Unlike the active ingredients in most household products, DEET holds a special place in our hearts. In as much as any mosquito repellent component can be, DEET is constantly in the news. The lambasting it has received throughout the years, however, is mostly unwarranted. Under household doses (if you bathe in the stuff I think you might be in trouble), DEET doesn’t cause birth defects or induce seizures. Some people die of DEET poisoning every now and then, but people die from huffing gasoline too. No need to throw the baby out with the bath water. DEET prevents the transmission of malaria, West Nile Virus, and many other potentially lethal diseases. In the developed world, where the fear of dengue fever takes backseat to the more relevant usage of DEET as employed when enjoying a picnic or going for a summer walk, it is easier to view insect repellent as a convenience rather than a necessity. But we do take our convenience very seriously. It’s especially unfortunate for everyone then that researchers from the UK found breeding DEET resistant populations of mosquitoes to be remarkably easy, so simple that it suggests that DEET resistance is, in fact, a dominant gene (or set of genes) in the larger mosquito genome.
More and more evidence mounts that the effects of global climate change are already drastically altering the ecology of our planet. The apparent acceleration of warming trends produces a call to action in many scientific and political circles, but the traditional chorus baying for enhanced efforts at conservation may never be capable of offsetting the momentum inherent in this change. This slowly dawning realization begins to push the once fringe science of climate engineering into the forefront of the public conversation. As part of this shift, terms like cloud seeding, once connoted with Soviet-era mad scientists shooting unpleasant sounding chemicals into the atmosphere, are not uncommon parlance in the mainstream outlets of daytime television and nightly news media. Modernizing the discussion even further, optical physicists at the University of Geneva discovered that firing short pulses of laser beams into the air may result in the desired effect of cloud seeding, rain, without the ecological uncertainty involved in aerosolizing the atmosphere with silver iodide, as was the preferred convention in times past.
While assaults on public servants are not rare in many countries, they are frequent enough in the Netherlands that the government dropped some coin on a provocative new public education campaign geared at shaming bystanders who fail to get involved when witnessing such an attack. Growing concern at this civic shortcoming prompted officials to place interactive billboards at busy intersections in Amsterdam and Rotterdam that literally pull their viewers onto the sidelines of a violent confrontation between thugs and emergency medical responders.
When modern medical professionals talk about death, they’re usually speaking in terms of the absence of brain activity. Not so long ago, the conventional signifier of shuffling off the mortal coil was the cessation of the heart beat. Modern CPR and electronic defibrillation make that definition obsolete, but both standards for morbidity deal with a common problem: the lack of oxygen. Until recently, the conceptualization of death on the microscopic level consisted of a cell, choked and suffocated after four or five minutes without oxygen, being irreparably damaged and irrevocably lost. This longstanding convention went largely unquestioned until the last few years, when doctors studying oxygen deprived cells under a microscope realized that it took hours, not minutes, for them to die. They also unearthed a second mystery; following four or five minutes without any O2, the cells actually initiated apoptosis (self-destruction) when oxygen was reintroduced. That suggests that the standard practice of oxygenating patients when they arrive at the hospital after suffering cardiac arrest may significantly increase the risk of death instead of helping to reduce it.
You may remember the survey published in 2009 by Harvard Medical School researchers which claimed that health and life insurance companies had almost $4.5 billion invested in tobacco stock. Heavily disputed as the numbers were, the comprehensive database compiled from SEC filings used in the study proved sound. MetLife, Cigna, Sun Life, and others released press statements denying any significant direct investment in tobacco stocks. Their cumulative total through subsidiaries or third-party index funds, however, was staggeringly high.
Harvard Medical School is in the news again after publishing further analysis in the American Journal of Public Health regarding the investments of health and life insurance companies. They tracked the total value of stock in the top five fast food companies as of June 2009, which summed to a quite sizable $1.88 billion.
Coming off their recent corporate soul-searching spurred by the censorship and cyber warfare plied through the Chinese government, Google is understandably sensitive to the impingement of the free disclosure of information, especially by state actors. It’s perhaps not surprising then, that out of what seems to be a mixture of societal responsibility and atonement for complicity, emerged Google’s newest online service: Government Requests.
Currently housing queries from July 1st to December 31st 2009, Government Requests is a composite of official state appeals for information held by Google or for the removal of material hosted by Google. Selecting any one country reveals an interesting breakdown by the types of removal requests. It even specifies whether it was the result of a court order. While they stop shy of posting the specific Gmail accounts or blogs that got the axe, they don’t hesitate to list the percentage of requests in which Google, at least partially, complied.
My generation lived its youth in a time of great technological change. My twenty-five years saw innovative leaps from the invention of the personal computer all the way to the ubiquity of the smartphone. The first research papers that I wrote were with the assistance of real glue and paper books in actual brick and mortar libraries. Those that are older than me might chuckle at this banal statement, but not many of my juniors will relate to such an antiquated practice. Now I write this blog and avoid hardcopy source references because I cannot cite them as easily through hyperlinks, making them less valuable as verifiable proof for an argument. How times have changed. From card catalogs to global search engines, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this great shift in perspective manifest firsthand. While we might not yet make Tom Brokaw’s list, ours will surely prove to be one of the greatest generations, if not mostly due to circumstance.
Now a portion of generation Y (Z, Millennial, or whatever), having rode the wave of technological innovation throughout the 90’s and 00’s, is making babies. These infants enter a world saturated with social media, having parents who, for the first time in history, maintain large numbers of friends and acquaintances online through virtual networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. These parents have access to the largest information repository ever, the Internet, in their pockets or purses, wherein all answers (and falsehoods) are present. Among rational people, arguments concerning the particulars of one known fact or another are a thing of the past, made extinct by the on-hand access to information offered by devices like smartphones, which put the wealth of all recorded knowledge at finger’s reach.
I would argue that the future of handheld computing rests at the confluence of power and accessibility, a model dominated in its current paradigm by Apple’s iPhone. As it so happens, the timing of the brood born by generation Y coincides with the rapid advances in ease-of-use functionality taking place within the smartphone industry. This, coupled with its (mostly) open access to third-party application development, makes the iPhone a dominant platform for children’s educational software beginning, serendipitously, with the kids of the first generation to reap the educational windfall offered by the Internet.