Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Who will look after Japan's elderly?

Several times a night, Midori Ide wakes up to help her 96-year-old grandmother use the toilet. To make sure she can assist immediately, Midori sleeps right next to her grandmother.
It is not a duty that many 29-year-olds would enjoy. But she tells me she feels guilty that she can only do it once a week.
Midori works the other six nights of the week at a nursing home caring for other elderly people while her grandmother stays at a different facility.
"It's a dilemma but I need to earn money because my family isn't wealthy," she said.
"I also want to continue working because ever since my grandfather died when I was 15, I've decided to become a care worker and it is my calling."
But it comes at a cost. Midori dreams of going abroad. She misses spending time with her friends.
"I don't want my grandma to hear this but I am almost 30 and I worry if I can start my own family one day," she whispers.
"But I don't want to think about when my grandmother will stop waking me up. I want to be with her when she achieves her dream of turning 100," she says.
'Too tired'
Midori is one of 177,600 people in Japan aged between 15 and 29 who are caring for a family member. Not many would be as content as her with their decisions.
There is also a growing number of households where one elderly person is looking after another in need of nursing care.
Just last month, a 71-year-old husband was arrested for killing his wife who had dementia. "I got too tired from looking after her," he confessed, according to local media. "I wanted to take my own life, too."
It was not a one-off tragedy. And they are the real people behind some staggering statistics about Japan's ageing and shrinking population.
Today, more than a quarter of Japan's population is aged over 65. This is set to increase to 40% by 2055, when the population will have shrunk from the current 127 million to 90 million.
The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has warned that Japan will need to add one million nurses and care workers by 2025.
Temporary home
Encouraging immigration may seem like a simple solution - but it's not a popular one.
Japan is still one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries in the world, with foreigners making up less than 2% of the population. Opening up Japan to large-scale immigration is a very sensitive subject.
In 2008, the government started allowing foreign nurses and care workers in.
But the bar is set high. Having to pass the national exam in Japanese is incredibly difficult and only 304 foreign nurses and carers have so far managed to make Japan their temporary home.
For further details, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-31901943

Jewellery made from urban decay

One of Detroit's most-abundant "resources" is the graffiti which covers walls and abandoned buildings all over the city.
Where some people might see urban decay, Amy Peterson saw opportunity and today she is the co-founder of Rebel Nell - a jewellery company which turns graffiti into earrings, necklaces and cuff-links.
The company took off after winning funding from the local community at a Detroit Soup dinner, and today it employs three previously homeless women who design the jewellery which is sold in cities across the United States.

Shark eDNA study could be conservation 'game-changer'

Conservationists are eagerly awaiting the results of a UK study into whether it is possible to track endangered sharks via environmental DNA (eDNA).
If successful, it could result in scientists being able to create global maps of life beneath the waves.
Current methods are costly and labour intensive, requiring teams to spend long periods at sea with no guarantee of getting the required information.
Almost half of all known shark species are classified as data deficient.
"Basically, all living things are made of tissue and if you break them down into smaller and smaller units, you end up with cells," explained lead scientist Stefano Mariani from the University of Salford.

Protected sharks

Oceanic whitetip shark (Image courtesy of The Pew Trusts)
  • The oceanic whitetip was once a widespread large shark species, but its numbers show a drastic decline
  • It appears as bycatch in pelagic (open sea) fisheries, but its large fins are highly prized, used in shark's fin soup and in traditional medicine
  • Hammerhead sharks are known for their distinctive head shape which may have evolved in part to enhance vision
  • The great and scalloped varieties are endangered; the smooth hammerhead is considered vulnerable. All have been given added protection
  • Porbeagles are found in cold and temperate waters of the North Atlantic and Southern Hemisphere
  • Targeted commercial fishing and unintentional catches pose the biggest threat to this shark, which has a low reproductive rate
"Every cell of every organism contains DNA. Every time an organism loses bits - this could be the result of dying, producing eggs or losing some skin, spitting or pooing - there are cells containing DNA.
"Theoretically, it is possible to trawl water and retrieve some DNA coming from this environment," he told BBC News.
Prof Mariani and his colleague, PhD student Judith Bakker, hope their study will help shed light on the feasibility of a new method to gather data on shark populations around the globe and overcome obstacles that have hampered efforts to date.
"For example, if you go to a rainforest and you know there are a bunch of jaguars spread over hundreds of kilometres, you are not going to see them unless you spend many months in the wild or you install camera traps," Prof Mariani observed.
"The same is applied to large animals that are distributed in the ocean, such as whales or sharks. In order to see them and monitor them, the budget required is generally huge, meaning that very few people can do good studies on whales or sharks.
"We decided it was worthwhile having a go at this approach of finding out about the biodiversity in the DNA left in the environment.
"If this works to the extent we hope it is going to work then it is going to be a game-changer because all you will need to do is collect enough water."
Limited data
One of the study's funders is the US-based Pew Charitable Trusts, and Katie Matthews - manager of Pew's Environmental Science programme - agrees with Prof Mariani's assertion that eDNA monitoring could revolutionise this area of marine biology.
Prof Stefano Mariani collecting a sample of seawater (Image: Judith Bakker)
If it proves successful, eDNA could revolutionise the monitoring of marine species populations
"Current methods for identifying the various species of sharks in an area - for example, divers in the water visually identifying sharks or the use of baited underwater cameras - require a significant commitment of people, time and/or money," she told BBC News.
"For this reason, there are many places in the world where we have very limited or no data on which species of sharks are present and in what numbers, and this creates significant challenges when trying to assess the status of a population, or even its range."
And Dr Matthews added: "But with eDNA, it may be possible to send a single person out to collect water samples with standard one-litre bottles, which can then be quickly filtered and sent off to a laboratory to analyse the DNA and determine what species had been in the area.
"Given the rapidly decreasing cost of processing DNA samples, it seems likely that eDNA as a tool for marine conservation will become increasingly common in the coming years."
Having a better understanding of the state of shark populations will aid conservation groups, allowing them to highlight their concerns about the main threats facing these animals, such as overfishing.
'Extremely vulnerable'
"Shark mortality is at an unsustainable level," explained Imogen Zethoven, director of Pew's global shark conversation campaign.
"Scientists estimate that approximately 100 million sharks are killed each year by commercial fisheries."
She told BBC News: "Because sharks are slow-growing, late to mature and generally have few young, they are extremely vulnerable to overfishing.
"Nearly 30% of all known shark species fully assessed by scientists are threatened with extinction, and more than 25% are close to becoming threatened in the near future.
"A major driver of decline is the global shark fin trade. The demand for shark meat is also a growing threat in some parts of the world."
Before eDNA can be used as a reliable, effective and efficient tool by scientists, more work has to done to standardise and calibrate the gathered data to ensure it is a representative sample, Prof Mariani explained.
"This is still a pioneering approach to science so there is still a lot of ground-truthing to be done.
"However, we do know a number of basic things. For example, we know that environmental conditions and time affect the persistence of DNA in the water.
"Generally, the longer cells and strands of DNA from an animal are left drifting in the water, they will be degraded because it is normal for these micro-molecules to be broken down.
"It is a constant trade-off. The bigger the fragment, the least likely I am to get it out of the environment but the more confident I can be that it refers to that area and a recent time.
"If it's a smaller fragment, it could be because it has been in the environment for a few weeks and reached that area via a particular current."
Colleague Judith Bakker has recently returned from a field trip in the Caribbean where she had been collecting water samples as part of the team's work to assess the effectiveness of the eDNA technique.
Prof Mariani said: "We have been collecting samples from areas where we know what particular animals are being observed, etc.
"We will be able to see to what extent the DNA matches and fits what we expect it to show."
The team hope to have provisional results during the summer and final findings from their study by the end of the year.

The tech helping investors ignore their emotions

For decades "passive" tracker funds that mirror stock market indexes have been shown to outperform ones actively managed by humans.
A key advantage to automated funds is that they bypass human emotions like fear and greed, which often lead to poor investment decisions.
However, a new wave of tech start-ups say they can redress the balance - by helping fund managers overcome their deepest cognitive biases.
Using big data and behavioural finance techniques, they say they can help you invest more wisely and ethically - as well as outflank the automatons eating your lunch.
Fear and loathing
Clare Flynn Levy was a hedge fund manager for 10 years before she set up Essentia Analytics, a forerunner in the space. Its clients include the likes of Man Group, Union Investment and Artemis Fund Managers.
"Fear and greed drive us to do irrational things, but a lot of it is subconscious. We're driven by our wiring to avoid losses, to be afraid of missing out and to follow the herd but it's just what humans do," she says.

Start Quote

Our system can look for outliers in normal trading patterns and flag them up right after the trading activity happens so clients can investigate them”
Taras ChabanSybenetix chief executive
As a result fund managers often deviate from preset strategies, holding stocks too long, getting out too early when they're winning, or being overconfident and ignoring risks.
Essentia, however, says it can combat such blind spots by monitoring your trading performance, the context in which you made investment decisions, and then correlating the two.
Put simply, you tell the system about your investment plans, price targets, risks you're looking out for - even how many hours' sleep you had last night or whether you woke up in a bad mood.
Algorithms start to recognise your behavioural ticks and alert you.
"It might send you a message to say, 'FYI, here are two stocks you hold that are starting to show the same characteristics that have got you into trouble before, so you might want to have a look,'" says Mrs Levy.
"You make the ultimate decision. It just helps you to stay the course and do what you'd said you would do and not get side-tracked by your own emotions."
For more details, 

TED 2015: Terminator-inspired 3D printer 'grows' objects

A 3D printing process that harnesses light and oxygen has been demonstrated at the Ted (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference in Vancouver.
Carbon3D said its "game-changing" process could make objects such as car parts, medical devices or shoes.
The technique was inspired by the film Terminator 2, in which the T-1000 robot rises from a pool of metallic liquid.
One independent expert told the BBC the technology showed huge potential, if the company's assertions stood up.
"It's not unusual for huge claims like this to be made," said James Woodcock, group editor for TCT Magazine.
"But as it's renowned experts working on it, it gives it some gravitas."
Mushroom growing
On the Ted stage, the Carbon3D machine produced a plastic ball from a pool of resin in 10 minutes.
"It would traditionally take up to 10 hours to print this," Carbon3D chief executive Prof Joseph DeSimone told the audience.
He said that current 3D printing methods had some fundamental flaws.
"First up, the name is a misnomer. It is really 2D printing over and over again," he said.
The process is also often very slow.
"There are mushrooms that grow faster than some 3D-printed parts," he joked.
And finally the objects created by traditional 3D printing are often mechanically weak because they are made up of multiple layers.
His method is 25 to 100 times faster and can print solid final parts. It can, he said, potentially be up to 1,000 times faster.
It works by applying different levels of light and oxygen to a pool of resin. Light hardens the resin, while oxygen stops hardening.
By intricately controlling levels of each, the resin can be forced into complex shapes.
In the field
Possible uses for objects include medical stents that could be made-to-measure in medical rooms and teeth printed "while the patient sits in the dentist's chair", he said.
Currently the printer can only work with polymer-based materials but Prof DeSimone told the BBC his firm is "working on" materials beyond that.
There are already several printers being tested in the field - by an unnamed automotive firm, an athletic apparel company and a research lab.
Carbon3D hopes to have its product out commercially "within a year".
Mr Woodcock from TCT Magazine said the demonstration showed the need for companies in the industry to continually work on new technology.
"The whole 3D printing industry is on a knife edge - there' so much still to come. Even the biggest and most established companies are only a couple of announcements away from being redundant."

The batteries that can last twice as long

The Mobile World Congress (MWC) is about to start in Barcelona, but one of the biggest complaints about mobile phones is that they run out of battery life far too quickly. One company, however, is offering a possible solution.
BBC Click's Spencer Kelly meets the researchers at Solid Energy Systems, a company in Massachusetts in the US, who are creating lithium-ion batteries which are smaller and they say will last twice as long as standard batteries.
For more details please visit,

Will British consumers follow Microsoft's Band?

In recent days, I've been looking like a walking - or sometimes jogging - advert for wearable technology.
On one wrist I've been wearing a smart watch, the Moto 360, on the other a fitness tracker, the Nike FuelBand - plus a device which supposedly combines the best of both in one package.
That device is called the Microsoft Band, on sale in the US for some months and now coming to the UK in April. It's a very clever product with a lot of smart technology on board. It will be a lot cheaper than the Apple Watch, while doing many of the same things. But will it put Microsoft in the lead when it comes to wearables? That may depend on what matters most to potential Band buyers - utility or design.
The device is really targeted at the fitness crowd. It measures your steps, calories burned, and your heart rate, all of them displayed with a tap on the Band's rectangular screen. You can also opt to have a run, a cycle ride or a workout tracked. I tried a run, which involves switching on the Band's GPS. It struggled at first to connect, then eventually delivered a record of my run, with split times and route - and a rather unlikely average heart rate of 165.
So just how accurate is it? Well, what I liked about it was that it showed me being more active than my other devices. Halfway through my day the Band said I'd taken 6480 steps, while the Nike Fuelband had me at 5,998 and the Moto360 reading was 5,714 steps.
Who knows which one got it right - though what I've found after wearing the Nike device for a year is that what really motivates you to exercise is simply hitting an arbitrary target.
As well as fitness tracking, the Band gives you the same kind of notifications you get on a smartwatch, throbbing and buzzing when you get emails and texts or an incoming call. If you're the kind of person who urgently needs to know when another email has arrived, this could be useful. But I found that, just as with the Moto 360, knowing that I've got more email or Twitter messages did not improve my life.
What makes the Band stand out is the software, and the fact that it is a cross-platform device. Microsoft's Health app, which gives you a wealth of data from the device, is available for iOS and Android as well as Windows Phone. You can connect other apps, such as the calorie-counting myfitnesspal, to get a more rounded picture of your health and fitness.
All in all, an impressive device which does quite a bit more than most of the simple fitness trackers on the market - and which competes with Apple's Watch in terms of functionality.
But will it appeal to a market beyond those people obsessed with measuring their every move?
Microsoft's achilles' heel is design - and the Band is never going to win prizes for its looks. Even the setup guide tells you that you may choose to wear the device on the inside of your wrist, as if ashamed to show it off.
I put it to Matt Barlow, who runs Microsoft's devices division, that the Band is, well, a little ugly. He laughs off my rudeness about his baby: "Compared to a chest strap or a really large GPS watch, it's elegant and rugged." But he agrees that the software and the data it will deliver, rather than the device itself, is at the heart of Microsoft's strategy. "We want to take that data and turn it into insights," he explains, "and share it with any health or wellness service that a customer would choose."
Don't expect the Band to outsell the Apple Watch, even if it is at least £130 cheaper. But Microsoft is betting that our interest in our own health will be what makes wearable technology take off - and it's determined that its software will play a key role.