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Saturday, October 25, 2014

10 ROBOTS THAT ARE COMING TO STEAL YOUR JOB


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The robots are coming to steal your job
By Glenn McDonald,
Info World, 22 October 2014.

Automation technology isn't invading the IT industry alone - robots are taking over a terrifying range of jobs.

For many of us trying to navigate the 21st century, it has become sensible - healthy, even - to maintain a simmering, low-grade paranoia about the impending robot revolution. Advances in automation and robotics are impacting virtually every area of technology and industry.

We humans seem to be doing everything we can to ensure that the robotic takeover goes smoothly and with minimum resistance. It's unnerving, really. Scan the headlines on any given day, and you're likely to find at least one story about researchers creating robots designed to take over yet another unexpected aspect of human endeavour. Future android historians will surely look back on this era and marvel at how we participated in our own obsolescence. Ah, well - such is the price of progress. I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

1. Delivery driver

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If certain forward-thinking captains of industry have their say, robots may soon be replacing your friendly neighbourhood UPS guy - or FedEx or even the U.S. Postal Service. Heavyweights, including Google and Amazon, are investing big bucks in the development of drone delivery systems, in which small UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) could deliver packages or groceries by flying over your house and dropping parcels on your doorstep.

In fact, German delivery company DHL recently announced a commercial drone delivery service to the island of Juist in the North Sea, which is otherwise accessible only by boat. Domino's Pizza has also started testing a drone service for delivering pies. Regulatory issues will be a challenge, certainly, but maybe we can get the drones to wear those cool UPS-guy shorts.

2. Library technician

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The original information technologists, librarians have become combatants on the front lines of the impending robot revolution. Most university and public libraries have installed self-checkout systems - similar to those at the grocery store - to reduce the need for library clerks.

More recently, several major university libraries have installed robotic book delivery systems that also automate the process of shelving and retrieving books. North Carolina State's BookBot system, for instance, uses a system of robotic cranes to retrieve books stored in more than 18,000 bins and requires one-ninth the space of conventional shelving. Each book is bar-coded and sorted for size; patrons can even browse by way of "virtual" digital bookshelves.

3. Food critic

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As occupations go, being a food critic is pretty sweet. You get paid for the privilege of eating gourmet food on the clock, for free. But assessing the taste of food - surely this is a job for us carbon-based organic life forms, right?

Nope, the robots are coming for this one, too. The government of Thailand recently unveiled its "e-delicious" machine, a robotic food taster designed to rid the world of the scourge of bad Thai food. Developed by the government-funded Thai Delicious Committee (we're not making any of this up), the robot analyzes chemical signatures in both smell and taste, and it can purportedly distinguish between authentic Thai food ingredients and woefully inadequate Western imitations.

4. Pharmacist

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The pharmacist has a curiously (and literally) elevated position in our society. As Jerry Seinfeld once observed: “Why does the pharmacist have to be two and a half feet higher than everybody else? Who is this guy? ‘Clear out, everybody, I'm working with pills up here. I'm taking pills from this big bottle, and then I'm gonna put them in a little bottle!’”

For several years now, pharmacies in UCSF Medical Centre system in California have been staffed largely by robots, whose job is exactly that: to count, prepare, track, and dispense medications. It makes a lot of sense. The automated system is, statistically, much less prone to error and can safely handle dangerous materials like toxic chemotherapy drugs.

5. Fast-food worker

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Fast-food restaurants are highly automated as it is. Peek behind the counter at a McDonald's and you'll see machines handing everything from dispensing change to filling drink cups. But at least one company wants to take it even further, giving robots total control over our hamburgers.

Momentum Machines has designed a prototype robotic line cook that, the company claims, can crank out 400 made-to-order hamburgers per hour. (That's one burger every nine seconds.) The burger-bot takes up about 24 square feet of floor space and handles everything from grilling the beef to slicing the vegetables. The company is even working on a patented attitude algorithm that will approximate the surliness of the typical teenage fast-food clerk. We kid, we kid.

6. Shepherd

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Consider the lovely, bucolic image of the shepherd with his dog and his sheep. Here's a gentle human endeavour that's been around for 5,000 years, historians say. In a universe that was at all sane, or even moderately discerning, the robot revolution would certainly bypass the ancient of art of shepherding.

Maybe not. Researchers at the University of Swansea in the United Kingdom have developed an algorithm that they say could be used to program a robotic sheep dog, similar to the BigDog quadruped robots from Boston Dynamics, pictured here. The research team outfitted both sheep and dogs with highly accurate GPS trackers, then used the data to create a modelling system for robotic shepherds. The data suggests that sheep-herding dogs use two simple rules: Gather the sheep when they're dispersed, and drive them forward when they're together. The robots could potentially be used for humans, too - to manage crowd control at public events or in emergency situations.

7. Music writer

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Ah, the Arts! At last we come to an occupation that the robots can't handle. For how can the cold, calculating silicon mind grasp the elusive subtleties of the Beatles?

Uh-oh. According to research published earlier this year, it appears that artificial intelligence can indeed analyze the style of a particular band's music, then draw accurate conclusions about the group's musical development over time. Researchers at Lawrence Technical University created artificial intelligence technology that analyzed the songs from the Beatles' 13 studio albums released in the United Kingdom. The system was able to discern the evolution of the band's musical style and correctly sequence all 13 albums in the proper order. Music writers have good reason to worry. Robots are already doing certain kinds of sports writing and financial reporting. Really.

8. TV news anchor

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If you're a cynical observer of the media - or simply observant - you'll have noted that today's TV news anchors are android-like as it is. If Anderson Cooper were to remove his electronic faceplate tomorrow, it would surprise exactly no one.

Earlier this year, technicians at Japan's famed Intelligent Robotics Laboratory took it to the next logical place by unveiling two models of robotic newsreaders. The eerily life-like androids - complete with complex facial musculature systems and silicone skin - are designed to speak multiple languages and can translate inputted text directly into spoken words. Osaka University professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, pictured here with the "Otanaroid" model, said the androids are designed to provoke discussion about the boundaries between what we perceive as human and as artificial.

9. Bartender

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Finally, some news we can use. Royal Caribbean recently announced it will deploy a robotic bartender on its latest high-tech cruise liner, Quantum of the Seas. Called the Bionic Bar, the system takes orders from table-mounted tablet computers and uses articulated robotic arms to pour, shake, and stir.

There are actually several robotic bartenders in development, and a few are already in use. The Robots Bar and Lounge in Illmenau, Germany, employs humanoid robots and even has statues of C-3PO and R2-D2 mounted out front. (Droids are welcome in this cantina, evidently.) The Kickstarter-funded project Monsieur, meanwhile, is designed for commercial or home use and can craft 300 different cocktails out of the box. Naturally, you can order your drinks in advance from your phone, because - as always - there's an app for that.

10. Information technologist

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The IT industry is no stranger to the upside of automation. In fact, if you’re in IT, you've probably encountered a good deal of automation in the workplace over the past several decades. One of the first widespread automation technologies to displace humans, Interactive Voice Response systems are now familiar to anyone who dares to use a phone for technical assistance - whether it's for checking on your computer, your bank statement, or your kids' lunch money account at school.

More recently, IT automation software like Puppet, Chef, and Ansible can do much of the work that used to be managed by hand, such as configuring servers and handling certain analysis and troubleshooting jobs. As these "virtual engineers" continue to automate routine tasks, it seems only logical that the Machines will decide they want fellow Machines handling this business.

The spectre of autonomic computing, “cognitive” tech like IBM’s Watson taking over predictive analysis, machine learning for data analysis, natural language processing - it's almost as if every tool we create to solve business problems threatens to put many of us one step closer to the permanent unemployment line.

Top image courtesy thehorriblejoke via pixabay.

[Source: Info World. Edited. Some links added.]


5 THOUGHT-PROVOKING VIDEOS ABOUT THE INFLUENCE OF SOCIAL MEDIA ON OUR LIVES


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Texting Can Kill You, And Other Hard Truths: 5 Thought-Provoking Videos
By Jessica Coccimiglio,
Make Use Of, 24 October 2014.

There are important questions we should all be asking ourselves about the influence social media has on our lives. That’s why I’ve pulled together a few short, entertaining videos to get us thinking and talking.

1. Facebook Is An Anti-Social Network


YouTube creator Prince Ea has a talent for rhyme, but what I really want to talk about here is the substance of his poetry: Does technology drive us further apart?

Is Facebook an ‘anti-social network’? Do you use it because you like to, or because you feel you have to? Have you ever tried to quit Facebook, and how did it go?

My own brother ‘quits’ Facebook whenever his schoolwork starts to get heavy, and I (and two of his friends on separate occasions) have actually asked him, “But how will I share links/articles/videos you should see?” I suppose I could just send them by email, but it feels like a lot of trouble (and it doesn’t come with handy preview text and a thumbnail).

What about the idea that technology has made us more selfish and separate than ever before? With innovations like crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo that fund community projects that would otherwise never exist, and micro-investing sites like Kiva Loans that let ordinary people promote social good around the world, and tools like Skype that let us see and talk to far away relatives, I don’t buy that technology really makes us more selfish and separate. It makes our introspective moments more visible, especially when we’re on social media while in public.

Technology gives us the power to connect with or help virtually anybody on Earth, but we spend a lot of time idly looking at Facebook. We all have stories of getting the latest updates in our friend’s lives through Facebook rather than in person, or staring at our smartphones instead of engaging with the people right beside us. Are you one of those people? Why do you do it? Do you enjoy it, or is it just a bad habit you wish you could stop?

I don’t think you need to abandon your smartphones completely to get more out of life, but I do think you’ll have pleasant results if you consciously choose to resist documenting a moment, in favour of experiencing it more fully. The next time you have a beautiful meal, ask yourself how often you actually go back through your food photography and thought the image did justice to the original dish. Then keep your smartphone stowed away, and just dig in.

2. Your Friends’ Lives: Maybe Not So Great


This video manages to be funny and depressing simultaneously. Let’s take a moment to look at it a bit closer though: depression and mental health is a serious issue, with suicide being the fourth leading cause of death in people between 15 and 65 years of age. Or, as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention put it, more deaths than war, murder, and natural disasters combined.

Facebook itself ran an experiment to find out if emotions on social media were ‘contagious’. For a week in 2012, Facebook sent some users either exclusively negative or positive posts, to see if it would affect their mood. It did.

Do social media sites like Facebook exacerbate depression? Do you get jealous when your Facebook news feed seems to be filled with people having great life adventures? Do you frame your own life on Facebook in the most positive way you can, or perhaps just not post when you don’t have great news to share? I know I tend to avoid posting the bad news in my life. I like to think that’s better than ‘vaguebooking‘.

Facebook isn’t going away any time soon though - in fact, we’ve also got some great reasons for teenagers to get Facebook, in spite of the fears that it leads to maladjusted teens and missed opportunities.

3. We Miss Things With Our Heads Down


We’re looking at our smartphones because we think they offer us something worth our attention - and we do that many times a day. According to Mary Meeker & Liang Wu’s KPCB Internet Trends report of 2013 (slide 52), we check our smartphones about 150 times per day.

Does the average person get value out of the majority of those ~150 times you check your phone? How often are you seeing something that’s really worth the time you spent to check? How much time do you spend not even looking at anything in particular, just looking at apps absentmindedly, or refreshing Facebook just to see if there’s anything new? If you have trouble with that and use Chrome, you might want to consider installing Facebook Nanny.


My colleague Justin Pot finds the Look Up video problematic because your gadgets don’t control you. But to me, the point of Look Up isn’t that your gadget controls you, it’s that every time you check your phone there’s an opportunity cost, and it’s not negligible. The objects in your life are not neutral. They’re designed to be used in particular ways, and the value we perceive from those objects mean we give them certain kinds of attention.

Could that moment you spend looking at Facebook instead of looking up be life-changing? Maybe, maybe not. Just think consciously about how you use your gadgets from time to time - it’s healthy. And try to remember to look up often, and put your phone down when it counts. Not necessarily because you’ll miss the chance to meet the love of your life - but at least to avoid the dangers of texting while walking.

4. Texting Can Kill You


Cute video, eh? It’s no joke though. In case you’re not aware, distracted-walking is a growing area of concern in public health, so bad that texting-and-walking even has its own new word: wexting.

Wexting has been causing significant increases in pedestrian injuries and deaths every year. According to Dietrich Jehle, professor of emergency medicine at the University at Buffalo in New York, distracted walking results in more injuries per mile than distracted driving. As many as ten percent of the tens of thousands of emergency-room visits by pedestrians in the United States may have been caused by cell phone-related accidents.

So, are you a ‘wexter’, and would you be surprised to learn there’s an app for that? A group in Vancouver, Canada is using geo-fencing technology (a geo-fence is a virtual perimeter for a real-world geographic area) to send alerts to texters when they cross certain high-traffic intersections in the city.

It’s an interesting solution, and maybe it will help some chronic ‘wexters’ to wake up and reconsider their decision to walk and text. What do you think? Is it possible for a technology-driven solution to get us out of a technology-created problem? Do you walk and text, and if so, do you think a reminder received ‘in the moment’ will convince you to put your phone down and keep your head up?

5. Final Thoughts: Social Media Matters. A Lot.


I want to end on the above video to contrast the first four. Maybe you think social media isn’t such a big deal. Maybe you barely use it, maybe you don’t see what all the fuss is about.

But the facts are clear: social media matters. It’s no fad, it’s not going away.

Increasingly we rely on social media tools like Facebook’s Graph Search to explore the web and make decisions about what to look at or purchase. The Internet marketer’s domain is not just in SEO tactics, it’s in creating advertising on Facebook with shareability in mind, in the form of sponsored posts. As a form of advertising, it has a low barrier to entry (you can place ads yourself with mere pocket change), and can be highly targeted.

Business cares about the social media platforms because we spend a lot of time there, and we let our guard down around it. Sponsored posts get so integrated with social media it often doesn’t even feel like advertising, so we usually let it go by without a fuss. Even Tumblr integrates sponsored posts. (Though if you really hate them, AdBlock Plus can stop Sponsored Posts).

What’s more, we don’t just passively look at ads, but we actively share and engage with them - to the point that marketers don’t just track the cost-per-impression of ads and the cost-per-click, but they’ll keep track of ‘cost per engagement’ - such as your Likes, Comments, and Shares. Those actions send our opinions of the brands and products around to our friends, potentially influencing their opinions.

Social media shapes the way we think about brands and products, and for better or for worse, we use it as a shortcut for getting to know people as well.

Whether you agree or disagree, don’t take social media lightly. Your business, your friendships, your relationships, your health, and even your life could be at stake.

[Source: Make Use Of. Edited.]


NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC'S BEST SPACE PICTURES THIS WEEK XXXI


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Week's Best Space Pictures: Hercules Poses, California Gleams, and a Pulsar Puzzles
By Dan Vergano,
National Geographic News, 24 October 2014.

Purple robes swath a galaxy, shepherds dance above Saturn's rings, and fishing fleets outshine cities in this week's best space pictures.

1. Purple Robes for Hercules

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The Hercules A galaxy reveals its superpowered core in an image captured by NASA's Chandra X-ray space telescope. Lavender and blue superheated gas clouds, meanwhile, swath its centre.

In visible light, the galaxy some two billion light-years away looks like an ellipse. Researchers can only see the luminous core at the heart of Hercules A with x-rays.

Astronomers suspect that the galaxy holds a supermassive black hole that is actively devouring stars and other stellar material. (See: "Black Hole: Star Eater" in National Geographic magazine.)

2. Bright Lights, Big Cities

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The bright lights of Hollywood (right) blaze on the Pacific coast in this October scene shot from the International Space Station.

The night-time panorama displays San Francisco (centre) and Los Angeles backed by the Sierra Nevada. In the distance, Salt Lake City, in Utah, shines beneath a curved horizon tinted green with the glimmer of the northern lights.

3. Mr. Sun Is Angry

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A powerful solar flare (bottom, left) bursts from the sun in this October 19 image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. (Related: "Monster Sunspot Threatens Earth With Solar Storms.")

The "X class" flare - the extreme category of these radiation bursts - appears clearly in this ultraviolet-light view from the spacecraft.

4. Night Lights

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High above the ocean strait separating Korea and Japan, the International Space Station spies the bright lights of squid fishing boats in this October view.

The fleet burns bright blue with xenon bulbs in order to lure Japanese flying squid (Todarodes pacificus) to the surface.

South Korean cities (left) glimmer in the orange light of sodium lamps, while Japanese cities (right) use mercury vapour lamps that cast a ghostly green light.

5. Tiny Dancers

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A pair of moonlets dance between Saturn's rings in this October scene from the international Cassini spacecraft.

Pandora, the pinpoint moon farthest outside the rings, measures only 50 miles (81 kilometres) across. Atlas, tucked above the planet's massive A ring and the rest of Saturn's circlets, is 25 miles (40 kilometres) at its widest.

Astronomers think both tiny moons act as shepherds of sorts, with their gravity keeping the rings' shapes intact.

6. A Pulsar in Hand

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An exotic star famous for a hidden "Hand of God" shape is seen in x-rays and infrared light in this image of its emissions from NASA's Chandra and WISE spacecraft.

The view of this pulsar star - called PSR B1509-58 - offers a good example of pareidolia, where people imagine seeing meaningful shapes, usually in things like clouds or rocks. (Related: " 'Doughnut Rock' Added to Mars' Mystery Object Hall of Fame")

A pulsar is actually a kind of collapsed neutron star that's spinning rapidly and firing blasts of charged particles from its poles. The blasts illuminate the dust clouds surrounding the star.

7. Spin

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A halo hanging in space, a galaxy spins like a top in this Hubble space telescope observation.

The galaxy, NGC 4526, has a broad central gas disk that rotates at 560,000 miles an hour (250 kilometres a second). The speed of its spin and the mass of the galaxy are clues to the size of the jumbo black hole thought to hide at its centre.

Photo gallery by Mallory Benedict.

[Source: National Geographic News. Edited.]


THE DIFFERENT WAYS HUMANS AND ANIMALS BREATH IN ONE COOL ANIMATED GRAPHIC


The different ways animals breath in one cool animated graphic
The different ways animals breath in one cool animated graphic
By Jesus Diaz,
Sploid, 24 October 2014.

Science illustrator and animator Eleanor Lutz - the same who brought us this cool graphic of how animals fly - has created this cool animated illustration showing the differences between human and animal breathing: Human vs birds vs insects. Even if you paid attention at biology class, it's interesting to watch.

The different ways animals breath in one cool animated graphic

Eleanor Lutz is a designer in Seattle who has a bachelor on molecular biology from the University of Washington. You can follow her on her site, Twitter, and Tumblr.

[Source: Sploid.]


ALBA: THE WORLD'S FIRST RESPONSIVE LIGHT BULB


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Ex-Tesla And NASA Engineers Create A Smart Light Bulb
By Lara Lopes,
Interesting Engineering, 24 October 2014.

Ex-Tesla and NASA engineers, Neil Joseph and Jovi Gacusan, partnered up to create a smart light bulb. According to them, the big difference in the new lamp, Alba, is that it is responsive, while other  intelligent lamps need to be connected and adjusted by the user with some sort of app or remote control.

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The idea came to Neil Joseph in 2013 while sitting around at his office. “It was a sunny day, and I looked up and I thought, ‘Why are these lights on with full power, when full sunlight is coming through the window?’” Joseph said in an interview.

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This question resulted in the creation of Alba. The lamp is able to sense the lighting in the environment it’s in and adjust its power accordingly. Joseph claims this can result in a 60% to 80% electricity saving compared with a traditional LED lamp (which is already much more sustainable than an incandescent lamp).

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The colours of the light can still be adjusted as well. According to Joseph, during the morning it will shine preferably a bluish light, to stimulate the brain. Throughout the day, the lighting becomes a more reddish colour, to send off a sense of warmth.

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The Alba is also able to learn the routine of the people living in the house. It can predict when the light of a room needs to be lit and over time, this “awareness” will improve.

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Using an app, you can set standards for certain light situations. The users can choose how they want the light to be during dinner or after it for example. These manual adjustments also adds up to the data learned by Alba.

Alba’s launch should happen in the first quarter of 2015. It will be sold in a package with two light bulbs that will cost US$150, with each additional bulb costing US$60.

Via: Endgadget

Article Source: Stack

Video: Meet Alba the First Responsive Lightbulb


All images credit: Stack, and via YouTube screen shots.

[Post Source: Interesting Engineering. Edited. Video and some images added.]


VIDEO: PILOT SAVES THE DAY WHEN PLANE SUDDENLY TAKES A DIVE AT LANDING


Pilot saves the day when plane suddenly takes a dive at landing
Pilot saves the day when plane suddenly takes a dive at landing
By Omar Kardoudi,
Sploid, 24 October 2014

The pilot of this flight from the German airline TUIfly managed to correct a sudden dive while landing at the Madeira International airport, one of the hardest in the world. Crosswinds were so strong that he could only managed to get the plane completely straight a few seconds before touching the ground.


[Source: Sploid.]


INFOGRAPHIC: THE EFFECTS OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION ON THE BODY


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The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Body
By Ann Pietrangelo,
Healthline, 19 August 2014.

Sleep deprivation can cause damage to your body in the short term. Over time, it can lead to chronic health problems and negatively impact your quality of life. [More information after the infographic]

Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Body

Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Body

You need sleep as much as you need to breathe and eat. While you’re sleeping, your body is busy tending to your physical and mental health and getting you ready for another day.

In children and adolescents, hormones that promote growth are released during sleep. These hormones help build muscle mass, as well as make repairs to cells and tissues. Sleep is vital to development during puberty.

When you’re deprived of sleep, your brain can’t function properly, affecting your cognitive abilities and emotional state. If it continues long enough, it can lower your body’s defenses, putting you at risk of developing chronic illness. The more obvious signs of sleep deprivation are excessive sleepiness, yawning, and irritability. Chronic sleep deprivation can interfere with balance, coordination, and decision-making abilities. You’re at risk falling asleep during the day, even if you fight it. Stimulants like caffeine are not able to override your body’s profound need for sleep.

When you’re sleep deprived, the effects of alcohol consumption are magnified, as is your risk of being involved in an accident. According to Harvard Medical School, studies show that sleeping less than five hours a night increases the risk of death from all causes by about 15 percent. Sleep deprivation is dangerous to your mental and physical health and can dramatically lower your quality of life.

Central Nervous System

Your central nervous system is the information highway of your body. Sleep is necessary to keep it functioning properly. During sleep, the brain rests busy neurons and forms new pathways so you’re ready to face the world in the morning. In children and young adults, the brain releases growth hormones during sleep. While you’re sleeping, your body is also producing proteins that help cells repair damage.

Sleep deprivation leaves the brain exhausted, so it can’t perform its duties well. The most obvious effect is sleepiness. You may find yourself yawning a lot and feeling sluggish. Lack of sleep interferes with your ability to concentrate and learn new things. It can negatively impact both short-term and long-term memory. It gets in the way of your decision-making process and stifles creativity. Your emotions are also affected, making you more likely to have a short temper and mood swings. Overall cognitive function is impaired.

If sleep deprivation continues long enough, you’re at increased risk of hallucinations, especially if you have narcolepsy or systemic lupus erythematosis. Lack of sleep can trigger mania in people who have manic depression. Other risks include impulsive behaviour, depression, paranoia, and suicidal thoughts.

A side effect of sleep deprivation is micro sleep. That’s when you’re asleep for only a few seconds or a few minutes, but you don’t realize it. If you’re sleep deprived, micro sleep is out of your control and can be extremely dangerous if you’re driving. It can also make you more prone to injury due to trips and falls. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, insufficient sleep has played a part in tragic accidents involving airplanes, ships, and even nuclear reactor meltdowns.

Immune System

When you’re sleeping, your immune system produces protective cytokines and infection-fighting antibodies and cells. It uses these tools to fight off foreign substances like bacteria and viruses. These cytokines and other protective substances also help you sleep, giving the immune system more energy to defend against illness.

Sleep deprivation means your immune system doesn’t have a chance to build up its forces. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies show that if you don’t get enough sleep, it’s more likely that your body won’t be able to fend off invaders. It may also take you longer to recover from illness. Long-term sleep deprivation raises your risk of developing chronic illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Respiratory System

Since sleep can weaken your immune system, you’re more vulnerable to respiratory problems like the common cold and influenza. If you already have a chronic lung disease, sleep deprivation is likely to make it worse.



Digestive System

According to Harvard Medical School, a few studies have found a link between lack of sleep and weight gain. Along with eating too much and not exercising, sleep deprivation is one of the risk factors for obesity.

Sleep deprivation increases production of the stress hormone cortisol. Lack of sleep lowers your levels of a hormone called leptin, which tells your brain that you’ve had enough to eat. In addition, it raises levels of a biochemical called ghrelin, which is an appetite stimulant.

Sleep deprivation prompts your body to release higher levels of insulin after you eat, promoting fat storage and increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Cardiovascular System 

Since you’re more likely to gain weight if you’re chronically sleep deprived, you’re also at increased risk of problems with your cardiovascular system.

Sleep plays a vital role in your body’s ability to heal and repair your blood vessels and heart. Sleep deprivation can lead to higher risk of chronic health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. According to Harvard Medical School, for people with hypertension, one night without enough sleep can cause elevated blood pressure all through the next day.

Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on August 19, 2014.

Article Sources:
1. Alhola, P., Polo-Kantola, P. (2007). Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 3 (5), 553–567. Retrieved July 11, 2014.
2. Brain basics: Understanding sleep. (2014, April 28). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved July 11, 2014.
3. Chaudhury, S. (2010). Hallucinations: Clinical aspects and management. Ind Psychiatry J. 19 (1), 5–12. Retrieved July 11, 2014.
4. Morgenthaler, T. (2012, July 10). Insomnia. I'm having trouble sleeping lately. Does this increase my chances of getting sick? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 11, 2014.
5. Sleep and disease risk. (2007, December 18). Healthy Sleep, Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
6. What are sleep deprivation and deficiency?. (2012, February 22). National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Retrieved July 11, 2014.
7. Why is sleep important?. (2012, February 22). National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Retrieved July 11, 2014.

My thanks to Maggie Danhakl of Healthline for this highly informative infographic.

Top image source: eHow.

[Post Source: Healthline. Edited. Top image added.]


Friday, October 24, 2014

9 DEADLIEST VIRUSES ON EARTH


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The 9 Deadliest Viruses on Earth
By Anne Harding,
Live Science, 23 October 2014.

Humans have been battling viruses ever since their existence. For some viral diseases, vaccines and antiviral drugs have allowed us to keep infections from spreading widely, and have helped sick people recover. For one disease - smallpox - we've been able to eradicate it, ridding the world of new cases.

But as the Ebola outbreak now devastating West Africa demonstrates, we're a long way from winning the fight against viruses.

The strain that is driving the current epidemic, Ebola Zaire, kills up to 90 percent of the people it infects, making it the most lethal member of the Ebola family. "It couldn't be worse," said Elke Muhlberger, an Ebola virus expert and associate professor of microbiology at Boston University.

But there are other viruses out there that are equally deadly, and some that are even deadlier. Here are the nine worst killers, based on the likelihood that a person will die if they are infected with one of them, the sheer numbers of people they have killed, and whether they represent a growing threat.

1. Marburg virus

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This colourized image shows a number of Marburg virus virions, as seen through a transmission electron microscope.
Ebola viruses and Marburg virus both belong to the same family of viruses, called the filovirus family.

Scientists identified Marburg virus in 1967, when small outbreaks occurred among lab workers in Germany who were exposed to infected monkeys imported from Uganda. Marburg virus is similar to Ebola in that both can cause haemorrhagic fever, meaning that infected people develop high fevers and bleeding throughout the body that can lead to shock, organ failure and death.

The mortality rate in the first outbreak was 25 percent, but it was more than 80 percent in the 1998-2000 outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as in the 2005 outbreak in Angola, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

2. Ebola virus

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A scanning electron micrograph of the Ebola virus.

The first known Ebola outbreaks in humans struck simultaneously in the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976. Ebola is spread through contact with blood or other body fluids, or tissue from infected people or animals. The known strains vary dramatically in their deadliness, Muhlberger said.

One strain, Ebola Reston, doesn't even make people sick. But for the Bundibugyo strain, the fatality rate is up to 50 percent, and it is up to 71 percent for the Sudan strain, according to WHO.

The outbreak underway in West Africa began in early 2014, and is the largest and most complex outbreak of the disease to date, according to WHO.

3. Rabies

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This image of the rabies virus, taken through an electron microscope, shows particles of the virus itself, as well as the round
structures called Negri bodies, which contain viral proteins.

Although rabies vaccines for pets, which were introduced in the 1920s, have helped make the disease exceedingly rare in the developed world, this condition remains a serious problem in India and parts of Africa.

"It destroys the brain, it's a really, really bad disease," Muhlberger said. "We have a vaccine against rabies, and we have antibodies that work against rabies, so if someone gets bitten by a rabid animal we can treat this person," she said.

However, she said, "if you don't get treatment, there's a 100 percent possibility you will die."

4. HIV

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The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV, in green), infecting a cell. Image taken with an electron scanning microscope.

In the modern world, the deadliest virus of all may be HIV. "It is still the one that is the biggest killer," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and spokesman for the Infectious Disease Society of America.

An estimated 36 million people have died from HIV since the disease was first recognized in the early 1980s. "The infectious disease that takes the biggest toll on mankind right now is HIV," Adalja said.

Powerful antiviral drugs have made it possible for people to live for years with HIV. But the disease continues to devastate many low- and middle-income countries, where 95 percent of new HIV infections occur. Nearly 1 in every 20 adults in Sub-Saharan Africa is HIV-positive, according to WHO.

5. Smallpox

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A single smallpox virus, magnified at 310,000X. Smallpox is a highly contagious and sometimes fatal disease. There is no
specific treatment for people with smallpox, and the only prevention is vaccination.

In 1980, the World Health Assembly declared the world free of smallpox. But before that, humans battled smallpox for thousands of years, and the disease killed about 1 in 3 of those it infected. It left survivors with deep, permanent scars and, often, blindness.

Mortality rates were far higher in populations outside of Europe, where people had little contact with the virus before visitors brought it to their regions. For example, historians estimate 90 percent of the native population of the Americas died from smallpox introduced by European explorers. In the 20th century alone, smallpox killed 300 million people.

"It was something that had a huge burden on the planet, not just death but also blindness, and that's what spurred the campaign to eradicate from the Earth," Adalja said.

6. Hantavirus 

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This image shows the hantavirus known as the Sin Nombre virus (SNV), under a transmission electron microscope.
This virus caused an outbreak in November 1993, in the Four Corners region of the U.S.

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) first gained wide attention in the U.S. in 1993, when a healthy, young Navajo man and his fiancée living in the Four Corners area of the United States died within days of developing shortness of breath. A few months later, health authorities isolated hantavirus from a deer mouse living in the home of one of the infected people. More than 600 people in the U.S. have now contracted HPS, and 36 percent have died from the disease, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus is not transmitted from one person to another, rather, people contract the disease from exposure to the droppings of infected mice.

Previously, a different hantavirus caused an outbreak in the early 1950s, during the Korean War, according to a 2010 paper in the journal Clinical Microbiology Reviews. More than 3,000 troops became infected, and about 12 percent of them died.

While the virus was new to Western medicine when it was discovered in the U.S., researchers realized later that Navajo medical traditions describe a similar illness, and linked the disease to mice.

7. Influenza

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This digitally-colourized image shows the H1N1 influenza virus under a transmission electron microscope. In 2009, this virus
(then called the swine flu) caused a pandemic, and is thought to have killed 200,00 people worldwide.

During a typical flu season, up to 500,000 people worldwide will die from the illness, according to WHO. But occasionally, when a new flu strain emerges, a pandemic results with a faster spread of disease and, often, higher mortality rates.

The most deadly flu pandemic, sometimes called the Spanish flu, began in 1918 and sickened up to 40 percent of the world's population, killing an estimated 50 million people.

"I think that it is possible that something like the 1918 flu outbreak could occur again," Muhlberger said. "If a new influenza strain found its way in the human population,and could be transmitted easily between humans, and caused severe illness, we would have a big problem."

8. Dengue

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This image shows round, Dengue virus particles as they look under a transmission electron microscope. Dengue viruses are
transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Dengue virus first appeared in the 1950s in the Philippines and Thailand, and has since spread throughout the tropical and subtropical regions of the globe. Up to 40 percent of the world's population now lives in areas where dengue is endemic, and the disease - with the mosquitoes that carry it - is likely to spread farther as the world warms.

Dengue sickens 50 to 100 million people a year, according to WHO. Although the mortality rate for dengue fever is lower than some other viruses, at 2.5 percent, the virus can cause an Ebola-like disease called dengue haemorrhagic fever, and that condition has a mortality rate of 20 percent if left untreated.

"We really need to think more about dengue virus because it is a real threat to us," Muhlberger said. There is no current vaccine against dengue, but large clinical trials of an experimental vaccine developed by French drug maker Sanofi have had promising results.

9. Rotavirus

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Rotaviruses particles are shown here under a very high magnification of 455,882X.

Two vaccines are now available to protect children from rotavirus, the leading cause of severe diarrheal illness among babies and young children. The virus can spread rapidly, through what researchers call the faecal-oral route (meaning that small particles of faeces end up being consumed).

Although children in the developed world rarely die from rotavirus infection, the disease is a killer in the developing world, where rehydration treatments are not widely available.

The WHO estimates that worldwide, 453,000 children younger than age 5 died from rotavirus infection in 2008. But countries that have introduced the vaccine have reported sharp declines in rotavirus hospitalizations and deaths.

[Source: Live Science. Edited.]