Adonis Diaries

Archive for July 27th, 2016

How the Sun is good for your health?

Speech filmed in March 2012

Our bodies get Vitamin D from the sun, but as dermatologist Richard Weller suggests, sunlight may confer another surprising benefit too.

New research by his team shows that nitric oxide, a chemical transmitter stored in huge reserves in the skin, can be released by UV light, to great benefit for blood pressure and the cardiovascular system.

Richard Weller. Dermatologist. Full bio

Before I became a dermatologist, I started in general medicine, as most dermatologists do in Britain.

At the end of that time, I went off to Australia, about 20 years ago. What you learn when you go to Australia is the Australians are very competitive. And they are not magnanimous in victory. And that happened a lot: “You pommies, you can’t play cricket, rugby.” I could accept that.

0:36 But moving into work — and we have each week what’s called a journal club, when you’d sit down with the other doctors and you’d study a scientific paper in relation to medicine. And after week one, it was about cardiovascular mortality, a dry subject — how many people die of heart disease, what the rates are. And they were competitive about this: You pommies, your rates of heart disease are shocking.”

And of course, they were right. Australians have about a third less heart disease than we do less deaths from heart attacks, heart failure, less strokes — they’re generally a healthier bunch. And of course they said this was because of their fine moral standing, their exercise, because they’re Australians and we’re weedy pommies, and so on.

But it’s not just Australia that has better health than Britain. Within Britain, there is a gradient of health — and this is what’s called standardized mortality, basically your chances of dying. This is looking at data from the paper about 20 years ago, but it’s true today.

Comparing your rates of dying 50 degrees north — that’s the South, that’s London and places — by latitude, and 55 degrees — the bad news is that’s here, Glasgow. I’m from Edinburgh. Worse news, that’s even Edinburgh.

 what accounts for this horrible space here between us up here in southern Scotland and the South? Now, we know about smoking, deep-fried Mars bars, chips — the Glasgow diet. All of these things. But this graph is after taking into account all of these known risk factors. This is after accounting for smoking, social class, diet, all those other known risk factors. We are left with this missing space of increased deaths the further north you go.

Now, sunlight, of course, comes into this. And vitamin D has had a great deal of press, and a lot of people get concerned about it. And we need vitamin D. It’s now a requirement that children have a certain amount.

My grandmother grew up in Glasgow, back in the 1920s and ’30s when rickets was a real problem and cod liver oil was brought in. And that really prevented the rickets that used to be common in this city. And I as a child was fed cod liver oil by my grandmother. I distinctly — nobody forgets cod liver oil.

But an association: The higher people’s blood levels of vitamin D are, the less heart disease they have, the less cancer.

There seems to be a lot of data suggesting that vitamin D is very good for you. And it is, to prevent rickets and so on. But if you give people vitamin D supplements, you don’t change that high rate of heart disease. And the evidence for it preventing cancers is not yet great.

So what I’m going to suggest is that vitamin D is not the only story in town. It’s not the only reason preventing heart disease. High vitamin D levels, I think, are a marker for sunlight exposure, and sunlight exposure, in methods I’m going to show, is good for heart disease.

 I came back from Australia, and despite the obvious risks to my health, I moved to Aberdeen. (Laughter) Now, in Aberdeen, I started my dermatology training. But I also became interested in research, and in particular I became interested in this substance, nitric oxide.

Now these three guys up here, Furchgott, Ignarro and Murad, won the Nobel Prize for medicine back in 1998. And they were the first people to describe this new chemical transmitter, nitric oxide. What nitric oxide does is it dilates blood vessels, so it lowers your blood pressure. It also dilates the coronary arteries, so it stops angina.

And what was remarkable about it was in the past when we think of chemical messengers within the body, we thought of complicated things like estrogen and insulin, or nerve transmission. Very complex processes with very complex chemicals that fit into very complex receptors.

And here’s this incredibly simple molecule, a nitrogen and an oxygen that are stuck together, and yet these are hugely important for our low blood pressure, for neurotransmission, for many things, but particularly cardiovascular health.

I started doing research, and we found, very excitingly, that the skin produces nitric oxide. So it’s not just in the cardiovascular system it arises. It arises in the skin. Well, having found that and published that, I thought, well, what’s it doing? How do you have low blood pressure in your skin? It’s not the heart. What do you do?

 I went off to the States, as many people do if they’re going to do research, and I spent a few years in Pittsburgh. This is Pittsburgh. And I was interested in these really complex systems. We thought that maybe nitric oxide affected cell death, and how cells survive, and their resistance to other things.

And I first off started work in cell culture, growing cells, and then I was using knockout mouse models — mice that couldn’t make the gene. We worked out a mechanism, which — NO was helping cells survive.

I then moved back to Edinburgh. And in Edinburgh, the experimental animal we use is the medical student. It’s a species close to human, with several advantages over mice: They’re free, you don’t shave them, they feed themselves, and nobody pickets your office saying, “Save the lab medical student.”

So they’re really an ideal model.

what we found was that we couldn’t reproduce in man the data we had shown in mice. It seemed we couldn’t turn off the production of nitric oxide in the skin of humans. We put on creams that blocked the enzyme that made it, we injected things. We couldn’t turn off the nitric oxide.

And the reason for this, it turned out, after two or three years’ work, was that in the skin we have huge stores not of nitric oxide, because nitric oxide is a gas, and it’s released — (Poof!) — and in a few seconds it’s away, but it can be turned into these forms of nitric oxide — nitrate, NO3; nitrite, NO2; nitrosothiols. And these are more stable, and your skin has got really large stores of NO.

And we then thought to ourselves, with those big stores, I wonder if sunlight might activate those stores and release them from the skin, where the stores are about 10 times as big as what’s in the circulation. Could the sun activate those stores into the circulation, and there in the circulation do its good things for your cardiovascular system?

 I’m an experimental dermatologist, so what we did was we thought we’d have to expose our experimental animals to sunlight. And so what we did was we took a bunch of volunteers and we exposed them to ultraviolet light. So these are kind of sunlamps.

Now, what we were careful to do was, vitamin D is made by ultraviolet B rays and we wanted to separate our story from the vitamin D story. So we used ultraviolet A, which doesn’t make vitamin D.

When we put people under a lamp for the equivalent of about 30 minutes of sunshine in summer in Edinburgh, what we produced was, we produced a rise in circulating nitric oxide. So we put patients with these subjects under the UV, and their NO levels do go up, and their blood pressure goes down.

Not by much, as an individual level, but enough at a population level to shift the rates of heart disease in a whole population. And when we shone UV at them, or when we warmed them up to the same level as the lamps, but didn’t actually let the rays hit the skin, this didn’t happen. So this seems to be a feature of ultraviolet rays hitting the skin.

 we’re still collecting data. A few good things here: This appeared to be more marked in older people. I’m not sure exactly how much.

One of the subjects here was my mother-in-law, and clearly I do not know her age. But certainly in people older than my wife, this appears to be a more marked effect. And the other thing I should mention was there was no change in vitamin D. This is separate from vitamin D. So vitamin D is good for you — it stops rickets, it prevents calcium metabolism, important stuff. But this is a separate mechanism from vitamin D.

 one of the problems with looking at blood pressure is your body does everything it can to keep your blood pressure at the same place. If your leg is chopped off and you lose blood, your body will clamp down, increase the heart rate, do everything it can to keep your blood pressure up.

That is an absolutely fundamental physiological principle.

what we’ve next done is we’ve moved on to looking at blood vessel dilatation. So we’ve measured — this is again, notice no tail and hairless, this is a medical student. In the arm, you can measure blood flow in the arm by how much it swells up as some blood flows into it. And what we’ve shown is that doing a sham irradiation — this is the thick line here — this is shining UV on the arm so it warms up but keeping it covered so the rays don’t hit the skin. There is no change in blood flow, in dilatation of the blood vessels.

But the active irradiation, during the UV and for an hour after it, there is dilation of the blood vessels. This is the mechanism by which you lower blood pressure, by which you dilate the coronary arteries also, to let the blood be supplied with the heart. So here, further data that ultraviolet — that’s sunlight — has benefits on the blood flow and the cardiovascular system.

So we thought we’d just kind of model — Different amounts of UV hit different parts of the Earth at different times of year, so you can actually work out those stores of nitric oxide — the nitrates, nitrites, nitrosothiols in the skin — cleave to release NO.

Different wavelengths of light have different activities of doing that. So you can look at the wavelengths of light that do that. And you can look — So, if you live on the equator, the sun comes straight overhead, it comes through a very thin bit of atmosphere. In winter or summer, it’s the same amount of light.

If you live up here, in summer the sun is coming fairly directly down, but in winter it’s coming through a huge amount of atmosphere, and much of the ultraviolet is weeded out, and the range of wavelengths that hit the Earth are different from summer to winter. So what you can do is you can multiply those data by the NO that’s released and you can calculate how much nitric oxide would be released from the skin into the circulation.

 if you’re on the equator here — that’s these two lines here, the red line and the purple line — the amount of nitric oxide that’s released is the area under the curve, it’s the area in this space here. So if you’re on the equator, December or June, you’ve got masses of NO being released from the skin. So Ventura is in southern California.

In summer, you might as well be at the equator. It’s great. Lots of NO is released. Ventura mid-winter, well, there’s still a decent amount. Edinburgh in summer, the area beneath the curve is pretty good, but Edinburgh in winter, the amount of NO that can be released is next to nothing, tiny amounts.

So what do we think? We’re still working at this story, we’re still developing it, we’re still expanding it. We think it’s very important.

We think it probably accounts for a lot of the north-south health divide within Britain, It’s of relevance to us. We think that the skin — well, we know that the skin has got very large stores of nitric oxide as these various other forms.

We suspect a lot of these come from diet, green leafy vegetables, beetroot, lettuce has a lot of these nitric oxides that we think go to the skin.

We think they’re then stored in the skin, and we think the sunlight releases this where it has generally beneficial effects.

And this is ongoing work, but dermatologists — I mean, I’m a dermatologist. My day job is saying to people, “You’ve got skin cancer, it’s caused by sunlight, don’t go in the sun.”

I actually think a far more important message is that there are benefits as well as risks to sunlight. Yes, sunlight is the major alterable risk factor for skin cancer, but deaths from heart disease are a hundred times higher than deaths from skin cancer.

And I think that we need to be more aware of, and we need to find the risk-benefit ratio. How much sunlight is safe, and how can we finesse this best for our general health?

Hiroshima is my City like March 26, 2010 

You don’t want to approach Hiroshima.

You don’t need to visit my city like:

You touch a wall

You turn a rock.

What do you care of my city?

You will see but flies and road holes.

The only living friend

Is my gigantic boredom.

What should you care of my city like?

It was captured many times by hordes of Moguls and Tatars.

Every adventurer who set eyes on my city

Ended up suicidal.

Be careful my ignorant tourist.

Keep a distance of its broken columns,

Its hundred stone idols.

My heart is same as my closed-in city

Moonlight apprehends visiting it.

My heart is wet, a wet traveling kerchief,

A bird, for centuries lost in down pouring rain,

An empty bottle harassed on ocean waves.

Keep away from Hiroshima.

Tis no time turning a block of salt.

Note: An Arabic poem extracted with abridged liberty from the late Syrian poet Nizar Kabbany. Kabbany passed away before witnessing the calamities befalling Syria and its cities

Are hackers the Internet’s immune system?

We need to work with hackers to make the Internet a better place

The beauty of hackers, says cybersecurity expert Keren Elazari, is that they force us to evolve and improve. Some hackers maybe labelled bad guys, but many are working to fight government corruption and advocate for our rights.

By exposing vulnerabilities, they push the Internet to become stronger and healthier, wielding their power to create a better world

Keren Elazari. Cybersecurity expert. Full bio

Four years ago, a security researcher, or, as most people would call it, a hacker, found a way to literally make ATMs throw money at him. His name was Barnaby Jack, and this technique was later called “jackpotting” in his honor.

0:33 I’m here today because I think we actually need hackers.

Barnaby Jack could have easily turned into a career criminal or James Bond villain with his knowledge, but he chose to show the world his research instead. He believed that sometimes you have to demo a threat to spark a solution. And I feel the same way. That’s why I’m here today.

We are often terrified and fascinated by the power hackers now have. They scare us.

But the choices they make have dramatic outcomes that influence us all. So I am here today because I think we need hackers, and in fact, they just might be the immune system for the information age.

Sometimes they make us sick, but they also find those hidden threats in our world, and they make us fix it.

I knew that I might get hacked for giving this talk, so let me save you the effort. In true TED fashion, here is my most embarrassing picture. But it would be difficult for you to find me in it, because I’m the one who looks like a boy standing to the side. I was such a nerd back then that even the boys on the Dungeons and Dragons team wouldn’t let me join.

This is who I was, but this is who I wanted to be: Angelina Jolie. She portrayed Acid Burn in the ’95 film “Hackers.” She was pretty and she could rollerblade, but being a hacker, that made her powerful. And I wanted to be just like her, so I started spending a lot of time on hacker chat rooms and online forums.

I remember one late night I found a bit of PHP code. I didn’t really know what it did, but I copy-pasted it and used it anyway to get into a password-protected site like that. Open Sesame.

It was a simple trick, and I was just a script kiddie back then, but to me, that trick, it felt like this, like I had discovered limitless potential at my fingertips. This is the rush of power that hackers feel.

It’s geeks just like me discovering they have access to superpower, one that requires the skill and tenacity of their intellect, but thankfully no radioactive spiders.

But with great power comes great responsibility, and you all like to think that if we had such powers, we would only use them for good. But what if you could read your ex’s emails, or add a couple zeros to your bank account. What would you do then?

Indeed, many hackers do not resist those temptations, and so they are responsible in one way or another to billions of dollars lost each year to fraud, malware or plain old identity theft, which is a serious issue.

But there are other hackers, hackers who just like to break things, and it is precisely those hackers that can find the weaker elements in our world and make us fix it.

TED|By Keren Elazari

This is what happened last year when another security researcher called Kyle Lovett discovered a gaping hole in the design of certain wireless routers like you might have in your home or office. He learned that anyone could remotely connect to these devices over the Internet and download documents from hard drives attached to those routers, no password needed.

He reported it to the company, of course, but they ignored his report. Perhaps they thought universal access was a feature, not a bug, until two months ago when a group of hackers used it to get into people’s files. But they didn’t steal anything. They left a note: Your router and your documents can be accessed by anyone in the world. Here’s what you should do to fix it. We hope we helped.

By getting into people’s files like that, yeah, they broke the law, but they also forced that company to fix their product.

Making vulnerabilities known to the public is a practice called full disclosure in the hacker community, and it is controversial, but it does make me think of how hackers have an evolving effect on technologies we use every day. This is what Khalil did.

Khalil is a Palestinian hacker from the West Bank, and he found a serious privacy flaw on Facebook which he attempted to report through the company’s bug bounty program. These are usually great arrangements for companies to reward hackers disclosing vulnerabilities they find in their code. Unfortunately, due to some miscommunications, his report was not acknowledged.

Frustrated with the exchange, he took to use his own discovery to post on Mark Zuckerberg’s wall. This got their attention, all right, and they fixed the bug, but because he hadn’t reported it properly, he was denied the bounty usually paid out for such discoveries.

Thankfully for Khalil, a group of hackers were watching out for him. In fact, they raised more than 13,000 dollars to reward him for this discovery, raising a vital discussion in the technology industry about how we come up with incentives for hackers to do the right thing.

But I think there’s a greater story here still. Even companies founded by hackers, like Facebook was, still have a complicated relationship when it comes to hackers. And so for more conservative organizations, it is going to take time and adapting in order to embrace hacker culture and the creative chaos that it brings with it.

But I think it’s worth the effort, because the alternative, to blindly fight all hackers, is to go against the power you cannot control at the cost of stifling innovation and regulating knowledge. These are things that will come back and bite you.

It is even more true if we go after hackers that are willing to risk their own freedom for ideals like the freedom of the web, especially in times like this, like today even, as governments and corporates fight to control the Internet. I find it astounding that someone from the shadowy corners of cyberspace can become its voice of opposition, its last line of defense even, perhaps someone like Anonymous, the leading brand of global hacktivism.

This universal hacker movement needs no introduction today, but six years ago they were not much more than an Internet subculture dedicated to sharing silly pictures of funny cats and Internet trolling campaigns.

Their moment of transformation was in early 2008 when the Church of Scientology attempted to remove certain leaked videos from appearing on certain websites. This is when Anonymous was forged out of the seemingly random collection of Internet dwellers. It turns out, the Internet doesn’t like it when you try to remove things from it, and it will react with cyberattacks and elaborate pranks and with a series of organized protests all around the world, from my hometown of Tel Aviv to Adelaide, Australia.

This proved that Anonymous and this idea can rally the masses from the keyboards to the streets, and it laid the foundations for dozens of future operations against perceived injustices to their online and offline world. Since then, they’ve gone after many targets.

They’ve uncovered corruption, abuse. They’ve hacked popes and politicians, and I think their effect is larger than simple denial of service attacks that take down websites or even leak sensitive documents. I think that, like Robin Hood, they are in the business of redistribution, but what they are after isn’t your money. It’s not your documents. It’s your attention. They grab the spotlight for causes they support, forcing us to take note, acting as a global magnifying glass for issues that we are not as aware of but perhaps we should be.

They have been called many names from criminals to terrorists, and I cannot justify their illegal means, but the ideas they fight for are ones that matter to us all. The reality is, hackers can do a lot more than break things. They can bring people together.

And if the Internet doesn’t like it when you try to remove things from it, just watch what happens when you try to shut the Internet down.

This took place in Egypt in January 2011, and as President Hosni Mubarak attempted a desperate move to quash the rising revolution on the streets of Cairo, he sent his personal troops down to Egypt’s Internet service providers and had them physically kill the switch on the country’s connection to the world overnight.

For a government to do a thing like that was unprecedented, and for hackers, it made it personal. Hackers like the Telecomix group were already active on the ground, helping Egyptians bypass censorship using clever workarounds like Morse code and ham radio.

It was high season for low tech, which the government couldn’t block, but when the Net went completely down, Telecomix brought in the big guns. They found European service providers that still had 20-year-old analog dial-up access infrastructure. They opened up 300 of those lines for Egyptians to use, serving slow but sweet Internet connection for Egyptians. This worked.

It worked so well, in fact, one guy even used it to download an episode of “How I Met Your Mother.” But while Egypt’s future is still uncertain, when the same thing happened in Syria just one year later, Telecomix were prepared with those Internet lines, and Anonymous, they were perhaps the first international group to officially denounce the actions of the Syrian military by defacing their website.

But with this sort of power, it really depends on where you stand, because one man’s hero can be another’s villain, and so the Syrian Electronic Army is a pro-Assad group of hackers who support his contentious regime. They’ve taken down multiple high-profile targets in the past few years, including the Associated Press’s Twitter account, in which they posted a message about an attack on the White House injuring President Obama.

This tweet was fake, of course, but the resulting drop in the Dow Jones index that day was most certainly not, and a lot of people lost a lot of money. (Good for them. They should target Israel weapon industry)

This sort of thing is happening all over the world right now. In conflicts from the Crimean Peninsula to Latin America, from Europe to the United States, hackers are a force for social, political and military influence. As individuals or in groups, volunteers or military conflicts, there are hackers everywhere. They come from all walks of life, ethnicities, ideologies and genders, I might add.

They are now shaping the world’s stage. Hackers represent an exceptional force for change in the 21st century. This is because access to information is a critical currency of power, one which governments would like to control, a thing they attempt to do by setting up all-you-can-eat surveillance programs, a thing they need hackers for, by the way. And so the establishment has long had a love-hate relationship when it comes to hackers, because the same people who demonize hacking also utilize it at large.

Two years ago, I saw General Keith Alexander. He’s the NSA director and U.S. cyber commander, but instead of his four star general uniform, he was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. This was at DEF CON, the world’s largest hacker conference. Perhaps like me, General Alexander didn’t see 12,000 criminals that day in Vegas. I think he saw untapped potential. In fact, he was there to give a hiring pitch. “In this room right here,” he said, “is the talent our nation needs.” Well, hackers in the back row replied, “Then stop arresting us.” (Applause)

14:52 Indeed, for years, hackers have been on the wrong side of the fence, but in light of what we know now, who is more watchful of our online world? The rules of the game are not that clear anymore, but hackers are perhaps the only ones still capable of challenging overreaching governments and data-hoarding corporates on their own playing field. To me, that represents hope.

15:22 For the past three decades, hackers have done a lot of things, but they have also impacted civil liberties, innovation and Internet freedom, so I think it’s time we take a good look at how we choose to portray them, because if we keep expecting them to be the bad guys, how can they be the heroes too?

My years in the hacker world have made me realize both the problem and the beauty about hackers: They just can’t see something broken in the world and leave it be.

They are compelled to either exploit it or try and change it, and so they find the vulnerable aspects in our rapidly changing world. They make us, they force us to fix things or demand something better, and I think we need them to do just that, because after all, it is not information that wants to be free, it’s us.




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