The Solution for Skin Ailments Could Be Right Under Your Nose

Dr. Gallo and his collaborators published their results earlier this year in Science Translational Medicine.

“It’s the first time anything like this has been shown,” said Elizabeth Grice, a research dermatologist and microbiologist at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the experiment. “What remains to be seen is whether this kind of treatment can reduce the severity of skin disease over the long term.”

Only in the last few years have scientists seriously studied how to therapeutically modify the skin’s native colonies of microbes. Understanding this unique microbiome may yield new ideas for treating various dermatologic conditions.

Some studies suggest, for example, that people prone to acne carry more of the microbe Propionibacterium acnes on their skin. A disturbance in typical bacterial populations leads to conflict between P. acnes and neighboring species, the theory goes, which in turn triggers an inflammatory response in the skin.

In another study published late last year, Dr. Gallo and his colleagues injected a beneficial strain of Staphylococcus epidermidis, along with some food that only it could digest, into the ears of mice. The combination treatment, known as a synbiotic, encouraged the growth of S. epidermidis, which in turn reduced both the number of P. acnes and level of inflammation in the mice.

Other scientists have been reporting similar findings. In 2014, a team in South Korea and the United States showed that an extract from Helicobacter pylori — a common resident of the human stomach — also can inhibit P. acnes and decrease skin inflammation in mice.

Scientists in Canada have demonstrated that people who take both probiotics and antibiotics have significantly fewer acne lesions after 12 weeks, compared with people who take only one or the other.

Several private companies are racing to capitalize on a growing consumer appetite for probiotic cosmetics, toiletries and topical treatments. The biotech company AOBiome offers a “live probiotic spray,” for instance, that is meant to replenish populations of beneficial skin bacteria.

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Many microbiologists worry, however, that the science is nowhere near advanced enough to justify the proliferation of these products. Scientists still have a lot to learn about what microbial ecosystems look like on healthy skin, how they change during illness, and how to safely interfere.

Topical probiotics can easily rub off and be transferred to other parts of the body or other people, Dr. Grice pointed out. Just because a microbe kills one species of pathogen does not mean it is unwaveringly “good” or peaceful.

And what if the bacteria in a lotion or spray were to infiltrate the body via a cut or scratch?

Dr. Grice agreed, however, that the idea is intriguing. Whereas typical antibiotics and antiseptics indiscriminately kill all kinds of bacteria throughout the body and drive the evolution of highly dangerous microbes impervious to existing drugs, probiotics may be much more selective.

And probiotics that successfully colonize the body have the unique ability to evolve in concert with a surrounding ecosystem. After all, genuine microbe-based therapies are not just cocktails of molecules; they contain living organisms that persist and adapt. Dr. Gallo calls his experimental lotion an “evolutionarily honed” treatment.

“There are so many new potent medicines right under our nose,” he said.

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[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/26/health/acne-eczema-skin-bacteria.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

What Virtual Reality Can Teach a Driverless Car

“This is why we think we can move fast,” said Luc Vincent, who recently started an autonomous vehicle project at Lyft, Uber’s main rival. “This stuff didn’t exist 10 years ago when Google started.”

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There are still questions hanging over this research. Most notably, because these algorithms learn by analyzing more information than any human ever could, it is sometimes difficult to audit their behavior and understand why they make particular decisions. But in the years to come, machine learning will be essential to the continued progress of autonomous vehicles.

Today’s vehicles are not nearly as autonomous as they may seem. After 10 years of research, development and testing, Google’s cars are poised to offer public rides on the streets of Arizona. Waymo, which operates under Google’s parent company, is preparing to start a taxi service near Phoenix, according to a recent report, and unlike other services, it will not put a human behind the wheel as a backup. But its cars will still be on a tight leash.

For now, if it doesn’t carry a backup driver, any autonomous vehicle will probably be limited to a small area with large streets, little precipitation, and relatively few pedestrians. And it will drive at low speeds, often waiting for extended periods before making a left-hand turn or merging into traffic without the help of a stoplight or street sign — if it doesn’t avoid these situations altogether.

At the leading companies, the belief is that these cars can eventually handle more difficult situations with help from continued development and testing, new sensors that can provide a more detailed view of the surrounding world and machine learning.

Waymo and many of its rivals have already embraced deep neural networks, complex algorithms that can learn tasks by analyzing data. By analyzing photos of pedestrians, for example, a neural network can learn to identify a pedestrian. These kinds of algorithms are also helping to identify street signs and lane markers, predict what will happen next on the road, and plan routes forward.

The trouble is that this requires enormous amounts of data collected by cameras, radar and other sensors that document real-world objects and situations. And humans must label this data, identifying pedestrians, street signs and the like. Gathering and labeling data describing every conceivable situation is an impossibility. Data on accidents, for instance, is hard to come by. This is where simulations can help.

Recently, Waymo unveiled a roadway simulator it calls Carcraft. Today, the company said, this simulator provides a way of testing its cars at a scale that is not possible in the real world. Its cars can spend far more time on virtual roads than the real thing. Presumably, like other companies, Waymo is also exploring ways that its algorithms can actually learn new behavior from this kind of simulator.

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Test drivers used a Lexus sport utility vehicle, built as a self-driving car, to map an area in Phoenix before a journey without a driver in control earlier this year.

Credit
Reuters

Mr. Pratt said Toyota is already using images of simulated roadways to train neural networks, and this approach has yielded promising results. In other words, the simulations are similar enough to the physical world to reliably train the systems that operate the cars.

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Part of the advantage with a simulator is that researchers have complete control over it. They need not spend time and money labeling images — and potentially making mistakes with these labels. “You have ground truth,” Mr. Pratt explained. “You know where every car is. You know where every pedestrian is. You know where every bicycler is. You know the weather.”

Others are exploring a more complex method called reinforcement learning. This a major area of research inside many of the world’s top artificial intelligence labs, including DeepMind (the London-based lab owned by Google), the Berkeley AI Research Lab, and OpenAI (the San Francisco-based lab founded by Tesla’s chief executive Elon Musk and others). These labs are building algorithms that allow machines to learn tasks inside virtual worlds through intensive trial and error.

DeepMind used this method to build a machine that could play the ancient game Go better than any human. In essence, the machine played thousands upon thousands of Go games against itself, carefully recording which moves proved successful and which didn’t. And now, DeepMind and other leading labs are using similar techniques in building machines that can play complex video games like StarCraft.

That may seem frivolous. But if machines can navigate these virtual worlds, they can make their way through the physical world.

Inside Uber’s autonomous car operation, for example, researchers have trained systems to play the popular game Grand Theft Auto, with an eye toward applying these methods, eventually, to real world cars. Training systems in simulations of physical locations is the next step.

Bridging the gap between the virtual and the physical is no easy task, Mr. Pratt said. And companies must also ensure that algorithms don’t learn unexpected or harmful behavior while learning on their own. That is a big worry among artificial intelligence researchers.

For this and other reasons, companies like Toyota and Waymo are not building these cars solely around machine learning. They also hand-coded software in more traditional ways in an effort to guarantee certain behavior. Waymo cars don’t learn to stop at stop lights, for example. There is a hard and fast rule that they stop.

But the industry is headed toward more machine learning, not less. It provides a better way to train the car to do tasks like identifying lane makers, said Waymo’s vice president of engineering Dmitri Dolgov. But it becomes even more important, he explained, when a car needs a much deeper understanding of the world around it. “Robotics and machine learning go hand in hand,” he said.

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[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/29/business/virtual-reality-driverless-cars.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

What Worries? Big Tech Companies Post Glowing Quarterly Profits

“I do not see, to be honest, anything between Amazon and a trillion-dollar market valuation except D.C. and Brussels, and at this point it looks more likely that it’s Brussels,” Mr. Galloway said, referring to the headquarters of the European Union.

Amazon showed on Thursday how it continues to play by rules that cause fits of despair among conventional retailers. For a company its size and age, it reports meager profits, choosing to plow the cash generated by its business into new growth initiatives like video streaming and devices.

Amazon said its net income for the quarter that ended Sept. 30 was $256 million, or 52 cents a share, compared with $252 million, also 52 cents a share, during the same period last year.

But Amazon also gave investors the numbers they love to see, a 34 percent jump to $43.7 billion in revenue, as it continued to nibble away at the pocketbooks of customers. The company’s cloud computing business, Amazon Web Services, jumped 30 percent to $4.58 billion in revenue, which Wall Street loves because it accounts for most of what little profit the company reports.

Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods Markets has sparked concerns from rivals that the company could become a terrifying new force in the huge category of grocery retailing. During the quarter, Amazon said, Whole Foods added $1.3 billion to its overall revenue.

The most remarkable sign of Amazon’s growth may be its rise in head count, most of which occurs in its warehouses. At the end of September, Amazon had 541,900 employees, up 77 percent from a year earlier.

The average earnings estimate compiled from analysts by Thomson Reuters was 3 cents a share, and the average revenue estimate was $42.14 billion.

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Next week, Google’s top lawyer, along with general counsels from Facebook and Twitter, will testify in front of lawmakers investigating how Russia used social media and technology platforms in the United States to influence the 2016 election.

But as Alphabet reported another blockbuster earnings result on the back of strong sales of search advertising, the inquiry and any potential fallout were not discussed.

On a conference call with financial analysts, Ruth Porat, Alphabet’s chief financial officer, and Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive officer, were not asked about Google’s pending appearance before Congress.

Unlike Amazon, Alphabet gushed profits. Alphabet reported net income of $6.73 billion, or $9.57 a share — surpassing Wall Street’s earnings forecasts by more than a dollar. The company is bringing in more revenue — up 24 percent — while squeezing more profit from every dollar it brings in.

In July, when Alphabet previously reported quarterly results, investors shrugged off a $2.7 billion fine from the European Commission, the European Union’s administrative arm. The fine temporarily hit the company’s bottom line but did little to slow revenue growth or demand for its advertising.

Alphabet accounts for about 32 percent of all global digital advertising spending, according to research firm eMarketer. When it is combined with Facebook, the pair account for roughly half of all internet ad spending in the world.

With earnings showing no signs of slowing, Alphabet continues to amass a cash war chest. The company’s stockpile of cash and marketable securities topped $100 billion — or roughly the market value of Goldman Sachs.

Microsoft is mentioned less frequently as a potential target for regulators, in part because it already went through an agonizing antitrust saga in the 1990s and 2000s, one that hobbled it when big shifts in technology were looming.

But in the past several years, Microsoft’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, has revived the company, in part by redoubling its focus on cloud computing, where it has emerged as a credible No. 2 competitor to Amazon.

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While Microsoft is not the fearsome leviathan it once was, it is still a moneymaking machine. On Thursday, the Redmond, Wash., company reported net income of $6.58 billion, or 85 cents a share, up from $5.67 billion, or 73 cents a share, the previous year. Revenue was up 12 percent to $24.54 billion.

The average earnings estimate compiled by Thomson Reuters was 72 cents a share, with revenue of $23.56 billion. Its shares jumped 3 percent.

Microsoft executives credited much of the company’s success in the quarter to growth in its cloud computing business, which encompasses everything from online storage to internet-based versions of Microsoft’s Office applications that customers subscribe to rather than purchase.

The company said its commercial cloud business had brought in $5 billion in revenue, up 56 percent from the previous year.

While Microsoft’s attempts at selling some kinds of devices have been a disappointment — its foray into making smartphones was a bomb — its Surface line of computers showed positive results, rising 12 percent to $1.04 billion in revenue.

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[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/26/business/big-tech-company-earnings.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

When a Student Says, ‘I’m Not a Boy or a Girl’

“Ten years ago, I wasn’t really talking at all about transgender in my classes,” said Emily Umberger, who teaches health at two private schools in Charlottesville, Va. Now, “the kids are very comfortable asking questions about gender identity, transgender stuff. It’s amazing how much that has changed in a few years.”

As alternative private schools test these ideas classroom by classroom, some larger school districts are enacting them more widely. The California Healthy Youth Act, which went into effect in 2016, requires all California public schools to teach students about gender expression and gender stereotypes. (Outside of the classroom, California just passed a law allowing a third gender option on state drivers’ licenses and birth certificates, for people who identify as nonbinary.) In Florida, Broward County requires middle school students to learn about gender identity.

Of course, not all schools or parents accept these changes. Glsen, a national nonprofit focused on L.G.B.T. issues in K-12 education, notes that in some parts of the country there are laws that forbid teachers to talk about gay and transgender people in a positive way in the classroom. Alabama, for example, requires teachers to emphasize “that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.” Parents, too, can weigh in. Recently Chloe Bressack, a fifth-grade teacher in Florida, sent a letter to parents asking to be referred to with gender-neutral pronouns like “they, them, theirs.” After some parents complained, the teacher was transferred to a different school in the district.

But at some schools — many of them rooted in progressive pedagogy, with an emphasis on hands-on learning and social responsibility — teachers and administrators are listening when students demand they catch up on gender. Educators then have to figure out the quotidian details: Can boys wear skirts and still follow the dress code? How should teachers explain that most people with uteruses will get their periods, but not all people with their periods have to be girls? And what to do about those bathrooms, anyway?

Many educators and students noted that the goal is not just teaching kids to be accepting of trans or gender nonconforming people. Instead, it’s about loosening up the whole idea of gender, for every kid.

“This is not about those kids,” said Deborah Roffman, a teacher at the Park School in Baltimore who has been teaching human sexuality for 40 years. “Everybody in this building has a gender identity, which exists along a continuum.”

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Sofia’s school has converted a former men’s room into an all-gender restroom.

Credit
Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Unlike the stark sex-ed films of the past (with messages that amounted to “Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant, and die”), today teachers read aloud from books about transgender kids (or books about gender-bending crayons or same-sex penguin dads) to start conversations. Rossana Zapf, a learning and curriculum support coordinator at the Miquon School in Philadelphia, read the elementary students Jazz Jennings’s picture book “I am Jazz,” and Michael Hall’s “Red: A Crayon’s Story,” about a blue crayon who is mistakenly labeled red.

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“That reminds me of my friend,” a kindergartner said after the reading.

Ms. Umberger in Charlottesville said she uses a little game to explain the gender binary, the idea that boys and girls are opposites and that people must be one or the other. “I’ll say, what’s your favorite color? Is it lime green or crimson? And they’ll say, actually it’s royal blue,” she said. By showing that sometimes two rigid options aren’t enough, she teaches them what it means to be nonbinary.

At the Green Acres School in Bethesda, Md., students are asking administrators to rethink the dress code for eighth grade graduation, says Ann Kappell Danner, the middle school counselor. Typically, the girls wear dresses and the boys wear suits and ties. Now the students are proposing that the dress code be gender neutral: a list of acceptable clothing with no determination of which gender should wear what.

“The students are so hungry for this,” said Nora Gelperin, the director of sexuality education and training at Advocates for Youth, a Washington-based nonprofit that provides a free sex-ed curriculum for K-12 students which includes lessons about the range of gender identities. “When I’m in a school, the students are leading the way, and adults are desperately trying to catch up.”

As kids push forward, it can be difficult for even the most supportive parents and schools to know what the best course of action looks like.

A 36-year-old mother at a progressive school in Seattle, who asked not to be named because she was sharing intimate details about her young child, informed the school last year that her 6-year-old identified as a girl. The daughter, assigned male at birth, had been trying on dresses and playing around with girls’ names for about three years and she wanted to be recognized as a girl.

The teachers were 100 percent supportive, the mother says. They just wanted to know what to do. But that was exactly the problem.

“Just because I have a kid who’s going through this doesn’t make me at all an expert,” the woman said. “I kind of felt like I was drowning in information, but at the same time, very alone.”

She explained her daughter’s transition to the parents and other teachers at the school, and helped her daughter tell her class. But a year later, she still feels uncertain.

“It’s tough when people say follow your kid’s lead,” the woman said. “We’re talking about a 7-year-old who has no concept of what this looks like in the future.”

At the moment, though, even little kids are grasping the big ideas. At the Advent School in Boston, Erina Spiegelman, who is an instructional coordinator, recalled that a teacher last year asked a group of students the big question: “What is gender?”

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The first answer came from a second-grader: “It’s a thing people invented to put you in a category.”

Correction: October 25, 2017

An earlier version of this article misstated the state where a fifth-grade teacher who asked to be referred to with gender-neutral pronouns works. It is Florida, not Tennessee.

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[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/24/well/family/transgender-gender-nonbinary-students.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

More Than Sports: Stadiums Try Video Games and Surfing

Jewel box venues like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field have survived on the charm they bring to baseball, but large single-purpose sites had mostly fallen out of favor by the mid-1960s. The concrete doughnuts that followed — which tried to mash baseball and football fields into the same space — struggled to effectively exhibit either sport. And single-purpose designs returned to the norm in the 1990s.

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But the same concerns that led to the development of those rarely mourned multipurpose stadiums persist today. Single-sports structures can often lie fallow for much the year, in some cases marooned by sprawling parking lots on the outskirts of cities.

Although the cost of some new stadiums has pushed beyond the $1 billion mark, a key revenue stream shows signs it might not be the reliable income generator it once was: Weekly attendance at N.F.L. games has been mostly down this year (even before players began protesting comments by President Trump), and attendance at Major League Baseball games, while still high, has also declined slightly in recent years.

That has only intensified the need for new buildings to do double (or more) duty. Some large venues are increasingly catering to nontraditional events like monster truck rallies, marathons, black-tie banquets and conferences. MetLife Stadium, the home of the Jets and the Giants, hosted a Bollywood awards show in July.

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Fans watched on large monitors mounted around Barclays Center as two teams competed in a “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” tournament.

Credit
Christian Hansen for The New York Times

But event planners often find that convention centers are better suited to their needs, with superior lighting and audiovisual options, extensive catering facilities and the ability to partition off floor space into multiple rooms, said Jack W. Plunkett, chief executive of Plunkett Research.

Industrywide tracking of supplemental revenue from one-off events is patchy at best. Still, “stadium managers want to maximize ancillary income from stadium event rental, but there are a lot of challenges and the competition is fierce for those dollars,” he said.

Last month, Barclays Center in Brooklyn hosted a video game tournament — a championship showdown using the first-person shooter game “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.” In the same space that has hosted Beyoncé and the hometown Nets, enormous screens conveyed the action to an audience of thousands, accompanied by pounding music, a light show and smoke effects.

“It’s super awesome — they’re putting a lot of time and money into making this a good show, taking it mainstream,” said Joseph Nelson, 18, who traveled from Scotch Plains, N.J. “I could watch this streamed at home, but I come here to be with people and enjoy the production.”

“Hyperconnectivity” of the digital sort is important, especially for younger fans, according to a report from Deloitte last year. That could take the form of virtual assistants guiding customers through team shops or informing event organizers what highlights the crowd wants to see.

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Workers wiped down seats as construction on the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas neared completion last year.

Credit
John Locher/Associated Press

Companies like VenueNext, which has worked with Super Bowl host stadiums and Churchill Downs, home to the Kentucky Derby, create custom apps to help fans track which bathrooms have the shortest waits, order food to be delivered to their seats and watch replays on their phones. Avaya Stadium, home to the San Jose Earthquakes soccer team, erected a wall of screens nearly seven feet tall to aggregate real-time statistics, social media chatter, YouTube videos and other fan-generated content.

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Still, designers are worried that visitors, accustomed to a spread of entertainment options at home, will get restless at a live event. So they’re considering ways to connect fans to the live experience.

Designers envision using biometric data and motion effects to sync an entertainer’s heartbeat with pulses sent into spectators’ seats. Augmented reality stations could offer guests a digital backstage tour.

One rentable suite at Petco Park, home of baseball’s San Diego Padres, allows fans to play the video game “MLB: The Show” on PlayStation video game consoles while overlooking the field.

“The traditional arena was fundamentally designed around a static in-seat experience,” Mr. Mirakian said. “But the behavioral patterns for this next-generation visitor are dramatically different — they want to come into the building and have the ability to choose their own adventure.”

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Fans entering the Barclays Center during an e-sports event last month.

Credit
Christian Hansen for The New York Times

Another bonus: Flexible venues are easier to finance at a time when taxpayers are less inclined to pick up part of the tab. Last year, voters in San Diego rejected a ballot measure that would have raised hotel taxes to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars toward helping erect a new football stadium for the Chargers. (The team opted to move to Los Angeles.)

Most economic experts believe that the benefits of stadiums are very likely to be outweighed by the costs to the taxpayers who fund the projects, according to a survey this year from the Initiative on Global Markets at Chicago Booth. After all, even with a full slate of events, many of those taxpayers may never set foot in the building, which the neighborhood may end up seeing as a hulking, self-contained island, siloed from the rest of the community.

That is a criticism that new venues are trying to address by better blending into their surroundings and encouraging more visitors. Stadium and arena planners are trying to integrate hotels, lakes, parks, office buildings and other meeting places into their designs. Plans for venues like the Chase Center — a privately financed arena being built in San Francisco for the reigning N.B.A. champion Golden State Warriors that will include a waterfront park, restaurants and retail — refer to the complexes as “districts.”

Half of the concourse area used for the Little Caesars Arena, which opened last month in Detroit as the new home of the Red Wings and the Pistons, is accessible year-round, regardless of whether an event is scheduled in the main bowl. Retailers and restaurants open on to the street and the clear-roofed concourse.

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“This way, we don’t have these massively long runs of inactive street frontage when there’s no game or concert,” said Ryan Gedney, a senior project designer at HOK, the architecture firm behind the arena. “It becomes a much harder-working venue day to day.”

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[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/25/business/arenas-stadiums-design.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

How to Fulfill Your Dreams When the Magic-Wand Fairy is Late

CS: So let’s get practical. Make a list of the things you want to do. The three you’ve cited in your letter are: move to a different part of the country, work a different job, and get an education, so let’s start there. Beneath each item on your list, make another list composed of the steps you need to take to achieve that thing. To get a new job you have to apply for one, for example. Be as specific as you can be with each item on your list and then start doing them, one by one. Some steps may require money, but others won’t. Perhaps one item beneath “get an education” is to study for college entrance exams. To do that, you can check out books from your local library. Another might be “research schools and financial aid.” That can be done online. You don’t have to do everything at once. You need only do one thing at a time. But the point is you have to do them, Broke. Each thing you do will bring you closer to the things you seek.

SA: Taking one step at a time is vital, because our popular culture is lousy with fairy tales of overnight transformation: paupers who ascend to the penthouse in the space of one Hollywood montage. This is our designated mythos, as Americans: that all you need to claim your destiny is a little pluck and luck. But more than anything, what you need is patience and humility and self-forgiveness. If you don’t have these attributes, you’re going to get discouraged. And then you’re going to get stuck. Because real change is rarely quick, and even more rarely glamorous. It resides in the small steps Cheryl speaks of, in the daily work of converting anguish into action. Fate did not deal you a hand of privilege. You have very real obstacles to overcome — of class, gender, and opportunity. Most of all, Broke, you have to be able to outlast your doubt.

CS: One of the most valuable lessons of my life has been to understand that one truth does not cross out another, contradictory truth. We have the capacity to hold opposing truths in one hand. There is no question that it will be more difficult for you to travel, attend college, and find more compelling employment than it is for those who have more economic privilege than you, Broke. But it’s also true that you can do all of those things. Your situation is one I know intimately. I was in it. The way I got out of it was to decide I could and I would. The barriers were real. So was my determination to climb over them. You have that determination too — it’s what moved you to write to us. Keep moving.

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[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/24/style/how-to-fulfill-your-dreams.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

A Scaredy-Cat’s Investigation Into Why People Enjoy Fear

When you go to a haunted house, you’re grappling with a conflict, Dr. Zald said: The experience could either be fun or terrifying, and how you weigh that balance could depend in part on dopamine levels. “Having a greater amount of dopamine pushes someone to pursue the goal of excitement,” he said, “whereas someone who basically has less dopamine is more likely to hold back and say, ‘No, this isn’t worth it to me.’”

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Socially, we get cues about how to respond to fear from those around us, said Margee Kerr, a sociologist and author of the book “Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear.” Early on, that’s taking notes from our parents about how to deal with distress. Later, experiencing stressful situations with others can cultivate social bonds.

Part of that has to do with emotional contagion, or a communal response to shared experiences, Dr. Kerr said. If your friend is captivated by the horror movie you are watching together, you process that by recreating the same feeling in your own mind, and that can bring you closer together. People also tend to hold onto memories of fear more intensely, she said, so if you have positive associations with a scary situation, like going to a haunted house, you’ll likely want to do it again.

Fear-seeking can also be a way of testing oneself. Josh Randall and Kristjan Thor, creators of Blackout, a haunted house experience that consistently tops rankings of “Most Extreme Haunted Houses,” said they see many people coming to their events with a goal of self-fortification. “It’s almost like a dare to themselves,” Mr. Thor said. “People want to be able to conquer something.”

For many, being scared is a jolting escape from daily life. When immersed in a scary situation, you can suspend your disbelief and live in the moment — and that loss of control can feel really good. This is key for Blackout, Mr. Randall said: “For a finite period of time, that audience member can turn off the real world, and live in a fantasy world.”

After talking with the experts, I was starting to see why some friends love getting spooked. But why do I hate being scared so much?

It could be because I was never exposed to horror movies or haunted houses growing up, so by the time I did experience these things, I was ill-prepared. It could be that the regions in my brain involved in coding fear and anxiety are more sensitive. Most likely, it is a mix of many different factors. Regardless of the reason though, “it’s perfectly O.K. not to like scary things,” Dr. Kerr said.

For people who cannot fathom sitting out a haunted house, it’s important not to coerce your more cautious friends into doing something they do not want to, Dr. Kerr said. “That can compound the fear, and make it even worse.” So, for any friends who were thinking of inviting me to the haunted house this weekend, save your breath — I have a doctor’s note.

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[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/29/science/why-do-people-liked-being-scared.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

5 Bargain Destinations for Fall Travel

Fall isn’t just about pretty leaves for travelers. Those willing to venture overseas could end up with some major savings, according to Hipmunk, the website and app that studies itineraries and other data to reveal affordable travel deals.

Hipmunk recently looked at a year’s worth of flight bookings to determine some of the best off-season bargain destinations for the fall season. It analyzed roundtrip flights departing from the United States to international cities between Oct 1. of last year through Sept. 30 of this year. The savings percentage is based on maximum monthly pricing for that destination.

Here are selections from our coverage of some of those recommendations, including the percentage of savings for that destination.

The Grand Place, the famed central square of Brussels.CreditMichael Chia for The New York TimesBrussels, Belgium

Average November Fare: $824 (-63 percent)

“There is literally nothing to do here,” the British musician Noel Gallagher once said of Brussels, that hotbed of policy directives. Clearly he didn’t have a chance to admire the graffiti, avant-garde installations or conceptual creations in the city’s new art spaces. Or shop for vintage items in the many retro and antique boutiques. Or taste the innovative dishes in the city’s neo-Belgian and Belgian-fusion restaurants.

36 Hours in Brussels

The Neighbourgood Market at the Old Biscuit Mill in Cape Town. CreditSamantha Reinders for The New York TimesCape Town, South Africa

Average November Fare: $1,875 (-55 percent)

Heralded as one of the world’s most beautiful cities — few destinations can mimic the scale of its mountain-ocean convergence — Cape Town doesn’t need to be as accommodating as it is; it could, in theory, sit pretty on the merits of its natural bounties alone. And yet it remains a singularly inviting place.

36 Hours in Cape Town

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. CreditAndreas Meichsner for The New York TimesBerlin

Average November Fare: $991 (-42 percent)

There are few cities in the world that transform themselves as profoundly from season to season as Berlin. It remains a place for the strange and libertine, where the radical left still nips at the heels of neoliberalism, where snapping photos in public is often more taboo than smoking a joint, and where people seldom ask what it is you “do.”

36 Hours in Berlin

A street in the Central District of Hong Kong. CreditLam Yik Fei for The New York TimesHong Kong

Average November Fare: $752 (-42 percent)

As impressive as Hong Kong’s skyline is, the city never seems to stop building. With all this attention on infrastructure, though, Hong Kong hasn’t sacrificed its soul. It remains one of Asia’s most passionately creative cities, a playground for artists and designers, chefs and entrepreneurs.

36 Hours in Hong Kong

Koishikawa Garden in Tokyo. CreditAndrew Faulk for The New York TimesTokyo

Average November Fare: $1,050 (-21 percent)

Contemplating the physical sprawl of Tokyo is dizzying. The Japanese megalopolis has no discernible center, and clusters of skyscrapers miles apart defy the idea of a downtown core. But when time is limited, don’t be distracted by the hypnotic, multistory video screens. Instead, focus on a diverse cross-section of neighborhoods, from peaceful Nakameguro to eclectic Koenji, for a taste of this capital that will leave you hungry for more.

36 Hours in Japan

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  • [1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/28/travel/5-bargain-destinations-for-fall-travel.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

    Thinking on Your Feet – The New York Times

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    Credit
    Illustration by Kelsey Dake

    Health experts widely agree that most of us should sit less, especially at work. Prolonged sitting has been linked with higher risks for diabetes and heart disease, among other conditions. While treadmill and standing desks have grown in popularity, they provide a clear impact on our health but perhaps not on our work itself. We know that most people type better when they sit still than when they stand up or move about. But do they also think better?

    Most studies of prolonged sitting have looked at the benefits from breaking up sitting time on blood sugar and blood pressure. For an innovative new study published recently in The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, researchers at Arizona State University in Phoenix recruited nine sedentary, overweight men and women and asked them to show up at a simulated office space at the university.

    During one visit, the volunteers sat continuously for eight hours (apart from bathroom breaks), while using a computer and talking on the phone, as if it were any workday. Twice during the day, they also completed computerized measures of many thinking skills, including working memory and decision making.

    Then, during three other faux workdays, the volunteers broke up their sitting time by variously standing, walking at a treadmill desk or pedaling a modified stationary bicycle placed beneath their desks for at least 10 minutes once an hour. The exercise was gentle — a walking pace of one mile per hour or comparable effort while pedaling — and the volunteers typed and chatted during these breaks. They also repeated the tests of thinking twice each day, immediately after standing or exercising.

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    The researchers had wondered whether standing or exercising might impair the ability to concentrate and think, much as it did with typing proficiency, says Glenn Gaesser, a professor of exercise and health promotion at Arizona State who oversaw the study.

    Instead, the exercise breaks substantially improved scores on the tests of the kinds of thinking skills that help people perform their jobs well. Immediately after standing or moving for 10 minutes or more, the volunteers performed better on all the tests of thinking, compared with when they were sitting all day — and the gains were greatest after they pedaled their under-desk bikes.

    Gaesser says that “the physical and mental arousal” that occurs when people end their seated stillness and stroll, pedal or stand up improves attention, memory and other cognitive skills. He also speculates that because the volunteers had never before cycled at work, the novelty of that activity amplified its stimulative effects and impact on thinking.

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    [1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/26/well/move/thinking-brain-exercise.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

    In ‘After the Eclipse,’ a Daughter Mourns Her Murdered Mother

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    Crystal and Sarah Perry

    AFTER THE ECLIPSE
    A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search
    By Sarah Perry
    350 pp. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $27.

    In the early morning of May 12, 1994, in a small inland town in Maine, Sarah Perry’s 30-year-old mother, Crystal, was stabbed to death in her home, while Sarah, who was 12 at the time and lived alone with her mother, sat frozen on her bed on the other side of a thin wall. The murder, which went unsolved for 12 years, marked Perry, infecting her with a “viscous blackness” unleashed by the killer’s act. Like the partial solar eclipse Perry and her mother witnessed two nights before the murder, this blackness blotted out the daughter’s and the mother’s former selves. “After the Eclipse” is Perry’s effort to look behind this shadow. But it also reveals much more: a town plagued by violence, addiction and generational poverty; a culture of women taught to need men who were often ill equipped to love them; and the courage and compassion required to not merely survive the worst thing imaginable but to make a kind of terrible sense of it.

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    “A violent act is an epicenter; it shakes everyone within reach and creates other stories, cracks open the earth and reveals buried secrets. I want those stories, those secrets.” So Perry explains her decision five years after the conviction of her mother’s murderer to search through the extensive police files gathered during the investigation. There she finds “ardent letters” between her mother and the college-student boyfriend who spun her in and out like a yo-yo, and rumors of the men who shared her mother’s bed and the ones who wanted to. There is the calendar from their kitchen wall documenting movies seen and hikes taken, and the underwear her mother wore that night, purchased oversize in “a funny sort of modesty.” Perry learns of an investigator’s suspicions of her — “Mother may have been an embarrassment to her. She may have wished it happened” — and the assessment of a social worker after meeting her family the morning after the murder: “They were all losers.” To this, Perry adds dozens of her own interviews, the extensive news coverage, her personal archives and those of her family and friends, along with her memories to complete this entirely different but equally pressing investigation.

    “After the Eclipse” pulls the reader swiftly along on parallel tracks of mystery and elegy. Early on, Perry dispels any question of whether her mother hastened her own death through her choices in men or her behavior, but she withholds who actually killed her mother until almost the end. The chapters alternate between Perry’s mother’s life — beginning with a childhood characterized by neglect, alcoholism and violence and her escape at 15 into a marriage to Perry’s father that brought more of the same — and Perry’s own life after her mother’s death, as she struggles to be a “normal kid” in a series of loveless homes amid an ongoing murder investigation that treats her as both suspect and potential next victim.

    It’s a rhythm that builds suspense, which in other hands might feel prurient, but Perry’s scrupulous research and painstaking rendering of her experiences make her a trustworthy guide through such emotionally charged terrain. She’s also a wonderful writer with an assured sense of when to zoom in to her body’s somatic response for a piercing immediacy and when to pull back to convey the measured perspective gained through the distance of time. Many moments of beauty and tenderness rise up through the darkness.

    In the end, Perry succeeds in restoring her mother’s humanity, and her own. Crystal Perry was a hard worker who saved enough money from her job sewing the topstitching onto leather moccasins at a local factory to purchase a car and home and provide for her child. She was a free-spirited, redheaded beauty prone to “car dancing” and hot-tempered men who couldn’t give her the love she sought. She was a creative, energetic and loving mother who raised a very talented and remarkable daughter.

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    [1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/26/books/review/after-the-eclipse-sarah-perry-memoir-tribute.html?partner=rss&emc=rss