Scientists have peered inside the brain to show how taking DMT affects human consciousness by significantly altering the brain’s electrical activity.

DMT (or dimethyltryptamine) is one of the main psychoactive constituents in ayahuasca, the psychedelic brew traditionally made from vines and leaves of the Amazon rainforest. The drink is typically prepared as part of a shamanic ceremony and associated with unusual and vivid visions or hallucinations.

The latest study is the first to show how the potent psychedelic changes our waking brain waves – with researchers comparing its powerful effects to ‘dreaming while awake’.

The work, led by researchers from the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London and published today in the journal Scientific Reports, may help to explain why people taking DMT and ayahuasca experience intense visual imagery and immersive ‘waking-dream’ like experiences.

DMT is a naturally occurring chemical found in miniscule amounts in the human brain but also in larger amounts in a number of plant species around the world.

Accounts from people who have taken DMT report intense visual hallucinations often accompanied by strong emotional experiences and even ‘breakthroughs’ into what users describe as an alternate reality or dimension.

But scientists are interested in using the powerful psychoactive compound for research as it produces relatively short but intense psychedelic experiences, providing a window for collecting data on brain activity when consciousness is profoundly altered.

In the latest study, the Imperial team captured EEG measures from healthy participants in a clinical setting, in a placebo-controlled design.

A total of 13 participants were given an intravenous infusion of DMT at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Imperial Clinical Research Facility.

Volunteers were fitted with caps with electrodes to measure the brain’s electrical activity, before, during and after their infusion, with the peak of the psychedelic experience lasting around 10 minutes.

Analysis revealed that DMT significantly altered electrical activity in the brain, characterised by a marked drop off in alpha waves – the human brain’s dominant electrical rhythm when we are awake. They also found a short-lived increase in brainwaves typically associated with dreaming, namely, theta waves.

In addition to changes in the types of brainwaves, they also found that, overall, brain activity became more chaotic and less predictable – the opposite to what is seen in states of reduced consciousness, such as in deep sleep or under general anaesthesia.

“The changes in brain activity that accompany DMT are slightly different from what we see with other psychedelics, such as psilocybin or LSD, where we see mainly only reductions in brainwaves,” said lead author Christopher Timmermann, from the Centre for Psychedelic Research.

“Here we saw an emergent rhythm that was present during the most intense part of the experience, suggesting an emerging order amidst the otherwise chaotic patterns of brain activity. From the altered brainwaves and participants’ reports, it’s clear these people are completely immersed in their experience – it’s like daydreaming only far more vivid and immersive, it’s like dreaming but with your eyes open.”

Mr Timmermann explains that while it’s unclear as to whether DMT may have any clinical potential at this stage, the group hopes to take the work further by delivering a continuous infusion of DMT to extend the window of the psychedelic experience and collect more data.

The team says future studies could include more sophisticated measurements of brain activity, such as fMRI, to show which regions and networks of the brain are affected by DMT. They believe the visual cortex, the large area towards the back of the brain, is likely to be involved.

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, head of Centre for Psychedelic Research, said: “DMT is a particularly intriguing psychedelic. The visual vividness and depth of immersion produced by high-doses of the substance seems to be on a scale above what is reported with more widely studied psychedelics such as psilocybin or ‘magic mushrooms’.

“It’s hard to capture and communicate what it is like for people experiencing DMT but likening it to dreaming while awake or a near-death experience is useful.

“Our sense it that research with DMT may yield important insights into the relationship between brain activity and consciousness, and this small study is a first step along that road.”

Routine fasting may reduce the risk of heart failure and death in patients who have cardiac catheterization, a new study suggests.

It included more than 2,000 patients who had cardiac catheterization between 2013 and 2015. They were followed for 4.5 years afterward.

Those who fasted regularly had a higher survival rate during follow-up than those who did not, according to researchers at Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. Fasting was a strong predictor of survival and lower risk of heart failure even after lifestyle behaviors, medications, heart risk factors and other health problems were taken into account.

“It’s another example of how we’re finding that regularly fasting can lead to better health outcomes and longer lives,” principal investigator Benjamin Horne said in an institute news release. Horne is the institute’s director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology.

Intermittent fasting is a diet method where one skips food or limits calories for up to 24 hours, or limits the time spent eating during the day, such as from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

While the study only found an association and does not prove fasting improves survival, the researchers said the findings do suggest that routinely not eating and drinking for short periods may have an effect and warrant further study.

They noted that fasting affects a person’s red blood cell count, as well as levels of hemoglobin and human growth hormone. It also lowers sodium and bicarbonate levels, and activates metabolic processes that contribute to better heart health, they said.

“With the lower heart failure risk that we found, which is consistent with prior mechanistic studies, this study suggests that routine fasting at a low frequency over two-thirds of the life span is activating the same biological mechanisms that fasting diets are proposed to rapidly activate,” Horne said.

Routine fasting over a period of years conditions the body to activate its benefits quicker than usual, the researchers said.

They pointed out, however, that fasting is not for everyone. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not fast, nor should young children or frail older adults.

Fasting is also not an option for organ transplant recipients, people with a suppressed immune system, those with chronic diseases and those with eating disorders.

Those who take medications for diabetes, blood pressure or heart disease should only fast under a doctor’s supervision, the researchers added.

The findings were presented Saturday at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting, in Philadelphia. Research presented at meetings is typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Jessie Mercer created a phoenix sculpture made out of thousands of keys to places that were lost in Paradise, California’s Camp Fire.

By Alaa Elassar

A woman from Paradise, California has created a phoenix sculpture from thousands of donated keys to places destroyed in California’s deadliest wildfire last November.

Jessie Mercer, a 34-year-old art therapist and trauma counselor, designed the 800-pound depiction of the mythological bird that rises from ashes. The sculpture holds more than 18,000 keys to homes, churches, schools, businesses and cars, including some that belonged to people who died in the Camp Fire.

The blaze killed 85 people and burned more than 153,000 acres.

When Mercer’s father fled the fire to her apartment in Chico, just 10 minutes outside of Paradise, she saw him pull out the keys to his house.

“In that moment, I kind of realized that he wasn’t alone and thousands of my neighbors were doing that same exact thing,” Mercer told CNN. “Everyone was like, “Wow, I have keys to my shop, my house, my car. And it’s all gone.’ ”

The artist, who was born in Wyoming and moved to Paradise at 15, thought to collect the keys two days after the fire turned Paradise into a pile of ashes.

“I needed to make something to put us back together, and the keys were the only thing we still had in common since we lost everything else.”

Putting the pieces back together

After recovering from severe neurological issues that left her bedridden and suffering from seizures when she was 31, Mercer discovered her love for art. She and her father, a goldsmith, began sharing an art studio, which also burned in the fire.

With her father’s encouragement, Mercer put out a Facebook post asking people to mail her their keys, drop them off at a location, or meet up and give them to her in person.

“I just told people, you don’t have to carry around this totem of sorrow that makes you sad every time you look at it,” Mercer said. “Let me transform it into something comforting.”

And just three days after the fire, she received her first key.

Mercer decided to get on YouTube and teach herself how to weld. After collecting enough metal and keys — and without drawing a sketch or making a plan — Mercer simply “followed her heart” and designed the phoenix.

Jessie Mercer created a phoenix sculpture made out of thousands of keys to places that were lost in Paradise, California’s Camp Fire.

For a year, Mercer spent hours in a small room in her apartment, building the mythical fire bird to help her community heal.

After driving back and forth for 19,000 miles, picking up metals, meeting other victims of the Camp Fire, and collecting keys dropped off at 13 locations across five towns including Paradise, Mercer’s project was finally complete.

Unveiling the art

Exactly one year after the fire devoured the town in a matter of hours, Mercer unveiled her Phoenix Key Project on Friday during a commemoration ceremony at Paradise’s Butte Resiliency Center to a crowd of thousands.

The resiliency and resource center will be transformed into a place designated for the healing and growth of Paradise and its community. There, residents can “get their home plans checked, their surveys done, and rebuild questions answered,” Mercer said.

The sculpture will be displayed at the center. And in honor of her gift to the city, Mercer was presented a key to the town of Paradise.

Jessie Mercer and her father, Tommie Mercer, pose next to Jessie’s phoenix sculpture after the unveiling ceremony.

“It’s the first ever time they’ve ever given the key to anyone,” Mercer told CNN. “It’s so cool. I don’t care about anything else. I have the key to Paradise.”

While Mercer’s idea was to unite the community through her art, she ended up bringing people together back in Paradise.

“It was powerful to know that I bought people back home, even for a day. I was so proud of them for coming. The streets were full, the parking lots. It was thousands of people and the crowds were roaring.”

A year of ‘indescribable emotions’

Mercer said that taking a year to meet other victims of the fire and build the phoenix helped her process her emotions and sense of loss.

“I lost my town, too,” she said. “It was being a part of something, but also being a vessel that created it. We did this, not just me.”

While channeling her pain through art in hopes of finding a way to “balance the pain and anger” that her community was feeling after the tragic annihilation of their town, Mercer said it wasn’t easy.

She called it the hardest year of her life. A year she will never forget.

“Meeting people meant hearing every story,” Mercer told CNN.

“Getting letters in the mail meant reading their stories. All of them were testaments: ‘Here’s the key to my life. Here’s the key to where I had Thanksgiving for 32 years.’ There’s a gravity to knowing that everything you’re holding is so full of memories and legacies and heartbreak.”

A few of the letters Mercer received from people mailing in their keys.

Mercer became close to many of the donors. She recalls pastors crying while they handed over keys to their churches. One teacher gave her the key to the classroom where she taught for 40 years.

A young girl sent her a key to her diary and told Mercer “to keep her secrets safe.”

“When I got all these keys, when I put them on, I didn’t care about who was who,” Mercer said. “There was no color, there was no age, there was no creed. It was just so transcending to bring people together and take them out of all their stereotypes.”

Doctors have placed humans in suspended animation for the first time, as part of a trial in the US that aims to make it possible to fix traumatic injuries that would otherwise cause death.

Samuel Tisherman, at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told New Scientist that his team of medics had placed at least one patient in suspended animation, calling it “a little surreal” when they first did it. He wouldn’t reveal how many people had survived as a result.

The technique, officially called emergency preservation and resuscitation (EPR), is being carried out on people who arrive at the University of Maryland Medical Centre in Baltimore with an acute trauma – such as a gunshot or stab wound – and have had a cardiac arrest. Their heart will have stopped beating and they will have lost more than half their blood. There are only minutes to operate, with a less than 5 per cent chance that they would normally survive.

EPR involves rapidly cooling a person to around 10 to 15°C by replacing all of their blood with ice-cold saline. The patient’s brain activity almost completely stops. They are then disconnected from the cooling system and their body – which would otherwise be classified as dead – is moved to the operating theatre.

A surgical team then has 2 hours to fix the person’s injuries before they are warmed up and their heart restarted. Tisherman says he hopes to be able to announce the full results of the trial by the end of 2020.

At normal body temperature – about 37°C – our cells need a constant supply of oxygen to produce energy. When our heart stops beating, blood no longer carries oxygen to cells. Without oxygen, our brain can only survive for about 5 minutes before irreversible damage occurs. However, lowering the temperature of the body and brain slows or stops all the chemical reactions in our cells, which need less oxygen as a consequence.

Tisherman’s plan for the trial was that 10 people who receive EPR will be compared with 10 people who would have been eligible for the treatment but for the fact that the correct team wasn’t in the hospital at the time of admittance.

The trial was given the go-ahead by the US Food and Drug Administration. The FDA made it exempt from needing patient consent as the participants’ injuries are likely to be fatal and there is no alternative treatment. The team had discussions with the local community and placed ads in newspapers describing the trial, pointing people to a website where they can opt out.

Tisherman’s interest in trauma research was ignited by an early incident in his career in which a young man was stabbed in the heart after an altercation over bowling shoes. “He was a healthy young man just minutes before, then suddenly he was dead. We could have saved him if we’d had enough time,” he says. This led him to start investigating ways in which cooling might allow surgeons more time to do their job.

Animal studies showed that pigs with acute trauma could be cooled for 3 hours, stitched up and resuscitated. “We felt it was time to take it to our patients,” says Tisherman. “Now we are doing it and we are learning a lot as we move forward with the trial. Once we can prove it works here, we can expand the utility of this technique to help patients survive that otherwise would not.”

“I want to make clear that we’re not trying to send people off to Saturn,” he says. “We’re trying to buy ourselves more time to save lives.”

In fact, how long you can extend the time in which someone is in suspended animation isn’t clear. When a person’s cells are warmed up, they can experience reperfusion injuries, in which a series of chemical reactions damage the cell – and the longer they are without oxygen, the more damage occurs.

It may be possible to give people a cocktail of drugs to help minimise these injuries and extend the time in which they are suspended, says Tisherman, “but we haven’t identified all the causes of reperfusion injuries yet”.

Tisherman described the team’s progress on Monday at a symposium at the New York Academy of Sciences. Ariane Lewis, director of the division of neuro-critical care at NYU Langone Health, said she thought it was important work, but that it was just first steps. “We have to see whether it works and then we can start to think about how and where we can use it.”

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The last stop for civilization before the North Pole is Svalbard, an archipelago north of mainland Norway along the 80th parallel. Most of Svalbard’s old Norwegian and Russian coal mines have shut down, so locals have rebranded their vast acres of permafrost as an attraction to scientists, doomsday preppers, and scientist doomsday preppers. Around Svalbard, things can be hidden from the stresses of the outside world. There’s a treaty in place to keep it neutral in times of war. In other words, it’s an ideal spot for a big global reset button or two.

Pride of place belongs to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, where seeds for a wide range of plants, including the crops most valuable to humans, are preserved in case of some famine-inducing pandemic or nuclear apocalypse. The seed vault looks like something out of a movie, its entrance a triangular obelisk jutting high out of a blinding white expanse. It sparkles with glowing green lights.

Nat Friedman, however, hasn’t come for the beat-the-apocalypse aesthetics. On Oct. 24, the tall, thin, 42-year-old chief executive officer of GitHub Inc., Microsoft’s world-leading code bank, hops in a van and drives about 15 minutes from his hotel to an abandoned coal mine, where he puts on a miner’s helmet and headlamp. Deep inside one of the mine’s frigid, eerily quiet arteries, Friedman comes to what looks like a metal tool shed. “It’s more mine-y and rustic and raw-hole-in-the-rock than I thought it would be,” he says.

This is the Arctic World Archive, the seed vault’s much less sexy cousin. Friedman unlocks the container door with a simple door key and, inside, deposits much of the world’s open source software code. Servers and flash drives aren’t durable enough for this purpose, so the data is encoded on what look like old-school movie reels, each weighing a few pounds and stored in a white plastic container about the size of a pizza box. It’s basically microfilm. With the help of a magnifying glass, you—or, say, a band of End Times survivors—can see the data, be it pictures, text, or lines of code. A Norwegian company called Piql AS makes the specialized rolls of super-durable film, coated with iron oxide powder for added Armageddon-resistance. Piql says the material should hold up for 750 years in normal conditions, and perhaps 2,000 years in a cold, dry, low-oxygen cave.

Friedman places his reel on one of the archive’s shelves, alongside a couple dozen that include Vatican archives, Brazilian land registry records, loads of Italian movies, and the recipe for a certain burger chain’s special sauce. GitHub, which Microsoft bought last year for $7.5 billion, plans to become by far the biggest tenant. Eventually, Friedman says, GitHub will leave 200 platters, each carrying 120 gigabytes of open source software code, in the vault. The first reel included the Linux and Android operating systems, plus 6,000 other important open source applications.

Yes, this may seem like a stunt, headlamps and all. If the world is ravaged to the point where Svalbard is the last repository of usable wheat and corn seeds, the source code for YouTube will probably rank pretty low on humankind’s hierarchy of needs. Yet to Friedman, it’s a natural next step. Open source software, in his view, is one of the great achievements of our species, up there with the masterpieces of literature and fine art. It has become the foundation of the modern world—not just the internet and smartphones, but satellites, medical devices, scientific tools, robots.

The basic idea of open source is that you write code and share it, giving anyone else a chance to see what you’ve done, and, if they like, to take the code and change it and make their own thing. Over time this vast and expanding body of work is repurposed and improved upon and used to make innumerable software applications. GitHub is where much of the world’s open source software gets developed. About 40 million people, many of them volunteers, refine the projects, log bugs that need fixing, scan for security holes, and track changes. Think of it as a gigantic, meticulously cataloged library of tools that anyone can use.

Open source is the dominant procedure for software development, though it took a revolution to get there. In the 1990s, at the height of the Microsoft Windows empire, Bill Gates’s subordinates described the code-sharing model as “a cancer,” a threat to everything that patent-loving capitalists should hold dear. “If you told someone 20 years ago that in 2020, all of human civilization will depend on and run on open source code written for free by volunteers in countries all around the world who don’t know each other, and it’ll just be downloaded and put into almost every product, I think people would say, ‘That’s crazy, that’s never going to happen. Software is written by big, professional companies,’ ” Friedman says in the vault, which he describes more as a time capsule than a critical insurance policy. “It’s sort of a magical moment. Having a historical record of this will, I think, be valuable to future generations.”

To many in the software trade, the craziest and most magical thing here is a Microsoft executive extolling the importance of open source. The rise of open source has indeed been huge, epochal even. And, like many significant inventions—nuclear power, antibiotics—open source carries risks. Some pretty weird ones, it turns out.

Programmers freely swapped code long before Linus Torvalds wrote the core of the Linux OS at the University of Helsinki in the early 1990s, but his creation was a standard-bearer for what became known as “the free and open source software movement.” Microsoft was making obscene amounts of money through Windows and Office, and closely guarded the source code of these products. As the U.S. Department of Justice began trying to reckon with Microsoft’s influence over innovation and competition, DIY hacker types such as Torvalds argued that the very idea of patented proprietary software stood in opposition to free speech, free access to public goods and knowledge, and progress itself. (This was less radical than it might sound; U.S. law didn’t recognize software as intellectual property until the late ’70s.)

These idealists injected a dose of counterculture spirit into the debate over how much control a few large companies ought to have around technological advances. Linux became the most prominent alternative to Windows, and other coders created a free package of open source Office alternatives called, of course, OpenOffice. Both products struggled to find a mainstream audience, partly because the developers were sometimes more focused on the source code’s purity than on its usability. Yet they gained valuable experience building development tools that made it easier to collaborate and widely distribute software. They could simply put their code online and let word of mouth and network effects do most of the rest. It took a long time—with lots of bitter fights and lawsuits along the way—but eventually, open source became the rule rather than the exception.

Google led the corporate charge in the early 2000s. Instead of buying expensive operating systems, Google ran Linux on the servers in its data centers. Then, it took open source databases and file systems and wrote its own open source applications to fill in the gaps. This reliance on free software made it easier for Google to afford to give away services such as search, email, maps, and others. Facebook, Uber, Netflix, and many others would do the same. Today, open source is the engine of most major computing advances. Inc.’s massive cloud networks rely on Linux and many other free apps to function, which means that the tens of thousands of businesses that buy computing power from Amazon’s data centers are living the open source lifestyle, too. Google has placed Android, a variant of Linux, on more than 1 billion smartphones.

Thousands of people have contributed to Linux’s position at the heart of everything from TVs to cars, but Torvalds, now 49 and living in Oregon, remainsfirst among equals. In addition to writing the core Linux code that undergirds the internet and smartphones, Torvalds wrote a program called Git over a weekend in 2005 to help him manage the development of Linux. Some open source coders took Git and turned it into GitHub.

Torvalds draws a healthy salary from the Linux Foundation, a nonprofit funded by companies such as Google, IBM, Huawei Technologies, Tencent Holdings, and Intel to further develop the operating system. His total annual compensation of about $1.8 million is more than enough for him to buy a nice house in Portland and do as he pleases, which mostly means sitting at home coding. But if he’d been more interested in financial rewards and the daily grind, the guy might well have Bill Gates money. On paper, the company that’s made the most money from Linux is Red Hat Inc., which has created a custom version of the operating system and charges client businesses to keep it updated and secure. IBM acquired Red Hat for $34 billion earlier this year in the biggest-ever software deal. GitHub users can also opt to sponsor coders or projects that interest them, à la Kickstarter or other crowdfunding sites. Often, though, open source coders don’t get paid what they’re worth, and their status as hobbyists complicates the corporate world’s reliance on their work.

About this time last year a 48-year-old software developer in Sweden named Daniel Stenberg received a panicked call one evening from a large German automaker. The car company, which Stenberg declines to name, asked that he fly to Germany immediately because an application Stenberg had written was causing the entertainment system software in 7 million cars to crash. “I had to inform them that, you know, this is a spare-time project for me and that I have a full-time job and can’t just go to Germany for them,” Stenberg says. “They started out pretty demanding, but then switched when they realized the situation they were in.”

This is fairly typical for Stenberg, who since 1998 has been refining a widely used open source tool known as curl. Over the years, curl has found its way into the electronics of almost every new car, as well as software written by the likes of Apple, Instagram, YouTube, and Spotify Technology. On any given day, more than 1 billion people will unknowingly use curl, which helps transfer data between internet-based services. Developers from major companies and startups alike have grabbed curl off GitHub and elsewhere and inserted it into their products in ways that Stenberg could never have field-tested himself, and they’re not shy to send him messages at all hours demanding that he fix bugs promptly.

“Most of the days … I tear my hair when fixing bugs, or I try to rephrase my emails to [not] sound old and bitter (even though I can very well be that) when I once again try to explain things to users who can be extremely unfriendly and whining,” Stenberg writes on his website. “I spend late evenings on curl when my wife and kids are asleep. I escape my family and rob them of my company to improve curl … alone in the dark (mostly) with my text editor and debugger.”

In similar fashion, thousands of labors of love have found their way into software running everything from cash registers to trains. Software tools like GitHub have made this process easier with each passing year. Rather than rewriting every piece of an app from scratch, a developer just searches the vast library of open source code to grab what already exists. The end result is a complex system of interdependencies on thousands of freely available tools and apps. If one of the volunteers responsible for maintaining and improving those tools and apps decides he’s had enough, entire swaths of the internet and our infrastructure can cease to function until someone else steps in with a fix. “It’s a bit crazy,” Stenberg says. “Open source is a huge part of everything now, and I think it’s still growing.”

This isn’t quite the future the hippies wanted. In the beginning, free software zealots were trying to democratize technology, not create a way for powerful corporations to get more power. They wanted to ensure the best computing tools and data wouldn’t be centralized and metered out by corporations. They wanted people to have the freedom to explore technology and ideas away from the watchful eyes of an overlord.

Yeah, well, oops. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and many others have used open source code to create grand, global advertising networks that track and analyze billions of people’s every move, online and off. By comparison, ideological wars about bundling Excel and Internet Explorer with Windows 95 seem downright quaint. “If you don’t have control over the technology that runs your life, the devices and services that run your life, then your life will be run by other people using the computers,” says Eben Moglen, a law professor at Columbia who’s spent decades at the fore of the free software movement. “We made good stuff, and it was turned into ammunition against our dreams.”

Moglen says he appreciates the leveling effect that GitHub can have—it’s one of the best places for a talented 16-year-old programmer in Cambodia or Nigeria to show off her skills and alter the economic course of her life. Still, Moglen is counting on young people to form the core of a greater backlash against big tech companies’ privacy grabs. He’s pitching a hardware-software package called the FreedomBox, which costs about $90. It’s a small computer that uses open source software to replicate many of the common internet services (search, messaging, file-sharing) away from the prying eyes of the tech giants.

Other open source veterans argue that the revolution was worth it. Small teams of scientists can now punch well above their weight thanks to GitHub shortcuts. Cancer researchers, to cite one of many, many examples, frequently borrow from Google’s open source machine-learning work in their hunt for better ways to screen for tumors. “I don’t know who is religious about open source anymore,” says Dave Rosenberg, a veteran software executive and investor. “I don’t think you can achieve the stuff we want without it.”

Friedman, who spent 20 years starting open source companies and working on similar projects at large software makers before Microsoft put him in charge of GitHub, has the future of open source very much on his mind a couple days before the Svalbard trip, in Oxford, England. No true prepper is content with only one backup plan: The Arctic cave is just the first of what GitHub plans to be many repositories of code scattered around the world, holding almost all the code in its data banks rather than just the favorites. At one stop, Friedman climbs a few flights of creaky stairs to visit the head of the Bodleian Library, which keeps 12 million items in its glorious medieval towers. Would Oxford also store some code for safekeeping? As it turns out, sure, they’re game. Torvalds and Shakespeare, together forever.

In the spirit of the Svalbard cave, Friedman’s immediate mission is to tame the existential risks facing open source software. During our time together, he recounts story after story of large companies that have no idea how much open source software they depend on, who wrote it, how old it is, or what security holes might exist in it. He’s hoping that Semmle Ltd., a security research company GitHub recently acquired, can help close those gaps. GitHub is also refining the parts of its user interface that show a business what code it’s using, where that code is from, and when it needs updating. Yet another important step will be the creation of a more formal system for uniting big companies to subsidize volunteer efforts like curl, he says. There should be an easy way that Apple, Spotify, and the unnamed large German automaker can split the cost of a meaningful full-time wage for Stenberg with a few clicks.

“We would be successful if we could create a new middle class of open source developers,” Friedman says. “If you do this right, you create more innovation.”

GitHub’s most existential mission feels more urgent a few hours after we leave the Svalbard code cave. Fires have broken out around Friedman’s family home in Sonoma, Calif., and his wife calls to say that she and their 3-year-old daughter are evacuating. Friedman tells his wife to turn on their Tesla’s Bioweapon Defense Mode, which filters the outside air in extreme fashion. By the time dinner rolls around, he knows his house has been reduced to mostly ash. A photo of his front door archway—all that’s left standing amid the smoking rubble—soon becomes the image most media outlets choose for their coverage. With much of California burning or blacked out, an Arctic reset button starts to make a lot more sense. As Friedman has said several times by now on our trip, “I think the world is fundamentally weirder than it was 20 years ago.”

Afroz Shah, a lawyer in Mumbai, hasn’t had a weekend off in four years. But he hasn’t spent this time writing briefs or preparing for court.

His mission? Saving the world’s oceans from plastic pollution.

It’s a calling he found in 2015 after moving to a community in Mumbai called Versova Beach. He had played there as a child and was upset to see how much it had changed. The sand was no longer visible because it was covered by a layer of garbage more than five feet thick — most of it plastic waste.

“The whole beach was like a carpet of plastic,” he said. “It repulsed me.”

The unsightly mess Shah had stumbled upon is part of a global environmental crisis. More than 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans each year — the equivalent of a garbage truck dumped every minute. It’s predicted that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

The results are devastating. More than 1 million seabirds, 100,000 sea mammals and countless fish die from plastic pollution each year.

“The marine species have no choice at all,” Shah said. “We are attacking their habitats, their food. Plastic in (the) ocean is a killer.”

In October 2015, Shah began picking up trash from the beach every Sunday morning. At first, it was just him and a neighbor, and then he began recruiting others to join in. Word spread and with help from social media, more volunteers got involved.

Shah hasn’t stopped since. He’s now spent 209 weekends dedicated to this mission, inspiring more than 200,000 volunteers to join him in what’s been called the world’s biggest beach cleanup. By October 2018, Versova Beach was finally clean and Shah’s cleanups expanded to another beach as well as a stretch of the Mithi River and other regions of India.

All told, the movement has cleared more than 60 million pounds of garbage — mostly plastic waste — from Mumbai’s beaches and waterways.

For Shah, the work has always been a personal journey, but it has earned global attention. After he was honored as a Champion of the Earth by the United Nations in 2016, Bollywood celebrities and politicians embraced his mission and joined in his cleanups.

While he continues to work as a lawyer during the week, Shah now devotes nearly all of his free time to this cause. He said he believes that people must accept responsibility for society’s impact on the environment.

“This problem of pollution is created by us. … If this huge ocean is in a problem, we’ll have to rise up in huge numbers.”

Today, Shah is also working with coastal communities to tackle plastic pollution at one of the sources. In areas lacking sufficient waste management systems, trash often ends up in creeks and rivers that empty into the ocean.

Shah and his volunteers educate and assist villagers in reducing, managing and recycling their plastic waste.

For years, Shah’s work was strictly a grassroots effort that he coordinated on social media. Recently, he started the Afroz Shah Foundation to help spread his mission across India and around the world.

“This world talks too much. I think you must talk less and do action more,” he said. “Every citizen on this planet must be in for a long haul.”

CNN spoke with Shah about his work. Below is an edited version of the conversations.

CNN: You’ve said that beach cleaning is not just about clean beaches. What do you mean by that?

Afroz Shah: Beaches are like nets. They trap the plastic. The ocean is telling us, “Take it — take it away.” So, as the beach gets clean, the ocean is also getting clean. There’s a dual purpose. Volunteers who come to pick up are also getting trained to handle plastic. Anybody who sees plastic here will not buy plastic later. They’ll say, “No, no we don’t want this! We had to clean up so much!’ So, it’s creating awareness.

Cleaning is one part, but it’s not the solution. We are drowning in plastic. The bottles, packets, wrappers, packaging to preserve the food is what travels and lands (in the ocean). You have to reduce garbage in this world and change the way our packaging is made. So, it’s about what you can do as a person and as a system. I tell people, “Please protect yourself and other species. Have you thought about how do you reduce your garbage?” We are a smart species. We’ll adapt. We’ll learn. And with these youngsters rising up, I see hope.

CNN: You’re also taking your message to students.

Shah: Twice a week I go to schools and colleges. I feel the urge to be with these youngsters and train them up on plastic pollution. I’m looking at creating leaders there. I tell the kids, “You exist with other species. Your habits should not hurt the other species.” The energy of these youngsters is infectious. I can see it in the eyes of those kids. They want to be the change. They want to take it up. I can see it, years from now — some will become lawyers, judges, politicians. This will become a huge thing all over India. If those kids get it right, the world will get it right. So, my idea is to put the seed there.

CNN: Having worked on this for four years now, what’s your insight into why this is happening?

Shah: There is a disconnect with Mother Nature. It’s about me, me, me — all the time. “I need a life of convenience.” But we exist with other species. You cannot by your choices attack their lives and habitats. Every wrapper, every plastic straw is a war on another species. So, our choices and lifestyle need to be balanced — all 7 billion of us.

I feel the need to do something for my planet, so this will continue for life. This is a mindset change. But this must reach every human being. What is happening with climate change, plastic pollution, climate injustice is going to hit all of us. We have 7 billion people. If each one could start — this journey could become marvelous. Can we do it together?

To donate to the Afroz Shah Foundation via CrowdRise, click here

New research has found that people who are illiterate, meaning they never learned to read or write, may have nearly three times greater risk of developing dementia than people who can read and write. The study is published in the November 13, 2019, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

According to the United States Department of Education, approximately 32 million adults in the country are illiterate.

“Being able to read and write allows people to engage in more activities that use the brain, like reading newspapers and helping children and grandchildren with homework,” said study author Jennifer J. Manly, Ph.D., of Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. “Previous research has shown such activities may reduce the risk of dementia. Our new study provides more evidence that reading and writing may be important factors in helping maintain a healthy brain.”

The study looked at people with low levels of education who lived in northern Manhattan. Many were born and raised in rural areas in the Dominican Republic where access to education was limited. The study involved 983 people with an average age of 77. Each person went to school for four years or less. Researchers asked each person, “Did you ever learn to read or write?” Researchers then divided people into two groups; 237 people were illiterate and 746 people were literate.

Participants had medical exams and took memory and thinking tests at the beginning of the study and at follow-up appointments that occurred every 18 months to two years. Testing included recalling unrelated words and producing as many words as possible when given a category like fruit or clothing.

Researchers found of the people who were illiterate, 83 of 237 people, or 35 percent, had dementia at the start of the study. Of the people who were literate, 134 of 746 people, or 18 percent, had dementia. After adjusting for age, socioeconomic status and cardiovascular disease, people who could not read and write had nearly a three times greater chance of having dementia at the start of the study.

Among participants without dementia at the start of the study, during follow-up an average of four years later, 114 of 237 people who were illiterate, or 48 percent, had dementia. Of the people who were literate, 201 of 746 people, or 27 percent, had dementia. After adjusting for age, socioeconomic status and cardiovascular disease, researchers found that people who could not read and write were twice as likely to develop dementia during the study.

When researchers evaluated language, speed, spatial, and reasoning skills, they found that adults who were illiterate had lower scores at the start of the study. But their test scores did not decline at a more rapid rate as the study progressed.

“Our study also found that literacy was linked to higher scores on memory and thinking tests overall, not just reading and language scores,” said Manly. “These results suggest that reading may help strengthen the brain in many ways that may help prevent or delay the onset of dementia.”

Manly continued, “Even if they only have a few years of education, people who learn to read and write may have lifelong advantages over people who never learn these skills.”

Manly said future studies should find out if putting more resources into programs that teach people to read and write help reduce the risk of dementia.

A limitation of the study was that researchers did not ask how or when literate study participants learned to read and write.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health and National Institute on Aging.

Story Source:

Materials provided by American Academy of Neurology. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Miguel Arce Rentería, Jet M.J. Vonk, Gloria Felix, Justina F. Avila, Laura B. Zahodne, Elizabeth Dalchand, Kirsten M. Frazer, Michelle N. Martinez, Heather L. Shouel, Jennifer J. Manly. Illiteracy, dementia risk, and cognitive trajectories among older adults with low education. Neurology, 2019; 10.1212/WNL.0000000000008587 DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000008587