Monday, December 28, 2015

'Spud Launchers' set to launch potato into space to see if it will grow

A group of middle school students from Buffalo New York want to test out potato gardening by sending a spud into space with a little help from their friends at NASA.
A group of middle school students from Buffalo New York want to test out potato gardening by sending a spud into space with a little help from their friends at NASA.

Last fall, when “The Martian” hit movie theatres, fact-checkers speculated whether potatoes could really grow onMars. Now, a group of middle school students from Buffalo New York want to test out potato gardening by sending a spud into space with a little help from their friends at NASA.

Buffalo News reports Dec. 27 that three students from Hamlin Park School 74 ‒ Gabriella Melendez, Toriana Cornwell and Shaniylah Welch ‒ will see their science experiment entitled “Tuber Growth in Microgravity” sent to the International Space Station (ISS) in the spring/summer of 2016. Their experiment will answer whether the potato can sprout in the ISS laboratory and survive a trip back to earth for subsequent planting.

The self-named “Spud Launchers” were inspired by the film “The Martian” when they came up with their project idea. “We wish to try to grow potatoes on the International Space Station so we can see if the plants will be able to grow on other planets…because of the distinct lack of grocery stores in outer space,” they said.

The project won in a national competition hosted by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) and was selected to be tested on the ISS. The three students worked with researchers from the the Biological Sciences Department at the University at Buffalo and the Agricultural and Life Sciences Department at Cornell to fine-tune their data and research. It wasn’t just a big win for the students, but also for the world of science which has been working to increase interest in the sciences in today’s youth.

*originally published at the now defunct

You can have dinner in this massive gingerbread house

At the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain resort in Marana, Arizona, there is a life-size gingerbread house where you can have your dinner. It’s like something out of Hansel and Gretel and comes complete with a roaring fire. But don’t worry, you won’t run into the evil child-eating witch on these premises.

This isn't your little kitchen table gingerbread house. Just like the fairy tale "Hansel and Gretel", this house comes complete with a dining table and a roaring fireplace.What you will find is a three-course menu, reports the Associated Press Dec. 26. Anyone can walk through the 19-foot high gingerbread house for free so long as no one has reserved it. $150 can get up to six people seating in a space that smells and looks good enough to eat. Then the party can order food and beverages from the hotel kitchen and bar.

The house was built from scratch using gingerbread bricks that were created by top-of-the-line pastry chefs. They used 200 pounds of ginger powder, 400 pounds of honey, 50 pounds of cinnamon and 10 pounds of nutmeg for the house. More than 4,000 bricks in all were created to make the building. The bricks and windows were decorated with gumdrops and candy canes.

The house has been up since Thanksgiving but pastry chefs began construction in June. They made batches of red-tinted gingerbread everyday and then cut them into bricks. It took 13 people and four days to put the house together after the bricks were ready.

The inside of the house features a handmade dining table which makes up part of the elegant place setting.

The gingerbread bricks are safe to eat (though staff urges visitors to not take souvenirs). Staff saw some children licking gingerbread walls but luckily no one ran off with parts of the house.

The life-sized gingerbread house is a project Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain would like to do in some form or another for the 2016 holidays. Although the house isn’t an original idea, it is a bit different than others’ life-size houses which usually just put up a gingerbread facade and ignore the insides of the house.

*originally published at the now defunct

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Robot Drinky is the drinking buddy you've been waiting for

Companion robots as complex as the “Star Wars” droids R2-D2, C-3PO, and BB-8 don’t seem to be too far in the future.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Digital detox: Internet addiction may require rehab

According to the ITU – the United Nations agency for information and communications technologies – more than three billion people around the world currently use the internet. Those numbers are on the rise and as they do, so does a new mental health issue called internet addiction disorder, a health problem that for some may require a visit to rehab.

Internet addiction could send you to rehab. Alternatively, you could just take a digital detox.
Bill Hinton / Getty Images

TNW News reported Dec. 21 that though internet addiction disorder is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, some patients have been admitted into rehabilitation programs because of their codependency on the net. These programs take many forms, includingsurvival and wilderness camps, retreats, medication, talk therapy and support groups. Each program is designed to promote digital detox and train participants to redirect their attentions to more productive activities such as school, work and offline relationships.

Medical professionals don’t agree on whether internet addiction should be considered an addiction at all, let alone how to treat it. Still, digital detox centers and programs are increasing in number. Do a quick Google search and numerous programs offering treatment appear. Some of these programs cost patients thousands of dollars and they often are not covered by their insurance policies.

Excessive internet use can cause problems in an individual’s daily life. For example, some parents watch as their children spend hours on their computers, playing video games or keeping up with social media. The time spent on the internet can cause issues with school work. Youth may experience a lack of initiative and also see their relationships with friends and family suffer. Excessive internet use has also been linked to depressive symptoms in teens.

A slew of other studies point to issues that are created from being constantly connected to the net. From social media’s tendency to promote narcissism and anxiety to smartphones causing insomnia, being so connected seems to be hindering interactions with everyday life and possibly even making users less empathetic to those around them.

Internet addiction disorder is described as an impulse-control issue and can include addictions to computers, cyber-relationships, information overload (web and database surfing), gaming and other net compulsions such as gambling, stock trading and using auction sites like Ebay. Signs and symptoms of the disorder can include losing track of time while online, having trouble staying focused on tasks at home or in the workplace, isolating one’s self from family and social interactions to be online, euphoric feelings when engaged in internet activities and attempts to lessen time on the internet without success.

A full-blown therapy program may not be necessary. Some experts suggest unplugging from all computers and devices for a predetermined amount of time ranging from a full day to weeks or longer. The aim of a digital detox is to reduce stress and to take time to focus more on social interaction and activities outside of the internet.

*originally published at the now defunct

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Kurdish women warriors considered angels of death to the Islamic State

There are many enemies of the Islamic State but a group they fear more than others is a group of Kurdish women fighters who set out to reclaim their cities with an undaunted ferocity.

There are many enemies of the Islamic State but a group they fear more than others is a group of Kurdish women fighters called the YPJ who set out to reclaim their cities with an undaunted ferocity.
Getty Images Europe

These women warriors are part of the People’s Protection Units, or Yekîneyên Parastina Jin (YPJ) which was founded in 2012. The YPJ account for up to 35 percent of the Kurdish troops fighting the Islamic State from northern Syria. Numbers of women fighters could range as high as 10,000.

YPJ warriors work alongside their male counterparts (YPG) to force Islamic State militants out of their lands. Men of the Islamic State fear them so much because they believe that dying by a woman’s hand doesn’t lead to martyrdom but instead to an eternal afterlife in hell. on Dec. 19 posted a short “60 Minutes” documentary led by Australian television presenter Tara Brown. In the documentary, Brown observes and reports from alongside the women fighters who work day and night to battle the Islamic State, and describes what she saw there as “triumphant and terrible.”

YPJ’s women have pushed Islamic State militants back thousands of miles and reclaimed hundreds of towns and cities. Yet, although they have stationed themselves in the Kurdish north, pushing Isis State militants farther and farther out, they still run the risk of militants making their way back across.

“We are ready to sacrifice ourselves to protect humanity, to save society, the civilization here,” said one of the YPJ fighters in an interview with Brown. Many women warriors of the YPJ feel the same and work tirelessly to that end.

*originally published on the now defunct

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Federal Reserve raises interest rates; many still struggle in economic recovery

The Federal Reserve hiked interest rates last Wednesday after determining the U.S. economy and labor market healthy enough to handle the increase. This puts the longest lasting stimulus program to rest after almost seven years, and expresses the “confidence” Federal officials have in current economic recovery.

Janet L. Yellen makes announcement of interest rate increase.
Getty Images

The new rate is up about .25 percent from nearly zero after the Federal Reserve’s observations on the economy. In labor markets, unemployment has fallen below recession highs which are down to about five percent from 2009’s 10 percent peak, reports The Washington Post, Dec. 18

Household spending has increased across the nation. In the Federal Reserve’s eyes, the U.S. economy is recovered enough from the Great Recession to warrant less assistance.

The Federal Reserve admits that they do not know how the rate increase will affect businesses and individuals in regards to mortgage rates, consumer loans and credit.

The statistics used in the Federal Reserve’s decision look really good at the surface level. However, while unemployment rates may be down, there are still people who are working part time and seeking full time work, those who have been unemployed since the recession and those who are making below a livable wage.

Despite jobs being added to the market and the employment rate increasing, wages have stagnated. As a result, low-wage earners haven’t felt the effects of economic recovery. Minorities, single-parent families and youth entering the workforce struggle the most. 

Economic security and opportunities to build a solid financial foundation seem just out of reach for those who are struggling to make ends meet. There is still a long way to go towards full recovery.

*originally published at the now defunct

Monday, December 14, 2015

'Star Citizen' breaks crowdfunding record and builds the MMO of gamers' dreams

Star Citizen’, a new massively multiplayer online game, has made crowdfunding history. With over 1 million backers, the MMO has raised more than $100 million, making it the most successful crowdfunded project ever.

"Star Citizen" promises to become the game of gamers' and developers' dreams.
Star Citizen

Venturebeat reports Dec. 14 that the game was first announced in 2012. Video game developer Chris Roberts (Wing Commander, Freelancer) made $2.1 million via Kickstarter a couple of years ago. Then, he continued the crowdfunding campaign outside of Kickstarter with a campaign that Roberts runs himself.

“I don’t want to build a game. I want to build a universe,” states Roberts on his webpage for the game. The game’s creator aims to make an MMO that works as its own world with “unparalleled immersion” and allows for unlimited game play.

Gamers who contribute to the crowdfund campaign are “enlisted” into the “Star Citizen” universe and are given access to the game as well as a ship to begin exploring the virtual world.

Roberts aims to build a community with the game. While people keep giving to the project, he emphasises that the money was never the main goal, though the money does enable more features in the game. “You’ve trusted us with your money so we can build a game, not line our pockets,” he said.

“This is the dream game that all of us have wanted to build all our lives,” said Roberts. He notes that while the game may not always run without a glitch, he and his team are working to keep working on the game until it is also the game of gamer’s dreams.

*originally published on the now defunct

Electric car sales boom in China; government offers generous incentives

In Chinaelectric car sales are booming. As the haze thickens over China’s heavily populated and polluted cities, the country has seen an increase of more than three times the electric car sales from last year.

Electric car sales boom in China; government offers incentives to keep petrol-powered vehicles off the road.
Getty Images

By October 2015, more than 170,000 electric and hybrid cars were sold, more than five-fold what was sold last year. In Shanghai, future electric andhybrid car owners are on a wait list that is currently six months long, reports NPR News Dec. 14. The country is set to surpass electric and hybrid car sales in the U.S. by a great margin. According to Japan Times, sales are predicted to reach up to 250,000 plug-in cars sold for the year. The U.S. is only predicted to sell approximately 180,000 hybrid and electric vehicles.

The heavy pollution in China’s crowded cities is what fuels the trending interest in plug-in vehicles. Officials are setting out to combat the pollution problem which has reached “red alert” status. Officials are aiming to increase the usage of alternatively fueled vehicles while limiting petrol-powered vehicles on the road.

In China, petrol-fueled cars are limited to staying parked on heavy pollution days. Electric and hybrid cars, however, have no limitation for the amount of time they can be on the road.
The government provides other incentives for drivers, as well. Government subsidies are generous and could save drivers thousands of dollars with their purchase. Local governments also offer free parking incentives, free car registration, access to carpool lanes and more.

*originally published at the now defunct

First women elected to serve on Saudi Arabian municipal councils; many more vote

In 2011, the late King Abdullah changed the course of Saudi Arabia’s history by setting a decree declaring that women could vote in local elections. On Saturday Dec. 12, Saudi Arabian women lined up to vote for the first time and many were also in the running for candidacy.

Women voted for the first time in Saudi Arabia over the weekend. Many women also ran for municipal offices and won.
Photo by Jordan Pix/Getty Images

Up to 19 women were elected for local offices over the weekend in cities such as Mecca, Riyadh, Jawf, Madrakah, Tabuk, Qassim, Jeddah and Qatif. 979 women ran in their municipal elections next to almost 6,000 men in 284 city councils for 2,100 seats across the country.

Al Jazeera reports Dec. 13 that Salma bint Hizab al-Oteibi was the first woman to be elected to a city council. She was elected in Madrakah, a village of the Makkah Province in western Saudi Arabia.

Many women went to the polls to exercise their electoral rights, seeing the action as the first of many steps towards a brightening future for women in Saudi Arabia. Women voters will be able to express their needs through the voting process. Having women officials will help to bring women’s needs and concerns to the table.

Fahda al-Rwali, one of the women voters told Al Jazeera, “As a woman, I need some services, some needs in my neighbourhood, like nurseries. I need social centres for youth and retirement, like this. So maybe the woman can concentrate more than the man on those needs."

Saudi Arabian women hope that the landmark elections will lead to a more inclusive society, not only for them, but for their youth. The voting age has recently been reduced from 21 to 18.

According to CBC News, this election saw 130,000 female registered voters, 82 percent of whom cast their votes along side of 600,000 male voters. 1.35 million men had registered. Women voters said that there would have been more of them out at the polls if they were able to to circumvent bureaucratic obstacles, the lack of how the voting process works, how important it is and the lack of transport to the polls.

In Saudi Arabia, women are still not allowed to drive. They are not allowed to leave their homes without a male chaperon. Photographs of them during the electoral process, as well as during the course of their work is banned. Luckily, in these elections, photos of male candidates were also banned.

The most conservative of Saudi Arabia’s cities, Riyadh, saw the most women candidates being elected. This in the face of numerous critics who see women getting the vote as a step towards Westernization.

*originally published at the now defunct

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Security experts suggest an increase in cyber attacks on Apple systems imminent

Apple is on guard as experts from the security company Symantec Corporation warn of increasing cyber attacks on Apple computers in 2016. Symantec released a report suggesting that more malware will target Apple computers and devices, and they are currently giving a heads up to businesses and consumers.

Apple is on guard as experts from the security company Symantec Corporation warn of increasing cyber attacks on Apple computers in 2016.
Getty Images

Apple products have seemed impervious to malware in the past, but in 2015, cyber attacks on iOS devices doubled. Attacks on Mac computers also increased.

Risks of malware attacks are still low in comparison with those of other operating systems. Still, experts warn that attacks are becoming more frequent. “Last year, an average of between 10,000 and 70,000 Mac devices were infected with malware each month,” reports Tech Times Dec. 11. The number of different OS X computers infected with malware in 2015 was seven times more than it was in 2014.

The BBC reports that systems such as Apple Pay could be targeted, as it provides monetary incentive for cybercriminals. In 2015, the security firm FireEye found malware XcodeGhost had not only found its way into iOS, it had also made its way into 210 American businesses, causing a lot of damage before the malware was removed.

Windows and Android devices are still more frequently targeted, but cybercriminals will target Apple products because of their popularity amongst consumers. Symantec reports that jail broken devices are more susceptible to attacks.

To read more about the possible cyberattacks, read the Symantec Corporation Security Response report.

*originally published on the now defunct

Banksy's new mural of Steve Jobs brings attention to Syrian crisis

Banksy reminds that Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant who moved to America after World War II.
Banksy reminds that Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant who moved to America after World War II.

A new mural created by the anonymous street artist Banksy appeared overnight in a refugee camp in Calais, France on Dec. 11. The mural shows late technology entrepreneur Steve Jobs carrying a bag of things slung over his back, and an early Apple computer in his other hand. Jobs looks straight at observers and he appears as if he might run at any moment.

The mural comes amidst fear and general ignorance surrounding the Syrian crisis. While political officials and numerous Americans speak out against President Obama’s plan to allow 10,000 Syrians into the United States because it “takes only one” Islamic State terrorist to come through, Banksy seems to show that denying refugees escape from the crisis could also mean denying the world of a great mind. He also reminds that Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant who moved to America after World War II.

Banksy released a rare statement to the public about the mural:
“We’re often led to believe migration is a drain on the country’s resources but Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant. Apple is the world’s most profitable company, it pays over $7 billion a year in taxes–and it only exists because they allowed in a young man from Homs.”
Jobs’ father, Abdulfattah “John” Jandali went to school in America and later married Jobs’ biological mother. The couple later gave their son up for adoption. Though he did not help raise Jobs, some call him a “father of invention.”

The refugee camp in Calais also uses dismantled pieces from Banksy’s recent “Dismaland” exhibition as building materials for the camp. The camp is also known as “The Jungle” and houses 5,000 migrants.

*originally published at the now defunct

Monday, December 7, 2015

Young man will be the first to receive penis transplant in the United States

A young man could have a new penis transplanted in the next coming months by surgeons at Johns Hopkins University Hospital.
A young man could have a new penis transplanted in the next coming months by surgeons at Johns Hopkins University Hospital.

Penis transplants have not yet been performed in the United States, but a young soldier who suffered injuries from a bomb blast during his time in Afghanistan could undergo a penis transplant in as little as a few short months.

The new organ will come from a recently deceased donor who has given permission, along with his family. Surgeons from Johns Hopkins University expect that the organ will be fully functional, if all goes as planned.

The numbers listed for soldiers who lose or experience harm to their sexual organs is significantly high. According to the New York Times, Dec. 6, 1,367 men in the armed forces who served in Afghanistan and Iraq suffered wounds to their genitals. Many of these men hadn’t yet reached their mid-thirties. Some of them lost all or part of their penises or testicles. Some of them saw their pelvic areas completely destroyed.

Genital damage isn’t something most vets talk about. Shame and embarrassment aside, the high frequency ofgenitourinary injuries is hidden away under the prevalence of soldiers who have lost limbs.

There are only two other recorded penis transplants on record. In 2006, Chinese surgeons successfully performedthe world’s very first penis transplant. However, the man who had undergone the surgery, as well as his wife, suffered psychological distress due to the new penis. Surgeons regretfully had to surgically remove the organ two weeks after they had done their work. Another penis transplant was successfully performed in South Africa last year.

The penis transplant to be performed by Johns Hopkins surgeons promises a lot of hope for men who have lost their organs. While having a penis is not necessary for a productive life, the loss could lead to debilitating psychological harm. Other methods such as phalloplasty and prosthetics do help in these cases, but the organs are not fully functional. Penis transplant surgeries are still in their experimental stages, but with their advent, men who have lost their organs will increasingly be able to undergo the surgery. Some of them will even be able to become fathers.

*originally published at the now defunct

Brazilian street artists' new mural shows Star Wars' Yoda as peace activist

Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra finished a mural last week in Miami beach that depicts Star Wars' Jedi Master Yoda as a peace activist.
Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra finished a 
mural last week in Miami beach that depicts 
Star Wars' Jedi Master Yoda as a peace activist.

Art Basel Miami Beach just wrapped up its 14th edition of curated art and performances for 2015. Many of its exhibitions portrayed timely and powerful messages through contemporary art.

On the streets, another kind of art was being painted onto Miami building walls. A street artist from Brazil named Eduardo Kobra, who bedecks numerous buildings with his colorful art, has just finished a painting of Yoda who poses as a peace activist in the Wynwood art district.

Yoda, the beloved Star Wars figure who trained young padawan Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars franchise, just hit the Miami Beach streets with a new message. In a multi-colored mural completed last Thursday, Yoda holds up a pentagonal red sign which reads, “Stop Wars.”

In the painting, Yoda looks sad and tired, despite the vibrant design overlapping his image. His posture is slouched and he looks directly at passersby.

The image has since gone viral after the artist posted a crop of the full mural on his Instagram. It appears just in time for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, which is set to begin showing later this month.

Kobra is well known in his local art scene for his muralsMashable describes them as “massive” and colorful. Yoda and the rest of the characters, stars and major players in human society can be seen all over Florida. Some subjects have included Tupac Shakur, Einstein, Bob Marley, and The Minions from “Despicable Me.”

*originally published at the now defunct