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Archive for April 25th, 2020

Powers of Ten — a classic

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Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2020 at 8:28 pm

Posted in Science, Video

My discoveries about Lernu.net’s free Esperanto course

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Lernu.net is a site that includes an excellent course in Esperanto. It is free, but in order for the site to keep track of the lessons and exercises you’ve completed,, you must register to take the course. (If you didn’t register, the site could not tell what work you’ve completed.) Registration is free.

The site has several features I gradually discovered as I completed the first several lessons. I wanted to note here the things I wish I had known at the outset.

I’m skipping things that seem apparent, commenting only on the things that I did not at first realize.

Home Page

Start with the home page. (This link is to the English-language home page).

Right at the top of the page, you see a to watch a video. Skip it.

Right below that appears in large print the question What is Esperanto?, followed by a link. Click that link and read about what it is, its important traits (“Let me tell you its features!” — line from the Slingshot Channel on YouTube), and a history timeline.

Just below the timeline are six videos. Those I would skip. But the next thing comes with one of my (belated) discoveries: the grammar, beginning with the alphabet.

At the upper left of each letter in the alphabet display is a faint loudspeaker icon. The icon means that if you click on the letter, you’ll hear its name and its use in a word. For example, “B” has the name “bee” in English, but in Esperanto the name is  “boh.” You also hear the letter used in a word (“bela” for B).

The audio teaches you Esperanto pronunciation, and it also teaches you the names of the letters. Letter names are important because as soon as you ask someone to spell a word, they will recite the names of the word’s letters. (That’s why children are taught the ABC song at an early age.)

That little loudspeaker icon appears throughout the course, and much audio is available throughout the site. Following the alphabet on this page, for example, are images that include the loudspeaker icon. Click the image to hear the audio.

Continue down the page clicking. The final link would take you to the course, La Teorio Nakamura, but for now, click the back-arrow and return to the Home Page.

Once back at the Home Page, look at the six links to the resources on the site. Click and explore as you wish.

The course: La Teorio Nakamua

When you go to the course page, you see an icon for each of the 26 lessons. Click the icon for Lesson 1: What is that? (Kio estas tio?)

The green band at the top contains links. The logo is a link to your profile, and there’s a link to the dictionary search. Clicking the dictionary link displays a popup, so when you use the dictionary, you don’t have to leave the text you’re reading.

There’s also a link for a keyboard feature that doesn’t seem to work on a Mac. That’s not a problem because Lernu does diacritics using the “x” system: type an “x” immediately after the character that needs a diacritic, and it gets the diacritic — for example, “cx” immediately becomes “ĉ”, “sx” becomes “ŝ”, and so on.

At the right side of the green band is the “hamburger” that indicates a menu. I discuss that below, but one item in that menu is “Course,” which is where we have come. Lesson 1 serves as an example

The lesson – navigation

The lesson starts with an image and text in Esperanto. Note the green dot above the lesson title. That dot indicates which page of the lesson you’re on (hover the mouse over the dot, and the page number is displayed). If you click one of the other dots, you go at once to that page, which allows fast navigation and also serves as a progress indicator.

The lesson – listening

To the right of the lesson title is an audio bar. Click that to hear the lesson text read aloud. Since it’s important to train one’s listening skills (and reading skills do not carry into listening skills), I use this a lot. I first listen with my eyes shut, trying to understand the words (this doesn’t work so well with the first lesson, since most of the words are new, but as you progress through the lessons, you can understand more and more).

After my first listening, eyes closed, I listen to the audio again, and this time I read the text along with the audio. I then read through the text without the audio. To see the translation of a sentence, hover the mouse over the sentence; to see the definition of a word, click the word.

Once I’m familiar with the vocabulary, I again listen without looking at the text to see how much I understand. I listen a lot so that the sounds become familiar. (I also return to earlier lessons and listen to the audio of the text. after a while I can understand the entire passage without looking at the text — just listening.)

The lesson – speaking

I also have found it important to read aloud the text passage. Speaking skills are independent of reading skills and listening skills, and in particular speaking skills (like writing skills) require and rely on coordinated muscular movement. In speaking, your tongue, lips, mouth shape, and vocal cord control are all important, and the standard repertoire of coordinated movements varies by language — for example, English speakers cannot, without much practice, easily produce in speaking the glottalized clicks common to some languages.

The sounds and sound combinations of Esperanto are not so different as that from English speech, but they still differ in particulars and patterns, and practice is required to produce the sounds with ease and assurance. Reading aloud provides that practice. I occasionally record (using a voice memo app on my phone) my recitation and then play it back. Initially my speech was halting and awkward but — as always — experience results in efficiency, and practice produces progress. I can now read with some fluency.

The lessons do not specifically call for you to read aloud, but I recommend you try it. You’ll quickly see (a) initially it’s difficult, and (b) with consistent practice it becomes easy.

The lesson – vocabulary

Learning vocabulary is much easier with:

  1. active recall — rather than looking at the Esperanto word and the English equivalent side by side, you look only at one and try to recall the other; and
  2. spaced repetition — you periodically return to active recall of vocabulary you’ve learned —  more frequently for difficult words, less frequently for the words you know well.

Anki is a free flashcard program that uses active recall and spaced repetition. It took me a while to figure out how to install and use it — explanation here.

I’m building an Anki deck of flashcards for the Lernu coursse, lesson by lesson. Right now, it’s complete through Lesson 11, and I’ll update it as I move through the course. You can download it here. [3 May 2020: Download link updated once I figured out how to use Anki – LG] And Anki has quite few Esperanto decks. One I particularly liked was Esperanto Affixes. Another useful one is Ace Correlatives Like A Native

Lernu’s course does not explicitly list the new vocabulary in each lesson, and it also introduces a fair amount of new vocabulary in the exercises and examples. That’s why I recommend working with the Anki deck I created. My goals is to include all the vocabulary, from the text passages, exercises, and examples.

The lesson – scoring, and correcting errors

When you finish the first page of the lesson, click “Ready” and you’ll see a score — 10/10 — and you can then click “Next.” That is, you get 10 out 10 points for reading the page, and the same scoring holds for other pages that involve reading. However, for pages involving exercises, your work is scored.

The second page of lesson 1 again consists of reading, with a link for more information. Again, note (and use) the loudspeaker icons: ear-training is essential.

The third page is the first scored exercise. In the exercise, you listen to the spelling of a word and enter the letters in the right order. When you have completed the exercise, click “Ready,” and the program checks your work. If your score is not perfect (10/10),  click “Try again” and correct the errors.

To see which answers are in error, hover the mouse over the answers (before clicking “Try again”), and the answers will be displayed in a little popup. Incorrect answers are flagged with a black background. Once you know which answers are incorrect, click “Try again” and correct your work.

The idea of this approach is to ensure that you master the material, and you do that by continuing to work on the page until all the answers are correct.

I at first didn’t know about how to find the wrong answers, and I gave up on the exercise on page 12 of lesson 1. One answer was wrong, but I just could not see which. Once I discovered the wrong-answer display (hovering the mouse over an answer to see whether it is correct or not), I returned to that lesson and easily found the wrong answer: I had typed “Yes” instead of “Jes.” I corrected it and got the 10/10 result desired.

The course exercises are not to find out how much you know but rather to help you learn, so you keep working on each exercise until it’s perfect. The “Try again” option sometimes gets quite a workout, but when I finish the exercise, every answer is correct.

The “More Information” button that appears in various lessons offers in-depth information. You don’t have to absorb all of it, but it’s helpful.

Exercises that require you to match a word with an image by presenting a line of words at the bottom with each image having a box for its word can be done by dragging the appropriate word to the appropriate box. Easier, though, to move the words to the boxes in order by clicking each word in turn. Click the words in image order, going through the images left to right in each row, moving top to bottom.

Hamburger Menu

I mentioned the Hamburger Menu at the right of the top green band. It has links for these resources:

What is Esperanto?  — That was covered above, through the link from the home page.

Course  — already discussed

Grammar — This link takes you to the table of contents for a reasonably comprehensive grammar, which you can explore as needed. It’s a good reference and can clarify issues that might otherwise puzzle you.

Media Library  — This has a variety of media in various categories and at three levels — easy, medium, hard. You can filter the entries to find those of interest. Some  text materials include the audio bar so that you can test your listening comprehension. Clicking a word displays a popup with the translation — a big help for a beginner.

Teaching materials  — This is specifically for teachers — and a great resource for them.

Forum — a place to ask and answer questions and exchange information. I’ve used the forum to get help in understanding various things. And I shall post in the forum a link to this blog entry.


That summarizes my initial discoveries. Lernu.net is a good site that teaches an interesting language. Give it a go.

And if you do decide to learn Esperanto, take a look at this list of online resources.

UPDATE: I also found Duolingo’s Esperanto course to be useful. You can review my posts on Duolingo for more info.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2020 at 7:18 pm

A few observations on Duolingo’s Esperanto course

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First: Duolingo’s Esperanto course is free. For a good overview of the course structure, argot, and operation, see the Duolingo wiki, a site created and maintained by Duolingo users. Though it has no official connection to Duolingo, it is very helpful in explaining how Duolingo works.

Step 1: Sign up!
The language “skill tree”  (But: see below, Best strategy for working through the tree)
Inside Duolingo lessons
New vocabulary hints
If at first you don’t succeed…
Remember me?
Levels
But wait, there’s more!
The Duolingo community
Duolingo on the go
Looking for more info? We’ve got you covered.
See also
References

Duolingo lessons are extremely brief, so that you get a sense of rapid progress. (It reminds me of how War and Peace, though quite long, gives the reader a sense of rapid progress because in general the chapters are short.)

Update: After six weeks of daily use of Duolingo I had some insight into why it works (and I ahd learned a lot of Esperanto). /update

You can avoid excessive mouse use by typing your answer and using return instead of selecting words from a list and clicking “Check” and then “Continue.” I find using the return key is faster and more convenient than clicking buttons. Click the “Use keyboard” button to avoid the painfully slow process of word selection.

Duolingo uses repetition to build familiarity and quicker understanding of what is being said or written. You have the option to skip some items, but I never do. (I recall reading that Ben Hogan in playing would concede his opponent’s putts — a “gimme,” I think it’s called — for the first several holes and then would not concede any more, which increased the pressure.) I fear if I start skipping I’ll stop learning. Reinforcement is fine.

The audio (“write what you hear” for a phrase spoken in the language you’re studying) develops listening skills. This is important because the skills of reading, listening, speaking, and writing are pretty much independent, and each must be practiced to gain mastery. The speakers vary, with the same phrase being presented with different speakers at different times.

The speakers vary in clarity: some enunciate carefully and clearly. Some clearly enunciate but also speak very rapidly. One mumbles so that it is hard to hear whether he is saying “mi” or “ni” (or “li” or “ili”). One has a tendency to throw in an extra syllable, as when (say) an English speaker pronounces “grand” as “guh-rand” — this guy says “uh-li” for “li.” The extra syllables make it very hard to understand what is being said, and I tended to always get those wrong in my transcription (“Write what you hear”). The reason for the variety of accents is that Duolingo uses contributions from their students as well as professional voice actors.

The more I thought about it, the more I understand why this is good (or as that last guy would say, “uh-good”). When you are speaking with actual people, some will speak clearly and distinctly (but probably those are a minority), some will speak clearly but very rapidly, and some will mumble and mispronounce words. You, the listener, must make sense of what they all say. See this post: Oral typos and autocorrect by the unconscious.

If a speaker seriously makes an error (e.g., clearly says “de” when the correct word is “el” — and you are marked incorrect if you write “de”), you can report the speaker’s error by clicking the “Report” option that’s shown when the correct answer is displayed and then click “Audio does not sound correct.”

There’s also a “Discuss” option shown along with the correct answer. This provides a way of seeking more clarity on a particular question, and the discussions at the link often develop useful posts.

Duolingo lets you repeat the audio as many times as you want: just click the loudspeaker icon and it will say again. And (important) you can repeat the audio after you’ve been told your transcription is incorrect — thus after the correct transcription is shown. I use the correct transcription as a pony and listen repeatedly to the spoken phrase until I can clearly hear the meaning through the “noise” (as it were) of slurred speech and extra syllables. Then I listen to the audio with my eyes shut, getting the meaning purely from the audio.

One tactic I’ve learned to be effective: listen to the audio repeatedly until you have the complete sentence (in Esperanto) in mind. Only after you have the full sentence in mind, use the keyboard to enter it in the text box. Then listen to the audio again, reading along with what you entered. This will allow you to correct errors — for example, I find I have a tendency to omit “la” when I transcribe from memory, and I often mishear “ni” as “mi.”

Over time, you will improve your ability to hear and recall the entire phrase. It’s a skill, so it requires practice.

I’ve noticed as I’ve progressed that I do understand more clearly what is said. My unconscious seems to be filtering out the noise and focusing more on the relevant sounds — the cocktail-party effect in action. And there’s more at work than just the cocktail-party effect: see this post: listening is active, not passive. You don’t simply take in the sounds the speaker makes, you unconsciously (as you learn the language) begin to adjust the sounds so that you start to “hear” what the speaker intended and not necessarily what the speaker said. (More at that link.)

This sounds a lot like training a neural network, and the reason it sounds like that is because that’s exactly what it’s doing: it’s training a neural network (the brain).

UPDATE on listening comprehension. Somewhere around 4 months in, I fell into a kind of depression, feeling I was not making progress. I had been completing around 100-150 XP per day, and I dropped back to 30 XP per day. This lasted for a couple of weeks, and then I got interested again and resumed my former rate. What’s interesting is that after that period my listening comprehension seemed to be significantly improved.

It struck me that the depression may have been a side effect of some rewiring going on in my brain — much as a very young child seems highly irritable and unhappy just before acquiring a new skill (such as learning to walk). I have always attributed that to frustration: the old skill level is not good enough and the new skill is too hard. But perhaps it is the side-effect of that rewiring of brain synapses that the new skill requires.

Bottom line: if you find yourself frustrated at some lack of progress, it’s worthwhile to work through that period of frustration. You may find that once you’re through, you find you are “suddenly” much better. /UPDATE

Another tip: Some exercises present an English sentence and ask you to pick the correct Esperanto translation from three options. I have found these exercises work best if I first translate the English into Esperanto (in my mind) before I look at the three options. But have the Esperanto translation already in mind, it makes it easy to find the correct options, plus I get a little more practice in translating.

The big discoveries in ease of use were keyboard entry instead of word selection and using the enter key to move along instead of clicking the buttons offered. [To that I must now add discovering the Duolingo wiki referenced above.]

UPDATE: Another useful discovery: how the lessons and levels and skills work, and a better study strategy. See this post. /update

I initially use the “Coach” setting to set my daily goal to 30 XP per day (“serious”) but increased it to 50XP per day (“intense”) and usually do 100 XP or more. Doing 100 XP  is easy: it amounts to working through the lessons to complete a level (usually 6 lessons), plus working through 3 reviews to “repair” skills that are “broken” (as shown by the gold disk being cracked).

Easy diacritics: Chrome has an extension Anstatauxi that allows easy entry of diacritics: type x following a letter that requires a diacritic and the diacritic will appear — for example cx produces ĉ, Cx produces Ĉ, and so on for the letters ĝ Ĝ  ĥ Ĥ ĵ Ĵ ŝ Ŝ and ŭ. This means you don’t have to click a button to get those characters when doing text entry in Duolingo. The extension also works in Opera, the browser that I use. Worth downloading. (And note that it doesn’t collide with regular use, since those combinations do not occur in words.) I use this extension and like it a lot.

The same capability is built into Lernu.net for the data entry within that course, and Firefox has similar extensions — the one I use is Ektajpu, but it’s not the only one. See also this general discussion of ways to type Esperanto diacritics.

Duolingo will also accept and score as correct a character combination using the x for a diacritic. That is, if the correct answer is “loĝi,” Duolingo will accept “logxi” as correct.

On Apple computers, you can use the Extended keyboard option. With this keyboard Option-6 produces ˆ and Option-b produces ˘ and the cursor does not advance so the next letter typed appears under the diacritic remark. With practice these key combinations become automatic.

Note the Duolingo forum for Esperanto, and especially note the first post in the forum.  (It’s a “sticky” post so that it stays first.) It consists of links to resources.

Also useful: the Facebook group for Duolingo Esperanto students. This is a useful resource specifically for Duolingo.

Also note that Aniki’s collection of shared decks for Esperanto include three decks for Duolingo vocabulary. I use both of those to lock down my vocabulary knowlege. Also, this deck provides a great number of Esperanto words ordered by frequency of use (so that you learn first the words most frequently used). I study all the decks together since Anki’s spaced repetition makes it easy. More information on Anki in this post.

Best tactics with exercises

See Useful Duolingo Tactics for the tactics that proved to work best for me.

Best strategy for working through the tree

See Maximizing benefits of Duolingo’s spaced repetition in language learning.

See also this post by Duolingo’s learning designers: What’s the best way to learn with Duolingo?

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2020 at 1:16 pm

How Trump Wasted the Best Tool He Had to Fight Coronavirus

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Eric Cortellessa writes in the Washington Monthly:

Out of all the responsibilities President Donald Trump has shirked during the COVID-19 pandemic, from not pressing China for information on the virus in its early weeks to not building up a testing regime in the United States, none has been more derelict than his administration’s failure to provide front-line healthcare workers with the medical and protective equipment they need.

What’s most exasperating is that there was a system in place to provide that equipment: the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile, an integrated collection of secret, federally-controlled warehouses with billions of dollars worth of precisely the kind of critical supplies that were needed in this crisis, such as masks and ventilators.

Once the CIA warned Trump of a coming pandemic in January, his administration should have immediately ordered more such equipment to meet the coming surge. That he didn’t left American hospitals overwhelmed. It left states having to claw to obtain the materials they need to save lives. Of course, it didn’t help that Trump did nothing to replenish or update the stockpile in his first three years in office; by mid-April, it had already distributed 90 percent of the stockpile’s supplies.

The president and his administration then compounded these grievous errors with lies and misinformation. The president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has said the stockpile was for the federal government, not the states. In fact, it was built precisely for states and localities to use in the case of an emergency. Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly blamed his predecessor for leaving him with a depleted stockpile. “Our cupboards were bare,” he told reporters last weekend. Yet the Obama administration, having used the stockpile to deal with the swine flu and the Ebola crises, tried to increase funding for it, but was blocked by Tea Party Republicans and sequestration.

Trump’s mismanagement of the reserve is more than just another case of the administration’s tendency to shift blame and spew lies. It gets at the heart of one of the key roles of any president—to prepare for threats that have not yet happened.

One president who exemplified this foresight was Bill Clinton, who created the Strategic National Stockpile in his second term. For more insight into this, I spoke with Richard Clarke, Clinton’s chief counterterrorism adviser on the National Security Council and the man the president tasked with building the stockpile.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What led to the creation of the national stockpile? It’s been reported that President Clinton came up with the idea after reading a bioterrorism thriller. Is that true? 

There were a lot of novels out. Richard Preston wrote one. The president was a great reader of everything. He stayed up late every night reading. He went through several books a week. I recall getting a couple bounced over to me, with questions like, “Could this really happen?”

But it wasn’t just that he had read novels. There were two events in the mid-1990s that, together, jarred the president: the Oklahoma City bombing, which was done by two Americans with an 18-wheel tractor trailer filled with explosives, and separately, in Tokyo, a fringe group called the Aum Shinrikyo developed their own biological and chemical weapons and tried them out on the Tokyo subway.

This caused the president, among others, to think: What if those two things came together? What if, suddenly, we had large attacks using chemical or biological weapons on our subways? President Clinton asked me to see if we were at all prepared to handle that. We came back to him and said we weren’t. There were no detection capabilities for most of these kinds of attacks. There were no response capabilities in most cities. Nobody was trained, nobody was equipped.

Not only would we not be able to deal with the consequences, we wouldn’t even have detected the attack. There was no detection equipment deployed anywhere. The Army had some for battlefield use, but there was nothing in any cities. There was nothing in the White House. We wouldn’t have known if the White House had been sprayed with a biological weapon.

So we started a program. It was originally designed to deal with bioterrorism. But we also realized that you could use it for a pandemic.

How did you realize that?

Well, in investigating all that, we found a lot of interest from the Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They told us a very similar thing could happen naturally—an emerging infectious disease, like the 1918 flu. We weren’t prepared for that either. What we figured out was, we could set up a nationwide detection system and an international system that would work for both biological attacks from terrorists and emerging infectious diseases.

The president secured money from Congress to put into the Public Health Service and the CDC to create a stockpile. A lot of it was grant money that went down to the state and county level, so they could have labs that would be able to detect and test. They set up a system so that when people came to emergency rooms and reported illnesses, that information would go into a national monitoring system. We realized that if a big event happened in any city, the city would be overwhelmed. So we set up a national stockpile of emergency medical gear that included medicines, hospital beds, ventilators, and put it in warehouses around the country.

We had a plan that when the equipment reached near its expiration date, it would be rotated, either through the Defense Department or Veterans medical systems, so that the equipment would be used before their expiration dates.

How was the stockpile set up so that the government could use it if a real crisis happened? . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2020 at 8:43 am

Blood Sugar Can Trigger a Deadly Immune Response in the Flu and Possibly COVID-19

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Tanya Lewis writes in Scientific American:

Many people dying in the novel coronavirus pandemic appear to be harmed more by their own immune system than by the virus itself. The infection can trigger a cytokine storm—a surge in cell-signaling proteins that prompt inflammation—that hits the lungs, attacking tissues and potentially resulting in organ failure and death. But this phenomenon is not unique to COVID-19; it sometimes occurs in severe influenza, too. Now a study sheds light on one of the metabolic mechanisms that help orchestrate such runaway inflammation.

Scientists have long known that viral infections can affect human cellular metabolism, the system of biochemical reactions needed to provide energy for everything cells do. In the new paper, researchers showed that in live mice and human cells, infection with an influenza A virus—one of two types that typically cause seasonal flu—sets off a chain of cellular events, or a pathway, that boosts the metabolism of glucose. This action, in turn, triggers the production of an avalanche of cytokines. And blocking a key enzyme involved in the glucose pathway could be one way to prevent a deadly cytokine storm, according to the study, which was published last week in Science Advances.

Although the research was not focused on the novel coronavirus, the team says the same mechanism is likely at play in the illness it causes: COVID-19. This connection could explain why people with diabetes are at a higher risk of dying from the virus.

When a virus infects a cell, it steals resources in order to make copies of itself, explains Paul Thomas, an immunologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., who was not involved in the new study. Infected cells have to boost their metabolism to replenish these resources, and healthy cells must also do so in order to mount an effective immune response, he says.

Prior research had shown that an influenza infection increases the metabolism of glucose, the sugar molecule that fuels most cellular activities. And in previous work, the authors of the new paper had identified a pathway, involving a signaling protein called interferon regulatory factor 5 (IRF5), in which a flu infection can lead to a cytokine storm.

In its latest study, the team revealed, at a detailed molecular level, how a glucose metabolism pathway activated by flu infection leads to an out-of-control immune response. During such an infection, high levels of glucose in the blood cause an enzyme called O-linked β-N-acetylglucosamine transferase (OGT) to bind to, and chemically modify, IRF5 in a process known as glycosylation. This step enables another chemical modification, called ubiquitination, that leads to a cytokine inflammatory response.

The researchers infected mice with influenza A and then administered glucosamine, a sugar that kicks off this glucose metabolism pathway. They showed that doing so increased the production of cytokines. Next, they genetically engineered mice that lacked the gene that enables OGT production. These mice did not develop an over-the-top cytokine response when exposed to glucosamine.

Finally, the scientists analyzed blood collected from flu patients and healthy individuals in Wuhan, China, between 2018 and 2019. They found that the flu-infected subjects’ blood had higher glucose levels—and correspondingly higher levels of immune system signaling molecules—than that of the healthy patients. That result further supports the idea that glucose metabolism plays a role in flu infection.

The findings suggest that interfering with this pathway could be one way to prevent the cytokine storm seen in flu and other viral infections. Such an intervention would need to be done carefully, however, to avoid . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the article, something particularly of interest to me:

Given the role of glucose in the pathway, could a person’s diet have an effect on his or her response to a viral infection? “That’s a very good question,” Wen says. “At this moment, I think it’s too early to make a judgment [about whether] a special diet can fight against virus infection.” What scientists do know is that people with type 2 diabetes are more susceptible to severe flu infections. But that risk is not because they have higher glucose levels in their blood. The real reason, Wen says, is that they cannot use glucose effectively—and thus cannot initiate a proper antiviral response.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2020 at 8:38 am

Posted in Health, Medical, Science

You, Too, Can Acquire a Super Memory

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Catherine Caruson writes in Scientific American:

Elite memory athletes are not so different from their peers in any other sport: They face off in intense competitions where they execute seemingly superhuman feats such as memorizing a string of 500 digits in five minutes. Most memory athletes credit their success to hours of memorization-technique practice. One lingering question, though, is whether memory champs succeed by practice alone or are somehow gifted. Recent research suggests there may be hope for the rest of us. A study published in Neuron provides solid evidence that most people can successfully learn and apply the memorization techniques used by memory champions while triggering large-scale brain changes in the process.

A team led by Martin Dresler of Radboud University in the Netherlands used a combination of behavioral tests and brain scans to compare memory champions with the general population. It found that top memory athletes had a different pattern of brain connectivity than controls did but also that subjects who learned a common technique over a period of weeks, not years, greatly improved their memory skills and began to exhibit brain-connection patterns resembling those of elite memorizers.

Many of us learn new skills throughout our lives, and scientists have long wondered if, and how, our brain changes as a result. Previous research has linked some skills to specific changes. One well-known set of studies showed that London taxi drivers developed more gray matter in their hippocampus (a brain area linked to memory) as they acquired the knowledge needed to navigate the city’s haphazard maze of streets. Dresler and his colleagues, motivated in part by co-author and professional memory trainer Boris Konrad, decided to focus on elite memory athletes who utilize techniques to compete at highly specific tasks such as memorizing decks of cards or lines of binary digits in minutes. They wanted to know whether these highly skilled practitioners exhibit noticeable brain changes and how those changes occur.

In the first part of the study the researchers matched 23 elite memory champions with control subjects based on age, gender and IQ. Both groups underwent a series of brain scans, including anatomical scans and functional MRI during a resting state—one in which subjects were not doing anything—and during a memory task. The researchers found the memory champions did not differ from the controls in any particular brain region but rather had different patterns of brain connectivity during resting-state and task-based fMRI scans. To Dresler, these results suggested “there’s not a sort of general hardware difference in memory champions that allows them to reach these memory levels but that something subtler is going on,” which spurred the team to investigate further.

Next, the researchers took 51 subjects who had never previously engaged in memory training and divided them into an experimental group and two control groups. Experimental subjects underwent six weeks of intense memory training for half an hour each day using the centuries-old method of loci strategy still popular with memory champions: They learned how to map new information such as numbers or names onto familiar spatial locations such as those in their homes. The active control group trained for a working memory task called the n-back that does not train long-term memory. Meanwhile the passive control group received no training.

After training, the experimental subjects improved significantly at memory tasks (whereas neither control group improved) yet did not exhibit any structural brain changes. Their brain-connection patterns during resting-state and task-based fMRI scans, however, became more similar to those of memory champs, a change that correlated positively with memory improvements. “I think the interesting part is . . .

Continue reading.

For an entertaining book on memory training, I highly recommend Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2020 at 8:31 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Science

The Dead Sea and the S1

with 2 comments

That’s a pretty sharp image for a 1/2 second exposure — thanks Craig B for the tip on using the timer.

I went aggressively after the smooth supple soft shave today, with (a) The Dead Sea, which seems to promote such results, (b) a slant razor, in this case Above the Tie’s S1, and (c) Krampert’s Finest Acadian Spice Bay Rum, an unusually moisturizing splash.

The Plisson synthetic did a fine job — I know now to use a brush that’s merely damp when loading with The Dead Sea — and the lather was exceptionally good. I do like the fragrance: lemon, rosemary, cannabis, saffron, and sandalwood.

Three very comfortable passes and then a splash of Krampert’s — and I was quite close to the idea result. A very fine shave, though not so stellar smooth as the one I’m seeking.

So it goes. The journey continues.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2020 at 8:03 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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