Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 17th, 2012

Interesting application of epidemiological software to terrorism and asymmetric warfare

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It makes sense, in a way: the warfare between microbe and man is already asymmetric, and the software involved is used to predict outbreaks. Rachel Ehrenberg reports in Science News:

A new advanced weapon may offer strategy guidance for the war in Afghanistan: math. Using secret U.S. military logs made public by WikiLeaks, scientists have created a mathematical simulation that may help predict the intensity and whereabouts of future insurgent activity.

The simulation also evaluates its own predictions, acknowledging that some events may be impossible to foresee. Such an approach might help decision makers better weigh their options, the researchers say online July 16 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“If the model says there’s a lot of uncertainty about what’s going to happen in an area, then you might act differently than if you were more certain that you were going to see an increase in activity,” says computer scientist Guido Sanguinetti of the University of Edinburgh, coauthor of the new study.

Sanguinetti and his colleagues took a mathematical approach that’s typically used by epidemiologists to predict the spread of a virus or disease outbreak. But instead of using data on the where and when of newly infected individuals, the researchers used details from the Afghan War Diary, a blow-by-blow of the conflict in Afghanistan that was published by the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks in 2010. The documents contain more than 75,000 logs of military actions, from routine searches to major gunfights.

Data fed to the computer simulation are represented as coordinates on a map, generating a good visual representation of how and where in Afghanistan the conflict escalated from 2004 through 2009. After training the model on the War Diary data, the team asked it to predict the likelihood and whereabouts of armed opposition group activity in 2010. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 July 2012 at 2:40 pm

FDA follows instructions from chemical industry and bans BPA in baby-food containers

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The industry has already quit using BPA (bisphenol-A) in baby-food containers, but they asked the FDA to please ban it (since they don’t use it) so that consumers will have confidence in baby-food containers. Meanwhile, its use continues in food containers for adults, where the estrogen-mimicker leaches into foods. The FDA (presumably following directions from the chemical and food industries) refuses to ban BPA in those containers—though I suppose once industry discontinues use, the FDA will then ban it. Sabrina Tavernise has the report in the NY Times:

The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that baby bottles and children’s drinking cups could no longer contain bisphenol A, or BPA, an estrogen-mimicking industrial chemical used in some plastic bottles and food packaging.

Manufacturers have already stopped using the chemical in baby bottles and sippy cups, and the F.D.A. said that its decision was a response to a request by the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s main trade association, that rules allowing BPA in those products be phased out, in part to boost consumer confidence.

But the new prohibition does not apply more broadly to the use of BPA in other containers, said an F.D.A. spokesman, Steven Immergut. He said the decision did not amount to a reversal of the agency’s position on the chemical. The F.D.A. declared BPA safe in 2008, but began expressing concerns about possible health risks in 2010.

Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at the agency, said the decision simply codified what the industry was already doing based on the preference of consumers and did not reflect concerns about the safety of BPA in baby bottles or toddler’s cups.

The decision “solidifies legally that the use will not happen again in the future” in baby bottles and cups for toddlers, he said. He added that the agency “has been looking hard at BPA for a long time, and based on all the evidence, we continue to support its safe use.” . . .

Continue reading. Interesting locution, that: “its safe use.” I, of course, support its safe use as well—that is, use other than in food containers. Or dental fillings: because in other news about BPA and hormone mimics, BPA-based dental fillings cause quantifiable drops in psychosocial function: kids with such fillings become more moody, aggressive, and generally less well-adjusted. Here’s the report in Science News by Janet Raloff:

A new study finds that children who have their cavities filled with a white composite resin known as bis-GMA appear to develop small but quantifiable drops in psychosocial function. To put it simply: Treated kids can become more moody, aggressive and generally less well adjusted.

Bis-GMA is hardly a household name, although its starting ingredient — bisphenol A — is. An estrogen-mimicking compound, BPA is best known as a building block of some clear plastics, food-contact resins and inks used for store receipts.

The new report, posted online July 16 in Pediatrics, is “very important,” says Philip Landrigan, director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. These data linking bis-GMA and behavioral changes in kids “make a strong case that in the short term, use of BPA-containing dental materials should be minimized,” he says. Over the longer term, he argues, manufacturers should look to discontinue the materials’ use in children as soon as acceptable substitutes are readily available.

In the new study, researchers followed more than 400 youngsters with cavities after each received his or her first-ever fillings. Throughout the next 5 years, the scientists linked a subtle drop in behavioral scores to . . .

Continue reading. I feel sure the FDA will take no action until cued by industry. Right now, it probably supports the “safe use” of BPA in dental fillings.

Written by Leisureguy

17 July 2012 at 2:30 pm

Spinning ourselves into a deficit panic

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Interest report at TomDispatch by Mattea Kramer:

You couldn’t make this stuff up: thanks to Harold Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and the power of “earmarks,” the Army has bought $6.5 million worth of “leakproof” drip pans “to catch transmission fluid on Black Hawk helicopters,” reports the New York Times.  Those pans were purchased from a company called Phoenix Products, whose owners, coincidentally, are contributors to the congressman’s political committee (and other Republican causes).  Oh, and according to the Times, “the company has paid at least $600,000 since 2005 to a Washington lobbying firm, Martin Fisher Thompson & Associates, to represent its interests on federal contracting issues.” Anyway, do the math and you end up with a $17,000 Army drip pan — and there’s one tiny catch: another company sells a comparable drip pan for about $2,500.

Is anybody shocked?  This, after all, is the world of the U.S. military, which has been right up there with the 1% this last decade when it comes to garnering and squandering riches. It’s been ever more flush, while the taxpayers whose dollars it’s been raking in have done ever less well.  And symbolic as those drip pans may be, they aren’t even a drip in the bucket of Pentagon expenses when you start looking at the big-ticket items.

Take the already notorious F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.  Once billed as a low-cost solution to maintaining control of the global skies, it’s now in competition for first place in any most-expensive-jet-fighter-in-history contest.  (The present title-holder is the F-22, a $400 million plane whose pilots fear an oxygen malfunction every time they take off, and which “sat out” all Washington’s recent wars.)

The F-35’s price tag went up yet again recently, though only by a piddling $289 million, even as its production schedule continues to fall ever further behind.  As of now, the total cost for 2,457 of the aircraft is officially pegged at . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 July 2012 at 7:57 am

Another clever attack on a disease via the mosquito vector

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The New Yorker recently had an article (behind a paywall, alas) about a clever genetic-engineering attack on malaria, but creating male mosquitoes whose offspring die. The beginning of the article is at the link:

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are among the deadliest creatures on earth. Before a vaccine was discovered in the nineteen-thirties, the mosquito transmitted the yellow-fever virus to millions of people with devastating efficiency. The mosquito also carries dengue, one of the most rapidly spreading viral diseases in the world. According to the World Health Organization, dengue infects at least fifty million people a year. More than half a million people become seriously ill from the disease. There is no vaccine or cure for dengue, or even a useful treatment. Now a British biotechnology company called Oxitec has developed a method to modify the genetic structure of the male Aedes mosquito, essentially transforming it into a mutant capable of destroying its own species. Oxitec, which is short for Oxford Insect Technologies, has essentially transformed the insect-research facility Moscamed, in the Brazilian city of Juazeiro, into an entomological assembly line. In one tightly controlled space, mosquitoes are hatched, nurtured, fed a combination of goat’s blood and fish food, and bred. Lab technicians then destroy the females they have created and release the males into the wild. Eggs fertilized by those genetically modified males will hatch normally, but soon after, and well before the new mosquitoes can fly, the fatal genes prevail, killing them all. The goal is both simple and audacious: to overwhelm the native population of Aedes aegypti and wipe them out, along with the diseases they carry. The engineered mosquitoes, officially known as OX513A, lead a brief but privileged life. The entire process, from creation to destruction, takes less than two weeks. Mentions Andrew McKemey. The field trial, which began a year ago, is a collaboration between Moscamed, Oxitec, and the University of São Paulo. Preliminary results have been impressive: the group recently collected a sample of eggs in two neighborhoods where the engineered mosquitoes had been released, and found that eighty-five per cent of them were genetically modified. Despite the experiment’s scientific promise, many people regard the tiny insect as a harbinger of a world where animals are built by nameless scientists, nurtured in beakers, then set loose—with consequences, no matter how noble the intention, that are impossible to anticipate or control. Mentions Luke Alphey. In 2009, Key West, Florida, suffered its first dengue outbreak in seventy-three years. Michael S. Doyle, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District’s executive director, invited Oxitec’s founder, Luke Alphey, and its chief executive, Hadyn Parry, to explain their approach at a town meeting. Opponents mobilized within hours of receiving notice of the meeting. The biggest question raised by the creation of OX513A is who will regulate it and how. To the consternation of many, Oxitec recently applied to the F.D.A. for approval of its mosquito. In Key West, the town meeting with the Oxitec scientists and Doyle quickly became emotional, and, at times, rancorous. Oxitec was portrayed as an international conglomerate willing to “play God” and endanger an American paradise. The worry about theoretical risk tends to overwhelm any discussion of possible benefits. “But to get rid of the virus, we have to get rid of the mosquitoes,” stated Aldo Malavasi, the director of Moscamed. . .

The effort has attracted opposition because some fear consequences (which they cannot name or describe) that would be bad, but of course the consequences of dengue are well-known and terribly bad. I personally see the approach being developed as commendable and sensible: the known evil to be conquered is here now, and unknown consequences are not only unknown but also hard to envisage: the mosquito is not a keystone of ecology: it pollinates no plants, sustains no important predator speciies. Mostly it reproduces and gives people dengue fever and malaria, among other diseases.

Now in The Scientist is a description of another intriguing approach to fighting mosquito-borne malaria, with the genetic engineering this time applied to the mosquitoes’ intestinal flora: bacteria altered to attack the  Plasmodium parasite, which causes malaria, at a vulnerable stage of its lifecycle. Jef Akst reports:

For years, researchers have been altering mosquito genetics in an attempt to halt the malaria parasite’s lifecycle in the insect before it can spread the disease. But getting the modified gene or genes to spread through a population of mosquitoes has proved to be an intractable problem. Now, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health are taking a different approach—introduce malaria-thwarting genetic changes into mosquito commensal flora.

“We thought that it would be easier to introduce bacteria than genes into mosquitoes in the field,” Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena told the blog Not Exactly Rocket Science (authored by Ed Yong, a regular contributor to The Scientist). Plus, the mosquito gut is the site of the malaria parasite’s reproduction, a particularly vulnerable stage of Plasmodium‘s lifecycle.

Jacobs-Lorena and his team chose to work with Pantoea agglomeransa harmless bacteria common to the mosquito gut, engineering it to fight the Plasmodium parasite. When the researchers introduced the engineered bacteria into mosquitoes in the lab, they found that the number of Plasmodium oocysts, the sporozoite-manufacturing cells that reside in the mosquito gut, were 85 to 98 percent lower than in uninfected mosquitoes. Fewer than 20 percent of the engineered mosquitoes acquired an infection after drinking a contaminated blood meal.

Once again, however, the challenge will be to introduce the bacteria into wild populations of mosquitoes where malaria is still a persistent killer. This problem is compounded by the fact that the engineered bacteria, working hard to produce antimalarial factors, may be less fit than the other commensals in the mosquito gut. “Mosquitoes would therefore have to be continuously exposed to large numbers of these GM bacteria in the field, for the bacteria to stand any chance of becoming a major portion of the microbes that reside in the mosquito gut,” George Dimopoulos, also of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Written by Leisureguy

17 July 2012 at 7:52 am

Posted in Health, Medical, Science

Shave with two lathers and no photo

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Very strange: I tried twice to take photos of today’s shave, but the focus simply would not take. I’ll have to research why.

At a reader request, who noted similarities in the ingredients of Dr. Selby’s 3x concentrated shaving cream (perfectly solid and soap-like in consistency) and Martin de Candre shaving soap, I decided to use both in today’s shave. Both are lavender-fragranced, and both do produce a particularly creamy lather. For one I used the Omega 11047 boar/badger brush (after soaking it while I showered) and for the other the Omega miniature badger brush—the Omega version of a Wee Scot, though with slightly coarser bristles.

The lather in both cases was wonderfully rich and thick. Indeed, it would be hard to choose between them, so I didn’t try. The Martin de Candre was a bit more soap like in that it required a couple of swirls more before the brush was loaded, but both came to life instantly, and both gave a wonderful smooth action to the shave.

The razor was the ARC Weber carrying a previously used Astra Superior Platinum blade. Three passes: first with Dr. Selby’s, second with Martin de Candre, and the third with both: utterly smooth face with no nicks or flaws.

I used a small amount of Saint Charles Shave Aspect shaving balm, and I left to dress feeling tip-top.

Bottom line: both Dr. Selby’s and Martin de Candre belong to the same club.

Written by Leisureguy

17 July 2012 at 7:34 am

Posted in Shaving

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