Friday, April 20, 2018



Sunday, April 15, 2018

STARING AT SCREENS..... Modern Technology and YOU

Documentary — Stare Into the Lights My Pretties

Story at-a-glance 

  • In the beginning, there were only a few ways to get new technology funded, known as the ABCs. “A” for armed forces, “B” for bureaucracy and “C” for corporate power; social engagement is the new driver of technology that has taken off more so in recent years
  • The environmental stimuli that come through screens may be keeping us permanently distracted, such that we’re unable to engage in deep thinking and knowledge
  • While the internet is viewed as a way to bring the world to our fingertips, there are those who say it’s actually a tool for amplifying the voice of corporate control
  • We tend to think about the internet as this medium where we can connect to everything and anyone, but in actuality most of the information is flowing through a couple of major gatekeepers, such as Google
  • You can customize and filter what you see, but how these things are architected actually may keep you in a carefully constructed bubble
By Dr. Mercola
Technology didn’t come about by accident, it’s a reflection of human will, or so claims the intriguing documentary, “Stare Into the Lights My Pretties.” Yet, with the rate of technological development continuing to grow exponentially, it’s unclear if anyone envisioned how society would become obsessed with staring at screens, such that our waking hours are dominated by them in one form or another.
In the beginning, there were only a few ways to get new technology funded, known as the ABCs. “A,” for armed forces, included ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency, which commissioned the work that started the internet. “B,” for bureaucracy, refers to innovations such as government sites intended to deliver information and services, including online tax returns. “C,” or corporate power, made up the third arm, which drove the development of new products to draw in new markets.
According to Lelia Green, a professor and senior lecturer at the school of communications at Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia, who is featured in the film, “Google would offer many examples of corporate power driving development.”1 Yet, social engagement is the new driver of technology that has taken off more so in recent years. Green notes that distributed collaborators and everyday innovators are now an important driver of technology.
“The acknowledgement of distributed networks of collaborators allows recognition of the creative power of ‘harnessing the hive;’ the community of people engaged in a shared activity,” she says. “We see these alliances of enthusiasts working creatively and productively in gaming contexts, in wikis and on fan fiction sites — to name but a few,” but what does all of this mean, and what will happen if this technological culture is left to continue unchecked?

Are Machines Running Our Lives?

At the foundation of the documentary is the unsettling question of who’s really in control: the machines or us? The film gives some unsettling statistics of how integrated technology has become in our 21st century lives:
  • Over 3.8 billion people have access to the internet
  • There are 2 billion active Facebook users every month
  • The average adult spends more than eight hours a day with screens (more time than sleep)
  • Within the first 15 minutes of waking up, 4 out of 5 smartphone users check their phones
  • By the time the average person reaches 70, they will have spent the equivalent of 10 to 15 years of their life watching television, more than four years of which was just for the ads
What does this mean for your brain? “As a neuroscientist, I know that the human brain is changing. I know that it’s highly plastic … it’s very dynamic, it will adapt to the environment,” says Susan Greenfield in the film. But the environmental stimuli that come through screens may be keeping us permanently distracted. You read an article online, then see an instant message pop up or go to check an email. 
Then you click on an advertisement, and suddenly are watching a video about an entirely unrelated topic. It’s easy to get swept away into the internet bubble, which can have both benefits and risks. Greenfield explained:
“I’ve often spoken about the benefits of screen culture being one of agile processing, but how that mustn’t be confused with content … it could be linked to high IQ, because the skills that you rehearsed when you play video games are similar to the skills required to do well on an IQ test. 
You don’t need a lot of facts or infrastructure … but you have to be very agile at looking at patterns and connections and getting to an answer in a very fast time frame … just because, as many claim, we’re seeing an increase in IQ scores in many societies, we’re not seeing an increase in empathy and understanding.”
In a meta-analysis of 116 studies published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,2 for example, which set out to determine what effects gaming has on your brain, the evidence suggests that video games may benefit attention, and video game players show improvements in selective attention, divided attention and sustained attention, as well as areas of cognitive control and visuospatial skills.
The downside may be their effects on reward processing areas of your brain. Many such areas have been shown to be affected in people with video game addiction, “an impulse-control disorder with psychological consequences, not unlike other addictive disorders, especially nonsubstance addictions such as pathological gambling,” the study noted.3 “On the one hand, yes it’s very good for mental processing, fluid intelligence,” Greenfield said, “ … but that’s not the same as understanding. Information is not knowledge.”

Are Screens Leaving Us Incapable of Deep Thinking, Addicted to Constant Scrolling?

Nicholas Carr, author of the books, “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” and “Utopia Is Creepy,” has found that with rising use of digital devices, millennials are experiencing even greater problems with forgetfulness than seniors.4 This is the “dark side” of neurological plasticity that allows your brain to adapt to changes in your environment. 
This type of plasticity is one way your brain recovers after a stroke has permanently damaged one area. However, the consequences to children growing up in the digital era could be devastating. Carr said in the film:
“The human brain is particularly malleable when you’re young. If a person is brought up looking at screens … and being bombarded by information, then the question is will the brain circuitry necessary to do things like deep reading and deep thinking, will they ever come into being … or will they be wired for internet type of thinking? 
I think the big fear is that we will end up with a generation of people who are very good at using the net and finding information very quickly but don’t really have a capacity for contemplativeness, concentration or deep engagement with information.”
There are concerns about addiction as well, with 40 percent of the participants in one study admitting they had some level of an internet-related problem and acknowledging they spent too much time online.5 Participants reportedly spent an average of five hours each day on the internet and 20 percent spent over six hours a day. By far the most common reasons for engaging online were social media and shopping.
Yet, overall social media use, and especially nighttime use, has been associated with poorer sleep quality, lower self-esteem and higher levels of anxiety and depression among 12- to 18-year-olds, according to research presented at a British Psychological Society conference.6 Greater social media use among young adults (those aged 19 to 32 years) was also significantly associated with disturbed sleep in a Preventive Medicine study.7
Further, a study of more than 1,000 people in Denmark further revealed causal evidence that “Facebook affects our well-being negatively.”8 Facebook users who took a one-week break from the site reported significantly higher levels of life satisfaction and a significantly improved emotional life, the study revealed.

Is Technology Amplifying the Voice of Corporate Control?

While the internet is viewed as a way to bring the world to our fingertips, there are those who say it’s actually a tool for amplifying the voice of corporate control. We tend to think about the internet as this medium where we can connect to everything and anyone, but in actuality most of the information is flowing through a couple of major gatekeepers, such as Google. 
You can customize and filter what you see, but how these things are architected actually may keep you in a carefully constructed bubble. By customizing and individualizing your feed, you won’t even know what’s being kept out. But what happens to our communities, our relationships and our culture if we’re all existing in this “filter bubble,” this world of screens, designed primarily to get people to click more and view more pages? 
It’s important to understand that, online, you are the product and corporations are seeking to gain more views of their content. Facebook, for instance, isn’t content to have the average user spend “just” 50 minutes a day. They’d rather it become a platform that’s on all day to become basically a background for your life. As The New York Times reported:9
Facebook, naturally, is busy cooking up ways to get us to spend even more time on the platform. A crucial initiative is improving its News Feed, tailoring it more precisely to the needs and interests of its users, based on how long people spend reading particular posts
For people who demonstrate a preference for video, more video will appear near the top of their news feed. The more time people spend on Facebook, the more data they will generate about themselves, and the better the company will get at the task.”
Facebook actually uses a sophisticated algorithm to track your interests, who you talk with and what you say, and includes information about your age, gender, income level and a phenomenal number of other specifics that allow advertisers to target exactly who they believe will click on their ads.10 In the case of smartphone devices, these companies are contributing to programing your actions, and how you think and feel. 
This is how companies satisfy their advertisers, who are paying for the privilege of your eyes on their ads. Some programmers call this process “brain hacking,” as they incorporate more information from neuropsychology into the development of digital interfaces that increase your interaction with the program. 
For instance, getting likes on Facebook and Instagram, the “streaks” on Snapchat or cute emojis on text messaging, are all designed to increase your engagement and desire to return. Technology companies are in the business of manipulating your behavior, and there are privacy concerns as well.
Rebecca MacKinnon of Global Voices Citizen Media Network said in the film, “Surveillance is much more present in our online than our offline lives, and I think most people in the United States … are not aware of that because when police officers come into your house … and go through your cabinets and desk, it’s obvious. If they do the equivalent in your email, your online storage systems or your Facebook … you don’t even know. So you’re not going to raise a fuss about it.”
The fact remains that people are putting intimate details of their lives online without regard for those who could be using that information negatively. The film also points out that personal details you share online — from religious affiliations to sexual preferences to information about your family — could one day be used against you or in a way that could bring you harm.

Screens Expose You to Blue Light

Another little talked about variable when it comes to exposure to screens is blue light. Exposure to LED-backlit computer screens or TVs at night significantly suppresses melatonin production and feelings of sleepiness. When your brain “sees” blue light at night, the mixed message can add up to serious health issues. 
In 2011, for instance, researchers found that evening exposure to LED-backlit computer screens affect circadian physiology. Among 13 young men, exposure to five hours of an LED-lit screen at night significantly suppressed melatonin production along with sleepiness.11
The issue extends far beyond sleep, however. LEDs have virtually no beneficial infrared light and an excess of blue light that generates reactive oxygen species (ROS), harming your vision and possibly leading to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of blindness among the elderly in the U.S. LED lights may also exacerbate mitochondrial dysfunction leading to chronic conditions ranging from metabolic disorders to cancer.
If you view screens at night, it’s therefore essential to block your exposure to blue light while doing so. In the case of your computer, you can install a program to automatically lower the color temperature of your screen. Many use f.lux to do this, but I prefer Iris softwarefor this purpose. In addition, when watching TV or other screens, be sure to wear blue-blocking glasses after sundown.

Are Machines More Important Than the Real World?

Ultimately, the documentary forces you to take a step back and think about the way technology has inevitably invaded your life. On the upside, it also offers the chance to make changes in how much it influences your daily activities. For some, taking a social media break may be the eye-opening change that’s needed, particularly if you find you feel worse after a browsing session. 
You may also want to keep track of how much time you lose while getting distracted online — and devote that time to offline endeavors instead. If you find your life has become more focused on technology than relationships, now’s the time to make changes for the better, before it’s too late. As stated in the film, the risks can be steep:
Do you touch plastic or human flesh more often? How many machines do you have daily relationships with, compared to how many wild animals do you have relationships with? If you have relationships with machines, you can come to think that they’re more important than the real world.”

Friday, April 13, 2018


Here's How to Grow Rhubarb

Story at-a-glance 

  • If you’re looking for a hardy, problem-free perennial to add to your garden, consider rhubarb, which is both flavorful and nutrient-rich
  • While you may think of it as a fruit, especially given the tart-yet-sweet punch it gives to pies and other desserts, rhubarb is actually a vegetable
  • When planted in compost-rich, well-drained soil, rhubarb will thrive in a sunny, out-of-the-way corner of your garden or yard
  • Under ideal conditions, rhubarb plants can last eight to 15 years; however, to keep up with their prolific growth, you will need to divide the roots every four to five years
By Dr. Mercola
If you’re looking for a hardy, problem-free perennial to add to your garden, consider rhubarb. While you may think of it as a fruit, given the tart-yet-sweet punch it gives to pies and other desserts, rhubarb is actually a vegetable. Given the right soil and sun conditions, you can easily grow rhubarb from crowns or seeds. 
For best results, choose a sunny, out-of-the-way corner of your garden that features compost-rich, well-drained soil. Once the plants are established, you can enjoy the red or green celery-like stalks of rhubarb as a springtime treat in jams, pies or smoothies. Avoid the foliage though; it’s poisonous. Here’s all you need to know to grow rhubarb.

What Is Rhubarb?

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is a species of plant in the buckwheat family that is a close relative of garden sorrel. It can be grown as a perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3 to 8. Characterized by its large leaves and tart-tasting stalks, rhubarb loves cool weather. If you live in a cool climate, rhubarb will likely do well because it requires temperatures below 40 degrees F to come out of dormancy. Cold weather also stimulates bud growth. 
It is possible to grow rhubarb as an annual in warmer areas. If you do so, keep in mind that too much heat will result in thinner leaves and stalks. This beautiful, ornamental plant grows 2 to 3 feet tall and wide, which is why you need to give it plenty of growing room. It will do best in a back corner of your vegetable garden or another low-traffic area where it can quietly produce year after year. 
The red varieties are often preferred for their taste and tenderness, while the green varieties tend to be more productive. If you’ve yet to try rhubarb, the real joy of this hardy perennial is eating its fibrous leaf stalks. Although often mistaken as a fruit, with a composition similar to celery, rhubarb stalks boast a sweet-tart taste that can make your lips pucker. 
You can enjoy the look of its leaves but do not eat them. Only rhubarb stalks are edible; the leaves are toxic to animals and humans. They contain a poisonous substance called oxalic acid, which can cause kidney failure if ingested in large amounts. Take care if your rhubarb becomes damaged by frost because The Spruce suggests the stalks may become inedible. “If the stems are not firm and upright, don’t eat them,” they said. “Frost damage can cause the oxalic acid crystals to move into the stalks.”1

The History of Rhubarb

According to the University of Illinois Extension,2 rhubarb is an ancient plant and Chinese rhubarb can be traced back to 2700 B.C. Based on its medicinal properties, it’s believed Chinese doctors employed rhubarb as a body cleansing agent, fever reducer and laxative. NPR3 validates its medicinal use in China and also suggests it has been around for possibly more than 4,000 years. 
NPR noted rhubarb was also used in ancient times as a pot cleaner, hair dye and insecticide. Over the years, rhubarb has spread around the world, to Europe, Russia and many other places. It is thought to have arrived in America in the early 1800s.4

Rhubarb Varieties You May Want to Try

While you may be inclined to judge the sweetness of rhubarb according to its color, the two qualities are not so closely related. For example, many mistakenly assume red-stemmed rhubarb is sweeter than other colors, but some green varieties boast a fair amount of sweetness, too. Though there are many to choose from, including pink and speckled varieties, you may want to try one of the following types:5,6
  • Cherry Red: A sweet, tender variety with thick, cherry-red stalks that does well in areas with mild winters
  • Valentine: Known for its thick red stalks and disease resistance, as well as its vigorous growth
  • Victoria: A large, vigorous plant representing the green standard variety of rhubarb; it can produce sweet stems

Tips on Growing Rhubarb

When it comes to growing rhubarb your two biggest decisions are likely to involve location and planting method. Because it is a perennial, you’ll want to select a location where the plant can grow undisturbed year after year. With respect to the planting method, cultivating rhubarb from seed takes more time than growing it from root divisions, which are also known as crowns. Below are some tips from garden experts on how to grow this well-loved plant:7,8,9
Given their perennial nature and the fact they are long-lived, you will want to choose a location for your rhubarb that is in a low-traffic, out-of-the-way area. A back corner of your garden or yard would be ideal.
You can dig a trench or prepare individual holes for each plant that are at least 1.5 feet deep and 3 feet wide. When using crowns, place them every 3 to 4 feet in rows that are spaced about 3 feet apart. Crowded plants will be smaller and less productive. Set each crown about 2 inches below the soil surface and pat the soil gently. 
Because you’ll have to wait about two years for your plants to mature when growing rhubarb from seed, you may want to start your plants from root divisions, also called crowns. You can purchase rhubarb crowns at your local garden center or nursery, or online. 
Rhubarb will do best in well-drained, slightly acid soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Because it prefers soil with a lot of rich organic matter, you’ll want to work bonemeal or compost into the area prior to planting. A side dressing of compost in midsummer and fall will ensure healthy, vigorous growth. 
Rhubarb likes full sun. If you live in a warm climate, your plants will benefit from light shade, but keep in mind they may produce longer, thinner stems in warm weather.
Water rhubarb crowns immediately after planting and provide enough water to keep the roots from drying out even when the plants are dormant. Mature plants are fairly drought resistant.
Another reason you may prefer to use crowns over seeds is because rhubarb grown from seed can produce plants that are not true to type. For example, if you are interested in a specific rhubarb variety due to its color or stem characteristics, you may not achieve those effects using seeds. On the other hand, if you use crowns you will be more likely to retain the desired attributes of the parent plant.
As soon as your plants sprout, you’ll want to apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch to help keep the soil moist and suppress weeds. You’ll also want to apply mulch in the fall after the foliage dies to protect the plant’s roots from hard freezes during the offseason. As soon as they appear, be sure to remove the flower stalks, which are taller and thicker than leaf stalks. If allowed to mature and bloom, flower stalks will draw nutrients away from the leaf stalks, making them thinner.

How to Maintain Your Rhubarb Plants

Given their hardy nature and assuming they remain unaffected by diseases and pests, your rhubarb plants can remain productive for eight to 15 years.10 Every four or five years, when you notice your rhubarb leaf stalks are thin and the plants have become crowded, it’s time to divide the roots.11,12
Although you can divide in spring or fall, it’s easier in spring because the plant is coming out of dormancy and developing new roots. When the plant begins to sprout, dig up the roots and divide them so each crown has one to three eyes/buds. Then replant them.

Rhubarb Diseases and Pests

While rhubarb diseases are rare, according to Rodale’s Organic Life13 the plant can be vulnerable to Verticillium wilt, a condition that yellows the leaves early in the season or, at later times, can wilt the entire plant. If planted in shady, soggy soil, your plants may suffer from crown rot. With either disease, you’ll want to remove and destroy any infected plants. 
You can help your plants resist disease by thinning the stalks regularly to promote good air circulation and removing dead plant material from around the crowns in fall. Fortunately, rhubarb is generally pest free. That said, your plants may occasionally be attacked by cabbage worms or European corn borers. Another likely pest is the rhubarb curculio (or rhubarb weevil),14 which is a distinctive rust-colored beetle with a long snout that you can easily remove by hand. 
While this critter does not feed on rhubarb, it bores holes for egg laying into the stalks, roots and crown of not only rhubarb but also other large-stemmed plants. One method to contain this weevil is to remove any nearby wild plants in which it breeds, including dock, sunflower and thistle. 

Harvesting Rhubarb: Ready for a Tart Treat?

Below is a summary of the collective wisdom about harvesting rhubarb, with the main goal being to allow the plant to mature fully and position itself for many years of bountiful harvests:15,16
  • Similar to asparagus and other garden perennials, you won’t harvest any rhubarb the first year
  • During the second year, you can harvest it lightly and only early in the season 
  • In the third year, your plants will be able to tolerate about a monthlong harvest 
  • By year four, you can harvest a full eight to 10 weeks
The only exception to the above guidelines relates to warm climates. If you are growing rhubarb as an annual, you can harvest all you want the first year because the plants will last only one year. For perennials, the main harvest season is spring. Weather permitting, you may be able to enjoy smaller harvests throughout the summer or fall, especially in cooler weather. For the tastiest, most tender stalks, remove them as soon as the leaf unfolds. 
Limit your cuttings to only one-third of the stalks at a time and stop harvesting altogether whenever the plant is producing skinny stalks. Any decisions you make to allow your rhubarb plants to fully mature prior to harvesting will be more than rewarded. After all, it’s common for one full-sized plant to yield 2 to 6 pounds of tasty stalks each season. As you’d expect, weather plays a role in the harvest: Cool, moist weather increases productivity and warm, dry conditions tend to decrease it.
The best time to harvest rhubarb is in the spring when the leaves are fully developed. Use a knife to cut stalks off at the base or snap them off by twisting them sharply. Take care to avoid injuring underground buds. Due to their toxic nature, remove rhubarb leaves as you go. It is safe to compost the leaves because the oxalic acid crystals will dissipate in the soil long before they would ever be absorbed by other edible plants.17

Enjoying Your Rhubarb

If your palate can tolerate strong, tart flavors, you might enjoy chomping into a stalk of rhubarb right after it’s cut. Most people, however, prefer to blend rhubarb's tangy taste into dessert items such as crumbles, jams, jellies, pies, strudels and tarts.18
Some add it to stuffing, while others feel it brings unique flavor to sauces applied to fish and meat. Other options include adding it to smoothies or pickling the stalks. If you aren’t able to eat all of your harvest fresh, you might consider freezing rhubarb for later use, following these helpful instructions:19
  1. Wash, trim and cut harvested stalks into 1- or 2-inch pieces
  2. Blanch the pieces in boiling water for one minute
  3. Remove the pieces from the boiling water and place in cold water to cool
  4. Drain well and pack rhubarb pieces tightly in freezer-safe containers, allowing a half-inch of headspace
  5. Seal, label and freeze; frozen rhubarb will keep for up to one year

Nutrition Facts for Rhubarb

The final reason you should seriously consider growing rhubarb relates to its nutritional profile. Assuming you can resist the temptation to dose it with sugar, rhubarb is a low-calorie, nutrient-rich food. When baking or cooking with rhubarb, try using a natural sweetener such as stevia instead of sugar.
Raw rhubarb contains many health-boosting properties such as polyphenolic flavonoids like beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are known to protect your eyes and skin from the damaging effects of free radicals.20 In addition to being a good source of B vitamins, 1 cup of raw, diced rhubarb contains:21
Calories: 26 grams (g)
Protein: 1.1 g
Carbohydrates: 5.5 g
Fiber: 2.2 g
Sugar: 1.3 g
Calcium: 105 milligrams (mg)
Magnesium15 mg
Potassium: 351 mg
Vitamin C9.8 mg
Vitamin K: 35.7 micrograms