Friday, March 29, 2013

Researchers combat obesity with tech tools popular with teens

The best weapon in the battle against obesity may already be in the hands of children and teenagers.
That’s the thinking behind the work of several researchers and technologists around the country who hope to turn cell phones into devices that can help young people make healthier food and lifestyle choices.
A recent Pew Internet study found that 78 percent of teens now have a cell phone, and almost half of them – 47 percent -- own smartphones with computing capability.
“It’s interesting because most often we think using technology is part of the problem,” said Dr. Susan Woolford of the Pediatric Comprehensive Weight Management Center at the University of Michigan, pointing to video games and other uses of technology that have made teens more sedentary. “We actually hope that using this new technology will help us.”

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

TED features innovation by 13-year-old Maasai herdsman

Local solution to local problem. That's perhaps the best way to describe the invention by Richard Turere, a 13 year old boy who as is customary in his community, watches over his father's animals.  He hated lions because they often devoured the livestock he is responsible for safe-guarding.
"I grew up hating lions very much," says Turere, who is from Kitengela, just south of the capital Nairobi. "They used to come at night and feed on our cattle when we were sleeping."
Richard thought of what to do to stop the lions.  His first experiment didn't work.  The lions always come in the dark at night to eat the livestocks.  One night he went out with a torch moving around, just checking on the animals.  He discovered that lions didn't come.  Why? They were scared of the light from  his torch.
That experience gave birth to an innovation that won him a scholarship to one of the best schools in Kenya and also an invite to TED 2013 conference in California.
His story is simply amazing

Monday, March 25, 2013

Can technology end poverty?

If you believe the hype, technology is going to help us end global poverty. Advances have indeed made a huge difference in the lives of the poor, but there's also a healthy amount of skepticism out there. Berkeley researcher Kentaro Toyama has a blog dedicated to calling out naïve or inappropriate uses of information and communication technologies (ICT). Calling himself the ICT4D jester (using the development jargon for "information and communication technologies for development"), he has no shortage of material. We've all heard stories of computers that sit unused in African classrooms; on a recent post, the jester takes aim at texting cows.
Read more here

Boko Haram and the killing of Nigeria

This title is my cry for Nigeria. It is a title I used in my column of January 1, 2012. The latest (as of the time I am writing this) horrifying bombing of an interstate commuter bus station in Sabon-Gari, Kano on Monday 18 March, blasting through four buses, killing scores of innocent lives and leaving several scores more wounded has brought it back to me.
Since the time of that last column a few more bewildering angles have been lent to the whole Boko Haram madness, both in terms of “speculated” source of their grievance and suggested panacea.
Highly placed northern brethren have helped the terrorists to add “economic deprivation” to their grouse, and general “amnesty” to the solution.
Now I know we are truly cursed as a people and as a country. Everything in this country is seen from ethnic prism and reduced to ethnicity — be it the glaring need for restructuring the dysfunctional system or electing leaders with the vision to fast-track our development.
Now we are told a major (if not suddenly the sole) reason for the Boko Haram war on our (I cannot even say “their” as it is suspected many of them are not Nigerians) fatherland is the abject poverty they suffer as a result of the inequity in the sharing of our national revenue!
These same highly placed brethren are asking for “amnesty” for the Boko Haram insurgents. Those, they say, that are “innocent of any crime,” an oxymoron if ever there was one. Dictionary meaning of amnesty is “an act of forgiveness for past offences, especially to a class of persons as a whole.” In the Nigerian parlance, based on the precedent with the Niger Delta militants, “amnesty” also includes “buying out” or providing livelihood to those so pardoned.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Somali teen stoned to death, village forced to watch

A teenager in Somalia was allegedly stoned to death as punishment for being gay by Islamic rebels while villagers were forced to watch.
According to Identity Kenya, Mohamed Ali Baashi, 18 was buried in the ground up to his chest, and assaulted with rocks on March 15 in Barawe, about 50 miles from Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. The group reportedly tied to the murderous attack was Al Shabaab, which is linked to Al Qaeda.

How Harvard, MIT plan to earn from EdX

How can a nonprofit organization that gives away courses bring in enough revenue to at least cover its costs?
Officials of Harvard and MIT at the launch of EdX last year
That's the dilemma facing edX, a project led by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that is bringing in a growing number of high-profile university partners to offer massive open online courses, or MOOCs.
"Even though we are a nonprofit, we have to become self-sustaining"
Two other major providers of MOOCs, Coursera and Udacity, are for-profit companies. While edX has cast itself as the more contemplative, academically oriented player in the field, it remains under pressure to generate revenue.
"Even though we are a nonprofit, we have to become self-sustaining," said Anant Agarwal, president of edX. And developing MOOCs, especially ones that aspire to emulate the quality and rigor of traditional courses at top universities, is expensive. Harvard and MIT made an initial investment of $30-million each last year to start the edX effort.

MIT to release documents about activist Swartz

The president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced Tuesday that the school will voluntarily release public documents related to the prosecution of free-information activist Aaron Swartz, who hanged himself in January as he faced trial on hacking charges.
The email announcement by MIT President L. Rafael Reif comes in response to a request Friday by lawyers for Swartz's estate to have the U.S. District Court in Boston make the documents public.
The university has come under fire for what critics say is MIT's compliance with federal prosecutors in the legal case against Swartz.
Supporters of Swartz have painted him a zealous advocate of public online access, a martyred hero hounded to his death by the government he antagonized.
To prosecutors, the 26-year-old Swartz was a thief whose aims to make information available didn't excuse the illegal acts he was charged with: breaking into a wiring closet at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and tapping into its computer network to download millions of paid-access scholarly articles, which he planned to share publicly.
He was facing possibly decades in prison after being indicted in Boston in 2011 when he hanged himself in his Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment.
The documents will be released at the same time as an internal analysis of MIT's role in the Swartz case is made public. No date has been set for the release of that analysis, being conducted by professor Hal Abelson.

Cancers tied to HPV, obesity on the rise, says report

Cancer rates in the United States continue to fall, according to a new government report, with the exception of certain cancers linked to increasingly common health woes facing Americans.
The new report, which tracked U.S. cancer rates from 1975 through 2009, found increases in incidence of cancers related to obesity and those linked to human papillomavirus (HPV).
The "Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer" is a joint project from researchers at the government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Cancer Institute, in addition to the American Cancer Society and North American Association of Central Cancer Registries. It was published Jan. 7 online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Breastfeeding may not ward off child obesity

Breastfeeding does not seem to protect babies against becoming overweight or obese kids, a large, new study says.
"It's just a reality check that in itself, promoting breastfeeding, while a good thing and will have other health benefits, is unlikely to have any effects on stemming the obesity epidemic," said the study's lead author, Richard Martin, from the University of Bristol, UK.
Past research has suggested babies who are breastfed are less likely to grow up to be obese children. But those studies compared mothers who chose whether or not to breastfeed - so they and their kids could have been different in other important ways, researchers said.
Dr. Lawrence, a breastfeeding researcher from the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, said she still believes that starting breastfeeding in the first place can help ward off obesity. 
The new study included 17,000 mothers and their infants in Belarus. About half of the babies were born at maternity hospitals that used a World Health Organization-designed initiative to promote breastfeeding.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Top five exercises to lose belly fat

Who doesn't want flat abs? People desperate to lose weight will willingly starve themselves, take expensive supplements or do the latest fad diet that promises to give them that flawless figure in 30 days. Thankfully, belly fat is metabolically active and easier to lose. However, if proper nutrition is not observed and the resort is made to low calorie diets, weight loss may not happen within the desired time frame. Hunger and calorie deprivation will eventually kick in and dieters confronted with that favorite food they have been avoiding will have the tendency to binge at the first opportunity. The likelihood of gaining more weight than they originally lost is not far-fetched.
The best strategy to weight loss is to observe a healthy diet coupled with exercise of at least an hour a day
According to Christine Rosenbloom, a nutrition professor at Georgia State University, eating a calorie-controlled diet and 60 minutes of daily moderate exercise activity will result to weight loss and can even help with the desired weight maintenance. In fact, according to Professor Michael Jensen of the Mayo Clinic, intense aerobic exercise will result to being leaner around the abdomen.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Is poverty really behind Boko Haram, Ansaru terrorism?

Former US president, Bill Clinton, recently challenged the Nigerian government to tackle poverty as a way to end rising terrorism in the country. It was an advice that received global media coverage because of the personality involved.
Clinton's reasons for insisting on tackling poverty as a way to end Islamic terrorism in Nigeria is well understood.  My discomfort with it is that it keys into a popular refrain by some of the northern Nigerian elites have the capacity to help the government address address the problem but who rather have chosen make excuses rather than lend helping hand to the government.  People like Central Bank of Nigeria governor, Lamido Sanusi and former FCT minister Nasir el-Rufai.  These elites have rather chosen to be sympathetic that to a group that have made widows out of Nigerian women, rendered fatherless many children and permanently maimed many innocent Nigerians.
The danger with half-truths is that they have a way of shifting focus from the real issues.  It is interesting that President Jonathan did not buy into that cheap populist excuse for the atrocities of Boko Haram.  “Boko Haram is not as a result of misrule; definitely not,” an agitated President Jonathan said during an interview. “And sometimes people feel like it is a result of poverty; definitely not. Boko Haram is a local terror group.”
I have repeatedly argued in this blog that to point to poverty as the reason for the growing terror in Nigeria and much of West Africa, is to beg the issue.  Poverty 'may be' a reason, but it is not the reason for Boko Haram or its new dangerous offspring - Ansaru.
An article by Fortune tellings shares interesting perspective:
A study looked at the biographies of 285 suicide bombers as published in local journals, from 1987-2002. And this found that those who carried out suicide attacks were, on the whole, richer (fewer than 15 percent under the poverty line, compared to almost 35 percent for the population as a whole) and more educated (95 percent with high school or higher) than the rest of the population (almost half of whom went no further than middle school).

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Artificial sweeteners tied to obesity, Type 2 diabetes

Diet pop and other artificially sweetened products may cause us to eat and drink even more calories and increase our risk for obesity and Type 2 diabetes, researchers are learning.
Former McGill University researcher Dana Small specializes in the neuropsychology of flavour and feeding at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. Small said there's mounting evidence that artificial sweeteners have a couple of problematic effects. Sugar substitutes such as sucralose and aspartame are more intensely sweet than sugar and may rewire taste receptors so less sweet, healthier foods aren't as enjoyable, shifting preferences to higher calorie, sweeter foods, she said.
Researchers in France who followed the drinking habits of 66,000 women for 14 years reported that both regular and diet pop increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, but the risk was higher among diet drinkers
Small and some other researchers believe artificial sweeteners interfere with brain chemistry and hormones that regulate appetite and satiety. For millennia, sweet taste signalled the arrival of calories. But that's no longer the case with artificial sweeteners.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

#Kony2012: The viral video a year after the headlines

A controversial 30-minute documentary about central African warlord Joseph Kony scored 100 million YouTube hits last March. What was its impact?

 On Mar. 5, 2012, the American nonprofit Invisible Children released a 30-minute video introducing an advocacy campaign called Kony2012, which pushed for the capture of central African warlord Joseph Kony.

What followed needs little introduction: Within a day, the video, with its slick production and magnetic emotional appeal, had 1 million views. A week later, it was closing in on 100 million. A warlord who had recruited tens of thousands of child soldiers and terrorized vast swaths of central Africa for nearly three decades was suddenly a household name in the United States.
But the criticism came nearly just as fast. The video simplified or outright lied about Kony and his current threat to the region, critics charged, and its calls for American intervention in the region were clunky, offensive, and neocolonialist. And the organization behind the video, Invisible Children, came under broader scrutiny for the low percentage of funds it devoted to on-the-ground peace-building work.

Ten days after the video went live, its lead creator, Invisible Children founder Jason Russell, suffered a bizarre mental breakdown, captured on camera, in which he ran naked and screaming along a San Diego street, vandalizing several cars. And a month later, the group’s “Cover the Night” campaign to blitz public spaces with images of Kony’s face was a high-profile flop. More marches and videos followed, but none matched the hype of the original documentary.
Now, a year after the original blitz of Kony2012 coverage, the legacy of the campaign is beginning to settle ­­– and it is far more mixed than either its supporters or critics often acknowledge.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Baby born with HIV cured by aggressive new treatment

Rash in a child with HIV       (c) Mike Blyth
In an almost-unprecedented medical milestone, a baby born with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, the precursor to AIDS, appears to have been cured of the infection after being treated with an aggressive new drug regimen.

It is only the second documented case of a person being entirely cured of HIV infection.
The case results were reported by researchers at a news conference on Sunday in advance of their presentation at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta on Monday, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The researchers announced that a Mississippi child born with HIV had been completely cured of the infection following birth about 2-1/2 years ago.
"You could call this about as close to a cure, if not a cure, that we've seen," Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health told the Associated Press.
Between 300,000 and 400,000 HIV-infected infants are born each year, with as many as 90 percent of them in sub-Saharan Africa
The mother of the baby was found to be HIV-positive during labor, causing doctors at a rural Mississippi hospital to drastically change their approach to the child during delivery. Soon after the birth, physicians began an intensive three-drug treatment much stronger than is typically recommended for an infant.
The extreme nature of the treatment seemingly destroyed all remnants of HIV inside the child’s body. Typically, HIV is able to enter a dormant state in “hideouts” inside a host’s body, allowing the virus to re-emerge after a patient stops taking prescribed drugs. In this child, however, the HIV was destroyed before it could ever enter that state, leading to what is effectively a cure for the virus.
"I just felt like this baby was at higher-than-normal risk, and deserved our best shot," Dr. Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi, told AP.
Scientists stressed that this method of treatment will not work in adults and that no one should go off their HIV medication as a result of this story.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Facebook, Google to design cancer research game

Scientists from a British cancer charity are teaming up with technology gurus from the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Google to design and develop a mobile game aimed at speeding the search for new cancer drugs.
The project, led by the charity Cancer Research UK, should mean that anyone with a smart phone and five minutes to spare will be able to investigate vital scientific data at the same time as playing a mobile game.

The first step is for 40 computer programmers, gamers, graphic designers and other specialists to take part in a weekend "GameJam" to turn the charity's raw genetic data into a game format for future so-called "citizen scientists".
Cancer already kills more than 7.5 million people a year and the number of people with the disease worldwide is expected to surge by more than 75 percent by 2030
"We're making great progress in understanding the genetic reasons cancer develops. But the clues to why some drugs will work and some won't are held in data which need to be analyzed by the human eye - and this could take years," said Carlos Caldas at Cancer Research UK's Cambridge Institute.
"By harnessing the collective power of citizen scientists we'll accelerate the discovery of new ways to diagnose and treat cancer much more precisely."
After the GameJam, which runs in London from March 1-3, an agency will build the game concept into reality and the team plans to launch it in mid 2013.