By the CNN Wire Staff
August 27, 2010 12:18 a.m. EDT
(CNN) -- Two chartered planes carrying almost 300 Romanian nationals left France on Thursday in compliance with the French government's program to expel Roma without valid identity papers, according to the French Ministry of Immigration.
Around 300 Roma of Romanian origin arrived Thursday in Bucharest after being expelled from France.
One flight, carrying 113 Roma, departed from Lyon; the other, carrying 157, left from Paris.
The passengers aboard both planes were repatriated voluntarily, accepting financial compensation of 300 euros ($381) per adult and 100 euros ($127) per child.
Almost 8,300 Romanian and Bulgarian nationals have now been expelled from France since the beginning of the year. Close to 10,000 were expelled in 2009.
French officials have said the deportations are part of a broader crackdown on illegal immigration. Additional chartered flights are scheduled for September 14 and 30.
Over the past month, the French government has dismantled 51 Roma camps that it called illegal.
"Over there, they were giving us food, money ... salary. Life is much better out there -- happier," Mariana Serban, a mother of four, recently told Romania's Realitatea TV.
She told the reporter she did not work in France, and smiled when the reporter pointed out France would not give them any more money.
"That's what they say now, but they will give us money again," Serban said.
Serban's oldest son, Alexandru, 12, spoke in French as he told the TV station, "It's much better in France. I'm here [in Romania] now for a visit, and I will leave again. I'm staying here for two days only."
The comments by the returning Roma may dash any French hopes that they will resume their former lives in Romania.
"They will go and meet their parents and other relatives, and after that they will return to France, I'm telling you," Adrian Edu, an expert on Roma issues with the Bucharest City Hall, told PRO TV.
Roma are a group of people who live mainly in southern and eastern Europe, often in poverty. Commonly referred to as Gypsies, they tend to live in camps, caravans, or informal settlements and have been the target of persecution throughout history.
Romanian President Traian Basescu said in a statement last week that his country would try to find a solution to the French situation.
"We understand the problems Roma camps create around French cities, and we will work with France to find suitable solutions," he said.
Roma from Romania and Bulgaria are allowed free passage into France if they are European Union citizens. After that, however, they must find work, start studies, or find some other way of becoming established in France or risk deportation.
Two Romanian secretaries of state plan to be in Paris on August 30 to discuss the integration of Roma populations, the French Foreign Ministry said. It said Paris favors the social integration of the Roma in Romania.
Roma in Europe: Persecuted and misunderstood
By the CNN Wire Staff
August 19, 2010 1:39 p.m. EDT
Paris, France (CNN) -- This week, France began deporting members of the Roma population as part of what it says is a crackdown on illegal immigration. It has put the focus back on the Roma, who remain widely misunderstood despite being one of Europe's largest minorities.
Roma (Gypsy) Girl
Roma (Gypsy) Family
Who are the Roma?
Roma, also called Gypsies or Romany, are a group of people marked by poverty who live mainly in southern and eastern Europe, though they live throughout the continent. They tend to live in camps, caravans, or informal settlements and have been persecuted throughout history.
Some are Christian and some are Muslim, having converted while migrating through Persia and the Balkans, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Most Roma speak dialects of a language called Romani, which is based on Sanskrit, the classical language of India, the museum says. The language is largely unwritten, however, because of the high rates of illiteracy in most Roma communities, according to information from Minnesota State University.
Where did the Roma come from?
Roma originated in the Punjab region of northern India as a nomadic people and entered Europe between the 8th and 10th centuries, according to the Holocaust museum. They were called Gypsies because Europeans mistakenly believed they came from Egypt.
Many Roma traditionally worked as craftsmen and were blacksmiths, cobblers, tinsmiths, horse dealers, and toolmakers, according to the museum. Others were performers like musicians, circus animal trainers, and dancers. By the 1920s, some were also working as shopkeepers or civil servants.
The number of nomadic Roma was on the decline in many places by the early 1900s, though many "sedentary" Roma often moved seasonally, depending on their occupations, the museum says.
Where did the Roma go in Europe?
Roma were living in Spain, France, England, and large parts of what is today Russia and Eastern Europe by the late 1400s. They suffered persecution in those countries ranging from laws against their language and dress to expulsion, according to Minnesota State. In the beginning of the 15th century, many Roma were forced into slavery by Hungarian and Romanian nobles who needed laborers for their large estates, according to the university.
Roma suffered persecution during World War II. The Nazis judged Roma to be "racially inferior," according to the Holocaust museum. "Their fate in some ways paralleled that of the Jews," the museum said. The Nazis subjected Roma to internment, forced labor, and murder.
"While exact figures or percentages cannot be ascertained, historians estimate that the Germans and their allies killed around 25 percent of all European Roma," the museum says. "Of slightly less than 1 million Roma believed to have been living in Europe before the war, the Germans and their Axis partners killed up to 220,000."
What is the situation for Roma in Europe today?
Many Roma live on the edges of communities or are transient. They suffer massive discrimination throughout Europe, according to Amnesty International, and are often the victims of forced evictions, racist attacks and ill-treatment by police, and are often denied their rights to housing, employment, health care and education.
In Slovakia, thousands of Roma children are placed in special schools and classes designed for pupils with "mild mental disabilities" or in ethnically segregated mainstream schools and classes that provide a substandard education, Amnesty says.
Human Rights Watch expressed concern last year about a wave of attacks on Roma in Kosovo, and the United Nations pointed to mounting racial violence in Russia in 2008 that targeted Roma and other ethnic and religious minorities.
In June 2009, there was a series of attacks on Roma families in Northern Ireland, where the Roma had gone for work.
In Bosnia, Roma are barred from running for president or the upper chamber of Parliament.
The Budapest, Hungary-based European Roma Rights Center sent a letter of concern to Danish authorities last month about the recent mass arrest and deportation of 23 Roma in Copenhagen. They said Danish officials, including the mayor of Copenhagen and the country's justice minister, had made comments blaming the Roma for crimes.
A U.N. report last year cited the cost of deprivation among the Roma. In Bulgaria, it said, their life expectancy is five to six years below the rest of the population and their infant mortality rate is six times the national average. In Hungary, infant mortality among the Roma is nearly four times the country's average, and in Romania it is two and a half times greater, according to the report.
August 27, 2010, 12:34 pm
The Buckeye Bullet 2.5 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
In a plume of salt crystals, students from Ohio State University’s Center for Auto Research witnessed their electric-powered racer make history on Tuesday. The Buckeye Bullet 2.5 averaged 307.7 miles per hour in back-to-back runs on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats, obliterating the previous record of 245.5 m.p.h., set in 1999.
Roger Schroer, the Bullet 2.5’s driver, celebrates after the 307 mile per hour run.
The team is awaiting certification of its accomplishment by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, the governing body that ratifies world-record runs. A hydrogen fuel cell-powered version of the 2.5, the Buckeye Bullet 2, owns the record for its propulsion class, attaining an average speed of 302.9 m.p.h. in 2009.
To a casual E.V. enthusiast, the record might have seemed a foregone conclusion, as the 1999 mark was established by a racer running nickel-metal hydride batteries, which pack lower energy density than the lithium-ion unit powering the Buckeye Bullet 2.5. However, David Cooke, Ohio State’s team manager, noted in a telephone interview that the original Bullet also ran nickel-metal hydride batteries in 2004 when its car hit 314.9 m.p.h. (That run was rejected by the F.I.A.)
“The batteries we have now can generate way more power, though,” Mr. Cooke said.
The team traveled to the salt flats primarily to gauge its new battery unit’s performance, designed by A123 Systems of Watertown, Mass. The 2.5’s chassis and body were repurposed from the Buckeye Bullet 2. “We knew it was a solid, extremely safe platform from our 2009 run, and we needed a test mule for the A123 pack,” he said.
Given the 2.5 was merely a test iteration of the Buckeye Bullet, there will be significant upgrades between now and the eventual Bullet 3. “We’ll have an all-new chassis and body, and we’re considering four-wheel drive,” Mr. Cooke said.
On Wednesday, the team tried to better its record but was thwarted when the 2.5’s clutch essentially imploded. “We were testing an overrunning clutch, and we had too much torque coming from the motor and it ripped apart,” Mr. Cooke said. “We tried swapping in our regular friction clutch to make another run, but it just wasn’t happening.”
The team behind the Buckeye Bullet 2.5.
The team’s 2.5 initiative was sponsored in part by Venturi, a French electric vehicle company, which produced 25 examples of a two-seat, 300,000-euro coupe called the Fetish during the last decade. The record run in the 2.5 was piloted by Roger Schroer, a “professional tester with the Transportation Research Center in Ohio,” said Mr. Cooke.
“It says a lot to me that he was willing to jump into a car built by college students,” Mr. Cooke said. “We had an amazing level of mutual trust.”
The nation's ability to turn ideas into products and profits at home has been eroded by deep manufacturing cuts and policies that result in others reaping the benefits.
By Don Lee, Los Angeles Times
September 13, 2010
Reporting from Washington —
President Obama's proposal to boost the research tax credit for businesses is widely seen as necessary to bolster American competitiveness in the global economy.
But even if the $100-billion plan is approved, it won't begin to address the fundamental question of how to turn that research and new technology into jobs and renewed prosperity for Americans.
Over the last two decades, U.S. scientists and engineers have discovered or pioneered the science behind one blockbuster product after another — from flat-panel screens and robotics to the lithium batteries that run next-generation power tools and electric cars.
Chinese workers assemble electronic components at the Taiwanese technology giant Foxconn's factory in Shenzhen, in the southern Guangzhou province. (Getty Images)
Yet in almost every case, production, jobs and most of the economic benefits that sprang from those breakthroughs have ended up overseas.
America's innovative spirit may still be the envy of the world — major steps forward in nanotechnology and biomedical fields, among others, continue to be made in U.S. labs. But without more effective policies to translate those achievements into gains at home, the fruits of America's creative genius will probably continue to be reaped by others.
And new reports show that during the recession American companies ramped up investment overseas for plants and new hires, as well as research and development — even as they cut back domestically.
Foreign subsidiaries of U.S. corporations increased their spending on research and development by more than 7% in 2008 from the previous year, pushing the total to nearly $37 billion. But these same multinational companies sliced R&D expenditures in the U.S. that year 2.2% to $199 billion, Commerce Department data showed.
A similar but less dramatic difference was evident in hiring: Employment at these overseas units rose 1% in 2008 — and a stunning 15% in China — but was down 2% for the U.S. elements of the 2,200 multinational firms the Commerce Department studied.
Some of these jobs were lost to automation, but Obama and many independent economists said a big factor was the sharply different policy approaches of U.S. and foreign governments.
For decades, Washington has taken a largely hands-off, or laissez faire, approach, sometimes even adopting tax and other policies that critics said actively encourage the movement of manufacturing and other business activity overseas.
By contrast, export giants such as Germany, Japan and South Korea have embraced government policies — and even pressure tactics — that push businesses to maintain operations at home.
"Other countries do a much better job," said Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonpartisan Washington think tank. "We're pretty much the only country with the illusion that we're not in competition with the rest of the world."
Obama, as he announced a package of stimulus measures last week in a Cleveland suburb, sought to sound a populist, even nationalistic note:
"Instead of tax loopholes that incentivize investment in overseas jobs," he said, "I'm proposing a more generous, permanent extension of the tax credit that goes to companies for all the research and innovation they do right here in Ohio, right here in the United States of America."
Some corporate chiefs bristle at the notion that they are exploiting loopholes. Rather, they said, they are sending work overseas because it's efficient and because otherwise they wouldn't be able to compete. And many would argue that American innovation and entrepreneurism remain the envy of world.
But there's little doubt that U.S. research investment has slipped from its once-preeminent position. By one common measure, private R&D spending as a share of economic output, the United States was No. 8 among developed countries in the latest tally by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Washington's funding for basic research, meanwhile, has been essentially flat since 2003, on an inflation-adjusted basis. The federal R&D budget for 2011 shows a decline, according to the National Science Foundation.
"This is the last trend one wants to see with global R&D spending continuing to grow rapidly," said Gregory Tassey, senior economist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal agency promoting technology and industry.
Yet economists and business leaders worry that increasing support for U.S. laboratories and technology centers will not necessarily strengthen the economy.
The nation's ability to turn ideas into products and profits at home has been eroded by manufacturing cuts so deep that entire supply chains have vanished, and with them skilled labor, component makers and specialized companies needed to bring scientific discoveries to market.
Examples include A123 Systems Inc. in Massachusetts. With government support, the company is building plants in Michigan to produce its breakthrough lithium-ion batteries for electric cars, but as a start-up it had little choice but to rely on the technical and manufacturing capabilities of China to crank out products quickly to show potential customers.
Even then, despite its MIT-born technology, A123 lost out to a South Korean company to supply batteries for General Motors Co.'s Chevy Volt.
Similarly, the technology behind silicon-based solar panels was originally developed in America. But even as the solar panel industry took off in countries such as Germany, where it was backed by strong government policies, the industry in the U.S. declined, partly because electronics manufacturing and other production capabilities had dried up years earlier.
"If you just do breakthrough R&D and in the end don't make the stuff, that's a losing argument," said Ralph Gomory, a research professor at New York University and former head of research at IBM. He called it "the innovation delusion: We can design things; others will build them."
Apple Inc. has perfected the trend, making a fortune selling snazzy products that are designed by legions of creative people in the U.S. but manufactured almost entirely in China. Analysts note that Apple captures the bulk of the profit while the U.S. economy loses little in giving up low value-added assembly operations to the Chinese.
But Apple's case is rare. A lot of companies design things and try to hold on to the technology but eventually lose control over it in the process of using overseas manufacturers — or are beaten out by rivals who produce similar goods at cheaper prices.
So the decline of U.S. manufacturing has increasingly become an economic Achilles' heel.
"When products are designed and manufactured side by side in America, businesses can discover new efficiencies and develop second-, third- and fourth-generation upgrades that simply would never occur in a cloistered research lab," U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a speech early this year.
"When they are not, we allow other countries to develop new businesses and new jobs," he added.
At least a handful of efforts are underway to create such self-reinforcing systems in the U.S., including tech areas in New York's Hudson River Valley and in San Diego.
Forming similar clusters may be one way to compete against manufacturing powerhouses such as Germany and Japan, where government plays a much stronger role in driving research and pressing business leaders to focus on making and selling goods at home.
The question is whether these or other possible answers to the problem can be developed in the United States within the present ideological and policy framework, or whether more fundamental change would be required.
Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times
2 Aug, 2010, 02.30 AM IST, PTI
(Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee)
NEW DELHI: The Indian economy would grow to USD 1.72 trillion in 2011-12, moving closer towards the USD 2 trillion mark, according to an assessment by the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC).
The country's gross domestic product (GDP) at the market and current prices was measured at USD 1.31 trillion in 2009-10 and is estimated to be USD 1.52 trillion in the current fiscal, the PMEAC said in its latest economic outlook.
Pegging the GDP growth at nine per cent, the economy would reach a level of USD 1.72 trillion in 2011-12, it said.
If the nine per cent growth trend is maintained, India would become USD two trillion economy in 2013-14 fiscal.
In the assessment, the PMEAC, headed by noted economist C Rangarajan, said that it is imperative for India "to preserve conditions that will enable it to return to the 9 per cent growth trajectory".
After slowing down to 6.7 per cent in 2008-09 and 7.4 per cent in 2009-10, the Indian economy is projected to expand at 8.5 per cent this fiscal and by nine per cent in 2011-12.
According to experts, services and manufacturing sectors will remain the key drivers pushing the coveted growth to USD two trillion mark.
"Services sectors particularly transportation and telecom sectors will lead the growth. Rising income levels and aspirations of people will further the industrial output," CRISIL's chief economist D K Joshi said.
In the first two months of current fiscal, the industrial production recorded an annual growth of 14 per cent. "The lead indicators of service sector also suggest increased economic activity," Reserve Bank Governor D Subbarao said in the first quarter credit policy review.
If the tax reforms are implemented as planned from next fiscal, the economy would get further push.
"The gain from GST will propel the country from one-trillion dollar economy to two trillion-dollar economy in a short span of time," Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee recently said.
Before the global economic slowdown since 2008, the Indian economy grew by over nine per cent for three years in a row from 2005-06 to 2007-08 and expansion was maintained by industry and services sectors.
Top 10 GDP Countries 2000-2050
This table shows the top 10 countries by GDP (Gross Domestic Product) expressed in billions of US$, for the years 2000, 2010, 2020, 2030, 2040 and 2050, listed by projected 2050 rank.
SOURCE: Goldman Sachs
European Union *
* European Union GDP, which I calculated myself, is shown for comparison, but not ranked.
The Gross Domestic Product or GDP is a measure of all of the services and goods produced in a country over a specific period, classically a year. The GDP considers the market value of goods and services to arrive at a number which is used to judge the growth rate of the economy and the overall economic health of the nation concerned. As an economic measure, the GDP can be a very useful yardstick, but it has some serious flaws which have led some people to propose the use of alternate measures of economic and social well being.
By Ina Fried, CNET
August 25, 2010 2:37 p.m. EDT |
Bill Gates at the launch of Windows 95, which hit the market 15 years ago today
It was 15 years ago that Microsoft had one of its most successful launches ever--introducing Windows 95. The company managed to get people to line up for hours to be among the first to get their hands on a copy.
The company paid to treat people to free newspapers in London, lighted the Empire State Building in Windows' colors, and draped Toronto's CN Tower with a 300-foot banner--all part of a massive $300 million ad campaign that accompanied the product's arrival.
Windows 95, which was separate from the company's business-oriented Windows NT product, added a number of features over its predecessors including better network support, the ability to send faxes (yes, there was a time when that was a big deal) along with basic audio recording, audio playback, and video playback tools. Features now thought of as core parts of Windows, such as the start menu and taskbar, also made their debut with Windows 95. Plus, it just looked a whole lot better graphically and was far more stable than past consumer versions of Windows.
Internet Explorer debuted around the same time, but was sold separately as part of Microsoft's Plus Pack for Windows 95. It was eventually bundled in directly with the operating system in an update to Windows 95 released the following year.
By the time Windows 95 was finally ushered off the market in 2001, it had become a fixture on computer desktops around the world.
"If you look at Windows 95, it was a quantum leap in difference in technological capability and stability," Gartner analyst Neil MacDonald said at that time.
A decade and a half after Windows 95 hit the market, though, one question looms large for Windows? Are all its best days in the past?
Clearly it was a different time and Microsoft might be hard pressed to capture that kind of consumer attention no matter what it did. But, never mind the long lines, will Microsoft be able to continue to sell Windows at the price and volume it has?
It's one of the most important questions facing Microsoft as a company. While the company has expanded far beyond its Windows roots, Windows and Office remain the engine driving the vast majority of the company's profits even as it looks to cell phones, search, and online services to augment its mainstay businesses.
At the moment, the Windows business is doing quite well, with Windows 7 selling at an impressive clip. Indeed Windows 7 is selling far faster than Windows 95 did in its early days, though that's as much a testament to how large the PC market is as anything else.
The longer-term question is whether Windows can outpace what I call the generic Web experience. In the coming years, smartbooks, tablets, cell phones, Netbooks and shapes we probably haven't thought of will all be capable of delivering the Web, which is for many people their main use of a PC.
For Windows to be as relevant on Windows 95's 20th anniversary as it is today, the company will have had to manage to evolve the operating system significantly.
I see a few ways this can happen, but none is a sure thing.
First, Microsoft (or a third-party software maker) can develop a new killer app that only runs on Windows. It's been a long time since this happened, but certainly it's not impossible. New user interfaces can also be added. Touch is already there, as is voice control to some degree, but gesture recognition such as that found in Kinect could pave the way for new uses.
Second, it could evolve Windows and Windows Live to offer a dramatically better way of doing the same tasks that most people do on the Web. Sure, we can manage our photos and music on the Web today and that is getting easier. However, tapping local storage and graphics, Microsoft has the potential to offer a better way and, with the latest version of Windows Live, is trying to do so.
Third, Microsoft could enhance the value of Windows by having a browser that is demonstrably superior to non-Windows rivals. This appears to be a tall order, given that Internet Explorer, while still leading in market share, has been well behind rivals when it comes to being seen as the technical leader.
For the record, this challenge is not just the one facing Microsoft. It's also the one facing Apple's Mac business. And while Microsoft must justify the $100 or so premium that it charges for Windows, Apple commands an even higher premium when comparing the Mac to one of these "generic Web" devices.
But Apple also has another entrant in the game--a viable alternative Web experience delivered in the form of the iPad. Microsoft, at least so far, appears to have only Windows, in its various flavors.
James Temple, Chronicle Staff Writer
San Francisco Chronicle September 8, 2010 02:18 PM
(09-08) 14:18 PDT San Francisco -- Google Inc. unveiled a major upgrade to its search engine on Wednesday, showing off a new feature that promises to shave seconds off most online searches by attempting to predict what users are looking for before they're done typing.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
The Mountain View search giant demonstrated Google Instant during a morning press conference at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, proclaiming that those seconds will add up to 350 million hours in time savings for its users over the next year.
"We're predicting what query you're likely to do," said Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience. "It means much faster search ... and really providing results in real time."
The product went live for U.S. users of the Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Internet Explore 8 browsers on Wednesday. For these consumers, a single keystroke now begins pulling up possible search results.
Type "w" in Google's familiar search box and results pop up for local weather at the top of the page. Add an "a" and the top link switches to Walmart.com. Tack on an "n" and, at least in San Francisco, it assumes you're looking for the Wanderlust yoga retreat in Squaw Valley.
Google is tapping into its massive database of online user behavior to predict the most common searches based on the letters, numbers or symbols entered. This allows the company to turbocharge the search process by attacking the critical choke point: The user.
On average, Web surfers spend nine seconds on a search query and another 15 seconds selecting a result, the company said. By contrast, it takes Google and the network operators together just over a second to funnel the query, and process and deliver results.
By anticipating what they're looking for, and allowing them to instantly click on or arrow down to the most relevant result, Google expects to save between 2 to 5 seconds per user per query.
"It really highlights the importance of search for Google," said David Hallerman, senior analyst for New York research firm eMarketer Inc. "It's where most of their revenue still comes from, so they're developing more capabilities to keep Google on top in terms of audience share and search share."
Google will begin rolling out the new feature internationally in the days to come, beginning with France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and the U.K. It hopes to introduce a version for mobile devices this fall.
For now, the search engine will predict results based on aggregated user data, though down the road the process may become more personalized according to specific user behavior, Mayer said.
She declined to discuss specific revenue implications, but said that being a faster and more sophisticated search engine has historically allowed Google to grow both its market share and the total pie of online searches.
Asked if there's a potential to lose ad clicks, the company's bread and butter, by ushering users off its search page more quickly, she responded that there has been no indication of that in user tests so far.
This was a concern, however, for Benchmark Co. analyst Clayton Moran.
"I got the feeling it sort of encourages users to scroll down and potentially pay less attention to the right hand side ads," he said. "It's maybe something to watch."
On the other hand, he said Google Instant offers a better user experience that is likely to drive more volume, so it's difficult to predict the overall financial impact.
Another worry, raised several times during the question and answer session, is what impact the change will have on search engine optimization, or the methods that Web publishers employ to ensure high rankings on Google's search page.
Ben Gomes, distinguished engineer at Google, said the company hasn't changed anything about how it orders search results, but allowed that the new feature could shift consumer behavior over time in ways that might be difficult to predict.
Users "will start being presented with results immediately, so it's more and more important that your website be at the top," said Patrick Kerley, who oversees search engine optimization and other digital strategy efforts at Levick Strategic Communications in Washington, D.C. "There will be less time for a consumer to make a choice."
E-mail James Temple at email@example.com.
About Google Instant
Google Instant is a new search enhancement that shows results as you type. We are pushing the limits of our technology and infrastructure to help you get better search results, faster. Our key technical insight was that people type slowly, but read quickly, typically taking 300 milliseconds between keystrokes, but only 30 milliseconds (a tenth of the time!) to glance at another part of the page. This means that you can scan a results page while you type.
Google's attempt at predictive text leaves web users lost for words
Scribe is meant to make writing easier – but does the opposite
By Rhodri Marsden
Friday, 10 September 2010
Things of interest to risk managers
who take issue with any entity-producing premium range – no, I'm sorry. It's not working, I'll try again. Thinking of the right words isn't always easy, particularly if you're in a hurry, or drunk. But this week the internet giant Google has launched two services that aim to relieve some of the pressure on our overloaded brains, by using its position as the pre-eminent cataloguer of the world's data to suggest what we might be about to think next.
Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, at this week's launch of the Google Instant service. The new software was shown to the media by Marissa Mayer, the company's 'vice-president of search product and user experience'
Google Scribe, which I used to write the first line of this article, tries to complete our sentences via a pop-up menu of likely options, while Google Instant transforms the process of searching the web, with pages of results changing automatically as we type. As a result, the search giant can hand-hold us even more firmly through the process of typing, finding and, ultimately, spending money.
Scribe is one of many tools that has emerged from the research wing Google Labs (see box), and while it is interesting from a linguistics point of view, it is more of a diverting toy than a usable tool. As you type, you can choose (or not) from a numbered selection of words most likely to come next, based on the massive corpus of sentences that has been harvested from the web by Google.
Scribe's reliance on web text becomes clear when you start with "The" and use the first suggested option for each subsequent word. The experiment produces a phrase common on YouTube: "The following content has been identified by the YouTube community as being potentially offensive."
Using Scribe feels like a logical extension of predictive texting on mobile phones, and that is undoubtedly the platform where it will eventually prove its worth. But on a computer it does nothing to speed up typing; as one early user commented, it's as if someone is constantly interrupting you to try to finish your sentences, and always getting it wrong.
Speedy operation, by contrast, is the whole raison d'etre of Google Instant. The service was unleashed without warning on google.com and google.co.uk on Wednesday, causing surprise among users when results popped up a lot quicker than usual.
Back in 2000, the idea of predictive searching was outlandish enough for Google to launch "Mentalplex" as its April Fool gag, but 10 years later that joke has almost become a reality. It feels like the precocious niece of Google Suggest, the system that has triggered pop-up selections of likely search terms for more than five years – but those suggestions now extend to full pages of results. Google says this cuts up to five seconds from a 25-second average search time; not quite "search at the speed of thought", as was claimed at its launch, but certainly quick. The most startling change is that results appear even before you hit the "enter" key – an act we normally associate with ordering Google-bots to retrieve answers for us.
Unsurprisingly, as with any major changes to online services, tuts of irritation are already audible. Google's rise to dominance was largely predicated upon the simplicity of its interface, and any attempts to overcomplicate it tend to be resisted by purists.
But the most profound effect will be on the world of search engine optimisation (SEO) – the industry that advises businesses how to push themselves up Google's rankings. Yesterday, you could almost hear rule books being torn up as they were forced to reshape their approach. For example, typing "The" into google.com now brings up a page of results for Ricky Gervais's sitcom The Office, while the companies or trademarks that appear when a single letter is pressed on google.co.uk – from Argos, BBC and Currys to Xbox, YouTube and Zara – will have a battle on their hands to keep pole position. Google's fabled top-secret search algorithm, which largely dictates the shape and structure of web traffic, is key to the company's colossal social and commercial power. With about 70 per cent of searches made through Google, companies will be pursuing those top rankings with renewed vigour, while users will simply have to accept any irritating outcomes.
One small voice of dissent complained yesterday that Google Instant's results for the Russian economist, Eugen Slutsky, were now invisible because of prudish (but probably necessary) filters placed across the service.
Others aired more philosophical concerns about the impact of Scribe and Instant on the way we think. While Google Instant notionally makes things "easier", free thought is undoubtedly replaced by guidance based on that lowest common denominator of groupthink.
Innovations from the Google labs
Another nail in the coffin of the guidebook, City Tours suggests walking tours in major cities starting at any specified address, incorporating as many attractions as possible in the given time frame.
An instant, graphical overview of the world's news via an array of thumbnails of webpages; either view by news story, or by section or by publication
A previously independent service brought into the Google fold back in February, Aardvark gives personalised answers to questions – such as "what's the best restaurant in York?" in around five minutes, using a social media-style network of self-styled experts.
Google Image Swirl
The standard Google image search tool returns results according to supposed relevance to the query, but Image Swirl organises results according to visual similarity in a unique clickable interface.
Sadly not a means of instantly translating text, but a useful tool for speakers of Russian, Sanskrit, Urdu, Gujurati and many others to enter text phonetically in Roman script using an English keyboard, and see it displayed using their own character set.
* BOOK EXCERPT * SEPTEMBER 3, 2010
There is a sound scientific explanation for the making of our world—no gods required
According to Viking mythology, eclipses occur when two wolves, Skoll and Hati, catch the sun or moon. At the onset of an eclipse people would make lots of noise, hoping to scare the wolves away. After some time, people must have noticed that the eclipses ended regardless of whether they ran around banging on pots.
Ignorance of nature's ways led people in ancient times to postulate many myths in an effort to make sense of their world. But eventually, people turned to philosophy, that is, to the use of reason—with a good dose of intuition—to decipher their universe. Today we use reason, mathematics and experimental test—in other words, modern science.
Albert Einstein said, "The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible." He meant that, unlike our homes on a bad day, the universe is not just a conglomeration of objects each going its own way. Everything in the universe follows laws, without exception.
Emma Hardy for The Wall Street Journal
Stephen Hawking at his office at Cambridge University on Sept. 2.
Newton believed that our strangely habitable solar system did not "arise out of chaos by the mere laws of nature." Instead, he maintained that the order in the universe was "created by God at first and conserved by him to this Day in the same state and condition." The discovery recently of the extreme fine-tuning of so many laws of nature could lead some back to the idea that this grand design is the work of some grand Designer. Yet the latest advances in cosmology explain why the laws of the universe seem tailor-made for humans, without the need for a benevolent creator.
Many improbable occurrences conspired to create Earth's human-friendly design, and they would indeed be puzzling if ours were the only solar system in the universe. But today we know of hundreds of other solar systems, and few doubt that there exist countless more among the billions of stars in our galaxy. Planets of all sorts exist, and obviously, when the beings on a planet that supports life examine the world around them, they are bound to find that their environment satisfies the conditions they require to exist.
The Hubble Space Telescope snaps new images of the oldest galaxies ever seen. A senior scientist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, explains to WSJ's Robert Lee Hotz and Simon Constable how he did it-and what it means.
It is possible to turn that last statement into a scientific principle: The fact of our being restricts the characteristics of the kind of environment in which we find ourselves. For example, if we did not know the distance from the Earth to the sun, the fact that beings like us exist would allow us to put bounds on how small or great the Earth-sun separation could be. We need liquid water to exist, and if the Earth were too close, it would all boil off; if it were too far, it would freeze. That principle is called the "weak" anthropic principle.
The weak anthropic principle is not very controversial. But there is a stronger form that is regarded with disdain among some physicists. The strong anthropic principle suggests that the fact that we exist imposes constraints, not just on our environment, but on the possible form and content of the laws of nature themselves.
The idea arose because it is not only the peculiar characteristics of our solar system that seem oddly conducive to the development of human life, but also the characteristics of our entire universe—and its laws. They appear to have a design that is both tailor-made to support us and, if we are to exist, leaves little room for alteration. That is much more difficult to explain.
The tale of how the primordial universe of hydrogen, helium and a bit of lithium evolved to a universe harboring at least one world with intelligent life like us is a tale of many chapters. The forces of nature had to be such that heavier elements—especially carbon—could be produced from the primordial elements, and remain stable for at least billions of years. Those heavy elements were formed in the furnaces we call stars, so the forces first had to allow stars and galaxies to form. Those in turn grew from the seeds of tiny inhomogeneities in the early universe.
Even all that is not enough: The dynamics of the stars had to be such that some would eventually explode, precisely in a way that could disperse the heavier elements through space. In addition, the laws of nature had to dictate that those remnants could recondense into a new generation of stars, these surrounded by planets incorporating the newly formed heavy elements.
By examining the model universes we generate when the theories of physics are altered in certain ways, one can study the effect of changes to physical law in a methodical manner. Such calculations show that a change of as little as 0.5% in the strength of the strong nuclear force, or 4% in the electric force, would destroy either nearly all carbon or all oxygen in every star, and hence the possibility of life as we know it. Also, most of the fundamental constants appearing in our theories appear fine-tuned in the sense that if they were altered by only modest amounts, the universe would be qualitatively different, and in many cases unsuitable for the development of life. For example, if protons were 0.2% heavier, they would decay into neutrons, destabilizing atoms.
If one assumes that a few hundred million years in stable orbit is necessary for planetary life to evolve, the number of space dimensions is also fixed by our existence. That is because, according to the laws of gravity, it is only in three dimensions that stable elliptical orbits are possible. In any but three dimensions even a small disturbance, such as that produced by the pull of the other planets, would send a planet off its circular orbit, and cause it to spiral either into or away from the sun.
The emergence of the complex structures capable of supporting intelligent observers seems to be very fragile. The laws of nature form a system that is extremely fine-tuned. What can we make of these coincidences? Luck in the precise form and nature of fundamental physical law is a different kind of luck from the luck we find in environmental factors. It raises the natural question of why it is that way.
Many people would like us to use these coincidences as evidence of the work of God. The idea that the universe was designed to accommodate mankind appears in theologies and mythologies dating from thousands of years ago. In Western culture the Old Testament contains the idea of providential design, but the traditional Christian viewpoint was also greatly influenced by Aristotle, who believed "in an intelligent natural world that functions according to some deliberate design."
That is not the answer of modern science. As recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.
Our universe seems to be one of many, each with different laws. That multiverse idea is not a notion invented to account for the miracle of fine tuning. It is a consequence predicted by many theories in modern cosmology. If it is true it reduces the strong anthropic principle to the weak one, putting the fine tunings of physical law on the same footing as the environmental factors, for it means that our cosmic habitat—now the entire observable universe—is just one of many.
Each universe has many possible histories and many possible states. Only a very few would allow creatures like us to exist. Although we are puny and insignificant on the scale of the cosmos, this makes us in a sense the lords of creation.
—Stephen Hawking is a professor at the University of Cambridge. Leonard Mlodinow is a physicist who teaches at Caltech. Adapted from "The Grand Design" by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, to be published by Bantam Books on Sept. 7. Copyright © by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. Printed by arrangement with the Random House Publishing Group.
Jeremy Hsu, LiveScience Senior Writer
Thu Sep 2, 2:30 pm ET
Mass extinctions have served as huge reset buttons that dramatically changed the diversity of species found in oceans all over the world, according to a comprehensive study of fossil records. The findings suggest humans will live in a very different future if they drive animals to extinction, because the loss of each species can alter entire ecosystems.
Some scientists have speculated that effects of humans - from hunting to climate change - are fueling another great mass extinction. A few go so far as to say we are entering a new geologic epoch, leaving the 10,000-year-old Holocene Epoch behind and entering the Anthropocene Epoch, marked by major changes to global temperatures and ocean chemistry, increased sediment erosion, and changes in biology that range from altered flowering times to shifts in migration patterns of birds and mammals and potential die-offs of tiny organisms that support the entire marine food chain.
Scientists had once thought species diversity could help buffer a group of animals from such die-offs, either keeping them from heading toward extinction or helping them to bounce back. But having many diverse species also proved no guarantee of future success for any one group of animals, given that mass extinctions more or less wiped the slate clean, according to studies such as the latest one.
Then and now
Looking back in time, the diversity of large taxonomic groups (which include lots of species), such as snails or corals, mostly hovered around a certain equilibrium point that represented a diversity limit of species' numbers. But that diversity limit also appears to have changed spontaneously throughout Earth's history about every 200 million years.
How today's extinction crisis - species today go extinct at a rate that may range from 10 to 100 times the so-called background extinction rate - may change the face of the planet and its species goes beyond what humans can predict, the researchers say.
"The main implication is that we're really rolling the dice," said John Alroy, a paleobiologist at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. "We don't know which groups will suffer the most, which groups will rebound the most quickly, or which ones will end up with higher or lower long-term equilibrium diversity levels."
What seems certain is that the fate of each animal group will differ greatly, Alroy said.
His analysis, detailed in the Sept. 3 issue of the journal Science, is based on almost 100,000 fossil collections in the Paleobiology Database (PaleoDB).
The findings revealed various examples of diversity shifts, including one that took place in a group of ocean bottom-dwelling bivalves called brachiopods, which are similar to clams and oysters. They dominated the Paleozoic era from 540 million to 250 million years ago, and branched out into new species during two huge adaptive spurts of growth in diversity - each time followed by a big crash.
The brachiopods then reached a low, but steady, equilibrium over the past 250 million years in which there wasn't a surge or a crash in species' numbers, and still live on today as a rare group of marine animals.
Counting creatures better
In the past, researchers have typically counted species in the fossil record by randomly drawing a set number of samples from each time period - a method that can leave out less common species. In fact two studies using the PaleoDB used this approach.
Instead, Alroy used a new approach called shareholder sampling, in which he tracked how frequently certain groups appeared in the fossil record, and then counted enough samples until he hit a target number representative of the proportion for each group.
"In some sense the older methods are a little like the American voting system - the first-past-the-post-winner method basically makes minority views invisible," said Charles Marshall, a paleontologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who did not take part in the study. "However, with proportional systems, minority views still get seats in parliament."
Marshall added that the study was the "most thorough quantitative analysis to date using global marine data." But he added that researchers will probably debate whether the PaleoDB data represents a complete-enough picture of the fossil record.
Nothing lasts forever
The idea that rules of diversity change should not come as a surprise for most researchers, according to Marshall.
"To me, the really interesting possibility is that some groups might not yet be close enough to their caps to have those caps be manifest yet," Marshall told LiveScience. Or "evolutionary innovation" might happen so quickly that new groups emerged to increase overall diversity, even if each sub-group reached a cap on diversity.
If anything, the record of past extinctions has shown the difficulty of predicting which groups win out in the long run. "Surviving is one thing and recovering is another," said Marshall, who wrote a Perspectives piece about the study in the same issue of Science.
One of the few consistent patterns is that growth spurts in diversity can apparently happen at any time, according to Alroy. He added that the background extinction of individual species has also remained consistent - the average species lasts just a few million years
Of course, the ongoing extinction crisis of modern times goes far beyond the background extinction rate. Alroy noted that it could not only wipe out entire branches of evolutionary history, but may also change the ecosystems shaped by each species.
That means today's species matter for environments around the world, and so humans can't simply expect replacements from the diverse species of the future.
"If we lose all the reef builders, we may not get back the physical reefs for millions of years no matter how fast we get back all the species diversity in a simple sense," Alroy said.
(Prof. Donald Sadoway, Material Science Dept, MIT)
Tech Connection: November 2009
Spotlight Focuses on MIT's Novel Clean-Energy Technologies
Professor Donald Sadoway and graduate student David Bradwell MNG '06 observe a test of a small liquid battery encased in an insulated metal cylinder. Photo: Patrick Gillooly, MIT News Office.
Liquid-metal batteries, water-splitting catalysts, and dirt-powered batteries are groundbreaking technologies emerging from MIT. Several of these novel clean-energy technologies have been deemed "potentially transformative" by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)-and won new sources of funding. President Susan Hockfield was named among America's Best Leaders, cited for the energy initiative.
Professor Donald Sadoway's research into a new form of fixed energy storage is one of six MIT-sparked efforts that won support from DOE's newly established Advanced Research Projects Agency, Energy (ARPA-E). His work on liquid batteries, which stay so hot they remain liquid, could be used by grid-scale utilities.
New work on waste-energy harvesting is attempting to turn the excess heat in a cell phone, for example, into stored energy that could power the phone. A simple system using power generated by a single quantum-dot device is key to understanding how to design the ideal thermal-to-electric converter.
A dirt-powered battery designed for rural, off-grid communities won an MIT IDEAS award and now is one of Popular Mechanics 10 Most Brilliant Innovations of 2009. Biology graduate student Aviva Presser Aiden is on the LebÃƒÂ´nÃƒÂª Solutions Inc. team that developed the microbial fuel cell.
Take a tour of MIT labs with President Barack Obama, during his October visit to campus, to hear MIT faculty explain how genetically engineered viruses can produce self-assembling solar cells and batteries as well as new ideas for wind power energy storage.
Liquid Battery Offers Promising Solar Energy Storage Technique
March 6, 2009 by Lisa Zyga
The all-liquid battery: discharged (left), charging (middle), and charged (right). Molten magnesium (blue) is the top electrode, in the middle is the electrolyte (green), and molten antimony (yellow) is the bottom electrode. Image credit: Arthur Mount.
(PhysOrg.com) -- One of the biggest challenges currently facing large-scale solar energy technology is finding an effective way to store the energy, which is essential for using the electricity at night or on cloudy days.
Recently, researchers from MIT have designed a new kind of battery that, unlike conventional batteries, is made of all-liquid active materials. Donald Sadoway, a materials chemistry professor at MIT, and his team have fabricated prototypes of the liquid battery, and have demonstrated that the materials can quickly absorb large amounts of electricity, as required for solar energy storage.
"No one had been able to get their arms around the problem of energy storage on a massive scale for the power grid," says Sadoway. "We're literally looking at a battery capable of storing the grid."
The battery consists of three layers of liquids: two electrode liquids on the top and bottom (electrodes are usually solid in conventional batteries), and an electrolyte liquid in the middle. In the researchers' first prototype, the electrodes were molten metals - magnesium on the top and antimony on the bottom - while the electrolyte was a molten salt such as sodium sulfide. In later prototypes, the researchers investigated using other materials for improved performance.
Since each liquid has a different density, the liquids automatically form the three distinct layers. When charging, the solid container holding the liquids collects electrons from exterior solar panels or another power supply, and later, for discharging, the container carries the electrons away to the electrical grid to be used as electricity.
As electrons flow into the battery cell, magnesium ions in the electrolyte gain electrons and form magnesium metal, rising to form the upper molten magnesium electrode. At the same time, antimony ions in the electrolyte lose electrons, and sink to form the lower molten antimony electrode. At this point, the battery is fully charged, since the battery has thick electrode layers and a small layer of electrolyte. To discharge the electrical current, the process is reversed, and the metal atoms become ions again.
As Sadoway explained in a recent article in MIT's Technology Review, the liquid battery is a promising candidate for solar energy storage for several reasons. For one thing, it costs less than a third of the cost of today's batteries, since the materials are inexpensive and the design allows for simple manufacturing. Further, the liquid battery has a longer lifetime than conventional batteries, since there are no solid active materials to degrade. The liquid battery is also useful in a wide range of locations compared with other proposed solar storage methods, such as pumping water. Most importantly, the liquid battery's electrodes can operate at electrical currents tens of times higher than any previous battery, making it capable of quickly absorbing large amounts of electricity.
The researchers hope to commercialize the liquid battery in the next five years. As Sadoway explained, connecting the batteries into a giant battery pack to supply electricity for New York City would require nearly 60,000 square meters of land. Such a battery pack could store energy from enormous solar farms, which would replace today's power plants and transmission lines as they become old.
via: Technology Review
© 2009 PhysOrg.com
Donald R. Sadoway
John F. Elliott Professor of Materials Chemistry
Department of Materials Science Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MIT Campus at Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA (http://web.mit.edu/)
Scientific proof that you make your own breaks.
Sept. 2010 issue
For centuries, people have recognized the power of luck and have done whatever they could to try seizing it. Take knocking on wood, thought to date back to pagan rituals aimed at eliciting help from powerful tree gods. We still do it today, though few, if any, of us worship tree gods. So why do we pass this and other superstitions down from generation to generation? The answer lies in the power of luck.
Live a Charmed Life
To investigate scientifically why some people are consistently lucky and others aren't, I advertised in national periodicals for volunteers of both varieties. Four hundred men and women from all walks of life -- ages 18 to 84 -- responded.
Over a ten-year period, I interviewed these volunteers, asked them to complete diaries, personality questionnaires and IQ tests, and invited them to my laboratory for experiments. Lucky people, I found, get that way via some basic principles -- seizing chance opportunities; creating self-fulfilling prophecies through positive expectations; and adopting a resilient attitude that turns bad luck around.
Open Your Mind
Consider chance opportunities: Lucky people regularly have them; unlucky people don't. To determine why, I gave lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to tell me how many photos were inside. On average, unlucky people spent about two minutes on this exercise; lucky people spent seconds. Why? Because on the paper's second page -- in big type -- was the message "Stop counting: There are 43 photographs in this newspaper." Lucky people tended to spot the message. Unlucky ones didn't. I put a second one halfway through the paper: "Stop counting, tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250." Again, the unlucky people missed it.
The lesson: Unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they're too busy looking for something else. Lucky people see what is there rather than just what they're looking for.
This is only part of the story. Many of my lucky participants tried hard to add variety to their lives. Before making important decisions, one altered his route to work. Another described a way of meeting people. He noticed that at parties he usually talked to the same type of person. To change this, he thought of a color and then spoke only to guests wearing that color -- women in red, say, or men in black.
Does this technique work? Well, imagine living in the center of an apple orchard. Each day you must collect a basket of apples. At first, it won't matter where you look. The entire orchard will have apples. Gradually, it becomes harder to find apples in places you've visited before. If you go to new parts of the orchard each time, the odds of finding apples will increase dramatically. It is exactly the same with luck.
Relish the Upside
Another important principle revolved around the way in which lucky and unlucky people deal with misfortune. Imagine representing your country in the Olympics. You compete, do well, and win a bronze medal. Now imagine a second Olympics. This time you do even better and win a silver medal. How happy do you think you'd feel? Most of us think we'd be happier after winning the silver medal.
But research suggests athletes who win bronze medals are actually happier. This is because silver medalists think that if they'd performed slightly better, they might have won a gold medal. In contrast, bronze medalists focus on how if they'd performed slightly worse, they wouldn't have won anything. Psychologists call this ability to imagine what might have happened, rather than what actually happened, "counter-factual" thinking.
To find out if lucky people use counter-factual thinking to ease the impact of misfortune, I asked my subjects to imagine being in a bank. Suddenly, an armed robber enters and fires a shot that hits them in the arms. Unlucky people tended to say this would be their bad luck to be in the bank during the robbery. Lucky people said it could have been worse: "You could have been shot in the head." This kind of thinking makes people feel better about themselves, keeps expectations high, and increases the likelihood of continuing to live a lucky life.
Learn to Be Lucky
Finally, I created a series of experiments examining whether thought and behavior can enhance good fortune.
First came one-on-one meetings, during which participants completed questionnaires that measured their luck and their satisfaction with six key areas of their lives. I then outlined the main principles of luck, and described techniques designed to help participants react like lucky people. For instance, they were taught how to be more open to opportunities around them, how to break routines, and how to deal with bad luck by imagining things being worse. They were asked to carry out specific exercises for a month and then report back to me.
The results were dramatic: 80 percent were happier and more satisfied with their lives -- and luckier. One unlucky subject said that after adjusting her attitude -- expecting good fortune, not dwelling on the negative -- her bad luck had vanished. One day, she went shopping and found a dress she liked. But she didn't buy it, and when she returned to the store in a week, it was gone. Instead of slinking away disappointed, she looked around and found a better dress -- for less. Events like this made her a much happier person.
Her experience shows how thoughts and behavior affect the good and bad fortune we encounter. It proves that the most elusive of holy grails -- an effective way of taking advantage of the power of luck -- is available to us all.
a) Don't let leukemia sneak up
Dr. Tedd Mitchell • 9/5/2010
Advances in medicine have made it possible to fight many forms of leukemia, a cancer that affects the blood cells.
Leukemia occurs when the bone marrow begins to produce abnormal white cells. The aberrant cells then reproduce rapidly, crowding out the production of normal cells.
People can develop anemia, bleeding problems and infections because of the body's inability to produce normal blood cells. The cancerous cells can spread to other parts of the body. Left untreated, leukemia results in death.
If you or a loved one develops several symptoms, especially over a short period of time (weeks), see your doctor.
Because most forms of leukemia can be treated effectively, the sooner a diagnosis is made, the better.
Bruising occurring without much trauma
A tendency to bleed easily
Joint or bone pain
Swelling around the neck, under the arms, in the abdomen or in the groin
Lack of appetite
TEDD MITCHELL, M.D., is president of Texas Tech Health Sciences Center.
b) Quick, simple techniques to lead a less stressful and actively restful life
By Laura Hoxworth • 9/5/2010
Everyone knows how important sleep is. But how often do you make time in your busy day just to rest? We talked with Matthew Edlund, M.D., author of The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone Is Not Enough, who explains that “active rest” is just as important as a good night's sleep to renew our bodies and keep ourselves healthy, happy, productive and alert.
Social connections provide a deep sense of inner rest.
(John Anthony Rizzo, Getty Images)
But what exactly is active rest? “Most people think of rest as sleep or as sitting in front of a TV,” Edlund says. Although you may be physically at rest, Edlund says, focusing your full attention on resting is necessary to reap all the benefits.
“It's important that people realize that rest is active,” he says. Here are a few of Edlund's quick and simple techniques to help you lead a less stressful, more restful life:
Take a short daytime bath. Many people use baths to relax and unwind after a long day, but for those who can, Edlund says, a short, hot daytime bath can also wake you up. “When you increase body-core temperature, you increase alertness,” Edlund says. Just be sure to keep it short, about three to eight minutes, to avoid sleepiness.
Walk with a colleague. Take a lunchtime stroll and avoid the midafternoon slump with what Edlund calls “social rest.” “We are profoundly social creatures,” Edlund says. Taking the time to consciously create and preserve social connections can provide you with a deep sense of inner rest and safety.
Focus the eye. Overwhelmed at work? Pick an object in your eyesight (a plant works well for this) and focus your mind only on that object for 30 seconds. Observe its color, texture and movement, and contemplate nothing but the object. “Your fuller sense of focus pulls you away from all those random thoughts and lets you take greater control of your mind,” Edlund writes.
c) Go fast to keep the pounds off
Nanci Hellmich • August 8, 2010
A leisurely stroll has its joys, but alas, keeping you slim is not one of them. To help keep your weight in check, you'll have to step up the pace to at least 3 miles an hour, according to a new report from Harvard School of Public Health research fellow Anne Lusk.
Drawing on Brigham and Women's Hospital's long-term study of 18,000 premenopausal women, Lusk found that the women gained an average 201/2 pounds each over 16 years — but the women who walked briskly or bicycled gained less weight than those who walked slowly.
“Brisk” means walking as though you're late for the bus, Lusk says. Here's another gauge:
• Less than 3 mph is considered slow walking.
• More than 3 mph is considered brisk walking.
• More than 4 mph is considered very brisk walking.
Calculate your speed by counting your steps for one minute — 3 mph is about 120 steps a minute, while 4 mph is about 135 steps a minute. “I sometimes do this as a game when I'm walking,” Lusk says.
Step up the pace to keep down the weight.
(Stockbyte / Getty Images)
d) Stop multitasking — and do more
By Laura Hoxworth • 8/29/2010
The secret to doing more is, well, doing less. Multitasking may seem the only way to get through your to-do list, but research from the University of Michigan shows that when we think we're multitasking, often we're simply ricocheting between two tasks, forcing the brain to keep refocusing with each rebound — and reducing productivity by 20% to 40%.
(JOSE LUIS PELAEZ, GETTY IMAGES)
“Attempting to multitask is one of the single greatest ways to undermine productivity, work quality and quality of life,” writes author and motivational speaker Deanna Davis.
To help kick a multitasking habit:
Wait.Hold off on checking e-mail for two hours. Set a timer to regulate yourself.
Create deadlines. This is important even on small projects. Plan your day in blocks, placing the most important tasks first.
Take breaks. Giving your mind an occasional rest will help you focus when you need to.
Keep a to-do list. If your mind wanders to another obligation, write it down so you know you won't forget it, then return to the task at hand.
e) Post-traumatic stress disorder can affect anyone
By DR. TEDD MITCHELL • 9/10/2010
Although we associate it with those in the military who can't quit reliving the memories of battle, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect anyone who has experienced significant emotional trauma. Unlike psychiatric illnesses such as depression, PTSD is precipitated by external events, either occurring to the individual alone (a car accident, a robbery) or as part of a group (a hurricane, flood, refugees, war).
There are three traits that those with PTSD exhibit:
Flashbacks. These vivid memories of the traumatizing event can't be controlled and are quite real to the patient.
Hyperactive startle reflex. Those with PTSD feel a “jumpiness” with any startling situation, even something minor like a balloon popping.
Emotional aloofness. Those with PTSD have an “amped-up” internal psychological awareness, resulting in an emotionally drained person. The patient is emotionally disengaged.
PTSD is not easily treated; it generally requires professional help. Therapy takes time, so recognizing symptoms is the best way to get someone on the road to recovery.
TEDD MITCHELL, M.D., is president of Texas Tech Health Sciences Center.
Tailoring Treatment to a Patient's DNA May Offer More Hope Against Cancer
By LANA ZAK, DANA MALAJIAN and DAN CHILDS
Sept. 9, 2010
Jeff Wigbels didn't smoke. He had no family history of cancer, and he was a triathlete and marathon runner. By many measures, he was a picture of health.
That was before October 11, 2006, when doctors discovered a baseball-sized tumor in his lung.
Wigbels, who is from Atlanta, had lung cancer, and further tests revealed that by the time it was detected, the malignant cells in his lung had metastasized to his chest, abdomen and brain. Facing a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer, Wigbels knew that the odds were heavily against his survival.
At the time, Wigbels's wife Tiffany was ready to give birth to the couple's second child. So Wigbels waited until a day after she delivered on Oct. 12 to tell her of his diagnosis -- and that he was unlikely to live long enough to see his child's first birthday.
"We held off telling Tiff until we had Jack," he said. "And the next day or two, right after that, I had to tell Tiff that quite frankly, there may not be an opportunity for me to be here to help raise our child, she may have to do that all by herself."
The initial treatment recommended to Wigbels was the standard regimen of radiation and chemotherapy. But after researching his options, Jeff met with Dr. Roy Herbst at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. There, he enrolled in a clinical trial called BATTLE, designed to test the effectiveness of an individualized therapy based on tailoring treatments to the patient's genes.
Today he is alive, and he continues to defy the odds.
"The drugs were somewhat targeted for the most part to everything that was going on with me," Wigbels said. "It was not a random standard of care procedure."
Indeed, while all cancers are not equal, patients with cancer traditionally have been treated that way, with a standard treatment regimen built from chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.
But now promising breakthroughs in cancer research -- specifically in a field known as cancer genomics -- are giving doctors a new tool. Cancer genomics is a quest to understand what is wrong in that patient's genes and target treatment there. The patient's own genes are used to personalize treatment.
"The testing for the BATTLE trial helped determine which of four arms of the trial [Wigbels] would be assigned to," Herbst said, "and hence personalized his therapy."
Cancer Genomics: Targeting the Treatment to the Patient
Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said the approach may prove to be a milestone in cancer treatment.
A clinical trial called BATTLE, is designed to test the effectiveness of an individualized cancer therapy based on tailoring treatments to the patient's genes.
"It is the most exciting time in cancer research ever," Collins said. "Fifty years from now, people will look at how we treated cancer in 2010 and wonder how people went through that.
"My dream is that through cancer genomics we will discover in the coming years a long list of effective, targeted therapies that will take the place of what we do now for many patients and will lead to a circumstance where cancer is no longer such a feared diagnosis, but a chance to get a treatment that you know is going to work."
Cancer Genomics Researchers Seek Individualized Cancer Treatment
Even patients who have identical diagnoses may look completely different at the molecular level. Because of this, researchers are striving to develop ways to identify small-scale differences in cancer cells that would allow doctors to treat patients according to the genetic basis of their cancer.
"We're able to get out of that biopsy material the DNA and the RNA, the nucleic materials, so that we can look at the genes and the proteins to see what is wrong with that tumor, compare it to other tumors, and see if these genes are telling us which chemotherapy or which targeted therapy to use," said Dr. Harvey Pass, a cancer researcher at NYU Langone Medical Center who is also on the advisory board of Rosetta Genomics.
"This is the model of personalized cancer therapy," says Dr. Marc Ladanyi, chief of the Molecular Diagnostics Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. "We don't just look at [a tumor] under the microscope to see how aggressive it is; we also characterize which mutations are present in the cancer, so that from the get-go you know if your cancer can be treated with specific drugs."
At Sloan-Kettering, patients with non-small cell lung cancer -- the most common form of the disease -- have their cancer cells tested for over 40 different mutations. Once a mutation is identified, doctors can suggest specific treatments based on the patient's cancer mutation.
Clinical trials are underway at the M.D. Anderson center to determine the success rate of genetic tests, such as the ones performed at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, not only in lung cancer but in metastatic colorectal cancer as well.
Cancer Genomics: Targeting the Treatment to the Patient
Currently, the most widely accepted genetic test used to guide cancer treatment is that for HER2, a mutation present in 15-20 percent of breast cancer patients. The HER2 test is now a standard recommendation for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients, because women with the HER2 subtype are more receptive to certain breast cancer therapies.
Genetic testing on tumor specimens, however, can be plagued by inaccuracy. So researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore are trying to take genetic testing to a new level. Rather than taking a closer look at the cancer cells, Dr. Bert Vogelstein and his colleagues there have developed a method that uses genomic sequencing to create blood tests. These tests, he said, could be used to monitor tumor levels after treatment and determine cancer recurrence.
"Using this approach, we can develop biomarkers for potentially any cancer patient," says Dr. Victor Velculescu, co-director of the cancer biology program at Johns Hopkins.
Such is the hope of Wigbels, who is now trying to make the treatments that have helped him more accessible to everyone. Following his experience, he founded TakeAimAtCancer.org to raise money for genomic cancer research.
For more on Wigbels's story, visit TakeAimAtCancer.org.
Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University
Varanasi 221005, UP