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Archive for July 29th, 2010

Alcohol reduces the severity of rheumatoid arthritis

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Drinking alcohol may reduce the severity of rheumatoid arthritis according to new research. It is the first time that this effect has been shown in humans. The study also finds that alcohol consumption reduces the risk of developing the disease, confirming the results of previous studies.

The first author of the study, Dr James Maxwell…”…found that patients who had drunk alcohol most frequently had symptoms that were less severe than those who had never drunk alcohol or only drunk it infrequently. X-rays showed there was less damage to joints, blood tests showed lower levels of inflammation, and there was less joint pain, swelling and disability. This is the first time that a dose dependent inverse association between frequency of alcohol consumption and severity of RA has been shown in humans.”

Dr Maxwell and his colleagues also found that non-drinkers were four times more likely to develop RA than people who drank alcohol on more than ten days a month…

The authors point out that there are some limitations to their study. These include the fact that they only recorded the frequency rather than the amount of alcohol consumption in the month before people joined the study; there might be bias due to people recalling inaccurately how often they drank alcohol and also the information represents a snapshot of drinking behaviour at one point in time, rather than giving information about fluctuating alcohol consumption over a longer period; and, finally, there were marked differences in age and gender between the RA and the control groups, although the researchers did adjust their results for these factors.

A couple of old mates of mine – in Glasgow and up in the Western Isles – are living proof of this study. And I’m confident they’d be willing to step forward and volunteer for further research.

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Written by Ed Campbell

July 29, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Justice Dept files fraud claim against Oracle

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The United States has intervened and filed a complaint under the False Claims Act against Oracle Corporation and Oracle America Inc. The government alleges that Oracle defrauded the United States on a General Services Administration (GSA) software contract that was in effect from 1998 to 2006 and involved hundreds of millions of dollars in sales.

Under the contract, GSA used Oracle’s disclosures about its commercial sales practices to negotiate the minimum discounts for government agencies who bought Oracle software. The contract required Oracle to update GSA when commercial discounts improved and extend the same improved discounts to government customers. The suit contends that Oracle misrepresented its true commercial sales practices, ultimately leading to government customers receiving deals far inferior to those Oracle gave commercial customers.

“We take seriously allegations that a government contractor has dealt dishonestly with the United States,” said Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. “When contractors misrepresent their business practices to the government, taxpayers suffer.”

The suit was originally filed on by Paul Frascella, Senior Director of Contract Services at Oracle. The False Claims Act allows private citizens with knowledge of fraud to file whistleblower suits on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery. If the United States intervenes in the action and proves that a defendant has knowingly submitted false claims, it is entitled to recover three times the damage that resulted and a penalty of $5,500 to $11,000 per claim.

Woo-Hoo! I’ve been hearing extra grumbles from corporate lackeys about Obama instituting better rewards for whistleblowers.

Often enough, whistleblowers get the shaft – and little else. Now, they may not be able to hang onto their job; but, the piece of the pie they get as finder’s fee from the prosecution is set to be tripled.

Which can make up for a lot of unemployment.

Written by Ed Campbell

July 29, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Arctic ship abandoned 150 years ago – rediscovered

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HMS Investigator icebound in 1851 – abandoned in 1853

Archeologists were able to take sonar images of HMS Investigator at the weekend not long after they arrived at the remote Mercy Bay site in the Northwest Territories, Marc-Andre Bernier of Parks Canada said on Wednesday.

The Investigator was the British ship that was sent to search for two lost vessels that were part of Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845 Royal Navy expedition to discover the Northwest Passage linking the Atlantic to the Pacific through Canada’s Arctic Archipelago.

“This is definitely of the utmost importance,” said Mr Bernier, chief of the underwater archaeology service with Parks Canada, the federal body conducting the Arctic survey.

The icy waters have helped preserve the ship, which is sitting upright on the sea floor in about 11 metres of water and not far from the location where it was last documented in 1854…

Archeologists plan to take more images this week from a small inflatable boat they are working with. They hope to use a robot equipped with cameras, similar to equipment now being used in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, to learn about the ship.

The graves of three Royal Navy sailors, who died in 1853 of scurvy, were also discovered. The British government has been notified of the find…

The Investigator was deployed in 1850 with a 66-man crew, but was eventually abandoned after being locked in the grip of Arctic ice for two winters. The crew, led by Captain Robert John LeMesurier McClure, left behind a cache of equipment and provisions on the shore of what is now part of Aulavik National Park.

Bravo! Time for some forensic archaeology.

Written by Ed Campbell

July 29, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Global warming pushes 2010 temperatures

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Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Global temperatures in the first half of the year were the hottest since records began more than a century ago, according to two of the world’s leading climate research centres.

Scientists have also released what they described as the “best evidence yet” of rising long-term temperatures. The report is the first to collate 11 different indicators – from air and sea temperatures to melting ice – each one based on between three and seven data sets, dating back to between 1850 and the 1970s…

Publishing the newly collated data in London, Peter Stott, the head of climate modelling at the UK Met Office, said despite variations between individual years, the evidence was unequivocal: “When you follow those decade-to-decade trends then you see clearly and unmistakably signs of a warming world”.

“That’s a very remarkable result, that all those data sets agree,” he added. “It’s the clearest evidence in one place from a range of different indices.”

Currently 1998 is the hottest year on record. Two combined land and sea surface temperature records from Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) and the US National Climatic Data Centre (NCDC) both calculate that the first six months of 2010 were the hottest on record. According to GISS, four of the six months also individually showed record highs…

The Met Office said the variations between the figures published by the different organisations are because the Met Office uses only temperature observations, NASA makes estimates for gaps in recorded data such as the polar regions, and the NCDC uses a mixture of the two approaches. The latest figures will give weight to predictions that this year could become the hottest on record.

Despite annual fluctuations, the figures also highlight the clear trend for the 2000s to be hotter than the 1990s, which in turn were clearly warmer than the previous decade, said Stott…

The cause of the warming was “dominated” by greenhouse gases emitted by human activity, said Stott. “It’s possible there’s some [other] process which can amplify other effects, such as radiation from the sun, [but] the evidence is so clear the chance there’s something we haven’t thought of seems to be getting smaller and smaller,” he said.

Not that climate weasels need any unique data to formulate denials.

Written by Ed Campbell

July 29, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Android wallpaper app steals your data

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A questionable Android mobile wallpaper app that collects your personal data and sends it to a mysterious site in China, has been downloaded millions of times, according to data unearthed by mobile security firm Lookout.

That means that apps that seem good but are really stealing your personal information are a big risk at a time when mobile apps are exploding on smartphones, said John Hering, chief executive, and Kevin MaHaffey, chief technology officer at Lookout, in their talk at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas.

“Even good apps can be modified to turn bad after a lot of people download it,” MaHaffey said. “Users absolutely have to pay attention to what they download. And developers have to be responsible about the data that they collect and how they use it.”

The app in question came from Jackeey Wallpaper, and it was uploaded to the Android Market, where users can download it and use it to decorate their phones that run the Google Android operating system. It includes branded wallpapers from My Little Pony and Star Wars, to name just a couple.

It collects your browsing history, text messages, your phone’s SIM card number, subscriber identification, and even your voicemail password. It sends the data to a web site, http://www.imnet.us. That site is evidently owned by someone in Shenzhen, China. The app has been downloaded anywhere from 1.1 million to 4.6 million times. The exact number isn’t known because the Android Market doesn’t offer precise data. The search through the data showed that Jackeey Wallpaper and another developer known as iceskysl@1sters! (which could possibly be the same developer, as they use similar code) were collecting personal data. The wallpaper app asks for “phone info,” but that isn’t necessarily a clear warning…

Stay in touch on this one. Security companies which have a stake in scaring people into using their own software and services don’t get automatic praise – or belief – from my side of cranky skepticism. But, there are beaucoup sites in China selling info like this for a buck a pop – telling the purchaser they have a short time window to use it and lose it – that this really could be one of the sources feeding short-term theft.

Written by Ed Campbell

July 29, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Business, Crime, Geek

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What Do You Lack? Probably Vitamin D

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Vitamin D promises to be the most talked-about and written-about supplement of the decade. While studies continue to refine optimal blood levels and recommended dietary amounts, the fact remains that a huge part of the population — from robust newborns to the frail elderly, and many others in between — are deficient in this essential nutrient.

If the findings of existing clinical trials hold up in future research, the potential consequences of this deficiency are likely to go far beyond inadequate bone development and excessive bone loss that can result in falls and fractures. Every tissue in the body, including the brain, heart, muscles and immune system, has receptors for vitamin D, meaning that this nutrient is needed at proper levels for these tissues to function well.

Studies indicate that the effects of a vitamin D deficiency include an elevated risk of developing (and dying from) cancers of the colon, breast and prostate; high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease; osteoarthritis; and immune-system abnormalities that can result in infections and autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Most people in the modern world have lifestyles that prevent them from acquiring the levels of vitamin D that evolution intended us to have. The sun’s ultraviolet-B rays absorbed through the skin are the body’s main source of this nutrient. Early humans evolved near the equator, where sun exposure is intense year round, and minimally clothed people spent most of the day outdoors…

Although more foods today are supplemented with vitamin D, experts say it is rarely possible to consume adequate amounts through foods. The main dietary sources are wild-caught oily fish (salmon, mackerel, bluefish, and canned tuna) and fortified milk and baby formula, cereal and orange juice.

People in colder regions form their year’s supply of natural vitamin D in summer, when ultraviolet-B rays are most direct. But the less sun exposure, the darker a person’s skin and the more sunscreen used, the less previtamin D is formed and the lower the serum levels of the vitamin. People who are sun-phobic, babies who are exclusively breast-fed, the elderly and those living in nursing homes are particularly at risk of a serious vitamin D deficiency.

An article well worth reading. Lots of detail. Lots of sound, sensible science-based recommendations.

If you’re lazy, experts recommend that adults take a daily supplement of 1,000 to 2,000 units. You need to know that much.

Yes, I do.

Written by Ed Campbell

July 29, 2010 at 6:00 am

US to attend Hiroshima anniversary for first time

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Candles float in the Motoyasu River before the Peace Memorial Park
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

The United States has confirmed that the ambassador to Japan will attend a ceremony marking the anniversary of the Hiroshima atom bomb drop for the first time.

PJ Crowley, a spokesman for the US State Department, said it would be the first time a US ambassador will attend the August 6 anniversary.

About 140,000 people were killed or died within months when an American B-29 bombed Hiroshima.

Mr Crowley would not say if US officials would attend ceremonies in Nagasaki, where 80,000 people died after the United States attacked three days later. Japan surrendered on Aug 15, ending World War II.

Embassy officials from wartime allies and currently nuclear-armed Britain and France also plan to attend the event for the first time, state broadcaster NHK and Kyodo News said, citing unidentified diplomatic sources.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will also attend the ceremony this year, becoming the first chief of the world body to do so…

Many Japanese – including survivors of both atomic bombings known as “hibakusha” – hope Mr Obama will visit Hiroshima in November when he travels to Japan for a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

In a related note [does that sound diplomatic enough], I believe the people of China are still awaiting a visit from Japan’s head of state at the ceremonies honoring the anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre.

300,000 Chinese were murdered by invading Japanese soldiers – well before the United States entered the war in the Pacific.

Written by Ed Campbell

July 29, 2010 at 2:00 am

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