• Autistic Soldiers Have Special Skills Deciphering Intelligence Photos–and benefit from the chance to use those skills

    The Israeli Defense Forces’ Secretive Unit 9900, which specializes in deciphering “visual intelligence,” now has 100 autistic volunteers so far (link here).

    The program is working well–for the IDF, for the volunteers on the autism spectrum, and for their fellow soldiers.

    The program, dubbed “Seeing Afar,” which is jointly run by the IDF and the Ono Academic College, is now in its fifth year. It includes a training course that teaches autistic youths to decipher aerial and satellite visual-intelligence images, based on their enhanced visual ability and their tendency towards patience, which allow them to explore the minutest details—an essential attribute for this role, an officer from an intelligence unit that received the volunteers has told JNS. –JNS (Jewish News Syndicate)

    The job requires people in the unit to search patiently through reams of intelligence images looking, as one soldier said, “for a needle in the haystack.”

    Some people on the autism spectrum seem to be especially good at that, and the IDF is integrating them into this specialized unit.

    The effect on these recruits themselves seems to be very positive.

    “When I first arrived here, I still felt like a civilian,” Cpl. O told JNS in an interview. Gradually, however, he began to feel like an organic part of the military.

    “You search and search, and don’t find it at first. Sometimes, it feels like forever until you find it. But when you do, it certainly brings satisfaction,” said Cpl. O. “There were whole days that I couldn’t find what I was looking for. On other days, I’d locate it in every picture—six pictures in a row. On those days, I wanted to look for more! –JNS

    The autism-spectrum soldiers think their skills and experience will help them enter the job market when they finish service. And the other soldiers who work with them speak of their positive experiences, with some wanting to work with autism issues after they leave the service.

    Thanks to JNS for reporting a fascinating and inspiring story.

    Here’s a blue-sky idea that might help these autism-spectrum soldiers when they return to civilian life–and might help doctors and patients in Israel.

    Why not a test program to see if these soldiers, with some training, can do the same thing with X-Rays, MRIs, and CAT-Scans??

    They have already been screened by the IDF for the general characteristics.

    The fact that they stayed in the IDF photo-intelligence unit says that they have the necessary patience and visual acuity in working situations.

    I wonder if they would be good at finding cancer nodules, etc.?

    If they were, then the screening and training could be used in other countries for people on the spectrum.

    Seems like it is worth a try, especially in “Innovation Nation.”

     

  • New surgical goggles to see hidden cancer . . . based on a butterfly’s eye

    love these kinds of science/tech/medical stories, where an innovation makes life better.

    A new infrared goggle for cancer surgeons helps them see all the cancerous cells. It is based on a butterfly’s eye! (link) Cool short video with it.

    Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Washington University in St. Louis have developed a surgical camera inspired by the eye of the morpho butterfly. The tiny camera, connected to the goggles a surgeon wears, sees infrared signals given off by tumor-binding dyes so that the surgeon can find and remove all of the cancerous tissue.

    The camera was tested in mice and in human patients with breast cancer. The study was published in the journal Optica.

    Eureka Alert

    There’s another report on this news at CNET (link).

  • New Medical Study: Take Breaks if you have to sit for long periods. It’s much better for your health

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    The report from Columbia University’s Exercise Testing Lab emphasizes not only the length of time you sit but also whether you do it without interruptions.

    Building on a growing body of evidence about the dangers of the modern sedentary workplace and lifestyle, a team of researchers has found that long periods of uninterrupted sitting can lead to earlier death — regardless of how much a person exercises and even when accounting for age, gender and other factors. The survey, considered one of the largest of its kind, was published Monday in a scholarly medical journal. –Washington Times, reporting on study in The Annals of Internal Medicine (link here)

    According to the study’s lead author: “most surprising findings were that it wasn’t just the total number of hours of sitting accumulated over the day, but that uninterrupted sitting over long periods such as 60 to 90 minutes, increased the risk for early death.”

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  • Smoking weed causes sperm to swim lazily in circles, say researchers

    The headline in the Daily Mail:

    Makes men’s sperm ‘lazily swim in circles’ say experts

    Researchers reveal cannabis leaves sperm ‘mellow’ causing it to ‘swim in circles’

    Regular use of the drug cuts sperm counts, the Canadian scientists discovered

    Previous studies have shown that marijuana can affect fertility

    –Daily Mail

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    Fortunately, I was able to get photographs from the researchers’ microscope.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, August 10

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ How serious is the North Korean crisis?
    Answer: Deadly serious
    My column on the crisis appears today in Real Clear Politics (link here).

    Washington Post headline: “Trump’s threat to North Korea contrasts with calm reassurances of other administration officials” (Washington Post)

    Comment: No. It’s “good cop, bad cop.”

    Trump and SecDef Mattis issue threats.

    Meanwhile, Sec. of State Tillerson holds out hope for negotiations.

    Although these differences could be seen as inconsistency or disarray, the more likely explanation is that the administration is holding out a hope for negotiations as the outcome of military threats.

    Deportation orders up 30% under Trump (Fox News)

    The president has vowed to speed deportations and cut down on the growing backlog of cases. He issued an executive order in January calling for a national crackdown.

    After Trump issued the order, the Justice Department dispatched dozens of immigration judges to detention centers across the country and hired an additional 54 judges. The agency said it has continued to hire more immigration judges each month. –Fox News

    Related story: Newspaper in El Salvador helpfully explains which 18 states illegal immigrants should avoid because “police agencies [in those states] are able to enforce immigration law.” (Daily Caller)

    Manafort’s home is not his castle. FBI conducts pre-dawn raid (New York Times)

    Why such an aggressive move against a white-collar suspect who is already cooperating? The NYT offers some ideas:

    The search is a sign that the investigation into Mr. Manafort has broadened, and is the most significant public step investigators have taken since the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was appointed in May. Investigators are expected to deploy a wide array of similar measures — including interviews and subpoenas — in the coming months as they move forward with the intensifying inquiry. . . .

    Legal experts said that Mr. Mueller might be trying to send a message to Mr. Manafort about the severity of the investigation, and to pressure him into cooperating. –New York Times

    How nasty are the Cubans? Well, they planted sonic devices around the homes of US diplomats, causing them hearing losses (Miami Herald)

    The use of sonic devices to intentionally harm diplomats would be unprecedented. –Miami Herald

    This began in 2016, shortly after President Obama and Sec. of State John Kerry opened relations with Cuba and proclaimed a new day in bilateral relations.

    Comment: These physical attacks on US personnel were known to the Obama administration, though the specific causes were not known.

    Pioneering type 1 diabetes therapy, using immunotherapy, is safe (BBC)

    The disease is caused by the body destroying cells in the pancreas that control blood sugar levels. The immunotherapy – tested on 27 people in the UK – also showed signs of slowing the disease, but this needs confirming in larger trials. Experts said the advance could one day free people from daily injections.

    Patients given the therapy did not need to increase their dose of insulin during the trial. However, it is too soon to say this therapy stops type 1 diabetes and larger clinical trials will be needed. And further types of immunotherapy that should deliver an even stronger reaction are already underway.–BBC

    Comment: Promising but larger studies needed. Note that it slows the progression of the disease; it does not reverse it.

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  • Stunning Technology: A short film stored in bacteria DNA

    0 No tags Permalink

    The story is here, at the Los Angeles Times.

    Showing a sense of historical depth, Seth Shipman and colleagues stored a picture of the first “movie” ever made, that of a horse running. 

    Scientists had already shown that a great deal of information can be encoded and stored in synthesized DNA. For example, Shipman’s boss, George Church, a molecular chemist and engineer at Harvard, once converted an entire book into a strand of genetic code.

    “DNA has a lot of properties that are good for archival storage,” Shipman said. “It’s much more stable than silicon memory if you wanted to hold something for thousands of years.”–Los Angeles Times

    What the Shipman team did was essentially a proof of concept and included only five frames. What matters is that the information for all five frames was stored perfectly and in order.

    Coding five frames of a movie seemed like a perfect place to start.

    The researchers began the work by breaking each frame of the film into a grid of 36 pixels by 26 pixels. Next they developed a way to code the color of each pixel using the nucleotides A, C, T and G, which are the building blocks of DNA. They also included a code that indicated where in the frame each pixel belonged. They did not encode the order of the frames, however.

    “That was important to us,” Shipman said. “We wanted to see if when the bacterial DNA captures the new information, it captures it in order.” –LA Times

    Then they inserted the DNA sequences into a population of bacteria cells, edited them with the CRISPR gene editing system, and inserted them into the bacteria’s genome, one DNA frame per day.

    There are lots of potential uses as this technology is perfected, not only storing information but learning to read the information cells themselves collect as they develop inside the body.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, May 19

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     Today in Trump Turmoil 

    The Mueller appointment has been widely applauded. The only exceptions, and they are few, are not to the person selected but to the idea of appointing a special counsel (Dan Henninger of the WSJ) or the fact that Mueller is formally under the authority of the DOJ (Nancy Pelosi). The latter point is loony. If anyone holds a whip hand, it is Mueller. If he resigns over any interference, it’s Archie Cox redux and a Constitutional Crisis.

    In the short term, this lowers the temperature. Anybody who faces legal jeopardy will avoid testifying to Congress while Mueller is on the case. That leaves the stage to Comey, who wants to testify and take his revenge in public for the shabby way he was treated.

    There are three larger concerns for us citizens. We need to know

    1. We need to know the scale of Russia’s intervention in our 2016 election
    2. We need to know about Russia’s connections, if any, with the Trump campaign
    3. We need an expeditious investigation. It should not drag on for years. And it should not go off on tangents like the infamous Patrick Fitzgerald investigation.

     Today in over-reaction: Talk about impeachment is not only premature, it shows a cavalier disregard for the gravity of overturning a democratic election. That should only be done if there is strong evidence of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” 

    It should never be done for lesser reasons: because you think Pence would be a more stable and reasonable leader, because you think Democrats would do a better job, or because you have deep (and sincere) questions about Trump’s policies or personality. He was elected President of the United States for a four-year term. Unless he committed a serious crime to win that election or has committed one since then (such as obstructing justice), or has a debilitating illness, then we live with the voters’ choice in 2016.

    If large numbers of Trump supporters think he is being hounded out of office, overturning the election results, there will be hell to pay.

    Short of that, the Democrats want to overturn control in both Houses in 2018. Undermining Trump and blocking Republican policies are crucial stepping stones to that goal.

        

     Antarctica “starting to turn green,” reports a New Zealand paper (New Zealand Herald)

    Researchers in Antarctica have discovered rapidly growing banks of mosses on the ice continent’s northern peninsula, providing striking evidence of climate change in the coldest and most remote parts of the planet.

    Amid the warming of the past 50 years, the scientists found two species of moss undergoing the equivalent of growth spurts, with mosses that once grew less than 1mm a year, now growing more than 3mm a year on average. . . .

    The moss growth is still modest compared to what’s happening in the Arctic, where a large-scale greening trend has even been captured by satellite. There’s so much plant growth there that scientists hope it will at least partially offset the loss of carbon from thawing permafrost beneath those plants. –New Zealand Herald

     Trey Gowdy keeps rising. Likely to head House Oversight Committee after Jason Chaffetz leaves Congress this summer.  (Politico)

    Comment: One tough investigator. One tough cross-examiner.

     Biomedical innovation–this one on diabetes

    The body-location of the transplant is particularly promising:

    By using the omentum, a fatty membrane in the belly, as the transplant site, the researchers were able to avoid complications associated with the traditionally used site, the liver.

    The longterm goal of the research is to identify a suitable location for a pancreas-mimicking mini-organ called the BioHub.

    Based on this patient’s response, the omentum is looking like it just may be the ideal spot. –Science Alert

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Michael Lipson
    for the Antarctica story

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sat-Sun, May 13-14

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

    SPECIAL, NO POLITICS EDITION

     Another amazing genetic discovery. By accident, cancer researchers seem to have discovered the genes that make you go bald or get gray hair (Fox)

    Comment:  “Now you come up with this,” said the late Yul Brenner.

    A patch to protect your older PC from Ransomeware  (PC Mag)

    Comment: IMO, the crooks who did this should also be changed with harming the hospital patients affected.

    Brockmire (Hank Azaria) interviewed on NPR 

    Comment: As ZipDialog readers know, I’m a fan.

     Pope says Church has sex-abuse backlog of 2,000 cases (AP)

    Comment: Terrible situation, but good the Pope acknowledges it.

     Another university caves, disinvites speaker (Washington Post)

    Comment: Spineless administrators

     RIP, Allen Meltzer: free-market economist who helped end the great inflation of the 1970s  He and Paul Volcker were crucial in that Reagan-era effort.

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