Posts made in March 2019

Life in the fast lane: Why time passes more quickly as we age

April 1, 2019

A Duke University researcher has a new explanation for why we perceived our childhood days as “endless,” but time seems so fleeting now—physics.

Yes, according to Adrian Bejan, the J.A. Jones Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Duke, this apparent temporal discrepancy can be blamed on the increasingly slower speed at which images are obtained and processed by the human brain as the body ages.

The theory was published online on March 18 in the journal European Review.

“People are often amazed at how much they remember from days that seemed to last forever in their youth,” explains Bejan. “It’s not that their experiences were much deeper or more meaningful; it’s just that they were being processed in rapid fire [succession].”

As tangled webs of nerves and neurons mature in the brain, they grow in size and complexity—leading to longer paths for signals to traverse. As those paths then begin to age, they also degrade, giving more resistance to the flow of electrical signals.

These phenomena cause the rate at which new mental images are acquired and processed to decrease with age. This is evidenced by how often the eyes of infants move compared to adults, notes Bejan; who explains that, because infants process images faster than adults, their eyes move more often, acquiring and integrating more information.

And since mature adults are viewing fewer new images in the same amount of actual time, it seems to them that time is passing more quickly.

“The human mind senses time changing when the perceived images change,” said Bejan. “The present is different from the past because the mental viewing has changed, not because somebody’s clock rings. Days seemed to last longer in your youth because the young mind receives more images during one day than the same mind in old age.”

Research contact: @DukeU

Spotify acquires producer of macabre podcast content, Parcast

April 1, 2019

If you listen regularly to any of the 19 scripted crime and mystery shows on the podcast network, Parcast—among them, Haunted Places, Serial Killers, Conspiracy Theories, and Cultsyou’ll want to know that they soon will expand to spook a larger audience.

The major audio streaming subscription service, Spotify, has acquired Parcast in a deal expected to close in the second quarter of 2019. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

“The addition of Parcast to our growing roster of podcast content will advance our goal of becoming the world’s leading audio platform,” said Spotify Chief Content Officer Dawn Ostroff in a March 26 company press release.

“Crime and mystery podcasts are a top genre for our users and Parcast has had significant success creating hit series while building a loyal and growing fan base,” Ostroff noted, adding, “We’re excited to welcome the Parcast team to Spotify and we look forward to supercharging their growth.”

“In three years, we have created a production house that has grown exponentially and hit a chord with mystery and true-crime fans, especially women, across all 50 states and around the world. We are proud to join the world’s most popular audio subscription streaming service and gain access to one of the largest audiences around the world,” said Parcat President Max Cutler. “Alongside Spotify, our ability to scale, grow, and amplify the unique and tailored brand of content we create is full of fantastic possibilities.”

One of the things that has made Parcast stand out from the crowd is the fact that they produce everything in-house and own all of the content available on the network. “That is crucial,” Cutler told Podcast Business Journal. “We do not rep other podcasts. We do not make deals on sales for other podcasts. We want to own all the IPs. That gives us a lot of flexibility in how we control the sound, how we build a brand.”

According to the two parties to the deal, Parcast will continue to produce its own creative content. Indeed, TechCrunch reports, there do not appear to be any plans to make Parcast’s shows exclusive to Spotify at present, so if you’re not a Spotify user, you’ll likely still be able to enjoy your favorite Parcast picks after the acquisition.

Research contact: @Spotify

As the president shirks disaster relief efforts, House lawmakers push for statehood for Puerto Rico

April 1, 2019

On March 28—the same day on which the president fatuously stated,” “Puerto Rico has been taken care of better by Donald Trump [since the destruction of Hurricane Maria] than by any living human being, and I think the people of Puerto Rico understand it”—Congress introduced a bill that would entitle the commonwealth to all of the disaster relief that reaches political entities on the U.S. mainland.

The Puerto Rico Admission Act of 2019, which was introduced by Representative Darren Soto (D-Florida) and Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón, a Republican who represents the island in the House, would grant Puerto Rico equal civil rights and status as the 51st state within 90 days of passage.

“From the day I was sworn in as Puerto Rico’s sole representative in Congress, and filed the Puerto Rico Admission Act, I stated very clearly that I would work different strategies, across all platforms to achieve the full equality for Puerto Rico, which can only be achieved through statehood,” Gonzalez said in a news release.

According to a report by CNN, the move to sponsor legislation came as the Republican-controlled Senate considered a new disaster relief package for the territory—and as tensions continued to flare between President Donald Trump and Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló, who supports the bill.

“Puerto Rico’s colonial status and unsustainable relationship with the federal government has gone on for over a century, even as our citizens have contributed to the growth, culture, and social fabric of the United States; and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our fellow citizens on battlefields around the globe and under our same flag,” Rosselló, said in the release.

Indeed, the legislation is badly needed, in order to get the type of aid to the island that is needed for the infrastructure to be rebuilt, more rapidly and completely than has been done to date.

Although he expects credit from the people of Puerto Rico, President Trump still is being castigated for a visit he made to the devastated island after the hurricane, in early October 2017—during which he threw paper towels to the media and local representatives at a press conference and congratulated Puerto Rico residents for escaping the higher death toll of a “a real catastrophe like Katrina.”

Since that time, the president consistently has challenged efforts to provide more adequate disaster funding and food stamp coverage for the island. Although the territory is still recovering economically, Trump reportedly told Senate Republicans last week that he questioned the wisdom of sending the island additional disaster relief aid, CNN said.

In Thursday’s news release, Soto referenced disaster relief efforts as a reason to give Puerto Rico statehood.

“We have seen time and time again that colonial status is simply not working,” Soto said. “Look no further than the abysmal Hurricane Maria recovery efforts and the draconian PROMESA law [the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act] to prove this point all too well.”

Research contact: @CNNPolitics

Baseball fans will devour 18.3 million hot dogs at U.S. ballparks this season

March 29, 2019

It’s doggone impressive: Major League Baseball (MLB) fans are expected to consume about 18 million hot dogs and nearly 4 million sausages at U.S. stadiums this season, according to findings of a survey fielded by the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) just in time for opening day.

“It’s easy to see why hot dogs and sausages have been stadium staples since the very beginnings of Major League Baseball itself,” said NHDSC President Eric Mittenthal. “They are delicious, convenient and nostalgic. What would America’s pastime be without these most American of foods?”

While it might not take the sting out of two straight World Series losses, the Los Angeles Dodgers will still top the big leagues, wiener-wise, with projected sales of 2.7 million hot dogs at Dodger Stadium.

The Chicago Cubs are expected to place second, with 1.2 million hot dogs waiting to be consumed at Wrigley Field.

The Dodgers’ rivals up the coast could be a shoo-in for this year’s sausage crow: San Francisco Giants fans are expected to “polish” off 450,000 sausages, with Cubs fans not far behind at 400,000. As in past years, the Milwaukee Brewers’ Miller Park is the sole MLB venue where sausage sales will outpace hot dogs.

And while they might not make the top rankings for gluttony, New York Yankees fans eat about 1 million Nathan’s Famous hot dogs per season—which still qualifies them for the big leagues

Research contact: emittenthal@meatinstitute.org

Thursday is the best day to list your home; Sunday is the worst

March 29, 2019

Here’s an interesting home truth: Residential properties listed on Thursday tend to sell for more money and in less time than homes that are put on the market on other days of the week, according to findings of a report released on March 28 by Seattle-based digital real estate broker Redfin.

In fact, last year, homes listed on Thursday sold for an average of $3,015 more than homes listed on Monday (the worst day to sell, by relative price advantage), according to Redfin’s analysis of more than 2 million residential property sales across 148 metro areas that were both listed and sold.

Homes listed on Wednesday did second-best in terms of price advantage, selling for $2,620 on average more than homes listed on Monday. Homes listed on Thursday sold for 0.74% more relative to the listing price than homes sold on Monday. For a home listed at $500,000, listing on a Thursday instead of Monday could mean a difference of $3,700 in the final sale price.

What’s more, the typical Thursday-listed home goes to contract five days faster than homes listed on Sunday. Homes listed on Sunday take the longest to find a buyer. Wednesday and Friday-listed homes were second-best, with the typical home finding a buyer 4 days faster.

Why does Thursday perform so well? Most home-buyers have the greatest availability to see homes for sale during the weekend. Homes listed on Thursday are fresh in buyers’ minds when they are planning their weekend.

“Psychologists have found that people tend to remember the last information they saw the best,” said Redfin Chief Economist Daryl Fairweather. “If you list on a Thursday, buyers will be more likely to see your listing as a ‘new home for you’ right before they go out and tour over the weekend.”

If a seller lists on Friday ,it might be too late for a buyer to find time to see the home. If he or she lists earlier in the week, newer listings that hit the market just as they’re making weekend plans might grab buyers’ attention instead. Thursday just hits that perfect sweet spot.

Research contact: @Redfin

‘There’s nothing routine about this’: Barr moves to send Mueller’s report to Trump

March 29, 2019

More than three in four Americans (77%), including majorities of both Republicans and Democrats, think that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full report should be released to the public, based on findings of a survey conducted by CBS News and released on March 28.

However, after summarizing the 300-plus-page report in fewer than 1,000 words and coming to his own conclusion on obstruction of justice charges, Attorney General William Barr now has said he intends to hand the document over to the president—instead of to Congress and the American public.

Indeed, according to a story by Business Insider, Barr is taking the peculiar and unheard of step of giving precedence to the sitting president to review and redact a document summarizing an investigation into his own administration’s culpability in Russian interference into the U.S. elections and obstruction of justice.

Typically, the news outlet notes, when the government obtains information that can be protected under presidential privilege claims, it sets up a separate filter team to separate out that information before prosecutors see it. Justice Department veterans said they were surprised Barr chose to forego that option and send the report directly to the White House.

Over a dozen current and former White House officials have given testimony and turned over documents to Mueller, and legal scholars say President Donald Trump’s team could theoretically assert executive privilege over all that information.

The dilemma could put Barr in a difficult position, one former federal prosecutor pointed out to the news outlet: “Say Barr sends this report to the White House and tells them to pull out anything they think is privileged. What if the White House sent back one-third of the report and redacted the rest? What does Barr do with that? Does he just accept it and only release the parts that weren’t redacted, or if he feels like the White House is wrong or abusing their power, does he challenge them?”

“There’s nothing routine about this,” Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor who worked at the Justice Department when Barr was acting attorney general in the 1990s, told Business Insider. “There’s nowhere to look for a precedent to what Barr’s planning on doing here, because there’s never been a report issued under the special counsel statute Mueller’s operating under.”

“I’m not sure why Barr felt this was the appropriate way to go about handling potentially privileged information,” Cotter said, adding, “You shouldn’t be able to use it in a way that gives you an unfair advantage,” Cotter said.

Research contact: @businessinsider

Fowl play: Chicken therapy is tackling loneliness among the elderly

March 28, 2019

Sixty nursing homes across the United Kingdom have welcomed in some “fine feathered friends” to amuse their residents, promote healthful activities, and reduce loneliness—all courtesy of HenPower, a program dedicated to improving older people’s lives through creativity.

The hens are housed on the grounds, giving elderly occupants the opportunity to spend some productive time outdoors—feeding them, collecting the eggs, maintaining their coops, and generally looking after them, according to a report by Goodnet.

HenPower has been especially successful working with patients who have dementia—“hengaging” them in daily activities that promote a sense of community, and decreasing their overall levels of anxiety.

The hens aren’t there just for diversion and therapy, however. They also serve as muses for the residents, Goodnet notes. In fact, they have become the subject of paintings, songs, stories, and more, as their elderly friends find new purpose in their days and feel excited by flowing creativity.

The organization has been especially helpful in allowing elderly residents to feel needed through caring for others, instead of always being cared for, themselves. It’s a small change that has made a significant impact on their lives and outlook.

While seemingly unconventional, the presence of the chickens has made a significant improvement in the residents’ outlook. One study conducted by Northumbria University found that HenPower really does help improve their health and increase their enthusiasm for life.

One elderly man said that—while he initially believed the HenPower concept was bizarre, at best—he ultimately decided to try the program, and now feels it’s the best thing he ever has done.

When elderly residents know they have a reason to get up in the morning because they have to look after their chickens, it brings everyone together for the same cause, taking care of the animals and themselves.

Research contact: @goodnet_org

Amazon to have a presence at Coachella, including pop-up shop and lockers

March 28, 2019

Amazon has plans to set up shop—literally—at this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, scheduled for the weekends of April 12-14 and April 19-21 in Indio, California. The online retailer will operate a curated storefront at the festival, offering such must-haves as flower crowns, feather-shape earrings portable fans, sunblock, lip balm, and disposable cameras.

The website also is offering customers the opportunity to shop ahead from the storefront from now through April 11—and have purchases shipped directly to a personal Amazon locker on-site at the festival, Retail Dive reported.

The temporary lockers already are familiar to Amazon aficionados, who already can pick up their orders at 900 lockers nationwide instead of waiting for deliveries. The lockers are located at handy places such as Whole Foods stores, apartment buildings, and college campuses, Retail Dive notes.

This is the first year that Amazon will have either a pop-up shop or lockers at the festival.  ““We want customers to make the most out of their weekend at Coachella,” Patrick Supanc, Amazon worldwide director of lockers and pickup said in a statement, adding. “Bringing the convenience of Amazon lockers to Coachella will help customers focus on their experience instead of worrying about forgetting something at home or having to carry it in with them.”

Shoppers will receive an email when a package is ready for pickup. Items from the Coachella Amazon store also can be shipped to shoppers’ homes.

To celebrate the first-ever appearance of Amazon lockers at Coachella, Amazon is giving away two VIP passes to Weekend 2 of the festival, as well as $3,000 for travel and accommodation. The winner and a guest will get to see their favorite artists and experience an Amazon Locker at Coachella firsthand. Customers interested in entering can visit amazon.com/Coachellagiveaway for more details and the official rules. The winner will be awarded by a random drawing to be held on or about April 6.

YouTube announced earlier this year that it will livestream both weekends of the festival. According to Fortune magazine, in previous years, the site only has streamed the first weekend of the festival. This year, it will add a “curated live experience” from the second weekend, with behind-the-scenes footages, artist vignettes, and a few select performances.

Among the artists to hit the grandstand will be Ariana Grande, Childish Gambino, Diplo, Kacey Musgraves, Solange, Weezer, and Wiz Khalifa.

Research contact:  amazon.com/coachella

Democrats: Trump’s move to terminate Obamacare gives us a gift ahead of 2020

March 28, 2019

In a move that has appalled his own advisers, and alarmed the G.O.P. as a whole, President Donald Trump on March 27 began a legal effort to “essentially terminate” the entire Affordable Care Act ―including its heretofore sacrosanct pre-existing conditions protections.

About half of Americans—133 million—have a health issue that qualifies as a pre-existing condition. Under the ACA, also known as Obamacare, insurers have been banned from denying coverage for (or from charging more for plans that cover) pre-existing conditions.

And American voters have made it clear that they like it that way. According to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation just before the midterm elections last November, fully 58% of Americans said they were “very concerned” that Republicans would remove this safeguard—and expose them either to higher costs or no coverage at all.

In fact, at that time, healthcare was top-of-mind for U.S. voters—and indications are that it continues to be.

According to a report by the Huffington Post,  Democrats are saying that the president’s extreme position on the ACA will matter far more to voters in 2020 than anything coming out of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 presidential election.

And while Republicans have said for years that the ACA should be “repealed and replaced,” they are not so sure that the issue should be revisited at this time.

It comes down to this: On March 25, the Department of Justice asked federal courts to throw out all of Obamacare, not just one part of it, as it had done previously. If the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is weighing the lawsuit, agrees with the government, the matter will almost certainly go before the Supreme Court, which has already turned away two major challenges to the 2010 healthcare law, the Huffington Post notes. With two new Trump-picked justices on the high court, however, there is no telling whether the law would survive a third.

“This move by the Trump administration to take away health care will prove far more detrimental to the administration and the Republican Party than any gains they might have made by the issuance” of Attorney General William Barr’s letter summarizing the findings of Mueller’s investigation, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York.) said on March 26.

 “They are literally teeing this up as an issue for Democrats for the next year and a half. They’re not even making a laughable attempt to save the most popular parts of the Affordable Care Act,” Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) told reporters on Tuesday.

Vulnerable Republican senators up for re-election in 2020, whose seats Democrats need to win in order to take back control of the Senate, are likely to face additional attacks over healthcare following the Trump administration’s new stance on the lawsuit. But GOP leaders say they have confidence in their members to fend off attacks over Obamacare going into the 2020 election.

By contrast, the Huffington Post reports, G.O.P. senators facing tough re-election fights in 2020 said they support popular elements of the Affordable Care Act even as they continue to maintain that the law should be repealed ― a delicate rhetorical balancing act that failed to save many GOP members of Congress in the 2018 midterm election.

“I support coverage for pre-existing provisions, and Congress should act to make sure that happens. I think what we need to do is make sure we have affordable health care,” Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), who is facing a tough campaign, told reporters.

Only Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), who voted against repealing Obamacare in 2017, criticized the decision to argue in court that the entire law should be struck down as unconstitutional.

“It is highly unusual for the [Department of Justice] not to defend duly enacted laws, which the Affordable Care Act certainly was. This decision to even go more broadly in failing to defend the law is very disappointing,” Collins said.

Research contact: @HuffPost

Flame-retardant home furnishings may cause aggressive behavior in children

March 27, 2019

Flame retardants originally were meant to protect us from dangerous, fast-spreading fires—but now, cautious parents are checking their sofas and upholstery; as well as electronic equipment, textiles, cleaning products, and even non-stick cookware, to ensure that they don’t contain these chemicals.

Over the past few years, scientists have warned that exposure to fire-resistant chemicals (PBDEs and OPFRs)—which seep out of home furnishings and into the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil in which we plant crops—can lead to lower IQs, hyperactivity, poor motor skills, and learning disabilities in developing babies and young children.

But now, Parents magazine reports, new research at Oregon State University in Corvallis has established a significant relationship between social behaviors among children and their exposure to flame retardants.

Indeed, Molly Kile, an environmental epidemiologist and associate professor in the College of Pubic Health and Human Sciences at OSU, noted, “When we analyzed behavior assessments and exposure levels, we observed that the children who had more exposure to certain types of the flame retardant were more likely to exhibit externalizing behaviors such as aggression, defiance, hyperactivity, inattention and bullying.”

Kile, the corresponding author of the study, which was published on March 9 in the journal Environmental Health, added, “”This is an intriguing finding because no one had previously studied the behavioral effects of organophosphate classes of flame retardants, which have been added to consumer products more recently.”

During the course of the study, the OSU team observed 92 children, ages three through five—all of whom had been exposed to some level of flame retardant chemicals. After analyzing data collected from parent, teacher, and caregiver questionnaires, the researchers found that the kids who were exposed to higher levels of the chemicals displayed more aggression.

The results are definitely a cause for concern, considering flame retardants have been around since the mid-1970s, and can be found in such a wide variety of items in the home. The Environmental Working Group— a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment— offers the following tips:

  • Buy flame-retardant-free products (check labels);
  • Vacuum with a HEPA filter and wet mop household surfaces;
  • Wash hands before eating;
  • Dispose of damaged cushions and replace with retardant-free versions; and
  • Don’t ever try to reupholster furniture or replace carpeting yourself.

Research contact: @parentsmagazine