Archive for the ‘Arizona’ Category

An Arizona Coyotes fan got to take out her frustration on the mayor behind the decision to send the hockey team packing.

Disgruntled fan Ronda Pearson used a stun gun on Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers on Saturday as part of a charity pledge.

Weiers volunteered to be stunned with a Taser at the mall event if a $10,000 donation was made to an Arizona charity that supports first-responders.

Firefighters determined Weiers was not injured.

Organizers say Pearson and another Coyotes fan showed up with a $10,000 money order.

Weiers and the Glendale City Council voted Wednesday to end an arena lease agreement with the Coyotes. A judge on Friday temporarily halted its termination.

Pearson gained attention on social media for a public rant directed at Weiers.

brain tumor

By Ed Payne and Dave Alsup

Call it a mixed blessing — one that may have saved an Arizona convenience store employee’s life.

When Phoenix Circle K manager Jerimiah Willey was pistol-whipped during a robbery last month, he landed at St. Joseph’s Hospital with a head injury that required eight staples.

“He hit me in the head twice. … and then throughout the whole thing, he was nudging me with the gun,” Willey told CNN affiliate KTVK.

The hospital did a CT scan while he was there and discovered something far worse — a massive and potentially life-threatening brain tumor.

“They said that had this not been found and soon around the time that it was found, that he probably just would have gone to sleep one night and not been able to wake up,” his wife, Alisha Willey, told the affiliate.

He is recovering from the first of what’s expected to be three brain surgeries.

“It’s our understanding, that because of the size, we believe there’s going to be two more surgeries,” his mother-in-law, Rose Gould, told CNN.

The surgery has left him partially paralyzed, with slurred speech and some loss of hearing. He’s undergoing therapy.

Although the road ahead for the Willeys and their three children is uncertain, they’re hopeful that the slow-growing tumor is benign and was caught before it was too late.

A fund has been set up to help pay for the family’s medical expenses.

“It’s hard to be thankful to somebody who was so violent,” Alisha Willey said. “I’m just very blessed that my husband is still alive and that it wasn’t over that morning.”

http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/13/us/arizona-beating-brain-tumor/index.html

Humans have been ingesting mind-altering substances for a very long time. Hallucinogen-huffing bowls 2,500 years old (http://www.livescience.com/5240-ancient-family-heirlooms-snort-hallucinogens.html) have been found on islands in the Lesser Antilles, and traditional cultures from the Americas to Africa use hallucinogenic substances for spiritual purposes. Here are some notable substances that send the mind tripping.

LSD is commonly known as “acid,” but its scientific name is a mouthful: lysergic acid diethylamaide. The drug was first synthesized in 1938 from a chemical called ergotamine. Ergotamine, in turn, is produced by a grain fungus that grow on rye.

LSD was originally produced by a pharmaceutical company under the name Delysid, but it got a bad reputation in the 1950s when the CIA decided to research its effects on mind control. The test subjects of the CIA project MKULTRA proved very difficult to control indeed, and many, like counter-culture writer Ken Kesey, started taking the drug for fun (and for their own form of 1960s enlightenment).

ayahuasca-vine-110929

Ayahuasca is a hallucinatory mixture of Amazonian infusions centered around the Banisteriopsis caapi vine. The brew has long been used by native South American tribes for spiritual rituals and healing, and like other hallucinogens, ayahuasca often triggers very intense emotional experiences (vomiting is also common). In 2006, National Geographic writer Kira Salak described her experience with ayahuasca in Peru for the magazine.

” I will never forget what it was like. The overwhelming misery. The certainty of never-ending suffering. No one to help you, no way to escape. Everywhere I looked: darkness so thick that the idea of light seemed inconceivable,” Salak wrote. “Suddenly, I swirled down a tunnel of fire, wailing figures calling out to me in agony, begging me to save them. Others tried to terrorize me. ‘You will never leave here,’ they said. ‘Never. Never.'”

Nonetheless, Salak wrote, when she broke free of her hallucinations, her crippling depression was alleviated. It’s anecdotal experiences like this that have led researchers to investigate the uses of hallucinogens as therapy for mental disorders such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Peyote is a cactus that gets its hallucinatory power from mescaline. Like most hallucinogens, mescaline binds to serotonin receptors in the brain, producing heightened sensations and kaleidoscopic visions.

Native groups in Mexico have used peyote in ceremonies for thousands of years, and other mescaline-producing cacti have long been used by South American tribes for their rituals. Peyote has been the subject of many a court battle because of its role in religious practice; currently, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Oregon allow some peyote possession, but only if linked to religious ceremonies, according to Arizona’s Peyote Way Church of God.

The “magic” ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms is psilocybin, a compound that breaks down into psilocin in the body. Psilocin bonds to serotonin receptors all over the brain, and can cause hallucinations as well as synesthesia, or the mixture of two senses. Under the influence, for example, a person might feel that they can smell colors.

In keeping with the human tradition of eating anything that might alter your mind, people have been ingesting psilocybin-continuing mushrooms for thousands of years. Synthetic psilocybin is now under study as a potential treatment for anxiety, depression and addiction.

Best known by its street name, “angel dust,” PCP stands for phencyclidine. The drug blocks receptors in the brain for the neurotransmitter glutamate. It’s more dangerous than other hallucinogens, with schizophrenia-like symptoms and nasty side effects.

Those side effects are why PCP has no medical uses. The drug was tested as an anesthetic in the 1950s and used briefly to knock out animals during veterinary surgeries. But by the 1960s, PCP had hit the streets and was being used as a recreation drug, famous for the feelings of euphoria and invincibility it bestowed on the user. Unfortunately, a side effect of all that euphoria is sometimes truly destructive behavior, including users trying to jump out of windows or otherwise self-mutilating. Not to mention that high enough doses can cause convulsions.

Derived from the African iboga plant, ibogaine is another hallucinogen with a long history of tribal use. More recently, the drug has shown promise in treating addiction, although mostly in Mexico and Europe where ibogaine treatment is not prohibited as it is in the U.S.

Using ibogaine as therapy is tricky, however. The drug can cause heart rhythm problems, and vomiting is a common side effect. The Massachusetts-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Research (MAPS) reports that an estimated 1 in 300 ibogaine users die due to the drug. The group is studying the long-term effects of ibogaine on patients in drug treatment programs in New Zealand and Mexico.

Salvia divinorum, also known as seer’s or diviner’s sage, grows in the cloud forest of Oaxaca, Mexico. The native Mazatec people have long used tea made out of the leaves in spiritual ceremonies, but the plant can also be smoked or chewed for its hallucinogenic effects.

Salvia is not currently a controlled substance, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, but it is under consideration to be made illegal and placed in the same drug class as marijuana.

Ecstasy, “E” or “X” are the street names for MDMA, or (get ready for a long one) 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. The drug acts on serotonin in the brain, causing feelings of euphoria, energy and distortions of perception. It can also nudge body temperatures up, raising the risk of heat stroke. Animal studies suggest that MDMA causes long-term and potentially dangerous changes in the brain, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

MDMA was first synthesized by a chemist looking for substances to stop bleeding in 1912. No one paid the compound much mind for the next half-decade, but by the 1970s, MDMA had hit the streets. It was popular at raves and nightclubs and among those who liked their music psychedelic. Today, ecstasy is still a common street drug, but researchers are investigating whether MDMA could be used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer-related anxiety.

http://www.livescience.com/16286-hallucinogens-lsd-mushrooms-ecstasy-history.html

solar power

Outside Phoenix, Ariz., on Wednesday, a power company turned on one of the largest solar power plants of its kind in the world. But unlike other solar farms, this plant continues giving power to 70,000 Arizona households long after the sunset.

The Solana plant uses 3,200 mirrors that are tilted so they focus the sun’s rays to heat a specially-designed oil. That boils water, which drives turbines and generates electricity. Or, the oil can heat giant tanks of salt, which soak up the energy. When the sun goes down, or when households need more power, the hot salt tanks heat up the oil, which again boils water to drive the turbines.

Whereas conventional solar panels only give power when the sun is up, these giant salt batteries give renewable energy on demand. They can store six hours-worth of energy, which can meet the demands of Arizona customers, according to months of test data.

“That’s the sort of thing you can do with a conventional gas plant that no one had envisioned doing with renewables,” says Patrick Dinkel, vice president of resource management for Arizona Public Service, which is Arizona’s largest utility company.

The company has already bought the power from this plant for the next 30 years, to add to the state’s goal of generating 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. The plant does mean higher energy bills for APS customers — an extra $1.28 per month for the first five years, $1.09 per month for the next five, and then 94 cents per month after that, according to the company. Dinkel says the state won’t see a lot more of these plants soon because that would cost too much.

“Right now natural gas wins that race (for cheap power,)” Dinkel says. “The challenge is no one knows what those economics look like in five years.”

The U.S. Department of Energy lent Abengoa Solar, the Spanish company that built that plant as well as Europe’s first solar thermal power plant, $1.4 billion, out of the $2 billion price tag. It’s the same program that financed Solyndra, a solar panel firm that went bankrupt in 2011. But this is a different kind of investment, says Armando Zuluaga, general manager of Abengoa Solar. He points out the company already has a public utility buying their output for the next 30 years, so the government will get its money back with interest.

“There’s no market risk here,” Zuluaga says. “It’s just about getting the plant built.”

This won’t be the last we hear of Abengoa Solar and this technology. The company is building a similar, though smaller plant in the Mojave desert in California, which will come online next year, as well as plants in South Africa.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/10/11/232348077/in-ariz-a-solar-plant-that-powers-70-000-homes-day-or-night

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

brain

Behind a locked door in a white-walled basement in a research building in Tempe, Ariz., a monkey sits stone-still in a chair, eyes locked on a computer screen. From his head protrudes a bundle of wires; from his mouth, a plastic tube. As he stares, a picture of a green cursor on the black screen floats toward the corner of a cube. The monkey is moving it with his mind.

The monkey, a rhesus macaque named Oscar, has electrodes implanted in his motor cortex, detecting electrical impulses that indicate mental activity and translating them to the movement of the ball on the screen. The computer isn’t reading his mind, exactly — Oscar’s own brain is doing a lot of the lifting, adapting itself by trial and error to the delicate task of accurately communicating its intentions to the machine. (When Oscar succeeds in controlling the ball as instructed, the tube in his mouth rewards him with a sip of his favorite beverage, Crystal Light.) It’s not technically telekinesis, either, since that would imply that there’s something paranormal about the process. It’s called a “brain-computer interface” (BCI). And it just might represent the future of the relationship between human and machine.

Stephen Helms Tillery’s laboratory at Arizona State University is one of a growing number where researchers are racing to explore the breathtaking potential of BCIs and a related technology, neuroprosthetics. The promise is irresistible: from restoring sight to the blind, to helping the paralyzed walk again, to allowing people suffering from locked-in syndrome to communicate with the outside world. In the past few years, the pace of progress has been accelerating, delivering dazzling headlines seemingly by the week.

At Duke University in 2008, a monkey named Idoya walked on a treadmill, causing a robot in Japan to do the same. Then Miguel Nicolelis stopped the monkey’s treadmill — and the robotic legs kept walking, controlled by Idoya’s brain. At Andrew Schwartz’s lab at the University of Pittsburgh in December 2012, a quadriplegic woman named Jan Scheuermann learned to feed herself chocolate by mentally manipulating a robotic arm. Just last month, Nicolelis’ lab set up what it billed as the first brain-to-brain interface, allowing a rat in North Carolina to make a decision based on sensory data beamed via Internet from the brain of a rat in Brazil.

So far the focus has been on medical applications — restoring standard-issue human functions to people with disabilities. But it’s not hard to imagine the same technologies someday augmenting capacities. If you can make robotic legs walk with your mind, there’s no reason you can’t also make them run faster than any sprinter. If you can control a robotic arm, you can control a robotic crane. If you can play a computer game with your mind, you can, theoretically at least, fly a drone with your mind.

It’s tempting and a bit frightening to imagine that all of this is right around the corner, given how far the field has already come in a short time. Indeed, Nicolelis — the media-savvy scientist behind the “rat telepathy” experiment — is aiming to build a robotic bodysuit that would allow a paralyzed teen to take the first kick of the 2014 World Cup. Yet the same factor that has made the explosion of progress in neuroprosthetics possible could also make future advances harder to come by: the almost unfathomable complexity of the human brain.

From I, Robot to Skynet, we’ve tended to assume that the machines of the future would be guided by artificial intelligence — that our robots would have minds of their own. Over the decades, researchers have made enormous leaps in artificial intelligence (AI), and we may be entering an age of “smart objects” that can learn, adapt to, and even shape our habits and preferences. We have planes that fly themselves, and we’ll soon have cars that do the same. Google has some of the world’s top AI minds working on making our smartphones even smarter, to the point that they can anticipate our needs. But “smart” is not the same as “sentient.” We can train devices to learn specific behaviors, and even out-think humans in certain constrained settings, like a game of Jeopardy. But we’re still nowhere close to building a machine that can pass the Turing test, the benchmark for human-like intelligence. Some experts doubt we ever will.

Philosophy aside, for the time being the smartest machines of all are those that humans can control. The challenge lies in how best to control them. From vacuum tubes to the DOS command line to the Mac to the iPhone, the history of computing has been a progression from lower to higher levels of abstraction. In other words, we’ve been moving from machines that require us to understand and directly manipulate their inner workings to machines that understand how we work and respond readily to our commands. The next step after smartphones may be voice-controlled smart glasses, which can intuit our intentions all the more readily because they see what we see and hear what we hear.

The logical endpoint of this progression would be computers that read our minds, computers we can control without any physical action on our part at all. That sounds impossible. After all, if the human brain is so hard to compute, how can a computer understand what’s going on inside it?

It can’t. But as it turns out, it doesn’t have to — not fully, anyway. What makes brain-computer interfaces possible is an amazing property of the brain called neuroplasticity: the ability of neurons to form new connections in response to fresh stimuli. Our brains are constantly rewiring themselves to allow us to adapt to our environment. So when researchers implant electrodes in a part of the brain that they expect to be active in moving, say, the right arm, it’s not essential that they know in advance exactly which neurons will fire at what rate. When the subject attempts to move the robotic arm and sees that it isn’t quite working as expected, the person — or rat or monkey — will try different configurations of brain activity. Eventually, with time and feedback and training, the brain will hit on a solution that makes use of the electrodes to move the arm.

That’s the principle behind such rapid progress in brain-computer interface and neuroprosthetics. Researchers began looking into the possibility of reading signals directly from the brain in the 1970s, and testing on rats began in the early 1990s. The first big breakthrough for humans came in Georgia in 1997, when a scientist named Philip Kennedy used brain implants to allow a “locked in” stroke victim named Johnny Ray to spell out words by moving a cursor with his thoughts. (It took him six exhausting months of training to master the process.) In 2008, when Nicolelis got his monkey at Duke to make robotic legs run a treadmill in Japan, it might have seemed like mind-controlled exoskeletons for humans were just another step or two away. If he succeeds in his plan to have a paralyzed youngster kick a soccer ball at next year’s World Cup, some will pronounce the cyborg revolution in full swing.

Schwartz, the Pittsburgh researcher who helped Jan Scheuermann feed herself chocolate in December, is optimistic that neuroprosthetics will eventually allow paralyzed people to regain some mobility. But he says that full control over an exoskeleton would require a more sophisticated way to extract nuanced information from the brain. Getting a pair of robotic legs to walk is one thing. Getting robotic limbs to do everything human limbs can do may be exponentially more complicated. “The challenge of maintaining balance and staying upright on two feet is a difficult problem, but it can be handled by robotics without a brain. But if you need to move gracefully and with skill, turn and step over obstacles, decide if it’s slippery outside — that does require a brain. If you see someone go up and kick a soccer ball, the essential thing to ask is, ‘OK, what would happen if I moved the soccer ball two inches to the right?'” The idea that simple electrodes could detect things as complex as memory or cognition, which involve the firing of billions of neurons in patterns that scientists can’t yet comprehend, is far-fetched, Schwartz adds.

That’s not the only reason that companies like Apple and Google aren’t yet working on devices that read our minds (as far as we know). Another one is that the devices aren’t portable. And then there’s the little fact that they require brain surgery.

A different class of brain-scanning technology is being touted on the consumer market and in the media as a way for computers to read people’s minds without drilling into their skulls. It’s called electroencephalography, or EEG, and it involves headsets that press electrodes against the scalp. In an impressive 2010 TED Talk, Tan Le of the consumer EEG-headset company Emotiv Lifescience showed how someone can use her company’s EPOC headset to move objects on a computer screen.

Skeptics point out that these devices can detect only the crudest electrical signals from the brain itself, which is well-insulated by the skull and scalp. In many cases, consumer devices that claim to read people’s thoughts are in fact relying largely on physical signals like skin conductivity and tension of the scalp or eyebrow muscles.

Robert Oschler, a robotics enthusiast who develops apps for EEG headsets, believes the more sophisticated consumer headsets like the Emotiv EPOC may be the real deal in terms of filtering out the noise to detect brain waves. Still, he says, there are limits to what even the most advanced, medical-grade EEG devices can divine about our cognition. He’s fond of an analogy that he attributes to Gerwin Schalk, a pioneer in the field of invasive brain implants. The best EEG devices, he says, are “like going to a stadium with a bunch of microphones: You can’t hear what any individual is saying, but maybe you can tell if they’re doing the wave.” With some of the more basic consumer headsets, at this point, “it’s like being in a party in the parking lot outside the same game.”

It’s fairly safe to say that EEG headsets won’t be turning us into cyborgs anytime soon. But it would be a mistake to assume that we can predict today how brain-computer interface technology will evolve. Just last month, a team at Brown University unveiled a prototype of a low-power, wireless neural implant that can transmit signals to a computer over broadband. That could be a major step forward in someday making BCIs practical for everyday use. Meanwhile, researchers at Cornell last week revealed that they were able to use fMRI, a measure of brain activity, to detect which of four people a research subject was thinking about at a given time. Machines today can read our minds in only the most rudimentary ways. But such advances hint that they may be able to detect and respond to more abstract types of mental activity in the always-changing future.

http://www.ydr.com/living/ci_22800493/researchers-explore-connecting-brain-machines

As the world tries to come up with interesting ways to spread the word about saving our environment, a man in Paraguay has found an innovative way to promote “green” ideas and social awareness – while also encouraging music.

Favio Chávez was working at a huge landfill south of the capital, Asunción, several years ago when he made friends with the families who worked as recyclers and lived among the trash. He eventually figured out how to use the scraps of dirty oil cans, jars, wood, forks and other junk in the Cateura Landfill to make instruments for his very own orchestra, with the local kids as its members.

“One day it occurred to me to teach music to the children of the recyclers and use my personal instruments,” explains 36 year-old Chávez, who worked as an ecological technician at the landfill. “But it got to the point that there were too many students and not enough supply. So that’s when I decided to experiment and try to actually create a few.”

A musician himself, Chávez had experience forming classical ensembles. But constructing a brass and string section from scratch wasn’t part of the plan.

At first, he just threw together a few for the children who didn’t have something to play with. But after hearing the good sound the objects produced, he consulted the help of a resident garbage picker nicknamed “Cola” to gradually perfect them over time. 

What astonished everyone was how the recycler used his basic carpentry skill to engineer such smooth sounding, built-to-scale cellos and violins in his workshop just from scraps.

“It was very difficult at first and it has been a learning process,” says Favio. “But after four years of testing them out, we discovered which materials were better for resonance effects and built the instruments that we use now.”   

His love of music is what made Chávez form the orchestra, now 30 member-strong. 

While it has been a big commitment for the children and families, it has paid off – they’ve received worldwide recognition and have performed throughout the world, from Argentina to Brazil to Germany.

Their unique story is so special that a U.S.-based filmmaker is currently making a documentary about them. “Landfill Harmonic” follows Favio’s ensemble as it takes what the world throws away and turns it into a piece of beauty.

The children orchestra has donated some instruments to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona and plans to play a show there soon.

“It’s awe inspiring that people could live in that degree of squalor and still have the spirit to make this orchestra,” said documentary director Graham Townsley. “It’s breathtaking.“ 

The ultimate goal of the music project is to educate the public about a world problem, they say, that shouldn’t be ignored. Plus, it’s giving the children an opportunity they otherwise would never have had.

“I made this orchestra to educate the world and raise awareness,“ says Chávez. “But it’s also a social message to let people know that even though these students are in extreme poverty, they can also contribute to society.  They deserve an opportunity.”
Read more: http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/lifestyle/2012/11/21/landfill-worker-in-paraguay-turns-trash-into-orchestra/#ixzz2E7NjZBTB

Arizona man Michael Marin collapsed in court and died Thursday after hearing a jury convict him of burning down his $3.5 million mansion, CBS affiliate KPHO-TVreports.

Court officials said the judge and lawyers were discussing aggravating factors and the jury was out of the room when 53-year-old Marin’s face suddenly turned red and he collapsed to the floor.

He was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

Investigators said Marin deliberately burned down his $3.5 million suburban Phoenix mansion in July 2009 after it failed to sell at a charity auction and he could no longer pay the mortgage. He was seen escaping the fire by climbing down a rope ladder while wearing scuba gear.

A Maricopa County Superior Court jury found Marin guilty Thursday afternoon of arson of an occupied structure. Prosecutors said he could face16 years in prison if he was convicted.

A video recording of Marin’s last moments in court has some officials wonder whether his death was a suicide. The video showed Marin cover his mouth and his hands while hearing the guilty verdict and apparently swallowing something, KPHO-TV reports.

He was also seen occasionally sipping from a sports drink bottle before his body twisted into violent convulsions.