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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Good science isn't about consensus

AUSTRALIA is faced, over the next generation at least and almost certainly much longer, with two environmental problems of great significance. They are, first, how to manage water and, second, how to find acceptable alternatives to oil-based energy. Global warming is not one of those two issues, at least for me, and I see it as a distraction.

I am going against conventional wisdom in doing so. But Western societies have the standard of living, the longevity and the creativity we have because we have learned that conventional wisdom has no absolute status and that progress often comes when it is successfully challenged.

If you listen hard to the global warming debate you will hear people at every level tell us that they don't want to hear any more talk, they want action. I feel that the actions I have seen proposed, such as carbon caps and carbon trading, are likely to be unnecessary, expensive and futile unless there is much stronger evidence that we are facing a global environmental crisis, whether or not we have brought it about ourselves.

The story about anthropogenic global warming (AGW) doesn't seem to stack up as the best science, despite the supposed consensus about it among "thousands of scientists".

Indeed, the insistent use of the word consensus should cause those who are knowledgeable about research to raise their eyebrows, because research and science aren't about consensus, they are about testing theories against data.

In any case, there exists vigorous debate throughout the climate change domain. For example, there is disagreement about whether 2007 was a notably warm year (it had a hot start but a downward cool trend). And all that is simply about measurement. In climate science I see no consensus, only a pretence at a contrived one.

Despite all the hype and the models and the catastrophic predictions, it seems to me that we human beings barely understand climate. It is too vast a domain. Though satellites have given us a sense of the movement of weather systems across the planet, portrayed every night on television, we still know little about the oceans, one of the crucial elements in climate processes, not much more about the atmosphere, another such element, a little about solar energy and the effect of the sun's magnetic field on Earth, and only a little about the land. The Earth is a big place.

One of the yardsticks of the debate is average global temperature. We can all imagine what it might mean: an average of the temperatures taken in a multitude of carefully plotted points across the globe, measured the same way, providing a single figure that could be measured over time to show trends. The actuality is much less. NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Science, the National Climate Data Centre and the Hadley Climate Research Centre in Britain produce the data. All use temperature data recorded 1.3m to 2m above Earth's surface and obtain an arithmetic average of the maximum and minimum temperatures over 24 hours.

None covers the entire planet, and the southern hemisphere is not as well measured as the northern.

A recent study of one-third of the sites in what is arguably the best temperature measuring system, that of the US, showed that in a majority of the sites surveyed the instruments were inappropriately located: close to buildings, on asphalt or concrete, next to parking areas, on top of roofs, and so on. Common sense tells us that if our knowledge of climate and weather cannot provide forecasts with much accuracy past 24 hours, we don't know enough about the inter-relationships inside the model, no matter how much data we have, even supposing it to be perfect data. Models are models: they are highly simplified versions of reality and cannot provide evidence of anything.

What I see, rather, is something that political theorist Paul Feyerabend wrote about a long time ago in Against Method (1975): the tendency of scholars to protect their theories by building defences around them, rather than being the first to try to demolish their own proposition.

We seem to be caught up in what a pair of social scientists has called an "availability cascade": we judge whether or not something is true by how many examples of it we see reported. Fires, storms, apparently trapped polar bears, floods, cold, undue heat: if these are authoritatively linked to a single attributed cause, then almost anything in that domain will seem to be an example of the cause, and we become worried.

I should say at once that climate change has become the offered cause of so many diverse incidents that, for me at any rate, it ceases to be a likely cause of any.

Greens and environmentalists generally welcome the AGW proposition because it fits in with their own world-view, and they have helped to popularise it. Governments that depend on green support have found themselves, however willingly or unwillingly, trapped in AGW policies, as is plainly the case with the Rudd Government. The hardheads may not buy the story, but they do want to be elected or re-elected.

In short, AGW is now orthodoxy, and orthodoxy always has strong latent support. Because AGW is supposedly science, even well-educated people think it will be too hard for them.

David Henderson, a respected British economist and former Treasury official, has called the orthodoxy in climate change a case of "heightened milieu consensus", in which prime ministers and other leaders tell us that nothing could be more serious than this issue. These are not statements of fact; they are no more than conjecture. But they have become, in his phrase, "widely accepted presuppositions of policy". Intellectually, AGW is what is known in politics as a done deal. But on the evidence that is available, I think it has to be said that the assertion that the increase in carbon dioxide has caused the temperature to rise is no more than an assertion, however attractive or worrying the association may be. There is simply no evidence that this causal relationship exists.

Earth's atmosphere may be warming but, if so, not by much and not in an alarming or unprecedented way. It is possible that the warming has a "significant human influence", to use the term of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and I do not dismiss the possibility. But there are other powerful possible causes that have nothing to do with us. If this were simply an example of scientists arguing among themselves, we might recognise that this is how science proceeds and move on.

But if there is no true causal link between CO2 and rising temperatures, then all the talk about carbon caps and carbon trading is simply futile.

But it is worse than futile, because one consequence of developing policies in this area will be to reduce not only our own standard of living, but the standard of living of the world's poorest countries.

As someone who has worked closely with ministers in the past, I cannot imagine that I could have advised a minister to go down the AGW path on the evidence available, given the expense involved, the burden on everyone and the possible futility of the outcome.

Some readers of drafts of this paper have raised the precautionary principle as an indication that we should, even in the face of the uncertainty about the science, take AGW seriously. Unfortunately, as I see it, the precautionary principle here is very similar to Pascal's wager.

Pascal argued that it made good sense to believe in God: if God existed you could gain an eternity of bliss, and if he didn't exist you were no worse off. Alas, Pascal didn't allow for the possibility that God was in fact Allah, and you had opted for belief in the wrong religion.

The IPCC's account of things seems to me only one possibility, and the evidence for it is not very strong.

For that reason, I would counsel that we accept that climate changes, and learn, as indeed human beings have learned for thousands of years, to adapt to that change as rationally and sensibly as we can.

This is an edited extract from a paper presented to the Planning Institute of Australia. Professor Don Aitkin, historian and political scientist, is a fellow of three learned societies.

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Additives DO harm children - and a ban could cut child hyperactivity by a third, say scientists

Children in playground

Healthy development: The scientists believe that the removal of 'E-Numbers' would reduce disruption

The number of hyperactive children could be cut by a third by banning suspect food additives, it is claimed today.

The finding by British scientists will put pressure on the Food Standards Agency to force manufacturers to stop using the "E-number" chemicals.

The researchers believe that removing artificial colours from children's foods, including cakes, drinks and sweets, would bring significant health and social benefits.

Thousands of children would avoid the blight on their education caused by hyperactive behaviour, which can mean they are labelled slow and disruptive.

Removing the chemicals could also help reduce anti-social behaviour in teenagers, according to the researchers from the University of Southampton, led by Professor Jim Stevenson.

The scientists believe the harm caused to the IQ of youngsters is equivalent to the damaging impact of lead on developing brains.

They say just as efforts were made to protect children against lead poisoning years ago, there is "justification for action now" on food colours.

They are frustrated at the lack of action to tackle the harm to children posed by food additives and are calling on the board of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which is meeting today, to take bold measures to ban them.

The Southampton team calculates that some 6.6 per cent of children aged three to 12, a total of 462,000, suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The academics believe this figure could be reduced by 30 per cent - around 140,000 - if the additives were banned.

Professor Stevenson and his team discovered that food chemicals caused "psychological harm" to normal healthy children.

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Two groups of children showed changes in behaviour when given the additives during controlled trials. They found it hard to sit still and concentrate, they had problems reading and became loud and impulsive.

Professor Stevenson said: "We now have clear evidence that mixtures of certain food colours can adversely influence the behaviour of children.

"We know that hyperactivity in young child is a risk factor for, for example, later difficulties in school. Certainly it is associated with difficulties in learning to read.

"It is also associated with wider behavioural difficulties in middle childhood, such as conduct disorder.

"I feel that the effects we are seeing here are sufficiently great to represent a threat to health."

The Southampton team has sent a report to the FSA board, which argues that a significant number of children could be prevented from developing ADHD if the additives are removed.

Children who are diagnosed with ADHD can find their entire school careers and lives suffer as a result. The report warns: "Elevated levels of hyperactivity in young children represent a risk for continuing behaviour problems into later childhood.

"It should also be recognised that children with elevated levels of hyperactivity can be disruptive to a family and are sometimes socially isolated because peers find their behaviour unsettling."

Last month the Government announced a task force to concentrate on improving the behaviour of 1,000 particularly disruptive young people.

The Southampton team say: "It is a Government policy priority to reduce the level of disruptive behaviour by young people. We suggest... the removal of food colours might be a small, indirect contribution to such a goal."

The suspect colours are tartrazine (E102); quinoline yellow (E104); sunset yellow (E110); carmoisine (E122); ponceau 4R (E124); and allura red (E129).

The FSA, an independent department of the Government, suggests there should be a voluntary ban by UK manufacturers by the end of 2009. The board is also expected to advise parents concerned by the Southampton study that they "might choose" not to give their children products containing the chemicals.

The Food Commission has set up a website - - which lists more than 900 products containing the chemicals.

The Daily Mail launched the "Ban the Additives" campaign to encourage manufacturers and supermarkets to remove the chemicals from their recipes.

This has achieved support from all the major supermarkets and pledges from firms such as Cadburys and Mars UK to remove them.

A ban on the suspect additives will change the look of familiar foods.

The green colour of mushy peas is created by tartrazine, and quinoline yellow produces the green colour in lime cordial and green Tic-Tacs.

The vivid colour of Turkish Delight is largely the result of the suspect dye allura red.

Natural alternatives to these food colours are being produced and some companies, including Sainsbury's and Asda, already have new lines on their shelves.

Sainsbury's has created a natural lime cordial, while Asda has taken tartrazine out of its tinned peas.

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7 Simple Ways To Burst Out of Bed Each Morning

sleepWay before the sun peeks over the horizon, a few chosen people awaken from their slumber and dive head first into their day. These chosen few accomplish a ton before the rest of us would ever consider rising from our nice warm beds.

Who are these juggernauts that have command over the morning hours?

In theory, your productivity level shouldn't differ if you rise at 4am or 11am. What matters is the quality of sleep that's giving your mind and body sufficient time to recover.

These early rising juggernauts, these unstoppable agents of productivity, they see things differently. They see these early hours as their chance to lay claim to their share of the day. They rise with purpose, act with determination, and achieve ruthlessly.
The sun has not caught me in bed in fifty years. - Thomas Jefferson
The world is in awe of these special people, so let's take a look at what pops them out of bed like a toaster strudel and what gets them up, sometimes before the alarm!
  1. Appointment With Waking: The harsh truth about the human body is that we're creatures of habit. In some ways this can be extremely inconvenient when trying to take on new things. However, if we allow ourselves to live within the rules of our body's natural cycle, which is a 24-hour circadian rhythm, we will be pleased with the body's functionality.

    This means that when you find a waking hour that will work best for you each day of the week, you should stick to it. This will allow your body to want to support you in your endeavor of waking up, and rise you out of bed feeling fresh as a daisy.

  2. The King and The Pauper Way Of Eating: The way our bodies function optimally is if we eat like a king in the morning and a pauper in the evening. This means that it's best to eat heavier, bigger portions in the morning because these meals will give us high energy throughout the day and then burn off.

    Eating like a pauper, meaning small light meals, in the evening allows us to go to sleep on an empty stomach. If your body is functioning normally, and you don't have stomach ulcers, going to sleep on a mostly empty stomach will allow you to sleep better. This nightly fast allows your body to take it's focus away from digestion and put it towards repair and rejuvenation of the body's cells.

  3. Living With Purpose: Young children will do anything to avoid going to sleep at night. These same children are also the ones that can't wait to get out of bed first thing in the world. The simple reason for this non-lazy behavior is that they don't want to miss a thing.

    As adults we may need more persuasion than 'not wanting to miss a thing'. This is why we take extra steps in creating fun, life changing goals, and scheduling specific ways of how we'll get a step closer to these goals during this coming day. What we all need is not necessary a cause we're willing to die for, but at least a cause we're willing to LIVE for.

  4. Plan Your Day: We can say we're going to live with purpose, but unless we plan, we can tell ourselves that we'll start living with purpose next week, or the week after that. Planning is one of the fundamental ways to maximize your mind to achieve your goals, and as such it plays a critical role in allowing us to have an awesome day, everyday. We need not do more than take 15 minutes the night before to succinctly organize the next days schedule.

    A schedule complete with waking time, most important things of the day, eating and recreational allowances. Having a tight schedule allows me to live out my day with definitive purpose, while getting more done, having more fun, and not wasting precious moments of my life.
    “Happy people plan actions, they don't plan results” - Dennis Wholey
  5. The Water Hack: A bit of water before bed and half a liter as soon as you get up. The water before bed will serve in the rejuvenation process we mentioned above. While you sleep all your cells will fill up with this fresh water and create an over all well being within your body.

    The water in the morning does two things. One is it provides your first dose of water to get your mind and body going. Another function, as told to me by my endocrinology teacher (a very qualified person to say this), is that a dose of water in the morning triggers a cascade of physiological functions that engages your digestive system and causes you to excrete feces. You'll feel nice and light first thing in the morning!

  6. Work That Body: In number 1 above I mentioned that our bodies adapt around a 24-hour circadian rhythm. This works for sleep, eating, exercise, and many other bodily functions. We're a pretty efficient physiological machine when you think about it. This is why getting a dose of exercise is optimal in the morning. It gets the blood flowing and stimulates you to function on a higher level.
    "Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness." - Edward Stanley
    Once you're used to this routine, your body will prepare by providing you with high energy before you start to work out. As you can see, if you wake up with this high energy, you're going to just pop out of bed.

  7. Have 'Me' Time: No morning is completely satisfying unless you've scheduled in some 'Me' time. Whether you enjoy meditating to clear you mind and give you laser sharp focus, or reading to gain some new knowledge about the world, make sure you schedule in this time.

    There may very a variety of things you enjoy doing, so this will be custom tailored to the individual. The point is that when you have something you REALLY enjoy doing right when you get up, you won't be able to wait until that alarm goes off till you jump out of bed and get to it!
See, that's all it takes! Try it for a couple weeks, get used to it, and soon you'll be relishing sunrises like this:

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Is yoga better than other exercise for boosting self-esteem?

In our little college town, one of the most popular fitness trends over the past few years has been yoga. Friends and acquaintances often suggest we join them in their favorite class, claiming not only that we'll get stronger and more flexible, but that we'll feel better about ourselves.

But Greta and I both have fitness routines that work well for us. I like to go for a morning run, I bike, and I play soccer, and Greta not only walks for 30 minutes on the treadmill every day, she also walks to and from work, 1.3 miles each way. Despite our assurances that we enjoy these things, devout yoga fans seem convinced that we're missing out on something: a chance to improve our self-esteem.

Despite all the hype about yoga and self esteem, there hasn't been a lot of research demonstrating a connection, especially in comparison to other forms of exercise. But Steriani Elavsky and Edward McAuley have conducted a new study comparing yoga to walking. They recruited 164 women age 42 to 56, with offers of a free fitness program. At the study outset, all the women were paid $20 to undergo both psychological testing for measures such as their body image, physical self-esteem, and global-self esteem, as well as physical measures like weight and body fat percentage. Then they were randomly divided into three groups: yoga, walking, and control (no exercise).

The yoga group participated in a 90-minute Hatha yoga class twice a week for four months, while the walking group met for 60 minutes three times a week on an indoor track or a university quad. The yoga classes focused on meditation, strength, flexibility, and balance, while the walkers focused on building aerobic endurance, walking up to 45 minutes at 75 percent of the heart rate reserve by the end of the study period. The women in the study were rated as sedentary or low-active at the start of the study and had an average Body Mass Index of 29.6 and body fat percentage of 37.6, which put them on the borderline of being clinically obese.

At the end of the study period, the participants who remained (a few dropped out of each group) repeated the psychological measures they had taken at the start. The results: While there was a trend for walking and yoga to increase both types of self-esteem, there was no significant difference between any of the three groups' gains in physical self-esteem or global self-esteem.

But physical self-esteem is measured by dividing the concept into several different types of esteem, and in several of these areas, there were significant effects:

Physical condition0.610.300.23
Body attractiveness0.340.230.05
Sport competence0.090.040.09

For physical condition and strength esteem, walking yielded significantly larger gains than either the yoga or the control group. For body attractiveness esteem, both walking and yoga yielded larger gains than the control group.

So while yoga does offer some gains in certain aspects of physical self-esteem, those gains are never significantly greater than the gains experienced by walkers. Interestingly, while the yoga participants' heart rates were significantly lower than the walkers during their activity, there was no significant difference in participants' perceived exertion. It's possible that more physically demanding forms of yoga might offer equivalent benefits to walking. It's also possible that over a longer period or more intense participation, the physical and global self-esteem measures would also rise to significance.

But this study doesn't support the notion that yoga is a better form of exercise than Greta's daily walking routine. Many other exercise forms have also been found to have beneficial self-esteem effects, and yoga hasn't yet been found to offer a unique advantage over any of them. So if you like yoga, there's no reason to stop doing it, but if you like some other form of exercise, you shouldn't feel pressured to add yoga to your regimen.

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Optometrists: Computer use affects your eyes

The Washington Post

Computer Vision Syndrome is becoming more frequent, according to the American Optometric Association, which says that prolonged use of electronic devices such as computers and PDAs can leave users with problems such as dry eye, eye strain, neck and back aches, light sensitivity and fatigue.

According to the optometrists, 78 percent of Americans do not have their monitors set below eye level, the correct height for computer usage; 73 percent of Americans do not take breaks as often as they should (at least every 20 minutes); and one out of 10 never takes a break. Specially designed glasses can help reduce glare from screens, the AOA says, but only 11 percent of Americans use them.

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Belly Fat Doesn't Bode Well for Women

Having a big waist may raise women's death rates, even in women who aren't overweight.

That news comes from a study of 44,600 female nurses enrolled in a long-term health study.

The bottom line: Waists mattered more than weight.

Being in the normal weight range was less important than having a waist less than 34.6 inches and a waist-to-hip ratio of less than 0.88 .To calculate your waist-to-hip ratio, divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.

"Although maintaining a healthy weight should continue to be a cornerstone in the prevention of chronic diseases and premature death, it is equally important to maintain a healthy waist size and prevent abdominal obesity," the researchers write in the April 1 edition of Circulation.

Belly Fat Study

When the nurses were 40 to 65 years old, they measured their waists and hips for the study. At the time, none had had heart disease or cancer.

Every two years, they updated their health and lifestyle records for the study, including their physical activity, smoking, alcohol use, and menopausal status.

The nurses were followed for 16 years. During that time, a total of 3,507 of the nurses died, including 751 who died of heart disease and 1,748 who died of cancer.

Regardless of other factors, including BMI (body mass index, which relates height to weight), women with larger waists and greater waist-to-hip ratios had higher death rates from all causes, including heart disease and cancer, which are the top two killers of U.S. women.

For example, among women of normal weight, those with a waist larger than 34.6 inches were three times as likely to die of heart disease, compared to women with smaller waists.

Large hips weren't a problem, if the waist wasn't also large. In fact, having large hips and a small waist was associated with lower risk of death from heart disease.

Waist Check

Simply measuring the waist will do. The waist-to-hip ratio wasn't a better predictor of death rates and is more cumbersome, note the researchers, who included Cuilin Zhang, MD, PhD, of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Zhang's team used the definitions for abdominal obesity recommended by the American Heart Association and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Those cutoffs are waist circumference of 34.6 inches for women and 40 inches for men.

The study doesn't prove that abdominal fat is lethal. Observational studies like this one don't prove cause and effect.

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Teenage girl left looking like alien after hair dye causes severe allergic reaction

A teenager was left in agony and covered in weeping sores after suffering a severe allergic reaction to hair dye.

Lois Queen, 13, was rushed to hospital after using L'Oreal Casting Crème Gloss in chocolate brown.

Her face is still swollen 10 days after using the product and she's vowed never to dye her hair again.

Miss Queen bought the hair dye from a local shop near her home in Mottingham, south London, for £5.99.

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Lois wanted to change her hair colour before her 14th birthday party

She wanted to colour her hair for her forthcoming 14th birthday party, which takes place next month.

Miss Queen followed the instructions on the pack and, under the watchful eye of her mum Lorna, 40, carried out the allergy patch test 48 hours before applying the dye.

After her face ballooned, she was rushed her to hospital where doctors diagnosed a severe allergic reaction and gave her steroids and antihistamines.

Hair dye

The hair dye used by Lois Queen

Miss Queen said: 'The pain was intense. It was terrifying. Within hours of using it my eye went red and itchy, then the swelling started. The next morning I could barely open my eyes.

'It was so painful. I thought I was going blind and dying. My head was such a weird shape, I looked like an alien.'

Lois said: 'Doctors gave me medicine but it didn't get better, it got worse. I had to go back three times.

'I'd wanted to look better but ended up looking like a freak.'

Mrs Queen, a mum-of-four children and a trainee teacher, said: 'The doctor said she was lucky to avoid permanent eye damage.

'Lois missed a whole week of school and has been miserable. She's really down, won't eat and won't leave the house.

'The swelling has gone down a bit but she is still covered in weeping sores that are getting infected. It's miserable.

'She dyed her hair for her 14th birthday party – coming up in May. She's really gutted.

'I'm revolted and Lois will never dye her hair again. L'Oreal obviously use very strong ingredients.'

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Four Unexpected Food Facts

Eat fiber, avoid trans-fat, watch your glycemic load ... you've got the basics down cold. But nutrition science can be wild and woolly, with more surprises than you might expect. Consider:

1. Mushrooms make vitamin D in sunlight.
Most people are aware that the human body makes vitamin D in response to sunlight. Less known is the fact that mushrooms, even picked ones, can perform the same feat - which means that eating mushrooms that have been exposed to sunlight can be an excellent way to supplement your "D" levels.

In the summer of 2004, mycologist Paul Stamets discovered that the level of vitamin D in freshly picked, indoor- grown shiitake mushrooms rose from 110 IU (international units) to an astonishing 46,000 IU per 100 grams when the mushrooms were placed outdoors in the sun for just six hours with the gills facing up (when the gills were facing down, the level rose to 10,900 IU).

This means that eating just one gram of sun-treated shiitake - about one tenth of one mushroom - would give you 460 IU, close to the FDA's recommended daily dose of 400 IU, and about half of Dr. Weil's recommended 1,000 IU. In his book, Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, Stamets concluded, "(In) populations where vitamin D is seriously deficient, sun-exposed dried mushrooms can help address a serious health issue."

2. Orange tomatoes may be healthier than red ones.
Usually, deep color in fruits and vegetables indicates abundant antioxidants - compounds that have been linked to heart and brain health - so it makes sense to consume produce with the deepest hues. But a study by Ohio State University researchers, published in the February 2007 issue of the Journal of Agricultural Food and Chemistry, found that a variety of orange-colored tomatoes called Tangerine provided more readily available lycopene than did red tomatoes. Lycopene is an antioxidant that has been shown to reduce risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration. Tangerine tomatoes are not available in grocery stores, but the researchers suggested that the advantage might extend to other orange- and gold-colored tomatoes.

3. Consuming eggs regularly does not boost cardiovascular risk.
Americans have been urged to reduce egg consumption in the belief that eggs' high cholesterol levels contribute to coronary disease. We seem to have gotten the message: in 1943, per capital consumption was 402 eggs annually; by 2007, it was down to 253, a 38 percent decline.

But several large studies indicate that egg anxiety is unfounded. Most notably, a 1999 report from the Harvard School of Public Health (published in the Journal of the American Medical Association) that tracked 110,000 American adults for up to 14 years found no increased risk of coronary heart disease or stroke among healthy men and women who ate as much as seven eggs per week vs. those who ate less than one per week. There did, however, appear to be a correlation between high egg consumption and heart disease among diabetic men and women that "warrants further research" the authors concluded.

4. Crush garlic, then wait 10 minutes before cooking, to maximize health benefits.
Argentinian researchers reported (in the March 7, 2007 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry) that crushing garlic releases an enzyme, alliinase, that catalyzes the formation of allicin, which then breaks down to form a variety of heart-healthy organosulfur compounds. So crushed or chopped garlic, they reported, was potentially better for cardiac health than whole cloves.

Even more surprising, they noted that allowing the crushed garlic to stand for 10 minutes before cooking appeared to further enhance formation of those compounds. So when making a dish that contains garlic, crush the cloves first, and let them rest on the cutting board for at least 10 minutes while doing other prep work.

Like nutrition surprises? Read more obscure-but-enlightening nutrition facts here.

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Decoding your body’s noises: Gas, gurgles and growls

Your jaw pops like a bowl of Rice Krispies, in meetings, at mealtime, even during candlelight moments. Is it a joint that needs fixing, or just an annoying sound you can live with? Most body noises, although embarrassing, are harmless. Occasionally, they’re a signal that something’s not quite right. Health Magazine decodes what your body is telling you, from top to bottom, and what to do about it.

Snuffling and snorting
Why: If you’re congested, your snuffling and snorting are typically the result of mucus blocking the flow of air in your nose, says David Brodner, MD, an ear, nose, and throat specialist in Boca Raton, Florida, and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Otolaryngology.

What to do: Flushing with a saline rinse can clear excess mucus that comes with a common cold or seasonal allergies, says Melissa Pynnonen, MD, assistant professor of otolaryngology at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. Several brands of saline rinse are available at drugstores, or mix up your own saline with eight ounces of warm water and one-quarter teaspoon salt. Put half of the solution in each nostril using a syringe or nasal spray bottle. It’ll flow out of the opposite nostril. Repeat on the other side, and then blow your nose.

When to get help: See a doctor if your snuffling is accompanied by bleeding or yellow-green drainage, if the congestion gets worse after five days, lasts more than 10 days, or is accompanied by headache or facial pain. You could have a sinus infection, typically treated with antibiotics.

Belching and gurgling
Why: You’ve swallowed excess air, either while eating (soup is a common culprit because air is taken in with each spoonful) or conversing. But burps and gurgles can also point to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a common condition that often develops from overeating or pressure on the stomach (up to 50 percent of pregnant women suffer from it). Stomach acid seeps up into your esophagus, where it can cause heartburn, burping, chest pain, sore throat, hoarseness, bad breath and, in serious cases, gurgling noises caused by regurgitation of food or acid.

What to do: Well, like your mom said, don’t talk with your mouth full. That can cut back on burping, as can limiting gum-chewing and fizzy beverages. To avoid GERD, eat small, frequent meals, skip foods that worsen the symptoms (like caffeinated drinks, onions, chocolate, and garlic), and nix post-meal naps, says Robert Maisel, MD, professor of otolaryngology at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis. You may also get relief from a nonprescription antacid.

When to get help: If you experience symptoms of GERD more than once a week, particularly at night, visit your doctor. He or she may recommend a prescription antacid or order an endoscopy to rule out esophageal cancer, which can result from untreated GERD. If symptoms worsen, you may need surgery, although this is rare, Maisel says.

Growling tummy
Why: Usually it’s just contractions of stomach and intestinal muscles, a normal part of digestion. Stress can kick muscle contractions into high gear, which may explain why your belly is embarrassingly vocal every time you’re in an important meeting.

What to do: Track your symptoms. Certain foods, such as dairy products and high-carb items, might raise the noise factor for you. If the noises really crank up while you’re menstruating, try taking 250 milligrams of magnesium at bedtime for a few days before your period to ease the gas and constipation that often cause gut gurgles, says Diana Taylor, RN, PhD, author of "Taking Back the Month: A Personalized Solution for Managing PMS and Enhancing Your Health."

When to get help: If abdominal noises are really bothering you in social situations, work on eliminating stress through yoga or meditation, or ask your doctor about antispasmodic medication, sometimes prescribed for stress-related gut problems, says Joel Levine, MD, a gastroenterologist at the University of Colorado Medical School in Denver.

Passing gas
Why: Flatulence, like burping, is a normal way the body expels swallowed air or gases produced during digestion. It’s normal to pass gas up to 20 times a day, says Michael Levitt, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Minneapolis. Beans, popular sugar substitutes like xylitol and sorbitol (they’re poorly absorbed carbs), some fat-free potato chips, fructose (a sugar found in many processed foods made with the sweetener high-fructose corn syrup), and lactose (dairy woes, anyone?) are likely to trigger gas. Dairy can also lead to stinky gas, as can sulfurous foods such as broccoli and cabbage. You may get gassier during your period if you’re typically prone to diarrhea or constipation, or if you succumb to chocolate cravings (the sugar-and-carboyhdrate combo ups gassiness).

What to do: Eat slowly, and cut down on the beans, processed foods, and sodas for less risk of cutting the you know what later.

When to get help: See a doctor if you’re experiencing gas accompanied by abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea or constipation. This may point to irritable bowel syndrome, intestinal inflammation, or a food allergy.

Why: The sound is generated when your throat muscles and tissues become overly relaxed and vibrate when you breathe. It often accompanies congestion, but some people are more prone to snoring than others. Drinking alcohol before bed can also cause you to saw logs.

What to do: Sleep on your side when you’re congested, or try Breathe Right nasal strips. Losing pounds if you’re significantly overweight can also help (less weight equals less tissue to vibrate). And lay off the booze before bedtime, too.

When to get help: If you wake yourself up with snoring or choking sounds, you might have sleep apnea, a serious breathing problem that can put you at risk for heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, says Steven Koenig, MD, a sleep-disorders expert at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville. Fortunately, a number of treatments are available.

Joints that crackle
Why: Noise without pain, usually caused by air bubbles in the protective fluid cushioning your joints, is harmless, though it may signal that you’re stressed. “When stress levels rise, the joints in the neck tighten and tend to crack more,” says Stephen Fealy, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and sports-medicine specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

What to do: Do neck rolls every 45 to 60 minutes. Try regular yoga or massage to ease stress. For mild joint aches, try an OTC painkiller.

When to get help: See a doctor if you experience any grinding or popping that comes with pain, locking, swelling, or limited motion. This could signal an exercise injury, a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder (if the pain is in your jaw) or the onset of osteoarthritis, a condition that affects about 28 million women, usually beginning after middle age when cartilage starts to break down. If you’re diagnosed with arthritis, your doctor may prescribe exercise, a prescription-strength pain reliever, a cortisone injection, or physical therapy. According to experts, acupuncture may help.

For more information, visit

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Why Do Some People Sleepwalk?

Why Do Some People Sleepwalk?
—Carlos Navarro, via e-mail

Neurologist Antonio Oliviero of the National Hospital for Paraplegics in Toledo, Spain, explains:

Sleep disorders such as sleepwalking arise when normal physiological systems are active at inappropriate times. We do not yet understand why the brain issues commands to the muscles during certain phases of sleep, but we do know that these commands are usually suppressed by other neurological mechanisms. At times this suppression can be incomplete—because of genetic or environmental factors or physical immaturity—and actions that normally occur during wakefulness emerge in sleep.

People can perform a variety of activities while asleep, from simply sitting up in bed to more complex behavior such as housecleaning or driving a car. Individuals in this trancelike state are difficult to rouse, and if awoken they are often confused and unaware of the events that have taken place. Sleepwalking most often occurs during childhood, perhaps because children spend more time in the “deep sleep” phase of slumber. Physical activity only happens during the non–rapid eye movement (NREM) cycle of deep sleep, which precedes the dreaming state of REM sleep.

Recently my team proposed a possible physiological mechanism underlying sleepwalking. During normal sleep the chemical messenger gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) acts as an inhibitor that stifles the activity of the brain’s motor system. In children the neurons that release this neurotransmitter are still developing and have not yet fully established a network of connections to keep motor activity under control. As a result, many kids have insufficient amounts of GABA, leaving their motor neurons capable of commanding the body to move even during sleep. In some, this inhibitory system may remain underdeveloped—or be rendered less effective by environmental factors—and sleepwalking can persist into adulthood.

Sleepwalking runs in families, indicating that there is a genetic component. The identical twin of a person who sleepwalks often, for example, typically shares this nocturnal habit. Studies have also shown that frequent sleepwalking is associated with sleep deprivation, fever, stress and intake of drugs, especially sedatives, hypnotics, antipsychotics, stimulants and antihistamines.

To clarify the many mysteries of sleepwalking, we need to find out more about the brain mechanisms that control sleep and arousal states. Future research will have to focus not only on what is happening while sleepwalkers are sleeping but also on the characteristics of their waking brains.

Why do we get “brain freeze” when we eat something cold?
-Christina Zuniga, via e-mail

Mark A. W. Andrews, professor of physiology and director of the Independent Study Pathway at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, replies:

This commonly experienced pain, also known as an ice cream headache, results from quickly eating or drinking very cold substances. Officially termed sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia (talk about a painful mouthful!), it is the di­rect result of the rapid cooling and rewarming of the blood vessels in the palate, or the roof of the mouth. A similar but painless blood vessel response causes the face to appear “flushed” after being outside on a cold day. In both instances, the cold temperature causes blood vessels to constrict and then experience extreme rebound dilation as they warm up again.

In the palate, this dilation is sensed by nearby pain receptors, which then send signals back to the brain via the trigeminal nerve, one of the major nerves of the facial area. This nerve also senses facial pain, so as the signals are conducted the brain interprets the pain as coming from the forehead—the same “referred pain” phenomenon seen in heart attacks. Brain-freeze pain may last from a few seconds to a few minutes, which is blissfully short as compared with the duration of its cousin, the migraine headache. Research suggests that the same vascular mechanism and nerve implicated in brain freeze cause the aura (sensory disturbance) and pulsatile (throbbing pain) phases of migraines. Interestingly, it is impossible to give yourself an ice cream headache in cold weather—only in a warm ambient temperature will it hurt to wolf down a banana split.

Fortunately, abstaining from ice cream is not necessary. Placing the tongue hard against the palate may help, as will eating cold foods more slowly or warming food in the front of your mouth before swallowing.

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Fast food, German-style

Dining out at Germany's fully automated "robot" restaurant

By Steve Rosenberg
BBC News, Nuremberg

Germany likes to call itself the "Land of Ideas" - and over the centuries it has certainly had plenty of them. It was Germans who invented the aspirin, the airship, the printing press and the diesel engine.

But Germany has surely never produced anything quite as weird as the automated restaurant.

I say "restaurant" - but it actually looks more like a rollercoaster, with long metal tracks criss-crossing the dining area.

The tracks run all the way from the kitchen, high up in the roof, down to the tables, twisting and turning as they go. And down the tracks - in little pots with wheels fixed to the bottom - speeds food.

Supersonic sausages, high-pace pancakes and wine bottles whizzing down to the customers' tables with the help of good old gravity. One pot is spiralling down so fast, it looks like an Olympic bobsleigh (but it's only Bratwurst).

I wanted to come up with a complete new restaurant system
Michael Mack, restaurant owner

What's more, at the 's Baggers restaurant in Nuremberg, you don't need waiters to order food. Customers use touch-screen TVs to browse the menu and choose their meal.

You can even use the computers to send e-mails and text messages while you wait for the food to be cooked. But all this may not appeal to those who like traditional waiter service.

Meals on wheels

Up in the kitchen, it is man, not machine, that makes the food. They haven't found a way of automating the chef, just yet.

Everything is prepared from fresh. When it is ready, the meal is put in a pot and given a sticker and a colour to match the customer's seat.

Then it is put on the rails and despatched downhill to the correct table. Manna from heaven, German-style.

The restaurant is the brainchild of local businessman Michael Mack.

"I wanted to come up with a complete new restaurant system," Michael tells me, "one that would be more efficient and more comfortable".

Replacing waiters with helter-skelters and computers is fun for the customers. It also makes financial sense for the restaurant.

Food comes down from the kitchen
A plate of food whizzes down from the kitchen

"You can save labour costs," explains restaurant spokesperson Kyra Mueller-Siecheneder.

"You don't need the waiters to run to the customers, take the orders, run to the kitchen and back to the guests."

The restaurant has not completely done away with the human touch. There are still some staff on hand to explain to rather bemused customers how to use the technology.

But what do the punters here think? Do Germans really have the appetite for automated mealtimes?

"It's another art for eating. I like it!" one man raves.

"It's more for young people than old people," a woman tells me. "My mother was here yesterday and she needs my son's help to order."

Watching all this food raining down on the restaurant makes me ravenous. I decide that it is my turn to test the system. I order steak and salad on the computer and wait for it to appear. A few minutes later, a pot glides down to my table with my "fast food" - and it is delicious.

As I finish the meal and prepare to leave, one final thought crosses my mind. An automated meal doesn't only save the restaurant money, but the customer, too.

After all, in a restaurant without waiters, there is no need to leave a tip....

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The Earliest Simulations

Since the earliest days of flight, pilots realized the need for some form of training before taking control of a dangerous and unwieldy aircraft. At the start, pilots were familiarized with the controls and trained on grounded planes, slowly moving on to taxiing, hopping the plane short distances, and finally full flight. It soon became clear that there was a real need for training devices to help get pilots acclimated to airplanes, without having to actually use the real plane. The first of these grounded devices was called the Sanders Teacher. It was simply an aircraft mockup mounted on a universal joint in an exposed position and facing into the wind. While better than nothing, the Sanders Teacher proved unsatisfactory and more sophisticated devices like the simulator pictured below were soon developed.
**This early device consisted of two half-sections of a barrel mounted and moved manually to represent the pitch and roll of the airplane, something the Sanders Teacher could not do.

The Link Trainers

The Link Trainers were a series of grounded flight simulators created between the early 1930's and the early 1950's by the Link Corporation. They were the next generation of manual flight simulators created out of the need for a safe way to teach new pilots how to fly by Instrument Flight Rules.

"Link's first military sales came as a result of the Air Mail Scandal, when the Army Air Corps took over carriage of U.S. Air Mail. Twelve pilots were killed in a 78 day period, due to their unfamiliarity with Instrument Flying Conditions. The large scale loss of life prompted the Air Corps to look at a number of solutions, including Link's pilot trainer. The Air Corps was given a stark demonstration of the potential of instrument training, when Link flew in to a meeting in conditions of fog that the Air Corps evaluation team regarded as unflyable. As a result, the Air Corps ordered the first six pilot trainers at $3,500 each." -Wikipedia

The Link Trainer:

The First Visual Simulations

In as early as 1939 the Link Corporation was attempting to add visual simulations to its Link Trainer. In 1941 they developed the Celestial Navigator Trainer, which allowed for cross Atlantic and night training. It represented stars on a dome positioned over the Link Trainer. The stars could be moved to correspond with time and changes in location, giving training pilots the ability to practice navigation.

Later on, more advanced analog visualizations were created to help give pilots the feeling they were actually flying. Many used a mock up terrain visual system. In this system a camera was "flown" over the model terrain and the picture displayed to the pilot. The camera changed in response the the pilots control actions, giving the pilot the visual simulation of flight. The method was limited however, and only small areas of the ground were able to be simulated, usually the area around an airport or, typical terrain and ground targets in military simulations.

**The Celestial Navigator

**The Mock Up Visual Terrain System

The Dawn of Computers in Flight Simulation

Beginning in the 1940's, flight simulators first began to utilized analog computers to help solve the equations of flight. In the 1950's, analog computers became common in flight simulators. They had the advantage of great speed and fit well into the then analog world of the aircraft cockpit and its displays. By the early 1960's it became obvious that more advanced applications such as the new Gemini Space Mission simulators would require more advanced digital computers.

Thanks in great part to NASA and the space program, advances in digital computers continued to improve the abilities of flight simulators. In 1972, the Singer Corporation developed the collimating lens apparatus. This new lens was combined with a curved mirror and beam splitter, giving it the ability to project Out of The Cockpit Window (OTW) views to the pilot at a distant focus for the first time. These collimated monitors greatly improved the realism of flight simulation. These mirrors were further developed in the late 70's and 80's, and in conjunction with improved computer simulation technologies gave way to the modern simulators we see today.

Modern Commercial Flight Simulators

Modern commercial flight simulators have come a long way from their simplistic analog roots. In addition to realistic visualizations and full control replication, modern simulators also incorporate motion bases or platforms to provide cues of real motion. These motion bases or platforms can can provide about +/- 35 degrees of the three rotations pitch, roll and yaw, and about one metre of the three linear movements of heave, sway and surge. Take a look at a modern simulator in use:

A Chinese 757-767 Simulator

Home Simulation

With the advent of the personal computer, home flight simulation became possible for the first time. Beginning with rudimentary replications of flight simulation, home flight simulation has progressed an incredible amount in the past twenty five years. Today's flight simulations are extremely realistic and give home enthusiasts a great idea of what it is like to actually fly a plane. The following chronicles this evolution.

YearName System Features Screenshot
1980 FS1 Flight Simulator 1 Apple II4 color/monochrome, with a 2-gauge panel (airspeed, altitude), on cassette tape
1981 Updated Release FS1 Flight Simulator 1 Apple II Altitude-counter, enhanced terrain lay-out, "3D"-mountains and other structures, 4 Colors, 5 1/4 floppy
1982 Microsoft releases FS 1.0 (created by subLOGIC) IBM-PC 4 color (+ dithering), panel with 8 gauges, new co-ordinate system, 4 scenery areas (20 airports) , 2 COM radios and DME (no ADF), 9 view directions, weather, slew, simulated aircraft is a Cessna 182.
1982 FS2 Flight Simulator 2 Atari ST, Commodore Amiga and Apple MacIntosh and more supported by various releases of FS2 6-color, solid filled, 4 areas, now with 80 airports, more roads, rivers, mountains, buildings, bridges, ADF, simulated aircraft is a Piper Archer.
1988 FS3 Flight Simulator 3 PC's Only 16-color EGA (640x350), new panel, new high resolution scenery structure, better weather/time of day features, flight recording/analysis, multiplayer. Mediocre flight model.
1989 FS4 Flight Simulator 4 PC's Only Much better flight models, improved scenery, random weather, dynamic scenery, approach lighting systems, "aircraft design" (experimental aircraft), Schweitzer 2-32 sailplane.
1993-95 FS5 Flight Simulator 5 - 5.1 PC's Only 640x400, 256-color, new "true" world co-ordinate system, better mountains, buildings, aircraft, weather, sounds etc. First real textures, handle scenery libraries including wide use of satellite imagery, faster performance and a barrage of weather effects: storms, 3D clouds and fog became true-to-life elements in the Flight Simulator world.
1996 Flight Simulator 95 PC's Only First Windows version, 640x480, easy installation, 50% higher frame rate, better haze, completely textured, new planes (Extra 300S), etc.
1997 Flight Simulator 98 PC's Only 15 year milestone, higher resolution (1280x1024, 16 bit color), first true helicopter simulation (Bell JetRanger 206B)
1999 Flight Simulator 2000 PC's Only 17000 new airports, 3D-elevation terrain, better textures, Boeing 737-400, Mooney, King Air and Concorde. GPS Feature.
2001 Flight Simulator 2002 PC's Only Improved 3D-elevation (mesh-scenery), AutoGen buildings, trees, virtual cockpit with working instruments, AI aircraft at airports and in the air, "live" ATC. Smooth performance.
2003 Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight PC's Only Great weather and clouds. Improved mesh and Autogen, much better AI aircraft and ATC. Nice old planes in keeping with the theme, better aircraft in general. Very smooth performance.
2006 Flight Simulator X PC's Only New aircraft, improved multiplayer support, including the ability for two players to fly a single plane, and players to occupy a control tower (available in the Deluxe Edition), and improved scenery with higher resolution ground textures.

Combat Simulators

Although many of the lifelike flight simulators have been primarily for computers, flight simulation games are not strictly the realm of realistic flight enthusiast. Air combat games that simulate flight have been extremely successful in the mainstream and boast dazzling graphics and features. One of the most successful of these games has been the Ace Combat Franchise. Here is some incredible video of its latest installment Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation

Stunning graphics coupled with exciting gameplay have made combat simulators quite popular consol games. Sophisticated joysticks have also been made available to the console crowd:

The Future of Flight Simulation

The future of flight simulation lies in the next generation of professional flight simulations. Ulike its predecessors, these new machines will be capable of reproducing the forces experienced by pilots. They will provide for unlimited rotation via a gimballed cockpit. The gimbal sub-system is supported by a framework which adds vertical motion. The framework is mounted on a large rotating platform with an adjustable radius. This new system will create sustainable g-force simulation with unlimited rotational freedom. This, combined with advances in visualization will make the latest simulators difficult to distinguish from actually flying. Here are two examples of these next generation machines.

The Desdemona Flight Simulation system for the Netherlands-based research organization TNO The Mimicker True 3D Simulator

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The physiological toll of multitasking and why we may not be making rational decisions even when we think we are.

You've just moved to town and need a place to live. You've narrowed your choices to three apartments that seem suitable. The first is spacious, 800 square feet, but it's a good 15 miles from your new job. That's a long daily commute. The second is much closer, only about seven miles away, but at 450 square feet the space is a bit cramped. The third is 350 square feet and 10 miles from work. You're running out of time and need to get yourself settled. Which do you choose?

Well, if you're like most people, you will choose the second apartment. That may be a perfectly fine choice, and chances are you'll be happy there. But it's not a rational choice, and here's why: Eliminating the third apartment is a no-brainer; it's both smaller and more remote than the second apartment. So that should leave you with a tossup between two decent places, and you should be just as likely to choose one as the other. But you're not. Instead you are irrationally swayed by the similarity between the second and the third apartments. You pick the second not because it is better than the spacious apartment, No. 1, but because you're still comparing it to the loser apartment, even though you ruled that one out.

Cognitive psychologists call that third apartment a mental "decoy." It is so clearly inferior to the other two, neither spacious nor well-located, it really shouldn't even be in the mix, but dinging it does not make it go away entirely. It lingers in your mind, tugging you toward apartment No. 2.

This is not a good thing. We make choices like this every day. We decide where to go to college, what to eat for dinner, who to date. And a lot of our choices are irrational, influenced by irrelevant information. We are of course capable of making deliberate, logical choices as well; recent science suggests that the brain is like a hybrid engine, constantly switching back and forth between reasoned calculation and rapid intuition. But what determines how we will handle a particular problem in life? How do we know what part of our cognitive repertoire will be in play today?

A couple of Florida State University psychologists may have part of the answer to that. If the brain truly is like a hybrid engine, E. J. Masicampo and Roy Baumeister reasoned, then why not look at the fuel system? All of that cognitive crunching doesn't come cheap, and effortful deliberation is especially greedy for energy. This is not just a metaphor: they wanted to see if the brain's supply of fuel--blood glucose--might determine whether we make logical choices or irrational ones. They decided to explore this in the laboratory.

The experiment was fairly simple. They started by having all the subjects do an exercise meant to deplete their power--both their willpower and the glucose that fuels self-control and decision making. Specifically, they had them watch a silent video of a woman talking. A series of words also flashed on the screen, but they told the subjects to ignore the words; if they did find themselves distracted by the words, they were to refocus their attention on the woman. This is actually very hard to do; it requires a lot of mental effort to not read the words right in front of you.

The purpose here was to mentally "exhaust" the subjects, much like doing wind sprints would deplete their muscles and lungs. Once they had all of them in this depleted condition, they re-energized only some of them with sugar. They actually had all of the subjects drink some lemonade, but only some were getting real sugar; the others were drinking lemonade artificially sweetened with Splenda. The idea was that the Splenda drinkers would remain cognitively drained while the sugar drinkers would be restored to normal intellectual functioning.
Finally, the psychologists confronted the subjects with the apartment dilemma described before. In theory, the depleted subjects should at this point have been mentally "weaker" and therefore less capable of making effortful, deliberate decisions. And that is precisely what they found. As reported in the March issue of the journal Psychological Science, the subjects who were running on empty were much more likely to be swayed by the decoy apartment--and thus to make a poor judgment. Those who had recently been re-energized didn't waste any time or energy on the inferior decoy, and didn't allow it to sway them in their real choice: they chose the spacious apartment and the better-located apartment about equally.

This is obviously not about lemonade and apartment hunting. But it is about the intricate interplay of mind and body in so many of life's dilemmas. Imagine that you are trying to simultaneously quit smoking, hold your temper with your foolish boss, plan a wedding and finish a complex deadline project while helping your kid with his algebra. Many of us pride ourselves on our ability to multitask. But if willpower and mentally strenuous work both require the same fuel, and that fuel comes in limited supply, something along the way probably has to give. It's just a matter of what.

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Duck and Cover: It’s the New Survivalism

THE traditional face of survivalism is that of a shaggy loner in camouflage, holed up in a cabin in the wilderness and surrounded by cases of canned goods and ammunition.

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DUGOUT A father and daughter enter a Cold War bomb shelter.

Warner Brothers Pictures

ALIVE AND ALONE Will Smith stars in “I Am Legend” as a survivor of a man-made virus, walking New York’s desolate streets.

It is not that of Barton M. Biggs, the former chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley. Yet in Mr. Biggs’s new book, “Wealth, War and Wisdom,” he says people should “assume the possibility of a breakdown of the civilized infrastructure.”

“Your safe haven must be self-sufficient and capable of growing some kind of food,” Mr. Biggs writes. “It should be well-stocked with seed, fertilizer, canned food, wine, medicine, clothes, etc. Think Swiss Family Robinson. Even in America and Europe there could be moments of riot and rebellion when law and order temporarily completely breaks down.”

Survivalism, it seems, is not just for survivalists anymore.

Faced with a confluence of diverse threats — a tanking economy, a housing crisis, looming environmental disasters, and a sharp spike in oil prices — people who do not consider themselves extremists are starting to discuss doomsday measures once associated with the social fringes.

They stockpile or grow food in case of a supply breakdown, or buy precious metals in case of economic collapse. Some try to take their houses off the electricity grid, or plan safe houses far away. The point is not to drop out of society, but to be prepared in case the future turns out like something out of “An Inconvenient Truth,” if not “Mad Max.”

“I’m not a gun-nut, camo-wearing skinhead. I don’t even hunt or fish,” said Bill Marcom, 53, a construction executive in Dallas.

Still, motivated by a belief that the credit crunch and a bursting housing bubble might spark widespread economic chaos — “the Greater Depression,” as he put it — Mr. Marcom began to take measures to prepare for the unknown over the last few years: buying old silver coins to use as currency; buying G.P.S. units, a satellite telephone and a hydroponic kit; and building a simple cabin in a remote West Texas desert.

“If all these planets line up and things do get really bad,” Mr. Marcom said, “those who have not prepared will be trapped in the city with thousands of other people needing food and propane and everything else.”

Interest in survivalism — in either its traditional hard-core version or a middle-class “lite” variation — functions as a leading economic indicator of social anxiety, preparedness experts said: It spikes at times of peril real (the post-Sept. 11 period) or imagined (the chaos that was supposed to follow the so-called Y2K computer bug in 2000).

At times, a degree of paranoia is officially sanctioned. In the 1950s, civil defense authorities encouraged people to build personal bomb shelters because of the nuclear threat. In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security encouraged Americans to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal windows in case of biological or chemical attacks.

Now, however, the government, while still conducting business under a yellow terrorism alert, is no longer taking a lead role in encouraging preparedness. For some, this leaves a vacuum of reassurance, and plenty to worry about.

Esteemed economists debate whether the credit crisis could result in a complete meltdown of the financial system. A former vice president of the United States informs us that global warming could result in mass flooding, disease and starvation, perhaps even a new Ice Age.

“You just can’t help wonder if there’s a train wreck coming,” said David Anderson, 50, a database administrator in Colorado Springs who said he was moved by economic uncertainties and high energy prices, among other factors, to stockpile months’ worth of canned goods in his basement for his wife, his two young children and himself.

Popular culture also provides reinforcement, in books like “The Road,” Cormac McCarthy’s novel about a father and son journeying through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and films like “I Am Legend,” which stars Will Smith as a survivor of a man-made virus wandering the barren streets of New York.

Middle-class survivalists can also browse among a growing number of how-to books with titles like “Dare to Prepare!” a self-published work by Holly Drennan Deyo, or “When All Hell Breaks Loose” by Cody Lundin (Gibbs Smith, 2007), which instructs readers how to dispose of bodies and dine on rats and dogs in the event of disaster.

Preparedness activity is difficult to track statistically, since people who take measures are usually highly circumspect by nature, said Jim Rawles, the editor of, a preparedness Web site. Nevertheless, interest in the survivalist movement “is experiencing its largest growth since the late 1970s,” Mr. Rawles said in an e-mail, adding that traffic at his blog has more than doubled in the past 11 months, with more than 67,000 unique visitors per week. And its base is growing.

“Our core readership is still solidly conservative,” he said. “But in recent months I’ve noticed an increasing number of stridently green and left-of-center readers.”

One left-of-center environmentalist who is taking action is Alex Steffen, the executive editor of, a Web site devoted to sustainability. With only slight irony, Mr. Steffen, 40, said he and his girlfriend could serve as “poster children for the well-adjusted, urban liberal survivalist,” given that they keep a six-week cache of food and supplies in his basement in Seattle (although they polished off their bottle of doomsday whiskey at a party).

He said the chaos following Hurricane Katrina served as a wake-up call for him and others that the government might not be able to protect them in an emergency or environmental crisis.

“The ‘where do we land when climate change gets crazy?’ question seems to be an increasingly common one,” said Mr. Steffen in an e-mail message, adding that such questions have “really gone mainstream.”

Many of the new, nontraditional preparedness converts are “Peakniks,” Mr. Rawles said, referring to adherents of the “Peak Oil” theory. This concept holds that the world will soon, or has already, reached a peak in oil production, and that coming supply shortages might threaten society. While the theory is still disputed by many industry analysts and executives, it has inched toward the mainstream in the last two years, as oil prices have nearly doubled, surpassing $100 a barrel. The topic, which was the subject of a United States Department of Energy report in 2005, has attracted attention in publications like The New York Times Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, and was a primary focus of “Megadisasters: Oil Apocalypse,” a recent History Channel special.

Another book, “The Long Emergency” (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005), by James Howard Kunstler, an author and journalist who writes about economic and environmental issues, argues that American suburbs and cities may soon lay desolate as people, starved of oil, are forced back to the land to adopt a hardscrabble, 19th-century-style agrarian life.

Such fears caused Joyce Jimerson of Bellingham, Wash., a coordinator for a recycling-composting program affiliated with Washington State University, to make her yard an “edible garden,” with fruit trees and vegetables, in case supplies are threatened by oil shortages, climate change or economic collapse. “It’s all the same ball of wax, as far as I’m concerned,” she said.

Scott Troyer, an energy consultant in Sunnyvale, Calif., said he was spurred by discussions of peak oil — “it’s not a theory,” he said — and other energy concerns to remake his suburban house in anticipation of a petroleum-starved future. Mr. Troyer, 57, installed a photovoltaic electricity system, a pellet stove and a “cool roof” to reflect the sun’s rays, among other measures.

Mr. Troyer remains cautiously optimistic that Americans can wean themselves from oil through smart engineering and careful planning. But, he said, “the doomsday scenarios will happen if people don’t prepare.”

Some middle-class preparedness converts, like Val Vontourne, a musician and paralegal in Olympia, Wash., recoil at the term “survivalist,” even as they stock their homes with food, gasoline and water.

“I think of survivalists as being an extreme case of preparedness,” said Ms. Vontourne, 44, “people who stockpile guns and weapons, anticipating extreme aggression. Whereas what I’m doing, I think of as something responsible people do.

“I now think of storing extra food, water, medicine and gasoline in the same way I think of buying health insurance and putting money in my 401k,” she said. “It just makes sense.”

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Mead Releases New Grad-School-Ruled Notebook

RICHMOND, VA—After decades of only offering ruled notebook paper suitable for college-level education and below, school-supply giant Mead introduced its new grad-school-ruled notebook Monday, which features lines twice as narrow as college-ruled paper.

"We here at Mead understand that as students get older and wiser, they need notebooks with increasingly narrow lines," Mead CEO John A. Luke told reporters. "In college, people are at a stage in their education where they require 9/32nds of an inch between each line, which is why we make college-ruled notebooks. But I think we can all agree that grad school is a completely different world than college—a world where 9/32nds of an inch is simply too much room."

Enlarge Image Grad-School Ruled

"How can we expect graduate students to learn to gather information and construct knowledge independently within their specialized field of study using college-ruled notebooks?" he added. "These students need a narrower-lined notebook, and at long last, they have it."

According to Mead's website, the ruling lines in the grad-school-ruled notebooks will be placed 3.55 millimeters apart, making them "infinitely more practical" for postgraduate work than the 7.1 millimeter college-ruled notebooks. In addition, the standard 1.5-inch top margin normally provided for dates and headers will be halved, and the left-hand margin will be eliminated entirely.

"Just think: If you are writing a dissertation on elements of thanatopsis and necromimesis as they relate to cacaesthesian themes of mid-20th-century Irish literature, do you really want your notebook lines to be more than seven millimeters apart?" Luke said. "Of course not."

"When you're in grad school, every millimeter counts," he added.

A recent Mead press release claimed that the streamlined 3.55-millimeter spaces between lines are perfect for contemplating Curry's Paradox, solving quantum chromodynamics formulas based on the Yang-Mills theory of color-charged fermions, or even just doing sophisticated grad-school doodles.

"Gone are the days of graduate students having to tediously pencil in new lines between each existing college-ruled line just to make the notebooks usable," the press release read in part. "And with the time you'll save by not having to flip a page every 33 lines, you could earn your Ph.D. a year early."

The new notebook also features a helpful page on its inside back cover that includes not only the traditional metric-conversion charts and world time zone map, but also handy guides such as the periodic table of elements, the Hertzsprung-Russell star-luminosity diagram, steel wire tension strengths, a list of the lattice phenomena of crystalline solids, and the entirety of Willa Cather's 1918 novel My Ántonia.

In addition, each page will be triple-perforated and seven-hole-punched, which Mead representative Kurt Fleming said is "essential for the 21st-century graduate student." The notebook will also have more spirals. Asked to explain why this particular change was made, Fleming responded, "This notebook was designed with graduate students in mind."

The notebooks are currently available in several special grad-school-edition colors, including alabaster, saffron, vermilion, and, for girl graduate students, periwinkle.

Student response to the new product has thus far been positive. "I remember in my first year of grad school, I would always think to myself, 'I wish that every line in my notebook could be as narrow as the one on the bottom of the page that gets cut off,'" said Milo Aylsworth, a master's candidate in English at Harvard. "I'm going to write the name of each class on the covers!"

Mead has also announced that, in 2009, the company plans to release a line of real-world-ruled notebooks, in which the spaces between the lines will be so microscopic that they will not be visible to the naked eye.

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