Category Archives: Science, Tech, & Health

People interpret emojis in different ways

Emojis are used very widely by a diverse range of people. A recent study hoped to find how individuals interpret emojis, and if there was a general consensus among individuals about what different emojis meant.

The study, led by researchers from a Research lab, called GroupLens, at the University of Minnesota, found that individuals often view emojis in different ways. The discoveries will be presented in May at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence’s Conference on Web and Social Media in Germany.

Emojis can be cryptic in meaning. Graphic from Get Emoji
Emojis can be cryptic in meaning. Graphic from Get Emoji

The study discovered that individuals who viewed the same emoji disagreed on if the emoji expressed a negative, neutral or positive feeling approximately 25 percent of the time. For 95 percent of emojis, individuals did not strongly agree on what feeling the emoji expressed.

Each mobile platform has its own version of emojis, because of this, interpreting emojis can be particularly problematic when the sender and the receiver are using separate platforms.

The study’s participants, made up of 334 individuals, rated a total of 125 emojis. They were asked to rate the feeling expressed by an emoji on a scale from –5 (strongly negative) to 5 (strongly positive).

The researchers discovered, on average, that when two individuals viewed the same emoji, their feeling ratings were different by approximately 1.8 points, and when they looked at different versions of the same emoji, their ratings were different by approximately 2 points.

Individuals used contrasting words to describe the different renderings of the same emojis. For instance, when viewing the emoji of a “person raising both hands in celebration” individuals used words like “hand” or “celebrate” to describe the emoji from the Apple version, and words like “exciting” or “high” to describe the Microsoft version.

According to the study, the findings suggest that it would benefit users to merge the design of emojis across all platforms, which could lower the probability of miscommunication.

According to researchers, future studies may determine how individuals view emojis when they are viewed in the context of a text message, or if individuals from separate cultures also view emojis differently. Because the new study only looked at emoji with human characteristics, or anthropomorphic, future studies could investigate how individuals view non-anthropomorphic emojis.

The brain connectivity of LSD and “ego dissolution”

When individuals take the psychedelic drug Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), they may feel as though the limits that isolate them from everything have disintegrated, as though they are connected with the rest of the world. A study has discovered a neural mechanism behind this occurrence, called “ego dissolution.”

According to the researchers, the study’s results, published April 13 in the journal Current Biology, suggest that further research on LSD and other psychedelic drugs could provide important insight into how the human brain works.

Ego dissolution is not a universally positive or negative experience, said Enzo Tagliazucchi. Tagliazucchi is  a neuroscientist at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in Amsterdam and co-author of the story. According to Tagliazucchi, depending on the experience of the trip and ego dissolution, it can be too overwhelming and lead to anxiety, panic and what is normally dubbed a “bad trip”.

Ego dissolution is at the core of the treatment of anxiety related to the fear of death in such patients. According to Tagliazucchi, for terminal-stage cancer patients, ego dissolution “can be a positive and transformative experience, leading to peace, acceptance, a new perspective on things.”

According to Tagliazucchi, the findings additionally propose that taking LSD may cause an improved sharing of data among various brain regions that reinforces a more powerful connection between an individual’s sense of self and their sense of everything else.

This is your brain on LSD. Graphic from Imperial College London.

In the study, the researchers examined the brains, through scanning, of 15 healthy individuals twice — once after they took a placebo, and once after the individuals took LSD.

The researchers discovered that, when the individuals were high on LSD, different regions of their brains had a stronger link to each other, when compared with the placebo’s effect on the individuals. The more connected these brain regions were in these individuals, the higher their sense of ego dissolution was.

According to the researchers, the results of the study suggest that individuals on LSD can experience ego dissolution because these brain regions become heavily interconnected.

According to Tagliazucchi, ego dissolution does not automatically occur every time someone takes LSD. The experience of this phenomenon may depend on the dose of the drug they take. When ego dissolution happens, it doesn’t last longer than the other effects of LSD, which typically last about 10 hours.

According to Tagliazucchi, he is planning to investigate how other psychedelic drugs modify consciousness by using neuroimaging and other methods.

Brain implant allows paralyzed man move his hands using his thoughts

After diving into a shallow wave at a beach and hitting the sandy bottom, Ian Burkhart severely injured his spinal cord and became paralyzed when he was only 19 years old. He lost the ability to use his legs and forearms due to where the injury occurred on his body.

According to a recent study, Burkhart, now 24 years old, has recovered his ability to move his wrist, hand and some of his fingers by using an electrical device that was implanted into his brain. The electrical device is connected to a sleeve of electrodes that he wears on his forearm.

Burkhart has recovered the functional movements by using the electrical device, said Chad Bouton. Bouton is the lead author of the study published April 13 in the journal Nature and the division leader, at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in New York, of neurotechnology and analytics.

Ian Burkhart, first person to benefit from the neural bypass technology. Image from Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center/Batelle.

According to Bouton, in order for Burkhart to recover his individual finger movements, the researchers had to discover and decipher certain brain signals. Soon after, they had to evaluate the electrical impulse pattern required to release on his forearm.

The researchers and doctors embedded a device with microelectrodes into the part of the brain that controls movement, his motor cortex. When Burkhart wears the sleeve, he has the ability to move and control his arm using brain-computer-interface technology, to translate these signals into electrical pulses in an individual’s’ brain, by using a computer. The sleeve’s 130 electrodes emits electrical impulses to his muscles, which makes them contract.

In an individual who is not paralyzed, signals from the brain move down the spinal cord to nerves connected to muscles in the body, making those muscles move. In paralyzed individuals, because of spinal cord injury, these signals still happen in the brain, yet can’t be transmitted to muscles. To deliver the signals directly to Burkhart’s muscles, the microchip in his brain and the electrode sleeve bypass the injury.

Burkhart can now complete daily tasks with his hand, including the ability to swipe a credit card, pour water into a cup and play Guitar Hero, with the electrical device’s help.

Fundamentally, Burkhart has the ability to make these movements by “mastering his thoughts,” said Dr. Ali Rezai. Rezai is a neurosurgeon at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center where Burkhart was treated, and senior author of the study.

According to researchers, Burkhart’s capacity to move several of his fingers is a noteworthy discovery. They hope that one day this electrical device technology could help other individuals with paralysis, as well as individuals who, due to strokes or traumatic brain injuries, have lost movement.

NSA surveillance: protection or violation?

The National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) claims that the “NSA/CSS exists to protect the Nation”.

In 2013, a federal U.S. judge ruled that the National Security Agency phone surveillance program was lawful. The agency, however, is known to break the law on a large scale and lie about it.

If you’ve never heard the name Edward Snowden uttered in any political debate or in the news, you should probably learn the importance of his name. Edward Snowden is a former Intelligence Community officer and has been called anywhere from a hero, a whistleblower, a patriot, or a traitor. In May 2013, he revealed documents that provided a look into the NSA and its secret mass surveillance programs and capabilities.

The documents disclosed that the NSA was operating without public oversight and outside the limits of the US Constitution. Snowden was charged with theft of government property, and two charges under the 1917 Espionage Act. The revelations that Snowden divulged led to attention around the world on privacy intrusions and digital security, and now the issue is a global debate.

In an interview with The Guardian, Edward Snowden said, “I don’t want to live in a world where everything I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity and love or friendship is recorded.”

Do any of us wants to live in a society that does these things? And even further with no hint of probable cause, and no sham of due process. The NSA has been thoughtlessly and carelessly forcing violence against freedom, ever since the agency was founded on November 4, 1952.

“To live with the benefits of technology, should we also have to deal with the consequences as well?” Graphic from quickmeme.com

The NSA surveillance that invades our privacy because of “national security” was a complete secret before Edward Snowden blew the “freedom” whistle. The phone surveillance violates the fourth amendment in respect to Americans’ privacy rights, and it also violates our natural sense of personal privacy.

Concerning these issues, the government is the one in violation of the laws and should be held accountable, right? But Edward Snowden was the one who was charged and seen as the traitor and as the criminal, for doing the right thing and letting us know that we’re being watched. The government is just hiding its own abusive power, and saving themselves.

To live with the benefits of technology, should we also have to deal with the consequences as well?

Benjamin Franklin, a radical defender of freedom once said, “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” This quote has been used by anti-war protestors, and for protests against the National Security Agency’s surveillance program.

The quote has many variations, and has been taken out of context multiple times and is originally “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” However, despite the lack of context and the more-modern form of the quote, believe that Benjamin Franklin would agree with what the quote has been modernized to illustrate.

Industrial technology: solving our problems or providing them?

This semester, I’ve been taking an introductory Philosophy course on Ethics and Society (PHIL 112). I’ll try my best not to ramble on about how I love the course so much, so much so that I decided to change my major from Fashion Design to Philosophy and Religious Studies.

One thing is for sure: this course has challenged my thinking on many things—especially on how we treat our world, the only world that we’ve been given. Through industrial technology and industrialization, we have become a destructive presence on Earth.

We are still dealing with the consequences of industrial technology.

We begin a kind of fragmentation of the world. We look at the world in parts, not as a whole; looking at the world as market value. Corporations and privileged people in power look to spend the least amount of money for the most profit.

“Corporations will do anything to save a penny.” Cartoonist: Justin Bilicki

We begin replacing human workers with machines, market products regardless of usefulness or effects, to make the highest possible profit and concentrate wealth in fewer and fewer hands. All with a maxim that all competition is for competition’s sake.

We can continue to insist that our land-destroying, water-and-air polluting agriculture is the only way, because it’s the most accessible and widespread way of doing so. Economically, “green” ways of production and agriculture are the most financially straining, they cost the most amount of money. Corporations will do anything to save a penny.

We live in this notion that we live on a planet that is unlimited with resources. This notion of an unlimited source of resources is because we’re ashamed about how we’ve lived in the world as a destructive presence. These natural resources that the world depends on, we use destructively and foolishly. We stay oblivious, unaware and naive of the detrimental effects of agriculture and industrialization. We’re headed towards an entire eradication of human beings and a destruction of our planet, because of our finite resources.

We are being programmed that this is supporting “our way of life”, so it is obviously beneficial. “Our ‘natural resources’ are naturally occurring, and so they will not be depleted.” Is this not a way of corruption of young minds? We are not educated to know that one day our actions will catch up to us, as they are currently doing, and will cause a landslide of “unintended” consequences.

The violence towards our own world brings money to our culture. The industrial society is the most violent the world has ever known, and we’re all complicit in it.

But technology solves our problems, right?

Gucci model judged ’unhealthily thin’

According to NDTV, the United Kingdom has banned the Italian fashion brand Gucci from using their advertisement containing what the ASA, Advertising Standards Authority, claims to be a “unhealthily thin” model. The ASA created the rule when the fashion house’s new “The Cruise 2016” campaign appeared in Britain in December of 2015.

Gucci model in ad. Photo from bragmybag.com

The ASA claimed that the model in the ad, Avery Blanchard, who is seen in one scene from the video leaning against a wall in a long-sleeve printed dress, her torso is visibly thin, which according to the New York Times, is “way too think in the way it was presented.” In now way should the model be blamed for this, however. She was simply doing what she was told, dressing and looking how the modeling industry wants her to, in order to live her dream and work as a model.

The fashion house continues to defend the video says it was created for an older, sophisticated audience and the debate of whether or not Blanchard is too thin was an interpretation meant for the individual reader.

Gucci continued to try and defend themselves by saying that nowhere in the ad were any of the model’s bones showing and that “their makeup was natural rather than heavy.” They added that the lightening use in the ad was “warm to ensure there were no hollows caused by shadows and their clothes were not revealing.”

However, like most viewers confused as to how those points have anything to do with the unhealthily thin model, the ASA was not convinced. They viewed the model’s middle section and arms says they were “quite slender and appeared to be out of proportion with her head and lower body.” The ASA decided that because of those reasons, they can’t agree or allow the ad to play in the UK, saying that the ad is “irresponsible.”

Many advertising agencies over the years have stated that models who are way too skinny to be healthy are giving young girls a bad idea of what it means to pretty, in turn, lowering their confidence and encouraging an unrealistic expectation of what a girl’s body should look like.

The broken heart syndrome phenomenon

According to Time magazine, an immense amount of research has shown that a death or the loss of a person close to you can not only break your heart metaphorically, but it can also cause physical damage that can lead to serious heart problems.

A new study published by Dr. Simon Graff finds that people who experience a partner dying are a much higher risk for atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat, and the effects are life-long.

Having a broken heart is more than just a metaphor. Graphic from Pinterest
Having a broken heart is more than just a metaphor. Graphic from Pinterest

For many years, researchers have studied the phenomena of the broken heart syndrome, or stress cardiomyopathy. This occurs when a highly stressful event, such as the death of a spouse, results in a person feeling like they’re having a heart attack. The symptoms include the same ones that occur when having a heart attack: shortness of breath and chest pain.

When an emotional event happens, researches suspect a surge of stress hormones are released which cause this feeling of having a heart attack.

Researchers looked at citizens in Denmark who were diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. Out of the 88, 600 people, 41 percent of them who lost a partner were more likely to develop atrial fibrillation within the first month of their partner’s death compared to those who hadn’t lost anyone. The researchers also discovered that the risk is higher in younger people, especially when a partner as died suddenly or unexpectedly.

A cardiologist at New York University Langone Medical Center, Harmony Reynolds, states that “We can’t stop stressful situations from coming up in our lives but there may be ways to change the way stress affects our bodies.” She says regular exercise, things like yoga, meditation, and even deep breathing can increase the parasympathetic nervous system which increase our body’s ability to handle stress. However, these activities won’t be able to reduce the risk completely.

This study, as large and somewhat thorough as it is, can’t completely confirm that the feelings of grief or loss are directly related to atrial fibrillation. “Right now our work can only point to an association, but we hope to help make a shift in society’s mindset—that a time of grief is not only a mental state but maybe also physical,” says Graff, the author of the study.

Nothing’s strange about wearing earplugs to a concert?

According to Everyday Hearing, “the most common cause of hearing loss is noise-induced hearing loss.” A common misconception about noise-induced hearing loss is that it takes a lifetime of going to concerts to cause any damage, but that’s incorrect. You can damage your hearing with just one concert or one event. In fact, 26 million Americans have noise-induced hearing loss that could have been prevented.

Normal, everyday conversations reach up to 65 decibels loud. Concert music, however, can extend up to 100 to 120 decibels loud. Hearing loss can begin at a level of 110 decibels and would only take two minutes to set in.

Concerts can be very loud. It's good to prepare. Graphic from Alf Img
Concerts can be very loud. It’s good to be prepared. Graphic from Alf Img

Like anything damaging, the longer you’re exposed to it, the more damaging it will be. If you plan on attending a two hour concert, your risk of hearing loss is significant. Now imagine going to an all-day festival. Your hearing could potentially be gone all together. Extremely loud music at concerts can cause serious permanent hearing loss or tinnitus, which is is ringing or buzzing in the ears.

Not only can loud music cause hearing loss, but the hearing loss itself can cause a major decline in your overall quality of life. Hearing loss can lead to lower cognitive function, depression, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of falling.

With all of these terrible side effects considered, you should most definitely wear earplugs to concerts in order to protect your hearing. However, in order for the earplugs to correctly protect your hearing, you need to find the right ones.

If you’re going to a concert, it obviously important that you find earplugs that allow you to hear the music with good quality, and don’t sacrifice the clear quality of the music you’re there to enjoy in the first place. Choosing the generic foam earplugs will lower the music quality, making it softer and muffled. Leave the drug store earplugs for sleeping.

If you’re attending a concert, you’re best option is to choose high fidelity earplugs. These allow you to hear the music clearly while also lower the sound making it safer to listen to. You can also get some custom made if you’d like but, naturally, they would be more expensive.

Musicians today are even wearing earplugs around their own music because they understand the effects loud music can have on their ears. If the musicians are wearing the earplugs, the fans should too.

Are public restrooms dangerous?

At the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s annual meeting, a study was presented by scientists who had taken samples from a variety of public restrooms. They discovered that the amount of illness-causing bacteria located in the public restrooms was too large to even measure.

According to the website Sani-Seat, a company that makes the plastic or paper toilet covers, 60 percent of Americans say they refuse to sit down on a toilet seat in a public restroom. However, experts say that the fear of sitting on the average toilet seat is exaggerated.

Dr. Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and diagnostic immunology at New York University Medical Center and Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City says that a huge portion of the bacteria that inhabit toilet seats are “fecal-borne bacteria,” which includes E. coli, a bacteria that can cause bloody diarrhea or abdominal cramps, streptococcus, a the bacteria that causes strep throat, and S. aureus, a bacteria linked to serious skin problem and pneumonia.

bathroom
“The amount of illness-causing bacteria located in the public restrooms was too large to even measure.”

However, even though these bacteria exist on the toilet seat, it doesn’t mean they’ll automatically make you sick. Your skin acts as an extremely effective barrier which keeps all those nasty germs out, unless you have an open wound on your butt.
Dr. Tierno says “If the toilet seat is dirty, don’t use it. Use common sense. In general, however, you’re unlikely to pick up anything from a toilet set.”


Germs are found in more places than just on top of a toilet seat. Lots of organisms are found on the underside of the toilet seat because it doesn’t get cleaned as often as well as the fact that when you flush you bring up the contents of the toilet. It’s not just your germs, it’s germs from other people,” says Tierno.  
According to an ABC News investigation, the places in public bathrooms with the most germs have about 2 million bacteria per square inch. They says “if you carry a purse or shoulder bag, avoid putting it down on the floor while you’re in the bathroom — hang it on the back of the door if possible.”


Dr. Tierno states that the most dangerous part of public bathrooms is picking up the germs and carrying them around with you. In order to avoid that, wash your hands with tons of soap and water after using the bathroom.

Tattoos are a sign that you’re healthy

According to the American Journal of Human Biology, a new study suggests people with more than one tattoo have better immune system responses to new tattoos than those who are getting tattooed for the first time.

The research states that the act of getting a tattoo activates the immune system in a way that can be compared to getting a vaccination, making one less susceptible to future illnesses. Although the study is small and needs some development, it does enlighten us to how the body can be trained to react to stress over time.

covered in tattoos
“The research states that the act of getting a tattoo activates the immune system.”

The study included researchers from the University of Alabama, who retrieved saliva samples from 29 different volunteers before the received tattoos and after they were given. Nine of the 29 volunteers were first-time tattoo recipients. The researchers analyzed the saliva samples for “immunoglobulin A, which is an antibody that lines the gastrointestinal and respiratory systems, and cortisol,” a stress hormone known to lower immune response.

After analyzing the data, the researchers discovered that the volunteers who had never received a tattoo had a much lower immunoglobulin A level than those who have had tattoos before. This could suggest that people who have had more experience with tattoos have an immune system that is more prepared for stress of that caliber.

“They don’t just hurt while you get the tattoo, but they can exhaust you,” Lynn, one of the lead researchers, said in the release. “It’s easier to get sick. You can catch a cold because your defenses are lowered from the stress of getting a tattoo.”

Lynn says that someone getting a tattoo for the first time is like an out-of-shape person exercising at the gym. One’s muscles are sore at first, but the pain reduces after one exercises enough.

Although there are some problems with this study, the fact that some people could simply have better immune systems than others or the fact that getting a tattoo can be dangerous if one goes to a tattoo shop which is careless with their instruments,causing infection, Lynn hopes the study can reduce the stigma that surrounds getting tattoos and hopes others won’t judge so harshly when viewing a person with tattoos.

iPhone SE: Good things can come in small packages

Image from apple.com
Apple’s latest iPhone model. Image from apple.com

On Thursday, March 31, Apple released the iPhone SE, the latest model of the smartphone that has been around since the first generation was released on June 29, 2007. iPhone SE may look like an updated iPhone 5s with the specs of an iPhone 6s, but the small phone still has a lot going for it. However, if you don’t want to switch from a large screen, you probably don’t want to switch to a four-inch phone, and are better off waiting until the estimated release date of the iPhone 7 in September 2016.

Here are the looks and the technical specifications of the new iPhone SE model, laid out in an easy-to-read format so you can see if the latest model is just what the doctor ordered. 


Design Features

Size

If you don’t want to switch from a 5s to a larger, more impractical sized, phone, the iPhone SE has the same four-inch screen that’s easy to use — you can type easily with one hand, and reach all four corners of the screen of your phone.

Color

The iPhone SE is available in four colors: silver, gold, space gray and rose gold.

The colors of the iPhone SE. Image from apple.com

Other Design Features

The new iPhone SE has a stainless steel Apple logo inset, instead of an Apple logo stamped-on the back of the phone.

The chamfered edges of the iPhone 5s have been redesigned as “refined” and are now more matte than before.

The iPhone SE features a somewhat thicker design, and doesn’t have a bump where the camera is placed.

Tech Specs

Display

The iPhone SE features a 4-inch LED-backlit Retina display with a 1136‑by‑640‑pixel resolution at 326 ppi. The contrast ratio is 800:1, the same as the iPhone 5s. However, if you’re switching from an iPhone 6s (or 6s Plus), they feature 1400:1 and 1300:1 contrast ratios, which is a big difference to take in.

Chip

The iPhone SE features an A9 chip with 64‑bit architecture, with an embedded M9 motion coprocessor. This means that the latest model has the same great performance as the iPhone 6s. The M9 motion coprocessor collects, processes, and stores sensor data, which improves functionality further.

iSight Camera

The iPhone SE iSight camera is rated at 12-megapixels with1.22µ pixels and an ƒ/2.2 aperture.

Video Recording

The new iPhone SE can shoot and edit 4k (3840 by 2160) video at 30fps. It shoots slow-motion video at 240fps (720p) and 120fps (1080p) and 1080p HD video at 30fps or 60fps, and 720p HD video recording at 30fps.

FaceTime HD Camera

The FaceTime HD Camera on the iPhone SE takes 1.2-megapixel photos, 720p HD video recording with an ƒ/2.4 aperture.

Retina Flash allows your iPhone SE screen to flash three times brighter than it normally does on models prior to the iPhone 6s. The features measures current lighting conditions, and a True Tone flash matches ambient light.

Touch ID

The iPhone SE features the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, which is built into the Home button. It’s not as fast as the iPhone 6s’, however, but it’s not noticeable unless you hold either of these phones in each hand.

Apple Pay

Apple Pay allows you to use your device to pay with your iPhone SE using Touch ID in stores and within apps.

Power and Battery

The iPhone SE gets up to 14 hours of talk time on 3G, up to 13 hours on Wi-Fi and LTE of internet use, up to 13 hours of video playback, up to 50 hours of audio playback, and has a standby time of up to 10 days.

Sensors

The iPhone SE doesn’t feature 3D touch, because it’s using the same display technology as the iPhone 5s. But if you haven’t had a iPhone 6s, and even if you do, it doesn’t make that much of a difference.


The iPhone SE has an entry-level price for the 16 GB model of $399, and compared to the iPhone 6 prices from $549 and the iPhone 6s prices from $649 and up, you get enough bang for your buck without breaking the bank.

Snapchat’s new update

Snapchat released a new update, called Chat 2.0 on Tuesday March 29, unveiling 6 new features to add new practical services to the app.

This update, for me at least, wasn’t easily recognizable, except for one key feature — an auto-lay function for Stories. The auto-play function allows users to view each story back-to-back. Personally, and for some of my friends, this feature didn’t go over too well. I like to click on each video one-by-one, to view the stories I want to see, in the order I want to see them. The look of the feature isn’t preferable either, you can barely tell who the story is by because of the small header in the upper left hand corner.

However, after searching through the rest of the updates, I can faithfully say that this update has a lot more going for it. First of all, Snapchat lets people send video and audio messages, and even make voice calls — watch out Skype.

Snapchat’s new voice call feature. Graphic from http://money.cnn.com/

In addition, you can also set up a video call with multiple friends on Snapchat. They can either put on their own audio or video, or simply watch the lifestream and message to the group. Anything you film in the video call, however, can’t be saved or downloaded to your phone.

On top of the new Stories and chat features, Snapchat also revealed brand new stickers, which you can use when sending messages or chatting across the app.

 

 

Snapchat has been pressed to stay in the social media and network competition because less and less people have been spending time on the app. Getting people to use the app and keeping their attention can be hard to do, but I believe, if they keep releasing useful services through updates on their app, Snapchat can continue to grow.

However, Snapchat has a huge competitor coming close in the race. On the same day as Snapchat’s new update, Tuesday March 29, Instagram made an announcement stating that the time limit of videos uploaded to Instagram was raised from 15 seconds, to 60 seconds. Time will see if this is announcement will become an advantage for the platform.

Additionally, every single one of Snapchat’s features exist on other platforms including Facebook, Google Hangouts, Skype and WhatsApp. However, having all of these services inside one app could prove to be an advantage for keeping people on Snapchat.

A look into a tarantula’s sex life

Tarantulas, according to a 2013 review in the journal Arachnology, are the largest and longest living spiders in the world. Nelson Ferretti, a tarantula expert with the the National Scientific and Technical Research Council in Argentina and lead author of the review says there are nearly a thousand species alive today, and most mate in the spring and summer; although some species are known to mate only in the winter.

According to the study co-author Fernando Pérez-Miles, an entomologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, after male spiders are born and travel into the adult stage of their lives, they insert their two pedipalps or the small appendages near the front of their head with sperm. Although the insertion of the sperm is time and energy consuming, males can usually mate with multiple females with just one insertion..

During the mating season, “charged” males, or males who have gone through the insertion process, will leave the nest, so to speak, in order to find approachable females.  The male tarantulas will focus on the female’s pheromones, or chemical scents, though “it’s unclear if only receptive females produce male-attracting pheromones.” When a male discovers a “connection” or a female that has the appropriate pheromones, the male and female with mate.

Tarantula_Pair5
“Depending on the species, males may engage in a range of different moves, the most widespread being papal drumming and body vibrations.”

According to Ferretti, “depending on the species, males may engage in a range of different moves, the most widespread being papal drumming and body vibrations.”
If the female enjoys the feeling, she will respond by tapping her front legs, letting him know that she wants him, and to direct him toward her burrow. However, in other species, the female will move towards the male instead, leaving her burrow behind. When the time has come, the pair will come face-to-face, showing and elevating their bodies and front legs to each other.

In other species, the tradition is different. The male will initiate spasmodic beats on the female with his second pair of legs, which is thought to put the female at ease and relax her fangs. In most species, the males have specialized spurs that can clasp onto the female’s fangs which elevate them into the correct immobilizing positions and to prevent bites.

Once the pair are ready, the male will place his charged pedipalps into the female’s genital opening, one to five time. When he is finished, he will leave to find other mates, that is, if he’s “lucky enough to avoid getting eaten, which is common,” Ferretti says. However, this only occurs if the male attempts to mate with a female without courting her first, that is, entering her burrow too soon or doesn’t leave fast enough after mating. Although, luckily enough for the males, mating leaves the female immobile for a small amount of time, allowing the male to get away if necessary.

Instead of finding alien life, should we be hiding from it?

A recent study suggests a method for hiding from aliens. This study, published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, comes at a time when most papers and study are related to how to find alien life.

A great deal of our quest for Earth-like planets depends on transiting planets. Transiting planets travel in front of their host star in a manner in which the transit can be seen from our viewpoint. The travel of the planet in front of the host star makes the light from that star diminish or glimmer, and we can utilize that to determine a wide range of information about far off planets — including how sustainable they might be for life.

Should we hide from the aliens? Graphic from Andreas Rocha
Should we hide from the aliens? Graphic from Andreas Rocha

A few scientists have proposed that we ought to hope that Earth is a transiting planet from the viewpoint of another planet that contains intelligent life. At the end of the day, our best endeavor for discovering alien life may be trusting that aliens are utilizing similar techniques of planetary detection that we are, and that the movement of Earth in front of the sun is visible with their telescopes.

Graduate student Alex Teachey and Professor David Kipping, both from Columbia University in the City of New York, attempted to figure out how much laser light would be required to cover the diminishing or glimmering light brought about by the transit of Earth.

As indicated by their calculations, it would take about 10 constant hours of shining a 30 MW laser once every year to shield the transit signal in discernible light. Reproducing each wavelength of light released by the sun would require around 250 MW of power.

Teachey said in a statement that “Alternatively, we could cloak only the atmospheric signatures associated with biological activity, such as oxygen, which is achievable with a peak laser power of just 160 kW per transit. To another civilization, this should make the Earth appear as if life never took hold on our world.”

There’s still a major, interdisciplinary deliberation about whether we should try to contact alien life from other planets. This study will become one of many that detail whether or not we should be hiding from alien life, instead of if we should find it and try to communicate with them.

Neuroscientist pled guilty to 17 fraud-related charges

Scientific integrity suffered Thursday March 31 when an Australian neuroscientist was given a two-year suspended sentence after entering a plea of guilty to 17 fraud-related charges. The main counts that faced Bruce Murdoch were for an article that proclaimed an outstanding discovery in the treatment of Parkinson’s.

The judge’s conclusions were definitive. She articulated that there was no evidence, that Murdoch even directed the clinical trial on which his alleged discoveries were supported.

Murdoch produced forged consent forms for participants of his studies, one of which was deceased at the time the supposed study occurred. Additionally, Murdoch fraudulently took private and public research money for the fake study, that was distributed in the very respectable European Journal of Neurology in 2011.

The quantity of U.S. academic fraud cases in science have risen drastically since the beginning of the 20th century. In 2011, the journal Nature recorded the amount of retractions in the past decade and discovered they had elevated ten times as much. The journal noted that around 50 percent of the retractions were based on scientist misconduct, not based simply on errors.

The U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI), which conducts investigations for supposed misconduct involving National Institutes of Health funding, has been much more occupied recently. Throughout 2009 and 2011, ORI had identified merely three cases of misconduct which called for a course of action. Throughout 2012 and 2015, three cases increased to 36 cases that had a cause for action.

Although criminal cases against researches are very uncommon, they are climbing. Jail time is even more uncommon, but still occur. In July 2015, an ex-biomedical scientist at Iowa State University, Dong-Pyou Han, conceded and plead guilty to two felony charges of making false statements to acquire NIH research grants. Han was sentenced to over four years in prison.

Han confused to falsifying the outcomes of many vaccine experiments, some in which he spiked blood samples from rabbits with human HIV antibodies in order for the rabbits to seem to have built up an immunity to the virus.

Two years ago, ORI forced its own punishment against Han. In spite of the fact that it could have issued a funding ban for his entire lifetime, it just blocked Han from obtaining federal dollars for three years.

Ivan Oransky, the executive director of the Center for Scientific Integrity, which runs the blog Retraction Watch, that keeps an informal list of the most unfavorable offenders of scientific retractions, announced plans to ultimately track research misconduct.

New nicotine vaccine could help smokers quit

According to data collected by the American Cancer Society, 70 percent of smokers want to quit altogether, 7 percent actually succeed at quitting smoking their first time, and 3.5 percent quit smoking cold turkey. These statistics are already extremely unsettling. Even though 40 percent of smokers tried to quit in 2015, half of smokers will relapse into smoking while intoxicated with alcohol.

Graphic from http://rcnky.com/
50 percent of smokers will not succeed in quitting on their first try. Graphic from http://rcnky.com/

These statistics even come into play with individuals who are underage. According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control, 80 percent of smokers began smoking before the age of 18, while 90 percent began smoking before the age of 21. 3,900 teens begin smoking each day, totaling 600,000 teens each year. What’s disturbing is that 11 percent of middle school students reported having smoked. That means 11 percent of pre-teens between the ages of 11 and 14.

A successful vaccine to assist individuals in quitting smoking for good has been difficult to discover. According to a report in ACS’s Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, a new vaccine for quitting smoking has been designed.

Over half of smokers who want to quit will not succeed in quitting their first time. There are several ways to quit smoking available. Smokers can quit cold turkey, use behavioral therapy, nicotine replacement therapy (nicotine gum, patches, inhalers, spray, and lozenges), and medicine like Zyban and Chantix. These tools are readily available, but aren’t always effective, and may even have undesirable side effects.

This new vaccine design would target the nicotine molecule directly. Two individuals participated in a clinical study of the vaccine which ultimately failed. However, the clinical study provided worthwhile pieces of information, that scientists could improve upon.

The trials indicated that the individuals who produced the most elevated amounts of anti-nicotine antibodies were more likely to refrain from smoking for more than six months. Kim D. Janda, Ph.D., and fellow researchers from The Scripps Research Institute wanted to expand on this discovery.

The team designed a new vaccine that could raise the amount of antibodies that could attach to nicotine molecules.

While testing in mice, they discovered that the vaccine deferred the effects of nicotine after injection within the initial 10 minute period. Additionally, they discovered that the mice treated with the vaccine had lower concentrations of nicotine in their brains, which is where nicotine has its effects. The team expressed that their future endeavors will concentrate on further perfecting the formula of the vaccine to prepare it for potential clinical studies.

How to make it through allergy season

Spring allergy season is upon us and with so many irritants that make day-to-day life miserable, it’s necessary to prepare yourself now before it gets worse. This list should provide some help with this itchy, sneezy, and sniffly allergy season.

1. Go to your local grocery or drugstore

Over-the-counter decongestants help in relieving your stuffy nose; antihistamines help in reducing sniffles, runny nose and itching. If your allergies are severe, visit an allergist who will be able to prescribe you medications that are long-lasting. You can even consider immunotherapy shots for long-term relief.

2. Get relief from drowsiness from allergy pills

If you don’t like the way your allergy medicine makes you feel drowsy and tired, try a saline nasal rinse — through a spray neti pot — to clear away pollen from your nasal membranes and minimize symptoms. You can even gargle with salt water to aid in soothing your itchy or sore throat.

Take your allergy medicine (look into a 24-hour allergy pill) before you go to sleep. Since many take one to two hours to kick in, it’ll start working while you sleep and when you wake up you won’t feel the drowsy side effects of the pill.

3. Stay indoors as much as possible

sneezing
“This list should provide some help with this itchy, sneezy, and sniffly allergy season.”

Check the pollen count online at weather sites, watch morning news, or download pollen count apps on your phone. You can also check pollen counts at aaaai.org, the site of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. It’s best to stay inside if the pollen count is high.

Pollen counts in the morning are generally the highest, so you should exercise in the afternoon. Check them before you head out on a walk, run, or an errand. If pollen counts are high, you should try to stay inside and do at-home workouts, or head to the gym. Don’t wait too late, however, because pollen counts are also higher in later hours.

4. Keep allergens out of your home

Take off your shoes and work clothes right when you go home. Take a shower right when you get home, or before you get into bed — to wash off any lingering pollen on your hair or body.

If you have an outdoor dog or cat, wipe their paws and fur off when they come into the house. Keep them off of your bed, just in case, to keep any lingering pollen from getting into a place where you spend most of your time at home.

Close your windows and keep them closed. Run your air conditioner to keep the air circulating throughout your house. It’s a good idea to change your filters often to remove any pollen, dust, and mold. If your allergies are more severe, try getting an air purifier with a HEPA filter to clear any allergens in your home.

5. Take your allergy symptoms seriously.

Allergy symptoms can lead to several detrimental effects on your health. Drink lots of water and rest whenever you can. Overdoing it when you feel miserable will only make you feel worse and will take a toll on your well-being.

New app lets you lend your dog and borrow another

Anna Browne is a woman who loves dogs, but unfortunately can’t be responsible for a dog of her own. She discovered an app called Bark’N’Borrow. The app allows for people who don’t have room for a dog, or can’t completely take care of a dog of their own, to be able to borrow other people’s dogs for a small vacation or simply a doggy sleepover.

Browne found the app because she loves corgis but wasn’t ready to have her own. She states “I live in a studio… I work late most nights.” As someone who works in financial services, Browne desperately wanted a cute little pooch to cuddle with at night, but the responsible person in her knew a long term commitment like owning dog wasn’t appropriate for her at this point in her life.

dog
“The app’s founder, Berkeley, individually reviews and approves every borrower’s profile.”

The app, Bark’N’Borrow, allows for dog owners to reach out to dog lovers who can’t have their own man’s best friend. The CEO and Founder Liam Berkeley said “This is the next best thing between not owning a dog and committing to one.”  It allows for dogs to continue to be put into safe environments, with people who have the time, space, and money to take care of them.

This app, however, isn’t just for people who don’t have the time or space to take care of dogs, it’s also for owners who wish to give their dogs more socialization, exposure to new environments and people. Weiling Chen, the owner of Sam the Corgi, made a profile for Sam after hearing about Bark’N’Borrow.

She said she had some initial hesitations, “It sounded a little odd but you kind of figure if they’re dog owners or dog lovers than it shouldn’t be too bad,” Chen said.

She had found a few potential borrowers, but Browne has become her favorite. “It’s like a delight,” Browne said. “On the weekend if I can hang out with a corgi for a couple of hours it’s amazing.”

To prevent the types of people who go on this app who want to hurt the dogs, the app’s founder, Berkeley, individually reviews and approves every borrower’s profile.

If you want to borrow a sweet, little, cute dog for a short period of time, check out Bark’N’Borrow.