Flying high, or down in the dumps -- individuals suffering from bipolar disorder alternate between depressive and manic episodes. Researchers from the University of Bonn and the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim have now discovered, based on patient data and animal models, how the NCAN gene results in the manic symptoms of bipolar disorder.
The results have been published in the current issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry.
Individuals with bipolar disorder are on an emotional roller coaster. During depressive phases, they suffer from depression, diminished drive and often, also from suicidal thoughts. The manic episodes, however, are characterized by restlessness, euphoria, and delusions of grandeur. The genesis of this disease probably has both hereditary components as well as psychosocial environmental factors.
The NCAN gene plays a major part in how manias manifest
"It has been known that the NCAN gene plays an essential part in bipolar disorder," reports Prof. Dr. Markus M. Nöthen, Director of the Institute of Human Genetics at the University of Bonn. "But until now, the functional connection has not been clear." In a large-scale study, researchers led by the University of Bonn and the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim have now shown how the NCAN gene contributes to the genesis of mania. To do so, they evaluated the genetic data and the related descriptions of symptoms from 1218 patients with differing ratios between the manic and depressive components of bipolar disorder.
Comprehensive data from patients and animal models
Using the patients' detailed clinical data, the researchers tested statistically which of the symptoms are especially closely related to the NCAN gene. "Here it became obvious that the NCAN gene is very closely and quite specifically correlated with the manic symptoms," says Prof. Dr. Marcella Rietschel from the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim. According to the data the gene is, however, not responsible for the depressive episodes in bipolar disorder.
Manic mice drank from sugar solution with abandon
A team working with Prof. Dr. Andreas Zimmer, Director of the Institute of Molecular Psychiatry at the University of Bonn, examined the molecular causes effected by the NCAN gene. The researchers studied mice in which the gene had been "knocked out." "It was shown that these animals had no depressive component in their behaviors, only manic ones," says Prof. Zimmer. These knockout mice were, e.g., considerably more active than the control group and showed a higher level of risk-taking behavior. In addition, they tended to exhibit increased reward-seeking behavior, which manifested itself by their unrestrained drinking from a sugar solution offered by the researchers.
Lithium therapy also effective against hyperactivity in mice
Finally, the researchers gave the manic knockout mice lithium -- a standard therapy for humans. "The lithium dosage completely stopped the animals' hyperactive behavior," reports Prof. Zimmer. So the results also matched for lithium; the responses of humans and mice regarding the NCAN gene were practically identical. It has been known from prior studies that knocking out the NCAN gene results in a developmental disorder in the brain due to the fact that the production of the neurocan protein is stopped. "As a consequence of this molecular defect, the individuals affected apparently develop manic symptoms later," says Prof. Zimmer.
Opportunity for new therapies
Now the scientists want to perform further studies of the molecular connections of this disorder -- also with a view towards new therapies. "We were quite surprised to see how closely the findings for mice and the patients correlated," says Prof. Nöthen. "This level of significance is very rare." With a view towards mania, the agreement between the findings opens up the opportunity to do further molecular studies on the mouse model, whose results will very likely also be applicable to humans. "This is a great prerequisite for advancing the development of new drugs for mania therapy," believes Prof. Rietschel.
7th May 1989. A South African Air Force Mirage Jet allegedly shot down an Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) in The Kalahari Desert, somewhere between the border of South Africa and Botswana. A well-known UK magazine called Quest International printed a Special Edition regarding this incident. According to their reporter a joint operation between the South African Air Force (S.A.A.F.) and the United States Air Force (U.S.A.F.) was mounted. The operation was dubbed Operation Silver Diamond; its aim was to recover the occupants and the debris resulting from the crash.
New scandal in China, key official sidelined over car crash
By Benjamin Kang Lim and Chris Buckley Mon Sep 3, 2012 5:26am EDT
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's once-in-a-decade leadership transition has been hit by reports of fresh scandal, with a senior ally of President Hu Jintao being demoted after sources said the ally's son was involved in a deadly crash involving a luxury sports car.
The car - a Ferrari according to some of the sources - crashed in Beijing on March 18 in an embarrassment for the ruling Communist Party, sensitive to perceptions that children of top party officials live rich, privileged lifestyles completely out of touch with the masses, the sources said.
The country has already been rocked by the biggest political scandal in two decades - the sacking of Bo Xilai, an ambitious senior politician whose wife recently received a suspended death sentence for the murder of a British businessman in a case that also involved a mix of money and power.
The car crash, the details of which are still shrouded in mystery, reportedly involved the son of Ling Jihua, 55, who state media said was dropped at the weekend as head of the party's General Office of the Central Committee.
It is a powerful post, similar to cabinet secretary in Westminster-style governments. Ling is very close to Hu.
Ling could not be reached for comment on the matter. He had been eyeing a promotion to the Politburo - the party's policy-making council - and to become head of the party's Organisation Department, which oversees the appointment and dismissal of senior officials, sources said.
"The central leadership decided that the scandal over the incident was too serious to allow Ling Jihua to be promoted, and Hu Jintao really couldn't resist," a retired party official said.
Sources close to the leadership, speaking on condition of anonymity, said three young people were in the car at the time of the crash, including the ally's son, aged in his 20s. At least one of the trio died in the crash, they added, but the victims' identities were unclear. They did not know the son's full name.
One source and a journalist who once worked for a party publication - both speaking on condition of anonymity - said the son had died in the crash, and the source added that the son's death certificate had been changed to disguise his identity.
The South China Morning Post first reported this alleged cover-up on Monday, saying the son's surname had been changed to Jia", which has the same pronunciation as the word "fake" in Chinese. The newspaper gave the son's real name as Ling Gu.
A second source with ties to China's leadership said the son had not died in the crash.
The South China Morning Post said two women, one aged in her 20s and the other in her 30s, were seriously injured.
The Beijing city government and police have declined to comment on the accident.
ANGER AT THE TOP
A businesswoman with family ties to a senior leader said Ling had been criticized by other leaders, including former president Jiang Zemin, for attempting to hush up the accident.
"Jiang has been adamantly opposed to Ling Jihua receiving a powerful position," she said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of discussing elite politics.
Over the weekend, Ling Jihua was appointed head of the Communist Party's United Front Work Department, a less influential position than his current post, in a move that was viewed as a setback for President Hu's efforts to retain major influence in the next administration. He will retire as president at the next annual national parliament session, which usually takes place in March.
Calls to the United Front Department and Organisation Department went unanswered on Monday.
Ling has been among the officials who are nearly always at Hu's side during visits at home and abroad over the past decade.
Chinese state media announced that he was replaced as head of the General Office by Li Zhanshu, 61, a close ally of Vice President Xi Jinping, a move that confirmed a July 18 Reuters report. Li cut his teeth in the Communist Youth League, Hu's power base, but is not seen as being as close to the current president as Ling.
The General Office is the organizational cockpit of the party's top leaders. It is responsible for shaping the policy agenda, deciding who those leaders meet, as well as their travel arrangements at home and abroad, and security details. Its head is roughly equivalent to the White House chief of staff.
The car crash first drew public interest in March when the Global Times, published by the official People's Daily, reported that online information about the accident had been deleted.
That triggered suspicions about the identity of the deceased and a storm online, but China's government censors have deleted all microblog posts mentioning the car crash and blocked searches of the words "Ferrari", "Little Ling" and "Prince Ling".
(Editing by Mark Bendeich and Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Sept. 3, 1803: Dalton Introduces Atomic Symbols By Randy Alfred September 3, 2008 | 12:00 am Categories: Miscellaneous
John Dalton devised the first atomic symbols, but they looked a little different from the ones we use today.
1803: English chemist-physicist John Dalton starts using symbols to represent the atoms of different elements.
Dalton, considered the father of modern atomic theory, made a logbook entry that day titled, “Observations on the Ultimate Particles of Bodies and their Combinations.” It was the first use of symbols to represent the elements of modern chemistry.
He soon had a table of 21 elements arranged by atomic mass, which he presented in a scientific paper the following month. Eventually, he had 36 different symbols.
In his 1805 work, “A New System of Chemical Philosophy,” Dalton propounded the tenets of his atomic theory:
The chemical elements are made of atoms.
The atoms of an element are identical in mass.
Atoms of different elements have different masses.
Atoms combine only in small, whole-number ratios like 1:1, 1:2, 2:3, etc.
Atoms can not be created or destroyed.
Dalton’s symbols were not the ones we use today, but circles containing distinct symbols (a dot for hydrogen, a cross for sulfur), or circles containing letters (C for copper, L for lead). He used them singly to represent elements and in combination to show compounds.
A decade after Dalton formulated his symbols, Swedish chemist Jöns Jakob Berzelius simplified the system. Half of Dalton’s symbols used letters inside a circle to represent the element. Berzelius organized 47 elements with letters alone, and he based those letters not primarily on the English names, but on the Latin ones. In an era when all Europe’s learned men (and the few women who were allowed into schools and universities) knew Latin, the shared language was an international lingua franca.
All but a handful of Berzelius’ symbols are still used today. So it’s Au for gold and Ag for silver, not the circled G and S of Dalton’s original notation.
The simplified notation led the way for English analytical chemist John Newlands to formulate his Law of Octaves and a prototype periodic table of the elements in 1864, but it was Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev who really laid it all on the table with 63 elements in 1869. When he flipped his chart to a horizontal table two years later, he created a form much like what you see in chemistry textbooks and on the walls of chem labs today.
Alas, Mendeleev’s table was based on atomic mass rather than atomic number, so details like the placement of tellurium and iodine didn’t work out. He thought it was a question of inaccurate measurement or other experimental error. It was 1913 before English physicist Henry Moseley reorganized the periodic table by atomic number.
As for Dalton, his name lives on as alternate designation for the atomic mass unit or amu. Microbiologists and biochemists need a convenient measure for large organic molecules. Kilo-u or kilo-amu would be awkward, so a protein molecule might be said to have a mass of 35 kilodaltons, or kDA.
But it’s Berzelius’ symbols and what they mean that plague first-year chem students: You’ve got to “get it” before you can do anything else.
A&E's 'Coma': What the Critics Are Saying 9:08 PM PDT 9/2/2012 by THR Staff
Coma, a four-hour miniseries adapted from Robin Cook's 1977 novel, debuts Monday night on A&E, and the reviews are starting to hit the Internet.
The new version, which debuts at 9 p.m. Labor Day and concludes the following night, stars Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) as a young medical student who discovers that seemingly healthy young patients are inexplicably falling into comas after routine surgeries. Steven Pasquale, Geena Davis, Richard Dreyfuss, James Woods and Ellen Burstyn also star.
Mikael Salomon (Band of Brothers, Andromeda Strain) directed and executive produced the mini, whose exec producers also include brothers Ridley and Tony Scott, the latter of whom jumped to his death Aug. 19 from the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, Calif.
The book previously was adapted into a 1978 movie directed by Michael Crichton and starring Michael Douglas and Geneviève Bujold.
So what do critics think of the new Coma?
"The good news ... is that it's much better than [A&E's] previous miniseries adaptation of the Michael Crichton book The Andromeda Strain," writes Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times. "The bad news? It's still not very good. Or at least it's not as good as it should be, given a cast that includes Lauren Ambrose, Richard Dreyfuss, Geena Davis, James Woods and Ellen Burstyn; it's not even as good as the 1978 film, which, though facing a few of the same problems as this rendition, did not shy away from a subtext both hysterical and socially nuanced."
Greg Evans of BusinessWeek, meanwhile, gave it two out of five stars.
"The dark story of an evil-doing hospital that induces comas for profit prompts mundane musings," he wrote. "The malpractice premiums alone must be more frightening than anything in this slow moving production."
The New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger opined that Ambrose "anchors the tale competently enough, which frees the big-name cast that surrounds her to have a garishly good time," but he wasn't as impressed with the miniseries itself, calling it "sometimes entertaining, sometimes infuriating."
"Unfortunately the story, adapted by John J. McLaughlin, still has the rickety feel of a cheap summer novel, with lots of implausible actions and plotlines that aren’t tied together very well," he added. "Most of those coma patients seem to have remarkably docile relatives who don’t ask many questions (lazily explained away by fat hush-money checks). And for a smart medical student Susan [Ambrose] is remarkably dumb, doing her Nancy Drew thing without alerting the authorities or making sure that someone trustworthy (like her love interest, a doctor played by Steven Pasquale) knows where she is."
The Washington Post's Stephanie Merry, meanwhile, gave it a more favorable review.
"The story isn’t earth-shattering, and the filmmaking isn’t especially imaginative, but the production is a solid piece of suspense," she wrote, adding that the mini "kicks up the action during the second installment, and Salomon is clearly in his element."
Overall, she wrote, "this is mostly a straightforward, if well-made, thriller with a dependable cast. There’s nothing out of the ordinary — no alien invasions or even commentary about the health-care industry. It’s simply a well-reasoned, four-hour argument for why surgery should be avoided at all costs."
Verne Gay of Newsday gave it a B, writing that if viewers can overlook the "ridiculous" plot, then they might be entertainment by the "mostly fun" mini.
"Coma demands of the viewer -- you -- a superhuman suspension of disbelief over four hours," he wrote. "If you can muster that, you're left with a largely entertaining movie, featuring some legendary actors happy to ham it up in the presence of two famous producers."
David Weigand of The Houston Chronicle argued that the mini has too little character development but too much predictability.
"There's ... no real mystery about who among the medical staff is on the right side of the ethical street and who's not," he wrote. "So little effort is invested in character development that when one major figure is revealed to be the evil brains behind the operation of inducing comas in surgical patients, our response is something akin to 'tell me something I don't already know.'"
Still, he wrote, the performances make it worth watching, especially the "completely convincing" Ambrose.
"Sure, it'll keep you awake while it's airing, but the earlier film and Cook's classic novel kept you up all night long," he concluded.
TOKYO — Under new leader Kim Jong Eun, North Korea in recent months has shifted its rhetoric to emphasize the economy rather than the military and is introducing small-scale agricultural reforms with tantalizing elements of capitalism, according to diplomats and defector groups with informants in the North.
The changes, which allow farmers to keep more of their crops and sell surpluses in the private market, are in the experimental stage and are easily reversible, analysts caution. But even skeptical North Korea watchers say that Kim’s emerging policies and style — and his frank acknowledgment of the country’s economic problems — hint at an economic opening similar to China’s in the late 1970s.
There are reasons to be dismissive of North Korea’s potential for reform: The family-run police state, now with its third-generation leader, maintains city-size labor camps and funnels precious resources to its nuclear program rather than its impoverished millions. It has also raised and deflated hopes of economic reform in the past — most recently 10 years ago, when it introduced liberalizing pro-market policies, then quickly cracked down.
Whether this time is different, analysts and outside government officials say, depends on the ambitions of its 20-something supreme leader, who can either bring his destitute country out of isolation or keep it there, figuring it too risky to loosen state controls.
Analysts emphasize that it could take years for a clear answer, but they point to early indications that Kim is willing to run the country differently than his father, who died eight months ago. Some of those signs are purely cosmetic: State media portray Kim as an affable modernist by presenting him alongside his stylish wife and showing him delighting in performances by miniskirt-wearing pop stars.
The greater substance comes from Kim’s occasional speeches, in which he has talked about ending North Koreans’ belt-tightening and “improving people’s living standards.” In one notable appearance, he also chastised North Korean officials for their “outdated, ideological” way of thinking.
It is not known whether the Swiss-educated Kim has a worldview different from that of his dour and militant father. But in a move two months ago that some analysts describe as an encouraging sign, the new leader dismissed a top hard-line military official who had been a trusted lieutenant to his father.
“It’s premature to make any judgment about what will happen, but we were in a system last year [under Kim Jong Il] where it seemed like policy had been set and it was distinctly retrogressive, with no reasonable prospect for change,” said Scott Snyder, a senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Now, I think that there is an anticipatory buzz that maybe there could be something new.”
Several media outlets that employ North Korean defectors, including Washington-based Radio Free Asia, have reported that Pyongyang is rolling out agricultural policy changes that mark a significant break from the state-controlled economy.
Those measures, according to the reports, reduce the size of cooperative farm units from between 10 and 25 farmers to between four and six. The decrease is critical because it allows one or two households, not entire communities, to plan and tend to their own farms. Farmers still must hit production quotas, but they can keep 30 percent of their crops, up from less than 10 percent. They can sell the rest to the government at market prices, not state-fixed prices, and they can keep (and sell privately) anything exceeding the quota.
The changes do not apply to the entire country; they have been introduced in three rural provinces and took effect in July, according to reports. The changes could not be independently verified because North Korea maintains strict controls on foreign visitors, allowing few to visit poor areas outside the capital, Pyongyang.
It remains unclear what is driving the government to allow farmers more personal control. The North could be trying to wring more production from its farmers “out of necessity, not out of virtue,” because its centrally planned rationing system is broken, said Victor Cha, a former White House director of Asian affairs. If and when the North’s food shortages ease, he said, the country is likely to retreat.
“Having said that, the more time they have to do this and let the economy function on its own, the better off we all are,” Cha said. “You can say to farmers, ‘Okay, for six months, you can keep 30 percent,’ but the more times you do this, the harder it will be to pull back.”
Few foreign government officials or scholars on North Korea expect a big-bang economic makeover or official announcements about reform. Indeed, the country’s state media said in July that it was a “hallucination” to expect reform or an opening. But one foreign government official based in Asia who recently visited the North said he met with several senior North Korean officials who gave a “consistent message about economic policy and economic development” while never once mentioning the long-favored military.
“Obviously, they didn’t use the term ‘economic reform,’ ” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations. “Those are dangerous terms and counterproductive. But the clear message I got from senior people was: We know we need to build the economy.”
An ideological tightrope
If Kim pushes for sustained economic reform, analysts say, he invites major risks. He could alienate the senior officials around him — the elite few who profit from the current system. He could also trigger a demand among the North’s 24 million people for rapid, rather than partial, liberalization, and it’s almost inconceivable that the Kim family would keep its power in a democracy.
Kim must also walk an ideological tightrope, paying homage to his father and grandfather while encouraging new ideas. Some analysts say they have been surprised at the new leader’s willingness to criticize the status quo, most notably during a visit four months ago to an amusement park.
Although state media normally describe the North as a socialist paradise, they portrayed Kim touring the park grounds and grumbling about the state of disrepair. He spotted chipping paint, cracks in the pavement and sprouting weeds, which he plucked one by one “with an irritated look,” one media account said.
During the visit, Kim chided officials for letting the park fall into such a sorry state and for their “outdated, ideological” way of thinking. He appointed a top deputy to oversee improvements.
A follow-up report two weeks later said that “soldier-builders” were “now waging an all-out drive to turn the above-said [amusement park] into a more modern recreation ground.”
AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian rebels said they planted bombs inside the Syrian army's General Staff headquarters in central Damascus on Sunday as President Bashar al-Assad's forces bulldozed buildings to the ground in parts of the capital that have backed the uprising.
Syrian state television said four people were wounded in what it called a terrorist attack on the General Staff compound in the highly guarded Abu Rummaneh district, where another bomb attack killed four of Assad's top lieutenants two months ago.
"The operation targeted officers in the Assad army who have been planning and giving the go ahead for the massacres against the Syrian people," said a video statement by the Grandsons of the Prophet brigade, a division of the Free Syrian Army.
"Bombs were planted inside the army headquarters," said the video statement, which was broadcast on Arab satellite channels.
But as the rebels demonstrated they could strike at the heart of the security apparatus, residents said army bulldozers moved on al-Zayat and Farouk neighborhoods to the west, and destroyed at least 20 buildings in the Sunni Muslim areas that have sheltered the insurgents.
In the eastern Damascus neighborhood of Hazza, footage taken by activists on Sunday showed several buildings on fire. Opposition sources said the army had earlier stormed the area and executed 27 young men.
"Any youth of fighting age seems to have been captured and killed," said activist Obadah al-Haj, who had fled the area.
Activist video footage from the area showed a young man lying dead beside a yellow taxi, shot in the face. Another dead youth was in the driver seat, blood covering his head and chest.
Assad belongs to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has dominated power since members of the sect led a military coup in 1963. Assad's father took power in 1970.
Loyalist forces killed at least 25 men on Sunday when they shelled and stormed al-Fan, a Sunni village in the province of Hama, opposition campaigners said.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights said most of the men appear to have been killed by shelling, but an unspecified number were executed when troops stormed the village later. The official state news agency said a military operation on Fan targeted "terrorists who were scaring citizens".
Video footage from Fan taken by activists showed women and family members crying over bodies wrapped in white sheets and placed in a row on the floor of a mosque.
As the uprising in Syria has spread, it has taken on a more sectarian bent, with activists saying Assad's best trained forces from the mostly Alawite Fourth Division and the Republican Guards are spearheading the fight in the capital.
Assad, who is backed by Shi'ite Iran and its Hezbollah Lebanese proxy, has lost control of rural areas in northern, eastern and southern regions and has used helicopter gunships and fighter jets to try to subdue the opposition.
But the aerial bombardment has driven fresh waves of refugees into neighboring countries, reviving Turkish calls for "safe zones" to be set up on Syrian territory.
With Russia and China blocking action by the U.N. Security Council however and little appetite among Western states, or Turkey itself, for committing troops to secure such zones, there is scant chance they will be set up any time soon.
Rebels said they seized an air defense facility and attacked a military airport in the eastern province of Deir al Zor on Saturday. Video footage showed a walled army command centre in the province coming under attack.
In the southern city of Deraa, which stands between Damascus and Jordan, troops continued razing and bulldozing houses in the old part of the city for a third day after army shelling and aerial bombardment drove 40,000 people from there to Jordan.
Free Syrian Army fighters had left, their light weapons no match to the firepower of Assad's forces, residents said.
"There are around 20 homes that have been demolished and 200 burnt," said Ahmad Abu Nabout, a resident of Deraa. "Old Deraa is deserted. Troops cover up their looting by burning the homes or in some cases blowing them up."
(Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi and Laila Bassam; Editing by Jon Hemming)
Forget Passwords: How Playing Games Can Make Computers More Secure
A new security approach would let users input patterns instead of words to verify identity
By Larry Greenemeier September 4 2012
SECURITY HERO: To test a new computer security concept, researchers devised a computer game requiring players to tap buttons on a keyboard as large black dots descending down their screen cross a horizontal line--very similar in concept to the video game Guitar Hero. Image: Courtesy of Stanford University, Northwestern University and SRI International
It seems like something out of a Robert Ludlum spy novel. Someone tries to coerce you into revealing your computer security passwords. You might be tempted to give in, but it is impossible for you to reveal your authentication credentials. You do not actually know them because they are safely buried deep within your subconscious.
Sounds a bit extreme just to make sure no one can log on to your laptop or smartphone, but a team of researchers from Stanford and Northwestern universities as well as SRI International is nonetheless experimenting at the computer-, cognitive- and neuroscience intersection to combat identity theft and shore up cyber security—by taking advantage of the human brain’s innate abilities to learn and recognize patterns.
The researchers are studying ways to covertly create and store secret data within the brain's corticostriatal memory system, which is responsible for reminding us how to do things (pdf). When a person needs to access a computer, network or some other secure system, they would use special authentication software designed to tease out that secret data.
To test this concept, the researchers devised a computer game requiring players to tap buttons on a keyboard as large black dots descending down their screen cross a horizontal line—very similar in concept to the video game Guitar Hero. During an initial training session lasting from 30 minutes to an hour, the dots fall at different speeds and in various locations, forming patterns that repeat until participants become adept at hitting the appropriate buttons at the right time. In effect, users' corticostriatal memory becomes adept at repeating a particular pattern over time, such as dialing a phone number or typing a word on a keyboard without looking at one's fingers.
The researchers refer to this as "serial interception sequence learning" training, during which a person unwittingly learns a specific sequence of keystrokes that can later be used to confirm that person's identity. To log on to, for example, a Web site, the user would play the game the same each time that pattern of dots appears, proving his identity and allowing him access.
"While the planted secret can be used for authentication, the participant cannot be coerced into revealing it since he or she has no conscious knowledge of it," according to the researchers in a study they presented August 8 at the USENIX Security Symposium in Bellevue, Wash. (pdf) As currently conceived, the implicit learning approach being studied might protect against someone either forcing or tricking you to reveal a password, says lead author Hristo Bojinov, a Stanford University Ph.D. computer science candidate. Such coercion could take the form of physical or verbal threats demanding your password or other security credentials, or it could be a seemingly legitimate phone call or e-mail designed to coax out this information.
The researchers say they have tested their approach on 370 players so far and continue to add new participants to their study. The test currently requires at least 30 minutes of training to get reliable results. "It is unlikely that training time can be shrunk much because this type of brain memory takes time to get trained," Bojinov says. "It may be possible to reduce the authentication time [that follows training], but it is yet to be seen how much."
Gaming the system
Whether this approach is practical depends upon the system being defended. It is unlikely, for example, that Yahoo or Google would implement this approach to security for their free e-mail services. Would someone want to play a game for several minutes every time they want to log onto their e-mail? A government facility housing nuclear weapons, however, could better justify the time commitment required to log in using the sequence learning method, particularly if users log in once each day and such an approach promises to improve security, says Nicolas Christin, associate director of Carnegie Mellon University's Information Networking Institute.
This implicit learning approach would not necessarily be effective against network hacks. Just as hackers can break into databases where passwords are stored, they could likewise steal information about a user's authentication pattern created during the training process. "Somewhere, the authentication sequence has to be stored so it can be verified, and that may be vulnerable to attack as well," Christin says.
Bojinov responds that the technique he and his colleagues are developing specifically targets the problem of coercion. "Most likely this mechanism will be used in conjunction with others," he says, adding that he and his colleagues are now planning to design a similar game for mobile device security that would create patterns using a broader number of actions, such as rotating or moving their gadgets in addition to pressing buttons on the keypad.
Despite years of predictions that passwords would eventually be phased out in favor of more secure approaches to authentication, they persist because "they are, to date, one of the better—or less bad—compromises between security and usability," Christin says. "They are cheap to implement, work pretty much in any situation, and everybody knows and understands them."
Yet as the number of passwords multiplies, the security technique become less effective because they strain the user's ability to remember them all, particularly if managing a plethora of passwords requires a user to request password resets to replace those that have been forgotten. Hackers have come to rely on password-reset features to hijack people's e-mail and other online services, locking those users out of their own accounts in the process. Scientific American described this process—which was at the heart of the recent cyber attack against Wired journalist Mat Honan—in a 2008 article written by computer security consultant Herbert Thompson.
Although the approach proposed by Bojinov and his colleagues requires a lot more work to be practical, it represents a welcome shift in how researchers approach security. The method that Bojinov and his colleagues pose turns the problem of usable security technology on its head, Christin says. "We may see more and more research in the space of understanding how certain human aptitudes can be used to improve security," he adds.
The most important thing to take from the research of Bojinov and his colleagues is not that this particular mechanism is the right one for embedding secrets or not, "but rather that the researchers are exploring neuro- and cognitive science as a means of engineering computer security interfaces," agrees Stefan Savage, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of California, San Diego.
"They have found a way to shove a piece of information into your brain without your knowledge and then take it out," Savage says. "They have turned you into a DRAM, only you have no knowledge of what is stored there. This is Jason Bourne stuff."
Oscar Nominee Michael Clarke Duncan Dies at 54 3:12 PM PDT 9/3/2012 by THR Staff
"The Green Mile" actor was hospitalized July 13 for a myocardial infarction, from which his rep said he never fully recovered.
Oscar-nominated actor Michael Clarke Duncan has died. He was 54.
The actor's longtime manager, Dan Spilo at Industry Entertainment, has confirmed his passing to The Hollywood Reporter, calling it "a tragic loss for anyone who knew this wonderful man, for the business as a whole and for the planet."
Spilo, who managed the Green Mile actor for more than a decade, added: "He was the only actor I ever knew that more often than not when fans came up to him, of any age or race or gender, they wouldn't ask for an autograph, they'd want a hug. He had a heart as big as the world."
Duncan was hospitalized July 13 for a myocardial infarction, which his rep said he never fully recovered from. Duncan's fiance, Omarosa Manigault, was with him in the hospital shortly before his death.
"Manigault is grateful for all of your prayers and asks for privacy at this time. Celebrations of his life, both private and public, will be announced at a later date," the actor's rep said in a statement.
Added Spilo, "God bless his fiancée, Omarosa, who fought for and with him everyday and never left his side."
Duncan was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Green Mile, and also worked on films including Armageddon, Green Lantern and Kung Fu Panda. He most recently co-starred with Geoff Stults in Fox's The Finder, a spinoff of Bones.
Mauritania Extradites Ex-Gaddafi Spy Chief to Libya By REUTERS
NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - Mauritania extradited Muammar Gaddafi's former spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi to Libya on Wednesday, a Mauritanian government source and the state news agency said, after months of wrangling over who would put him on trial.
Senussi, among the most feared members of Gaddafi's regime before rebels toppled it last year, was captured in the West African state in March, triggering a tug of war among Libya, France and the International Criminal Court for his extradition.
A spokesman for the ICC, which has wanted to try him on charges of crimes against humanity including murder and persecution, said it had received no information about Senussi's handover to Libyan authorities in Tripoli.
"He was extradited to Libya on the basis of guarantees given by Libyan authorities," a Mauritanian government source told Reuters, without giving details on the guarantees.
A high-level Libyan delegation was in Mauritania on Tuesday where it held meetings with Mauritanian authorities, he said. It was not clear if there was a court decision sanctioning the extradition.
In Tripoli, Libyan foreign ministry spokesman Saad al-Shelmani said he could not confirm that Senussi's extradition had taken place but welcomed the news.
"We have been asking for this move for a very long time and it will be very welcome if it is true," he said.
Senussi was arrested six months ago after arriving with a falsified Malian passport on a flight into the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott from Morocco. Mauritania's original plan was to put him on trial for illegal entry - a move that threatened to delay efforts to have him face international justice.
In its warrant for Senussi's arrest, the Hague-based ICC said he had used his position of command to have attacks carried out against opponents of Gaddafi, who was hunted down and killed by rebels after his ouster in August last year.
France has wanted to try Senussi in connection with a 1989 airliner bombing over Niger in which 54 of its nationals died.
Senussi has also been linked to the 1988 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland of an American PanAm jet that killed 270 people. Diplomatic sources have said the United States was keen to question him about that attack.
Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, is to go on trial in Libya this month, a government source said in August, in what would be the most high-profile prosecution of a figure from the late dictator's 42 years in power.
Libya's new rulers, who aim to draw up a democratic constitution, are keen to try Gaddafi's family members and loyalists at home. But human rights activists worry that a weak central government and a relative lack of rule of law mean legal proceedings will not meet international standards.
Saif al-Islam is also wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity during the uprising that brought down his father.
(Additional reporting by Bate Felix in Dakar and Thomas Escritt in Amsterdam; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
China to try ex-police chief at heart of murder scandal
Wed Sep 5, 2012 9:32am EDT
BEIJING (Reuters) - China will put the ex-police chief at the heart of its biggest political scandal in decades on trial for crimes including defection and taking bribes, state media said on Wednesday, opening a new phase in a case that rattled the Communist Party succession.
Wang Lijun fled to a U.S. consulate in southwestern China in February, days after his dismissal as police chief of Chongqing, the nearby municipality then run by the ambitious politician Bo Xilai who had raised Wang to prominence as a crime gang-buster.
The official Xinhua news agency appeared to end rumors that Wang could be treated lightly for exposing Bo's misdeeds while inside the consulate, and it laid out the four charges against Wang - defection, taking bribes, bending the law for selfish ends and abusing power.
The Xinhua account indicated that Wang had initially gone along with the attempted cover-up of the murder in November of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, by Bo's wife, Gu Kailai.
Wang "consciously neglected his duty and bent the law for personal gain so that Bogu Kailai would not be held legally responsible," said Xinhua, citing the prosecutor's indictment.
Bogu is Gu Kailai's official but rarely used surname.
The report did not say whether Wang intended to contest any of the charges. But China's courts rarely find in favor of defendants.
The announcement came during a tense political season for the ruling Communist Party, which is preparing for a once-in-a-decade leadership succession that will see the retirement of President Hu Jintao at a congress in coming weeks or months.
Bo was widely seen as an ambitious aspirant for a spot in the next central leadership, wielding his charisma, vows of more equal growth and his crime-fighting record in Chongqing to build up a formidable public following.
Wang stayed inside the U.S. consulate for about 24 hours before leaving, and sources have said he told U.S. diplomats and later Chinese officials that he believed Bo's wife, Gu, was behind the murder of Heywood after a business dispute that spiraled into a deadly rage.
The Xinhua announcement also said Wang had abused investigation techniques, an accusation that may reflect rumors that he had bugged other officials, including central officials.
Bo was dismissed from his Chongqing post in March and remains out of sight, though he has yet to face charges. His wife was given a suspended death sentence on August 9 on charges of poisoning Heywood.
(Reporting by Koh Gui Qing, Michael Martina and Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie)
That Giant Tarantula Is Terrifying, but I'll Touch It: Expressing Your Emotions Can Reduce Fear ScienceDaily (Sep. 4, 2012)
"Give sorrow words." -- Malcolm in Shakespeare's "Macbeth"
Can simply describing your feelings at stressful times make you less afraid and less anxious?
A new UCLA psychology study suggests that labeling your emotions at the precise moment you are confronting what you fear can indeed have that effect.
The psychologists asked 88 people with a fear of spiders to approach a large, live tarantula in an open container outdoors. The participants were told to walk closer and closer to the spider and eventually touch it if they could.
The subjects were then divided into four groups and sat in front of another tarantula in a container in an indoor setting. In the first group, the subjects were asked to describe the emotions they were experiencing and to label their reactions to the tarantula -- saying, for example, "I'm anxious and frightened by the ugly, terrifying spider."
"This is unique because it differs from typical procedures in which the goal is to have people think differently about the experience -- to change their emotional experience or change the way they think about it so that it doesn't make them anxious," said Michelle Craske, a professor of psychology at UCLA and the senior author of the study. "Here, there was no attempt to change their experience, just to state what they were experiencing."
In a second group, the subjects used more neutral terms that did not convey their fear or disgust and were aimed at making the experience seem less threatening. They might say, for example, "That little spider can't hurt me; I'm not afraid of it."
"This is the usual approach for helping individuals to confront the things they fear," Craske said.
In a third group, the subjects said something irrelevant to the experience, and in a fourth group, the subjects did not say anything -- they were simply exposed to the spider.
All the participants were re-tested in the outdoor setting one week later and were again asked to get closer and closer to the tarantula and potentially touch it with a finger. The researchers measured how close subjects could get to the spider, how distressed they were and what their physiological responses were, focusing in particular on how much the subjects' hands sweated, which is a good measure of fear, Craske said.
The researchers found that the first group did far better than the other three. These people were able to get closer to the tarantula -- much closer than those in the third group and somewhat closer than those in the other two groups -- and their hands were sweating significantly less than the participants in all of the other groups.
The results are published in the online edition of the journal Psychological Science and will appear in an upcoming print edition.
"They got closer and they were less emotionally aroused," Craske said. "The differences were significant. The results are even more significant given the limited amount of time involved. With a fuller treatment, the effects may be even larger.
"Exposure is potent," she added. "It's surprising that this minimal intervention action had a significant effect over exposure alone."
So why were the people in the first group -- those who performed what the life scientists call "affect labeling" -- able to get closer to the tarantula?
"If you're having less of a threat response, which is indicated by less sweat, that would allow you to get closer; you have less of a fear response," said study co-author Matthew Lieberman, a UCLA professor of psychology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences. "When spider-phobics say, 'I'm terrified of that nasty spider,' they're not learning something new; that's exactly what they were feeling -- but now instead of just feeling it, they're saying it. For some reason that we don't fully understand, that transition is enough to make a difference."
The scientists also analyzed the words the subjects used. Those who used a larger number of negative words did better, in terms of both how close they were willing to get to the tarantula and their skin-sweat response. In other words, describing the tarantula as terrifying actually proved beneficial in ultimately reducing the fear of it.
"Doing more affect labeling seemed to be better," Lieberman said.
"That is so different from how we normally think about exposure therapy, where you try to get the person to think differently, to think it's not so bad," Craske said. "What we did here was to simply encourage individuals to state the negative."
"We've published a series of studies where we asked people, 'Which do you think would make you feel worse: looking at a disturbing image or looking at that disturbing image and choosing a negative emotional word to describe it,'" Lieberman said. "Almost everyone said it would be worse to have to look at that image and focus on the negative by picking a negative word. People think that makes our negative emotions more intense. Well, that is exactly what we asked people to do here. In fact, it's a little better to have people label their emotions -- multiple studies now show this. Our intuitions here are wrong."
This is the first study to demonstrate benefits for affect labeling of fear and anxiety in a real-world setting, Craske and Lieberman said.
"The implication," Craske said, "is to encourage patients, as they do their exposure to whatever they are fearful of, to label the emotional responses they are experiencing and label the characteristics of the stimuli -- to verbalize their feelings. That lets people experience the very things they are afraid and say, 'I feel scared and I'm here.' They're not trying to push it away and say it's not so bad. Be in the moment and allow yourself to experience whatever you're experiencing."
Craske and Lieberman are studying how this approach can help people who have been traumatized, such as rape victims and victims of domestic violence. The approach potentially could benefit soldiers returning from war as well.
"I'm far more optimistic than I was before this study," Lieberman said. "I'm a believer that this approach can have real benefits for people.
"There is a region in the brain, the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, that seems to be involved in labeling our feelings and our emotional reactions, and it is also associated with regulating our emotional responses," he said. "Why those two go together is still a bit of a mystery. This brain region that is involved in simply stating how we are feeling seems to mute our emotional responses, at least under certain circumstances."
"There's a trend in psychology of acceptance-based approaches -- honestly label your feelings. This study has that flavor to it," Craske said.
Katharina Kircanski, a former UCLA graduate student and current postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University, is lead author of the study; she conducted this research as a graduate student in Craske's laboratory.
The research was federally funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Mental Health, and by the American Psychological Association.