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Welcome to the land of the digital refugees
Can't go over it.
Can't go under it.
Can't go around it.
Gotta go through it.
Many generations will remember with affection growing up singing the song above. This generation will be the first to have grown up in a world where keygens, crackers, tunnels and firewalls are household playground words. This generation can go over, can go under and can go around – as well as go through. In the words of Rage Against The Machine, “we don’t need the key we’ll break in”.
In generations past the only people who needed to be able to break locks were cops, locksmiths and criminals; today this is no longer the case. I was reminded of this recently when I discovered BBC Future, the new fantastic science and technology news blog by the BBC, with heavyweight contributors including Ed Yong and Tom Stafford. Unfortunately however, due to the backwards logic of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) bureaucrats, the blog can be accessed from every single country in the world except for the UK. Yes, you read that right. British citizens – including BBC licence payers who cough up the equivalent of $225 each year for the privilege of being able to legally turn on their TV are the only people on the planet who can’t read the BBC Future blog.
...as the folks on the BBC future Twitter will cheerfully tell you:
If you’ve ever experienced working in another county and falling in to an internet igloo where the news at home is off limits due to firewalls erected by national broadcasters like the Beeb, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever been hit by a “content not available in your region” message after following an interesting link you’ve been sent online you’ll also know the frustration. If you live in one of the majority of countries in the world that doesn’t have plenty of international licensing agreements signed by the big media corporations you will likely not have access rights to free or fairly priced digital media through providers such as BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Netflix, Spotify and LastFM. If you are a student in a part of the world that happens to have publishers that have signed unfair licencing agreements you could be paying hundreds of dollars more for your medical textbooks. If you want to rent your textbooks from online book stores, access will most likely be completely prohibited in your country. If you have ever taken a course on a platform such as Coursera you might have spotted lengthy discussions on the completely differing prices and availability for the same book around the world.
You may even be one of the poor souls trapped behind a restrictive government, company or even university – yes university – firewall, many of which take the blunderbuss approach to blocking content such as words related to drugs. Sucks to be you psychopharmacology students - or readers of this blog. The standard is increasingly moving away from political censorship and censorship of discussion of naughty things like sex and drugs towards censorship based on copyright quarrels - which can quite easily be conjured up to be one and the same. If you happen to live in Germany for example, you will have been deprived of most of the fantastic footage of the recent Russian asteroid due to a bustup between Google and a German performance rights organisation.
Why on earth should a German performance rights organisation have anything to do with footage of a lump of rock flying into Russia from outer space you might rightly ask? Well the reason is that many of the drivers who happened to catch dashboard-cam videos happened to have the radio on at the same time. Currently 61.5% of the top 1000 videos on YouTube are unavailable to Germans because they contain content that despotic algorithms have determined might be subject to copyright. This is due to the fact that Germany does not have a legal ‘fair use’ provision to allow use of copyrighted material in new works - and whichever way you look at it, this inevitably covers a great proportion of the legitimate 'original' material out there. Unfortunately, though most of the rest of the world does have a ‘fair use’ provision, the computer algorithms that automatically detect and block copyrighted content don’t have the ability to understand the legally complex concept of fair use. As such, approximately one in five of the top 1000 videos on Youtube are blocked in one or more countries in the rest of the world outside Germany as the following interactive infographic shows. Click to see an interactive infographic illustrating the astonishing amount of videos that are blocked on Youtube in various parts of the world and compare this with the fraction of these which appear to be actual or potential rights violations.
As of tomorrow, most internet users in the US (customers of AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon) will become subject to a new anti-pirating measure which will throttle internet speeds and force users to sit through online “courses” on piracy if copyright violation is suspected.
But, of course there is another way…
Legal notice: These technologies should not be used to engage in piracy or other illegal activities. Always read the terms of service, always check the laws in your jurisdiction. It may be against the terms of service of a content provider to access their content inside or outside of a certain location.
Go Over It: The Proxy
The simplest way to get over a firewall is to route your connection through one of a host of commercial companies offering to route your connection for the small price of showing you some ads in a sidebar. This will often be all you need to enable you to get your reading done. Unfortunately, many webmasters take the crafty step of banning a list of known proxy URL’s.
If your webmaster is blocking known proxies you can stay one step ahead by adding yourself to a mailer which regularly sends out new URL’s. If you have a home computer that gets you where you want to go, you can always create an access point there and route your connection through it with a proxy.
Go Under it: The Onion
TOR is perhaps the greatest free proxy network in the world, your data is bounced between a global network of users, shedding off any trace of where you are viewing from and stopping prying eyes monitoring what you are looking at. TOR is used by everyone from the privacy conscious to whistleblowers and dissidents. It gained prominence for helping surfers slip through the Great Firewall of China and enabling the organisation of the string of uprisings in the middle east.
Go Around it: The Private VPN
If you’re trying to get in to an access point in a specific location, you may find that public proxies and TOR prove to be a bit too much of a lucky dip. In this instance there are a host of private companies offering to tunnel your internet through their servers in whatever part of the world you choose, for a small price. This will enable you to sample such digital delights as the local online broadcasting of your selected country. It will also prevent your connection from being easily monitored be it by the proprietor of the café where you are accessing public wifi, or by your service provider or government. Torrent Freak have curated a list of VPN providers who have vowed to take anonymity seriously. If you don’t want to cough up for a private VPN you can try one of a range of emerging browser based P2P based VPN networks which appear to have the added benefit of sussing out which territory your traffic needs to be routed through in order to unblock the content you are trying to access.
The Self Destructing Book
Be especially careful when purchasing digital content, the great irony of digital books and media is that in some cases you never really own what you pay for as one customer discovered when her entire digital library of ebooks disappeared for an unspecified breach of terms of service. This was also made startlingly clear by the 2009 lawsuit that occurred when Amazon remotely deleted copies of George Orwell’s 1984 from Kindle's. As the screenshot below illustrates we are now in an age where digital copies can be transmitted in a fraction of the time and for a fraction of a cost of their paper counterparts, yet your digital version could be programmed to delete itself and sadly for the hard of hearing visually impaired and those with learning difficulties - stripped of all digital benefits such as use in text to voice applications. Astoundingly - this in addition to be exceedingly more expensive than the paper counterpart.
I'm certainly not going to tell you how to go ahead and strip the digital shackles off your textbooks but what I will say is that personally I love being able to annotate and highlight my books and research documents straight from my tablet using iAnnotate. It's almost like they were made of paper - better in fact, the environment wins too.
The Magically Updating Book
Not all digital publishers place their material under ridiculous and counterproductive walls of fire however – I recently was positively delighted to receive an email informing me that Scraping For Data Journalists by Paul Bradshaw (published by Leanpub) a book I bought last year had been updated and enclosed was a link to the PDF of the new editition completely free of charge. This kind of behaviour is what the internet was designed for and I can't help but get the impression that if publishers and multimedia corporations got this in to their heads they might actually start making money once again.
The Dark Side
As you may have heard there is a dark side to the wild west of the underground internet. Anonymous marketplaces exist for every kind of product and service imaginable and there is little to stop the illegal file trader in a land where his tracks are covered. When there is such a huge global market that could be tapped for legally purchased content it certainly seems ironic that it is media corporations that are nudging people over the precipice and down the rabbit hole.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.com
Scientists are using bioelectronic medicine to treat inflammatory diseases, an approach that capitalizes on the ancient "hardwiring" of the nervous system.
- Bioelectronic medicine is an emerging field that focuses on manipulating the nervous system to treat diseases.
- Clinical studies show that using electronic devices to stimulate the vagus nerve is effective at treating inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Although it's not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, vagus nerve stimulation may also prove effective at treating other diseases like cancer, diabetes and depression.
The nervous system’s ancient reflexes<p>You accidentally place your hand on a hot stove. Almost instantaneously, your hand withdraws.</p><p>What triggered your hand to move? The answer is <em>not</em> that you consciously decided the stove was hot and you should move your hand. Rather, it was a reflex: Skin receptors on your hand sent nerve impulses to the spinal cord, which ultimately sent back motor neurons that caused your hand to move away. This all occurred before your "conscious brain" realized what happened.</p><p>Similarly, the nervous system has reflexes that protect individual cells in the body.</p><p>"The nervous system evolved because we need to respond to stimuli in the environment," said Dr. Tracey. "Neural signals don't come from the brain down first. Instead, when something happens in the environment, our peripheral nervous system senses it and sends a signal to the central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord. And then the nervous system responds to correct the problem."</p><p>So, what if scientists could "hack" into the nervous system, manipulating the electrical activity in the nervous system to control molecular processes and produce desirable outcomes? That's the chief goal of bioelectronic medicine.</p><p>"There are billions of neurons in the body that interact with almost every cell in the body, and at each of those nerve endings, molecular signals control molecular mechanisms that can be defined and mapped, and potentially put under control," Dr. Tracey said in a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJH9KsMKi5M" target="_blank">TED Talk</a>.</p><p>"Many of these mechanisms are also involved in important diseases, like cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, hypertension and shock. It's very plausible that finding neural signals to control those mechanisms will hold promises for devices replacing some of today's medication for those diseases."</p><p>How can scientists hack the nervous system? For years, researchers in the field of bioelectronic medicine have zeroed in on the longest cranial nerve in the body: the vagus nerve.</p>
The vagus nerve<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTYyOTM5OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTIwNzk0NX0.UCy-3UNpomb3DQZMhyOw_SQG4ThwACXW_rMnc9mLAe8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="09add" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f38dbfbbfe470ad85a3b023dd5083557" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Electrical signals, seen here in a synapse, travel along the vagus nerve to trigger an inflammatory response.
Credit: Adobe Stock via solvod<p>The vagus nerve ("vagus" meaning "wandering" in Latin) comprises two nerve branches that stretch from the brainstem down to the chest and abdomen, where nerve fibers connect to organs. Electrical signals constantly travel up and down the vagus nerve, facilitating communication between the brain and other parts of the body.</p><p>One aspect of this back-and-forth communication is inflammation. When the immune system detects injury or attack, it automatically triggers an inflammatory response, which helps heal injuries and fend off invaders. But when not deployed properly, inflammation can become excessive, exacerbating the original problem and potentially contributing to diseases.</p><p>In 2002, Dr. Tracey and his colleagues discovered that the nervous system plays a key role in monitoring and modifying inflammation. This occurs through a process called the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature01321" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammatory reflex</a>. In simple terms, it works like this: When the nervous system detects inflammatory stimuli, it reflexively (and subconsciously) deploys electrical signals through the vagus nerve that trigger anti-inflammatory molecular processes.</p><p>In rodent experiments, Dr. Tracey and his colleagues observed that electrical signals traveling through the vagus nerve control TNF, a protein that, in excess, causes inflammation. These electrical signals travel through the vagus nerve to the spleen. There, electrical signals are converted to chemical signals, triggering a molecular process that ultimately makes TNF, which exacerbates conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.</p><p>The incredible chain reaction of the inflammatory reflex was observed by Dr. Tracey and his colleagues in greater detail through rodent experiments. When inflammatory stimuli are detected, the nervous system sends electrical signals that travel through the vagus nerve to the spleen. There, the electrical signals are converted to chemical signals, which trigger the spleen to create a white blood cell called a T cell, which then creates a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. The acetylcholine interacts with macrophages, which are a specific type of white blood cell that creates TNF, a protein that, in excess, causes inflammation. At that point, the acetylcholine triggers the macrophages to stop overproducing TNF – or inflammation.</p><p>Experiments showed that when a specific part of the body is inflamed, specific fibers within the vagus nerve start firing. Dr. Tracey and his colleagues were able to map these relationships. More importantly, they were able to stimulate specific parts of the vagus nerve to "shut off" inflammation.</p><p>What's more, clinical trials show that vagus nerve stimulation not only "shuts off" inflammation, but also triggers the production of cells that promote healing.</p><p>"In animal experiments, we understand how this works," Dr. Tracey said. "And now we have clinical trials showing that the human response is what's predicted by the lab experiments. Many scientific thresholds have been crossed in the clinic and the lab. We're literally at the point of regulatory steps and stages, and then marketing and distribution before this idea takes off."<br></p>
The future of bioelectronic medicine<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTYxMDYxMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjQwOTExNH0.uBY1TnEs_kv9Dal7zmA_i9L7T0wnIuf9gGtdRXcNNxo/img.jpg?width=980" id="8b5b2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c005e615e5f23c2817483862354d2cc4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2000" data-height="1125" />
Vagus nerve stimulation can already treat Crohn's disease and other inflammatory diseases. In the future, it may also be used to treat cancer, diabetes, and depression.
Credit: Adobe Stock via Maridav<p>Vagus nerve stimulation is currently awaiting approval by the US Food and Drug Administration, but so far, it's proven safe and effective in clinical trials on humans. Dr. Tracey said vagus nerve stimulation could become a common treatment for a wide range of diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, hypertension, shock, depression and diabetes.</p><p>"To the extent that inflammation is the problem in the disease, then stopping inflammation or suppressing the inflammation with vagus nerve stimulation or bioelectronic approaches will be beneficial and therapeutic," he said.</p><p>Receiving vagus nerve stimulation would require having an electronic device, about the size of lima bean, surgically implanted in your neck during a 30-minute procedure. A couple of weeks later, you'd visit, say, your rheumatologist, who would activate the device and determine the right dosage. The stimulation would take a few minutes each day, and it'd likely be unnoticeable.</p><p>But the most revolutionary aspect of bioelectronic medicine, according to Dr. Tracey, is that approaches like vagus nerve stimulation wouldn't come with harmful and potentially deadly side effects, as many pharmaceutical drugs currently do.</p><p>"A device on a nerve is not going to have systemic side effects on the body like taking a steroid does," Dr. Tracey said. "It's a powerful concept that, frankly, scientists are quite accepting of—it's actually quite amazing. But the idea of adopting this into practice is going to take another 10 or 20 years, because it's hard for physicians, who've spent their lives writing prescriptions for pills or injections, that a computer chip can replace the drug."</p><p>But patients could also play a role in advancing bioelectronic medicine.</p><p>"There's a huge demand in this patient cohort for something better than they're taking now," Dr. Tracey said. "Patients don't want to take a drug with a black-box warning, costs $100,000 a year and works half the time."</p><p>Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, elaborated:</p><p>"Why would patients pursue a drug regimen when they could opt for a few electronic pulses? Is it possible that treatments like this, pulses through electronic devices, could replace some drugs in the coming years as preferred treatments? Tracey believes it is, and that is perhaps why the pharmaceutical industry closely follows his work."</p><p>Over the long term, bioelectronic approaches are unlikely to completely replace pharmaceutical drugs, but they could replace many, or at least be used as supplemental treatments.</p><p>Dr. Tracey is optimistic about the future of the field.</p><p>"It's going to spawn a huge new industry that will rival the pharmaceutical industry in the next 50 years," he said. "This is no longer just a startup industry. [...] It's going to be very interesting to see the explosive growth that's going to occur."</p>
Researchers figure out the average temperatures of the last ice age on Earth.
- A new study analyzes fossil data to find the average temperatures during the last Ice Age.
- This period of time, about 20,000 years ago, had the average temperature of about 46 degrees Fahrenheit (7.8 C).
- The study has implications for understanding climate change.
Surface air temperatures during the last ice age.
Credit: Jessica Tierney, University of Arizona
"The Expanse" is the best vision I've ever seen of a space-faring future that may be just a few generations away.
- Want three reasons why that headline is justified? Characters and acting, universe building, and science.
- For those who don't know, "The Expanse" is a series that's run on SyFy and Amazon Prime set about 200 years in the future in a mostly settled solar system with three waring factions: Earth, Mars, and Belters.
- No other show I know of manages to use real science so adeptly in the service of its story and its grand universe building.
Credit: "The Expanse" / Syfy<p>Now, I get it if you don't agree with me. I love "Star Trek" and I thought "Battlestar Galactica" (the new one) was amazing and I do adore "The Mandalorian". They are all fun and important and worth watching and thinking about. And maybe you love them more than anything else. But when you sum up the acting, the universe building, and the use of real science where it matters, I think nothing can beat "The Expanse". And with a <a href="https://www.rottentomatoes.com/tv/the_expanse" target="_blank">Rotten Tomato</a> average rating of 93%, I'm clearly not the only one who feels this way.</p><p>Best.</p><p>Show.</p><p>Ever. </p>
Contrary to what some might think, the brain is a very plastic organ.
As with many other physicians, recommending physical activity to patients was just a doctor chore for me – until a few years ago. That was because I myself was not very active.