Friday, September 30, 2011

Those Games | Time.com

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Campaign | Internet Rights & Principles Coalition

The Internet offers unprecedented opportunities for the realisation of human rights, and plays an increasingly important role in our everyday lives. It is therefore essential that all actors, both public and private, respect and protect human rights on the Internet. Steps must also be taken to ensure that the Internet operates and evolves in ways that fulfil human rights to the greatest extent possible. To help realise this vision of a rights-based Internet environment, the 10 Rights and Principles are:

1) Universality and Equality

All humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights, which must be respected, protected and fulfilled in the online environment.

2) Rights and Social Justice

The Internet is a space for the promotion, protection and fulfilment of human rights and the advancement of social justice. Everyone has the duty to respect the human rights of all others in the online environment.

3) Accessibility

Everyone has an equal right to access and use a secure and open Internet.

4) Expression and Association

Everyone has the right to seek, receive, and impart information freely on the Internet without censorship or other interference. Everyone also has the right to associate freely through and on the Internet, for social, political, cultural or other purposes.

5) Privacy and Data Protection

Everyone has the right to privacy online. This includes freedom from surveillance, the right to use encryption, and the right to online anonymity. Everyone also has the right to data protection, including control over personal data collection, retention, processing, disposal and disclosure.

6) Life, Liberty and Security

The rights to life, liberty, and security must be respected, protected and fulfilled online. These rights must not be infringed upon, or used to infringe other rights, in the online environment.

7) Diversity

Cultural and linguistic diversity on the Internet must be promoted, and technical and policy innovation should be encouraged to facilitate plurality of expression.

8) Network Equality

Everyone shall have universal and open access to the Internet’s content, free from discriminatory prioritisation, filtering or traffic control on commercial, political or other grounds.

9) Standards and Regulation

The Internet’s architecture, communication systems, and document and data formats shall be based on open standards that ensure complete interoperability, inclusion and equal opportunity for all.

10) Governance

Human rights and social justice must form the legal and normative foundations upon which the Internet operates and is governed. This shall happen in a transparent and multilateral manner, based on principles of openness, inclusive participation and accountability.

Yale Environment 360: New Process Converts Plastic into Synthetic Crude Oil

29 Sep 2011: New Process Converts
Plastic into Synthetic Crude Oil

A U.S. startup says it has developed a process to convert plastic waste into synthetic crude oil, a system that company officials say will provide a new fuel alternative while also removing massive amounts of
Agilyx PlasticsWaste plastic ready for processing industrial and municipal waste from landfills each year. Created by Oregon-based Agilyx, the process essentially heats plastics into a mixture of gases, which are then cooled and condensed into long-chain hydrocarbons that can be converted into diesel, jet fuel, or other substances. The system, which Agilyx hopes to make available for commercial use within nine months, is capable of converting about 10 tons of plastic into 60 barrels of oil (2,400 gallons) per day. Currently, a single module, which would cost about $5 million, could create about 130 barrels of oil daily, Bob Schwarz, Agilyx’s chief financial officer, told the New York Times’ Green blog. While refiners would ultimately process the landfill oil into a fuel, the system itself would likely be owned and operated by trash companies. The process is one of several emerging technologies targeting the recovery and reuse of roughly 2 trillion tons of plastic sitting in U.S. landfills. According to industry officials, the volume of plastics worldwide grows 7 to 9 percent annually.

Now lets go "mine" the Pacific "plastic zone" and we'll solve to crises at the same time.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Killing the Recovery - NYTimes.com

September 28, 2011

Killing the Recovery

The world has barely dug out of recession and the global economy is again slowing dangerously. Most leaders seem eager to make things even worse.

Instead of looking for ways to reignite growth, Europe’s leaders — and Republicans on Capitol Hill — are determined to slash public spending. Europe’s fixation on austerity is also compounding its debt crisis, bringing the continent even closer to the brink. Meanwhile, China’s government, which is struggling to contain inflation without letting its currency rise, has been trying to slow domestic demand, allowing its trade surplus to balloon.

Each of these policies is wrong. In combination, they are likely to tip the world into a deep recession.

The International Monetary Fund has cut its forecast for global growth this year to 4 percent, from the 4.3 percent it had forecast in April. It expects rich countries to grow by only 1.6 percent. That may be too optimistic.

The I.M.F. forecasts that the United States will grow by 1.5 percent this year and 1.9 percent in 2012. But that assumes Congress will continue payroll tax cuts and extended unemployment insurance, as President Obama has called for. Mark Zandi of Moody’s Economy.com warns that if Congress fails to do so, the country will probably slip into recession.

Europe is in even worse shape. Rich nations that could afford to spend more to increase growth, like Germany and Britain, are instead slashing spending. Germany and its rich neighbors are also insisting that Greece, Portugal and other debtor countries accept even stiffer doses of austerity to regain the confidence of investors. Sending these economies into near collapse means that they will never be able to dig out or pay off their creditors.

While the German Parliament is expected to approve a new $600 billion bailout fund on Thursday, many European leaders already admit it is too small to deal with turmoil that now also threatens Spain and Italy.

It is true that many countries do not have the money to pay for policies to promote employment and growth. The United States, Britain, Germany and China could boost global demand by spending more at home and buying more from weaker countries that cannot stimulate their own economies.

The United States government must cut its budget deficit, but the economy must recover first. According to Mr. Zandi, President Obama’s $450 billion jobs plan could add 1.9 million jobs in 2012 and cut the unemployment rate by a percentage point. With interest rates so low, the government could easily pay for a bigger program.

The British government has similar room to maneuver. And its stubborn insistence on fiscal austerity is already causing havoc. But the countries that could do most to assist global growth are China and Germany.

China today makes 14 percent of the world’s economic product but consumes only 6 percent of it. Allowing its currency to rise would help combat inflation by lowering the domestic price of imports, while increasing the spending power of the Chinese people.

Germany’s export model is also failing, producing little growth while sucking demand from its neighbors. Germany could easily raise money at low cost to stimulate its own consumption. Yet not only has it refused stimulus spending, it is imposing austerity on the rest of Europe — forcing weak countries to contract their economies in exchange for its aid.

Economic policy makers have made similar mistakes before. That is what caused the Great Depression. There is not a lot of time left to get this right.

What's behind the scorn for the Wall Street protests? - Glenn Greenwald - Salon.com

Robert Gates lobs another missile barrage at Washington - Battleland - TIME.com

Sure, the former defense secretary was an Air Force intelligence officer deep in the heart of the Cold War, not a naval officer. But since he left the Pentagon in June, he's acted more like a stealthy bubblehead, slipping silently beneath the waves, surfacing only occasionally to lob missiles at the American government he served for more than four decades.

His biggest barrage to date came last Thursday during a speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, where the center awarded him its 2011 Liberty Medal:

At a time when our country faces deep economic and other challenges at home and a world that just keeps getting more complex and more dangerous, those who think that they alone have the right answers, those who demonize those who think differently, and those who refuse to listen and take other points of view into account—these leaders, in my view, are a danger to the American people and to the future of our republic.

Gates is one of those unique public figures with the standing to slap American politicians and have it sting. Having served presidents of both parties -- indeed, he slid from serving as Pentagon chief under George W. Bush into the same job for Barack Obama without a hiccup -- he knows Washington's ways.

Gates cited three reasons for Washington's current impasse:

-- First, as a result of a highly partisan redistricting process, more and more seats in the House of Representatives are safe for either the Republican or Democratic Party. As a result, the really consequential campaigns are not the mostly lopsided general elections, but the party primaries, where candidates must cater to the most hard-core ideological elements of their base.

-- Second, addressing this country's most intractable and complex problems requires a consistent strategy and implementation across multiple presidencies and congresses...But when one party wins big in a “wave election”—of which there have been several in recent election cycles—it typically seeks to impose its agenda on the other side by brute force. This makes it all the more likely that the policies will be reversed in the next wave election and, consequently, all the more difficult to deal with this country's most serious challenges over time.

-- Third, there are vast changes in the composition and role of the news media over the past two decades. When I entered CIA 45 years ago last month, three television networks and a handful of newspapers dominated coverage and, to a considerable degree, filtered extreme or vitriolic points of view. Today, with hundreds of cable channels, blogs and other electronic media, every point of view, including the most extreme, has a ready vehicle for wide dissemination.

All these have polarized the nation's politics and made compromise "a dirty word," Gates said. "Yet, our entire system of government has depended upon compromise. The Constitution itself is a bundle of compromises."

Sure, Gates -- with his Kansas twang, small stature, shock of silver hair and quiet demeanor -- lacks the loud voice of a true believer, or the forceful delivery of a hired gun. But to continue that weapons analogy, it's his common sense that many believe is his true force multiplier.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Drinking Coffee May Help Boost Women's Mood | Healthland.com

Many of us rely on a cup of coffee to kick-start our day (you're welcome, Starbucks), and now new research suggests that our morning caffeine infusion may also help ward off depression over the long term, especially for women.

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that women who drank two to three cups of caffeinated coffee a day were 15% less likely to develop depression over the 10-year study period, compared with women who consumed one cup or less per day. Women who drank four or more cups of coffee a day had a 20% lower risk. Women who drank decaf didn't show a similar reduction in depression rates.

Led by senior author Dr. Alberto Ascherio, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, the study is one of the first to investigate the long-term effects of caffeine on mood disorders such as depression. There's a lengthy history of both animal and human studies documenting the feel-good effects of caffeine — caffeinated animals have been shown to be more active in their environments, and likewise, in people, caffeine boosts alertness and energy — but most of these effects are short-lived and last only until the next cup of joe.

But Ascherio and his colleagues suggest that consistent use of caffeine may have longer-term effects on the brain. Although their findings don't show that drinking coffee directly prevents depression — the findings show only an association between coffee and mood — researchers do know that caffeine works by binding to receptors for brain chemicals associated with mood.

Earlier studies have found similar effects. People who drink caffeinated coffee have lower rates of suicide than those who don't, for example, and they have lower rates of severe depression. In animals that exhibit the tremors that characterize Parkinson's disease, which can be traced to abnormal activity of brain chemicals, caffeine has been shown to help reduce uncontrolled movement. It's an intriguing connection when it comes to understanding how caffeine may affect depression, since Parkinson's patients also tend to have higher-than-usual rates of depression both before and after their diagnosis.

MORE: Coffee Drinking Linked With Lower Rate of Fatal Prostate Cancer

Ascherio says it isn't clear yet how caffeine may exerts mood-elevating effects. "Our results suggest that caffeine may have a beneficial effect on the cellular level, and may protect neurons lost to neurodegenerative disease," says Ascherio. "We are establishing a certain degree of reasonable evidence that caffeine has a long-term effect on the risk of depression, but we cannot attribute this to any pathology."

Like other compounds that affect the body's metabolism, caffeine may reduce the risk of depression only up to certain doses, Ascherio cautions. At high doses, caffeine can increase anxiety, which can actually contribute to depression.

He also notes that caffeine content in coffee can vary greatly. For purposes of the study, his team measured one cup of coffee as containing 137 mg of caffeine. The group also looked at the effect of caffeine consumed from sources other than coffee, including tea, soft drinks and chocolate, but found no association with mood, likely because these items contain less caffeine than coffee does.

For the more than 50,000 middle-aged women in the trial, coffee was by far the major source of caffeine. Researchers tracked caffeine intake in the participants, who were all enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study, through regular detailed questionnaires. Depression was tracked through self-report of diagnoses or antidepressant use.

So can a couple of cups of java protect some women from depression? "I don't think there is sufficient evidence for a specific recommendation that people change their behavior at this stage," says Ascherio.

People drink coffee for different reasons, he notes, and react differently to its potentially stimulating effects. These are the factors that are more likely to dictate when and how much coffee people drink — not the potential longer term benefits against a condition like depression. "The amount of coffee you drink is very much determined by how you feel, and there is no guarantee in the long run that drinking coffee will be beneficial," he says. "We adjust to the level of caffeine that is optimal for us, and we cannot give a prescription for people to drink or not drink caffeine."

MORE: Drinking Coffee May Lower Women's Risk of Stroke

Alice Park is a writer at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @aliceparkny. You can also continue the discussion on TIME's Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Neutrino Income | XKCD

Their World

Thursday, September 22, 2011

US net neutrality rules finalized, in effect November 20 | ArsTechnica

Get ready, America—net neutrality finally comes to the Internet on November 20, 2011.

That's the plan, at least. The FCC has just filed its final "open Internet" rules (PDF) with the Federal Register, which will publish them tomorrow and make them official. The rules go into effect on November 20, nearly a year after they were passed over Republican opposition on a 3-2 vote. (One of the FCC Commissioners who voted against the rules now works for Comcast.)

But the plan will likely be derailed by lawsuits. Two, by Verizon and MetroPCS, were filed earlier this year but tossed because the rules had yet to be finalized. With tomorrow's printing in the Federal Register, the litigation floodgates will be thrown open and and complaints about the government overstepping its authority can start pouring in.

Those complaints might well meet with success, given how the FCC went about the whole process. Rather than reclassifying broadband services in such a way that the FCC has clear jurisdiction over them, the agency relied instead on its much weaker "ancillary jurisdiction." (The legal rationale for this begins on p. 77 of the final rules, and the FCC gamely makes a case that it has the proper authority.) As law professor James Grimmelmann noted today in our subscriber-only webchat, "The FCC is in a real tangle here. I think if they reclassified broadband service (long story), they'd have a better shot at getting their rules to stick."

As for the rules, they're the same modest regulations adopted back in December. Here's the FCC's own summary:

First, transparency: fixed and mobile broadband providers must disclose the network management practices, performance characteristics, and commercial terms of their broadband services. Second, no blocking: fixed broadband providers may not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or block applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services. Third, no unreasonable discrimination: fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.

Mobile networks still have broad leeway to discriminate and throttle and even block certain apps, though some of the most obviously objectionable activities are forbidden.

On the miraculous off-chance that no lawsuits are filed, however, we'll have a side of net neutrality lite to accompany Thanksgiving's pumpkin pie. But ISPs don't like constraints, no matter how modest, so the matter will probably be decided by federal judges.

US net neutrality rules finalized, in effect November 20 | ArsTechnica

Get ready, America—net neutrality finally comes to the Internet on November 20, 2011.

That's the plan, at least. The FCC has just filed its final "open Internet" rules (PDF) with the Federal Register, which will publish them tomorrow and make them official. The rules go into effect on November 20, nearly a year after they were passed over Republican opposition on a 3-2 vote. (One of the FCC Commissioners who voted against the rules now works for Comcast.)

But the plan will likely be derailed by lawsuits. Two, by Verizon and MetroPCS, were filed earlier this year but tossed because the rules had yet to be finalized. With tomorrow's printing in the Federal Register, the litigation floodgates will be thrown open and and complaints about the government overstepping its authority can start pouring in.

Those complaints might well meet with success, given how the FCC went about the whole process. Rather than reclassifying broadband services in such a way that the FCC has clear jurisdiction over them, the agency relied instead on its much weaker "ancillary jurisdiction." (The legal rationale for this begins on p. 77 of the final rules, and the FCC gamely makes a case that it has the proper authority.) As law professor James Grimmelmann noted today in our subscriber-only webchat, "The FCC is in a real tangle here. I think if they reclassified broadband service (long story), they'd have a better shot at getting their rules to stick."

As for the rules, they're the same modest regulations adopted back in December. Here's the FCC's own summary:

First, transparency: fixed and mobile broadband providers must disclose the network management practices, performance characteristics, and commercial terms of their broadband services. Second, no blocking: fixed broadband providers may not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or block applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services. Third, no unreasonable discrimination: fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.

Mobile networks still have broad leeway to discriminate and throttle and even block certain apps, though some of the most obviously objectionable activities are forbidden.

On the miraculous off-chance that no lawsuits are filed, however, we'll have a side of net neutrality lite to accompany Thanksgiving's pumpkin pie. But ISPs don't like constraints, no matter how modest, so the matter will probably be decided by federal judges.

US net neutrality rules finalized, in effect November 20 | ArsTechnica

Get ready, America—net neutrality finally comes to the Internet on November 20, 2011.

That's the plan, at least. The FCC has just filed its final "open Internet" rules (PDF) with the Federal Register, which will publish them tomorrow and make them official. The rules go into effect on November 20, nearly a year after they were passed over Republican opposition on a 3-2 vote. (One of the FCC Commissioners who voted against the rules now works for Comcast.)

But the plan will likely be derailed by lawsuits. Two, by Verizon and MetroPCS, were filed earlier this year but tossed because the rules had yet to be finalized. With tomorrow's printing in the Federal Register, the litigation floodgates will be thrown open and and complaints about the government overstepping its authority can start pouring in.

Those complaints might well meet with success, given how the FCC went about the whole process. Rather than reclassifying broadband services in such a way that the FCC has clear jurisdiction over them, the agency relied instead on its much weaker "ancillary jurisdiction." (The legal rationale for this begins on p. 77 of the final rules, and the FCC gamely makes a case that it has the proper authority.) As law professor James Grimmelmann noted today in our subscriber-only webchat, "The FCC is in a real tangle here. I think if they reclassified broadband service (long story), they'd have a better shot at getting their rules to stick."

As for the rules, they're the same modest regulations adopted back in December. Here's the FCC's own summary:

First, transparency: fixed and mobile broadband providers must disclose the network management practices, performance characteristics, and commercial terms of their broadband services. Second, no blocking: fixed broadband providers may not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or block applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services. Third, no unreasonable discrimination: fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.

Mobile networks still have broad leeway to discriminate and throttle and even block certain apps, though some of the most obviously objectionable activities are forbidden.

On the miraculous off-chance that no lawsuits are filed, however, we'll have a side of net neutrality lite to accompany Thanksgiving's pumpkin pie. But ISPs don't like constraints, no matter how modest, so the matter will probably be decided by federal judges.

Atheism on the upswing in America - Guest Voices - The Washington Post

Posted at 09:40 AM ET, 09/20/2011

Atheism on the upswing in America

Atheism – The absence of theism. So if you doubt the existence of any gods more than you believe in one or more of them, you’re an atheist.


A June 21, 2011 photo shows a billboard at 417 North James in Columbus, one of several put up by Freedom From Religion Foundation around Columbus. (Kyle Robertson - AP)
Some years back Washington Post Magazine ran a then-rare story on a strange and scarce species. A kind of person most Americans are so bigoted against that they refuse to vote for them, marry them, or even allow them into the Boy Scouts. These unusual creatures are American atheists, which the old joke said could all fit into a Manhattan phone booth. That was then, this is now.

As the survey results come in, as the irreligious best-sellers sell, and as the scientific analysis gets published, it is increasingly clear that Western atheism has evolved into a forward-looking movement that has the wind at its back, is behind the success of the best run societies yet seen in human history, and is challenging religion as the better basis of morality. Even in the U.S., a religious anomaly in the Western world, atheists are making major gains while Christianity withers, already having lost the mainstream culture to secularism. The least religious regions of the nation are enjoying superior societal conditions.

Religious conservatives commonly contend that only a transcendent supernatural intelligent designer can provide the absolute and perfect morality and the wisdom necessary to run successful societies – it’s become the de facto position of the GOP. Many religious liberals and atheists agree that both theism and atheism are sufficiently moral and practical to generate similarly successful cultures. This series will show that both views are errant. The science-based evidence leaves no doubt that, although very human in its flaws, democratic atheism is proving superior to faith-based mythical doctrines in practical societal and moral terms.

Before we proceed further, we need to take a look at where the planet is concerning the changing status of popular opinion on the reality or non-reality of the gods. According to the tabulations of the World Christian Encyclopedia, the globe was fairly consistently religious circa 1900. It no longer is. The WCE concludes that atheists from committed to agnostic currently number about a billion. Pew calculates that some 1st world countries are only a quarter or a third as religious as are the most pious 2nd and 3rd world nations. In some of the secularized democracies large pluralities and even strong majorities qualify at atheists--including agnostics, while the devoutly religious are small minorities, and those churches that are not nearly empty on most Sundays have been converted to other uses.

The still-common claim that nine out of ten Americans still believe in God is an outright falsehood. When asked if they believe in God or not, about 90 percent say yes, but when asked about whether or not they believe in God or a higher power or universal spirit, the actual God-believing theists drop to eight in ten. Two Harris polls also show that a fifth of Americans are atheistic to a greater or lesser degree. These results accord with Pew’s estimate that America in general is half as religious as the most theistic nations. Up to the 1960s only a couple of percent told Gallup they did not believe in God or a universal spirit, all out atheists have since quadrupled to the upper single digits. That’s why Bible skeptics have doubled to one in five since the 1970s, and those who accept evolution are at an all time high while creationism shows signs of slipping. Bible literalism is in strong decline, and the religious right, always a minority, is showing signs of distress as an internal report by the Southern Baptists bemoans that “evangelistically, the denomination is on a path of slow but discernible deterioration.” That’s because the churches are losing the digitally connected, traditional organization-averse youth; today’s twentysomethings are twice as irreligious as was the same cohort in the 90s. (Further details here.)

The future of American faith is grim as the nation undergoes the secularization process that has already pretty much wrecked the churches in the rest of the West. So what will happen to American society as it too becomes as non-theistic as, say, Canada? My next essay will show how the loss of religion is not the big social/moral deal many make it out to be.

Gregory Paul is an independent researcher in sociology and evolution. He frequently writes on atheism and American culture. He wrote this post for washingtonpost.com/onfaith .

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

$1,279-per-hour, 30,000-core cluster built on Amazon EC2 cloud

$1,279-per-hour, 30,000-core cluster built on Amazon EC2 cloud

Amazon EC2 and other cloud services are expanding the market for high-performance computing. Without access to a national lab or a supercomputer in your own data center, cloud computing lets businesses spin up temporary clusters at will and stop paying for them as soon as the computing needs are met.

A vendor called Cycle Computing is on a mission to demonstrate the potential of Amazon’s cloud by building increasingly large clusters on the Elastic Compute Cloud. Even with Amazon, building a cluster takes some work, but Cycle combines several technologies to ease the process and recently used them to create a 30,000-core cluster running CentOS Linux.

The cluster, announced publicly this week, was created for an unnamed “Top 5 Pharma” customer, and ran for about seven hours at the end of July at a peak cost of $1,279 per hour, including the fees to Amazon and Cycle Computing. The details are impressive: 3,809 compute instances, each with eight cores and 7GB of RAM, for a total of 30,472 cores, 26.7TB of RAM and 2PB (petabytes) of disk space. Security was ensured with HTTPS, SSH and 256-bit AES encryption, and the cluster ran across data centers in three Amazon regions in the United States and Europe. The cluster was dubbed “Nekomata.”

Spreading the cluster across multiple continents was done partly for disaster recovery purposes, and also to guarantee that 30,000 cores could be provisioned. “We thought it would improve our probability of success if we spread it out,” Cycle Computing’s Dave Powers, manager of product engineering, told Ars. “Nobody really knows how many instances you can get at any one time from any one [Amazon] region.”

Amazon offers its own special cluster compute instances, at a higher cost than regular-sized virtual machines. These cluster instances provide 10 Gigabit Ethernet networking along with greater CPU and memory, but they weren’t necessary to build the Cycle Computing cluster.

The pharmaceutical company’s job, related to molecular modeling, was “embarrassingly parallel” so a fast interconnect wasn’t crucial. To further reduce costs, Cycle took advantage of Amazon’s low-price “spot instances.” To manage the cluster, Cycle Computing used its own management software as well as the Condor High-Throughput Computing software and Chef, an open source systems integration framework.

Cycle demonstrated the power of the Amazon cloud earlier this year with a 10,000-core cluster built for a smaller pharma firm called Genentech. Now, 10,000 cores is a relatively easy task, says Powers. “We think we’ve mastered the small-scale environments,” he said. 30,000 cores isn’t the end game, either. Going forward, Cycle plans bigger, more complicated clusters, perhaps ones that will require Amazon’s special cluster compute instances.

The 30,000-core cluster may or may not be the biggest one run on EC2. Amazon isn’t saying.

“I can’t share specific customer details, but can tell you that we do have businesses of all sizes running large-scale, high-performance computing workloads on AWS [Amazon Web Services], including distributed clusters like the Cycle Computing 30,000 core cluster to tightly-coupled clusters often used for science and engineering applications such as computational fluid dynamics and molecular dynamics simulation,” an Amazon spokesperson told Ars.

Amazon itself actually built a supercomputer on its own cloud that made it onto the list of the world’s Top 500 supercomputers. With 7,000 cores, the Amazon cluster ranked number 232 in the world last November with speeds of 41.82 teraflops, falling to number 451 in June of this year. So far, Cycle Computing hasn’t run the Linpack benchmark to determine the speed of its clusters relative to Top 500 sites.

But Cycle’s work is impressive no matter how you measure it. The job performed for the unnamed pharma company “would take well over a week for them to run internally,” Powers says. In the end, the cluster performed the equivalent of 10.9 “compute years of work.”

The task of managing such large cloud-based clusters forced Cycle to step up its own game, with a new plug-in for Chef the company calls Grill.

“There is no way that any mere human could keep track of all of the moving parts on a cluster of this scale,” Cycle wrote in a blog post. “At Cycle, we’ve always been fans of extreme IT automation, but we needed to take this to the next level in order to monitor and manage every instance, volume, daemon, job, and so on in order for Nekomata to be an efficient 30,000 core tool instead of a big shiny on-demand paperweight.”

But problems did arise during the 30,000-core run.

“You can be sure that when you run at massive scale, you are bound to run into some unexpected gotchas,” Cycle notes. “In our case, one of the gotchas included such things as running out of file descriptors on the license server. In hindsight, we should have anticipated this would be an issue, but we didn’t find that in our prelaunch testing, because we didn’t test at full scale. We were able to quickly recover from this bump and keep moving along with the workload with minimal impact. The license server was able to keep up very nicely with this workload once we increased the number of file descriptors.”

Cycle also hit a speed bump related to volume and byte limits on Amazon’s Elastic Block Store volumes. But the company is already planning bigger and better things.

“We already have our next use-case identified and will be turning up the scale a bit more with the next run,” the company says. But ultimately, “it’s not about core counts or terabytes of RAM or petabytes of data. Rather, it’s about how we are helping to transform how science is done.”

U.S. building secret drone bases in Africa, Arabian Peninsula, officials say - The Washington Post

By and , Published: September 20

The Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen, U.S. officials said.

One of the installations is being established in Ethi­o­pia, a U.S. ally in the fight against al-Shabab, the Somali militant group that controls much of that country. Another base is in the Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, where a small fleet of “hunter-killer” drones resumed operations this month after an experimental mission demonstrated that the unmanned aircraft could effectively patrol Somalia from there.

The U.S. military also has flown drones over Somalia and Yemen from bases in Djibouti, a tiny African nation at the junction of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. In addition, the CIA is building a secret airstrip in the Arabian Peninsula so it can deploy armed drones over Yemen.

The rapid expansion of the undeclared drone wars is a reflection of the growing alarm with which U.S. officials view the activities of al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Somalia, even as al-Qaeda’s core leadership in Pakistan has been weakened by U.S. counterterrorism operations.

The U.S. government is known to have used drones to carry out lethal attacks in at least six countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. The negotiations that preceded the establishment of the base in the Republic of Seychelles illustrate the efforts the United States is making to broaden the range of its drone weapons.

The island nation of 85,000 people has hosted a small fleet of MQ-9 Reaper drones operated by the U.S. Navy and Air Force since September 2009. U.S. and Seychellois officials have previously acknowledged the drones’ presence but have said that their primary mission was to track pirates in regional waters. But classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that the unmanned aircraft have also conducted counterterrorism missions over Somalia, about 800 miles to the northwest.

The cables, obtained by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, reveal that U.S. officials asked leaders in the Seychelles to keep the counterterrorism missions secret. The Reapers are described by the military as “hunter-killer” drones because they can be equipped with Hellfire missiles and satellite-guided bombs.

To allay concerns among islanders, U.S. officials said they had no plans to arm the Reapers when the mission was announced two years ago. The cables show, however, that U.S. officials were thinking about weaponizing the drones.

During a meeting with Seychelles President James Michel on Sept. 18, 2009, American diplomats said the U.S. government “would seek discrete [sic], specific discussions . . . to gain approval” to arm the Reapers “should the desire to do so ever arise,” according to a cable summarizing the meeting. Michel concurred, but asked U.S. officials to approach him exclusively for permission “and not anyone else” in his government, the cable reported.

Michel’s chief deputy told a U.S. diplomat on a separate occasion that the Seychelles president “was not philosophically against” arming the drones, according to another cable. But the deputy urged the Americans “to be extremely careful in raising the issue with anyone in the Government outside of the President. Such a request would be ‘politically extremely sensitive’ and would have to be handled with ‘the utmost discreet care.’ ”

A U.S. military spokesman declined to say whether the Reapers in the Seychelles have ever been armed.

“Because of operational security concerns, I can’t get into specifics,” said Lt. Cmdr. James D. Stockman, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Africa Command, which oversees the base in the Seychelles. He noted, however, that the MQ-9 Reapers “can be configured for both surveillance and strike.”

A spokeswoman for Michel said the president was unavailable for comment.

Jean-Paul Adam, who was Michel’s chief deputy in 2009 and now serves as minister of foreign affairs, said U.S. officials had not asked for permission to equip the drones with missiles or bombs.

“The operation of the drones in Seychelles for the purposes of ­counter-piracy surveillance and other related activities has always been unarmed, and the U.S. government has never asked us for them to be armed,” Adam said in an e-mail. “This was agreed between the two governments at the first deployment and the situation has not changed.”

The State Department cables show that U.S. officials were sensitive to perceptions that the drones might be armed, noting that they “do have equipment that could appear to the public as being weapons.”

To dispel potential concerns, they held a “media day” for about 30 journalists and Seychellois officials at the small, one-runway airport in Victoria, the capital, in November 2009. One of the Reapers was parked on the tarmac.

“The government of Seychelles invited us here to fight against piracy, and that is its mission,” Craig White, a U.S. diplomat, said during the event. “However, these aircraft have a great deal of capabilities and could be used for other missions.”

In fact, U.S. officials had already outlined other purposes for the drones in a classified mission review with Michel and Adam. Saying that the U.S. government “desires to be completely transparent,” the American diplomats informed the Seychellois leaders that the Reapers would also fly over Somalia “to support ongoing counter-terrorism efforts,” though not “direct attacks,” according to a cable summarizing the meeting.

U.S. officials “stressed the sensitive nature of this counter-terrorism mission and that this not be released outside of the highest . . . channels,” the cable stated. “The President wholeheartedly concurred with that request, noting that such issues could be politically sensitive for him as well.”

The Seychelles drone operation has a relatively small footprint. Based in a hangar located about a quarter-mile from the main passenger terminal at the airport, it includes between three and four Reapers and about 100 U.S. military personnel and contractors, according to the cables.

The military operated the flights on a continuous basis until April, when it paused the operations. They resumed this month, said Stockman, the Africa Command spokesman.

The aim in assembling a constellation of bases in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula is to create overlapping circles of surveillance in a region where al-Qaeda offshoots could emerge for years to come, U.S. officials said.

The locations “are based on potential target sets,” said a senior U.S. military official. “If you look at it geographically, it makes sense — you get out a ruler and draw the distances [drones] can fly and where they take off from.”

One U.S. official said that there had been discussions about putting a drone base in Ethiopia for as long as four years, but that plan was delayed because “the Ethiopians were not all that jazzed.” Other officials said Ethiopia has become a valued counterterrorism partner because of threats posed by al-Shabab.

“We have a lot of interesting cooperation and arrangements with the Ethiopians when it comes to intelligence collection and linguistic capabilities,” said a former senior U.S. military official familiar with special operations missions in the region.

An Ethio­pian Embassy spokesman in Washington could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

The former official said the United States relies on Ethiopian linguists to translate signals intercepts gathered by U.S. agencies monitoring calls and e-mails of al-Shabab members. The CIA and other agencies also employ Ethiopian informants who gather information from across the border.

Overall, officials said, the cluster of bases reflects an effort to have wider geographic coverage, greater leverage with countries in the region and backup facilities if individual airstrips are forced to close.

“It’s a conscious recognition that those are the hot spots developing right now,” said the former senior U.S. military official.

© The Washington Post Company

Submarine Cable Map

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TeleGeography’s free interactive submarine cable map is based on our authoritative Global Bandwidth research, and depicts 188 active and planned submarine cable systems and their landing stations. Selecting a cable route on the map provides access to data about the cable, including the cable’s name, ready-for-service (RFS) date, length, owners, website, and landing points. Selecting a landing point provides a list of all submarine cables landing at that station.

Cables shown include international and US domestic submarine cables with a maximum upgradeable capacity of at least 5 Gbps. Cable routes are stylized to improve readability, and do not reflect the physical cable location. Similarly, cable landing stations do not show the precise coordinates of the building, and are meant to serve as a general guide to where a cable system lands.

We update our map regularly to ensure that our data are as accurate and as up-to-date as possible. If you have updated information for a cable system please email us at cablemap@telegeography.com.

Source: Global Bandwidth Research Service

Updated: September 20, 2011

Submarine Cable Map

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The Submarine Cable Map is a free resource from TeleGeography. Data contained in this map is drawn from Global Bandwidth Research Service and is updated on a regular basis.

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Americans Favor Jobs Plan Proposals, Including Taxing Rich

September 20, 2011

Americans Favor Jobs Plan Proposals, Including Taxing Rich

Majority say Obama's jobs plan will help economy at least "a little"

by Frank Newport

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans generally favor raising taxes on higher-income Americans and eliminating tax deductions for some corporations as ways of paying for President Obama's proposed jobs plan.

Please tell me whether you favor or oppose each of the following proposals President Obama has made to pay for the cost of the jobs bill. September 2011

Obama laid out his proposals for the jobs bill in an address to Congress on Sept. 8, and sent the bill to Congress a few days later. Since then, the president has been pushing Congress to adopt the plan, although there are no signs yet as to when either House of Congress will begin to debate the bill.

The president also proposed raising taxes on wealthy Americans in his deficit-reduction proposal announced on Monday at the White House. Republican leaders have responded that this idea represents nothing more than "class warfare," but the current data show that the majority of Americans generally favor increasing taxes on the rich as a way to increase revenue.

Slightly more than half of rank-and-file Republicans and Republican-leaning independents favor the idea of eliminating certain corporate tax deductions as a way to pay for a jobs creation bill. Forty-one percent of Republicans favor raising taxes on higher-income Americans. Democrats strongly favor both proposals for paying for the cost of the jobs bill.

Please tell me whether you favor or oppose each of the following proposals President Obama has made to pay for the cost of the jobs bill. September 2011 results by party

Americans Favor Almost All Proposals in Obama's Jobs Plan

Americans agree with a number of the job-creation proposals included in Obama's jobs plan -- specifically including the ideas of providing tax cuts to small businesses; providing additional funds for hiring teachers, police officers, and firefighters; and giving tax breaks to corporations for hiring the long-term unemployed. Slightly less than half favor reducing Social Security taxes for workers and employers.

As you may know, President Obama has submitted a bill to Congress that includes a number of proposals designed to create jobs in the United States. Please tell whether you favor or oppose each of the following proposals. September 2011

While Democrats are generally more supportive than Republicans of these proposals to create jobs, at least half of Republicans favor four of the six proposals tested.

Republicans are particularly likely to favor the idea of tax cuts for small businesses and tax breaks for companies hiring the long-term unemployed, but also favor providing funds for hiring teachers, police officers, and firefighters, and providing funds for public works projects. Less than half favor the idea of reducing Social Security taxes or extending unemployment insurance benefits.

As you may know, President Obama has submitted a bill to Congress that includes a number of proposals designed to create jobs in the United States. Please tell whether you favor or oppose each of the following proposals. September 2011 results by party

The Sept. 15-18 survey results reveal that a majority of Americans are at least modestly sanguine that the bill would help create jobs and help the economy more generally, with roughly one in four believing it would help both areas "a lot."

This is in line with Gallup's findings that a plurality of Americans want their representative in Congress to vote in favor of Obama's proposed jobs bill, based on a question that did not describe specific components of the bill.

Based on what you know or have read about this bill, do you think it would ... help in creating new jobs? ... help improve the economy? September 2011 results

Democrats are highly likely to say Obama's proposed plan will help create jobs and help the economy, while Republicans largely disagree.

Based on what you know or have read about this bill, do you think it would ... help in creating new jobs? ... help improve the economy? September 2011 results by party

Bottom Line

This is the second Gallup survey conducted in the last two weeks showing that the American public broadly supports Obama's jobs plan. A majority of Americans interviewed this past weekend believe the plan would help at least a little to create jobs and improve the economy.

Many of the proposals embedded in the plan receive majority support, and Americans strongly endorse the idea of paying for the plan by raising taxes on higher-income individual taxpayers and by eliminating tax deductions for some corporations. While Republicans are considerably less positive about the potential efficacy of the plan than are Democrats, a majority of the former favor a number of Obama's proposals, and also favor eliminating tax deductions for corporations to help fund the plan.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 15-18, 2011, with a random sample of 1,004 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

NASA - Origin of Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Remains a Mystery

Origin of Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Remains a Mystery
09.19.11

Artist's concept shows a broken-up asteroid This artist's concept shows a broken-up asteroid. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
› Full image and caption
› NEOWISE image gallery

PASADENA, Calif. -- Observations from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission indicate the family of asteroids some believed was responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs is not likely the culprit, keeping open the case on one of Earth's greatest mysteries.

While scientists are confident a large asteroid crashed into Earth approximately 65 million years ago, leading to the extinction of dinosaurs and some other life forms on our planet, they do not know exactly where the asteroid came from or how it made its way to Earth. A 2007 study using visible-light data from ground-based telescopes first suggested the remnant of a huge asteroid, known as Baptistina, as a possible suspect.

According to that theory, Baptistina crashed into another asteroid in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter about 160 million years ago. The collision sent shattered pieces as big as mountains flying. One of those pieces was believed to have impacted Earth, causing the dinosaurs' extinction.

Since this scenario was first proposed, evidence developed that the so-called Baptistina family of asteroids was not the responsible party. With the new infrared observations from WISE, astronomers say Baptistina may finally be ruled out.

"As a result of the WISE science team's investigation, the demise of the dinosaurs remains in the cold case files," said Lindley Johnson, program executive for the Near Earth Object (NEO) Observation Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The original calculations with visible light estimated the size and reflectivity of the Baptistina family members, leading to estimates of their age, but we now know those estimates were off. With infrared light, WISE was able to get a more accurate estimate, which throws the timing of the Baptistina theory into question."

WISE surveyed the entire celestial sky twice in infrared light from January 2010 to February 2011. The asteroid-hunting portion of the mission, called NEOWISE, used the data to catalogue more than 157,000 asteroids in the main belt and discovered more than 33,000 new ones.

Visible light reflects off an asteroid. Without knowing how reflective the surface of the asteroid is, it's hard to accurately establish size. Infrared observations allow a more accurate size estimate. They detect infrared light coming from the asteroid itself, which is related to the body's temperature and size. Once the size is known, the object's reflectivity can be re-calculated by combining infrared with visible-light data.

The NEOWISE team measured the reflectivity and the size of about 120,000 asteroids in the main belt, including 1,056 members of the Baptistina family. The scientists calculated the original parent Baptistina asteroid actually broke up closer to 80 million years ago, half as long as originally proposed.

This calculation was possible because the size and reflectivity of the asteroid family members indicate how much time would have been required to reach their current locations -- larger asteroids would not disperse in their orbits as fast as smaller ones. The results revealed a chunk of the original Baptistina asteroid needed to hit Earth in less time than previously believed, in just about 15 million years, to cause the extinction of the dinosaurs.

"This doesn't give the remnants from the collision very much time to move into a resonance spot, and get flung down to Earth 65 million years ago," said Amy Mainzer, a co-author of a new study appearing in the Astrophysical Journal and the principal investigator of NEOWISE at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena. Calif. "This process is thought to normally take many tens of millions of years." Resonances are areas in the main belt where gravity nudges from Jupiter and Saturn can act like a pinball machine to fling asteroids out of the main belt and into the region near Earth.

The asteroid family that produced the dinosaur-killing asteroid remains at large. Evidence that a 10-kilometer (about 6.2-mile) asteroid impacted Earth 65 million years ago includes a huge, crater-shaped structure in the Gulf of Mexico and rare minerals in the fossil record, which are common in meteorites but seldom found in Earth's crust. In addition to the Baptistina results, the NEOWISE study shows various main belt asteroid families have similar reflective properties. The team hopes to use NEOWISE data to disentangle families that overlap and trace their histories.

"We are working on creating an asteroid family tree of sorts," said Joseph Masiero, the lead author of the study. "We are starting to refine our picture of how the asteroids in the main belt smashed together and mixed up."

JPL manages and operated WISE for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The spacecraft was put into hibernation mode after it scanned the entire sky twice, completing its main objectives. The principal investigator, astronomer Edward Wright, is at UCLA. The mission was selected competitively under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan. The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

More information is online at http://www.nasa.gov/wise , http://wise.astro.ucla.edu and http://jpl.nasa.gov/wise .

Monday, September 19, 2011

Feed your genes | Medical Express

Feed your genes

September 19th, 2011 in Health
Feed your genes

What should we eat? Answers abound in the international media, from Time Magazine to the New York Times Magazine to best-selling authors, all of which rely on their interpretation of recent medical literature to come up with recommendations for the healthiest diet.

But what if you could answer this question at a molecular level – what if you could find out how our genes respond to the foods we eat, and what this does to the cellular processes that make us healthy – or not? That's precisely what biologists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) have done.

The answer researchers have come up with may surprise you: the best , from a gene's standpoint, is one-third protein, one-third fat and one-third carbohydrates. That's what the research shows is the best recipe to limit your risk of most lifestyle-related diseases.

Food affects gene expression

NTNU researchers Ingerid Arbo and Hans-Richard Brattbakk have fed slightly overweight people different diets, and studied the effect of this on . Gene expression refers to the process where information from a gene's DNA sequence is translated into a substance, like a protein, that is used in a cell's structure or function.

"We have found that a diet with 65 per cent carbohydrates, which often is what the average Norwegian eats in some meals, causes a number of classes of genes to work overtime," says Berit Johansen, a professor of biology at NTNU. She supervises the project's doctoral students and has conducted research on gene expression since the 1990s.

"This affects not only the genes that cause inflammation in the body, which was what we originally wanted to study, but also genes associated with development of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, dementia, and type 2 diabetes -- all the major lifestyle-related diseases," she says.

Common dietary advice and chronic disease

These findings undercut most of the underpinnings for the diets you've heard will save you. Dietary advice abounds, and there is a great deal of variation as to how scientifically justified it is. But it is only now that researchers are figuring out the relationship between diet, digestion and the effect on one's health and immune system – so they can now say not only what kinds of foods are healthiest, but why.

"Both low-carb and high-carb diets are wrong," says Johansen. "But a low-carb diet is closer to the right diet. A healthy diet shouldn't be made up of more than one-third carbohydrates (up to 40 per cent of calories) in each meal, otherwise we stimulate our genes to initiate the activity that creates inflammation in the body."

This is not the kind of inflammation that you would experience as pain or an illness, but instead it is as if you are battling a chronic light flu-like condition. Your skin is slightly redder, your body stores more water, you feel warmer, and you're not on top mentally. Scientists call this metabolic inflammation.

The body's arms race

Johansen argues that diet is the key to controlling our personal genetic susceptibility to disease. In choosing what we eat, we choose whether we will provide our genes the weapons that cause disease. The immune system operates as if it is the body's surveillance authority and police. When we consume too many carbohydrates and the body is triggered to react, the immune system mobilizes its strength, as if the body were being invaded by bacteria or viruses.

"Genes respond immediately to what they have to work with. It is likely that insulin controls this arms race," Johansen says. "But it's not as simple as the regulation of blood sugar, as many believe. The key lies in insulin's secondary role in a number of other mechanisms. A healthy diet is about eating specific kinds of foods so that that we minimize the body's need to secrete insulin. The secretion of insulin is a defense mechanism in response to too much glucose in the blood, and whether that glucose comes from sugar or from non-sweet carbohydrates such as starches (potatoes, white bread, rice, etc.), doesn't really matter."

Avoid the fat trap!

The professor warns against being caught up in the fat trap. It's simply not good to cut out carbs completely, she says. "The fat/protein trap is just as bad as the carbohydrate trap. It's about the right balance, as always."

She says we must also make sure to eat carbohydrates, proteins and fats in five to six smaller meals, not just for the main meal, at dinner.

"Eating several small and medium-sized meals throughout the day is important. Don't skip breakfast and don't skip dinner. One-third of every meal should be carbohydrates, one-third protein and one-third fat. That's the recipe for keeping inflammatory and other disease-enhancing genes in check," Johansen explains.

Change is quick

Johansen has some encouraging words, however, for those of us who have been eating a high carbohydrate diet.

"It took just six days to change the gene expression of each of the volunteers," she says, "so it's easy to get started. But if you want to reduce your likelihood of lifestyle disease, this new diet will have to be a permanent change."

Johansen stressed that researchers obviously do not have all the answers to the relationship between diet and food yet. But the trends in the findings, along with recent scientific literature, make it clear that the recommendation should be for people to change their dietary habits.
 
Otherwise, an increasing number of people will be afflicted with chronic lifestyle diseases.

The new food balance sheet

Most of us think it is fine to have foods that you can either eat or not eat, whether it comes to carbohydrates or fats. So how will we know what to put on our plates?
Do we have to both count calories and weigh our food now?

"Of course you can be that careful," says Johansen. "But you will come a long way just by making some basic choices. If you cut down on boiled root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots, and replace the white bread with a few whole meal slices, such as rye bread, or bake your own crispbread, you will reduce the amount of bad carbohydrates in your diet quite significantly. Furthermore, remember to eat protein and fat at every meal, including breakfast!"

Salad also contains carbohydrates

Johansen explains that many of us do not realize that all the fruits and vegetables we eat also count as carbohydrates – and that it's not just sweet carbohydrates that we should watch out for.

"Salad is made up of carbohydrates," says Johansen. "But you have to eat a lot of greens to get a lot of calories. Steamed broccoli is a great alternative to boiled potatoes. Fruit is good, but you have to be careful not to eat large quantities of the high-glycemic fruits at one time. Variety is important."

The best is to cut down on potatoes, rice and pasta, and to allow ourselves some of the good stuff that has long been in the doghouse in the refrigerator.

"Instead of light products, we should eat real mayonnaise and sour cream," Johansen says, "and have real cream in your sauce, and eat oily fish. That said, we should still remember not to eat too much food, either at each meal or during the day. Fat is twice as calorie-rich as carbohydrates and proteins, so we have to keep that in mind when planning the sizes of our portions. Fat is also different. We shouldn't eat too much saturated animal fat, but monounsaturated vegetable fats and polyunsaturated marine fats are good."

Spread your calories out

Then there was the issue of six meals a day. Should we eat the same amount at every meal? Is an evening snack OK again? And is breakfast still the most important meal?

"It is better to spread your calories out over the day's meals rather than to cram in a huge dinner," says Johansen. "And both an evening snack and breakfast are good. It is obviously not good to go to sleep when you are stuffed full, but the body needs to refuel after dinner, too. So that means three main meals a day and 2-3 snacks, all balanced."

Johansen explains that one of the main findings of her study was that spreading one's calorie intake out over the day had a beneficial effect on health.

A powdered diet

Johansen and her colleagues conducted two studies. The first was to determine what type of research methods they would use to answer the questions they had. In the pilot study (28 days) five obese men ate real food, while in the second study, 32 slightly overweight men and women (mainly students) ate specially made powdered food.

Participants in the latter study were randomly assigned to go six days on a diet with 65 percent of calories from carbohydrates, with the rest of the calories from protein (15 percent) and fat (20 percent), then a week with no diet. Then came the six days on a diet with half the carbs and twice as much protein and fat as in the first diet. There were blood tests before and after each dieting period.

The amount of food each person ate was calculated so that their weight would remain stable and so that equal portions were consumed evenly over six meals throughout the day.

The researchers had help developing diets from Fedon Lindberg, a medical doctor who specializes in internal medicine and who promotes low-glycaemic diets, Inge Lindseth, an Oslo dietician who specializes in diabetes, and Ann-Kristin de Soysa, a dietician who works with obese patients at St. Olavs Hospital in Trondheim.

"We wanted to know exactly what the subjects were getting in terms of both macro- and micronutrients," says Johansen, -"A tomato doesn't contain a consistent amount of nutrients, or antioxidants, for example. So make sure we had a handle on the health effects, we had to have accurate accounting of nutrients. That's why we chose the powdered diets for the main study."

Solving the control problem

Diet studies that compare different diets with different amounts of fat are often criticized with the argument that it is difference in the amount of omega-3 fatty acids that causes the health effects, not the rest of the food intake.

The researchers addressed this problem by having the same amount of omega-3 and omega-6 in both diets, although the amount of fat in general was different in the diets that were tested. The researchers also avoided another common problem: the natural variation in gene expression between humans.
 
"Each of our study subjects was able to be his or her own control person, " Johansen says "Every subject was allowed to go on both diets, with a one-week break in between the diets, and half began with one diet, while the rest started with the other diet."

Blood tests were conducted before and after each diet period. All of the measurements of changes in gene expression were done so that each individual's difference in gene expression was compared with that person alone. The results were then compiled.

Johnson says the studies resulted in two important findings. One is the positive effect of many meals throughout the day, and the details about the quality and composition of components in an optimal diet, including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The second is that a carbohydrate-rich diet, regardless of whether or not a person overeats, has consequences for genes that affect the lifestyle diseases, she says.

A way to measure genetic temperature

Throughout the study, researchers surveyed the extent to which various genes were working normally or overtime. An aggregate measure of the results of all of this genetic activity is called gene expression. It can almost be considered a measurement of the genetic temperature of the body's state of health.

"We are talking about collecting a huge amount of information," says Johansen.
"And it's not like there is a gene for inflammation, for example. So what we look for is whether there are any groups of genes that work overtime. In this study we saw that an entire group of genes that are involved in the development of inflammatory reactions in the body work overtime as a group."

It was not only inflammatory genes that were putting in overtime, as it would turn out. Some clusters of genes that stood out as overactive are linked to the most common lifestyle diseases.

"Genes that are involved in type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease and some forms of cancer respond to diet, and are up-regulated, or activated, by a carbohydrate-rich diet," says Johansen.

Johansen is not a cancer researcher, and is not claiming that it is possible to eliminate your risk of a cancer diagnosis by eating. But she thinks it is worth noting that the genes that we associate with disease risk can be influenced by diet.

"We're not saying that you can prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer's if you eat right, but it seems sensible to reduce the carbohydrates in our diets," she suggests.

"We need more research on this," Johansen adds. "It seems clear that the composition and quantity of our diets can be key in influencing the symptoms of chronic disease. It is important to distinguish between diet quality and quantity, both clearly have very specific effects."

Fountain-of-youth genes

Some genes are not up-regulated, but rather the opposite – they calm down rather than speed up, Johansen's study shows.

"It was interesting to see the reduction in genetic activity, but we were really happy to see which genes were involved. One set of genes is linked to cardiovascular disease. They were down-regulated in response to a balanced diet, as opposed to a carbohydrate-rich diet," she says. Another gene that was significantly differently expressed by the diets that were tested was one that is commonly called "the youth gene" in the international research literature.

"We haven't actually stumbled on the fountain of youth here," Johansen laughs, "but we should take these results seriously. The important thing for us is, little by little, we are uncovering the mechanisms of disease progression for many of our major lifestyle-related disorders."

Provided by Norwegian University of Science and Technology

"Feed your genes." September 19th, 2011. http://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-09-genes.html


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