TECH TECH_Technology

Google’s self-driving cars totally confused by bicycles

Track stands are a common practice for serious cyclists. The move involves waiting at a complete stop, balancing on the bike’s tires, without removing your feet from the pedals. According to a report from Engadget, bicycle riders may want to avoid performing this move if they notice a Google autonomous vehicle at an intersection.

A cyclist in Austin, Texas reportedly completely confused a Google AV as he performed a track stand at an intersection. As he made minor movements to adjust his balance while waiting for the light to turn, the Google car lurched forward anxiously as if it were a bull ready to be set loose in the ring.

The cyclist left the intersection unscathed, but it was painfully clear that Google’s motion-sensing software did not know how to respond to the erratic movements of the biker. Lurching forward and then slamming on the brakes could prove to be a dangerous response at a crowded intersection.

Google is confident that the bug is minor, and told the Washington Post that it appreciates this kind of real world feedback. As the company seeks to develop intelligent vehicles, it must consider every possible contingency on the road.

The company still has a long way to go before these robot cars will be driving the majority of Americans around, but they have made great strides in recent years. It should be a good sign that despite the car’s erratic movements, the cyclist still felt safer around Google’s car than a manned vehicle.


Unearthed primate fossil offers new info on evolution

According to Nature World Report, a new species called Pliobate, with an estimated age of 11.6 million years, has what it takes to make scientists rethink primate evolution. These smaller specimens share traits with later great apes, and they could contain some insight as to how humans evolved as well.

“We can imagine a small ape, like the smallest living gibbons, with a gibbon-like appearance regarding the cranium but with different body proportions: less elongated arms and hands,” said paleobiologist David Alba of the Catalan Institute of Paleontology.

Up to 70 bones were recovered from the site, and researchers recognized similarities to modern apes in the skull, wrist, and elbow. The teeth and ears were closer to those of ancient primates, which could make the Pliobate an important middleman in evolution.

Researchers suggest that this discovery means that apes directly related to human evolution may have been smaller than originally thought.

“Pliobates suggests that small-bodied apes played a much more important role in the origin of extant apes than previously recognized, and that their last common ancestor, in several respects, skull shape and body size, might have been more gibbon-like than previously thought,” said Alba.

And, as a report from Science/AAAS shows, it’s rather unfair to  disregard the little guy. “We should be careful about discounting small-bodied taxa as the last common ancestor,” said Alba.

Paleoanthropologist Terry Harrison shares this sentiment, and says that even those who disagree that the Pliobate is directly involved regarding evolution still find it’s scientific value.

“[This discovery] will shake things up, fuel new debates, and allow us to rethink what we thought we already know,” said Harrison.


Herpes more common than people think

What we know of herpes from middle school sexual education has just been turned on its head as  a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) reveals that over 2/3 of the population of earth has the simplest form of the infection.

According to New York Daily News, WHO has revealed that 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 has herpes simplex 1, a tamer form of the virus that causes cold sores. And you don’t have to have sores in order to be a carrier.

“Between 10% and 25% who are exposed will actually develop sores,” said Dr. Pritish Tosh of Mayo Clinic. “Most people who’ve been exposed to the virus and carry it are able to keep the virus at bay with their own immunity.”

On the plus  side, the Americas don’t have as much of a problem with the infection as the rest of the world does. 39% of men and 49% of women carry the disease, which is most often transferred to others by kissing.

And it’s not nearly as widespread as herpes simplex 2. VICE News reports that 417 million people between the ages of 15 and 49 carry this strand of the virus, which has further reaching consequences and is more painful.

However both can lead to more serious diseases such as HIV, which is why WHO and the National Institutes of Health in the United States are working on developing a vaccine.

“We really need to accelerate the development of vaccines against herpes simplex virus,” said Sami Gottlieb, a WHO medical officer. Gottlieb is pushing for a vaccine against the stronger virus, and is hoping that vaccine will protect patients from the tamer strand.

“If a vaccine designed to prevent HSV-2 infection also prevented HSV-1, it would have far-reaching benefits,” said Gottlieb.


Marriage is good for the heart — literally

A lot gets said about marriage these days. We’ve all heard about saying goodbye to freedom and hookups once a ring is on your finger, and with how many marriages last these days it puts off couples getting married until both have reached their late-twenties or early thirties.

But a new study shows that marriages that last are good for the heart. Both figuratively and literally.

According to Latinos Health, people recovering from heart surgery fare better if they are married. Single, divorced, and, unfortunately, widowed individuals face a longer and more stressful road to recovery than their married counterparts.

“People who are not married have higher mortality, or risk of death, after surgery,” said Dr. Rachel Werner, a co-author of the study published in JAMA Surgery. “The specific things we measured are things we called activities of daily living — being able to dress oneself, walk, feed oneself.”

Research involved analyzing health records and survival data of cardiac surgery patients. Researchers combed through the data of 1,576 patients, noting that 65% were married, 21% were widowed, 12% were divorced, and 2% were single and never been married.

Those who were married fared significantly better. Divorced and widowed patients were 40% more likely to die up to two years after the surgery.

So what exactly made survival rates higher for those who were married? U.S. News and World Report says that while there was no cause-and-effect relationship found in the study, researchers believe that it’s stress and support related.

“Married people may enjoy the support, assistance and regulation of health behaviors from their spouse, which are generally not accessible to the unmarried people,” said Hiu (Cathy) Liu, a sociology professor at Michigan State University who wasn’t involved with the study but holds interest in the topic.

“This adds to the general picture of the advantages of married people relative to the unmarried people, especially the divorced/separated and widowed, by extending to a more specific health outcome, a postoperative functional recovery,”she said.


Babies prefer singing over talking to stay calm

A new study shows that when trying to keep an infant calm a few verses of ‘Rock-A-Bye-Baby’ are more effective than baby chatter.

According to Medical Daily, researchers  looked at the different methods of calming an infant, as well as different ways to keep them calm. Singing a tune to them, even in a foreign language, kept them calm for a few more minutes before they would start crying.

“Many studies have looked at how singing and speech affect infants’ attention, but we wanted to know how they affect a baby’s emotional self-control,” said Isabelle Peretz, a senior author of the study who works as a professor at the University of Montreal. Peretz is also the co-direct of the International Laboratory for Brain, Music, and Sound Research, the organization that conducted the study.

30 volunteers between the ages of 7 and 10 months were used during the study. Mothers were told to step out of view of their child, and then three different recordings were played; a Turkish nursery rhyme, a French nursery rhyme, and a recording of an adult using baby talk.

“The performer sang Turkish play songs, not Western ones,” said Mariève Corbeil, the lead author who published their findings in the journal Infancy. “This is an important point as studies have shown that the songs we sing to infants have a specific range of tones and rhythms.”

Infants listened to the Turkish play song for nine minutes before displaying a “cry face,” whereas normal baby talk lasted only half as long. What was more surprising was that the Turkish play song outlasted the French play song, as French was the language the babies were familiar with.

“These findings speak to the intrinsic importance of music, and of nursery rhymes in particular, which appeal to our desire for simplicity, and repetition,” said Corbeil.


New disk of young stars discovered in Milky Way

A disk of young stars has been detected at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

According to the Washington Post, the disk, heretofore hidden among a cluster of older stars, is the first sign of young stars ever found at the Milky Way’s center.  Before the discovery, astronomers had thought that the large bulge in the galactic center was comprised entirely of ancient stars, and that all of the star-making material in the region had been used up long ago.

The team found the unexpected new stars by studying variable stars called Cepheids.  Cepheids dim and brighten from time to time, and their distance can be calculated based on the length of their brightness-changing cycle.

The young stars were found during the Vista Variables in the Vía Láctea Survey (VVV), meant to capture images of variable stars using the European Southern Observatory’s VISTA telescope.  The team found the new stars by studying several years of data captured in VISTA’s infrared images.

Of the 655 Cepheids detected, 35 belonged to a young star subtype called “classical” Cepheids.  Those young stars were noted to be forming a disk-like structure in the Milky Way’s central bulge.

“All of the 35 classical Cepheids discovered are less than 100 million years old. The youngest Cepheid may even be only around 25 million years old, although we cannot exclude the possible presence of even younger and brighter Cepheids,” study co-author Dante Minniti of the Universidad Andres Bello said in a statement.

“This part of the galaxy was completely unknown until our VVV survey found it!” Minniti said.

The study was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.


Prejudice on winged mammals leaves us blind as a bat

Halloween is the one time of year when we put aside our fear of bats and marvel at their spookiness, with tales of vampires and rabid bat attacks clouding the air and scaring our pants off. After that, things return to normal and the same negative stigma makes us jump when we see a bat flying through the night sky.

But Halloween isn’t the only day they deserve attention, and it should definitely not be associated with the negative stereotypes we put on these misunderstood creatures.

Treehugger reports that bats are important for our environment, something that the general population commonly ignores. They can eat up to 100% of their body weight in insects each feeding period, making them essential to summer nights around the campfire when you don’t want to be covered in mosquito bites. Beyond mosquitoes, they provide a great help in controlling invasive insect populations.

And while pollination is often associated with bees and birds, bats have been known to contribute. The United States Department of Agriculture states that favorites such as bananas and mangoes would be harder to come by if it weren’t for these misunderstood critters.

To finally quell all fears, most bats are harmless to humans. The Temple Daily Telegram reports that when looking at the facts, they do more help than harm.

If there is anything negative about them that contains some truth, it’s that bats are hard to study. Susan Loeb, a researcher with the U.S. Forest Service says that it’s hard to obtain information due to their size and how quick they can move.

“Most of our bats are very small, they fly at night, and they’re very difficult to study,” said Loeb. “In the last 10, 20 years, we’re getting better and better technology that allows us to learn about bats.”

New findings about bats can help shatter misconceptions and irrational fears, something that needs to be done in order to save these helpful and fascinating animals. And while Halloween emphasizes the spookiness of bats, Loeb thinks perhaps  the once-a-year fascination can help establish curiosity leading to empowering knowledge.

“Using Halloween as a means to engage people that bats aren’t bad may be one way to do it,” said Loeb. “The public perception of bats is changing as people learn how important they are and how fascinating they are.”


Biologists plot ancient ecosystem with massive super predators

In today’s ecosystems carnivores are what keep herbivores in check to prevent overpopulation. Today’s herbivores are, for the most part, relatively small. So years ago when larger herbivores like the woolly mammoth roamed the land did carnivores have the same role?

New studies suggest yes. And the size of these carnivores in comparison to the herbivores is absolutely massive.

According to Nature World Report, ecosystems during the Pleistocene epoch, which had some of the largest herbivores ever recorded such as woolly mammoths, mastodons, and giant sloths, had massive super carnivores that helped maintain a balanced ecosystem. Lions that were much larger than they are today and saber tooth tigers roamed the land and staged gruesome attacks on these huge herbivores.

“Based on observations of living mega-herbivores, such as elephants, rhinos, giraffes and hippos, scientists have generally thought that these species were largely immune to predation, mainly because of their large size as adults and strong maternal protection of very young offspring,” said Van Valkenburgh, a UCLA evolutionary biologist who led the study.

However just because the herbivores of today and yesterday are large and in charge doesn’t make them completely immune to predator attacks. Attacks on lion prides killing elephants are rare, but they aren’t unheard of.

“Data on modern lion kills of elephants indicates that larger prides are more successful,” said Valkenburgh. “We argue that Pleistocene carnivore species probably formed larger prides and packs than are typically observed today, making it easier for them to attack and kill fairly large juveniles and young adult mega-herbivores.”

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers were able to compile this data by examining the teeth of fossils, paying close attention to age and shoulder height of the extinct mammals, and analyzing kill rates of large herbivores by smaller carnivores in the wild today.


Children with parents in prison face daily pain and scrutiny

As children we learn a lot about the law growing up, and it is reflected in play. When playing games like cops and robbers most children wave their hands frantically in order to play the role of the cop; young ones do not like the prospect of being the robber and going to jail, even if it is just a game.

For many children this game is instead a heart-wrenching reality.

According to the research organization Child Trends, five million US children have at least one parent behind bars. Virtual-Strategy Magazine converts the numbers into statistics, saying that 1 in every 14 has a parent currently serving time.

And when race is thrown into the mix things get even dimmer, with 1 in every 9 African American children with a parent behind bars.

“Progress has been slow,” said Child Trends researcher David Murphey to the Miami Herald. “This is a vulnerable group of kids that is often hidden from public view. We need to pay more attention.”

Luckily there are places that are doing all they can for the children of incarcerated parents. New Hope Oklahoma offers activities for those with parents behind bars, hosting after school programs, weekend retreats, and summer camps on a regular basis.

But the United States needs more organizations that provide this sort of support. Problems in school and emotional difficulties are only some of the traumas that these kids are facing.

“These children face ostracism among their peers because of it – despite the fact that the child is totally not at fault,” said Clayton Smith, the current director at New Hope Oklahoma. “They don’t speak about it. They don’t want anyone to know.”

Jody Becker-Green, who works as a deputy secretary for a correctional facility in Washington, echoes this sentiment.

“These kids are overlooked and invisible in our society,” she said. “They feel shame, they feel guilt in having a parent incarcerated.”


Overweight adults urged to see doctor for diabetes testing

A new report on Monday from the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) has urged all adults between the ages of 40 and 70 to see their doctor regarding testing for type 2 diabetes.

According to Health Day, abnormal blood sugar levels and type 2 diabetes have become a pressing concern, and the USPSTF has urged that adults go see their doctors immediately for testing. Patients who are then found with elevated blood sugar levels should then be referred to behavior counseling that recommends healthy eating and regular exercise.

Dr. Michael Pignone, a task force member who also teaches medicine at the University of North Carolina, says that finding out about high blood sugar levels can be an early warning, and that a healthy lifestyle after being diagnosed can prevent type 2 diabetes.

“People with abnormal blood glucose have a higher risk for progression to diabetes. By finding abnormal blood glucose early, you may prevent that pathway by starting lifestyle interventions early,” said Pignone.

Currently the American Diabetes Association recommends anyone age 45 and up should get tested for diabetes, but the USPSTF argues that this might not come soon enough. Especially for the 86 million Americans who test positive for high blood sugar levels.

Testing for blood sugar levels can be relatively inexpensive as well. While two of the three methods involves fasting, which Pignone says could be a bit more inconvenient, the third is a blood test that gives an estimate over how blood sugar levels have been in a single person over two or three months.

Lifestyle changing programs that won’t break the bank are also relatively easy to come by.

“While more commercial, formalized programs may be covered by insurance, if you want to help prevent type 2 diabetes, it doesn’t have to cost anything,” said Dr. Howard Andrew Selinger. The current chair of family medicine at Quinnipiac University School of Medicine in Connecticut, Selinger comments that there are lots of ways to prevent type 2 diabetes that won’t put strain on patients with a budget.

“Open the front door and take a walk. Start with a 10-minute walk, and then work up to 20 minutes.”