Monday, May 19, 2008

Don't Smile Too Much, German Shop Assistants Warned

A German psychologist has warned "professional smilers" such as flight attendants and shop assistants that too much forced smiling can cause stress, depression and even heart problems. It's unlikely to become a major health issue though -- German customer service isn't renowned for its friendliness.

Too much professional smiling carries health risks, a German psychologist has warned.

Too much professional smiling carries health risks, a German psychologist has warned.

Constant smiling can be bad for your health if you're forced to do it as part of your job, for example as a flight attendant or shop assistant, a German psychologist has warned.

The stress caused by having to flash one's teeth at customers can lead to depression, high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems, Professor Dieter Zapf of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University of Frankfurt told Apotheken Umschau, a healthcare magazine handed out free at pharmacies in Germany. Zapf's findings are based on research conducted by the university.

Zapf recommends that "professional smilers" take regular breaks to relax, rid themselves of aggression and recuperate from the effort of smiling.

The advice may appear redundant given that smiling doesn't come naturally to many staff in the German service sector. The city of Berlin tried to address the problem ahead of the 2006 football World Cup in Germany when it launched a campaign (more...) to get Germans to smile.

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Warning: Using a mobile phone while pregnant can seriously damage your baby


Scientists found that mothers who did use the handsets were 54 per cent more likely to have children with behavioural problems and that the likelihood increased with the amount of potential exposure to the radiation

Women who use mobile phones when pregnant are more likely to give birth to children with behavioural problems, according to authoritative research.

A giant study, which surveyed more than 13,000 children, found that using the handsets just two or three times a day was enough to raise the risk of their babies developing hyperactivity and difficulties with conduct, emotions and relationships by the time they reached school age. And it adds that the likelihood is even greater if the children themselves used the phones before the age of seven.

The results of the study, the first of its kind, have taken the top scientists who conducted it by surprise. But they follow warnings against both pregnant women and children using mobiles by the official Russian radiation watchdog body, which believes that the peril they pose "is not much lower than the risk to children's health from tobacco or alcohol".

The research – at the universities of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Aarhus, Denmark – is to be published in the July issue of the journal Epidemiology and will carry particular weight because one of its authors has been sceptical that mobile phones pose a risk to health.

UCLA's Professor Leeka Kheifets – who serves on a key committee of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, the body that sets the guidelines for exposure to mobile phones – wrote three and a half years ago that the results of studies on people who used them "to date give no consistent evidence of a causal relationship between exposure to radiofrequency fields and any adverse health effect".

The scientists questioned the mothers of 13,159 children born in Denmark in the late 1990s about their use of the phones in pregnancy, and their children's use of them and behaviour up to the age of seven. As they gave birth before mobiles became universal, about half of the mothers had used them infrequently or not at all, enabling comparisons to be made.

They found that mothers who did use the handsets were 54 per cent more likely to have children with behavioural problems and that the likelihood increased with the amount of potential exposure to the radiation. And when the children also later used the phones they were, overall, 80 per cent more likely to suffer from difficulties with behaviour. They were 25 per cent more at risk from emotional problems, 34 per cent more likely to suffer from difficulties relating to their peers, 35 per cent more likely to be hyperactive, and 49 per cent more prone to problems with conduct.

The scientists say that the results were "unexpected", and that they knew of no biological mechanisms that could cause them. But when they tried to explain them by accounting for other possible causes – such as smoking during pregnancy, family psychiatric history or socio-economic status – they found that, far from disappearing, the association with mobile phone use got even stronger.

They add that there might be other possible explanations that they did not examine – such as that mothers who used the phones frequently might pay less attention to their children – and stress that the results "should be interpreted with caution" and checked by further studies. But they conclude that "if they are real they would have major public health implications".

Professor Sam Milham, of the blue-chip Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, and the University of Washington School of Public Health – one of the pioneers of research in the field – said last week that he had no doubt that the results were real. He pointed out that recent Canadian research on pregnant rats exposed to similar radiation had found structural changes in their offspring's brains.

The Russian National Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection says that use of the phones by both pregnant women and children should be "limited". It concludes that children who talk on the handsets are likely to suffer from "disruption of memory, decline of attention, diminishing learning and cognitive abilities, increased irritability" in the short term, and that longer-term hazards include "depressive syndrome" and "degeneration of the nervous structures of the brain".

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Calgary woman recovering after robotic arm removes brain tumour

Dr. Garnette Sutherland of the University of Calgary reviews the groundbreaking surgery by a robotic arm to remove a woman's brain tumour.Dr. Garnette Sutherland of the University of Calgary reviews the groundbreaking surgery by a robotic arm to remove a woman's brain tumour. (CBC)

A surgical team in Calgary on Friday extolled the virtues of using a robotic arm to perform groundbreaking surgery to remove a woman's brain tumour.

Paige Nickason, 21, was discharged from the Foothills Medical Centre after surgery Monday by Dr. Garnette Sutherland of the University of Calgary.

"Paige's brain surgery represents a technical achievement in the use of image-guided robotic technology to remove a relatively complex brain tumour," Sutherland told a press conference.

"This is wonderful and represents the beginning of something new in surgical care," he said.

"I had to have the tumour removed anyway, so I was happy to help by being a part of this historical surgery," Nickason said in a press release on Friday.

Mimic surgeon's movements

The two mechanical hands of the robot, known as NeuroArm, mimic the movements of the surgeon with incredible precision while sensors and microphones recreate the sights, sounds and touch of surgery.

A surgeon is able to control the robot using levers at a computer workstation in a room next to the surgery. Sutherland said human ability to manipulate robotic surgery techniques can be credited, at least in part, to the explosion in popularity of video games.

"We would all agree that our young children who have become immersed in video games represent the future generation of surgeons," he said. "[They] will be experienced in the integration of hand controllers with images and …will have enhanced hand-eye co-ordination with highly developed spatial orientation."

The technology works in conjunction with real-time magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to provide surgeons with unprecedented detail and the control to manipulate tools at a microscopic scale for operations ranging from repairs of blood vessels to removal of brain tumours.

Precision, accuracy, dexterity improving

Microsurgical techniques that evolved in the 1960s have pushed surgeons to the limits of their precision, accuracy, dexterity and stamina, Sutherland said in April, with the world's best surgeons being able to get within three millimetres of the mark.

The arm was designed and built in collaboration with engineers at MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, known for creating Canadarm and Canadarm2 for NASA.

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Pharmaceutical Drug Companies Marketing and Policy Making

There are a lot of new readers to Better Body Journal because of a recent story that got promoted to the front page of Digg yesterday. First off, welcome. Second off, I’d like to give a quick background on this site before we piss any more people off. Well, actually, that’s what we do here. We piss people off. We get a little rude and crude because we’re tired of the “It’s not my fault,” blame-someone-else mentality that many Americans have developed when it comes their own lives and health.

A lot of people are taking the comments personally. Sorry if we hit a nerve. Like we tried to say in the previous article, we know that there are legitimate purposes for many, if not all, prescription drugs. We just want to see many of them being used as a last resort after exhausting all of the common sense, holistic techniques to treat an ailment.

By the way, we are not doctors. We are not qualified to give medical advice. The views and opinions expressed on this site are just that: views and opinions. On that note, we are not Scientologists or conspiracy theorists either.

Restless Leg Syndrome is Actually a Real Disease

First and foremost, I’d really like to apologize to the actual Restless Leg Syndrome sufferers out there. In the previous article I treated RLS like a made up disease, which obviously it is not. There are most certainly people out there that suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome where it affects their daily lives. I don’t mean to pick only on RLS, but that is the way it came out in the previous article.

But 1 in 10 Americans? Really? How come we never heard of this disease 10 years ago? Now, all of the sudden, every tenth person I know is a sufferer of Restless Leg Syndrome? You should be weary of any disease and its cure that is promoted so heavily, where it affects so many people out of nowhere.

There is a huge conflict of interest here when the company that produces the drug to treat RLS runs the main information portal while providing “non-biased” research to prove their point. Take from it what you will, but I truly doubt these studies were non-biased. When millions of dollars are involved, there is no such thing as independent research.

The Good, The Bad, and The Profitable.

The Good

The pharmaceutical industry is huge in the scope of its work. There are drugs out there that treat anything from allergies all the way to yeast infections. There is very good work being done by very good people in the field of medicine, the foot soldiers and the pioneers. The progress of medicine in America and the world has been incredible. Cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, and many more are life-threatening diseases that affect us in one way or another, whether we suffer from the disease itself, or a close family member or friend.

The Bad and the Profitable – Pushing the Big Pharma Agenda

I believe in capitalism and free markets. I don’t think health care and medicine should be in the hands of government. Not a very liberal point of view, but that’s just my opinion. For the record, I’ve never seen Sicko, not that it should matter.

But somewhere medicine stopped being about the common good. The “free market” of medicine is not free at all. It can’t be free when the there are more than 2 pharmaceutical lobbyists for every 1 member of Congress. It can’t be free when the pharmaceutical industry spends more than any other industry on its lobbying efforts. ($758 million since 1998 as of 2005)(1)

And this is my problem with the pharmaceutical industry, and it should be yours. This is the point I was trying to make in the previous article. There is plenty of good work being done in medicine, but it is being exploited and abused by those in control. Like when a drug to treat severe depression is marketed to the general public, so it can hook those with low self-esteem or those going through a rough patch in their lives to a habit forming pill. Promoting the common good has taken a backseat promoting a company’s bottom line. From USA Today(2):

Over the years those lobbyists have been very successful, demonstrating that the industry knows politics as well as it knows chemistry. Drug companies won coverage for prescription drugs under Medicare in 2003 while blocking the government from negotiating prices downward. They have so far kept out imports of cheaper medicines from Canada and other countries. And they have protected a system that uses company fees to speed the drug-approval process.

“They win more than they should,” says James Love, an industry critic who is director of the non-profit Consumer Project on Technology. “The one thing they have going for them is money.”

The Food and Drug Administration IS THE Pharmaceutical Industry, and vise versa

There is a conflict of interest when a government agency whose purpose is make sure pharmaceutical drugs are “safe and effective” before they hit the market, has advisers from that very industry. A USA Today article (3) reports that 92% of FDA advisory committee meetings from January 1998 to June 2000 had at least one member with a financial conflict of interest. 55% of meetings had half of the FDA advisers in those meetings with a financial conflict of interest. A more staggering fact is that 33% had a financial conflict when dealing with the fate of a specific drug.

When so few people will affect the lives of so many, it is a crime that their decisions are allowed to be influenced by their stake in a company. The very people who are hired by the FDA to debate, test, and finally approve these drugs are the very people working for the drug makers.

Advisers can be paid up to $50,000 as a consultant for a drug company before there is a “conflict of interest” according to the FDA. Private jets paid for by drug companies whisk politicians and lawmakers to and from closed meetings, events, and the capital. There is a lot of money involved. Your health and safety are footnotes.

Who is to blame?

Who am I going to blame for the sky-high drug prices, excessive promotion of unnecessary drugs that end up being not-so-safe, and rising death toll from prescription drugs? Everyone. Let’s begin.


Lobbying is nothing new in Washington. Gun makers, cigarette companies, oil companies, farmers and so on. They all do it. Every industry has stake in the laws our government makes. But it is a disgusting practice that needs to be stopped or regulated better if you want real change in this country, no matter which candidate you support.

The public controls the government. That is the way it should be. But who really controls it? Sure, we the people have the illusion we control it, but decisions in Washington are heavily influenced by private interest. There is no getting around that.

The Pharmaceutical Companies

Pfizer spent $16.90 billion on marketing in 2004, and only $7.68 billion on research and development. GlaxoSmithKline spent $12.93 on marketing, and $5.20 billion on research and development. Merck spent $7.35 billion on marketing and $4 billion on research and development. (4)

Just like the previous article, I still want to put a lot of blame on the Pharmaceutical companies. Imagine if those numbers were reversed. Rather than 2:1 spending on marketing to R&D, what if pharmaceutical companies had a cap on marketing spend, or a minimum spend on research and development? Would that change anything? Who knows. It’s a pipe dream anyway. When big Pharma spends more on lobbying that any other industry, no law or act will ever be put into place that negatively affects their profits. Never.

Does the pharmaceutical industry want cheap drugs on the market? Of course not. Arbitrarily high prices are the reason their profits are so big. The barriers to entry for new drugs are so high that true, free-market competition is not possible. These barriers are put into place by the companies that make up the drug industry lobby. The industry functions very similar to a cartel.


I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. Wake up America. If you’ve read this article and the last, you have been warned. Pharmaceutical companies want you to take their pills whether you need them or not. If you need them and they work for you, thank the pioneers, thinkers, and scientists. There are honest in people in the pharmaceutical industry that want to rid the world of disease as much as you and I do.

But for the average Joe, think about the pills you think you need. The playing field is not level because we are bombarded with billions of dollars worth of advertising every year, convinced into thinking that we need expensive pills for all that ails us.

Try the holistic approach before you succumb to the lure of prescription pills. Do you suffer from depression because you’re over weight? Spend a year getting in shape and you will change your life for the better. Still suffering? Then maybe you have a real problem.

Do you suffer from heartburn? Take a look at your diet. Is it fully comprised of foods that would cause heartburn? Yes, the commercials say that heartburn is caused by both the foods we eat and genetics. Eliminate the “foods that cause heartburn” part first, and then talk to your doctor about the pill.

Always talk to your doctor before taking the holistic approach. We must state once again that this website not written by doctors. If you are on medication, talk to your doctor about ways you can get off of it safely if that really is your ultimate goal. Before going on medication, talk to your doctor about available natural cures and approaches, and what else you can do before you absolutely have to get on a prescription.

I truly believe in the ability to cure ourselves for many of the problems we have. I’ve heard and read too many stories of people turning their lives around by getting in shape and staying in shape, or changing their lifestyle for the better to eliminate the stress and heartache in their lives.

On that note, be weary of holistic scammers too. Not everything can be cured holistically. While the “natural cures and holistic treatment industry” pales in comparison to the racket that the pharmaceutical company has in place, there are still enough people waiting to rip you off. Be weary of anything that is promoted by scam artists or that is “too good to be true.”

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Bean vacuum sucks the air out of your coffee

Coffee snobs will tell you that stored beans won't oxidize and turn bitter as quickly if they're held in a vacuum. The problem is, sucking on the hole in the bag as you roll it up and bend over those little twisty tabs doesn't really work very well. This Bean Vac canister from The Sharper Image should do the trick however. Capable of holding over a pound of beans, the Bean Vac has a tightly sealed locking lid, and a vacuum pump that sucks the air out running on 4 AA batteries. Sharper Image says you can also use it to store things like cookies, nuts and chocolate, but I would never know as that stuff doesn't last more than a day in my house.

The Bean Vac is available now for about $40.

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Tomato Genetically Modified To Be More Expensive

PASADENA, CA—Geneticists at the California Institute of Technology announced Monday that they have developed a tomato with a 31 percent larger price tag than a typical specimen of the vine-ripened fruit. "By utilizing an exciting new breakthrough in gene-splicing technology, we've been able to manipulate this new tomato with recombinant DNA in such a manner as to make it nearly as pricey as a similarly sized tangelo," said Dr. Lee Nolan, who headed up the project. "Genetically modified crops such as this will be instrumental in helping average grocers keep pace with unaffordable organic stores such as Whole Foods." In addition to vastly surpassing similar produce in expense, the new tomato will reportedly wipe out four species of ladybugs.

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10 Reasons Gen Xers Are Unhappy at Work

Corporations really need folks in their 30s to early 40s, but there is a tentative relationship at best between that cohort and Corporate America

I'm worried about Generation X and corporations. As far as I can tell, these two have a tentative relationship at best—and are likely headed for some rocky times ahead.

Corporations really need Gen X—folks in their 30's to early 40's, who should begin to serve as our primary corporate leaders over the next couple years. But I fear many current corporate executives are taking this small and therefore precious group for granted.

Many of you X'ers are not thrilled with corporate life. You tend not to trust institutions in general and deeply resent the Boomers' confident assumptions that you will be motivated by the same things that Boomers have long cared about. Many of you have told me that you are planning to leave corporate life "soon"—to start entrepreneurial ventures or work for smaller companies—options you feel will suite you better than the corporate roles looming ahead.

Why are many X'ers uncomfortable in corporate life?

1. X'ers' corporate careers got off to a slow start and many are still feeling the pain. You graduated when the economy was slow and the huge bulge of Boomers had already grabbed most of the key jobs. As an article in the May, 1985 issue of Fortune said: "[T]hese pioneers of the baby-bust generation are finding life on the career frontier harsher than ever…they're snarled in a demographic traffic jam…stuck behind all those surplus graduates of the past decade."

2. When you were teens, X'ers witnessed adults in your lives being laid off from large corporations, as re-engineering swept through the business lexicon. This engendered in most X'ers a lack of trust in large institutions and a strong desire for a life filled with back-up plans, just in case. Many of the adults you saw laid off and then struggling to reintegrate were in their 40's—about the age X'ers are reaching today.

3. Most corporate career paths "narrow" at the top —the perceived range of options diminishes as individuals become increasingly specialized in specific functions or roles. X'ers crave options, which assuage your concerns about being backed into a corner, laid off from one path. The sense of narrowing career paths and increased vulnerability is often most palpable at the transition from middle to upper management—just where many of you are today. This step also often brings demands for relocation and separation from established social networks—an additional assault on your sense of self-reliance.

4. Just your luck—the economy was slow when you entered the workforce and now its slowing once again—just as you are standing at the threshold of senior management. Stepping into leadership roles right now looks more difficult and the roles themselves, more vulnerable than they have at any point in the past decade.

5. And then there are those pesky Gen Y's. Many X'ers are charged with "managing" Y's which—let's face it—is an impossible task, at least if you define "manage" as controlling their channels of communication. While vying for promotions and trying to look good, many of you feel that Y's are doing an end run around.

6. X'ers are, in fact, surrounded by a love fest—and not feeling the love. As I wrote in last week's post, Boomers and Y's are learning from each other—and enjoying their interactions. It's easy to feel left out.

7. X'ers are the most conservative cohort in today's workforce—and you're surrounded by "shake ‘em up" types on both sides. In your personal lives, X'ers are not particularly keen on rules, but you had to follow them in the workplace—and you resent it when others now don't. It seems unfair to be rewriting corporate etiquette when you've had to toe the line for so long.

8. Many X'ers' are guarding a closely held secret: you're not all as comfortable with the technology that is changing the way things are done as everyone seems to think you are. While it's perfectly acceptable for Boomers to feign ignorance and ask for help, it's embarrassing for X'ers to do so.

9. And if Boomer colleagues are annoying, the Boomer parents of your Y reports are down-right over-the-top. X'ers can't believe the frequency of Y-parent interactions and are deeply turned off by parents who make their presence felt in the workplace.

10. Finally, your own parenting pressures are at a peak. You're deeply committed to spending more time with your kids than your parents did or were able to spend with you, but juggling is getting more and more difficult.

Is it time to jump off the corporate train?

I hope not—at least not for most of you. Corporations really need your leadership. But I understand that we need to create corporate environments that are more conducive to your needs and preferences.

I'm in the middle of my latest writing project—a book on career options and strategies for Gen X'ers. I'd love to hear from you about your experiences, frustrations, and success. What works? What doesn't? What do you worry about? What would you most like to know?

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Can You Become a Creature of New Habits?

HABITS are a funny thing. We reach for them mindlessly, setting our brains on auto-pilot and relaxing into the unconscious comfort of familiar routine. “Not choice, but habit rules the unreflecting herd,” William Wordsworth said in the 19th century. In the ever-changing 21st century, even the word “habit” carries a negative connotation.

So it seems antithetical to talk about habits in the same context as creativity and innovation. But brain researchers have discovered that when we consciously develop new habits, we create parallel synaptic paths, and even entirely new brain cells, that can jump our trains of thought onto new, innovative tracks.

Rather than dismissing ourselves as unchangeable creatures of habit, we can instead direct our own change by consciously developing new habits. In fact, the more new things we try — the more we step outside our comfort zone — the more inherently creative we become, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.

But don’t bother trying to kill off old habits; once those ruts of procedure are worn into the hippocampus, they’re there to stay. Instead, the new habits we deliberately ingrain into ourselves create parallel pathways that can bypass those old roads.

“The first thing needed for innovation is a fascination with wonder,” says Dawna Markova, author of “The Open Mind” and an executive change consultant for Professional Thinking Partners. “But we are taught instead to ‘decide,’ just as our president calls himself ‘the Decider.’ ” She adds, however, that “to decide is to kill off all possibilities but one. A good innovational thinker is always exploring the many other possibilities.”

All of us work through problems in ways of which we’re unaware, she says. Researchers in the late 1960s discovered that humans are born with the capacity to approach challenges in four primary ways: analytically, procedurally, relationally (or collaboratively) and innovatively. At puberty, however, the brain shuts down half of that capacity, preserving only those modes of thought that have seemed most valuable during the first decade or so of life.

The current emphasis on standardized testing highlights analysis and procedure, meaning that few of us inherently use our innovative and collaborative modes of thought. “This breaks the major rule in the American belief system — that anyone can do anything,” explains M. J. Ryan, author of the 2006 book “This Year I Will...” and Ms. Markova’s business partner. “That’s a lie that we have perpetuated, and it fosters mediocrity. Knowing what you’re good at and doing even more of it creates excellence.”

This is where developing new habits comes in. If you’re an analytical or procedural thinker, you learn in different ways than someone who is inherently innovative or collaborative. Figure out what has worked for you when you’ve learned in the past, and you can draw your own map for developing additional skills and behaviors for the future.

“I apprentice myself to someone when I want to learn something new or develop a new habit,” Ms. Ryan says. “Other people read a book about it or take a course. If you have a pathway to learning, use it because that’s going to be easier than creating an entirely new pathway in your brain.”

Ms. Ryan and Ms. Markova have found what they call three zones of existence: comfort, stretch and stress. Comfort is the realm of existing habit. Stress occurs when a challenge is so far beyond current experience as to be overwhelming. It’s that stretch zone in the middle — activities that feel a bit awkward and unfamiliar — where true change occurs.

“Getting into the stretch zone is good for you,” Ms. Ryan says in “This Year I Will... .” “It helps keep your brain healthy. It turns out that unless we continue to learn new things, which challenges our brains to create new pathways, they literally begin to atrophy, which may result in dementia, Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. Continuously stretching ourselves will even help us lose weight, according to one study. Researchers who asked folks to do something different every day — listen to a new radio station, for instance — found that they lost and kept off weight. No one is sure why, but scientists speculate that getting out of routines makes us more aware in general.”

She recommends practicing a Japanese technique called kaizen, which calls for tiny, continuous improvements.

“Whenever we initiate change, even a positive one, we activate fear in our emotional brain,” Ms. Ryan notes in her book. “If the fear is big enough, the fight-or-flight response will go off and we’ll run from what we’re trying to do. The small steps in kaizen don’t set off fight or flight, but rather keep us in the thinking brain, where we have access to our creativity and playfulness.”

Simultaneously, take a look at how colleagues approach challenges, Ms. Markova suggests. We tend to believe that those who think the way we do are smarter than those who don’t. That can be fatal in business, particularly for executives who surround themselves with like-thinkers. If seniority and promotion are based on similarity to those at the top, chances are strong that the company lacks intellectual diversity.

“Try lacing your hands together,” Ms. Markova says. “You habitually do it one way. Now try doing it with the other thumb on top. Feels awkward, doesn’t it? That’s the valuable moment we call confusion, when we fuse the old with the new.”

AFTER the churn of confusion, she says, the brain begins organizing the new input, ultimately creating new synaptic connections if the process is repeated enough.

But if, during creation of that new habit, the “Great Decider” steps in to protest against taking the unfamiliar path, “you get convergence and we keep doing the same thing over and over again,” she says.

“You cannot have innovation,” she adds, “unless you are willing and able to move through the unknown and go from curiosity to wonder.”

Janet Rae-Dupree writes about science and emerging technology in Silicon Valley.

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