problem rather than just a boy's psychiatric problems,' says El-Hai. 'But by the standards he used in earlier years, what he did was completely unjustifiable.'

Although Freeman ended up causing unforgivable harm, he was not, essentially, a bad man. After he died of complications arising from an operation for cancer in 1972, his four surviving children - Walter, Frank, Paul and Lorne - became staunch defenders of their father's legacy. Two of them have carried on the familial medical heritage: Paul is a psychiatrist in San Francisco and the eldest, Walter Jnr, is now professor emeritus of neurobiology at the University of California.

Walter Jnr's twin, Frank, 80, is a retired security guard, living in a modest, second-floor apartment in San Carlos, just half an hour's drive from Howard Dully's home. He is a friendly giant of a man, dressed smartly in a double-breasted, dark blue suit and burgundy tie, kept in place by a thin gold clip. 'He was a marvellous father,' Frank says, sitting in a room filled with crossword dictionaries and Dick Francis novels. 'He loved his children and always made time for us out of his busy schedule, taking us camping every summer all across the country.'

Frank recalls being invited to observe a lobotomy when he was 21 and vividly remembers hearing 'a little crack as the orbital plate fractured. It only took about six or seven minutes and Dad kept up a running commentary.' Indeed, the original ice pick used for the first transorbital lobotomy came from the Freeman family kitchen drawer. 'We had several of them,' says Frank, cheerfully. 'We used to use them to punch holes in our belts when we got bigger. I'm enormously proud of my father. I do think he's been unfairly treated. He was an interventionist surgeon, a pioneer and that took guts.'

But however well-intentioned his interventions, Freeman's life-long quest for self-glorification meant that he failed to acknowledge when his methods were doing more harm than good. I ask Frank whether he thinks Freeman was justified in operating on the young Howard Dully, a boy on the brink of adolescence, whose brain had barely begun its transformation to maturity?

'Well...' he pauses, the palms of his hands resting on his knees. 'I've had a couple of chats with Howard [when Dully interviewed him for the 2003 radio broadcast] and he said that growing up, he hated his stepmother and she was afraid of him. He was belligerent and unco-operative, frightening if you like, and I'm convinced that if he'd gone on like that he would have ended up in jail or a mental institution. Frequently, people like Howard have a lobotomy and sooner or later they straighten out. Howard's been self-supporting for a number of years and he's married, in a very pleasant relationship.'

It is impossible to say how Dully's life would have panned out if he had not walked into Walter Freeman's office one long-ago autumn day. Perhaps it would, like Frank says, have been incalculably worse or perhaps it would have carried on much the same. But it could have been better, too, and the true sadness is that Howard Dully will never be able to find out one way or the other.

Mind-boggling: a history of lobotomy

1890: German scientist Friederich Golz experiments with removing the temporal lobe from dogs and reports a calming effect.

1892: Gottlieb Burkhardt, a Swiss physician, performs a similar operation on six schizophrenic patients. Four exhibited altered behaviour. Two died.

1936: Portuguese neuropsychiatrist Antonio Egas Moniz develops the leukotomy, but advises using the operation only as a last resort.

1945: American surgeon Walter Freeman develops the 'ice pick' lobotomy. Performed under local anaesthetic, it takes only a few minutes and involves driving the pick through the thin bone of the eye socket, then manipulating it to damage the prefrontal lobes.

1946: First lobotomy performed in Britain at Maryfield Hospital, Dundee. The procedure is used for 30 years.

1954: Antipsychotic drug Thorazine licensed for the treatment of schizophrenia, causing the lobotomy gradually to fall out of favour.

1960-70: Lobotomies come under scrutiny by sociologists who consider it a tool for 'psycho-civilising' society. They were banned in Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union. Limited psychosurgery for extreme medical cases is still practised in the UK, Finland, India, Sweden, Belgium and Spain.

· Howard Dully's autobiography, My Lobotomy, co-written with journalist Charles Fleming, will be published in the UK in March at £10.99. To order a copy for £9.99 with free UK p&p, go to observer.co.uk/bookshop or call 0870 836 0885

read more | digg story

Study shows marijuana increases brain cell growth

By Juanita King, The Muse (Memorial University of Newfoundland)

ST. JOHN’S, Nfld — Supporters of marijuana may finally have an excuse to smoke weed every day. A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation suggests that smoking pot can make the brain grow.

Though most drugs inhibit the growth of new brain cells, injections of a synthetic cannibinoid have had the opposite effect in mice in a study performed at the University of Saskatchewan. Research on how drugs affect the brain has been critical to addiction treatment, particularly research on the hippocampus.

The hippocampus is an area of the brain essential to memory formation. It is unusual because it grows new neurons over a person’s lifetime. Researchers believe these new cells help to improve memory and fight depression and mood disorders.

Many drugs -— heroin, cocaine, and the more common alcohol and nicotine — inhibit the growth of these new cells. It was thought that marijuana did the same thing, but this new research suggests otherwise.

Neuropsychiatrist Xia Zhang and a team of researchers study how marijuana-like drugs — known collectively as cannabinoids — act on the brain.

The team tested the effects of HU-210, a potent synthetic cannabinoid similar to a group of compounds found in marijuana. The synthetic version is about 100 times as powerful as THC, the high-inducing compound loved by recreational users.

The researchers found that rats treated with HU-210 on a regular basis showed neurogenesis — the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus. A current hypothesis suggests depression may be triggered when the hippocampus grows insufficient numbers of new brain cells. If true, HU-210 could offer a treatment for such mood disorders by stimulating this growth.

Whether this is true for all cannabinoids remains unclear, as HU-210 is only one of many and the HU-210 in the study is highly purified.

“That does not mean that general use in healthy people is beneficial,” said Memorial psychology professor William McKim. “We need to learn if this happens in humans, whether this is useful in healthy people, and whether THC causes it as well.”

McKim warns that marijuana disrupts memory and cognition. “These effects can be long-lasting after heavy use,” he said. “This makes it difficult to succeed academically if you use it excessively.”

“Occasional light use probably does not have very serious consequences. [But] there is some evidence that marijuana smoke might cause cancer.”

Still, the positive aspects of marijuana are becoming more plentiful as further research is done. McKim says it’s not surprising that THC and compounds like it could have medicinal effects.

“Many have been identified,” he said. “It stimulates appetite in people with AIDS, it is an analgesic, and blocks nausea in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. And it treats the symptoms of glaucoma.”

The research group’s next studies will examine the more unpleasant side of the drug.

read more | digg story

37 Simple Stress Management Tips

Alternatives to Anxiety


Stress is a fact of life, but being stressed out is not. We don't always have control over what happens to us, says Allen Elkin, Ph.D., director of the Stress Management Counseling Center in New York City, and yet, that doesn't mean we have to react to a difficult, challenging situation by becoming frazzled or feeling overwhelmed or distraught. Being overly anxious is not just a mental hazard; it's a physical one too. The more stressed out we are the more vulnerable we are to colds, flu, and a host of chronic or life-threatening illnesses. And the less open we are to the beauty and pleasure of life. For your emotional and bodily benefit, we've consulted experts and come up with 37 easy, natural alternatives to anxiety. Enjoy!

1. Breathe Easily
"Breathing from your diaphragm oxygenates your blood, which helps you relax almost instantly," says Robert Cooper, Ph.D., the San Francisco coauthor of The Power of 5 (Rodale Press, 1996), a book of five-second and five-minute health tips. Shallow chest breathing, by contrast, can cause your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up, exacerbating feelings of stress. To breathe deeply, begin by putting your hand on your abdomen just below the navel. Inhale slowly through your nose and watch your hand move out as your belly expands. Hold the breath for a few seconds, then exhale slowly. Repeat several times.

2. Visualize Calm
It sounds New Age-y, but at least one study, done at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, has found that it's highly effective in reducing stress. Dr. Cooper recommends imagining you're in a hot shower and a wave of relaxation is washing your stress down the drain. Gerald Epstein, M.D., the New York City author of Healing Visualizations (Bantam Doubleday Dell Press, 1989), suggests the following routine: Close your eyes, take three long, slow breaths, and spend a few seconds picturing a relaxing scene, such as walking in a meadow, kneeling by a brook, or lying on the beach. Focus on the details -- the sights, the sounds, the smells.

3. Make Time for a Mini Self-Massage
Maria Hernandez-Reif, Ph.D., of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, recommends simply massaging the palm of one hand by making a circular motion with the thumb of the other. Or use a massage gadget. The SelfCare catalog offers several, such as the S-shaped Tamm unit, that allow you to massage hard-to-reach spots on your back. For a free catalog, call 800-345-3371 or go to www.selfcare.com.

4. Try a Tonic
A study at Duke University in Durham, NC, found homeopathy effective in quelling anxiety disorders. Look for stress formulas such as Nerve Tonic (from Hyland) or Sedalia (from Boiron) in your health food store, or consult a licensed homeopath. To find one near you, contact the National Center for Homeopathy, 801 North Fairfax St., Suite 306, Alexandria, VA 22314; 703-548-7790 or go to www.healthy.net/nch/.

5. Say Cheese
Smiling is a two-way mechanism. We do it when we're relaxed and happy, but doing it can also make us feel relaxed and happy. "Smiling transmits nerve impulses from the facial muscles to the limbic system, a key emotional center in the brain, tilting the neurochemical balance toward calm," Dr. Cooper explains. Go ahead and grin. Don't you feel better already?

6. Do Some Math
Using a scale of one to 10, with one being the equivalent of a minor hassle and 10 being a true catastrophe, assign a number to whatever it is that's making you feel anxious. "You'll find that most problems we encounter rate somewhere in the two to five range -- in other words, they're really not such a big deal," says Dr. Elkin.

7. Stop Gritting Your Teeth

Stress tends to settle in certain parts of our bodies, the jaw being one of them. When things get hectic, try this tip from Dr. Cooper: Place your index fingertips on your jaw joints, just in front of your ears; clench your teeth and inhale deeply. Hold the breath for a moment, and as you exhale say, "Ah-h-h-h," then unclench your teeth. Repeat a few times.

8. Compose a Mantra
Devise an affirmation -- a short, clear, positive statement that focuses on your coping abilities. "Affirmations are a good way to silence the self-critical voice we all carry with us that only adds to our stress," Dr. Elkin says. The next time you feel as if your life is one disaster after another, repeat 10 times, "I feel calm. I can handle this."

9. Check Your Chi
Qigong (pronounced chee-gong) is a 5,000-year-old Chinese practice designed to promote the flow of chi, the vital life force that flows throughout the body, regulating its functions. Qigong master Ching-Tse Lee, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Brooklyn College in New York, recommends this calming exercise: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and parallel. Bend your knees to a quarter-squat position (about 45 degrees) while keeping your upper body straight. Observe your breathing for a couple of breaths. Inhale and bring your arms slowly up in front of you to shoulder height with your elbows slightly bent. Exhale, stretching your arms straight out. Inhale again, bend your elbows slightly and drop your arms down slowly until your thumbs touch the sides of your legs. Exhale one more time, then stand up straight.

10. Be a Fighter
"At the first sign of stress, you often hear people complain, 'What did I do to deserve this?'" says Dr. Cooper. The trouble is, feeling like a victim only increases feelings of stress and helplessness. Instead, focus on being proactive. If your flight gets canceled, don't wallow in self-pity. Find another one. If your office is too hot or too cold, don't suffer in silence. Call the building manager and ask what can be done to make things more comfortable.

11. Put It on Paper
Writing provides perspective, says Paul J. Rosch, M.D., president of the American Institute of Stress in Yonkers, NY. Divide a piece of paper into two parts. On the left side, list the stressors you may be able to change, and on the right, list the ones you can't. "Change what you can," Dr. Rosch suggests, "and stop fretting over what you can't."

12. Count to 10
Before you say or do something you'll regret, step away from the stressor and collect yourself, advises Dr. Cooper. You can also look away for a moment or put the caller on hold. Use your time-out to take a few deep breaths, stretch, or recite an affirmation.

13. Switch to Decaf

Wean yourself slowly, or you might get a caffeine-withdrawal headache that could last for several days, cautions James Duke, Ph.D., the Fulton, MD, author of The Green Pharmacy (Rodale Press, 1997). Subtract a little regular coffee and add some decaf to your morning cup. Over the next couple of weeks, gradually increase the proportion of decaf to regular until you're drinking all decaf. You should also consider switching from regular soft drinks to caffeine-free ones or sparkling mineral water.

14. Just Say No
Trying to do everything is a one-way ticket to serious stress. Be clear about your limits, and stop trying to please everyone all the time.

15. Take a Whiff
Oils of anise, basil, bay, chamomile, eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint, rose, and thyme are all soothing, say Kathy Keville and Mindy Green, coauthors of Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art (Crossing Press, 1995). Place a few pieces of rock salt in a small vial, then add a couple of drops of the oil of your choice (the rock salt absorbs the oil and is much less risky to carry around in your purse than a bottle of oil). Open the vial and breathe in the scent whenever you need a quick stress release. Look for the oils in your local health food store, or try one of the following mail-order companies: Aroma-Vera, 5901 Rodeo Rd., Los Angeles, CA 90016, 800-669-9514; or Leydet Aromatics, P.O. Box 2354, Fair Oaks, CA 95628, 916-965-7546.

16. Warm Up
Try this tip from David Sobel, M.D., in San Jose, CA, author of The Healthy Mind, Healthy Body Handbook (I S H K Book Service, 1997) : Rub your hands together vigorously until they feel warm. Then cup them over your closed eyes for five seconds while you breathe deeply. The warmth and darkness are comforting.

17. Say Yes to Pressure
Acupressure stimulates the same points as acupuncture, but with fingers instead of needles. Michael Reed Gach, Ph.D., director of the Acupressure Institute in Berkeley, CA, recommends pressing on the following three points:
  • The Third Eye, located between the eyebrows, in the indentation where the bridge of the nose meets the forehead.

  • The Heavenly Pillar, on the back of the neck slightly below the base of the skull, about half an inch to the left or right of the spine.

  • The Heavenly Rejuvenation, half an inch below the top of each shoulder, midway between the base of the neck and the outside of the shoulder blade.

  • Breathe deeply and apply firm, steady pressure on each point for two to three minutes. The pressure should cause a mild aching sensation, but not pain.

    18. Schedule Worry Time
    Some stressors demand immediate attention -- a smoke alarm siren or a police car's whirling red light. But many low-grade stressors can be dealt with at a later time, when it's more convenient. "File them away in a little mental compartment, or make a note," Dr. Elkin says, "then deal with them when the time is right. Don't let them control you."

    19. Shake It Up
    This quick exercise helps loosen the muscles in your neck and upper back, says Dr. Sobel: Stand or sit, stretch your arms out from your sides and shake your hands vigorously for about 10 seconds. Combine this with a little deep breathing, Dr. Sobel says, and you'll do yourself twice as much good.

    20. Munch Some Snacks
    Foods that are high in carbohydrates stimulate the release of serotonin, feel-good brain chemicals that help induce calm, says Dr. Cooper. Crackers, pretzels, or a bagel should do the trick.

    21. Boost Your Vitamin Intake
    Elizabeth Somer, R.D., author of Food and Mood (Owl Books, 1999), in Salem, OR, recommends that women take a daily multivitamin and mineral formula that contains between 100% and 300% of the recommended dietary allowances of vitamin B, as well as the minerals calcium, magnesium, chromium, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium and zinc. Avoid stress formulas, which often contain large amounts of randomly formulated nutrients, such as the B vitamins, but little or nothing else, Somer says.

    22. Get Horizontal
    If sex has been on the bottom of your to-do list for too long, move it to the top. Sex increases levels of endorphins, those mood-boosting chemicals in the brain, and it's one of the best total-body relaxers around, says Louanne Cole Weston, Ph.D., a sex therapist in Sacramento, CA. Make a date with your mate, and don't let anything get in the way.

    23. Admit It
    Each of us has uniquely individual stress signals -- neck or shoulder pain, shallow breathing, stammering, teeth gritting, queasiness, loss of temper. Learn to identify yours, then say out loud, "I'm feeling stressed," when they crop up, recommends Dr. Rosch. Recognizing your personal stress signals helps slow the buildup of negativity and anxiety.

    24. Space Out
    Look out the window and find something natural that captures your imagination, advises Dr. Sobel. Notice the clouds rolling by or the wind in the trees.

    25. Try Tea
    By now most of us know about the calming properties of chamomile tea. But a steaming cup of catnip, passionflower, skullcap or kava kava also work, according to Dr. Duke. Whether you use tea bags or loose tea (one teaspoon of tea per cup of boiling water), steep for about 10 minutes to get the full benefits of the herbs.

    26. Take a Walk
    It forces you to breathe more deeply and improves circulation, says Dr. Cooper. Step outside if you can; if that's not possible, you can gain many of the same benefits simply by walking to the bathroom or water cooler, or by pacing back and forth. "The key is to get up and move," Dr. Cooper says.

    27. Soak it Up
    "When I have the time, nothing is more stress relieving for me than a hot bath," Dr. Weston says. "But when I don't have time, I do the next-best thing: I wash my face or even just my hands and arms with hot water. The key is to imagine that I'm taking a hot bath. It's basically a visualization exercise, but the hot water makes it feel real."

    28. Play a Few Bars
    A number of recent studies have shown that music can do everything from slow heart rate to increase endorphins. Good bets: Bach's "Air on the G-String," Beethoven's Pastorale symphony, Chopin's Nocturne in G, Handel's Water Music, or pianist George Winston's CDs Autumn or December..

    29. Fall for Puppy Love
    In a study of 100 women conducted last year at the State University of New York at Buffalo, researchers found that those who owned a dog had lower blood pressure than those who didn't. If you don't have a pooch, visit a friend's: Petting an animal for just a couple of minutes helps relieve stress, researchers have found.

    30. Practice Mindfulness
    Heighten your awareness of the moment by focusing intently on an object. Notice a pencil's shape, color, weight and feel. Or slowly savor a raisin or a piece of chocolate. Mindfulness leads to relaxation.

    31. Dial a Friend
    Sharing your troubles can give you perspective, help you feel cared for and relieve your burden.

    32. Stretch
    Muscles tighten during the course of the day, and when we feel stressed out, the process accelerates. Stretching loosens muscles and encourages deep breathing. Molly Fox, creative fitness director at the Equinox Fitness Center in New York City, says one of the greatest stress-relieving stretches is a yoga position called the child pose, which stretches the back muscles. On a rug or mat, kneel, sit back on your heels, then lean forward and put your forehead on the floor and your arms alongside your legs, palms up. Hold for one to three minutes.

    33. Say a Little Prayer
    Studies show that compared with those who profess no faith, religious and spiritual people are calmer and healthier.

    34. Make Plans
    "Looking forward to something provides calming perspective," Dr. Elkin says. Buy concert tickets, schedule a weekend getaway, or make an appointment for a massage.

    35. Goof Off
    It temporarily removes you from a potentially stressful situations. Esther Orioli, president of Essi Systems, a San Francisco consultant company that organizes stress-management programs, keeps a harmonica in the drawer for when she's feeling stressed out. Bonus: Playing it promotes deep breathing.

    36. Straighten Up
    When people are under stress, they slump over as if they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. "Slumping restricts breathing and reduces blood and oxygen flow to the brain, adding to muscle tension and magnifying feelings of panic and helplessness," Dr. Cooper explains. Straightening your spine has just the opposite effect. It promotes circulation, increases oxygen levels in your blood and helps lessen muscle tension, all of which promote relaxation.

    37. Tiptoe Through the Tulips
    Tending your garden helps get you out of your head and lets you commune with nature, a known stress reliever. If you're not a gardener, tend to a houseplant. Plants = growth = cycle of life, a nice reminder that stress, too, will pass.

    Health writer Michael Castleman of San Francisco wrote a home medical guide that combines mainstream and alternative therapies for 100 common complaints, including stress.

    read more | digg story