Saturday, March 31, 2007

Orexin - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Orexin - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The orexin/hypocretin system was initially suggested to be primarily involved in the stimulation of food intake, based on the finding that central administration of orexin A/hypocretin-1 increases food intake. The discovery that orexin/hypocretin dysregulation causes the sleep disorder narcolepsy[1] subsequently indicated a major role for this system in sleep regulation. Narcolepsy results in excessive daytime sleepiness, inability to consolidate wakefulness in the day (and sleep at night), and cataplexy (loss of muscle tone in response to strong, usually positive, emotions). Dogs that lack a functional receptor for orexin/hypocretin have narcolepsy, while animals and people lacking the orexin/hypocretin neuropeptide itself also have narcolepsy. Orexin/hypocretin neurons strongly excite various brain nuclei with important roles in wakefulness including the dopamine, norepinephrine, histamine and acetylcholine systems and appear to play an important role in stabilizing wakefulness and sleep.

Problems with Dopamine, norepinephrine and acetylcholine are related to ADD.

Recent studies indicate that a major role of the orexin/hypocretin system may be to integrate metabolic, circadian and sleep debt influences to determine whether the animal should be asleep or awake and active. Central administration of orexin A/hypocretin-1 strongly promotes wakefulness, increases body temperature, locomotion and elicits a strong increase in energy expenditure. Sleep deprivation also increases orexin A/hypocretin-1 transmission. The orexin/hypocretin system may thus be more important in the regulation of energy expenditure than food intake. In fact, orexin/hypocretin-deficient narcoleptic patients have increased obesity rather than decreased BMI, as would be expected if orexin/hypocretin were primarily an appetite stimulating peptide.

Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells and acts as a long-term internal measure of energy state. Ghrelin is a short term factor secreted by the stomach just before an expected meal, and strongly promotes food intake.

Orexin/hypocretin-producing cells have recently been shown to be inhibited by leptin (by leptin receptors) but are activated by ghrelin and hypoglycemia. Orexin/hypocretin may therefore be a very important link between metabolism and sleep regulation. Such a relationship has been long suspected based on the observation that long-term sleep deprivation in rodents dramatically increases food intake and energy metabolism, i.e. catabolism, with lethal consequences on a long term basis.

The research on orexin/hypocretin is still in an early phase, although many scientists believe that orexin/hypocretin-based drugs could help narcoleptics and increase alertness in the brain without the side effects of amphetamines.

Preliminary research has been conducted that shows potential for orexin blockers in the treatment of alcoholism.

Narcolepsy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Narcolepsy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "Treatment

Several treatments are available for narcolepsy. These treat the symptoms, not the underlying cause. The drowsiness is normally treated using stimulants such as methylphenidate (Ritalin�), amphetamines (Adderall�), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine�), methamphetamine (Desoxyn�), modafinil (Provigil�) (also as Alertek�), etc. Other medications used are codeine (see references to clinical studies) and selegiline. In many cases, planned regular short naps can reduce the need for pharmacological treatment of the EDS to a low or non-existent level. "


Treatment is individualized depending on the severity of the symptoms, and it may take weeks or months for an optimal regimen to be worked out. Complete control of sleepiness and cataplexy is rarely possible


In addition to drug therapy, an important part of treatment is scheduling short naps (10 to 15 minutes) two to three times per day to help control excessive daytime sleepiness and help the person stay as alert as possible. Daytime naps are not a replacement for nighttime sleep.


Individuals with narcolepsy, their families, friends, and potential employers should know that:
Narcolepsy is a life-long condition that may require continuous medication.
Although there is no cure for narcolepsy at present, several medications can help reduce its symptoms.
People with narcolepsy can lead productive lives if they are provided with proper medical care.
If possible, individuals with narcolepsy should avoid jobs that require driving long distances or handling hazardous equipment or that require alertness for lengthy periods.
Parents, teachers, spouses, and employers should be aware of the symptoms of narcolepsy. This will help them avoid the mistake of confusing the person's behavior with laziness, hostility, rejection, or lack of interest and motivation. It will also help them provide essential support and cooperation.
Employers can promote better working opportunities for individuals with narcolepsy by permitting special work schedules and nap breaks.

Doctors generally agree that lifestyle changes can be very helpful to those suffering with narcolepsy. Suggested self-care tips, from the National Sleep Foundation, University at Buffalo, and Mayo Clinic, include:
Take several short daily naps (10-15 minutes) to combat excessive sleepiness and sleep attacks.
Develop a routine sleep schedule – try to go to sleep and awaken at the same time every day.
Alert your employers, coworkers and friends in the hope that others will accommodate your condition and help when needed.
Do not drive or operate dangerous equipment if you are sleepy. Take a nap before driving if possible. Consider taking a break for a nap during a long driving trip.
Join a support group.
Break up larger tasks into small pieces and focusing on one small thing at a time.
Stand whenever possible.
Take several short walks during the day.
Carry a tape recorder, if possible, to record important conversations and meetings.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Narcolepsy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Narcolepsy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Normally, when an individual is awake, brain waves show a regular rhythm. When a person first falls asleep, the brain waves become slower and less regular. This sleep state is called non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. After about an hour and a half of NREM sleep, the brain waves begin to show a more active pattern again. This sleep state, called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, is when most remembered dreaming occurs.

In narcolepsy, the order and length of NREM and REM sleep periods are disturbed, with REM sleep occurring at sleep onset instead of after a period of NREM sleep. Thus, narcolepsy is a disorder in which REM sleep appears at an abnormal time. Also, some of the aspects of REM sleep that normally occur only during sleep -- lack of muscular control, sleep paralysis, and vivid dreams -- occur at other times in people with narcolepsy. For example, the lack of muscular control can occur during wakefulness in a cataplexy episode. Sleep paralysis and vivid dreams can occur while falling asleep or waking up.Simply put, the brain does not pass through the normal stages of dozing and deep sleep but goes directly into (and out of) rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This has several consequences:
Nighttime sleep does not include much deep sleep, so the brain tries to "catch up" during the day, hence EDS
May visibly fall asleep at any moment (such motions as head bobbing are common)
People with narcolepsy fall quickly into what appears to be very deep sleep
They wake up suddenly and can be disoriented when they do (dizziness is a common occurrence)
They have very vivid dreams, which they often remember

People with narcolepsy may dream even when they only fall asleep for a few seconds.
I do that. I take a nap and go right into dreaming. I wake up from a dream and it is disorientating. I can go back to sleep and go right back to the dream.


While the cause of narcolepsy has not yet been determined, scientists have discovered conditions that may increase an individual's risk of having the disorder. Specifically, there appears to be a strong link between narcoleptic individuals and certain genetic conditions. One factor that may predispose an individual to narcolepsy involves an area of Chromosome 6 known as the HLA complex. There appears to be a correlation between narcoleptic individuals and certain variations in HLA genes, although it is not required for the condition to occur.

Certain variations in the HLA complex are thought to increase the risk of an auto-immune response to protein producing neurons in the brain. The protein produced, called hypocretin or orexin, is responsible for controlling appetite and sleep patterns. Individuals with narcolepsy often have reduced numbers of these protein-producing neurons in their brains.

The neural control of normal sleep states and the relationship to narcolepsy are only partially understood. In humans, narcoleptic sleep is characterized by a tendency to go abruptly from a waking state to REM sleep with little or no intervening non-REM sleep. The changes in the motor and proprioceptive systems during REM sleep have been studied in both human and animal models. During normal REM sleep, spinal and brainstem alpha motor neuron hypopolarization produces almost complete atonia of skeletal muscles via an inhibitory descending reticulospinal pathway. Acetylcholine may be one of the neurotransmitters involved in this pathway. In narcolepsy, the reflex inhibition of the motor system seen in cataplexy is believed identical to that seen in normal REM sleep.[citation needed]

In 2004 researchers in Australia induced narcolepsy-like symptoms in mice by injecting them with antibodies from narcoleptic humans. The research has been published in the Lancet providing strong evidence suggesting that some cases of narcolepsy might be caused by autoimmune disease.[1]

Narcolepsy is strongly associated with HLA DQB1*0602 genotype
I have that, but 15% of the population does also.

Brain Chemistry and ADD Medication

Brain Chemistry and ADD Medication

Tim stated that the brain has 1 trillion cells, 10% of which are neurons. Signals move about through a system of chemicals, particularly those that cross the synapse between adjacent nerve cells. Failure of the proper chemical action at this point results in ADD. Tim described ADD as a dysfunction in the neurotransmitter system. Each of the 5 neurotransmitter chemicals has a function as well as a "normal" range. Tim presented information on the three which have most relevance to ADD.

DOPAMINE controls pleasure centers, provides a sense of well-being, and reinforces reward seeking behavior. A deficit results in loss of pleasure, joyless, empty, anhedonia, Parkinson's disease and Type 2 Alcoholic. Overproduction yields exhilaration, superior confidence, power/control, joyous excitement and schizophrenia. It is found in high protein meals.

NOREPINEPHRINE controls the fight or flight response, and affects learning, memory, awareness, alertness, focusing, orienting, and assertiveness. A deficit results in loss of self-esteem, thought confusion, acute depression, chronic fatigue, lethargy, loss of sexual drive, hyperactivity and Attention Deficit Disorder. Overproduction yields extreme anxiety, panic state, aggression, violence, loss of appetite, cardiac arrhythmias. It is found in protein rich foods, soy products, cottage cheese, dry skim milk, almonds, peanuts, lima beans, pumpkin and sesame seeds.

SEROTONIN controls behavioral inhibitors, regulates rhythms, sleep, mood states, pain perception, reduces feeding, aggression, play and sexual activity. A deficit results in hyperactivity, jitteriness, aggression, paranoia, insomnia, depression, impulsivity and suicide risk. Overproduction promotes hypoactivity and increased sleep time. It is found in cottage cheese, milk, meat, fish, turkey (white meat only), bananas, dried dates, peanuts, and all protein rich foods. Sucrose directly accelerates serotonin synthesis. When serotonin increases, craving decreases. A high fat diet increases the availability of tryptophan which is used to make serotonin.

In closing, Tim outlined the effect of a number of medications used in the treatment of ADD.

Of the STIMULANTS, Dexedrine and Ritalin increased all three while Cylert increased only Dopamine.

Of the ANTI-DEPRESSANTS, Desipramine dramatically increased Norepinephrine while the others could go up or down depending on dosage. Imipramine increased Norepinephrine and Serotonin while Dopamine could go up or down depending on dosage. Wellbutrin increases Dopamine, does not affect Serotonin levels and Norepinephrine could go up or down depending on dosage.

Of the ANTI-HYPERTENSIVES, Clonidine reduced Norepinephrine but had no effect on the other two neurotransmitters.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Entrez PubMed

Entrez PubMed

Clinical and polysomnographic features in DQB1*0602 positive and negative narcolepsy patients: results from the modafinil clinical trial.

* Hong SC,
* Hayduk R,
* Lim J,
* Mignot E.

Department of Neuropsychiatry, St. Vincent's Hospital, College of Medicine, Catholic University of Korea, Seoul, South Korea

Background: Narcolepsy, a neurological disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and abnormal REM sleep, is known to be tightly associated with the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) DQB1*0602.Methods: In this study, baseline data collected for a large clinical trial involving 504 narcolepsy patients were used to compare clinical and polysomnographic features of narcolepsy patients with and without HLA-DQB1*0602. Comparisons were adjusted for possible confounding factors and linear regression modeling was used to extract the best predictors for DQB1*0602 positivity.Results: As previously reported, cataplexy was the best clinical predictor for DQB1*0602 positivity. At the polysomnographic level, subjects with DQB1*0602 were found to have a significantly more disrupted nocturnal sleep, a much shorter nocturnal rapid eye movement (REM) sleep latency and more multiple sleep latency test abnormalities (increased number of sleep onset REM periods and decreased mean sleep latency). We also found that subjects with DQB1*0602 had a much higher incidence of periodic limb movements during sleep, confirming the notion that this symptom is genuinely associated with the narcolepsy phenotype.Conclusions: These results support the notion that HLA-DQB1*0602-positive narcolepsy patients are more etiologically homogenous than HLA-DQB1*0602-negative narcoleptic patients.

Uh, I have this gene

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

ScienceDaily: New Theory May Explain Ritalin Action In Hyperactivity

ScienceDaily: New Theory May Explain Ritalin Action In Hyperactivity

The researchers found evidence that Ritalin works by affecting levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which helps regulate mood and inhibit aggression and impulsive behavior. Current theory holds, however, that Ritalin calms people with ADHD by affecting the level of the brain chemical dopamine, whose actions include regulation of activity and locomotion. Both dopamine and serotonin are neurotransmitters, chemicals which are launched by neurons, or brain nerve cells, to trigger nerve impulse in neighboring neurons.


Based on this finding, Caron and his colleagues believe that ADHD-like symptoms in the knockout mice are caused as much by having too little serotonin in the brain as by having too much dopamine, and that restoring a balance between the two brain chemicals is the key to controlling hyperactive behavior.

"We've always thought of ADHD as a function of too much activity in the brain, and it is," said Gainetdinov. "But it also appears to be a function of the brain's failure to inhibit impulses and thoughts that we all have, but which we are typically able to control. Ritalin helped control behavior in these mice by boosting serotonin's calming effects on dopamine, rather than by acting directly on dopamine, as had long been assumed.

"Our findings provide the tantalizing possibility that hyperactivity in ADHD patients might be controlled through precise targeting of serotonin receptors, or even by supplementing serotonin precursors, such as dietary tryptophan" Gainetdinov said. "In other words, giving them selective serotonin drugs could have the same effect, or even better, than Ritalin or Dexedrine."

ScienceDaily: More Studies Show That Hard Core Smokers May Be Using Nicotine To Manage Depression, ADHD, Anxiety Or Bulimia

ScienceDaily: More Studies Show That Hard Core Smokers May Be Using Nicotine To Manage Depression, ADHD, Anxiety Or Bulimia

Science Daily — ANN ARBOR---You still see them huddled over their cigarettes in public doorways, despite 30 years of increasing social pressure and education about health risks. Why can't they quit?

"There is mounting evidence that smoking is becoming increasingly concentrated in people at-risk for major depressive disorders, adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorders and bulimia or binge-eating. People with these conditions or co-factors often use nicotine to help manage their symptoms," according to Cynthia S. Pomerleau, a researcher with the University of Michigan Substance Abuse Research Center and the Nicotine Research Laboratory in the U-M Department of Psychiatry.

"Many of those who have given up smoking in the past appear to have been the 'easy quits' or casual adult smokers," she added. "Health practitioners interested in helping patients with co-factors to quit need to develop new kinds of smoking interventions tailored to the special needs of these difficult-to-treat, at-risk populations." Pomerleau's findings are reported in a literature review in the April issue of Addiction.


Health professionals helping smokers with co-factors to quit smoking may have to treat the depression, anxiety, ADHD or binge-eating behaviors first or simultaneously, Pomerleau said. "A 1995 study found that Prozac helped smokers with depression to quit but it had no effect on smokers who were not depressed," she said. "It is possible that some of these patients wouldn't need nicotine replacement treatment once they received appropriate medications or psychotherapy for their underlying conditions."

Pomerleau also suggested that more research be conducted regarding the potential therapeutic use of nicotine products---transdermal patches, nasal sprays or gum---to treat ADHD and conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. "We need more data on the possible toxic effects of nicotine to weigh against its possible therapeutic effects.

"Finally, we need to consider the potential needs of children of smokers with co-factors," she said. "Recent twin studies suggest that the heritability of smoking is at least as high as that of alcohol, with significant genetic contributions to initiation, age of onset, amount smoked and likelihood of quitting. It may be that some families are predisposed to both smoking and depression.

"There also is good evidence of assortative mating in smokers---the tendency to find each other, marry and have children, with the nature and severity of problems experienced by smokers with co-factors being magnified in succeeding generations. Prevention efforts and early identification and treatment of the co-factor itself may be needed in these children."

ScienceDaily: Researchers Identify Decision-Making Area Of The Brain; Results Will Aid Treatment For Brain Disorders Such As ADHD

ScienceDaily: Researchers Identify Decision-Making Area Of The Brain; Results Will Aid Treatment For Brain Disorders Such As ADHD

Science Daily — Kingston, ON (November 4, 2002) -- New research from investigators in the Centre for Neuroscience Studies at Queen's University and the Centre for Brain and Mind at The University of Western Ontario has provided the first neuro-imaging evidence that the brain's frontal lobes play a critical role in planning and choosing actions.

Their study is published today in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The research team has found that a small region in the frontal lobe of the human brain is selectively activated when an individual intends to make a particular action and not another. These findings help explain why individuals with frontal lobe damage sometimes act impulsively and often have problems making decisions.

"We have identified signals in the normal human brain that we can now investigate in patients with neurological or psychiatric disorders that affect frontal lobe function," says team member Doug Munoz, professor in the Departments of Physiology and Psychology at Queen's, and holder of a Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience. "For example, subjects diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder should produce different patterns of brain activation that we can identify. We will then be able to see if these patterns change when they are treated with medication."

|| DukeMedNews || Dopamine Imbalances Cause Sleep Disorders in Animal Models of Parkinson's Disease and Schizophrenia

|| DukeMedNews || Dopamine Imbalances Cause Sleep Disorders in Animal Models of Parkinson's Disease and Schizophrenia

First, the researchers treated the mice with a chemical that stops the production of dopamine entirely. In fairly short order, the mice had used up their initial supply of dopamine and were running on empty.

The mice became rigid, immobile, and unable to sleep or dream, displaying symptoms similar to those experienced by patients with Parkinson's disease, the researchers said.

The researchers then measured the electrical activity in each animal's hippocampus, the region of the brain known to be involved in emotion and memory, during three major brain states: wakefulness, quiet sleep and dreaming (also known as rapid eye movement sleep). Using electrodes finer than a human hair implanted into individual neurons, the researchers could monitor signals passed among hundreds of neurons in the treated mice. They found a lack of dopamine completely suppressed brain activity and behaviors associated with quiet sleep and dreaming.

To verify that the sleep disturbances were caused by a lack of dopamine, the researchers gave the mice L-dopa, a drug used to increase the levels of dopamine in Parkinson's disease patients. The treated animals regained the brain patterns and behaviors associated with sleep and dreaming, demonstrating the critical role dopamine plays in the sleep-wake cycle, according to the researchers. Further pharmacological testing revealed that L-dopa exerted its effects by docking at a specific site, called the D2 receptor, on the surface of the neurons.

"Sleep disorders may be the first sign of Parkinson's disease," said lead study investigator Kafui Dzirasa, an M.D.-Ph.D. student working in Nicolelis's laboratory.

"By further studying the sleep patterns in animal models of Parkinson's disease, we hope to come up with a sleep diagnosis test that could detect the early signs of the disease years before the major symptoms appear," he said.

The study also provided insights into the biology underlying schizophrenia, the researchers said. They found that the excess dopamine in the brains of the mice generated patterns of brain activity that made it look as though the animals were experiencing brain activity associated with dreaming when they were actually awake.

"One of the preeminent ideas of classical psychiatry is that people who had hallucinations, such as schizophrenics, were actually dreaming while they are awake," Nicolelis said. "Our results give some initial biological evidence for this theory."

Print - Neurotechnology: Growing a Brain in Switzerland - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

Print - Neurotechnology: Growing a Brain in Switzerland - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

Growing a Brain in Switzerland

By Manfred Dworschak

A network of artificial nerves is growing in a Swiss supercomputer -- meant to simulate a natural brain, cell-for-cell. The researchers at work on "Blue Brain" promise new insights into the sources of human consciousness.

The machine is beautiful as it wakes up -- nerve cells flicker on the screen in soft pastel tones, electrical charges flash through a maze of synapses. The brain, just after being switched on, seems a little sleepy, but gentle bursts of current bring it fully to life.

This unprecedented piece of hardware consists of about 10,000 computer chips that act like real nerve cells. To simulate a natural brain, part of the cerebral cortex of young rats was painstakingly replicated in the computer, cell by cell, together with the branched tree-like structure of the synapses.

The simulation was created at the Technical University in Lausanne, Switzerland, where 35 researchers participate in maintaining this artificial brain. It runs on one of the world's most powerful supercomputers, but soon even that computer will be too small. The goal is to build a much bigger electronic thinking machine -- one that would ultimately replicate the human brain.

A project this ambitious would have been ridiculed a few years ago. "Today we have the computers we need," says biologist Henry Markram, 44, the project's director. "And we know enough to begin."

Markram knows about the problems his group can look forward to. "But if we don't build the brain," he says, "we'll never understand how it works." In fact, there have been tremendous advances in brain research for years; but answers to the big questions are as elusive as ever. How does consciousness develop within the electric orchestra of cells? How exactly does a spark of intellect ignite from the interplay among genes, proteins and messenger substances?

The Lausanne model, dubbed "Blue Brain," is the most radical attempt so far to investigate the mystery of consciousness. The idea is seductively simple: To determine how the mind emerges from biology, replicate the biology. It's a task that requires enormous patience and attention to detail, a process that ultimately means mimicking nature one molecule at a time.

Though the first artificial brain may seem simple, it will be a useful model. Brain researchers can use it to reproduce functions from the real organ and test their theories. As they build in new processes, the model grows ever more detailed -- a sort of wiki project of the mind. It also offers an important advantage over a natural brain, since it lets researchers monitor each and every (simulated) mental activity in the machine.

But -- has there been mental activity?

The newborn "Blue Brain" surprised the designers with its willfulness from the very first day. It had hardly been fed electrical impulses before strange patterns began to appear on the screen with the lightning-like flashes produced by cells that scientists recognize from actual thought processes. Groups of neurons started becoming attuned to one another until they were firing in rhythm. "It happened entirely on its own," says Markram. "Spontaneously."

Building the electronic rat brain

Ten thousand artificial nerve cells have been interwoven in Lausanne, and the researchers aim to increase the number to one million within the next year. Which doesn't mean they're satisfied: The work is scheduled right now to last beyond 2015. By then, unless the project proves too ambitious, Markram and his team hope to be ready for their primary goal: a computer model of an entire human brain -- right now almost a sheer flight of fancy, given the 100 billion cells they would have to engineer.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Slow Down, Brave Multitasker, and Don’t Read This in Traffic

Slow Down, Brave Multitasker, and Don’t Read This in Traffic

The young, according to conventional wisdom, are the most adept multitaskers. Just look at teenagers and young workers in their 20s, e-mailing, instant messaging and listening to iPods at once.

Recently completed research at the Institute for the Future of the Mind at Oxford University suggests the popular perception is open to question. A group of 18- to 21-year-olds and a group of 35- to 39-year-olds were given 90 seconds to translate images into numbers, using a simple code.

The younger group did 10 percent better when not interrupted. But when both groups were interrupted by a phone call, a cellphone short-text message or an instant message, the older group matched the younger group in speed and accuracy.

“The older people think more slowly, but they have a faster fluid intelligence, so they are better able to block out interruptions and choose what to focus on,” said Martin Westwell, deputy director of the institute.

Mr. Westwell is 36, and thus, should be better able to cope with interruptions. But he has modified his work habits since completing the research project last month.

“I check my e-mail much less often,” he said. “The interruptions really can throw you off-track.”

In a recent study, a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, like writing reports or computer code, after responding to incoming e-mail or instant messages. They strayed off to reply to other messages or browse news, sports or entertainment Web sites.

“I was surprised by how easily people were distracted and how long it took them to get back to the task,” said Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft research scientist and co-author, with Shamsi Iqbal of the University of Illinois, of a paper on the study that will be presented next month.

“If it’s this bad at Microsoft,” Mr. Horvitz added, “it has to be bad at other companies, too.”

Monday, March 26, 2007

ScienceDaily: Emory Researchers Study The Effects Of Zen Meditation On The Brain

ScienceDaily: Emory Researchers Study The Effects Of Zen Meditation On The Brain

Science Daily — Zen meditation is an ancient spiritual practice that promotes awareness and presence through the undivided engagement of mind and body. For thousands of years, many religious traditions have made meditation a common practice. Now, researchers at Emory University are looking at the effects of Zen meditation and how the brain functions during meditative states. By determining the brain structures involved in meditation and whose activity is gradually changed in the course of long-term meditative practice, researchers hope this training could one day be used as a complementary treatment for neurological conditions, such as Parkinson's disease and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

"In contrast to the common conceptualization of meditation as a relaxation technique, we think that meditation could be more usefully characterized as training in the skillful deployment of attention and inhibitory control," says Giuseppe Pagnoni, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, and lead researcher of this study.

ScienceDaily: Addiction Breakthrough May Lead To New Treatments

ScienceDaily: Addiction Breakthrough May Lead To New Treatments

Dr Jeff Dalley and colleagues, at the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, may have resolved this debate by demonstrating that changes in a neurotransmitter receptor in a particular part of the brain actually pre-dates drug use. Using positron emission tomography (a PET scan), they discovered that rats that were behaviourally impulsive, but which had not been exposed to drugs, had significantly less brain dopamine receptors than their more restrained counterparts. Additionally, these same impulsive rats were found to be considerably more likely to self-administer cocaine intravenously, thus linking impulsive behaviour with drug addiction vulnerability.

I Miss Iraq. I Miss My Gun. I Miss My War. - Page1 - MSN Lifestyle: Men

I Miss Iraq. I Miss My Gun. I Miss My War. - Page1 - MSN Lifestyle: Men

A soldier returned from Iraq describes the mixed feeling he has about war. The terror, excitement, adrenaline rush, dread and power. Really well written and thoughtful.

Stealth Inkjet Printer Startup Could Rock Industry

Stealth Inkjet Printer Startup Could Rock Industry

Stealth Inkjet Printer Startup Could Rock Industry Discussion at PhysOrgForum
Silverbrook Research has developed the Memjet, a nanotech-fueled, consumer inkjet printer that can print sixty pages a minute for under $200. And it works.

An Australian entrepreneur betting his company on a nanotech-fueled, consumer inkjet printer that can print sixty pages a minute for under $200 has successfully demonstrated the technology.

Silverbrook Research has spent the last ten years developing Memjet, a printer that uses an array of ink jet nozzles that spans the width of the paper. Company executives have said they feel that they can ship an 8x10 color inkjet by the end of 2008 that will cost less than $200 and print 60 pages a minute.

Whether or not the company will be able to deliver on its promises is the question that plagues any startup. But one leading printer analyst said he's witnessed the demonstration personally, and that he's been briefed on the company's plans to manufacture components and license the technology to interested parties.

Venezuela's Chavez announces plans for 'collective property' under shift toward socialism - International Herald Tribune

Venezuela's Chavez announces plans for 'collective property' under shift toward socialism - International Herald Tribune

CARACAS, Venezuela: President Hugo Chavez announced Sunday that his government's sweeping reforms toward socialism will include the creation of "collective property."

Vowing to undermine capitalism's continued influence in Venezuela during his television and radio program "Hello President," Chavez said state-financed cooperatives would operate under a new concept in which workers would share profits.

"It's property that belongs to everyone and it's going to benefit everyone," said Chavez, a close ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro whom opponents accuse of leading Venezuela toward Cuba-style communism.

Chavez — a leftist former paratrooper popularly known as "El Comandante" — said his government fully respects private property, but pledged to replace capitalist ideals with socialist principles on cooperatives such as cattle ranches and farms.

"It cannot be production to generate profits for one person or a small group of people that become rich exploiting peons who end up becoming slaves, living in poverty and misery their entire lives," he said.

The legal framework for collective property will be established under a forthcoming constitutional reform proposed by Chavez. The Venezuelan leader has appointed a committee to prepare a blueprint for the pending reforms, which will be put to a vote in a referendum.

Chavez, who hosted Sunday's program from a ranch in Venezuela's sun-baked plains, said his government would move to expropriate large ranches and farms spanning more than 300,000 hectares (740,000 acres) and redistribute lands deemed "idle" to the poor under a nationwide agrarian reform.

Since the reform began five years ago, officials have redistributed over 1.9 million hectares (4.6 million acres) of land that had been classified as unproductive or lacked property documents dating back to 1847, according to a recent government census.

Critics say reform has failed to revive Venezuela's agriculture industry, which does not produce enough food to satisfy domestic demand. The government has been forced to import food amid shortages of staples such as meats, milk and sugar.

"If Mr. Chavez really wants to help Venezuela's poor farmers, he must offer them technical assistance and sufficient financing because land doesn't become productive without investment," said opposition leader Alfonzo Marquina. "We're only seeing increasing shortages and more expensive products."

Man! Let's move to Venezuela! They'll be rich like Cuba and North Korea soon! I think Mexicans will stop coming to the U.S. and will start going to Venezuela instead!

ScienceDaily: Does Omega 3 Protect Against ADHD?

ScienceDaily: Does Omega 3 Protect Against ADHD?

Science Daily — A new study will provide further understanding about the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the brain function of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The trial, being conducted by the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, will study the effects of these fatty acids on the learning skills, attention span, memory, reaction time and behaviour of 150 children with ADHD over 12 weeks. The effects will also be explored in 100 children without ADHD.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in seafood, particularly fish. There is increasing evidence that a lack of these acids may be associated with developmental problems like ADHD -- a common mental health problem which affects around 12 per cent of Australian children.

ScienceDaily: Study Finds ADHD Improves With Sensory Intervention

ScienceDaily: Study Finds ADHD Improves With Sensory Intervention

Science Daily — Preliminary findings from a study of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) show that sensory intervention -- for example, deep pressure and strenuous exercise -- can significantly improve problem behaviors such as restlessness, impulsivity and hyperactivity. Of the children receiving occupational therapy, 95 percent improved. This is the first study of this size on sensory intervention for ADHD.

The Temple University researchers, Kristie Koenig, Ph.D., OTR/L, and Moya Kinnealey, Ph.D., OTR/L, wanted to determine whether ADHD problem behaviors would decrease if underlying sensory and neurological issues were addressed with occupational therapy. Their study, "Comparative Outcomes of Children with ADHD: Treatment Versus Delayed Treatment Control Condition," will be presented Friday, May 13, at the American Occupational Therapy Association meeting in Long Beach, Calif.

Children with ADHD have difficulty paying attention and controlling their behavior. Experts are uncertain about the exact cause of ADHD, but believe there are both genetic and biological components. Treatment typically consists of medication, behavior therapy or a combination of the two.

"Many children with ADHD also suffer from sensory processing disorder, a neurological underpinning that contributes to their ability to pay attention or focus," explained Koenig. "They either withdraw from or seek out sensory stimulation like movement, sound, light and touch. This translates into troublesome behaviors at school and home."

Normally, we process and adapt to sensory stimulation in our daily environment. But children with ADHD are unable to adjust, and instead might be so distracted and bothered by a sound or movement in the classroom, for instance, that they cannot pay attention to the teacher.

All of the 88 study participants, who are clients at the OT4Kids occupational therapy center in Crystal River, Fla., were taking medication for ADHD. Of the 88, 63 children each underwent 40 one-hour sensory intervention therapy sessions, while 25 did not.

Therapy techniques appeal to the three basic sensory systems: The tactile system controls the sense of touch, the vestibular system controls sensations of gravity and movement, and the proprioceptive system regulates the awareness of the body in space. Therapy is tailored to each child's needs and can involve such techniques as lightly or deeply brushing the skin, moving on swings or working with an exercise ball.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

ScienceDaily: New Class Of Chemicals Found To Use Marijuana-Like System In Brain

ScienceDaily: New Class Of Chemicals Found To Use Marijuana-Like System In Brain

Science Daily — Irvine, Calif., May 1, 2000 -- Researchers at UC Irvine's College of Medicine have developed a chemical that could form the basis of a new class of drugs to treat a number of psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease, autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.Ads by Google Advertise on this site

The chemical, which has been tested on rats, affects brain cells that use chemicals similar to marijuana to counteract the actions of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine has been implicated in schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease, Tourette's syndrome and many other psychiatric disorders. The researchers' findings appear in the May issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Daniele Piomelli, professor of pharmacology, led a team that found that a chemical called AM404 reversed the normal inactivation of a naturally occurring chemical in the brain called anandamide, which is related to marijuana's active ingredient and opposes the actions of dopamine. By reversing the inactivation of anandamide, AM404 is able to gently curb the exaggerated movements and other disorders caused by too much dopamine activity in nerve cells.

"We were excited to find this action of AM404 in the brain. It's very encouraging to see it work in a very subtle and effective way to counteract the effects of too much dopamine-induced activity," said Piomelli. "With further testing, we hope this eventually will result in new treatments that don't have the side effects of many current psychiatric drugs."

Piomelli and his colleagues found that AM404 targeted nerves that produced unusually high levels of dopamine and caused exaggerated movements andother problems in rats. Instead of directly encouraging the production of dopamine-curbing anandamide, AM404 was found to discourage the disintegration of existing anandamide. More anandamide was then available to bind to receptors on nerve cells and reduce the stimulation of nerve cells by dopamine.

If further research proves successful, the chemical could be used to treat schizophrenia, Tourette's, Parkinson's, autism and attention-deficit disorder, all of which are currently treated by drugs that attack the dopamine system in the brain.

Piomelli warns that their research on cannabinoid receptors has shown consistently that smoking marijuana may actually make these disorders worse. "Although AM404 helps to manipulate cannabinoid receptors, we think that using marijuana directly creates too severe a reaction and can create adverse reactions among people suffering from these diseases," he said.

ScienceDaily: Opthalmologists Discover Relationship Between Eye Condition And Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

ScienceDaily: Opthalmologists Discover Relationship Between Eye Condition And Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

UCSD Shiley Eye Center ophthalmologists and researchers have uncovered a relationship between an eye disease characterized by an inability to focus on a target and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

"We showed that children with the disorder, convergence insufficiency are three times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than children without the disorder," according to David B. Granet, M.D., a UCSD School of Medicine associate professor of ophthalmology and pediatrics and director of the UCSD Ratner Children's Eye Center. "This is the first time such a relationship has been identified between these two disorders."

Convergence insufficiency, a disorder that affects less than five percent of children, is a physical eye problem that makes it hard to keep both eyes pointed and focused at a near target, making it difficult to maintain concentration when reading.

ScienceDaily: A Concentration Killer: Study Shows Brain Chemistry Defect Is Key To Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder In Adults

ScienceDaily: A Concentration Killer: Study Shows Brain Chemistry Defect Is Key To Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder In Adults

"Ernst's study is an exciting and potentially very significant finding regarding the neural basis of ADHD and its developmental progression," says ADHD expert B.J. Casey, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

In the study, the researchers analyzed the brains of 17 ADHD adults with positron emission tomography (PET). The PET images, which highlighted the activity of the dopamine-producing enzyme, DOPA decarboxylase, indicate that an abnormality in dopamine production occurs in only one of the dopamine-rich brain regions, the anterior frontal cortex. This region underlies motor activity and cognitive processes, including attention. "A better understanding of the deficit could lead to the development of treatments with a focused target of action," says Ernst. "Currently the treatments of choice are stimulants, such as Ritalin, which enhance dopamine throughout the brain." These wide-ranging actions can cause side effects such as irritability, insomnia, or depression.

eXile - Issue #259 - War Nerd - Triumph Of The Vile - By Gary Brecher

eXile - Issue #259 - War Nerd - Triumph Of The Vile - By Gary Brecher

Fact: Sparta was about as romantic as North Korea. Give or take a little egalitarianism, Sparta WAS North Korea. Spartan laws did everything they could to break down the family. Sparta was more anti-nuclear family than any Hollywood liberal could ever be.

Wanna know what a Spartan wedding night was really like? It's pretty hilarious, in an insane way. As soon as a Spartan girl got her first period, they grabbed her, shaved her head, dressed her as a boy, threw her down on her new husband's bed, and then, well, he had his way with her. What way was that? Since hubby had been in an all-male dorm since age seven, I'm betting that that night of lovin' was more like a skinny white boy's introduction to San Quentin after lights-out than it was like a chick flick. So when this movie shows the Spartan hero saying to his wife, "Goodbye, my love," I just had to laugh.

No Spartan ever told his wife he loved her. That would've been like treason, because the Spartan rulers wanted family ties snapped, so the only bond left was to the state. They left room for folks' natural urges by letting the women drink, which they did non-stop, and the men form what you might call close comradely bonds with their fellow soldiers.

In the ancient world, gay was a matter of who was on top. If you were a topper, that was fine; if you were the one getting in the ass, not so cool. In other words, prison rules. Sparta's leather-bar ways were a running joke to the ancient Greeks. The Spartans were stone killers - but they also preened like teenage girls before a battle. They grew their hair long, and before a fight they'd comb it, oil it, try out fetching new styles, put little baubles in their ears, anything to die young and leave a beautiful corpse.

None of that in this movie. Just the opposite. The script even has Leonidas taunt the Athenians calling them "boy-lovers." Athens, the true hero of the war against Persia, gets dissed time and again in this movie. You won't hear a word in 300 about Salamis, the real decisive battle of the war - because it was Athens, not Sparta, that destroyed the Persian fleet at Salamis. The Spartans wanted to run away from the Persian fleet and wall themselves off in the Peloponnese (you wouldn't believe how many times I've messed up the spelling on that damn word). They didn't have a clue about combined-arms operations (which the Athenians handled durn well). In fact, the Spartans, who are called "the finest soldiers in history" over and over in this movie, were a mediocre, one-dimensional, inflexible military force.

Sparta understood only one kind of fighting: land battle, the hoplite shield-wall - a Big Ten offense from the old school, "three yards and a cloud of dust." In any shield-wall vs. shield wall battle, the bigger offensive line will break the opposing team's wall, leaving them open to massed spear thrusts. Once the opposition's wall was broken, the citizen-soldiers would scatter to fight another day - a totally sensible reaction, since the alternative was annihilation. In battles like that, psycho varsity offensive-line types like the ones Sparta bred did just fine. But vary the conditions of battle in any way, and they were as helpless as Woody Hayes' Ohio State teams were against a team that could stop the run.

So it was actually fairly easy to stymie the Spartans: just put them in a situation where they had to think for themselves. Imagine a Spartan army up against a Mongol scouting force. Even if the Spartans outnumbered the Mongols by, say, 4-1, I'd have no hesitation betting on the Mongols. They were truly tough, not artificially hardened by sick PE games but by life in the saddle, on the steppes. And they were smart enough to realize that smarts count on the battlefield, that negotiation and alliance-building, scouting and propaganda are all important aspects of war. Only amateurs are dumb enough to think that being dumb, mean and inflexible like the Spartans is the route to military success.

The Thebans under a really brilliant general, Epaminondas, crushed the Spartans in the battle of Leuctra (371 B.C.) because Epaminondas just plain out-thought those lummoxes. He knew exactly how the Spartans would stack their forces in battle order, because they always did it the same way. So he tinkered with the conventional phalanx-stacking set-up and those Thebans, most of them ordinary Greek citizen-soldiers, mere amateurs by Spartan standards, kicked Spartan ass right down the line. The Helots, the locals the Spartans had enslaved and terrorized for generations, finally got a chance for payback and Sparta withered away to nothing. Game over.

Eh. I agree. It's not a historical movie, and doesn't give the awesome Athenians their props. But's its a fun bubblegum movie. I'd see it again. Let's face it, the average person who sees the movie is never going to read any real history of Greece anyway. So just shut up and enjoy the movie!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Sky News: Scientists rank drugs by health risk- differs widely from legal status of substances

Sky News: The Dangers Of Alcohol:

Alcohol and tobacco are more harmful than many illegal drugs, according to a new drug classification system.

A number of leading scientists compiled a list to show the danger that certain substances pose to human health.

They claim that their list of 20 substances is more scientific than the current Misuse of Drugs Act system, which attaches "a, b, and c" labels to illicit drugs.

Heroin was top of the new list, followed by cocaine.

Alcohol came fifth and tobacco ninth, while cannabis was 11th, LSD 14th and ecstasy 18th.

The table, published in The Lancet medical journal, was drawn up by a team led by Professor David Nutt, from the University of Bristol, and Professor Colin Blakemore, chief executive of the Medical Research Council.


The criteria used to determine harmfulness were: the physical harm to the individual user caused by the drug; the tendency of the drug to induce dependence; and the effect of the drug's use on families, communities and society.

Each of these categories was split into three sub-components, providing nine parameters of risk, and scores for these were then combined to provide overall estimates.

Prof Blakemore said: "Alcohol and tobacco are way up there in the league table, with alcohol being not very far behind demonised terrors of the street like heroin.

"We hope that policy makers will take note of the fact that the resulting ranking of drugs differs substantially from their classification in the Misuse of Drugs Act and that alcohol and tobacco are judged more harmful than many illegal substances."

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Erowid Experience Vaults: Melatonin & Cannabis - Melatonin Is the Answer - 12521

Erowid Experience Vaults: Melatonin & Cannabis - Melatonin Is the Answer - 12521

Melatonin is a wonder hormone (classified on Erowid as a “Smart Drug,”). To put it in simple terms, melatonin is the answer to the negative or unwanted affects of marijuana (i.e. loss of memory, loss of concentration, loss of motivation, sleep problems, lack of dreams, and depression). I found that taking a regimented dose of melatonin each night has reset my circadian rhythm and renewed my love of weed. I no longer lack motivation to get out of bed, I’m started to have and remember more dreams, and I can concentrate better in school.

I take between 1.5 and 3mg about an hour before I go to bed each night at about the same time (a schedule is best as not to disrupt regular sleep patterns if you are lucky enough to have them). Whether you smoke or not after you take the melatonin is up to you since I have noticed no major difference either way. The only small difference is a good one. If you smoke about twenty minutes after you take your dose, then as you fall asleep you will have the most wonderful feelings. Sometimes you feel a little floating sensation or other euphoria; it’s like your starting on a magic carpet ride to sleepy land. But if you don’t smoke the benefits of melatonin are not reduced. I think that even if you don’t smoke or use other drugs melatonin may add some benefits to your sleeping and waking hours.

Melatonin restored my motivation, alertness, and reduced my depression caused by habitual cannabis use. I have been taking the dose for about three weeks so it may be difficult to say whether these results are long-term, but as of now there is no sign of relenting.

Erowid Experience Vaults: Melatonin & Cannabis - Melatonin Is the Answer - 12521

Erowid Experience Vaults: Melatonin & Cannabis - Melatonin Is the Answer - 12521

Melatonin is a wonder hormone (classified on Erowid as a “Smart Drug,”). To put it in simple terms, melatonin is the answer to the negative or unwanted affects of marijuana (i.e. loss of memory, loss of concentration, loss of motivation, sleep problems, lack of dreams, and depression). I found that taking a regimented dose of melatonin each night has reset my circadian rhythm and renewed my love of weed. I no longer lack motivation to get out of bed, I’m started to have and remember more dreams, and I can concentrate better in school.

I take between 1.5 and 3mg about an hour before I go to bed each night at about the same time (a schedule is best as not to disrupt regular sleep patterns if you are lucky enough to have them). Whether you smoke or not after you take the melatonin is up to you since I have noticed no major difference either way. The only small difference is a good one. If you smoke about twenty minutes after you take your dose, then as you fall asleep you will have the most wonderful feelings. Sometimes you feel a little floating sensation or other euphoria; it’s like your starting on a magic carpet ride to sleepy land. But if you don’t smoke the benefits of melatonin are not reduced. I think that even if you don’t smoke or use other drugs melatonin may add some benefits to your sleeping and waking hours.

Melatonin restored my motivation, alertness, and reduced my depression caused by habitual cannabis use. I have been taking the dose for about three weeks so it may be difficult to say whether these results are long-term, but as of now there is no sign of relenting.

Brain-damaged people give insights into morality: Scientific American

Brain-damaged people give insights into morality: Scientific American

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It's wartime, and an enemy doctor is conducting painful and inevitably fatal experiments on children.

You have two kids, ages 8 and 5. You can surrender one of them within 24 hours or the doctor will kill both. What is the right thing to do?

For most people, this scenario based on one in William Styron's novel "Sophie's Choice" is almost an impossible dilemma. But for a group of people with damage in a part of the brain's frontal lobe that helps govern emotions, the decision was far more clear. They would choose one child for death.
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Scientists said on Wednesday a study involving these people has produced unique insights into the brain mechanics of moral decision making and showed that in some key situations emotions play a fundamental role in moral judgments.

The new findings highlighted the role of a region in the front part of the brain below the eyes called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

Earlier research had pegged this area -- one of the more recently evolved parts of the human brain -- as playing a role in generating social emotions. In fact, the people with damage in this region due to stroke or other causes experienced severely diminished empathy, compassion and sense of guilt.

The new findings published in the journal Nature seem to confirm its central role in guiding certain moral judgments like life-or-death scenarios.

The researchers set out to gauge to what degree emotions govern moral judgments by comparing decisions made by people whose emotions already were crippled by this brain damage to decisions made by people with no such damage.

exercise makes people smarter ::The Hindu News Update Service

The Hindu News Update Service

Exercise can make people smarter, says report

New York, March 19 (PTI): A recent and rapidly growing movement in science is showing that exercise can make people smarter, Newsweek reports in its upcoming issue.

Last week, in a landmark paper, researchers announced that they had coaxed the human brain into growing new nerve cells, a process that for decades had been thought impossible, simply by putting subjects on a three-month aerobic-workout regimen.

Other scientists, the magazine reports, have found that vigorous exercise can cause older nerve cells to form dense, interconnected webs that make the brain run faster and more efficiently. And there are clues that physical activity can stave off the beginnings of Alzheimer's disease, ADHD and other cognitive disorders.

The magazine says it examined with Harvard Medical School, the latest research and findings about how an active body is crucial for building a strong, active mind. "People have been slow to grasp that exercise can really affect cognition," says University of Illinois neuroscientist Charles Hillman.

Armed with brain-scanning tools and a sophisticated understanding of biochemistry, Newsweek reports, researchers are realizing that the mental effects of exercise are far more profound and complex than they once thought.

Researchers, the article says, are learning more about how exercise affects mood: it decreases anxiety, improves sleep, improves resilience in the face of stress and raises self-esteem. All these benefits don't come because you notice what you've lost around your waist. Rather, they come from exercise-induced alterations inside your head, Michael Craig Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, is quoted as saying.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Perils of Multitasking - MSN Lifestyle - Family & Parenting

The Perils of Multitasking - MSN Lifestyle - Family & Parenting

Growing up, we did homework quietly, save for a little background music. But that was so last century. Today, middle schoolers are downloading iTunes, "texting" friends on their cell phones, surfing the web and checking their Web pages -- all while reading a book for English or studying for a math test.

In fact, more kids are spending more time using more media simultaneously than ever before. In 2004, a study of 2000 8- to 18-year-olds undertaken by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a research and policy think tank, documented what many parents have long known: 81 percent of Generation M (as the study dubbed them) are experts in "media multi-tasking," juggling various types of media for as much as 8 and a half hours of "screen time" a day.

"That's what adults spend at a full-time job, with a little extra thrown in for overtime," says Victoria Rideout, M.A., who directed the report. In late 2006, her team further refined its conclusions: Two-thirds of the time that kids are doing homework on the computer they are usually doing something else too.

Brave New World?
There's nothing new about multitasking. Every mom knows that being able to prepare dinner, help a 5th grader with math homework, schedule an orthodontist appointment, and make sure a toddler isn't sticking bananas into the DVD player is part of the job. What's more, in order to excel at school and beyond, it's critical to be able to navigate the byways of our multimedia world. The question is: At what cost? While parents are dazzled by their kids' ability to move seamlessly from one technology to another, how much are they learning?

Not as not as much as they could be. "Distractions can inhibit a child from learning new facts or concepts," says Russell Poldrack, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at UCLA, who has been using brain-imaging techniques to study what happens when we try to learn more than one thing at a time. "Even if he learns something while multi-tasking, his ability to remember what he learns later or use it in other contexts will be diminished."

That's because the brain takes in information in different ways. Very simply: When you're learning new facts ("What is photosynthesis?"), you rely on declarative memory, which is stored in the hippocampus. Memories in the hippocampus are easier to recall in different situations. For instance: Once you solve a geometry problem, you'll be able to apply that same principle to a slightly different problem in the next chapter.

However, when we're distracted, the brain bypasses the hippocampus and relies on the striatum, which is really designed for recalling how to do tasks you have done so often that they've become second-nature, such as which route you need to take to walk to school. Information stored in the striatum is tied closely to the specific situation in which it is learned. (We remember that geometry principle only if it's presented in exactly the same way on a test.) What's more, while it may seem as if we're doing many things simultaneously, the brain can really only focus on one thing at a time, unless the other skills involved are purely automatic.

"The brain is a lot like a computer," says William R. Stixrud, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist in Silver Spring, Maryland. "You may have several screens open on your desktop, but you're able to think about only one at a time." When a child is doing homework for two minutes, then answering instant-messages for another two, then shifting back to homework, and so on, the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (the brain's administrative assistant) must choreograph all those conflicting moves. The result: He works more slowly, less thoroughly. For those struggling with attention disorders, the problems may be magnified.

BPS RESEARCH DIGEST: Brain damage turns man into human chameleon

BPS RESEARCH DIGEST: Brain damage turns man into human chameleon

Brain damage turns man into human chameleon

In his 1983 fake documentary 'Zelig', Woody Alan plays a character, Leonard Zelig, a kind of human chameleon who takes on the appearance and behaviour of whoever he is with. Now psychologists in Italy have reported the real-life case of AD, a 65-year-old whose identity appears dependent on the environment he is in. He started behaving this way after cardiac arrest caused damage to the fronto-temporal region of his brain.

When with doctors, AD assumes the role of a doctor; when with psychologists he says he is a psychologist; at the solicitors he claims to be a solicitor. AD doesn't just make these claims, he actually plays the roles and provides plausible stories for how he came to be in these roles.

To investigate further, Giovannina Conchiglia and colleagues used actors to contrive different scenarios. At a bar, an actor asked AD for a cocktail, prompting him to immediately fulfil the role of bar-tender, claiming that he was on a two-week trial hoping to gain a permanent position. Taken to the hospital kitchen for 40 minutes, AD quickly assumed the role of head chef, and claimed responsibility for preparing special menus for diabetic patients. He maintains these roles until the situation changes. However, he didn't adopt the role of laundry worker at the hospital laundry, perhaps because it was too far out of keeping with his real-life career as a politician.

AD's condition is a form of disinhibition, but it appears distinct from other well-known disinhibition syndromes such as utilisation behaviour, in which patients can't help themselves from using any objects or food in the vicinity. For example, AD didn't touch anything in the hospital kitchen.

His tendency to switch roles is exacerbated by anterograde amnesia (a loss of memory for events since his cardiac arrest) and anosognosia – a lack of insight into his strange behaviour.

All the pleasure of drinking, without the pain - health - 15 July 2006 - New Scientist

All the pleasure of drinking, without the pain - health - 15 July 2006 - New Scientist

Why is it that when you step into a bar for a glass or two of cheer, you so often leave with five drinks' worth of impending doom? All you wanted was to loosen up, have some fun, unleash the gregarious you stuck somewhere in sobriety. Yet it is all too likely that this feel-good glow will be followed by a hard-luck chaser. Several drinks later, you stumble home, clumsy, belching and battling to stay awake. Your judgement's shot: you urinate in a doorway, stuff down two kebabs and narrowly escape getting killed on the road. At home, your partner declares you disgusting and, though you rant defiantly, you know it's true.

You toss and turn all night and in the morning wake tired, with a throbbing head and an uncanny certainty that you made an ass of yourself last night, though you can't remember the details. As you trudge off to work, a few brain cells lighter and with a slightly more withered heart and liver, you swear you won't do it again.

But you probably will. The simple fact is that alcohol makes people feel good. There are obvious downsides, but it also relaxes you, makes you happy, chatty and sociable.

What if you could have all that is good about alcohol, with none of the bad? What if you could enjoy a night of frivolous fun, then simply pop a pill for instant revival? Your sobriety restored, home you'd ride - or even drive - to a good night's sleep (or better) with no risk of a hangover. Or what if, before imbibing, you could swallow a tablet that would block the negative effects, such as memory loss? Better yet, imagine there was a substitute that could deliver relaxation and merriment without the nausea, disorientation or aggression. In fact, what if one day this dream drink could be so well-tailored that even a lifetime of indulgence would leave the liver, brain and heart unharmed?

It may sound too good to be true, but that day may not be as far off as you think. There's already a drug that can sober up a drunken rat in 2 minutes flat, and researchers are busy searching for compounds to do the same in humans. The memory preservative is not fantasy either, nor is the notion that with a little tinkering, pharmacologists could come up with a faux alcohol able to mimic the charms of booze with less of the sordidness.

Alcohol is one of the last great technological throwbacks. It is made today pretty much the way it was 4000 years ago. And it's crude stuff. Which makes you wonder: if we can take the calories out of food, the pregnancy out of sex and even the sex out of pregnancy, why not take the harm out of alcohol? "We know what alcohol does," says David Nutt, a psychopharmacologist and advocate of safer alcohol at the University of Bristol, UK. "Why not just make better drugs?"

The big problem with alcohol is that it kills people (see Diagram). And while there's an obvious way to stop this happening - drink less or not at all - for some reason, humans find this advice nigh on impossible to follow. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, 19,928 Americans died in 2002 from the direct effects of alcohol, including poisoning and alcohol-induced liver and heart disease. According to the UK Office for National Statistics, the comparable number for England and Wales in 2003 was 6580, and it's rising. Many more deaths are caused indirectly by alcohol: accidents, homicides and suicides, to name just three. If this harm could be mitigated by drugs, or if alcohol could somehow be replaced by safer substitutes, argues Nutt, many lives could be saved.


The reality is, though, that the biggest hurdles to safer alcohol may not be technical ones. Even if someone developed good alcohol blockers, booze substitutes or sobering-up pills, chances are they would end up gathering dust. Consider the sobering-up drug Ro15-4513. You may be surprised to hear that it was developed more than 20 years ago by pharmaceutical company Roche. Why have you never heard of it? Why can't you buy something similar over the counter?

When Roche researchers discovered that the compound could undo the behavioural effects of drunkenness, they were surprised and delighted. However, they later found out the drug has no effect on blood alcohol levels and consequently does nothing to prevent acute alcohol poisoning, which is probably caused by alcohol's effect on cell membranes throughout the body.
Sobriety pill

Roche was not keen on pursuing a simple sobriety tablet. It feared that, in the long run, such a pill might encourage drinking, rather than make it safer. Worse, they could envisage what might happen if someone used the drug, then caused an accident while driving home. They may have taken a sobering-up pill, but their blood alcohol level would still prove drunkenness. Roche's lawyers saw it as a legal nightmare, and the company dropped it.

There is another paradox. Psychoactive and addictive though it is, alcohol is regulated not as a drug but as a foodstuff. Any new substance purporting to counteract alcohol or replace it, on the other hand, would be regulated as a pharmaceutical. This creates potential barriers. For one thing, it might make alcohol blockers or substitutes harder to obtain than alcohol itself. It's hard to imagine ever getting to the point where such a drug or additive was being sold casually over the bar alongside beer, says Robin Room, director of alcohol policy research at Turning Point, an alcohol and drug research centre in Melbourne, Australia. What's more, he says, it's unlikely that anyone would want memory preservers badly enough to go and get a prescription.

Nutt suspects that only an intervention by government - announcing that it supports the making of safer alcohol, that they will tax it preferentially, or regulate it differently - is likely to make the difference. There are reasons for optimism on this front. New Scientist has learned that the UK government has asked the Academy of Medical Sciences to look at the case for safer alcohol and make recommendations.

Even with government backing, drug companies will be cautious. "The pharmaceutical industry does not position itself to be going into the recreational market," says Ragan. There are always risks when you take a drug, he points out. When you're treating a life-threatening disease such as alcohol addiction, they may be risks you are willing to take. But those risks are harder to justify in the merely sozzled.

Add to that the moral indignation that attaches to any suggestion that boozers should be allowed to drink more safely, and it looks like an uphill battle for safer alcohol. Many people in the alcohol addiction recovery field believe fervently that the only solution is outright abstention, and any drug of the type Nutt suggests would meet with stiff opposition. As an example, Room points to a drug called propylthiouracil. Normally prescribed for an overactive thyroid, it has also been shown to protect against cirrhosis of the liver in alcoholics, but is not widely used for that purpose. "My theory of why [it] has not become better established as a medication for reducing the harm to an alcoholic's liver," he says, "is the fear that it will allow the alcoholic to continue drinking."

But things change. Ragan recalls working in the pharmaceutical industry in the 1980s, when the idea of drugs to fight obesity was raised. "There was almost a riot," he says. Obesity, his colleagues felt, was a lifestyle problem. "So that's how far we've moved." Safer alcohol may not be coming to a pub near you just yet, but it's surely too good an idea to dismiss as idle bar-room speculation.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Someday Never Comes � John Chow dot Com

Someday Never Comes � John Chow dot Com

Giving Yourself An Out

Do you know how to tell a successful person from a unsuccessful one? The easiest way is by the language they use. When you talk to a successful person about his goals, he’ll tell you what he plans to do and when it will be done. When an unsuccessful person talks about his goals (assuming he even has one), you’ll hear something along the lines of, “I hope to do this someday.” Here’s a clue for all you losers out there; someday never comes.

You know why a person with a loser’s mentality always use words like someday, I hope or I wish? He does it because it gives him an out and not be accountable to his word. If he was to place a time limit on the goal and doesn’t do it, he fails, and a loser hates failing. Winners have no fear of failing because they know success is made from a string of failures.

Everyone have dreams and goals. The only difference between a goal and a dream is a goal is a dream with action. We all have dreams; becoming financially independent, having a family, helping charities, etc. However, how many of you have made a goal to achieve your dreams? And if you have, did you place a time limit on it, or did you just say you’ll do it someday or I hope it will happen?

A Goal Without a Time Limit Is No Goal

Can you imagine buying a presale condominium and not knowing when it will be completed - the only answer the developer would tell you is, “It’ll be finished someday.” Would you buy it? Well, imagine trying to sell your dream this way, “Someday, my dream will come true.” If you wouldn’t buy the condo, why would you buy the dream?

If you wish to achieve anything in life, you have to place a time limit on it. A time limit forces you to take action instead of sitting on the couch saying someday I’ll get there. Don’t be afraid to fail. Know that failure is required in order to succeed. You will not find a successful person who doesn’t have a few stories to tell about their failures. Hmm, I think a posting of some of my failures would make for a good future post.

Making a living off the Internet is something many people wants to do. It’s something many of my friends dream of doing. However, after all these years, only two have actually done it. You know why? They actually listen to me when I said, “Go build a site.” Others whom I gave the same advice to were all positive, “Ya! Sounds great, I need to do this. Working at a job sucks!”

The Liberty Papers �Blog Archive � Amtrak: Slower Than A Bus, More Expensive Than Flying

The Liberty Papers �Blog Archive � Amtrak: Slower Than A Bus, More Expensive Than Flying

Amtrak: Slower Than A Bus, More Expensive Than Flying

In Mike’s post about Amtrak, it was suggested in the comments that if we lost passenger rail, we’d be stuck with buses.

So what? They’re far cheaper than Amtrak, and they’ll often get there faster! I wrote the below post back in April 2006 (so the costs might not be up to date), and added a little below this.


The railroads are tremendously important to this country for shipping goods, but there are much easier and cheaper ways to travel as a passenger.

As a quick test, I looked up train fare from Atlanta to Chicago. Since I regularly travel there to see family, I wanted to see how it compared to airfare. Well, Amtrak doesn’t run a direct route between the two. So a round-trip ticket cost about $380, with a stop each way in Washington, DC. And due to the extra time of those trips, the total travel time was about 30 hours each way.

Compare that to an airline flight. The same trip, by air, costs about $200 and takes about 2 hours each way. Hell, to get to Chicago is only about a 11-12 hour DRIVE, and wouldn’t cost more than about $100 in gas each way. I even checked Greyhound, and it was about a 15-hour trip, at a cost of $130 round-trip.

Of course, I’m sure I can be accused of cherry-picking the data with an Atlanta -> Chicago trip. I’m sure some other routes are more competitive in cost. In all honesty, it was simply the first choice I thought of, as it’s two major cities I’m familiar with for both auto and air travel. But if you’re going to offer intercity travel, without any direct service between the largest city in the Southeast and the largest city in the Midwest, aren’t you shooting yourself in the foot?

It’s very simple. For any long trip, it’s much more worthwhile to fly. For shorter trips, though, it might be profitable and convenient… IN WHICH CASE PRIVATE ENTERPRISE CAN TAKE CARE OF IT. And where rail lines aren’t available, bus service is.

There is absolutely no reason that American taxpayers need to continue wasting money on passenger rail service. If Amtrak can’t get themselves to profitability, it’s time for them to disappear.

Scientific American: The Expert Mind (experts are bred, not born)

Scientific American: The Expert Mind

The one thing that all expertise theorists agree on is that it takes enormous effort to build these structures in the mind. Simon coined a psychological law of his own, the 10-year rule, which states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field. Even child prodigies, such as Gauss in mathematics, Mozart in music and Bobby Fischer in chess, must have made an equivalent effort, perhaps by starting earlier and working harder than others.

According to this view, the proliferation of chess prodigies in recent years merely reflects the advent of computer-based training methods that let children study far more master games and to play far more frequently against master-strength programs than their forerunners could typically manage. Fischer made a sensation when he achieved the grandmaster title at age 15, in 1958; today's record-holder, Sergey Karjakin of Ukraine, earned it at 12 years, seven months.

Ericsson argues that what matters is not experience per se but "effortful study," which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time. It is interesting to note that time spent playing chess, even in tournaments, appears to contribute less than such study to a player's progress; the main training value of such games is to point up weaknesses for future study.

Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or in driving a car. But having reached an acceptable performance--for instance, keeping up with one's golf buddies or passing a driver's exam--most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement. In contrast, experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind's box open all the time, so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standard set by leaders in their fields.

Meanwhile the standards denoting expertise grow ever more challenging. High school runners manage the four-minute mile; conservatory students play pieces once attempted only by virtuosi. Yet it is chess, again, that offers the most convincing comparison over time. John Nunn, a British mathematician who is also a grandmaster, recently used a computer to help him compare the errors committed in all the games in two international tournaments, one held in 1911, the other in 1993. The modern players played far more accurately. Nunn then examined all the games of one player in 1911 who scored in the middle of the pack and concluded that his rating today would be no better than 2100, hundreds of points below the grandmaster level--"and that was on a good day and with a following wind." The very best old-time masters were considerably stronger but still well below the level of today's leaders.

Then again, Capablanca and his contemporaries had neither computers nor game databases. They had to work things out for themselves, as did Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, and if they fall below today's masters in technique, they tower above them in creative power. The same comparison can be made between Newton and the typical newly minted Ph.D. in physics.

At this point, many skeptics will finally lose patience. Surely, they will say, it takes more to get to Carnegie Hall than practice, practice, practice. Yet this belief in the importance of innate talent, strongest perhaps among the experts themselves and their trainers, is strangely lacking in hard evidence to substantiate it. In 2002 Gobet conducted a study of British chess players ranging from amateurs to grandmasters and found no connection at all between their playing strengths and their visual-spatial abilities, as measured by shape-memory tests. Other researchers have found that the abilities of professional handicappers to predict the results of horse races did not correlate at all with their mathematical abilities.

Although nobody has yet been able to predict who will become a great expert in any field, a notable experiment has shown the possibility of deliberately creating one. László Polgár, an educator in Hungary, homeschooled his three daughters in chess, assigning as much as six hours of work a day, producing one international master and two grandmasters--the strongest chess-playing siblings in history. The youngest Polgár, 30-year-old Judit, is now ranked 14th in the world.

The Polgár experiment proved two things: that grandmasters can be reared and that women can be grandmasters. It is no coincidence that the incidence of chess prodigies multiplied after László Polgár published a book on chess education. The number of musical prodigies underwent a similar increase after Mozart's father did the equivalent two centuries earlier.

Thus, motivation appears to be a more important factor than innate ability in the development of expertise. It is no accident that in music, chess and sports--all domains in which expertise is defined by competitive performance rather than academic credentialing--professionalism has been emerging at ever younger ages, under the ministrations of increasingly dedicated parents and even extended families.

Furthermore, success builds on success, because each accomplishment can strengthen a child's motivation. A 1999 study of professional soccer players from several countries showed that they were much more likely than the general population to have been born at a time of year that would have dictated their enrollment in youth soccer leagues at ages older than the average. In their early years, these children would have enjoyed a substantial advantage in size and strength when playing soccer with their teammates. Because the larger, more agile children would get more opportunities to handle the ball, they would score more often, and their success at the game would motivate them to become even better.

Teachers in sports, music and other fields tend to believe that talent matters and that they know it when they see it. In fact, they appear to be confusing ability with precocity. There is usually no way to tell, from a recital alone, whether a young violinist's extraordinary performance stems from innate ability or from years of Suzuki-style training. Capablanca, regarded to this day as the greatest "natural" chess player, boasted that he never studied the game. In fact, he flunked out of Columbia University in part because he spent so much time playing chess. His famously quick apprehension was a product of all his training, not a substitute for it.

The preponderance of psychological evidence indicates that experts are made, not born. What is more, the demonstrated ability to turn a child quickly into an expert--in chess, music and a host of other subjects--sets a clear challenge before the schools. Can educators find ways to encourage students to engage in the kind of effortful study that will improve their reading and math skills? Roland G. Fryer, Jr., an economist at Harvard University, has experimented with offering monetary rewards to motivate students in underperforming schools in New York City and Dallas. In one ongoing program in New York, for example, teachers test the students every three weeks and award small amounts--on the order of $10 or $20--to those who score well. The early results have been promising. Instead of perpetually pondering the question, "Why can't Johnny read?" perhaps educators should ask, "Why should there be anything in the world he can't learn to do?"

Creating Passionate Users: Is Twitter TOO good?

Creating Passionate Users: Is Twitter TOO good?

2) The feeling of connectedness

The biggest benefit most people seem to be deriving from Twitter is the ability to feel more connected to others. Carson Systems' Lisa put it this way in a comment to Tara Hunt's defense of Twitter:
"Twittering fills in those gaps...recording our friends’ feelings, geographic location and actions as if we were spookily almost there. That makes us feel *really* connected..."

Is this really a good thing?

Probably, yes. For most people, perhaps. But I think it's worth a critical look as opposed to an automatic connected-is-awlays-implicitly-good response. UCSF neurobiologist Thomas Lewis claims that if we're not careful, we can trick a part of our brain into thinking that we're having a real social interaction--something crucial and ancient for human survival--when we actually aren't. This leads to a stressful (but subconscious) cognitive dissonance, where we're getting some of what the brain thinks it needs, but not enough to fill that whatever-ineffable-thing-is-scientists-still-haven't-completely-nailed-but-might-be-smell. He didn't make this claim about Twitter... I attended his talk at The Conference on World Affairs, and he was addressing e-mail, chat, and even television (brain recognizes it's looking at "people", and feels it must be having a social connection (GOOD), but yet it knows something's missing (BAD).

Dr. Lewis cited a ton of studies which I didn't write down, so you can take this with a grain of salt. Plus, I'm extending his issues from e-mail and chat to Twitter. But part of the reasons he talks about are that our brain has evolved an innate ability to interpret body language, facial expression, tone of voice, etc. so the brain expects these channels of information and becomes distressed when the social interaction appears to be there, but these innate, legacy-brain pieces are missing.

Again, this doesn't mean that it's not worth it and highly valuable for people TO stay connected to far-flung family and friends, I'm just saying that it's worth a look at whether that might be lulling some folks into a false sense of "I'm connected" at the expense of real-life connections.

Coffee with your next-door neighbor could do more for your brain than a thousand Twitter updates.

While this same argument has been going around forever, and is the same claim made about television, that doesn't make it untrue. (There's that study about the isolated Canadian village whose collective IQ went down once cable finally came to the village... Lewis cites it in his talks, although I can't find it referenced online).

Ironically, services like Twitter are simultaneously leaving some people with a feeling of not being connected, by feeding the fear of not being in the loop. By elevating the importance of being "constantly updated," it amplifies the feeling of missing something if you're not checking Twitter (or Twittering) with enough frequency.

3) Twitter is the best/worst cause of continuous partial attention

From an earlier post of mine:

Worst of all, this onslaught is keeping us from doing the one thing that makes most of us the happiest... being in flow. Flow requires a depth of thinking and a focus of attention that all that context-switching prevents. Flow requires a challenging use of our knowledge and skills, and that's quite different from mindless tasks we can multitask (eating and watching tv, etc.) Flow means we need a certain amount of time to load our knowledge and skills into our brain RAM. And the more big or small interruptions we have, the less likely we are to ever get there.

And not only are we stopping ourselves from ever getting in flow, we're stopping ourselves from ever getting really good at something. From becoming experts. The brain scientists now tell us that becoming an expert is not a matter of being a prodigy, it's a matter of being able to focus.

We're already seeing a backlash response to info overload, and it seems like a good chunk of Web 2.0 VC investments are going to companies that promise to help us get/stay organized. There's a reason 43 Folders is a Top 100 blog, and it's got to be more than just Merlin Mann's good looks ; )

Lots of people are talking about this, and perhaps nobody more eloquently than Linda Stone:

"To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention -- CONTINUOUSLY. It is motivated by a desire to be a LIVE node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment. To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter.
We pay continuous partial attention in an effort NOT TO MISS ANYTHING. It is an always-on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis. We are always in high alert when we pay continuous partial attention. This artificial sense of constant crisis is more typical of continuous partial attention than it is of multi-tasking."

Interesting critique of the newist social networking website. I love the graph! Indeed, each new technology seems to be more and more distracting. How will our brains cope?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Intelligent people tend to be more religious.

Intelligent people tend to be more religious.

The broad consensus of research shows that people with higher IQs tend to be less religious, not more so.


Is it more logical to be a Christian? Is religion the natural choice of a smart person familiar with more of the evidence? Not according to a broad consensus of studies on IQ and religiosity. These studies have consistently found that the lower the IQ score, the more likely a person is to be religious.

To place these studies in perspective, it is helpful to know the general religious attitudes of Americans today. According to a February 1995 Gallup poll, 96 percent of all Americans believe in God, and 88 percent affirm the importance of religion. However, the degree of religiosity within this group varies considerably. Only 35 percent can be classified as "religious," using a definition that requires them to consider religion important and attend religious services at least once a week. And a March 1994 Gallup poll found that only 20 percent of all Americans belong to that politically active group known as "Christian conservatives."

The following is a review of several studies of IQ and religiosity, paraphrased and summarized from Burnham Beckwith's article, "The Effect of Intelligence on Religious Faith," Free Inquiry, Spring 1986: (1)

Immense ice deposits found at south pole of Mars - Yahoo! News

Immense ice deposits found at south pole of Mars - Yahoo! News

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A spacecraft orbiting Mars has scanned huge deposits of water ice at its south pole so plentiful they would blanket the planet in 36 feet of water if they were liquid, scientists said on Thursday. ADVERTISEMENT

The scientists used a joint
NASA-Italian Space Agency radar instrument on the European Space Agency Mars Express spacecraft to gauge the thickness and volume of ice deposits at the Martian south pole covering an area larger than Texas.

The deposits, up to 2.3 miles thick, are under a polar cap of white frozen carbon dioxide and water, and appear to be composed of at least 90 percent frozen water, with dust mixed in, according to findings published in the journal Science.

Scientists have known that water exists in frozen form at the Martian poles, but this research produced the most accurate measurements of just how much there is.

They are eager to learn about the history of water on Mars because water is fundamental to the question of whether the planet has ever harbored microbial or some other life. Liquid water is a necessity for life as we know it.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Greenspan warns subprime woes could spread - Yahoo! News

Greenspan warns subprime woes could spread - Yahoo! News

BOCA RATON, Florida (Reuters) - Former
Federal Reserve Chairman
Alan Greenspan said on Thursday there was a risk that rising defaults in subprime mortgage markets could spill over into other economic sectors. ADVERTISEMENT

In a wide-ranging question-and-answer session at the Futures Industry Association meeting, Greenspan conceded it was "hard to find any such evidence" about spillover from stressed mortgages yet, but: "You can't take 10 percent out of mortgage originations without some impact."

"I'd expect it to -- I'm waiting -- but the spillovers are just not there," he said. Some problems have turned up in collateralized debt markets, Greenspan added.

Greenspan said the housing downturn appeared to stem more from the recent stagnation in housing prices after years of appreciation than from a decline in mortgage quality but said he was not downplaying problems in so-called subprime loans.

Subprime woes were "not a small issue," said the 81-year-old policy kingpin emeritus.

The current problems seemed to result primarily from buyers who had come into lofty housing markets late in the game, Greenspan said, only after huge price run-ups that made homes less affordable.

Default rates in the subprime segment of the U.S. mortgage market have jumped in recent months as the housing industry slowed and prices fell.

At least 20 lenders in the subprime mortgage sector, which serves borrowers with poor credit histories at high interest rates, have gone out of business as a result.

The crisis has triggered broader concerns that the fallout may spread to mainstream lenders and damage the economy.

Greenspan, whose words still move markets even though he vacated the Fed chairmanship more than a year ago, said much of the strength in consumer spending over the past five years could be traced to capital gains, both realized and unrealized, on surging housing prices.

If home prices keep falling, there could be more of an impact on the broader economy's momentum, he indicated. Consumer spending fuels two-thirds of national economic activity.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

America’s Drunk Driving Dilemma |

America’s Drunk Driving Dilemma |

Here is the conundrum of conflicting values:
People shouldn’t drink and drive because it’s public safety hazard – No argument here, except to say that the laws and methods America uses stop drunk driving are becoming increasingly draconian and it’s time we take a look at our entire value system regarding alcohol.
Americans rarely drink at home because they believe only alcoholics drink at home. This is a widespread belief. When I was 17, I naively asked a guy who was sitting next to me at the bar why he paid $4.25 for a shot of Tequila when he could buy an entire liter at the store for $10.00 and drink it at home[1]. “Only alcoholics sit around the house taking shots of Tequila,” He replied. I didn’t understand the logic then and I still don’t. Many casual drinkers believe it is better to take three shots at the bar after work and drive home than it is to take three shots at home. Some of you may argue that Joe Six Pack shouldn’t drink three shots anywhere, and you may be right, but the argument is Pollyannaish. People have always consumed alcohol and they always will.
Few people want a pub within walking distance of home. I’d love to have a pub down the block where I could sit around in the evening, drink a few beers and visit with the neighbors like people do in Europe. Do you know what would happen to me if I tried to open a bar in my neighborhood? People would think I’d gone mad. I’d be the neighborhood pariah. In suburban America, we zone bars in commercial districts far away from residential areas so we can protect children from the evils of alcohol. Applebee’s (one of the biggest restaurant chains in America) tagline is “Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar,” but I’ve never seen one in an actual neighborhood, they are always in some big mall or commercial district next to a Wal-Mart or something.
In most places in America, mass transit is worthless. Post World War Two American development was built around the automobile. In most American cities – most people – cannot get to a pub without a car. I’ve never been a proponent of mass transit in America, but I must concede that a comprehensive mass transit system would significantly reduce drunk driving and it may be cheaper and more effective than our current ‘get tough’ strategy.

The problem in summary – While most Americans believe you shouldn’t drink and drive, they also believe you shouldn’t drink at home, but most of us can’t walk to the pub or take mass transit – yet we still drink. Isn’t it obvious why we have a drinking and driving problem?