Friday 31 January 2020

Dedicated followers: Collectors of book inscriptions share their notes

The words left in books by their previous owners can tell intriguing stories – but do they enrich or sour the next reader’s experience?

The book tells you a story before you’ve read a word of it. On the cover is Charlie Brown, carrying a baseball bat and dejectedly dragging his mitt, above the title in emphatic, meme-ish font: “WINNING MAY NOT BE EVERYTHING, BUT LOSING ISN’T ANYTHING!” And on in the inside leaf, written in pen in looping cursive: “I love you.”

The pocket-sized book of Peanuts cartoons by Charles M Schulz, charming in clashing red and orange, is one of Wayne Gooderham’s favourites. “Everything about it works,” he says, leaning over the cafe table laden with his finds. “Charlie Brown on the cover, the title of the book, the sentiment inside – the fact that it’s been given away.”
Wayne Gooderham’s dedicated copy of a Charlie Brown book. Photograph: Wayne Gooderham

As the curator of Dedicated To…, a blog bringing together poignant or intriguing inscriptions inside secondhand books, Gooderham can’t help but imagine the past lives implied on their inner leaves. Over 10 years, the project – born of his scouring secondhand bookshops for particular Saul Bellows and all Pnins, which he collects – has led to a publishing deal for Gooderham and inspired his fiction writing.

But though he delights in the “secret histories” of the books he finds, Gooderham does not these days write in those he gives himself. Why did he stop? “Because of this!” He nods at the stack of books between us: among them, a copy of Sartre’s autobiography, Words, with “I loathe my childhood” in huge type on the cover – and a correspondingly pointed address to “Mummy” inside.
The project has made him conscious of books’ long, migratory lives. “It’s made me more wary, I think, that they are likely to end up somewhere else … You see stuff and you think: ‘Oh my God – at the time, that meant a lot.’”

That someone can immerse themselves in following strangers’ paper trails, yet shy from leaving their own is testament to the highly personal – and often contradictory – policies by which people interact with books. It is not a straightforward division between those who like their books to look “lived in”; and those intent on keeping their collections pristine.

“It totally depends on the book and the copy, for me,” says Emily Hutchinson, a bookseller at The Second Shelf in Soho. “As a general rule, for paperbacks that have arrived to me in a rubbish condition, I just do whatever with them.
‘Everything about it works’ … Wayne Gooderham’s Charlie Brown book. Photograph: Wayne Gooderham

“If it’s something that is either particularly significant or particularly beautiful, I treat them with a bit more care,” she says. “But it’s a different kind of care if you’re making notes, carrying it around with you – loving it that way.” 
Hutchinson will write in the margins in pencil, and even dog-ear the pages; just the thought seems to scandalise Gooderham. “Never! Nevernevernever. I’ve got bookmarks.”

Among bibliophiles, the debate can be polarising and nuanced. For example: is it ever acceptable to write in a book? If yes: in pencil, pen or – heaven forbid – highlighter? Are all books fair game, or just some? And once they are so “defaced” – can you ever then give them away?

People who really put their books to work for them, such as academics, tend to devise elaborate systems. Hazel, an office manager, tweeted a photograph of her husband’s copy of Moby-Dick, thick with Post-it notes: “About 75% of his books are like this,” she complained. “He also did this to my Ivanhoe, without asking! … When you add 200 Post-its to a book, it does not retain its original dimensions.”

Gooderham follows a similar multi-step process before underlining – only books that he intends to keep, after a review of the Post-it page markers he left during reading. “It’s all very anal,” he says with a self-conscious laugh. 

But though he prefers to buy books secondhand, he finds other people’s underlining an unwelcome interruption to the reading experience: “When the line ends, I’ll stop as though it’s the end of the paragraph.”

From a bookseller’s point of view, it is black and white: a book with underlining has been defaced. Even just a line or two can cause the value to plummet by as much as 80%, says Christina Oakley Harrington, proprietor of Treadwell’s esoteric and occult bookshop in Bloomsbury. The exception is where the scribblings in the margins are by the author, or another notable figure. Then, “you’re kind of touching a piece of their inner intellectual and imaginative life”.

Oakley Harrington gives the example of Aleister Crowley’s poetry, written to his male lover at Cambridge: “He changed his lover’s name to ‘Christ’, ‘Jesus’ and ‘Lord’ so that it read as religious poetry and, in his copy, he crossed it out and wrote ‘Jerome’, ‘Jerome’, ‘Jerome’ – so secrets are sometimes revealed.”

Crowley changed his lover’s name to 'Christ' so it read as religious poetry. In his copy, he wrote ‘Jerome’
Hell is other people’s books … ‘Hetty’s’ gift to her mother

Some secondhand copies of Tanya Luhrmann’s anthropological study of contemporary London witch covens have the interviewees’ pseudonyms debunked in the margins – a case of the past reader contributing to the text, rather than detracting from it.

For some secondhand buyers, motivated more by sentiment than money, the traces of past readers are part of the appeal of what Virginia Woolf termed “wild books”. In his pursuit of a complete set of Picadors, author Nicholas Royle has amassed a collection of paraphernalia tucked inside their pages: business cards, boarding passes, photographs, cheques, currency, love letters. “I call these things ‘inclusions’, like flies or bits of bark caught in amber – because they’ve stopped time, in a way.”
How to woo a bookworm … Photograph: Wayne Gooderham

His favourite is a love letter “to somebody called Andrew, from somebody called Catherine”, written at 10.30pm on a Thursday, found in a hardback copy of The Duchess of York, by Lady Cynthia Asquith. “I’m quite nosy – I’m interested in stories within stories, and that’s literally that,” says Royle. “One story is about the Duchess of York and within it there’s this other story about the relationship between these two people. You’re thinking, ‘How did it end up here, how did it get given away?’”

Covering the walls of Skoob Books – in the bowels of the Brunswick Centre in Bloomsbury, London, where Gooderham finds most of his inscriptions – are finds from inside donations: postcards, photographs, foreign currency. (The most ever found was a US $1,000 note – though James, behind the counter, declines to go on the record about what happened to it.)

Some of these are powerfully evocative of past readers: it is impossible not to wonder about the person who carefully clipped a newspaper story headed “Forest trail ‘may lead to Bigfoot’”, now yellowed and curling on the wall above Skoob’s till. Sometimes, Royle says, he will buy a book he otherwise wouldn’t because of what he found inside it, which he is careful to keep on exactly the same page.

He himself treats books “quite carefully”, he says – not writing in them, never dog-earing. (“No! God no.”) When Royle comes across those he has written in secondhand shops, “I like to see that they’ve been well-read. I like to see the spine broken, and pages turned over, and names written in the front. But I would never do that to a book myself.”

(Source: The Guardian)

Thursday 30 January 2020

The Silurian Hypothesis

When I was eleven, we lived in an English Tudor on Bluff Road in Glencoe, Illinois. One day, three strange men (two young, one old) knocked on the door. Their last name was Frank. They said they’d lived in this house before us, not for weeks but decades. For twenty years, this had been their house. They’d grown up here. Though I knew the house was old, it never occurred to me until then that someone else had lived in these rooms, that even my own room was not entirely my own. The youngest of the men, whose room would become mine, showed me the place on a brick wall hidden by ivy where he’d carved his name. “Bobby Frank, 1972.” It had been there all along. And I never even knew it.

That is the condition of the human race: we have woken to life with no idea how we got here, where that is or what happened before. Nor do we think much about it. Not because we are incurious, but because we do not know how much we don’t know.

What is a conspiracy?

It’s a truth that’s been kept from us. It can be a secret but it can also be the answer to a question we’ve not yet asked.

Modern humans have been around for about 200,000 years, but life has existed on this planet for 3.5 billion. That leaves 3,495,888,000 pre-human years unaccounted for—more than enough time for the rise and fall of not one but several pre-human industrial civilizations. Same screen, different show. 

Same field, different team. An alien race with alien technology, alien vehicles, alien folklore, and alien fears, beneath the familiar sky. There’d be no evidence of such bygone civilizations, built objects and industry lasting no more than a few hundred thousand years. After a few million, with plate tectonics at work, what is on the surface, including the earth itself, will be at the bottom of the sea and the bottom will have become the mountain peaks. The oldest place on the earth’s surface—a stretch of Israel’s Negev Desert—is just over a million years old, nothing on a geological clock.

The result of this is one of my favorite conspiracy theories, though it’s not a conspiracy in the conventional sense, a conspiracy usually being a secret kept by a nefarious elite. In this case, the secret, which belongs to the earth itself, has been kept from all of humanity, which believes it has done the only real thinking and the only real building on this planet, as it once believed the earth was at the center of the universe.

Called the Silurian Hypothesis, the theory was written in 2018 by Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeler at NASA’s Goddard Institute, and Adam Frank, an astrophysicist at the University of Rochester. Schmidt had been studying distant planets for hints of climate change, “hyperthermals,” the sort of quick temperature rises that might indicate the moment a civilization industrialized. 

It would suggest the presence of a species advanced enough to turn on the lights. Such a jump, perhaps resulting from a release of carbon, might be the only evidence that any race, including our own, will leave behind. Not the pyramids, not the skyscrapers, not Styrofoam, not Shakespeare—in the end, we will be known only by a change in the rock that marked the start of the Anthropocene.

It was logical for Schmidt and Frank to turn their attention from the upper to the under, from the cosmos to our own earth. Why look for alien life there when we might find it here, removed not by miles but years. There was indeed a mysterious jump in surface heat; 55 million years ago, global temperatures rose from 9 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Called the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, it left the same sort of geological evidence that will be left by our current carbon binge. 

There may have been other jumps, but we wouldn’t know it, as the geologic record only goes back so far. (We live in a compactor, where all things are crushed, recycled, and returned as new.) A meteor could’ve caused the Thermal Maximum, or it could’ve been the eruption of a monster volcano, the sort that presently smolders beneath the Atlantic. Or it could have been caused by the awakening of an ancient civilization, which rose like we rose, then fell as we will. That could be the fate of all advanced species, a rise and fall that flows as naturally as the change of seasons. Such a universe is ironic, continually creating characters whose technology brings on the very end they’re trying to avoid.

When Schmidt and Frank searched, they found a single forerunner to their idea of deep time. It came not from science, but from science fiction. At this level of conjecture, there’s little difference. It was an episode of Dr. Who, in which the time traveler visits an ancient species of advanced, long-extinct lizard people who’d achieved technological mastery 450 million years before modern man. The lizards were called Silurians, hence the Silurian Hypotheses.

It’s not really a new idea. Ancient mystical texts hint at earlier creation, the life that preceded the Garden, prequels to Genesis. These incarnations are not reported in the Bible because they are none of your goddamn business, but the evidence is everywhere. Some students of conspiracy believe there was a time when lizard people shared the earth with modern men, the older race dying as the younger emerged from the forest. T

he last of the lizards were worshipped as gods; these were the deities of ancient India and Greece. The technology—weapons and machines—created miracles. You can see the lizard kings in carvings from Mesopotamia, the oldest historical records, where humans bow before reptile men. You find them again in the Torah, where they appear as Nephilim, the so-called watchers—“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days and also afterward when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them,” according to Genesis, “they were the heroes of old, men of renown”—which no priest, minister, or rabbi can properly explain. Just ask a clergyman and see for yourself. (I asked my rabbi.) There is some weird shit in the Bible.

According to a kabbalah-besotted friend, this world is God’s seventh creation, which explains dinosaur bones and other fossils. “The evidence is everywhere,” he told me one night. “They can say a meteor wiped out the past, but what is a meteor? God.” Some believe there are still Silurians walking the earth, holdovers who share their technology with a hidden elite—possibly Freemasons, possibly Jews. Some pseudoscientists speak of an atomic blast that took place in India 10,000 years ago. It might’ve been a natural phenomenon, or might’ve been the war that wiped out the Silurians or drove them off the earth. A website called Vedic Knowledge reported evidence “of an atomic blast dating back thousands of years. It destroyed most of the buildings and probably a half-million people in Rajasthan, India. One researcher estimates that the bomb used was about the size of the ones dropped on Japan in 1945.”

This ancient catastrophe, which some take as evidence of an ancient nuclear war, shows up in the Mahabharata, a Sanskrit epic, with the appearance of “a single projectile charged with all the power in the Universe … An incandescent column of smoke and flame as bright as 10,000 suns, rose in all its splendor … it was an unknown weapon, an iron thunderbolt, a gigantic messenger of death which reduced to ashes an entire race.”

It’s heartbreaking—the fact that, as we face the nightmare of climate change, some of us have read our own perilous present back into the geological past and have come to see even our apocalypse as unremarkable, something that’s been experienced before and was inevitable from the start. It’s thrilling, too, the idea of a pre-human industrial civilization. It means we don’t know anything: who we are, or where, or even the history of our own home.

(Source: The Paris Review)

Wednesday 29 January 2020

Australia fires: Yearly greenhouse gas emissions nearly double due to historic blazes

The Met Office says that the Australian fires could account for 1 to 2 percent of the acceleration in the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide in 2020

The Australia bushfires, which are still burning and claimed an additional three lives this week, have released enough greenhouse gases to double the country's annual greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, new scientific estimates show.

Guido van der Werf, who helps maintain the Global Fire Emissions Database, says the fires in New South Wales and Victoria in particular have emitted around 400 million tons of carbon dioxide so far, “pushing country-level estimates for all of 2019 to a new record in the satellite era” of about 900 million tons of carbon dioxide.
A worker tries to put out a bushfire behind a row of factories near West Queanbeyan (Reuters)

The smoke plumes from the fires have circled the globe, and have coated glaciers brown in New Zealand, led to reddish sunsets in South America, and may have reached Antarctica.

According to the Global Carbon Project, in 2018, Australia emitted 421 million tons of carbon dioxide, making it the 16th-largest emitter worldwide, ranking just above the UK. Typically, fire-related emissions are not included in annual estimates of a country's emissions, since such pollutants tend to be reabsorbed over time.

In a typical fire year in Australia, large amounts of grasslands burn in sparsely populated areas. The carbon emitted by these fires tends to be reabsorbed during the following wet season.

However, this year, vast forest ecosystems that serve as long-term carbon savings accounts, having taken in carbon and stored it in biomass, went up in flames, such as in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. This carbon was released into the atmosphere during the fires, and it could take decades for the forests to recover to the point where they are net absorbers of such quantities of carbon dioxide once again.

In fact, full recovery may never happen, particularly if more fires burn in these forests in rapid succession, Mr van der Werf noted.

In another indication of the climate change implications of the bush fires, the UK Met Office said on Friday that the Australian fires could account for 1 to 2 percent of the acceleration in the growth of the global concentration of carbon dioxide in the planet's atmosphere in 2020.

Mr Van der Werf cautioned that the Australia fire emissions estimate comes with “substantial” uncertainties traced mainly to the unprecedented nature of these fires.

Niels Andela, a research scientist at NASA who also works on the fire emissions database, says two independent examinations of greenhouse gas emissions from the 2019-2020 bush fires both reached relatively similar conclusions, bolstering his confidence in the numbers.

In an interview, Mr Andela said the emissions estimates are generated using instruments carried by different satellites that detect the heat signatures of wildfires. The emissions database utilises historical data to locate hot spots as well as the energy released by wildfires, both of which spiked to unprecedented heights in southeastern Australia in recent months.

The historical data and observations is fed into a computer model to determine the likely emissions.

However, more accurate measurements will require information about the ecosystems burnt as well as the precise burnt area, which takes time to generate.

Mr Andela said the uncertainty involved in near-real-time estimates could be as high as 50% due to questions about historic estimates of fire emissions. In the case of the Australia bush fires, he says, the uncertainty is high because no one has ever seen fires burn like this in these ecosystems under such historically hot and dry conditions.

This could throw off assumptions in the model about how much of the forests burned.

Last year was the hottest and driest year on record in Australia, and December saw the country shatter its record for the hottest-ever day nationally.

With climate extremes becoming more severe and common worldwide as the global temperatures increase, real-time wildfire emissions estimates are likely to take on added importance. In 2019, for example, there was a spate of fires throughout the boreal forest in the Arctic, and 2018 was the most damaging and deadly fire year in California's history.

Mr Andela says the carbon cycle implications of the Australian forest loss are hugely important, since it will take decades for these forests to become efficient absorbers of greenhouse gases again. And that will only happen if more bush fires do not disturb these regions during their recovery period and logging does not expand.

In Australia, a debate is taking place over whether to thin out forests to make them less fire-prone, although scientific evidence shows the biggest drivers of fire risk is heat and drought, not forest density. Climate change heightens both of these risk factors.

Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford University, said it's possible that by the time the bushfires are finally extinguished, the emissions from this fire season will be close to a billion tons of carbon dioxide. This would be below the fires that burned in Indonesian peatlands in 1997-1998, but roughly on par with the peat fires there of 2015-2016.

Jackson said even a half billion tons of carbon emissions is important, since, “It's the extra [carbon] that keeps adding up in the atmosphere.”

“If fire emissions increase in Australia and Western North America, they will make our job harder,” Jackson said, referring to efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. “More importantly,” he said, “They'll change lives. We'll have to rethink firefighting, controlled burns, where we live, that's happening in California too.”

“Is this a transformation of Australia's ecosystems?” he said.

Noting that many national parks saw the most severe fires, Jackson said such fires have been “devastating” from a carbon storage perspective as well as species conservation.

“They're having catastrophic fires in the parks. And the parks have in many places the biggest biomass, the richest systems,” he said. “It's more than just acreage. It's what acres are being burned.”

(Source: Independent)

Rajinikanth in Bandipur Tiger Reserve, to feature in ‘Man vs Wild’ with Bear Grylls

Speaking to The New Indian Express, a senior forest department official said permission for the shooting has been given for six hours in a day for January 28 and 30 with a special guest each day.

Popular movie star Rajinikanth is now busy and so is Bandipur Tiger Reserve. The actor and a team of documentary makers from the popular international series Man Vs Wild are in the tiger reserve to shoot the documentary since Monday evening. The shooting is scheduled for six hours on Tuesday and again on Thursday.
After PM Modi, Rajinikanth to shoot ‘Man vs Wild’ with Bear Grylls. (Photo | PTI)

The series caught Indian attention after Prime Minister Narendra Modi shot for the series in the forests of northern India with British adventurer Bear Grylls.

Speaking to The New Indian Express, a senior forest department official said permission for the shooting has been given for six hours in a day for January 28 and 30 with a special guest each day. On Tuesday it is with Rajanikanth and on 30th noted Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar is also expected.

"Permission for the shooting has been given for Sultan Batteri highway and ranges of Mulleholle, Maddur and Kalkere ranges. They will be shooting in the non-tourism zones. If permission to was given to Wild Karnataka shooting, then this is also permitted and besides chief wildlife warden has given permission. Also, no tourism or regular forest patrolling and fire line creation activities will be affected. The shooting Wil be done under special forest protection and no one will be aware of the locations," the official said.

The permission for the shooting of films and documentaries inside forest areas of Karnataka is only increasing, the department must exercise caution, this will only lead to more man-animal conflict, said, conservationists. 

(Source: TNIE)

I miscarried a child 20 years ago, and I know the language we use really matters

Women’s traumatic experiences are made light of with weird, evasive language. No wonder so many end up with PTSD

It was the day before my nephew’s barmitzvah, almost 20 years ago, when family and friends would gather to celebrate my sister’s son’s coming of age. 

After nine years, my parents had just accepted my wife into the family: this was going to be an important moment for us as a couple. But it wasn’t the happy event I’d hoped for.

My wife and I had already told my parents – and others – that we were pregnant. I wanted a boy, and we knew his name: Eli. That day before the barmitzvah, I was due to have the all-important first scan where a heartbeat would be detected – but when I woke that morning I knew something was wrong.
‘Society has much to answer for on this. To be a family is seen by many as having children.’ Photograph: Alamy

Our friends enjoyed our good news and grieved with us in our sad news. Who do we protect if we remain silent?

At the hospital a scan showed the sac but no heartbeat. I was to return to the hospital on Monday but first had to go through an entire weekend of family celebration. I’d alerted my parents, telling my dad not to ask me to dance as I probably wouldn’t want to, so he danced with my wife instead – something I never thought I would see.

On Monday I was given medication to start the miscarriage. From hospital bed to my own bed, I was in the most excruciating pain, unable to get any relief. A day later I had a D&C procedure to remove anything that was left from my uterus, and that was it. Eli was gone. We were heartbroken. That was to be my only pregnancy.

Friends came to the rescue. Those who had miscarried were sympathetic and kind. Those who had given birth were very much aware of their luck. I am glad we previously shared our excitement about the pregnancy with those friends, regardless of any supposed 12-week rule – it meant they were there for us right from the start through to the end. Our friends enjoyed our good news and grieved with us in our sad news. Whom do we protect if we remain silent? We need to talk about miscarriage more – we need to talk to the professionals but also to each other.

Prior to treatment, because we were a same-sex couple, we had to undergo counselling to ensure we would be “good” parents. When I miscarried there was no counselling offered. Maybe this has changed now, but given my miscarriage and the experience of other people I know, it’s clear we need greater care and support. This is vital for our mental and physical wellbeing. 

Our bodies and minds have suffered a great trauma. We have been filled with pregnancy hormones, readying us to carry a child, to nourish it, watch it flourish and enter the world. To lose that causes tremendous distress. It’s not surprising then to read a study this week that suggests “one in six women who lose a baby in early pregnancy experience long-term symptoms of post-traumatic stress”. We need help.

After I miscarried, a friend who did have a child said to me, “Oh well, nothing’s changed for you, your life is the same as it was before.” We are no longer friends. Everything had changed.

Society has much to answer for on this. To be a family is seen by many as having children. Women are expected to procreate. The number of miscarriages some women go through before a live birth is shattering. Is this because as women we do not want to be seen as failures? The very formulation of the word miscarriage can denote a mistake, an error, a failure to meet the intended result. But it is not a mistake or a failure, it is just unlucky. It is simply an ending.

All of us – including the medical professionals – need to rethink our language around miscarriage. We should not camouflage what has happened and pretend it is something else in case we cause upset. We are already upset. 

Those cells and tissue are part of us, not some alien matter. Miscarriage is tough. Whether we miscarry at six weeks or 12 weeks or 23 weeks, the result is heartbreaking. Our minds and bodies are deeply distressed. We are grieving. We need proper care from those who are trained to give it, acknowledging our loss and offering space to heal.

My miscarriage was almost 20 years ago, but my wife and I still relive it. We still wonder who Eli would have grown into, how we would have raised him. We note his would-have-been birthdays every year. The pain never goes away completely. We cried for a very long time. We still cry. And we still talk about it. Because dialogue matters. It really matters. The right words matter.

(Source: The Guardian)

Tuesday 28 January 2020

Scientists discover 'why stress turns hair white'

Scientists say they may have discovered why stress makes hair turn white, and a potential way of stopping it happening without reaching for the dye.

In experiments on mice, stem cells that control skin and hair colour became damaged after intense stress.

In a chance finding, dark-furred mice turned completely white within weeks.

The US and Brazilian researchers said this avenue was worth exploring further to develop a drug that prevents hair colour loss from ageing.

Men and women can go grey any time from their mid-30s, with the timing of parental hair colour change giving most of the clues on when.
Although it's mostly down to the natural ageing process and genes, stress can also play a role.

But scientists were not clear exactly how stress affected the hairs on our heads.

Researchers behind the study, published in Nature, from the Universities of Sao Paulo and Harvard, believed the effects were linked to melanocyte stem cells, which produce melanin and are responsible for hair and skin colour.

And while carrying out experiments on mice, they stumbled across evidence this was the case.

"We now know for sure that stress is responsible for this specific change to your skin and hair, and how it works," says Prof Ya-Cieh Hsu, research author from Harvard University.

'Damage is permanent'
Pain in mice triggered the release of adrenaline and cortisol, making their hearts beat faster and blood pressure rise, affecting the nervous system and causing acute stress.

This process then sped up the depletion of stem cells that produced melanin in hair follicles.

"I expected stress was bad for the body," said Prof Hsu.

"But the detrimental impact of stress that we discovered was beyond what I imagined.

"After just a few days, all of the pigment-regenerating stem cells were lost.

"Once they're gone, you can't regenerate pigment any more - the damage is permanent."
The mouse before pain was induced (top) and some time afterwards (bottom image)

In another experiment, the researchers found they could block the changes by giving the mice an anti-hypertensive, which treats high blood pressure.

And by comparing the genes of mice in pain with other mice, they could identify the protein involved in causing damage to stem cells from stress.

When this protein - cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) - was suppressed, the treatment also prevented a change in the colour of their fur.
This leaves the door open for scientists to help delay the onset of grey hair by targeting CDK with a drug.

"These findings are not a cure or treatment for grey hair," Prof Hsu told the BBC.

"Our discovery, made in mice, is only the beginning of a long journey to finding an intervention for people.

"It also gives us an idea of how stress might affect many other parts of the body," she said.

(Source: BBC)

One ping after another: Why everyone needs a notification detox

They tell us when someone has called, texted and WhatsApped us - even to drink water and exercise. Is it time to turn them all off for good?

Three years ago, Aishah Iqbal had just qualified as a doctor and was finding it a “steep learning curve”. She often felt overwhelmed at work – and whenever she took out her phone and saw “all these messages coming up”, she felt worse. “It was very easy to get distracted from why I’d pulled my phone out, or to feel like there were so many people that I needed to reply to immediately.”

When we talk about the fragmenting effect of technology on our attention, or the dopamine hits that keep us refreshing our feeds as if they are buttons on fruit machines, we are often thinking about notifications: the pings, pop-ups and glowing red dots that pull us back into our phones, and push us from app to app.
A 2016 study by Deloitte found that people check their phone, on average, 47 times a day – often in response to alerts. Composite: Guardian Design Team

According to one small study conducted in 2014, mobile phone users receive an average of 63.5 alerts every day, with most viewed within minutes – whether the phone is on silent or not. A 2016 study by Deloitte found that people check their phone, on average, 47 times a day – often in response to alerts. It is hardly any wonder some people are undergoing a notification detox.

These might be messages from friends, family, your boss or your bank. They might be breaking news alerts, or reminders to drink water or meditate, or simply apps alerting you to their presence on your phone. (Turn those ones off, right now.)

Regardless of what the notifications say or if you opted to receive them, the cumulative effect can be overwhelming. Over the course of a day, notifications are an interruption, affecting your focus and performance.

A 2015 study from Florida State University found that, among students sitting a test that required their sustained attention, any audible interruption from their phone negatively affected the results. Just hearing the ping of a notification was equally as distracting as actually taking a phone call, suggesting to the researchers that “mobile phones can disrupt attention performance even if one does not interact with the device”.
‘“Addiction” gets tossed around all the time, but when we call it what it really is – a distraction – it becomes something we can do something about, and there’s no one to blame.’ Photograph: milindri/Getty/iStockphoto

It is that sense of being derailed that is increasingly leading people to turn off all (or nearly all) of their notifications. As Iqbal noticed the effect pop-ups were having on her peace of mind and productivity, she took action. “I turned everything off, and I felt better for it. That was something I could control: the distraction coming from my phone.”

Iqbal, 28, now works as a paediatrician in Leicester. She is also a certified personal trainer and uses social media as a core part of her business. She manages this by only enabling badge notifications (a red dot on the icon on the homescreen, one of the least obtrusive options) for WhatsApp and one of her email addresses. She says she is less inclined to waste hours passively scrolling Facebook or Instagram after being diverted there by an alert, and she no longer feels she has to reply to messages instantly. “It hasn’t crossed my mind to turn them back on.”

It is only relatively recently that turning off notifications has been an option at all. After proudly publicising the 7.4tn notifications pushed through its servers in 2013, in 2018 Apple introduced features to grant users more control over how and when they were interrupted, such as a “do not disturb” function to help them “stay in the moment”. Google has rolled out similar “digital wellbeing” features for Android. Even Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, owned up to having “gutted” his own notifications, and encouraged all iPhone users to do the same. “It’s not something that is adding value to my life, or is making me a better person.”

But what if it is not the technology, but ourselves that is the problem? Nir Eyal, a behavioural design expert and author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life says that the leading causes of distraction are internal triggers: uncertainty, stress, anxiety and fatigue. Rather than reckon with them, it can be easier to blame technology. Developers’ tactics to get us to use their apps are good, “but they’re not mind control. A lot of people like to think we’re puppets on strings. ‘Addiction’ gets tossed around all the time, but when we call it what it really is – a distraction – it becomes something we can do something about, and there’s no one to blame.”

Rather than relying on willpower, Eyal favours a system (in his case, almost a microschedule) to get ahead of diversions before they happen. He says sometimes we might blame an alert from our phone for distracting us, when really we were not focused or being productive in the first place. “It’s not just about turning off notifications, it’s about knowing what you want to do with your time. You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it is distracting you from.”

Tinkering with tech also saves us from having to confront a more grim possibility: that even if it was taken off us entirely, we would still find means of distracting ourselves.

Nilli Lavie, a professor of psychology and brain sciences at UCL’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, says her research has established a clear link between people being distracted by their mobile phones and low mood – but a very strong association was also recorded with a wandering mind in general.

Another line of research has led Lavie to conclude that susceptibility to being distracted is in fact a trait – Lavie calls it “attention distractability” – that varies within the population. Though it is not yet known if, for instance, it is influenced by genetics, it is an established component of research into attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). You may not meet the clinical criteria for ADHD, but if you fall higher on what Lavie calls “the inattention spectrum”, you will be not only more vulnerable to distractions, but more consumed by them.

Lavie, like Eyal, is deeply sceptical of the argument that the problem is technology: “It’s very easy to just mute it, right?” she says. Instead there is a “generalised issue of distractability”. “Obviously mobile phones do come through as a large source of distraction, but our studies also showed it’s a wider issue.”

For example, says Eyal, people feeling overwhelmed might locate tech as the source when really it is their attitude to work – or their employer’s. If your boss was to call you on a landline late on a Friday night, asks Eyal: “Is it the telephone that’s at fault or the company culture that allows for that type of behaviour?”

Employees of Slack, a corporate instant messaging platform that is often cited as a source of “notification spam”, are told not to use it after hours or on weekends, says Eyal – the message from the top being “work hard and go home”. It may not be notifications that we need to manage, but expectations: those of other people, and our own.
‘I think the notifications were symbolic of the expectation that other people had of me.’ Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

When Melissa Webb, a secondary school teacher in Lincolnshire, changed jobs three years ago, her new employer’s always-on culture exacerbated her anxiety and depression to the point where she had what she terms a “breakdown”. The constant emails from parents, students and colleagues manifested as notifications – “an enormous trigger” for her at that time, she remembers.

“When you’re going through mental health problems, day-to-day life is really difficult, and you might not be in the space to properly respond to someone,” she says. “I think the notifications were symbolic of the expectation that other people had of me.

“You suddenly became aware that you need to be a good employee, good colleague, daughter, partner, friend. It linked into this thing of ‘I can’t be all of these things to all of these people; I can’t manage this workload, this social life.’ It was too much. Sometimes the content of them doesn’t matter – it’s just the feeling that you can’t escape.”

Webb, 29, is now a self-employed illustrator. She has 43,000 followers on Instagram, with whom she has frank conversations about mental health. “I’ve had very few people in real life that I’ve been able to do that with,” she says. “I never moan about tech – tech is amazing. It’s the reason why, in the last three years, I’ve been able to earn money despite not being able to be in a normal workplace.”

Her notifications, however, remain mostly switched off. “It’s so simple, but it’s so helpful. It’s that feeling of being in control of your time and your energy and your emotions, which I think is really important.” Iqbal actively guards those boundaries too. About a month ago, Instagram started alerting her to direct messages. “That went off straight away. I don’t know why it happened – but it was a reminder of why I’d turned it off.”

(Source: The Guardian)

20 years ago, Indian TV shows were so progressive. What in the world has happened to us now?

The other day, when my internet connection was being a pain, I switched on the TV after really long. Big Boss. Nope. ClickSuper Dancer with Shilpa Shetty. Click. Sasural Simar Ka. *facepalm*

It's sad to see Indian television becoming synonymous with regressive saas-bahu sagas and pointless reality shows.
One of the major shifts that took place on Indian television was one person who denoted an era of her own - Ekta Kapoor. Unfortunately for us, she struck gold with the concept of family shows being held together by a lead woman character. These women were created to tick all the attributes of some regressive ideal of the beti, bahu, biwi. The purpose of their lives seems to be to be sorry for everything happening around them.

Indian television also has become the den of reality TV shows where anger, expletives, flaring tempers sell more than any of the talent hunt. So we see a bunch of middle-aged men fighting over whether an upcoming singer will have roti in his house after the show gets over. It's good entertainment for the audience as we see foul-mouthed judges give it to each other. And that's that. 

And that's when I drowned in my own thought about what happened to Indian television? It was decent growing up with the Malgudi Days, Byomkesh Bakshis of my time. And then everything went to shit.

Back in the '90s, TV shows were so much more progressive. Shows like Hasratein portrayed real women with shades of gray. 
Compare the regressive drivel we watch with some of the shows from the 90s like Hasratein which showed a woman leaving her husband to start a relationship with her married boss, was something way ahead of its time and the audience accepted it with equal maturity.

And now where we see a Simar turning into a fly and taking her revenge on the vamp of the family, we had the progressive Astitva around 2000. Astitva showed a career-oriented woman marrying a man almost a decade younger to her. 

Today one of the highest rated shows is Naagin - which shows a woman shape-shifting into a serpent. Compare this to Mandira Bedi's gig as Shanti, a journalist who digs up the dark secrets from the past of two Bollywood professionals. How have we got more regressive with our leading women?

Women in Ekta Kapoor's shows don't seem to ever have a life of their own. Their entire universe seems to revolve around their husbands or their in-laws. But 23 years ago (yes, before Sex and the City), Tara portrayed women and their friendships, which are closer to reality.

Around the same time there was Banegi Apni Baat. It had realistic characters, and beautifully portrayed different relationships: mother-daughter, friends, lovers. This show had a great cast and some poignant performances. R. Madhavan started his acting career with this show. 

How did the rib-tickling humor get replaced by cross-dressing men laughing on cue?
There was the era of the Dekh Bhai Dekhs, Hum Paanchs and the Family No. 1s - where we saw seriously good actors like Naveen Nishchol, Farida Jalal, Ashok Saraf and even Kanwaljeet Singh participate in the tomfoolery. That has now been replaced by The Kapil Sharma Show, which is home for most Bollywood stars who come to promote their films. 

And they are welcomed by a bunch of cross-dressing men who crack jokes and laugh when an alarm called Navjot Singh Sidhu rings. Along with this is the Great India Comedy Circus which makes fun of it's overweight host by routinely comparing her to a buffalo. What happened to good ol' slapstick humour which can be dumb and still amusing?

Today's shows exist in this bubble of unreal melodrama. What happened to relatability?
 While most of today's soap operas claim to give us a picture of what goes on inside the middle class family, it doesn't even come close to something that a Wagle Ki Duniya achieved in the 90s. The show which starred a little known Bollywood actor called Shah Rukh Khan, spoke about the everyday mishaps a middle class Indian family went through. 

The same decade even had Mungerilal Ke Haseen Sapne, where a man afraid of his domineering wife and his boss becomes a braver version of himself. Only in his dreams though. Why has all that charm been replaced by this template of a north Indian middle-class family which has the same sort of characters, face the same kind of problems and look painstakingly generic.

Today we have nothing in the league of Just Mohabbat and Hip Hip Hurray. Show-runners have slowly wiped out all the shows for young adults.
The 90s had shows like Hip Hip Hurray, Just Mohabbat which addressed most adolescent issues with its own tinge of humour. Hip Hip Hurray followed a bunch of school kids going through the angst of growing up, Just Mohabbat dealt with an upper middle-class kid dealing with the pressures of having working parents. The kid copes with it by confiding in an imaginary friend by his side.

Shows like those have now been replaced with drivel like Dare To Date, Roadies and Splitsvilla, which aim at giving youngsters an 'opportunity to prove themselves' while other youngsters look on with amusement.

What have we done? How did we get here?
We've been bitten by the vicious bug of catering to the audience. Show-runners are so convinced that the TV audience comprises of an audience which cannot appreciate cerebral content, that they have begun tailoring products to the mass preference, while the masses keep complaining there is nothing else to watch. It's a cycle.

And it can be broken by the show-runners themselves, if they take a leap of faith and try to make content which challenges the audience. The transition will be slow, but it is worth aiming for.

(Source: Scoop Whoop)