GPS of the brain does a lot more than navigation

The brain part which creates mental maps of our environment plays a much bigger function in learning and memory than we earlier thought. This is as per a new research published this week in the Nature journal by Princeton University researchers. These researchers have discovered that those same brain areas are active when the brain is discovering a very different form of environment, one consisting listening to sounds. They observed neural action as the rats listened and reacted to several sounds, and discovered same firing patterns to those seen when rats are exploring their environments.

Through giving the rats a different assignment, such as sound exploring, the researchers might observe proof of cognitive activities in the hippocampal-entorhinal circuit. They picked sound as an analogy to space since both can vary along a continuum: the rats can explore ever-increasing frequencies, in the same manner, they would move forward along a lengthy corridor. To test the concept, the researchers observed the electrical activity of neurons in the hippocampal and entorhinal regions as the rats controlled sounds and discovered to relate several sound frequencies with rewards.

The researchers then trained the rats to reduce a lever to increase the pitch, or frequency, of a tone being played over a speaker. The rats learned that if they let go of the lever when the tone attained a predetermined frequency range, they would be awarded. They noted that the patterns of neuronal firing related to the rats’ behavior during the assignment. A series of neural activity were produced through the frequencies progression, analogous to the sequences produced during traversing a progression of places in space.

The discovery matches with how we think about mapping our environment in the situation of discovering new places and making memories of experiences.


Mars has metal in its atmosphere, reveals NASA probe

Mars has electrically charged metal atoms (ions) high in its atmosphere, according to new results from NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft. The metal ions can reveal previously invisible activity in the mysterious electrically charged upper atmosphere (ionosphere) of Mars.

“MAVEN has made the first direct detection of the permanent presence of metal ions in the ionosphere of a planet other than Earth,” said Joseph Grebowsky of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Because metallic ions have long lifetimes and are transported far from their region of origin by neutral winds and electric fields, they can be used to infer motion in the ionosphere, similar to the way we use a lofted leaf to reveal which way the wind is blowing.” Grebowsky is lead author of a paper on this research appearing April 10 in Geophysical Research Letters.

MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission) is exploring the Martian upper atmosphere to understand how the planet lost most of its air, transforming from a world that could have supported life billions of years ago into a cold desert planet today. Understanding ionospheric activity is shedding light on how the Martian atmosphere is being lost to space, according to the team.

The metal comes from a constant rain of tiny meteoroids onto the Red Planet. When a high-speed meteoroid hits the Martian atmosphere, it vaporizes. Metal atoms in the vapor trail get some of their electrons torn away by other charged atoms and molecules in the ionosphere, transforming the metal atoms into electrically charged ions.

MAVEN has detected iron, magnesium, and sodium ions in the upper atmosphere of Mars over the last two years using its Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer instrument, giving the team confidence that the metal ions are a permanent feature. “We detected metal ions associated with the close passage of Comet Siding Spring in 2014, but that was a unique event and it didn’t tell us about the long-term presence of the ions,” said Grebowsky.

The interplanetary dust that causes the meteor showers is common throughout our solar system, so it’s likely that all solar system planets and moons with substantial atmospheres have metal ions, according to the team.

Sounding rockets, radar and satellite measurements have detected metal ion layers high in the atmosphere above Earth. There’s also been indirect evidence for metal ions above other planets in our solar system. When spacecraft are exploring these worlds from orbit, sometimes their radio signals pass through the planet’s atmosphere on the way to Earth, and sometimes portions of the signal have been blocked. This has been interpreted as interference from electrons in the ionosphere, some of which are thought to be associated with metal ions. However, long-term direct detection of the metal ions by MAVEN is the first conclusive evidence that these ions exist on another planet and that they are a permanent feature there.

The team found that the metal ions behaved differently on Mars than on Earth. Earth is surrounded by a global magnetic field generated in its interior, and this magnetic field together with ionospheric winds forces the metal ions into layers. However, Mars has only local magnetic fields fossilized in certain regions of its crust, and the team only saw the layers near these areas. “Elsewhere, the metal ion distributions are totally unlike those observed at Earth,” said Grebowsky.

The research has other applications as well. For example it is unclear if the metal ions can affect the formation or behavior of high-altitude clouds. Also, detailed understanding of the meteoritic ions in the totally different Earth and Mars environments will be useful for better predicting consequences of interplanetary dust impacts in other yet-unexplored solar system atmospheres. “Observing metal ions on another planet gives us something to compare and contrast with Earth to understand the ionosphere and atmospheric chemistry better,” said Grebowsky.


Starbucks and Walmart join growing list of advertisers boycotting YouTub

After Verizon, AT & T and Johnson & Johnson boycott the Google, some more companies’ pulls ad from you tube. On Friday, Walmart, Starbucks and PepsiCo confirmed that they have also suspended their advertising on YouTube.

By doing so companies show that they doubt Google’s ability to prevent marketing campaigns from appearing alongside repugnant videos.

Talking about the suspension Walmart said in a Friday statement.

“The content with which we are being associated is appalling and completely against our company values,”

Besides suspending their spending on YouTube, Walmart, Pepsi and several other companies have said they will stop buying ads that Google places on more than 2m other third-party websites.

The defections are continuing even after Google apologized for tainting brands and outlined steps to ensure ads don’t appear alongside unsavory videos.

If Google can’t lure back advertisers, it could result in a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Most analysts, though, doubt the ad boycott will seriously hurt Google’s corporate parent, Alphabet. Alphabet shares have fallen more than 3% since Monday, closing at $839.65 on Thursday.

Although they have been growing rapidly, YouTube’s ads still only represent a relatively small financial piece of Alphabet, whose revenue totaled $73.5bn last year after subtracting commissions paid to Google’s partners. YouTube accounted for $5.6bn, or nearly 8%, of that total, based on estimates from the research firm eMarketer.

Whether the recent events are a mere blip on the radar for Google or a harbinger of bigger problems to come may depend on whether the company can quickly improve its technical tools to give advertisers more control over where their ads appear.

YouTube has begun reviewing its advertising policies and will take steps to give advertisers more control, Philipp Schindler, Google’s chief business officer, wrote in a blog post this week. Google also plans to hire more people for its review team and refine its artificial intelligence – a key step, since much of the ad-serving is handled by automation.

Europe poised for total ban on bee-harming pesticides

Europe has stopped using insecticides from all the fields under the draft regulations from the European Commission. The documents indicates that the commission wants to ban world’s widely used insecticides over the high acute risks to bees. The ban could take place this year if approved by a majority of EU member states.

Bees proves beneficial for many food crops but its number have been plummeting for decades due to habitat loss, disease and pesticide use. The insecticides, called neonicotinoids, have been in use for over 20 years and have been linked to serious harm in bees.

A fierce battle has been fought between environmental campaigners and farming and pesticides groups. The latter argue the insecticides are vital for crop protection and that opposition is to them is political.

The EU imposed a temporary ban on the use of the three key neonicotinoids on some crops in 2013. However, the new proposals are for a complete ban on their use in fields, with the only exception being for plants entirely grown in greenhouses. The proposals could be voted on as soon as May and, if approved, would enter force within months.

The 2013 ban went ahead after those nations opposing the measure, including the UK, failed to muster enough votes. However, since then, the UK government seems to have softened its opposition, having rejected repeated requests from British farmers for “emergency” authorisation to use the banned pesticides.

“The amount of scientific evidence on the toxicity of these insecticides is so high that there is no way these chemicals should remain on the market,” said Martin Dermine, at Pesticide Action Network Europe, which obtained the leaked proposals and shared them with the Guardian. “PAN Europe will fight with its partners to obtain support for the proposal from a majority of member states.” A petition to ban neonicotinoids, from Avaaz, has gathered 4.4m signatures.

There is a strong scientific consensus that bees are exposed to neonicotinoid pesticides in fields and suffer serious harm from the doses they receive. There is only a little evidence to date that this harm ultimately leads to falls in overall bee populations, though results from major field trials are expected soon.

However, the European commission (EC) has decided to move towards implementing a complete ban now, based on risk assessments of the pesticides by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), published in 2016.

Efsa considered evidence submitted by the pesticide manufacturers but the EC concluded that “high acute risks for bees” had been identified for “most crops” from imidacloprid and clothianidin, both made by Bayer. For thiamethoxam, made by Syngenta, the EC said the company’s evidence was “not sufficient to address the risks”.

Paul de Zylva, at Friends of the Earth, said: “The science is catching up with the pesticide industry – the EU and UK government must call time on neonics. Going neonic-free puts farmers more in control of their land instead of having to defer to advice from pesticide companies.”

However, Sarah Mukherjee, chief executive of the Crop Protection Association, which represents pesticide makers, said: “We are disappointed with this [EC] proposal, which seems more of a political judgement than sound science.”

She said the Efsa assessments were based on what the CPA sees as unworkable guidance that did not have formal approval from EU countries: “The proposal is based on an assessment using the unapproved Bee Guidance document and perfectly illustrates the consequences of using this guidance. Most crop protection products, including those used in organic agriculture, would not pass the criteria.”

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Whom to trust when buying an annuity?

Getting financial advice on complicated insurance products is, well, complicated.

Most life insurance with investment options, long-term care insurance and annuity products come with a dizzying array of options and many pages of fine print, the merits of which are debatable for your bottom line. That makes solid, conflicted advice necessary.

But since most of these policies are sold on commission or with other incentives in mind, that means the salespeople are not necessarily recommending options that are in your best interest. They could be thinking about earning a cruise instead.

Retirees play poker at a singles club in Sun City, Arizona, January 4, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The money at stake is staggering. An annuity, which you buy with a lump sum to get payouts as you age, can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars up front, generating thousands of dollars in fees.

The person selling you the policy might not even understand all the implications for your retirement.

“The complexity of some insurance products has outstripped the financial adviser’s ability to give reasonable advice,” says Glenn Daily (, a fee-only insurance consultant based in New York.

The first stop on the road to an annuity for many folks is when they talk about retirement to a financial adviser, from whom it is possible to get solid, unconflicted advice if you choose a fee-only certified financial planner. This kind of adviser, known as a fiduciary because he or she pledges to make decisions based on your best interests, can tell a client what kind of annuity to purchase and then recommend a trusted salesperson – who will likely earn some kind of commission on the sale.

Some CFPs work on a hybrid model, charging an hourly fee for their financial planning, but can also sell you insurance.

“I tell clients I can be your agent, on commission, and I won’t charge for that time. Or I can charge for the time, and work with another agent,” says Ellen Siegel, a financial planner with Legacy Wealth Management Inc. in Plantation, Florida.

Another option is to employ a fee-only insurance consultant like Daily, who will offer an independent view on the policy you are considering. Fees are based on the case, but can run about $300 an hour.

“The vast majority of the time, people wind up doing something different after consulting with me,” said Daily. “Sometimes it’s a minor tweak, but sometimes it’s a major difference – like not buy the policy.”

Trying to go it alone can be difficult because there is not a lot of independent research available for the average consumer, and policies from different companies are difficult to compare.

Some companies sell commission-free products directly to clients. Among them are Amica Mutual Insurance Company and TIAA, as well as Lincoln Financial Group, which offers a new fee-only annuity. But buyers should shop around, because the representative at one company will not have pricing to compare with any of the other companies’ products.

Even a broker may not have the widest selection available, says Patricia Born, a professor of insurance at Florida State University’s College of Business in Tallahassee, Florida.


Mother suspected of abandoning her toddler in Riverside grocery store is arrested

A 31-year-old woman investigators believe to be the mother of a toddler who was abandoned at a grocery store has been taken into custody Tuesday afternoon, Riverside police said.

The suspect was identified midday Tuesday as Chiengkham Vilaysane. By early evening, she had been taken into custody at a bank in the south end of Riverside, according to Riverside Police Department spokesman Officer Ryan Railsback.

Police released her photo and name in an effort to find her several hours before she was detained. It’s not clear if she’s been arrested.

Railsback referred to the suspect as “Cindy.” She may have had past contact with county child protective services and police at her last known address in Riverside, Railsback said.

“We just want to talk to her to really start figuring out what’s going on, especially to make sure she’s OK as well,” he said.

The Riverside Police Department on Monday released video showing a woman apparently leaving a 2-year-old girl in a Food 4 Less, located at 4250 Van Buren Blvd., on Sunday evening. Investigators received tips about the woman’s identity following news media coverage of the child’s abandonment, Detective Paul Miranda said.

Officers were called to the store when the child was found alone.

The little girl wandered off from her mother and a good Samaritan brought the child back to the woman, who responded, “Oh, just leave her,” according to a police news release.

The woman left after paying for her groceries, leaving the child at the store.

Watching the surveillance video, the child was able to identify the woman as her “mommy,” police said. The girl has been placed into county child protective services custody.

Since investigators have not had contact with Vilaysane, they don’t know if she was suffering from a “breakdown” when she allegedly abandoned the child, Railsback said before she was taken into custody. She could face allegations of felony child endangerment or abandonment.

Facebook posts show Vilaysane with a second child, but police do not know if she indeed has another child or if that child is a relative, Railsback said. It’s not known who the father of the abandoned child is, he added.


OLYMPUS experiment sheds light on structure of protons

A team of Researchers from MIT finally able to solve the mystery of structure of protons after seven- year long experiment, named OLYMPUS, in the Laboratory for Nuclear Science at the German Electron Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg.

They began the experiment in the early 2000s with the help of Polarized electron beams. It measure electron- proton elastic scattering using the spin of the protons and electrons. Furthermore, experiment demonstrate that the ratio of electric to magnetic charge distributions decreased dramatically with higher-energy interactions between the electrons and protons.

The result is published in the journal Physical Review Letters. It is revealed that during the process not one but two photons being exchanged during the interaction, which in turn cause the uneven charge distribution.

Speaking about the experiment Richard Milner, a professor of physics and member of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science’s Hadronic Physics Group said that analysis of OLYMPUS measurements shows that most of the time, one of the photons has high energy and other carries very little energy

“We saw little if no evidence for a hard two-photon exchange,” Milner says.

About Experiment:

Explaining the process Douglas Hasell, a principal research scientist in the Laboratory for Nuclear Science and the Hadronic Physics Group at MIT, and another of the paper’s authors said

In this experiment, they probe the structure by bombarding the protons with both positively charged positrons and negatively charged electrons and then examine the intensity of the scattered electrons at different angles. Moreover by doing this it could also be determined that how the proton’s electric charge and magnetization are distributed.

“If you see a difference (in the measurements), it would indicate that there is a two-photon effect that is significant.”

The collisions were run for three months, and the resulting data took a further three years to analyze, Hasell added.

The difference between the theoretical and experimental results means further experiments may need to be carried out in the future, at even higher energies where the two-photon exchange effect is expected to be larger, Hasell says.

It may prove difficult to achieve the same level of precision reached in the OLYMPUS experiment, however.

“We ran the experiment for three months and produced very precise measurements,” he says. “You would have to run for years to get the same level of precision, unless the performance (of the experiment) could be improved.”

In the immediate future, the researchers plan to see how the theoretical physics community responds to the data, before deciding on their next step, Hasell says.

“It may be that they can make a small adjustment to a detail within their theoretical models to bring it all into agreement, and explain the data at both higher and lower energies,” he says.

“Then it will be up to the experimentalists to check if that holds to be the case.”

When your values are clear to you, making decision becomes easy

Everyday, running a business, you face choices — and more often than not, they are in conflict with one another. Should you invest or save? Hire or cut? Spend for better quality or maximize your margins? Keep to your original goals or adapt to cold realities of the marketplace?

It seems like every decision, big or small, takes on an existential quality: What will this mean for the survival, sustainability and growth of my business? It quickly becomes clear these “choices with consequences” require some guiding principle by which to judge them, some greater metric to help you navigate.

Had I but known. 

When I started my company 10 years ago, what I didn’t know about business vastly overshadowed what I did. That’s not unusual. When I talk to fellow entrepreneurs, especially ones that built their business out of their art, craft or skill, they all concur that the on-the-job-training of being a boss is intense. The things that force you to reevaluate your motives and approaches are nearly constant.

And with each daily challenge to your core motivations and dreams, you have to ask yourself what’s important, what the point is and where your focus should be.

From day one, I knew I wanted to build a strong community culture, be a good collaborator and set standards for the highest quality product, in our case television and film. I wanted to always be innovative and relevant in the marketplace, while creating an atmosphere for people to do their best work. It was idealistic, and led me to look with suspicion at the standard metrics of business: org charts, five-year plans, IBIDA projections, and so on, as if they would turn our creative venture into something corporate. More importantly, they all struck me as too pass/fail.

The wrong yardstick.

I feel like we as entrepreneurs are constantly being asked to measure the wrong things in our businesses. If you didn’t hit revenue goals and growth benchmarks, was your business a failure? And conversely, if, to meet those marks, you had to compromise something that was core to your reasons for starting your business, was that a success? If you didn’t have an end game, couldn’t you just enjoy the journey?

I’ve thought a lot about these tensions as my business approaches it’s tenth year. I have evolved. I’ve accepted and integrated many aspects of running a business that I never considered starting out. Cash flow, critical. Management structures and HR policies, also critical. But still I opposed some of the criteria that everyone else seemed to want to measure my business by. And out of that, I came to a simple idea: rather than a specific set of goals, I would have values.

I sat down to make a list of what’s important to me and to my business, from our culture to our product, so that now, whenever I need to make a difficult decision about the future of my company, I let those values guide me. The values may overlap with more conventional goals, and that’s a good thing. But even as you evolve, even as the narrative of your company changes, it’s critically important to check in with why you jumped into this venture in the first place, and what it really means to you. It will not only inform you at every point, it will help others feel a part of your journey and become part of your brand.

Here’s how I went about it:

1. List out the values important to you.

Is something creatively interesting? Will an opportunity help my company meaningfully evolve? Does this moment call for growth or for stabilizing the core business? Will we keep the integrity of our brand doing this? What does it take to be sustainable?

2. Communicate your values.

Let people know that this is what’s important to you and represents the ethos of your company. And communicate it to the marketplace. When your values become core to your work, they will become core to your brand.

3. Hire accordingly.

A set of values will help you hire. Not only will like-minded people seek you out, you’ll be able to make choices based on how potential hires communicate their values to you.

4. Renew your values.

Your values will be challenged and they will be compromised. You will have to work hard to maintain them and stay true to them. Check in every year (or more) on how well you are holding to your values and where they presented a conflict to other goals. The values are your foundation, but you can build upon them in many ways.

My business, any business, weathers ups and downs. And with each swing, I’ve had to ask how each decision, each layer of structure, impacts the things that really matter to me: our culture, our process and our product. It’s been a source of comfort to have that ground beneath my feet and to feel others sign on and contribute to the ways we can continually enact those values in our business.

I see many challenges ahead for the television industry and many opportunities, but I also see that by holding strong to my value goals, I have a much better sense of direction for us.

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