Wednesday, May 19, 2021

America’s most reputable company is…

Patagonia, Honda, Moderna, Chick-Fil-A and SpaceX have the 5 best corporate reputations in America, according to a new Poll of the reputations of the most visible companies in the country. The survey of more than 42,000 people highlights an interesting trend: The growing reputation of brands that take prominent stances on societal issues. (Axios-Harris Poll)


Scientists identify gut bacteria linked to neurodegenerative conditions

Researchers have identified gut bacteria species that appear to play a role in the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease. Previous research has shown a link between the conditions and changes in the gut microbiome, but among the thousands of species that live there, it wasn’t easy to identify which ones have an effect. Now, a team based at the University of Florida, USA, have not only identified the harmful bacteria, but have also shown that certain other bacteria species can produce compounds that counteract the effect. Neurodegenerative disorders result from proteins building up in tissue in the body. These accumulations of proteins can interfere with cell functioning. (Science Focus)


Amazon in talks to buy MGM and its 4,000 films and 17,000 TV episodes for $9B

Amazon is weeks into negotiations on a deal to acquire MGM for about $9 billion. Chatter that Amazon (and other tech and media giants) have been sniffing around MGM has circulated for some time, but sources indicated that Amazon’s interest in acquiring the studio has taken on a new tenor beyond the usual rumor mill. The deal is said to be being orchestrated by the senior Vice President of Amazon Studios and Prime Video, directly with MGM board chairman, whose Anchorage Capital is a major MGM shareholder. MGM claims to own one of the world’s “deepest libraries” of premium film and TV content. (Variety)


Scientists discover quasicrystals, solid crystals with nonrepeating structures, in the aftermath of the world’s first nuclear bomb test

The previously unknown structure, made of iron, silicon, copper and calcium, probably formed from the fusion of vaporized desert sand and copper cables. Similar materials have been synthesized in the laboratory and identified in meteorites, but this one is the first example of a quasicrystal with this combination of elements. Quasicrystals contain building blocks made up of arrangements of atoms that, unlike those in ordinary crystals, do not repeat in a regular, brickwork-like pattern. Whereas ordinary crystal structures look identical after being translated (shifted along certain directions), quasicrystals have symmetries that were once considered impossible. (Nature)


Ultrasound pulses directed at overactive nerve cells near the kidney drop blood pressure in patients with drug-resistant hypertension 

Brief pulses of ultrasound delivered to nerves near the kidney produced a clinically meaningful drop in blood pressure in people whose hypertension did not respond to a triple cocktail of medications, reports a new study led by researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and NewYork-Presbyterian. In a clinical trial of the procedure, called renal denervation, daytime blood pressure after two months had dropped 8 points compared to a 3-point drop in patients who were treated with a sham procedure. Nighttime blood pressure decreased by an average of 8.3 points in the treatment group versus 1.8 points in the sham group. About two-thirds of people who take medications to lower blood pressure are able to control their condition. But in others, the drugs do not work or people do not take them as directed. The treatment is still experimental, has not been approved for use by the FDA, and is only available through clinical trials. The trial will follow patients for five years to determine if the drop in blood pressure is maintained over time. (Columbia University Irving Medical Center)


Researchers have proposed re-introducing jaguars to the mountains of central Arizona and New Mexico to help restore the local ecosystems

In a study published earlier this month, conservationists said that a 31,800-square-mile area in the southwestern U.S. has enough natural resources to sustain a population of up to 150 jaguars for the next century. About two-thirds of that area is federal land and the rest is managed by the White Mountain and San Carlos Apache tribes. The authors said jaguars went extinct in the region due to hunting and loss of habitat, adding that re-introducing them could help “restore an essential part of North America’s cultural and natural heritage.” The last jaguar in the region was hunted down in 1964, but some of the jaguars that live in northern Sonora, Mexico, have been spotted north of the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years. About 99% of the proposed area is free of man-made infrastructure or crops, the study said. (Society For Conservation Biology)


Social media network Parler returned to Apple’s App Store today with a new AI content moderation system

Apple initially removed the social media site following the January 6th Capitol attack but allowed its return after Parler offered to update its app and moderation practices. Parler hired Hive, an AI-based content moderation service, to assist in moderating posts. Hive employs human contractors to annotate web content that’s fed into ML systems, which improves its services over time. Hive’s algorithms filter most of the content, with 99.5% or more of Parler’s posts deemed “safe.” The remaining 0.5% are flagged for further inspection by human moderators. The new AI system removes posts labeled “hate” speech on iPhones or iPad only. On other smartphones and the web, people can still view posts labeled as “hate.” Even the best AI moderators have errors. On Parler, Hive’s models miss 1-2 posts out of every 10,000 that should be flagged, for example. Parler remains off of the Google Play Store, though Android users can side-load the app onto their devices. (Washington Post)


Florida man arrested for speeding claims he was trying to go back to Cuba

A 24-year-old man was arrested after trying to speed away from law enforcement on U.S. 1, officials said. The man is accused of speeding away from a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer during a traffic stop, deputies with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said. Authorities saw him going about 100 MPH in a 45 MPH zone. They tried to pull the man over and watched as he drove into on-coming traffic. He drove into the Coral Bay Resort and tried hiding from deputies. He was eventually found and arrested. During his arrest, the driver told deputies that he was trying to go back to Cuba. Deputies found two passports and $430 in his car. (NBC 2)


Is AI sexist and racist?

A study of face recognition AIs discovered that systems from leading companies IBM, Microsoft and Amazon misclassified the faces of Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and Serena Williams, while having no trouble at all with white males. Even the voices of digital assistants such as Cortana or Google Assistant have female voices by default, perhaps unconsciously reinforcing the stereotype of female subservience in the minds of millions of users. The bias of these AIs is caused by the fact that the current designers of most AIs are largely white males in their 20s and 30s without disabilities. They’re generally people who grew up in high socioeconomic areas, often with similar educational backgrounds. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the resulting AIs are created and educated using narrow and biased datasets that are unrepresentative. For instance, a US government dataset of faces collected for training AIs contained 75 per cent men and 80 per cent lighter-skinned individuals. (Science Focus)


Google is working to make its Pixel camera less racist

Google announced that it’s working to re-work the algorithms and tweak the training data that power the Pixel camera in order to more accurately and brilliantly capture people of color. Specifically, it is working to better light people with darker skin and more accurately represent skin tone. Also, silhouettes of people with wavy or curly hair will stand out more sharply from the background. Google is calling its project “Image Equity.” Some of the changes will involve training the algorithms that render the photos on a more diverse dataset, so white people and white skin aren’t the default definition of “person.” Google will also be tweaking the Pixel’s auto white-balance and auto-exposure capabilities to better optimize for people with darker skin. (Mashable)


These electric self-driving tractors could make farming much greener

A startup based in California says it can help farmers be greener and more profitable by offering what it describes as the world’s first fully electric, self-driving tractor. The compact tractor can be programmed to perform tasks such as plowing, harvesting and mowing, and can operate for more than 10 hours from a four to five-hour charge, according to its makers, Monarch Tractor. Although it doesn’t need a driver, to comply with US regulations it must have a designated remote operator who receives real-time alerts and can stop the vehicle if needed. It has sensors that can detect livestock and crops, and collision prevention systems that allow it to operate autonomously alongside farm workers. (CNN)


Texas To End $300 Weekly Federal Boost To Unemployment Payments

Governor Greg Abbott joins 20 other Republican governors ending the extra weekly payment, saying it’s incentivizing people to not return to work. Texas is the latest state to say it is cutting additional COVID federal unemployment benefits. Governor Greg Abbott announced that unemployed Texans will no longer be able to collect the extra $300-per-week starting next month. Texas is joining 20 other states with Republican governors that have moved to cut the weekly boost. They say the extra money was actually preventing people from returning to work and making it harder for businesses to hire. (Yahoo News)


South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster signed this new death penalty bill into law

Death row inmates in South Carolina may now be executed with an electric chair or a firing squad. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster signed this new death penalty bill into law quietly. While lethal injection will remain the primary method, this law now forces inmates to choose an alternative of being electrocuted or shot to death. The state involuntarily paused executions 10 years ago because it didn’t have the lethal injection drugs on hand. It’s unclear when the state will restart executions. (The State)


Wednesday Makes It Better With:

  • Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
  • Boys Club Day
  • Buddha Day (Celebration Date)
  • Devil’s Food Cake Day
  • Employee Health & Fitness Day (3rd Wednesday)
  • Hepatitus Testing Day
  • Juice Slush Day (3rd Wednesday)
  • May Ray Day
  • Scooter Day
  • Turn Beauty Inside Out Day (3rd Wednesday)
  • World IBD Day


Historical Events

1499 – Catherine of Aragon is married by proxy to Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales. Catherine is 13 and Arthur is 12.

1643 – Thirty Years’ War: French forces under the duc d’Enghien decisively defeat Spanish forces at the Battle of Rocroi, marking the symbolic end of Spain as a dominant land power.

1776 – American Revolutionary War: A Continental Army garrison surrenders in the Battle of The Cedars.

1802 – Napoleon Bonaparte founds the Legion of Honor.

1828 – U.S. President John Quincy Adams signs the Tariff of 1828 into law, protecting wool manufacturers in the United States.

1911 – Parks Canada, the world’s first national park service, is established as the Dominion Parks Branch under the Department of the Interior.

1943 – World War II: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt set Monday, May 1, 1944 as the date for the Normandy landings (“D-Day”). It would later be delayed over a month due to bad weather.

1950 – A barge containing munitions destined for Pakistan explodes in the harbor at South Amboy, New Jersey, devastating the city.

1959 – The North Vietnamese Army establishes Group 559, whose responsibility is to determine how to maintain supply lines to South Vietnam; the resulting route is the Ho Chi Minh trail.

1986 – The Firearm Owners Protection Act is signed into law by U.S. President Ronald Reagan.