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Jacob Kastrenakes

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One of the biggest personal data collectors around is getting ready to open its vaults to the public. According to Forbes, you'll soon be able to request your personal files from Acxiom, a marketing company that holds a database on the interests and details of over 700 million people. That database reportedly holds information on consumers' occupations, phone numbers, religions, shopping habits, and health issues, to name a few. That data has traditionally been given only to marketers — for a fee, of course — but Acxiom has decided to let consumers peer into its database as well. Whether individuals will have to pay too is still up for debate, but it's been decided that a person can only view their own file.

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OK, everybody. Detroit ruin porn lost its poignancy years ago. The city is in a veritable renaissance, and to keep gawking over the bombed out remains of 1980s autos manufacturing and abandoned tire lots and theatres and rail stations is not just really, really lazy, but really, really shitty. And wrong. And yeah, lazy.

Leave it to a small-fry surveillance drone, though, to offer a fresh take, to put the Motor City’s decaying past in diminished relief to its verdant boom. YouTuber Tretch5000 captured a truly haunting first-person sweep of the city, mixing the “lush greenery of the city’s Belle Isle with the decay of abandoned buildings,” as Forbes reports. It’s yet another case, maybe, showcasing spy drones being put to better use than, say, issuing speeding tickets. Or looking in your fourth-floor apartment window. Maybe this will help quell the fears of domestic drone doomers, a varied lot to which I won’t totally except myself. I mean, this video is gorgeous.

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Soldiers and veterans looking to alleviate the devastating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder might soon have a new way to help themselves. Strangely, it involves using their gray matter to control a videogame.

The process is known as neurofeedback, or NF, and it’s the latest in a long, increasingly out-there list of potential PTSD remedies — from neck injections to memory-zapping drugs — being studied by military researchers. This week, scientists at San Diego’s Naval Medical Center announced plans for a clinical trial on 80 patients, designed to compare neurofeedback with a sham control procedure. The trial, the first of its kind, is meant to determine whether or not NF can avail soldiers of symptoms like nightmares, anxiety attacks and flashbacks.

“The proposed study could expand treatment alternatives for servicemen with PTSD,” the announcement reads. “If [neurofeedback] is shown to improve symptom reduction [...] it would offer a non-pharmacological intervention that would avoid undesirable side effects, and accelerate recovery.”

While the idea sounds pretty odd, the process of neurofeedback isn’t so intimidating (and I would know, having undergone the procedure myself for The Daily last year). A clinician affixes EEG electrodes to specific regions on a patient’s scalp, designed to read the output of the patient’s brain activity. Then, as the clinician monitors those brain waves from a computer console, the patient controls the key element of a videogame — like a car racing through a winding tunnel — using nothing more than their mind.

If a patient’s brain activity remains calm and steady, the videogame responds with enhanced performance — the car moves more quickly and navigates smoothly. If activity is wonkier and less controlled, that race car will veer out of control and, say, smash into a brick wall. Game over.

The idea behind NF is grounded in the emerging science of brain plasticity, or the ability of the adult brain (previously thought to reach stasis in adulthood) to change throughout life. Neurofeedback clinicians suspect that the brain, in “seeing” its own activity on-screen, is spurred to fix defects in order to work on a more optimal level. Over a series of several sessions, those repairs then supposedly become more permanently entrenched.

“When the brain sees itself interacting with the world, it becomes interested in that,” Dr. Siegfried Othmer, chief scientist at LA’s EEG Institute and responsible, along with his neurobiologist wife Sue, for “The Othmer Method” — a specific approach to neurofeedback being used in the military trial — told me last year.  ”Likewise, when it sees the signal on-screen and realizes it’s in charge, it becomes interested. You might not notice, but the brain takes notice.”

The realm of brain plasticity is relatively new, but neurofeedback actually isn’t. The procedure first gained notoriety in the 1960s as a treatment for everything from migraine headaches to bed-wetting. Still, in part because of a paucity of mainstream scientific research, the approach has long been relegated to the realm of bunk science. “I think the practice has gotten ahead of the science,” Dr. Andrew Leuchter, a professor at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, told me. “It wouldn’t be surprising … if much of the benefit was attributable to the placebo response.”

Despite such mainstream skepticism, neurofeedback is already being used by several military doctors and psychologists. Maj. Michael Villaneuva — nicknamed “The Wizard” by his patients — has performed NF on several hundred active-duty soldiers, and even brought his game console and electrodes on a deployment to Afghanistan this year. And Dr. Jerry Wesch, who leads a PTSD recovery program at Fort Hood, describes the results of his own neurofeedback trials on patients as “jaw dropping.”

Upwards of a thousand former soldiers have also tried neurofeedback, thanks to Homecoming 4 Veterans, a non-profit started by the Othmers that offers free NF to veterans through a network of 200 practitioners nationwide. The two are also responsible for training Villaneuva and other military docs in the art of NF.

Already, the Othmers are confident that the military’s clinical trial, expected to kick off in December, will yield positive results. And they hope that the trial, once complete, lends more credence to the therapy they’ve helped pioneer. “I think the trial could be huge, not only with [medical] academia, but for clinicians,” Sue tells Danger Room. “They’re often wary of adapting procedures that haven’t seen evidence-based study. So this checks off an important box.”

But the trial won’t be easy: Controlled tests of processes, rather than pharmaceuticals, are notoriously tough. That’s because designing and executing a “sham” procedure is much more difficult than, say, just doling out sugar pills instead of the real drug.

Then again, for soldiers who credit neurofeedback with their recovery from PTSD, the execution or academic impact of a clinical trial is hardly the most important thing. “How it works doesn’t matter to me,” Staff Sgt. Justin Roberts, who underwent the process at Fort Hood, told me. “Just as long as it does.”

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“The campaign is in a lull. The wars overseas are winding down. Washington is paralyzed. I’ve loaded up my iPod with some new songs. There’s nothing to do but….hit the road!”

With that, veteran TIME political columnist Joe Klein began his three-week, eight-state road trip, which ended last Friday. Klein has made this sampling of the country’s political climate a yearly tradition. This time around, TIME sent three of the magazine’s contributors to accompany Klein for different legs of the journey. Here, LightBox presents a selection of their work as well as their thoughts from across America.


What was the single most memorable experience you had on the trip?

Andrew HinderakerIn Richmond, Virginia, at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in a Drug Rehabilitation Center, we met a woman who’d struggled with addiction since age nine. She was a convicted felon, and now, in her 40’s, was 21 months clean. She’d recently convinced a friend to allow her to farm a piece of land. For someone like her, whose addiction left her reliant on medical care most of her life, President Obama’s healthcare legislation meant for her a fresh start. With affordable healthcare, she could be a small business owner, a farmer, an active, contributing citizen; without it, she’s just a recovering addict. We learned her story because another man at the meeting expressed his disdain at the Healthcare Reform Act. We got to watch their argument, and this woman’s story change a man’s mind. It certainly proved Joe’s point about getting to know one another; perhaps the government should sponsor free coffee and organize meetings once a week with a group of local strangers.

What was the economic and political mood of the parts of the country you visited?

Katy Steinmetz: People seemed disappointed and exhausted by the political and economic state of things in America. Many were hopeful, but more were resigned—past anger and yearning for a little compromise.

What was the #1 problem facing the people you met?

Pete Pin: This was dependent on class. For a group of upper middle class voters in Charleston, West Virginia, they were most concerned with the visceral partisanship of the country and the future of the health care law. For rural voters in Jackson and Newcomerstown, Ohio, they were most concerned with jobs and social ills.

What was their #1 reason for hope?

Pete: Community at the local level. I learned that in spite of the partisanship and bickering in Washington, people genuinely believed that things can and will get better, not because of intervention by the federal government, but rather because of the community coming together at the local level.

Andrew Hinderaker for TIME

Leslie Marchut and Briggs Wesche eat breakfast with Joe Klein in Chapel Hill, N.C.

What is the national character? Are there uniquely American traits?

Pete: The singular thread I found was an overwhelming sense of self-reliance. Liberalism in the classical sense, John Stuart Mill.

AndrewEveryone likes barbeque.

Did you return from the trip more or less optimistic about the future of the country?

Andrew: Certainly more optimistic. One of the things that struck me most about the places that we visited was all the conversation. In all these pockets of America, folks more than willing, eager even, to talk and debate reach new conclusions. I don’t think it’s the impression you’d get of our citizens from watching the nightly news, but it’s something I observed in every niche.

Andrew Hinderaker is a former TIME photo intern and a photojournalist whose work has appeared in TIME, The Wall Street Journal and New York Magazine.

Pete Pin is currently the international photo intern at TIME and a photographer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times and Forbes.

Katy Steinmetz is a reporter in TIME’s Washington bureau.

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