Monday, April 19, 2021

Virtual workspaces the new normal?

Workers are turning to Zoom, not only for meetings, but for “virtual workspaces” to help boost productivity and get work done. During virtual co-working sessions, people around the world from different companies and fields work independently, but in the presence of others. With some companies charging monthly fees to access sessions, some workers are tapping into their networks and setting up their own. (The Globe and Mail)


Volunteers removed 22,000 pounds of garbage from the Tennessee River over the last month

The nonprofit group Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful organized four recent clean-ups across Tennessee and Alabama, the first of which removed nearly 10,000 pounds of trash. Items removed included toilet seats, tires, Styrofoam, scrap metal, one mini fridge, and one television set. The volunteers also tallied up 369 pounds of what the group described as “random plastic” and several 55-gallon barrels. Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful has removed more than 100 tons of trash from the river since forming in 2016. (WKRN)


A video of what could be a third-generation Apple Pencil has leaked online

Apple’s “Spring Loaded” event, featuring new product announcements, will take place on Tuesday, April 20th. A video purporting to be of the third-generation Apple Pencil has been shared online, but with the flat edge that was added on the second-generation version for magnetic charging. The design mirrors previously leaked images suggesting that Apple is returning to the glossy finish for the ‌Apple Pencil‌. It is not clear what new features may be coming to the new ‌Apple Pencil‌, but it seems that upgrades may be more focused on the internals of the accessory rather than any significant external design changes. (Mac Rumors)


A man has been sentenced to three months in prison and a $1,000 fine for shooting and killing a northern elephant seal, a protected species, in California

A federal judge sentenced a former Santa Barbara County resident to three months in prison for fatally shooting a northern elephant seal in the head in 2019, prosecutors announced. The 30-year-old man drove to an elephant viewing area next to Piedras Blancas Marine Reserve and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary near San Simeon on September 28, 2019, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. The man opened fire with a .45-caliber pistol on an elephant seal resting on the beach in the Piedras Blancas rookery, leaving the mammal with a bullet wound to the head. “It remains unclear what motivated him to commit such an act; nevertheless, he knew it was wrong,” federal prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo. In December 2020, the man pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of illegally taking a marine mammal. After serving federal prison time, the man must undergo one year of supervised release including three months of home detention and 120 hours of community service. He also has a $1,000 fine. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, northern elephant seals are a protected species. These endangered mammals live along the Pacific coast of North America and haul out on land in areas called rookeries, which see fluctuations in seal populations based on breeding and molting cycles. (KTLA)


First-of-its-kind study finds psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, reduced symptoms of clinical depression as much as a common prescription antidepressant

The first head-to-head comparison, conducted by scientists at the Center for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London indicated that the psychedelic reduced the symptoms of condition at least as well as escitalopram, an antidepressant better known by the brand name Lexapro. The research, a randomized controlled trial which took place over the course of six weeks, involved treating participants with medication and intensive psychotherapy, including a mix of in-person and phone-based sessions during which participants were invited to discuss their illness and any concerns about the study. There were also two lengthy psilocybin therapy sessions where participants were paired with two mental health professionals including a psychologist or psychiatrist who supervised their psychedelic experience. The study’s 59 participants aged 18 to 80, 66% of whom were men and 88% of whom were white, were split into two treatment groups. One received daily antidepressants and two very small doses of psilocybin during the sessions; the other received daily placebo pills in place of the antidepressants and two heavy doses of psilocybin during the sessions. Psilocybin is known to produce powerful, vivid hallucinations and colorful visualizations, so the researchers worked to create a kind of safe haven for participants during the sessions. These took place at an Imperial College research facility on two days spaced three weeks apart. Psychedelics are believed to produce their antidepressant effects by interfering with negative and isolating thought patterns, instead encouraging larger and more expansive feelings of connectedness with other people, nature, or both. (New England Journal of Medicine)


Facebook unveiled a new machine learning tool it says will speed up the discovery of drug combinations that target cancer, COVID-19, and other diseases

The company has open-sourced the model, called Compositional Perturbation Autoencoder (CPA), which it developed with the Germany-based Helmholtz Center. It’s the first single AI model that can predict “the effects of drug combinations, dosages, timing, and even other types of interventions, such as gene knockout or deletion,” according to Facebook AI Research. The tool is designed to accelerate the discovery of tailor-made drug cocktails against diseases, which often vary by person and can take years to develop. It works by measuring and recording how specific cells change following drug treatment. Researchers tested the model’s predictions against currently known drug combos; it was more than 90% accurate at forecasting the correct cell responses. (Git Hub)


51 West Point cadets caught cheating must repeat a year

Most of the 73 West Point cadets accused in the biggest cheating scandal in decades at the U.S. Military Academy are being required to repeat a year, and eight were expelled, academy officials said. The cadets were accused of cheating on an online freshman calculus exam in May while students were studying remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic. An investigation was launched after instructors noticed irregularities in answers. All but one were freshmen, or plebes, in a class of 1,200. The other was a sophomore. The cheating scandal is the biggest at West Point since 1976 and preceded the tightening of an academy policy that spared many cadets in this case from being kicked out. West Point said that of the 73 cases investigated by the cadet honor committee, six cadets resigned during the investigation, four were acquitted by a board of their peers, and two cases were dropped due to insufficient evidence. Most of the cadets, 51, were “turned back” one full year after admitting to cheating, and two were turned back six months. Those cadets are under probation until graduation. Eight cadets were removed from the academy. Of those, three accepted the chance to take part in an “academy mentorship program” that allows them to reapply to the academy after serving for up to a year as an enlisted soldier. The academy also said it will end its 6-year-old “willful admission process,” which was used by 55 cadets and is designed to protect cadets who promptly admit to wrongdoing from being kicked out. Officials determined the process was not meeting its goal of increasing self-reporting and decreasing toleration for violations of the honor code. West Point said that 52 of the cadets were athletes, but that none of the guilty cadets are currently representing the academy on teams. (Associated Press)


China reports record economic growth

China’s economy appears to have gone through a huge post-pandemic jump. Official figures released Friday suggest the economy grew a record 18.3 percent in the first three months of the year, compared with the same period in 2020, when cities were shut down and the economy was shrinking rapidly. While factory activity and property sales have picked up, the figures were actually slightly below what economists had forecast, and the country faces a number of challenges ahead, including the prospect of inflation, a lagging consumer recovery, and concerns around asset bubbles. (The New York Times)


Chinese Woman Goes Viral After Hitting Boss With Mop for Alleged Harassment

A woman has gone viral on Chinese social media after hitting her boss with a mop over inappropriate text messages. The woman, a government worker from northeastern China, was caught on video fighting back after her boss had allegedly harassed her. In the 14-minute Weibo video, which has been watched millions of times, she pours water over her boss. She also throws books at his face and beats him with a mop while he tries to apologize. She claims that she received unwanted text messages from him three times, and he reportedly sent similar ones to her co-workers. Her boss was fired after the incident. She filed a police report about her boss last week, and the authorities were allegedly looking into her report before the video of her went viral. She has not been disciplined, and several social media users have commended her bravery and her demand for justice. (The Independent)


Housing stocks 3.8M short of demand

The U.S. housing market is on fire. New data from Freddie Mac reveal the U.S. is 3.8 million single-family homes short of meeting current demand for housing, with the deficit being “especially acute” for entry-level homes. Freddie Mac’s chief economist said this is what happens “when you underbuild for 10 years.” Home builders would have to build slightly more than 1 million single-family homes a year to meet long-term demand. Not only is it a detriment to folks trying to enter the market, it’s also hindering U.S. economic growth, per Freddie Mac. (The Wall Street Journal)


New Zealand wants to ban cigarette sales to anyone born after 2004 as part of plan to make nation ‘smoke free’ by 2025

New Zealand is currently mulling a series of proposals aimed at eliminating smoking in the country, including a radical initiative that would prohibit the sale of tobacco to an entire generation. Under the country’s Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan, New Zealand hopes to gradually increase the legal smoking age and ultimately prohibit cigarette sales to anyone born after 2004. The initiative also calls for a significant reduction in the level of nicotine allowed in tobacco and places restrictions on where cigarettes can be sold. The government would also set a minimum price for all tobacco products. As the name of the plan suggests, the goal is to phase out tobacco use in the country over the next few years, creating a “smoke free” New Zealand by 2025. New Zealanders have been invited to “provide feedback” about the action plan. Residents will have until May 31 to share their thoughts on the matter before it enters the next phase towards becoming law. (RT)


Spanking may affect children’s brain development in a similar way to abuse

Spanking children may affect their brain development in a similar way as more severe forms of violence, according to a new study by Harvard University researchers. According to the study, children who had been spanked had a greater neural response in regions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) in the brain. This is the area of the brain that responds to cues in the environment that may be threatening and affects how the individual makes decisions and processes situations, according to the researchers. For the study, the researchers analyzed data from a large study on children between the ages of three and 11. They particularly focused on 147 children between the ages of 10 and 11 who had been spanked and excluded children who had experienced more severe forms of violence. In order to test their brain activity, the children lay in a MRI machine and watched images of actors making “fearful” and “neutral” faces on a computer screen. The researchers then compared the brain activity of the children who had been spanked to those who hadn’t been to see if there were different patterns. The researchers said the study is a first step in analyzing the potential effects of spanking on children’s brain development and lived experiences. (CTV News)


Texas’ longest serving death row inmate has sentence tossed

An appeals court has overturned the sentence of Texas’ longest serving death row inmate, whose attorneys say has languished in prison for more than 45 years because he’s too mentally ill to be executed. The 70-year-old inmate’s “death sentence can no longer stand” because his history of mental illness was not properly considered by jurors, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled. The decision means the inmates case will be sent back to a Houston, Texas courtroom for resentencing. (Associated Press)


Monday Shines With:

  • Amaretto Day
  • Bicycle Day
  • Boston Marathon (3rd Monday)
  • Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia Action Day
  • John Parker Day
  • Garlic Day
  • Hanging Out Day
  • North Dakota Day
  • Oklahoma City Bombing Commemoration Day
  • Poker Day