Daily Archives: December 7, 2008

Poor Children’s Brain Activity Resembles That Of Stroke Victims

ScienceDaily | Dec 6, 2008

University of California, Berkeley, researchers have shown for the first time that the brains of low-income children function differently from the brains of high-income kids.

In a study recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, scientists at UC Berkeley’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and the School of Public Health report that normal 9- and 10-year-olds differing only in socioeconomic status have detectable differences in the response of their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is critical for problem solving and creativity.

Brain function was measured by means of an electroencephalograph (EEG) – basically, a cap fitted with electrodes to measure electrical activity in the brain – like that used to assess epilepsy, sleep disorders and brain tumors.

“Kids from lower socioeconomic levels show brain physiology patterns similar to someone who actually had damage in the frontal lobe as an adult,” said Robert Knight, director of the institute and a UC Berkeley professor of psychology. “We found that kids are more likely to have a low response if they have low socioeconomic status, though not everyone who is poor has low frontal lobe response.”

Previous studies have shown a possible link between frontal lobe function and behavioral differences in children from low and high socioeconomic levels, but according to cognitive psychologist Mark Kishiyama, first author of the new paper, “those studies were only indirect measures of brain function and could not disentangle the effects of intelligence, language proficiency and other factors that tend to be associated with low socioeconomic status. Our study is the first with direct measure of brain activity where there is no issue of task complexity.”

Co-author W. Thomas Boyce, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of public health who currently is the British Columbia Leadership Chair of Child Development at the University of British Columbia (UBC), is not surprised by the results. “We know kids growing up in resource-poor environments have more trouble with the kinds of behavioral control that the prefrontal cortex is involved in regulating. But the fact that we see functional differences in prefrontal cortex response in lower socioeconomic status kids is definitive.”

Boyce, a pediatrician and developmental psychobiologist, heads a joint UC Berkeley/UBC research program called WINKS – Wellness in Kids – that looks at how the disadvantages of growing up in low socioeconomic circumstances change children’s basic neural development over the first several years of life.

“This is a wake-up call,” Knight said. “It’s not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums.”

Kishiyama, Knight and Boyce suspect that the brain differences can be eliminated by proper training. They are collaborating with UC Berkeley neuroscientists who use games to improve the prefrontal cortex function, and thus the reasoning ability, of school-age children.

“It’s not a life sentence,” Knight emphasized. “We think that with proper intervention and training, you could get improvement in both behavioral and physiological indices.”

Kishiyama, Knight, Boyce and their colleagues selected 26 children ages 9 and 10 from a group of children in the WINKS study. Half were from families with low incomes and half from families with high incomes. For each child, the researchers measured brain activity while he or she was engaged in a simple task: watching a sequence of triangles projected on a screen. The subjects were instructed to click a button when a slightly skewed triangle flashed on the screen.

The researchers were interested in the brain’s very early response – within as little as 200 milliseconds, or a fifth of a second – after a novel picture was flashed on the screen, such as a photo of a puppy or of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

“An EEG allows us to measure very fast brain responses with millisecond accuracy,” Kishiyama said.

The researchers discovered a dramatic difference in the response of the prefrontal cortex not only when an unexpected image flashed on the screen, but also when children were merely watching the upright triangles waiting for a skewed triangle to appear. Those from low socioeconomic environments showed a lower response to the unexpected novel stimuli in the prefrontal cortex that was similar, Kishiyama said, to the response of people who have had a portion of their frontal lobe destroyed by a stroke.

“When paying attention to the triangles, the prefrontal cortex helps you process the visual stimuli better. And the prefrontal cortex is even more involved in detecting novelty, like the unexpected photographs,” he said. But in both cases, “the low socioeconomic kids were not detecting or processing the visual stimuli as well. They were not getting that extra boost from the prefrontal cortex.”

“These kids have no neural damage, no prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, no neurological damage,” Kishiyama said. “Yet, the prefrontal cortex is not functioning as efficiently as it should be. This difference may manifest itself in problem solving and school performance.”

The researchers suspect that stressful environments and cognitive impoverishment are to blame, since in animals, stress and environmental deprivation have been shown to affect the prefrontal cortex. UC Berkeley’s Marian Diamond, professor emeritus of integrative biology, showed nearly 20 years ago in rats that enrichment thickens the cerebral cortex as it improves test performance. And as Boyce noted, previous studies have shown that children from poor families hear 30 million fewer words by the time they are four than do kids from middle-class families.

“In work that we and others have done, it really looks like something as simple and easily done as talking to your kids” can boost prefrontal cortex performance, Boyce said.

“We are certainly not blaming lower socioeconomic families for not talking to their kids – there are probably a zillion reasons why that happens,” he said. “But changing developmental outcomes might involve something as accessible as helping parents to understand that it is important that kids sit down to dinner with their parents, and that over the course of that dinner it would be good for there to be a conversation and people saying things to each other.”

“The study is suggestive and a little bit frightening that environmental conditions have such a strong impact on brain development,” said Silvia Bunge, UC Berkeley assistant professor of psychology who is leading the intervention studies on prefrontal cortex development in teenagers by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Boyce’s UBC colleague, Adele Diamond, showed last year that 5- and 6-year-olds with impaired executive functioning, that is, poor problem solving and reasoning abilities, can improve their academic performance with the help of special activities, including dramatic play.

Bunge hopes that, with fMRI, she can show improvements in academic performance as a result of these games, actually boosting the activity of the prefrontal cortex.

“People have tried for a long time to train reasoning, largely unsuccessfully,” Bunge said. “Our question is, ‘Can we replicate these initial findings and at the same time give kids the tools to succeed?'”

This research is supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health.

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New ‘Halo’-esque look for Korea’s troops

korean_halo_soldier

(Credit: ADD)

CNET | Nov 18, 2008

by Mark Rutherford

Things may be getting a little more stylish up on the DMZ (the Korean Demilitarized Zone) when Republic of Korea troops don their new high-tech battle uniforms. Accessories could include bulletproof helmets and a new assault rifle.

The Agency for Defense Development will begin the two-phase development on a new combat uniform beginning next year, according to The Korea Times.

“The agency has completed studies on the concept of the future combatant uniform and equipment,'” an unnamed official told the newspaper. “From next year, we plan to begin developing related technology and equipment after getting approval from the Defense Acquisition Program Administration.”

The new new battle uniforms would provide protection against nuclear, biological, and chemical attacks, and would feature automatic temperature control. A new protective vest is also planned. In addition to keeping the lead out, the helmet will be prewired for minicam video transmission, GPS navigation, and assorted networking gear, the official said.

The rifle has already been tested and could come online sooner than the rest of the outfit. The double-barreled K-11 assault rifle lets the shooter fire either NATO 5.56- or 20-millimeter grenades, all off the same trigger. Day and night aiming is accomplished with a thermal target seeker and laser that calculates distance automatically–a true point-and-shoot.

NSA attempts to discredit widespread belief US had prior knowledge of Pearl Harbor attack

pearl_harbor

A boat rescues a crew member of the West Virginia after the bombing on Dec. 7, 1941.

It has remained one of World War II’s most enduring mysteries, one that resonated decades later in the aftermath of Sept. 11: Who in Washington knew what and when before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941?

NY Times | Dec 6, 2008

Report Debunks Theory That the U.S. Heard a Coded Warning About Pearl Harbor

By SAM ROBERTS

Specifically, who heard or saw a transcript of a Tokyo shortwave radio news broadcast that was interrupted by a prearranged coded weather report? The weather bulletin signaled Japanese diplomats around the world to destroy confidential documents and codes because war with the United States, the Soviet Union or Britain was beginning.

In testimony for government inquiries, witnesses said that the “winds execute” message was intercepted as early as Dec. 4, three days before the attack.

But after analyzing American and foreign intelligence sources and decrypted cables, historians for the National Security Agency concluded in a documentary history released last week that whatever other warnings reached Washington about the attack, the “winds execute” message was not one of them.

A Japanese message intercepted and decoded on Nov. 19, 1941, at an American monitoring station on Bainbridge Island, Wash., appeared to lay out the “winds execute” situation. If diplomatic relations were “in danger” with one of three countries, a coded phrase would be repeated as a special weather bulletin twice in the middle and twice at the end of the daily Japanese-language news broadcast.

“East wind rain” would mean the United States; “north wind cloudy,” the Soviet Union; and “west wind clear,” Britain.

In the history, “West Wind Clear,” published by the agency’s Center for Cryptologic History, the authors, Robert J. Hanyok and the late David Mowry, attribute accounts of the message being broadcast to the flawed or fabricated memory of some witnesses, perhaps to deflect culpability from other officials for the United States’ insufficient readiness for war. A Congressional committee grappled with competing accounts of the “winds execute” message in 1946, by which time the question of whether it had been broadcast had blown into a controversy. The New York Times described it as a “bitter microcosm” of the investigation into American preparedness.

“If there was such a message,” The Times wrote, “the Washington military establishment would have been gravely at fault in not having passed it along” to military commanders in Hawaii. If there was not, then the supporters of those commanders “would have lost an important prop to their case.”

In an interview, Mr. Hanyok said there were several lessons from the controversy that reverberate today. He said that some adherents of the theory that the message was sent and seen were motivated by an unshakable faith in the efficacy of radio intelligence, and that when a copy of the message could not be found they blamed a cover-up — a reminder that no intelligence-gathering is completely foolproof.

Washington also missed potential warning signs because intelligence resources had been diverted to the Atlantic theater, he said, and the Japanese deftly practiced deception to mislead Americans about the whereabouts of Tokyo’s naval strike force.

“The problem with the conspiracy theory,” Mr. Hanyok said, “is that it diverted attention from the real substantive problems, the major issue being the intelligence system was so bureaucratized.”

Beginning about Dec. 1, Washington became aware that the Japanese were ordering diplomats overseas to selectively destroy confidential documents. But, the N.S.A. study found, “because of the sometimes tardy exploitation of these messages, intelligence officers in the Army and Navy knew only parts of the complete program. It is possible that they viewed the Japanese actions as ominous, but also contradictory and perhaps even confusing. More importantly, though, the binge of code destruction was occurring without the transmittal of the winds execute message.”

The authors concluded that the weight of the evidence “indicates that one coded phrase, ‘west wind clear,’ was broadcast according to previous instructions some six or seven hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor.”

“In the end, the winds code never was the intelligence indicator or warning that it first appeared to the Americans, as well as to the British and Dutch,” they wrote. “In the political realm, it added nothing to then current view in Washington (and London) that relations with Tokyo had deteriorated to a dangerous point. From a military standpoint, the winds coded message contained no actionable intelligence either about the Japanese operations in Southeast Asia and absolutely nothing about Pearl Harbor.

“In reality,” they concluded, “the Japanese broadcast the coded phrase(s) long after hostilities began — useless, in fact, to all who might have heard it.”

That war with Japan was anticipated is apparent from a separate memorandum to President Franklin D. Roosevelt dated Nov. 13, 1941, from William J. Donovan, director of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. The memorandum was found in the National Archives last year by the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group.

Reporting on a conversation the week before between Hans Thoman, the German chargé d’affaires to the United States, and Malcolm R. Lovell, a Quaker leader, Mr. Donovan quoted Mr. Thoman as saying that Japan was trying to buy time.

“In the last analysis, Japan knows that unless the United States agrees to some reasonable terms in the Far East, Japan must face the threat of strangulation, now or later. Should Japan wait until later to prevent this strangulation by the United States, she will be less able to free herself than now, for Germany is now occupying the major attention of both the British empire and the United States.

“If Japan waits, it will be comparatively easy for the United States to strangle Japan,” Mr. Donovan’s memorandum quoting Mr. Thoman continued. “Japan is therefore forced to strike now, whether she wishes to or not.”

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Urban assault teams to unleash packs of all-seeing, hopping robots armed with mini missiles

hopping_robots

All-seeing packs of robots will “instinctively eliminate” human targets at ranges of up to 90 feet. (Credit: ODF)

CNET | Dec 6, 2008

Hopping robots display pack instinct

by Mark Rutherford

Release the fleas! SWAT and other urban assault teams could soon be deploying packs of all-seeing, hopping robots armed with mini missiles to ferret out the bad guys.

The EyeDrive unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) uses remote-controlled 360-degree panoramic video technology and a patented Point & Go sensor guidance mode to run down and “instinctively eliminate” human targets at ranges of up to 90 feet, according to ODF Optronics.

Built-in navigation allows multiple units to work in robotic unison, thus doubling, and even tripling, indoor reconnaissance capacity, according to the Israel-based company. In fact, the standard kit comes with two complete units. It could replace K-9s in attack mode and other dangerous duties (PDF).

robot_360_degreeThis 5-pound all-terrain mini mite can be tossed–or dropped–from up to about 10 feet and is dual-side operable, which means it’s self-righting. The “hopper” feature is optional. It allows the EyeDrive to hop over 3-foot obstacles, enhancing its observational capabilities, according to the developer.

ODF plans to produce an armed version in cooperation with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, another Israeli outfit, that could carry up to 16 miniature rockets. What constitutes miniature? Four .3-inch diameter rockets in a quad launcher only weigh a little over half a pound, and that includes 40-gram warheads.

Man ordered to comply with EU rules when selling vegetable leftovers from his garden stall

james_cookson

James Cookson has been told to follow EU rules when selling vegetable leftovers from his garden stall Photo: NNP/NORTH NEWS

A man who sells leftover vegetables from his garden to passers-by has been ordered to comply with European rules on weights and measures.

Telegraph | Dec 6, 2008

By Laura Donnelly

The Northumberland landowner, who leaves baskets of surplus vegetables at the end of his driveway, was amazed to receive a warning from trading standards officials after they spotted an honesty box next to his stall.

They ordered James Cookson, who says he takes between £5 and £10 a week selling vegetables that would otherwise have gone to waste, to meet European Union requirements governing the sale of fresh foods.

Officials from Northumberland County Council told him the parsnips, spinach and leeks grown in his walled garden should be sold by metric weight, following EU rules, and sent him four pages of guidance.

Mr Cookson, who owns Meldon Park Estate, near Morpeth, where he lives with his wife and young family, said he was stunned to receive the warning from the council.

He said: “We sold five parsnips from the stall last week and there was £1 in the honesty box. The letter is laughable. I have not got a clue about why the trading standards department has got involved, unless someone has reported us.

“They appear to be saying we should be selling parsnips by the kilo rather than just pricing them individually. I have got better things to kick up a fuss about, but it just tickles my sense of humour that someone has bothered to write an official letter about something like this,” Mr Cookson added.

The father of three, whose family has owned the estate since 1832, ran a farm shop until recently, when it closed due to lack of trade.

Mr Cookson said he decided to set up the small stall at the end of his drive so the fresh vegetables from his garden did not go to waste, labelling bags of them with prices, and relying on the honesty of passers-by to leave cash in a piggy bank.

He said: “It is not a business, just a way of offering vegetables to others and preventing them going to waste. The vegetables are bought by people going to and from the local pub. If customers don’t like it, they don’t have to buy.”

Last weekend he received the letter from Northumberland County Council informing him that a trading standards officer had visited the stall, and informing him that “most fruit and vegetables are required to be sold by weight”. It was accompanied by four pages of guidance on the rules governing weights and measures, setting out the European Union requirements.

A spokeswoman for the county council said a trading standards officer had come across Mr Cookson’s vegetable stall during a past inspection of Meldon Park’s farm shop.

She said: “The advice that was given in the letter was to help explain how to sell fruit and vegetables in the correct manner to meet national guidelines. Even small stalls have the same responsibilities as large retailers, but we are not pursuing the stall owner for any wrongdoing; we are offering advice and guidance on how to meet the produce-selling requirements.”

Under EU legislation introduced eight years ago, market traders and shopkeepers in Britain are only permitted to sell loose fruit and vegetables using metric measures, unless they are individually priced.

Since then a string of traders, dubbed the “Metric Martyrs” have been prosecuted for selling produce using imperial measures.

In October, after Janet Devers, a market stallholder in London’s East End was convicted of eight offences of selling in pounds and ounces, leaving her with a criminal record and thousands of pounds to pay in costs, the Government said local authorities would be warned not to pursue such cases in future.

Innovations Secretary John Denham is due to issue guidance within months ordering councils not to take traders to court for “essentially minor offences” such as using imperial scales.

Global financial crisis is divine retribution claims Aussie MP

james-bidgood

“The ultimate conclusion is like I say we look at Bible prophesy we’re going toward a one-world bank and a one-world monetary system and if you believe the word of God and you read Revelations … you will see clearly what’s being spelt out and we are in the end times.” – James Bidgood

An Australian MP has raised eyebrows by claiming the global financial crisis is an act of God.

Telegraph | Dec 5, 2008

Global financial crisis an ‘act of God’

By Bonnie Malkin in Sydney

James Bidgood, who is already facing criticism for selling photographs of a protester threatening to set himself alight outside Parliament House, appears in a DVD arguing that God is punishing the world with recession, rising unemployment and economic instability.

In the undated speech, reported by the Australian newspaper, he says that Christian marches in London caused the October 1987 stock market crash.

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“When Christians pray, God does things”, he said. “In 1987 there was another march for Jesus. That took place in April. And guess what happened in October 1987? The stock market crashed. All property values lost one third of their value and over a million people lost their homes.”

Mr Bidgood, a Labor MP from the state of Queensland, went on to say God has played a role in the current economic downturn.

“I believe what is happening today is as much to do with God in economics bringing judgment.

“I believe there is God’s justice in action in what is going on here. We haven’t seen the end of it.”

Mr Bidgood then warned the world was ending.

“I believe that there is God’s justice in action in what’s going on here and we haven’t seen the end of it,” he said.

“The ultimate conclusion is like I say we look at Bible prophesy we’re going toward a one-world bank and a one-world monetary system and if you believe the word of God and you read Revelations … you will see clearly what’s being spelt out and we are in the end times.”

It comes days after Mr Bidgood was reprimanded by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for selling photographs of a man threatening to set himself alight to a newspaper in exchange for a $1000 donation to charity. Mr Bidgood has since apologised.

Opposition MPs called for Mr Bidgood to be dismissed, saying he had made a grave error of judgement.

“What message does it send to the community that a member of parliament’s first reaction when someone is trying to kill himself is to take a photograph and then try and sell it to the media?,” Liberal frontbencher Joe Hockey said.

“Under any circumstances it is reprehensible behaviour.”

Words associated with Christianity and British history taken out of children’s dictionary

Words associated with Christianity, the monarchy and British history have been dropped from a leading dictionary for children.

Telegraph | Dec 6, 2008

By Julie Henry

Oxford University Press has removed words like “aisle”, “bishop”, “chapel”, “empire” and “monarch” from its Junior Dictionary and replaced them with words like “blog”, “broadband” and “celebrity”. Dozens of words related to the countryside have also been culled.

The publisher claims the changes have been made to reflect the fact that Britain is a modern, multicultural, multifaith society.

But academics and head teachers said that the changes to the 10,000 word Junior Dictionary could mean that children lose touch with Britain’s heritage.

“We have a certain Christian narrative which has given meaning to us over the last 2,000 years. To say it is all relative and replaceable is questionable,” said Professor Alan Smithers, the director of the centre for education and employment at Buckingham University. “The word selections are a very interesting reflection of the way childhood is going, moving away from our spiritual background and the natural world and towards the world that information technology creates for us.”

An analysis of the word choices made by the dictionary lexicographers has revealed that entries from “abbey” to “willow” have been axed. Instead, words such as “MP3 player”, “voicemail” and “attachment” have taken their place.

Lisa Saunders, a worried mother who has painstakingly compared entries from the junior dictionaries, aimed at children aged seven or over, dating from 1978, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2007, said she was “horrified” by the vast number of words that have been removed, most since 2003.

“The Christian faith still has a strong following,” she said. “To eradicate so many words associated with the Christianity will have a big effect on the numerous primary schools who use it.”

Ms Saunders realised words were being removed when she was helping her son with his homework and discovered that “moss” and “fern”, which were in editions up until 2003, were no longer listed.

“I decide to take a closer look and compare the new version to the other editions,” said the mother of four from Co Down, Northern Ireland. “I was completely horrified by the vast number of words which have been removed. We know that language moves on and we can’t be fuddy-duddy about it but you don’t cull hundreds of important words in order to get in a different set of ICT words.”

Anthony Seldon, the master of Wellington College, a leading private school in Berkshire, said: “I am stunned that words like “saint”, “buttercup”, “heather” and “sycamore” have all gone and I grieve it.

“I think as well as being descriptive, the Oxford Junior Dictionary, has to be prescriptive too, suggesting not just words that are used but words that should be used. It has a duty to keep these words within usage, not merely pander to an audience. We are looking at the loss of words of great beauty. I would rather have “marzipan” and “mistletoe” then “MP3 player.”

Oxford University Press, which produces the junior edition, selects words with the aid of the Children’s Corpus, a list of about 50 million words made up of general language, words from children’s books and terms related to the school curriculum. Lexicographers consider word frequency when making additions and deletions.

Vineeta Gupta, the head of children’s dictionaries at Oxford University Press, said: “We are limited by how big the dictionary can be – little hands must be able to handle it – but we produce 17 children’s dictionaries with different selections and numbers of words.

“When you look back at older versions of dictionaries, there were lots of examples of flowers for instance. That was because many children lived in semi-rural environments and saw the seasons. Nowadays, the environment has changed. We are also much more multicultural. People don’t go to Church as often as before. Our understanding of religion is within multiculturalism, which is why some words such as “Pentecost” or “Whitsun” would have been in 20 years ago but not now.”

She said children’s dictionaries were trailed in schools and advice taken from teachers. Many words are added to reflect the age-related school curriculum.

Words taken out:

Carol, cracker, holly, ivy, mistletoe

Dwarf, elf, goblin

Abbey, aisle, altar, bishop, chapel, christen, disciple, minister, monastery, monk, nun, nunnery, parish, pew, psalm, pulpit, saint, sin, devil, vicar

Coronation, duchess, duke, emperor, empire, monarch, decade

adder, ass, beaver, boar, budgerigar, bullock, cheetah, colt, corgi, cygnet, doe, drake, ferret, gerbil, goldfish, guinea pig, hamster, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, ox, oyster, panther, pelican, piglet, plaice, poodle, porcupine, porpoise, raven, spaniel, starling, stoat, stork, terrapin, thrush, weasel, wren.

Acorn, allotment, almond, apricot, ash, bacon, beech, beetroot, blackberry, blacksmith, bloom, bluebell, bramble, bran, bray, bridle, brook, buttercup, canary, canter, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, conker, county, cowslip, crocus, dandelion, diesel, fern, fungus, gooseberry, gorse, hazel, hazelnut, heather, holly, horse chestnut, ivy, lavender, leek, liquorice, manger, marzipan, melon, minnow, mint, nectar, nectarine, oats, pansy, parsnip, pasture, poppy, porridge, poultry, primrose, prune, radish, rhubarb, sheaf, spinach, sycamore, tulip, turnip, vine, violet, walnut, willow

Words put in:

Blog, broadband, MP3 player, voicemail, attachment, database, export, chatroom, bullet point, cut and paste, analogue

Celebrity, tolerant, vandalism, negotiate, interdependent, creep, citizenship, childhood, conflict, common sense, debate, EU, drought, brainy, boisterous, cautionary tale, bilingual, bungee jumping, committee, compulsory, cope, democratic, allergic, biodegradable, emotion, dyslexic, donate, endangered, Euro

Apparatus, food chain, incisor, square number, trapezium, alliteration, colloquial, idiom, curriculum, classify, chronological, block graph