Scientists at a Tel Aviv University (TAU) in Iran have turned to Facebook to help them track the spread of viruses and infections. Researchers Nir Ben-Tal and Gal Almogy at the university’s Faculty of Life Sciences developed an app dubbed PiggyDemic, in which users can pass a simulated virus onto their friends or vice versa. Their plan is to see how social interaction affects where a virus spreads and how many people it infects.
The method challenges the current system of tracking virus spread through mathematical algorithms. The latter’s flaw is that it assumes that every virus is equally spread from one population to another, which is hardly ever the case–social interaction always comes into play and throws the pattern off track. For example, according to Almogy, Africa has a high concentration of HIV while Asia and North America have the largest share of some flu strains. This is proof that viral infections are in part a social phenomenon.
By adding (digital) human interaction into the mix, the researchers expect to get a more realistic look at viral interaction. Facebook, the world’s largest social network with 800 million active users, is an ideal place for such a study. Once a user installs PiggyDemic, the app follows his or her news feed to see which people they interact with. Uninfected users are given risk rankings such as “immune” or “susceptible” based on their interactions with infected contacts. A network visualization tool allows them to see how the viruses are passed on from one person to another.
Besides tracking, PiggyDemic also doubles as a health guide for users who install it, offering tips to help users make healthy choices. It can also be used as a game, with people trying to “infect” as many of their friends as they can. Perhaps most importantly, the app has also been designed to track real-life virus outbreaks in real time by allowing people to report when they are actually infected. Such a tracking method can alert people in the network of the added risk.
The initial findings already seem to challenge current beliefs about virus spread. For instance, although the app is not configured to incorporate seasonal changes, the flu “virus” has spread more in the winter, the usual peak period. This suggests that in addition to environmental factors, social patterns can account for the rise and fall of different viruses through the seasons.Read More
It’s a daunting task for parents to take their children’s education into their own hands. But more and more people are doing it: about 2 million students in North America are homeschooled, and that’s only counting those whose parents have registered their kids with school boards. The real number could be a lot bigger. But what makes parents decide to homeschool their children?
The reasons vary from the practical, such as the lengthy trip to school and the constant threat of teacher strikes, to situation-specific, as is the case with children who show promise in art, sports, or other areas outside the curriculum. Some parents simply enjoy the experience and want to monitor their child’s progress with things other than grades. There’s no universal rule as to whether or not a child should be homeschooled–it’s a decision that should take into account several factors, including the child’s learning style, the parents’ commitment, and the many implications it can have for the child’s future.
The first thing you should ask yourself is whether you have the time and energy for homeschooling. It takes more than a couple of hours of spelling and math on the kitchen table; you need to follow a curriculum, prepare lessons, give and grade assignments. You should also be careful not to take the ‘home’ in homeschooling too seriously: a child needs to get out of the home and learn from things other than schoolbooks. Trips to the park, museums, and local libraries are essential to rounding out a homeschool program.
Next, make sure you can afford it–you may not have to pay tuition or buy as many school supplies, but it’s a given that at least one parent will have to commit to the task full-time. If you’ve lived with two incomes for a while, this may take some getting used to. Compare the annual costs of sending a child to school to the income you’ll be giving up if you decide to go this route.
The most important factor, of course, is whether your child is ready for it. Some children simply thrive better with parents as teachers, but others will feel they are missing out on things like making friends, learning from a variety of mentors, and getting to know other people. It’s often a good practice to take it one year or one semester at a time, and leave a door open so that your child can go back to traditional schooling any time they want.Read More
Much as we’d like to believe otherwise, some kids are born luckier than others. Studies have consistently shown that children enter school with different strengths and weaknesses, and some strengths, such as math and spelling skills, just happen to be more desirable and measurable than, say, social skills.
Grades aren’t everything
So how do you manage kids with different strengths in the classroom, or even at home? Experts agree that it starts with looking beyond grades. It’s long been known that grades aren’t a good indicator of ability or effort. A child who gets a C after hours of studying deserves just as much credit as one who coasts through school with straight A’s. Parents and teachers should reward not the grade, but the achievement.
Set different goals
The easiest way to do this is to set individual goals. If getting A’s is easy for one child, give him or her a goal that helps them work on a weakness; for example, teachers can monitor relationships with peers and reward them for making more friends during the school year. Likewise, if a child is actively involved in school plays but works only hard enough to get a C, a more appropriate goal would be to move that up to a B, because getting the lead role would not be much of a challenge. In other words, schools and homes need to accept that a one-size-fits-all approach to education doesn’t work.
Offer realistic rewards
Another common false assumption is that all children respond to the same rewards. It’s easy to take for granted that all kids like candy, but there’s always that one child who doesn’t–and this child can miss out on the learning and development opportunities offered by a classroom reward system. It’s important to take time to find out what your child likes, and figure out how to use it for encouragement. For example, if your kid doesn’t like the movies but loves going to museums, reward him or her with a trip to his favourite one when he reaches a target grade or achievement.
The grade system isn’t ideal, but it’s the best way we currently know to put an educational system in place. The challenge for teachers and parents is to help children realize that while grades are important for a stable future, having fun and learning without pressure are vital to making the most of their childhood.Read More
There’s a pill for pretty much everything, but you don’t always need them. Recent research shows that the solution to a lot of aches and pains is literally right in the air. Common household scents, some of which we encounter every day, appear to relieve a variety of conditions, from headaches to stress to mental problems. Some even seem to aid in weight loss. Scientists aren’t quite sure why, but the effects are there–and there’s definitely no harm in trying. Here are some that you might want to check out.
Florals for focus: Flowers have been found to stir positive feelings in people, most likely because we’ve come to associate it with something pure and natural. They also seem to influence the parts of the brain that control memory, motivation, and problem-solving. The study saw a 17% increase in learning speed in people who reacted positively to the smell of flowers.
Jasmine for confidence: Nervous about an upcoming presentation? Spray on a jasmine scent the morning of the big day. The flower’s smell is linked to an increase in awareness and self-confidence, as well as an overall feeling of wellness. Researchers think it alters the brain’s beta waves, which have to do with wakefulness and consciousness.
Green apples for weight loss: Apple scents were first noted as a natural remedy for migraines. New studies show that it can also aid in weight loss by reducing one’s appetite. It’s unusual for the smell of food to curb your cravings, but this scent seems to work by making your brain think you’ve eaten the thing you’re smelling, and therefore making you feel full.
Chocolate for depression: Everyone’s favourite comfort food is turning out to be the ultimate comfort scent as well. The caffeine in chocolate reduces anxiety, and cannabinoids, a special class of compounds, induces a mild feeling of euphoria. People tend to react to both effects because taste is strongly related to smell, and often, just the smell of chocolate can achieve much of the same effect.
Citrus for tiredness: Often used to relieve dizziness and motion sickness, citrus fruits have been found to improve lethargy and a general lack of energy. It works on the same principle as smelling salts, making you more alert and heightening your senses. It may also help that many people associate orange juice with breakfast, and this triggers a response in the brain that stirs you awake.Read More
You’d think sleeping would be the easiest thing in the world, but the number of Americans diagnosed with sleep problems in the last few years suggests otherwise. Part of the reason is that so many myths have been passed around and become common knowledge. Here are some things you may have heard about sleep–and need to unlearn.
Myth #1: Older people need less sleep
Babies sleep a lot longer than the recommended 6-8 hours, but that progression doesn’t continue into late adulthood. Once you hit your teens, you’re going to need the same amount of sleep until you’re 60. You may have problems sleeping as you grow older, and that’s why many grandparents are up at dawn. Chances are they take lengthy naps around midday to make up for it.
Myth #2: Alcohol is a sleeping aid
That last glass of wine may make you feel drowsy, but you don’t get the same kind of sleep. Alcohol-induced sleep tends to be shallow and restless, which explains why you often wake up the morning after feeling more tired than last night. You’re also more likely to snore and have dreams that wake you up in the middle of the night.
Myth #3: Snoring is okay
Most of the time, snoring is just an annoying habit, but sometimes it points to a deeper problem. A common cause is obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that blocks your airways as you sleep. Some people simply snore, while others stop breathing for long periods. In any case, sleep apnea can make you extremely tired in the morning and heightens your risk of heart disease–and therefore needs medical attention.
Myth #4: You can train yourself to sleep less
Some people think they can get used to sleeping just four to five hours a day. And they do get by, but not without a price. Studies show that doing this results in even more sleepiness during the day, getting worse as the weeks go by. So the occasional all-nighter may be fine, but making a habit of it is never a good idea.
Myth #5: Napping is bad for you
It’s mostly a matter of how the nap affects your nighttime sleep–and it varies from person to person. If you already have sleep problems, napping can make you less sleepy at night and perpetuate the cycle. For most people, a 20-minute nap when you’re really drained can be helpful; any longer than that and you risk waking up with a headache.Read More
With the sun setting earlier and temperatures hitting freezing, it’s little surprise that activity levels drop in the winter. Add to that the cabin fever that most of us get at some point, which we try to fix by loading up on often calorie-rich comfort foods. What we get is a double-edged sword that compromises your immune system as much as your waistline. If you want to stay in shape when spring comes around, you’ll have to get over the winter blues and take charge of your health. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Get some sleep: Young people tend to stay up way past midnight and wake up later in the day, thinking they’re still getting their eight hours. But it’s not about meeting the quota; it’s about getting rest when your body needs it most. If you have trouble falling asleep, try a glass of warm milk just before going to bed.
Skip the hot chocolate: Next time you’re in the mood for a nice warm drink, reach for some herbal tea instead of coffee or cocoa. Not only are they lower in calories; they’re also better for your digestive system and give you more energy. Green tea is especially good in cold weather because it’s rich in anti-oxidants, which help fight off disease.
Opt for natural sugars: The sweet tooth is a lot more active in the winter, but don’t give in to every craving. White sugar, commonly found in candy, pastries and soda, can weaken your body’s defenses and make you vulnerable to whatever disease is going around (usually a cold or the flu). Fruits can satisfy your craving in a much healthier way; you can have them fresh or frozen.
Make some soup: Your body needs more vegetables in the winter, but if you’re not a fan of greens, soups are a great way to get some of that into your system. A hearty bowl of vegetable soup can contain two servings of vegetables (experts recommend five to six a day). Cream soups are also a good choice, but make sure to use low-fat cream and low-sodium broth.
Get out: You need your daily dose of sunshine, so head out for at least a few minutes a day. Indoor air with the added heating can be very dry and cause headaches and respiration problems. Take a short walk–wait for the warmest hour of the day if you have to–and take a moment to breathe in the fresh air. You’ll be a lot more energized and awake when you get back in.Read More
Earaches can result from a wide range of conditions, some as simple as the common cold and others more serious, such as brain or eye problems. Most of the time, it’s no cause for worry. However, many people find the discomfort distracting and look for ways to alleviate it, even temporarily. There are several ways to go about this and many have been proven effective, although not all are guaranteed to work for everyone.
Antibiotics are perhaps the most common of earache remedies. Naturally, they work best when the pain is caused by an infection of the ear or some other organ, such as the sinuses. But the reason many people find it effective is that they are often coupled with analgesics, or pain relievers. Using antibiotics for earaches can therefore get in the way of diagnosis. When you’re not sure what’s causing the pain, or if you’re already taking antibiotics for something else, you may want to find another solution.
Some people prefer home remedies to combat earache. These remedies vary greatly, and some are more scientifically sound than others. The simplest and least invasive is a warm compress. This can be as simple as pressing a warm cloth over the ear and surrounding area for a few minutes. Sometimes this will eliminate the earache altogether, especially if the cause is physical (such as pressure or impact).
If the ear is inflamed, garlic and mullein flower oil can be used to bring down the swelling. Garlic is known to have natural antibiotics and little or no side effects, making it ideal for physical applications. Mullein flower oil is used almost exclusively for earaches and is known to reduce irritation. The two can be used in combination, or even mixed with some warm olive oil. If the pain is mostly external, onion paste–made with a mix of onion powder and water or olive oil–can be applied to the surrounding area.
Pressure-related earaches, including those that accompany migraine attacks, can be cured by inhaling some eucalyptus steam. Vicks, popular for de-clogging nostrils and relaxing, is made with eucalyptus. You can rub some around your ear and see if the pain subsides after a few minutes. A more long-term remedy is to add some eucalyptus oil to hot, almost-boiling water and inhaling the steam for a few minutes, at least three times a day.
Of course, if the earache persists or if other symptoms show up, homemade remedies can only do so much. If you think there’s more to the earache, avoid the more invasive methods described above (such as oil drops) and get a proper diagnosis right away.Read More