Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Babies Identify with Cruelty

Press Release from the Association for Psychological Science
Contact: Anna Mikulak, Association for Psychological Science
phone: 202.293.9300 or email:
Babies Prefer Individuals Who Harm
Those That Aren’t Like Them

Infants as young as nine months old prefer individuals who are nice to people like them and mean to people who aren’t like them, according to a new study published in Psychological Science
, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
In our social lives, we tend to gravitate toward people who have things in common with us, whether it’s growing up in the same town, disliking the same foods, or even sharing the same birthday. And research suggests that babies evaluate people in much the same way, preferring people who like the same foods, clothes, and toys that they like.

This preference helps us to form social bonds, but it can also have a dark side. Disliking people who are different than us may lead us to mistreat them, and excuse — or even applaud — cases in which others mistreat people who are different than us.

Are the roots of such tendencies present in infancy?

To find out, psychological scientist Kiley Hamlin, now a professor at the University of British Columbia, conducted two studies as a graduate student at Yale University with her advisor Karen Wynn and colleagues.

The researchers had 9- and 14-month-old infants choose which food they preferred: graham crackers or green beans. The infants then watched a puppet show in which one puppet preferred graham crackers, while another preferred green beans. That is, one puppet demonstrated that its food preference was the same as the infant’s, while the other demonstrated that its food preference was different from the infant’s.

After the puppets chose their foods, infants then watched another puppet show, in which either the similar puppet or the dissimilar puppet dropped its ball and wanted it back. On alternating events, infants saw that one character always helped the ball-less puppet by returning the ball to him, while another character always harmed the ball-less puppet by stealing the ball away.

Finally, infants were given the chance to choose between the helper (giving) and harmer (stealing) puppets.
Unsurprisingly, infants’ choices revealed that almost all the infants in both the 9- and 14-month-old groups preferred the character who helped the similar puppet over the character who harmed the similar puppet. Previous research has shown that infants like people who are nice to totally unknown individuals, so it makes sense that they would also like people who are nice to individuals who are similar to them.

Far more surprising was that almost all the infants at both ages preferred the character who harmed the dissimilar puppet over the character who helped him. Infants’ preference for those who harmed dissimilar others was just as strong as their preference for those who helped similar ones.

According to Hamlin, these findings suggest that "like adults, infants incorporate information about not only what people do (e.g., acting nicely or meanly) but also whom they do it to (e.g., a person who is liked or disliked) when they make social evaluations."

The researchers confirmed these results in a second experiment, which included a neutral puppet that had demonstrated no food preference and no helpful or harmful behaviors.

This time, the 14-month-olds — but not the 9-month-olds — preferred the character that harmed the dissimilar puppet over the neutral puppet, and the neutral puppet over the helper of the dissimilar puppet. These results suggest that when a dissimilar individual is in need, 14-month-olds generate both positive feelings toward those who harm that individual and negative feelings toward those who help him. The researchers suggest that between 9 and 14 months, infants develop reasoning abilities that lead to these more nuanced social evaluations.

These results highlight the fundamental mechanisms that underlie our interactions with similar and dissimilar people.

"The fact that infants show these social biases before they can even speak suggests that the biases aren’t solely the result of experiencing a divided social world, but are based in part on basic aspects of human social evaluation," says Hamlin.

But the exact reasons for infants’ biased evaluations are still unknown.

"Infants might experience something like schadenfreude [literally joy at the suffering of others, the German word for "resentment"] at the suffering of an individual they dislike," Hamlin notes. "Or perhaps they recognize the alliances that are implied by social interactions, identifying an ‘enemy of their enemy’ (i.e., the harmer of a dissimilar puppet) as their friend."

Hamlin emphasizes that even if these kinds of social biases are "basic," it doesn’t mean that more extreme outcomes, like xenophobia and intergroup conflict, are inevitable.

"Rather, this research points to the importance of socialization practices that recognize just how basic these social biases might be and confront them head-on," she concludes.

Co-authors on this research include Neha Mahajan of Temple University, Zoe Liberman of the University of Chicago, and Karen Wynn of Yale University.

This research was supported by National Science Foundation Grant BCS-0921515 and National Institutes of Health Grant R01-MH-081877 to Karen Wynn.
Videos of the experimental procedure are available at: more information about this study, please contact: Kiley Hamlin at or Karen Wynn at
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Link for the entire above article:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Ancient Mars: Microbial Life a Possibility

Curiosity Mars Rover: Conditions
Once Suited for Life on Mars

NASA. March 12, 2013:
An analysis of a rock sample recently collected by NASA's Curiosity rover shows ancient Mars could have supported living microbes.

"A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "From what we know now, the answer is yes."

Last month, Curiosity drilled into a sedimentary rock near an ancient stream bed in Gale Crater. In the powder from the drill sample, scientists have identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon -- some of the key chemical ingredients for life.

"Clay minerals make up at least 20 percent of the composition of this sample," said David Blake, principal investigator for the CheMin instrument at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

These clay minerals are a product of the reaction of relatively fresh water with igneous minerals, such as olivine, also present in the sediment. The reaction could have taken place within the sedimentary deposit, during transport of the sediment, or in the source region of the sediment. The presence of calcium sulfate along with the clay suggests the soil is neutral or mildly alkaline.

Scientists were surprised to find a mixture of oxidized, less-oxidized, and even non-oxidized chemicals, providing an energy gradient of the sort many microbes on Earth exploit to live. This partial oxidation was first hinted at when the drill cuttings were revealed to be gray rather than red. (Red, like rust, is a sign of oxidation.)

"The range of chemical ingredients we have identified in the sample is impressive, and it suggests pairings such as sulfates and sulfides that indicate a possible chemical energy source for micro-organisms," said Paul Mahaffy, principal investigator of the SAM suite of instruments at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Clues to this habitable environment come from data returned by the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instruments. The data indicate the Yellowknife Bay area the rover is exploring was the end of an ancient river system or an intermittently wet lake bed that could have provided chemical energy and other favorable conditions for microbes. The rock is made up of a fine-grained mudstone containing clay minerals, sulfate minerals and other chemicals. This ancient wet environment, unlike some others on Mars, was not harshly oxidizing, acidic or extremely salty.

An additional drilled sample will be used to help confirm these results for several of the trace gases analyzed by the SAM instrument.

"We have characterized a very ancient, but strangely new 'gray Mars' where conditions once were favorable for life," said John Grotzinger, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. "Curiosity is on a mission of discovery and exploration, and as a team we feel there are many more exciting discoveries ahead of us in the months and years to come."

Scientists plan to work with Curiosity in the "Yellowknife Bay" area for many more weeks before beginning a long drive to Gale Crater's central mound, Mount Sharp. Investigating the stack of layers exposed on Mount Sharp, where clay minerals and sulfate minerals have been identified from orbit, may add information about the duration and diversity of habitable conditions.
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The link above includes pictures of the rocks tested. By clicking on a link within the site, the following text the accompanies pictures of the rocks is revealed:

Two Different Aqueous Environments

This set of images compares rocks seen by NASA's Opportunity rover and Curiosity rover at two different parts of Mars. On the left is " Wopmay" rock, in Endurance Crater, Meridiani Planum, as studied by the Opportunity rover. On the right are the rocks of the "Sheepbed" unit in Yellowknife Bay, in Gale Crater, as seen by Curiosity.

The rock on the left is formed from sulfate-rich sandstone. Scientists think the particles were in part formed and cemented in the presence of water. They also think the concretions (spherical bumps distributed across rock face) were formed in the presence of water. The Meridiani rocks record an ancient aqueous environment that likely was not habitable due the extremely high acidity of the water, the very limited chemical gradients that would have restricted energy available, and the extreme salinity that would have impeded microbial metabolism -- if microrganisms had ever been present.

In the Sheepbed image on the right, these very fine-grained sediments represent the record of an ancient habitable environment. The Sheepbed sediments were likely deposited under water. Scientists think the water cemented the sediments, and also formed the concretions. The rock was then fractured and filled with sulfate minerals when water flowed through subsurface fracture networks (white lines running through rock).

Data from several instruments on Curiosity -- the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer, the Chemistry and Camera instrument, the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument, the Mars Hand Lens Imager, the Mast Camera, and the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument -- all support these interpretations. They indicate a habitable environment characterized by neutral pH, chemical gradients that would have created energy for microbes, and a distinctly low salinity, which would have helped metabolism if microorganisms had ever been present.

Both color images have been white–balanced using the same technique to show roughly what they would look like if they were on Earth.

The "true color" image from Opportunity's panoramic camera (Pancam) was acquired on Sol 250 (the 250th Martian day of Opportunity's operations, which was Oct. 6, 2004, on Earth).

The image from Sheepbed was from Curiosity's Mast Camera on Sol 192 (the 192d Martian day of Curiosity's operations, which was Feb. 18, 2013, on Earth).

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/MSSS

Monday, March 11, 2013

Falkland Islanders Prefer Britain

The Falkland Islands (Spanish: Islas Malvinas) are an archipelago located in the South Atlantic Ocean on the Patagonian Shelf. The principal islands are about 310 miles (500 kilometres) east of the Patagonia coast at a latitude of about 52°S. The archipelago which has an area of 4,700 square miles (12,173 square kilometres) comprises East Falkland, West Falkland and 776 smaller islands. The islands, a British Overseas Territory, enjoy a large degree of internal self-government, with the United Kingdom guaranteeing good government and taking responsibility for their defence and foreign affairs. The capital is Stanley on East Falkland.

Controversy exists over the Falklands' original discovery and subsequent colonisation by Europeans. At various times there have been French, British, Spanish, and Argentine settlements. Britain re-established rule in 1833, though the islands continue to be claimed by Argentina. In 1982, following Argentina's invasion of the islands, the two-month-long undeclared Falklands War between both countries resulted in the surrender of all Argentine forces and the return of the islands to British administration.

The population, estimated at 2,841, primarily consists of native Falkland Islanders, the vast majority being of British descent. Other ethnicities include French, Gibraltarian, and Scandinavian. Immigration from the United Kingdom, Saint Helena, and Chile has reversed a former population decline. The predominant and official language is English.

Under the British Nationality Act of 1983, Falkland Islanders are legally British citizens.

The islands lie on the boundary of the Subarctic maritime climate and Temperate maritime climate zones with both major islands having mountain ranges reaching to 2,300 feet (700 m). The islands are home to large bird populations, although many no longer breed on the main islands because of the effects of introduced species. Major economic activities include fishing, tourism, sheep farming with an emphasis on high-quality wool exports, and oil exploration. Oil exploration, licensed by the Falkland Islands Government, remains controversial as a result of maritime disputes with Argentina.

The United Kingdom and Argentina both claim responsibility for the Falkland Islands. The UK bases its position on continuous administration of the islands since 1833 (apart from 1982) and the islanders having a "right to self determination, including their right to remain British if that is their wish". Argentina posits that it gained the Falkland Islands from Spain, upon becoming independent from it in 1816, and that the UK illegally occupied them in 1833.

Modern Falkland Islanders continue to reject the Argentine sovereignty claim. In 2010, Falklands correspondent Tom Leonard, from British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, wrote that "The 3,000-strong community is already proudly British [...]. The younger islanders may not share the older generation’s memories but there is clearly no love lost with the Argentines among them". On 10 March 2013, the Falkland Islands held a referendum over its political status, and voters overwhelmingly favored remaining under British rule. [Of about 1,500 voters, the total was 99.8% for remaining British and 3 votes (0.2%) for joining Argentina. – the Blog Auhor]

The earliest economic activity on the islands, from 1770 onwards, was whaling and sealing. From the mid ninteenth century onwards, sheep farming played an important part in the island's economy. In more recent years fishing, oil exploration and tourism have played a leading part in the economy of the islands.
In 2006, broadband was successfully implemented in Stanley and Mount Pleasant Complex, and was rolled out across the islands in 2008/09. The International Telecommunication Union figures for 2011 identified the Falkland Islands as having the highest proportion of internet users in the world – 96.38%.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Very Large Telescopes

The Earth’s most powerful telescope goes online next weekBy Annalee Newitz,

We are about to see what happens when stars come to life. On March 13, the Atacama Large Millimeter/Sub Millimeter Array (ALMA) goes online. It's the most powerful such telescope ever built, and is part of a class of "very large telescopes" that combine the power of several massive antennae to gather information about distant regions in the universe. ALMA is in northern Chile's high desert, 16,500 feet above sea level. And it will show us things about the universe we've never seen before.

EarthSky's Emily Howard has the story:
According to the scientists, one nation alone couldn't build ALMA. Working with the host country Chile, some of the largest observatories in the world joined together for ALMA. These include the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in North America, the European Southern Observatory, and observatories in Japan, Brazil and throughout Latin America.

Sixty-six large radio dishes connect together to form ALMA. These dishes are located 30 minutes by car from the town of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile – at the top of the world – at an altitude of 16,500 feet, or 5,000 meters.

At that height and in the desert, there is little water vapor in the air. Those conditions are perfect for ALMA because water in the air blocks starlight in the portion of the "electromagnetic spectrum" that scientists want to study.

ALMA will observe starlight at wavelengths invisible to your eye – the long infrared wavelengths of starlight. Space observatories, like the Hubble Space Telescope, orbit high above the blanket of Earth's atmosphere to see the universe at these wavelengths. Astronomers hope that ALMA will be even better than space telescopes at exploring the infrared universe – because they can build it much larger on land than they can in space today.

Because ALMA can pick up these long wavelengths of light, it will help astronomers explore the cool, chemically complex dust that surrounds newborn stars and planets. One goal of the project is to understand star formation — and, hopefully, a phase in our early universe when galaxies went through what you might call a "star boom." Basically, many stars were spawned at once. ALMA may help astronomers understand what catalyzed this boom.

Before all of ALMA's telescopes had been constructed, the array had already provided data to scientists that allowed them to discover how galaxies make new stars when they collide. The image above is of the Antennae Galaxies, which are in the middle of a smashup. Below, you can see ALMA's millimeter and submillimeter light view, which reveals areas of intense star formation in the dust. Remember, this was an image created when ALMA wasn't complete — images from the fully functioning array will be much sharper.

ALMA isn't the only giant telescope that's coming online in the highlands of Chile. Over at the Simons Foundation, Natalie Wolchover has a great overview of the next generation of extremely large telescopes. She writes:
The huge telescopes will look back in time at some of the earliest light ever emitted by objects. The universe inflated like the surface of a balloon shortly after the Big Bang, and some places stretched so far from here that their first bursts of light are only now arriving. Resolving this light would reveal the structure and chemical makeup of the universe's first objects, which, as faint images from the Hubble Space Telescope suggest, developed much earlier than current theories would predict. Better observations are likely to lead to new theories of the birth and evolution of space and time, Gilmore said.
At projected costs ranging from $900 million to $1.6 billion each, the Giant Magellan Telescope, the Thirty Meter Telescope and the European Extremely Large Telescope - which will have segmented mirrors measuring 24.5 meters, 30 meters and 39.3 meters across, respectively - will dwarf existing optical telescopes (the current largest is 10.4 meters). They will be between 5 and 200 times more powerful, depending on the telescope and the task.
These telescopes will be able to explore everything from galaxy formation to weather on planets in other solar systems. They'll also be able to peek into the history of our universe, plumbing the mysteries of the origins of space and time as we know them.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Irked? New "Hater" App Is for You

Hating Social Networking Just Got Easier With 'Hater' AppDaniel Berg for Laptop Magazine, March 8, 2013

AUSTIN — Hater is a new app, unveiled at the 2013 SXSW conference, that encourages users to share their grievances rather than post about all their favorite things.

On the Hater app, users don't press the Like button for their friend's posts and pictures. They hate them instead, banding together and bonding over the frustrations of everyday life such as bad weather, traffic delays or the rising trend of the duck face.

Like Instagram, users have a feed where they can share text-based "rants," upload or take pictures and tag their friends or followers. Others can share in the misery, contributing their own pain points and bonding over the mutual dislikes. The most hated items bubble up to the top of the popular lists, providing a real-time feed about things people hate.

Despite being a social network entirely dedicated to hate, Hater isn't worried about cyberbullying. "Online bullying occurs on every social network, regardless of the theme of each app," said Holly Dietrich, Project Manager for the Hater app. "Hater has methods for reporting any inappropriate posts, and we thing the app can actually have positive results from all the hate."

Dietrich explained that great things can happen when people band together and hate the negative things in the world, such as cancer and war. Despite the app's negative bent, the team has lofty dreams, giving people a place to vent their hatred in order to bring about positive change in the world. And maybe they'll reduce the number of Crocs wearers while they're at it.

Hater just hit the iOS App Store Saturday, just in time for the Interactive portion of SXSW. While the company did express hopes to expand to other platforms, there are currently no official plans to evolve beyond Apple's ecosystem — a move which many Android users would hate if they had the chance.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Solar Wind's Mysterious Power


The story below seems like a wonky and irrelevant experiment by nerds involved in trivial and hard-to-understand scientific trivia.  But it is far more important than that.

The solar wind leaves the sun and accelerates and grows more powerful as it moves out into space.  It's getting energy from somewhere, but it has been a mystery for decades.

If scientists can fully figure out this process and harness it, and if a method can be developed to cheaply separate deuterium (heavy hydrogen) and tritium (very heavy hydrogen) from seawater, then earth will have plenty of cheap, clean energy for thousands and thousands of years.

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Solar Wind Energy Source Discovered
By Dr. Tony Phillips, NASA – March 8, 2013: Using data from an aging NASA spacecraft, researchers
have found signs of an energy source in the solar wind that has caught the attention of fusion researchers. NASA will be able to test the theory later this decade when it sends a new probe into the sun for a closer look.

The discovery was made by a group of astronomers trying to solve a decades-old mystery: What heats and accelerates the solar wind?

The solar wind is a hot and fast flow of magnetized gas that streams away from the sun's upper atmosphere. It is made of hydrogen and helium ions with a sprinkling of heavier elements. Researchers liken it to the steam from a pot of water boiling on a stove; the sun is literally boiling itself away.

"But," says Adam Szabo of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, "solar wind does something that steam in your kitchen never does. As steam rises from a pot, it slows and cools. As solar wind leaves the sun, it accelerates, tripling in speed as it passes through the corona. Furthermore, something inside the solar wind continues to add heat even as it blows into the cold of space."

Finding that "something" has been a goal of researchers for decades. In the 1970s and 80s, observations by two German/US Helios spacecraft set the stage for early theories, which usually included some mixture of plasma instabilities, magnetohydrodynamic waves, and turbulent heating. Narrowing down the possibilities was a challenge. The answer, it turns out, has been hiding in a dataset from one of NASA's oldest active spacecraft, a solar probe named Wind.

Launched in 1994, Wind is so old that it uses magnetic tapes similar to old-fashioned 8-track tapes to record and play back its data. Equipped with heavy shielding and double-redundant systems to safeguard against failure, the spacecraft was built to last; at least one researcher at NASA calls it the "Battlestar Gallactica" of the heliophysics fleet. Wind has survived almost two complete solar cycles and innumerable solar flares.

"After all these years, Wind is still sending us excellent data," says Szabo, the mission’s project scientist, "and it still has 60 years' worth of fuel left in its tanks."

Using Wind to unravel the mystery was, to Justin Kasper of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, a "no brainer." He and his team processed the spacecraft's entire 19-year record of solar wind temperatures, magnetic field and energy readings and ...

"I think we found it," he says. "The source of the heating in the solar wind is ion cyclotron waves."

Ion cyclotron waves are made of protons that circle in wavelike-rhythms around the sun's magnetic field. According to a theory developed by Phil Isenberg (University of New Hampshire) and expanded by Vitaly Galinsky and Valentin Shevchenko (UC San Diego), ion cyclotron waves emanate from the sun; coursing through the solar wind, they heat the gas to millions of degrees and accelerate its flow to millions of miles per hour. Kasper's findings confirm that ion cyclotron waves are indeed active, at least in the vicinity of Earth where the Wind probe operates.

Ion cyclotron waves can do much more than heat and accelerate the solar wind, notes Kasper. "They also account for some of the wind's very strange properties."

The solar wind is not like wind on Earth. Here on Earth, atmospheric winds carry nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor along together; all species move with the same speed and they have the same temperature. The solar wind, however, is much stranger. Chemical elements of the solar wind such as hydrogen, helium, and heavier ions, blow at different speeds; they have different temperatures; and, strangest of all, the temperatures change with direction.

"We have long wondered why heavier elements in the solar wind move faster and have higher temperatures than the lighter elements," says Kasper. "This is completely counterintuitive."

The ion cyclotron theory explains it: Heavy ions resonate well with ion cyclotron waves. Compared to their lighter counterparts, they gain more energy and heat as they surf.
The behavior of heavy ions in the solar wind is what intrigues fusion researchers. Kasper explains: "When you look at fusion reactors on Earth, one of the big challenges is contamination. Heavy ions that sputter off the metal walls of the fusion chamber get into the plasma where the fusion takes place. Heavy ions radiate heat. This can cool the plasma so much that it shuts down the fusion reaction."

Ion cyclotron waves of the type Kasper has found in the solar wind might provide a way to reverse this process. Theoretically, they could be used to heat and/or remove the heavy
ions, restoring thermal balance to the fusing plasma.

"I have been invited to several fusion conferences to talk about our work with the solar wind," he says.

The next step, agree Kasper and Szabo, is to find out if ion cyclotron waves work the same way deep inside the sun's atmosphere where the solar wind begins its journey. To find out, NASA is planning to send a spacecraft into the sun itself.

Solar Probe Plus, scheduled for launch in 2018, will plunge so far into the sun's atmosphere that the sun will appear as much as 23 times wider than it does in the skies of Earth. At closest approach, about 7 million km from the sun's surface, Solar Probe Plus must withstand temperatures greater than 1400 deg. C and survive blasts of radiation at levels not experienced by any previous spacecraft. The mission's goal is to sample the sun's plasma and magnetic field at the very source of the solar wind.

"With Solar Probe Plus we'll be able to conduct specific tests of the ion cyclotron theory using sensors far more advanced than the ones on the Wind spacecraft," says Kasper. "This should give us a much deeper understanding of the solar wind's energy source."

The research described in this story was published in the Physical Review Letters on February 28, 2013: "Sensitive Test for Ion-Cyclotron Resonant Heating in the Solar Wind" by Justin Kasper et al.

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Toward the 24/7 Workplace

Workers are going mobile for their communications. The existing web and desktop world are being left behind – and what is coming in is a 24/7 mobile workplace. Laura Petrecca has chronicled this movement in the March 7, 2013 USA Today. She finds:
  • Pew Research reports that almost 2/3 of full-time workers own smartphones, up from 48% merely two years ago. One-third own a tablet, up from 12%.
  • There is a herd effect: when one person answers the boss’s mail after-hours, others adapt to that habit to stay competitive.
  • The "Bring Your Own Device" (BYOD) workplace is becoming common. Employees have personal gadgets that upload company applications. IDG, a Samsung Mobile research group, states that a majority of American companies have a form of BYOD program.
  • Petrecca reports that off-hours availability has expanded from medical and emergency specialties to teachers, administrative assistants, officE managers, engineers and other professionals.
  • Access to work for millions means pulling an iPhone or Android from one’s pocket. Consulting firm Accenture says two-thirds of U.S. employees work even during their vacations. "Has the 24/7 workplace gotten out of control?"
  • There are legal issues. Those employees entitled to overtime pay must receive it when they work over a maximum number of hours, usually 40 in a workweek, under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The technology for constant communication is stretching this standard. A 2011 Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) survey found that only 20 percent of employers have a formal policy about wireless communication devices during non-work hours. Another quarter of employers had an informal policy. There are lawsuits in the courts challenging the 24/7 availability of employees. 
  • Although some think new technology is increasing our leisure time, Rick Segal, president of the global ad agency Gyro has stated, "When everyone started carrying their own communication and telecommunications on their bodies, the boundaries between work and life collapsed." Segal also wrote in a 2012 report that technology has caused technology to invade "more hours of the day and more days of the week — curiously, as a matter of people's own behavior and choices." report.

Positive Views of Technological Changes to the Workplace
  • Technology is moving us away from a factory atmosphere to more natural work spaces.
  • Telework Research Network reports that workers can have increased job satisfaction by working wherever they want and whenever they want.
  • The above group also found that Teleworkers can be more productive since they are less drawn into distractions at the office. They save money on commuting and have more options for scheduling child care and elder care.

More on this topic at:

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Identity Thief -- Movie Review

Identity Thief – (4 Stars)

This appears to be one of those movies that the audience likes and the critics hate. That’s a good reason to see it. Another good reason is that it is fun to read the professional reviews on line after seeing the movie, since this shows the narrow-mindedness and haughtiness of many movie critics.

If you are an old movie buff, Identity Thief is a treasure house. Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie has to be one of the sources for this film. Further, at the very beginning of his career, young Jason Bateman starred as the lead in a made-for-TV movie, Moving Target, in which he was sent off to a summer camp for musicians, got tired of it, so returned home. The problem was that his parents were gone because their identities had been changed as part of a witness protection program. So he had an empty house that was up for sale to visit but not live in. Worse – much worse – a hit man was out to kill his parents and was shadowing young Bateman’s character (the hit man was brilliantly portrayed by General Hospital’s Jack Wagner). In Identity Thief, Bateman is again on the road, chasing, being chased, and getting into trouble.

The physical comedy and outrageous car chases and crashes are excellent stunt work. The dialog is snappy and often intentionally doesn’t give the viewer time to laugh between the zingers.

But Melissa McCarthy, as the dumpy but street-smart identity thief, makes the movie work. Her character is part Carol Burnett’s washerwoman, part Tippi Hedren’s Marnie, part Orphan Annie and part comedienne Margaret Cho. It’s an incredible combination that works brilliantly, almost as an unanimated classic Bugs Bunny cartoon. Identity Thief dispenses with the Warner Brothers cartoons’ thin disguise of barnyard animals and shows human greed and cruelty so nakedly that the characters are profoundly funny. Even one of the characters shooting another with a handgun is funny. Even the use of a taser to stop the central character is funny.  It's comedy worthy of Harold Lloyd or Charles Chaplin.

The bounty hunter and pair of hit gangsters who are out to trap or kill the identity thief get into a war with each other while chasing Bateman and McCarthy, which offers the very funniest moments in the film. Further, the humility of Bateman’s character is nicely contrasted with the amorality of his old boss and the ruthlessness of his new boss.

It’s a short, pointedly relevant, clever movie in which the characters themselves change as they lurch from one car crash to another. This character development is totally missed by many priggish critics who reveal their biases in dissing his movie, which itself is possibly the funniest movie so far in this decade. To appreciate this film, don’t go to see it with the mind of a critic. Just enjoy the action scenes and the comedy so that the enrichment of the characters becomes memorable.

                -- by the Blog Author

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

How to "Fall in Love for Life"

There’s a charming book called "Fall in Love for Life" about the 73-year marriage of Barbara "Cutie" Cooper, co-written with two of her granddaughters.

The book gives poignant, actual anechdotes about how to keep a marriage going.
"In a world of 72-day celebrity marriages, a 73-year marriage is nearly unimaginable. Against all odds, Cutie and Harry Cooper persevered through seven decades of marriage, enjoying triumphant milestones and enduring devastating losses, all while keeping their sense of humor and connection intact. Here, Cutie chronicles their story and extracts time-tested advice on how to know if you've met "the one," the art of fighting fair, and everything else that goes into staying blissfully bonded. With vintage photos charting their relationship from newlyweds to nonagenarians, this nostalgic and romantic gift book is a practical resource for anyone who dreams of falling in love for life."

-- Book description restated on at
One reviewer, Jamie, gave it five stars and called it "so adorable and down to earth" and wrote:

" This book is a gem. It's common sense approach to marriage, love and living to the fullest is a refreshing change from the current doom and gloom around us. I thoroughly enjoyed her wisdom, wit and irresistible sense of humor. She's proof that despite life's bumps in the road a person can make the best of the it and isn't defined by their tragedies."

Monday, March 4, 2013

Working at Home = A Dead-end Job, March 2, 2013, 3:43 p.m. EST
Working from home is a dead-end job
Yahoo may be helping workers by demanding they work in the office
By Quentin Fottrell

Yahoo employees who work from home will have to start packing up their lunches and reporting to the office for duty. But new research suggests there may be a good reason for them to show up: a future.
Those hired by the Internet giant with agreements that they could work partly, or entirely, from home are no doubt peeved over new CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to end the company’s flexible location policies. In a memo issued last week, all employees were told they’d have to show up for work in the office starting in June, according to a report in AllThingsDigital. (Yahoo didn’t respond to requests for comment.) The memo says working from the office facilitates more brainstorming. "Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings," it says. 

But while studies suggest that those who work from home tend to be happier than the average cubicle drone, the chance to work in one’s pajamas often comes at a cost. Controlling for performance, working from home reduced rates of promotion by 50%, according to a report published last week by professors at Stanford University, which reviewed a working-from-home program at a 16,000-employee, Nasdaq-listed Chinese travel agency over nine months. One reason for the bleaker career prospects: less on-the-job training. 

With its new policy, Yahoo /quotes/zigman/59898/quotes/nls/yhoo +2.98% is moving in the opposite direction of much of corporate America. The number of people working from home has almost doubled in 30 years, from 2.3% in 1980 to 4.2% in 2010, according to the latest U.S. Census. In fact, the Census data found that about 10% of the workforce works from home at least one day a week, and the wage discount for working from home — 30% in 1980 — has effectively vanished. The company saved around $2,000 per employee, primarily because it paid less rent for office space and increased productivity, the study found.

Aside from fewer promotions, those working from home face other obstacles, says Nicholas Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford and a co-author of the study. "Even though their productivity went up, they got less face time at the office." Some also said they were lonely, he says. On the upside, the percentage of workers who quit was halved to 25% from 50% among those who worked from home. Many of the people who volunteered for the work-at-home study were married women with children.

And Yahoo aside, employers often find that work-from-home arrangements are a win-win. In Stanford’s study, telecommuting led to a 13% performance increase, of which about 9% was from working more minutes per shift. These workers also tended to take fewer breaks and sick days. What’s more, call-center workers who stayed at home handled 4% more calls per minute, primarily as a result of a quieter work environment. Eventually, more than half of the employees studied opted to work from home after the nine months were up.

Given such research, industry pros don’t expect too many other companies to follow Yahoo’s lead. Recent studies show employers are continuing to encourage telecommuting — not pulling back. Around 29% of employers reported they will allow more staff to work from home this year, up from 26% last year, according to a recent survey by, a job-search website. And among information technology employers, that rate is even higher: 63% said they will allow more workers to telecommute in 2013, up from 53% last year.

"The ability to work and perform well as a remote team has become even easier," says Amanda Augustine, a job-search expert at TheLadders, a careers website. Telecommuters are helped by video conferencing software like Skype and iMeet and document-sharing services like iCloud and Dropbox, she says. What’s more, the Internal Revenue service said last month that it’s simplifying the process of enabling home-based workers to write off expenses.

This story originally was published on Feb. 25, 2013.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Politicians Want US Pension Funds

How the Government Is Coming After Your IRA and 401(k) Plan
Economic Policy Journal
, December 10, 2012

There are huge amounts of money in these plans, which makes it very tempting for government to try and get at it. The government may, or may not, tax the money, but there are other ways they may get at the funds.

An Investment Company Institute study published this month found that U.S. retirement assets totaled $18.5 trillion at the end of the second quarter 2012, of which 3.5 trillion was in IRAs and $5.1 trillion was in 401(k) plans.

World News Daily reports on how the government may try to expand the IRA program and then get its hands on that money:
Recent evidence suggests government officials continue to eye the multi-trillion dollar private retirement savings market, including IRAs and 401(k) plans, eyeing the opportunity to redistribute private retirement savings to less affluent Americans and to force the retirement savings out of the private market and into government-controlled programs investing in government-issued debt...Since 2010, the U.S. Treasury Department and the Department of Labor have been holding combined hearings on various plans designed to introduce government-mandated retirement plans and investment options, including government annuities invested primarily in U.S. Treasury debt, into the private retirement savings market.

"This hearing was set up to explore why Americans are not saving as much for their retirement as they could," explained National Seniors Council National Director Robert Crone, describing a recent Treasury-Labor hearing held in the Labor Department’s main auditorium.

"However it is clear that his is just the first step toward a government takeover. It feels like the beginning of the debate over health care and we all know how that ended up."

With the issuance of the White House 256-page Budget Proposal for Fiscal Year 2013, the Obama administration endorsed "Automatic IRAs," a plan introduced into Congress in 2010 by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass, and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., in which private companies would be automatically enrolled into government-mandated IRAs, forcing those businesses to contribute on behalf of their employees a "default amount" equal to 3 percent of an employees pay, unless an employee specifically opts out of the plan.

The FY 2013 Budget proposal notes that currently 78 million working Americans, roughly half of the work force, lack employer-based retirement plans...

The Service Employee International Union, or SEIU, a key labor union ally of the Obama administration, has mounted an effort to create government-mandated worker retirement accounts as an entitlement program, with the possibility that a portion of all private retirement funds could be forced into U.S. Treasury debt.

Branding the program "Retirement USA," the SEIU has joined with the AFL-CIO, the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based economic left-leaning think tank that receives substantial labor funding, and two other left-leaning interest groups, the Pension Rights Center and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security.

The Retirement USA idea is promote the concept that all workers in the U.S. have a right to a government retirement account that would fund a secure retirement with adequate dollars, in addition to Social Security and private ERISA-retirement workplace retirement programs such as 401(k) programs.

"Our goal is to involve all workers and all employees in a government-mandated retirement program, with the government putting up the difference for lower paid employees," Nancy Hwa, a spokeswoman for the participating Pension Rights Center, told WND in 2010.

Put simply, the Retirement USA government-mandated workplace retirement account would require by law employers and employees to contribute to a retirement account for every employee and demand that a portion of that contribution go into a federal-government created annuity that would be funded by purchasing Treasury debt...

Under the guise of making workplace retirement savings accounts available to all Americans and insuring that existing retirement savings accounts pay lifetime income, the SEIU-led Retirement USA effort is quietly exploring strategies that would create "Universal IRAs" or "Guaranteed Retirement Accounts" for all workers.

Following lead of Argentina

Writing in the London Telegraph in October 2008, business and economics editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard warned that G7 nations, including the United States, may begin following the path of Argentina in forcing privately managed pension funds to be invested in government-issued debt.

Bottom line: The government may not tax your money, it may instead force you to buy Treasury securities with your money. For the government, it is pretty much the same thing as a tax. It results in your money ending up in government coffers to spend at will by government. In turn you will receive government IOU's, i.e., Treasury securities, which may be among the worst investments in the years ahead as interest rates go up and price inflation eats away at the buying power of those IOUs.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Cherished Child Does Better

In 1938, a group of Harvard students were asked to participate in a lifetime study of their characters, originally commmissioned by the Navy in an attempt to determine which young men would be most likely to become good officers. Eric Barker tells us in his review of a new book about the study, Triumphs of Experience, by George Vaillant, that the Harvard group was asked at about age 50 to complete a182-question written interview, the Lazare Personality Scale. The scale revealed eight questions that distinguished "the lonely, the unhappy, and the physically disabled from the happy, successful, and physically well," as Barker writes. Here were the eight questions:

1.  My behavior with the opposite sex has led to situations that make me anxious.

2.  I have often thought that sexually, people are animals.

3.  I usually feel that my needs come first.

4.  Others have felt that I have been afraid of sex.

5.  I easily become wrapped up in my own interests and forget the existence of others.

6.  I put up a wall or shell around me when the situation requires it.

7.  I keep people at a distance more than I really want to.

8.  I have sometimes thought that the depth of my feelings might become destructive.

Those answering yes to four or more of these items were far more likely to lead a life of "self-doubt, pessimism, and fearfulness," Barker tells us.

Read more:

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Editorial Reviews of Triumphs of Experience

George Vaillant tells the story of the Grant Study men though age 91. This is, arguably, the most important study of the life course ever done. But it is, inarguably, the one most brimming with wisdom. If you are preparing for the last quarter of your life, this is a MUST read. (Martin Seligman, Author Of authentic Happiness )

Vaillant's fascination with the human condition and his deep insights about development make him a great storyteller, adept at elegantly conveying the essence of humanity. (Laura L. Carstensen, Director, Stanford Center On Longevity )

A fascinating account of the 268 individuals selected for the Harvard Study of Adult Development… Vaillant has done a wonderful job summarizing the study, discussing its major findings, and communicating his enthusiasm for every aspect of the project, which became his life's work starting in 1966. The study has been investigating what makes a successful and healthy life. Initially, this meant looking for potential officer material for the military. Vaillant established what he called 'the Decathlon of Flourishing—a set of ten accomplishments in late life that covered many different facets of success.' With humor and intriguing insights, the author shows how progress in health studies and the passage of time contributed to the constant 'back and forth between nature and nurture.' During Vaillant's tenure, human maturation and resilience became the focus, and now biology is reasserting itself in the form of DNA studies and fMRI imaging, the seeds for future research. The author considers the study's greatest contributions to be a demonstration that human growth continues long after adolescence, the world's longest and most thorough study of alcoholism, and its identification and charting of involuntary coping mechanisms. Inspiring when reporting these successes, his personal approach to discovery repeatedly draws readers in as he leads up to the account of his realization that the true value of a human life can only be fully understood in terms of the cumulative record of the entire life span. Joyful reading about a groundbreaking study and its participants. (Kirkus Reviews (starred review) 20120901)

Of the 31 men in the study incapable of establishing intimate bonds, only four are still alive. Of those who were better at forming relationships, more than a third are living. It's not that the men who flourished had perfect childhoods. Rather, as Vaillant puts it, 'What goes right is more important than what goes wrong.' The positive effect of one loving relative, mentor or friend can overwhelm the negative effects of the bad things that happen. In case after case, the magic formula is capacity for intimacy combined with persistence, discipline, order and dependability. The men who could be affectionate about people and organized about things had very enjoyable lives. But a childhood does not totally determine a life. The beauty of the Grant Study is that, as Vaillant emphasizes, it has followed its subjects for nine decades. The big finding is that you can teach an old dog new tricks. The men kept changing all the way through, even in their 80s and 90s. (David Brooks New York Times 20121105)
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  • Vaillant concludes that personal development need never stop, no matter how old you are. At an advanced age, though, growth consists more in finding new hues and shades in one's past than in conceiving plans for the future. As the Harvard Study shows with such poignancy, older men treat what lies behind them much as younger men treat what lies ahead. The future is what young men dream about; they ponder the extent to which it is predetermined or open; and they try to shape it. For old men, it is the past they dream about; it is the past whose inevitability or indeterminateness they attempt to measure; and it is the past they try to reshape. For the most regret-free men in the Harvard study, the past is the work of their future. (Andrew Stark Wall Street Journal 20121102)
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To avid consumers of modern happiness literature, some of Vaillant's conclusions will seem shopworn ('Happiness is love. Full stop.'), while other results of the Grant Study appear to confirm what social science has long posited--that a warm and stable childhood environment is a crucial ingredient of success; or that alcoholism is a strong predictor of divorce. But what's unique about the Grant Study is the freedom it gives Vaillant to look past quick diagnosis, to focus on how patterns of growth can determine patterns of wellbeing. Life is long, Vaillant seems to be saying, and lots of shit happens. What is true in one stage of a man's life is not true in another. Previously divorced men are capable of long and loving marriages. There is a time to monitor cholesterol (before age 50) and a time to ignore it. Self-starting, as a character trait, is relatively unimportant to flourishing early in life but very important at the end of it. Socially anxious men struggle for decades in emotional isolation and then mature past it--relatively speaking. Triumphs of Experience is not only a history of how the Grant men adapted (or not) to life over 70-plus years, but of how author and science grew up alongside them. Yet what unifies Triumphs is the same question posed originally by Bock, the study's founder: What factors meaningfully and reliably predict the good life? Vaillant's mission is to uncover the 'antecedents of flourishing.' (Dan Slater Daily Beast 20121107)
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George Vaillant's book on the development and well-being of a longitudinal sample of men, now in their nineties and studied regularly since they were undergraduates at Harvard University reads like a riveting detective tale... He has a thought-provoking story to tell about the lifelong significance of loving care...Brief life-story vignettes illustrate movingly how adult development and maturation is a lifelong process that strongly relates to the trans formative power of receiving and giving love... [The book's] well-evidenced wisdoms on the significance of nurturing relationships offer new multidisciplinary perspectives on the complex issue of nature versus nurture (much needed at a time when medical science and genetics once more dominate studies of human development) and on the lifelong costs of childhood emotional neglect. (E. Stina Lyon Times Higher Education 20121213)
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    Triumphs of Experience elegantly summarizes the findings of this vast longitudinal study, unique in the annals of research...[The] book analyzes how the men fared over their late adulthood, and indeed their entire lives. In it, Vaillant masterfully chronicles how their life successes, or lack thereof, correlate with the nature of their childhoods, marriages, mental health, physical health, substance abuse, and attitudes. Extensive quantitative findings are interspersed with the detailed stories of individual study participants...Here Vaillant proves that his skills are literary as well as scientific. The case histories are engaging novelistic capsules that artfully bring the quantitative material to life...Many of its findings seem universal. If they could be boiled down to a single revelation, it would be that the secret to a happy life is relationships, relationships, relationships...The other overarching message of this book is that resilience counts...Vaillant is that rare thing: a psychiatrist more interested in mental flourishing than in mental illness. With Triumphs of Experience, he has turned the Harvard men's disparate stories into a single narrative and created a field guide, both practical and profound, to how to lead a good life. (Charles Barber Wilson Quarterly 20130101)

About the Author

George E. Vaillant is Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Friday, March 1, 2013

DNA and American Law

Watson and Crick uncovered the double-helix structure of DNA 60 years ago, but the law has not settled on the issue of DNA and patents.

Brian Resneck of the National Journal has an interesting article today (March 1, 2013) about three upcoming Supreme Court cases related to DNA, legal precedent, admissible evidence and patents.

In 1980, a microbiologist modified DNA to produce a bacteria that can break down crude oil, thus reducing the effect of oil spills. The patent examiner rejected the request for a new patent but was overrulled because the DNA combination was in fact new and unique.

First Case

Human genes may be a different matter. Women with genes BRCA1 or BRCA2 have a sixty percent chance of developing breast cancer. Myriad Genetics has found a way to isolate these genes for testing. Myriad Genetics has also altered the genes and claims a fee for every diagnostic test on the gene and any further research. A lower federal court has ruled against Myriad on the grounds that it is unfairly taking advantage of a force of nature. Myriad has appealed to the Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear the case.

Second Case

In Maryland, if you are booked for a crime, a DNA sample is taken. Does this consitute an unreasonable search and seizure. Maryland, and other states, aren’t reconstructing the entire genome of the suspect, they are merely looking at 13 "markers." The states claim these markers are "benign." Is the DNA allowable, as fingerprints are for suspects, or is it unreasonable, and invasion done without probable cause of a crime?

Third Case

What about the offspring of genetically altered plants? Monsanto owns a patent on altered soybean DNA that changes the behavior of the plants so that they don’t die when Roundup is sprayed on them. Monsanto has been granted a patent for this plant. In contracts with farmers who plant the genetically altered soybeans, Monsanto has a clause stating that the plants’ seeds are not allowed for use as additional planting by the farmer. Monsanto claims that the farmer recreates the patented plant without authorization from the patent holder. This is a big case. The Supreme Court ruling might have an effect on, say, copies of computer software, for example.