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Melissa Gansler • Author at Mirror Daily

Taiwanese smartphone giant HTC has announced on Thursday that Cher Wang will be appointed as chairwoman of the company, with former long-time CEO Peter Chou being transferred to a role concerning development of future products.

The appointment of Wang as CEO was voted by HTC’s board of directors and will come into full effect immediately. Wang was one of the company’s co-founders in 1997 – together with Chou – and became chairwoman of the board of directors in 2007. Chou will instead oversee the development and direction of new HTC products – which seems more than a symbolic role, with the company trying to broaden its device and gadget range.

The shift of power seems to have been prepared for some time within the company, as Peter Chou started directing his focus increasingly onto possible new products since a couple of years back, while also repeatedly delegating Mrs. Wang with more CEO-like attributions.

This change in leadership comes after an extended period of financial disappointment for the Taiwanese corporation, which recorded a continuous drop in sales over the past four years. HTC reported only a 500 million Taiwanese dollars (about 15 million in US dollars) profit in its fourth quarter of 2014, with number expected to drop in Q1 2015. This is quite a far cry away from main smartphone competitor Apple – that reported an $8.2 billion dollar profit in 2014’s last fiscal quarter.

To get itself back on track, HTC has unveiled its new projects at the Mobile World Congress held earlier this month in Barcelona, including a new One smartphone – criticized for being too similar to earlier versions -, a curiously designed camera and an electronic bracelet for fitness enthusiasts. The Taiwanese manufacturer also announced a partnership with Valve to produce a new allegedly groundbreaking virtual reality headset, called the HTC Vive.

HTC was founded back in 1997 by a trio consisting of Peter Chou, Cher Wang and H.T. Cho. It quickly rose to prominence at the beginning of the smartphone era, with it leading at one point the US market, over competitors Samsung and Apple. But the Taiwanese company has been dragging more and more behind the two giants in recent years, and changes to their strategy are needed to still maintain a share of relevance on the smartphone market.

Image Source: Bloomberg

In a study whose results were presented at the 64th Annual Scientific Session of the American College of Cardiology, researchers compared a new, less invasive heart-valve technique called TAVR (transcatheter aortic valve replacement) to traditional heart surgery methods. The study was conducted over two years and it showed that patients with aortic stenosis (a clinical condition manifested in the narrowing of the aortic valve opening) who underwent TAVR had a continued survival advantage over patients who underwent normal surgery.

The TAVR procedure is particularly useful in cases of older or physically weaker patients, whose health profiles would not easily allow a traditional surgical valve replacement. Until now, the standard operation was performed on aortic stenosis patients, because the risks of leaving them with a dysfunctional valve were too great (the smaller blood-flow forces the heart to work harder for the same results, which can lead to heart failure in time).

Within the experiment (called CoreValve US Pivotal High Risk Trial), patients whose heart surgery death risks were high were required to undergo either TAVR or the standard surgical procedure, according to a randomized distribution system. In the first year, death rates were considerably lower for the 390 patients who had TAVR than for the 357 patients who underwent open-heart surgery.

Medical Doctor and Cardiovascular Research Professor at Huston Methodist Hospital Michael J. Reardon, the study’s lead author, concluded that “survival is statistically better with TAVR”, deaths of any cause being 4.8% fewer among the TAVR batch of patients in the first year, and 6.4% fewer than the deaths of standard surgery patients in the second year. Other indicators also proved TAVR to be more efficient than the standard procedure: the rate of strokes was 10.9% (compared to 16.6% for surgery patients), while the rate of major adverse cardiovascular or cerebrovascular events was 29.7% in TAVR patients and 38.6% among surgery patients. Professor Reardon mentioned that another concern for cardiologists is usually the durability of replacement valves, but TAVR also fared better on this test – “effective valve orifice and mean pressure gradients (…) were statistically superior with TAVR”, the researcher said, which means that there are no indications of valve deterioration.

The only test where the standard procedure still surpasses TAVR in results is paravalvular leakage. Although severe paravalvular leakage was only 6% with TAVR in the two-year test, and it did not correlate with increased mortality, the lead-author of the study says that TAVR is recommended especially as an alternative to surgery, in the case of aortic stenosis patients who are at a high risk of not resisting heart surgery. Since the CoreValve High Risk Trial is a five year study, these are only early results and need to be confirmed.

image source: American Heart Association

Yesterday (March 15) marked 4 years since the beginning of violence in Syria. Protests had been going on since January 2011, but larger scale unrest began in mid-March, with demonstrators in Damascus, Aleppo, and Daraa calling for the release of students who had been arrested for drawing anti-government graffiti. On March 18 and March 20, 2011, clashes between the protesters and the government caused several deaths.

The conflict escalated from mass protests to armed rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad’s government. July 2011 saw the formation of the Free Syrian Army, who vowed to fight state security forces that were attacking civilians. Supported by the Arab League, Assad continued to send troops to break down demonstrations and fight the rebels. Thousands of people of arrested, and the Human Rights Watch reported the existence of 27 torture centers in July 2012. Between then and July 2013, jihadist groups joined some of the rebel groups in northern Syria. In November 2013, the Islamic Front was formed. With both sides receiving military help from foreign powers, violence and chaos spread, to the advantage of terrorist groups. Many of the forces who had rebelled against Assad joined the Islamic State fighters. Currently, the north-eastern part of Syria is controlled by ISIS.

The effects of the ongoing flood of violence on cities, markets, schools, hospitals, life expectancy, employment rates, and energy supplies are devastating. The education system has collapsed (half of the children have stopped going to school), cities are deserted (air footage of Homs, previously Syria’s third largest city, shows empty, half-ruined buildings, and no signs of human life; the city used to be a major industrial center, with over 650,000 inhabitants, most of whom were killed or became refugees), communications (including terrestrial ones like bridges) are suspended or destroyed, unemployment boomed from 15% to 57.7%, and according to Newsweek two-thirds of the population are deprived of basic necessities, including food. The costs of the war for Syrian economy go up to $200 billion so far. The number of refugees exceeds 3.3 million and 1.5 million Syrians have migrated as workers. Injured people are as many as 840,000, while almost 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives since 2011. Life expectancy fell from 80 years to 55. Satellite images of Syria have circled the web, showing how few signs of life there are left in comparison to 2010. Images of Homs, the deserted city where some rebel forces used to camp until the recapturing of the area by government troops one month ago, speak of a tragedy beyond repair.

image source: Daily Mail

During her fourth appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show on Thursday night, Mrs. Obama announced that on April 6, for the annual Easter Egg Roll at the White House, she and the All Stars from “So You Think You Can Dance” will organize a dance session and teach everyone to perform the “GimmeFive” dance. This event is part of the celebration of the fifth anniversary of Michelle Obama’s anti-childhood-obesity campaign called “Let’s Move”.

To promote the campaign, Mrs. Obama told Ellen DeGeneres, she has launched an initiative known on social media as “#GimmeFive”, asking both celebrities and ordinary people to state five things they are doing to improve their physical condition and work towards a healthy lifestyle. From Beyonce, Ryan Seacrest, or Nick Jonas to the astronauts on the International Space Station, a lot of celebrities joined the campaign. Michelle Obama helped schoolchildren plant beetroots and other healthy vegetables, an event which was also included in the #GimmeFive initiative. She also participated in sport competitions with high-school girls. Five ways to stay healthy can include workout routines or eating habits, but also styles of relaxation or ways of practicing ecological agriculture.

The full video of Ellen DeGeneres’s show will be broadcasted on Monday, but the producers have already released a fragment of that video yesterday, showing Michelle Obama and Ellen DeGeneres, along with a troupe of backup dancers, perform the “GimmeFive” dance, to the tune of “Uptown Funk”, a hit song played by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars.

Although it’s hard not to joke when you’re around Ellen DeGeneres – and Michelle Obama did display a strong sense of humor – the First Lady seemed to take her exercise routine very seriously. She and Ellen DeGeneres spoke of a push-up competition – of which pictures were shown during the filming – and the dance too was staged as a sort of I-dare-you-to-do-this contest between the two famous women. When asked how intensely she has been working out, Michelle Obama jestingly warned Ellen DeGeneres not to make her take off her jacket.

The First Lady’s trip to Burbank, California, where the Ellen DeGeneres show is filmed, was a surprise one. Her office had not previously announced it. Although President Barack Obama also travelled to California on the same day, to appear on the Jimmy Kimmel Live talk-show, their schedules didn’t overlap and they flew separately. Michelle Obama was back in Washington on Friday, according to White House spokesman Eric Schultz.

image source: twitter

On Thursday, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket was fired up from Cape Canaveral. It carried four immense octagonal slice-shaped capsules, which were set into orbit at a five minutes distance from each other. They are now gravitating around the Earth with increased speed, preparing to be grouped into a pyramid formation. The goal of this mission is to study magnetic reconnection, a natural process that poses a threat to communication systems on our planet.

According to a NASA report about the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, magnetic reconnection is a phenomenon provoked by the connection, disconnection and reconfiguration of magnetic fields, which leads to large explosions (whose energy release is the equivalent of billions of megatons of TNT and whose propelling force can speed particles through space nearly light-fast).

The study of magnetic reconnection could lead to a better comprehension of its effects on communications (internet, mobile phones, electrical grids, and GPS systems). Furthermore, it could deepen scholars’ understanding of the functioning of magnetic fields in space, at far distances in the outer solar system or beyond.

The first phase of the mission involves orbiting the earth following an elliptical trajectory. Each of the four spacecraft will reach a distance of 43,000 miles from the Earth while in orbit. In the second phase, this distance will increase to 95,000 miles. The space capsules will cover both the bright side of our planet, where the Sun’s magnetic field meets the Earth’s, and the dark side of the planet, where magnetic reconnection is more frequent, producing the aurora borealis and aurora australis.

Each spacecraft has arm-like appendages that extend up to 200 feet on each of its eight sides. These carry measurement instruments. The Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission program manager Craig Tooley described the limbs of the spacecraft as having, each, “a footprint about the size of a football field”. Due to the mobile instruments, they will record magnetic activity over 100 times faster than any mission has done so far. The gigantic octagonal devices weight around 3,000 pounds when completely fuelled.

Scholars are very enthusiastic about the discoveries this mission might trigger. Jim Burch from the Southwest Research Institute, the principal investigator for the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, explained that “everything to do with space weather starts with reconnection”, which is why it is crucial to understand why and how it takes place. The current mission will study precisely that area around the Earth where magnetic reconnection phenomena take place. Burch is confident that this will help solve the mystery.

image source: NASA

A Reuters report suggests that Microsoft could release its Cortana – a planned artificial intelligence personal assistance in the likes of the popular Siri – as a stand-alone application that could be available for use on competing Google and Apple operating systems.

Currently available in a beta state for Windows Phone 8.1 users, Cortana is expected to have a full worldwide release together with Microsoft’s Windows 10 OS, for both smartphones and desktops. The report states that a stand-alone release is planned a couple of months later, which would see the personal assistant available for purchase on iOS and Android app stores.

An interview with Microsoft Research director Eric Horvitz also shed some lights on planned functionality details for Cortana, which would see the A.I. assistant completing more complex tasks than Apple’s Siri.

Cortana is being developed using research from a program called Project Einstein, and some of its stated groundbreaking features revolve over the A.I. being able to plan the user’s activities according to information taken from e-mails. Using a plane flight example, Horvitz explained how Cortana can announce the user when to leave for the airport to arrive exactly on time by analyzing traffic conditions, his distance to the airport and delays of scheduled flights.

Microsoft had already announced in November last year that it will not make Cortana restricted to its Windows operating system, but no reports at the time suggested that this would include its main competitors in the smartphone and tablet markets.

This strategy might be meant to combat its inferiority to Google and Apple in the tablet and smartphone market share, with a recent report showing that just 5% of shipped tablets in 2015 ran on Windows. The company has also made its Office suite available on iOS and Android.

Cortana itself takes its name from a virtual artificial intelligence character from the popular Halo video game series, with character voice actress Jen Taylor also providing the voice for the personal assistant. This represented a smart move for Microsoft’s personal assistant application to gain instant popularity, with the video games series having sold over 60 million units in its more than 10 year history and the character being widely popular amongst its fans

Image Source: The Verge

A new study has revealed that heavy pot use in adolescence is linked to weaker memories. It appears that teens who smoke a lot of pot have poorer memories and also some brain abnormalities than those who smoke less or no marijuana at all. While the study cannot safely say which one came first, the brain abnormalities or the pot use, it is safe to say that heavy pot use does have long-terms effects. The results of the study were published in the journal Hippocampus.

The study was performed by a team of researchers from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. The team followed 97 teenagers with and without mental illness. The teens who smoked weed, said that they had started using the drug at 16 or 17 and that they have been using pot and just pot daily.

After careful examination it was revealed that marijuana users had some brain abnormalities, such as an abnormally-shaped hippocampus, which is the area of the brain used for storing long-term memory. They also performed 18% worse on long-term memory tasks.

Doctor John Csernansky, one of the authors of the study, said that the memory processes that appear to be affected by marijuana are the ones that people use every single day to sustain relationships with family and friends and to solve common issues.

The Northwestern University researchers admit that the abnormalities in the brain could reveal a pre-existing vulnerability to pot abuse, but there is evidence that sustains the fact that the longer participants were abusing the drug, the greater the differences in hippocampus shape, which means that marijuana may very well be the cause.

The effect of heavy pot use in teens lasted into the early 20s, even after the volunteers stopped smoking pot.

It was also found that patients with schizophrenia who were heavy pot smokers did about 26% worse on memory tests than the schizophrenia patients who did not smoke pot.

While marijuana has been found to help with glaucoma, nausea and cancer pain, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly opposes non-medical use of marijuana for children and teens.

Past studies have also found that marijuana is the safest substance to abuse. Pot was found to be far less likely to kill than alcohol, hard drugs such as heroin and even tobacco.

Image Source: Telegraph

A study published in the Molecular Psychiatry journal shows that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is caused by genes that are also associated with the immune system.

The study was done by analyzing blood samples pertaining to 188 Marines both before and after they activated in conflict zones. Those that ended up developing PTSD showed a change in the relation and dynamics between multiple genes, which are also responsible for regulating and signaling disorders of the human body’s immune system.

It has been thought for a long time that PTSD is somehow linked to genetic factors, but previous studies focused on different gene expressions between sufferers and non-sufferers alike. This study instead compared whole transcriptome RNA sequences, and it found genetic differences in sufferers both before and after being afflicted with the condition.

Michael S. Breen, professor at the UK’s University of Southampton and one of the study’s top researchers, considers that the key to understanding the affliction’s pathology consists in analyzing the complex relations between different genes, as PTSD itself is regarded as a complicated disorder.

Posttraumatic stress disorder is a mental health issue that appears after suffering through a traumatic event – be it witnessing death, sexual or violent assault or near-death experiences – and manifests itself in the form of nightmares, flashbacks of the event or feelings of being estranged.

The condition is most common amongst those that have participated or seen military action and conflict zones; about 11 to 20 percent of soldiers that served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Force have shown symptom of posttraumatic disease during service or after discharge.

This doesn’t mean it isn’t irregular for normal people, as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 7 to 8 percent of the population will develop PTSD during their life. Women that witness traumatic events also seem to be more liable to develop PTSD than men in similar conditions.

The research might prove to be important not only military-wise, in providing a better means of identifying combatants that are more likely to develop posttraumatic conditions, but it can also help the development of better treatment for it.

PTSD is currently treated through therapy mostly, with medicine being prescribed for its secondary effects – such as depression or anxiety – but the cases in which the individual does not fully recover are not uncommon. Discovery of its specific genetic nature might help the development of drugs that can be used to combat it directly.

Image Source: Meadow Blog

It was announced that Dunkin’ Donuts is removing titanium dioxide from its food. The long overdue decision was announced by the company this week.

Titanium dioxide is toxic to the environment and also to human health. It is used as a whitening agent in toothpaste, pain, sunscreen and also sugar. Sugar whitened by titanium dioxide was used, until now, by Dunkin’ Donuts in the making of all their products. The removal of titanium dioxide will not affect the way Dunkin’ Donuts products’ taste.

The trouble with titanium dioxide is that it is a source of nanomaterials, which are extremely harmful to human health and the environment. Dunkin’ Donuts has agreed to remove the harmful ingredient from their products following independently commissioned lab tests that revealed the company’s white powdered donuts contained titanium dioxide nanomaterials.

Nanomaterials have, as the name would suggest, very small dimensions which make them even more toxic for human health and also the environment. There is insufficient safety information about these nanoparticles and their use in foods, but the studies that do exist say that they can cause organ damage, brain damage, chromosomal and DNA damage and genital malformations.

President and Chief Counsel of As You Sow, Daniele Fugere, said that Dunkin’ Donuts’ decision is a groundbreaking one. She continued to say that Dunkin’ Donuts has demonstrated a very strong industry leadership by removing this potentially dangerous ingredients from its products. Fugere added:

Engineered nanomaterials are beginning to enter the food supply, despite not being proven safe for consumption. Dunkin’ has made a decision to protect its customers and its bottom line by avoiding use of an unproven and potentially harmful ingredient.

Environmental Health Program Manager at As You Sow, Austin Wilson, says that now that Dunkin’ Donuts have removed titanium dioxide from their products, the pressure for competitors to follow suit is big.

The FDA warns that it is not aware of any ingredients in food that is on the scale of nanometers for which there is data available to determine that its use in indeed generally accepted as safe. The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate nanomaterials in food. For example, asbestos is also a nanomaterial and it was used for a long time before its toxicity on humans was fully understood.

Image Source: Fox40

Predominantly vegetarian diets that rely on fish for protein intake lead to lower rates of colorectal cancer, according to a study conducted in the United States and published in the Internal Medicine section of The Journal of the American Medical Association. Dr. Michael Orlich, an assistant professor in medicine and public health at Loma Linda University in California and the study’s lead author, declared that his team was surprised to see such a notable difference between people who ate vegetables, fruit and fish and people on other kinds of vegetarian diets.

A peculiarity of the study is that it was conducted among Seventh-Day Adventists, whose religion presupposes a smoke-free and alcohol-free lifestyle and a healthy diet. This may have induced a bias, but it allowed for a long-term follow-up of the subjects – the median follow-up interval being 7.3 years. The study included 77,659 people from all across the U.S., who responded to diet-related questions and whose medical records and cancer registers were analyzed in order to trace the link between eating habits and cancer occurrence. In the seven-year interval, 380 cases of colon cancer and 110 cases of rectal cancer were reported, and vegetarians had 22% less than the cancer rate of regular meat eaters.

The study defined pesco-vegetarians as the category whose diet includes fish at least once a month and meat less than once a month. This category showed the smallest risk of colon-cancer or rectal cancer, up to 43% less than the risk for meat eaters. Lacto-ovo vegetarians, who relied on eggs and dairy for protein but ate fish and meat less than once a month, had a cancer risk only 18% lower than meat eaters, while vegans, defined as the category whose diet rarely included eggs, fish, milk-products and meat (consumed less than once a month), had a risk reduction of only 16%. Semi-vegetarians (who usually eat meat or fish once a week) had cancer rates 8% lower than regular meat-eaters.

Dr. Leonard Saltz, chief of the gastrointestinal oncology service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York (who didn’t participate in the study but is familiar with the results), commented that the good news is one doesn’t have to go vegan to reduce cancer risks, but moderation seems to be the best option. If fruits, vegetables and seafood predominate in one’s diet, they don’t have to be its exclusive content: “We’re not saying you’re committing suicide if you have a cheeseburger, but it should be a treat, not a regular occurrence.” – Dr. Saltz advises.

The study conducted by Dr. Orlich is not necessarily conclusive, because it was not based on an arbitrary selection of people followed by randomly assigning certain diets to them, but it was large enough to offer some evidence to support diet-recommendations.

Colorectal cancer affects roughly 4.7% percent of the U.S. population, according to the 2009-2011 data collected by the National Cancer Institute.

image source: Really Healthy Foods

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